28 Plays Later – Brief #03 – The Monodrama Challenge: Compulsory Figures

Compulsory Figures



SONIA: The first time through the figure, is on your outside edge, on your left foot. It sounds weird, but even though you have two skates with two edges each, there are eight edges in figure skating. Right and left, forward and backward, inside and outside. The math works out, I promise.

For a figure eight, you’ll change direction – from backward to forward – at the top of each circle – and that turn mark should be the only point in the circle. Like actual point. Not like place-point. More than those two points, and you’re not executing the figure correctly.

(SONIA is quiet for a long moment as she completes her first figure, returning to start.)

SONIA: The thing is you don’t do any figure just once. You have to re-trace them. But you retrace them differently. So, since I did an outside edge figure for my initial pass, for my first tracing, I’ll do an inside edge, and start on my right foot.

Read the entire play here: 003 – 2402.03 – Compulsory Figures


Southern Discomfort




The man in the hat is still there, standing by the porch steps as Megan huddles into the swing, her sleeping daughter on her lap. The sun is low in the sky, but twilight is a couple hours off yet. She hums a lullaby that Holly is too old for, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that she’s home. What doesn’t matter right now is that the man who returned her child might well be an actual demon. Except that he’s still there, on her porch, waiting….

She looks up at him, sees the pale, puffy face, and strands of gray-white hair between the black fedora and the white collar of his shirt. His eyes, she notices, aren’t black, the way you’d expect a demon’s eyes to be, but ice blue.

She takes a long breath, lets it out in something like a purposeful sigh. She picks through several things she could say, none of them polite, but figures pissing off a demon is maybe not the best idea. Instead, she says, “Thank you again for bringing her home, Sidney.” She makes a face, as if his name tastes like ash in her mouth.

The man – demon – whatever he is – touches two fingers to the brim of his hat. “You’re welcome,. ma’am.”

His voice has the merest hint of a southern accent, as if, like her, she grew up in West Virginia, and knows its rhythms, but there’s a raspiness underneath the drawl, as if he’s not quite accustomed to the voice, or the vocal chords, he’s using.

“It’s funny….” Megan says, not sure why she’s continuing the conversation.


“You don’t look like – ”

” – a child molester?” he asks, cutting her off.

She chuckles ruefully. “I was gonna say ‘the devil,’ but I guess a child molester’s pretty much the same. Are you?

The man echoes her chuckle, tone for tone, then asks. “A child molester? Or the devil?”

Megan shakes her head. “Either. Both. No – no – you know what? I don’t…” She lifts her head, looking past him at the driveway where her truck is parked, but her husband’s SUV and her brother’s jalopy remain absent. “You should go. Kyle’ll be coming here with Amber any time and…” She lets that thought trail away, realizing, “Oh, but, you already know that, don’t you? That’s why you’re here.”

When the man in the hat responds, he sounds tired, and Megan thinks maybe he looks paler than he did just a few minutes before. “Kyle and his daughter are in no danger from me tonight.”

“I’m not sure I believe you,” Megan says with blunt honesty.

He makes that chortling sound again. “Probably better that you don’t, but it’s still true.” He’s silent for a second or two, and Megan can hear cicadas chirping in the space of his silence. “Offer me a glass of tea.”

Confused, she asks, “Excuse me?”

The man’s drawl grows broader as he says, “We’re in the South. It’s hot. We’re both thirsty. Offer me a glass of sweet tea. Go inside, put the child in her bed, then come back and I’ll try to explain what I am – what I was – what – what I used to be.”

“What if she wakes up?” Megan asks.

“She won’t,” the man assures. “But if she does, you’ll be right here on the porch.”

“Then what is this? A deathbed confession.?

He shakes his head. “I hope not. Maybe… maybe everyone needs someone to talk to on a sultry summer evening. Even you. Even me. Maybe if you understand there’ll be less fear.”

“You want to turn me. Woo me to the dark side,” she accuses.

Another headshake. “Forcing you isn’t working. Forcing anyone isn’t working. But no. You’re… once you come back from the Change, you’re lost to us. Almost invisible.

Megan stares at the man for a long moment, concern for her daughter warring with her curiosity in her mind and on her face. Getting up, her child cradled in her arms (and wow! is Holly getting too heavy to be carried this way!), she addresses the gray-haired man in black. “I think this one would be better in her own bed, after all. Listen, Sidney, I’m ever so grateful you found her. Can you… wait a few minutes? Stay for a glass of tea.”

A smile spreads across his face. It’s not a kind smile, but it’s not exactly malicious, either. “I’d like that. Thank you, ma’am.” He takes a seat on the top step of the porch, leaning against the pillar that supports the porch roof.

Megan turns away, using the toe of her sneaker to open the screen door, then carrying her daughter inside.


