“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.
Kalm looked at his two-headed axe lying in front of him on the boardroom table and wished that he hadn’t left his shield at his desk. Armor was out of the question, his helm and chainmail sat uselessly in the trunk of his car in the darkest depths of parking level thirty-three, section D.
“-but who is saying that we need to hire consultants?” The vice-queen’s voice cut through him like a shard of ice killing any further thoughts of his forgotten armaments. You could always hear it in her voice first. The practiced fake charm slithered away to reveal the more suitable growl that lurked underneath.
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—
“Go on, dear,” urges Janice, pushing her through the door of the First Contact Community Centre. “Trust me. This is exactly what you need.”
Maya’s not so sure. What she really needs is an evening away from her problems. All those hundreds and thousands of problems scurrying through her cupboards and burrowing under her carpets. Who’d have guessed an alien invasion would have quite so many legs? She shudders, sitting down beside an embarrassed looking lady with thick rimmed glasses and braids, and tries her best to look invisible.
“Welcome,” says the man from the newly formed Inpestation Information Board. “Thank you for coming.”
“Of course I’m not here for me,” Janice tells the people in the next row. Just loudly enough for the entire room to hear. “Maya’s the one with the horrible creatures.”
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.
Father first awoke the topiaries the morning after Mother died. Shrubs wriggled loose from their dirt when he passed, dormant bushes burst free and scampered across the countryside. Thus it went for eighteen years. I lived my life knowing that Father could awaken plants, but I did not realize what I, his daughter, could awaken.