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The Lending Library of Final Lines

It wasn’t a library, not really. And not a lending either—only called that by courtesy, because what was hung up on strings like shark fins was printed: crumpled pages of smeared ink, worn through in places and torn but they weren’t being sold as books because there was only a page of each anyway. The rest of the books, the bits not hung up for dried and dreaming, had gone for kindling or to the outhouse. They were no use for anything else.

That’s what Clytie was told when she was set to work at the stall, a job she got ostensibly because of obedience but was more like to be because of illiteracy, and an almost-tangible aura of incuriousity. The last girl was seen off because she used up all the pages, couldn’t stop bitching about frittering and brainlessness. “Too clever for her own good, for all it did her.” Without the sense to shut her gob and scraping a living at dock-end now, for the inability to understand a market.

For all her predecessor had complained about the waste of the written word, none of the books that came to stall were in any condition for sharing. Most of them were from the sea or the dead. The first washed up in a solid lump, all the pages soaked together, and Clytie had to sop up the damp with rags, peel the last page carefully off—“Make sure it’s got words on it, those little marks even if they’re all runny, even if it’s only a couple of lines. No blank pages”—and hang it up for drying. The rest of the sodden mass dried in bricks before the fire, was sold off for burning either in blocks or in gratings to adulterate the plants in pipes.

“That smoke don’t smell like anything,” said Clytie, on days so cold the snow settled like scum on the ocean and she was allowed to burn a brick for warmth.

“This look like a scent shop to you?”

Clytie sniffed and turned away, wiped her nose before wrapping her scarf well-around. Cold killed scent, she supposed, which was alright because all else she’d smell were crab-guts anyway, and only that if she wasn’t stuffed with head cold. But even in summer with the rankness rising around, the bricks whiffed only of salt, and that a thin scent once the paper had dried out.

The dead-books were better, those cleared out of houses when someone died with the rags they weren’t buried in and the people left behind wanted the coin they’d bring. Most of those books were from outhouses, or gone mouldy on shelves, but the man who owned Clytie’s stall only took those if the last page was there still. If it had been eaten away or gone for arse-wiping, pages torn out from the back first and moving forward, he’d pass them by for anything but scrap.

“Can’t afford charity,” he said, when offered the first pages instead. “We deal in deaths here too, you know, and those the little ones.” Death, Clytie had learned, was not an opening page, or one covered over with pictures. There was too much hope in those.

“I’ve known bairns dead before they drew their first breath,” she said, but that didn’t mean nothing, apparently, because it only drew a grunt and narrowed eyes, the disparagement of argument. She needed the job, got it only because she weren’t clever, and it wouldn’t pay to start thinking now. Given the choice between thinking and a full stomach Clytie’d take dumplings and chowder every time.

She’d heard there were people who hungered for more but it never struck her as convincing. “Spend enough time close to starvation and all your thoughts are food,” she said. That’s what the pages were, hanging down around her like flat and slightly salty ghosts. Boring spectres, but a boringness that brought her bread so that gave them value of a sort, one not connected to marks and minding. She’d passed by the stall a dozen times in the month before her hiring, had never taken much notice of it. Had never realised what it really sold with those little bits of paper.

“Why did no-one ever tell me?” she might have said, to the man who hired her, but Clytie knew how he’d answer and it wasn’t worth her breath.

“You likely never asked,” he’d have said, and that was true. She hadn’t. Hadn’t cared much either when she’d been told. It’d been a job, one that didn’t require stripping cloth off her flesh or flesh off her bones and all she knew of luck said it wasn’t worth pushing.

“I don’t want you reading them,” he’d said.

“Can’t read,” said Clytie, honest in her incapacities. “Don’t want to neither.” Her ma had tried to teach her, way back when she was small enough to hang onto aprons, but the little marks were soft and squinty, and she had to put her nose hard up against paper to make ’em out.

“You’ve got eyes like soft-boiled eggs,” said her ma, which hadn’t made no sense then and still didn’t, but there was something wrong with them right enough and too much concentration on the little marks gave her headaches.

“Don’t go giving me your life story,” said her boss. “I don’t give a shit. I just want someone to sit here and keep the thieves away. Belt ’em round the head if they try reaching over. You can do that, can’t you?”

Clytie could.

