Welcome to the Attic!


Promises Made

I’m the only one who can hear the tap-tap-tapping on the window pane. My momma told me it was the branches from the bushes outside. But I looked, and there ain’t no branches close enough to do that. And my dad told me it was just the rain, but I hear it when the sun’s out and no drip-drip-dripping runs down the glass.

But I’m the only one who hears it, the only one who lies awake when the moon is high and listens to that rap-rap-rapping. We read a poem in school bout some guy who heard a knocking at his door, and I wonder if there’s a beast waiting out there for me just the same. 

I get out of bed and it goes quiet. Like always. Like it knows I might catch it. As silence stretches around me; all of a sudden the sound starts. It knows I’m not coming. 

“Whaddya want?” I bark, too loud. Momma and dad will be stomp-stomp-stompin down the hallway any minute now, coming to tell me to keep it down. People are trying to sleep, ya’know. 

It just keeps up its click-click-clacking against the glass, and I feel my heart a thump-thump-thumping

“I’ve had enough of you.” My voice is brave, but I am not. 

The tap becomes a scratch, raking down the glass. Nails on the chalkboard, like dad described the music on the radio whenever I turned the dial. 

“Out with it,” I growl. There’s a brewing irritation, a fear that my guest might not be playin’ fair. A worry that I’m losing my mind like Old Grovy down by the river.  

Then there’s a laughing that rattles the whole window frame. A clang-clang-clanging glass on wood that sounds like it’s all about to break. And I imagine trying to explain how my window just shattered, spraying tiny slivers across the room. 

“Quit it!” It’s supposed to be forceful, but I sound like the little kids crying on the playground. 

I breathe, the air shake-shake-shaking down my throat. “What do you want?” This time each word is steady, commanding. I channel my exasperated mother and irritated father into the words.

“To get what has been promised,” hisses a voice from the window. From the corner of my eye, I see golden eyes round in the moonlight, pointed teeth arched in a smile. They float in the space, like window clings left up after Halloween. 

I wish I believed they were decorations. 

“And what’s that?” I cross my arms, hoping to draw comfort from the pose. I can feel goosebumps prickling on my arms. 

“A firstborn child. Promises have been made. Promises must be kept.” 

And the goosebumps are a whole gooseskin, squeezing every drop of warmth from my blood and bones. 

“I–I didn’t make no promises.” Shaky words in the night, loud enough I hope someone comes to tell me to quiet down. I strain for the creak-creak-creaking of the wooden stairs, but all I hear is the air conditioning kicking on. Don’t they know it’s ice in here already. 

But you were promised.” It laughs again, and I can see the teeth split into an open maw, shaking with the force of the sound. 

I am brave. 

I’m no baby. 

I call out. “Mommy!” 

Now there’s a flurry outside, steps racing up the hall. The creature silences and watches. My door swings open, bang-bang-banging against the wall. Mom’s in her nightgown, hair all askew, eyes foggy with sleep. She sees me standing still in the room. 

“What’s wrong?”

“The thing at the window.” I raise a shaking arm to point, but the light from my now-bright room floods the glass. She looks at it, looks past it, turns and takes my hand. 

“There’s nothing there, sweetie.” 

“But it said it was here to take me away. Because I’m the firstborn.” 

Her face changes. The comforting smile replaced by one I’ve never seen before. Worried. Unsettled. I liked it better when she was calm and confident. “I see.” She turns back to the window, looking into the darkness. “I had hoped today would never come,” she says with a sigh. 

“Mommy?” The word comes sob-sob-sobbing out of me. Parents aren’t supposed to be scared of monsters in the dark. Monsters aren’t supposed to be real. 

“Promises must be kept,” she says with her hands on the latch. The tap-tap-tapping raises to a fever pitch now, eagerness spilling from the other side of the glass in time with my trembling limbs. 

“I’m sorry.” The window opens.

