By: Amy Dong
The messy thing about breakups in general is that they always bring so much more trouble than anyone really ever ends up having the patience for. Ron broke up with Lisa last week, but since they lived together and Lisa was really the one who paid their share of the rent, there was an inevitable screaming match at 3 am on a Wednesday between the two in the kitchen.
You say this is inconvenient, because as Lisa’s closest roommate you have to sweep up the broken glass later that morning. As for the rest of the roommates, you assume that they would also appreciate a little bit of sleep during the weekdays. At the end of the day, Lisa boots Ron out after he fails to pay up for the second week in a row, and we need a new roommate. Which is also how the rest of you end up here.
There’s this. Very beautiful woman that’s sitting on the couch across from you. According to Henrietta, she was the first one to actually answer the halfhearted roommate ad that we had put up a week ago. She sits shockingly upright in an era of office desk posture, and she smiles with a wide, wide grin, with all her teeth showing. Her hair is silver, and it flows in cascades across her shoulders. She clutches a cup of hot tea, which you had offered her when she first sat down. It doesn’t look like she’s drunk any of it, but you don’t mind because she’s listening attentively as you explain the ground rules.
“Basically, uh, we have this thing. Laid out before we can accept prospective roommates?” you explain to the smiling woman. “We sort of take you in for a week, see what happens and if you adjust well to the whole roommate deal. You don’t have to pay your share of the rent for the week since it’s just a trial.” If anything, her smile seems to have gotten wider, and you think that you can see her canines.
You slide her a piece of paper from across the coffee table, and she looks down without a change in her expression. That is, she smiles at it. “Uhhh, so.” You clear your throat sort of unnecessarily and try to ignore her. “Some basic house rules outlined here. No loud noises from between 11 pm to 7 am, and try to avoid hosting any big parties without approval from everyone else in the house. Try to clean up after yourself, and we have a rotating kitchen/grocery duty schedule. Umm, keep the area clean and help yourself to the wifi. Small pets are allowed, from what I remember? No one in the house should be allergic to animals.”
She’s watching you, and you desperately try to remember what the other house rules were. Her eyes are green, you realize. Like jade. They almost look right through you, and you let out a sort of embarrassing huff of air. Lisa glances at you.
“Um.” You blink a bit, registering your surroundings again. “Welcome to your trial.”
You wake up Monday to the scent of something actually delicious. You’re already halfway into the hall when you realize you are still in your pajamas, but whatever is wafting from the kitchen calls like a siren’s song and you’re honestly too tired to care.
When you round the corner, you see stacks and stacks of pancakes? Muffins? Toast? You’re not actually sure yourself, but the fluffy almost-round bricks on the table look gorgeous and smell even better. It’s sort of white-pink, like a pastel brick, and it’s topped with crisp white cream. There’s coffee set aside in the pot as well. You think you are floating. July and Harley are already digging in, from the counter.
“Oh my gosh,” Harley groans, shoveling pink fluff into her mouth at a grueling pace. You thought she wasn’t a morning person, but clearly you are wrong today. “Dude, you have to try this. I forgot who had kitchen duty but holy cow! Compliments to the chef.”
There’s cream on July’s nose when she looks up to grin at you. “Nice ‘jammies.” She winks at you. Harley is still going at her plate with gusto. They look ridiculous, and you take a plate for yourself.
At first bite there are flavors that sort of erupt across your tongue. You’re pleased to note that it tastes like strawberry. It almost melts into your mouth, with how soft it is. You’d imagine that this is the kind of stuff kids used to think clouds were made of. For a breakfast dish, it isn’t as sickly sweet as the color would suggest, and you’re surprised when you finish the whole plate. Coffee feels, oddly, a little dull now, and you’re easily wide awake. In honor of your new wide-awake status, you sprint back into your room and change out of your pajamas to the sound of July and Harley’s laughter.
Later, when you check the schedule after you get back from work, you learn that Frank was supposed to be on kitchen duty today. But when you corner him by the office and try to finesse the recipe from him (or at least the name of the dish), he only shrugs, puzzled.
“I dunno.” He replies, hands in his pockets. “I set my alarm to the wrong time yesterday, and when I woke up to make breakfast, everyone had already eaten. I don’t know who made the pink thing, but I’ve never seen that kind of food in my life. I don’t even know what it is. I don’t even know if it’s Kosher.”
You look up to see your new prospective roommate suddenly round the corner, towards the two of you. Her silver hair sways as she walks, and it almost seems like it lights up the hall with its glow. She strolls past the two of you, hands by her side, when she turns her head towards you and smiles. You watch in subtle fascination as her hair sweeps gently over her shoulder.
“It is Kosher.” And then she is gone. The two of you blink at the space she left behind.
Inevitably, someone finally breaks the printer on Tuesday. Which is just great, because you’ve got assignments to print and places to be. Technically it’s not actually broken, but it’s about to be with how hard you’ve been kicking it for the past few minutes. The ink cartridges are empty and your stuff is due tomorrow. What the heck?