It was hard to make out expressions, and she’d learned to tell better from tones. There was a mincing sort of whine to the bad tone, the distract tone, and whenever she heard someone start up that over-friendly natter she’d reach for the old bit of wood kept under the stall front and it didn’t take too many times for her to get the name Clouting Clytie and they stopped reaching over for snatching.

Problem was a lack of clouting brought the thieving back, and it wasn’t long before Clytie spent all her hours in the stall. She shut it up at night, bedded down on blankets in front of the fire and under pages. A trapdoor in the floor with clear space all the way down to water when the tide was in gave her a place to dispose her chamber pot, though it was always a quick emptying, for Clytie could hear the crabs moving below, their giant hungry bodies, the way the low sweet hum of their song saturated dock wood and left vibrations under her feet and fingers, the way that song changed as they looked up at pages and daylight. She opened it once a day and lived with the stench for the rest, too uneasy in her flesh-knowing, the ribs of her all covered in meat for all the covering was scanty. And she was a girl of little imagination, and when the trap was shut she could forget, shift her thick and flabby focus to other things. Her boss brought oil and a bucket of water each morning when he came to collect the coins, and a girl from the chowder stall came twice a day with bowl and bread. The one served for thirst and scrubbing—the floor as well her herself, cleanliness kept the pox away—and the other for talk.

“Don’t you ever get sick of being shut up?” Alix asked her, while she waited for Clytie to scrape the bowl clean. She kept her hands to herself and out of the reach of pages so Clytie let her sit inside the stall out of snow in winter, though there was barely room for both and only one stool, so one of them had to sit on the floor. They took turns.

Clytie shook her head, her cheeks stuffed full of crab for swallowing. “S’warm at least,” she said through gobbling. She’d stuffed the little chinks in planking full of rag, and the fire next to her feet kept it snug enough so she wouldn’t catch cold and cough her lungs out under dock.

All of her people were dead anyway, and there was nowhere else to go. “A job’s a job,” she said, and belched. “Pardon for my breath. And there’s worse jobs than this.” It was steady work, easy work, and kept her warm and fed, though never as much of either as she’d like.

“Seems like a prison to me,” said Alix. “And all those escapes hanging up above.” She shrugged. “I’m just saying, if it was me, I might try for reaching.”

“One before me thought like that,” said Clytie. “Didn’t do her no good did it? Your girl used to work dock end, you should know.”

Alix shrugged again; she did know. The small hurts and the big ones, the coming home at night sore between the legs and foul-mouthed, with lungs cut open by coughing.

“I’m not risking that,” said Clytie. “I’m not brave, and I’m not greedy neither. This is enough for me.”

“Don’t you get bored?”

“Nope.” But it was a genuine question so Clytie didn’t reach for the club, for all she’d heard questions like that before. They were a way to draw her into chatter, to keep mind and mouth occupied so that even bad eyes lost sight of hands. But she couldn’t read and she couldn’t leave and she couldn’t sew, even, with any stitches worth the making too tiny for her hands, and much of what went on in the street was too blurred for watching. She had her ears still, could follow along sometimes but mostly she sat and stared with her face as blank as the inside of clam shells, all smoothed over with the meat taken out.

“Boredom’s not for the likes of me,” she said. “My ma always said you need brains to be bored.”

She could feel Alix looking at her, feel the small quiet space of attention and the choice for kindness. “Truth be told,” said the other girl, stacking up the empty bowl, the breadless plate, “I couldn’t read them neither. There was always more important things than letters.”

It was the only thing Clytie’d asked when first she got there, her face scrubbed clean with salt and hands fisted into her stomach to stop the growling, and warning ringing in her ears for inquisition. “Didn’t know so many wanted learning,” she said, careful not to phrase it for question for that might have implied she had the right to answers.

“It’s not learning sold here,” said her boss. “It’s endings.” And that was fit, given the Street and the sympathies on it, the mix of trade and tempting. “There’s enough here who read well enough for books,” he said. “And if it’s books they want they go to other than me.”

It was the poor who came to him. The desperate, the ill, the ones too far gone in themselves for goldfish. And sometimes they didn’t even need the pages, poor buggers, would just wander under dock or throw themselves into ocean and trust to the crabs to do for them.

She’d seen it with her very first buyer, an old woman with limbs so twisted it was pain just to look at her. “I can’t even shit without help anymore,” the old woman said. “Can’t chew with no teeth neither.” Not that filling her stomach did much good with the growths there pushing space out. “Nearly all I eat comes back up anyway, and stewed prunes don’t taste that good the first time, let alone the second. I am sick of fucking life,” she said. “I want it to be over.”

