The Great, Long-Legged Tailor

A pounding at the door.

Isabel takes the children and hides them throughout the one room of the house. Stephan is flexible; he coils into a great cedar chest under the winter quilts. It’s stifling, but he’s a good boy, quiet and patient — but then, they all are, if they’re still with her. Pete is too young, almost, to understand what’s going on, so she makes it a game, like she has a hundred times before, let’s play graveyard, and puts him on the trundle bed, folds him away. Adrian’s getting too old. They’ll find him, sooner or later, or he’ll take himself off to them. It’s happened before, but she does what she can to teach them. He springs up into the rafters to hide among the onions and the bulbs of garlic. The copper pots are still swinging, gently, musically, when she answers the door.

The hoplites are faceless in their helmets, like great insects, she thinks, enormous, curious bugs. “Where are they?” barks the leader, her voice low and androgynous. Isabel’s sweating, but she’s not really worried. That’s how they always start — if they knew anything they wouldn’t ask questions.

“Ain’t got none,” she says. “Ain’t seen none since year afore last. Ain’t want t’see none.”

They shoulder past her, not gently. Coming in behind them with the long, shining shears is the Tailor, all in red. Her eyes are gone, and her tongue, but her nose sweeps through the room with the obscene sensitivity of a bloodhound’s.

“Oh,” breathes Isabel, and now she’s worried.

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