Footwhere

Emily had bought the shoes on sale, and was very pleased with herself about it even before she knew they were magic. When she tried them on at the store, nothing had happened. She’d just noticed that they were a bit tight, but the kind that you knew would be fine once broken in, especially for 40% off. So she’d bought them and brought them home and the moment she put them on and twirled to show herself off in the mirror, her twirl had hurled her miles around the country. One half-spin and Emily was in Kansas, Wyoming, Minnesota, and then back home. Not that she knew where she was any of those times, of course, she’d just flashed in and out of a few places and then ended up in Chicago again with her heart pounding against her ribs and her toes beginning to ache.

She took the shoes off very carefully and examined them to make sure that no dirt or dust from the fields had clung to their shiny red surface, and then she put them on the carpet and stepped back in. Emily shuffled forward, just slightly, and inhaled water. She choked and kicked and coughed and spluttered, but her shoes weren’t touching ground so she stayed in the lake. Once she had caught her breath and kept her head above water for long enough to sight the shore, she swam to land where she could take a tiny step back to the city. From there it was an easy walk in socks back home, where she threw the shoes under the bed, took a long shower, and had some dinner.

Seven leagues is approximately twenty-four miles. Emily ascertained, after a great deal of careful and methodical testing, that her new shoes only traveled about six and a half leagues. She thought the difference was likely due to the fact that they were not boots, and nobody ever heard of seven-league high-heeled pumps. She spent her weekends traveling now. She visited three cities in California during the month of February, when the Chicago air was so bitter cold that it hurt to breathe. If everything could be a day trip because it was only a few steps to get home, she found, you could save a lot on hotels.

It was a little lonely, sometimes, to explore all on her own. She packed a neat little bag with necessities and an extra pair of shoes so that she could walk once she got where she was going, and she took pictures with her phone. In the photos, Emily is in front of a monument or a skyline or a really good food truck, but her smile is tentative, as if she’s not sure what to look at.

One day, Emily put on an ordinary pair of flats and went to the store where she had bought the shoes, 40% off. They were having another sale. She was idly contemplating a pair of wedges when the shoe salesman walked up to her.

“Those won’t suit you,” he said. Emily raised her eyebrows at him, confused. “I mean, that is, you can’t get that far in heels like that.” He winked.

“I don’t need to,” she said, “I’ve already got good shoes.”

“I know,” he said, “I have a pair just like the ones you bought, last time you were here.”

Emily’s brows ascended yet further. “Red heels?”

“Not what I meant.”

“Oh,” she said, and smiled. “I see. Hi. I’m Emily. Would you like to take a walk with me sometime?”

Broken and Buried

Yvonne left her heart, at last, under the willow tree in the park one night. The park closed at dusk, but she slid over the fence in the dark, pulse thrumming and the cold air stroking shivers across her skin. She had used to do this with someone else. They had helped one another over the fence, landing in one another’s arms. They had laughed as quietly as they could. Now she picked her way through the park alone, toward the tree where they had sat together, backs against the bark. She leaned against it and closed her eyes. For a moment, she could almost imagine skin against her skin, warmth against her warmth. Then it was gone, and she opened her eyes to see the empty park. The streets and cars winked from beyond the fence, but within the trees and grass were still and silent.

Yvonne stood and bent down, splaying fingers out on the grass. The earth was soft, and she burrowed with one hand until she had made a dent in the ground. She placed her heart in the hollow at the willow’s roots, and then she left. The fence was easier to jump on the way out. She felt lighter. The glare of headlights and the glow of windows seemed distant and calm as she walked home.

For a while, she could not even notice a difference in herself. She wondered absently how many people did just the same and wander through the world, heartless. Perhaps nobody could ever tell. The only thing that seemed to have changed was that she did not hurt, and she was glad of that. There was no ache that bloomed when she opened her eyes in the morning, and that she curled around when she fell asleep. She had no bad dreams. Her sleep was smooth and dark, and when she awoke she did not shudder with the memory of the night. She barely dreamed at all anymore.

If anyone else could see that something had shifted in Yvonne, nobody told her so. Her work colleagues treated her with the same mild politeness. Her friends met her and chattered and teased just as they always had, and she was able to smile and tease back. Her life was a comfortable habit, and its touch did not chafe. It was even easier, now that she could follow those rote patterns. Some of it was interesting, some of the time. She observed herself living with detached curiosity. She did not remember what it had been like to live with her heart trembling inside her all the time. When she realized that she had forgotten, she thought she might revisit the park to see if anything had changed. And, after all, she wanted to check that her heart was still there. She didn’t want to carry it around, for it was heavy, but she didn’t want it nibbled by squirrels and buried somewhere unknown, either.

