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

I do not think my hair has grown an inch since I came here. I ought to be balding from the amount that my brush bristles steal from my scalp. Maybe I am, and I just haven’t noticed yet.

This afternoon, I borrowed a DVD from the bookstore. The Truman Show. We watched it together, remember? Only, although the DVD case shows Jim Carrey’s face, collaged from moments seized from his character’s capsuled life, the title read The Shuman Trow. I inserted the DVD into the player in my bedroom anyway, but it spun and spun and would not play. It might have produced a whisper of a song that I imagined was your cello, but I was very tired, as I have not been sleeping well, and I quickly fell asleep to its whir and buzz.

When I woke, I heard a rumbling and a wailing. I thought it was the movie at first, before I realized the sounds were coming from outside my room. I threw open my curtains. It was raining cats and dogs. The rumbling was of thunder and of raindrops hitting rooftops. The wailing was Ygritte’s voice floating through the walls.

Thick, inky stormclouds were floating in from offshore. It was the first time I’ve seen the sky anything other than a clear and resolute pale grey.

As I looked out the window, I could see Old Man Tango’s house across the way. There was no sign of him, but his door stood open. Does he not get cold? Surely mosquitoes and all other manner of unpleasant insects would seek shelter in his warm, dry home. I remembered his window, inexplicably exposed on Halloween night, and the fire dancing on the other side of it. How I wanted to be a mosquito and fly into that house unnoticed. How I wanted not to be shivering in my bed, listening to the angry rainfall, the cries of a banshee, and ink drip-dripping into my bathroom sink.

I was suddenly saddened to think about my parents in your letter and sadder still to know that I have done this to them. They used to slow dance during the countdown. They slow danced while everybody else counted, and they kissed when the ball dropped. I want them to dance again together, but I couldn’t bear to learn that they still dance without me. So in a way, I am relieved. Is that terrible of me? I know that it is.

I had only been staring out my window for a minute or two when my door banged open. I jumped, but it was only Christophe, who has made a habit of inviting himself over. I’ve yet to decide whether or not I mind, but I keep the door unlocked. I suppose that is itself an invitation.

He called my name.

“I’m in here,” I said softly, as if to the window.

“Don’t be scared, Ilyana,” Christophe said when he found me in my bedroom, his own eyes wide with terror. “Everything’s going to be okay.” He leaned over my bed to peer up at the sky. “It’s just the sky leaking. Why is it leaking? It’s not supposed to leak.”

“It’s only a little rain, Christophe,” I said, trying to keep the impatience from my voice.

He frowned and stuck out his lower lip, eyes still cast suspiciously at the hovering clouds.

A door opened in the hall, and Ygritte’s wailing grew louder and louder until she was leaning into my room, body draped around the doorjamb. “The sky, Christophe!” she cried.

He rushed to her and pulled her into his arms with a commiserating noise.

“It’s changing,” Ygritte gasped. “It’s all changing. Lethean is already gone.”

She could have meant that he had gone to the store, or moved into his own place, I suppose, but the way she said it made me think that we would not be seeing him again. Her grief seemed as deep and merciless as it was the day he’d arrived.

I should have comforted her, I know, but I was too restless and unsettled to abide her caterwauling. Instead, I slipped past the pair of them and pulled on my boots and coat. I was out of my apartment and halfway down the hall when Christophe came after me.

“Ilyana, wait!” he called, nearly tripping on his cape when he made the turn out of my apartment. “You cannot be thinking of going outside?”

“Not thinking,” I said. “Going.” And down the stairs I went to the lobby. I heard him chasing me, probably bundling his cape in his arms to better navigate the winding staircase.

I could see the rain better through the French doors of the ground floor, each drop striking the pavement like a bullet. The water would certainly run downhill into the sea. It would not linger and rise up to wash this building away. I haven’t said where I was going because I didn’t know. I just wanted to leave the Willowell Apartments and feel the rain on my face. Maybe that was where Old Man Tango went when he left his door open. Maybe that was where Lethean went, never to return. I placed one hand on the door handle and pushed.

“Don’t do it, Ilyana,” Christophe said behind me. He had frozen at the base of the stairs and was clutching the rail with one hand. An alcove over the front doors prevented the rain from falling directly on my arm, but Christophe seemed reluctant to subject himself to even the cold air.

“It’s only rain,” I said. “It used to happen all the time, back home.”

