Household Spirits

By C. S. E. Cooney

For Gene and Rosemary


Del,

This here's ghost country, just like you said. Can't imagine a more haunted place on all Athanore, no, nor at the bottom of the nine seas where the nine old cities fell. Frontier, we call it. Makes it sound like it'd never been lived on, never been worked. But you look hard enough, you see signs everywhere.

Ten years is long enough for the wild to grab back at the dirt, but the bones of the old Kilquut settlements still show through.

Me and Jessemee arrived at Prophetdam late this morning. We're set for bed and board at the public house. Reckon we'll stay through Holyday before pressing the frontier. Jessemee says he's tuckered but it's me he watches. Our boy don't miss a thing. Well. My bones don't mind the rest.

Funny folk in Prophetdam. Lots of drinkers. Nary a one seems fit to split a smile with a fellow or meet him eye to eye. Walk crunched over too, all of them. Even the kids. Like they're guilty just for living.

I know what you'd say to that, Del. You said it all and I remember everything. I won't tell you you're wrong. Fact is, ever since we crossed borders out of Westrose, I been feeling ill at ease. But I stand with what I said before: Jessemee's no more meant for city life than I was. I didn't do this venture with him, he'd've gone to sea. Then we both of us would've lost him.

The pub serves breakfast and supper in a common room downstairs. Jess and me sat around long after the dishes was cleared and heard the stories only hinted at back in Port-in-the-Storm. And then some.

Yes, said the men, there's land for grabs out there, and houses too, ready furnished with all a family needs, good fields and rivers, plenty of woods to log, lakes to fish in. Whatever a man wants, out there for the taking. But you have to take the ghosts, too.

That's what the Prophetfolk call them, ghosts. Jessemee, who talks more and more like you each day, says they're not ghosts, because they're not dead, because they're not alive the same way we are. Jess can't wait to meet one. He's grown an inch since we left, I swear it. Eats everything in sight too. Glad you baked all that stuff before we left.

Well, I just wanted to write, since you asked. We'll be coming back into Prophetdam every month or so, for supplies and mail. You can post a letter to this address. The owner here at the public house says she'll be on the lookout. Jess sends his love. He gets the space below.

What I said when we left still stands, Del. I won't say it again. There's no point in more hurt between us, but it's true, and it will always be true, and so will I.

- H.F.

Postscript—Ma, Dad promised not to read this, so you know he won't, and I'm giving this to the landlady right after (I don't like her, she looks at Dad funny), but I wanted to tell you I really am fine, and so is he, quiet, but he's always quiet, but the other day he told a joke about a cannibal, and smiled when I laughed, so he's going to be all right. Here is the joke. One cannibal says to another, "My wife made great soup, but I'll miss her," yours affectionately, Jessemee Fletcher.


Dear Del,

I can't tell you how much it meant to get your nice letter last week when we came into town. It was so full of you, and it smelled like home. Me and Jess took turns reading it out loud. Must have gone over it some thirty times on the ride back to the farm. Jess says he'll make a trip out special to post this in a week or two, as he has some few hundred things to write you about.

We made it. We're here. In these hills called Seven Quails by the Kilquuts, back in those days there still was Kilquuts. Our ghost don't talk much. When he does, it's to Jessemee.

I shouldn't say ghost. Jessemee says the better word (just like you with your better words) is genius or numen. I've heard other words too, by other settlers. Ghoulog. Scabby. Shadekin.

Got to tell you, Del, to me it just looks like a boy.

His name, so far as I can coax one, is Mimo.

I know I got that wrong. There are other sounds in between the ones I can hear, but that's close enough for letter writing. Mimo looks a bit like this old Kilquut farmhouse we bought sight unseen. Skinny and leaning, with dirt on it so thick I don't reckon a bunch of bachelors like us'll ever get it scrubbed clean.

Feel like changing your mind and coming out, Del? Anyone has the elbow grease for the job, it's you. A Stormblood like your mother, through and through. Born to make the world brighter, as she liked to say.

