A Clockwork Phoenix featured story
Happy Hour at the Tooth and Claw
Agony Jones walks into the bar.
Mary Magdalene Kendall walks into the bar.
I’m already in the bar; I’m in all the bars. I am at a table facing the door, back to the wall, and I am drinking a sweet tea and not a rum & Coke because bending reality and alcohol don’t mix well. Things get tangled or severed. This is where someone else might say “and then there’s all the paperwork!” but I don’t do paperwork; I do, however, like to keep the bar tidy.
The bar is every bar. The bar has always been here. It’s the tavern where you meet your party, it’s the saloon where all the action goes down, it’s the only place on the space station worth hanging out in. I sit at a fixed point and the bars shoot off in all directions like spokes on a rimless wheel, infinitely small slices of reality all stacked up against each other, with minimal bleedthrough.
This one has karaoke.
I can work this little bit of bleedthrough because the vampire and werewolf bars are so similar—so similar, even, that my wardrobe is the same. I’m female in both bars, wearing tight leather pants that show off a tribal lower back tattoo where my slightly-ragged black tank top rides up in back. My stomach is perfectly flat here, and my hair is long and dark. My spine feels more malleable than usual, even. It’s very precise, the wardrobe in this sort of bar, very cookie-cutter. I’m designed not to stand out too much in a crowd, but this sort of bar is more homogenous than most.
I doodle on my napkin in a language no one in this bar knows.
Well. Almost no one.
The angel who tends bar goes by the name of Jack. He won’t tell me his real name, which is, I suppose, perfectly reasonable. I don’t do name magic, but for all he knows, I know someone who does.
Jack is a cherub. Not a little Renaissance putto, a for-real cherub. Here we only see his man head, but he tends four bars simultaneously, and in the others I’ve seen his other heads—ox, lion, eagle. He hides his wings in this bar, too, but sometimes he sheds through the veil between realities, and I’ve found silvery feathers trodden under peanut shells.
Jack does not like it when I fuck around in here. He doesn’t get bored—he has four separate places to be at any given time, and that keeps him more than occupied enough. I can see everything from here, but that’s so passive.
I have siblings who’ve turned to stone from being so damn passive, from doing nothing but observing. I have siblings who’ve turned into stars or free-floating ideals or trees. But I’m restless. So I reach out and I apply a little friction to two realities. I wear the veil just a little thin.
Agony Jones is less than five feet tall. She compensates with screaming red hair cut short and choppy, tall boots, and an aggressive stomp. She cases the joint as she walks in; she notes all of the exits. She’s freshly fed and looks nearly human, if a bit out of date. She claims a table in the corner and watches the crowd; she winces when the beginning of karaoke night is announced.
Mary Magdalene Kendall, all worn denim and soft black tee and long black hair, goes by Maggie or Mags. Too many Marys in her family. She walks in with a few women from her pack, laughing; she nods at Jack when she passes him, and he nods back. Mags and her pack aren’t trouble. Or, well, they are, but they keep the trouble outside. Here they are model citizens whose only crime is that they hog the pool table sometimes.
Jack notices that Agony and Mags are in the same bar. He is not happy. I don’t think I’m getting a refill on my sweet tea.
Fuck it. I lean forward, shake some salt in my hand, and sing. Very quietly, and if even Jack knows this language, I will be very surprised. And pissed off at the family lorekeepers.
The Vampire and the Werewolf
They notice each other from across the room.
Agony straightens from her perpetual slouch as she watches Mags flip her long dark hair over one shoulder to make her shot—something ball in the corner pocket, I don’t care, I don’t shoot pool. Mags feels her eyes on her and looks up after the ball goes in, reflexively smiling—Agony’s a solo predator but Mags is all pack, so she feels safe enough to smile. Agony doesn’t get to show anyone more than that spiky fuck-you persona most days. Not many people smile at Agony Jones. They’re usually running and screaming.
But Mags smiles. And then she smells what Agony is. She nods thoughtfully. But doesn’t stop smiling.
Mags turns to talk to her packmates, and Agony notices that Mags has a truly superb ass. Also, that she is a werewolf. Agony thinks about whether that matters. She decides that it doesn’t matter a damn to her, but she doesn’t know what Mags’s position on that would be.
