Stories of the Dead

Every week, we gather at the magician’s place in the theatre district to play cards. I like to think I’m getting better but every time without fail the magician ends up with my stack of chips. Tonight, it’s just four of us – the magician with his quick fingers, the dragon with surgically implanted horns and pointed ears and the whites of his eyes dyed purple, Marina of the deep voice and sweet smile, and me. Moody, restless me.

“Do you know what tonight is?” the magician asks, dealing another hand. The dragon folds and Marina calls.

“Ghost night,” she says, pulling at a strand of her flaming orange hair. “One night a week the theatres close their doors so the ghosts can put on their shows.”

The magician raises and I’m pretty sure I’ve got a good hand so I call and he deals another round of cards.

“One night a week the theatres close their doors so the ghosts can put on their shows.” he repeats. “Tonight, we should be in the audience.”

“Yes!” the dragon agrees. He climbs over the couch and starts juggling. Marina fingers the necklace she’s wearing.

“Let’s got to the Rosary,” she says breathily. It’s her favourite. She’s been a member of the fan club for years.

I’ve learned enough times to never trust a magician. But what can you do when it’s both your favourite magician and your favourite dragon? Besides, I’m bored of losing. I shrug, bouncing my legs up and down, as the magician takes the rest of my chips and money.

“What the hell,” I breathe smoke out like a prayer. “Let’s go out.”

The Rosary was infamous. Once a shrine, then it was a memorial garden, then a club for magic users then abandoned. Now, it’s the most famous theatre in the White City, even though it has already burned down once. Shows are at midnight every night but the night for ghosts. If you haven’t grown up in the White City, you may not think ghosts are such a big deal but here they’re practically citizens.

By the time I finish my cigarette, the gents are already up and almost out the door, chattering. I like to watch the two of them together, the easy way they switch from rough-housing to patting each other on the back. I light up another smoke.

“You smoke too much,” Marina reminds me as clove-scented smoke curls between us.

“Yes.” I agree, helping her put up her hair and pinning it into place. “I do.”

We walk because we walk everywhere. I can’t ride and smoke. The dragon contact juggles and the magician does tricks for passers-by. I wonder if I’m the only one suddenly feeling like I could crawl out of my skin.

“What kind of ghosts are we walking into?” I pick up a rock and toss it to Marina. She catches it easily and passes it back.

“Depends on the night,” she says, tugging at a lock of her flame-coloured hair. She gives me side-eyes and smiles mysteriously. “Which ones do you want to meet?”

“Oh tell a story!” the magician exclaims. He links his arm through Marina’s and they saunter down the cobblestone street. We’re close to the edge of the quarter and the streets are appropriately quiet.

“Have you learned to breathe fire yet?” I whisper to the dragon, holding up another cigarette. He smiles and I admit I’m a little sweet on him. Must be the purple eyes. I light it up as Marina starts to display her impressive mind for folklore. She even adjusts her glasses before she talks and I laugh, because I think it’s adorable and I’m a little sweet on her too.

“The Rosary is easily the most famous theatre in White City,” she says, her eyes taking on a firelight glow. “It was started by two performers ten years ago. They put in a bid for the Viola memorial property.”

“A whole garden in your memory, Vee!” the magician says seriously. “You should have told us you were famous.”

I ignore him, as I tend to do when I think he’s being ridiculous but don’t have a clever retort.

“They got approval from the city because they wanted to revive one of the most famous legends of the city. The star-crossed love story of the poets Juliette and Wren from the Fourth Age.” Marina’s voice takes on the breathy quality it does when she’s deep in a story. Ahead, we’re about to pass a small shrine for the ghosts.

“It was the most stirring story – two rival celebrities who charmed and wooed the city. Juliette was the most famous professional beauty of her time. An artist, writer, and host – she was a beloved entertainer celebrated for her openness and warmth. Her rival at the time was the mysterious and reclusive Wren. Wren was a temperamental, figure – a poet and dreamer. She would isolate herself for months at a time in the nearby mountains before returning to dazzle the city with her new work. They were like fire and water, a bright sun and dark moon.”

I breathe out smoke, watching its patterns in the air. My spine shivers and I look around for any lights that move curiously, a sure sign that we’re around spirits. We’re so close to the shrine now. The air feels almost heavy.

“No one really knows how it happened, but eventually these rivals turned into lovers. It was a big scandal when someone close to them published letters the lovers had exchanged. It made them even more famous. Juliette responded with her usual grace, but Wren became much more withdrawn – spending less time in the city and more in the wilds that called to her.”

As we pass the small wooden house on a stone pillar, the magician touches the bells hanging down the side of it. The air seems darker, the streetlights brighter around it. A pile of flowers and other offerings of the day lay around it – tidied by a shrine hand probably. Marina puts the rock we’d been tossing back and forth at the base, the dragon leaves a crystal ball, I leave an unlit cigarette, and the magician rings the bells again.

“To your continued sleep, friends” he says magnanimously, his arms out with a quick bow, but his movements have lost some of their spirited mockery. Even magicians can be superstitious. We leave the shrine and its bright shadows behind.

“The story ends in tragedy. Eventually Wren’s ties to this world were lost all together. She disappeared and Juliette lived out the rest of her days in the White City with the pallor of sorrow about her. Their letters and story are one of the most beloved tales of the city. The main attraction of the Rosary is a retelling of these letters by different performers, as well as the individual works of both Juliette and Wren.”

“You should get a job as a tour guide,” the dragon says absently, having resumed his juggling. “Especially with that spooky voice of yours.”

Marina frowns at him and cleans her glasses. The magician throws his arm around her shoulders and grins widely.

“No no! She’s ours!” he replies. “The finest storyteller we have.”

“There,” I say quietly. Ahead the theatre sits silently, a structure of stone and stain glass windows surrounded by a wrought-iron fence and lush garden. Our movements are quieter suddenly, more aware. The dragon grins wickedly in anticipation. I crush my last cigarette and come up behind Marina. I put one arm around her waist and smile as I feel her lean into me, quickly removing a decorative pin we chose earlier from her hair. The magician whistles as I quickly kiss her cheek and walk up to the gate. My cheeks burn a bit but I won’t give him the satisfaction of responding.

One by one we climb over the fence. I feel a surge of excitement as I look around the garden. It’s a night garden of course, lush blossoms only open and sweet under the moonlight drawing the patrons into the myth of the place. It’s intoxicating.

I’m first to the shadow of the door and let the others prowl around for any diligent workers. On ghost night, most theatre workers like to give the spirits their space but it would spoil the game to be caught now so we’re careful. I ignore their movements as I concentrate on my task, feeling the door lightly with my fingertips.

It’s easy. I imagine it’s what Marina feels like as she starts a new story or the dragon when he prepares himself for another dart in the back, or the magician when he picks up another deck of cards. It’s a flow, the body responding to something that can’t be touched or really named. Whatever it is, it’s instinct and it works. The door clicks op and I pull the pin out, whistling to signal the others. The magician is with me first and he touches my shoulder as praise. I smile.

Once we’re in and the door is shut behind us, we forget to be quiet and giggle like children. The dragon whoops as he bounds down the carpeted entrance hall and even cartwheels into the reception area. The magician is more sedate as he strolls about, looking for the entire world like he owns the place. I help Marina put her hair back up and tenderly put the pin back.

“Why do you think Wren abandoned Juliette?” I ask her.

“I don’t think she did…” Marina says slowly. “I mean, who can say what the right choice is? It seems like she was torn between two worlds, even before they met. Maybe the pain of that was stronger than the pain of giving her lover up. They were opposites. Why couldn’t Juliette have given up the social life that she found so exciting? Would she have shone as brightly in the woods?”

“I prefer happy endings,” I say, searching through my pockets for another cigarette. I stop when I remember I had my last one outside. Marina sighs and smiles. She takes one from her pack and tucks it behind my ear.

“You smoke too much,” she says again before walking away to do her own exploring.

“I know,” I say to the empty hall.

It might seem strange for a lock pick to run around with a group of performers, but I guess my talents are more subtle than the others. Marina is small, but can command a room when she tells a story. She has a roguish charm to her that seems at odds with her delicate exterior. The dragon does things with his body that no sane person would ever do. The magician, like all magicians, wants you to believe he is part of something beyond ordinary life and that he can take you there. Often, he succeeds.

Me, I guess I bridge the worlds. Opening doors, reading the audience, little touches that help keep the illusion from falling apart. My voice is rarely heard but when it is, I know just what to say to tip the scales. I’m envious of brighter talents, but most of the time I’m content to be quiet anyways.

The inside of the building is an ornate affair. Every piece of furniture is decorated, every detail meant to express the decadence available to the patrons. I pause in front of a large staircase that leads to the upper levels. Hanging centered on the wall is a portrait of a young woman, dressed in white and dark hair pulled back and pinned with jewels. Her eyes are sad. Beneath her portrait are roses in varying stages of life. All of them red. Red, red, red.

The part of the story that Marina didn’t tell was the story of the theatre itself. How two lovers, Devon and Renée started it as a tribute to the star-crossed love story of Juliette and Wren, naming it after Juliette’s favourite flower. How they were celebrated as visionaries, how their bond became as infamous as that of the women who inspired them. How, tragically, Renée died in a fire that consumed the theatre five years ago. How Devon rebuilt it and still carried on their dream and how dozens of other performers had tried to fill the hole that had been left behind both on stage and supposedly, in Devon’s heart. How’s that for a love story? If we had to pick any of the famous ghosts to meet this night, I would have picked Renée.

I search through my pockets for something to give her but finding nothing but a lighter and my wallet, I take the silver bracelet off my hand and leave it in the pile of roses, murmuring a prayer for the dead. For Juliette, for Wren, and for Renée.

The dragon comes up beside and nods approvingly, leaving a small shiny crystal on the pile.

“She was beautiful,” he says softly. I nod in agreement.

My hands are feeling twitchy again and I contemplate going back outside for Marina’s gift of a cigarette, but something catches my eye. To my left are the doors to the main stage and behind them. I feel something moving.

It fills me silently in a rush, a need to see what’s in there. The dragon grabs my hand but I pull away and rush towards the doors. They’re locked and I pull frantically.

“Vee, what the hell?” he asks, coming up behind me. “Calm down.”

“Why are you making so much noise?” Marina says, reappearing.

“Door,” I say shortly. She blinks and hands me the pin from her hair. I get to work on the lock, ignoring them both. My hands feel hot and it takes me a few tries to get the lock. When it clicks, I feel a surge of adrenaline and shove it open. A chattering and hushing sound surrounds us as if we’re in the middle of an excited, anticipating audience.

“What the hell is that?” the dragon hisses.

“Ghosts,” Marina replies softly, looking around. She points to the stage suddenly. Slumped in a chair sits the magician, the spotlight illuminating him from above. Hovering around him are three, dancing lights.

“Oh shit,” I whisper. The dragon runs down the aisle and jumps the stage. He’s shaking the magician’s shoulder roughly by the time Marina and I are there.

“One night every turn of the moon, the theatre is dark so that the ghosts can tell their stories,” a voice whispers by my ear.

Marina’s eyes go blank and she stumbles. Her limbs fly out at odd angles and she raises her head in shaking, jerky motions. Her mouth opens and the voice speaks again.

“Tonight is the night for the stories of the dead,” she says in her spookiest voice, except it’s not her at all and I feel a little ill. She tilts her head oddly toward the dragon, who is trying to hoist the magician onto his shoulder.

“You,” the specter speaking through Marina intones,” are trespassing.”

The lights go on and the audience erupts in applause. The dragon yelps as the magician suddenly stands up and spins on one foot.

“Tonight!” he exclaims in a voice that is too giggly, too high to be him. “We receive the audience of the living. Welcome, welcome kin.”

He waves his arms, his movements at times too limp and others too fast as if whatever’s inside him is still fitting itself into his skin. He stumbles around the stage in a ghastly imitation of his normal saunter. Marina giggles shrilly and the dragon growls. I feel nauseous.

“Now then, brave souls that wish to hear our stories, will you sit, will you sit?” the magician sings. He waves his hand and sways from the momentum of overextending his reach. He stumbles and sways upright laughing seemingly uncontrollably. Marina toddles to his side and together they perform a ghastly, swaying dance.

Something surrounds my stomach and I’m pulled backwards, landing hard on my rear in one of the plush audience chairs. The dragon is slammed into the seat beside me. We meet each other’s eyes but what the hell can we say? We’re drawn back to the stage when Marina starts clapping wildly.

“Wonderful!” She exhales her breath in jubilation. “Thank you, thank you all.”

She opens her arms.

“Now, it is our pleasure to welcome to the stage the delightful and darling, the ever so dangerous dame of decadence – our very own Miss V!” Marina announces. One of the lights falls to the stage in swirl and flash and I can’t believe it but there is a woman standing in its place.

“Oh shit,” the dragon says.

The woman is an oddly appealing shade of purple from her skin to her ruffled silks to the large wooden and paper fans she opens to conceal her body from us. Marina and the magician retire to the wings, applauding and blowing kisses, their gestures a sincere and ghoulish display of affection.

The woman considers us with a smile and a wink and a sway of her hips. Her eyes are hidden behind a mask.

“I’m sure you’ve heard,” she says, tossing her hair toward us. “of the red rose and the white?”

She starts to shimmy up and down the length of her body, her arms and fans swaying provocatively.

“Two lovers, a dapper and a lady, hearts entwined as surely as the sea and sand,” the dancer begins, eyes wide and her body shuddering with sheer delight. The invisible audience around us erupts into roaring applause.

“Why is she purple?” I whisper to the dragon. His sneer and eyes tell me to shut up. Fine.

“The people so loved them that their need for them grew and grew. They needed them to share their dreams of poetry and romance on stage, to be their new symbols of love and desire,” she tells us as she sways to the ground. Whistles fill the air while she expertly slips off one violet heel and then rises.

“Perfection is in the eye of the beholder, but one must be more than what the eyes cast upon us believe.”

Her other heel and one glove fall next, all as she moves slowly, hips rising and falling like waves on the ocean. I lick my very dry lips. She makes her way to the edge of the stage with a dancing step and closes one fan.

“What do you do when you are a reflection? What do you do when all you are is skin deep? Two lovers, a dapper and a lady. But which is which and where are they now?”

She tosses her under corset into the dragon’s lap and turns her hollow eyes on me.

“Even so,” she says, touching the tip of her fan to my chin. “The rules still exist, even if no one remembers them, even if the seats are full of ghosts.”

The chattering chairs around us erupt in applause. The dragon rocks back and forth in his chair, struggling to escape. The ghost dancer slaps my cheek with her fan lightly and I turn my attention back to her.

“Those that don’t respect the dead owe them a boon,” she tells me seriously.

“Anything,” I whisper. “Anything to get us the hell out of here. We’re sorry, please forgive us. It was just a game.”

The dragon nods, yelling his agreement and struggling to pull himself out of his chair. She gestures and we both get slammed back against our seats.

“The stage still needs a rose,” the dancer says. “A proper lady to share the stage and see what has been hiding in plain sight.” She uses a fan to cover one half of her face.

“Two lovers, one in the world of light and one in the world of darkness. Not a part of our brethren but living only the endless twilight of the stage. Come to theatre and pay them your tribute, lest we dead decide to collect the punishment for transgressing against the rules of the theatre.”

She pauses mid-sway to clench her first and a pair of thorny black vines crawl up from the shadows and wrap around our necks, squeezing tight. The thorns pierce my skin. Panic seizes me and I start to kick and struggle in my chair.

With a flick of her wrist, she’s holding a scarlet envelope. As my neck is being crushed by a vine I’m sure doesn’t exist but still feels like it’s killing me, she steps down from the stage and gently places the envelope in my lap. Then, as sweetly as if we were lovers, she kisses me cheek and my skin burns where her lips touched them.

“Tonight is the night for the stories of the dead,” she whispers lovingly, her breath chill and smelling like wild violets. “And you are now our creature.”

The vine pulls and I nod. She holds up three fingers.

“Weave magic into your name, every day before the mirror say it like a magic spell ,” she says, lowering a finger. “Say it with meaning and say it with power. Captivate me with your name the next time we meet.”

