Friday, November 28, 2014

Aftermath

“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.
Insignificant.
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.

Friday, November 21, 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. 

Friday, November 14, 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.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Off The Rack

The solution to Lisa’s problem glowed neon in the fading light. She pulled into the parking lot under the sign with blinking words, “Free Groom Half Price Ring Bearer w/ Every Wedding Gown”.
Inside, the boutique was softly lit. No crass racks of squashed satin dresses here. Elegant confections of lace, pearl, and silk each stood center spotlight in a setting of varying vistas.

 One gown, a simple silk design, was advertised as the best for a beach wedding. The price for beach and horses thoughtfully included on the price tag. Another gown looked like the work of a deranged fairy godmother with some magpie in her ancestry, and was touted as ideal for a themed Cinderella wedding.

Lisa browsed until she caught the clerk’s attention.

“I’m so sorry you had to wait, Miss. I was just seeing to another happy customer. Now, what dress were you looking at?”

“I rather like the beach dress – “

“A favorite theme. Very chic this season.”

“Yes, but the train doesn’t quite suit me.”

“If you can describe what you want, I can point you in the direction of several lovely gowns. Or I can show you some of our recent arrivals.”

“Something figure hugging, but not trashy.” Lisa sketched an hourglass shape in the air with her hands. “I want to go for understated taste and old-world elegance. Maybe a few pearls or a touch of crystal. Nothing ostentatious though.”

“Would you prefer a pure white or an ivory?”

“Pure white. This is my first wedding, I want to do it properly.”

“Of course. Don’t we all?” The clerk had pulled out a pad of paper and took notes with a quick glide of her pen. “What kind of sleeve were you looking for?”

“Sleeveless, perfect for a summer wedding.”

The clerk nodded. “Something drapey, long, and sleeveless. You know, I think I have just the gown. It might be your size too. It’s an Elyia, and we were only able to get three of her gowns this year. A little pricey…”

There was a judicious pause.

“Money is not an issue,” Lisa assured her.

“Perfect.” The clerk beamed happily. “The gown is pure silk, a mermaid silhouette, you know. It hugs and then flares below the knee. Very artistic. No embellishments, but I know it will be perfect for you.”

And it was.

Lisa twirled in front of the three-way mirror. Cool silk swirled around her ankles. Curves she didn’t know she had popped into proper place and gave her the kind of figure you usually paid surgeons big money for.

“I’ll take it!”

“Excellent.”

She changed in the dressing room and handed the gown over to a hovering underling. The clerk hummed a happy tune as she made more notes. Lisa smiled. “Now, about the groom…“

“Right this way, please.” Still humming, the clerk led Lisa past fantasy wedding settings, prices discreetly listed, past rows of hothouse flowers set in stasis and perfect for everything from boutonnieres to bouquets, and into a back room.

The clerk flicked on a light.

Rows of grooms hung awkwardly with coat hooks down the back of their tuxedos. Some were so short their feet dangled several inches above the floor, others were so tall that they sat folded up. To one side, the plus-sized grooms circled slowly on a rack like a herd of tethered balloons.

“Ignore the tuxedos,” the clerk said, straightening the tie on a short groom propped on a display rack. His feet kicked a few inches above the ground as he snuffled in his sleep.

“Clothes are interchangeable. So are shoes.” The clerk turned. “Did you have something already in mind? Off the rack, maybe? Or do you want a custom groom?”

Lisa clicked her tongue in thought, recovering quickly. “I really don’t know. I’ve never been groom shopping before. What do you advise?”

“Why don’t you have a look around and check the tags while I get you some refreshments? You’ve already been in the store over an hour. Shopping makes one hungry.”

“Tea and biscuits?”

“Don’t be silly! For groom shopping we have chocolate dipped strawberries and champagne.”

“That sounds delightful.”

While the clerk bustled out in search of a light repast Lisa browsed the aisles of grooms. Most the men slept. A few mumbled to each other, one winked at her in a coquettish manner.

She checked the tag on one of the folded grooms as he snored with a cute snuffle.

