Thursday, November 28, 2013


It was our first Thanksgiving together.  A Human holiday I'd never particularly identified with... until now.  I sat at the dining room table with a glass of 30 year old whiskey, neat, and silently watched all the chaos around me.

Rain was in the kitchen bouncing between the stove, the sink and the counter; slicing, shopping, stirring.  An occasional stop by the oven to check on the turkey and she started the circuit all over again.  Lily moved around on her own busy trajectory, the two of them managing somehow to never be in each other's way.

The back door stood open and the warm autumn California sunshine came in on a sweet breeze.  Glancing outside I took a moment to appreciate the roses and cannas that were still blooming thanks to a long summer.  The sky was gradient blue; milky to saturated in its transitioning shades and a faint smear of clouds kissed the horizon.

The sound of laughter brought my gaze back to the kitchen where Drason was chopping carrots, apparently incorrectly, and Rain was teasing him about it.  Kheelan stood leaning against the wall between the kitchen and living room, his feet crossed at the ankle as he popped cashews into his mouth.

Rain had moved to the sink and was washing her knife, laughing at something Kheelan said and flicking water at him from her fingertips.  He made his way to her in two long strides and wrapped his arms around her, pinning hers to her sides so he could wet one hand and return her splashes, making her giggle.

I couldn't help but smile as I watched Kheelan change his hold on her, his arms relaxing from playful imprisonment to an affectionate embrace.  He pressed several kisses to her cheek before Rain turned her head to claim a quick kiss on the mouth.

Now.  Now I understood the holiday and it had nothing to do with the pilgrims, Indians or food, it was the people who made it special.

Kheelan, my best friend since childhood, had never given up on me all the years I was gone from Faerie.  And Rain, the one of a kind woman who brought me to life long before she broke my curse.

Rain met my gaze and looked a question at me which I answered with a smile.  I watched as she came around the island, drying her hands on a towel as she walked.  Arriving at my side I sat my glass down and wrapped my arms around her hips from where I sat, looking up into her beautiful face.

She stroked my hair before letting her hands rest on my shoulders, "Are you all right?" she asked, and her concern for me always warmed me to my bones.

I smiled up at her, "Yes la mia bellizza, I'm perfectly wonderful.  I promise." 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Want to know how I got these scars?

“Want to know how I got these scars?” Eric asked Amy who was nestled against him, her long fingers tracing the lines of the raised, rough tissue on his chest. 
Looking up from where her head was resting against his shoulder she smiled a languid, post sex smile and blinked slowly at him, “Sure.”
“Well, I was backpacking through Europe and when I was in Venice I had stopped in a café for some lunch.  Now mind you, I was traveling on a shoestring so lunch was nothing more than a bottle of water and a cheap sandwich from a corner mart, but I chose to eat it in San Marco Square just to make it feel fancier.”
Amy shifted her weight, propping her head up in her hand and leaning onto her elbow, her eyes losing some of their sleepiness as Eric spoke of faraway places she longed to visit.
“I was sitting on the ground against one of the pillars of the Doge’s palace, content to just watch the colorful collection of people passing by, most of who acted like they were the only people there.  They were so unaware of things going on around them and were accidentally rude to others they hadn’t bothered to notice were sharing the city with them.  It was both comical and annoying.”
It was Eric’s turn to shift, turning onto his side to face Amy, mimicking her head-propped-in-hand pose.
“But it was the three men in long black coats that caught and kept my attention.”
“Why?” Amy asked, her voice curious.
“Well, it was July in Venice, much too hot for the coats they were wearing.  Plus, they were walking really slowly and their heads were swiveling around in slow motion like they were looking for someone.  As it turned out they were looking for someone, a girl who didn’t look much older than 16, and when they saw her they made a synchronized beeline for her.”
Amy sat up, pulling a pillow into her lap and wrapping her arms around it, her posture tense.  “What did they do to her?” she asked, her eyes wide.
“I don’t know what they would have done, but their intent seemed sinister to I jumped up and made my way to the girl.  Fortunately I was closer so I was able to intercept her.”
“What did you do?”
Eric flipped back onto his back, lacing his fingers behind his head and crossing his feet at the ankle.  “I took her by the arm and started walking her out of the square.  I told her there were three men after her, but she said she knew that.  She told me they were sent by the mob, she had information they wanted and she was trying to stay in hiding.”
“What was the information?” Amy asked, leaning forward.
“I don’t know; we never got that far.  We heard the three men’s shoes on the stone sidewalk as they started running after us so we ran too.”
Eric sat up and crossed his legs, mimicking Amy by clutching a pillow in his lap, leaning in as he continued, “Venice is a twisty, labyrinthine city.  We tried to lose them in the alleyways and by hopping across rows of tethered gondolas, but we couldn’t shake them.  They finally caught up to us and tacked us both to the ground.  I couldn’t even see what was happening with the girl, I was too busy getting my ass kicked.  The guy who was pummeling me actually tried to end me, stabbing me three times and leaving me for dead.”
Amy pressed one hand over her mouth, stifling a gasp.
“When I woke up in the hospital I didn’t really have any information to give to the police since I never got the girl’s name.  I never knew what happened to her.”
“Oh God, Eric.  Really!?”

