Bead by Bead

0746 - Bead by Bead

For years, decades even, Mama Louise had been known for her beadwork. Every velvet bag, every fancy dress, every bridal gown in their small town had been hand-beaded by the old woman.

Her work was impeccable, of course. She still used silk and cotton thread when commercial beadwork had switched to synthetics, or even glue. She never seemed to measure, but the spacing between her beads, whether it was simple trim or an intricate pattern, was always precise. Not a millimeter offset. Not a fraction of a millimeter in error. And when she was asked how she created these items of wearable art, Louise would smile and answer, “Bead by bead.”

More than her actual work, however, was what Louise instilled in her work. Before making a bag, Mama Louise would ask where it would be used, and she would have the eventual owner talk about their hopes and dreams for the event. The purse would then seem to carry the faintest scent of the floral archways of a specific restaurant, or glitter with the starlight of an open-air theatre.

If she were beading a dress for a ball or party, Mama Louise would listen to the sort of music likely to be played and her old feet would tap out the rhythms as she worked. (Somehow, her arthritic knees and ankles never objected to such movement.) Later, the women who commissioned her work would share that their feet never seemed as light, their energy never seemed so strong. “I could have danced forever,” one woman shared, glowing with happiness and enthusiasm.

Bridal gowns had always been Mama Louise’s specialty. She limited her commissions to two a year and quoted a five-month turnaround. It was much longer than it took to have a custom gown from one of the bridal shops on Main Street, but her customers never objected. They knew that a dress from a store was just a dress, while a creation sewn by Louise would be a family heirloom.

For those gowns, Louise would ask for stories of the bride’s childhood. She would collect memories from her parents and friends, her cousins and sisters and partners in youthful crimes and misdemeanors (which is how she jestingly referred to youthful exploits). She would also ask that each woman provide a well-wish for the bride-to-be.

When the recipient of such a gown finally tried it on, it would be as if each memory was whispering to her, and when she walked down the aisle on her special day, to meet her partner at the end, she would feel the love of all the well-wishes wrapping itself around her, and sending her into a happy future.

With so many girls and women being connected to Mama Louise through her work, it was inevitable that someone would notice when the old woman began work on another piece. This dress wasn’t pure white, like a bridal gown, but buttery, like French vanilla.

“Who is this piece for?” her visitors would ask – for it wasn’t unusual for her clients to stop by with baked goods and have coffee or tea with Louise. “Is this a wedding dress?”

But Louise didn’t share the recipient’s name. Instead she would lead her guest down memory lane, collecting a story of when that person wore a Creation by Louise.

Bead by bead, this last dress was nearly finished, but work on it stopped suddenly, when Louise had a heart attack one night.

Her son was the one who found her. He was a quiet man. A concert violinist with elegant fingers. He could have done beadwork as fine as his mother’s but that wasn’t where his heart led him. An only child of an only child, he’d considered his mother’s clients to be the sisters, cousins, and aunties he’d never had.

“My mother,” he said, “never sewed for herself. But this dress… ” he choked up as he told the people who had gathered in the old woman’s apartment. “This dress was meant to be her burial gown. She knew, I think, that her time was running out.”

There were three days until the wake and the funeral. Three days to find a shop to finish the beadwork… except.

Except Vanessa, the owner of Mama Louise’s last wedding gown, came to sew on a few beads from her dress. And Caitlyn who had no fewer than six of Louise’s velvet handbags, brought three beads from each.

The contributions continued. Each of these former clients added pieces of their favorite dresses and purses to the last few rows of beads, laughing together at their uneven rows, sharing memories and stories as they worked.

They finished at midnight, the night before the wake, sitting back and sharing a collective sigh.

Somehow, the soft breeze that wafted through Louise’s living room didn’t surprise them. It just felt right. Similarly, the appearance of their friend and neighbor in her rocking chair, looking peaceful, if slightly transparent, was not scary, but somehow soothing.

“We finished your dress,” the women said. “We couldn’t come close to your talent… but we tried to do the work with love.”

“And so, you did,” the ghost of their  beloved friend shared in a thin voice. “Bead by bead, you finished the gown. Bead by bead you strengthened your connections to each other and your community. Bead by bead, you spread love into the world.”

They wanted to hug her, but you can’t hug a ghost.

They wanted to share all their stories, but she was already fading.

Still, she held up an ethereal hand. “I know all your stories,” she said. “I know your hopes and dreams, and they will warm me in the next life. You’ve shared them with me… all of you… bead by bead.”


