Does 2001: A Space Odyssey hold up? We’ll find out!
Hello, all! I just wanted to announce that my latest book, Harmony Coxcomb, Witch for Hire is out now on Amazon in both paperback and ebook!
It’s the story of a young witch who comes to the Mortal Realm for a season to experience mortal life. She gets a job and an apartment and tries to fit in when she clearly stands out.
“Please look at me,” she pleaded. “I promise I’ll do things differently this time.”
Death looked at Lavinia and frowned. He shook his massive head and looked again toward the west. He raised his arm and pointed west. It was time to go.
“What about a last request? Don’t I get one?”
Somewhere beneath the hooded cloak, the darkness gave the expression of exasperation. He shook his head and looked west again.
“Why are you being so stubborn?” she asked. Tears were falling freely down her cheeks now. She was too young; she was only sixteen.
She looked to the west and shuddered. So this is it? This is really the end.
“I was a good person,” she began, “where am I going to go?”
Death dropped his arm and looked down at her. Had he a face, it would have been filled with sympathy. It may not have been right, but it was time. Slowly, he extended his left hand to the west and held out his right. It was a rare display, but it felt right.
Lavinia looked down at it and trembled. Hesitation overtook her for what felt like hours but was only an instant. She took his hand and swallowed.
Death gave her small mortal hand an almost imperceptible squeeze; just the barest reassurance. He led the way, and she followed.
This is part two of another story. To read part one, please click here.
Temperance looked down at her half-eaten sandwich. It was tasty, but she was done. She looked over at Chastity and Kindness. They were giving Humility another pep talk. She smiled.
“Where shall we head next?” Charity asked as she signed the credit slip. Diligence was stacking up the dishes for the busser.
Forgiveness was about to suggest an AA meeting to help with step five when the bell above the door chimed. Seven virtuous faces turned and blanched at the sight of the seven matching sinful faces.
“Well, well, well,” Lust purred. “Chastity, you look unwell.”
Chasity pursed his lips and screwed up his brow. There were a dozen things that only she would say that he wanted to. Pride picked an invisible piece of lint off his suit and placed it on Humility’s shirt.
Wrath squared up against Forgiveness. She smiled as she threw the first punch. Six gasps punctuated the sound of Forgiveness’ nose breaking.
“Hey, take it outside,” the tired waitress said. This was the thirteenth brawl she’d dealt with this month and she was tired.
The fight was fast and frenzied. Even Sloth seemed willing to fight. He didn’t, and Diligence almost got the better of him before Wrath stepped in, but he actually thought about it.
In reality, Wrath did most of the work. She was like an old Norse Berserker, imbued with the spirit and powers of a bear- biting and rending flesh as she went.
Panting and blood-spattered, except for Pride somehow, they went back into the diner. The waitress took their order like she would any other patron. It was a little early for the brawlers, but it was slow and she needed to turn the tables to make rent.
“So,” Envy began. “Now what?”
“Anything you like!” Lust purred. “We are free of the good influence and the world is our playground!”
Lust looked to Envy and smirked. They were so over their head on this one. Lust reapplied her red matte lipstick while maintaining eye contact with the green one. She quirked her brows as she capped the bullet tube and tucked it away in her purse.
“I hate you,” Envy said. His arms were crossed over his chest and he was very carefully not looking at her. “Sometimes, I really hate dealing with you.”
“It’s because I’m gorgeous!”
Envy didn’t try to argue, he just huffed and looked across the street. There was a happy family bopping along together; it was disgusting. He had nothing and here they were, out in broad daylight, happily flaunting their bliss. It was wrong.
Wrath grunted at Envy. It was her monosyllabic way of asking if they needed killing. Envy just waved her off. She bit back on the urge to backhand him for his flippant gesture.
“So, why did you bring us all here?” Pride asked. He was tall and sharply dressed in a new silk suit. He adjusted his tie and tried to look bored by it all while still looking down on Sloth and Gluttony.
They were hand-in-hand sitting on the sidewalk. Sloth was wearing the dirty clothes he’d slept in and Gluttony was scarfing down something that smelled like gas station nachos, but where so covered in other things it was hard to tell.
Lust smiled and blew a kiss to the sailor as he passed by them on the sidewalk; Greed swiped his watch while he was distracted.
“The answer to all of our questions is inside,” She looked in the window. There were seven people, the fun-house mirror reflections of them, gathered inside the diner. “It took a lot of finesse to find them, but I did.” She said finesse like it was a saucier dirtier word than it needed to be.
“What are you thinking, Lust?” Pride asked. He had a plan forming in his head already, but he wanted to hear her’s first so that he could one-up her.
She smiled. “I’m proposing something that will make all of our jobs so much easier.” She licked her lips and winked at a passerby. Envy scowled. “If they were to…disappear…then there would be no ‘good’ influence for us to contend with.”
Sloth was so shocked, he almost got to his feet, and Gluttony stopped mid-bite. Wrath smiled, revealing too-sharp teeth. Envy looked intrigued.
“Damn,” Pride said. Her idea was better than his. “I’ll be damned.”
“And, so will we all, but not for a long time.” Lust said. She sauntered to the door of the diner and opened the door and slipped inside.
The whole world waited with bated breath as the saucer slowly lowered itself to the ground. They were real! Aliens were really real.
Chandra tried not to wince as the saucer landed with a thud, cauterizing the grass of the White House south lawn beneath it. The gardeners would be pissed. Who knew if it would ever even grow back?
The flying saucer looked like any fan of 1950s sci-fi would expect it to; it was shiny chrome and looked almost like two hubcaps connected by a belt of spinning, blinking lights. A tripod of spindly legs that didn’t look strong enough to hold up the craft threatened to buckle as the spinning belt slowed and then stopped.
She watched as the lights stopped blinking and a rectangle on the lower part of the craft disappeared and a ramp slowly extended. There was a blinding light coming from inside the craft.
A shadow stepped into the rectangle and began to walk forward, down the ramp. News reporters scrambled to tell their viewers everything they could glean from the sight.
The alien was bipedal and humanoid, but the back-lighting made it difficult to see much more than that. It wasn’t until the creature was halfway down the ramp that the world saw on their tiny screens that it was gray-skinned with a large inverted pear head.
Huge, black eyes peered out, taking in the assembled crowd. It twitched its mouth in what could only be described as a sneer.
“Greetings, and welcome to Earth!” Chandra called, not sure if she should step closer. “I am-“
The alien held up its hand and emitted a noise like nails on a chalkboard before it spoke in lightly accented English.
“I have just traveled a long and perilous journey- too perilous to talk to some spokesperson.”
Chandra looked over at the general standing next to her and shrugged.
“My people have long been aware of your tradition of a ‘spokesperson,’ but I only wish to speak to someone who actually matters. I have come to parle with you leader; take me to him.”
Chandra squared her shoulders and advanced on the alien. It was shorter up close, and its arrogance made it less intimidating. She smiled wickedly as she spoke.
“You’re speaking to her.”
I stare at the screen before me, looking over the list of things you should lose before you turn 35. The list is long and obvious. Most of these things I’ve either already ditched or never had.
Old receipts, bad habits like smoking, toxic relationships.
The last one gives me pause. I think of Cole. I think of him and how he’s just always been there. Whether I want him or not. I don’t know if I can discard him.
He saved my life once. I was having an allergic reaction and he ran into a pharmacy to get me some Benedryl. Sure, he could have (should have) taken me to the hospital, but he didn’t want his family to know he was with me.
He wasn’t ashamed of me; just embarrassed.
I think of the time he screamed at me (how did I pick just one?) for burning dinner. He came in and started picking at me- at my looks, at my clothes- and I just got distracted. It was my fault, really.
But, still, he saved my life. He kept me alive. Doesn’t that mean that I belong to him?
I read that somewhere. Until I find a way to save him, I belong to him.
I don’t want to belong to anybody. I’m my own person with my own feelings and whims and needs.
But, it’s been so long since I was my own person. The time before I was with Cole (back when I was in high school) was so long ago. I don’t know who I would be without him (and without him, I’m pretty sure I’m nothing).
