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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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The Embrace

Joshua exhaled, feeling every possible molecule out in steady succession. The fragile, verdant light that filled the night rippled, undulating like muscular coils around him, closing more tightly with each measured breath. The pressure had been steadily building for longer than he could remember. He knew that it, whatever it was, had not always been there. He had vivid memories of the time before when the weight of it had not even been a blip in the back of his mind. All the same, he couldn’t pinpoint when it had begun to close around him.

With more effort than he thought he could muster, Joshua raised his arms, presenting them palm out in front of them. It was like moving through water, as he felt both resistance and weightlessness as his limbs responded to his mental command. A voice in the back of his head reminded him to breathe. Again, he knew that voice had not always been there, that there was a time when he didn’t obey its command. Or, at least, a time when he had not heard the command for such a routine action. But he knew that without its reminder, he might forget to draw the next breath. The light vibrated in response to his action, expanding outward to make room, before contracting in around him again. It settled back on him like a weight, slowly pushing the breath from his lungs. He could feel the substance of it, slipping into his nose, up towards his sinuses, and then down the back of his throat, thick and moist. The voice commanded him to swallow, and Joshua did. He could track the feeling of it all the way down, as it joined the dozens, hundreds, thousands, of others breaths he had taken before. It settled deep within him, joining the squirming, writhing mass inside his stomach, pulsing in time with his muted heartbeat.

Focusing his eyes, Joshua looked at his extended palms, though it took time for his eyes to focus in the green glow. He could see, more than feel, the sweat on his palm, beading and clinging to his skin with desperation. They too pulsed; erratic ripples just below his skin moved from the center of his palms outward, up to his wrist, then to his elbow, and to the tips of his fingers. This, the voice told him, was new. This was another step, another signal of what was to come, of what they had been preparing for with each exhale, each inhalation, and every swallow.

As he watched his hands, felt them lose touch with his body, weightless in the light, Joshua started to hear the faint rush of something in his ears. It followed his heartbeat, ebbing and cresting, growing louder. Coming closer as each moment passed. Be steady, the voice urged him, the reward was coming soon. Rising around him, the verdant coils pulled him in, tightening like an embrace around him. The rush of sound crescendoed, peaking like waves over him, drawing him down, deep into the glowing emerald void. Outside of his head, the voice rejoiced its triumph, and Joshua sunk down, pulled beneath the coils, as all began to fade.

 

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Poetry Tuesday: March 21st

As yet untitled. This is a variation on a theme, perhaps influences from reading a lot of paranormal fiction, and just maybe a touch of manga. The idea of the separation between life and death, between the known and the unknown, between normal and paranormal, natural and supernatural.

Untitled: Variation of Regret and Memory

Staggering the pyramid of broken promises,

Reshaping the dreams of previous lives,

like sand.

They slip between the sleeping and the waking realms,

Unsure if they even ever existed.

Dashed hopes cast off upon a mountain of regret,

Good intentions spoiled for the sake of one more moment,

Caught in that perfect imagining,

The fades as mist after dawn.

From the shore they watch the world,

Sorrow wailing, and they pine

For what they can no longer reach.

Curled fingers of desire and longing come up empty in their desperate bid,

To leech another moment of warmth from their remembered scenes of life.

Caught in a state between one moment and the next,

Skirting on the edge of memories of those still drawing breath.

Slowly, with each longing sigh,

They draw others from that shore to them,

Claiming them to repeat the past one more.

-Megan

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Saturday Shorts: The Doctor Is In

The Doctor Is In

With surgical precision, she peeled the skin back from the muscle. With practices and slow motions, she positioned the flaps of skin down on the mounting blocks, and pinned it in place, the latex of her gloves offering a sure grip, despite the blood which covered the fingers.

Now that the skin was taken care of, moved and held away from the forearm, she could begin her work. It had been hard going, but this was not her first try. It had helped immensely that the chosen patient was in optimal condition, with no other health complications or previous work to put her into more difficult territory.

Now, her gloves were slick with blood, having taken the time to carefully deal with the subject, she knew it could not have been avoided, only made minimal so as not to become a larger concern. The inside of the gloves were even more uncomfortable, coated now with sweat that caused the material to lose a bit of its purchase. She would have rather not had to use the clingy latex gloves, but they were a necessary precaution, and the only thing that had been in stock. That shortage was something she was going to have to see about in the future.

