Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Weekly Story #17: The Wedding Venue

A shorter one this time. Lately I've been a little busier at work than usual, and I have a novel draft in progress, so my writing schedule has been sort of out of whack. I've even had a few that, full disclosure, I didn't finish until early the next week. Shorter stories like this help me get back into the swing of things. Also a bit of an exception to the more science fiction/fantasy-oriented stories I've been doing since I restarted this project in July. Sometimes it's good to stay in the real world for a little bit. This coming weekend (Nov. 2-4), I'll be in Washington, D.C. attending Doxacon at St. Sophia's Orthodox Cathedral! Hope to see you there!

  • Billiard Room - Wedding Planner/Bride - Maple Syrup

THE WEDDING VENUE

"So I have to admit," Sandra said with the smell of a cigar in her nose. "This isn't quite the venue I was expecting."

"I know, it's unorthodox," Roni, the bride-to-be, said. "But I've always had a soft spot for this place."

The place was an establishment called Bill's Billiards, just a few blocks away from the Interstate, right off Castille Street. Sandra didn't come to this part of town very often—certainly not in a long time. The residents here weren't exactly her usual clientele, which tended to have an extra digit or two in their salary. Roni herself lived in Verdure Heights—not the wealthiest, but definitely in the upper part of the middle. Sandra had planned wedding receptions at billiard clubs before, but those were usually not the types frequented by bikers, nor the types that had smoke hanging in the air at all times. Not to mention, Roni didn't just want the reception here—she wanted the wedding.

It was 3 PM on a Tuesday, and there were only three other people at the bar. One sat just a few seats down from Sandra. He had smoked three cigarettes since she and Roni arrived. All of his attention was on the Tennessee/Alabama game on the flatscreen behind the bar. The other two patrons were a couple of unshaven gentlemen playing 8-Ball at one of the tables.

"I'm just not sure this is really the type of place that would normally host a wedding," Sandra said. She sipped her Fat Tire, then waved at the bartender. "Excuse me, sir? Is it possible to reserve this place for special events?" She had to shout over the Thin Lizzy playing on the jukebox.

He shrugged. "Don't think we ever have. You have to ask Bill."

"Oh. You're not Bill?"

"Nope, I'm Rocky."

Roni chuckled at something, maybe an old joke she'd just remembered.

"Okay, Rocky. My friend here's getting married, and it turns out she wants to have the wedding here."

"Oh, hey, Roni," Rocky said. "I saw the post on Instagram. Congratulations. But... the wedding? Here?"

"I always said I wanted my big day to be unique," Roni said.

"I mean, it's your wedding. I just don't know that Bill would care much for the idea. I could see maybe the reception, or the bachelorette party. You do realize we don't allow kids in here, right?"

The Thin Lizzy song ended, and an Iron Maiden song replaced it.

"That's what I was wondering," Sandra said. "Roni, I'm not sure how people are going to feel about an adults-only wedding. I've never been to one."

"I didn't say I wanted it in here," Roni said. "You know that empty lot behind the place? We can set up back there, Bill's can provide some food, and if anyone wants to, they can come in here for some pool."

"Okay, so that makes a little more sense. Unorthodox, but I guess if you're comfortable with this place..."

"I am. I've been coming here since college. Bill's has always been great to me. And besides, I just cannot wait to see the looks on Mommy and Daddy's faces when they figure out where they are."

"Troll weddings. I don't get a lot of those." Sandra had seen pictures of Mommy and Daddy—the kinds of people who owned more than one car, and paid someone else to drive them. "Rocky, any chance we can work something out?"

"You'd have to ask Bill." Rocky looked toward the back of the building. "Don't think we've ever done catering. Speaking of which, you ready to order?"

"We'll both have the pancakes," Roni said.

"Wait, I'm not done looking," Sandra said.

"They're the best damn pancakes in town. Trust me, when you taste them, you'll want to have your wedding here, too."

"But this place isn't even open in the morning."

"No," Rocky said, "but we do get enough night owls who feel like breakfast when they show up here. And she's right, they are really good." Rocky scribbled down the order. "You'll still need to talk to Bill, though. I'm really not sure he'd go along with the wedding."

"I don't mind calling him," Sandra said. "In fact, I'm actually very interested in speaking with him. You see, my full name is Sandra Underhill."

Rocky whipped his head up and stared at her. "Underhill?"

"Am I supposed to know who that is?" Roni said.

"I'm surprised you don't, if you're a regular here," Sandra said. "Chester Underhill was my grandfather. He built this place."

"Chester's your grandfather?" Rocky said. "My God, he's a legend! Whatever happened to him?"

"Currently in Florida. Still has his old hog. My dad was even a bartender here, before the place got sold. I'm glad to see something's happening with it."

"I had no idea," Rocky said.

"I had no idea," Roni said.

"I had no idea," the cigarette-smoking man said as he moved down to a closer stool. "I used to come here back when your pop was tending bar."

"So you think Bill might be willing to make an arrangement?" Sandra asked Rocky.

It was the smoking man who answered. "I think he might." The jukebox switched from Iron Maiden to Jethro Tull. "Bill McKenzie, at your service."

"I was wondering how long you were gonna take to say something," Roni said.

"Ah. Well, then, Mr. McKenzie," Sandra said, "if we can get the lot out back on March 15, and some light catering—I guess we'll want burgers, fries, wings, and those pancakes Roni was talking about—I'm pretty sure you'll be well compensated."

"We will spare no expense," Roni said.

"I think we can handle that," Bill said. "Rocky, their next drinks are on me. Tell Chester I said hi."

Sandra swallowed some more beer. "I just hope those pancakes are as good as Roni said. I'm going to want plenty of syrup."

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Weekly Story #16: The Forgotten Tomb

There may be more to this story than I had time to write in a week. It definitely does more to raise questions than to answer them. We shall see. I based Dr. Townsend on an old art history professor, who I believe passed away within the last few years. Hope you enjoy it!

  • Ancient Ruins - Student/Teacher - Jet Pack

 

THE FORGOTTEN TOMB

Dr. Townsend climbed down the rope and took the first steps inside the ruins. "Just think," he called up to the surface, "we're probably the first people to see this site in over ten thousand years!"

Ursula climbed down next, followed by Brad and Dermott. "Incredible," Ursula said. "So much of it is still intact."

Dermott helped Brad set up the lighting rig that they'd lowered in ahead of Dr. Townsend. They made the connections they needed and turned the lights on. The reliefs, the statues, the writing on the walls, all revealed themselves clear as day. Ursula immediately whipped out her camera and started taking pictures.

"What're you thinking, Dr. T?" Brad said. "Sumerian? Harappan?"

