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Happy Paperback Day!

Today is the official release of the paperback of The Demon's Lexicon, with its fancy new cover! I talk a little more about the process of making that cover here.

There is an amazing thing made to celebrate said release of the paperback here. Isn't it awesome? However, I have no snazzy video-making skills to give you, my internet! All I have are WORDS.

So I have made you a present of some words. It is a story, set a little over a month before the events of Demon's Lexicon, so no spoilers!

For those of you who have read Demon's Lexicon, it is a present because you are my favourite people! For those of you who were waiting for the paperback, well - the paperback is here, and also, a present! For those of you who have no interest in the book but who are reading this journal waiting for the day I slip up and reveal my secret life of crime... you'll never get me alive.

Besides this present, I also have a prize to give away. You see, I am extremely far from America, and the US paperback fancily sitting on American shelves. So, I was hoping people would go to the bookshop and take some pictures, and put them in the comments here. (Or post them over on marmalade_fish. That would also be cool!) And then randomly to one of my lovely picture-posters, I will award a PRIZE. A secret prize.

It is not a pony.

The story is not a pony either, but I very much hope you enjoy it!


Quiet In the House

It had been Emily’s idea for them to move in together. Left to herself, Karen would not have thought of it.

Karen had not thought they were particularly close. Emily was a nice woman who had come to the library often, then joined the book club. Emily and Karen had lunch, at first with other people and then just the two of them often enough so that almost without Karen realising they had become friends.

Emily was like that. She did not wait to be invited in. She sidled in almost apologetically, smiling, and then she was in place and you found yourself startled but happy enough.

After Emily’s husband died, Karen had tried to be supportive. They had gone out for lunch three times a week, then four, and Emily had talked of being women on their own, and practicality, company, safety and the electrics bill, until Karen was blinking at Emily’s cushiony floral sofa as it was wheeled into her flat and feeling a little dazed.

It had been like a floral sofa surprise attack: nobody expected the floral sofas.

And after thirty-eight years of living on her own, Karen had a flatmate.

Floral sofas aside, it had worked out quite well. It added interest and comfort to the day, to have someone to come home to, a television programme they watched together and Emily making endless cups of herbal tea when Karen was sick.

Karen thought herbal tea tasted like dishwater and tipped it out of her bedroom window when Emily tiptoed away, but it was a nice thought. And sunflowers started to grow in a vivid yellow spread two floors down beneath her window.

Considering it was often jasmine tea, Karen thought this meant the sunflowers qualified as cannibals, but they were very pretty.

Emily spread prettiness around her: flowers on the sofa, flowers on the teapot, sprigs of cress placed gently on every sandwich she ever made. It was a talent Karen didn’t have, but she appreciated it.

When Karen took retirement from the library, though, things got a little more strained. The gentle monotony of their days, Emily’s soft continuous chatter, made Karen wish, occasionally and passionately, that Emily would just be quiet.

She missed her library those days.

She could always volunteer, though, and she thought about it.

Back when she had been working, a young man dropping by to talk about neighbourhood dramatic productions would have been a bother. Now it was a nice break in the routine. Emily was delighted.

Karen had to admit, he did seem a very nice young man. He said his name was Gerry.

“It’s awfully nice of you to go to all this trouble,” he said, half-apologetic and half just pleased, balancing his ginger biscuit on the saucer of his teacup. “Mostly people won’t even hear me out. But I guess they’re a bit busy for Shakespeare in the park.”

“I think it’s lovely you young people are putting on a production,” Emily said warmly.

Emily cared more about Eastenders than Shakespeare, but she cared most about making people happy. When Gerry smiled, a bright endearing smile that transformed him from nicely nondescript to handsome, Karen knew that she was doomed to be dragged along to some dire student play. Who wanted Shakespeare in the park in March?

“I know it’s a bit cheeky,” Gerry said, ducking his head a little, and Karen thought the boy must have been homeschooled by elderly parents: surely no young person had said ‘cheeky’ without irony in years. “But I am hoping to be able to bring back big numbers to my club. Do you think you could finangle some other people into going with you?” He raised his eyebrows at Emily. “Lovely daughters?”

Emily went pink with pleasure. “I’m afraid not.”

“If she makes biscuits like this, I’d settle for a lovely niece.”

“My lovely niece lives in Australia,” Emily said, and with a small wicked smile: “Also, she is seven.”

