Monday, March 31, 2008
“Master, slow down…” Brixa murmured. “She’ll know you’re angered if you barge in!”
Farendorm whirled so sharply that Brixa collided with him, barking his nose against Farendorm’s sash buckles. He stumbled back, eyes wide.
“You think I am angered?” Farendorm demanded. “You think I should be calm? For THIS?” He brandished his left fist in Brixa’s face.
The domovoi watched it wave inches from his chin and then looked back up, black eyes worried. “Farendorm. My lord, please…”
Farendorm spun without replying and continued down the hall. After a moment he heard Brixa follow. He inhaled angrily and turned the corner to the royal apartments. He slowed, exhaling.
“All right. You’re right, as usual. I’ll be calm, Brixa.”
“Do you wish me to carry –”
“No!” Farendorm shouted. He looked down at his fist. “No,” he said in a softer tone. “No, I will carry it.” He swept forward, leaving the domovoi to follow in his wake.
The guards on either side of the door snapped to attention. “Milord Farendorm,” one said.
“Shall we –” the other started.
“No need,” Farendorm snapped and threw open the door. “Meliskinei!” he shouted.
“Father?” came the startled squawk. “I’m not dressed, Father!”
“Throw a robe on!”
She appeared around the side of her dressing screen and saw him. She saw what he held and her eyes widened. “Father…”
He brandished it at her. “What is this? In the ancestral home of my fathers and mothers, how could you bring such defilement here?”
She stared at him, eyes huge in a delicate face. She would be as beautiful as her mother, he reflected. If he let her live that long.
“But Father!” she wailed. “The iPhone is the best one!”
The best… He nearly crushed the white appliance in his fury. “And the pink…what are these, rhinestones?” he grated.
“That’s the bling, Father! Everyone has them! Sheniliei told me –”
“What of your mother?” he interrupted.
“What is this commotion?”
Farendorm froze. The Queen of Light and Fire moved into view from behind him, eyes flinty. No matter what he’d said to his daughter, he’d had no intention of telling his wife of this.
“Hello, dear,” he said casually, turning to meet her gaze. Her beauty reached out and slapped him, same as always. He smiled.
She blinked. He was not without his own beauty, Farendorm reflected smugly. He used it to full effect now and moved to take his wife in his arms.
“I was merely angered from a council meeting,” he said smoothly, handing the appliance to his daughter behind his back. She took it, eyes wide. He glared and she paled, knowing the argument was not over. “Come, love. I will tell you all about it over breakfast.” With a final glance at his daughter, he steered his wife toward their own apartment, Brixa trotting quietly behind.
“Gabriel, what you doing?”
“Nothing Michael. Why do you always have to pester me?”
“I’m not pestering you. That should be obvious by now. You’re drunk again!”
“I am not drunk, dammit! I only had three high-balls!”
“Three! In what, a half hour?”
“Well, you were late.”
“Late! I came here right after work, for the love of Pete! How much time do you think it takes to get here from the office?”
“You make everything so dramatic, Michael. I’ve been here for almost an hour.”
“It’s five-thirty! You’re leaving the office early now?”
“Well, I am the Archangel, Michael.”
Sunday, March 30, 2008
“Please…” she gasped. “Please!” She didn’t know who she was speaking to. The gods themselves seemed to be absent, gone away from this hell of thick air and war.
She heard the Auntie’s voice, up ahead of her. Hoarse with age and smoke, the sounds hardly penetrated pass the beating of Kita’s heartbeat in her ears. Then a gurgled scream burst out and the singing cut off.
“No!” Kita shouted, spitting it into the clouds. She rounded the corner to the bridge and caught herself, barely. Her right shoe skidded forward and the sound of the gravel toppling off into the gorge clicked and clacked, echoing oddly.
The bridge was gone.
Kita sagged to her knees, too stunned yet to cry. Black smoke billowed from the temple, obscuring the running figures. Lumps strewn on the ground in front of the steps that lead to the door drew her eye. At least seven lay dead, cut down within sight of sanctuary. Auntie herself lay, limbs askew, sprawled on the stairs. Her blood seemed black at this distance when seen through the darkening smoke.
Sudden fury surged through Kita and she got to her feet. She positioned herself as Auntie had drilled, shoulder-width apart, weight forward onto the balls of her feet. She gazed into the distance, eyes on the temple but not seeing it. Taking a deep breath, she opened herself to the smoke, the blood, the battle. Girding herself in the sights before her eyes, she began to sing.
“Look! There’s one of them witches, right there!”
The harsh shout speared through the late afternoon and Kita took it. She wove it into her singing, her Weaving gaining power. Her arms started to tingle with the energy of it. Her hair crackled, static electricity developing around her. Her voice trembled at first with her youth and exhaustion. She held steady, as Auntie taught her, mouth open and throat throbbing.
An arrow speared across the gorge toward her, creating a weird vortex in the smoke as it passed. Her right hand raised of its own accord, palm out, and the arrow veered and then dropped into the gorge, falling end over end. The soldier across from her paled visibly.
“Shoot her!” The large man who yelled the command appeared from around the side of the temple, sword drawn and bloody. He strode up to his man angrily. “I said, shoot her!”
The soldier, more terrified of his Captain than her, obediently drew back and fired a second time. It followed its predecessor. The Captain watched it go thoughtfully, then looked up at her.
His gaze raked her, rude and harsh. She ignored it. She kept her mouth open, feet spread. She wracked her brain for every memory of Auntie, cycling through them one by one for songs and sounds to make. Her voice seemed to sing of its own volition now, flowing from her body like blood or water. Her hair floated around her like she was swimming and even her clothing moved as though in some kind of light breeze.
The Captain turned without a word and disappeared behind the temple. He appeared moments later with Shjango, dragging the boy by one arm. The Captain stopped where he was before and met her gaze insolently. He put the point of his sword against Shjango’s throat. A small line of blood appeared.
Something clicked deep within Kita. Her eyes closed and her head fell back. She felt her arms move, open wide, then turn palm up. Her voice poured out of her into the sky. She allowed her eyes to close and abandoned herself to the music, letting it have its way with her. The minute she did, her awareness deepened, as though her eyes had been a distraction.
She seemed to hear a deep drumbeat beneath her and realized it was the heart of the Earth. Throbbing just below audible range, it kept time to her Song. Her hands started to heat and then itched a little. She felt as though her voice were pulled from her by strong, sure hands and knew, suddenly, that Auntie was there with her.
“Hold firm, Kita,” Auntie’s Voice whispered. Other Singers appeared in her hearing, murmuring. Their susurrations comforted her and firmed her resolve.
Kita’s eyes opened and light blinded her. Blinking against it, she realized her hands were twin balls of flame. Moving without conscious thought, she brought her head up and locked her eyes on the Captain’s gaze. Kita smiled.
Flames shot forward from each hand, arcing across the gorge. They hit the Captain in the dead-center of his jerkin and threw him backward six feet. Shjango screamed and threw himself onto his face, crying into the dirt.
Kita turned her gaze to the soldier still standing, slack-jawed and stunned, next to Shjango. The flames licked backwards from the Captain and caught the soldier in a tornado. Kita moved through the village, her flame passing before her like wrath.
When the invaders all lay dead, Kita allowed her hands to close. The flames cut off like a faucet, dying into the Gorge like bright flowers. Kita’s voice faltered and fell silent. She sank to her knees in the dirt, tears on her face.
When the villagers finally got across the Gorge to retrieve her, they found her in that same position, hands palm-up on her knees. They carried her back to her hut and celebrated.
Some Songs are borne of light and life. Some come of anger. A few come of the desperation of a people, faced with sure extinction. On that day, in the small village next to the mighty Gorge, an old Singer is killed, and a new Singer is born.
“Calm yourself, Lars. It’s not seemly to get so excited. It’s a beautiful morning,” Elder Wilhelm Yoder soothed. “Look there. You see how the trees form a line like they are walking to market?”
“Yes,” he sighed, “I see them.” He clucked at Mila and Kesta to hurry up. The two black mares obligingly moved into a light trot, their unshod hooves making soft ‘clops’ on the pavement.
The road was only two lanes. He and Wilhelm drove in the right-hand one. The English in this land drove on the right, but in their home country drove on the left. It numbered among the many things Lars didn’t understand. To the right of the white line separating the road, the ugly hedgerows began. Nearly waist-high and wide to the depth of his forearm, trees had been planted just beyond them, spaced evenly like in an orchard. But this close to the exhaust fumes of automobiles, the trees would be useless for produce. Another hedgerow started just after the trees, like a fence, and then the woods began.
“Are those Mr. Madden’s woods too?” Lars demanded, the thought popping unbidden to his mind.
“Mmm,” Wilhelm responded. “I do not know. Why is it you ask?”
Lars blushed and looked away. “Curiosity only, Elder.”
“We Amish are a curious people,” Wilhelm said softly.
After a moment, Lars realized he was teasing. “Forgive me, Elder. I feel out of sorts this morning.”
“And why is that, young Lars?”
“It’s Rebecca!” he burst out. “Viktor Sauder gave her flowers at the Meeting. Flowers!”
