A World Apart

Yesterday, I found out that the Chapters nearest me is closing.  EVERYTHING MUST GO, 50% off, SALE SALE SALE!  The remaining books huddle together in a disorganized jumble, leaving the outer edges of the building like a ghost town of empty shelves and dust.  On an unrelated note, this morning I (and most of you) lost an hour, but not in the way that indicates that you’re deep into a really great read.  For Master Class this week, I used the prompt Piquant Libraries, partly out of nostalgia, but mostly because the first definition of piquant I think of is flavorful.  And whether I’m reading a hard-cover book, an e-book checked out from the Public Library’s free online database, or an online story, good books, like good food, are filling in more ways than one.

Click the image below to read the rest of the responses or to submit your own!

master-class-featured-image

Growing up in a small town, Bailey never understood her mother’s love of libraries.  The single small room allocated for books in the town hall was musty and uninspiring.  It had three dog-eared copies of Where the Red Fern Grows, a complete set of Louis L’Amour’s novels, all but the first of the Narnia TV serial on VHS and an assortment of Christian children’s stories.  Not inherently bad, but certainly not the most piquant of libraries.

Her mother had offered up a selection of her own books, Asimov, Heinlein and McCaffrey, the Bronte sisters and Shelley to round it out a bit.  The town council declined, saying there wasn’t much point in overloading the shelves of a government offered service that got such little use.

So Bailey and her mother kept their own library, milk cartons and 2×8’s to support their hodge-podge collection of books.  Angela’s Airplane and Stone Soup from her earliest memories, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys when she first started reading on her own.  A complete set of the Narnia books.  Sci-fi and Fantasy in the kitchen, Romance in the hall, biographies by the TV.  Geography, History and Art by the desk.  Mystery scattered throughout, because a good mystery surprises you.

None of the other kids in her school read much, perhaps unsurprisingly, but when they were required to choose a book to write a report on, they knew who to go to.  Bailey would ask them questions – action? Drama? Love? Space? Cowboys? Knights? Spies? – and provide her friends with a selection to choose from.  Her mother helped her in creating the check-out slips, even going so far as to buy a date stamp.

When the worst came to pass, Bailey and her library moved to the city where her mother had grown up.  Her Aunt Mary helped her set up the shelves and smiled tearily as she recognized old friends from her own teen years.

Bailey buried herself in her books, overwhelmed by her grief and her new surroundings.  The city was too loud, too busy, too chaotic.  Mary suggested an after-school job, made a few calls and gave her an address.

The building smelled a bit musty, but from there it was a world away from that sad room from her childhood.  A winged lion and a gryphon guarded the heavy doors, and light danced through tall windows and down the enormous central atrium.  More than a single room – or even a single storey full of books – the library had storeys of stories, more books than Bailey had seen in her life.

And people – children running down the curved staircases clutching large picture books, people checking books out, dropping them off, standing in the aisles reading the back, and curled up in comfy chairs lost in a book.  The library was so much more than its books, and standing in the quiet vastness of it, Bailey fell in love.

toronto_public_library

“The love for a good story, well told, lies deep in every human heart.” – Lillian H. Smith, Librarian.

Advertisements

Dramatic Flair

My contribution to Our Write Side’s Master Class prompt!

I used Melancholy Occasion, and wrote a bit long.  Check out the rest of the posts here.

***

Mother practically danced down the stairs. Her elegant black dress was freshly steamed and fluttering around her like she was caught up in an unkindness of ravens. Bespoke, of course. A dainty hat perched precariously on her head, black lace tracing a dark pattern across the pale porcelain of her face but not quite able to disguise the gleam in her eye. It would be taken for unshed tears, of course. She had a black silk handkerchief to complete the costume. To delicately dab at teary eyes or twist between lace gloved fingers. To flutter to the ground as she swooned into some kind gentleman’s arms, overcome by grief.

Mother loved nothing better than the drama of a melancholy occasion. Not even the husband for whom she donned her carefully curated wardrobe of grief. Number 3.

I hadn’t known Roger well enough to truly grieve him – home only at the holidays requiring a well-bred and loving daughter in Mother’s cast of characters since the age of 7, I hadn’t known any of my stepfathers well. I appreciated the way he had spoken to me as an equal, though, and regretted that I would no longer have the opportunity to work for his company this summer. Since their marriage 3 years ago, I’d been able to attend the summer-camps and activities of my own choosing, a vast improvement over the endless dance camps of the artistic daughter my mother would have chosen.

