Winding and Widdershins

by Shannon Phillips

I asked him when the next bus was coming, and he said, “I’m not a fortune teller.”

So I reached down into the muck of the gutter, the clogged sewer drain where yesterday’s runoff was still trickling, and I pulled out a whole skein made of the whispers of the dead. We stood there together on the street corner, under the bus sign, me and him, while their dry, skittering, tangled-up voices traced for us the secret letters that pigeons etch into the fog. Sometime during all of that, the streetlights came on and our names blew away. Then the dead confessions fluttered after them like hungry kisses.

Eventually the Þ-Sharur line swooped down, and we lifted up our arms so that it could wrap its talons around us. It did that carefully, though its wings buffeted us with the immense uncaring distances between the stars, and at each consciousness-obliterating blast of cold and inhuman power I thought that we might fall. But in reality, of course, we were secure as eels below ice the whole time.

When we got there, the first thing we did was take off our masks, peeling them back from our faces until our skulls grinned, clacking and pearl-white. Then we honored each other’s griefs, and when finally the formalities were out of the way I fluted, “So tell me my fortune, tell me what the fire said now that it’s gone cold.”

He piped back a path for me to travel, winding and widdershins as it always is, and here is the tail of it that I leave for you to follow.

Shannon Phillips likes old things, wild places, tall tales, and the people who tell them. Her short fiction has appeared in Dragon magazine and the anthologies Fae, Love Hurts, and Speculative Story Bites.
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