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Angry Judith Got Her Hatchet

The beloved and I enjoy ghost shows. Our current fav is The Ghost Brothers. The other night, we were watching some ghost show and discussed how one of two things happened with the ghosts. 

A. They had no idea what the people were talking about because they didn't speak the language or had died way before modern equipment.

B. They knew what the heck was being talked about and were sick of having it explained.

Judith here, she falls into the latter category. 

Enjoy.

Angry Judith Got Her Hatchet

Her pale reflection in the mirror was no different than yesterday. And, still, she found her fingers brushing at the splatters of blood on her fine clothes. Wedding finery turned to ruin thanks to her no-good sister and her own husband. On the wall, not that she looked, was a photo of her and Phillip on their wedding day. Right after the ceremony when she was still blissfully in love. Before she caught him in the maid’s room with her sister.

Judith remembered the feeling. The flutter of her heart as it sank to the ground to be crushed by her heels as she ran from their chagrined faces. Shame, as the guests watched her race into the backyard, had made her wish to sink into the ground. Mostly, as evidenced by the hatchet always beside her, she felt rage. Not only at her new husband and betraying sister. No, she felt rage at the world.

Which is why she had killed more than them on her wedding day. Five guests joined them in caskets and she felt no shame for that. The sheriff had fired his revolver five times at her. All five had hit, but she’d been in such a fine mood, splendid in blood and butchery, it had taken the sum total of them to put her down.

What Judith had not expected was to remain in the home. She had free rein of the house itself, and the gardens around. There was no need for a fence to hold her in place. The singular time she’d tried to walk onto the street, there had been nothing on the other side. If she stood on the porch she was perfectly able to see the rest of the world, but if she tried to join it, there was nothing.

“Rejected by Hell itself,” someone said at the bottom of the stairs.

A female voice, unusual. Most of the so-called ghost hunters, were men. Oh, there were the occasional women whom claimed a kinship, despite having no deaths to their name, but most of them she ignored. With nothing better to do, she drifted down the stairs, the hatchet warming her hand as always.

“The town’s bloodiest massacre,” the short redhead said to a camera held by another woman. “It is believed she was rejected by her husband on their wedding day, as he preferred her sister, but as she was brutally gunned down before anyone might ask, there are no records of the truth.”

“I do not care he preferred my sister,” Judith muttered. “Only that he did not make his choice known until after he’d tied me to him until death.”

Although he hadn’t. She’d seen no sign of any of those killed on her blessed day. The reverend had called it that. Her blessed day. She’d killed him before any others excepting her faithless sister and worse husband.

“We’ll get the camera set up and be right back to explain our plan for tonight,” the redhead said. When the camera light stopped blinking she snorted. “And our plan is to fake a few scary noises and film a few suspicious shadows.”

“This might be the place,” the one with the camera said.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Susan. All the time since the murders and no one has gotten any proof this place is haunted. But, it’s expected, after all. The Blood Wedding Murder House.”

“I hate that name,” Judith said, but no one heard. A long time ago, before cameras and ghost shows, she’d found out she was capable of being heard. Only if she desired it. She never did to people like this. The kids who broke into the house she had fun with. Or, she had, until one had fallen down the stairs and been hurt. That injury she felt guilt over. She’d only been playing with the teenagers. He hadn’t died, and she was thankful.

“Ok, let’s film this part and we can set up the cameras after.”

“Time to tell the audience everything they know.”

Judith yawned, boredom not absent from death, and watched as they laid out their equipment. Over the years, since electronics had become mass produced and cheap, it was all the same. In the old days, each medium had her own tricks.

In her hand, the hatchet felt warm. Judith focused on the boredom. Whatever the reason, sometimes the hatchet wanted to direct things. As a hatchet was good for chopping alone, she had always done her best to avoid the temptation. Some of her visitors were temptation on the hoof and she prided herself on what a good woman she’d been.

Since death.

Her attention was drawn back to the ghost hunters as they pulled out their gadgets. Nothing new. Someday she expected new toys, but lately they all used the same stuff. Which was dull.

“Let’s start with the spirit box,” redhead said.

Judith snorted, and the hatchet burned her flesh. Well, the hatchet burned the palm of her hand where her flesh would be if she were human. Pain. It was pain, dead or alive.

“I’m sure all of you at home know what this is,” redhead told the camera, “but we’re going to tell any ghosts here how to use it. Because we want them to speak to us, to learn the truth hidden here in the Blood Wedding Murder House.”

“Great,” Judith said to the hatchet, “the spirit box. I get it, radio frequencies and white noise and words.” As if she hadn’t heard it all before. Like they were the first. “Why do they all think I am a moron? Although, if they are trying to speak to my un-beloved it would make sense.”

“Are you listing, Judith?”

“No,” Judith said, but not so they might hear. “Because I know this. And I am not going to speak.”

And she did not.

Until the fifth time, in the third room, they explained the spirit box again.

The hatchet glowed red in her hand and she thought of the blood stains on her wedding gown. They looked so faded and worn. The rest of her might suffer so, but the blood should not. It deserved to be fresh, warm, rich in color.

“Will you shut up?” she screamed. The cameras did not hear. Nothing heard, no one, and she sought to change that fact.

“Susan, what the fuck just happened?” the redhead shouted as she dropped the powerless spirit box.

“I don’t know, Chris. Everything died.”

“You explain it all the time,” Judith said and this time they heard. “Over and over. As if I am an idiot. As if I have not paid attention to every last one of you who has entered my home. MY home! And always the same thing. Here is this, here is that, here is how it works. I am not an idiot!”

“Who’s there?” Chris demanded. “Reveal yourself!”

“Fine,” Judith said and let them see her. “But you tell the rest, I have had enough of being considered an idiot and a fool and a woman who does not listen.”

The redhead, Chris, a ridiculous name for a woman, fainted.

As the hatchet glowed a warm red and her wedding gown grew whiter, in need of purifying, the other woman fled from the sight.

And, suddenly, Judith felt the fool.

These women had done nothing. The same as the guests at her wedding had done nothing. Other than witnessing her shame. Which was not their fault. If only she’d been able to kill her fresh husband and his partner in betrayal more than once.

“I’m going to let you go,” Judith told the comatose woman. “But I swear, the next idiot to think I am an idiot, will know exactly how smart and angry I was and remain.”

6 MONTHS LATER

The news crews stood on the yard. So many. Police tried to keep them away, but they appeared to be multiplying as Judith peeked out the curtain. Some part of her, the part that liked to hold the hatchet, that liked to look at the stains in the mirror, was pleased.

For too long, she had been mocked. Last night had been the last straw. Those men, those men who would not shut up, and mocked her and her family. They had come to learn the truth and she had showed them. All four of them were scattered in pieces inside the house. Blood spray along the walls left indelible reminders on the wallpaper of their just desserts.

The hem of her wedding gown had trailed through the pools of blood and become, she thought, permanently stained. Carrying the hatchet this morning was impossible. It burned to look upon, let alone touch, so she only kept near it. No one living saw it resting against the window seat where she sat and watched everyone, inside and out. There had not been this much entertainment in so long.

Despite the apparent fading of stains, she knew it was too soon to take up the hatchet. No, let some time pass first. Catch them unawares.

“This is my house,” Judith told the people in the room, “and I have had enough of visitors.”

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A Redcap Love Story

And here is the second story! I wrote both of these during NaNoWriMo.  I've had this idea for months. It does tie into Aoife's continuing story. Rian and Sophie will appear in the sequel to Widowed Witch of the West should I write it. 

SOPHIE

Sophie’s parents continued to sleep as the wagon ruts failed to contain the wheels of the coach they traveled in with one other person. They’d picked up the other passenger in Fort Smith and he’d been in a hurry to leave town. She thought him a criminal of some kind, but her parents told her she was being fanciful. Which she certainly was not. At 22, she was desperate to be out from under their control, but they had insisted she come out west with them. Even though she’d had friends in Boston determined to let her stay with them.

Her best friends worked for their own wages, running a small secretarial business, and rented their own home near downtown. To Sophie, it sounded wonderful. To her parents, it sounded as if she were falling straight into the clutches of Satan. If she’d wanted to stay, she would have lost all contact with her family. In the end, fear of loss, forced her onto a train and a coach to help her parents set up a ministry.

And now, they traveled with a criminal. Or, at least a man who looked as if he had criminal tendencies. Other than a few sailors fresh off a boat at the docks near her father’s church, she’d never seen a rougher man. Not that he was unattractive. Not to her, at the least. His eyes were an odd color, she thought them brown, but had seen an orange tint to them once. Deep brown hair was tucked under a red bandana and she thought it longer than most men wore.

How a man so large made himself comfortable in such a cramped place was a mystery to her. Discomfort had followed her since Boston. Unlike her three sisters, there was nothing petite about Sophie. Even her father stood shorter than her six feet and her mother constantly despaired of the thickness of her bones. Not that she didn’t think herself pretty. Men complimented her, but still danced with the small ladies of the congregation.

All of which meant, she was no more likely to find a husband in the tiny town whose name she couldn’t remember, than she was back at her old home. The heel of her boot slid across the dusty coach floor and hit something too soon to be the other bench. Her eyes lifted, and she found herself caught in the gaze of the criminal across the way.

Who was smiling at her.

Warmth stole over her face, but she kept her own pale blue eyes on his brown ones. Fingers felt flustered, to match the rest of her, and rose to tug at a few blonde curls sprung free from her tight bun. There was something about his smile that worried her. Something quite predatory, in truth.

“Hello,” he whispered with a nod.

Sophie smiled, hated how her cheeks were still stained with embarrassment. “Hello,” she whispered back after a quick glance to find her parents still asleep.

“What’s your name?”

“Sophie. Sophie Cogswell. A pleasure.” The words followed her name because she was raised to be polite.

“Pleasure is all mine,” he said, still whispering. “I’m Rian Na Fahe.”

“Mister Na Fahe,” she repeated.

“Rian,” he whispered with a wink.

Which is when her mother snorted and straightened up in her seat. “Sophie,” she snapped. A heavy, slim hand landed on her wrist.

Before looking away, Sophie was sure she saw Rian’s eyes flash almost orange.

“Mother,” she said as she forced her fingers to leave her hair be. “Do you need something? Father is still sleeping.” Sophie wanted to look over at Rian. His eyes were still on her. For the first time, she understood what the other women had giggled about at church socials.

“I need nothing. What is the time? I thought we were to be off this stagecoach by now?”

Mrs. Cogswell had not handled the travel well. Twice she’d resorted to laudanum to quell her stomach and back pains. Her sleep was fitful and all of it made her more unbearable than ever.

“I do not know the time, mother. But I believe the sun is beginning to descend so surely we will reach the coach stop soon. They will have a fine meal prepared and we will have a bed.” Sophie hoped for a bed of her own. Their other two stops, she’d slept on a pallet in their room.

An elbow to his side woke Mr. Cogswell and he coughed before fixing the glasses on his nose. “Are we there?” he asked before he looked out the window. “I swear on His good name, I will be quite pleased to stretch myself out for the evening and have a proper walk before our meal.”

“Sophie thinks we might be there soon.” Not that her mother sounded impressed by her deduction. She glanced at Sophie before casting a disapproving gaze on Rian. “But I do think this trip has exhausted her.” Whatever she said next came too low for anyone but her husband to hear.

Sophie was sure it was not complimentary. Few words from her mother were these days. All because she’d wanted to remain in Boston and not go on this missionary quest. To be her own person. Finally.

An uncomfortable silence fell and they all listened to the wheels roll and the stagecoach creak until the driver shouted a stop. By then, Sophie had seen the cattle and the split-rail fence. Her sore bottom was thankful as they rolled to a slow stop. The brake squeaked a fraction as it was set, and the horses jingled in their harnesses. The door opened from the outside, and a hand helped her father out and onto the dusty ground.

Before her door might be opened, Rian slid over and helped himself out of their tight confines. As her mother was assisted by her father, Rian’s hand was held out to Sophie. His palm was rough, she could tell without touching. When her gaze left his hand to meet his eyes she thought the squint teased her. Which was nonsense. The sun was setting right into his face. Still, his lips did turn up and she saw a flash of teeth she swore were pointy, as he waited.

“Sophie!” her mom scolded.

But she didn’t look away from Rian. Oh, she was in for a scolding, but her gloved hand was laid atop his and she stepped out with ease. Other than the shooting pain down her spine that nearly buckled her knees. Rian’s fingers, blunt, dirt stained nails and all, tightened around her hand as she righted herself.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

“My pleasure,” he responded in kind before releasing her hand. “Perhaps I will find you later.”

The statement, offered as he turned away, made Sophie shiver. If he found her later, she was unsure what she might do. For now, her mother’s shriek from around the stagecoach drew her back to the present. And, likely, a scolding once in private.

At least, she hoped in private.

RIAN

Two weeks since leaving Fort Smith and Rian still felt the pull of whatever was going on there. He’d sensed trouble, his kind did, but it was not the sort he’d wanted to be a part of now. There was plenty of open space, plenty to eat, but the madness there felt to be spreading. So, he’d made his way to a small stagecoach stop and paid to travel west. Traveling West was in the nature of his kind.

So, travel west. Find some new place to settle. There had been no ties to sever.

Then he’d stepped onto this particular coach and seen her. For the first time in a long time something other than the need to restrict his violent urges had filled him. She’d ignored him, trapped against her parents, and he’d thought her like them, wrapped in the new religion of shame and restrictions.

Until today. As they’d slept, she’d made contact. Intentional, he was sure, and an offer to make his own advances. Not that he’d done more than say hello. Her parents remained, after all, and would dampen any desire she might begin to feel. All at once, he thought he might not travel so far west.

For now, he would see where the Sophie woman traveled. Who he lost sight of as he spoke with the stagecoach driver. A pity, but he was sure to see her in the evening when they shared a meal. He had not noticed before if her parents went early to bed. Or if she shared their bed. Questions he was determined to answer tonight. If they might form an attachment, he could separate her from her parents.

Rian wished he might offer his assistance around the stable, but the horses barely tolerated him on the coach. A shame. There was work to be found for a man with his size, but so much involved livestock and he made them uncomfortable. Well, unlike humans they knew a predator instantly. Humans, he often had to explain the matter to. Briefly. Before they died.

The bandana on his head itched and he tugged it off before his fingers smoothed the wild hair tucked underneath. He’d been meaning to get it cut, but his swift departure from Fort Smith had been more important. His bandana hid the mess most of the time. Unless- No. Best not to even think it. These past few days he’d known how close he was getting, but hoped to arrive somewhere to quench his need. Now there was Sophie to take his mind from the situation.

Gathering his hair up, he twisted it into a knot and tucked it back under his bandana before setting out for a walk. In order to better be able to dominate Sophie’s attention later, he needed to give her time now. With any luck, tonight, they would address the flare of desire.

SOPHIE

“And I am sure that man is some sort of criminal,” her mother said. She finished washing her hands and splashing water on her face before sitting down on the bed. Since they’d arrived, she’d not let Sophie out of her sight.

“As opposed to earlier? When I’d suggested the same and was accused of fancy.” Sophie knew she might be in for a scolding, again, but was annoyed. Since they’d been shown to this small room it had been one question after another. Followed by prayer. Followed by more questions. The process was exhausting, but her father had insisted she stay in the room with her mother. “He merely helped me from the stagecoach,” she reminded.

Again.

Idly, she wondered if she had enough of her own money stashed away for passage back to Boston. The new congregation had paid for their passage out west. If she were able to get home, a pleasing thought especially now, she would risk her parents’ ire.

“Perhaps we should remain here for dinner. There is no need to risk an unfortunate incident.” The tiny towel she used to wash up was folded and set atop the wash basin. “We might discuss several scriptures.”

Sophie bit back an impatient noise in her throat. Spending the night with her mother was not the plan. So, she did not respond, but washed herself up, and headed for the door.

“Sophie!” her mother scolded.

Turning from the door, Sophie smiled in a conciliatory manner, “Mother, if we are here to save the souls of those in the west, what better opportunity than the lost soul we travel with.” She did not think her mother convinced, but she was not stopped from leaving her prison for the evening. One without a bed, of course.

Not that she had the opportunity to visit with Rian at dinner. Her parents placed her between them and her father delivered a rousing sermon she was sure no one listened to as they were busy eating. The food was much the same as before. Better than the last stop, if not as much.

Her attention strayed to Rian who sat at the far end of the table. Every time she leaned forward to reach for something, which she did frequently despite not needing more salt, he was waiting for her with a teasing smile. She did not think her parents fooled when she complained of the warmth when they inquired about her red cheeks. It was too late to ignore him. She’d been trying since he joined them a week before.

If she squinted at her own morality, she might convince herself what she’d told her mother was true. Certainly, she might convince herself she meant nothing illicit in her pleasure at the thought of them speaking later. Not that she’d any idea what illicit things might be available to her.

RIAN

Every time she looked his way, he knew beforehand. The Fates had surely placed him on the stagecoach to meet her. Although, they might have left her parents behind. Not that he wasn’t able to get around them. He finished his meal before her and rose to go for a walk. All of the people had his scalp itching against his bandana. The light of the lanterns and the fire bled red over all their skin. His tongue felt swollen and his teeth ached, so he left to clear his head.

By the time he returned there was a fire burning in the coach yard. A couple of people he did not recognize had guitars and were singing songs he did not recognize. Children, he thought they belonged to those running the place, danced about and he watched them in amusement. The children of his people scampered about in much the same manner. Although often with bloodier results than he thought might come about from here.

Not that children interested him. He had more entertaining prey this evening. As he looked about, he saw his quarry near the corral. The shadows hid him from her parents’ view and he watched her feeding a donkey, appearing unaware of his approach. Not that he believed her ruse.

“Do you not like dancing?” he asked from behind her.

The donkey darted away, and she had no reason to not turn and face him.

“There is no one here who will ask me to dance. I am a foot taller than most of them. Dancing becomes awkward at that point.” The calm in her voice did not hide the faint sadness at her own words. Still, she smiled at him and he stepped closer.

“Sophie, I do not know how to dance,” he told her “Not any sort you might know.”

“I am sure wherever you are from, the dances are no different than in Boston,” Sophie teased.

“Do you not remember my name?” he teased back as he leaned closer. “Have your prayers driven the word from your knowledge as a protection?”

Sophie’s laugh swam over him.  He could not help but touch her hand. When she did not pull away, he laced his fingers with hers.

“Rian.” Her eyes darted away, towards the bunkhouse. “My parents do not approve of my socializing with men who are not of upstanding character.”

“And you assume I am not?” he asked as he shifted his body to stand between her and anyone who glanced their way.

“No upstanding man has ever been so forward.”

“So, are you saying I shouldn’t kiss you?”

“I am not saying that at all,” she replied. “Only that I told my parents I might save your soul if I spent time with you.”

Rian laughed and caressed her cheek with the back of his palm. She had no idea, of that he was sure, of how his self-control was tested. His kind were not known for such.  Part of why he no longer desired to live with his kind. The older he’d grown, the more he’d stopped giving into every impulse.

“So, I can kiss you?” he asked, setting aside the thoughts of the past.

Sophie turned red again, the blush creeping to the top of her tan. Something about the blush shot through his blood and his willpower was forced again to keep him from hauling her close for a kiss now. Then she pulled her hand from under his and he felt all the warmth leave his body.

“Not here,” she whispered.

“No?” he said with a smirk. “Where?”

“I don’t know,” she said as her eyes darted about. “I’ve never done such a thing before.”

“Never?” he asked. He tried to hide his surprise at the lapse of judgement humans sometimes possessed. A woman such as her, strong and capable, if she were of his kind, would have been fought after. Men and women would have murdered to be chosen by her. “I would kill for a kiss from you,” he swore.

Not the right thing to say.

Sophie shrank back against the split rail of the fence and now her eyes darted about looking for escape and not a dalliance.

He immediately stepped back cursing himself in his head as his bandana itched. It felt dry and her fear raised his pulse even more than the desire he’d known she felt a moment ago. Before he’d ruined it.

“I should go,” Sophie whispered. “You frighten me.”

“What else?” he pressed as gently as his kind was able.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, what else do I do to you?” He wanted to see if she worked past the fear. Some humans were capable. Of all the ones he’d met in the last several decades, she was the one most likely. Otherwise, the Fates only mocked him, and he did not believe them so cruel.

SOPHIE

“I don’t know,” she admitted. Which she hated more than the fear. Admitting ignorance had never been something she was fond of doing.

“Do you still want to kiss me?” he asked.

He hadn’t moved since she’d spooked. How she felt about such patience she did not know. Predators did such things, she knew from her readings. What few readings she’d managed away from her parents’ prying eyes. They felt there were no words needed outside the Bible. The question she had to ask now was, did she want to kiss him? A part of her did, in a way. He felt dangerous, but she wasn’t afraid.

“Is that all?” she asked when she met his eyes again.

“All what?”

“All you will do? Is kissing me all you will do?”

“If that is all you desire.”

Only so brave, only slightly daring, she nodded. “A kiss.”

Rian grinned, teasing and promising. “A single kiss. Unless it inspires you to want more.” He looked over his shoulder. “Meet me in the barn in a few minutes.”

His steps were sure, if meandering, and she lost sight of him in the shadows before too long.

Frozen with indecision, she was not sure she was even so daring as she’d thought. Until she thought she heard her mother calling her. Maybe she would not go through with the kiss, but she surely was uninterested in a lecture about propriety.

She darted in the shadows as well, but less successfully. Wishing for something other than a skirt, she managed not to stumble, an embarrassment if she had, and made it to the barn without drawing notice, she hoped. Inside the cooler dark, she waited for her eyes to adjust. Before they did, a hand took hers and she suppressed a cry of surprise.

