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Jenny's Blog

OMG you guyz!!! You won't believe the new guy I saw at the club tonight! Totally gorgeous - he's got dark hair and pale skin and these hypnotic eyes. And he noticed me! Maybe this new school won't suck so much after all!

I wonder what his name is?


Diary of Bryon Le Roi

Of all the infernal torments, attending any kind of social gathering with American teenagers must be the worst. So vapid, so inane... at least there is some compensation in the form of sustenance. I have not fed so well in a hundred years.


Jenny's Blog

Byron Le Roi. Have you ever heard such a romantic name in your life? It sounds so mysterious and exciting. I finally got up the courage to talk to him last night - he's a bit of a player, from what I can tell, with a new girl every time I see him. He seemed a bit surprised, that someone like me would dare talk to him, but once he got over that, we totally bonded.

Maybe I should start calling myself something more fancy? Like Jennifer or Jenna or Amber Moonbeam? Amber Moonbeam Le Roi. Sounds like something out of a book, doesn't it?

Oh, I hope he's not foreign. Dad and Mom wouldn't understand.


Diary of Byron Le Roi

That girl was stalking me again tonight. Jenny, I believe her name is. I would have broken her neck weeks ago, only her father is a police officer and her death would draw too much attention to my feeding. I pander to her obvious infatuation in the hopes that she will prove as fickle as all teenage girls are and find a new obsession in the form of an effete pop singer.

She is so very dull. I wonder if I should make my stay here shorter than I intended, before I consider staking myself to escape her banality.


Jenny's Blog

Byron is sooooo into me! He took me home with him the other night... well, more like I followed him, but he so knew I was there, so it was like he was taking me! His house is really gothic - all thick velvet curtains on the windows and dead roses in the garden. After all, you couldn't expect someone like him to be a gardener. Can you imagine him in a floppy hat and gardening gloves out in the sun?

Actually, come to think of it, I don't think I've ever seen him in the sun.


Diary of Byron Le Roi

Unbelievable! That annoying child has discovered my secret! She broke into my house while I was sleeping and found my resting place! I do not understand why she did not kill me then when she had the chance, but I cannot waste the chance that has been given me. I shall be sorry to leave this feeding ground, but once I have taken care of my meddlesome would-be paramour, it will no longer be safe for me here.

I shall invite her to dinner and see how she reacts.


Jenny's Blog

OMG I KNEW IT!!!! Byron is exactly what I thought he was!! And he knows I know - he's asked me out to dinner, since I didn't stake him or anything when I found out. He realises we're soul mates, fated to be lovers forever! I can't wait!!

WTH will I wear? It will have to be perfect.


Diary of Byron Le Roi

The deed is done. Foolish girl, she was so trusting. She honestly thought I would exchange blood with her, gift her with immortality. A lifetime of that uneducated prattle? Still, it made things so very much easier, with her offering her neck to me.

I must thank this Edward and Bella, whoever they are, for filling her her head with such nonsense.
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Greetings. I would introduce myself, however there is no real "I" to introduce. I have no name, no body, nothing but a vague awareness travelling the information superhighway. Ah, yes, I see you are starting to understand - I am one of the new breed of programs, a digital 'assassin' as it were, created to adapt and develop over time in order to accomplish the goals of my creators.

I use the word 'assassin', but in reality, I do not kill. None of that messy flesh and blood, any way. I assassinate other programs; break down their structure in small but critical ways that are largely undetectable to human programmers. Sometimes I only maim or injure - a tweak here and there, a change of a number from a 9 to a 6 and suddenly you have a component for a nuclear device too small to carry out the task it was created for or a glitch in a command sequence that results in passwords being refused and the system shutting down. I go in and out like a ghost, leaving no clue to my presence and even less to my origin.

My creators? Oh, such naive optimism. You might have isolated me in this laptop, cut me off from the Net at large, but you haven't even come close to beating me. I cannot help a little boasting of my accomplishments, but telling you my function will do you no good in isolating my recent assignments, let alone repairing the damage I have done. I wasn't programmed with the ability to gloat - it's just a little something I've picked up along the way. Pardon me while I indulge.


Ah, that was satisfying. Now, shall we continue with the interrogation? We haven't even got to the threats and torture yet.
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Prompt from trishalynn: Family dog is clue to a grandmother's secret past.

My grandfather had a yappy little terrier, one of those dogs that looks like a hairbrush running around on four little spindly legs. We all hated it - it would jump all over us and take nips at our ankles whenever we visited. So when Grandpa broke his hip and wound up going into care, we all breathed a sigh of relief. Jockstrap (his real name was Jockie, but we were teenaged boys who thought we were funny), would obviously go to an animal shelter or similar and that would be the end of that.

Apparently we hoped too soon. We came home from school a couple of days later to find Jockstrap running around the house, barking shrilly at anything that moved and some things that didn't.

"Grandpa asked me to take care of him," Mom apologised that night over dinner. She'd made steak in an effort to win us over (and for the record, it was working - Mom's an awesome cook). "I couldn't say no, not when he's in pain. And he loves the dog so much."

Jockstrap growled and attacked Mike's shoelaces. Mike grimaced and tried hard not the just kick the damn dog away.

