Science Fiction & Fantasy

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

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Fiction

Not by Wardrobe, Tornado, or Looking Glass

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

This story also appears in the BEST AMERICAN SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY 2017, edited by Charles Yu (guest editor) and John Joseph Adams (series editor). Available October 2017 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

The scent of fresh lilacs and the boom of a cannon shot muffled by distance prefaced the arrival of the rabbit hole. Louisa jerked upright in her seat, and her book fell from her lap to slap against the cold pavement of the station floor. Dropping a book would normally cause her to cringe, but instead she allowed herself a spark of excitement as a metal maintenance door creaked open on rusty hinges. Golden light spilled out onto dazed commuters. Was this it? Was this finally it?

The silhouette of a centaur beckoned towards the gathering crowd from within the rabbit hole. In a melodious voice, she called out, “Richard! Come quickly. Without your aid, the Inkies destroy everything that is beautiful and good in our world!”

A middle-aged man in a gray business suit laughed and ran forward, the crowd begrudgingly parting before him. “Never fear,” he shouted, stepped through the hole, and pulled the door shut behind him. The lighting in the station returned to normal. The smell of flowers was replaced with the usual smell of stale urine, newsprint, and body odor. A train rumbled in the distance, perhaps soon to arrive, or perhaps not.

Louisa bent down to pick up her book. The front cover was creased on the corner, but otherwise, it was fine. The other commuters returned to those things commuters do to keep their mind off the boredom of travel; phones, newspapers, iPads, crossword puzzles.

Still not her turn. Not this time. To work in the mundane world, then.

• • • •

The agency had placed Louisa with Dewem, Putnam, and Low, a small but venerable legal office downtown. The interview had been very brief, as temps were harder to find since rabbit holes. In the past six months, the calls had gotten more frequent; Louisa had developed a good reputation for dependability. She had little else to do with her time since the cancer had finished its relentless march through her mother’s bones.

“Do you have one?” asked the office supervisor, a stern-sounding woman named Catherine (absolutely never, ever to be called “Cathy,” she had instructed). Her name and voice conjured pictures of Catherine the Great, but in person, she was considerably shorter, wider, and balder than the Russian leader.

“No.”

“The last girl we hired never bothered to come in. And the young man before that showed for three days. I’m sure it’s wonderful, frolicking with elves in the forest, but we here in the real world have work to do.” She said “real world” with a degree of bitterness that evoked considerable sympathy in Louisa. Perhaps she too had been passed over.

“I am dedicated to my work, don’t worry. What would you like me to do?” Of course, she didn’t say that if her rabbit hole did arrive, she wouldn’t be coming back. She still had to pay rent for the time being, after all.

Catherine waved at the paperwork threatening to topple from the side of her desk. “File these, to start.” Catherine dismissed Louisa by simply ignoring her in favor of the computer. It took a long moment before Louisa realized she was supposed to leave. She could appreciate a supervisor who didn’t expect her to spend hours chitchatting about television or current events, two things that held no interest for Louisa, unless you counted the rabbit holes as “current events.”

Louisa gathered up the paperwork and wandered in search of the filing room. Most of the offices were dark and empty. The few people she saw looked frazzled and weary, like people for whom sleep had dropped a few levels on the hierarchy of needs—kindred spirits, those. She had seen that exhaustion many times in the mirror during her mother’s long decline.

Many of the lawyers were nearly hidden behind stacks of paperwork as large as the one she was attempting to file, which, if nothing else, signaled job security. One young man looked up as she stopped to stare. He gave her a half-smile, raised an immaculately sculpted eyebrow.

Louisa blushed. “Um . . . which way to the filing room?”

He pointed down the hall. He opened his mouth to speak, but she turned and fast-walked away before he could make a sound. She didn’t know how to talk to attractive young men anymore, if she ever had. Best to avoid it as much as possible.

Instead, she went to work in the small, dimly lit room down the hall. The system was a standard, though slightly antiquated one, as promised. The room itself would have been unremarkable but for one of the ceiling-high wooden cabinets; it was padlocked with two fist-sized chrome locks and a heavy steel chain. A sticky note indicated that T to Th had been moved to the neighboring cabinet indefinitely, and pointed with marker-drawn arrow to the right. When Louisa pressed her ear to the drawer, harp music whispered from within.

Louisa rooted through her pockets for her notebook, flipped to the end of her list of “Types of Rabbit Holes” and wrote: FILING CABINETS in neat letters. She snapped it shut, tucked it away, and began to work.

