Derya fished in her bag, finally finding and pulling out a packet of dried meat. She untied it and glanced inside. Only a few pieces left.
Derya sighed. This certainly was the strangest mission she’d ever been on. She wasn’t used to this level of magic. She had encountered it, of course; she had played bodyguard to a fair number of wizards and sorcerers on her travels. But she didn’t trust magic. It could be finicky, and, in her experience, in the wrong hands, deadly. No. She didn’t trust anything that wasn’t her sword or her scarred fists.
Derya silently extracted a piece of meat and handed it to Tali. Tali took it but didn’t eat. She didn’t look up at all. Derya glanced around the room. Tarautis was studying the pedestal, its patterns glinting in the torchlight. He would pace back and forth, every once in a while leaning forward and then gesturing excitedly to Kiro, who stood looking on, their arms folded across their chest. Derya wasn’t sure Tarautis knew what he was doing, but she knew he was eager to find his friend. It was just hard to take him seriously when his skin was still blue.
A quick scan of the room revealed Rhýlavin, barely visible in a corner. Derya didn’t quite know what to make of him, but then again, she barely knew what to make of this entire situation. As long as the Drow wasn’t trying to stab them all in the back, she could live with it.
What was most frustrating was that she thought she had been hired to lead this rescue mission. But everyone was determined to do their own thing. Tarautis, Tali and Kiro presumably knew each other, and Malena, but at times they would act as though they had never met before. Well, Tarautis probably got on with everyone, or thought he did. Derya smiled to herself. The great oaf was beginning to grow on her. She certainly couldn’t fault him for lack of enthusiasm.
Tali and Kiro were another matter. Some experience or secret knowledge linked them somehow, but whatever it was confounded Derya. She was used to the openness of battle, the certainty of a straightforward fight. And Rhýlavin...who knew what was going on there, or why he was even here at all. All these shadows and secrets; she didn’t like it. It gave her an uncomfortable feeling in her stomach. A sourness that tasted like failure.
Derya sighed more deeply, and pushed herself to her feet, grunting a little. This chamber had taken its toll, even if her armor was unmarked. The strangeness of this place compounded with each room, whether it was fighting magical beasts or contending with peculiar spells. The fact they were given a break in the most recent room made Derya all the more uneasy. Whatever they were up against, it was biding its time.
“Tarautis,” Derya’s voice boomed through the chamber, and Tali winced. Tarautis and Kiro turned to face her and Tarautis made his way over. Cheerfully, by the look of it.
“Have you made any sense of those symbols?,” Derya asked, indicating the pedestal with a jerk of her head.
Tarautis shook his head.
“Still copper!,” he exclaimed, a smile on his blue face.
“It looks like we’re making progress, at any rate,” Derya conceded, and Kiro gave a terse nod.
“It seems that once we have completed activating the symbols, we should have access to some final chamber that will lead us to Malena,” Kiro said, proving once again their level headedness. Derya glanced over at Tali to see if she agreed. Tali didn’t look up. She was rubbing some kind of cream into her hands.
“Does anyone have any idea how long we’ve been down here?”
Derya was hoping one of the magic users had a better system of tracking time than she did. She had never spent this much time underground before and it was messing with her internal clock. Tarautis shrugged. Kiro looked up at the ceiling, clearly accustomed to keeping time with the heavens.
There was no answer from Tali or Rhýlavin, although Derya wasn’t expecting one. They were useful in a fight but weren’t much of team players. Derya glanced sideways at Kiro. They had proven to be one of the most inventive and skilled fighters Derya had met. She reminded herself to ask them what their plans were after this was over.
“Well, we’d better get a move on,” she said, pulling her greatsword from its scabbard. Tarautis’ eyes glowed and his smile broadened. Kiro gave a slight smirk, and even Tali straightened and looked attentive.
“Malena won’t wait forever. Which room is next?”
“I’m not sure about that pantry,” I whispered as the realtor led us out of the kitchen.
“Why not? It’s a good opportunity to go through all your cooking crap and get rid of some stuff.” Perry grinned. “Hoarder.”
I gave her a little shove with my shoulder and grinned back. The tour finished in the living room, where we were brought back full circle. I glanced around at the bright room, feeling light and airy myself.
“Well, what do you think?” The realtor was cheery, in the desperate way realtors often are.
“It’s great,” I said, as Perry nodded in agreement.
“We really love it.”
“That’s great!” The realtor bounced forward on his toes, eager as a puppy.
“We can draw up the papers today if you’re ready to make an offer,” he said, rifling through the stack in his arms. “Just be sure to sign at the bottom that you were told about the girl who lives in the closet.”
There was a moment where Perry and I consciously did not glance at each other.
“Could we, uh, have a moment?,” I said, imitating a grin. “I just want to check out that breakfast nook one more time!”
I dragged Perry into the hallway.
