imaginary archive (ib_archive) wrote,
imaginary archive
ib_archive

[story] the secret ministry of the seam

author: halved fool (halvedfool)



There was once a city with strange, winding streets, and a young man was sent from home to school there. Thus came he to man's estate, and procured for himself a little flat. It was but a small flat, but as an aspiring doctor in the midst of his studies, it suited his needs admirably, and he was rather proud.

So he said to his family, "Come," though they were scattered as breadcrumbs across the cartographer's graph. "Come, we shall find adventure in this old city, which is perched on the precipice of fashion and verve. Come, meet my girlfriend. You are my dearest cousins, and I say to you, yea, you must meet her."

In reply, for a long while, blew silence, for his cousins had much to occupy both their attentions and the limited resources of their small purses, but at last, one of them answered.

I shall come, I shall come! I hear there is good eating for those of us who metaphorically swallow books by the tonne. Oh, have you got a new girlfriend? Congratulations, and sucks to - was the last one Gwen? Love, Lin-Lin

The young man read this with an odd mixture of fondness and pique, and immediately dashed off a reply: I haven't had company with Gwen since Millicent walked out with me, and I haven't spoken to her since Li-hong made me stop keeping contact. Right now, I'm dating Nat. Do try to keep up. Regards, Ju

The reply was quick and cutting: It gives me such a headache, though. P'raps you might ask them to leave off being done with you so quickly? I've got a week's holiday in about a month, and I've wired my dad for permission and funds. Shall I see you then? Best, Lin-Lin

I am an excellent significant other, he wired back with dignity. I am prone to plying girls with the fruits of my generosity, and I am an excellent listener. Yes, you blighted woman, hop over then. We'll have the red carpet rolled out for you, though you don't bloody deserve it. Aggrieved, Ju

Her reply was prompt, and he began to wonder if she were haunting the post office: Yes, you're an excellent flirt, and we do know that your laborious darning in boarding school provided you the money with which to court young ladies. Right, will see you then! Adorations, Lin-Lin

For a moment, he considered giving her no reply to demonstrate the depths of his prejudice against her, but decided that he was not a complete monster: Bring warm clothing, clod, winter's beginning to set in already. Disdainfully, Ju

He ignored her response for the rest of that day.





Hissing and steaming, not unlike a cantankerous cat, the bus trundled to a stop, then rambled off again. It left in its wake a number of diverse passengers, who streamed off like all the rays of a sunburst in every imaginable direction. Standing like a coal in the middle of this fantastic exodus was a girl, bundled up firmly in a long black coat and a cashmere scarf she had pinched off her dad.

Stamping her boots, she buried her hands in her pockets. The base of her fingernails were beginning to turn shades of blue. It was cold, and she was dizzy with the rigours of travel.

A sigh erupted from deep in her chest. This terrified a ghostly mist into brief life, which she stared at as it dissipated back into nothingness. Then, she realised the giggle of wonder and shocked surprise ringing around her ears had slipped out of her own throat. Laughing louder, she spat more breath into the air and performed a little skipping dance there on the pavement, beside the pole that made a poor excuse for a bus stop. She even sang a little song.

"Julian, you rotten ass
Where the hell are you?
I am so cold, I am so cold
I am very fucking cold
Where are you, where are you
Where the blinking hell are you?"

In this vein she continued for a bit, singing and hopping and watching her breath silver in the air until she collapsed against the pole, emitting weak chortles, entirely out of breath.

Presently, she became aware of a shadow looming behind her. Risking a quick peek, she bolted upright and coughed self-consciously. "How long," she said to her cousin, "have you been standing there." She did not think she would like the answer.

"Long enough to be certain that no one would blame me for turning around and leaving you right here," he said. He meant it in an affectionate manner, though. "Come along, Jacqueline Chan, before people see me talking to you." So saying, he hauled her bag up.

She made a face at him, stretching her cheek muscles out hideously, but decided the subject was best abandoned. "Ju, Ju, my nose is cold," she said pathetically.

