Vacancy – 1.16

Vacancy is an ongoing web serial. Find out more about it and start reading here.

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There were no footfalls on the stairs, no clinking dishes in the dining room, not even turning pages in the den. The only sound filling up Moonlit Shores Manor was the creaking of the rocker by the fireplace in which their omnipresent–and that night, their only– guest sat. But as always, he was very little trouble.

It was so quiet, in fact, that if Lorelei closed her eyes and strained, she could hear the gentle patter of rain as it began on the windows, something she wouldn’t normally notice until it had turned into a complete downpour.

It had been all hands on deck once the last guest checked out that morning, with Arista overseeing the scrubbing and polishing of floors, deep-cleaning of bathrooms, the removal of mysterious stains with both cleaners and the right words, and come evening the staff collapsed into the sitting room. Arista and Seamus had retired to their cottage with strict instructions to hold any and all issues until the morning, and Aoyagi had headed to the city with equally strict instructions regarding the kitchen. This left Hotaru a bit giddier than normal and Grier, well, exactly the same as always, and he kept trying to steal her seat out of shear force. She’d finally given up with him squeezing alongside her into one of two identical overstuffed, purple paisley chairs. Across from them, Ziah splayed out on the couch beside Lorelei paying no mind to their antics and sinking into the cushions. She still wore the over-sized, dirty flannel she’d worn to clean all day, unfit for welcoming guests. It seemed the manor was closed.

“Does this happen often?” Lorelei asked hesitantly, pulling a foot up under her on the couch. She certainly hoped the hotel didn’t regularly sit empty with no income.

“Almost never,” Ziah bobbed her head back and grinned, “Isn’t it lovely?” Thunder rumbled far off in the distance.

“The quiet is good,” Ren entered carrying in a tea tray for the group, choosing to sit with them instead of retire to his room above the barn. The little winged creature popped out from his shirt pocket and let out a squeaky mew. “Of course it could always be quieter.”

Conrad followed behind him laden with mugs, handing out the cups as Ren poured, then took the seat beside Lorelei. He lifted his mug, “To a job well done.”

Then, the lights went out.

No one moved for a rather long moment until Lorelei finally spoke, “I bet that almost never happens either.”

“Strange,” Ziah sat up, the faint glow of candles still illuminating the room, “But it’s probably just the storm.”

Then, as if they lived atop a birthday cake, the candles were all snuffed out with one massive blow.

Grier whistled, “And that never ever happens.”

The sounds outside, rain and wind, intensified as their sight was taken away. They sat with their cups, listening to the building storm, their figures silhouettes of shadow against the darkness of the room. Then there was a crash and lightning lit up the room.

Ziah jumped to her feet with a growl, “Conrad, you and Lorelei go flip the breakers downstairs. Ren, come with me to reset the candles. You two,” she pointed at Hotaru and Grier as if they had already committed whatever crime she’d made up in her mind, “stay right here.”

Lorelei took out her phone to light her way as she followed Conrad toward the basement stairs. The darkness in the sitting room had been familiar, but the illumination of her screen made the surrounding darkness that much darker, and approaching the basement steps made her a bit queasy.

The temperature dropped as they descended, the unlit candles eerie in the dark. Lorelei squeezed her arms in tight beside her, “I’m afraid to ask, but how do these candles go out all at once?”

“It’s a spell, sometimes they malfunction.”

There had been hesitation in his voice, and against better judgement she decided to prod, “At the same time the electricity goes out?”

“Yeah,” he grunted, “It…happens.”

At the bottom of the stairs, the pool remained lit in blues and purples from the bio-luminescent creatures that crawled across the rocks, but without additional lighting, their colors were magnified. Lorelei covered the light on her phone and stared out at it, “Wow.”

“You should go swimming sometime,” he gestured out at the water, “It’s warm year round.”

She dropped her voice to a whisper, “With whatever lives in there?”

“Why not?” he smirked, “You’re probably cousins.”

Lorelei screwed up her face then forced out a laugh, “Ha, oh, yeah.” She’d figured out a lorelei was some kind of water being that sang, something like a siren, but sometimes she thought the less she knew the better. An air of mystery–that was the plan.

“Speaking of,” Conrad started down the boardwalk across the water to the basement’s other side, “Is that why you came east? To get closer to the ocean?”

Lorelei swallowed, then spoke assuredly, “Yes.” It was as good a reason as any, better than hers, anyway.

“Well, Moonlit Shores is great for that. Have you been to the beach yet?”

