Read The Urban Fantasy Anthology Online

Authors: Peter S.; Peter S. Beagle; Joe R. Lansdale Beagle

The Urban Fantasy Anthology (6 page)

BOOK: The Urban Fantasy Anthology
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After a while we stopped asking. And we certainly didn’t fly over and ask her what she was looking at today. We were too busy lounging—which is harder to do on a sloped roof than you might think—until Zia suddenly sat up.

“I,” she announced, “have an astonishingly good idea.”

I’d just gotten my lounging position down to an absolute perfection of casualness, so I only lifted a questioning eyebrow.

“We should open a store,” she said.

“Selling what?”

“That’s just it. It will be a store where people bring us things and we put them in the store.”

“And when it gets all filled up?”

She grinned. “Then we open another. We just keep doing it until we have an empire of stores, all across the country.”

“We don’t have the money to buy anything,” I said.

She nodded. “That’s why they’d have to just give us the stuff. We’ll be like a thrift shop, except we wouldn’t sell anything we got.”

“That seems greedy. What do we need with things?”

“We can give everything away once we’ve established our empire. It’s just for fun.”

“It seems more like a lot of work.”

She sighed and shook her head. “You are so veryvery lazy.”

“That’s because today is a day especially made for being lazy.”

“No, today’s a day for building an empire of stores and if you won’t help, I’ll do it myself.”

“I’ll help later.”

She nodded. “When all the hard work will probably be done.”

“That’s the risk I’ll have to take.”

She stuck her tongue out at me, then shifted to bird shape and a black crow went winging off above the oaks that line Stanton Street. I laid my head on the shingles again and went back to my very successful lounging.

I was so good at it that, eventually, I fell asleep.

When I woke, it was dark. Chlöe was still standing on the peak of the Rookery, and the trees around me were now filled with sleeping black birds. Above, the sky held a wealth of stars, only slightly dimmed by the city’s pollution. I looked for Zia. She wasn’t back yet so I slid to the bottom of the roof and then dropped the remaining distance to the dew-damp lawn. Cousins stirred in the trees at the soft thump of my descent on the grass, but went back to sleep when they saw it was only me.

I left the grounds of the Rookery and walked along Stanton Street, heading for downtown, where I supposed I’d find Zia. I wondered if she’d actually had any success getting her silly plan off the ground, or if she’d gotten distracted after leaving me and was now up to who knew what sort of mischief.

I could understand her getting distracted—it’s such an easy thing to have happen. For instance, there were so many interesting houses and apartments on either side of the street as I continued to walk through Lower Crowsea. It was late enough that most of them were dark, but here and there I found lit windows. They were like paintings in an enormous art gallery, each offering small and incomplete views into their owner’s lives.

Zia and I like to visit in people’s houses when they’re sleeping. We slip in and walk through the empty rooms, helping ourselves to sweets or fruit, if they’re the sort of people to leave them out in small welcoming bowls or baskets. There might as well be a sign that says “Help yourself.”

But we really don’t take much else when we go inside. A bauble here, some unwanted trinket there. Mostly we just wander from room to room, looking, looking, looking. There are whole stories in the placement of vases and knickknacks, in what pictures and paintings have been hung, where and in what order. So we admire the stories on the walls and windowsills, the shelves and mantles. Or we sit at a desk, a dining room table, or on the sofa, leafing through a scrapbook, a school yearbook, a magazine that’s important to whoever’s home this is.

We’re curious, yes, but not really all that snoopy, for all that it might seem the exact opposite. We’re only chasing the ghosts and echoes of lives that we could never have.

So as I continued past Stanton Street, I forgot that I was looking for Zia. My gaze went up the side of the apartment building that rose tall above me and I chose a unit at random. Moments later I was inside, taking in the old lady smells: potpourri, dust and medicine. I stood quietly for a moment, then began to explore.

“Maddy?” an old woman’s voice called from a room down the hall.

It was close enough to my name to make me sit up in surprise. I put down the scrapbook I’d been looking at and walked down the short hall, past the bathroom, until I was standing in the doorway of a bedroom.

“Is that you, Maddy?” the old woman in the bed asked.

