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Day One Hundred and Fifty-four: Fitting

October 22, 2011 Leave a comment

“Stand up straight.”

“I am standing up stra – OW!”

“Sorry. These pins get feisty sometimes.”

The tailor’s fitting room was brightly-lit by warm lamps that stood on tall brass stands, five of which were placed around a raised platform. Gilbert Mongomery was working on a pair of pants for his brother’s teenage son, Forrest. Every time the boy came in, he was a pain in the ass to fit. He’d fidget or he’d slouch, and he’d complain a blue streak. But he was his nephew, and without his brother’s help, Gilbert probably wouldn’t have even been able to keep the shop open as long as he’d had. So he put up with it.

“So what are you wearing these to?” he asked around the pins in his mouth. “Should be something nice.”

Forrest shrugged. “Some stupid dinner my dad’s having. He says we all have to be there and be a family.” He snorted. “At least for the cameras, anyway.”

Gilbert nodded. He knew all about Roland’s marital problems. At least one affair on both sides, some serious debts that needed to be paid to serious people, and arguments that had started on the day they met and had smoldered ever since then. They’d had three kids, hoping that each one would be the one that magically made their problems go away. What the kids did, however, was give them someone else to be angry about. As the youngest, Forrest was the recipient of their regret and disdain more often than not. At least until one of them thought they could buy their way into being a good parent. Thus, the party. There would be rich and famous guests of honor, a lavish dinner and entertainment and an open bar, and there would be press everywhere if Roland Montgomery had to pay each and every one of them.

It would be tempting to overcharge his brother for the suit, but he could never live with himself if he did. He figeted with the pants a bit and found himself asking, “What did my brother do this time?”

The boy looked down at him in surprise. “What?”

Gilbert shrugged to cover his own surprise. He had known his brother a long time, and known who he was and what he was. He didn’t like it, but there was no changing Roland. You could either live with him or ignore him, and as much as possible Gilbert had done the latter. If he had any problem with his brother, he’d take it right to him. Using the children had always felt unfair, but here he was, the words coming out of his mouth before he could take them back.

“What, you want me to pretend my brother is a paragon of virtue?” He stuck another pin into the waistband, making sure not to stick the boy this time, and tried to figure out what his own intentions were. “Okay,” he said. “How about this: you must be feeling so fortunate to be able to spend a lovely dinner with the man who makes your life possible.” He stood up and took the pins out of his mouth. “You miserable, disrespectful child.” He gestured to the pants. “Trousers off.”

Forrest gaped for a moment, and then started to unto the clasp. “Um, no,” he said. “You’re right.” He slid his trousers off and handed them to Gilbert. “He, um… He took a week-long trip to Thailand with one of his banker friends. Didn’t tell anyone he was going.” He looked decidedly uncomfortable as he talked. Whether is was being pantsless or trying to imagine what his father had been doing in Thailand, Gilbert didn’t want to imagine. “He came back and tried to act like nothing happened. The party is his way of making it up to mom.”

“That’s a shame,” Gilbert said. He inspected the trousers to see if he’d missed anything. “But not really surprising.”

The trousers looked fine. He folded them up and clipped them to a hanger. Then he took the boy’s jeans from where he’d dropped them. “Look, Forrest,” he said, turning to face him. “Normally I wouldn’t get involved.” He shook the jeans out and folded them as carefully as he had the trousers, and tried not to notice how Forrest was staring at them. “Your father has spent his life surrounded by people who think he’s the hottest thing ever, and for me to try and prove that he’s a selfish idiot would be a lot of work just to get me torn apart by his hangers-on.”

He handed the jeans to Forrest, who put them on quickly. Gilbert watched him get dressed. “How old are you now, Forrest?” he asked.

“Seventeen.”

Gilbert nodded. “Good.” He took a couple of steps up onto the fitting platform and pulled the measuring tape from around his shoulders. “Here’s a little advice from your uncle: there are a lot better role models out there than your father.” He started to roll up the tape. “He’s got money, yeah. He’s got a nice house and can afford to jaunt off to Thailand for… whatever it is he does there. But trust me, Forrest.” He reached out and tipped up the boy’s chin so that he could look him in the eyes. “I’ve known your dad for a long time. He’s not the man you want to be.”

Forrest took a big step back and nearly fell down the steps. “What the hell,” he yelled. His face had gone from confusion to anger in mere moments. “What the hell, uncle Gil?” He regained his footing and squared his shoulders. “You can’t say that kind of stuff about my dad!”

“Forrest, I just thought -”

“Yeah, you thought.” Forrest grabbed his jacket off the hook where he’d hung it. “I happen to know that my dad put up the money for this shop, so you owe him.” He sneered and tugged a knit cap out of the jacket. “Not surprised you don’t like him. You don’t like owing him, that’s all.”

“No, Forrest, that’s not it.”

“Really?” He yanked the cap down over his head and stormed out of the fitting room into the shop proper. Gilbert followed him out. “I don’t have to take advice from you,” Forrest yelled. “Not from some faggot tailor who couldn’t even get his own shit together to open a stupid shop.” Without looking back, Forrest stormed out the door, slamming it as he went. The little bells seemed to go on too long.

Gilbert stood in the doorway to the back room and felt deflated. He was right. No matter what the kid thought, he was right. And sooner or later, Forrest would realize it. Gilbert just hoped it would be sooner rather than later. He sighed and sat down behind his counter and put his head in his hands.

Day One Hundred and Fifty-three: The Factory Floor

October 21, 2011 4 comments

Another small crystal sphere was lifted up by an air current and deposited gently onto Belesse’s workstation. She took it and, with swift and practiced motions, began to assemble a dream within it.

She had the rhythm down, made into a ritual she’d performed six days a week for nearly three years. Twist the sphere to iris open the top and reach up for one of the dozens of nozzles hanging overhead. Check the work order, and then start mixing. A touch of self-doubt and existential terror, an old love and memories of childhood infused with a delicate mixture of old television commercials and abandonment issues. Twist the sphere to close it, give it a good shake, and send it on down the line for packing and distribution. Another arrives, and do the same again. And again.

There had been a time, she was told, when dreams were individually crafted for people. When each and every dream bore the fine attention of a master dreamcrafter – or at least a skilled apprentice or two. But the world got bigger, the dreams got more complicated, and sooner or later everything falls to mass production. The little old men who knew how to put together intricately built nightmares and illusions were now forced out. Put in management positions if they were lucky. In their place were the ones like Belesse, who needed the money and didn’t mind the monotonous work. The pay was good enough, and it wasn’t like she had anything else she could do.

