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First pages

 

Baltimore is a lonely city;

she watches from the rain.

Her streets have long been cracked and faded,

her alleys bleak, untamed.

Long ago she also called for help;

no answer ever came.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Red Letter Morning

 

"Words are magic."

- unknown

 

 

 

              The girl awoke to a silent city.

              It was a silence deeper than any she had known before, one that pierced even the cold air around her. As her breath misted the air, the house itself seemed to settle deeper into the chilly Earth, afraid to move, afraid to breathe, afraid to give even a single creak in recognition of the creature living inside.

              For a moment the girl thought she might still be dreaming, imagining the whole thing as she lay in bed on a weekend morning. But then a crow cawed off in the distance and the sudden sound was more startling than the quiet that preceded it.

              "Mother?" the girl called into the emptiness. The sound of her voice echoed dully. “Mom?” She really felt she must have slept in, but no one had shouted to wake her and that by itself was strange.

              She slid her glasses on and pushed the covers away, knocking a book to floor as she swung her legs over the loft-bed’s edge. “I must have fallen asleep reading again.”

              The girl prepared to hop down, but hesitated. In the cold, she'd hate to leave the warmth of her covers without good reason.

              "Mom?" she called one more time.

              She had no choice, she decided, and finally pushed herself off the bed. Quietly, she landed on the cold floorboards between a t-shirt and a comic book. Then, yawning, the girl stretched, dragged a shirt over her head and padded to her mother's room, still uncertain about the strange quiet that had fallen upon the house.

              She knocked on the door and waited.

              “You slept in again,” the girl called expectantly. 

              There was no creak of floorboards, no shout from inside.

              Strange, the girl thought. It wasn't like her mother to sleep so soundly.

              She must have had a really late night. Sometimes her mother would stay out with artist friends and walk home late. Still, she loved to wake early, meditate, and fill the house with the smell of coffee.

              For a moment the girl hesitated outside the room, switching back and forth between feet to avoid the cold wooden floor. If one of her mother's friends had stayed the night an early wakeup would be bad. However, she hadn’t heard anyone go in or out the night before and the apartment seemed relatively tidy.

              Taking a chance, she knocked again and waited for a voice to call her name. The knock echoed  through the hallway without response, so the girl finally tried the knob and pushed at the door. It creaked aside and caught on the junk that littered the floor. The girl kicked at the sweaters and skirts and struggled to slide herself through the thin opening.   

              Inside, clothing was strewn about, arcane books sat half open on the bureau, and several of her mother's paintings lay ripped on the floor. In the corner, an old fish tank sat cracked and empty.  That is, everything appeared normal – well, normal by her mother's standards – except for the fact that she was nowhere to be found. 

              The girl's heart began pounding and her throat went dry. "Mom! Are you messing with me? Because it's not funny!” she shouted, listening as if for a voice from far away. The only sound was the beating of her heart.

              She ran to the bedroom door and pulled at the knob as hard as she could, but again it caught on something. Her lip trembling, the girl flung socks and skirts away from the heap until she reached a sweater lodged beneath the door. She tugged and pulled at it, grunting. Even my room is cleaner than this.

              “Ugggggh,” she groaned as the garment stretched and seemed about to come loose. Finally it ripped along the seam and split apart. The girl fell backwards and landed on her butt, shocked and out of breath. In any other circumstance, the destruction of such a piece of clothing would be a grave transgression.

              Slowly, the door creaked open and glided backward revealing the empty hallway outside.

              The girl stared, then leapt back to her feet and sprinted for the kitchen. As usual, her mother wasn't cooking breakfast, so the girl peeked into the fridge and discovered that she hadn't saved any leftovers for lunch either. Worse, the jar of peanut butter was empty. Things were getting desperate.

              The refrigerator door still hanging open, she darted out of the kitchen and into the living room at the far end of the apartment. Wall-to-wall bookshelves towered over the room and an old chandelier swayed overhead. A draft was coming in from outside, but otherwise the place was mute and abandoned.