“It is Easter, my son,” Wilhelm said quietly. Then, “Are you out of sorts because you neglected to bring any?”
Lars shot a look at the Elder and found himself regarded by calm, age-filmed blue eyes. “Yes,” he said miserably and looked back at the road. “What if she chooses Viktor?”
“If you neglect to bring her any gifts, perhaps she will,” Wilhelm said gently. When Lars whirled to retort, he held up a hand. “I said ‘if,’ my son. ‘If.’ We go to market after Mr. Madden’s delivery.”
Lars stopped. That thought had not occurred to him. “I brought candles to barter,” he noted thoughtfully.
“Perhaps you should barter with Mrs. Mills, young Lars. She makes such pretty hair ties.”
When Lars met Wilhelm’s gaze, he found the old man twinkling at him. “Do you approve of the match?” Lars asked, greatly bold.
“I do, my son.” He patted Lars’s knee. “But first, to business. We have much work to do, and we are missing the scenery.”
Lars grinned and turned back to the road. The sun, not up yet, provided enough light that the woods were cast into bluish shadows. “Aren’t the hedges rather attractive in this light?” he asked the Elder.
Elder Wilhelm just smiled and settled deeper into his seat.
Saturday, March 29, 2008
“We believe so, yes,” Captain Kenning confirmed.
Sage pulled one from the stack gingerly, holding it by the corner. “This one…” she mused. She set it down next to the stack.
Lieutenant Bissel retrieved it, glanced once, and passed it to the Captain.
“Mmm,” Kenning responded. “New York.”
“Sorry?” Sage asked, looking up.
“New York,” he repeated, flipping it around so she could see. “The Norman heist.”
Her eyes widened. “My goodness.”
“So anything you could tell us would help, Miss Zelyozni.”
“Zelyoni,” she corrected. “Mrs.”
Kenning smiled, showing more teeth than usual. “Apologies.”
She thumbed through the stack again. “I’m very sorry, gentlemen. That’s all I can do.”
“Thank you for your time, ma’am,” Kenning drawled.
Sage stood. “Please call if you find anything else.”
“We will,” Kenning agreed, or threatened. It wasn’t clear from his tone.
Sage wound her way through the cluttered precinct, following the Lieutenant. Late afternoon sun shone in the windows and a cacophony of voices, telephones ringing, and printers going all at once threatened to give her a headache.
Lieutenant Bissel glanced back and saw her expression. “It’s loud,” he apologized.
“It’s energetic,” she returned with a shrug.
The remark seemed to please him and he smiled. In the lobby, he handed her a business card. “My name’s William. Call me if you think of anything else.” His fingers brushed hers as she took the card.
She smiled slightly and moved forward, out of the station. Once clear, she turned left and navigated around to the subway entrance a couple blocks away. She deposited the wig and yellowish contacts in the trash. The contacts looked good with her blue eyes, but they itched. Sage disappeared and Esmerelda Verde shook out her heavy mass of black hair. Esmerelda boarded the Green Line headed back into the heart of the art district.
She smirked. The police still knew nothing. Well, they knew the thief Jaguaro was a woman. But fully half the pictures they’d made Sage sit through weren’t even her. Esmerelda smiled. Tonight, she would torch the building housing ‘Sage Zelyoni Gallery’ and stop at the museum.
Before morning, the Russian Jades would be hers.
The subway rattled on, oblivious.
Friday, March 28, 2008
“Janie, you should eat something.”
“Mamma, don’t call me Janie. I’m not five!”
You know that sigh moms get when they’re pulling their patience from somewhere only angels live? Yeah. That’s the sigh she gave me. “Janice, you need to eat.” The serious tone of voice came out.
“I’m not hungry, mamma.”
“I know, baby. I know.”
She smelled good, like freshly baked pie and flowers. The skin on her arms was soft as she held me, but I could feel the age in her bones. My crying didn’t seem to faze her.
“I’m tired, Mamma.”
She laid her head on top of mine. “I know.”
Sounds and lights and color. That’s all I remember. The sounds don’t make any sense in my memory, just a jumble missing any context. Disconnected, like on an amusement park ride. I don’t recall the impact. We were just moving, and then we weren’t. They say your life passes before your eyes when these things happen. ‘These things,’ nice and sanitized. ‘These things happen,’ they say, like that’s supposed to make it okay.
It was Thursday. That much I remembered. Jonie had ballet class and John’s plane arrived early, so I took her with me to pick him up. ‘Triple J,’ John called us, or his ‘J and the Jayettes,’ like we were some kind of rock band. Jonie loved it.
Nine-eleven came and went and life went back to being life. I can’t really say ‘normal,’ because the country changed after that. I changed. Jonie’s only six. She didn’t change, she wasn’t born yet. My baby knows how to say terrorist.
How do you pick up the pieces of your life after that? The ballet practice that will never come. They said, God, that if I wrote it down, You would answer. How? I only lost my left leg. They lost everything. My Jays, and the rest. The truck bomb got fifty-two people in one shot, and they say it was driven by a woman.
Was she missing when she left that day? Did her family look for her, frantic with worry? Or did they console each other, shake their heads, and say, ‘these things happen?’
I slipped the little guy out of his home, removed the gold pen from his little clawed hands and gave him a popsicle stick to play with instead. I put the purse back and went over to the van.
“Got another one, Luther,” I called.
“Be right out!” he yelled back.
I sighed and got in the front, the ferret in my lap. His tail was flipping back and forth and he pounced on one of the buttons of my jacket.
The radio crackled. “Hey Reece, you on?”
I picked it up and thumbed the talk button. “Yeah, Miller, what’s up?”
“You guys done with the mall yet? I’ve got another call.”
“Hey Luther, you about ready?”
He grunted and I heard a cage door close and latch. “Yeah!” He squeezed his bulk through the door between the cab and the back and got into the driver’s seat. “Oh. You need another cage?” he asked, seeing my burden.
“Yeah, I guess. He’s cute though.”
“Guys?” Miller asked.
“Oh, sorry Miller. Yeah, we’re about done. What do you need?”
“Possible puppy mill about an hour from your location. Local control called us, they don’t have a truck free.”
I met Luther’s shocked gaze and thumbed the radio. “Yeah. Send it to my blackberry; we’ll leave in five.”
Luther reached around for a cat carrier we had behind the seat and I lifted my little friend into it. He clutched the popsicle stick in his paws but wriggled around, sniffing everything. The minute I let him go, he tried to come back out again.
“Oh no, old son, in you go,” I murmured, pushing him back. I latched the door and slid the carrier back against the side of the van where it wouldn’t move around much.
My blackberry vibrated. I pulled it out and looked at the directions. “Just get on the freeway westbound from here,” I told Luther. “Take it for about twenty miles and then a bunch of local streets. This place is kind of hidden.”
Luther started the van with a rumble. One of the cats we had in the back started meowing again, piercing and lonely. I sighed and shut the door to the back.
“Four ferrets and a puppy mill,” Luther sighed, pulling into traffic. “It’s a banner day.”
I dozed against the door until our exit.
“Hey, Reece. We’re here,” Luther woke me.
I rubbed my eyes. “Take a left at the end of the on-ramp.”
I pulled out the blackberry and directed him through the suburban sprawl. We ended up on a lonely road beyond the housing complexes, bounded on one side by a cornfield and the other by a cow pasture with four or five scrawny cows. We saw the rotating red lights up ahead.
“They brought the van for this?” Luther blurted, seeing the big incident-control vehicle beside the road.
I laughed. “Must be nice to have such a quiet neighborhood,” I said and froze. As we pulled past the van, the ambulance started its siren and pulled out in a spray of gravel. “What the hell?”
A big policeman with a budding paunch and no-nonsense expression flagged us to one side and Luther pulled over, rolling his window down. “Luther Foxglove and Reece Martin, Greater Metro Anti-Cruelty,” Luther told him.
The big man studied us. “See some I.D.?”
I pulled mine out and handed it to Luther, who handed both to the policeman. He grunted and handed them back. “I’m Sergeant Black. We’ll need you in a minute,” he said and turned away.
“Sir?” Luther called softly. “How bad is it?”
Black stopped but didn’t turn. “Bad,” he finally snapped, and kept walking.
Luther turned to stare at me and I swallowed. It was a puppy mill! How bad could it be?
We were finally allowed to get out of the van. The birds chirped, delirious with Spring. The breeze touched my hair, bringing a fresh smell of wet earth and growing things. It didn’t help to settle my tension. I grabbed two of the cages and Luther did the same, and we followed the silent Sergeant Black toward the big, white building just off the main road.
The smell started when we were still ten feet from the building. By the time we got to the door, I wanted to go home.
“Hey, Reece?” Luther said to me as we carried the fourth set of cages out of the building.
“Next time Miller calls, don’t get it, okay?”
I snorted. “Yeah.”
It took us three more trips to get them all out. Luther and I didn’t speak when we got into the van.
I reached around to the cat carrier and let the little guy out of his cage. He attacked my button again and I opened my jacket. He curled up on my stomach and fell asleep, one paw still holding the popsicle stick.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
The others laughed. Becca stepped forward and gently pried the little lizard’s teeth off Bob’s finger and deposited it, wriggling, into a specimen pouch.
