Wednesday, October 16, 2019

There's Nothing Like the Slither of Little Scales


Kumar has taken the birth of his baby sister in remarkable stride. He did ask me at one point, “Mama, why is she a snake and I’m not?” but he was satisfied with my answer that while sometimes the child of a nagi will be born in human form and later develop the ability to change into a snake, other times the child is born as a serpent and has to learn how to turn into a human.

I wish I could say my husband took Aditi’s birth as well, but he stared at her egg in horror when I birthed it, watched her hatching with pale apprehension, and has yet to pick her up. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still saying the right things. He acknowledges she’s his daughter and claims that he loves her just a much as our human-born child. But to say that he’s freaked out would be an understatement. Likewise, I’d be lying if I didn’t report that he asks me at least three times a day, “So when will she turn human?”

Back when we were still dating, I did tell Jamil that giving birth to a snake was something I could do, and that, in fact, I myself was born in serpent form. He’d made a thoughtful sound at that before declaring that I certainly looked mammal enough now. I’d laughed, because my human form has a bustline that really does make me look extremely mamaline. But in answer to my husband’s question, I can only say that our daughter will never turn human. She will develop a human form, but she will always be nagi. Just like her mother and her elder brother.

“Look, Mama!” Kumar calls from next to his sister’s terrarium. “She’s giving me nose kisses!”

Sure enough, as my son move his nose to press against the glass, my daughter raises her head to touch her face against his. My heart swells as I try not to die from the adorableness of it all.

“Tini loves me!” Kumar proclaims, the words filled with a level of happiness known only to young children. He has already nicknamed his sister, saying that “Tini” is the perfect shortening of her name because of how teeny she is. “And I love her! Can I hold her?”

Smiling, I cross the living room to Aditi’s enclosure. I’m currently in my between form, with a body that is half human and half snake, so the traveling is more of a slither than a walk. I revert to scales when I’m upset, but thankfully Kumar hasn’t asked me about that. “If you promise to be careful.”

“Of course I’ll be careful. She’s just a baby!”

Tears tease my eyes over his earnestness. He really does adore her, and doesn’t hold her scaley form against her in the slightest. What did I do to deserve such a sweet kid? Two kids so sweet, I correct as I watch how eagerly Aditi moves from my hand to her brother’s. The kids both smile up at me, although I suppose you have to be pretty familiar with snakes to recognize what one looks like when smiling.

The floor creaks behind us and I turn over my shoulder to see Jamil watching us. His expression is harder for me to read than Aditi’s. He’s definitely not joyful like she is. He looks a little less horrified than he has lately, though.

“See how good Kumar is with the baby?” I ask him. “Aren’t you proud of him?”

“Very,” comes the easily given answer. It’s easy for him to show affection for the human-looking offspring, something I try not to feel bitter about. I know he’s trying not to be a narrow minded git; it’s just that it’s apparently more challenging than he expected. “He is an excellent big brother. She’s lucky to have him.”

Kumar nods solemnly, but doesn’t look as pleased as he usually does over Jamil’s praise. He may only be four, but he’s caught on that his dad has been acting weird about the new addition to the family. “She’s a very good little sister. I’m lucky. She doesn’t even scream like Claire’s baby brother.”

Jamil’s reaction surprises me a little. “She is a good baby, isn’t she?” He moves closer, his eyes caught on where Aditi has wrapped herself around Kumar’s little arm like a decorative bracelet. He pauses next to me and meets my eyes for a moment. Whereas there’s been a distant look in his expression for days, his face is suddenly filled with affection for me. “And she’s as gorgeous as your mother. Her scales have the same coloring.”

My breath rushes in. He’s praised my scaley forms before, always seeming to accept them without fear or repulsion. I’d never have said yes to marrying him, let alone had children with him, if he couldn’t handle all aspects of me. That’s why I was so sadly surprised over his reaction to Bitini.

“I love you,” Jamil whispers, too quietly for the children to hear. “I’m sorry I’ve been an ass.”