And then the damn werewolves get into the karaoke.
Agony would leave right now if it wasn’t for Mags. Because fuck karaoke. Very few people are good at karaoke, and the bar is full of people who are not those people. It’s ear-assaulting shite, and Agony wishes she could still get drunk, because that would help. But the pretty wolfgirl in her supple leather vest keeps looking over shyly, and no one’s looked at Agony like that in a damn long time, so she waits. Her skin itches, almost. She doesn’t know what this is.
And then Mags gets up on stage, and Agony braces herself for her little crush to be over—
And Mags busts out a perfect Johnette Napolitano. Concrete Blonde. “Bloodletting.” The wolfgirl is singing a vampire song. She is working the stage, and her hips are almost as mesmerizing as her eyes. Which are on Agony. Shy little wolfgirl needed a musical excuse. It’s a hell of a way to say hi. She’s got the ways and means indeed.
She finishes to great applause; she laughs, blushing, her eye contact with Agony a little less direct—and Agony meets her at the edge of the stage, hands jammed in her back pockets, trying to be casual.
“You wanna get out of here?” Agony says, fake-cool. “Karaoke sucks. Present company excepted.”
“You don’t want to sing?”
“You don’t want to hear me sing.”
“Fair enough.” She laughs, her voice a little rough in the most interesting ways. “I’m Mags.”
“I’m Agony. Long story.”
“Wanna tell me about it?”
Agony grins, not bothering to hide her fangs. “If you want.”
They leave the bar. It’s drizzling just a little, more a mist than anything else. Miniature droplets gather like dew on Mags’s long hair.
I bring my glass back to the bar. Jack gives me a look too dirty to come from an angel. “What?” I say. “They were lonely.”
“You were lonely. They’re not your toys, Zee.”
“If they wouldn’t have liked each other anyway, the charm wouldn’t have worked. You know that. It doesn’t create love out of nothing. It just jump-starts the process.”
“Zee—a vampire and a werewolf?”
“Not too different. Some boundaries are arbitrary. This is one of them.”
“And how long will this thinning between worlds last?”
I shrug. “A while. Would forever be bad? You wouldn’t want to tear the new sweethearts apart, would you?”
Jack sighs. A small, downy feather spirals down from the empty space over his shoulder. It lands in the remains of a draft beer. “You need a hobby that doesn’t involve violating laws of physics.”
I pluck the feather from the beer and blow it back at him; he winces as it splats on his forearm. Angels don’t like to be less than pristine. I touch his wrist, and with the slightest twist of two strands of reality, I am in another bar, grinning at his lion head. He grumps at me when he realizes what I’ve done, a little huff and a snort, and I slide off the barstool to track down Allemande Left.
The Alien Stripper
“I’m not a stripper,” Allemande Left says, her voice syrup-slow as she concentrates on sliding the strip of ridged silicone into one of the sliverthin pockets above her natural cheekbones. “I’m a courtesan.”
The Alien Courtesan
“And I’m not an alien; I just cater to them.”
Allemande Left studies herself in the mirror and shifts the ridge upwards a bit, then dusts the skin over it with opalescent powder to draw the eye. She looks over her shoulder critically, ensuring that her back ridges are aligned. Allemande Left is a perfectionist. I watch myself watch her, and I stretch, relieved to be out of the body I’m locked into at the vamp/were bars. Here I am preternaturally slender and genderless, ever so slightly silver, large-eyed, with a 1950s-atom halo of tiny processors orbiting my bare head. My clothes drape soft with a muted shimmer like a knife in a dirty mirror. Here I scan as a technomancer more than a witch. Allemande Left believes in science like Agony Jones believes in blood.
“Zee,” she says. “Where did you come from this time?”
“Leather and beer and animal urges. Allemande Left, where are you going?”
“You’re always dancing.”
“Breathing is dancing. Contract negotiation is dancing. Sleeping is dancing.”
Allemande Left comes from a dance background, she says. Really, she comes from centuries of dance background, ancestors and ancestresses at the Joffrey and ABT, Ballet Russes and Alvin Ailey. She keeps them all in a slimline chip embedded in the inside of her delicate wrist. All of them who’ve been uploaded at least. Every Tuesday, Allemande Left takes tea with them. It’s all very formal. Allemande Left, who took her name from a great-great-aunt with a secret love of folk and square dance, loves ritual more than she loves anything but dance.
