I love magic, and I love love. Often I'm writing about one or the other, sometimes both. Here's where you can find my ever-updating collection of short stories and flash fiction.
When Magic Died
The tale of a trio who go on a quest to return magic to their kingdom. For those who like folk and fairy tales.
Once upon a time, in a land far beyond the western horizon, there was an apprentice who was very bored. She lived in a fine palace, and was studying magic, her greatest passion, but her master was an inept and bumbling old man who couldn't tell one end of a wand from the other. She grew terribly disinterested with her daily duties, which included tending to the last bit of live magic in the kingdom and arguing with her greatest enemy, the young and pompous palace academic. On one such day, shut up in the magician's tower and feeding the magic, the academic came knocking, thoroughly spoiling an otherwise pleasant morning. The two engaged in particularly feisty banter, this time about whether or not the academic should pursue a courtship with a maiden of the town, as his parents had suggested. This was, unfortunately, an ongoing discussion—the apprentice always asked about the progress of the courtship in order to poke holes in his unfaltering ego, and his retort tended to be that at least he had prospects—but on this day the argument went too far. Upon his suggestion that her general prickliness would subject her to a long and lonely life of her own doing, the apprentice quickly stood, furious, accidentally knocking over the cage in which the magic resided, and when the cage door flung open, the magic within was extinguished. The apprentice and the academic looked at each other, horrified. Then the academic said, "Not it," and disappeared down the spiral staircase. Coward that he was. The general uproar in the court over the matter lasted several days and nights, in which the apprentice bit her fingernails and hoped for a swift and painless death. However, the truth eventually came out: that it had been an accident, and that the apprentice and academic were to blame—much to the chagrin of the academic, who claimed innocence. Punishment, it was determined, was only fair, and so the apprentice and the academic were turned away from the castle and sent on a quest to discover a new source of magic. (After all, a kingdom without magic is sure to crumble to ruin.) They were given provisions for two fortnights, and a protector to ensure their safety on the journey, who, incidentally, was a total stud, though he refused to speak at all, and so the two enemies set out on their journey in smouldering silence. Neither the apprentice or the academic had ever set foot outside the borders of the kingdom, and so both were begrudgingly impressed by the beauty the land had to offer, and they travelled through the day and well into the evening before coming to a stop. On the first night, the apprentice was troubled by a dream where she stood in a gulley with powerful waterfalls crashing down around her, coloured hazy purples and dreamy blues. She was certain she had been there before, and it was upon waking that she realized the substance of the falls was not water, but magic. "You know everything, don't you?" She asked of the academic once they were on the road for the day. "Well," replied the academic, "no, not really. My specialties are in the history of the land, in strategy, and in speculative sciences." "Cool," said she. "So you know everything." He grimaced. "Do you know of a place with many waterfalls?" she asked. "Preferably close by." The academic thought for a moment, then pulled out a book—as he was wont to do—and rifled through the pages until he found an illustration of the very same gulley the apprentice had dreamed of, located, according to the book, two weeks travel to the south. She explained her dream, and though the academic was skeptical, it seemed as good of a lead as any, and so they set off to the south, the academic muttering about dreams and psychic premonitions the whole way. "I used to be a psychic," said the protector, speaking for the first time, and then, when the apprentice and academic looked up in surprise, refused to say anything more. The journey went without a hitch for three days and three nights, until the three travellers came to a deep valley carved into the countryside, with steep walls impossible to climb down. "You're a magician," said the academic to the apprentice, "magic us over." "I'm not a magician," said the apprentice, "I'm an apprentice. And there's no magic, anyway. We killed it." "You killed it." "We killed it together." And so the two engaged in one of their usual squabbles, until the protector grew weary of their bickering and held up a hand. "We'll rappel." They looked up at him. "I used to be a rope maker," he explained. "I thought you used to be a psychic," the academic retorted. The protector refused to say anything more. And so, using the fibers of nearby crops, the protector instructed the academic and apprentice on how to make rope, and by nightfall, they had length enough to rappel down into the ravine, where they found a twisty river. They walked south along the bank of the river, and after a day of their presence, naiads emerged in the water, startling the apprentice. They grinned their watery grins, and when she had recovered her composure, she said, "We're looking for magic. Do you know where the magic is?" The naiads grinned, said nothing, and disappeared. "Bold of you to assume they speak the language." said the academic. "I didn't hear you coming up with any clever solutions." The academic launched into a lengthy speech about the history of naiads, which only the protector listened to. After another day and night, the ravine twisted to the west, and so the group was able to climb up the side of the gulley without much difficulty, emerging into a barren wasteland. "Oh my," said the apprentice. "This looks homey,” said the academic. The protector bent over and rubbed dirt between his fingers. "There was a drought." The academic raised an eyebrow. "What?" the protector straightened. "I used to work in agriculture." As they picked their way across the desolate arena, the academic needled the protector with a thousand questions about his elusive past, and the protector refused to say anything at all. Eventually, the foothills rose up in front of them, and as they turned the corner, their first hint of danger leapt out from behind a rock, snarling and spitting, fur black as night, eyes red as blood. The apprentice yanked the academic out of the way, and the protector knocked the beast with his staff, and when it came back, yowling and furious, he threw a dart at it, and it