[Word count: 5761]


Skull-smallThe apartment smelled of cat piss.

Tara wrinkled her nose as she walked through the too small living area, critical eye picking out details. Someone had tried to clear the mould from the bathroom, but it lurked in the corners and mortar gaps.

Shaking her head at the estate agent she left without a word, ignoring the young man’s disappointment. It was the third place she’d looked at that morning, and the second with an objectionable odour.

“There isn’t much else in this neighbourhood right now,” he said as they rode the elevator down to the street.

“I don’t need to stay close by,” she said, watching the small brass hand count down the floors.

“Oh, I assumed you wanted to be near your Uncle,” he said as he opened his satchel to riffle through the papers within, “But if not there are other places I can show you.”

A bell rang over the door which opened onto an ill-lit hallway.

“There’s an old fishing cottage in the docklands, right by the harbour,” he continued as he followed her outside. Catching Tara’s expression he put the file away.

The coast that she was used to was clean; the cold and empty pebble beaches encircling the Karaiha Islands of her birth. Here too many fishing vessels compounded the smell in the hot air, mingling with the city smells of too many Humans, their food, their animals.

“Or we have a terrace house coming up next week, at the top of the rise,” he said, waving his free arm northward as he fumbled papers with the other hand.

There at the edge of the city arose tall red stone cliffs that shadowed all beneath them in gloom. Which could be good come summer, she had to admit.

“Does the tramway go up there?” she asked to enthusiastic nodding. “We can look,” she agreed.

~

The telephone cable drew taught as Tara retreated further into the garden, blocking her free ear to better hear her father. Loud music leaked beneath the patio doors behind her as band practice continued inside.

“You’ll find something soon,” he said, voice cracking slightly as the connection wavered “It’s a city, they have plenty of buildings.”

“I guess,” she said. “I want somewhere peaceful.”

“It’s a city,” he repeated, tone flat, “Mind, your mother thinks it’s nice.”

“You’ve also told me that she thought the islands were cold and lonely,” Tara pointed out.

“Well. How’s work?” he asked with a chuckle.

Tara pulled a face at the basil bush. “Good enough, bloody boring though, this town has too much grass that needs constant maintenance,” she said.

“You do other things as well, no?”

“Street sweeping, although we’re in touch with other departments in case we find busted plumbing or something.”

He chuckled again. “Sounds exciting,” he said.

Tara smiled in the dark.

Their talk turned to his day’s fishing and dwindled at last. Saying goodbye she hung up and lingered amongst the herbs until the boom of the base drum stopped.

Returning the phone to a side-table inside she found the living-room full of musicians packing away their instruments and chatting. Obscure music terms floated around her as she made her way to the kitchen.

Her Uncle was talking to the piano player and beckoned her over with a wave, but she shook her head and began to prepare dinner, nodding briefly in response to the pianist’s bright smile. The tall dark-eyed woman was uncomfortably beautiful and Tara knew from experience how futile it was to speak sensibly before her. She’d talk to her Uncle later.

As she pan fried two nerenfowl, small local game birds that she’d fast grown a taste for, the apartment slowly emptied of people and her Uncle wheeled himself to the kitchen.

“Can I help?” he asked.

“Arugula and broad-leaf parsley, if you have it,” she said, turning to shoot him a distracted grin as she continued to spoon brown butter over the small birds.

He returned a moment later with a lap-full of leaves, setting the small patio table while Tara finished cooking. Soft guitar drifted from the radio.

“More house hunting tomorrow?” Enkeh asked once he’d complimented the meal.

Tara nodded. “I’ve an early appointment,” she said, “Maybe this time we’ll find something.”

~

The offices of Edmond and Lequett were on the border between the docklands and the entertainment district, on a street with other day-light businesses. What had once been an apartment for the shop downstairs had been converted into an unusually cosy office, where Tara waited on floral couch cushions for an estate agent to see her.

A short-haired lap dog napped on the wide window seat overlooking the street, where a spot of sun slowly crossed.

“Ms Tara?” asked a woman wearing the stiffened-felt estate agent’s cap, striding into the room with a satchel at her side.