She passed a dream off onto the conveyor belt with her right hand and took a fresh sphere with her left. She looked at the work order and grimaced. It called for Wet Dream 33-G, a delicate mixture that she rarely saw on her workflow and was never sure if she got right. She reached under her workstation and pulled out the manual, a dusty three-ring binder that she almost never consulted these days. The pages were brittle and yellow, and still covered with notes that she’d made back when she was new on the job. Some tips that she’d gotten from other girls, a few notes on substitutions and her early experiments, which had nearly gotten her fired. The floor chief had dragged her off to the manager’s office, and she was told in no uncertain terms that she was not to deviate from the prescribed formulae.

Page eighty-two had it. She ran her finger down the list and nodded. Pretty conventional ingredients, actually, with just a few twists to it. Adolescent gender uncertainty, patriarchal culture paradigms, a composite of popular teen boy bands, and all topped off with run-of-the-mill lustiness. She grabbed hoses and started filling the sphere, smiling grimly at the symbolism of the whole thing as she did it.

She squeezed the handle for the objectification of teen male sexuality and nothing came out. She squeezed it again, and once more, and let the hose go. “Figures,” she muttered. She opened the manual and started looking for substitutions, which is when she smelled the floor boss behind her.

The workers suspected that Rachok knew how despised he was, and that somewhere in what passed for his heart he had a subconscious desire to give them a chance to avoid drawing his attention. It may have been true, or it may not have, but there was no other reason they could think of for the thick cloud of foul-smelling cologne that seemed to precede and follow him as he went on his rounds. His mission was simple: to look for workers who weren’t working fast enough and to goad them with the threat of yelling, verbal abuse and eventual firing. This time, Belesse had been too absorbed in the recipe to notice until it was too late.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing,” he grumbled, and she stood up straight as she spun to face him. He was an ugly, ugly man – broad and oily with a permanent scowl and eyes that never seemed to rest on anything. The cologne was really the best part of him. “Do you think we pay you to stand around and read, woman?” She opened her mouth, but he didn’t let the words get out. “Oh, or did you think that the job wasn’t important enough for your full godsdamned attention? Did you think you could just slack off whenever you got bored with doing the job we pay you for?”

“No – no sir,” she stammered. “I was just -”

“I don’t give two farts in a high wind what you were just,” he roared. He picked up the sphere she’d been working on and shook it under her nose. “You see this, you empty-headed girl? It’s wasted now!” He threw it to the ground. The sphere shattered and the dream sublimated into a fine mist. Belesse felt a warmth in her belly and she blushed hard. Rachok reached past her and grabbed another. “Here,” he said, forcing it into her hands. “Do it again, and for once do it right. No more delays.”

“But I -”

“No buts!” He leaned in, and she was vividly aware that he’d had curry for lunch. Or perhaps dinner the day before. “I have had it up to here with you people and your excuses and your gripes and your complaints! Nothing’s ever good enough for you, is it?” He smiled, and it was like an uneven army of yellow bricks had been shoved into his mouth. “Well, there are a hundred girls out there who would be happy to work for less than we’re paying you right now, and I’m hard-pressed to think of any reason why I shouldn’t go and haul one of those half-wits over right now to take your place.” He poked her in the shoulder with a thick-nailed finger. “Get working,” he growled, “or get walking!”

He stood there, his flat, pock-marked nose nearly touching hers, until she gave a short, meek nod. The show of submission that he was waiting for. Rachok grunted and went back on his rounds, but he glanced back at her several times before he turned the corner.

Belesse wiped her eyes before they could actually start welling up, and told herself it was just the fumes. She sniffed as she re-made the recipe and thought about all the things she wished she could have said. It wouldn’t have mattered if she had, though. In Rachok’s universe, people like her didn’t stand up to people like him. The cognitive dissonance probably would have gotten them both killed. More’s the pity.

When she got to the missing ingredient she paused again, staring up at the tangle of hoses. They reminded her suddenly of the trees she used to play under when she was a child. The trees were always heavy with vines, and she and her sisters would race to see who could climb the highest.

“Hell with it,” she said to herself, and she grabbed a hose at random to fill the sphere. When it was done, she released the hose in shock and covered her mouth to stifle the giggle. The sphere glimmered under the ugly fluorescent lights, and she wondered what poor boy was going to have an erotic dream about trans-Euclidean geometry tonight. She rolled the sphere onto the conveyor belt with her right hand and took a new one with her left. She still wanted to laugh out loud, but nothing would have gotten Rachok thundering over there faster than the sound of someone actually enjoying her job. Still, it seemed that there was still some fun to be had.

The work orders came in one after the other, and she filled them diligently. All with one added ingredient, of course, and even she didn’t know what it was going to be until she did it. Someone would be dreaming about murderous clowns who debated tax policy as they chased them in slow motion; another would have a dream about his mother, but it’s not his mother, but actually it is and she’s really a small nation of ants masquerading as Hillary Clinton; and some little girl would find herself dreaming that she was a Disney princess, forced to defend her marzipan castle against the onslaught of zombies that would have her brains for breakfast.

Would it get her fired? Probably. She squirted a bit of overt racism into a dream about kittens and rolled the sphere along. But as ways to go went, this was a pretty good one.

She picked up another sphere, closed her eyes and reached up with a small, forbidden smile on her face. Tonight was going to be fun for everyone.

Day One Hundred and Fifty-two: My Summer Vacation

October 20, 2011 Leave a comment

The elves were singing so loud that Treva had to turn up her iPod and pick something metal to listen to. She sat in the shade of a great tree that was thousands of years old, whose branches blocked a sky that was the blue of old sapphires, and she tapped out a text message on her phone. She wouldn’t be able to send it, of course – there was never any reception in this place, but it was the only thing that made her feel even close to normal. She was lucky the thing even worked. The year before she’d just brought a bunch of books and sat under the tree by the stream and read until the pixies left her alone.

That reminded her – she reached back into the hood of her sweatshirt and fished around until she found the one that had decided to huddle in there. She assumed it was yelling something at her – the thing was waving its little arms and its wings were buzzing, but she couldn’t hear a damn thing. Which was the whole point, really. She flung the pixie off into the bushes and went back to her phone. The tree sighed behind her – she could feel its trunk expand slowly, and she was pretty sure it was trying to say something to her in its low, wooden voice. Probably something about respecting all living things, the importance of kindness and compassion and blah blah blah. If there was any kindness and compassion in the world, she wouldn’t have to spend her summers being packed up and dragged to Fairie just so she could meet her mother’s relatives.

