Friday, October 2, 2020

The Sorcerer Abides


Rhiannon was named for a Fleetwood Mac song her parents loved. As far as names from songs go, she had always thought it was a good one. There were certainly worse options. When her brother Bobbie McGee had complained about his name not being Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, or even Slim Shady, their mother had started singing Flash by Queen. It had shut Bobbie up, and quick.

She wondered what her mom would sing if she were in the car right now. Rhiannon’s best guess was something from the song Horse with No Name by America, although it was just as likely to be the Eagle’s Hotel California. Or maybe it would be from some other hit song about traveling through a desert. The SUV’s stereo played the Green Day piece American Idiot. Rhiannon hoped that wasn’t an omen.

“Are you sure this is it?” Rhiannon asked as her husband stopped next a trailer that looked like it was even older than her namesake song. There were no roads anywhere near the thing and no tire treads to show how it had gotten to its current godforsaken spot in the absolute middle of nowhere.

Terrance pointed at the dash. “Those are the exact coordinates he gave us.” He shrugged and shut off the engine.

In the backseat, Kelsa stirred and removed the earbuds she was wearing. “We’re off to see the wizard?” she asked as she turned off her Nintendo Switch.

“Yeah, baby, we’re here.” Her dad gave the thirteen-year-old a smile over his shoulder before taking off his seat belt and opening the door. A blast of furnace-hot air sliced through the air conditioned interior of their late model Jeep Cherokee. 

As her family got out of th SUV, Rhiannon stared at what was fundamentally a tin can on wheels. It really wasn’t much larger than the Cherokee and the exterior was covered more in rust than paint. She wasn’t entirely sold on this being the place they were looking for. “It looks more like a meth lab than a magic lab,” she said as they approached.

Terrance raised a jet black eyebrow high enough it nearly touched his afro. “Which one of those do you have experience with?”

“Well, neither, but I’ve watched both Breaking Bad and Harry Potter.”

“I’m pretty sure that The Grand High Sorceror doesn’t want to be compared to anyone in children’s fiction.” Terrance paused. “Or to drug manufacturers.”

“On the contrary,” came a voice from inside the trailer. “There is very little difference between a potion and a street drug. It all comes down to mixing unregulated ingredients for a desired effect that the government may not approve of.” The door opened to reveal a man in a long, tattered bathrobe that may once have been white but which was now as beige as the sands around them. He had a long beard that flowed in shades of aqua and teal, a bald head, and eyebrows that closely resembled inchworms in both color and texture. “As for Harry Potter… I’ve always seen myself as more of a Hermione, without the misfortune of having been written by a transphobe. If you need to be told that transwomen are women, then you need to get the hell off my property.”

The visitors didn’t argue. Even if they had been inclined to disagree, they would have had too much sense to give voice to that inclination. They were here to remove a curse, not to get a new one inflicted upon them.

“Hello,” said Terrance. “Are you Carlton May? We spoke on the phone. I’m Terrance Joiner.” He tried to take a step forward, but found himself held back by Kelsa. Her hand had whipped out to grab her dad’s arm the second he tried to move.

The teen stood staring around her in wonder. “Well, Cohaagen, I have to hand it to you. It's the best mind-fuck yet.”

The man with the colorful beard laughed. “I don’t know who Cohaagen is, and you seem a bit young to be cursing like that, but thank you.”

“It’s a movie quote,” said Rhiannon. “Although I don’t know what from.”

Total Recall,” Terrance offered. “Which is sort of funny because she totally recalls lines from every film she’s ever seen. She was less than three months old when she saw that one.”

The bearded man grunted. “Is that so? Well, I’ll drop the illusion for you folks anyway.” He waved his hand and suddenly they were all standing in front of a Persian-style palace on an oasis. Still dressed in a house robe but now in a less ratty-looking one, he crossed the distance between himself and the Joiner family. Ignoring her parents, he held his hand out to Kelsa. “I am the The Grand High Sorceror Carlton. Not a very good name is it?”

The girl shrugged, but shook his hand. It was the first time she’d ever been offered someone’s hand to shake and she smiled to be treated thusly, like she was equal to the older people around her. She couldn’t think of a suitable quote though. A tingle traveled up her arm, making her laugh.

The Grand High Sorceror Carlton smiled. “You have magic. I thought as much.”

Rhiannon cleared her throat. “She has a curse, Grand High Sorceror. That’s why we’re here.”

“Oh, I’m sure she does.” He grinned and said, “Call me Carlton,” before waving the group to his front door. “Those with magic attract magic. Sometimes it’s a blessing. Sometimes it isn’t.”

“We’re hoping you can remove it. Can you?”

“The magic or the curse?” Carlton kept walking after they were all in the house, leading the way into a sitting room large enough for half a town to fit into. “The answer is different. Magic, no. Curse, absolutely.”

Kelsa’s parents exchanged a look and Terrance cleared he throat. “Um… You said she attracts magic. If we remove this curse, could she attract a new one?”

“Certainly. An argument could be made for keeping this one if it’s one she can live with.” Carlton sprawled into a chair, landing with his legs wide and his arms spread out. His visitors were relieved to see the plaid lounge pants under his robe. He looked at Kelsa, the mirth fading from his expression. “Do you truly want this curse gone?”

“The truth?” said Kelsa. “You can’t handle the truth.”

A Few Good Men.”

Kelsa nodded. “The Dude abides.”

The Big Lebowski reference made Carlton laugh again. “The Dude has long been a role model of mine. I get the impression you can only speak in movie quotes?”

The girl nodded. “Yes.”

“Yes?” repeated Carlton. “So the quote doesn’t have to be recognizable, just have occurred in a film?”

“It’s an inherited curse,” Rhiannon said. “Skipped a generation and altered itself some. My mother can only speak in hit song lyrics. My daughter can only quote blockbuster movies.”

“Sit,” Carlton urged, indicating a long and ornate sofa that seemed like it would belong somewhere like Versaille under the rear ends of French aristocrats. “But your mother doesn’t want her curse lifted?” he asks as the family sat.

