Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Contractual Obligations (Part 1 and 2)

Jan. 21 and 22


I'd fucked it up. After 92 years of diligence it was embarrassing how it finished. It had to end sometime, but I had hoped it would be a little more dignified than my smudging the conjuring circle after I slipped in a puddle of melted snow while making tea.

My head was throbbing and I could recognize Cid's eerily handsome face even blurred. My glasses had fallen off and I absently wondered if they were broken.

"The circle is broken, Lindy," was all he said. But the hairs on my arms stood upright.

When I had first conjured him in my cozy kitchenette, he had been a ball of slithering, spitting wrath. You Shall Know Pain Unlike Anything You Have Ever Experienced. Each word was emphasized just enough to make me aware of the capitalized letters. Sparks flew from his eyes. He put on quite the show of speaking in tongues, throwing flames and having a righteous tantrum. It took forever to get the stink of sulphur out, and I still may lost my security deposit.

But my circles have always been strong. I got top marks for six straight years. I graduated at the top of the class, double majoring in Conjuration and Summoning and Hexology, with minor Advanced Critical Arcane Theory.

Even with all that, I spent nearly a quarter of a century researching this particular binding. I practiced on lesser thralls, perfecting not only my technique but my questions. But the lesser demons knew a lot of dirt. And often times were willing to spill their guts for nothing more than a glass of warm milk and a chocolate chip cookie. Those items were premium in Hell, apparently.

The higher order of demons rubbed elbows with Lucifer and Asmodeus and prior to taking a nose dive from the silver spires of the heaven, knew a thing or two, which made them tricky to bind. There are litanies of names of foolish mages who tried and failed to properly bind those of the higher orders.

Melkin the Elder had a solid binding and had snagged a high-ranking Cherub. The Elder requested limitless power. Which seemed great, until the demon had made the master wizard paranoid - since he had gifted him all this power, couldn't he just take it away? The beast played dumb, until in a fit of pique, Melkin released the binding in order to see if he could beat him. Rather than face the enraged caster, the Cherub hid himself away. Melkin ended up incinerating himself looking for the damn thing.

Imps playing dead until the Apprentice stepped into the circle only to be disemboweled; a Sorceress who is still possessed and harrying the people of a far off kingdom after her mother promised the devil she had bound the first thing to greet her upon returning home - thinking it would be her faithful dog, she didn't think much of it.

One witch lost her soul when she failed to specify that the demon wasn't allowed to kill her family. A warlock bit it when he was driven to suicide after not putting in an anti-vexation and insanity clause. One entire school was swallowed up by the earth - we're not entirely sure what that contract said, but we imagine the irony fit the bill.

No matter how well you cross your Ts and dot your Is, it turns out bad. But it never really stops anyone. I thought I was better than that - and I was.

Until I wasn't. Until I had to shovel the walk to the propane guy could deliver and a bit of snow melted in my kitchen.

The first decade had been the worst. Cid probed every whorl in the circle, and tested every rune to its limit. He hissed with increasing frustration. Nothing worked.

Once he realized he couldn't force his way out he sat in the middle of the circle and stared at me with his odd, goat-like eyes.

The contract was something that everyone tried their best. But even practitioners of the arcane arts are ultimately human. I brought mine to the best law firm in the country and paid through the nose to have it gone over with a fine tooth comb. Then I brought it to the Inquisitors to make sure I hadn't missed any other divine loopholes. I checked it and double checked it and quadruple checked it.

"Before we get down to business, you'll note that the circle places you firmly in my kitchenette. You have access to the island. I made you scones and there's fresh tea."

Cid took the scones and ground them into the tiled floor and flung the tea against the edge of the circle where it vaporized upon impact. I expected as much. Most of the big guys stayed in hell on principle.

"I'll thank you not to throw around my good china. Now, if you're quite finished, here," I handed over the contract. He took it with an audible sigh and began flipping through it. After the first few pages his eyes narrowed. Suddenly he laughed and then looked at me.

"Are you serious?"

"Oh, yes. Quite serious."

The laugher slowly drained from he eyes and he just stared at me for what seemed like an age. I simply stared back and he blinked and then looked at the contract again.

"I need a pen."