I certainly hadn’t known him well enough to look as hollow-eyed as I did, but as a part of Mother’s production of Grief, I’d been cast as bereft daughter. She really was a masterful makeup artist, rimming my eyes faintly with the pink of hours of weeping, bluish circles of a grief-tossed slumber disguising my perfectly well rested cheeks. At my previous stepfather’s funeral, she’d put tear-tracks down my cheeks, but apparently 17 was too old for such blatant displays of sentimentality.

***

Mother stood at the entrance and accepted cheek kisses and condolences with a tremulous smile. I did my best to seem forlorn and supportive at her side while memorizing the tread of the carpet. I was, according to her, simply her rock in these trying times.

“Jeremy!” she gasped, her voice sharper and louder than the role of grieving widow demanded. I peered up through my eyelashes in surprise. She never broke character.

The man’s suit was expensive and well-cut, but in dark gray. Youngish, I guessed – somewhere in his 20’s. Too young to be an executive, and thus outside of the realm of people my stepfather worked with who would have been known by my mother. Worth knowing by my mother. But not dressed in black, the expected colour of attire for a relative. What intrigued me most was that he didn’t seem taken in by my mother’s dramatics.

“Sandra,” he said, voice bland. “I see you’re keeping up appearances well.”

Her fists were clenched like she was considering violence and I held my breath. I could see her steel herself, unwinding her hands, clutching her handkerchief and immersing herself once more in her role.

“Jeremy!” she cried again, collapsing forward and forcing him to embrace her or allow her to fall at his feet. “I’m so glad you made it!”

Jeremy pushed her upright with a firm hold on her upper arms. “I’m sure you are,” he replied, leaning in as though to kiss her cheek. Instead, however, he whispered, “Which is why I had to hear about my own father’s death from the family lawyer. I guess you didn’t quite have old Lareby wrapped as tightly around your finger as you had hoped.”

As he turned away from my mother there was the faint but recognizable sound of silk ripping. Well trained as I was, I passed my mother a replacement handkerchief from my purse even as the son I hadn’t known Roger had turned toward me.

The corners of his eyes scrunched up in an instant of amusement and I swallowed my embarrassment of having been caught out providing replacement props in the middle of the play.

I shook the proffered hand, keeping my own expression neutral as this surprise scene-rewrite inspected me.

“You weren’t at the wedding,” I said, cogs turning in my mind as I tried to adjust to the new information. I wouldn’t have pegged Roger for an uninvolved father, and the shock of meeting his son for the first time loosened my tongue.

“You were?” he raised his eyebrows in mock surprise.

“Maid of Honor,” I replied, and added, “Mother and I have always been close.”

Another flash of amusement and he replied, deadpan, “Of course. Like sisters, I’m sure.”

I bit back my own amusement and, after a check to confirm that my mother wasn’t paying attention, I said, “People often mistake us as such.”

Jeremy snorted, and I felt oddly pleased.

A solemn man came to let my mother know that it was time to head out to the burial, offering his arm to escort her out of the church.

Jeremy surprised me by offering himself as my escort. I was rather used to being the rock that trailed behind the leading lady.

“I suppose you’re surprised I’m here?” Jeremy asked.

“I’m surprised you exist. News to me.”

“Huh.”

I regretted being so blunt. He was, after all, at his father’s funeral.

“I wasn’t exactly around much, though.” I offered when he continued to be silent. “Boarding school.”

“Interesting choice for such a doting parent.”

The barb might have struck home if I hadn’t come to terms with the role I played in my mother’s shows, but I ducked my head in acknowledgement anyways. I might not agree with her tactics, but at times they were effective.

“Sorry.” Believable, but not to someone raised in the theater of Mother’s making. There was real venom there, and it wasn’t directed at Roger.

I shrugged and changed the subject.

“Did you work with your father?”

“At times.” Intentionally vague.

“Will you take over now?”

“Well that’s certainly a question.” So, yes.

I waited for two steps and gave up.

“I was going to work there this summer.”

“Oh?” Wariness. He thought I wanted something from him.

“I didn’t know him very well, but I appreciated that he treated my interests like they were legitimate. I mentioned my interest in accounting and he offered the opportunity.”

“My father was always good at looking for potential.” Grudging.

“But?”

“He was better at finding employees than he was at finding… friends.” Wow, that was a lot of anger.

Mother clutched my hand as we arrived at the burial site, pulling me close.

“How is that poor dear boy?” she hissed, fingers digging into my wrist.

I thought back to the conversation. “Holding up well, all things considered. I don’t think I’ll be getting that summer placement at Roger’s company, though.”

“Oh darling, I am sorry.”

“You really are close. So much information and not a word that could be completely taken as such.”

Mother’s head snapped around so quickly her neck cracked. Instead of sitting in the front row, Jeremy had slid into the second row, and apparently listened in on our conversation.