“No.” This realization was odd to Lorelei–she hadn’t thought that the city of Moonlit Shores, the manor’s namesake, was in fact a shore. “I haven’t even been to town yet.”

“It’s not much,” he shrugged, “But I really love it.”

“Did you grow up there?”

“Sort of.” They came around the large rocks that lined the back of the pool and found themselves in the block corridor of the more traditional basement, “I went to school in town, I played there as a kid. My first job was at the fish market.”

Lorelei smiled, “Sounds nice.”

“Yeah but I smelled terrible for a year and half straight,” he sighed, “Okay, so where is the breaker box?”

“You’re asking me?” she lit up his back with her phone.

He turned back to her, the light from his own phone too bright for her eyes, “Yes?” It was more of a question than an answer.

“Haven’t you, like worked and lived here for years? And you don’t know where the breaker is?”

“That does seem like a thing I should know, hu?” She nodded vigorously. “Thing is, it moves a lot, and I haven’t seen it in probably six months.”

“It moves?”

“Well, the manor doesn’t like us messing with it.” There was a decidedly loud creak like the house was settling. Or agreeing. “See?”

Then they were plunged into darkness as their phones died. Simultaneously.

Lorelei tried waking hers up, pressing buttons and flipping it around, but nothing happened. The dwarf had said this couldn’t happen, hadn’t he? She felt a sudden panic at being trapped in the dark with a large body of water between her and the topside of the earth.

“Well, that’s not right,” Conrad’s voice was lower, darker, having lost its typical lilt, and it did nothing for her confidence.

Then a candle flickered before her, illuminating his face in a warm glow. He’d taken one down from the sconce in the wall and lit it.

“Thanks,” she took it a bit more aggressively than she meant when he handed it off, watching him as he took down another and squeezed the wick between his fingers. Snapping, a flame jumped to life. She stopped herself from asking him what the hell he’d just done and just nodded. “Right, you’re a witch, this makes sense,” she tried assuring herself.

“Well, that’s accurate,” he scratched at the back of his head, the candlelight contouring the muscles in his arm as he moved, and chuckled, “but warlock is a little sexier.”

That’s accurate,” she mumbled, then shook her head.

“The breaker has never not been in the basement, so I guess we just have to look. It was in my office for a week once, so let’s start there.”

The first door off the corridor was the apothecary’s chamber, and even in the dark it was identifiable by the smell alone. Spicey and a bit medical, the room woke you up when you entered it. Lorelei had only been past the open door a time or two, but never inside. With her candle, she took in the space as much as she looked for the breaker box. The walls were lined with open shelves, much like the store they’d been to, but his jars were mismatched and mostly unlabeled. She hoped he was as good at what he did as he seemed.

“So, Lore, what did you do before you came here?”

She felt herself go red at his shortening of her name, glad for the lack of light, “Oh, well, I guess you could say I’m a serial receptionist. I don’t have a big dream like you,” she touched one of the jars filled with a bright yellow seed.

“You don’t?” He had gotten down unto his knees and was peering under the exam table, “When we met you seemed kinda interested in Hagan’s.”

“The Academy?” she didn’t want to admit she’d just been jostled into staring up at the sign, “I actually went to school for a while, but it got expensive,” she sighed, running a finger over the spine of a book on curative snake bites, “Especially just taking elective after elective. I was on the road to a degree in everything and nothing.”

“That’s why you left? To sort of…find yourself?”

“Yeah, actually, I think so,” she turned toward him unsure why she was telling him this. He was already looking at her.

He looked at her earnestly, “Is it working?”

She bit her lip, “I’m not sure yet.”

There was a muffled noise from the hall and they both jerked toward the door. Lorelei ran through who it could possibly be in her head, but none of them seemed likely. Without a word, the two looked at one another and told the other to creep toward the door. Conrad eased the door open and slipped his candle out into the hall. On the stone floor they could see the shine of small puddles running from one end to the other. They were wet and misshapen but unmistakably footprints.

Lorelei leaned against the wall in the office when Conrad eased the door shut again. She started chewing on a nail, her voice at a whisper, “You know when the lights went out, I was like, okay that’s normal, but then the candles went out and that seemed kinda weird, and then our phones died, at the exact same time, and that seems extra weird. Is there something I should know?”

“So, here’s the thing,” Conrad tugged a hand through his hair, “Those are all normal things for Moonlit Shores Manor. Magic is finicky, spells overload, you get weird electrical things in the air. Any one of those things it totally legitimate.”

She looked at him eagerly to go on, “But all of them together?”