"Anything's possible," Dr. Townsend said. "The writing seems similar to cuneiform, but has features of Indus Script. And yet, the figures in these reliefs remind me more of Egypt, but with a hint of the Mayans. If we can translate any of this, it could add a whole new chapter to history."

Ursula halted before taking a picture of the southern wall. "Um, Dr. T? I think you should see this."

"Sure, what've you got?" Dr. Townsend jogged up beside her and gazed up at the relief. It was twelve feet tall, and depicted a giant with the head of a warthog. A smaller figure flew in front of it wielding a sword. "That is interesting."

"Look at that rig on his back." Brad pointed at the smaller figure, and the smoke shooting below him. "If I didn't know any better, I'd think that was..."

"A jetpack?" Dermott said.

"Hm." Dr. Townsend pointed his flashlight at the smaller figure. "Are we sure those couldn't be wings? He could be some sort of divine figure vanquishing a primordial evil, or a hero granted a boon."

"I don't know about that." Ursula went over to the western wall. "Over here we've got somebody riding some eagles, and their wings don't look anything like the jetp... what that guy's wearing." She spotted something in the corner of the image. "Hang on. There he is again. And his jetpack's next to him."

The figure's equipment, standing upright, resembled a fighter plane, seen from below. "That's definitely a jetpack," Brad said.

"So either this society had higher levels of technology than we do now," Ursula said, "or they had the concept of science fiction."

"If we can decipher the writing, that would help narrow down the possibilities," Dermott said. "Wouldn't be the first time an ancient civilization had something that seemed high-tech in its artwork."

"Good to see some critical thinking," Dr. Townsend said. "Personally, I think this place is going to end up on Ancient Aliens no matter what we do, so let's just seek the truth, whatever it is. Ursula, you got plenty of pictures?"

"Just about every inch."

"Fantastic. What say we move on to the next room?"

They left through a pointed arch in the northeast corner. On the way, they kept their flashlights on the walls, where men fought with spears in one image and rode what looked like motorcycles in another. Yet another image showed a colossal city surrounded by a dome, where faceless soldiers tried and failed to invade.

A brick shifted under Dermott's foot. Suddenly, the entire hallway lit up as if there were fluorescent lights hidden in the masonry. "Okay, this is getting weird," Ursula said. "And I'm pretty sure that's a robot in that picture."

"Ancient artificial lighting," Dr. Townsend said in awe. "And it still works after all these years."

Brad said, "Have we considered that maybe somebody's trolling us?"

"Long way to go to play a joke on a bunch of grad students," Dermott said. "Guess it means we don't need these anymore." He turned off his flashlight and dropped it in his bag. Everyone else put theirs away as well and continued down the hall.

"This is getting way more Indiana Jones than I ever expected when I got into this," Brad said. "And I got into this because of Indiana Jones."

"As long as there are no death traps," Dermott said. "I mostly got into it because I think ancient Mesopotamia's cool."

Ursula continued snapping pictures. "Linguistics for me. And this is a pure treasure trove. They must have written on every brick."

"Maybe they explain why they're not mentioned in any other records."

"As far as we know," Brad said. "You guys hear something?"

A strange oscillating hum came from down the hall. They hurried on to the end and entered a vast chamber, lit by columns that hung from the ceiling like stalactites. A staircase took them down to the main floor. In the center, at the top of a raised platform with its own set of stairs, was a sarcophagus.

"Should we go up?" Ursula said.

"I'll take a closer look," Dr. Townsend said. "You three stay here. If I tell you to run, you all run. Got it?"

Brad, Ursula, and Dermott all said, "Got it."

And they watched their mentor, adviser, and employer climb up the steps.

When he reached the first landing, a light flashed on the sarcophagus.

The lid rose up.

Dr. Townsend froze.

A decrepit figure lifted himself upright on thin, feeble arms. He wore a headdress of golden chains, and had tubes and wires sticking out of his neck and arms. The sight reminded Ursula too much of her grandfather when he was on life support. The man looked at Dr. Townsend. "You... have awakened me," he said with a hoarse voice.

Dr. Townsend stammered out a response. "I... You speak English."

The withered man nodded. "Then my ancestral tongue now exists. What year is this?"

"2018, Common Era."

"I see. Then his time has not yet come. You shall leave here now." The withered man started to lean back.

"Wait!" Dr. Townsend stepped closer to the sarcophagus. "What is this place? Who are you? How do you speak our language?"

"You are very impertinent." The withered man glared at Dr. Townsend, then down at Ursula, Brad, and Dermott. "Why have you disturbed me before my time?"

His voice seemed to reach right into Ursula and shake up her heart. "I... We... We're just archaeologists. We thought this was just ruins."

"We're just here to study," Brad said. "We had no idea you were here."

The withered man said, "Had you known of my rest, would you have come?"

Ursula, Brad, and Dermott all looked at each other, unable to offer an answer.

"Answer! You stand in the presence of Gorkol, last emperor of the Strimori. Your past and future depend on my awakening at precisely the right time!"

"Please, we don't mean any harm," Dr. Townsend said. "We've never heard of the Strimori. This tomb seems to be the only record of your culture left in existence. We just have a few questions, then we can leave you alone."

"More of that insolence," Gorkol hissed. "What is your name?"

"I'm Doctor Albert Townsend."

"And you, down there! Your names!"

"I'm D-Dermott Jones. This is Bradley Arthur. And this is Ursula Patten."

"Ursula... Patten?" Emperor Gorkol waved at her. "Come up here."

Ursula hesitated, but then Dr. Townsend beckoned for her as well. "I think it's all right."

When she got to the top, she forced herself to look at his decayed face. His face had perhaps once been handsome, but now sagged as if barely even attached anymore. He had almost no hair, except for some patches on the sides. He blinked his reddened eyes. "Remarkable. To think I would meet you like this."

"I--I don't understand."

"No. Perhaps it's better that you don't. Very well. Each of you may ask me one question. Ursula Patten may ask me two." Emperor Gorkol looked at Dr. Townsend. "You may ask first."

Dr. Townsend coughed. "All right," he said. "Where did you learn English?"

"From my grandfather. I knew him as Akhormeth, he who led the Strimori to glory. He taught it to me and my siblings in private, telling me in his time it would be one of the most commonly-spoken. Only the imperial family knew this language. If the year is 2018, then he surely has yet to be born."

"So then--"

"Ah!" Emperor Gorkol raised his finger. "One question. You, down there!"

"Me?" Dermott said. "Or him?"

"Whichever!"

"Okay... If that didn't count as my question, then... Are you saying your grandfather was a time traveler?"

Emperor Gorkol gazed off into the distance. "I believe that was how he referred to it. Next."

