The Devil’s Work

Unsplash ClockOlivia Script

I don’t know how long I’ve been asleep. At some point while I’ve been out, someone—Sullivan?—has put a small table beside the cot, and on this table he has put a cup of water and three spotted bananas. I reach out for the cup and drink the water in one fast swallow, leaving the bananas for now.

The light is dim, and it’s coming from a small lamp on a shelf behind me. He called this place a storeroom, and that’s definitely what it looks like. A few metal shelves along the walls, some empty boxes in the corners. I won’t complain, however. At least it’s warm.

I pull back the blanket and see that I’m not wearing the clothes I came here in. I am in an oversized T-shirt and sweatpants, and I know that I didn’t put them on myself. I decide not to think about how I got into them right now. That’s something to consider later on.

It’s hard forcing myself to sit up. My arms and legs ache with the effort, and my spine feels as though it is wrapped in barbed wire. Is this what not freezing to death in the snow feels like? If so, I must make a reminder to myself to never try to do it again.

The floor is concrete, and it is cold on my bare feet. I wobble a bit with my first few steps, but by the time I complete the short distance from the cot to the only door in the room, I am feeling more steady. The door is metal, matching the utilitarian look of the rest of the room, and opens without a sound as I turn the knob and push. The hallway outside is as dim as my room had been, and dozens of boxes line up against the walls, making the corridor feel claustrophobic. One end of the hall ends in a closed door, and the other turns a corner which seems to be slightly brighter than where I am now, so I choose to go that way. Around the turn, there are stairs leading up, and I slowly climb them, my legs protesting with each step, but not giving out on me. I prefer to take this as a good sign. As I near the top of the stairs, I begin to hear voices.

“Doesn’t matter if you want it,” one is saying. Sullivan? I think so. “You have to take it.”

“I didn’t ask for it,” the other says, the words coming out in a harsh bark. “It’s not my problem.”

“It is your problem,” Sullivan says. “I don’t make the rules. I just hold the merchandise.”

There is a heavy drape hanging in front of me, and a sliver of bright light creeps around one edge of it. I hesitate only a moment before peering through the slit. On the other side of the drape is what looks to be a storefront, something like a pawn shop. A vast collection of items are scattered on shelves and racks throughout the store: typewriters, televisions, fur coats and hockey sticks. Sullivan stands behind the glass counter, arms crossed on his chest. On the other side is a young man with a Doc Holliday mustache and black hat, hands pressed to the countertop, looking distressed. Between them on the glass is a small ivory statue, a white giraffe, standing no more than five inches high.

“This isn’t fair,” the young man is saying.

“Nothing is,” Sullivan says. “Take it.”

“I won’t.”

“You will, or I’ll shove it up your ass and throw you both out. Rules are rules.”

The young man starts to say something else, but he bites his tongue as Sullivan puts both his hands on the counter and leans closer to him. Without another word, the man reaches out quickly and grabs the giraffe, puts it into his coat pocket, and then rubs his hand against his pants as though trying to clean something from it.

“That’s that,” Sullivan says.

“I won’t be back,” the young man growls.

“You will. Miss Keeper will see to that.”

The young man pales, and takes a step back from the counter. He lifts his hand and touches himself in the middle of his chest. “You do the devil’s work here,” he says. “The devil’s work.”

“That might be,” Sullivan says. “But I’m not the one leaving with that statue in my pocket.”

The young man says nothing. He holds Sullivan’s gaze for a few moments, then turns on his heel and heads for the exit. He pulls the door open, and the bell above it tinkles softly as he does so, then rings again as the door shuts behind him as he leaves.

Sullivan leaves his hands on the counter and stands quietly until the last sound of the bell has trailed off into silence. Then, without turning to look in my direction, he says, “You might as well come out from behind that curtain. I’ve got something here for you too, and you’re going to need to take it.”

Typhoid Magpie

Unsplash BookSebastian Script

From her bedroom, Rivi brings me a copy of a used book she’s picked up earlier in the day: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. “I found it at Green Apple,” she says. “It was mis-shelved in the poetry section.”

I turn the book over and look at the back cover. “I think I’ve read this,” I say. “It sounds familiar.”

“Doesn’t matter,” she says. She takes the book back from me and flips through the pages. Mid-way through, she stops, and I see that there’s something stuck between the pages of the book. It’s a photograph, a Polaroid. She takes it out and hands it to me. “That’s why I bought the book,” she says.