Terse Tales: Blue as Sky

Theme: Blues

Emily lay on the porch swing, carefully considering the haint blue ceiling. It was no good at keeping spirits away, she knew that for a fact, but it was pleasant to look at on a day like this one where the sky was filled to the brim with grey, threatening clouds. Wind howled across the openings in the bottle tree, playing a mournful tune fitting for the dreary setting.

The swing chains creaked in steady rhythm as she used one foot to propel herself forward and back. The paint was chipping, peeling. This house was old—it had been passed from generation to generation long enough she had lost count of the residents. But the swing was still her favorite spot on the property, no matter what other changes might come.

Dark hair coiled on the white painted bench slats, and she caught peeks of the overhanging trees as the swing rocked back. There was peace found in the predictability. Other places on the property filled her with unease or dread. And she certainly avoided that dark patch in the front yard with all her might. Memories grew there she had no desire to harvest. But this place was calm. It was hers.

There was the sound of the blinds indoors shuffling back into place, and Emily felt her solitude disrupted.

“Hannah, come quick,” came the words through the window pane as the resident turned back. That would be Mitch, based on the voice. He was always hovering about, absolutely certain the place was haunted. He wasn’t wrong. “She’s back. The girl on the swing is back!”

Before the new footsteps could draw near, Emily breathed out a sigh and let the wind carry her away to another place. Perhaps her respite was waiting for her there.


“So did you click the link in the email?” Jeanine asked, hands already massaging that troublesome spot on her temple. The day was just beginning, but it was off to a great start.

“It said it was important information about my iSouls account, so—“

“And then your cubicle walls started bleeding, correct?”

George stood in her office door, head bobbing up and down aggressively, as if that would unpossess the cell phone in his hand. It continued to chant something in backward Latin that Jeanine figured would lead her down some rabbit holes in translation.

She gave a hearty sigh. If those walls could talk, they would mostly sigh, too. “Did you read the email that went around last week about spear-summoning? This is a very common tactic.”

George looked to the floor, not willing to answer or meet her eyes. She reached out a hand and he placed the phone there. “Will it take long?”

Jeanine opened a drawer and an echo of chanting and screaming began to seep into the room. Protective wards glowed on the side as she spilled one more addition into the maw. “Just go see Mick for a replacement. I’ll see if I can at least back up your data.”

George turned to leave, then paused and shuffled anxiously between the hall and door. Finally he developed the courage to speak. “Uh, they also said that they, um, they had gotten my soul because of some, er, some activities—“

Jeanine raised her hand sharply, She had been down this road one too many times. “What you do in your own time is yours, George. But unless you remember verifying a contract, it’s just another scam. They want some indulgences sent to them or else they’d sell to the highest bidder, yeah?”

His head flapped again like a flag in the breeze.

“Just be more careful.” She shoved the door closed and watched his shadow retreat from her door.

More coffee. That was what today called for, and she had yet to finish her first cup. And she hadn’t opened her email yet. Ever since the devil had modernized, IT Support had become, well, more hellish than usual.

Coffee in hand, she dared to open her email and begin the dive. Mondays. She had a few offers about upcoming training for enhanced summoning defense and unauthorized soul acquisition. She clicked a reminder to return to that later.

Another string of messages detailed the weekend’s upgrade. She had not gotten any SOS calls, so it appeared to have gone as smooth as they ever do. But at least it applied the most recent patch and would help secure financials. One less backdoor.

Meetings, agendas, emails that should have been a basic Google search. She sorted and sifted through enough to earn a break and walked down to the break room.

Trevor and Monica were already in there. Jeanine summed up the situation in a blink. Monica held her cup in one hand, a polite smile on her face. Every few seconds, her head wiggled in a simple nod and her eyes glanced toward the door. Trevor prattled on, leaning against the counter and blocking Monica’s escape.

Jeanine considered offering a distraction, but realized Monica was the sacrifice she needed right then. Without making too much of a fuss, she crept toward the coffee pot.

“Ah, Jeanie, you’d know about this!” Trevor crowed as he caught sight of her.