My eyebrows go up. “Who told you?”

With a chuckle and a shake of his head, Jamil puts an arm around me. “My mum called. Demanded to know why I’d married a snake if I was afraid of baby snakes. Then compared me to my dad.”

Together, we wince. Jamil’s dad had taken one look at his infant son, packed a bag, and moved out. He always sent his child support payments on time, but otherwise would have had to try really hard to be a worse parent.

“I’m not him,” Jamil says firmly.

“No, you’re not.” I reach up and grab his hand where it rests on my shoulder. “You’d never abandon either of your children.”

He gives my fingers a squeeze before moving away. “Hey, Big Brother, can I have a turn holding Little Bit?”

Kumar grins. “Ask nicely.”

“Please?”

“Alright. But her name is Tini, not Little Bit.” Our son turns his face to address his sister. “Tini, this our dad. He’s pretty cool most of the time.”

Maybe it’s the postpartum hormones or maybe it’s all the stress of the last few weeks suddenly breaking through, but I find myself having to cover my mouth to hold back the sounds of sobs as my son gently transfers his sister to his dad. Jamil takes the child with two hands, holding her like she’s made of glass but watching her with a wonder that’s definitely tinged with love rather than horror.

Jamil holds Bitini up to his face and tenderly rubs her tiny little head with a finger. “Hey, there, pretty girl. I’m your daddy. I’m sorry I haven’t been doing a very good job of it yet, but I’m going to do better from now on.”

“Dad,” Kumar interrupts, “she doesn’t understand all of that. She’s a baby.”

“I know.” Jamil smiles and lays a kiss against our daughter’s scales. “But I think she understands that I love her.”

Even as tears continue to torrent down my cheeks and goo fills my nose, causing me to sniffle, I smile. For the first time since I realized my second child would be born in snake form, I’m confident my little family is going to be alright. Maybe even more than alright.

My son quietly hands me a box of tissues and I wrap my tail around his waist while he leans into my side.

Yeah, we’re going to be better than alright. We’re going to be amazing.


The above image is called Look Mama! and is by Raissa Figueroa, who also goes by the name Rizzyfig. You can buy a copy of it on Etsy.


It was given as a writing prompt by my Wording Wednesday project. Other responses can be found in the comments on that site.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

A Promotion in Hell



As Xed Dilman walks into the office of Hellpower Company’s Chief of Personnel, Mr Zarus smiles in a way that should make at least one of Dilman's heads nervous. Normally, the head in Dilman's stomach is quick to pick up on details, but for some reason he beams back at Mr Zarus without a hint of hesitation and it's Xed's upper head, the one on his shoulders, that shoots me a nervously inquisitive look as Vice President Mr Zarus grabs Xed’s hand and gushes, “Congratulations, Dilman!”

I bite down on the tip of my tail, which I just realize I've stuck in my mouth again. It's a really bad habit that I seriously need to break. The other day I read an article that suggested putting foul tasting substances on your nails to stop biting them and I'm thinking that would probably work for tails too. I just need to think of something that won't stain my white fur.

Alerted by the volume of Mr Zarus's voice, several of the office workers appear in the doorway to see what's going on as Xed's lower head thanks Mr Zarus without seeming to wonder what he's being congratulated for. Our coworkers' eyes go to the paper our boss is waving around as they likely wonder about that as Dilman isn't exactly the strongest member of the marketing team. A few of them look at me, knowing I would have typed it up the letter, and I try not to go be anything away with my expression.

Mr Zarus moves his smile to the creatures gathered outside his office. “Everyone congratulate Dilman! He’s just been promoted to Head of Human Resources!”

“What?” goes one of Xed’s heads. “Oh, Heaven, no,” blurts the other.

Our boss narrows his eyes on Xed’s upper head. “No need to curse. Your work here has more than proved you perfect for this job.”

I hold back a whimper by sticking my tail back between my lips. That was an incredibly mean thing to say, even for a hellbeast.