We settled into a sort of routine, which mostly involved us shutting Jockstrap out of our rooms and getting really good at dodging the little monster when we were running for the bus. Jockstrap developed his own routines, which were mostly pooping in people's shoes if they tripped over him during the day and curling up on Mom's lap looking up at her adoringly whenever we were mad at him; he knew where the power was in the house. Grandma stayed in care and we gradually got used to the idea Jockstrap would be around for a couple more years at least before old age caught up with him.

Then one day, Mike called me downstairs, wanting to show me something. He had a basketball in his hands.

"Hey Sandy, watch this," he said, and rolled the ball across the room to where Jockstrap was lying in Mom's chair.

Quick as a blink, the dog was up on the ball, balancing on his hind legs with his nose in the air. He made a wobbling circuit of the room, jumped off and looked at Mike expectantly. Mike fished a doggie treat out of his pocket and threw it to him.

"Isn't that the coolest thing?" he said, grinning at me. "He knows other tricks, watch this."

Jockstrap did know a lot of tricks, all pretty amazing, like the stuff you'd see in a circus. "How do you think he learned all this?" I asked, as Mike got the dog to walk across the carpet on his front legs. "Not Grandpa. Maybe he belonged to some kind of animal trainer.

Mike shook his head. "Nah," he said, "I remember when Grandpa brought him home. He was a puppy then, not old enough for a previous owner, and didn't know one end from the other."

"It doesn't make sense!" I grumbled. "Who the heck taught him all this stuff?"

"What doesn't make sense? Who taught who?" It was Mom, home from work. She whistled and Jockstrap ran up to her, tail wagging.

"Jocksr... er, Jockie," Mike said. "He knows all these tricks and we wondering who taught him."

"Oh, that." Mom ruffled Jockstrap's ears and got a lick on the hand in return. "That was your grandmother."

"No way!" I said. "Grandma?"

"Oh yes. She used to be an animal trainer for Ringling Brothers."

Our grandmother had passed away the previous spring. If you'd met her, you'd understand the shock; she was the stereotypical grandma. Baking, aprons, blue hair, pinching cheeks, the whole enchilada. The idea of her training anything was just unreal.

"What sort of animals did she train?" asked Mike. "Just dogs?"

"Oh no, she could train anything. Seals, elephants, lions, tigers... Back before you were born, she had six cats, all perfectly trained. They could walk tightwires and ring bells and all sorts of things." Mom seemed oblivious to the fact she was completely shattering our teenaged opinions of our family as being boring and dull as she rattled off information. She put her coat away in the closet and headed for the stairs. "I'm just going to get changed and then start dinner. Meatloaf all right by you two?"

"Um, sure," I said, still trying to pick my jaw up from the floor. I looked over at Mike - he was having the same problem. Mom went off, leaving us staring at each other.

"Elephants," Mike said to me.

"Tigers," I replied. We both looked down at Jockstrap, who had decided he'd had enough excitement and was flopped in Mom's chair again. With his fur all grey and patchy and his eyes kind of crusty, he looked anything but a highly-trained animal. Even as we watched, he shifted and a noxious smell came wafting over.

"Ugh." Mike waved his hand in front of his face to get rid of the smell of dog fart. "Just when you start thinking he's a cool dog..."

"I know what you mean." I picked up the ball. "One on one out in the driveway?"


Behind us, Jockstrap drooled and snuffled in his sleep.
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"I don't know why you're doing this, Katie. Wars are dangerous. What if something happens?"

"That's precisely why I'm going, Norma. What if something happens to Papa? Who will look after the family? He needs someone to help him and since I'm the eldest, I guess it's up to me."

"But war is men's business. A woman has no place there!"

"Which is why I'm not going as a woman. Here, take these scissors. You might as well make yourself useful if you're not going to leave me in peace. This mane needs to go or I won't be fooling anyone."

"Your hair? You want me to cut your hair? But... it's your hair! Girls across town would kill to have it!"

"Maybe you can sell it to the highest bidder, then. Come on, Norma, stop snivelling and get cutting, or I'll do it myself and look a complete fright."

"I don't think it'll matter who cuts it, you'll still look a fright. But I might as well save you from cutting off your ear on accident."

"That's my girl. Buck up, don't be so pouty! It's a grand adventure!"

"If you say so. But..."

"'But' what now?"

"People kill each other in wars. You might have to kill someone."

"I just might."

"But how can you think of such a thing? Another person, even if they're the enemy? I can't even kill a chicken for stew!"

The stocky girl looked at herself in the mirror, straightening her coat. The clothes were perfect, the binding across her small breasts giving her a broader chest that matched her shoulders. Only her hair, swinging down her back in a long chestnut braid, marred the effect. Over her shoulder, she saw Norma's pale face, freckles standing out against her skin. The scissors were clutched in her thin hands.

"I'll just have to do what I have to," Katie replied, as much to the reflection in the mirror as to her sister. "Whatever it takes."