Brad said, "So I guess he brought all this technology with him, whoever he was. Is there a way to decipher the writing?"

Emperor Gorkol nodded with a smile. "I learned your language. You should be able to learn mine. If the memory of my empire has been lost, perhaps it shall be your duty to restore it. Now, Ursula," he said. "Your first question."

"A-all right. You said our future depends on you awakening at 'exactly the right time.'"

"When I awaken again and my strength is restored," he said, "I am to be my grandfather's escort to Strimor, where he will ascend the throne. It was his inventions that defended us from the invaders from the south, the east, and the sky. "

Brad spoke up. "Hold up, did you just say the sky?"

"You have already asked your question!" Emperor Gorkol jabbed a finger at him. "Although... I must know, have the Ameshites returned from the clouds?"

"We've never heard of them," Dr. Townsend said.

"You will. Akhormeth battled them once. When they return, I will be ready to drive them back again. Ursula, you have one more question."

"All right," she said. "Am... am I supposed to know you? Or this Akhormeth?"

Emperor Gorkol lowered his head. "That question I cannot answer. You will one day find out on your own." He lay back in his sarcophagus. "On these walls you will find everything you need to know. The Ameshites will return. Akhormeth has witnessed their return. I must rest and prepare myself. You must rest and prepare yourselves."

"Wait," Dr. Townsend said. "There's so much more--"

"The walls will tell you everything." The lid of the sarcophagus closed over Emperor Gorkol, and any further answers from the last survivor of an ancient civilization.

Ursula took a photo of the sarcophagus. She'd nearly forgotten about the camera the entire time they were talking to the emperor.

"So," Brad said. "That was more than I expected."

"What say we head up topside?" Dr. Townsend said. "I think we've got more than enough to chew on for one night. Ursula, you all right?"

"I... I dunno." She put her camera into her bag next to the flashlight. "You heard him. He... he acted like he knew who I was. Who am I supposed to be? Akhormeth's mother? His wife? Do I have something to do with those Ameshites? What am I supposed to do with this?"

Dr. Townsend started off down the stairs, with Ursula close behind him. "I can't answer that. Although, I do feel safe in saying we're in scientifically uncharted territory across the board."

"But how can he hang that over my head like that? I'm never going to get that out of my head."

"He is an emperor." Brad led the way up the stairs to the hallway. "Didn't exactly seem terribly friendly to begin with."

"If there's anything I've learned in my career," Dr. Townsend said, "it's to be comfortable not having answers, even when you need them. I'm sorry about this, Ursula."

"It's all right," she said. "I just... I need some time to process this. It's not easy having a destiny you don't know about."

Ursula was the last to enter the corridor. She took one final look back at the sarcophagus, at the message from the past and the future that stopped short of reaching her. Somewhere in the carvings on these walls could be something else about her life to come.

Once everyone else had reached the entry chamber, Ursula tapped the glowing tile and shut off the lights.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Weekly Story #15: A Favor at the Playground

Not really much to say, except that I'm reasonably satisfied with this story, and enjoyed rereading it while giving it one final edit before publishing. See if you can spot the hidden Fist of the North Star reference!

  • Playground - Fairy - Obstinacy

A FAVOR AT THE PLAYGROUND

It had taken some effort to convince Mom, but even if it was after dark, Yvette needed to take Mary to the playground. Mom had objected that it would be empty, that it would be dangerous, and that Mary was grounded anyway, so she had no business going anywhere. Yvette's response was that of course Mary would never be left alone, and it wasn't so she could play. It was so Yvette could have a heart-to-heart with her little sister about her behavior.

Though even that wasn't entirely true.

Throughout the drive, Yvette kept glancing through the mirror in the backseat. Mary sat in a sullen slump, staring out the window. Earlier today her first-grade teacher had caught her yanking a classmate's hair bands right off her head. Last week their brother Michael had caught her setting one of Dad's books on fire. And the week before that, she'd gotten into a fight on the playground at Tate Park—the same one they were going to. Mary had never acted like this before, and no one could explain what had gotten into her. Was someone picking on her? Was something wrong with her? Was something wrong with the family?

Yvette knew, though. She'd been the same sort of little hellion when she was a kid, and if her theory was correct, it was for the same reason. And that reason was at that playground.

"You hate me, don't you?" Mary groaned from the back.

"Nobody hates you," Yvette said. "We're just disappointed. You know perfectly well that what you've been doing isn't right. If we can get this to stop, then everybody can be happy, including you."

"But what're we going to the playground for?"

"There's something I want to check out, and I want you to help me. You know, I used to go to that same playground when I was little. I loved to climb that tree in the middle of the field."

"I know. You've told me."

"Right. But there's something I used to do there. Someone I used to play with. I want to tell you about her, but we need to do it alone."

Mary curled up her arms and legs, shivering. There was definitely something at that playground she didn't want Yvette to see.

Yvette parked on the curb, beneath the glow of the street lights. It was late enough that she didn't have to pay the meter. There were still plenty of people in the park, even with children, but they were mostly biking or picnicking or walking. The playground on the other side of the field was nearly empty. Mary hunched over, clutching Yvette's hand as they crossed the field. "Yvette," she said, "I don't wanna go to the playground."

"Look, I'm sorry, but we need to settle this once and for all. There's something Mom and Dad and Michael don't know about in that playground, isn't there? Something that gives you all these bad ideas?" Yvette decided it was time to drop the real bombshell. "Does the name 'Ocera' ring a bell?"

Mary gasped, and shuddered, and squeezed Yvette's hand.

"I knew it," Yvette said. "Look, Mary, I met Ocera when I was a little girl, too. She wasn't any different back then. She told me the same things, got me into the same kind of trouble. If you don't want to get into any more trouble, we have to deal with Ocera."

Mary dug her heels into the ground. "No! Ocera's my friend!"

"I'm not going to hurt her. I just need to talk to her." Yvette took Mary around the slide, through the swings, to a circle of white mushrooms near a line of trees. "Yeah, I figured." She dropped to one knee and wrapped her arm around Mary. "Let's see how much I remember... ruiden... shiu... moha emao."

Mary whimpered.

The mushrooms began to glow. Lines of light formed a set of overlapping diamonds in the center. A tiny young woman, only six inches tall, fluttered on dragonfly wings up from the design. Her skin was blue like a glacier, and her hair was a bright neon pink. "Mary! What a surprise!" Her voice was like a piccolo, just as Yvette remembered.

"Good evening, Ocera," Yvette said.

Ocera took one look at Yvette and fluttered back. "What? A grown-up? Mary, I told you—"

"It's my sister," Mary said. "And she said she knows you."

