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  • Writer's pictureSydney E. Low

Flies-On-Paper-Wings

Updated: Mar 4, 2022

TWO MINUTES AFTER

Seeing the world from my eyes, I know this was no accident. It’s raining, the water plastering my hair to my head and neck, and making the cheap, dollar store – or is this the drug store stuff? – dye run down my face like coloured tears. To be honest, that’s a pretty good summary of what the rest of the world looks like, too. A cheap, temporary, artificial rebellion just for kicks that didn’t stick like it was supposed to. If I open my eyes – not that I want to, but I’ll have to eventually – I’ll see a road stretching out in both directions, the highway lights reflecting off the water on the asphalt.

I don’t want to look. I don’t to see the body on the side of the road that used to be a person. A colour-splattered, bright, dancing girl who carried feathers in her pockets. But it’s harder to imagine her that way now that I’ve seen her as a corpse, with blood soaking the already wet grass, headlights white-washing the blood and the water alike, with every car that whooshes by. But I can’t keep my eyes closed forever.

“Fuck–” Dances takes my hand then lets go of it again once she realizes how bloody it is.

“C’mon, Paper-Wings, we gotta go and for fuck’s sake, wipe the blood off your hands.”

To someone seeing the world from the outside, maybe they’d think it would make sense to run out onto the road and wave my arms for help. At least try. But it’s raining and I’m looking at the dripping dye, bloody hands, lights reflecting off the road world through my eyes. So, from that point of view, it’s easy to wipe the blood off on the grass and follow Dances into the forest on the side of the road, leaving the body behind.

FOUR WEEKS BEFORE

“Dances-In-The-Streets?” I frown, but still take her outstretched hand and shake it.

“You can call me Dances for short.” She grins and leans back against the Joshua tree that stands out front of my high school. “If you want.”

“Do you really?”

Dances tilts her head to the side, her box braids – dyed bubble-gum pink and cotton candy blue mixed in with the black – shifting with the movement. “Do I really what?”

“Dance in the streets.”

She throws her head back laughing. The sound cascades over the droning voices of students leaving for the day and sends a chill through me. “If there’s music, sure. But I dance other places, too, if that’s what you were asking.”

Toying with the paper crane in my hands, I hesitantly smile. “Right.”

“So, now that you know my name, what do you say?” Dances reaches out and flicks a paper wing. “I’ll help you dye your hair if you teach me how to make those. My place isn’t far. We can pick up dye and paper on the way.”

“Uh,” I blink, then give my head a shake, “yeah. Sure. Let me just text my dads… What should I tell them your name is?”

Dances shrugs, stands up off the tree and starts walking down the street, hands in her pockets. “Whatever you like. I’ve had a few now.”

Typing as I follow after her, I send the message and turn my phone off before Dad’s response comes through. “By the way, I’m–”

“Ah!” She clamps a hand over my mouth with another grin. “Don’t worry about that, we’ll sort the name out later.”

I frown, but find myself grinning back anyways, pocketing the paper crane. “Okay…”

Dances takes my now-empty hand, “C’mon,” and takes off running down the street, pulling me along behind her, our feet slapping the pavement.

TWO WEEKS BEFORE

“So, are these friends of yours that we’re meeting?” I ask as I trail after Dances down the slope to the underside of a bridge. “People from the parties?”

Dances skids down the hill with ease. “In a way.”

My feet send small rocks making up the dry creek bed scattering when I get to the bottom. “Are you always this vague about everything?”

Tossing a grin over her shoulder as she steps under the bridge, Dances asks, “Doesn’t the air of mystery make things more fun?” She laughs, invisible bubbling water to fill the empty stream. “Don’t worry, Wings. No more mystery after today.”

I gasp as I follow after her, staring up at the cement support. The whole thing is covered in brightly-coloured graffiti, smaller paintings making up one bigger picture. A diamond with an eye in it, an hourglass full of flower petals, a paintbrush with what looks like needles instead of bristles, two different coloured eyes, a honeycomb with shards of glass in it. All of it somehow connected to or overlapping the dancing figure with her hands above her head that stretches from the ground to the underside of the bridge – the same one Dances has tattooed on her forearm. “It’s beautiful.” I turn to her. “Did you make this?”