collapsed. There was a moment of silence. "Well," said the academic to the apprentice, shaken, "you've saved my life." "Yes," replied the apprentice. "I imagine you would have done the same thing." So they shook hands and decided to be friends moving forward, and the protector rolled his eyes and set to work hacking the beast to bits. An hour later, he'd built a fire and was roasting the animal, much to the surprise of the others. "What?" said the protector. "I used to be a butcher." The academic and the apprentice exchanged a bemused smile. The meat was good, and the three went to bed that night sated for the first time in many days. That night, the apprentice dreamt again of the waterfalls and woke with a burning against her ribs, and they pressed onwards into the hills, encountering more beasts, who mostly left them alone, keening from the shadows. The further they got from the kingdom, the more jumpy the protector became, much to the amusement of the apprentice and alarm of the academic. “What is magic, anyway?” the academic asked, “and how will we know we’ve found it?” The apprentice considered. She said, “We’ll know when we’ve found it. Magic feels like being alive.” The academic wrinkled his nose. “That makes no sense.” She turned, one eyebrow raised. “Is it supposed to make sense?” The academic opened his mouth as if to argue, but then remembered their newfound friendship, and closed it promptly. The protector noticed this. “Why,” he asked, “did you both fight so passionately? Is it due to some secret love?” The apprentice wrinkled her nose. “Gross. No. I would rather spend my days locked in a tower alone.” Then, at the stunned expression from the academic, hastily added, “No offence, but I do not think I was built for romantic love.” “None taken,” he said, then added, “aren’t you technically studying to be locked in a tower alone?” “By choice,” she said primly. “The chemical formula for love is very complicated, anyway,” said the protector. “I would think one would be better off without it, as it does tend to interfere with many things.” “How do you know about the chemical formula for love?” asked the apprentice, as her studies in magic had covered the concept and she knew it to be difficult. "I used to be an alchemist," said the protector, to which the apprentice and academic said nothing, because at this point, what even. The apprentice lagged behind the two, mulling over her recent confession. It was not one she had ever spoken aloud, but now that she had, she was quite pleased with it. Ahead, as they walked, the protector glanced over at the academic. "Wanna see my darts?" he asked. The academic stared. "They're my most deadly weapons." The academic said, "Sure." And so the protector unrolled a leather scroll, which nested thirteen beautiful poisoned darts. "Thirteen is a strange number," said the academic, to which the protector replied, "There used to be fourteen." "Fourteen is a strange number," said the academic, to which the protector replied, "harrumph." On their tenth day of travel, they encountered a toll bridge, but whatever had once haunted it had long since absconded and taken the water with it, the ground left cracked and dusty. The apprentice began to worry that an area so barren could not possibly host such a collection of waterfalls as she had dreamed of. Creatures circled their campsite at night, eyes in the dark, but the protector kept them away with the glint of his blade clearly visible, which made the academic avert his eyes. On their eleventh day, they encountered the remains of an abandoned village, and they were able to enclose themselves in what had once been a tavern to shelter from the wind and discuss their plans around a handmade fire. “What happens if we never find the magic?” the apprentice asked. The academic glanced at the protector and then away. “I think the instructions were clear. We stay away until we find it.” “Tough deal for you,” the apprentice said to the protector. “You did nothing wrong and you still had to leave everything behind when there’s no guarantee of return.” The protector made eye contact with the crackling flames and cleared his throat. “I had nothing to leave behind.” “I would argue that I also did nothing wrong,” said the academic, without much conviction. The apprentice raised her eyebrows. “You provoked me.” “Why was there so little magic left, anyway?” asked the protector. “Magicians used to be able to conjure magic themselves,” the academic replied. “But that’s a lost art.” “I wish it wasn’t.” The apprentice looked glumly down at her shoes. “That way I wouldn’t be training to be a hired recluse.” “I’ve heard the king would have been happy to announce the death of magic.” The academic sighed. “It was the council that suggested this quest.” The protector’s expression shifted slightly. “Really?” The apprentice, who did not notice this, straightened. “What sort of king wouldn’t want magic?” The protector continued to stare into the fire and said nothing at all. The academic watched him very carefully. “Well,” said the apprentice, “at least we have each other, so we won’t be lonely.” So on they travelled, the apprentice ever plagued by the same dream of rushing waterfalls. She was troubled by an increasingly sharp pain in her chest, just behind her sternum, and grew worried that they would never find the magic they were in search of. On their fifteenth day of travel, their water supply began to run short. The academic consulted his book and consulted the maps, and declared that they would arrive at the waterfalls the very next day. The apprentice looked at the dust on the ground, and worried. That night, the academic could not sleep, and so he stood under a large tree that spread out wide towards the stars and thought about death. The protector woke, too, and joined him. “I am worried,” said the academic, after some minutes of companionable silence, “that we will not find what we are looking for.” “I swear on my sword that I will help you find it,” said the protector, watching the academic carefully. “Your success will be my greatest joy.” “That’s very interesting,” said the academic, “considering you’re planning on killing us both.” There was a moment of stunned silence in which the protector looked far up into the night sky. Then he said, “You really do know everything.” “No,” said the academic, “it just wasn’t that hard to figure out. Why would someone with such a wide range of skills and backgrounds be sent on an impossible quest with two nobodies? I mean, fourteen darts? The standard number for anything is a dozen.” The protector said, “I liked thinking that you know everything better.” The academic said, “Why haven’t you done it yet?” “It would seem,” said