The dress I’d worn that morning—the white and red one that Father brought from Venice—weighed as much as I did and more than doubled the size of my body; when I stepped out of it it looked like a second me, a headless me with curiously flat arms. It could stand on its own if I balanced it carefully. Rolled up and placed under the bed sheet, it fooled Miss Annie into thinking I was asleep in bed.
Now I hung it up in the wardrobe as I had done earlier, checking to be sure it hadn’t wrinkled. I quickly changed into bedclothes and hid my smock and shoes under the bed, then got under the sheet, mussed my hair a bit, and rang the bell. Jane and Miss Annie came in. Jane hauled in my trunks, and Miss Annie helped me dress and retouch my hair.
Father had arrived and was standing at the foot of the stairs, waiting for me. We had parted ways in the morning, when he packed me off for Lord Falmouth’s while he went into Westminster. I could tell he was tired but buzzing with energy anyway. He didn’t like going into the Royal Quarter if he could help it, but times were exciting, and, as he said, “we stood at the very fulcrum of history.” By “we” I assume he meant himself.
Continue reading “Chapter 2: Isabelle”
Five crows is an omen of illness to come; six is death.
From my window I watched them flitting about the building across the street, black dragons in miniature. Were they crows or ravens? I don’t know very much about birds. Crows are smaller, duskier. And if the ravens leave the Tower then the kingdom will fall.
Lord Shively and his family had abandoned the house across the street during the winter, retreating through the cold away from the City. They had by then accepted that their Emily was gone. She abandoned them, and they abandoned hope, and then they abandoned their home. That’s what my father said as we watched them go. The crows seemed keen on moving in. I tried to count them but it was hard to keep track, given the way they slipped in and out through the broken window that led into what had once been Emily Shively’s bedroom.
Four? No, five. Illness. For me, who was counting them, or for the Shivelys, whose house the crows were haunting? I’d ask my father later. It was he who told me about counting crows, which I was doing now instead of my geography lessons. France is down and Scotland is up, and across the sea there is a new land filled with fierce and primitive warriors. That was enough learning for now, I felt.
Continue reading “Chapter 1: Julian”
My father grew up in a two-bedroom apartment on the fourth floor of a six-story building on Jane Street in Greenwich Village. The apartment had been purchased by his father in 1944, and nobody was ever able to explain how a Steinway Vertegrand ended up in the living room. It had come with the apartment, and the sole attempt to remove it, sometime in the early 1950s, led to the discovery that while it could fit just fine through the front door, there wasn’t enough room in the hallway to turn it around so it could go down the stairs. Some giant could probably lift it over the railing and onto the stairs, but between our landing and the exit to Jane Street there were seven hairpin turns, and the piano would have to go up and over the railings each time.
The potential buyer had his money returned and the piano was shoved back into its space, where it was covered with muslin and used to display pictures and houseplants in front of the window that didn’t lead to the fire escape.
Continue reading “The Girl With the Flaxen Hair”
On their second day in the new house a couple of things happened that, while noteworthy at the time, took on a special significance in hindsight. The first was the trio of apple cores placed in the mailbox to ooze apple juice onto the circulars.
“Maybe a squirrel put them there,” Kaitlin said. Yvonne raised an eyebrow. “Maybe it was an accident,” she tried again. One apple core might–might–get swooped up in the mail and deposited accidentally, but three? “Maybe some kids put it there. Maybe they’ve been using that mailbox as a convenient trash can for a long time. They might not know anyone lives here now.”
Yvonne didn’t say anything but kept her skeptical eyebrow arched as she carried the apples and mail to the kitchen. The mail was all junk anyway. The apples had more juice in them than any apples she’d ever seen before, though to be fair she was never really fond of apples. She was about to toss the cores into the trash when Kaitlin chirped, “Compost!” Yvonne carried out them back to the compost tumbler. Along the way she wondered if she could compost the mail, too. It was just paper, after all, though probably mixed in with some deadly-toxic chemical that saved the printers a few pennies per pound.