“Too bad for me,” said Gerry.

“Which play is it?” Karen asked, taking an interest since she was doomed to go.

“Othello,” said Gerry, adding proudly: “I have one of the big roles.”

Karen eyed him thoughtfully. “Cassio?”

He might make for a good Cassio, she thought: the sweet-natured lieutenant who Othello believed had charmed his wife too much.

Gerry finished his tea. “Iago.”

“The villain,” Karen exclaimed, startled.

This time, Gerry directed his warm smile at her. “Sure. You’d believe me, if I lied to you.”

While Gerry thanked Emily for the tea and praised the biscuits once again, Karen sat with her own cup of tea and sent him a small smile as he went out the door.

Having a nice young man drop by for tea was all well and good. Better was the fact that what he said had struck her. Karen thought the play might turn out to be rather interesting.

*

The next morning, Emily was drifting around humming to herself, fresh colour in her cheeks.

“I just had the loveliest dream,” she said. “Fancy French toast?”

Karen raised her eyebrows at this unexpected treat, but she had a policy not to quibble with delicious surprises. “Sounds terrific. Must have been some dream.”

“Oh, it was,” Emily said, dreamily, as if she wished she was still asleep, as if some part of her was still clinging to and steeped in the dream. “I dreamed Jack was alive, and – do you know what that nice young man was asking me, about having a daughter.” She picked up a teacloth, wrung it absently in her hands. “I would have loved to have a little girl.”

“Ah,” said Karen, a bit uneasily.

She wasn’t sure how to respond to that. It wasn’t as if she was against the idea of a husband and children, speaking objectively. Or even speaking subjectively. She’d always supposed it would happen to her, having all that, in the same way her parents had, because that was what people did.

There hadn’t ever been very many men, though, and she hadn’t loved any of them, and hadn’t felt inclined to settle. It was just one of those things that hadn’t happened: Karen didn’t regret it or think about it overmuch.

That was what was unsettling her about Emily: Emily looked so wistful. Karen had never wasted her time hoping that dreams might come true, or regretting that they never would.

“I would have called her Tessa,” Emily continued, stroking the tea towel now, as if it was a baby’s blanket. “She was outside the window, in my dream. Just like I’d imagined her. My little Tessa. I opened the window and I got to hold her in my arms, and she was real. I mean – she felt real. She never felt real before.”

Emily put down the tea towel, laughed a little, shaky laugh, and went back to making French toast. Karen was deeply thankful. She preferred cinnamon to sentiment for breakfast.

She didn’t think about it much until the next evening, when she came home from her daily constitutional around the park and found Emily weeping on the sofa.

“Emily!” Karen dropped her purse, loose change clattering onto and rolling all over the floor. “Emily, what’s the matter?”

She stepped over her fallen purse and sank heavily into the floral sofa, always surprised by how deep the cushions were. Emily looked up from her cupped hands, her soft blue eyes threaded through and through with red.

“My baby,” said Emily. “My baby.”

“Emily, love,” Karen murmured, trying to keep her voice gentle, trying to be patient. “You don’t have a baby.”

“I stroked her hair. I counted her fingers. It hurt to hold her. It was like being bitten. But that didn’t matter. I would have been happy to be hurt twice as badly to hold her for a little longer. Just a little longer, Karen.”

Emily’s tired eyes pleaded with Karen, as if she could make a bargain.

“Are you still hurt?” Karen asked, helplessly. “Does anything still hurt?”

“No,” Emily lied.

She was the worst liar Karen had ever seen, worse than ghost-pale people who tried to convince Karen they’d accidentally taken the library book to Mexico with them. Her hand actually moved to a spot under her jumper, above her breast.

“Emily,” Karen said. “Let me see.”

Emily bolted to her feet, knocking Karen aside, blundering and clumsy in her haste.

“It’s nothing,” she said, staring across their coffee table as it was a trench in wartime.

Imaginary babies and Emily fussing about them did not worry Karen. Not really. This did.

She had checked Emily several times when Emily had started fretting about lumps. Emily had done the same for her. You couldn’t be too careful.

But now Emily didn’t want her to see. That was what made the danger seem real.

Karen sat stricken amid rose-patterned cushions, and Emily stared with tired, dreaming eyes at something that was not there.

“I hope I dream of her again tonight,” she whispered.

*

The next day Emily seemed calmer. Karen was intensely relieved.

