Edwin’s Dilemma (Part II)

Blast.  I was late.  Oh well.

Edwin’s Dilemma – Part 2

 

                Something sharp in the air held Edwin on the edge of a sneeze.  It was right there, tickling so fiercely in his sinuses that his eyes could hardly hold open.  Whatever was in this witch’s hut was unnatural and probably disagreeable in the blood of man.  Exactly what Edwin sought.

                Edwin wanted poison.  A patented blend of vengeful irony and homicide, bottled up for his convenience.  The inner hut was small, and stacked with trappings and chemicals and herbs only half-assorted.  The local witch had history in and out of Kastern, but Edwin always avoided her as a tribute to his good judgment.  Whether reliable or not, she was a witch, and witches always caused trouble.

                Besides this one was looking at crazy from a mile past the horizon.

                “Here,” Edwin held up what looked like a weed, “How about this? Grind it down maybe? Do some of your voodoo magic and make a potion?”

                Pud the Witch glowered, “You mock.  You ignorant.  You stupid.”

                “I hungry.  I impatient.  And yes, I mock.  Get on with it.”

                Pud shook her head without reservation, her tangled mop of hair swaying like a curtain, “Not briarweed, too potent.  Cannot hide smell of urine.”

                “What?” Edwin gingerly sniffed the flora in his hand, “It doesn’t smell anything like that.  Is it supposed to?”

                “Potion most effective if I pee in it,” she turned away but Edwin caught a fraction of a grin on her lips, “Stronger that way.”

                Edwin spread his hands out in sudden astonishment, “Of course it is!  It’s your urine.  Why bother using any poison? Just hand me a vial of that and I could probably kill half the kingdom if I’m smart enough.”

                “I’ve tried.  Doesn’t work,” Pud pursed her lips.  Edwin didn’t want to think about the implications.

                “Alright, so how about this?” The fresh noble grabbed a pouch off the windowsill.

                “NO!” The witch screamed and scrambled.  Edwin didn’t know what to do before she slapped the pouch from his hands. “No no no.  Not unless you want victim to grow flowers from chest and tops of feet like mountain people.”

                “Why.  What conceivable purpose could something like that possibly serve?”

                She struck him on the skull with two fingers, “You stupid.  You ignorant of power in the flowers.  Come, follow me.”

                Edwin did so hesitantly, and while entertaining the idea of throwing this loon into his some-day dungeon where she could be insane and talk to the walls in peace.

                Pud guided Edwin to a row of shelves separate from the rest.  With one trembling hand she grabbed a sheepskin bag that wiggled with contents.  She dropped it in Edwin’s open palm and he felt something fluid inside, “One of Patty’s favorites.  Glistenberry oil.  Exactly eight drops for full effect.”

                “That makes literally no sense,” Edwin said.

                “Put into drink of victim and,” Pud ran her thumbnail along her throat, “out they go.”

                “What constitutes eight drops?  Why can’t I just put in as much as I want?”

                “Eight drops.”

                Edwin blinked and dropped the matter.  He reached wordlessly for his skin of money and drew out several gold coins, “How much?”

                Pud levelled her eyes at him, “Twice that.”

                “Nonsense,” Edwin rebelled, “I was already offering twice its worth.”

                “Ah, but you have so much.  Couldn’t hurt, hm?”

                Edwin glowered at the money sack.  Amateur mistake, Edwin.  Amateur mistake.  “Very well.”

                Paying the fine, Edwin grabbed his purchase and took his leave as fast as the hut door would open.  He couldn’t let more of this witch’s imbecility soak its way into his brain.

                Edwin found Bismark examining something off to the West and thought it might be the diving sun, but the day was too young.  They were near the King’s court, just on the outskirts of his hold.  Awnings hung around them in brilliant colors, with tit-for-tat merchants selling their wares in force.  Having his sinuses cleared, Edwin remembered his ailment did not come from the witch’s hut, but instead the King’s illness.  It was passed to him like a rich man’s curse.  The poison would work, eight drops or not.  The King would soon be dead.

                “Bismark,” Edwin held up the sheepskin sack, “I have our retribution.”

                “Your retribution,” Bismark said without turning, “Your preemptive, blind retribution.  Lord, you still don’t know if you’re actually dying or if your ailment even came from the King.”

                “Of course it did, don’t ask stupid questions.”  Edwin churned through the nasally drone of his throat.

                Bismark was strong and loyal, Edwin’s greatest friend since the days where they wore the street as their bed and home.  They butt heads on occasion, even more so now that Edwin had ascended into a life of riches and taken Bismark as his confidant.  Edwin wasn’t sure why that was.

                “Did you find our man?” Edwin asked.

                Sighing hard, Bismark finally met his eyes, “Sir Linton has an unsated desire to dispose of the King.  In the early years of his reign, it seems the good King made a decision that lead to longsuffering for Linton’s family.  In the midst of their poverty, his firstborn son passed away.  Now Linton stands in favor with the King as a head of foreign trade and disciplinary treatments.”

                Edwin lifted his eyes, “But still holds the grudge?”

                Bismark nodded.

                “Very good.”  Edwin handed over the pouch of poison, “Make sure that he gets more than eight drops into the King’s drink.”  Because screw that old hag and her rules.

                “I don’t like any of this.  But, if it really comes down to it, I hope you were right about the sickness.”  Bismark snatched the skin and pulled it into his coat.

                Edwin held impassivity, but only until Bismark strode off towards the King’s Palace, feet set on a mission.  As he watched his companion depart, Edwin ran Bismark’s words through his head, but he could not decipher if they had any real meaning or not.

                Before becoming a young noble, Edwin had no appreciation for things like recreational garden-tending.  It was a thing reserved for the elite.  A frivolous activity for the hands of those who didn’t know real work or hardship.  Even now Edwin didn’t understand how some of his peers could be so fascinated over something so trivial.  In his admittance though, the flora had started to catch his fancy.  Not as a personal activity, but aesthetically, for the beauty they provided Kastern.  He didn’t care much for beauty over the years.  Hard to appreciate something you’ve never really known.