Our nearest neighbors, the Gladstone clan, won't call Mimo by name, only things like Mealy-Mouth and Spookrat. They sure don't mind roughing him up any chance they get. Before we came, they pretty much had the run of our place, even though their own spread is five times the size ours is. I chase them off with my shotgun and words you don't like me to say, but they keep coming back, like those red-winged crows that eat my grain.

Jessemee and the eldest Gladstone boy are of an age, but Jess is more the man. Quicker on his feet and taller too, though Bo Gladstone's built like a hay bale. Bo mostly likes Jessemee in between hating him. Always talking big or trying to match him in games. It's Mimo he can't abide. Says the boy gives him worms in the gut.

Mimo's a tiny critter, maybe your height, Del, but even darker. Got blue marks all over (some of them bruises from the Gladstone boys), little dots and swirls, and it's not seldom he shivers like he's cold. Dark black eyes with no whites, no hair but a thing sticking out the top of his head that's a bit like a spike, and a bit like a fin, and even a bit more like a tentacle. It moves. Jessemee says it's called a "crest."

Yesterday Jessemee came to me with Mimo's version about how the ghosts got here. Guess he wheedled it from the boy some night when they were both in bed. They share the loft. Mimo sleeps on the floor. Jess offered to share his pallet, but Mimo refused.

Del, do you remember last year, when the papers went on about that settlement out in Briarhills, with the man who poisoned all his kids and wives and then himself? Mimo's tale gives me just about the same feeling.

About ten years ago, the Kilquut elders had a sit-down at their meetinghouse (big ramble of a place the Gladstones have overrun), and said, They're coming. We can't fight them. We can't become them. We can't leave.

The Kilquut argument, what Jess calls "their focal tenet" (which puts me in mind of you, Del, and those radical ideas you call religion), is that it's always better to die than kill. Easy way to wipe out your species, I say. I told you that before.

So the Kilquuts gathered themselves in a valley. All but the young'uns, who the elders hoped might grow up with no memory of how things'd been. Then the Kilquuts spoke some words they all knew, and the green lightning came down and killed them. The sky opened and poured a month straight, filling up that valley of the dead.

And that's Lake Slumber, and it's a pretty piece of water, but I won't fish there.

The youngest Kilquuts were left back on the farms. One for each house. No babies—least, not that I know of. Three and four year olds mostly. When the first settlers came, they found them. A few kids were killed outright. Some taken in as servants. One old widow woman tried to gather all the unwanted to her house, but they kept running back to their set households. Like they had to be there, on that land, and whoever wants the land has to live with them.

We're here now and Mimo's our ghost. Who's flesh just like Jessemee. It's sad, isn't it, Del? But Jess just loves him. Dotes, you'd say. The one time I seen Mimo smile, it was at some clowning of Jess's.

Wishing you well,

Hal


Ma -

I know Dad told you some about our genius, but he doesn't know Mimo like I do. Mimo says Dad's boots scare him, and his beard even more, and his shotgun more than that. So I take care to walk bare and to shave every day (okay, so I don't need it every day, more like once a week, but I had myself a prodigious sprout on by the time we got here, you should've seen it), and also not to touch my gun. I put it away on a high shelf. Bo Guzzler says he'd pay me ten blithers for it which ain't is not cheap, but I'm afraid he'd use it on Mimo.

The Guzzlers (their real name is Gladstone, but I call them Guzzlers on account they're always in their cups) have a genius too, named Lichen. She's a little older than Mimo, about fourteen, and there is a blue mama quail on the right side of her skull and six baby quail circling clear to the left side of her skull. Her crest is different than Mimo's. More like seven shorter spikes all in a row. Sharp-looking. She sings when she thinks no one is listening. I'm having Mimo teach me Kilquut, which all the genii know, but they don't know how they know it, just that it was waiting for them, in their blood, same as how to make green fire and other things, and the song goes like this (I tried to make it rhyme for you, but I'm no good at translations):


Where is my mother gone, water o water?

