Coda?

0175 - PianoInstruments are meant to be played. They’re not to be left alone, untuned, unused , unloved.

 

They have souls, you know. Not fully-formed ones such as ours, mind you. Rudimentary souls. Proto-souls, you might call them.

 

Or maybe they’re not souls at all. Doesn’t matter. The name you give them isn’t important. That you recognize that there’s a spark of something – a spark of some THING – suspended in the wire and the wood, or curled up inside the brass of the bell, or hiding tucked up against the reed – that’s what matters.

 

And those things. Those THINGS… when they’re ignored long enough they go crazy trying to make music without a human hand, a human heart, to guide them.

 

You know how when you walk by a cello on a stand, sometimes you hear a hint of resonance? Or you think you hear a piano note late at night?

 

Those are them. The sparks trying to become flame.

 

We talk about great musicians being connected to their instruments, playing as if the violin or saxophone an extension of their body? That’s because the spark has found ignition.

 

A raw, new, unplayed instrument will fade into dust.

 

But one that’s felt the loving touch of elegant hands on its keys, the special balanced weight of sticks being held to drum, the soft slide of a virtuoso playing a glissando – those instruments quite literally go mad.

 

They cry out loneliness in crazy concertos that fold in upon one another like cobwebs. They fill empty rooms with the dissonant sounds of their grief.

 

“I’m sorry, ma’am, what were you saying about the music room?” Sarah had been lost in thought, seeing the poor old piano.

 

“Piano comes with the house” the woman in the gold blazer repeated. “Previous owner was a classical star until arthritis killed his career.”

 

Sarah made some polite response as she and Gold Blazer Woman moved to the next room in the walkthrough. But she cast a final glance at the deteriorated instrument and the collection of empty chairs.

 

“Don’t worry.” She willed the ancient Steinway to hear her thoughts. “I’ll save you.”

Basic Cookery

0412 - DemonFnarglyl sprawled on the dining room floor leafing through his granddam’s cookery books. He had no plans to actually make anything. He just enjoyed reading the recipes and trying to imagine what the various exotic dishes might taste like. Far too many of them seemed to involve vegetation like crabgrass and dandelion greens. Granddam always said that greens were good for his digestion, but he was pretty sure she made him eat them because her granddam had made her eat them, too.

He tossed aside a book that was dedicated to plant-based foods: Ivies for Immortality. Being immortal sounded cool, until you realized that it meant leaving your friends and your family all alone and getting old and broken but never actually dying. Pheh. They could keep their immortality, especially if it meant a diet based on ivy.

Although… the poison kind did have a nice bite to it.

He skipped over three books about stewing roadkill – not interesting enough, and then he found a book that was different than the rest. Instead of having a brightly colored cover with pictures of sumptuous food, this one was black, and leather, and smelled faintly dangerous.

And it didn’t have a title.

After glancing around to make sure Granddam wasn’t paying too close attention, Fnarglyl opened the book, and began paging through it. Some of the pages had recipes, but they didn’t seem to be for food, and they involved drawing symbols on the floor in chalk… or blood.

Just as he was reading a chapter called “Humans: How to Summon and Care for The Pink People,” his grandmother interrupted him. “Glylly, sweetie, it’s time for your bath, and then into bed.”

“Aww, Gran, can’t I have just a few more minutes?” he asked.

“Not tonight, Glylly. You know I have my garden club tomorrow morning, and I have to be up early.”

Fnarglyl reshelved the cookbooks, but the black one, he tucked under a wing. Granddam usually left him alone for the two or three hours she was with her gardening friends. Most of the ingredients for summoning a human were in the house, and she’d never notice if he drew a chalk circle down in the basement… at last, he didn’t think she would.

“Glylly… don’t dawdle.”

“Sorry, Gran,” he said, and got up. He kissed her cheek and caressed her hand with his tail and slid past her toward the bathroom. He was almost sure she’d looked at him funny, but she hadn’t said anything.

Tomorrow, he thought, I’m going to meet a human for the first time!

He hoped they didn’t bite.

