thewolfeinwillowell: (girl against sky)
[personal profile] thewolfeinwillowell
Dear Emma,

How unusual! Do tell me if you see her again. I wonder if I shall see her as well. Questions or no, though, do not spend too much time at the water's edge; the rocks and the mud are more slippery than they appear, and the current faster and more powerful.

I have not seen Azra in a while, but we have both been busy. Him with what he does and me with volunteering at the bookstore-that-is-actually a library.

The place is owned by Iswy the Bookseller and is a stuffy labyrinth of paper and dust. I fear I may find some silverfish scuttling about. You know how I detest them. The books are mostly nonfiction, with a few classics, but they are all in disarray, which is why Iswy brought me in to help organize. The store stocks maps, too, though I don't think much of any of them; I found a few of the island, of Europe, of Brooklyn, but every last one of them was wrong! I know for a fact that there is no gaping toothed void in the center of Sunset Park, unless it has changed since I was last there. I've collected as many maps as I could find into one particular corner of the store; I just hope neither Iswy nor any customers will have touched them when I return later this week.

Today was Ygritte's Death Day. To celebrate, Christophe had baked her a red velvet and butter cake and a bought a balloon that said, "You're cool." I availed myself of some of Iswy's black pudding, of which she had made too much, to bring to Ygritte. But when I returned to Willowell Apartments from the bookstore, I found Christophe standing outside Ygritte's door as a terrible wailing came from inside. It sounded like siren crossed with a fire alarm, or like a soul being rent from its body.

"Ygritte?" Christophe said tentatively, knocking lightly on the door of Apartment 4 while balancing a cake box on his other hand. I took it from him and placed the pudding on top of it. He mouthed a thank you, then continued, "Ygritte, that doesn't sound like happy wailing. What's wrong? Ilyana is here. Please let us in."

The wailing increased in volume, almost drowning out the jingling of the locks as they were undone. Then the door flew open, and Ygritte stood there, her veil stuck to her face in wet spots and her hair in tangles around her cheeks. Behind her I could see a sparsely furnished room: a pile of rags over what seemed in shape to be a mattress, a wash basin filled with murky pink water atop of which lay a washboard and a man's soaking pink shirt, and books, strewn all over, open with their pages to the floor.

"My son," said Ygritte. "Today is his Death Day, too."

At first I did not understand, but then Christophe said, "Oh, Ygritte," and pulled her into his arms and then I did.

We accompanied her to the train station, which is a dock sticking out onto the water on the side of the island opposite the floating graves. A patch of green roses waved at us as we approached. (I had thought roses grew on bushes, but I guess that is just not-green ones.) We watched the train climb over the horizon and pull up beside the dock. A trembling man with ruddy skin who frankly looked nothing like Ygritte disembarked, and the train glided back out to sea.

"Why did he not come in one of the floating graves?" I asked Christophe as Ygritte and her son reunited.

"He must not have had anybody to bury him," Christophe said, "or there was not enough of him left to bury."

"Or he was cremated?" I guessed.

"That's ridiculous," Christophe said.

Ygritte made her son a stew that evening; I could smell it across the hall. But her wailing that night really did not sound like happy wailing, assuming I would be able to tell the difference. I hope nobody I know comes to visit me too soon. I can wait.

Love,
Ilyana
exitseraphim: [colourfaire] reading (Default)
[personal profile] exitseraphim
Dear Ilyana,

I do not envy you that meal of butter. Thinking about it makes me want to throw up a bit in my mouth. Christophe seems to have led an interesting (after?)life, even if he is a bit of a glum chum. And Azra, well. I suppose you can excuse someone whose identity is pinned to pulling people out of graves a bit of weirdness. Do you see him often now?

I visited the old well in the Vesper Woods, the one that you named the Well of Loneliness after the one in "Donal Óg." We had Friday off and the unusual good weather had persisted, so I decided to make it out into the woods again. The last time I had gone was when Dad and I found your body. I spent the entire day there, sitting by the well with my notebook. “Well of Loneliness” seems pretty appropriate for that, doesn’t it? I don’t know, maybe “well of solitude” would work better. I didn’t feel lonely exactly. Sad without you. Lonely without you. (I wish we could watch German Expressionist movies together at the silent film near your house.) But I’m often sad and lonely and it wasn’t as bad when I could feel the stone’s chill seeping through the cloth on my back and watching the way the brightness of the sun grew and waned throughout the day.

