Sunday, December 21, 2014

Breaking For Christmas

Just a reminder that the Darkness and Good blog will be closed* from now through to the end of January. We'll be back with the next story on the 2nd of February, bright and bushy-tailed as ever! In the meantime, have a happy and safe holiday season, in whatever form you choose to celebrate it.

All the best,
Amy and Liana

*As in no-new-posts closed, not blog-will-be-turned-off closed. You'll still be able to access all your favourite stories from 2014, and maybe catch up on the ones you didn't get a chance to read! :o)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Quilt-Maker's Scrap

Once, in a Quilt-maker’s basket, there lived a scrap of fabric. All the other scraps in the basket had something special about them: some were smooth and soft, others were warm and furry, and still others had bright colors or pretty patterns. But this scrap was dull and ugly and rough.

The other scraps teased him. “The Quilt-maker will never choose you,” said a scrap of silver satin. “Not when she could choose me. Look how I glimmer in the light!”

“Or me!” said a golden scrap who had shining sequins sewn onto her. “I could dazzle anyone!”

“Any quilt with you in it,” said a scrap of sensible navy wool, “would be an embarrassment.”

The little scrap drooped. The other scraps were right – he was dull and ugly and boring. No one would want him in a quilt. A piece of cream poplin brushed past him. “You never know,” she said. “Maybe the Quilt-maker will make a quilt for someone she doesn’t like. Then it wouldn’t matter if it was ugly.”

Even though she had meant to be mean, the poplin’s words gave the little dull scrap hope. Maybe the Quilt-maker would make an ugly quilt. He wouldn’t mind, not at all. At least then he’d have a home – and no one would tease him anymore. So he waited near the top of the basket, hoping that someday the Quilt-maker would choose him.

Months passed, and many new scraps came and went. The beautiful scraps, the ones that were silky or shiny, warm or soft, didn’t stay for very long, some spending less than a day in the basket before the Quilt-maker took them out again. The little dull scrap began to grow tired of the other scraps’ taunts, but still he stayed near the top of the basket, waiting and hoping.

One day, just before Christmas, the Quilt-maker’s hand reached into the basket. She sifted through the scraps, looking for the right one to use. She picked up a scarlet scrap of silk.

“Ah ha!” he called to his friends. “She likes my color. She’ll choose me, no doubt!” But as he spoke, the hand lowered him back into the basket.

Next she chose a warm, soft piece of fleece. “She likes my warmth!” he called. “She’ll use me for sure.”

But he too returned to the basket.

At last the Quilt-maker came to the little dull scrap. She lifted him gently out of the basket and peered at him through her glasses.

“Yes,” she whispered. “This is just what I need.”

The little dull scrap could hardly believe it. How could Quilt-maker need him?

Soon the Quilt-maker finished the quilt. Everyone who saw it exclaimed over its beauty, and the Quilt-maker entered it into a quilt show. The little scrap knew that he didn’t make the quilt beautiful, but the idea of going to a show excited him so much that it didn’t matter.

The day for the show arrived, and all the entrants hung up their quilts. The Quilt-maker hung her quilt opposite a large window and placed her nametag on the wall next to it before wandering off to have a look at the other entries.

The little scrap of fabric sat contentedly, watching the people pass by. Many of them stopped to admire his quilt. Some even stepped forward to examine it closely. He’d never seen so many people before, and it was all very exciting.

At last it was time for the judging. The sun sank towards the horizon and the crowds thinned, giving the little dull scrap some time to think. He couldn’t believe how many people had come to see the quilt that he was so fortunate to be a part of. He’d even had a sneaking suspicion that a few times, some of the people had been looking at him.

But he must have imagined it, considering how ugly and insignificant he was. And after all, he was just one piece in the whole quilt.

The judges arrived, and inspected every inch of the quilt with great care. They stopped to admire the lovely colors of the fabric that the Quilt-maker had used for a woman’s dress. They exclaimed over the brightness of the star at the top of the quilt. They wondered at the detail in the people’s faces.