“I’m sorry I was being silly,” she told Karen as they had their morning cuppa. “Just got myself all worked up about those dreams.”

She still looked very pale and badly rested, but her hands were steady around her cup of tea.

“Think nothing of it, we all have days like that,” Karen said.

“You don’t have dreams about babies that never were.”

“No,” Karen admitted. “But I’ve had plenty of dreams that they’ve managed to make a bar of chocolate as good for you as broccoli, and the doctor advises me to eat six bars a day. I don’t mind telling you, I get very depressed when I wake up and that’s all a dream.”

Emily’s lips twitched. “Oh, you.”

Karen arched an eyebrow. “Sure you wouldn’t like me to take a look at you? Be no trouble.”

“No,” Emily said, her fingers curling protectively against the same spot she’d touched the day before. “No, I’m all right.”

She was such a bad liar. Unfortunately, Karen was a soft touch, and Emily’s eyes were beseeching and still so tired.

Karen decided to let it go. She could always drag Emily to the doctor: Dr Mitchell would be able to bully Emily into a check-up soon enough. Not today, though. It was the day their favourite programme aired, and Karen felt she could give Emily a day to relax and get over her distress.

Half-way through the programme, Karen needed to go to the bathroom. She was a bit annoyed about it, since it was in the middle of a scene with the leading man’s lovely policewoman friend, and she was Karen’s favourite character, but when nature called at her age, safest to answer right away.

She came out and was in the middle of saying: “Fancy a biscuit-” when she saw Emily slumped facedown on the couch.

She was so still.

Even as Karen rushed towards her, she was absolutely certain it was too late. She was sure Emily was dead.

Then Emily moved.

Karen stopped short. She knew she should have continued in her headlong rush to Emily’s side, filled with relief, but something held her back. A thought came, sliding cold through the sudden shadows of her mind, that Emily was not moving right.

It was a ridiculous thing to think about Emily in her pink tracksuit, her soft grey hair coming loose from its bun. But she was moving on her hands and knees, not as if she couldn’t get up but as if moving that way was just as easy, as if beneath pink cotton were the muscles and sinews of an animal.

When she stood, her arms were drawn in stiffly to her sides, hands clawed. Her face lifted slowly, even the swivel of her head on her neck looking all wrong,

When she saw Emily’s eyes, Karen stumbled back.

They were black as oil.

It was ridiculous, it was impossible, but it wasn’t Emily. Even worse than the eyes was the glittering smile.

The thing that wasn’t Emily lunged, faster than Emily could ever have moved, over Emily’s floral sofa.

If Karen had been an inch closer, it would have got her.

Karen threw herself at her bedroom door, wrenching her ankle as she did so, and slammed the door shut as she got inside. She gritted her teeth against the dull pain and managed to drag a chair under her doorknob.

For some time all she felt was relief, pure thankfulness that she was no longer in the room with that thing.

It did not take her long to realise she was trapped.

She could hear the creature who was not Emily outside her door. She could hear the sound of it breathing, the occasional sound of something being destroyed.

Karen stayed in her bedroom for two days.

*

She had gone into the wardrobe and relieved herself, feeling humiliated even in the midst of all her horror. She had slept in her bed, waking shaking and slicked in cold sweat, as if she had gone to sleep in the grass and woken covered in the night’s dewfall.

She didn’t think she was ever going to get outside again.

But she knew she needed something to drink. Her mouth was too parched with thirst to be dry with horror anymore. The creature might kill her, but she was going to try and drink.

The thing that had been Emily did not break in. Karen drew aside the chair with her own hands. She walked into the kitchen herself.

Karen had never been terribly houseproud, but Emily had been. Karen had not realised quite how many comforts, how many little beauties, Emily had created around them, until now. Now it was all destroyed.

The flat looked as if it was the lair of some animal. Emily’s floral sofa was sticks and rags.

The creature was lying on their rug by the empty fireplace, rolling like a cat in the debris as if it was luxuriating in the feel of being surrounded by rubbish.

Karen tried to move softly, but her feet crunched on the fragments of Emily’s teapot. The thing lifted Emily’s head to watch her, but it did not move.

Karen went to the sink and turned the cold water tap with trembling hands. She turned her back on the creature because she had to.

She poured herself a glass of water and drank it, fear and thirst almost closing up her throat so she choked on it a little, a stream of it going down her chin and onto her blouse. When she was done, she had another.