Clock Watcher

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

They call her the Unturnable, because she will not change her mind. Once someone has reached the end of their allotted thread, she whisks in to snip it.

They call her the Inevitable One. The Inflexible.

Rarely do they use her name: Atropos.

Most times, the cut is a gentle one, and she catches her charge as their weight is untethered from the cable holding them to life. Sometimes, she misses the catch, and there is a metaphysical thud as though a weary soul has collapsed to a less-than-ethereal floor.

People fear her, but her calling is a necessary one.

Time and technology have changed how she works, over the years, decades, centuries, and epochs. Her sisters have changed their methods as well.

Clotho was so excited to be able to use a 3-D printer to create lives, rather than merely spinning them. And Lachesis was immediately taken with any number of Rube Goldberg-esque measuring devices involving chutes and troughs and scoops and bins and rolling parts that bounce and glide  – the middle sister always had been a bit of a tinkerer.

And as for Atropos, herself? Somewhat ironically, the Unturnable had become enamored with the turning hands of clocks. A clock for each of her charges, each of her targets, every living soul, with the correct allotment (as proscribed by Lachesis and created by Clotho) pre-programmed into the perfect number of ticks and tocks or bleeps or blinks (some of the clocks were digital).

They didn’t chime hours, these clocks, but showed how a thread would be snipped. The Shears were merely a symbol now – there were so many other Ways in the world.  Look at that one, it’s got lots of time left before the hours wind down to Doesn’t Wake Up, or that one over there, just a few minutes left before it chimes Old Age.

But then there are the more ominous clocks, the ones with darker Ways. Those are the lives that are tortured and broken. Some are sad, some are angry, some have been harmed, some wish to cause harm. Some wish to take other lives with them when they go, some wish only for their own endings.

And Atropos is the Clock Watcher who sees them all.

Tick, tock, it’s half an hour ’til Poison.

Tick, tock, it’s a quarter to Gun.

They call her the Unturnable, but some clocks, she wishes she could turn back.

Wind and Water

0711 - The Wave

He’d been reluctant to bring her to the farm. The prairie was so far from the ocean she loved and confining her to a landlocked life seemed somehow cruel.

The night before they left California, she took him to Half Moon Bay. She stripped off her clothes and while he watched, she stepped into the freezing Pacific.

He was half-convinced she’d be eaten by a shark – a surfer had been attacked just a few days before.

He was worried the undertow would claim her, and their marriage would be over before it had really begun.

But after fifteen minutes she’d come walking back out of the frothy, foamy waves, her skin glowing in the light of the full moon. He’d tried to wrap her in the thick towel they’d brought, but she’d demurred.

“Hold this, please?” she requested, drawing a blue glass bottle from her beach bag.

He did, and she squeezed the saltwater from her dark hair into the waiting vessel.

Then she’d wrapped the towel around them both and pushed him onto the scratchy, wool blanket she’d inherited from her grandfather. “He was a sea captain,” she’d told him once. “He spoke the language of the wind and the waves.”

But in that moment, the only wind was a balmy one blowing across the beach, and the only waves he cared about weren’t the ones crashing a few yards away, but the ones he was riding as she rode him.

* * *

She’d adapted to prairie life more easily than he’d expected. She had a green thumb and her tomatoes won raves at the county fair. So did her strawberry-rhubarb pies. “I never knew,” she told him, “what they meant when they talked about ‘pie plant’ in the Little House books until I came here. To think it was only ever rhubarb!”

At night they’d light citronella candles and sit on the porch and watch the stars wheel around in the sky. Well, she’d watch the stars. He’d watch the wind as it ruffled her hair and her skirts.

The wind was a constant presence on the prairie. He’d warned her about it, told her that in the old days, before electrical hum and technology drowned the sound and provided distractions, people literally went mad from the never-ceasing wind.

But she’d just laughed and teased the nape of his neck. “I like the wind,” she said. “If I close my eyes, it sounds like the ocean.”

* * *

For the most part, their life was happy, but sometimes, he caught her staring at her blue bottle of ocean water, and he knew that a part of her was still in California. He might be her husband, but the ocean was her lover, and always would be.

He asked if she wanted to move back, and she refused.

“This is our home,” she said. “I like it here.”

So, they got a dog, and they added a room for her to write in and a room for him to build model trains in and a room they might, one day, give over to a child.

The day the digital stick blinked PREGNANT, he came home to strawberry-rhubarb pie and homemade black bean chili and cornbread with fresh honey butter, and they went to the soft grass  in the back yard and made love under the stars with the warm wind washing over them, and the stars smiling down.