              Had her mother gone out without telling her? It was early for a Saturday, but Saturdays were their adventure day and they were supposed to go painting this weekend. She sat down on the rug in the middle of the living room and decided to wait. “She's just had to rush out,” the girl whispered to herself, “probably to buy some supplies.”

              In times like these when she found herself with nothing to do, the girl wished they had a television or a computer to play with, but her mother kept the laptop all to herself and the girl didn't know where it was hidden.

              Looking down, she noticed that she was still clutching a scrap of her mother's sweater in her left hand. She sighed and let it fall away. That would mean trouble later, and probably a trip to the thrift store for a replacement. So much for that vintage record player I've been saving for.

              She groaned, leaned toward one of the bookshelves, and snatched the most colorful thing that caught her eye. It was an old Sandman graphic novel and one of her favorites. She removed her glasses, reclined in the sunlight, and resolved to calm her mind and read for a while. Something was bothering her, though. In the quiet of the apartment, her ears were ringing. The girl tried to shake it off and focus on the book.

              Her mother would be home soon enough, she knew, or else... there would be revenge.

                 

              Sometime later she was startled awake by a violent rattling. The girl simultaneously realized that she had fallen asleep and that her house was trembling. Books tumbled from overhead and one of the shelves swayed in her direction. She rolled to her side and crawled toward the door frame, clutching it until the shaking abated.

              "Mom?" she called as she sat up. The room was blurry until she slipped on her glasses.

              When no answer came, thoughts ran through her head like skittish rabbits. Had her mother gotten in an accident? Was she lost somewhere? It was unusual for her to go out without leaving a note, especially when they had plans. And now that there had been an earthquake. Most curious.

              I have to pull myself together, she thought to herself. Mom is probably out shopping for paint or colored pencils.

              A sound from outside silenced her thoughts: something was clawing at a window. The girl lifted herself off of the rug, set the comic book on the floor, and stilled herself. Part of her wanted to run, but to where?

              Hesitant, she tiptoed to the living room door.

              At the threshold, she stopped. The sound was like nails on a chalkboard.

              She tried to center herself, to clear the negative thoughts away as her mother had taught her to do with her nightmares. It's probably nothing dangerous, she told herself.

              The sound was grating and loud. “Branches in the wind,” she whispered. But what if the noise didn't stop? She licked her lips and peered around the corner into the kitchen. Something black and white darted past the window.

              The girl jolted, tumbling backwards and knocking over a stack of books. Whatever it was, it hadn't been large, but what had it been? The girl had to know. She clenched her fists, tiptoed over for a closer look, and pressed her nose against the window. The glass felt cold and steamed with her breath, yet she managed to catch another glimpse of the black and white blur outside. With trembling hands, she gulped and slid the window open.

              Purring, the lithe form of her neighbor's cat darted in on a wave of cool air.

              "What are you doing here?" the girl asked, sighing with relief.

              At her words the cat's ears perked up and he turned his head in her direction. It was unusual for him to visit their apartment; in fact, she had only ever seen him outside, roaming the small, grassy yard behind their row home. She ran her hands along the splotchy hair on his back.

              He backed away and looked up at her, frowning in a very cat way. "Hmph, that's no way to greet someone you've just met." He looked her up and down again. "Isn't your mother home?" 

              The girl was so startled that she stumbled backwards. "I didn't know you could speak!"

              "Of course I can. Why wouldn't I be able to?" He had a horrified look on his face.

              "This is crazy. You've never spoken before!" she said, her mouth still agape. The cat seemed to raise an eyebrow at her, so she went on. “Cats can't speak.”

              “Normally you'd be right, but I am no normal cat. I suppose an introduction is in order, then.  My name is Calvert, Baron Calvert, and these apartments are my domain.” He bowed his head and flicked his tail. 

              The girl blinked, stunned. She must still be dreaming. “I'm... I'm Anne,” she stammered, “Anne Raskolnikov. And what do you mean your domain?” She tried to pull herself together and crossed her arms, then thought better of it and offered her hand for a shake. If this was some sort of dream, maybe it would be better to play along.

