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.




0324 - CatrinaShe misses them, of course. Her husband, her children, her sisters, her friends.

It’s been so long since she’s kissed her little ones goodnight and breathed in the scent of their youth and innocence: dirt and soap and rosin and chocolate.

Bella, the ballerina, always slept on her back with one leg straight and the other en passé.

Simon was her baseball player, and more than once she’d had to slide his glove off his hand in the middle of the night. That was part of his scent, too: the oiled leather of his catcher’s mitt.

Victor, her husband, had a stronger scent: fresh-mowed grass, pipe tobacco (he never would give up that thing) clean cotton and the musky tang of his sweat mixed with the slightly aquatic aroma of his favorite shampoo/body wash combination product.

How she longed to slip into bed beside him, to rest her head on his chest and let his heartbeat lull her into peaceful sleep. How she missed those early mornings when the kids were still asleep and they came together in the pre-dawn starlight, quietly, but with such intensity, passion, and love.

She would never stop wanting that man.

Her sisters were more distant. Perfume and coffee, red wine and gardenias… that was them. And her friends? More wine, coffee, arrachera tacos and guacamole with fresh cilantro, lime, and salt, and Indio beer.

She remembers their scents almost more than their faces or voices. She’s forgotten many important events, but their love for each other is indelible.

And tonight she will see them all.

She can feel it: the thinning of the veil, the strengthening of the old magic. She can see the shapes of the women and men dressed as Catrinas and roaming around the town square. She can sense the brightness – color and aroma both – of the marigolds, and she follows the pull of the invisible string tugging at her navel.

They are all there, at her ofrenda. There’s a plate of the shrimp mole she loves, and another of chocolate-raspberry torte. Her wedding dress is there, and her collection of fountain pens, and her favorite sun-hat.

She feels wetness on her cheeks and realizes that she’s made the crossing.

Her husband is there, alone for the moment, and she caresses his face, smiling at the texture of the stubble on his chin. He turns, and his smile lights the night. He touches a button on the cd-player (the ancient ‘boom box’ she had in college, when they met) and their song wafts through the tented space.

Beyond the awning and the posts, the masses circulate, carrying Oaxacan hotdogs wrapped in blue corn tortillas, pausing at each ofrenda to comment on the photographs, the drawings, the food.

The children will be back soon, and her sisters, she knows, but for now it is only herself and Victor.

“Dance with me,” he says as the old-style waltz music fills their immediate vicinity. “Can you?”

“Tonight, I can,” she says.

The children, the friends, the relatives, they come and see Victor turning leading her wispy, ethereal form in the dance, and as much as they, too, want to spend time with her, they step away.

When dawn comes, and she must leave, she is frozen by his question. “Will I see you before next year?”

“Plant marigolds,” she tells him. “I’ll come, if you plant marigolds.”

But he won’t remember that instruction once the sun has fully risen, and she won’t really be strong enough to cross over again until the next year’s celebration.

And it is a celebration, this day. It’s a celebration of love and joy and connection, and the knowledge that even death can only pause those things, never eliminate them completely.




The FoxIn Spanish, he is Zorro, not the swordsman, but they share a name. In French, of course, he goes by Renard. In Italian, they call him Volpe.

In English, he is known as the Fox

But the ancient Greeks knew two things: first, he isn’t male. At least, not always. And second, whether fox or vixen, the Fox cannot be trusted.

Like the animal who bears the same name, the Fox is sly. Breaking into your house to steal anything shiny is just as likely as slipping into your chicken coop and having a nice, moonlit dinner. If caught, you’ll hear a tale so circuitous that the ending will loop around before the beginning has actually begun, but you’ll be so entranced in the telling of it, that you won’t care about the plot-holes and inconsistencies.

Far worse than stealing your material goods or livestock, though is when the Fox steals your heart.

In his masculine form, he’ll whisper sweet-nothings in your ear, but he’ll lace them with sin and magic, and make you crave his touch, beg for it, even, and then disappear after you’ve given up your love.