“Dock edge is that way,” said Clytie, or she would have if she hadn’t remembered she was hired to sell pages and not to hoard them. People threw themselves to crabs enough that it was a nine minute wonder only, a brief space of screaming and absorbed interest, of wincing and looking away and a sudden increase in the sale of street food as the watchers gossiped and wondered, but she’d seen it enough to know it weren’t a nice end for all it were a quick one.

Her boss had drilled her, over and over, as if she were even thicker than she were but thickness was the price of incuriosity so he’d no-one but himself to blame and Clytie hadn’t taken notice of the sighs and mutterings, much, just repeated over and over until he was satisfied.

“Which would you like, mother?” she said, certain from her ears that the woman was an old one, and not to be addressed as sister. “We’re doing them a kindness,” her boss told her. “Like family, though if these had family for real, family that cared, they’d have them get sleep-tea from the apothecary and smother them after. Would be kinder.”

As it was, their drugs were pages.

“You’ve not read any yourself?”

“No, mother.”

“You sure about that, missy?”

“I can’t read, mother.”

“I just don’t want it all used up.”

“Haven’t used nothing, mother. It’s all fresh, promise.” All the pages were hung up with the last page facing the wall, and all the words on the second-to-last painted over so that no-one hanging over the half-door of the stall could do anything but take their chances, and no passer-by could ruin ending with curiosity.

“If you can’t read I suppose you can’t tell what type they are.”

“No, mother.” There were romances up there, she’d been told, with happy endings too sugar-sweet for real life, mysteries solved so that stories could end with truthfulness instead of lies and illusion. The final escape of adventures, the final coming-home of prodigality. There were bad stories, too, the ones of reaching up of dead monsters, of the blood spatters come from not making sure. “We take what’s given us. There’s all sorts.” Some people liked to end on excitement, as if the crabs weren’t enough. “Like a lucky dip.”

“I look like I’ve been a lucky one to you?”

“Maybe your luck’s been saving up,” said Clytie. “Maybe it’s all going to be used on this.”

Good luck or bad, it wouldn’t last long anyway.

They got a choice for the page they wanted. Not a real choice, or a meaningful one, for all aspects of choice that would relate were turned away or painted out, but the illusion seemed to help. “I want that one,” said the old woman, pointing, and she bitched at Clytie for not seeing which was which until she got it right, reaching up to unpin a page that felt no different to the rest.

“This isn’t rice paper, mother,” she said. “Do you want your tale in wine, or can you gulp it down solid?”

She’d seen them cram pages in often enough after, the people who bought and bit in pieces, tearing paper down dry. There’d even been one, once, who’d folded his paper into a chrysanthemum and held the whole blooming thing in his mouth until the paper sogged enough for swallowing whole. Most took the wine, though—it was poor wine, closer to a vinegar than a vintage, but crabs needed courage from all corners and it seemed a shame to skimp.

Clytie tore the page into tiny pieces, mixed them with drink until the edges were too soft for slicing. “Let me help you mother,” she said, and held the cup to the old woman’s lips. Held her mouth shut as she gagged, and when the gagging went on too long pried her lips back open and shoved her fingers in, as far back as she could, shoving the wet mass back down throat and ignoring the bite of toothless gums.

“’M sorry, mother,” she said, “but if you spit this up it won’t work so well when you swallow it down again, and you don’t want to be only half-gone when it’s time to pitch yourself over.”

When Clytie felt the old woman stiffen briefly under her hands, felt her jaw unclench, she snatched her fingers out and stepped back, aware of the little ripple of space that was opening up around them. When the woman’s eyes opened, someone else was looking out.

“Darling,” she said, in a voice half a hundred years younger, “Isn’t it wonderful? I’m going to have a baby.”

“That’s nice,” said Clytie, feeling as if she should respond somehow and aware, still, that the old woman behind those eyes was looking out on a different scene, something not docks and death approaching. The charm soaked into the page was doing its work, not just papering over memory with an approximation of fairy tale but directing elderly feet towards street edge, and the old woman stepped over it and fell down to rock and sand, still talking.

“Old as she is, it’s no wonder her bones have snapped like that,” said a sausage seller next to Clytie, his voice companionable as they peered down together. She couldn’t see much detail of the snapping herself, nor the way the old spotted hands clutched at a stomach full of tumour sickness—all these were told to her later—but she did hear the rising croon of crabs as they swarmed out from under street, the hard click of their giant claws, big enough to snap thighbone, to gouge and gorge on marrow.