She arranges her costume. The wearable parts—she was nearly done with the insertable parts before I got here. She almost always is. “Allemande Left, I have never seen your real face.”
“They’re all my real face.”
I know that, too.
I would describe her, but next time she’ll be different. She is Allemande Left, and she is whoever you need, for an evening and a morning. She kisses my cheek; she smells of sandalwood and metal. The ribbons of her costume brush over me, and the bells on her belt chime as she stands. Her smile is dreamy, as if she’s half-gone already, already well on her way to being whoever she is tonight. Her eyes flash silverbright. “Come see me soon, Zee. I miss you.”
And she is gone.
“You know better.”
Even Jack’s voice seems furry somehow. Here at the Mercy Seat, right at the tip of the sleekest space station I’ve ever seen. It’s been a damn long time since humans built it and moved on; it crumbled only slightly into disrepair before the Conglomerate moved in and made it better than new. The Mercy Seat was gutted and revamped, with booths that cater to specific species.
No one here knows Jack’s origin. No one here believes in angels, not like Mary Magdalene Kendall believes in angels, not like humans in general regard them as a nice story. Jack says he usually passes for some exotic bodymod addict. They can do lion heads and wings here, if you pay enough.
“Better than what?”
I am watching Allemande Left. She is graceful and sinuous and I swear the bells at her waist only chime exactly when she wants them to. I have no idea how she does that.
“Better than to hang around while she’s working.”
If Allemande Left turned around right now, she would not recognize me. I take another drink. “Do I have anything better to do? You don’t like it when I quantum tunnel.”
Jack growls softly. I know he doesn’t like this place as much, because it’s so perfect that he doesn’t need to do anything—in any other bar, he’d be wiping things down to seem busy, but these are all self-cleaning surfaces. Instead, he folds his arms across his broad, bare chest. “You’re not going to start anything tonight, are you?”
“You gonna kick me out if I do?” I smile and stretch. He can’t kick me out. Things like him have no authority over things like me.
“I wouldn’t mind so much if you finished what you started.” He flicks the strictly-for-display towel at me.
“Oh yeah, huh? Agony and Mags.”
“Among any other of your little experiments. And…” he looks over at Allemande Left meaningfully.
I dip my fingers into my drink and flick liquid at him; his feathers ruffle reflexively. “Don’t even.”
“I’m just saying. You might want to do something about that.”
“This isn’t my story, Jack.”
Mary Magdalene Kendall is sprawled on a mattress on the floor of Agony Jones’s studio apartment, nude and overly warm. Agony is propped up against the wall, looking like she’s really wishing for the cigarette Mags denied her, also nude. She is painfully thin and always will be.
“How old were you?” Mags asks, and loops back with “If that’s not a rude question.”
Agony tousles her spiky hair. “Eighteen,” she says. “Generally it is, but considering…”
Mags laughs and stretches, very happy in her skin. “Mmmm. Considering.”
“1983. Dammit I want a smoke, but I don’t wanna get dressed.”
Mags taps her nose. “Super-sensitive, darling. Bad enough that the whole bed smells like smoke—”
“That I don’t mind. Especially considering.” Another wicked wolfgirl smile. “We could find another way to occupy your mouth.”
“See? They’re doing fine.”
I’m speaking to Jack’s ox head now, which is probably my favorite. His human head is too pretty. Inhuman in its perfect humanity. I prefer him straight-up inhuman. He snorts and wipes down the bar, and I try not to grin. “So how long?”
“Until … I don’t know.” I shift in my seat, restless. I’m wearing jeans and an Oxford shirt on a male body here, taller than the body I wore at the Mercy Seat. My head itches a little from suddenly having hair. I don’t scratch. I look around the bar and notice a bit of resonance in the corner. Finally, something interesting. I leave Jack a tip for nothing in particular and bring my drink over to the corner table, sit down with my back to the door. “Olly olly oxen free,” I singsong, looking at Jack, who rolls his eyes in disgust.
“Zzzzzzzeeeeeeee,” the air shivers out, like thousands of gnats.
