Friday, August 16, 2019

This Is NOT a Romantic Comedy



In the genre of romantic comedy there is a trope called the meet-cute. Merriam Webster defines meet-cute as "a cute, charming, or amusing first encounter between romantic partners" and somehow bumping into each other in the rain would certainly qualify.

So if this story was a romantic-comedy, or rom-com, when Yuki, Hayato, and their respective umbrellas approach each other in a downpour, something would happen to force an interaction. Perhaps Hayato's umbrella would spontaneously break, leading Yuki to offer him the shelter of her adorably pink cat-eared umbrella. Or maybe something would fall from the pocket of Yuki's hoodie and Hayato would pick it up, calling to her, "Hey, you dropped this!" Maybe they'd flirt, but it's also possible they'd bicker. Either way, they'd be together by the end of the story.

This is not a rom-com, so you need not worry about reading onward if you’re one of those people who hates such sweetness.

If this were a cyber-thriller, there would be a hand-off as the pair pass close to one another. Hayato would slip Yuki a thumb drive containing all the passwords used by some nation's government or perhaps a small harddrive hosting a virus that would siphon money from all online transactions would trade hands.

This is not a cyber-thriller, which is good because I don’t understand computer systems sufficiently to go into details about high level hacking operations.

If it were a more violent type of tale, perhaps one destined to appear as a film directed by someone like Quentin Tarantino, Yuki would reveal that her umbrella handle doubles as a sword as she slices through Hayato.

This is not a violent story, either, so I'll be saved the discomfort of having to describe the way Hayato's entrails would trail out into the puddle of rain at his feet.

No, this is a science fiction story.

Yuki is a teenaged girl from a perfectly normal suburb of Tokyo. She ascribes to kuwaii aesthetics, does well in chemistry class although she struggles with physics, and is thinking of nothing more important than what form of snack she will eat when she gets home as she approaches and then passes by Hayato. She notices him, but nothing about him seems out of place or even particularly interesting to her, so unless something else happens, she will have forgotten about him before she reaches the end of the block.

Hayato pays more attention to Yuki. He's intrigued by the cat ears on her umbrella and the adorable animal her sweatshirt. He wonders what sort of animal it is, but hasn't been on Earth long enough to have a good guess or to even know what a panda is if we were to identify the creature for him. His fledgling understanding of humanity tells him, accurately, that Yuki is a kindred-spirit to his sister back on Ilon. Hayato has never understood his sister, so clearly he has no chance at understanding Yuki. His job on Earth isn't learning to understand the humans though; he's here to… Honestly, he's not certain. He's here because he received orders telling him to be here and he is very much into following orders at all times without asking silly questions like, "But why?"

It's really too bad this isn't a romantic comedy, because I feel poor uptight Hayato could learn a lot from forming a romantic bond with someone who doesn't take everything quite so seriously. But, alas, he passed by Yuki without any form of interaction occurring. They're heading in opposite directions and probably won't be seeing each other again.

Hayato continues around a corner, now unable to see Yuki even if he turned around to look for her, which he has no reason to do. At least not until the explosion.

He spins as the sound blasts down the street. Putting various details of the sound together tells him that what he's hearing is a blaster popular with a race of aliens known as the Han-el. The Han-el don't get along very well with Hayato's species and there are elaborate treaties in place that are supposed to keep the two peoples from every being on the same planet. Earth is well within the boundary of planets assigned to the Iloni, so what are the Han-el doing here? He wonders if maybe that's why his superiors sent him to Earth. Maybe they know the dratted Han-el are up to something.

This is not, in actual fact, the reason that Hayato has been sent to Earth. He was actually sent here because the daughter of his commanding officer has a crush on him and the commanding officer wants him to be far, far away from the daughter's sight in the hope this will also take him out of her mind.

Hayato, knowing nothing about his commanding officer's daughter's crush, rushes forward, bent on defending Iloni interests and explaining to the Han-el, forcibly if necessary, that Earth is in Iloni territory.

Meanwhile, Yuki has already forgotten about Hayato, but also noticed the not-so-subtle explosion behind her. She also turned, recognizing that an alien weapon was just used and that she needs to go explain, forcibly if necessary, that Earth is sovereign territory and aliens can't just go around blowing up parts of it. She’s already had to do this three times this month and is getting a little tired of it.

