Classifying Things

Jane sits by the sea.

“You’re a thing that splashes and a thing that hides. You’re endless. You’re wet. You’re full of salt. You roar. You crash. You tumble.”

Martin sits down next to her, on a rock. “What do you call it?” he says.

“It’s a tumult,” she says.

Martin points at a sandpiper, running along the shore. “And that?”

Jane regards the bird. “A fleeting thing. A passing thing. A glimpse and a flash and a pitter-patter thing.”

“Ah.”

“It’s a scurry.”

Martin looks up at the sky. “And that?” he says, pointing up.

“It’s a river,” she says, “and the clouds race by like ships; and when the oars splash the water, it falls down like rain. It’s once the same, then different forever. It’s a temporal.”

Martin wraps his arms around his knees. “Why are you sad?” he says.

“I met a woman,” Jane says. “She was a darkness. Offal. Trash. Like a toy that a grown child left behind. She was a sleazing thing. A sinning thing. A greed. A want. A slimy thing. There wasn’t anything in her that was good. I felt so sorry for her.”

“Ah,” Martin says.

“When I meet the bad people, I tell them. I tell them things. Like ‘you have a greatness. You could be beautiful. Cling to your hope.’ Or ‘cling to your love of cooking.’ Or ‘cling to the child in you.’ Or ‘cling to your dislike for pain.’ Or whatever.”

“It doesn’t work,” Martin says.

“It does sometimes.”

Martin thinks about that. “I suppose.”

“But there wasn’t anything I could tell her. She was like rotten fruit.”

Martin sighs. He watches the clouds on the horizon. “You can make soup out of rotten fruit, you know.”

Jane looks at him.

“It’s like stone soup,” he says. “You add things to it, one bit at a time. Potatoes. Wine. Fennel. Onion. Cilantro. Parsnips. Salmon. Klingons. That kind of thing. Then you take the rotten fruit out, and there you go.”

Jane fiddles with a ribbon. “You’re a stringy thing,” she says. “A shiny thing. You’re red and twisty and giving.”

“What do you call it?”

Jane ties it around Martin’s finger. “A promise.”

“An implication?” he offers.

Jane frowns sternly.

“A random philosophical discussion?”

PUSH!

There’s a pause. Martin climbs back up onto the rock. He gives her a wry smile. Jane looks down. She tries not to giggle.

“Fine,” Martin says. “What was her name?”

Liril (2 of 2)

It’s recess. Liril sits against a tree. The tree is at the schoolyard’s edge. Liril’s hair runs down the bark.

Sandy approaches her, and Liril opens her eyes.

“I wondered if you’d come,” Liril says.

Sandy’s face is tight. “I want to be prettier.”

“Why?”

“If I were prettier, then people would have to love me,” she says.

“You are pretty.”

Sandy shrugs. “Not enough.”

Liril reaches out her hand. She puts it on Sandy’s elbow. “You are like the sun,” she says.

“No,” Sandy says. “Make me prettier.”

Liril makes a sad face. “Okay.”

“Okay?”

Liril nods. “Tomorrow,” she says, “you have to wear your ugliest dress, and your hair all a mess, and carry a hand mirror; and when people who don’t love you say mean things about you, you have to look at the mirror. Then bring me the mirror and I’ll break it, and you’ll be pretty.”

A day passes; and another; and there’s Sandy with the mirror. She shows it to Liril. Liril spits on it and rubs it dry. Then she shatters it against a rock.

“I feel funny,” Sandy says. She’s beginning to glow.

“You’re becoming a merin,” Liril says.

“Is that something pretty?”

Liril thinks. “Merins help make sense of the world,” she says. “They can be ugly or pretty or somewhere in between. You will be pretty.”

“Oh.”

Sandy sits down. The glow brightens; then fades. Sandy looks at her hands. “I can see myself,” she says.

“Why would you be invisible?”

“. . . I don’t know.” Sandy looks up. “I’m pretty now?”

“Yes.”

A day passes; and another; and there’s Micah by the tree. “You’re crying,” he says.

“They took her,” Liril says.

“Hm?”

“Sandy,” Liril says. “I changed her. And they came. And they took her. And she’s gone.”

