Dunbar set to work at once in the garden. Whilst Mason unpacked boxes, airing the linens and arranging dishes in the narrow kitchen cabinets, Dunbar was on his knees in the knotted foliage, unearthing weeds. It was the principal feature of the house, this garden, and had been the aspect that finally committed them. It was unusually large for a suburban neighbourhood, measuring perhaps four metres by fifteen, and had been ferociously neglected by the former owner.
Dunbar was mad for gardening and had fallen for it instantly. “Just think,” he’d said, “by the start of summer I could have it cut back, and we could plant pumpkins and courgettes and runner beans.” “We can buy all of those in a supermarket,” Mason had pointed out, but by then it was too late: Dunbar had set his heart on having the garden. And, Mason was forced to admit, there was something pleasantly domestic about looking out the kitchen window and seeing his partner rooting in the sun-drenched greenery. Dunbar was slight and fair and sunburned easily, but he seemed at home in the outdoors in a way that was difficult to explain. Indoors he grew restless. Rooms seemed not quite large enough to contain him. Even in his sleep he moved constantly, shifting and reaching, as though his dreams were a box he longed to escape. In the garden he looked already calm and somehow restful. Mason allowed himself a small and wary smile. They had left the city because Dunbar found it confining, though he was careful never to say so.
The suburbs had a quality of newness that Mason found disturbing. Their thin layer of civilization sat uneasily on the land. The bookstores were lined with fluorescent lighting; the coffee in the coffee shops tasted of machines. The cars had no scratches on them. He liked the dirt of the city, its tiredness, its inventory of old and broken things. He could have gone on living in his dingy apartment, where the lights flickered when the elevated train rushed by. But he had seen Dunbar’s discomfort. Dunbar shied away from loud noise and crowded places; he had a peculiar terror of the subway that could not be tamed. He had moved to the city only to do postgraduate work at a prestigious school. Mason thought: When his degree is complete he will leave, and he will leave me. So it was at his suggestion that they began to look for a house outside the city. Though, “There aren’t any theatres!” Dunbar protested.
In the new house Dunbar slept better. He did not twitch and move so much. In the city Mason had often been startled awake by his frantic motions. Here it was Mason himself who began to have trouble with sleep. He would lie in bed, kept awake by the terrible stillness of his surroundings. There was no noise of cars, no ambulances weeping far away into the night. He could hear Dunbar’s heart beating, the steady inhale and exhale of his breath. It should have been comforting, this sound, but it scared him. He pressed his face against Dunbar’s shoulder; closed his arms around him like a vice.
“Look at what I’ve found,” Dunbar said. He showed Mason. Several off-white teeth lay in the palms of his hands. They were curved and sharp: clearly not the teeth of a man, but some sort of predatory animal. “I dug them up in the garden. They’re sharks’ teeth.” Mason picked one up. It was small and very pointed. “How do you know?” “I’ve seen them before. You find them where there used to be water. Dried-up sea beds from, I don’t know, the Pleistocene.”
The noise came again. Unwillingly, Mason looked at the window and out into the garden. He could see at the edge of the porch the white skull dully gleaming. Farther out the stray edges of foliage crept and swayed. There was very little light, only the dim beams of the porch lamp. Most of the garden was a mass of darkness. But from it, a single shadow seemed to detach itself and move. Mason watched it dumbly. He could not say, exactly, what it was: whether animal or other. It was the size of a large cat or average-sized dog, but resembled neither. He had only the briefest glimpse of it, a solid black shape, and then it was gone. He set the glass down on the counter. Both his hands were shaking.
Dunbar bent at the edge of the porch, towards the outer radius of the light, and picked up a shoebox lid. He carried it, careful to keep it flat, to where Mason was standing. “Isn’t it beautiful?” he said. Mason looked. Lying on the cardboard were the bones of a hand, complete and perfectly arranged. At first glance the hand appeared human; when he looked again, Mason was not sure this was the case. The proportions were subtly incorrect, the finger bones a little too long. They seemed to curl in claws. A fine grey dust covered them.
Mason thought, If only it were human. It would be so much easier to explain. “Don’t you think it’s a bit strange?” he asked Dunbar, trying not to betray his horror. Dunbar shrugged. He looked down at the lid. “I thought so at first,” he said. “But then the strangeness sort of went away. I’m not frightened. I think it’s the loveliest thing I’ve ever seen.” Mason resisted the urge to knock the lid from his hands and send the finger bones flying.
He knew it would not change what was happening; he knew that it would have no effect at all. He put his hand against Dunbar’s cheek. Dunbar’s skin was cool, dry; below it the bones were so fragile. When he smiled Mason could feel the muscles of his face move.
Chapter: All Smiles By Steve Berman
Marley leaned forward and offered Saul a smile that matched Dutch’s in brilliance and intensity. He also had dark hair, though his was just shy of stubble compared to her longer tresses. Both wore matching white button-down shirts and black slacks. Both had the topmost buttons undone to reveal plenty of smooth skin. Siblings, Saul was sure. Both good-looking and with the confidence that meant if they weren’t rich, they had once been so. “What’s a night like this doing to a boy like you?” Marley asked, followed by another giggle that belonged to a toddler. “Running away,” Dutch said. “Well, aren’t you? Only someone on the run would be hitchhiking in this weather.” Saul nodded. Cotre Ranch might tell parents it was an “outdoor behavioral health care facility,” but it was really a gulag to help kids kick their drug habits through hard labor and obstacle courses. Punishment for doing a little herbal and a couple bumps of crystal meth—how else could he entertain himself? His parents hadn’t asked him if he’d like to move from Jersey to Iowa.