“It is me,” Rian said.

“I knew that,” she bluffed. “I was not expecting the touch.”

Rian took her hand and pulled her deeper into the barn. “I thought it was my touch you came here seeking.” His hand left hers and moved to her waist. “Have you changed your mind?”

“I do not think so,” she admitted. “So long as we are in agreement and it shall only be a kiss.”

“One?” he followed up with as he laid his other hand on her waist and began a slow pull forward. “Among my people, you would be prized.”

Sophie, unsure of what to do with her own hands, left them at her sides. “The ones who think it proper to woo a lady by offering to kill for her?” Which she did not find flattering. No proper Christian lady would.

“My people are not human,” Rian said. “I tell you this so there are no secrets before we initiate physical contact.”

“Aren’t we- aren’t we in contact?”

“Not until you touch me as well.”

Sophie glanced away before she laid her hand on his arm. “Like this?” Her other arm hung at her side.

“May I show you?”

Again, she wondered what she was doing. He clearly was a madman. She’d heard his words, but thought him merely touched in the head. Not much. Only enough to have wild fancies about being something other than human. Because there was nothing other than humans. Created in God’s own image and everything.

“Sophie?”

“I- Yes, Rian.” Touched or not, she was already ruined if caught. She might as well enjoy some small ruination in truth.

RIAN

The burn of passion in his blood grew hotter at her affirmation of what he desired. Not that he would take all she might offer. If this was truly her first experience of desire, she would be easy to manipulate, and he did not want to do so. Not the rational part of him. Only the itch on his scalp as his bandana reminded him of its dryness, urged him to take.

So, when he reached for her hand, he did so slowly when he desired swiftness. Her fingers were soft, and warm, as they slide along his neck at his own urging. He felt the catch in her breath as she touched his skin. While his mind was able to hold back, his body was aware of the touch and responded appropriately. He guided her other hand to his back before his own arms wrapped around her waist and hauled her against his body.

There. He had wanted her close and now she was against him. She felt right. No one had felt right in this manner since his second wife fifty years ago. She had not been tall like Sophie. At first, he’d been afraid of breaking her, but she’d possessed her own strength. For a human.

“Will you kiss me now?” Sophie asked of him.

With her head turned up as it was, he saw no reason to answer with words. Instead, he lowered his mouth and smiled as he heard her draw in a sharp breath. Her last as a woman unappreciated. Rian knew to take his time despite the urge to take, consume, claim. She was not of his kind. She would be frightened by such actions.

So, he teased and stoked her fires of desire. When his tongue traced her lips, and began to tease them open she let out a quiet moan. His fingers tightened on her waist and he found there was a scant inch of space between them he could close. The fullness of her against him was hard to resist. For a moment, he wished her of his kind. Even though he would wish no such curse upon anyone. Were she like him, he could take her. The desire was there, and she would expect him to take action.

Instead, he had to content himself with deepening the kiss and allowing his hands to steal lower and feel the weight of her hips. Even that was not enough and as her fingers locked around his neck and she returned the kiss with no hesitation, he let himself cup his hands on her bottom and adjust her position to feel the way she fit around his erection.

Heaven, if the humans’ construct existed, was surely this sensation. What else compared to the feel of a woman who was willing to fall into unquenchable desire together with a man? Nothing.

“I want to touch you,” he said against her lips when he ended the kiss. Her breath was as wild as his and he knew he saw not only his own need reflected in her eyes. “Please. Sophie, say I may touch you. I shall swear an oath to stop when you say, but please.”

“I don’t know,” Sophie answered. He thought her clinging to wisdom and felt sad. Less wisdom would lead to more fun for the both of them. “I am afraid if I say yes, I shall be saying yes to everything.”

Rian could not hide his groan at her words. His hands stroked her bottom and he held her tight against his body. Awareness flooded her senses and he watched it all in her eyes.

“You are crazy.”

“For you.”

“The thing you said. About not being human. That is crazy.” Not that she’d tried to disengage. Nor did she speak of stopping as he wrapped his hand around the back of her thigh and pulled her leg up to let her feel him more directly where he desired to be.

“It is the truth. You may choose not to accept it, but the lack of acceptance does not negate the truth.”

“I have never-” She bit back what he was sure was a moan. “Never even contemplated such behavior. Why now? Are my parents right? Does the Devil send temptation my way?”

Rian laughed and released her. After making sure her knees were capable of supporting her. She looked disappointed which heartened him.

“I was not sent by your devil. The Fates surely placed you in my path. If you desired such, I would find a spot and show you why I am ever thankful to the Fates. Because, sweet Sophie, that is all I desire this evening.” He leaned in and placed a swift kiss on her lips. “But you must say yes.”

“Yes.”

Which was not what he expected. Not the swiftness of her response. Certainly not the way she lunged for him, wild desire filling her with a light he needed to take. Now. Her word was all he needed. The syllable left her lips and he caught her up in a kiss threatening to set the barn on fire.

Somehow, they made it up the ladder to the hayloft where he found a mouse chewed blanket to lay out over the stiff hay. Not the best bed, but he vowed to make her forget such things. He hoped, come morning, she would find him successful.

SOPHIE

At first, she was not sure what awoke her in the middle of the night. A heavy weight lay atop her body and she felt a moment of panic. Once fully awake, the awareness of what she’d done came back to her. She thought to feel shame, but there was none.

If not that, then what had woken her? She nudged Rian who grunted as he rolled off her and sat up. He looked fully awake and she rubbed sleep from her eyes as she reached for some form of clothing.

“What was that?” she asked as she clutched her shift to her body. “Did you hear something? Something woke me.”

A scream stopped her thinking and she looked towards the ladder with wide eyes.

“Will you stay here?” Rian asked as he pulled his clothes on.

His bandana, she noted, had remained on his head. Well, at least one of them had no visible rats’ nest of hair. She wanted to get dressed, but heard another scream and couldn’t move.

“Stay here,” Rian said. He took her hands and she looked down at them. “Please.”

“Don’t go,” she said as he dropped her hands. “What can you do? What is happening?”

Rian was dressed, and he kissed her, the weight of his need pressing her down into the straw before he sat up once more. “Stay here. I will protect you.” He waited until she nodded and was gone.

Sophie’s fingers did not want to work, but she managed to get dressed as the horrible sounds from outside continued. Whatever was happening was not good. Once her boots were laced again, she began searching quietly in the straw. A pitchfork was half-buried near the edge and she hauled it back with her to the blanket.

Where she sat for what was surely an eternity.

Eventually, the night silence came back full force. Which was only worse. She worried in silence over her parents, over Rian, and everyone else. Prayers had not formed. No matter how much she tried to form the words, none of the comforting prayers she’d learned as a child came forth. Well, she was fallen and all. Perhaps the Lord’s words would not come to her anymore. Which did not mean she was going to sit up here like a damsel. There were plenty of strong women in the Bible and she would be cut from the same cloth, fallen or not.

Pitchfork in hand, she maneuvered down the ladder and toward the door. The silence was worse than the screams had been. Huddled near the door, she peeked outside, but saw nothing. The fire had been scattered, either during whatever happened or before. The stars were bright, but not enough to show her what she needed.

“Rian,” she hissed.

Nothing.

So, she crept out two steps. “Rian,” she tried again. Still nothing, so she moved forward and tripped over something that had not been there before. When she looked down, she suppressed a scream.

It was one of the children. The daughter, she thought, of those who manned the stop. Or, what was left of her. Light from the left forced her to turn and she saw several figures hurrying away. She backed up toward the barn once more and stopped when splintered wood hit her back.

Because the hooded figures had been fleeing…something.

Something that made no sound until it was atop them and yelled, screamed, in a way that made her bones chill. The hooded figures stood no chance. Whatever the large figure was, it tore through them like pages from a book. Was that what had done- what had happened? Did the ones trying to escape turn on each other?

All of the questions spinning in her head came back to one thing.

Rian’s insistence of his lack of humanity.

Except, he had been with her. It could not be him. Not that had killed- Except, he was out there somewhere now. So, if he had not killed the little girl and anyone else, where was he now? A yell and a tearing sound pulled her back to the scene happening across the yard.

“Rian,” she whispered. Her fingers tightened on the pitchfork and she took a step forward. The first two were hard, but they became easier. She had to check on her parents. On everyone. Whatever had happened, she should have been there as well. Except, she’d fallen into sinful ways instead.

The three hooded figures were not whole when she reached them. Bile rose in her throat and she turned to the side, still holding the pitchfork, and lost her dinner. Perhaps lunch and breakfast as well. Maybe, she didn’t know, everything she’d eaten since she was a babe.

Because Rian was there. He sat atop the torso of someone. At first, she’d thought he’d lost his bandana in the fight, but then she saw him dipping it into…some part of the remains of the body. Judging by the blood dripping from the fabric, this was not the first body he’d done this to.

“Rian?”

His head came up and she wasn’t sure what she saw. Her fingers tightened on the pitchfork as he rose and walked toward her. Her body tried to lose the fight with the darkness behind her eyes when he reached for her, but she would no fainting flower.

RIAN

He saw her knees lock as she trembled at the sight of him, but he still reached for her. How he hated the sight of blood on the sleeve of her dress. Worse, hated what it meant. That she’d seen him as he truly was. Rian guided her back to the barn, thankful she was in compliant shock, where the horses and donkeys objected to the scent of blood and him in general. A cot for a stablehand in back made a bed for her and he covered her with a blanket before returning outside.

The bandana tied around his head dripped blood into his skin and hair. Tomorrow, the latter would be redder, freshly colored, and harder to manage. And still, every time he found a piece of one of the ones he’d killed, he let the bandana soak up their congealing blood. When it leaked into his mouth he spat it out, not wanting to be tempted down that road again.

When light began to form in the east, he began to gather up everyone he could find. Smaller pieces he almost missed in the dark because more obvious as the sun rose. Sophie’s parents had been caught in their bed. He wrapped them in blankets before carrying them outside to the pile in the yard. Wood needed to be gathered. To keep this many dead, especially given the manner of their death, a chance to form a nightmare was irresponsible. They had to be burned.

A couple of old wagons gave him larger pieces of wood to add to the stuff already gathered from the wood pile out back. He used embers on the hearth to light a stick he could carry to the makeshift pyre.

Where he saw Sophie, eyes wide in horror, and clutching her pitchfork once more. He wanted to go to her. He’d wanted to spare her all of this. No one deserved to see such a nightmare.

“Please,” he said. “go back inside.”

“What are you?” she demanded. Unable to answer, he felt the wood burning closer to where he clutched it. When she brandished the pitchfork, he fought the urge to smile. “What are you?” she screamed.

“Your family are not from the old country.”

“My parents’ parents came over,” she said. “Which has nothing to do with- did you do this? What happened?” More quietly, afraid, “My parents?”

“I am sorry,” he told her. “I do not know what they meant to do, but- they will not do so again.”

“But what are you?” she demanded, and he saw the sheen of tears in her eyes.

“Your kind call mine redcaps. Have you heard of me?”

“No,” she admitted. “But what- what killed these people? Why?”

“I do not know. But we have to burn them. There are things which might grow from such a massacre. I am so very sorry, Sophie. Even your parents, righteous though they may have been, are not immune. Will you let me do this?”

“I-” She stared at him and leaned on the pitchfork. “I do not know what is going on. Or what we should do. But- but very well. If you believe you must.” Her eyes narrowed as he approached the pyre. “But then I want answers.”

Rian had no idea what questions she might have, but he nodded, wanting the work done. She stayed across the fire as he lit it. Soon, her arm covered her mouth and nose. He wondered if he might get her to go inside and then thought of what was inside.

The barn perhaps. The animals were already skittish, and he hated to impose upon them, but the little house would welcome no one for some time. As black smoke whipped about in the wind he kept an eye for flying embers, but mostly he watched Sophie. She coughed into her arm and leaned on the pitchfork for support as the fire crackled.

“Do you know how to tend horses?” he asked.

“I- The basics. We had a couple of horses at home. But we had a man to take care of them.”

“They will need feeding.”

“You do not want me out here.”

“I seek to spare you this horror as I meant to spare you last night.”

“I do not appreciate being coddled.”

“No,” Rian replied, “I would not expect such from one as strong as you. But, the horses and wee donkeys you fed last night will not want me so close. Even when I am not covered in blood. Will you tend them? They should not suffer.”

SOPHIE

He was obviously attempting to get rid of her, but Sophie hated being out here. Only, she felt she owed it to her parents. Someone should whisper quiet prayers to the souls lost here. Coughing interrupted her thoughts and she bent over, clinging to the pitchfork to stay upright now. The taste of burning flesh filled her mouth and if she’d anything else in her stomach, it would now be on the dirt.

“Sophie?” He was close. He might touch her.

That she was not capable of handling.

“I will tend the animals.”

She fled. Which she knew. And made her mad.

The smoke had not permeated the barn and she lost herself in the scent of animal. Feeding, cleaning the stalls, debating on releasing them into the corral, took not long enough. In the end, she left them in their stalls, worried over their reaction to the smell of burning flesh.

She was not excited to get close. So, she found the pump around the back of the barn and filled a few buckets. Which still took not enough time, so she pumped water over her own head, drenched her hair and the back of her blouse, and shivered only from the cold. Or so she told herself. If only herself were not so hard to convince.

“What will we tell the authorities?” she asked when she heard footsteps.

“Why should we tell them anything? Rian asked in return. He held out a horse blanket and she wrapped herself in it as the shivers began. “I would take you inside, but- You will not want to go there.”

“Is that where they died?”

“Several people. Would you like to go in the barn? The fire is dying down. We can find a place to talk.” He stretched his hand out, but did touch her. “Do you still have questions?”

“I do.” She did not take his hand. “Inside the barn. I suppose.” Her eyes continued to drag upward to stare at his bright red bandana. A lock of hair had slid free and hung over his ear. It was not the brown of before. The shock of red was another punch in her gut. Which already ached between the shock, vomiting, and general trouble.

He left first, as if he knew she was unwilling to turn her back on him. Acutely aware, as she was now, of how much he felt like a predator. And how much she was only prey.

Inside, she sat on a haybale and set the pitchfork against it. Within reach. Because there was nothing to make a woman feel better than a weapon to hand.

“What happened last night?” she demanded.

Rian sat across from her, several feet between them, and met her eyes, holding her attention. “Someone attacked this place. With evil intent. They were human. Perhaps they sought to create a Hunt.”

“A hunt? Were they…Indians?”

“I do not believe so. Does it matter? I suppose, should we be forced to make a story, we should tell them it was Indians.”

“No!” Sophie glared as she jabbed a finger towards him. “I will not lie.”

Rian stood and stepped closer to her. “And so you will tell everyone what I am, Sophie Cogswell?”

Fear, for a second, had kept her seated, but she stood and grabbed the pitchfork when anger burned away fear. “You will not intimidate me. I will not let you think you might shove me around. Whatever you are, sit down.”

His eyes followed the wave of the pitchfork as she spoke. Once she was done, he grinned and sat down again. She remained standing. All of her nerves were lit up and sitting still was impossible. So, she paced as Rian’s eyes followed her movements.

“I killed no one other than those who had attacked the people here. Yes, my people kill. Those who have fallen prey to their own nature, consume the flesh of their victims.” His eyes widened, and he leapt to his feet, “I would not. I have not. Not of a human.”

  RIAN       

Of his own kind, the fae, he said nothing. He was unashamed of his past, but some of it was not fitting for human ears. Sophie was already spooked.

“Why is your hair red?”

Rian tugged the bandana off, his fingers running along the edge and feeling no itch. He shouldn’t for some time after last night. All of the blood he’d fed it was not from those he’d killed, but it was all accepted. Holding it in one hand, he ran his fingers through his hair, tugging at the snarls beginning to form.

“Because when my cap is red, so is my hair. As it dries, my hair changes color.”

“That is no cap.”

As he tied it back onto his head, Rian grinned. “No. When I arrived in this country it was still as it was. But, the further west I moved, the more I thought to change it and when I awoke one morning it was as it is. The function is the same.”

“I don’t know what to do,” she whispered.

And, for the first time, he cursed the Fates for placing her in his path. To him, she had been a joy even when they had not said a word to one another. For her, she had been thrust into a nightmare. He did not know how to comfort her. His kind were not known for their comforting abilities. Food, maybe. He might catch something, but would be forced to leave her alone.

“I swear, I shall not allow harm to fall to you.” Rian laid his hand atop his head, fingers pressed against the bright red bandana. “By my name and my power, by the cap of my foremothers, I swear to you, Sophie Cogswell, that I, Rian Na Fahe and those of my line shall never cause harm to befall you. I shall bind myself by whatever oath you require.”

Tears filled her eyes and he dared approach her. With caution, because she still held a weapon. There was no brandishing of rusted, sharp tines, so he took it from her hand and let it fall to the floor. Unlike last night, he did not crush her to him. Even if he wanted to. The fight, the death, left him with the urge to seek other desires as well.

Except, she was human, so he kept those desires at bay. All he did was hold her, even when he felt the tears fall and not stop. Because he did not know what else to do for her. Damn the Fates for putting her through this.

Eventually, her tears stopped, and he wiped her cheeks with the pad of his thumb.

“You should drink. Do you think you might eat something?”

“Without being sick? I doubt it.”

“Well, water. I must insist. You humans are so fragile at times such as these.”

Sophie laughed, and it startled him, so he pulled her back to see her face. There was no hysteria to read in her eyes as she got herself under control. Which did not mean her mind had not broken. He had witnessed such before.

“No one has ever called me fragile before,” she told him.

“Well, as a race, your kind are easily breakable. Which does not mean you are fragile. I was drawn to your strength the moment I stepped onto the stagecoach. I believe the Fates delivered me to you.”

“Fates?”

“We do not believe in your god. He is new, and we are ancient.”

“My mind cannot handle this discussion at this moment. We must focus on something more immediate. There will be another coach. There might even be soldiers. And I will not lie.”

“I do not care.” He did not care. “So long as my secret remains so. I came west for a reason and I’d rather not be found.”

“I am sure there is a story there,” Sophie informed him. “but we haven’t time. We shall have to tell the truth.”

“The truth?”

“That we were awoken in the evening from- from our slumber and discovered everyone dead. We had- had to burn them because we feared wild animals hauling away- you know.”

“Bits and pieces?”

She slapped his chest and he was unable to keep his grin away. “Yes,” she mumbled. “And while we wait, we should clean up inside. So whomever comes next doesn’t have to.”

“Are you sure? It is not a pretty sight.”

“I have been witness to death.”

Rian stepped closer and laid a kiss on her lips. “Whatever happens, understand I will uphold my oath. It binds me in ways you do not understand.”

SOPHIE

“Well, you may explain it later.” Because surely, he did not insist she take him at his word for everything. “For now-” They had a massacre to clean.

“I shall answer all your questions.”

She planned to hold him to it. Once they were done. A coach was not likely to come today. They’d said every two to three days. Soldiers did patrol the area, but she’d heard they’d not been around for a month. Which either meant they would show up soon or not at all.

They spent the day cleaning as best they could. Sophie tended the animals as they refused to let Rian near them. Unlike many men of her acquaintance he was more than helpful with everything else. The worst of the evidence of death he insisted she allow him to clean. As her stomach roiled all day, she was quick to let him.

By the time the sun headed down, the house was better. Not that she wanted to sleep inside. She also did not want to say anything.

“There is the cot in the stable. I will sleep on the floor away from you. First, we shall clean up and I will prepare a meal unless you wish to do the cooking.” Rian had brought out the small trunk her parents had carried inside and taken their larger ones from the top of their coach. He had nothing of his own.

“I would like to get clean. I do not care for a meal, but I know you will insist because I am fragile.” Sophie rolled her eyes, something her father had always scolded her for. “And I am used to sleeping on the floor so do not mind if you take the cot.”

 “Nonsense. You are the lady.”

Since she did not want to sleep on the floor she did not argue. He left her to clean up and she dug out one of her two dresses to change into. Her hair she managed to brush clear of tangles and braid. Good enough.

“I found their root cellar,” Rian announced as he set a box down filled with cans, jars, and loose vegetables. “I made sure to find clean pots. There was venison as well. I will fry it up with some onions.”

Sophie said nothing, and he continued to speak. His voice, despite the roughness of his words, calmed her. The sound of humanity, she supposed, even if he insisted to being other. And, she was beginning to believe him.

“I believe you,” she said when he handed her a plate. “Even if I find it most odd. Until now I have not noticed you lying or pretending. So, I shall accept the truth of you.”

Whatever he’d been about to say, he stopped. Rian stared down at her on the hay bale before returning to his own seat. As he ate, he watched her.

“I want to sleep in the loft,” she told him after they’d washed up and put out the tiny fire. “I would feel more comfortable.”

Rian headed for where they’d laid out her things by the cot now tucked into an empty stall.

“No,” Sophie said, and he stopped. “I wish to sleep with you.”

“That is not necessary.”

“Of course, it is not. But I am afraid to sleep by myself as I am alone in the world now. And, I am already ruined.”

“Nonsense,” Rian said as he approached her and laid his arm around her waist. “You are on the way to being well-seasoned, but that does not mean ruined.”

“That is nonsense,” Sophie scoffed.

“So, I shouldn’t show you?” he counted as he stepped closer.

“I never said those words.”

EPILOGUE

Rian paced outside, crushing rocks in his hands as he listened to something. Whatever it was had been itching his bandana all night. Sophie had grown annoyed with his pacing and sent him outside to settle down.