“Will they hurt her?” Micah asks.

Liril shakes her head. “She’s pretty. So they’ll love her. That’s the law of her nature.”

“Then why are you sad?”

“She was like the sun.”

Micah sits down.

“Seven times,” Liril says. “Seven times I’ve lost the sun. I wonder when I shall run out.”

“When you look up in the sky,” Micah says, “and it isn’t there.”

“I can’t fight for them.”

Micah looks at his feet. He picks up a stone. “If you wanted to fight,” he says, “what would you do?”

“I’d name that stone Liril,” she says. “Then I’d draw legs on it, and a head, and two hands; and I’d roll it off into the woods.”

Micah takes out his crayons. He draws legs on the stone. And a head. And two hands. “What about a neck?”

Liril looks at him.

“Right,” Micah says, grumpily. He rolls the stone off into the forest, then peers into the distance. “I’m not sure where it landed.”

“Why did you do that?” Liril asks.

Micah doesn’t say things like “You’re like the sun.”

“You’re Liril,” he says.

Micah (1 of 2)

Liril draws a picture in crayon. It looks like a person. But it has no neck. It has no real torso. It has no arms. She hangs it on the refrigerator.

“Who’s that?” Micah asks.

“It’s a picture of you,” she says. “See? Micah!”

He snorts. “I have a neck,” he says. “I have a torso. I have arms.” He takes the picture down. He draws them in. “See?”

Liril sighs. “It’s a better picture,” she says. “But it’s not Micah any more. You should chop it up into little bits and feed it to demons.”

“It’s good art,” he says.

“It’s wonderful,” she says. “But it doesn’t have a soul.”

“Can’t one have both a soul and a neck?”

Liril frowns dubiously. “I guess.” She brightens. “It’s sunny. I’m going to go outside and play.”

“I am going to make finger sandwiches and tea,” Micah says.

Liril goes outside. She plays near the front door. A car pulls up. She watches it. Three men get out. They’re wearing suits. They have sunglasses. They walk up to the door.

“I can see what’s inside you,” she says quietly. “You’re not people.”

One of them turns to her. His name tag reads “Anakopto.” Below that, it says, “Cessation.”

“Stop,” he says.

She stops. She does not move. She stands there, frozen, as they enter her house.

Micah’s in the kitchen. He’s making finger sandwiches and tea. He does not seem surprised when the three things enter the house.

“Michael,” they say.

He turns. “Would you like sandwiches?” he says. “Or tea?”

Anakopto blinks. Then he smiles. “How gracious,” he says. “What a well-behaved child.”

“I’ll bring them out,” Micah says. “One moment.”

They sit down. Micah brings out the sandwiches. He brings out the tea. They eat. They drink. Micah looks at their name tags.

“Arpazo, Anakopto, Kyrievo,” he says. “Collection, Cessation, and Love. Would it be rude if I said that these do not match?”

Kyrievo smiles at him. Micah’s face goes white and his teeth grit together.

“Child,” Arpazo says. “Michael. Tell us a story while we eat. Then we must take you back.”

“I’ll tell you of the House of Atreus,” he says. “It begins with Tantalus. The gods came to his house to feast. To test their omniscience, he served them his own son, Pelops.”

Arpazo regards his sandwich.

“It’s tuna,” Micah says. “It doesn’t have my son in it. I’m pre-pubescent.”

Arpazo takes another bite. “Good,” he agrees. “I should not like it if you played tricks on us, Michael.”

“I’m surprised,” Micah says. “I’d think you’d know the taste of Tantalus’ meal.”

“We are nearly gods,” Kyrievo says. Again, as he speaks, Micah’s face whitens. “But,” Kyrievo finishes, “we are not gods yet.”

“The gods restored Pelops to life, and punished Tantalus to live without meat or drink in the land of greatest plenty. Pelops chose Hippodamia for his wife, and, to claim her, murdered her father. They had two sons, Thyestes and Atreus. Atreus took the throne of Mycenae, so Thyestes seduced his wife, stole his golden fleece, and fled.”

Anakopto finishes his sandwich. He drains his tea. He sets down his tea. He looks up. “Stop.”

