The Glass Spire

-Wax
‘ere in these
rusted halls where
tarnished mirrors offer
figures and smudges
slimy air clings
close to skin in
— the camber beyond where
voices echo from peeling
plaster
all clinging to some
bygone memory
of a world before or a world behind
and veins are only
skin deep
 
-Calling
Tomorrow light shall
bleed away — the dark
but oh but is it different
than the one behind? Responsibility
remains — scratched into the margins
and you will be — you
night to day
even as the ground grows — soft
and rain gathers
in little pools
that reflect —
 
-Knowing
cut us — mooring free
and pass us to the waves
where the blue above
bleeds below
and we — alone
where salt stings
our eyes
oh — we know the way
we know —
but we here
are free
— to cut the wheel
 
The Clock Chimed Thrice

Floorboards groaned with my weight as I sprinted down the dim hallway, the threadbare rug doing little to muffle the sounds of my footfalls. Behind me the second metallic rings plays, wary echoing drones of a clock well past its prime yet still stubbornly ticking on. A picture frame rattles as I pass, and old woman smiling into the darkness as she leans against a grandfather clock, but I pay it little mind. I gulp air as I press forward, urging my tired muscles on towards the door at the end of the hall.

I reach for the tarnished door knob as the final trio chimes echo through the hall, the old metal grinds as it turns and I slam my shoulder against the door to force it open. Wood crackles and splinters, my shoulder stings, but I continue to run. An empty dancing floor fills the hall, dusty mirrors line one wall, a once-ornate gold fireplace set into the other. At the far end next to the door is a grandfather clock, it’s final rings still in the air. I run on, a blur in the mirrors, a momentary companion.

Worn gears grind as I reach the far door and yank it open. Ancient hinges squealed, but the door swung free as I dashed into the hallway beyond. Behind me the first metallic ring plays, with the wary metallic drones of a clock well past its prime.
 
-what’s old again
this - here - beneath the ringing-bell
and tree heavy - with the new-year
wish
for again shall the beginning
and endings moor beneath a
moonless sky
fill this with color - and crash
‘till we smell sulfur
and taste the buzz -
on another’s lips
 
-Cricking
Here shall the mire swell
-and these sucking
earths stain the skin
o - blood shall
crack and - bones
bend and this -
sour mud will you
rest?

If then you
stagger on -
oh - oh - oh
-
those stars hang
and you
the scare-
crow
 
The tiny bundles of fur wiggled and murred as they pawed against the the side of the box. Yume ran her knuckle along the back of a small gray kitten. A soft, fluffy little thing looked up at Yume, light blue eyes half hooded bringing a faint smile to the corners of her lips. The kitten’s whiskers tickled the back of her finger as it sniffed her.
“We’re are they from?” Yume asked.
“A stray cat had them in our backyard then abandoned them.” Ruki said. Yume pushed a pair of textbooks out of the way as Ruki set the box down.
“Poor little things.” Yume said, leaning over to look down into the box.
“My mom is looking for homes for them,” Ruki said, “but,”
“But?” Yume asked.
“She was hopeful you and Hikari could watch them.” Ruki said. A faint frown formed on the edges of her lips as she again. She scratched behind the ear of a kitten with her fingernail.
“We should be able to house them for a few days, but don’t you have more room at your place?” Yume asked.
“Allergies.”
“Ah.” The faint smile returned. “They are quite cute.”
 
“What exactly do you expect me to do with them?” Rei asked as she stared down into the box. A pair of black lumps, about as long as her hand, laid curled up next to one another. Rei tapped her heel against the floor as she crossed her arms tight across her chest.
“Watch over them for a few days.” Kai said, with a sheepish smile. Rei glowered at him. Kai raised his hands to shrug. “They’ll be gone before you know it.”
“Don’t you have regular friends you could bring these to?” Rei asked, resting her hip against the side of the table as she looked down into the box. One of the kittens pawed the other in its sleep.
“Well, yes but-“
“Why not bring them to those people then?” Rei snipped.
“They live normal lives,” Kai said, “you, well.” He accentuated his point with a vague gesture towards her rifle leaning against the wall.
“And that makes me better suited to watch two kittens?” She asked.
“Well, curses linger you know?” Kai said. Rei was silent for a long moment before releasing a puff of air with an annoyed click of her tongue.
“You’re kidding. They’re cats.” Rei said.
“Well, kittens.” Another withering glare brought the sheepish smile back to Kai. “Look it’s just a few days and if any curses come around, that’s just easy money right?”
“Why am I agreeing to this.” Rei sighed, squeezing the bridge of her nose. “Fine. Sure. Okay.”
“Thank you, I’ll owe you.” Kai said.
“Yeah.” Rei looked back down into the box. The two kittens slept away, blissfully unaware of the world. She sighed. “Names?”
“What?”
“What are their names?”
 