Rhiannon shrugged. “She’s kind of used to it. It happened before I was born. And she’s a painter, so people aren’t too surprised to find out she’s eccentric. But Kelsa… We have to homeschool her. We tried sign language and pretending she’s mute, but she can’t sign except in quotes either. She can write, but try explaining why her communication is so stunted when the general public refuses to admit magic exists. We’d like to send her to high school next year, but… Not like this.”

“I can see why that might be limiting.” Carlton drew a deep breath. “So… I have the items on hand to remove the curse today, if you’re willing to pay the price.”

Neither parent was dimwitted enough to say, “Anything!” but they both nodded and waited to be told what the price was.

“Or…” Carlton kept his gaze solely on Kelsa. “I can replace it with something else.”

Terrance nodded. “A blessing?”

“Yes. But blessings don’t come cheap.”

A blanket of tension fell on the gathering. No one wanted to ask for details.

“Gee, Otter, thanks. What do I have to do?” whispered Kelsa.

Animal House.” Carlton grinned. “I think we would get along, Kelsa. And I find myself in need of an apprentice.”

“No,” said Rhiannon, not even pausing to think about it. “We’re not giving you our daughter.” She stood up and even took a step toward the door before realize no one else had risen. “Terrance? We are not giving him Kelsa. She can live with this. We’ll tell the school she has autism or something.”

Terrance didn’t look at his wife or his daughter, instead studying the sorcerer. “I’m not agreeing. But what, exactly, would Kelsa becoming your apprentice mean?”

“You say she’s already homeschooling. She’d just need to add a few extra subjects. She can even stay with you while she does the early work. And you can stop worrying about the cost of college or what she’ll say at her entrance interviews or how to convince experts that someone who is clearly not on the spectrum has autism. By the time she’s eighteen, she’ll be ready to study magic full-time with me. Thanks to a spell I really should have been too smart to cast, I know for a fact that I will die in exactly twenty three years, five months, and six days. At that point, she will inherit my position, my wealth, and my vast network of contacts.”

“You could have chosen anyone. Why me?” Kelsa asked.

Carlton’s eyebrows drew together. “From the sound of it, I think that one’s from a romance. You should avoid that. I am not your love interest. What I am is an old man who wants to pass his knowledge on to someone. And what you are is one of maybe a half dozen people on the planet with enough innate magical ability to do something with it.”

Rhiannon stiffened. “Why are we here?”

Everyone looked at her. Carlton smiled. “You want a curse lifted from your daughter.”

“Right.” The word snapped out, sharp and cutting. “And we just happened to find someone who could send us to you at a time when you are looking for an incredibly rare talent my child just happens to have?”

It was Carlton’s turn to try quoting something. “There’s a fine line between coincidence and fate. The Mummy Returns.

Rhiannon wasn’t buying it. “Bullshit.”

“Alright, fine.” Carlton chuckled. “I may have had a few friends looking out for cursed children. Children not because I’m a creep or a pedophile, but because younger minds take better to magic than those that are already set in their views of reality. If it would make you feel better, both you and your husband are welcome to move in with Kelsa when she reaches the level where she needs to stay here.”

Kelsa’s mother was still shaking her head, but Kelsa spoke up. “You take the blue pill, the story ends.”

“Indeed,” said Carlton. “Take the red one, stay in Wonderland, and have a real story to tell. But if you go home and I find another apprentice… You could still pay me to remove the curse and maybe whatever replaces it will be fine. But she goes on living in the Matrix and loses the chance to change the world.”

“Please,” said Kelsa.

Some of the resistance flew out of Rhiannon, but this was her daughter’s life they were discussing. “We’re going to have to talk about it.”

“Naturally.” Carlton got out of the chair and started toward the door. “The offer stands until the full moon. That’s in six days. I’ll either see you then, or I assume I’ll never see you again at all.”

The family left, but everyone involved knew they’d be back.

The above image is “My Home in Joshua Tree” by Heather Elizabeth. You can find this and other works by the artist at

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Lion In Plaid


Mina studied the artwork hanging at the foot of her bed. A line of pre-evolved wild animals and birds sat on the back of a wild-bear, appearing to ride it. “Daddy? Why is the blue bird on the wild-bear’s head?”

“She’s giving the wild-bear directions.”

“Oh.” Mina thought for a second, then asked, “Why is the wild-mouse sitting in front of the owl? Isn’t he worried about getting eaten?”

“No. That would violate the wild-bear’s Terms of Service.”

“What are Terms of Service?”

“It’s an agreement between the user and the service provider. In this case, in order to ride the Wild-Bear Bus, you have to agree not to eat any of the other passengers.”

“Cool. Is that one of the Terms of Service on the school bus, too?”

“Yes.” Mina’s father smiled, showing just a hint of tooth. “Are you nervous about tomorrow?”

“No. I was just wondering if I’d be allowed to eat any of the other kids.”

“Well, you’re not.” He tucked the sheet around his cub the way she liked it and gave her fur an affectionate ruffle. “And you tell a grownup if anyone tries to eat you.”

Mina laughed at the idea of someone eating her. Looking back at her preschool self the night before her senior year, she realized it had been incredibly naive to think that her status as a lion put her at the top of the school hierarchy just because wild-lions are at the top of the food chain. She’d be taking neither the Wild-Bear Bus nor the school bus tomorrow and would be riding her bike in. Although the bike had been a birthday present a month before, she was certain the scurry of squirrels that actually ruled her school would find several dozen faults in it, probably including an assertion that it was already out of fashion.

Sometimes Mina wondered about what Earth had been like before the rapid evolutions of the late human era, back when a group of extinct primates had somehow managed to be in charge of everything. When everyone was the same species, did everyone get along? Was high school somehow harmonious? Or were there still mean kids who didn’t literally eat the weak but metaphorically had them for lunch? Too little of their literature survived to know for sure.

She sighed as she laid out her uniform for the morning. There was undoubtedly a cool way of altering it this year that no one had told her yet. Last year it had been rips on the sleeves. The year before, it had been bleach stains on the skirts and trousers. Back in middle school, it had been the addition of pins. Mina and her best friend Yentl still wore a button on their headbands proclaiming them besties for life. Yentl’s had a lioness from an ancient book about a wild-lion who was also a king and Mina’s featured a wild-skunk in a flowerbed taken from an equally old artwork. Mina slid her pin into her new headband, the one in Senior Class Plaid that replaced her Junior Class Polkadots. She smiled faintly, reflecting on how much she’d missed Yentl over the summer and how awesome it would be to see her in the morning.

