Silverwood: Chapter 1

Helen Silverwood, fourteen, sat on the roof with her legs dangling over. There were about twenty-two stories between the bottoms of her boots and the sidewalk below.

She stared out across the nondescript city whose name didn’t matter because she wouldn’t be here long anyway. It was dusk and the street lights were coming on. Windows that had been impenetrable grey rectangles up until a few minutes ago lit up from inside like tanks in a vast aquarium. The occupants inside were swimming around at various speeds and energy levels. Some appeared unmoving and inert while others darted back and forth fretfully. Helen wondered if any of those people in there knew each other. Or were related. Or used to be married. Maybe they were spying on each other. Maybe someone was watching her.

Outside it was gusty and clamorous. Horns honked and people shouted. Dumpsters were dumped. People and their dogs and bicycles and luggage and other features maneuvered around one another, temporarily interrupted in their homeward struggle. A truck double-parked and put on its hazard lights and somebody loudly objected and gunned their engine. A block farther away someone unlocked a bike from a tree and hopped on and took off weaving in and out of a line of cars idling at a stoplight. Everybody was trying to be somewhere else.

A blast of cold air wrested Helen’s attention away from the scene below. She peeled her hair off of her face and pulled out a folding knife and started carving into the brick next to her.

She made a circle about the size of her palm, and then a smaller square inside of that. She added a spiral shape starting at one corner of the square and working its way out to the edge of the circle. With each motion the blade made a shrill scraping sound that was swept away in the wind and noise.

Helen’s father gave her the folding knife as a gift when she was much too young to have a folding knife. It was her favorite object. It had a three-inch blade that snapped tightly into a handle that was black and shiny and unadorned except for three buttons the size of the head of a nail and a screen just big enough for characters to scroll across. And a few indicator lights, one of which was a bio-reader designed to light up when Helen’s dad came within about thirty feet of the knife.

Which, he was not. He was not within thirty feet, or a million feet, or a hundred zillion miles, as far as Helen knew. But the knife made it feel like he was there. Even if the bio reader never lit up.

Helen pressed one of the buttons on the knife handle with her thumbnail. “RECORDING,” the knife said. Helen began to speak.

Hi Dad, It’s Helen. Obviously.

It’s been a while since I made a journal entry. We were moving. Again. This time we’re in some high-rise.

What to say about this new place. Well, it’s very dank and stinky. And it’s so damp you could peel the paint off the walls with your fingers. Oh, and the whole place smells like medicine. So that’s where we live, now. There’s no way Mom wanted to move here. This had to be the last, last, last choice.

I just did the ritual of carving my little logo up here, so at least there’ll be some sign that I existed.

Mom’s doing okay, I think. She’s been gone all night every night this week. She gets home early in the morning and looks a mess. Like she’s been in a fight or something. Maybe she’s doing crimes? How am I supposed to know? She says her job is to “keep us safe,” whatever that means. I don’t really want to think about what she’s keeping us safe from if it makes her look like she’s been wrestling alligators.

In the absence of any real explanation, Henry and I have developed some pretty good theories as to what Mom is up to. Our first theory is that she’s a bodyguard for a mob boss and the mob has operations all over the world and that’s why we move so much. Our second theory is that she’s a repo-woman. You know, a person who goes out and steals people’s cars back when they haven’t paid for them and sometimes they have to use force. Or shoot at people. Or get shot at. Our third theory is that she’s a bouncer at a club. She would be good at that job.

Henry is way more direct than I am about all this. I mean, he’s nine. He just asks her questions. Like she’s gonna answer them. Which she’s not, not until we have been deemed sufficiently mature or something to handle it. I gave up pretty much. Why waste my breath.

Okay, so about Henry.

Henry is not exactly what I would call, thriving. How would I describe it. He’s not terrible, I guess, but he seems very sad.

He really gets sad when we have to pack up and move. He stands there and cries without making a sound. It’s awful. He looks like a lost bird.