"I'm Yvette. You remember me, don't you? I'm a little bigger now, but ten years will do that to you."

"Yvette... Yvette..." Ocera swayed back and forth in the air. "Where have I heard that..."

Yvette grabbed Ocera's ankle. "You know perfectly well who I am." Ocera flapped her wings furiously, but couldn't break free.

"Stop!" Mary cried. "You'll hurt her!"

"Right. Wouldn't want to do that." Yvette released Ocera. "Let me jog your memory, Ocera. It was at this same playground. You appeared only to me, and to two other kids. You told a little boy to pee on that tree in the middle of the field. You told a girl to bite her older brother on the arm. And you told me to throw a dog turd at another kid."

"Whoa, really?" Mary said.

"That's just for starters, Ocera. You told us you'd teach us magic if we did what you said."

"Look, I play with a ton of kids around here," Ocera said. "You can't expect me to remember every one."

"Yeah, but nobody did more than me. I shoplifted for you. I started fights for you. I came this close to burning down my father's tool shed for you. We're both lucky I came to my senses in time."

"Oh, Yvette!" Ocera twirled in the air. "I was just thinking about you a week ago! Your name was on the tip of my tongue!"

"I'll bet it was. You know, I had to convince myself you weren't real. I told my parents an imaginary friend made me do it, and that I already beat her up. I thought I was done with you. And now you're after my sister?"

"Your sister, eh? I guess I do see a resemblance. You have the same chin."

"I'm not joking around, Ocera. What'll it take to keep you from ever coming back here?" Yvette picked a mushroom, and the light in the cap instantly went out. "This?"

"It'll grow back. But why get rid of me? All I'm doing is answering when people call. Remember all the fun we had? All the games we played?"

"They weren't fun, and they weren't games. I was just easily impressed because I was a little girl and I was talking to a fairy. You think I enjoyed those things you got me to do? I was terrified! I only did it because of what you promised. Mary, be honest, did you have fun doing anything Ocera asked?"

Mary tightened her lips. She didn't answer.

"Oh like she's gonna tell you," Ocera said. "She knows she's in trouble. You think she won't just blurt out whatever you want to hear?"

"Look, this isn't just about Mary. Even if I keep you away from her, it's not going to stop you from corrupting other kids." Yvette leaned closer. "Now, I do think we can resolve this like adults, Ocera. There's no reason for this to get ugly. How do I get you to leave these kids alone?"

"Hm." Ocera crossed her arms and drifted down on top of one of the mushrooms. "Maybe you could do me one last favor."

"Nope. No favors. You do your own dirty work."

"What, I'm supposed to get nothing out of this? Negotiations are all about give-and-take. There's gotta be a way to make us both happy."

"What do you even get out of this? Out of making small children do bad things? Do you feed off of bad feelings or something? Or do you just think it's funny?"

"Oh no no no, nothing like that." Ocera flew up in front of Yvette's face. "I do benefit from it. It's not just for fun. Can you guess why?"

Yvette paused to think. It was difficult, with Ocera zipping to and fro in front of her. "If I guess, will you leave?"

"Not until my favor is done."

Mary said, "Do you sell bad feelings?"

"No, but I like the way you think," Ocera said. "Neither of you will ever guess."

Yvette mulled over the possibilities. Ocera didn't gain strength from bad deeds. She didn't get any money out of it. So what good does a child committing arson do her? Would she grow to giant size? Would she make something out of the bad feelings? Would she win her freedom from something?

If it was freedom, freedom from what?

Yvette picked at the mushroom Ocera had been sitting on. She lifted it out of the ground, extinguishing the light inside. Ocera flickered like the screen on an old TV set. She might have done that before, but Yvette's attention had been on the mushrooms themselves.

There was one thing Yvette had never seen Ocera do.

"Ocera," she said, "have you ever left this circle?"

"What do you mean?"

"Can you actually get away from these mushrooms? Every time I've ever seen you, mushrooms are around."

"Hey, you're right," Mary said. "I never saw you leave here, either."

"What, you think I'm not powerful enough?" Ocera said. "You think I can be limited by a bunch of mere mushrooms?"

"So do it," Yvette said. "I dare you."

"Hey, I do the daring around here."

"So do something daring. Just go over there, to the sandbox."

Ocera gave her an angry look, then flew over to the outer edge of the circle. She got about a foot past the mushrooms, and simply hung in the air as if something had grabbed her leg. Her wings became almost invisible as she flapped faster and faster.

She let out a huff, then turned toward Yvette and Mary. "You see? I can leave."

"But not very far," Yvette said. "Do your favors have something to do with that?"

"All right, you got me," Ocera said. "I'm trying to gain full access to your world. Ever since King Oberon sealed all the portals for everybody, the best I can do is appear in this thing. But it turns out those 'bad feelings' you mentioned are a potent energy source! If I harvest enough of them, I can break the seal, and go wherever I want."

Mary began to sob. "So... so you weren't gonna teach me magic?"

"No she wasn't," Yvette said. "She was just using you."

"It's not like that!" Ocera said. "Mary, I am going to teach you magic, just as soon as I can break through. I just need you to do one more bad thing. Something that makes you feel really bad."

Yvette waved her arm between her sister and the fairy. "Hold on. Something isn't adding up. You're telling me a child's guilt and shame is powerful enough to break that seal, but you, an actual fairy, aren't?"

"Energy's always gotta come from somewhere."

"Right, but what kind of magic were you planning to teach Mary? Or me?"

"Really, really awesome magic! Like you wouldn't believe!"

"It's powerful magic," Yvette said, "but it can't break the seal."

"Not one set by King Oberon."

"But when my baby sister regrets what she did, that's powerful enough?"

"It's... different." Ocera put her hands behind her back.

"You don't actually know any magic, do you?"

"I know some."

"Anything good?"

"Um... well... I can do this." Ocera's body became completely transparent. "See?"

"You were gonna teach me how to do that?" Mary said.

"Well, it's kinda the sort of thing only fairies can do." Ocera faded back into sight.

Yvette said, "So you actually have nothing at all to teach anybody. Except maybe the depths of their own souls."

Ocera sank down toward the ground.

"What did you even want to do in our world? Business? Pleasure? Is King Oberon oppressing you or anything?"

"Not really. He's no Queen Mab, but he's okay. I mostly just, you know, think maybe I could do a better job. And I've heard your world has a lot of iron. Could've been useful but..." Ocera sighed.

"I see," Yvette said. "Okay. So we've figured out why you want us to do you a favor. Now tell us, what do we need to do?"

Ocera sat cross-legged on the grass. "Fine. Okay. Do this, and I will stop answering the Ruiden call. I'll just have to find some other way to visit your world. Maybe there's a way I can smuggle myself through."