To be fair to her, in her condition, she was liable to be annoyed by plenty. She carried his child and the child was not human. That alone made him anxious, but this was something else. In the barn, one of the horses spooked and he dropped the rock to race toward the building.

The smell hit him before he saw the piece of darkness where it should not be.

“Back away, sluagh,” he bellowed.

The darkness froze, but another flowed forward to join it.

“I did not know you resided here now.”

“Come out of here. You’re bothering the animals.”

The shadows moved, headed for the door, and Rian followed. What he saw under the moonlight made him curse. “Damn you, Liam.”

“Rian,” Liam hissed. “I want no trouble.”

“Then move on.”

“Yes. My child will find food elsewhere.”

The smaller shadow made sense now. The face, not formed yet, but appearing to melt off soft bones, hissed. Little claws flexed, and Rian smirked.

“Get your bastard in line.”

Liam hit the babe in the side of the head. “Apologies. But, what are you doing here? I hadn’t heard you’d left Fort Smith.”

“Moved on. Things were happening I wanted no part of.”

Liam laughed, and the babe laughed with him. “I should have been wiser. Then I might not be where I am now.”

“Which is where?”

“Cursed. Me and the child. By our next queen.”

Rian swore, a habit he’d tried to drop for Sophie’s sake. “There are no queens here. We are free of such nonsense.” Humans were not the only ones who’d fled the monarchies of the old country.

“One is rising,” Liam said, sounding too pleased. “And you would be wise to make your peace with her now.”

“There are no queens out here. Let her sit on a throne in Fort Smith.”

Liam laughed, the babe with him, and it was not a pleasing sound.

“She is coming here. And you will be thankful when she arrives.”

“Fu-”

“Rian? Do you need the shotgun?” Sophie called from the open kitchen door.

“And that is why,” Liam said as he grabbed the babe and began to melt into the shadows. “She’s your only hope of saving your own child. Certainly, your only chance to save the woman.”

Rian’s blood went cold as Liam spoke before disappearing. He wanted nothing to do with queens. He would handle the birth of his own child and would see Sophie through it.

“Rian?” she called again.

“Coming,” he hollered back. “Coyote, I think. Get inside. You need to rest.”

She grumbled, but complied, and he joined her before the fire to fret over new troubles coming.

 

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Delilah

Welcome to my 2017 December project! 26 letters in the Western alphabet, 26 characters. I'm not going in alphabetical order. As always, some stories will be longer than others, some typos will have been missed, and I hope you enjoy them all! Starting things off, we have the story of Delilah. Or, at least a story I wanted to write to change things up with the tale. 

1

The sun did not wake her, she had been awake for hours. Everyone else in the city slept, but she’d received a message in her dreams and had spent the early morning attempting to decipher the meaning. Other than danger, she had found nothing. She had not recognized the man in her dreams, but knew she would recognize him if she saw him waking. His pleasing figure and handsome face taunted her as she finally stood from her bed.

Servants of the house awoke around her and she went to her bathing chamber to await assistance with her bath. All through her morning ablutions, the face in her dreams haunted her. Even her morning meal, usually her favorite, tasted of ash compared to the memory of the man. Pulled from her reminiscence by a knock at her gate, she sent her lead woman out to answer.

The servant returned, bowing in a group of powerful men from the city below her hill. She did not bother rising to greet them, but reclined on her couch as another of her servants combed her hair, a pleasing sensation even with her agitation. The men looked uncomfortable in her house of women, but she preferred it that way. Let them be wary of her.

“Long have we let you sit unmolested here,” the eldest of the men began.

Her mouth turned upward, and she stretched her legs, toes pointed straight, as their attention fell to her thighs. “Long have I been most gracious about your forbearance,” she said in reply. None, she thought, were unaware of the undertone of her words.

“The time has come to collect,” the fattest of them said. “You will learn the secret of our enemy, so we might destroy him before an army arrives to support him.”

The third and fourth man said nothing. Junior members of the city’s council, they likely had already been cowed into silence. So, she directed her answer to them.

“I do not work for free,” she said. “And whatever your pretty words, I exist here, because it pleases me to reside here. If you try to run me off, you will find yourselves without authority.”

“We shall pay you,” the eldest said and before she might scoff at his offer, he named a sum great enough to silence her.

“And in return?” she asked, still sounding bored. Well, she’d long stopped pretending to care about the words of any man. Those who came to her preferred such behavior.

“You will do the task laid out and find the man we seek. From him, you will learn the secret of his strength and deliver it unto us.”

“Give my woman the information. And I expect payment before I begin my work.” Before they might object she smiled and rose from the couch. “It is how I conduct business.”

She left them to dither with one another, her lead woman waiting patiently for the information and acceptance of a delivery of the sum promised. There was work to prepare for and she had grown weary of the conversation.

In the hall, she stopped one of her servants, “Bring me the soothsayer. Immediately.”

The woman bowed away, and Delilah continued to where she conducted the background of her work. The books needed updating and she must consult the secret tomes kept by herself and her predecessor in the business. Trouble was ahead, the danger of her dream made manifest. It would not catch her unprepared for battle. 

2 

Business in the evening was quiet, the house settled long ago into routine, and Delilah sat in the center of it all. She saw none of the clients other than her own, preferring to not be bothered with the smell of men. Not unless they paid her. The duty of her lead woman was to handle outside communication and she excelled at such.

“Did the auger deliver good news?” Tabitha asked as she stroked Delilah’s bare ankle from her place on the floor. “I have worried since I saw her arrive.”

Delilah smiled down at the other woman and played with her hair, freed from the scarf she wore over it when out in the public rooms. “There is no reason to fear. I simply had a dream I wished interpreted.” The news had not been good, but she’d expected that after the visit from the town. “There is nothing to fear, my sweetheart.”

Tabitha pressed a kiss to Delilah’s calf. “I am only ever anxious for you.”

“I know. Did you not have a client this evening?” Because she enjoyed Tabitha, but the woman was wearing after too long. The sweetness others enjoyed only made Delilah’s teeth ache. At least outside of the bed.

Tabitha stood and stretched, the sheer robe covering her moving in a way made to entice the eye to the place it desired to go.

Delilah enjoyed it as much as any customer, but it did not make her keep the other woman to herself. And not only because it might impact her bottom line. Tonight, she had arranged for the mysterious man of her dream to be brought here. Soldiers were aware of her establishment and plenty were willing to do a favor in return for a few affectionate moments from their favorite at no charge.

Once Tabitha had gone, Delilah changed into her best customer gown. Gathered at one shoulder, it left most of one breast exposed before falling to the ground freely. Her feet she left bare and she fixed her hair on her own, pulling it back into a loose tail. A sigh filled the room before she poured herself a swift drink. Crossing the room, she closed the door behind her once inside the chamber she received guests for work.

The lighting was kept low, and a tray of foods laid out already. She threw open the window coverings to let in the scent of the garden before reclining on the couch to await the delivery of the man in her dreams. Not the man of her dreams as the soothsayer had teased her. The old woman knew she desired nothing from men, but their coin. A knock on the door drew her attention to the present.

“Enter,” she called.

The lead woman stepped inside, bowed, and moved aside to let the handsome man into her presence.

He stared at Delilah and she softened her expression into a welcoming smile. The door closed behind him before he stepped forward. His eyes explored her body and she watched for signs his own body was impressed by her.

“They did not lie,” he said as he crossed the floor. He sat on the couch and stroked her bare arm. “You are the most beautiful woman in the city.”

Delilah sat up and felt him watch the shift of her body. “And yet, you show me no honor as you are.”

He smiled, strong lips widening to display his teeth. As her hand began to move along his clad leg, he stopped it with his own. Her lower lip came out in a pout, but he did not release his hold.

“My religion does not allow me to show myself to a woman not my wife.”

“Surely it does not require you to remain so covered even here? The heat is stifling.” Never had she seen a man wearing so much. Under his outer robe she saw trousers before his sandals showed clean feet. She thought she saw proof of a long-sleeved tunic under the robe as well. “You might take off your robe.”

“I may not. Never have I been more upset at this restriction.” He sounded upset, but she was not sure. “I am pleased to remain with you,” he offered as he used his free hand to stroke the bare skin of his arm. “We can, surely, find our company amenable within the constraints I must live by.” From within his robe he removed a small pouch of coins and leaned forward to lay it by the light repast waiting for him.

Delilah rose up on her knees and laid her arms around his shoulders. “Must we only speak?” she asked.

“Perhaps not,” he said as he turned his handsome, strong face to hers, “It shall depend on the arrangement we might come to.”

3

 The men from town had grown bothersome. For three nights the man from her dreams had come to her and they had sat on her couch. They fed each other succulent morsels and he allowed her kisses to his lips and face, but no more. His hands had touched her, above and below her robe, but he kept it on her. Skirting the rules, she wanted to accuse him of, but the money paid to her sang of real pleasures.

“Lady,” her lead woman said, “Sampson is here again. One of the men from town has followed him. The one who works for the fat man.”

Delilah looked up from her mirror and left her hair as it was. She’d brushed it herself and left it loose to cover her breasts as tonight she left them bare. Because, she had vowed to herself, tonight she would not allow the man to deny his own desires.

“Do not let them meet,” she instructed. “And bring me Sampson. If the other man does not partake, escort him out. And check his coins are real before service is rendered.” Perhaps she might move her business. She adored this home, but the city grew more bothersome by the day. As if a woman had no right to run a business popular with the most important of men.

“Of course, lady,” was said before the lead woman left.

A moment later she returned with Sampson who hurried towards her to take her hands in his.

“My sweetest Delilah,” he said before laying a kiss upon her lips.

His touch aroused her, and she let him direct the kiss. For now. Soon enough, she would show him who held control in this room. The sure knowledge of what would come after made her shiver more than the feel of his hard chest against hers.

“Sampson,” she replied once her lips were free of his touch. “How I have counted the time until your arrival. Come. Sit. Let me show you how I have missed you.” She drew him to the couch and pushed him down.

“You are afire tonight, my sweetest,” he said as she knelt across his lap. “What a pleasure.”

“The pleasure is only beginning,” she promised before taking his hands. “We shall partake of each other this night as unlike not other.” Swiftly, as she had long practiced this move, she secured his wrists to the manacles built into chains on her couch.

“What is this?” he demanded as he tugged at the chains. “These will not hold me.”

Delilah rose and swept her hair over her shoulders. “No, not the strongest man known,” she agreed. “Not one who might split an ox in two using only the strength of his arms to pull.” She leaned forward and let her body brush against his clad form. “But a man who has desires so long denied him? One who would give in to his most basic of needs if not for the false restraints of his God? That man? He would submit to the one who promised him the ultimate in pleasure.”

Sampson shivered when she leaned in and took his lower lip between her teeth. His arms flexed, but he made no move to break free of her chains. As she suspected. The biggest, strongest men, always submitted so easily. Her tongue slipped into his mouth and he moaned as she toyed with his hair. Once sure of his submission, she would remove the chains and take him to her bed. There, she would do her true work.

“When I know,” she told him as she knelt up, “that you shall be a good man, and behave properly for me, I shall release you from the chains. In the meantime, I shall show you how much I desire you.”

Delilah knew her trade, but she was no match for the secret of Sampson. A secret so great, despite her assumption otherwise about the size of Sampson, it struck her dumb. As she scrambled backwards and fell f rom her sofa, Sampson broke the chains holding him to try to break her fall. He failed, and she felt her head hit the back of low table before the dim light in the room faded to nothing.

4

When she came to, she found herself in bed. Her real bed and not the one customers knew. A groan alerted the warm body next to her she was no longer unaware. As rough as her early life had been, she was no stranger to blacking out so stayed still and did not rush to sit or do much of anything.

“I am sorry,” Sampson said as she took Delilah’s hand. “I had not expected such a violent reaction.”

A slow turn of her head allowed her to look upon the other woman and Delilah cursed herself for a fool in silence. Now that she knew, it was impossible to miss the subtle hints that the strongest man in the world, was not. She pulled her hand away and curled her fingers into her palms.

“I thought, perhaps, your God demanded the loss of your manhood in obedience when I saw no rise all these nights.” After speaking, she began to ease herself up, hating to look up at anyone when speaking. “I need not your help! This is not the first time my head has taken such a blow.” She did allow Sampson to pile pillows up behind her so being seated was easier and did not take so much work from her.

Sampson watched her, but offered no help as she arranged herself on the bed. Once more, she took Delilah’s hand and held it loosely. “My God only requires my silence on this matter,” she explained. “My brother is the true Sampson, but he is recovering from a wound. The soldiers expected him here. His might was needed to show strength to the heathens here.”

“Such as myself?” Delilah asked with a scowl. “I care not for your strength, the strength of our God, or your brother.”

“And yet, you took the money from the city men.”

“I did! The sum will allow me to reassign all my clients to someone who does not shudder at the touch of men.” Delilah glared at Sampson despite the woman’s amusement. “Never have I found the attention of men to my liking.”

“Naomi,” was the only word given in response. She eased herself off the bed and poured a cup of wine to bring back to Delilah. “I understand such aversion,” she told Delilah as she held out the cup. “And I have been pleased to imitate my brother for that reason alone. I might never have met you had I not been called to such.”

“And when he arrives?”

Naomi slid back into the bed and laid her head in Delilah’s lap. “I shall be Naomi once more. And forced to hide my affections.”

“A shame,” Delilah said after emptying her cup. She let it tumble across the bed, so she might run her fingers through Naomi’s hair. “I am even sorrier now you resisted my advances so well.”

Naomi moved with caution, but sat up to kneel beside Delilah. “With great care,” she said in a voice that made Delilah shiver, “I might show my affection, so you feel no regret.”

“Lay your head back in my lap. I shall rest a moment longer.” Delilah smiled at the strongest woman in the world. “The feel of your hair brings me joy. Give me that until I am ready for more.”

“With pleasure,” Naomi replied.

Later, with the arrival of her brother, Naomi allowed herself to be coaxed into remaining with Delilah.

And, so, the most beautiful woman in town, and the strongest woman no one knew, lived together for the rest of their lives, and sometimes laughed at the stories told of Delilah’s part in the downfall of Sampson.

 

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Happy New Year Eve's Story!

And the year winds down to an end! I'll see about my own year in review post sometime this week. I mean, everyone else does it! In the meantime, one last story. I hate how many days I missed this month. Family, the flu, and family with the flu stole a lot of my time. I managed to get some writing done on the two novels I am working on so that's good, but no short stories.

I'm not sure why, but yesterday I was thinking on Erynna and Clyde from this story. So, I have visited them again. I like these characters, all of them, and their setting, and would like to do more with them all. Probably as occasionally visited people in short stories.

For now, enjoy!

Erynna's Fate, Sealed

1

Erynna sat on the beach as moonlight slid over her wet skin. Clyde had abandoned her again, swimming longer and deeper, searching for something she might never find. Tears mingled with seawater and she let them soothe her skin as the wind gusted tangled black locks around her face. The worst of it was the knowing. Clyde had changed, despite his lame attempts to hide it, and she knew. Now, sitting here, if she closed her eyes she could feel his exuberance.

More tears, her own fears and regrets brought forth most, but there was also the gladness for her brother. If she would be denied, so be it, but the ocean was not so cruel as to steal their heritage from them both. That was good, and it allowed her to sit in the chilly, autumn sand and stare into the ocean until her eyes ached. 

A blanket was draped over her shoulders and she tilted her head up to blink at her father. Kyle said nothing, but he sat in the same sand as her and stared out at the sea with a longing that was, if not entirely the same, as filled with need and regret as her own gaze. Her tears fell in silence, but he knew, and he pulled her a little closer to him. Kyle wouldn’t speak, not right now, because he understood. Oh, not exactly, but if anyone understood a longing for something that each day drew closer to not being, it was him.

In the east, a hazy light began to spill upon their separate, shared misery. The scent of the ocean, a comfort that stung, filled her senses and she closed her eyes. Clyde would be up soon. Knowing it was enough, she could not watch him appear. Kyle could be the witness to her twin’s transformation. For her, there was the screech of gulls in her ears and the scent of a home never to be in her nose. It was enough to make her want to cry once more, but she did not. She would not in front of her brother.

“Graduation is today,” Kyle said as she listened to new footsteps. “You should let me get you home to clean up.”

“I’m not going.”

At her twin’s words, Erynna opened her eyes. Her friends had thrown themselves at her brother and he’d waded through them without a care. He was, she’d realized early, most definitely their father’s son. Their biological father. Not Kyle who still mourned the loss of Ewan after five years.

Clyde wasn’t looking at them, his head had twisted and he stared at the sea. Her nose wrinkled at his attractiveness. Like their father, it would trap him someday. She was sure of it. The longing he showed, that she tried to hide, drew his steps to the cool water drawing closer with the morning tide. He was already gone, she realized. The lure of the sea had settled deep within his spirits and he would not resist.

So, she stood and reached out for Kyle. He stared at her hand, watched her blink once, and took her hand despite not using her help to get to his feet. She released her foster father’s hand to embrace her twin. He patted her on the back once. Kyle got not even a look before Clyde bounded for the sea and disappeared into the waves with a sleek brown fin breaking the water once, as if to wave.

2

“I can’t believe Clyde didn’t show,” Lucy whispered.

Whispered, despite the loud music spilling onto the beach. Because, of course, they’d gone to the beach after graduation. Erynna hadn’t wanted to come out, but Kyle had given her a small smile and shoved her out the door. He meant well. He always did. And, who knew, maybe it was better this way. The sharp scent of the ocean filled her senses in a way the smoke from the bonfire could not. A fall chill had everyone bundled in coats, but she’d only donned a sweater for the celebration.

Lucy, more of a Clyde groupie than a real friend, drifted off to get another beer when Erynna said nothing.

“He changed, didn’t he?”

This voice captured her attention. Erynna turned from the cruel ocean to see Artis grinning. They had not always been friends, despite what their parents wanted. Artis’ mom and Erynna’s dad were best friends. She thought, possibly, they had hoped she would fall for one of Artis’ brothers, but they did not appeal. Not in comparison to their sister with round, freckled cheeks, full lips, a fuller- That was where Erynna stopped herself. Always. Because Artis showed no interest of that sort.

“Earth to Erynna.” Artis grabbed her arm, looped it with hers, and led her away from the fire. Not closer to the water, for which she was thankful. Instead, to her surprise, she led her over to her car. “Come on. I don’t want to be there anymore than you.”

“Why not?” Erynna asked the question as she gazed at her now friend’s arm in hers. It felt nice. Or maybe it was the beers.

“Because I don’t like most of them.”

“Yea, me either.”

They laughed before Artis took off and began to drive, inland. The only noise to keep them company was the crunch of tires on unpaved roads. Erynna kept her window rolled up as if that would stop the teasing scent of the ocean from following her.

“He did though, didn’t he?”

She knew what was being asked, but could not force the words from her tight throat.

“I’m so sorry, Erynna. But, it could still happen, right?”

In a way, it was nice having a friend who knew your blood father was a selkie. In a way, though, it was not. Despite the odd whispers about her and Clyde, most people accepted Kyle as their father. The island was small enough there were no squelching rumors, but they all tried to keep a low profile and engender no new speculations. Because of her mom’s relationship with Erynna’s dad, Artis knew more than most.

“Erynna? Do you want me to take you home instead?”

“Instead of where?”

“I thought we’d go to the old sheep farm.”

“It smells like sheep.” Oh. Erynna blinked twice, but a tear fell despite her efforts. “You’re a good friend.”

“Nah. I just don’t want to go home yet either.”

Also probably true as Artis had been arguing with her mom for the last several months. At least Kyle did not expect her to go off to university somewhere. With Clyde gone, she wondered if he would try to hold her closer, but dismissed the idea. The one thing Kyle had always been good at was letting go. To his detriment. She wished he would find someone new. If anyone deserved it, he did.

3

“Quit moping. We’re here and I need you to get the gate.”

Erynna opened her door and stuck out her tongue. “I wasn’t moping.” But she was, and they both knew it. Once Artis had driven through the gate, Erynna closed it once more and climbed in for the ride to the cottage. The night was cold and she wished for a coat now where she hadn’t on the beach.

“I came out earlier and stocked the cottage. Grandda thought it was to get ready for the winter herders and I did not dissuade him.”

“Do you still want to winter here?”

Artis had been talking about taking the job from her grandda. A few months with nothing but snow and sheep sounded like torture to Erynna, but Artis said it would be lovely. Sometimes, she thought her friend mad.

“I do. Grandda said he would hire me, but I have to get mom to agree. And she’s so keen on getting me off the island and into university it’s not funny.”

The car rattled to a stop in front of the small cottage and neither of them hurried out into the cold.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

“Take the winter to think of it. In a way, the school troubles were a boon to all of us. We have a whole year to decide what to do instead of a few months.”

The school troubles had been a gas explosion. Which meant there was no school. Well, some parents boated their children to another, but most had simply waited for school to resume. That was the way it was on the island.

“Come on. It’s only going to get colder out here,” Erynna said as she shoved her door open once more. The inland wind always chilled her bones the way the ocean’s cold could not. It was unfair, how connected she felt to the sea when she was denied a true embrace. Fresh tears threatened her, but she blinked them back into her dark eyes as Artis opened the cottage door. They swiftly built a fire in the wood stove and added a pot of water to the top to make cocoa.

A couple of lanterns lit the room, neither interested in running the generator. Erynna because she hated the smell, and Artis because she hated the noise. They’d been coming here since they were children and it was small enough to have no surprises in the layout. As they waited for the water to boil they hauled blankets from the bed to the couch where they bundled up and listened to nothing but the occasional sleepy bleat of a sheep.

“Do you want to talk about Clyde?”

