Contest #91 shortlist ⭐️

On Ancient and Gentle Things

Submitted into Contest #91 in response to: Set your story in a library, after hours.... view prompt

10 comments

Urban Fantasy

It turns out that his name is Evan and he’s a med student, originally from Nebraska where his kind are few and far between, where all kinds are few and far between. He is also very lonely, something I have gathered from nights spent observing the way he hunches over his books and notes as the light of the moon inches across his hardwood floors. He makes himself coffee - obsesses over it really, collecting latte machines and espresso drips and French presses and three different models of old-fashioned coffee makers that take turns occupying the 3-socket outlet in his kitchen by his fridge. He knows how to do tricks with a spoon to make the foam into lovely things, and I watched him teach himself this very skill as he sat cross-legged on his battered brown couch one night, watching youtube tutorials.

Evan is beautiful. He wears his lemon-blond hair long, around his shoulders in soft waves, because it’s the one tiny rebellion he’s allowed as a young man otherwise bound by the confines and social mores of medical school. He’s going to be a cardiologist, I think - some kind of heart doctor, sometimes at night he’ll lie on his bed back-flat with his stethoscope eartips tucked into his ears and the diaphragm of the thing pressed to his slim chest as he inhales and exhales deeply, slowly, soothing himself with his own heartbeat.

No one ever comes to visit him, and on the rare occasions when one of his parents calls, he leaves them on speakerphone and wanders around picking at his fingernails because they sound so very distracted and uninterested in whatever he says. He usually just falls silent and says nothing until they realize the silence in the air between them and mumble, “Yeah…okay well, I’m walking the dog honey, I’ll talk to you later,” snatching at the earliest possible excuse to hang up on him, their parental duty to check in satisfied until next week. These calls hurt him more than they help. Evan’s parents have never understood him, and they’ve never cared enough to try.

He has green-tea eyes, soft and honest, that go red with allergies in the summer sometimes. I’ve been watching him for months now, sometimes as he sleeps, wondering what he’d think of me. Of my moon-gray skin that reflects starlight and melts invisibly into the urban concrete here in the city, of the leathery wings that extend out from my back and are covered in a thin layer of dark feathers dappled with white at the tips, of the fangs tucked neatly over my lower lip and my jewel-black eyes, solid and gleaming. I was born here, my claws and wings and fangs and enormous pigeon feet belong to this city, the historically significant library where I was born and I rest every night, but as I watch and perch on the roof of his apartment building on some mornings, hidden behind a vent stack, I have become Evan’s too. I steal a pair of his scissors to cut my long black hair like ink one night, in the hopes of becoming something even slightly more human, but then I remember his long hair and the way he runs his fingers through it as he studies, and I think maybe if he knew me, Evan might like me the way I am. He knows what it is to be ostracized, I think.

He comes to my library one night upset, pacing back and forth through the medical history stacks but unable to return to the looming silence of his tidy little apartment - the way he dusts and sweeps every weekend is incredibly endearing. My kind know better, we understand that the clutter and crush of the city can be a sacred thing. It feeds our cousins, the trash left lying around, our rats and pigeons and gargoyles detaching themselves from looming churches in the night to hunt those fat scurrying things made tasty by the urban debris. Evan though, he is depressed and desperately trying to clear out his own mental clutter by getting rid of every speck of dirt in his space, so I start helping him by plucking up the discarded fast food wrappers and empty syringes around the building, depositing them into the trash when no one is looking. One night, I find a pretty little thing, someone’s dropped gold stud earring, and I creep in when he’s asleep and coo gently as I drop it onto his nightstand.

He wakes up in the morning after his bad night to touch the little earring, blinking in confusion. He does not have a girlfriend, or a boyfriend, which is a profound relief to me because frankly, no one is good enough for him. He’s tried tinder, but rejected and deleted it after his first date ghosted him. That’s what people call it anyway, they don’t understand that there are real ghosts in this city, and they probably have no interest in booty calls. I wonder if that date was a boy, or a girl. It was highly unlikely that it was any kind of half-pigeon city spirit, borne of urban energy, a postmodern gargoyle. If it had been, I might have tried my luck, but instead I watch. He makes it easy, with the way he lingers for hours in my library on so many nights.

I consider myself to be largely male - obvious differences aside, my anatomy matches Evan’s more than his neighbor next door who cries over car insurance ads and makes her own jewelry. I wonder if she might not be a good friend for my Evan, she is lonely too and she always smiles shyly at him in the mail room. Maybe I will steal one of her homemade bracelets and leave it in front of his door right before he’s about to leave, in the hopes that they’ll bump into each other and start talking. I just want him to be happy, since it won’t be me who gets him there. I’m not deluded, I know what I am and I know what he’d do if he could see me. I take his things, little things - a page of notes from one of his classes in his elegantly slanted handwriting, defiantly cursive. One of his coffee mugs, a pair of socks. I hoard these things on the library roof in little piles, and getting away with it so often must have made me reckless because one night I’m perched and cooing over his notebook doodles in between bone structure diagrams when he makes his way through the library’s roof entrance in his fleece-lined jacket and a t-shirt with an illustration of an anatomically correct human heart wearing a stethoscope on it. The moon is a sliver and the air is damp, cool.

The library has closed for the evening, my Evan’s gentle presence left unnoticed by the staff and world alike. Our tiny world is quiet now, still, nothing left to distract either of us from each other.

It’s too late to hide the piles, to disguise myself, and Evan’s breath catches in his throat. I’m cloaked in the shadows and have no intention of changing this, but he’s approaching, closer now. Clouds pass over the moon as if she too, wants us to know each other, to see each other, and I chitter anxiously. Evan leans in, hands at his sides, silent, and at this point there’s no turning back. I step into the light.

April 30, 2021 00:33

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10 comments

Aman Fatima
03:45 Sep 10, 2021

I really like the description and imagery of Evan. And its beautifully written, it was really good. Loved the ending.

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Ishita Soni
14:05 May 28, 2021

Woahh, will you be writing a second part to it? It's so good!

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Dawn Austin
16:38 May 08, 2021

This is so beautiful.

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Alex Gray
07:21 May 09, 2021

Thank you so much!

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Alison Brewis
07:41 May 08, 2021

Great descriptions. I liked the passage about his parents ringing. That seemed really true!

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Alex Gray
07:22 May 09, 2021

Thank you! I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

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Cathryn V
16:35 May 07, 2021

Hi Alex, Wow, what a story! I am not usually a fan of fantasy, but this one is so interesting, told from the mythical character's POV. I like how the narrator refers to him as "My Evan". The ending is especially good, with its unexpected twist. These parts caught me in particular b/c of their specificity and insight: He has green-tea eyes, soft and honest, that go red with allergies in the summer sometimes. Evan though, he is depressed and desperately trying to clear out his own mental clutter by getting rid of every speck of dirt in ...

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Alex Gray
07:22 May 09, 2021

Thank you so much! I had a lot of fun writing this one, I'm so honored to have been shortlisted.

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Zilla Babbitt
14:58 May 11, 2021

I'm not really sure what happened but everything was so well-written and lovely I don't mind at all. The descriptions are fantastic and I loved the imagery of Evan listening to his heartbeat at night and his green-tea eyes and his wandering around the kitchen picking his nails, listening to his parents drone on. Congratulations on the shortlist, Alex!

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Alex Gray
22:58 May 11, 2021

Thank you! I originally planned for this to be longer with a more conclusive/dynamic ending, but I found myself stumbling over it too much and so I ended up with this. I'm so glad you enjoyed it!

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