“Wasn’t your Aunt Elda just a little touched in the head?” Mrs. Casey asked, tapping her forehead.
Mary Beth Quincy’s eyebrows shot up. “A little? Oh no. A lot, I’d say! Always talking about curses and such.”
The two women snickered. Mary Beth’s husband, Andy, joined in the laughter. Their daughter, Kimmie, looked around Great-Aunt Elda’s living room. So many grown-ups but no one cared now if her brother, Jack, put his wet glass directly on the table. No one cared if someone sat in her great-aunt’s favorite chair or spilled coffee on the rug. Kimmie remembered: Great-Aunt Elda had told her that everyone considered her to be a strange old lady. She even said that they couldn’t wait ’til she, Elda Warren, died. “Then they’ll see,” she said. “They will see.” Well, now she did die and Kimmie thought that maybe her great aunt truly was off her rocker; she had never let anyone–not even her, her only great niece (who really was very careful), go near the dollhouse that stood by itself at the top of the attic stairs.
Kimmie pulled on her mother’s sleeve.
“The dollhouse,” she said. “The one in the attic. Can I have it?”
“No. No. No,” Van Richter whined. He slapped a hand against the steering wheel.
The hover car, its battery reading empty, puttered to a halt on the scenic roadside. Without adequate thrust, it sank down into the grass.
The twenty-forty hover model would never have done this. Goes to show, Van thought, newer isn’t always better.
“I knew we should’ve recharged back at the last station,” said Ula, his wife. Arms crossed, she stared at the road ahead, unable to see Van’s irritated glare. “What are we going to do now?”
Van took a deep breath. When the ire subsided, he said, “Relax. Emergency roadside will send someone.” He pressed a button on the dash. “In the meantime, enjoy all the trees. You don’t get much of those in the city.”
Surrounded by tall, green conifers, Ula glanced their way and then back at her husband. “If I wanted to see trees, I would’ve chosen to live out here like some cyber-social recluse.”
“They all claim to have been abducted by aliens?” Carl turned and stared at the crowd. Everywhere he looked, people sat cross-legged on blankets chanting, meditating, and shaking tiny bells on green strings.
“Not claim, and not abducted.” Jim brushed a lock of black hair away from his face. “These experiences are real. And we use the term visited. After all, these ‘aliens’ as you call them, have enlightened us, not kidnapped us.”
“Right.” Carl nodded. As a reporter for the weekly tabloid The Investigator, he had no choice but to cover the latest, most bizarre “newsworthy event” if he liked his job.
Over the last three years, he’d been to every Bigfoot sighting, UFO abduction site, and haunted house in the country. He was used to keeping a straight face and “getting the facts” when dealing with crackpots, but something about this story didn’t sit right in his gut.
The late November night in the palace courtyard was like a still, empty ballroom. The towering Palacio Real glowed white and silver against the obsidian sky. Ramona looked up at its immense facade, studying the aged pillars and dozens of worn window shudders, some half open. The shudders creaked as the night breeze whistled through them.
Eduardo gently put his hand on Ramona’s shoulder, interrupting her fixation on the marvelous building. She started at his touch.
“It’s beautiful,” she commented, catching her wits.
The two of them strolled down the pathway of the Plaza de Oriente, the perfectly kempt gardens in front of the palace. Lined beside them were statues of the great Gothic kings of the Iberian Peninsula, standing in militant poses in their breaches and capes. Eduardo watched Ramona admiringly as she studied the faces of the men. She caught a second glance at a face that reminded her of someone she knew. They walked a few more steps, and Eduardo put his arm around her shoulder, hoping it would get her mind back on him.
Intrigued, Ramona looked up to the statues again. “Look at that one,” she remarked. “His nose is worn off.”
Eduardo looked up and squinted, studying it. “No it’s not.”
Ramona looked up at it again. A perfectly chiseled face of a man, nose and all, with the head of his victim in hand. She shook her head, feeling foolish. The cold air must be getting to her, she thought.
Sarah languidly woke up to what she thought was the smell of chocolate. Bill rolled over in bed and looked at her. “Could we have hot chocolate for breakfast?” he asked. She took a moment to scrutinize the situation. No one was making hot chocolate. Why did they wake up wanting chocolate?
“They’re doing it again!” said Sarah.
“What?” said Bill.
“They’ve changed the ether,” exclaimed Sarah.
“What do you think is in it?”
There had been a solid five minutes of silence between the two boys before Alex finally asked the question. Another minute passed before Andrew gave him an answer.
“My first guess would be a dead body,” he replied as they continued to stare at the coffin sitting in front of them.
Several cycles ago my wife Carpathia went to the market to gather supplies for the long, incumbent winter, but by nightfall she had not returned. By daybreak her side of the bed was still cold, and I feared the worst.
For many moons thereafter I searched the plains until my feet bled, and called her name until my throat hurt, but I neither saw her nor heard from her again.
The villagers were quick to blame the Beast for my misfortune as they did for every other disappearance in the land, but I did not share their conviction. My wife was gone, but I could not seriously lay her fate at the door of a ghost. I would rather admit she had abandoned me than accept I had lost her to a myth.
Even so, sometimes, despite my better judgement, I too cursed the Creature.
The worst had come to pass—
Artatra stormed down the five hundred black marble steps to his laboratories and warrens. It was utterly intolerable, the restrictions under which he worked. That a mind such as his should be yoked to an unimaginative, plodding, stupid . . . well, not stupid, exactly. That was the problem! If the Presence in the Throne was stupid, it could be worked around. The mind behind that mask was sly, it was well-ordered, and it knew far more than it rightly ought. It was unimaginably worse than stupid—it was a functioning mind that lacked vision.
The corridor mimicked the Martian landscape; linoleum flecked with rusty reds and dusky pinks, and the color on the walls a dull yellow like the alien sky. Mikhail’s boots, gray like the studded metal doors flanking him on either side, sent echoes ahead of him as he marched.
Tiny green lights blinked at him from the security cameras in the ceiling, and his breathing shuddered loud in his ears. Beneath a wool jacket and nylon shirt, his back prickled with sweat. Not because of the ever-watchful green-eyed guardians; he was used to those. It was the uncertainty of whether or not they’d believe his performance.
“Yes, my child?” Her back bristled with chitinous spines, gathering microscopic dew in the rapidly cooling eventide.
“I can’t sleep.”
“But you must sleep. A child grows faster when they rest. Besides, breakfast is being made.” The mother was bundling a parcel, spinning it into the loom of her abdomen as the toxins turned the victim to stone.
“But I can’t sleep,” the cotton orb stirred, a fluttering inside the pliable strands, woven tight.
“Are you hungry, child?”