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THROUGH THE GREY
A Short Fiction Collection
BY KAT RICHARDSON
At the intersection of the normal and the weird, lies the Grey: a place where whatever you believe in hard enough comes to dangerous life, and death, magic, and the unexpected lie in wait. The journey begins with a ghost’s pleas for justice that lead paranormal PI Harper Blaine to an unsuspected crime. Ranging from harrowing to humorous, these ten tales from the imagination of Kat Richardson travel into the realms of mystery, science fiction, fantasy, and more:
- Share a drink with a reindeer on the run.
- Discover a young genius whose nightmares may be the key to a post-apocalyptic world’s return to the sunlight.
- Meet a witty woman warrior and her wisecracking dragon companion.
- Shadow Detective Rey Solis on a strange case of bank robbery.
- Confront a mysterious figure in a magical tower.
- Befriend menacing clockwork dogs.
- Accompany an undead thief on one Hell of a job.
- Enter a roadside dive where a salesman’s life takes a comic turn for the worst.
- Explore a Mexican graveyard with Harper Blaine on the Day of the Dead.
This volume includes two previously unpublished pieces, as well as the limited-edition version of the Harper Blaine story Chemotherapy, and two other tales from the Greywalker universe. Enter the Grey and let the journey begin.
By Kat Richardson
A slab of thick, cool glass lay on a patch of weedy gravel, slightly canted up by a rock under one corner. The piece was almost two inches thick, a rectangle the size of a large tea tray. Greg trod on it as they strolled across the field, the sole of his boot slipping a bit on the smooth surface.
He swore and stumbled a little, putting one hand out to catch his balance. A bit of rusted wire, wrapped loosely around a post, sliced into his palm.
“Crap,” he spat, sucking on the cut.
Liss stepped over the glass and peered at him. “Tetanus.”
Greg swallowed blood and frowned at her. “Yeah, right. Nothing a wide-spectrum antibiotic won’t drop in its tracks.”
Liss rolled her eyes. “Tough guy…”
“Tough as they come.” Greg looked down at his hand, gave it a flick and then ignored the oozing wound.
“When you’re in your right mind.”
“Yeah, I know. I’m a freakin’ head case.” He looked around the empty field. The remains of a low, crude fence marched across the scrubby ground at an angle, cutting the open area into two uneven triangles.
He remembered the field from old wartime video. The fence, thigh-high, of posts and razor-wire had been concealed in the tall grass that grew here, then. A man-trap, the barrier stopped the lines of fleeing refugees, tearing living flesh from the first to meet it, until it became a visible barrier of blood and horror. Those immediately behind recoiled, slowed and became targets for the advancing troops. The tough and the desperate used the living and dying bodies of their comrades as stepping stones and fled. Those too horrified to go forward fell beside the fence and rose no more.
Except as ghosts in the imagination, as memories in computer-minds, displayed with agonizing clarity on viewscreens in school rooms, in small displays of personal items like tiny shrines in the cubicles most called home, in the voices of the extremely aged. Unreal to someone Greg’s age, or even to Liss, ten years his senior. It was their grandparents’ war. Their own was not to be fought in a realm of bullet-torn meat and wet red earth, but of mindspace and memory and whispering electrons.
Greg stared out at it, measuring the regular placement of the posts with his gaze, sweeping the field for anything interesting, anything that he could focus his mind on. Liss started to walk away from him, into the field, parallel to the fence. Greg stood his ground and watched her, crossing his arms over his chest, his fist clenched over the cut. One drop of blood slipped from his hand and painted a blade of grass at his feet.
Liss’s long, dark dress billowed in the breeze. It seemed like such an impractical garment, but she’d insisted on wearing it. It covered her legs and clung to them as she walked. He’d seen her body in much more detail, but he couldn’t help staring at the way the wind molded the fabric to her, making these legs, defined by the rush of fresh air and smoke-colored fiber, different from the legs she normally wore.