When Mina made it to school the next day she was at first relieved that she’d made it in early enough that none of the squirrels were there to spot her. Then she saw Yentl.

Yentl stood near the entrance with a troop of lemurs with similar fur patterns to her own. She had ribbons dangling from her belt and her headband was devoid of pins. She saw Mina looking at her, glared, and turned away. She walked off as Mina approached.

In homeroom, Yentl still refused to speak to Mina or meet her eyes. She did, however, slide a note across the aisle.

Mina opened the missive with shaking hands. “Our friendship was unnatural,” it said. “Herbivores and carnivores shouldn’t hang out together. You should go talk to the hyenas or something.”

Shaking her head, Mina took out a pen to scrawl out, “You can’t mean that. We’re not wild animals! We’re people!”

Yentl didn’t write back.

“I don’t even eat meat! I only eat synth! You know that!” Mina tried again, this time speaking in a hushed tone designed to carry to her neighbor and no further.

This time Yentl took pity. “It’s not about what you eat, Meens,” she whispered. “It’s about nature. And we’re only friends because we sit next to each other in home room, which we only do because we’re sorted by alphabet. If I had a different last name, we never would have spoke. And that would have been better for both of us.”

“No, it wouldn’t!”

A few heads turned because Mina had said that last bit much louder than she’d meant to.

Yentl gave her oldest friend a gentle look. “We’re going to different colleges anyway. Let me have a decent senior year instead of being a freak for my entire high school career.”

The skunk waltzed to the front of the room to talk to the teacher, who nodded and directed one of the front row students to move to Yentl’s old seat under the premise of Yentl’s tablet having poor reception in the back of the room. It wasn’t a great excuse; everyone was issued the same type of tablet and the coverage was universally good throughout the school.

A fellow lion named Deshaun slid into the recently vacated spot, adjusting the seat to accommodate his taller size. “Been there, done that,” he whispered to Mina. “It sucks.”

Mina’s thoughts were reeling enough that it took her a while to remember what Deshaun was talking about. He dated a deer sophomore year, until she dumped him for “aggressive potential” even though he was the chillest and most mellow person in their class and had never so much as bared his teeth at her. “Yeah,” she said as he rummaged through his bag for something.

A moment later, Deshaun held out a ribbon to her. It said, “Preds for Peace” on it, advertising the school club he was president of. “Come to our meeting today. Three o’clock in O’Kent’s room.”

Although she’d been somewhat derisive about the group before, calling them hippies and accusing them of spending more time smoking weed than actually promoting coexistence, Mina took the ribbon and tied it to her belt. “Yeah. I’ll try.”

“And…” Deshaun paused for a deep breath before saying in a rushed jumble, “Feel free to eat lunch at my table if you want.”

The offer made Mina want to cry all the more, but she nodded. There was no doubt the day was going to suck. She reached up and took the pin off her headband, not caring if it left a hole. It was appropriate for it to leave hole to match the hole in her heart.

Hole in her heart? She drew herself up straighter. That was not the kind of thought Mina Saint Clair was going to have.

“Hey, Deshaun?”

The male leaned toward her with poorly contained eagerness. “Yeah?”

Mina pointed at Deshaun’s belt, which had about two dozen ribbons tied to it. “Think you could spare a couple of those?”

He gave her the careful large carnivore smile, the one that managed to cover his teeth so as not to alarm smaller people. “Sure thing. Although in some cultures, I think that would mean we’re married.”

Taking the clump of shiny strands he handed her, Mina smiled back with a less careful smile, knowing Deshaun could handle her teeth. “It’s cool. Giving them back tomorrow will make us divorced.”

Deshaun snorted out a laugh. “As long as no one owes alimony, I’m down with that.”

In the front row, Yentl turned to look at her old seat with a frown. Mina stopped smiling, but didn’t stop showing her teeth.

Quickly, Yentl turned back to the front, obviously spooked. It made Mina feel a little bad, but not bad enough that the more aggressive side of her mind didn’t snarl, “You shouldn’t have provoked a carnivore if you didn’t want to get eaten.” She gasped at the thought, took a breath through her noise, and said out loud, “Yeah, I’ll definitely be at the Preds for Peace meeting this afternoon.”

The image above is "Traveling with Friends" by Andrea Doss. You can buy this charming piece at UGallery. It was offered as a prompt on my Wording Wednesday Project.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Who Says Camels Don't Ski?

It is said, at least by t-shirts sold outside Ski Dubai, that camels don’t ski. Josef al Shameel, a camel technically owned by a minor noble in the United Arab Emirates but granted the freedom to roam about the desert on account of how he freaked his owner out, could only read Arabic. As the shirts were generally written in English, he didn’t know that they said he shouldn’t do the thing depicted. All he knew was that he’d seen a human wearing a picture of what was clearly a camel on flat planks of wood going down what Josef took to be a sand dune. He’d seen that and thought to himself, “That is a thing I want to do.”

In the history of the Ski Dubai indoor ski area, no camel has ever shown up and asked for a lift ticket. Josef didn’t either, possibly because he didn’t know what snow is and possibly because when he tried to find someone to design camel-sized skis for him, the human’s first thought was to contact a film crew because he’d discovered a talking camel. Sharif the Engineer got on the phone to his cousin Mustafa the Film Student posthaste.

The crew arrived in the early hours of the morning. It was mid-January, which is also mid-ski season, although determining when ski season is in an area that only sees a scattering of snow every decade or so is a challenge. They found Josef sitting by the roadside waiting for them.

After dispensing with greetings, during which the film crew professionals did their best not to blurt of things like, “Holy hellfire, a talking camel!” they moved on to the matter most important to Josef. “Where are my sliding planks?”

Mustafa, who most interested in fiction but willing to start out with a documentary, supplied him with a word in English. “Skis.” He then added in Arabic, “The planks are called skis. And they’re in the van.”