“Come on. I wouldn’t have seen you if you weren’t here to work.”
The oracle in the corner—I call it the oracle in the corner pocket because I’m a goofball, but also because the corner is a pocket universe of its own—shimmers into view. Zie cycles through a persona every eyeblink, headscarf and hoop earrings, punk-rock tatters, a tuxedo, and I kick back in my chair and wait until zie settles, flickers only occasionally. This persona I’ve seen before, a low-voiced man who seems more solid than the table and chair, with a deck of cards. “What do you want, Zee?” he asks, his voice rough music, callused fingers tapping the deck.
“People always ask me that. No one says ‘How are you, Zee? Wanna get a drink, Zee?’”
“Then how are you, Zee?” He arches an eyebrow. I never could do that, just the one eyebrow.
He nods. “That’s truer than you think.”
“What do you mean?”
“Bad things happen when beings who can smash together universes get bored.”
“Hey. I have a pretty good track record.”
“But you want something more now?”
“What do you want?”
I stop. I think.
“Why aren’t you using the cards?”
“You know they’re just a prop.”
“Yeah, but it’s nice to pretend sometimes.”
He shakes his head. Shuffles. Flips a card out of the middle and flicks it at me; before I snatch it out of the air, he says, “And how long has it been?”
It’s a valentine, the kind kids give each other in school. Red construction paper heart taped onto a popsicle stick. “Since I hid my heart?”
“If that’s what the card is asking you.”
“Why should that matter?”
“How long, Zee?”
I think. “I don’t tell time like you do. A while.”
“How many hundreds of years is a while?”
“I’m not suicidal.”
“Never said you were. But I asked you what you wanted, and the card’s telling you you want your heart.”
The Witch’s Heart
“Do you even remember where you put it?”
“Yes. It’s hidden, and it’s safe, and you’ll live forever without it. But is that even what you want anymore?”
Agony Jones will live forever and never grow up and she is tired. She masks it with fresh hair dye on the regular and boot-stomping music and brief torrid affairs that end in bloodshed (not hers).
Agony Jones is pretty sure that she’s not built for a long-term relationship. Especially with someone who doesn’t approve of her diet and, oh yeah, does not have a lifespan the equal of her own.
Mary Magdalene Kendall stalks the night, fists balled in the pockets of a leather jacket, fresh from another fight about fucking Agony bringing home what she likes to call “takeout.” Mags cannot deal with walking in to find Agony face down in some random person, even if it’s only food, not sex. She knows Agony needs the blood, she knew the first night what Agony was, but it wears on her. It just wears on her.
When she gets home, Agony’s dinner will have wandered off with a dazed grin, and Agony will
a) be sullen and resentful
b) be pretending nothing happened
c) be quiet and withdrawn, which is her version of an apology.
Mary Magdalene Kendall is not sure she’s built for this.
The Vampire and the Werewolf
When Mags walks through the door, Agony is sitting on the mattress, miserable, and she says “It was a Duran Duran concert.”
“What?” This was not a sentence Mags was prepared for, and she has difficulty parsing it.
“When I was turned. I was at a goddamn Duran Duran concert.”
Mags can’t help it—despite Agony’s I-dare-you glare, she collapses into giggles and onto the mattress. “You? Punk-ass you? At a—”
Agony buries her face in her hands. “Right in the middle of ‘Rio.’”
Mags can’t breathe, she’s laughing so hard, and it even forces a chuckle or two out of Agony. “At—at least—at least it wasn’t ‘Hungry Like the Wolf’!”
Agony whacks her with a pillow and she laughs even harder, until Agony is laughing just as hard. “Don’t tell anyone!”
“I’m gonna tell everyone!”
“Don’t you dare!”
Mags calms herself and looks at Agony. Little Agony, who went to a New Wave concert as a goofy teenager and got turned. Agony, who knows that she has to be a hardass or she’ll be seen as prey.
Mags knows a little about that. She has a shy kid sister. She worries.
“I won’t tell,” she says.
Agony shifts on the mattress. “Are we okay? Ish?”
“Ish. I still—”
“Can you not bring them home?” Mags’s voice comes out higher than anticipated, plaintive, surprising them both.
Agony squeezes her hand, cold on warm. “I can do that.”
