28. Wand

“This is you getting back at me for dragging you to the Temple of Black Water, isn’t it? I knew it was coming.”

“Why on the War God’s Earth would I want to willingly run through the desert? No, this is not payback. This is me wanting to get paid. The reward is a good one.”

“But the desert is awful.” Absinthe groaned, looking over the paperwork that Alnyx had put in front of him. “It’s so hot and dry. Not to mention that the sand gets-Wait that many zeroes?”

“Yes. That many.” Alnyx preened the feathers of the hawk that had delivered the papers and then perched on his shoulder. “But you are right. We can always tell Garnet that we are not-”

“Fine fine, we can go to the bloody desert.”

“Should the heat really bother you that much? I mean…You are a demon so…You come from a plane of fire, do you not?

“Oh my Darling-”

“I told you not to call me that.”

“Mildly racist elf. Yes, I’ve got demonic blood. But, we aren’t ALL from planes of fire. My line hails from the plane of darkness.”

“I have literally seen you incinerate large groups of people.”

“We’re fire plane adjacent.”

Alnyx rolled his eyes, picking a scrap of meat from his plate to give t the bird. Once it swallowed, the creature flew out the open window it had come in through. Alnyx took the paperwork back from Absinthe, rolling it up carefully so not to tear or smudge anything.

“If we leave in the morning, we should have more than enough time to get there, complete the task ,and get back home in time for the new recruits ceremony. Malja will be so happy.”

“I hate those stupid things. The robes are so damn stuffy. There’s a reason I don’t like to stay in the Red City.”

“Yes, but Malja was our first LIttle Bird. So we have to be there.” Alnyx shook his head, the massive wolf at his feet standing as he did the same. “Try to get some sleep tonight. You are more of a pain when you do not.”

“Bed already? It’s barely half past ten. The night is so young.” Absinthe frowned at the elf. “Surely you can manage to stay up a little longer, Grandfather.” he batted the lashes that protected those bright, green eyes.

“We have a job to do. You can feel free to be exhausted and put yourself in danger. I have no such desire.”

“Does the stick ever come out of your ass?”

“You will never know.”

“Never say never, Al. I love a challenge.” Absinthe licked his lips as he watched the elf go. “And you are a fantastic one.”

 

As Alnyx had predicted, Absinthe was far from well rested for their ride to the southern desert. The elf constantly had to wake his companion who fell half asleep in the saddle at every chance.

“We are not taking the horses into the desert with us.” he warned. “And I doubt a camel will be as good about following order from you half asleep.”

“What are we even romping into the stupid sand for anywhere?” Absinthe shifted uncomfortably as Alnyx stared at him. “I didn’t actually read the contract. Just the number.”

“You…I am not surprised.” Alnyx shook his head. “We are going to find the tomb of an ancient wizard who was a religious leader. A collector is paying well for artifacts from the old world. The one attached to all those zeroes you saw was a very specific one. A wand, likely buried in the hand of the wizard’s corpse.”

“So we’re grave robbing?” Absinthe arched an eyebrow. “From a powerful dead wizard.”

“Grave robbing is such a strong series of words. The contractor is from the same religious tradition as the wizard was. Think of it as….Securing holy relics.”

“And I’m the evil bastard.”

 

It took them almost four days of travel by night to get to the site marked on their map. Alnyx rolled the parchment back up, lowering his hood.

“The entrance should be here.” he squinted his eyes. “Probably a rune on one of these stones. Start looking.”

“That’s hardly helpful.” Absinthe wrinkled his nose. “There are like a hundred rocks here.”

“If it was easy, they would not be paying us to do it.” Alnyx shook his head. “It will likely be some sort of warding glyph. You know what those look like, right?”

“I’m not an idiot.”

“Debatable.”

“What was that?”

“Nothing. Just get to looking. You too Fish.”

The wolf let out a single park before starting to sniff at some of the smaller rocks. Absinthe shook his head, waving his fingers to cause small whirlwinds that blew sand off of the stones.

“This is ridiculous.” he huffed, kicking one of the stones. “MOrtal wizards hiding their toms…If you were any good you wouldn’t have died in the first place!”

“As he kicked another stone, the ground under them rumbled. Fish lowered his ears, growling as his master rolled his eyes.

“Yes. Kick rocks outside the dead wizard’s tomb. An excellent idea. You certainly are not an idiot.”

“Hey I-”

“Move!” Alnyx lept, tackling him as the ground opened under where he had been standing.

“Wow that was-”

“Shut up.”