And he gets in a lot of fights at school. It sucks to be the new kid all the time. The other kids pick on him and say he draws weird stuff. I mean they’re right, he does draw weird stuff. But they’ll purposely say rude things about his drawings to make him mad and then he gets in fights. Almost every day, practically, at whatever school. I’m kind of proud of him for standing up for himself, if I’m being honest. But every day?

And then sometimes he just gets really quiet and I can’t tell what’s going on inside that head of his.

He’ll be his normal nonstop mile-a-minute self, and then out of the blue he’ll go for a whole day without saying anything. I mean, not a single word. I used to be able to make him laugh but now he just shuts off. And I don’t know why, but sometimes I get this feeling he might try and run away.

His drawings are getting even weirder, if that’s possible. The monsters have these arms that come out like big spider legs and they keep getting longer and longer and wrapping all around the paper and going on the back side like they extend forever. He goes over the lines until there’s holes in the paper. Sometimes he draws when there’s no ink in the pen, he just does the motions.

I keep trying to reassure him. I say stuff like, someday we’re gonna stop moving around, and we will finally be “safe,” whatever that means, and we will have a real home, with real friends, and a real bed that’s not on the floor, and Mom will be there and Dad will be there too. That’s what I tell him. But I’ve got no idea, Dad. You could be on another planet for all I know. I’m just sitting here talking into this knife like it’s a telephone or something. I know you’re not on the other end, Dad. I get it. Mom comes home in the mornings, and drops her boots on the floor, and craps out like she’s just run a marathon. And then gets up in the evening to do it again. This is our existence.

But I try and put some spin on it, for Henry. Even if I have no idea what I’m talking about. I used to be able to distract him. Play a game, build legos, something. But not lately. Now he gets quiet and I can’t reach him.

There’s one thing Mom likes to tell us. She says, “Say something positive.” She says she got that from you. So we try and do it. Even if it’s just saying something nice about pizza or socks or something. So, here. I’ll try and say something positive.

At least every time we move, I get a break from the weird dreams. That’s positive. I’m happy about that. Who wants to dream about shape-shifting beasties every night of their life? Definitely not me. So that is something positive that I’m glad about. We move, and then I get two or three nights without nightmares.

I’ve told you about the weird dreams, right? I guess they’re not actually nightmares, technically, since they’re not particularly scary at least to me. The monsters are pretty freaky looking I suppose. But they don’t bother me that much. Anyway in these dreams, I’ll call them dreams instead of nightmares, these beings show up, and they come toward me, and then I hold out my hand. When I hold my hand out, they transform into a human person. Which is a big improvement, ‘cause when they first show up they are like seven feet tall with black scales and tentacles and stuff. They are ug-ly. They are such a mess you can’t even tell which part is the front or the back. Maybe it’s a disease of some kind. I don’t know. To be honest they kind of look like Henry’s drawings. Anyway I reach out, and then the creature transforms into a person, and then they say thank you over and over, and they go away. It’s a different person each time. Then I wake up.

After I wake up, I feel tired like I just sprinted a mile. Which doesn’t make any sense since I’ve obviously been laying there sleeping. But it’s a tiring dream. That’s another reason why it’s nice not to have them for a few days. Maybe my brain gets distracted from dreaming when there’s a new place to think about. But then, the dreams come back and then I’m all tired again.

Hang on, I’m supposed to be saying something positive, aren’t I? I’ll try again. It’s nice to have a break and do some quality sleeping, that’s all. I’ll stop there.
I’ve been up here for a while. I feel like I should go downstairs and check on Henry. I’m trying to keep an eye on him, Dad. I really am. He’s crafty, though. You never know what that kid is thinking. But I’ll do my best. That’s another thing Mom says you say a lot. She says, “Do your best.”

So we are doing our best. Whatever that means.

That’s it from the roof, Dad. Talk to you again soon. Maybe.


Helen swung her legs off the ledge. She exited the roof through a dull grey door that led to a dull grey metal staircase that descended to a dull grey apartment containing Henry and a mess of cardboard boxes that looked a little bit like the city skyline.

Just as the door on the roof slammed shut behind Helen, a second identical door appeared next to it, and remained for a few seconds, and then faded away.

Silverwood Index | Chapter 2 >