“Wow. Well, never say you can’t trust a copper salt merchant,” Connor said.
Ayumi gave him an inquiring glance.
“Is that a common saying?”
“But what did they put it way out here for?” he continued, gesturing the screen where their ship’s camera focused in on the alien structure. “Two jumps in dead space, not so much as an asteroid within a parsec of it.”
“That might be a bit of an exaggeration,” Ayumi said, smiling, as she watched the telemetry unfold. “But, yes. You’re right. We never would’ve found it without the trail of rumors that began with a wine-sodden copper salt merchant.”
“Was he? I didn’t know there was a market for wine-sodden copper salts.”
Knowing what would happen before it did was nothing but torture—a torture that made me cry before everyone did or made me laugh before everyone else.
One morning a dark-haired woman in her mid-twenties walked into my office. A flowing blue dress dangled off her small frame, while her gaunt face hid under a wide hat containing enough feathers for flight. A fraying at her elbows suggested her blouse had been in the family a while. Her pale lips fluttered. In respect, I rose to my full seven-foot height, and then she spoke.
“My husband is a zombie.”
The ting-a-ting-clank announcing a customer caught me off guard. No one came in Moore’s Gas & More in July. We didn’t have air conditioning. Even the taffy got squishy.
I popped up from the candy row and gave my jeans a yank. “Can I help you?”
I squinted at the customer standing by the corn chips, backlit by the window. I guessed woman because she was short. I figured she wanted the john.
“Back there.” I pointed past the air filters. “Only got one. Uni-sex and all.”
She stared out the window like a little kid, her fingers hooked over the magazine racks.
“I’m Cinny if you need anything,” I said.
I resumed my candy shelving, singing Gloria Estefan under my breath. I had a good set of pipes. Mama said my voice was sweet enough to soothe baby birds out of the nest, whatever that meant, only I was too awkward to sing in front of folks.
The customer scuff-scuffed into the candy row like she didn’t know to pick her feet up. I turned and I figured out she was a he, and the strangest little he I’d ever seen.
A vampire walks into a bar. That sounds like a joke but it’s not. The vampire in question is me, Elizabeth Bathory di Mastrioni van Helsing y Menendez, Liz for short. I walk into a bar, sit down on a vacant stool, and the hot guy sitting next to me leans over.
I stare down from my perch and think about suicide for the thirtieth time today, but I can’t do it. If the five story fall doesn’t kill me, I don’t want to be at the mercy of the hoard.
I snap open another soda and stare at the horizon as a rainbow forms through the distant rain clouds. It’s beautiful. Then I look down at the writhing ground beneath me and I want to vomit. They crawl over themselves, crushing those at the bottom as they try to reach me. Each day the pile gets a little higher.
There was no hot water when I went to take a shower this morning. Oh great, I thought. It’s always something. I went down to the basement to see if I could figure out what was wrong with the water heater and right away I saw what was causing the problem: the dragon was dead.
“I want to be young forever,” Deirdre announced to the Decider, when her turn to enter the room finally came.
He looked up from his terminal but finished tapping a few more keys before giving her his full attention.
“Yes, that’s what we usually hear,” he said in a flat voice. She thought she detected some sarcasm, but it didn’t matter. She wasn’t there to enjoy his personality.
Dark webbing still marks my shoulder from the day that bullets separated my squad from our company. The bleeding would’ve killed me if my comrades hadn’t bandaged it. But isolated from medical equipment, we couldn’t stop the scarring.
Bill Wexler woke at six, as he did every morning, and kissed his wife.
“I’m going for a run,” he said.
She didn’t reply.