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Maritza

They’re playing another of Maritza’s word games. It’s a stupid one: no word shorter than three syllables. They know it’s stupid, gigglingly; she knows he knows she really just wants to show off.

“Harrykins?” she asks, leaning in from the kitchenette with enticing smells behind her. “Ameliorate starvation?”

Harry bites his lip, catching the “sure!” before it can escape. He hesitates.

Respondez-vous s’il-vous-plait?” she asks, grinning, trying to run it all together.

“Illegal!” he shouts triumphantly. “Sec-secondary verbiage! Monosyllabic!”

“Philistine! Honestly!”

“Maritza, pseudofrancophone.”

What’s great, she thinks, is what he doesn’t realize: she started it to let him show off, too.

The Straits of Messina

She doesn’t hate sailors, not particularly. She’d like to talk to one of them, to have a friend. Maybe she’d show him her cave; she’d cover the floor with rushes, rub his sunburned shoulders, lick salt from his chest.

She does get lonely. It’s hard not to, when you can’t leave your little rock, and your only friend is a vomiting whirlpool.

She doesn’t deserve this; her only crime was looking good to a god, one day at the bath. And now she eats sailors, despairing, sullen, always hungry. Dogs’ heads aren’t much good at catching fish.

Kevin

It makes her grin just to listen to him. He looks like the first-generation import he is: skin so deeply pigmented it’s almost blue, big brown eyes and startling white smile. They’re walking along Muhammad Ali Boulevard, carrying smoothies, being postmodern.

People are staring, but that will pass in time. Everyone gets used to Kevin eventually, Monica thinks. What’s funny is that I still haven’t gotten tired of persuading him to talk. Of setting him off.

“It’s alwess the first thing they’ll ask,” he’s ranting, his voice thick with brogue. “‘Och, look at you, an’ whair in Africa are ye froom?‘”

Liam

His thigh didn’t hurt badly, the first time, nor did his forearm: they were surprisingly easy, and hiding them easier still. The sting of his sweat was worse.

Then the creative writing club’s cheap annual came out, and Liam understood that it was accurate, if awful. Everybody else was already doing this–cutting, binding, hiding. It’s been done.

So he’s thought of something new, finally, and this time it’s different. It hurts like fuck. Liam’s toes scrabble, and he chokes back a sob, holding desperately to his vicious satisfaction.

Another toothpick, another fingernail. Original, he thinks. Nobody’s ever done this before.

Bradley

People don’t recognize them anymore. Bradley can see this in their minute facial reactions, the tic of “what’s that?” He alone can see it. He knows this because his eyes are protected, and theirs are not.

Some people outright dislike it. Peggy, for instance, has long silently rebuked his decision to wear them before turning the lights on in the morning and until he turns them out at night. He knows his eyes are worth it, though. Someday they’ll all be squinting fogeys, but he’ll be hawklike and keen; they’ll outlast everyone, Bradley and his Blue Blockers, two against the world.

Herod

“Anything,” he promises, throaty, growling. “Anything you wish.” Her ankles are perfect.

He’s getting a little stupid, he knows that. But where better to do it? He’s safe here, surrounded by his court, sweating, laughing, drunk on wine.

Her fingers drop veils, one by one; his eyes can’t help but track them down.

She’s close now, closer. He lets himself pant.

“His head,” she says softly. “A platter.”

He sees the trap now, terrified and too late. His court is watching, sharp, ready for one misstep–one broken promise.

His court. Stupid. Is there a more dangerous place in the world?

Kat

Kat pops a Nostalgia and a Hatred and leans back in the chair, feeling it well inside her: old, old rage, titanic and black and red. She’s twenty-six and she feels ten thousand. Over there Wil has just taken a Fear, and he scrabbles back toward the wall when she stalks toward him, delirious with hate.

Her fists are bloody soon, knuckles bruised, and Wil’s slumped and shuddering. They’re both loving this, but she needs something else: shaking hands find the bottle of Remorse, and she dry-swallows two.

Remorse is small and blue. Dropping to her knees, Kat understands exactly why.

Yvan

1985: This book would not have been possible without the help and support of my parents, Alexandrei and Susan, my dear friend Vera Linares, and God.

1989: This writing of this book owes a great deal to Miss Vera and the CBLDF.

1991: This book was written for all of you, and it comes without apology. I’m done.

1996: This one goes out to you, my Vera, my heartsong, who saw me through a great and nearly endless night.

1998: To Vera, with love.

1999: As always, for Vera.

2001: This book is for Vera.

2003: This book is for Jen.

Slagjor

He’s down and scrambling, the great club out of his hands. Slagjor has no breath to curse, but spends it trying to launch himself toward the corner. He can’t get much purchase, and doesn’t get far; he hears the whistle of the crude broadsword, and just manages to roll to one side. Chips shower his face.

It seemed like a good idea at the time: magnificent, inspiring, a vicious monument. It’s only now that he considers the practical aspect. All the other warlords looked good in their throne rooms, but they never told him how slippery a bone floor can get.

Jerusha

The ketchup’s stuck. Jerusha is trying all the useless things: tap, clink, shake, wait. Tap again.

The man walking in is wearing a coat despite the heat, and he sweats. Surely none of the others felt this way. The vest is heavy on his shoulders. He knows it’s glorious; he just can’t keep from thinking, nervously, thinking again…

His hand is cold on the doorplate. He stops. If.

When the ketchup hits the plate, Jerusha will die, concussed face-first into a shattering wall. For now, though, it’s stuck. For a few seconds, it stays stubborn, clinging solidly inside the narrow neck.

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