When the documentary hit the internet of the skiing and talking camel, the overwhelming response was for people to complain that they were sick of CGI animals. No matter how many interviews he gave, Mustafa was unable to convince the world that the whole thing hadn’t been faked. And Josef refused to give any more interviews after seeing some of the more hateful things being said about him on Twitter.

The story ends well though. Mustafa landed directing job for an Arabic reboot of Lost in Space featuring a CGI camel in the place of the robot, one of several projects he would undertake for Netflix. And while Josef never did learn what snow was, he can still be found still getting his turns in on the dunes of the UAE. If you look closely in the distance while traveling through some of the less populated parts of that nation, you just might see him.

The above image is an untitled travel piece by Missy Dunaway. Dunaway is releasing her graphic travel diaries soon. Details can be found at

The prompt was offered by my Wording Wednesday Project.

Further inspiration came from my Ski Dubai "Camels Don't Ski" t-shirt. I would have taken a picture of it for you, but it appears to have gone into storage and I won't be able to get to it until next year sometime.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

On a Hot Desert Highway


Calico whistled her way down a remote roadway, her body more relaxed and at ease than it had been for decades. Unless she managed to catch a ride before the sun finished rising, by the end of her walk she’d go from a light bronze tinged brown to a deep mahogany. Her mother would have tsked had her mother been paying attention to anything that happened on Earth.

If not paying attention to Earth was something Calico could do, she’d have been doing it. It wasn’t though; not anymore. Thanks to a summoning ritual that the participants had foolishly video taped back when tapes were something humans recorded on. If they’d spent more time worrying about their protective sigils and less time worrying about their camera angles and lighting, they might still be alive.

How the man who had summoned her had obtained her true name, the one needed to drag her from the depths of Hell, she’d yet to ascertain. If she ever figured that out, she’d have to get back to killing. But all he’d known was that it was whispered to him by a voice in the dark. Completely useless information. He’d hoped confessing would save his life, but that just went to show how little he understood demons.

Calico had killed her summoner as his followers had fled. She got a few of the stragglers, but then had to spend decades tracking down not only the people who had been there but the people unfortunate enough to be told of the ritual’s success. Arguably, the people being told were unlikely to actually complete a ritual themselves since they were being told how easily one could go sideways, and none of them had been given her name, but it was easier just to kill them anyway. The tape had helped, as had Calico’s gift for forcing people to tell the truth, which worked even when they didn’t actively remember the details of the truth and were too scared to even try very hard as they were being stared down by an honest-to-Satan demon.

After asserting that the last of the summoners, a middle-aged gentleman who had promptly left the summoning ceremony to enter seminary and had spent the last thirty years trying to save souls, had told no one what he saw, Calico had calmly obliterated both the man and his car. There would be no evidence for mortal police to try to trace to her, just as there had been no evidence of any of the other slayings. The stereotype that demons are into overt violence and blood splatter is both harmful and inaccurate. The vast majority of hell’s children are happier not to see evidence of the icky things humans store inside themselves.

She strolled away from the death site, pulling her luggage behind her. After a few steps, she realized she didn’t need the video tape anymore. She tossed it to the side because she enjoyed the gesture, but then sent a pulse to disintegrate it where it landed. It simply wouldn’t do to have someone find it and possibly release it to the public. Sure the public would assume it was fiction of the found-footage genre, but why give them that much?

Calico shifted the song she whistled, replacing a tune she knew from her childhood to something by a human named Elvis. Within steps, she’d replaced whistling with words. “Viva Las Vegas....” Sounded like as good a destination as any.

Above image is by Ric Nagualero and entitled "Wherever I May Roam." You can buy a copy at

It was offered as prompt on my Wording Wednesday Project.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Comfort of Dragons

Farla guided Shyler’s magic in the glass dragon the pair were crafting and smiled at how enthusiastic her partner was about this project. This was the thirteenth dragon and Shyler’s joy over creating smaller replicas of herself had yet to dim. Starting their next project might well lead to a pouting dragon, but creating this mobile for Farla’s niece had been a lot of fun.

After waiting for the crystalline dragon to cool, Farla tucked it carefully into a padded bag with two others and left the studio with Shyler perched proudly on her shoulder. The pair received varying reactions on their journey. Those of the neighborhood who knew them offered waves and cheerful greetings, but strangers shied away. A few people even crossed the street. It was hard to be sure if they were prejudiced against Farla’s elven ears or Shyler’s red hue. Elves tend to be stronger with magic than human channelers, which makes some humans nervous, while red dragons have a completely unearned reputation for aggression. And, of course, there had been a rising sentiment against using magic at all lately.

People who knew Farla and Shyler recognized two of the most highly regarded artists in the nation and remembered how much of their income Farla spent on helping local families. The driver of the city bus the pair caught knew them well enough to shake his head at the couple who got up and moved to a further seat after she sat down near them. He made sure to use both her and Shyler’s names when wishing them well as they disembarked.

Upon reaching her sister’s house, Farla took a deep breath. Her sister was out of town, as was her husband and their six-year-old. The house was being watched by Farla’s brother-in-law’s sister. The sister, Elise, had soft grey eyes, warm brown hair, a gentle smile, a stately figure, and a deeply rooted sentiment against magic-channelers, all of which she’d inherited from her mother. Farla and Elise had known each other for close to a decade, and had a few interesting conversations early on. Then the conversations dried up, leaving only some glances that Farla struggled not to read much into from across rooms and dining tables. It had been two years since Elise did anything other than ignore Farla as much as possible.

When Elise opened the door, Farla expected her to stand aside without a word before going to read in the study as she had done every other time. She did not expect Elise to follow her into Katchya’s room and watch her bring out the final three dragon sculptures.

“These are the last ones?” Elise whispered, sounding scared. Her gaze was locked on the floor tiles beneath her feet.

“Yep.” Farla put extra pep into her voice, trying to pretend that she wasn’t unsettled by the change in routine. Shyler flew up to sit atop a bookshelf along with an assortment of plush animals but watched Elise with open distrust. “Once I attach them, I can hoist this baby up and it’ll be all ready to surprise the birthday girl when she gets home next week.”

Elise’s eyes moved to the ceiling, where the hook for the mobile was already installed. “I wonder how long it will take her to notice.”

