Pelt

0459 - Pelt

The snow was cold beneath the pads of her feet, and there was ice matted between her claws, but she reveled in the bitter cold, the bracing wind. To move on four feet instead of two was to embrace her true self, the one with thick fur that was designed for life in a harsh environment.

She sniffed the air and caught the familiar scents of home and family – her human family. When she’d told them that she needed to go for a walk, her husband had understood what she meant, but her children had not. They didn’t know what she really was.

A rabbit scurried across her path. She considered chasing it, bringing it home for dinner, but she knew what the kids would say… “Rabbit’s gross. It’s so stringy. Mama, we can’t eat Thumper.”

She would never judge them for their human tastes, but sometimes – most times – she missed the chase, the kill, the way fresh venison had that slightly gamey undertone.

A mournful howl cut through the wind. It wasn’t one of her kind, but she answered anyway, her return song one of reassurance. “You will be alright,” she sang. “Winter won’t last forever.”

The sunlight was beginning to fade as she turned for home and she paused at the edge of their property just to look at the cozy house, all aglow with lamplight. Subtle wisps of wood smoke emanated from the chimney. Wood smoke and beef stew. Her husband had been cooking.

Shaking the snow from her back, she climbed the three steps to the back porch. She stepped out of her pelt, as she climbed, laughing as her shadow appeared to have six limbs at one point.

She dressed in the clothes she’d left on top of the bench, and bundled her cast-off fur into a soft, cloth bag.

Her husband was waiting just inside the mud room. “Feel better?” he asked.

“Yes, thank you.” She leaned to nuzzle his neck and then kiss his whiskery cheek. “Here,” she said. “You keep this.”

But her husband shook his head. “You know I can’t accept it. I want you here out of free will, not out of some compulsion.”

They had the same argument every time.

“You’re not taking it from me,” she explained, yet again. “I’m giving it to your care, just as you’ve given me your heart.”

“But I can abuse it,” he said.

“But you won’t,” she countered. “Any more than I would abuse your heart.”

Reluctantly he accepted her offering. “The second you want it back…” he began. But he didn’t finish; she knew what he’d say. Instead he simply asked,”You hungry? Dinner’s ready.”

Sometimes, she thought, a bowl of stew and the smiling faces of a family meant more than any hunt.

 

The Second Noel

48799861 - a bethlehem illuminated by the christmas star of christ

Christmas, long ago.  

We all know the story: a young husband and his heavily pregnant wife seek a safe place where she can birth their child. With no room at the inn, they find shelter in a stable and lay their new babe in a manger. There are shepherds and wise men and a star to follow. There are gifts of silver and gold, frankincense and myrrh. There is a promised savior, a symbol of hope and love and all that is holy.

It’s the first noel. The first Christmas. But it’s far from the last.

Christmas, now.  

Over time, that old story, the one with the babe in the straw and the star in the sky, has been turned into a song or several. We sing their tale and celebrate its anniversary with symbols incorporated from other traditions. We try our best to remember that message of peace and love and hope and add in a sprinkling of patience, a dash of wisdom, and the occasional burst of innocent delight.

But at the same time, we’ve commercialized that chronicle. Merchandised it. This second noel  – really the two-thousand-and-somethingth noel – finds us juxtaposing stuffed stockings and decorations on sale since Halloween (a different old story, that) with the pressure to buy the perfect gift, make the perfect dinner, be the picture perfect family.

And yet, as humans we are imperfect. Our families are created, cracked, recombined. We have half-these and step-those, inlaws by marriage and relatives-by-choice,  and some of them mix well and others repel each other like the matching poles of the strongest magnets.

But the star still shines in all our hearts, even though we may interpret it differently.

Christmas, far in the future.

The third noel is the once-and-future noel. It sees the star – that star – leading us to new worlds. We plant new communities, feed and water them, and hope that they bloom. We sing the old songs of a far-away place and time and realize that we have used our technology to repeat the journey. We are now that husband, that wife, looking for shelter in unwelcoming places, and making the best we can of what we find.

The children born in the age of the third noel, may not be the saviors of the expanded universe, but they still hold promise and potential.

For the star continues to lead us.

And each night a child is born is a holy night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Winter Tale

 

Christmas-Altar-Flowers-1

 

My breath forms frosty clouds in the cold night air every time I open my mouth to speak. My companion, on the other hand, is impervious to the cold, so when I can’t hide my shivers, he removes the navy pea-coat he’d put on as a fashion statement and wraps it around my shoulders.

