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.

Sealed with a Kiss

This week on Master Class, I chose to use the prompt Venomous Honey.  Check out the rest of the responses HERE or submit your own.

Gabriel Picolo‘s artwork is bright and imaginative.  I love the way he makes digital art look like watercolour.  That and black cats hidden everywhere makes his work well worth a visit.  The artwork is called Queen Bee, and I wrote my story before finding it.  Her lipstick and honeycomb was just too perfect.

queen_bee_by_picolo_kun-d8qtqbs

Soft and delicate was the best way to play it.  It put him at ease, on edge, and in lust. All with a minor wardrobe change, pink lip gloss and some subtle makeup to make her wide eyes pop. She was Honey, innocent as mom’s apple pie and seductive as dark chocolate mousse. All natural and innocent. She only accidentally brushed her breast against his arm when she leaned over his desk, and blushed prettily when she apologized.

How could any man resist that? Especially one with his predilections. Maybe if he could see the effort put into the veneer, but that wouldn’t happen with this much cleavage flashing – oh gosh, I’m so embarrassed – the button must have come off in the wash! – and those pretty eyes wide with a bit of hero-worship. She smelled like honey, too, the secret was in her lip gloss.

It was only a matter of time, and not much of it.  He  wasn’t a man who practiced delayed gratification. When he called her to his office late one evening, Honey smiled and touched up her lip gloss. Wax first, to delay the inevitable seepage, then a new tube of her signature pink. Honey heady in her nose, she knocked and went in.

Honey’s lips tingled after their first kiss and she remembered the tingle of a split lip, the fear. She jerked herself out of his arms when her lips began to burn, his tight hold raising bruises just like the first time, the memory of what had happened next giving her strength.

She pulled a wet-nap from her cleavage and wiped off the gloss, backing away. He would have followed, if he could.  He loved the chase.  The veneer flaked away and Honey’s venomous twin pulled off the gloves that would keep her anonymity and bundled the toxic wet-nap away.

“Why?” he rasped, scrubbing fruitlessly at his own burning lips. The venom ran too deep. He’d always been good at that, cutting straight to the point in the courtroom and in conversation.  And in other situations, more private.

“You should have listened more carefully to the ones who said no. You’ve been found guilty, Judge.” She laid out her case in photographs and police statements – bruised wrists and tearful statements – all buried by high-ranking officials – and locked the door on her way out.

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.

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.”

Master Class – I woke up in bed with a man and a cat.

This week’s Master Class (follow the link to read the other submissions and submit your own) was the following line from a novel:

I love Robert Heinlein, so this quote really excited me – it’s Heinlein!  And, thankfully, it got me out of my lack-of-writing funk, because I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to write something by him.

Criticism is always welcome.

Cats on unmade bed ... Re-edit...

I woke up in bed with a man and a cat.

Considering I hadn’t slept in a bed in at least six months, the violence of my previous close encounter with a man, the fact that the last cat I’d seen I had caught, killed and eaten, and my complete lack of memory pertaining to my arrival in this situation, I felt surprisingly contented.

He had an arm draped across my waist and his head nestled against my neck, breath tickling at my hairline.  His face was childlike in repose, and he stayed deeply asleep despite my own jerk to wakefulness.  I felt surprisingly safe in his arms, though I still preferred him unconscious.

The cat looked at me with distain, sitting primly upright on the man’s hip.

Last I remembered, I’d been drinking a tea of boiled pine needle and willow-bark, huddled miserably under the sodden boughs of an evergreen.  No fever, now.

Last I remembered, I was trying – and failing – to fight off the infection that would likely kill me, from the arrow wound in my shoulder.  No pain.

The cat minced its way to the bedside table and began to groom itself.  The man rolled closer, draping a leg across me and moving his hand up my side, and I judged that the usefulness of his being asleep was at an end.

I cleared my throat.

His eyes snapped open, feral and golden, and before I could think of something to say, he had me by the throat.  I kneed him in the groin and clawed at his face as my vision grew spotty.

Asleep, he’d been childlike.  Asleep, I hadn’t seen the mangled left side of his face, the clawmarks trailing from his forehead, catching at the corner of his eye and down to snag at the corner of his snarling mouth.

The pressure on my neck eased enough to allow me faint passage of air as he looked around.  He crouched, poised for action, casually gripping both my wrists to prevent me from further self-defense.

“What is this place?” he snapped, sweeping the room with his sharp gaze.

His breathing was rapid and shallow, like that of a wild animal cornered by hunters.  I saw my own death in his eyes.

The cat stepped into my field of vision, and, with a suicidal seeming lack of fear, burbled a chirruping meow and butted its head against the man’s chin.  He swore and jumped back in surprise, like he hadn’t seen the cat in his in-depth perusal of the room.