Micah stops, midword.

“Do you know why we are taking you, and not the girl?” he asks.

“I’m the one who defies you.”

“Yes,” agrees Arpazo.

“Could I have a nametag with that?” Micah asks. “Micah. Defiant?”

“The problem, Michael, is that you have no power to do so. I hold out my hand, and you stumble towards me. Anakopto speaks, and you stop. And Kyrievo—you love him, do you not?”

“More than I’d expected,” Micah says. It’s a minimal answer.

“You understand what must be done. Come outside. Get in the car. We’ll take you home.”

“Why do you call me Michael?” Micah asks.

“In renaming you,” Anakopto says, “we remake you.”

“I see,” Micah says.

The four of them rise; and Arpazo, Anakopto, and Kyrievo proceed to the car; and they drive away; and after a time, Liril recovers herself, and enters, and sees Micah slumped upon the floor.

“Micah!” she says.

He looks up.

“What happened?” she asks.

“I chopped up the picture,” he says, “and fed it to demons.”

“Oh,” she says.

“I think its name was Michael.”

“You’re ruthless,” she says, and goes to look out the window.

In the car, on the road, Anakopto asks, “What happened to Thyestes?”

There’s a shape huddled in the back seat. He’s indistinct. His name is Michael. “Thyestes returned home, thinking himself forgiven, and Atreus ordered Thyestes’ children slain, and fed them to his brother on the welcoming feast.”

“Ah,” Anakopto says.

“Stop,” Michael says, and Anakopto’s hands freeze on the wheel, and the car drives into a mountain, and is still.

In the living room, Liril helps Micah up. There’s a salt scent in the air, but they do not know its reasons.

“I feel sorry for him,” Liril says.

“He was just someone they made up with their expectations,” Micah says. “He was what the monster would want me to be. He probably won’t even manifest outside their heads.”

Liril folds a paper crane. She writes “Michael” on its wings. She takes it to the window.

“Go,” she says. “Be his soul. Help him be more. Help him get free.”

She looks at Micah. He scowls at her. He looks away.

“Do it,” he says.

She throws the crane into the wind; and for a moment, the wind catches it; and then it falls to the garden, to the footprint of Arpazo in the flowers and the grass.

“Huh.”

“See?” Micah says.

Liril stands on her tiptoes and looks out the window at the crane. Then she shrugs, and turns away.

The Stone

a story in two parts

This is not something that happened before. This is not a legend that we are showing you to help you understand the world. This is not the cloud of understanding.

This is happening.

It is happening now.

Maybe when you encounter this story it will already be the past again. There is nothing immortal about this moment.

But because it is happening now it is something that we cannot change.

The past is easy to change and the future is like pushing rocks but the present we can only watch. That is what it means to be a mortal creature, bound by time.

If I Ran The Bay

“It’s a pretty good Bay,” says young Ellen the Grey,
“And the fellows who run it are righteous, I’d say.
But if I ran the Bay, the New Bay, the Grey Bay,
I’d see that it changed in a few little ways.
I’d open the cages. I’d let these folks out;
No underage kids with their scabies and pouts;
No octogenarians, no nonagenarians,
And none of the rest of the camp’s human carrion.
I’d like to keep him, but I’m egalitarian.
So all of you, jump! With a cry of ‘Geronimo!’
You’re free as a bird! You’re free from Guantanamo!

“Then,” says Ellen the Grey, “on the very next day,
When I’ve rinsed the place clean of the smell of decay,
I’d go hunting the mountains of Zomba-ma-tant,
And in no time at all find the one that I want,
The bloody, the awful, the Grand Hierophant.
He stands on one mountain, tall, crimson, and gaunt,
With his long stick-like arms and the hate that he flaunts,
And his long fingers plucking and mucking and shucking
The people who live there, whose lives are just sucking,
And I’d put him in chains and I’d lead him away
And I’d take him back home to Guantanamo Bay.