Where is my mother gone, this is my cry

She's gone where the lightning is, daughter o daughter

And I am your mother now, deep as the sky


Where is my father gone, valley o valley?

Where is my father gone, this is my plea

He's gone where the thunder goes, daughter o daughter

And I am your father now, wide as the sea


Where are my people, o hills of my homeland?

Where are my people, you woods and you streams?

They're under the water now, daughter o daughter

They slumber down under, and under your dreams


So that's Lichen. She won't talk to me.

A few weeks ago, Dad took Mimo out to the practice field. He wanted to teach Mimo to use a bow and arrow. Mimo was good, too, picked it up real quick and got lots of arrows in the bull's eye. Better than Dad, really. He was happy and excited and talked to Dad more than he ever did before. Dad liked that. He tugged Mimo's crest and tweaked his nose, things like that. You remember.

But then the other day we all went hunting in the woods. We used bows because I told Dad how Mimo can't abide the noise of a shotgun. Dad didn't understand, but he smiled and said bow hunting was better anyway—that's how he and his Dad used to hunt, back in the day.

We had good luck. Lots of game in the woods and Dad got a buck after just a few hours—really clean shot, you know how Dad is. Or, have you ever seen him hunt? I guess not, since you knew him in the city. Well, he does it quick and neat, nothing wasted, cleans it all up quick as anything. I help.

But Mimo, when the buck went down, Mimo turned a terrible color, like sick granite, and his eyes got so wide I could finally see some white, and he puked for a while only it was blood and foam, and after that when he could walk again he ran away. I had to stay and help carry the carcass, but Dad and I both worried.

We found Mimo by the kitchen stove, kneeling in front of a green fire. Genii can make fire with nothing but words, and Mimo doesn't even need words. Those fires'll cook anything if Mimo makes them low enough and you put your pot up high, but you shouldn't touch one, because it will burn your hand to the bone and burn the bone too.

Mimo was breaking all his arrows and throwing the pieces into the flames. Even the steel heads, which turned red then white then ash then powder in about as long as it would take you, Ma, to count to ten and keep your temper.

Speaking of that, you mustn't think Dad yelled or cursed or anything. I don't think he was even mad. After making sure Mimo was okay and not puking anymore, he went outside and cut a switch, then came back in and explained to Mimo, let's see if I can remember the words . . .

"Son, those arrows weren't rightly yours to . . . to . . ." Dad pointed at the green fire but couldn't say burn. "And someday, Mimo, maybe not tomorrow, but someday in the future, if I don't show you right now how it's wrong to break other people's things, it'll go bad for you. Folk like the Guzzlers—" Dad calls them Guzzlers when he's not thinking, says it's my influence "—the Guzzlers or worse might string you up, or hurt you until you wished you was strung up, or worser'n that even."

More along these lines, Ma. Anyway, whatever Dad said, I could tell Mimo didn't care. Dad couldn't hurt him worse than watching that buck die. In the end Dad only gave him five trifling strokes, so light I could barely hear the thwaps. I got worse for stealing a piece of pie before dinner that one time, do you remember, Ma?

Well, that's my news, and Mimo's doing better now. I slept on the floor with him and kept the kerosene lamp going all night. I taught him the Cat's Cradle with a bit of boot string, which made him smile. Mimo took the string from me and made the Cat's Cradle perfect, then he stretched it until it filled the room, corner to corner, only he used shadows how I used thread. He told me how spiders caught the first stories in their webs, and sucked them dry like fat juicy beetles, and thus became the world's first storytellers. But he was talking fast and I'm not so good at Kilquut yet, so by and by I fell asleep. I didn't mean to, and before I did, I felt Mimo put his head on my shoulder and curl up close.

Do you think Dad will ever adopt him proper? Then he could be your son, too.