I sucked in a breath and scrambled weakly away to the relative safety of the other side of the bed.  My neck throbbed with each rasping breath I drew in.

When it seemed that he wasn’t about to do anything drastic, I relaxed slightly.

He glared at me and repeated his question.

“Hell if I know.”  I was feeling a bit hard-done-by and in no mood to answer the questions of psychopaths.

“How did I get here?”

The cat took the opportunity to sprawl playfully on its back and purr.  It was a she, with clear signs of past litters.  And equally clear scars marring the sleek black of her fur. Like some bird of prey had been keen on accessing her intestines.

I pulled at the shoulder of the loose-fitting and blissfully clean tunic I was wearing.  The wound I last remembered with angry red lines tracing away from it in the firelight – blood poisoning – was the pale pink of an old scar.  My turn for questions.  “How long ago did you get that scar on your face, Bucko?”

He touched his jaw gingerly, as though expecting to encounter something horrible.  Not finding what he expected, he dashed to the mirror and stood staring at his reflection, stroking at the scars and shaking his head in disbelief.

“I was hunting, and the bastard caught me by surprise.  Barely got out of it alive.  Don’t remember making it home.”

Unabashedly, he stripped off his own pristine white tunic.  His chest and left shoulder were lacerated with equally old scars.  Based on the claw marks at his stomach, I couldn’t see how he could have lived long enough to heal from those wounds.  Not with the loss of old-modern medicine.  He and the cat both looked to have been part of some creature’s meal-plan.

I took a few tentative steps towards the door-shape in the smooth wall, but darted back when it hissed open.

A short plump woman entered, pushing a wheeled table ahead of her.  She took in the scene with a pleased smile – me, crouched in one corner, him, half-naked and ready to attack in another.  The cat continued purring on the bed.

“Excellent, you’re awake.”

She turned to me and extended her hand, but before she could introduce herself, he had her in a headlock.  Without missing a beat, she stuck him in the arm with a small syringe and he dropped.

“Let’s try this again, shall we?  I’m Myra, and you have been saved. Welcome to ARK, the last bastion of pure life on earth.  Breakfast?”

I suppressed the growl of my stomach.  “How long have I been here?”

“Eighteen hours, dear.  And your mate’s been here nearly seventy – stomach wounds are a nasty business, even in the healing tanks. We scooped you up in the storm – it gave us enough cover to come in without alerting the mutant population to our presence.”

Mate?! My skin crawled but I kept my face neutral.

“Why save us?”

“Because you are a healthy and genetically pure female human with many fertile years left, and he is a genetically pure male human whose genes combined with yours will produce healthy, genetically pure offspring.”  She smiled in a deeply unsettling way as she said this.  “You will help true humanity begin again.”

I felt like screaming.

Thought and action were simultaneous, giving her no warning of my intention when I broke her neck.

I slapped the unconscious man hard in the face to no avail.  Feeling time trickling away, I grabbed the pitcher of water and upended it on him.

He awoke, spluttering, and I tossed his shirt at him.  “Come on, we’re getting out of here.”

“You killed her.  Why?”  I paused in stuffing the breakfast foods into a pillowcase, happy to see that he was riffling the drawers for useful tools.  Happier to see that there was warmer clothing than what we had on.

I sketched out what information she’d given me, and added, “No-one gets to take my freedom from me, and no one will ever rape me again.  Humanity be damned.”

He nodded, amusement in his eyes as he noticed the tight grip I had on the breakfast knife.  “I never did understand the purists, anyways – mutants are a-ok by me.  Damn, no shoes.  Ready?”

“As I’ll ever be.  Grab the cat and let’s go.”

“Why bring the cat?”

I pictured the scars on her belly, wondered at her opinion about being kept in this cage.  I’d always been pragmatic about survival, and pets were a hindrance, but she was a survivor too.  All I said was, “Snack?”

Winning

This week’s Master Class was Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.  This week it’s being reader-judged, which means, I’d imagine, that the responses of the other people participating will be even better than usual.  You should head on over to  participate or to read some of the other responses, and vote!

I’m not much into sports, but it’s kind of hard to not hear about football lately, or so it seems.  I’m not talking about that in the sense of

“The Grizzlies creamed the Wombats in a double or nothing showdown, and won with a home-run in the final seconds – what a play THAT was, Bob.”

“It was, indeed, Stan – the Grizzlies have really upped their game since that one time when one of their players shot the puck into his own basket!”