Name: Todd
Personality: Deferential
Height: 6’5”
Weight: 215
Age: 29
Income: $56,750 annually

Lisa flipped the tag over to catch care details. Self-washing, cooked 70% of his meals, but required special weekend care in the form of regular poker nights out with the boys.

She frowned.

“Oh,” the clerk said, coming back with a little trolley. “You don’t want that one. Those models are best for second marriages and planned divorces. The seams tend to loosen up after a few years and they balloon. We have a strict No Return policy on grooms.”

“Right.” Lisa let the tag drop.

“What do you like?” the clerk asked.

“I’m leaning to the taller ones. Something to make me look not quite as tall.”

“Do you prefer athletic or thin, dear?” With a practiced eye the clerk started pulling grooms off the rack. She held up two specimens, one with the heavy muscled look common in football players and the other a reedy fellow with glasses slipping off his nose.

“Muscular, but not that bulky. I don’t want him to make me look fat.”

The clerk nodded. “I wouldn’t say anything, of course, but so many girls come in here and pick grooms that don’t suit their look at all. They forget a husband is an accessory you wear every day, and treat it like dress shopping. You need to take the long view. Your dress only has to look good once, but a groom needs to retain shape for months. Years in some extreme cases!

“Here, try this one.” The clerk held out a lithe man with good muscle tone, blond hair cut short, and a steady in-and-out type of snore.

Lisa checked the tag while the clerk unfolded the sleeping man. “Isn’t he a little long for me? The tag says six foot eight. I’m only five foot seven.”

“A little shorter than?”

She hesitated, scanning the tag. “I don’t know. Can you do alterations? Maybe take an inch or two off the legs?”

“Not with these ones. But we do have the custom fit grooms in the next room.” The clerk folded the unwanted groom up and placed him back on the rack. “All the grooms are free with the gown purchase. Custom is as cheap as off the rack today, so you might as well get what you like.”

“You’re right.” Lisa smiled. “Let’s go look at the custom designs.”

The clerk led her into a blue lit room filled with vats and situated her in a comfortable chair in front of a large screen with the trolley of food next to it.

Lisa sipped her champagne as the computer turned on the computer. Bubbles rippled through the vat nearest her making the lone leg turn in it’s nutrient broth.

“Now here,” the clerk said, “you can program in all the parameters. The basic hair and eye color are very easy to change later on if you want, but after the groom is altered we can’t change metabolism, personality, or height. So be very sure that you enter those correctly.” 

The list wasn’t as endless as it first seemed. Lisa entered her preferences on the right of the screen and the computer displayed her potential groom on the left. She selected the advanced options and dithered over setting his income.

“If I give him a high income will he be gone too much do you think?”

The clerk shrugged. “It depends on what occupation you choose for him. That’s right down there, question twelve. You can set a very high income if you choose the right profession. And heirs are usually very indolent, always at home. But they also have the highest percentage of thefts in the nation. You don’t want someone to sneak in and steal your groom on the wedding night.”

Bitter memories twisted Lisa’s features. “No. I don’t.” She selected an income of $96,560 annually, more than enough when combined with her own salary, and a profession as a college professor. “Will I need to pay extra for his education?”

“Usually, but not with our current special. The wedding season is almost over and we honestly need to move these older models out. The ones I can’t sell will go to the government. At a discount, of course,” the clerk hastened to add lest she seem unpatriotic.

Lisa just nodded, not really listening. “The computer wants to know a percentage for fertility. How do I calculate that? Is it so many times out of ten we get pregnant or so many times out of ten we don’t?”

“The fertility percentage is per time. Women have a much lower fertility rate, usually not over twenty-five percent, so you want his correspondingly high. Eighty-five to ninety-five is the fashionable level at the moment. You could put it higher if you want more children or at zero if you aren’t interested in having them the old fashioned way. It won’t affect the groom’s performance at all.”

“Right.” She set the fertility percentage at ninety and moved on to a question about social skill sets. Did she want a pre-set personality or to mix and match her own?

