She was all he had left. All he’d had left since the day those things had first shown up. The common parlance called them zombies, and they almost matched the tropes of the horror movies, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that they were nearly impossible to kill and had long since destroyed civilization as we once knew it. He had been home with his daughter, far from the cities where the outbreaks had been the worst. His wife, though, she had been at work at the hospital. They had never heard from her again.
They had to move again now, he and his daughter. They were making their way west, aiming to trek into the mountains and then start making their way north. Assuming they could enter Canada, of course. The rumors coming from the frozen north were that the creatures were there too but only in the southernmost areas. It seemed they had trouble with the cold. They were moving on foot, the car a scrap heap hundreds of miles behind them. They each carried a backpack and he had his father’s rifle. Not that he thought it would be useful against the creatures. But if other humans tried to be a problem, he would deal with it.
The underbrush was thick in this part of the forest, with lots of bushes that obscured the area around them. That was how they stumbled onto the scene. A creature. Just one, thank anything that might still be listening. It was feasting on a kill. He reached out but his daughter had already stopped in her tracks. The creature would be on them in a heartbeat if it noticed them. They couldn’t let it notice them. The head shot up and the creature sniffed the air and hissed. It was a hollow rattling sound, the kind of thing that leaves a body with their hair on end no matter how brave they think they are.
The only way anyone had been able to come up with to kill the things was complete destruction. Water was useless, as were the old legendary standbys of decapitation and firearms. Fire took time and left them able to function while immolated, which wasn’t really an improvement. Acid was reasonably alright if you could keep the creature contained. All in all, the most effective was probably a woodchipper. He had a rifle and his daughter had a knife. Things weren’t exactly looking great. He took a breath and then shoved the rifle into his daughter’s hands, pointing towards a way around. Then he ran at the creature, screaming.
She was all he had left. If only one of them was going to make it out of here alive, it would be her.
Peter had told Wendy that girls didn’t get to Neverland nearly as often, they simply didn’t get lost like boys did. And he was right. And he was wrong. Baby girls don’t get lost. It’s the older ones who sometimes find themselves straying. It starts when they put their hair up and let their skirts down. Some of those young women find themselves walking down the roads they were forbidden to tread, dreaming the dreams they were told to never have. Sometimes, these young women puzzle out which is the second star to the right and sometimes they go back to help the lost girls left behind.
Meredith wouldn’t say she was lost, though her parents certainly would have if anyone had asked them. She hadn’t felt lost since the day years ago when she had first climbed aboard the ship that had appeared at her window and the Captain had promised her she was safe. Now, she fished in the pocket of her trousers and pulled out a silver compass. With luck, tonight the lady moon would guide them to another lost girl so they could bring her home. The needle spun for a moment as she laid it level in her palm and then pointed steadfastly. With a smile, Meredith nodded and shouted back.
“Captain! She shows due west.”
The Captain was a tall woman with wild curls, bold manners, and a fierce protective streak when it came to her crew. She smiled now at Meredith and turned to the woman who stood at the helm.
“We chase the setting sun, then. Merry, keep us on course.”
Susan had done everything right. She had put up her hair and let down her skirts. She had discovered makeup and boys and followed all the rules. The problem was simple. She wasn’t happy. She was cold and confused and distant. Sitting up at night in her room, Susan read by the light of a single candle. Or at least she had been until she heard the knock on her window. She held her candle with care as she opened the window onto the strange scene that met her. A ship hung in the air by her window and a person leaned over the rail to smile at her. The impossible ship was one thing, but the person was entirely another. They had short hair, cut nearly like Susan’s elder brother had just gotten his for military service, and wore a white shirt and trousers. Despite all that, Susan was utterly certain that this stranger was a woman.
“So, you’re the new lost girl.”
The woman reached out a hand to Susan with a wry smile on her face.
“Blow out your candle, but you can bring the book.”
For a moment, Susan hesitated. None of this was possible. Something, though, in that woman’s eyes drew her. Then the words truly sunk in.
“I’m not lost. I suspect you may be since your boat is in the air and not the sea.”
