Friday, September 7, 2012

If It Comes in a Can, It Must Be Good

"Bampton, you still up there? Don't make me pour those faeries down your throat. Again."

A breeze caught the tuft of Bampton's hair that even when slicked with hair product managed to stick upright. He fiddled with the flat tin on his desk and the clothespin beside it.

"Bampton, I'd better see your shadow racing across the yard. If I get another note from the school that you're late, no more Quidditch practice with your friends for a month."

Bampton sighed. His mother did not understand. She thought he didn't want to eat the faeries because he was subscribing to that vegan literature the goody two shoes was spreading at school. He figured they were already dead, so it wasn't carnivore-ism. He just hated the smell.

He pinched the clothespin over his nose and peeled back the tin's lid. A dozen faeries lie side by side. The faces blue. They stank just like a rotten walrus washed up on the beach. Even through the clothespin. He scrunched his eyes shut and poured the faeries into his mouth. They were soft, gooey things, and he hated the texture. His eyes popped open as he floated and bumped his knees against the bottom of the table. The novelty of flying still held a little magic. He grinned as he grasped the edges of his window to fling himself into the sky.

Time to fly to school.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Book Lover's Wife

Edward cringed at the squeak of the opening cellar door and the accompanying dry rasping scratches of his wife's footsteps. Her soulweight, for it could be nothing else since she weighed so little, made the wooden makeshift stairs creak.

He set down his collector's edition of the Fellowship of the Ring and turned to catch her flouncing the last few steps toward him.

"Is my little dove hiding from me?" She reached out with a hand, blackened from the smudged newsprint. Other parts, especially the photo of him and her that had been run in the obituary molded just a little off center over her left breast, weren't as smudged.

He rubbed his forehead to keep the migraine away. Whether it was some allergy he'd developed to newsprint or just her fiery temper, he didn't know. But, it would be better not to answer her question. "Were you looking for me?"

She tiptoed to look over his shoulder. "Books. Should I be jealous?"

She didn't wait for an answer, but pulled him from the bench. Her newspaper dreadlocks brushed against him. He'd managed to capture her body so well, but it turned out hair was something that couldn't be rendered from the cut out stories of the serial killing. He missed the texture of her mid-shoulder blonde strands.

She raised an eyebrow and licked a lip in the way that he'd found so attractive when they had met on the blind date. But after marriage it had disappeared. Until he'd raised her. The newspaper had kindled a passion horny teenaged boys yearned for in their dreams. Unfortunately, dreams skimmed over inconvenient facts.

"I need a man to fill my bed." The dark empty pits of her eyes crinkled. "And other things."

He squirmed to escape her arms. Passion led to only one thing. Papercuts. "I can't."

"But, I need you."

He grabbed his copy of the Fellowship of the Rings and held it between them like a shield. The sacrifice had been difficult to contemplate before she'd descended the stairs, but her presence made the decision easy.

"The book is useless to me," she said.

"Not useless." He tried to stifle the jealousy from his voice but knew he'd failed. She'd never read the book, but had loved Viggo Mortensen on the silver screen. "I can make another one, like you." Aragorn had been his favorite character in the books, but he wouldn't think of the man the same after molding him into life.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Bedbugs

Bill squinted against the glare of the magelight that lit his path towards Billy's bedroom. His son's scream caught and died away when Bill pushed the door open.

Billy's face, red and puffy, indicated he'd cried for a while before becoming worked up enough to scream. Bill was the king's mage and his son should understand illusions. Not get worked up over things that went bump in the night. He tried to hide the annoyance he felt. It wouldn't calm the boy if he let it show.

"What's wrong?"

Billy leaned over the side of the bed and pointed underneath. "Something's down there."

Bill sat on the edge of his son's bed and stroked his fingers through the child's hair. Waiting for the child to calm. He was going to be too awake after this to fall back to sleep. He'd already begun to think about the pyrotechnics the king had asked for tomorrow's battle.

Once Billy's shaking stopped, Bill took his hand. "Look, there isn't anything under the bed."

"No, I'm not getting off the bed."

"I'll be here. I'll be with you." Bill tugged at the boy's arm, but the boy dug his feet into the boards holding the side of the bed. He was getting too heavy to lift.

"It's hiding."