She walked out into the field of a thousand metallic sparkles, head down so her hair swept over her face, stripes of premature gray and white looking like tears in the dark fabric of it. She crouched down and touched something just above the ground.
“This is where my grandfather died,” she called back. “Or at least, where they found him. The tag has the right number on it.”
Greg took a few stiff steps toward her. Another drop of blood fell unnoticed in his path. “He’s on the wrong side of the fence, isn’t he?” He did not care about her answer, he only wanted her to keep talking. The breeze moaning over the barbed wire was beginning to sound like distant sobbing.
“He went over the fence like the refugees did and then one of his own shot him in the back.”
“Why?” she repeated, rising to her feet. “I don’t know. My grandmother never said.”
“Wouldn’t the Army database say?”
“I’ve never bothered to look.” She turned toward him.
“You don’t want to know?”
“It doesn’t matter. He died here, like a thousand others. That’s enough for me.” She shook her hair out of her face and started toward him again. “You don’t like this place, do you?”
She stopped in front of him and smiled up at his scowl. “I do, kind of. It’s a living memory. Alone of many buried, it remains. And it’s quiet here.”
“Quiet… Not for me. It’s an empty field where two hundred soldiers with guns slaughtered eleven hundred people who only wanted to run away.”
“It’s that, too. See, one thing can have several faces. Depends on where you’re standing and what you’re looking for as to what you’ll see.”
“I see a sterile field watered with blood.” The singing of the wire fence crept along his spine.
“And for the same reason that, when you look in a mirror, you see a monster, while I see a man.”
“I am a monster, Liss. I’m useful, and you can dress me up and make me behave, but it’s just a nice act, not the truth.”
“The truth is sometimes not what you think.” She walked past him. He turned, hoping they were leaving, and followed her, but she stopped beside the heavy glass.
“Look at it,” she said, pointing down. “It seems solid, unmoving, hard, but did you know glass is actually a liquid? It never stops flowing, glacially slow. Come down here and look at it.” She knelt down, her dress a dark pool around her.
Reluctant, he stooped and looked at the massive, heavy, glass slab. It was so thick it was dark green from the impurities. It glinted slightly as the sun struck it between the shadows of their bodies. The color made it seem that it must be icy to the touch. He started to extend his injured hand, then stopped. Vibrating discomfort down his back gave him pause and he squeezed his eyes shut.
“They say you can reshape glass over time by forcing it to flow where you want it,” Liss said. “It flows so slowly, yet, it does move. You could drive a nail through it without shattering it if you were just patient enough You’re like this glass, Greg.” She reached out and took his hand, pressing his palm against the smooth surface of the slab. Her hand rested, warm, over his. “Strong, hard, pacific, but ultimately brittle when struck hard enough.”
The glass went cold beneath his hand and he pulled away, shuddering a little, leaving a smear of blood on the surface. He stood up, suddenly, and Liss had to catch herself to keep from falling over.
“I’m not like that. It’s an illusion, a facade. I’m like them, out there: the ghosts who only look like humans,” he snapped, sweeping one hand back toward the remains of the fence. “But, inside, they aren’t humans. They’re hollow at best; at worst, monsters, like me.”
Frustrated, lashed by the weeping of the wind, he glared at her and strode away. She tried to scramble after him, but the force of his inner turmoil drove him too quickly for her to catch up.
Kat Richardson is currently wandering loose through the mountains of Western Washington in a trailer with two dogs and a husband. It’s even her own husband. Along the way she has been an actor, singer, costumer, Renaissance Faire performer, dancer, writing instructor, seller of beanie babies, and a freelance editor. She is the author of nine bestselling novels in the Greywalker series, one award-winning SF novel, and a few unspeakable things that live in an electronic trunk. Trust me, it’s better that way….
Photo credit: Edward Peterson, 2012
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Thanks, Kat, for sharing your story with us!
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