Excerpt: Empty Vessels

The person working the shop was, in fact, an odd duck. He was a young man in his early twenties, probably no older than Keith himself, with hair so pale that it looked white and eyes so blue they looked silver, and skin almost translucently pale to match. Keith would have found him a strange choice to work in an antique shop without the Otherworldly energy surrounding him in a haze.

The clerk looked up as they entered with a nearly-manic welcoming grin. “Afternoon, gentlemen.”

“Ah,” Lucas said, shocked.

His own heart was skipping a beat, both at the sight of what he was sure was an Other and at the immediate acknowledgment that Lucas was with him. That had never happened before. Keith blinked rapidly to clear away the haze and see him with his Sight instead.

The illusion around the clerk peeled away, and delicate white antlers bloomed from his head, arching and forking more like branches than an actual deer’s antlers. The silver of his irises widened until they took up almost his entire eye, the already fine angles of his face growing finer. He was beautiful, ethereal—would look more at home in a darkened forest than here surrounded by ticking clocks and old books.

Keith’s spike of involuntary, stupid hope, fell. Someone recognizing Lucas meant for sure that Lucas was real, like Keith thought he was, but then, if he was imagining whoever this was, hallucinating in some way—no. He stopped himself. That was no way to think about things. Ghosts were real. Others were real. It was just that most people couldn’t see them.

And if he was hallucinating this man, he’d have to have also hallucinated the shop, the guide to it, maybe even the old man who clearly thought the owner of this one was strange, he reminded himself.

“Sirs?” the clerk asked again, tilting his head quizzically.

“Wow,” Lucas says. “You see me—for real?” He sounded almost embarrassingly relieved. “Hi.”

“Hi.” The horned boy gave them another smile, this one tilting into sympathy. He reached up to rub his nose with the back of a hand. “A ghost, huh…” He ducked over his desk, bowing to him. “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

Keith turned to look at Lucas in shock—Lucas, too, seemed almost stunned. “Oh,” Lucas said finally. “Thank you.”

“And you’re human, but you seem to see well enough what’s going on here,” the horned boy added, and hopped up onto his own desk, crossing his legs. “Sixth sense?”

Keith shook himself, trying to recover. “Uh, yeah,” he said. “Pretty new to it, like five years…” He trailed off, not sure where to go with that.

“Well, welcome to the community,” the horned boy said cheerily. He held his arms open wide, gesturing to the room around him. “Did you come here looking for some Otherly goods? Or did you just wander in like a little lost lamb?”

Keith couldn’t seem to stop staring. The strangeness of him aside, the horned boy was probably one of the most attractive people he’d ever seen in his life, and he seemed to know it, dropping his arms to brace his hands on the desk behind himself so his chest was thrust out, legs crossed and one bouncing, a little smile on his face.

It took Keith effort to clear his throat. “Uh, sort of both,” he managed. “I didn’t know it was an Other shop—you say there’s a community, but I’ve really only met a few in passing. I haven’t gone out of my way to talk to any. But I was looking for something, um, Otherly. Yeah.”

“You don’t say! Well, no need to shout from across the entry if we’re going to talk about that kind of thing.” The horned boy crooked a finger, lips quirked. “Come a little closer.”

Pulse fluttering in his throat, Keith took a few more steps forward. “I, uh, my sixth sense,” he stammered. “I get occasional visions? I had a really nasty dream last night, and I thought it was a true dream, but—”

The horned boy was giving him a once-over, he realized. Head to toe and back up again, eyes heavy-lidded. “Mmhm?”

Closer, Keith could pick up a scent off the horned boy, something wild and woodsy. Autumnal leaves, he thought, and opened his mouth a little to draw the smell in more deeply.

“Yeah,” Lucas said from behind him, a little loudly. “It was about Terrors attacking an Other. Have you heard anything about that?”


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