When I left in the morning, a thick, gnarled fog clung to the leaves and branches like cotton wound around them. It was hard to see anything but bright headlights of the few cars in the streets when I was walking to the woods. And do you remember how mysterious and magical everything seems when the fog obscures everything like this? Even convenience stores seem more intriguing. And then there are the trees, their autumn colors struggling to shine through the fog, not quite deadened but faded, farther away from our world in a way. That morning, the sun burnt away the fog so swiftly and when the gentle rays of early morning sunlight bathed the trees in its radiance, everything seemed golden. The golden undertones in each branch, each leaf were highlighted for a transient, brilliant half-hour before the dawn settled into day.

It was during that half hour that I spotted the girl on fire again. She was hovering beyond the clearing, partially obscured by the thin stalks of the trees. I noticed her eyes first, that bright seafoam color so unlike any a normal human would have. They were the sharpest, clearest part of her. Everything else fizzed and faded and as much as I would try to focus on her figure in the trees it would blur. I can’t tell you anything really about what she looked like, other than those irises, bright as glass beneath the sun, and the vague miasmic flames that enveloped her body. I’m trying to remember, not even to find words for the images, just the images themselves, but I can only see her eyes.

I spotted her before I noticed she had been watching me, but once I looked upon her face, our eyes locked and I knew she wanted me to follow her. So I got up and walked towards her slowly. Something about her made me wary of startling her, even though I knew she knew I was there. As soon as I was within three yards of her though, her image wavered and reappeared farther into the woods. I started walking toward her more quickly, but each time I got close to her, she would disappear again, faster and faster, until I was running after her flickering image. I’m not sure how long I ran, but it was long enough for my lungs to ache and my feet to feel flattened and sore against the fallen leaves trodden into the dirt. My eyes locked onto hers and I just followed their light as they shuddered in and out of existence; I paid no attention to the groves I ran through and I have no idea how we ended up where we did.

When she finally stood still, I stumbled to a stop before her. And we were there. By the river. A few miles outside of Fairview, where I found your body.

“Why did you bring me here?” I asked the girl.

She smiled, revealing sharpened teeth. “Here is where you can begin to find the answers you seek.”

“But what questions am I supposed to be asking?” I glanced around me and found nothing unusual about the area. It was grassy. There were a few rocks, here and there.

“What questions are you asking,” she corrected unhelpfully. “The answers themselves are not here, but you can find their beginnings.” She waded into the river as she spoke, never breaking eye contact with me.

“Wait, what are you doing?” I called after her. Involuntarily, I felt a lump rising in my throat, a cold, sensation of fear at seeing someone enter a body of water.

She didn’t respond, but turned away from me, walking farther into the river, submerging more and more of herself in the water (completely unaffected, though, by the force of the current) until her head disappeared below the surface.

I don’t know, Ilyana. I guess I’m asking a lot of questions now. What was all that about? What do you think? What do I do?

Love,
Emma
thewolfeinwillowell: (girl against sky)
[personal profile] thewolfeinwillowell
Dear Emma,

One thing I do not miss about school—one of many on my very long list, that is—is homework. It takes all the enjoyment out of learning. My sympathies, dear cousin. As for Dana and this what's-his-face Jake (more like what's-his-face jerk), you know I would sock each of them in the face, don't you? I might not even get suspended for the second one, since boys have their stupid masculine pride.

I do have another brief anecdote about Christophe that occurred early on. It does not seem strange to me anymore, but you may still find it curious. One day, as I was returning home from the bookstore (which is actually a library but everybody calls it a bookstore), I had just laid a hand on my front door when Christophe's swung open, and he stood in the doorway in an olive and crimson cape and said, "Ilyana, would you like to join me for a stick of butter?"

"Sorry, what?" I said, for I was sure I had misheard him.

"I have, once again, prepared enough dinner for two. Alas, ever since my beloved Victoria was lost to me, I all too often forget I am but one man who can eat but one stick of butter—" Again, I was sure I had misheard him. "—and yet, to prepare just one feels wrong, for living alone is a habit my hands are loathe to recall."

This was the first I had heard of Victoria, and Christophe seemed so lonely that I humored him and agreed to joined him for dinner.

Sure enough, when I entered his apartment, I found two settings at his dining table by the window, each consisting of a plate, a fork, a knife, a crimson napkin to match the crimson lining of his cape, and atop each plate, a stick of butter.