"There's a pen on the counter," I said. "There's also another batch of scones in the oven. Try not drop them this time."

And that had been not quite a century ago. And we'd both worked quite hard keeping up our ends of the bargain. He supplied me with lead upon lead. I supplied him with any book he asked for and home cooked meals. He was particularly fond of bacon and cheese scrambles.

Each day I would reinvigorate the wards on the circle. I made sure to have an exorcist visit once a month. I did my best to hit the confessional on the regular and work at my end of things.

I felt his arms lifting me up to a sitting position. His hands were bitingly cold, even through the fabric of my blouse. I started shivering immediately. My stomach lurched and I honestly wasn't sure if I could keep from vomiting. It would fit in with the rest of this grueling embarrassment. All I would need to do is crap my pants to complete the scene. We were so close.

I opened my eyes and pushed my silvery hair away from my face. I could feel blood running down the side of my face. There was a bright red puddle, about the size of silver-dollar pancake on the floor where I'd lain. I wasn't sure how long I'd been out.

"Don't move," said Cid. And I froze, he was squatting next to me and at first I was seeing him in double. I swallowed and made my eyes focus. His face was preternaturally still.

"Did you mean it?" he asked.

I hesitated for just a moment surprised that I even had the option to reply. "Yes. With all my heart."

"Then we aren't done yet," said and handed me the contract and tapped his taloned hand at clause 74-B.

"Should the circle become broken, the Contained is, of course, free to do what it will."

He stood up and went to the sink and ran the water. He held his hand under the flow and frowned at it. Rummaging through the draws he found my meat thermometer and used it on the tap water. He nodded and then held a dishrag under the tap.

"You said you wanted to 'fix this,'" he said, he came back over to me and hunkered down he could stare at me with his odd eyes. I felt a warm wet cloth being pressed against the side of my face. "I still have a few more leads you can check on. You know, when you're feeling up for it."

I watched him, my head was throbbing, and I held the cloth to my bump - I probably needed ice rather than a warm compress, but demons always were rather shit when it came to healing.

Cid moved back to the kitchenette and began to putz around. Filling the kettle with water and putting it on the stove. He scooped some loose-leaf tea into the infuser. He leaned against the counter and looked at me.

"You don't trust me," he said.

I shrugged, and swallowed my nausea.

"I've got a concussion, Cid, and I just released a high-order demon into the mundane world. Let's just say, I'm not on my best game today," I said. He threw back his head and laughed. He stopped suddenly and touched his mouth and then frowned.

"They train us about your kind, you know," he said, still holding me with his gaze. "They make sure we know that you're all liars, just trying to scrape for power, money, or sex. Maybe a few other things. That any deal you make will get you those things. But it didn't make sense, what you were asking for."

I put the cloth down, it was soaked red. I felt light headed and had a twinge of worry that I might actually die. Head wounds bleed a lot, I remembered reading that.

"In order for this to work, you needed to see it," I said. "You needed to see that not everyone is like that. All you see, for all of eternity, are those of use who screw it up. And we do, because we're just people. But some of us get it right. Not all the time - I'm no saint. But enough of the time. But how would you know? I'm going to barf, Cid - be a dear and get me a bowl."

Pressing the cloth against my mouth, my whole body hitched and I could taste vomit as it burned at the back of my throat. Cid hurriedly got me a large basin, just in time. My head felt like it was going to split in half as I retched. When I was finished I sighed.

"Can you drive?" I asked, and he shook his head.

"I have other means of transport. But ... you won't like it."

"I don't like vomiting with my head busted either. I suppose it's all relative," I said. "If we're going to go, you should turn the kettle off."

Cid turned off the kettle, made sure the birds that came to the feeder had plenty to eat, and helped me lock up. He then quickly drew a pentagram on the floor. He scooped me up and I had the not altogether unpleasant feeling of being cradled in the arms of a terrifyingly powerful being, but feeling very safe. I allowed myself a little contented sigh. I hadn't felt like this since I'd lost Chester, who had died from a brain aneurysm in our tenth year of marriage. I snorted lightly, wondering just what Chester would think of the situation I'd gotten myself into.

"What is funny?" he asked. I patted Cid's chest, my whole body felt heavy, especially my head.