• • • •

The first week passed in silent drudgery, which was just fine for her. Jobs like this with clearly defined tasks, ones that involved a minimum of interaction with other people, were her specialty. The thing that interested her most was the locked rabbit hole in the cabinet, which at first Catherine had no interest in explaining.

Each day, Louisa ate her lunches at 12:30 exactly, methodically and quickly, without interest. The food was secondary to the book she hoped to read.

In this one, a teenage boy fell through the ice of a lake and woke up in a cold land ruled by witches made of curdled frost and coal-stained snow. Giant fish wove paths of light through the sky, drifting silently overhead like grand zeppelins. She had already written ICY LAKE in her notebook.

The writing was pedestrian, not that she could do better. But it passed the time. Some of the imagery carried her away for a few moments, but since the rabbit holes, even her old favorites felt hollow; new works, untouched by the pixie dust of childhood nostalgia, couldn’t begin to compare to tantalizing new-reality.

The shuffle of footsteps on ragged carpet drew Louisa’s attention from the story, and Catherine walked past, pausing for a moment as if debating whether or not to make conversation, but continued to the microwave. She placed a plastic bowl of half-frozen soup inside and set the timer.

“How are you finding the work?”

“I don’t mind filing,” Louisa said carefully.

“Good. We have plenty for you.” Catherine chuckled half-heartedly, and the microwave beeped. She removed the soup, only the tips of her fingers touching the bowl, and carried it to sit across from Louisa. She lowered her head and pursed her lips, and blew across the surface. Tiny ripples shimmered across the yellowish liquid.

“So,” Catherine said, stirring now with a plastic spoon. “You . . . you really don’t have one at all?”

Louisa shook her head.

Catherine smiled. “You’re so lucky.”

Louisa forced a smile.

“Have you noticed how much emptier the streets are now? How many of the shops have closed?” Catherine asked. She took a tentative bite of soup, held her mouth half open for a moment and exhaled sharply. Finally, she swallowed. “It’s one of the things we’re working on here.”

“Really?” Louisa had wondered what sort of work would keep lawyers so busy now. Crime was falling steadily, from what she’d read. Why would anyone steal anything when they could go to a world where their every desire would be met? The poor became kings. The rich, they got whatever it was they wanted. Everyone was happier down their rabbit holes.

“So much abandoned property.” Catherine shrugged. “It’s a tricky area to sort out. There are interested buyers, but it’s a bit of a gray area. The buyers, I mean.”

“I should get back to work,” Louisa said. “Like you said, there’s a lot of filing.”

“Can you hear the music still?” Catherine asked, her voice softening.

“Yes,” Louisa said, suspicions now confirmed.

“I always loved the harp.” Catherine stared at the wall just over Louisa’s shoulder, staring really at nothing at all that could be seen. “Such a beautiful instrument. My mother made me learn the violin. Said the harp wasn’t a respectable instrument. Too expensive. Not practical . . .” She trailed off, mindlessly stirring the last of her soup.

Not sure if Catherine expected her to say anything else at all, Louis decided it was safer to remain silent. After a few minutes, she gave a quiet wave, stood, and returned to the filing room. Catherine didn’t seem to notice.

• • • •

Around the work for the law firm, Louisa finished three more fantasy novels and added two more rabbit holes to her notebook. The coming drought of books loomed heavily in her thoughts during her increasingly deserted commute to DPL’s offices. New books were harder to come by. Few were being written, and even fewer were published. The writers had been some of the first to disappear.

Friday evening, a dumpster in the alley beside her apartment building expelled a man in a golden-feathered headdress riding a six-legged brown stallion. He shook a spear at the sky and shouted something in a language Louisa didn’t understand. He smiled at her; his white teeth stood out sharply against his deeply tanned skin. Then he nudged the horse into a trot and down the street. He turned the corner at the Mini-Mart and disappeared into the evening.

By the time Louisa made it to the dumpster, the glow was gone. She added it to her list in quick, angry letters.

It was only later that she realized it was the first time she’d seen anything leave a rabbit hole other than herself.

• • • •

Louisa had entered someone else’s rabbit hole twice.

The first had been a manhole cover that led to a strange world of talking mushrooms and brick architecture that gleamed red under cloudless blue skies. It hadn’t been what she expected. But of course it hadn’t. It wasn’t hers. After a day, she took a warp pipe home, and the gleaming gold coins she had collected turned into dust when she returned.