              The cat eyed her and twitched his whiskers but finally placed his paw in her hand. “Never mind, Lady Anne. As I asked before, is your mother present?”

              "Sorry,” the shrugged, “mom's not home. I'm not sure where she is."

              "Curiouser and curiouser. Lady Alice isn't home either, and I've had trouble finding anyone else in the building.”

              “The curious thing is that I'm talking to a cat,” Anne said, rubbing her temples. “I must be losing my mind. Now you tell me that I've lost my mother and you've lost your owner.”

              He hissed at her, his face aghast. “Owner? My word, child, I'm not some sort of dime store kitten. I live here, as you do, a free citizen and a gentlemen. Look at my face: half black fur, half white – a sign of proper breeding!”

              Anne flopped onto the kitchen floor with a sigh. “OK then, Mr. cat, I concede that you can talk.”

              “Calvert. Baron Calvert. If you insist on such informalities, at least use my proper name.” The cat nodded and licked his whiskers with satisfaction. “As I said, we both find ourselves in a predicament, so I propose that we work together. First things first, have you eaten anything today?"

              "Not yet," she said, sprawled on the floor and staring at him in disbelief.  

              “Not yet. Hmm,” he purred. “Well then, the first order of business will be to find some food.  Lacking any in my apartment, I wonder if you might spare some?”

              “You've got no cat food in your apartment? None? We don't have any but you're welcome to... whatever.”

              “A fish filet with a side of chicken would be just the thing.”

              She scrunched up her face. “We uh, don’t usually eat meat. Sometimes mom makes tuna salad for me, though.”

              “My word child!” he scoffed. “Do you always live in such indigence?”

              “Indi-what?” She quirked an eyebrow, stood, and walked towards the refrigerator.

              He sighed and licked a paw. “Anything tasty and nutritious will suffice. Lady Alice has gone and left me without provisions. It’s quite unlike her, actually.” He paced the wooden floor tiles and looked up at the fridge. “The entire place is barer than normal and many of the other apartments appear empty as well.”

              Anne grabbed the handle of the refrigerator. “You're sure you haven't seen anyone?”

              “I'm afraid to admit it, but no, m’lady.” He flicked his head with distaste and hopped onto a chair. “I wouldn't come inquiring to some...” he paused as if considering his words, “some inexperienced young one if I knew where else to look. I was startled awake by the earthquake to find the place quite abandoned. The inside of your apartment looked less derelict than others in the building, so I thought I might try a scratch at the window.”

              “Weird. This is all way too weird,” Anne said, taking a deep breath. “I must be dreaming,” she shook her head and closed her eyes. “I must be. A lucid dream, like mom talks about, ‘where fantasy and reality waltz hand in hand.

              "Poetry?" the cat wiggled his nose at her. “Now is no time for quotations.”

              "Something she  once." She shrugged.

              “Regardless, as strange as it seems, I assure you that you are not dreaming,” the cat intoned. 

              The cat. She still couldn't believe it. Grasping a thin piece of forearm between her fingers, she pinched.

              “Zounds!" She winced. "Still awake.”

              “Whatever did you do that for?” Calvert asked, looking up at her aghast. He seemed to be doing that alot.

              Anne grimaced and ran to the faucet. Water coughed and sputtered out when she turned it on and it felt cold when she splashed it on her face. As drops dripped away to the kitchen floor, the vision of the cat and the open window returned. She hadn't woken. 

              “Such strange, impulsive creatures you are,” he said, turning his head away in distaste. “Hmph. Humans.” He shook his whiskers.

              “Alright,” Anne said shakily, “if I feed you will you help me find my mother?”

              The cat peered out the window as if distracted by something. “I don't need to be fed – I can eat fine just by myself. But yes; an investigation is in order. However I must warn you, there are dangers about.”             