 

 

Fur

Fur

Every dog owner can tell you that dog hair seems to have a life of its own.

Breed, color, age, coat-length and type, there’s always one commonality: the fur gets everywhere. In some cases, it even seems as though there’s more of the stuff on the floors and furniture than can be found on the actual dog. Even on the no-shed varieties of canines.

The stuff congregates in corners and bunches under beds. During certain seasons, you can brush enough of it off your canine companion to form his or her doppelganger out of the discarded fibers.

Own a dog long enough, or have enough dogs trotting through your home with drooling jowls and wagging tails, and you begin to wonder if maybe you’ve got it wrong. Maybe the dogs are really naked, and their coats – so lovely to touch, so accursedly painful when you get a dog-hair splinter in your foot on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night – aren’t just an adaptation to protect their soft parts and keep them warm.

“What if,” you muse aloud while your husband is forwarding through yet another commercial during the latest episode of The Flash, “dog hair doesn’t grow on the dog? What if it’s really a symbiotic life form, bent on taking over the planet?”

“Are you writing another story?” he asks. “Because that’s an interesting premise.”

“No, I’m completely serious,” you say. “I mean, consider: it ends up everywhere, it seems to multiply like crazy, and we don’t perceive it as a threat unless we’re allergic to the dander. And what about those allergies. Maybe they’re not just allergies! Maybe it’s a toxin released by this alien life form! Maybe these creatures are the reason dogs have comparatively short lifespans!”

“Or maybe you’re just annoyed because I haven’t swept the floor in three days,” your husband says, not without affection. “Can we finish this episode now?”

“Go for it.”

Your chihuahua jumps up onto the couch, and a single piece of his fur separates from the rest and spirals into your tea, but you don’t realize it until you take a sip and begin to choke.

At the funeral, everyone says you look amazing, and so natural, and how appropriate that even in death there’s dog hair clinging to your blouse.

Tea and Oranges

Photo by Mike Petrucci on Unsplash

It’s raining again – the storm woke her –  and she wants a cup of tea. Needs it, really. Most days are coffee days, but tea is better during thunderstorms. Especially at night.

Tea and oranges, actually. The perfect combination. One hot, the other cold. One dark and astringent, the other bright and quenching.

She remembers a time when she was a child, waking to the sounds of thunder and the flashes of lightning creating shadows and afterimages in her room. She remembers screaming in fear, and her grandfather coming to calm her because her mother was on a business trip and her grandmother always took sleeping pills on stormy nights.

Grandpop helped her into her fluffy pink bathrobe and let her brace against his strong shoulder while she slid her feet into her lion-head slippers. She remembers the way his huge hand was all calloused and rough against her smaller when they walked so, so quietly down the stairs.

The power was out, but he’d had his big green flashlight with the handle on top and the button her fingers were never quite strong enough to press, and it made a wide swath of light so she didn’t have to be afraid that something would grab her ankles through the open stairs, or that someone was lurking behind the louvered doors that separated the dining room from the kitchen.

“Sit here, honey,” Grandpop said, and she did, scooting into the chair right next to his, with her back to the window so she couldn’t see the tree branches turning into monsters with every burst of lightning.

The stove was gas, and she could hear her grandfather fill the kettle and light the burner with a match and come back to the table with six or seven of Grandmom’s saint candles – tall frosted white jars with different saints painted on.

The candlelight had made her feel safer. It was only a few minutes, but her grandfather returned once more with two mugs of tea. “These have to steep,” he said. He disappeared into the kitchen once more and came back with a paper plate and a bowl of oranges. The kind with a belly-button, except you didn’t call it that.

They had sat there sipping sugary tea and eating oranges until the storm blew itself out. Then he took her hand once more and led her back up the scary stairs (there really weren’t hands reaching through; it was only her imagination) and tucked her into bed. “The power will be back in the morning,” he promised, and left her the candle with St. Mary on it to guard her sleep.

But that had been when she was little, and now she is awake in the middle of the night, while her husband and dog snore in chorus, neither even aware of the light show beyond the windows. Awake, and craving tea and oranges.