Dances shrugs. “It’s a collective effort. I just bring all the pieces together.”

“What is it, though?”

“A record, of sorts.” She drops her backpack to the ground and pulls out rattling cans of spray paint, biting the inside of her cheek. “I normally put this part off as long as I can.”

“How come?”

“Usually, it’s the part people start running if they’re going to.”

“Um, do I want to know why?”

“Well, not everyone can see them…” She gives me a crooked smile. “But I have a good feeling about you, so I figured I’d better get it over with one way or the other. Here.” She motions for me to turn around again and covers my eyes when I do. “Do you see them?”

“All I see is black.”

“Just wait.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I see something – like a sunspot except it’s blue and moving. I turn my head, Dances’ hands moving with me. It’s a little floating ball of blue light. Another one appears, this time cherry. And another. And another until my vision is full of sparks of light. “What… What are those?”

“We’re not sure, really. We just know they like to hang out in abandoned places. ‘Liminal spaces’ if you want to be fancy. Queen-With-A-Clay-Crown calls them the Others.”

“That’s a long name.”

“She’s been around a while.”

I twist again to follow a lime light. “How long’s ‘a while’?”

“Longer than me.” Dances takes her hands away. “She’s the one who brought us all together. And now me and the other four-names bring in more people. If you stick around long enough and Queen-With-A-Clay-Crown likes you, maybe one day you’ll have your own graffiti place with your own one-names.”

I close my eyes again, looking around. One of the lights – a pink one – circles the place where I know Dances stands, like an electron circling an atom. “Why does that one seem so attached to you?”

“Because it is. If you can keep an Other entertained, it’ll let you do fun stuff.” She giggles. “You think I can just phase through space or turn an empty warehouse into a dance floor by myself? That’s why I brought you here.” She takes my hand. “For you to get one of your own, so you can be one of us, too.” For the first time since I’ve met her, Dances looks unsure. She holds out a can of bright green spray paint. “If you wanna stick around, I’m sure my little collection would look ever better with a paper crane added in.”

Shutting my eyes again, a lime Other spins around the can of spray paint curiously.

Dances takes my hand and I open my eyes. “We can be your friends. Ones who won’t leave you behind.”

Giving Dances a small smile, I take the paint and face the picture.

ELEVEN MINUTES AFTER

We both have pine needles clinging to our arms and legs when we stop running. The air I gulp down is filled to the brim with their scent. Only the tops of the trees are illuminated by the streetlights on the other side of the hill. Down where we are, the world is shrouded in shadows. The pitter-patter of water on underbrush overtakes the splashing of cars driving by until the tires on the road are nothing more than whispers.

I push my hair back off my face. My hands come away a painter’s pallet of lime and cyan and magenta. “What happened?”

Dances looks up to the sky with a big sigh. “It was her name, Wings. You said her– Remember how I said names are important? With the Others, names are really, really important.”

“But,” I frown, “my dads call me my real name all the time. Why don’t I do that?”

“Call it selective hearing: You have to have an Other yourself for them to be able to hear you.” Eyebrows turned up, and still panting, Dances looks to me. “You know this isn’t your fault, right?”

I suck in a breath through my teeth. “Uh, are you sure about that?”

“No, no, no, I didn’t tell you. Usually, people ask why we use the names– I just– I don’t know, I just forgot.”

I consider the streaks of blood on my hand. For a moment I just watch as they mix with the rain and drip off my fingers. “Why did she do that?”

“Knowing our names gives the Others control over you. Most of them are just bored like us and want to have a good time so they won’t do much if you keep them entertained. But some are,” she holds her hands out and shrugs, “sadistic? Their idea of ‘entertaining’ is… different. It’s just,” Dances lets her hands fall, “impossible to know which one you’ve got until…”

“Until they make you do that.” I recoil, wanting to crawl out of my own skin. “What do we do now?”

Dances straightens. “We go find Queen-With-A-Clay-Crown. She’ll know what to do.” She offers me a forced grin. “She always does.”

“How’re we going to get back? She phased us pretty far from the looks of it.”