“But you-”

“You are annoying but I need you alive.  Alnyx dusted himself off as he stood, shaking sand out of his hair. “That is all.”

He walked to the edge of the hole as Absinthe pulled himself back onto his feet. Fish sat on the ground beside Alnyx, peering into the hole as well with a tilted head.

“Should be easy enough to climb down if we anchor a rope up here.” Anlyx nodded to himself, removing the backpack he wore and setting it in the sand. “Would you stop staring?”

“You save me.”

“Hardly the first time. It is not a big deal.”

“You normally just let me fall.”

“Would you like me to cut the rope as you go down? It would have the same effect.”

“Well no-”

“Good let us go then.” He started by trying off one end of the rope to a larger, half-buried stone. “FIsh, you stay here. You know what to do if anything comes up.” The Dog barked once after his master before the two began their climb.

 

“Better than the temple, right? No spider women.”

“No, just a wraith and his undead minions. The blood loss is making you delirious.”

“Maybe a little.”

They had managed to retrieve the wand, safe in its box within Alnyx’s cloak. But, in doing so they manage to wake the dead wizard from his “slumber,” along with the small army of skeletons that were buried with him.

“The way up should be this way.” Alnyx grabbed Absinthe’s arm before he could go the wrong way again. “Come on.”

He could nearly see the rope now. But, unfortunately, so could the wraith. Alnyx growled, pulling Absinthe harder as they sprinted down the corridor.

“Get up it. I can hold them back. Once we are in the sun, it should be easier for us to fight them off.”

“But I-”

“Go!”

Alnyx turned to face the oncoming skeleton horde, drawing the two short swords that were at his sides. He’d much have preferred having Fish down here with him. The wolf-

He felt the fireball before he saw it soar over his head. THe skeletons turned to ash before him, the wraith dissipating into smoke with a howl. He covered his mouth with a sleeve, smirking behind it.

“Is there a reason you didn’t so that a few minutes ago before you got chewed up?” he put his swords away, frowning when there was no biting response. “Absinthe?”

As he looked up, the man was limp, barely hanging on to the rope only a few feet above his head. Cursing under his breath, he climbed up and managed to get Absinthe on to his back, and carefully on to the ground. He head a single bark and a whimper from Fish above them.

“We are fine. Down boy.” Alnyx spoke calmly as he located Absinthe’s pulse. “Shit.” Faint. Very faint. “Come on you bastard.”

He moved and straddled Absinthe’s hips before digging into his bag for bandaging. They has a single tonic left that would help as well. Making a mental note to pick up a few more with their earnings, he undid the ridiculous clasps on the chest piece. He wrinkled his nose as he smelled more blood than he had before.

“Idiot.”

Working quickly, he bound the gashes tightly in order to stop the bleeding. With a pop that echoed in the empty tomb, he uncorked the small bottle of tonic. Alnyx leaned over his mostly unconscious partner, pouring it down his throat and coaxing it down with his fingers. He relaxed only when he finally saw his throat move as he swallowed.

“‘s that a wand in your pocket,” the acidic green eyes cracked open just to slits as he croaked the words out. “Or are you just happy to see me?”
“You great stupid bastard. You know well-”

The kiss silenced Alnyx faster than any argument in the last three years ever had.

“I…” the elf stood quickly, high cheekbones suddenly very pink.

“Bit of both I’d say.” Absinthe picked up the ruined chest armor from the ground, grabbing the rope. “Comeon. I hate the damn desert.”

The silence that followed him up the rope made him smirk. Nearly dying aside, it was quite the successful mission indeed.

Leave a comment

Filed under Flash Fiction, Stories, The Blackbirds

26. Rhythm

She still couldn’t figure out how Gray got his fingers to move like that. They seemed to glide across the frets, barely touching the wood. As he continued to play up on the stage, she glanced down at her hands.

They were too small, she rationalized. As she looked back up at the stage, she spread her fingers as far apart as she could manage. She tried to match the way Gray’s fingers bend, using the edge of the table as her own instrument. No matter how hard she tried, they just wouldn’t cooperate the way his seemed to.”

“Why so grumpy, Ophelia?”

“I can’t do it like you and Gray can. I’ve been practicing for at least an hour every day, just like you said. My fingers don’t work, Wraith.”

“Nonsense, they work just fine. Here, let me see them.” The woman held her hands out for the girl’s, turning the hands over front to back as they were placed in hers. “Hmm, as I suspected. They’re just fine.”

She bent each blood red digit, causing the girl to giggle. Wraith even bent them to take the shapes of the chords Gray played.

“See? Working perfectly. It just takes lots and lots of practice.”