Eric smirked, “Nah, I got these when I fell into a barbed wire fence on my Uncle’s farm.”

Monday, November 25, 2013

Candy Man

They say the Candy Man can do anything.  He can sprinkle a sunrise with dew; he can take tomorrow and dip it in a dream, but what they don’t tell you is that the Candy Man can also steal your soul and turn it into a mind twisting confection.
Yeah, I wouldn’t have believed it either, not until ten years ago when I won that cursed golden ticket.  I’d thought all my dreams had come true!  My family was being taken care of and I was learning how to be a chocolatier from the genius behind Fizzy Lifting drink, the Everlasting Gobstopper and the gum that was a complete meal. 
I didn’t learn the truth for six years.
Saying Willy was eccentric was a monumental understatement, but then most genius’ are.  I was taking the Wonkivator to the Nut Room to check on the last batch of pecans we’d received but by accident I pushed two of the buttons at the same time; that simple slip of the finger would change my life.
I was whisked off to a part of the factory I’d never seen.  It was the opposite of everything else I’d seen, in place of the bright colors was black and gray, making me feel like I’d stepped into an old movie I didn’t have a script for.  I walked down the monochromatic hallway, the length of which was unbroken by a single door, it simply felt like a funnel leading me toward the unknown and I thought for sure the pounding of my heart would echo against the slick walls.
Reaching the partially open door at the end of the long hallway I peered through the narrow opening and couldn’t believe what I was seeing!  Willy had three children, no older then 5, sitting at a tiny table and he was having a tea party with them.  A miniature tea set was arranged on the table alongside pastries, cakes and cookies which the children were gobbling up as fast as they could get their hands on them, stuffing them into their chocolate smeared mouths.
As I watched he took one little girl by the hand and led her toward a small machine that sat in the far corner, the black metal of it nearly lost in the shadows.  I couldn’t hear what he was saying to her but with a nod she stepped up onto a box he had at the base of the contraption and bent forward to look into the brass eyepiece, much like the ones you find on a nickelodeon.
Willy started turning a small crank on the side of the machine with one hand, the other hand pressed to the back of her head to hold her in place.  With a pop and crackle sound the machine came to life, whirring and buzzing and after only a few moments the machine gave one last popping sound just as the little girl’s body went limp.  Willy stepped on a pedal hidden in the floor and a trap door opened under her feet, dropping her into a chute that I was certain led to the incinerator.
I was too shocked to move.  To scream.  To do anything more than continue to stare.
The two remaining children remained oblivious, far more interested in the sweets they were given than in wondering about their missing friend.  Reaching down Willy plucked a piece of candy from a slot just under the small crank, holding it up to the light and smiling at it a moment before popping it into his mouth.
He shuddered when the confection hit his tongue, rising up on his toes and spinning around in pirouettes with unrestrained giggling… like a little girl.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, couldn’t believe that Willy was stealing children’s essence, their souls, and I guessed that this was how he’d remained ageless.  I suspected too that this was also where his ideas for new candy came from, after all nothing is more creative than the unshackled imagination of a child.
When he turned and started skipping toward the two remaining children I knew I had to stop him, I had to save them, and with a sudden yell I burst through the door and ran at him.  I think I had hoped that being filled with a little girl’s essence he wouldn’t be able to react and process events like an adult; I was wrong.
Willy turned and his polluted gaze pinned me, almost stopping me in my tracks with the sinister intention behind his eyes but I barreled onward, dropping my shoulder to ram into him but he stepped to the side and instead of taking him down I experienced a painful encounter with the wall.  I fell backward and my head connected with the floor, soundly ringing my bell, and even when I felt Willy grab me I couldn’t react. 
I could feel myself being dragged across the room and felt the cold press of the brass eyepiece against my face and still I couldn’t get my limbs to respond.  I felt the machine pulling at me, pulling and sucking the very essence of me out through my eyes and my energy and spirit surged through the inner workings of the machine.  I spun, twirled, was mixed and beaten, pulled and pushed until I finally came to rest.
Willy’s fingers grabbed me, holding me up and I found myself looking back at him through the spun sugar wall of a piece of hard candy.  I could see my body lying at his feet and watched as he opened the trap door and let it fall into the incinerator, now he could make up any story he wanted to explain to my parents why I wasn’t ever coming back.  Shit.
As he sat me on the top of the machine to give me a full view of the room his voice was eerily calm, chiding me, “You can just stay here now and watch, Charlie, that’s what you get for being naughty.”