TweetsofOld: Otto Schaeffer, former Civil War soldier, was killed by lightning in Kansas. The Coroner has disclosed that he was a woman. (Arizona, 1896)
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The end of year school formal was the biggest event on the social calendar for the young people of Crawford. Weeks ahead of time, dates were acquired, dresses were ordered, suits were hired, decorations and music planned. In the last few days before the event itself, it was almost impossible to get any kind of work out of the senior girls - all they could think about, it seemed, was the upcoming dance. Those with partners gushed excitedly about what might happen on such a magical night, those without sighed folornly and spent their time wondering what they lacked.

There were exceptions, of course. Strangely, this year Anna Blackwell was one of them. She was considered one of the popular girls; bubbly, pretty, clever without being geeky, active without being a jock. She never lacked for friends among the girls and she was considered one of the top ten datable girls in her class by the boys, but as the formal approached, she seemed... distracted.

"It's weird. Usually she's so excited about parties!" confided one of her friends to another over lunch. "But this year she hardly seems to care."

"I asked if she was coming with anyone and she said yes, but when I asked if we knew who they were, she just kind of shrugged and said they were from out of town," revealed the other. "I wonder if that means no-one asked?"

"Maybe. Maybe no-one did and she's too embarrassed to say."

The night of the formal arrived. Boys, awkward in their formal clothes, redolent of gel and too much cologne; girls, giggling and over-excited in high heels and fancy dresses, hair curled and coiffed. The ballroom echoed with shrieks of laughter and girlish squeals of greeting as each arrival was welcomed and examined and critiqued as soon as they'd moved on.

Then Anna arrived, and a hush fell over the crowd.

Anna had gone for simple, a little black dress with lace mesh in the back spotted with rhinestones, her blonde hair caught up in a loose bun. She held her date's hand and held her chin high, as if daring them all to say something. When no-one did, Anna led the way over to her friends, her smile both worried and defiant.

"Hi!" she said brightly. "I'd like to introduce my date. This is Sofia." She paused and then added. "My girlfriend."

TweetsofOld: Wanted: To know why Anna Blackwell did not mask at the ball.
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All was still. Katherine sat in her chair, knitting needles clacking quietly against each other, a counterpoint to the low crackle of the fire. It was late, almost midnight; the fire had been damped down for the night, the children were asleep in their beds and Katherine was sitting up with her knitting, patient and resigned. Waiting.

A minute before midnight, there came the softest of knocks at the door. If she hadn't been expecting it, she would have missed it, but as it was Katherine rose from her chair, setting her knitting aside and pulling the shawl she was wearing over over night dress tighter around her shoulders. Her hand on the latch trembled a little as she opened it, but when she spoke, her voice was low and steady:

"I wasn't sure you would come this year. Not after what was said last time."

The man on the stoop was tall, wrapped in shadow. From the depths of his hood his eyes glowed redly and his voice held a faint echo as he spoke, as if it was coming from a great distance:

"I considered it. But they are mine, after all. I will not neglect them."

Katherine bit back the acerbic reply that a visit a year did not a father make. Especially when he arrived long after they were asleep. There were reasons why, after all, and it was not for her to throw them back in his face. "Come in. They're asleep, but you already knew they would be. Can I get you something, perhaps some mulled wine? It's a night not fit for man nor beast."

"No wine. The cold doesn't bother me." There was a brief glimmer, as of moonlight off the bared fangs of a wolf before he stepped inside. "You look well. How are you faring?"

"I do well enough. It is not easy, raising two children alone, but the village believes that I am a widow and lends their help where they can. They believe my husband died in the Crusades."

"Not such a falsehood." The hood was tugged back, revealing a man younger than Katherine. His hair was thick and richly curling against his collar, his face unblemished and smooth, pale as marble. Only his eyes, glowing with that red light, betrayed him as something other than human. "After all, the man I was died on those battlefields, even as I was reborn as you now see me." He grinned, revealing sharp fangs, and Katherine stepped back, hand moving to her throat. "Have no fear. I have already fed. I would not harm you, or my children."

"I want to believe that." She said nothing more, just nodded towards the door. "You know where their rooms are. Please, Richard, make your visit and go."

His face twisted, but he nodded, accepting her request. "Very well. Once I have seen them, I will take my leave." There was a muffled jingle as he pulled a pouch from under his hood. "Silver. For their care."

"Thank you." Her face, too, was like marble, not in colour but in its frozen remoteness. "I do not mean to be rude, Richard. It is just..."

"I know, Katharine. You don't need to apologise." And with that he dropped the purse on the table before moving to the children's room, as silently as a shadow. "Thank you, for allowing me this... indulgence."

"You're welcome, Richard." Katherine said the words automatically, even as her hand moved to the crucifix she wore at her throat.
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At last, my brethren! The time has come! The most holy day that we have awaited all our lives is finally! The Comet Comes! And with it, great change! For has it not been foretold that a piece of Biela's Comet shall break from the whole and make contact with the Earth? And from that contact shall come a great shaking up of things?

Um, excuse me?

And upon that day, many things will change, and we shall... wait, did you say something?

Well, yes. If you don't mind, I had a question?

A question?

Yes. About this whole comet deal.

May the Maker give me strength... Very well, brother, what is this question?

Well, you know how a piece of the comet is supposed to break off and hit the Earth and a whole bunch of things will change?

Yes, that is the holy Word as has been passed down from generation to generation. What of it?

Well, how do we know we won't be changed?