“Not really. Not tonight. Maybe later.” Maybe never, but she doubted that. They were twins, he would always be somewhere in her mind.

“I heard your dad was going to sell his boat.”

“That’s ridiculous!” Kyle would never sell the Dick. “He loves that boat.” Erynna scowled at her friend for even suggesting such a thing, but Artis only held up her hands and laughed.

“I only said I heard it. Mom said it was a stupid rumor as well. She’s going back to deckhand for him full time. Now that I’m all grown. Being the last one and all.”

“I’ll probably see her more than you if you stay up here with the sheep.”

Artis leapt up when the kettle shrilled its readiness.

Erynna shook her head, but watched her friend with care. Something was bothering her. How had she only now just noticed? Oh, right, because she’d been wrapped up in her own sadness.

“You ok?” she asked once Artis was back on the couch. “You’re being weird.”

“I am not!”

“Are too!”

They both laughed, but Erynna was not going to be deterred. She did let Artis finish her cocoa, but that was only because she wanted to drink hers and finish warming up. The wind gusted against the cottage, searching for cracks to break through and steal away their warmth. Shrill whistles rattled the shutters and they both jumped.

A nervous laugh accompanied Artis’ scooting closer on the couch. Erynna had no idea how she’d survive up here on her own. She was frightened of any noise. Always had been.

“Bogeymen outside?” Erynna asked as she looped an arm around Artis’ shoulders.

“It’s not funny. I saw one here once.” Artis had sworn since she was twelve she’d seen at least one bogey haunting the area by the cottage. She was sure they stole sheep on occasion.

“How are you going to make it up here alone?” Erynna demanded.

“I was hoping I wouldn’t have to.” Artis twisted in the blankets and took Erynna’s hand. “You could stay. You don’t have to work the Dick this winter.” They both giggled, because they’d giggled over the shorthand name of Kyle’s boat since they’d learned what it meant.

“Stay here? With the sheep?” With Artis. Which would be both boon and nightmare. She wanted to be close to her, but not only as friends and she didn’t know how she’d handle the sting of disappointment at such a situation. Not after Clyde.

“With me,” Artis said as the wind rattled the shutters once more. “You could keep the bogeymen away.”

“Artis- I don’t think- It’s not a good idea.”

“Why not? I’m not crazy, you know. I’ve seen them. And the old woman in the cave said they’re getting stronger.”

Erynna’s laugh came quickly she hated the way it made Artis flinch.

“How can you not believe?” Artis demanded. “You’re a selkie!”

“Because I’m not,” Erynna screamed. She shot to her feet, blankets hanging about her shoulders as she glared in the lantern light. “I’m not, Artis. Clyde is. I’m nothing. I can’t- I can’t stay here with you.”

“Why not?” Artis was not upset by her outburst. They were rare, but not unknown to her best friend. She knew Erynna would calm down soon enough.

“Because I don’t believe in self-flagellation.”

“Well, good?” Artis reached for her hand and Erynna let it be taken.

Maybe she did believe in it at least a little because she did not let go of her friend’s hand.

“What’s the real reason, if you’re not afraid of bogens?”

4

“You,” Erynna whispered.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, I love you, Artis. And don’t say you love me too, because that’s not what I mean.” Erynna looked down at their hands together and pulled hers away from the temptation their knotted fingers made bare.

“Tell me.” Artis took her hand again. “You can tell me anything.”

“I can’t.” Erynna’s bark of laughter was nearly a sob, but pride protected her. “Because I don’t want to lose my best friend.”

“You won’t. I promise.”

Oh, how she wanted to believe. For years, she’d dreamt of a chance to tell her friend how she felt, but now there was fear in her way. The wood in the stove shifted and sent sparks visible through the grate. Neither of them said anything until, finally, to drown out the wind that bothered her friend, Erynna spoke.

“I’ve wanted to kiss you since we were fourteen. Maybe longer. I just remember, at your birthday party, you let Lyle kiss you behind the house and I wanted to punch him. Every time you went on a date I dreaded hearing about it because I was so jealous. And, I know you’re not like me. So, I never said anything, but I-”

“You what?”

“I dreamed about you.” The whisper froze her throat. There was nothing else to say. So, she waited for Artis to make a joke, or yell, or get up and move away from her.

“I’m not like you,” Artis said, but she didn’t move away. “I like boys fine, Erynna. And I know you don’t. I’ve always known.”

“I’m sorry.” She blinked and stared at the shuttered window. There was no ocean scent in the room, she noted. Only the smell of wood smoke, and sheep, and Artis.

“Silly goose.”

Artis whispered in her ear, her breath warm on Erynna’s skin, and she shuddered. Her friend kissed the side of her neck and she bit her lower lip hard to keep quiet. Maybe Artis had been right and a bogen was here and it had possessed her friend. Which meant, she should not turn her head and let their lips touch. She definitely should not do it.

Except, she couldn’t help herself.

And the wind may have rattled the cottage as mad bogens tried to get in, but neither of them paid it any mind for the rest of the night. Because, there was time enough for sheep and bogeymen when the sun was up. For now, Erynna’s entire existence shrank down to Artis, and even the sea was forgotten.

EPILOGUE

“You know our children are out together,” Selma said over coffee with Kyle the next morning. “At least, I assume so since Artis never came home and Dad said she was up at the cottage.”

“Well, it’ll do her good to be away from beach for awhile.” Kyle topped off his coffee before asking, “Did you know? About Artis? I knew Erynna, well, I suspected, but…I never said anything. Not directly. Maybe I should have?”

“Children,” Selma said with a snort. “They think we know nothing about them. I’d caught Artis kissing her fair share of boys and girls, but only gave her the same lecture my mom gave me about getting pregnant.”

The boat rocked under them as the sun broke through the fog, finally, and gave them a shot of warmth even the coffee could not match.

“I hate how I feel,” Kyle said, getting to the truth of the matter.

“That she’s not going to swim off to the sea?”

“Yea. I’m a shitty dad, Selma. Because I always knew I could lose them, but every year I lied and told myself maybe not.”

“You met the new butcher in town? I hear he’s single.”

“Stop trying to hook me up!”

“I can’t. There’s only so few of you on the island. When I see a fine specimen I immediately covet him for my best friend!”

Kyle had seen the new butcher. The sight had perked up more than his eyes, but he blamed it on celibacy. Ewan’s leaving had been too hard and Kyle had allowed himself to get lost in work and childrearing. Maybe for too long.

“I should talk to him about business.”

“Yes!” Selma’s fist shot into the air and she spilled coffee onto her old sweater. It joined the rest of the stains.

“Business, Selma.”

“Yea,” she said with a smirk. “Dick business.”

Kyle had to laugh, sometimes the teenager was too close to the surface. But, he still worried inside. For Clyde, out at sea, and for Erynna, up with the sheep.

“Do you think they can handle the bogens by themselves?”

Selma sighed and touched the iron nail worn around her neck. “I think our daughters might finally push them back high into the hills.” She shook her head and glanced out at the sea. “I blame this all on you, you know. Before you dallied with your selkie everything knew its place.”

“Oh, Donnan knew his place.” Kyle couldn’t resist. Not the words, or the selkie who still swam ashore every now and again.

They both laughed before finishing their coffee and, once done, Kyle let Selma drop him off at the butcher’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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December Storytime - Cheaty Day Chapter One

Today, the last day before the kids' winter break starts, has been insane. How I look forward to having them home! :) As I am just getting a chance to look at my blog I have decided to cheat. If you read this story you know Tesia. Here's chapter one of her novel. Which, someday, I will get back to cleaning up. So many new and old projects and only so much time. I am moderately happy with this first chapter. But I'll cut it to shreds when I do serious edits on it.

Enjoy!

Chapter One - Car Trouble

 

It had been one of those nights and I was glad to be done with it. It seemed like every table that came in was looking to pick a fight and that always meant one thing. Lousy tips. By the time I was hauling the trash out on my way to my old truck I was glad to be done with the human race. All I wanted was to make the drive home, have a cup of cocoa, and crawl into bed after a hot shower. A fine and solid plan that kept me going to my truck. My truck that didn’t want to start. Now, I caught hell about my truck a lot. It had been my dad’s before I inherited it at eighteen, but it was always kept in good order. Which is why, as the engine wouldn’t turn over, I swore. Not enough to get them mad, but enough that they stirred.

“I know this is your fault,” I said to the empty cab. My feet hurt and I had a fresh burn where a coffee pot had hit me as Alice dodged a screaming kid who wouldn’t sit down. Grumbling, minus any real swearing, I reached behind the seat and pulled out a battered backpack. I changed clothes in the truck so at least it was only me that smelled like fried food and gravy. Once I stopped looking like a waitress I got back out of the truck and locked it up. Backpack over my shoulder I started walking. There weren’t any real bad parts of town in this area so I wasn’t worried. Still, I made sure my cell phone was fully charged and checked my pockets for anything I might need.

After walking for half an hour I thought maybe I’d maligned them for no good reason. Nothing pulled at me and I didn’t feel anything wrong. Then I hit the old row of warehouses near the train tracks and froze. They stirred again, forcing me to check every move I made. I whispered a prayer taught to me by my mom and crossed the street. For an old warehouse it was in pretty good shape. The For Sale sign was brand new, replaced after the owners switched real estate agents as if that would sell the place. No one wanted these warehouses which was a shame. Their brick exterior looked new and even the windows has survived countless generations of vandals. The glass brick windows gave no clue as to what was behind them, but I didn’t need to see to know.

A demon was in there.

I circled the building, squeezing through the narrow gap separating it from its neighbor and found a van parked in the alley out back. “Who has a van these days other than creeps?” I asked. There was no response. I found the door they’d used and dug my hand into my pocket to find the broken chalk I kept there for emergencies. Ignoring their insistent stirring I drew a quick symbol taught to me by my Dad. It would keep the curious at bay, hopefully long enough for me to finish up in here and get out. It wasn’t the demon that worried me. It was whomever might be with the demon that worried me. I dug out my phone and found I had less than half a charge. My fingers itched to call 9-1-1, but I didn’t.

Moving slowly so I didn’t attract attention by falling on my face I eventually made my way to the main floor of the warehouse. What I saw was not what I was expecting. Well, in truth I had expected to see someone tied up. I wasn’t expecting the demon to be the one bound. Three people I could only make out as shadows were standing around, talking quietly, as one of them drew lines on the recently swept floor. I knew what they were trying to do, but something wasn’t right.

Before I had a chance to figure it out I felt someone behind me. I tried to move, but a hand on my shoulder and what felt to be a gun at my back stopped me. “This is a private party,” I heard someone say in a deep, local sounding voice. When I went to turn my head he stopped me by pressing the gun, it was surely a gun, harder into my back. “We’ll just stay here and wait for them to be done before we deal with you.”

A good idea, if they hadn’t been screaming in my head now. Their will wanted me to succumb, to let them take over, but I fought. NO! I yelled even as their eerily beautiful voices informed me, as if I could ever forget The vessel must not be harmed.

Drawing in a steadying breath I said to my captor, “Look, I understand your trepidation, but something’s not right here.” Something was very wrong. My eyes kept going back to the demon and the poor soul he was riding as they sat looking calm. Not right. If the exorcism was going right he’d be sweating right now. Probably blood. They loved that trick and I was still trying to remove the stains from several perfectly good pairs of pants. I fought to keep them on their leash, but when the demon looked at us and smirked I nearly lost it. So, I did the only thing I could think of doing. Trusting them to keep me from harm I broke free of my captor’s grip, loosened once it seemed I’d be compliant, and ran towards the group of people.

I didn’t make it in time. The demon broke free of his ropes and grabbed the person kneeling on the floor trying to inscribe the circle that would have held him. He tossed the man backwards into another person and ignored the others as they shouted.

Instead he walked straight to me. Shit I said to them. Their annoyance at my language wasn’t so much felt as known. No, I was busy feeling fear. Lots and lots of fear as the demon didn’t try to avoid me. Most of them, once they knew what I was, didn’t want anything to do with me. This one? This one walked right up like we’d went to school together.

“Shit,” I said aloud because we had been to school together. Not the demon, but the body he’d taken. Andrew Denson had been my class president and while we hadn’t hung out he’d always seemed nice enough. I pulled my backpack around and went for the side pocket. When he saw what I was doing the demon hurried his steps. Too fast, too close, I chanted as I dropped my pack and opened the jar of oil I needed. It sloshed on my hands, but that was ok too. I held it, trying not to let it fall, as I said, “Halt and identify yourself, demon.”

Andrew, no, not Andrew I reminded myself, stopped. I don’t think it was because of my words. They buffeted against my control, but I wasn’t going to let them free because I didn’t know what they’d do. Ignoring the other people in the room I focused on the only problem that mattered at the moment. I met his eyes, a big no-no if you’re not protected, and was pretty sure Andrew was gone. If not gone than complicit which would make holding the angels back harder.

“How long?” I asked as I shoved my left hand into my pocket to find the chalk I would need.

The demon, looking amused, watched me. He also ignored the others in the room now. “College was so hard for him,” the demon said in Andrew’s voice. “So very hard. So very alone. I offered him what he wanted. It was a glorious time.” His words made my skin itch, like he was coating me in some nasty liquid. I knew the feeling well enough to identify him.

“Incubus,” I stated as I pulled chalk from my pocket.

From behind him I heard a man say, “No. That’s not right.” Arguing broke out, but it didn’t concern me. What concerned me was the demon and the way he wouldn’t stop looking at me. I let their leash slip a little and that stopped the smirk on his face.

He had other tricks up his sleeve to cause me trouble. No sooner was I thinking I could get this under control again than he was saying, “Witch,” loud enough to be heard by everyone. The arguing behind him stopped and I felt all eyes on me.

So, I had no choice. I felt trapped, surrounded by hostiles, and the demon wouldn’t stop staring. Whispering a prayer of forgiveness, I let them loose. As far as I know they don’t have a physical body. I’ve never seen them, not with my eyes. In my head they were points of light, too bright to see. I heard them all the time. I try not to let people see this at it can be disconcerting, but I had a feeling things had been about to get really bad for me.

The vessel shall not be harmed, Izquisedulu. Demon of Lust.

No matter how often they do it I still get freaked out when they talk through my voice. It echoes with the both of them and is weird. The demon growled, an uneasy noise to hear from my former class president.

Not Andrew they reminded me. As soon as they spoke it the tricks started. Blood, as I suspected. Eyes and ears were always first.

“No, don’t hurt me,” the demon said. He had the cowering down and I knew this wasn’t the first time he’d been caught. I wondered if he pulled the same stunt with the idiots in the room. Unfortunately for him, my companions and I were used to such tricks.

“In the name of God,” my voice said. “By the power he grants all those living to resist evil, I command you to return to the Pit. In the name of Jesus Christ we ask mercy for Andrew Denton. Be gone, demon, and trouble this man no more,” They/we commanded. I felt the power as it poured into me and out into poor Andrew’s body. He screamed, they do that a lot too, and it was horrible. The body collapsed and the angels turned to the room. I saw through their power the corruption left by the demon.

“No,” I shouted as they gathered power to cleanse the rest of the souls. Demonic taint is impossible for them to resist even if it only came from being too stupid to contain a demon properly before exorcising it. I can cleanse them I said to the angels. They argued with me and I was vaguely aware of two people checking the corpse before me.

Knowing how little time we had I pushed them back despite their protests.

 “Listen,” I started to say, but was stopped by four sets of hostile eyes upon me. “Hey,” I tried again as I stepped away and raised my arms to show I wasn’t a threat.

One of the men stepped forward and in the dim light I could see the small cross pinned to the lapel of his suit. No one else wore a suit. He is holy they whispered to me. If they could be mad at me they would be. Disappointment is easy, but as tied as we are to each other they can’t work up true anger. They save that for me, I guess. The stench of the demon taint was overpowering. It’s not sulfur like the internet boards say. It’s more like rotting meat coated in used fryer oil. The first time I smelled it I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it was bad.

“Demons are known to lie,” the holy man said. “Was he lying? Are you not a witch?”

Shit. I would have loved to lie. Their disapproval over that desire wasn’t new, but the pain between my eyes was still distracting so I took a deep breath.

“Can we discuss that later?” I asked with what I hoped was a calm voice. “The more important things here are calling the cops about Andrew and cleansing you of the demon’s taint.” I looked at the four men in the room and sighed. “You reek of demon,” I said apologetically. “Was this your first? It’s always the hardest to stay clean from.”

“You knew him?” the oldest looking of them said.

“Yea,” I said as I bent down to slowly pick up my pack. Part of the oil spilled on the floor and I frowned at the loss. At least the smell helped a little. “That’s Andrew Denton. We went to school. Well, that’s his body. It’s pretty clear the demon had been in charge for a long time. He was clean when I knew him.”

“How would you know?” one of the younger ones asked. He had the look of law enforcement. That might explain why the cops weren’t coming already.

“Seriously,” I said as the stench made me dizzy. “Can we please clean this place and you before we talk about my past?” They stretched in my head and I winced. It cleared the taint from my nostrils at least.

Tell them they instructed.  

“My name is Tesia Faustina Jaskolski,” I told them as I clutched my backpack to my chest. “I am the Holder of God’s gift and I outrank all your…selves so we’re leaving now.” I let their warmth and power sooth my doubts as I turned and walked towards the door. “You can be cleansed by me or them,” I said. “You’re less likely to suffer at my hands.”

They were stunned enough I made it to the backdoor. There I learned what had tipped them to my arrival. Sitting in the open door of the van was a woman around my age. She didn’t stop me, but the shotgun in her lap did.

I froze two steps into the alley and said, “I didn’t do anything wrong.” The demon taint was less on her, but it was still there. Whoever they were, they’d really messed this up.

When she spoke her accent was local although not from here. I knew most everyone in town and had never laid eyes on her before. Now I wished they’d let me go home first if only to have taken a shower before meeting her.

“My brother said that may not be true. Get in the van.”

 

 

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December Storytime - The Copper King

Fantasy storytime. With a conflicted mc, a terrible prince, and a lot of rain. I've had A LOT of fun with these characters. I will be visiting with them again. :)

The Copper King

 

1

Outside the door, despite the deluge of rain making the mud suck harder at our boots, mine sturdier than his, I stopped him.

“You shouldn’t be doing this.”

“You have stated such. Several times. I grow weary of your inability to shut up.”

“Beg forgiveness, your highness.”

I ignored his glare at the title. The one time I’d tried to use his name on this ridiculous venture he’d lectured me in the middle of the street. Which, I could not point out, was a bit more of a giveaway than his title. The door opened and the stink of unwashed bodies spilled out into the storm and into our waiting nostrils.

Unused to such humanity, the prince buried his lower face into a handkerchief of dubious masculinity. Not that he made great strides to conform to the kingdom’s occasionally narrow view on gender roles. Only, I’d encourage him to be a bit more…not himself. At least for tonight.

I would like to think I succeeded, but we wouldn’t know until we were inside. I grabbed the door before it could swing closed and held it so he might enter first. Once inside, I squeezed around him and a not-as-bored-as-he-seemed bouncer and began the trek to the corner. The man we sought would be there.

No one gave me more than a second look. The prince, well, he didn’t quite go as unnoticed. Used to being gawked at, he didn’t know to get these particular subjects to not stare. These particulars should be discouraged so when I noticed a few approaching I grabbed the prince by the arm and jerked him the last few feet. No doubt I would be yelled at later.

“Riona. I thought the rain would keep you away.”

The darkness around him was not entirely manufactured naturally. Dramatics I did not need tonight, but he was as much a creature of habit as the prince. I pulled out a chair for the prince, the sound lost in the general din of the tavern. A glare from him before he brushed off the chair with a different handkerchief than the lace he clutched to his nose. Still.

“Not my first rainstorm.”

“No, but you never liked them.”

“Can we get down to business?” How petulant he sounded. More so, compared to Copper’s deep, rumbling voice.

I’d considered killing him more often in the last few hours than I had in the last twenty years. Gods, twenty years babysitting the pampered idiots in the castle. Sometimes I did wish that rainstorm Copper remembered had been my last.

It had not, so we were down to business.

“Copper, the- gentleman here has a proposition.”

“Well, he’s not my type.” Copper pretended not to recognize the prince. “I’ve some men of my own who would be happy to give him a rough night.”

“How dare you!”

Before he might erupt with royal fury, I slapped a hand over his mouth. Now I was sure I would pay later for all my transgressions this evening. I should have hit him harder. At least then it would have been worth it.

“What he is saying,” I said slowly as I removed my hand, “is he does not need entertainment of his own. What he seeks is something more delicate.”

Even with shadows wrapped around him, I felt Copper’s eyes on mine. I had not wanted to come here, but had not been swift enough to lie when the prince made his demand. Every time I saw him, I thought about my decision to stay after the war. We could have- Well, fifteen years was a long time to clutch regrets, but one finds their fingers only hold tighter with each passing year.

“I do not think we should discuss this here.”

The prince was absolutely right. Not that it would do him any good. Copper only met here.

“We will not be bothered. Nor will we be overheard. Tell me the job.” He ignored me now, focused on the potential client. My muscles relaxed despite that meaning my charge was in more danger.

At least, now, I could study my former lover without seeing mockery in his eyes. He looked little different than the last time we’d met years ago. His red hair looked a shade lighter, but it could have been the spluttering torches breaking into his shadow. It wasn’t only lust being in Copper’s presence raised. I missed him in so many ways.

As the prince hemmed and hawed and spluttered as much as the torches, Copper’s eyes slid to me. Their blue was clouded by some emotion I could no longer read in his expression. I met his gaze as steadily as I could, knowing he’d already discovered how different I looked. Some of us could not keep back the years from our features.