It takes more than a few minutes for the woman to return to the porch. By the time the screen door swings open and shuts again, the sun has sunk past the horizon and the moon has just appeared. It’s not dark, yet, but the eerie twilight time when day and night are still battling for supremacy.

When she does emerge, she’s carrying two frosty glasses. She exits the house, pauses, stares at Sidney, then shakes her head as if she can’t quite believe she’s fraternizing with the enemy.

Sidney can hear the clinking of the ice cubes in the glasses, and the sound prompts him to rise to his feet.

“You’re still here, hat and all,” the woman observes.

Sidney adds the faintest hint of flirtation – really it’s more like southern charm – to his tone when he says, “Well, I don’t often get to share a glass of homemade iced tea with an attractive woman in the moonlight.”

The woman snorts at him, and her response is full of derision. “Don’t go there. You’re not even – ”

Sidney cuts her off again. ” – human?” he suggests. “I am now. As much as you are. Maybe more.”

She steps toward him, but stops about an arm’s length away, so that she has to stretch her hand to hand off one glass of tea. “Here,” she says grudgingly. “And it’s not homemade; it’s NesTea.”

“Thank you anyway,” Sidney says, gripping the glass with a hand that has a slight tremor. After sliding back down to his previous, seated position, he takes a long drink, grimaces, then smooths his features. “So…”

“So,” she says.

“So…?” he makes it a question.

The woman sighs. So, are you? The devil?”

Sidney’s answer is given with what passes for honesty among his kind. “No. We’re a race of beings that you might call ‘imps’ or ‘demons’ if you saw our true forms, but you might just as easily refer to us as ‘angels’ or ‘sprites.’ If you watch science fiction, you’d recognize us as ‘symbiotic lifeforms.'”

She nods, accepting this, but then she asks. “And the child molester part. Is that true?”

He makes a half-shrug. “Yes and no.”

“I don’t get it.”

“The person inside this body, the brain and soul and mind operating this meat-puppet, is no such thing. I think harming children is abhorrent. Life is sacred. Even human life. And ending a life is never the first option.”

She nods, but says, “I sense a ‘but’ coming.”

Sidney dips his head in agreement, then lifts it to meet her eyes. “But… the person who occupied this body before me – the person who died using it – the host, if you will – liked to take home little boys. He’d tie them up and play with them until he got bored.

He doesn’t miss the look of revulsion on her face. He remembers feeling the same when he realized the truth of his host.

“And then what?” she asks.

“Not sure you really want to know that, Megan.”

Her voice returns to him, ice cold, “Not sure I like you using my first name, Sidney.”

“Ms. Holter,” he corrects, backing off.

“Better.” She says. She continues, her speech coming in tentative blips, “I… I need to know…. Did you – did he – was he just an abuser? Beating them up? Or did… was there… sex?” The last word comes out as a whisper but the next several do not. “Or did the boys get killed?”

Sidney pokes the brim of his fedora with a single finger, adjusting it on his head so he can get a better look at Megan’s face. “If you don’t mind my saying so, Megan – Ms. Holter – questions like that are usually more about the person asking than they are about the person being asked.

“So, you wont tell me?”

Sidney is silent for a moment, and when he finally answers his words are thoughtful and measured. “Your kind – true humans. You look at us like demon-spawn. You can’t accept that we might be better than the hosts we claim. But just like you, we come in all flavors, Ms. Holter. Good. Bad. In-between. Now, Original Sidney – don’t much care for sharing his name, so let’s call him Sid. Ol’ Sid was low in every sense of the word. He worked as a carny – a carnival busker – selling crappy novelties to gullible kinds for too much coin.” He mimics the voice a barker might have used, back in the day. “Knock over five bottles fer a dolla’ – win a price. Git yer fun heah!”

Something bubbles inside his chest, and before he can continue, he pulls a white handkerchief from his pocket and coughs into it. He looks at it, pulls a face that mixes fleeting fear with distaste, folds it differently, and replaces it in his pocket. Then he says:

“He’d find his marks that way. The kids who didn’t have a posse of friends. The poorest, scrawniest, loneliest little boys. The ones least likely to be missed. “Sorry ya didn’t win, Son. Hey, he’p me close up and I’ll se if I have an extra toy fer ya…” And then he’d take them home.

The woman gasps softly, and asks, “No one noticed?”

“No one cared,” Sidney corrected. How many times did your brother Kyle stay out late as a kid? It was easier when he wasn’t home, wasn’t staring at everyone with his big, lost, eyes. Wasn’t it? Ol’ Sid picked the boys whose absence made life easier.

“Oh. My. God.”

“Afraid God had nothing to do with it, ma’am.”