“How does he do it so fast, though? It’s the extra joint, isn’t it?”

“Could be.” Wraith nodded. “He also has been playing for longer than three lives. You know how he loves that story.”

“It isn’t fair. I’ll never be as good as he is.”

“Aww, never say never.” Wraith tousled the girl’s violet hair. “Tell you what. I’ll ask him to stop over here after his set. He’ll be glad to hear that you’ve been practicing.”

“Okay. He won’t be disappointed that I can’t do it like him?”

“Of course not, Hun. Now enjoy the set.” Wraith was very careful to avoid the horns that hadn’t finished growing as she kissed the top of the girl’s head.

 

“There’s my favorite little Bardess in Training.”

“Gray!” The girl threw herself at the elf’s knees, hugging them tightly. “You sounded really good.”

“Thank you.” he ran his hand through her hair. “Wraith told me that you’ve been practicing.”

“Yeah.” she nodded, releasing his legs and plopping back into her chair, staring up at him. “I’ve been working on the fingerings that you showed me the last time you were in town.”

“Good, good.” he smiled, pulling up one of the other chairs. “Let’s see then.” When the girl went to grab the edge of the table, he shook his head. “Here.”

He removed the strap from his lute, smiling when her eyes widened. He remembered, for the briefest of moments, what it was like to be that young and excited. She took it carefully from it when he held it out, running a finger along each string. Once they made their way to the fret board, she had less a look of reverence, and more one of determination.

“This one is….A, right?”

“Yes. Go ahead, strum. Your fingers are correct.” he nodded as she did so. “A good first try. Now, move them to F.”

 

Thi went on for a good hour: he even walked her through the basics of a very short song. The girl was a quick study, which was good. They only lived as long as humans did, even with the horns.

“I have to go back now.” Ophelia sighed sadly, holding the instrument back out to Gray. “Do you know when you’ll be back?”

“I never know, Red.” he looked down at the instrument and smield again. “Know what….Keep it.”

“What? No, I couldn’t-”

“I have others.” he assured the girl. “I want you to keep it. That way, when I come back through town again, you’ll be even better.”

Ophelia stared down at the lute with wide eyes again. Setting it on the table she stood, hugging him tightly again. Gray smiled, rubbing the girl’s back gently when he heard the tiny sniffle.

“I wish I could go with you.”

“When you’re older, Little Red.” he promised her. “We’ll get into all sorts of trouble, and you’ll wish you had stayed here where it’s quiet and boring.”

She shook her head about the second half, slowly stepping back and releasing him.

“You promise?”

“Cross my ancient heart.” he drew a little “X” over the center of his chest. “Now, get home before you get into trouble with your mother.”

He watched her delicately put the lute across her back with the strap he handed back to her, as if it was something far more precious than stained wood. She ran out of the inn, beaming as she bounced.

“She’s going to be trouble one day.”

“I’m counting on it Wraith.” Gray chuckled. “Otherwise, I just lost a perfectly good lute.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Flash Fiction, Stories, The Blackbirds

38. Strain

The third floor walk-up had seemed like such a good idea on paper. It was safe, unlike the garden level apartments, and it was stay warm when the either changed: totally ideal. Until trip four from the U-haul, that is. He leaned on the wall to catch his breach, closing his eyes. Sure, the walk-up had been loads cheaper than the building with the elevator. And gym. And wireless internet in each unit as a standard…

Why had he picked this building again? He bent down to pick up the box that he’d gotten this far, groaning as he felt a pull in his lower back. After the two friends that were supposed to assist him cancelled, he probably should have hired movers. But the reasons he was in this building and not the high rise with a view of the lake wasn’t because he preferred the neighborhood.

“Oh, are you moving in?” He could feel his eye twitch when he heard the voice. What other reason would he have to be standing, half hyperventilating, with a box labeled ‘kitchen” in the middle of the hall? He opened his mouth with a witty remark, but he promptly swallowed it.

Long brown hair, freckles ,and huge…Eyes. He could forgive the fact that she was apparently an idiot. He straightened his back, adjusting the box so he could hold out a hand.

“Yeah. Name’s Jake.”

“Mary.” she shook the hand. “Here, go set that down and let me change my shoes. I’ll help!”

“Oh no, that’s-”

“The stairs are awful. It’s not a big deal. I don’t have to go to the gym if I do, right?” she winked before unlocking her door. “I’ll meet you in the lobby.”

He licked his lips as he watched her disappear behind the door. It was probably his fastest trip up the last flight of stairs, that was for sure. He caught his breath again inside of his own door, leaning on the wall again.

