ANNIE WALKED DOWN A HALL painted the glossy crimson of Minoan temple interiors.
Tess's aunt had given Annie the key to their apartment so that Annie could sometimes fetch things for Tess -- or the creature They had put in Tess's place, the object her aunt sang to, spoke to, and cared for.
She switched on the lights in the parlor, stared at the empty place where the painting called Atenoux had hung.
She stepped into Tess's room and sat on the bed. Gossamer curtains drifted in a breeze laced with honey and dusk. Unlike her own cluttered haven, this was a room of stark hues, ivory and black. On the bed was the pewter casket that had held Tess's medication. She frowned at Tess's reading glasses, the books on the nightstand -- Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner, and a book of poems by W.B. Yeats. So. Tess had begun to suspect.
Annie touched a petrified sea horse dangling from the bedpost and whispered, "What happened?"
He came, the little thing whispered, from Between.
Annie dropped her hand. She began to shiver. She rose and left the apartment.
As she clattered down the stairs, clutching the bannister to keep from falling, she felt the world shimmer. Her breath suddenly became vapor in the glacial air that swept from outside.
On the veranda, shadows stirred, came forth, became two ivory boys and a girl. The taller of the blonde boys, in a Led Zeppelin T-shirt and jeans, looked as though he'd stepped from the Seventies. The sly-eyed boy in a ribboned jacket and striped breeches, a flower in his hair, resembled a Renaissance page. The girl's black velvet coat and plumed top hat didn't look like a costume. Her raven hair was knotted in two braids, and inky crescents were painted beneath her poison-silver eyes.
Annie knew what they were, these creatures who looked human. She could see shadows slithering around them like ribbons, smelled moss and flowers.
She remembered sauntering through a field of wildflowers with Tess, tugging her tie-dyed skirt away from nettles, clutching at her straw hat to keep it from the wind as she watched Tess's green-painted fingernails break the stem of a sunflower. Annie had been telling her friend stories. "The Empress of Ravens is beautiful but merciless. She's consort to the King of Crows. The Magpie Knights, who are twins, are also her lovers."
"What are their names?"
"Someday, I'll think of names for them."