"If you can't see what's funny about this, Cid, I don't know if I can explain. But I think you should hurry. I'm so tired," I whispered. My eyes fluttered closed and I hardly felt it when we transposed ourselves interdimensionally. Which, if you know anything about travelling through the outer realms, is a sign that I'd hit my head rather harder than either of us realized. Tearing through space and time is incredibly uncomfortable for mortals. Ask anyone who's been through a black hole.

I woke up to beeping and the smells of antiseptic mixed with bedpans. There was a tube in my throat that was breathing for me and my arms were strapped to the bed. Which, in retrospect, that was for the best because I wanted very badly to pull out all the carefully placed tubes and needles. Doctors frown on such behavior, thus the tying down. Another machine began to beep loudly as I struggled against my restraints, failing utterly not to panic and gag against the intubation. Within seconds, the tiny room was buzzing with folks in surgical masks and pasteled scrubs. Someone injected a shot of something into my drip and the world blurred out again.

The next time I woke the tube was out of my throat, which still felt raw. My wrists were still bound in padded straps, but there was a button near my hand. And I did what anyone would do, I pressed the button. Glancing around the room I saw it was filled with monitors that buzzed and beeped along with my heartbeat and measured my oxygen levels. It was otherwise empty. And I felt tears unexpectedly spring to my eyes. With no way to dab them away, they trickled down my face and soaked into the sterile white pillow.

The door opened and a nurse bustled in.

"Look who's up!" she said, and smiled at me. "You had quite the day, haven't you?"

Rather than reply, I turned both hands upwards and raised them as far as the restraints allowed.

"Do you promise to behave?" she asked. I suppressed the urge to answer honestly and simply nodded instead. The nurse began to unstrap me, and the sense of relief was immense. Suddenly, I felt awful. Poor Cid.

"I don't blame him for leaving," I muttered.

"Who? Your son? He just went to get a sandwich. We could tell he didn't like seeing you all hooked up. Betty sent an intern to let him know you were up."

"My... son?" I asked.

"Yes," said the nurse, who glanced at me with concern peering deeply into my eyes. "I'm going to ask you a few questions. What is your name?"

"Linette Dearstrom," I said.

"How old are you Ms. Dearstrom?"

"I'm two hundred and ten in March," I said.

"You look wonderful for your age, if you don't mind my saying. You'll have to tell me which hedgewitch you see," said the nurse. "Who is Prime Minister?"

"Unless I've been out longer than I thought, it should be Sage Venicus the IV," I said.

"And your son is...."

My eyes flickered to the door just as he returned and I smiled and he smiled back. "Cid."

"Great!" said the nurse.


[WP] The demon that tried to strike a deal with you was absolutely not prepared for the level of specificity you've prepared to make sure there are no loopholes for him to abuse.

Friday, May 19, 2017

A Glint of Something Shiny

Jemma sat on the edge of the dock and kicked her flip flops off her feet. Sitting down, she dangled them in the brownish-green waters of Old Pond. The heat of the day had leeched much of the soothing coolness from the liquid, leaving it tepid at best. But it was still better than nothing.
The air felt thick and heavy, and a misty haze made Jemma's vision feel blurry. She hunched her shoulders and peered into the brackish water. Curious sun fish hovered around her feet, and a hungrier one took curious a nip at her toes.

"Ow, you little booger," she said with half a grin. She chased the bigger fish with her foot when she saw the glint of something shiny deeper in the pond. Jemma squinted, trying to make out what it was. Despite the haze of the summer day, whatever was down there caught the liquid sunshine and sent it back through the murky waters in little blades of amber light.

She considered taking off her clothes, but then with a shrug heaved herself into the water with her shirts and t-shirt, and the fish that had gathered close to the dock, scattered into the murk.
It'll feel cooler when I get out, she thought.

The water slithered over her, and rather than refreshing, the  liquid covered her skin with a film that was revolting and warm. The smell of decomposing vegetation and pond scum filled her nose and she frowned and tried not to gag.

"I want a pool. This is nasty," she muttered. But the light slanted up from the bottom. It seemed brighter. Jemma took a deep breath and dove down into the water, pushing with her arms and kicking with her feet. She opened her eyes, which stung more than normal, the world was a blurry mess, but she could see the light danging down below and moved towards it.