“This calls for a drink!” announces Martinez, in whose opinion pretty much everything in life necessitates an alcoholic beverage. He clops a chipper hand on Dilman’s shoulder and pulls him toward the exit. “Come on, dude. First round’s on me.”

Forcing my tail from my mouth, I wrap its tip around my left horn as I watch Dilman leave. I’ll see him again, when he comes back to fill out his travel authorization. After that… Well, the last Head of Human Resources lasted a good month on earth, but she was a great deal more capable than poor Xed has ever been.

The version of me from my high school years would have been disappointed at the way I sit at my desk and quietly turn to my computer to print out the forms the widower of the last Head of Human Resources is going to need to fill out in order to claim the company sponsored life insurance payout. College me would have dipped her head in shame. Those versions of me still believed saving the world was something a lone demon could achieve if she just tried hard enough. College me would have stood up, quite possibly on the desk rather than behind it, and said it’s ridiculous that we keep sending people to die in the human world. And for what? The chance to sign a few more souls? Aren’t there enough souls in hell already? Don’t humans do a good enough job of damning themselves without interference?

Why is it, college me would have demanded at the top of her lungs, that we all take it as a given that we need to keep increasing the number of damned humans in the universe? Sure, their agony powers our energy grid, but itsn’t it about time that cheaper alternatives were explored? The humans have tech almost as good as ours these days and they’re not burning souls to power it. And Heaven is still operating, even though they have fewer souls than ever these days. Couldn’t that indicate that human ecstacy may be a more powerful energy source than agony?

Personal Assistant me agrees with college and high school me, but lost the energy to complain about it years ago. Last time I mentioned the possibility of running things off positive emotions rather than pain, my ex-girlfriend had rolled her eyes and told me to watch less human entertainment. Apparently they had a film where monsters learned that a child’s laughter was a more powerful energy source than a child’s terror. I haven’t seen this movie, but I have to wonder if it was written by someone from Hell who shares my opinion.

I take the printout, shove it in an envelope, and address it to poor Herman. It’s tempting to go ahead and print out a second copy for Dilman’s wife while I have the file open, but there’s just enough optimism in me that I don’t do it. The new job may fundamentally be a death sentence, but a million things could theoretically happen to save him. They probably won’t, but they could. In a universe of infinite possibilities, something could keep Dilman’s infant daughter from loosing her daddy before she even gets to know him.

My finger hovers in front of my screen for a moment before I close the file. I take a deep breath as I rub my horn with my tail. This job is robbing me of my sense of self… My eyes go to Mr Zarus. He sits at his desk with the empty stare of someone who has logged into a virtual reality program.

Nodding in silence, I open a new terminal and create an account at jobseekers.hell. Maybe I can’t save the underworld, but I can at least find a job that doesn’t involve cheerfully helping good-hearted demons die young.


The above image is from a text by fifteenth century Italian lawyer and bishop Jacobus de Teramo. I haven't been able to find the name of the artist.

It was given as a writing prompt by my Wording Wednesday project. Other responses can be found in the comments on that site.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Along Came a Spider and Sipped Tea Beside Her


When a person sees a picture of a spider pouring tea, most folks will assume that the tea pot is very small and the spider is “regular” size. Humans in general just don’t want to look at the image and assume the teapot is what is standard, because this would make for a spider of alarmingly large proportions. That’s what I assumed when I saw the sign outside the tea shop I just walked into.

While in school, I was told that giant spiders were impossible due to the weight of their exoskeletons. I remind myself of this while staring at the sight in front of me. Clearly, what looks like a spider with a body the size of a Great Dane must be something else. A robot maybe? But everything about the spider seems so... organic.

“It’s called Victorian Rose,” the spider says, talking about the tea she just offered me in a posh and melodic voice. I’m assuming she uses female pronouns due to the sound of her voice, but maybe that’s prejudiced of me. For all I know, the voice I’m hearing is deep for a spider. Or maybe it’s the male spiders with the high voices. It seems really inappropriate to ask. “It’s a black tea blend with bergamot, like an Earl Grey, but I’ve added rose and lavender. It’s really quite lovely.”

