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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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But, Peggy, where did you go?

Hi! I live! Sorry for missing weekend updates. The beloved took the weekend off. His first days off since Thanksgiving Day. So, I set everything aside and we did the whole family thing.

I am not sure where yesterday went! Other than family time after school.

That being said! I will be catching up this week and by Friday have the proper amount of items posted. Even with Rogue One on Thursday.

Because I will!

Thanks for understanding, you awesome people in the ether!

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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 05

Ok, I am cheating again a wee bit. :) I did say that might happen. Today was a flurry of insanity and it has not let up. So... cheaty! And, it's not even a story. Sheesh. It is a rough, rough draft of a first chapter. From my most recent Nano project. I'm not in love with this project. I like bits of it and think a lot of work would make it awesome.

Just not sure I want to put all that work into it when there's so many other things. This was inspired by my recent rewatching of Person of Interest. Except, they're in Rome, and it's not a Machine, but a God. None of that really comes into play in this chapter. Tomorrow, I've something new cooking up for your pleasure!

Citizen of Interest

A thin layer of dust coated everything in sight including Floriana. It was better than the mud, which would be along shortly, but it did leave her throat too dry to curse her circumstances. The true crime, any who’d known her would point out, as she’d been legendary in the Legion for her ability to aptly describe any situation. The road, loose paving stones aside, was in decent shape and would lead her to where she needed to be, but not if she didn’t make better time. Hard to do alone when caution must prevail.

By the time the fall rains arrived there were sections that no matter their upkeep would be impossible for her to get through. Not by herself. The mark on the back of her neck itched and she found a curse. From the itching mark emanated the idea of how much easier it would be to turn around.

“Take your decrepit, whoreson, gangrenous mind and shove it up a leprous donkey’s ass.”

Not her best work, but Floriana felt the idea retreat. Just in time, as she heard the clop of hooves and creak of wagons approaching. Her uniform may have seen better days, but her sword was sharp and it was that she hoped to sell. Sandaled feet pushed off the rock she leaned against and she shaded her eyes with her hand to watch the caravan approach.

A few desultory looking guards eyed her warily, but she paid them no mind. Instead, hazel eyes sought out the man most likely to be the caravan master. She jogged over to a thin man riding a donkey near the lead wagon. He would be shorter than her on the ground, but she’d learned to be wary of small men. They were always looking to prove something.

“Hail,” she said as she jogged alongside the man.

“Well met,” he returned in a civilized accent. Thank the gods he was Roman! It would be an easier arrangement.

“Where are you heading?”

“The markets of Sirmium. You look to be a long way from home.”

“Not if I can help it. I’m headed to Sirmium as well. Are you needing extra hands? I am Floriana from the 18th.”

The man atop the donkey stared her over. Floriana was sure he noted the care she’d taken to keep up her armor even if it was beginning to show signs of wear. The fact it was a legionnaire’s armor should be good enough for him. None of the guards for his caravan inspired confidence in her and she wondered why a prosperous looking man resorted to such flotsam. Despite the travel dust, his robe was fine, and he had the groomed look of a well-off citizen. Not that the reason mattered so long as she found a position.

“I can pay you 2 d.c. a day if you’ve no food of your own.” His glance took in her personage again and his thin lips turned upwards a fraction.

“Everything I own I wear, but so long as we do nothing to attract the ire of the legion my sword is yours until we reach Sirmium.”

“Good enough. For now. We shall speak again once we make camp for the night. I am Aetius.”

Floriana, who saw no reason to converse again, still nodded before she slowed down her steps to let the caravan master draw ahead of her.

#

The day provided all of the tedium a long march provides. No creature or man stirred within her sight other than those she traveled with on the road. None of the guards spared more than a word for her, but she’d written them off from the start. What she witnessed did not change her mind. They were slovenly, stumbled as if still drunk from the day before, and more than one had rust on his sword.

What she could not figure out was how a man of obvious wealth had found himself with such a mess. Perhaps tonight he would fill her in on some of it. Why else would he want to speak with her? More importantly, what would she tell him?