She was so very aware of the creature possibly behind her, possibly slinking up right behind her to touch her, that it was a double shock to find it grinning at her elbow.

Karen swallowed and did not let herself move back too quickly. The thing had smiled last time she stumbled back.

She looked at Emily’s body and tried to overcome the flood of horror and despair that wanted to rage through her, wanted to tip her into madness. The eyes were still black and deep and terrible, like a well brimming with oil.

Emily’s hair was snarled now, food caught in it, and her pink clothes stained and torn. Emily had always been so careful about keeping herself looking nice, even if nobody would see her that day but Karen and the postman.

“Damn you,” Karen said, low.

The thing that had once been Emily tilted its head, not really curious, but registering a sound.

Karen didn’t think it understood her.

She eased back slowly, putting the kitchen table between herself and it. Even a little distance was a relief to her, as if the creature cast a cold shadow in all directions.

The creature watched her, a smile playing about Emily’s mouth, as if it was ready to be entertained.

That helped Karen. She might be terrified, might be helpless and sick with it. She might want to weep and scream and go a little mad.

But she was not going to be this monster’s Shakespeare in the park.

She clutched the back of a chair to keep her hands steady, and met those black eyes directly. Then she drew back, step by careful step, towards her bedroom.

She was already regretting not getting a glass of water to bring with her.

One moment Karen was retreating, slow and careful, and the creature was still as stone, still as a dead thing. The next it was skittering past table and chairs towards her, back hunched, limbs moving in a way that was not human or animal or anything she had ever seen, and Karen lifted a hand to defend herself.

There was a moment of sharp pain, and then the monster danced two steps back, big lolloping steps as if it was a puppet manipulated into exaggerated action by a clumsy hand. It watched her as if waiting for her reaction.

Karen stepped inside her bedroom and slammed her door again.

Only once she was inside, in her stinking room with its tangled, sweat-soaked sheets, did she look at her arm.

There were two ugly long slashes down it, blood brimming dark in the cuts but not falling.

Karen stood at her window, tying her pillowcase to her arm, and shook.

Beneath her window were the sunflowers that had grown because of Emily and jasmine tea and in the road, a boy staring up at her with solemn eyes behind his glasses.

She could bang on the window and scream for help, but what could the police do? She would be bringing more people into the flat for it to attack: she would be luring people into its trap and they might get hurt.

Karen closed her eyes and rested her forehead against the glass.

When she opened her eyes, the boy was gone.

*

That night Karen slept deeply enough to dream, and wished she hadn’t. Her mother was at the window, promising Karen that if she would just let her in, she would take care of Karen, Karen would be safe and well and protected and loved, always loved.

In her dreams, Karen wasn’t scared. She wanted to open the window.

She put out a hand, and laid it on the latch, and she saw her hand: veins snarled blue, a ring Emily had given her on her last birthday, fingers that were a little gnarled but still got a good grip on things.

She knew what was real.

“I’m sorry,” she murmured to her mother’s young, beseeching face at the window, “but you’ve been dead for years.”

When she woke up, she was scared. The wounds on her arm were throbbing with a dull, insistent pressure, echoing all through her body. She curled around the pain on the bed and tried to force her breathing even.

Now she was awake, she remembered how dreams had trapped Emily.

What if Emily came in her next dream, begging Karen to let her in, promising that then she could take her body back and everything would be as it was?

There would not be a next time. They weren’t getting Karen.

Karen opened her bedroom door wide on the darkness. She didn’t know what time it was, only that it was night, moonless night. She could not even see the creature.

She stepped out across the shards of glass and crushed china, trying to walk softly but caring more about being fast. She made for the door.

She almost got out. She had her hand on the latch and the door was open when the creature appeared between her and the door, sliding like an eel into that tiny space, its black eyes and grinning mouth close enough to kiss.

Karen’s body stumbled back without her mind’s permission, right into a wall. The shock of impact made her ache all over and regain a little bit of sense.

The thing that had once been Emily was prowling towards her and in Karen’s mind, her own voice told her calmly and firmly that she was going to die.

She moved backwards across the debris, Emily’s smashed home becoming a deathtrap in the darkness. She felt the back of her leg connect with a long jagged edge of wood from what had been Emily’s sofa, felt the sharp pain and the rush of blood, the rushing away of some of the very little strength she had left.