When she was a kid it was great. What kid wouldn’t love fairyland? There were hills to climb and strange little creatures everywhere that could do magic just to entertain her. Hell, she even got to ride a unicorn for a few years, although it had led to a really interesting conversation with her father when she turned fifteen last year and all of a sudden that damn unicorn didn’t want a thing to do with her anymore. She wanted to blame Tony Dinkens for that, but it had been just as much her as him. And when it came right down to it, a unicorn was fine when you were a kid, but sex was for a lifetime.

After a while, it all got old. You could only go to the Magic Grove so many times before you’ve heard all the songs those trees are ever going to sing. You can only play so many riddle games before they start repeating themselves, and you can only go so far into the deep, dark woods before your mother’s henchmen decide that you really shouldn’t be out on your own and drag you back.

Her iPod sputtered, skipped and died, and the intricately woven, multi-part harmonies of the elves flooded into her ears again. “Crap,” Treva said. She snapped her phone shut. It would probably be the next to go, and she really didn’t think she could handle that right now. She stood up and brushed blades of perfectly green grass off her jeans, put up her hood and walked back out into the brilliant sunshine.

The estate was gorgeous, and by now Treva was completely bored with every inch of it. The stables, the fractal hedge maze, the pond where frogs jumped out and granted minor wishes if you kissed them. She felt like she’d done it all, and if her parents announced that they were leaving today and never coming back, she couldn’t be happier.

Speak of the devil. Her father was walking towards her across the sheep field, his hands in his pockets and his eyeglasses glinting in the sun. She couldn’t stand the way he looked. He couldn’t just look like a normal dad – overweight, tired from working a job that he hated, wanting nothing more than to sit down, drink a beer and watch TV. He had to be “interesting.” He wrote for literary journals, sometimes spending days holed up in that giant library of his to research whatever dead white person he had decided was important that week. He had graying temples and steel-rimmed eyeglasses and always looked like he had a secret that he was just dying to tell you. Treva sighed and looked down at the grass while she walked. He wouldn’t pass her by, but at least maybe she could convince him that she wasn’t up for another one of his “Isn’t-it-great-to-be-here” chats.

“Treva!” he called. She took a few steps and then looked up like she was surprised to see him. He seemed unsettled, though she wasn’t sure how she could tell, and he was holding something in his arms. It looked like a big blue egg, covered in sparkling gems. It glimmered faintly in the sunshine, and she could smell hot metal wafting from it on the wind.

She stopped, and, with great visible effort, popped the earbuds from her ears. “Dad,” she said, managing to pack an entire vacation’s worth of boredom into one word. “Another dragon’s egg?” She rolled her eyes. “Not like we can actually raise them at home or anything. They just sit there on the coffee table taking up space.” She rolled her eyes. “Lame.” She started walking again, but he stepped in front of her.

“You’re right, Treva.” He held out the egg, but she wouldn’t take it. “And that’s what I wanted to talk to you about.” He pushed his glasses up on his nose, and she was slightly unnerved by the expression on his face. “Treva, I’m afraid…” He took a deep breath. “Treva, we can’t go home.”

She stood and stared at him from under her hood. The elves’ song was repeating, and it was really starting to get on her nerves. Her father kept shifting the egg from hand to hand and blinking a lot, and it seemed like forever before she managed to say, “What?”

He chewed his lip and tried to put an arm around her, but she shrugged it off. “What the hell do you mean we can’t go home?” she yelled. The singing stopped abruptly. “We have to go home! Dad, all my friends are at home!” He flung her arms out, encompassing all of fairyland. “Dad, I hate this place, we can’t stay!”

He stood up to her yelling with his usual stoicism. She had become very good at getting her points across at high volume, and while it used to completely disarm him at first, he had become skilled at waiting until she was done and then continuing on as if nothing had happened. When the echoes died away, he reached out for her again, but again, she shrunk back. “Treva,” he finally said, “please understand that this is a very… complicated situation.”

“The hell it is,” she yelled. “How complicated can it be? We do it every summer! Pack our things, get in the minivan and go home!” She mimed the actions as she spoke. “It’s perfectly easy!”

He sighed, and then gently placed the dragon’s egg on the ground. “Treva,” he said, “I can’t think of a good way to say this, so I’m just going to spit it out.”

“Oh, this should be good,” she said. She crossed her arms and turned away from him.

“At sunset tomorrow,” her father said, “you are going to be married to Sundadar, Lord of the Dusk Hour, as the fulfillment of the bargain that was made when your mother and I married.” He stood back, hands on his hips, and waited for the explosion.

It didn’t come. Treva didn’t look at him. She didn’t say anything. Gently, carefully, she put the earbuds back in her ears one at a time and thumbed her iPod on. It didn’t work, but it didn’t matter. She shoved her hands in the front pocket of her hoodie and walked at a steady pace back towards the main manor house.

Her father watched her go and sighed. He picked up the egg and patted it gently. “It’s going to be harder than we thought,” he murmured, and started off to follow his daughter.

Day One Hundred and Fifty-one: Masks Off

October 19, 2011 5 comments

The idea for tonight’s writing comes from one of the writing prompts offered up by John Scalzi in his most recent column over at Filmcritic.com – go on over and try your hand at it!

——————————-

“Bruce!”

Bruce Wayne turned around and scanned the crowd for a voice he was afraid he knew. The main banquet hall of the Gotham Imperial Hotel was full of the richest men and women in the country, all there for a charity auction of antiquities that had been out of the public eye for decades, if not centuries. The fact that they had been, until a few months ago, almost entirely in the possession of the Penguin was known to only a few people in the room. With Cobblepot’s timely arrest and conviction, it was decided that the objects he coveted should be put to good use, something that enraged Cobblepot to no end.

The charity had hoped to raise several hundred thousand dollars, but Wayne had done his best to see to it that they broke well over several million. Rich people were not naturally sentimental, but Bruce Wayne had a gift for getting people to do what he wanted.

He looked through the sea of tuxedos and silks, and for a moment he nearly let his pleasant socialite mask slip into the habitual grimace he was so comfortable with. He turned to the lovely young lady on his arm and said, “Would you excuse me for a minute, Adriana?”