As a vixen, she’ll sing and purr and dance around you in ever tightening circles, hypnotizing you with movement and possibility, but her dance is a solo one, and any time you reach for her, you’ll stumble to the ground, clutching at empty air.

One day, he’ll be your best buddy; the next, he’ll steal your car, and your partner, too.

One day, she’ll be your best friend; the next she’ll swoop in and scoop your story, or close your business deal, or take all the credit for your ideas.

And either way, you won’t complain.

You might even help them do it.

Because the Fox is the ultimate trickster. Changing personalities is as easy as changing underwear and takes half the time. Wooing a woman one night, a man the next, and both on day three is just par for the course.

The Greeks said the capital-F Fox could never be caught.

But maybe, just maybe, if it’s a full moon, and Halloween, and you have the right combination of wine and chocolate, magic and sin, lust and laughter – for the Fox is a party animal, and a good time is essential – you might be able to clutch a tip of tail for a while.

You might be able to trick the trickster.

You won’t steal the Fox’s power.

But you might win their heart.

And a trickster who loves you? Truly loves you? There’s nothing that can beat it

Bottled Up

0416 - Potion 36At first glance, it was an ordinary bottle. Clear glass, with a matching (rubber tipped) stopper to keep it airtight, apparently empty, labeled with a number. Thirty-six.

She’d found it on the beach while walking her dog. Well, really, the dog had found it. He hadn’t picked it up, because he was a pointer, and didn’t fetch for anything. Even playing ball in the back yard, the dog would locate the toy, point to it, and, if she didn’t come to pick it up fast enough, look back with an expression that clearly said If you wanted it back, you should have adopted a retriever.

So, the dog had pointed, and she had done the fetching.

And the thing is, she isn’t sure why she decided to take the bottle home. She didn’t typically pick up litter (she should probably feel guilty about that, but she didn’t), and she wasn’t the type to collect beach glass.

But something about this bottle was a little off-kilter. Maybe it was the condition: old, sure, but intact. And pretty clean, if slightly scarred by tides and saltwater.

It just… spoke to her.

So, she took it home, and left it on her desk, next to the mug full of pens to the right of her monitor. Eventually, she’d wash it out, maybe discard the stopper, or leave it in the junk drawer and turn the bottle into a bud vase. She’d always liked using glasses and jars and old candle holders instead of actual vases.

Days went by. She forgot about the bottle, but on the night of the full moon, she noticed a shadow inside, almost like a person. She held it to the light, but that didn’t make anything solidify, it was still just a vague, shadowy outline.

Opening the bottle was likely an unwise idea, but she couldn’t help it. Just as when she’d chosen to cart it home, the thing was speaking to her.

Only this time, the speaking was literal.

Let me out… please! Let me out!

She pulled the stopper, expecting the worst. A demon maybe, or a trapped djinn. She expected her dog to start barking his fool head off, but he couldn’t be bothered to leave his place on the sofa, and as far as she could tell, all that was released was some air that smelled of saltwater.

The full moon crept across the sky.

She took the open bottle to the coffee table and stared at it.

Nothing happened.

The sun made its first appearance, while the moon was still faintly evident in the sky, and she gave up and went to bed. Her dreams were bizarre that night – morning – whatever. They were filled with sailing ships, storm-tossed seas, rum-running and cheating boyfriends. And then she had the feeling of being trapped and immobile. She tried to breathe, but the air was stale and swampy. And when she tried to sit up, she hit her head on the window.

Wait… window?

She opened her eyes to a sunlit room, but it wasn’t her bedroom. It was her living room, but everything was oversized, and she couldn’t seem to move from her spot.

Realization came in the form of a demonic red eye on the other side of what she now recognized as a curve of salt-etched glass. The eye blinked, and suddenly it was blue – the same blue as her own.

A hand curved around the bottle, and lifted her up, and she saw the demon properly. But the horned head morphed into a facsimile of her own face, and when she looked down at herself, all of her color was gone. She felt small. She felt transparent. She was… trapped.

She tried yelling for her dog, but the fickle creature was standing next to her newly-made double with his leash in his mouth, and his tail wagging.