The thought of their niece entering the room and going about her normal business before suddenly going, “When did that get there?” made Farla chuckle. “She’ll either see it immediately, or not until she gets into bed.”

“Agreed.” As though mentioning the bed had reminded Elise it existed, she sat down on it as she watched Farla deftly attach the new dragons. Each of the glass reptiles was a different color, which would work perfectly since Katchya’s room already looked like a rainbow had exploded across it. “Um…” Elise said after several minutes. “I don’t want to sound rude. But… Are they enchanted?”

Farla’s fingers paused and she looked up. Her eyes met Elise’s and she processed what she saw there. The other woman was openly concerned. It would have made some channelers angry, but Farla figured it was a mixture of possessing ignorance and honestly caring about a little girl they both adored. She could never be angry at someone wanting to protect her beloved niece. “I couldn’t love Katchya more if she were my own daughter. The only magic in these guys was from their formation and a mild spell to make it harder to shatter them.”

Elise’s lips pressed together for a moment before she nodded. Then she licked them as Farla tried to think about something other than Elise’s lips.

Farla went back to double-checking the attachments on the mobile, making extra certain that the metallic chains the dragons were to hang from were secure. Satisfied, she waved Shyler over. “Time to get this up!”

“Wait!” Elise sprang to her feet.

Shyler hissed at the sudden sound and flew to hide behind a curtain. Elise stared at the lump the dragon formed behind the curtain fabric as Farla waited for an explanation. Eventually, she gave up on that and said, a little testily, “I already told you I didn’t cast any big scary spells on it.”

“Oh.” Elise blinked a few times before meeting Farla’s gaze. Her eyes dipped as though she was cowed by what she saw. “That’s not what I meant. I meant to say, please hold on for a moment because I wanted to ask if you could add an extra enchantment.”

Her head tilted as Farla studied the other woman. “I thought you hated magic.”

“No… Not really.” A hint of tears clouded Elise’s eyes as she continued to study the floor. “That’s… I was raised that way. And my husband, he feels that way…” Her voice trembled as she spoke, but when she looked up her eyes were filled with anger. “But I’m sick of shutting up and ignoring my own opinions just because he ignores them. I’m leaving him. Or I want to. But when I told him that I wasn’t going to come back from this trip, he threatened Katchya.”

As Elise crumbled, collapsing onto the mattress and burying her face in her hands, Farla breathed in and tried to still a growing rage. The bed creaked as she sat and put a tentative arm around Elise. “Have you told Ethaniel?”

“Do you think I told Ethaniel?” Elise asked with a bitter laugh. “Is he on holiday with Katchya and Yvonne or in jail for murdering his brother-in-law?”

“Yeah, alright, I see your point.” Farla’s hand rubbed against Elise’s shoulder in a way she hoped was comforting as her anger turned to resolve and her thoughts shifted to planning. Shylar, reading the change in her partner’s emotions, emerged from the curtain at ground level and took a few hesitant steps towards the pair of elves. She stopped a ways shy of them and watched closely as she sent a sense of support to her partner. “I can enchant the mobile easily enough. But I think maybe you need something too. And we’ll need to put a charm on Katchya to protect her when she’s not in her room. Everyone already knows I made her the mobile, so we’ll need a piece of jewelry we can say is from you.”

Elise nodded. Her expression was numb and her voice toneless as she answered, “Of course. Just tell me what to buy.”

“I have some rainbow stone back at my place. It’s good for holding enchantments. Especially if you wrap it in gold. I have a little bit of that too. So we just need a chain.”


Farla’s chest felt tight as she gave Elise a squeeze and stood up. “You don’t have to stay for this part if you don’t want to.”

Elise looked up slowly. “I want to stay if that’s alright. I’m curious.”

Farla quirked her eyebrows. “So you really don’t think you’ll be damned by being around someone misusing God’s power?”

“No.” Elise shook her head and let out a soft sigh. “You couldn’t do evil if you tried, Farla. You’re the kindest, most godly person I know.”

Her lips parted as Farla replayed the words in her head. She had no idea how to respond to them.

“I’m sorry I let you think I hated you,” Elise went on. “I… I just couldn’t let Aris know I didn’t. If he had any idea how I actually feel about you… He wouldn’t handle it well.”

“How you actually feel?”

The softest of smiles graced Elise’s face. “Don’t get distracted. I’ll tell you all about it after we make sure the niblet’s safe.”

“Okay,” Farla all but squeaked. Could Elise be saying what Farla so desperately wanted her to be saying? No… Probably not. She probably just meant she wanted to be friends, right? Farla told herself not to let her hopes get too high and that now wasn’t the time for fantasies.

Early the next week, Katchya ran into her room and spotted the change right away. “Everybody!” she yelled. “There are dragons in my room!”

Laughing, the adults walked down the hall to admire the project. Her mom and dad looked up, making sounds of astonishment while her aunts smiled at each other.

Katchya put a hand on her hip. “Was this you, Aunt Farla?”

“Why would you think that?” Farla asked with a grin. On her shoulder, Shyler clicked merrily in the dragon equivalent of laughter.

“It was,” Katchya said to the others before running back to stand under the mobile. She lay on the floor so she could get a better view. “They’re so pretty.”

“So you like dragons?” Elise asked in a teasing voice. “I didn’t know that, Niblet.”

“Everyone knows that,” Katchya said.

“Okay, fine. I knew. That’s probably why I bought this.”

“Bought what?” Katchya bounced up again and looked eagerly at the package her other aunt held out to her. She grabbed the present and ripped the paper off it with excited efficiency. More gently, she took the lid from the box thus revealed. Her eyes went wide at the sight of a gold dragon clutching a rainbow-colored crystal to its chest. She squealed. “I love it!”

“Good,” said Elise. “I never want to see you without it.”

“You only see me on holidays,” Katchya said. “But I’ll wear it everyday.”

“Alright.” Elise smiled as Yvonne helped her daughter secure the clasp of the new necklace. “You’ll be seeing me more often than that from now on though.”

Ethaniel gave his sister a curious look. “She will?”

“Yeah.” Elise drew a deep breath. “I’m divorcing Astir.”

Everyone paused for a moment, then Yvonne blurted, “Thank God,” as Ethaniel said, “About time.”