“Yes, please?” My mother taught me to be polite and refusal seems like it would be rude. I walked into a tea shop advertising free samples, so clearly society would expect me to accept one barring some valid reason to decline, such as an allergy to one of the ingredients. Citing the species of the person doing the pouring of the tea as a reason to decline seems tacky at best. Mama didn’t raise me to be tacky.

The spider makes a brief, happy-sounding hum as she pours. “It’s probably my favorite of our black teas. I’m a sucker for roses.”

I nod. It’s possible that I’m terrified. That would explain the complete numbness that’s wrapped itself around me. “Yes. Rose petals are very nice in teas.”

“My name is Jan,” the spider says conversationally as she holds out a delicate porcelain tea cup from which emits an aroma I must admit is rather appealing. For a moment, I think that the name confirms this is a female spider, but then I remember that the name Jan can be given to boys in some parts of the world. The human world. Our rules may not apply to giant spiders anyway.

Under the theory that running away from scary things is seldom the best option, I take the tea cup rather than fleeing in terror and give it a long sniff. As promised, there are notes of rose, lavender, and bergamot. If it was being offered to me by anyone other than a gigantic arachnid, I’d be really excited about it rather than somewhat ambivalent. Is that racist of me? It may be. Best to sip the tea before it becomes obvious that I’m nervous about drinking it. Jan lifts a second cup from a nearby shelf and pours herself a cup, which she begins to drink while I’m still pretending to take in the scent.

My first sip is small, but that probably doesn’t seem odd. Most people take small tastes of hot things, yes? The taste matches the aroma well. It’s floral and a little dainty, with an unexpected hint of smoke. “Is there lapsang souchong in the blend?” I ask, suddenly more intrigued than uneasy.

“Good job!” Jan claps with two of the hands that aren’t busy either holding the tea or keeping her upright. It’s more than a bit disconcerting, but holds a slight hint of silliness that helps me relax a little more. “I was inspired by the idea of Victorian London. You know that fog they were famous for was smoke, right? So I thought surely I needed a spark of smokiness!”

“Make sense,” I say. “And it works really well.”

“If you like smoky teas, you might also like our Witches’ Pyre blend. It’s both woodsy and smoky. Some people say its name is in bad taste, of course, but as I was cursed to this form by a witch, I’m actually more okay than I probably should be with the idea of burning them.”

“Oh.” I’m really not sure what one is supposed to say to a declaration like that. “Woodsy and smoky sounds good.”

She nods, which moves most of her body. “We used to call it Campfire, back in the precurse days.”

With a small sound to indicate that I’d heard her, I struggle to decide if I want to ask about the curse. She kind of seems to want me to. I shift my weight as I hold the tea cup with both hands and take another sip.

“If you’re wondering what I did to be cursed, it wasn’t anything bad,” Jan says. “All I said was that I could really use some extra hands. I think the witch might actually have thought she was doing me a favor.”

“Wow.” I blink. “Yeah, I’ve said that loads of time, but I didn’t mean that I wanted to be a spider. I just meant that sometimes it’s hard to juggle stuff.”

“I know, right? Some people just take things way too literally, I suppose.”

“Seems that way.”

As the last of the tea slips down my throat, I finally motivate myself to look around the shop. It looks like a perfectly normal tea shop with shelves of jars lining the walls along with the occasional display of a tea pot, cups, or infuser. I’ve been in dozens like it, although never before have I a met a shopkeeper with eight arms. “I suppose it could have been worse,” I say.

“How so?”

“She could have made you an octopus. Then you’d have to live in water and wouldn’t be able to make tea.”

A loud clicking fills the room. I think it’s a laugh, because when Jan speaks again, she sounds amused. “I’ve never looked at it like that. I guess you’re right.”