                One leg swaying over the ledge, Edwin perched himself on the rim of a home, in a nook not easily noticed.  It was one of his favorite spots to sleep before his inheritance.  He spun an apple in one hand, taking arbitrary and infrequent bites from its soft body.  Feeling docile, his attention easily caught on the flowing people of the street below and the garden master’s shop that filled the sky with aroma.  Bismark would return before long.

                Indeed, no sooner than Edwin took down the last bite of the apple core did his confidant round the corner, his face shadowed by hood and discretion.  Edwin rolled his shoulders to loose a couple cracks in his spine and left the perch to meet Bismark.

                Eyes shifting around to assess if he’d been followed, Bismark finally sighed and removed the hood, “It is done.”

                Edwin didn’t allow himself to smile.  He was a nobleman now.  Even through complacence, he needed to be well-mannered, “Thank you, Bismark.  You have done me a great service.”

                “Have I?  I’m not so sure.”  Bismark said.

                “You did deliver the poison to Sir Linton, yes?”

                “I did.”

                “And you have faith in his ability to administer the poison?”

                “Unfortunately, I do.”

                Edwin frowned, “Then I don’t see the question.”

                Bismark stepped closer.  Only now could Edwin see the sweat on his forehead and the pale tone of his skin.  “What happened?” Edwin said in growing fear.

                “Do you have faith in what you’re doing?”

                Pausing for just a moment too long, Edwin swallowed, “The King has commited a crime.  The crime of murder.  Is it not my job to right this wrong?”

                “So you believe to the end that you are justice, here.”  Bismark nodded, “Then the poison was real?  Because I only gave Sir Linton half.”

                Edwin felt beads against his skin. “What did you do with the other half?”

                “I want to believe that you are a good person, Edwin,” Bismark smiled sickly, “You are my best friend and now my lord.  I have faith that you would not truly harm a man that has done such good.  So I’m going to find if your motives are true.  I drank the other half.”

 

End of Part II

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Edwin’s Dilemma Short Story (Part 1)

I’ve been away for a while, for any number of reasons not worth outlining here, so I apologize.  Nevertheless, here is a new short story called Edwin’s Dilemma.  Or rather, it is the first segment of a marginally larger story.  This Christmas I approached my younger brother with a proposition.  He comes up with the plotting and outline of a story that I can update every 3-5 weeks (estimated to last a year, we’ll see) and I will bring that story to life.  This is the consequence of that team-up.  Not my usual cup of tea, but I like it and think it has potential.  Enjoy.
P.S. Recently powered off two books that I recommend: “Steelheart” by Brandon Sanderson and “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline. Check them out, especially if you have a ‘nerd’ lean.  One is about superpowers the other is about videogames. Can’t beat that.

Edwin’s Dilemma – Part 1 (1,797 words)

                For once, traversing Kastern was comfortable.  The streets, while in need of maintenance, were mostly clear.  It might have been cold, but Edwin considered that a grace this time of the year.  Things had been so humid and warm that it was nearly boiling, which resulted in fresh worries as to whether his new fortune could melt or not.  Could rubies melt?  Could diamonds?

                Edwin swung back his wineskin and filled his throat with something distinctly fruity, “Bismark, what is this one?”

                “Red.  You ask like I know anything about fine wines.” Bismark studied the rings on his hand.  They could hardly fit around the callous, “Wearing these makes me nervous.”

                Waving it off, Edwin plugged the wineskin again, “Nervous for what?  You could out-arm anyone in the city.”

                “Not in these clothes,” the man grimaced, “I feel like a nobleman’s fool.”

                “A nobleman’s confidant.  Carry yourself like one Bismark.  It will be important when we make audience with the king.”  Edwin grinned.  He still liked the sound of those words.

                Bismark shook his head.  Kastern was kind to the right people: the wealthy and the acclaimed.  There was even some mirth in the street urchin and thief culture, some level of status and reverence that grew out of their underhanded accomplishments.  Kastern was not so kind when the latter breached their territory and aimed for greater riches.  The caste system was there for a reason.

                Then again, maybe their transformation was something else.  Or maybe they were just stupid.

                “I feel cheap,” Bismark said, “Like I’m only pretending to know what I’m doing.  And how could anybody possibly walk in such restricting trousers?”  He moved his legs up and down like a marionette, “God forbid.  You can hardly even bend at the knee.”

                Edwin shrugged, caught off guard by the tightness of his nobleman’s doublet, “That’s what servants are for, my uneducated sir.  To bend for you.”

                Frowning, Bismark set himself to a dull and uncomfortable stride, “Would you stop talking like that?  I’m losing more faith in this enterprise with each passing minute.  How can we possibly expect to look the part of wealth when we are tripping over ourselves?  Both linguistically and literally.”

                “You say all of that,” Edwin said, “Yet you use words like ‘enterprise’ and ‘linguistically’.  Trust me, we’ll do fi–” Edwin cut his words short, a sharp tip prodding the small of his back.  “Bismark.”

                A grungy voice spoke, “Don’t move!”

                Holding up his new confidence on thin leg, Edwin spoke slowly. “What is it you want?”  A half-expected, but inevitable swing of events.  Kastern thieves always aimed for the less protected of the noblemen.

                He could almost hear the thug smile, “You made it out.  You made it rich, young urchin.  I want out too, and I want out big.”

                “Can’t say I blame you.  It’s pretty great on the other side.”  Edwin felt the sweat on his forehead growing thick.  Bismark stood only a few heads away, but wouldn’t dare make any snap motion that could get his lord killed.

                The smile faded, “Brat.  You’re still too new to this.  Have you already forgotten?  Noblemen should never walk the streets on their lonesome.”

                Edwin shrugged, “I do have my confidant.”

                “What?” The thug snorted, glancing at Bismark, “That wilt?”

                “Yes,” Edwin nodded slowly and snapped his fingers once toward the sky.  On cue, a long-shaft arrow struck away the thief’s knife.  Bismark spun with practiced motion and, in three swift movements, ripped their offender to the ground, resting a knee on his throat.  Edwin chuckled, “I also have eight guards tailing us, should someone try exactly what you have done.  Even without them, Bismark is one of the greatest underground fighters in Kastern.  No luck, bud.”

                Edwin looked out over the rooftops, where silhouettes matched the bitter night.  “Bismark, let the man go,” Edwin said, “If he follows us one more step, our friends will introduce him to iron.”