“A beautiful little baby, darling,” the young voice wafted up, and if Clytie was too soft-eyed for details she could still see the body being tugged this way and that, with the largest crabs bearing off bits for bloody consumption. “Our own little baby. I’m so . . . ”

“Died happy, then,” said the sausage seller, afterwards. He’d brought the last of his wares round to Clytie, given it to her free of charge, for all the crabs had done for custom. “Didn’t feel a thing. There’s a lot worse ways to go, I reckon.”

“Suppose so,” said Clytie, gnawing.

It was a very good sausage.

More went that way than any other. Clytie’d never read a book in her life, never had one read to her either as far as she could remember, but if what hung from the roof of the stall was indicative, there were lots of stories out there of love and happy endings.

“No wonder people gobble it up,” she said to Alix. “That lovey-dovey stuff. Makes ’em forget as easy as greasing.”

“For a while,” said Alix. She hesitated. “The one before you. I think she wanted to forget as well.”

“What did she have worth forgetting?” said Clytie, genuinely curious. “Nothing worth losing bed and board I can tell you.”

“They don’t all go so easy,” said Alix, and that wasn’t far from truth.

There’d been a boy not much older than she was, who’d come for paper after swallowing poison. A mistake, he’d said, made only because his eyes were no better than Clytie’s but it was a slow poison and a hideous one and he’d rather the quick death because a cure was impossible. But the page he’d picked had ended a story with suicide, and he’d cut his own throat after swallowing, weeping for a country long dead, and she’d had to kick the body off the edge herself.

The cut hadn’t been clean. He drowned on his own blood. Clytie thought the crabs might have been quicker.

“I’d like you to talk with her,” said Alix, breaking into memory. “The one before you.”

“I can’t leave the shop,” said Clytie. “I’d lose my place.” She’d end up on docks permanently then, and it didn’t seem like a life that came with warmth and chowder to her—not enough of either, anyway, for all the warmth that came with work was temporary, and she’d never seen a whore who looked meaty enough for health.

“I can bring her here,” said Alix. “Not during shop hours,” which was a joke in itself, because Clytie’s constant presence meant the stall was always open even when she shut herself in it for the night. “If someone comes knocking you sell to them,” her boss told her, and she was used to night calls enough to wake easy when they came. But “I don’t pay you to stay up myself,” he’d said, and once the sun went down and the chill came he went back to his own bed. She’d never seen him in moonlight, the lazy bastard.

“I’m not giving her nothing, mind,” she said. “Not even a sniff. If she wants paper she’ll pay for it like the rest.”

Clytie kept her club in close reach, but it didn’t take two minutes for her to understand she’d never need to use it. From all she’d heard of the other girl, filtered through her boss, she snuffled at the pages like a pig after roots, gobbled them down as if they were gin, and Clytie had seen enough of people who were wedded to the bottle that it were the bottle in control and not the person, most often, and so she’d prepared herself for wood and wailing.

Yet when Alix coaxed her up—“This is Dilly,” she said, as if a name might make for caring—it was clear that the girl who held her place before her wanted none of it. Dilly was huddled and shivering, and if her eyes held the same determined madness that Clytie had seen in beggars outside temple sometimes, the ones that spoke of end times and blood and drowning, it wasn’t an obsession that made her long for pages, because Alix had to push her forward, practically.

“Want to go back to docks,” she whined. “Don’t want to hear them singing, Dilly doesn’t!” Her hands clapped over her ears, and they were thin hands, skeletal almost, stripped down by cold and starvation.

“If that’s what reading does for a person I don’t want no part of it,” said Clytie.

“She could read before she started working here,” said Alix, “and she were sane enough then.”

“She ain’t now,” said Clytie. “Dunno what you want me to do about it. She’s on death’s door, that one. Did you bring her here for paper? My mind’s the same as it was—she needs coin for that. Yours or hers, I don’t care.”

“I don’t want to kill her!” said Alix, exasperated. “I want to look after her.” But she didn’t sound convincing, even to herself. “Well no. I don’t really. But my girl feels bad for her. Says she helped her when she was down at dock end herself and fishing for custom.”

“I hope she made a better teacher than a whore,” said Clytie. “Doesn’t look like she’s been bringing in much for the last.”