“And maybe that’s why you’re here now.”

I opened the door further.

“Don’t!” he shouted, and surged forward without letting go of the handrail. “Ilyana, why must you be so reckless?” I didn’t think I had been very reckless. “Why can you not do as you’re told?”

I let the door fall shut so I could turn to snap at him, “You’re not my father!”

“No, you left your father and your mother behind because you couldn’t just stay away from the water!”

(I still can’t believe he said that.)

Furious tears blurred my vision. He was so pitiful, trembling there in his ridiculous cape. “What are you going to do? Follow me?” I turned away from him and walked out into the rain.

I could hear him shouting my name until the door swung shut. Then all I heard was falling water, more quiet than it had been from indoors where the roof amplified it and made it ominous.

It fell on me, and it felt just like rain, which is to say not wonderful. It drenched my hair and my coat and my jeans, and it was cold, cold, cold. I opened my mouth to the sky to catch some on my tongue, but a memory lanced through me of water in my throat and lungs. I couldn’t go back to Willowell, so I tugged on my hood and pressed forward through downpour.

Across the way, Old Man Tango’s porch lamp illuminated his still open door. Bereft of more more appealing options—Pfilman’s and the bookstore were both too far to walk in this weather and Azra was not someone you found intentionally—I was drawn to it, as a moth to a remembered flame. Over the property wall, the tops of trees nodded as water pelted their leaves.

The entrance to the house was raised above two wooden steps, and I stood now at the foot of them, the lamplight rinsing my dark peacoat in gold. There was no fire this time; the inside of the house was darker than the rainy evening, and I could see only the bit of carpet just beyond the door.

“Mr. Tango?” I called, unsure if that was the proper way to address him. More hesitantly, “Old Man Tango?”

I stepped onto the bottom stair, meaning only to stick my head inside, but a hand caught my wrist, and stumbled back in surprise.

“Ilyana.” It was Christophe. His wet hair was stuck to his face, and his eyes were so wide that the whites were visible around the irises. For the first time since I met him, his olive drab skin appeared more sickly than merely hobgobliny.

“Please come back,” he said. “I’m so sorry. Please, please come back.”

Seeing him there, shivering in the sky leakage he so feared, clinging onto my wrist like he might disperse or dissolve if he let go, I could not remember what had seemed so important about walking out into the rain. As he continued to apologize, I threw my arms around his waist and buried my face in his soggy tunic.

We walked back to Willowell together.

I’m so sorry, too, Emma.

With love,
thewolfeinwillowell: (girl in forest)
[personal profile] thewolfeinwillowell
Dear Emma,

This morning, when I blearily entered my bathroom, I saw a hook-nosed woman wearing a black pointy hat in my toilet. Inside my toilet, Emma, clear as day beneath the water.

I screamed, and Christophe came barging in. “Ilyana!” he said, cape fluttering majestically. “Is everything all right!”

“Happy Halloween!” the woman said, and she threw a handful of candy in the air and vanished down the toilet hole. The wet candy clattered to the floor or splashed back into the water.

“I need to wake Miss Bell,” I said. “I need to tell her there was a woman inside my toilet.”

“Oh, that was just a toilet witch,” Christophe said kindly. “Completely harmless. And look! She left candy.” He picked up a soggy Jolly Rancher and popped it into his mouth, wrapper and all. “I am not familiar with this ‘Happy Hollowy’ she spoke of, however. An obscure toilet witch greeting?”

I explained about Halloween as best I could while recovering from the shock of not only seeing a witch in my toilet but learning that they were not at all unusual. Christophe listened intently, nodding as I told him about costumes and trick-or-treating. Finally, he thumped his fist on his palm.

“Understood, Ilyana!” he announced. “Have a lovely time at the bookstore today. I must make several phone calls.” Then he tossed his cape behind his back (so as not to trip on it, as I have seen him do at least twice), and dashed out of my bathroom.

I didn't know what he was plotting, but I started to feel homesick, so when I arrived at the bookstore, I searched for maps of home to describe for you, but they were all gone! When I asked Iswy where they went, she said vaguely, “Oh, I’m sure they’re around here somewhere. Couldn’t have run off all by themselves, now, could they?”

I looked also for books on poetry, but I haven't sorted through that section yet, and Iswy is so disorganized. It seems that no matter how I categorize and alphabetize, my work is always undone and the store is never any neater. I would chastise Iswy, but I think she is as incapable of change as is the store.

