Detective Strakowski leaned forward, cupping his chin in his hand. He was bored. Dusk had seeped across the street over an hour ago, and the night had turned chilly and damp. He ought to close the window, but couldn’t bring himself to get up. He scratched his cheek. He needed a shave.
No, what he needed was a case. A real one. None of this “my spouse is cheating on me” or “I lost my prized possession” crap. He thought freelancing as a private eye would give him some excitement in his life. Boy, was he wrong about that. He should have listened to the others.
The other detectives who had tried it before had told him it wouldn’t work. That no one could afford a real private eye, not in this part of town. For some reason, Strakowski thought he would be different. That he would attract a different type of clientele. But so far, nothing. Zilch. Nada. Just the same old stuff he was told he would get.
He couldn’t bear to tell the others. He didn’t want them to think he’d failed. They were good people, even if they didn’t always share the same idea of a good time. They called him “Stag” for some reason, maybe because he was single, preferred to do things his own way. But it wasn’t clever. His first name was Ron.
He was about to give up and lock up for the night when someone tapped lightly on the door. He sat up, quickly rearranged his desk, tightened his tie.
“Come in,” he called, hoping he didn’t sound too eager.
The door opened, and for a moment Strakowski was unsure if he had actually fallen asleep at his desk and was now dreaming. The woman that walked through the door was the most extraordinary person he had ever seen, resplendent as though she was glowing. He had met a lot of people in his line of work, but never anyone as bright and beautiful as she. She was something special.
And he should know. He didn’t really like going to the movies, but he had seen every one of her pictures.
He stood quickly, the chair squeaking uncomfortably behind him.
She held up a hand and Strakowski snapped his jaw shut. She closed the door behind her and adjusted her wrap. It was made of a plain but clearly expensive material, and she held it tightly around her. Underneath she wore a plain navy suit, as though she was in disguise. But the cut was too modern, the cloth too fine. Even the hat pulled low over her eyes didn’t have a single crease. If she was pretending to be an ordinary person, she wasn’t doing a particularly good job.
“My name is Helena Trent,” she said, lowering herself into a chair, Strakowski awkwardly following suit. He would know that smooth voice, that impeccable bearing anywhere. Verity Park was in his office.
But if she was using a false name, inquiring at a private eye in Little Ama, that could only mean one thing.
Strakowski tried to still the butterflies in his stomach. She couldn’t be here alone. There must be bodyguards somewhere. He took a glance at the closed door, then at the open window. This office was not in any way suited to protecting a famous movie star. He stood quickly and moved to the window, closing it with effort. Ms. Park watched him, barely turning her head. He quickly pulled the curtains closed and moved back to the desk.
“Um, what brings you here, Ms…..uh, Trent?”
Ms. Park gave him a small smile, and Strakowski’s heart fluttered.
“Something of mine has gone missing,” she said, enunciating perfectly with her low voice.
Strakowski felt a thump of disappointment. Another one of these cases?
“Could you describe the item?,” he asked, trying his best to sound professional.
Ms. Park’s smile deepened and her eyes glinted. Strakowski’s disappointment turned suddenly to apprehension. She reached into her bag and pulled out a small circular object, leaning forward to place it gently on Strakowski’s desk. Strakowski started to gasp, his breath caught, and, rather than turn the gasp into a meditative throat clearing as he intended, instead began to cough. Ms. Park began speaking over his distress.
“This is a family heirloom,” she said, folding her hands elegantly in her lap. Strakowski nodded, his face red.
“This piece here is a part of a set. This half here I keep with me at all times. The other half was stolen two days ago from my home.”
“I assume it was kept in a vault or a safe?” Strakowski managed through his cough.
Ms. Park nodded.
“If you can help me, I will reward you most handsomely. But I require your absolute discretion. Is this something I can trust you with?”
A thousand questions ran through Strakowski’s mind. Why him? How did a thief manage to steal something from one of the richest people in the world? Why bother stealing an item that by itself was probably worthless?
