The Backyard Photographer Returns

As spring has sprung, wildlife has started to really return to my yard. Following through on the hobby I picked up last year during the pandemic (which, alas, still rages in my area of the world, despite what the provincial government would have most of us believe), I’ve gone back outside with my camera to continue exploring nature in my own backyard.

Mama Montgomery is back again this year, and it looks like she has some more baby squirrels hidden away in her nest somewhere. We recently removed three trees from the property, but she comes to the porch and the bookshelves looking for her daily treats. Little Boy is back as well, bolder than ever and willing to accept peanuts from my hand, a new step in our relationship.

Hansel the crow has also joined the posse, playing lookout for his murder and letting them know when the good treats are ripe for the picking.

The little nuthatches, sparrows, and other birds are also back, along with a mated pair of ducks who visit the neighborhood. They are more reserved and walk away with angry quacks if I get too close. With the trees coming down I’ve also noted an uptick in robin populations. The hawk is still around, I can hear her, but as of yet have not been able to capture another picture of her comings and goings. Now, all that’s missing, is a visit from the troupe of prairie chickens.

I’ll keep working to capture some great images this spring and summer, and hopefully have more little treasures to share with everyone.

Want to see more photographs? I have lots of ways for you to keep up with content, as I am going to be using my blog mainly for writing (Fingers crossed, I have a number of projects on the go that will be ready to post/finish soon and be here for your enjoyment!)

I recently added 10 new photos to my Viewbug profile, and they can be found here. I will be trying to post some new photos there every week, but will also be uploading frequently to my Instagram. Feel free to follow me there and drop a comment or a little love. If you want to leave some love in other places, feel free to check out my linktree for more ways to interact and share!

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Filed under photography, Spotlight

After the Silence

Susan sat at the kitchen counter, her shaking hands anchored to her cup of coffee, which had gone cold between them long ago. She didn’t dare move, didn’t dare look up across the small kitchen table in her tiny, empty apartment.
Since Paul had passed, the house had been too big. Too full of memories and other, inescapable things. Each room, previously quiet and calm, was filled with wailing. Not only her own. After months of trying to ignore it, Susan simply could not take it anymore.

“You know dear, you need to relax. Poor thing, you’ve been through the wringer and this just is not good for you.” The comforting voice across the table was familiar, it was warm and caring and everything Susan should have welcomed. And it was wrong. She squeezed her eyes shut, leaning forward as her shoulders shook. Laughter was her only response to the absolute insanity that surrounded her.

Aunt Mabel, in her flowery apron, was not there. Susan knew, because she had looked once, and had not been alone since. Aunt Mabel had passed over 50 years ago when Susan was just a young girl. Mabel should not be sitting at the table across from her, watching her with hollow spaces where heroes should have been

“You’re not real. You can’t be real. Why are you bothering me?” Susan’s voice was weak.
“Oh, I’m very real dear. We all are. You used to talk to us all the time. Don’t you remember? We’re here for you, because of you.” Mabel’s voice was soft, falling, teasing
Susan fought against the weight of the statement. No, they weren’t real. They had never been real. She had spent years breaking herself of the disillusioned teenaged notion that they were real. People had stopped looking at her with pity when she stopped talking about her friends. They had seemed to forget their worry that something was wrong with her, and she had let the idea fade away. But now, in the overcrowded apartment, with Mabel leading the charge, they had come back.

She had ignored them during College when they chided her for being wild. She had ignored them at her wedding when they had favoured her mother, who had passed later that evening. She had ignored them the morning before her and Paul’s small world had crumbled. Again and again, she could catch them from the corner of her eye, just beyond. When she saw them, they preceded every happy moment, every tragedy, waiting for her to see them. When she managed to ignore them, the world was righted; calm and perfect and serene as it should have been.

Susan had steadfastly ignored them the morning Paul had pulled on his boots, groaning at the pain it caused him before he had kissed her forehead and gone off to work. They had sat by her when he didn’t come home, and when the phone rang. Now each day, they were there, more solid, more real than the days before.