the protector, drawing a dagger—the academic did not flinch—“that my orders do not align with my heart.” Then he knelt and set the dagger at the academic’s feet. “Though,” he said, his expression unreadable, “you have probably figured that out, too.” The academic looked at the protector for a very long time. Then he said, “I had hoped.” Then he knelt too, picked up the dagger, and held it back towards the protector, who was really the assassin. The assassin said, “I do not want to.” The academic said, “I know.” The assassin took the dagger and sheathed it. “When you do it,” said the academic, “because we both know you have to, use the darts. They seem a little more dignified.” Then he kissed the assassin, turned, and went back to the campsite to sleep. The assassin stood under the large tree that spread out wide towards the stars and thought about death. The next morning, he took up the role of protector again, and neither he nor the academic said a word about it. The ride through the mountain pass was tense for other reasons, as the apprentice grew more and more fearful that there would be no magic. They arrived at the gulley, but the apprentice knew that something was wrong before they even turned the corner, because there was no sound of rushing water. No sound of rushing water, nor the familiar hum of the magic she had spent so long tending to and had killed. The sound in the gulley was the same as the sound in the cage in the moment after the magic had been snuffed out: eerie, silent, empty. They rounded the corner. Sure enough, the gulley was empty, and though the apprentice recognized the space from her dreams, the magic was nowhere to be found. “Well,” said the academic, holding his arms out, voice echoing in the vast cavern, “now seems as good a time as any.” The protector shook his head. “I will not do it.” “Then you will die,” the academic said, “and since we will die out here anyway, one of us might as well live.” “Hang on,” said the apprentice, catching on, “who’s dying?” The protector shook his head again. “No one.” “You were sent by the king to kill us,” the academic said. “So that there was no chance we’d bring magic back to the kingdom.” The protector, who was really the assassin, said nothing. “Wow,” said the apprentice, “that’s unfortunate.” “I won’t do it,” the assassin said. “I have been a lot of things in my life, but a killer of friends is not one of them.” The three stood watching each other warily for several long minutes, and when it became clear that no solution was going to present itself, the apprentice sighed. “What are our options?” “We can’t go back without magic,” said the academic, “so we can’t go back at all. I suppose you could go back without us and pretend you’ve done the job.” The assassin and the academic made very pointed eye contact, and the assassin said, “You don’t usually say foolish things. I will not leave you.” It did seem rather grim, all things considered. If only, thought the apprentice, if only magic was anywhere to be found. The pain in the apprentice’s chest worsened quite suddenly, and she staggered forward, clutching her heart. The academic and the assassin rushed to her aide. The academic pressed a hand to her shoulder. “What’s wrong?” Bones, she thought, aren’t supposed to feel so alive. Her heart beat, the pain itself a presence large and unyielding and begging to be released, and a bubble of laughter trapped itself in her throat. She gasped, “There is no source of magic.” The academic said, “I thought we’d already come to that conclusion.” “No,” she said, and she stood, leaning against them both. “There never was. Magic isn’t something to be found.” All around them, the air shimmered, the very ground beneath them buzzing a distinctly familiar hum. The apprentice staggered back, shut her eyes, and released the burden in her chest. “What are you doing?” asked the academic, with an air of extreme skepticism. The apprentice let her arms rise from her sides. “Magic, I think.” And magic it was. The academic knew it, and the assassin knew it, and the apprentice, who really wasn’t an apprentice any longer, threw her head back and laughed in delight. The sound echoed through the gulley, bright and high and beautiful, and once it reached the top, the water that was really magic burst forth, falling from the very highest point in torrential currents of dizzying blues and purples, just like her dreams. “Well,” said the academic, once he had recovered his tongue, “I suppose you’re a magician now.” “Yes,” the magician replied. “I think that suits me.” On the way back, transformation was already underway. The barren wasteland was coming to life all around them bit by bit, and rains tore through the hardened earth, and the magician knew in her heart that magic had never really died, just been forgotten. Their arrival back in the kingdom was only momentarily hindered by fear. The king was not thrilled to see the three of them back in his court, but after all, he was just a very grumpy figurehead, and besides that, the damage was already done. All around them, the colours were brighter, the air crisper, and the whole kingdom seemed to sing with an energy that none of them remembered having ever felt before. The assassin was not killed, because to do so would have been to reveal that the king had intended that two of his own die at his hand, and so they remained safe, if wary, at first, and as time passed, they relaxed, and the flow of magic never let up. They didn’t live happily ever after, because happily-ever-afters are highly improbable, but they did lead happy lives, and the kingdom flourished under the influence of the first real magician in centuries, and the king died of gout, and the ex-assassin-turned-palace-fencing-instructor-slash-baker-slash-jack-of-all-trades never got tired of listening to the academic ramble about niche topics, particularly late at night when he had to be dragged away from his books to their shared living quarters in the west wing of the castle. And none of them ever forgot their journey, or the bond of friendship that had brought them back together in one piece.
a girl who knows how people will die falls for another girl she knows will be murdered.