“Jeremy, darling, whatever do you mean?”

Jeremy smiled, thin-lipped. “I think I can answer your real question more clearly, Sandra. It all goes to me. The house. The other house. All of the houses, really. And the cars, boats, et cetera. Roger had his will changed quite recently.”

In spite of being genuine, Mother’s faint coincided well with the arrival of Roger’s casket.  Draped in the arms of her handsome stepson, she really stole the show.

As Young as you Feel

Master Class is mixing things up, and doing a somewhat elaborate month-long challenge in which you get to pick and choose from a variety of challenges that will update regularly.  The one-word challenge of the first week is:

Hooligan

It’s such a great word, how could I resist?  click on the link below to go to the page and read the other submissions or post your own!

“Mildred!  If anyone asks, I been out here with you all day!”  Ernie cackled delightedly and pushed the screen door shut with his cane.  He had a newspaper under his arm and two beers.

His wife of sixty-three years was weeding the vegetable garden.  It was a strange garden, with stout banisters  running between the rows.  Their son had patronizingly explained wireless technology to his poor backwards mam when she’d asked how he liked his provider, and, since getting her set up with the device, had received  cellphone calls from across town to ‘help his poor old mamma up from her gardening’. Mysteriously, and entirely unconnected to the fact that he had accidentally made his Outlook Calendar public to his contacts, he was always on his way in for a massage when she called.  He built the fences so that Mildred could pull herself up, and she had thanked him profusely, eyes twinkling.  They made excellent trellises.

Mildred joined Ernie in the shade of their porch.

“Heya toots,” Ernie deposited a sound kiss on her lips and offered up the bottles, “Give us a hand?”

“Your damned arthritis, what good are you anymore?” she chortled, popping the caps off the two beers with a sharp tap to the edge of their cinder-block table.  “What have you really been up to, you old hooligan?”

“Me?  Why, I’m just a feeble old codger.” Ernie took a swig of his beer.  “Not much could get up to, is there?  But might be that the dog walker who called you an ugly old witch and doesn’t pick up after his dogs left his van windows cracked.  And on a completely unrelated note, I cleaned up our front lawn and all down the street, kindly soul that I am.”

“Kind indeed – cheers to being so old that we couldn’t possible have done anything wrong!”

Master Class – Rewired

Last week on Master class, the following was given for a first line of a story.  Click through to add your own piece or read the rest of the submissions!

I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen. I was on the fast track to any school I wanted – my fastball was clocked at 106 MPH.  A motorcycle accident, two weeks in a coma and three surgeries to straighten my leg out, and I found myself with an awful lot of time doing not much of anything, with no-one around to keep me company.  Turns out, the people who hang around with popular-you aren’t always the ones who stick with you through the tough times.  My extraordinary life plan was as out of reach as the sun. Laid up in hospital with my life in shambles, I wasn’t much in the mood to read my usual sports mags.  Reading was a great escape, though, and I went through the hospital library pretty quickly.  My brother rolled his eyes when I asked him to hit up the public library for me.  But since my accident, he’d hung up his helmet – the star quarterback learned his lesson from the has-been pitcher’s accident – so use of my parents’ van was granted in return for ‘helping your brother out’.  Not one to go above and beyond, he’d swing by the library once a week, check out a shelf of books at random and return the ones I’d read. His lazy library visits did one good thing – they brought me the book that would change my life. Programming Your Life, by Franko Brunne, had an overly cheerful picture of the man himself giving two thumbs up on the cover.  I know what you’re thinking… so this is what hitting rock bottom sounds like. I didn’t even have a laptop, but reading this book, I just had to try it out.  Franko’s shtick was that writing the computer code for things you wanted to come true would “rewire your world”.  It sounds lame, but hey, rock-bottom-jock, here.  I was willing to try anything. His coding wasn’t quite like any programming language I’d already read about.  And, with my brother working his way through the ‘computer’ section of the library, I’d read a lot. My first attempt was to write a code for my brother to bring me a coke.  Easy enough, right?  It could even happen, theoretically, without the code.  If Jon weren’t such a tool. Nada.  He didn’t even come into my room with a coke of his own.  I found where I went wrong – no time requirements – and rewrote it. It was the most refreshing soda ever, and little bro didn’t even know it wasn’t his own idea. I practised on small things.  Jon’d moved into the sci-fi and fantasy shelves, which definitely gave me some ideas. I fixed my leg – a miraculous recovery, my doctors said – but I never did get that sports scholarship.  My leg wasn’t even my biggest accomplishment so far.  Making things that already existed change wasn’t nearly as impressive as what I could create from nothing but a bit of led and lined paper.