“N-no,” Megan says, crossing the expanse of porch and sitting down on the top step by the other pillar. It’s a wide porch, and even though she’s mirroring his position, they’re not too close. And yet, Sidney reflects, there’s a certain intimacy even so, because of the growing dark and thickening shadows. “No, I guess not.”

Sidney lowers his voice, as if he’s telling a campfire story to a bunch of scared kids, “Sid liked to punch his way into the tender flesh of untried boys. The younger, the better. He’d keep them tied and scared like lambs waiting to be slaughtered. He had one in his special room when he had the heart attack that let me in.

The woman is horrified when she says, “Oh, God – tell me you didn’t – ”

“I didn’t.” Sidney interrupts, his declaration fierce. Quietly, intensely, he shares, “My first human act was to set the kid free. My first human word was to tell the kid, “RUN!” The last word rips out of him like a blade slicing the night in two. Then he collapses.


It’s still summer, but Megan is cold – so cold – and a violent storm has come, seemingly from nowhere. Lightning flashes illuminate her living room as she moves about, lighting candles, starting a fire in the fireplace. Once the flame is crackling, she retreats to the rocker that faces the couch, moving the man’s hat from the seat to the coffee table. He’s sprawled on her couch, looking a lot less dangerous than before, and she is sipping tea – hot tea – and waiting.

Thunder crashes loud enough to rattle the windows and wakes up the sleeping man, who sits up with a start. “What happened? Where am I?” He starts coughing, like before, and black slime sprays from his mouth. “Ugh.”

Maternal instinct – or maybe just human decency kicks in, and Megan leaves her chair, grabbing a towel from a basket of folded laundry as she does so. “Hang on. Let me help you.” She uses the towel to wipe the sludge from his face as if he were her child. “You had an attack after you – never mind.” She looks at the stained towel, and asks, disgust dripping from her tongue, “What is this shit.”

“Disease,” he answers weakly,. “Infection. Our kind can’t always adapt.”

“Is that what the Merge is for?” she asks. “Are you… terraforming?”

He chuckles softly. “You been watching the Syfy channel?”

Megan shrugs. “My husband liked Star Trek. I guess it kinda sunk in..”

He nods in apparent appreciation. You’re not far off though. The Merge – it’s a – a reforming of place and people in our image, and for our needs.”

Megan asks, resentfully, “At the expense of the rest of us? Doesn’t seem fair.”

“What is?”

His question was rhetorical, but Megan answers anyway.  “You gotta point there, but you also gotta know: Kyle’s not gonna stop. Not gonna give up.”

He nods. “We know. We’re counting on it.”

“What’s so special about him, anyway,” Megan asks. “Is he some kind of extradimensional bounty hunter for your kind?”

Sidney laughs at that. “Hardly. But if I ever decide to give up my day job and write a novel, I think you just gave me the plot.” He takes a moment, possibly to regroup, then says. “Kyle… Kyle’s like a beacon. A guiding light. It’s as if… You said your husband liked Star Trek? Think of us as anti-matter and Kyle as pure matter. We’re opposites who attract. We counterbalance each other, but we can’t coexist.”

“Like Harry and Voldemort?” Megan asks.

“Sure. Like that,” he says. “My entire people reduced to a children’s book plotline. Yes… it’s like that, only… more.”

Megan nods her understanding then presses on. “You said it was Sid’s heart attack that let you in.” She waits for his confirming nod. “But when I was… when it came for me… I wasn’t at the point of death.”


“So, it’s random?”

“No,” the man repeats.

“I don’t understa – ” Megan begins and then the light dawns. “- oh.”

The man’s voice is gentle when he speaks again. Soothing. “We come at the break of life and death. At the moment when your kind makes the choice to leave, whether consciously or not, we slip inside. If you’re… still there… we retain most of what makes you you. But if you’re not, we’re on our own.”

“Okay, but why are some of you… feral?”

“We try to get to our new arrivals as soon as possible, but sometimes… we miss. We missed with you. Without a guide – the shock of new sensation, the harshness of yellow sunlight, the piercing freshness of the air. We go from zero to madness and bloodlust in sixty seconds.”

Megan drops back into the rocker, digesting this. Finally, she asks, “So, you… did you have a… a demon midwife?”

The man emits a loud guffaw. “Demon midwife?!? Hilarious!” He shakes his head and calms himself. “I didn’t. I’m a little different than most. I came with a sort of… mission objective, I guess you’d call it. Sorry, I’m afraid I can’t reveal all my secrets.” He coughs, then asks, “Could I trouble you for a cup of the tea you’re drinking. It’s…” he sniffs the air. “…Chamomile, isn’t it?”

Megan is momentarily taken aback by such a mundane request, but she gets up, says, “Sure,” and heads toward the kitchen. “You know,” she says, pausing in the doorway, “you’re al lot less intimidating without your hat on.”