Crooked branches, and tangles of water-weeds snagged at her arms and legs as she drew closer to the light. She could feel her pulse beating in her chest and head as she moved deeper, the water seemed to grow even warmer. Jemma remembered the time she had fallen into Mr. Cabbras' compost pit when she and Bill Compton had been horsing around in the neighborhood, sinking up to her elbows in the warm rot. She'd screamed, and could still remember the stink of rotten vegetables and decomposing grass - but it was the warmth of it that had terrified her so - so alive. Bubbles broke from her nose and mouth.

But then the light was right before her. She reached out and curled her fingers around it - it was soft, and pliable - like a bulb of flesh, but it glowed like a small star.

She barely registered the muck at the bottom of the pond yawning open beneath her, the sudden movement sucking her into a maw. The pressure was sudden and crushing, and Jemma felt herself pressed against a wall that was both bony and slick with mucus. The air that was in her lungs exploded out and then drifted up.

Jemma breathed water, choked and tried to find the sky, desperately trying to follow her bubbles towards air. She managed to get her arms and legs to move together to swim backwards. Out of the darkness - she could see the world closing around her - and even though it was blurry, she could see the teeth.

I'm hardly a mouthful, she thought, trying to ignore the burning in her lungs. Bright spots began to swim in her vision. And she kicked hard, aiming for where the last of her bubbles were floating. Her hand broke the surface, but there was nothing to grab onto. The jaws closed around her waist - and she tried to scream, but drew in only water.

Prompt: A Glint of Something Shiny
Written: Feb. 23, 2017

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Thank You!

I recently started a Patreon page and have already started to benefit from the support of friends and fans. This post is to thank them personally. To my friend, and writing buddy who wishes to remain anonymous, thanks for being my first patron. You rule, bud. We're going to make great things.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Fixer-upper

(By Y. Beletsky (LCO)/ESO (http://www.eso.org/public/images/potw1638a/) [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Dan opened the door to the access tunnel and frowned.

"What a mess," he muttered. The wires looked as though they had been chewed through by vermin. And worse, some of the piping that supplied the illumination gasses would need to be replaced as well. He shined his flashlight down the access tunnel.

"Son of a bitch. This is going to take all day - half the galaxy is out," he said. Dan flipped open his heavy-duty tool box. The smell of oiled metal, rust, and leather wafted out. It was a good smell. An honest smell. His tools were neatly arranged in small compartments, pliers, assorted wrenches, wooden handled screwdrivers that had become smooth with use, a hand-crank drill, and a set of fine hand knives for cutting out shapes in the darkness.

He got to work removing wires that were too frayed and chewed through to be fixed, and unwinding a fresh thread of silvery filament from a spool he snipped it off without having to measure. Using the pliers he fixed the wire to the connections, and he screwed them back into place. The quiet repetition of the job was soothing and he found his mind drifting pleasantly as he worked. Thinking about hitting the Corner Mart and picking up a nice steak and green beans for dinner. Sally, prim and dainty as she was, loved steaks.

Dan finished with the rewire and grabbed his adjustable wrench, and began to work loose the damaged pipes. He had to go back to his truck to get new tubing, and he looked back at the galaxy, frowning. It didn't look right without lights. He found himself trotting back to the access board to finish up. Fitting the new pipes wasn't too difficult. Hardest part was cutting them to the correct length and welding it. It wasn't hard, just tedious.

Dan finished the last few connections and smiled at his work. He walked the length of the access port, checking connections and ports. Everything was looking good when he heard a soft cooing sound. Dan reached for his tool belt and grabbed his wrench peering into the darkness. The noise grew louder, and suddenly a soft glow threw shadows against the wall, and Dan saw the celestial squid and sighed.

"You're the one who caused all the damage? I oughta crack you one," he said. The squid, which was fully glowing with alarm colors, was completely tangled in fiberoptic webbing matrix. This happened every once in awhile, the numb things would see the glow and think they were going to find a mate. Then there was some softer chirping, and Dan saw a half dozen little baby squids glowing and tugging at their mom's tentacles.