“That seems a bit more…purposeful.”

 

Table of Contents | Next Installment – Monday 4/30/18

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Upgrade – Flash Fiction

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“What are you doing? I want to go.”

“Five minutes,” he pulled open a drawer, it contents rattling against themselves.

“No, now,” she stood with purpose, but didn’t move from the spot.

Ben locked eyes on Lucy then slammed the drawer shut without a word.

When he turned to another drawer and began to rifle through it, she moaned and dropped herself back on the couch, “There’s no way what you’re doing is more important than the previews!”

Ben paused just before wrapping his fingers around the tiny screwdriver, something catching in his throat at her words–or were they his own–but he pushed the feeling away. The tool was small enough to hide in his palm, though it wasn’t as if she’d recognize it. Probably not anyway. Not this time.

“Ya know what? No, fuck it,” Lucy stood again, grabbing her purse, “I’m going without you. You didn’t even read all the comics anyway.”

“Don’t,” he sighed, rolling his head back and regretting introducing her to the extended universe, “Can you just wait a second?”

“I’ve been waiting a second all day!” she ripped her bag open and pulled out a tube of lipgloss as she stormed her way to the mirror in the entryway, “I’m always waiting on you, doing whatever you want. Don’t you ever give a shit about what I want?”

Even as he moved toward her, he felt something inside him pulling him back. Was anything she wanted different from what he wanted? He came up behind her like a ghost, his reflection over her shoulder, but she didn’t even glance at it. The pink she swept across her lips was bright, too bright for Ben’s liking, but the rest of her was nearly perfect. She’d been worth the cost.

“That’s what I thought,” she turned on him, pouting full lips, narrowing heavily-lashed eyes, “Nothing to say. Fucking loser.”

Ben felt her words hit him in the gut so hard he nearly doubled over. “Lucy,” his grip tightened on the screwdriver, “Please.”

“I’m leaving.”

There was blood, there was always blood, and it never failed to surprise Ben, but it was fleeting. The only way to really hide the jack was to cover it completely in organic matter, he’d been told, and accessing it should always be a last resort, but this called for a hard reset. He’d lost track of which number this one was.

Lucy gurgled, her throat flushing itself with a viscous fluid in reaction to the stab to her neck. It added to the cleanup, but it at least muffled the screams. She flailed her arms, but he pinned them expertly behind her back, trapping her between himself and the wall. Ben jiggled the screwdriver against wet, soft tissue until he felt it jab something hard. Back and forth he scraped it across the metal, Lucy making things exponentially difficult as she tried to squirm away. Her eyes had gone red and puffy immediately, and he thought to ask them about disabling that feature.

Finally it clicked, sinking it and catching, and with a twist and push, he’d begun the clock. Now he just had to count and wait, backwards from eight. He whispered the numbers, his mouth against her ear as he held her in place. Something in her eyes recognized what was happening, they always did around five, and he closed his own so he didn’t have to see.

She writhed against him, and if it hadn’t been for the watery sound in her throat and the hot, wet blood on his hand, he might have found it arousing, but he finally reached one, and all at once Lucy stopped moving.

She was heavy then, even for such a little thing, and he crumpled with her onto the floor. The bleeding stopped itself, but the thick black liquid would have to be drained out, and he wasn’t going to bother cleaning anything up until after they’d come to patch her. He was a genius with software, but hardware was a whole different game.

Rolling her body off his, Ben headed for his study. He had a lot of code to rewrite, and he was starting with her affinity for pink.

Night Librarian – Flash Fiction

pexels-photo-590493Gabrielle sprinted past the thrillers, her breath catching in her throat. With each row of stacks she passed, she felt her heartbeat quicken, expecting to find the flames at any moment swallowing up bookcase after bookcase, barreling toward her with the unstoppable fury that only the kindling of thousands of old, dry pages can provide, but they never revealed themselves. She skidded to a stop at the end of the room in the midst of the mysteries. Where was the smoke coming from? It was so thick, so pungent, so…everywhere, and yet–

She turned on her heel and flew down a row to the dark corner that was philosophy. The books were untouched, and she let out a short breath: she didn’t want to find the fire as much as she did. Chewing on a lip, she looked up. Why had they left her alone? It was only her first shift on the job, and they hadn’t even shown her where the extinguisher was!

Gabrielle clanged her way up the metal spiral staircase, and in a dizzying blur, she tripped out onto the landing. The smoke splayed out before her in all it’s cloying, ensnaring glory, curling up over the tops of the stacks below and slowly descending on the ancient tomes. The catwalk that ran the outer perimeter of the library was already so thick with smoke she could not see its far side.