Yuki's fingers reach for the golden cat necklace she wears around her neck and she whispers magic words known only to her and her fellow chosen catgirls. Within three heartbeats, she transforms into a human-sized tabby cat and lets out a magic-laden hiss.

The pair close in on the Han-el, who looks a little sick over the fact that he's being closed in on. He had merely meant to flex his muscles, so to speak, for a merchant who was giving him a hard time, and hadn't expected any blow back from it.

The merchant comes out of her shop holding a baseball bat. The old woman glares at the Han-el, accusing him of blowing a hole through her wall and demanding to know how he is going to pay for repairs.

The Han-el looks at the old woman, who seems much more fierce than she did when he decided to mess with her. He doesn't look long though, because a blast of Yuki's magic slams into him while he's gawking and knocks him to the ground.

The Han-el struggles to get up, but realizes he has nowhere to run. He can smell that Hayato is an Iloni but decides that's probably the safest direction to go. He's wrong about that. The safest way to go is into the shop, because once he's dodged the unexpectedly badass shopkeeper it's a straight line for the rear exit of the place. But he doesn't know about the backdoor, so he makes the mistake of sprinting towards Hayato.

I haven't mentioned it before because it wasn't relevant until now, but Hayato has received extensive training on capturing fugitives, so he has the Han-el disarmed and on the ground in… well, not a heartbeat. But not much longer than a heartbeat.

Yuki comes up behind him, still in feline form, and delivers a lecture to the fallen Han-el about how he, and all other aliens, need to get off of Earth. At some point, the Han-el protests that's she's singling him out and informs her that Hayato is also an alien. So then she lectures them both.

Hayato protests, naturally. Earth is in his planet's region of influence and he is under orders to be here. While Yuki is yelling at him about how Earth doesn't concede to Iloni authority, the Han-el sneaks off.

The argument ends when Yuki's phone makes a noise and she realizes that her mother has been texting her to bring dinner home for the last five minutes. Instantly, she returns to her human form to type back, contorting her body to keep the driving rain off of her phone screen, that she is on her way to the store now. Yuki tells Hayato that he must leave the planet immediately, but does nothing to enforce this before rushing away to purchase enough sushi for her family of five. This will require quite a bit of sushi as even though the twins are only six, they eat massive amounts of food.

Hayato shakes his head at the retreating catgirl. He picks up his umbrella and holds it over his head as he moves on, even though he's been without its protection for a rather long while and is consequently soaked to the bone already.

If this were a romantic comedy, Hayato might think of the girl he just met as he makes his way back to his new apartment and ponder why it was that he found her dripping hair somehow… attractive? In a cute sort of way... He might regret that he is going to upset her by staying on Earth, but he won't feel he has any choice in the matter. Then the pair will meet again in a week or so. Yuki will act like she's angry he's still on the planet, but will be secretly charmed by him.

But it's not a romantic comedy. Right? So that’s probably not going to happen.


Above image is "Miss" by Wang Ling, who posts on Deviant Art as wlop.


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/

Thursday, August 8, 2019

On the Edge of the Sea



Overhead, the sky regards me with the same dispassionate grey as my lover’s eyes as the breeze blowing off the sea ruffles my hair despite the shawl I have over my head. “It’s the perfect time,” Eethea tells me. “I don’t understand why you want to wait.”

My teeth dig into my lip as I try to think of the words to explain with. See, the thing is, I don’t want to wait. Because I don’t ever want to down another ship, whether it be this storm or five storms from now. Back home, everyone warned that if I moved to land, I’d eventually start to feel this way. I didn’t believe them, though it seems I should have. The smell of salt rolling off the sea still fills me with comfort, but I’ve become too acclimated to shore.

“You skipped the last feast,” Eethea reminds me, as though I could have forgotten either the massive argument we had about it or intense pain I felt as my covenmates gorged themselves on the sailor’s life forces while I stayed hungry. “People are already assuming I’m your daughter. If you keep aging like this, they’ll be thinking you’re my grandmother soon.”

“Would that be so bad?” I ask, my eyes moving over the rolling waves before us. Their peaks are growing taller and white caps have appeared across the bay to which we were exiled decades ago. “At least then people wouldn’t think we’re sinful for loving each other.”