Hiding your heart is standard operating procedure for witches. If there was a manual, heart-hiding would be in it. If we had soap operas, one would be called The Hidden Heart. It’s a thing. If you hide your heart, no one can destroy you. You are untouchable, inviolate, immortal.
I don’t see why I’d want mine back. It’s messy.
Allemande Left is leaning on the bar, all grace and elegance. His extension is flawless, the line of his body impeccable. He has more instinct for this than I ever will, immortality or no. “Interesting reading,” he says with a very small smile, sipping something blue.
“Should I look for it?”
“You don’t know where it is?”
I wave a hand dismissively, disturbing one of the tiny processors orbiting my again-bare head. “I remember most of it, I think. It’s been a long time.”
“You have lost a piece of your heart,” Allemande Left says thoughtfully, smile curving broader. “How almost mortal of you, Zee.”
I suppress a flare of petulance. Mostly. “I don’t need it.”
“I believe that you might.”
“I don’t see why anyone would.”
“You forget, Zee.” Allemande Left brushes a small, dry kiss onto my cheek, his silver-threaded hair swinging over one shoulder. “You forget things when you don’t have a heart.”
Do not think I’m being literal.
The heart that I have hidden is not a lump of striated muscle. There are no veins flopping out of it. The heart I have hidden is an abstraction, a Platonic ideal of a heart. It’s a rite of passage, being able to encompass one’s heart. To remove it, to examine it.
Different traditions have different ways of safeguarding their hearts. One tradition swears by the hackneyed old methods: the heart should be kept in an egg on a mountain in the wilderness and so forth. Some traditions keep all of the hearts in one central location, which I find efficient yet foolhardy.
Mine is a heart divided.
I close my eyes.
I close my eyes.
I close my eyes.
I close my eyes and flick through realities like I’m skimming a just-read book for a remembered piece of dialogue, somewhere back there on page whatever, but these pages are universes. It’s delicate work. I flash through world after world after bar after bar, keeping my Self contained in a tiny sphere at the center of me, about where my heart would go—my body changes too quickly when I do this. Too much cognitive dissonance. I am not a body, I’m a witch. And this is silly anyway, but witches are curious beasts.
I open my eyes.
The bar is enormous. The bar may, itself, be an entire world. I remember this one, and I smile. I nod at the bartender, Luminiferous Aether. It jiggles slightly in a way that indicates a raised eyebrow—I haven’t been here in a while, maybe a few hundred years, but it remembers me.
The humors are playing bridge at the table by the door. As always, the biles are partnered, opposing blood and phlegm, who appear to be winning. The Odic Force and Elan Vital are twining at the bar as if they’re attempting to fuse in search of scientific validity. Or maybe they’re just tipsy. I don’t know what they’re drinking. I don’t know what anyone else drinks here; they’e all too damn esoteric.
Phlogiston moves sullenly out of my way, allowing me a seat at the bar. Some beings never get over being discredited. Some of us just shrug it off and go about our business, enjoying the lack of attention. I’ve tried pep-talking Phlogiston before, though, and it never works.
Luminiferous Aether dims and brightens; a question. “Nothing to drink,” I say. “But you were holding something for me.”
It shimmers into view on the bar—a small leather book that emits a low but noticeable hum. I nod to Aether and place my hand on it.
The Witch’s Heart
sings home and home and home again
establishes its borders
I close my eyes.
Agony Jones is in too deep.
She is in love, heart wild and untrammelled, singing into the night! She is reckless and heedless and helpless and hopeless. Because
a) Mary Magdalene Kendall is a werewolf from a proper werewolf family, and she has not introduced her to her parents yet, and
b) Mary Magdalene Kendall is mortal.
Agony Jones stomps down the streets, hair and aura spiked—Mags is beautiful! and mortal. Mags is wickedly silly! and mortal. Mags is kind and funny and clever! and mortal.
And mortal. And mortal. And mortal. Like the heartbeat Agony doesn’t have.
blood and scent of fear-on-prey and streaks of shades of grey and
running running running
jaws snapping shut
the tearing, rending, flesh from flesh from bone
rich coppersweetsalt thick on muzzle
Mary Magdalene Kendall flows back, gasping, nude, streaks of gore on coppertan limbs. Shivering a little from cold, a little from the change.