As promised, Mary was waiting in the lobby, long brown, hair tied away from her face. She was on her phone, so she didn’t see Jake gawking at first. He cleared his throat awkwardly and she finally looked up. Tucking the phone away, she walked over to him.

“So…Is it just you, or do you have like a roommate?”

“Oh no, just me. I cat sit when my friends go out of town, but that’s about it.’

“Oh you’re moving into one of the studios up there then? I know a few of them were empty. Lack of an elevator tends to turn people off pretty quickly.”

“It’s basically free cardio right?” Jake laughed, trying not to wince at the way it pulled at his sore muscles. “Besides, it’s only two flights. The boxes just make that part hard.”

“That’s true.” Mary followed him to the U-Haul.” I hope you don’t have any like big furniture of anything. You’re best off taking bigger stuff in through the back.”

“Nah. It’s all IKEA crap. Should probably toss most of it, honestly.” he climbed up into the back of the truck. “Pawned most of the decent stuff off on my kid brother going to college.”

“That does make it easier.” she rocked on her heels as he pulled a few of the last boxes down. “What school?”

“Something on the East coast. I didn’t really listen.”

“Spoken like a true brother.” Mary laughed, taking the box that was passed down to her. “Right. Let’s get this done with.”

 

Between the two of them, it certainly went much quicker. She was more than happy to take one of the beer Jake had gotten for his friends.

“A few of us were going to go to the bar to watch the hockey game tonight. Since you’re newer to the area, you should come.” She looked over at him from her spot on his couch.

“Yeah, sounds good. I dunno if I’ve ever watched a hockey game…” he thought about it for a moment before shaking his head. “Nope, never have.”

“What? How?”

“We don’t have a team in Nebraska.”

“Fair.” she laughed.”Here, give me your phone. I’ll give you my number. So I can get a hold of you and let you know when we’re going.”

“Oh. Uh yeah.’ he blinked, handing it over. That was way easier than he thought it would be. “So like, your friends and your boyfriend or what?”

“No boyfriend. Just a bunch of people from work and old school friends. We grew up on the sport.” she punched her number into his phone and handed it back. “Send me a text so I have yours.

He absently licked his lips as she he watched her chug what was left of her the beer. She smacked her lips, setting the bottle down on one of the boxes.

“Anyway, you probably need to get your necessities together. I’ll text you when I have a time.” she stood, walking to the door.

“Yeah, sure.” he waved as she stepped out and closed it behind her.

Maybe the third floor wouldn’t be so-He winced as his back tightened when he stood up…Maybe the third floor walk-up wouldn’t be so bad AFTER a shower. And heating pad.

Leave a comment

Filed under Flash Fiction, Stories

Writing Class Week 2- Food

WEEK 2 PROMPT! Two pages about your favorite, or least favorite, food. I went with favorite. Because my mother’s Cheesecake is the best thing, and I only get it like 2-3 times a year because she’s evil. There was a second prompt this week as well, but I’m actually working on that one still and turning it maybe in to something longer. Will update it when I get to somewhere I like with it. But for now: Cheesecake time.


“Michael McDowel, you get out of that kitchen right this instant.”

“But Mooom.”

“You have until the count of three. One.”

“I just wanted to see what smelled so good though.”

“Two.”

“I haven’t eaten since like…Lunch and that was so long ago!”

“Two and a half.”

“But-”

“Two and three quarters.”

“UGH! Fine.”

LInda smiled when she heard the thudding of her son stomping up the stairs. She never had to get to three. She was glad for that, considering she’d have no idea what she would do if she ever did. It was effective though, and that was what mattered. She waited until she heard his door close upstairs before she pulled herself up from the comfortable chair she had sunken into about twenty minutes ago. It was probably as good a time as any to check on how everything was progressing anyway.

She always bit off more than she could chew when it came to the holidays, without fail. This year she’d agreed to two appetizers on top of the desserts she always brought. But, Linda supposed, if it meant not having to suffer through the sad excuse for a seven layer dip that Debbie brought last year she would stay up a little later to make sure everything was edible. The gauc in it had tasted like dirt. And don’t even get her started on the sad excuse for Pinwheels that someone had brought. She shuddered at the thought of it.

Her kitchen smelled divine as she walked in, taking a deep breath. The artichoke and crab dip was just about ready to come out of the oven. Toasting the bread could wait until the morning, to make sure it stayed nice and crunchy. Speaking of crunchy: Next was to fry up the bacon for the bacon wrapped figs. Which meant that she could check on the most important thing she would bring with her to Christmas dinner tomorrow.