That last thought niggled her brain more than any other worries. No oaths prevented her from saying what she would, but the job was necessary to make it back swiftly to the legion. If she sounded crazy he was not likely to retain her services. Floriana rubbed her forehead and stepped around the dung left in the road by the caravan.

They stopped sooner than she’d anticipated. The sun still had at least an hour of light and there were not so many to make setting up camp a long affair. In truth, she could admit to herself, it was only she loathed speaking to Aetius. She remained undecided on what to tell him.

“Boss is waiting in his tent.”

Floriana saw the tent in question. The only one. Well, she’d slept under the sky plenty and it would be no hardship in the cool, late summer weather. The sulking guard received the barest hint of a nod before she crossed the chaotic camp. An itch crept over her skin and it had nothing to do with the mark on her neck. The setup lacked any order and the urge to bark an order or two of her own was strong. Knowing the futility of it, she clamped her jaw shut and finished her walk to Aetius’ tent.

“Come in, Floriana.”

A small table had been set up, but Aetius did not sit at it. Instead, he lounged on a rug on the ground while a slave worked off his boot. She could not help but stare as the glimpse of a twisted foot visible before the slave covered it with a blanket.

“Surely not the first of such you’ve seen.” The smirk brought a shine to his brown eyes she hadn’t seen before. A wave of his hand dismissed the slave.

In response to his smirk, she shrugged. “I’ve seen all manner of injuries in my service to Rome. You appear to be wealthy enough to afford better guards. Why the flotsam?”

He did not expect the question. He did not know she asked only to forestall his own questions. Or, perhaps he did. The shrewd look he bestowed upon her nearly caused her feet to shift in the sand.

“Finding people willing to travel to the middle of nowhere is never easy. And to a lawless town like Sirmium? Almost impossible.”

Her laughter interrupted him. A rudeness she felt compelled to apologize for, true, but one she could not help. Aetius stared as she fell silent.

“I offer my most sincere apologies. Only, such a ridiculous thing to say. Lawless? Sirmium? It is incomprehensible. Why, it’s a jewel of the Empire.” Floriana’s head shook. “I cannot believe such nonsense.”

This time the look she received from the merchant was one of pity and it raised her ire immediately. A hand fell to her sword, but as swiftly it left. Flotsam, they may be, but he did have guards outside his tent. Alone, even such as they might be harmful to her.

“You have been away some time, yes?”

The question earned him a guarded nod.

“The Empire, it shifts with each new year. Two decades ago Sirmium was a great city, but now it rests on the edge, struggling to maintain any semblance of her former glory.”

Her knees threatened to give out, but she held herself up. The mark on her neck burned, but it was nothing compared to the bird wing flutters of her heart. She had not been gone so long. Had he engineered this meeting to convince her to turn back? A demand sprung to her lips, but she swallowed it down to give nothing away. If this were some trap she would make no indication of awareness. Better to let her former captor think her ignorant of his plans.

“I have not been away so very long.”

“How long? Judging by your weapon I’d say longer than appears possible. Your gear looks older than you. Was it your mother’s?”

“My mother was a potter.” Left by her father when his legion had been assigned a new garrison. Which had not stopped Floriana from seeking him out to follow his footsteps. Better a soldier than a soldier’s woman.

“Rufus!”

Her head whipped around and she watched the slave from before enter the tent.

“Unpack the mirror from the wagon.”

After the slave left, the merchant hefted a wineskin and offered it to her. “A drink while we wait?”

Again she considered a trap, but thirst overruled her. It would be no more dangerous than sleeping and she would have to do that tonight. Of course, with sleep she might mitigate the danger somewhat. Her hesitation lasted but a moment before she crossed the tent and took the offered drink.

Pleasant surprise warmed her as much as the wine. A fine vintage and so she had another swallow before handing it back. The thought of sitting occurred, but she set it aside. If he’d wished her to sit he would have asked.

From outside, she heard the grumblings of a camp being set up. The noise was almost familiar and she longed to be home. Her contubernium would be pleased to see her. At least, she told herself that they would. Surely they had made it back after her sacrifice.

