Nepenthe

“One swallow.”

“Are you sure about this?”

“Absolutely.”

Leda held the opaque vial filled with milky white potion up to her eyes, examining the contents warily.

“I’m tired Rue,” she murmured softly, almost inaudibly.

“Drink Leda.”

Leda’s eyes flashed away from the vial and found Rue’s pale blue ones, making a desperate plea. Rue was calmer than ever.

“Trust me,” Rue commanded.

Hesitantly at first, and then suddenly boldly Leda lifted the vial to her lips and sipped. Continue reading

Vanquished Glass

All the glass in the world has vanished. The tall grasses thrash against my bare legs, dress pillowing and sucking against me alternately. Shelby is beside me, both feet planted firmly on the ground for the first time in his life.

The moment this strikes me, I can’t help but look over at him and shout over the wind, “How does it feel to stand?”

“A little dizzying,” he says, grinning back. “Lot farther to fall.”

Shelby’s the kind of person who loves the ground too much to realize he was born with wings, says Mr. Mellark. Whenever provided the opportunity, he always chooses to sit on the ground, sit on something, or even just lean.

But today, tonight, he stands with us. We all stand in a line on Cherry Hill, holding hands. Except for Shelby and me. He didn’t offer it, and I don’t feel like taking it, so I just let Aunt Josephine clutch my other hand fervently. I try not to look at her, because she’s the type of person who would notice, but I can tell she’s crying. A lot of people are.

And singing.

It started out as a dull rumble, as we were marching out to the hill.

It was barely dark out when we all left our homes and banded together on the road, in one lumbering mass. Somebody near the front began a song, one of the sweet, melancholy folksongs that were made for campfires and nights of endless chess tournaments and knowing that you were part of something much more immutable than yourself.

“Why are we signing?” little Connie, barely awake, asked, tugging on my hand.

“With the proper high note,” said Mr. Mellark, contemplatively, striding beside us with his smoothly gnarled walking stick, “a signer can shatter glass.”

The Wall lies in the valley below us— or what is left of it. It looks more like a trail left behind by Connie, who didn’t realize she was tipping the salt container upside down. Nothing but a strip of white powder from up here— maybe a few sparkles if you squinted your watering eyes against the wind.

“What does it look like?” comes a croaking cry on the other side of Shelby. Blind, old Addison had, when he was very young, elected Shelby as his favourite. Intricate descriptions of the world he’d lost sight of was his favourite treat, and he was always instructing us children not to tell him that the moon was shining, but to “show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

Shelby doesn’t say anything for a long time, and when I turn my face toward him, I see he has his face in his hand.

I swallow, reach out, and pry his wet hand from his wetter face. His April-storm eyes blink at me, red around the edges, scared and hopeful and alive. I wrap my fingers around his hand and squeeze.

“What does it look like, Shelby?” I say.

A shuddering breath rips through his body.

He says, “Freedom.”

“Mr. Addison,” I shout, as wind buffets us, “blue moonlight glints on the winding trail of shattered glass.”

Shelby squeezes my hand back.

I’m waking up.

I feel it in my bones.

We don’t know what lies before us. We never knew what lay beyond the Glass Wall. But it is ours. Whatever the future holds, it belongs to those who sang until the prison glass came crashing down.

The ones who see the glint of light on broken glass, because the moon shines for us tonight.

Part Three: A Traditional Halloween Tale

Cidney Ellen had nearly arrived when she noticed her slipper was missing.

“Oh fiddle,” she said and turned around to search the soggy sidewalk she’d walked up. She hadn’t gone far when a large, lumpy toad hopped out of the dead wet grass and plunked down in the middle of the side walk.

“Hmm,” Cidney said, considered it an omen, and turned back in her original direction toward the steepled mansion at the top of the sodden hill. There was a certain… oh what was it? Cattiness? Yes, perhaps it was that, though she really felt the word unjust to feline-kind everywhere, after all, some of the gentlest friends she’s ever met were cats… but there she was, letting her thoughts wander away from her again. And anyway, there was a certain cat-like-ness in the air tonight, too. Cattiness, and something more: a creeping disinterest in reality.

Unusualness.

Hobbling up the front steps in just one slipper, Cidney straightened her glittering tiara, brushed down her ruffly, white, and soaked skirts, and rapped on the door in a rhythmic way.

One minute. Two.

Cidney began exploring the porch. It really wasn’t so bad of a place when you got down to looking at the roly-polies in the paint cracks of the window sill, or the way the creeping myrtle was curiously beginning to wind up the sides of the porch. Even the sharp October wind was alright because at least it wasn’t playing games with you. It shocked you down to the bone, but then that was that. Cidney didn’t even wish she’d brought a coat.

All except the pumpkin. It was a bit disheveled-looking, with lumps in unusual places, and sat forlornly on the edge of the top step, water droplets still pooling in the little divet at the top. Even if it had been the most beautiful pumpkin in the world, Cidney still would’ve shuddered. She couldn’t stand the sight of them; not since the accident.

The door burst open and a hand darted out and grabbed her.

“We need your help!” Wendy greeted her without ceremony, yanking her down the feebly lit main hall.

