Friday, May 31, 2019

The Innocence of Morning Snow


Everyone remembers what they were doing when the titans struck.

My family’s little cabin in the mountains was much smaller than our home in the city. The ground floor had only one room and the upstairs was nothing more than a sleeping loft. The bathroom was in the basement, and there was only one for the six of us. But we all loved it and every long weekend and for at least a week of each season, we were up there. Mom’s job allowed some amount of telecommuting and Dad was a freelance digital artist who could work anywhere, and did so while homeschooling me and my three siblings.

We were lucky enough to be there on T-Day.

When my parents bought the cabin, they had no idea is was in what is now called a Dragon Zone. That’s why we didn’t die. If the Cascade Mountains hadn’t been the territory of dragons, those sworn protectors of mankind and longtime enemies of the titans, then the volcanoes would have erupted and even being at altitude might not have saved us. As things were, Seattle still drowned under the same waves as San Francisco and Los Angeles despite how protected by the geography of the Sound the city was supposed to be. Being on vacation that Thanksgiving weekend literally saved my family.

As I’m sure you recall, it was Sunday. My parents had considered heading home because Mom had a meeting Monday that she wanted to be at. But my siblings and I begged and pleaded and pointed out how much traffic there would be until she gave in and said we’d stay through mid-week and she’d just use a video chat for her meeting.

There was fresh snow that morning, pristine stretches of white beckoning us to sled. Dad promised we’d go skiing Monday while Mom was working, but to us kids sledding was nearly as good and no one complained as we grabbed our sleds and rushed down the hill. We were young enough not even to complain much about having to walk back up the hill rather than riding a lift.

It was a good morning. Maybe it was even a perfect morning, as I think the presence of chocolate chip banana nut pancakes takes a morning past merely good. The morning was idyllic, at the very least.

Seattle was hit while I was whooshing through the snow. Everyone back home was gone within minutes. But I didn’t know it. For hours, I played without the burden of awareness that my childhood friends were dead now.

I’m not sure when my parents found out. They didn’t call us back into the house. At some point, I realized they weren’t smiling while they watched us anymore. I remember the stark look on my mother’s face while she stared at her computer on the kitchen island and the way my father cried at the window as he watched us. I don’t know how long he cried before I realized it. I knew something was off for several runs before that realization hit and brought me inside.

“What’s wrong?” I asked as I came through the door. Mom stood up from where she’d just closed her laptop and Dad moved away from the window. “Is it Grandpa Alfonse?” My father’s dad had been in and out of the hospital in Spokane all year. That’s why he and Grandma Charlotte weren’t with us that holiday.

Dad shook his head, unable to speak as he walked over to wrap me in the tightest hug in my life.

I could hear my mother sigh as she followed him. She put her arms around us both. “It’s bigger than that, pumpkin.”

Bigger? I frowned and squirmed, wanting out the parental grip. “How so?”

“Get your jacket off and sit down,” Mom said. “Pour her some cocoa, Charles.”

My dad sniffled a huge, gross sniffle as he let me go. He went into the kitchen, were we always had a slow cooker full of cocoa on snow days.

My twelve-year-old wisdom was enough for me to know they didn’t want to tell me what was going on and I suspected it was because they didn’t want to tell us kids separately and have to go through the story four times. “Should I call the others in?” I asked.

“No, sweetie.” Mom sat down beside me on the massive couch. We could see out the window from there, see the others still playing. “Let them keep their innocence a little longer. The cold will bring them in soon enough.”

I didn’t like the sound of that, but nodded quietly. When my father handed me my cocoa, I take it and drank in silence.

Twenty minutes or so passed before everyone trickled inside. Mom helped them out of their winter gear, hanging everything neatly by the door as though the world hadn’t just ended. For a moment, I let myself believe that what they were about to tell us wouldn’t be earth-shattering.

Only after us siblings were all lined up on the couch with steaming mugs of cocoa, our dog Stanwood curled up at our feet and our adoring parents watching us, did my youngest sister realize something was wrong. She was only four and she started crying before anyone even said anything. Jack rolled his eyes and told her not to be a baby. Stacey told him not to be mean and that Shelly could have emotions if she wanted to.

I sushed them. As the eldest, I felt myself above the squabble. “Mom and Dad want to tell us something important.”

“Oh?” Eight-year-old Jack sat up straighter. “Are you getting divorced?” He sounded oddly eager for this to be the case.

“No,” Dad said softly. He put his hand on Mom’s shoulder and she was the one who continued, the one who explained that monsters were real. She told us about the elemental giants who submerged our home while we were playing. She opened up her computer again, showing us that famous picture of the tip of the Space Needle poking out from the water.

Stacey screamed and rushed up the ladder to her bed to sob. Jack’s eyes widened and I could almost see his thoughts jerking between “Awesome!” and “No!” Shelly asked if that meant we’d need scuba gear when we went back home. I sat still and tried to be stoic, to imitate Mom.

Six years later, I’m still trying to imitate Mom. I stand erect and motionless as the man before me reads my enlistment oath. I repeat it back, proud of myself for keeping my voice steady and firm.

Back on T-Day, Mom told me the dragons were fighting the titans for us. A month later, she told me they weren’t enough, that humans had to help, too. Although she had only served in the Navy for a few years, she was one of the first called back. She’s still in. And now so am I.

Everyone remembers what they were doing on T-Day. And I know in my heart that, with the help of dragons and of humans like Mom and me, one day everyone will remember what they were doing when the titans were defeated. The only question is how long it’s going to take to get there.

The above image is "December" by Zoe Persico. You can find more of Zoe's work at


The image was offered as a prompt on my writing prompt project Wording Wednesday, more information about which may be found at https://wordingwednesday.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Bar Scene


Mabel is in the bar I work in a lot, always with a different man. I know my job well enough not to let on. She'll walk in and say something like, "This place seems nice. I wonder if their martinis are any good," and I keep my mouth closed rather than replying, "Well, if you don't know after the few hundred you've had, then I guess they're pretty forgettable."

Her fellow regulars likewise keep the secret. When she's here alone, everyone is all, "Mabel! How's it going?" but when she brings a guest, they all hold back snickers as they introduce themselves and give her tips about which drinks are house specialties.

People say a lot in front of bartenders, like they don't realize that we can hear them even if they aren't addressing us. This is why I know that despite their similar styles of dress the men in the well-tailored high-end suits come from a variety of professions and backgrounds. The ones she takes home rather than leaving disappointed all have one thing in common, though, other than their fashion sense. They're complete assholes.

The man tonight is busy telling the woman he thinks is named Heather about his job as a prosecuting attorney. The job itself doesn't make him a grotesque parody of a decent human being, but the way he's bragging about targeting people too poor to afford private attorneys and gloating at how the overworked public defenders don't have time to properly help many of them does.

"That's why you have such a high success rate?" Mabel clarifies. "By not laying charges against people with money?"

"Yep! It really is as simple as that."

It's obvious from the way he boasts that he feels no remorse about this, not even the slightest pang of guilt for disproportionately preying upon those who lack wealth and ignoring equally guilty people of means.

Mabel looks at him like he's a juicy steak and she's been fasting all week.

They leave when their drinks are finished. The man pays but doesn't leave a tip; they seldom do, but that's alright because everyone who works here loves Mabel and she always make up for it later.

I know how the rest of the story plays out, even though it doesn't play out here. She'll take him somewhere they can screw for hours. Then he'll waste away from what doctors will label an unknown sickness, babbling about how he met the perfect woman, someone no one he knows will believe was actually real. And we'll be rid of one more waste of human flesh.

Mabel may be a succubus and thus a demon, but she's doing a lot more to make the world a better place than anyone else I know.

The above artwork is by Tracy Dinnison and can be purchased on pixels.com.

The image was offered as a prompt on my writing prompt project Wording Wednesday, more information about which may be found at https://wordingwednesday.blogspot.com/


Friday, May 17, 2019

The Birthday Present



I’m sure you’ve heard of alventogs, Elf Trains, even if you’ve never seen one. You already know they emerge from the tunnels between worlds looking like they appear from nowhere. You know they run without tracks, gliding along a few centimeters off the ground. You know they look a lot like steam locomotives and that their wheels spin but don’t actually have anything to do with the train itself moving. You know that sometimes beings other than elves ride in on them, but humans can only board if they have papers proving them to be part of an elven household.

I stand next to my daughter, paused on our walk into town while watching one glide past. It’s going slower than they usually do, and continues to slow as we observe it. That’s unusual. Most of the trains go straight through our little berg without even seeming to notice it.

I turn toward the train, looking up at its windows and trying to see inside. Although bright lights shine in every car, I see nothing. I most certainly do not see the elf I’m terrified of seeing. Or maybe I’m hoping to see him… It’s a little complicated.

“Come on, Mom,” Nora says in a whining sort of voice. She takes my hand and pulls me in the direction of town. “We don’t want Massil to run out of cake!”

I smile, trying to put thoughts of her father out of my head even though I think of him every time I see an alventog. Any other night, I’d make an excuse to go home and open a bottle of wine to drown in. But how could I possibly do that to my baby girl on her birthday? “They aren’t going to eat your cake without you, precious.”

“But, Mom…. What if a dozen other people with birthdays show up before we do? Or two dozen? Or a hundred?”

I laugh. “A hundred people wouldn’t even fit in The Flocked Goose.”

“Exactly!” she proclaims. “We wouldn’t even get in!” She gives my arm a few extra tugs, trying to get me to walk faster. “There could be two hundred starving elves on that train, all wanting birthday cake!”