it always takes me a moment or two to realize they’re dead. a double take reveals it after a first glance doesn’t. there’s something in the posture that hints at it, and a hunger in the eyes that confirms it. i stay away from the hungry ones. there are those who are already dead, and those who are going to be dead. that’s all that matters, the two categories that divide one group of people from the other. there are, of course, distinctions. within those already dead, there are those who have been dead for a long time. i can tell from the resolution in their gaze, the downcast, tired eyes. the ones who have died recently have a helpless, panicked look about them, almost like they don’t quite know what has happened. but i know. worse than the people who are dead, are the ones who are alive. because i know when they are going to die, if it’s soon or if they will lead a long and happy life. people near death are marked. it stalks them. it’s only a matter of time. when i see someone marked by death, i turn my eyes away. sometimes, it’s evident even to people who can’t see what i can. vacant eyes, a shell of a body. those who will die from illness marinate in the mark of death. but there is another kind of mark. a worse kind of mark. and when i see her, see the mark on her as her dark braid swings behind her, i know the truth long before she will. someone is going to kill her. her name is maya. i discover this by accident. i do not make a habit of following those that are this close to death, so when i see her at the bookstore i like to frequent, it is the sort of surprise that feels like i’ve missed a step going down the stairs. “hey maya.” there’s another girl there too, with short cropped blonde hair and a shirt adorned with blue sequins. i realize with a start that she is marked too, though not with the mark of murder. hers is faint. she still has time. i catch a glimpse of myself in the reflective glass of a display case. a pale face with pointed, unremarkable features, white blonde hair that sits at my chin. maybe pretty. maybe too bland to be pretty. maya turns around and something in my chest wrenches when i see her face. she’s young, late teens maybe. my age. she shows no signs of death. she looks as far from death as is possible, if i choose to think about it. i think about it before i can stop myself. “what?” she asks the blonde girl, her brow furrowed. her skin looks soft, smooth, glowing, life evident in the quirk of her eyebrow and inquisitive glance she tosses to the book held out to her. “gavin would like this.” the sequins in her sleeve ripple as the blonde girl holds the spine of the book out to be read. “gwyn.” maya’s tone is displeased. “i’m not giving gavin anything.” but she takes the book anyway, flipping it over and surveying the title. her brow furrows. “he would like this, though. you’re right. he never shuts up about this stuff.” from where i stand, just a few paces over, i can see the title: paranormal legends: the proof behind the tales. something in my stomach clenches. “you’ve said.” there’s a teasing note in gwyn’s voice. “oh, shut up.” i can’t stop looking at maya. she looks too young, too bright, too beautiful to die. i’m reminded with very sudden clarity, why i avoid people like her. i’m about to turn away, when maya says something that makes me freeze in my tracks. “he says he can see ghosts.” “as if he can see ghosts.” gwyn snorts. her bangles rattle as she takes the book back and shelves it with a thunk. “he’s just trying to impress you.” “maybe.” maya says thoughtfully. “but he has some interesting stories. too interesting to pass up.” i feel like my insides are turned to ice. i have never heard of anyone else who can see ghosts. “is that why you’re always coming home so late?” “no - his dad’s been making me stay after my shift is supposed to be over to help out.” she looks at gwyn, indignant. “are you spying on me from across the hall?” “the walls are thin!” gwyn raises both hands, defensive. “your bag bumps against the wall when you’re unlocking the door, and my bed is right on the other side. i’m not that creepy of a roommate” mollified, maya runs her hand along the spines of the books. “speaking of work,” maya glances at her watch, a deft motion, “i start soon. i’d better go before i’m late.” “that boss of yours.” gwyn shakes her head regretfully. “he’s going to work you into the ground. i stare at the bookshelf, studiously examining the titles, but not really seeing anything. i want them to keep talking about the boy who can see ghosts. more than likely he’s full of shit, but it’s worth examining. i risk a glance at maya just in time to see gwyn looking my way. at first i think she is just gazing behind me out the window, but she is fixated on the book my fingers have rested on. i read the title at the same time she does. what happens when we die? my fingers jerk away. gwyn sidles up beside me. “do you mind?” at the sound of her voice, something within me stills. terror. i don’t say anything, just shift over to make room. “hey maya, what about this one?” i stumble back as maya breezes over. when she sees the book gwyn looks at, she rolls her eyes. “just drop it. i’m not giving him anything.” i wonder vaguely who he is to her, this boy who can see ghosts. he’s a touchy subject for her, that’s for certain. she backs up, nearly into me. i can smell her hair, a sweet lemongrass that wafts toward me, sweet, intoxicating. she turns to spin around, and startles. she looks at me - or just past me - and for a moment all i see is the brown of her eyes, and then she turns away, rests a hand on gwyn’s shoulder. “okay. i’ve gotta go. i’ll see you later?” “i’ll hear you later, you mean.” the words are sour, but the tone underneath is not. “whatever.” i watch her go. so does gwyn. “gavin can see ghosts.” gwyn says, and for a brief moment i think she’s just muttering to herself, but then she looks at me. i stare back. “but so can i.” - i am not certain whether it is coincidence or not that i see maya again. something in me is drawn to her in the same way that i am repelled by the mark that stains her. i find myself downtown in the rain. i see my own reflection in a storefront window, pale, tall, blonde. and then i see her, bussing a table under a canopy, the rain dripping down all around her. i’m captivated the way i was when i first saw her, and i can’t help looking. she’s lovely, i think. it makes me sad that she is going to die. not because of her loveliness, but because of the way she seems so alive. i wonder if the pang i feel within me is jealousy or something else. a boy walks out to join her, carrying a tray, and something within me lurches. he is familiar, somehow. “gavin.” maya says. “get that corner table for me, will you? i know it’s my section but-” she gestures helplessly at the tables around her. they are empty of people but not dishes. it occurs to me that it’s late. nighttime, maybe. it is dark, and i hadn’t noticed. i don’t like the way he looks at her. it reminds me of the ghosts with hungry eyes. he takes her in all the way before he answers. “of course.” his voice is even and measured. i do not miss the way he watches her go. i realize, all at once, that i am very worried, that i am wishing