The creature was moving slowly, easily, taking its time. Like a nightmare cat with a mouse. It knew she wasn’t going anywhere.

If she could get to the window, Karen thought, her mind still cool and clear at the edge of madness. If she threw herself out, it might be better than what this thing had planned for her.

She didn’t like the idea. It felt like giving up. But in the absence of any better ideas, she edged towards the window. She did not dare tip off the monster, so she did not let her eyes even stray towards the window until she felt her knuckles touch the night-cooled glass.

She looked, and outside the window she saw the pale face and dark eyes of another monster.

She screamed then, as she had not screamed all this time, jerking away from the glass as if it had burned her. She was trapped between them, horror drowning her, choking her, closing over her head. She screamed a long sobbing scream, and the monster that had been Emily darted in for the kill.

The door Karen had left ajar banged all the way open, into the kitchen counter, and before that sound had faded away there was another louder sound, like a hundred doors banging at once.

For a moment Karen was puzzled. Then what she was seeing registered with her, really made sense, all the pieces falling into place.

The boy at the door, the solemn one with the spectacles from beneath her window, had a gun in his hand.

There was a red flower spreading across Emily’s pink top. Her body jittered for a moment, a spasm that made Karen think it wasn’t over, that she would just attack again, like something in a horror film that would never die.

Then smoke came out of Emily’s mouth and her eyes, formed a terrible rushing shape that blinded Karen’s eyes for an instant and then was gone, and Emily’s body lay sprawled on the floor.

The sound of glass breaking brought Karen’s head up. She saw another boy – just a boy, she had made a mistake – climb in through the window, making an easy leap into the middle of all that glittering broken glass. There was a long knife in one of his hands.

“Once again, you get to have all the fun,” he said.

“Fun?” Karen whispered.

She was on her knees. She had no idea how she had got there, but she was on her knees beside Emily’s body. Emily’s soft grey hair had gone brittle and white over the last few days, and her face slack in the last few minutes.

She was dead, so this wasn’t Emily, any more than the monster had been. But Emily had always liked to be tidy, so Karen reached out and pushed the hair out of her face. Her own hands were shaking badly. The wounds along her arm hurt so much.

“No,” said the voice of the boy at the door, shockingly soft. “No, of course not. Ma’am, I’m so sorry. Everything’s all right now.”

“What are you talking about?” Karen asked. Her own voice sounded very distant to her. She was starting to feel numb all over, and she could only be thankful for that, for the brief merciful delay of pain. “No, it isn’t,” she managed, before she had to lie down on the floor, staring into Emily’s dead blue eyes. “Nothing will ever be right again.”

*

Karen woke up to clean crisp sheets and the stark lights of a hospital. There were blue curtains on either side of her, and for a moment she was just relieved to be out and safe. It didn’t matter where she was or what happened next.

Then she became aware of the boys. She was surprised to see them still there.

The boy with the spectacles was in a chair. If she had seen him in the library, she would have thought he had a nice face: thin and serious, a little tired as if he studied too much. She would not have dreamed he could fire at a woman moving faster than a human should and hit her in the heart.

The other boy, the boy who had been at the window, was leaning against the wall, one leg kicked up against it. She would have been stunned to see this one in her library, and sure he was only there to cause trouble: he looked like a thug.

She took careful note of them under her eyelids, not letting them see she had woken up just yet.

They had saved her, but that didn’t mean she trusted them.

“Why are we still here?” the boy against the wall said. He had a peculiarly flat, deep voice: Karen couldn’t place his accent.

“She’ll have questions,” replied the boy in the chair. Karen could place his voice well enough: up North, she thought, but a lovely voice, like the kids from the elocution class they had held in the library every Saturday for one terrible year.

“She’s got a pulse, thanks to you,” the boy against the wall said. “There’s no need for her to be demanding. I’m bored.”

“Feel free to go home, then,” said the boy in the chair. He’d been leaning slightly towards the other boy, but he leaned away from him now.

From the icy indifference coming off the thug in waves, Karen thought they did not know each other very well, and while the boy in the chair might have liked to make friends, the thug had absolutely no desire to know him better.

It was the spectacled boy who had saved her, and stayed to give her answers. Karen opened her eyes all the way and saw him looking at her steadily, as he’d looked at her through a window, and as if he’d already known she was awake.