Iswy is– I'm unsure of how she would feel to hear me describe her as such, but she is a mummy. At least, she is wrapped in bandages from head to waist, though loosely in places, so that her clay-colored skin peeks through, with everything below obscured by the floor-length skirts she wears. She has donned a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses on a chain at all times I've seen her, even inside the crowded bookstore where the only natural light filters through packed shelves that block discolored windows and the artificial light from old chandeliers and mismatched table lamps isn't especially bright. Her heavy jewelry jangles when she moves, and she has very bad teeth.

She is scatter-brained but means well and brings me snacks that she makes. Today she brought me little liver pies.

When I walked home in the afternoon, munching on a pie, I think I did hear a bit of your cello. I might have imagined it, but as I passed by the park, Azra the Death Boy called my name and waved me down. He was wearing headphones this time, plugged into the radio on his lap; they flattened down his hair in the middle so that from the side, it looked like a scribbly black heart. "The announcer said this song is for you," he said. He pulled off his headphones and put them on my head, and through them I heard only white noise. I was about to hand them back, exasperated, but through the static emerged a low hum. I think it was the part of the song that goes, "didn't mean to make you cry; / if I'm not back again this time tomorrow / carry on, carry on." I burst into tears, which was very embarrassing, and Azra took his headphones back and continued to listen to his radio, ignoring me.

Despite my best efforts to the contrary, I cried all the way back to Willowell, so that when Christophe heard me at my door and threw open his own to yell, “Happy Hollowy!”, he must have seen the splotchy redness of my cheeks and eyes, for he asked, “What’s wrong?”

I was too bewildered by his outfit to respond. In lieu of his usual tunic and cape, Christophe was garbed in a football helmet, a bright green polo shirt, a necktie, overalls, and slippers.

“What is all that?” I asked.

“My Happy Hollowy costume,” he said. “I’m a human man. How did I do?”

I told him he looked just like my father. He beamed.

He welcomed me in and offered me some butter, of course, but I told him I had no appetite, so he decided to cheer me up by revealing the costume he had found for me. “I originally bought this dress for Victoria, but that was long after I’d already lost her.” He held up a white sheet with three holes cut out and threw it over my head. “How does it fit?”

“Perfectly, Christophe,” I said when I had gotten two of the holes to align with my eyes. The third hole was down at my chin.

When night fell, the doorbell rang. Outside was Ygritte holding a tray of apple slices. Behind her, her trembling son shuffled his feet.

“Christophe,” Ygritte wailed, “costumes are for the children. Adults offer treats. I read about it in that book I lent you.”

Our humble host looked faintly embarrassed. I helped myself to an apple slice. It was crunchy and sweet.

“Well, shall we set off?” Christophe said.

“Set off where?” I asked.

“Why, tricks-or-treatsing, of course!” said Christophe. “I read about it in the book Ygritte lent me.”

So Christophe and Ygritte ushered us into Christophe’s bathroom, and we commenced tricks-or-treatsing.

Christophe knocked three times on the toilet tank. The clear water swirled, slowly, and then a witch appeared. “Happy Halloween,” said the witch.

“Happy Hollowy!” bellowed Christophe in return. “Would you like a trick or a treat?”


“We have here some apples for you!” added Ygritte, and she tossed two slices into the toilet.

“Ruffians,” the witch muttered, and she disappeared in a shower of chocolates.

Our next stop was the door of General Czaszka, who lives across the hall from me—or so I hear. I have never actually seen him, but he must exist, for outside his door was a bowl of ginger and raisin cookies and four glasses of cranberry juice. Christophe and Ygritte ooh-ed and waah-ed, and Ygritte’s son took the glass that was handed to him and spilled its contents over his shirt. He looked at me with wide eyes. He was paler than when he first arrived.

“General Czaszka doesn’t have a toilet,” said Christophe, dabbing crumbs and juice from his mouth with a handkerchief, “because he has no internal organs.”

We passed right by Miss Bell’s apartment. “We invited Miss Bell, but she is much too busy,” Ygritte explained.

Downstairs in the lobby, I saw a very large jack-o-lantern sitting on a comfy chair. It had a black nest crown and skinny green limbs.

“Hey,” I said.