she would live on and on, joining the ranks of people that do not die until they are wizened and wise. and yet here she is, with the mark of death following her and a boy who looks at her like she is something to be consumed. i am not sure how long i stand there in the rain, in the shadows. i cannot compel myself to leave, partly because i have nowhere else to go and partly because i am afraid it will be tonight. and i do not want it to be. but it is not, because after some time, she walks out from the back alley, a canvas bag slung over her shoulder. i do not expect her to see me. i expect her to walk right by me, and so i am grateful that i am not looking right at her when she stops walking. “hey.” her voice is directed at me. i flicker my gaze towards her and back away. she has a blue raincoat with the hood cinched around her face. i wonder if the rain bothers her. “i’ve seen you before.” i look at her then properly, and frown. i try to make it look like i am trying to remember too, and not like i have been standing here in this alley for a long while. “at the bookstore. day before yesterday. right?” i nod. “you have a good memory. i couldn’t place you.” the lie is sticky in my mouth. “i thought so.” she shifts her bag on her shoulder. “what are you doing here?” “i don’t know.” she stares at me, and i stare back. i wonder what she sees when she looks at me. whether she knows. i think i used to be pretty, and i wonder if she thinks so. “that’s a weird thing to say.” “i was walking.” “Nice night for it.” she shifts from foot to foot, and it takes me a moment to catch the sarcasm. then she squints, frowning. “don’t you have an umbrella?” “i like the rain on my face.” she studies me. “so do i.” there’s a brief pause. “where were you walking to?” i don’t know how to say that there isn’t a place i was walking to. there is never and will never be, until my connection to the world is loosed, but even then, i don’t know what that will take. the memory of the dead is shaky at best, and i am no exception. so instead i shrug. “it’s almost midnight.” she emphasizes. “and raining.” and then, watching me, something in her gaze shifts. “bad home life?” as soon as she says it, her face floods with regretful embarrassment. “sorry. god. i don’t know what i’m saying.” this one question has told me more about her than i would’ve asked. i give a noncommittal shrug. “i’m not usually like this with strangers.” she’s stammering. a piece of her dark hair escapes from her hood, and she shoves it back underneath. “i mean - um - i guess i just thought-” “it’s okay.” i smile. i think i smile, anyway. it feels foreign and uncomfortable on my face. “thanks. sorry. i’m-” she breaks off, glances over her shoulder. i hadn’t noticed, but there’s a figure in the alleyway, watching us. something tugs sharply in my stomach. “you should probably go.” i say, a little more forcefully than i mean to. she glances at her watch, and then at me. “yeah, i probably should.” she almost looks hurt. i wish i could tell her why i’m urging her away from me, but it’s probably better that she doesn’t talk to me anyway. words feel like cotton in my mouth, unfamiliar and vague. it occurs to me that this is the first conversation i have had in years. “are you around here much?” she asks. i stare at her, uncomprehending. “i mean, just - the bookstore, and - nevermind.” she shrugs her bag higher on her shoulder and turns to leave. “no - i am. here much.” i say. “i like it here.” there’s a twist of amusement in the way she smiles at me. “me too.” then, she really smiles properly. “maybe i’ll see you around.” i want to say you won’t but instead i just give her a halfhearted smile as she walks away. i do not like the way my chest squeezes when i watch her go. - the next time i see her is in daylight, pedaling a dusty blue bike along the wharf. she stops when she sees me, her fingers still gripping the handlebars. “you.” she says. “me.” i say. the words are less cottony, now that i am used to the idea of words. “what’s your name?” her eyebrows are pulled into a line. “i’ve been wondering. i never asked.” the idea that maya has been thinking of me when i am not there is staggering, though i cannot tell whether i am awed more because she is a pretty girl thinking of me or because i am dead and she should not be thinking of me at all. “eve.” i say, and in that moment, i feel the wind rustling my hair. such a little thing, wind, but i haven’t felt it since i was alive. i wonder why i feel it now. i vaguely remember how these conversations go, and it is with a lurch that i realize i have almost missed my window. “what’s yours?” “maya.” she smiles at me. her sundress ripples in the wind. her legs are long and brown and i look out over the water instead of at them. “where are you going?” i ask her. she tilts her head a little bit, gives me a look like there’s a wonderful joke and only she and i know it, and says, “i don’t know.” that makes me smile. “that’s a weird thing to say.” she smiles like i’ve delighted her. “where are you going?” i make up the answer on the spot - the real answer: nowhere - and it comes out before i’ve thought of whether it’s a good idea. “the bridge.” “bay or johnson?” she quirks an eyebrow. her hair is curly when it’s dry. i don’t remember it being curly before. “johnson.” “that’s a strange destination.” true. “i go there a lot.” i say. also true. left unsaid: i can’t help it, and i am drawn there, and i can’t leave, and i will never leave. “can i come?” i tilt my head, considering her. i wonder why she would want to. i wonder if it’s a good idea. “okay.” she dismounts, and walks her bike beside me. “why the bridge?” it is the questions that worry me. there are unwritten rules about being dead. i don’t think there is any power that will stop me from talking to this particular living being, but i know that it’s not a good idea. but maya can see me, and besides her and gwyn and a few others, no one else can, and the loneliness of being invisible to the world propels me towards her. “i go there a lot.” i say. “it reminds me of being alive.” she laughs then, like i hoped she would. “morbid. i like it.” i cannot tell a lie, but i can frame the truth in my favour. it does not take us long to get there, although i feel my grasp on the moment slipping and i am not certain whether she can tell. but when we step onto the bridge, the world sharpens around me. this, ultimately, is why i return to the bridge. because even though this is a horrible place, it is where my connection to the world is the sharpest. for a moment, we stand and look over the harbour, listening to the gulls. the wind pushes her hair back, and i see she’s pierced her ears in three places. i would have