He gave a single bark and the demon with her face and body laughed in her voice. “Sure, let’s go to the beach, boy. We should get rid of this thing.”

The demon clipped the leash onto her dog’s collar and tossed the bottle – her prison – into her tote.

When they got to the beach, the demon walked out to the end of the jetty and hefted the bottle once more. With a strong arm (apparently the demon had inherited her softball pitching arm) she threw it into the sea.

A magical creature could have lasted centuries in a glass bottle, even in the depths of the ocean. But she wasn’t magical. She was just a young woman who’d found a bottle on the beach. She was unconscious before the bottle sank into darkness, and dead by moonrise.

And the demon?

She lived a happy stolen life in her stolen body, with her stolen dog.

As demons do.

Four Horsewomen of the Post-Apocalypse

0417 - Four Horsemen

“And behold, a pale horse and its rider’s name was Death,” Margo quoted. She asked her horse to pause at the top of what had once been the main street of the city they were entering and waited as her companions caught up to her.

“Are you casting me as Hades then?” Helen asked, drawing up her own mount beside her wife’s. “Not sure that’s flattering.”

“But don’t you feel like that’s who we are?” Margo challenged. “Look at this city. The buildings are burned out husks. Nature is weaving itself back over the framework, and what are we doing? Picking over the carcasses of what’s left behind.”

“Child, you fret too much.” The warm words came from Mother Ruth, the leader of their community, and this… hunting party. “We did not cause this atrocity, we survived the actions of those who did.”

“But we’re still gaining from it, Mother,” Margo complained. “How does that make us any better?”

“Because we have accepted the challenge of rebuilding the world,” the older woman answered in a tone that brooked no argument.

Beyond her, the fourth member of their party released her left hand from the reins and pointed. She didn’t speak – hadn’t spoken since the Day of Destruction many decades before – but her meaning was clear. They were meant to move forward.

“I’ll lead this time,” Helen said.

“Just because you don’t want to be Hades,” Margo teased.

“Well, that… but also it’s my turn.” And she urged her horse forward, assuming correctly that the others would fall in line behind her.

At the center of the city, they found their destination. It was not, as Margo had expected, Mother Ruth’s home church, or even the great cathedral in the center of the broken metropolis. Rather, it was the public library.

“Books?” Margo asked. “We’re here for books.”

“Books, yes,” Mother Ruth confirmed. “But also, to see if the computer network here might still be working, to find out if there are other survivors somewhere.”

Technology had all but died after the last war, and the surviving engineers and computer and telecom experts were just beginning to bring it back. Electricity had only been reasonably reliable for about a year, and with it, refrigeration.

“And if there are? Do we reach out?” The question was Helen’s this time.

“We give them directions to neutral ground and invite a meeting. We don’t know what other survivors might be like. Some might be quite violent.”

But while the network was still up – shielded as it was in the basement of the old building – there was no sign of anyone using it. They left one machine logged in to a message board they’d set up. Then they’d filled their saddle bags with books – how-to manuals, cookboks, gardening guides, and a few novels – and made their way back outside.

The horses were waiting patiently.

Mother Ruth helped their silent companion to climb aboard her mount, then settled herself on her own saddle with surprising grace. Margo and Helen were not quite as graceful, simply because they hadn’t had the same years of practice, but they were competent, and the party soon began their journey back out of town.

The light was fading as they left the city, and somewhere behind them a wolf howled, causing Margo to shiver. Closing her eyes against the fear, she imagined the four of them as they must look to anyone still hiding within the crumbling stone and rusted steel, and the bible verse came back into her head.

Helen and Ruth and their voiceless friend might not like the comparison, but it was people like them who had destroyed the world, and it was they themselves who were picking over the bones.

“And I saw, and behold, a pale horse, and its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him; and they were given power over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.” ~Revelations, 6:8, RSV translation.

Civil Twilight

micael-widell-520887-unsplashCivil twilight. To most people it’s that period between sunset and full dark, but to the people of Raven Beach it was something else. It was an agreement between the Day-Walkers – mostly human – and the People of the Night – mostly inhuman, or formerly human, or humanish.