Racing past the biographies, she cursed her predicament: she only wanted to be lazy, to sit back and scroll through endless nothingness on her phone with her feet thrown up on the desk, the doors locked until sunup and get paid for it. Was that so much to ask? They put the ad in, after all. It wasn’t her fault the position seemed absolutely pointless!

The cloud was thick and she couldn’t see where she was going until she ran face-first into shelving on the far wall, knocking a book free. She picked it up, glancing at the title, A Concise Introduction to Logic, and started waving it in front of her face. “Shit, should I have called 911?”

It was then she realized the smoke was everywhere but she wasn’t coughing or even winded. She took in a deep breath, the musty smell of old pages and varnished wood, but no smoldering, not even any heat. And the alarms–if there were any–had yet to sound.

Gabrielle turned, gripping the banister and looking out over the whole of the place, the criss-crossing shelves, the long oak study tables, the chair still spinning in the flurry that she left it moments earlier behind the desk, and of course the originless smoke. It swirled before her and she reached out a finger toward it. As if it were alive, it shot away from her hand, and she gasped, jumping back. The smoke came together then, in front of her, away from the books, moving on its own above the cases. Silently she watched it twist and contort until it became recognizable, letters, forming two words in the sky:

GOT YA

Then as fast as it had appeared, it cleared in a single poof. Gabrielle shuffled back into the shelves and slid down onto the ground, taking in big gulps of air. In her slide she’d knocked a book free and it had landed at her side, a dragon on the cover.

This is why they need a night librarian.”

Vacancy – 1.15

Vacancy is an ongoing web serial. Find out more about it and start reading here.

V 1.15

Their footfalls crackled ominously over dead leaves as they traipsed through the dark wood, Lorelei constantly shushing Grier only to find that it was actually her making all the noise. When they came to the the pond that Axel had specified, moonlight illuminated the clearing running around its shore in an delicate, silvery blue. It would have been beautiful if not so rife with impending doom. She checked once more with Grier that the moon didn’t control a werewolf’s change and he confirmed, rolling his eyes and mocking her for what he assumed her taste in fiction was.

The air was still, the pond like a black mirror reflecting the trees at its far end so that they seemed to go on forever. Then, their figures began to emerge from the forest. One, then two, then four, until seven looming shadows stood out against the tree line, staring her down. Axel was at their center, strutting toward her around the pond, an arm outstretched, “Tonight, we battle.”

Lorelei suddenly felt this was a very bad idea. “You guys don’t look like you brought any instruments.” Her voice was small as it drifted across the pond. The seven had come around the body of water to stand even with them. Though they were at least fifty paces away, at a full run–and on paws, Lorelei assumed–they’d be on them in an instant.

“Don’t worry about us,” Axel smiled, “You should only be concerned with yourself.”

Lorelei was concerned, among many other things. She felt a rush of warm, liquid courage, the nauseating nag of stage fright, and the very sudden urge to pee. But instead of addressing any of that, she held her hand out to Grier, and he dropped the microphone into it. With a nod from her, and his own heavy sigh, he pressed a button on the machine.

The tiny box projected an ethereal sound out over the pond, a tinkling of piano keys reaching out to get lost beyond the trees. There had been a great number of songs on the machine that she didn’t recognize, probably more than she did, but some music, she reckoned, was universal. Lorelei cleared her throat and brought the microphone to her mouth. From the box a strangled, stock voice cued her, “Turn around…” And she began, “Every now and then I get a little bit lonely, and you’re never comin round…”

As she continued, she heard herself as the sounds floated away from her, slightly distorted and haunting in the darkness. She accompanied the lone piano is a quavering alto, determined to look no one in the eye. She was buoyed by the addition of the bass and raised her voice a bit, “Every now and then I fall apart.”

When the percussion on the karaoke machine kicked in, she gripped the microphone sincerely with two hands. She glanced at her challengers, catching two stepping closer to her, and took one step herself toward them. She wished her hair were bigger. “Every now and then I get a little bit terrified but then I see the look in your eyes!”

The music built and she took a deep breath: this was it. “Every now and then I fall apart!” Lorelei’s voice traveled over the pond, echoing back at her from the trees, but she could barely hear it. She was focused, the words coming to her like a long forgotten memory. She could feel the lyrics erupting from her chest and she swayed with the melody.

She raised a finger and pointed squarely at Axel, “And if you only hold me tight, we’ll be holding on forever,” and his eyes went wide. She belted the words out to him as if they were bullets, “Your love is like a shadow on me all of the time!”