Behind me, the door opens. Someone lets out a scream and I hear feet running before the door closes again.

Jan sighs. “That happens so often. I usually don’t man the floor for that very reason. But one of my sales team just quit and no one else could fill the shift.”

“Really?” I smile. “Not to show joy at your misfortune, but my son just started school and I’ve been thinking I’d like a parttime job.”

Without eyelids, it’s impossible for Jan’s eyes to widen. They do seem to get brighter though. “I can start you at fifteen an hour. When can you start?”

I glance at my watch. “I have four hours before I have to be home…”


Above image is by Rose Tursi. I couldn't find this work on her website (it was on Pintrest) but you can get other things by her at www.tursiart.com

The image was offered as a prompt by my Wording Wednesday Project. You can find the post and some other responses to it at https://wordingwednesday.blogspot.com/2019/10/s3w2-and-creature-is-spider.html

Friday, September 27, 2019

Cafe All Souls at 6:36 AM



Marsh knows Sheelia wants him to ask about her trip to Hawaii. The hat on her pretty green head proclaims as much. (Well, actually, it says, “Aloha,” but that’s a clear introduction to conversation about the vacation.) He’s determined not to do it though, because talking about Sheelia’s trip would mean talking about Dylan.

It would be easy to dismiss Marsh’s dislike of Dylan as jealousy, but it isn’t. When the shaggy red guy claims that Sheelia is like a sister to him, he’s actually telling the truth. But Dylan has always rubbed Marsh wrong. And it’s not hard to see why. I mean, really, what kind of monster takes his girlfriend to Hawaii? The furless kind, that’s who. The kind who never stops to think that maybe a tropical climate isn’t the best place for someone who walks around covered in thick hair to vacation and that maybe she would be happier with a trip to Iceland. Because with Dylan, everything is always about what’s best for him personally, and Sheelia’s just along for the ride.

Of course, if Marsh said any of this, Sheelia would tell him he’s being unfair. Dylan’s not just furless; he’s a reptile. That he manages to survive winters in Minnesota is amazing and one can hardly expect him to to travel to places just as bad for his circulation.

So the pair sit looking out the window of Cafe All Souls sipping their drinks in silence as they watch the falling snow.

Belmont and Jinx sit under them in the lower level of the cafe, likewise quiet. If they were talking, there would be discussion of Jinx’s date last night, which Belmont knows she wants to talk about. He doesn’t though. You see, when he tells you Jinx is like a sister to him, he’s lying about it. But unfortunately for him, she classed him as family months ago, which is like years when you’re a mouse.

So both pairs sit with much to talk about but no words spoken. And I, their faithful server, keep the drinks flowing and stick my nose into the business of neither mice nor monsters.

Above artwork is "Warm and Fuzzy" by Mateo Dineen. This piece and others can be seen on the artist's website at https://www.mateo-art.com/ .

It was given as a prompt by Wording Wednesday. You can find the original post and other writer's responses at https://wordingwednesday.blogspot.com/2019/09/s3w1-creature-is-warm-and-fuzzy-monster.html

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Three Little Humans

The new queen’s edict says I’m not allowed to lead humans to their deaths anymore. It is seriously tempting, though. I mean, look at them! They’re traipsing about like complete fools!

I know my companion has similar feelings as she chants, “Three little humans walking through the snow. Three little humans don’t know where to go!”

They aren’t really little, though, not for humans. They’re full grown examples of the species, and male I’m pretty sure. They walk in a line, one after the other, as the second two try to keep their feet within the steps of the first even though that one is much larger than them. It’s quite ludicrous, particularly as the human in the lead seems to have no idea where he’s meant to being walking. He chooses his foot placements without any regard to drifts of snow or changes in terrain and is cutting in a direction that will eventually take him to the river a very long way from the bridge that crosses it.

The man in the back keeps looking to the side, toward where the nearest human settlement is. He should be able to see the shape of their big religious building. What do they call those silly things? Kurches? It amazes me that humans think they can trap the divine within walls, but few things about humans make much sense.

