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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The Psychic Detective

When this guy walks into the room, I can tell he’s important. He’s short, a little round, dark-haired. I don’t even think it’s something about him, as himself. It’s a connection, maybe. But when he steps up to my desk the feeling is so strong that it hits me right in the chest, and a gasp sucks air into me without my even realizing it. I’m choking on the breath when he sticks out a hand and says, “Hello, I’m Henry. I have – ”

“Yeah,” I say. “I already know.” This is usually how it goes, but I’m usually speaking easily, not thinking about the words. It’s a script by now, and they always say the right words even though they don’t have a copy.

“What?” he says, right on cue.

“Didn’t you read the sign? I already know most of it.”

His eyebrows shoot up. Sometimes I think I should take a picture with each client and line up a hundred surprised faces, tucked into the crown molding of the walls in the waiting room. “So what do you know? What do you mean?”

I look at Henry for a moment. He’s not an especially thick cloud of a person, more scattered memories and drifting objects, so he’s a little easier to read. His parents’ divorce, his absent girlfriend, the lottery ticket that he lost when he was seventeen that he’s still sure won – they’re all within easy reach, so I grab them. Of course, the reason he’s here is the closest to me, so that’s the easiest one to pick out and present.

I aim my gaze at his face, somewhere in there among the memory, and say, “Your dad, right? You want to know what he did with the money.” Luckily, this is the sort of thing I can say without thinking about too much. I’m distracted by the other things, and I set them aside so I can look at them later. I’m still not entirely sure which one is so massively important. I’ll figure it out later. He needs more, though, and something’s calling me, so I tell him to take a seat in the waiting room. He’s still nodding his head, eyes wide, as he walks out.

The next person in is an old man. The missing ring is so bright on him that it flares at me, and while he talks I shut my eyes and trace it back. It’s in the living room sofa. The missing thing seems to be in a living room sofa a disproportionate amount of the time, and I tell him so as soon as he pauses for a breath. He hobbles out of the room and an anxious young man totters in. I can tell he’s only half-conscious out of exhaustion and worry, but it’s too easy to see. I bend over my desk again, sifting through papers. I can feel the problem even now.

“She’s cheating on you,” I say, without looking up. “With her secretary.”

The sudden shock of sadness pulls at me, and I look up to see his face crumpling, his eyes welling and dripping at once. I feel a pang of sympathy for him, for half a heartbeat. “Next!”

My day passes like that – as it always does. Adultery, loss, money. There’s an odd murder or two to make it interesting, but mostly it all passes in a blur. People come into my office, dragging their pain and grief and jealousy, and I send them back out with answers. Maybe more pain, more grief, more jealousy, but sometimes peace of mind. That is why I took the job in the first place, so long ago.

When the day’s nearly done and I don’t see anyone else heading into the office, I call to the guy – Henry. He walks in, a little stiff from sitting in the waiting room for hours. He’s still clutching the tabloid he was reading, and his hands are pressing damp valleys into the paper. I wave a hand and he sits in front of me. The leather of the chair creaks as he shifts.

“Hey, Henry,” I say. “I want to know why you’re so important.”

There is a moment of quiet. Then Henry leans forward, and he smiles.