It feels wrong; I go to reach for myself and…nothing. I feel nothing. Am I nothing? I’m afraid (without Cole) I might be.
It’s my birthday in 43 minutes. My 35th birthday. I made myself a cake and put candles, 35 of them, on top. I haven’t lit them. It isn’t time yet.
I glance at the bedroom. The door is closed and I can hear Cole’s gentle snore coming from the other side. If I trash him, where will I go? I think he’ll get custody of our friends in the break-up.
I shake my head.
It has to be done. I get up off the kitchen floor and tiptoe to the bedroom. I stand over him for a long time; just watching him sleep. He looks so weak; so…human.
I come back to the kitchen and check my watch- one minute. I light the candles. I watch the second-hand tick down.
Then I close my eyes and make a wish. When I open them, I’m alone in the apartment.
Adrian stood at the end of the dock, listening for the inevitable sounds of the lake- birds, frogs, the lapping water, something.
Instead, nothing came to him. It felt as if the fog swallowed up the sounds before they could reach his straining ears. It was eerie. His grandmother would have called it uncanny.
Grandma Jones would have said it was the lake monster preparing to strike. She would have said she herself was eaten by the lake monster.
She went swimming alone and had a heart attack in the water; she drowned.
No lake monster, no nothing. It was simply bad timing. If she had waited just half an hour longer, she would have had the heart attack on dry land, where help could easily get to her. Or, maybe it wouldn’t have happened at all.
The fog was getting thicker, Adrian could no longer see the outline of the trees across the lake. He should turn back and go inside; there was a lot of work to do there. Instead, he stayed, rooted to the edge of the dock.
Adrian jumped at the sound. The sudden noise caught him off guard. Was the fog breaking? No, there was still no other sound.
The sound was soft, like a leather glove across velvet.
The hairs along the back of his neck stood on end. In an instant, he knew.
He wasn’t alone.
Adrian turned to leave, except he didn’t. His body wouldn’t move. No part of him would respond to his mental commands to leave. Sweat trickled down his skin despite the cold of the morning.
Then, it reared up. The lake monster looked like a cross between a shark and a crocodile. It seemed to smile as it looked at him. I opened up its maw to swallow him whole.
All at once, his body finally listened to his mind. He turned and ran for land. He didn’t look behind him as he ran, not until he was halfway back up the grass to the house.
Nothing was there, no monster, no fog. It was a clear day.
The sounds of the birds and the frogs and the water enveloped him. As he gasped for breath he felt a pain building in his chest. He patted his hip, trying to find his phone.
“911, what is the address of your emergency?” said the voice on the other side of the line when he finally managed to dial.
Adrian gave the address and confirmed it for the dispatcher.
“Okay, tell me exactly what happened.”
Adrian paused, would they even believe him?
Mara was swamped. The line was out the door and growing. It was also her first day as a barista.
“I can get the next customer,” she called over the hissing of the steamer.
“Good morning!” said a woman stepping up to the counter. She was tall, over six feet, and her willowy frame made her look just a little like a pale stick insect. As she tucked a strand of hair back, Mara thought her ears looked a little pointy.
Probably some kind of cosplay.
“Hi! What can I get you?” Mara’s hand was poised over the register, hovering, twitching to get the order started.
“I’d like 10 double shots, please,” the woman’s teeth seemed just a little pointy, too. “Oh, and lots of sugar!”
Mara’s hand faltered.
“That’s 20 shots,” she said.
“That will kill you!”
“I don’t think so.” The other-worldly woman said brightly. “It’s my usual.”
“Your usual? Is this a joke?”
“Nope.” As she spoke, there was something wicked behind her eyes. “You can ask your supervisor if you like.”
Mara turned slowly to her trainer. Mellissa was finishing up the drink she was working on; without looking she reached for the sticker printer to make the next drink.
“Yeah?” Mellissa took to quick strides over to the register. “What’d you break?”
“N-nothing,” Mara stammered. “I just don’t know if I can make this order.”
“Why?” Mellissa looked up at the customer and smiled. “Oh, hi, Titania! Usual?”
The strange woman, Titania, nodded and smiled at Mara.
“Yeah, this one is different,” Mellissa said. “The system won’t let us key it in, so we just scan this barcode. It’s the same price. The sticker printer spits out a blank sticker- then we just make it.”
Mara did as she was told, and took Titania’s money.
“We’ve got a line this morning, and your drink always takes a while,” Mellissa said. “Can I make yours last?”
“No worries, I’ll wait.”
Mellissa nodded and patted Mara on the shoulder.
“You’re doing great, kid,” she whispered.
Mara cleared the line and stepped in next to Mellissa to start making drinks. It was midmorning, and even the drive-thru was slowing down. It was quick work with the two of them both making drinks.
“Here you go, Titania,” Mellissa said. “Thanks for your patience.”
In answer, Titania just smiled. She locked eyes with Mara as she put the 30-ounce cup to her lips and started chugging. The shots were cooling, but still hot. Mara watched in horror as she downed the deadly drink.
When she finished, Titania smiled at Mara and quirked her brows, smiling.
“Until next time, mortal,” Titania said on her way out. When she reached the door, she turned and looked at Mara. “What was your name?”
Mellissa stepped in swiftly. In her hand was the branch with little red berries that Mara had seen on a shelf behind the register.
“You know we can’t do that, Titania.” Mellissa’s voice was stern and she held the branch out like a sword.
Titania recoiled from it but smiled.
“It never hurts to ask.” She waved and left.
“And that,” Mellissa said gesturing to the door. “Is why I told you not to tell me your real name. You can’t trust their kind.”
“I don’t understand.” Mara looked down at her name tag. It said, Dave.
“You know my name isn’t Mellissa, and no I won’t tell you what it is.” She took a deep breath. “If she learns your name, she can control you- make you do things against your will.”
Mara’s mouth popped open in sudden realization.
“Yeah, that’s the Fairy Queen.” Mellissa looked over at Mara. “Just scan the barcode and keep the line moving and you’ll be okay.”
Dressed in a long black cloak, scythe held low, she wondered how it was that people didn’t recognize her. Apart from the scythe, she looked just like the fan pictures of her- and more like the less-than-favorable ones. Maybe people just saw what they wanted to see.
Death took the long way home. It was raining, but the rain would soon turn to sleet. She turned her collar up against the cold.
Death still had 78 years on her contract. She’d been doing this for over a dozen years already. When her contract was up, she would be re-born, given a second chance at life.
When she died, she was only nineteen- still just a child in many ways. She was a teenager when her life was snuffed out, and now she had a job- a career without growth opportunities.
She opened the door to her building and climbed the narrow stairs to her flat. She was death incarnate and she still couldn’t afford to live alone. Her roommate was a pleasant fellow.
Her mother would freak out if she knew that she was living with a man. It would hardly matter that he was gay, he still had a penis.
He was laying on the couch when she came in. He was breathing hard and reaching for something in front of him- his inhaler.
Death ran to him and handed it to him. He dropped it instantly; his hand wouldn’t close around it. She held it out to him and pushed down on the trigger.
She pulled out her phone and dialed an ambulance.
There was a knock at the door. She looked at him and saw fear in his eyes. He was begging her not to go. The knock became more insistent.
“I’ll be right back,” she promised.
She could have screamed when she opened the door. Death was standing there; the Death that was on duty now. She wanted to slam the door in her face.
Instead, she led her inside. Death crouched down as the other Death raised her scythe.
“I’m scared,” he whispered. “What will happen to me?”
She took a breath. “Death is like this, it’s like stepping into a warm bath and falling asleep. It’s peaceful.”
He nodded, and the other Death reaped him. She gave an irreverent salute to Death as she made her way out of the flat.
Death sank down onto the sofa and held her head in her hands. Her cheeks were wet as the snow began to fall.
Hawthorne walked around the empty mall aimlessly. He wasn’t supposed to be there. No one was.
The shops had long since been abandoned; a few of them boasted bits and bobs still littering the scant shelves. It reminded him of an old pop song lyric, “just to prove that we were here…”
He shook his head and his sleeping bag when he found the right spot. This was so not worth twenty bucks.