This is a photomanipulation type piece of artwork by FictionChick on DeviantArt. Click the image to go to her site and check out more of her work. It’s all wicked, and I love the surreal landscapes she creates. Every one of her pieces looks like it’s got its own story, and, if we’re judging books by their covers, I would totally read them all.

 

Master Class – Solace

Master class is back, and with perfect timing for my determination to keep up with writing on a regular basis in the new year.  The first one of the new year has a pretty simple requirement – use the quote from Divergent (excellent book) as your first line.  Click on the quote below to go over to the Master Class linkup and add your own story, or read the other submissions.

There is one mirror in my house.  She is my solace and my despair, as tempestuous as the sea.  At times she is docile, granting me my requests sweetly, glimpses of elsewhere and elsewhen – a bustling village market,  or a peaceful family taking their ease of an evening, perhaps.  The wind picks up and she is derisive and spiteful, twisting my desires, showing instead that same village at its end, all smoke and blood and death, the family’s suffering, the hollow cheeks and broken sobs of starvation and desperation.  Each picture worth a thousand words, look at what you’ve done, over and again.

She rages and storms, my looking glass, and for days at a time, all I see is my true self, no cruelty or disfigurement left cloaked, unswayed by my tears.  Soft as a kitten, my Lady sidles up to me, all soft words and kisses, my face as I once was reflected in her gaze, my own hideous rictus of pleasure mirrored in that long-ago boy’s delighted grin and wide brown eyes.

Whatever her mood, she is my companion, gripped tight while I stalk the desolate halls of my prison, or hugged close as I toss in restless slumber in the den of tumble-down furniture and shredded bedding that was once a grand and bright bedroom.  The only time I feel able to set her down is when I tend my roses.  Their hidden barbs save them from my fits of despair as no other thing of beauty here has done.  I long to believe that there is some beauty yet within me, unseen as the rose’s thorn.

I sit up late into the night, thinking of nothing and everything and staring into her depths.  My past, the innocent boy I was.  The gradual change in me, I pick at the threads of my memory.  Was that it?  Was that the first of my cruelties?  The first time I failed to care, to be human?  Was that when I began my descent?

I have thought of countless ways to avoid my fate, but redemption lies beyond my twisted grasp.  It is as I think on this, a full year into my captivity, one claw absently scraping gilt from her frame, that she begins to show me the girl, pale and plain and solemn.  Her path leading her ever nearer.

Perhaps there is yet hope.

another request put in to my sister.  she is very patient with me and my demands for free artwork!

another request put in to my sister. she is very patient with me and my demands for free artwork!

Master Class – Castle, Stormed

We’re into the first full week of Nanowrimo, so while I hope to keep up doing one or two blog posts a week, chances are they’ll be bits and pieces of the story I’m working on for Nano.  Case in point, this prompt response.  If you’re doing Nano as well, feel free to add me as a friend on the boards – Lexy0387 is my username.

This week’s master class is from Dragonflight, and the challenge was to use it as the beginning or end of a story.  Click the image below to go to the prompt and read some of the other responses, or answer it yourself!

The photo below is by a flickr user named Helena.  Follow the link to see more of her stuff.

Dragon

“What are you doing here?”

Mara had been training for this moment for so long, and now that it finally had, an actual man speaking the male part was throwing her off.

“I’m… I… I’m… I live here,” She stammered.  “Hang on.  Let me start again.” She cleared her throat. “Good Sir Knight, you have rescued me.  Prithee take this – ” she snatched up a kerchief, “This token of my gratitude.”

The scruffy man gingerly plucked the kerchief from her outstretched hand, but made no move to cherish it.

“Um.  Perhaps you could also do me the favour of directing me to the treasure?”

“What treasure?”

“You know, the priceless treasure, found beyond the dark wood in a dragon-guarded castle?”

“I think that’s me.  I’m a princess, so you get the priceless treasure of true love.  And living happily ever after.  Theoretically…”  She wished he’d stop gaping at her.

“I was hoping for a golden harp or maybe a magical golden sword.”  He glanced about, as though hoping the chamber would reveal its secret stash of magical golden objects.

“What kind of knight are you?”

“No kind of knight at all – Monroe the Treasure Hunter, at your service,” he sketched a bow.  “Could we speed this up a bit?  I’d like to get out before the dragon wakes up.”

“You didn’t slay the dragon?  What’s wrong with you?!”

“I just happen to not like killing intelligent creatures unnecessarily.  I thought a princess would be less bloodthirsty.”

“Well you try living trapped alone for nine years, see how bloodthirsty you get.”  Tears built in her eyes.