“That’s the last one,” Professor Parker said. “Let get back to the truck.”
Becca, Bob and Verne all nodded. Linda retrieved the specimens. Bob picked up the food pack and the others got their respective backpacks.
“Good show, guys. This is probably the last trip we’ll take out here before end-of-term,” Parker complimented.
A sharp report startled them. Becca looked toward the trees and saw a flash of color. Someone in a pair of black pants and red t-shirt was just beyond the tree line.
“Get back!” Parker snapped. “Behind the van. Now!”
“Verne!” Linda shouted.
Verne staggered and went to one knee, a crimson stain growing above his belt on the left side.
“Shit,” Parker snapped. “Go! Goddamit, go!” He swept his pack off and caught Verne before he fell. Parker hefted Verne into his arms to run behind the van.
Becca crouched almost under the bumper, shaking with reaction. Parker and Bob, who both knew CPR and first aid, muttered commands back and forth while Bob ripped through the first-aid kit. Parker pulled up Verne’s shirt to reveal a surprisingly small hole. There was a lot of blood. Becca swallowed hard and blinked away tears.
“This is Linda Kincaid.”
Becca jumped, eyes flying to Linda’s face. Her black hair was swept back behind her ears and she held a mobile to her ear with one hand, white from tension.
“I am a senior at Forest University. We’re on a field trip with Professor James Parker. One of our students has been shot.” She listened, nodding, and answered several rapid-fire questions. She hung up and looked at Parker. “They can get a helicopter to us in about ten minutes, there’s one at the Ranger Station for Search and Rescue. They’ll have police with them.”
Another loud gunshot made them all jump.
“Do we need to move?” Becca demanded, voice higher than usual.
Parker and Bob stared at each other. Bob shrugged. “I don’t know, Professor. If they move out of the trees, we’re sitting ducks.”
Parker leaned down and peeked under the van at the woods. “I can’t… wait. I see one of them now. Red t-shirt.”
“I saw him before,” Becca told him.
Parker glanced at her. “Do you know if he’s the one shooting?”
She stared at him, heart pounding. “I don’t know. I just saw a flash of color…”
Parker’s eyes softened. “Becca, it’s okay,” he said gently. “Bob was in the military, and I used to be an Army medic. We’re used to this. I don’t expect you to know what you’re doing.”
“Is Verne going to be okay?” she asked, voice hoarse.
Parker looked down at Verne, who had passed out against Bob’s legs. “I think so. It’s a clean wound and missed anything vital.”
A ‘fump, fump’ sound intruded on Becca’s attention and she looked around wildly.
“It’s the helicopter, Bec,” Linda said softly. “Look.” She pointed behind them to a brown and green helicopter sweeping up the valley, low to the trees. It came on, incredibly fast, and zoomed over to swing in a tight circle around their van and the trees where the red-shirted man hid.
“This is the California State Police,” a man’s voice boomed from the helicopter. “Place your weapons on the ground and lace your hands overhead.”
A sharp gunshot sounded from the trees, muffled by the noise of the helicopter. A bass boom responded and wood splintered. Becca screamed.
“This is the only warning you will receive,” the voice intoned. “Weapons down, now!”
There was a pregnant pause, filled by the steady ‘fump, fump’ of the helicopter blades.
“Look!” Bob hissed, pointing.
The man in the red t-shirt stumbled out from between two pines, fingers laced on top of his head. He kneeled down about ten feet in front of the trees in clear sight of the helicopter. After several moments, two others came out, both in blue jeans and white t-shirts. One was limping.
The helicopter appeared to step backward and then dropped to land, surprisingly gently, on the open ground between the men and their van. Becca’s hands tingled and she felt a rushing in her head from adrenaline.
Two well-muscled men in orange coveralls raced over to them, a stretcher held between them. They skidded to a stop next to Verne and bundled him onto it, strapping him in. Bob identified himself and ran in a crouch back to the helicopter with the two men.
After several more minutes passed, one of the taller policemen made his way over to them. He grinned widely when he saw the Professor.
“Jimmy!” he boomed. Becca recognized the voice from the helicopter.
“Trevor?” Parker echoed in surprise. “What the hell are you doing all the way up here? I thought you were at Yosemite!”
“I was. Got transferred this week, haven’t had time to call you.” His face darkened and he glanced back at the men being handcuffed. “What the hell happened?”
“I have no idea,” Parker answered. “We’re doing our last collection for the term. They just started shooting. We have no idea who they are.”
Trevor looked back, eyebrows raised. “Seriously?”
Trevor chuckled. “We’ve been trying to find these guys for two months. Run a drug ring up here. Looks like a deal went bad. You’re likely to get a reward, they’re wanted real bad.”
Parker looked startled. “You’re kidding!”
“Nope,” Trevor answered. “Good job, all of you.”
Linda smiled weakly. “Hey Professor. Is this gonna be on the final?”
They all laughed, some of the tension easing. Becca got into the van gratefully, looking forward to going back to school and to see how Verne was doing. She watched the helicopter lift off, Verne hidden inside. It swept from sight, the wind of its passage blowing the branches around wildly.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
My Thursday Thirteen...
4 - Chicago Botanic Garden
5 - The Field Museum
6 - The Sears Tower
7 - The John Hancock Building
8 - A Boat Tour: Mercury or Sea Dog Speed Ferry
9 - Shedd Aquarium
To arrange a tour of these and other fine locations, please contact Noony and your local travel agent. We'll see you here! (That's an order, luv!)
The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in other's comments. It's easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!Leave your link in a comment, and I'll link back to you here:
The big man with the fluffy white hair shook his head, mane bouncing. “I don’t know how you do it, Farmer Brown.”
Farmer Brett Brown shrugged, and smiled at Bessie. “I don’t either, Mr. Vice President. But our lady cows have the latest in technology.”
Mr. Vice President, who Bessie knew was called Dick Cheney, laughed. “Technology can solve many problems! What are you using?”
“Moocrosoft Barn Door, sir. Hot off the press. It’s a lot better than Moocrosoft Pasture. Pasture was too slow and prone to weeds.”
One of the men in black suits stepped up to Mr. Vice President and whispered something. “Yes, Charlie. Thank you,” Mr. Vice President said. He turned to Farmer Brown. “What about the Democratic National Committee? They’re not going to sit still while we create a grass-roots campaign you know.”
Farmer Brown smirked. “We’ve got that under control, sir. Let me introduce you to the Republicans’ latest ally.” He turned and led the way out of the barn.
Bessie stepped through her gate to the outside paddock and walked along beside the two men, the knot of men in black suits hanging back a bit. They walked down the dirt road and stopped at a small wooden building with wire mesh over its windows.
“This is the latest. My son Bobby thought it up, sir. It’s called Project Foxtrot.”
Mr. Vice President bent and squinted through the window. All of a sudden he shouted and jumped back. The men in black suits came running up, guns drawn, and Mr. Vice President waved them off. “It’s all right, boys. It’s all right. False alarm!”
They stumbled to a stop, appearing to Bessie to be faintly disappointed. Farmer Brown bent and coo’d at the occupant of the enclosure. He looked up at Mr. Vice President. “Her name is Hillary. Isn’t she great, sir?”
“She’s … um,” Mr. Vice President hedged.
Farmer Brown straightened, eyes understanding. “You don’t see it yet, sir. She’s a fox. The best one in the county. Steals more chickens than any four foxes you ever saw.”
Mr. Vice President’s eyebrows came up, impressed. “You don’t say!”
“She’s perfect. Mr. Dean has filled the Democratic National Committee with what he thinks is the latest competition to our girls.” Farmer Brown grinned and winked at Bessie. She winked back. He stared a little and then turned back to Mr. Vice President. “You see, sir, they got a shipment from Germany, sir. But their girls aren’t nearly as good as mine, see. Apples to oranges, you ask me.”
“Farmer Brown, I don’t follow you,” Mr. Vice President admitted.
“Chickens, Mr. Vice President. They’ve hired German chickens to handle their national policy!” He chortled gleefully. “We’ll have ‘em snowed under in no time! My girls are faster any day, and twice on Sunday!”
“Faster?” Mr. Vice President wondered.
Farmer Brown beamed at him. “Yes, sir! They only use the hunt and peck method, see.”
Mr. Vice President’s eyes widened, and he glanced down at Hillary. “You don’t say,” he murmured.
“So,” Farmer Brown started. “What do you say to some of Mrs. Brown’s famous cherry pie?”
Bessie watched the two men, followed by the hoard of men in black suits, wander slowly back up to the farmhouse.
“Okay, girls,” she said. “Let’s get back to work!”
“Did you see this?” Martin asked.
“See what?” Sal responded, not looking up from his laptop.
“This letter,” Martin answered in a sing-song voice, flapping it back and forth in the air.
“Dude. I’m under deadline!” Sal snapped.
“Fine, fine,” Martin said airily, not surprised at Sal’s waspishness. “Princess.”
Martin walked into the kitchen. “I’m gonna start dinner, okay babe?” he called back.
“Whatever. Yeah. Sounds fine,” Sal agreed absently.