“The littlest knows,” Capella says. “He knows they’re going the wrong way. But he isn’t saying anything. Why is that?”

“I assume the taller one outranks him. Would you tell the queen she’s wrong?”

Capella shudders. There used to be three of us, too, until Litinay spoke out against Her Majesty to defend our right to mislead humans as our kind always has. Apparently although the queen wants to save human lives, she doesn’t care so much about those of sprytes. But don’t quote me on that.

Her gaze on the one in the front, Capella tips her head to the side. “We’re not allowed to lead him into the river. But could we lead him into town? I bet he’d fight us. It could be fun. Even if he won’t die.”

I chuckle. “And if he fights us and drowns… Well, we’ll honestly be able to tell the queen we were trying to save him.”

After a crack of my knuckles, I move my fingers toward the lead human. My childhood magic instructors all insisted that I could lose the gesture, but my mind reading skill never seems to work without it. “Ah… There we go. He’s in love with a woman whom he’s not allowed to love…” Oh how I adore such tragedies! “And now he thinks she’s standing in the direction he should turn beckoning to him!”

Capella claps as the man looks over at the illusion. He’s really bad at hiding his emotions, so his longing for the woman is clear. So is his fear. He knows she’s not really there, possibly because she is not the type to walk to another town and I’ve failed to give her a carriage. Making the sign of his god across his chest, the man stumbles faster toward the river.

We’re both laughing as Capella says, “My turn!”

I can’t see the illusion she creates, but she tells me, “Now there’s a path heading forward that clearly tells him not to go that way.”

We bend over with the giggles as the man walks even faster toward the river.

“Let’s do one of the others!” I latch onto the mind of the man middle in line and make him hear sounds coming from ahead.

“Mister Paulson!” the man screeches. “Stop! There are wolves that way!”

“No,” responds the leader. “It’s an illusion. It would seem these woods really are haunted by evil spirits who would lead us astray. I am certain this is the right path. They are trying to convince us to leave it by using their demonic magic. I myself have resisted several illusions designed to change my course.”

The middle man swallows, his eyes moving around like he’s not certain if he should believe this or not. Both of the front men repeat the religious crossing of their chests while the middle one mumbles to his god to protect them from us. It’s all I can do not to fall from my perch in my amusement. My free hand clings to the tree branch and my wings flutter to maintain my balance despite my violent laughter.

“Now the third man!” Capella chirps. The last in the row is still quiet, his head bowed like he’s concentrating on the ground. “Odd… I can’t reach his mind. Can you?”

My fingers twitch toward the third one and I frown. “No, I can’t. Interesting…” I try to cast an illusion for him, a generic one involving a child calling for help, but he doesn’t so much as twitch in response. Very interesting indeed.

At this point, the men have moved far enough that we have to leave our tree if we’re going to follow them. They’ve already provided enough entertainment for me to be tempted to stay put, but my inability to read the mind of the last one intrigues me enough to leap from my seat and flutter after him.

Capella likewise springs off, her lavender wings having no trouble keeping up with me as we buzz through the increasing snowfall. The men all have umbrellas, although the snow is falling at enough of an angle that it’s hitting them anyway. They rush along, clearly chilled by the cold. Capella and I have the shelter of our magic spheres, though, so remain both dry and warm.

“Should we do more?” Capella asks as she flies at my side.

“Sure, why not?” We cast a few more illusions for both of the two we can affect. Each time, they resist our attempt to alter their course. Maybe we’re getting some of the details wrong, not trying hard enough to get them to truly believe that old friends yell for them or that dangers lurk the way they’re heading.

When they get to the river, I send the image of a pretty female to them both. She begs them not to go forward, beseeching them to believe her that the river is real and that they will drown. Yet one after the other, they traipse right into it.

I snort as the first one goes under the current. “You should have listened.”

Capella shakes her head as the second on likewise sinks into the water. “Silly humans. We did warn you.”