“N-nine?” he stammered.

“YES, Nine!  I’ve been stuck in this stupid castle for nine years, and someone finally shows up and defeats the dragon – sort of – and he just wants some stupid gold sword, and now I’m probably going to have to wait here another nine years for a real knight to come along!”  Mara could feel the tears rolling down her cheeks and hated him for being witness to it.

Monroe was distinctly uncomfortable faced with tears. “Why don’t you just go home instead?  I’m sure your parents will understand, and I bet you’ll have loads more luck finding a husband if you’re living somewhere less isolated!”

“Leave?” she said, staring down at the gate.  She could see the dragon, collapsed across the stable yard and a crumbled section of the outer wall, snoring peacefully.  The decision was easy.  “Yes.  You’ll return me to my kingdom.”

“What? No.  I meant, you can leave, because the dragon is asleep, and go home… by yourself…which would probably lead to you getting killed by brigands,  or something.  Maybe you should just stay here.  I’m sure someone’ll come along… eventually.  If you leave now, you’ll remain cursed.”

“I’m not under a curse, my parents just wanted to find me a prince or knight to marry.  And I’m tired of waiting for him.  Take me home, and you’ll get your treasure.  My father has tons of gold,” she added.

His eyes lit up, and Mara knew she had him.  She rubbed her palms against her thighs in anticipation of the challenge.

Master Class – The Sisters

I’m linking up with Master Class this week, with the prompt:

click the picture to go over to the Master Class page and add your own take on the prompt, or to read others.  The requirement was that this not be the first or last line of the story.

***

My father was a poor man, rich in children.  His oldest daughter he gave to a wealthy man three times her age for a hefty sum, her twin apprenticed to the thatcher down the road for a lifetime of roof repairs.

My father could have gained more profit from me elsewhere, as I was quite a pretty child, but the Sisters demanded me in payment for their service.  Of two things you could be sure – the Sisters would help any who asked, and they would be paid.  You didn’t survive leaving a debt to the Sisters unpaid, and you didn’t die quickly if you tried.

I remember fearing them, with their long dark robes, swaths of shadowy cloth obscuring their faces.  They could not possibly see through that heavy black linen, and yet they moved gracefully as dancers through the narrow halls of their home, efficient and completely aware of their surroundings.  I can now see the nuance, tell them apart and read what their intent is.  Though nameless and silent, I can see that this Sister is the one who set the farmer’s bone in exchange for his only chicken, and that Sister cured the Magistrate’s cancer in exchange for his manhood.  Payment is always exacted, and always something the debtor can pay, even if they would rather not.

I was a servant, though they treated me with the same kindly indifference they provided to all.  I was well-fed and -clothed, and while my work was difficult, I slept on a soft pallet in a cool room.  I was contented with my lot in life, a pale ghost drifting through the dark halls of the Sisters, silent and obedient.

My place with the Sisters changed the summer I turned sixteen, a man’s age.

And so here are the aromas that conjure for me the beginning of the end: burning wood, sweat, and peppermint, because that’s the oil she put in the diffuser.  I spent a night with her, and forever more, I was a servant to the sisters, though also more.

My father came to the Sisters when his dimming sight had made it near-impossible to sew the tiny stitches required of a tailor.  He was offered a trade.  He grudgingly accepted the terms, and turned back to home without my guiding hand.

Ten years later, the air full of smoke, I watched in bewilderment as the heavy cloth fell aside, revealing soft skin as pale as moonlight, impossibly beautiful, and inhumanly long and thin.  She cast off her gloves, thin hands tipped with razor sharp claws, then drew back her mask, and I could only gape at the beautiful monster before me, cat-eyes glowing in the flickering torchlight, Cheshire smile jagged with pointed teeth.  Her auburn hair trailed to her feet, and as she mounted me, its silken waves caressed me like fingers.

The Sisters trade for what they require.  On occasion, they had need of a laying hen, or a new goat, though what they required of the magistrate’s manhood, apart from retribution for his evil deeds, I know not.  Of my father, they required a man, and, in time, his debt was paid.

Summer Master Class #3 – Underdog

I was pretty pumped last round to get to choose the prompt.  I was really pumped that I got my sister, Doodle, to participate in it!  And really REALLY excited when her post won.  It completely deserved it – it was a combination of funny and adorable and Pratchett-y that was just golden.  Check it out HERE if you want.

She left us with the quote below (follow the link in the picture to go submit your own responses or to read the other responses to the prompt):

follow the link to Master Class summer edition # 3

He had learned quickly to deal with it.  You had to act fast to make it clear that it didn’t matter to you, but that it also wouldn’t be a good idea to keep doing it.