"Want us to get you an iron?" Mary said.

"What, like, for laundry? No, no, I don't need an iron, I need iron ore. You don't own any mines, do you?"

"Afraid not," Yvette said.

"So do this," Ocera said. "Take a picture of Mary and me, together."

"That's it?"

"That's it. I don't want her to start thinking I'm an imaginary friend."

"If you say so. Mary, how does that sound? Want a picture with Ocera?"

Mary nodded. "Okay!"

"All right, then." Yvette dug out her phone. She positioned Mary in front of the circle of mushrooms, with Ocera over her shoulder. The camera on her phone focused, but Yvette didn't take the picture just yet. "Mary, grab some of Ocera's hair. Ocera, grab some of Mary's hair."

Mary leaned further over the mushrooms so Ocera could reach her without straining, and pinched a lock of pink hair in her fingers. Ocera, in turn, wrapped her hands around a lock of Mary's hair. Yvette figured this would make it harder for her or Mary to someday shrug off as Photoshopped.

"Say cheese," Yvette said.

They did, with big, broad, toothy smiles, and she took the picture.

"Okay, then," Ocera said. "A deal is a deal. I will never appear at this playground again. Been nice knowing you. Have a wonderful evening!" Ocera touched her toes to the ground on the design in the circle. The lines and mushrooms intensified their glow, then faded. Ocera was now nowhere to be seen.

On the way back to the car, Mary said, "I don't understand why we couldn't just give her some iron."

Yvette unlocked the doors. "Look, Mary, I'm not so sure she wanted to do anything nice with that iron. We're better off just taking the photo." She made sure Mary got buckled in. "Are you going to cause any more trouble from now on?"

"No Ma'am."

"Glad to hear it." Yvette straightened her back. She actually had a positive moral influence on her little sister! Between this and getting her license, she definitely felt more adult now. "And if you ever see anything else strange or mystical, you come talk to me first, okay?"

"Sure."

Yvette climbed into the driver's seat.

"Can I see that picture?" Mary said, then quickly added, "Please?"

"Very good. Here you go." Yvette gave Mary the camera with the photo queued up and started the car. Mary chuckled. "Is it that funny?"

Mary held the phone out to her. "Here. See her tongue sticking out?"

Yvette took a closer look at the photo. Ocera was indeed sticking her tongue toward the camera. Yvette could have sworn that fairy was only smiling when the photo was actually taken. She was certain of it.

"Mary," she said, "you'll tell me if you see Ocera again, won't you?"

"I will."

"And you won't listen to a thing she says?"

"I won't."

"Good." Yvette drove home, eager to tell Mom and Dad she'd accomplished her mission.

For now.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Weekly Story #14: The Last Battle of Monument Beach

For this one, I was trying to go for a setting sort of like Final Fantasy XV—a fantasy world based on our modern one. It's not exactly easy to tell, but hopefully it's at least clear that we're not dealing with quite the same history and culture as our own. In the process I also wound up turning the story into a commentary on the dynamics of more intense, rigorist converts to a religion (say, Eastern Orthodoxy) and more easy-going cradle members. Hope you like it!

  • Beach - Witches - Monument

 

THE LAST BATTLE OF MONUMENT BEACH

Naturally, the rain would start just as Ariana got to the beach. The families and other vacationers were packing up their things and hiking back to their rental condos. The clouds were heavy and dark, and had appeared with hardly any warning. Only a few adventurous people stayed on the sand. There was a young couple making out on a towel, not willing to let a little storm get between them. There was a girl in a green swimsuit that matched her hair, sitting directly on the sand, watching the waves grow. And there was Ariana, seventeen years old, wearing the purple bikini she'd been so eager to show off, with hardly anyone to show it off to.

Well, Ariana wasn't the type to worry too much about the rain. She cast an umbrella-shaped barrier over herself, sat in her folding chair, and took a sip from her water bottle. This rain had started awfully suddenly. The sky had been perfectly clear and blue when she left her parents at the condo.

She focused her aura into her fingers, and sent it out into the sand. A column rose up, and she made it dance and whirl around. A small boy gasped as he passed by, trailing after his parents. "Are you a witch?"

Ariana chuckled. "Got me." She shook her finger, and let the column collapse. The boy gasped again.

"Are you a good witch or a bad witch?"

"The good kind, I hope," Ariana said. In the distance behind the boy was the monument erected seventeen years ago, the year Ariana was born, commemorating the final battle between the Orlynne sect of witches and the Effka sect. That battle had taken place on this very beach, ended the war, and resulted in reunification after 300 years.

"But are you Orlynne or Effka?"

"Both." Her mother and father had met on the battlefield on opposite sides, and like many couples of their generation, had risked a lot to bring her into the world. She still had family members on both sides she'd never met because they were so opposed to her parents' marriage. "You see—"

The boy heard his name and ran off. Ariana wished she could have shown him more. Magic wasn't exactly something to show off, but over the centuries, the Effka had developed a reputation of incredible power and severity and austerity, inspiring fear and suspicion among ordinary humans. The Orlynne, on the other hand, had always operated in the open.

Which made her wonder about this rain. Now even the couple that had been making out finally got up and left. It was just Ariana and that girl over there in the green swimsuit. The green girl didn't seem especially bothered by the storm at all. In fact, she had her arms stretched out as if she were embracing it.

The green girl flicked her wrist, and off in the distance, a lightning bolt struck the ocean.

Ariana shot out of her seat as the thunder rumbled over the beach. Another witch! It was all so obvious now—that green girl was controlling the storm! Just to make sure, Ariana closed her nictitating membrane so she could see the green girl's aura. Sure enough, that aura was blue—non-witches had thin yellow auras—and it had the two horn-like protrusions that were a dead giveaway for long-distance magic. And for what, to drive everybody off the beach? Sure, a witch needed her privacy, but this was a bit much!

Ariana wasn't going to let this scare her off. She loved meeting other witches. The green girl looked like she was the same age, and while Ariana had plenty of friends, she had all too few witch friends.

When she arrived at the green girl's spot, she said, "I see your aura."

The green girl looked at her with her own nictitating membrane, making her eyes look like solid blue jewels. "I see your aura, too."

They both returned to their regular sight. The green girl had no barrier against the rain—she was just letting it fall right on her.

"I'm Ariana."

"Zelda. Can I help you?"

"I just don't often get to meet a lot of witches outside my own family, and I thought I'd say hi." Ariana pointed up at the clouds. "This is your storm?"

"That's right."

"Seems to have scared everybody off."

"There was too much noise," Zelda said. "I wanted some peace and quiet."

"You sure this was really necessary? They're just here to have fun."