              “Dangers?” she scoffed. “I'm speaking to a talking cat, probably a hallucination, and he warns me there are dangers about.” She threw her hands in the air. “What else could I possible have to fear? Fear is the mind-killer, man.”

              Calvert smiled, his whiskers twitching again. “Where do you pick up such strange idioms?”

              “What?” the girl adjusted her glasses.

              “Never mind, m'lady,” he sighed, “As to our agreement – I'll help you search for your mother if you provision us with food. Does that sound amicable to you?”

              He hopped down and sat on the kitchen floor in front of her, looking up.

              "Ok," she said, rubbing her temples again.

              She couldn't believe she had just made a deal with a house cat, especially one that took itself for nobility. Anne walked to the refrigerator and pried the door open while Calvert followed close behind. Inside the situation was more grim than she had imagined.

             

             

Feline Instincts

 

Only cats know the way,

beyond the veil time,

and the fog of naps.

They roam the dream,

the land mist and rhyme,

with no need of guide or maps.

- Egyptian proverb

 

 

Calvert paced back and forth beside Anne's apartment door. The girl was taking an eternity. All she needed to pack was food and water, but like a typical human she was over-preparing by trying to bring everything she owned. 

              When she finally emerged from her room, he couldn't help but cover his face with his paws.  She was wearing a red hooded sweatshirt and carrying a purple backpack, neither of which went well with her dark-framed glasses.

              "Could you be any more conspicuous?" he asked.

              She tilted her head at him curiously. "What is that supposed to mean? You were so polite when we first met." Anne was used to being teased at school, but not by four-legged animals.

              Calvert spun in a circle, flicking his tail. "A gentleman always strives for good first impressions,” he said. “But never you mind; the streets are practically deserted. You packed food, I assume? And water?"

              She jiggled her backpack and smiled. It made a crunchy noise as cereal shifted around inside. "Yup! I stuffed as much cereal in there as I could and stashed some tuna fish in a plastic baggy for you. It's all a body needs, really. Plus, if worse comes to worse, we can scrounge some grub from the school kitchens." She lowered the bag for Calvert to have a look.

              “Hmmm. And what's this? A book?”

              “My journal. In case I get bored.” She zipped the bag up and swung it over her shoulder. "I bring it everywhere." In fact it had been the book she had fallen asleep with, so it felt right to bring it along. And if the course of events so far was any indication, she would need it just to keep her sanity.

              "With luck you'll be among friends and writing in it again soon,” he meowed. “Excellent. So were off to the academy, then?”

              “School's probably the best place to go.” She shrugged. “Although it's not the place I normally spend my Saturdays. Still, people go there in case of emergencies; they have bomb shelters, books, supplies, and everything.” She whistled and made the shape of a falling bomb with her hands. “And even if mom isn't there, there should be someone to help us out.”

              “A venture surely destined for success!" He pawed at the door impatiently until she came over , twisted the knob with both hands, and yanked it open so violently he jumped out of the way. Then, she burst through and kicked opened the foyer door. Young ones. Calvert shook head.

              As the door creaked on its hinge, a blast of wind hit them. The air from outside smelled like fallen leaves and rotting pumpkins and carried the autumn chill with it. 

              Calvert shook his head and shivered. “Fall, such a troublesome season.”

              Anne took off down the steps without even closing the door. “I like it. It's colorful and gloomy at the same time.” She peered up at the scattered clouds drifting across the sky.

              "Hold on a moment!" Calvert cursed to himself and ran to block her path. He was beginning to lose his patience. "Just for thoroughness’s sake, shall we check the building to see if anyone else is home? The premises looks fairly deserted and we know that your mother and Lady Alice are gone, but we could find someone or something to aid us – a clue perhaps. Indeed, you might have success where my brief forays past kitchen windows have failed."

              "Ah, good idea," she said, turning and running back up the stairs. Calvert shook his head at her.  She had too much energy for such a large creature.

              Anne started knocking on the door next to hers. "Hello! Trick or treat!" 