“Um, did he tell us about the girl who lives in the closet?”
“I don’t think so?”
“I mean, I feel like I would have noticed if he had mentioned a girl living in the closet.”
“I feel the same.”
“So….what? Do we pass on the house? It can’t be that bad right?”
Perry sighed and looked around.
“This house…it’s just so perfect. It’s everything we’ve been looking for.”
I gave myself a mental tour of the house again, from the large master bedroom, to the almost perfect kitchen (minus the too-small pantry), the living room with the beautiful bay window. It had a lovely yard and two small guests rooms, one of which would be ideal for my home office. It was the perfect house. After months of searching, we had finally found our home. Was a girl living in the closet going to keep us from our dream home?
We moved back into the living room, where the realtor was waiting expectantly.
I smiled and wrapped my arm in Perry’s.
“We’ll take it.”
For the first few months, it was quiet. The closet remained empty, and we didn’t see or hear from any girl. We were cautious around it at first, but because it was in the master bedroom, we couldn’t very well not use it. It was large, and we soon began filling it with our clothes, shoes, scarves, hats, various items we felt we would need but not immediately. If what we were doing was disturbing the girl in any way, there was no indication.
When we first moved in, I had spent a few listless hours searching online for any information about the house. There were only a few scattered blog posts with titles like “ghost girl living in my closet!” and “I couldn’t get out of this house fast enough!” But the house had only been occupied by a few different families in the last 10 years, so it couldn’t have been that bad. I figured most of it was click bait and ignored it.
The realty office was even less helpful. Even though the presence of this girl was enough to warrant a clause at the end of the contract that stated we were fully informed of her existence, they couldn’t say where she came from, who she was, or how long that clause had been attached to that house.
Perry and I would joke about it every once in a while. We would even scare each other, one of us hiding and whispering or jumping out, scaring the shit out of the other while laughing maniacally. But because nothing really happened, we didn’t take it seriously, and after a while it was forgotten.
One day I was working in my office when I heard a creak from the ceiling above me. Grinning, I snuck out of the room and up the stairs as quietly as I could, giggling silently to myself. It had been weeks since the novelty of scaring the other had worn off, which made it the perfect opportunity to bring it back. I hadn’t known Perry would be home so soon, and I reveled in the thought that I was the one to think of scaring her first.
I reached the top of the stairs and peered into the bedroom. I couldn’t see her, which probably meant she was in the bathroom. I crept on the tips of my toes and rounded the corner with a leap, my face scrunched and my hands clawed.
She wasn’t there.
Disappointed, I wandered back into the bedroom and froze. There was a girl standing in the open closet.
She was maybe about 11 years old. She was wearing old jeans and a long t-shirt with some indiscernible logo faded into the front. I had assumed the warning was about a ghost, but the girl looked solid and whole and frighteningly alive.
“You’re out of Pop Tarts,” she said, and turned and disappeared back into the clothes.
I ran forward, ripping clothes off hangers, pounding on the back wall. Was there some kind of Narnia back there? Where was she hiding? How did she get in? But there were no hidden panels that I could find, no secret passage. She had appeared and vanished as effectively as the title screen of a movie.
Flustered, I sat on the bed, staring into the ominous space. I absently picked up my phone and called Perry.
“Hey, Ivy? What’s up?”
“So you know that girl that lives in the closet?”
Do you ever feel like you don’t belong? Like the things you think about yourself are incorrect? People insist you’re one thing but you can’t believe them. You don’t believe them. You constantly feel like you’re fooling everyone, including yourself.
I’ve been thinking a lot about activism lately, and my right to call myself an activist, specifically when it comes to climate change. I’ve been struggling a lot with the idea that I’m doing enough, and simultaneously that there isn’t any way for me to do more. I don’t call my senators enough, but even if I did I have the feeling one of them isn’t ever going to do what I want. “But if enough people did it, they would be influenced to do it.” Unfortunately I don’t have that kind of faith in democracy. It has proven itself to be fickle, that there is a contingent of people who go into politics for reasons that don’t involve listening to their constituents. But I should still do it. It doesn’t take that much effort.
Greta Thunberg was in Denver last week, and I chose not to go to the climate strike even though I had the day off work. Part of it was because, while I believe Greta Thunberg is doing amazing work, there are others who are also doing incredible work who are not getting the same recognition, like Jamie Margolin and Mari Copeny. I can’t help but wonder if they are not getting the same attention as Greta Thunberg because they aren’t white. When activism is neat, and involves nice and acceptable civil disobedience, it is celebrated. When activism is closely tied to the issues of white supremacy, colonialism, Indigenous rights, trans rights, when activism isn’t nice and neat and acceptable, people ignore it, degrade it, condemn it. I’m still learning which voices I should listen to, which I should elevate, which I should scrutinize.