You would run to the nearest, uh, Home Depot? But you don’t actually know who sells ink cartridges anymore and also it’s almost midnight. So you eat despondent cereal on the counter and feel sorry for yourself as you watch the night dip into morning.
Everyone else is supposed to be asleep, which gives you the shock of your life when you find that someone is actually standing there in the hall, watching you. You almost scream, but the dark figure steps into the evening glow of the moon and you realize it’s the silver-haired woman again, smiling at you.
You are so very much tired and apathetic from realizing that your grade is probably going to get docked for this stunt and you don’t even have the strength to be wary. You jiggle the cereal box at her as a sort of wordless offering, and she smiles even though she does not join your food expeditions.
Instead she sits next to you as you start to complain in hushed voices about your job and your expectations and how it's a complete dump that you’re about to fail your senior thesis because of something so trivial like this. You want to lie down for a very long time, you groan into the marble countertop, and you see her smiling next to you. You can feel her hand on your shoulder, taking the cereal bowl away from your hand.
You wake up in your bed, feeling more refreshed than you ever really remember. When you rub your eyes and stumble towards the office, in a last ditch attempt to bully the printer into working again, you’re more than surprised to find your thesis already lying on the printer’s output slot, the paper still warm. You are so, so excited that you do not notice that the ink cartridges are still empty.
Over breakfast you ask her what kind of tech magic she whipped up, because there sure wasn’t a printer just available around the neighborhood, much less at 3 in the morning. Your prospective roommate grins at you instead.
Something feels off by Wednesday. You’re not really sure when it started to happen, but sometimes when you catch your roommate walking the halls, it almost seems as if she does not have a shadow. Other times, she does not seem to walk at all.
“We were chopping vegetables.” Henrietta is whispering to you on the patio. Her eyes are wide and brown. “Her knives chopped on their own. I swore I saw it!”
You take her hands in yours and try to brush it off, despite how much she insists. “It danced across the cutting board.” Henrietta pleads with you, “I know! Her hands were trying to cover it, but she was smiling so widely. The carrots!”
“Please, Henrietta.” You put as much voice as you can into your scoff. “Even if it is true. What’s wrong with it? She’s been nothing but pleasant so far.”
You say that, even though you have doubts yourself. There’s been more reports, whispers sort of, circulating throughout the house. That your newest prospective member is not quite of this world. Lindsey talks about how she’s never seen her touch water and Ryan speaks of strange runes he’s found when vacuuming her room. Her hair is silver, they insist, and it glows. They think she does not sleep.
At the end of the day, most if not all of your roommates are fine with it. They reach the general consensus that you have told Henrietta, which is that it doesn’t really matter, when she’s fixing things and making some real kitchen-duty worth food for the house. She is another roommate, and the house protects its own.
You wonder though, sometimes.
Your prospective roommate comes back with a suspiciously large bulge under her cloak. You meet her when she’s turning away from the door, apple green eyes sweeping sharply across the premises. When she spots you, her eyebrows raise, but that is any indication of your presence at all. More or less, she’s still smiling when she grabs you by the hand and leads you into her room.
“Shh.” She presses a finger to thin lips, and she unveils her cloak to show you… a kitten.
Actually, it’s not really a kitten. At first glance the triangle ears and the big round eyes have you fooled, but there is something so decidedly un-cat-like about its movements that you can only stare in a mixture of horror and fascination. Too many knees involved, you decide, before the glamor seems to shift back and there is a kitten in her hands once again.
“Wh-” You blink down at it. “Where did you find this?”
She grins and flips her silver hair back. The thing in her arms writhes in response to the movement before settling down. When it opens its jaws you can see rows and rows and rows of silver teeth, sort of like a shark. You don’t particularly want to find out more about that analogy.
She is still looking at you expectantly, so you clear your throat and stare at the thing some more. It’s like, not big. So you suppose it can stay as long as it doesn’t, escape? Bite, you? You’re not a huge fan of it, to be honest. You kind of look at her with the highest eyebrows you can muster and that seems to convey your thoughts pretty well between the two of you. What in the dickens is this.
After some deliberation, she holds the thing out to you. The message is pretty clear between the two of you too. Hold her.
“She’s a her?” Is all you can say when she thrusts the thing into your hands. It’s really no bigger than them, to be honest, and it sort of wiggles unnaturally to your mortal eye. It’s like watching a rubix cube rearrange itself. But eventually it looks up at you and starts vibrating, which you assume is the closest to a purr this thing can really manage to produce. It feels soft, actually. Like an itchy pillow. It curls up on your palm and goes to sleep.
Oh. Whatever. “I guess it can stay?” You stand, sort of flabbergasted. Your prospective roommate beams.