He gave her a narrowed glance in return. "Didn't I warn you it was going to be bitterly cold? Don't you have gloves?"

"I lost them," she admitted. "Gloves are annoying. They are bulky and they make writing very difficult. I have pianist's hands, you know, I'm not accustomed to having my fingers hindered."

"Rubbish!" declared Julian. "You're full of rot, you haven't played piano formally since you were eleven! But if you want your fingers to drop off, then be my guest."

Around them, the city ignored them, a pair of silly people shoving at each other. Looming houses turned blind, shuttered windows down at them. Iron railings stood to stiff, twisted attention where the ravages of time had wracked their former ramrod state all askew. Pedestrians whirligigged around them and whirled off into the twilit evening.

The uncertain flicker of streetlamps began shining, barely distinct in the lavish colours of the setting sun. Here was a lamp with frosted panes: into the frost was etched clear glass tracings of clovers, which sent light to strike along the cobblestones. Disparate architecture marked the roughshod march of the centuries across the map of the city, with severe towers beside houses with queerly painted facades, who stood side-by-side with the pure mathematics of a sweeping archway.

And suddenly, there was a red-posted entrance with faux-bamboo shingles rippling across its green roof and a pair of stone guardians on either side of the gate's mouth. The sight ignited a glow of unexpected warmth in Jacqueline's chest. "Dinner," said Julian, nudging her towards this unexpected reminder of their mutual heritage. "It's easier than heading back and then coming out again. Faster, woman, it's warm in the restaurant."

"Thank goodness," said Jacqueline fervently. "I really don't see the point of a cold this bitter if there's no snow to go with it."

"How the heck d'you survive at school?" he asked.

"I coop myself up in my flat," said Jacqueline cheerfully. "Or else I scurry off to lectures like a bolt of lightning."

"Wimp."

"I come from a clime where it is summer all year 'round, peasant. For that matter, so do you! Have some fucking fellow feeling, damn it," she cried indignantly.

"You're terribly spoilt, that's all," Julian said blithely.

She stuck her tongue out at him, and he laughed. "Imagine if your tongue froze exactly in the position from the cold!" he explained.

"What a horrible thought," said Jacqueline. "You're an awful person, wishing that on your cousin."

He continued to snigger. When he got over his little fit, they got through the rigours of grabbing a table, and removing layers of protective outer clothing, and setting down bags, and finally ordering. Julian began to point out various landmarks through the window. "When I get homesick," he said, "I shop at the market here for food. They have most things that I need, though it's not exactly the same, and everything is absurdly priced. But if I did the maths at every meal, I'd have to stop eating altogether and wither away to nothing--"

"--to more of nothing, you're practically a toothpick as is--"

"--my point is that you've got to pretend that everything is not actually stupidly pricey."

She giggled nastily at his face, which was quite gloomy. "You know what we should do?" she said, to cheer him up. "We should have steamboat. It's the perfect weather for steamboat."

He responded to this suggestion with some reluctance. Was she aware of these things: the expense of steamboat equipment, which he did not own; the cost of steamboat ingredients, which were very costly indeed; or even the manner in which one cooked steamboat? He asked this with the deft insinuation that her attempts at the stove would likely result in the destruction of all his worldly possessions, and ended in the observation that it was far, far too brisk to sleep outside. Or underground. Moreover, the public museum did close, eventually.

Jacqueline retorted thus: the essence of steamboat was to stand raw things in a pot of boiling water until cooked, whereupon they could be fished out to throw a fête in one's mouth. As for steamboat ingredients, there had once been a man. His name was Croesus. He had been king of a country, called Lydia and had eventually been defeated by - ahem. The point was that Croesus had been a very rich man, and Julian's father was only slightly less well off than him. So there. "You know you want steamboat, Juli," she wheedled.

"All right," capitulated Julian at last. "But on one condition!"

Jacqueline carefully retracted her victorious fist.