“Because somebody left a photo in it?” I look at the image. It’s of a woman, but the shot is framed so that all that is visible of her is her shoulder, which is bare, and her face from the bridge of her nose down. Curls of red hair twist their way around her neck and blow in a frozen breeze over her shoulder. “It was probably a bookmark,” I say. “It is a used book, you know. You’re not going to tell me it’s another ghost photo, right?”

“God, no,” she says. “It’s just an old Polaroid. It’s for my lost and found collection.”

“Okay, I’ll bite. What’s your lost and found collection?”

“I’ll show you,” she says. She goes back to her bedroom, and returns with a Tampa Nugget cigar box. She sits beside me on her couch and opens the box. “I found all these inside of used books around town.” She reaches in and pulls out a small pile of things, spreading them out on her coffee table: receipts, photographs, bits of thread and paper.

“So you’re buying books just because of the stuff people leave in them when they toss them out?”

“It’s like I’m curating a museum,” Rivi says.

“It’s nothing like that,” I say. “It’s like you’re collecting trash.”

She picks up one of the receipts and holds it up for me to look at. It’s from a 7-Eleven, for a purchase of a soda and a magazine. Rivi turns the receipt around, and on the rear of it, someone has written in blue ink: think for your fucking self.

“Inspirational,” I say.

She puts the receipt down and takes up another photo: a young girl in a blanket fort, reading a copy of Grimms’ Fairy Tales. The girl is reading by the light of lamp with a stained glass shade, which she has stashed away inside the fort with her.

“How much of this stuff do you have?” I ask Rivi.

“Oh, a bunch. Dozens. I’ve got a whole shelf in the bedroom full of the books these came out of.”

“And how many of these books have you actually read?”

“None, of course,” she says. “Why would I do that? I just want the stuff that’s inside them.”

“Well you know, you could just take the pictures and junk out of the books and save yourself some money. You know, if you’re not going to actually read them or anything.”

“I can’t do that,” Rivi says. She takes a candy wrapper out of the cigar box and gives it a looking over. “It wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t buy the books too. It would be like breaking up a matching set somehow.”

“You’re killing me,” I say. “Absolutely killing me.” I peer into the box. “Is that a piece of dental floss?”

“Oh yeah,” she says. She reaches in and removes the floss.

“How do you know that hasn’t been used?” I ask.

She shrugs. “Probably has.” She holds it up to her nose and sniffs at it. “Smells like peppermint.”

“That’s absolutely disgusting,” I say. “You’re like a magpie. Anything shiny, you have to pick up.”

“Look, nobody is going to use dental floss for a bookmark if they’ve had it in their mouth already. Also, magpies don’t actually like shiny things. That’s a myth.”

“It’s still disgusting,” I say.

“It’s not disgusting. It’s art.”

“Disgusting art.”

“That’s what they said about Warhol,” she says.

“I don’t think Warhol saved used pieces of other people’s dental floss,” I say.

“It’s not used. It’s as fresh as the day it came out of the packet.”

“Totally not. If you look close, I’m sure you can see little bits of food stuck to it.”

“It’s fresh,” she says, and to prove her point, she wraps the ends of the floss around her fingers, sticks them into her mouth, and proceeds to slide the floss between her teeth. “Thee? Totally freth.”

“That is the nastiest thing I’ve ever seen you do,” I say, but I can’t look away. “You are going to contract some horrible flesh-eating disease, and your skin is all going to slough off of you like a burned marshmallow.”

She pulls the floss out of her mouth and runs her tongue across her teeth. “Minty,” she says. She leans closer to me. “Wanna make out?”

“Never and never. I don’t really even want to be sitting next to you right now.”

She puts the floss back into the cigar box. “Liar. You always want to make out with me.”

“It’s like you just ate a piece of gum off the bottom of a table in a restaurant on Market Street.”

“Hardly,” she says. “Unless it’s peppermint.”

“Ew.”

“And not too hard.”

“I’m leaving now,” I say, and I stand up from the couch.

“Does it have any teeth marks in it?” she asks. “Like could the police use it for evidence in an unsolved cannibal murder case?”

“You need to go to the doctor.” I make for her front door, and she gets up to follow me. “You need some antibiotics. Actually, you need all of the antibiotics.”

“One little kiss,” she says. “For the road.” She puckers and makes kissy noises at me as I open the door and step out into the stairwell.

“Never again,” I say. “Keep your Typhoid Magpie lips to yourself.” I start down the stairs.

“I taste like candy.”