Dances closes her eyes, murmuring under her breath. The dyed streaks in her hair and the dancing figure tattooed on her forearm flicker weakly, then go out again. She clenches and unclenches her hands. “Alright– Okay. It’s fine. We’ll just start walking back and hope we find someplace abandoned on the way so I can phase us–”

Sirens fade in over the downpour. The lights colouring the top of the trees turn from white to alternating red and blue. I guess someone noticed.

Dances grabs my hand, “No time to waste, Paper-Wings,” and drags me back into a run.

THREE WEEKS BEFORE

“Of course, I’ve thought about sneaking out, but that’s not an option unless I suddenly become James Bond. Besides, this” I gesture to the bleached section of hair Dances is dyeing lime, “already pissed the two of them off enough the first time.”

Dances chuckles and dips the fan-shaped brush in more dye before continuing to paint it onto my hair.

“I think they mean well, but they’re just suffocating sometimes.” I sigh and rest my cheek in my hand. “They seem determined to suck out any fun I might possibly be able to get from high school. I’m a year away from going to university and I’ve barely even been out past sunset alone.”

“All the best things do happen after dark.”

“Exactly! And I’m never going to get to see any of it!”

“What about when you’re in collage?”

“No way can I afford to go to college anywhere but here.”

“You’ll at least be able to make some new friends, though, right?”

I shrug. “I don’t know. Making friends isn’t the problem, it’s keeping them. I’m always the one who gets left behind. Scoffing, I shake my head. “I’m going to be stuck waiting until I move out to do anything fun and by then I’ll have to adult and there’ll be no time for that.”

Dances taps her finger on the brush as she works, the only sound other than the bathroom fan – a poor attempt to keep the chemical smell of dye from becoming too strong. “What if I told you I could get you out?”

“Huh?”

“Of your house. If I could James Bond you out, would you sneak out with me tonight? It’s a bit fast, but there’s someplace special I want to take you.”

I pass her the next chunk of hair. “If only.”

“I mean it– Oh, you’ll need a name…” She considers one of the cranes I’ve folded, sitting on the bathroom sink. “How do you feel about ‘Wings’?”

“As a nickname?”

Dances grins. “Think of it as a code-name. Names are important, you know.”

I raise an eyebrow as she finishes with my hair, but, in the end, I shrug. “Sure, I guess. If you can sneak me out, I’m yours for the night.”

I swear Dances’ eyes glow purple. She leans in close, pausing before she breaks eye contact. “You can keep a secret, right?”

I scoff. “If I do manage to get out of the house, I’m definitely not going to tell my dads.”

“Good.” Dances leans in and whispers an odd set of instructions, then sits back again. “Can you remember that?”

“Yeah, but… how’s that going to–”