 

Linda’s most vivid memories with her grandmother were when she was sitting in the kitchen while Gamma, as she had called her, toiled over supper for her and her parents. She came to live with them before she was even born, and couldn’t imagine a life where the woman wasn’t always there. Gamma was old world when it came to working in the kitchen. Nothing was done by measurements, only by feeling and years of working the same recipies. A young Linda was fascinated with the way everything was a pinch, a dash, a flick of an old, creaking wrist.

Her mother had translated most of the recipies in to actual measurements, keeping them in a little book in a drawer for the day that Gamma wouldn’t live with them any more. But there was one that eluded her: Cheesecake. Gamma learned it from her mother, who learned it from hers, and back and back for what seemed like forever. Linda’s mother could make it just fine, but she still couldn’t quite explain that the measurements when written down never seemed right.

“Well, don’t just sit there and kick your feet.” she could still hear her grandmother say before she jumped down from the stool pulled up next to the counter. “Go and grab the mixing bowl. We have work to do.”

 

She smiled fondly at the memory as she opened the fridge, scanning for where she left the bacon so she could get started. Of course, her eyes lingered on the plate where she’d already cut up the cheesecake. Always into bite sized squares. She was never really sure why that was the tradition, as slices would probably have been better. But one and a half by one and a half inch squares were how they’d been serving is since the 40s. If she had to guess, it was so you’d have room for other cookies, and cakes and-

The plastic wrap had been pushed up slightly on one side from the plate. She was certain she had wrapped it up quite tightly, and hadn’t put anything else in the fridge that could have nudged the wrap in any way. Scanning the plate, she stopped as she saw an empty space near the middle: a perfect one and a half inch by one and a half inch empty space.

“Michael!” Her son’s laughter as she shouted his name made her far less angry than she wanted to be.

Apparently, Linda thought, she’d need to count faster from now on.

Leave a comment

Filed under Flash Fiction, Stories

9. Leather

Something about the smell of old books always made her feel young again. If she had to guess it was the years she had spent sitting at her grandfather’s feet, listening to him tell stories of his travels all across the globe. She took a deep breath as they stepped into the old study, sighing contently.

“Smells like-”

“Mold?”

“Way to kill the mood, Greg.” she rolled her eyes. “History. It smells like history books. You know, like a library.”

“It may as well be one.” Greg sighed. “Come on, let’s sort this quick. The appraisers should be here around three.”

“I wish you wouldn’t have called them until after we had time to look through it all. It would have given us time-”

“I don’t have time, Cassidy. You might be a…Freelance writer or whatever you’re calling it now…But I have three kids and a business trip on Friday.” He shook his head. “Anything worth money goes. The rest you can deal with on your own time.”

Cassidy bit the inside of her cheek, a little bit harder than she probably needed to. Better to cause a little cut than a fight. Their dead grandfather’s office was no place for an argument after all.

“Fine, whatever.” She finally said. “He used to keep the older stuff in cases. He had to downsize from those when he moved here though.”

“Damn so they got exposed?” Greg groaned. “Nothing to be done for it I guess.” he scanned the room. “Where do we start then?”

“Fiction was always to the right.” she wasn’t surprised that her brother couldn’t remember that. “Should be alphabetical by last name. Non-fiction is probably done by the decimal system.”

“I’ll leave that part to you then. You remember what his first editions were?”

“They’re probably changed from when we were young.” Cassidy walked to the wall she was sure the nonfiction started on. “He was always buying and selling.”

“Fantastic.” Greg raked a hand through his hair and stepped to the opposite wall. “Suppose we can ignore the paperbacks?”

“Since we’re speed searching? Probably. I can double back later. We aren’t selling the place right away.”

Greg nodded, stepping away from the book cases to instead open a window. It was bound to get dusty as they started moving things around. As much as Cassidy loved the smell, she’d rather not walk out with lungs full of dust.

Cassidy skimmed titles, trying to recall the ones from when she’d first helped her grandfather set up his catalog. A few of them were easy, considering the gold leaf embossing on the covers and side. Those she stacked gently in a pile on one of the chairs. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw that Greg was absorbed in the titles. He wouldn’t notice if she took a little more time on just one…

She slipped a book from the shelf and ran her fingers along the cover. For the skins being old as they were, they were still soft under her fingers. She smiled as she traced the letters of the title. It was an old plant encyclopedia, which Cassidy used to press flowers in to. The pages smelled like roasted marshmallows as she turned through them, keeping her nose close.