“And…” Elise reached out for Farla’s hand. “And I’m moving in with Farla.”

There was another pause, during which Yvonne and Ethaniel shared a smile.

“Thank God,” said Ethaniel.

“About time,” Yvonne added.

“Awesome!” proclaimed Katchya. “This is the best birthday ever!”

Above image is by deviant art user Sandara. I urge you to check out her feed at and considering purchasing some of the works she has for sale. (A list which includes this imagine.)

It was offered as prompt on my Wording Wednesday Project

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Leaving the House During the End of the World As We Know It

The following isn't fiction. It's not even really narrative nonfiction. It's just a little essay about what I did last weekend and what I saw when I left my house during a pandemic. I'm writing it largely to get it out of my head, but feel free to read it anyway. :)

For background, I live in Western Washington State. You know, where the COVID-19 pandemic first set foot in the US. By Saturday morning our social gathering buildings (restaurants, pubs, theaters, etc) had been closed for five days. It felt like longer. We were still being told we could go outside, though, so long as we did it without getting within six feet of people we don't live with. This was one of the first warm sunny days of the year, which would normally mean people were pushing towards outdoor activities, and with everything indoors cancelled, I knew that push was going to be strong. 

I left my house for the first time in weeks. (Months? Years? Or maybe only days. My perception of time flow was seriously off and had been since the COVID-19 virus made it my state.) The first time since before the social places closed, certainly. My companions both lived with me; it had been a while since I saw someone who didn't.

We got to the state highway that runs through our town at around nine in the morning. Traffic seemed normal. I was on my way to ski even thought the lifts weren't running, but what was everyone else doing? I had no idea.

We passed by a small stocked lake. Its parking lot was completely full and there were more boats on it than I'd ever witnesses before. I hoped everyone had kept their distance while waiting their turn for the single boat launch.

We made it to I-5. Traffic seemed a little light, but not alarmingly so. Until we got to Everett. Everett is normally where traffic starts to be headache inducing, but there were no more people there than there had been back before the interstate went from two lanes each way to four. In fact, it seemed like maybe there were fewer. Several cars passed us doing about 100mph like they thought traffic laws had been suspended, but we soon starting see speed patrols. The whole thing was rather surreal.

Driving along, you can clearly see several stores from the road. The sporting goods place was packed like it was Christmas. Home Depot looked pretty typical for mid-morning Saturday. And Walmart? I don't think I've ever seen a Walmart parking lot that empty, certainly not on a weekend. I wondered if this was a Washingtonians being all about outdoor activities thing or something happening nationally. I wondered how the people in the sporting goods store could possibly be keeping proper distance from one another.

The lack of traffic remained until I-90, where it went back to what I'd expect for the time of day on a Saturday. I assumed most of these people were going hiking and the overflowing parking lots I glimpsed from the interstate bore that up, as did the decrease in traffic by the summit of Snoqualmie Pass. I could only hope people were staying far enough apart near the trailheads.

At the Snoqualmie Ski Area, things were an odd level of active. There weren't nearly as many people as there would have been if the lifts were turning, but there were many more than tend to show up in the weeks after the lifts stop in a typical year. (The above photo is one I took before heading up the slope.) We certainly had no trouble staying far away from other groups while skiing.

I had expected to see many more people just playing in the snow than were actually there. I only saw a few families with sleds. Nearly everyone there was hiking or skinning up the slopes to ski or snowboard. This helped with the whole stay-far-from-each-other thing.

We drove by our land and observed that the parking lot at that ski base was much more full than the one at the base area we went to. Possibly because this is where the Nordic trails are, but also possibly because Hyak has some greens you can hike up and ski down blacks, so it's really the easiest area for touring or bootpacking. Again, people seemed to be getting out of their cars and spreading out, so it seemed that despite the number of cars around people were still doing a decent job of trying to prevent the spread of the virus.

Over the course of the day, I used three separate DOT bathrooms. Sitting in the car at the ones on I-5, we observed that most of the other people there looked old enough they might should be more worried about COVID-19 than they seemed to be. And they did not look like they were trying to do something outdoorsy. I don't know what they were doing. I stayed as far away from them as I could. At the stop on I-90, it seemed to be mostly other outdoorsy people, but I stayed away from them too, even when put in the odd position of having to wait for a sink even though there had been a ton of open stalls. I assume that, like me, other people are now spending much more time washing their hands than usual. I hadn't expected that to be one of the markers of the End of the World. No one ever washes their hands in zombie movies.

What I didn't all day see were airplanes. It was really weird. No planes, no chemtrails. The skies hadn't been so clear of traffic since September, 2001. I'm really not sure why. Maybe the recreational airports closed. Maybe very few people live with their usual copilots. I don't know.

We crossed a bridge on the way home. Typically, it has walkways on both sides of the vehicular traffic, but they've closed one of them for bridge maintenance. This meant that groups of people were shuffling by each other in a space that's maybe a meter wide. It's a long bridge, so there were each passing by several other groups doing this. I saw that and thought we needed to close the bridge to pedestrians ASAP. Because apparently people couldn't look at it and say, "Gee, maybe today isn't a good time to walk across this bridge." It's in the middle of nowhere, so it's not like they were actually traveling on foot; they were just being tourists.

When we got home, I learned that some of the larger and better known parks in the area had closed down their more popular access points because they were too crowded. I wasn't surprised.

That was three days ago. Since then my state governor has asked us to stay at home unless doing essential things. Exercise is considered essential, but I'm thinking I'm not going to be going skiing again for a while because even if I'm allowed to I can't really justify using the DOT restrooms. (And not using them isn't an option at the distance I currently live.) There are closer places to exercise. Granted, I'm allergic to what's outside my house right now, but c'est le pandemic, n'est ce pas?

Thanks for letting me process all that. I don't really have a decent diary at the moment. Next time I post it will be a story, with an actual plot and everything. Stay tuned!

(Above: My skis looking happy. )

Friday, March 6, 2020

Into the Misty Dark

Note: This piece originally appeared on my LiveJournal way back in 2010.

The chair rushed up behind us, faster by far than the ones on the lift we came off of. My son faltered, thrown off by the speed. The attendant pressed the stop button. The men behind us groaned.