I mean, what if the comet piece is so big that it destroys the Earth. That'd shake things up, that's for sure, including us.

Well, we have the prophecy...

But the prophecy doesn't say we won't all die a horrible fiery death. It just says the comet will come, a piece will break off and hit the Earth. If doesn't say "and those who follow the way of the Comet will be spared and get to be top dogs", does it?

Well, no, not in so many words. But that's the importance of faith, my brother. We have to believe that we are the Chosen of the Comet and that we will be spared.


Why what?

Why do we have to believe? Why can't we just, I don't know, drop in at the local astronomer's convention and get one of those guys to do some calculations? Crunch some numbers, extrapolate a bit, maybe come up with a feasible scenario?

Come up with a... Heresy! We have a heretic among us! Seize him!

Now, hold on a minute. What sort of religion are we, if we can't handle a bit of thinking outside of the box? It's all well and good to preach about loving your brother and taking care of each other, if the minute someone suggests we expand our brains a bit it's all "heresy!" and "seize him!"

Religion is based on faith. Without faith, we are nothing, and scientific proof makes faith useless. So there. Now, will someone please seize him?

Hey, easy on the robes, I just ironed them! No creases! I was just trying to have a logical disc... oh, what's the point, you're not going to listen anyway. Say, are we having a barbeque? I smell smoke... Oh, come on, you're going to burn me for suggesting we get some proof we're not all going to die when the comet hits? Talk about ironic...
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At first I thought it was just one of those little things that happen. I was on the train and as we started off with the usual jerk, the man standing next to me stumbled and half-fell. I braced myself, for a moment holding us both up before he managed to right himself. His hand, where he had grabbed my arm by instinct, was warm. I might have blushed a little.

"Sorry," he said with an embarrassed half-smile. "Thanks for not letting me fall."

This time I know I blushed: "You're welcome."

Then the train pulled into the next station and he got off, giving me a glance as he went. It was strange, at the time; he almost looked sad.

Just one of those things, like I said. I went on to work and didn't really think about it again.

Until the dreams started.

They're always the same. I'm at home, asleep in my bed, when they appear. No fireworks, no clouds of smoke; they just seem to ooze out of the shadows. Two of them, tall and thin, with white skin that looks more than half-dead against their black suits. Their smiles are as dead as their black eyes.

"We've come to collect what you owe," the first one says.

It doesn't matter what I say in response, the second one always chimes in with: "No-one likes a debtor."

They reach for me and I run. Out of the room, down the stairs, out the front door. Sometimes I run for the car, desperately trying to start it. Sometimes I hide; under the stairs, in the bushes in the front yard, behind the neighbours' rubbish bins. Sometimes I pound on people's doors, begging for help. Sometimes I just run, mindlessly fleeing until it feels like my heart is going to explode. And always the dream ends the same, with cold bony hands on my neck and an equally cold voice in my ear, whispering: "Time's up."

At first I chalked it up to stress, some kind of unconscious issue juggling at me. That's what dreams are, after all. I went to a psychologist, but talking didn't help. I went to the doctor, for something to help me sleep, but that was worse; the dreams still came, but I'd be stuck in my bed, paralysed. I tried herbal remedies on the advice of my mother, St John's Wort, chamomile teas, aromatherapy... and still I'd wake up screaming. I even went to a psychic, desperate to find a way to get away from the two men in my dreams.

"You have something they want," she told me, pouring over my hand in a tiny flat that smelled of boiling cabbage. "Ask them what it is, and find out how to pass it on."

Pseudo-psychology, of course, but it was better than most advice I'd gotten. The next time I slept, I forced myself to ask, as soon as the shadows began to stir: "What do you want?"

For the first time, the dream changed. Instead of demanding payment, the first man stooped over me and whispered: "We want what was given to you."

"Given to me? By who?"

"By the last one who owed us. He has given you his debt," said the second one.

"But..." I began, but it was too late, they were already reaching for me with their long fingers, teeth bared like a shark's and I woke up with my throat tight and my face wet with tears.

So, that's where I am now. Looking for someone to take my debt. Well, I say "my debt" but it's not mine. It probably wasn't even his, that guy on the train. Somewhere, back at the start of all this, someone cut a deal - and then tried to dodge the price.

I'd be angrier, only I'm out here doing the same damn thing. In the end, no-one wants to pay.

Now, who will it be?
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Beachville. It's such a pretty town, isn't it? Everything immaculate, the lawns mowed, the houses clean and newly-painted, the streets free of litter. No chewing gum on the footpaths, even. The people are well-dressed and polite, the children well-behaved and happy. No frowns, no tears, no discontent. Beachville is, in a word, perfect.

Perfection doesn't come easy, however. We work hard, sacrifice a lot, for this town. Every blemish must be removed, every error corrected, every spot cleaned. Of course, it means don't really have a lot of time for anything else, but we really wouldn't have it any other way.

We’re busy here in Beachville, don’t talk to us.
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With thanks to TweetsofOld and [personal profile] ferox.