She didn’t wear bathrobes anymore, but she pulls on a pair of fluffy socks and buttons on her husband’s flannel pajama top, and creeps out of their bedroom and across the living room to the kitchen.

The power is flickering, so she turns on the electric kettle then lights the candelabra on the dining room table. Oranges are always in the fruit bowl on the counter, well, those kid-friendly halo things, anyway, so she piles a few in a blue ceramic bowl and places it on the table with a paper plate.

When the kettle clicks off, she fills an infuser with loose black tea and arranges it in her favorite mug, then pours the steaming water over it.

The power flickers again and goes out to stay.

She carries her mug, a spoon, and the squeeze-bottle of honey over to the table.

“That’ll have to steep.” A familiar voice observes, and when she looks up from her mug, the infuser removed, the honey stirred in, she is startled. “Grandpop?” she breathes, because he’s sitting directly across from her, and, okay, he’s a bit see-through, but he looks good for a ghost.

“Felt the storm begin. Knew you’d be awake. Couldn’t resist the chance to see you… and try these new-fangled easy-peel things.” And he picks up one of the oranges and peels it, sending the tangy-sweet scent wafting across the table to tickle her nose. “How are you sweetheart?”

She brings her mug to her lips for a sip, formulating her response. “I’m good,” she says. “My book has gotten a really good response, my husband just got a promotion, Mom and Dad are loving their retirement. I miss you and Grandmom, of course, but there are times it feels like you’re still here, watching over me.” She laughs. “I was making tomato sauce the other day, and I swear I heard Grandmom’s voice telling me to add more garlic.”

“Sometimes we’re here,” her grandfather tells her. “But not in the way you think. We come close when you need us, add a bit of our essence to your own, but we mostly exist as memories. Strong ones when you need support, lighter ones when you’re just feeling nostalgic.”

“And tonight?”

“Well, tea and oranges, sweetheart, that’s how we survive the storms, isn’t it? I couldn’t let you sit through this one alone.”

“Is it going to be bad?”

“The storm? Not so much. But… you have a bit of a personal storm coming and I wanted to make sure you knew: your husband loves you, and we love you, and it isn’t your fault – it just happens – and you’ll get through it.”

She lets that information sit still inside herself for a while, and instead of pressing for details, asks him, “I don’t suppose you could tell me what it’s like for you?” As if it’s perfectly normal to ask a ghost for a description of the afterlife.

“Actually, I can’t,” he says. “Non-disclosure agreement. But… you don’t need to worry. Everything’s fine. Eat your orange, it’s dripping.”

She looks down, to see that she’s squeezed the section of fruit a little too hard, and juice is running down her palm and wrist. She eats the wedge and licks the juice away, and when she drops her hand, her grandfather has disappeared.

* * *

The miscarriage happens in the middle of another storm, this time in the middle of their morning routine. Her husband calls out of work and takes her to the emergency room, but there’s no fetal pole, and even though she hadn’t even known that she was pregnant, she’s sad about the loss.

Home again, she bundles herself into her husband’s pajamas and crawls into bed.

“Can I get you anything?” her husband asks, and she can tell it’s as much because he’s sad, too as it is because he needs to make her better, at least a little.

She glances out the window, and watches the rain fall for a long moment. Then she turns back to him. “Could you make me some black tea with honey, and bring me some oranges?”

“Tea and oranges?” he asks. “That’s it?”

“If you want… you could share them with me.”

And they spend the rest of the day in bed, with the dog at their feet and the pouring rain outside, drinking tea and eating oranges.

Monster See, Monster Do

0323 - Stolen Toy Monster“Becky, that’s mine! You can’t take it!” Harry yelled after his sister as she goose-stepped across the house toward the kitchen, her black patent-leather shoes tap-tap-tapping across the wooden floor. “Mom! Becky stole my Human Hammer action figure.”

Their mother didn’t answer, but Becky yelled back. “It’s not your toy, Harry; you stole it from an assigned Child, and you know you’re not supposed to take their stuff. You’re only allowed to move it to an Odd Location where they will find it weeks later and be Very Confused about how it got there.”