“But I wouldn’t stop there! No, that just wouldn’t do.
I’d travel to far Insk-An-Abalaroo
Where beef falls from the sky and so hunting is sieving,
And the airport’s offshore lest the plane be Thanksgiving,
And the haughty Grand Poobah makes folks scared of living
With the long speaking tubes that relay his misgivings
And his humbling mumbling that answers their grumbling
And extensible hands to send weak rebels tumbling
And I’d say to the Poobah ‘It’s time that you paid,’
And I’d take him back home to Guantanamo Bay.

“I could do what I want! I could steal Britney Spears!
And Leo, and Russell, and of course Richard Gere,
I’d keep them in cages, ‘neath the glare of mad sages,
With no kind of oversight save for my aegis,
But they’d just be sideshows. They’d just be the meat!
I shouldn’t waste time catching folks so discreet.
Guantanamo’s not for the genteel elite.
So it’s back to my job! It’s another work day:
Capturing horrors for Guantanamo Bay.

“I’d hunt down the Beast of Ma-Ah-Li-Ha-Kated—
There’s no better match for the objective stated!
The man can’t be sated, no matter how mated,
And he shakes’n’bakes wives once they’ve been conjugated.
He takes and he breaks and he shakes and he bakes
And he often partakes while the victim’s awake
But I’d open his eyes, in Guantanamo Bay,
And I’d cook him by inches for six solid days
I’d cook him by inches! For six solid days!
In an Easy-Bake Oven with a white chocolate glaze.
And once in a while I’d quietly pray
That my choices are right,” admits Ellen the Grey.

“When I’d caught the worst few, I’d again have some leisure,
So I’d travel to Duluth, the City of Measures,
And hunt down the monster engaged in his pleasures,
With the two golden spheres that he claims as his treasures,
His tongue’s like a whip and his claws are quite keen,
And he kills those who don’t think his spheres are worth beans.
Yes, the monster’s uncouth and he’s ruthless to boot
But I think that it’s sooth that he’s toothless in truth
So I’ll drug his vermouth, shanghai him from Duluth,
And I’d put him in chains and I’d lead him away
And I’d take him back home to Guantanamo Bay.”

Four Horsemen1

1 assumes familiarity with the conventions of Japanese animation.

Rainbows strike the ground. Orange flowers writhe up from the earth. A sense of impending beauty hangs over the city Thessel.

Sarah and Yvonne have not yet noticed.

They’ve let their lives distract them.

“You need to study harder,” Sarah says. Her face is hard and stern.

Yvonne looks up.

“It’s not relevant,” she answers. “You know I’ll never leave this place.”

The high school is called Our Lady of Penitence, or OLP High. Yvonne is a junior. She has a 2.8 grade point average. She does not expect to graduate.

“Maybe,” Sarah says. “But that’s not important. Your performance shames all of us. It shames the school. It shames your parents.”

“They’re dead,” Yvonne says.

“Yes,” Sarah agrees.

“By agape I was born,” Yvonne says. “By eros, they were slain.”

A sweatdrop appears on Sarah’s brow.

“Yvonne,” Sarah says. “You have that backwards.”

“Oh,” Yvonne says.

In the distance, they hear a crash. They hear one scream. Then more.

It is the arrival of an emissary of love.

“We should go,” Sarah says.

Yvonne shrugs. She stands up. She strolls towards the sound. “The cafeteria, you think?”

“Yes.”

In the cafeteria, a horrid chimera crouches, as much metal as beast. It is squat, like a giant frog. Its body is pierced with long hollow white tubes, big enough for a person to crawl in. They bend at its points of articulation. Tendrils wave from its head. It has great monstrous paws. Most of the students stare helplessly. Some cower behind tables or in the kitchen. It has caught Sandra. It has caught Johnny. Giant paws pin them down. They weaken.

“I didn’t think it would be this way,” Sandra says.

“It’s not,” Johnny insists.

“It’s just,” Sandra says, “it’s kind of funny. We’ve been friends for so long.”

“Yes,” Johnny says. “Friends.

“I never thought about whether we could be more.”

The tubes set in the chimera glimmer with radiant light. It whispers to itself. Johnny’s face sets in a rictus of pain. Then his face relaxes. He slumps.

“I’m wondering too,” he concedes. “I mean. If we can.”