She was sitting up, peering at me with eyes that obviously couldn’t see much, if anything.

I didn’t have to ask her who Maddy was. I’d seen the clippings from the newspaper, pasted into the scrapbook. She’d been the athletic daughter, winning prize after prize for swimming and gymnastics and music. The scrapbook was about half full. The early pages held articles clipped from community and city newspapers, illustrated with pictures of a happy child growing into a happy young woman over the years, always holding trophies, smiling at the camera.

She wasn’t in the last picture. That photo was of a car, crumpled up against the side of an apartment building, under a headline that read “Drunk Driver Kills Redding High Student.” The date on the clipping was over thirty years old.

“Come sit with Mama,” the old lady said.

I crossed the room and sat cross-legged on the bed. When she reached out her hand, I let her take mine. I closed my fingers around hers, careful not to squeeze too hard.

“I’ve missed you so much,” she said.

She went on, but I soon stopped listening. It was much more interesting to look at her because, even though she was sitting up and talking, her eyes open as though she was awake, I realized that she was actually still asleep.

Humans can do this.

They can talk in their sleep. They can go walking right out of their houses, sometimes. They can do all sorts of things and never remember it in the morning.

Zia and I once spent days watching a woman who was convinced she had fairies in her house, cleaning everything up after she’d gone to bed. Except she was the one who got up in her sleep and tidied and cleaned before slipping back under the covers. To show her appreciation to the fairies, she left a saucer of cream on the back steps—that the local cats certainly appreciated—along with biscuits or cookies or pieces of cake. We ate those on the nights we came by, but we didn’t help her with her cleaning. That would make us bad fairies, I suppose, except for the fact that we weren’t fairies at all.

After a while the old woman holding my hand stopped talking and lay back down again. I let go of her hand and tucked it under the covers.

It was a funny room that she slept in. It was full of memories, but none of them were new, or very happy. They made the room feel musty and empty, even though she used it every day. It made me wonder why people hung on to memories if they just made them sad.

I leaned over and kissed her brow, then got off the bed.

When I came back to the living room, there was the ghost of a boy around fifteen or sixteen sitting on the sofa where I’d been looking through the old lady’s scrapbook earlier. He was still gawky, all arms and legs, with features that seemed too large at the moment, but would become handsome when he grew into them. Except, being a ghost, he never would.

Under his watchful gaze, I stepped up onto the coffee table and sat cross-legged in front of him.

“Who are you?” I asked.

He seemed surprised that I could see him, but made a quick recovery. “Nobody important,” he said. “I’m just the other child.”

“The other…”

“Oh, don’t worry. You didn’t miss anything. I’m the one that’s not in the scrapbooks.”

There didn’t seem much I could add to that, so I simply said, “I don’t usually talk to ghosts.”

“Why not?”

I shrugged. “You’re not usually substantial enough, for one thing.”

“That’s true. Normally, people can’t even see me, never mind talk to me.”

“And for another,” I went on, “you’re usually way too focused on past wrongs and the like to be any fun.”

He didn’t argue the point.

“Well, I know why I’m here,” he said, “haunting the place I died and all that. But what are you doing here?”

“I like visiting in other people’s houses. I like looking at their lives and seeing how they might fit if they were mine.”

I looked down at the scrapbook on the coffee table.

“So you were brother and sister?” I asked.

He nodded.

“Does she ever come back here?”

He laughed, but without any mirth. “Are you kidding? She hated this place. Why do you think she joined any school club and sports team that would have her? She’d do anything to get out of the house. Mother kept her on such a tight leash that she couldn’t fart without first asking for permission.”

“But you’re here.”

“Like I said, I died here. In my own room. I got bit by a bee that came in through the window. No one knew I was allergic. My throat swelled up and I asphyxiated before I could try to get any help.”

“It sounds horrible.”

“It was. They came back from one of Madeline’s games and found me sprawled dead on the floor in my bedroom. It did warrant a small notice in the paper—I guess it was a slow news day—but that clipping never made it into a scrapbook.”

“And now you’re here…”

“Until she finally notices me,” he finished for me.