That night she climbed over the fence and into the park, as she had done so many times before. The metal of the fence was cold on her skin and the darkness deepened as she walked, but she was not frightened. The elm tree twined up toward the sky in a familiar shape, and she nodded when she recognized it. There among its roots was the hole she had made, and her heart nestled inside just where she had left it. Old leaves and twigs had cluttered and crowded it, so she moved to brush them away. When she touched her heart, just for an instant, she could see all her ghosts ranged around her. They looked at her with solemn eyes, and she shivered. Her heart beat under her fingers. She closed her eyes against the dark, knowing that the ghosts were there. They moved forward, gathering, and Yvonne snatched her hand up. The pain ebbed and disappeared. The ghosts were gone from her eyes. She shook her head to clear it of cobwebs, and then she turned to leave. The ghosts were left there, watching her go, wishing for her to take back her heart and to bring them with her once more. They called, but she could not hear. They scrabbled at the leaves and could not move them. They tugged on her heart, but she could not feel.

Rain

On 145th Street, there’s a building full of rain. I don’t mean that it’s flooded or anything. It’s not like when you open the door, the jangly glass kind at the front of a store, there’s water that rushes out and pushes you across the sidewalk in its hurry. There’s only perhaps an inch of water on the floor. It must leak out somewhere, and you can see the stain as it bleeds into the pavement at your feet when you’re right outside. You don’t get hit with a wave when you open the door. You just hear it; ppt ptt ppt ppt tpp prt. Thrumming against the concrete floor.

I found the rain room by accident. I was trying to get away from a thunderstorm, if you can believe that. I was running down the street with my coat over my head and my slippery-wet hand in my girlfriend’s hand, our fingers jamming together. We were laughing like mad. It had just started raining, out of the blue. Really, the sky had looked clear as any day when all the sun wants to do is wrap you in light, but then the clouds had come. They just sort of showed up, uninvited, and then they spilled all over us. Mel and I stopped strolling when we felt the first few drops, and our steps quickened. Then, right away, the rain sped up too and it began beating down on us. We ducked under our jackets and sprinted. Thinking back on it, I’m not sure why we were running. We were a bit far from anything, and we would’ve gotten wet by the time we reached a subway or a bus anyway. We just ran, hands clinging and feet slapping sprays of water onto each other. We ducked into a building with a half-cracked door and took a breath of relief before we realized that we hadn’t stopped getting wet.

Mel tipped her face right up to the ceiling and watched the drops fall toward her. I just watched her for a moment, too dumbfounded to talk. When I found my voice, I said, “Just our luck. The ceiling must be leaky. I bet this place is abandoned. Don’t do that, sweetie, the water’s probably all dirty.” In response, of course, she stuck out her tongue. She tasted the water that down the corners of her mouth.

“No,” she said. “The water, it’s just rainwater.”

“Of course it’s rainwater! It’s raining out. And it’s leaking.”

“Not out,” Mel smiled. She always was faster to catch on to things than I was. “It’s raining in here. Don’t you see?”

I looked up too. “Shit,” I said. “No it’s not.”

“Yes. It is.”

The ceiling was dropping water on us. Or at least I think it was the ceiling. I couldn’t really see any plaster or paint through the fog. Well, clouds, I suppose it was. The clouds covered the ceiling of the building and huddled in the corners in sulky gray masses. Mel smiled into the corners, the rain running down her face and twisting her hair into tendrils that streamed down her back. I started to laugh. She laughed too, until the both of us sank down and sat in the puddle that was the floor. We leaned against each other and laughed ourselves helpless at the escape we’d found from the rain outside. At the sheer absurdity of the building that rained on the inside.

We’d had a fight earlier that day, another one about her work that was taking all her time from me. She always answered that by saying, rather cattily, that if I only found something to do then it wouldn’t be a problem. I’d been sullen ever since, but now I laughed and when we paused to catch our breath I pulled her toward me. We kissed, sloppy and soaking, in the room that rained on us. I’m not sure there was a moment before or since that I felt us breathe and beat together like that as the rain trembled to the floor around us.

When we finally went home, we were so drenched with rain that a pool of water spread on our seats on the bus and poured itself down into the grooves on the floor. We were both shivering, still wracked with giggles, drawing stares from the three old ladies who were the only other people on the bus. We got home and took a long hot shower. We broke into laughter again the moment the water began to spray.

