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The Dead Girl And The Rock
About the Author: Arwyn Sherman lives in the woods of Maine. Their work has been selected for four anthologies.

The bar is mostly empty when Edan walks in, his boots leaving an even print along the floor as he steadily examines the one large room that serves as both a bar and gambling hall. Morning light illuminates half-filled bottles of liquor behind a long, shined wood panel. No matter how much the barmaids scrub they can’t quell the perpetual smell of stale drunkenness. Even the air feels illegal here, covered in the silt that permeates the entire town. A dry and dusting reminder of the constant degrading of the land.

The owner, Garren, sits at the very back booth, jaw clenched around a cigarette and arms crossed, obvious displeasure in every crease of his face. His shirt is stained with sweat and dirt, pushing against his supple gut. His business partner crouches in the seat opposite him, limbs as thin as his counterpart’s are wide and clothed in what once was a nice suit.

They probably wouldn’t have called enforcers except it’s a murder they’re dealing with and even amongst the thieves and scammers that frequent this hole, they don’t deal with killings.

“When did you discover her?” Edan asks.

“Around about the time we called for you.” Garren spits onto the floor and takes a heady inhale of his cigarette.

“They overdose sometimes or there’s accidents,” the partner says, gesturing his almost-skeletal hands as an accent to his speech. Edan thinks his name is Percy but can’t quite remember. “When they do that we don’t bother with notifications. But this was something else, and we’d rather do everything by the books and avoid trouble.”

“You should still call,” Edan feels obliged to say, even though the three of them know they won’t and why they won’t, “Whenever one of your charges dies.”

Maybe-Percy smiles politely and gives Edan a small head tilt in response. Edan ignores him and crouches down to inspect a speck of gold on the packed dirt, careful to keep his crisp navy blue uniform from touching the floor. It’s an abandoned token for card games, painted aurelian but chipping to reveal the wood underneath. He leaves it and walks to Garren.

“Show me where,” he says, and Garren wordlessly turns to the stairs that lead to the boarding house.

The girl is the kind of old dead where everything is stiff and the bruises are from where the blood pooled on her still body more so than any pre-death injury. The heat from the season has made the cloying smell of death fill the room, sticky against Edan’s face as he walks in. She’s lying across a bed, halfway flopped off it, a milky pale arm extending down to the mussed floor. Her pointed ear has a line of blood running down it, now dark and dry. A sharp set of canines that proved useless in the last moments of her life. Edan crouches by her, peers at the winding tattoo on her collar bone that, if he were more educated, would tell him what outpost she’s from. Dirt crests under her fingernails; Edan figures she was likely a maid in her living years. Shipped to the colonies from the forests too thick with fae. They call it indentured servitude, but everyone knows there isn’t a way to work out of the debt.

“What’s her name?” he asks Garren.


“Anyone told her family?”

“She doesn’t have one.”

Edan exhales forcefully, biting back the cutting remark he wants to make. Her blood-orange hair, not long enough to make it to the floor, floats around her like a forgotten sun. He can smell a faint wisp of incense that must be coming from another room, winding smoke to try and cover the reeking corpse scent. The fight was brutal. Her face is broken down the center, an opening across her neck blossoming like a fatal flower against moonlight skin. Blood sprays across the cream walls. He brushes some of his stray black hair out of his face and makes his way to the vanity across from her. Sees a comb with a single white stone embedded in it, a stick of rose color rouge. The mirror shattered and glass flung about, a broken perfume bottle that leaks the smell of fake flowers.

Garren watches Edan move through the room, eyes steeled on every motion, every place Edan’s eyes look. These kinds of businessmen don’t engage with enforcers, and Edan would guess they’re standing above an impressive amount of illegal activity for him to be that on edge. He doesn’t care about the drug running or smuggling, though he wouldn’t tell Garren that and ruin the enjoyment of watching the man crawl out of his own skin. Edan only really cares about Khallesiah.

“She have anyone that you know of who would want to hurt her?”

This story appears in our JUL 2024 Issue
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