In the rooms they passed, Cidney caught glimpses of all sorts of unusual sights. A scarecrow doing a jig on the ceiling, and a nurse chasing after him with a needle and thread, catching his limps as they fell off. A werewolf howling at the little squares on moonlight on the floor. A long, rectangular, suspicious-looking box rattling and thumping from the inside.

Wendy dragged Cidney all the way up to the attic, an unusually spotless room, just for tonight. A dozen mice were dusting and scrubbing the floors and walls, even though they already shone to polished perfection. A tight-lipped, severe looking middle-aged woman sat in the lone armchair in the middle of the room, a compact mirror lying open in her lap.

“We must hurry, my child, it is almost midnight,” the woman said, beckoning Cidney forward.

Cidney knelt before the woman, and took the mirror the woman pressed into Cidney’s cupped hands. There was a certain resemblance between them, not exactly in their look as in their manner. Both seemed to have their heads in the clouds of a world that had long since passed them by. The cadence of their movements. The gestures of their voice.

Cidney closed her eyes and inhaled. Wendy and the woman looked on, and nobody spoke. Wendy glanced at her watch.

“11:59,” she warned.

“Cidney—” the older woman pressed.

“I’m trying! It isn’t working!”

“You must wish harder!”

The mice all spun in unison, and froze, as if they felt it. The gleaming wooden walls shivered. Moonlight grew brighter from the single oval window at the back of the room. A faint scent of roses tingled in the air.

“Midnight,” Wendy announced, frowning at her watch. Everyone exhaled together, even the mice.

All that work for nothing. She was never going to break the spell.

“We’ll try again next year, my child.” The woman patted Cidney on the arm with what she seemed to think was a consoling touch.

Dejected, Cidney nodded, and got to her feet. “I’ll help you clean up,” she told Wendy, who only shook her head.

“They were fine this year. Only one minor mess in the kitchen from the cowboy. And they’ll all have settled down by now.”

Cidney and Wendy descended together, walking back past the rooms of young people sprawled flat on their backs, waking up foggily and scratching their heads, murmuring confused statements to each other that weren’t even all the way to questions. The usual.

Wendy smiled sympathetically and waved a quiet farewell to her friend at the door.

“Happy Halloween,” she said by way of apologizing.

The words were finally starting to feel less foreign in her mouth, so Cidney turned and replied, “Happy Halloween.”

In the brisk moonlight, she hobbled back down the sidewalk, wishing for the millionth time she’d never said yes to pumpkin anything.

 

Part Two: A Traditional Halloween Tale

Jack Alander was the first to arrive, and he resented Hal from the cuff of his pointy collar to the hem of his billowing cape for having had the forethought to show up late.
“You know, I really hate this stupid costume,” Jack muttered to Wendy.
“I do wish you’d try to enjoy yourself.”
“I don’t know why I’m here.”
“Because, you make a handsome vampire, Jack.”
Jack looked disinterested. “I think I’ll go for some more punch.” Continue reading

Part One: A Traditional Halloween Tale

Hal Winchester was nearly the last to arrive. It was the perfect Halloween night which meant that the sky had poured buckets, complicating the drive up the dark, unfamiliar road until the old, red Chevrolet could fight its way through the mud no longer and refused to carry its passenger any further.
Grudgingly Hal had marched the rest of the way across the inky lane, wondering why he had bothered with this scene at all. And as it was the perfect Halloween night, by the time Hal reached the front door of the looming mansion, the rain had ceased to fall and a bright full harvest moon illuminated the thoroughly drenched young man.
He paused on the front step and glanced at the windows nearest the door, but a curtain hid the interior of the small mansion from view. As a cool wind blew across the back of Hal’s neck, he shivered, rubbing his hands together and smiled to himself.
How spooky, he thought, grinning. It was as if this all was straight out of a movie—the mysterious invitation, the anonymous host, the isolated mansion.

Continue reading

Ghost at the Window

The trouble is, no one really understands what it means to be a ghost. Firstly, some people are stuck under the false presumption that we are here of our own accord, like out of all the opportunities Eternity has to offer we’d choose to stay on this same, miserly planet. It’s not that we’re trapped here by a curse, or that we stay behind just to haunt some poor souls with our suddenly bottomless store of free time. I’ll tell you one thing, this certainly isn’t leisure, if that’s what people think.

Continue reading

Cabin of the Forgotten

I remember when I heard the first knock.

Scared? I wouldn’t say that there was any real fear in me, no. Anxious? Yes. I had been alone for a long time, living in this cabin. I knew this place, every creak of every board, every whistle the wind called in through an open window, every shadow of every hour.

When the boy knocked on my door, it was unfamiliar. Of course I always knew that there was a chance of somebody finding me. My corner of the woods was remote, but it was still part of the woods.

I can still hear his faint words.

Please, sir. May I come in? It’s awfully cold out here.”

Continue reading

Case 42

Initial Notes: This file describes one of the subjects termed an ‘oddity’. Throughout the course of said subject’s life, there has been careful documentation as to the mental state of the subject. The notes were discovered and destroyed by the subject and what follows is the personal account of the subject. For this reason, Case 42 is considered scientifically invalid in our research. It is not written objectively or in a scientific manner and reads rather like a story.

Continue reading