But, a dare was a dare. Hawthorne had to prove his manhood, or whatever.
Gibby was full of bad ideas- this being chief among them. Last month, he dared another friend to surf a moving car down a residential street. Luka was fine, but he wet his pants when Gibby stopped suddenly before she got to the stop sign.
Gibby was the queen of the burnouts and loadies. She had the best shit, and she was willing to share, provided you did what she dared you to. If you didn’t, no one would talk to you.
Hawthorne snuggled down into his sleeping bag and thought of Gibby and her haunting amber eyes. He imagined her cock-sure grin when she picked him up in the morning. She may even hug him.
After twenty minutes, he gave up on sleeping. There was too much nothing going on in here. He usually fell asleep to the ambient sounds of his mom’s apartment- the soft voices of the neighbors coming through the walls, the flick of his mom’s lighter as she smoked, the blare of the tv.
It was soothing to him, but here in the old mall, there was nothing.
Hawthorne sighed and got up. He left his sleeping bag where it was. He was near the exit that Gibby was picking him up at in the morning. He’d grab it on his way out.
Most of the security gates were down and locked in the empty stores. He tried each one as he passed, hoping for an open store. There wasn’t much to take, but that would make it all the sweeter when he found something.
Gibby would hug him for sure when she saw he was brave enough to swipe something while he was in here.
He didn’t hear the second set of footsteps following him up the dead escalator. He didn’t even think to look behind him when he got to the second floor.
His pursuer followed, quiet as death and twice as quick. When Hawthorne got to the old music store, the would-be stalker grabbed him around the waist.
A grim smile split the follower’s face as he held Hawthorne tight. Wings unfurled from his back and soon they were flying out of the hole in the skylight. Hawthorne screamed the whole way up.
And, the whole way down when the creature dropped him. He only stopped screaming when he hit the tiled first floor.
Red eyes and black wings took off into the cool night.
Hawthorne twitched on the floor. He didn’t realize he had been bitten by the creature. The bite was probably the only reason he was still alive. His back crunched and shifted against his will and he screamed out again.
Gibby pulled her mom’s car into the parking and parked in front of a defunct department store. She honked her horn and lit a joint. Fifteen minutes came and went before she cut the engine and exited the vehicle.
Hawthorne was probably going to jump out and scare her. She knew it, she just knew it. Well, she’d let him scare her.
Then, she’d tell everyone how she found him sucking his thumb and still asleep when she went to pick him up. It was her word against his, and who would they believe?
Gibby tripped over Hawthorne’s sleeping bag as she made her way through the abandoned mall. Yeah, he was going to pop out at her. She rolled her eyes and steeled her nerves.
“Come out, wherever you are!” She called. She picked her way all over the first floor, winding and trying to pull up the security gates as she passed the stores. They were all locked tight against her prying.
She wandered aimlessly, hopping up on a kiosk just to see if it would hold her up. It did; she had a slight frame. When she had exhausted the first floor, she started to climb up a dead escalator to the second floor.
Like her erstwhile friend, she didn’t hear the footsteps behind her. When her pursuer grabbed her, though, she spun around in its clutches and sprayed mace all over the front of her attacker.
The creature, she didn’t know what else to call it, screamed and grabbed her tighter. It raked its teeth along her neck, getting the mace residue in the wound. It was her turn to scream.
Wings unfurled from the creature’s back and it carried her up and up into the early morning light before dropping her.
Hawthorne smiled as he listened to her screams until they stopped with a thud. He blinked his red eyes against the dawn and swooped back inside the mall.
April 3rd, 2022 from 1-3pm I will be selling and signing copies of my books at the Half Price Books Flagship store on Northwest Highway in Dallas, TX.
Tell me where it hurts. Tell me every little pain that haunts you and makes you weak.
Loving you isn’t the rotten work you make it out to be. To drown in the ecstasy of your notice is all I long for. Let me die in your arms.
Tell me in no uncertain terms who did this to you. I will make them sorry they ever touched a hair on your precious head. I will make them hurt.
Tell me where it hurts. Tell me when and where and who injured you.
The act of loving you doesn’t end at your rough and broken edges. I want to hold you tight and squeeze all my love into you so that it glues your parts back together and you are whole again.
Tell me you love me, too, so I can die in peace. I want to rest eternally in the bosom of kindness and reconciliation.
Tell me I’m not the one who did this to you; I couldn’t bear it if I had. I would rather fall on poignard than hurt you. I would rather call to the old gods and the new and draw down their notice than be the reason your smile falters.
I want my love to be as gentle as a lamb, as fierce as a lion, and as all-encompassing as the sea. I want to gather you up into my arms and never let you go.
Tell me where it hurts.
My mother warned me about you. She told me you were dangerous. She told me you would hurt me.
When I met you the first time, it was in a dream. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I felt like I’d met you before. I don’t know why, but you felt like home.
I tried my best to put you out of my mind. I told myself you were dangerous. I told myself you would hurt me.
The second time I met you, it was a fleeting glimpse in a shop window as I passed by in the pouring rain. I didn’t get a good look at you, but I knew you in an instant.
You were all the things I was warned about. You were dangerous. You would hurt me.
The third time I met you, you were following me on the sidewalk on a sunny day. My breath caught in my throat as I glimpsed you; the monster just behind me.
I heard my mother’s voice in my mind. You are dangerous. You will hurt me.
Today, I see you in my mirror. I knew it was you; I knew it was me. I’ve known all along, I just didn’t want to know.
I am the creature in the night. I am the shadow that follows you on a sunny day. I am the monster half-glimpsed in the rain. But my mother was only half right.
I am dangerous, don’t make me hurt you.
I started a YouTube channel! I am getting ready to post my welcome video and have some ideas for the coming months. The channel will focus on book reviews and crafting- two of my dearest loves- and will also feature updates to my writing and go over my process. I hope to see you there!
I stare down at the papers strewn across my writing desk, waiting for inspiration to strike. I’ve agreed to be a pen-pal to a person half a world away that I’ve never met, and I haven’t the foggiest idea what to say.
Should I write about my day? How interesting could that be? I get up, I go to work, I come home and go to bed. That’s it.
I could write about my family, but I live alone and don’t have a particularly close family. I could always write about my goldfish. His name is Blub-blubs. He mostly just floats there.
Maybe I could go into my hobbies. I stream old tv shows from the 90s. I don’t sew or craft or even have the energy to do much else.
I hear the mail truck rumble down the street and decide to walk down to pick up the bills. I wave to Fred as he pulls up to the next mailbox. He waves back.
There’s a letter from my pen-pal. My fingers tremble as I open the letter right there on the lawn.
His name is John Smith; he lives in Germany but he’s from England. He gets up and goes to work, then goes home and watches old tv shows from the 80s. He has a beta fish named Bubbles and doesn’t talk to his family much since he moved away.
I run back to my desk and write a letter back. I ask him about moving outside his country; I’ve always wanted to do that. I ask about his job and what shows he watches.
Maybe my life isn’t quite as boring as I thought.
I sat down to work on the current draft of my novel this evening to find my youngest cat sleeping on the stack of papers containing all of my notes and revision. He weighs about 16 pounds. If it were either of my other two cats (also both around 16 pounds because they are all Texas-sized), I would just shift him to get it out. However, this cat is just over a year old and still loves to bite.
As my mother likes to say, “Tomorrow is also a day.”
This is part two of the Embroidery story.
I watched Townsend make his way across the graveyard, delighting in the confusion blooming across his face. Absentmindedly, he touched each headstone as he passed; draped across each one was a small scrap of fabric painstakingly embroidered with a flower in silk thread.
I flinched when he saw me. I was still holding my basket of flowers, and for a moment I thought of running. He scowled and cut across the grey grass to me.
I froze. Not a good look for an assassin, let me tell you.
“What are you doing?”
“What do you think?” My voice was defensive, maybe more than it needed to be. I softened myself. “I’m just paying my respects.”
“To every new grave?” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Brock says you’re turning down jobs.”