Do not attempt to eat a stick of butter, Emma, even to be polite. Do not do it. Do not.

As the two of us ate our butter in neat slices, with Christophe obviously enjoying it far more than I, I tried to naturally slow the pace of my eating through conversation. I asked him about Victoria.

"Victoria. Lovely, sweet Victoria. She was my wife, my sun and moon, the star around which revolved my existence. We met one summer evening, when the red fog was rolling in from the coast, blanketing the elder trees in a sparkling ruby dew. We fell in love instantly and made our home together right here in Willowell. When we wed, Ygritte wailed and Miss Bell clanged louder than they ever had, and even Old Man Tango who lives across the way gave us his congratulations.

"But over the past few years, instead of, Would you like an extra slice of cheese, polar bear?, she would ask, Can you not leave the living room lights on all night? Thanks, or Are you done with this week-old food that has been sitting out on the counter? Thanks. Then one day, I came home, and she had packed her things and left."

He sighed and picked at his butter. "I'm sorry for being such a glum chum, Ilyana. Why don't I wrap that butter up for you to take home? I–I think I'd like to be alone right now."

I nodded, told him I was sorry about Victoria and hoped he would feel better, and we shared an awkward hug before he sent me home with my butter wrapped in foil.

On the bright side, I then had most of a stick of butter, which I used to make raspberry cookies.

As for Azra, I am sure he has many stories that he keeps in his head, but he does not offer them, and so I do not ask. I've realized that while he is neither talkative nor silent, I do not know much about him and cannot easily tell what he is thinking. Partially because face is always half-hidden in that impressive tangle of hair.

After our first meeting, I actually did not see him again for a few weeks. When I did, I was walking by the park on my way home from the silent movie theater that only shows German expressionist films, and he was sitting on a play structure, holding a radio in his lap. I walked closer, and I realized it was playing white noise.

"I know you," I said.

Without looking at me, he said, "Do you?"

"You pulled me out of my grave."

"I pull everybody out of their graves." He seemed more interested in the static from his radio than in me.

"So you don't remember me?"

"I didn't say that." He paused. "I'm not good with faces, but I am good with names."

"Ilyana Wolfe," I offered.

He turned off and set down his radio. "Fourteen years old. Drowning. Willowell Apartments, Number Two," he recited. "Yes, Ilyana Wolfe. I remember you. I am Azra the Death Boy." He hopped to the ground and did a little bow. I halfway returned one when he said, "Do you like pizza?"

He led me into a shopping center of short, rectangular concrete blocks, the middle one of which boasted a flashing neon sign that read Pfilman's and an orange glow from inside the windows. All the other buildings were dark and lifeless, as if Pfilman's alone had forgotten to die.

A tiny bell chimed when we entered the restaurant, which was cozy and cheerful on the inside, with posters of cartoon pizzas on the walls. The proprietor was a sharp-boned demon with an epidermis the color of a bruise and a face stretched on like a mask. I say epidermis because I am not sure what covers him is skin. It looks rough to the touch, though of course I have never reached out to poke him. He wore a nametag that read Pfilman, and he greeted us with a toothy grin.

I followed Azra when he went straight up to Pfilman and ordered, "Anchovies, please." I noticed that through the wide window behind Pfilman, there were only shadows where the kitchen should be.

"Will do," said Pfilman, chewing on his gum. He turned toward the shadows and yelled, "HEY, ANCHOVIES, ONE SLICE TIMES TWO!" and was met with an answering groan. "So, Azra the Death Boy. Who's your friend?"

"I'm Ilyana," I said. I held out a hand, and Pfilman placed a peppermint candy in it.

"Ilyana Wolfe," Azra said. "Fourteen years old. Drowning."

"Yeah, I'll bet," the demon said. "Tell me, did you, heh, pull her out of her grave?" He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively.

"I pull everybody out of their graves," said Azra.

Pfilman rolled his eyes and looked at me. "'I pull everybody out of their graves,' he says. Can you believe this guy?"

"Does he not?" I asked, somewhat garbled by the peppermint in my mouth.

"Oh, no, he does, the ones who are buried six feet under anyway, but he only takes the pretty ones out for pizza. Speak of the devil." Pfilman turned around again, reached his hands deep into the shadows, and pulled out two plates, each with a slice of anchovy pizza. Azra and I each took one, and we sat ourselves at a table near the back of the shop. "Hey, where you goin'?" Pfilman called after us. "Oh, fine, leave me here all alone with these spooks."