“I didn’t steal it! It was in the trash. See how the arm is hanging loose?”

“Stealing from the Humans’ trash is still stealing. Though trash is certainly where this thing belongs. Pink skin? Only two eyes? It’s disgusting. And it probably uses that hammer to murder innocent Monsters!”

Harry came out of his room to confront his sister. “So, what if it does? It’s just a toy, Becky. You had a Firefighter Fred doll two years ago, and I remember you used to let him pretend-kiss your Slithery Sallie doll. Monsters and Humans killing each other is way less weird than Monsters and Humans kissing.”

“That’s not the point, Harold,” Becky said, invoking her brother’s first name.  “Firefighters are heroes to monsters and humans. They don’t hunt and kill monsters. Besides. I’m older now and I know better.”

The children continued their argument, unaware that their mother was watching from behind her half-open bedroom door. When the verbal shots escalated to tentacle pulling and slime spitting, the older woman sighed, and slid out of the cool darkness to confront her offspring.

“Rebecca Jane and Harold Maurice be silent.”  She didn’t raise her voice. A firm tone and the invocation of middle names was enough.

“Sorry Mom,” Harry said.

“Mother, did we wake you?” Becky asked.

Their mother didn’t address either statement directly. Instead, she said, “I’m going to say this once, and I expect you to remember. Playing with human toys is a phase we all go through. Becky, if I remember correctly, your Firefighter Doll was left behind when your Child’s family moved.”

“Well, yes.”

“And Harry, dear, you know you’re not supposed to scavenge from the Humans’ trash bins.”

“I know.”

“You are almost eight hundred and two, Harry. I know their toys are tempting, but if they catch us playing with them, we cease to be scary.”

“Okay…”

“Becky, give him the doll.”

Becky held the thing pinched between two fingers, as if it smelled like roses, or something equally disgusting. “Fine. Take it.”

Harry snatched back his prize, and looked toward their mother intending to thank her but the older Monster wasn’t done.

“Harry, you may continue to play with the… Human Hammer… for one more week, and then you must return it to your Child’s house.”

“But they threw it away!”

“I know. But our job is to Scare Children. A toy returning from the trash after a week – “

” – twelve days – “

“Don’t interrupt me, Harry. A toy returning from the trash will be Very Scary. You might even get a Putrid Pentacle for the act.”

“A Putrid Pentacle? Really?”

“Really,” their mother said. “Becky was nine hundred before she got her first one.”

“Cool!”

“Mom!”

Both children responded at once.

“I’m going back to bed for a while. All this sunny weather is making my head hurt. I expect you to honor our agreement, Harold… and Rebecca…”

“Yes, mother?”

“Mary-Janes are a Human affectation. Do we need to have our talk about proper attire again?”

Becky rolled her many eyes at her mother and said nothing.

“I didn’t think so.”

And the older Monster glided back to her room and closed the door, praying her children never learned of her addiction to Ghost Hunters.

 

Cold Reflection

0406 - Armored Visions

Katja had gone through hell to acquire the gazing ball. She’d fought off zombie soldiers and negotiated with dragons. She’d waded through a river of a viscous substance she was grateful she couldn’t identify, and she’d found the portal from the Otherworld to her own. She’d even managed to activate it correctly, despite the fact that the instruction manual was printed in a language she didn’t speak, and likely translated from another she’d never even heard of.

Now, though, it was time to put her prize to use.

Some gazing balls allowed you to revisit the past and make sense of the choices you’d made and the paths upon which those choices had set you. Others allowed you to glimpse the future, to prepare yourself for what might be coming.

But this gazing ball…

This gazing ball let you face your darkest fear.

That’s why, after the ritual bathing, and a simple meal of fruit, cheese, and nuts, Katja had dressed herself for battle. After all she was a mighty warrior. Her darkest fear was obviously going to be an ogre or an orc or a swamp monster… something bigger and stronger than she was, with teeth and claws instead of an external weapon… or maybe in addition to one.