“It was a promise, after all.”
The moon hung low in the sky, it’s reddish glow illuminating the valley below. Camelia ran her comb through Aurora’s hair as the girl rested on Camelia’s thigh, eyes exploring the stars above. Was it right to — to — simply let this be? Aurora’s arm raised, a delicate finger tracing the points between the stars, finding the spider trapped in her own web. Or, perhaps the ladle from which all things spilled. A gentle smile as her head turned and her gaze fell to Camelia.
“Then, we should do this again.” She said. Camelia could feel a catch in her breath, a twist in her chest.
“Yes, that would be,” a pull of air, “nice.”
“Then, why not another promise?” Aurora asked. “When it’s all over, we meet back on this hill.”
Camelia’s amber eyes flickered in the low light. Two tangled strands of hair caught in the teeth of the comb. The ritual. The Nightwatch. Had she ever even spared a thought to still being alive when the sun finally rose? The strands of hair separated at the insistence of the comb. Aurora’s hand caught her wrist, golden eyes caught the moon’s low light. Camelia released her breath.
“The story of the oxe and the snake then, they will be at their apex tomorrow.” She said. Aurora smiled, a sudden flash of teeth.
“A promise?”
“I —“ Was it wrong to answer what she wished for? “yes, it will be a promise.”
“Good.” Aurora’s gaze flicked back to the sky. “Once a promise is made—“
“—it cannot be broken.” Camelia finished. She too looked to the sky.
Was she a fool to promise impossible things?
Down below the teeth of the comb found another knot, and above the spider remained trapped within her web.
 
7:58 AM

It’s not about the food, you know. It’s all secondary to the grease on the walls, the stains on the aprons, and the waitress who knows your name due to the hour you step through the door. Yeah, it’s that provenance of it all, it’s those hours you put in beneath that faded picture of the ‘87 Chevy.

It’s in those chips on the cup, that sizzle’n pop as those potatoes hash, that wearisome roll as the jukebox finds a new tune. It’s that flash seared steak, those eggs ready to run at the prick of a fork arriving to you before you give the menu a glance, yeah. That’s how you know a place is alive.
 
It was a strange thing to wake up and find that someone was using your shoulder as a pillow. She was a younger girl, still in secondary school if Akina were to take a guess. Her hair was long and dark, pulled back and tied in place by a cute red ribbon, the features of her face easy though marred by a scrunch in her brow and a pale complexion. A bad dream perhaps? It was a stressful time of year to be in school, and stress had a way to turn dreams sour. In all, it seemed the girl had more need of her shoulder than Akina did, so she made no motion to wake the girl.

Instead Akina lifted her gaze. The train car was dim, no light shone through the windows as it sped past featureless walls. The evening crowd had dispersed, and including herself and her sleeping companion only three remained in the car. In the far corner a man sat, though Akina couldn’t make out his face in the gloom. How strange. Had she slept through her station? There were usually more people heading back home at this time of day, so she supposed she had to be nearing the end of the line.

What about the girl? What station did she need to get off at? The rail car slowed as it found a bend in the tracks, and the overhead lights flickered. Momentary darkness. Better to wake the girl now and ask what station she needed, or just wait until they stopped again to know where in the line they currently were? After a moment’s deliberation Akina settled on the former and raised her left hand.

“Don’t move.” The girl’s voice was low and soft. A whisper. Akina carefully lowered her hand back to her lap.

“Why?” She asked, in a similar tone.

“There’s a man, he’s been moving one seat closer every time the lights flicker.” The girl said. Carefully, Akina allowed her gaze to return to the corner of the car. Hard to say if he was closer or not. A bump in the tracks brought about another flicker of the lights. She didn’t see motion in the dark, but the man was.

“I see him.” She said, closing her eyes.

“I was going to wake you so we could run off the train together at the next stop.” The girl said.

“How long has it been?” Akina asked.

“What?”

“Since the last station.” Akina said. The girl was silent for a moment. The wheels of the car ‘thunked’ over a bump. Was that the sound of cloth rustling?

“Maybe ten, fifteen minutes ago.” She said, finally. Akina frowned.

“Did you recognize the name of the previous station?”

The girl was quiet for another moment. The lights overhead buzzed faintly, a murmur which existed just above the rumble of the wheels. How many empty seats had there been? Seven or eight perhaps.

“No.” The girl said quietly. “I don’t remember the name, but I didn’t know it.”

“And did other people get off there?” Akina asked. She could feel the girl’s head shift on her shoulder. ‘Thump, thump.’

“No, I-“ she swallowed, “I uh, when I woke up the car was already empty.”

“Ah.”

