Excerpted from “The Grimoire of Kensington Market,” Copyright 2018, Lauren B. Davis. Published by Buckrider Books, an imprint of Wolsak and Wynn Publishers. This excerpt is reproduced with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

Chapter Three

The next night a bitterly cold wind worried the corners of the house and rattled the windows. Maggie could almost imagine it as an elemental being, a malicious spirit. It snuck under the door and was strong enough to riffle the thin mat. For a moment she imagined this might be the spirit responsible for the compacting of her garden and was thankful whatever magic held the Grimoire together seemed strong enough to withstand it.

She carried a tureen of chicken stew to the table. The steam rose, fragrant with rosemary, onions and black olives. She placed it next to the bowl of green salad. Badger sat by her chair, his ears cocked, his mouth open. “You’ve had yours. Lie down. Go on, now.” The dog, grumbling a little, slunk to his bed by the stove.

Alvin sat at the table, slicing the crusty bread. He’d rolled up the sleeves of his heavy grey sweater and Maggie thought his forearms were quite beautiful, as she did his strong and long-fingered hands. Even though they were calloused from the hard work on the boat, there was something elegant about them, just as there was something well worn about his big slab of a face, the result of time spent in sun and wind. Deep creases around the eyes and mouth. Skin not coarse, but a bit leathery. The thick hair that always looked wind-ruffled and was bleached from the sun.

“That smells good.” His knee bumped the table leg and the plates shook. Alvin Mustby was a big man, with long legs and big feet and big hands, and he always seemed to be bumping into things. “I’m going to bring you chicken every week if you promise to cook like this.” He often did that, popping round with a bag of groceries. He was the sort of man who could be counted on for such practical things as chicken and salad and bread and so forth. She did not expect roses or perfume, nor did she crave them.

“Is this your way of inviting yourself to dinners?” Maggie poured tea from the squat brown pot into their mugs.

“Well, it’s only fair the hunter’s fed, isn’t it?”

“Stopping off at the grocery store is hardly the same as tracking a deer through the winter woods, now is it.”

“You’ve never had to contend with the wilds of Whole Foods.” He spooned the stew into their bowls. “What’s been going on here?”

She considered telling him about the letters but decided against it. She had almost convinced herself it was a bad joke. “There’s something strange about the garden. Sounds mad, but it looks smaller, and, well, darker.”

Alvin forked a large, dripping chunk of meat into his mouth and made appreciative noises, then got up and peered out the window to the garden. “Hard to tell much in the dark. Odd stuff going on all over, I hear. Most of it just gossip.”

“What about?”

He returned to the table. “Lots of cops on the streets over by the Forest.”

The Forest used to be a social housing project called Regent Park, full of red-brick low-rises, mixed-income families and some petty crime, but since elysium had taken over the drug market, the neighbourhood had become something different – more menacing, more insular, a thousand times more dangerous. At first, because of the park in its old name, Pipers had started calling it the Enchanted Forest. But the more they used, and the more Pipers there were, the less enchanted it looked. Once there had been a sort of gritty, hardscrabble sense of community, but that was over now. Some low-income families had moved out, displaced, others had nowhere else to go. The place was a no-go zone for just about anyone else, even the police. Maggie knew it only too well.

“Some sort of unrest,” Alvin continued, “but no one’s saying for sure, and there’s nothing in the papers. Rumours, though, which sound as nuts as your shrinking garden.” He scratched his head. “People think the Forest is taking up more space.”

“Pipers moving into buildings outside the Forest?” The only good thing about the Forest was its self-containment. One side of the street was a reasonable, if down-on-its-luck neighbourhood, the other, the Forest side, had become something out of that Hieronymus Bosch painting of hell.

“No, not that. More like the neighbourhood itself is . . . expanding.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Neither do I. Streets getting smaller on the border between Cabbagetown and the Forest, and something about streets ending where they didn’t used to. You know, the geographical confusion that’s happened in the Forest for a long time.”

Yes, Maggie knew. Space inside the Forest wasn’t precisely static. “But not outside the Forest.”

“Not until now, if the rumours are to be believed. Not that I do. Probably just what you said – more people on the pipe. You do realize you’re the only person I’ve heard of ever getting off the stuff.”

She considered that. She’d never heard of anyone getting off it either, not permanently, unless you counted death. And when Srebrenka had come after her, hadn’t she said as much? “That can’t be true, can it?”

Alvin shrugged. “Well, no one I can think of has ever stayed off it like you have. Speaking of people who are still at it, no word from Kyle?”

“Why do you ask?”

“I don’t know. I was just thinking about him. He’ll turn up one of these days.”

She considered. “Possibly. Then again, he’s been so angry at me for so long, maybe not. He’s been pissed ever since I left home and didn’t take him.”

“You were just a kid. You’re not to blame.”

Just a kid in the thrall of Lenny the Predator Poet, she thought.

So much might have been different if she’d not run away with Lenny. But then again, maybe not. Kyle had stayed with the cousins, who, after their parents’ deaths had become their negligent guardians, and look what happened to him. Maybe even if Lenny hadn’t put that first silver pipe between her lips, she’d have done it herself. If she refused to accept responsibility for Kyle’s addiction, she couldn’t put the blame for what happened to her on Lenny. Lenny died out there. So many Pipers did. But surely not all. Thinking she might be the only one who’d stayed clean this long was unsettling. It felt like a responsibility she didn’t want. She’d done it, and all by herself, so why couldn’t others? Why couldn’t Kyle?

“Kyle cut down the apple tree in the backyard, you know. Just to spite me.” How she’d loved that tree. How many afternoons had she sat beneath it, nose in a book, hiding from her cousins’ varied tortures?

Alvin gnawed on a bone. “What will you do if he does come back?”

“I didn’t tell you, but when I saw him a few weeks ago he asked if he could stay here.”

“Did he?”

“Right. Look at your face. That’s the point. I don’t trust him any more than you do.”

“Yes, well, I’m a jaded bastard. Not like my uncle.”

Maggie blushed. “Your uncle was a saint, and you know God protects them, them and fools.”

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