The day she started cramping and bleeding, the day they knew that room would never be a child’s room, the wind had never been so fierce. He begged and pleaded with her to let him take her to the emergency room, but she’d seen the tiny fetal mass go down the toilet… a lima bean and a splash of blood and said there was nothing emergent about it.

She clutched her blue bottle and wept, and he wrapped himself around her, and wept as well.

* * *

He heard the shatter of glass and went to check on her, expecting that she’d dropped a glass in the middle of the night (she never would turn the lights on when she went to get water). But it wasn’t a glass.

She was standing on the front porch with the door wide open, and the fragments of her blue bottle at her feet.

He heard a rushing sound, but  it wasn’t the wind he was accustomed to.

Rather, it was a wall of water – a giant wave – rushing toward them.

“I would have taken you back to the sea,” he told her.”

“I know,” she said. “But it’s too late. The sea is coming to take me back to it.”


Trouble Bass

0705 - Trouble BassFor years, the house had been rumored to be haunted. It was the one that always seemed neglected. It wasn’t tall or imposing – just a post-war bungalow, like half the houses in the neighborhood, but there was something off about it. The grass was always a touch too long, the shingles too shabby, the windows… when you walked by at dusk or after, it was as if there was something watching from behind them.

Kids dared each other to climb the porch steps and knock on the door on Halloween. The light was always on, its bare bulb illuminating the peeling paint of the screen door and the rusty hinge that kept it mostly shut.

But no one ever took the challenge.

Still, if a soul was brave enough to slow their steps of an evening, they’d have heard sounds from within the old house that might have changed their minds. For after dark, there were warm lights behind those watching windows, and if the wind was just right, a person who paid attention could catch the sound of old jazz – acoustic jazz – seeping out from the cracks in the floorboards and the gaps in the siding.

The bassline was always most prominent.

When Sherry and her family moved into the house next door, that bass was the first thing she heard. Her bedroom window overlooked the neighboring back yard, and she could see a covered patio lined with colored Christmas lights, and smell the sweet aroma of pipe tobacco.

Often, she could hear men talking and laughing. She could tell by their voices, their accents, the way they spoke, that they were black, that they were older, that they were from the South, and that they were musicians, but she could never discern specific words. When the laughter stopped, the music would begin.

So many nights, Sherry would lose herself in that music, letting it distract her from the sounds of her parents fighting downstairs, or, later, from the sound of her mother crying in frustration and desperation, after her father had stormed out yet again, or come home drunk and violent, or finally left forever.

Sometimes, Sherry was half convinced her unseen neighbor and his friends played extra-loud on the really bad nights, just for her.

The music went on all through her middle- and high school years. She always meant to go and knock on the door, bring a batch of cookies (everyone liked cookies, right? And she was a decent baker) and thank him (she was certain it was a him) for the music.

But she never did.

One late-autumn weekend, home from college for the traditional doing of the masses of laundry on Mom’s dime, Sherry sensed a change in the old house.

Sure, it had always been a little bit raggedy, but now, the windows felt empty, the grass was too tall, and that night, there was no talking, no laughter… no music.

The next morning, she layered herself in turtlenecks and flannel and climbed the three cement steps to the front porch and knocked.

She wasn’t expecting a response.

She was half-certain her neighbor had died, and since she’d never bothered to meet him, no one would have thought to tell her. Or her mother.

But a rustling sound came from within, and a man with white hair and dark, weathered skin, opened the door.

“I’m your neighbor,” Sherry said. “I’m Sherry.”

“‘Bout time you came,” the old man said. “Played for you for so long… never a peep. I knew you’d come if I stopped. We’ve been expecting you.”

“I’m sorry?” Sherry said.

“Nothin’ to be sorry about. Just follow me.” And he turned and shuffled back into the house.

Inside, it was just as shabby as outside, but it was also somehow warm and cozy. “That’s Pete,” the old man said. “This here’s Milt, Ron, Joe, and Mona.” He introduced her to a circle of older people, all aged, all with skin and hair like his, all holding instruments. “My hands can’t pluck the strings anymore,” he said. “But yours… yours are young. You can learn.”

“But I’m an economics major,” Sherry protested.

“Economics is what you do. Music is what you are. Today you’re a trouble bass player.”

Trouble bass?”

“Yup. Iff’n you play for nice folks in clubs, it’s double bass, but when you play for the people who need to hear it, need it to keep their hearts whole, it’s trouble bass.”