"You find me a poem to give to my girlfriend. Yes, that's quite right," he said, though his cheeks had gotten hot. "I've never gotten anyone a poem before, and Nat is very special to me. I want a poem, that's my price."

"I am feeling conflicted, Ju," said Jacqueline, after a long pause to collect her thoughts. "A pitched battle wages in my soul. I think the side of me that wants to point and laugh is triumphing over the bit that thinks you're being sweet."

"I don't actually care," said Julian. "I need help, so I've come to you, and there's nothing wrong with that."

"Yes, you keep telling yourself that," she giggled. "You know I'm not an actual poet, right? I study hotel management in a frigid land of chocolate and cows, not cloistered away in an ancient bastion of learning like Eunice is."

"I said 'find', didn't I? Find me a damn poem, woman! Or no steamboat for you, and you get to pay rent for the rest of your stay," he rapped out severely.

"So angry, you," she noted. "Anyway, what kind of poem do you want? You don't even know, do you? You thought it was romantic and ran with it. Look, I'll quote you a few lines, you tell me 'can' or 'cannot'. Ready? 'Licence my roving hands and let them go / Before, behind, between, above, below'--"

"How is that in any way appropriate to--"

"If you don't like it, say 'cannot'. How hard is it to say 'cannot'?" She sighed. "What, d'you want something more modern? 'They fuck you up, your mum and dad. / They may not mean to, but they do'--"

"Emphatically cannot! What - WHY would I even--?!" he gesticulated wildly.

"Oi, tea cup, tea cup!" she yelped, snatching the porcelain away from his flailing. "I thought it might explain your sewing fetish."

"--I have a neat and utilitarian stitch that will be of benefit when I actually sew people up,and it allows me to earn all of my own money to spend on my girlfriends," he said stiffly. "Is there something wrong with someone of the male persuasion sewing? Why've you got such a problem with it?"

"There's nothing wrong - frankly, it's admirable, in theory! But there is theory on the one hand, and there's you, darling cousin, on the other," explained Jacqueline cheerily.

Muttering under his breath, Julian tossed his napkin at her face, which caused her to let go of his cup, and sent tea spilling everywhere after all.





It is a custom set almost in stone that if any tale should include the act of waking up, its protagonist will awaken with ponderous reluctance. Muffled cursing, and the throwing of projectiles at a ringing alarm clock are but two of many possible adverse reactions to a dawning day. They were also two of many possible reactions that were largely alien to Jacqueline; she was one of those fabled peoples who had not quite yet entered the state of adulthood, and yet found in herself very little animosity towards the morning. This gave her the function of an alarm clock who could feel pain, and was therefore useful to those unashamed to take advantage of her kind nature. When she travelled, especially, it was her involuntary habit to rise hours before the sun, chipper as a bright-eyed rodent of some stripe.

Rather than prod Julian awake, as she had been directed and as would have served him right, she shrugged on her coat and her father's scarf. She slid, as noiselessly as she could, the spare key from her pocket, and sidled out into the city. There, on the doorstep, she breathed mist into the air, stuffing her hands at once into the trailing ends of her dad's scarf.

Though more of a thin broth than a thick soup, the fog banked translucently along the rollick of the road, shying frantically away from bold lamplight that punctuated the streets every few metres. Barricades of housing along the narrow street basked in the gloom, stuffed practically to the gills with Atmosphere. Shards of ice were eating into the cobbles, glazing between stones from the passage of overnight dew.

"Bother," observed Jacqueline in an explosive whisper. She retreated indoors to fetch a pair of gloves, and had to resign herself to fishing in Julian's coat pockets for things that were absurdly large for her fingers. Out did she sidle once more, locking the door behind her without dropping the key, and set off.

Last night, high above the heads of theatre patrons, they had peered at the dispersing crowd as its individual components strained to go home. There had been a young man who staggered on wobbly legs, and pledged cantons of praise to the enchanting stars.