“Goodbye, Rivi.”

“Just like Peppermint Patties.”

“I’ll miss you when you’re dead.”

I turn the corner at the bottom of her stairwell, and from above me, I hear her cry out in a sing-song shout: “PEP-per-MINT PAT-ieeeeeees!”

GOODBYE, RIVI!” I shout back.

Just another Sunday.

I don’t know how we live through them.

Pancakes and Plans of Attack

Pancakes UnsplashBoone

Olivia’s apartment is empty.

“You’re not her mom,” Tina says. “She doesn’t have to tell you when she leaves town.”

“I know,” I say. I feel weird standing in Olivia’s living room, afraid to touch anything, like I’m intruding on a crime scene. This concern for her is completely irrational, but after the idea that she’s connected to the ghostly photo Rivi took in her bedroom, it’s something that I’m unable to shake free from my mind.

“Did you try calling her?” Tina asks.

“Yeah. And texts.”

“This is why life was better before cell phones,” she says. “If you were out of touch for a few days back then, nobody had a hissy fit about it.”

“I’m not having a hissy fit.”

“You so are,” she says. “You might think you aren’t, but trust me. Complete hissy.”

“You aren’t concerned at all?”

“No, I’m not. Like I haven’t gone away before without telling you?”

“That’s different,” I start to say, but I know that it isn’t. Tina once went to Europe and I didn’t know about it until she came home, beating the postcard she had sent me from Amsterdam. I take another look around the empty living room. “I’m being crazy, aren’t I?”

Tina holds her hand up, finger and thumb held an inch apart. “Just a tiny bit.”

I exhale heavily. “It’s Rivi’s stupid photo. I thought it looked like Olivia.”

“Rivi’s a lunatic,” Tina says. “It’s why I love her. But there’s reality, and then there’s Rivi. You have to leave a little wiggle room in between them there. Now come on.” She holds out her hand, and I take it. “I’m going to buy you breakfast.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“Well I am, and you drove, so you have to come with me. You’re also going to have to get the check, because I forgot to bring my purse.”

“You said you were buying.”

“I’ll owe you.”

“You already owe me.”

“Shut up,” she says, “and let’s go already. My stomach demands pancakes, and it will not be denied.”

I lock Olivia’s door, and Tina goes to wait in the car while I slip into the small yard behind the apartment and put the key back into its hiding place by the jasmine plant. When I come back and slide into the driver’s seat, Tina takes one look at me and says, “Let it go.”

“Okay, okay.” I start the car. “Where are we going?”

“Anywhere. I don’t care. Long as there’s pancakes.”

“Let’s just go back to my place. I can make you pancakes. Won’t cost me as much anyway.”

“Fine,” she says. “But don’t expect me to leave you a tip.”

“I’ll leave myself one,” I say. “Since I was going to have to pay anyway.”

Traffic is strangely light for a Thursday morning, and it feels as though half the city has decided to take the day off. I wonder to myself if it’s a holiday and I’ve missed it.

“Look at her,” Tina says, pointing at a woman walking on the sidewalk on our side of the street. She is holding an oversized coffee cup up to her lips, using both hands to raise it. “Ever notice when you’re desperate for coffee, everybody else seems to have some?”

“Thought you wanted pancakes.”

“And coffee. Don’t be a peasant. You have to have both.”

“If I’m a peasant, that makes you..?”

“Queen, of course.”

“What makes you the queen?”

“Because I haven’t got shit all over me.”

“Hah,” I say. “Funny funny.”

“It’s what I do,” she says. “It’s my gift, and it’s my curse.”

When we get to my apartment, Tina disappears into the bathroom, and I head straight for the kitchen. I take the coffee from the cupboard and scoop it into the machine, then set about gathering the ingredients for Tina’s pancakes. I’m still not hungry myself, but perhaps the smell of them will get me interested as I cook.

“Cook faster,” she says, walking into the kitchen. “I’m dying here.” Her hair is wet, and she has taken off her shirt and wrapped it around her head like a turban, leaving her in a gray sports bra and jeans.

“Why..?” I start.

“Your towel smells like a wet dog, that’s why.”

“No, I meant why are you washing your hair in my sink? I’m used to you wandering around in your underwear.”

“I didn’t wash it,” she says. “Just got it wet. And don’t worry about it. Just bring the cakes from the pan.” She goes to the cupboard and gets out a cup, then fills it with coffee.

“Nobody understands you as well as I do,” I tell her. “And just so you know, I don’t understand you at all.”