“Why did she ignore you?” I asked. “When you were alive, I mean.”

“I don’t know. Madeline said it’s because I looked too much like our dad. We were in grade school when he walked out on her, leaving her with a mess of debts and the two of us. I guess her way of getting over it was to ignore me and focus on Madeline, who took after her own side of the family.”

“Humans are so complicated,” I said.

“Which you’re not.”

“Oh, I’m very complicated.”

“I meant human.”

“What makes you say that?” I asked.

He kept count on his fingers. “One, you can see me, which most people can’t. Two, you can talk to me, which most people really can’t. Three, you’re sitting there all calm and composed, when most people—most
people—would be flipping out.”

I shrugged. “Does it matter what I am?”

“Not really.”

He looked down the hall as though he could see through the walls to where his mother lay sleeping. The mother who’d ignored him when he was alive and now that he was dead, still ignored him. Her mind might be filled with old memories, but none of them were of him.

“Can you help me?” he asked.

“Help you with what?”

“With…you know. Getting her to remember me.”

“Why is it so important?”

“How can I die and go on if no one remembers that I was ever alive?”

“Lots of people don’t remember me,” I said, “and it doesn’t bother me.”

He chuckled, but without any humour. “Yeah, like that’s possible.”

“No, it really doesn’t.”

“I meant that anybody would forget meeting you.”

“You’d be surprised.”

He held my gaze for a long moment, then shrugged.

“So will you help me?”

I nodded. “I can try. Maybe it’s not so much that your mother should remember you more, but that she should remember your sister less. The way it is, there’s no room inside her for anything else.”

“But you’ll try?”

Against my better judgment, I found myself nodding.

He did a slow fade and I was left alone in the living room. I sat for a while longer, looking at the place where he’d been sitting, then got down from the coffee table and walked back into the hall. There were two closed doors and two open ones. I knew one led into the old lady’s bedroom, the other into a bathroom. I went to the first closed door. It opened into a room that was like stepping inside a cake, all frosty pinks and whites, full of dolls and pennants and trophies. Madeline’s room. Closing its door, I continued down the hall and opened the other one.

Both rooms had the feel of empty places where no one lived. But while Madeline’s room was bright and clean—the bed neatly made, the shelves dusted, the trophies shined—the boy’s room looked as though the door had been closed on the day he died and no one had opened it until I had just this moment.

The bedding lay half-on, half-off the box spring, pooling on the floor. There were posters of baseball players and World War II planes on the wall. Decades of dust covered every surface, clustering around the model cars and plastic statues of movie monsters on the book shelves and windowsill. More planes hung from the ceiling, held in flight by fishing lines.

Unlike the daughter, he truly was forgotten.

I walked to the desk where a half-finished model lay covered in dust. Books were stacked on the far corner with a school notebook on top. I cleared the dust with a finger and read the handwritten name on the “Property of” line:

Donald Quinn.

I thought of bees and drunk drivers, of being remembered and forgotten. I knew enough about humans to know that you couldn’t change their minds. You couldn’t make them remember if they didn’t want to.

Why had I said I’d help him?

Among the cousins, a promise was sacred. Now I was committed to an impossible task.

I closed the door to the boy’s room and left the apartment.

The night air felt cool and fresh on my skin and the sporadic sound of traffic was welcome after the unhappy stillness of the apartment. I looked up at its dark windows, then changed my shape. Crow wings took me back to the Rookery on Stanton Street.

I think Raven likes us better when we visit him on our own. The way we explode with foolishness whenever Zia and I are together wears him down—you can see the exasperation in his eyes. He’s so serious, that it’s fun to get him going. But I also like meeting with him one-on-one. The best thing is he never asks where Zia is. He treats us as individuals.

“Lucius,” I said the next morning. “Can a person die from a bee sting?”

I’d come into his library in the Rookery to find him crouched on his knees, peering at the titles of books on a lower shelf. He looked up at my voice, then stood, moving with a dancer’s grace that always surprises people who’ve made assumptions based on his enormous bulk. His bald head gleamed in the sunlight streaming in through the window behind him.

BOOK: The Urban Fantasy Anthology
8.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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