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

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

The image was offered as a prompt on my writing prompt project Wording Wednesday, more information about which may be found at

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.”


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

The image was offered as a prompt on my writing prompt project Wording Wednesday, more information about which may be found at

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.”


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.”


“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

It was offered as a prompt on my writing prompt project Wording Wednesday, more information about which may be found at

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
It was offered as a prompt on my writing prompt project Wording Wednesday, more information about which may be found at