“Velvet and buttons, yes,” Pudgy says, his voice gone soft. He draws his left hand against his empty belly, fingers of his right hand scrabbling over the itchy skin on the back of his left. Michael blinks, then looks up to the trees that arc over them, bare-branched and thin. It is summer, yet nothing grows.
In the flickering amber torchlight, the mummy’s skin was burnished sienna where Jackson peeled the rotting bandages off. When Jackson pressed fore and middle fingers to the slender collarbones, the skin crinkled like tissue beneath the warmth and weight of a living body. Color bloomed through the skin and Jackson watched as one might witness a comet streaking across an otherwise dark sky; the transformation in the body was sudden and startling.
Every winter, Halla rents the Villa Couloir on the banks of the Ruisseau de Rieu Ferré for its quiet, its darkness. Near the arch of the old stone bridge, it has a view of little else — skeletal trees, the shadow of a ruined windmill, a long road leading someplace Halla will never go.
It began with a dragon in the pouring rain, the beast barely held at bay, balanced upon two thin steel rails. Steam poured from its black mouth and guts, billowing through the damp gloom. A brief spark of after-rain sunlight caught within its glassy green eye, against sharp metal tooth, and when the steam gave way, young Jackson could see it was no dragon, but a train. The train was headed as far west as it could go and Jackson, aged fifteen-and-one-half, in the Year of Our Lord 1893, would be on it.