“Pfilman told me to put these on and meet you here,” said Azra. With some difficulty he rolled to his feet. “I am very uncomfortable. These gloves are oversized.” He pointed at the winklepickers on his feet. “And I can’t spread my toes.”

“Well, I think you look great,” I said. “Thank you, Pfilman.”

Azra scrunched his nose. I think he was frowning, under all that hair. “What are you wearing?”

“A lovely dress.”

“Is it supposed to cover your mouth?”

“Azra the Death Boy!” cried Ygritte. She swooped in and grabbed Azra’s face to plant a kiss on each cheek. “Why, you haven’t changed a wick. Have you met my son Lethean? He came in on the train.”

“How do you do?” said Azra, but I do not think he cared much because he didn’t even turn toward Lethean when he spoke.

Lethean stared at Azra and then looked away and chewed his lip. He does that a lot.

The night was chillier than any I had yet experienced on the island. The curtains of Old Man Tango’s windows were uncharacteristically drawn aside, revealing a fire burning in the hearth. I stepped toward the house instinctively, wanting to crawl into that fireplace and huddle in its warmth, but Ygritte placed a hand on my shoulder and shook her head, and so I pulled my sheet closer and followed the group past.

We visited everybody else that night. The witches in the gnome tunnels wore sparkling warts and fairy wings and brought us round hard cakes, which they traded for the galoshes Christophe had been carrying all night for just that purpose. The witch in the silent movie theatre made Ygritte sing "Der Erlkönig" before rewarding us with toffee. Pfilman’s toilet witch wore a rubber mask with peach skin and a long nose. She gave us peppermint candies and laughed at Azra when he got stuck in the doorframe.

As we made our way toward our next destination, Iswy’s bookstore, Christophe talked excitedly about what a successful night we had had, but I wasn’t listening. I was thinking instead how unlike and like Halloween this “Happy Hollowy” was: unlike enough to be strange and new, yet like enough that I wanted to lock away my Halloween memories where they could never fade nor be altered.

Do you remember when we were eleven, we went trick-or-treating by ourselves for the first time? We were marching up the hill toward the Nugurus’ house, when you turned and I wasn’t there. You panicked and backtracked, calling my name, until I leapt out of the bushes and yelled in your face. You screamed, and I laughed, and you hit me. I know it must have been light out because our parents would not have allowed us to venture out alone otherwise, but in my memories, everything is cloaked in the long dark shadows of the trees, and I am a harpy, cackling in the night.

If I stay here forever, where the leaves never fall and Ygritte's book is wet and dripping no matter how long it hangs, will I become blurry at my edges like the girl on fire? Will you stop writing? You won't mean to, of course, but you'll become busy with school or your cello and forget. And when you finally remember and write to me, will I have hands to write you back? Are these hands I write with now still mine?

Christophe and Ygritte’s stifling concern would not let me fall behind, but I did so as much as I could under guise of keeping the ornery pumpkin company. Ahead of me, Lethean’s shirt was partially untucked. I glared at it to no avail.

“My feet hurt,” said Azra. “This whole thing is ridiculous. Why are you entertaining this fancy, Ilyana Wolfe?”

“They’re doing this for me,” I told him. “I can’t just abandon them.”

“They’re doing it for themselves because they are afraid. They see monsters in the dark and witches in the water. What they don’t see is that none of this is real.” He stopped walking and crouched, pulling his legs and arms into the costume so that he appeared a large pumpkin with a little head on top. “Or, I should say, what they pretend not to see. Will you lift this bizarre contraption off of me, Ilyana Wolfe? I cannot actually get out of it myself.”

“Not a fan of Happy Hollowy, huh?” I asked, but I lifted the pumpkin up over his head, nearly falling backward in the process, and set it down beside me, leaving Azra sitting on the ground in his shorts, shoes, and opera gloves.

“Excellent,” he said. He stood and picked up the pumpkin costume. “I will return this outfit to Pfilman and inform him that it is both unwieldy and uncomfortable. Good day, Ilyana Wolfe.”

“Are you coming, Ilyana?” Christophe called from up ahead.

I looked toward Azra, but he was already walking back the way we came.

“No, Christophe. Thank you,” I said, “but I am going home.”

And so I did.

Thank you for playing your cello for me, and for letting Mom help you with homework. She always wanted to help me but I never let her. Can you learn “Welcome to the Black Parade”? I'm forgetting the way it sounds.

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.

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.

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.


May 2015

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