The room’s shadows shift. The door to the hallway opens. The chimera turns its head. Tubes shift within its flesh. Its eyes narrow.

“Filthy creature,” says Yvonne. “You’re bringing love to this place?”

For love it is that sprouts beneath the creature’s paws.

Tendrils lash out towards Yvonne, dozens of them lacing in and out amongst themselves as they blur towards her head. Calm and quiet, Yvonne touches a button on her watch. The tendrils do not reach her. The giant robot named Death—HER giant robot, ghostly and terrible—rises through the cafeteria floor. Its scythe cuts the tendrils through. The creature hops backwards, uncertain.

“I am death,” Yvonne says. “I am the sentry. I forbid you Thessel.”

Yvonne’s eyes glow violet. Death’s eyes glow the same color. The giant robot glides forward.

The tubes set in the chimera’s flesh shine bright red. A great light pours from them. Its power stops Death’s advance. Yvonne’s face grows tight from the strain upon her will.

The tableau lingers.

“I’m stuck,” Yvonne manages.

“This wouldn’t happen if you studied more,” Sarah observes.

Death slides backwards half a yard.

“Help me or you’ll die a virgin,” Yvonne grinds out.

Sarah shrugs. She touches a button on her own watch. The air seethes. Particles of food skitter upwards from overturned trays. They form the great swarm robot Pestilence.

“I am poison,” Sarah says. “I am sickness. I deny you this place. Infestation vengeance . . . attack!”

Pestilence exhales upon the creature. The chimera shivers and its light modulates towards sickly green. Then the creature jumps. It sails through the swarm and the swarm through it, and the particles of Pestilence come out clean. Sarah screams, shrill and high. The chimera does not hesitate. One paw knocks Sarah aside, into the wall. The other lands on Yvonne and bears her down to the ground. The creature stands there, comically suspended on one leg, its eyes scanning the room.

A young man enters. He’s got a sword. His name is Samuel. He lunges for the creature in a blur of steel, and draws sickly green blood. It keens horribly.

“Death,” he says. “Death, take it now.”

Death starts to move. Then the violet fades from Yvonne’s eyes. She blinks. She looks at Samuel.

“Only now I see you,” she says, “when I had not seen you before.”

“For the—,” Samuel hisses. “That’s the creature. It’s clearly the robot animal ALITHEIA, the sudden recognition of love for someone you’ve known a long time. Frag it, you stupid bint.”

Yvonne snorts and looks away.

“Jerk,” she says. “See if I help you now.”

“I’m terribly sorry,” he says. “I meant to say, Yvonne, would you please be so kind as to invoke the seal of Death upon this chimera?”

“No,” she says.

The creature’s tendrils lunge towards Samuel, burning with yellow light. He parries them with one sweep of his sword. Blood drips.

Slowly, weakly, Sarah struggles to her feet.

“Yvonne,” Samuel says. “You can’t afford to fall in love.”

“Why not?”

Samuel stares blankly at her.

“She refuses to study,” Sarah says.

A sweatdrop appears on Samuel’s forehead. “You’re kidding.”

Sarah shakes her head.

Yvonne’s eyes go happy, unfocused, and distant as she looks at Samuel. Then they snap back into focus. “Beast,” she says, and turns her head away again.

“Yvonne,” he says. “Thessel is under punishment from God. There can be no love here. Do you understand? If there is love, if for one moment someone dares succumb, the earth shall crack open underneath us and we shall fall into Hell.

“Sandra succumbed,” she says. “Johnny succumbed.”

“They’re weak,” Samuel says. “They’re teenagers. Selfish. Oh, sure, they’ll look at each other with dreams in their eyes, but give them one real challenge and it’ll fall apart. That’s how we survive. That’s why Thessel is still here. People are nothing. Their love’s just lip service.”

“So?” she says, making no movement to fight. “I wouldn’t go to Hell for you.”

Samuel grits his teeth.

“Fine,” he says. “Fine!”

He throws down his sword. He stomps towards the door. There’s a terrible hissing sound, and a thump.

“Would you think me critical,” Sarah says, “if I said that that was the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen anybody do?”

“Yes,” Samuel says. The creature’s paw is on his back and he is prone. “Yes, I would think you critical.”