Chuckling, I let her urge me into a trot. Our feet smack against the wet pavement, sending up drops of water that glisten under the street lights. Moments like this make everything worth it. So what if my parents refused to talk to me after I got pregnant without being married? So what if I found myself moving to entirely different province to make a new start? So what if I’ve had to work two jobs for years trying to provide Nora with everything a child needs? I wouldn’t trade a second of being her mother for all the riches in both my and her father’s worlds.

We jog into town after the train. It stops before us, gliding to a halt in the town square, and I do my best not to pay any attention to the elves who step off of it. They’re far enough ahead of us that even if Rhisman was one of them, I wouldn't be able to recognize him. He’d just be a dark outline against the night, a silhouette without substance. He was never much more than that anyway for all that I briefly thought he was.

The pub my friend Massil works in is on the nearside of the square, so don’t make it all the way to the alventog before darting off the sidewalk. Massil looks up at us from behind the counter and meets my eyes for a second. Unlike most of the town, who think I moved here as a widow, Massil knows the truth about Nora’s father, that he was an elven lord who turned his back on us, and I can see the question in her gaze. I smile as bravely as I can and jerk my head toward my daughter.

Immediately, a grin splits Massil’s face. “It’s the birthday girl!” she calls. The other patrons, who take about about half the tables, applaud and Nora beams at them and gives the room a curtsey followed by a twirl. She ends with her arms outstretched to her adoring public.

“Nora!” calls her friend Tad. “I brought you a present!” He rushes over to thrust a basket at her as she yanks her raincoat off and leaves it in a pool on the floor. Normally I’d chastise her for that, but it’s her birthday.

Certain I’ll be shown what was in the basket later, I grab the coat and then walk to Massil as I remove my own rain gear. Without me even having to ask, she’s poured me a shot of whiskey. I drape my and Nora’s coats over a pair of empty chairs and smile thanks before picking up the shot glass, making a toasting motion toward my friend, and downing the liquor in one go. It’s tempting to ask for more, but it’s too early in the evening to get sloshed, so I hand the empty glass back. Massil trades with me for a pint of my favorite low-alcohol ale and I try to look relaxed as I take it. “Thanks. You know you’re my favorite adult, right?”

Massil chuckles. “Yeah. I bet you say that to all the bartenders.” She reaches under the bar and pulls out a velvet bag. “This is for the sprog. Think she’ll want root beer or ginger ale today? Or should I make her an elaborate virgin cocktail?”

I glance over to where my daughter is hosting a court of fellow six-year-olds. “Definitely the cocktail.

“Coming up!” Massil gets started on it. “So, an alventog rolls into town and stops in the square on my god-daughter’s birthday. Should we be alarmed?”

“I don’t see why,” I say, even though I’ve been wondering the same thing. “I’m sure it’s a coincidence. Rhisman doesn’t even know she exists, let alone where she lives.”

“Good.” Massil’s eyes go to the door. “Then we don’t have to worry about the blonde elf who just walked in and is staring at Nora being her father. Because he’s a completely different blonde elf.”

My body chills and gooseflesh pops up across my skin. My shoulders tense so much my spine starts to hurt as I take a drink before forcing my head to move enough to let me see the newcomer.

He wasn’t dressed for rain, and it looks like the soft rain turned itself up a notch in the few minutes I’ve been inside because his long hair is plastered down his back and his shirt clings to his chest. He pulls out a keychain, touches on of the fobs, and is dry an instant later. His clothes go from nearly obscense to merely form fitting in a well-cut way that proves he had them tailormade. He always did know how to dress. I guess that goes with being raised a noble.

Rhisman stares at Nora, who hasn’t noticed his arrival in the slightest. If I act quickly, maybe I can get him to go away before she even knows he’s here.

The instant I move, Rhisman’s eyes jump to me. His lips part but he says nothing as he begins to walk toward me. I can’t let myself drown in his azure eyes though. I leap to my feet and rush to him. My hand goes up in front of me. “Stop!” I whisper. I wave him around the corner and into the hall the bathrooms are on, both relieved and frightened when he follows me.

His eyes locked onto mine again as soon as I turn back to face him. “I think we need to talk,” he says in a soft voice.

“Why? So you can tell me again how you don’t want anything to do with me or my bastard half-breed?”

He jerks back like I slapped him. “What…” His gaze moves around my face as I glare at him, shaking with nearly seven years of anger.

“That’s what you said when I told you I was having your child,” I remind him. “I can see how you might have forgotten. You break so many human hearts, why would mine stand out?”

“Stella…” His head shakes from side to side and his lip trembles. “I… That’s not what happened.”

“Oh?” My eyebrows go up in challenge. “So, what, I imagined the entire conversation? Hallucinated you turning your back and getting on one of those damned alventogs to go back home without the burden of a human lover?”

His mouth closes and tears spring up in his eyes. “I can see you believe what you’re saying,” he whispers, leaning in close. “But that is not what happened.”

I take a step back, my hand going to my hip. “Then tell me what did happen.”

He draws a breath. “I asked you to marry me. You said yes.”

“Right.” I nod. “So you went off to the elven realm to get the paperwork started. But then three days later, you waltzed in saying you’d changed your mind. So I told you I was pregnant and you turned downright nasty.”

“No.” Using quick and furious movements, he shakes his head vehemently enough to move his hair and reveal the delicate tips of his ears. “I didn’t. Stella, I never, never would have done that. I would have been thrilled to know we were having a child. When you said you’d marry me and move to the elven realm, it was the happiest moment in my life.” His gaze bores into me, his expression demonstrating the truth in his words. “I went back to my country. I filled all the paperwork for bring a human into our realm. And then I came back to get you. Only to find out that you’d skipped town without leaving any forwarding information or so much as a note. No one would even tell me why. I had no idea there was a child.”

Could any of this possibly be true? I bite my lip as I stare into his eyes and try to find a hint of deceit. I don’t see any. As I watch, he reaches up and wipes tears from his cheek. It’s heartbreaking. And yet… “I was there, Rhisman. That conversation was as real as this one.”

With a sniff, he shakes his head in denial. “Three days? I was only gone three days?”

I nod.

“My crossing took longer than that,” he says in a level tone. “I was gone a full month. Like I told you I probably would be.”

He had said that… I’d been surprised when he came back so soon. “You never went to the elven realm. You said you got to the portal and then turned around to tell me we were breaking up.”

He lets out a soft breath. “Stella… My Star… Why would I do that? Why not simply not come back?”

The tears I’ve been holding back leak out. “I don’t know. I assumed you wanted a solid end.”

Slow enough I could move if I wanted, he reaches out and takes my hands into his. My skin responds to this coolness of his with a pleasant thrum of rightness. “I don’t know who said those things to you, my heart, but it wasn’t me.” His hands clasp tight. “I loved you. I….” He draws a breath before finishing, “I still love you. And I just now lay eyes on her, but I love our daughter.”

I blink through my tears, trying to determine if I can let myself believe him or not. He sounds so sincere… His eyes seem so honest… The man is crying… And, yet, I know it was him back then. Wasn’t it? An elf with skills in illusion could have made themselves look like him. And one with skills in thought manipulation could have planted a false memory. But why would anyone have done that?

Rhisman leans forward, resting his forehead against mine. His breath is warm against my face and smells of the chocolate mint candies he’s always been addicted to. “My cousin could make you think you’d seen and heard things you had not.” He sounds sick to his stomach, but that gets buried under anger for the next line. “I told him where I was going.”

“But why?” I whisper, starting to believe. “Why would he do that?”

“He’s my heir,” Rhisman responds tightly. “If I don’t have children, then they don’t come between him and the earldom. I thought he cared enough about me for that not to be important, but it seems perhaps I was wrong.”

The feelings inside me defy description. Part of me is ashamed I may have fallen prey to an enchantment. Part of me worries I’m falling for an enchantment now. And part of me is so blissfully happy to be near Rhiseman again that it doesn’t care about either what happened before or whether he’s lying to me now.

“How can I prove myself?” he asks.

“I don’t know,” I whisper back through my emotions. I think about it and my mind catches on one thing bothering me. “Why are you here? If you thought I vanished and didn’t know about Nora, then why come here?”

“I spent a year trying to find you,” he says. “Then I spent five years trying to forget you, something I failed at most spectacularly. And then I started looking for you again. Only this time I had the sense to hire a professional to help me.”

I pull back. “And then you coincidentally showed up on our daughter’s birthday?”

He winces. “I can tell you don’t believe that. But, yes. I can’t control how long a crossing takes. I left the elven realm two weeks ago, but just appeared in your world now.”

Swallowing, I try to judge the answer. It’s true that crossings take however long they take and no one can time them. And he seems to have just gotten off an alvantog, implying he did just arrive in this world. The trains come into our realm, go to one place, then go back home. They don’t chug along a series of stops, so he couldn’t have gotten on at an earlier station in the human world.

He looks me straight in the eye as he says, “This is the nearest business that was open, so I came here thinking I’d ask if anyone knows you. I didn’t expect you to be here. And I certainly didn’t expect it to be our daughter’s birthday because the investigator never told me when that was, just that he’d found you and you had a half-elf daughter just the right age to be mine. He said that much and I left for the portal to the human world. He had to send a messenger after me to tell me what town you were in.”

Matching smiles form as we look at each other and I realize I believe him. Maybe it’s only because I want to, because for the first time in nearly seven years, I feel complete, and I don’t want anything to shatter that.

He speaks, his voice heavy with a variety of emotions. “I’m so sorry I left you alone for so long.”

“I’m sorry I was so hard to find,” I tell him. “And I’m sorry I didn’t have more faith in you. That I didn’t realize you wouldn’t have said those things.”

His eyes sparkle. We’re both crying, but our tears are gentle ones of relief. “Just never leave my sight again. Not without telling me where you’re going.”

