Finalist for the 2009 WSFA Small Press Award
Also included in The Year's Best Fantasy and Science Fiction 2009
Silent As Dust
by James Maxey
The Company I Keep. I'm judging a talent show in the attic of Seven Chimneys.
The theatre is a maze of cardboard boxes, gray with grime. The moonlight
through the round window serves as our spotlight.
First up is Dan, a deer head with five-point antlers and a startled look in his glass
eyes. Dan sings "Jailhouse Rock" as if it were a blue grass ballad, accompanied
by Binky, a sock monkey with a quilted banjo.
Next comes Professor Wink, a 65-year-old teddy bear with one eye and half his
original fur. Professor Wink is a juggler, keeping aloft a crochet mallet, a broken
lava lamp, and the ceramic manger from the Christmas decorations. When all
three items are in the air, he grabs an old bowling ball and tosses it into the mix
with a cool grace that earns him points.
The last act is Tulip. She's a baby doll with no left leg. Her act is to climb high
into the lofty rafters of this old Victorian attic, then leap. She unpins the
threadbare dishtowel someone diapered her with long ago and flips it into a
parachute. She drifts toward the floor, reciting the Gettysburg Address. For her
finale she lets go, and plummets to a safe landing in a white plastic bucket.
Tulip is an unusually talented baby. Also, alas, a noisy one. She lands with a loud
I hold my breath.
Darcy's voice from the room below: "Don't tell me you didn't hear that."
"Ish muffin," Eric mumbles, sounding as if he were on the verge of sleep. The
mattress creaks. Then he says, "It's an old house. It has noises."
"Something's moving in the attic," Darcy says.
"Maybe," Eric concedes. "Don't worry about it."
"What if it's a raccoon?" she asks. "They carry rabies."
The light flips on beneath me. Thin pencils of light shoot up through cracks in the
corners of their ceiling. I creep across the rafters, light as a breath, placing my
weight with practiced precision on joists I know will not creak. I hear Eric and
Darcy in the hallway, near the pull-down stairs. I reach the main chimney and
slither behind it, into the shaft that leads to the basement.
The springs twang as the attic steps are lowered. Light chases me as I drop into
the passage and wedge myself against the bricks. I go corpse quiet. I've taught
myself not to cough, fart, belch, gurgle, or sneeze. My breathing is soft and silent
as cotton gauze.