With lots of love, Ma, and could you please send more jam?

Jessemee Fletcher


Del,

Winter was terrible, but we're at the other side of it.

I always thought the worst winters are those we remember from our young years, from boasts the old timers make, but I never went through a spell so cold as this. I suppose I am the old timer now. How'd that happen, Del?

We missed hearing from you those months we were snowed in. First sign of thaw, I drove into Prophetdam. We were pretty low on supplies by then, but I knew your bundles of letters I found at the public house would give us heart. I didn't read them until I got back to the farm, although I was sore tempted. The boys came in from the fields looking fit to bust. I said we should all wash first.

The three of us sat down at table to read all your letters at once. Mimo even read some. Me and Jess have been teaching him his letters every Holyday. Mostly Jess, 'cause I forgot more than I reckoned, and I never knew much. Anyway, thanks for the kindness. It did us good.

As for that last thing you asked. I'll write you out a separate letter when I'm through here. I'll sign my name at the bottom, and Jess will too, and Mimo, so you'll have your two witnesses. It should hold up with the justice.

Jess asks will this make him a bastard, but I said no. Please write to him and explain all the stuff the solicitor told you. I can't talk too much about it, or I end up not talking at all.

A few weeks'll bring Jessemee's sixteenth. I want to do something special. Do you have any ideas? You're better at this sort of thing.

Sincerely,

H.F.

Postscript - Ma, thank you for your letters but I'm too mad at you to write any more now. I know this isn't fair and I'm working on it. You'll probably receive something more from me soon. With love and some difficulty, Jessemee


Dear Del,

The encyclopedia set you ordered arrived by wagon just in time for Jessemee's party. Mimo wrapped it up in butcher paper that he'd stayed up all night painting with pigments he'd mixed from minerals and plants and suchlike. The kitchen smelled pretty bad, but I baked the cake from your recipe and kept the windows open, and by dawn everything smelled like a proper birthday. Jessemee came all the way down from the loft with his eyes shut, walking by smell alone.

Truth be told, I think Jess liked Mimo's wrapping papers more than our books. He tacked them on his walls and spent an hour tracing all the pictures with his fingers and asking all kinds of questions I couldn't follow. Mimo, on the other hand, liked the books just about more than I seen him like anything. Mimo said he'd teach Jess drawing if Jess'd lend him his books to read.

Sure thing, brother, said Jess. They don't use names with each other. It's always brother now.

The Guzzlers came to Jessemee's party—who else could I invite? The old man smelled like he hadn't changed his clothes since last year's Scarecrow Moon. You can see all the veins in his nose and cheeks, so you know what that means. His boys say he's taken to shaking and seeing things that aren't there. Crazy as Lichen, they told me.

Lichen was at the party too. She's quickening by one of the Guzzler boys, or maybe by all of them, and they don't even see fit to give her a new dress. I worry for her, but she's not my ghost. Jess goes upside-down every time he looks at her—he'd have thrown the Guzzlers out of the house with their scalps flapping in the wind, except it'd mean worse for her.

Jess is changing. Now the snow's gone, he never wears shoes, won't go hunting, won't eat the meat I bring home. I try to tell him it's wasteful, but he just smiles. He looks like you. So I make jerky and meat pies and bring them to the neighbors, or pack the rest in salt and drive it into Prophetdam to sell with the skins and things I've carved from bone.

Jess and Mimo've been working hard at the farm ever since the ground got unfroze. I swear, they plant a thing one day and the next it's coming up green. Mimo just has to look at it, but Jessemee whistles and sings, tunes I don't know. I understand him less and less, but somehow love him more and more. Do you know what I mean, Del?

I'm glad to hear your boarders are all nice folk and pay their rents on time. You sound busy but maybe a little tired. Don't forget to take time in your garden, the way you like. It used to be dawn when you'd go out and pray on your beads. Now I suppose dawn's taken up with baking and making breakfast. But don't forget to find some time, Del, to breathe and think of the good things. I do. I think of Jess and Mimo and Lichen with her unborn baby, and I think of these hills called Seven Quails, and what lies beneath Lake Slumber, and of the skies here that are so wide a man thinks he's looking down when he's looking up, and knows he's seeing eternity.