Finally, they turned to the middle of the quilt where the little dull scrap waited nervously. A gentle finger reached out to touch him, moving over his rough, unfinished surface.

“It’s perfect,” they whispered to each other.

The little scrap stared in disbelief.

The judges drew away to confer with one another, heads bowed, whispering. Then they straightened, and addressed the room. “This is the final quilt,” they said, “and it is by far the best. We declare this quilt the winner.” A cheer went up from the crowd and they parted to let the Quilt-maker through.

As they did, the little scrap looked up at the window. Night had fallen, turning the glass into a mirror.                                                          

He hadn’t seen the quilt before, and he stared. There he sat, right in the very centre of the quilt. A golden glow streamed out from all around him, and people knelt and presented gifts of gold, incense and myrrh. But that wasn’t the best part. Just above him lay a small scrap of purest white, sewn in the shape of a baby. And as he sat watching the reflection while the crowd celebrated below, he realised what he had become.

He was the manger, and even though in the basket he’d been ugly and boring and rough, the Quilt-maker believed he was special enough to hold the newborn saviour.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Not Quite Cinderella

“The prince is giving a ball!”

“In the middle of a war?” Marian looked at the thin, sallow, pastry chef who didn’t look like he’d ever tasted his own wares. “Are you serious? A party during a major offensive?”

The sallow chef nodded eagerly. “Oh, yes! The prince will choose a bride, the king will abdicate, and the whole war will be over.”

Marian nodded slowly. “So, what I’m hearing is… your side is losing?”

“My side?” The thin man looked confused.

“The king is losing, isn’t he?”

The man’s eyes widened. “I would never say something so traitorous!”

“Of course not.” She gave him a polite smile. “A fudge brownie please.” She pointed a the rich confection and waited as he bagged her purchase.

“Three coppers, if you please.”

She slid a silver piece across the counter. “The stars shine on those who show charity today,” she said and walked out, skirts swirling around her.

The baker wasn’t the only one with the news. The whole square was buzzing with people rushing to prepare for the upcoming party. Dress shops had lines of customers and coaches waiting outside. The grocers cart was empty. Flower sellers were scarce, or possibly just waiting in line for a seasonable dress.

One very determined hat seller stepped into Marian’s path, advancing at her with a bright green horror stuffed with purple feathers. “Have you something fetching to wear to the ball, Milady?”
“No,” Marian said, trying to sidestep the feather tickling her nose.

“Have you considered green, Milady? It would be a most becoming color on you.”

“Yes, if I had darker skin or fairer hair I’m sure it would be. But, since I have neither, I think perhaps another color.”

“Purple?” The hat seller waved the plumes closer to her face.

“No, lime and plum aren’t the right shades for me. Thank you.”

The hat seller pounced, placing the hat on her head and stabbing it in place with a five inch hair pin.

Marian glared as she counted, in Greek, to ten. “Remove the hat.”

“But for just a few silvers…” the seller wheedled.

REMOVE THE HAT!!!” Thunder cracked through the clear sky.

The seller grabbed the hat, ripping the felt, and ran.

      Marian removed the pin from her hair and tossed it on the ground. Around her the natives edged away, fearful of what she might do next. She rolled her eyes and walked back to the inn she’d checked into late last night. It wasn’t the fanciest place she’d ever spent the night, but it wasn’t the worst.

She tossed a small bag of silver pieces to the innkeeper for a hot bath and a warm meal and walked up the stairs, musing over the worst place she’d spent the night. Probably in the burnt out hovel last year, the one where the ruins were still smoking and the air smelt of burnt flesh. She slept in the stone cellar, on the floor, waiting for the pain to stop.

Opening the door to her small room she paused. No, the cellar was the second worst. The first worst had to have been that palace three years back, the hideous pink silk and white lace covering everything affair. That was the worst. Definitely.

Someone knocked. “Water, miss, for your bath.”