“You should have worn a coat, Zoe,” he chides gently.

“I know,” I say. “But I thought my sweater would be enough. I’ve become soft, living on the Cousteau with you. I forgot how weather works.”

“The weather-cast clearly stated the projected temperature for the evening,” he reminds me. From anyone else, it would be the beginning of a lecture, maybe even an argument, but from him, it’s just a statement.

“I wasn’t paying much attention to it,” I admit. What I don’t say is that I’d been watching him. In three years of dating, it was the first time Basil had come home with me, and watching my synthetic boyfriend examining our Christmas tree had been entrancing. Ornaments I’d seen every year since birth had taken on new meaning as I’d told him the story that went with each one and watching his elegant fingers touch some of the truly special pieces, as if he could tell which ones they were because he knew me so well, had made me melt inside.

“I will endeavor to remind you, in the future,” he says, and again, there’s no judgement. Just a new subroutine to be added to the many already in play.

I can almost imagine his internal process. ‘Subheading: weather, cross-reference: Zoe. If weather is inclement, remind Zoe to dress appropriately. Save instruction. Execute.’

By the time I’ve been through this imaginary scenario, we’ve arrived at our destination: First Episcopal Church of Foggville, on the planet Winter. Like the church I grew up attending in Beach Haven, on Centaurus, it’s a small building, driftwood gray with bright red doors. I’m not even particularly religious, but my father is on Winter conducting the capitol city’s orchestra in their holiday program, and we’ve used the occasion to introduce Basil to the family.

We haven’t really spoken much about faith or beliefs, Basil and I, and I wonder what his AI brain makes of all the pageantry. The pine wreaths and garlands that deck the church are Tradition to me, but he’s stated that the extent of his holiday observances was dinner at the officers’ club, when he was on Earth, or in the officers’ mess, when he was billeted on a spaceship.

We enter the narthex and are greeted by the locals. They don’t know us, but it’s Christmas Eve, so everyone is family. Most of the women are wearing fancy head gear and I grin to myself and then share a memory: “When I was little,” I tell him, “I used to count the number of women with hats.”

He lifts his eyebrows in response and turns back to the crowd, but a breath or two later he informs me that the ratio of women with hats to women without them is 3.479 to one. I laugh and squeeze his upper arm, because he’s completely predictable about things like this, and I love that about him.

We find seats about a third of the way back, near a woman and her young child, the latter obviously wearing her brand-new Christmas dress. For a moment, I’m seven years old again, and sitting with my mother. But she’s retired to Pacifica with her new partner, and Dad is remarried now, as well, and I haven’t been seven in a really long time.

The organ music begins, but I refrain from turning to see if it’s a proper pipe organ or a synthetic substitute. Tonight, being in the moment is more important than music snobbery.

For the next hour, we sit, stand, and kneel as guided by the priest and her acolytes. Basil asks if it’s merely ritual that dictates what we do when, and I whisper that it is, but that typically you sit to listen, stand to sing, and kneel to pray.

He surprises me by participating. His warm tenor has likely never sung these songs before, and I make a mental note to ask if it’s just an experiment to him, or if he means it. There’s an old saying, after all, that there are no atheists on spaceships.

The one thing Basil does not do, is approach the altar during communion. He simply makes room so that I can step past him to get to the aisle when it’s time.

After the service has ended, we leave the warmth of the church and find that they’re serving hot chocolate under the stars outside. One of the clergy members offers us candy canes to go with our cocoa, and we thank her for the refreshments and tell her we enjoyed the service.

“Are you local?” she asks.

“No, just here for the holidays.”

“But you’re part of the Star Navy, aren’t you, sir?” she asks Basil. “I can tell by your posture.”

“I am,” my partner confirms.

“Do you know… my brother serves on the Ballard and I haven’t heard from him in weeks. Do you know if they’re at the front? Or if they’re okay?”

Ordinarily, an officer wouldn’t have that information at their fingertips, but Basil’s neuro net gives him some benefits we organic types will never be able to match. He takes a few seconds to find the desired information then pitches his voice low and tells her. “The Ballard is patrolling the border, but there have been no incursions so far this month. It is likely distance that is affecting your communications.”

