Back in my room I phone Alaia with a certain trepidation, almost as if I fear she will put the phone down on me. “Any plans for the evening?” I ask.
“Yeah, I need to go to the studio alone again and try out some more new vocal stuff. Oh by the way, I did call Lucan today, as he asked me to, and I told him I’ve verified there are no wax-modelling materials in Evelyn’s rooms. So the culprit definitely wasn’t Evelyn, I said—as well as not being Shigem, of course.”
“It’s funny he asked you to do that. Even if Evelyn did have modelling materials, did he think you would report it to him?”
“I think he did, yes. I suppose it should tell us the level of control he is used to wielding over his crew. Or just that he’s grasping for authority. You know how men are. All right, Jaymi: I must get ready for the sound booth. I’ll see you tomorrow, OK? Goodnight.”
I wanted to hang out with her, but she’s hiding from me and I don’t know why.
I recline on my bed, restless. My room is uncannily quiet. I close my eyes and shoot my sight out to hover over Pippa where she sits on her high-rise balcony, spotlit like a wax dummy, high in the night, with a golden angel ornament nestling on her lap, looking out with her dead glassy stare across town in exactly this direction. As usual, her moist green eyes look as if they’ve been crying. Although she seems to be looking straight at me, I know she cannot see through these walls to my body lying here. Nevertheless, I open my eyelids just a chink, peek across my room to my window by the eaves and check the window’s position in relation to me and her. My light is on and the curtains and window are open—but the angle isn’t quite right for her to see me here in the Metropolitan, I’m glad to note. I shiver, then close my eyes again. I remind myself that her high-rise cannot even be seen from this window, being hidden by trees or roofs or something else, as I ascertained a couple of days ago. Even so, I raise my eyelids once more, just a crack, to double-check.
Then I let them stay closed, deciding I shall trust she cannot see me … and at last I catch a glimpse of your mystery, Pippa, there where it stands in your mind for an instant before it’s smudged away. This glimpse centred unmistakably on whatever space is behind that narrow door in your hallway, but its nature was less clear. It was a black pit of utter horror, but with the blank opacity of a lacuna, as if you have blacked something out, which might explain its strangely elusive concealment up to this point.
In your head a bird warbles, like water through woodwind. A line of oil-tanks on a freight train jolt and boom, across the points, beside an empty grey field bordered in coiled steel. An oily croak sounds from the rushes in the marsh beside the tracks. The cutting opens out upon a valley full of low unwindowed buildings, marked in Korean script. Over the death-camp, the wind sings faintly in the telegraph wires, a mournful dirge of loss and waste and sadness without end—thin and plangent and metallic where the pylons stride away through the blasted smudgy stillness of purple-black-brown air.
You’re in your chair, hunched against the night air, sleeping in your dark-red sweatshirt with matching red sweatpants, your head turned in my direction, eyes open, staring at me lying here. And while you sleep, Pippa, on your dreamscreen flickers up an antique dusk: across a misty countryside a statuesque bull’s head rears up and lows. Aged spectres, bestial and human, float from tumuli and copses, like shadows from the other side, wobbly and rustling. A goat’s skull stands out stark against the darkness, an ancient apparition. You hear the shouts and whispers of the multitudes of dead things, echoed in this old place, catching certain names through the chatter: Centaur and Serpent, Ten of Swords and Queen of Circles, Eohippus fossils buried under hills of bone. Rooks caw, raspy and ragged like a hundred thousand years ago, and there nearby you is a sign-post: Old Place.
As I lie here with my eyes still closed, you feel almost like a vegetable, Pippa—hunched there in your chair at the bottom of my bed, staring at me glassy-eyed, down the bed’s length at me—and always I can see the claw, pushing out against the inner muscles of your belly, sealed tight in its prison, pushing up the dark-red surface of your sweatshirt, towards me—
For more about "The Imagination Thief" by Rohan Quine, see
For some great reviews of it, see
And to pick it up from whichever retailer you may prefer, the retailers’ links for the paperback are at
and for the ebook at