Katja uttered the ritual rules and turned the ball three times, widdershins.

Then she waited.

She was expecting the crystal sphere to grow cloudy with mystical smoke. She was expecting the lights to flicker, or even burn out, as live flame was wont to do… instead, she gazed into the formerly clear ball and saw her own reflection.

Startled, she sat back in her chair, as by creating space between the gazing ball and her body it would break the connection.

Instead, her mirror self simply shook her head in silent chastisement.

Katja sat up straight again and squared her shoulders. Then she looked – really looked – at the other version of herself. That woman was not clad in a warrior’s armor, but a peasant’s dress. Her hair wasn’t rich with color, but faded and wispy. Her face, too, was lined with age, and her eyes seemed sad.

“What happened to you?” she asked.

Mirror-Katja held a finger to her lips, indicating that she couldn’t communicate with speech. She beckoned, meaning that Katja should lean closer.

Down and down, she bent, until her forehead touched the glass. There was a crack, and then blackness, and then she was looking at her reflection again, but it was in reverse. The face in the gazing ball was young and fresh, and wearing sturdy armor.

Panicking, Katja turned away, hoping that her fear was unfounded. A polished looking glass hung on the wall and she moved to check her true reflection. But something was wrong. Her body hurt when she moved, and her legs felt weak.

Still, she shuffled to the glass and peered in, seeing, not her youthful self but the aged version from the gazing ball.

She hurried, as best as she could, back to the table, where the second gazing ball waited.

And she was filled with horror.

The crystal sphere on this table was not a different one, not half of a set, or even a temporary manifestation, it was the very same ball she’d struggled so hard to acquire. She looked into it again, and saw the other Katja, whom she now realized was her future self, laughing.

Her worst fear hadn’t been any kind of creature she could battle, after all.

Her worst fear had been her own old age and failing body.

Katja reached for the sphere again, leaning toward it to attempt to reverse the switch. If she could just touch it with her forehead once more…

But her reflected self, her future self residing in her youthful body, was too quick. She took her sword and sliced through the air, cracking the original sphere in two.

Her sons, grown men, found their mother’s cold corpse with her head on the table two days later.

The gazing ball was nowhere to be seen.

The Cameo Mirror

ghost in the mirror

Angela never been entirely certain where the mirror had come from. It had been a constant presence in her childhood, waiting at the top of the stairs of her grandmother’ house, where she had to pivot to the right and step up onto the open hallway very quickly so that she couldn’t catch a glimpse of yourself in it’s wavy, greying surface.

She wasn’t sure how she knew not to look. It was something she felt more than something she had ever been told. Somehow, she’d adopted the notion that to stare into the age-warped glass would be to look at a cameo pin and find yourself in the silhouette. Even the frame – tone on tone scrollwork,  painted white with a stylized silhouette at the top – reminded her of those old brooches.

It was worse at night, even with the nightlight that was perpetually on, just beneath the mirror. Her grandmother was afraid of walking down the step to the landing in her sleep, she said, and of falling down the main stairway.

But then, her grandmother also hid in the back hallway whenever there was a storm, and kept four-leaf clovers pressed into random books, and screamed when the power went out, and didn’t have a single room that didn’t have one of those nightlights and a rosary tucked in a drawer.

Grandma’s rosaries, Angela thought, were as much a part of the woman as her rose-scented face cream and her need for ‘a little something’ after dinner. (The ‘something’ was always sweet – Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies, Stella D’oro anisette toast, a scoop of chocolate ice cream with a drizzle of Hershey’s syrup and a spritz of canned whipped cream – she called it ‘gush gush’ because of the sound it made – on top.)

As a child, Angela had happily indulged in those after-dinner treats. As an adult, she recognized her grandmother’s dessert habit as both a ritual, and a way for the old woman to hold onto youth and innocence.

Just like she’d held onto that mirror.

Her grandmother, Angela reflected, was the only person who ever looked directly into the glass. It was too old, too greyed-out, too warped to be of any use… wasn’t it? She wondered what the old woman saw.