… or whatever.  More along the lines of “People who should know better let terrible things be done by football players, or people in the industry, so as not to ruin the game.”  It made me think of how extremely violent people watching sports can become – the kind of aggression that makes some people willing to turn a blind eye to terrible things.

On a completely different note, it seems that I’m doing a terrible job indicating the sex of the characters I write.  Please, if you comment, tell me which you think this character is.  No pressure.  And feel free to leave tips to improve the clarity of my storyline in that regard, and any other.

storch-badge

We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.

I was surprised that the parents agreed to it, but they’d agreed to a lot since the new Coach took over.

Coach always got his way, and he said his Heroes had to be in peak condition.  He said you couldn’t expect a bunch of paunchy and unfit middle-aged losers to know how to look after athletes.  He called them losers to their faces and they still worship him.

You don’t realize during the day just how echo-ey a gymnasium is.  It took me a while to get used to sharing a room with the rest of the guys from school.  Not to mention Coach’s surprise midnight runs.

I like it, though – I think the special high-protein diet he’s got us on is really improving my performance.  Like Coach says, I want to be the best that I can be.  And slaughter the enemy, too… I guess.  That’s usually the emphasis of his pep-talks.

His eyes glowed with a manic light that caught us up in his words as he paced back and forth in front of us, a commander addressing his army.

“Football?!  Football’s for pansies!  Winning is everything.”  He said the same thing about college.  He had the grass ripped up in the stadium, had us training on the hard-packed clay, under the burning sun, day in, day out.  We were in the best shape of our lives.

I’d always found sports easy.  This isn’t easy, but I’m definitely having a better time of it than some of the guys.  The gym at night is full of the muffled sounds of crying.  I’d feel bad for them, but since Coach stopped football, I figure this is my best chance at greatness.  I don’t exactly have the brains to get into college based on my grades – but as the star quarterback, I stood a good chance of getting scouted.  With the new games, I’m not so sure about College.  Greatness, though… greatness is doable.

Coach says that immortality is within reach of those who crush the enemy.

The town might have complained a bit about the loss of football – we had been all about football, here – but only until they went to that first game.  That won them.  If I hadn’t already seen them at football games, I’d have been surprised at their blood-lust.

It won all of us, I think.  At least, all of us who stand a chance of winning.

I remember the silence as we walked out into the stadium.  The spectators didn’t know what was going on, couldn’t grasp the significance of the new uniforms, the modified protective equipment. They protected our vitals in new, yet familiar ways. The sun beat down on hard-packed earth, the smell of grease and sweat heavy in the air.  It gleamed on our oiled skin, our equipment, and on that of our opponents, across the field.

I don’t think I really understood what was supposed to happen until that moment.  He had changed up the training schedules, pulling us out of classes and filling our days with hours of laps, weightlifting and protein shakes.  Then he’d started us in sparring, hand-to-hand combat, knife drills, spears, swords, and chains.  It was kind of unreal.

The two teams faced each other in tight formation across the wide expanse of sun-hardened dirt.  Us and them.  The enemy.  My body felt wound tight with adrenaline.

The whistle sounded.

I didn’t hesitate, I ran.  We all did.  The clash as we made contact with the other team – brought in from gods only know where – was deafening.  Even over the clamor of noise in the fray, I could hear the panicked screams of the crowd as they realized what was happening.

There was hardly a change when those screams turned to pleas for it to stop, and then to encouragement. My Mom and Pop were almost as obsessed with winning  at any cost as Coach was.

I parried, lunged, hacked at any and every piece of exposed skin.  I didn’t hesitate in taking that opening, going in for the kill. My sword caught for a moment on the edge of his armor before it slid in deep.  He let out a bubbling sigh as he crumpled on top of me, but all I could focus on was getting around him, getting back to the fight.  I’d have nightmares about it later, in the echoing darkness of the gymnasium.

The  next one came easier.  Poor sucker didn’t even bring up his staff to block me, and his head flew off, spattering everyone nearby with scalding blood.  His face still held a rabbit-like look of absolute terror.  Easy prey.

After that first game, after the parents of the dead found out just how much their dearly departed had earned them in just this one game, everyone was on board.  Even if your kid isn’t a winner, you’re a winner in the end, I suppose.

I’m one of the best.  War-matches, one-on-one combat, lions, rabid dogs, two-on-one, three, four, I was winning them all.  Living in the gymnasium took some getting used to, but I definitely got used to being treated like this, a god of the arena.  The cheerleaders certainly made sure we felt appreciated.  Coach saw to everything.

We weren’t the only ones to have our lives turned upside down.  The gods were back, and with a vengeance.  It’s pretty obvious why we were chosen by Ares – who else would we worship after spending the entire district education budget on a 20 million dollar football stadium?