Her arms fold over her worn human-style dress. “And why do you care if they think we’re sinful? Sure, in Kesh they might stone us for it, but in Ahland they’re all pacifists, so they just shake their heads and move on. How does them shaking their heads harm you?”

I let out a long breath. “That’s part of the problem,” I tell her. “You’re asking me to kill someone who isn’t willing to kill me.”

“So, what? You want to wait for a boatload of Keshmen who happen to be here when a storm hits? Or do you want to drown them without the cover of a storm?”

“Well, that is a law I’m surprised we’re still abiding by,” I say, mainly as a way to deflect the conversation. I don’t think I really want to drown people from Kesh either.

Eethea rolls her eyes. “First off, it’s a good rule because we don’t want to risk a survivor having seen us and that’s less likely if we strike during a storm. And secondly, they may not be willing to kill you for being intimate with another woman, but they most certainly would if they knew you were yiishka.”

Yiishka… What the humans call merfolk. I’ve been on land long enough that hearing words from my first language seems strange.

Placing her hand over mine, Eethea goes on. “I understand that they’re intelligent animals with a complex social structure and deep felt emotions, but they eat whales, who are not only all of those things but also more friendly. And who don’t eat them back. Really, humans are terrible.”

“I know…” I turn my palm over so that I can grasp Eethea’s fingers. “I just… Maybe if it were a one-on-one trade, I’d feel better about it. I’d find someone truly horrible and steal their life to fuel mine. But I need to kill at least a dozen people to make much of a difference, and more would be better.”

“Only because you’ve waited so long.”

“Yes, well, I’ve already done that.”

With a gentle tug, my lover pulls me closer to her side and I lower my head to her shoulder. She tilts her head until her cheek rests against my hair. “I know it’s hard, baby. But there’s only so long you can go without eating before you’ll die. Don’t do that to me.”

Of course Eethea found a way to make it about her. “And what about the people who love the sailors? It’s okay to doom them to widowhood?”

“They’ll only live another few decades at most, then they’ll escape from their pain. I could live another thousand years with a hole in my heart where you’re supposed to be.”

“If you keep murdering people,” I mutter.

Eethea stiffens and straightens her head so that it’s no longer touching me. “Since when has it been wrong to survive? We’ve tried taking the life energy from other creatures you deemed less deserving of life and it didn’t work. You remember that, right?”

“Yeah, I do.”

“So what choice do we have?”

That’s obvious. “We could grow old and die.”

“Right. Which isn’t really a choice. I don’t know why the Great Mother designed us this way, beloved, but she did. And she wants us to live.”

“Now you get religious on me?” I ask as I sit up. “Most of the time, you think the gods aren’t real.”

She shrugs. “Fine, then. We evolved this way and evolution wants us to live.”

“No, it just wants us to procreate. And neither of us are doing that. We accepted exile to avoid doing that.” Sometimes I can’t remember why. The Queen didn’t want us to break up or anything, she just wanted us to get pregnant and help grow a new generation below the sea. Would it really have been so bad to spawn some brats and raise them with Eethea back home? Sex with a male doesn’t seem like it would be pleasant, but it’s not like it would take terribly long to get it over with either. “If anyone wants us to live, it’s Queen Eilka. She’s the one so upset about the declining population that she’s willing to toss her own daughter out of the sea.”

“Yeah, well, screw my mother.”

I nod. “Dying would do that.”

Eethea scowls. “I may have Mommy Issues, but not enough of them to kill myself to spite her. And I’m certainly not going to let you die just to flip her off.”

“Is it really killing ourselves, though? To let nature take its course?” My eyes go back to the ocean. The tide is coming in and we should move soon, either going back to the city or out into the water. Sitting on the shore wet isn’t an option as saltwater will turn us back into our aquatic forms.

“Skiya, if a human stops eating and dies, do people say it was an accident or do they say he starved himself to death?”

I study the water as I think about that. She has a point. “But…”

“Humans don’t usually eat humans,” she says calmly. “But sometimes they do. If they’re somewhere with no other food and it’s the only way to survive, they absolutely will eat either other.”

“I’m not sure that really happens. It might be a myth.”