“Ah,” Sarah answers.

“It’s a stupid curse anyway,” Yvonne says. “Why would God levy a curse like that?”

“We loved the wrong person,” Sarah says. “He came to our town. He was so beautiful. All the women loved him.”

“Women are degenerate,” Samuel mutters.

“All the men loved him.”

“Men are degenerate,” Yvonne snarks.

“But we weren’t supposed to love him,” Sarah says. “It was wrong. It was evil. So the curse fell on us. We woke up and he was dead, given the blood eagle on the OLP lawn, and we knew that if we loved again, we’d go to Hell. And ever since then, love’s sent the rainbows and the flowers and the beasts, and the horsemen have fought them.”

“Oh,” Yvonne says.

The chimera’s tubes pulse a brilliant aquamarine. One foot holds Yvonne down. The other pins Samuel. The food in the room dries and fades away.

“I would,” Samuel says.

“What?”

“I would,” Samuel says. “Go to Hell. For you.”

“I hate you!” Yvonne cries.

Her eyes turn on the chimera, burning. They flash the deepest violet. Death’s scythe comes down. The chimera’s tendrils catch the blade. They tremble. The creature stands there, wreathed in light, as the blade presses closer towards its skin.

“I’m famine,” says the last horseman quietly. Her name is Theresa. “I’m emptiness.”

“You’re late,” Sarah says.

“Cafeteria,” Theresa explains.

“Ah.”

The giant robot Famine is a shape cut from the air. Its great pneumatic fist rams the chimera’s heart. The creature shivers. It keens. It releases its grip on Death’s blade. The seal of Death falls upon it. Love is gone from the room, and emptiness prevails.

“There’s no point,” Yvonne says, after a while.

Samuel looks at her.

She hasn’t gotten up yet. He’s made it to a chair.

“I stopped studying,” Yvonne says, “because I found out what happens to Death.”

“Ah.”

“When Death is a senior,” she says, “When I— next year. Next year I’ll fall in love with you. Because you have that sword. I’ll fall in love, like every Death with every War, but before the ground caves in, I’ll die.”

Samuel shrugs.

“Like I care,” he says, and struggles up, and leaves the room, all trembling.

It’s Only Wounds (I/I)

It’s raw.

“I’m afraid of you,” the voice says.

Erin’s on the phone with her mother. She’s sitting on the couch. She’s holding the phone in one hand. She listens.

“I don’t want to be near you. You seem so violent. Like you could do anything.”

There are things Erin wants to say. She doesn’t say them.

“You’re out of control.”

“I’ve never been,” Erin says.

“Those kids who shot up that school,” the voice says. “Do you think they showed it? They didn’t tell people. They didn’t warn people. They didn’t do anything. They just gave you a vibe. Until one day they started killing.”

Erin carefully hangs up the phone. She looks at the phone. “I don’t want you to do this,” she says. “Don’t think about me.”

Her head’s full of white and fire.

Erin stands. She goes to the bathroom. She looks in the mirror. She has white-blond hair. It falls to her waist. She’s wearing a jacket. She closes her eyes. It feels like fading.

“It’s only wounds.”

She opens her eyes. She goes to the closet. She takes a stuffed unicorn down from the shelf. Erin walks to the table. She sets the unicorn down. The unicorn has no balance. Its legs give out. Its horn lowers. Its nose sprawls onto a coaster. Erin sits down. She closes her eyes. In the world behind her eyes, the unicorn is tall and strong. It nuzzles her hand.

“It’s only wounds,” Erin explains. “She has wounds. I have wounds. The trick is to talk so they don’t rub together.”

“You can’t,” the unicorn says.

“I want to just . . . fade away,” Erin says. “So that I don’t hurt her any more. I don’t want her to think about me.”

“People think about things,” the unicorn says.

“I want to forgive her,” Erin says. “I want to take her pain and heal it. I want to make her okay. I want to come together with her in brightness and have things be as they should have been.”

“She won’t,” the unicorn says.

Erin opens her eyes and makes the unicorn small. She stands.

“You don’t understand,” she says. “You’re just an imaginary thing. You’re a dream. You’re less than human.”