“I’m going to cook your cat,” Martin added.
“Yeah, okay, whatever,” Sal muttered.
Martin smiled to himself and sat down at the kitchen table. He used the letter opener to slit the heavy paper and slid the letter out.
Dear Mr. Martin McAllister,
Schwartz, Greene, McAllister and Stone wishes to inform you that your Uncle Harrison McAllister named you in his will, executed 5th March 2008 in New York City. A sum has been placed on hold for you at the Bank of New York in the numbered account, #---79Zyy48, with the enclosed password.
Please respond soonest as to when you can stop by our offices to collect your Uncle's remaining possessions.
Mr. Johnstone Bartholomew Greene
Martin sat back in his chair feeling like he’d been punched. He had an uncle in New York? He glanced at the paper again. An Uncle who was a lawyer? Who’d left him money?
He set the paper on the table and started dinner, lost in thought. Sal wandered in a little later and picked it up to read. “Hmm. We could go this weekend,” he said thoughtfully.
Martin turned around, stirring the stew one-handed. “Go where?”
“New York,” Sal said like it was obvious. “When will dinner be ready?”
“Sal, are you serious? We can’t just go to New York!”
Sal cocked his head. “Why not? It’s only an hour or two to drive.”
“I know how long it takes,” Martin snapped, exasperated.
Sal shrugged. “There you go then.” He pulled a diet soda out of the fridge and went back to his computer, muttering about his work.
Sal wouldn’t discuss the trip any more that night, or the next two days. He just booked them a hotel in Manhattan and told Martin he would do most of the driving since Sal was under deadline.
Saturday morning, Sal got up like nothing was out of the ordinary and got packed.
“Sal. You don’t think this is the least bit odd?” Martin demanded, stuffing some underwear in his overnight bag.
Sal shrugged. “Nope.” He grabbed Martin’s toiletry kit and headed out to the car.
They didn’t talk much on the drive. Sal was buried in his laptop almost the entire way there. Martin pulled into the Valet line at the hotel and stopped. Sal looked up, smiled, and stowed his computer.
“Let’s go, hun,” Sal chirped and got out of the car before Martin could say anything.
Sal checked them in while Martin got the car and luggage taken care of. Rather than having a Bellman take their bags, Sal navigated the cart himself. Martin followed, increasingly grumpy. The elevator opened and Martin froze.
The elevator opened onto a huge private suite. French doors stood about six feet in front of the elevator, opening onto a spacious bedroom. Smack in the center of it stood an enormous king-size bed, with what were obviously silk sheets adorning it and more pillows than the Sultan. Hanging like bunting from the doors was the sign: Schwartz, Greene, McAllister and Stone welcome you to New York.
“Happy birthday, baby,” Sal murmured into Martin’s ear, sending chills up and down his spine. He walked past Martin into the bedroom and maneuvered the cart to one side.
Martin, dumbstruck, got out of the elevator when it started beeping shrilly. The doors shut behind him and he heard it rumble back downstairs.
“Hmm?” Sal rumbled over his shoulder as he rummaged in his bag.
“Sal, what is going on?”
Sal turned and came over to Martin, circling him in his arms. “I just figured you needed some mystery in your life. You are turning forty, and you were moping about it.”
Martin felt himself grin. “So there’s no creepy lawyers, no uncle to go see?”
Sal bent forward. “None at all. No reason to leave the suite. They have,” he brushed his lips against Martin’s, “room service…” He captured Martin’s mouth with his and Martin responded, happier than he’d been in days.
Nick had considered himself a lucky guy, until now. He pressed his hand against his partner’s throat, blood pooling up around his fingers in a warm flood.
“Come on, Sally, hang on, dammit!” He thumbed his radio again. “Sampson, hurry up! I’m gonna lose her!”
“We’re en route!” Sampson’s voice snapped back, the siren sharp in the background. “Just keep pressure on it!”
Nick heard the gurney wheels before he saw the two EMT’s barreling down the gangway. He recognized Pat Mallek in the front, but couldn’t see the second one.
“Hey, Nick,” Pat greeted absently, kneeling by Sally. He moved Nick’s hands, his own gloved ones cool against Nick’s sweaty skin. Nick sat back on his heels.
“Hi, Pat. Thanks for coming.”
“This is my partner, Luiz,” Pat said, nodding sideways, his attention on Sally.
Luiz handed Nick a wet-nap that he used to get the blood off his hands.
“How are things here?” Luiz asked softly, handing things to Pat as he asked for them.
“Tense. Two shooters down, but we’ve still got at least one inside. I can’t tell how many hostages.”
“When’s the Negotiator get here?” Pat asked, proving he’d been paying attention.
“Stuck in traffic on the 80,” Nick muttered.
All three of them ducked. Nick heard the sharp whine of a bullet whizz overhead and frowned. “Get clear, guys. Now.”
“Yup,” Pat snapped, glanced once at Luiz, and then both EMT’s ran in a crouch up the gangway, Sally bouncing a little on the gurney.
Nick drew his backup piece out of his calf holster and crept forward. He pressed himself against the building and peeked. The house across the street glowed an unhealthy orange in the sulfur-colored streetlights. Three storeys tall, the shooters had been using the first floor. No one was sure if the rest of the building was vacant or not. That uncertainty kept the police pinned down.
“Any word on that Negotiator?” Nick asked into his radio, scanning the street for movement.
“No. Nick, you clear?” Nick recognized the voice of Captain Joiner, the ranking officer on the scene.
Nick frowned, tucking himself back into his corner. “No.”
“Well, get clear, God dammit! Why aren’t you in the ambulance?”
“Because I wasn’t shot, Joiner. Keep your shirt on.”
“Do not engage,” Joiner shot back.
Nick didn’t answer. He saw a flash of white moving across the street and concentrated. He thumbed his radio off so a stray bit of sound didn’t give him away. He saw the white again.
It was a teenaged boy. Latino, about sixteen, black hair cut short. He wore a white t-shirt and jeans, no shoes. His nose and one ear were bloody.
Nick thumbed his radio. “I think we have one hostage coming out, South side of the building. Latino male, teenager about sixteen, appears to be injured. Barefoot, heading toward Position Three.”
“We got him,” a different voice answered. Nick recognized Bart Jenkowiac, one of the guys from his own precinct. They’d called in everybody on this one.
Nick saw another person come out of the shadows at the same spot the boy had. This time is was an older woman, graying hair caught up in a bun that was coming out in whisps all over her face.
“Second hostage, same location. Woman, approximate age mid-fifties, navy dress.”
“Got it,” Bart confirmed.
A gunshot sounded from inside the building and Nick saw the flash against the window opposite his position. A body fell half-in, half-out of the balcony door.
“Hello?” a voice called.
“Hold your position, this is the Metro Police,” Nick shouted. “You are covered on four sides. Do not approach with a weapon or you will be shot.”
After a moment, the voice responded. “Okay.”
Nick sighed. Of all the days for traffic… “Do you have a weapon?” he shouted.
“Yes. But I’m not one of them!” the voice shouted. Nick hazarded a guess that the speaker was around twenty, male, and of Latin ancestry based on the slight accent.
“Are any of them still alive?” Nick called.
“I think so, but they’re not awake. My brother and I took care of them. Is my mom okay?”
Nick glanced down the street but couldn’t see the woman. “Yeah!”
“I’m coming out!” he called.
“Slowly!” Nick yelled.
A man in his mid-twenties approached the sliding door and stopped, blinking out at the night. “Are you there?” he called.
“Hands laced on your head. Now!” Nick shouted, aiming center-mass.
The man did it, moving like his left arm pained him. He stepped onto the balcony, still not able to see Nick. “It’s just me and my brother in here,” he said. “The other three are down.”
Three? Nick swallowed. This was looking less and less like a domestic problem and more like a deal gone bad.
“Tell your brother that he should lay on the floor, hands on his head,” Nick instructed. “Officers are going to come in and I don’t want there to be any mistakes.”
He nodded a little wildly. “You want me on the floor too?”
Nick shook his head. “No. I want you right where I can see you.” He paused. “What’s your name?”
“Tomás,” came the answer.
“I’m Nick, Tomás. Are there any other injuries inside?”
“I don’t know,” Tomas answered. “These guys just broke in and started shooting, I don’t know why or if there were any others.”
Nick nodded. He could hear the door splinter from behind Tomás and knew the police finally had it under control.
When they brought Tomás out of the building, Nick came over to the ambulance. “You were very brave today, son,” he said.
“Thank you, sir. I just want to see my mom and little brother.”
Nick nodded. He moved away and pulled his own keys out of his pocket. It could have gone a lot worse tonight. Maybe his luck was turning. He just hoped Sally would be okay. He hit the siren and headed for the hospital, praying.
It’s been thirty-five years since I married her. I know every freckle on her face. They’re like stars, these freckles, you should see them. They’re not white, like stars are, but they’re just as thick as the Milky Way, especially across her nose. Her nose is tiny, sort of pointy, and when she’s tense she gets pimples around the sides of it. (Don’t tell her I said that, she’ll kill me.)