Everything’s a little different now. With me, with Mel, everything. I think it can be better, though. I haven’t seen her in a week, but we’re going to meet up on 145th Street. I won’t bring an umbrella, just in case.

Wishes

The poor boy just touched it, just a brush of the pads of his fingertips and the whisper of skin against the brass, and everything stopped. From the spout boiled something red and dark and quivering into a great cloud of bloody air which gathered and pulsed until in the mass of red could be seen the shape of a body.The man folded his arms and peered down at the boy, who quaked and tried not to whimper.

The red man sank to the ground. His body trailed into mist after the waist, but he could have been sitting. He spoke, and his voice was dark and shaking. “Listen, child,” he said, “Three, and that is all. Use them well, for you are a little lamb of a thing.”

The boy thought that perhaps this meant that the demon would take pity on him, and he drew in his breath to speak. “Please, sir,” he said, his voice a thread, “I didn’t mean to. I don’t know what I did. I am small, and, and, like you said, I’m not going to hurt anyone, I don’t know what I did.”

The red man bent closer and with his sharp red teeth showing, he smiled. “Ah,” he said to the boy. “A lost lamb, yes. So lost. I will explain to you, dear one, and then you will understand. You’ve heard stories, you know what I am. I emerge from that metal prison, I grant you three, and then I am suffering inside while you go on with your life, while you humans take what I have given and toss aside this ornament that is of no use to any, not even for light.”

The boy sat back on his heels and fixed his eyes on the red face. At last, he said, “Three? Any three?”

The demon nodded.

“I want a wife, please, Wait, though, I know how this works. I need to explain. I want a wife who the same age that I am, and alive, and well. She must be very beautiful, and she must be here. Please.”

The man nodded, and the woman appeared. She was very beautiful, so lovely that the boy was stricken. He gazed at the bright eyes and full lips and long limbs of his new wife, and he fell to his knees. “I love you,” he said. She spat in his face and walked out of the attic room without looking back.

The boy scrambled to his feet, knees jerking in his eagerness and despair, and followed her. For a week the red demon watched them as he tried to reason with her, tried to tell her how much he loved her, tried to make her understand that his heart beat for her. One morning, the boy came to the demon and said, “I need to use the second. I want my wife to love me. I want her to love me more than anything.” The red man nodded.

Barely had a moment passed when the boy heard footsteps pounding down the hall. The boy’s wife rushed in. She knelt in front of him and turned her lovely face to his. She said, “Oh, my husband, I love you,” and the sound of her voice was sweet and soft to his ears. He pulled her to her feet and kissed her. She drew him out of the room. The red man watched for a day as the boy lived in perfect happiness with his bride. The boy thought of nothing else until they woke the next morning. The boy walked into the kitchen and his wife followed him. He prepared breakfast, brought it to the table, and began to eat. His wife watched. When he offered her a morsel of food, she shook her head. He pushed a glass of water toward her, and gently she slid it back to him. The boy stopped eating and said, “My love, why will you not eat or drink? You must be hungry.”

She looked at him with something like surprise written on her face, and said, “My husband, I love you more than anything. I cannot love anything else more than I love you. I love you more than the wants of my body. I love you more than life itself.”

“I don’t understand,” her husband said. “You love me, and I am glad. You need to eat.”

She shook her head. Finally, he shrugged and finished his own food. They repeated this scene at midday and in the evening. They sat on a terrace before the lightless sky and he begged her to eat, but she only shook her head. “I cannot,” she told him, “for that would change things. I cannot.”

On the third day, the boy’s wife could not get out of bed. He lay next to her and put his arms around her, and her answering smile was week. On the fourth day, he tried to pour water into her mouth, but she choked and spat. On the fifth day, when he awoke, she wasn’t breathing.

The red demon smiled at the boy, whose eyes were swollen and sore with tears. His voice was ragged and he said, “I need to use my third. I know better than to wake the dead, so you won’t have me that way. I want to go back to before any of this. I want to go back to before I touched your lamp, before you appeared, before any of this happened. Please.”

The man nodded, and the world shifted. The boy was alone, with no horrors clouding his mind. He was trying to clean out the attic room at the top of the stairs, but it was so cluttered with the shiny forgotten pieces of somebody else’s life that he was struggling to find anything. He reached into the box in front of him, and his fingers brushed the smooth brass of an old lamp.