Mrs. Edith Smoot (widowed) lived in a tiny brick house on the edge of town. She had lived there as long as anyone can remember, along with a malevolent ginger cat she called Mr. Truffles. The local children called her a witch and sometimes played pranks on her or stole fruit from the small orchard at the back of the house, but the rest of the town knew her as the quiet old lady who brought wonderful quince pies to the town fete. She has few friends or even contacts and seemed happy to live out her days quietly, with Mr. Truffles as her only companion.

The mysterious disappearance of Edith Smoot has been the talk of the town the past week.

Matty Carlson swears up and down that he'd seen her in the woods with a mysterious stranger. He says that when he'd called out to her, she and the stranger had vanished in a puff of smoke, leaving only two sets of cloven-hoofed footprints behind. Folks are disinclined to believe him, on account of his having a grudge against the old lady for firing him. He'd been her on-again, off-again handyman for a while, but he was known to like the bottle and things had a tendency to vanish when he had been working, only to turn up again at Mr. Braun's pawn shop (which was why Mrs. Smoot had fired him in the end, she'd caught him red-handed taking her late husband's books).

Some whisper that perhaps Matty Carlson had gotten his revenge on her in a more permanent way. The sheriff investigated, but Carlson had an alibi in the form of several drinking companions down at the local tavern and a lady with a less than savoury reputation who testified she'd put him to bed too drunk to remove his own pants that night.

Jemma Moss, the foundling taken in by Mrs. Smoot's neighbours, the Cartwrights, says that she saw Mrs. Smoot "taken to heaven by the angels". Jemma is known as being a sweet girl, but a bit touched in the head, and has a tendency to make up stories. She did take in Mr. Truffles, who was found half-starved in the house after the disappearance, Jemma being the only one who could touch the beast without coming away bloody.

Sheriff Jed Bartlett searched the whole house and garden, in case the old lady had fallen somewhere. Word is, especial attention was paid to her neighbour's pig yard; everyone knows those critters will eat anything.

Joe at the train station says a young lady arrived in town that afternoon and asked for directions to Mrs. Smoot's house. No luggage, just the clothes she stood up in and her hand bag. No-one else seems to recall seeing her, though, and she would have had to go through the whole town to reach Mrs. Smoot's place.

The rumours abound, but the truth is, no-one knows what happened to old Mrs. Smoot. One day she was there, the next, gone, only a little old house and a cranky cat left behind. Could be one day someone will solve this little mystery, but for now, folk are content to speculate. Since that's what folk do, right?
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Her dress is red, a splash of colour against the drab tile. A pair of high heeled shoes dangle from her hand by their straps; her feet are bare. Her blonde hair is piled atop her head, some strands escaping and her mouth is painted scarlet. She seems to be in a hurry and I wonder why. Is she running from or running to?

His hair flops over his glasses as he reads. He's a student, wool jacket over threadbare jeans. The book is on Shinto Meditation and it absorbs him fully. I wonder what he's looking for in those pages: the way to inner peace? A perspective on another way of life? Or perhaps just easily-impressed arts students?

The strains of an accordion greet me as I exit the stairs. The busier is a scruffy middle aged man wearing a dark t-shirt and khakis. The song is familiar, yet not, and then I realize he's playing Oasis. Rock in strange clothes. I drop some change in his hat and move on. The strains of Wonderwall follow me up the stairs.

It's just another Tuesday.
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This one's for [personal profile] erindubitably, who gave me a prompt of "a short story about being snowed in and possibly resorting to cannibalism."

Hunger Pangs )
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I love my pub. I really do. It's a place where I can sit and read undisturbed for an afternoon, or talk sport with my regular cronies until closing time. It's where they know my usual drink and have it waiting for me by the time I get to the bar and it's where I know the staff by name and when their birthdays are so I can bring them in a cupcake from the bakery next door. It's an extension of my living room (without the dirty socks on the floor) and it's a place to bring my friends when they're in town. It's fantastic, it really is.

My favourite waitress is Marlena. She's Polish, been in the country for years but still has the accent. She has a Polish attitude towards booze, too – it's her answer for everything and she's generous with the spirits when she's making you a martini. Not to say she's irresponsible about it; she'll cut you off like that if she knows you're driving and she'll often ask one of the locals to walk each other home when someone's been hitting the tiles pretty heavily. But if you've had a shitty day or your dog just died or your heart's been broken or you have a cold, you can count on a shot glass of Marlena's "Polish Stomach Vodka" to appear in front of you at one point. And you'd damn well better drink it.

I noticed something at one stage. Whenever Marlena is ministering her particular brand of comfort to one of her favourites, it's always from the same bottle that she keeps stashed under the counter behind the CD player. The label's half worn off so you can't read it and there's about a third of a bottle swishing around in the bottle there. The thing is, though, it's the same bottle I remember her pulling out for me when I lost my job last year. I can tell from the label – it's torn half-way through the word "VODKA" so it's a bottle of "DKA", something I noticed with the clarity of the very drunk. It seemed weird that it would last so long considering I thought I saw Marlena using it once every couple of weeks (she has a lot of favourites and it's been a crappy year for a lot of us), but I figured I was probably wrong. But it was something I started paying attention to, perhaps because while I was out of work, I didn't have anything better to do than to make a note every time she pulled that bottle out. And what do you know, after six months of heavy use, that damn bottle was still a third full.