Things in the back of her mind clicked into place, like the frame of an incomplete puzzle with just enough done that you could make out the picture. Akina allowed her eyelids to crack open. It was dimmer now in the car, and in the edge of vision she could see the shape of the man. Four seats and he would be across from them. An unlucky number, that.

“What is it?” The girl whispered.

“What is your name, if you don’t mind me asking.” Akina said. The girl was quiet for a moment.

“Mizuki” she said. ‘Thump, thump.’

“A pleasure to meet you Mizuki-Chan.” Akina said, “now, I ask that you trust me, okay?”

“Okay.” Mizuki said. There hung a particular tang in the air, something like wet earth which had turned sour. “But what-“

Akina felt her body sway with a sudden change of momentum. The rail car was slowing. She could feel Mizuki tense.

“First, don’t open your eyes.” Akina said. The man didn’t scoot between seats. One moment he was two away, then he was one. She could hear his breath wheezing in the empty car but she didn’t dare to lift her gaze above his waist. The gray slacks of an office worker, it had once been meticulously pressed by an iron to achieve the perfect creases, though the fabric was covered with oddly shaped splotches. “Second, do not stand when the train stops.”

“What?” Mizuki breathed. The rail car rumbled as it drew into the station, and Akina closed her eyes despite how tempting it was to keep them open. There was a rustling sound as the man across the way stood. A hiss of air as the rail car’s doors slid open. Silence which lasted for a few flitters of the heart, then a tap, tap of the man’s feet. The smell of soured earth came near, and Akina again felt Mizuki tense. She could feel his presence, the sound of him drawing a breath, followed by something cold against her cheek as he released it.

“This is your stop.” The man said. His manner of speaking seemed somewhere between a demand and a simple statement of fact.

“Ah, but we are riding to the end of the line.” Akina said. She could feel Mizuki shaking.

“This is the end.” The man said.

“Is it?” Akina asked.

Tap.

Her skin prickled as if anticipating that the man would place his hand on her shoulder. Akina did not move in her seat.

“We’re tired you see, so we were planning to rest a little longer.” She said, there was an odd clicking sound, and it took Akina a moment to realize it was the sound of teeth.

“This is your stop.” The man repeated. Again Akina felt her skin prickle and she heard Mizuki take in a sharp breath. The girl shifted.

“Don’t move.” Akina hissed.

“But my wrist, he’s-“ Mizuki said.

“Hold my hand.” Akina said, placing her hand against Mizuki’s knee. The girl fumbled for a second before her hand caught Akina’s and she squeezed.

“You must hurry and leave this train.” The man said urgently. His breath was thick, it clung to the skin like the air after a long shower. Overhead two tones played, simple warning notes. “I am trying to help you.”

“You’re going to miss your stop, sir.” Akina said. Again the man’s teeth chattered. He hung there for a moment, for long enough to let doubt creep into the back of the mind before she heard his footfalls hurry out of the train. The doors closed with a familiar hiss, and the rail car smoothly moved away from the platform.

The two girls were quiet, Mizuki shaking against Akina’s shoulder as the dim lights brightened. Akina opened her eyes and glanced this way and that. No shadows remained to hide strange figures.

“Okay, okay.” She said. “We’re safe now.” Mizuki lifted her head from Akina’s shoulder, but she didn’t release her grip on the older girl’s hand.

“What was that?” She asked quietly.

“Someone who didn’t want to move on alone, I think.” Akina said. She frowned. “But they usually aren’t so forceful.”

“What?” Mizuki said.

“He really seemed to think…” Akina was quiet for a moment, “Mizuki, do you see spirits often?”

“Do I- what? No that’s not…” Mizuki sputtered. She drew a breath and blew it out. The girl opened her eyes and looked to Akina. A beautiful blue. “Do you?” She asked. Akina smiled.

“You could say that I have.” She said. Mizuki held her gaze earnestly.

“I, it’s not that I see them, but, I think my school is cursed.” She said, Akina’s eyes brightened.

“This is the end of the line, please gather your belongings and exit.” The intercom overhead clicked.
 
“Come now, aren’t you the strongest?”

The light hadn’t burned out, so much as it was swallowed by the shadows. The woman’s form wavered in her shroud of darkness, an inconsistent jumble of motion which kept the eye from ever focusing where it needed to be. But, her voice, that was something Mai recognized. A flash of golden eyes which glittered like struck glass under a street lamp played out in her mind. Mai took a step back, the back of her calf brushing against the lip of the plaza’s fountain. A laugh like bells crunched under heel rang in the open space.

“Perhaps I’ve been too cautious.” The woman said.

Mai swiped her right hand upwards, a brilliant white glow trailing after the tip of her index finger. She flicked her wrist forward and the light followed the motion, zipping through the space between them in a perfectly straight line from her to the heart of the shadow. As before the dark seemed to simply close around the neon glow as it drew near, like a mouth snapping shut.