“Yes,” Tara said, standing and forcing a polite smile as she extended her hand. She’d been expecting the same young man who’d handled her search twice before, the one whose name she hadn’t remembered.

“Excellent, I’ve looked at your file and am sure I can find you a home,” she said, her smile bright and almost too large as she touched her palm briefly to Tara’s. “Shall we?” she asked, crossing the room to hold the door to the hall open.

The walk to the tram station was short, but quiet.

Folding her hands into her lap so that she wouldn’t fidget Tara listened to the rhythmic clatter of the tram as they rode westward. Deep shadow fell and the noise echoed loudly for a moment as they passed through the city wall, emerging into the sunshine on the other side. Tara peeked back through her window at the looming structure. She’d never been west of it.

The tram continued, over canals and through leafy neighbourhoods, past large yards with the occasional chicken run or keen-eyed goat watching the tram’s passing.

At last the agent stood as they slowed, departing at a small station between a post office and an orchard. The narrow road beside it led through a cluster of shops before turning away from the tracks and up a gentle rise, changing from rutted pave stones to packed dirt as it went.

Small houses were set back from the road, surrounded by large yards mostly given to wild-looking gardens. A large dog napped in the dust. At the crest of the short ridge the agent selected one of the walking tracks that led to the cottages.

“Two bedrooms, one bath with separate toilet,” she said as she led Tara past a large granite boulder in the front yard, the house coming into view as they rounded the stone.

Crunching beneath Tara’s boot made her look down, expecting a bunch of twigs. The remnants of a small animal skull lay crushed on the path. Shaking her foot she moved on.

A wide verandah encircled the yellow painted wooden cottage, a long ramp leading shallowly up one side, with large-paned windows looking out silently over the yard.

“Gardens are neglected, but it’s good soil and will be easy to work,” the agent said, climbing the three short steps to the entrance.

Tara gazed at the garden beds extending around the sides of the house, fruit trees waving from behind the building, and swallowed to clear her throat. “Yeah,” she agreed.

At home her mother had tended the few gardens that she’d managed to carve out of their stony island, while Tara had grown potted herbs. Poorly.

Following the real estate agent through the heavy front door Tara was met by the smell of warm old wood. Sunlight fell in streaks across the floorboards, dust rising to glow in columns as she walked past. Doors led to the bedrooms and the green-tiled bath, with an island counter separating the kitchen at the rear.

“The chimney is clean, firewood in the shed behind the house,” the agent crossed the kitchen as she spoke, opening the double-doors to the wide back deck.

Tara’s lip twitched at the notion of a fireplace in a wooden house as she passed the box hearth.

From the back deck she could see over the shallow valley below the hill, to where the river halted the growth of trees and grasses, the desert pale on the other side. A short lawn separated the house from more gardens and a sizeable if neglected orchard.

“What do you think?” the agent asked, turning to her.

“It’s nice,” Tara said, pulling herself away from the view.

“Available immediately,” from her satchel the agent produced a brief form which she handed to Tara, “Look over the terms,” she said before walking back inside.

Running her eyes over the legalese Tara ignored the shadows dancing at the corner of her sight, cast by the agent’s wandering.

It all seemed very reasonable.

“Do you have a pen?” Tara asked, walking into the sunny kitchen.

~

The local calender claimed that spring had just started but Tara dripped sweat as she forced the stiff windows to open. Moving her few new items of furniture into place had surely been harder on the delivery people. All she’d had to do was unwrap and place the mattress.

Slumping into the single armchair she let the cross-breeze cool the sweat on her brow. A stack of boxes by the bench held what household items she owned, but she couldn’t unpack yet.

She still had to stock the pantry.

Her local shops were a short walk, the fruit store through the orchard next to the tram track. The fruits in this warm country were some consolation for leaving her island.

Wandering between the wooden tables piled high with citrus and melons, a straw lined tray filled with large golden mangos caught her eye.

“They are not in season yet,” she said softly, speaking to herself but making the old lady fruit seller chuckle.

“Not here they aren’t,” the elderly woman agreed from her seat by the barn-doors, “Up north they are, and the Pel grow them and send them down.”