                Bismark nodded and released, returning to Edwin’s side like a passive sentinel.

                “Now leave,” Edwin said.  And like that, the thug hurried off, a dog threatened by another kick.

                “That was actually rather pleasant.  Well handled, my lord,” Bismark said.

                Edwin continued his trek towards the king’s palace, “It’s easier when you’ve been in their shoes.”

                Nobles and royalty everywhere.  Edwin sniffed, taking in every scent of their richly clad feast.  The king’s palace was to the brim with lords and ladies, come together for a night of gratitude and celebration.  Edwin wasn’t sure why.  He was too busy scanning over every figure in the room.  They wore their wealth in a way he didn’t yet understand.  Something about how they moved and held their heads.  Their riches didn’t show just on the outside, but innately, within their souls.  It was their confidence and morality.  These were people who understood the world in a brighter way, through a lens that Edwin could never afford.  They were fools.  And now he was one of them.

                “I don’t even recognize some of these odors,” Bismark said, catching the fragrances against the air, “Is that roasted beast?  It smells like the Kingdom of Kings.”

                “Bismark, focus,” Edwin said, “Our priority for the evening is to meet the king.  Do you see him?”

                Edwin had never seen the king, but it became obvious very quickly.  Crowns usually made men distinct that way.  Their sire was of an older cut, but not so old that he was expected to roll into his grave anytime soon.  His back was firm and his gaze forward, looking toward the future and over his peers.  Even from his past as an urchin, Edwin had to admit this man was a good king.  Better than many he’d heard of in historical texts, and he owned his authority with honor.

                “We seem to be in luck,” Bismark said, “It looks like he’s making friendly banter.  The question is do we make the cut?”

                Edwin didn’t hesitate.  He wore his chest out and chin up, stretching a mild, but practiced smile.  Bismark followed behind, reluctant.

                Waiting politely for the King to finish an exchange with one guest, Edwin stepped in, “My liege,” he bowed to what he thought was the perfect level, “It is an honor, truly.”

                The king smiled, “I do not believe I’ve had the chance to meet you,” he glanced over at a person who seemed to be his advisor.

                The young advisor perked up and shuffled through a couple sheets of lambskin parchment, “Um, oh, this is Lord Edwin of Lower Kastern.”

                Brows lifting, the king grinned, “Ah, that’s it, then.  The one who recently inherited his fortune.  Welcome, son.”

                Edwin bowed again, “I wasn’t expecting my reputation to precede me,” he held out a hand, “Again, I’m honored.”

                The king took his hand in a worthy grip, “Lord Edwin, it’s my –”

                Just then, the king of the realm sneezed forth like a maelstrom.  A million fragments of moisture poured from his nostrils and lips, all across their interlocked hands.  It was beautiful in the eyes of none.

                Edwin clinched, not wanting to be rude, but feeling effectively disgusted.  Somehow in his many reveries, he hadn’t expected high royalty to sneeze.  Thankfully the king withdrew from their contact and his advisor offered a cloth to clean Edwin’s hand.  This must have been a recurring theme for the night.

                All in all, their conversation carried on in a smooth and prompt fashion.  Not wanting to rob their high King of too much precious time, Edwin and Bismark left the man to his lordly business.  The rest of the night was simple and short.  Together they traversed the labyrinth of socials, making connections that only a year ago Edwin would have never expected to build.  The anatomy of the royal circles was elaborate, filled with more politics and gossip than his interest cared to handle.

                By the time they left the king’s palace, Edwin felt a unique sort of exhaustion.  Upon their departure, his shoulders slumped and his face fell.  Keeping up impressions was hard work.  When they returned to the manor Edwin purchased in his new wealth, he and Bismark split off to their own separate quarters.

                That night was filled with good dreams and nightmares alike.

                Heat spun through Edwin’s skull, and walking straight was a step short of brutal.  The morning had not been kind.  He was sick, sicker than he’d ever felt.  Worse even than the time he’d accidentally swallowed Lacrydine.  The sicknesses were not similar, but regardless, what he now experienced was worse.  That was impressive in its own, horrible way.

                “My lord!  You look dead!”  Bismark said, in spite of himself.

                “Thank you for your flattery,” Edwin sniffed, “I’m sick.  The apothecary can’t identify it.”

                Bismark sized up Edwin with concern, “Your skin is so pale.  Go lay back down, immediat–” Bismark caught himself and cleared his throat, “Rather, I suggest you lay back down and get some rest.  It can’t be good for your health to be up and about.”

                Edwin shook his head, “I tried, but I’m too restless.  I cannot figure out how I could have come down with any disease.  This is the first time in years.  My immunity is usually much more reliable than this.”

                “What do you think the cause might have been?”

                For a long moment, Edwin was stuck in a mental silence, half-conscious.  He was startled awake with force, like a beam of steel through his chest.  The King.  The king had sneezed on Edwin’s hand, spreading some sort of rich man’s disease.

                “That monster,” Edwin said, “I cannot forgive him.”

                Bismark’s forehead crumpled, “M’lord?”

                “The King.  I am stricken with an illness from the King.”

                Clarity, confusion and horror broke through Bismark all at once, “Surely you don’t mean–  My lord, please do not be taken with haste.”

                “My new life.  At the epicenter of my transformation,” Edwin said, “He has ruined it!  The king has destroyed all of my plans.  My ambitions!  A disease that even the doctors cannot cure?  Something worse than drinking raw Lacrydine?  Certainly there must be compensation.”

                Trying to maintain an air of control, Bismark seemed to let Edwin fume while he gathered his thoughts, “You are making rash conclusions.  Please, I beg that you return to your bedchambers.”

                “No,” Edwin stumbled to the window and peered out into the new day, “I can’t do that, Bismark.  I need to get revenge before it’s too late.  I must hold retribution for what he has taken from me.”

                “You mustn’t!  Think this through, Edwin!” Bismark pleaded.

                “Yes, it is so.  I wish there were an alternative, but there is not.  For his crimes, I must kill the king.”