The second time was after Annabelle had stopped calling, something she had done twice weekly ever since their mother had become ill and Louisa had volunteered to come home from college and take care of her.

The calls had followed a simple script: three to four minutes of banal pleasantries, five minutes about their mother’s declining health, and then an awkward few minutes about how Louisa was coping with it all. The calls hadn’t stopped after their mother’s death, only gotten shorter, which had only served to confirm Louisa’s suspicions that the calls were not about what they seemed to be about. They were tailored to make Annabelle feel better for not being there, for staying at Stanford and finishing her degree.

She resented the calls, but it wasn’t until they ended that she realized how much she needed them to anchor herself in the world.

Three months into the rabbit holes situation, Louisa took the train to Annabelle’s house out in Napierville. The house was empty. The doors and windows were all open, and the curtains billowed outward in the breeze. Anna’s husband had moved out the year before, but Louisa didn’t know the details. She searched the yard first; even the dog was missing. Whether down a rabbit hole of its own, or with Annabelle, Louisa didn’t know. Maybe Anna’s husband had taken the dog.

She obsessed about that for weeks afterward. Did even animals have their own worlds? Did every living thing but Louisa have a secret world of its own out there?

Louisa closed all the windows and swept the house. She called in sick to her temp job and waited a week, in case her sister had gone on a business trip and forgotten to tell her. She stayed in the guest bedroom, even though the bed in her sister’s room looked more comfortable. Somehow, to sleep in there would have been acknowledging the truth too much.

On the last day, she searched the house for clues, finally discarding any notion that she was violating Anna’s privacy. The rabbit hole was in the attic. An old steamer trunk opened onto a tropical island where statues as large as skyscrapers had been built in Annabelle’s likeness. Pirate ships were moored off the white sand beaches, their guns silent but ominous. A volcano puffed gray smoke overhead, and a deep, masculine chanting echoed through the jungle. Louisa had called out her sister’s name, but there was no way Annabelle could have heard her over the riot of noise. The rabbit hole pinched closed a moment after she stepped back home.

If she had just taken a little longer, she might have been trapped there in someone else’s secret world. What would have happened to her? Would it have been any worse than being stranded in the “real” world?

She didn’t know the answer to that question. Didn’t want to know. Louisa gave up on other people’s rabbit holes, confident that none of them would ever be quite right if it wasn’t meant exactly for her.

• • • •

One month after she began working at Dewem, Putnam, and Low, she walked to the corner newsstand. She was out of library books, and thought perhaps she would try her hand at the crossword puzzle in the Tribune. She was terrible at crossword puzzles, but the Monday puzzle was usually within her abilities.

The man behind the counter was no longer a man at all, strictly speaking. He had a human body, and wore a large white button-up shirt with the sleeves rolled up around massive elbows, but he possessed the head of a buffalo, round and shaggy with black-brown fur. His placid eyes watched Louisa as she tried to make a selection from the papers; they were days out of date. Her hands shook as she picked up a copy of the Times from the past Monday, then handed a five dollar bill to the buffalo-headed man. He reached below the counter and retrieved her change without taking his eyes off of her.

“What happened to Vincent?” she asked suddenly, the words escaping quickly before she could stomp them back down.

The bisontaur shrugged. “Gone over,” he said in a soft, almost feminine voice. If it wasn’t for the heavy horns above his ears, Louisa might have revised her estimation of his sex.

“He sold you his stand?” she asked.

His large eyes narrowed. “I paid for the stand. It is mine.”

Louisa didn’t know what that meant, but she decided not to ask any further questions, and hurried to catch the train. It was twelve minutes late anyway, and arrived empty.

• • • •

Catherine was not waiting at the front desk when Louisa arrived. Louisa had been mentally preparing for her boss’s tirade; she’d received real blistering monologues from bosses in the past, and felt deflated and hollow when she had no one to deliver her excuses to.

Louisa gathered up a stack of filing that was waiting. Half again as many offices were empty today as the day when she started. She wondered what a lawyer wanted in a rabbit hole? She pictured some kind of Court World where the opponents were buffoon-ish cartoon characters, the moronic jury easily swayed by proper human logic. The clients were . . . wealthy royalty? The judge presiding over it all, a sphinx, lion’s tail lashing in time to the arguments. Or perhaps not. What little Louisa knew about the fantasy lives of normal people, she found bland and unimpressive.