Jana is still the only woman for me. I’m so lucky. She’s upset, though. Her hair is going gray. She went to the Aveda Institute last week and they did a great job. It’s kind of chocolatey now, darker than it was but just as gorgeous. It’s really natural-looking. How they do that, I have no idea. They use all botanical products, so maybe that’s the secret. Nature in a bottle, who knew? It’s longer than it was, too, nearly down her back. It’s really soft. I’m not supposed to tell anyone she had it dyed. Mikey loves to play with it. He’s got a good, strong grip too – you should see her grimace when he grabs hold and yanks! He’s only two but he’s got a hold like a wrestler.
Jenny is already ten – God, can you believe it? She’s gonna be a looker, Dad. What am I going to do? Was it like this with my sisters? I feel like I’ll kill any of these snot-nosed little punks that look at her funny. She just rolls her eyes and says, “Come on, Dad.” I never talked back like that, did I? She’s not into “boys” (she sneers it). She is into horses. Holy cow, I never knew they had so many horse posters! They’re plastered everywhere. I honestly think she’d put them in our room, the boys’ rooms, the kitchen, even the garage. I mean, how many pictures do you need? A horse is a horse. (Don’t say it.)
And Bobby. The middle child. He looks like the oldest! Good Lord, what a pistol! He’s going to be like you, someday, you just wait. He’s already a star on Little League. He’s got me coaching his team now, did Jana tell you? What the hell do I know about baseball? The other coaches help me out but these kids are brutal. They’re worse than guys in a bar! And the parents! They fight about every little thing. “My kid this. My kid that.” It’s enough to make me want to knock their heads together. And that’s just the women! (Don’t tell Jana I said that either.)
I painted the house. We picked the colors together, as a family. It looks good. I didn’t let them pick anything like the gingerbread man’s house, it’s pretty sedate. Kind of a slate gray, with a slate blue on the shutters and stuff. The windows were a pain. They make a new kind of tape, though, that’s easier to take off. Masking wasn’t such a hassle the way it was when you and I did Grandma’s place last summer.
I don’t know what else to tell you.
Jeez, Dad. I really wish I could give you your sight back. Damn the Army. That shrapnel should have been stopped by the armor on your Humvee, but the Army just couldn’t spend the money. You’ll never get to see them the way I do. Captain Wilkins came over yesterday to talk to us and bring cookies the wives made. I wanted to throw them out after he left but Jana wouldn’t let me. Says I’m bitter. I’m not, I’m just pissed off.
But that’s okay, Dad. That’s okay. You just get better. The hospital will help you best they can. I’ll describe them to you, and anything else you want to look at. I love you, Dad. Come home soon, we miss you. I’ll come over and paint your room with a “textured” paint they have now. It’s weird, but cool. You’ll love it.
Jana and the kids and I will come over this weekend, okay, Dad? We’ll bring you some good food. The VA still can’t make food worth a damn. Some things don’t change, huh? But we’ll be there, and Mom too. I’ll pick her up on the way. Just get well, okay?
Sunday, March 23, 2008
His uncle Nikolai was the first out of the door, followed by his lawyer, Mr. Jenkins. Sasha shrank back. He needed to know the outcome, though he had little doubt.
“Get the car,” Nikolai snapped at the lawyer.
“Kolya,” Mr. Jenkins admonished softly. “A continuance isn’t a bad thing, necessarily.”
Nikolai whirled on the black-suited man, face beet red. “If Alexander Mikhailovich succeeds in his suit, there will be nothing. Nothing, do you hear?”
“I know, I know,” Jenkins mollified. “Just calm down. I’ll get the car. Don’t excite yourself.”
Nikolai turned away angrily and Jenkins spoke quietly into a cell phone.
Sasha moved back into the shadows, shaking. A continuance. A continuance! He couldn’t believe it. Silent tears slid almost unnoticed down his cheeks. He did turn toward the bushes, in case anyone was near enough to see.
“See, Father? Maybe it will work,” he whispered. He heard a car door slam and looked over his shoulder.
Nikolai and Mr. Jenkins were getting into a black sedan, the driver a large Black man that Sasha had never seen before. He watched them drive away, still shaking.
It took another fifteen minutes to be able to stop.
He made his way, finally, back to his car. It sat, forlorn among the Mercedes and Porches. He got in, feeling small and insignificant, and dug his mobile phone out of the glove box.
“Celia,” he whispered.
“Sasha?” His girlfriend sounded startled. “Already?” She paused. “Did it go… badly?”
“Continuance.” He managed to spit it out. “Continuance,” he said again, just to hear it. “I heard Uncle talking outside the courthouse.”
“Oh, Sasha! That’s good news!”
“I don’t know when it’s for, though,” Sasha whispered. “Celia, what if…” He couldn’t say it.
“I’ll call. Just give me a moment. I’ll call you back.”
He nodded, then realized she couldn’t hear it. “Okay.” His voice was hoarse.
They hung up. Sasha started the car and threw it into gear. He pulled onto the main drag, tension flowing through his body like poison. He cleared his throat, trying to think. He’d go back to his apartment and… He didn’t know what next.
He pulled into his parking spot and got out. He locked the door and looked around, by reflex checking for anything out of the ordinary. He didn’t live in a very good part of town, but it was all he could afford right now. His father hadn’t liked it, but Sasha had insisted. He wanted to make his own way in the world. He wanted to make it on his own. He hadn’t expected his father to die so soon…
Sudden tears choked him and he blinked furiously. He shouldn’t think about his father. He didn’t see anything out of the ordinary and walked over to the gate in front of the door to the apartment. His keys rattled against the metal and then he was inside.
He was inside the apartment, the door locked and bolted, before Celia called back. “Celia?”
“Sasha.” She didn’t sound very good.
“I… don’t know what to say, Sasha.”
“Just tell me!”
“It’s not a Continuance on the inheritance. They decided already. It’s a Continuance on the payout schedule. The Court wants time to decide whether it should be a lump-sum or a series of payments.”
Sasha fell onto the couch, feeling punched. “What?”
“I’m so sorry, Sasha!”
“It’s okay, Celia,” he murmured. The phone fell from his ear, and he thumbed it off. “It’s okay.” He put the phone on the coffee table, shaking again.
He wanted to pace the floor but couldn’t get up. How had it happened? His uncle had appeared out of nowhere, claiming that his father’s fortune was his. He claimed that Sasha’s grandfather had gifted both sons equally, and that meant that he was the heir before Sasha. Sasha couldn’t afford a lawyer and his uncle’s challenge had gone before the Judge, and now…
“Papa,” he whispered. “Why did you leave me now?” Sasha wished he could figure out what to do, but emotions clouded his thoughts and he slid to the floor, his back against the couch. His eyes fell on the phone.
His fingers were dialing before he could stop himself. It started ringing and his heart began to pound.
“Allo,” the voice answered, heavily Russian.
“Mozhno govorit na Dyedushku,” he said, translating in his head: may I speak to the Grandfather. ‘Forgive me, Papa,’ he added in his head.
There was silence on the other end of the line for a moment. “Who is this?” a new voice demanded.
“Alexander Mikhailovich,” he responded as firmly as he could manage.
“Sasha,” the voice purred. “What can I do for you?”
“I…” Sasha faltered, then swallowed. “I was calling because my Uncle’s challenge succeeded in court today.”
“I see,” the Grandfather said softly. “And you come to me. Your father would not approve, Sashka.”
Sasha flushed. He hated that the Grandfather added the diminutive to his name, like he was a little boy. He kept his temper in check. “Please. I need your help. I can’t challenge it.”
“And what can I do, Sashka?”
“Can you help?”
The Grandfather said nothing further. “What do you want?” Sasha asked, fearing the answer.
“Semyon will be by to pick you up in fifteen minutes, and we will discuss it, Sashka. Be ready.”
Sasha swallowed, second thoughts flooding him. “I’ll be ready,” he said bravely.
The Grandfather laughed. “You’d better be.” He hung up.
Sasha sat, trembling painfully, unable to move for a long time. He checked his watch and, five minutes before Semyon was to be downstairs, he pulled himself to his feet and started downstairs.
“Stay behind me,” Fernando snapped. He caught Adana’s wrist. “It’s not safe here.”
Her eyes flew to his face and she stepped back obediently. “But it’s empty,” she protested softly.
He glanced down at her. “No, mija. It’s not.”
She paled and fell silent. He smiled at her and turned back to the stairs. The door at the top stood closed. He felt the hairs raise on the back of his neck and swallowed. He started up.
Light gleamed from under the door and he put a hand out to slow Adana. “Careful now.”
He could feel her tremble against his arm and wished he could spare her the fear, but they had no choice. The only way to get out was past the so-called ‘soldiers’ upstairs. He cursed her father and brothers, who let her be taken. Now they were dead, killed in the endless street violence.
The door was locked, but he’d come prepared. It had been twenty years since he’d used the skills of a thief, but his fingers remembered the picks like they had never left them behind for a legal life. After a few moments of probing, the lock clicked softly. He opened the door slowly, just a crack, so he could see out.