He glances skyward, then smiles. “Yes, I know.” After a beat he speaks again, but it’s not clear if his words are meant for Megan, or himself, or some other entity that might be listening in. “Sometimes, it’s nice to just… talk.”

Another round of violent lightning and thunder sends the room into darkness, the only light coming from the flickering fire and the candles.


Hours later, the storm has quieted, and a steady rain falls outside the woman’s windows. The fire is dying, and the candles are guttering. Sidney pushes a plate with the crust and crumbs from a sandwich to the middle of the coffee table and stands up.

“Storm’s let up,” he says, retrieving his hat and clapping back onto his head. “I should take my leave of you. I do appreciate your courtesy, Ms. Holder.”

The woman rises, as well, as if she’s walking him out like any other guest in her home. Trying to be cool and failing she says, “It’s been an informative evening, Sidney.”

“I suppose it has,” he agrees.”

“Tell me about your hat.”

Sidney doesn’t startle easily, but this question – this very human question – shakes him. “I – I’m sorry?”

“Your fedora. I’m guessing ‘Ol’ Sid’ wasn’t such a natty dresser?”

“Ah… no,” he says.

The woman elaborates, “And I couldn’t help but notice the quality. Police and firefighters order their hats special; I’m guessing you did, too. It definitely didn’t come from a department store. And that watch you’re wearing – Holly calls pieces like that ‘dad’ watches.”

Sidney glances down at his wrist, then back at the woman. “‘Dad’ watches. Hmph. We don’t… we don’t have parents. If we’re lucky, we retain the memories of our hosts’ parents. And if our hosts were lucky, those parents weren’t utter assholes. Ol’ Sid’s father was the person who broke him, but his grandfather…. His grandfather would have been a guiding force for good if he’d lived longer.”

“Was he… one of you?”

“Sadly no. Sid might’ve turned out differently if he were.”

“The hat was his?” the woman asks, as if she’s known all along.

Sidney shakes his head. “Not this one. The first one, and the first watch. They were his. They seemed to fit. I felt at ease with them on, like they were part of me.”

Megan nods. “A costume.”

Sidney suggests a different perspective: “A uniform.”


Sidney lifts his eyebrows and lets them fall. “I suppose.” He opens the inner door and pushes open the screen, hesitating before he steps onto the porch. “Ms. Holter, I thank you again for your courtesy. Take care of Holly. Tell Kyle… we don’t mean him harm, but we can’t promise him safety, either. He needs to watch himself. The reverend is not the ally Kyle perceives him to be.”

“He’s a man of God,” the woman protests, but it’s half-hearted.

“Is he? Which god? Whose god? How do you know we’re not ‘of god?'”

“How do I know you are?” she counters.

Sidney favors her with a toothy smile, one that is full of ambiguity and discomfort. “I guess you don’t,” he says, and steps through the door.

The power surges back on as soon as the door closes behind him, and as he walks down the rain-slick steps, he can hear the little girl’s voice coming through the door. “Mommy, is the storm over.”

Faintly, Sidney hears Megan’s answer, “This one is, sweety. This one is.”

NOTE: Sidney, Megan, and Holly are characters from the television show and comic book series Outcast that was created by Robert Kirkman. This story was originally a script I wrote for “28 Plays Later” (2019 edition). The original assignment was to pick a favorite fictional character and write their origin story. So, yes, this is technically fanfic, but these two characters never had scenes together in the show.




A Visit From Sandy Klaws

Sandy Klaws


‘Twas the night before Christmas, and down in the deep,
Not a creature was stirring, nor making a peep.
The seashells were hung by the coral with care,
In hopes that Old Sandy Klaws soon would be there.

The merkids were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of shipwrecks sailed through their heads.
And Neptune with his trident, and I with my tail,
Had just settled down to a seaweed-filled tale.

When atop the sea, there arose such a clatter,
I surfaced to see just what was the matter.
Up, up  to the shore, I swam like a flash,
Slicing through waves with nary a splash.

Moonlight reflecting on the smooth as glass sea,
Seemed as bright as the midday sun  – well, to me.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a pontoon sleigh, pulled by eight dolphins, dear.

Though the  crustacean driver never would pause,
I knew in a moment, it was Sandy Klaws.
More rapid than makos his porpoises came,
and he clicked and whistled and called out their names.

“Now Splashy, now Coral, now Finny and Bubbles,
On Glisten, on Ripple, on Shimmer and Troubles!
To the top of the waves, to the top of the wall,
Now swim ahead, swim ahead, swim ahead all!”

As phosphoresence that in the  ship’s wake glows,
to the crest of the wave, the dolphins, they rose.
Then down to the sea caves those silver forms dove,
with the boat full of toys and of course Mr Klows – er – Klaws

And then with a splish-splash I heard in my cove,
the frolicking sound of the dolphins he drove.
As I floated toward them without making a sound,
down the waterspout Sandy Klaws came with a bound.

