The trolls come from the hills. Once upon a time, it had seemed like a good idea to hold the sacrifices outside the village, but that meant bringing the monsters close to where we lived. Now, the sacrifices are sent into the trolls’ lair – this also means we won’t have to hear their screams. It’s not an easy trek and takes several days, so it’s only logical to provide the sacrifices with supplies for their journey. But . . . now we have no way of knowing if the sacrifices reached the mountain caves, or even tried to; no way of knowing until tonight. The trolls are due tonight.
He surveys his kingdom that once was; pillars of stone where dancing girls were. His throne is only a hillock of dirt, fit for worms to crawl when before they had grovelled. There is a beating in the distance, but the drums of war have long been silent; it is the music of a hundred wings that calls this king to duty. He raises his arms, feathers flutter where long ago were sceptre and sword, and reliving his ruination all over again, he flies.
There is a porcelain doll watching me. Don’t turn around – she’ll know we’re talking about her. She’s the very beautiful girl in the brown dress and red hat, the distant looking one. Maybe I should go talk to her. But I won’t (what would I say? what if she ran off?). She’s probably only looking through me, lost in thought, far away in a day dream, and if I get to know her, I might shatter her and her china doll dreams.
To enter the fifth dimension, you have to release enough of our dimension from your body. I’m told it’s a little like bloodletting, only messier. You can do it yourself – it’s hardly science – but the advantage to having a professional do it, is that they’ll tattoo the guide book right onto you, in case your hands haven’t made the trip with you.
Only . . . they’re not completely unwanted, not by everyone. It’s at twelve o’clock one night every month (it’s safest not to say which night), that the rag and bone man comes calling. You can hear him coming down the street, his brittle, chalky toes tapping a tattoo on the pavement. His rags ceased being clothing a century ago and now are only held in place by being pinched into the crevices of his joints and hollow sockets. The Society keep it in the window, that’s part of the arrangement: they can protect it, but never hide it. The rag and bone man watches through the glass, his fingers clicking against the window, empty eyes intently stare, the shadowed recesses pulse faintly as it throbs. It doesn’t matter how badly it was broken, he’s changed his mind, he wants his heart back.
Somewhere, in the world, there is a key with a human face on it. It doesn’t open any doors, or lock anything behind. But it will open certain avenues of thought, barrage of emotions. It is the key to the blackness in our heads and our true imprisoned selves. There was only ever one key of this kind made and one person who bears the weight of its keep. I hope you never meet the keeper of the key, but he would like to meet you.
The invisible menders of London strike without warning. They usually arrive in the night, darting from rooftop to windowsill to closet door with practised skill. They have become masters of their trade and you will never even know you’ve been visited, unless one hasn’t made it out alive. The menders travel in groups – or baskets – of ten and it’s no secret that their best work isn’t with a needle and thimble, but sword and shield. So the next time you meet a malevolent moth baying at your closet door (beating his wings victorious), remember there is a slain mender not far away and spare this slender thought: did a stitch in time save the other nine?
Suppose you opened a book, but instead of an idea popping out, a building did. Not a very big building, it has to fit inside the book, after all. Suppose you turned the page and a street fell out and landed at your feet. If you bent over for a better look, you’d probably see people selling fish and rags, and horses pulling carts, all no bigger than their written words. At the end of the bustling market street, you might be able to see the shadow of a mighty castle, hulking, petulant, above the village. You would look back at the book still in your hands and you’d try to remember what page the dragons were on.
She flicked on the light. It sputtered before glowing steadily, a macabre effect, casting the veins, scars and other fleshy blemishes across the room. The bulb would heat up soon, turning the taught, brittle skin into a sickeningly pleasant yellow, but for now, the lampshade glowed red like wine, although the blood had been drained years ago. She touched it, gingerly; it didn’t feel human anymore. It didn’t feel like her husband anymore.
The little man on the shelf was in excellent shape. He had to be, there were so many stories to climb and swim and hide in and run from and endure and marvel at. It wasn’t easy living on a bookshelf, where every cover was a gateway to a world he’d never known and every page held the promises of relationships never to be rekindled. He tried to avoid the play scripts; he’d never been much of a talker. And of course the histories were so repetitive. He couldn’t have said how many years and how many adventures he’d scaled on those cosy, wild shelves, but he knew them, he was their keeper and they his only companions. But for all his travels, wisdom and odysseys, he never saw the mug at the bottom of the stack, and drowned in a pool of cold coffee.