End of Part I

The Interview (Short Story)

Hello all you happy people.  I thought I’d do a fun spin for the week.  A story about a hero interviewing to be a villain.  1,810 words, though I could have easily made it longer.  I wanted to try and write something that was driven largely by dialogue, and this was the result.  Because I’m going home for the Thanksgiving holiday, there probably will not be a new story next week, though I’ll figure out something neat that I can post.  In the meantime I’ll probably work on my book a little bit and the scripting for the videogame project.  I also have to catch up on the Walking Dead, so there’s also that…
Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving!

Image

The Interview

                “As I’m sure you’ve suspected, this isn’t normal protocol.”

I nod as I take my seat, “If we were normal, we’d be out of a job.”

If the overlord was amused, he didn’t show it.  My answer seemed to satisfy him enough, but I can’t say the same for the triad of his peers, my interviewers.  Then again, I knew they were a tough crowd.  Any supervillain worth their mettle always was.

“Jericho here has to level a Mediterranean island this evening, so forgive us if we are attentive to time.  It couldn’t be helped.”  A burly oaf with skin fair enough to challenge The White Witch gave a stunted nod.  I’d heard of Jericho.  He was probably the least imposing of the titans before me, but still had enough experience and power under his belt to give A-class heroes a modest challenge.

As for the piece of work that had been breaking me in, that was Malachi, more notoriously known by-and-large as Utter Doom.  I’d trained myself to look at his forehead when speaking with him, so as to avoid direct contact with the “Lucifer Eyes” that brought him to the top of his field.  They were blank, cleaner than white, and only an accessory to his esteemed fury.  Utter Doom had been around since the dawn of the supervillain, and was the standard that defines many supervillain tropes.  Ironic, because nearly all of those came from his younger days and most of them are a reflection of inexperience.  Nowadays it’s a rule of thumb that you don’t make your ventilation ducts large enough to crawl through, and you never monologue for more than two lines.

“That’s understandable,” I said, “Thank you for the opportunity to be here today.”

Utter Doom gave a curt nod, “Of course.  Let’s begin.  Why are you interested in becoming a supervillain?”

I did my best to shed a practiced smile and passed my eyes along each of my interviewers, steering clear of their gazes, “As a former superhero,” I paused for an instant to take in their expressions.  Good, none of them were surprised by this, “I have always admired the resilience of your side.  You make greater sacrifices than most of the supposed ‘heroes’, and are very action-oriented.  Supervillains are creative, meticulous, and have tremendous resolve.  Superheroes do not do much for themselves.  They simply respond to your presence.  If not for you, there would be no need for the hero.  I am fascinated by that instrumental importance and influence you carry.”

Doom scrawled things on the clipboard in his lap.  He sat straight-backed in a black throne chair, fitted with leather.  It was daunting how his expression remained.  Absolutely deadpan, without the slightest tremble or fidget.  “You clearly weren’t a superhero for very long.”

This caught me unprepared, “Might I ask why you think so?”

“In my experience, heroes often sacrifice just as much, if not more than the supervillains.  We might be lonely, or in perpetual financial ruin, or thought monsters, but like you said: it is by our own devices.  We are the proactive ones.  Maybe some of us have better reasons for our actions than others, but ultimately it is still our decision to behave and act against standardized morality.  We are sinister and underhanded, and many heroes are felled by our cunning and deceptiveness.  Some even come to our side because of how much we have cost them.  Do not underestimate the sacrifices of your enemy.”

I found myself closing peeled lips.  I hadn’t expected such class and respect from a supervillain, especially towards his adversaries.

“Our records show that you were a superhero for only five years?”  A new voice broke the conversation.  Miranda, the only female in the office.  The Queen.  I nod my affirmations, “What was your region and what are your powers?”

The Queen was entirely different from Utter Doom.  She weaved her words with enough restraint, but the tears of blood forever spinning from her eyes made me wary, like she would happily drive twelve blades into my heart at the drop of a hat.

Keeping your voice straight in front of a woman of this caliber was no simple task, “My first few years were largely based in central Europe, but the latter half was spent on the Eastern American shore.  As for powers, I can manipulate gravity.”

This seemed to please her.  “Always formidable if utilized properly,” she said.

I couldn’t stop my grin.

“Show me,” Jericho spoke.  They weren’t words.  They were bombs, and they blew apart both my knees and my conviction.  Steeling myself, I thrust one palm forward and unleashed a hideous shockwave, one strong enough to snap pillars of stone like chicken legs.  The table we gathered around blew into dust and shards, and the room was filled with a low-bass ringing like we were inside a troll’s war drum.  While the hair on his flesh might have flittered, the giant was a full four-hundred pounds of not-moving.  Only now did I realize that any one of my interviewers were enough to topple a nation.  I had nothing before them.  They were each at least ten times deadlier to the world than I was.  Doom didn’t even blink.  Jericho grunted, “Pretty good.”

Pretty good?  Oh, man.

Until now, the last interviewer hadn’t yet graced me with a word from his unholy tongue.  Honestly, I would have preferred it stayed that way.  The final of the four was Famine, one of the infamous Horsemen of Apocalypse.  A demon among supervillains and probably the only inquisitor present with enough spine and cruelty to stand up to the devil.  “If you were accepted for the position, what methods would you take to ensure optimal damage output?  What are some of your operational preferences?”

Swallowing through my heart, I persevered, “Until now I’ve been familiar with working alone or in small groups, but I feel the next best step for my career is to join an organization.  Power in numbers and all of that.  This will give me the first-hand experience I need for the long-term ambition of leading my own dark organization.  A sort of anti-hero unit, I suppose.  We will have no other purpose but to destroy those who defy us,” I paused for a moment to study Utter Doom, who seemed to be clenching his jaw quite tightly.  I continued, “As for specific methods, I would abide by the guidebook of Doom’s apprentice ‘Black Stroke’.  Absolutely brilliant methodology and technique, with humor and wit to boot.”

“It’s a shame he didn’t take his own advice,” Doom said off-handedly, in a slow drone, “Rule twelve: ‘Never let the hero have a last request.’  That one mistake was all he needed.”

“Nevertheless, they are quality guidelines for any contemporary supervillain,” I defended, “And as for ‘optimal damage output’ I would probably start by convincing my former companions that I was still interested in being a superhero.  Manipulation and deceit are wonderful tools, even for ordinary villains.”