“Deal.”

We draw together into a kiss. It’s like coming into your house after a long day at work and finding everything exactly as it should be. It’s like looking at a textbook for a class you don’t understand and realizing it suddenly makes perfect sense. It’s like waking up in the morning after the best sleep of your life and knowing that you have a perfect day ahead. It’s familiar and new and calming and thrilling and completely amazing.

“Mom!” a horrified voice calls from behind me. “What are you doing? Who is that?”

I turn with a smile, my hand clutched in Rhiseman’s like neither of us is ever going to let go again, and tell my daughter, “I have a birthday present for you.”


The above image is Night Train by Erinn Komschlies. You can find her work for sale at https://www.etsy.com/shop/artworkbyerinn.

The image was offered as a prompt on my writing prompt project Wording Wednesday, more information about which may be found at https://wordingwednesday.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

In Sunlight or In Dark

Content warning for references to rape… And for references to people killing rapists. References are not graphic, but could still disturb some readers.



Sometimes when I pass by my sister’s room, I can still see Samaytha sitting by the window at her little table, a cup of half-drank tea and some untouched breakfast foods laid out. She’s angled toward the sea as the sun rises above it, but her eyes are lidded as though what she’s looking at isn’t what’s actually there. That was how she spent every morning or her last week of life.

I know now what she was doing, but I didn’t those last few days of her life. In retrospect it was obvious why she stopped eating, why she grew increasingly pale, and why she sat in the morning light but stopped leaving the house during the day. And I should have known, although it was already too late to change anything, so what’s the point in beating myself up for not catching on to the obvious signs?

Even if I had known and followed the dots back to the Lystenian household, I would have pegged the tall, muscular yet graceful, and witty-to-a-fault Lamar as the one to turn her to the dark, then been jealous that he chose her instead of me. Because while I obviously wouldn’t agree to wed a vampire, being asked by one as attractive as Lamar would have been nice. Of course, I would have been wrong about him targeting my sister. Or her targeting him. No, it was the beautiful, intelligent, and poetic Estra who won Samaytha’s devotion. Which just goes to show that there was more than one thing about my sister that I should have realized but didn’t. The two most eligible women on our island marrying each other rather than “suitable” husbands would amuse me in any context that didn’t involve vampirism.

For centuries, my family has slain vampires. To marry one is, quite simply, not something one of us should ever have considered. And converting to become a vampire oneself? It’s unthinkable. My parents won’t even say Samaytha’s name any more.

But I can’t pretend I never knew my sister. I know her too well to believe her evil, or to think that she could possibly love someone who is anything other than good. And the Lystenian’s have been nothing but kind and gracious to me. Their servants have nothing worse to say than that sometimes they throw big gatherings without hiring enough extra help. And the new wing of Smitton Hospital is being financed almost entirely by the wealthy siblings. So I stand in the doorway to the what is now a guest room studying the ghost of my only sister and wonder if perhaps it’s my family that’s evil.

“Rhetta!” Mother yells from downstairs, startling me from my thoughts. Yartha told me when she delivered my breakfast that my parents wanted to see me, so I shouldn’t be surprised that my mother was listening for my footsteps.

Wistful, I run a hand down the side of the door frame to my sister’s room, a room she’ll never be in again, and walk down to find my parents in the planning room.

“About time,” Father says. “We have to get going soon.”

“Going where?” I ask.

“The Lystenian House,” Mother answers. “They’ve been turning people and now one of their fledglings have killed a man.”

The news hits me like a sheet of sleet. “Who?”

“Bartle Karthy,” my father answers, either misunderstanding my question or honestly thinking I was wanting to know who the victim was. Although as the dead man is Bartle Karthy, I question who the victim was.

The word “Good” tumbles from my mouth before I can stop it.

Both of my elders stare at me. My father’s voice is frozen as he asks, “How, exactly, is the death of one of the most respectable men in town good?”

He knows. I know he knows, because I told him. But he either didn’t believe me or thought Bartle’s money made up for the fact that he tried to force himself on me. And for the fact that every girl in town knows to avoid being alone with him because most girls don’t have my skill set. I hate myself more than a little bit for the fact that I merely broke his arm rather than killing him myself. What he did to Layla Otheridge feels partially my fault because it happened after I spared his life. And when Layla told the police, they informed her she’d slept with far too many men for them to believe anyone would have to rape her, so he’s going to do it again. Or he would have if my sister, the vampire, hadn’t punished him. I wonder if he grabbed her in an alleyway before she killed him in self-defense, or if she hunted him down and attacked first.

My mother decides to intervene. “I know you had a misunderstanding with him, Rhetta. But he didn’t deserve to be treated like food.”

I don’t see why not. He clearly believed that women don’t deserve to be treated like people, so why shouldn’t I return the favor?

There’s no point in arguing this again though. We went through all of this six months ago, so many times I can recite every argument my parents will make about how I misinterpreted the situation. As if it’s possible to misinterpret someone ripping off your clothing while holding a knife to your throat. I should have killed him. Looks like my big sister did it for me. As far as I’m concerned, the town should throw her a parade. But that’s not how things work. They’ve issued a Writ of Slaying instead, a legal document blessing my parents to murder their eldest offspring as an abomination to God and a threat to civil society.

“I need to change,” I say. WIthout further comment, I rush up to my room to remove my skirts and replace them with the leather tights and fitted tunic that serve as my slaying uniform.

I don’t go back to my parents though. Rather, I check that no one is in the garden, then leap from my window and drop to the ground two stories down. I glance over my shoulder at the window I landed in front of. As it should be this time of day, the dining room is empty, so no one has seen me. It’s possible someone will see me sprint across the expanse, but I’m not too worried about it. My parents are probably either still in the planning room, which is on the front side of the building, or in the armory in the basement. And if they haven’t told the servants to watch for me, it’s unlikely anyone will report my dash to them. And even if someone does tell, I still have a head start.

Fast as I can, I run across the back green, jump the hedge, and run down to cross the stream at the back of our property. A few moments later, I’m in a neighbor’s pasture borrowing a horse to ride bareback to the Lystenian’s place.

I arrive quickly, thank the horse before sending it meandering back toward its home, and rush up to the front door. “Carlsben!” I yell, naming their butler. I know him from the ball I attended here when the Lystenian’s were new and we hadn’t yet realized they were undead. He caught me hiding in a closet and took me to the kitchen for snacks like I was a little kid. Everyone there was so nice, even overworked as they were that night. And not a one of them seemed mezmorized, either then or on my later calls. If we hadn’t gotten word from the city the Lystenians had left about their nature, it might have been a long time before we realized what they were even though they somehow never made it outdoors on sunny days and only invite people over in the evenings.

After several seconds of banging, a serving girl I don’t know opens the door. She runs wide eyes over me. “Are you the new mistress’s sister?”

I nod. “She’s in danger.”

A laugh comes from a doorway, through which strolls none other than Lamar Lystenian, tall, dark skinned, and oozing appeal. My heart does a stupid little flip, but I seriously don’t have the time to analyze my ongoing, perhaps even increasing, crush on the guy. Who is now my sister’s brother-in-law, anyway, and thus family even if he wasn’t a vampire. And one doesn’t have fantasies about family, even more so than one doesn’t have them about vampires.

“Close the door, please, Elise,” he says. The servant does this, removing the natural light from the room and leaving me staring at Lamar by torchlight. Damned if fire doesn’t make him look even better. He pins me in place with an intense gaze that absolutely does not make my body scream for physical attention from him. Because this is so not the time for my body to be doing that, a fact which I’m certain it knows well. “Samaytha hoped you’d come without them,” Lamar says. “She hopes you won’t take up arms against her.”

“For killing a serial rapist?”

Lamar nods slowly. “She said you would see it that way. And that your parents would not.”

“They don’t.” I take a step closer to him. His breath seems to catch and I wonder if it’s because he thinks I’m going to produce a weapon to stab him with or if he feels the same attraction I do. “They’re coming. I don’t know when. They’re probably on their way already. If not, they will be the second they realize I’m gone.”

“Well, they won’t find Samaytha,” he says with annoying calm. “She left hours before I dumped that scum’s body somewhere people would find it.”

My eyes widen. “You dumped the body where people would find it? Why? And did you kill him?”

He studies me for a moment, his deep brown eyes unreadable. “He tried to hurt someone I care about.”

“Estra?”

His head moves ever so slightly from side to side. “No. Someone who broke his arm but should have done more. And could have. Because potenitally lethal is actually a quality I look for in a woman.”

All of the breath rushes from my lungs. “Me? Did Samyatha tell you that?”

Against, his movement is tiny, but this one is definitely a nod. His eyes haven’t budged from mine. “I don’t know the woman in question nearly as well as I want to, but there’s a decent chance I’m on the cusp of falling in love with her.”

“You’re my brother,” I whisper.

“Not really.” His lips tick up. “And is that really your objection to me laying my heart at your feet? That our sisters love one another?”

“Well…” We move closer to one another, although I’m not certain which one of us took a step. Maybe we both did. “There is a question of the heart not beating.”

His eyebrows quirk before he slowly reaches out to grab my hand. He guides it to his chest, where he presses my palm against muscles I have a deep desire to touch. A thump moves against my skin and my eyes leap down to stare at the connection. Another thump. And then a third… His heart is beating. If it weren’t for the fact that my slayer’s blood come with a resistance to mesmerization, I’d assume he was controlling my mind. But he can’t be, so this has to be real.

His voice is soft and quiet as he tells me, “There are many things you do not know about us.”

I want to look at his face, but terror keeps my eyes on my fingers and the warm silk beneath them. “I want to learn.”