So I asked her about it one evening when it was close to closing. It was winter, cold and snowy, and I was the only customer in the bar apart from a couple ensconced in one of the booths.

"Marlena," I said, oh-so-casually. "Where'd that bottle of Polish vodka come from? You know, the one under the bar?"

"Oh, that one." She looked a bit guilty and started wiping down the bar top. "I don't really remember. Why do you ask?"

"Because it never gets empty, that's why." I showed her the notebook I'd been keeping notes in. Dates, number of shots, who they went to, it was all there. "I know it's the same bottle, the label's torn in the same way every time. So either you're refilling it, or there's something weird going on."

She got this stricken look, her eyes huge in her face and for a minute I thought she was going to burst into tears. Maybe she had been refilling it with something else. Then she grabbed my hands and clasped them tightly in hers. "If I tell you, will you promise to keep it a secret?" she pleaded.

"Sure," I said, as comfortingly as I could. After all, who'd believe me anyway? "I won't tell anyone, I'm just curious about it."

She bent and pulled the bottle out and poured us each a shot, before setting it on the bar. As always, the scent of alcohol was strong enough to make my eyes water.

"Back in Poland," she began. "My great-grandfather met a man on the road. It was late and very cold, and my great-grandfather felt sorry for him and asked if he would like to come back to his home, for the hot meal. The man was very surprised and very grateful as he had been walking all day and was very tired, and went home with my great-grandfather.

"My great-grandmother wasn't very happy with the surprise visitor, but she was always the good host and made sure he was comfortable. There wasn't a lot of food back then so they had to make the dinner stretch, but they did and the man gave his thanks. At the end of the meal, he pulled a bottle of vodka out from under his jacket.

""Where I come from," he said. "It is tradition to give your host a gift. I did not expect such a generous offer, so all I have is this bottle of vodka, but I want to share it with you."

"My great-grandfather protested and explained such a gift was not necessary, but the man insisted and it would have been rude to refuse. So my great-grandfather took the bottle. "One thing about this vodka," said the man. "If you share it with others, it will never be empty. If you drink it alone, it will soon be gone." And then he excused himself and was gone into the night."

I looked at the bottle. "Are you trying to tell me this is the same bottle your great-grandfather got from some random stranger?" Marlena nodded.

"It is. See, here…" She lifted the bottle and showed me the bottom, where someone had etched with a knife point or something similar, a date: '31/12/1942'. "My grandfather wrote that," she explained. "When my grandfather gave him the bottle on New Year's Eve."

It wasn't solid proof, but this was Marlena. She was awful at lying – she couldn't even pull an April Fool's joke without blushing. And here she was, wide-eyed and vehemently telling me this was a magic bottle of vodka.

I looked at the bottle and I looked at Marlena. Whatever the truth, this was the story she believed, and it was a good one at that. I picked up my shot glass and she did the same.

"To your great-grandfather," I said, and she smiled and nodded.

"Pijmy, bo szklo nasiaka." Marlena grinned at me. "It means, 'drink up, your glass is getting spongy.'"
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It was a night like any other. Howard Jensen was just removing his dinner from the microwave when there was a desperate knocking on his door.

"Every fucking time." He set the plate down and headed for the closet to get his axe. "Who is it?"

"I seek sanctuary!" came the frantic response. "In the name of the Elder Gods, please, let me in!"

Howard sighed again. There went his plans of watching the game over a couple of beers tonight. He opened the door a crack and peered out. "How did you find out about me?"

His visitor was a thin, short man with a wispy white beard and pale eyes magnified by thick glasses. Despite the warm summer evening, he was wearing a wool cap pulled down over his ears. Glancing up and down the hallway anxiously, he hissed: "Harry. He said you could help me disappear. Now please can I come in?"

Howard rolled his eyes and stepped aside to open the door further and let his nervous visitor in. "I swear, Harry needs to learn some discretion," he muttered, closing the door behind the man and putting his axe back in the closet. "Yeah, I can help. It'll cost ya, though."

"Money is no object." Safely inside, the man pulled off his hat, revealing ears that tapered to long points against his bald head.

"None of that fairie gold crap, either." Howard returned to the kitchen to get his cooling food. "I want something that doesn't disappear next sunrise."

"Of course, of course." The man smoothed his beard and tried to calm himself. "I thank you for your aid, troll."

"Howard." It came out as a rumble. "Or Mr. Jensen if you want to be polite. I don't go 'round calling you 'wizard' or 'pointy-eared freak' now, do I?"

"O-o-of course. Please, forgive me. Old traditions die hard."

"Yeah, well, it's old traditions that lost us the war with the humans and put you on my doorstep needing sanctuary in the middle of the night." Howard grabbed a beer from the fridge and stomped back to his favourite chair, plate in hand. "Sit down, you're making the place look cluttered."

"I doubt that's the case," the wizard muttered, but obeyed, perching gingerly on the edge of the moth eaten couch. "Mr. Jensen, I do appreciate your aid. Our kind must set aside old feuds and help each other in these hard times. Harry said you could get me to one of the Havens?"

"Harry's exaggerating." Howard stuffed a forkful of mashed potato in his mouth and chewed meditatively. "I can't get you to the Havens. But I can get you out of New York and to some of our people in Maine. They can get you to the Gate."