He was dressed all in kelp from his head to his shell,
with barnacle decorations shining as well.
A bundle of toys he held in his pincher,
and he looked like an orca contemplating dinner.

His eyestalks rotated, his feet –  how they skittered!
His mouth parts and beard were all dusted with glitter.
His first legs were holding on tight to a bow,
and his whole carapace did certainly glow.

He couldn’t have smiled (crabs don’t have teeth),
but his bubbles encircled him just like a wreath.
He had a broad shell, and a hard belly plate,
and his color was pink from the shrimp he ate.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old crab
And I laughed as I offered a plated sand dab.
But he ducked his eyes and waved me away,
and I realized he was keeping his pinchers at bay.

He spoke not word, but emptied his bag,
leaving something for every mermaid and sea hag.
Then snapping his claw like a bone castanet,
he rode the up waterspout, fast as a jet.

He scuttled to his sleigh, to his team clicked and whistled,
and away they all swam like a Landwalker’s missile.
Still, I heard him exclaim as his bubble trail died…
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a Good Tide!

Dear Santa… 2023

Dear Santa

Hi there, Big Guy, it’s been a while. I used to write to you every year, but I’ve gotten out of the habit.

Dear Santa 2023

This year, though, I feel like the special kind of magic you bring is especially needed.

You know I hate to give you laundry lists of wants, but there are so many who need so much and so few who can carry the burden of taking care of the world, that I feel like I have to.

First, I’m really worried about the oceans. As you know, this last summer saw some of the highest ocean temperatures ever recorded in the Gulf of Mexico. Coral is dying, polar bears who depend on ice floes are starving, and the earth is getting warmer. I know you can’t wave a holly bough around and magically fix climate change, any more than you can strike a peppermint stick on the ground and call forth endless supplies of fresh water for those who are parched, but maybe you could give everyone a little reminder that we only have one planet, and not protecting it is only hurting ourselves.

This year, there’s also been more visible prejudice and hate, and too many people I love and respect are fearful and hurting because of it. I’m not going to ask for peace for the middle east, as much as I know you’d love to make it happen, because that has to come from us – from ALL of us. Instead, I ask you for patience and discernment. The conflict between Israel and Palestine is raw, yes, but it’s also nuanced. It’s going to take monumental efforts from people on both sides and on the outside to come to a place of healing.

The anti-Muslimism and anti-Semitism that are so prevalent need to stop. One of the things I’ve learned from a lifetime of embracing pluralism is that we all have more that unites us than divides us. Take candles, for example. Almost every culture in the world has at least one celebration that involves the use of candlelight, and even those who aren’t religious understand the symbolism of lighting a candle against the darkness. So, Santa, if you could light a bunch more candles this year, perhaps the flickering flames would warm our hearts as well as enlighten our minds.

I could ask for so many more things, Santa, like health care, both mental and physical, free school lunches for every kid, but I know there’s only so much one jolly old elf can do. So, here’s my requisite wish for health, happiness, and hope for everyone, everywhere.

And finally, I know I’ve asked more than once for a pony, Santa, but honestly, horses require a lot of upkeep and a safe place to live, and those are beyond me right now. So, save the pony for some rural kid who needs one, and instead, if you could stick a Hurricane Osprey 120 Kayak under my tree, that would be awesome. I mean, my little Skimmer 106 has served me well, but I’d like something a little more adaptable.

That’s it for now, Santa. Give my love to Ms. Claus, and scritch Blitzen behind the left antler for me. You know that’s her favorite spot.

Much love,


Yes, Marina, There Is a Sandy Klaws

Sandy Klaws


A message overhead via the A-Sea-and-Sea Conch Network:

Dear King Neptune,

I am thirty-two cycles old. Some of my mer-friends say that there is no such thing as Sandy Klaws. I think they’re wrong. The Great Kraken says, “If you hear it in a shell, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth. Is there a Sandy Klaws?


Marina Wavesong
The Cove of the Seven Sea Stars
The Warm Part of the Ocean

And the reply comes as follows:

Dear Marina,

Your little mer-friends are wrong. They are cursed with exposure to Landwalker ways and have lost the innocence and magic of being OceanKind.

Yes, Marina, there is a Sandy Klaws. He exists as certainly as the tidepools, ocean currents and kelp forests exist, and you know that they abound to help sustain the lives of you and your family, as well as providing beauty and joy.

Alas, how dreary would be the seas be if there were no Sandy Klaws! It would be as dreary as if there were Marinas. There would be no pearls to dive for, or whalesongs to listen to, or dolphins to play with. Instead, we would be as limited as our Landwalking kin, without the shimmer of scales and tails to gladden our existence.