The woman laughed and leaped over the rail to climb in Susan’s window.
“The whole crew’s lost. And we’re not. And the lady moon sent us here to find you.” The woman showed Susan a silver compass which pointed inexorably at her no matter how she moved. “Which means you’re one of us. I’m Meredith, by the way. First mate.”
“I’m Susan. And I’m afraid I still don’t understand what you’re going on about. I’m not lost, regardless of what the moon may or may not have told you.”
Meredith tucked the compass back in her pocket and sat perched on the windowsill.
“Have you ever felt like you don’t fit in the life they have lined up for you? Like maybe you want to be someone other than a daughter and then a wife and then a mother? Like maybe you don’t want to be kissing boys?”
Susan’s head snapped up and her voice was shaky when she spoke again.
“How can you know that?”
“Because I was like you when the Captain came for me.” Meredith ducked back out the window, holding her hand out. “Come on, Susan. Come be a lost girl and find yourself.”
Susan only spared a brief glance backward before blowing out her candle and reaching for Meredith’s hand.
“I don’t have to wear trousers, do I?”
“You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.”
Meredith helped her over the rail and they stood together on the deck as the ship turned towards the second star to the right. Susan watched as the lights of her childhood home vanished behind them, turning away when she could only see darkness below her. Then she reached for Meredith’s hand.
“Will you help me? Until I know the ship and the crew and how things are?”
She added the second part in a rush, a blush coloring her cheeks. Meredith smiled and kissed Susan lightly on the cheek.
The moon gilded the ship and the women who crewed her silver as they journeyed through the night, and she smiled. Another of her daughters had made her way home.
“There’s something I need to tell you.”
Elena was tripping over the words, struggling to get them out. Worse yet, in the mind of Gemma, her girlfriend wouldn’t meet her eyes. Nothing good came of stammered, awkward confessions with zero eye contact. She resolved, though, not to fall into the trap of assuming she knew it was the worst. After all, would Elena be this upset if she were ending things?
The blonde scuffed her sneaker against the ground and then sighed.
“It’s…complicated, okay? And a really long story. But, I really really want to be completely honest with you because I love you.”
Gemma reached for Elena’s hand and then pulled her closer.
“Whatever’s wrong, you don’t need to worry, Lena. I promise.”
Again, Elena paused. Then she kissed Gemma lightly on the cheek.
“Nothing’s wrong exactly.” After another short pause, she met Gemma’s eyes. “I’m not human. Well…I used to be. I’m a vampire. Have been for a long time.”
That set Gemma back and she looked her girlfriend over incredulous. Elena was a petite blonde with a preference for pastels and floral prints who’s worst vice was a near-addiction to thin mints.
“A vampire. You.”
Elena pouted just slightly. Then she opened her mouth, releasing her fangs in front of another person for the first time in her preternaturally long life.
“Believe me now, Gem?”
“I daren’t stay long. I just had to see you.”
Elizabeth’s hands trembled just slightly as she spoke, her eyes downcast. Lady Lillian reached out one hand to seize the hands of her former maid.
“Lizzie, dearest Lizzie. You know what Father said he would do if you returned.”
There was fear in her eyes and tender concern in her words, but Elizabeth just smiled.
“I care not. I would die a thousand deaths if it meant I could see you the once more. And someday, your father will not be able to come between us.” She hesitated a moment. “You could leave with me, Lillian.”
A sharp intake of breath. Lillian squeezed Elizabeth’s hand tightly.
“You don’t know what you’re saying. What that would cause. Father would never allow it.”
“Then don’t ask for permission. Or forgiveness. I will always love you, Lillian. The question is whether or not that would be enough for you to give up all of this.”
She gestured broadly as the country estate and swept her hand out to take in the tennis courts and gardens and even Lillian’s clothing. For a long moment, Lady Lillian looked away. Her eyes took in every piece of this world that was all she had ever known. Finally, she took a step towards Elizabeth.
“Only but let me fetch clothing that will go unnoticed in the city and we will be away.”
Lillian pulled Elizabeth into her arms and kissed her gently. Someway nearby they heard the baying of hunting hounds and the young women sprang apart.