Susan had fought all she could against it, ignored it. Ignoring them seemed to keep them out, but what was the point. Without Paul, she was otherwise alone. What could it hurt to have someone to talk to?
Susan took a deeper breath, feeling it rattle her ribs as she raised her eyes, looking directly into the black voids where Aunt Mabel’s vibrant blue eyes should have been. Now, there was only darkness, pulled taut over boney cheeks.
“What do you want, Aunt Mabel?”

The figure smiled, lips pulling back in a rictus grin, teeth too white and hard, skin too paper thin.
“Oh, nothing dear. Just you. You complete us, don’t you know?”

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Filed under horror, Short Story

Back In My Day: Anime Video Rentals

Gather round children, and let me spin you a thread of the days of the anime video rental store. Back in my day, the early 2000s, the only way to get anime that wasn’t YTV was to find a little place. My go-to’s were Tramps and Tokyo 7. In those days, downtown here always seemed like a happening place; the bus interchange in front of the park buses. The Library’s main branch just down on the corner, and the Sears at the mall.

Now. In those days, our method for watching most things was VHS. DVDs were still a bit too expensive, reserved for the New Releases sections at Rogers and Blockbuster, and not geared to anime series and their associated nerds. Each type had 3, maybe 4 episodes if you were lucky. If you were even luckier, they were true bootlegs, fansubbed down to their core.

With a bus transfer in my pocket, I’d hop off downtown and scurry to one of my haunts. With my small amount of change, what was saved from bus fare, a lunch of deli meat and baguette from the local Safeway, and the leftovers from whatever allowance was to be had, I would make my trek from the bus stop a couple of blocks to my destination. Rain, driving blizzard. Nothing could keep me away.

Most rentals were 3-5 dollars, 9 if you rented 3 tapes at once. You could keep them for 3 days before the stores started to call you. So, a dedicated local otaku could spin through a series about every couple of weeks (Or, like me, a week when it came to Evangelion and Outlaw Star). Since these were bootlegs or copies the store had purchased at great expense to themselves from specialty suppliers, it wasn’t exactly, how shall we say it, a “legal” operation? As such, no real system for checking them out. So, I’d grab my 3 coveted VHS tapes, and get ready for the handy-dandy rental binder and receipt sheets, repurposes from their original intention to cater to our needs and to make sure the store knew just who to look to if something went missing.

When I first started renting, yes, the days of the rental store, which may have influenced my own desire to work in a rental store (which I eventually did), the clerk at the desk would pull out their big binder of clients. I’d flash my at-home laminated, 6 digit member card. Six digits only because there were at least 0 zeroes at the beginning. I still had that card, in the folds of my wallet, up until a few years ago. It was faded, the sakura blossom motif, and decked out fangirl in the corner recognizable only because of the memories it held. Painstakingly, they would write out the names of the tapes on an old receipt paper, and once they were satisfied that they would remember exactly which tapes were gone, I would sign the line. For the next 3 days, those were mine, and I would run back to the bus transfer spot.

After a while, between Tramps and Tokyo 7, I was a regular. I was given what I felt was the special and revered task of filling out my own rental sheets. I would skip off the bus even if there was rain, sun, or the blistering cold, and grab my little treats, at least 3x a week. It was a pivotal point in my anime and high school memories. Of course, over time they stopped renting the videos, or even closed down. But the memories are still there, and they are fond ones. So here’s to days gone by!

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Alice Investigates: An Absurdity in Five Acts


Act One: The Disappearing

Act One, Scene One

Setting: Night time. Wascana Park near the lake. East of the Albert St. bridge.

[A young man stands at the edge of the water, his hair dishevelled as he runs a hand through it, repeatedly. His other hand digs a bent cigarette out of his pocket, brings it to his lips, then puts it back in his pocket. It is dark; he is mostly in shadow]

Tony: That’s all I know, I swear. All they wrote, you know. Everything there is to know, I’m telling you.

[There is no answer. There are the sounds of waves lapping against the shore, as if something is steadily moving in the water near to shore. Tony paces away from the waterfront, turning his back to it for a second before coming back. Again, his hand digs the bent cigarette out of his pocket.]

Tony: Lie, why would I lie? What purpose does lying serve? A man is only as good as his work, you know. That’s what they say, isn’t it?

[Again, there is no response. In the distance there is a goose honk, as if it is disturbed, and the sound of wings beating against water. Over the bridge a car passes, honking its horn, the sounds of joy riding going South to North.]