“They don’t want me,” said Dilly, breaking in, and nails scraped furrows in her cheeks as she dragged her hands down from ears. “None of them. I tried to tell them, but none of them wanted. I tried to tell them about the singing, but none of them wanted!”

“Can’t say as I blame them,” said Clytie.

“She keeps going on about the singing,” said Alix. “How she hears it coming down from above. I don’t think she means the crabs. Not unless the fuckers started flying, and I’d have noticed if they had.”

“It’s the books,” said Dilly. She started forward and fell back moaning, but when Alix went to help her she darted forward again, yanked at Clytie’s dress with her clawed, bloody hands. “They’re singing and they listen. You mustn’t listen!”

“Bugger off,” said Clytie, and it wasn’t pity that stayed her from the use of wood, because the other was close enough to make the space for swinging a small and useless thing, so she boxed her about the ears instead with one big hand, shoved back and watched the poor pathetic creature fall and snivel. “The crabs are the only things that sing here, and the trap’s shut. You can’t hear ‘em. You can’t hear anything.”

She turned to Alix, disgusted. “I don’t know why you brung her. I don’t know what ails her, and I don’t know any way of fixing her neither. I’ve been here months myself, and I never left the stall and I never heard no singing that weren’t crabs. I don’t doubt something’s turned her mind but I don’t know what. I never heard she ate the paper, only that she read it. Maybe there’s something in the charm that did it. Maybe reading was enough then. You’re a kind person, I reckon, and you’ve always been friendly to me so I’d do you a turn if I could but unless you’ve come to bring her peace there’s nothing I can do for her.”

“If she’d take peace I’d give it to her,” said Alix. “But I don’t like the chances.” She dug in her trousers, unearthed from a pocket coin enough for paper. “Anyone you like,” she said, and when she held out the page, offered to soften it in wine for drowning self and drinking, Dilly shrieked again, clapped her ears over. “Make it stop!” she wailed. “Make it shut its screaming mouth!”

“There’s no mouth here,” said Alix, crouching down so she was on a level, and keeping her movements sweet and slow. “No mouth, and no music either.”

Dilly straightened. “You don’t believe me,” she said, and there was the shadow of dignity in her movement, the recollection of a girl who’d been sane once if not clever. No-one out of the ordinary, no-one important, but a piece of stability all the same. “I’ll show you,” she said. “I’ll make you hear them too. They’re coming, all the little voices, and there’s nothing you can do to keep the chorus out.

“She loves them and they’re coming,” said Dilly, and then she threw herself over dock.

It was a long fall, long enough to cripple, but the tide was on the way in and there was shallow water to break her fall, limit the smashing of bones although from the way Alix gasped beside her Clytie thought there was probably damage enough. The water was dark and the light dim so she couldn’t make out too clearly, wouldn’t have been able to even if her sight were better than it was. What she could see was moving—first a single figure, wading for the beach with a jagged, limping gait, and then out of the corners of sight a sensation of rippling, of high notes and legs and swarming.

The crabs inhabited the intertidal and the shallows, but the cold water made them sluggish at night, kept them sleepy although they’d wake and sing for blood.

“She should have ate it,” said Clytie. “They’re going to run her down and guts now.” She shook her head. “Though she won’t feel it, maybe, far gone as she is. That’d be a mercy.” It wasn’t that the screaming bothered her. It was that she felt, dimly, that it ought to bother her more than it did. She’d never taken pleasure in it as some did—perhaps because she lacked clear sight enough for true entertainment, or perhaps because she’d got so used to it that there was a numbness where feeling used to be. What she mostly felt at screams these days was gratitude that they weren’t hers.

“I think she’s trying to outrun them,” said Alix. Her head tilted slightly. “But she’s not running anywhere it would do her good.” Not to the ladders at shore end come up to street then, and not inland where there were trees and far off city walls to climb. Instead Dilly ran flat and parallel to shorelines, across loose sand that slowed her running, and a dark multitude billowing after, moving faster along those sands and the gap between them shrinking. “I don’t know how I’m going to explain this to Perette,” she said.

“She wouldn’t expect you to jump after.” No-one would expect that. Not even of a girl who was a diver once, who knew how to navigate the crab beds. Bad enough in daylight, with the risk of claws and cracking. Far worse at night when the whistling started, the sound of hunting crabs, and the largest of them big enough to snip a full-grown man to pieces.