The kitchen on the other side of the door was harshly lit by a single bulb in the ceiling, its cover long-since broken and forgotten. Dishes stacked in the sink gave off a sour smell, matched by the trash can overflowing in the corner. He heard the television on the other room and the sounds of a football game. Denver vs. Miami. He briefly wondered at the score and nearly laughed at himself.
He slipped out of the doorway, Adana a silent shadow at his back. “Out the back door, quickly. Run straight to the woods. You can find your way from there, right?” he whispered.
She nodded. She looked out the door and then back at him. “You’ll be okay?”
He smiled. “Of course I will. Just go. I’ll be along.”
She nodded and padded over to the door. It was unlocked and she slipped out. He watched her run straight into the woods, her hair streaming behind her in a black curtain. He smiled to himself.
“Hey!” The shout startled him, made him turn.
“Hello, Ricardo,” he purred.
Ricardo blinked. “Fernando?”
“I told you I’d be back to get Adana. You never should have started taking girls, you know. Drugs, fine. I don’t care if you poison yourselves. But you take the daughters of my people and I’ll kill you.”
Ricardo laughed. “Right. You can’t kill anyone, old man. You’re legit now, haven’t fought in twenty years.”
Fernando flipped a knife in an underhanded throw and it thunked with a satisfyingly solid sound into Ricardo’s stomach. Ricardo stumbled and fell to one knee.
Behind him, the others raced into the kitchen and saw Fernando. Paulito was the first through the door, the knife in his hand as long as Fernando’s arm. He dodged a sideways swipe and smashed his fist into Paulito’s face. The younger man crashed into the wall and slid down it, unconscious.
Fernando turned toward the last attacker, a newer member of their gang. He knew the boy’s name was Juan, but that was about it. He’d come from New York and was reputed to be a strong knife fighter.
Fernando felt something impact his stomach and stumbled backward. The sound of the pistol-shot deafened him. Juan fired twice more, the gun jumping in his hand. The look on his face was part horror and part surprise.
“You’ve never killed anyone before, have you?” Fernando sneered as he fell to his knees.
The boy stumbled backwards, dropping the gun. “I…” He trailed off.
Fernando fell onto his stomach, his hands not working to stop him. He landed with his face to one side, staring at the door.
At least Adana had gotten out safely. Fernando felt himself grow cold and the room dimmed. He heard others moving into the room behind him, and someone swore. Then his vision went black.
This story continues, here.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
The Rules: By accepting this Excellent Blog Award, you agree to award it to 10 more people whose blogs you find Excellent Award worthy. You can give it to as many people as you want but please award at least 10. You deserve this! Feel free to recognize blogs that have already received this award.
I would like to pass this award onto the following five blogs. I visit them all on a frequent basis. I haven't been in the blogosphere long enough to find ten that I visit regularly, but I will keep this in mind and update my award when I have a good idea of who else to include.
- Passionate Fiction
Eaton Bennett is a newcomer to the blogging community and is coming on strong. I see big things for her.
- Eden's Eternal
Clever, interesting, and always unexpected, Eden Hail is a writer who sees things in a different light. Check out her stories, you won't regret it.
- Kathleen Oxley Erotica - More Than a Promise
Kathleen Oxley is exciting. A writer of short fiction, she combines a unique worldview with some truly lovely romantic erotica.
- The Elizabethan Collar
Funny, offbeat and honest, Liz manages to find time in her hectic schedule to write and blog.
- Still Unhinged
The name says it all. Goofy and prolific, you won't know what you'll find here but you'll be glad you did.
More will be listed, but this is a nice crunchy list to get you started. Thanks again, Gwen!
Friday, March 21, 2008
They say it was meant to be, but I don’t believe them. God, Dios, is not that capricious. No, it was just a twist of fate that killed my daughter, and I intend to twist it back.
The sun crested the ridgeline as I walked into the valley where the old temple stood. We’ve managed to keep it secret from the Whites, the Gringos with their archaeology and desecration, but the elders say it is only a mater of time. I don’t care. It was enough that for now, I was alone. The temple stood, a silent sentry, its stones moldering into history. Grass and other plants made their home on it, covering it so that it seemed to be nothing more than a mound.
I stepped onto the first stair, and the hair on my arms stirred. There was power there, ancient and restless and, some of it, evil. I wasn’t interested in the evil, just the power. The power to talk to God. If the Priests wouldn’t talk to Him for me, so be it; I’d do it myself. I climbed the temple to the top, my lungs aching and my knees complaining. It wasn’t very large, our temple, hardly half the height of places like Teotihuacan. No one knew if that’s because the valley floor had risen, or this temple was just a smaller one, once part of a network across all of the land the ancients controlled.
The top appeared, the sun now up over the mountains. It shone down, oblivious to the long, long winter that held us in its grasp. I smoothed a spot on the top of the temple, the cloth I’d brought bright against the earth. I laid out the corn cakes, the bit of cheese, and water. Lastly, I pulled out my knife. It’s a good, strong blade. My husband, Jose, bought it for me last year. He would not have agreed with me bringing it here, a good cooking knife, but I had nothing else. I kneeled on the cloth and called out to God.
I drew the blade across my hand. It didn’t hurt right away, so I looked to make sure I broke the skin. As soon as I saw the first drops of blood well up, it stung. I flung them forward, over the side of the temple. They sparkled a little in the sun. I cut my other hand and let the knife fall to the ground next to me, the blood on it seeping into the dirt.
I started to feel dizzy, so I bent to lay my forehead on the blanket, bowing to the sun. As my hands fell to the ground, they slipped off the cloth into the dirt, my blood mingling with the earth. My heartbeat seemed to get louder as I prayed.
I heard my name called. I blinked. My hands bled faster, as though the earth pulled the blood like water out of my body. I couldn’t raise my head.
Jose scrambled up behind me and stumbled to a stop. I think he thought I was dead, but I couldn’t speak to him. There were others with him, I could hear their voices, but they didn’t make sense to me.
“Lourdes?” Jose called to me. He fell to his knees next to me and touched my back, his hands sweaty from climbing. “Can you hear me?”
“She is praying,” one of the Priests, a young man called Juanito, told him. “She has brought all the tools.” His voice sounded approving.
“The knife!” Jose cried. “What has she done?”
“It’s her hands, Jose. Not her wrists. This is not for death, but life.” Juanito knelt nearby, I could hear his robes moving. “It may yet work…”
Jose ignored him and brushed my hair out of my eyes. He pulled me over onto my side to lay against him and then slipped his arms around me, lifting me off the blanket.
“Paco. Get her things, please?” Jose called.
His brother, taller than Jose by several inches and strongly muscled, collected my knife, the food offering and then the blanket.
“Jose,” Paco called softly. “Look.”
Jose caught his breath and crushed me to him. “Lourdes!”
“Jose?” My voice sounded weak. I couldn’t see what he was looking at. I tried to crane my neck, but he held me too tightly.
“Take her back,” Juanito told him quietly. “She’ll be very weak.”
Jose didn’t answer right away. “Lourdes?”
I didn’t have the energy to answer him. The sun seemed brighter, burning down onto my skin like something tangible. Jose turned, casting most of my body into the shadow of his body, and started down. The sun warmed my face, its light making my eyes squeeze shut.
“Lourdes, look,” Jose whispered, squeezing me.
I managed to get my eyes open. We were at the base of the temple now, near the burial grounds. Ana’s grave lay closest to us, since it was the newest.
There, on the newly-turned earth of my daughter’s final resting place, we saw it.
“Spring has come!” Jose cried, his tears dripping onto my face. “You are the new Tia, Lourdes!”
Ana’s grave, barren since we laid her to rest, was covered in a soft ripple of green. The first blooms, small white and lavender flowers, opened their shy faces and turned to worship the sun.
God had given His answer.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
My Thursday Thirteen...
The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in other's comments. It's easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!Leave your link in a comment, and I'll link back to you here:
He ran down the hallway. This was the only danger: that some guard, zealous and careful, would be prowling the halls of the King’s section of the castle, intent on finding a stray servant. Phylar couldn’t be found. He streaked past the stairs that led down to the receiving rooms and on toward the kitchens. Luck was with him; no one was about.
The second stairs were dark. He knew them by touch, padding down each one carefully lest he slip on the slick stone. He opened the door to the covered walkway, the wooden pillars dark and the carvings shadowed. He scanned the nearby rooftops, but no sentries yet walked. It was another half-hour til crow’s call, and he’d timed his escape perfectly.
He sped down the walkway, still shoeless, his sandals held by the laces in one hand. He reached the bottom and paused. The courtyard radiated light from the moon, silver and bright. The inlaid pattern in the stone seemed shadowed, ominous. He bent and slipped the sandals over his feet, lacing them with sure movements. The postern gate was ahead of him, shadowed by the tall hedge. He heard the snort of a horse, outside.
Phylar streaked across the courtyard, his heart pounding. He pulled the keys out of his pocket, found the right one, and unlocked the gate.
“Phylar. You’re late,” the gruff voice greeted him.
“Only by a little, Captain Lorgin. Better that than discovered.”
“Is all in readiness?”
“Yes,” Phylar confirmed. “I left her sleeping in the chamber; the King is unattended.”