She smiled, and said, “Of course. You captains of industry must have important things to talk about.” Her accent was beautiful – his ear-link to the cave computer had allowed him to place her from a small village just south of the Polish border. She traced his jawline with an impeccably manicured fingernail. “I will see you later, yes?”

Bruce took her hand and kissed it. “Absolutely,” he said. She blushed and turned before he could say anything about it.

“You know, I thought I was good with the ladies, Bruce, but you certainly put up quite the fight yourself.” Bruce turned and found himself looking directly into the eyes of Tony Stark. Stark had that annoying perpetual half-smile under his thin goatee that just made Bruce’s fists itch. It had nothing to do with the attempted takeover of Wayne Robotics last year, of course. Or the way he’d managed to undercut Wayne Industries in a government-sponsored hydroelectric project. No, nothing like that at all.

“Stark,” Bruce said

“Oh, come on, Bruce!” Tony clapped him on the shoulder. “Lighten up!” He deftly took a glass of champagne from one of the waiters that was working the room. He drained half of it in one swallow, and Bruce hated him just that much more. “Sure you lost, Bruce, but think about it this way – I’m out half a million, and I won’t get that back for -” He checked his watch. “Another twenty minutes, at the very least.” He grinned insolently and finished the champagne. He dropped it off with another traveling waiter and then adjusted his cufflinks. “And now I have a new conversation piece.”

“What I wonder, Tony, is what exactly you needed with a fifteenth-century Chinese sword?”

“What did you need with it?”

Bruce’s glare should have burned right through him. Stark just shrugged. “Open mail. Slice ham.” He struck a pose. “Pretend I’m a ninja.” Bruce rolled his eyes and Tony stood up straight. “I know, I know – Japan, not China. But that’s not the point.” He shrugged. “I liked it. I wanted it. I got it.”

Bruce glanced at his watch to make sure the data feed from his earpiece was working. The hour hand had turned red, meaning that the wireless signal was blocked. Bruce grimaced.

Tony laughed, his hands in his pockets. “Wow, you really don’t like to lose, do you?”

“No,” Bruce said, glancing up. “I really don’t.”

They started at each other for a moment, and Tony Stark’s grin just seemed to grow more insolent by the moment. The first thing Bruce had done when the new billionaire on the block moved in was to find out everything he could about him, and very little of what he found made him like the man. Stark Industries had grown by leaps and bounds in the past few years, mainly on the strength of Stark’s designs. Despite what looked like a serious problem with alcohol, the man was a genius, there was no denying that. But Bruce Wayne had seen genius many times before, and it rarely turned out well for anyone.

“Listen, Tony.” Bruce checked his watch again. Still red. “I’d love to stay and banter with you. I really would. But I have to go.” He forced a smile. “I have a lady waiting.”

“Oh, yes, of course,” Tony said. “I wouldn’t dream of keeping you from a lady like that. However,” he said, taking a step closer. “If you want a closer look at that sword, it can certainly be arranged.” Bruce started to object, but Tony held up a hand. “You know there are quite a few people in Gotham besides us who would love to have it. And who would be far less willing to pay a fair price for it.” He raised an eyebrow.

Bruce wasn’t sure if he was hearing what he thought he was hearing. If anything, Stark looked excited by the idea that someone in the Gotham underworld would try to steal the sword, which raised all kinds of alarm bells in Bruce’s mind. Perhaps he was planning an insurance scam? But then why even hint about it? The man was about as far from stupid as it was possible to be, but this was pretty dumb. “Stark,” he said. “I don’t want anything -”

“Listen carefully, Bruce,” Stark said. The joking tone was gone from his voice, which sent Bruce’s mind off in all kinds of different directions. “I’ll be putting this on display in my Gotham headquarters, and I’ll get the word out that security is pretty lax.” He glanced around. “I reckon someone will come after it pretty quickly.”

Bruce snorted. “For a sword?” He shook his head in disbelief. Maybe Stark wasn’t as smart as he thought. “If you want petty criminals digging through your lobby, have fun with that. I don’t see how I need to be involved.” He nodded politely and turned to go.

“How about the Joker?” Stark said quietly. Bruce stopped and looked over his shoulder. Stark made a small gesture to come back over, and then went on in a low voice. “The Penguin murdered one of the Joker’s men to get the sword. The clown had wanted it for himself, and was very unhappy when it got swiped from him.” He glanced around again. “I put that out on display, and it’s almost a guarantee that he’ll come. Him, or someone who can be traced to him.” He looked Bruce in the eyes. The flippancy was gone, replaced with deadly earnestness.

“And what,” Bruce said slowly, “do you think this has to do with me?” He kept his face relaxed, concentrating on the muscles around his eyes and his nose to not give anything away. If Stark was suggesting what he thought he was suggesting…

Stark burst out in a laugh that startled everyone around them. “Oh, you’re good, Bruce. You really are.” He clapped him on the shoulder again. “You enjoy the rest of the party, okay?” He put out his hand and Bruce took it. “But give some thought to my idea, okay?” Tony squeezed Bruce’s hand, just hard enough. “I’ll keep the skylight open for you.”

Bruce just watched as Tony Stark walked away, wrapping his arm around the waist of a beautiful auburn-haired beauty that he probably hadn’t met until that moment. Bruce glanced at his watch. The hands were green again. He tapped the earpiece. “Alfred,” he said. “Looks like we have a problem.”

“I would be surprised if we didn’t, sir,” Alfred said in his ear. “I’ll put on some extra tea.”

Bruce didn’t bother to put his social face back on, and left the hotel without goodbyes. There was something about Tony Stark that he had overlooked, and he would be damned if he didn’t figure it out by morning.

Bruce Wayne is owned by DC Comics.
Tony Stark is owned by Marvel Comics.

Day One Hundred and Fifty: Betrayed

October 18, 2011 7 comments

Garus couldn’t see when he woke up. He thought he might have gone deaf, too, but he could hear the howling of wind, which carried the screams of the wounded and dying to him. He smelled blood and mud and smoke and felt a stabbing pain in his stomach, all of which together convinced him that he was not dead. Or if he was, there was a very unpleasant eternity in store for him.