"Look." Bill took a deep breath, stopping himself from what he was going to say. "I'm sorry." He pointed under the bed. "It's not what is down here that matters. But what is in your mind."

"What?"

Bill sighed. It was too early to teach the boy his heritage. Instead, he dipped his fingers into his bag of specially prepared powder and breathed on it, creating illusory bugs that scattered over the bed. Large bulbous things lit like jack-o'-lanterns with circles and triangles and other shapes swirling on their sides.

Billy's eyes grew wide and he crept towards one of the bugs. "What is it?"

"A bedbug. They eat monsters." He smiled at his son and ruffled the boy's hair. "Now go to sleep."

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Management: Travelling

Yes, I haven't updated in a while. I've been traveling. In Scalzi fashion, here is a view from my hotel window.
I'm currently in Mumbai (one of the parts of India that is not having power problems) and enjoying monsoon season. Yes, there are cows in the foreground of that camp.

I hope you all are good and I'll see you in several weeks.

Have fun!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Assassin Franks

I snapped my mustard arm into a sharp, two-fingered salute. The strictures of protocol better keep the emotion out of my eyes. Couldn't appear weak before Colonel Wiener. He spun on his heels to leave me pondering my death sentence. Blasted war.

The grill was one of those fancy chrome death chambers. Four separate gas dials sprayed enough methane to crisp a soldier in under two minutes. Too bad I was going to have a close encounters with that beast. Kamikaze, my bun. But, I knew better than to disobey a direct order.

I vaulted the white picket fence. My shoulder slammed into a rose bush. It's thorn skewered my casing, moist meat tumbling through the hole. Fortunately, the corps had embedded the special seasoning at the other end.

Stumbling forward, I saw myself reflected off the grill. The man with his implements of death had his back to me. Good thing. He'd never see it coming.

One of the kids -- a lumbering giant, no wonder we were losing the war -- grabbed me. His pudgy fingers were almost as wide as my waist. How could we lose to these jokers? I laid there. Played dead.

He shook me. No, don't let the weakened casing split.

I survived the boy's torture. I wouldn't reveal my orders. Even better, he brought me to the hulk manning the death chamber. The man wore one of those girly aprons. They didn't deserve to live.

"Where did you find that?" the man asked.

The boy pointed with his other hand. "Over there."

"Don't look so good."

He'd seen the poison injected below my casing. I twitched. I'd come too far to fail my orders. I twisted a ketchup leg up and over the bruise where the poison lie.

"Why did you put all that ketchup on the dog. It's not even cooked yet. Here, give it to me." The man tossed me at the grill. My skin sizzled against the grate.

Mission accomplished.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Choices

Kada almost stepped on Jag's tail as she raced for the door. The ferry always ran on time and if she didn't hurry, she would miss her normal boat and the next one wouldn't come for another hour. She shook her head chagrined at the concept of being late, especially on a day when heads would roll. She'd need to hurry. She could sell her sweat-stained clothes as a hard worker, but the clock ticked.

Jag meowed. The cat balanced forepaws on the rim of his food bowl and stared at her. The bowl was empty.

She would regret this, but she couldn't start out the day this way. She dropped her purse, notebook case, and coffee thermos, the cylinder tipping and rolling underneath the hutch. Jag's tail twitched with pleasure as he began to purr. She had to let enough people down today and she couldn't do anything to help that, but at least she could make Jag happy.

The thermos had wedged itself against the wall beyond her grasp and she knelt on the floor, stretching her arm to reach for it. Her skirt ripped. She'd caught the edge of the seam on her heel. Maybe, no one would notice at the office. She didn't have time to change. Or to get the recalcitrant thermos. Fortunately, no one would expect her to be in a good mood either.

Her heels clacked against the concrete. The heat never abated in the rainforest and humidity dripped from the leaves of an a├žia. Over the tree's crown, she saw the tip of the ferry's smokestack. She would make it.

All the seats inside had been taken. She walked onto the ferry's front deck, smelling the sewage dumped into the river, avoiding the eyes of those who had come here to get a seat. She slumped against the wood slats of the bench not caring whether the sweat running down her torso would evaporate before she arrived at the offices in Manaus. She caught the eyes of those sitting around her, they stared, but quickly looked away. Then, in ones and twos they retreated to stand within the ferry's interior.