“Only some of them.”
“Why? Is this about Larrissa?” He said my sister’s name like it was nothing; like she was nothing.
“Don’t you say her name!” I shoved him and he stumbled back a few steps. “Don’t you ever say her name!”
“What is this?”
“He told me I would save us from a civil war, that by doing my job I would save lives.”
Townsend looked confused.
“Look around! Does this look like I saved anyone?” I resisted the urge to let out a scream. “They built a new graveyard because the bodies were stacking up in the street!”
Townsend shrugged and opened his mouth to rebut, but the fierceness in my eyes stopped him cold. I shook my head and looked in my basket. There were still a dozen flowers to pass out.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“Don’t say that to me, say it to them,” I muttered as I laid another flower on a freshly turned grave. This one wasn’t marked yet. Perhaps it wouldn’t be.
“I don’t know what you want from me.”
“I want out!” I screamed. I imagined that windows opened so their owners could get a better view of the crazy woman screaming in a graveyard. “I’ve been doing this since I was a kid, and I’m done.”
“No women, no kids. That was the only rule I ever had.” I stomped back to him. “How many of these belong to women and kids? How many times has the water rippled and someone else gotten hurt even though I have my rule?”
“We can’t know that,” he protested.
“I know.” I pulled out my favorite dagger and plunged it into his breast, pumping it twice. “I quit.”
He crumpled to the cold, grey ground, his face was a mask of shock. I rooted around in my basket until I found his flower.
A black dahlia for death and betrayal.
Ouch! Damn it!
I stuck my finger in my mouth and sucked on it as I inspected the scrap of fabric in my hands. Good, there was no blood on it. I pulled my finger out of my mouth; it wasn’t bleeding either.
I took up my needle and pulled another satin stitch across the bleached muslin. Sometimes you just needed to stab something a few hundred dozen times to feel better.
“What are you doing?” asked a familiar voice.
“Hey, Brock,” is all I said in answer. I didn’t lift my eyes from my work.
“No, seriously, what are you doing?” he asked.
“What does it look like?” I didn’t even try to hide the annoyance from my voice. “I’m practicing the womanly art of embroidery.”
“You’re an assassin!”
“I like to sew.”
I swear I could feel him roll his eyes as he sat down across from me. Still, I didn’t look at him.
“You’re needed, standard wet work.”
“50% above the usual rate.”
I opened my mouth to say no, but he cut me off.
“That’s after my cut.”
“No women, no kids, right?”
I shrugged but set down my project. He handed me an envelope which I opened. I finally looked at him when I read the target. His face was bruised and I could tell it had been bloodied recently.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“Nope, this is real, and it’ll happen with or without you.” He smiled but winced instead. “Either you take out the prince or an angry mob will and we’ll be plunged into civil war.”
“Who takes over after the overgrown brat?”
“Dunno, above my pay grade.”
“Fine.” I picked up my project and pulled another satin stitch across the taught fabric.
“What is it anyway?”
“A flower. It’s for my sister.”
“I thought she-“
“For her grave,” I corrected.
Brock nodded and left me alone in my room- my candle wavered when he shut the door. I waited until I heard his heavy footsteps thunder down the stairs before I allowed the tears to fall.
“You shall be avenged, dearheart,” I whispered when I was done with my work. “Soon.”
The prince was an easy target. Possibly too easy. I didn’t even have to rush while I washed the blood off of my hands. I was already in the graveyard when the alarm bells sounded across the still sleeping city.
I laid the embroidered forget-me-not down carefully across the top of the headstone. I crossed myself and made my way home. I sat down in front of my unlit fireplace and pulled out another fabric scrap.
I stretched it taught across the hoop and tightened the screw. The first stab is always the most satisfying. This one would be for the poor sap who would take the fall for the prince. His grave would be unmarked, but Brock would make sure I know where it was.
A white orchid on a white fabric scrap would be enough to help him reach the heavens.
I’m not a Man. I never will be.
There is no dagger in my smile. When I smile, it’s just that- a smile. I smile when I feel joy. I can’t be anything other than what I am.
I am prey to the swaying of my thoughts, so I will bow my head. I will beat my fists against the tiled floor and curse the Creator for making me as I am.
I cannot be any other than as I am. I long to be a Man- to be free to do as I please with little to no consequence.
I long to walk alone at night, with nothing but the stars to guide me. I can’t, or rather, shouldn’t. It isn’t safe for me to do so. If I am accosted, it is my fault for allowing it.
I am not a Woman. I never will be.
I am not fierce; a fire burning brighter than the very stars themselves. I’ve never burned bright enough for anyone to notice.
There is no power to the sway of my hips. My smile does not hide secrets. I have no secrets.
I long to bewitch and ensnare, but I cannot.
I have neither a Man’s mind nor a Woman’s might.
I cannot be anything other than what I am.
I am done with my 0-draft of my new novel, and beginning the process of revisions today! Time to break out the red pen and sticky notes! My goal is to begin the beta-reading process by the end of June or the beginning of July.
And just like that, the sun rose.
I woke, slowly at first, then all at once. I woke as I fell asleep, with the ineffable feeling of falling.
Only this time, I fell. My knees hit the hard wooden floor of my one-room house, and for a moment, I regretted putting them in. The soft dirt would have been softer to fall onto.
I stretched and dressed in the dark. I did most things in the dark these days. The generator ran out months ago, and it saved me from looking in the mirror. It led to better days.
I always wanted to be a swamp witch when I was a kid. Somehow, I didn’t consider the mosquitoes in all my childish dreaming. The first summer I was burned and twisted and swollen from the elements.
I loved it.
I combed the swamp and slept beneath the willows until I found this little hut. It was abandoned, just like me, and no one came to claim it. Just like me.
The cot was already there and I bought the floors. Tourists with too much money like the things I find in my swamp; everybody likes a terrifying bog witch.
It’s quiet. Not peaceful-quiet.
Something’s wrong. Someone is in my swamp.
I resist the urge to giggle at the reference. This is serious. My skin crawls with worry and my stomach leaps to my throat when I hear them.
I slip out of my shack like a ghost- cunning and stealthy.
I creep behind the protected trees and over the protected land, carefully picking my way across the swamp. I resist the urge to retch when I find the first trap. It’s a snare, and I nearly get caught in it myself.
I crouch low and keep my breathing steady and my ears open as I untie it and loop the rope around my shoulder. I hope it’s the last, even as I find another and another.
When I find their camp, I am sick. Dead animals hang from trees and meat roasts on a dwindling, unattended fire. I put out the fire and take down the animals and bury them in the soft soil. I ask Mother Moon to watch over them into the next life.
I creep back into the depths of the swamp when I hear them again. I can’t hear their words, but I can tell their confusion bends quickly to rage.
I smile at their fury.
I spend the rest of the day stalking them and taking down their traps. When night falls, and the poachers return to their camp, I stay on the fringes and watch them.
I wait for sleep to take them. Then, it’s my turn.
I snare and trap them, one by one. My hands are deft, and they don’t wake. I make sure they don’t wake again.
When they aren’t a threat again, I finally hear the animals return, and the not in my chest eases.
I spend the night taking what I can use back to my home. They won’t be needing them again. I like the blankets best. They’re soft and as I snuggle down to sleep, I hear the birdsong.
And just like that, the sun rose.
Dear former lover,
I hate you. It has been over ten years, and I still hate you. I hate you for what you did to me. I hate you for what was and what should never have been.
I read the other day that on average it takes seven years for all the cells in a healthy adult to replace themselves. Seven. I hope this is correct because I long for a body that you never touched.
I hate you. What you did to me used to make me wish I’d never been born, now I wish you’d never been born. It has taken so many years of work on myself to love myself enough to hate you.
I don’t think I’ll ever let go of this anger.
I think about you less and less as time passes, but every year your memory comes creeping back in. Every year.
December is haunted because of you. I’m haunted because of you. I hate you with every fiber of my being. I hope you suffer every day of your life.
I hope your socks are always damp. I hope you have a million unfinished sneezes. I hope you forget a word at a moment that makes you look like a fool. I hope you itch on the heel of your foot and never really satisfy it.
