Oliver’s father told him that the park across the street used to be a lake. The entire park, including the baseball field, the sledding hills, and the playgrounds, used to be underwater—everything except for the two sets of swings at the top of the hill. He said that highway construction had cut into secret, underground places and wounded the lake.
Before Jack can apologize to Nancy, she has to believe that dragons exist. Nancy’s mad at him because they were supposed to perform a skit at the talent show and he stood her up. They’ve been practicing it for two summers. It’s called “I’ve Come to Marry the Princess.” When Jack didn’t show, Nancy had to go on stage all by herself. He didn’t ditch her on purpose; his dragon egg was hatching and he needed to be there.
We carried him down to the river. It churned: basalt, granite, marble, quartz—sandstone, limestone, soapstone. Alabaster against obsidian, flint against agate. Eddies of jasper slipped by, swirls of schist, carbuncle and chrysolite, slate, beryl, and a sound like shoulders breaking. Fortunatus the Gryphon carried the body on his broad and fur-fringed back.
It took a while, but in the end we bargained it down to a shot right on my chest, with his mom’s gun. I didn’t know anything about guns, but the thing he showed me looked safe enough, a little pistol that was smaller than the palm it rested on. Then we ran into another problem: Nick wanted to bring his buddies, or at least the ones he trusted.
Everybody knows everybody else in Fejz, they used to say. They meant the high town, crowded shoulder to shoulder on its twin narrow peaks, not the sprawl of the low town in the bottomlands under the escarpment and the falls. That was before the little war. It was never true but during the siege you learned how few you had known, how superficially you were acquainted with your nearest neighbors.
When my wife began to swell, I wondered what seed infected her womb, my own having long proved fruitless. As she grew, her cravings turned to dirt and water and long spells naked in the yard under the bare trees and what sun pierced the clouds, and I asked her, Who have you loved? Who have you fucked? Why is your belly growing round?
My parents knew I was a witch before I was born. The signs were there, they told me. They were unmistakable. Well. Not all of the signs, or they never would have kept me as long as they did. But enough: My mother’s hair, previously sedate and well-mannered, turned curly and wild during her pregnancy, sometimes even grabbing forks from other people’s hands at meals.
Huan Ho sealed the last window, leaving only a crack in the shutter. Tonight, he thought, his eye on the empty streets, the neighbours’ barred shutters. Tonight he had to pass the door on the hill, or let the sickness take his mother. She had been watching him from her bed. “They ride tonight,” she said, when he was done.
“Is that the collapsible, carbon fiber ten-foot pole from TrunchCo—” I slammed my locker door and spun the combo lock, but it was too late; the fanboy already seen my gear. I didn’t know what his interest was, but I didn’t want to encourage him. I said nothing. He continued: “I’ve got the one from a couple of years ago that folds up. It sucks.”
Of course the house is haunted. If a door is closed on the first floor, another on the second floor will squeal open out of contrariness. If wine is spilled on the living room carpet and scrubbed at furiously and quickly so that a stain does not set, another stain, possibly darker, will appear somewhere else in the house. A favorite room in which malevolence quietly happens is the bathroom.