Tony: You can’t do that, you promised! You said that if I got this for you, you’d let me in. I did what you asked so you have to do what you promised! An eye for an eye, don’t you know!

[Tony crouches down near the edge of the water, puts the bent cigarette between his lips and points at something in the water. He waits for a short pause and seems to visibly relax.]

Tony: Good . . . good. A deal is a deal. We made a bargain and shook on it. I joined the cause and I want what we agreed on.

[There is the sound of movement, water and waves. Tony drags his fingers through his hair again, and nods to himself. Pulling his hands back he sits down on his butt. With some effort he struggles out of his jacket and folds it before setting it down next to himself. He then removes one shoe and sets it aside, followed by the other. Shortly, his socks are removed, balled up, and shoved in the shoes.]

Tony: No, I won’t change my mind. Through thick and thin, we’re in this together now. Thick as thieves, one of the fold, you know.

[Tony scoots himself closer to the edge of the water.]

Tony: An artist must sacrifice himself for his art, right? The cause demands a price. I’m committed, I won’t back down.

[There is a strange surge in the water. Between one second and the next, Tony goes from sitting on the edge of the shore to slipping underneath the water. There is a splash. Slowly the ripples fade to silence, darkness, stillness. In the distance there is the sound of a passing car of joyriders, going North to South across the bridge.]

Act One, Scene Two

Setting: Inside a room. It is well lit. There is a door to the left and a window to the right. Above, a ceiling fan turns lazily, casting a rotating shadow on the figure below. There are three piles of books/magazines/papers on a desk.

[A woman sits in the chair behind the desk, her legs kicked up and crossed at the ankles, precariously resting on the edge of the desk. Her chair is tilted back, her head hanging over the side. Somewhere in the room, there is a radio playing the news.]

Radio Anchor: [Spoken with a slight accent, sentences ended with the sounds of sips being taken from a mug] No one knows where the feet came from, but forensics experts are convinced that more remains to be found. Police are still looking for other pieces to flesh out the body of evidence.

In local news, Regina’s newest mayor, Albert Saint Albert vows to shut down the protests that have been taking place outside of city hall and down at the new wharf. The protests are, of course, the result of the new sweeping city bylaws instituted last month by Albert St. . . . I mean, Saint Albert, which allow for the use of city parks, including Wascana, to be opened up to commercial development by the logging and fishing industries. Those who advocated for the development of the land applaud the decision, as it will greatly increase their ability to create change in the city. Protestors, on the other hand, are concerned over what those commercial developments will mean for the major city park, the largest and last such urban park in the whole of Canada.

[The woman, Alice, raises her hands above her head, splaying her fingers out wide. Carefully she tilts back a bit more, raising her crossed ankles up off the desk, balancing. There is a notebook open on her lap, notably devoid of any writing.]

Radio Anchor: In developing news, police are still seeking information about the recent string of disappearances in the city. All are young, twenty something individuals with devil-may-care attitudes and misplaced notions of their place in the world. Names of the missing, along with photographs and a brief biography, can be found on our website. Any leads you have should be jotted down and brought to your local police station or left in Facebook comments on the official investigations event page. The lead investigator, featured earlier today in a news conference, had this to say about the progress in the case:

[There is a marked change in the audio quality, a hubbub of voices murmuring as a man clears his throat.]

Detective Nickles: [He speaks as if he is still chewing on a sandwich, as though his lunch/breakfast was interrupted by this planned conference] People. People! Calm yourselves down. Hold your horses. There’s nothing to worry about. I’ve looked into things. These kids . . . adults really. These adults are probably just fine. Given their background, and the interests listed on their profile pages, they’re probably all at a music festival in a field somewhere, comparing the size of their hands and wondering where the next snack is. All this fuss, all this worry is too much. The search parties, the fliers, the helicopter and night time patrols. All too much and unneeded. You watch. Give it another week, and they’ll all comes wandering back home, dazed and confused, a little sleepy and hungover, but fine. Then you’ll see that this was all a waste of time and effort. Time that you could have spent at the new sport-fishing tours on the lake or experiencing what it’s like to be a lumberjack at the “Lumberjack Experience Camp”, now in scenic Wascana Park. Now, enough of this. All you paper people go back to your paper presses and print something interesting, like the golf scores, or photos of the new stadium sitting there, majestic and wide open, waiting for a big show to book in.