The vine pulls again and again I nod.

“Hide your heart in a charm and never let it be seen. Sew it into an old dress or hide it under a seat but never let the living dead of the theater have it or you will never leave.”

A lowered finger, a pull, and a nod. Tears form in my eyes.

“And finally,” she says softly, brushing away a tear with her last finger and touching my chest where my heart should be, “be brave, lionheart, and respect the rules of the dead. We will guide you through this endless night.”

With a wiggling bow that displays her assets generously, she shimmers back into a hovering, purple-tinged light. The vines dissipate into black smoke and the dragon slumps into his chair. We’re both gasping and coughing. The envelope falls from my lap to the floor. The dragon and I stare at each other, then back at the stage. We’re still sitting there when Marina and the magician finally wander over to us, shaking their heads and asking what’s happening.

“We shouldn’t fuck with ghosts,” is all I can think to say. Everything else seems like it’s sealed into my heart right beneath where she touched me.

When we leave the theatre, I try to leave the envelope but the kiss mark on my cheek burns wickedly and my heart clenches when I turn away from it so I shove it in my pocket. The walk home we are silent as death but we huddle close together as we walk. Even the magician is quiet and his eyes are distant. He holds Marina’s hand as she clings to me and I cling to the dragon.

When I’m safe in my bedroom, a fresh pack of cigarettes half gone and Marina sleeping, I turn the envelope over and stare at the black lip print on the back. Hands shaking, I rip it open and watch as a ticket falls into my lap. I light another smoke and drag deep before holding it up.

A single ticket. For tomorrow night’s show.

My cheek burns.

End

xoxo – Burns the Dragon, my friend Vincent, Veronica Varlow, & two dapper dames.


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The Rebellion of the Autumn Queen

The Autumn Queen ruled the Autumn Door of the Palace of the Four Seasons. When upon her head, the crown was a crescent moon of gold. She had taught the people the lore of herbs and fire. She had taught them the old stories of war, of wisdom, and of wealth. She loved all of the peoples, young and old. She had fought for them and with them and helped them build gardens, homes, and graves. As she sat on her throne, the afternoons were fire and the nights were becoming cold. She wondered, who could protect them but her?

Finally, the day came when the Winter Monarch stepped from the Dreaming to the land. The first fingertips of frost claimed autumn blooms as winter ghosted across the ground and came to the Autumn Queen.

“Dearest,” the Winter whispered in a voice of drifting snow, “soon the doors will change again and the crown will sit upon my head. The time has almost come for you to return to the Dreaming.”

The Autumn, who was proud and fierce, gazed into her lover’s eyes but would not yield.

“Beloved, I cannot,” she replied. “I have nurtured the land to great abundance and will continue to do so. So inspired by our children’s progress, I will continue to sit on the throne and our golden age will continue.”

The Winter sighed the sigh of deep, frozen nights and shook their head. The Winter knew well the pride and passion of their lover.

“Beloved,” the Winter said. “This is folly. All things have their time and the land must rest to give fruit for another season. Your magic alone is not enough to sustain us.”

“I am at the height of my power,” the Autumn replied. “Fear not, I will protect us.”

The Winter was not a warrior, they were a being of soft slumber and the death that leeches the warmth of life. They were of soft crystalline nights and the silver bells of wisps in the wood. They knew the progression of the stars on clear cool nights, how seeds dreamed under the ground, and knew that this could not last.

“I am ever patient, my love,” the Winter said, placing a cool kiss on their beloved’s cheek. “Though it pains me, we will meet again and you will surrender the crown. It must be by your own choice and you will call for me.”

With that, the Winter let its body dissolve into the winds and the Autumn Queen was left alone in her palace.

Autumn continued to grace the land. The fruit was abundant, the people were happy, and all seemed well until one day, a messenger came from the villages of the people. He kneeled before the Queen.

“Beloved lady,” he said, “I come bearing news of your children of the north. They are in pain and suffering and are in need of you.”

“How has this come to pass?” the Queen asked.

“For many days the long Harvest has filled our stores and kept our gardens abundant,” the messenger replied. “We are grateful, but there is strangeness shadowing the land. A sickness has taken our villages. It is a fever that causes the sufferer to have waking dreams and attack their kin, before burning up from the inside out. Dozens have already succumbed.”

“Go quickly to the East, the South, and the West,” the Autumn Queen commanded. “I will journey to the North and see what can be done of this sickness. Join me when you can and tell me news of the rest of the land.”

The messenger once refreshed went to do as his queen had told him. As for the Queen, she took the form of a golden hind and was away to the North.

As she rode across the land, the Queen saw more of the strangeness the messenger had spoken of. The gardens were indeed abundant, so much so that the people of the land could not eat the fruit fast enough. It hung, heavy and rotting on the vine. Worried, the Queen travelled on.

As she continued to ride, the Queen saw even more strangeness. As she came to villages further to the North she heard whispers of those who would not enter Death’s gate. The old, the injured, and the sick did not die. Though their bodies rotted, they moved and spoke as if they were alive. Even more worried, the Queen travelled on.

Finally, as she neared the most northern tip of the land the Queen came upon the village that had sent the messenger. Taking the form of kin, she presented herself to the villagers.

“Thank goodness you have come, beloved lady,” one of the village folk cried. He clasped her hand and kissed it.

“I received your message. What has happened here?” she asked.

“The dead will not move on,” the villager cried in fear. “It began when the fruit did not wither and die. We were overjoyed by the abundance until our gardens were filled with rotting food. Then we noticed among ourselves that even though we aged and sickened, that the spirit would not leave the flesh. Finally came the horror of horrors, my Queen. Though the spirit would not pass on, the body continued to decay and we now share our homes with the living dead and ghosts who will not pass on into another life. We are afraid. Please help us.”

The Queen herself became afraid, knowing that if the souls did not pass on that her children would cease to exist. All of the kin had many lives before they returned to the stars and if a ghost did not pass on from its haunting, that soul would not be reborn. At that moment, the messenger stood beside the Queen and she knew him for her beloved, the Winter.

“This is the folly you have spoken of, beloved,” the Autumn Queen said. “And indeed, it is dire. But it is the nature of new laws to be chaotic. I will protect our children from this strange magic.”

“This is the second time you have not headed my warning, beloved,” the Winter replied. “But you are proud and strong and in the end, you will call for me.”

The Autumn Queen had been a great warrior during the ancient wars with the creatures of heaven and she had won many spoils, including the gem hearts of all the Bejeweled she had slain. They were the fiercest creatures that fed on the magic and emotions of others and had been immune to spells and enchantments and their gem hearts remained immune. The Autumn Queen used her magic and connection to the land to forge wards of protection using these gems to drive out the ghosts from the homes of the living. The village became peaceful again and the Autumn Queen returned to her palace.

Soon after, the Autumn Queen realized that she was very tired and took to her bed for many days, growing very ill. Hour by hour she lay, sometimes slumbering and sometimes awake with fever until finally, in pain and fear she called for the Winter. A cool breeze drifted in her window and a cool hand was laid upon her brow.

“As I lay here sick and unable to rule, who knows what manner of shadows plague our children,” the Autumn Queen said. “Please, beloved. Will you aid me?”

“I will do what I can, but I cannot restore your health or power to you, my love,” the Winter replied. “We are guardians of the land and the land is exhausted from the endless harvest, even as your own body is exhausted from endless rulership. You must slumber like the seed slumbers in the ground, beneath a coat of snow. You must learn new dreams and inspirations and only then, can you be returned to the full height of your power.”

“I fear for our children as your season comes,” the Autumn Queen said. “I fear the long nights, and the shadows that walk, and the hunger the waits just outside the door. I have taught them so much but I fear it is not enough to withstand your long night.”

“Though I may seem unyielding, there is wisdom to my season and without it, the Spring could not rule again, nor the Summer, nor you my beloved. I am just as necessary as the blossom and the fruit, for without me the cycle could not begin again,” the Winter told her.

“Then I relinquish this crown into your keeping, my beloved, knowing that as I rest and heal, you will watch over our children and I will reign once again.”

With that, the Autumn Queen passed the crown to the Winter Monarch and the seasons changed and all was well.

End


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The Hunt of the Summer Queen

When this world was young and its people were not yet connected to the Dreaming, the tribes of this world were visited by the Old Ones. The Old Ones were from a dying world and they were old as the sun itself. They asked to be made welcome on this world and formed a tenant with the land and the land’s children, our ancestors whom they called “kin”.

In exchange for their protection and love, the Old Ones chose five of their own to nurture the bond between themselves and us whom they called kin. These five became the monarchs of the seasons, passing the crown of the land between themselves as the sun marked its journey through the sky and the land changed. They lived among us, laughing and mating and binding our peoples. They taught us the magics of their people and we flourished.

Now, many of the Old Ones were no longer creatures of flesh and bone having given up their physical forms to travel by the way of light and the stars. They lived as part of the Dreaming but they feared that their wisdom, their stories, and their culture would fade and so, as part of the agreement between their people and ours, they asked that any child of kin and other that was touched, any child that showed a preference for the wilds and a talent for dreaming stronger than its desire to live in the towns and customs of their tribe be brought to the Old Ones and given leave to join them in the Dreaming. This bargain was called the “Oath of the Stars”, made to the ones that had come from the stars.

Many seasons and years passed until finally, a child was born. This child was a strange thing, with the eyes of an old soul and dreams that spilled into waking hours. The child’s mother was a warrior, not a dreamer, and she was perplexed by her child that seemed to start at all manner of shadows and shift natures like the turning of the tide. She feared the distance in the child’s eyes and how quickly the child could lose her in the woods, though the mother was strong and could run very fast.

One day, the mother happened upon her child in the garden, staring at the sky and whispering to small, winged figures that disappeared into the air. In that moment, in the golden summer of the afternoon, that the mother’s vision cleared and she saw what had been apparent for some time. Their family was kin of kin to the Summer Queen and their line carried the blood of the Old Ones. In that blood she knew the old stories and by the visitation, she recognized her child as touched by the others and beholden to the land. She was bound by the Oath of the Stars to give up her child.

That night across their doorstep the mother found a scattering of red rose petals, the last of the summer’s bounty. She knew it for a sign from the Summer Queen and her heart filled with fear. She could not bring herself to give up her child and so, that same night, she packed their belongings and they fled by the road, as the rolling clouds of summer storms gathered in the sky.

The mother had grown up by the forest and so she knew to stay far from the woods who would not shield her from their mistress. She and her child traveled the long road to the sea, where the mother offered up three smooth stones and asked the sea for its help and sanctuary.

“Alas,” replied the Sea, “I cannot help you, my child. Already the storms gather on the horizon and the Queen prepares to ride and claim her kin. Even I with my vast miles and rolling waves cannot hide you from her hunt.”

In despair, the mother fled from the ocean towards the mountains and with her child, climbed to the very top of their stones and asked the mountains for sanctuary. They heard the thunder of hoof beats behind them.

“Alas,” replied the Mountains, “we cannot help you. Already the winds blow fierce and bring the battle cries of the Summer Queen’s hunt. The Queen prepares to ride and claim her kin. Even our many peaks and icy cliffs cannot hide you from her.”

In despair, the mother fled yet again to the palace of the king, who was a good and just ruler. As they neared the palace, the sky opened up and the host of the Summer Queen came thundering from the clouds and from the trees. She rode shining and terrible across the land and reigned in her mount to stand before the mother and her child.

“Kin of my kin,” the Summer Queen said, her eyes flashing like thunder, “the time has come for you to honour the Oath of the Stars. Your child is one of us and will live forever in the Dreaming and the Wild. Struggle no longer, for we will accept your child into our fold.”

“Please, lady,” the mother begged. “Do not take my only child. My heart would be reft without her.”

“It is not mine to choose,” the Queen replied. “I obey the land and it calls to your blood as it does mine. Whether it be by my hand or no, the land will have your child. See now how the magic has its way even now.”

The mother turned to see that her child had been transformed into a small, golden deer. With a cry of fear, the mother reached for the deer and spooked, the deer bounded off into the forest. With a warrior’s cry, the Summer Queen’s horse lunged forward and her hunting party followed suit. Heartsick and defeated, the mother that was also warrior wept.

Now, the king in his palace had seen the lightning and heard the howls of the Queen’s hunt and so came with his guard to see what had brought her. Outside the gates, he found the weeping mother and recognizing her as a warrior by her markings, bowed his head.

“Kin, why do you cry?” he asked.

“My child has been touched by the Old Ones,” the mother replied. “The Summer Queen and her Hunt have taken my blood and made my child one of them.”

The king felt the weight of her sorrow and took his hand in hers. His blood was also strong with the blood of the Old Ones and he knew of the Oath.

“My heart grieves for you and your family,” he said. “But though I wear the crown of this country, I too am bound by the laws of the Summer Queen. I do not know how to help you but I can offer you my hospitality.”

He and his guards took her to his palace where she spent the night in a guest chamber. That night, she dreamed of the warm sun, the red flames of a firebird, and a heart warmed by love and passion. The next morning, she broke her fast with the king who inquired after her health.

“Truthfully my lord,” she replied, “though my heart mourns for my child, my head is full of the strangest visions.”

She told him of her dreams and he listened with a wise ear and open heart.

“You have dreamed of the Firebird and the Order of the Sun,” the king told her. “It is an old and ancient order of our people. Truly, you must have great vision to dream such things.”

The next night, the mother who was also a warrior dreamed of the cool moon, the sweet song of a nightbird, and a night sky full of mysteries to study. Again in the morning, the mother broke her fast with the king and told her what she had seen.

“You have dreamed of the Nightbird and the Order of the Moon,” the king told her. “It is an old and ancient order of our people. Truly, you must have great vision to dream such things.”

The third night, she dreamed of the brilliance of the stars, of the hope and fear of a dying people, and the joy of waking in a new world. She dreamed of the shifting colours of the jewels that were the stars and the iridescent wings of creatures that travelled like light. She dreamed of a golden deer in the woods that was a creature of magic and a creature that spread magic.

That morning when the king asked her what she had dreamed, she turned to him and replied in a voice full of knowing.

“I have dreamed of the Old Ones and the Oath of the Star,” she said. “I have dreamed of my child and her happiness to be with the land that calls to her. I mourn for her even as I know her happiness. I will carry a mother’s pain the rest of my life, even as she will live on in the Dreaming to continue to spread its magic.”

Over time, the seasons changed and still the mother did not return to the house that had been the home of herself and her child. With a healing heart, the mother who was also a warrior stayed with the king who had been a great comfort to her during her time of sorrow and let him love her and loved him in return.

End


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The Village Youth and the Fair Youth

In the Dreaming, there was a village near a wood that was preparing for the Summer Queen’s arrival.

The nights were warming and on the wind, they heard the bells that meant she and her court would soon come to call.

In this village lived a young man, who was kind and thoughtful but terribly sad. He watched courting couples, hand-in-hand, and wondered when his heart would flutter at the sight of another’s face, his pulse quicken at another’s touch. His heart was so full of longing there was scarce a trace of anything else.

On the night of the new flower moon, while he was tying ribbons to trees to prepare the forest for the Queen and her court to arrive, he heard the sound of bells and laughter. Startled and unsure, he hid himself in a tangle of bushes – not knowing whether or not his presence would be welcomed. Still, he was curious as well and peered through the leaves and branches to see if he might glimpse the summer lady herself.

To his surprise, instead of the Queen, he saw several tall creatures frolicking through the trees, laughing and shaking bells tied to long ribbons. They circled around the greenery, chasing each other and skipping about and he had a sense that they – like him – were preparing the way for their two people to meet.

One among them was a slightly shorter youth, with warm amber eyes and a crooked smile. His hair hung straight down to the middle of his back and he carried a flute instead of bells, playing in harmony with the melody of the bells.

The young man felt his face grow warm and his stomach drop and the seed of desire was planted within him. Before he could understand what was happening, the amber-eyed fair youth was gone.

He felt his heart shudder and sigh and for a moment, he felt the world open up with possibility. He knew that he wanted to see him again.

