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.

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Quiet Shoes

You can’t just buy magic shoes at an ordinary place. It’s not like you can walk into a department store and browse their new fall line of seven-league boots. For that sort of thing you really need to search the deeper depths of eBay or something. I happened to stumble on mine by luck, as though my slip-ons already had a touch of the fairy about them. I wouldn’t even have bought them normally, they’re sort of plain and gray and a bit scuffed around the toes, but when I tried them on they felt so close and comfortable on my feet that I loved them at once. I took them off, paid for them, brought them home, and promptly forgot them at the bottom of my closet for a couple of months.

The first time I wore them, I barely noticed anything odd at all. In my gray shoes I walked to the library at the end of the day, when the world sighs and settles into the beginnings of night. It was starting to be dim and yellow in the streets, so it didn’t seem strange to me that people were bumping into me a lot. I got to the library I leaned into the door so that it rang the bell, and people looked a little puzzled at the sound. The book I needed was way up on the top shelf so I stood on the soft toes of my new flats and coaxed it closer with the tips of my fingers until it fell and hit me in the forehead, pages splaying open.

The only thing that day that was really weird was the librarian at the desk. I stood there, leaning on the fake wood, staring at the librarian’s profile for maybe ten minutes. In that time I coughed, shuffled, sneezed, thunked my book down, and started saying “Excuse me?” When I spoke she glanced over and looked right past me, sweeping her eyes across the room and then turning back to her book. I kept saying it though. My tone went from the politely inquiring pitch of the barely bothered to that nasty hook of a voice that dips and sways on the dangerous edge of making a goddamn scene. I leaned and shifted around, picked up a foot out of its shoe to curl and uncurl my toes, and nearly yelled it at her. My “ExCUSE me!” echoed in the library and she whipped around to look at me.

In the haughtiest tones I think she could probably muster, she said, “Yes, dear, all right, you don’t have to yell.” I shoved my book toward her and waited while she scanned it, then slipped the shoe back on my foot and whisked myself out of the library. I walked home bumping into people again, but I figured that all the elbow-brushing and shoulder-swiping was just me being so annoyed.

It was maybe another week before I really figured out the power of those gray shoes. I mean, that I figured out that it was the shoes and not just everyone ignoring me. It must’ve been the day I fought with Andy – that’s my husband – because at the end of my yelling I kicked off my shoes until they flew and thumped into the wall and I cried. He’d been ignoring me while I ranted, getting dinner together while I delivered a tirade, calling my name out every once in a while when I was right in the middle of a sentence. It only made me angrier, of course, and I told him what a selfish ass he was, how rude he was being, and how pissed I was right as he must have just been so confused by hearing my voice faint in the distance and not knowing where I was.

Once we figured it out I was a lot less mad. Well, Andy really figured it out. He went and picked up the shoes and put them back on my feet as I was sobbing like Cinderella’s freaking prince in our little apartment that smelled of Ramen and laundry. The gray shoes fit back on my feet and Andy’s eyes just went round. He looked right through me. He figured out a way to focus on me so he could see me, after a bit. If he really tried, concentrated on my face, he could see me, but apparently if nobody’s looking right at me and thinking about it I just slip right past their vision. I tested it a lot.

Even when I jump up and down my feet make no sound on the floor in those shoes. The soles tap into the linoleum, or the marble or wood or concrete, and there’s no noise at all. It’s eerie if you’re paying attention, though of course if I’m wearing the shoes nobody else is really paying attention.

I don’t wear the gray shoes that often. I don’t want to scuff them up any more and I don’t want to abuse the magic that lets me duck under people’s notice and sneak around a little bit. I walk in the gray shoes sometimes, not often, when the night is creeping up the horizon and everyone’s glance slides right past you anyway, shoes or no. I don’t do it so often because I don’t need it that much. It is useful every once in a while, though, when there’s some reason that I want to step lightly.

The Magic Hat

The first time Allison found the magical hat, she was six. She had clambered up to the attic when her mother wasn’t looking, and she climbed over boxes and ducked under old furniture until she happened upon it. It was hanging off the edge of the cabinet that had hidden in the attic from before they bought the house, and it was beautiful. Fuchsia, wide-brimmed and velvety, with a profusion of fake flowers and a spray of feathers.

Allison tugged on it and set it squarely upon her head. She was most surprised when she looked down and she had disappeared. She tested it – walked downstairs, where her mother was cooking dinner, and outside. She only stopped herself from walking across the street, since the cars probably wouldn’t stop for an invisible girl. After an hour of watching quietly as her mother diced, chopped, stirred and leaned on the counter watching television, she took the hat upstairs and laid it gently back on the cabinet corner.

She used the magic hat sparingly. Perhaps she already sensed somehow that she had to keep from using up all the magic in it. When Allison was eight, she remembered it was there and she spent a half hour rearranging the desk and ten minutes moving her mother’s coffee mug around the kitchen. She carried a pen past her father and watched him crinkle his forehead and stare at the patch of air where a pen had just floated merrily by.

When she was ten, she walked into the kitchen and listened for twenty minutes to her parents having a conversations she was sure she wasn’t meant to hear. When she was eleven, she hid an entire package of cookies in her room. Just after she turned thirteen, she learned to juggle and watched the mirror in fascination as little plastic balls flung themselves into the air to bob up again. At fourteen Allison snuck out of the house, hid the hat under the rhododendron book, and slipped into a waiting car. When she was fifteen, she walked downstairs and her mother said, “Hey, sweetie. Where did you find that ridiculous hat?”

The magic of the hat was over, she concluded. She put it under her bed, but she remembered it when she moved. Allison kept the magic hat – just in case, she thought.