“Well, I am sure. Because I’ve met humans, and while they’re sentimental, they’ll do whatever it takes to live. So maybe a few of them wouldn’t eat a party member, but I honestly believe most of them would if their survival were at stake.” She twists in order to take my chin in her hand and turn my face toward her. “This is no different. Even if you say now that you’re willing to deny yourself the energy you need to live, do you really have the willpower to slowly starve to death?”

I hate the fact that the answer to that question is probably no.

“Come on.” Eetha stands up and holds her hand out to help me to my feet. “Let’s get in the water and then decide.”

Once in the water, my thought process will change. In the water, I’ll no long see myself as anything akin to the humans. In the water, the sailors will seem like food and not people. But I let myself walk to the surf anyway.


The above image is Looking Out to Sea by Winslow Homer.

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/

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Embracing Destiny



My grandmother says that the one good thing about humanity trashing the planet to the point that we encapsulated our cities under domes is that now you can see the stars at night. Apparently when she was a child, you could see the moon and maybe two or three stars from a city the size of ours. Of course, between the chemical pollution, the light pollution, and the dome itself, we should really be seeing even less rather than the vast array we’re treated to every night. And who’s to say which is better, really? At least my grandmother’s two or three stars were real and not projections.

Azealia knows the stars are fake, but she loves them anyway. To her, I think their lack of authenticity actually makes them more beautiful, because now they speak of the human need to create beauty and thus provide her with evidence that our species really isn’t as bad as it seems.

One of the things I love about Azealia is her faith in the basic goodness of humans. And it’s that faith that allows her to love me even though I don’t share it.

It was the stars that brought us together the night we met. I was walking across Founders Park after getting off my shift at the pizza joint that was my first place of employment when I came across a dusky-skinned girl with a bright blue pixie cut and golden eyes who was doing the strangest thing. She had an easel set up and was painting a skyscape, a realistic portrayal of the multitude of astral features decorating the dome.

I longed to ask why she was doing this in the middle of the night in the center of a park when the projection was public domain and could have been covering her ceiling at home, but actually asking seemed intrusive. Even stopping to watch her seemed like I was overstepping, but I couldn’t help it. I told my feet to walk on, but they refused to obey me.

After a bit, she looked over and me, smiled, and answered the question I hadn’t asked. “The stars aren’t meant to be seen from your living room.”

“Yet you’re painting them,” I pointed out before I could think through it enough to convince myself not to.

Azealia nodded serenely. She does most things serenely, her soul as infused with calm as mine is permeated with tension. “Yes, but the painting isn’t supposed to be a real sky. It’s supposed to be my perception of the sky.”

My eyebrows pulled together as I thought about that.

“Look closer.” She stepped to the side in invitation and I accepted by drawing near.

Up close, the painting was less realistic than I’d first taken it to be. It was clearly based on the actual sky, but the stars were in different places and the swirling nebulas were less subtle. I’d never studied art, but this seemed like art.

“It’s wonderful,” I told her. Then I walked on, like a complete fool. I beat myself up over that all the following week. I should have stayed and talked more, tried to figure out if maybe she was into girls, although I wanted to be friends even if she wasn’t. I should have asked her to do something with me, or asked her if her artwork was for sale anywhere, or at least gotten her name.

When she walked into the pizzeria two weeks after we first met, she was on a date with a gorgeous woman with ebony skin and a laugh that reminded me of Christmas. So she was clearly interested in women, at least some of the time. And she remembered me, which I told myself must have meant something even though she seemed clearly in love with her companion.

Azealia became a regular. So did the woman with the ebony skin, but that was alright because Clarice was amazing too. She was tall and toned, but also incredibly smart and outrageously funny. She was lead singer in a band I’d never heard of before but soon came to adore. They were called Under the Starlight, a name Azealia had come up with.

It was Clarice who asked me out first. For a second, I was confused. I’d never seen either woman with anyone else, so it hadn’t occurred to me that they were polyamorous. But they were. I never had been before, but as I thought about Clarice’s invitation to a traveling musical, I realized I was already in love with both of them.