              "That's my door, you know."

              "Oh, right, just checking," she mumbled, then ran up the stairs to the next landing. The old row home was divided into apartments but it was small and there weren't many other doors left to try. 

              She pounded her fist on the first door, but no one answered. "No one in apartment A," she said, then moved along to the next. “And apartment B sounds just the same.” Turning, she galloped down to the basement apartments and tried there. Apartment E was quiet as well, so she turned and tried the last: apartment F.

              Anne knocked and Calvert clawed the door. No one answered but then a voice echoed out from somewhere inside. In the quiet of the building, the sound made Anne jump. 

              "Someone is in there!" she said, her hand reaching for the knob as relief flooded over her.  

              "Hold on!" Calvert pawed at her knee. "Perhaps we should wait for them to answer the door. It's only proper."

              Anne scoffed. "Things are way weird, Calvert. This is an emergency! Maybe someone inside needs our help or something.”

              He shot her a look.

              “Or some cereal," she added.

              "Maybe, but I spotted you before I ventured inside your domicile. There could be ghosts inside, or worse, m'Lady. Apartment F - a foul name if I've ever heard one."

              "You bring me up here to search for people, and now you want to turn back?” Anne crossed her arms and peered at the door, but the surrealism of the day was beginning to sink in. Already, her heart had begun to flutter. “Besides, there's no such thing as ghosts."

              "I have a curious streak - that I admit - and I'm not trying to scare you Lady Anne, but there are most definitely such things. I've seen them about the city of late."

              "I don't believe you." They paused and listened. There were noises echoing from the apartment, something like a television left on in another room, but it was impossible to make out the words.

              The cat went on, "Cat's observe many things that humans don't. For example, do you know the crows who frequent the apartment roof? Or what the earth smells like, just before dawn?"

              Anne stamped her foot impatiently and knocked again. "Calvert, we can't just leave without finding out! There's obviously been some sort of disaster or something. We never have earthquakes around here!”

              “All the more reason to air on the side of caution.” He shot her a look and paced the landing, flicking his tail. “We've no idea why you and I seem to be the only two left, you know.”

              “Obviously.”

              Anne shook her nervous thoughts away, licked her lips and slowly tried the knob to apartment F. It was unlocked. 

              The door swung slowly and dust particles wafted out. From somewhere deep inside came the sound of papers being shuffled. 

              Calvert backed away from the door and arched his back. I don’t like the feel of this, he thought. It’s like that hum in the air before a storm.

              "Hello?" Anne called. The sound of something falling to the floor echoed through the building.   

              Calvert backed away from the door, glancing between Anne and the knob.   

              "Hello? It's just me Anne Raskolnikov from downstairs." She took a tentative step inside. “You don't have to be afraid."

              The silence was broken by a low rumbling and a whisper of wind. Anne froze mid-step and began to shiver. “W-what was that?” she said in a whisper.

              Calvert ran up to her and began tugging at her pants hem with his teeth. Anything to get her moving.

              “Probably just the wind,” she started, but then the sound of breaking glass broke the silence.

              "Let's go!" he growled through the mouth full of denim. 

              A shadow darted across the hallway in the far recesses of the apartment. It was something large. Anne screamed, surprised at herself, and covered her mouth with her hand. “Holy cow, man!”

              She backed away but tripped on Calvert and fell down into the outer hallway. Behind them, the sound of rushing wind grew louder.  

              Calvert hissed and scrambled out from underneath her. Ahhhkk! Anne screamed again and scrambled to her feet, grabbing the door handle and wrenching it shut, but some force prevented it from closing and yanked in the opposite direction.

              Calvert huddled in the corner by the door of the opposite apartment and stared. He had warned her.

              As he watched, a draft of air roared through the door, nearly wrenching it from her hands, but she dug her heels in and slammed it shut. Without looking back, they both took off and ran up the stairs, Anne leaping four steps at a time and Calvert limping behind her. 