[The hubbub dies down and the radio returns to the previous quality, the feed is obviously now back in the newsroom.]

Radio Anchor: This has been your local news for the hour, stay tuned for international news at the top of the hour. Coming up after the weather, the thrilling finale of “So You Think You’re a Survivalist”, the hit radio drama that has been sweeping the nation. I for one hope that we get to find out what happened when they ran out of firewood.

[Somewhere, over the din of the radio, there is the sound of breaking glass, an obvious tumble, and a recovery. Alice tries to get up as the sounds of rapid footsteps begin to sound, but given that her legs are crossed, she kind of rolls out of the chair, tangled in her own legs. As the footsteps becomes louder, more rapid, she dive-rolls behind her desk, reaching up to grab at something with which to defend herself. First, she grabs a stapler and wields it like a gun, but abandons it and grabs a pen instead, holding it like a dagger.]

Alice: I’m warning you, whoever you are out there, I have a mighty weapon, and I am not afraid to use it!

[The footsteps stop just short of the door, there is a brief pause, and then a series of three precise, loud knocks, followed by a pause. Alice sits up a bit, elbows on the desk, and watches the door. Half a minute later, the three knocks repeat themselves.]

Alice: Come in.

[The door swings open in dramatic fashion, and a man steps in, dressed in jeans and an open flannel shirt, a beanie on his head. Turning, open to the ‘audience’, he closes the door, before making the same turn in reverse to face Alice.]

Jones: [Crosses from the right of the room to the desk.] I hope I’m not catching you at a bad time, but this is absolutely urgent. [Jones stops and looks down at the ground, he takes half a step back and turns himself to be open to the ‘audience’, so that he is not shut off to the desk] It was imperative that we speak immediately, due to urgency. [He speaks as if reading a script his is unfamiliar with.]

Alice: Jones? [She lowers the pen, seeming to relax a little] You should get that checked out. How did you get in here? Was that you breaking in?

Jones: [Takes a breath, looks meaningfully back at the door for a moment, and then slowly turns back to audience] Oh no, I surprised your secretary, he dropped his martini glass. He told me I could find you in your office, said you were in and free to help. That you’d be willing to hear my plea. [He crosses to the desk, pulls out a chair and sits down. After a second, he gets back up, turns the chair to be ‘open’ to the desk, and sits down again, crossing his upstage leg over the other.]

Alice: My Secretary? This . . . this is my house. My private house. And my Office. My private office in my private house! [In a huff, Alice crosses over to the door and throws it open] MAX! Not funny! No more late-night drinking games to black and white movies for you, anymore! And get off of that table! [She throws the door closed again and crosses back over to her desk.]

Jones: [Leans onto the desk, waiting for Alice to look at him] Help me Alice, you’re my only hope! I don’t know who else I have left to go to for help at this point!

[Alice sighs and rights her chair, before sitting in it opposite the desk from Jones, she is closed off to the desk compared to his open. Jones tries to relay through hand signals for her to open herself up from the desk, but she either ignores the gestures or does not understand them.]

Alice: Well, if you really need some help, some advice if you will, I just might be able to help you. Is it writer’s block? It’s always writer’s block, isn’t it, it gets us all. Why, I’ve been battling with a case myself recently, but I’ve put it well behind me. I have some very useful exercises we could work through.

[A voice rings out, echo-y, old-timey, like an old noir film a little smoky, and a little bit slurred.]

Max: It was true, I thought to myself. I had been through a dry spell. Drier than the driest gin you could find in a dive in this part of town. But here it was, the case that could set me right back on track. Jones looks at me, pleading in his doe-like eyes, a look that would spell danger for anyone without their head fastened on tight.

[Jones doesn’t hear the voice, doesn’t acknowledge it, but Alice looks up and around, a bit confused.]

Jones: You need to help me find Tony! He vanished. Poof! Like smoke. He’s been taken, I know it, just like all the others. I need you to find him and bring him home, Alice! [Jones throws himself over the desk, grasping Alice’s hands in his, but makes sure he is still in an open position.]

Alice: Jones! Hold your horses just a minute there!