done that too, i think, if i had lived. the thought makes me a little melancholy. there is no point in wishing i had not died, but that doesn’t stop the fact of it from tasting bitter in my mouth. “where are you from, eve?” her question cuts through the silence. “everywhere.” - i am lost in the fact of her. i replay the moment on the bridge over and over in my mind. the way she looked at me flashes in my consciousness, and though i am not quite there in the world, her face is with me in the space between thinking of being and actually being. i do not sleep. i exist restlessly, unable to stay, unable to leave the inescapable burden of life that is not alive. - it is gwyn that drags me into actually being. one second, i am cradled in the spaceless, cavernous, hopelessness, the next i am standing in a closet sized bedroom. gwyn stares at me, a bowl on the floor in front of her. candles are strewn around the room, sputtering. the sharp tangl of cranberry juice filters through the air. “so you are dead.” it’s not a question. she doesn’t sound surprised, either. “i thought so, but then you didn’t let on you’d heard me.” i do not know what has happened. i look around the room, trying to place my surroundings. “oh, don’t look so bewildered.” she’s wearing bright orange pants, with a purple blazer. she looks dizzying. i must still look mystified, because gwyn gestures impatiently towards the bowl. “scrying?” she raises an eyebrow. this clarifies nothing. “god, you’re a useless ghost. you’ve been dead for how long, and you don’t know anything about scrying?” i glare at her. she has more bangles on her wrist. i think it might be just me, but her wrists look thinner than they used to. “i have questions.” she looks back into the bowl. “i know why i can see you. sucks, but i’m not stupid.” i want to ask her how she knows why she can see me. i am not entirely sure why she can see me. “i want to know why maya can see you, because i don’t think that’s a good thing.” something in my face must betray that i do know, because she looks even more suspicious. i find my voice. “why do you see me?” “i see all of you. when you’re trying to be seen. when you’re not hiding.” she shifts, and grimaces. “i think you know why.” i do know why. she is marinating in the death of illness. “but maya only sees you. as far as i know. so i want to know why.” if she thinks i am going to tell her that her friend is going to die, she must think i really am a stupid ghost. “she told me she’s seen you more than once, which means that either you’re following her, or you’re tethered to her. though i’m glad to hear that it’s been a few weeks now. don’t think i’m encouraging this by bringing you here.” “bringing me here?” “yes. i summoned you.” “how?” she gestures to the ground underneath my feet. there’s an odd placement of wax and candles in a circle, of which i stand in the middle. “it was easy once i realized she knew your name. which is weird, and i don’t like it.” “i’m not going to hurt her.” i realize this is what she’s worried about. “not on purpose.” she says scathingly. i stare at my feet. “i’m trying to-” it’s at this moment i realize that i’m not sure i know what i’m trying to do. don’t meddle. let fate run its course. do not interfere in the matters of the dead. it takes me a second to realize that she is hissing this, and it’s not my own thoughts echoing. “but you’re going to, aren’t you?” now it is my turn to be hostile. “do not interfere in the matters of the dead.” - the flowers have bloomed. i am unfamiliar with time, but now i find myself grasping at the clues, trying to make sense of it. it is a wednesday when i see maya at her job. she lifts a hand in a wave, smiles, and then looks down at the table in front of her. i am gone before she looks back up. it is a sunday when i see her with her canvas bag full of tins as she emerges from the grocery store, though i do not know whether it is the sunday directly after or the sunday after that. she does not see me. she does not see me all of the nights when i watch her leave her workplace to make certain she leaves with her life. i watch the boy, gavin, watch her as she goes, and i feel the darkness of hatred curl in my guts. one day the mark is more. it’s not a shape on her, so it’s not clearer. it’s not a colour, so it’s not darker. but it is there, and it is more, and i am full of a fitful anxiety that wrenches me right back out of the world and into my cavernous nothing. as i brood, my thoughts turn to the curl she always tucks behind her ear, the three piercings that i admire, the cleverness of her smile. i think of the way she ducks her head against the rain or the wind, and i think of gavin’s smile, and that i hate it. and i am, for the first time, fighting to be present, fighting to do more than exist. because i am no longer anxious on her behalf. i am furious. - she calls my name one night after her shift is over, and when i turn and our eyes meet i know we both know that i am waiting for her, and that she is pleased. “eve!” i wait for her to come to me. she pauses. “there’s something different about you.” she is right. there is something different. time wears on me differently. i am more, now that i am angry. “i got a haircut.” i smile thinly. it isn’t true. she shakes her head. “not that.” but she doesn’t elaborate, and instead she just stands, looking at me. “gwyn told me i should stay away from you. why?” one of the things i like about her is her bluntness. i wonder if that is what will kill her. “what did she tell you?” “that you’ll hurt me.” i am lost in her eyes. i am trying to think of words that describe the shade of brown they are: amber, golden, honey. i give one last-ditch effort at making her leave. “maybe i will.” “oh.” she looks down, then back up at me, something hidden in her gaze. “i have no doubt.” - i do not sleep. i never sleep. she is imprinted on me. now that i know there is a point in wishing i was alive, the wish is in every other breath. i wish everything was different. i wish i was alive. i wish our interactions were not limited to snippets of conversation in the streets. i wish that i had the privilege of knowing her in a way that i cannot now, not like this. i do not know what to ask her, what i can reveal. for the first time since i first saw her, i realize i want to tell her. the truth, however, is an unbearable beast and i know i cannot thrust it on her, or it will tear her to shreds. whether she would even believe me is an entirely different thing. are we friends? i don’t know. i remember friends, but the memory is a distant, burning flame, and when i try to grasp at it, it’s white-hot on my fingers. instead i remember red hair, a spattering of freckles under hazel-flecked