Damn. “Sorry, Trevor, can’t stay long. Got a lot working—“

“Yeah, I was just telling Monica here about soulchains. You know about that, right?”

“I don’t really get into that too much. I really should—“

“Oh, I think it’s the next big thing. Takes soul trading out of the hands of the big guys and makes it accessible to everyone. Not only can you invest, but people can find someone out there who can meet their needs. It’s a real win-win.”

Monica just nodded and scooted closer to the doorway while Trevor’s attention was elsewhere. 

“I see. Very interesting,” Jeanine poured the coffee and took a sip. “Well, back to—“

“I’m getting an account set up. Figure in a few months I’ll be out of here and on my way. People are making millions.”

“I’m sure they are.”

Monica had stopped to pull something from the fridge, effectively blocking Jeanine in. Her eyes peered over the fridge door in a quick apology, then she ducked down again to continue her rummaging.

“Come on, you know all this tech stuff. Surely you’re getting in on it, right?”

Jeanine weighed the options. Office politics or the honest truth? It had not been the best morning and her customer-service smile was already starting to ache. “Y’know, I get a little suspicious. I mean, how can you even know if you own a soul?”

Trevor’s mouth opened once, the smile dimming a little. “Well, you get a certificate. It says you’re the owner.”

Monica was deeper in the fridge now and Jeanine’s eyes bored through the door. Had her breakfast fallen through to Narnia? “I guess you just hope the devils keep their word, huh?”

“Well, yeah, it’s all verified and…” Trevor waved his hand, evoking some tech god that would explain the confusion. “Lots of people are doing it.”

The door closed, Monica victorious with a cup of yogurt. Both she and Jeanine broke out the door, taking different paths down the hall. She almost collided with George, who was walking toward the break room. Before she made it to her office, she heard Trevor start up again.

“Hey, George! Have you heard—“

Jeanine closed her door. Her screen showed a number of new emails, all marked varying levels of urgent. Taking a seat, she opened the first filled with capital letters and exclamation points. Only halfway through, she rested her head on the desk and sighed.

The CEO had run an excel master summoning script, and the top floor was currently amok with a few minor demons and gate guardians. As if on cue, the lights overhead flickered in time with a rumble.

Jeanine opened the other drawer in her desk and drew out her go-bag. Crosses, holy water, a number of incantations, silver and iron tools, and some garlic for good measure. It never hurt to be prepared.

She walked to the elevator and something roared again through the building, and then opted instead for the stairs. The smell of sulfur had already filtered down. Jeanine pulled a cloth mask scented with lavender over her nose and held tight to her prayer book in the other, taking the steps two at a time as the cinderblock walls began to ooze and drip with substances she’d rather not consider.

Oh, Mondays.

Course Correction

Nathan removed the plague doctor’s mask and gas mask beneath it, taking a deep breath of filtered air as the portal snapped shut. His apprentice did the same, wide-eyes still contemplating what had just happened.

“We were responsible for the Bubonic Plague? That ravaged Europe?” She got the words out breathlessly, trying to ignore the tightening in her chest.

Nathan moved to hang up the gear, letting the room’s scrubbers work to remove any vestiges of the past that might have snuck through. “Of course. You don’t think things like that just happen by chance, do you?”

Cassie felt the world spin and her lunch revolt in her stomach. Before she knew it, she had redecorated the interior of the clean room. Nathan sighed and rolled his eyes.

“You newbies are always so dramatic.” He punched in a command on the wall’s keypad, and cleanup bots swarmed to the site of the potential contagion.

“But I just helped kill millions.”

“And by doing so, you saved billions. Surely you’ve seen the time reels regarding what happens without our intervention?”

Cassie nodded wordlessly, eyes staring unfocused in the distance. She had entered the portal that morning full of hope and optimism. She was elite, about to change the world. Now she felt a horrifying sense of shame covering her. Nothing in the clean room was going to remove that.