Tara raised one of the large fruits to her nose, enjoying its tangy-sweet scent before adding it to the apples in her basket and looking for young spinach leaves.

Two young men entered, greeted cheerfully by the shop keeper, and began browsing.

“Hello,” one of them, the taller of the two, approached Tara while the other man examined each mango individually, “Are you new in town?”

“How’d you tell?” she asked with a twist to her mouth.

“She’s taken Sek’s old house,” the old woman piped up, watching Tara with keen eyes.

“Moved in today,” Tara confirmed.

“Oh, well, welcome to the neighbourhood,” the man said, smiling politely before leaving her for the grape selection.

Taking her produce to the front counter Tara briefly met the old woman’s eye. She looked normal enough, she even had flowers woven through her salt-and-pepper beard in the old custom, reminding Tara of her Great Aunt.

“How’d you know?” Tara asked.

The fruit seller winked. “Old people pay attention,” she said.

The sun was setting by the time she got home, bathing her new house in red-gold light. Shadows grew in the corners as she prepared her meal, tricking her eyes with the shapes of animals and people.

She turned up the radio, humming along as she searched through the boxes for cutlery, lighting a rose scented candle to clear the remaining musty smell. As the radio wavered, static pushing through the tune, the lights extinguished.

Flipping the light switch to no avail she checked on the stove-top, which was already cooling beneath her cooked beans. Some sort of power outage, maybe a problem with the house battery?

Adding it to her list of chores she sat down at the island counter to eat by candlelight.

~

A narrow stairway took Tara to the street her offices were on, legs aching at carrying both her and her equipment. Her co-workers claimed they’d gotten used to it quickly, but she thought their memories were being kind.

The breeze that whipped around her ankles turned cool as a shadow crossed the sun, a patch of cloud hurrying to join its fellows massing on the horizon. Reaching the office she ducked out of the gusty street.

Warmly lit, the foyer had desks to one side beneath a wall of pigeon-holed forms, with a crescent shaped reception counter at the very end. The receptionist waved as she entered.

After a disturbed night’s rest she’d woken groggy that morning and misread the time. He’d found her waiting in the street, confused and in need of coffee.

Stowing her equipment Tara searched the wall of forms.

“What’re you looking for?” the receptionist asked, having approached unseen.

“Tree people?”

“You want arborists,” he said, pointing to the far left and passing her a scrap of paper, “And you got a message.”

“Thanks,” Tara said, pocketing it until she was done.

Reading it on her way out she stopped and returned to reception in confusion.

“Are you sure they said ‘no fault’?” she asked.

“Yep, wrote it down word for word.”

“Then what killed the lights?” she murmured.

“I don’t know.”

Waving away the unneeded answer she headed home.

Stopping by the fruit shop she hesitated over a small tray of potted herbs, adding a vigorous looking oregano plant to her purchases with a twist of her mouth.

“You’ll need more than that to fix up those old beds of yours,” the shop keeper said as she wrapped newspaper around the base of the pot.

“Give me time Granny,” Tara said.

A light rain started as she walked up the hill, large drops falling from the clouds that had crept over the city, increasing as she rounded the granite boulder in her front yard. Jogging the last few steps to the house she ducked under the roof, shaking a hand through her damp hair.

The clouds hid the last light of the sun and cast a grey pall through the house that the ceiling lamps did little to dispel. Kicking off her boots by the door Tara crossed to the kitchen as a flickering shadow in the spare room caught her eye. She’d been in there yesterday weighing the benefits of a second bedroom for guests against those of a dedicated art studio, and had opened the window to air out the dust.

Expecting to find the rain whipping past the curtains she pushed open the door, stopping in the doorway. In the centre of the room a shadow warped reality, like a flicker at the edge of her eye except Tara was looking straight at it as it bent and burst, the edges rippling back to leave a woman in a plain dress standing before her. Floating before her, she realised as she glanced down at vaguely transparent toes drifting an inch above the floorboards.

The woman’s face twisted in either anger or pain, sending Tara stumbling backwards as the numb shock fell from her limbs with a jolt.

“No, no,” she said, turning for the front door.