“The way God intended it,” she says. She sits at the table and sips her coffee, watching me as I pour batter into the pan on the stove, preparing breakfast: one pancake, then another. As I am flipping the third, Tina says, “I changed my mind.”

“I’m sorry?” I say.

“About Olivia. I changed my mind. It’s very weird, her not calling or texting back. That’s not like her.”

“So I’m not crazy?” I ask.

“Maybe,” she says. “Jury’s still out.”

“So what do we do about it?”

“First thing we do,” she says, “is eat pancakes.”

“After the pancakes, I mean.”

“Call the cops, obviously.”

“Seriously?”

She shrugs. “Unless you know any psychics, I’d say that’s the most logical course of action.”

I put the third pancake onto a plate with the other two, and set it on the table in front of Tina. “I know a few psychos, but psychics are out of my area of expertise.” I take the syrup—pure maple, no artificial syrup in my kitchen—from a cupboard and hand it to Tina.

“Then there you go,” she says. She uncaps the bottle and drowns the pancakes in syrup. “Step one is the official channel. After that, we go to step two.”

“What’s step two?” I ask.

“We have Rivi take more pictures in her bedroom.” Tina stabs her pancakes with her fork, tearing off a chunk and shoveling it into her mouth. She chews noisily for a moment. “Oh, these are really good.”

“Secret family recipe,” I say. “Bisquick.”

“If I didn’t know you so well,” she says, “I’d have to marry you.”

“And then murder me in my sleep.”

She puts another oversized hunk into her mouth, nodding as she chews. Around the pancake, she says, “Oh God, yes. Within the first week. Smother you with a pillow, bury you in the backyard.”

“You say the sweetest things.”

“Of course I do,” she says. “I’m the queen, after all.”

Deeper Into the Ever

Globes UnsplashOlivia Script

Wake up.

A voice, not mine. In my dream, this dream of snow and ice and cold?

Wake up.

Not a dream.

“Wake up,” the voice says, and so I do, letting my head break through the surface of my sleep, just barely, just enough. It is a struggle to open my eyes, and so I give up and leave them shut. “Take your time,” the voice—a man’s voice—tells me, and I couldn’t argue if I wanted to. I’ve never been so exhausted before. My every bone aches, every breath feels like fire in my lungs.

“…water…” I croak, not realizing I am thirsty until after the words are out of my mouth. A hand is placed beneath my head, raising it slightly, and a cup is pressed against my lips. The water is cool, and I drink deeply, emptying the cup in seconds. I want to ask for more.

“Not yet,” the man says, anticipating my question. “Let that sit a minute first.”

I try again to open my eyes, and this time force them to remain open. I am in a small and dimly lit room, the edges caught in shadow, the walls tiled like a barroom bathroom. What little light there is appears to be coming from behind me, and I try to roll onto my side to find the source, but my body isn’t ready to cooperate, and so I remain flat on my back, the path of least resistance.

“Just relax,” he says. “You’re doing fine.”

I’m not too weak to turn my head, and so I do, toward the sound of his voice. He is sitting next to my cot—because I realize that’s what it is that I’m laying on—an older man, with thick glasses and sideburns that are just this side of muttonchops. His dark hair is piled at the top of his head in something like an old duck’s ass, giving him a weird mixture of Arthur Conan Doyle and the Fonz.

“Who… are you?” I mumble.

He smiles at me. “Sullivan. I’m Sullivan.” He leans forward and reaches over me, retrieving a small pitcher from somewhere behind my head. From it, he refills the cup I had drained. “Ready for some more?”

“Yes,” I say. “Please.”

He sets the pitcher on the floor, then again lifts my head from the pillow and helps me take another drink. The water is the most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted, and I finish this second cup as quickly as I had the first. He lowers my head again, and puts the cup down next to the pitcher. “Now is when you’re going to start wanting to ask questions,” he says. “They always do.”

“Do they?” I ask. I have no idea who they are.

“Oh, yes,” he says. “Once they realize they aren’t dead, of course. You do know you’re still alive, right?”

I’m not altogether certain of that yet, but I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. “Sure,” I say. “Alive and kicking.”

“Not kicking yet,” Sullivan says. “You’ll want to rest some more before trying any of that.”

“Where am I?” I ask.

“Used to be the storage room,” he says. “Nothing in here to store now though, so I turned it into the guest room.” He chuckles softly, and then explains his joke to me. “Only guests I get are the ones who come up through the pass, like you did. I park them here and wait to see if they’re going to make it or not. No point in bringing them all the way inside if they’re never going to wake up. Shorter trip taking them back outside if they croak out.”