In the filing room, the old cabinet T-TH was open. Paperwork blew around the room, and the harpsong was louder than ever. The chains, lock, and a heavy red bolt cutter lay on the floor like the weapons at a crime scene in a television forensic drama.

Louisa closed the cabinet and allowed herself a good cry. In some ways, Catherine had been the best boss she had ever had.

• • • •

Paychecks stopped coming, and Louisa stopped going in. She believed the office would be empty by now, and for some reason she could not explain, she did not want to see it in that state. She preferred to picture it struggling along valiantly, dealing with the legal matters that remained, a handful of dedicated lawyers keeping civilization together.

Out of things to read, she passed time flipping through TV channels. Most of them were blank. On a few, she saw shows, but not put on by humans. A talk show hosted by a gorgon. The camera cut to a pan across an audience full of giant snakes. A game show host that looked like a living statue, asking questions to a panel of a hobbit, a brown bear wearing hipster glasses, and a thin vapor mist that just barely took the outline of a woman.

It reminded her of traveling to another country, where the culture is completely foreign and the language is one you had tried to take in high school, but you had forgotten most of since. Traveling there and turning on a television in a hotel room. The shows were just like that. Alienating.

Louisa rang her temp agency, hoping for anything better to do. She got a disconnect message.

• • • •

Louisa took a late night walk through the city. They were not as empty now. Traffic was lighter, mostly made up of chariots drawn by lions or Victorian carriages drawn by giant-sized mice. There was the occasional steam-powered tank, but the drivers were generally nice enough to take the main avenues.

Louisa stopped and watched an ogre wearing a policeman’s uniform buy a hot dog from a cart operated by a ghost in a burial shroud.

She wanted to ask them questions, but the thought of talking to either of them terrified her. So far, the city’s new residents had ignored her. It seemed best not to draw attention to herself.

In the park, she was chased by leering goblins. They shouted obscenities at her in accents she didn’t recognize, but the meaning of the words was clear enough. Stay off our turf.

She ran home and locked her door. She turned on the TV again. A local channel was airing a roundtable discussion between a badger, a toad, a weasel, and a beaver. They were debating upcoming mayoral elections in crisp English accents. Louisa turned off the television and went to bed.

• • • •

“Rent’s due,” said the satyr standing in her doorway. He wore half a dozen gold chains around his neck and his great mane of hair had been slicked down with Palmolive.

Louisa blinked, went to her purse at the counter, and began to write the check. The satyr laughed.

“Can’t accept that,” he said. “Rent’s one hundred crowns a month or $1000 cash. No checks.”

“What’s a crown?”

“It’s uh, a gold coin. About this big.” He made a circle between his thumb and forefinger the size of a quarter.

“Where am I supposed to get those?” Louisa asked.

“Not my problem. You can have a couple of days, because I like you. After that, you’re out on the street.” He turned on his hooves and left before she could argue. “Plenty of Others looking for a place,” he said over his shoulder. Something in the way he said the word made it clear that Others was what they called themselves.

She thought about robbing a bank or maybe the museum. In her imagination, banks were full of gold bars, but that couldn’t be true, could it? She remembered reading that the gold standard had gone out years ago, and there was hardly any gold in the money system at all.

• • • •

She found a rare coins dealer on Milwaukee. The proprietor was human—tall, thin, with graying hair. He shook his head sadly at her before she even spoke.

“I’ve traded away everything even resembling gold,” he said.

“To who?” she asked. “People like me?”

He laughed. “No, no. Them. The Others. I’ve gotten such marvelous things in return. Do you need a singing sword? Or a kite that can fly when there is no wind?”

“Could I pay my rent with any of those?” she asked. He shrugged.

“Why are you still here?” she asked. Speaking at all felt like a talent that had grown rusty with disuse.

He looked surprised at the question. “Business is better than ever,” he said. “Sorry I couldn’t help you.” With that, he disappeared into his back room. She browsed the displays, hoping he had overlooked something gold, but he had not.

What else could she do? That night, she packed all of her belongings, starting with the books.

• • • •

In the morning, she bought a train ticket to the suburbs from the automated ticket machine, which luckily still accepted her debit card. She took only a suitcase with her for now. She would send for her things later. Somehow. Surprisingly, the train was on time. It even had passengers. A few looked somewhat human. They all wore business dress, and when the train stopped, they hurried off and into the street like any other group of commuters. The only difference was that they were smiling. Louisa shivered.