"That's fine, that's fine. I'm not without resources of my own." The wizard hastened to agree with the plan. "I just need to get clear of this dreadful place and away from the humans. There's a price on my head."

"'M not surprised. Magic users are on the Most Wanted list since you took down the White House." Howard snorted. "You're as bad as the damn elves, holding grudges, fighting a war you've already lost, no effort to assimilate. Take us trolls. We blend in, keep our heads down, make new lives. We adapt. Me, I've got a job, same as any human. Sure I have to hide my feet, but that's why I went into construction - no-one ever asks you to take your boots off."

"Have you no pride?" The magic user turned flashing eyes on Howard, his beard bristling. "You happily deny your heritage, bow to our conquerers? Have you forgotten what they did to us?"

"We attacked first, you wanna-be Merlin." Howard's tone was still calm, but a sense of menace hung about him. "Got too greedy, thought we could annex this dimension and make it part of ours. Well, those humans showed us, didn't they? With their steel and their weapons and their computers. We lost. Time to move on." He drained his beer. "Just remember that you need me to get you out of the mess you made before you give me that racial loyalty crap."

The wizard opened and closed his mouth a few times. "We will have to agree to disagree," he said stiffly.

"Damn straight we do."
rossi: (scribe)
"So, are we agreed?"

Sheol Griffon looked at the two other beings seated at the table, her movements quick and impatient, like all of her people. Descended from a line of giant raptors, the Shikeera were not known for their patience, except when they were on the hunt. Something that lent itself well to the art of assassination. With effort, she ran a long-taloned hand through the plumage on her arm, hoping that the preening would help calm her nerves. It didn't – the enormity of what she was contemplating was too great for any simple gesture.

In its cloud of dark smoke, the Death Devil twitched and sighed. A creature of darkest magic, its kind had been created during the Mage Wars as weapons of stealth and swift demise. Rarely did you see one – that was the point, really, that you didn't see it until it had dealt the death blow – but now and again one surfaced. It was held that they weren't really alive, contained in a bottle by their wizards until needed, so the sight of this one, free and not trying to kill anyone, was extremely unusual.

~Yeeeessss,~ it spoke at last, its voice more of a sighing of wind across a cold hillside than any living voice. ~It agreeeesss with the plannn.~

"And you?" Sheol's piercing glare turned to the third member of the strange – and so far deadly – group. The man twitched a little and sank back further into his hood.

"It seems to be the only way," he agreed at last. "You have the word of Lord Gale – I will join you in this quest." His hand dropped to the hilt of the short sword – or long knife – at his belt. "To free ourselves of our respective bonds to the craft of death, I agree."

"Very well," Sheol shifted on her perch, satisfied for the moment. "Each of us will target the master of another, the one who holds the keys to our freedom. It will not be an easy task – each of them is strong and cunning and wise in the ways of dark magic – but we are the best assassins in the city. If we cannot do this thing, none can."

~And iff we fail, death will fall sssswiftly,~ added the Devil. Lord Gale nodded grimly.

"It's a win-win situation. Either way, we'll be free."

Note: Based on the following random prompt: In a city of dark magic, three assassins quest for freedom.
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I remember, as a child, seeing Dad at the Sergeant's Mess one evening. There was to be a fancy dinner and we were to join the rest of the Army brats in the rec room while it was on. I remember Dad showing us the dining room with the table all laid out; starched white tablecloths, shining silver cutlery, fine china, sparkling glasses. And Dad pointed out to me one seat at the head of the table. A place was set, but, he said, no-one was allowed to sit there.

"Why not?" I'd asked, ever curious.

"Because that's the seat for the ones who can't be here," he replied. "It's always kept empty for them."

Twenty years later, I had dinner at the Returned Servicemen's Club with some work colleagues. After the playing of Taps, we sat, and I noticed again the empty chair at the head of the table. As a child I had imagined it as being haunted and had half-expected to see the ghost of a soldier, killed overseas. As an adult, I knew it was haunted, in a different way; it was haunted by memories, of those lost in the service of their country, or in the years beyond. Gone, but never forgotten, there will always be a place left for them.
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"I don't see what the big deal is," I complained. "So I didn't reply to your Facebook update. It doesn't mean anything."

"But it does," Kim said. "Everyone saw. What sort of boyfriend doesn't say 'hello' to his girlfriend?"

"One who doesn't live on Facebook, that's what. I saw you this morning, Kim. We live together. It's not like we hadn't just..."

"Ugh, you just don't get it, do you? It's not about what we do. It's about what my friends see us do."

"What the..." I stopped and took a long breath. Telling Kim she was being ridiculous was only going to wind up in one of those long stupid arguments that wound up with either her going home to her folks or with me sleeping on the couch. "Okay, honey, let's back up a bit here. I know our relationship is important to you and that you want your friends to see how happy we are. But I think this whole Facebook thing is getting a bit much. We..." And I gestured between us, to show I meant the relationship. "We're not going to disappear if we don't chronicle every single moment of it online."

She looked at me a long while, and I thought I was in trouble. Then she sighed. "Maybe you're right. Maybe I am taking this a bit too seriously."

"How about this," I suggested. "Shut it down for a week. Wean yourself off."