Famine was a dirty red color in his skin, like desert sands at sunset.  His skull was lined with jagged black protrusions and I wondered how he ever slept.  Or if he ever slept.  He pursed his lips and tipped his head, jotting down notes.

Utter Doom cleared his throat and readjusted himself, “Answer the following with as much speed and precision as possible.”

I readied myself.  I’d been studying for this part.

“As a supervillain, is it better to have a son or a daughter for your progeny?”

“Neither,” I shoot out, almost forgetting the rest of my answer, “Sons are proud, and their inevitable plans to usurp me might fail, but it will almost certainly be at a critical point in time.  The distraction could result in my downfall.  Daughters are easily tricked into falling for the hero’s swashbuckling charm and skill, thus leading to ultimate betrayal.  Though if I had to choose, I’d rather have a son.  I could use his evil strength until he came of age, and then I would kill him in what looked like an accident.  If he had friends, they would be disposed of preemptively, so as to waylay their possible vengeance.”

Doom was quick with the next question, “When is an enemy considered defeated?”

“When they are either cremated, or at the very least, mutilated to the point that they wouldn’t want to live.  And absolutely no assumptions.  If they fell down a cliff, I would personally go down with a strike team to retrieve the body and finish up a proper disposal.”

“If you had a platoon or army under your command, what sort of aesthetics would you employ in the design of their uniform?”

This one was disappointingly easy.  Only the stupid villains missed this question anymore.  “Grant them individuality.  They might all wear one suit, but make it unique and open to slight variety and character.  If helmets are included, and they should be, then they ought to reveal the identity of the soldier underneath.  At the very least, the eyes should be visible.  Such a simple device does tremendous things to the hero’s psyche and makes your underling more likely to survive in battle.”

Utter Doom sighed and penned his thoughts onto the board, “Straight from Black Stroke’s lessons.  I can’t say they were poor answers…just rehearsed.”

“I prefer to use the word ‘practiced’.  Makes me feel more disciplined and malleable.”

The Queen licked her lips, “One last question.  If there were any one villain you could follow for a day, who would it be?”

“Whipgun,” I answer, aware that I might be making a poor decision.

“Whipgun?” The Queen grimaced, “The speed beast?  Why him?  He has fulfilled nothing but minor-league contracts, heists, and burglaries.  Any hero worth their power can defeat Whipgun.”

“Because if I could follow Whipgun, that would mean I was really, really fast.”

Jericho made a tumbling noise in his chest that I hoped was a chuckle.

The Queen curled her fingers around the pen in her hand and looked at me hard.  For a second, I thought I’d made a mistake.  But my concerns melted when she smiled.  An evil smile, but a smile all the same, “At the end of it, he cracks a joke.  I like how you play this game.”

Doom and Famine were profoundly unaffected by the humor, but it wasn’t for them anyways.  “That’s all I have,” Doom said, “Does anyone else have something they’d like to add?”

Unanimous shrugs and head-swaying across the board.

“Very good,” Utter Doom directed himself towards me, “Before we go, do you have any last questions?”  He’d already begun to leave his seat, so I took that as a cue that I could as well.

I wore that practiced smile like a mask of hope, “Only one.  When can I start?”

The Bamboo Cutter

I made it!  I really didn’t think I’d have a story done by the end of the day.  Between finishing Breaking Bad, working, conquering the world, all of my recreational activities, and raw procrastination, I had a very difficult time coming up with a story this week.  To the point that I asked my friend for an idea what to write about.  This is the result.  I am an amateur with humor and only make good satire when the stars align, so think of this as a ‘serious humor’ of sorts.  It’s a little rough because of how rushed it was, but oh well. 1,064 words.

 

The Bamboo Cutter

                Until recently, Lenny was only familiar with the troubles of men, and was not sure how far those troubles could extend to the panda.  But in a change of fate as prejudiced as it was spontaneous, it was suddenly clear where his worth rested in the cold, black heart of Earth.  It might not have seemed like much, but that yogurt had weight.  It meant something.  It was an ultimatum, a final straw in his long-since-thinned patience.

                Lenny was a panda, worn in the womb of the world, and he wanted yogurt.

                You might not think it, but life is largely the same for pandas as for men.  At least, as far as America is concerned.  And not only pandas, but since the turning of the age, all forms of bear-life had begun their acceptance campaign into the democratic culture.  Though Lenny was not particularly fond of his white, polar cousins.  But they were all treated equally and with due fairness, as is the supposed American way.  Except for now.  Now Lenny was a bump of broiled distaste, because one young, human cashier had determined that pandas and their kin weren’t allowed to have yogurt.  Not of the strawberry, peach, or vanilla varieties.  The only ones that mattered.

                Instead of shrugging it and moving on to another employee, Lenny decided to let the discrimination sit and roll in his huge, beer-born, panda belly.  With the taste of a strawberry memory teasing him and yogurt profoundly absent from his life.

                That morning had been bruise-colored, with only scattered clouds and a fatigued, blurry sun.  The bumpy road to work was hell with a hangover, like a tent peg lodged firmly between both eyes.  It throbbed and throbbed, and in the meantime Lenny’s anger swelled, releasing itself during the lunch hour when Carl called him into the office.  Lenny knew he didn’t work very hard.  He was never ambitious and despite fitting the mold as a perfect bamboo cutter, his productivity was on a years-long decline.  So it wasn’t a surprise when Carl dropped the bomb that he was being laid off.  But of course, it still hurt, even through his thick bear-skull and last night’s vodka.

                Now it was evening and Lenny’s fur was disheveled with a long day’s toil of hating himself.  He tried to vent some of that anger at Smokey’s Everybear Gymnasium, but succeeded only in pulling two different muscles.  Afterwards he wanted to shower, but there was only cold water, and after swearing his way through that treason, he learned that there were no towels offered for drying, either.  Certain that it wasn’t enough just to take the low road, Lenny figured he had to be colorful about his frustration, so he promptly crapped on the floor before leaving.