              Outside the building, they ran a couple of houses away and finally came to a marble stoop big enough to hide behind. They ducked down and stopped to catch their breath. 

              "Zounds. What was that?" In between words, Anne was huffing white puffs of breath into the air.

              "As I explained,” Calvert said, licking at his leg where she had fallen on him. “Ghosts. They've been roaming the city, accosting anything that moves.” He shot a glance in her direction. "It's as if they're searching for something." 

              Her eyes shut. “How can this be possible? Ghosts aren't supposed to exist. And cats aren't supposed to talk.” Her hands trembled as she held them up to the sunlight. “This can't be real.”

              Calvert rubbed against her leg. “I'm not sure what's afoot either, lady Anne, but I assure you we'll find out.” His face grew grim and he took a limping step to peer around the stoop. "The more the mystery grows, the more I'm certain we must uncover the truth. Certainly, these times are strange, but so are many things if we think deeply upon them. For now I suggest we move on while we can. It may not be safe here much longer.”

              “You're limping,” she said, glancing from her hands to Calvert.

              “I'm afraid I may have sprained something during your fall,” he replied.

              Anne started to defend herself, then laughed instead. “Oh cat, I'm sorry. I'm a klutz at school, too.”

              She reached down, picked him up and hugged him. Calvert felt stiff and awkward in her arms and finally jumped free. He was not one for hugs, especially with mere acquaintances.

              “Not to worry, m'lady,” he said, shaking himself off and twitching his ears. “I should have taken more care myself.”

              Anne zipped up her hoodie against the cold and tried to calm herself. She was completely disheveled. “OK. Perhaps... perhaps it was only just the wind that knocked me over.”

              He gave her a dubious look. "Wind or not, would you like a closer look to find out?"

              "Alright, I'm sorry," she repeated, frowning. "Let's just get out of here."

              "I agree. Let's find this school of yours and seek some answers."

              They backed away from the stoop and kept their eyes on their brick row home. For a moment, Anne thought she caught a glimpse of movement inside, but nothing and no one came to the window.

              They turned and struck off down the street, Calvert wincing as he limped, looking over his shoulder. "No sign of pursuers yet." Other than this careless child, he thought. He almost wanted to bite himself for joining up with her. Almost.

              "Good. I think it's this way,” Anne said.

              He hoped she was right, though trusting her judgement seemed a questionable proposition.

              "La, la la." The girl spun and danced her way down the empty streets of Charles Village while leaves tumbled behind her. They had the neighborhood all to themselves, a calm which put Calvert ill at ease. The cars were quiet, the shops empty. Only the distant sound of bird wings and tumbling garbage seemed to echo through the vast expanse of the city.

              "Wow, where is everyone?" Anne finally slowed her waltz and seemed to notice. "Even in an emergency I'd expect to see some art students or homeless people roaming the streets. Has everyone evacuated?" She crossed her arms and tapped a foot. "It feels like the sort of joke my classmates might play on me."

              "I'm as puzzled as you are."

              “Was the city this empty yesterday?” she asked. 

              “I don't believe so, no,” Calvert said, narrowing his eyes and thinking. Had it been?

              “You don't believe so?”

              He licked his lips. “As curious as this seems,” he said, sounding disconcerted, “my memory is a bit hazy on the matter. I'm certain there were cars on the road a few days ago, but,” he shook his head, “I can't recall what happened or why.”

              Anne gulped. She didn't want to admit it, but her memory seemed to be having similar difficulties.

 

              They roamed for an hour or more, zig-zagging the streets and passing brick row homes by the dozen. Some still had crumbling Jack-O-Lanterns out front. 

              "Are you sure this is the right way?" Calvert asked.

              "I thought so,” Anne said, spinning in the empty street, “but we ran off in a hurry and now I feel like the streets are different than I remember." She read off the nearest street sign. "Hargrove Alley,” she mumbled. “I don't even remember this street, but I could have sworn I knew the way to school like the back of my hand.” It seemed as if they had gone a great distance but gotten nowhere at all. Even the sun was hanging at a similar angle. For a moment, she removed her glasses and gazed at the blurry street. “I would ask directions, but I haven't seen a single soul since we left our apartment building. Something must have happened,” she sighed and plopped down in the street, rubbing a hand against her forehead. “Something terrible.”

