For as long as she could remember, Adela Clearwell had been suffering from hallucination. She'd caught on to this only later in childhood, after many years in which she'd simply assumed that everybody saw what she did. And, as bizarre and unusual her hallucinations were, they remained constant over the years. She'd see people who looked very unhuman-like, certain items that looked vastly different and sometimes, she saw things that weren't there entirely.

For example, the Clearwells' neighbor, Orson Pallick, always appeared to her as a blue-skinned, razortoothed fey creature, perpetually smiling, even though he was an unassuming man with blond hair and blue eyes. Besides a tendency for using too much hairgel, there was nothing terribly threatening about Mr. Pallick, so Adela could not explain why her mind would render him as some sort of landshark-like predator.

It was thanks to him, however, that she'd figured out how to know what was real from what her mind conjured. One day, as he'd been visiting Patrick Clearwell, her father, she'd caught Mr. Pallick's reflection in the mirror and noticed how terribly ordinary he looked. The mirrors, then, would show her what others saw and ever since that day, they'd been an indispensible tool in her quest to feign normalcy.

Another hallucinations was that, in the empty lot besides Mirabilia, she'd see scorched mounds of ash, like some fire burned a perfectly circular patch on the ground. Yet another one of her hallucinations was to see a slimy mollusk-creature with six legs instead of a neighbor's skinny little Chihuahua. She'd grown to ignore what she saw, however, trusting only the images her mirrors showed her. Why her mind did not render the mirrored images the same way as it did all else, she could not fathom. Neither did she care, though. Looking the gifthorse in the mouth, and all that.

At any rate, if life continued to be as uneventful as it had been so far in Sophiatown (population, 2471), Adela saw no reason for change, even with the disturbing imagery her mind sometimes conjured.

Until one day, when not only were the stakes raised, but Adela also became aware of the stakes' existence in the first place.


An ordinary day at Mirabilia consisted of two parts boredom, one part work and two-eights of a part banter, the rest making up miscellaenia.

"What are you looking at? Seriously, Del, you're freakin' me out here!"

"Nothing! I'm not looking at anything, I was just zoning out."

"Your eyes were moving, Del."


"You looked spooked like hell."

"I was just remembering something."

"Dude, what? Repressed memories about being used in Satanic rituals? 'Cause you looked freaked outta your mind."

"Yeah, you know what? Your boyfriend's face."

"Shut up."

"Yeah, I was completely flipping out because I remembered what a sucky taste in guys you have."

"You don't even know my new boyfriend! I can't talk to you when you're like this!" Aimee finally shrieked and stomped to the back room, slamming the door.

Adela sighed, feeling slightly guilty for offending her sister the way she did. While most of the time, her family had gotten used to her excentricities and hardly comment on them anymore, Aimee would, from time to time, notice small oddities, small incongruities in Adela's reactions that she later questioned her sister on. At least this time, Adela mused, it wasn't as bad as the utter inquisition she'd been subjected to when she gave up swimming class because the instructor's appearance became much too distracting. Aimee had adored Mrs. Jansky and had taken it personally when Adela did not share her feelings. If only those gills didn't move so much, I would've toughed it out, Adela thought sadly.

But now, a new apparition had distracted her and had become the reason for her conflict with Aimee.

A tall, statuesque woman with glimmering silver skin had walked in. Her stark white hair was curled artistically, her dress shimmered like water, her dark eyes darted with alertness and intelligence. She had lovely, rounded features, all soft curves and a wide smile with perfect teeth. She also carried a head on a pike.

Luckily, she didn't exist, mostly because, if a real person had walked in, Aimee would have prodded Adela to go help the customer. Even if said customer were carrying a head on a pike. Aimee was very open-minded when it came to accepting money from a wide range of individuals.

The woman carried the head with ease and poise, even as the thing oozed horrible black substances over her hand. It had once belonged to a blond man with ruffled hair, but now it looked much like a bird's nest on top of a chalky, blue-veined lump. It was out of sight quickly, though, as the woman disappeared somewhere among the racks of clothing. No longer distracted by the apparition, Adela had taken the opportunity to verbally spar with her sister and that was when Aimee retreated to the back room to sulk. Now, Adela was all alone in the store, if one discounted the hallucination. Which she did. Hallucinations were not people and she'd spent most of her life trying to convince herself of this fact.

It was still unsettling, however, to know that some gorgeous woman with a gory souvenir was somewhere close. Adela sighed and once again, for the umpteenth time that day, like every other day of her life, considered getting professional help.