“Thank you,” she says.

We take our leave, linger a bit longer while we finish our drinks, and then begin the walk home.

Just down the street, we run into our former pew-mates, and we notice that the little girl has lost her candy cane. I touch the woman on the shoulder, and Basil knees before the child. “I am not fond of sugary foods,” he tells her. “Will you do me a favor and take this confection from me?”

I stifle a giggle at his formal language, but the child seems to find it enchanting. “Thank you!” she says.

Her mother echoes the sentiment.

Basil takes my hand and we walk back to the bed and breakfast that my family has taken over for the month. All too soon, we’ll be back on the Cousteau, where life is a mix of incredibly routine days punctuated by sudden bursts of danger, and I know we’re both feeling time ticking away from us.

“You were good with the little girl,” I tell him. “You’ll be a good father, someday.”

“You know I cannot sire children, Zoe,” Basil reminds me.

“I know,” I say, “but there are lots of ways to have a family.”

“You would want that, with me?”

“Of course, I would,” I assure him.

We arrive at the B&B, but instead of going inside he leads me to the bench on the front porch. We sit, and he reaches into the pocket of his coat – the one I’ve once again been wearing – and removes a small box.

“I am aware,” he begins, a slight electronic quaver evident in his voice, “that dating a synthetic life form has sometimes been challenging, and I am equally aware that our commitment to one another does not require formal agreements or legal documents. However, sharing your traditions over these last three years, four months, and seventeen days has taught me that rituals and practices matter. Weddings are one such ritual that I know to be of particular importance in your culture.”

My breath catches, but I manage to ask. “Basil, are you proposing?”

“Yes, Zoe, I am.”  He hesitates for only a split-second before imitating my speech pattern. “Zoe, are you accepting?”

“I am. I am so much.” I tell him.

As he slides the delicate engagement ring – a garnet flanked by two nearly microscopic diamonds – onto my finger, the mist which has been present all day turns into a soft snow.

The Coalition of Aligned Worlds may well be facing war with the Coprenium Empire, but right here, right now, it’s Christmas Eve on Winter, and we exist in a bubble of relative peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fair is Fowl

0456 - Cauldron

“Double, double, toil and trouble,” rasped the feathered being behind her.

The Scottish Play? Really?” Agathe replied as she cracked the egg into the cauldron. Its shell fell away in pieces, dissolving into the concoction she was brewing. Then the yolk plopped in. She stirred gently with a wooden spoon, resisting the urge to taste it. Sure, it looked and smelled like egg drop soup, but there were other… ingredients… that were not so benign.

“You turned me into this half-human, half-bird,” the other replied. “You’re stuck with me until you manage to turn me back.”

“I’ve told you,” Agathe reminded her, “it was an accident. You weren’t supposed to sip the tea from that mug. It was supposed to be sprinkled over the hens’ feed to increase their laying capacity.”

“Because you’re too cheap to build a separate enclosure and buy a second rooster.”

Agathe rolled her eyes, ignoring the other’s comment.

“Admit it! You are; you are!” the other said.

“Maybe I wouldn’t have to be so cautious about spending,” Agathe said, accenting her oblique correction, “if someone I know helped bring in some income.”

“Like this? How could I possibly do that?” the other was incensed.

“I don’t know, give folks rides on your back? Go out on street corners and recite ‘The Raven?'” She turned the flame up under the cauldron, and the contents inside began to hiss and roil.

“Fire burn and cauldron bubble,” came the gravelly commentary from behind her.

“Merlin’s shriveled balls! Must you?” Agathe complained. Then she sighed. “Alright, I need the sword now.”

“Mine,” said the other.

“I know it’s yours. We have to dip it into the soup and then you have to lick it.”

“Lick it?”

“Yes. Lick it. Lick it good.”

“You know, this form isn’t so bad. I mean… I don’t mind it, except the egg-laying thing.”

“The egg-laying thing is what’s going to turn you back,” Agathe said. “The sword please?”

Her temporarily feathered friend relinquished the weapon and watched as the witch dipped it into the soup – spell – concoction – thing. “Do I really have to lick it?”

“If you want to be returned to your original form, yes.”

Warily, the feathered one allowed the sword to be drawn gently – oh, so gently – through its beak. “Well? I don’t feel any different.”

“It takes a minute.”

“Oh.”

They waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And finally, there was a puff of grey and white smoke and the feathered hybrid had disappeared, replaced with a woman who looked like a slightly younger version of Agathe.

“I’m back,” she said. “I’m me! I’m back.” She danced around the room, laughing and crying at once. Then she looked at her sister. “I think you should taste the soup.”

“We don’t know what it will do.”

“Turnabout’s fair play,” the younger woman said.

“Alright, fine.” She dipped her wooden spoon into the mixture, then lifted it out and tasted it.

“Well?”

“Needs salt.”

“But… you’re not changing. Why are you not changing?”

“Oh, the soup had nothing to do with it. I just wanted a recipe to win the tasty treats contest. I could have turned you back any time.”

“But… Agathe. I’m your sister!”

“Yeah, but you stole my favorite pointy-toed boots.”

“You turned me into a bird thing for that?!”

“Well, foul is fair and fair’s fowl.”  She giggled. No. She cackled. Get it? Fowl? F-o-w-l.” She cackled some more.

There was a splash as Agathe’s Exotic Hybrid Egg-drop Soup became Agathe’s New Dress.

The other turned to leave, but her Agathe called her back.  “Doris! Come back here. Doris! I’m sorry.”

But the younger woman just called back over her shoulder. “Nevermore.”

 

 

 

 

 

The Briar Wreath

454 - Wreath

It was a delicate task, and one that was crowned with honor, to gather the wreath that would be displayed above the capitol doors.

In seasons past, Master Gavrel had led his party to the greenwood and the pinewood, selecting individual boughs from the trees there, and then he and the other masters and mistresses (who were also called ‘master’ now, but forgave him for using the old ways because he was old) would weave them into the Great Wreath.

But this year, this year, Master Gavrel wanted something different, something organic. So, he went to the winter wood. He knew that others had gone before him, seeking a wreath from the Order of the Brambles, and that most had come back injured and empty handed, while others had not returned at all.

He had prepared though. He had learned the prayers and practiced the ritual bows and walks. He had brought an offering of fresh soil and nutrient-rich mulch, and not one in his company carried an axe or saw.

Gavrel’s party reached the clearing, and he alone moved forward, through the impaled skeletons of those who had made this attempt, and failed, his movements precise, deliberate.

He spoke the words of the prayers and made his offerings of soil and mulch. He made his bow, and walked in a circle around the offerings, then bowed again.

And then he waited.

He was expecting drama. A sudden storm, perhaps, or trees come to life. But none of that happened.

Instead, there was a rustling sound, then a strong shake, and the suspended wreath dropped to the forest floor. He gestured for his companions to step forward and retrieve it, and then he bowed again and backed out of the clearing.

The wreath, wrapped in white lights, was hung above the capitol doors, and while some people complained that it looked like a bunch of dead sticks, most passersby understood that it was meant to represent the stark beauty of winter, and the idea that death is part of the entire cycle of life.

Master Gavrel stood among the crowd on the last night of the winter festival and smiled.

My Darling and Clementines

kaitlyn-chow-554372-unsplash

I smell the scent of oranges before I see that my husband is at the table with a bowl of Clementines and a mug of coffee and his iPad. I’m not sure if he’s reading one of the novels I bought him for Christmas, playing a game, or doing a crossword – all are equally possible.

He’s eating the oranges one at a time, methodically peeling and sectioning each one, then slowly savoring each petite section. These tiny, sweet, citrus fruits are his latest addiction, and a welcome replacement for the near-constant stream of gummy candy that came before them.

“Those smell amazing,” I say, by way of a greeting. I have my own iPad with me. “Peel one for me?”

“Sure.”

He made enough coffee for two, so I pour a mug of my own. He takes his with cream and sugar. Like eighty-seven percent of American women, I’m avoiding carbs, so mine is black. I’ve learned to tolerate it that way, but there are times when I long for the creamy taste of a full-fat latte.

Oranges aren’t exactly low-carb, but one cannot live on kale alone. Sometimes, you have to indulge. And the sweet-tart tang of the brightly colored fruit is what I’m choosing as an indulgence right now.

I sit across from my husband. He’s already peeled and sectioned one of the oranges for me, and it’s waiting on a white paper napkin. (I know, I know, we should be using the seven thousand cloth napkins we already possess rather than putting more non-recyclable waste into the world, but somehow, we never do.)

