The hike hadn’t been Ella’s idea. Of course it hadn’t; nothing about this holiday was. It was Nick who’d chosen the destination, Nick who’d chosen the hotel. It was Nick who wanted to go walking, though the day was hot, the sun already furious. At least, she thought as she pulled on the new hiking boots he’d insisted she buy, it would be cooler under the trees. This part of Croatia was thick with them, the trunks tight-packed, keeping out the light.
The fear took him by the throat with the first chord. It was the violins and their high, piercing wail that caught him unaware, making the terror vibrate within him as the strings vibrated to their horsehair prod. Tortured, he thought. The bow tortured the strings to make them howl so. The music grew in intensity and volume, and he knew he would have to leave before he *could not* leave, before the soaring, searing music immobilized him like a fly in amber.
They took shelter outside of Boulder, in a cookie-cutter subdivision that had seen better days. Five or six floor plans, Dave Kerans figured, brick facades and tan siding, crumbling streets and blank cul-de-sacs, no place you’d want to live. By then, Felicia had passed out from the pain, and the snow beyond the windshield of Lanyan’s black Yukon had thickened into an impenetrable white blur.
She peered through the window at the slumbering cherub. Pale skin and black lashes. A nightlight shone against the red drapes, and tinted the walls bloody. It was warm inside that nursery, she imagined. Snug, like the house where she’d once lived. But that was a long time ago. She did not remember her name anymore, or the person she’d once been. Only the job, the houses she visited each night. The faces of the children she stole.
Buildings were built, in the beginning, everyone knows, to hold the dead down. Every cellar floor was built over the ceiling of something else. Now cellars are used for all sorts of purposes. Roots. Paint cans. Pantries. Workshops. Other. There’s a rhyme someone invented for children. It’s chanted in nurseries in the Banisher’s town. The nurseries are upholstered in chintz, and the walls are padded, as though they’re asylums and the babies inmates.
By the time we were twelve, the four of us were already ghosts, invisible in the back of our homerooms, at the cafeteria, at the pep-rallies where the girls all wore spirit ribbons the boys were supposed to buy. There was Alex in his cousin’s handed-down clothes — his cousin in the sixth grade with us — Rodge, who insisted that d was actually in his name; Melanie, hiding behind the hair her mother wouldn’t let her cut; and me with my laminated list of allergies and the inhaler my mother had written my phone number on in black marker.
You’ve been here before, but not day after day after day in some karmic trap set by an unseen screenwriter who wants you to achieve inner growth and redemption. You’re here because you always fly American and the nearest hub to your house is Miami. The hub and spoke system of airline travel sucks. Only the rich fly direct. The rest of us shuffle endlessly toward our connections, zombie passengers lost amid acres of gleaming glass, soulless architecture, uncomfortable chairs, synthetic plants, incessant television, and expansive views of horizons we’ll never reach.
When writing a recipe, you have to be linear. This, then that, then this. You can’t jump ahead of yourself; you have to follow the logical progression from ingredient, to action, to end result. Meanwhile you keep things on the boil and prepare for the next step. I sometimes feel Temptation Tor wrote my recipe template, everything leading to this moment; an episode of my cooking show, in the place where the idea for Motorbike Munchies was born.
Nukeboxxx sat back from the keyboard and ran his hands through his long sweaty hair. He was trembling from the caffeine and the familiar electric thrum that jolted his stomach every time his barbs elicited a response from another troll. And yes, he considered himself a troll. Keyboard warriors believed no more in solipsism than they did empathy. They couldn’t. For there to be any degree of satisfaction in this game, one depended on psychological REACTION and the full awareness of the hurt his words were likely to cause.
Grief had taken hold of her long ago. Long before the cataclysm. Long before everything had disintegrated: the planet, its people, her life. Hope for the future. She crouched at the top of the hill, turning her head slowly from side to side, seeing only what the UV aviator goggles allowed her to view, scanning 180 degrees of verdant landscape, watching. Always watching.