Because he was a child raised on tradition, he knew to go seeking the Summer Queen’s court he would need an offering – something that only he could bring her – for the Summer Queen greatly liked presents and being a capricious creature, loved the unknown and curious. He searched his room, his house, and the village until he found a rock that looked like a dark speckled egg and felt tingly in his hand. It was curious and unusual and though it seemed no great treasure, he felt somewhere within him that she would be pleased.

Satisfied, he ventured into the woods and started walking in circles around the trees, singing old songs to himself to invite the court nearby. When he heard the corresponding sounds of bells, he followed them until he came to a clearing where a gathering of the court was lounging about among ferns and rugs, flowers and pillows. A cluster of fairy lights floated above them, sometimes lighting delicately on their hair, sometimes twining round their arms. There was a hint of danger in the air and the court regarded him with wild and curious eyes. He tried to calm the trembling in his stomach. As everyone in the village knew, these were creatures of the dreaming and wilde and their rules were unknown to him. But he did know the most important custom that was taught to every child of his village. So he held the stone firmly in his hand and cleared his throat.

“I would like to offer a gift to the Queen, if I may,” he said, choosing his words carefully. The folk looked at each other and then at him, and then to a fair maid sitting on one of the rugs. She smiled and gestured him forward, with a laugh. He walked towards her, aware of the eyes on him and trying not to search for the fair youth.

“I am who you seek,” she said, her voice rich with merriment. Though she was lovely, she didn’t seem any different than any of the others. Even so, he bowed, offering the stone to her with both hands. She made a curious sound with her tongue and took it from him, making a small delighted noise as her fingertips ran over the surface.

“Lovely,” she murmured softly and looked at him thoughtfully. “This is a curious gift, child. Do I know you?”

He nodded and spoke his name, the one that his parents had given him and introduced him to her as when he was a child. Because his parents had done so, she knew him and her smile was filled with warmth.

“What a pleasure! My!” she laughed, and he felt as if the sun warmed every part of him though it was the middle of the night and the sky was velvet dark overhead. “Come, you must sit and drink with us.”

He felt sharpness in the air and remembered again that he knew less than most about the ways of her court.

“I am grateful for the offer,” he replied bowing a bit stiffly. He took a deep breath. “But it is very late and I must soon return to my bed. It was gift enough to see you all, that I might properly prepare the forest and village for your arrival.”

She smiled again, baring sharp, wicked teeth.

“And is that all, luck?” she replied, her voice turning the endearment into a sensual word. He thought he saw the ghost of a tail twitching behind her.

“I would ask you a question, if I may,” he replied, feeling the stare of every creature around them. She nodded and it seemed to him that her face was longer, her eyes larger and more cunning than he had thought.

“Ask,” she said and it seemed to him that her voice had a sultry purr that was also a growl.

“I spied in the woods the night before an amber-eyed youth of your fair folk. I felt warm then cold and the seed of something that I have not felt before. I would like to see him again but I do not know the ways of the nightwood which is your realm and do not know how one courts one of the otherkin.”

While he spoke, the creatures around him seemed to be swallowed by the darkness and trees, leaving only their eyes. Even the fairy lights that had danced among them retreated until they became stars in the velvet sky. The Summer Queen’s ears were more pointed than he recalled and her voice no longer seemed to come from her mouth but from the air around him. She gestured to the trees.

“The one you seek is here,” she said. “Can you not see him?”

The young man looked around him and could not see the otherkin youth he sought.

“No, lady. Where is he?” he asked bewildered. She stared at him for a long time before replying.

“He is here for I can see and sense him as clearly as I can see and sense you. It seems, kinling, that though you are touched by magic, you have not yet learned the skills to walk in it. For your honesty and for your desire, I will give you three wisdoms. We are creatures of the Dreaming, the wildest of all realms, the very heart of forest. To walk the paths of the nightwood, a kin of ours must know three things. Such a creature must know love for itself, love for the web of life which birthed it, and love for the wildness that surrounds it. It is only through these eyes that one might be long enough in the nightwood to court a fair creature.”

The fox which was the Summer Queen shook out its fur then and scampered into the bush. The sounds of bells were gone now, as well as any trace of the frolicking otherkin court. Careful to wrap his bells so they didn’t make a sound, the young man returned to his village.

For the next six days, he sought to find love for himself and the village that had birthed him but often he felt his thoughts wander back to the fair youth. He took many walks in the woods but found himself again and again thinking only of amber-eyes and the curve of a cheek, the shoulders and arms. Instead of walking, he searched with bells and songs and gifts but could find no trace of the otherkin. He forgot to eat and scarcely slept and soon grew very ill indeed. His two mothers grew very concerned between themselves and sent for his sire’s mother, who was very wise. When the old woman saw him she asked him of his days and he could speak of nothing but the fair youth.

“He has seen the Summer Queen’s court and become touched with fae fever,” she said. “He longs for that which he cannot find again. I cannot help him.

His fair-haired mother placed a hand on his cheek, squeezed his raven-haired mother’s hand and said, “Is there nothing we can do?”

The old woman smiled and patted both of their hands.

“Because you have done as I told you when he was very young and introduced him to the Summer Queen at her festival when he was a child, she knows his name and his path and will help us as if he were her own.”

The old woman gave them instructions on how to call the otherkin’s attention and for three days they followed them exactly. Finally, during the third night they heard a fox’s yip in the woods and the sound of bells outside his open window and knew to leave him be. When they had gone, the fox jumped in his room and the Summer Queen put a cool hand to his forehead.

“Kin of my kin, what has happened?” she asked softly. He opened his eyes and seeing her, tears filled his eyes.

“Oh, summer lady – I tried to do as you told me but I could think of nothing but him. Every day I felt desire blossoming more and more until I became as you see me now. I feel that I shall die if I do not see him,” he pleaded.

Sadly, she shook her head.

“Dear one, this is why you must do as I instructed. To walk the paths of the Dreaming, you must be anchored in your own magic as surely as you are drawn to another. Otherwise, the nightwood will not open for you and as you are now, you will surely die. For you are in the clutches of infatuation and true desire comes from the twin blossoms of love for oneself as well as love for another. Again I shall tell you, kinling. To walk the paths of the nightwood, a kin of ours must know three things. Such a creature must know love for itself, love for the web of life which birthed it, and love for the wildness that surrounds it. It is only through these eyes that one might be long enough in the nightwood to court a fair creature. For the next three days until the full flower moon, do these things and you will regain your health and see him again.”

It seemed to him then that he was alone in his room and he couldn’t say she had ever been there at all. But when his mothers came to check on him the next morning he was sitting up and even accepted a bowl of broth for breakfast.

For the next three days, he reflected on the Queen’s words and though he did not know the depth of them, he strived to carry them with him. He took delight in his kindness and curiosity and played great games to find the most curious stones and flowers to decorate his space with. He shared laughter and love with his village as they prepared for the full flower moon night, and when he walked in the woods – he did it with care and attention that became reverence that became love. Soon, he felt his heart swirling with the mystery of creation and felt a spark in his heart. With this spark, he began to write poetry and sing songs with all of his self and the folk of his village were enchanted by it.

On the night of full moon, as the folk of his village walked hand-in-hand to the clearing to meet the otherkin, he noticed that the forest began to look different to him. He noticed flowers that he had never seen before and colours of which he did not know the names. The air was full of familiar and new sounds, songs and voices and creature calls that were in harmony with each other – at once strange and frightening and wonderful. He realized he was entering the nightwood in truth as he had never done before.

When they reached the meeting place, the court was arranged much like it had been the first time he had seen them. Groups of them sat together, laughing and playing music and eating. But as he watched them, their appearances changed from creature to kin to otherkin to sparks of light dancing. He wondered if it had always been so. He wondered how many of his village folk knew of this – that everything in the forest could be many things at once. He looked down at his own hands and saw his skin was faintly luminescent in the night, the ghost of poetry and words darkening his fingertips and the melody of songs he had sung and would yet sing glittering across his chest. Around him the night of the fairy gathering was much as it had been the years before, but also so much more than it had ever been.

The Summer Queen received each of the children as she had every year, a mask of blossoms and ribbons across her face. Each child stumblingly spoke their name and offered her the stone they carried, gifted to them by a loved one. She kissed each stone and handed it back, offering the child her blessing and love and a chance to learn her mysteries. As he watched, he felt that he saw not only her familiar masked face but also the features he had seen during the waning moon, as well as the face of a fox, as well as numerous other forms that she had been. Beside her, playing the flute softly was the amber-eyed fair youth.

He was not as he had been. Again, the young man saw the features he had seen the night of the new moon, but he saw the curious amber-eyed stare of a hawk, the grace of a buck, felt the cool touch of the wind, saw the ghost of the flickering feminine movements of a vixen. But whatever the youth had been before and would be, in or out of the nightwood – the young man felt a pull just as strong as the first night.

“Tell me, kinling,” the Summer Queen asked him. “Where is your beloved?”

“I see him, lady,” the young man replied. “He stands next to you, playing his instrument. But he is not as I thought him. He is much more than I dreamed.”

“As are you, lovely one,” she said, leaning to touch his hands where music and poetry still danced. “You are finding your own magic and because of that, the nightwood and its mysteries are revealing themselves to you. Come, sing if it pleases you for this is a joyous night where magic takes hold in the world of mortals.”

He sang for them because it pleased him and for many moons after, stole to the woods to court the fair youth with the crooked smile who indeed thought he was beloved in turn.

End


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The Courtship of the Spring & Summer

In the Dreaming, the year is ruled by five creatures, known as the Spring Monarch, the Summer Monarch, the Autumn Monarch, the Winter Monarch, and the Sea Monarch. They live together in the Palace of the Seasons. As the wheel of the year turns, each ruler takes their turn, then leaves to make welcome for the next reign, in love and trust – as all things must have their time. When it came time for spring to pass into summer, the cunning and studious Monarch of Spring was nervous. Though they knew the languages of all the creatures and the music of all the stars, and could make flowers bloom and snows fall – they were not wise in the ways of love and did not know how to make welcome to the passionate and delightful Queen of Summer. Truthfully, they were quite smitten with the Summer Queen and desired to make her beloved.

Now, the Summer Queen was a creature who lived in the eternal, golden warmth and soft fragrant nights of the warmer seasons. As such, she was a capricious creature of immediate pleasures whose every whim was fulfilled almost before it left her lips. Having the gift of alchemy and knowing the deep mysteries of things growing in the earth long before the first hints of green above, the Spring Monarch was more familiar with things waited for and cultivated. It was their thought that this wisdom of theirs, their own slower rhythms that they would captivate the lovely Queen of Summer. As the days warmed, the Summer Queen began to visit the Spring Monarch in their wing of the palace. The two of them talked, laughed, and flirted. The Summer Queen was quite enamored with the studious and thoughtful Spring Monarch and invited them to her chamber. But though their cheeks warmed and desire flowed through them – the Spring Monarch knew that they were not ready and shook their head. They gave the Summer Queen a single warm and sweet kiss and placed in her hands a clay pot full of dirt.

“The seed is already planted,” they said. “Everything must happen in its own time. If we care for it, water it, and place it in the warmth of the sun – we shall see what grows.”
A bit confused, but curious – the Summer Queen accepted the gift and smiled graciously, a playful light in her eyes. The following week, the Summer Queen again came to visit the Spring Monarch in their realm and they shared dreams and memories. The snows had almost all melted and the Summer Queen, touching the Spring Monarch’s face, gave them long, deep kisses. Breathless and flushed, she once again invited the Spring Monarch to her chamber.

“How fares the gift I have you?” asked the Spring Monarch.

“I have sang to it and cared for it. It has shown itself above the earth and sprouted a single, tiny set of leaves,” the Summer Queen replied.

The Spring Monarch smiled with pleasure at the care the Summer Queen was showing their gift and replied, “Let us cherish and savor this new growth.”

The Spring Monarch kissed the Summer Queen again. The following week, the Summer Queen once again visited the realm of the Spring Monarch. They walked in the soft rain of the gardens of the Spring, marveling at the budding trees and fresh wind with just a hint of coolness. Among the black trees and tiniest green growth the Spring Monarch kissed the Summer Queen’s cheeks and neck, exposing and caressing the skin above the swell of her breasts. Once again, flushed and wanting – the Summer Queen invited the Spring Monarch to her chambers and though the Spring Monarch was more than wanting, instead they asked – “How fares the gift I gave you?”

“With the loving spring rain, it has grown much more. It has many leaves now and a sweet bud ready to open.”

“Then, my beloved, let us waiting a little longer and cherish this moment,” the Spring Monarch replied, The Summer Queen, having become cunning to the ways of her beloved, agreed and kissed them again.

Now, the Summer Queen continued to watch the flower the Spring Monarch had given her and though it continued to grow quite a bit, the bud remained closed. Being wise in the ways of love and desire, she knew the mysteries of flowers opening and becoming fruit, the warmth of seasons of ripening. And being able to feel the Spring Monarch’s desire, she decided it was time for some of her own magic – the last wisdom the Spring Monarch had told her – the warmth of the sun. She infused the flower with her own warm, sun-like energy every day for the next week and finally, she whispered a message to the dove who was her friend and set her free and waited.

In time, the Spring Monarch came to her chamber, carrying the small white dove.

“I would show you how I have cherished the gift you have given me,” said the Summer Queen, the clay pot in her hands.

The flower, with the warmth of sunshine had bloomed, revealing petals of white becoming the deepest pink. The Summer Queen, turning, also revealed her bedchamber above which was an arch that had been covered in the blossoming vines of the same flower that she had nurtured. The Spring Monarch cooed with delight in the way of doves and the Summer Queen smiled. “Let us cherish this new blossoming together,” she said, placing the flower on a table. “Would you come to my chamber?”

The Spring Monarch let the dove fly and graciously agreed.

End


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Liminal Creatures of Heaven

On the eve of a lunar eclipse, I observed in my garden the most curious blossom. Luminescent and spiked along the edges of the petals, I was drawn to it – wanting to caress its softness and breathe in its scent.

The perfume was familiar and my mind exploded. I fell backwards onto the ground, head burning with the sharpness. I felt a surge of euphoria and purpose fill me. It was a scent that made me aware of all of my potential and I knew in that moment I was a being of light.

What came next has been explained away by my peers as mere fancies of a star gazer – a dream brought on by my psyche’s desire to see and experience what I had gazed upon through my lens. But what are we but creatures of a dream? We are the children of the dream of this world.

I found myself lifted out of my body, pulled by my very heart into the sky. It swallowed me up. When I’d gazed upon the sky, I’d always thought the space between the stars was empty but I felt the dark of the night air surround me like velvet, brushing up against my skin. The stars burned and I felt rather than saw their heat.

I had gone beyond the outer edge of our world and saw the second moon, Lu Min. Volcanoes erupted along its surface, ash and rocks filling the space around it. Beyond, Mneme glowed like a pearl. I felt its pull and moved toward it.

In the way of dreams, as I thought it I found myself on its surface. The ground was rock, dust and glittering sand. I ghosted across it, drawn by something out of my control or influence. I heard a song of silver bells and crystal and water that pulled at me.

My soul was drawn downward and as I had no form, I passed through the ground effortlessly and found myself kneeling in water. The cave around me was singing and shining. It was the colour of twilight – blues and purples and silver. The walls were made of rock and dark crystal and the water that trickled through cracks became small waterfalls.

Beyond me stood a shining creature of majesty and grace. Its eyes were the same luminescent violet of the blossom. Its neck was slender and its coat silvery. It was cloven-footed with four legs and upon its brow a mark like a flower. From the center of that mark spiraled a horn – a single horn that shone with its own light.

When we lay our heads down to sleep as people who honour dreams, visions such as these are what we hope to witness. It moved forward a few steps through the ankle-deep water and the song continued to fill the space between us and around us. It told me, through awareness rather than words, its name and that it was the guardian of Mneme, our white moon. It was numinous.

To describe the weight of the moment fails to capture the ecstasy of such a visitation. As surely as I know my name and remember the stars I have gazed upon did I know that this creature was the essence of Dream itself.