Setting her scalpel down, she picked up her small scissors and got down to the truly challenging work. With the forearm muscles exposed, Flexor Carpi Radialis and  Brachioradialis she reminded herself,  and in such fine condition, it made it very easy to determine where the tendons lay. There was o excess fat to get in the way. Very carefully, with great concentration to keep her hands from shaking even the most imperceptible micron, she snipped the tendons cleaning, watching the tension leave it like a snapped bowstring. Setting aside the scissors, and wiping her bloody hands on her scrub pants, she smile. Carefully, as if touching china, she reached in and took hold of the  tendons, using both hands to take two between her fingers on each hand.

With a triumphant exhalation, she manipulated the tendon as if she was dealing with a human puppet, carefully pulling back on and releasing the tension slowly in order to watch the fingers on the hand open and close. The fingers responded, less smoothly at first, but soon fluidly as she learned the correct amount of force to use, Eventually the fingers waved back in a macabre semblance jazz fingers.

“See,” the girl grinned broadly, glancing up the table at the man, gagged and restrained firmly to the table, eyes wide in fear and pain not fully dulled by the sleeping pill she had slipped him earlier in the evening when she had suggested their next activity, ” I told you it would be fun if we played doctor.”

-Megan

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Saturday Short: Just Like Granny Annie

Granny Annie’s apple pies!

Nothing like a heaping helping of delicious apple pie to chase away a busy day.

Try Granny Annie’s and you’ll be surprised at how the worries just melt away.

You haven’t had a pie until you’ve tried Granny Annie’s Granny Apple Pie!

The radio switched back to the afternoon’s smooth jazz, its sounds filling the small kitchen as Alice worked. Alice had always prided herself on her pie making ability, and her crusts were simply the flakiest in the neighbourhood. She  made apple pies that made judges cry, and she had the county and state faire ribbons to prove it. She had even been in the Great Northwest Exposition Finals, beaten only by the creations of Granny Annie herself. That was nothing to bat an eye at, since Granny Annie had been winning first place ribbons for her pie since before Alice had even been born.

Of course, now that Granny Annie had gone to meet the Almighty Pie Man in the sky, Alice saw nothing between her and complete victory in the upcoming Country and State Fair competition. She would even be so bold as to go beyond and say that there was no one left in the whole Midwest region who could come close to her skill with a crust. of course, she would only ever think that in the privacy of her own home kitchen; best to be humble and gracious in the public eye, don’t you know.

Alice had been practicing all winter, adding new twists to her crust, and tweaking the flavours just so. She had redoubled her efforts since the news had announced the passing of Annie, knowing that there would be housewives and gastronomy aficionados coming out of the woodwork to try to snatch up the accolades and sponsorships that had once belonged to the old women. A gap had been created at the very to of the massive pyramid of pie backers, and there would be stiff competition ahead. But Alice had something that none of the others had, something that she had ventured far afield to get, and secret back to her home.

Now, Alice had that ace of her proverbial dress sleeve, and a sprinkle of new magic on her apron. Delicately, she cut herself a piece from the pie she had just removed from the oven, letting the savoury scent cascade through the small room, curling her toes at the warmth of it. She hoped that it would taste as good as it smelled, this was her first savoury pie, and she could not afford to have it not be delicious down to the last bite. Alice smiled as she carefully pressed her fork through the golden crust, the gravy leaking out across the plate. With measured steps, she brought the fork up, being sure that no drops fell on her apron. Raising it in salute to the other side of her kitchen counter, she took a bite, closing her eyes to enjoy as the flavour slipped over her palate. She found it delicate, the texture not that much unlike chopped roast beef, but the flavour more mellow, like a slow roasted pork loin. She ate the bite and exhaled slowly before smiling, all in all, it could use more spice, but it was edible, and that was what Alice needed most

” Oh, Granny Annie, for all your prizes, your pies lack a little in the kick department. Still, you certainly make a very nice pie.”

Alice smiled again and winked at the skull set at the other end of the counter, over seeing the oven. It provided no comeback, no quip. Granny Annie had always been humble and very soft spoken.

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Poetry Tuesday: Bared Bones

Bared Bones

 

Grave bones dropping dust,

Crossed at the old master’s feet.

Creaking and bleating their lonely cries.

Left with unrest in their defeat.

 

Dry bone, marrow turned to stone,

Tossed at the blind king’s throne,

No One left at the hearth,

No Sons to take them home.

 

Cold bones, wrapped in parchment flesh,

Shuddering in the darkness, in suspense.

Not a memory of theirs remains.

Yet, still these ones draw breath.

 

Hot bones bathed in red,

Upon the soaked bloody ground, abandoned.

No tomb for them but where they fall,

In a field so far from home.

 

-Megan

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