There was no sign now of that man or his hooting friends. With an aura of vague embarrassment, the jigsaw city took refuge in silence, strange and extreme, firmly denying any previous excess of the night. Jacqueline rather liked the texture of it in her ears. People were rather fun, but there were plenty of occasions when she liked to draw around herself that solitude which suits abstruser musings.

A gust of a breeze pierced through her pilfered gloves. Whatever was the point of the awful things if they didn't properly work? As she shivered into her equally ill-gotten scarf, she skirted around the edge of a square, which had three bare trees reaching up to the sky, beseeching the return of their leaves. Off she bustled, craning her neck here and there to fix landmarks and signs into her memory like little white pebbles under moonlight.

She wandered like a breeze through meandering streets and lanes. At one point, there had been a gently rolling hill to her left, and she had almost-tripped over a stone as she tried to look down it whilst walking. A bus, mostly emptied, obscured her view of a church which had put itself beyond the light of streetlamps.

It straddled a fork in the road, she noticed. To the left stood the way home, and to the right lay the Unknown. She hopped from foot-to-foot, wondering which tine to follow. "Ro-ti-pra-ta-char-kway-teow," she chanted, matching syllable to hop, and landed on her right. She wobbled, considering: was it all that wise to entrust such a decision to a childhood counting rhyme?

Eh, she was warm-ish from her walk, and not quite ready to go home. Whyever not?





The tangled skein of roads and routes unravelled beneath Jacqueline's feet as she marched along. Beneath the syrup of amber street lights, her shadows spiralled from beneath her feet, bobbing and weaving and lengthening into pale fragments, as her path brought her away from the aegis of one lantern to the next.

A loud bell tolled the hour. It awoke a sense of urgency in her, though why, precisely, she could not fathom. She picked up her pace, pattering along with staccato precision. Here and there people walked past her, and the odd sighting of a bus or carriage brought with it the impression of being less desolate.

With a little surge of delight, she spotted the characters that spelt out a location in a nursery rhyme, and hurried across the street to have a gander at it. There, she paused, flabbergasted. "Hullo!" she exclaimed. She hadn't intended to make her way here.

The green roof rose above her head, supported on red posts. A pair of stone lions guarded them with menacing jaws. Her eyes drank in the sight of the gate, and she could see clearly a curved sinuous line on the spine of the roof, accompanied by scales, claws, a mane of magnificent proportions - it was a dragon.

Jacqueline could not help herself; she let out an involuntary explosion of laughter, which ricocheted wildly around her. Clapping a glove over her chapped lips, she made a quick survey of the area, wondering if that embarrassingly vibrant sound had osmosed through the walls and windows that regarded her with blank suspicion. For a moment, she fancied the dragon had rustled irritably, but it regarded her from a frozen posture.

"The cold makes people do funny things," she said out loud, just in case, and skittered through the gates.

"You didn't even apologise properly," grumbled the dragon in a frequency imperceptible to her ears, as it uncramped from its - frankly - uncomfortable position.

"Leave her alone," said one of the lions. "She's not exactly from home."

"Home! What's home then?" exclaimed the other softly. "You were carved right in this city, same's I was."

Jacqueline hurried off, deaf to the drowsy squabble.

"What I mean to say is, she can't be expected to know the right way of doing things," muttered the first lion as a parting shot.

It was chilly. Jacqueline wondered if she should have set off for Julian's after all, rubbing her fingers in the fluffiness of her oversized gloves. She pulled one off to blow into her fist, stuffing it into her pockets as she quietly missed the sun and overbearing warmth of home. She even missed feeling sticky with sweat sometimes.

Lost in this train of thought as she trudged down the street, pretending that ranks of shophouses lay to either side of her, she would have failed to notice even the old man, if he had not tripped almost explosively into her line of sight.