She paused on one of the pages, a long faded violet pressed there. Cassidy smiled, picking it up carefully. It did flake a little, but stayed mostly in one piece. When she heard Greg sigh again, she placed it back inside and closed the cover.

“Anything good?”

“A few of the older ones. No idea if they’re worth anything.” she hugged the book to her chest without turning around.

“I have no clue what I’m looking at. I’m gonna go check in with the art appraisers downstairs on those paintings.”

“Yeah, sure thing.” she released the book slowly, setting it back on the shelf. “I’ll take a look at that side. Make coming out here worth their time.”

Greg nodded and walked out of the room leaving the door open just a crack behind him. Cassidy sighed contently, fingers hitting every spine as she sauntered to the other side of the room. Greg might not have had time for their grandfather’s treasures with his children. But Cassidy? She took in a lungful of dust and leather.

She would make time.

Leave a comment

Filed under Flash Fiction, Stories

Writing Class week 1- Personal Item

Week 1’s prompt was to write 2000 words on an item that was important to you. I went with the amazing Hufflepuff scarf a friend got me for Christmas last year. No coffee pots were harmed in the writing of this drabble.


 

Snow was always the hardest thing to wake up to after she moved to Chicago, she’d decided. She could deal with the rain, and the summers where some days the temperatures got into the hundreds: Fun fact:, it was not always colder by the lake, she didn’t care what the weatherman said. But GOD the snow. It meant having to wake up even earlier so that after a shower she could blow dry her hair so it wouldn’t freeze. She’d made that mistake the first day it was under thirty. It was a miracle she walked away without any damage to it. As much as she’d hated living in Atlanta with her parents, at least it was livable all year long. You’d have thought after two years into the city, she’d have gotten used to the impossible weather. Most days it really wasn’t so bad. She’d really started to feel like a true Midwestern girl, transplant or not. She could just run to Starbucks, grab some overpriced hand warmer of a drink and-

As soon as the frigid air hit her cheeks, she knew she was nowhere near ready to call herself a Midwestern girl, no matter how many bad dates to North Side bars she’d been to or how many beers got spilled on her in the bleachers at Wrigley. She was perpetually freezing from September to April, starting the moment she stepped off the moving truck and into the wind. Doctors promised it wasn’t an actual medical condition, but four layers of clothing and the tremor of her body said otherwise. She groaned, finding herself wishing she had a vacation day left that she could spend. But no, she just HAD to go to that third wedding. If everyone from back home could stop that would be fantastic. Or rather, if she could stop being asked to stand up to the weddings that would be even better. It was going to be another Christmas of “Oh sweetie when are you bringing a boy home” and “You know that nice Jackson boy is still single.” Single and as appealing as a wet blanket.

The second gust of wind had her nearly doubling over, pulling the collar of her coat nearly up over her eyes. An Uber was the only logical choice. Waiting for this stupid bus was going to give her the flu…But a quick check of her bank account reminded her that rent had just been paid…And she’d definitely have to risk the flu or an overdraft…At least her new doctor was cute.

 

No one could really fault her for the sniffles as she dragged herself to her cubicle with a view of the mostly gray city street fifteen floors below. After all, it was perfectly reasonable to be freezing in December. There were a few half asleep grunts that were meant to be “hello”s as she dragged her booted feet across the carpet, a trail of footprints following after her. It was hard to be polite when you were pretty sure your eyebrows were frozen off. As much as she actually did need the coffee now, it would have to wait until she changed out of the clunking boots and into something more appropriate and less waterlogged. The hat and gloves were the first things to come off, sitting in a pile on the corner of her desk as she finally made it behind the felt walls.  Next came the jacket, draped over the chair with the little belt tucked up so it didn’t get caught in the wheels. She’d already had to stitch it back together once because of the damn things.

“Morning Em.”

“Morning Gabe.” she yawned as she flopped into the chair, starting to unlace her boots. “Good weekend? You and Melanie went to the Kindlemarket, right?”

“Yeah it was great. Got a few new little wooden ornaments for the tree this year. You got a package after you left for the day on Friday. They left it with me so that the mail room didn’t lose it or something.”

“A package?” Emily blinked. She didn’t remember ordering anything last week, although it was entirely possible. Drunk Emily loved sober Emily’s amazon wishlist. But she never had anything sent to the office. Especially not after Tess’s mysterious vibrating package incident. ‘New phone that turned on in the box’ my ass. “Uhm, yeah thanks.”

She took the box from him, squinting to read the ship from address on the pre-printed label. It wasn’t a shop she recognized, and it wasn’t an amazon box, so it was completely lost on her. She blinked, setting it on the desk.

“Know who made coffee this morning?”