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Draven's Nightmare

Draven sat propped up against the thick base of an elm tree, his legs folded and The Diplomat resting in his lap like a favorite cat. He snuggled deeper into the dark blue cloak Eva had had made for him, the heavy wool warm and comforting as though it was Eva who was wrapped around him, and he sighed contentedly as his fingers caressed the embroidered words along the edge: It’s an adventure.

His eyelids felt heavy and each blink lasted longer and longer until he finally lost the battle with sleep. It was Soviel’s turn to stand watch so it wasn’t that kind of fear that made him fight the Sandman so hard; it was the risk that his recurring nightmare would plague him. It wasn’t a nightly event, which is what made it so difficult; Draven didn’t know when to expect the horrifying images that his mind conjured up to torment him.

At first his mind was blissfully blank, only the curtain of sleep separating him from the waking world as was his preference, but in one quick moment that curtain was ripped aside and he stared at the same scene he’d seen dozens of time over the last year.

Eva and her father stood arguing with each other on the precipice of a high cliff that loomed over a turbulent sea, fingers pointing and voices shouting. They wielded their words like weapons, sharp, pointed and with each verbal lash cuts opened all over their bodies, bleeding their clothes red. Draven stood and watched helplessly, having tried time and again in the past to intervene, to protect Eva, to save their child but in this scene he was a ghost.

Draven’s blue eyes watched through a searing haze of red rage as Lord Townsend grabbed Eva by the throat, his long fingers squeezing until her flesh bulged between his fingers like warm dough. Her face turned pink and then red and then purple as she clawed at his hands, wrists and arms in an unsuccessful attempt to gain her freedom.

Eva’s feet dangled just above the ground and she took advantage of her position, drawing one leg back as far as she could before swinging it forward with all her might, the tip of her booted foot connecting solidly with her father’s groin and he dropped her as he doubled over and took his turn to fight for breath. Eva continued to scream down at him, her hands protectively covering her swollen belly as tears of blood streamed down her face, staining the alabaster perfection of her skin.

Lord Townsend drew himself up onto his hands and knees, lifting his head and pinning his daughter with a poison stare and quick as a snake strike he thrust his hands into Eva’s abdomen, pulling her to the ground as his fingers ripped and tore her flesh to reach the half-breed child she carried. Eva’s screams were ones of pain, loss and hatred and despite the wash of blood that stained the ground and the spill of her insides across her own lap she continued to fight.

With all she had left Eva wrenched their child from her father’s murderous grasp before hammering both feet into his chest and sending him over the edge of the cliff to the sharp rocks below. Draven moved to kneel beside his love where she lay gutted and dying, their child dead in her arms, its cord still connecting mother to child and as usual he awoke when she died.

Draven's Love

Draven sat on a smooth granite boulder that was more than half buried in the earth, leaning back against the fencepost that butted against the stone and taking a rare break from his chores. Since his brothers had left more of the work had fallen to him and he had much less time to goof off, but he knew his family wouldn’t begrudge him a few stolen moments. His thick fingers were surprisingly nimble as he braided sections of his beard idly, twisting the thick hairs to bind the ends of the braids.

His mind drifted into a stream of consciousness that led him from one memory of Eva to another, her laugh and her smile. Her warm whiskey colored eyes, her honey and strawberry scent, the feel of her in his arms. She was his first love, a human noble who had stopped at the Darius farm to have her sister’s mare re-shod and their first encounter had ended with her pinning him to the ground under her knee.