Despite his uncommon energy, the old man remained on his toes, refused to slip on the icy ground. He skidded on the pavement, digging his heels into a controlled spin. He had squinting eyes and a large nose. On his upper lip hung wispy shreds of a white moustache, and on his sharp chin was the elegant suggestion of pale beard. He had, on his head, a flattish black cap with a button pressed into the the centre of its crown, and he wore a ratty brown coat with a high collar and silk buttons parading a straight line from neck to waist. In his hand puddled a flap of cloth, limp and shining as a pond of moonlit water. Other than these, and the scabbard at his waist, he was an unremarkable sight in this neighbourhood.

"Ah!" they said in unison. He recovered first.

"You, girl!"

"Y-yes, uncle?" she fumbled.

"Do you know that theatre - the one currently showing a production of Maidenly Death, Macabre?"

"Yes, uncle, I think so?"

"Good!" he said, thrusting the cloth into her hand. "There's a boy walking that way, taller than I am, be-monocled, chilly sort of air around him. You must have seen him."

Jacqueline fumbled for an answer. "Er, well, everything's chilly to me right now, actually..."

"I meant that metaphorically," said the old man.

"Oh," said Jacqueline, abashed. "I don't - shall I look for him, uncle?"

"Why else would I have given you the means to recognise him?" he said in a waspish tone. "Tell him that the boy who normally does the stitches bunked off at the last minute on the flimsy excuse of 'family business', and it took us an awful time to get the fiddly bits right. He'd better appreciate our efforts. Well? Are you waiting for a celestial to pick you up and put you down at his feet? Go, go!"

Clutching the thing in her hand, Jacqueline fled. It slid against her palm a little as she ran, then faltered, and gradually settled into a brisk trot. She examined it: as she uncurled her fingers, faint glistering trails of oil smeared against her palm. It was a bag, thinner than paper, and patchworked in two tones of cloth, pale colours that she could barely see beneath the lamps and the fragments of silvery-grey predawn light that penetrated the fog. Odd patches of it crinkled like tearing ricepaper, though nothing had broken, so far as she could discern. Some squares were wonderfully as smooth and supple as kidskin gloves. Where the seams showed, red stitches revealed themselves in even runs.

A row of lamps with spiked diadems narrowed into the distance - was this the right way? Yes, it was. Here were the lampposts with the winged dragons curled along the iron cap of the lantern, glass heads etched into the glass to coax the lit wick to life. Taking a corner here - ah, yes! There, along the iron base of another lamppost, paraded lions and unicorns, guarding against some unseen foe.

And there, striding along the road, was a young man. He was tall and lanky, as a jointed pole might be, though less awkwardly proportioned. He loped along with self-assurance, his hands tucked into his coat pockets, a tome of goodly size pressed into the crook of his elbow.

"Excuse me!" Jacqueline called.

The ghost girl said to him," Someone is calling you."

"Wha - oh," he said, turning. As promised, a glass monocle winked from over his left eye. His face was stern, his jaw square, and disappointment deepened the frown above the bridge of his nose. "I thought it was the old bastard."

"I did not say it was," said the ghost, who had no feet. Her eyebrows had been pencilled onto her forehead, and her once-dark hair had been drawn into neat buns. She floated nearly thirty centimetres off the ground.

In response, he ignored Jacqueline's waving, turning back to press on.

The ghost made a sound of horror in her insubstantial throat. "Are you snubbing a lady?"

"She's wandering around before dawn with only one glove, and that evidently too large for her," he said, striding on. "She's obviously an unsavoury character."

"Sir, excuse me, please!" Jacqueline said, trotting to catch up.

"And she can't see you," he added, without a backwards glance. "Which leaves me to surmise that she isn't tied up in this ghastly business. If rudeness keeps her out, then I've done my good deed for the day, which is lucky."

"You need not be so cruel," said the ghost, in a voice too sere for ordinary ears.

"And drag another innocent person into this travesty?" he scoffed. "You must be joking."

"You may say 'innocent'," observed the ghost, soft as gushing jets of bubble in a chaotic sea. "Yet I believe you mean 'useless'."