“Elanore.”

“Ugh.” She wasn’t sure the burnt taste had come out of her favorite mug from the last time the woman destroyed the office coffee maker. “Tell me someone is going on a run.”

“Mary is. I’ll tell her to grab your regular.”

“You’re a saint Gabe.”

“Tell me something I don’t know.”

The two of them laughed as he went back to his own cube a little down the row. She waited until she had her flats that always stayed in the bottom drawer of her desk on to look back to the box. She picked it up and gave it a small shake. No clunking or shattering, so it wasn’t anything breakable. Setting it down again she stared at it, as if something was about to jump out of the corrugated cardboard and bite her.

“What the heck are you…” she grabbed the scissors from the cup next to her computer, snipping the tape. “Please don’t be loud or embarrassing or something.” She winced, finally tearing the flap back to take a look.

A nicely wrapped box was inside of the box, which confused her even more. She never did gift-wrap options. Certainly not if she was getting something for herself. She pulled the box out, tossing the shipping box into the trash. Maybe it was from mom? They had promised no gift exchanges this year though, so she had to believe it wasn’t her. Although she wouldn’t have put it past her to get something anyway. She smiled a little and shook her head.

“Freakin’ Mom.” she pulled at the ribbon and set it aside. “Now I have to find something for her. Great.”

She paused when she took the lid off and finally did away with the last of the wrapping paper. The yellow was impossibly striking, and definitely not something that her mother would have picked out for her. Ramona loved black, and grays, and…That was it really. She picked up the fabric and it uncoiled from its pretty presentation, a pile of canary and black on her lap.

“No way…” the stitched emblem of a badger at the bottom of the scarf on either side made her grin more widely than the prospect of coffee. “This is fantastic.”

From the Hallows mark tattooed behind her right ear, to the collectable wand on her nightstand, she never made it a question she lamented being an unfortunate muggle. The scarf was stunning, and the correct colors and everything. She wrapped it around her neck, hiding in the warmth of the fibers. She nearly forgot to look for a card, finally digging through the mess of wrapping paper.

“Emily- I remembered when we went to Trivia the other night that you said you were a Hufflepuff. Hopefully you don’t have one already. Merry Christmas, Greg.” She read it outloud, fingers tracing over the letters. “He remembered?”

I mean, the last category of the night had been a question about obscure character names and she spelled them perfectly on the first try without so much as a blink of an eye. As memorable as that was, she figured that it absolutely ruined her chances for date number three. Greg had been sweet, drank good beer…Had a really cute cat that had a smooshed in face that purred like a boat motor. Definitely at the very least an 8 out of 10. I mean, he chewed with his mouth open a little bit, and snorted when he laughed…Although she supposed the snort was at least a little cute. 8.5 out of ten then.

Emily had completely forgotten they met up outside of the building and he’d had to buzz to get let into the first floor lobby of the building and out of the snow. Of course he had her work address, and they’d never gone to her place so he couldn’t very well have sent it there. She fingered the yarn at the edge of the scarf as she thought about this. Maybe her encyclopedic knowledge of the ingredients needed to brew a polyjuice potion hadn’t totally ruined her chances. The scarf at least meant she could call him again, she figured.

 

“Greg? It’s Emily.”

“Emily? Hi.”

“Am I bothering you? Sorry, it’s my lunch break at the office. I can call you back if-”

“Yeah no, it’s cool. Just grabbing a cup of coffee. Our machine at work broke. It’s the worst.”

“I’m sure. Sorry I..Haven’t called or anything I just thought-”

“Yeah no it’s-”

“I mean I-”

“Totally I get it. I’m sure there’s-”

“I got your gift.”

That finally got him to be quiet. He cleared his throat, and there was the soft slurp of him taking a sup of whatever he’d gotten for coffee.

“You did? Good. I was..Getting worried I had the address wrong or something.” he laughed nervously. “You didn’t already have one, did you? I remembered that you didn’t have a scarf at the bar so… I figured it wa safe if nothing else.”

“No I don’t. It’s perfect. Thanks.” she pushed it away from her mouth so she could speak without it muffling her voice. “I..Figured you didn’t want to see me again to be honest.” she blushed as if he could see it. “Most people get a little weirded out by the nerd thing. It’s sort of buried on the Tinder profile, you know.”

He laughed and she let out a small sigh of relief. The microwaved dinner in front of her wasn’t the thing that was making her stomach flip for once.

“I don’t mind the nerd thing.” He promised. “It just kinda caught me off guard. I mean you…Don’t really look like the kind of girl who knows…What was the name…”

Mafalda Hopkirk.”