“If I can deduce your meaning in your meandering,” Copper said once the prince had drifted into silence, “you wish me to seduce your sister so she will make a poor judgment and be pulled from the line of succession.”

The mockery in his tone was bare to even the prince’s lower intelligence. He huffed, and puffed his chest out, but in the end, he nodded. Because, it was exactly what he wanted.

Which was why I’d instantly thought of Copper. Because he could do it, would have no qualms about doing it, and would make the princess enjoy her ruin.

I’d certainly enjoyed mine.

“I am not sure what your associate-”

“Servant.”

“Said about me.” Copper leaned forward and the table groaned under the force of his arms. He did it on purpose. “I am not in the habit of committing treason. We’ll all forget you came here.”

“You have not heard my offer.”

“And I don’t need to. You have nothing I want. Good evening, your highness.”

The prince was not happy to be addressed as such. Well, not entirely. He stood swiftly, the chair kicking back a few inches. As he stared down at Copper he said nothing. Copper only leaned back and returned the stare. The prince lasted exactly 34 seconds.

I’d counted.

“Come along, Riona.”

I sat, hand on my sword, trapped between the two men. Copper did not command I stay, did not ask, but I hated to leave him. Unfortunately, I had no choice. We stared at each other, the table no impediment to all of our regrets, until I was on my feet.

“Always a pleasure, Riona.”

The words were said to my back and I could not turn to see him one more time. If I had, I might not have left. Treason indeed.

2

“You said he would do as I wished.”

An hour later, exhausted and soaked through, I stood in the prince’s bedroom as he sipped mulled wine and was bundled in a fine robe and slippers. I, of course, had not been given time to change despite his time in the bath. He was making a point.

“I said, if any man could do as you desired, it would be Copper.”

“The same thing.”

“No, your highness. Not the same thing.”

“I will force him to do as I command.”

I snorted, unable to stop myself.

“Riona, your attitude begins to bore me.”

I froze, the rain shivers fleeing as a more immediate terror filled my thoughts. I must have looked suitably frightened because he relaxed and sipped his wine. Which did not mean I was safe.

“I apologize, your highness.” Such sincerity now. Not quite groveling because it was not in me, but it was close. Let the gods convince him it was good enough!

“There are ways to convince a man to heel.” The prince glanced down at the small puddle formed under me on his fine carpet. “Go, stop yourself from ruining a carpet worth more than you. Return in less than half an hour. You will tell me all you know of this Copper.”

Thank the gods! I might not be out of danger, but I could dry off and cease feeling the endless crawl of rain on my body. I hurried from his chamber and down to my own room two levels down.

Which was where Copper sat. He showed not a drop of water on his frame. I was thankful, rather than jealous, because he sat on my bed.

“Your oath ended when his uncle died,” he said as the door swung shut.

“So you say.” I tugged off my boots and tossed them into the corner. Wet socks squelched as I crossed the floor and I peeled them off in front of my chest. With my back to him, I stripped quickly down to nothing before pulling on a clean uniform.

“I would not make you work in the rain.” He stood behind me. The instinct to turn, to defend myself, lost to the feel of his hands on my shoulders. “I would not make you work, Riona. Not here, not wherever you might wish to escape to.”

“I swore an oath,” I stuttered.

His thumb caressed my neck, finding the proper spot to leave my knees weak and my breath caught in anticipation.

I could fight this. I should. I would have, but his words stopped me.

“It was not easy, beloved, to avoid every drop of rain between myself and you. But I did.” A small application of pressure sent my head to one side. “For you.”

He had no breath to caress my skin. Only the feel of his lips before his tongue traced the vein he desired gave me warning. A chance to say no. Copper had always given me that chance. Now, as before, I turned it down and relaxed into what was to come. I would be late, legs too weak even though he never took too much, returning to the prince.

Fangs slid into my skin and I closed my eyes, breath held, determined to experience every moment. Copper fed slowly, drawing blood and whatever else he needed from my spirit, in a manner meant to remind me of every other time. A clap of thunder did what even his teeth could not.

I whimpered in fear and his arms slid around my waist immediately. I leaned against the sturdy, steady feel of his body as he finished. His tongue traced the bite mark as his hands held me close against him. Which was all lovely. Except I was late.

“Domenico.” My whisper was an entreaty, but I think neither of us knew exactly what I sought. It was a name I’d not even thought in too long. The syllables drew memories up from the darkness I’d consigned them to and he held me as I shook.

“You remember your oath,” he whispered in reply as he turned me to face him. “I remember it, Riona.” Fingers combed my short, dark curls off my face. The rain had left them a frizzled mess. “Do you wish me to remember my own oath now? Because I have waited a long time for that to be your desire.”

My answer came in the hurried tread of my steps as I fled my past.

3

The next morning, exhausted from lack of sleep, I stumbled around town.

In the rain.

On a series of increasingly odd and demanding errands from the princess.

The prince had kept me up until almost dawn. I had evaded most of his questions about Copper, but hoped I’d done so in a way to leave him satisfied. No one arrested me so I thought I’d done well enough. Because he had been up late, he’d slept in, and I’d been taken by the princess for her own tasks.

Fetching packages, ordering fripperies, and slogging through the mud did not ease my worries. A fight between the prince and Copper would not end well. For anyone. At the very least, I would be dead. As the sky opened up again and made sure every inch of me was drowning, I waved to the street kid following me. Maybe she would be allowed in from the weather if I showed her I’d known she was there. A little slow, I hadn’t noticed until my second trip into the town outside the moat. An embarrassing admittance, but I was tired and the rain did not improve my mood.

She, I thought, grinned and waved back. So much for that. Well, I hoped whomever paid her was paying her well. I tore the door to the perfumery open and tried not to sneeze as the conflagration of scents attacked my nose. The princess had insisted I remain as her scent was mixed. So, I sniffled and dripped and watched the man mix up the concoction soon to grace her highness.

Behind the clouds, I thought it past noon. Perhaps I would be allowed a break now. I could dry off, however briefly, and take a nap. Food would be good, but I would take sleep over food any day. Doing without sleep only made my brain slow and I needed my wits.

At the very least, I was thankful for the cobbled streets well maintained. I had no treks to muddy back alleys today. I would have been more thankful for a secession of rain clouds and their thunder friends. Rain had never been beloved by me, but that night-

“Riona, there you are. Have you my scent?” The princess in all her coiffed glory stood in the great hall. Servants swirled around her like accessories to her jewel-toned gown. As she stood by the fire, I saw no reason to slow my steps. Her aide took the package and made a moue of disappointment at the damp paper wrapper.

“Thank you so much, Riona.”

Before I might speak, I heard movement behind me. Footsteps, heavy and weighed down by armor, flanked me. I was no fool and did not reach for my sword.

The princess stepped close to me once I’d been relieved of my obvious weapons. A more thorough checking would occur once in the dungeons. For now, she felt secure enough to slap my face.

“This is how you show loyalty?” she demanded.

Not quite what she meant, I did not reply.

“I’ll have the truth out of you.”

Ah, it was to be torture. Well, if they avoided the watery ones I would endure. If they were smarter than I imagined, I would break swiftly.

4

As it turned out, they were geniuses. Because they laid not a finger on me through the afternoon. Instead, I was left with an ankle chained to the wall and all but my undershirt and pants taken from me. Even in the earth’s embrace I heard the thunderstorm. Water leaked from the stone here and there. Which only left me with visions of drowning, chained in a cell, and caused me to whimper.

Quietly. I whimpered quietly. Because I had some self-respect left. Very little as visions of a watery death bore down on me the way stone walls could not.

I was very nearly thankful when the tread of feet warned me of my approaching torturer. Two guards stood with the seneschal. The same dour faced man who’d served the castle since before I was born looked uninterested as he spoke.

“The all holy gods have witnessed an accusation of treason against Riona of TwelfthBridge. It is confirmed by witnesses the accused conspired to remove her royal highness, the princess Leoma Bachendaelle Seridar from her rulership of her rightful kingdom.”

The lock clicked open and I stepped back.

“You will come with us.”

“Can’t you just kill me here?”

“Undo her chain. Bring her to the small council chamber.”

The seneschal did not wait to be obeyed. He would be. Everyone knew better than to deny his word. Even the royal family, it was said.

Although not by her. The words sounded too much like treason. Which was my charge now. Perhaps the gods judged me on my thoughts and not simply my deeds. Well, if so that was unfair. I would tell them so soon enough. I would have all manner of words for them once I was dead.

Cold stone completed my chill and I was shivering halfway to where we went. No one had bothered to give me boots. Or even simple socks. I made a tentative mention of such to the guards, but they ignored me. Well, I was not likely to catch my death of a chill. Not with the noose awaiting me.

The doors to my doom loomed close and I considered escape. I could manage to get out of the castle, but then what? The royal magery would find me before I left the city. Likely it would only make my death more painful. I had never considered myself cowardly, but a slow death at the hands of a cruel wizard did not seem worth a brief freedom.

“Leave us.”

The door had swung open before we were quite to it. Well, they were in a hurry to kill me. Interesting she had not mentioned her brother’s name. So, I was the sacrificial goat, I was too old and tough to be any lamb, to preserve the illusion of family unity.

Inside the room, seated before the roaring fire I craved, were the prince and his sister. They did not look at each other. The seneschal stood behind them, quiet, as I walked closer. Again, I toyed with escape. If there were no guards I could clear the room, commit treason in truth, and run.

Although, I still had nowhere to go.

The door opened behind me and three sets of eyes watched a fifth figure enter the room. I dared not look, no matter the death stalking closer. Because, what else could it be, but the person here to carry out the charge?

“Thank you,” he rumbled and my surprise nearly cost me my feet.

The princess simpered, rose to her feet, and stopped at a look from Copper.

In his chair, the prince did nothing but stare sullenly ahead.

As he walked by me, Copper brushed my bare arm with the tips of his fingers. Enough to draw my attention away from everyone else in the room.

“It is us who should be thanking you,” the princess said. She darted closer to him, but he froze her before she might touch him. Rather than speak to her, he addressed the seneschal.

“We had a deal, Latimer.”

“I have done what I can. I did not know. Could not have known.”

The princess drifted to her brother. Two pretty head combined and whispered. I watched them with less interest than the other conversation. Copper was mad. He held himself too still to be at ease. I expected the anger to hit me for dragging him into this mess. My own fool mouth unable to keep a mess from covering him.

“Enough,” Copper roared. He turned away from the three by the fire and strode to me in easy steps. “Riona.” He took my ice feeling hands in his own cool touch. “Beloved. Have you not punished me enough? My oath-” But his question drove me to interrupt.

“I don’t do this to punish you. Never. My own oaths-”

“Have bound you here long enough.”

“Domenico.” The seneschal’s words turned all our heads. The prince and princess stood together now.

“Who do you call by that name?” he demanded for them both.

“There is no Domenico,” she insisted.

And we all turned to Copper.

“Aw, fuck,” the rightful ruler of this mess said into the quiet.

5

I slid away from him and hurried to lock the door. Once the main door was secure I set to closing off the two other doors to the room. An insane number of doors for a small conference room. The prince and princess babbled as the seneschal stood silent.

From a sofa tucked into the corner I grabbed a blanket and wrapped it around my shoulders. It did not help my feet, but I might not freeze. When I approached our little tableau again I stopped between the parties. By rights, I should stand beside the royals. I was their protector.

It was not where I wanted to stand. All this talk of oaths. I stayed away from everyone. Copper’s grin as he saw my place almost made me smile.

“I demand to know what is going on.”

To everyone’s surprise, I spoke in reply.

“Here stands His Royal Highness, the Rightful and Just King of Dharlag. King Domenico the Silent, blessed by the gods of shadows and revered by the mistress of the moon.” And damn all the gods and their mistress.

“Riona.” He sounded almost embarrassed. I almost smiled again.

“Domenico.”

He took my hands in his and lifted my fingers to his lips. As if I were a lady and not the street brat turned soldier he’d fallen in love with during our disastrous war with those who ruled us now. Those gods’ blessed idiots.

“You swore an oath, Riona of TwelfthBridge.”

“I remember, Copper.” I hesitated, but it was a lost cause. Maybe the years had stretched taut enough to snap my reason. “You swore an oath, Domenico the Silent of Dharlag.”

Only I saw the way his blue eyes lit up at my words.

Only me, because he swooped me into his arms for an embrace that lead to a kiss.

He looked over my shoulder at the seneschal. “I trust you have things under control.”

“Of course, sire.”

I don’t know what he did, nor what control he exerted, because we were gone from the castle before I might blink. Not to his seedy tavern, as it turned out, but a nice, quiet home surrounded by tradesmen and others who worked honestly for a living. A fire burned and I would have pulled from his embrace to reach it had he not carried me there.

“Not a drop of rain,” he said as he pulled the blanket from my shivering body.

“Which was quite difficult,” I teased as he tugged me onto a sofa just big enough for two.

“Anywhere in the world, beloved.”

“Anywhere?” I asked as he pulled me closer and bent his head to my neck.

“Yes. Only, not tonight.”

Well, it was not as if I wanted to travel in the rain.

 

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December Storytime - The Broken Path

I am back in sci-fi land. If you've read my other stories you will remember Boden. If you want to know more about this setting you can read this and this. The first is about Boden's aunt. The second is about a woman Boden meets after the war. Before the second war. Which I want to write about someday. Today is a shortened version of Boden's path to where he in An Abominable Gift.

The Broken Path

Two days ago, Boden made up his mind.

Yesterday, he had been to the garrison to run their gamut of tests.

Today, he had to face his family.

On the whole, it felt like today was the worst of his hurdles.

“Boden! Turn that off.” His mother’s voice, even from the kitchen, drowned out the latest news report. “Go get your grandmother if you’ve nothing else to do than watch the lies broadcast on that evil box.”

“Yes, mother.”

The news wasn’t good. It hadn’t been good since the first arrival of the Graff. The small aliens had fled a larger, more dangerous species and all of the military talking heads said it was only a matter of time until the Unger arrived. Earlier in the week, a mining colony on the edge of the system had gone dark. No one said it was the Unger.

Upstairs, at the end of the hall, Boden poked his head into his grandmother’s room. She sat in an old rocker by the window and watched the world outside. Boden was careful to step on the proper board and he felt it give underfoot and watched the ripple until it hit his grandmother’s chair. She turned from the window and smiled with a mouth full of teeth to envy a woman a third of her age.

Fingers moved as she greeted him and he was swift in his reply. Boden enjoyed talking to his grandmother. In a family of ten it was a quiet peace he found nowhere else. So, rather than bring her downstairs he pulled up the worn bench he’d been sitting on since he was three.

“I went to the garrison today.”

“Yes. I saw you.”

“You did not. I went after work.”

Grandmother laughed and reached out to slap his fingers. It wasn’t often she interrupted their conversations. In all his nineteen years he could count on one hand how many times she’d done so.

“You’ll have to tell your father.”

“He won’t understand. I know what he thinks. He says it all the time. I just- Grandmother, if half the stories are true then we all need to fight together. The Unger won’t care about our borders. And, I know no one will say it, but that mining colony… I want to fight. To protect you.”

“I am old. I do not need protecting.” Before he might interrupt, her fingers flew to add, “But perhaps you are right. Your siblings are young. Will you tell your parents tonight?”

He nodded.

She shook her head.

“Don’t look so surprised,” she signed. “Boden, I will cry with worry over you every day, but I understand. Your mother, your father, they will not. Leave without saying anything. I shall give your goodbyes.”

He knew he had tears to match hers. Worn, wrinkled fingers brushed at his cheek and he helped her to her feet. This would be goodbye, he thought. She would die while he was far away. So, he embraced her a little longer and kissed her cheek twice.

After bed, he slipped out, but he saw the candle in her window.

#

The pain was immense. Even the drugs could not hide the feeling of life gushing from holes that should not be there. He could not feel his arm, his legs…how could they still hurt when he could not feel them? Boden bit down on a scream as a booted foot stomped on his chest.

Oh, he didn’t quite stifle it.

“He’s alive.” The voice sounded surprised.

Well, Boden was surprised. When the mine had gone off under him, setting off another and another and dropping his squad into this muddy, bloody pit he’d thought death had come. He had not wanted to die, but was satisfied with his actions. The Path would bend him in another direction, but he accepted it.

#

The pain was gone. There had been so much and now there was only a dull ache over his entire body. Crusted eyes peeled open and he stared around in alarm.

“He’s awake.”

“I still think this is a mistake.”

“Orders are orders.”

“He’s a Seeker.”

“Where?” Boden managed to croak.

“Private D’Aramitz. I’m Lieutenant Chii. I work for General Suharto in Intelligence.”

“The others?” His squad, his family. “Where?”

“Private D’Aramitz. You are dying. We can keep you alive a short time longer.”

“I’m ready to die. She awaits me with all Her charity.”

“Are you ready to die then?”

“I- I’m dying. Ready or not. I knew this could happen.” His words slurred at the end. Dry eyes blinked closed.

“You can live.”

“Chii, I don’t think-”

“I have my orders, Harris.”

“I can’t live.” He remembered what he’d felt. More important, he recalled the hushed conversations in the transport back to the base.

“If you sign up for non-standard treatment.”

“Machines,” Boden whispered. “Abominations.” The end of his seeking. The path would be broken to Her great charity if he became an abomination.

“I’ve read your files, private. We think you’re an ideal candidate. And General Suharto wants you to come work for him.”

“Chii. He’s fading.”

“General?” Boden slurred.

“Yes. You’re an excellent soldier. Wouldn’t it be a waste of that gift to die now? When you could live.”

She watched him. He felt Her great eyes upon him in this moment. Which was why his own closed. Because he did not want to die. Not now. Not yet, with the Unger undefeated. Not with his friends unavenged. She would turn away, but he could not let that stop him.

“Yes.” Boden felt the room spin before even when he tried to open his eyes he saw nothing but black. “Let the path break.”

“Harris, move him now.”

Chii’s order was the last thing he heard. Other than the great silence of Her absence. Which was what he deserved.

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December Storytime - Cheaty!

 

Today was a busy family day. We had to take the dog to the vet, her arthritis was acting up and she chewed on herself. Now she has all her antibiotics and steroids. Poor baby. Then a trip to the post office, the hardware store, and a day spent doing Christmas stuff.

Which, basically, was hanging the felt tree and then sitting down with the kids and the beloved husband to make ornaments. We use construction paper, markers, glue, and scissors to decorate a felt tree. We used sequin strings as garland. It's fun. Next year, the kids want a real tree. Meaning a fake tree. The beloved always wins that argument. LOL

So, the short version is, today is a cheaty day. I wrote a diesel punk story a couple years ago that takes place in Oklahoma. Here's chapter one!

Will Rogers Rocket Port - Rise of the Plastics

 

I’d not anticipated the party turning out the way it had when I showed up. Hardly an hour ago I’d been standing on the edges of the dance floor watching the couples and wondering if I’d be labeled too forward if I were to ask someone to dance. No one had, so far, been inclined to ask me and that had led me to do the one thing I’d sworn I wouldn’t do here.

“Wish Roy would come over,” I mutter to myself before quieting such thoughts with another sip of rather good champagne.

Not that I’d expected anything but the best at the party, but having never had champagne before I wasn’t sure what the best would taste like. I suppose people who can afford to attend parties like this aren’t getting their drinks from a bathtub. The ballroom was decked out for the event, but under the silver and crystal I could see it would be impressive with nothing in it. The floors were hard wood with inlaid silver inscribing something around the edges. I’d been tempted to walk the perimeter to read it, but thought maybe I’d look weird. Also, I’d have to walk right past Roy and Al.

As the dancers continue their fun a steadily louder thump makes itself known throughout the room. The only reason I see what happened is because mere seconds before the glass shattered into millions of pieces I’d been caught staring at Roy. By Roy. Across the room a flash of silver had drawn my eye and I’d found Roy and Albert sharing a drink of something stiffer than what was on offer by the waiters. His eyes had almost instantly found mine as if he’d felt my look. The shared glance lasted only a few seconds, but it was enough to set my heart beating faster than the wild drums of the band and my blood to heat up hotter than the rocket fire I’d witnessed a few months ago. Thinking now of escape, when I turned I was in time to see the windows explode from nothing. Sonic, I thought with the detached part of my brain as people around me begin to scream.

The glass does a good job of creating not only wounded guests, but chaos. At the very least this takes my mind off Roy and how good he looks in his uniform. Instead I get to focus on not being knocked to the ground and trampled by panicked guests. From somewhere close I make out the sound of metal on metal and turn in time to see four odd-looking men in black suits ushering a young woman out of the room. It almost tricks me, but then I remember the efficient and polite security men that had searched me before allowing me into the estate were wearing grey suits.

Before thinking I shout, “Hey!” but it’s drowned out by the screams and sobs of the injured guests. Shoving my way through a knot of people I take off at a run towards the door. I wish I could take off my shoes, but already the sting of glass along the left side of my face and body has me wanting to avoid further injuries.

Reaching the door before it shuts I manage to shove my foot out and muffle a curse learned from eavesdropping on my older brothers when I was younger. The door doesn’t close and as I shove it open I’m relieved there’s no goon in black waiting for me on the other side. Now that I’m past the glass I can remove the heels borrowed from my cousin and take off at a run towards the end of a short hallway. The door on the other side stands open and I burst through in time to see the young woman slump forward and be tossed into the back of an unmarked black van. With another shout I take off for my truck. It doesn’t surprise me the old farm truck was carefully kept away from the nicer cars as if dirt and work were contagious. At least getting out of the parking will be easier. As I yank the rusting door open a pair of hands grab me from behind.