“Hello, Karen,” he said. “How are you feeling?”

“I’ve got a pulse,” Karen informed him.

If she’d been hoping the thug would look guilty or even startled, that hope was immediately lost. He was a very handsome boy: once you looked past the untidy shock of hair and the leather wristcuffs his face had the clean, defined lines of a statue. His face was about as expressive and warm as a statue’s, as well.

She looked back at the other boy. “Thanks to you,” she said, less tartly. “Thank you. What’s your name?”

“Alan,” said the boy in the chair. “This is Nick. I keep him around mostly because he is so charming.”

He had stayed to answer her questions. Karen had the first one ready.

“What happened to Emily?”

“She was possessed by a demon,” Alan said, carefully, reluctantly, as if he was afraid that Karen was going to say they were crazy and start screaming for a nurse. When she did not, he continued: “There’s been a rash of possessions around this neighbourhood. All – almost all old people, all alone, with no family. That’s not the usual pattern. Usually, there is no pattern. Demons generally just go for anyone who they can get to let them in.”

“There was a young man who came around and asked us if we had families,” Karen told him. “He pretended he was going to be in a play, and hoped we would buy tickets.”

The secret villain. Emily had been so pleased he had come in and had tea with then, had been so flattered when he praised her biscuits.

Alan closed his eyes. “I was looking around the neighbourhood, and saw you at the window. I thought – you looked scared.”

“Thank you,” Karen said again.

“The demon gave you a first mark,” Alan said, eyes earnest. Like any studious kid, trying to take the books out for a longer period than usual. Until you listened to the words. “I’ll give you my phone number, and if you call me I can tell you where to go to get it taken off. There’s a place called the Goblin Market. There are people who can help you. You’re going to be all right.”

“What happened to Emily?” Karen asked again. “I mean – later.”

She looked at Alan. Alan bit his lip. He looked at her as if he was so terribly sorry for her.

“We couldn’t have her body found with a bullet in it,” said the thug. Nick. “So I put weights on it, and I threw it in the river. Then I came back for my brother, and he wouldn’t leave until he could answer all your questions. So here we all are.”

“Here we all are,” Karen echoed.

And Emily was in the river.

“Nick, please,” Alan said, in a low voice.

The boy – Alan’s brother, who did not look a thing like him – did not seem chastened, or sorry to have upset Alan. He just went quiet.

“Here,” said Alan, and fished a little brown bag from his jeans pocket. He drew out a necklace, a circle of glinting stones and thread on a chain. “This is a talisman,” he told Karen. “My last spare, actually. It’ll protect you from the demons. None of them will ever be able to mark you again.”

He got up from the chair. He moved oddly, Karen thought, flinching a bit and gripping the chair to haul himself up out of it, as if he was as old as she was.

He laid the talisman in Karen’s hand. When she looked at it closely, she saw there were bones woven into the thread.

She did not want to look at it closely. She wanted protection. She put it on.

When she was done, she looked at Alan, and his nice worried eyes. He seemed like such a sweet boy: Emily would have loved him.

The young man who had come to talk to them about Shakespeare in the park and feed them to demons had seemed sweet too.

“He thought she was disposable because she didn’t have any family,” Karen said quietly. “She didn’t have a job, didn’t have many friends. She was old. She was disposable. He thought nobody would miss her.”

Alan reached out as if he wanted to hug her, maybe touch her hand, but he was a stranger, no matter how kind he seemed, and a violent one at that. Karen drew away.

“I’m sorry,” he said, his face pale. “I know how you feel.” Karen glanced at him. “I don’t know,” he said slowly, “if anyone would miss me.”

After a moment, Nick spoke. He was looking away at one of the curtains, and he sounded more bored than ever.

“Mum might,” he said. “You feed her.”

Karen did not know if he was trying to be cruel, or funny, or some combination of the two. She saw his brother flinch all the same.

Alan had saved her life, so even though she felt sick and exhausted, Karen reached out a hand and closed it over his.

Alan looked at her and obviously misinterpreted her gesture as a cry for rather than an offer of help.

“I can stay with you,” he offered, his voice certain again and calm, soothing. “You don’t need to be afraid. You don’t need to be alone. I can stay with you all night. I can stay as long as you need me.”

“No, you can’t,” said Nick, and then transferred his blank gaze to Karen. “My brother’s crippled,” he said flatly. “He’s not spending a night in a hospital chair. He’d barely be able to walk in the morning.”