                The roads were mostly clear, and he was pushing eighty-five.  Lenny’s soul was lost in the orange inferno of passing streetlights.  Both his mind and what was left of his heart tracked back to his family.  They deserved better, and for the small part, he tried to give them better.  A year after their daughter was born, Lenny and Jean almost split off.  Nobody would blame his wife for abandoning the poor bamboo cutter.  He was emotionally absent and known to beat her on rare, but not too rare, occasions.  It wasn’t really his fault.  Lenny was just repeating the gestures of love from his old man.  But he never hit Heather, their daughter.  That would have been too much.  If it had ever gone that far…well, it didn’t.  So he was at least thankful for that much, even if his relationship with her was on the rocks right now.

                Growing faster than Lenny could blink and with the dark, spitfire attitude of her young mother, Heather had reached the glacial pit of adolescence.  In her furious, relational charges, she had hooked up with Castor, the Mellick’s son.  A polar bear.  Lenny threw back a swig of Captain Morgan every time he thought about it.  Why a polar bear?  Why those narcissistic, ill-educated oafs?  He could only hope that the relationship would be as short as his own high school bouts with love, and that his naïve daughter would learn to shoot for higher standards in the aftermath.

                Man, strawberry yogurt sounded divine.

                It was in the throes of his reverie that Lenny saw the dancing beams of blue and red in his rearview.  He swore and groaned the only way a panda could.  Why did his back suddenly itch in that one spot he couldn’t reach?  Blast it.

                Lenny pulled over and waited with impatience as the police officer moved to his door.  Lenny rolled down the window and sighed, not even bothering to hide Mister Morgan, his partner-in-crime.

                “Good evening,” the officer said, “Do you know why I pulled you over tonight?”

                “Because I have a bumper sticker that says ‘Kiss me, I’m Asian’?”

                Brows tenting, the officer pursed his lips, “No.  Reckless driving.  Thirty over the speed limit, plus a little bit of swerving,  His body slanted as he caught sight of the beer, “How much have you had to drink tonight?”

                Lenny pulled in a chest of air and tried not to hick as he released it, “How many are usually in Captain Morgan’s crew?”

                Unamused, the officer penned something on his clipboard.  “License and registration?”

                “How about this,” Lenny bargained, “I will take any ticket that you have to give me, I will even go to jail for the night, if you go over to that convenience store and buy me some yogurt.  You have no idea.  I would kill a man for some vanilla right now.”

                Blinking slowly, Lenny looked dumbly at his steering wheel.  Did he just say that out loud?  Curse you Morgan, curse you.

                The follow transpiration was a pitiful attempt to reclaim his credit as an honorable driver, but with constant backdrops and poor decisions that ultimately landed the panda in overnight jail.  On his way to the bunks, Lenny thought it could be worse.  He wasn’t terribly interested in seeing Jean and Heather right now anyways, jobless and wasted as he was.  At least, it seemed like it could be worse, until he found that the entire cell was to the rim with polar bears and their filth.

                And not a trace of bloody yogurt to be found.

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Daughter of the Rain (Short Story)

A short story that takes up a more traditional fantasy mantle.  This one is shorter than my previous stories, sitting at only 834 words.  I’ve got a story I’m working on for next week that I find particularly interesting, so look forward to that.  I might be giving an update later this week about the RPG game me and one of my friends are making. In the meantime, smell the flowers, make a friend, count the stars, listen for colors, and enjoy. 🙂

Daughter of the Rain – 10/31/13

A chord of aching compassion sifted behind Ira’s chest.  He unfurled one hand slowly, reaching out towards the lonely creature under the wagon.  With a pout and limp, it fell back over itself.  Ira drew his arms to his core for warmth and sighed.

“How long have you been here?” He cast a half-attended glance to his side, maybe looking for somebody.  An owner possibly, or someone that might be able to help.  They were alone, so he returned his attention to the young beast.  It was longer than his arm and slender as the Crystal River, smooth tufts of hair gathering where scales were absent.  Ira stirred.  Between its dainty paws and the mercury glow of its eyes, the fledgling creature gathered old thoughts of a pet hound from his youth.

But this was hardly a hound or even a mutt.  Something in its build reminded Ira of a gargoyle, or one of those spirits from his father’s library.

It whimpered something low and rolling, scratching its broken claws into wet earth.  Ira pursed his lips and settled his knees into the mud.  Whatever it might be, it was hurt and made the distinct cry of having been betrayed.  It was something shared by men and beast alike.

Fumbling in his coat pocket, Ira broke off a chunk of stale butter-bread.  The rain reached down and made it soft.  He extended the supplement until the whole of his arm was beneath the wagon, his cheek against its hardwood carapace.  For a long minute there was nothing, but soon after, something nuzzled his fingers and lapped the food out of his hand.  It tickled. Ira dipped his head under the carriage to watch his new friend lick up the last of the bread.  “I don’t want to leave you here,” Ira fell back on his haunches and cast his head low, “But I don’t know where to take you.”

Curious silver rings peered back at him, now suddenly interested but resilient in wariness.

“I would never hurt you,” Ira said. He did all he could to keep his tone soft and distinctly motherly. “But words are fickle, aren’t they?  Like water.”

To his surprise, the young creature moved closer, one leg damaged enough that it could only drag.  Ira eased back into the rain, providing a space for it to join him.  The gargoyle’s eyelids flittered as the rain came against them.  Several deep lacerations crept along its sides, staining the surrounding fur in a blood darker than oil.  A swell above one eye seemed to just be healing, but that was the best of it.

Reciting the importance of caution to himself, Ira made clear to the beast that he was a friend, and then reached out until they were touching.  It purred meagerly and let him run fingers along the scales of its crown.  “I’m sorry.”

The gargoyle rustled its jaw and came closer.

“I’m so sorry.  Please forgive us.  I forget how cruel we can be.”

If the creature acknowledged or understood any of Ira’s words– which it may, he couldn’t be sure that it didn’t– then it would be a hideous deed of him to abandon or send it away.  Ira was dirty and unwanted even among his own kin.  What could he offer?  If it came with him, it would die before the week closed.  There was no home with warm hearth-fire to greet them.  No quiet place that was safe from the rain.

Perhaps sensing his own conflict, the gargoyle slid its head onto Ira’s lap and closed its eyes.  Ira heaved a single dry sob and clenched both fists before laying his head atop the beast’s own.  “What is your name, I wonder?”  A rhythmic, throaty tremble came from the beast.  A noise and feeling like a great cat’s purr.  The rain bid forth with greater fury, crushing the wagon’s steeple.  The collapse startled them both, and the creature looked back to Ira with a gaze of mixed pity and comfort.  An idle wind tossed the rain slantways.