Dances covers my mouth, fingernails stained green. “I’m going to need you to put the cynicism away for this to work, okay, Wings?” She winks. “Dress for a good time.”

~~~

“I could do a lot worse than dye my hair and hang out with a friend past sunset. I thought you wanted me to make friends,” I shout down the stairs when I get to my room. “I should buy a landing pad for all your helicoptering. Maybe then you’ll let me go somewhere without feeling the need to breathe down my neck the whole time!” Slamming my door shut, I huff and lean against it, listening to Dad and Papa’s muted talking.

Turning my focus to my room, my gaze lands on my closet. Weird and improbable as Dances’ instructions were… Trying is better than sitting in here all night.

Dressed in hopefully what qualifies as “for a good time”, I sit on the floor – only feeling a little stupid – and close my eyes. “Dances-In-The-Streets, are you there? I want to come out and play. Dances-In-The-Streets, can you hear me? I need to escape today.”

Holding my breath, I wait. And wait. And wait. Cracking an eye open, I scan my room. Nothing. I sigh and stand, ready to flop into bed and not come out for a week.

“Hey, Wings!”

Yelping, I trip over my own feet and fall backwards onto my bed, gaping at Dances’ head and shoulders sticking out of my closet. “What the hell? Where did you come from?”

Dances steps out of my closet, one of my scarves around her neck. “You’ve got some nice clothes in there.”

“Wha… There’s a wall behind there, how did you?”

“You called me here, didn’t you?”

“I said some words that rhymed, but I didn’t think it would really do anything!”

Dances pats my shoulder. “Ah, the skeptics are always the most fun.” Draping my scarf around me, she chuckles. “I came out of someone’s car trunk once. That was hard to explain to the person walking by.”

I blink at her as she walks around my room, hands on her hips, surveying the dark purple walls covered in drawings and pinned-up origami. “I don’t– How did you– I’m so confused?”

“Eh, don’t worry, you’ll figure it out eventually.” She grabs my hand in both of hers and pulls me back towards the closet, beaming ear to ear. “Now, come on! It’s getting late. We’ve already started.”

“Who’s already started what?”

“Come find out. And quick, before the phase ends.” She steps inside the wooden doors, her body going farther in than it should be able to.

“Dances?”

The back of the closet looks different now. Translucent, with multi-coloured lights glowing as if on the other side of a sheet. Looking over my shoulder, I hold my hand out and press against it. It feels like ripping paper, and I fall through into a world of colours and loud music. Some kind of warehouse. The air is hot from all the people. All around me other kids dance, some shouting over the song. The bass vibrates in my chest when I breathe.

Dances is already moving through the crowd, as easily as walking down an empty street. It’s like those diagrams with planets and grids they showed us to explain mass in eighth-grade science – the whole dance floor bends and warps around Dances’ gravity. She waves me over. “C’mon, Wings! Don’t you wanna dance?”

I look behind me at the wall that used to lead to my bedroom – now just bricks – wondering where the hell am I, but by the time I turn back to face her, I realize I don’t care.

Dances beams and holds out her hand as I move towards her. “Atta girl!”

I don’t know, I don’t care how long later, Dances leads me to a collection of mismatched chairs in the back corner of the warehouse, out of breath and giggling. “Fun, right?”

A boy sitting across from me nods. “Nice hair.”

I run my fingers through the newly-dyed lime streaks. “Thanks.”

“Wings, this is Diamond-For-Eyes–” Dances eyes seem to glow purple the same way they did when she was dyeing my hair – like white fabric under UV light. But this time, I swear the coloured strips in her hair glow, too. “Just a sec. One-name is calling.”

“‘One name’?”

She gets up and walks through a wall, vanishing.

“Newbies, like you,” the boy says. “That’s what she means by one-names.”

I blink, then turn to Diamonds-For-Eyes. “You see that, too, right?”

He chuckles. “First time?”

I nod.

“It’s called phasing. Or at least that’s what Queen-With-A-Clay-Crown calls it. The Others can mess around in liminal spaces so we can sorta… jump between them. Abandoned places, spaces with closed doors, the like. And they can do stuff like this, too.” He motions to the warehouse, the lights that don’t seem to come from any kind of bulb, the music that seems to just be a part of the air. “Space-phasing.”

“Dances… Made this place?”

“The inside, anyway.” He shrugs. “And technically her Other did it.”

“Her what?”