Jones: I don’t have any horses.

Max: [Still disembodied] Ah, prettier than a blue jay, but about as sharp as a pillow.

Alice: Not what I meant, Jones. Turn of phrase . . . figure of speech? But you got to slow down, explain it to me.

Jones: [Lets go of Alice’s hands] Oh . . . oh! Right . . . right, sorry. But Tony, my roommate, you remember? He’s gone missing.

Alice: [gets up from the desk, walks around it, passed Jones] I really don’t think I can help you with that. This is probably something more for the police to deal with, or social media. You know, people with real power.

Jones: [Stands up and crosses to Alice. He stops. Looks down at his feet, takes half a step back and turns to open] The police refuse to help! They say that the people, like Tony, that they’re not missing, just gone. They won’t even file the report, just shuffled the papers around before filing them in the shredder! Help me Alice, I come to you in my hour of need.

Alice: I write young adult fiction, Jones, not detective stories. I don’t know the first thing about finding a missing person, Jones! How am I supposed to help?

Jones: [Walks up to Alice, takes her by the shoulders, gives her a quick shake] Of course you do, Alice! With nothing but your great mind, you found Olivia Flaversham’s missing toymaker father, and uncovered Rattigan’s dastardly plot to replace the Queen of England with a wind-up toy robot! Without you, a real rat would be ruling the entire Commonwealth right now!

Max: With my brain and his looks, we could go places . . . not fancy places, but you know, places. Maybe this was what I needed to kick myself out of the shadows, to pick myself up and show off my metal.

Alice: That was just a play, Jones. A play based off a classic children’s movie. I only played Basil of Baker Street. There was a script, I didn’t solve a thing! No one even came to the show!

Jones: I believe in you; the script was just your clue to solving the whole case. You’re the only one who can find Tony. Without you, all our hopes will be lost.

Alice: Well . . . when you put it that way . . .

Max: I never could say no, even when I was in over my head.

Jones: [Shakes Alice again, and lets go of her shoulders, grinning and whooping] I knew I could count on you! The last text message I got from Tony said, “Leave me alone, I’m heading out to the lake.” So, I guess he went to Wascana. He never came home after that, and his phone was off. No answer to my 27 calls since this morning. That would be the best place to start, to put your nose on the trail. Call me when you sort this all out! [He turns to go, moving to the door, but as his hands touches the knob, he stops, has a lightbulb moment and turns around] Almost forgot, silly me. Always exit to the right. [He passes Alice, moving to the window on the other side of the desk and opens it, slipping halfway out.]

Alice: Wait! Just one more thing, Jones. Why is it so important to find Tony? I mean, he didn’t even come to the play, and you got him a ticket every night. Is it love?

Jones: [He is halfway out the window but ducks his head back in] He still has my Nickelback CD, and the mailbox key. [Jones goes to complete his exit but stops himself. There are the sounds of tumbling, then of a fall onto ground. A moment of silence, before there are some groans and shuffling off.]

Max: [Voice still disembodied, echoing, more slurred] This was my moment, I thought to myself. The case that could put an end to my dry spell.

Alice: Max! Stop narrating!!

Max: If I could solve the caper of Missing Tony, I would be back in the game. No more late-night bar rooms and smoky dives, no more empty pages taunting me from across the room with promises of great nights.

Alice: Are you in the ventilation, Max?!?!?

Max: I grabbed my trench coat and fedora and closed the shades on my glass front door. Private Eye Alice is going to walk the beat and turn up the leads.

Alice: [climbs up on her desk, pulling the grate off the vent system] How many times have I told you not to go into the ventilation?! No more martinis before noon for you, anymore!



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Nerves: Another Fan Convention, but from the other side of the table this time.


A few months ago I took a leap. Try something I’ve only ever done for myself, on a. larger scale. What is that? making crafts. Specifically, making them to sell at a Fan Convention. So I dove in, and with tittering nerves, I’m there today, putting something I’ve made on sale for the first time. let’s see how this goes. I’ve got awesome support in my table mate. She’s actually the artist, the table holder and the one we are there for. I’m really the supposed to be the support! But I figured, well, no time like the present to dive on in. Wish me luck, and maybe, if I’m not crushed beneath the agony of defeat, I’ll be brave enough to keep on keeping on. Maybe print up books of stories for the next one?