“He is right here,” Alan remarked. “And he can speak for himself. Also, he knows better than his little brother what he can handle.”

Not just his brother, but his little brother. Nick must be younger than he looked.

“You don’t know anything,” Nick shot back. “I actually find it really funny whenever people call you smart, because you are unbelievably stupid. Fine. Fine. If she’s afraid, I can stay with her. I can sleep in a chair. You can go home and sleep in a bed.”

That surprised Karen. “What good would you be?”

“As much good as he would,” Nick said. “He says you’ll be scared. Okay. If you’re scared a demon or a magician will come get you – which they won’t, not in a hospital, that would be stupid – well, if they come, I can kill them as easily as he can. So if I stay, you won’t be scared.”

“I didn’t mean she was scared of that,” Alan said.

“Well,” Nick said. “If she’s scared of something else, I think under the circumstances she should concentrate on the demons.”

“I believe your brother thought I might be feeling nervous and upset after the – the incidents of the past few days,” Karen said. “He wanted to comfort me. But it isn’t at all necessary. You can both go home. I’ll do very well on my own.”

She always had, for years before Emily had moved in.

She had been irritated by Emily sometimes. She had wanted quiet.

It had been very quiet over the past few days. The monster had never said a word. It would be very quiet forever, now that Emily was dead.

Alan must have seen something in her face, because he looked at her with pity in his kind eyes. “It will be all right.”

“No,” Karen said. “It won’t be. Emily is dead.”

“But you’re alive,” Nick said dispassionately.

She wasn’t sure how he meant it, but he had offered to stay with her. Even if it was only to spare his brother, at least he might have an interest in sparing his brother. He had come to the flat, too.

“I am,” said Karen. “And thank you both for that. Thank you very much. But you can go now.”

She met Alan’s eyes unflinchingly, until he gave up and gave in, until he got up from her bed and began the walk out the door, the first steps on his way home. She saw he limped then, that he was limping quite badly after hours in a hard hospital chair.

Nick was there beside him, though, there to steady him even though he drew away from him immediately after. It made Karen think that Alan did have a home to go to, rather than just a place to live and sleep.

She was glad for that. He was just a boy.

Emily had taken such care, making both of them a home. Karen would not have a home again, not somewhere she would feel safe.

Emily is dead. But you’re alive.

She was alive, and tomorrow she would call Alan’s phone number, go to his Goblin Market, gather all the information she could. The world had been taken away from her and broken to make another, darker one, but she would have to live in it. She was glad to live.

On this night, alone in a hospital room, she could put her face in her hands and weep for her friend, for Emily, good and true, sometimes silly and always kind. The woman someone had thought nobody would miss.

Comments

( 110 comments — Leave a comment )
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tyleet27
Apr. 27th, 2010 01:51 pm (UTC)
I haven't taken a picture, but I am really excited because a) Yaaaay, a little piece of awesome! and b) It is my birthday today! So it feels extra wonderful. :) Great start to the day...:D
sarahtales
Apr. 27th, 2010 01:53 pm (UTC)
Happy birthday! *beams*
thegreatmissjj
Apr. 27th, 2010 01:55 pm (UTC)
She preferred cinnamon to sentiment for breakfast.

There's always one line in these short stories that just kills me. Excuse me while I blubber inarticulately.

This is perhaps the most terrifying thing I've read of yours thus far--and I mean it as an enormous compliment! Horror is a difficult thing to write.

(White-Harp thanks you for the shoutout. o(^.^)o <---- yes, that's a smiling White-Harp emotion.)
karenhealey
Apr. 27th, 2010 02:00 pm (UTC)
That was the line that got me too, in title-consultation! (at which I was predictably useless). I really love the reinforcement of the practical acceptance of reality over the might have beens for Karen.
(no subject) - thegreatmissjj - Apr. 27th, 2010 02:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - karenhealey - Apr. 27th, 2010 02:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
irishkate
Apr. 27th, 2010 01:57 pm (UTC)
Wow - and ouch. So clear and sad and true. Lovely
azurelunatic
Apr. 27th, 2010 02:02 pm (UTC)
This is a beautiful present for paperback day! So lovely and so sad!
playwithfyr
Apr. 27th, 2010 02:02 pm (UTC)
'Karen thought they did not know each other very well, and while the boy in the chair might have liked to make friends, the thug had absolutely no desire to know him better.'