Dashing down the stairs and into the rain without her boots she paused briefly beside the boulder, glancing back over the dark yard at the house. Nothing moved within the warm light. With a shiver Tara walked downhill.

She got as far as the tram station before she questioned where she was running to. Her first impulse was to go to her Uncle’s apartment, but the thought of bursting in, dripping wet and shoeless, to one of his practice sessions tightened the knots in her stomach

Ducking into the shelter of the station awning she followed its cover toward the small wooden shack that she assumed held the public toilets. The door swung open at her touch, not on a wash-room but on a small unmanned office. A handwritten sign was stuck over the old fashioned telephone.

FREE FOR PUBLIC

The wooden chair squeaked as she sat at the desk.

Her nerves rang along with the phone line, tensing as it went unanswered, cutting out with a sharp beep. He might be in the shower.

Setting down the phone to wait Tara looked around the room, spotting another door with the tell-tale lock on its front, sitting on green.

Washing her hands in the small basin she focused on the cool water running over her wrists. What had she seen?

She splashed some water on her face, drying it on her sleeve as she returned to the phone. Her Uncle’s number rang out again. If she could get shoes and a towel she might be able to make herself less noticeably shaken.

Tara scowled at the phone as she dismissed the thought, annoyance rising with a moment of clarity. Snatching the receiver she dialled from memory, tapping the fingers of her free hand on the table as she waited. Was it past office hours?

“Edmond and Lequett, how may I help?” said a voice on the other end.

“Yes, hello, I’ve just moved into one of your houses-”

“Address?”

“The crest, Ral Street.”

“A moment please,” the voice said before the line cut over to a slow musical refrain for a moment.

The line clicked. “Hello Tara,” a different voice said, “Is something wrong?”

“The house has something, in it,” she said, fingers tapping faster on the tabletop as she tried to order her thoughts, “It’s, there’s something infesting the spare room.”

“An insect problem?”

“No, I don’t think so, it’s more like a, apparition,” Tara said haltingly.

“An apparition?”

“Yes, there’s a see-through woman just floating in there.”

“That doesn’t sound too dangerous.”

“Too-? It’s disturbing, no transparent house mates were mentioned when I inspected the place!”

“I assure you this apparition of yours is not paying rent to our agency, and is not a house mate.”

Tara rubbed her brow. “Look, can you get rid of it?” she asked.

“I’m afraid not,” said the voice.

“What? Why not?” she demanded.

“If you’ll refer to your copy of the lease you’ll find that Edmond and Lequett are responsible for all physical attributes of the property, other attributes are the responsibility of the tenant.”

“Other attributes?” Tara asked, voice catching, “There’s a thing in my spare room!”

“From your description it is not a physical thing,” the voice explained patiently, “Should wildlife enter the building and become a problem we would happily pay to relocate, but this isn’t wildlife. However be sure to let us know of any physical damage that this ‘thing’ causes.”

“Please stop saying physical like that.”

“I apologise. Is there anything else I can help you with this evening?” the voice asked.

“No,” Tara said with a sigh, “No I suppose not.”

“Have a good evening.”

“Sure,” she said, setting down the phone.

Rain rattled against the roof as she stared at the spot where the plane of the table met the wall. She should try her Uncle again.

Standing with a huff of breath Tara walked outside, wrapping her arms around herself as the wind cut through her damp clothing. Pacing back and forth before the door she tried to dismiss the image of the woman, the thing’s, face, which kept interrupting her thoughts.

“Evening,” someone called from the street, their voice familiar.

Tara turned to find the old fruit seller standing within the glow of a street lamp, a large black umbrella protecting her from the rain.

“Oh, hello,” Tara said, raising a hand briefly.

“You doing alright?” she asked, stepping closer to squint at Tara’s face.

“Sure, fine.”

“It’s not the best evening for a barefoot walk,” she said with a nod at Tara’s feet, “Why don’t you come have a warm drink and tell me about your day?”

Taking breath to politely decline Tara hesitated, taking in the look in the old woman’s eye. “Thanks,” she said, stepping under the umbrella.

~

“I always thought there was something strange about that house,” Nola said, bringing the teapot over to the large, ring-stained wooden table where Tara was seated.