We sat on the chair, which stayed put well past the point I was embarrassed and the kid was bored. Slowly, it started up again.

My son tapped his ski poles against his legs, nervous or impatient, I couldn't tell which.

We climbed through the loose fog we were already used to from the last run. Up over the race course the skiers behind us were anxious to get back to. Up past the top of the lift I would have rather taken had it been running that night. Up into thicker fog.

The fog kept getting more dense. I could see the chair in front of us, but not past it.

"This is taking forever," my son said.

"Lift rides always seem too long in the fog. It's the lack of visibility.” But inside I was thinking he was right, that we had been on the lift too long. And the lift was so much faster than I'd expected... What if it was the wrong one? What if I was confusing it with a lift at one of the other ski areas and I'd just put us on something going too far up the mountain, something leading to runs we couldn't handle?

“It's spooky.”

I smiled and tried not to look worried. “Yeah, it is.”

It was getting spookier too. The higher we went, the less well-lit everything was. I had no idea where we were going. The slope under us could be anywhere, all I could see of it was a tiny sliver. It was steep, too steep. But wide. Maybe. It was supposed to be. We should be able to cut across rather than go straight down, giving us a harder run than the one we were bored with while still being well in Eric's comfort zone. If this was the right slope.

“Are you sure we're on the right lift?” Eric asked.

“Yes,” I lied. Not well from the look he gave me.

“Mom, is this the wrong lift?”

“I'm not sure.” I put an arm around his shoulders and pointed at the ground. “But see the way the slope goes across? There's nothing between here and the last slope we were on, so we can cut back no problem.”


The fog grew heavier. I could barely make out the chair in front of me. Then we sailed past the last light. I touched my jacket, feeling the bump from the headlamp I'd taken from the car just in case. Still there. Good.

Finally, the end came into view and my son gave a cheerful, “Tips up!”

When we unloaded, there was a map board barely visible through the fog and dark. But when we skied up it it, we found the map itself was completely unreadable. Damn. I could read the signs pointing to different slopes, but none of the names meant anything to me. Double damn.

The racers swept past behind us. I watched where they went, knowing I didn't want to go that way. Far to the right of them was a welcome sign.

“Easiest way down,” I read, pointing out the sign to my son. If we were where we were supposed to be, the easiest way down was a very easy intermediate slope, more of an advanced beginner slope. If we weren't where we were supposed to be, and I honestly couldn't tell... Well, it couldn't be harder than the race course and we'd both done harder slopes than that, just not while people were racing and we couldn't see anything. “All we have to do is follow the signs until we can cut back to where we were.”

Ninety percent of the lift traffic went to the race course, so we were able to hobble down the easy way without worrying about other skiers at all. We skied into the light and I saw trees that I was almost sure were ones I knew. Almost. It really was hard to tell since I'd never been there in either fog or darkness before.

The fog got heavier, but we didn't panic. It was part of our adventure.

The above story is a piece of narrative nonfiction about a dark and foggy night on a ski slope. It was ten years ago. The little kid with me, the one who was worried I'd gotten him onto a slope that was too hard, is now an adult and a professional ski instructor who can do that run backwards. Meanwhile, I've gotten older and less willing to try things in the dark due to failing vision. C'est le vie.

The photograph was grabbed from a YouTube video collecting a series of night lift in the fog shots. ( It shows more visibility than we had, but it was the closest thing I could find in the time I gave myself to search.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Ghost of the Claw Machine

There are a variety of ways in which people respond to being dead. Some take the news well and start new lives in the world of Shadow, happily continuing on as ghosts for years or even centuries. But others try to deny their deaths, attempt to act as though it never happened and they're still alive. The souls in this latter group will usually pick one place of importance and stay there doing whatever is logical in the spot, like the grandfather who continues to sit in his recliner napping all day or the frycook who keeps trying to flip burgers.

What every spirit who remains in Shadow has in common is that they possess a purpose for remaining. The guy sleeping in his chair? He's probably worried about his widow or their grandkids. The frycook? He's worried about that coworker he was crushing on, or maybe he wants revenge on the manager who made him work until closing and is the reason he crossed the street at 11:30 instead of 8:30, which is how he came to be killed by a drunk driver.

Mara Brisbane remained living-adjacent rather than moving on to the true afterlife because of one thing: a claw machine. Well, a claw machine and a mentaly unstable young man with a gun.

On the afternoon of June twelfth, 1987, a gunman entered the Midtown Mall Arcade. It was years before Americans would start thinking of mass public shootings as normal events, but despite the fact that he injured five people and killed one in an age where this didn't happen several times a week, the news was too busy talking about Ronald Regan telling Mikhail Gorbachev, "Tear down this wall!" as though the Soviet Premier might start taking direction from the President of the United States to fully cover it.

Mara knew her murderer from school, where they'd shared a trigonometry class. She wasn't the reason he was in a homicidal rage, though. That honor went to Brittany Smalls, who had not only turned him down for prom but made certain everyone knew how ludicrous it was that he'd thought he stood a chance of her going with him. Brittany frequented the arcade regularly, but wasn't there that day. Even in the realm of people willing to commit murder, most people would go home and come back later if the object oftheir plan wasn't there. Not this guy. In the absence of the brunette he wanted to shoot, he shot at every brunette he could spot in the time between drawing his weapon and being taken down by off-duty cop who had been ordering cookies nextdoor when he heard gunshots.

It would have upset Mara to be murdered no matter what, but what really upset her about the whole thing was that she was absolutely certain she was a second away from finally managing to snag the plush wolf in the claw machine bin.

The wolf was important. It was for her kid sister, who needed it to comfort her as she had surgery scheduled the next week. Annie loved wolves. And Mara loved Annie.

That was over thirty years ago and Mara is still standing in front of the claw machine.

Over the years, she's developed the energy to work the machine's controls. That's how everyone knows the thing is haunted. She only uses it when the arcade is closed, but when she wins things, she leaves them where they fall. There hasn't been a wolf in there for years, you see. And she isn't interested in anything else.