She opened the door and smiled at the fresh-faced maid carrying two buckets of steaming water. “Please, bring them right in.”

“Here you go, miss. Getting ready for the ball, are you?”

“Me?”  Marian shook her head. “I wasn’t planning on going.”

The girl sighed, starry eyed. “Oh, but a ball. Doesn’t everyone want to go and dance the night away?”

Marian wrinkled her nose. “Pinched shoes, creaking corsets, and the smell of old women marinating in their perfume. It really isn’t all that grand.”

“But, to meet the prince!” The girl put the buckets by the fireplace, not spilling a drop. “I’d love to go, just to see everything. To maybe see the prince.”

“And I suppose your wicked stepmother is making you stay home and polish the silver?” Marian asked.

The girl blushed. “No, mother wouldn’t mind if I went. But I’ve nothing to wear. Nothing nice. I wouldn’t get past the guards.”

She waved her hand. “Nonsense! You’re quite a lovely girl. Hurry and fetch my bath and perhaps I can find a suitable tip for you.”

The girl curtsied. “That’s quite all right, miss. Even if we had a spare silver or two all the nice dresses have been bought up.”

Marian shooed her out. “Get my bath and let me worry about the tip.” She opened the door to the room’s armoire and studied the dresses inside. Fine blonde hair, pink cheeks, deep blue eyes and brown muddy feet…. The girl needed something full length and dusky. Marian discarded the idea of dressing the girl in red, to wanton. And pink was just cruel, the poor girl would look like a shepherdess who’d lost her nursery rhyme. Blue was the obvious answer, but too obvious.

From the back of the armoire she pulled out a lilac gown with silk, seed pearls, and diamonds fastened around the low collar. Perfect. Even if the girl didn’t net the prince in this affair, which might be a blessing considering the political situation; she’d find some suitor willing to marry her for the dress alone.

The maid backed into the room, carrying the wooden sitting tub and turning red in the face.

“Just set in down there by the fireplace,” Marian instructed. “It’s to warm for a fire, but it does seem the proper place for a bath. Do you have a screen, perchance? The windows are lovely but, well, a maiden and her modesty and all that…”

The maid turned around, nodding again, and stopped to stare at the gown. “Oh! That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen! Are you wearing it tonight?”

“This?” Marian made a show of regarding the gown with great skepticism. “It really isn’t my color. Far to regal, and to pale, for my skin I think. Do you like it?”

She maid wiped her hands on her own brown skirt and gently fingered the hem of the lilac gown. “It’s so lovely…”

“I really do think it’s a tattered old thing. You can have it if you like.” Marian tossed the dress at her. “Go and try it on, if you hurry your mother will have time to fit it to you before the ball.”
Her eyes went wide. “But, your bath…”

Marian shrugged. “I can handle that. Go on, have fun tonight.” The maid left and Marian started humming herself. She bathed, ate a leisurely meal, taking pleasure in watching people bustle through the streets rushing to prepare for the festival, and then she took a nap.

She woke when the bell on the tower tolled ten, she had two hours to midnight. With great care she dressed in a perfect white gown with a belled skirt and a low neckline. Out of her traveling gear she picked a fine gold chain with a white opal pendant that flashed fire in the candlelight. In the window she could see her reflection, the perfect vision of a mysterious princess arriving late for the ball. Down in the alley she could even see the perfect coach, just waiting to whisk her away.

How banal.

Marian swept down the stairs and out the back door, unnoticed by the snoozing innkeeper. The coachman didn’t say a word as she touched her necklace and tucked her head like a coy innocent. She smiled as they clattered through the cobblestone streets, charms were almost cheating. Well, not charms plural, Marian reminded herself, Charm, singular, and not the kind that witches and sorceresses used. A single simple charm to make everyone love her.

There was a momentary twinge of guilt, what if the nice little maid had charmed the prince? Marian furrowed her brow, wondering how she would work that one out. As the coach rolled to a stop at the palace gates, the tower bells chimed eleven, the page ran up to open her door, and with a sigh Marian gave up worrying about the dilemma. All she could do was hope for the best, and kill anyone who got in her way.