"Fun? Excuse me? Do you see that monument?" Zelda jabbed her finger toward the spire. "This was a battlefield. Hundreds died on this beach."

Ariana took a step back. She hadn't expected this girl to be so intense. "Y-yeah, I know," Ariana said. "My parents were there. And technically..." She pointed in the same direction. "That was the battlefield."

"Oh, of course. No concern over history? Tradition? Sacred space? You're an Orlynne, aren't you?"

Ariana's aura tightened up. "Say what?"

"Touched a nerve? Naturally. Only an Orlynne would content themselves with mere amusement rather than show some respect."

"That's my family you're talking about! How about you show some respect? I have as much right to be here as you do, and so does everybody else. If you don't stop this storm, I will."

"Go ahead and try."

"Fine." Ariana sent her aura into the sky, and carefully arranged her hands to help the aura maneuver. She felt it tangle with another powerful energy. Changing her sight, she saw her own aura circled by Zelda's. She circled it in return, knotted through it, pulled it around. That distracted Zelda's aura enough to break it away from the storm.

The rain died down to a drizzle, and the sun began to cut through the clouds.

Then a gob of sand hit Ariana in the face. Damp sand that fell in clumps.

Zelda was scooping up more. "You're skilled, but you're too easily distracted."

"Ugh, you are the worst!" Ariana fling a clod at Zelda, but it bounced off a foot away from her skin. "I've heard all about people like you. People who act like the war didn't end before we were ever born. You actually buy the hype about Effka, don't you? All that junk about fear and terror and secret rites?"

Zelda finally got up to her feet. "And what would an Orlynne like you know about our rites? You listen to too many rumors."

"I heard it from other Effka. Like my mom. And my grandparents. Who have been Effka their whole lives. So what do you really know about the Effka? I mean, that's a terrific bathing suit, and I wish I had one just like it, but if you're gonna talk about sacred space—"

Zelda swept her arm across, and a powerful wind burst from the side. Ariana had to brace herself on the ground, but it wasn't enough. The wind picked her up and tossed her over to the tide line. Sand spilled all around her and got in her mouth.

Ariana spat out as much as she could as she pushed herself up. Seaweed draped off her shoulder. "What's wrong with you?"

Ariana sank feet first into the sand, up to her neck.

"What's wrong?" Zelda said. "What's wrong is, I'm trying to use my magic to enjoy my day, at a place that's significant for our people, and you just had to butt in."

Ariana couldn't move her arms or legs. The sand was packed in too tight. Zelda's magic was strong, and her aura was huge. But that didn't necessarily mean she had skills. Mother Agathon would never have put up with this. "You know," Ariana said, "the Effka are supposed to be ascetics." She managed to dig some space for her hand. "They'd never use their magic just to push people around."

Zelda funneled in some ocean water, and launched it into Ariana's face. Some of the water wound up gulped down Ariana's throat. Zelda held more in a floating ball beside her.

With a gesture, Ariana sent a wave through the sand, and knocked Zelda off her feet. As Zelda tried to get up, Ariana pushed the sand out from around herself, then gathered it underneath her, lifting her back up to level. Her arms free, she swept them back, lifted a whole wall of sand behind Zelda, and dropped it on top of her.

Zelda blasted the sand off her body and wobbled up to her feet.

"Look, Zelda," Ariana said, "I don't want to fight you. I'm here for the same reason you are—to enjoy the beach, and my magic, in a place that's significant for my people. And you're the only other witch my age here. There's no reason we can't both have fun, right?"

Without saying a thing, Zelda raised the sand into the air, and swirled her arms, and blew the sand toward Ariana in a cloud. But Ariana was through being caught off guard. She pulled up a barrier that stopped the sand long before it ever hit her, then gave it a concave shape so it would blow the sand back at Ariana.

Then Zelda struck Ariana directly with her aura, tangling both auras together the way Ariana had against her. The tension between them began to strain Ariana's forearms. So she shifted her weight, raised one leg, and lowered both hands, slipping her aura loose, and springing it back on Zelda's like a whip.

Zelda flipped forward and landed on her back.

As she tried to stand up, Ariana pulled the sand from under Zelda.

Already the beach was once again filling up with other swimmers. Some had even gathered around to watch the fight. Ariana spotted the little boy who asked if she was a good witch or a bad witch. She hoped this hadn't made her look like a bad witch. It felt good to flex her spellcasting, but she wished it didn't have to be to subdue another witch.

"Hey, everybody." Ariana grabbed Zelda's hand and helped her up. "I, uh, hope you enjoyed the show. Be sure to check out the Witch War Memorial down that way. It'll dispel some myths about the Orlynne and the Effka, and why they were fighting."

"Where did you learn those moves?" the boy from earlier asked.

"Oh, it's just a thing or two I picked up from Mother Agathon. Don't know if you've heard of her."

"The Mother Agathon?" Zelda said. "You're her disciple?"

"I dunno if I'd call myself a disciple. I did go to mage camp at her convent when I was younger. I learned so much about Effka history and Effka spellcraft. It's really so much more than robes and dark rituals. I didn't realize you were a fan of hers."

"I watch her videos all the time."

"Then you should know what I'm talking about. She's really the sweetest lady in person. And she wanted reunification and peace more than anybody."

"Still." Zelda looked around at the families and lovers and friends playing at the beach under a clear sky. The monument stood tall over the dunes. "None of these people know. They don't understand what the war meant."

"But they're not your enemies. And I'm not trying to be your enemy, either. Mother Agathon wouldn't want us to fight, especially not here. So no hard feelings?"

Zelda closed her nictitating membrane and looked again. Ariana looked as well, and saw the faded blue auras of older magi, for whom the last battle was still a living memory. Ariana even saw by the brighter blue auras that her parents were on their way over.

"I'm going inside to lie down," Zelda groaned. She flexed her aura and shed the sand that had covered her. "Mother Agathon herself, huh?" She stepped over the tide line, stretching her aura one more time, out behind Ariana. Zelda's towel flew past Ariana's head and into Zelda's hand.

"Hey, Zelda," Ariana said, "I meant what I said! If we run into each other later, let's hang out, okay?"

Zelda gave a loose, limp wave.

Ariana stretched her own aura and grabbed her bottled water and folding chair as her parents came up. Zelda never did apologize for the storm.

"Hi there, Sweetie," her father said, setting down his cooler. Her mom was setting up some folding chairs. Dad pointed over toward Zelda. "You make a new friend?"

Ariana caught her things and watched Zelda disappear into the crowd. "I dunno. Maybe. We kinda had a fight."

"Over what?" her mother said, wearing the Effka crest on her necklace.

"You know. Effka stuff," Ariana said. "I hope she understands."