His chest moves with an exhale that sounds relieved. “Good,” he says, amusing playing on the word. “First lesson… Our hearts stop when we turn, yes. But they start up again. Within a few years, they beat as regularly as anyone’s.”

“Wow.”

“Sir?” Calrsban’s interruption reminds me all of a sudden that we aren’t alone. That we haven’t been alone this entire time. I feel my cheeks heat up and hope the lighting is dim enough no one notices the redness I’m sure is coating my face. “They’re approaching the house.”

Lamar lets a breath puff out his nose. “And I can’t kill them. That would be a really terrible terrible courting gift for their daughter here.”

He moves toward the door, grabbing my hand to guide me along with him. I look down to our entwined fingers. In better lighting, his skin is an earthy brown, but in the current conditions, it’s dark as coal. My paleness contrasts in a way that somehow seems perfectly balanced.

“What are we doing?” I ask quietly.

“Lying our asses off and insisting my sister and I are not vampires,” he whispers back. “So, the first thing you learned today is that vampires have heartbeats. The next thing you’re going to learn is that unless we turned in the last five years or so, we’re perfectly able to walk in the sun.”

I stare up at him. “Seriously? We’ve been hunting your kind for centuries. We’d know if you were lying about that.”

The corners of his mouth slide up. “Would you?”

“Um… Yes?” Suddenly, I’m not so certain. We were wrong about their hearts not beating.

“We don’t like sunlight,” Lamar says. “It’s very uncomfortable and when I come back inside, I’m going to want to bathe in oatmeal and apply a lot of lotion. But when you see me this evening, you’ll realize I did in fact survive the brightness of the day star.”

The wording startles a chuckle out of me. “You’ll survive the day star, huh? Well, let’s see about that.”

He smiles down at me. “Let’s.”

His hand goes to the door, but then he pauses. “Unless you’d like to be kissed first?”

As his head turns so that he can look at me for my response, I summon a boldness I’ve never possessed before. Going to my tiptoes, I wrap a hand around his neck and bring our lips together. And, oh my God, if that’s how vampires kiss, I can’t blame my sister for running away with one at all.

Lamar pulls back with visible reluctance. One hand still clutches mine while the other is on the doorknob. “More of that later?”

“Much more.”

He smiles again, then opens the door. I go first, drawing him out after me into a shaft of sunlight. My chest relaxes when he fails to fall to the ground in agony and we walk out into the front garden, me leading him in the light. And later, I am honestly beginning to believe, he will be my guide in the dark.

Image is "Sunny Breakfast" by Vladimir Volegov. It and other works by the artist may be found at  https://www.volegov.com.

It was offered as a prompt on my writing prompt project Wording Wednesday, more information about which may be found at https://wordingwednesday.blogspot.com/

Saturday, May 4, 2019

The Seafarer's Daughter


I was raised by a crew of seafaring thieves. No, not pirates. As I overheard many of my shipful of maternal figures explain to others, a pirate preys on other sailors. A pirate ship will hunt other ships and kill other crews. My family never killed unless absolutely necessary and only stole from those on land.

Our cover is that of a merchant vessel sailing under the Anweisian flag. We know her as Fortune’s Grace, though the name painted on her hull changes frequently. We'll come into a port, say Highsdale, and sell a bunch of legitimate goods while one of the crew seduces a minor noble or wealthy businessman. We'll buy some replacement goods, but the main focus is always on what we could get from our mark. Maybe we'd sell him stock in our company, which didn't really exist, or get him to back a shipment we'd falsely report taken by pirates. Then we may move on to Viancey, where we find a new target, perhaps a bored housewife who doesn't really need all of her jewels.

There was only one time we attacked another ship. But it was understandable that we couldn't resist. She was sailing with no guns, trying to look like a pleasure vessel. But she wasn't a cruise ship. My Auntie Tiana had learned in Banglaka that The Lord’s Command was actually a slaving ship. We killed the slavers, then freed the slaves and gifted them with the ship. Most of them went home, but a man named Carmand kept the ship, renamed her Freedom’s Vengeance, and turned her into a legend in the fight against the slave trade. We see his people in port sometimes and always make sure to pass on what information we have. They return the favor.

There were a few times growing up when I asked who my father was. I have my mother's coloring, her mannerisms, and her ability to charm the unsuspecting. It was never obvious what I got from my father, but surely I had one. My mother never wanted to talk about him, and as she was also my captain I had to respect it when she ordered me to drop the subject.

A painting hangs in my mother's cabin, which I shared with her up to the age of thirteen. In it, she poses against the railing of our ship with me, still an infant, held in her arms. I don't know who painted it, but like to think it was my father. I have a talent for drawing, so maybe art is something we would have in common.

I’m drawing when the first hint of storm hits. I frown at the rain drops that land around me. There were no signs of rain earlier.

Two hours later, I sat on a now clam deck staring at a cracked mast as my mother argued with Aunt Kaley over whether to pull into Sachyla or try for somewhere further. My vote would be for Sachyla as I’ve managed to go my whole life without visiting the City of Marble. It sits just before the southernmost peaks of the Freyan Mountains, a chain I’ve only seen from a distance. I’ve always been strangely drawn mountains and the way they climb up towards the sky.

Mother is adamant that she doesn’t want anything to do with Sachyla, but even as Aunt Kaley begs her to reconsider, a noise rend the air as the crack in the mast widens. There are many traded glances amongst the crew and Aunt Zeala draws a spiral in the air over her chest, a symbol invoking the goodwill of her god.

We sail to Sachyla. Before I can go too excited, though, my mother pulls me aside and commands me not to leave the ship. “I don’t want you setting foot in Sachyla. Do you understand me? If she ship catches fire, you’re to jump in the water, not run to the land.”

I stare at her. “Why?”

Her gaze narrows leathaly. “Don’t question my orders. It’s for your protection.”

My protection? “What’s dangerous about Sachyla?”

She sighs. “There are people there who mean you harm. Because of who your father was. Just, please, stay on the ship and out of sight.”

Out of sight? So now I’m not only confined to the ship, but below decks? In one of the most beautiful cities in the world?

Mother’s expression holds no softness as she tells me, “Promise you’ll do this or I’ll lock you in the brig.”

Able to tell that she means it, I nod. She’s going to leave someone to watch me, too. I know that without asking, so there’s no way I’m going to get to see Sachyla.

A glum funk sits over me as we sail onward, slowly due to the loss of a mast.

Mother lets me stay on deck as the mountains approach and I stare at them as I do my work. One day, I’ll leave this crew and then I’ll be free to return. The city rises at their feet, glistening white buildings made of their namesake marble stones.

Too soon, Mother commands me away and I go into the crew quarters to lay in my hammock and stare at the ceiling in petulance with no way of seeing the wonders that I know are just outside the hull.

Somehow, I fall asleep. I suspect I was drugged.

When I awake, it’s in response to someone shouting outside. “Leandra! Leandra! Can you hear me?”

I don’t know who Leandra is, but I can hear her just fine. I suspect half the city can.

“Ignore her,” a voice says in the darkness. It’s my mother.

I was actually going to before I was told that. “Mom, what’s going on?”

The woman calls again. “It’s your sister!” she yells. “You were stolen as an infant! But you’ve always felt the call of the mountains! They’re where you belong! You know it’s true! Leandra!”

Electric sparks fly along my skin. She’s talking to me. I know she is. I am Leandra. I light the lamp beside me and blink as my eyes adjust to the light. “You stole me?” I ask.

My mother’s jaw is tight. “You are my daughter.”

I nod. “Yeah, I am. But was I born that way?”

She doesn’t respond, but I know the answer. “I wasn’t, was I? I’m Leandra. That’s my sister out there.”

“You don’t understand,” she whispers, her voice coated in what might be actual fear. “I took you from here to protect you. You would have been raised as a weapon. If you were allowed to live at all.”

Meanwhile, the voice outside has moved. I think its owner is on the main deck now. “I know you’re here! I just put your guard to sleep, so you might as well come up.”

My eyes on on my mother, because she is still my mother even if she didn’t give birth to me. “I’ve seen all these things that you’ve stolen, but I never thought I was one of them.”

“I would do anything for you,” she says softly.

I nod. “I know. But I think this is something I need to decide for myself. And for that, I need more information.”

“Your real mother was an earth elemental. She begged me to take you, to keep you away from your human father. I always wanted a child, so I did it.”

“What happened to her?”

“I don’t know.”

The external voice calls again. It sounds like my sister has made it to the ladder.

I give my mother’s hand a squeeze and go out to meet a young woman who looks just like me. She smiles. “My twin. At last, we’ve found each other again!”

The air crackles with electricity as the woman takes a step towards me and my instincts shriek for me to run. That’s why I notice when the power lurches toward me. I dodge the blast and it lands in the water, causing enough of a disturbance to roll the ship. There is no doubt in my mind that my sister is trying to kill me.

“Hold still,” she says. “It won’t hurt. You don’t know what to do with your power, so it’s better if I have it.”

She’s right that I don’t know what to do with the power I can now feel flowing into my from the mountains behind the city. “You don’t have to kill me,” I tell her. “I’ll give it to you freely.”

“That’s not how it works.”

The next attack hits me, flinging me back against the railing. My mother cries out, a mistake that alerts my sister to her presence. But then my twin errs. She turns to face my mother and raises a hand, collecting energy in it to send another lethal blast. I leap before she can fire.

As soon as my hand connects with my sister, a channel opens up inside me. A pulsing energy moves from her body into mine as her eyes grow wide in disbelief.

As the life leaves my sister’s eyes, I try to staunch the flow of power. But she was right; I don’t know what I’m doing, and that means that I don’t know how to stop.

My body vibrates as the power finally stops flowing from the corpse before me.