Del, I know as how the law and our agreement say I can't call you wife anymore, but I still think of you as my wife, and that's one of my good things, too. I know you don't mind. You always understood the heart of me.

Yours,

Hal Fletcher


Ma—

I can't thank you, I can barely write, for sending those clothes for Lichen, and the baby things too, so many blankets and dresses and that one gown with the lace. I recognized your needlework straight off, and remembered how I used to sit at your feet while you sewed, fine thread and linen, white on white, like angels tiptoeing on top of snow.

I left your gifts under a haystack in the barn where Lichen sleeps, along with the picture book about baby-care. I had to go into the Guzzlers' spread at night, when the dogs are shut up, or risk my throat getting torn out. They don't like me much over there anymore. Bo said if he ever saw my face again, he'd shoot a hole through it and then take a piss in the hole. Pardon my language.

The falling out may have been my fault, because what with Lichen and the baby and all, my dander was up, and then a few days ago, Bo and his brothers were over by Lake Slumber shooting bottles from rocks, and they caught Mimo swimming alone and did their best to drown him.

I found them like that, Mimo under the water, holding so still I thought he was dead already. He never fights back, Ma. The genii are like that. They could call down enough green fire to burn our eyeballs inside out and melt our brains into our tongues. They could make a thorn bush sprout out of our livers and cuckoos hatch from our bladders, or maybe turn our lungs into vipers that would murder us inwardly with one strike of the fang. But they don't. Better to die than to kill, they say: always, it is better.

For all I care so dear about Mimo—and, well, Lichen, too—it's the focal tenet I can't agree with. Too much of Dad in me, I guess. But I told Mimo maybe you'd understand, Ma. That back in the city, there are folks with a similar set of notions, maybe differing in some particulars, they call religion. He was curious, so I shared with him the story of your God.

"She cooked herself into a soup?" he asked when I finished. "Because her family was hungry? Even the bad sisters?"

"That's right," I said.

"Why didn't she just make a cabbage grow?" And Mimo made a cabbage pop up out of nowhere right there and then, right out of the floorboards of our loft, to show me how. I laughed fit to bust a gut.

"She wasn't a God yet, Mimo, only a girl. Anyway, it never made much sense to me. Better ask my ma for details."

If you receive one of his doctrinal inquisitions in your next batch of letters, Ma, don't be alarmed. He's practicing his writing, just as I'm practicing my drawing. (I'll enclose some sketches so you can see how that's going, and never you mind if my trees look kind of scrawny. That's what trees are like out here.)

The thing is—is it always better to die than to kill? Really? What about when you're out for a walk and you come upon someone trying murder your brother? Drown him dead in a lake that's already made of death? What then?

I'm not like Mimo, Ma. And I'm not like you. And even though the Guzzler boys all had their guns, I knew they'd spent most of their bullets on bottles. I had nothing but my fists, and it was enough. Almost too easy. They talk big but give 'em a bloody nose and a cracked rib or two and they slink off like whupped and wormy curs.

I tried to help Mimo out of the water, but he didn't want me touching him. I stripped instead and had a swim.

It always feels weird to swim in the Slumber, because I think I'm dreaming and then I see things that could not be there, like underwater palaces and trees laden with radiant fruit. It's like those stories you used to tell, of the nine old cities that sank beneath the nine seas, and how those cities are the true soul of Athanore.

Under the Slumber, I can almost believe those cities are real. This one seems to be, or at least it does while I'm swimming. The ones who live there have eyes like green lightning, hair that moves like waterweeds, clothes made of sweet-water lilies. I was calm when I got out. Mimo slung his arm around me.

"Look," he said.