I've pieced all this together over the last few weeks, through a series of conversations with Mara. It's only been a few months since I moved to this town and when my parents brought me into the arcade gushing about how they loved places like this "back in the day" I instantly spotted the teenaged girl in a short denim skirt, jean jacket, and high top sneakers. If I didn't have so much experience with ghosts, I would have thought she was being retro, but she's far from the first spirit I've come across. When I realized no one else seemed to see her, I was confident she was dead.

A couple named Jonesevich own the place and roll their eyes at the assertions of the place being haunted. Their daughter, Camille, though… She believes. And she helped me arrange for there to be a wolf in the claw machine. She also let me in after hours, which is why we're both walking up behind Mara as she concentrates on the machine.

"She's there, isn't she?" Camille whispers. She's shorter than I am, but her boobs are bigger and she's all-round prettier than I could ever hope to be. Her heart-shaped face is filled with awe and hope as it shines up at me from under a teal fedora, and her hands are grasped in front of her chest like she's about to break into prayer.

"Yes," I confirm. "But sush, she's concentrating."

Even though she knows Mara is there, Camille lets out a little gasp as the claw in the machine starts to move. It lowers, grabs a toy, and moves to drop the prize in the shoot to the collection bin.

Mara breathes out. "Okay. I should be able to get the wolf now. Can you get that thing out of the way?"

"Sure." I move over to where I can bend and retrieve what turns out to be a really cute blue dragon. Personally, I'd rather have a dragon than a wolf, but I don't say anything.

Aware that Mara doesn't care about the dragon's fate, I take it to Camille. "She says to give you this thanks for all you've done."

"Oh!" Camille grabs the plushie and hugs it tightly. I feel a twinge of envy for the dragon. Camille is my age, my type, and openly bisexual judging by the blue, purple, and pink heart pin attached to her hat. I'm not silly enough to think that means I stand a chance with her, though.

We wait as Mara takes a few tries to grab the wolf. When we first met, I asked her how she could operate the arcade machines without using tokens. She'd shrugged and said that when she came to after being shot, they just worked for her without her knowing why. Her theory is that her energy is somehow tricking them. I don't have any better explanation.

Finally, the wolf drops into the prize box and Mara takes it out with a whoop. She doesn't manage to hold it long; manipulating our world takes a lot of energy and she would already have been tired from using the machine controls.

I pick the wolf up off the floor. It is pretty adorable, although I stand by my assertion that the dragon was the better prize.

"Did she move on?" Camille whispers.

"No. She's still here."

Mara moves around, looking at as much of herself as possible. "Yeah, I kind of thought something would change."

"Maybe you need your sister to get the wolf," I say. Camille and I brought a box and we sit on the floor to put the wolf in it and seal it up. Annie's address, which I paid a service to get and hope is right, is already written on the shipping label and ready to go out first thing in the morning.

"Have you seen my sister?" Mara asks, standing over us.

"Not in person," I admit. "I found her Instagram account, though."

I open my Instagram app and put in Annie's username. A page full of pictures, mostly of two little girls and a Siberian Husky, pops up and stand to show it to Mara. "See? She's doing well. Those are your nieces. She never says their names, but their initials are MM and and SA."

"Mara Marie," Mara whispers. "My middle name is Marie. She named her daughter after me?"

I shrug. "Maybe. Probably? I thought about asking, but was afraid I'd sound creepy."

"And SA would be Sarah Anne. That was our grandmother's name, the one Annie was named for." Mara's eyes continue to focus on the screen. "Where do they live? Is that a beach?"

The picture she's pointing out does seem like a beach. "Her address is in Maine, so, I guess so."

"Maine? That so far away… But she's okay, isn't she? Like really okay?"

"I think so." It's hard to tell how someone is doing from an Instagram account, but she seems to have a nice balance of activities and interests.

Mara smiles. “That’s all I ever wanted. For her to be okay.”

Even as the words fade, Mara’s body starts to take on a transparency. Without further comment, but with a peaceful smile, she shimmers and is gone.

I stare at the spot Mara used to be in. I’ve never actually witnessed anyone moving on from Shadow before. “She left,” I whisper. “I think… I think she’s in heaven now. Or being reincarnated. Or, you know, whatever happens after Shadow.”

“Oh. So she just needed to know her kid sister's alright?” Camille looks where I am, although she never saw Mara in the first place. There’s a mist in her eyes. “That is so sweet.”

“It really is.” I bend over and pick up the box. “Think we should mail this anyway?”

Camille nods. “Absolutely.” She climbs to her feet. “And… Um… There’s something I’ve been wanting to ask, but it didn’t seem like right time before…”

My heart-rate picks up even as I tell myself she’s not about to ask me out. More likely she wants to know if she can learn to see ghosts too or something like that. “Okay. Go for it.”

“I…” She draws a shaky breath. “I was wondering…” Her eyes drop to the floor. “Would you maybe…” She brings her eyes back up, her expression saying it’s hard to look at me as she speaks. “Would you like to go out with me?”

I try not to stare. “Like on a date?”

“Yeah… I mean… You do like girls, right?”

I nod.

“And I know it’s a stretch to think that maybe you’d like me specifically, but-”

“I do!” I interrupt. “I like you specifically. Very much so. I would totally have kept that dragon otherwise.”

She laughs, relief making her body loosen. “Okay. Good. You pick where. Anywhere that isn’t an arcade.”

I join the laughter. “That’s really limiting, but I’ll think of something.”

With the box tucked under my left arm, I wrap my right hand around Camille’s as we walk out into the deserted mall.

The above image is Arcade by Kelsey Smith. You can find it an other works by the artist at

It was offered as a prompt for my Wording Wednesday Project.

If you like ghosts, you might be interested in my novel I'd Rather Not Be Dead.

Drew McKinney never liked living in Pine Bridge, North Carolina, but she liked it a lot better than being dead there. No way does she want to haunt this stupid hick town for the rest of forever. She doesn't want to haunt anywhere if she can help it. The whole dying thing knocked Drew back in time several weeks, so she's got a shot at saving herself from Hell in Appalachia if she can figure out why she died. Unfortunately, not only is she clueless about what killed her but there's a soul-eating fog after her, the ruler of the ghost realm is interfering in her afterlife, and the only living person Drew can turn to for help is Cooper Finnegan, who is hands down her least favorite person on the planet.

Available for Kindle and other digital retailers or in print.