“I don’t understand,” I say.

“We’re on the edge of the Everwhere here. Some people make it all the way through. Some don’t. Most don’t, really. Either the snow gets them, or the Sisters do. A few find their way here though. Only a few.”

“You’re not making any sense,” I say. “What’s the Everwhere? Who are the Sisters? Where am I?”

“Ah,” the man says, nodding his sudden understanding. “Let me guess: Middlemost was the one who let you through. I’m right, aren’t I?”

“Yes. Mr. Middlemost.”

“Course he was.” Sullivan sits up straight in his chair and crosses his arms. “He never tells anyone anything. Most of the ones turn up dead around here, I’m certain he’s the one who brought them over. Don’t know what his game is, but whatever it is, it can’t be good.”

“Please. Please tell me where I am.”

“I did. You’re on the edge.” Sullivan lifts his arms and points to his right. “That way’s where you came from, with the snow and the Sisters. You don’t want to go back that way.” He lowers his arm and raises the other, pointing in the opposite direction. “That way’s deeper into the Ever. You might not want to go that way either, but it’s definitely better than the other way.”

I hear a bell then, ringing faintly somewhere in the distance. It chimes like something that would be heard when opening the door of a candy shop, light and airy and old fashioned.

Sullivan looks irritated at the sound. “I have to get that,” he says, standing. “Don’t try to get to up. Just rest and I’ll be back in a few minutes. I’ll bring food. We’ll get you back on your feet straightaway.” He walks across the tiny room, and this time I find that I can roll onto my side in order to watch him go. He opens a metal door in the tile wall, steps through, and closes it behind him. It doesn’t sound as though he has locked it, which gives me just the slightest feeling of relief.

I should probably be crazy by now, I think to myself. Unless I already am. That’s probably it.

I find myself wondering if this is how Alice felt when she fell down the hole into Wonderland.

It’s the last thing I remember before I drift off to sleep once more.

The Secret Architectures of Spiders

Plymouth UnsplashSebastian Script

Hannah is sucking on a Blow Pop as we drive. She is scrolling through my iPhone, looking at my music. “Don’t you have anything from this century in here?” she asks.

“Don’t give me any grief,” I say. “You’re the same age I am.”

“Maybe, but my musical education didn’t stop in 1987.” She finally picks something, and The Boomtown Rats start playing from the car speakers.

“I do listen to new music, you know,” I say. “It’s just new music that sounds like old music.”

The road is all curves here, in the hills along the California and Nevada border. The freeway is far behind us, and this smaller road continues to unfold as we speed down it, no destination in mind. Everything here looks the same—the trees, the cracked pavement, the small islands of snow at the sides of the road that haven’t melted away yet—but it is a sameness that is comforting in a way, like the pages of a familiar novel.

I stop the car at a four-way, and Hannah points with her Blow Pop out the front window. “Is that a crow?” she asks. A large black bird peers at us from atop a wooden post that is part of an old fence just back from the road.

“I don’t know,” I say. “Maybe. Probably.” There are no cars behind me in the rear view, so we sit at the intersection and watch the bird watching us. After a minute, it takes to the air, and flies over the car and out of sight.

“I bet that was an omen,” Hannah says. “A bad one.”

“Seeing a bird in the woods doesn’t count as an omen.” I take my foot off the brake and start driving again. “Seeing a Sasquatch might.”

“If we see a Sasquatch, I hope he likes shitty music.”

“Keep it up,” I say. “You can always walk home.”

I hadn’t planned on playing hooky today, but when Hannah called this morning to suggest it, I knew that it was an idea with merit. Lord knows I’ve got a million vacation hours squirreled away, and no one could blame me for wanting to cash one of them in on short notice now and again. I drove to her house, and she was already waiting for me outside her door.

“This is a new dress,” she’d said then, pressing her hands against the fabric at her hips. “And a new haircut.”

“Looks good,” I said, meaning it. Her hair fell just below her chin, and made her look like an old silent movie actress.

“Take me into the hills,” she’d said, and so I did, letting her sleep for part of the trip, letting her talk the rest of the way. Some journeys are meant for looking, and others are meant for discovery.

“Find a good place to stop,” she says now, from the passenger seat. She has kicked off her shoes and has her feet up on the dash. Her toenails are painted blue, like she is a little girl with a love for the brightest colors.