“Yes,” says the third human, still standing very much on the riverbank. “You did. But some people are beyond saving.”

Capella and I both stiffen in surprise. Humans don’t usually see us. Of course, while they don’t always believe our illusions, they don’t usually fail to perceive them either, so maybe we shouldn’t be so shocked.

The third man looks straight at us, touches the brim of his hat, and gives us a little nod before turning toward town.

As we watch him go, I realize that it’s been some time since lunch. “Let’s go find some food.”

“Lets,” says Capella. “Buns from the market?”

“Perfect.”

We propel ourselves toward town as well, intent on sweet pastries for tea. And if we happen to learn more about the odd human on the way, so much the better.

Above image is "Snow Scene" by Eric de Kolb. You can buy copies of it at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/a-winter-scene-eric-de-kolb.html.


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/

Monday, August 26, 2019

Seeking Magic


“Zike!” the child calls. “Where are you? Come out, come out, wherever you are!”

Zikon lets out a small sound of laughter. Not a loud one, but a subtle one. Their programing allows them to feel amusement, but the laugh is more for the girl’s benefit than theirs. It’s a clue, you see. Because although the girl has told them to come out, they know she doesn’t mean it yet. She’ll let them know when she becomes so frantic that the game is over. Until then, she’ll look through the forest in search of her friend. And hopefully in the process, she’ll find the surprise they’ve planted.

“Zike! The leaves keep moving! They covered up your tracks! It’s no fair!”

The robot lets out another chuckle, a little louder than the last one. This child hears this time and goes still. “I heard that!” She begins to creep in the right direction. “I know you’re here somewhere! You didn’t climb a tree, did you? We agreed no climbing!”

Indeed, they did. Just last week one of the child’s friends fell from a tree. Zikon would never forgive themselves if something like that were to happen to their human. And for an artificial intelligence than can be easily ported into a new body when one wears out, never can last a very long time.

The girl has made it to the other side of the tree Zikon lays behind when she spots something. It’s shiny like a gemstone, not shiny like the metal of Zike’s casing, but she stops anyway. Kneeling to the ground, she reaches for the shiny object. It sticks out like a rock, but when she tries to pick it up she realizes it’s attached to something buried. “Zike… I found something weird.”

If Zikon had a face that allowed for smiles, they would smile now. You see, they planted the shiny object. It’s the top of a jar made of brightly painted glass, which the girl sees quickly as she pulls it from the soil without questioning why the dirt around it is packed so loosely.

“Zike!” she exclaims. “There’s a map! I found a treasure map! Come see!”

Feeling proud of themselves, Zikon climbs to their feet and goes to look. The rest of the day, they know, is going to be given over to hunting for a mysterious treasure. “Let me look.”

The child reaches out and taps her robotic companion. “I found you!” she says as she holds up the map Zikon drew the night before and hid as she lay sleeping. “See this? It was left by a fairy! She says that if I follow all the clues and prove myself worthy, I’ll get something. What does that say?”

Zikon pretends to read the note. “Enchanted treasure.”

“Wow. I’ll get an enchanted treasure. I want one!”

“Indeed,” says Zikon. “An enchanted treasure sounds very valuable.”

“Oh, yes.” The girl nods with all the solemnity a six-year-old can muster. “They are. And very pretty. I will find it and it will make Loiuse Sinclair all kinds of jealous, because even if she found a note like this, she’s not smart enough to figure out where to go!”

“And where do we go?”

The girl tilts her head. “Well, that’s a picture of the waterfall. So I think we look near there.”

“Very well,” says Zikon, somewhat wishing that they did have the ability to smile. “Lead on, my lady.”

Grinning, the child leaps up and starts to run through the woods, her metal friend close behind her. When the girl grows up, she’ll come to realize that most of her childhood adventures had been orchestrated by her loving nannybot. But for today, the magic is real.

The above image is "A Matter of Time" by Matt Dixon, whose work may be found at https://www.mattdixon.co.uk/

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, 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/