My eyes go to my mother. There are tears on her cheeks as she approaches and wraps her arms around me. Numb, I lean into her shoulder. I feel that I should cry over the fact that I just killed my sister, but I feel no remorse.





When the sun rises, Fortune’s Grace sails out with a mast repaired by new magic. I considered staying behind, going into the mountains in hopes of finding relatives who can teach me to use my power. But in the end, I have no reason to believe they wouldn’t try to steal it as my sister did. So I turn my back on my element and commit myself to the sea.

Picture is "Graniaile" by Nicole Chartrand. This and other work by Ms Chartrand can be found on her Deviant Art page at https://www.deviantart.com/lelenia
It was offered as a prompt on my writing prompt project Wording Wednesday, more information about which may be found at https://wordingwednesday.blogspot.com/

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Rover


I don't know what I was expecting on my first day in the new office, but it didn't involve a live flamingo on my desk.

I mean, okay, sure, my official title is “Interspecies Liaison Officer” but I was given to believe that meant coordinating between Terrans and the various off-planet races employed by Galactic Cruislines and not talking to earth birds. I speak a dozen different languages, but the closest to Flamingo would be the Aahkyek language spoken by an avian species native to Khakuk, a planet orbiting the star humans used to call Gliese before learning that the locals prefer Kcahuh.

Standing in the doorway of my office, which is definitely mine because it says “Kayla McKinley” already, I run my eyes over the bird. It’s a little backlit by the windows behind the desk, which overlook a cute little park, but I can see it alright. It’s tall; standing on the desk means its head is just shy of the ceiling. And it’s very pink, looking in general like the earth species and not at all like a native of Khakuk. Nevertheless, I make the traditional screech that serves as a greeting in Aehkyek. Unsurprisingly, the flamingo doesn't so much as blink. It just stands there, one leg tucked against its pink body and stares blankly down at me.

“Hello? Ni hoa?” I try in English, then Mandarin. It tilts its head with a curve of its long neck. “Hola?”

Pretty sure that this is just a bird and not someone capable of speech, I walk into the little room.

As I draw closer to the flamingo, I pick up on a very noticeable, very obnoxious, odor. The whole office doesn't drink, though, which would suggest that the bird hasn't been here very long. As I see it I have two options: continue as though having a flamingo perched on my desk is a perfectly normal thing or find someone whose job it is to deal with the bird. But who would that be? My personal assistant, maybe? I met him when I had my tour last week, but he isn’t at his desk now and I don’t know how to contact him. What was his name? I wrote it down…

I walk around my desk, watching the flamingo as it watches me do so, and sit in the well padded office chair I’ve been provided. With one eye on the bird, I scroll through my wrist device until I find my notes from last week. My assistant’s name is Timalyk. And I have a number for Peggy in Personnel. I tap to have the device call her, but she doesn’t answer. Figures.

“Well…” I say to the bird. “If we’re going to be office mates, maybe I should give you a name. What do you think about Pinkamina?” Its beak parts at it makes a noise I can only assume means it doesn’t like the name. Maybe it’s a boy bird. “Pinkalamew?”

The bird yells at me again and I sigh. “Is that your name?” I make an attempt at yelling back with the exact same sound. The flamingo draws its head back but doesn’t scream again.

Outside the office, I hear someone running a moment before Timalyk appears. His eyes are wide behind his glasses and his cheeks wear a dark green flush that indicates physical exertion. He pants as he looks at me. “Ms. McKinley! You found Rover!”

The flamingo makes a happy noise and steps off the desk. It goes up to Timalyk and rubs its head against his chest like its looking for something in his pockets.

“Really?” Timalyk asks the bid. “You think you deserve a treat? After disappearing and harrassing poor Ms McKinley on his first day?”

“It’s alright,” I interject. “He deserves a treat for making sure I’m welcome.”

Timalyk sniffs before taking something out of his vest pocket to feeding it to Rover. “You’re a lucky waterfowl. She’s nicer than I am.” The assistant takes his eyes from the flamingo and moves them to me. “Do you mind if I take him back to the conservatory?”

“He lives in the building?”

“Oh, yes.” Timalyk snaps a little collar around the bird’s neck. “Rover here was hand-raised by Mr Keehan’s grandmother and her will expressly stated that he be taken care of.”

I nod as thought that’s a perfectly mundane situation. “Alright, Yes, certainly return him to where he belongs. Nice meeting you, Rover.”

Rover looks at me and releases a pile of poo on the floor. My eyes widen and my face goes still before I figure that laughter is probably the best response and let myself go.

Looking less amused than I am, Timalyk scowls at the floor. “Since it was Tiff who let him out, I nominate her to clean that up.”

“Sounds fair,” I agree.

As my assistant leads the company pet flamingo away, I log onto my new desktop with the username and password Peggy gave me to start going through my new employee materials. I’m not sure if I made a good choice accepting this job or not, but at least it looks like the office won’t be boring.

The above was prompted by me stating earlier today that my Wording Wednesday Season One theme of Beginnings would have been easier to do with words than with pictures. I rattled off the first line as an example and thought I'd move on without thinking about it again. I was wrong. The idea of continuing from there was too strong to ignore and I found myself writing this little piece. The cute little flamingo I used to illustrate it was found on Clipart Panda.

Monday, March 18, 2019

A Gift Returned



“This is it,” the old man said. “The place where you came from.”

The being at his side could be mistaken for a human child from a distance, but not from up close. Up close you see the proportions are ever-so-slightly off, and more importantly, you see the golden scales. The creature stares down into the water with a skeptical expression on his uncanny face. “I’m a fish?”

“Not exactly,” says the man. “You were born of a wish, as I have heard your mother tell you often. A dragon appeared in this very lake and told your mother it would give her whatever her heart most desired. And she told it she wanted a child.”

“She wished for me,” the creature repeats softly. “She could have had anything, but she asked for me.”

“She did,” the old man confirms. “Your mother loved you so very much. Even though… Well, you know you’re not like the other children.”

The creature’s mouth tries to imitate a smile with muscles that weren’t designed for smiling. “Because I’m barely three feet tall after thirteen years or because I’m covered with scales. Oh! Or is it because I prefer to eat live mice rather than candy?”

“None of these things are standard,” the old man responds with a wry look. “The dragon got the basics right, but made a human-shaped dragon rather than a human child.”

The creature nods. “But Mother loved me anyway.”

“Yes, she did.”

“And you do not.”

The old man lets out a weary breath. “I tried. But in the end, it was her love for you that killed my wife. That is hard to forgive, even though I know she would want me to.”

“I didn’t mean to kill her. I didn’t know I could create fire.”

“I know.” The man puts his hand on the creature’s shoulder. “I don’t hate you for it. I just can’t love you just now.”

The creature shifts away beyond the man’s fingers. “So you’re returning me.”

His eyes close for a long moment before the man responds. “That was my wish of the dragon. That we be allowed to bring you back should taking you prove a mistake. That the dragon would continue raising you if we could not.” His shoulders shake as he struggles to hold back tears. “Your mother called it a monsterous wish. She said she would never abandon you. And she never did.”

The creature sits, staring at the water that ripples in a light breeze. “But you’re going to.”

“I think it will be better for you to be with the dragon.” The man’s hand moves towards the creature’s head, but falls without touching it. “When people learn what happened to your mother, I won’t be able to keep you safe. She would want you safe.”

They sit in silence, watching the full moon climb in the sky. When its reflection reaches the lake, they’ll be able to call the dragon that lives beneath the surface. Neither of them can think of anything else to say, so they wait in silence.

When at last the glowing circle appears on the lake, the man pulls out an acarina and plays a little tune. It’s not one the creature has heard before, but it moves into him like a familiar lullaby. It relaxes his body into calm even as the water starts to move like something massive is sailing through it.

Two hills appear on the lake, and when they continue to rise it becomes obvious that they are eyes residing on the head of a massive serpentine dragon. Its whole head appears, then a long swatch of neck. A line of coppery fur runs down its spine but the rest of what is visible is covered in scales much like the creature’s. Tendrils waves from the side of its face, almost like whiskers. It’s reptilian expression is impossible for a human to read.

“You have returned,” the dragon says. Its voice sounds like time itself, ancient but still vibrantly relevant.

“I have,” says the man. “My wife, she is gone now. And my fellow humans will blame the child for her death. I don’t think he is safe with me.”

A puff of mists emerges from the dragon’s snout as it snorts. “Is this how you justify abandoning that which you were sworn to love and nurture? How very human of you to say it is for the child’s own good.”

The man shakes his head. “He has been loved and nurtured. But my kind will label him monster and hunt him to his death.”

The dragon stares down at the man until the man drops his gaze, tears falling from his eyes in his shame. Because the dragon is right; he is not returning the creature just to keep his child safe. He is doing it because he doesn’t really see his child when he looks at the creature he has raised.

The huge eyes of the dragon shift to the creature. “I shall rename you,” it says. “You are now Yyshell. It means a gift returned.”

The creature doesn’t protest the cruelty of the name. How can he when it’s so accurate? Rather he nods his acceptance.

“If you accept this,” the dragon says, “then step into the water and you will become dragon.”

He doesn’t want to. He wants to turn and run home to his mother’s embrace. But his mother isn’t at home. He’s had his last of her tender hugs and there is nothing else left in their cottage for him.

Yyshell steps forward. He begins to tingle when his toes touch the coldness of the lake, but he keeps going. The water rises above his thighs, then above his waist. He pauses when it is at his shoulders.

“Keep going,” says the dragon, sounding kind now. “You will not perish. I promise this, and a dragon’s promise cannot be broken.”

It takes all of the courage in his young heart, but Yyshell keeps going.