He tried to lift a hand to wipe his eyes, but his right hand wouldn’t move. So he picked up his left, which still held his sword, and for that he gave a rare thanks to whichever gods had decided not to abandon him at that moment. It did leave him with a poor choice, though – leave himself blind, or let go of Endiel so he could see again. In the end, he pulled the sword close to him, so that it rested against his side. He tried to sit up, but the pain in his stomach made that nearly impossible. His right hand had been burned into a rigid claw, the burns so deep that he couldn’t even feel it anymore. Garus resented the burns. He wasn’t a bad swordsman with his left, but nothing like he was with his right. Slowly, painfully, he levered himself up and got the blood and mud off his face with a hand sore and stiff from clenching the sword hilt.

The field of battle looked worse than he had imagined. The long green grass where he and his men had made their stand was gone, now nothing but a field of churned mud and corpses, all wearing the colors of the Army of The Red Rocks. Long-shafted arrows pinned the ground as far as he could see, and rivulets of rainwater flowed red to a larger stream of blood that slowly seeped into the ground. The bloody mud was mixed with splinters and rags, and he could see hands and faces just barely sticking up above the pooling red rainwater.

He took up the sword again and used it to get himself to his feet. Endiel was brightly, bitterly clean against the mud, and its green crystalline blade seemed to mock the desolation around it. Garus grimaced and tried to sheathe it, but his scabbard was gone. Lost somewhere in the mud, probably. He turned around, but everywhere he looked was the same. Bleak, gray-brown desolation. His eyes started to fill with tears.

The Army of the Red Rocks had been charged with protecting this pass. The mountains were nearly impossible to climb in any season and served as an ideal protection for the city of Deroth behind them. And it should have been easy. The Steward of Deroth had contracted Garus’ band to raise an army to defend the pass, a chokepoint that could have been held by an old woman and her grandmother. Garus had raised an army of a thousand loyal to Deroth to see to it that the forces of the Echuskan Empire would find them a nut too hard to crack.

Not so hard after all, it seemed. He looked behind him. The carnage continued into the pass, and he could smell smoke on the wind. He didn’t need to see it to know that the city of Deroth was dead, or at least dying, and he had failed in his promise. They must have been betrayed. It was the only explanation. He tested his anger and found it flat and dull, and that was how Garus knew he was dying. If he thought he could live, even another day, he would spend that day seeking out the traitor. He would die in that quest. But somehow he knew. He knew that there would be no quest, no search and no vengeance. Not for him.

Garus spotted a glimpse of color in the carnage – a bright blue that somehow remained unstained, and he knew there was only one person it could be. He limped over and cried out loud when he saw what was left of Kal-Atem. His body was slashed and broken, his bright Toriian plumage crushed into the mud. His beak had been hacked off by a sword-stroke and left a gaping maw where once poetry and song had come from. His cloak, though, was unstained. It was a simple enchantment, but just the kind of thing that a performer like him would want. Garus thought of the songs that Kal-Atem would not sing again, and he sank to his knees. For a moment, he wished bitterly that they had never met.

His weeping caused him to cough, which turned into hacking, and moments later he spit out something red and thick. “Oh,” he said. He thought about standing, but what would have come from that? There, by the body of his best friend, was as good a place to die as any. He knew his other comrades were out there somewhere. Probably just as dead as Kal-Atem was, as he would be himself.

Endiel still glowed in his hand, and he hated it for a moment. Still clean, unmarred, as beautiful as the day it was created, no doubt. Not a trace of the violence touched it, and Garus was well aware that no none who had ever wielded it had lived to give it up. He had gained it when he was a boy, when it fell from the hands of the Master Knight who’d wielded it. The sword had glowed when he touched it, and they were bound together from that moment.

From that moment until this one.

He lifted the sword up, and with an effort that sent him to hacking up bloody chunks again, he slammed it into the mud, down to the earth beneath, until only its hilt stuck up above the ground. When he recovered, he reached out and gripped the hilt with a bloodstained hand and took a thick, shaky breath. “I am Garus,” he whispered, and the sword-light shined a little brighter as it heard him. “We were betrayed,” he said. “We were betrayed and Deroth has been taken. The Empire will continue to move until it devours all.” He started to cough again, and it was a long while before he could speak again.

“If you hear this, then Endiel is yours. Take her. Wield her.” He spit again. “It is too late to save us, the Army of the Red Rocks. Kal-Atem. Nuis. Lynala. Yatix.” He felt faint, like he hadn’t slept for a long time, and his grip on the sword felt soft and indistinct. He ground his teeth and tasted blood and took a shuddering breath. “It is to late to save us,” he said.

“Avenge us.”

Garus let go of the sword and its glow winked out. Someone would find it, that much he knew. Not today, not tomorrow. But someday. He just prayed that the hand that wielded it would be strong enough to do what needed to be done.

He lay back, next to the body of Kal-Atem, and watched the gray sheet of clouds drift slowly overhead. The wind whipped across the field faster than the clouds, and Garus wished he could smell something sweeter than death as he went. “Good thing you’re not here, Kal,” he croaked. “You would have hated this ending.” He started to laugh, but the laugh cut off as his chest clenched and stopped his air. His heart followed soon after.

Garus and the army of the Red Rocks lay in the mud as the city of Deroth burned behind the mountains. It would be a long time before someone found the sword. It would be even longer before Garus and his friends were avenged.

Day One Hundred and Forty-nine: Olympia

October 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Olympia Barino never walked down the center of the hallway when she went to class. She hugged the lockers, kept her hoodie up and her head down and did everything she could not to be noticed. She wore grey and brown and moved with a kind of grace that would have made her a dancer if she’d dared try and dance in front of anyone. As it was, it made her effectively invisible to her classmates, which was how she liked it. There were some people who needed to be alone, who couldn’t afford attention, and as far as Olympia knew, she was one of them.

There was a prophecy, you see. But, then, isn’t there always?

Olympia’s mother died in childbirth, and only saw her daughter for a few brief and pain-filled minutes. She was given to her grandmother to raise, against the insistence of her father, who would spend the last years of his life – and the last money he had – battling against Beverly Hamper for the custody of his only daughter. And he would lose. Olympia would be told that he had abandoned her when his wife died, but the truth was that the battle for his daughter broke him. When the final ruling was issued, he hanged himself, leaving a long note that accused Beverly – in detail – of stealing his daughter from him.

On Olympia’s first birthday, her grandmother issued her prophecy. She said. “This girl must not be seen. The eyes of a world will be looking for her, and her heart will be lost should they find her.” No one really thought she was serious, of course. Prophecies were things of fiction and religion, not reality. But Beverly Hamper was rich and feared, and people like her were treasured for their eccentricities, crazy as they might be.