green eyes. i remember my fingers on her collarbone. i remember a smiling mouth. the place where her two front teeth overlap. i remember whispers in the dark, her breath against my ear, my neck, the taste of cherry chapstick. i remember fear. i remember the sharpness of it, the way it knotted in my gut and twisted. and i remember pain exploding from behind me, rocketing through my skull, blinding me. i remember the gruffness of a voice too close to me, too angry. i do not remember falling, but i remember the pressure squarely on my back, and i remember hitting the water. i know that i will do everything i can to help her. - now i seek her out. i do nothing to hide the fact that i am waiting for her, that i want her to walk with me. when she sees me, her smile is wide. gavin’s is not. i know he can see me, and it is not a comforting thing to know. nobody sees the dead unless they are close, in some way, to death. and since he is not marked, that means he is close to it in some other way. the thought leaves a bitter, coppery taste in my mouth, and i stare at him extra hard as maya rearranges her bag on her shoulder. “you going to walk me home?” something in her gaze hints at amusement. “i’m an adult, you know.” “i know.” i walk her home anyway. - i go back to the restaurant. i do not know my intentions until i get there, but i hear the voices and they are magnets, so i follow the sounds until i am just outside the window. “i have to let somebody go, gavin.” the voice is rough. i recognize it, but from where, i do not know. “not maya, dad. she’s a good worker, isn’t she?” gavin’s voice is pleading. “she’s always on time. people like her.” “son, you are hopeless.” there is a pause, the sound of running water, the clink of dishes. “she’s the wrong sort. she’s not like other girls.” a pause. “there’s something wrong with her.” “not maya.” gavin insists. “don’t fire her.” “not maya.” the gruff voice agrees, and my heart sinks. - maya is everything. - we are on the bridge again. this time, she had been waiting for me. “gwyn says you don’t have a cellphone.” she says. “i don’t have a lot of things.” she laughs. “you’re funny. how am i supposed to get a hold of you if you don’t have a cellphone?” “shout into the darkness.” i say. she thinks this is a joke. we look over the inner harbour, watching the seagulls swooping down to fight over a fast food wrapper. she puts her pinky finger on top of mine where our hands rest on the handrail. i do not feel the metal under my palm but i do feel her skin on mine. “eve?” i look at her. “have you ever kissed a girl?” i smile. “once.” twice. her lips on my lips. warmth blooms in my chest. - there is hate in the restaurant. i wait for maya every night she works late, but i stand across the street. a safe distance. there is ugliness festering within those walls that i feel will blister my skin if i come too close. i am twisting the truth. it is fibrous in my hands. i tell maya i am in school, which isn’t true, but it was at one point. i invent my schedule to conflict with her work. i tell her i live on campus. this, too, was true only of the eve that was. we walk the four blocks to her small room above the bubble tea shop in chinatown and we talk. she tells me she wants to own her own restaurant someday. i hope, fervently, against impossibility, that there will be a someday. the mark is persistent. it has not grown, but it has not shrunk. normally, maya says goodnight at the bottom of the staircase. sometimes she kisses me. every time i am surprised. tonight she raises her eyebrows, and gestures to the staircase. i wait until she rolls her eyes and grabs my hand to pull me behind her. maya lives in a box. it is a single room, with a single bed, with a single dresser. a lightbulb hangs from the ceiling. she bites her lip. “it’s dismal.” “it’s a home.” i try out the words. home feels wrong. “it’s a place.” she nods. there is a shuffling sound and the door next to us open. gwyn is wrapping a bathrobe around her fragile body. i am dismayed by her deterioration. surely it doesn’t take a ghost to see that she is dying. she does not look pleased to see me. “eve.” there is the slightest incline of her head towards me. maya crosses her arms in front of her chest. “i didn’t think you would be home.” gwyn coughs. it’s a horrible, rattling sound. “got fired.” “why?” gwyn looks at me. i know. “not funny enough.” it’s a lie. everyone in the cramped hallway knows. gwyn looks from maya to me and then back to maya. “be safe.” she is not talking to me. - it is the same every night. i do not go back to her room again, though i do walk her there. one night her fingers graze the side of my neck and i jerk away. she frowns. “what?” i do not know how to say that i am afraid of the absence she might find. i am corporeal, i have substance, but i am nothing. my bones are made of dust and my body made of shadows. i have no pulse and i never will again. “i’m afraid.” i whisper, and it is true. every moment with maya stretches. i become more aware of time passing. the minutes between our meetings are longer, now. i do not retreat into nothingness. i am surprised when i begin to think i cannot. we kiss, and that is all. we talk, and that is all. she asks me less questions now. i am breaking the rules with every breath, and i cannot stop. on a saturday afternoon i arrive on the landing of maya’s room and i hear raised voices. maya is sobbing. “why wouldn’t you tell me?” “why would i tell you? it’s inevitable!” gwyn coughs again. “that doesn’t mean i shouldn’t know.” something thumps loudly against the wall. dust falls from above onto my hair and forehead. “your girlfriend’s here.” gwyn is resentful. i don’t just hear this, i feel it, like a slap. “she’s not-“ maya sniffs loudly. she opens the door. for the first time since we have known each other, she does not look pleased to see me. “eve.” gwyn is glaring at me. for a moment, i think she is dead. but then i realize no, only nearly. “i told her, if that’s what you’re wondering.” maya looks from gwyn to me and then back to gwyn. “you knew?” she doesn’t look at me when she asks the question. “of course she knew.” gwyn is scathing. “it’s her department.” i feel my eyes widen, my eyebrows raise. surely she won’t tell maya. maya has her fingers pressed to her temples. “you knew gwyn has cancer and you didn’t tell me?” i find my voice. “i didn’t know it was cancer. and i figured it wasn’t my place.” gwyn looks surprised. i realize she has not heard me speak since the night in her room. i am a new creature now, i speak with clarity. maya’s shoulders sag. “you’re right. it wasn’t your place.” she points a finger at gwyn. “it was your place to tell me.” “i didn’t want you to worry.” maya