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urban fantasy

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Invitation: The Door

Every night, she took the same path home from work: a block to the subway, then out and past the all-night deli (sometimes she stopped in for a sandwich), then three more blocks to her home. She often worked late. A woman walking alone at night learns to pay attention. Not that it was a bad city, but you never know. Still, she was familiar with every brick and every alley, every shop, open or closed. And that was why it was so startling to her, this new door. She had passed this particular alley a hundred times. Certainly more. Never had she seen it, not in the watery light of a warm summer evening, nor when the radiance of the streetlamps glittered off winter's slush and snow.

It was below street level. Stairs led down to a sheltered entryway sealed with an old wooden door. It wasn't cheap wood, either, but something dark and glossy, carved in places with a pattern of scrollwork and what might have been vines.

No, she was certain she would have seen that before. You didn't see doors like that anymore. Everything was metal or something pretending to be wood, always bland and anonymous, as if encouraging the eye to glide past, the mind to ignore the invitation inherent in any door.

But this door - where did it lead? And what was it for? The building on that side of the alley was commercial -- a warehouse, maybe, or an old storefront. She had never seen it open, and the windows on the bottom two levels had been bricked in long ago. That's all it was -- an old, crumbling relic of bygone industry, as ubiquitous and unsightly as a dumpster.

And now this door. A faint light shone over the entryway, making it possible to see the stairs leading down, but failing to completely dispell the cloying shadows. The light didn't perfectly illumine the scroll-work either, and she had only an imperfect impression of it from where she stood. The door itself was perhaps ten feet down the narrow alley, past papers and cans and trash. Far enough that the headlamps of the cabs that jockeyed endlessly on the street beside her did not quite reach it, close enough to know that it had not been there yesterday, nor the day before.

Just as suddenly as noticing the door, she became aware of a restlessness in her life, scrabbling against the tedium of her endless routine. As surely as the door existed, there existed in her a yearning for something more.

She hesitated only briefly. Then she ducked down the alley and swiftly descended the stairs. Gripping the handle in one trembling hand, she opened the door.

-- M. Belanger

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Parasite

She knew not to drink the water. Nothing except what came in sealed bottles. Don't even brush your teeth with it, friends warned. There was no telling what might be carried through the antiquated pipes. Alcohol was best, which suited her just fine. Made the entire business trip pass by in a blissful haze. Her clients didn't seem to mind - they conducted business in restaurants and bars, all their deals concluded over drinks.

She washed her hands religiously. Never could be too careful in a country such as this. Filth in the streets and everywhere. One of the restaurants she caught a busboy sleeping on one of the back tables. When she scowled at him he got up, wiping it off with an edge of his stained and sweaty shirt. Scandalous!

She knew not to drink the water, yet still she got sick. It happened at one of the nicer restaurants they took her to, on the rich end of town. The place bustled with the wealthy and well-dressed. She tried to play it off as her stomach churned around the third course of the lavish feast. Then she felt herself pale and little beads of sweat prickled across her brow.

No avoiding it then. Muttering excuses in a halting mix of languages, she slipped from the table. She had to run the last few yards to the lady's room, rushing past a startled waiter and nearly upsetting his tray.

She leaned over the sink, wretching violently. It couldn't be the water. Maybe something she ate? There'd been eggs of some kind on the hors d'oevres but they hadn't tasted quite like caviar. Should she be sick from that so soon? An allergy she hadn't known about, maybe? She could barely think, her gut was spasming so violently. She thought she was finished, and then she wretched again and again until everything was only dry heaves. Her legs trembled beneath her and her blouse stuck all over with sweat. And still that pain in her belly...

Then she did bring something up, but only part way. It was long and solid, and she could feel it still there, halfway down her throat. She tried to gasp but found she couldn't breathe around it. Panicking, not even trying to think about it, she wrapped both hands around it and started pulling. She continued to wretch around it until finally the thing came free, the whole wet length of it coiling at the bottom of the sink.

What the hell?!?

Disgusted and amazed, she reached down to poke at it. There was no resemblance at all between this long, twisting thing and anything she could have eaten. It resembled nothing so much as a snake --

And that was when its eyes opened and it wrapped itself around her wrist faster than she could think.

Ohgodohgodohgodohgod

She cried out in her head, but her throat was so raw from bringing up this impossible monstrosity that no audible words passed her lips.

"Silence!"

And that was it. The commanding imperative resounded not through the bathroom, with any sound perceived by her ears. Instead, she heard the voice inside her head. With an impossible certainty, she knew the voice came from this thing.

She looked down at the aberration wrapped about her arm. Its tail twined tight against her flesh. Underneath a sheath of mucus and slime, it had hard, sharp scales. The tail was sectioned, and the edges bit into her skin, spikey cilia pricking her untl she bled.

And yet a strange ease washed over her even as she watched it wrap itself up her arm. A spike at the tail sank into her flesh at the elbow, and this must have carried some toxin into her system. Everything was going all light and dreamy and she hardly felt the need to object to the presence of this hideous, impossible thing.

The head was plastered over her hand, and then it twisted, looking up at her. It had a grotesque little face, complete with a pointed grey beard. It regarded her with eyes that were a strange mix of reptile and human.

"Are we done panicking now? Can we get down to business?" That incredible non-voice ringing beyond her ears.

Swaying on her feet, Theresa could not find the desire to do anything but nod.

"Right then. Out to the kitchen. I've many eggs to lay and this restaurant is brimming with hosts."

It grinned as it burrowed into her, its little face now cupped in the palm of her hand. Wiping her mouth with a crumpled towel, she numbly turned to the door and carried out her new master's commands.

-- M. Belanger

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