Years passed. I finished college and started managing an art gallery with Azealia. Clarice’s band grew popular enough to support touring, but she never drifted away from us. Azealia does all Under the Starlight’s artwork and I run their online merchandise store. We’re happy, the three of us. Sometimes it makes me nervous, being so content, as though it’s tempting the universe to assault us.

I look down at the shirt I’m packaging to ship. It features the poster for Under the Starlight’s Embrace Your Destiny tour. A young woman in white stands on a platform with her arms open to the sky. Her build and her long dark hair are mine, symbolizing how all three of us are a part of our story, how we’re each other’s destinies.

Destiny isn’t a concept I ever thought I’d believe in. Yet, somehow, when I go home and fall into the duel embraces of my beloveds, I do.


The above image is "Kissed by Starlight" by Lisa Falzon. Ms Falzon's works can be found at https://lisa-falzon.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/

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Sunny with a Chance of Pixies



“I got one!” Simon calls out to me.

My lips seal tight against my urge to blurt, “No, you don’t.” Instead, I spend a moment taking a deep breath before turning to squint across the sun drenched meadow at the man who is trying oh-so-hard to impress me with his spryte-hunting prowess. The problem is, he can’t tell the difference between a spryte and pixie, so keeps harassing innocent pixies.

Yeah, okay, maybe the words “innocent” and “pixie” don’t really belong in the same sentence. But in this case, we’re looking for the pranksters who nearly caused Felicia Hunstable to drown. Technically, stealing a girl’s bathing suit while she swam then convincing her there was a crowd on the shore sounds like it could be the work of a gang of pixies, yes, but pixies only approach water when there are no local sprytes. And as of last summer, there are sprytes in the pond in question.

My fingers grip the handle of my parasol as I slowly turn to look at Simon. He rises from his knees with something clutched in his hands. The something squirms and yells at him in the high-pitched language the flying fae prefer. I translate cursing and threats about what happens to evil humans who disrupt people mid-nap.

“Let go of her,” I tell Simon. “She’s obviously a pixie.”

“Oh.” He frowns, like it never occurred to him that a spryte wouldn’t be hanging out in the middle of a dry field. “But she’s blue.”

“Excuse me?” comes an affronted voice now speaking in English. The pixie zips out of Simon’s now-open hand but hovers nearby as she glares at him. “I am clearly blue like a periwinkle and not blue like a waterdrop. Do you really thinks all winged people like alike?”

Simon blinks rapidly. “No. But, blue means spryte…”

The pixie produces a loud harrumph. “I’ll have you know, there are a variety of winged creatures that can be blue, including pixies, zephyrs, elves, dragons, and birds!”

“Birds?” Simon’s face squishes up. “And elves? They’re as big as I am! And dragons are even bigger!”

“So?” The pixie waves a hand through the air. “It’s not like people can’t change size.”

“It isn’t?”

I’d have stopped him from saying that if there had been time, but there wasn’t, so I’m left rushing toward them screaming, “No! Don’t!”

The pixie ignores me, of course. She tosses a cloud of dust at Simon and smirks as it swirls around him.

He has time to squeak, “What’s happening?” before the magic settles over him and goes *pop!* A heartbeat later, he’s looking up at me from a very long way down.

I sigh. “I can’t say he doesn’t deserve it,” I tell the pixie. “But I was counting on him to help me with the sprytes.”

“Why?” she asks. “Where you going to catch them in the act of drowning him after he insulted them?”

“No.” I tuck my parasol handle under my chin so that I can use my hands to move my skirts enough that I can sit on the grass. I hold a hand out and tell Simon, “Hop on before you get eaten by an eagle.”

Simon directs wide eyes up at the clear skies. There are, in fact, multiple birds in view. He climbs onto my palm without argument, then moves onto my shoulder when I raise my hand to it.

The pixie, for reasons I’m unclear on, stays close as I climb back to my feet. “This moveable shade of yours is nice,” she says.

“It is,” I agree. If she’d been human, the response might have seemed rude, but thanking her for the compliment would have been the rude approach to a pixie.

As I start to walk away, the pixie flaps her wings to stay next to me. “You should apologize for waking me.”

I laugh. “You’re not the first faerie creature I’ve ever met. I know better than to acknowledge a guilt that isn’t mine. It was my associate who woke you and you’ve already retaliated against him.”