Despite the dragon’s testimony, Yyshell isn’t sure he won’t die as the water closes over his head, but he lets it happen all the same.

A light bursts through the dark and the tingling in Yyshell’s skin becomes a fast burn. He can feel his human form dissolving in the heat. It hurts and he screams, allowing cold water into his lungs, which burst as the chill hits them.

The agony is over within heartbeats, leaving a throbbing ache in Yyshell’s new body. No longer does he stand on his legs. Instead, his belly rests in the mud, four flippers flopping to its sides. A tail like a mermaids trails far behind his enlarged head. He moves an arm that is no longer an arm, but now a long appendage ending in a webbed claw, and stares at his new “hand.”

On shore, the man gawks. Part of him is appalled at how much better the new form fits the creature he raised than the mockery of human shape it used to take. Part of him is relieved that this is no longer his problem.

“Thank you,” he says to the older, larger dragon. “I leave him in your care.”

For a moment, the elder dragon ignores him, focusing instead on the youngling. Now that he is in dragon form, Yyshell sees that his elder is female and that her lifeless expression is actually one of compassion and empathy. She bumps her forehead gently against his with an affection he recognizes from his human mother even though it is not a gesture the woman ever used.

The old man has already turned and is making his way back toward the path to his home. He doesn’t see the elder dragon gather herself before her head lashes out to throw her jaws around him. She doesn’t eat the man. She simply snaps him in half and then drops the pieces on the ground.

Yyshell stares. “You killed him,” he says in a numb voice.

“Yes.” The dragon returns her head to the Yysell’s level. “For now you will know there is no return to the human world for you. It is for the best.”

“There was no return anyway,” Yyshell responds. But he’s not angry. The old man had loved his human mother, but he had not treated her as Yyshell had wished. He had yelled, made demands, and failed to heed any of her wishes, from where to holiday to the color to paint the shutters. The number of times the man had driven Mother to sobbing tears was something her child had lost count of. In truth, Yyshell had never harmed the man more out of sentimental recognition that his mother cared for him than for any reason relating to himself. As his mother no longer cares if the man lives or dies, neither does Yyshell.

“I will not call you Mother, though.” Yyshell tests out his flippers, trying to move into deeper water. “I had a mother.”

“You did.” The elder dragon waits patiently, letting Yyshell learn on his own how to do things most dragons learn while freshly hatched. “I am not her replacement. I cannot be, for I am not human. You may call me Isshiah. It means teacher, or guide. For I am here to help you learn how to be your true self.”

Yyshell succeeds in pushing himself along the mud far enough that a layer of water slides under his rearmost flippers. From there it is easy work to get his entire body to a point of flotation. He backs a little further, then turns and tries to swim forward. It doesn’t work on the first attempt, or even the second, but the third sends him gliding through the water in the right direction. He leans a little too far to the left, but he’s getting there.

“I cannot teach your muscles,” Isshiah says. “I can teach your mind, however.”

She swims around Yyshell in one graceful motion that he despairs of ever being able to mimic. One of the whisker-like tendrils on her head reaches out toward the child, who fumbles to mirror the gesture. Isshiah wraps her appendage around his and he falls into a dream.

When Yyshell awakens, he holds the dragon language in his mind.

“That is a good start for today,” Isshiah tells him in his new tongue, one which works far better under water and with dragons throats than human speech does. “If you learn too much too quickly, it will cause harm.”

She turns in the direction of the center lake. “But I am afraid you must practice your movements. We have only as long as it takes the moon to cross the water to reach our home or we will be locked out of it until tomorrow night.” She makes a grating gurgling sound that would have frightened a human but which Yyshell knows is a laugh. “But it is the first night of the full moon, so if we do not make it tonight, we have two more to try on.”

Yyshell sighs through his new gills, a little proud of himself for figuring out how to do that, and starts the long swim to his new home.

The above image is by Mark Zane and can be found at the Art Center of Yates County.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Helping Myself to Live



“Look at Nicole,” Kimberlyn says. “See how her client is so relaxed? He’s dying, but he looks happy.”

I study the veteran war-wraithe and the soldier she cradles in her lap. As Kimberlyn attested, the man looks content. If you didn’t know what was going on, you might even think he was falling asleep in her lap rather than bleeding out… Wait, there’s no blood. “Why isn’t he bleeding?” I ask.

“Poisoned dart,” my trainer answers. “If Nicole wasn’t there, he’d actually be in an agonizing amount of pain. That’s part of the job. Yes, the main goal is to harvest their souls, but the soul of a man who dies peacefully is of much higher quality than that of one who dies in distress.”

My eyes move around the chaotic battlefield. None of the weapons I see could possibly harm me and the place still causes me distress with all it’s rapid movements and cantankerous noise. I’m working very hard not to show it, though. I will not freak out on my first day here; my older sisters would never let me live it down. At least I can’t smell the place.

Kimberlyn returns to her lecture. “Your mask will let you into their minds enough to convince them that you’re someone they trust and care about. Sometimes that’s a lover, as it rather looks like it is here. But other times it’s a mother or a sister or somesuch. So be careful not to do anything that can’t be interpreted platonically. Yes, they’d all be happy to think they’re giving their beloved one last kiss, but it will break the illusion if you start frenching one of them and he thinks you’re his mom.” She chuckles. “Or let’s hope it would. It would be pretty messed up if it didn’t.”

I nod and jot the gist of that down in my notebook. “And that’s why we have to wear the masks, right? Even if they’re not on our faces?”

“Oh, yours will be on your face,” Kimberlyn says. “It takes a lot of experience to be efficient enough to get away with pushing it back your head like Nicole has done. She trained with your mother, so don’t go thinking you’ll reach her level of skill any time soon.”

“Noted,” I respond, trying not to think about Mom. She was one of the highest decorated war-wraiths of her generation, until she fell in love with my father. Chastity is a condition of employment, and they decided that didn’t really work for them as a couple. She quit her job, opened an ale house, and had three daughters, of which I am the youngest. You might think with that backstory she’d have wanted her daughters to grow up and follow their own hearts, but when I tried to tell her I wanted to join the muse corps instead of going into her old business, she totally flipped out. We’re talking yelling, screaming, and even tears. It was the tears that got me. We agreed that I’d give it a year, then she’ll give my blessing for me to apply with the muses if I still want to. I had actually applied to the Muse Academy already, even been offered a scholarship, but I elected not to mention that.

Kimberlyn is still talking, so I try to focus on her. “Notice she doesn’t let her extractor glove touch him yet. That’s important. If you touch them too early, you’ll start extracting their soul before they’re actually dead, which will damage it.”

“Got it.” I scribble the information down.

“Now I want you to really pay attention to this bit.” Kimberlyn puts her hand on my shoulder and points at the pair. “That white mist around them is going to turn silver. That’s her cue.”

As promised, the iridescent white fog dancing around them on a wind that isn’t there shifts to a metallic grey hue. Nicole slides the covering off her index finger to reveal a inner glove designed to extract and hold a soul.

“You couldn’t hear it,” Kimberly says, “but there was a chime just then that indicated the absorption has started.”

“Okay. Is that something Nicole would have heard?”

“Probably. But if the background is ever too loud, you’ll also notice that your gauntlet will give off a little vibration. They’ll be another one when the whole thing is over, both a chime and a vibration. Also, the aura will completely dissipate. Note that she’s only using one finger of the glove. If she used the whole hand, the process would be nearly instant, but that’s rougher on the soul and could jeopardize its integrity.”

I write quickly then look up to see that the fog is down to a few wisps that quickly evaporate. Nicole smiles, put the tip of her gauntlet back on her finger, and stands up. The corpse of the man whose soul she just harvested collapses and his eyes stare blankly at the sky. I blink away a sudden flurry of tears. Crying is most definitely on the list of things I shouldn’t be doing right now.

The senior war-wraith saunters over. She’s taller than I had thought, but also prettier. She’s as old as my mom, but still gorgeous in a way that could easily start barroom brawls if not outright wars. Not that I’d try anything with her. For one thing, I already have a girlfriend. For another, this woman is just way too intimidating for the likes of me.

“You’re Shelly’s youngest?” she says in a husky voice.

Suddenly mute, I nod.

Her gaze chills. “If I catch you so much as pecking a man on his cheek, I’ll have you drummed out of here before know what hit you.”

Before I can think of what to say, let alone find the gumption to say it, she turns and struts to her next client.

Kimberlyn clears her throat. “She… She was close to your mother. Never quite got over Shelly choosing a husband over the wraiths.”

Numb, I manage to say, “I gathered.”

“Don’t worry, she won’t be in your chain of command.” My trainor gives me a smile and looks down at her clipboard. “Alright… So I think that’s enough of an introduction to the field for the day. Let’s get back to HQ and I’ll show you how the souls are in-processed.”

“Sounds good,” I say, in no hurry to spend more time with the dying than I absolutely have to. Hoping no one notices, I take a pair of swipes at the moisture gathered under my eyes.

We turn to walk over to the transportation vortex, but have to detour around another wounded soldier. I try not to look as we move around him, but the way all of his insides seem to have spilled out beside him is hard to ignore. It’s also hard to look at. It’s one of those things you don’t want to see but can’t look away from. The man shifts, causing the pile of guts to move.

I bend in half, vomiting all over the space in front of me. Dear Heaven, how do people stand doing this every day? Mom thinks I’ll survive a year? There’s no way.

Countless heaves later, I manage to straighten enough to stumble around the puke. With Kimberlyn holding tight to my elbow, I shuffle toward the vortex with my eyes shut tight. Or I hope I do. I put all my trust in my guide because there is no way I’m going to watch any more of this.