“I need a refill.” Marley’s usual giggle was brief and pained. Dutch turned to Saul. “You fill the tank. We’ll be inside. If you run, we’ll kill her.” Saul nodded. The flatness in Dutch’s voice was more chilling than the threat. No, not a threat but a promise of murder. “C’mon, bro.” she said and unlocked the doors. Saul’s legs felt hollow as he stepped out of the car. He moved slowly. Marley flipped him the finger under one eye before following after his sister. Saul noticed that neither of them wore shoes and their bare feet were dark with grime.
The register drawer was open and empty. Maybe they’re just thieves, Saul thought. And they’re getting off on scaring me. Then he thought he glimpsed a foot sticking out from behind the counter and he felt the scream building within him. A scream at their madness, a scream of shock and fear. But he knew if he let the scream loose he’d be rooted to the spot and never escape. So he swallowed the scream, as he had the aches and pains he’d earned at the Ranch.
“You weren’t supposed to even know about their kind till Christmas.” Phelps flicked hot ash out the open window. “Hanukkah.” “Right. Hanukkah.” Phelps managed not to mangle the word. “So the other boys at the Ranch…” “Some know. We’d been luring that pair through the Internet for months. The boys were supposed to go out hunting tonight. ’Cept someone messed with the gate.” “Guess I’m in trouble.” Phelps didn’t say anything but kept driving. The truck’s cab was bitter cold from the wind. Phelps braked the truck to a stop in the middle of the road. “Minnesota is a couple miles north. Just follow the road. Truck stop not far over the border.” He pulled out a scuffed leather wallet. “Bounty on two of ’em, let’s say two hundred.” He held out four wrinkled, fifty dollar bills to Saul. “I don’t understand,” Saul said. “You’re the one that ran. Thought you wanted out.”
Ashes in the Water By Joel Lane and Mat Joiner
The canal walkway looked colder than it was. Boarded-up factory windows, coils of razor-wire, gaunt bridges, blackened leaves on the path. But the still air was dense with traffic fumes, warm enough to make Josh sweat under his winter coat. After dark, the only light came from the distant streetlamps; it turned the view to a sketch, more remembered than seen. He’d known this stretch of the Grand Union Canal for thirty years; it never seemed to change. Maybe that was why Anthony had come to live here. The peace of abandoned things was better than no peace at all.
“I could move if I wanted to. But there’s no reason. I like sleeping on water. Makes me feel more connected somehow. Do you think I’m still mad?” Josh remembered Anthony in hospital, the stitched gashes in his wrists, the random comments about nobody meaning what they said. Being forced out of his job, breaking up with his wife and then being unable to sleep—ordinary pressures that had driven him into a strange place. He’d seemed obsessed with the difficulty of knowing what was real and what was imagined. The issue of trust. It was odd how people in their forties often lost faith in their own maturity and decided to step backwards.
Josh thought of Anthony in school: the Crowley and Castaneda books, the Tarot cards, all the scraps of folk-religion the boy had used to compensate for the disintegration of his family. Josh had tried to become a follower, but only because he’d wanted to get close to Anthony. That was all history now: they’d resolved the issue back in their twenties. Now Anthony had reverted to his mysticism. Would Josh go back to the torment of isolation? He drained his glass with a quiet spasm of grief. “What’s wrong?” Anthony asked.
A Razor in an Apple By Kristopher Reisz
Philip had never thought his hands were beautiful before. Sitting in the parking garage, though, they astonished him: the way fingers curled into pink snail shells, how his palm formed a waiting hollow, how so many muscles and tiny bones worked together so perfectly. He was stalling. He was losing his nerve.
“They’re not, actually. At least, you can get them back. If you want to bad enough.” “What do you mean?” “There’s this apothecary shop downtown. Supposedly, it sells botanicals, homeopathic shit. Really, though, it sells memories.” “Huh?” “It sells—It’s run by this exile who knows a type of magic—” “Wait, exile from where?” J.D. shrugged. “That’s what the New Agers call them, but I don’t think anybody can say exactly where they’re exiled from, just that they show up here sometimes. In the human world.” “Okay,” Philip nodded, going along with it for now. “And this exile is an apothecary. And knows magic. And can give you back memories?”
“Can you do all that?” He smiled his wine steward’s smile. “You know the price?” Philip dug fingernails into the palm of his hand, but he nodded. The antique cabinet’s carved panel doors rose several inches above the apothecary’s head. He unlocked it, revealing hundreds of jars stacked on the shelves and crammed several rows deep. Every jar held a single finger in yellowing preservative. Philip’s heart started pounding so fast he felt dizzy.
J.D. had sent him there to damn him. Philip had pretended he was happy, and J.D., smiling the whole time, had set the trap, baited it perfectly. Maybe for revenge or out of jealousy. Maybe he thought Philip had disrespected Jason’s memory by moving on. Maybe he was just crazy. But he’d sent Philip to the shop to look into the exile’s face and see how broken down he really was.