I hope you rot,
I miss you. I really miss you. I’ve seen cute frog things that remind me of you lately. When you were alive, I never saw very many, but now that you’re gone- I see them everywhere.
I wanted to cry when I came to your page in my address book. I was making up my Christmas card list. I wanted to surprise you with a gift card for a nice dinner out. Instead, I turned the page.
It hurt. I feel like there’s a part of me missing.
I want to call you and talk about the weather and how the changing seasons affect your plants. I want to get you a hand-blown glass plant mister. I found one online in the most beautiful shade of violet. It reminded me of the curtains you had up at the Park.
I got another cat. I think you’d like him. I know you wouldn’t admit it, but I think you would get along.
I miss you, and I love you.
I could have sworn he was right beside me; for years he always had been. Now he’s gone.
I don’t rightly know what it was that drove us apart. Was it my hair or my taste in music? Was I too clingy or maybe not affectionate enough? Something changed. I went from being the apple of his eye to just another stranger on the street.
He guided me and told me that he loved me, but his most recent actions make me wonder if he was ever really capable of love. So much hate and venom from such a small man.
Small? Yes, I dare say that though he is over six feet tall, he is small in all other ways. Small-minded. Small-hearted. Filled with small ideas and the overwhelming urge to make others even smaller than himself.
I used to look up to him with wonder and awe and fear. His temper and his rage frightened me and gave me nightmares. His cruel smacks and cutting, biting words left scars that I never thought would heal.
But they did, and I look upon him with pity.
I am great and strong and mightier than he ever meant me to know. He kept the knowledge that I am capable and enough from me like a miser keeps gold. His only power came from trying to keep a little girl down.
He tried to beat me and bend me to his will. For years, I was afraid it worked.
Now, though, I look down on this small man and wonder what it ever was that I feared in him. I see his petty jabs as what they truly are- a scared, little man trying to make everyone smaller than himself so he can feel in control of something.
For years, I carried him around with me. I carried his barbs and stings and I thought they were right and just- that I somehow deserved them.
I know that isn’t true, and, as I pull the last barb from my heart, I grieve the end of the relationship, wretched though it was, and move along.
I am strong and I am enough.
Standing sky-clad in the dark of the New Moon, Artemis rolled her shoulders back and willed herself to shine.
Night and darkness were her domain. The owls and shadow-cats were her faithful subjects. Night lent reverence to all things, and this was most deserving.
What is done by dark will always be revealed by light. Truth crows in the light and illuminates all.
Artemis opened her eyes and sang new life into existence.
Her belly grew and grew until it was Time. She dropped to her knees and birthed a fox and a hare into the wooded glen.
She cried tears of joy and wrapped them in her pale willowy arms. She glowed in the lack of moonlight.
Animals gathered all around the Huntress in the dark. These were her children. She kissed her palms and gave them each a blessing.
“Blessed be,” she sang as she shone in the night.
I wish I’d paid more attention when I went to spy school.
I wish I’d graduated from spy school.
I kind of wish I had actually enrolled when I’d had the chance.
I looked over at my captive and tried to remember the last question I’d asked. Was it, “Who do you work for?” Was that too cliche?
My captive looked up at me with large cow eyes.
“Please,” he begged. “Just let me live. I’ve told you everything I know.”
“Yeah, alright,” I said as I moved to untie him. He came clattering face first onto my brown carpet. “I guess I’ll let live, or whatever.”
“Thank you!” My captive scrambled to his feet and ran to the front door. He yanked and yanked, but the door would not budge.
“Dude!” I called over my shoulder. “I didn’t say you could leave. I said you could live.”
My captive sunk to his knees and began to sob. “Please, I’m just the pizza guy.”
“I didn’t order a pizza,” I said, regretting my decision to let him down.
“I must be at the wrong house!”
“Oh, you’re at the wrong house, alright,” I said as I walked over to him. “Even if I had ordered a pizza, it would have been with extra pineapple, not espionage.”
I laugh at my little quip. Maybe I didn’t need spy school after all.
Jules stepped onto the platform and resisted the urge to scream. She was a long way up and the people down below were urging her to jump.
If she jumped and fell, she would surely die. But, if she didn’t jump, she would live to regret it.
JUMP! JUMP! the crowd screamed up at her.
Jules closed her eyes and willed her hands to stop shaking. She stepped up to the edge of the platform and jumped.
For too many moments, the ground rushed up at her and she kicked herself for working without a net. She always worked with a net.
Jules opened her mouth to scream, but before she could draw the breath, her partner caught her by the wrists and swung her up into the air.
She caught her swing easily and allowed herself to beam as the crowd cheered.
She put her hand out and Malphus shook it. The negotiations had been difficult. Angie kept going on about peanut butter and hairnet sauce, whatever that was.
Malphus let go and he and Angie were standing at the gates of hell in an instant. She blinked and rubbed her eyes, trying to figure out if she was still dreaming. This couldn’t be real, she had to still be dreaming.
“When can you start?” the demon asked, flexing his wings.
“Your new job, silly!” Malphus chuckled. “Looks like we have a new office prankster. Satan’s gonna love that!”
Horror clouded Angie’s features. “How? Why?” She racked her brains trying to figure out what was happening. Then, she remembered the weird dreams she’d been having lately.
“You interviewed me in my sleep!?”
“We find that’s the best approach when hiring new demons.” He paused. “Usually, there’s less screaming.”
The black gate swung open and Malphus walked through it backward, like a campus tour guide. Angie had no choice but to follow.
“So, to the left,” he said gesturing. “We have employee housing and the cafeteria. There’s also a jogging trail and a gym. To our right is your new office building!”
“What exactly will I be doing? I won’t torture people.”
“Of course not, silly-billy. That’s the lower executives. You’ll mostly be doing data entry so R and D can implement new programs. If you ever want to torture sinners, you can always work you way up- you’ve got a billion year contract.”
“A billion years?”
“Yup,” Malphus said. “But remember, time moves differently down here. Up there, it’ll only be about two weeks.”
“I can’t miss work for two weeks while I’m in hell.” Angie said flatly.
“Of course you can! We put in for vacation on your behalf and back-dated the request. It’s all taken care of!”
Angie opened her mouth to utter another protestation, but Malphus cut her off.
“Also, your salary is in the eighteen point five trillion dollar range for the length of your contract, after taxes of course. It will be deposited into your account when you get back.”
Angie’s world swirled before her eyes, and Malphus blew a puff of sulfur in her face to keep her from passing out. She closed her eyes and shook her head, but when she opened them, she was still in hell.
“So? What do you say?” Malphus asked.
“Yes,” she said after a moment. “I mean, it’s only a billion years, right?”
Malphus smiled and held out his hand again. This time, Angie took it confidently and shook it twice.
The chef in the video is blathering on about how important it is to measure your ingredients for consistent results.
I roll my eyes. Some things, like garlic, you have to measure with your heart. I flatten the garlic clove with the broad side of my knife and peel away the papery skin. My knife makes quick work of it and soon I’ve lost count of how much I’ve added. Instead, I just taste it every few minutes.
I shake in some white pepper and the room fills with smoke and the stench of sulfer.
Great, maybe I should have been measuring.
I fling open the doors and windows before I scramble up on the counter to reach my screaming smoke detector. It takes a few tries, but finally, I silence it.
I take my soup off the good burner and set it on the star and crescent cast iron trivet, a hand-me-down from a dizzy aunt. I dipped a clean spoon in and raised it to my lips.
It tasted amazing- nothing like the now dissipating stench from a few moments ago. I shrug and reach for a stoneware bowl.
Someone behind me cleared their throat, and I drop the bowl. It explodes into a million tiny pieces. I live alone.
Slowly, I turn, fighting the urge to scream when I see him.
He’s over eight feet tall, hunched against my ceiling. His skin is the deep red of drying blood and his eyes glow with yellow flames. What really sets me off though, are the horns protruding from his creased forehead. There’s a scar on the ceiling above him where he’s scraped off the popcorn.