Rufus returned, lugging a polished metal disc he set up against the center pole of the tent. He lingered, sunburned arms and wild red hair, taking up more space than one would expect. Floriana wondered at his relationship with his master.

“Take a look.”

There was no real reason to give into his fancy. Other than a wish to get back to the conversation. His words still whispered in her ears and she wanted to find some hole in his story to prove him wrong.

Floriana approached the mirror and crouched down to stare at an appearance she knew well.

“Fuck Mars’ ass with the spear of Quirinus.”

 

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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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It's been too long.

I saw the time since my last blog post and was shocked I had not updated sooner.

Yesterday, I broke 50k on my Nanowrimo project. The last few months I'd been thinking of skipping, despite the fun. Instead, I pushed myself on MBDD rewrites to get to here I might stop. For Nano this year, I did something completely off anything else I was working on currently. The idea is mashup of the show Person of Interest, one of my all time favorites. I rhapsodized back in June on the series finale. If you haven't seen the show it is currently on Netflix in all its glory. Just saying... :)

Anyway! Person of Interest in Ancient Rome. With monsters and magic and, truthfully, I do not know if I will every do anything at all with this or just store it away. That was the point of Nano this year for me. Just to be writing without worrying about anything. I definitely think it will set me to refresh for finishing up this latest draft of MBDD next month.

I've got an idea for a December project, but it is one I can do WHILE rewriting. I'll give more details once I settle them. So, if you liked my weird, barely edited, silly story last year, stay tuned for this year!

Since my last update I've been doing better. My thyroid medicine dosage has definitely fixed most of what ailed me. Yay! I even had a pap smear. Ladies, we all know it needs doing. Don't forget!

In September, the beloved husband took me to Tulsa to see Delta Rae. I could gush, but if you are awesome you already know how amazing they are and to see them live was so great. They are doing a Winter Acoustic tour along the east coast. Yes, if I lived less than two days away and did not have kids who want Christmas I would go. And, yes, it takes a lot to get me to willingly return to the east coast, but this would do it. It was a bright spot in an otherwise bleak feeling time. 

I'm not going to keep gushing over Delta Rae, but...well, maybe a little more. Every playlist for every novel I've written has had at least one Delta Rae song on it. The theme song for several novels has been one of their songs. And I write all kinds of different stuff, so, yea. THEY ARE AWESOME.

Did you think I was done gushing? Well, I am not! Because earlier this month, beloved took me to another show. The American Wake Tour came to OKC and you bet I was there. (We were right in front of the stage for both shows.) The AWT is winding down. Alas. If you missed them, I should have told you sooner! You can still find American Murder Song on their website and on YouTube. I absolutely love their recordings, but it does not compare to a live show. WHICH WAS SO AMAZING OMG! How amazing? Check this out:

Caught on camera.

That's right. A picture of me with a ridiculous smile. Check out those teeth. The fan on the table I left behind because it was admired so. I, yea, stuck a Halloween crow decoration to a black fan via rapidly applied pipe cleaner. I am so creative. Or, umm, desperate to make the damned thing work already! The outfit I wore was inspired by this song.

Oh, and the boys were heartbroken to miss the show, but we bought t-shirts for them. Sometimes we just need a night out. :) Even wearing boots not as broken in as I'd have liked did not dull my fun at the show. Because nothing could have done that! SO AMAZING. Sorry, I run out of superlatives when this excited about things.

This is our first Christmas since the beloved's dad died. It's not going to be easy, so I am clinging to all the things I love. Like, kids, dogs, and the beloved. His dad passing reminds me on occasion of my own brother's death. So, sometimes I cry over commercials because, well, even after 16 years it still gets me. If you're lucky enough to never have experienced losing someone close and you're curious, Patton Oswalt described it so well.

So, there you are. A nice long blog post to make up for the fact I have not blogged. I'm still posting on FB and am considering getting back into Twitter. Post election it was too much to bear so I stepped away. Speaking of the election, I love you all. That's it. Nothing else to say.

