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Darlene sneezes as soon as he walks into the squat. “You stink of sandalwood!”

Rob blinks and cautiously sniffs his own arm. “No I don’t. What, you mean my soap?”

“You wash too much,” she grumbles. “How should I teach you to track when you’ll only smell yourself?”

“I’ll get some unscented,” he says, glancing around. It’s more a monument to dry rot than a room, but Darlene seems satisfied living here for now. She and her associates are as disgusted by his lifestyle as he by theirs, he thinks, as Salem enters horribly, cleaning his teeth with a straight razor.


Dead alley–Rob leaps to grasp at a fire escape and scrambles up. They’re snarling at his heels, and he has no idea what to do when he gets to the roof.

There’s someone up there, wearing a coverall with the sleeves ripped out and holding three thick coils of test line. Each is tied to a huge, cruel hook. Her hair is ragged and pink.

“I’m Dogcatcher,” she says, grinning. “Thanks for playing bait, Prentice. I owe you one.”

They top the roof behind him, and see her too. Their faces aren’t human, but they can show fear well enough.


She knows his ears are undamaged, because he flinches at the slamming door. Yet he doesn’t speak, or look up at speech; he seems to have forgotten how to listen.

Usually Maya takes her strays to the hospital when she’s done what she can, but this boy’s different. His wounds cannot be seen. Medicine isn’t what he needs.

Maya resigns herself to some of her oldest remedies. She gives him a quiet cot and begins to work with time and a spoon, clearing the filth from his lungs and reminding his blood of life: honey and onions, then hot spiced wine.


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.


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.


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?”


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.


“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.”


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.


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.