He’s tapping his foot and looking annoyed. “You summoned me,” he says with a sigh. His voice booms like thunder and rattles my dishes. Dogs bark somewhere down the block.
I try to speak, but all I can manage is a tight squeak.
The demon rolls his eyes and strides forward on his cloven hooves. He opens the right drawer on the first try and pulls out a spoon. He dips it in and tastes the soup.
“That’s a summoning spell.” He smacked his lips. “It’s delicious, just the right amount of garlic, but it’s still a summoning spell.”
“No!” I seem to have found my voice at last. “It’s Italian tomato soup.”
“Is that tomato? All I taste is garlic.”
“I like garlic,” I hiss, taking back my spoon a little to forcefully.
“As do I.” He smiled, revealing his fangs. “Hence, how you managed to summon me.”
“No,” I whisper. “I was making soup.”
“You can eat it, but I’ll still be here.”
“You’ll never leave?” I asked in a wail.
“Not until you give me a task,” he said simply.
“Task?” I wasn’t sure I’d heard him right.
“Yeah,” he began, scratching his chin. “I was summoned, by you, and now I can’t leave until I do your bidding.”
“But I don’t want you to do anything. I don’t have any bidding. I’m a good person.”
“Hey! Just because I’m a demon doesn’t mean I want to do evil things. No one ever asks, they just assume, and I am mighty tired of it!”
“Sorry,” I mumbled.
“I forgive you.” He sighed. “I just get so tired of the demon equals evil equation.”
“What would you like to do?”
The demon in front of me looked genuinely surprised. “In 10,000 years, no one has ever asked.”
“Well?” I asked.
The demon screwed up his face and there was a sound that I can only describe as a rock and roll record being played backwards. I watched as my soup pooled together and jumped back into the stoneware bowl that had somehow mended itself. The bowl bounced back into my hands and the spoon plopped in.
I looked up at the demon and smiled. “Thank you,” I said. “Would you like a bowl?”
The demon smiled back and nodded.
“I think I know what I want,” I said as I handed him a bowl.
The demon quirked his brows in question.
“I want a friend,” I began. “I want a friend who likes garlic as much as I do.”
“Done,” said the demon as his body shifted into that of thirty-something hipster. He looked just like the sort of friend that you would expect me to have.
I live in Ghostown. It used to have another name, but no one calls it that anymore. Or they might, but I’ve never heard them. It was a pretty name, too, but Ghostown fits it better these days.
I haven’t seen another car on the road in weeks. I know people are still out there, I’ve seen the trash pile up on the curb as evidence, but I haven’t seen anyone. I hope they’re still there.
The radio still pays music. All the stations are up and running it seems, and it gives me hope.
I know it could all be automated, like the trash collection and food deliveries, but it still makes me hopeful. I want to believe there is still some hope in Ghostown.
I’ve not left my house in days, or is it weeks now? No one goes outside, or at least I’ve never seen anyone outside. If someone is still out there, please give me a sign.
Please, let me know that you’re still there.
I don’t want to be alone.
The lies we tell ourselves are, by far, the most insidious and wicked.
For years, I told myself that I would never be enough. In truth, I am not only enough, but I may be too much for some people. Exuberance, in all things, flows through my blood and seeps out my pores.
I dance. I sing. I take up space.
I will not apologize for any of it. I deserve to be here, just as I am. I matter and I have value.
I don’t know who first let me think I wasn’t enough, but I know now that they were just projecting their own lie onto me. They lived their lie; they nurtured it and fed it until it became a part of who they are.
I will not fall into the same trap. I refuse. I will live deliciously and be my own true self. Who I am and what I am is whole.
No longer will I lie to myself, hobble myself.
It’s a new day, and I will step into it with renewed purpose and a strong sense of self.
April 17, 2030
I’m feeling stuck. 2030 was supposed to be my year, but now, a third of the way in, it just feels like all the others that have come before it.
I haven’t reached my goal weight, gotten that fat promotion, or found inner peace.
The only thing I have to show for this year so far is that I can finally say no, and mean it. People are always making demands of my time and insisting that I do this or that to make them happy.
I’ve started living to please myself, and only myself. No longer will I bow to the whims of the world. No longer will I succomb to the will of another.
Instead, I give myself the grace to think and act for myself.
Maybe the future is looking bright after all.
My new book just dropped today on Amazon and the Kindle store!
You can get it here.
My new short story collection is coming out soon on Amazon.com! I’ll post a link as soon as it’s ready.
The sun disappeared slowly behind the darkening clouds. The summer sun, no longer beaming, was gone and it was as dark as night. As slowly as the sun went away was how quickly the villagers disappeared into their homes.
The sound of the first drop of rain fell heavily with a loud thud. The silence that followed was deafening, almost as deafening as the sudden deluge that rained down from the heavens.
Harder and harder it rained, until the villagers couldn’t see more that a foot outside their hovels. Many of the thatched roofs began to leak and bow in as the rains fell. It wasn’t long before the hail followed the rain, crowding it out and fighting for dominance.
Lightning split the sky and the following thunder shook the hovels. Women and children began to cry as the men pretended to be brave. This was harder and heavier than any other storm they’d ever seen.
The air vibrated with the storm’s malice and the promise of death. The smell of the burning, singed reeds and thatching melded with the smell of rain and ice.
Now the men were crying, too. They huddled with their families and whispered empty promises of safety. They were too lost in their prayers to hear when the hail slowed and the rain stopped.
It wasn’t long before the sun made it’s return and the clouds parted. When the storm was over and the birds began to sing again, the people looked up and around and gave their thanks to mother providence.
In these uncertain times, I find myself taking a risk. I am leaving my current day job for a new one. There are many reasons, but chief among them is the perceived value of human life.
My soon-to-be former employer has seen fit to assign a price to human life. The price, you ask? Three dollars an hour over three months. Before taxes.
I thought this was an odd amount, so I did a little digging and a little math, and it just so happens that that “bonus” is the virtually the same as the cost to train a new person.
We aren’t really an essential business and everyone involved knows it. It is only by the grace of a loophole that we are still even open. That and corporate greed.
The higher ups are still pushing sales numbers and the people who don’t meet them are now on the chopping block. That was not the case before. Our numbers have always been a coaching and development move. On top of that, corporate is hiking prices.
We, as employees, asked them to consider us, to value us, and they did. They assigned us a dollar value. Three dollars an hour is the value of my and my family’s lives.
I know not everyone has a job right now, and while I am grateful to be to be working, I don’t appreciate them not allowing us the option of safety. We are required interact with people from out of town and a lot of people coming in are sick.
On top of all that, we’re being phased out anyway. They want to eliminate my position and at least half of the next rung up from me in the coming months.
This ship is sinking and I refuse to play music on the deck while I wait for the inevitable. I’m jumping ship with the rest of the rats.
Giorgia picked her way along the orchard path, the fresh snow crunching under her feet. Her stomach growled, but the apples were gone, stolen by an early winter and only leaving their icy ghosts behind on the branches.
She hadn’t had much to eat lately. When she started her journey, she had enough food to last a fortnight, but the early winter was steeling that too.
She needed more and more food just to keep going as the temperature dropped. She hadn’t eaten since yesterday and she hadn’t felt warm in over three days.
Even the sun felt cold and miserly. It hid behind clouds and refused to warm anything.
Giorgia dug her map out of her bag with trembling fingers. Was she still making good time? Was she even still going in the right direction? She didn’t know how long she could continue on without food, but she knew she’d have to eat something soon or face Death, and she never wanted to see her again.
Death was an old family friend, practically an assumed great-aunt. Her visits were often and long and she liked to pinch Giorgia on the cheeks and tell her that her time would come soon.
The night Giorgia left her father’s house, Death was there. She hadn’t seen Giorgia when she came to take her due.
Out into the cold night, Giorgia ran and she never paused to look back. She didn’t know for sure if death was nipping at her heels, but she had the distinct feeling that it was so.
The cold seemed to leach the essence from her bones and her breath barely fogged anymore as she panted along on her way. She didn’t know what would happen when she finally reached her desitnation, but she hoped it would be warm.