In spite of the training she’d already obviously had, Eva had asked him to teach her how to fight, she didn’t like relying on others to protect her and Draven was only too happy to teach her what he knew. She’d taken to dual wielding short swords like a duck to water, which suited her petite frame, barely an inch taller than him, and she was a quick study in hand to hand as well. Draven closed his eyes and recalled their sparring matches, a smile quirking the corners of his mouth at the thought of how many of those matches ended in a hot and sweaty tumble in their secret meadow.

They were an unusual pair, human and dwarf, noble and farmer, and yet they complimented each other as rain did spring. Neither of their families knew about their relationship, they’d surely frown on it for any number of reasons, but the idea of being without Eva caused them both physical pain so they held their secret close.

Draven heard footsteps and his eyes opened to find Lord Townsend looming over him, Eva’s father, and his heart lurched into his throat. The human was very tall, towering over Draven at six foot four and staring down his narrow nose at him, his gray eyes cold and menacing.

“Dwarf,” he began in a low voice that was just as cold as his eyes. “You shame my house with your low and shabby self. You dare to lay your hands on my daughter, to violate her and steal her maidenhead, making her useless to me.”

With every poisonous word Lord Townsend spoke Draven found his frame vibrating more and more with fury, his hands fisted at his sides.

“And now, to add insult to injury, your filthy seed has taken root inside her traitorous belly.”

Draven felt the blood drain from his face. “Eva is pregnant?” Hearing the word out loud didn’t make it feel any more real, he had to see her, had to get her away from her toxic father and without waiting for Lord Townsend to utter another word Draven hopped up onto the boulder and launched himself at the man, swinging one meaty fist and landing a solid blow that laid the human out.

Running the five paces to Lord Townsend’s horse he pulled himself into the saddle and dug his heels into the animal’s sides, sending the stallion lurching forward. The 20 minute run into town felt like an hour, scenery passing in what felt like slow motion until finally Draven pulled the horse to a sliding halt in front of Eva’s house, leaping from the saddle and running through the front door.

“Eva! Eva!” Draven called out to her and was only met with the screams of scared servants. Bolting up the stairs he looked up and down the long second floor hallway, his blue eyes locking on a matronly figure blocking the farthest door. Turning to his right he ran at her and with a shriek she pressed herself to the wall, allowing Draven to throw the door open where he found… nothing.

It was clear that this was Eva’s room; her clothes lay scattered across the floor, spilling from an open armoire and her scent still hung in the air, as familiar to him as his own, but the room was empty. It was when he noticed the toppled furniture that his heart rate doubled, she’d been taken by force, but to where? Spinning on his heel he marched to the woman cowering in the hall, clutching her dress in an iron grip and she raised her hands in a feeble attempt to ward him off.

“Where is she?!” His voice was like thunder, loud and demanding her attention but she seemed incapable of speaking instead of wailing and Draven pushed her away in frustration, storming out of the house and making his way home on foot.

That evening he told his family over dinner that he was leaving, he told them of his love for Eva and his need to find her and their child and the support he’d hoped for, that he’d counted on, was there in abundance.

Dawn found him on the road, The Diplomat strapped to his back and a small satchel of food and clothes slung over one shoulder. In spite of his worry and his fears about Eva there was a spring in his step, and memories of her touch and her easy laughter kept his spirit light and hopeful, after all as she always said: It’s an adventure.

Karic Asani

The moon was full, hanging heavy and pregnant against the star speckled sky of the October night, its eerie silver light glancing across the landscape like a skipped stone. The winter air was crisp, freezing any water it could find and turning fields of grass into glittering carpets of blue white crystals by dawn. Evergreen needles donned thin robes of ice and the banks of the river had started to fan outward with thin icy fingers, one side reaching for the other like long separated lovers.

Karic huddled inside his heavy woolen cloak, the deep hood pulled up to shield his face from the biting wind and his azure eyes stared intently from the dark recess at the two shadowed figures in the distance. A milky fog was struggling its way into existence, wafting upward in thin tendrils that wrapped around his legs and Karic didn’t know whether to blame the fog or what he was seeing for keeping him rooted to the spot.

He and Winter had been recruited into the Althinians at the same time but hadn’t actually met until eight years into their training, finding themselves assigned the same target, and the assignment instantly became a contest. Their methods were both similar and different, having received the same training; however they each had their own preferences. Karic liked his bullets to only stun his targets, enabling him to move in for a close up kill while Winter preferred the quick and clean from a distance approach.