Congratulations on Your Impending Doom

Peter makes greeting cards that are out of the ordinary. Most greeting cards say things like “Congratulations on your graduation!” or “Our thoughts are with you in this time of loss” or “Happy birthday to the best grandma ever!” But Peter doesn’t work for Hallmark. He works for a bigger company whose name nobody knows.

He used to work for SparkleCards. They were a cheery offshoot of some bigger company, and for them he wrote lines that ended up in flowing script to condole, to congratulate, to celebrate. There was nothing exceptional about them, though he was very good at his job. One day he came into his office and on his desk was a black business card. He couldn’t see anything written on it, the dull black rectangle on his desk, until he held it up and it caught the light. The glow from his overhead lamp lit up letters in white, shining against the black. It was a name and a number. He muttered, “Foolish way to advertise,” but he called the number. A secretary’s bright voice asked who he was, and his reason for calling. He said, “Peter Celsten, I found a card—“ and a long beep interrupted him. The phone rang again and a man’s brisk voice rattled off an address and a time. Peter never could resist a mystery.

The office building at the address given was hard to find, though not far. It was enmeshed in a cluster of apartments and the sprawling buildings of a hospital, but he made it up to the right floor with several minutes to spare. A small man in a neat suit ushered him in and thrust him into a chair almost before he realized what was happening. The man began the interview and it dawned on Peter that he was, in fact, interviewing for a job. He asked, nonplussed, at the end about it.

“Oh,” said the small man, surprise pitching his voice. “It’s for this company, writing cards. We’ll pay you one point five seven times what you’re earning now. Will you work for us?”

Peter didn’t know what to say, other than yes.

The office at the new company was slightly bigger than his old one. The secretaries were pretty, and his new boss was waiting for him with a sheaf of papers. The small man handed the packet to Peter and said, “Here is your first batch. Could you, hm, get them to me by the end of the week? It somewhat urgent, as you will notice.”

Peter sat at his desk, rolling the chair back and forth on the carpet. He studied the tracks that the wheels made, faint against the white plush, before turning his attention to his new work. The packet was thick, fastened with a metal clip. The first page looked like some kind of brief personal bio as he began to read. Annabelle Watkins, 76; Neurodegenerative Disorder (type 46B); Due Date/Day before Death: April 23rd (High Priority!).

Peter sprang up and into the small man’s office. The man looked up, unsurprised. Peter got out a few strangled words before his boss silenced him with an explanation. He said that cards are meant to mark occasions, and their company was tasked with marking the most momentous occasion a person could ever have in his life: the end of it. He described, in exacting steps, the process of creating and delivering the cards. He clarified the nature of the recipients, that not everybody received a card, because only those whose deaths were momentous of some sort or another warranted a personalized card. Sometimes, he said, lots of people who were dying all at once got a generic card, but there was less demand for those. People don’t want their deaths to be mass-produced.

It was a long time before anybody he knew showed up in Peter’s packet of bios. His mother’s friend Sarah was the second person he was assigned one day almost a year after he started working for the death card company. She was in her sixties, not that old, and she’d never had serious health problems that he knew about. Even so, there she was: Sarah Epstein, 64; Cardiac Arrest (sudden, first); Due Date/Three Days before Death: February 18th.

He put Sarah’s card in a red envelope. Heart disease went with liver and kidney problems or complications. They all got red envelopes. Brain-related deaths got blue; sudden accidental deaths were put in yellow envelopes; murder and suicide envelopes were brown. There were other colors but those were, he found, the most common. A few times he had put together the death cards for people who worked at the card company. They all got gray envelopes, though he wasn’t sure if it was because of working at the company regardless of cause of death or if, actually, they all died of the same thing. It wasn’t the sort of thing he asked his boss.

Peter mostly shuffled the death cards into the right piles now, one file for each color, and didn’t think much of it. He paused for a long time over Sarah’s card. He’d written a nice normal one for her, as comforting as he could make it. After he finished for the day, he called her up. They hadn’t spoken for a long time, not since Peter had been fighting with his mother. When she answered the phone he was surprised at the cracked dry voice that answered. It seemed to be a parched version of what he’d known. They had a nice chat, Peter and Sarah, and asked polite questions and got polite answers. It didn’t make him feel any better. She told him it was lovely to hear from him and hung up, thinking nothing of it probably, a little bemused and unaware still of the death waiting for her in three more days. Peter tossed the phone from hand to hand for a minute and then put it down and went on with his day.