“Come on, not every day is like this,” he offered in lukewarm tones. She could see his eyes going to the readout on the wall, counting down the minutes until the contagion cycle was complete and he could leave. Nathan was good at the job and terrible with people, which seemed to be the fit the Organization wanted.

Her breathing was starting to stabilize, reality retreating and making room for a fantasy she could construct. One in which killing millions truly was not only the lesser of two evils, but a kindness.

She had seen the reels, of course. Global famine, children starving in the streets, riots, looting, destruction. Human progress slowed to a crawl and took centuries to return. And it rebuilt worse, more brutal. She knew that. And yet the feeling of horror continued to eat away.

“Couldn’t there be another way to change things?”

Nathan gave another frustrated sigh, now not even trying to hide his gaze. He focused on the countdown as if willing it to drop. “Of course there are other ways. For some events. Why do you think we save babies and prevent asteroids? Or introduce a rumor to one particular street corner? Or remove a particularly troublesome lynchpin?”

“Then why not that here?”

“Because we tried all of that and none of it works. It just kicks the can down the road a few decades and ends up with the same garbage.”

Cassie dropped to one of the benches along the wall. Now that the initial panic had ebbed, adrenaline dwindling in her system, she began to tease apart the problem. Nathan was not watching her, did not see that spark of determination in her eyes.

“How many of the world’s catastrophes have our fingerprints on them?”

“Ours specifically? Only this one. And a small fire in 1873, but that was only a local catastrophe.”

“No, the Organization as a whole?”

Nathan paused a moment, nodding his head as he thought through the situations. “Probably most of them. Humanity as a species needs a lot of course correcting.” He smiled at that, shaking his head and chuckling. “If not for us, we’d have been extinct ages ago.”

The timer on the wall chimed, doors whooshing open. Nathan did not wait, but breezed out into the hall. She could hear him down the corridor, stopping and speaking to someone else.

“Another easy success. Things should stay on track.” Mumbled responses, then the sharp click of boots down the hall to somewhere else.

A few faces peered in at Cassie, but quickly hurried away. There was an intensity to the set of her face that was uncomfortable. Bystanders wanted plausible deniability and sped from the area.

Only when the chime sounded to admit another team did Cassie get up and exit into the hall. Something cold and heavy had settled on her thoughts in those moments alone. The Organization had developed from Earth Neutral, with no interference. A brutal place wracked by war and atrocities.

And somehow they were the arbiters of what human success should be?

All the “course correcting” in the universe would not help if the map was all wrong.

Someone—and Cassie felt a strange sense of purpose in the thought—was going to need to correct that map.

Terse Tales: The Next Step

Theme: Image “Home Sweet Home” by AmethystRaven-Art

She wished the situation had been dreadful so leaving would be easy. But it wasn’t, and so she stalled. Lucy shoved her suitcase into the trunk and slammed the lid, looking wistfully at the house with its sagging shutters and chipping paint.

When she decided to leave midday, it seemed wise. Fewer teary-eyed well-wishers. They could say goodbye before work like any other day, and she would slip away unnoticed. But that decision felt anticlimactic now, unfinished.

Deep breath. Her hand rested on the open car door, eyes glued to the image before her. There on the roof was the spot she watched the stars with her dad. A lopsided sign guarded a bed of wilting flowers dubbed “The Fairy Garden.” She had painted it in fourth grade, and it showed the years of age on it now. Just behind the house, she could see the sweeping branch of the old oak she liked to climb and read when the sun was high, safe in the shaded branches.

The air smelled like fresh cut grass, and somewhere in town the train sped past, horn carrying on the wind. Lucy set her jaw and blinked a few times, trying to prevent the world from going blurry.

She slid into the driver’s seat and closed the door. Her hands shook as she turned the key, bringing the hunk of junk to life. Buckled in, she adjusted the mirrors, taking more time than usual to ensure everything was just right.

