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Category Archives: Rob

Rob is usually in over his head.


Rob could set his clock by Grimacing Woman. Every day he comes to the bus stop, he can measure how early or late he is by her distance from the corner. She must plod by, every day, at a perfectly constant speed.

Today when he gets to the stop, two trolleys cross in the intersection, parallel to each other and perpendicular to him. They cross so perfectly that they have to be significant of something, like curtains, like the opening of an Austin Powers musical number.

There’s only Grimacing Woman on the other side, though, when they clear. He’s early today.


Perhaps he has it in him. He notices her, at least, and where and how she walks.

She sees so many people, walking, and portents cascade off her, and no one looks. She wants that, in this world, but she’s tired: she needs someone to teach, and that someone must be able to see her as she truly is.

Finally, one Monday she snaps her fingers and whispers, and two trolleys cross before her: a sure sign, an omen, to reveal her in her full glory at last.

She’s disappointed. He’s not the right one: Grimacing Woman is all he sees.


Bashford Manor’s dying, painfully, the way most large buildings die: long before anyone gets around to imploding it, the reversed-out missing logos of empty stores look like whimpers for lost children.

Half mall, half pseudogothic mansion, it looks like a Place You Don’t Go. One or two establishments hang on by their regulars, but nobody cleans the windows and the graffiti’s a solid mass. It’s all dark at night. The streetlights are becoming spidery naked trees.

Rob finds it around a dark corner, shining from under a fire door: a glow. Somebody’s in there.

He pushes it open with a stick.


Muzzy, thick, where’s the here blanket, still so they’re HERE tired want GET UP

They’re here. It’s dark. A cold shock and he’s awake; he can move nothing but his eyes.

“We don’t blame you any longer,” sighs Darlene heavily. “We understand. You have to lie, and it’s not your fault.”

“But we can’t have you lying about us anymore,” says Salem, “now can we?”

“You’ll tell no more filthy lies.” Darlene smiles, taps her lips. “No more. Ever again.”

Salem is threading a needle.

Rob’s jaw is holding itself shut, so tight his teeth creak. He’d scream if he could.


Rob thumbs a glowing 22. The elevator groans up, and he idly reaches out to flick the handbar. It bells a tone, strong and clear. No telling what note, but it’s practically a tuning fork.

Rob pings the bar on his left, then the one on his right: more notes, just as definite and pure. He hesitates, then hits all three in sequence. The reverb catches him in a minor chord.

Sound and car stop abruptly. Rob squints up at the dial.

An old building–he didn’t stop to think. But now the car says it’s nowhere, between 12 and 14.


“Do not return the gaze of a man missing a hand.” Darlene hustles down the alley. “Keep fresh holly over door and windows, for protection against those uninvited. If you are pursued, cross running water, and if you hear another curse, touch wood–”

“You said you’d teach me,” grumbles Rob, stepping around broken glass. “If I listen to you, I’ll be afraid of my own shadow!”

“Be afraid of your shadow,” says Darlene sharply. “Whenever possible, watch it, and keep streetlights to your back.”

“What? Why?”

“Because,” says fishy breath in his ear, “you’ll know if there’s someone behind you.”


Darlene is staring up at something when Rob arrives. A flock of starlings bursts from a streetside tree, whirls through a complicated figure, and settles again on a near-identical tree nearby.

Darlene’s lips move silently, then she says “Darkness is coming… darkness and heat. Death in the night, and betrayal.”

“Ornithomancy?” asks Rob.

“What?” she snaps, turning.

“Er, divination by birds. Flight patterns or, um. Guts.”

“Ridiculous. Birds are stupid, how would they know the future?”

“But weren’t you just–”

“No,” she says, “there,” and gestures beyond the starlings: a web of bright graffiti, as complex and dense as Sanskrit.


Despite her sharpness, scorn and blatant psychosis, Darlene is growing on Rob. There’s a pride and a spark in her that he can respect, if not exactly like.

He doubts there’s anything of the sort in Salem, though.

The man has distinct, nearly visible rings of smell, like Saturn, each level adding a complex new flavor to the horror: fish, wet dog, urine, ancient sweat and, innermost, breath. Right now, Rob thinks he can actually smell the decay of the man’s teeth.

“What’s the matter, little snack?” Salem leers, thrusting the stick at him. “We got a soft spot for froggies?”


But when they get to the middle of the bridge there’s a piece missing, and worse: the other side is, somehow, about five feet off to the left.

Rob’s puzzled. “Earthquake?” he says. “But it looks like a clean break…”

“Stupidity,” cackles Darlene. “They each built their own side wrong and didn’t know until they got out here. ‘Friendly cities,’ hah! Only enemies can ever meet in the middle, I could have told them that.”

She jumps the diagonal easily–a jump she really shouldn’t be able to make–and strides on without looking back. Rob eyes the gap and swallows.


The words are barred to him now, but as Darlene said once, it’s all in the hands.

The men he pickpockets never know. A low fluttering gesture and they stop seeing him; a twist of invisible threads, and they forget they’re carrying anything at all. Rob collects from them like a quiet, shuffling raccoon.

In his apartment, a figure is beginning to resolve itself: reading glasses, gloves, pocketwatch and fob. From one man at the YMCA he got black dress pants, and from another, patent leather shoes. The pockets are filling with coins, charms and handkerchiefs.

Rob calls the figure Boulevard.