turns and slams her door. gwyn and i are left standing in the hallway. “she’s just sad.” i offer. gwyn turns on me, all rage. “i don’t need you to tell me what she is. i need you to leave.” i leave. - things are different after that. maya is weeping, though never externally. i see it in the way she glances at gwyn’s wall every night when we say goodnight. i see it in the stoop of her shoulders and the smile for her customers, a shadow of genuine. she won’t talk to gwyn. i don’t tell her she should. she does not ask how i knew. one night, she stays at the restaurant later than usual. i am wearing down the stone on the sidewalk with my pacing. the door opens with a crack, and maya is laughing. gavin is just behind her. “be careful out there!” he grips her shoulder, and she whips around. “there are ghosts out there.” she laughs. he does not. as she joins me on the street corner, he looks at me, and he does not stop looking until we have turned the corner. his eyes burn my shoulder blades. i hate him for what he has not yet done. - “this is what i want.” maya says. we are in beacon hill park. “and it’s what i don’t.” i wait for her to elaborate, and she doesn’t. there is sunshine in my hair and on my skin but the only place i am warm is where our ankles touch. i say, “you should quit your job.” “why?” it will kill you. “you’re destined for more.” “destiny,” she says, “is for those without student loans.” i want to tell her that i am full of panic. i’m full of a fear that sticks to my ribs. instead, i keep walking her home. i watch her grieve a friend that isn’t yet gone. i watch her care, watch her fall apart, watch her forgive. i watch the two of them cry. i do not tell the truth. i do not lie. when gwyn’s mark catches up with her, i feel maya’s sorrow in my bones. it is eerily quiet, not the way i recognize death. there is no explosion - just silence. now, when i see gwyn, maya does not. for a little while, that’s the end of it. maya’s fury with the world is internal, and i am not invited. and i think, maybe this is for the better. maybe this is how it was meant to be. i begin to drift, again, slipping through moments, and my own anger simmers. - when i finally see her again, it is in a space between time. it is between memories. i am starting to have them, and they are unnerving. i was not designed to remember, but i am doing it anyway, in sharp bursts that tear me apart. there is a voice. there is a hand, fingers digging into my shoulder. the voice. over and over. it screams, something wrong, and then, with you. again. again. something wrong with you. i think i know where i know the voice from now. i know that i know it and yet i do not know. i am waiting for her after her shift, in the dark. she is maybe happy to see me. maybe she isn’t. it is raining. again. she stands under the streetlight and beckons. she says, “i know what you are.” i am full of urgency, but i know nothing. she sighs. “i have to go to work.” it is dry. it is daytime. when am i? it is dark, and she is not there. it is raining, and she asks, “when did you die?” “i don’t know.” “how did it happen?” her mark is worse. her mark is spreading like rot. my voice isn’t a voice anymore. it’s not a sound, but when i say it, she understands anyway. murdered. “why can i see you?” it is dark, and she is gone. why was i there, that first night, when i saw her in the rain? why had i been so instantly drawn to her, the sight of her waiting tables? it was the place. it was the place. i had worked there too, once. i had heard that voice. “come on, eve.” it had not sounded playful. “i know you - want to.” i had not wanted to. i hadn’t wanted to die, either, but it happened anyway. why can i see you? murdered. “come on, maya.” the voice does not sound playful. it’s not gavin. murdered. there is a loud thump, and then her voice, a prayer. “no. please.” her boss is angry. i remember that anger. i could taste it. why can i see you? that question has been burning me since the first day, but i only understand it now. murdered. killed by the same man. the door slams open, and maya stumbles out, clutching her head, and i am rooted to the spot as he yells something incomprehensible. i feel the sound all of the way through me. he is chasing her. i am chasing them, but i am not me. i am not enough to catch them. i am faltering. the yawning chasm is calling my name, and time slips. i have to stop it. murdered. he is chasing her to the bridge, and she is running, but she’s stumbling, and i can hear the gasps that tear from her throat. i am just behind him. there is nothing left of me but the hatred that burns. maya’s heel catches on the wood and she almost falls. i don’t know how to stop it, only that it has to be stopped. murdered. murdered. the water underneath us has pulled me to the end once before, and in every moment since. i am fury. murdered. i am untempered rage. and then i am between then, and he stumbles back, and when he sees me, i know he knows this is the last thing he will ever see. his worst memory. my last memory. the instant i know what i am going to do, maya’s mark disappears. i don’t see it go, but i don’t have to look behind me to know she no longer carries it with her. instead, his mark is ugly. it’s the ugliest mark i have ever known, and it makes me feel a surge of twisted pleasure. i say, “there is something. wrong. with you. something wrong with you. something. wrong with you.” my voice is his voice. it swirls in darkness. i can smell his fear. i do not have to look to know that he is not seeing me as maya sees me, but as the thing i have become. i am the type with hungry eyes. what a frail thing the human condition reveals itself to be when confronted with the anger of the dead. he is finished before he even goes over the edge. i am with him and separate from him, i am taking everything he was and could have been, like he took from me. i am destruction and violent rage, and he is nothing, nothing, even before his back hits the water. i swirl, and struggle, and yearn. and i know it’s over. it’s over for him and it’s over for me, but i am not done yet and so i fight until i am back on the bridge. he is not. there is only me, ending, and maya, beginning. and fear dulled to shaking relief. - it ends with a kiss. she says, “oh. eve.” i am only a collection of memories strung together, but i am happy with her fingers on my cheek. i whisper, “murdered.” there is not enough of me anymore to know if she understands, but i think she does. and she is safe. she is safe. her words are the last i ever hear, and i am glad. and then i am gone, and they echo in the space where i used to be. “i’ll never forget.” - after. there is no after. there is only then, and her, alive.