Before I go,  here's a peek at what I am working on. Poor Floriana's life was not easy even before I started writing he. Because I am a mean, mean character mom. :D

***

“Are you her daughter?”

Floriana looked away from the smoking torch. “Am I whose daughter?”

“Floriana’s. I know there was a legionnaire with that name. A scout. You would be the right age. Your armor is old.”

“My mother was a potter. My father, Florianus, served with the Eighteenth and I joined up because of him. Thirty-five years ago.”

“Does madness run in your blood? You would have to be, what, fifty for that to be true?”

“Fifty-one, in fact.”

The officer laughed and sat at her desk. “You are half that, if that. I should turn you out. Or whip you for impersonating a legionnaire and then turn you out.”

“You would have a hard time doing so.”

“Are you threatening me?”

Yes. Of course, she threatened the woman. Was she an idiot, or only trying to trap Floriana? Silence was her response.

Into the silence there was a knock on the door. Floriana turned to see Naevius enter. He looked every year she did not, but she would know him anywhere. The look he gave her showed no shared recognition. Impossible!

“We won’t take up much of your time, praefectus castrorum.”

“Naevius-”

“Silence.”

Floriana fumed in silence.

“Do you know this woman?”

Naevius stared at her. He met her eyes and did not even offer a silent apology before he said, “I do not know her.”

“Thank you, you may go.”

He turned and left.

“Naevius.” Floriana watched him leave before she returned her attention to the officer in the room. “What about Petronia? Vibius? They were with us when we left the forest. We carried the eagle together. They will surely not betray such a memory. Naevius be damned.”

 

***

Until next time! Happy Thanksgiving, my American friends! It is going to be less fun for me with the whole cutting carbs thing. Carbs are life blood! Just, alas, not so much for me any longer as I get older.

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Oh. That explains everything.

I've been stressed for the last month, maybe two, and now I know why. At first I thought it was summer doldrums and resolved to push past it. Except, I didn't. Like, at all. So, I didn't do much of anything and let the depression take me. @whee. Never a good idea.

Took beloved to the doctor for his cough the other day and mentioned I need a prescription refilled for my thyroid condition and did I need bloodwork. I did. And, thankfully so. Because my dosage needed to be raised. It's been so even for so long I never considered it an option for why I was so down and felt off. It's gone up and down in the years since I was diagnosed, but always with a few years inbetween.

Now, in the midst of a feeling bad about everything cycle is not the time I'm going to think my clearest. So, I never considered it being my medication. Neither did beloved. He knew I was having a hard time because I told him. We both have these moments and do our best to tell each other so we can help. I told him last month, don't let me lay in bed all weekend, and he does not.

I am so terribly thankful I married such a great guy.

So, new prescription. I anticipate being back to my normal, not normal, self before too much longer. I've even ignored my desire for cake. What am I eating? F*ing celery. Which I hate. I mean, I like it fine in salads or stews and such, but....argh! Even beloved's suggestion to pretend I am gnawing on the bones of my enemies doesn't make it more appealing.

I so want cake. :( At least, should my bananas ever ripen, I can make banana bread. I hate watching what I eat. And cutting back on the sugar in my tea. And using the horrible torture device in the workshop. But, hey! We do what we have to do.

Today I forced myself to get dressed and go out and spend 15 minutes on the elliptical. Which, for me right now, is a long time. Last night I put my clothes on top of the dresser where, this morning, they stared at me until I forced myself to workout for a wee little bit. I know how to guilt myself into doing what I should. :D

All of this means I should, fingers crossed, be able to dive back into MBDD revisions. There's still time to get a rough draft done before November so I can participate in Nanowrimo.

In happier news, I am slowly accumulating pieces for my costume for the OKC stop on the American Wake Tour next month. OMG! It's LESS than a month away. Eee! I am super excited for this. Oh, and check out their YouTube page for truly awesome content! Such a fangirl.

That is all for now. Other than a reminder to visit your doctor for lab work when you should! It's nice to know WHY I've felt the way I have. And to know I can make it better.

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