As I put these words to paper, I can no longer remember its face. That memory Time has made its own. Nor have I ever been able to transcribe the music I heard. But forever after, I shall remember the fragrance of it, the vibrancy of its eyes, the joy and the wonder. When I have tried to remember the song, my mind fills with the most enchanting stories – stories of creatures from the stars.

It is for this purpose that I believe the creature summoned me – to share these stories. As I knelt before it, the song continued and I felt its gentleness, its wildness, its desire, and the sparks of stardust that made up its consciousness. Through its song, it shared that we are part of a harmony. We are a single age in a cycle that spans stars and planets to encompass our entire galaxy. Though life on this star may seem long to us, it is part of a dance of worlds that rise and fall in turn. All watched over by eternal creatures, all of them born from the seeds of stars.

When I woke in my garden, the flower had gone to seed – passing through its life cycle in the time it took for the eclipse to pass. I gathered the seeds which were small and unremarkable. As I write this, I have been coaxing them to grow. I do not know if it will prove fruitful but I will persist.

In the event that I do not succeed in recreating the flower, I transcribe here what I remember and what the creature would have me share. We are a part of those stories and the grace of dream that formed these creatures.

Each of the worlds in our galaxy was formed by a single crystalline seed that was born within our sun. These seeds travel in great waves across the sky. Some of them blossom and grow to become planets and other stars, some carry on to other galaxies. Some burn out without ever knowing life.

The creature I saw was one of twelve creatures of the heavens who are the avatars of the people who inhabited those worlds. Some have already risen and fallen as I write this. Some are civilizations that have yet to come. Through time and space, their hearts reach for ours and they love us, just as our goddess and avatar loves and protects them in their own myths. It may be that they have stargazers of their own who will transcribe this song of the stars with her name in it, knowing us only through her.

Our story goes that we kin inherited this world from creatures that ruled here before. This world was a paradise – a garden that was destroyed and we inherited the barren earth and the last of the folk that came before us guided and nurtured our growth.

Consider that this is only part of the story. Some stories have been given to me. More may be dreamt by folk I have never met. Collectively, I believe through our dreams that we can piece together the whole song of our stars.

Each guardian and planet watches over one lunar cycle of Mneme, twenty-nine days from new moon to new moon. All those born during that month are under the influence of that guardian and realm. At the end of the twelve signs, it all begins again. Below I have compiled a list that displays the progression of these months. This list also includes the world that the creature comes from and the realm of influence or element associated with that world.

When I write of which element or realm of influence these creatures come from, I speak of things that can be accessed by all folk, all kin. But what these creatures grace their children with is the path to their magic through those realms – an extra potentiality that manifests from the moment they are born. A child born under the influence of Dreaming has the gift of dreaming which develops as the child develops. It can manifest as the ability to see the dreams of another or the ability to see events across time in one’s dreams. Perhaps a child might develop the talent to manifest creatures and objects from its dream?

I write here of the pattern as revealed to me, but even I cannot imagine all the ways in which these talents can be manifested. Any manner of magical talent that uses the essence of dream can be learned or awakened depending on the soul and fate of the child. Like stars or plants, these talents grow from a seed and after nurturing can be shared with another. We shall call this “affinity”. Talents gifted by affinity can be nurtured and with enough time and care, talents gained by affinity can blossom as beautifully as those one was born with.

Some of the names of this list will be familiar, some will be unknown. At the writing of this, I seem to remember I have heard tales of some of these creatures. Even though we did not know the scope of which they involved themselves in our lives, we have been aware of them in some manner.

I have no gift of prophecy, only of sensing. As I align my own birth by this table I see that I was born under the Moon of Storm, under the influence of the realm of water. My guardian also happens to be my name sake. Yuria, the great sea drakin, whose stories I know well. Stories of how she came to be and what role she has played in our history. These must be stories such as these for all of these creatures. Perhaps more dreams will reveal them to me, perhaps that will be the task of others.

For this moment, I am content. The creature that visited me is described in this chart as the unicorn Liyana. To this creature, I give my thanks for the gift of inspiration and the keys to unlocking our true potential as children of this star.

End


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The City With No Animals – Part 4

Charms

One of my favourite memories of Trance is of us alone, sitting on the back porch of the old, squat house she shared with her sister. She was wearing a sweet flowered dress with pockets, instead of her usual black, and her face was calm and open. She radiated light. Even though she seemed full of sadness, her quick smile was clear of its clinging shadows. The look in her eyes was serene. That was when she told me she was going to leave Charming for the White City, that she knew we’d be okay without her, that she had to follow her heart’s pull.

I kept so many mementos of Trance. Boxes of prints, cards, photographs—everything that proved she once existed. I pull up the public records now, not daring to search but scrolling through list after list. Everything she’d been a part of, every apartment she lived in, every job she worked at had no record of her. I press my face against her scarf and wonder, for the millionth time, what became of her.

Was I someone who could hold happiness and desire with an open hand? This city revolved so much around things—objects of beauty—and keeping locked down what would make us feel afraid or uncomfortable. Is that where we found our security?

Every time I see Miette now, my stomach turns and I feel something dark trying to claw its way out of me. I want to yell or hit something or feel pain. Her eyes, which had seemed distant before, look liquid, so vibrant a violet that I think amethyst tears might run down her face.

Finally, in art class, I touch her cheeks as if tears really are falling there, and I feel her still, breath slowing. I want to tell her that it was okay, that I know it wasn’t her fault. It was just hard for me to separate her from these feelings of insecurity and loss.

Instead, all I can say is, “I’m not ready yet.”

She nods, eyes closing, folding her hands in her lap. As I turn away, she puts a length of purple ribbon in my hand. From it hangs a translucent green feather charm carved from stone. It’s impossibly delicate.

“For your dream that night, of berries and flowers and hunger,” she says softly. “I hope you can find what you need. I do love you.”

I accept it—her love, the way she’s showing she loves me, even as I know I need more. If anything is going to feel right again, I need more than she can give me. I need myself.
I pack my bags that night, write and mail long love letters to both Miette and Yurome. As the sun rises the next morning, I greet it with a prayer and let the ferry take me across the shining water to the small port town of Charming, to the place where everything that comes to the White City must pass through. To the place where I was born and to the person Trance and I both left behind.

Her name was Jilly. Julianna actually. If we were birds, she would have been the true dove—soft and sweet, with large dark eyes and a face that betrayed everything. As children, we had played together, and recalling those memories draws the golden thread of magic in my life even tighter.

My memories are of us walking through neighbourhoods that were almost forests, her hand in mine, singing lullabies and telling stories about the twinned charms that hung around our necks, charms we named Redfern and Nym.

I had made them from clay and beads and shards of crystal, but it was Jilly who breathed life into them, feeding them apples and blueberries and forest tea made from any kind of leaf we could find. Her shyness made me fearless, and I kissed her cheeks often. I told her it was part of the magic, and she smiled sweetly, smelling like strawberries and mud.

We decided that Redfern and Nym would protect us, our family lines. Once, in a fit of inspiration, Jilly wanted to release all her charms because, as she said, the magic of them was trapped in their cute little shells until we were brave enough and our own belief was strong enough to release them. Redfern, with his long nose and beard, grinned just a bit wickedly. His red eyes were a perfect complement to Jilly’s sweetness—and a symbol of the passion and darkness sleeping within her.

I touched Nym lightly, his watery features a reflection of my serious, strong exterior.

I watched Jilly bury Redfern under a bush in the early autumn. When we came back, both the bush and Redfern were gone. Jilly assured me that the magic was working, and now Redfern could protect her even better. But she cried for a week all the same. I gave her Nym to keep safe.

It had seemed like a child’s game, but this is a new world I’m living in.

Now, as I walk through town, I taste the old sadness, the knowledge that the world is more than we told each other and the deep fear of that being true. I think of the students killing each other—through fire and weapon and madness—and I feel nauseated.

What is true, anyway?

The town looks as if has sprouted up from the ground. It couldn’t be more different from the White City. The houses here are soft and welcoming, roofs every shade of brown, chocolate, and mud. No one hurries anywhere, thoughts full of the simple tasks of living, as opposed to parties or art shows. The only things the two places have in common are the green growing things everywhere and the streets made of carefully laid stonework.

I register for my visit, because as crazy as it seems, I want everything to feel normal. I look Jilly up in the public records and find out she’s living alone—not surprisingly—in an old three-story house painted pale dusky rose. In elegant black letters, someone has written on the house sign above the street number “The House of Longing.”

As always, when I see her, I am filled with a mixture of tenderness and attraction—both familial and tinged with desire. Her smile for me holds a ghost of sadness. She and Trance share the same dark eyes. They are sisters, after all.

If she’s surprised by my visit, she handles it the same way she handles everything else. She flutters around the kitchen, making tea, preparing food, occasionally glancing at me over her shoulder with soulful and wary trickster eyes. I know then that in her beats a playful, wily heart —fierce and cunning. I smile, and she returns it, letting our gazes connect for a moment before turning her attention back to the stew she is preparing.

I feel good, like everything new and sharp might settle into some semblance of comfort. Maybe it’s a temporary reprieve, but I’ll take it. At least it’s mine, a place from my past.

“Welcome home,” Jilly says softly, setting the table in front of me. Her voice takes on its old, demanding quality. “I want to hear everything. About your work, your lovers, all your stories. Tell me.”

I can’t bear to tell her about the dreams yet, or the ghosts that haunt an abandoned neighbourhood. It’s too much to risk this fragile peace of mind. Instead, I touch the blue-eyed Nym, still safely hanging from her neck, and tell her about the elegant schools, the glittering parties, the gaudy Third District that she would love, and aspects of my love affair with Yurome, who reminds us both of Jilly’s own first love, a grey-eyed girl named, of all things, Bird. I don’t mention Miette.

Jilly shows me the house, offering no explanations as to why she has moved from her sunny childhood home. When I ask to see the attic, her face closes up tight, and she refuses to answer. I feel her secrets fill the room like shadows, and I sigh, relieved somehow. Things have changed for both of us.

Maybe we can hold this peace together.

“Never mind,” I say, walking away from the attic door and Jilly’s bristling hair, as red and golden as the pictures of foxes in Miette’s books. “It’s too close. We can wait.”

Jilly smiles like the sun, like a child, and my heart aches because I know she has been very lonely.

~ * ~

New Resolution

If I had thought to escape Miette and the golden thread of magic, I was deceiving myself. Every minute under Jilly’s roof reminded me of things from long before Miette, before her stories and dreams revealed a path directly from the stars to my heart. She had done nothing to me; it had already been there. Perhaps my desire for her had allowed me to see things in a way I never had before, but she was the catalyst, not the source.

Like Trance before her—who I left this place for, whose footsteps I followed when I first moved to the White City—I was chasing after a woman who seemed more made of dreams than flesh. Did I chase Trance because I loved her and desired her? Or had I chased her because of the rush of inspiration, the feeling of being swept up in something when I followed her on her adventures? Even once Trance was gone from the White City, I had continued the lifestyle I’d watched her live. Was I hoping to recreate that feeling by copying her? Was it easier when you could pin that feeling to someone else, rather than create it yourself? Was that why Miette and Trance were so attractive to me? They shone with light, a passion that inspired others around them. It seemed to come from inside, that light. Was its source their determination to follow their desires and destinies without looking back?

That night, Jilly and I sit together in her rose-scented bathtub washing our hair and trading stories and songs, as we had when we were little.

“I dream sometimes still,” she says suddenly, voice low. “Of Bird, of being a ghost, of a longing so deep it has the power to stop time.”

I pause and look at her.

She blushes under my gaze and closes her eyes, continuing.

“I know now that I didn’t love her—or if I did, that it was a love that was a fragment of what I’m capable of. But those dreams were real. I was naive to think it was a destined love, but my feelings were real.”

Her words are quick and sharp, angry and sad and compassionate, tumbling from her lips like her secrets are racing to get out of her.

“I dreamed that I was a fox,” she continues breathlessly and boldly. “That I was a fairy trapped here in this house out of desire for something I could never have. That I cursed all who lived here, feeding their longings and desires and, in turn, feeding off of them. When I woke, I walked until I found this house. In the attic was a glowing pink light, pulsing like my heart. It was a charm, my crystallized heart still trapped here.”

She clasps her hands over her chest, and her lips tremble, waiting. Maybe waiting for my rejection of her strange story? She seems so fragile, but I know then that she is stronger than me.

Nausea and sickness rise in my stomach at this talk of magic but then fade, my fear warmed and held in this sanctuary of hers, losing its power. I ran from love and desire and ghosts. Jilly has moved in with them.

I kiss her cheek and smile the smile that Trance gave me: a perfect quirk of the lips, calm, confident. It had always made my heart flutter.

“Strange things have happened to me, too. I should tell you about a girl,” I whisper.

Secrets and shadows grow in silence and sharing alike. Dreams are the same.

During the days, while Jilly works in the public gardens, I wander the surrounding forest, snow-covered and sleeping. I don’t want to see the town and its familiar people. I want to hold a curtain of silence around the both of us, Jilly and me. I don’t want anyone else to spoil it. Soon after I arrive, I start to feel ill and can’t stop throwing up.

Jilly tucks me into bed and brings me food she’s gathered.

“It’s the food,” Jilly tells me in a hushed voice. “The food in my house only comes from the woods, or I’ve grown it myself. I don’t know why, but the food in the public gardens is different. I never eat it, though I work there.”

Strangely, even though I feel horrible, my head starts to feel clearer than it has in a long time. My dreams are no longer shadowy and intense. Sometimes I even dream of silly things.

Once I feel better, I want to be useful, so I gather wild foods, following Jilly’s instructions, feeling something more than ornamental for the first time in a very long time. The trees help me clear my thoughts, and I start to feel them—the trees’ presence. I weep with wonder. I tell them what I remember from the ghosts’ stories and realize so much is missing, that the ghosts hold truths that may never be told.

I learn from Jilly the joy of creating simple things. I make powders and oils and creams for hair and skin, adding dried rose petals to everything. For some reason, we can’t get enough of roses. We put them in everything—food, baths, sachets in our pockets and drawers. It’s winter, but the scent of roses makes it feel like summer hangs in the air. Like Jilly’s dream—or was it a memory?—time feels like it has stopped through the force of our desire.

During the nights, we tell each other stories and dreams and memories, never knowing or caring which is which. Everything that seemed so scary and dark before (and would again, if I went back) is calm and manageable with Jilly. I tell her of the destroyed school, the lights and the ghosts.

We curl around each other like kits when we sleep. She tells me about the attic, how it has been locked since she first came to live here, how she was afraid of the charm that is and is not her heart. I offer to retrieve it with her, but she refuses. Just as I will go back to the White City alone, so will she ascend the stairs after I leave and face her dream made real.

Miette’s carving of a feather hangs from my neck, warm and solid. I’m almost ready.

The last night, Jilly and I lay facing each other, breathing out and breathing in each other’s breath, speaking affirmations like charms to each other.

“If you’re afraid, imagine yourself encased in a sphere of light.”

“Call Nym’s name, and he’ll protect you.”

“Think of a giant sword in your hand.”

“Pretend all the bad things turn into roses.”

I roll onto my back and stare at the ceiling.

“Remember the ghosts that are still there, the souls that are crying out. Don’t be afraid to look at the darkness and see it in yourself,” I whisper, and I start to cry. “What if we’ve done something horrible? Why are they all in that place? How does no one ever wonder about them? What if they’re trapped? I don’t know what to do. What can I do?”

“Love yourself,” Jilly whispers back, before kissing my tears away.

When I sleep that night, I dream of wild magic rolling through the streets of our town, bringing people’s dreams and fears to life. I see charmed objects like lanterns in the dark, floating fire lights leading us toward both fortune and ruin. I hold Jilly’s hand in mine, and on my right, I feel the presence of two more souls, shadowed allies that I do not yet know. As the vision releases me and I come back to the world, I feel a quickening in my blood, a rush of excitement. The specter of a golden thread is wrapped around my finger in the dark, almost as if it has been pulled from the dreams. I know then that I will go back only to return here.