“That’s a neat trick.” Mai said. She moved her hand again and more neon lights appeared in the air around her. For a moment they simply hung in place around her, an abstract glow like the signs in the commercial district if you unfocused your eyes, then they were in motion. The lights moved like a school of fish, the movement of each individual lost to the rainbowed assortment of color and visual noise. Each following their own zigzagging pattern they all fell into the dark as a mass.

For a moment Mai could swear she could see the silhouette of the woman through the glow, then the plaza was dark.

The woman was laughing again, a mocking noise which crawled under Mai’s skin.

“Is that it? Really?” The woman stepped forward as she laughed, and the shadows which normally lingered where the light scarcely bothered to touch followed her. Was it simply part of the Grimm’s body then? If that were the case then she could burn it all away at once. A halo of light flickered around her wrist and Mai could feel the pull of the emotions around her. Those doubts which lingered in a space, the fear of those who raced for cover once the alarms blared, the beating of her own heart as the woman took another step.

Mai lifted her arm. The woman stood under a street lamp, though the dark around her only seemed deeper than it had been moments before. The streetlight flickered as a tendril of dark reached upwards to brush against it. She could hear her partner’s words almost as if Khint were standing next to her.

“Be more careful! You can’t just overpower everything.”

Mai hesitated.

“Is it my turn?”

The air around the woman seemed to wobble like the breath of summer heat. There was a sound like a whip cracking and Mai instinctively threw her hands up to protect herself. She felt a rush of air blow past her before the impact, a feeling of weightlessness before the pain. The hit stole the breath from her lungs and knocked her off her feet, sending her crashing down into the cold waters of the fountain. She felt a moment’s worth of disorientation before she got her right elbow in under her body and her head broke through the surface of the water. She gasped for breath, coughed water, and attempted to scramble back up to her feet only to come crashing back down as her hip refused to accept weight.

“Still alive?” There was a note of disappointment in the woman’s voice. Mai grit her teeth as she used her good leg to push herself back towards the center of the fountain. She could feel years worth of coins parting under heel. A fragment of an idea. She grabbed a handful with her right hand. “It would hurt less, you know, if you don’t struggle so much.” A flash of teeth in the low light. The shadows which lingered were thin, but a second street light flickered dark as another tendril reached for it.

Mai raised her arm, with her thumb and index finger she pinned a yen coin into place.

“What’s this? Bribery now?” The woman laughed. Golden eyes glittered like shards of glass. It was hard to focus in a specific direction, so she imagined a line drawn from her shoulder to her thumb. Pushed the energy down that line, always down, faster each time until she felt the coins around her body begin to shift and the hairs on the back of her neck bristle. She drew a breath in, sharp and fast, and flicked the coin with her thumb.

For the hair’s width of a second Mai could see the shimmer of the coin’s surface, then it was gone. It left behind a line of red, burning flakes of iron which had been sheared off the coin as it flew, and the crack of thunder as the little disk blew past the sound barrier. There was an explosion of black as the coin ripped through the woman’s torso and she staggered back. She screamed out and shadows rushed to fill the hole in her chest.

“You-“

Mai pinned a second coin between her index and thumb. The Grimm snarled as she dove forward into a well of dark, the shadows swallowing her. Mai panted as she fell back against the fountain’s central pillar. Water streamed down her cheek, glued hair to her skin as the dull ache of her hip became more pronounced. Her gaze bounced between different collections of dark, though none moved. Forcing her mind to focus, a ray of pink light took shape and sped up into the air overhead

She hoped Khint would arrive soon as her dress began to dissolve into motes of light.
 
-Wash
Feel that prickle — in your
Back
as the night — makes
shape from shadow
in the — hallway
oh oh
Oh —
did you feel that cre-a-k
? the house settling, sure
sure
and that breath
against your cheek —
don’t mind it
 
- Holding
is it — that
we lose portions of
Ourselves? Ah
I had put word to paper
once, but they are —
if I cannot,
— in forgetting the
movement of them —

did they have worth? — or
 
- Seelie
Lay us here the feast
— of fatted pork and
sweet leaf, ah, roast the potatoes
graced by flame and
rosemary buds

here, sit, is it the soup
that draws your eye? Leek
and duck and garlic’s scent
or — does your tongue water
from the crisped skin of that
fine roast?

raise that wooden
fork to
lip, and taste the sweetened
flesh, stay, oh stay
stay,
oh stay.
 
- Stranger
This path within
the wild brush
does not
know where it
leads in its
meandering way

or north or east
or south or west
it bows and bends as each
Is shown

this path within
the wild brush
can it lead to home?
or did the passage of stranger
feet
know not how to
rest
 
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