The theatre hovered into view, coloured banners adorning its perimeter. Nettled, Jacqueline cursed. "Hey, you!" She waved both her arms in frustration now, dragging the small sack through the air.

The ghost girl gasped. "Do stop! It's the bag! I can feel it dragging at me even from here!"

He halted. "What?"

Seizing her chance, Jacqueline bolted over to him. "I say!" she exclaimed, brandishing the bag. "The only reason I haven't flung this piece of frippery away is due to the fact that I have respect for my elders!"

"Yes, I do apologise," he said. "Give me the bag, please, the situation is not only urgent but dire."

"I suppose you think that excuses your behaviour?" said Jacqueline. "Let me enlighten you: it does not."

"I believe I like this lady," said the ghost, silent as a falling tree in forgotten woods.

He scowled. "I've apologised, haven't I? Listen, I must have that piece of frippery before dawn proper. Didn't the old man emphasise the urgency of your mission?"

"You--!" spluttered Jacqueline, but he had grown impatient, and grabbed the bag from her hand.

The ghost said, "This was sewn from the skins of two young lovers; they died in concerted suicide. See how the red strings symbolise their enduring bond? Yes, this is strong enough for your purposes."

"Thank those celestial creatures he's always babbling about," exhaled the young man fervently. Lamplight glinted off the rim of his monocle as he spun away and whisked off

"Hoi!" shouted Jacqueline.

"I'll apologise later," came his reply, accompanied by the flapping of his scarf, the distant rustle of pages, and the almost unnoticeable lifting of chill from the air, for the ghost had gone with him.





Incensed, Jacqueline gave chase.

Frost scrabbled at her bootheels as she skittered across the street. Catching her gloved hand on the corner of a building, she swung after the boy without falling. In the process, the glove slipped almost entirely off her hand, and the icy wind bit into her palm. She realised then that her other hand had curled in on itself like a dying bird. She hissed profanities in three different dialects as she tried to run and pull on her gloves at the same time. Racing through the alley as rapidly as she dared, she spied the tall, lanky frame of the young man at its mouth.

The ghost girl looked over and coughed, inaudible as dreams, "She has followed."

His attention diverted by the demon in front of him, he ignored her. "Take this for me," he said, thrusting the book at her from under his arm. "And get out of here before you find yourself caught in the spell with it."

Its clawed hands swaying, pendulous, the enromous demon loomed over him in a menacing manner. This gave him pause, which accomplished two things: the span in which to cast a dubious eye on the bag and say, "Old man, this had better work--"

And the crucial moment for the creature to lift its claws and begin swinging wildly. "Oh, damn" he muttered, as he dove out away from its cruel, flailing nails. "Damn, damn, damn--" Stumbling for and almost tripping into purchase against the slippery cobbles, he spun around and shouted a word at the demon, clutching grim hold of the skin bag in his hand.

It rang out in a clap, bearing all the musical fragility of a churning waterfall. Jacqueline, in the alleyway, threw herself back before a blinding white light blotted out every vestige of her vision, and a desperate flapping assaulted her eardrums.

Some moments passed ere she realised that the ringing had ceased, and that her back ached from where she had been knocked back against the wall. Coughing, she pried her stinging eyes open, and picked herself up.

There was an old fable about chopsticks in her primary school textbook, outlining the inherent frailties of a single chopstick, as opposed to twelve sticks bound together. One was more likely to break than twelve. Conducting a quick survey of her person, Jacqueline was gratified to note that this moral had not applied to her.

Everything was sound, from the frigid ground beneath her boots, to the confines of the alley that climbed up to shingled roofs and chimney pots. Even the wind had died down somewhat, though it gambolled with pieces of tattered paper in dark corners and draped them over tin cans. She picked them up, trying very hard not to think about how thoroughly disgusting the ground was. On one, she read: 'Let me not to the marriage of true minds...'

It was a poem.