Continue reading “Kaitlin’s Chinese Courtyard”
Daniel Carson woke in the night to a fireworks display dancing before his eyes followed by pitch blackness, and he knew that at that moment he had gone blind.
He shot up in bed and held his hand out in front of himself, and although he could feel his arm hovering in the still stale air he couldn’t see it.
His throat closed up in panic. The darkness wrapped around him, gripped him hard and squeezed as if to crush him. His heart beat a furious rhythm and his blood pushed against his veins. His skin crawled as if thousands of needles were forcing their way through him and tearing him apart.
He couldn’t breathe. His sightless eyes throbbed under an unplaceable pressure. Daniel leaped out of his bed. He tried to scream but couldn’t. His throat burned when he tried to breathe. Wherever he looked there was nothing but a void, hideous in its totality.
Continue reading “Daniel Carson”
Just hours before Mary Margaret died, the rain that had battered the city for weeks stopped and the sun burned alone in a brilliant summer sky. The nurse took great care to describe the scene to me later. Mary Margaret had asked the nurse to bring her to the window. With the sun on her face, she closed her eyes and listened to the birds. She drew deep, contented breaths and tapped her fingers to a song only she could hear. The nurse went away and when she returned Mary Margaret was unresponsive. A short while after the doctor declared her dead the rains began again and hadn’t stopped since.
Continue reading “Fugit Inreparabile Tempus”
There are other worlds somewhere, realms of other possibilities and outcomes, of beauties and wonders both familiar and unknowable.
The sun burned a blood-orange streak across the sky and seared a path of gold over the slowly rolling sea. Away from the light, sky and sea turned red, violet, blue, and black. The colors bent away from clouds and waves.
It comforted her to think that the waves receding from her would wash up again on a distant shore. In time the darkness about to descend would inevitably be lifted.
The sand was already cold. Somewhere else the sun was rising, the sand warming, the day beginning afresh.
Continue reading “On Victory Beach”
By the end they were in her dreams, too. She felt herself taken along by a warm current, a tug that seemed to come from inside of her somehow, first playful but then urgent and frightening, and finally a hard surge that forced her farther into the limitless blue void. At first she felt free, and the ocean carried her like an expecting mother; then her throat closed in terror and her muscles from her legs to her chest clenched tight and the sea dragged her down to the cold darkness of the Leviathan.
Zolzaya woke with a start and gripped the sheets hard enough that her fingers hurt. She still felt the swells even though her eyes insisted that she was home in her bed. All of her muscles, even her jaw and her toes, were clenched.
She had to make a decision, and in the still clarity of the early morning she forced herself to draw a deep, burning breath and decide.
With trembling legs she rose from her bed and got dressed, not at all calm but still somehow reassured. Her fingers shook as she buttoned her shirt. They’d been shaking for days, she realized as she looked at them. Bones rattling under thin skin. She pulled her hair back into a ponytail and got started.
Continue reading “Zolzaya and the Apple Thieves”
Alan Smalky, ten years old and sporting a fresh sunburn on his cheeks and shoulders, came in through the back door with a juice box he had taken from the cooler on the deck. Lanky and graceless, a bit of a mouth-breather, he came into the living room and plopped down on the armchair near the sofa.
Jonathan Smalky was on the couch, not watching the news on TV and not reading the paper on his phone at the same time. His wife Karen was curled up next to him with her head resting on his thigh, either half-asleep or trying to be. At this time of year the sunlight poured onto the couch for a few hours in the early afternoon, and it was rare for them to be able to sit and enjoy it together.
Neither one noticed their son’s presence for a few minutes, and since he wasn’t doing anything to draw attention to himself they didn’t feel any particular need to acknowledge him, either, but eventually the child’s continued silence became a provocation in itself so Jonathan mumbled something that sounded vaguely parental. Even a second later he couldn’t remember what he’d said, but it was enough to prompt Karen to try again.
“Where’s your sister?” she asked dreamily without opening her eyes. It was a question that implied a command: “Go play with her, leave us alone.”
Alan didn’t answer her. He just burst into tears, and his parents’ pleasant afternoon came to an abrupt end.
Continue reading “The Children’s Empire”