"I apologize if Pfilman made you uncomfortable," Azra said, taking his seat. "He mistakenly equates beauty with youth. All whom I have treated to pizza had, like you, died before reaching adulthood."

"Does that mean you don't find me pretty?" I teased.

"As I said, I'm bad with faces," and he shoved half his pizza slice in his mouth.

We talked about ordinary things, such as how I'm settling into my new apartment, movies we had recently seen, and so on. At one point I asked, "So how did you get your job?"

"What job?" he asked.

"You know, pulling people out of their graves."

"It isn't a job," he said. "It's what I do and what I have always done."

He's pretty weird.

I hope to hear from you soon.

Love,
Ilyana
exitseraphim: [colourfaire] reading (Default)
[personal profile] exitseraphim
Dear Ilyana,

I have so much homework, but I don't feel like doing any of it. I have a quiz this week in chem and a vocab quiz in German next week, but I can probably get still B's if I cram right before the quizzes so I'm writing to you instead.

This school year has been going pretty much the way all the others have. I go to class, I eat lunch in Ms. Fajans' classroom, I go to more classes, I walk home. I’ve been doodling some of the people and creatures you’ve mentioned in the margins of my notebooks. Christophe, dragonbats, gnomes... they all seem so fascinating. I can’t wait to hear more about them. What is Azra the Death Boy like? Do you converse much with him? He must have interesting stories from meeting all of the people who have died.

Today I just came back and dozed off as I was reading. Naps can be so restless and feverish when you sleep bathed in the tepid light of the afternoon sun. I drifted in and out of consciousness, one second hyper aware of my face pressed hotly against the backs of my hands, the next completely insensitive.

During one of the forays into unconsciousness, I dreamt about us, Ilyana. It’s been on my mind since I woke up.

I saw us as small children, five-years-old maybe, playing with toy cars at two worn wooden tables partially buried in desert sand. I saw us from a great distance. It was as if I were split into two physical bodies but my mind rested only with one while the other was a physical replica bereft of almost everything else that makes me who I am. Except I still felt – and therefore knew – that I was in both places at once. But that’s off topic.

The dunes extended in every direction. Nothing punctured the horizon, the burnished red of the sand meeting the saturated blue of the sky like two thick stripes on a flag. A gust of wind sent ripples through the sand (stirring the grains and scratching my face) and then the sand melted into water and then we were sinking in a lake, slowly, buffered by dream logic. The toy cars wriggled from our grasps and swam away from us. As they receded, the cars became coffins and then covers vanished and the coffins gaped in the water like the empty graves that you described.

You giggled. Bubbles escaped from your mouth but it didn't seem like you had any trouble breathing. I inhaled deeply to test it out for myself. I noticed that it wasn't irritating having our eyes open below water either. I became aware of the water's temperature against my skin. It wasn't the startling cold that greets you when you dip your toe into a pool, but the soothing coolness that surrounds you after you've been submerged inside for a while. I remember enjoying that feeling for a second when the coolness became excruciating heat and we weren't in a lake but instead, a fiery cyclone. I saw you grab my hand as we whirled around and the tables disintegrated. But I couldn't feel your palm at all: only the concentrated heat of the tip of a flame like the one that burns your palm when you let your hand hover above a candle. I remember the pungent smell of charred flesh, but it was faint, like white noise or a faded image. It emanated from our clasped hands. I know this with certainty, though I couldn't tell you how. Embers flared at the charred edges of the tables before they crumbled into imperceptible debris whirling around us and I opened my mouth to yell your name and I woke up, my hands tingling.

There are a few explanations I found for the dream. It could have something to do with how I scraped my hands in PE during field hockey. One of the guys pushed me. I don’t know him, but I heard people call him Jake. He probably had a reason, but I wasn't really paying attention to the game. I just assume that I was near someone with the puck. This was my biggest contribution to the team though, since the PE teacher saw and awarded my team a foul. Or is it called a penalty? I'm not sure, but Dana Larkin thanked me in the locker room for taking one for the team. I think she expected me to say "you're welcome" or express some other form of gratitude that she acknowledged my existence - nay, more than that - my unforeseen contribution to the Team, but I just looked at her and continued putting away my things. She muttered "freak" as she walked away. Leela Mehta saw our small exchange and gave me a sympathetic smile. I think I smiled back? I had geometry with her last year and this year we're in the same periods for PE, English, and world history. She’s okay, even though she participates a lot in class. Anyway, that explains the hands and the burning.