“Don’t suppose I can get my money back?”

“Oh, why the hell not,” said Clytie, and pinned the discarded page back up in the stall. “If she didn’t want it someone else will.”

“Ta,” said Alix. “I appreciate the trouble. She were a good girl once, or so I heard. Didn’t mix with the likes of me of course—wanted to apprentice herself to a story-teller, but couldn’t pay the fees.”

“Couldn’t save up for them working here, more like,” said Clytie. She got a few small coins herself each moon, an hour off while her boss filled in and that was time enough to buy the very few things she needed and not a whit more.

“Perette said she liked to read the books that washed up and pretend the bits with pages missing. I wouldn’t call that fun but I can’t see it making madness either,” said Alix. “There’s something twisty here and I don’t like it.”

“I stuff stories down gullets so folks get ripped to pieces quietly,” said Clytie. “Don’t tell me about twisty.”

In the distance, screaming started. It was high and clear like gulls calling, but both girls knew it wasn’t wings that shrieked that way.

“Guess that’s it then,” said Clytie. “I’m going back to bed.”

“I’ve never seen madness like that before,” Alix insisted.

“It ain’t catching. Not if I have anything to say about it,” Clytie said, and shut the stall door in her face for emphasis. She stoked up her little fire, bound herself up in blankets and fell asleep in the stall corner, tucked up within minutes. She didn’t dream. Didn’t have nightmares, and didn’t expect to—but it was an unhappy sleep for all that, all bits and wakening and she couldn’t drop off enough for any real sort of rest.

“There’s nothing wrong,” she said. “Stop being so brainless. You don’t have the imagination for troubles.” And that was true, because she could picture Dilly’s end easy enough, and without flinching, and ten minutes careful consideration couldn’t come up with anything more horrifying than that, and like to keep her from rest. Still she couldn’t settle. There was nothing stopping her sleep, nothing out of the ordinary. The stall smelled as it always did, a dry sour scent with undertones of salt and sweat, the soft ash of embers. The walls creaked a little but then they always did. Her belly cramped, but that was normal too for this time of month, and the floor under her face was smooth enough—for she made sure to sand away splinters—and vibrated as it always did, the small reverberation that came from crab song.

But there weren’t any crabs, Clytie remembered. The crabs were all along the shore, and feeding. Dilly had taken them away, and they’d return once they’d stripped her bones clean, gouged out even the marrow of her with the smallest pincers, but any singing they did not would be heard on wind instead of through wood.

“You’ve slept longer than you thought, that’s all,” she said, but if it was too hard for her to make out the turning pattern of stars she knew enough of cold and stillness to gauge the night and there was more of it left than morning.

She stoked up the fire, took a rag from one of the crevices in the wall and cringed at the cool air, but set the rag alight. When it was good and burning she opened the trap and dropped it through.

There were crabs down there. She could see movement before the rag extinguished itself but they were small movements, small bodies, and they were all staring up at her. The crabs weren’t big enough for echoes in their singing, not enough for the wood to vibrate along with them. She shut the trapdoor carefully, made sure it was set fast for it wouldn’t be a pretty thing to fall through, and went deliberately back to bed. As the fire died down, Clytie felt the floor hum against her face, and when she looked up—up instead of down, for threats and singing—the pages above seemed to vibrate, almost.

She pressed her hand against the wall, pressed it higher and higher until she was at the extent of reach, and the felt the humming again, felt it stronger the further up she moved.

Clytie snatched her hand back and hid it under covers. Shut her eyes, too, for all the good they did her, and buried her face in blanket.

“Questions don’t matter for the likes of you,” she said. “It wasn’t asking why and how that got you working, got you fed. It’s nowt to do with you.” Incuriosity, ignorance, the ability to look and turn away, to keep turned away when others might pry and ask. They were survival strategies, and they served. Not well, perhaps, but well enough.

“You see nothing,” she said, over and over. Remembering how bad her eyes were, how their softness could play tricks. “You see nothing.”

By the morning, she believed it.

About the Author

Octavia Cade is a New Zealand writer. She’s sold around sixty stories to markets including Clarkesworld, F&SF, and Asimov’s. She’s a Bram Stoker nominee and four time Sir Julius Vogel award winner, and was the 2020 visiting writer in residence at Massey University. Her latest book, the climate fiction novella The Impossible Resurrection of Grief, came out recently from Stelliform.