Lucy pulled down the mirror to wipe the smudges from around her eyes, and a note fluttered down in familiar handwriting.

We love you. Call us when you get settled. We want to see your dorm!

A crooked heart sat above the final word.


Lucy pulled away, ready for the next adventure.

Contract Negotiations

“What do you mean you don’t know?” Agatha’s face contorted in a mask of rage and confusion as she stared down the guard.

“I mean what I said. I don’t know what happened to the prisoner.” Colwyn was far too calm, leaned against the wall and looking everywhere but at his employer’s face.

“But that is literally your job.”

A smile broke out on his face; his trap had been sprung. “Ah, you’d think so, right? But do you have a copy of that work contract with you?”

“No, why would I carry something like that around?” Her impatience mounted, coiling every fiber of her into a knot.

“Well, you seemed to have it pretty handy last week when I needed some vacation time. But no worries, I have it right here.” He produced a rolled scroll from behind his back, hidden in a pocket that Agatha felt certain was not standard on the uniforms she ordered. But that was a question for later.

Colwyn unrolled it, skimming over the words until he found what he was looking for. One gauntleted finger jabbed at the page. “See, right here under ‘Job Duties.’”

Agatha leaned in and read the page. “Yes, see, it says here: ‘As a guard, your responsibility is monitoring the prison cells and taking swift action to correct any abnormalities.’ It’s written right there.”

Colwyn straightened and made a stiff salute. “And I am happy to report the cells are completely unchanged, with no abnormalities of note.”

“But the prisoner is gone,” she screeched, contract crumpling in her fist.

Colwyn carefully reached out to retrieve the document, smoothing the creases and tucking it away. “Well, that may be. But as I was hired to watch the cells, I would not know anything about that. You may want to consider hiring someone with those duties.”

She could have thought him an imbecile, but she knew better. That glint in his eye told her everything she needed to know. “This is because of the vacation thing, isn’t it?”

“I believe your words were: ‘The contract outlines everything in clear English even you can understand. You must follow it to the letter, even if it is inconvenient’. I think, but I could be wrong.”

Agatha felt anger boiling within her, but good help was hard to find. He knew that. She had been through a whole bevy of henchman and assorted personnel recently, and hiring was slow. For some reason, no one wanted to work for the maniacal sorceress any longer. What was the world coming to?

“We can renegotiate. But, before she dooms us all, where is the prisoner?”

Colwyn shrugged. “Like I said, I don’t know.”

Agatha stormed down the hall with a wave of curses and expletives. Colwyn smiled and waved into the shadows, watching a form sneak out onto the castle grounds.

Maybe Agatha would one day learn it paid to treat people with a bit of decency. But Colwyn wasn’t going to wait for that.

Terse Tales: The Housing Market is Killer

Theme: “The signs had always been there.”

No one says foresight is 20/20. It’s obvious now, but I was rational. Had I been given to flights of fancy, well…the signs had always been there.

When I moved in, the neighbors peered out at the moving van with the subtlety of toddlers. Their curiosity did not abate as I started work on the house. It was a bargain, but that meant it had needs. Top of the list was new paint. As I worked in the hot sun, I tried to shake the feeling of eyes on my back. After a week, I met the first family one gloomy evening.

“We live across the street,” the woman said with an effervescent smile and an accent I couldn’t place. The man beside her nodded, hand on his presumed son’s shoulder.

We exchanged the usual pleasantries. They worked late and slept during the day. But if I ever needed something, just knock.

“What stinks?” The boy wrinkled his nose.

“Oh, just making some spaghetti,” I responded. “I have extra, if—“

The father shook his head sharply, and they excused themselves back home.

That opened the flood gates, and a parade of strange inhabitants followed. One woman was overly interested in the weeds growing by my front porch; a shaggy haired-man scratched incessantly at his ears and asked if I was sure I did not have a cat. I saw them gather at night, chatting and eyeing me as the outsider I was.

Being neighborly, I sent out invites for a barbecue. Everyone arrived late, ate little, and left early. 