Lorelei threw an arm up, teetering for a moment then regaining her balance as she shout-sang. With a stomp, she shouted, “We’re living in a powder keg and giving off sparks!”

There was no way the entire manor could not hear her, or at least some spectral version of her voice, even as far as they were, but she didn’t care. She wanted the world to hear. And she wanted to have the foresight to have worn a white gown. “I really need you tonight!” She threw her head back and closed her eyes, screeching out a note humans could barely hear let alone make. With a deep breath she let her voice run, trill, reach up, down, over hill and dale, until finally she ran out of breath, “Once upon a time I was falling in love, but now I’m only falling apart,” she panted for a second, then fell to her knees, “There’s nothing I can do, a total eclipse of the heart.”

Lorelei pawed at the pond’s shore, lifting up a handful or damp earth before her, “Once upon a time there was light in my life–” then she threw it to the side, “but now there’s only love in the dark.” Falling forward, she crumpled over the microphone, “Nothing I can say, a total eclipse of the heart.” Smashing the microphone against her lips, she whispered, “A total eclipse of the heart!”

Lorelei could hear her own breath over the speaker as she lay slumped over the microphone in the dirt. In a falsetto she whined, “Turn around bright eyes, turn around…” The music had ended, and her last shred of energy went with it. That had to have done it, she thought to herself, though she wasn’t quite sure what it was supposed to be as she peered up through strands of hair fallen free in her performance.

They were stunned into silence. The pack stared at her, mouths agape. She blinked back at them knowing she had done it. Somehow, from the depth of her soul, she’d mustered a performance to win over the pack. They wouldn’t even counter perform. She had won. A smile slowly spread across her face.

Axel grinned back, his teeth shining. The grin spread from one to another until the whole pack was a blinding set of white fangs. Lorelei, still on her knees in the dirt, sat up, “Did I win?”

Grier was quiet, and she finally glanced back at him. He looked as if he were petrified, his eyes locked on the wolves. Her guts churned, and she thought she might throw up. “I really want to take your speechlessness as a yes.”

The boy managed a tiny shake of his head, then Lorelei looked back to the pack. Something was happening. Something odd. Their figures were contorting in the moonlight, heads being thrown back, arms stretching impossibly wide. And the noises. Something between a howl and a growl and a human’s scream, but they weren’t entirely painful, almost celebratory, rapturous.

Axel growled, his voice like gravel, “Now it’s our turn.” There was a cracking like bone snapping.

Lorelei gingerly placed the microphone on the ground and began to get to her feet, her hope that they would perform dwindling, “What song are you guys going to do?”

“No song.”

Her stomach flipped again. “But that was the challenge,” she sputtered, taking a step back.

Axel laughed low then fell to his knees. The female werewolf was by his side, “We just wanted to see you make a fool of yourself before you died.”

Lorelei’s body went cold: she certainly wasn’t interested in dying. She grabbed for Grier, but the boy was frozen to the spot. “We need to run,” she was pulling at him, but he didn’t budge, “Now!”

“No,” his face fell, utterly devoid of emotion, “There’s no use. They’ll catch us. I need to just surrender.”

“No way,” she yanked at him again, the popping sounds of bone on bone echoing out around them as they changed, “Come on, let’s go!”

But Grier pulled himself away, taking a step toward the changing pack, “You should run. If I give myself up they might let you go.”

Lorelei watched him take another stunted step toward the werewolves, torn in two directions. She couldn’t physically drag him back to the manor, but everything in her screamed to stay and at least try. Standing at the edge of the pond and watching the pack writhe around on the bank ahead of them, she wished she could somehow swallow them up with the water, buy them more time, and run away.

And then, the water did just that.

Like a hand coming up from the depths, the water receded from the shore, forming into a massive wave, looming high above them all. Lorelei grabbed Grier, and as he was distracted by the sudden shadow above, she yanked him back and away from it. In an instant, the wall of water came crashing down, barely missing Grier and Lorelei, but drenching the group as they completed their transformations. The howls were swallowed up in the crashing wave and there was silence for a moment, then the heads of not-man but not-wolf creatures surfaced, spitting, gasping, gurgling, but the water did not let them escape. No, the water had encapsulated them, and was rising around them, pulling them out to the center of the pond and holding them there.

“What is the witch doing?” one of them growled.

“She’s no witch!” Axel responded with a sputter, “She’s a lorelei!”

