“Can I help you?” the ghost whispered.
It drifted behind the dust-covered reference desk, an insubstantial wisp with a hint of long hair wrapped in an untidy bun and the barest glimpse of wire-rimmed spectacles. I tried not to stare. It had been decades since anyone had required corrective lenses. And, well, she was dead. She wasn’t supposed to exist at all.
I cleared my throat. The sound echoed in the library’s cavernous skeleton. “I’m, uh, looking for a book.”
I leave home without my simulator, not because I don’t like them or because it is broken; I misplaced it. News programs and neighbors tell us to keep our simulator handy, even if it isn’t playing, for the security features, but Sharon expects me at noon and I am never late. I am only going a short distance, across town to the museum. That is not to say I am not afraid.
Alone and exposed to the world, I walk to the subway.
I noticed the demon living in my right index fingernail because that nail grew ten times faster than any of the others.
My mother taught me how to walk the moon road. We find it with the tips of our toes, sliding them along the slick bottom of the river. If I close my eyes, I can feel the slightest edge. I ease the ball joint, the sole, the heel up out of the water. The foot that emerges is not human with its short dark nails and tufts of fur. My nose elongates, protrudes. Whiskers tickle my cheeks. My ears swivel, seeking the sounds of night.
It is a gentle transformation.
Mother and I walk the moon road, swishing our tails. We bound over the water, chase meteors, pounce on constellations. We grin at each other the way dogs do—it’s said they learned that from people. Maybe they learned it from people like us.
“Child, keep out of gravestone shadows.” Wendy gave Aiden’s hand a slight tug, dragging him farther from an elongated shadow in the grass.
“I don’t want to die.”
“No one dies in here. Just don’t step in any shadows. The sun’s getting higher. See. The shadows are already disappearing.”
“Will they follow us then?” Aiden stumbled on a root hidden in the uncut weeds.
When the wren first heard the clockwork man’s symphony of pipes in the blooming days of springtime, she was hesitant—his constant whirring and clanking set her feathers on edge—but the music emanating from his metal chest proved too strong a lure. She settled on his window-ledge and joined in the chorus.
He smiled from his workbench, silver eyes gleaming. They spent hours together, his full-bodied tones a perfect counterpoint to her own coloratura. Over time, he took to leaving her daily offerings of string, twigs, or tasty seeds.
Now, months later, autumn glazed the city with frost. The wren had already delayed her departure far longer than she should. Today would have to be her last visit. She would miss their duets, but she took solace in knowing he’d be waiting when she returned with the spring rains.
Welcome to the Doomsday Device Helpdesk! My name is Damien. What seems to be the problem?
Yes sir, I apologize for the hold times. They’re—
Yes, sixteen years is a long time to—
“They found the body in the alley at the bottom of the fire escape.”
“The one outside my bedroom?” Henry rolled his wide eyes at his cousin. “You’re full of it.”
“All the witnesses said he jumped for the ladder three times before they caught him. He died still reaching up grabbing at anything that came in reach.”
A couch pillow hit Laveral hard enough to snap his head back and stop his story. Henry smiled at his mother. She didn’t notice. She glared at Laveral. He had all her attention.
Stars above shatter and rain down as glittering dust.
Sima peers from her window at the shining dark sky to watch the snow sprinkle down. The tip of her nose grows cold where it presses the glass. Frost forms where she breathes. She scratches a star into the ice with her finger nail.
Every snowflake is different, her mother told her once.
The house breathes quiet. In the basement the furnace rumbles like a purring cat.
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.