There was this boulder by the river, where the Guzzlers had lined up all their bottles for targets. Most of them were in pieces, but one empty handle of gin stood upright. Mimo just looked at it and it shattered. Then the boulder itself exploded.

A piece of it came so near my face, it cut me.

"That is how angry I am," Mimo said, "all the time."

"Why didn't you do this when they grabbed you?" I asked him. "They're all craven, brother. Show a little of your magic and they'd just yelp and run, tails tucked and nostrils streaming."

Mimo shook his head. So I started shouting. Closest I've ever been to hating him.

"They almost killed you! And you just stood by and let them do it!"

Mimo looked out over Lake Slumber, and I can't say what was in his face. Resentment. Relief. "My mother came to me when I was under the water. She kissed my mouth and I could breathe again."

"It was a vision!" I said. "You were dying!"

"Yes." He picked up a piece of shattered rock and hurled it at the lake. It detonated before it hit the waves, split like an overripe pomegranate and sent a thousand green fireflies into the sky. He said, "If my mother had not come, I would have killed them all."

There was a pause. Then he added in a voice that made my bones feel just like that bit of rock. "And you, too, if you had been standing there. And Lichen and her baby and your father and the dogs and the trees. Every bird and beast and blade of grass would have withered as I passed it. Maybe the whole world would have died today if I hadn't let them drown me. You don't know what's in my heart."

Ma, I wish you were here.

- Jess


Dear Del,

I can't rightly believe I'm sitting here like this is just any old day and this is any old letter. Oh, I'm okay, health-wise. Before I say anything else, so was Jess last I saw. Which is the last I'll probably see of him in this life.

I'm writing from the public house in Prophetdam, doing my best to keep the landlady from reading over my shoulder. I'm letting one of her smallest rooms, no more than a cleaned out broom closet, but she's as much as sat on my lap and told me I'm welcome to hers for free. I don't know as I can bear that yet.

I should start at the beginning. My fingers shake so.

Lichen had her baby. She came to us three midnights ago when her labors started. I'll never forget the look on her face. She's usually got no more expression than a tree stump, and it was like all of a sudden I could see that tree stump bleeding.

She only talks to Mimo, and only in Kilquut, so Jess had to translate for me. The main point was that Bo Guzzler kept saying as how he'd be drowning her baby in a sack of rubble just as soon as it was born. Lichen had been figuring that even if it was let to live, a ghost child of hers would be bound to that household, like she is. One way or another, she was ready to take them both under the water forever.

Jess came over all queer. He asked, What happens if the Guzzler house burns down or a great wind destroys it? Would you have to go back there still? Be its genius?

No, she said, I'd be free of it.

After speaking her piece, she settled to the hard work of turning herself inside out and stopped paying us spectators any mind. I got so busy boiling water and fetching clean cloth and trying to remember everything the doctor did for you and Jessemee that I didn't even notice when Jess left. Mimo saw, I think, but he didn't say anything.

The baby came at dawn. A girl. A thin furled crest on top of her head, and blue markings all over her skin. We cleaned her up and swaddled her down and sang her all the songs we knew, Mimo in Kilquut, and me just any old lullaby you'd taught me.

Jess returned after we all got tired of singing and were mostly asleep. His face was black, black like the sailors from the Ivory Islands, the ones with gold in their ears and their teeth and their eyes. He looked tired and dazed, but when Lichen opened her eyes, he smiled at her. And wonder of the world, if I didn't see the tree stump smile, and if it wasn't like spring come new to the earth.

Jess told us what happened.

He went over to the Guzzlers' spread, first to the stables to let all the horses out, and there set fire to whatever seemed driest. He hollered an alarm from a hiding place and waited 'til the Guzzlers ran out of their house, screaming for sandbags and water buckets. When they were gone, he snuck inside to make sure no one was still sleeping, that the dogs were all out, and then he set fire to the house too.