The old woman’s kitchen was hung with drying herbs and copper pots, and was pleasantly warm after the rainy walk. Despite the shock of the evening Tara was mildly amused when she’d followed the old fruit seller to the house next door to her own.

Nola had introduced herself once they were out of the wind, bustling about the kitchen in that comforting way that older people have while Tara settled with a towel.

“You’ve never seen it?” Tara asked.

“No, Sek was social enough around town, but never hosted guests,” Nola said as she sat across from her, “This may be why.”

“I don’t even know what it is, what can I do?” Tara asked, pushing the hair back from her face and staring into her tea cup.

“You can sleep here the night if you need,” Nola offered, “My children are all grown and my partner’s away so I’ve the space.”

“That’s very kind,” Tara said with a weary smile, “But I’ve nothing with me, I think I need to go back.”

Nola raised a brow over her cup.

“If this Sek of yours lived there for years without being maimed it must be harmless,” Tara said, “Right?”

The old woman said nothing, looking from Tara’s face to the rain still battering the windows.

“If I could borrow an umbrella?” Tara asked, following her pointed look.

“If you’re sure,” Nola said, rising, “Come along then.”

Following her to the door Tara gaped as Nola started donning scarves and coat.

“You’re not coming,” she said.

“You aren’t confronting an unknown apparition on a rainy night by yourself,” Nola said, grasping the still damp umbrella and looking at Tara with steely eyes.

She raised her hands in surrender.

“You hardly know me,” she muttered as she followed Nola outside.

“We’re neighbours.”

It was a short walk through a gate between their yards, the lights of Tara’s living room soon visible through the trees and rain. The front door was still open, knocking against the wall as the wind flew in and out of the house.

“Hello?” Tara called, stepping into the living room, an eye on the doorway to the spare room.

Nola followed half a step behind her as she peeked inside. Nothing moved, even as Tara turned on the light and checked the wardrobe.

Returning to the living room she shrugged. “I wonder-”

“Hello?”

Turning toward the kitchen and the voice, which wavered and crackled like a radio, Tara felt Nola grab her arm. The same woman, still vaguely translucent, hovered before the kitchen sink, watching them with a bemused expression.

“Diih take me,” Nola swore, squeezing Tara’s arm, “What is it?”

“’It’ is a she,” the apparition scowled, “And she is a ghost.”

“No,” Tara said, voice flat, “No, what are you?”

The woman moved toward them, passing through the island counter as though it weren’t solid wood. “I’m a ghost, the ghost of Lene Ral Ca Vik,” she said.

“That’s not real, ghosts aren’t real,” Tara said, turning to a wide-eyed Nola for help, “Right?”

“Uh, right,” she said with a short nod.

“So what are you?” Tara asked again.

The woman, Lene, rolled her eyes and floated back to the kitchen, poking her head into the fridge.

“Why are you in my house?” Tara asked, stepping out of Nola’s hold to follow.

“Used to be my house,” came a muffled voice from within the fridge.

“You aren’t a ghost,” Tara said, ears warming with frustration.

“If you say so,” Lene said, leaving the fridge to pass through the door to the pantry.

Turning back to Nola, Tara found her looking as confused as could be expected.

“Tea?” the old woman suggested, making for the stove.

“Ooh, could you make mine a cup of that spiced stuff, with the cloves?” Lene said, her head popping through the pantry door.

“Why do you want tea?” Tara asked.

“I like the smell.”

“The smell?” she asked, “Ghosts can’t smell, how can you smell?”

“Who says ghosts can’t smell?”

“You’re not a ghost,” Tara snapped, but Lene only shrugged.

“Am I making three cups?” Nola asked as the kettle boiled.

“Why not,” Tara said, throwing up her hands in defeat. The evening, it seemed, would be devoid of sense.

With no table and only one chair they stood in the kitchen to drink, Lene lowering her face into the steam.

“I’m so tired of the smell of dust,” she said.

“Lene, why are you here?” Nola asked between sips.

“This used to be my house,” she said, her hip drifting through the counter top as she turned to speak.

“But, I’m sorry if this is rude, but why aren’t you with the other dead people?” Nola asked cautiously.

“I don’t know.”