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Weekly Story #13: Solstice v. Trine, or, The Occurrence at Nightshade Castle

The prompt will follow at the end of the story. This may be one of the dumbest stories I've ever written, and I'm pretty sure every legal detail is wrong, but it has its own charm. What luck that this would be the first story for October!

 

SOLSTICE v. TRINE

or

THE OCCURRENCE AT NIGHTSHADE CASTLE

Besides the reporters, there were only five spectators willing to stay this late. Usually, the only reason to hold a court session at night was for arraignments, pleas, and other hearings, not for high-profile lawsuits. Outside, it was a cold and dark winter. Inside, it was almost as hard to stay comfortable. The plaintiff seemed to carry night with her wherever she went.

The case was Irina Solstice v. Hank Trine. The judge presiding was Whitley Haczerak.

Solstice, the vampiric owner of Nightshade Castle, had demanded the hearings be held at night for her own health--she could survive in daylight, but she became weak and frail if she didn't sleep. She accused Hank Trine of trespassing on her property and vandalizing it. Most people watching the case rooted for Trine. Everyone knew someone who'd lost blood to the plaintiff.

Trine, an auto mechanic with a shop on Belcourt Avenue, did not dispute the charges, but insisted he could not be held responsible, as he was not in his right mind when the incident took place.

The case had already faced numerous delays and setbacks. The incident occurred at Nightshade Castle, which only materialized at night. Judge Mike Terrell had to recuse himself after it became apparent that the plaintiff had hypnotized him. There was also the matter of whether to include religious objects in the courtroom to keep the vampire at bay. Judge Haczerak allowed the defendant's lawyers to set up a table by the window with a crucifix, an Eastern Orthodox icon, a portrait of Shiva, a statue of Buddha, a Qur'an, and on the insistence of the local Church of Satan, a plastic figurine of Baphomet. Solstice claimed to have nothing to do with the Satanists.

Both Judges, Terrell and Haczerak, had to remind Solstice that she could only seek monetary damages, not the defendant's head.

Other aspects of the case were strange, at least from a legal standpoint. By all logic, Solstice should have been charged with the many murders she'd committed in the five months since Nightshade Castle suddenly appeared. But since she was already legally dead, the District Attorney only saw further entanglements over precedent and technicalities, and decided to delay any criminal proceedings until the Trine case was resolved.

Also strange was the purely lopsided nature of the case. Trine was just a humble auto mechanic, a grease monkey who went to church every Sunday, played pool every Tuesday, and went to ball games on Fridays. He was a small business owner who made enough to get by. Frankly, Solstice was powerful enough that she could take revenge against Trine whenever and however she wanted. To file civil charges, demanding more than Trine could possibly offer, seemed to make sense only to Solstice. Was she trying to win goodwill from the public by presenting herself as a law-abiding citizen? Did she simply not find murder cruel enough?

Solstice had testified the night before. According to her, Trine had appeared on her property on the night of November 1st, shouting obscenities. He then proceeded to urinate on the wall, defecate in her garden, and attack her guard dog. Solstice had heard his voice, and her servants had witnessed it.

Trine's lawyer asked, "Did you happen to notice anything unusual about Mr. Trine when he was on your property?"

"I've never met him," Solstice said, "so I would have no way to determine what was or wasn't unusual."

"Would you say that he appeared to be in his right mind?"

"I would."

"Did he seem somewhat articulate?"

"Yes."

"What did he say when you heard him yelling?"

"He said, 'Shrivel up and die, monster.'"

Trine sat and listened quietly. Behind him sat a woman with a white streak in her hair. She never spoke with anyone else in the courtroom, nor when she left the building. But when Solstice testified about Trine, the woman leaned toward him, as if wishing to reach out to him, but unwilling to risk the exposure.

Tonight it would be Trine's turn to testify. His attorney called him up to the stand, a bailiff swore him in, and after Trine gave his name, address, and occupation, the questions began.

"Mr. Trine, tell us what happened on the night of November 1st."

"Well, I was watching TV, eating some chips and salsa, when all of a sudden, I had hair growing on my arms, and big, sharp teeth coming out of my mouth." The next thing he knew, he was running down the road on all fours, with a blind rage he couldn't control. He went to Nightshade Castle. No one was there, but he recalled howling at the windows, running around the walls, and relieving himself in various places on the property. He assured the court that he did not have full control of himself, as he had transformed into a wolf.

"Definitely a wolf?" his lawyer said. "And not, say, a cat?"

"No sir. I read in the paper the next morning about a wolf being spotted in the neighborhood at night, and knew it was me."

"And not some other wolf that might have appeared."

"Correct."

"So then that would make you a werewolf."

"I suppose it would, yes."

"So you were therefore acting not on the reason and intellect of a man, but on the pure instinct of a wolf."

"That's right. Ask anybody around town, they'll tell you I've always been an upstanding citizen. I'd never do such disgusting things unless something was seriously wrong."

"Thank you."

Now it was time for cross-examination. Murmurs crisscrossed through the courtroom. This was the first anyone had heard of Trine being a werewolf, and no one could be sure it was true. Plenty of wolves had been sighted around town, even though the last packs had been driven out by overhunting decades ago. Some thought such an outlandish claim might be part of his insanity defense. On the other hand, the plaintiff was a vampire, so anything was possible. Many also wondered about her lawyer, Ralph Bussinger, a bulky man with pallid skin and numerous scars.

Bussinger rose unsteadily and creaked back and forth across the courtroom. "Mr. Trine," he said, his voice rough and slow like an old truck on a dirt road. "You say that you are a werewolf, and had taken wolf form on the night in question."

"That's right."

"Do you have any control over these transformations?"

"Not at that time. It happened completely unexpected, and once it started, I couldn't stop it." Asked if he could reverse his transformations, Trine said, "Nope. I was like that until the next morning, when I found myself in the middle of the living room."

"How long have you been a werewolf?"

"Near as I can tell, about three months."

"Can you tell us how you might have become afflicted with lycanthropy, Mr. Trine?"

For the first time since taking the stand, Trine hesitated. "I was attacked by a wolf while I was out hunting." His favorite hunting spot was the same forest where Nightshade Castle normally appeared. The sun hadn't set all the way, and he tried to leave before it did. The wolf attacked him just as he opened the door of his pickup. He had since transformed into a wolf three times, including the night of November 1st. The last time he changed, he "Went out to the woods a mile in the other direction. Drove home the next morning."

Solstice's lawyer paced in silence for a moment. His feet landed heavily on the floorboards. "The wolf that attacked you--where do you think it could have come from?"