The first full moon came shortly after, and the road transformed. There were howls and growls, creatures running in the street. Despite my rationality, now I understood.

A neighborhood full of monsters, and I had invited them all in. 

Not So Happily Ever After

“My hero,” Gwinnette exclaimed loudly, breathlessly. Then, in a whisper Rittendorf would surely miss, snapped, “What took you so long?”

Sir Greenthorn kept a frozen smile on his face, gazing into her eyes. His lips barely moved. “I was in the middle of something.”

Behind the pair, Rittendorf was flailing in theatrics, ruing days and offering curses, If only he knew he’d orchestrated the most perfect curse for his mortal enemies. “Forsooth, my plan has yet again been foiled!” he cried, collapsing to the ground.

“Brave knight, you have rescued me from his machinations. Now we must dispel this evil.” Gwinette gritted her teeth, but imbued the words with enough emotion to be convincing. The haze of the tower helped obscure her eyes, which burned with annoyance.

“Yes, the power of our love shall defeat him!” Greenthorn drew his sword and squared up against Rittendorf, the mage still quivering on the floor.

“No! I’ll not be undone!” With a wave of his hand, the smoke in the room intensified. As it cleared, Greenthorn and Gwinette were left alone with echoing laughter. “I will destroy you yet,” came haunting final words.

The two visibly relaxed, disentangling one from another and taking their own spaces in the now empty tower room.

“You were in the middle of something?” she snapped. “Rittendorf’s keep is not the worst accommodation I’ve had the displeasure of staying in, but I have to listen to him prattle on. I need you hear on the fastest steed you can find.”

“What was his plan this time?” asked Greenthorn, sheathing his sword and taking a quick look around the room for any treasure worth pawning. The plates and goblets would fetch a few coins, at least.

“Same nonsense, just a new verse. Capture me, lure you here, orchestrate some grand betrayal that would sever our undying love, yadda yadda.”

“Hm.” Greenthorn lifted one of the curtains. Threadbare and moth eaten. Better to just let it stay here and rot. “If he ever figures out we aren’t in love, he might actually be able to accomplish something.”

“Or he might just find someone you actually do love.”

Greenthorn stiffened at this, eyeing her with measured distrust. “You didn’t tell him—“

“About your paramour? No, I’m not the evil one in all of this.”

The air between them was noticeably chill as Greenthorn finished a final sweep of the room. A pittance, truly, but the king’s boon for once again vanquishing Rittendorf would make up for most of it. Still, it was getting more and more difficult to live the life they had become accustomed to.

“Are you ready?” he asked her, formality still icy in his words.

“I was ready two days ago, but you had something better to do.”

His cheeks flushed at this, shame and anger competing for dominance. “It’s not easy having to just drop everything, you know. I’m trying to live my life—“

“As am I,” she added quietly.

Greenthorn huffed and ran a hand through thinning brown hair, eyes searching their history for where things had taken such a turn. He had been the knight of the kingdom, destined, foretold. It was his destiny to protect the kingdom from the worst of evils. Only that evil had turned out to be Rittendorf, an eccentric mage with poor planning skills and an unhealthy obsession with love magic.

“Listen, I’m sorry I did not come sooner. I’ll make that my priority.”

She nodded, placing a hand on his armored shoulder. “And do not worry, your secret is safe. I’d not want harm to come to either of you.”

“But it would free you. Rittendorf only takes you because he is convinced the key to victory is severing our bond.”

She gave him a bitter smile, years of anger and frustration surging in her eyes. “Yes, but he’s forced me into this. If that cretin gets one moment of satisfaction or joy in this world, it’s too much.”

Greenthorn laughed, leading the way down the tower and toward safety below. “We can at least agree on that. And Martin thinks he’s close to something that can actually kill him.”

Gwinette’s face brightened. “Oh, that’s lovely news. Almost makes those days in his captivity worth it.”