“… which brings us to the cameo mirror…” the attorney was saying, and Angela was jolted back to the present, where the furniture she had climbed on, played under, found refuge and solace and comfort in as a young girl, was draped with sheets, like so many judgmental ghosts. She could almost hear them whispering: You should have visited more. You should have called more frequently. You couldn’t even bother sending postcards when you were traveling.

“It belonged to your great -grandmother who brought it with her from Italy, and your grandmother would prefer it stay with the house,” the lawyer said. “She’s willed her house to you, Angela, but if you don’t want to live in it, she’s asked that you take the mirror.”

Angela thought about her sunny, plant-filled apartment, doing a mental comparison with the house. “I don’t have to keep the rest of the furniture?”

“Only what you want,” she was told. “What you don’t wish to keep we will arrange to sell on your behalf.”

“I’ll take the house,” she said.

“And the mirror?”

“And the mirror.”

She signed her name to a thousand documents, until her hand began to cramp and all she could think of was to go home and take a bath before she began to figure out what of the furniture she would keep – the baby grand, definitely, and the grandfather clock – but not the sectional, and absolutely not her grandparents’ bed.

It took a month for the paperwork to go through, but Angela used the time well. She packed her apartment, hired movers, arranged for the house to be cleaned and the yard to be groomed, and picked out new pieces to replace those she was leaving behind those she was selling.

Finally, she was moved in, the house she had loved as a child becoming her own now that she was adult. Touches of her grandparents lingered – the table of African violets that Grandma had sung to every morning, the red leather wing chair her grandfather had sat in to read his National Geographic and Newsweek and Model Railroader magazines, the piano that had been a fort and a ship and a mansion for Angela and her dolls before she’d learned to make music on it.

Tired from moving and memories, she made a simple supper and took her coffee out to the back stoop where she watched the fireflies in the yard.

Then she walked up the stairs.

She was certain that the nightlight on the landing had been removed before she moved in, but it was on now, casting it’s frosted-white glow across the landing.

As she had when she was a child, Angela crossed the square space between steps and hall very quickly, without looking at the cameo mirror. Then she stopped. Her grandmother had always smiled when looking into the old glass. The probate attorney had said her great-grandmother brought it over from Italy. What harm could it do, she wondered, to look at a piece of art that had given the women in her family such joy.

Slowly, cautiously, Angela turned to face the mirror, and lifted her head to gaze directly into it. She expected something bizarre, like a fun-house version of her own face. Instead, she saw a room with a wide window looking onto a garden of wildflowers. How could this be? She knew the mural on the opposite wall was both obstructed by a pillar and depicted an impressionistic take on a café scene.

Angela stared at the scene. The flowers were moving, as if swayed by a breeze. After the span of several heartbeats, a figure came into view.

“Grandma!” she breathed. She supposed she should have been frightened, but somehow, she knew she was safe.

There was no sound from the mirror, but Angela caught the scent of that rose face cream, and smiled.

The old woman kissed her fingertips and then blew the kiss toward the mirror’s inner surface.

Angela returned the gesture, saying, “Yes, I understand. I love you, too.”

The image wavered and disappeared, and the glass was, again, just a warped fading mirror.

Angela stared at it for a long while, understanding, finally, her grandmother’s attachment to it. She must have seen her own mother’s reflection, in whatever happy place that woman had envisioned.

After that night, Angela never dashed past the cameo mirror again, but instead paused to gaze into it. Most nights, she saw only her own reflection, slightly distorted. But sometimes she saw the old woman who had loved her enough to pass on her treasured mirror.

Angela missed her, of course. But seeing her in the mirror was enough.

With Teeth

With Teeth“Bite me,” I ask him in the middle of one of our late Saturday afternoon romps in the sheets. “Please…”

“You know I can’t.”

“You can.” I turn my head, baring the side of my neck to him. He knows the spot I mean, the juncture of neck and shoulder. “I’m not asking you to draw blood.”