Again, Trine hesitated. Only a close observer would have noticed his glance toward the woman with the silver streak. "I think it came from the castle." Did he suspect that the plaintiff might have sent this wolf to attack him? "Couldn't say. I'm no mind-reader." Did he think the attack would have occurred if the plaintiff had not brought her castle to those woods? "No, I do not."

For a moment, people wondered if Bussinger was putting his own client on trial. He grimaced as if wondering the same thing. "So it's not possible that you could have been interested in taking revenge against her?"

"I don't believe in revenge."

"So you say. Yet you don't dispute vandalizing her property. Do you dispute what the plaintiff says you uttered when you appeared at the castle?"

"I don't recall saying that at all. It's certainly an articulate statement for a wolf to make."

"I don't recall saying a thing. Only howling and barking."

"She also states that you attacked her guard dog. Do you wish to dispute that?"

"Yes I do," Trine said. "I didn't attack her, and she ain't a dog. She was just as much wolf as I was."

The lawyer pursed his lips. This seemed to be a surprise to him, more than he was expecting. "Then you did not fight with the... let's go ahead say 'wolf.'"

"No sir. Exactly the opposite."

"The opposite?"

Trine looked at the woman with the gray streak. She nodded. He told Bussinger, "We made love."

Groans of disgust waved through the courtroom. Even the judge seemed to wince. Trine's lawyer was hanging his head in shame. Even if Trine was in wolf form at the time, how could he recover from an admission like this?

"Ahem, so then," Bussinger said, "you did not intend to cause harm to the wolf?"

"Her name's Emily, and no, I wouldn't. If anyone hurt her, it wasn't me."

Irina Solstice shot a glare at the woman with the silver streak, who was rubbing a strangely swollen part of her cheek.

"You sound like you've gotten to know this 'Emily' rather well," Bussinger said.

"She's the werewolf that 'afflicted' me, as you say. I was there to see her." He proceeded to explain, "Y'see, she visited me in the hospital after she first bit me, and apologized for her actions. We've struck up more of an acquaintance, and when I changed on November 1st, all I could think about was her."

Bussinger seemed to deflate as he paced across the courtroom. Meanwhile Trine's own attorney straightened his back and his neck. It was hard to call Trine a pervert when neither he nor his partner were ordinary wolves.

Asked about the feelings of rage he'd mentioned earlier, he said, "One thing I remember is how angry I was at how Emily was being treated. Sometimes she has bruises when I see her, but I don't know how to get her away from there. She's a person, but she's treated worse than a pet."

"Would Emily happen to be in this courtroom right now?"

"Yes, she is."

"Could you point her out to us?"

Trine pointed at the woman with the gray streak. She stared forward, refusing to make eye contact with anyone. Solstice pounded her fists, leaving cracks on the table.

Why didn't he bring her up before now? "I didn't want her to be hurt." He didn't resent her "afflicting" him at all. Only Irina Solstice for the things she's done to her.

"I see... No further questions." Bussinger hobbled back to to his table. Ms. Solstice whispered what were clearly death threats against him. He'd set out to undermine the werewolf story and force Trine to waver, but he'd only reinforced the defense's case.

Even though it was late, the defense called one more witness: Emily Mellstrom.

The woman with the white streak took the stand. The bailiff swore her in. The attorney began his questions, and she gave firm and forthright answers. She gave her place of residence as Nightshade Castle. Her occupation? As Ms. Solstice would put it, Mellstrom was the "guard dog." She had taken over the job from the previous guard werewolf, who had bitten her. Ms. Solstice had promised better benefits than she delivered.

"Is it true that you are the one who bit the defendant next to his pickup truck?"

"Yes, it is. I had just assumed wolf form, and Ms. Solstice urged me to drive him off as soon as possible."

"Yet Mr. Trine seems to think quite fondly of you."

"That's right. I apologized, like he said, and we've started dating. I'd tried to keep it a secret from Ms. Solstice. She doesn't like her servants to focus on anything but her."

"Would the plaintiff have known of your relationship before now?"

"Yes. She found out a week before Halloween. She beat me for insubordination."

"Did you meet with the defendant on the night of November 1st?"

"Yes. I abandoned my post to be with him. We chased each other around the castle, hunted rabbits, barked our lungs out. It was really quite lovely."

"The plaintiff claims he yelled, 'Shrivel up and die, monster.' Is this accurate?"

"No. Hank doesn't know how to speak Wolf. Whatever he said, no one could understand it."

"And he inflicted no harm on you that night?"

"Correct."

"Has the plaintiff tried to harm you since that night?"

"Yes, she has." Emily rubbed a welt on her face. "And this suit is another way to hurt me." According to Mellstrom, Solstice didn't think simply killing him would teach the right lesson. This is her way of grinding Trine under her heel. She'd force him through the courts, bankrupt him, get an enforceable restraining order, and publicly humiliate him. His own people would punish him.

Solstice did not anticipate both Trine and Mellstrom admitting upfront to be werewolves. Mellstrom described being happy with the way the case proceeded. "Ms. Solstice is right here in a court of law, with religious objects on display, dozens of reporters as witnesses, and several armed guards. Anything that happens will be a matter of public record. So I feel safe saying I know Irina Solstice's weakness."

Solstice scratched clawmarks onto the tabletop. Emily was right--in a public venue like this, with so many people watching, with the crosses and statues by the window, Solstice couldn't retaliate. Everyone knew she preferred stealth. She was a serial killer, not a mass murderer.

Emily went on right away: "Go to the castle grounds during the day. Bury a clove of garlic, a leaf of wolfsbane, and a teaspoon of olive oil, arranged in a triangle. When the sun comes up the next day, the castle won't disappear, and Ms. Solstice will either be asleep or too weak to hold up her head."

The shadow around Solstice grew even darker. Bussinger shrank away from her. "Objection. The witness is clearly trying to issue a death threat against my client."

"Sustained," the judge said.

But it was too late, and everyone knew it. Already people were furiously texting Mellstrom's instructions to friends or relatives, despite rules against phones in the courtroom. In two days, Nightshade Castle would be swarming with would-be vampire hunters.

Solstice shot from her seat. "You traitor! I will drain the life from your carotid artery this very night!"

The judge banged the gavel. Solstice pushed her lawyer aside and stormed out of the courtroom.

"Your honor," Trine's lawyer said, "I move that we adjourn for the day."

"Agreed," Judge Haczerak said. "Ms. Mellstrom, I'm concerned for your safety. Would you be opposed to staying under guard until this case is resolved?"

"I'd be fine with that," Emily Mellstrom said.

Court was adjourned for the night.

The next day, several stores, online and off, sold a higher-than-usual amount of olive oil, garlic, and wolfsbane.

 

  • Courtroom - Vampire/Werewolf - Dance