From that day until Olympia was ten, she guarded the girl. Olympia was homeschooled and kept away from neighborhood children. She had no friends, no hobbies that took her out of the house, no knowledge of the outside world. The girl was pale and drawn, from a lack of sunlight and a lack of play. She was not permitted outdoors except under conditions of absolute emergency, and if her grandmother had survived, she would have lived the rest of her days in Beverly Hamper’s aging and overgrown house in the countryside.

When Olympia was ten, her grandmother died. A blood vessel in her brain burst while she was cleaning the kitchen, and she was dead before she hit the floor. Olympia found her and, for the first time, was well and truly alone. It would be five days before anyone came to the house – a deliveryman with their weekly delivery of groceries. He rang and knocked, and when no one answered, he tried the door. It was, of course, locked. But he had never known someone not to be home, so he called the police, who arrived soon after and forced their way in.

Olympia was removed from the house screaming and crying, her eyes wide and fixed on the door to the only world she’d ever known.

When her grandmother’s affairs were taken care of, Olympia was assigned to a foster home. Irene and Leland Aminov were a lovely couple who’d spent much of their lives taking in troubled children from broken homes. They were used to the rebellious child, the violent child, the budding criminal who just needed someone to show some love and trust. With Olympia, all they had to do was make sure she was still where they’d left her. Which she invariably was.

The hardest part was getting her to leave the house. They tried taking her into the backyard at first, but that set off a panic attack that nearly resulted in an ambulance call. For the next five years they coaxed her and cajoled her, with sternness and with love, until Olympia was not only able to leave the house, but to do so on her own and of her own will.

Going to school was, in fact, her idea. Every morning she regretted it. Every time the bus came, she wanted to run back into the house and hide. The sight of all those children still made her sick sometimes.

But she went. Such was the skill of the Aminovs. But try as they might, that was as far as Olympia could go. She could go out to the world, but she would never be part of the world, and that was as good as it would get.

Olympia slid into her seat in the back of her English class, took out a book and started reading. Her teachers had tried to coax her into participating with the rest of the class, but the results had been unfortunate for everyone. There were outbursts and tears and sidelong looks and jokes from other students. Then there were meetings and conferences, and it was decided that as long as she turned in her homework and did well on her tests – which she did – then she would have to be allowed some leeway. Other students tried to get her to talk, then they tried to get her to cry. Neither worked, so eventually they just left her alone, which was what she’d wanted all along.

And so she read. Anything was fine with her, as long as it was enough to keep her attention through her classes. This day she was reading about Henrietta Lacks – a woman whose cells had long outlived her – and wondering what it would be like to be immortal but unaware of your immortality. While she was in the middle of that thought, she heard a gentle tapping on the window behind her.

She heard it, but she didn’t notice. Absorbed as she was in the book, the part of her brain that registered the sound filed it away as irrelevant so that she could keep reading. It wasn’t until some of the kids around her started to notice and to murmur about what was at the window that Olympia finally raised her head from the book and turned around in her chair.

It was a raven. A great black bird larger than a cat, and it was staring right at her. Its eyes were pitiless and black and betrayed a horrible intelligence. It started at Olympia, and she started to shake feverishly. The bird didn’t blink, but watched her though the glass, and she thought she could hear it laughing at her in her head. It was scraping at the inside of her mind with its strong black beak and its sharp claws, turning over thoughts like shiny rocks that it would find on a riverbank. She stood up, her legs shaking and sweat running down her face, and for the first time since she had arrived, her classmates heard Olympia Barino speak.

“Get! Out!”

Then she passed out.

The raven remained at the window for a moment and watched her drop to the floor. Then it let out a single, loud croak and flew off on its great wings. Olympia’s classmates gathered around her, not entirely sure what to make of what had just happened.

Day One Hundred and Forty-eight: Dream Intervention

October 16, 2011 5 comments

Cory’s dream trembled under my fingertips. I was barely even touching it and I could feel its tenuous fabric try to shrink away from me.

Dreams are like that. You ever hear someone try to describe a really weird dream that they had? They search for words, they try to make comparisons that don’t make any sense. You know: “She was my girlfriend but not my girlfriend, and for some reason she was a robot, but not like a Terminator robot but like one of those things you see in an auto plant. And made of marzipan.” Right. They make perfect sense when you’re in them, and absolutely none from the outside. The internal logic is flawless, but to someone looking in, the whole thing is like a fragile, evanescent soap bubble just waiting to go.

It takes a lot of practice to get in and out of them without breaking the whole thing down around you, too. Fortunately, I’ve had that practice. And a little bit of luck.

I took a deep breath, said a quick prayer, and a touch – and I was in.

The dream was pretty boilerplate, and about what I’d expect of a sixteen year-old boy. Lots of dark corners, nothing really clear except when you were looking straight at it. It was hot and everything felt sluggish – when I moved, it felt like everything happened a half second too late. I focused, and everything snapped into sharp relief. All it takes is a shift of perspective. It’s like watching a movie and reminding yourself that the guns are shooting blanks and the explosions are largely computer-generated. It takes some of the fun out of it, yeah, but if you were living in it, then it might save your life.

The school hallway brightened a bit as I reminded myself of where I was, and what I was doing there. I heard screams. The notebook in my pocket told me what I needed to know about the kid: Cory Shillinger, he was a football player and probably the best on his team. A bit of a bully, but that came with the territory. And that wasn’t why I was there. Not to punish him for anything. Just to remind him of something.

The photo I’d pasted into my notebook was all the reference I had, so I pictured a much younger Cory in my head. Dirty blonde hair, skinny, teeth that hadn’t been fixed up yet. I felt the image wrap around me like a tight corset, and when I called up a mirror on the wall, I saw that I looked at least enough like him to pass in a dream. But there was one more thing I needed.

I pulled the badge out of my pocket and pinned it to the faded Star Wars t-shirt I was wearing. The badge had three simple words on it: I AM YOU. He would see it, but not really know what it was. It was a symbol, and nothing more, and it would be all that was really necessary to convince Cory of who I was supposed to be. Honestly, I could have decided to look like Mark Twain or Marilyn Monroe or Jabba the Hutt, but I figured it would be best not to push my luck.

The real Cory came barreling around the corner a moment later, and I banished the mirror. He was running feverishly from something that I’m sure was really horrifying. The way I saw it, he was running from symbols that I saw as just floating bundles of words. “Terror.” “Humiliation.” “Pain.” “Danger.”