“Don’t say that,” he says. “Don’t even think it.” He hesitates, nuzzles the spot in question while his hand cups my breast and his thumb tweaks the nipple.

Beneath him, I give a slight jolt.

“Please?” I’m not begging, exactly.

“Honey, I can’t.” He meets my eyes when he says it, urging me to understand, and I do, but that doesn’t stop the wanting.  Still, he lowers his head to my neck again and licks.

It’s not a bite, but it’s almost as good.

“Oh, god…”

Our afternoon encounter escalates from there, until we’re both satisfied and sleepy. We curl up together and nap. When I wake, the room is completely dark instead of merely dim, and he is gone from the bed. I hear movement in the kitchen. He’s opening a bottle… I can smell the contents.

Wearing the t-shirt he’d cast off much earlier, I padd out of the bedroom on bare feet. He doesn’t hear me coming; I know this because he starts when I slide my hands around his waist from behind and lay my head against his shoulder.

“You’re cold as ice,” he says, “you’re hungry.”

“I’m always hungry… after… “

I reach around him and grab the bottle from his far hand, then take a swig. “Not bad,” I said. “Tastes like a ninety-nine… maybe a two thousand. Virgin?”

“Virgin,” he confirms. “Two thousand. Carpathian blend. Shall I heat it for you?

“Please.” I go to the couch and wrap a cotton throw around my legs. He joins me a few minutes later, handing me my favorite mug – a smiley-face with fangs – full of steaming liquid. For himself, he’s got scrambled eggs and a hamburger patty. He says protein is essential.

“Full moon tonight,” I comment after checking an app on my phone. “You going out with the guys?”

“Do you mind if I do?”

I shake my head. “Nope. Francesca and Catherine and I have plans to see a late movie.”

“Home by dawn?”

“Home by dawn.”

* * *

I come home from my Saturday night with the girls to find that he’s home early. “Everything okay?” I ask, stripping off my clothes and climbing into bed with him.

He answers with a sly smile. “Everything’s fine, I just kept thinking about earlier… about how you like it with teeth… about how I couldn’t give you what you wanted.”

“You mostly did,” I assure him.

“I can give you more than ‘mostly’ now.”

I reach out to touch him, under the covers, and find a fine coating of hair. He’s in his between state, holding it for me.

This is the only time he can bite me and neither turn me, nor be turned. It’s a brief window we have in the last moments before dawn, three days a month. But I’ll take it. We’ll take it.

Such is life when you’re a vampire married to a werewolf, and you both prefer your horizontal recreation with teeth.

 

 

Falcon

0404 - Falcon

 

Movement below her woke Eyris from her long sleep, and she turned her great head to focus on its source. Her mechanical eyes flipped back and forth between lenses with tiny whir-click­ sounds, until she had a clear image.

Two humans in a boat. She checked her internal database to clarify the type of boat. A gondola. But it was floating through the air, just below her perch, rather than on water.

Hadn’t boats been meant to sail on water?

Eyris moved her great head ever so slowly, tracking the boat. The taller human held a staff that seemed to be the vessel’s source of propulsion, while she shorter one kept turning in circles and pointing.

She zoomed in on the pair and learned that the smaller one was a child while the larger was obviously its parent.

“… turning, or you’ll capsize us, Sash,” the larger one said, and the smaller paused in his? No, her. She was definitely female. The smaller one paused in her spinning.

“But Mom, there’s a giant pigeon!”

“Yes, honey, that’s a gargoyle. During the Second Golden Age they were brought into use again, not just as decorations on buildings, but also as part of the security systems. It’s said that some of them gained true intelligence, but no one really believes that.”

Eyris knew she wasn’t supposed to interact with humans, but she was clearly a Falcon and to be mistaken for one of those trashy street-walking birds would literally have ruffled her feathers, were they not made of stone.

She knew she’d be admonished. Maybe even suspended from her job as a gargoyle, but she couldn’t help it. Honor was at stake.

Summoning the strength of long-idle gears and pulleys, she leaned forward, until her shadow moved across the boat, and the occupants looked up at her.

“Mom… are they supposed to do that?”