I also decided to not go to the climate strike because I didn’t think it would change anything for me. I do what I can. I live in a small place and I am conscious about my electrical and water usage. I want to invest in a composting toilet. I recycle what I can. I take public transportation when I can.
But there are so many other things I should be doing. I should bike to work. It’s close enough. I should not support organizations that are extremely wasteful, like Amazon and Major League Baseball. I could be shopping local, never using plastic bags, not buying items that come in disposable packaging. I could only buy organic foods. There are so many things I could and should do.
And it’s not always easy. I am making much less money than I was a few months ago. I am paying off medical bills, student loans, a mortgage. I don’t have health insurance. Because our society doesn’t support the efforts of environmentalism, it’s not easy or inexpensive to do everything you can to prevent further devastation.
But it’s also not all my responsibility. Corporations and governments should be doing more. They should have more regulations. They should make changes, not just because it’s fashionable but because it’s right. Because they are the ones that have caused so much damage. Not that individuals haven’t done enough damage. We didn’t think it would happen like this. We lived for years in excess, polluting the water, earth, and air. But hurricanes, typhoons, heat waves, melting ice, mass extinction. This is our fault. If we don’t do something, the earth will die.
I am proud of the work I do in the name of environmentalism, and I am constantly worrying about how I’m not doing enough. When it comes to activism, my philosophy is to balance effort vs effect. If something requires a great deal of effort for minimal effect, I am less likely to do it. It doesn’t seem worth it. If it requires minimal effort but will have a great effect, I will do everything I can to make it happen. If the effort and effect are fairly equal, I will spend time to decide whether or not it makes sense.
Activism is difficult. It requires time, energy, money. It requires cooperation. It requires the efforts of organizations, corporations, and governments to make a difference. I hope that as I continue to learn and work at it, in some ways it will be easier. I hope more people make the effort. I hope that we can change things before it’s too late.
Something was missing, he was sure of it. He couldn’t even say what it might be, but there was something about the room that felt off. He glanced around at the desk, the bookshelves. He even let his eyes wander the floor, running along the baseboards and then back up to the walls. The paintings? All there. His laptop lay on the desk where he had left it, lid closed, papers scattered around it. Even the chair was unmoved.
He turned and left the doorway, walking into the darkening living room. Everything was there, as it should be. And the feeling of unease vanished. He shook his head, certain he was imagining things. He padded into the kitchen, flicked on the light, opened the fridge, took out a beer, popped off the top, took a drink. Shaking his head again, he made his way back to the doorway of his office.
No, there was definitely something wrong. Crossing the room and placing his beer on the desk, he peered out the window. It had no curtains, something he had been meaning to get around to. Every afternoon he grumbled about the sun shining on the screen of his laptop, but every morning he’d forget about it until the sun sank low enough to cause a glare. He could see nothing out there, the street light too far behind his backyard to shed any light on the dark lawn. He ought to get a motion light. He added it to the mental list of home improvements he would never complete.
He checked the latch on the second story window. Locked. He gave it a tug, just in case. It didn’t budge. Satisfied, he turned back to face the room again.
His beer was gone.
He was certain he left it just there, on the desk. He had it when he walked in the room. Didn’t he?
Unnerved, he walked back out to the kitchen. His beer was there, sitting on the island. He felt a hum of annoyance at the innocence of the condensation dripping down the neck of the bottle. He could have sworn he had taken it with him into the office. Swiping it resentfully off the counter, he took two long swallows, gasping a little as he lowered the bottle. He felt ridiculous, spooked by a little uncertainty.
He walked to the living, flopping down on the couch and leaning forward to pick up the remote from the coffee table. He clicked through a few channels, found a rerun of a sitcom he enjoyed. He tossed the remote back onto the coffee table, lifted his feet, and leaned back to enjoy the evening.
Except as the light of the television flickered across the table, he saw, sitting there beside the remote, a pen. The hairs on the back of his neck rose. It was a special pen, a gift from a former professor. It was the only pen he took care of, filling it with new ink, keeping it stored in his desk. He only used it for editing manuscripts. It was the only pen he used for editing, and it never left his office. And it was sitting on the coffee table right in front of him.
He slowly lowered his feet to the floor. He turned his head to the right, staring dumbfounded at the door to his office, the light still spilling out into the living room. The beer, he could understand. He was often absentmindedly starting one task before he was finished with another. But that pen never left his office, ever. The habit of opening the desk drawer to retrieve it, using it, and putting it away right where he stored it was remembered in his muscles so thoroughly he sometimes reached for the pen in other drawers before his brain reminded him of what he was doing. To see it, now, sitting in a place so incongruous with its purpose finally alerted him to the fact that something was very, very wrong.
He stood up, keeping an eye on the pen, its surface winking with every flicker of the tv screen. He made his way back to the office, loathe to turn his back on the dark room but certain the answer to all this strangeness was in here.