The cars, I think, are because I was helping Aunt Polina and Uncle Jeroen clean up your things and we ended up going through your collection of toy cars. We were going to donate all of them, but then there was enough space on the mantle in the living so I picked out your favorites and we lined them up around this photo of you. It was a little too much like a shrine for me and probably for you too, but I think it comforts your parents.

Finally, I saw a girl on fire in the supermarket. Dad and I were making a last-minute run to get chives. It didn't look like she was in pain; she wasn't screaming or anything. She was just lit up like a human torch. No one was paying any attention to her, so I didn't say anything and, in fact, I'm not even sure I saw her. But she had piercing eyes the color of seafoam. She was at the self check-out buying eggs and a pack of sponges. Then Dad said something to me and she was gone.

Oh, one more thing about the dream. It was completely silent.

Love,
Emma

P.S. Susan Le was at the funeral. She was a complete mess during the ceremony, sobbing louder than anyone. I overheard her on the phone in the bathroom though, and she was laughing and chatting normally until she saw me. Then she abruptly hung up and threw herself at me crying. I think she’ll be fine.
thewolfeinwillowell: (Default)
[personal profile] thewolfeinwillowell
Dear Emma,

I wanted Ms. Fajans for English! Darn. I'll have to make do with Ygritte the Banshee, I suppose. She lent me a book to read last week, but the cover was torn off and the pages were all waterlogged. I did not want to be rude so I thanked her and took it, and now it is hanging on a clothesline over my bathroom sink, ink still dripping from its pages. It has been five nights, and still the book is wet. It makes me very unnerved, but if ever it dries enough for me to read, I shall be curious as to what it has to say.

The funeral sounds like it was quite the party! Everybody I knew and liked in the same place, all to commemorate me. Was Susan Le there? She acts like we're friends, but I hate Susan Le. Never mind. I'm over it. Never have to see her again.

I suppose I should continue the story where you left off, when I opened my eyes on the other side.

I awoke in my open grave, staring up at a rectangle of grey morning sky. Inside that rectangle hovered an oddly two-dimensional Death's-Head Skull crowned with a nest of black wires. A hand reached down to me, and I realized it, the skull, and the wild black hair belonged to a boy near our own age, with skin the dusty hue of a sunless day and bones painted onto his face, limbs, and extremities. I took his hand in mine, and as he pulled me out of the dirt, I thought that I ought to be afraid and shake my limbs and scream as if I were being born, but I felt safe with his hand guiding mine. This was Azra the Death Boy, whom I mentioned in my last letter. Although I didn't know it until weeks later, he pulls all the buried from their graves.

He led me across the water in which the empty graves float like boats. The water was still and murky and stretched out behind us all the way to the horizon. Ahead of us was the island where I now reside. He took me to the shore and pointed ahead to a copse of trees in which stood carriage drawn by a single horse. Then he turned and walked back across the water. I called out after him and tried to follow, but the water no longer supported my weight, and I scrambled to get back to shore before whatever horrors dwell beneath its surface could drag me under.

The horse blew out a breath through its lips when I approached. The carriage was made of black iron and ribbed, and the door was already open. I climbed inside and closed the door. It was very comfortable; the seats were thick and cushy, and the ride was smooth. The carriage nevertheless clanged and clattered as it moved.

We passed fields of grain and a meadow of white flowers before I nodded off. When I woke up, we were in a cinder block town, with the Willowell Apartments standing before us. A woman greeted me and helped me out of the carriage. Her head was a bell that clapped when she moved and through which her voice was bizarrely amplified. She is the resident manager, Miss Bell. I don't see her much. She showed me to my room, handed me my keys, and warned me not to make too much noise because it upsets the neighbors. I nodded and tried to look her in the eye and smile, as Mom always taught me to do, but it was hard as how she did not have eyes—something I would learn is not all that uncommon here—so I stared vaguely at the center of her bell head and thanked her for being so welcoming.

I've told you already about moving in. There's no Internet service on the island, so I spend most of my time exploring or drawing.

Love,
Ilyana

May 2015

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