Tara busied herself with spooning honey into her tea, clenching her teeth against the obvious response. If this thing was going to pretend to be a ghost who was she to insist on a more reasonable explanation?

Sneaking a look at the apparition she searched for any signs of it’s true identity, but Lene had committed to the guise. She wore a richly patterned shawl over a simple shift, her loose curls hanging thick about her shoulders. The sink was dimly visible through her torso.

“Can you leave the house?” Nola asked.

“If I want,” Lene said slowly, her eyes narrowing, “Why?”

Nola shrugged, setting down her cup. “I’m wondering how it works, what the rules are,” she said.

“Ah,” Lene made a small noise of understanding before floating through the bench and away from the conversation.

Tara sighed and rubbed her face. Things weren’t going the way she’d expected, but they weren’t going how she’d hoped either. What was she supposed to do with a ghost?

A protracted gurgle from her stomach made her wince.

“Are you hungry? I’ve a roast in the oven,” Nola said with a nod toward her own house.

Tara hesitated, tempted, but shook her head with a sideways glace at the ghost lingering by the front window. “Thanks, but I think I’ll stay in tonight,” she said.

~

Walking down the hill in the morning sun, Tara breathed deep of the fresh spring air. It was good to be out of the house.

Her ghostly companion lacked many of the traits Tara had initially feared, such as a taste for Human flesh, but managed to annoy and unsettle in ways she never imagined. The flickering, shape-less blob that Lene became when viewed from the very corner of the eye was distracting at first, but Tara was already getting used to ignoring it.

Lene’s habit of leaning close to sniff things she found appealing was harder to brush away, as she repeatedly interrupted meals. There was a slight stickiness to her insubstantial form, like trying to pass a fork through thick cob-webs.

Shaking off the memory Tara checked the clock on the wall as she reached the tram station. She’d noticed that the schedule was more of a rough suggestion than a set routine but hadn’t broken the habit. Settling herself on a bench beneath the awning she heard shouting from the fruit shop, realising in a moment that it was Nola calling her name.

Meeting the old woman at the edge of the orchard Tara touched her palm and smiled at the young man who was half a step behind, carrying a closed cardboard box.

“You’re going in to work?” Nola asked, casting an eye over her clothes, “Bako has an injured lizard, can you take it in?”

“Uh, okay,” Tara said, accepting the box from him, “I’m sure the receptionists can help me.”

“I found the poor little thing in a fence this morning,” he produced a folded paper from his pocket, “I wrote down my details, if they need.”

Hearing the approaching clatter Tara took it from him and called goodbyes as she dashed back to the platform.

The receptionist had refused to accept the boxed lizard from her, patiently explaining that wasn’t part of his job. He instead directed her through the courtyard at the rear of the building and up a spiral staircase to the offices of animal control.

Letting herself in to the climate controlled corridor she looked around for any signs of life. Quiet clung to the chilled air, the din of many birds resounding dimly from somewhere deeper within.

“Hello?” Tara called softly as she crept down the hall, “Any one up here?”

A door clicked open several paces further along, a round, bespectacled face emerging to frown at her. Holding a finger to his lips the uniformed worker beckoned her closer.

“Sleeping marsupials,” he said with a stab of his thumb at the other doors, “Keep it down.”

“Sorry,” Tara whispered, crouching toward his ear, “Can I give you an injured lizard?”

He opened the door further, revealing a covered sling crossing his chest with three small lumps within. “I’m babysitting,” he said before giving her directions and closing the door.

A breeze-way separated the reptile building, the sound of birds louder on the short verandah.

Inside it was warmer than the mammal rooms. Crooning came from an open door leading from the antechamber, and Tara peeked inside to find a woman talking to a snake.

“Who’s a clever python? Who shed their whole skin? Such a good boy,” she said, her back to the door as she guided a snake longer than her arm into an open enclosure.

“Sorry to interrupt,” Tara said, tapping on the door frame, “I’ve got an injured lizard.”

“Bring it through,” the woman said, locking the python in and leading Tara through double swinging doors to a brightly lit exam room.

The strong smell of unfamiliar chemistry tickled her nose as she followed, handing over the box to reaching hands.