With innate grace she swept up the stairs, walked down the halls, and paused at the grand entrance waiting for the final flourish in the music and the perfect dramatic entrance. She tapped her foot. The music hit its crescendo and the she walked through the door.

The prince’s hand dropped away form the blue-clad beauty’s waist he’d been dancing with. Marian curtsied at a distance, hiding a snigger. A pale blue dress on a blue-eyed blonde with upswept hair, really? How clich├ęd could a fair godmother get? If she had a copper for every time a well-meaning interloper put a blue dress on a blue-eyed girl she’d have enough for a retirement fund, or at least a vacation somewhere tropical.

She forced a blush as the prince ran up the short staircase to bow low over her hand.

“May I have this dance?”

“I’d be delighted,” she simpered. It took practice to simper, and it paid off. The prince danced her around the room, staring deeply into her eyes like a fool in love. And then danced her into the moonlit gardens.

“Am I really in love? Or is this some magic? A dream?” he whispered as he leaned close.

“Magic,” Marian whispered back. “A charm enchantment.”

“Do you love me?” The prince tenderly brushed a finger along her cheek. “I love you.”

“I know.” She stepped away from him. “But it won’t last past dawn.”

He stepped closer. “If we have only to dawn, let us dance the night away.”

She smothered a laugh in her hand, pretending to cough. “Virgin!” Recovering herself she smiled at the prince. “I have a carriage, let’s run away together.”

He put his hands on her hips and pulled her close. “I’ll do anything you say.”

“Smart kid.” Marian patted his cheek. “Take my hand and lead me the back way to the carriages. And then pick the fastest one.”

“Where are we going?” he asked, showing the first real sign of independent thought, which wasn’t promising. A strong willed person would fight the charm enchantment, the prince wasn’t fighting at all.

Really, she was doing the kingdom a favor by removing him from the line for the throne.

“My love?”

“We’re running away together,” Marian told him as he led her through dark rose gardens and down marble steps to the courtyard full of carriages. “By the way, you have a beautiful castle.”
“We have a beautiful castle,” he told her. “Forever we, you and I together in love.”

“At least until dawn or death do us part.” Marian let him hand her into the carriage. In a high up window she saw a young woman, radiant in lilac and diamonds, flirting with a powerful young duke.

At least someone got a happy ending.  

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Seven Reasons I Said No – A List by Kelly Ann Morginstein

  1. It was Josh.
  2. He stumbled the proposal and my father finished for him.
  3. Instead of a nice dinner out and a ring my mother invited him to dinner and he asked during the salad course. With no ring.
  4. Josh wears yellow socks.
  5. I’m pretty sure he snores.
  6. Mallory would murder me if I said yes.
  7. Josh is dead.

I mean, seriously??? A zombie? How’s a nice Jewish girl supposed to respond? Sure, I’m his last hope for a nice relationship because every other girl has either turned him down or waived a crucifix at him.

I get that. Really.

But did he need to tell me I was his last choice? Not only would he not ask me out if I were the last girl on the planet, but he wouldn’t ask me out until he was dead and I was the last girl who hadn’t said no on the planet.

That’s just hurtful.

And having my parents there? Is it to much to ask for a real proposal? You know, a romantic moonlit walk on the beach. Or a day at the museum followed by a luscious dinner. Something impressive.

Sweet potato latkes are tasty, but they aren’t romantic. Not when you help make them and have to wash the dishes afterward. And not when the best compliment of the evening is a dead guy telling you that you seem very obedient.

Obedient? Gosh, Josh! That’s just what every girl wants to hear.


When they’re three >.< Not when they’re twenty-four and the only single girl in the whole community. Single, and living in my parent’s attic. Anne Frank never had it this bad.

Right now, I’d welcome the Nazis.