"Ah, you daft blighter, hold still will ya?" he put his wrench back in the belt loop and taking his small exacto-knife, began slicing through the webbing. When he first approached with the knife, the babies flared bright blue and wrapped their little tentacles around his fingers, nipping at his knuckles with their beaks. But Dans hands were callused, and they couldn't break the skin.

"Hush, you nutters, I'm gettin' yer mum out, Yeah, yeah, it's not like I put her there," he said mostly to himself, letting the things bite at him.

Soon, the celestial squid was free of the matrix and she zipped a few feet away from Dan and regarded him with one of her saucer-sized eyes. She was still glowing, but now it was with softer blues and lavenders - she looked like a galaxy all her own. Dan wouldn't be at all surprised to find out that was the case.

"Alright, you best clear out, miss. I have to re-install the matrix and I can't do it with you gawking at me. Now git," he said waving his arms. One of the squid's tentacles reached out and curled around his arm. It squeezed gently and released, and Dan found himself blushing.

"Weren't nothing, miss. You take care of yourself," he said. She glided away, hustling her babies with her.

He worked for another few hours, getting the matrix in place. When it was done, he flipped the switch. There was a few flickers, and then the lights began to shine steadily. Dan smiled and headed back to his truck.

Driving away, he looked in his rear-view mirror and the arms of the galaxy shone brightly. A deep sense of satisfaction welled up inside him as he flipped his turn signal and headed to the Corner Mart.

Prompt: Pliers and Wrenches
Written: Feb. 2, 2017

Friday, January 27, 2017

Lone Wolf


(Photo by Oliver Stein - Homepage of Oliver Stein http://www.estelar.de/mond/20031109/mofi.htm)
Hank poured some of the near-boiling coffee into the thin paper cup, wincing as it singed his fingers. He had tucked the books he needed under his arm, squeezing them awkwardly against his ribs as he tried dispense the powdered creamer into his drink. Small delicate hand reached over his, plucking the non-dairy creamer from his hands and began to mix it for him.

Hank startled and the books under his arm toppled to the floor with a thud that caused every head in the cramped basement to turn in his direction.

"My fault!" said the girl who was now adding two sugars to his coffee. She had dirty blonde hair that looked like she'd cut it herself. Her eyes were two different colors, one brown as the coffee, the other a blue that was so light it was almost white. Everyone in the room turned back to their own conversations and the dull drone picked back up as though it had never happened.

"How did you know I liked sugar?" asked Hank, as he stooped to pick up his books. Call of the Moon had landed face up and was none the worse for wear. Lycanthropy: Fact or Fiction now had an ugly crease across the front cover, and Hank frowned as he tried to smooth it out.

"You smell sweet," she said with a grin. "We don't get a lot of your kind here."

"Werewolves?" he said, feeling the blood rush to his face again. She arched a brow and blinked at him.

"Um, well..." she paused looking at him closely. Then held out a hand. "Waverly."

"Hank," said Hank, and shook her hand, feeling calluses on her palm.

"How did it happen for you?" she asked.

Hank picked up the coffee and took a deep pull. It was still far to hot, and he burned his tongue and hissed.

"I... I was attacked," he said and he could feel has hands shaking. Waverly reached out and took the coffee from him before it could splash over the sides.

"They killed my wife, and I... I don't know how I survived, but I did."

He had been in the hospital for weeks on end. Nothing but white walls, beeping and constant interruptions instead of sleep. But it had been better than home. He thought he was ready for home. But he could smell her everywhere. He didn't remember what happened, but when he woke up again, her clothes had been ripped to shreds and pictures pulled from the walls and smashed. Until there was nothing left that smelled like her. Until her eyes didn't watch him from the walls, asking him why he was still there and she was cold and gone.

"That's how I knew I was a monster. Who could do that? It was all I had left of her," he said, his voice cracking.

Waverly hugged him. She smelled nothing like his wife. Nothing like any woman he'd ever smelled. Musky and wild, and he sobbed into her shoulder. No one looked over that them.

"Shh, honey, shh. You're not a monster, baby," she whispered, rubbing his back. She guided him to a seat, sat him down and pushed the coffee back into his hands. "And you know in your heart that we didn't attack you or your lady, or you wouldn't be here."