“Anywhere in particular?” I ask.

“Just someplace good.”

We drive for a few more miles, and I see a spot that might qualify. The remains of some small wooden building are set back from the road, the shell of it collapsed upon itself, perhaps from the weight of some previous winter’s heavy snow. Beside the ruined building is a rusted out old automobile, something that might have been sporty back in the late ‘60s, but now it is brown and speckled with rusted holes. The windshield is surprisingly in one piece.

“That’s perfect,” she says, reading my mind. I pull off the road as far as possible, and turn off the car’s engine. Hannah slips her shoes on, then lifts her purse from the floor and rummages through it, pulling out a sandwich bag stuffed with Oreos. “Here,” she says, handing the bag to me. “Take this.” She opens her door and gets out, not waiting for me to do the same before she is already heading toward the old car and building.

It’s wonderfully silent outside. I can’t hear any hum of traffic, and the sense of isolation is deep. It feels good to be away from things, and I am relaxed in a way that I haven’t been in a very long time.

Hannah is peering through the dirty glass of the abandoned car when I join her. “There’s probably spiders in there,” she says. “Big, fat black ones.”

“Look but don’t touch,” I suggest. The interior looks dusty as well, but other than cracks in the cover of the bucket seat, it’s appears to be in good condition.

“I bet we could just turn the key and start it up,” she says. “If the key is in it. And if the spiders don’t eat us.”

“You aren’t dressed for spiders,” I say. “Bare legs and all.”

“I thought about pants this morning,” she says. “I knew I should have done it.”

“I’m wearing pants, and there’s no way I’m going inside a spider car.”

“Probably a good idea. The tank is probably empty anyway. Not worth getting cocooned over.”

She walks away from the car and over to the broken building, and I follow. “Think this was a garage?” she asks.

“Weird place for it. If it’s a garage, where’s the rest of the house?”

“Blown away,” she says. “Like Dorothy’s house in The Wizard of Oz.”

“Not really in tornado country here.”

“Then maybe the spiders ate it,” she says. “Splinter by splinter.” She seems to consider this a moment, reaching her hand up to undo the top button of her dress, and scratching the skin that is revealed with her fingernail. “Maybe they moved it back deeper into the woods, so that they could have it all to themselves. A house of spiders, out where nobody could ever find it.”

“I’m not even going to go look,” I say. “That’s the way people die in the movies.”

“Better than dying in a hospital,” she says. “At least it would be a story.” She reaches out her hand and runs her fingertip over the head of a thick nail, which is protruding from one of the boards of the building. “I’d like to be part of a story.”

“You already are,” I say. “You’re in your own story.”

She grasps the nail between her thumb and finger and begins to wiggle it back and forth, working it slowly from the board. “That’s such a silly thing to say. Stories have to have a point. Most people’s lives are totally pointless. Mine is, anyway.”

“No, it’s not,” I say.

“It is,” she says. “Nobody gets to say if there’s a point to mine but me. I’m the only one who would know that.” The nail pops out from the weathered wood, and she holds it up and looks at it, turning it this way and that. “Something to remember this place by.” She hands the nail out to me. “You should keep this. You’ll need to remember it longer than I will.”

I take the nail from her and hold it like a cigarette between my fingers. She turns away from the building and walks back to the old automobile, and again I follow. The afternoon light grows suddenly darker, and I look up to see that a thick cloud has passed in front of the sun.

“It’s chilly,” she says. “I definitely should have worn pants.”

“Let’s get back in my car,” I say. “I’ll get the heat on.”

“Probably no spiders in your car either.”

“Pretty safe bet,” I say.

“We should eat those cookies though,” she says, pointing at my hand. I’d forgotten I was carrying them.

“We can eat them in the car. I don’t mind a few crumbs on the seats.” I put the nail and the cookie bag into one hand, and offer my other to Hannah. She takes it, and I lead her through the fallen twigs and small plants back to where we have parked.

“I want to come back here,” she says as we walk. “To this exact spot.”

“Okay,” I say.

“I want to come back after,” she says, and I slow my step slightly, and look over my shoulder at her. She is not looking at me, but back at the rusted auto and collapsed building behind us.

“After?” I ask, but I know exactly what she means.

“Yes,” she says. “Promise me.”

I turn away from her and watch my step over the uneven ground. “We can talk about it later.”

“I know,” she says, and squeezes my hand. “It’s okay. Later is okay.”

There are no spiders on my car when we reach it.

There are no crows to be seen.