Her world was silver and glass and cold as ice. It hadn’t always been like this. Sometimes, she could remember the feeling of the sun on her skin or the warmth of another’s touch. These days, she barely remembered what it was like to have skin. She was a nightmare monster given substance and forced to haunt the slumber party set. She was blood red eyes and terror sealed between silver and glass. She was the specter of midnight and thrice spoken names.
She was a promise in the dark and a crossroads. The words of the game were a key to her prison and the players were her sustenance.
The forms were nearly observed and soon she would feed. Soon, the little sweet sixteen who dared challenge her memory would be nothing more than a statistic and a mystery.
The girl opened her mouth a third time.
They say all roads lead to Rome. To most people, that’s nothing more than a trite bit of humor from a defunct empire boasting about its greatness. To some, though, it’s a truism and a promise. To some who walk the byways time has forgotten, all roads still lead to Rome, imperial and grand. To those wanderers, the past is home more than the now. He was one of those wanderers, in his rundown junker of more rust than whole steel with a tape deck that clicked and refused to play B sides. He hadn’t meant to find his truth in the old words, hadn’t meant to become a wanderer who swore to a code forgotten. But here he was with his sunglasses on, his car pointed north and SPQR emblazoned on his forearm as an oath. Turning his gaze on the girl in the passenger seat, he smiled. She was a client, one of the lost. The Empire was now home only to those as lost as it was. His glance at his mileage. Not much further now. Probably that intersection there. The crossroads had power, even in ancient times. That was his gate today. Soon, they would both be home
They closed the curtains and covered the mirrors, drawing in close and tight and safe. This wasn’t a time for the living, sun in the sky or no. This was one of the four days that belonged to the others, the dead and the never-so, the ones who dwelled in a distant place the living would only see when time had finished marching and their personal hourglass was empty of sand. This was her time. And it had been her time since 1927 and a boy with none of the manners he ought to have. Her hair was still bobbed short and her skirt still swirled around her knees, or at least it did on these days. Any other day and you’d never have picked her out of the crowd of college co-eds. Today, she was free to be herself though and to dance to a record that hadn’t been played anywhere but her mind since that year. Today, she smiled at a pretty girl and held out her hand, promising forever to the newly dead.
They had known about the fire. They had even known the stories the neighborhood kids all seemed to tell about how some night you could still smell the smoke and still see figures at the windows, even when no one lived in the old house. But the Mason family didn’t have a choice. It was what they could afford. The house had been rebuilt, of course. There were all sorts of safety features built in now. Everything was as safe as they could possibly make it. But that did nothing to stop the sounds in the night. Tanya Mason, five years old and exuberantly excited to have her own room for the first time ever, had carefully set her horses out on the new desk that sat in her room as a promise of starting school at the end of the summer. Now, she lay on her bed in the dim light of her night-light and listened. There were the scratches in the walls. Everyone knew about those. Her Daddy said it was probably mice and had laid traps. There were the bangs from the basement. Daddy had called the oil man and he’d said the furnace was just fine. But here was the part that only Tanya knew about: the voices
The boy sat at the base of the mountain and watched the eagles flying overhead. He wished one of them would come down to speak to him, but they never did.
“Who is my father?”
His mother laughed and pointed to the sky.
“See the eagle that flies there? Once, years ago, an eagle swooped down and carried me off. He is your father.”
The boy stood at the edge of the field, watching the cattle. There was a lone bull in the distance, large and proud. The boy wished the bull would come and speak with him, but he never did.
“Who is my father? Is he really an eagle, Mother?”
She had lifted him up to see over the fence.
“Do you see the bull in the field, my son? Once, long ago, a bull carried me off on his back and I stayed with him for many nights. He is your father.”
Mother and son lay together in the field, watching the clouds soar by.
“Mother, how can my father be an eagle and a bull at the same time? Who is he really?”
She pulled her little boy close and pointed at the sweeping expanse of blue.
“Your father is the sky, little one. And like the clouds, he can change his shape.”
“Will I ever get to meet him?”
“Someday. But he watches you every day. You can be certain of that.”
The distress beacon gave off a monotonous, patterned beeping calling to any ships in the quadrant that could detect the standard emergency frequencies. That what what had summoned the salvagers. The nimble salvage ship skimmed through the asteroid field, always keeping an eye to their radar displays to track the beacon. It was a stationary array, the sort of beacon that was automatically deployed by a disabled ship. Those were hard to fake and couldn’t be set off in-atmosphere, so they felt fairly confident that they wouldn’t run into pirates. Zooming around one particularly large asteroid, the crew found themselves asking one question as they looked at the monitors and out the various ports. How was the signal being given off by an entire planet?
The man stood on the bridge with the sunrise behind him. This day was a long time coming, this day when he would leave everything he had ever known. Slowly, he raised his right hand and gazed at the miniature portrait he held with gentle fingers. To never see her again. It would be a tragedy, but it was no longer a tragedy he could avert. He tucked the small painting into his jacket and let his gaze fall to the still waters below him. No one would know him, could know him. Not if this plan was to succeed. But there would be peace and he would have his works. He produced a small vial and looked it over, almost dispassionately. Then he uncorked it and drank the yellow fluid. It tasted vile and metallic, and burned its way down his throats until it settled in his gut like so much lead. But it was lead no longer. It was gold and life and the future. Tucking the vial back into his pocket, the Count of St Germaine turned and strode down the street out of one life and into another