Another two years passed in friendship and camaraderie, yet with each passing day Karic noticed more and more that he was looking at his friend with different eyes, was seeing him in a new light. Fear gripped him at the thought of being rejected, of being brushed off or completely losing Winter and that fear lodged in his throat like a fist. Karic could recall in perfect detail the moment that fear was proven to be unnecessary, the moment when in his rash, impulsive way Winter had pulled him under the sheltering arms of a willow and pressed a kiss to his lips.

Karic let two years’ worth of memories play through his mind while he watched Winter now, two years of passion and laughter and quiet intimate moments. And now Winter held a woman in his arms, his cloak encasing their bodies as they kissed passionately, the sounds of their desire and hunger for each other being carried on the wind to Karic’s ears and he flinched as though wounded. The wind brought him her name, whispered in Winter’s velvety voice, and with that name was born in Karic a burning sense of betrayal. Lyna. Another Althinian.

He didn’t want to see any more. Didn’t want to hear any more. Turning on his heel Karic made his way into the night, his heart hammering in his chest, the broken pieces beating against his sternum like trapped birds with each step he took toward the Althinian compound.

Their confrontation was ugly; aren’t they always? Blame and guilt, pain and sadness, anger and loss. Winter tried to explain, to make Karic understand, but he wouldn’t hear it. Karic couldn’t bear the thought of Winter loving someone else, and with each word from his lover’s lips he felt his pain and hurt turn to anger and hate.

Days later Karic was promoted in the wake of their leader’s death, taking up the mantel of ruling the Althinians and under the façade of a finely woven lie his first official order was to kill Winter and Lyna.

They ran.

For two years Karic’s agents tracked them, trailed them and hounded them across continents; always a step behind until at last they were found hiding in a small unassuming village a month’s travel from home. The report was finally delivered in person by those who had killed Winter; they shared every detail of the final chase, of the beating they had meted out on him and of the killing blow. They described the sound of breaking bones and the smell of his blood. They explained that the woman had escaped but they would continue to hunt her.

Karic waved them away.

Standing at his window he stared out across the icy landscape beyond the glass, his mind trying to process all that he’d been told and presenting him with an image of Winter’s gruesomely beaten, broken and bloodied body lying abandoned in some far away foreign land. With a sudden wave of nausea he pushed the window open and retched onto the lower roof, his eyes watering and his knees going weak as he lay doubled over the windowsill.

Never again would he allow anyone get that close; in that moment, with the knowledge that Winter was dead, he refused to feel this kind of pain ever again. The betrayal he’d harbored for two years, that he’d nurtured and fed with the memory of his lover’s lips on someone else’s flesh, hardened into a protective skin that no one would ever get under.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013



“Questions!? No questions!”

“Really, bro?”

“Seriously, sis. I said no!”

“Tell me why!”

“Usually mom deals with this crap!”

“Very funny, you know mom is dead.”

“Why are you asking me for this now? We’re adults!?”

“Xanthippe! That’s who you always said I was.”

“Yes, you can be.”

“Zero risk here, bro.”

“Again with your persistence! You know I hate them.”


“Come on, you know the potential risk!”

“Damn you, bro! Get over it!”

“Enough! This is ridiculous.”

“Finally, you see reason.”

“Go away then, I don’t want to see them!”

“How can you let this be a big deal!?”

“I hate them even if you don’t, always have!”

“Just watch; be careful with them and all will be well.”

“Keep them over there then.”

“Least you can do is trust me to handle them with care.”

“Mom showed you how to do it?”

“Not going to abandon you no matter how messy it may get.”

“Open the bubble bottle.”

Diamonds on her wrist and whiskey on her tongue

It was a perfectly extravagant moment, she was aware of this on every level. The view. The music. Her surroundings. Her dress. All of it, excessive and extravagant.

The gunmetal silk of her simply designed dress clung to her in all the right places and felt like an angel’s whisper against her skin; the span between the narrow straps suspending a cascade of black and silver beads that draped down her bare back, moving and sparking in the warm moonlight. An almost touchable breeze blew across her arms and legs, inconstant and tantalizing as a lover’s teasing fingertips and the sensation brought a secret smile to her burgundy lips.

Her long ebony hair was swept up into a loose pile of curls and waves, creamy gardenias and diamond pins scattered through the heavy mass, the scent intoxicating and she was happy to be taking this moment in the center of such a heady cloud. Strains of Spanish influenced guitar accompanied by a violin wafted through the crowd, weaving through and wrapping around bodies and minds, lulling and seducing with the pull of a bow and the pluck of a sting.