The clerk refilled her glass. “Would you like a ring bearer today too? They’re half price!”

“Oh! I hadn’t even looked. Really, I always thought I’d have a little flower girl. Do you sell those?”

“Only the dresses. But we do have an arrangement with the local modeling and acting agency. If you buy bridesmaid and flower girl dresses here they’ll give you seventy-five percent off the cost of renting a bridal party.”

“I might look into that.”

“If you choose one of their pre-posed parties I already have the sizes on file so you won’t need to come in and actually meet with the bridal party before the wedding. We find some brides prefer that.”

“Hmmm. I do have some real friends. I’ll have to talk to them and see if they’re interested in coming to the wedding. Everyone’s so busy lately, it’s hard to get people to take the time off of work.”

“Bring pictures to the modeling agency and let them find look-alikes for the wedding. That way your girlfriends can be there without actually wasting any of their own time.”

Lisa nodded and hit the last button. “There. That’s my groom!”

The clerk looked over her selections. “Oh! Isn’t he handsome? An excellent choice. You have exquisite taste. He’ll look fabulous next to you. Now, you do know that the custom made grooms aren’t ready to go today. It will take three weeks for the order to get in. You weren’t planning on having the wedding this week, were you?”

“No. I was thinking a summer wedding in a few months.”

“Good. Good. Did you want to pick the groom up beforehand or the day of? Remember, you can’t return him once he leaves the store. If you think you might get cold feet it’s best to leave him in our vault until the day of the wedding. You can always call us up and tell us you’ve changed your mind. We’ll put him out on the rack for a twenty-five dollar restocking fee.”

“That sounds good. I’ll pick him up the day of.”

“Excellent. Would you like to look over our ring bearer selection?”

“Certainly.”

The ring bearers were in a smaller room combining both racks of small boys and several smaller vats. All the ring bearers were sleeping fitfully.

“We have one of the largest selection of ring bearers in the city,” the clerk said. “You have your choice of ages, from toddler through teenager. And we have the Grow Your Own option. It’s very popular for people who choose Living in Sin before marriage. You can take both the prospective groom and the infant ring bearer home on the same day with a voucher. When the ring bearer has reached the size you want you just bring in the voucher and we’ll fit him to a little suit.”

Peering curiously into the vat where a pair of feet led their own private existence until needed Lisa asked, “Is that a popular choice?”

“Very popular. People love to have their own screaming brat carrying their ring down the aisle. It makes for such a cute video and, of course, the wedding reception fight always needs a good screaming brat.”

She shook her head. “I don’t know. I never really wanted a son.”

“Than why not consider our rental options.” The clerk motioned to a rack of freckle faced boys labeled six-year olds. “We call this the nephew option, although you don’t need to buy an Aunt or Uncle with them. We lease them to you for a twenty-four hour period and with the proper application of sugar they can be very good.”

“Well. I just…”

“Or maybe the teenage nephew?” The clerk bustled Lisa over to another rack where gawky teens hung in ill-fitted suits. “These models have the full range of sarcastic comments, insults, and eye-rolling. Although a well applied fifty will keep them from making hurting remarks or hitting on your maid of honor.”

“Gosh, I just don’t know.”

“There’s no rush,” the clerk assured her. “Our sale doesn’t end until Friday. That gives you plenty of time to plan out the details and coordinate with the wedding planner. Just bring the receipt for the gown in when you come back during our sale period and you can have whatever you like.”

“Perfect.” Lisa collected her gown and voucher for her new groom before driving home feeling perfectly vindicated.

As she wrote out the wedding invitations she wondered how her foremothers had handled all these messy complications. What did you do if you woke up one morning and wanted to marry before they invented bridal shops with everything you needed?

Probably relied on dating. As if that ever worked!

She took extra care in addressing the invitation to Michael and Janie. Let her ex and her ex-best friend see just how hurt she was by his dumping her: Not at all!


Janie could have the off-the-rack boyfriend with his part-time job. She was getting herself a real man.