Formica

She walks the endless halls, newly alone, but unafraid. Why should she fear? Her path trails behind her, bright as a beacon, unmistakable, unbreakable. She is warm, and fed, and it is quiet here.

Something sweet and familiar on the air, so she pushes forward, the clew tangled against one of her legs an alien weight, but not unpleasant. She rubs her teeth together, thinks about what she will tell her sister-sisters, if and when she returns. Something lived here once, vast as a city block; she can taste its labor in the walls and floor, bones of a strange and foreign body now absent, and it comforts her.

No corners here, no crosspaths, no doorways or chambers, no factories nor birthing rooms, just curve after gentle curve. A light grows ahead of her and she makes for it, turning through ever wider arcs until she breathes in deep the syrup-rich smell of the open air.

The Cook

The Great Detective sleeps on the third floor, and the Other Detective on the second, and the Cook sleeps in the basement. A quiet man, it suits him; the windows are high against the ceiling and the light is filtered through the murmur of the city streets. He goes up to the third floor every morning, carrying breakfast to the Great Detective on a tray, but he has not been to the fourth floor in years. He knows what lives up there, in careful, tidy rows, in rooms cool and moderate and torrid; there was a time he marinated in that glory, but not now. There was a time too when he burned like a bachelor’s souffle for the Great Detective, but not for years, and not now.

The Other Detective he sees most days, partners in commiseration, brother wives in a house where music seldom plays, in the kitchen or the office; not infrequently in his basement rooms that, like every other, are soundproofed and discreet. Old friends, they are casual with each other, with their names and their loves and their bodies. The cook does not cloister himself within the house — he is not eccentric in his genius — but nevertheless his mind has risen with the yeast of years to fit its shape.

He does not like crime, and will not talk about it. There is always another body, another rule broken, another flurry of activity to come, but such moments can only be measured against the quiet, unbroken, remorseless tender of his craft.

Eat the Rich

You are not an animal.

Which is to say, it is not the substance of what you eat that matters; you do not convert food to energy, matter, life. You are a spirit in the shape of a person, a pit in the mouth of the world; as you are a sign, a symbol, so too is your food. It is, in a sense, arbitrary. You do not suffer from iron deficiencies.

Nevertheless, you find yourself thinking in animalistic terms. Hunting, preying, stalking, digesting. Snakelike, you stuff yourself powerfully once, then slumber for weeks, months, years, rising only to feed again, to coil slightly against a warmer rock. You tell yourself you are dispassionate, as a snake is dispassionate, meaning perhaps no more than that your face is not built for the convenience of men.

It is easy enough to blend in, there on the upper floors. You know how they speak, dress, act, move. The casual possessiveness you assume is a shadowy reflection of their own, the right to touch and not be touched, to offend and be unoffended, to yell and pound the table and be nevertheless coldly logical. There is nothing you cannot do.

You would think they would be wary, but not so. Apex predators, they are unused to looking for any threat except their own folly. Knock gently on the penthouse door, and be invited in, vipers imagining themselves dragons, ready to warm themselves on your regard.

Then sleep the sleep of the just, for years, decades, or centuries, until need or desire calls you back. No windows are locked above the fifteenth floor.

Serge and Bacchus

Suffice it to say, things hadn’t worked out the way you’d planned.

Oh, sure, it was all wine and roses at first, two swinging bachelors bound together by love and faith, with the ear of the emperor, living the high holy life in the big city. A word here, a recommendation there, and bang presto there’s a governorship for you, good sir, think of us kindly when we’re old and gray, you get the idea.

But then ohhhhh suddenly it’s not cool and edgy to be members of the apocalyptic new religion that’s making the rounds, it’s not enough to cough politely and say that boy you’re so stuffed from all the temple feasts you’ve been eating from the sacrifices you make all the time like the good Greek citizen that you are, people are handing you the knife and the lamb and making you demonstrate and just like that the jig is up.

Suddenly you’re nobodies, worse than nobodies, outcasts, and all your old fair-weather friends have been tasked with torturing you to death, and you’ve been made to wear women’s clothing (fun) and run six miles with nails through your feet (less so) and it’s hard not to feel a little ill-used, hard not to feel like you got a little o’erweening and brought this all on yourselves, somehow.

Well. They’ll see, they’ll all see. They can cut off your heads, but you’ll always have each other, and nothing’s sexier than a pair of martyrs. You’re gonna do fantastic up in heaven, you’re both gonna bang it out for centuries, dudes are gonna be hot for you for the next twelve hundred years.

Just you wait.

Giving Directions

Up on second mountain, beyond first mountain, we are warned to stay out of the forest. Why, we ask; well, it’s complicated. Witches there, but they’re not the problem, though they’re a surly bunch. Not cruel, mind, but insular; self-sufficient. Worse, they’re inquisitive, you’re not like to get away from them without decanting your whole life’s story into their varied ears. Lose a whole day, that way, or a week, if you’ve the bad luck to meet a group of ’em all at once. Best avoided, unless you’re looking for ’em particular, of course. Nice enough, but like feral cats, better appreciated from a distance.

Deeper in, well, it’s a tangled place, all blackberries and scrub, you’ll lose more skin than it’s worth to push through. Blackberries are a blight, a settler plant that went rogue a century back and hasn’t been purged out, not since the fires got outlawed. Nowadays it’s a powder keg. Hasn’t been a year in a decade where summer hasn’t brought choking smoke from one fire or another, and often both. Dangerous to get caught in.

Course even if you do push through all of that, what’ll you find except the center, a long rolling lawn with a manor house at the end, and, why, if you’ve seen that it’s already too late. Nobody climbs up that lawn who sets foot on it, neither tourists nor townies nor witches. What’s at the bottom? Couldn’t tell you. Best left alone, whatever it is. Don’t bother it, won’t bother you; you could ask for worse neighbors.