Anything to keep nosey Mrs. S from dropping by tomorrow for breakfast where she will, I guarantee, casually grab my hand to inspect the rock. Boy is she in for a shock!

Josh brought over a bracelet. One of his. From the hospital. And his original toe tag. So I could be near him or something? I have no clue. It was creepy. I wanted to set fire to him but my mom grabbed the candles before I could.

Back-stabbing mother! Does she really want a half-rotted corpse as a son-in-law? Is she really that desperate?

I need to move out. It’s the only choice. I need to go find my own place and stop dating the undead.  

Saturday, November 29, 2014


“Are you all right?”
I snorted. “Oh, yes. Absolutely.”
Cran gave me a sidelong look. “I was only asking.”
“And I was only answering.” I shifted so’s he couldn’t see my face, and stared out the window. “Of course I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be? It was only a small demon, after all.” My jaw twitched as I tried to hold back the sarcasm.
Silence for a moment, then I heard the rustle of cloth as he stood.
He left without saying a word.
I was glad.
I waited a while to be sure he wasn’t coming back, then I went to the sideboard and poured myself a few too many finger heights of lemon vodka. I glanced away so I didn’t have to see my hands tremble.
I was fine. The demon was gone. It had needed barely any prompting, even; just a splash of holy water, a garlic sandwich and a quick prayer – and gone.
A tiny demon.
So why did I feel so damn messed up? Violated, even.
I gulped down the alcohol, ignoring the burn in my throat, and slumped back down on the lounge. I stared out the window, smiling half-heartedly as Molly, the insane labradoodle, chased the neighbour’s cat across the lawn.
Yesterday, if someone’d told me what was going to happen, I’d’ve called them insane. Actually, I’d’ve prob’ly called them a bloody idiot, get out of my way now, thanks very much. But whatever.
I closed my eyes and draped a hand over my face. The sunlight seemed extra bright and shiny today, and it hurt my eyes to look outside for long.
Something moved behind me and I jumped, whipping out the crucifix from down my shirt. “Dammit, Cran,” I said. “Did you have to come in so suddenly like that?”
He looked abashed. “Sorry.”
Cran never said sorry. My grip on the crucifix tightened and I found myself wishing I could switch my alco for water – the holy kind. “What did you say?”
He glanced up at me. “I said sorry. I know you’re pretty jumpy still. I’ll try to make more noise.” He tried on a grin.
I narrowed my eyes. Was it just that my recent freak-out had put me on edge, or did something about him seem different to normal? A tightness around the eyes, a twitch of the lips, something in the carriage of his shoulders.
The crucifix dug into my palm. I set the drink down and shoved my hand into my pocket, looking for the last stray clove of garlic. It came up empty. Hell.
I edged towards the kitchen. “So, uh, big plans for today?” I asked.
Cran shrugged. “Game’s on tonight, I was thinking of heading over to Mickey’s to watch.”
“Oh, yeah?” I said with deliberate casualness. The demon was good, very good. I could almost believe I was just making the whole thing up. If it hadn’t just possessed me yesterday, if I hadn’t seen its tics and mannerisms up close and personal, I’d’ve missed the whole exchange going on on Cran’s face: demon versus man, the internal struggle for control.
“Yeah,“ the demon said with Cran’s voice. “You?”
I stuck my bottom lip out nonchalantly. “Nothing much. Still, you know.” I held up my free hand and stared at it, transfixed for a second by the shaking. Bastard, I thought. You did this to me and you know it. I’ll kill you this time. What was it that killed demons for good, again?
Cran gave me a sympathetic look. “Yeah. That. Not much fun, I reckon.”
I shrugged and made it to the kitchen, sliding in behind the bench and pretending I was rummaging for something to eat. “I lived,” I said. You won’t, I added in the privacy of my own skull – which, thank God, was private once again.
Bastard demon. First me, now Cran. It wasn’t going to get away with this.
Stakes, that was it. Like vampires, their cousins. One big happy life-stealing family. I ground my teeth.
Cran moved toward me. “So how long do you think it will take? To, you know, recover?”
I fished around in the utensil drawer for the big bamboo chopsticks. A stick was nearly a stake, right? Near enough was good enough, or at least I bloody well hoped it would be. “No idea,” I told Cran. “S’pose it depends.”
“Yeah?” He – the demon – responded. “On what?”
I shrugged again. “Things.”
“Can I help?”
Hell, he was right behind me. I could feel him breathing down my neck. I shivered. “Yeah,” I said. “Yeah, you can.”
He put his hands on my shoulders. “How?” His mouth was right next to my ear. His breath was warm.
F—ing bastard. Why Cran? Why the only man who’d ever loved me in my entire miserable life? Bloody, bloody hell. “Like this,” I whispered.
I twisted around, one clean movement, but too quick for him to react. The crucifix slammed into his forehead, the bamboo stake into the side of his neck.
His eyes went wide. “What the—“
He gurgled.
I pushed him off me and he crumpled to the floor, and I tried to pretend I wasn’t crying. “You bastard,” I said through the tightness in my throat. “I name you Azazel.”
The air shimmered in front of me. “You rang?”
I blinked, regained my senses, scrambled backwards. “What the hell?”
The faint outline of the demon lifted an eyebrow. “You called. I appeared, despite the warmth of your reaction last time. To what do I owe the honour this time?”
My gaze flickered between the hazy demon, hovering in the middle of the kitchen, and the crumpled, broken body lying beneath it. “You possessed him. You bastard, you possessed the only man I ever loved!”
The demon glanced down. “That hunk of meat? Hardly. So few brain cells it would be like ingesting water to stave off famine. And the few that he has – had – were far too good to be pleasant.” It shuddered. “No, thank you. I have better taste than that.”
I stared. “No. You possessed him. I saw you!”
The demon huffed. “If you think, even for a second, that I would possess something like that...” It trailed off, head tilted, staring at the bamboo skewer in my hand.
I followed its gaze and stared horrified as the blood trickled down to meet my fingers.
“Oh, you didn’t. You didn’t!” The demon cackled. “Oh, my precious, that is just too lovely.” It cackled louder. “Well done!”
I drew in a shaky breath. “Get lost,” I said.
It clutched its sides, laughing uproariously.
“Now,” I said, anger hardening in my chest. I stood, took aim, threw the stake and the crucifix all at once.
The laughter cut off. The shimmer snapped out with a shriek.