Friday is party night. Actually technically it’s bar night, but your roommates call it party night anyway to disguise the sad life that you actually live. The bar scene is plenty fun anyway, and the bartender down the street gives you free mini sandwiches, so that’s fine actually.
“Liven up, Henryyyy.” July is clutching Henrietta by the collar, probably already inebriated. The bar is dark and there are strobe lights that flash green and red across the dance floor. “Dance with meee.” You watch their antics with the sort of amusement of a parent that’s watching their five-year-old climb a tree or something, even though you are technically much younger than most of your roommates. Your friend, prospective roommate, is sitting next to you, a drink clutched in her hand, but she is wearing the same static smile. You have a feeling she hasn’t drunk this drink either.
“You go to bars often?” You ask her over the scream of the bar. You almost think you haven’t spoken loud enough, but she turns to look at you and smiles instead. She’s amused, to be sure.
“Not these kinds, no.” You take a sip of some fruity looking cocktail and immediately spit it out. Alcohol had never been your friend anyway. You order a large hot chocolate as you glance back at your roommate.
“Never took you for the party scene.” You laugh, and she watches you back. “What kind of bars did you go to? Mixers? Ragers? Or some sort of formal reception? That does seem plausible, actually. You miss it?”
She only watches you and smiles. She looks like a statue, and you have half a mind to make her dance with you. “I don’t mind this. It’s, you know. Less dangerous this way.” In the light of the bar, the neon colors reflect off her hair and make it shine. There are soft colors painted across her cheeks, her face. You almost want to touch it, to feel the thrum of ethereal power. You don’t actually know if it is ethereal, but it sure seems like it to you.
“Oh? What does that-” You never get to question her, this time, because suddenly your attention snaps to the dance floor, where July and Henrietta are almost starting to make a scene. There’s this… dude talking to him. He’s got a hand on Henrietta’s shoulder, and July looks like she is about to fry him with a laser, if she could build one out of her eyes. You don’t like the looks on their faces any more than you like the look of the guy.
“I’m sorry.” July is smiling tightly. She clutches Henrietta’s jacket beneath the strobe lights. “We’re not interested.”
“Oh come on, girls.” He leers over them and grins. He acts drunk, but somehow you doubt he’s had a drink all day. “Just a little dance? How about a drink, all on me? You look so beautiful under all these lights, babe.” July’s face pinches tighter, and Henrietta just looks like she wants to bolt.
You feel the thrum of rage that pulses under your skin, and you stand up with fury in your eyes. But your roommate is pushing you down again. Her green green eyes pierce into your orbs, and her silver hair drapes over you like a curtain. You watch her, mesmerized, as she raises a finger and puts it to her lips.
All of a sudden she is striding to the dance floor, to Henrietta and July, and you watch as she stalks towards him and takes him by the hand. He jumps, evidently, because he does not see her coming, but you see him shake off that true moment of sober fear and his eyes glaze as he grins down at his new silver-haired charge. July and Henrietta step back, relieved to be relieved of him, but unsure whether they should just leave their newest member alone like this.
You’re marching over too, because you refuse to let something worse happen to the night, but when you reach their little huddle by the floor, you suddenly taste the change in the air. She is speaking in dulcet, velvet tones and the air feels like electricity and real sparks. You feel wired, electrified, and you taste danger on your teeth. Her eyes are half-lidded, as she looks at the man, and you realize, with a moment of clarity, who the real prey is here. Alarmed, you pull Henrietta and July out of the man’s reach. Out of the atmosphere’s reach.
They protest, confused, and then loudly at first, but when you look back at the pair that you left behind. You usher your friends back to the bar table, and when you finally look in her direction she shoots you a smirk. As if saying to watch. Watch this. Your silver-haired roommate turns to whisper into the pretend-drunk’s ear and her hand is resting on his clavicle. You see her kitten, creature, thing. Poking out of her left pocket.
Your prospective roommate, with hair the colour of moonstone and eyes the clean cut of emeralds, reaches her hand into the man’s clavicle, into his body and into his soul, and pulls. The man is screaming and screaming even though no one else seems to hear them or really even see them at all. You hear him break, a thousand times over, and you watch your silver-haired roommate rip apart the very existence of a man. Her kitten is screeching along, lanky limbs and barb-wire tail raised almost as if cheering. Its teeth glistens, when it feasts, and your prospective roommate turns towards you and does not smile. Her eyes are neon.
When she is done, the man had never existed, you learn. He was never born, and he never died. He never met two beautiful girls in a bar on a Friday night. July and Henrietta look shaken, but they hug her and hug her when she shows them the drugs that she had stolen from his pockets during the excursion that would have ended in their drinks. Your left hand is trembling, and your roommate with the silver hair looks at you and really smiles, this time. Her eyes crinkle, showing green half-moon crescents. Your breath is stolen away, but by no means magical again.
“Welcome.” You spread your arms out instead. “To our home.”