Octavia was at the last gate when the alarm sounded. A small army of bristling weapons encircled her. The bag shuddered in her grip, panic rippling through its weave. She gripped it tighter, reassuring it. It’s your hair, it sent tremulously. Told you to straighten it and bind it tight; they don’t like big black hair. She squeezed it tight against her side: Hush, hush. “Step aside, ma’am,” said a man in a grey uniform.
The carpenter was alone and living out of his truck. He had been out of work for a long time when he found an envelope in his post office box. The envelope was black and coarse as hair. Instead of a seam, it had a mouth. When the carpenter picked it up, the mouth bared iron teeth and told him that he was hired. It would be his job to go to old houses the bank owned, fix them up, and kill their monsters.
You’re far more likely to have heard of my artist wife Lucille Hrade than of me. Her paintings have a way of communicating directly to people. They’re realistic—you can see the subjects of her portraits breathe, feel the heat of her sun-baked landscapes—but at the same time, like Andrew Wyeth’s work, they have just enough of what I call the askew in them to make you think you’re daringly enjoying experimental art.
It isn’t until I realize I can’t find my son—really can’t find him—that I think of all the other things I can’t see in the starlit orchard. “Cruz!” I yell. “Buddy! You win!” There is no moon. The trees are thick with blossoms. I hear Cruz in the tall grasses, rustling, giggling. He is six years old. This wouldn’t bother my wife. Alyssa believes that Cruz should learn to use a knife, to light a match, to walk beside a river without stumbling and drowning.
The dragon-horse awakens in moonlight. Drops of cold dew drip onto his forehead, where they meander down the curve of his steel nose. Plink. He struggles to open his eyes, rusted eyelids grinding against eyelashes. A pair of silvery specks reflects from those giant, dark red pupils. At first, he thinks it’s the moon, but a careful examination reveals it to be a clump of white flowers blooming vibrantly in a crack in the cement, irrigated by the dew dripping from his nose.
The godmeat stank of hibiscus and saltwater. Its noxious divinity threaded through the kitchen, the air itself feeling suddenly buoyant in its wake. If Hark closed his eyes, he could almost imagine himself on the beach where Spear had killed the Sea Mother; pale green water lapping at his feet, miles of white sand stretching into the distance, while pink blossoms bobbed in the surf. He could almost see Spear standing on top of the godthing, her weapon shimmering with the blue blood of the dying Beast.
Fiona’s timer read 40 33 04 21 53 08. Years, weeks, days, hours, minutes, seconds. Her first girlfriend had done the math one day in bed. “You’ll be sixty-four when you meet your soul mate. I’ll be twenty-two,” the girl said with a gesture that revealed her frail, luminous wrist, which was lit from within, like a lightning bug. Fiona watched her own timer tick down through her girlfriend’s hair, feeling as though she were trying to catch up to the world.
School was canceled; the governor announced a state of emergency in anticipation of the storm, and told everyone to stay home or go home early. “We don’t need to have cars stuck on the highways. Be safe.” Manoj’s foster mother was complaining again. “The landlord said he’s going to fine us if you don’t take that blanket down.” She was referring to the woven rectangle hanging over his window: dark blue, with red and yellow concentric diamonds formed from the weft yarn.
It was only then that she woke up in her nice warm bed and discovered that her entire adventure in the land of Nys had been nothing but a dream. Everything she had experienced from the very beginning, starting with the ancient soothsayer with the parchment skin and beclouded eyes appearing at her door to brush those gnarled fingers against her cheek and murmur, “Yes, you are the one, you are the chosen one, you are the one destined to defeat the great evil.”
There once were two sisters, close in age, who had been birthed and loved and became stooped and wise and were now old women together. They lived in a house in a courtyard surrounded by a tall stone wall, meant to keep out most children and all men, though starlings made their nests in the boughs of the elms. One day, the king—an old man himself—was walking by the wall when he heard the lilting voices of the sisters, who had become accomplished singers over their long years.