Unsure if she really did have control over what was happening, Lorelei watched with mounting horror as the water made waves, pulling the werewolves under then allowing them up just long enough to get breath before sucking them back down. The pond churned with the force of an ocean in a hurricane, but the forest around was completely still.

Grier grabbed Lorelei’s arm, “Are you doing this?”

“I don’t think so,” she whispered, but it was then she realized the wolves didn’t know that.

When the water had calmed for a moment, still holding the creatures captive but barely afloat, she stood as tall as possible, “You thought you’d break our agreement, hu?”

The wolven-faced creature that had been Axel gasped and coughed, then sputtered, “Please, have mercy on us! We didn’t know!”

“Mercy?” she balled her fists and yelled out at them, “Why the hell would I do that?”

The water seemed to respond, jostling them around and dunking them again.

“You’re right!” a voice rose up, different from Axel’s, “We don’t deserve it!”

Others joined in, agreeing, then they began to beg between coughing and dunking. Lorelei felt a sudden panic. She hated Axel in her gut, but she felt for a moment the rest were victims, just like Grier. “Fine!” she shouted over the splashing, and she held up her hands as if to ask the water to stop, “Fine!”

The pond stagnated, but the werewolves appeared to still be trapped amongst the waters.

“But this is a win!” she pointed out at them, “I win, Grier is mine, and your pack has no jurisdiction here, all right?”

“Yes!” they were shouting in unison.

“I know I can’t really take your word for it,” she hesitated, and the pond started to rock them, gently, but fear grew on their faces instantly, “But if any of you ever return, the last thing you’ll ever see is–” she glanced at Grier, “are there eels in there?”

He raised his shoulders, his face frozen in awe.

“The last thing you’ll ever see is whatever lives at the bottom of this pond!”

There were watery agreements from the pack, and she nodded, “All right then.”

As if she were in control of the water, at her word it lifted the pack out and dumped them on the bank with a splat. Sopping and out of breath, they tried to raise themselves up, falling back all over one another. Looking up at her through soaked fur, they had a new fear in their eyes. Resigned, they began to back off toward the treeline.

Axel looked as though he wanted to say something, but the claw-link hands of one of his companions were on him, pulling him back, and he turned with the group, fleeing.

“How?” Grier’s voice was low as he stared at Lorelei.

She shrugged, “Pond’s enchanted or something, right?” It seemed obvious to her. He shrugged back, his eyes locked on the spot the pack had disappeared into. “Well, probably,” Lorelei remarked more to herself than anything, then turned back toward the path they’d taken to get there.

A small body lay on the ground just at the forest’s edge. It almost glowed, pale in the moonlight that reached there. Cautiously, they began toward it, but when Lorelei recognized the form, she broke into a sprint.

Hotaru was limp as Lorelei pulled her onto her lap. She tapped at her face and called her name, Grier dropping down at her side, the pack forgotten. The girl’s eyes fluttered open.

“What happened? Are you okay? How did you get out here?” Lorelei asked questions with rapid fire, and the girl just blinked back. “We need to get her back. Now.”

There was no time to discuss their victory as they carried her back to the manor and brought her inside to the sitting room, empty save for the sleeping man in the rocker by the fire who Lorelei expected wouldn’t tell a soul what was going on anyway. They placed her on the couch, but she’d stayed conscious for the trip and was breathing normally again.

“Should I get Conrad?” Grier was already moving for the door.

“No!” Hotaru sat up, then slumped back down. “No, no,” she placed a hand on her forehead and closed her eyes, “I will be all right, I just need to rest.”

“Was that…was that you in the woods?” Lorelei knelt down before her on the floor, remember the trick Hotaru had showed her with the bowl of water.

“Don’t be stupid,” Grier rolled his eyes.

But Hotaru’s guilty face told them both the truth without words.

“No way,” his hands fell at his sides.

“I wasn’t sure I could do it,” she spoke quietly and deliberately, “but I had to do something; you would have been killed.”

“Hotaru,” Lorelei grabbed her hand and scream-whispered, “You are amazing! You were eavesdropping on us, hu?”

The girl smiled weakly, “Accident.”

“I can’t believe it,” Grier flopped down onto the couch next to her feet, “Well, thanks. You really saved our skins.”

Her face went pink, “I just want to go to bed.”

They helped her to her room and saw to her getting under the covers where she instantly fell asleep. Back in the hall, Lorelei yawned and Grier followed suit. “Well, I’m glad you’re going to get to stay. And I’m extra glad I’m not dead. Pretty successful night, hu?”