I will hear the ghosts’ stories, even if I can’t do anything for them yet. I will face the darkness and then return to the House of Longing. Time will move again for all of us.
When she wakes, I tie the feather and ribbon around Jilly’s neck to protect her.

“What did you dream?” she asks sleepily, her curious dark eyes blinking.

“I dreamed of the future,” I reply, shivering. “I dreamed of what I hope for and what I fear.”

Charming is as sleepy and still when I leave as it was when I arrived. The ferry pulls away from the shore towards the glittering White City of light.

I left nearly everything I had in an empty, sage-coloured room in Jilly’s large house. I carry only one bag with me. Inside is one change of clothes, a jar of rose petals, a bottle of water, a pouch of pink salt Jilly has instructed me how to use, a book she has written her dreams down in to help me remember, and apples and dried fruits we gathered ourselves. I don’t trust the food in the city and don’t understand why it made me sick and unable to see my dreams.

I focus on the lights as we float along the water.

What do I know now?

I know that there is a terrible secret in the city I love, that there are things that someone doesn’t want us to notice, that we’ve ignored the signs right in front of us. I know that I want to find Trance one day. I know that I want to find my destiny and follow my desires, even if it scares me. I know that, if I can, I will tell Miette what I learn about the ghosts; that even if it hurts not to be what she’s seeking, that I cherish her and genuinely hope she finds what she desires. I know that magic is real, that my dreams are important and will guide me.

Returning to the city is incredibly stupid and far more dangerous now that whatever is in the food is purging itself from my body, but I’m determined to do it, anyway. Because this is the beginning of something only I can do.

~ * ~

Return

Night settles around the city, heavy and thick. I can feel it on my shoulders and wonder if this is what they call destiny. I walk streets I’ve seen covered in confetti and flower petals, imagining them filled with blood and body parts. In stories, it seems romantic and gothic—the death and the blood—but, really, it just makes me sick.

I stay away from the people walking. To be honest, they seem like shades as I go further and further into myself, like living ghosts following the same fruitless paths over and over again. I love this city still, but it will no longer feed me. Even the smell of it feels cloying and like ashes as I continue to reach down into myself for the part of me that can hear them, the ghosts.

When I gain the gate, it’s swinging open—as if they’re expecting me. I run through, worried that I will lose my resolve.

I smell blood.

The waters and buildings are as still as ever, twined in their leafy cages. The lights hover serenely to and fro, as if they are swaying lanterns and not the souls of brutally murdered youth, their spirits still in the stones and green, reaching across worlds and miles to break through the lie.
It doesn’t take long for them to zone in on me. I wonder if, in their eyes, I burn like they do in mine. As they flutter closer, I try to speak to them soothingly, as I had seen Miette do, though my skin still prickles when they brush across me.

“I know. I’m here to help,” I whisper. I pour the salt in a circle around me, thinking of Jilly’s warmth, Miette’s clarity of vision, and Yurome’s passion. I hold thoughts of them like charms. I think of every spell I’d made up as a child. Inside the circle of salt, I pour the rose petals, spilling the last of them into my lap with a prayer for love and safety.

“Tell me everything,” I say.

Destiny is a golden thread that weaves around itself through lifetimes. If I could float above my own fate, I might see it as a net or an elaborate pattern tying memories, people, and places together. Even if it doesn’t have a specific outcome, I don’t know how possible it is to escape the force of what we have created through our choices.

It all falls into me—not one at a time but all at once, like a storm or an ocean. But they don’t make me hold it alone. Each one of them, whether they died in pain or joy, regret or resignation… In that moment, they all help me carry it, pushing each story and memory and lifetime into something the same size and texture as a grain of sand. I cup them in my hands, crying and trying desperately to hold onto the golden thread that is me in the storm. The ghosts lift me up and throw me back out of their world into my own.

In my hand is a golden light.

When the air clears, I see a small bottle full of sand upon my palm. It is round and pleasing. I hold it close and precious, and then a sea of black and red swims before my eyes, and I start retching. When I finally wipe my mouth and take a sip of water, I sit up and realize that my thoughts are still my own; my spirit is still mine. Looking at the bottle, I wonder if this is part of what I can do: keeping their stories and lives encased in this way. It would kill me if I were to hear them all at once. I know that. Perhaps this will somehow give us time to hear all of their voices.

“Thank you,” I whisper to them. They scatter like leaves suddenly. I look around, confused.

“That was…dangerous,” a low voice says behind me. I turn and see a vaguely familiar woman standing in the street. Her eyes are hungry as she watches me, and even if I don’t really recognize her, something within me knows that she must be the woman from the club that night.

She paces around the boundary of my circle, gaze intent, sniffing the air in a way that reminds me of Yurome. Her skin is dark and rich, her hair pale as the white moon, her eyes a bright clear blue. I memorize her features, thinking that if I survive, I won’t forget her face.

“You feel…different,” she says thoughtfully, her voice almost a growl. “Since you set foot in the city, I could tell you were coming. And this was very loud.”

My heart beats so fast I think it might explode.

“Well?” she asks.

“Honestly, I’m not really sure what to say.” I shiver. She frowns.

“Don’t mock me,” she says, words sharp. “I could have killed you a dozen times as you made your way here, but I’m curious why you would come here. Do you want to be killed?”

She sniffs the air again, crouched and circling me. I draw back, watching her face. Danger rolls off her but strangely, I feel no malice.

“A magician of ghosts,” she whispers. “That’s why you’re here. You’re here for them.”

I keep silent and she stares expectantly. Confusion and then understanding dawn in her eyes.

“You don’t know,” she says finally. Her eyes widen in surprise. “You’re here but you don’t know what you are, do you little dove?”

She shakes her head sadly and stands up.

“Even so, little dove, it all has to end the same. There are too many secrets here and your kind are too dangerous to the peace we have made.”

She turns her face to the full rose-coloured moon.

There’s a sense of anticipation in the air. As I wait, the woman’s body curls in on itself, and she gets on her knees.
Her hands and feet become paws. Her spine cracks painfully as her back arches. Spiky fur the same pale colour as her hair sprouts across her body, her clothes ripping where they don’t fit her changed form. She growls, showing long pointed teeth.

“Fuck,” I whisper. Whatever that is definitely eats doves.
I stand slowly, quivering as the creature growls. I can feel my resolve slipping as it howls, long and wild.

The second moon casts a rosy glow on everything, a kind of light I’ve never seen before. I hold the bottle folded into my palm. Even though I don’t see them, I can feel the ghosts nearby, feel their anger, their pain, their need to have their story told.

“Please,” I whisper. “Help me. I’ll protect you.”

In my mind, a memory trickles up: a girl holding a bow and arrow. The look on her face is determined. I feel her strength. The lights rush towards me. They flutter and twine over my skin. I hold out my hands and think of being safe, warm, and powerful. The souls merge, and a golden light fills my vision. When it clears, I’m holding a long golden bow and arrow, just like the girl in my vision, and I’m pointing it directly at the chest of the beast.

I let the arrow go.

The beast bounds out of the way but not quickly enough to completely escape the arrow that lodges itself in a leg, leaving a bleeding wound. It howls, full of rage and pain. I pull back the bow again, materializing another golden arrow out of the air.

A cry unlike anything I’ve heard before makes both of us pause. I turn and watch a creature running through the buildings towards us. Stunned, I stare as it places itself between the beast and me, rearing up on two back legs and giving another fierce cry, light reflecting off the spiraling horn at its crown.

The beast growls and moves forward, but the shining creature stabs the air between them with its horn determinedly. The beast howls again in response and backs into the shadows.
Trembling, I drop the bow and arrow, barely registering that the weapons fade and disappear. I step out of the salt circle, and the creature turns to look at me with sorrowful eyes. One moment, it’s gazing at me, and the next, a sobbing Miette throws herself into my arms.

“I thought… The golden light…” she mumbles between sobs. Her words trigger a memory from the first time I was here.. A girl with golden eyes and a golden light. Ahh. That must be the one, I think. The one you remember but don’t. Golden light.

Warmth fills me, and I hug her tightly, feeling my own strength give out as we collapse to the ground, crying.

~ * ~

Creation

After seeing something like that, something so beyond my reality, you might think I’d be satisfied. But all I feel is renewed desire. Not for Miette, though. I told her the little I saw of the golden girl in my visions. My stomach still turns over to see her, but it’s a little hollow now, like how too much candy can make you ill. She isn’t what I need, and I think I somehow understand her a bit better for it.

Instead, I sit in my room trying to recreate the moment I summoned the bow and arrow. Over and over, I remember the flowing rush of it, the warmth and light. I remember a clarity of purpose drowning out everything. I felt…present.

Our city is a place of beauty and pleasure, joy and desire. It is also a place of secrets revealing themselves, a lovely spell crumbling under the weight of restless souls. I hear them, striving to have their stories told, and I wonder—who silenced them to begin with?

“A magician of ghosts,” I whisper softly into the curve of Yurome’s neck. She entwines our fingers and stares thoughtfully at the wall.

“A magician of ghosts,” she repeats, her voice wondering. “What the hell is that?”

“Maybe that’s why I could hear them so clearly,” I reply. “Why I could see their stories and felt so strange around them.”

“And maybe that’s why Miette wanted you,” Yurome comments, rolling over to look at me. “I never asked… She has her own ways of doing things. But to think she kept such a secret… the ability to actually become an animal.”

She glides out of bed suddenly, pulling a robe around her beautiful form and walking towards the window.

“What else is she hiding?” she asks, tapping the glass. I’ve told Yurome everything – about Jilly, what she said about the food, the bow and arrow. I can see it tumbling through her mind. “What is she looking for?”

I join her, stroking her back and shoulders. Yurome turns to face me.

“We’ve switched places, haven’t we?” she laughs. “You seem so calm while I feel so…lost.”

“Come with me back to Charming,” I whisper, pressing my cheek to her chest, hearing her heart beat. “There’s too much we don’t understand. That woman meant to kill me, she’ll find me again soon enough. She’ll find you and Miette. She said I was dangerous to peace. Come with me now where it will be safe and we can try to understand this.”

Yurome closes her eyes. I smile and put my hand to her chest, pressing her back gently to the glass as I undo her robe, opening her skin to me. A smile ghosts across her lips.

A surety of purpose still fills me and I will it to flow into her as I stroke her hips and kiss her neck, her breasts, her belly button. Her eyes open, dark with desire.

“Everything looks different,” I murmur to her skin. “I can see bands of colour around you.”

She shudders at the feeling of my lips and breath.

“I can’t leave my desire unfulfilled,” she replies. Her smile is like the sun coming up. “There is one more thing I have to do. But afterwards…”

End


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The City With No Animals – Part 3

Afterglow

I love this city. I love its streets made of stone, winding and weaving around each other. I love the white tower, the public office twining towards the sky. I love the canals and the airy bridges that float above them.

I love the fancy schools, with students proudly displaying their school uniforms like badges of honor. The sight of the uniforms fills me with a feeling of nostalgia, though I’ve never attended any of the schools myself.

Miette and Yurome each wear the uniform of a different school, Yurome of the prestigious First Quarter school, and Miette of the noble Second Quarter school for artisans.

Each quarter has its own feel to it. My heart belongs to the First, to its white stone and black iron. I love the flowers and plants that fill the streets, the luxurious shops, the unspoken rules of etiquette that keep the mood peaceful and the sights lovely. Life in the First Quarter revolves around what is beautiful, what is pleasurable, and perhaps even what is ephemeral. Fleeting splendor, like cherry blossoms, the emblem for Yurome’s school.

It suits her, I think—the uniform, the emblem. And it’s what I aspire to.

The First Quarter houses fashion shops and elite restaurants and, to my delight, many pastry shops, too. All together, it’s an ode to aestheticism, a tribute to the serenity of order, the harmonious space between people. There’s a quiet joy to living here, a delight in the beauty of it. It lends the people a gentle, if, at times, snobby, air.

To the east, the Second Quarter also shares a deep love for aesthetics and simplicity in beauty. But it’s home to artisans—artists who have honed their crafts making beautiful objects for both pleasure and functionality. Furniture makers, glassblowers, carvers, weavers… Their skilled hands make this city what it is. The Second Quarter residents never waste anything, if they can help it, and they are very respected. Their quarter houses antique stores and shops for raw materials, as opposed to finished products.
It always inspires me to watch them work, to see the passion move through their hands and hearts into the pieces they create.

South of the Second Quarter is the Third Quarter, a brightly coloured and garish section of the city. Whereas the first two quarters strive for elegance, the Third Quarter is unapologetically loud and boisterous, with buildings painted in bright frescoes. The people who live there prefer the carefree energy, the raucous laughter, the benign chaos. Instead of minimalist decadence, their shops are overflowing and comfortable. You can haggle and barter, try to get the best deals. For late-night entertainment, the theatres and clubs in the Third Quarter—casual, thrown-together places—are open long past any in the other quarters.

To the south of the First Quarter and west of the Third is the Fourth Quarter, the deserted quarter. Right near the gates are the large public gardens where most of the city’s food is grown. They form a natural border between the rest of the city and the crumbling buildings. The only time anyone other than the gardeners goes anywhere near that place and its ghosts is for pleasure walks or, in the late autumn, for the annual festival of lights.

I had never been there before, not until the night I followed Miette.

I wasn’t born here. Few are. Where I come from holds few similarities, but I feel this city in me now, a part of me. I understand its rhythms, its heartbeat.

When I first arrived, I flowed into my surroundings like water in a glass. I felt as if I’d always belonged. It was a timeless existence, an endless carnival of parties and pleasures, quiet picnics, the gentle pursuit of those things which brought me the most joy.

But now… Now I feel as if that joy is being taken from me somehow. So I pursue pleasure even more fervently than before.

The stories of ghosts sit in my mind, threatening to overwhelm me. I’m afraid of losing myself to them. I want solidity and certainty… And I find both in Yurome’s arms.

It seems strange to think that there was a time when we didn’t know each other. I wonder at it, watching her thread beads and crystals through the wispy fabric of a pair of wings. She bends the shape of the wire to her will and imagination.

I’m content to watch her from the bed, sipping some sparkling concotion she created. I feel a little fuzzy and wild, not by the moon or the drink but by life itself. Watching Yurome create makes me feel that way. In less than a quarter white moon, she will debut another opening for her pieces, an event that will doubtless be glittering, decadent, and whimsical.

I watch her puff out her cheeks as she delicately spins the wire over itself to create the forms she wants, absently brushing blonde strands of hair away from her face. She is so beautiful in her creating.

“You’re the perfect image of a princess,” I say impulsively, gathering the sheets around myself and sitting down on the floor next to her, at her low table.

She laughs and pulls on a strand of my hair. “And you’re the perfect image of a fairy,” she replies teasingly. I frown and furrow my brow, even though I’m secretly pleased. Just as Miette is always talking about animals, Yurome could can talk forever about sprites, fairies, and ghosts, it seems.

“I wonder what a fairy would do, how she would live,” I muse.

“Well,” Yurome murmurs, picking up a hanging crystal and threading string through the hole carved into the top. It sparkles warmly in the candlelight. When she doesn’t continue her thought, I bat at the crystal playfully, and she chuckles.

“Fairies are creatures of nature and sensuality. Many of them want only to play and experience beautiful things.”

“Sounds like everyone I know,” I laugh.

She smiles faintly, her eyes serious. “They’re also wild creatures. They follow their instincts, do as they please, and can be very dangerous to creatures not as strong as they are.”

I lean close enough to smell Yurome’s skin and delight as she shivers.

“That sounds like you,” I purr. She looks at me, wearing an intense expression. The flickering light dances in her eyes.

Before, I might have glanced away, but now I hold her gaze serenely, even delighting in the strangeness of it. Her lips quirk in a quick smile, and she abandons her project to play with my hair.

“Do you know why I love this city?” she asks. I shake my head. “Being here, I have so many moments of inspiration. Watching a show or reading, or listening… I want to capture that feeling over and over again, being swept up in something beautiful.”