Her mother’s family had been know to cheat Death from time to time. They were her best chance for survival. If they would be willing to take her in, that is.
Giorgia shook the troublesome thoughts from her head and soldiered on against the howling wind.
An odd thing happened as she made her way, she began to feel warm. Sweat dripped from her pores as she picked her way along the crunching, squeaking snow.
Giorgia unwound her scarf and draped it on a tree branch as she walked past. Next she dropped her hat on the white ground. Soon her coat was unbuttoned and discarded.
She fanned herself with her fingers as she trekked on. She felt a presence up ahead and she hurried up to meet it.
Death greeted her at the end of the orchard row. Her white hair hung loose and flowing over her white robe. She held her scythe low and her smile seemed to melt the snow falling around her.
Giorgia stopped dead in her tracks. Was this the end?
“No, little one,” Death said gently. “This is just the beginning.” She held out her hand to Giorgia. Hesitantly, she took it.
When she did, she wasn’t hot or cold anymore. She wasn’t hungry or tired. She just was.
Death smiled and reached for something inside her robe. She handed it to Giorgia, who took it and looked at it carefully.
It was a long white robe and a small scythe.
“For me?” Giorgia asked.
“Thank you,” she said as she pulled the white robe over her shoulders and carried her scythe low, as she had seen Death do so many times.
Death turned and left the orchard, Giorgia’s soul followed, leaving her body behind among the ghost apples.
I’m sitting at the bar, nursing my gin and tonic, waiting on my contact. I don’t know what they’ll look like and I don’t care. As long as they know the code, we’re good to go.
I’m mid-swallow when some gelled hair, wall street wannabe slides up to me and looks me up and down. “Hey,” he says. Very original.
I quirk one brow in response and take another sip.
“So, tell me,” he says again. Apparently he’s no good at reading subtext. “Did it hurt when you fell from heaven?”
“Did you just call me the devil?” I ask, setting my glass down.
“Does insulting your conquests work for you? Really?” I stare at him, unblinking and unflinching.
He doesn’t answer my challenge. Instead he ducks his head and slinks away. I smile and order another drink.
“Seemed a little harsh,” says a new face sliding in next to me. I glance at him and resist the urge to just get up and leave.
“Life is harsh,” I turn and scan the bar from the mirror in front of me. I don’t know why I’m bothering, I don’t know what my contact looks like.
“Life is what you make it,” he says. “An orange dog only barks at the moon.”
“And a yellow cat only meows at the sun,” I respond as I pull an envelope out of my purse and slide it over to him, not looking at him.
“What’s this?” he asks, careful not to touch it. I look over at him in surprise.
“Your mission? The package? The code phrase?” The room is spinning.
“What are you talking about?” he asks as he leans back on his bar stool away from me. “I was just trying to pick you up for later.”
I snatch the envelope back and leap from my stool. I hear a few gasps as I stumble through the bar toward the exit. I’ve been compromised and now I need to get out.
I smack face-first into a solid wall of chest as I get to the door. I take a step back and look up into their face.
“Hey, Lucy,” he says. His white scrubs are rough against my cheek as I rest it against his chest. “Let’s take you back to the institute.”
“I thought I’d been compromised, I thought I was done for.” I press my hands against his chest and lean up to kiss him, but he dodges my advance and grabs my wrist and leads me outside.
He hands me into the familiar van and straps me in tight. Soon I’ll be debriefed and ready for my next mission.
So, I’ve taken a break from my writing to focus on my new business. I’ve been wanting to start my own business for a while now, but I just wasn’t sure how to go about it.
But, then I just jumped in feet first. I’m still getting it off the ground and still working my day job, but things are taking a good turn. I’ve made a few sales and gotten a lot of traffic.
You can see my store here.
I’m thinking about it again. The thoughts don’t scare me like they used to. I used to worry about it, but now I think I’m excited.
If I let the darkness in, will the light within me come rushing out? Or, will it be consumed?
Will my final act before my descent into the coming darkness be a beacon to the world? Will I shine that much brighter than ever before, and then collapse inward into nothing?
Will the earth and moon and sun smile down on me as I implode, proud of my final act?
Is it worth it to let the darkness in?
The moment passes, and my thoughts go with it. I sigh and put my smile back on so that I can get through the rest of my day.
Long ago, before light was light and dark was dark, back before there was right or wrong, virtue or wickedness, there was the Starchild.
The Starchild was formless and sexless, spinning out in the infinite void. The Starchild was without sorrow or joy and only knew contentment for there was no longing yet.
Time was without meaning and only the here and now existed. Each now passed into the next and the next without ceasing like a string of pearls falling of the edge of a table forever.
There was no concept of change or fear. The Starchild’s life was simply benign.
Then, as the Starchild’s eyes opened after an especially long blink, there was a small white light spinning a short distance away. The Starchild reached out to it as there had never been anything else, just the void.
It was beautiful and pure, spinning in the same manner as the Starchild so that it was always in view. But, no matter how the Starchild longed to reach out and touch it, it was always just out of reach.
Delight spread through the Starchild’s being as at last contact was made. The bright white light spun closer and closer, collapsing in on itself. The Starchild felt the first inkling of despair as the light shrank down to a single point in time and space.
The Starchild got out a single sound, “Hih” before being blown back by an explosion. The light changed and colors appeared as it spread and spread, leaving in its wake a swath of matter that had never been before.
The Starchild was delighted. All around were spinning orbs. Some were made out of light and they drew to them smaller orbs of stone and gas, embracing them in an eternal hugging twirl.
The Starchild sailed across the new universe to see all the newness that had erupted into being. There were so many things to see and all of them were different and lovely.
But, the Starchild stopped roaming when it found a smallish blue and green orb. It seemed to have something crawling on its surface.
The Starchild leaned in closer and closer, trying to get a better look at the strange creatures, but the Starchild got too close and the blue and green orb pulled the Starchild to its surface.
It was a long fall and when the Starchild finally made impact, it shattered into a million tiny pieces. After a moment the pieces scrambled to their feet and they too began to roam the surface of the blue and green orb.
In the beginning, there was nothing. Nothingness wrapped itself around more nothing until it was thick and rich and dark.
Nothing begets nothing and soon all that nothing coalesced into light, and in the light shapes could be seen.
The first shape to slither out of the void and into the light was the alligator, followed closely by the other reptiles.
Teeth and claws for protection an an attitude that brokered no deals- the alligator was the first, but it never forgot that it was of the deep dark void.
Next, came the birds with wings to carry them away from danger and talons to bring pain. The birds never forgot about the nothing from whence they came.
Last, after many others had come and gone from the nothing of the void, came Man. Man was smart; he could rationalize and lie. Man tried to say that he didn’t come from the void. Man said he was special and only someone as special as Man could beget Man.
This was fine. Man would have to live with his lies until he began to rule over and subjugate the others that came before him.
Man in his foolish attempt at superiority even enslaved and slaughtered his fellow Man. Wars raged and many died.
The animals, particularly the reptiles and birds, saw this and devised a plan to stop Man.
If Man is gone, then he cannot harm us!
The animals led Man to the edge of the void, promising to lead him to his fabled creator. At this point, Man had even convinced himself of the existance of the creator. He believed.
As Man was shouting out into the void, the animals pushed him in, and peace was had at last. Order was restored.
She was foretold. Sages and soothsayers appeared by her crib when she was born. Soon the prophecy would come to pass.
Mara trained for battle all through her childhood and spent her teen years learning magic. She would be the one to conquer the coming evil army and bring a thousand years of harmony and love to her people.
When she turned twenty, she began to doubt herself. So did some of the other villagers. The sagas rarely celebrated one so old, but the sages and the soothsayers were sure it was her.
By the time she turned thirty, she’d mastered the blade, the arrow, the axe, and every spell she’d ever heard of. Still, the time was not yet for her gifts.
The last of the sages died before she turned forty, and the last soothsayer when she turned forty-one. They went to their graves swearing she was the one foretold.