“I think I have something,” Ira grinned with a trace smile like honey, “Ysuna.  Hmm?  A Southern word.  I think it’s religious.  ‘Daughter of the rain’.  How does that sound?”

As woefully inadequate as Ira felt most of his decisions were, this one seemed right.  Seemed strong and pure.  The creature must have agreed, because it licked its frothy pink tongue against the flat of his arm.

Gathering the injured creature into a cradle, Ira made a point to avoid hurting Ysuna any more than she already had been.  “Come on, let’s get out of the rain.”  Ira laid Ysuna on her better side, back against the inside of the wagon’s wheel.  There was just enough room for him to crawl underneath the carriage and rest beside her.  “We will rest here, and when the rain stops we will find someone who can help.”  Ira stroked the beast’s brow, “Hold on until then, okay?”

The Beasts of Autumn – Short Story

This will be the last of my Fall themed short stories. I’m going to start leaning towards the genre that I prefer to write, which is fantasy fiction.  Thank you all of my new followers for your support.  Enjoy. 1,058 words.

The Beasts of Autumn – 10/09/13

                The term, as I’ve heard it used, is cut-flower.  Having been separated from your source of life.  In a patient state of un-living.  Receiving alms from friends with concern as the currency.  It’s a gentle and good thing they do, and I’m thankful.  Sometimes I forget the intent of their charity and focus only on how I haven’t yet found a magical potion to help forget my old unforgivens.  Jeremy hoots about that word and suggests that I look no further than alcohol for my elixir.  Alcohol is contemptible, especially this time of year.  Especially now, in the mid-morning hours, staring down the beasts of Autumn.

                But Jeremy is not a fool.  Only half that, and a splash of genuine friend for flavor.  He consoles me when I wrestle with the annual thoughts of her, that inamorata I once rightfully and proudly called my wife.  Now that I’ve struck the seven-year bell, I wonder if I may still call her that.  My wife.  Once upon a time, so the fairy tale reflects.  When they say happily ever after, they’re not speaking a full truth.  Even at its best, even in a make-believe world, sometime one of the two lovers will have to pass away.  I want to hear that part of the story, told from the voice left behind.

                In this season I have allergies.  Something in the fallen leaves sets me off, but it’s never so bad as to ruin a day.  When the first snow comes, I conveniently become allergic to driving.  A fair trade, since about that time everyone else conveniently forgets how to drive.  I make a fanciful display of pumpkins for my home, assorted on stair-step patterned shelves, directly beneath family photos from nine-some years ago.  The cinnamon candles I brandish year around suddenly make sense for a couple months, until winter decides to anathemize them again.  Nami says I should adapt my candles to the seasons and that it would help me appreciate cinnamon next year when the leaves start splitting off.  I would like to point her to any number of mental health manuals which suggest that hers is a bad idea.  Something about conditioning and associations.  Cinnamon smells like my wife, like my long lost heart.  I can hardly notice the scent anymore, but if I sent it away and in several months it suddenly returned, I imagine my reaction would be worse than frightful.

                It rains a lot during the fall months, to which I tip my hat and beg welcome.  There is nothing quite so stirring as a good long rain.  To be enameled by mother and her gentle nature.  The beasts of Autumn hush down a little bit more when the rain is here, and vanish completely at the first snowfall.  Only during this season of my life do I reflect so piercingly, and at such great sacrifice.  My world suffers without her.  Friends ask for my company and I decline, both to their displeasure and my own.  I think more about the children we never had, and whether they would like the rain or not.  Would their favorite color be yellow, like their mother?  Sickness makes Heaven seem cruel, and it steals away regardless of whether the new absence would be good for the world or not.  Maybe it’s best we had no progeny.  I would suffer to think about their lives if they’d inherited her pain.

                Things seem to get away from me, foremost of which is time.  I could have sworn the leaves were orange no more than two months ago.  To think that it has already been a year.  What even happened in the meantime?  I got laid off work.  I picked up something new, thanks be to Jeremy.  I went on one date and was soul-sick enough that my stomach caught the memo and helped me vomit once the evening was over.  I picked up a pet frog from Nami’s nephew.  Named it Jack Sparrow for absolutely no reason at all.  I think I went on vacation, but that might have been a couple years ago.  Really, I don’t like to track back too far.  The territory becomes unsteady.  Memories start returning, and they drag other things behind them.  I find it’s not worth it.  It isn’t worth the price of remembering.

                I read that in a book once.  The price of remembering.  When you’ve lost somebody, you begin to notice such snippets.  You incubate them in your chest and rehearse them in your sleep.  I know that price, because I barter every August.  I barter and pray the cost will drop, and that the year will be a little less lonely than the last.  Just another beast of Autumn that makes a parade of my life.  In the rare moments that I am transparent with others –and I assure you they are few – such notions make me feel overwhelmingly melodramatic.  I am a child, complaining about child-like things.  My wife died to a common, albeit crippling sickness.  So what if she passed away?  My neighbor recently lost her daughter to the sort of actions that result from overwhelming intoxication, fraternity parties and the occasional, homicidal boyfriend.  A killing stroke like that is a million miles more devastating than whatever plagues me.  But I can’t find it in myself to care.  I don’t truly feel for her loss.  Not from my gut.  Because the worst of my grief has manifested into the image of my greatest hatred.  A writhing contradiction best known as apathy.  Apathy is cold like a stone and sweet like the rain.  It makes me sick, and weary of trying to forgive myself again.  Apathy is a beast worse than hatred.

                But I let the apathy stay, because I’d rather it remained than pay the price of remembering.  I wonder what she’d think of my selfishness?  I shouldn’t dwell on it now.  That is a paper-thin question better left to steal my midnight hours.  I’m going to be awake anyways, what with the rain and my cinnamon candles and my cut-flower spirit.  I will remain that way as long as I can.  Until finally winter might come and the beasts of Autumn will rest in hibernation, resting dutifully and gaining strength for their return.  They are my tourniquet and I expect they always will be.  At least they’re consistent.