She tilts her head thoughtfully. “It never lasts, though. Eventually, it felt like I’d have to abandon hope of holding onto it. I think I forgot that part of that inspiration was enjoying what it inspired me to create. I don’t just feel good because I see something beautiful. I feel good because I also want to create something beautiful. That spark that someone else gives to me—it could become a seed. I could make it into something more, something that would inspire others and give them that moment of surrender. Nothing’s impossible in the world of art.”

I bite my lip, suddenly feeling sad somehow.

“When we first met, you said you don’t create anything, Mylène. I think someone like you must create. You’ll lose yourself in the reflection of others’ ambitions. You’ll begin to lose the spark that ignites your heart and lets you delight in the things around you.”

She takes my face in her hands and kisses my cheeks, my nose, my forehead. When she pulls back, her smile is warm and gentle.

“It would be very sad to lose that,” she whispers.

I’m struggling to hold back tears, and I grip her arm. “What do you mean, ‘others’ ambitions’?”

She watches me closely. “Why are you here? Why did come with us that night?”

“Because…” I trail off, blushing. I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t know, really, that it centered on my desire for Miette.

Miette, who I haven’t seen since…that night.

“It’s because of a need, yes?” she asks. “Well, there is a need—a need in all of us, to create something that impresses upon others who we are. We all feel it, but it manifests in different ways. This city is built upon it. Some are content with making spindles on a chair. Others make music that leaves the souls of those around them breathless. Then there are others who… Well, their destiny is much bigger than that.” Her eyes shine bright. “When we follow our desires, we follow them to the things that only we can do. But we have to remain faithful to them, to our feelings.”

“What if all I feel is desire?” I whisper. “Desire for that feeling, desire for a world I can get swept up in. I’m always desiring something that can’t be obtained.”

“That’s the best kind of dream,” she smiles. “Maybe it can’t be obtained. But do you feel that way because you know it can’t be obtained, or because you’re afraid to chase after what you want? Isn’t it better to have tried to obtain the unobtainable thing, to see who and what you were through that struggle, than to sit and watch it forever be out of your reach? In the end, what we desire is selfish, truly. We want what will change us, bring us balance, give us wings to soar. We might never touch the sun, but we will see how close we can get.”

~ * ~

Cherry blossoms & fleeting happiness

I dream that I’m watching flowers. It is the season of spring, the rush of new life, and the flowers bud, unfurl, blush deeply before the wind takes them, covering us in a soft, rose-coloured rain. The air is fresh and moist.

Around me, the flowers drop one after another, the trees becoming heavy with sweet-smelling, liquid black fruits. I feel a viscious hunger. Ripe and rich, the cherries flourish until the branches start to bow under their weight. There’s a fluttering across my skin. My eyes grow large, and desire rumbles through me. It’s painful, this hunger.

In a rush of white feathers and pink petals, I lunge, taking the cherries in my mouth and rolling my tongue over them before biting down into their flesh, tasting their nectar.
I devour.

When I wake, it’s winter still, and for some reason, a trail of white feathers covers my floor. My hands and face feel sticky. My hair, which was the night before such a rich shade, is now white, white, white.

I try every trick I can think of to disguise its hue. I twist my hair up, cover it in glittering barrettes and a black ribbon, but that only accentuates the paleness. I squint and turn my head this way and that. Are my eyes a bit darker, more like liquid ink?

I pull all the accessories from my hair and shake my head, shaking off the nerves. If my hair insists on being white, fine. I’ll go out as a ghost.

Though I do slip sunglasses over my eyes, to cover their strange darkening…

I lick my lips and think of Miette, how her eyes were like amethysts, amaranthine, how shadows clung to her like light was now clinging to me. In my mind, I can hear the soft beating of something distant and familiar. I turn my head and think I see falling pink petals.

I laugh. Dreaming so much is like being on drugs. The sun filters in through the curtains, and my heart flutters, filled suddenly with a deep sorrow. I shake my head again and decide I need some air.

Outside, I walk through falling snow, over bridges made of stone and iron curled in symmetrical designs. I watch people skipping along, probably off to breakfast or shopping for a holiday party later in the evening. Images play over and over in my head, a mess of emotions and other people’s thoughts. I breathe deep and slow and try to separate them, to quiet the noise echoing in my head.

What do I remember from the past several days? Dreams about being a bird, an incessant pull to be out and wild, a powerful attraction to two women who follow the same pull.
There’s a woman in a club, a feral hunting creature whose presence projects danger into the air. A woman who would hurt us.

A quarter long closed and empty, full of ghosts that glow in the night. Ghosts who showed me how they died and showed me that, when they were alive, they could use sparks of light to harm each other.

Yurome, a woman of presence and heat, who can track us into an entirely different part of the city, who has seen someone she loves disappear, and whose rhythm and emotions I can sense—and whose heart warms mine. I think of how we communicated the need to protect Miette in the club, how we communicate when we’re making love, how she knows when the echoes of that night are too loud and moves gently around me.

And Miette… Oh, Miette. A girl, a young woman whose beauty pulls at my heartstrings, who has opened the doors to something mysterious. Whose eyes chase after something I can’t see.

Whose destiny am I following? What part do I play in all this?

I wander over the canals and walk until I come to the gate of the Second Quarter. I imagine my footsteps in the snow as feathers and start to build them. I pack the snow between my hands and shape it carefully, making a trail through the streets. People laugh at my efforts, and eventually a young pair, both with the same russet hair, stop to watch. After inspecting my handiwork for a few moments, one of the two curls up his first and pushes it into the snow, making small dots around it as if it were a paw print. The other, a bit shorter, with a sweet smile, claps and bends down, starting a trail.

I laugh and coo, the purring sound coming as naturally to my throat as speaking.

The pair chuckle and jump around in the snow, bending their knees, yipping and strutting. We frolic in a circle, erasing our tracks as we dance and spin.

When we finally collapse companionably in the snow, our cheeks are flushed, and we’re breathing heavily.

“It’s bold! It’s exciting!,” the shorter one says, rolling on his back. “A great, great snow day.”

I laugh.

“It is a great day,” I say, trailing off as a jumble of memories push against my consciousness again. I shake my head. I just want to relax, I plead silently.

The guy wiggles his nose curiously. “Is something wrong?” he asks, rolling over onto his stomach. His companion places an affectionate hand on his back.

“Ah…well,” I murmur. “It’s a lot of things. It seems complicated.”

His beaming smile doesn’t waver as he waits for me to continue.

“My life has changed a lot recently. And it’s exciting. But it scares me more than I want to admit, even to myself. And it kind of revolves around these two women. One who is my lover, and one who I’d like to be. They’re both part of it, but one makes me feel safe and comfortable. The other makes me feel confused and unsettled, like my heart is racing and I could puke.” I frown. “It doesn’t seem right. She’s brought so much craziness into my life, and she’s so untouchable—but I still want her.”

My words hang between us for a moment. The shorter boy glances at the taller one, who makes a low, thoughtful noise.

“It sounds like you’re smitten with her,” the taller one says slowly, his voice surprisingly deep but very soft. “But that upsets you. Maybe it is right, and maybe it isn’t, but thinking about it over and over won’t help. You have to go after what you want, even if you make mistakes. Because following our desire is how we gain what’s most important to us. Without it, we’re just drifting through life.”

I hear the echo of Yurome’s words from the night before. His eyes meet mine, and I feel he must be very kind. His energetic companion nods affirmatively, smiling.

“That’s right!” he contributes.

I smile and stand, dusting snow off myself. “Thank you,” I say, bowing to them formally. They raise their hands in unison to wave as I run off.

Is it really that simple? I wonder, weaving through the afternoon crowd. Am I afraid to want what I want? Am I afraid of what I can be if I embrace myself and my desires fully? Up until now, the danger, the desire—did I follow it for my own destiny, or did I just follow others?

I find Miette’s apartment in the public records, and I knock on a purple door, quick and loud.

Miette opens it, eyes bright with surprise before moving aside and gesturing for me to enter. We stand together in a dark room, so different from the whiteness outside. Lamps hang everywhere, glowing gently. She waits expectantly, her eyes flickering to another room. I wonder if I’ve interrupted her in something…but I’m committed now. It’s time.

“I want you,” I say softly, eyes wide. “I’m scared of what you bring into my life. I don’t understand what’s going on. I’ve asked myself so many times why. But I can’t control it. I feel it every time I’m with you.”

She blinks, and there’s silence between us. Fear coils around my stomach.

“I’m sorry,” she says, and I catch my breath. She looks to the side, to the other side, to anywhere but me, and her voice is filled with kindness.

“Have you ever felt so much longing for something that you dreamed, it haunts you when you’re awake?” she asks. “There’s something—There’s someone… I know what she feels like. I know that she’s waiting for me. I know the secret to finding her is there in that forbidden place. I’m grateful to you, Mylène. Sometimes I see so much in dreams that I don’t always know what’s real. But that night, you saw so much. I wanted to ask you to tell me everything. Selfishly, I want to know which part is dreamed and which part you saw. I feel that if I can know what happened there, I can find her. If I take my eyes off of this point, I may never realize my dream—or my destiny.”

“Miette,” I breathe. “But what about right here, right now?”

“I’m sorry,” she says again, shaking her head. “I know I might never touch the thing I’ve dreamed about… But it’s what I want. I feel it with all of me. So I have to chase it, because it’s what I desire.”

I wonder—is this what Yurome meant by others’ ambitions? Did she know that Miette was chasing something that I could never be?

Embarrassment floods through me, stomach twisting.

Distantly, I hear Miette speaking, asking me questions, apologizing for not telling me her true goal. My voice responds evenly and sensibly: It’s fine. I don’t need her to do anything. But within me, a storm threatens to break, and I flee before it does.

I run, breath coming out in white puffs of cold air.

What was it all for, then? Putting myself in so much danger?
I had accepted it, accepted my uncertainty and the differences between us.

Strangely, none of it mattered, after all. While I had been wondering and questioning, Miette’s eyes were turned toward something else entirely.

Wasn’t being brave supposed to feel better? That was the transformative power of love, but in the end, you don’t necessarily get what you seek. Even if you follow your desire, you’re bound to end up somewhere you would have never expected.

I go home and curl up in my bed, thinking that nothing is the way it’s meant to be. The world is precarious. The life I have loved can no longer bring me thoughtless happiness, not now that I know how much this city hides. And the desire I traded that certainty and safety for will not be mine. I couldn’t trade one rock for another. Miette, whose presence opened up the mysterious, will not be my companion through these questions. I can’t even say I walked into this world of impossible things for her, because she doesn’t want me. What did I do it for, then?

I ignore Yurome’s phone calls, and she doesn’t even knock when she arrives. She just comes in and sits on the bed. I curl away from her, feeling guilt and confusion tumbling through me. But she doesn’t hesitate. She lays down with me, her long body curling around mine, her scent warming me. I feel my body tense, and we both wait. Eventually, I sigh softly and begin to sob.

“You knew, didn’t you?” I accuse her. “That she didn’t want me. And still you pushed me towards her.”

“I told you to go after your desire,” she says. “I can’t control what your desire is. Isn’t it better to know than to keep it hidden and let it fester? How many times have you let what you truly want simply fade away without reaching for it?”

I think of Trance—her smile, her eyes, the timbre of her voice.

“Now you know, because you had courage.”

“What good does that do me? To know that she didn’t want me? What good does any of this do? I don’t know this world anymore.”

She blinks, surprised. “No. Perhaps the world is not what you thought it was.” She shakes her head. “But now you know that you have a heart that is courageous and follows what it desires. Even if the world is different now than it was, just because you didn’t know before wouldn’t have kept you safe from it. At least now your heart is stronger. You have a chance of looking at what this world really is and finding your real place in it, instead of chasing shadows and the reflections of others’ dreams.”

After a while, Yurome wipes my last tears away with her thumb, and I shudder, sniffling. I feel grateful for her love, for her presence and open heart.

“Am I selfish?” I ask.

She smiles, warm and amused. “No,” she says, purring in my ear, nestling closer. “I don’t think it’s selfish to want love.”

I touch her short, light-coloured hair and kiss her softly.

“I really wanted her,’ I mumble through more tears, feeling like a child.

“I know, sweetheart,” she replies, as I start to cry again.

~*~

Continued in Part 4


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The City With No Animals – Part 2

The Moon

The memory, of course, was of Trance. Trance, whose every step I chased after. Trance, who I had followed here, to this city. She had disappeared so many times before, I never thought much about her absences—until the last time, when she didn’t even leave a note.

We had come from the same little town, Trance and me, just across the water from the island of the White City. Everything that came to the city passed through our port.
Trance was older, and I grew so fond of her, I referred to her as my big sister, though we shared no blood ties. She had dark eyes and always wore colours on her lips. Her face held the warmth and hardness of a jewel. She scared and thrilled me all at once. I would have done anything to win her approval.

But she was always leaving—to go on this adventure or that, to move here, there. Even once I was living in the city with her, there was always something: some party, some project, some reason for her to go. And I took up the habit, too, because it was what I had learned from her. How to race through the days as if time were running against you, as if the world would stop turning if you weren’t at this party at this time, or that opening, or that restaurant. We were ornamental creatures, and maybe she grew tired of that, too. Maybe she chased another kind of life in another city.

Trance, of a thousand faces and names.

It was strange, though, how she left. Her things were all gone one day, as if she’d never been. Not strange enough to worry about her. Just strange enough to add salt to my bleeding heart. I told myself that maybe she thought I was old enough to figure it out on my own, that the pull she always seemed to follow was too strong for her to pause and say good-bye.

Or maybe I just hadn’t been important to her.

I pushed the hurt down inside myself, only poking at it when I was miserable or depressed and wanted to hurt more. But, really, people come and go as they please. Her disappearance struck me as more thoughtless than sinister.

As the day fades and the first moon rises, Miette grows increasingly restless. Yurome and I try to soothe her, but our efforts are futile. She tosses her head and makes low sounds, pacing back and forth across the room. She seems fragile, more vulnerable than I felt when I experienced my distress last night. Is it my imagination, or do her eyes gleam brighter, more violet than dark? And her skin, luminescent?

She keeps glancing out the window, as if struggling to decide between remaining caged or running free.

“What’s out there?” I ask Yurome, angry.

“Something that will hurt her if it finds her,” she replies, narrowing her brows. “There are others who have gone missing. We see others like us on the nights when the wild comes, sometimes many nights. Then they’re gone. I was with one. We always went together, following the pull. I lost sight of her and heard her scream. Just once.

“There was blood on the ground. I searched all night, following strange smells, hers and others. I haven’t seen her since. Her things were gone. No one had seen her.”

I bite my lip, thinking of Trance.

Yurome’s eyelashes flutter. “But people move or go on trips all the time, on a fancy, so no one cared.” She shrugs.

“Miette and I were the only ones who knew about what she did at night. Before she was gone, we didn’t know there was anything to be worried about.”

Trance’s face seems to flicker before me, and I want to ask Yurome if she and the lost girl had been lovers, but the unspoken question strikes me as impolite.

Miette, by the window, shudders and presses her face to the glass. Yurome and I glance at each other, knowing that we can’t keep her in much longer. We’ve agreed: we’ll protect her.

“Stay as close to her as possible, ” Yurome instructs, her voice sharp with worry. I nod and touch her arm. She smiles down at me, and I notice her eyes are a russet colour, warm and earthy.

As the second moon rises, gentle and rosy, I borrow sensible shoes and pull my hair up. I make soft, calming sounds to our restless little beast and hope that whatever intends harm toward us isn’t out hunting tonight.

Yurome watches the moons for a long time before, frowning, she finally nods.

We’re free.

As soon as we step onto the street, it’s as if invisible chains fall from Miette’s body. She’s gone before I can blink. I stand stupidly, staring, until Yurome taps my nose.

“We’ll have to catch up soon, but she won’t go far. She knows it’s not safe, even though she’s moonstruck.”

Yurome starts walking, and I follow behind, a seriousness weighing me down, slowing my steps. Before now, my life was one of whimsy, pleasure, delight. Tonight, I feel the keen edge of something else, something sharp. The faint scent of danger is made real in the night air. Old memories that simply ached now seem touched with shadows and confusion. In less than the space of a day, the world has become a much different place.