The usual stuff.

Cory himself was gorgeous, or at least mostly so. He had the body of a teenage quarterback – all lean and tight and muscled from head to toe. And I do mean head to toe – all he was wearing was a pair of boxers, and even those were flickering in and out as I looked at him. His skin was breaking out in sores that pulsed and opened and closed and moved about his body. His hair was falling out, and as he screamed, I saw that he was missing teeth.

Very impressive. Poor boy was pretty much getting the grand package of nightmares. I cracked my knuckles. Time to get to work.

I put myself in his path and held out a hand. A great wind blew in from behind me, picking up papers and books and even the odd desk or two. It blew from me towards Cory, and bent in a tight circle around him to blow the symbolic monsters away from him in great tatters and rags. Cory screamed and wept as the wind blew past him and howled and shrieked horrible things that only he could hear.

I lowered my hand and the wind snapped off. Cory dropped to his knees, holding his head in his hands. I let him sit like that for a moment, or however long that was for him.

“Hey. QB,” I said. “You gonna sit like that all night?”

He looked up, and I could tell that he’d be a heartbreaker if he just had clear skin and all his teeth. I shook my head. “This isn’t gonna work,” I said. “Stand up.”

He looked at me dumbly.

“C’mon, QB. Stand up.” I crooked a finger and he stood on unsteady legs. I raised a hand to his chest and laid a hand against his skin. His form rippled for a moment, and all the deformities and disfigurement faded away. “There you go.” I patted his chest, and I’m not ashamed to say that I let it linger there for a moment. “You… um, you might want to think about wearing some clothes.” I glanced down, and so did he. “But you can take your time.” I winked. “If you want.”

He didn’t. An eyeblink later and he was wearing his football uniform, pads and helmet and all.

“All right,” I said. I shrugged and turned around. There were a couple of chairs there that hadn’t been there before. “Have a seat,” I said. “And take that helmet off. It makes me uncomfortable.” As he sat, I took another button out and pinned it to the football uniform that I seemed to be wearing as well. Gotta be more careful about that. This button read YOU TRUST ME. Manipulative? Maybe. But one does what one must.

I sat and he sat as well. We stared at me for a moment, then licked his lips and said, “Who are you?”

“Good,” I said. “You can talk. You’d be surprised how often that fails in here.” I handed him a drink in a cup labeled RELAX. He took it and blew over the top. Hot chocolate, probably. When he’d taken a sip, and the pads deflated from under his uniform, I started to talk again.

“Cory,” I said. “You’re in trouble.” I gestured over to one corner of the room, which had gone from being a school hallway to a bare stage. A spotlight clicked on and illuminated a strange tableau. Cory, holding another boy close, their arms wrapped around each other in mid-fall. Look at it one way, and it was the middle of a brawl – the other boy’s feet were about to come out from under him, and I could see Cory getting ready to pull an arm out for a punch. Cory’s face was a mask of rage, the other boy’s torn by fear.

Seen another way, though, and they were holding on to each other out of desperation. Cory was trying to hold the other boy up, his arms tightening around his waist and they both slowly dropped to the floor. The anger on Cory’s face warped to pain and anguish. The other boy’s face was still overwhelmed with fear, but it was altogether a different kind now.

We both looked at it, and then I turned to Cory. “So,” I said. “It looks like there’s something you might need to talk about.”

Day One Hundred and Forty-seven: Out of Retirement

October 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Roy knew he was going to catch hell for missing his grandson’s graduation, but there were some things that I guy just couldn’t put off. He pulled the ski mask down over his face and adjusted it, and then did a quick check of his weaponry. Two handguns on his hips, a shotgun in his hands, and a half dozen flash-bang and smoke grenades hanging off his vest. He shook out his hands, then picked up the shotgun and kicked open the back door of the van and ran into the bank.

In his younger days, he would have gone in with a crew, but most of them had retired or died by now, and none of those damn young people wanted to go bank-breaking with an old man. No matter that he’d had decades of experience, that he knew bank robbery inside and out. It never occurred to them to think that yes, he was old, but he was an old bank robber. And there really weren’t a whole lot of those to be found.

The grenades were an excellent way to start the operation off. People dropped to the ground and could barely see through the smoke. Roy pulled down his custom-made goggles and leveled the shotgun at the first teller he saw. “Anyone moves,” he yelled, “and it gets messy!” With his other hand, he handed over a bag. “You have two minutes,” he said. “Fill it up.” The teller nodded, and one of her hands started to drift under the counter. “Uh-uh,” Roy said. “Your bank’s automatic alarms probably tripped already.” He smiled, but it didn’t come through the mask very well. “All you’re doing is making me angry.” He gestured with the shotgun. “All things considered, not a good idea?”

Given his druthers, he wouldn’t do banks. Too many people, too many variables, and frankly it was cliched by now. But passing this one by wasn’t really an option this time. So bank robbery it was. Easier than hijacking, since he certainly wasn’t as limber as he used to be, and he never really got the hang of kidnapping.

One of the other tellers handed over a sealed bag. Roy didn’t take it. “Open it,” he said. When the teller hesitated, he pumped the shotgun. “Open. It,” he said again. The teller, her hands shaking, opened the bag and let him look inside. He looked in, then looked up and shook his head. “Sweetheart,” he said, “adding the paint bomb is older than I am.” He nodded. “Get that out of there.” The teller, now starting to cry, reached in and took out the paint bomb. That done, Roy reached out and grabbed the bag.

“Many thanks,” he said, backing out towards the door. He could already hear sirens. “Pleasure doing business with you.”

When the doors swung closed, he turned around and headed for the van. He didn’t get in, however. Parked behind the van was a small economy car. He stripped off his ski mask and sweater and threw them in the trunk with the money. He took out an old cardigan and put it on as he got into the car. He turned on his left blinker, pulled out of the parking lot, and was on his way home before the police arrived.

The money would make a good present, once he’d found a way to clean it up. A quick glance suggested there might be upwards of a hundred thousand in the sack, which was more than enough. The FDIC would compensate the bank, no one got hurt, and everyone had a story to tell their friends. What’s more, little Neil would be able to go to college without becoming a slave to some bank until he turned thirty. Everybody wins.

Still, Roy was beginning to wish he had more conventional means of raising cash. Sooner or later, this would catch up to him. He sighed and switched to his right blinker. He had a stop to make before he tried to get to as much of the graduation party as he could.