“Thank you,” I say, popping a section – meticulously cleaned of pith (he’s more particular about this than I am) – into my mouth.  “Oh, god. That’s so good.”

My husband lifts his head from his reading and grins at me, his blue eyes full of mischief. “I heard a news story the other night, that studies have shown that men find it really sexy when women eat oranges, let the juice dribble down their chins, and let their partners lick it off.”

“No, please,” I said. “For one thing, you know I hate being sticky.”

“Yeah.”

“For another, you’re usually the one who feeds me fruit. I wouldn’t want to ruin our dynamic.” I bite into another section of orange, and we both laugh when the juice squirts him in the face. “Close enough?” I ask.

“Close enough.”

*This flash-fic inspired by today’s prompt from December Reflections: Orange.
Photo by Kaitlyn Chow on Unsplash

Morning Light

123rf - Morning Coffee

The sand was cold and slightly damp beneath her bare feet, but despite the chill, Annie couldn’t stand the thought of wearing shoes. Not to the beach. Not even on Christmas morning.

Otherwise prepared for the cold weather in a fisherman’s sweater she’d acquired from an old boyfriend and a pair of jeans that had reached the maximum level of softness from repeated washings, she carried her steaming mug of coffee up the slight rise to the best vantage point on the shore.

Behind her, in the house with the bleached pine floors and wraparound porch, she knew her present partner was still sleeping, flanked by their two adolescent Labradors. The three of them would be harmonizing their snores for at least another hour, which gave her this moment of solitude and ritual.

Drinking coffee on the beach at sunrise was something she’d done since she was a teenager, and her mother had dragged her from her bed one winter morning.

That day, they’d worn galoshes because the beach had been covered in snow. Her mother had also brought along a tarp and a wool blanket. “Cold is one thing,” she’d said. “Hypothermia is quite another.”

The older woman had given her a piece of wisdom or a snatch of her own story every year from that Christmas until the one when she’d left the world of the living, and after that there had been no more family holidays. Annie’s father had never been part of the picture and she and her bother had drifted apart, their relationship relegated to one of holiday cards and birthday texts.

Sometimes, Annie wished she’d had a daughter with whom to continue the tradition, but it was a minor regret, one note in the rich song that was her life.

Annie wrapped her hands around the warm mug, letting her fingers meet through the handle. Her new ritual was to send a silent prayer to the universe: for peace, for patience, for wisdom.

She sat there in communion with sea, sand, and sky until the sun had risen completely. Then she drained her mug and rose – more stiffly than she would have liked – to her feet and moved closer to the water’s edge, where the sand was smooth and damp.

Using a fragment of a clam shell, Annie wrote her mother’s name in the sand, and her grandmother’s – the two women who had most influenced her – and traced a heart around them. Below, she wrote “Merry Christmas,” followed by the year.

Then she cast the shell back into the sea, and walked back across the sand, up the stairs, and around to the kitchen door. She left her mug in the sink, and started a fresh pot of coffee, setting the machine to begin brewing in ninety minutes.

Creeping back into the bedroom, she stripped down to a tank top and underwear – she hadn’t bothered with a bra; it wasn’t like anyone else would be on the beach on Christmas morning – nudged one of the dogs out of her way and slipped back into bed.

Later, her partner would wake up and she would feel his whiskers against her chin when he kissed the salt from her lips.

But right then, it was early on Christmas morning, and Annie was exactly where she wanted to be.

Better Angels

0439 - Guns and Angels

The humans called them “angels.”

They were meant to be calming figures, feathery beings who provided whispered advice at crucial moments. Their guidance typically came in the form of gut feelings or sudden inklings – those subconscious reactions that cause a right turn rather than a left or staying home rather than going out.

Hovering over the shoulders of humanity, they nudged gently and gave subtle pushes. Nothing overt. Just keeping things on track. That sort of thing.

But little by little, the human world changed. People divided themselves in arbitrary ways that had little to do with geography or culture and everything to do with anger, bitterness, and fear.

The angels’ voices were no longer heeded; their ethereal suggestions went unfelt.

The choir sang to deaf ears, and their enfolding wings were brushed aside by harsh hands, if they were noticed at all.

Humanity was no longer a noble race, full of wonderous creations – art, music, science, technology – and potential.

Instead, it was in danger of destroying itself, and the world it inhabited.

The choir convened.