It was certainly a Character-builder.  If Character had to do with frequent visits to the infirmary and the principal’s office, scraped knuckles, and a wardrobe that was scrupulously analyzed to give off an air of “don’t mess with me”.  His father seemed to think so.

His mother might have preferred if he’d shown the kind of Character that included turning the other cheek, being polite to his elders, and the spirit of camaraderie.

Rossamund was a boy with a girl’s name, and he knew it from day one.  He’d tried explaining that it was actually a boy’s name common in Wales in the eighteen hundreds.  He’d told them about how his mother was Welsh, and her favourite old Welsh ballad featured Rossamund, a mighty warrior who went off on adventures, slaying dragons, helping damsels in distress, and generally being a badass, manly kind of guy.  Even saddled with a name most people read as “Roza-mund”, emphasis on Rose.

He’d only made that mistake once – trying to explain his way out of the teasing.  A visit to the park with his mother had cured him of that – no boy can survive being called Rosie in front of his peers.  The two years he’d spent at that school were miserable.  And most definitely a Character building experience.

He’d been ecstatic when his father’d been transferred out of town for work.  He’d learned a lot about fighting dirty at his first school, and took advantage of his mother’s nervous shopping the summer before the second school to acquire armour.

Rossamund smiled grimly at the recollections as he dutifully passed on Character to one of his fellow students.  The best that could be said about Billy was that he excelled at contact sports.  The unfortunate aspect of his achievements in sports was that he rarely left them on the field, choosing to educate the scrawniest of the boys in the least sportsmanlike manner.  Lockers rattled in his wake, papers cascading out of some poor unfortunate’s hands as he exercised.

“C’mon, Billy-boy,” he jeered.  SLAM.

“I thought this was how you trained for football?”

SLAM.  The burly teen whimpered a cry for help, but none of the students observing stepped forward.

Rossamund hoisted him by the shoulders of his letterman jacket.

“Eh Willy-boy?  Wee Willy?”  Plant the idea in everyone’s mind, check.  He could distantly hear some nervous titters.  It was a start  “You’re right, this is kind of fun.”

SLAM.

“Please!  I’m sorry!”  there was a distinct teariness in Billy’s voice.

“What’s that?”  Rossamund leaned forward.

“I’m sorry!” the other boy cried.

“I thought that might be it, Tiny.”

Rossamund dragged the boy up by the collar and leaned him, almost gently, up against the dented locker.  He slapped him on the shoulder, almost in a comradely manner.  He then grinned, an evil looking grimace he’d practiced for hours in front of the mirror, turned, and walked away.

“Wow.”

Out of sight of the crowd of witnesses to Billy’s defeat, Rossamund turned in surprise.  He vaguely remembered the bookish girl smiling wryly at him from a class – history, maybe.  He cocked an eyebrow, not letting down the facade, and said, “Yeah?  I am pretty impressive, I guess.”

She nodded slightly.  “It’s nice, what you did for John,” she said, referring to the horribly acne-stricken boy Billy had taken a certain extra glee in pushing around.

Rossamund looked around, checking that they were out of earshot of the other students.  “I don’t do nice,” he snarled.

The girl only smiled.  “Yeah, well, if you ever want to try it in a less… aggressive… way, you should stop by the shelter sometime.  Plenty of underdogs there who could use someone to root for them.”  She held out a pamphlet which he accepted without thinking.

A swarm of students came around the corner and flowed around them.  Most looked cautiously over at Rossamund, to see what he would do next, to get out of the way if possible.  Conscious of observation, he stuffed the pamphlet into his pocket, out of sight.  She smiled again, and he wondered why he’d never taken notice of how pretty she was before.

He couldn’t resist smiling back at her, but turned it into a disdainful sneer as he turned to face the crowded hallway.

He figured he’d count helping out in a building full of four-footed allergens as yet another Character builder.

Ninjas and Sandwiches

I’m doing a continuation of my last post for Master Class – An Unlikely Team.  this week’s prompt, I got to choose.  Kind of a lot of fun trying to find something in a book that is both more interesting than ‘he walked into the room’, and less overly specific than “He was a land magus and so wore the colours of the magic he favoured.”.

It was the kind of alleyway down which respectable citizens didn’t wander, The oil slick water he splashed through would be reason enough, as would the moist smell of unidentifiable things rotting.  Anyone with a lick of common sense would also realise that going down this kind of an alleyway was a guaranteed way of losing one’s watch and wallet, at the very least.

Daniel suspected you were just as likely to lose your coat, shoes and life.