“Hey!” I yell as I’m spun around and see looming men in grey. Estate security, I think with a relieved sigh. Relieved, that is, before I realize they’re not letting me go. “They’re getting away,” I shout at them before one pulls a misting wand from his pocket. “Hey, no! Let me go!” I yell before a fine mist hits me on my next inhale. These guys were good.

The last thing I hear before the knock out drug takes over is an amused sounding, “Vera Pearl, don’t you ever wear shoes?” Then blackness catches me and carries me down into unwanted slumber.

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December Storytime - 8 Dates, Epilogue

I can't resist an hea. :)

The Epilogue

The warm water stole over her toes as she continued to stare at the blinding sea. It was not that she didn’t have sunglasses. It was only, quite simply, the view was too lovely to dampen with eye protection. Even a good book, and she’d packed many, had been unable to steal her attention away from the water today.

Two days into her vacation and Delaney had already exorcised all her bad dates from her memory. The only downside to her day was she had to go into town and buy food. She should have brought more with her, but hadn’t wanted to shop beforehand either. Well, later. For now, she had the ocean and the sand.

“Shark attacks? Jellyfish? Sudden tsunami?”

The words drifted in under the crash of waves and Delaney forced herself not to spin around and confront the speaker of them. Because if she ignored him, pretended he were not here, he might go away. It had worked the last few months. Craig had been forced to do some mighty social dancing and she’d never even explained why she could not stand to be in the same building as Tim.

“Thirteen percent.” She spoke despite her intention to be silent.

“Which?”

“None of them.”

“Then what?”

He came around and stood beside her. She noted his bare feet in the sand beside hers. Since feet were not as interesting as the ocean, she looked up and out again.

“The chance of your showing up here. Well, of my trip being ruined.”

“And you assumed my showing up would ruin your vacation?”

“I’ve already told you I won’t go out with you.”

He ignored her statement. “I can help your vacation, Del.”

“How?”

“I can buy your groceries for one thing. We both know you don’t want to go into town.”

Those words turned her away from the ocean. She blinked, the dazzling light from before making him harder to see. He wore shorts the same as her, but his chest was bare. The sun hadn’t browned it much, unlike her skin which ran to dark even without the help of the sun.

“You don’t know me.”

“I know.”

“I’m not a nice person.”

“That I know.” He smirked.

She felt no need to hit him. Only a tenth of a tenth of a percent. Not enough to act on it.

“My father was not Parith.” He didn’t speak. The percentages swam through her brain. They were not high enough, but she said it anyway. “My father was Torrin. Full blooded.”

“I know.”

“Then why are you here?”

“I’m not nice.”

“Then why would you offer to buy my groceries?”

“I really want to spend time with you. At least long enough to get you naked.” He winked.

She thought her laugh only startled herself. Her mind could not help but run his percentages again. A broken heart was almost a sure thing.

“You ever think about living by the smaller numbers?”

“What do you mean?” As if she didn’t know. As if Pariths like her brother did not do it every day. To their ruin.

“Take a chance, Del.”

“A very small one.”

Her eyes slid downward and it was his turn to laugh.

“Not that!”

“Buy my groceries and maybe I’ll give you a chance to prove it.”

There was a small chance he would not. That she would eat another grilled cheese for dinner even though the cheese might be a little off. It was a small chance she was willing to take. A start, then, to something. Even if it did turn out to be nothing. Vacations were for taking chances.

 

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December Storytime - 8 Dates, The Eighth Date

There were roads last night too potentially slick to make getting home quick. Brilliant person I am, I forgot to schedule my blog post. Ah, well! Here it is! Umm, it takes a slight turn into a bit of sci fi. I can't believe it! But, hey! :)

If you're debating Rogue One, you can quit. It was a great movie and the ending was epic.

Now to post this and finish up today's story. Which may be an epilogue to this whole mess. Ahem. Might be. :) Stay tuned!

The Eighth Date

No sooner had Delaney decided this date, the last, the worst, could not be more terrible, their waiter arrived.

“Good evening,” Tim said with nary a hint of knowing her.

“Where’s Craig?” she demanded as officious twit examined his cufflinks.

“He went home early. Sick.”

“Is he ok?” A glance at the twit before she said, “I should go home and check on him.”

“He’s fine,” Tim assured her and she was not thankful. “I promised to keep an eye on you.” He winked.

Just in time for the twit to look up and notice him for the first time.

“Don’t waste your time with the specials. And I don’t want that other person fetching anything for us. You are here to wait on us, not some unskilled immigrant.”

Delaney glared at the twit, but before she could stand and storm off, Tim laid his hand on her shoulder. He left it here as he assured the twit, Darren, that he would be taking extra care of them tonight. She made a note to not drink or eat from his meal. Not only did she room with a waiter, she’d been one as well. Darren’s meal would not be what he expected.

“You can unhand me,” she whispered.

To her surprise, Tim did, but only after the tips of his fingers brushed against the side of her neck. This, she did not need. If he thought one passable night watching a movie in the dark meant she didn’t know he was a jerk, he was so wrong.

Darren went on about himself as they waited for their drinks. She hadn’t bothered with the menu. She ate here at least twice a week and knew even the specials by heart. Which was why she was annoyed when the twit tried to order for her. He actually told Tim what she would have. He handed the menus back and Tim took them, but then he looked at her.

Jerk.

“Surprise me.” Ha. Let him try to not be a jerk now. No one wanted to be told that and Tim would be unable to resist doing something crazy.

“Very good.”

“You associate with odd people.” Darren stared at his water glass.

Delaney didn’t quite know how to respond. She was much too busy regretting this date. A friend at work had set her up and she wondered why. Maybe Darren had been bugging her and she was trying to unload him? Whatever the case, Delaney was thankful he was number eight. All she had to do was survive dinner and there was a warm, quiet, uninhabited beach house in her future. She could do this.

Well, she could survive. Even that became a chore as the meal continued. Darren complained about everything. Tim smiled through it all and didn’t touch her again for which she was quite thankful. At least the meal was good.

Or would have been if the company had been better. The food was exceptional and nothing she’d tried here before. Well, the cooks liked her and maybe Tim had told them to take pity on her. She said no to coffee after he’d said no to dessert. He’d had the gall to look at her in a disapproving manner when it had been offered.

If there had been wine left in her glass she might have spilled it on his immaculate gray suit. Instead, she said something about having a lovely time and left before he could get up from the table. Tomorrow, she knew, she’d have to send Craig to work with a tip for Tim. There was no way Darren left a good one. And, as much as she disliked him, he had done an exceptional job.

Ugh. Why had he been so good? He should have just been an ass. Darren deserved it and the owner wouldn’t care.

“Where are you going?” Darren grabbed her arm from behind right after she’d started her car. The battery must be low because she’d had to get closer to start it tonight. Well, she had bought new ones- Oh, he still had her arm.

“I’m going home. Because I lied. It was not a lovely time. You’re an odious jerk. Good evening.”

Her tug to free her arm didn’t work. His fingers dug into her coat and found her arm underneath. Darren moved from annoyance to something more.

“I paid for your dinner.”

“Did you tip?”

“I don’t believe in tipping.”

“Of course not. Let me go.”

“Not until you pay for my time.”

Fury sprouted in her blood and began to spread. Too fast, but if anyone deserved it, this was the jerk to unleash her repressed anger on from the last week. Delaney tore her arm from his grasp and turned to face him. He barely had time to gasp before someone else was there.

“Get in the car, Delaney.”

Tim. Because, of course, Tim. He interposed himself between her and the twit. “It’s cold. Go on. I’ll talk to you in a minute.”

He sounded reasonable. How odd. Even as she felt her blood pounding in her ears she walked to her car. What the hell?

Tim spoke quietly to Darren. What he said, she didn’t know because between the closed door and the heater blasting her she couldn’t hear. Soon, she watched Darren turn and walk away. Tim watched him cross the parking lot before he went around her car and slid into the passenger seat.

“Fuck it’s cold.”

“What did you do?”

He’d done something. She was sure of it. The question was, would he tell or deny?

“I told him to go call the police and confess every terrible thing he’d ever done. Every law he’d broken, everything he’d done he knew or suspected was wrong. I imagine it’ll be a long list and they’ll pick him up before he’s done.”

“You’re Faleaz.”

“Only on my father’s side. Your Parith comes from your mother’s side, yes?”

And here was why she’d never felt comfortable around him. Fucking Faleaz and their ability to pick up on things no one wanted picked up on. He stretched his legs in front of him and reached over to adjust the heater to blow on his feet.

“Doing the odds?”

“Fuck you.”

“Heh. What are those odd?”

Everyone thought that about Parith. As if their brains calculated odds and chances all the time. Her brother had succumbed to the affliction. He spent his time in one casino after another, always just one hand away from being truly down on his luck.

“My mother’s grandmother,” she finally said.

“Huh. Only one quarter?

“Basically.”

“He didn’t tell me.”

“What?”

“Craig. He didn’t tell. I knew.”

“So?” Fucking Faleaz and their leaps from one random thought to another. All to trap you into succumbing to their suggestions.

“I want you to know. Because I know you two are close.”

She was sure he didn’t lie. The percentages didn’t add up to him lying. And here was the other reason to not like him. Around someone else like her, even if he was Faleaz, made it harder to deny her mother’s blood. And she tried very hard to deny it. Even after so long there were plenty who didn’t want trust someone with alien blood.

“Thank you for your help tonight,” she began, but he stopped her.

“I had fun last night. We should go out. For real. Stop dating idiots from the ‘net.”

She said nothing.

“Del?”

“I’m doing the percentages.”

“And?”

“You’d break my heart. The odds are not in your favor.”

“And you’re enough Parith to live by the fucking percentages?”

Why was he angry?

“Do you want a ride home?”

“No, Del. I’d hate for your precious numbers to make you miss my place. I’ll walk.”

“Don’t be stupid. It’s too cold outside. And where’s your coat?”

“Have a good night, Del.”

“Fucking Faleaz.” But she only whispered it after he’d left and she was halfway home. In her mind, she halved the tip she would send with Craig tomorrow.

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December Storytime - 8 Dates, The Seventh Date

Here is an example of things changing. Because, I had something else in mind for today's entry, but this happened instead. Such is life! At least, for me. Nice to be caught up again!

The 7th Date


She wiped the fogged mirror with her hand and stared at herself through the misty air. Speaking of which, she should call the office about the busted fan. Again. They were always on top of problems. If only they’d do regular maintenance.

To clear the air, she opened the door before returning to the mirror. Another wipe with her hand let her see herself enough to get ready. Then, when she plugged in the hair dryer the lights went out in the room.

“Dammit!”

She yanked the cord out and plugged it into the other socket.

Nothing.

“Fucking. Just. Great.”

Hair dripping down her back, one hand clutching a bright yellow towel around herself, and the other holding her dryer she stomped into the living room and smacked into someone.

“Watch- Shit.”

It was not Craig.

“Sorry, Del. Craig said I could hang out since I have to work a split.”

“No. It’s fine. I just- I’m not dressed.”

He didn’t take the hint. Tim never took the hint. She would not have been even half-friends with him if it weren’t for Craig.

“I don’t mind,” he said into the prolonged silence. “The not dressed part,” he added unhelpfully when she didn’t speak.

“Will you go to the breaker box by the washer and reset it please.” The please was pulled from her and by his smirk he knew it. “Never mind. I’ll finish in my room.”

“I think I can flip a switch,” Tim offered.

“I’m not replying.”

He would make some off-color remark. He always did. Instead, she went to her room and shut the door. She did not slam it. Only close it firmly. Unfortunately, the lights were not working in there. She was supposed to be seven blocks over in half an hour and the only way she would make it was if she left with her hair wet.

A knock on her door came before, “It’s not working.”

“No shit.”

She threw the hair dryer on the bed and opened the door.

The last of the light from the day was disappearing and she sighed. Their apartment was dark to begin with, but without power it would be impossible to see. Did they have batteries in the flashlight? Shit. Where was the flashlight?

“I have a date,” she offered weakly as he grinned for no reason.

“I heard. The grand experiment.”

“I can’t go out. My clothes were in the dryer. My hair is too wet. I can’t miss this fucking date.” The last she yelled and Tim stepped back. Good.

“Can’t you wear something else?”

“Yes. Of course, I can, but…shit. I really wanted to look nice.” She’d thought this one had prospects. They’d texted a few times. What was clean? Nothing potential good date worthy.

“Can’t you reschedule? Craig didn’t say anything about a deadline.”

“Great. He told you?” How much more embarrassing could this night get?

 “He tells me everything. Go text your date and try to reschedule.”

“Stop being reasonable. God. If you’re going to hang out call the office. Be useful.”

She retreated to her room and before doing anything else got dressed. Once in something warmer than a towel she sent a text to tonight’s date.

LOST POWER. CAN WE RESCHEDULE?

CAN’T. HUSBAND BACK IN TOWN TOMORROW. I CAN COME OVR IN THE DARK. ;)

Delaney stared at her phone. Husband? She had never mentioned a husband. Fuuuuck. Her life sucked. No power, no date, and stuck with Tim.

“The office said the whole floor was without power.” He knocked after speaking. “Sorry. It’s me. They’re working on it.”

“Don’t you have somewhere else to go hang out?”

“And leave you alone in your moment of peril? Never. Come on out. We can keep each other warm on the couch.”

Delaney rolled her eyes. From her bed, she pulled her old comforter and wrapped it around herself before she opened the door. Tim grinned, but stepped back so she could leave her room.

“We could call this a date,” he offered. “I wouldn’t tell Craig it wasn’t real. Unless you invited tonight’s date over?”

She forgot to put her hair up. She dropped the comforter and retreated to her room. In there, she ran a brush through it and braided it quickly. Phone in hand, she came back to get her blanket.

“I don’t want to talk about it. You can go.”

“I really can’t. Craig would never forgive me.”

“I am not going on a date with you.”

“That’s not what I said.”

“You said-”

“That I would lie for you. And say you left on your date. And we can sit here, in the dark, on the couch, and you can be grateful.” He waggled his eyebrows and she couldn’t stop her laugh. Tim was something of a jerk, but he wouldn’t actually press himself on her.

“She has a husband,” she said before she might stop herself.

“Tonight’s date?” He was quick enough.

“Yes. I thought she seemed nice. I should have known.”

“I would make you cocoa and sooth your sadness away, but, no power.”

“You could go out and get me some.”

“You would lock the door.”

“No.”

“I don’t like you enough to go up and down so many stairs. Not unless you’ll be truly grateful.” Even in the waning light she saw his smirk.

“I can’t even watch a movie. My phone battery is dripping.”

Tim brushed by her to sit on the couch and pat the cushion next to him. “Come on. I’ve got a full charge and three hours until my shift.”

“I don’t trust you in the dark.”

He laughed as his phone lit up. “Smart woman. Come on, Del. A movie date. And I will swear to Craig you left, looking all hot, and probably scored with a woman I don’t know has a husband.”

“When you put it that way,” she grumbled.

Tim smelled like food and didn’t move as she sat close to him on the couch, still wrapped in her blanket. Despite her misgivings, he never made a move. They watched a dumb action flick and one episode of a stupid comedy before he had to get back to work. The power was still out, but calls to the office assured her it was being worked on and would back soon.

“I’ll tell Craig to be careful coming home. Scary dark apartment with a scary woman and all.”

Delaney snarled and tossed the one throw pillow in the apartment at his head. He caught it and threw it back, hitting her head. Refusing to give him the satisfaction of a return throw, she tucked it under her head on the couch.

“Was I the worst date of the week?”

“Alas, no,” she admitted.

“If you ever want to do it again, call me.”

He sounded sincere.

Which left her shocked.

Which was why, when Craig got home a few hours later, she was still on the couch. Because he could not have meant it. Because they were so not dating compatible. Since there was no sign of power returning, her and Craig shared the couch and the blankets as the temperature dropped. Well, at least she’d gotten to stay home.

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December Storytime - 8 Dates, Third through Sixth

Catching up! As promised. Here are entries for Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. I'll be following up with today's shortly. Sorry for the delay! This won't happen again!

The Third Date

“What are you waiting for?”

She was halfway up the rock wall and Delaney could only stare. Samantha, pretty and blonde, was turning into as much a nightmare as every other date. Thinking she’d be able to do it, Delaney had let them harness her up and even put on the gloves she was told she needed. Then they’d offered a helmet and she’d froze.

“I don’t think this is going to work.”

The employee standing beside her gave a sympathetic look. Maybe it was a pitying look. Unsure, she only motioned him to help her remove the trappings of rock climbing from her unwilling body. He’d offered to track down a female employee, but she’d demurred.

Samantha had stopped upward movement, but not come down. It was hard to tell, but she looked either annoyed or pissed. Not sympathetic.

Maybe the employee was single.

“You said you enjoyed outdoor activities in your profile,” Samantha huffed.

“We’re inside,” Delaney pointed out to her date. Also, she’d meant lying on the beach under an umbrella with a juice pouch and a book. Which one did outdoors so she had not lied.

“I paid for an hour.”

“Well, you didn’t ask if I liked heights.” Really. This was not her fault.

“Your profile didn’t say you did not.”

“For the love of-” The profile questions had not had a spot for minor terrors. Like heights. Not a phobia, but she avoided ledges and cliffs and all that stuff if she could.

As they argued, she was freed of any look of rock climber. Already she felt better. The employee smiled and hauled off the esoteric gear once she handed over her gloves.

Samantha still did not move to come down to her.

“We could go get dinner,” Delaney offered, not wanting to give up so easily.

“I ate already this evening.”

“Wow.”

Because, what else could one say?

Head shaking, Delaney officially gave up on her date.

Craig could understand or not. At this point, she really wanted to give up. Only thoughts of a week of solitude on a beach would keep her going. At least, she consoled herself, today was over. She’d grab dinner on her way home and watch whatever channel Craig had left the tv on before he’d left for work.

 

The Fourth Date

It was not, Delaney mused, that she didn’t enjoy giant robot movies. It was only…this one was terrible. She’d never heard of it, but didn’t think it meant much since she was constantly two years behind on her movie viewing. Although, she began to think she hadn’t heard of it because no one had.

Except her date.

He was nice enough. Earnest, a little goofy looking, and unable to be quiet during a movie.

Which bothered her. Not that she was able to stay quiet through an entire movie, but he wouldn’t shut up. Since the title crossed the screen he was a font of never ending information.

“Umm,” she whispered about halfway through, “Are all the women going to wind up in their underwear?” They were pretty women, sure, but it was a little…exploitative.

“Well, not the old ones,” he replied. Without looking away from the screen. Where two busty women in their underwear were fighting in the rain. Over…well, she wasn’t sure.

“I have to pee.”

“You’re going to miss the big-”

“Look, we both know I’m not coming back. Enjoy the movie. You can keep my popcorn.” It had been stale.

In truth, Delaney was not even sure Scott noticed her absence.

 

The Fifth Date

The bench at the police station was cold. Every time the door opened a blast of frigid winter air blew right through her clothes. She wasn’t even sure why she was still here. There was no reason to remain.

Inertia, she supposed. Or some other science word. Normally, she’d have looked it up, but her phone was currently in a baggie in several pieces. Because, of course, her date had been a disaster.

This time, she promised herself, this time she would tell Craig to forget it. Bad dates were one thing, but having to call the police was quite another. She should have known when his mother kept calling during their coffee. He had actually handed her the phone twice. To assure her, he’d said, it was not another woman.

She’d pointed out it was, in fact, another woman, and he’d giggled nervously.

Giggled.

Not that she held to standard displays of masculinity, but between the giggle and his mother she’d finished her drink fast enough to burn her tongue.

#

“Which was not the worst part,” she told Craig after midnight when he was home from work.

“No, that would have been being attacked by Mrs. Bates, right?”

They had opted for ice cream, since she had to work in the morning. Craig hogged the spoon and she debated the walk to the kitchen for a second one. If they had one clean.

“I swear, I was perfectly polite, but I had to get out of there.”

“I understand.”

“You don’t!”

“We’ve all dated people with clinging parents.”

“Not me. And I am not going to start.”

“Are you sure you didn’t insult his clothes? She probably dressed him.”

They both snickered at that and she snatched the ice cream away from him.

“I said I had to go. She must have been…lurking. So creepy. I was at my car when that…”

“Mother?” he offered with a smirk.

“She grabbed my phone and smashed it into the car. Then stomped on it. I had to dive into the car and call for help. And, after the police came, he kept giving me this look like it was all my fault.”

Delaney offered the ice cream back and asked, “Can’t we call it even? I’m afraid one of these last three dates will end in death.”

“Theirs or yours?”

“At this point, I’d be happy with either.”

“Three more. How bad can they be?”

“Don’t call attention to my misfortune.”

“Too late. Go to bed. I’ve got a date with my console.”

Too depressed to be entertained by his poor gaming skills, she did go to bed.

 

The Sixth Date

 

“Beach house,” she repeated under her breath. Her mantra did her no good. No matter the thoughts of warm ocean water, falling asleep to the sound of waves, and solitude, were going to save this date.

“Because nothing can.”

“What?”

“What?”

Patrick looked at her oddly and returned to his conversation. That did not include her. It was not that he wasn’t nice. It was, she decided, he was too nice. He was not having a good time. She was not having a good time either, but was determined to stick it out for once. Because, maybe, if they got over the bad part they might get along.

He was cute, almost funny, and not a dick to their waiter. So, he had points in his favor. A shame liking her was not one of them. Instead, as they’d waited for their salads, he’d begun talking to anyone else. She didn’t know why and worried about asking.