Not believe in Sandy Klaws? You might as well not believe in shifting to having two legs when you wish to walk on sand!  You might get your papa, and your friend’s papas, and all the mermen in the ocean to watch in every waterspout on Christmas Eve, but even if they did not see Sandy Klaws arriving, what would that prove? The most real things in the seven seas are those that no mermaid can touch or hold.

Have you ever been able to capture the green glow of phosphorescence floating in the water? Of course not, but that doesn’t make it any less real. No one can imagine all of the wonders that swim unseen and unseeable in the deepest depths.

You may pry open the oyster’s shell to see how a pearl is created, but there is a veil shrouding the unseen abyss that not even the cleverest mermaid, or the united talents of all the merfolk who ever lived could push aside. Only faith, fancy, love, romance, and ocean magic can draw open that curtain and allow a view of the beauty, glory, and mystery beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Marina, in all the ocean there is nothing else more real and everlasting.

No Sandy Klaws? Thank the Mother Ocean that he lives, and lives forever.  A million tides from now, Marina  – nay – ten times ten million tides – he will continue to foster joy in the hearts of  mermaid kind.


(With apologies to Frank Church.)

Alligator Rain

Alligator Eyes

“You’ve heard of crocodile tears, right?” she asked him.

They were sitting in her truck, which was parked at the top of the lake’s grassy embankment. The headlights were on low, beaming across the water, where raindrops merged into the eye-shine of alligators.

“Yeah… why?”

“Because this is alligator rain.”

“Alligator… rain? Why? Because it’s thick and heavy?”

She grinned but shook her head. “Nope. It’s because the rolling thunder sounds like a gator bellow…” She gestured toward the water. “… and if you listen really carefully, the alligators will answer the thunder.”

“That’s beautiful… he said. “Beautiful and strange.”

La Vie En Rose

Art by tanatpon13p via 123rf.com


Quand il me prend dans ses bras
Qu’il me parle tout bas
Je vois la vie en rose

Another café, another ancient French song wafting out from speakers mounted above the door – why was my handler always asking me to meet in such places? And why did I always agree?

“I’m supposed to be retired,” I told him, by way of a greeting.

He nodded his head in tacit agreement, waving me into the chair opposite his. It was tall, made from faux bamboo, and featured a magenta velvet cushion. “You hate retirement,” he said, after a moment. “You miss the thrill of the chase.”

“You’re the hunter,” I reminded him. “I’m just the closer. And I have other obligations now.”

“Oh, yes. You’re the very picture of domestic bliss. How many teas have you hosted now?”

“One was actually a lunch,” I said. “And the other was a benefit for the Star Navy Office of Rescue and Extraction.”

“Ah, yes, SNORE.” He snorted the last word. “Only the Navy would come up with such an acronym for the operation that saves its citizens left on abandoned or failed colonies.”

“Renato created that unit.”

“Of course. And you’re the dutiful partner, supporting his endeavors.”

“There are worse things I could be doing,” I protested.

“There are also better things.”

A server arrived with two espresso cortados and presented one to each of us. The strong, bitter, slightly chocolaty aroma tickled my nose. I couldn’t resist tasting it, and when I did, my senses came alive. “This is real,” I said. “Not synthesized.”

“Only the best for the best,” he said.

I wanted to push the coffee away, but this man has always known me too well. I take another sip. “Flattery only gets you so far, Mart… what’s this really about?”

“Hatteras Six.”

“The prince?” One of my last gigs for Martigan’s organization had been ensuring that the prince’s marriage to a Betelgeusean princess took place.

“His father. He believes there’s a conspiracy to assassinate him and put his son on the throne, but under Syndicate control.”

“Mart – I can’t. I have a different life now. Besides, the last time I was involved in Hatteran politics, I nearly got killed.” I took another slow sip of the coffee. “Why me?”

“Because you’re the best.”

“So, you’ve said. Martigan…”

“Sasha…” He imitated my tone. Then he sighed. “Don’t you miss it? The adventure? The intrigue? Knowing that you’re changing the galaxy for good?” He paused for a second then added, “me?”

It was the final word that got me. Martigan and I had worked together for years – decades even – and you don’t have a relationship like ours without chemistry – good chemistry. But I’d fallen into the role of his protégé, and he had apparently relished being my mentor. I’d tried to seduce him once when I was much younger, and he’d been kind and gentle when he turned me down, convincing me it was just a workplace infatuation.

Over time, I’d learned to read him. I knew he’d desired me but needed my skills outside the bedroom more. I also knew he had a very particular code of honor… or decorum… that would never have let him act on his desires at the time.

“I didn’t know you felt that way,” I lied.

“Yes, you did.”

Damn him! “Yes, I did,” I agreed. “Why now?”