I stared at the body lying glassy-eyed on the floor. The demon was gone.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Pale Gold Light

Pale gold light reflects off the growing puddle of water. The light ripples, a shining silk in the darkness.

I fantasize about the puddle one day growing to become a lake. And then an ocean. Gorging on the forgotten droplets from the city overhead to devour and drown me in my prison below. During the rainy season the puddle grows wide enough that I can touch the chilled waters, dipping my rag ends in to wash a year’s worth of grime away. During the hot summer months the puddle steams away leaving me dry and hopeless.

The drops were my friends. Sometimes the rippling is the only movement I see for days. Trapped in a pit, bereft of even guards for company. A bucket is lowered at odd intervals from the hole high above. Food lowered down is traded for my bucket filled with refuse.

Movement high above cuts the golden afternoon light. The puddle goes dark. And then the shadow moves on.

 I hoped it is a bird singing high over the city. Free and alive in a way I will never be again.
Rubbing my bare shoulder-blades against the stone wall I watch the puddle. The rain goddess is generous this year. In just a scant handful of days the puddle is as wide as mid-season in years past.

I lick chapped, bleeding lips in eager anticipation. Cold, unrationed, water. What a treat! Delight! Joy!

A few months, yet. A blink of time. What is time to a person in darkness?

I close my eyes, dreaming of the life stolen from me.

Armor clatters against stone.

I sit up, looking around in the familiar gloom for the invader in my private peace.

There! In my puddle! The beautiful golden silk fading to midnight black is filled with the body of a guard. His head, alas, is elsewhere.