Day One Hundred and Forty-six: [UNFINISHED]

October 14, 2011 Leave a comment

“We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.”
-Mary Sarton

The office party had been going in full swing for about an hour, and Dorian Gale was moments away from bursting into song. To do so, he knew, would mean annihilation – the utter unmaking of everything he had been prior to that moment. But he could feel it within him. Right now, Cecily Beaudin was up on the stage, staring intently at the karaoke machine and singing an off-key version of a Mariah Carey song. Prior to that, there had been a team that massacred Bon Jovi, and one passable attempt at Neil Diamond.

Every singer made Dorian’s palms itch and his jaw clench, and he knew that soon there would be nothing for it but to get on stage and show these people how it was done.

But could he really?

Dorian was the head of human resources at the Windmoore imprint of Lamarck Publishing, and he had done everything in his power since assuming the role of chief of HR to be nothing but business. He was determined to let his subordinates be touchy and/or feely as their needs required, but he would be the rock upon which the waves of disorder crashed. He had seen how the employees exploited the sympathies of previous HR chiefs, using lies and deception and manipulation to get what they wanted. Sick days forgiven, more vacation time, those were the little things. Mediating arbitrary disputes between co-workers, about who was making too much noise or who was stealing whose food from the break room. There was nothing too small or petty or pathetic that they wouldn’t create some grand drama to lay at the feet of the director of human resources.

Sooner or later, the employees always won. There were just too many of them. They ganged up on Dorian’s predecessors and wore them down until the good men they had been were reduced to spineless shells of humanity.

Not Dorian, though.

Officiousness was his watchword.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

STORY SUSPENDED BY AUTHOR
REASON: This just isn't happening. I have a character who could be interesting, but he's just sitting there like a gutted fish. Maybe he needs more time to grow. Or ferment. Or whatever.

Categories: Unfinished Tags:

Day One Hundred and Forty-five: A Little Rain

October 13, 2011 1 comment

“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
-Robert Frost

There’s not a whole lot of places you can go after you nearly destroy the world.

Prison, sure. If you’re into that kind of thing.

Unfortunately, I’m not. I’ve been to prison before, of course – any good supervillain has. The odd bank robbery, maybe a hostage situation. Property damage, that kind of thing. Frankly, I’m of the opinion that if you’re a supervillain and you haven’t been to prison, then you’re just not setting your sights high enough. And boy did I set my sights high. Tornado swarms, a pair of force-5 hurricanes. The wind was at my fingertips, and everything was going my way. For a while, at least.

My mother’s house in Queens was just like I remembered it. A squat little brick affair set back from the road. You had to walk up a couple of steps from the sidewalk and open a flimsy little gate to get to the front door, which she never used anyway. As far as she was concerned, only visitors would use the front door. It opened into the living room, which she kept spotless with the kind of obsession that soldiers usually reserve for cleaning their guns. The living room was the one room in the house that I never went into, on pain of death. Back when I was still into that whole “following the rules” thing. By the time I grew out of it, my rebellious urges had grown pretty far beyond sitting on mom’s plastic-covered sofa. In her house, the side door was good enough for family.

I knocked on the front door. This is mom, not the White House. I can’t assume anything anymore.

There was a moment of dreadful silence, and then the slow unlocking of the five deadbolts that she’d installed over the years. The door cracked inward, and I saw half of my mother’s face peek out of the darkness. I spread my arms wide and dropped my duffel bag to the ground. “Ma!” I said, forcing cheer out in my voice in waves. “Look who’s home!”

Her dark eyes glanced up and down just once. Then she said, “Come around to the side.” The door slammed, and she slowly started redoing all the locks.

My mother’s house was like a time capsule, where everything just stopped changing somewhere around 1992. She had the same appliances, the same fixtures, the same wallpaper. I felt bad when I realized that I had never once offered to buy mom a new fridge or something, no matter how much I stole. She’d never say anything, of course. But I knew that she knew that I was thinking it. Somehow.

I put my bag down on one of the kitchen chairs and sat in the other. My mother started fixing a glass of iced tea.

I suppose that everyone goes through this when they grow up, but my mom looked so… small. Her hair was dark, but there was gray starting to show through, and she moved more slowly than I remembered. She was wearing houseclothes – a pair of sweatpants and a sweatshirt that matched. This from the woman who had a knockoff Chanel and a fake pearl necklace that she would wear just to go out to the supermarket. Something had happened to my mother, and I suspected that it was somehow my fault.

That could just be my mother’s superpower, though. I can control weather, she can make even a hardened supervillain mike me feel incredibly guilty without even saying a word.

She put the iced tea on the table in front of me and then took the remaining chair. The tea was super-sweet, of course. For a little while, it was just us and the tick-tocking of the cat clock on the wall.

Finally, she said, “I saw you on TV last week.”

I just nodded and sipped my tea.

“That hurricane of yours ruined my gardening.” She gestured out to her tiny backyard garden. The usual chaotic rush of flowers and vegetables was just a broken pile of leaves and stems. “It was just about time for the dahlias, too.”

“Sorry, mom,” I mumbled around the glass.

We sat there for a while longer. I started out the window a little more, and I missed the sunflowers that should have been just about over by now.

“Will the police be coming by?” she asked.

I shook my head. “I never let them know who I was,” I said. “A friend of mine hacked into the Department of National Security database for me. They think I’m from Jersey.” This got as much of a laugh out of her as I could expect – a dry chuckle.

She stood up, slowly. “I’ll make up your bed,” she said.

“Mom.” I reached out and took her arm gently. “Mom, let me take care of that.”

“Nonsense.” She swept my hand away. “I’m your mother.”

And that was it. She walked down the hall to where my old room used to be. I was by myself in the museum kitchen, just me and my iced tea and a spare costume in the duffel bag. And no plan. No idea what I was going to do next. I stood up and looked out the window at the garden. Amidst the mess, mom had cleared out a space in the corner. There were a couple of plants growing there – I have no idea what they were. Green is green, as far as I’m concerned. But they were growing. I concentrated a little, and a brief rain fell around the plants. Just a bit of water sucked out of the air. Nothing dramatic. A little rain.

Mom wouldn’t let me go too far, I was pretty sure. She couldn’t solve my problems. She couldn’t make the police leave me alone, or make the heroes let up or anything like that. But there was iced tea. There was a bed and some time to sit down and figure things out.

That would be enough.