The monocled boy shot an evil glare at the ghost girl, waving the bulge of the skin bag around for emphasis. "I gave you specific instructions to look after my textbook, not allow it to explode and send its pages everywhere!"

"I have no substance to pick a heavy book up with," she pointed out in annoyance. "It was an entirely impossible request. You ought not have made it of me, and you may be certain that I will submit a complaint to my supervisor. I shall do so now, in fact," and began to speak the words for the translocation spell.

Exhaling a curse, he turned to the alley, from which Jacqueline had managed to emerge. They regarded each other levelly for a few moments. "How much did you witness?" he asked, at last, exaggeratedly resigned.

"Enough to know there's a good reason that I ache all over," she replied tartly. "What are you? And what the blinking hell is in that bag?"

"I'm not obliged to tell you a thing," he said. The bag rippled; the seams strained but did not break.

She squinted. "Is that an animal in there? I'll have you up before the SPCA, sir!"

"Think of the trouble," whispered the ghost spitefully, as she began to disappear. "We'll have to rely on the goodwill of--"

The thought ground painfully into his brewing headache. "It's a yaksha demon," he snapped. "I am an otherwise normal person who managed to tangle himself into a debt that can only be paid off with temporary paranormal service, and now I'll have to pay for a new textbook on top of that, and furthermore, here you are, asking inane questions!" His monocle glinted fiercely.

"Huh," said Jacqueline. "I wasn't actually expecting that tactic to work."

"..." said the boy. He paused to peer at her. "You're demonstrating a very remarkable calm."

Jacqueline chortled. "Aren't I? It's gratifying to know the instinct to scream and gibber does eventually dissipate. Oh, come. This is not my first jaunt in a strange town at a strange time of the day. It's not the strangest thing I've seen."

"'Strange' is a very imprecise word for this," he said, holding up the bag, which he gripped at the neck.

She shook her head, exasperated and waved her hand at the piles of literature. "If I pick up and keep these papers, will there be any strange side effects?"

He rubbed his temple with his free hand. "You look," he drawled, "upon the remains of an ordinary, if overpriced, textbook for literature. So, no." He began to knot the strings on the skin bag firmly, so the demon could not accidentally fumble out. Every stitch of crimson held fast, to his pleased surprise.

"Oh, marvellous," she said. "I need a poem for my cousin, and I think I've found one about Love's constancy that suits him perfectly. He's ridiculously picky though, so I may have to bring a few others along..."

"I'm sorry, I ought to clarify my statement," interrupted the young man, looking up abruptly: "These are the remains of my perfectly ordinary textbook."

"Which you will no longer be using," she countered.

"Yet I paid good money for it," he said, setting down the bag to snatch up several pieces of paper.

"You can consider the apology you still owe me as payment enough," she said sweetly as she bent down to join him. "There, we shall both leave with things that are important to us: I with my ticket to steamboat, you with your pride."

"Pride?" he sputtered. "Blast pride, I need the money."

They bickered over this until all the legible pieces had been gathered up, when she crankily threw a silver shilling at him, and traipsed off. At a distance, she turned back, and made a distinct rude gesture at him despite her cumbersome burden. This surprised a laugh from him.

"You don't even know her name," said the ghost, having just returned.

"What, are you jealous?" he snorted, adjusting his monocle. "I'm taking this charming chap to the old bastard. Are you coming?"

The bells rang out the hour again, bonging in the only music the poor and happy need ever afford. Jacqueline, rich in loose pieces of poesy, tightened her grasp on the veritable bank of paper, and skipped home, pretending that her nose was not dripping.

"Julian~" she sang, having shoved off her boots and left the papers in a corner by the door that had once been neat. She ran to draw the curtains, traitorously allowing weak sunrays to invade the room. "Wake up, wake up, you lazy pile of uselessness!"

He threw his pillow at her, and she retaliated with a crumpled ball of paper that bounced off his cheek.

"I found you your poem."



the end
Tags: author: halved fool, book 18: winter, story
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