“It happens to everyone their first day,” Kimberlyn says, her voice almost drowning beneath the racket of the battle. A clang sounds from somewhere particularly close and I flinch. “You get used to it.”

“Honestly?” I say as the background din gets even louder. “I’m not sure if that’s better or worse than not getting used to it.”

“What?” Kimberlyn yells.

I shake my head and scream back, “Nothing.”

As the gentle wind of magic breathes across my skin, Kimberly draws us to a stop. The cacophony of war cuts off abruptly as the vortex whisks us away.

~*~

Safely back at headquarters, I stagger away from the landing in case someone else comes in. A safe distance away, I crumble to the floor, where I sit cross-legged as I try to convince the world that it can stop spinning now.

Kimberlyn comes up behind me. “Have a piece of gum, newbie.”

Grateful, I take the stick of minty comfort and plop it into my mouth.

“So, Jackie...” Kimberlyn settles down next to me. “I guess you’re probably wondering how quickly you can find some boy to kiss, huh?”

“Pretty much,” I confirm. I don’t like kissing boys, but I’d prefer it to being in the middle of a war ever again. The mint is helping to settle me down, but I can’t imagine every possessing enough willpower to go back onto a battlefield.

“It’ll get better if you give it time.”

My eyes stare down at the stone beneath us. My mind is curiously calm, oddly quiet. Without asking, Kimberlyn takes my notes from my hand.

After a few moments, I hear Kimberlyn close the notebook. “Why did you sign up? Trying to impress your mom?”

“Not exactly. Kinda.” I sigh. “I told her I wanted to be a muse and you’d have thought I’d driven a dagger through her heart.” Unbidden, the image of blood flowing from a knife wound pops into my mind and I try really hard to replace it with a picture of a forest waterfall.

“Now, see, to me there’s nothing wrong with being a muse. But there’s something massively wrong with trying to live your kid’s life.”

“It’s not like that.”

“Oh?”

It really isn’t. I don’t think… “She just thought I’d be happier here.”

“Kid, I’ve known you for one afternoon and I can tell that you won’t be.” Kimberlyn lets out a heavy breath. “It’s noble to help people die, but you seem like the type who’d rather help them live.”

My tongue presses the gum against the back of my teeth. She’s nailed it perfectly.

She hands my notebook back. “Those notes are all haikus. You don’t belong here.”

Flipping the cover open, I read what I wrote, counting all the syllables. She was right; they’re all haikus. I wasn’t trying to write in haiku. It probably would have been harder to do if I were. “I promised Mom a year,” I whisper.

Kimberlyn sighs. “Most people vomit. Some people cry. No one who lasts does both. And those who don’t last? They’re traumatized. Some never recover.”

My inbreath is more of a sniffle and I try to hold back a whimper. “But Mom…”

“Your mom’s not here.” She gives me a level look. “If I don’t clear you, then you don’t get this position. And if you want me to clear you, you’re going to have to say something really persuasive really fast.”

Pressing my lips together, I gather my courage. “I don’t want to.”

My guide’s lips curve into a sympathetic little smile. “I didn’t think so. And it really is okay, kiddo.” She climbs to her feet and holds a hand down to help me up.

~*~

I leave the war-wraithe headquarters and find Lola at the coffee shop she’s working at until she starts the Muse Academy in the fall. She looks up quietly as I walk into the place, takes a cup down, and starts to make me my standard latte. “Caramel?” she asks. “I assume caramel because you’re here awfully early.”

“Yeah,” I confirm. I only get the caramel syrup when I need an extra pickmeup, which I certainly do right now. “It… My would-be supervisor figured out real quick that I shouldn’t be there.”

She slides the milk under the foaming arm. “Better to know that now then after you plunge into depression over doing a job you should never have been pressured to apply for.”

“I guess.” I sit down on a stool across the counter from her. “I don’t know what I’m going to tell Mom though.”

“Want me to do it?” She offers me the coffee along with an attractively malicious grin. She really would be much better suited for helping people die than I would be, but she plans on specializing in inspiring action films.

“Nah.” I take the drink and look down at the foam. She’s written our initials in the foam with a cute little ampersand between them. “I’d rather you continue to be allowed to come over.”

“And she already blames me.” Lola plops her elbows on the counter and leans into a resting posture.

“That’s true enough.”

“It’s okay,” Lola says. “I don’t mind being credited with your happiness.”

~*~

Fortified by coffee, I make my way home. Mom’s downstairs, in the pub part of the building we live in. She glances up from the bar she’s wiping down, frowns, and checks the clock. Maybe I should have waited longer to come back so that it would be less obvious something hadn’t gone well.

Mom tosses her cleaning rag to the side. “You blazed through training fast.” She looks at me in challenge, like she’s daring me to say otherwise.

I gather every last nerve I have, knowing that I’m going to need them. “Washed out fast, you mean.”

“Washed out?” Folding her arms, she gives me a dark look. “After I pulled strings to get you in? What happened? Was it Nicole? She gave Sarah a hard time, too, but one visit from me sorted it all out.”

“It wasn’t Nicole.” I draw a breath. “Kimberlyn said -”

“Kimberlyn!” Mom shakes her head. “That girl! I can’t figure out how she gained any rank at all. I’ll fix everything.”

She walks around the bar like she’s going to head over to war-wraith headquarters right this second, but I move to block her. “No, Mom. I don’t want to be a war-wraith. I don’t want to get used to watching people’s guts spill out or holding them while they die. I don’t want that to be normal.”

Mom’s eyes narrow on me. “It is normal.”

“Not for me.” I hold a hand out, imploring her to listen. “I’m a muse, Mom. I don’t just want to make art, I need to make art.”

“No one needs that.”

“Mom-”

“No,” she cuts me off. “It’s that girl, isn’t it?”

I shake my head. “No. I’d want this without Lola. I’ve always wanted this.”

The words seem to bounce off my mother without sinking in. “Do you have any idea how little muses get paid, Jacklyn? Ten years as a war-wraith and I bought this place outright. That wouldn’t have happened if I’d been a muse.”

I whither, but before I can say anything meek, my father’s hand falls on my shoulder. “You know what else doesn’t pay as well as being a war-wraith?” he asks softly. “Running a pub.”

Her eyes on Dad, Mom’s body softens. “Bill…”

“What did your parents say when you told them you were quitting to marry me?”

Mom drops her gaze as she nods. “You’re right. They said it financially stupid. Irresponsible. And a complete waste of my talents.”

“Yet you’re telling our daughter to ignore her own talents in the interest of making more money doing something she’s not suited to.” He pauses for a moment, letting her think. “Do you think you made a mistake?”

When Mom looks up again, I see a shimmer of tears. She’s silent as the clock ticks on for seconds that threaten to become minutes. “I don’t regret leaving the wraiths. Not even the slightest bit.” She moves her focus from Dad to me. “You’re not a muse, though. That requires a license you can’t get without going to their school.”

A tiny ember of hope lights in my mind. “I already applied. They offered me a scholarship, Mom.”

She smiles, although there’s no joy in it. “Then I suppose I’ll have to get used to have a daughter who’s a muse.” She draws in a breath. “Just like I need to go make sure the pies are ready to go in the oven so there’ll be something to sell to people when they show up for dinner tonight.”

As my mother turns and rushes out of the room, I look up at my dad in awe. “Is she?” I ask. “Is she really just going to get used to it?”

With his hands holding my upper arms, he bends to place a gentle kiss on my forehead before straightening to look into my eyes. “Your mama is one of the most stubborn women I’ve ever met. When she decides something, it’s almost impossible to get it out of her head. But even before she decided you should be a war-wraith, she decided that she loves you. That woman is fiercely loyal to her family, and that is never going to change no matter how many times she fails to get her way.”

The breath I try to take turns into a gasp and before I know it, I’m sobbing in relief. I hug my father, smiling against his chest. “I love you, Daddy.”

“I love you, too, Jacksie-girl.” He squeezes tight. “And you are going to be an amazing muse.”

I can only hope he’s right.




The above image is an untitled work by photographer Yiaz Yang. It was posted on Twitter by @lumecluster, who owns the company that makes the awesome gear seen in the picture. Said store can be found at lumecluster.com.


It was offered as a prompt on my Wording Wednesday group on MeWe.


Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Goat's Transformation


Sometimes a person comes across a moment in time that makes her stop and contemplate the life choices that got her where she is. I’m in the midst of such a moment myself walking across a field as I try to figure out how the heck one gets a goat out of an abandoned vehicle.

The only real choice I made, though, was in not complaining when my mom got custody of me after she divorced my dad ten years ago. I was only seven and Dad had spent at least half my life on business trips, so it seemed like the right call at the time. But then Mom met Hailey at a Bi-Pride event.

I was happy. Mom had been alone for years, and her finding love again seemed like something she really deserved. And they’ve always been super-cute together. I just wish that maybe Hailey was a little less… Hailey. Less the type of woman who thinks quitting her legal firm and moving to a farm in the middle of nowhere to raise goats is ever a good idea.

My first instinct when they told me about The Farm Plan was to call Dad and ask if I could live with him. I never actually asked though, because his wife answered the phone. I like her and could imagine happily living in her house, except for the fact that the house is filled with half-siblings. Or… Okay, “filled” is an overstatement. But there are three or them and they’re all under the age of five. As they all yelled in the background of the phone call, I realized I’d be better off spending my senior year of high school with the goats.

So I guess that was a second choice, but it was really just a repeat of the first one.