The unicorn doesn’t move.

“I can reach for it,” she says. “I can make it happen. I can change things. I can fix her. She’s not hurting me on purpose. It’s only wounds.”

Erin sits down. She picks up the phone. She calls a friend.

“Yo,” says Branwen.

“I want to do it,” Erin says. “I promised I’d call.”

Branwen sighs. “It’s not worth it.”

“Why not?”

“It’s good to be human,” Branwen says. “You get hopes. And dreams. And loves beyond the great love. You get a lot.”

“But you don’t have answers.”

“No,” Branwen admits. “You don’t.”

“When you promise,” Erin says.

“No,” Branwen says. Her voice is full of pain. “Erin, there’s nothing you can do. She’ll think what she thinks. You can’t stop her.”

“When you promise something that humans can’t fulfill,” Erin says, “you don’t have to be human any more.”

“Can’t,” Branwen says. “Not ‘don’t have to.'”

“Don’t think about me any more,” Erin says. “You won’t have to. I promise.”

“It doesn’t work that way,” Branwen says. “Not from weakness.”

“Oh,” Erin says.

“I’m sorry.”

“No,” Erin says. “It’s not weakness. The going away. The ending. They’re weak. But not the promise. Not the real one.”

“Erin—”

“I promise that she’ll think brightly of me. That she’ll love me. That she doesn’t want to hurt me. That it’s only wounds.”

Silence.

“Hey—” Branwen says.

The line goes dead.

“Hey—”

She’s not supposed to think about Erin. But she does.

It Goes On Forever

Meredith sits in her room. She’s a young woman — perhaps fourteen years old. Her room is still and quiet. There’s a window, though. It looks out on the sea. Outside, it’s a bright and cheerful day.

Claire moves in. She’s a tall and limber sprite. She has butterfly wings, cerulean and blue. She has deelybopper antennae and a gentle smile. She reads Meredith’s books. She plays with Meredith’s dolls. She leans out the window and enjoys the sun. Sometimes she goes outside and flies in great, long circles.

Eight months pass. The sun never sets. The sea roars on and on. Then one day, Meredith opens her eyes. She looks around. She frowns.

“Hey,” she says, disturbed. She stares right at Claire. “Hey.”

Claire looks up. Her antennae wobble. “Oh! Hey. You’re remembering.”

“I’m remembering you,” Meredith says. “How come you’re not in any of my other memories?”

“I’m not from your past,” Claire says. “I just found the memory and moved in.”

“No!” Meredith insists. After a moment, she adds, “. . . why?”

“Because it’s pretty,” Claire says. “I look out the window, and there’s the sun. I smell the air and there’s the sea. I look around me. There’s so much cool stuff.”

“Sometimes,” Meredith says, “. . . once in a while, you know, when I try too hard, when I do too much, I have flashbacks to today. Mostly back when I was in college. Not as much lately.”

Claire nods firmly. “I know.”

“. . . so,” Meredith says, “it’s not a safe place. I mean, this memory. I mean, you shouldn’t be here. When I flash back to now, there should not be a sprite.”

Claire tilts her head to one side. “Which of us are you worried about?”

Meredith looks flustered. Then thoughtful. Then she shrugs. “Mostly you. Some me.”

Claire nods. “Open the door.”

Meredith walks over to the door. She hesitates. She bites her lip. She opens it. There’s nothing on the other side. She peers out into the machinery of her head. After a moment, contemplative, she closes the door.

“It is very important, when you move into a new home, to exorcise any nasty baggage it might have.” Claire preens. “Do you like it?”

Meredith sits down again. “It can only be an improvement,” she says. “Except, now I don’t know what I’m flashing back on. I don’t know why I’m so afraid of people like him.”

“Don’t you?” Claire asks.

Meredith hesitates.

Claire shrugs. She takes out one of Meredith’s books. “You should read this to me,” she says. “And you should come back and remember this. Lots! Every week! Later, I’ll show you the sea.”

“The sea?” Meredith asks.

“It’s here,” Claire says. “It’s all here, in your memory. It’s blue, and it’s bright, and it goes on forever.”