“Because you really are the best person for this job Sash. The prince knows you – trusts you. The princess won’t see you as a threat.”

If I do this – ” I began.

“- I’ll give you all the support you need,” he finished my thought. “Backup, a ship, everything.”

I smiled. “If I do this, I want you.”

“As a partner? I’m a bit rusty – been behind the scenes too long.”

“No, Mart. I want you.

“And Renato?”

“I’m sure he’ll find someone else to host his teas.”

“So, he is too normal for you!”

“No. Yes. It’s… complicated. Let’s just say, there’s more than one reason we’ve never married.”  I rose, preparing to leave. “You know my terms. You know where I’m staying or can easily find out. Let me know by twenty-two hundred hours tonight.”

He looked up at me and nodded once.

I drained the last of the coffee from my cup, and set it down on the table, then walked out of the café without looking back.

Martigan caught me at the door. I turned to face him, but he didn’t speak. He tilted my chin upward with a single finger and then kissed me. Coffee and pipe tobacco from him, coffee and lipstick from me – a match made in some cheesy dime novel from the back of beyond.

“Is that goodbye?” I asked.

“No. It’s a down payment.”

“I’ll collect the rest tonight,” I said, and continued out of the café though I tossed a final comment back at him. “I’ll still need the backup and the ship.”

The music from the speakers, a woman’s voice thick with emotion, followed me down the street.

C’est lui pour moi, moi pour lui dans la vie
Il me l’a dit, l’a juré pour la vie

* * *

Quand il me prend dans ses bras
Qu’il me parle tout bas
Je vois la vie en rose

Notes: This fic is a sequel to Allez-vous En (Go Away), and is a gift for Tek of NuttyBites.  “La Vie En Rose” was written by Édith Piaf.

The Wisdom of Crocodiles


Here is your wisdom, they say as they thrust the young reptile into my arms. Guard its life as you guard your own.

I too am young, and the idea of being responsible for this other life is daunting.

What if I fail?

What if it dies?

Or, what if it grows large and mean and I cannot control it?

White Crocodile by Silviu Sadoschi

My year-mates, my heart sisters and blood brothers,  are also given young reptiles to care for. I see each of them cradling their black-scaled, green-eyed charges. I see blood welling from the arm of my name-twin. Her reptile has not yet been taught to gentle his claws.

My reptile is white, not green, and her eyes glow red like the embers of a fire. They say our reptiles – our crocodiles – are the descendants of Earth’s dinosaurs. But this is not Earth, and I am certain mine is closer akin to dragons. Her claws are light against my skin. Her ectothermic body presses into my chest, seeking heat.

Here is your wisdom, they repeat, and I understand: In caring for our crocodiles we will learn to care for others, and in training them to behave politely, without lunging for food or snapping their heavy jaws, we will learn to temper our wilder urges, to live thoughtful, measured lives.

I hold the white crocodile closer, and I feel her infrasonic rumble move through my bones.

She is my Wisdom

I am her Heart.

When we are both grown, she will return to the waters of the Great River and I will take my place on the village council, but we will still be bound.

They say that our People descended from crocodiles instead of apes.  I cannot be certain of this, but I dream at night of lying in the warm sun on the riverbank, of watching my lover move silently into the darkness, of sliding into the dark water where I am truly free.

It is a dream that feels almost like a memory.

Here is your wisdom, they say yet again, and I give them a half smile, one that doesn’t reveal my teeth.

The white crocodile is my Wisdom.

And I am her Heart.

Art Credit: Silviu Sadoschi – https://www.artstation.com/silviu

A Suit to Die For

Credit: Boris Groh - https://www.artstation.com/borisgroh

Changes in fashion and culture affect everyone. Business attire had grown ever more casual. Flight attendants didn’t have to be stick-thin and perpetually twenty-three anymore. It made sense, then, for the Grim Reaper to rethink his look.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he said to his tailor (a lovely man named Moshe destined to die of heart-failure at the age of fifty-seven.) “Black never goes out of style, but if one more child looks at me and wants to know if I’m the character from Scream I may go mad.”

“Those cloaks always seemed heavy for summer wear,” Moshe agreed. “And hard to keep clean, with the trailing hems and all. You’re supposed to be Grim, not grimy.  Let’s try something simpler. Minimalism is very trendy right now.”

The tailor cut and stitched, measured (more than twice), cut some more, and finally held up the finished uniform. “Try this on, G.R.”

The Reaper went into the dressing room and changed into the new creation. Observing himself in the mirror, he smiled. It wasn’t a pleasant expression; the mirror cracked in response.

“Well,” called Moshe the tailor. “Are you going to let me see?”

The Grim Reaper stalked out to the main room. He always stalked. It was his way. Stalking and looming were two of his signature moves. “You don’t think the bare midriff is a mistake?”

