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Epilogue

Brought to you by Ben Wray

“Okay, what about exceptions?”

“I need your exceptiona-” but then Kay’s rudely interrupted.

“Notimetoexplain!” Mario grabs her and spacetime rearranges itself in a flash of light. They’re just in time for the closing words.

“Omnia mutantur, nihil interit,” solmenly quotes Toe. “Death is but a door, time is but a window…”

“Is he quoting Ghostbusters 2 or 8-bit theater?” asks Jake, but Dylan kicks him, hard, and he shuts up.

Everybody’s there. Zach, Rob, Asuka’s doctor, Zaganza, Shelly, your favorite character not already mentioned… everybody.

Then Millicent’s paw thrusts triumphantly out of the ground suck it Brendan I win forever.

The Girl in the House

She holds Millicent’s body and passes her hand over the kitten’s eyes, closing them on blackness, opening them again.

She reaches up to her own eyes, then: feels them hard and dry, cold as glass, faceted. Ommatidia. So many pictures of the same thing.

She runs her hand over Millicent’s flank and feels how thin the kitten is, how flat, how her fur really feels like vellum. She listens for the endless chuckle. She begins to count back, from ten thousand, the number of steps she’s taken from the door of the train platform. She sniffs the air.

There’s water here.

Cosette

Cosette reaches down into the void. She feels a crack and, inside, two small objects; she hides them in her hand.

“Wealth death dearth hearth heat teeth,” she whispers.

She opens her hand. They’re pills with names on them. One is TRUTH, and translucent. The other, orange, says HEALTH.

Cosette watches Millicent blindly try to wash herself. She sits down and picks her up, opens the kitten’s mouth and drops in HEALTH, strokes her throat and believes, believes that it will heal her eyes. She swallows TRUTH to make it so.

Millicent lies down in Cosette’s lap and doesn’t move anymore.

Cosette

The birds are gone, and instead of screaming there’s a chuckle in the air.

There’s no more floor, no shadow. Cosette stops walking when Millicent begins to stumble and looks back into the gulf of dawn: it’s utter whiteness, but it’s a whiteness of void, not light. It doesn’t hurt her eyes.

This is what she sings to the sunless morning.

“Ambergris and berry dreams
India and rhyme
Carry claret honeybees
Paradromic sighs–

Close your eyes and swallow sleep
Night is on its way
Your ears are sharp, your tongue is keen;
Your dreams a bitter stain.”

The air keeps chuckling.

Cosette

Cosette counts stars until they go away. There’s a vastness opening somewhere behind her, throwing light in the sky and shadows on the ground. This is good, because the leaves are gone. When she looks up the trees are white and gold.

They’re not dead people anymore. They’re stands for cages, and in the cages are birds. The birds are screaming pretty screams. Cosette doesn’t like them (and suddenly, by contrast, likes other things instead: darkness, names, the tangy smell of the man bleeding).

She sets Millicent down. The screaming stops. They walk together, Cosette following her shadow, Millicent following her.

Cosette

But she doesn’t understand it very well.

“Chime tine keen veal well rill dial chime,” she replies, and her words are a piping octave, her voice a hand on uneven floorboards: what might, elsewhere, be called a marimba.

The man has stopped bleeding. “You can count, then,” he says. “Good.”

Millicent traces a lemniscate around Cosette’s ankles. Cosette picks the kitten up and watches the man’s hand, which is holding a short and brutal tailed whip.

“Don’t ever forget how to count,” he grunts.

“Marrow callow hollow minnow?”

“Count the stars if you have to. Just make sure you don’t finish.”

Cosette

She gets off the train at the forest. The forest is dead people, which is okay: they weren’t ever alive and they don’t really want her to join them.

Cosette walks through dry leaves. Some of the dead people stir to watch her. When the people condense enough so that she’s walking a path, she sets Millicent down. The kitten yawns, stretches and pads off confidently: she doesn’t seem to need her eyes.

Cosette stops when Millicent does, before a man in shredded sackcloth. The starlight turns his blood black.

“Have you seen stars before?” he rasps. Cosette understands about speech.

Cosette

Cosette walks through the door of one hundred North one hundred Up and the walls are gone.

It’s flat, empty and cobbled, twenty feet wide, two yellow lights and some dead leaves. There’s a bench and a sign that says 12. The tracks below are exactly as long as the platform. Beyond the platform, it’s black.

Her footsteps sound different: this place is open, echoless. Cosette walks to the bench and tucks the last map page inside her jumper. She sits with Millicent on her lap. She watches a lonely moth whirl around one cast-iron lamp, brave against the dark.

The Girl in the House

She’s writing every name she knows with her finger on the dirt floor of eight South twelve Down. She looks up to see a kitten.

It stumbles–adorably–and tests the floor with one paw. She laughs and waves at it; it doesn’t react.

She picks it up. Its heart pounds. Its nametag says “Millicent.”

The girl becomes aware that Cosette is her name, properly. That Millicent, the only other living thing she’s seen, is the first thing she hasn’t needed to name. That someone else exists: someone who would replace a kitten’s eyes with marbles, to keep it stumbling forever.

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