Annabelle’s house had been painted, and the doors had new locks. The yard had been mowed. The doghouse out back was gone. A square patch of dead earth was the only sign that it had ever been there. It was the patch that convinced Louisa she hadn’t somehow come to the wrong home, gotten off at the wrong stop and wandered confused in a foreign neighborhood that looked just enough like her sister’s to stretch the deception.

She entered the yard, climbed the handful of steps, and rang the doorbell.

A moment later, it opened. A woman wearing a blue dress and a yellow apron tied around her waist answered. Giant swan’s wings folded away as she dusted her hands off on the apron.

“Yes? Can I help you?”

“Who are you? This is my sister’s home.”

The swan woman’s eyes softened. “Poor thing, left behind? What a shame. I’m sorry, but this is not your sister’s home anymore. My mate and I paid for it fairly.”

“I don’t believe you,” Louisa says, raising her voice. “You have to get out!”

The soft gaze hardened and the woman hissed. “Take it up with our attorneys at Dewey, Putnam, and Low.”

The words came as a blow to her, and Louisa turned and walked away in a daze. So now she knew whom the law firm had been working for, and who had been purchasing the abandoned property all along. The strange family living inside Anna’s home weren’t squatters. They had paid for it. They had paid for everything in equal trade. One world for another, and more.

She took the next train back to the city, fuming. If anyone still worked for Dewey, Putnam, and Low, they would answer her questions, or she would burn the place to the ground.

• • • •

Yellow light spilled out into the darkened hallway of the law firm from a single office. Louisa had been surprised that her keys still worked, but, after all, what would anyone want with the contents of the last working human law firm in the city?

Inside was the young man who had given her directions on her first day. He looked as impossibly tired as before, but he still smiled at her when she stood in the doorway.

“I don’t suppose you’ve come back to help with the filing,” he said.

She shook her head. The anger had burned up on the long ride here. She bit her lip to keep from crying again; she had cried entirely too much recently.

“Too bad.” He sighed. “Nobody has been answering my classified ads lately. You know, I think you’re the only human I’ve seen this week. Sometimes, with the Others, it can be hard to tell, though.”

“Which one are you?” She asked. The sting had returned to her tone, and she was thankful.

“I’m Langford Putnam, but I wasn’t even a junior partner yet. My father was Howard Putnam. That’s his name on the masthead,” he said. “So what can I do for you?”

“You helped a family of Others take my sister’s home.”

“We do a lot of that. Where?”

She gave him the address.

He began to poke and prod the stacks, lifting an edge here and there. He finally pulled one thick folder out of the middle of a pile. “Ah, here we go.” The rest of the paperwork toppled to the floor, scattering. He paid it no mind.

He opened the folder and began to read, muttering to himself. “Did your sister have a will?”

Louisa shook her head. “Not that I know of.”

“Too bad,” he said. “She might have left you the property in that, and it would give us some leverage. Unfortunately, the couple that moved in there have a legally binding contract transferring ownership. Signed by your sister, even.”

“They do?” she blinked. “How is that possible?”

Langford Putnam shrugged. “How is any of this possible? You could probably challenge it in court, but who knows who or what you would get for a judge.”

“Are you helping me?” she asked.

“Of course I am. There aren’t a lot of us left. We should probably stick together,” he said, smiling that smile that made her stomach twist into knots.

“Isn’t that a conflict of interest?”

He shrugged again. “The Others have settled in enough that I think they only keep me employed as a novelty. I’m not sure they would care.”

“Why are you still here?” she asked. The boldness from before was slipping away. She did her best to cling to it.

“I could ask you the same question,” he said, grinning, and her resolve crumbled. Louisa sobbed.

He jumped up from his chair, knocking over further paperwork, and put an arm around her shoulder, ushering her to his spare chair. He kicked off another stack and helped her sit.

“Hey, sorry, touched a nerve, huh?”

“All my life! All my life, I’ve read stories about fantasy worlds. I used to dream about being whisked away to my real parents, to where I really belonged.” Langford offered a tissue, and she daubed at her tears with it. “When the rabbit holes opened, I thought it was only a matter of time. I looked everywhere, but I couldn’t find mine.”

She shouted it, didn’t care who heard her now:

“IT’S! NOT! FAIR!”

He nodded, let her cry for a moment, and then said quietly, “I bet that made you feel like a real Susan Pevensie.”

“Exactly! What did I do to deserve being left behind? At first, it was about escape. It’s all I ever dreamed about, you know? But now, it’s about—”

“Feeling abandoned.”

“Yes.”