And, technically, I did chose to do as I was told when Mom told me to go fetch Lyle. Lyle’s the goat. He’s the big troublemaker in the herd, to the point that whenever something goes wrong we all claim it was Lyle’s fault, even when that something is it raining on a day we wanted to grill on or a traffic jam holding us up on the way home from a farmer’s market. But I kinda like Lyle, and he certainly seems to like me more than Mom and Hailey. The first time I spent the afternoon cleaning the barn, I saw him trying to dance to the Ramones. It was pretty much the funniest thing I’ve ever seen, so how could I not be charmed? Since then, I’ve given him a little more than his fair share of treats, so it’s no wonder the feeling is now mutual.

The goats all have trackers in their collars, so it wasn’t hard to find Lyle. And once I realized which field he was in, it really didn’t come as a surprise that he’d climbed into the rusty engine-less truck. I’ve never liked the truck, but the estimates for removing it were unexpectedly high and Hailey says it adds a certain je-ne-sais-que to our land. Sometimes I worry Hailey’s a little bit insane, but at least she’s insane in a mostly harmless way.

Lyle watches me as I approach the truck. He sits in the front seat peering out of the driver’s side window like he’s contemplating abandoning the farm and becoming a cab driver.

“Really, Lyle?” I ask. “Where do you think you’re goin?”

“Ideally?” he answers in an upper-class English accent. “London.”

My lips separate as I stare, desperately trying to come to terms with the fact that not only did a goat just speak to me, but told me he wants to go to the United Kingdom.

“The city in England,” he adds. “Not the town in Connecticut.”

“I figured,” I say dimly. Hailey’s sanity is clearly not the sanity I should have been worrying about. It would appear mine’s gone on vacation. “Besides, I think the one in Connecticut is called New London.”

“Ah, yes. You’re right.” He nods. “But either way, it wouldn’t be the London I need to get to.”

“Clearly,” I agree. Because if you’re going to lose your mind, you might as well do so agreeably. That’s what kept Alice going in Wonderland, wasn’t it? “But why do you need to go to London?”

“Because I live in London.”

“Oh. Right.”

“I’m not really a goat.”

I move my eyes slowly over him, noting the hooves and the horns and the fur. “You look like a goat.”

“Obviously,” he snaps. “But that doesn’t mean I am one.”

Okay… “So what are you, then? A were-goat?”

“Were-goat?” He shakes his goat-shaped head. “You yanks and your obsession with shapeshifters. No, I am not a were-goat. I am a wizard who was cursed into the form of a goat while on holiday.”

“Why?”

He narrows his beady goat eyes at me. “Not that it’s any of your business, but there was a misunderstanding wherein my girlfriend became erroneously convinced that I was cheating on her, at which point she cast a transformation spell.”

“Oh. When?”

His sigh is deep, moving his whole body. “I don’t know. I actually think I’m a goat most of the time, and goats are not very good at keeping track of time. It was before you arrived, though.”

My eyes widen. “Yikes. So at least three months.”

He nods. “Yes. And it had been some time before that, so most likely I’ve lost at least half a year.” He leans against the window ledge, looking as miserable as a goat could possibly look. “And the worst part is that when I leave this truck, I may go back to believing I’m a goat again.”

“Why?” I look down the length of the truck. It’s old and rusty and barely holding itself together. “Is there something special about the truck?”

“Not really. Or not about this specific one. Anything with sufficient amounts of metal would work. It disrupts the magic, you see. Modern cars have too much plastic, though.”

“I see,” I claim, even though I don’t really. “So we need to figure out how to get you to England without you leaving the truck? But you can’t teleport because the truck disrupts magic.”

“That and because teleportation of living creatures is impossible.” He pauses. “Or it is if you want them to remain living, at any rate.”

“Well, I assume you want to arrive alive…” I frown. “And you can’t break the spell yourself, or you would have already.”

“Indeed.” He shifts, his nose sniffing at the air. “Did you know that goats are always hungry?”

“I suspected. I mean, they’re always eating…” I remember stuffing a granola bar into my jacket pocket. Taking it out, I unwrap it and offer it to Lyle.

“Thank you,” he says before inhaling it.

“Is your name really Lyle?”

“No. It’s Neville.”

“Like Neville Longbottom?” I blurt.

The glare I receive makes me realize why some people think the Devil is a goat. “You do not want to get me started on the subject of Harry Potter and the completely disrespectful approach to magic that horrid series takes.” He snorts. “And quidditch. Absolutely ridiculous. She took airball, put people on brooms rather than having them levitate like reasonable human beings, and then added something that when caught gives you fifty points. Fifty! In a game where three-four would be considered a high scoring match!”

“I did always wonder about the snitch,” I admit. “It seems unbalanced.”

“Exactly!”

We pause for a breath before moving on.

Neville tilts his head at me. “Have you ever tried to cast a spell?”

“Of course.” I smile. “What little kid doesn’t. I used to grab a stick and run around the playground yelling all sorts of spells at things.”

“That was play,” he says with an eye roll. “Have you given it a serious effort? And have you done it recently? Having magical abilities before puberty is nearly unheard of.”

“Oh. Then, no.” On the edge of the field is a section of trees. “Should I grab something to use as a wand?”

Neville’s eyes close as he takes a breath. “No. That’s not really something people do.”

“Sorry. I didn’t know.”

“No reason you should,” he tells me as opens his eyes again. “You have the aurora of a wizard about you, so I think it’s worth trying. Untrained, you probably can’t manage more than one casting a day, so we’re not going to experiment. I’m going to climb out of this vehicle. Then I need you to grab hold of me and think really hard about turning me back to my real form. Imagine it in as much detail as you can.”

“But I don’t know what you look like.”

“You’re not casting a transformation; you’re uncasting one. So don’t think about what I look like. Just think about me shedding my goat body and revealing the truth.”

That sounds a little less daunting, and I nod to show my understanding. “Alright. I’ll try. Do you want me to put you back in the truck if that doesn’t work?”

“If you can, then yes, please.” He takes a deep breath. Then another. And then he leaps through the window.

He takes a few steps, looking a little confused, then stops to regard me with a hopeful expression before bleating in the tone goats use to ask for treats. Guess that means he’s back to being goat-brained.

Slowly, so as not to startle him into running off, I get on my knees and wrap my arms around his neck. “Neville,” I whisper. “Be Neville.”

Lyle bleats uncomfortably and wiggles in an attempt to free himself. I hold tight though, turning my imagination into reaching inside the goat and trying to touch the heart of his essence. Against expectation, I feel a tingle along my skin.

“Be Neville,” I repeat, envisioning Lyle breaking open to release the human trapped in his form. The image is gorier than I anticipated, but I hold onto it as the tingly intensifies, growing first warm and then hot. I imagine the heat leaving me to wrap itself around Lyle and melt away his shape.

“Be Neville,” I say a third time.

The universe cracks.

Lyle expands and contracts, then finally settles into the form of a man standing on all fours.

“Neville?” I whisper.

He turns his head to give me a remarkably Lyle-esque look of exasperation. “Of course it’s Neville. Who else would I be?”

Laughing, I let go of him and fall back onto my rear in the grass. “And I really just did magic?”

His gaze softens a little. “You really did. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” I smile at him for a moment. And then I realize he’s completely naked. “Clothes,” I squeak. “You need clothes.”

“Oh.” He looks down at himself as though he can’t feel the air on his skin. “So I do.”

He stands up and I put all my energy into staring at his feet. Between one breath and the next, a pair of jeans appears and some canvas sneakers appear, at which point I allow myself to look up.

Neville is younger than I expected, probably on the same side of twenty as I am. He has soft brown hair that flops over hazel eyes, a pair of copper rimmed glasses, and a t-shirt featuring the cover of the Clash album London Calling. I wonder at the shirt…

Maybe I should leave it be, but I have to ask. “Are you wearing that because you like the Clash or because Lyle’s heard me playing classic punk tunes often enough for you to know that I like the Clash?”

He laughs and holds down a hand to help me up. “I own all of their albums on vinyl.”

“Really?”

His head cocks roguishly to the side. “The albums are in my room if you wish to verify their existence.”

Laughing, I shake my head. “I’m starting to see how you wound up as a goat.”

Without comment, Neville starts to stroll across the field with all the confidence of someone in a familiar park. I trot to catch up. “So… Am I a wizard?”

“Gods no!” He catches my look of disappointment at the outburst. “I mean, it takes more than talent. It also takes training.”

“Does it?” I ask. “Because no one trained me to break that curse.”

“Breaking a spell is easier than creating one, same way breaking a vase is easier than blowing the glass.”

“Oh…”

We walk on for a few paces. “I could recommend you to my school,” he says. “As a first year, I shouldn’t have much say, but my grandfather is in charge to the place, so…”

I blink. “Schools of magic are real things?”

“Oh, yes. There are several in the United Kingdom, actually. My school, Hyde College, was opened by the first Queen Elizabeth and a fellow named John Dee.”

“That’s cool. I don’t think I could afford to go to college in England though.” I don’t have any idea how much a school of magic in another country costs, but my guess is that it’s considerably more than the public university I was expecting to end up at.

“I shouldn’t worry about that,” Neville tells me. “My family is quite wealthy and I fully expect my parents would be more than happy to cover your tuition in exchange for rescuing their baby boy.”

I blink. “Seriously?”

He nods. “Oh, yes.”

“Well, damn, Neville…”

“One thing though.” He turns to look down at me, the greens and browns seeming to dance in his eyes like flames. “I despise being called Neville. My mum’s the only one who uses that name. Everyone else calls me Nix.”

“Okay… Nix it is.”

I smile up at Nix, who grins down at me. My stomach gives a little twist as my heart assures me that, no, it wouldn’t be crazy to follow a boy across an ocean and study magic. Not crazy at all.

Above photo is by Irit Elazar Cohen and prints can be found in her Etsy shop.
It was offered as a prompt on my Wording Wednesday group on MeWe.