“Fine,” she mutters. “So you don’t owe me your moving shade. We can trade for it.”

“I’m not interested.”

“Are you sure? I can make your male his normal size again.”

I snort. “That dust you spread on him won’t last more than a week anyway.”

“A week?” Simon moans. “I have to be like this for a week?”

“You woke a pixie,” I tell him. “It’s a fitting sentence. Stop whining.”

The pixie laughs. “I like you, human female. You may call me Perry.”

That’s not her real name, of course. A faerie of any type will never give you their real name. But it’s a name, and that’s more than you’ll get out of most of them. I smile and give her a nod of my head. “You may call me Lady.”

“Lady what?” she asks.

I smile. “Just Lady.”

“I’m Simon,” says Simon, apparently feeling left out. “Simon Heartwal.”

Perry stares at him for a heartbeat, like she can’t believe he really just gave her his actual name. “Wow,” she says as she turns her attention back to me. “You like them dumb, don’t you?”

“I never said I liked him.”

“Hey!” Simon protests.

Pixie laughter chimes across the clearing. “No, you didn’t, did you? You said you needed him. What for?”

“You know the new sprytes over by Miller’s Pond?”

“Miller’s Pond,” she snorts. “A generic name if I ever heard one. Humans are so uncreative. We call it Shesharah yhk Nihaal.”

“Amethyst at Sunset?” I translate. “Is it really, or do you just call it that?”

“You speak Saykahee?” she asks, naming the elven language we just used.

“I’m good with languages.” I shrug before I remember Simon’s on my shoulder, and he yelps as he grabs at the fabric of my dress. Ooops.

“What did the sprytes do?”

I tell her and she starts to laugh. “That’s funny,” she says. “And the girl didn’t actually die, so why do you care?”

“I care because now the humans on the town council are talking extermination. This girl may not have died, but it was close enough they’re worried someone else will. So I need to get the sprytes to appear, then tell them we need to negotiate an agreement.”

“Like you have with my people?” Perry nods. “And your idiot here was supposed to bait them into coming out? Why not do it yourself?”

“Sadly, I’m not allowed to do it alone. My agency requires all agents be accompanied when they’re interacting with intelligent non-human species.”

“Agency?” She peers at me with no small amount of distrust. “Enchantments Regulation Burough?”

“No,” I say emphatically. “I’m not ERB. I’m actually employed by a nonprofit organization called All People Are People.”

“That’s a silly name.”

I nod agreeably. “But not a silly concept. We fight against organizations like the ERB, who believe that humans are somehow better than magicals and faeries.”

“Ah.” Her eyes drift to the side as she nods. “So… They don’t care what size your companion is, right?”

That startles an amused snort out of me, which has Simon scrambling for a hold again. “I don’t suppose so.”

Perry grins. “Well, alright then! And since you’re a friend to faerie types, I’m even willing to help you for the small price of your moveable shade!”

“It’s called a parasol,” I tell her. “You can buy them in town. O’Donnagal could even fashion one closer to your size.”

“No, I want yours.”

This time, I remember not to move the shoulder Simon’s perched on as I tilt my head to the side. “And what will you do to earn it?”

Before she can answer, Simon butts in with, “Can you even carry it?” Which is a pretty silly question as it’s common knowledge that pixies are much stronger than they would appear to be and can easily lift a full grown human.

“Of course she can,” I answer swiftly, hoping to avoid her taking offense.

I was too late, though. The damage was done as soon as Simon spoke. Perry narrows her eyes at him and tosses another handful of dust his way. For a second, he screams. But then the sound cuts off abruptly. He doesn’t collapse, though, so I know he isn’t dead. “Silencing spell?” I ask.

“Yes,” Perry confirms. “Was that enough to earn your shade?”

Even though I probably shouldn’t, I laugh. “Yeah, alright. I’ll pass by on my way back from the pond and give it to you then. The sun will hurt me if I hand it over now.”

Perry nods. “Alright. But I’m coming with you to make sure you don’t go back on your word. Everyone knows that humans can lie.”

“Fair enough.” I give her a smile and start walking again, somehow sure that even after I give her the parasol, I won’t soon see the last of my new acquaintance.

\

The above image is "Sunlight Under the Poplars" by Claude Monet.

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 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.