Taking a sip of water, Strakowski managed to finally clear his throat. This is what he had been waiting for. This was his chance.
“Of course, Ms. Trent,” he replied, pulling out a notebook. He tried to ignore his feelings of disquiet, and the look Ms. Park gave him, which he might have described as sly.
“Now, what can you tell me about the Discretion Mirror?”
The snow flew toward the windshield. I couldn’t help but think of a spaceship traveling through light speed, stars stretched into bright lines. I briefly considered what it would be like to live on a spaceship, or off Earth. If someone offered me a one way ticket to Mars, I would take it.
I blinked, rerouting my concentration back to the road. I hated snow. Or I hated it if I had to drive in it. If I could stay in bed and read all day, I didn’t mind what it was doing outside. I preferred the rain, though.
Did it snow on Mars? I was unclear. I would have to look into that.
Something darted across the road and I instinctively pressed the brakes. My headlights had illuminated a creature I couldn’t immediately identify. It definitely wasn’t a squirrel, and although it was about the size of a cat, it didn’t move the way I had seen cats move. Maybe a raccoon? They sorted of trundled, right?
But it seemed to scuttle, like an insect. That was deeply unsettling.
I glanced in my mirrors. There weren’t any other cars except those parked along the road. I eased my car into an open spot and turned off the engine, taking a moment to sit quietly and enjoy the silence. The snow made a soft susurrous against the car.
There was work waiting for me at home. A hungry bird waiting to be fed. My own dinner. As if to prove a point, my stomach growled. But the pull of the mystery was too great. Against my better judgement, and the better judgement of those who might have seen me, I got out of the car. Luckily I had my snow boots on hand, and I always kept a pair of gloves in my car. I pulled them over my already freezing fingers, raised the hood of my coat, and trudged off in the direction of the animal.
It could be an alien, right? I mean, I had just been thinking about space, and then I saw a strange, unidentifiable creature. It was too coincidental to be a coincidence.
The snow was falling heavily, but the streetlight shone onto a path in the drifts. I knelt down, examining the tracks. Well, perhaps tracks wasn’t the best way to describe it. It reminded me of something I had seen at the zoo; trail marks from komodo dragons, their bellies and tails dragging through the sand. Or in this case, snow.
But the thing I had seen moved too fast to match the slow, reptilian lumbering of a komodo dragon. And besides, what would a komodo dragon be doing out here in the snow? Certainly not escaping from the zoo, and certainly not running around in the kind of weather that was sure to kill it.
I shivered. What was I doing? Whatever I had seen wasn’t worth it. I stood up, my knee popping uncomfortably, and turned back to my car. But a rustling behind me made me pause. I turned back. The trail led back into the darkness, into an old lot that lay quiet beyond the radiance of the streetlights.
Stuffing my hands into my pockets, I cautiously followed the trail into the lot. The wind pressed against my back, nudging me along. As I reached the center of the lot, I peered down at the ground. Here the snow was disturbed everywhere, the trail disappearing in turmoil. I slowly circled around, trying to follow the path the creature might have taken, but it was impossible. It had covered its tracks.
I sighed. This was a waste of time, and my stomach reminded me it was getting late. I had followed another hint to another dead end, and all I had to show for it was a numb nose.
But then, movement. Something skittered by to my right. I turned, and it flitted by to my left. No. There was another. It wasn’t alone. I froze, my breath catching as I realized there were several creatures scampering around me, kicking up snow and moving so quickly I couldn’t quite see what they looked like. About the size of a cat. Legs like a praying mantis, maybe. Scales? Something glittered against the freshly fallen snow.
And then, silence. The murmuring of wind and the hush of snow that dampens the sound of the world. The creatures were still there, but they too were quiet. Mute. Waiting.
I looked up. The snow fell quickly toward me, streams of sparkling light in the chill air.
No, not snow.
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.
I write for fun and to make sure my sister doesn't beat me in our blog challenge.