EXCERPT: Staying Dead


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There was no sound at all in the house, not even the hum-and-whir of appliances somewhere, or the clink-clink of water draining through pipes. It made Wren nervous, that absence of sound. So what if she’d grown up in the ‘burbs, back when you might still see deer or fox or occasionally a bear in your backyard; she was too much a city girl now to feel comfortable without the endless background accompaniment of screeching brakes, sirens and horns.

Even the damn crickets outside had been better than this. Silence wasn’t a thing: it was the absence of a thing, of noise. And her mind always wanted to know what had swallowed the noise, how, and when was it coming for her.

To distance herself from that thought, she looked around again. Two overstuffed sofas and a leather reclining chair were matched with sturdy wooden tables, obviously handmade. The plaid upholstery was worn and comfortable-looking, and the floor was wood, scarred with years of use, and covered with colorful cloth rugs scattered with more concern for comfort than style. A large dog of dubious parentage lay on one of the sofas. It lifted its head when she came in, and contemplated her with brown eyes that didn’t look as though they had been surprised by anything in the past decade, or excited about anything in twice that time.

“Hi, there,” she said. The narrow tail thumped once and then lay still, as though that much effort had exhausted it. “Let me guess — Dog, right?”

“Don’t see any reason to change a perfectly workable name,” the voice said from off to her left.  “I’m the man, he’s the dog, and we both know our places.”

“And his, obviously, is on the sofa.”

Max let out a snort as he came completely into her line of sight.  He was wearing an old, worn blue cotton sweater and khaki safari-style shorts that showed off knobby knees, red-banded tube socks sagging around his ankles.  “That one’s his, this one’s mine.  We stay out of each other’s way.  Which is more than I can say for you.  Didn’t my throwing you off a cliff teach you anything?    Why you bothering me again?”

Wren hadn’t seen Max in almost five years.  But for a wizzart, that was crowding.

“Your name came up in very un-casual conversation,” she said, sitting down in the chair, but not relaxing into it.  Max seemed reasonably rational right now, but that didn’t mean a damn thing.  She actually had learned a great deal from going off that cliff, most of which involved the fact that she couldn’t fly.  She wasn’t eager to relearn that particular lesson.

“Whoever it was, they deserved killing.”  He sat down on his sofa and put his feet up on a battered, wooden table.  His socks were filthy, dirt and grass stains worn into the weave of the fabric, but they somehow managed not to stink.

“No killing,” she said.  “Not yet, anyway.”

— © 2004 by Laura Anne Gilman

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