Discussions were had, and heated debates, and finally a decision was made. They would have to solve the human crisis in a way the bitter, frightened people would comprehend.

They began to appear in selective places. They let their halos show, but they also displayed their weapons: shining, silver-outlined, mostly transparent versions of the projectile weapons the flesh-and-bloods seemed to treasure.

When merely showing up had no effect, they fired booming warning shots that ricocheted across the skies like thunder – only louder, stronger, and more ominous.

And when the warnings failed, they had no choice.

They eradicated humanity for the greater good.

Afterward, their white and silver forms stained red (time would let it fade, they knew), they reconvened at their undetectable headquarters and sang songs of mourning and remembrance, until they could sing no more.

Finally, so much time had passed that the angels were ready to try another experiment. “There is another world with a crop of humanity,” one said. “Let us try again, with them. Perhaps this time, they’ll thrive. The natives call it ‘Earth.'”

And so, they moved their headquarters across the universe to a blue-and-green world with diverse lifeforms and humans who were still receptive to their influence. But they also made a unilateral decision: they would act sooner, more swiftly, and with more surety.

This time, they would not fail.

This time, they would be better angels.

Not Pandora

0447 - Not PandoraShe’s no Pandora, unable to curb her curiosity and inadvertently setting a mass of horrors loose upon the world. Her boxes aren’t metaphors for the trials and tribulations of daily life.

Rather, they’re the memories of all the people she’s loved and lost. Keepsakes and memorabilia, photographs and old letters are all tucked away in cedar-lined darkness, waiting to be acknowledged, accepted, assimilated.

That box represents her grandmother: pearls and rose petals and half-done knitting projects, the needles still attached. And that other one? That’s her grandfather’s collection of old cameras and model trains, seed packets and artisan bread recipes.

Other boxes are smaller. One holds an assortment of dog collars and old chew toys, and vials of the ashes of lost companions. There’s room, yet, in that one. Another protects the tiny clothing never used by the baby who was never born. Tucked inside, a grief counselor’s business card, and the wristband from her hospital stay. (Keep those boxes closed, she reminds herself as she moves through the attic space, squinting her eyes to ward off unbidden tears.)

Cardboard boxes hold traces of old boyfriends, relationships that were fine in the moment, but flickered out, and friendships left hanging as people grew up, moved on. (She really should call her college roommate. It’s been five years since they last spoke… or is it six?)

She freezes when she sees the newest box, its shiny lid cracked open. That one… that one was added just this past summer, and it never will stay closed. It’s got soil samples and pencil stubs, a book on improving your memory (lost for years, found too late). Printouts of emails and silly cards, a brooch she can’t stand to wear right now – copper and brass safari animals dangling from a central ring – but creeps in to pick up and hold. She pushes the lid down, knowing that she’ll have to close it again all too soon, but every time, it stays shut a while longer.

These boxes don’t hold horrors.

If she’s careful lifting the lids, she can slip a smile out. A friendship bracelet made of knotted fairy floss, a sun hat that still has grains of beach sand embedded in the straw.

She tries so hard to be careful.

But memory is fickle, and grief is tricky, coming back day after month after year after decade, usually when she least expects it, and smiles are still smiles, even when they’re tempered with tears, and missing people means you loved them, doesn’t it?

She’s no Pandora, with one box of horrors to share and one bright spark hidden at the bottom, but like that woman from myth and story, she knows that spark, and treasures it.

She moves out of the room by the same route she entered, eddies of dust swirling in the sunshine that drips in through the skylight.

At the attic door, she turns, and addresses the boxes. “All my hopes.”

Rhoda, Revisited

Rhoda - Flash PromptKilling the rabbit had been way easier than getting rid of that annoying Daigle boy. And no one would care -this time – about the marks her tap-shoes left on the creature’s head.

She’d smile pretty and tell them she did it to save Mrs. Danforth’s vegetable garden.

And they’d believe her, her aunt and uncle would, because they didn’t know the way her mother had. (Mother was no longer a problem. The spanking had been the older woman’s last act in soooo many ways.)

They’d just cuddle her and bundle her off to a hot bath and bring her cookies and milk in bed, and take her clothes to be cleaned.

They wouldn’t notice that there was blood spray. She’d tell them she strangled the poor thing.

And they’d believe her.

They always did.

And all she had to do was smile.