Hank shook his head, wiping at his eyes.

"But I don't remember things... And the moon. It was a full moon when they killed her," he said.

She stared at him with her mismatched eyes, and he could see the tears she was holding back.

"I got bit when I was eight.Before I knew what I was doing, I chased down down a deer with the neighbor's dogs. Then we went after the three-year-old Jenkin's boy, Greg caught me before we got him. Gave be this," she pushed her hair back and he could see a scar of puncture wounds on the back of her neck. She pointed to the sleight man in his sixties with silver hair and wire-rim glasses. "He saved me from killing that poor kid. Told me I wasn't an animal. Showed me I wasn't. I didn't believe him for a long time, but then, eventually something clicked."

"But I am," he said. "I know I am."

"No, honey. You're just lost. But that's okay, we all are. Why don't you stay here and listen to the meeting. You can talk if you want, everyone gets a chance to talk."

Hank stared at her mismatched eye, then nodded.

The sleight man with the wire rims stood up. The side-talk and laughter died away.

"Welcome to Lycan's Anonymous, I'm Greg and I'm a werewolf."

"Hi Greg!" said the crowd. Hank looked at the backs of people's heads, some were long braids, other buzzed close to the scalp, some tattooed, others nothing but various hues of skin.

As the meeting went on, many people spoke about being infected, some had killed someone they love, others had learned about their infection before they turned and learned how to manage it. Some talked about how their families and friends left them one, by one. About the isolation.

Hank was crying now. Waverly handed him a tissue.

"Does anyone else want to share a story?" asked Greg.

Hank stood up.

"Hi, I'm Hank. I'm..." he paused and looked at the sea of faces looking him. "I thought I was a were-wolf. But.." He could feel his throat close.

"Hi Hank," said Waverly, and other voice joined in until they blended and became one voice, helping him stand.

"My wife was killed. I was hospitalized. When I came home, I couldn't deal with her being gone and I destroyed everything she touched," he said. "Now it's just me. I'm so tired of being alone."

Hands clapped him on the back, at least one tousled his hair. A gesture that would have infuriated him yesterday, made him feel an overwhelming surge of love.

"You don't have to be alone, hun. We're all here for you. You're welcome any time," said Waverly. Everyone around him nodded.

"But, I'm not..."

"Shh," said Waverly. "We know, baby. We know."

#
Prompt: [CP] A man pretending to be a werewolf

Friday, December 2, 2016

The color of pain

Prompt: The color of pain

It sparkled, casting dancing rainbows across the earth it caught the light. All the colors that ever were hung suspended, contained. Lil gasped, shocked that she could see so much, it was beautiful. The most beautiful thing she had seen since... Frowning she turned her thoughts away from that particular memory and focused on what was right in front of her. It was rare that she could indulge this way, but time stretched out like taffy just for her.

She reached out, and touched it with her finger - it still felt warm. She brought her finger to her lips and licked: salt. She sucked the liquid from her skin and shivered. Exquisite.

She turned her eyes back to the couple as they were leaving, clinging to each other - eyes wide. The tear she had tasted was the first the earth had known. But it wouldn't be the last. It was all she could do not to laugh.

Time lurched forward and the pair stumbled into the vastness of the world, leaving behind paradise and watering the earth with their tears.

Lilith smiled to herself watching her husband and his new wife wander away from paradise. Pain wasn't something she could feel - not really. But she still enjoyed it.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Spider Tale


Awhile back, this image was posted to /r/spiders - and cute as it is, the image is rather grim when you take a moment to think about what is actually goin on in the image. Rather than face reality, I wrote a little story with my preferred version of events.

Shh. Shh. It's okay.

I will tell you a story.

Once upon a time, in a land of silk and dewdrops lived a spider. She was clever and quick and caught many a fierce fly for dinner.

She fell in love with a dashing little male spider and they had a beautiful egg sac filled with children. They had hundreds of babies, each one more beautiful and clever than the last. The mama spider loved her babies and would give each one a hug and a kiss goodnight.

Being such a skilled huntress, she never felt hungry and she and her children went on to populate all of the earth with adorable spiderlings who liked to hug and kill nasty flies.


The End