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Face The Morning

Susan sat at her desk, the sun shining in from the East as the sun rose over the horizon, casting everything in a rose gold blush. Something still wasn’t quite right. Reaching out she adjusted a picture frame, angling it just slightly more outward facing so that whoever sat opposite her would have very little choice but to see it. It was of herself, leaning against a low stone wall, arms extended excitedly above her head, a large, floppy straw hat settled on her head. By looking at it, it was impossible to tell if it was old or new, just that the woman in the photo was unmistakably her, being unmistakably happy, in an unmistakably plain field that could be located anywhere where fields could be found. Susan nodded to herself and placed her hands palm-down on the desktop, straightening her own posture and looking to the office door.

Aside from her office light, the office was quiet save for the hum of the overhead lights, and the intermittent click of a copier, spitting out papers somewhere in a supply room. It was as it should be then, Susan nodded in affirmation. After all, it had only just passed dawn, and no one else would be arriving quite yet to begin their day. Still, though, something wasn’t right.

Susan moved again, bringing her chair slightly closer to her desk, and began arranging her pens and paper. Carefully she lined each up by their colour, and then their height, setting them just so next to the pad of legal paper that sat, crisp, pristine and unused, within easy reach. She then removed a small palm full of paperclips from the supply caddy and set them down next to the paper. No. No, that simply did not look right. With an admonishing click of her tongue she put the paperclips back where she had taken them from, one by one, so that each lay flat atop the other within the caddy. With that complete, she nodded again, satisfied for the moment, and folded her hands, looking out her open door to the office floor.

There was a ding of the elevator, announcing the arrival of others, and the quiet murmur of conversation in the distance of the cubicle maze. Good, that was very good, Susan thought. This was how it was supposed to be, perfect and orderly. But still, something felt just a little off. Susan turned her chair just so and stopped so that she herself was angled toward her computer, the black screen showing nothing but her own reflection. There! That was it, now she knew what had been so wrong before. With careful hands, she reached up to her face, and pulled the skin up and forward, just so. It settled back around her skeletal orbital sockets and cleared her field of vision of the slight obstruction the out-of-placeness had caused. Carefully she moved down, straightening out her smile so that her lips framed her teeth, instead of sagging down to show her lower jaw. It would have been very frightful to be seen without her face on properly, Susan mused as she smoothed the skin of her neck down over her protruding clavicles. It simply would not have been a good way to start the day. A chorus of screams and madness were never good for office morale.

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It Started In a Tavern

With a final glance at his reflection, Del straightened his eyepatch then, with a deep breath, turned to the tavern proper.

“Alright, you lot. We did a good job last night, closed out some of the smaller requests. On that note, a special congratulation to Dorin, who did an excellent job filling in as the librarian, it was your work that got that last party to clear out the ghosts from the from that basement, and netted us a nice finders fee.” There was a smattering of applause from those gathered at the tavern tables, as was their custom.

Months ago, the tavern had been on the verge of going under; between the damage caused by bar brawls and groups of high ego ‘adventurers’. It had been Del’s idea to band the staff and town together to turn it around. Why was it that it was only adventures that earned all the gold, and spent it faster than they could appreciate it? Now, with the help of the town, Del had a lucrative business running, and the tavern and town were better than they had ever been. All it had required was a little bit of diplomacy, and now all of the contracts for work came to the town. Instead of letting outsiders take all the money, they had worked out a good system. They would pick up each contract from the issuer of the task, and the sub-contract it out to the proper group. They’d offer a reward for the work, much smaller than the true price, and pocket the difference. The local authorities agreed with it, as it kept the wealth local, and meant that they did not need to do the footwork of finding individuals to complete the tasks.

Del picked up the assignments for the evening, and made his way around the room, handing each of them out.

