A Local Habitation - By Seanan McGuire


June 13th, 2010

And as imagination bodies forth

The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen

Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing

A local habitation and a name.

—William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

THE LAST TRAIN OUT of San Francisco leaves at midnight; miss it and you’re stuck until morning. That’s why I was herding Stacy and Kerry down Market Street at fifteen to the witching hour, trying unsuccessfully to avoid wobbling out of my kitten-heeled shoes. After the number of drinks I’d had, my footwear had become my new arch nemesis. None of us were in any condition to drive, and only Kerry was still walking straight. I blamed her stability on her fae heritage—pureblood Hob mother, Hob changeling father—giving her the alcohol tolerance of a man three times her size. No one keeps a house cleaner than a Hob, and there’s never any dust on the liquor cabinet.

Stacy stumbled against me. Being little more than a quarter-Barrow Wight, she didn’t have Kerry’s alcohol tolerance to help her cope with the number of drinks she’d had. I grinned down at her. “Did you tell Mitch you’d be coming home smashed?”

“He’ll have worked it out,” she said. “I told him we were going out for girl-time.” She burst out laughing, taking Kerry with her. Even I couldn’t help giggling, and I was trying to stay focused long enough to get them to the train.

The lights of the station entrance beckoned, promising freedom from my drunken charges. “Come on,” I urged, trying to nudge Stacy into taking longer steps. “We’re almost there.”

“Almost where?” asked Kerry, setting Stacy giggling again.

“The train.”

Stacy blinked. “Where are we going?”

“Home,” I said, as firmly as I could with my heel caught in yet another crack in the sidewalk. I would have taken them off, but my fingers didn’t seem to be working well enough to undo the straps. “Hurry, or you’ll miss the train.”

Getting down the stairs was an adventure. I nearly twisted my ankle, while Kerry skipped blithely on ahead to the ticket machines, returning with two one-way passes to Colma. I live in San Francisco; they don’t.

“I’ve got it from here, Toby,” she said, taking Stacy’s arm.

“You’ll be okay?”

Kerry nodded. “I’ll get a taxi on the other side.”

“Great,” I said, and hugged them both before waving them through the gates. I love my friends, but seeing them safely on their way was a relief. I have enough trouble taking care of myself when I’m drunk. I don’t need to be taking care of other people.

Market Street was buzzing with club hoppers and people stepping outside to sneak a cigarette—California banned all smoking in bars while I was still busy being a fish. That’s one of the few positive changes made during those fourteen missed years. No one gave me a second glance.

Catching a cab in San Francisco is practically an Olympic sport. I spared a thought for calling Danny, a local cabbie who’s more than happy to give me a free ride whenever I need one. We met six months ago, about five minutes after I got shot in the leg with an iron bullet. That’s never an auspicious way to start a relationship. Fortunately, it turned out that Danny knew me a long time before we actually met; I worked a case for his sister about sixteen years ago, and that’s left him inclined to help me out. He’s a nice guy. Bridge Trolls usually are. When you’re effectively denser than lead, you don’t have much to prove.

Calling Danny would mean finding a phone. Despite Stacy’s hints, I’ve been refusing to get a cellular phone; none of my experiences with the things have been positive. Besides, Danny probably needed to make a living more than I needed to spare myself the walk. Heels clacking staccato against the pavement, I teetered around a corner and started for home.

It only took a few blocks for me to exit the commercial district and move into the residential neighborhoods, leaving the sounds of human celebration behind. There were fewer streetlights here, but that wasn’t an issue; good night vision is a standard benefit of fae heritage. My lack of coat, now—that was more of a problem.

Several pixies had congregated around a corner store’s front-porch bug zapper, using toothpicks as skewers for roasting a variety of insects. I stopped to watch them, taking the pause as an opportunity to get my balance back. One of them saw me looking and flitted over to hover in front of my nose, scowling.

“S’okay,” I