“Moonstruck,” I whisper at Yurome’s back. “That’s a good word for it.”

We follow Miette through empty streets, through crowds, sometimes relying on Yurome’s ability to track, sometimes finding Miette waiting for us, trembling and anxious. She says nothing but moves on when we get close.

Yurome and I roam through the First Quarter, past the shops and gardens and airy bridges, following the canals across the city into the Third Quarter. Miette weaves between the brightly coloured buildings, muted by the night. Music and crowds spill from open doors, places promising warmth and revelry.

There’s a power about Miette as she moves through the people. I think of the unknown numbers calling my phone the night before and wonder if I looked as lovely and strange as Miette looks now. She enters a club; we follow closely behind.
People are drawn to Miette, flirting and reaching out to stroke her arm, her hair. She whirls away to dance near the musicians, and I feel something protective rise up in me. I chase after her, and as the music slows, I pull Miette to me. She sighs and rests her head on my shoulder. She smells like violets.

“Why is it just you tonight? Why don’t Yurome and I feel it, too?” I ask. Her fingers toy with the jewel hanging around my neck. A ward for dreams and magic that didn’t work.

“Have you ever noticed that the moon never changes?” she replies, voice rising and falling musically. “The second one. Have you noticed?”

The rose moon. Always full, always softly glowing.

“Not really,” I reply, searching the crowd for Yurome. Maybe she would better understand Miette’s disjointed comments.

“Mylène,” Miette says, then, sharply, tensing. I look down at her, and she holds me with her gaze.

“Something is calling for me. Maybe that’s why it’s just me. I’m getting closer to it… It rears up, and then it’s gone, and I have to wait until it calls again. I have to find it, Mylène, and I think you can help me. Your dreams are clearer than others, I could follow whole streets in them while you slept.”

“You are very strange,” I say affectionately. “Even by today’s standards, which I have to admit are much different than yesterday’s.”

Miette smiles, her eyes lighting up and her cheeks colouring. I smell violets again, and I admit to myself that desire has brought me here, to this place, to Miette, even more than the strange dreams, the children’s stories of animals, or the looming sense of danger in the night.

Something cold ripples across my skin, and Miette freezes, eyes violet and wide. The warmth behind me and a familiar scent assures me that Yurome has moved close, but I don’t dare turn toward her. Across the room, a woman is scanning the crowd, sniffing the air delicately and licking her lips.
From behind, Yurome’s arms encircle my waist, and she whispers in my ear. “I was at the door when she entered. She smells… dangerous.”

Does she feel the wild, too? I wonder, watching the woman slide through the crowd, watching the crowd notice her.
She’s striking, with tilted eyes and light coloured hair. Her movements are quick and strong. She zeroes in on Miette, a shining creature in the throng. I watch the woman’s slow, predatory smile and know—deeply, instinctively—that this is the face of the danger we feel.

Yurome squeezes my hip. I nod. Grabbing Miette’s hand, I begin to run.

We shove through the crowd, and I feel a moment of panic, wondering if Yurome is behind us or if she remained to hold the woman back. Miette outpaces me, and suddenly she’s leading me through the door, into the open, away. We weave around buildings, and my head spins, chest burning. The street is silent behind us. We cross a footbridge over a canal into Oprea Garden, and I stop, tugging hard on Miette’s hand.

“No! Miette, we can’t,” I say, gasping for air.

She looks back at me. “It’s the only place we’ll be safe,” she replies gently, eyes shining. Her long fingers adjust my hand in hers, and then she pulls me towards the crumbling gates.

“There’s nothing safe about here,” I whisper, looking around for Yurome, feeling sick. “We shouldn’t have left her.”

Miette kisses my cheek and presses her face to my neck.

“Trust in her. Yurome will be safe. Come with me now.”

She tugs again, and I follow—confused, stomach heaving. Miette’s skin shines in the moonlight; everything beyond her is dark. She caresses the stone, the iron, the leafy plants that grow over the gate.

The Fourth Quarter.

I shiver, but Miette puts her arms around me, leading me through the wrought iron door. Into the ruins. Into the white arms of Death.

~ * ~

Ghosts

The Fourth Quarter is no place for revelry.

I follow Miette through what I know are forbidden streets. Our feet carry us over cobblestones, past dark buildings with arches between them.

I can feel it on my skin, smell it on the air: something sacred and horrifying. Dark and slowly crumbling into ruins, it smells and tastes like ashes and water. Again, my stomach lurches.

Years ago, a plague destroyed the Fourth Quarter. Farther back than anyone can remember, a thousand youths studying in a private for magic school died as a rare disease consumed the district. A disease that fed most quickly and cruelly on the strongest magicians. Weighted with heavy hearts and broken down by fears of infection, the quarter was closed off, deemed a forbidden place by general consent. Magic became a tained and deadly thing.

Every autumn, we float lights on the canals—lamps, candles, curious beauties of glass and wrought iron reflecting red and gold upon the water. We do this to honour the dead, and to beg their silence. The ghosts of the past are very real.

“Miette, I feel strange,” I whisper. “I’m afraid.”

Small wisps of light hover through the darkness. Vines and plants crumble and caress the stone. Lush green foliage tumbles from balconies and over walls, and pushes up through cracks. On the building fronts, open doors swing silently—back and forth—as if invisible creatures are passing through.

Miette smiles sadly at me, eyes gleaming in light that is silver, not rose, though the full second moon hangs high above us.

Suddenly, the floating lights ghosting through the empty streets begin to gather around Miette’s shoulders. I blink, confused, and hear a distant musical murmur. My stomach rolls again, mind brushing against something old and terrible.
What is wrong with me? Am I dreaming?

Miette’s skin is shining now, and lovely, but I feel terrified. Sorrow wells up in my chest.

Where is Yurome? I long for her warmth. I squeeze my eyes shut, willing myself not to imagine her fate, what might have happened to her, left behind in the club. I wish now, with all my heart, that she will come here and find us.

“Hello, my lovelies,” Miette says softly. “Hello, my dears.”
I stare.

They cluster and dance around her, alighting in her hair, misting along the length of her arms. Glowing gently, they rush towards me, and panic rises in my throat. I sink to the ground and try to cover my head. Where the lights touch me, my skin burns, and something old and terrible sinks into my skin, into my bones. I scream.

“Mylène!” Miette cries, moving to me.

I can feel it, the sickness that took them all those years ago. I absorb their horror, their anger…and our loss. If there are shadows here, they are of our own making. Because we desired the dark as much as the light.

“Oh,” I breathe. “Oh, what is this?”

Now the Fourth Quarter shines bright and clear in my mind—shines as it once shone. I hear the laughter of the students. The air sparkles with potential. Then… Fire, disease, hatred bubble up through me, and I cringe from visions of them dying, one by one, not only from the plague but from bolts of light sparked from the hands of other students, from knives, from poison.

“Stop,” I whisper, “Please stop…”

The tears run hot against my cheek; my chest feels poised to explode. A thousand voices, hovering between life and beyond, clamor to be heard, to tell me their story.
I cradle my head in my hands, covering my ears.

All at once, the smell of violets overpowers the stench of death: Miette holds me tightly in her arms. And before it all goes dark, I look at her face, deep into her luminous eyes, and a dark figure buries a knife deep within her chest.
Another girl screams. A girl with golden eyes and golden light.

I sob.

My body aches. The lights are gone, and Miette strokes my hair. I scramble away to vomit violently on the ground.

Once I catch my breath, Miette helps me stand and, unraveling a canal cup from its string and dipping it in the dark, provides me with a drink of water. I sip gratefully, washing out my mouth and spitting.

“Take me home,” I say hoarsely, shivering.

Miette’s eyes on me are sad and worried. She nods, leading me back to the gate. When we pass through it to the other side, Yurome is waiting there, tense, pacing. She looks to Miette and then to me and opens her arms. I walk into her embrace stiffly; her warmth surrounds me. I refuse to cry again, exposed out here.

“Take me home,” I whisper again, and Yurome nods, supporting me with an arm around my waist. I put my hand on her chest, and she covers it with her own.

Miette is silent and ghostly as she drifts along beside us, her radiance dimmed but her beauty no less unsettling. My mind replays the image of her face in the vision, the familiar way she spoke to the lights—or ghosts. I shudder and move closer to Yurome.

The three of us walk in silence.

~ * ~

Sorrow

The cold holds me in its grip long after we get back to my apartment. Miette sits out on the rooftop courtyard while Yurome helps me into a steaming bath. She pours oils and salts in the water, rose and ylang-ylang. She rubs my head and massages my temples. The warmth of the water and the rich smells surround me, seep into my skin, and bit by bit, the cold disappears.

“Did you see them?” I ask softly, trailing my fingers in the water. “Have you been there?”

“I’ve been there… But you’re terrified. What happened?”

“They all touched me. Their minds, their hearts. It…burned. I saw things in my head. I felt them dying…” I trail off, choking on my words and shuddering, trying to keep the sorrow down. Yurome’s eyes are piercing, intense, but she wraps her arms around me gently.

“You’ll get your clothes wet,” I murmur, snuggling into her over the edge of the tub. She chuckles, a deep, earthy sound. Her laugh makes me feel even warmer.

“They were the ghosts,” I whisper. “And I saw how they died. And I saw Miette’s face among them. But…how is that possible?”

“So much of what we think is true has been told to us,” Yurome replies. “Why would a whole section of the city remain closed off for hundreds of years? Why do we dream of things that supposedly don’t exist?”

“Why does a living girl glow with the light of the white moon?” I interrupt. The door opens, and Miette stands hesitantly in the entryway, as if summoned by my words. She scares me, but still…I care for her.

If all we have been taught could be false…then, in a world of impossible things, what is true? What is right? What is good?

“Come here,” I invite her. Miette sits next to the tub, and I touch her hair lightly.

“Are you mad?” she whispers, her eyes full of tears. I want to say no, to soothe her. Words collide in my throat, and I swallow.

“Yes,” I reply honestly. “I’m also afraid. I don’t understand what’s happening, and I don’t understand what you are or why you took me to the Fourth Quarter. But I don’t fully understand what I am, either.” I push down my fear and hurt, keeping my voice as even as possible. Remembering, I turn to Yurome. “What happened at the club?”

“A lot of running,” she laughs. Her gaze meets Miette’s, who touches her arm lightly, then stands.

“I have to go,” Miette says. Inwardly, I flinch, and everything I’ve been pushing down threatens to boil up. Why doesn’t she want to stay with me, after everything I’ve been through? I swallow again. There’s an undercurrent, something neither of them are saying. Something I’m not a part of.

But, holding my tongue, I nod, and Miette smiles.

“Thank you for watching out for me,” she says, but her words feel empty, and her eyes are clear, distant, as if she’s already returned to chasing something I can’t see.

“Be careful,” I say finally.

She leaves, and everything seems darker, as if the white moon winked out.

“My water’s cold,” I sigh.

Yurome laughs and presses her lips to my neck. I shiver with pleasure and turn my head to whisper in her ear. “Run it again.”

She laughs a second time, and we refill the tub. I pull her shirt over her head, and she shakes out her short blonde hair. I undo the buttons on her pants and slid them off her hips. Once she’s undressed, she sits in the tub with me, and I straddle her, cupping the warm water and trailing it down her skin. Her body has a golden cast to it, a warm shimmer.

I put my hand on a dark shadow on her stomach, and she winces.

“A lot of running, eh?” I ask, raising my eyebrows.

“Some of the running wasn’t fast enough,” she quips, hands stroking my hips and then circling my waist.

“I know you’re not telling me everything.” I gaze down at her. “But you’re lucky. I’ll let you off easy tonight.”

She smiles, slow and sexy. I kiss her lightly, holding the back of her head. She smells like roses and earth, a familiar scent that makes me feel safe. There are ashes there, too, and something so much more vibrant and alive than ghosts and abandoned streets. I kiss her again. I want to forget everything I’ve seen.

~ * ~

Continued in Part 3


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The City With No Animals – Part 1



Opening Dream…

It’s not like I don’t know what they are. It’s just that, well, they’re the stuff of myth: creatures covered in hair; some with sharp, sharp teeth; others with fins or feathers or—goodness—even tails! It seems impossible that such a menagerie could coexist on one planet.

Still, I dream of them. I dream of fluttering wings, white feathers, and black, liquid eyes… I dream of the city tumbling into ruins and being rebuilt, fire and smoke. I dream of a blade, sharp and hungry pressed against my feathery breast..

And I awake groggy, winded, unable to calm the beating of my heart.

Bleary-eyed, I stumble out of bed, make my way to the window. I stare down at the grey streets and the white buildings, spying no fur, no claws, no loping four-legged beasts prowling the sidewalks, no winged, fluttering things claiming the sky. Certainly no knives. How ridiculous.
I sigh and then turn to survey my space, a round white room of many windows, pillows. Charming baubles tucked into the corners catch and cast the light.

Everything is perfectly lovely. Perfectly ordinary. I press the bridge of my nose between two fingers and roll my shoulders back. It’s been a long time since I dreamed. I hope it’s a long time before it happens again. I shuffle through trinkets and charms on my dressing table and loop a jeweled pendant over my head, just in case. What use do I have for dreams in the night when life itself is more than I could have ever hoped for? I glance at the dark rooftops in the distance.

Especially when the price for it is so very high.

My walk is brisk and my morning brew black. When I arrive at the studio, a flock of artists are peering over Miette’s shoulder. I walk toward them and listen to their chatter. Miette turns when she sees me approach and smiles with more warmth than usual.

“Good morning, Mylène,” she murmurs in a singsong voice. I feel a tightness in my chest and frown. I’m out of sorts, despite my fantastic brew and adorable outfit.

“Hello, Miette,” I reply, mimicking her singsong tone. I force myself to smile and begin to feel a bit better.

“Oh, Mylène, look,” coos Glory, pointing to the open sketchbook on Miette’s easel. “Isn’t it daring? Have you ever seen anything like it?”

I gaze at the page, at the thick black lines arching to become a luminescent eye, smudging to designate a tuft of midnight hair swept across the brow, and then twirling to ascend in a single spiraling horn.

My stomach lurches.

Great. More creature fantasies.

“It’s very striking,” I say and back away.

The instructor walks into the room and nods at me. His hair is askew and his glasses crooked, giving him a sleepy air, as if he passed an uneasy night, too. I feel a pang of sympathy and decide to make things easier for him by getting started. In the corner of the room, behind a curtain, I undress. My clothes fall to the floor piece by piece, and I take deep breaths, trying to find serenity.

The artists bustle about, preparing their materials, as I walk naked to the small raised stage. Normally their movements, their small talk, and their chipper energy makes me smile. Today, though, I can’t help imagining the gaggle of artists as mindless birds flapping about, the remnants of my dream echoing through my head.

I blink and shake my head. Animal metaphors again… Honestly, I still feel half asleep.

I settle into my first pose, and as everyone falls silent, lost to their sketches, I let myself relax, inhaling the scents of my body. An absence of clothing seems to unlock the warm, earthy parts of me—scents normally covered, kept close. Becoming more aware of them, I become more aware of myself, my ripeness, my sensuality. Every curve, angle, oddity, or perfection of body is beautiful.

As the artists murmur soft comments back and forth, I find myself drawn deep into my own being, and my mind wanders back to the early hours of morning…and the dream.

I don’t think of myself as fanciful, despite working so often with artists. I take pleasure in what I can touch and taste and smell. Dreams are rare and strange things that should fade like shadows in the morning light. But this dream holds me in its thrall, and I feel my mouth go dry as an onslaught of images chases my fragile calm away. My heart beats too fast, wild with terror. I half-open my closed eyes to make certain that I’m still safe in the studio. For a moment, my gaze locks with Miette’s, and I feel, despite my torment, a twinge of attraction; my scent becomes musky. I glance away and focus on an abstract speck on the wall.

But again my eyes flicker over to her, then shift when I sense she’s about to lift her head. I play this game often, knowing how distracting it is for artist and model to make eye contact, but I enjoy the look of artists while they work: the way they sit, the way they fuss, their expressions as they draw their hands over the paper. Each one holds the pen just so. I study them as they study me.