              “Do you find that helpful?” Calvert asked, his tail swaying. 

              “Huh?”

              “Collapsing in despair in the center of a dangerous thoroughfare.”

              “Like it even matters without any cars here!” She threw her hands in the air and slid her glasses back on. "The air even smells emptier, like trees and rain."

              "Do not despair, lady Anne. Lost we may be, but perhaps this is the lot of all great adventurers: confused and disoriented, led astray by an errant guide, but still on the road with hope at our back.”

              “Wait - what are you trying to say, cat?”

              Calvert shook his head sadly, “Call me Calvert, please. And t'was but a  figure of speech and nothing more. Never mind, dear. Though perhaps we should try my superior feline sense of direction.”

              "Whatever." Anne threw her hands in the air. “You don't even know where we're going.”

              Calvert pawed the zipper of her red sweatshirt and pointed to a statue down the road. He purred. “Perhaps you're right. Shall we investigate that landmark and have a look around? Maybe it will help us get our bearings."

              Up ahead, a pedestal sat on the grassy knoll between two intersections. On top of it was a statue of a robed man.

              “One of your heroes, I suppose.” Calvert said as he tilted his head and gazed up at the statue. 

              "Not really.” Anne shrugged and shoved her hands in her pockets. “I don't think I've ever even noticed this statue before. He looks like a fat old man with a newspaper in his hand.”

              “Perhaps I'm mistaken, but isn't he a writer of some sort?”

              “Who knows! They'll give statues to anybody these days, even if the subjects are phonies and bores. I mean, newsprint is dead.”

              “Still, he must have been a human of some importance. Perhaps his statue will be a source of guidance, then.”

              Anne approached the statue and gazed at the plaque, shielding her eyes from the sun:

 

H. L. Mencken

The Sage of Baltimore.

 

              “Eh, never heard of him. Probably some dead hack."

              "Then why go to all the trouble of putting him up there?" Calvert shook his head. “You humans can be such strange creatures.”

              She scoffed. "At least we have culture, mister. And we don't sit around all day licking ourselves clean.”

              "Fair enough," he replied, pausing between licking his paws, "but hold on. This place smells familiar and I'm not sure why." He sniffed at the air. There was a musk of fallen leaves, chimney smoke, and damp earth, but something else was mixed in.

              Caw! Anne and Calvert jumped.

              A crow landed and perched on the statue's head.

              "One of you!" Calvert hissed. He ran up to the statue and leaned his front paws against the base to peer up at the creature. "I might have known."

              Caw! the bird replied. 

              Anne groaned. “Another talking animal?"

              Caw! Caw! "Lost. Lost." The black bird tilted his head at them and flew down for a closer look. As he landed near the base of the statue, Anne could have sworn he had a grin on his face.

              "Wonderful. I've truly lost it," she said with a shake of her head. 


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

A Baltimore native, Ryan Walraven has had a longtime love for physics, philosophy, books, and creative writing. After a stint teaching English and corrupting the youth of Japan, he's since settled down to study particle physics and the deeper mysteries of life, the universe, and everything. Most days, he finds that coffee helps.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
No one truly knows what lies beyond the dark at the edge of the campfire, or the void beyond the stars. For a young person, in a young world, this is even worse. I'm fascinated by the stories we tell ourselves to push the dark away, and the ways we craft our reality from our imaginations.
Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
Our destinies are our own to seize. Never let someone else tell your story for you or tell you who to be. When it comes to your dreams, your adventures, and your future, your imagination is the only limit.
Q. What books have influenced your life the most?
A.
Harry Potter, Hamlet, Game of Thrones, Fahrenheit 451, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, and Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy are just a few of the books that inspire me with their nuances and creativity.

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