Lorgin regarded him with a black eye, his eyebrow ridge shadowing his gaze and making it sinister, threatening. “You betray your lover so easily, then?”
Lorgin flushed. “She’s not my lover. I was captured, I’m a slave like you.”
Lorgin grunted, but didn’t correct him. He didn’t have to, Phylar heard it anyway. He knew what the conscript soldiers thought of him, a too-pretty boy with the eye of the King’s daughter. “Just stay out of the way, Boy,” Lorgin grunted.
Phylar moved to the side, intimidated despite his brave talk. The soldiers were all large men, clad in rough boiled leather and bearing knives and short swords. Only Lorgin had a mount, but one of the lower-ranking soldiers came to take it away. Lorgin nodded to the men behind him and disappeared through the gate. Phylar counted thirty men with him and felt his stomach clench with fear. Despite what he said… He looked up at the windows of the castle, high above where he stood.
He was a slave. Nothing more. He turned away, to run to the village and hide, but something made him stop. A flash of light flared behind him and he turned. A bunting, bright and woven of beautiful lambswool, waved forlornly as it was consumed by fire.
“Wait!” he cried, running forward a step. “You didn’t say you’d burn them…” He stumbled to a stop. A palace guard lay ten feet from him, his throat a bloody mess. Phylar stumbled away, vomiting into the hedge, its rough branches pricking his skin.
He turned in spite of himself to look at where Lorgin disappeared. The screams started and he could hear Jonesh among them, demanding to see the leader, demanding… demanding to know what they’d done with Phylar.
Phylar caught his breath on a sob. She didn’t care about him, she couldn’t. She was a spoiled daughter of kings, used to taking boys from their families as Phylar had been taken. He’d been forced to do her bidding, to father three children on her body. He hated her. He turned to run and couldn’t make himself get even as far as the gate.
Lorgin appeared, dragging someone by the hair. With a start, Phylar recognized Jonesh. He threw her, nose bloodied, to land on the stones in a heap. Her head came up and Phylar met her gaze, felt the shock of recognition as she saw him, realized what he was doing, where he stood. The keys felt cold in his hands, a mute accusation.
“Phylar!” she cried.
Lorgin’s hand cracked sharply across her mouth and she fell flat on the stones at his feet, weeping. “Silence! You will speak when told to, Slave, and at no other time!”
Jonesh looked up at Lorgin, her nose streaming blood. She said nothing, but stared at him with hatred and tears in her eyes. Lorgin ignored her and turned to Phylar. He tossed something and Phylar caught it out of reflex.
“Your payment, Boy. Go and spend it wisely.”
Phylar stared at Jonesh, then looked at Lorgin. “What of her?”
Lorgin laughed. “You care nothing for this whore, you said so yourself. You were nothing more than a slave in her bed, a breeding stallion for the King. What does it matter what we do with her?”
Phylar gaped at him, at a loss for what to say.
“Go, Boy.” Lorgin tossed another bag and it landed at Phylar’s feet. “Take an extra payment and find a real whore to sate yourself.”
Several of Lorgin’s men laughed cruelly. One, standing near Phylar, grabbed Phylar’s arm roughly and dragged him toward the postern gate. A second scooped up the bag that Lorgin had tossed and threw it out of the gate. It slammed shut behind them, the locks sliding home with a sound of finality.
Phylar clutched his bags to his chest and stumbled toward the village, trying to shut out the sound of the screams behind him. A great gout of flame sprang up, lighting the trees around him with an eerie glow. Phylar began to run.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
“Just do it!”
Your skin glows when you’re irritated. It’s cute. I struggle not to smile, but you sigh with exasperation and put your hand down, the eyeliner cocked like a pen.
“Lauren, will you quit it?”
“Haley, how can I? You’re cute when you’re mad!” I know you hate it when I say that, but I can’t resist tweaking you.
You frown at me, but I can see your eyes are twinkling. The little radiations of yellow through the hazel and green are bright today. You have small crow’s feet starting in the corners of your eyes but I think they make you look happy, not old.
“Lauren, if I screw this up…”
“Can’t have that, can we?” I close my eyes obediently.
I can’t look at you anymore, but I can see you in my mind’s eye. Your brown hair is all up in hot rollers. Your skin, the color of clover honey, is soft and radiant, ready for your own makeup. You’ll do it with quick, efficient strokes after you finish mine. Your bra and panties match, a lovely sage green with a whisper of lace. I found them after hours of searching the mall and you wear them today especially for me. You’ve put on your stockings and I grow aroused just thinking about it.
“There,” you say, unaware of my thoughts. I open my eyes to see you studying your handiwork. “Tilt your head.”
You rearrange this or that on my eyelids with feather-light brushes of the eyeliner and shadow sponge. Then you start on my eyebrows. Overcome, I lean forward to catch your bottom lip in my teeth. You squeak, startled. It’s a noise I love to hear from you, though I’m never sure when you’ll make it. I could spend the rest of my life figuring out. You taste like cherry pie and lemon crisp, and your tongue is tantalizing. You finally pull back, laughing.
“We have to get ready, Lauren.”
“Haley, I’d rather stay here and make love.”
You smile. “We have to get ready. The Pastor is going to be here in less than a half hour.”
“Yes, dear. That soon.”
You kiss my nose and attack my other eyebrow. Then it’s on to the cheeks and then my lips. Then comes the gloss. It’s like lubricant, I think, growing more aroused. You smile slightly, now aware of how much I want you. Instead of commenting, you stand up and pause, giving me time to focus on the mounds of your backside right in front of me, and then you stalk away on your high heels. I hadn’t seen you put them on, but you look hot in your underwear and stockings.
“Get dressed, Lauren, please. I don’t want to be late.”
I sigh, but do as you ask. My dress hangs, fluffed and ready. It’s an Easter egg yellow that you picked because you like how it looks with my black hair. My skin, a ‘medium-toned mocha’ you say, looks good next to the paleness of the yellow. I unzip the back and hear you walk up behind me.
“Let me help you,” you whisper.
Your hands on my hips hold me steady. You lean into my back and reach for the dress, your skin warm and silky. You press yourself against me and bend forward, forcing me to lean over. Your hand strokes up my thigh and I start to breathe faster. You slide right past my innermost spots that are aching for you and keep going, around my side and down the front of the leg.
“Lift your leg.”
I do so, and you slip the skirt around my foot. Then your hands slip down my other leg and stop at my knee. I moan but you are relentless, slipping the dress onto my other leg.
“Stand up, honey.” You slip the dress up over the rest of my body, making sure to cup my breasts. You zip the dress closed and then turn me around with your hands on my hips again. You stand there, dressed in your panties, bra, stockings and heels, with nothing else on. I can’t bear it.
“Lauren, we have to go.”
I step forward, bringing our bodies together, and possess your mouth. You groan, inflaming me. Your taste is like ambrosia and I close my eyes, lost in it.
You finally pull away and look at my lips. Then you push me backwards onto the chair. You straddle me, bringing our eyes to the same level. “Now I have to fix your lipstick.”
You ignore any other movements I make until I’m nearly crying with need. Then you kiss my nose. “After we’re married, darling.”
That gets a laugh out of me. You slip off me and dress, your movements sure and authoritative. God, I love the way you move. You apply your own makeup in a fraction of the time you took to do mine and it looks as lovely.
“You guys ready?” Lou calls from the door, not quite opening it.
“Yes,” Haley calls. “Is the pastor here?”
“Just walked in. You guys are on in five. Better hurry, it’s a madhouse.”
We meet each other's gaze, nervous for the first time all morning.
“You ready?” I ask.
You nod, your hair bouncing. The curls are fat and all over your head like a halo.
We head outside.
“There they are!” The cry comes from a knot of reporters standing to one side.
“Lauren!” one calls. “How does it feel to be the first lesbian married in the City of Chicago?”
I look at you, standing next to me in a confection of a dress, and feel myself grin. You echo me. I look back at the reporter. “Fantastic!”
We head into the chapel together, at the head of a crowd of well-wishers.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Brother Guillermo locked the store room door, the iron key cold in his hands. A branch snapped behind him and he turned. His heart pounded against his chest but he saw nothing moving. Twilight oozed through the trees like smoke.
But nothing moved.
He shook his head and stuffed the key in his belt pouch. The rough wool itched his fingers. He set off for the dormitory, his sandals slipping on the rough ground. Spain had not faired well under Franco, that was no secret. But Mother Nature herself seemed to rebel, punishing them with a harsh winter and late spring. The trails all over the monastery were littered with fallen branches and leaves.
Guillermo heard another crunch behind him. “Who’s there?” He swept the gathering darkness, but saw nothing. No one answered him. “Answer me!” he commanded in his best imitation of Father Miguel. Still nothing.
It must have been some animal, disturbed at his passing. Guillermo wished that Raul, at least, had stayed behind. But the young monk nearly danced with excitement at the prospect of seeing the Archbishop in the town square, so Guillermo agreed to stay behind alone to keep an eye on things. Franco’s soldiers hadn’t been seen in three weeks and the rebels in the area wouldn’t bother the monastery.