She draws a hot bath, eases in, gasping as heat suffuses sore muscles, watching the water pink. She sighs, and she thinks, Agony.
Her first thought after every change. Agony, Agony, Agony, a song in her head every time she emerges; Agony.
I sit at a corner table, watching the vampire and the werewolf play footsie. This one seems to be sticking. Not just the couple: the worlds. The membrane seems to have become permanently permeable. Which is the sort of thing that might get me in trouble if anyone was watching, which no one ever is.
Belying that thought, Jack sets a highball glass in front of me. I look up and up at him, eyebrow raised; he sighs and sits. “And how’s your quest?” he asks.
I scrunch up my face and take a sip of whatever. Boozycherrysomething. “What is this?”
“I am calling it The Witch’s Heart,” he grins.
I snort, equal parts due to the joke and to the fact that Jack made a joke and is smiling. “What’s in it?”
“I’d tell you, but you’d forget instantly and you don’t actually care. So.” He flicks the towel at me. “Quest.”
“I thought you didn’t like it when I bend the laws of physics?”
“Well, it’s been keeping you out of my hair—and I find that when you’re out of my hair, I start to get worried. At least when you’re causing trouble in my bars, I know what you’re up to.”
I take another sip of The Witch’s Heart. “No shit, this is really good.”
“Okay.” I spread my hand out on the scarred wooden table. Black nail polish in this bar, and no jewelry. “I found seven pieces. They’re all knitted back together and humming in counterpoint to each other and it is highly weird.”
“Seven? How many pieces are there total?”
“Nine? I think? It feels like nine.” I turn inward, trace the borders of my incomplete heart. “It feels like two missing.”
“So where are you off to next?”
“Don’t you want to see what happens when the gang’s all back together?”
“Well, I don’t know. Is the thing. Where the other two pieces are.”
Jack tilts his head skeptically. “Zee. Really.”
My almost-heart stutters oddly, feels swollen. I watch a tiny fluff of a feather swirl down, and I catch it. It weighs nothing. “I lost them, I think. A while ago. I remembered where I stashed the first few pieces, and once I had those, they led me to the others, but I’m blocked now. I’m not being led anywhere. I’m just … here. And they ache, all along the edges where pieces are missing. Not a sharp pain, nothing acute, just this constant pull but I don’t know to where or to what.” I drink again. “This was a stupid idea. The Oracle’s a jerk.” I poke savagely at the cherry with the stirrer, stabbing it a dozen times, more. Cherry juice infuses the liquor, bleeding from the raggedly torn center of the fruit. I impale it and scowl.
When I look up, Jack is gone.
The Vampire and the Werewolf
Agony Jones can deal with anything expect being without Mary Magdalene Kendall and
Mary Magdalene Kendall can deal with anything except being without Agony Jones.
It’s okay that she’s mortal; they’ll figure it out.
It’s okay that she drinks blood, they’ll figure it out.
They are both killers in their own way, anyway. They both love 80s music and broken-in leather and each other, and you’d be surprised how far that’ll get you. You really would.
The Witch’s Heart
“It’s not about being perfect,” says Allemande Left.
I am perched on my stool in her corner again, watching her apply her prosthetics. She is effortlessly perfect, with an economy of movement that is truly impeccable. “I don’t believe you.”
She laughs, black eyes catching mine in her mirror. “It’s not. Perfect looks artificial. Like old-Earth beauty pageants, where all the girls looked exactly the same. The same teeth, the same makeup job, the same dress, the same updo. Perfect is Teflon. It leaves nothing to catch the eye.” She smiles and runs a hand along her arm, currently studded with small triangular implants. “I’m slightly asymmetrical. My coloring is uneven. I have scars.”
“We all have scars.” I realize that my hand is over my almost-heart.
Allemande Left realizes it as well. She kneels before me. Black eyes, tapered skull—I don’t even know what species she’s emulating today. It doesn’t matter. When Allemande Left is with me, Allemande Left is with me; I would know Allemande Left anywhere. “What is it, Zee?”
“My heart hurts.”
I hadn’t planned to say it, but it’s true. The ache has deepened, and my heart has begun to move. It is a wild thing in my chest. It thrashes to its own music.