“No, not at all. Do you like it?”

“I do,” the Reaper said. “The tattered shirt feels so breezy, and the trousers fit perfectly and I can move in them. I don’t know what to do about my scythe though. It doesn’t really enhance the look.”

The tailor was silent for a moment, studying him. Then he moved toward the accessory wall of his shop. “I have just the thing,” he said. The Grim Reaper heard different objects being lifted, examined, and tossed aside. “Aha!”

Moshe returned to the fitting area and thrust something into the Reaper’s hand. “This is perfect.”

“A briefcase?” The Reaper pronounced the word slowly, breaking it into its component parts.

“A multidimensional briefcase. It’s got a pocket for your scythe and another, zippered section for storing souls.”

“It’s perfect.” The Reaper folded his scythe into the briefcase. “You have my eternal gratitude.”

“Eternal?” Moshe asked.

The Grim Reaper opened the briefcase once more. “I’m afraid so. Come with me, Moshe. Everything will be alright.”

Moshe never felt his body hit the floor, but the Reaper and the rest of those dwelling in the Afterlife had perfectly tailored clothing for the rest of Time.

Art Credit: Boris Groh – https://www.artstation.com/borisgroh



artist: scaf_oner - https://www.instagram.com/scaf_oner/“I have a little shadow
That goes in and out with me
And what could be the use of him
Is more than I can see.”

“He is very very like me
From his toes up to his head
And I see him jump before me
When I jump into my bed.”

The words of the old Robert Louis Stevenson poem circle through my head in my grandmother’s voice. She used to make me recite them at night… not just “My Shadow” but all those children’s’ verses. We would recite them with Grandpop, too, “to help keep his brain stimulated,” the old woman would say.

In my innocence I had no idea they were meant to be protective spells. I would just become entranced by the rhythms and rhymes and the time spent one-on-one with the old woman. The images would swirl around in my imagination, but I never paid attention to the meanings of the words.

I also had no idea that my grandfather was slowly slipping away from us as Alzheimer’s ate his brain. Some days, he couldn’t remember how the percolator worked. Other days, he couldn’t remember my name.

Then there was the night of the big storm. The power went out and the world felt deadly still without the usual electrical hum that most of us don’t notice til it’s gone.

I saw my grandfather downstairs, checking to make sure all the storm doors were shut, and the windows closed and latched. It struck me as a comforting scene until the lightning flashed outside and cast his shadow – his true shadow – on the wall near my bedroom door.

Looking down, I caught the old man staring at me the way I’d have stared at a chocolate ice cream cone with sprinkles from Carvel.

As if I wasn’t human.

As if I were FOOD.

And his shadow… it looked more like that creature from ALIEN than the old man who happily hunkered down on the floor and played trains with me just a few hours before. And it… it was looking at me, too, the way a predator analyzes its prey.

“Get to bed!” Grandma came out of nowhere to push me back into my room and slam the door shut. “You must never let Grandpop’s shadow touch you.” Unspoken was the other half of the admonition, the half I was still too young to hear: “and never let your shadow cover anyone else.”

Sitting in my bed, in the dark, I noticed that my grandmother’s shadow wasn’t with mine, that only my form showed in silhouette on the bedroom wall. Through the crack under the door, I saw flickering light and comprehension dawned. Her shadow was out there, defending me from my own grandfather’s inner demon.

“Recite,” she ordered, though there was affection beneath her commanding tone. “How do you like to go up in a swing?”

Up in the air so blue,” I dutifully continued. “Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing, ever a child could do.” The words calmed me. I imagined myself swinging away from the weird shadow battle to a place of peace and light.

When the storm ended and the power returned, Grandpop came to check on us. I checked the wall, and saw the lamplight throwing only the expected, human forms of all of us there. Grandma smiled at him, and said, “It’s alright now.”  And we all went on as if everything was the same as before.

Except… I am  different.

I know things now.

The shadow curse runs in my family – I learned that later – but it’s been steadily weakening from generation to generation.

And the rhymes? They protect us and repel the monsters.

If that seems a bit far-fetched, consider: “Ring Around the Rosie” defines the symptoms of the Plague, and “This Old Man” warns us about a pedophile. “Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush,” on the other hand,  refers to how female prisoners once got exercise.

My own demon shadow is a rare visitor, a puny and ineffectual thing compared to my grandfather’s.

Still, when the weather guy on tv warns of an impending storm, I sit on my daughter’s bed, take the video game out of her tiny hands, and teach her a rhyme:

“The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow—
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an india-rubber ball,
And he sometimes gets so little that there’s none of him at all.”

None of him at all… Perhaps by the time my daughter has children, it will be so.


*All italicized verses by Robert Louis Stevenson
Art by  scaf_oner