The fireflies flitted --fields of them, row after row of houses fallen in on themselves (these fields, made of houses somersaulting) in and through their black hole basements. Collapsing houses, strange geometries and jagged, crooked windows all giving way to a flood of fireflies from a mild winter.
Peter scowled and turned the air conditioning in his car up, the radio quietly crooning.
Naara also scowled, but at Peter, not the heat, or their local lack thereof. "Your hoodie smells like the back of a butcher shop, you know that don't you? Don't you do laundry?" She poked at Peter with two mis-lengthed feelings.
"Ouch." Peter said, without meaning it.
"Seriously though," Naara asked, "How do you know you'd rot in the heat?"
"It's what dead things do." Peter replied. He unbuttoned the collar of his immaculate white shirt and pushed his seat back. "We rot." he said to the ceiling.
Outside in the summer, fields of fireflies flitted through the bone sills and sinews of dead houses.
Peter broke the silence, he said: "It's coming." He buttoned his shirt back up, zipped up his baggy black canvas jacket. He turned the car off and stepped into the humidity.
Naara hoisted the hooded sweater, some oblique obelisk design --she assumed a defunct band logo-- on the chest, over her head and followed suit.
"Thank-you for closing the door quickly and not slamming it." Peter said, staring into the fireflies. He remarked: "There's so many of them. They're so pretty." Then started walking down the street.
Naara stood for a minute in contemplation of Peter's dark outline, the shock of lip-like bubbled skin on the back of his head the only light in the otherwise black silhouette. She sighed, adjusted her headband and strode to catch up with her supposedly dead companion.
The duo walked past three front porch stages, their wooden curtains torn down by neglect and a wave of , their roofs jilted and obviously aching.
They passed a house studiously swept clean, a new copper roof, and a cobblestone walkway lit bright by ornate lantern porch lights, swaying softly in a breeze that didn't reach the uneven sidewalk.
Without slowing, without looking back, Peter told Naara, "That house is a house of magic and barter."
"It looked out of place."
"It would look out of place where ever its tenets were."
"Like the opposite of a cloaking device."
"Like a retarded chameleon."
"Like a Michigan winter in New Orleans."
"Like blossoming apple tree in mid October."
"During the fit of warmth or --?"
"The day before."
Peter nodded, then stopped, abruptly. "Here we are, then." he said, sounding somewhat surprised.
Naara looked back, only two house spaces since the house of magic and barter, but its porch lights were city moon wan. Before and around her, around them (she corrected herself) the blackness was desert dark. Peter took her hand, but she shrugged out of the gesture. Naara felt him shrug: shoulders brushing in the blackness.
"Here, drink this." Peter said, "It'll help you see in the darkness."
"I'm fine without, thank-you." Naara replied, with a gently denying push.
"You'll be night bind." Peter stated, but Naara laughed. She patted his shoulder, three slow times. She twisted his wrist, the vial, back into his jacket pocket.
Another shrug in the dark.
"This is the basement."
"More like a hole."
A long moment to notice the line fireflies dared not cross.
"This again?" Peter asked; strode into the enveloping, shallow dark, his scar quickly fading in the night. He crouched for a moment, toed his way around the edge of the foundation, then bent down. Naara heard a deep sniff and a stifled cough as she caught up with him. Hunched on all fours Peter scampered around the corner, shouldn't have disappeared --nothing there of the house left-- but did.
Naara hopped to catch up and felt the air change as she rounded the corner.
A moment to notice the hard, pastel pink of the knife held against Peter's throat, a shoddy leather glove: a hand on Peter's windpipe. Peter's eyes bulging --fear(?), impatience(?). Within this same moment, a moment the size of no fire flies, not even wan moons: teeth like lightning, moving, silence; glowing next to Peter's ragged (was it always ragged?) ear. No blood. The moment began to end and
And the end of the moment, ushered in on the bloodless the edge of the pink knife beginning its seesaw into Peter's throat; the whir of springs and hairpins.
The next moment: a muzzle flash through a homemade silencer looking like a victorian children's night lamp; teeth splintering, the pink knife shattering; a scream like a fast deflating balloon.
The next moment: the shoddy glove hit the ground, mangled under Naara's thin shoe, her right hand pushing Peter away, behind, back around the corner. Out.
Peter stumbled, fell to his knees and laughed a bark of a thing, cut off as he crossed some ghostly ley line, but so what? Naara was busy.
Naara's heel twisted on the glove, ripped it, as she crouched; dove hands, arms, head first over the edge, into the desiccated basement, gun in hand.
Peter's attacker's back turned to her as it fumbled with the wrong hand in a coat pocket, the correct arm deflated, useless; maggots or some other twitching and convulsing pupae dropping --plip plop plop-- from out the wrecked sleeve.
"I will shoot the fingers holding the key before they're out that pocket." Naara shouted. Her voice was eerie, brittle, in the basement.
A moment to wonder: Did he jump across the --was it a-- pit?
Another wheezing balloon.
Another children's lantern flash and the soundless skittle of fingers and keys --keys?-- disappeared into the --yes it was-- pit in the middle of the basement.
The assailant turned. A melon of maggots run through (sewn together?) with kelp for a head. No Neck. Upturned collar. Naara steadied herself, gun pointed; waiting, watching the maggots delve and revolve.
Eventually, tooth shards emerged as rows. "You." The maggots formed. "Why you?"
Naara shrugged in the darkness.
The maggot man jerked, good arm flailing, windmilling, before it fell into the pit in the middle. Peter called out across the pit: "You lost us the key, didn't you?"
"Keys. Yeah. Couldn't tell it was a pit, Peter."
"You lost us a bunch of keys?"
"I lost us a bunch of keys."
Naara could hear Peter's sigh all the way across the pit in the desiccated basement. "I'm going to need a scarf." He said. "And a very specific purse."
"Nope!" Naara said.
The door through which the assailant failed to escape opened and