She might as well get used to this. Laying off half the division would make her a pariah. She understood the business need. Their division bled money and headquarters insisted they focus on the profitable work. She had managed to save half the division, but her team wouldn't see that as a win. You couldn't give everyone jobs for life even if the French socialists thought that would work. Jobs for life wouldn't really be for life since the whole company would go down in losses. No, unfortunately she and the company had no choice.

"Choices."

She looked for the voice. She'd thought she was the only one on the deck.

"You have choices."

The voice came from a coiled Honduras Milk Snake. The red and white scales of the albino's tail curled over the bars protecting the passengers from accidentally falling into the river. It had two heads.

She blinked, closing her eyes tight, keeping them shut for a few seconds. The heat and the run must have made her hallucinate.

"Just because you can't see them, doesn't mean they're not there."

She opened her eyes. It hadn't helped. Two forked tongues slithered into the air. Snakes did not talk. "Don't exist," Kada said.

The snake dropped to the floor of the ferry and slithered until it climbed the bench next to the door. "Of course choices exist. You don't have to fire people."

It could not know about that. She glanced at the door, and then at the snake, uncomfortable at how close it was to the door.

"I won't hurt you."

"Snakes don't talk."

"You don't listen to the old tales." A clear thin membrane dropped over the snake's eyes, and she suspected they saw her clearly the entire time. "Not everything can be easily explained. I don't matter. Think about the truth of my words."

"I don't have choices."

"No?"

How had she gotten herself in this position of having to explain why she must lay off half her division to a snake? It must be the stress of everything. She was taking her own fears about how this afternoon would go and extrapolating it onto the snake. "I'm just a middle manager. I did my best. I saved half of them."

"You have choices." The forked neck twisted until the heads changed position. "Instead of firing them, quit. The chaos will result in everyone keeping their jobs for another week or two."

Impossible. The snake understood business. International conglomerates would take weeks before they got someone in the country to take care of business. "That doesn't buy anything."

"It buys time. You need that to start your own company and hire the best talent. That will leave them with half the division. No one loses a job."

She had always wanted to be an entrepreneur. She leaned back in the seat and let the river's wind blow in her face. Maybe, today wouldn't be so bad. She turned back to look at the snake, but it had disappeared.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Left Behind


The world isn't always a fun place.

Beth and I played at crowned jacks. Her skin was puffed around the ring finger to bulge over her wedding band as her finger played with the kingpiece, a wadded piece aluminum sparkling with an aura of potential movement. She let the flickers glimmer as they showed all possible positions where her piece could move and when she finally let go, it moved into a throwaway position.

I moved my counter in an attack, the aluminum collapsing to the table, the sparkle of the power joining my counterpiece, leaving her queenpiece weakened. Long ago she'd shared my hunger. That competitive drive to win. Everything had changed.

I took no thrill in the ease with which I marched towards victory. I glanced at her, seeing the same pain as she glanced away, neither of us willing to speak of the memory of our daughter.

The daughter who'd left two days ago. The daughter who every time I saw her I still remembered her baby flesh, mottled, red, just as I'd first seen her when the midwife brought her to me. It was hard to let go.

My aluminum tokens chased Beth's queenpiece across the board. Inevitable. I won.

Beth reset the pieces in the opening patterns. The game would continue, neither of us speaking of anything of importance, letting us ponder our memories.

I'd stood on the porch when our daughter left. The silver-green of the pine needles behind her. She pointed at them, telling me that strength was earned not given.

She hadn't listened to any of my words. She had believed that one could learn to live and receive support from others. Instead, she took the meaning of the tree that we had loved as it grew ramrod straight as a cattail stem. Unlike, most twisted pines. We'd planted it in a shielded location where it grew straight not twisted into geriatric postures. But when it grew above the height of our house, the wind had caught it's heavy boughs and knocked the top two thirds of it to the ground.

Beth coughed.

Maybe she was right. Instead of trying to win, I grabbed any old piece and moved it. The game wouldn't end. Our daughter wasn't coming home.

No. I tilted the game board onto its side. One must eventually learn when one is lost. Beth twitched. Searching out pieces of aluminum, moving them over the table.

I left her, without a final glance and traipsed into the yard. My hands pressed against the rotted flank of the twisted pine. The tree reminded me of my daughter. The memories weren't enough. I wished she would come home.