Diamonds raises an eyebrow at someone behind me. “Did you explain anything to her?”

“Geez, Diamonds, go easy on her, it’s only her first night out.” Dances has reappeared, a girl in tow–

Wait, I know her. She’s in my English class. Amy.

“Wings,” Dances says, sitting back down, “this is Feathers.”

“Feathers?”

Amy/Feathers pulls out a few feathers from her pocket. “Call it a hobby.”

Diamonds is giving Dances a pointed look. “You’re seriously not going to tell her how this works? Queen-With-A-Clay-Crown isn’t going to–”

Dances groans and wraps her arms around my shoulders. “Why do you have to suck all the fun out of it? Can’t I just enjoy my one-names while they’re still new?”

“Who’s Queen-With-A-Clay-Crown?” I ask.

Diamonds’ look turns sharp. “Seriously, Dances?”

“All in good time,” she says. “And that’s Dances-In-The-Streets to you.”

Diamonds rolls his eyes and leaves.

Craning my neck to look at Dances, I ask, “Why can I call you by a shorter name if he can’t?”

She gives me a squeeze before letting go. “Because I like you and Diamonds annoys me.”

TWO WEEKS BEFORE

“I pinkie promise it doesn’t hurt as much as you think it’s going to. Plus, Paintbrush-Of-Needles is great with first-timers.” Dances winks and the heavily inked tattoo artist rolls their eyes. “Oh, come on, Needles, that’s a classic.”

“I don’t know how I put up with your jokes long enough to become a three-name.”

I shift on my feet and eye the person with the tattoos, closing my eyes. Sure enough, a silver bundle of light orbits around them. “So… they’re one of you, too?”

Dances clicks her tongue and shakes her head. “No, no, no, Wings. One of us.” She loops her arm through mine. “Soon to be Paper-Wings. After you get the tattoo.”

Needles’ eyebrows jump up. “That’s pretty fast for a two-name.”

“She’s very dedicated.” Dances looks at me with a close-lipped smile that makes me stand taller. “Hardly missed a party and found an Other on the first try.”

Taking a deep breath – the air stained with the smell of ink – I unloop my arm from Dances’, and lie face-down on the cushioned table, pulling my hair off the back of my neck.

“A paper crane, right?” Needles asks.

I nod. My Other spins around me faster, like it’s excited, lime green streaks filling my vison when I blink.

Dances squeezes my hand as Needles switches on the tattoo gun. “Atta girl.”

Mostly to distract myself, I ask, “So, how do you become a three-name?”

“Time,” Needles says over the hum of the gun. “Young people are known for their impulsiveness, not their commitment.”

Dances chuckles. “Can’t have you learning all our fancy tricks only to take off.”

“Am I not going to learn how to teleport now, then?”

Dances laughs for real now. “No. You need another name for that.”

A while into their work, Needles pauses to refill the ink. “Has she met Queen-With-A-Clay-Crown yet?”

Dances pauses running her thumb over my knuckles for a moment. “No,” she says, resuming the repetitive gesture, “not yet.”

Resisting the urge to turn my head – in case I mess up the tattoo – I ask, “How long until I get to meet her?”

“Don’t worry, Wings.” I can hear the grin in Dance’s voice. “You’ll get to meet her soon. We all do eventually. She’s kind of like… Well, like our queen. It’d be kinda disrespectful to not. But not yet.”

We. A warm feeling runs down my neck through my whole body, like the ink being injected into my skin is putting it here. Our. I smile to myself. Us.

THIRTY-THREE MINUTES AFTER

Branches snap under our feet as we walk. I think it’s someone looking for us every time. But it never is.

“Queen-With-A-Clay-Crown is gonna kill me,” Dances mutters, biting her thumbnail. “Okay, she– She’s not, but she’s not gonna be happy. And she’s definitely not going to let me bring around any one-names for a while.” She takes a shaky breath. “If ever again…”

I push a branch aside and hold it back for Dances. “What would that mean for you?”

“My Other would get bored and leave.” Dances sighs. “I’ll have to walk everywhere I want to go. If I want a party, I’ll have to find one because I won’t be able to make one myself. It means the world will go back to being dull again.” She gives me a sad smile. “Don’t worry about me, Wings. It happens to everyone eventually. We grow up, things get dull again. We’re just putting off the inevitable.”

I brush wet strands of hair out of my face. “If that’s the case, do you just want to walk back?” I offer her my hand and a weak smile. “Prolong the inevitable as long as we can?”

Dances’ shoulder’s sag, but she gives me a crooked grin and takes my hand. “Great idea.”