“Lay a fresh sheet down,” the woman said, nodding to a metal table with a roll of large paper towels on top.

She opened the box, shaking her short dark hair from her face as she pulled out a rough-spiked lizard and placed it on the surface Tara had prepared.

“I’ll just,” Tara began, gesturing toward the door, but the other woman paid her no heed.

“Oh darling, those need cleaning,” she was saying as she inspected the insides of the lizard’s thighs. “Grab that bottle with the long straw at the top,” she said briskly, gesturing.

Finding the bottle Tara passed it to her.

“The person who found it gave me his contact, if you need it?” she offered as she watched the cleaning.

“Cream with the purple tag in the top drawer, bandages in the second-to-top,” she said, not hearing Tara’s words, “I need the inch wide.”

By the end of the procedure the lizard looked like it was wearing underpants. The other woman settled it while Tara filled in a form on where it’d been found.

“Thanks for the help,” the woman called over her shoulder as she washed her hands.

“I’ll bring you every injured lizard I find,” Tara promised as she left.

~

A magpie’s warbling song rang through the warm garden over the hum of insects. Tara sat on her deck outside the kitchen doors, hunched over the table that she’d bought the day before. The paper she worked on held her rough sketch of the garden, and her tentative plans for it.

“You shouldn’t plant rosemary so close to tomatoes,” Lene said as she hovered beside Tara’s chair.

Without a word Tara crossed out the herb, re-homing it with a moment’s thought in a different bed.

“And the shed is bigger than that,” Lene added, squinting at the drawing.

“Close enough.”

“It’s twice that size.”

Tara blinked and frowned at the rough square. “Really?” she asked, “That lump under the vines?”

“It’s big,” Lene said, “You haven’t looked inside?”

“I haven’t been here for as long as you,” she said, but Lene only sniffed.

Tara rose.

It was a short walk across the yard, but the heat and glare were a near physical barrier. Beside her, Lene’s edges were lost in the full sunlight, a broad brimmed hat with a fine scarf draped around it covering her head.

A leafy vine blanketed the shed wall facing the house, consuming the edges of the door and the awning to the side that held the stacked firewood. Pushing through the squeaky portal Tara squinted as her eyes adjusted to the shade.

Lene was right. Longer than it was wide, with doors in the wall beside the awning, the space was more than twice what she’d expected. The room culminated in a wall of windows, letting in the light and the view.

“Dusty,” Lene said as she floated behind Tara, her hat gone now that she was out of the sun.

“It could be cleaner,” Tara agreed, walking over to the windows. “Is it weatherproof?”

Lene shrugged as she drifted through the glass.

Slowly circling the room Tara imagined it without the dust and leaf litter in the corners. Forcing one of the side doors open with a squeak of rusted metal she brushed away the cob webs before leaning outside to survey the paved strip beneath the awning.

Turning back to the room Tara started as her nose brushed Lene’s shoulder, recoiling from the faintly sticky air.

“What have I said about floating so close?” she demanded, making shooing motions with her hands.

“What were you thinking about?” Lene asked, unconcerned as Tara edged around her.

“Before you crept up behind me? I was still wondering about weatherproofing,” she said as she left, forcing the door back through the vines, “This could make a good studio.”

“Painting?”

“And pottery,” she said, a skink diving off of the garden edging and into the weeds as she passed.

Checking the time she set aside her garden plans for the afternoon, heading into the kitchen to start dinner.

“What’re you making?” Lene asked, hovering close to the garlic as Tara carried it, carrot, and celery to the bench.

“Soup, my Uncle’s coming for dinner,” she said. “I thought I told you?”

“You did, you also mentioned that he’s a musician,” Lene said as she watched Tara crush a clove of garlic and set it aside for her. “Thank you.” Lene lowered her face to the fragrance.

“You aren’t forcing him to entertain you,” Tara warned, but Lene simply shrugged, growing tired of the garlic and floating around the kitchen instead.

“Oregano needs water,” she said, pointing to the potted herb on the windowsill.

With a sigh Tara filled a cup.

Copywrite © 2017 W C Hill (wchwriter) All rights reserved.

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