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Category Archives: Rob

Rob is usually in over his head.


She knows his ears are undamaged, because he flinches at the slamming door. Yet he doesn’t speak, or look up at speech; he seems to have forgotten how to listen.

Usually Maya takes her strays to the hospital when she’s done what she can, but this boy’s different. His wounds cannot be seen. Medicine isn’t what he needs.

Maya resigns herself to some of her oldest remedies. She gives him a quiet cot and begins to work with time and a spoon, clearing the filth from his lungs and reminding his blood of life: honey and onions, then hot spiced wine.


Dead alley–Rob leaps to grasp at a fire escape and scrambles up. They’re snarling at his heels, and he has no idea what to do when he gets to the roof.

There’s someone up there, wearing a coverall with the sleeves ripped out and holding three thick coils of test line. Each is tied to a huge, cruel hook. Her hair is ragged and pink.

“I’m Dogcatcher,” she says, grinning. “Thanks for playing bait, Prentice. I owe you one.”

They top the roof behind him, and see her too. Their faces aren’t human, but they can show fear well enough.


Darlene sneezes as soon as he walks into the squat. “You stink of sandalwood!”

Rob blinks and cautiously sniffs his own arm. “No I don’t. What, you mean my soap?”

“You wash too much,” she grumbles. “How should I teach you to track when you’ll only smell yourself?”

“I’ll get some unscented,” he says, glancing around. It’s more a monument to dry rot than a room, but Darlene seems satisfied living here for now. She and her associates are as disgusted by his lifestyle as he by theirs, he thinks, as Salem enters horribly, cleaning his teeth with a straight razor.


“What do you call this spell, anyway?” asks Rob, a little repulsed.

“Extract of ariolimax columbianus, Vittles,” says Salem. There’s less venom in his voice now: blow-drying the slugs seems to calm him. “And ‘snot a spell. One of your pharmacos will catch on in five years, but for now it’s our secret…”

Rob has his doubts about its efficacy, but Salem’s demonstration knocks them out as quickly as it does his victims. He snaps a pinch of powdered slug into the air and waits: seconds later, a big man in a kerchief walks through and sleeps face-first into the wall.


“You can open your mouth and eat,” Maya says, quietly and firmly. “I fed you before you came back to yourself. You don’t need me to now.”

Rob reaches for the pad and pencil, but Maya holds them away. “No crutches,” she says.

He looks angry, but it subsides. He stands and walks to the door to flip off the lights. Maya doesn’t understand until he turns back, and there they are, faint as moonlight on his lips: stitches.

He reaches for the pad again, and this time she lets him have it. You can open them, he writes. I can’t.


Maya screams, to her shame, when Salem’s hatpin stabs through her hand and into the wall. “Quiet,” he says, and slaps her. Her ears ring; she almost misses the tinkling crash.

Rob is up, white and sweating, on his knees. He holds Boulevard’s watch. He’s smashed its face and bent up its second hand, which keeps ticking, crookedly.

“You won’t,” says Darlene. “You can’t.”

He wets two fingers with his blood and holds them above it; his eyes are wide, and very cold. Darlene and Maya hold their breath.

But Salem doesn’t. He snarls, and blurs; and then Maya goes deaf.


“Thought you were supposed to use dirt from a grave,” says Rob, a bit hopelessly.

“You see any graveyards around here?” snaps Darlene.

“Yeah, behind the church at 28th and Madison–”

“Shut up,” she says. “Graveyard dirt. Goofer dust. Huh. You might get lucky and find one who got buried and wasn’t dead yet, but most of the time that’s stale power. Now this…” She scoops another fistful of sand into the baggie. “This is a thousand people, all sticking their deaths into the same soil. See?”

Rob notices a Kool butt in the bag, all magenta on one end.


Rob’s already there when Dogcatcher arrives, looking crowded on a square acre of empty roof. She slips up behind him and runs one finger down his neck; he doesn’t even jump. She’s impressed.

“You’ve got it?” he asks. She saunters in front of him, pulling the locket out of her top. It glints even in starlight.

“And you’ve got my stray,” she says.

He nods down the street. “There. The blue row house. I’ve been… watching the place.”

“You’re sure?”

“Tomorrow or the day after,” says Rob. “They all end up there eventually.”

Inside the blue row house, Maya sleeps, unaware.


Rob can just see the acupuncture needles from the corners of his eyes, when he blinks out tears. The sewing is less sophisticated. It’s thick black upholstery thread, big X-shaped stitches, and they’re starting to bleed.

He’s screaming through his nose, but his limbs and jaw are locked up by Salem’s expertise. He can feel the paper corner Darlene slipped under his tongue. She’s writing something on his forehead, now: four characters. Salem bites the thread and ties it off.

“Goodbye,” Darlene says a little sadly, and wipes away the first letter.

Rob’s alone. The needles are gone. Everything’s white.


Someone’s replaced her hospital bandage with a new one, softer, handmade. Eventually the same person tries to remove it; Holly always pulls away. She realizes slowly that she’s not in the hospital, but she’s not curious. She eats and sleeps and bathes one-handed.

“I’m afraid it changed the lines on my palm,” she says after a week of silence. “I broke some glass. I’m afraid there will be scars, and…” She clears her throat.

“You should have someone read it for you,” says Maya. “I know a g–lady. She’s really good.”

Holly hears rain on the window. She nods.

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