They seemed, in a circuitous way, to be making their way over to a pile of old rags in a sheltered angle between two buildings.  Some pigeons had wandered over to inspect it.

“Humphrey,” he hissed, snagging the boy’s sleeve.  “Where the devil are you taking me?”

“It ain’t Humphrey!  You brung the sammiches?”

“It certainly isn’t Scrapper.  And yes, though your certainty that we’ll require sustenance before we leave this accursed place is not reassuring.  Where are we going, Wilbert?”

“Nope,” he snapped.  “We’re gonna pay a visit on Old Mad Calver.  He sees pretty much everythin’ ‘round town.  Follow my lead.”  The boy didn’t even jump when a corner of the pile lifted and slapped aggressively down on one of the inquisitive pigeons.  The rest of them exploded into frightened flight.

He kicked at a garbage can near the ominously still nest.   “Sarge?  Reporting for duty, sir.”

The pile of rags shook itself like a terrier and a scrawny old man pulled himself out of his nest.  “Corporal Scrapper?  In’t it?  What Ho!  They’re bombing on the Southwest walls?  Blast!  Prepare to meet the enemy!”

The old man bared his teeth under a bush of white hair, spindly arms raised in a sort of bear claw formation.  He’d have looked a bit fiercer if he’d bared more tooth and less gum.

“Aye it’s Scrapper, Sarge.  Lucky we ain’t out by the southwest.  Calm in the north.  An’ this’s me new mate, er… I mean… Captain… um… Pee Eii.”

“At ease, corporal!”  The old man’s raspy voice still held some of the command it held in a past life.  He sketched a salute, slapping himself clumsily in the forehead as he did it.  Scrapper returned it, stomping his feet smartly together. He peered short-sightedly and suspiciously at Daniel.  “Pee-eii?  That foreign?  You foreign, boy?”

“Um.  No sir.”

“Oh, too damn bad.  Them foreigners, they know how to handle themselves.  You ought to be a ninjer, boy, then you’d really give the enemy what for, eh?  Blast!”

Daniel frowned at the boy, standing in his own imagined version of at-ease.  “I’m told you have some information regarding some events on Morningside about a week ago?”  He felt a sharp elbow dig into his side and added, “Sarge?”

“Ninjers, that’s what.  Creeping up the side of the bleeding building, but I knows what’s to be done.  I knows it, now don’t I?”  He squinted at Daniel, unsure if he really did know what was to be done.

“I knows what’s to be done,” he muttered softly.  “Ninjers, well I never.”  He patted at his pockets, increasingly agitated until the boy pulled a cigarette out and placed it in his trembling fingers.

“Sarge?” Daniel nudged him tentatively.

“What?  To yer battle stations, ye lousy curs!”  The old man jutted his chin out aggressively, glared nearsightedly at Daniel and added, “Peanut butter!”

“What?”

“That’s what ninjers never think on.  Peanut butter.  Makes ye look up, see?”

“And what’d’ye see when you looked up, Sarge?”

“Them crawlin’ down the damn wall, that’s what!  Good rope, I have ta give ‘em credit, bloody foreigners.”

“What would we need to do to get that equipment, Sarge?”

***

Daniel traded Old Mad Calver two pastrami sandwiches on rye, though the old man would only accept them after the pickles had been removed.

In return, he got a coil of rope and assorted carabiners for rope climbing.  The brick in the side of the building showed where camming devices had been, and, in one case, still were.  The how, he could now answer.

There was half a peanut butter sandwich mashed up amongst the ropes, but he was confident that it could be mashed in with ‘ninjers’ and ‘the enemy’.

An Unlikely Team

The Master Class has started making submissions every two weeks for the summer.  This round, the phrase is:

And it could be placed at the very beginning or ending of the piece.

Feel free to let me know what you think, and definitely follow the link (in the picture) and check out the other submissions!

***

“Hey!  You!  Mister!  Mister?  Hey, Mister, sir, hey!  Mister, wait!”

Daniel ignored the uncouth youngster right up until the brat had the audacity to reach a grimy hand towards the sleeve of his charcoal trench coat.  He barely caught the movement out of the corner of his eye in time to whirl and confront the desecrator of outerwear.  He hardly even appreciated the subtle swish of the military style wool gabardine as it fell around him.  He glared down his nose at the urchin with hard eyes and a curl to his lip.

The urchin standing before him seemed entirely un-fazed.  The level of filth the boy was coated in made Daniel’s skin crawl.  Were all children so grubby?  They all seemed somewhat sticky in his limited experience.

“What,” he said, voice razor-sharp, “do you want?”

A sly look crossed the painfully thin face – in dire need of soap, or maybe some kind of industrial cleaner, Daniel mused – and the child said, “Well… a sammich’d be nice, I suppose.”