“So, we’ve got a few big ones still waiting for the right group. Olav, down at the Broken Tusk, let us know that a pretty tough group is likely headed our way. We’re to look out for a female halfling, a real troublemaker who lits from shadow to shadow, and a big woman with a sword even bigger than she is.” Del stopped at the table next to Elona and clapped his hand on the small elf’s shoulder. “Sounds like they’re pretty good at what they do. Some news about how they held off an entire goblin invasion at an old fort. I think we can safely send them off to deal with that “little” red dragon problem. Start the reward low, let them feel like they’re really getting away with something, we can let them get up to 500 gold, and still, earn enough on the job to buy that new brewery.” There was a cheer at that, and Del grinned before moving on, handing out a few smaller assignments were needed. They had been contracted to find someone who could turn the undead back into their graves, and the local cleric just didn’t have the time to deal with it himself. If Del was honest, he knew Cleric Palon was just lazy and would rather read his bawdy novels then do the actual work, but a payment was payment, so that was that.

“One last thing though. “ Del stopped in the middle of the group, placing his hands on his hips. “ Turns out we set the alarm spell a little too high on the flaming goblet. Melosa, if you could tune it down, we might be able to get that one taken care of. We just need them to steal it and then the curse will transfer and Lord Bors will pay off the full reward.” There was a groan and a bit of a boo and hiss from various mouths, and Del shook his head. “I know! I thought that that little goblin would have gotten past it for sure. Would have served them right too, we wasted good stew because of the giant Goliath and might have kicked that paladin in the ass a bit for the stunt he pulled back Triboar. Now, everyone to their places, like as not all those adventurers are getting thirsty for a drink.”

The huddle broke up as each person took their place, and Del returned behind the bar. Soon enough evening would fall, and then, as per usual, the tavern would fill up with those seeking their fortune, from the newest adventures, still with a clean blade, to the oldest and most battle-hardened barbarian, looking for their next bit of coin.


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Touching Stone

The cold marble of the stone slab seemed to throb against Martin’s hands, like the heartbeat of some great beast dug into the earth. He had been unable to resist the urge to return to this spot, despite the warnings he had received about venturing off into the old forest alone. He knew he should have listened to his father, he normally did, but since he had discovered his place it had been all that he could think of.

Martin had come upon it by chance; he and the other boys from the village had been playing a game of Bandits and Knights in the woods. He had been the last remaining bandit, and if he could just keep the other children from catching him and stealing the handkerchief that served as their treasure, they would win. He had turned briefly to glance over his shoulder, and in doing so had tripped over an upturned root and fallen, almost directly into the stone slab, hidden by years of dead leaves and vines.

The other children had caught him, and he had failed to win the game, but deep down Martin knew that what he had found that day was more important that a group of boys playing pretend. He had come back each day for the following fortnight, exploring around the stone slab, removing the vines and forest detritus until he had uncovered a series of several stone slabs and a low ring of rough stone surrounding them. The first one he had found has turned out to be dug into the ground, a long smooth pillar half buried. He had sought to return to this place at every available moment. Sometimes, when the sun was setting and he sat quietly facing it, he could hear voices.

On this day, he had snuck off from his home after dinner. Food and home held no interest for him. He had been sitting at the table, looking out the lone window of their home, toward the forest, his stew forgotten and cold before him. His mother had fussed, wondering why he refused to eat. His father had spoken of idle hands and time, and promise to put him to work in the morning so hard that he would devour any food laid before him the following day. He no longer spoke to them about the forest, about the stones, not since the first night, when his father had all but roared at him in anger, warning him from the place. But what could be so wrong about it?

Martin had waited until his parents had put him to bed, and then longer until he heard them close their door, and saw the fire from the hearth die to embers. On quiet feet, he had snuck from the house and into the woods, intent on visiting one more time, before his father made good on his promise to put him to work. With his hand against the stone, Martin laid down, pressing himself against the cool stone surface. In the dark, he listened to the low murmur of voiced, rising up around his ears, and closed his eyes. He matched his breathing to the pulse beneath him, felt the chill as it pressed in on every side. If he listened just a little harder, he was certain that he could hear his name, being called out from within the stone.


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Soft Offering

Octavia looked at the blade in her hand. It was curved and nicked. Without a doubt, it was likely older than she was. The candlelight flicked off of its surface, making it look far more menacing that it had the right to look. Soon, she knew, its reflective surface would be slick with blood and lose its shine. She had seen it used so many times, had watched its work and transformation from afar, but she had never been this close. This was the first time it had come to her hand, and she knew that it was a turning point. It was also the only chance she would have to attempt to redeem her family’s reputation in the eyes of the gods. After this, there was nothing left to offer.