Their community was an experiment in peaceful coexistence. It helped that their town was situated in a northern latitude, where that in-between time was longer than it was elsewhere. It helped that they were a coastal village, rather than a big city. Everyone knew each other. That mattered.

The experiment had begun a decade before, after a hellish month.

First, a vampire child on his way home from school in the morning had been accosted by human kids waiting for their bus. He’d lived – barely – but it had taken weeks to recover from the sunburn, and the family had nearly gone broke trying to keep him fed with virgin blood.

In retaliation a vampire gang had captured a human girl, the sister of one of the boys involved in the earlier attack, and drunk her nearly dry before dumping her outside the local hospital. They’d warned the family of their plan to turn her but hadn’t in the end. Still, it was a clear message.

Over the next weeks the attacks had escalated. Old Mr. Pritchard on third street had chased a pair of werewolf cubs off his lawn with a silver-tipped pitchfork after they’d… watered it… in a particularly canine way, and their parents had caught Mrs. Pritchard coming home from her bible study class a few evenings later and ‘accidentally’ scratched her. It wasn’t deep enough to cause a full change, but she’d suddenly had to battle extreme facial hair when the full moon came. Not to mention the way she craved raw beef.

And so, it continued. The zombies were chased away from the morgue with blinding floodlights, and even though it had been quietly accepted that it was their job to dispose of the bodies of unidentified homeless people when the waiting period had ended, and the demon who ran the library was chased home one evening by a mob wielding water-pistols filled with holy water.

Something had to change.

Many suggestions were made: the bloodsuckers and shifters should just turn everyone. The zombies should move to a new town. The humans should burn all the other-human creatures out of house and home.

But, despite their great differences, the people of Raven Beach felt tied to their community, and to some of the unique aspects of it. Granny Liebowitz, for example, was a hedge witch who made the best cherry pies, but she wasn’t above tossing together a batch of blood sausage for the vampire kids who came to help clean up her yard after every storm.

And Sal D’Angelo who ran the pizzeria didn’t just make the best meatball sub on the North Atlantic coast, but he also did a steak tartare pizza for his customers who preferred their meat uncooked. He hadn’t managed to create a marinara sauce without garlic, but he did a pumpkin and oxblood ravioli that the vamps considered a guilty pleasure.

And speaking of the vamps, Vlad and Katya owned the music store in town, and not only did they offer free studio time to every local band trying to cut their first CD, they had a rental library of vintage vinyl that went back forever.

No one in Raven Beach wanted to lose that, but at the same time, no one wanted to live in fear of being bitten, bled, burnt, or staked, either.

A town meeting was called. The council suggested that they all step down en masse to be replaced with a new council, with representation for all the major groups in town. The people agreed and held a vote that night, with the new council including four humans, two vampires, a werewolf, and a demon. (The zombies didn’t put up a candidate. They felt they didn’t have the necessary communication skills.) The ninth member of the council was a Native American shaman the last descendant of the original tribe which had occupied the area. Everyone felt she would be impartial.

That was step one.

Step two was an agreement that the morgue would better serve the zombies, that the blood bank would host monthly blood drives to help the vampire community stay healthy and robust, and that the werewolves could let their cubs run free in the dog park on odd numbered days.

And step three… step three was the Civil Twilight Concordance.

It was agreed that the time between first light and full dawn, and first sunset and full dark, was a no-kill time. Children could safely travel to and from school. Adults could move freely from home to work or vice versa. Most of the year, those hours even allowed for brief errands.

And the rest of the time?

The vampires might, from time to time, stalk humans on their way home from the movies, or the werewolves could be caught threatening the teenagers at Lovers’ Dune. But there was an unwritten agreement that townies, no matter their breed or species, were untouchable.

Human, inhuman, formerly human, and human-ish live side by side in Raven Beach. And during civil twilight, they walk together.


Teddy as Jasper

Every night at nine, The Thing arrives in the back hallway, and Jasper goes to drive it away. He barks and growls and bares his teeth at it, never letting it get into the main house.

He doesn’t try to get his people to come see why he’s barking. He knows humans don’t believe in such Things, and wouldn’t even if they could see them. Which they can’t.

