There is something unnatural about the way the Good Neighbors eat. Something almost predatory. The perfect, ecstatic smiles, dripping with gold leaf and the bloody nectar of foreign fruit. They gorge themselves on acorn caps full of spiced yams, on mushroom heads turned inside out and slathered in stolen butter, on still-bloody venison, crusted in turmeric and thyme and coriander spice. Even their wine is more pungent. Plum-purple and gold, swirling in glasses made of quartz and ice. They are horrifying in their perfection, their precise, sharp movements with which they rip the flesh apart, pluck a planet-round grape from the cluster and pop it between their pointed teeth. Their silverware is bone, crystal, sometimes wood, and all of it shines like water beneath the lights nestled in the roots above their heads. There is no salt to be found on the long trestle tables. Every other spice under the seven suns, but no salt.
The musician strikes a chord on her violin. You, sitting, terrified in your seat, can hear the wails of a thousand lost souls beneath the bow. They’ve told you how they make their music. How they string their instruments with the vocal chords plucked from living men and the sinew of gallows trees. The sound calls to your second heart. The one you keep hidden deep beneath your lungs. You’ve stuffed your pockets with iron nails and hung hawthorn berries from your ears, but you really do want to dance. Don’t you?
Black Tie Requested|
You’ve worn through the soles of your shoes. Sweat and tears streak your face. The woman beside you has perfect pink eyes and tapering white ears. Her hair is made of snow. It sloughs off her shoulders in powdery waves. Her fingers are blackened with frost and frigid on your skin, sticking to the warmth that radiates from inside you. You’ve lost your shawl. The one made of moss and clover flowers. She spins you in her arms, faster than your head can take. You are dizzy. Your dress weaves around your ankles, the red silk leaves of the bodice are beginning to slip, letting your breasts pool up over the lip of the cloth. Your partner is smiling with her glass teeth and you fall in love with her, and the terror she stirs in your heart, instantly.
There is a lake at the edge of the Underhill. Beneath the great hall with its dances and thrones and its horde of frantic, too-bright eyes and too-sharp teeth. Hairy roots woven with sun-bright gemstones dip down to suck the clear water with thirsty mouths. You don’t remember how you escaped the dance—but your feet are aching. Your shoes are nowhere to be found and your stockings are in tatters about your ankles. Blood pools at the base of your big toenail. It is quieter here. You can see where the underside of the hill connects to the rock below. There is a tunnel across the lake. You can make out two figures on the far shore, love-tossed and laughing. Your mouth tastes like bile and the sweet rush of the wine. You wish it was darker here. You wish for quiet. Somehow, there are stars, even underground.
There is no such thing. Or at least, there is no such thing here.
RSVP As Soon As Possible—Invitations are Limited|
The door has vanished. You cannot find your way from the revel. It would be rude to ask to be taken home, anyway. And here, manners are everything. Do not thank anyone for anything. Never give your name. Never ask concessions to be made for you. They do as they will, and you must adapt around it. Give them no reason to harm you. Don’t question the logic of lullabies. It will drive you mad, for certain. If you were to be so impolite as this, you would not be a very Good Neighbor, after all.
Rosalie Lander is a part-time poet, full-time student, and Editor in Chief of Western Washington University’s 2019 Jeopardy Magazine. Her current goal is to become a full-time author, but copyediting looks promising as well. When she isn’t cursing a blue streak at verb tense, she can be found petting dogs, and reading good books. Preferably ones with wizards in them.