A branch snapped, this time so close that it seemed loud to him. He whirled, but saw only shadow. Abandoning his dignity, he turned and ran for the dormitory. His breath whistled painfully in his chest and a stitch stabbed his side but still he ran. He stumbled up to the back door and fumbled with the key. He nearly sobbed with desperation as it stuck in the lock. He pushed frantically at it and it finally gave. He fell inside and kicked the door shut.
Guillermo heard a footstep. A heavy tread moved up to the door and tried the handle. Shaking like a leaf, Guillermo got to his feet and slipped his sandals off. He ran quietly for the stairs and went up them two at a time, the stitch in his side forgotten. He threw open the door to the kitchen and slammed it behind him. He tried to still his breathing as he listened, but his heartbeat drowned everything out.
“Our Father, who art in Heaven,” Guillermo prayed. He recited the entire Lord’s Prayer and started on a Hail Mary when he heard it. A footstep on the stair on the other side of the door.
He fell backwards, tripping over his robes, and scrambled out of the kitchen. He ran through the refectory, slamming the door behind him and throwing the bolt. He raced for the stairs and took them two at a time, his knees complaining. At the top, he flashed down the hall, the bedrooms on either side of him appearing like dreams in his peripheral vision. He wrenched open the door to the attic stairs and slammed it shut behind him, fumbling in his pouch for the secondary ring of keys.
By the time he got the correct key out and fitted into the lock, his breathing had calmed enough to listen. He pressed his ear to the door, trembling so hard the rosary tucked into his belt rattled faintly. He had very nearly decided the coast was clear when a footstep sounded in the hall on the other side of the door. He put both feet against the door and set his back against the wall opposite, his arm leaning on the stairs beside him. He stuffed his fist in his mouth to keep from screaming.
The door handle rattled slightly.
“Go away!” Brother Guillermo shouted, his voice much higher than its usual baritone.
The handle moved down, then up. Nothing happened, since Guillermo had locked it, but it happened twice more.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” Guillermo recited under his breath, tears coursing down his cheeks. His body shivered painfully as he said the entire Psalm.
The footsteps paced back and forth outside the door, every so often stopping in front of it. Sometimes the handle would jiggle, sometimes it wouldn’t. Once came a knock, the sound so sudden and sharp that Guillermo cried out.
“Go away!” he yelled, spots in front of his eyes. “Go away…”
The footsteps continued. Back three. Forward three. Stop. Rattle the handle. Pause. Back three. Back another one. Forward three. Pause. Back three. Stop. Forward again. Rattle.
The shout brought him out of a cramped sleep, wedged at the bottom of the attic stairs and the door. His neck burned from the constriction and his right hand fell numb.
“Guillermo!” Raul’s voice sounded panicked.
“Raul?” Guillermo gasped. “Raul!” Guillermo fell as he tried to stand, his left leg asleep. It erupted in pins and needles as he struggled to rise. “Raul! I’m in the attic!”
Raul’s light steps raced up to the door and tried the handle. “It’s locked, Guillermo! Are you okay? Father Miguel! I found him!” Raul’s voice carried, loud even through the door.
Guillermo’s hands couldn’t hold onto the keys they were so slick with sweat. They made an almighty crash when he dropped them.
“Guillermo!” Raul shouted, pounding on the door. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, Raul, calm down. I dropped the keys, is all.” Guillermo found the right key and fitted it in the lock.
Raul nearly fell through the door when he opened it. He flung his arms around Guillermo’s neck and squeezed so tight Guillermo had trouble breathing.
“Raul, calm down!”
“We thought you were dead!”
“What?” Guillermo echoed in shock.
Father Miguel strode up, face grave. “Brother Guillermo. We had feared for your safety.”
Father Miguel pointed. There, clearly outlined on the wood slats of the floor, lay large footprints. They weren’t human.
“What was it?” Raul asked, eyes huge.
“I don’t know,” Guillermo whispered. “I never saw it!”
Monday, March 17, 2008
“Mind if I join you?” an old man’s voice said near my elbow.
“Sure,” I mumbled around a too-large bite of bread. I know it’s rude to talk with your mouth full, but this bread!
I looked over and a wizened little man stood next to me. As our eyes met, I saw a flash of blue, then he blinked and sat. He was short!
“You’re not from round here, are you, Boy?” he asked me after he ordered the same thing I had.
“Not really,” I hedged, not wanting to tell him the whole truth.
“Me neither,” he grunted. “Come here for the bread.”
That startled a laugh out of me. “I could see that.”
He smiled, a brief flash of white in his beard. “Too bad old Sam’s not here,” he commented.
I swallowed my bite of stew. “Old Sam?”
The old man regarded me with his blue-eyed gaze. “Aye. Give ‘im an ale and he’d tell you stories, he would. Seems he went…” he dropped his voice, “travelin’.”
I smiled at the hint and obliged, getting myself an ale too.
“There was this dragon, see,” the old man started. He saw my expression. “Now, don’t be like that. You’re form the White City, you’ve seen things, I’ll wager.”
I blinked. “How –”
“Your coat of arms. Recognized the insignia. Wore it meself, once.” He took another bite of bread. “Now about that dragon…”
The tale he told me was fanciful enough for my daughter Palondril. “That’s quite a story,” I allowed.
“Sam’s got it all written down, you see.”
My heart started to pound. “You’re not serious!”
He twinkled at me and I started to get the impression our encounter wasn’t as casual as he’d let on. “Aye.”
“Could I… could I talk to this Sam?”
His eyes grew sad. “No, more’s the pity. He passed on in his sleep last Spring, he did.”
We drank a toast to Sam.
“I can take you to meet his son, if you’d like,” he offered. “He’s got the book. Might let you see it.” He took another sip of his ale, which though the same size as mine, made his hands seem small in comparison.
“Who are you?” I asked, afire with curiosity. “How did you know I’d be interested in this?”
He shrugged. “You’ve got your father’s eyes.”
I blinked. “What?”
He stuck out his hand. “I’m Peregrin Took. Call me Pippin.”
It all clicked into place and I laughed. “Figures.” I took his hand. “I am Arandorn, son of Aragorn. I bid you greetings from my parents and from Faramir.”
By the time we left the pub early in the wee ours of the morning, he managed to drink nearly every patron under the table. It was an incredible introduction.
Saturday, March 15, 2008
She opened the front door, the key turning with a squeak. She stepped in but slowed. It seemed too quiet, like just after an electrical storm.
The front door closed with a faint click and she shot the deadbolt home. She set her pack down in the foyer and walked into the kitchen. It was empty.
“Mom?” she called.
Molly walked through the kitchen, the oven and stove both cold. The table hadn’t been set for dinner. She entered the hall and froze.
On the baseboard, two black streaks marred the pristine white. It looked like rubber from the tread of boots.
“Mom?” she shouted, starting to get nervous again. Still no answer.
She entered her mother’s room. The bed was pushed to the side, diagonally to the room. The lamp from one of the two bedside tables lay on the floor, its shade askew and the bulb broken. Molly heard the toilet flush.
“Molly, you’re home,” her mother said in a normal tone of voice. The tear-tracks on her face stood out like tire marks.
“Mom, what happened?”
Her mother looked at the bed and tears oozed out of her eyes. “John is drinking again.”
Molly felt rage flood her like some kind of poison, except it didn’t feel lethal, it felt powerful. Her hands balled into fists. “Where is he?” she demanded.
Her mother looked startled by her tone of voice. “Molly!” she admonished.
“Where is he?” Molly repeated.
“I don’t know,” her mother answered, deflating. “I think he might have left.” She sounded dejected.
“He should leave!” Molly shouted.
“That’s not your business!” her mother flared.
Molly didn’t answer, just turned on her heel to find her stepfather. She stalked through her house like a hunter, every nerve tingling. He wasn’t in any of the rooms. She pulled the back door open so violently it wrenched her shoulder, but the pain felt good. It helped clear her head.
He stood in a corner of the garage by the door, trying to open it.
“What the hell are you doing?” Molly screamed, her rage boiling out of her.
John turned. His nose was a bloody mess. “Leaving!” he cried, tears in his voice.
Molly stepped down the short stair into the garage. “What happened to your nose?”
“She hit me,” John answered, yanking at the garage door lock. It gave with a squeal of metal and the door started to raise grudgingly.
“Who hit you?” Molly asked, for a moment totally confused. Then her mind cleared and she knew the answer, even as he said it.
My mother hit him, Molly thought to herself. Her stomach boiled, the acid nearly a living animal inside her, coiled and ready to strike. She trembled, hard shudders that were almost painful.
“Why?” she wanted to know.
“How should I know?” John shouted, digging in his pocket for keys.
“She said you’re drinking again,” Molly accused.
“Well, I’m not. I went to the bar with Mike and Steve, is all. She started screaming at me and we got in a fight.”
Molly whirled, her mind too full of it. She stumbled down the stairs beside the house, down to the patio. She ignored her stepfather’s call, ignored the lights of the house, and moved into the night on autopilot. The anger felt like electricity, that if somebody were to take her picture, they’d see it coruscating around her hair like a plasma ball.
She set off into the woods behind their house, not caring where she went. She just needed to get away.
The house, behind her, glowed its light out into the night, oblivious.