But Jasper can, and he knows it’s his job to protect his people, to keep the house safe from beings like The Thing that are even more evil than postal workers and UPS deliverers.

Still, it would be nice if, once in a while, one of his people would recognize his vigilance and tell him he was a good boy for protecting the house or thank him from driving The Thing away every night.

Just one pat on the head, or maybe an extra dog biscuit would make all the difference.

Instead, Jasper has to hear them tell him to Stop Barking, and Be Quiet, and Go Lay Down, when his job has been done again and he returns to the living room to let them know.

And then it happens.

Sort of.

On the very night that he manages to make The Thing become dead – even deader than his stuffy squirrel after he removed the evil squeaker – Jasper’s people join him in the hall.

“Sweetie,” the female person says (he’s not supposed to have favorites, but he likes her just a little bit more than the male person. She was the one who’d picked him up when he was living in the Loud Place and held him against her chest and let him gum her neck until he was asleep.) “Jasper’s barking sounds different tonight. We should check on him.”

“He’s barking at nothing, like always,” the male answers.

“Humor me.”

And his people join Jasper in the back hall, where he has the remnants of The Thing in his mouth.”

“Wow! Looks like Jasper caught a rat!” the male human observed.

(It isn’t a rat, but humans can’t see the truth of Things.)

“Oh, ugh, take it away. That can’t be good for him,” the female urged “Wait… is it dead? Don’t touch it until it’s dead.”

“Oh, it’s dead.”

Jasper stands with The Thing in his mouth, wagging his tail.

The male human trades him a chewy for it, and the female one kneels on the ground and puts her arms around his neck. “No kisses until I forget what you had in your mouth, Jas. You’re a good boy. You protected the house.”

Jasper leans into her side. She is warm and comforting, and he is glad she feels safe with him. She doesn’t need to know what The Thing really is. He knows that human people see what they think they should.

And anyway, it doesn’t matter.

Because Jasper is a Good Boy.

And his humans know it.

Musings of a Solitary Ghost

Ghost in the WallCold.

She’s constantly cold now. And damp. She can’t even remember what warmth feels like, but she also can’t get to the place where she’s numb enough to fall asleep and linger there.

She doesn’t remember sleep, either.

She exists in a state half-way between dreams and waking, in a kind of perpetual twilight punctuated only by the periodic beams from the beacon at the top of the lighthouse.

She thinks there used to be a man who lived there, and took care of it, but she’s heard people talking, strange people that come into her house but never greet her, and they say it’s been automated for at least a decade.

Time has become meaningless.

There is no day, no night, no hunger or thirst.

Just cold and damp and dimness.

She can walk through walls now. She’s pretty sure that’s a newly acquired skill. She can walk through walls and float through floors, but she can also walk across the broad wooden planks that have been under her feet for as long as she can remember.

She misses her family.

She is surrounded by families that are not hers.

They move into her house and make changes. The old kitchen with its red hand-pump at the sink now has a shiny metal faucet with a single lever pointing one way for hot and the other for cold, and the streams come out mixed together.

The big bathroom where she used to soak in the claw-foot tub and stare at the lighthouse through the round window has a stall shower now, in one corner, and instead of coal, the house is heated with hot air forced through vents.

Or so she overhears.

But she can’t feel the heat, or stand in the shower, or work the taps. Her hands can’t grip, can’t touch.

So, the families come, and they talk about their lives and she drinks it all in. She watches as they change the paint and repaper the walls and load in new furniture.

But they never stay.

The lighthouse beacon is too bothersome, they say, and there are odd draughts in the house, and sometimes they see movements in the mirrors.

The families leave, and she remains.

She’s fairly certain she’s supposed to be somewhere else, and that there’s something she’s supposed to accomplish before she can go there, but she doesn’t know what or where or when.

And so, she walks… paces, really. She walks through the house and sees the old colors and furniture overlaying the new, and when the lighthouse spins to cast its beacon she thinks she might dance in the light.

Or maybe… just maybe… she’ll climb aboard and see where it takes her.