I love seeing the relationship from the outside! Also, Nick's comment about mum missing Alan because he's the one who feeds her and it's so strange seeing them like that after reading lexicon and I love it (:

Also, I love Gerald. (: (did you mean to call him Gerald once instead of Gerry?) Scoping for lonely elderly people and thinking he'd doing the right thing. Misguided soul that he is (:

Is it Mae yet?
sarahtales
Apr. 27th, 2010 07:28 pm (UTC)
I did not mean to, well caught and I have changed it. ;)

I have fun with the relationship from the outside - I have read some readers saying that Nick's feelings for Alan are obvious, and they are a lot less obvious outside his head! So I hoped people might think it was fun to see.

It is almost Mae! Very very close.
cinnamon_sakaki
Apr. 27th, 2010 02:08 pm (UTC)
Oh, this was amazing to read! Chilling and moving, and I love Karen's narrative voice. Brrr, it's given me creepy shivers.
serasarahhhh
Apr. 27th, 2010 02:10 pm (UTC)
Is the new cover ever going to be released in hardback? I looove it, I want my whole collection to match! :D
sarahtales
Apr. 27th, 2010 07:29 pm (UTC)
I am so glad you like it! And I believe there are no current plans to release it in hardback - but if it was a big success they might, so here's me hoping. ;)
harborshore
Apr. 27th, 2010 02:37 pm (UTC)
Oh, oh wow. This is so--I keep getting more and more attached to this world, to the little bits of it you've put together. Because it feels like much more than a story, the way we're getting more people and more lives and more of a sense of how this world is different than ours. Ah, I am making no sense, but I just reread your book two weeks ago in the middle of MA thesis time (my priorities are the best priorities), and I liked it even more this time. You've really put together something amazing.
kuteki
Apr. 27th, 2010 02:43 pm (UTC)
Oh wow, that was terrifying and heartbreaking and amazing! I loved Emily, she is such a fantastic, fully drawn character and seeing Nick and Alan through her eyes was wonderful to behold. Her first impression was especially perceptive.
hanelissar
Apr. 27th, 2010 02:44 pm (UTC)
What a brilliant story, it's got me excited for May all over again!

It's hard to pick out parts that I particularly liked, it's all so good, but there was one bit which I particularly loved -

“Once again, you get to have all the fun,” he said.

“Fun?” Karen whispered.


It absolutely slayed me. This poor broken woman, her life and her home and her friend completely destroyed and it's the worst possible thing, and Nick and Alan come swinging in all banter-y because it's part of their lives. And of course, it highlights the difference between Nick and non-crazy people.

Fabulous, thanks so much!
(Anonymous)
Apr. 30th, 2010 09:07 pm (UTC)
Not only do I agree with your comments, I love your icon. Unconditionally.

~Septima (I should really make an account, already.)
pastiche_pen
Apr. 27th, 2010 02:44 pm (UTC)
i really liked this. :-)
dragonkiri
Apr. 27th, 2010 03:00 pm (UTC)
Ooof this story... the last line is utterly heartbreaking. :( Thank you so much. ♥
altogetherisi
Apr. 27th, 2010 03:00 pm (UTC)
Oh, this is hauntingly beautiful. Poor Emily. Poor Karen. Love the chillingness behind Sure.You’d believe me, if I lied to you. Great line, I may try it out myself :P But yes, evil!Gerald being devious! Now with Shakespeare references! And, I love the little tie ins, like Karen's first reaction to seeing Nick, and Alan giving away his last spare talisman. Outsider perspectives on the two brothers are always brilliant - I particularly like the comparison of Alan and Gerald, because I think they're more similar than Alan at least would want to be.

Do you actually have something against Shakespeare in the Park though?

And, I am very happy about the dreams of people asking to come in at the windows indeed XD
(Deleted comment)
sarahtales
Apr. 27th, 2010 07:32 pm (UTC)
You are welcome!

And good question! Uh, let us say May 10th!
anywherebeyond
Apr. 27th, 2010 03:05 pm (UTC)
AHHHHHHHHHHHH NIGHTMARES. I really did have them!!!!!!!!!!!
sarahtales
Apr. 27th, 2010 07:33 pm (UTC)
I am so sorry, especially as you are my sweetpea, and you do not deserve them, because you are the best!
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