She leaned against the low wall that edged the balcony, smoked glass and bright chrome, a heavy cut crystal glass dangling from her polished fingertips as her smoke gray eyes drank in the view of the valley at her feet.

This was one of those moments. Everything was perfect. The music, the location, the feel of the air; this time and place could never be duplicated and she was acutely aware of its perfection and yet she didn’t feel the need to try to hold onto it. She was content to let it hold her, and hold it briefly in return.

Turning around she leaned back against the low wall, closing her eyes and letting herself completely soak in this perfect bite of life with diamonds on her wrist and whiskey on her tongue.

Monday, April 29, 2013

No Good Story Start With a Salad

My bare feet struck the pavement and sent jolts of pain from my heels straight up my shinbones, the sensation rattling around the underside of my kneecaps like a copper bell clapper. The oxygen I gulped into my lungs burned like napalm, feeling thick and sticky in my throat, coating my mouth and sinuses. I didn’t know where my would-be assailant was, I couldn’t hear their feet pounding the asphalt behind me or any heavy breathing in my wake, but I wasn’t fool enough to think they had given up their pursuit, not after what I’d already seen them do.

It had been a normal day, nothing out of the ordinary had happened at all, and if someone had told me when I woke up that by lunchtime I’d be running for my life I’d have thought them insane. Now I had to question my own sanity; had I really seen that woman sprout wings and fly? Surely not. But I thought… could she have… it’s not possible… was it?

I’d just finished paying for my Caesar salad and was making my way through the cafeteria toward the table where my coworkers Beth and Carrie were waiting for me, and the sudden appearance of a tall raven-haired woman in my path brought me up short. I’d stared up into the depths of her mink brown eyes, marveling at the gold and copper flecks that almost seemed to sparkle in the pale fluorescent lighting and I found I was stunned into silence for a moment at the remarkable beauty of her.

Five foot eight with legs for days that sprouted from the hem of a cherry red dress drew the attention of almost everyone in the room and all conversation faded into silence, all eyes watching her. She had honeyed golden skin and full breasts that the seemed to be contained by the plunging neckline of her dress as if by magic, the enticing expanse of skin drawing my gaze for a span of heartbeats before I met her eyes again.

She stepped closer to me, taking my lunch tray and handing it off without looking, just knowing someone would take it from her and when I moved to take a step back out of natural ‘personal space’ instinct her hands shot out and gripped my shoulders, pulling me against the length of her curvaceous body. Her voice was low when she spoke, a whisper like dark promises of ecstasy, the sound making my mind slip sideways and completely forget about the large audience we had accumulated.

“You’re the one,” she said softly, “You’re the one I’ve been looking for.”

It was when I realized that her body didn’t feel hot against mine that a warning bell started going off in my head, a woman like this should have been generating enough heat to bake bread but instead she was cold, her skin radiating a chill that penetrated my knit shirt and broke my arms out in goose bumps. I again tried to move away but her long fingers were like steel, her nails digging into the flesh of my arms almost painfully as she spoke again, lowering her head so I felt her lips moving against mine as she spoke.

“It’s painless, Julie, a small price for endless payoff.”

I had no idea what she was talking about but each word felt like it was pulling at my core, a thin silken thread tugging at something rooted inside me and the sensation brought my fight or flight instinct to life. With every ounce of will power I could muster I managed to remain calm, trying to lull her info a sense of victory; I brought my hands up slowly, sliding them across her stomach, over her ribs, brushing the sides of her breasts before coming to rest on her chest and with a small inhale I shoved for all I was worth.

She teetered on feet I was surprised to see were bare, her toenails polished a bright red, and when she stumbled backwards I turned and ran. I heard her come after me almost immediately, her feet slapping the tiled cafeteria floor, and in an effort to slow her down I grabbed the large bowl of lettuce from the salad bar as I ran past it, turning and hurling it at her. She batted it aside but the fact that I’d thrown something at her seemed to genuinely shock her; and then she was angry about it.

I could feel the air thicken, coalescing around her and she became buoyant in the heavy mass, her feet rising slowly off the floor. When the pearlescent wings of semi-transparent light erupted from her back I didn’t wait around to see any more, I turned and ran, letting my sandals fall away almost unnoticed as I bolted out the front door of my office and down the crowded streets of mid-town.