The boys saw Jess leave the house and chased him down with murder on their minds. He crashed through the fields, as far away from our house as possible, but the dogs nearly got him, so he made for Lake Slumber and dove right in. Figured the water would throw them off his trail. The boys and Old Man Guzzler followed him in, but the dogs stopped short of the shore and bayed.

Then came the awful part, said Jess. Only when he said awful, he didn't mean awful the way you might think. But I can't explain it.

The water started to glow, Jess said, and talked about a light coming from great trees at the lake's bottom. And he said he felt things moving, swimming, beneath him and beside him, but never touching him, although something like hair brushed his leg once.

Then the Guzzlers started going under one by one by one, with hardly a second to scream. They never came back up.

The glow in the water died, and so did the waves, and Jessemee was left treading darkness. He followed the barking of the dogs until he found shore again. The poor beasts were even glad to see him after everything else they'd just seen and smelled, and they licked his hands and followed him home.

Their names are Vroom and Humm. Jess said the dogs told him so. Mimo and Lichen just nodded like this was normal.

Del, whatever happened in that lake, it didn't leave our son untouched. Jess is one of them now. A ghost.

He washed the black off his face, and took his turn to hold the baby, but everything was changed. They all seemed to speak to each other without words. The only reason Jess told his story out loud was for my benefit.

When he spoke he held his palms apart. There was a shimmering and some shadows, and I could almost see it all happening in that space between his hands. Like Mimo and Lichen were seeing it. But I'll never really look at the world their way, Del. I can't. I can't. So.

Next day, Jess and Mimo started singing up the thorns. They walked the borders of our farm and of the Guzzlers' spread too, and all the way around the Slumber. By singing, whistling, or just plain looking, they called the thorns, and up came a wall high as ten men standing on each other's shoulders, with thorns as long as my arm that had the glint of steel. They left one single opening, a long arching corridor between the farmhouse door and the outside world. Only it wasn't an entrance, Del.

When Mimo and Jess got back to the house, I was waiting for them. I had all my things ready, packed in a trunk. Horse was hitched and everything.

I left your letters with Jess—for the baby, so she would know her grandma. They named her Etsani, which is one of their brightest stars. I wish you could meet her, but you won't. And I won't get to watch her grow up small and dark, with her crest gleaming in the sunlight, strung about with lake shell and slumberweed. I won't be there as she learns to sing up the grain in the fields or the fruit in the orchards, or learns to fly like a red-winged crow, or swim unbreathing with her ancestors in the depths of the Slumber.

I'm here because I'm a man, not a ghost, and the thorns have closed behind me. I can't write anymore, Del. I'm tired.

Henry Fletcher


Dear Del,

I can't believe that lodger left you high and dry like that—a month's rent behind and a hole in the wall. He's a louse. If I ever get my fists on him, I'll tan stripes in his britches. I don't care if he is twice my size in his stocking feet.

Of course I'll do the repairs. Don't be silly, I won't take your money. While I'm working on the room, maybe you'll let me sleep in that bed he didn't pay for and eat a little of your food a while. That'll be more than enough payment. Then I'll see if I can't get some work on the docks and start renting a place of my own, so's not to hassle you.

Real kind of you to ask 'cause I'm at loose ends here in Prophetdam. The landlady's what Jess would call "encroaching." I'm not sure I spelled that right. Anyway, Del, I'm just glad to help out however I can. I'll send this with the mail coach tomorrow and set out sometime next week. I should arrive at Port-in-the-Storm in about a month and a half. I'll just knock on your door when I get there, if that's all right.

See you soon—Hal



C.S.E. Cooney

C. S. E. Cooney lives in a Chicago attic with a lively cross-breeze and a few paper cranes to dance in it. Her stories and poems have appeared in Subterranean Press, Ideomancer, Doorways, Clockwork Phoenix 3, Goblin Fruit, and Mythic Delirium. She has two novellas forthcoming in 2011 issues of Black Gate Magazine, as well as with Drollerie Press and Papaveria Press.