“I will wait for you after dark, Lillian. By the old apple tree.”
With one last lingering handclasp, they parted with dreams and hopes and fears rich in their minds.
The backdoor of the Elephant didn’t have a bell. That was probably the reason I nearly jumped out of my own skin when one rang back there. I set down the stack of old comic books, brushed off the front of my shirt, and silently reminded myself to be careful with the metaphors. Especially the ones that were becoming dangerously close to possible.
“Be right there!”
There wasn’t room to run between the haphazard stacks of knick-knacks, brik-a-brak, and curios. So I walked as quickly as I could, skirting around the large dog bed where Spots lay sleeping. I preferred not to wake the guard dog if I could avoid it. My musical skills were only just starting to take shape and were certainly not enough to calm him back down.
When I finally did reach the back door, I was startled to find a young man there who looked to be about my age. He was tall and handsome, thin in the sort of way a distance runner is where he’s almost entirely made of muscle. Twined around his left arm in white ink that shone starkly against his much darker skin were two serpents that immediately caught my attention. The detail work was gorgeous. Every individual scale seemed to be there and the twin snakes seemed to writhe. He caught my eye and grinned wickedly, his eyes dancing. Then he spoke with a voice much lighter than I would have imagined.
“Like it? I’ve got the card for the place I went to get it done, if you’re interested. Or I’ve got my number if you’re interested in something else.”
My jaw dropped open and I tried to remember how to form words. He was already laughing and it sent a shiver up my spine.
“I’ve got a package,” he hesitated for just a moment, that grin dancing around his eyes again. “For your boss. It’s right here. I just need you to sign for it.”
I snatched the electronic pad out of his hands and signed it quickly, glaring at him despite the heat I could feel rising to my cheeks. He was still grinning as he took it back and slipped it into the pouch on his belt.
“I hope I see you again, pretty servant of my sister. You seem like a lot more fun than her usual.”
The startled exclamation was out of my mouth before I could stop it and he leaned forward just slightly to poke the tip of my nose.
“Didn’t realize, did you? We’re all related.”
Then he reached up to adjust the baseball cap I hadn’t noticed before. Did it have wings embroidered on the sides? Then he was gone. Just like that. Here one moment and gone the next. My knees buckled and I willed them to iron. Where was that damn package? I would figure out which one of my boss’s siblings was trying to flirt with me later. First, I had work to do.
This part of the city was always a problem. Somewhere between the cobblestones and the old brownstones, the city had trapped echoes of the past. Granted, Sarah would get that just about anywhere she went, but it was particularly bad here. She staunchly ignored the little bevy of Red Coats arguing with colonists by the old state house. A few more minutes and they’d start shooting again. They did this every day and she just ignored it. It wasn’t like anyone else saw them, anyway. Turning the corner, she changed the music playing through her headphones and stopped to wait for the cross signal. That was when the strange woman grabbed her by the shoulders.
“Please, Miss, you have to help me. There…there was this light and I have no notion what’s happened to me. Everything is…changed. The city…the buildings. I don’t understand. Please, Miss.”
Sarah pulled her headphones off and looked the woman over. The dress was probably 18th century. A colonist then, or an early American. Straddling that line, at least. And not a reenactor. Admittedly, their outfits were very accurate, but there were little details you couldn’t fake. Like handwoven pre-industrial revolution cloth.
“You’re dead. Go into the light or whatever. And leave me alone.”
The young woman gasped and covered her mouth with her small hands.
She looked all around her now, eyes wide and clearly alarmed. Then she started to cry. Sarah sighed. She certainly hadn’t meant to make the ghost-girl cry, but she also just didn’t want to deal with this on a public street again. Pulling her headphones back on, Sarah decided to just ignore the histrionics. Maybe one of the other ghosts would take her in hand, give her the guide book and all that. Then the light changed and Sarah moved to take a step forward. She slammed into the strange girl and they both fell to the ground. With a strangled noise of surprise, Sarah got to her feet and stared at the woman.
“You’re…you’re not… Oh shit.”