“First of all, I don’t think you ever did anything wrong! It’s actually probably quite the opposite. Working with the Others, I’ve picked up hints here and there about how it all works. Nothing concrete, but what if you’ve got it all backwards?”

She sniffed. “What do you mean?”

“First of all, you’re not the only one left. I’m here. So you’re not alone. The thing is, the rabbit holes are tailor-made for each person, right? The perfect escape. But have you wondered, with all those stories you’ve read since you were a kid, exactly what your rabbit hole would look like?”

“Of course,” she snapped. “It would be beautiful. Full of danger and adventure. I would be needed, needed really for the first time since my mother . . . well, since a long time ago. I would be important.”

“Would you be the queen?”

“At least! Or an empress.”

“Of what?”

She paused. “Of everything?”

“Where are the specifics? Are we talking a standard European fantasy world with dragons and all that? Miévillian weird city? Satirical rabbits and playing cards?”

She said nothing. When she tried to picture her perfect rabbit hole, all she had was a feeling.

Langford continued: “You’ve traveled to a thousand worlds in your books. Think about how much you’ve seen.”

She frowned. “You think that no one rabbit hole world would satisfy me?”

He nodded furiously. “That’s exactly it! How do you tailor the perfect escape for a serial escapist? It can’t be done. Just about anything would have bored you eventually. Mine sure bored the hell out of me.”

“Yours? You had a rabbit hole?” she asked.

“I still do.” He pulled a watch on a long silver chain from his pocket and opened it. Dazzling light spilled from the clock face, and birds sang inside.

“I did the save-the-world thing, and it was easy. What’s going on back here is a lot more interesting. So I came back. I visit sometimes when I need to relax.” He closed the watch face, and the light vanished. “I may have read a little too much myself. When I was younger.”

“You can come and go?”

He nodded. “They’re rabbit holes, not prisons. It’s not a matter of ‘can’ so much as a matter of ‘want.’ Heck, I can even take visitors if . . .” He blushed. “Sorry, I probably sound like I’m bragging.”

Louisa shook her head. “It’s okay . . .”

“My guess is, whatever powers are behind the Others and all of this, they knew they couldn’t tempt you. Not really.”

He stood and went to the window, pulling open the shade, and beckoned to Louisa. She joined him, looking out across the city.

Enormous, sinuous feathered shapes weaved between the buildings, some of which were crawling with stone-skinned workers remaking skyscrapers into castle-like edifices. Ghostly ships drifted on the lake, their shimmering sails iridescent in the fading sunlight. And below them, countless varied shapes moved in traffic, armors, scales, and slick skins glinting under flickering street lamps and neon signs.

“I don’t know,” Langford said. “I’ve always loved this city, but I spent the first half of my life wishing I could live anywhere else at all. It took me some travel, extraordinary and mundane, and a lot of thinking, but eventually I came to see it’s truth. This place is home, and in it’s own way, it’s—”

“Beautiful,” she whispered. Could that be it? All this time, she hadn’t been looking at it right? Now that she was elevated above her problems, literally, she could see the world for what it was becoming—something stranger than whatever could be on the other side of a single rabbit hole.

Why would she want to leave this?

“Thank you,” she said.

“Don’t thank me yet. I haven’t even started to solve your housing problem.”

“You’ll help me? Why?”

“Secret reasons,” he said with a sly smile.

That was a puzzling thread to unravel, but for now, she was content to stare out at the city with renewed wonder. How had she missed it? It was almost if this world was being made just for her. It was beautiful; it was dangerous and probably full of adventure; and just maybe, it needed her.

She rummaged through coat pockets, retrieved her notebook, and flipped past the lists of rabbit holes to a blank page.

“Can I borrow a pen?”

Langford fumbled in his pockets, then offered a nice, heavy steel-capped pen.

“Those flying things? Would you call those ‘dragons’?”

Langford stared out the window for a moment, then said: “I can’t think of a better word to describe them, can you?”

“I’ll accept that challenge,” Louisa said, and began a new list.

Jeremiah Tolbert

Jeremiah Tolbert has published fiction in Lightspeed, Fantasy Magazine, Interzone, Asimov’s, and Shimmer, as well as in the anthologies The Way of the Wizard, Seeds of Change, Federations, and Polyphony 4. He’s also been featured several times on the Escape Pod and PodCastle podcasts. In addition to being a writer, he is a web designer, photographer, and graphic artist. He lives in Kansas, with his wife and son.