Rose woke up, shivering. Despite the chill in the room, she wasn’t cold. She was shivering because of her dreams.
They hadn’t been pleasant. She’d been a child again, but she’d known, because her mom always knew, that one day she’d go fey and the fairies would come to take their changeling back. Her mom had never really believed in fairies and changelings, but she had always had ambivalent feelings about Rose; Rose was the strange child, the freak, the child of a horrible night. While she’d loved her daughter, she’d always hated what Rose reminded her of.
And Rose had always known. The first time Rose had touched her mother’s mind, her mother had recoiled in horror and terror. It hadn’t been something a young girl should have had to face.
In her dream she’d been trying, as she always had, to make her mom happy, to be loved. But at night, when she was by herself, a cruel fairy would come to her, and tease her, and tell her that soon they would take her away from her mother, and then laugh at her hysterical sobbing about it. She felt its mind, alien and gleeful and heartless, and she desperately wanted to stay instead of going. Rose had tried to catch the fairy in her dreams, and she’d gotten only handsful of thorns and thistles. As the blood had welled up in her tiny palms, in her mind she’d heard the fairy’s cruel, shrieking laughter and felt its lust to drink her mortal blood and make her like itself, to make her want only what it wanted from her. And then she’d woken up.
It hadn’t been a pleasant dream, and it hadn’t been her only unpleasant dream last night. But at least, she thought, it was her own dream. Hers and her mother’s together. They’d had it many times before.
She got up. She had slept in her clothes, too exhausted last night to undress for bed. She considered changing clothes because she felt icky, but for now, she really didn’t want to have the feel of clothes on her body anymore, so she satisfied herself with stripping out of her clothes from the previous two days. Naked, she wandered out into the kitchen, and stared up again at the mandala on her ceiling. She couldn’t decide whether to be relieved or disappointed that she couldn’t read Tibetan anymore.
As she opened the fridge, the cool wash of air over her clammy skin took her by surprise and made her gasp and yelp, like the icy fingers of a stranger trailing over her breasts, her thighs. But then she exhaled, focused, and grounded herself. The sensation helped anchor her in the here, in the now. She got an old ceramic pitcher out of the fridge – it was supposed to have a sunburst on it but the firing had turned the red pigment of the sun a mottled brown, so it hung in a pale blue sky amid fluffy white clouds like a misplaced, burnt chocolate-chip cookie. She poured herself a glass of grapefruit juice and downed it at a draught – it was sour, bitter, and sweet all at once. It felt like what she needed.
She took a long, hot shower, scrubbing two days of sweat and grime off of herself and then scrubbing more just to remind herself how it felt when Rose’s hands scrubbed Rose’s skin. Scrubbing to get that owlish little kid and her jealousy of him out of her head, and Mitch and Mike and those poor hookers in the jail cell and the coders and the business guys and all the others she’d tripped on yesterday. Scrubbing to get the feeling of being other people out of her head, scrubbing to try and cleanse herself of their unwanted secrets. She stopped before her skin was raw or bleeding, but only just before. She emerged from the shower pink-skinned and steaming, feeling refreshed, almost relieved.
She didn’t want to towel off. So she just wandered back into her bedroom, and threw herself down on top of all the quilts, and lay quietly for a while in the cool air, as the steam rolled off of her skin.
She picked up the phone and dialed a number she knew by heart. The phone rang six times, then an answering machine picked up. A twinge of disappointment ran through her. She really needed to hear her mom right now, and her mom’s voice on the answering machine just didn’t cut it. “Hi Mom. This is Rose. I wanted to talk to you. I’m okay, I’ve just… had a rough couple of days. I … well … Call me back, okay? Love you, Mom.”
She hit the reset button on her phone, then the access code for her answering machine to listen to her messages. Jim Morey had called three times yesterday wondering why she hadn’t come to work. Oh shit, she realized. I missed work.
She put the phone back down and rolled out of bed. She needed a solid, heavy breakfast, and she wanted protein, and that meant it was time to put on clothes. Naked people should not fry bacon and eggs. But first she picked up the phone again and dialed work.
The phone rang four times, then the bookstore’s answering machine picked it up. “Jim Morey’s bookstore, this is the answering machine speaking,” said Mister Morey’s voice. “We open at nine AM, we’re at twenty-third and Valencia, if your special order is in we’d have called you or will call you as soon as we find it, we buy used books on Wednesdays and Fridays, and if there’s anything else you need to talk to me about leave a message when the machine goes beep.”
“Yeah, Mister Morey. This is Rose. Look, I’m really sorry about missing work yesterday, but the police held me as a witness and I couldn’t get in. I know it sounds weird, but call Detective Mitch Flanagan in the homicide unit, and he can verify it. I swear to God, Jim, I’d never just cut work – I mean, you know me, you know I wouldn’t.” Rose grimaced at the phone. ‘Homicide unit,’ oh crap, that would sound bad. “I’ll be in today around eight thirty, talk to you more then.”
Rose looked at her clock. It was a mechanical clock with gears carved out of basswood that she’d picked up at an estate sale a few years ago. It said five minutes past seven. It had almost wound down, so she pulled the chain on one side to draw the weight back up to the clock on the other. Then she nudged its hands four minutes forward to make up for the time it lost in its couple of days between windings. It would be close enough, she thought. She had the clock mostly because she liked it. For telling time, she should, and usually did, use her watch.
She’d be okay, she thought. Jim wouldn’t fire her for missing one day, when she had the best excuse in the world. But she was still worried. He’d have been stuck at the counter all day yesterday, and he’d be cranky and behind on all his office work. So she’d have to be careful not to participate in his crankiness. She had to be strong, and come in cheerful and stay cheerful and let him get cheerful and get his work done so he’d feel good about it.
She had bacon, eggs, and milk for breakfast, along with toast and marmalade, and got ready for work.
At seven-fifty she went out to the Decoupage Coupe, sat down behind the driver’s door, and turned the key. All the doors locked and an angry hissing came from under the dashboard. Suddenly her legs were covered in foul-smelling cold vapor. Spots swam in front of her eyes as she clawed to unlock the driver’s door, then her vision began to dim around the edges.
She slumped over the wheel, snoring gently. A block away, something that looked like a small building began to move.
The Carstle’s new anti-sway bars held it firmly upright as it rounded the corner. It towered menacingly to a height of thirteen feet above the road. Sunlight glinted off its leaded-glass windows and the tiny, waist-level strip of plastic moat as it slowly rounded the corner behind Rose’s coupe. The dual exhaust ran through two mufflers on each side, reducing the engine noise of a 455 cubic inch V8 to a throbbing grumble.
Standing up on the passenger seat, looking out through the window in the observation tower that rose above it, Indra lifted a pair of antique opera glasses to train them on Rose’s car. Her hair was mostly jet black today, except for short red roots and two skunk stripes. One was green and one yellow. “Looks like it worked,” she called down to the Philo, who was sitting behind the wheel. “Let’s grab her quick, before she starts dreaming.”
This is one chapter of The Hook, a novel which is being published serially on this site. This page links to all chapters so far serialized.
The complete novel is available from Amazon.