This morning, I study only her. Miette. Large dark eyes and dark hair. Sweet, gentle features. How old is she? I focus on the edge of her sketchbook, my consciousness floating through the scent of the morning, of myself, floating like the dust settled into the corners of the room.
Everyone seems on edge this morning. Even the teacher is absent, distracted. But in the midst of all of that agitated energy, Miette radiates serenity.
After the first pose, we break, and I stretch out my limbs. The birds chatter over their drawings, about the pose, what they’re doing tonight—and, for the first time, Miette walks over to me and starts a conversation.

“The earrings you were wearing earlier were so lovely,” she comments in a warm tone.

I smile out of politeness, but the spell of separation is broken. Without the distraction of pen scratching against paper, I’m deeply aware of my nudity. I pull a length of cloth normally used for posing from the stage and, as casually as possible, drape it around my body.

Miette glances away as I arrange myself, proving that despite her attachment to fantasy she’s a sensible and polite person and I offer her a more genuine smile.

“I was wondering if you’d consider putting it back on for the next pose,” she continues smoothly. “The earrings, I mean.”

Feeling generous, I nod and tuck my curly hair away from my face. Her eyes watch my movements with mild interest but no heat.

Assuming the conversation is over, as Miette has never struck me as a talkative person, I glance toward the window to give us both a graceful exit. But she doesn’t move, simply continues staring at me. After a few moments, I gaze back at her, cheeks warm. Her expression hasn’t changed, and I begin to wonder if I’ve given her social skills too much credit.

“Do you like animals, Mylène?” she asks suddenly.

Panic rises in my throat, and my dream flashes through my mind. All at once, the room feels very hot and smells somehow… dangerous. Holding her eyes, I sense a weight to my next few words.

“Miette,” I whisper, “everyone knows animals don’t exist except as fairy stories. I think of myself as a practical person, not inclined to flights of fancy.”

Her mouth closes, and her eyes flick away. Without another word, she turns and leaves me.

My panic gradually fades into an uneasy mix of guilt and confusion. I wear my turquoise drop earrings for the next pose and make sure I’m positioned at a good angle for Miette’s sketching. She doesn’t seek eye contact again, but she draws bent over her work wearing a small, strange smile.

~ * ~

The Quarry

Something fills me as the sun goes down. I feel it coming and drink down every drop of alcohol I can find. I clutch the pendant meant to ward off dreams, spirits, any hint of the supernatural. It does me no good. I feel something inside me rise up, a storm bubbling through the sea of my chest.
Restless and distraught, I pace my room like a wild thing trapped in a cage. I play music, try to ignore the pounding in my veins, but the outcome is inevitable. I dress for going out, and then I’m off into the night.

There’s dancing, hips and lips and pulsing beats. I kiss strangers in the dark air, unable to calm the thunder inside of me. We go too far too fast, and my lips are raw. I make excuses, feeling suddenly scared, and escape the loud club, my friends—my predators, my prey. I walk home, trip and skin my knee. l get lost and remind myself I’m safe out on the streets of the White City, but it’s the inside I’m afraid of. The roads are long, and the tall buildings in shades of white and grey offer no familiarity.

Feet aching, knees stinging, I find my way home, exhausted and trembling with need and wonder. I collapse in my bed. In the fading dark of the sun rising, I wonder what my night would have been like had it been spent with her. Miette.

I dream.

In the morning, I’m cranky. I feel grim satisfaction at the mess my drunken self made of my place—clothes strewn, a beaded necklace broken, a chair overturned. I grab my phone and squint at too many missed calls from too many strange numbers. Lips in the dark.

My world tilts a bit.

I drink the deep drink of the hung over, arrange my tangle of a mane under a red scarf, and escape my gilded cell. On my way out, I ring for housekeeping.

The city seems to be on my side, as the sky is grey, the brew is delicious, and hardly anyone wanders the streets. I scroll through the messages on my phone, deleting them one by one. Reading them, I feel raw, torn between wanting to forget the night before and reveling in it. One of the messages nags at me strangely even after I delete it, a short combination of ex-oh-ex-oh followed by a whiskered face comprised of punctuation marks. I sigh and throw the phone in my bag.

I wander the twirling streets, cup in hand, sneaking glances at the dark marks on my neck whenever I pass reflective surfaces. I eat a satisfying meal at a favourite shop, struggling with a bizarre urge to stuff my bag full of food. Bewildered, I decide to take a tea box for later and wonder if I should make an appointment to see a doctor. Animal dreams, leaving my apartment at night as if I were possessed… And now an unfamiliar urge to hoard food? I frown and ponder as I walk into the bookstore and straight into a tall blonde.

“Ah! I’m sorry,” I say, bowing to her. She laughs and curtsies.

“Hello again,” she says. I blink, confused, until a memory surfaces: my lips tracing down the curve of her throat. Again, the world tilts. I fan myself with my hand, intrigued and embarrassed.

“Hello…” I trail off.

“Yurome,” she offers helpfully.

I nod. “Yurome.”

She laughs again and tucks a lock of escaped hair behind my ear, eyes tracing the love bites on my neck. My heart beats a panicked rhythm, and I swear the temperature in the shop rises over a hundred degrees.

Her gaze is intense, despite the casual way she holds herself. “And your name?” she asks, raising her eyebrows.

Apparently I failed to give it to her last night. “Mylène.”

“Mylène?” she repeats, her eyes widening in surprise. She glances around the store suddenly and waves to someone. I’m about to glance over my shoulder to see who’s there when I catch her scent: soft, cool, and sweet, like a night-blooming flower. My hammering heart slows; I feel oddly, abruptly peaceful.

Miette comes to stand by Yurome and smiles at me.

“Hello,” she says, her voice giving the word a musical lilt. Yurome glances back and forth between us, somehow seeming very pleased.

“I thought so,” she says. “You’re the model from Miette’s art class, aren’t you?”

I nod and sip my brew, wondering if this is going to be a delicate situation.

“We met last night,” Yurome continues, her voice taking on a teasing tone as she watches Miette. But Miette ignores her and continues to smile as she links her arm through mine. I jump in surprise, nearly dropping my precious drink.

“How lucky to run into you, Mylène. I’m here to get a new sketchbook. Would you like to help me pick something out?”

I open my mouth to reply but decide it’s safer to simply nod again. She leads me toward the back of the bookstore. I feel Yurome’s eyes on us as we walk, and for a wild moment, I feel certain she’s going to pounce us.

“Never mind her. She likes to tease me,” Miette says, as we inspect the shelves of paper.

“I had the strangest feeling…like she thought I might be something tasty to eat.”

Miette laughs, a light delicate sound. “She probably did.”

Struck suddenly with the coincidence of meeting Yurome last night and then both she and Miette this morning, I make a small, thoughtful sound.

“Miette, did anything unusual happen to you last night?” I ask, body tingling with a strange anticipation. Miette taps her lip thoughtfully as she bends over the display.

“Nothing unusual for me, but unusual for you, perhaps?” she replies casually. “Which one do you like?”

I point to a paper with just a touch of violet in its hue, frowning at her vague answer. She nods and waves over a shoppie.

“The grey backing with a cord binding and thirty-two pages of this paper here, please.”

The shoppie bows and hurries away to fill her order.

“May I show you something while we wait?” Miette asks me, touching my arm lightly. I nod and sigh. She laughs. I smile. Walking with her arm linked through mine, I feel my frustration and confusion lighten, receding a bit into the background.

We enter the mythology section, and Miette runs a finger down the rows.

“Did you have fun?” she asks, as she searches. “Last night.”

I flinch. “I was…not myself,” I say softly.

“But you were, just a different part of yourself.”

She smiles and pulls a book from the shelf, letting go of me to flip through it. When she turns the book towards me, I want to laugh.

“What is that?”

“A dove.”

“A dove?” I stare, incredulous.

Miette’s gaze flickers towards the desk, and suddenly, I feel panic creeping over me again. The scent of danger chokes the air out of me. I wonder, vaguely, when I started becoming so aware of smells.

“Why don’t I buy you a present, as thanks for helping me pick out my paper?” Miette walks towards the front desk without waiting for a reply.

Despite my confusion, the strange scent convinces me to follow her. Yurome meets us there, perfectly on time, and engages in playful banter with Miette about our encounter the previous night. Though their gestures are casual and voices relaxed, I sense a gravity about them and resist the urge to sniff the air.

The shoppie hands us our purchases, looking amused.

Once outside, I open my mouth to speak, but Yurome leans down and kisses me. I feel a flutter in my stomach as she murmurs in my ear: “Do as I do and say, or they’ll kill you.”

My lips part and I forget to blink.

She draws back and touches my cheek possessively, smiling as if we’re lovers. I will my face to smile back, and Miette laughs, shaking her head and crinkling her eyes with affection. I’m terrified, but when Miette takes my arm, I feel safe. So I nod and follow when Yurome suggests we enjoy an afternoon tea back at her apartment.

~ * ~

Tea Boxes & Fairy Cakes

What is the pull between the hunter and the hunted? I wonder this as I follow Miette and Yurome up the stairs. Is it similar to the magnetic pull of attraction? Is it a fiercer thing? I feel Yurome’s hand on my lower back, guiding me through the door. I have the strangest thought then. If Yurome were an animal she would hunt me for sure.

Her apartment is a sunlit thing, soft golds and pinks, the realm of a sun princess. She lets something of herself relax once we’re in her space, no longer moving with the predatory grace I saw on the street but with slower, softer steps and gestures. Like my apartment and many others in the White City, Yurome’s home is circular, with places for cooking, bathing, sleeping, and creating formed by the desire and design of its tenant.

I’m drawn to a white desk full of sparkling things, bits of fabric and wire, and I gaze at two identical pieces joined at the center and fanning outwards widely. I remember the sounds of wings from my dream, the fairy stories about creatures that used them to soar through the air.
“Are you an artist, too?” I ask Yurome, voice quiet with wonder as I trace the air just above the creation, knowing not to touch.

“Aren’t we all?” she teases. “Isn’t that what our life is? To create and make pretty things?”

“I don’t really create anything,” I reply, shrugging. “I enjoy things.”

Yurome laughs and gestures to a low table surrounded by lovely silken floor pillows, where Miette is pouring a warm herbal brew into small cups. I bow briefly to Yurome and present the tea box of snacks I bought earlier.

“Thank you for your hospitality,” I say, as I sit next to Miette.

“You’re awfully patient. You haven’t asked any questions,” Yurome says, unpacking the treats. I don’t answer for a moment, watching her arrange the snacks, along with others she’s taken from the cupboards, into patterns on the plates.

She sets them between the three of us and affectionately brushes a lock of hair from Miette’s cheek. I feel a tingle in my chest at the simple, caring gesture.

I inhale deeply.

“The last couple of days, I’ve felt crazy. Like something is roaring on the inside of me. It’s obvious that has some meaning to the both of you, and it’s obvious that something about it is dangerous,” I say, selecting and inspecting a creamy fairy cake. “Not just from your comment on the street, Yurome, but from what I feel. Frankly, I don’t know what to think… But I feel calmer with the two of you now than I have alone.”

Miette leans forward and rests her forehead against mine. I feel enveloped in something warm and sweet and close my eyes, wanting to be angry and resistant but unable to find either emotion within me.

“Our city is lovely, isn’t it?” Yurome replies, staring at her herbal. “We are fed, clothed, and celebrated just for being a part of it. We work when we like, if we like, and share our work with others. Do you ever wonder how this is, or why?”

“No,” I say. “Why should I wonder? I have everything I want.”

Almost everything, I amend privately, feeling Miette’s light touch on my arm and remembering the searing heat of Yurome’s kisses. But those things may come soon enough. In this city, we are free to follow our desires in love, as much as art. Even now, I feel the thread connecting us, drawing us together.

“So did I… So I thought. Beauty and art—those are what matter, right?” Yurome says. “Our joys and pleasures? But then, why do we dream of things that don’t exist? Why do we go chasing after them in the night?”

“Inspiration. Creative spark,” I reply. “Dreams are where inspiration comes from, so of course they’re strange.”

“They’re not always strange. Or unclear. Not for everyone,” Miette says, surprising me. “Dark skies, white feathers, so much fear gripping your heart. You flap your wings, knowing you’re being chased, knowing that death is…much too close.”

As she speaks, I feel a pain in my chest; the storm expands, and my skin is electric. The room feels too small, the air too hot. I stand up and back away, remnants of my dream rising up to draw me in.

“No,” I say. ‘Don’t.”

She’s seen it. I can tell by the sad way Miette’s looking at me, by her words, by the panic bubbling up within me. How can one person see into the dreams of another?

Yurome stands, body tense and movements slow. Danger. I smell it. I’m trapped. I start to tremble, and Yurome’s eyes follow me. It’s happening to her, too, I realize. The dreams, the urges… We’re in the thick of it, despite the daylight. I don’t dare break eye contact, body humming with the need to run yet filled with a certainty that, if I do, something very bad will happen.

Miette steps between us, breaking the spell. Yurome rolls her shoulders, tension in her every movement.

I want to sit but I don’t want to sit. I want to put as much distance between us as possible.

“Try to calm down,” Miette murmurs in her soothing, musical way. “I’m sorry. We’re not sure how to go about this. There’s a lot we don’t understand either, Mylène.”

From her throat, Yurome makes a low, rolling sound and walks out to the balcony. The air lightens as she leaves. I feel a pang of regret. Miette pulls me into an embrace, stroking my arms and shoulders. I barely resist the urge to bite her.

“What the hell?” I ask angrily.

“She’s trying. Here, sit with me.”

Miette finds a fluffy blanket, and I sit on the couch, letting her wrap us up together. I feel calmer, having something firm to press against. She caresses my hair and cheek. From the side table, she takes up the book she bought today and flips through the pages, positioning it so that we both can see it.

“Look, Mylène.” She points to different creatures and tells me their names: horse, otter, dragon, butterfly… They’re all different sizes, different shapes. Some move through water as easily as we walk through air; some have long tails or tiny wings; some sleep all day or through whole seasons. I laugh when Miette points to a furry beast with pointed ears, sharp claws, and Yurome’s eyes. A natural predator, of course.

“They aren’t just stories,” she says softly. “And I don’t know why, but both of us dream of them—Yurome and me. Mostly the same dream over and over. Some nights, we feel as though we might be them somehow… Strange and wild. Following instincts we don’t understand.”

She sighs.

“It’s been happening to me much longer than Yurome. And when you came to class yesterday, my head was full of your dreams, and I knew that it was happening to you, too.”

“What is happening?”

Miette turns to the page with the dove, and I touch the picture lightly, wondering at the soft-looking feathers and liquid black eyes.

“I don’t really know, Mylène.”

I swallow and trace the image before us with a finger. “Then how do you know we’re in danger?”

“The same way you do. I can feel it, especially on those wild nights. The need to run, to move, to stay unseen. How thick the air feels with tension when we even speak of it. And,” she says, glancing toward the balcony, “because of Yurome, because of what she’s seen. I see her dreams, too, full of loss. They’ve taken people.”

“They?” I sit up straighter. “Who are they? And how do you know they won’t take you?”

“I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem like they can find us unless we’re discovered. It probably wasn’t wise, approaching you in public, talking about it. But…I was excited and impatient.”

There’s no question of believing her. Even if she’s lying, what would it matter? There’s no reason, no untruths in the world of impossible things.

If fairy stories are real, who can know what isn’t? I’m tired of questions without answers, and I wonder if she’s frustrated with not being able to offer any.

“Didn’t you ever dream fairy stories were true?” she whispers, voice trembling with an old, odd longing.

“I’ve always had what I needed,” I whisper, even as a memory flutters in my head: dark eyes, a quirky smile, a place that is a home one day and an empty apartment the next. I push the thought away and gaze at Miette. I feel her vulnerability, her sorrow, and—like so much about this world, this city—I find it beautiful. I kiss her lightly, barely a caress of lips, catching the scent of her breath as I pause just inches away from her face.

“I will always have what I want.”

~ * ~

Continued in Part 2


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