Grier stood in the hallway, glancing at Hotaru’s closed door, then to Lorelei. His eyes were glassy, and his face was red. Then, in a move that neither of them really expected, he threw his arms around her and buried his face into her shoulder. For a moment Lorelei didn’t move, afraid it was a trick, then she relented and hugged him back. He squeezed her harder then, and she chuckled, “Well, I didn’t know my singing was that good.”

He pulled back from her and wiped at his face. He may have been crying, but neither of them would ever say. “Oh no, that was terrible.”

“Terrible?” she frowned, “Really?”

“Spectacularly bad. Like, I’m impressed at how bad it was.”

“All right, all right!” she hissed trying to stifle her laughter.

“The absolute worst,” he turned and went for his door, “Humans, they just can’t carry a tune to save their lives.” Then, offering her a quick smile, he slipped into his room and shut the door.

 

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I’m Changing My Name To Hestia

A commonly held belief amongst baker/homemaker/mom-type people is this: there is nothing better than homemade bread. Dear Reader, these people are correct.

I’ve wanted to make bread for a long time. Growing up, my grandma had a breadmaker which she used on pretty rare occasion, so my brain took that mixed with the fact that to make bread you need this living ingredient called yeast and decided that making bread is incredibly difficult–so difficult that one needs a machine that’s sole task is to make bread–and I just never attempted it. Also I knew it was time-consuming and I think we’ve established here already that as a millenial I need instant gratification.

But all of that was super dumb of me because, like, I have the entire internet and can learn to do just about anything while sitting on the couch in my underwear, and if I’d taken two seconds to watch a video of people making bread I would have realized long ago that this shit is easy AND yields amazing results. I can say with certainty that homemade bread, unlike Pacific Rim and becoming an adult, does in fact live up to the hype.

So I watched about twenty videos in which everyone did things just slightly differently, and because I have a very weird personality where I can’t just do the easiest version of something because I assume that’s too easy so it must be cutting corners, I picked out a how-to that seemed just difficult enough to not be faking it, but easy enough so that I would succeed because another facet of my personality, stemming from being only slightly above average as a child and thus praised for what I thought was pretty normal behavior, is that I ABSOLUTELY CANNOT FAIL AT ANYTHING EVER. (I mean I do, but it really fucks me up when that happens.)

Step one was to make sure the yeast was alive and to feed it. Dear Reader, I gave up meat over a year ago because I don’t want to eat things that are alive (except fish which I’ve convinced myself, well, I know they’re alive okay? I’M TRYING HERE), and yet there I was, offering a meal to the little yeasties, literally fattening them up with with sugar like a forest witch coaxing strange children into her house to eat the walls. But I did it. I brought the yeast to life just to murder it. And I’d do it again.

After you’ve noted that your yeast is foamy (and smells like a frat pledge who died of alcohol poisoning), you make dough. Did you know that bread is basically flour and water? I assumed there were other things like butter, milk, eggs, and all the other baking type things (perhaps a soda or a powder or even both!), but no, it’s basically flour and water (and yeast and sugar and salt and oil in the case of what I made but IT’S BASICALLY JUST FLOUR AND WATER, OKAY?) And boy oh boy is it a LOT of flour. I am very into being healthy and making good food choices, and bread is really…not that, but it is delicious, and because carbs were so scarce for our ancestors we crave them now, which all basically makes bread impossible to resist so because biology and evolution are against me here, I feel okay about giving in.

Beyond homemade bread smelling and tasting amazing, the action of kneading dough is so pleasantly visceral that I would say the experience of physically making the bread is almost necessary to get complete enjoyment out of it. I enjoy cooking, and I enjoy baking, so maybe this is just another aspect of my odd character, but when I make food I need to know knowing why I’m doing what what I’m doing, that kneading the dough is building up gluten and moving around the yeast to allow it to eat more sugars, and that will contribute to a fluffy final product. The food didn’t just happen, I made it happen, and there’s some science behind it that I can put to use when making other things. (Thanks, Alton Brown.)

But more than that (and warning: this is fucking weird), the act of kneading dough felt very ancient. Like praying or walking alone in the woods, it felt a bit like I was calling up muscle memory from my ancestors. Smashing this squishy ball of processed ingredients that I didn’t work hard at all to collect over and over into a counter top that I didn’t craft in my air-conditioned kitchen somehow made me feel like I was doing something wholly organic and vital to the human condition. This was a part of why humans exist: to experience this exact act.

I told you it was fucking weird.

So I made the dough and I set it to rise:

IMG_20180410_153248464
Sad beige ball, oh just wait to see what you become.