Allemande Left takes my hands in hers, in her slender blue multi-jointed hands, and she kisses them gently. She places one back against my chest, keeping her hand over it, and she places the other on her own narrow chest, holds it in place.
And my heart pulls from two directions at once.
The Witch’s Heart
is almost almost almost
“Allemande Left! What..?”
She laughs. “You gave it to me for safekeeping, Zee. So long ago. I’ve kept it with my own.”
I draw it from her chest, and she sighs as it emerges—a tiny flame. I press it into my own chest, and I am overwhelmed—
everything at once, and the singing, and the force of it all, I am unmoored, I am in my heart’s riptide, feet torn from beneath me, out of control—
and I stop, close my eyes, gather myself, all the bits of me everywhere, and I breathe.
Until I am steady.
There is a hole in my heart, small and burning-cold and insistent. I look into Allemande Left’s dark eyes and remember everything, remember how afraid I was of how strong my love was—my fear that it would distract me, preoccupy me, consume me. I remember dividing myself to keep from falling.
But I was fallen all along.
“There’s a hole,” I say, my voice unsteady.
“Do you know why now?”
Jack is behind the bar, pulling pints, but he looks up the instant I enter the room, Allemande Left’s hand in mine. The expression on his lion face is hard to read, but I think I read resignation in his posture—and then a stray shot of hope, like sun through clouds. It’s in the way he straightens, and the formality of his pose as we approach, hand in hand. “Zee,” he rumbles.
I slide onto a barstool. “I found my heart at the Mercy Seat,” I say. A passphrase from who knows how many years ago.
He opens the cash register and hands me a red construction paper heart. It’s tattered, feathered at the edges from age and rough handling, but it’s mine and I’d know it anywhere.
I press it in.
I see all of Jack at once: human, lion, ox, and eagle. I see all of Allemande Left at once, all of the faces and bodies I have no name for. I see all of me at once, echoes down the worlds, hall of mirrors.
Jack takes my hand and Allemande Left’s.
I am not afraid.
The Vampire and the Werewolf
Both of the brides wear white lace; Mary Magdalene Kendall’s dress is long and formal, with tapered sleeves, and Agony Jones’s echoes 1984 Madonna. We sit in the back row, me and Jack and Allemande Left, silent through a lovely service. Allemande Left and I wear matching suits, grey pinstripe; Jack has eschewed matching as too silly, but he’s deigned to appear human so’s not to frighten the crowd. This is an all-humanoid world, after all. We must do our best.
The brides dance, and everyone is out on the floor before long; Allemande Left and Jack and I hang back by the door.
“What’s next?” Jack asks. “Now that your heart is whole. Now that we’re whole.”
I smile. I see worlds around me, shimmering like heat mirages … places my loves have never been, never seen, never imagined. I take their hands. “Let’s find out.”
Shira Lipkin has managed to convince Apex Magazine, Stone Telling, Chizine, Interfictions 2, Mythic Delirium, and other otherwise-sensible magazines and anthologies to publish her work; two of her stories have been recognized as Million Writers Award Notable Stories, and she has won the Rhysling Award for best short poem. She credits glitter eyeliner, and tenacity. She lives in Boston with her family and the requisite cats, most of whom also write. She also fights crime with the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, does six impossible things before breakfast, and would like a nap now.
About “Happy Hour at the Tooth and Claw” she has this tale to share: “When the Kickstarter for this anthology crossed the $10,000 mark, thereby obligating Mike Allen to start a new magazine, I took the opportunity to happily needle him on Twitter. I asked him when he’d be opening submissions for the new magazine, ‘because I have a thing about a werewolf and a vampire who fall in love.’ Rose Lemberg suggested that they fall in love with a demon and a witch, that it’s a poly love story. I jumped in with angels and selkies. Obviously we were all joking.
“And then Mike replied, ‘I’m curious if someone could write a story like that I’d actually buy.’
“I intended to write something completely different for Clockwork Phoenix 4, but this ridiculous unwieldy preposterous thing wouldn’t get out of my way. So I wrote it, with everything but the selkie, but also with a scifi courtesan, several discredited scientific theories, an oracle, and karaoke. And Mike did buy it. And I hope you liked it.”
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