As they left the tower, the dust resettled and the room returned to abandon. But in the corner, a small scrying glass peered, echoes of victorious laughter rippling into the stillness.

Terse Tales: Guilty Conscience

Theme: The sky was no longer red.

The door squealed in protest as it opened. According to the radio, it was safe to venture out for a short stretch of time. Surely it would be an eternity before it was fully safe, but anything was better than the same grey walls and neat stack of rations.

Carter covered his eyes and blinked against the bright sun. The owners had spared no expense in the construction of the shelter, which was remarkable given how steep the prices soared when threats moved from bluster to reality. Nevertheless, the artificial lights mimicry of daylight were no match for the real deal. Tears stung his eyes.

The sky was so blue. It was offensive how cheery and…normal it was. Only it wasn’t, and evidence of that crunched beneath his feet. Blown out glass sparkled in the light, and the plants were wilted and brown. Look up, and the world was a happy place. Down, and it was barren.

Other doors were opening, following the recommendations as he had. Carter heard voices of the neighborhood. They must have gone in on a package deal to build these; the street was coming back to life. Joyful families embracing the chance to live another day.

Not wanting to be seen, he scurried into the strange house. Wind swept through the rooms, playing with artifacts of a life before. They were memories out of place in this world of destruction.

Carter tried not to look at the unfamiliar faces smiling on the walls. He tried not to match the images to the voices he had heard first reasoning calmly, then pleading, then screaming. He tried. But images of a burning sky bled into his thoughts.

The smiling faces stared in judgment at their killer, just as sure as he had pressed the launch button himself.

Family Curse

Glinda leaned into the family curse, because fighting against it had only ever made her miserable. Maybe willing acceptance would ultimately loosen its hold. Doubtful, but she was out of better ideas.

The Sight had its advantages, to be sure. She had avoided more than one unfortunate accident thanks to premonition and perception. But her family legacy was dying in the line of duty, and she was ready for that to change.  

Glinda felt the smooth handled daggers in her grip, the more tangible side of her family boon. They had been for protection. Perhaps they still were, but now with a more preventative bent. She took a slow breath and looked around the corner again at the crowd.

They waited beneath the flickering neon and holographic haze. Jump-bikes and motorcycles were lined in disorganized chaos around the bar. It was a dive in the best terms, but Glinda knew more. If she looked askance, their human faces remained perfectly poised. But when she focused, all of that melted like wax from a candle, showing the horror of what lay beneath. Something from another plane, fingers poking through the material of the world and using skin puppets to do their bidding.

Maybe once it had been enough to live side-by-side and pick off those who stepped out of line. But with a genealogy drenched in innocent blood, Glinda was not going to wait for slaughter. 

With time, the crowd thinned down to a manageable number. Glinda left her concealment with a smile on her face. She was out of place, a young woman with no affiliation approaching a place like this in the middle of the night?

They took the bait. “Hey little lady,” crooned one. “You lost?”

Glinda plastered a smile on her face. “Maybe. Is this The Veil?”

“Yeah, you’ve got the right place.” He glanced around at his companions, eyes saying plenty, even if Glinda had been unable to eavesdrop on their thoughts. Soon, they’d start to notice the brush of something unfamiliar sharing that intimate space. She’d need to be fast.  

Three remained, which were odds she could manage. She closed the distance, studying them. These were unfamiliar monsters, but monsters nonetheless.  

As they leaned in, closing around the supposed prey, she lashed out. The daggers flashed with a kaleidoscope of light from the artificial fixtures above. One in the eye of the monster leaning on the bike, another in the chest of the one on her right. There was shock, silver blades burning a hole through whatever tethered them here, and the empty puppets dropped to the ground.

The third had mouth open, eyes wide. He almost looked afraid, but the true face still snarled at her. Pulling the blades free, she launched forward and buried them again.

Then back to the shadows, just as always. She knew the newspapers would make a fuss, reporting on the latest slayings in the city. But she had to protect them, even if they did not know it yet.