“So, you were playing for me, all these years?”

“As if you didn’t know.”

“I should have come sooner.”

“Nope. You came when you were ready. Like I said, it’s about time. Now, come here.” And he put his instrument, honey-brown and warm from care and love, in front of Sherry, and helped her place her hands. “Good thing you’re a tall girl.”

For Sherry, learning to play the bass was a sort of homecoming. All the music she’d listened to growing up finally had a place to go, and her fingers – fingers that usually clicked pens or absently tapped on paper – finally had a healthy means of expression.

The old man never shared his name. Only his music. Sherry just called him Mr. Bass Man, or, when she was particularly exasperated with him, Trouble.

Eventually, she took her place – his place – in the circle of players, laughing with them and talking. They shared their histories and she shared hers and it was as if cultures were being bridged in between riffs and licks and improvised melodies.

Trouble breathed his last breath a few days after Sherry graduated.

She was surprised to learn that he had a son – a doctor. He came to close up the house, get it ready to sell. In a romance novel, the two of them would have found a connection, fallen in love, and made music together to honor the old man.

But it wasn’t a romance.

She inherited Trouble’s bass.

His friends dispersed after the funeral.

And Sherry?

Sherry formed a pickup jazz ensemble among the accountants and other eggheads she worked with in the big city. Her condo had a covered patio, and she lined it with fairy lights and invited them to come and eat and drink and laugh and play.

They called themselves Numbers Game.

Cut a few albums.

Played gigs in schools.

Sherry got letters from kids who said their music made them feel safe. That they listened to her walking bass lines when they walked home at night and felt like someone was walking with them. That the music helped put their troubles in a safe place.

She knew that at some point some kid would find her, and she’d have to teach them what she knew.

But until then, Sherry plucked her fingers on the strings of the trouble bass, and found peace.

For years, the house had been rumored to be haunted. It was the one that always seemed neglected. It wasn’t tall or imposing – just a post-war bungalow, like half the houses in the neighborhood, but there was something off about it. The grass was always a touch too long, the shingles too shabby, the windows… when you walked by at dusk or after, it was as if there was something watching from behind them.

But if a person paid attention. If a person really listened… they could hear it, coming from the back yard, or maybe from the kitchen on rainy nights… the sound of a walking bass line, thumping its solidity through the darkened streets, guiding them safely home.


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.

The Boys of Endless Summer


If you follow sports, you know there are “dream teams,” combinations of players who seem unbeatable. In basketball, the first such group to earn the title was the 1992 United States Olympic Team. In hockey, people again point to an Olympic team – the 1980 hockey players. In baseball, people generally point to the 1995 team in Puerto Rico.

But what if there was a team – two teams – that got stuck in the dream, forever.

Sure, Game Three of the 2018 World Series went to 18 innings before the Dodgers finally won, but what if it hadn’t? What if there’s a dimension where the game continued, inning after inning, after inning, to the end of time?

Imagine it… scoreless inning after scoreless inning, twenty, thirty, fifty, a thousand… more.

The pitchers don’t just exhaust their arms, they literally keep lobbing balls until their muscles are bleeding, until their shoulders disintegrate.

And the batters… at some point they turn on each other.

And that’s when the spectators realize: they’re part of the endless ballgame, too. They’re stuck in the same time-stop with the players and the managers and the coaches and the umpires. Realization becomes horror when they recognize one other’s pale faces, bloodshot eyes, more prominent teeth (are those bicuspids elongating, or are their lips receding from dehydration?)

Accepted lore says that zombies are created by other zombies, but if you put enough people in an inescapable location, for long enough time, creation is replaced by critical mass which leads to manifestation.

When the concession stands run out of food, the fans begin to kill and eat each other.

Sam the Sox fan rips off John the Dodgers fan’s head and tosses it over the fence, where it lands on the pitcher’s mound. It seems such a little thing to substitute it for the ball? The eye-sockets make good grips – like the holes in bowling balls. The blood is as effective – and as illegal – as the Vaseline used in old-school spitters (long-since banned).

And maybe, just maybe, the batter will balk  and the game will end.

It’s a curse, of course, the change into zombies, the bloodlust, the days, weeks, months, years, decades, and more of scoreless games.

Somehow, the teams never dwindle too far to call it.

By some sick miracle the crowd never noticeably thins.

But this is no field of dreams; it’s a field of nightmares where the scariest words anyone can hear are, “Play ball!”