So, she suffered through salads and entrees, but dessert was a no go. She could not take much more. Actually, she decided as he waved to someone at the door, she couldn’t take any more.

“Did I run over your dog?”

“What?” he demanded in shock.

“It’s just- you know, you haven’t said more than three words to me all night. So, I thought maybe, you know…”

“No. I’m sorry. It wasn’t- This was a mistake.”

“Yea,” she agreed.

“I shouldn’t have agreed to this. My friends wanted me to date.”

“Oh. Well, that’s never a good idea.”

“You speak from experience?”

“I made a deal with my friend. My roommate.”

“My buddies, we play basketball. They thought I should get back on the horse.”

“Craig just says I need someone to get laid regularly.” Her blush came quicker than his startled laugh. “I was not- I mean-”

“My wife died.”

“Oh, shit.”

“Yea, I keep thinking the same thing.”

“You should have said. We could have just hung out.”

“I promised I’d give it a try.”

“So? Are they here watching? Because, seriously, I’ve had one creepy watcher date already this week.”

“No. But I said.”

“You’re too nice for me.”

“You seem nice.”

Only she laughed at his words. Well, he didn’t know her. And by not laughing he pretty much proved he was too nice for her.

“How about we split the check and lie and say it went pretty good?”

“I can get the check.”

“I know, but…I’d like to split it. Save getting the check for when you meet someone you want to pay for.”

Patrick grinned and she kind of hated his dead wife for a second because she thought a second date might have been fun with him.

Just her luck.

They traded numbers off the dating site and promised to text. She would wait and see if he did first. Because, as nice as he was, he might only be saying nice things and hoping she didn’t misunderstand.

At least her new phone was in one piece. Two more dates. She’d made it too far to stop. Even if they were terrible. Maybe she’d get another nice widower. She’d definitely had worse dates.

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December Storytime - 8 Dates, The Second Date

Ok, so the date doesn't appear in here. 

This week has been a pain in the ass in a lot of ways. I'm glad it is nearly over. Beloved should have tomorrow off after working since Thanksgiving. We're supposed to go to the city with his mom and the boys. So, at least half a day I can keep him from work. :)

In other non-writing news, one of my favorite restaurants is under new ownership and my favorite dish was too salty. :( I'm hoping it was a one time thing. They have this awesome poblano pepper quesadilla. But not if it is always going to be salty. Boo. 

To the story!

8 Dates, The Second Date

 

“Tell me all about it.” Craig topped off her wine and Delaney made a face. “Oh, stop. We both know we have to finish the bottle or we’ll forget it.”

“No, we both know you believe the more wine you pour into me the more I’ll tell you about the date.”

“I’m not sure it counts.”

“For fuck’s sake, Craig!” Delaney slammed her wine glass on the cheap coffee table and set a new stain in the particle board’s faux stain.

“Easy, girl.”

Her glare sharpened and he settled back onto the couch as she rose to get a towel. She returned with the towel, tossed carelessly onto the table, and the carton of ice cream. Craig watched her open the pumpkin ice cream container and he frowned when she brandished only one spoon. He could get his own.

“I’m not sure how you can say the date doesn’t count.” He’d waited, ill-concealed impatience obvious, as she’d eaten several bites.

“Because you’d dated her before. The goal was new dates.”

“I didn’t know I’d dated her before. It was high school. And she was different.”

“Oh. My. God. Was she a he then?”

Delaney’s eyes rolled and she ate ice cream.

“Come on! You have to spill!”

“She was a she. What she was not, was blonde and in a suit. When I’d known her before she had red hair and didn’t wear anything but black.”

“You dated a goth!”

“I dated anyone who’d go out with me.”

“So desperate.” He clucked and reached for her wine glass to pour the contents into his.

Another eye roll as she ate in silence. This time, he didn’t try to get her to talk. At least, not until he’d finished the wine in his glass.

“Come on. At least tell me if the date ended before or after she figured out who you were.”

He would pester her. All day. Or, try to ply her with wine and she had another date tonight. Not that she looked forward to it.

“She recognized me almost immediately,” Delaney admitted. “And then spent the first hour being coy about it. Dropping hints I didn’t pick up on until she was pissed. I mean, that was ten years ago! How am I supposed to remember everyone I dated in high school?”

Craig made vague, approval-sounding clucking noises. He could recite his dates alphabetically or chronologically. Every last one. She thought him weird.

“Anyway, by the time she informed me of our shared past we’d already ordered lunch. Which, by the way, sucked. And she stuck me with the bill. Like, literally! Excused herself to the bathroom and never came back. She did send a text about fifteen minutes later to say she had to go.”

“Oh, that bitch.” Craig scooted closer, but she wasn’t fooled. “Oh, come on.”

“No.” She moved her spoon away from him. “The last time you ate ice cream with wine you puked all night. Everywhere. It was so nasty.”

“You have a point.”     

“Wine or dairy, never both. You made me swear a solemn oath to uphold your own oath that terrible morning.”

“Ok, ok. Sheesh! There’s no need to be that way.”

“Friendly?”

“Ugh. Yes. Fine. I told you not to add women to the list though. Remember?”

“Because you’re a homophobe.”

“That’s so true.”

“Because you’re afraid of finding a dick bigger than yours.”

“We both know that’s not true.”

“Only because we both know how tiny yours really is.”

“I am not going to spend my one day off this week being insulted.”

“So, not gaming?”

“Did dating always make you this bitchy?”

“Yes. Which is why you should call off this mess and just let me use the beach house.”

“Never. We need to get you laid.”

“We don’t need to do anything. Ugh. I’m going to take a nap.”

“Be depressed in your room.” Craig reached for his controller. “Well, try not to sob too loudly. It throws off my skills.”

Delaney took her ice cream back to the kitchen. On the way through the living room she ruffled his hair. He swatted at her hand.

“Our problem is, we won’t settle for each other,” she offered as she leaned over the couch to watch his game load.

“Well, when we’re ancient, like thirty or so, we can settle.”

“Thirty is not that far away.”

“Ok, sixty. Deal?”

“Deal.”

She wound up back on the couch, because Craig was such a terrible player it was amusing to watch him annoy his teammates. Anyway, she could feel sorry for herself on the couch as well as her bed. And, she was closer to the ice cream in case she wanted it again. She might, with another date waiting in a few hours.

     

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December Storytime - 8 Dates, The First

Like I said...longer sort of story. Kinda. It's still playing out in my head. :) Today was hectic, but I managed to write before the kids were out of school. A good thing as when they are home it is a little harder. Especially with the beloved working long days and trapped at his desk in the basement.

The nice thing about so many of these short works is I find inspiration for longer things. Yay! So, I may have to expand on a horrible date scene at an art show later.

8 Days - First Date

There was no music. In the movies, there was always some understated and classical piece playing over discreet speakers. She’d briefly studied up, looking for connections between classical composers and performers with the artist they were here to view. Although, the more Blake talked the more she thought she’d wasted time. He was a fan boy of the artist. Her brief perusal of Wikipedia and a few fan pages was not going to be enough.

“And, look here. I knew this! They mislabeled this painting. Everyone always says he painted it in 1947, but it was 1946. He sold it in ’47.” Blake looked around and said, “Idiots.”

Delaney smiled and stared at the painting. In a second, like all the others, he would ask what she thought of the mixture of paint and canvas. So far, she’d resisted the truth. Her little sister had painted the exact same stuff when she was seven. Every new canvas reminded her about how little help Wikipedia truly was unless she needed to know the episode number of her favorite episode of her favorite season of her favorite show.

Which changed frequently.

“Delaney.” Blake had said her name more than once, she suspected. His tone reminded her of her mother.

Her giggle made him scowl.

Although, now that she thought about it, had she seen him do much beyond scowl this whole date?

No. No, she had not. Which was why she smiled, turned, and walked away.

Really, she had tried. Craig would have to see that she had tried. She was still annoyed he had not considered her first date a date. Just because she’d been stood up did not mean she hadn’t tried. Shaved her legs and everything.

On the way to her car she texted him the date was over.

He didn’t text back, but then she remembered he was at work.

Seven blocks away, her car waited for her. She had refused to pay for valet parking, despite the temperature drop. So long as the snow waited until she was in her car. At home would be nicer, but why should anything go her way today?

Once she made it to her car, as she shivered and waited for it to warm up, she opened up her calendar. Seven more disasters. Two of them tomorrow since it was Saturday. Lunch and dinner. With any luck, she’d get two free meals.

Tucking her phone away, she pulled her gloves back on as the snow started. Once she reached home, she would lace some hot chocolate with rum and enjoy the rest of her evening. Ignoring the dings from her phone, surely Craig on a break, she pulled out of the lot. His opus would read better with that rum she’d promised herself.

 

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December Storytime - 8 Dates

I am in the mood to be serial. Mmm. Cereal. Sorry. I have been craving Lucky Charms like CRAZY lately, but I am resisting because, well, because if I start I may not stop. :) I did buy a box of Christmas Rice Krispie cereal. I have not had rice krispie treats in months. And, I will share with the kids. Lucky Charms are not for sharing.

Ok, cereal aside! I'm going to devote the next 9 days on a story called, simply enough, 8 Dates. Today is more of a prologue thing. I am feeling romancy. Also, I want to do a little more long form stories. So, here you go! Enjoy!

8 Dates

Her phone vibrated on the table and Delaney looked down. A text from her best friend. Well, it was too much to expect her supposed date to have bothered to get ahold of her. Ignoring the sympathetic look from the waiter, she picked up her phone and read Craig’s tirade. She should not have texted him about her date not showing. In her hand, her phone continued to vibrate as he ignored all known text laws and etiquettes.

The next time the waiter passed, she caught his attention with a wave. From her pocket she pulled a ten and handed it over. All she’d done was order an iced tea and it would be more than covered.

Before he could leave she said, “No, keep it. Sorry for hogging the table.”

He grinned and made assurances he was not bothered, but she’d waited tables and knew how she’d felt about people camping real estate. Since she always drove on a first date, she walked to the parking lot two blocks over to retrieve her car. She had a pass for the same lot from when she worked downtown. Since parking was such a bitch, she kept up paying it even though she worked from home now. Besides, she rented it out to friends sometimes and that usually covered half the cost.

Money was hard to stop thinking about as there was never enough. Truthfully, she’d half started this dating quest to get a few free meals. If more were going to be like tonight she’d wind up losing money. A block from the lot she started her car and shook her head. Maybe she should cancel her membership to the dating site now.

No. Craig would never let her hear the end of it if she did not uphold her end of the bargain. A week at his grandparents’ beach house. Alone. All she had to do was survive eight dates. It couldn’t be that hard.

Eight lousy dates in the middle of winter and she’d get eight days on the beach come summer. Even she could survive. Although, she might change her strategy. Being late would save her sitting there waiting for someone to stand her up. Again.

As she huddled in the scant warmth of her car she planned her next eight days. No sense trying to put much time between the dates. Tear off the band aid. Tonight, she would line up eight passable options and survive them all with memories of the scent and sound of ocean waves.

“Easy,” she promised herself as she headed home.

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December Storytime 06

The beloved and I were discussing assorted things the other day and this idea popped up somewhat tangentially. So, I went with it! Because, that is what this month is for. Random stuff? Sure thing! :) Enjoy!

THE COWBOY

Kara waited with the others for the shuttle to pull up to the stop. The winter wind shot through her thin flannel and she stomped her red cowboy boots to keep the feeling in her toes. Unlike a couple of the others, she’d remembered to put her hair back to avoid wind snarls. Once they made town, she could undo her hair and not worry about bringing a comb. She never brought much on these monthly excursions. Enough in credit to get well and truly drunk, cover a hotel if she didn’t find someone to invite her to theirs, and emergency return funds.

Once, and only once, she’d missed the return shuttle and had to walk, not having enough credits to hire a coach. In the winter, she’d been lucky to not lose another toe on the walk. Never again.

The shuttle slid to a stop in front of their stop, one the boss kept promising to cover, but never did, and they jostled to get on and into the warmth. Kara, never a jostler when sober, let the others shove past her. The driver grinned when he saw her and she shook her head. Lewis was an old-timer, one of the first settlers out here, and before taking this relatively easy gig, he’d been out on the ranches as well. Twice more they stopped to gather up the scattered ranch hands. Most of them came on the first day off, preferring to spend the second nursing a hangover with the rest.

Kara didn’t mind the second day, but after her dust up with Vicki she needed to get away. The foreman never listened and she’d spent most of yesterday being yelled at over something procedures should have avoided. As if it were her fault. If Vicki could not keep people in line she should be replaced. Kara wasn’t sure she wanted the job, but was convinced if she ever got a shot she’d do a damned sight better than Vicki.

Clashing scents, too much cologne and perfume in circulated air, began to make her head throb. A couple of people had snuck a flask onto the shuttle, but she passed them on without a sip when they made her seat. No one knew what was in them. Only an idiot or someone desperate would drink. Instead, she cracked a window open despite the hollers of protest.

As the shuttle began to slow down and slide to a stop she was on her feet. Getting on first wasn’t a necessity, but she hated to be stampeded around when getting off the shuttle. So, she stepped on feet and elbowed a couple of people to be the first one there when Lewis opened the doors. He flashed her a wink and she disappeared into the swirl of cold and snow waiting outside.

Avoiding the people she worked with was easy. Kara headed down the street, finding the best bar she could afford away from the shuttle stop. Most of them would drink rotgut nearby so they could roll each other back to the ranch. As eager as the rest to drink, she had some standards. More importantly, she could find tourists farther out from the shit kicker bars.

#

Three drinks in, she began to think she’d made the wrong selection. The bar was quieter than she liked, but it was warm and stirring from her barstool seemed like a lot of work. Whiskey warmed her blood and left her skin flushed as the door opened and a chorus of complaints joined the gust of wind. Kara didn’t turn to see who entered because she was not desperate. Better to sit here, drink, and let them come to her if interested.

The chill of the outdoors approached her and she tipped her head to watch a woman that screamed tourist approach the bar. The other woman hesitated before sitting beside Kara. As the bartender approached, Kara grinned and nodded at him.

“Her first one’s on me.”

“Oh, thank you! That’s so kind. It’s freezing!” The tourist ordered a beer before she rotated on her stool to look at Kara. “I’m Nancy. I love your boots!’ Her gaze had taken in Kara from head to toe and, with any luck, it wasn’t only the boots she was interested in tonight.

“Thanks,” Kara said. “Kara. They’re my town boots. Can’t wear them out working.” A little lie. The tourists loved the lies.

“Oh, gosh! Are you a real cowboy?”

Glass clinked on the bar and Kara shoved over her credit to pay for the drink. A fresh whiskey waited for her as well. Excellent.  She drained her near empty glass and traded it for the full one.

“I am indeed,” was her reply.

“That is so exciting!”

“Oh, it sure is.” More lies. Oh, she’d thought it would be exciting when she’d taken the job, but then she’d learned the lies for herself.

“Tell me all about it.”

The door blew open and Nancy shivered.

“Why don’t we go sit in the corner where you won’t freeze your pretty boots off,” Kara said with a nod of her head towards the booths along the far wall. Away from the draft of the door, but also tucked into shadows.

Nancy slid from her stool and wobbled. Her hand settled on Kara’s shoulder. They both looked at it before Nancy winked.

“I thought you were going to say something other than boots,” she whispered.

Kara only grinned and stood up, close enough to hear Nancy’s breath catch as they entered each other’s space. The night was looking up, finally. Before the other woman could grab her drink, she had them both. They tucked themselves into the back and got steadily drunk on alcohol and each other.

#

Come morning, Kara had more money than she’d hoped. There had been no need to get a room of her own as Nancy had all but carried her back to hers. She still slept there, a note and a glass of water on her bedtable, as Kara stomped through snow drifts towards the shuttle stop.

This one was covered and even blew hot air. She sprung for a cup of shitty shuttle coffee and was still nursing it when the doors opened. Few people were up this early so she avoided the stampede. Another reason she always woke early. The first, and most important, was that her entertainment for the evening usually slept late. Best to get away without conversation.

The shuttle driver today was chatty and he didn’t seem to care no one else was speaking. He prattled on as he dropped off the few early risers, smiling and bidding everyone a blessed day. Quiet would have been a better blessing, but none of them received it.

Even the cold was welcome as they reached her stop. The driver bid her cheery farewell and she managed a smile. Her head barely pounded and it did no harm to be polite. Despite the urge she had to punch him. It was not his fault, her mother’s voice reminded her, that she’d overindulged.

The trek back to the bunkhouse was silent but for the buzz overhead and the wind. The wind was a near constant sound and most people stopped hearing it after a few months. Kara wasn’t lucky enough for that, but she tugged a knit hat down over her ears and quieted it somewhat. No one was awake, so she made breakfast quietly. If she woke them, they’d decide they could eat as well. She had no desire to cook for the idiots still abed.

So, she wolfed down eggs and oatmeal with several strong cups of tea. On her last cup when the first of the layabeds stumbled in she went to the barracks to change quickly into work clothes. Fresh clothes, identical to last night’s, but not smelling of whiskey and smoke, were warm. Always a nice thing when it was freezing. After shoving her feet into work boots she headed across the yard.

The building was smaller than the bunkhouse and smelled of electronics and stale coffee. Even as she heard fresh coffee brewing she only smelled the old stuff. The night shift, bleary-eyed, glanced up from their screens to see if their replacement had come in to let them sleep. Only Evie stood and stretched. Her headset hit the keyboard and she did no more than nod before heading outside. A quick nap, Kara suspected, and she’d be waiting for the afternoon shuttle.

No one spoke as she sat on the warm chair at her station and signed into the terminal. A few crumbs stuck to the joystick and she tapped her keyboard upside down to be sure it was clean. Evie snacked non-stop when working. Kara had gotten used to it, even if it annoyed her. On the monitor, she saw snow, a few scraggly trees, and furry cows. Nothing unusual.

“Be a cowboy,” she muttered. “It’ll be fun.”

Twelve hours in a stinky building, flying a drone to check on the herd of a man so rich he didn’t know she existed. Yep. Fun. Already she thought forward to next month’s day off. There would be another Nancy, with any luck, and that would have to be good enough.

 

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December Storytime 04

Remember when I mentioned cheaty days? Welcome to the first! My father in law died earlier this year and the hospice who helped him and my mother in law is having their memorial for all those lost this year. So, I am not going to be writing today. Instead, I bring you a short story I wrote about a year ago. I've changed a few things, including a name, and redone bits of it. Because I cannot leave well enough alone and it nothing I do is ever well enough anyway! ENJOY!

PHOTOSYNTHESIS

Bonnie’s life sucked. She knew it sucked because she was sitting on a bus halfway between Houston and Seattle. Behind her were a couple of potheads talking about scoring when they stopped in the next big town. Bonnie thought they’d be getting off for good there as neither seemed smart enough not to avoid the cops who would surely be looking for guys like them. A part of her would be glad to be rid of them as there was a definite funk emanating from their seats. Of course, to be fair to the potheads, the whole bus smelled bad.

At least, during the last bus switch, she’d managed to avoid being stuck at the back of the bus. That had left her deciding any level of Dante’s hell would be preferable. Then she’d congratulated herself on the excellent link to her last English class before she’d left college. Which had left her digging in her bag for the last of her gummi worms; because the reminder she had not left so much as been asked to leave had been too depressing not to eat gummi worms.

The worst part of all had been the death of her phone sometime in the last two miles. Now she was forced to listen to the next generation of Capones, thank you early 20th Century History, plot their great heist. Bonnie had left her earbuds in because it kept the chatty old ladies from bothering her. The last had changed seats in a huff, muttering about kids these days, when Bonnie had ignored her entirely as she’d tried to share photos of her cat. She’d tweeted about it. How meta, she’d thought with a snort. She was sharing on the internet a story about someone sharing cat photos. In real life. Actual, printed photos.

Bonnie dug out the last gummi worm from her bag. The one she’d sworn she wouldn’t eat because it had fallen free and may have a small bit of lint on it. It was a red orange one. She couldn’t let it go to waste. She needed it. In Denver, she had four hours to wait. She planned on charging her phone and buying gummi worms and ignoring the emails and texts her mother continued to send.

Seattle was the last place she wanted to go. Her whole family had bought the story the college had spread around. Like they didn’t even know her. She was appalled to find herself crying. Worse, she was out of tissues and the thought of braving the bathroom was too much. Bonnie turned toward the window and wiped at her eyes.

“Hey, you ok?”

“I’m not holding.”

She’d been asked that too many times. As she turned to snap something she hoped would sound like snark, she stopped. Holy God! How had she missed him on the bus? Bonnie wiped the back of her hand across her eyes and hoped what little makeup she’d managed to put on wasn’t running.

He had a North Texas drawl that made her go weak and was actually wearing a cowboy hat. The hat was not as impressive as the tight jeans and cowboy boots. Neither of which was as impressive as his green eyes and reddish stubble.

“I didn’t ask that,” he said as he sat beside her. Bonnie leaned towards him like a plant to the sun. Thank you, Biology 1. Photosynthesis had never seemed so sexy as when she saw him as the sun.

“Oh, umm. Yea, I’m fine. The smell.” She wrinkled her nose and tipped her head backward.

He smiled. He was the sun gone supernova. Thank you, Greg, the adorable guy across the hall who wanted to work for NASA. Not so much thank you to Andrew, his boyfriend, because he’d dashed her hopes of Greg.

“It is pretty strong. I’m Kent.” He held out his hand.

Bonnie stared at it long enough he started to pull it back before she grabbed it. His smile came out again. It allowed her to find hers for the first time in six months.