Daniel reined in his temper as well as he could.  “You chased me down, groped at me with your filthy little hands… for a… a… sandwich?

“What?” the child widened his eyes in false confusion.  “Nah.  You just asked what I wanted, didncha?  I hollered at’cha ‘cause I got sunthin you want.  Leastwise, if yer that poncey PI what’s lookin’ into the Morningside murder.”

The PI – the only PI with a lick of fashion sense in the whole damned city, and, yes, he moisturized, but was that a crime?  And for god sake, could none of the others gather the will to shave on a daily basis?  Was that so much to ask?  And he got plenty of action from the ladies, thankyouverymuch – held the urge to box the brat’s ears in check by a hair.

He settled for saying, “If by poncey, you mean, ‘that PI who doesn’t look like a homeless booze-hound’, then yes.  What do you know?”

Thumbs stuck cockily in the front of his suspenders, the boy smirked.  “Well, now, mister, I recon I’ll remember a bit better with a sammich in my belly… and a spot to lay low for a few days.  Bit of security, eh?”

“Protection from what, exactly?”  Daniel found himself intrigued in spite of himself.  Despite the off-the-cuff seeming request, the boy couldn’t entirely hide the fear behind the façade.

“From who, more like,” the boy replied with a shrug.  “Don’t expect I was supposed to see what I done seen, now, was I?”

**

Everything the boy touched gained faint brown fingerprints. Front hallway, leather sofa-back, kitchen table and chair, all of the washroom, Daniel mentally enumerated the parts of his apartment that would need a good cleaning while the boy devoured a second ham on rye.  Perhaps he’d just throw out that plate and cup.

The boy guzzled back a tall glass of milk, wiping his face with an equally grubby coat-sleeve.  He leaned back with a contented sigh, and Daniel took that as a cue, shifting forward in his own seat.

“What do you know of the Morningside murder?”

“Banker shot dead in ‘is bathroom- onna toilet, hah, what a way to go, eh? – door locked from the inside, and no way anyone could have escaped through that tiny little window.  Police says it’s suicide, but the wife – real looker, big – “ the boy stopped midway through a crude gesture at the look in Daniel’s eye and hastily said “… er… assets… says it’s no suicide, hires you on.”

“If I wanted a news blurb, I’d have gotten a newspaper – would have left a hell of a lot less mess in my house.”

“Newspapers know there weren’t no gun in there with him?”  The boy looked smug when he saw Daniel’s tense reaction.

“Now how would you know that?”

“I saw how it went down, didn’t I?  Know where the gun is too.”

Daniel sighed, seeing that business-like expression return to the boy’s face.  “And you want more than just a few sandwiches and a bunk for a few days.”

The boy’s smile grew predatory.  “I wants me a, whatchacallit – a ‘prenticeship.  With lodgin’s.  And food.”

Daniel frowned at the feeling of indefinite dread rising in his stomach.  “An apprenticeship in what?  With whom?  And what on earth gives you the impression I’ve got that kind of connection?”

“With you, a’course!”

The dread coalesced into a terrible form.  He pinched the bridge of his nose between two fingers and closed his eyes.  The case had been going bloody nowhere, but the boy was so very… filthy.  The thought of him hanging about longer than was absolutely necessary was repugnant.  His entire apartment already smelled a bit like the fisherman’s wharf.

“If you’ve really seen something that can wrap this case up for me, get Mrs. Whytham-Jones off my back…”  Daniel struggled to tamp down his trepidation.  Damn, he hated children.  “Then I’ll give you an apprenticeship.”

The boy let out a whoop of glee, and Daniel added sharply, “On a trial basis – and if you give me any trouble, you’re out on your ass.”  He wondered if ‘ass’ was considered a swear word… wondered if he was allowed to swear around children, uneasy that there was some kind of rule about it.  He’d bring it up with his landlady tomorrow.  Mrs. Scheffield had once had children, he thought.  A long time ago, maybe.

“Hell, yeah!”

“And you have to bathe.  Every day.”  Daniel glared at the grinning boy.  He couldn’t even take the young con artist’s words seriously in the state he was in.  The boy was better suited to sewer maintenance than PI work, that much was clear.  “In fact… now.  Go run yourself a bath and I’ll find something for you to wear, and then I want to hear everything you know about that bloody bathroom.”

“Sure thing, Mister.”  The boy jumped up and trotted towards the washroom.  One grubby hand on the door-frame – leaving yet another smear to decontaminate later, Daniel noted grimly – he twisted back to Daniel, eyes sparkling.  “And they call me Scrapper.”