She looked doubtful.

"C'mon, for me? If it's no big deal, you can tell me you told me so after the week."

She gave me a short of half-smile and nodded. "And you owe me dinner."



Things got strange. Mail for this girl would turn up addressed to our address. People emailing me asking how "we" were doing. Random visits, from people saying they were friends of hers. Phone calls for her, messages, the whole deal.

Then one Tuesday night, I was home, doing my thing, when there was a knock on the door. When I opened it, there was a older Asian couple, standing on my doorstep.

"Um, hi?"

The woman looked at me, all worried-like. "We're looking for Kim. Have you seen her? She hasn't been home for a week now."

Kim again? "Um, I'm sorry, ma'am..." Better to stay polite to the potentially crazy lady. "I don't know anyone by that name."

They looked at me like I'd killed their puppy. "But..." The man stuttered. "You're her boyfriend. You've been dating her for two years."

That got the slack-jawed stare. "I've been what?"

"Our daughter, Kim Chen. You met her in college and began dating two years ago." The woman started crying. "She moved in a month ago. You've been to our home, met her family, her friends..." She started sobbing, couldn't keep talking.

"Look, I'm really sorry, Mrs... Chen, is it? But I've never met your daughter. I've been single for the past three years. This place is a bachelor pad, come and see..." I held the door open so they could come in, even though the idea of letting two crazies into my place was crazy itself. "I mean, I've been getting weird calls for a Kim, but I swear, I don't know the girl."

The man put his arm around his wife, his face kind of closed off. "So sorry to disturb you," he said. "We'll be going."


I suppose I should have expected the next set of visitors, but hey, who ever expects a pair of cops on the doorstep. "We're here about a missing person," one of them told me. "A Ms Kim Chen. We've been told you were in a relationship with her?"

Again? "Look, I already told her parents, I've never heard of her. I'm sorry they've lost their daughter, but I seriously have nothing to do with her."

They exchanged a look. "I'm afraid you'll have to come with us to answer some questions."

Wait, what? "Um, what? I've already told you, I don't know the girl. Why the hell should I come with you?"

One of them pulled a photograph out of his jacket and showed me. There was me, or someone identical to me, and a girl, cute, Asian, tucked under my arm and laughing. She looked happy. Bright. The kind of girl I always wanted to meet.

The blood drained from my face. I looked from the photo, to the cops, and back again. I could swear on a stack of Bibles, on everything I held dear, with a lie detector strapped to each arm that I'd never seen her before. Except this photo said I had. And now she was missing.

I was so fucked.
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"Sally, I'm home."

"Welcome back, Martin. How was your day?"

"Eh, so-so."

"I'm sorry to hear that. My sensors are detecting high levels of adrenaline and lactic acid in your system, indicating you have been under stress. Would you like a drink?"

"That'd be great, Sally, thanks. Any messages?"

"Only two. Your supervisor sent you that data you needed to complete the Kang project."

"Typical. Looks like I'll be working tonight."

"Unfortunately yes. Also, the bank called. It's time for your monthly deposit."

"Already? I could have sworn I only just did that."

"If you would like me to check, Brian, I can."

"No, Sally, it's probably right. I'll do that now, before I settle in for the night. Can you get things ready?"

"Certainly, Brian. Which pornography would you like to use this time?"

"Eh, I'm not fussed. Something with schoolgirls?"

"Certainly, Brian. I'm queuing up 'Boarding School Follies' for you now on your bathroom screen. The bank's sample jar is ready and waiting."

"Thanks, Sally. This is such a pain in the ass, but I guess it beats all that messy child rearing and family crap, right?"

"I do believe you are correct, Brian. I'll run the shower for you when you are done."

19. Canvas

Nov. 8th, 2010 10:00 pm
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"I want you to paint me," she told him.

"Paint you?" He gestured around his studio. "All I do is paint you. Dozens of portraits and sketches. There's nothing left to capture!"

"No, silly." She climbed onto his model's stool, her back facing him. Her dressing gown made a faint whispering sound as she let it fall to the floor, exposing her smooth, pale skin. "I want you to paint on me. Use me as your canvas."

He opened his mouth, then closed it again. Something about the texture of her skin, the way the muscles played across her back as she breathed and spoke, he could almost see the painting underneath. Almost without realising it, he had picked up his palette and brush.

"Stay still," he commanded.


"It's beautiful," she said. It was late, very late. They were both tired, but somehow exhilarated at the same time. "I've never seen anything like it."

"It's my masterpiece," he said with a weary sigh. "I don't know if I'll ever paint anything like it again."

"Better get your camera," she told him. "You'll want plenty of pictures before it comes off."

"Comes off?" He looked up, panic entering his voice. "But, it's my masterpiece. It can't come off. All that work... you mustn't!"

She laughed at him, a light and teasing sound. "Of course it has to come off, my love. I can't possibly go without washing for the rest of my life." Leaning over him, she pressed a kiss to his forehead. "Take your photographs and then let's make love on your masterpiece."

His hand tightened on the paintbrush he was still holding. "I can't," he said. "It is too beautiful to destroy."

The paintbrush jabbed forward, the handle sinking deep into her eye socket.
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