Normally her older brother, Octavian, was the one to hold it, to wield it, and to makes its work happen. But he was now gone, having joined their older siblings and their mother in the afterlife. As the oldest, the duty of it fell to her, or so she took on its responsibility. Likely, the ancestors would have something awful and ominous to say, if they could make their voice heard. Never, it all its existence, had the knife been used by a woman, but now there was no one else left. So it fell to Octavia, so she would continue the practice, even if it brought the wrath of the gods down on her. Still holding the knife in one hand, she carefully drew her veil down over her head, preparing for her task.

The lamb before her was calm, meek as if resolved to its fate. It was a good sign, Octavia thought, as they had always bleated and screamed at her brother. She approached it slowly, the knife lowered to her side and knelt down on the ground. The dirt and dead grass beneath her knees biting into the soft flesh. She gritted her teeth and bore the pain of an especially jagged rock. With one hand she ran her fingers through the lamb’s fine wool, and still, the creature did not make a sound, looking at her with its large eyes. They shared a moment, something soft as if the gods were speaking to her through the offering, urging her on to the act.     In one quick movement, Octavia wrapped her free arm around the lamb’s back and drew it close to her, running the edge of the blade surely along its neck until she felt the warm splash of blood begin to trickle and course down her fingers and her arm. Even as it began to fade, the lamb was silent. Whether because it knew that she was offering it to the gods, or because it knew that Octavia would have faltered it if cried, she was uncertain. The lamb had been the best she could do, and she prayed that the gods would forgive her her inability to prepare and complete the ritual in its entirety. Holding the lamb and knife to her, she waited, the only sound her own breath, and the distant rolls of thunder.


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The Gambler

Kosto watched as the man across from him tapped his newly dealt cards against the table, eyes darting up and down from the meager pile of coins that he had set in front of him. Kosto’s own cards were nothing to brag about, but being that they were the only two men left in the game, there wasn’t much he could do. He could, if he wanted to, keep folding until the man across from him had all of the money, but he doubted that would accomplish much.

“I’m just trying to win enough to get my little girl some medicine. She’s been sick lately, and my boss is a bastard with no heart.” Those words, uttered by the man across from him, kept Kosto playing, waiting to see when he could make a move. The corner of his opponent’s lip ticked upward, just for a second, and Kosto knew it was his chance. Setting his cards down, he took his large pile of coin, easily a month’s earnings, and slipped them to the centre of the table.

“All in.” He uttered lowly, then leaned back in his chair and observed. The man across from him looked at the pile in disbelief but didn’t hesitate long before pushing what remained of his own money into the pile. The dealer nodded, then checked the river, laying it out for the two men. Kosto’s opponent flipped his cards first. Three of a kind, not the most confident of hands, but at least better than a low pair with a middling kicker. Kosto flipped his cards, revealing nothing but a pair of twos, and an assortment of other disappointments. The man across from him didn’t question Kosto’s poor decision, leaping from the table and shouting in triumph.

“A round for all you hooves, who didn’t think I’d ever win! And the good stuff, barkeep!” The man around him clapped his on the shoulders, and Kosto narrowed his eyes.

“What about your daughter?” He asked, picking up his glass of whiskey and draining the last of it.

“I’ll just win again, it’s not hard. Besides, I know my wife has some coin stashed away where she thinks I can’t find it. That’ll be enough for the little biter.” The man continued to celebrate, picking up his newly won coin and slipping it into his pockets until no more would fit, and then he called for a pouch.

Getting up from the table, Kosto pulled another coin from his pocket and placed it down on the table to cover his own drink, before pushing through the crowd, leaving the stale and rank bar for the dark roads beyond. He had thought that this would be the case but was still saddened at what it meant. For a moment he had thought the man had maybe seen the error of his past ways, and simply did not know a better way to try and do the right thing. When the man’s wife had approached Kosto with the accusation that her husband was betting away all their coin, he had held little hope that such was not the case. Over his years of working such things though, he found that very rarely were the quiet ones prone to making rash or false accusations. With a backward glance toward the bar, sound pouring from it into the night, Kosto slipped into the shadows of the alley and started his wait. There would be a message delivered tonight, and it would not be pleasant.

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