Such omens never bode well.

Rope coils down from the blinding light above.

I crush my body against the bars of my cage. Strain to look up. To see. The golden light makes my eyes water. So bright! So much pain!

A blessed, cooling shadow fills the light. Descending. Alighting on the fallen corpse. A second followed. A third. Four. Five. Ten.

Cowering back in the shadows I watch the invaders as they drop from the sky. Silence betrays their true nature.

Mages, all. Writhing black body armor constructed of fallen souls and dark magic. Death magic twinkles a spectral white on their finger tips.

Deep inside a forgotten emotion stirs. Pride, perhaps. Or hope. The evil that created and destroyed me will fall. Freedom will come, in it’s final form, the dark death of every soul.

The dark army climbs the walls, attacking at the soft center of the enemy.

A woman pauses outside my cage. She tilts her head, yellow eyes glint like my precious puddle of golden silk. Carmine lips turn up in an endearing smile. She holds a single finger to her lips, ordering or begging me for silence.

Then she reaches out with the hand of an angel and touches the bars.

Freedom, in the first form. Rebirth. Renewal.

She ascends, climbing the treacherous walls with ease.

In front of me is the corpse of the guard in my desecrated puddle. And a rope. And escape. And a future. And revenge. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Seven Things

The first thing is the moonlight, bright and startling to the eye. The second is the frame of the deck, old hardwood washed white, cutouts entwined by creeping leaves. The third thing is the table, a long, banquet affair covered by a once-white cloth, silverware and white porcelain crockery and glasses strewn all over. The carcasses of fruit mingle with used napkins, the juice of pomegranates and plums, cherries and chinese gooseberries blotted like the blood of plants on the cloths. In the moonlight, it looks like a perfect scene; but the fourth thing is that some of the plates are broken, some of the glasses chipped. The food has not been cleared; the serving dishes not stacked; this table has been left in a hurry.

And so the fifth thing is this: in the centre of the table, framed by moonlight framed by the deck, is something that catches the light and throws it out, dazzling the eye in such a way that one must wonder why it is the fifth thing and not the first, the most, the only. It is glass, or crystal maybe, the kind that resonates with a deep, echoing note somewhere in one’s chest, and it is all edges and planes, not flat, but sculpted, some sides rough and natural, some silky smooth. It’s twined around with the same plant that frills the deck posts, which, looking closer, is covered with tiny, white stars. Their fragrance underlies the sharp, sweet smell of fruit – something warm, and spicy; summer in a flower. It might even be jasmine, in much the same way that a lion might even be a cat.

Looking closer still, one can see that the flowers themselves are glowing; not merely reflecting the light, though there is plenty of it. No. They glow from deep within their silvered throats, some pulsing softly, some dim and fading.

And the sixth thing: the crystal, which stands as tall as a man’s forearm on a platform of moulded, polished silver, is pulsing too, breathing something in, and exhaling light. Perhaps it is the moon’s own rays that the crystal imbibes, transforming it into a light softer and more silver.

But the flowers are fading, wilting, and upon closer reflection it seems that the tableware is not randomly strewn after all. It is scattered, interrupted, to be sure; but the interruption is not random. The glasses all lean outwards; only the plates nearest the crystal are shattered. And glancing at the floor, it almost seems as though some explosion has occurred, for though chairs and places remain, the floor in the centre has been swept clean, and dust has gathered in rings growing outward from the middle of the table.

In fact, this is the seventh thing: the dust. There is lots of it. More than there should be for a party this fine, in a house this grand. Surely someone would have swept the deck beforehand. And even this many guests could not tromp this much dirt up from the yard. And dust is not really dirt, anyway. Dust is mostly skin, they say: dead skin, old cells sloughed off, no longer needed.
There is lots of dust. Enough for all the guests.

The last of the flowers pulses, withers, and without a sound breaks free from its sepal and falls, drifting down in slow motion to the table. The crystal breathes in, and this time, there is no exhale.