Every painting on the wall was crooked, leaning slightly to the right. He instinctively leaned his head to correct the angle, and was so engrossed in the unnerving effect he barely noticed the hand around his neck.
The next installment of a story I will soon rename, as it has less to do with Eudora than I thought. :) Check out the first chapter here!
It was the isolation that was difficult. I was a naturally social person, grew close to my colleagues, had many friends. If any of them had tried to contact me, I hadn’t heard of it. I tried making a connection to the guards, but they couldn’t hear me through the barrier, and any way they ignored me. They avoided my eyes. My meals were slid into the cell from a slot in the wall. No one came close.
Three days into my imprisonment, a familiar face appeared in the hallway. I stood quickly, desperately aware how the sweat of the last few days made a grimy layer on my skin. I was still in my crumpled uniform. I felt grubby, a sorry approximation of my usually professional self. The sleek style of the woman standing before me didn’t help.
Sabine Tyrellia was almost as tall as I was. She looked me up and down, then gazed into my eyes. Her expression was inscrutable, but I could imagine what she was thinking. This conversation was not going to be easy.
She gestured, the guard moved, and the barrier dissipated. Sabine sighed, then turned and began walking down the hallway. I glanced nervously at the guard, but she jerked her head in irritation and I trotted along to follow my lawyer.
Sabine held a door open for me and I passed her into a sparse interrogation room, turning to face her as I entered. I opened my mouth but she held up a hand.
“Don’t,” she said, closing the door carefully.
I watched dejectedly as she placed her briefcase on the bare table and sat down. Her eyes bore into me and I took a seat opposite her.
The silence churned between us as I tried to communicate wordlessly, our eyes locked. But soon I couldn’t stand it any longer. I leaned forward.
“Would they really keep me here if they thought I did it? This is a minimum security facility. If I really caused the Raven Fire, wouldn’t I be powerful enough to break out of this place?”
“Is that really how you want to start this conversation?”
I sighed and leaned back.
“I didn’t do it.”
“I certainly haven’t heard that before.”
“Yeah, but I actually didn’t do it.”
Sabine just looked at me.
“Do you represent a lot of criminals?”
“You hired me. You didn’t check my credentials?”
“I hired you because you keep people out of prison. I didn’t pay much attention to what they had actually done. Or not done, as the case may be.”
Sabine crossed her legs and settled into her seat.
“I have kept a lot of people out of prison. I am good at what I do. And it’s not my job to decide whether that’s right or wrong.”
My stomach tensed as she folded her hands and rested them on her trousered knee.
“But this…this is different. I don’t know if I can do this.”
“What?” My voice was hoarse.
“I’m a criminal defense attorney, Tennyson. This is political. This is a little heavy, even for me.”
“You can’t just abandon me!”
She looked annoyed.
“‘After all we’ve been through together?’ I didn’t say that. I am not abandoning you. But I’m telling you I may not be the best solution to this problem.”
“The problem being that I have been accused of committing the greatest crime in recent history, possibly in all recorded history.”
“You always were a dreamer.”
I paused, then spoke quietly, honestly, letting her hear the fear in my question.
“Do you believe me?”
Sabine looked directly at me, but she couldn’t hold my gaze. My heart fluttered.
“My job is to either provide enough evidence that my clients didn’t commit a crime,” she said slowly, “or to discredit the prosecutor so charges are dismissed. What they’re saying out there…” She lifted her eyes to meet mine, and the despair I saw there brought bile to my throat.
“It’s bad, Tennyson. Really bad.”
“Will you tell me?”
Sabine teased a smile.
“Of course. I’m your lawyer, idiot.”
I grimaced, but I felt microscopically better. Sabine opened her briefcase and pulled out her tablet, tapping quietly as she consulted her documents. She slid the tablet toward me and I glanced down at the headlines streaming across the screen.
“RAVEN FIRE CAUSES WIDESPREAD PANIC...LEADING QuiP EMPLOYEE SUSPECT IN DEVASTATING RAVEN FIRE…DESTRUCTION OF RAVEN DRUMS RESPONSIBLE FOR ELECTRICAL LAPSES...POLITICAL TURMOIL AS HISTORIANS MAKE A GRAB FOR POWER…”
The headlines continued, but I handed the tablet back.
“Why didn’t I hear about this?”
“What do you mean?”
“The Raven Fire happened almost a week ago. It was terrible, sure, but it may have been a long time coming. We all went back to work. Why is this happening now?”
I gestured helplessly to the tablet. The upside-down headlines seemed to leer at me as they passed. Sabine looked puzzled.
“I don’t know. Maybe once they identified you as a suspect they felt they had more to go on. They could revive the story.”
I shook my head, suddenly feeling confidant.
“Something’s not right here, Sabine. And I think you know it.”
I write for fun and to make sure my sister doesn't beat me in our blog challenge.