               

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The Drums (Short Story Original Work)

A mild horror piece for the Halloween season.  Please comment your thoughts and have a good day.  1,277 words.

“The Drums” – Written 09/21/13

                There was rain.  On a Hallows’ Eve, that meant something.  In the shadows of the manor Whitewine, it meant something more.  Whitewine was a cobweb of antiquity, and one could swear it was that way from the beginning.  But there had been people once.  A family of five and however many generations preceded them.  Noel was a Whitewine, so she knew it to be true, even if that was long ago and time had since filled the manor with desolation.  Noel was trusting and altogether knowledgeable in the stations most considered worth having knowledge.  But she was also young, frightfully empathetic, and tonight, very much alone.

                There was rain and it came hard.  Against the ceramic shingle rooftop of the manor, it struck like an army of drummers.  This was a good thing.  The drone of their fall helped muffle each creak in the aged manor floor as Noel stepped within.  It muted her imagination, which would have otherwise suggested there was somebody walking through the upstairs.  But Noel’s mind was prone to remembering, and it remembered awful things at the worst of times.  Whitewine was a family, one of her own blood.  And in a time before hers, they were considered very much unholy.  She would never have thought to thank the rain, because she underestimated its kindness.  For without the rain, she would have heard the moans from the basement cellar.  Moans very real, despite her being alone.

                There was rain, but soon it might stop.  Nobody was allowed in the manor without rain’s company, especially during the after dark hours.  Noel knew this, but decided to take the risk regardless.  The family Whitewine was notorious for their business of stealing people.  Noel had learned such in the news columns of decades passed.  When finally the family had been caught in evidential movements and the manor was searched for missing persons, the town militia did not understand how sundered the minds of Whitewine truly were.  Their discovery led them to a home for bones and things which bled out slowly.  The kidnapped persons were not wholly themselves any longer.  Through rigorous and generous torture, only parts of their minds and bodies remained intact.  Many were stripped nude, strung up by manacles in the cold cellar until their feet had gone black and flaky.  They would beat their heads back against the cellar wall, trying to lull themselves into death.  Some succeeded, others simply cracked their brains.  Some were missing their tongues, eyes, lips, or ears, later found assorted in the children’s bedrooms.  There were worse things than this, things that would make the devil proud, but those memories were dark and the worst representations of man, so Noel dutifully tried to forget them.  But these crimes were not easily forgotten.  Not by man, by God, or by time.

                There was rain, and it made the air cold.  Noel wondered sometimes if God forgave people like these.  Did heaven also delight in their company?  She was unsure what to think of it all.  But that wasn’t important now.  The manor was important.  Basking in its history and acclimating to its macabre silence.  Except it wasn’t silent.  There was always a sound of drums.  The rain now making earth its pasture.  There was something more to the noise, but it was lost in the rain, to her benefit.  Young Noel would find the Whitewine legacy on her own very soon.  Once the dust guided her down to the cellar.  All in time, all in time.

                Still there was rain, but it was drawing to a close.  The yearning patter began to crawl to a stop, leaving all natural life refreshed and thankful.  In this saturated world, hope was as alive as it sounded.  And that was beautiful.  But though the rain reached the manor, it held no cure for the bitter memories within.  Those memories of pain and hatred and cruelty of the greatest sort.  Noel remembered them from her readings, and for years her imagination had played with her, trained her for this moment.  This was not good, nor beautiful, as she would soon find out.  Not that she expected different from God’s worst sinners.  But within her dark dreams came a whistle, something entirely unexpected because of its ferocity.  Dread crept onto her the way only it knew how.  With a smile and slow courtesy.  The whistle was not in her mind, like she first believed it might have been.  It came from the boards between her feet, twenty feet into a grave of the earth and the black heart of the Whitewine manor.  Noel flinched and stepped forward, quickly finding the door to the basement cellar.

                The rain died and ceased its pounding.  The new absence reminded Noel of an old heart, finally giving up its struggle.  There was quiet, but only for a moment, until the girl reached for the cellar door.  As she did, the drums dawned again.  Rather, she only finally began to hear what had always been.  These drums belonged more than the rain and it was their right to stay.  They thudded like a dull fist striking a table and echoed twice as deep.  Noel spun the knob and yanked open the door.  She was welcomed by a years-old stink.  Something like wood rot and disease.  The clouded light from outside filled in the cellar as she descended.  There were windows, veiled by the webs of a hundred dead spiders, and everything was of tattered stone.  It looked and smelled as unhallowed as she’d imagined.  But the drums were different.  They were a raw beat, unsettlingly alive and visceral.  With the bravery of a fool, Noel began to search for that rhythm growing ever louder.

                There was no rain, but still the drums sounded.  As she lurked ahead, Noel was increasingly aware of her thin frailty.  She was a scarecrow.  All straw and thread, no spine or substance.  But the drums had her.  For a breath she reconsidered if it wasn’t all in her mind.  That would be simple and explanative, but it would also be very untrue.  In the furthest back, towards the darkest end of the basement, she found a man in suffering.  Iron shackles arrested him, and they lay at his sides.  Noel cringed at the slope of his body.  It was as though his spine had been pulled apart and fastened into a stretch, with only his upper torso and head supported by the cellar wall.  An unsettling gray crust had baked over his skin, while his jaw seemed broken and slack, swaying back and forth with each toss of his head.  Both of his manacles were affixed by chain and nail to a slab of wood behind his head, forever preventing escape.  Noel shivered.

                Where was the rain? She wanted it back.  Again and again the dead man would crack its head against the wood.  It was a dull thump, thump filled with resigned defeat, something Noel took to mean that he’d wanted to die for so long, only for death to never come.  Thump, thump it continued, just like the rain.  Thump, thump went the drums.  It quickly became too much.  Maybe Noel cast herself away from that horror, that godless tomb.  She couldn’t remember, even years later.  Again she tried to counsel herself into believing that the Whitewine’s sins had long since ended.  The dead man was just as he was, dead.  A disaster of her mind, fabricated from long nights of reading Whitewine lore.  It didn’t really matter.  Every moment the rains came thereafter, she remembered the drums.  And of course they remembered her, too.  Goodnight, Noel.