She waited for someone who lived there — someone with a key — to appear at the corner; she timed her walking to arrive at the steps just as they did. She was carrying a grocery bag so that they would, being polite, hold the door for her instead of forcing her to use her own, which of course didn’t exist.

Four floors up by the stairs, because her benefactor had headed for the elevator. She left the bag and its contents on the last landing and slipped through the fire door into the hallway.

She didn’t have to knock on the door; it opened to reveal an old woman, and beyond her, a child playing on the floor in front of an old tube television. “It’s not time yet.”

“That’s not up to you.” She brushed past the old woman and knelt next to the playing child. “Caroline?”

“Go ‘way.”

“You need to come with me.”

“Go ‘way.” The child looked up. “I’ll burn you if you don’t.”

She smiled. “I don’t burn, Caroline. I’m like you; I burn other things. I can teach you to—”

“Don’t wanna.”


The air jumped, and flame began playing across the ceiling. “Don’t wanna.”

Targeted Therapy

“You have cancer.” She said it as if commenting on the weather, like he had something stuck in his teeth, like it was nothing.

He searched her face, trying to place it. She must work at Doctor Macuray’s office. “Excuse me?”

“It works, you know: chemo.” She crossed her legs, unwrapped her box-lunch sandwich, dropped crumbs for the braver pigeons. “It almost kills you, but only almost. They’re much better now than they used to be, of course.”

“Do I know you?”

She looked at him like he was crazy. “No, of course not. But I know you. I don’t do this for just anyone.”

He’d decided she was crazy, that she’d read his mail or something. He mentally catalogued her features for later description to the police. “Do what?”

“You’ll go into remission. You already have, actually. So stop worrying.” She got up and walked away.

What just happened?

Contract Killer

“Is that the sword?”

It had been dug out from between fallen layers of a ruined castle, a solid week of labor by twenty men at great expense. When it was uncovered, they called him down, knowing better than to touch it themselves. It felt warm to the touch, then, even through his gloves, and it still did now. “It is, your Majesty.”

“May I?”

It was an uncomfortable moment for Karol, but he knew it to be a test. He drew the blade, rested it across the backs of his hands, and knelt; the king stepped down and leaned in, close enough to trace the filigree with his eyes. He knows the legend, he knows better than to take it.

“Beautiful. Beautiful and deadly. I won’t touch it, of course.” The King stood up, tall, and smiled. “I have known women like that.” The joke was answered by laughter from the assembled courtiers, a little too loud, lasting a little too long.

Karol sheathed the sword and stood, silent.

“How many dragon heads do you think, in all?”

“No one knows. Including the Old Grey Worm-King, at least five.”

“And with ours, six.”

“If I live, yes, your Majesty.”