The sun is starting to come up when we get to the city’s edge, orange light reflecting off windows like fire. Plenty of empty buildings here. But I take out my phone and put on my favourite songs and Dances laughs and starts to dance along with me. She throws her arms up and spins, braids splaying out in a halo. We splash in puddles, our clothes stuck to our bodies. The scraping of our shoes on concrete echoes off the abandoned buildings. We could be the only two people in the world.

Eventually, we pick a building and go inside.

Dances takes a deep breath and lets it out again, closing her eyes. Her hair glows properly. I close my eyes and see Dance’s Other perk up, brightening from a broken Christmas light to a neon sign. The wall behind her turns translucent.

She sighs and takes my hand again, “Can’t put it off forever,” and we step through.

ONE WEEK BEFORE

“What if she doesn’t like me?”

“Relax, Queen-With-A-Clay-Crown is going to love you.” Dances loops her arm through mine.

“Really, she’s not as scary as Diamonds tries to make her sound.”

The building is different from the abandoned warehouses and empty strip malls Dances’ parties usually take place in. A crooked sign reads “Piano Manufacturer,” but the name of the company has faded away. Jazzy music scatters out from the windows along with the chatter of voices.

A buff woman stands in front of the doors and holds up a hand. “Two-names only.”

Dances holds out her tattooed arm. “Dances-In-The-Streets.”

The woman turns to me.

I pull my hair back – freshly dyed for tonight – to show my crane. “Paper-Wings.”

Nodding, the woman opens the door and lets us pass.

Dances pulls me into a side hug. “You’re running with the big girls now.”

The piano factory is filled with people sitting around tables, with a smaller group slow-dancing to the jazz pouring out of a beat-up piano. There’s still the faint tinge of paint in the air if I take a deep enough breath, and the floorboards move and squeak under my feet. Different parts of pianos or half-assembled ones are scattered throughout the room, like pieces of art, and unused metal strings hang from the roof. Painted on the back wall is the outline of a crown. Dances’ figure tattoo is inside, along with five other pictures.

My eyes dart around the room, trying to guess which of the girls is Queen-With-A-Clay-Crown.

“Here I was thinking I’d become too boring for you.” A girl with a leather jacket hanging off her shoulders comes up alongside Dances, bleached hair spiked up. “Or maybe you’d just run off on me.”

“Never.” Dances spins, pushes me closer to the girl, then steps back. “This is Paper-Wings. My newest two-name. Paper-Wings, this is Queen-With-A-Clay-Crown.”

Queen-With-A-Clay-Crown turns her gaze to me. Her irises glow white in the way Dance’s sometimes glow UV purple. A shiver runs through me as she leans closer, staring at me intently. Her jacket shifts, revealing a tattooed sleeve on one arm that pulses and shimmers in time with the piano notes. It almost seems to move. A crown is on her shoulder, the rest of the sleeve made of different pictures, some I recognize from Dances’ graffitied bridge, but most I don’t.

“Um, hi. I’m glad I finally get to me you.”

Queen-With-A-Clay-Crown holds a finger to her lips and my jaw clamps shut of its own accord. She puts her hands in her jean pockets, walking around me in a slow circle, never taking her eyes off me. When I start to fidget, she murmurs, “Stand still” and my body does. She pauses to brush the hair off the back of my neck. “Hm.” When she gets back around to the front of me, she nods to Dances. “I guess I’ll have to go see Needles again and add to the sleeve.” She gives me a final once over and a toothless grin. “Enjoy the music,” she adds as she walks away.

My body goes back to being mine. “Uh… what was that?”

Dances bites the inside of her cheek. “Well, I said she was like our queen. So, we kinda have to listen to her.”

“Okay… Was I supposed to get anything from that?”

“She likes you.” Dances laughs and hugs me again. “I knew she would.”

NINETEEN MINUTES BEFORE

“Dances finally explained things to you?” Diamonds shouts over the music.

Behind me, Dances rolls her eyes.

“Yup! Met Queen-With-A-Clay-Crown and everything.”

Dances leans in and says, “I’m going to go see if I can find Feathers. She became Carries-Feathers this morning and I feel like I owe her a dance.”

I give her a thumbs up and go back to dancing while she disappears into the crowd.

A while later, I push my way through the moving bodies to the edge of the room, out of breath and sweating. Flopping into a chair, I watch others dance. And then I spot Amy on the edge of the crowd. “Feathers!” I shout, holding an arm up. “Dances is looking for you!”

She doesn’t hear me.

Dances walks along the wall, scanning the crowd. I flag her down, pointing towards Amy. Dances nods and quickens her pace.