“Do what, Sasha? Ohhhh!”

“What do we do?”

“There’s a ritual for greeting one of the Grotesque Ones,” the larger human said. “Let me think a moment.” She brought the gondola to a halt, and faced Eyris, bowing. “We apologize for interrupting your sleep,” she said. “We are merely observers and mean neither offense nor harm.”

Eyris’s first instinct was to knock the humans from their boat and watch their tiny forms plummet down, down, down to the ground, relishing in their screams.

The ritual greeting halted that process.

Grudgingly, she responded, her voice raspy from disuse. “I am Eyris, she who Guards. You have not caused harm, small ones, but you have caused offense.”

The taller human took an instinctive step backward, nearly capsizing the craft the way her daughter had not actually come close to doing. “I… apologize, but… I am uncertain how we offended you.”

Eyris sighed. “Humans have always been oblivious. ‘Seen one bird, seen them all,'” she quoted a phrase she’d heard over and over during her life. “Check your ornithology references, small one. You will find that you have misidentified me.”

The taller human was apologetic when she replied. “I am sorry, Eyris. I have no such references. Avian species are largely unknown to us these days. The sky is inhabited by poled gondolas, such as mine.”

“No… birds?”

“Not in the City, no.”

“Then I will explain, and I will forgive you… this time.” And she opened her beak to display the rows of metal teeth there (an addition that was not based on her organic inspiration). “I am no pigeon, small one.”

“You’re not?”

“No. I am a Falcon.”

 

 

Death and Taxes

0403 - Death and TaxesShe was asleep when they found her. Or, more accurately, dormant. Her guardian stone was still active. Had there been any real possibility that the pink-skinned humans with their measly two arms could have removed her from her cradle, the guardian would have awakened her.

So, yes, to their perception she was asleep. Asleep and hungry – why did intruders always make her feel hungry?

But the two-arms were no different than any who had come before, or any who would come after. They didn’t run in fear from her visage, her six arms and bladed weapons. No. They… persisted.  

But she was protected. It was part of the deal.

She was protected. They persisted.
And they were punished.

Those who tried to pry her weapons from her hands had their own skin split open in the process. Those who attempted to remove her headdress found themselves blind, and in blinding pain. Those who had the gall – the unmitigated gall! – to use chisels and something called a ‘crow bar’ (though according to her guardian it did not bear any resemblance to a crow) to remove the armored carapace that protected her soft parts and her legs, had been forced to crawl from her chamber on their hands, dragging their useless legs behind them.

None of their injuries were permanent, of course. Harming creatures who were weaker than you was unethical, or at least tacky.

And in truth, there were a few pink-skins who visited her resting place to try and understand her people and her culture.

Of course, they got it completely wrong.

They referred to her as ‘Kâli,’ who was apparently a goddess in one of the two-arms’ cultures. (Had she been awake, flattery would have gotten them everywhere – what woman didn’t appreciate being referred to as a being to be worshipped? Maybe not always, but, you know, as a change of pace.)

But she was not Kâli.
And she was not deserving of worship.
And this resting place, this cradle, was not the chamber of beloved royalty.

Rather, it was a prison cell. Here, under the guardian’s care, her body remained death-still, but her mind… Her mind was hooked into the Great Collective, where it served out a centuries long sentence as an accountant.

A tax accountant.

Her crime was symbolized in the weapons she held in her tertiary hands: a stylized knife and fork.

She hadn’t meant to devour her mate on their wedding night. But he’d smelled so good, and she’d been so hungry, too nervous to eat before the ceremony, and too busy during.

But, the elders had chastised her, cannibalism had been outlawed centuries before, and even then, it had only been permitted to the victors in war. Not, despite her protests, to the winners of Pawns and Leaders.

“How much longer?” She asked the guardian in charge of her case.

“Five hundred more years.”

“Home stretch,” she quipped, and returned to her work.

She wondered what would happen to those two-armed pink-skinned adventurers when she and her fellow inmates were released.

She also wondered if they were worth eating. She was just so hungry.