“Bonnie.” She should have made up a name. What had Bonnie ever done? Except get expelled from college.

“Where are you going, Bonnie?” He still had her hand in his.

“Seattle,” she stammered. “What about you?”

“Getting off in Denver.”

“Phrasing,” she said.

“A woman of refinement,” he said with a wink. “Or, at least one with good taste in tv.”

Oh, good God! He knew her favorite tv show. She looked down at her hand, still in his.

“Should I let go?”

“No. I mean. Yes. I mean…” Bonnie blushed. Hopefully it wasn’t the blotchy sort that made her tan look uneven. How vain, her mother would point out. Only, it was her mother who’d made her that way and she’d tried to stop. She’d even dyed her hair white. Gone were her mother’s sable locks. Instead, in a fit of pique her freshman year, she’d gotten her roommate to help her strip her hair of color and dye it white. Peter had liked it. He’d said it gave her brown eyes more depth. Peter had been an art student and, as it turned out, a jerk.

“You there, Bonnie?”

She blushed again.

“I, uhh, sorry.”

“The smell?”

“No,” she admitted. “Just a shitty couple of months.”

Kent shifted closer to her and she didn’t stop him. He definitely smelled better than the rest of the people on the bus. Including herself, she was sure.

“Sorry,” he drawled and squeezed her hand.

It was all he said, but Bonnie was happy to sit in silence.

#

“Come on, charge.” Bonnie encouraged her phone as she sat on the floor after fighting her way to an empty outlet. Twenty percent taunted her as she dug into the bag of chips she’d bought. Six bottles of water sat in a plastic bag by her, slowing growing warm and unappealing. A few hours from now, as she sat on the bus in the middle of the night, she’d be thankful for them. Until she had to brave the bathroom.

“Is that all you’re eating?”

Bonnie looked up into Kent’s smile. Definitely the sexiest photosynthesis ever. Her stomach growled and she groaned.

“Here. I bought tacos.”

He sat beside her and placed a brown bag between them.

“What about your ride?”

“They’re not here yet. And you looked like a lady who needs a good taco.”

He opened the bag and Bonnie’s stomach growled again. She hadn’t eaten anything other than chips and gummi worms since she boarded the bus. Kent handed over two tacos and Bonnie unwrapped them to inhale the scent of spicy beef and fresh tomatoes.

“Oh, my God,” she moaned after her first bite. She couldn’t bother with embarrassment right now. Besides, she wouldn’t ever see him again. Which was why she licked her fingers when she was done as Kent watched with a grin.

“Why’re you headed to Seattle, Bonnie?”

Her phone chirped at the same time. A quick glance showed her mother’s text. Why was she going to Seattle?

“Because I have nowhere else to go.” It was a sad truth.

Kent reached across the remains of awesome tacos and touched her hair.

“You look like the kind of girl who wouldn’t feel trapped like that.”

“You don’t know me.” Another truth. One that almost made her sad.

“Maybe I’d like to.”

“Well, you’re staying here and I’m going to Seattle so…”

“I’m not staying here. I’m meeting some friends and we’re heading to Alaska by car.”

“Why?”

“To work at a friend’s lodge. It’s good money. And I’ve always wanted to see Alaska.”

“I thought you Texas boys didn’t like things bigger than home?” she teased.

“Come with me.”

Bonnie rolled her eyes right before her phone chirped again.

“I think I saw this movie on Lifetime.”

Kent laughed and it was loud and free and reminded her of a time when she’d been happy.

“I swear, darlin’ we’re good people. Half of us are girls like yourself. There’s room for you. We got a van that seats eight and you’d only make number seven.”

It was so tempting. Bonnie just didn’t know if it was tempting because she could avoid her mother’s disappoint and disapproval or because Kent was, by far, the hottest guy she’d ever seen walking around in cowboy boots. And she’d gone to school in Texas.

Bonnie looked at her phone, but didn’t read her mother’s message.

“Taco, taco, taco,” she said.

Kent looked surprised before he leaned closer and brushed his lips over hers.

“Come on, Jennifer,” he teased after so she knew he got the reference.

Bonnie laughed. When had she laughed last? It surprised her she couldn’t remember.

Her phone chirped.

“Fuck it.”

“Darlin’?”

“This doesn’t mean you can kiss me again,” Bonnie warned.

“Oh, I wouldn’t ever think that,” Kent said with a grin.

Screw photosynthesis, she thought as they gathered up her stuff. Mammal biology was surely more fun.

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December Storytime 03

Today is short. I'm not sure what I did here. :) The opening idea occurred to me as I was avoiding getting out of bed this morning because I had two warm dogs cuddled by me.

The Nots

The door opened, but the woman who stepped out was not her mother. In the darkness of the open arch, she saw nothing. If her mother was still in there, she did not know. In the hallway, the woman who was not her mother, but looked just like her, smiled. Last night had been the same thing. The night before she did not know because she had not been home.

Casey worried at a hangnail and wondered if she should go into her mother’s room. Would knowing for sure be better? Indecision trapped her in her bedroom. The same as last night, she closed her door and pushed her dresser against it. Better to not know. Better to be safe. A smart move, not a cowardly one.

Silence resumed in the house. The thick walls did not allow her to hear her brother’s breathing, her mother’s wandering, or anyone who might need help. Not that she could help them. A flashlight, her phone, and a lava lamp gave her the only light she dared use. What she wanted was to turn on every light in her room. Her fear was, it would give her away. Feet tucked under the blankets she sat in the middle of her bed and debated what to do.

Perhaps, she should go out her window. Away from home would be safer. Where to go was the question. She could only think of a few friends who might take her in tonight. Two of them lived too far away. Once more, indecision kept her in bed. The dresser kept her not mother from getting into her room. Tonight, it would have to be good enough.

Tomorrow was Friday and she would find someone to let her spend the night. Maybe the whole weekend if she could work the situation. Better than being home. That is what she would do. Stay up tonight, keep the door blocked, and find someone at school tomorrow to let her stay away. Her not mother, whatever her plan, would not capture her.

#

“But she’s not my daughter.” Becky stood on the back porch, cigarette lighting the darkness as she spoke on the phone. “I’m sure. She stares at me, plotting something. Why don’t I come over there this weekend?”

Her boyfriend allowed himself to be convinced. Becky would just stay out here all night. If she sat facing the door into the kitchen she would know if her not daughter came for her. The light of her phone and the glow of her cigarette was the only light she dared.

 

 

 

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December Storytime 02

I've some plans to cheat later this month. Not by not posting...well, you'll see. Family obligations, including taking two Star Wars fans to opening night of Rogue One will impede my writing somewhat. As will Episode VIII next year. Maybe they will grow out of Star Wars? :D

Today's story is... short. And full of S names. Because it was a thing I wanted to do, so I did. I've a few ideas for longer stories to spread out over a few days. Once I am in the swing of things and all. :) Until then, enjoy this story. There are pirates (mentioned), cursed treasure, and swearing. Whee.

The S Story

There wasn’t anything to be done.

As the phone continued to ring, Stacy and Shaw stared down at their landlord.

“He’s definitely dead,” she pointed out as she examined a drop of blood on the toe of her pink shoes.

Shaw nudged the body with his work boot and let out a sigh.

The phone quit ringing. Only to start up again a minute later. They exchanged a look.

“Answer it.”

“And get my fingerprints at a crime scene?”

“Someone’s going to come over if you don’t. Answer it, Stacy. Use a damned tissue or something.”

Stacy glared, but she pulled the sleeve of her sweater down and answered the phone.

“Yes. Yes. Oh, is that so? No, no. That won’t be required. Yes. Thank you so much.” She hung up and glared at Shaw. “Fucking telemarketers. Apparently, his computer is infected with a nasty virus.”

“Like his dick.”

“You would know.”

“Shut up. That was his son. We need to find it and get out.”

“Teach your mother to suck dick.” Stacy hit the button on the answering machine to turn it on. She left Shaw with the body and went to search the house.

This was not supposed to be how this went. The deal was, they confront him, get the item, leave. He wasn’t supposed to die. Not that it was a problem. Well, it was in that they had a corpse. The man himself being dead, not a problem. Because he was a useless piece of shit. Shaw wanted to kick him again, but worried about boot imprints or something.

Who knew what stuff on CSI was real and what wasn’t. Had they touched anything? Not much, he thought. Not enough to be a problem, at least out here. They came over once a month to pay rent. The perils of renting from a man with serious paranoia issues.

Shaw looked down at the dead man.

Maybe not so paranoid.

“Come on, Stacy, we need to go.”

“Jesus, hold up. I think I found it.”

“Thank God,” he muttered.

She came out holding a small iron box with a cheap lock. “Is this it?” When she shook it, something inside rattled.

“How should I know? We should go.” Had they been here too long? Being in the same room with a corpse was beginning to bother him.

“We should be sure first.” She set the box on the kitchen table, shoving aside a stack of catalogs.

Shaw shook his head. Something was wrong. Had he heard a siren? No. It was quiet outside. No one was home this time of day. That was why they’d come over this time to deliver the rent check. The clash of metal on metal made him jump and he turned to see Stacy removing the lock.

“I said not here.”

“And you’re not the boss. God, Shaw. You’re such a pancreas.”

Stacy would not insult herself by calling someone wussy a pussy. Well, he’d known she was a bitch when they’d become roommates. He had not known she’d kill someone. It wasn’t hard to see, in hindsight, but when he’d first moved in he’d only thought her a bitch.

“Holy shit!” Stacy stared into the box, eyes shining with avarice as she reached in and pulled out a couple of jewels. “They said he had some fancy shit, but look at this.”

He did. He stared at the gleaming reds, greens, and whites in her fingers. Not that he knew anything about gemstones, but they looked like they’d be worth a decent amount of money. Which would be good. Because he needed the money.

“Can we go now? I’m really getting uncomfortable here.”

“There could be more.”

“They said the one box. Come on, Stacy.”

“God, go if you want.”

Fuuuuuck. This was getting crazy. He should leave. The gems teased him. Dust in the air was thick in the shaft of light coming in from the kitchen window. The only open window. Had they closed it before?

“Shit.” Enough of this. He turned to leave and smacked into the chest of-

“Fuuuuck.”

“Maybe later.”

“How? What? No, how? Shit.”

Their landlord’s son stood two inches from him.

“We can go now.”

“Stacy-”

“Is fine. I am not about to linger around this curse.”

It was then Shaw noticed the lack of corpse on the ground. His eyes went to the carpet and to- what had his name been? Why was this happening to him?

“Because you helped to kill me. It’s a long story, Shaw, but truly, we should go. Any moment now the curse will tighten around your bitch of a roommate and she might be able to wiggle out and drop it on you. I would hate that.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Neither did I a long time ago. And, I will explain it all over a scotch. A good scotch. It’s been a long time. What do you want to do, Shaw? You need to decide now.”

“I am so lost.”

What was his name?

“Now or never, sport.”

“They’re- cursed? Like in Pirates of the Caribbean?”

“Yes.” Scott. His name was Scott. “Except, and no offence to the men, I am way hotter than Orlando Bloom or Johnny Depp.”

“Well, maybe Orlando Bloom,” Shaw teased, but he did not resist as Scott pulled him from the rundown, dusty apartment Stacy no longer saw.

“What will happen to Stacy?”

“The curse. Remember what I looked like? That’ll be her. Until, and unless, she sorts it out and sets someone else up. Like I did.”

“You set us up?”

“Well, I figured one of you would fall. I was hoping it would not be you.”

“I don’t know how I feel about this.”

“Which is why, the drink.”

“I don’t drink.”

“Fault one.”

“Yea, well, you’re cursed.”

“Was.”

“You can buy me a cup of tea. For now.”

“Good enough. We’ll save the harder stuff for after we cross the state line.”

Shaw felt like he was coasting farther out to sea. At least the raft was handsome. More importantly, not dead. Which would mean no potential murder charges. Well, the day was looking up after all.

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It's December! Storytime!

Welcome to Day One of my 2016 December project. This year, the stories are not connected. At least, they all aren't. I had several plans, but couldn't quite come up with a way to make them all come to fruition.

So, instead, I'll play it by ear. I'm very good at that! As like last year, I'm writing and posting in a single day. Forgive the typos and such.

Story #1 is...a wee bit gruesome if not explicitly so. I began it, wrote about three hundred words, and walked away. This was when I was in the midst of my depression a few months ago and desperate to write anything. It did help, but I didn't finish it.

Today, I did!

Enjoy! Umm. I suppose. :)

Bloody Work

Sawing through bone was never easy. Mathias wished the job on someone else, anyone else, but always wound up here. The first several times he’d left not only breakfast, but the previous night’s dinner, in the corner. Now, for good or ill, his stomach was hardened to the task.

Not so his conscious who still railed against the work.

A shame, he mused as he broke off the limb and tossed it into the proper bin, about how one could not fill his belly on conscious.

“Mathias!”

His employer’s voice broke through his thoughts. He dropped the saw onto the work table and wiped bloody hands on his overalls. It did little good, but muscle memory is a powerful thing.

“I’ve an assistant for you.”  The words, spoken in a rapid stutter, were barely out of his mouth before he fled the room. His boss disliked the room as much as anyone.

“I’m Roisin.”

She was cute. Any other place and he might not have noticed, but here, knee-deep in his work, he thought her something more. At once he looked away. It would not do to scare her off. Not when she would help. He needed help.

“Right then.” He picked up the bone saw and asked, “Do you know how to use this?”

“I’ve my own tools.”

Roisin approached the table he worked at and stared at the corpse. Fingers stroked the partially removed arm twice. From her belt, she pulled a small knife and before he might warn her it would do no good she severed the arm.

He couldn’t stop himself from stepping backwards. The knife was impressive. It had, as it cut so easily through bone and sinew, looked larger in her hand. A twinge of jealousy flared in his stomach. That sort of knife, it had to be a Gift. Except, how had someone with a Gift wound up here?

“Hey, Mathias? We here to work?”

A startled look at the table showed the body already separated. The pieces neatly tossed into their proper bins. The head bin was almost full. Soon he would have to roll it down the corridor to the chute. There, as he waited for the doors to open, he would remind himself to be thankful for his work. Even if it was terrible, it beat winding up in the chute.

To avoid meeting Roisin’s eyes, he made quick work depositing the pieces into their bins. Pieces. Bone and meat. Fodder for the mad experiments on the lower levels. He called them many things. Never what they were. Never.

A push of the button near the table wound up the mechanism to bring a fresh work. Chains rattled and the whiff of oil and metal warned him there would be the new pieces soon. A wet thud dropped the new piece, limbs splayed and eyes open in remembered pain.

“You ever see one you knew?”

The question was never asked of him. Never. Everyone either did not want to know, or feared the answer.

“Not for a long time.”

She worked the left side and he the right. Her knife allowed her to move faster, but he was experienced. His one benefit was he knew the layout so took less time transporting to the bins. Although it was not quite full, he stopped before the head bin.

“Come on. This is full enough. I’ll show you how to operate the chute.”

Roisin wiped her knife off with a clean rag and sheathed it before following him into the hall.

The head chute was at the far end of the hallway and neither spoke as they walked. Their boots clanked on the metal floor and the scent of flesh, singed, rotted, or fresh clung to his clothes and skin. Inside the bin, sightless eyes stared up. Rumor was, they were going to start requiring the removal of eyes. Even his stomach, hardened from years of work in the cutting room, roiled at the thought. Still, he knew if they demanded it, he would do it. Too many nightmares about the chute closing on him kept him compliant.

“It’s pretty simple. Heads here, then torsos.” He gestured. “Left arms and then left legs. Followed by right arms and right legs.” Mathias remembered being surprised they had gone left right and not arms legs. “You push the green button and wait.”

Usually it did not take long, but sometimes the chute wouldn’t open for several minutes. Never long enough to leave and come back despite the open buzz being loud enough. This time, it took seconds, and soon he was shoving the wheeled cart onto the metal platform. It clanked into place and the door slammed shut. If he listened, he could hear the clunk of gears as it descended in short hops.

“What about the bin?”

“It’s replaced in the cutting room.”

“Oh.” Roisin was quiet until they were right outside the door. “Do they watch?”

“No. Bruce is supposed to monitor the cameras, but everyone knows he’s too sensitive.”

“But not you?” she asked as they walked inside.

“Not any longer.”

“What do you do if you see someone you know?” She pushed the button for fresh work, and noted the new head bin along the line with a nod. “It’s what worries me the most.”

“It’s not- It’s not them.” The words forced themselves out as the body hit the table. “You just have to tell yourself it’s not them.”

They worked in silence for the rest of the shift.

#

Roisin beat him to the room the next morning.  He was surprised. No one was in a hurry to get to the cutting room. Even he dragged his feet along the walkways and elevators to get here and sign in to work.

The humming under her breath was disconcerting. How did she find music in here? All he found was a stench he pretended to be used to, and a gnawing despair. She even looked out of place. Her shorn head had signs of black hair growing back in a fuzzy layer. His own blond hair had stopped growing already.

His staring must have attracted her attention because she looked up as the knife sliced off the leg of a now completed work.

“Hey, boss. Hope you don’t mind I started early.”

“I’m not the boss,” he mumbled as he hurried in and let the door slide closed behind him. The bone saw waited and he forced himself to pick it up as she pressed the button for a new body after disposing of the last. “I was surprised to see you here, is all,” he felt compelled to say.

“Well, they only let me out for work.”

He stepped away as the body hit the table.

Roisin looked up at his movement with a grin. She watched him as she sliced up the body with no assistance. Piece by piece, she added them to bins barely removed from empty.

He tried to force himself to move closer, but he could not. Everyone knew about those locked up other than work. Crazies and dissidents and those two steps away from-

“The table. And the chute.”

The fact she completed his sentence aloud only worried him further.

“You have a Gift,” he whispered.

“Yes, I do.” She sounded bemused as she glanced down at the small knife. “Not that it has done me much good. Did you tell anyone?”

“No!” he shouted even though there was no threat in her voice.

“Good. Because I’m going to need a favor tomorrow.”

Mathias only stared.

“It’s ok, Mathias. It’s a thing you’re quite capable of doing.”

He doubted it.

The rest of the day, he could only watch her work, humming and slicing as if she carved a turkey for dinner.

#

He did everything but beg for a different assignment the next morning. Even the sludge pit would have been better, but the boss wouldn’t do it. His pleas were waved off and a stern warning sent him scurrying to the cutting room.

To Roisin.

And her Gift.

Again, she waited for him. This time, she was undressed. Worse. She laid on the table, the Gift gleaming beside her.

“Roisin,” he hissed, but she only turned her head to grin as she stopped humming.

“Excellent! We’ve no time to waste. You’ll have to toss all of me into the same bin. I know it’s against the rules, but I have to be sure.”

“Sure of what?” Terrified steps into the room nearly ended as she stroked the knife with her fingers.

“Sure I can get back together. It only hurts me a little.”

“Roisin. No.”

She sat up and he felt a tug of arousal because it had been so long since he’d seen a woman naked and alive. Horror kept his body in check. Roisin glanced behind him at the closed door.

“We’ve not long. I bribed the boss to ignore the cameras. Even though we know he already does. He thinks we’re going to have sex.” She kicked her legs in the air and grinned. “I would. If we had time. But we don’t. Head first, please. It hurts less that way.” She paused and her brown eyes trapped his breath. “And, this is most important, so listen. I need my Gift in my hand.”

Lying back on the table she began to hum once more.

“Roisin…”

“I need this, Mathias. I’ve been waiting a long time for someone like you to take this job.”

“Someone like me?”

“Someone who remembers being human.”

“I am human.”

“No, you’re not. But that doesn’t matter now. Please.”

“What do you mean it doesn’t matter?”

Roisin sighed and sat up once more. “Look, if I promise to explain everything later, will you do as I ask now?”

“How can you do anything later? You’ll be dead!”

“No,” she answered before lying down again. “Not for a long time to come. We have to do this now. I can’t wait too long or they won’t listen to me.”

“Who?”

“The ones from yesterday. Maybe some from the day before. I don’t know since I did not do them all. Please, Mathias.”

It was the please. She was pretty, and naked, and crazy, but she said please like she only asked to bum a smoke. Eyes closed, she hummed as he wrapped his hand around her Gift. The slick metal was cold under his fingers and he clutched it tight as his shaking hand brought the Gift to her neck.

Her smile never left. The humming continued until he was done and as he fought the urge to vomit he remembered to give her back the Gift. Her fingers wrapped around it on their own and he jumped.

Piece by piece, he carried her to the chute at the far end of the hall. He saved her head for last, cradled it no less gently than he had the rest of her. The chute took forever, but when the metal door clanged open he set her inside, piece by piece once more.

As the door closed, her lips puckered and she began to whistle. His startled gaze met her eyes as she blinked them open. It was too much. He fled the hallway, the work center, the entire level. Let them dock his pay. Let them do what they would.

He’d been touched by a Gift.

His only choice was to flee.

The tunnel to the outside was long, and sloped downward steeply. The outside would kill him, uninhabitable it was said, but Town and Ship made him ill. How long he journeyed down, he did not know. Only that he would eventually find out and be done. They did not stop people from the outside. There was no need. Instead, they paraded their corpses along the promenades for all to witness folly.

He cranked the door open, prepared to meet death.

“Sorry, he’s busy.”

Roisin grinned, Gift in one hand, and the other outstretched to take his, she hummed. If the door had not slid closed behind him, he would have turned and left, despite knowing he could not make the climb back.

“Come along, Mathias. We’ve work to do.”

“Work?”

“Your own Gift, yes. We shall make better use of it than they ever did.”

And they did. Although it was no less bloody, it was truly more satisfying.

 

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