And now here I was, being chased by Gods knew what, and the massive stitch in my side finally forced me to stop. I ducked into a narrow alley and fought to catch my breath as quietly as I could, pressing the heel of one hand into my ribs in an effort to relieve the pain in my side. My feet ached and my clothes were wet with sweat, my hair disheveled and my mind still racing.

When she materialized in front of me I realized my mistake, the narrow alley I’d hoped would have been small enough to go unnoticed by her was also too small for me to maneuver within; I’d effectively trapped myself.

With the speed of a whip strike she grabbed my wrists and bent them behind the small of my back, leaning her body into mine and using our weight to pin them there. Extracting one of her hands she reached up and cradled my face against her palm, threading her fingers into my hair and tilting my head back. Was she a vampire I wondered, even while realizing how absurd that sounded, but what other explanation was there?

“I’m not here to hurt you, Julie,” she said in that silken purring voice. “I’m here to help you. To heal you.”

Without any warning she pressed her mouth to mine, her lips soft yet demanding and the pressure of her tongue parted my own lips and let her slip inside. She tasted of wine and roses, honeyed pears and nectar, and the sensation of her exploration sapped the fight from me. I again felt that tugging deep at my core, something pulling and yanking and the feeling instantly changed from odd to painful as whatever she was pulling on was ripped free.

She stepped back suddenly, doubling over while deep coughs wracked her frame. After a few moments she grew silent, her breathing gone soft, and as she straightened up I looked down at the black, gnarled mass resting in the palm of her hand. It smelled of death and decay and I wrinkled my nose at it.

“This is the cancer that was growing in your heart.”

Her words felt like a blow to my chest! What had just happened? I was trembling and with a strange gesture the black mass disappeared and she gently took my hands, her touch strangely warm and soothing now. She shushed me when I opened my mouth to speak, a smile curving her lips, “Don’t squander this chance. Live loud and passionately and regret nothing.” And with those parting words she was gone.

I glanced around the empty alleyway, my now healthy heart hammering in my chest, my world view forever altered and I started laughing almost hysterically, speaking out loud to myself as I made my way slowly back to work, “Whoever said no good story starts with salad was wrong.”

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


His sword was heavy, feeling twice its normal weight as gravity fought to pull it from his tired hands.  The muscles in his shoulders and legs ached and burned, his back screaming in pain while his head continued to ring like a bell from the last three strikes to his helmet.

A sea of bodies stretched as far as he could see, lying quiet in some places while in others still swelling slightly with the final breaths of the dying.  The air felt thick and the metallic scent of blood coated his mouth, overpowering the fragrance of damp earth, which was typically found across the countryside.

His brown eyes scanned the vast battlefield, verifying that all his opponents had been defeated while at the same time taking in the number of his own men he lost in the process.  The number was staggering.

Since he was old enough to hold a sword he’d been trained to be a warrior; sword and shield and staff and bow, these were the tools of his craft and he had become a master, an artist of death.  His body bore the scars where his enemy had exploited a weakness or pressed an advantage, and yet he still always emerged the victor, his bloody face the last thing the dying men saw before shrugging off their mortal coil.

And here he stood again, the triumphant battle master, and yet now he had no desire to hold his bloodied sword aloft and cry out in victory.  He took no pride in the fact that he had survived and won, that the Duke he served would again shower him with money and gifts; he just didn't see the value of it anymore.

Raising his eyes he looked past the expanse of bodies, up to the horizon and the fringe of trees that seemed to beckon him like a siren beckoned sailors, but in their silhouette he didn't see his demise but rather his rebirth.  A thought of a life of violence and endless warmongering felt like iron armor, heavy and oppressive and smothering and suddenly he couldn't breathe.

Reaching up with one blood caked hand he frantically pulled his helmet off, dropping the elaborately crafted metal into the mud and gasping for air, filling his lungs to capacity in spite of the metallic taste.  Taking one shaky step forward he let his sword fall to the ground, fumbled with the leather straps that held his chest and back plates in place until they too fell.  Piece by piece he stripped his armor away as he staggered, half ran, half stumbled and occasionally crawled over the dead and dying toward the distant tree line.

As his last greave clattered to the ground he collapsed to his knees at the base of a huge pine tree, his bloodied hands clinging to it as he might to a long lost lover, his cheek pressed to the rough bark and he expelled a shaky breath.  Pushing himself to his feet he moved deeper into the forest’s embrace, exhausted but finally truly alive.