“Yeah that. You don’t look like the kinda girl who knows who Mafalda Hopkirk was off hand…I mean if you asked me something about the story behind the Forgotten Realms I’d be able to give it to you so I guess I’m not all that different.”

“Wait really?”

“Yeah. Do you-”

“Every Tuesday and conventions three times a year.”

They both fell quiet again, Emily with the biggest grin on her face, on the edge of her rolling chair.

“Myhtrill Lostwillow. Human ranger and member of the Emerald Enclave.” the vaguely Australian accent he effected actually made her giggle.

“Tinkerfalia Stonegear. My friends call me-”

“No way we sat at the same table a few months ago.”

“We did not!”

“You don’t really forget a name like Tinerfalia. I was playing my assassin. The one who-”

“Fell from the window out of the princess’s bedroom.”

They said this at the same exact time. Her laugh probably distracted a few of her close by co-workers. She found that she didn’t much care, though. When they finally caught their breath, Greg spoke first.

“So…Do you want to go and grab a drink tonight then, Tinkerfalia?” he kept the australian accent as he asked. “I’m sure that a gnome like you knows where we can find a fine cup of ale.”

“I may know a good place or two.” the squeak of her voice definitely had one of her co-workers stand and look around for the source of the noise. She pulled the scarf up, as if the canary yellow would hide her instead of make her a target for eyes.  “Oh and Mythrill?”

“Yeah?”

“You can call me Tink.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Flash Fiction, Stories

74. Prepare

In every story you read when you’re younger, Christmas morning is supposed to be calm and peaceful: a time for reflection and contemplation. Santa having come and gone, the children are tucked back in bed with their spoils, and Mom and Dad can finally have a quiet moment together alone.

“What do you mean you took the wrong shirt to the cleaners?!”

This was clearly not going to be that kind of Christmas morning. The hot cocoa had been replaced with a red eye espresso as the moment the kids were back in bed.

“You said the blue one. You didn’t say WHICH blue one. So I picked and-”

“That’s indigo, that isn’t even blue.” She hissed. “Now we aren’t going to match.”

“We aren’t cartoon characters, Jessica. We don’t have to match.”

“Kristin and Dustin are going to match.”

“Kristin are sociopaths that somehow managed to reproduce. Besides, it’s close enough, and it isn’t like there’s going to be another cleaner’s open-”

“Tell me you at least picked up the pie order yesterday. Two apple, one pumpkin, and the french silk.”

“Yes, I got them. And the vanilla ice cream. It’s all in the freezer.” He nodded proudly, sipping his coffee. “Nothing to worry about, just like I said.”

“Vanilla?”

“Yes, vanilla. That’s what was on the list- Jess would you just sit down please?” he groaned when the woman, his wonderful beloved wife, got up and practically ran into the kitchen.

But, it was quiet again for the moment. He took another long sip, sighing contently as he closed his eyes. Maybe once she calmed down a little, he’d be able to-

The scream sounded like she’d just gotten stabbed. He almost dropped the ceramic mug as he moved, in the kitchen doorway quickly.

“Jess, what-”

“It was supposed to be vanilla bean!” The woman was crumpled on the floor, the freezer door open high above her head. “Not vanilla. Who eats apple pie without vanilla bean ice cream?”

He raked his hand across his face, shaking his head. Careful not to step on her, he walked in and closed the freezer door. Was she-yep, definitely crying.

“Okay, well I’m going to go to bed while you have this nervous breakdown here.”

“I had everything written out perfectly. It was all going to be perfect. Now it’s going to be shit. You can’t have Christmas with regular vanilla ice cream.”

“Everything is going to be just-”

“And indigo is NOT blue!”

“Daddy why is Mommy on the floor?” the scream had woken up their seven year old, the little boy rubbing at his eyes sleepily. “Did she not get what she wanted from Santa?”

“Heyyyy, Ty.” He scooped the boy up. “Mommy is just having a little trouble getting ready to visit Uncle Dustin and Aunt Kristin later today.”

“But why? Uncle Dustin and Aunt Kristin are the best.”

“Even my own child! Why god why?!” the woman on the floor groaned.

“Let’s just get you back up to bed, Ty. Long day ahead for you and your sister. You and your cousins are going to have so much fun.” He hushed the very confused child and carried him back up the stairs and to the bed he’d abandoned.

 

Yes, holidays were supposed to be calm, reflective…And apparently to be enjoyed with a side of vanilla bean ice cream. At least the grocery store was open 24 hours right now.

Leave a comment

Filed under Stories