Mara never married and she never bore children, but as the years slowly ticked by, she loved and nurtured her people. She taught the children, she read to the blind, and she comforted the widows. Love was her greatest gift.
She lived sixty-eight happy loving years before the time came. The enemy army that was foretold came marching over the hill with murder in their hearts.
This was it, her time had come!
Mara ordered her people to hide in their cellars and wait until she gave the signal. Alone, she set out to meet them, her weapons strapped to her aged frame.
“We come to make war and they send a grandmother to fight us?” The enemy leader barked. His laugh was joyless and hollow.
Mara smiled and drew her sword. Her foe threw his head back and howled with laughter. She saw her opening.
Quick as a flash of lightening, she lunged, plunging her sword into his chest. He fell and the sword sunk deeper. Mara gave him a gentle kick before she pressed her shoe into his dead flesh beside the blade. She needed leverage to get her sword out.
“Well?” she asked. “I though you came to make war!”
A large man resembling an ox stepped forward and raised his sword menacingly. The old woman smiled and tossed her sword from her right hand to her left and snapped her fingers.
A bolt of green fire spiraled down from the heavens, striking him dead where he stood.
In answer, the army turned and fled. They wiped the village form their maps and vowed never to return.
Mara whistled and old tune from her youth and sat down to wait. After a while, two boys driving a cart pulled up beside her.
“Thank you, Hamish, Evan.” They helped her to her feet and into the back of the cart where she curled up on the soft hay. “I don’t know if I have strength enough to make it back.”
The boys drove toward the village as Mara drifted off to her eternal sleep. Peace bloomed among her people for a thousand years.
My mother says there’s a monster under my bed that stays up all night to watch while I sleep. She says he’s there to eat me if I get up in the middle of the night.
I used t be afraid. His very existence gave me nightmares for years. I used to wet the bed rather than get up for fear of his wrath.
As I grew older, I started to convince myself that he was just make believe; a lie my mother told me to keep me in line. I was so sure, I got up in the middle of the night to check.
At first, I couldn’t see him in the darkness. But, as my eyes adjusted, he took shape.
Long twisted horns with broken tips and glowing red eyes filled my vision. I opened my mouth to scream, but no sound came out.
He rushed to me and I saw my short life flash before my eyes. I was sure I’d meet death under that old twin bed.
“Luci, don’t be afraid,” he said in a low growl.
I nodded, though I didn’t believe. He smiled and handed me something. I took it and mumbled a thank you.
“I know you’ll be leaving soon to join the world, and I just want you to know, should you need me, just squeeze this and think of me. I’ll be there soon, okay?”
I smiled and looked at the object in my hand. It was a dead mouse, mumified by years of careful neglect. “Thank you.” This time I meant it.
“My pleasure, sweet bringer of light.”
“Bringer of light?”
He chuckled and it sounded like pain and grinding bones. “It’s what your name means, dear one.”
I heard my mother calling for me. It was time to go. I hugged him and made a mental note to spare him and all his kind.
I no longer fear him, no any beast. I know he’s not a monster. He’s a demon, my demon, and he loves me.
Mothers like to tell their children that the good are beautiful and the wicked are not, but in reality, that is rarely the case.
Evil doesn’t hit you over the head with brute force to make you do ill. No, evil seduces you. Evil persuades you. Evil beguiles you and as it whispers sweet nothings into your ear in the black of the moon.
Good seldom has to look pretty simply because it’s right and just. You should be doing good anyway, so why sugarcoat it? Good often looks mundane.
That’s how I knew you’d changed. You used to be so ordinary and human. I loved you then.
But, now, you are beautiful as the dawn and just as terrifying.
Did it creep up on you slowly? Did it take its time twisting your features into something more? Did it take you in its warm embrace and never let you go?
Are you lost to me?
I loved you. With my whole heart, I loved you.
I know your beauty was meant to sooth me and put me at ease, but knowing what I know, all I feel is fear.
The calm, rational part of my brain wants to run, but I fear that’s not the part that’s in control anymore.
I am lost in the beautiful deepness of your eyes, brown and rich like freshly turned soil ready to take in life and nurture it into blossoming.
You are so beautiful, I cannot take my eyes away from you, nor do I think I want to. I love you.
So, yes, I’ll join you, if it means we can be together again.
Anger fills me as I land the final, decisive blow. My opponent collapses to the ground in a heap.
It isn’t fair.
“They shouldn’t have sent you,” I breathe as I scoop her up and carry her inside.
She groans as her broken bones shift. I lay her out carefully on the dining room table and get to work setting limbs. It’s tiring work, and she loses consciousness a few times during the process, but I know they won’t bother.
She isn’t even a real person to them. She’s a symbol. They’re so enamored with the idea of an unlikely hero that they forget what it is that makes said hero unlikely in the first place.
I look her over. She’s small and probably not out of her teens yet. My stomach turns as I realize she’s the oldest they’ve ever sent. She’s been brainwashed into being their champion.
They never liked how I came into power. It wasn’t illegal, but it may not have been honest or conventional, but, at the time, most people were fine with it. They might not like it, but that doesn’t give them the right to send children to fight me.
Lambs to the slaughter, that’s all I see now.
My phone rings as I turn off the light and ease the hall door shut to give her some privacy. I answer it.
“Bloodfury, you haven’t heard the last of us,” they howl.
“If that’s the case, face me yourself.” I don’t mean to shout, and the volume of my own voice catches me off guard.
“Man needs a champion.”
“Then send an adult. I’m sick of fighting children.”
“Then give up!”
“I have the right to defend myself. You send these children to my home, armed and out of their minds with false righteous anger, and expect me to remain passive?”
The line goes dead and I sigh.
I was selected by and for the people. I haven’t been recalled, not in any official way that matters, and until I am, I will not yield.
I think all started as a joke somewhere. Someone said I must be some kind of super villain because of my name. I can’t help that my parents named me Hildy Bloodfury, just like I can’t help that I’m larger and stronger than most grown men.
It was all just fringe nonsense in the beginning, but now it’s gotten mainstream traction. Everyone is too preoccupied with the idea that a real-life super villain has come into power to go through the proper channels to dethrone me.
Maybe I should resign.
I crack open the dining room door and check on the poor girl. She doesn’t look good. I’ll have to start deprogramming her in the morning. She can join the others in the cellar.
She’ll be the newest recruit in my little army. You know, just in case.
Every person has a number.
It hangs over them like the Sword of Damocles. I can see everyone else’s, but I cannot see my own.
I don’t know for sure what they mean, but I have a theory. I’ve seen them tick up when someone is rude or petty. Hatred makes the number run up like a gas pump.
Not everyone can see them. Most people can’t. I’ve found that, on the rare occasion that I meet another soul who can see them, we’re incapable of talking about them to one another.
I’ve only ever gotten as far as, “You see them, too?” before both of our mouths go funny and no sound can escape.
It feels like the universe is opposed to us knowing our own number. Maybe it has something to do with scoring at the end of this life. Maybe knowing is cheating.
I’ve never seen someone’s number tick down. I’ve only ever seen them go up, so there doesn’t seem to be a way to fix the damage we’ve done.
I guess once all that vitriol is out in the universe, it’s out there forever. There is no way to put it back, even if you could.
I’ve often wondered what my number is. Is it high? Am I the villain in my own story? Or, is it low? Have I learned something from all this? Does it tick slowly up every time I judge someone for having a high number?
It’s Monday, so I lace up my shoes and head outside. It’s early, the dawn is just breaking. Briskly, I walk to the end of my block.
Then, I’m free.
1, 2, 3, 4
I count the steps, urging my stride to be longer and my pace quicker.
1, 2, 3, 4
The sounds of traffic fade until all I can hear are my own footfalls. I focus on keeping them light and brief.
1, 2, 3, 4
My lungs have adjusted now. They’re no longer burning. I close my eyes for a second.
1, 2, 3, 4
I no longer feel like a glorified desk jockey stymied in the bureaucracy of life. Now, I’m a warrior, a hunter.
1, 2, 3, 4
There is nothing but the run and the sensation of flying.
1, 2, 3, 4