Peter learned a sort of balance in his work. It caught him between empathy and detachment, between sorrow and practicality. It placed him precisely at the moment between life and death. Sometimes people he knew, or people he’d heard of, showed up in his packet of death assignments for the day. It always caused a twinge of unease, but Peter tried not to let it bother him too much. He knew that, one day, there would be a gray envelope in his own mail.

On the Other Side of the Universe

Once he got to the other side of the universe, he didn’t quite know what to do with himself. He had tunneled for so long, chipping and scraping at the rock until mountains of fine soft powder were piled in the path behind him. The other side of the universe had broken on him, all of a sudden, like the unveiling of a face before him. He had stood, awed by it, and a little scared. A small wish surfaced in his mind that the veil would draw across the face again, and the features be misty and far once more. There was a citadel on the other side of the universe, a great staggering thing built of feathered balustrades and climbing towers. It reached the sky and pierced the heavens, and he imagined that past the boundless blue there must be twining iron and stone still reaching farther.

He had come to be a hero. He had followed the dragon through the universe, through the rock and out to the other side. He was meant to be a hero and fight the dragon until it died on his sword and order was restored. There was probably a maiden to save, or a kingdom to vanquish. His mind was clouded and his memories elusive. When he reached for them, they scampered away. There must have been something, some thread of reason that he had made this journey. There was a reason that he was standing before this vast citadel that rose glorious and deadly before him. He just didn’t know what it was.

When he took a faltering step forward, the ground melted and swayed under his foot. He stumbled, and caught himself. The world on the other side of the universe was treacherous. It might have been trying to toss him back out again. So then, he thought, it doesn’t want me. I must be here for a reason, see? But the reason was not there. No dragon spiraled the towers of the citadel. No gust of wind fell from its wings. Whatever he had followed was not there. He took another step, and trembled. The ground was roiling now, tossing like the sea. He fell to his knees and clutched at the earth beneath him – or was it earth? – gritting his teeth and clenching shut his eyes. The citadel did not move. It stayed motionless and immense while the ground surged before it.

Would he go back, shaking and retreating from this place, or would he claw and pull himself closer? He clutched at the ground, his muscles straining, and he fixed his eyes on the tower that thrust through the sky.

He was supposed to be a hero. He did not know what that meant, but it did not mean turning back and whimpering away through the tunnel he had dug for so long, with such determination that it had shredded his fingernails and made his fingers bleed. He dug his fingers into the ground and hauled himself forward. The citadel wavered in his vision as he rose and fell with the waves of the earth, but he did not stop. It was closer now, and closer. He would reach it.

When he had dragged himself across the heaving earth for hours, the citadel was in his reach. The iron of the wall was cold under his palm. He curled his hands around its ridges and ignored the quiver in his muscles, weak with fatigue as they were. When he reached the first flat platform of the tower, he curled up on the smooth stone floor. In front of him, as he faced out, the wall of rock rose gray and infinite. His tunnel was a pathetic hole halfway down, a little black spot like a drop of ink on the endless page. The ground where he had crawled was still rolling and falling. He watched it until he fell asleep.

He awoke when the light of dawn drenched the citadel. He turned, in awe, to look at the black shadows that cut across the towers and turrets, and the pale light that blanched the building in stripes. The warmth of morning crept close to his skin as he shivered in the shadow of his walls. He gathered his strength, looked up, and began to climb once more. There was no reason to it now, no dragon and no maiden. He did not know what he was following, or if there was anything above him. He reached and gripped and pulled himself upward.

He climbed all day, and slept again at night. The ground below, still tumbling, looked very far away now, but when he tipped his face to the sky there was still a ceaseless stretch of stone and iron above him. He climbed, and slept, and climbed again for a long time. His skin hardened. The hold he had made in the rock of the universe disappeared, a forgotten blot long past. The towers thinned and twisted. No dragon could nest this high. No human had ever reached this height.

He had to be a hero, by now. The crag of tower where he was clinging was nearly at the sky. He could barely breathe, but he could see the blue above him, and the place where the tower broke through it. In another day he heaved himself over an edge of stone and his head scraped against the sky. He curved himself around and put his fingers through the edge of the wound in the sky, between its curling edge and the iron that shot through it. He shoved, and bent the sky back. The edge of the sky was sharp, and it tore and sliced at his hands. He ignored the pain, for he was a hero. When there was a space enough to shimmy through, he clutched at the crumpled edge of sky and drew himself over.