But Amy starts to move further into the dancing mass.

“Hey, hold up,” I call. “Amy!”

She pauses– No, it’s more than that. She stops moving completely. Frozen. I can’t even see her chest moving.

Somewhere behind me, Dances hisses, “Shit,” and then shouts louder, “Everyone back up!”

Heads turn and people move away as Amy starts twitching, hands coming up to cover her ears.

“Feathers?” Dances asks, taking a tentative step towards her.

Amy’s head turns at an almost unnatural angle to look at Dances, a too-big smile on her face. She starts laughing.

Dances’ eyes go wide. “Oh, f–”

Amy stumbles forward a step, looking like she’s forgotten how to walk, muttering, “Amy, Amy, Amy, Amy, Amy,” under her breath. “Mine now, mine to play with how I want to now.”

“Someone, grab her!” Dances lunges for Amy, but she falls over backwards out of the way.

Still laughing hysterically, the ground under her turns translucent and she falls through it. Without thinking, I dive through the phase after her and land on wet grass, music giving way to rushing traffic and falling rain. The streetlights paint her face in shadow, but her eyes pulse yellow. Two flickering bulbs. It’s then I notice the rock in her hand.

“Hey, Feathers, just hey, why don’t you put the rock down?”

She just laughs and hits her head with it with a sickening crack.

“Stop!” I throw myself at her but she hits herself again and drops to the ground. Shaking, I drop to the ground next to her, taking the rock out of her limp hand, turning her head and trying to wipe the blood away to gauge the damage. But she’s gone still again. Frozen. Not even breathing.

At some point, Dances ends up on the grass next to me. She pulls me away from Amy’s body, saying something I can’t hear.

I can’t look away, so I close my eyes.

FIVE HOURS AFTER

The warehouse is deserted when we phase back, except for Queen-With-A-Clay-Crown sitting in the center of the empty dancefloor. Her leather jacket’s next to her, tattoo sleeve on full display. She just raises an eyebrow.

Dances’ next breath catches. “We had a… a bit of an incident.”

Queen-With-A-Clay-Crown nods. “Diamonds said.”

“You know what, Diamonds can fuck right off.” Dances crosses her arms, glaring at the door. “If you’re going to kick me out, can my last request be that at least he’s not the one who takes my place–”

“I’m not mad, Dances.”

Starting, Dances blinks at her. “You’re not?”

Queen-With-A-Clay-Crown shakes her head. “No. Not at you.” She looks to me, standing. “You on the other hand…”

I try and take a step back but my body becomes not mine and I stop.

Queen-With-A-Clay-Crown’s tattoo shimmers as she walks towards me. “We don’t have a lot of rules here, but I like to think that the ones we do exist for a damn good reason–”

“Um, actually– It was my fault.” Dances grabs and lets go of her pants. “I forgot to explain why we use the names to her.”

Releasing her hold on me, Queen-With-A-Clay-Crown turns her glowing eyes to Dances. When she avoids her stare, Queen-With-A-Clay-Crown snaps, “Look at me” and Dances does. “No more new one-names from you until this mess dies down. If you want to keep your Other, you’ll have to rely on the other four-names to keep it entertained.”

Dances nods silently.

Queen-With-A-Clay-Crown turns back to me. “You can stay. I assume this will be enough to help remember why we don’t use real names here.”

I nod vigorously.

Giving each of us a final piercing stare, Queen-With-A-Clay-Crown leaves, the door slamming like a judge’s gavel.

Dances and I are left standing alone. We slowly turn to each other. A short, nervous laugh escapes Dances. Then a longer one. And then I join in. At some point the laughing turns to crying and we end up on the floor, holding onto each other.

“I guess we get to put off the inevitable for a little while longer.”

SIX MONTHS AFTER

“Flies-On-Paper-Wings?” the sophomore student frowns. “That’s your name?”

I give her an easy grin. “What, do you not like it?”

“No, no! I like it! It’s just… unusual. But-but I like it.”

Dangling my legs over the roof’s edge, I watch the other students leave the school under us. The wind picks up, blowing strands of hair in front of me, colouring the world in stripes of lime and cyan and magenta and teal and rose. “I do, too. I worked hard for that name.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Stick around long enough and you’ll find out.”

“Alright, then…” Curling her knees into her chest, she shivers. And I know it’s from me, not the wind. “By the way, I’m–”

I hold a finger to my mouth. “Shh.” I can’t make the grin as easy this time. “It’s more fun if I don’t know.”

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