For a long and shuddering moment, the hero lay gasping on the top of the sky. Above him the towers of the citadel pushed endlessly into the black. He sat and caught his breath, and then he began to climb again.

Talking to a Stone

The house was newly dusty when they entered, lugging the trunks and boxes and suitcases and shopping bags full of odds and ends. The floor was covered with the fine sawdust like a soft thin carpet. Their shoes left shapes engraved into it as they walked. Colin complained, “Think they could have swept or vacuumed. Jeez.”

Zoe rolled her eyes at him, twisting around to make the face and hauling a box after her. It skidded in the sawdust, leaving a clean patch of floor behind it. Colin wandered away, tipping his face up to look at the moldings and the light that touched the walls. “It’s bigger than I remembered,” his voice echoed back at her. “Wait, look, they left a cabinet thing. A night table, maybe? Come in here and see.”

Zoe let the box-end drop with a whisper of dust scurrying away from the thud. There was a little wooden set of drawer with a table-top in front of Colin, and he was staring at it quizzically. He didn’t turn his head when she came into the room, just said, “Seems odd they’d leave it, doesn’t it? It’s not like it could’ve been from the last people who lived here, and I can’t think the builders would need it for anything, right?” Zoe shrugged, and opened the first drawer. There was nothing in it but a pebble, the size of a quarter, so dark as to be almost black and bumpy, like it had been craggy until it spent half of eternity in a riverbed.

Zoe leaned down and picked up the stone. It sat in her palm while they both stared, brow-furrowed, at this thing so out of place in their dusty new home. Then it moved. They both started a bit, and looked at each other. Colin said, “Did you see–” and Zoe nodded. The pebble wiggled again, shook itself as though it had been sleepy and was waking up. It kept moving, back and forth and side to side. Perhaps, Zoe thought in a dazy dreamlike way, it was dancing. She held out her hand to Colin, as if to ask him to take it, and he shook his head, his hands fluttering in the air. “No,” he said, “I don’t want the thing. Put it down.”

“No,” said Zoe. “What if it runs away?”

“Runs away? It’s a rock. What’s it going to do, escape into the wild?”

“Maybe,” she said. “How is it even moving?”

Colin hunched his shoulders up to his ears. “I don’t know. God. Let it escape then. What’re we going to do with it?”

“You look like a turtle,” Zoe said. Colin scowled at her instead of relaxing. “We’re going to keep it. For now. Why not? I’m going to put it back.”

The drawer was still open. When Zoe stretched her arm toward it, ready to place the pebble on the wood, it began to tremble. It wiggled and shook until the thing was practically vibrating, buzzing on Zoe’s palm. She drew her hand back, startled, and curled her fingers around it. “I guess not,” she said. “I’ll keep it with me, then.” She slid it gently into the pocket of her jeans and patted the lump it made in the denim, stretched over her thigh. Its shiver slowed and stopped. “We should move in more stuff, and we can look at it later. I don’t know. Let’s just get this done.”

Colin nodded, and they went back to the truck to keep unloading. When they were both bent and grumpy with the ache of moving and their faces were gleaming with sweat, they stopped. Zoe set to assembling their new bed and Colin made oatmeal on their new stove. The pebble in her pocket thrummed while she moved, until it was shaking hard again. She plucked it from her pocket and held it between her fingers, before her face. “Listen,” she said, “This isn’t going to work if you’re just quivering all the time, okay? It’s distracting and I’m going to put you down.”

-Yes,- said the stone. -But. Listen.-

Zoe jumped and almost dropped it. Its voice in her head screeched. “Sorry,” she said to it. “Uh. Sorry. What in heaven’s name are you?”

-I’m a stone,- said the stone. -Can’t you tell?-

“Well, yes,” said Zoe. “Most stones can’t talk, and the normal non-sentient kinds are just all over the place. You know. Outside. Not in a drawer that is mysteriously in the living room of our new house.”

-Those are the boring kind of rock,- the stone said. -I’m the interesting kind. I used to be a boulder, you know. Great hulking thing. Long time ago. You know what you don’t want to happen to you when you’re a boulder? Have a bloody evil sorceress stub her sodding toe on you and curse you into consciousness.-

“You’re being funny,” she said, suspicious. “That isn’t it.”

-Not exactly,- the stone admitted. -Listen. I’ll tell you a story, alright? A true one.-

When Colin came to find Zoe a half hour later with a bowl of oatmeal and a bent spoon, he found her sitting on the half-made bed, talking to a pebble.