And it rose because THE YEAST IS ALIVE:

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See beige ball? Now you’re a beige balloon!

And I punched the fuck out of it, placed it in a loaf pan, let is rise again, and baked it and omfg, Dear Reader, omfg.

IMG_20180410_180757520_LL
Sitting on a muffin tin because I don’t have a cooling rack.

I. Made. Bread. It’s not perfect, but it’s mine.

And then I made that bread into a motherfucking grilled cheese sandwich because I am that extra.

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I did not measure the weight of the cheese or the bread. I already knew how many calories it contained: exactly too many.

This isn’t something I can do often because the next day I felt like death. In fact, I’m still suffering a bit from wheat gut two days out, but it was worth it. This bread was marvelous and it made me feel a little (actually, a lot) like a hearth goddess. So I implore you, Dear Reader, if your soul is craving something you just can’t place, put on your wheat crown and knead you some dough.

Vacancy – 1.14

Vacancy is an ongoing web serial. Find out more about it and start reading here.

Vacancy1.14

“He already has one.”

Axel blinked slowly, setting his dark eyes on her, “What was that, sweetheart?”

“A family. Grier already has us. He doesn’t need you.” Lorelei spat the words out, disgusted that the man who’d disfigured Grier would try and convince him that was what family did.

The werewolf took a step toward the girl, looking down his long nose at her, “Are you saying he is already committed to a pack?”

“Yeah,” she nodded vigorously, cooly walking to where Grier stood a few paces from the men and hoping Axel was dumb enough to believe it, “he is!”

“And who has authority over this pack?”

Grier reached out to grab her, but she felt his hand a moment too late. She was angry, and the words came before any other senses could register. “I do.”

Axel smiled, looking over at the others in his own pack. They began to snicker until it built to full on laughter, shoulders shaking. Axel threw back his head and his voice crescendoed into a howl. The others joined in, sending their cries up into the sky, and the sound of other voices echoed back from deep in the forest.

Lorelei took a step closer to Grier, dropping her voice to a whisper, “What the hell is happening?”

“You, uh, just declared yourself the alpha,” he was wide eyed, staring intently at Axel as he howled, “to another alpha.”

“What?” Lorelei looked from one werewolf to another, “What does that even mean?”

Axel dropped his head back down and strode right up to Lorelei, leaning down so his nose was inches from her own. The others fell silent. “I challenge you to luno agon.”

The others threw their heads back once more and screamed into the sky, “Luno agon!”

Lorelei tried to not look away, but his breath was appalling and she grimaced. She had no idea what the words meant, but didn’t feel very confident that they were anything good.

“Are you not brave enough?” Axel growled, snapping his jaw at her, and she recoiled.

“She is not brave!” the woman shouted, and other voices from the forest echoed back.

“Hey!” Lorelei could feel her knees trembling, but she was still standing there, wasn’t she? “I just don’t know what that means.”

The tallest werewolf threw back his head, “She doesn’t know what that–” then stopped abruptly, looking to Axel who shook his head.

Axel stood straight and looked her up and down. “A duel,” he was almost giddy, “For the boy.”

Lorelei immediately felt slimy, “You can’t just, like, win people.”

“You claim the boy belongs to you!” Axel was suddenly furious.

“Yes, yes okay!” she threw up her hands, “Fine. For the boy.”

He composed himself with a long breath, “We will duel. Now, what is the challenge?”

“You’re asking me?”

“Yes,” he was visibly agitated, rolling his eyes, “Lupo agon. The challengee sets the specifics of the duel. Typically we fight to the death, we’re werewolves, but maybe your culture is different. What are you anyway?”

“Uh, I’m a lorelei,” she lore-lied.

“A lorelei?” Axel snickered, “What are you going to do? Sing me to death?” His laughed morphed into a full bellied guffaw, and the others were quick to follow suit.

She glanced to Grier who was was pale-skinned and wide-eyed, his mouth hanging open. He would be no help. She turned back to Axel, “Yeah. Yeah, I am. I challenge you to a sing off, okay? ‘Devil Went Down To Georgia’ style.”

The werewolf’s laughter died off, and Axel held his stomach as he looked down at her, wiping away a tear,  “This can’t–you can’t–can she do that?”

Bewildered, the pack looked at one another, then the woman crossed her arms and smiled, “She can declare lupo agon in whatever way she likes.”

“But that can’t–”

“In whatever way she likes!” the woman scowled, and Axel huffed.

“Fine! Tonight, at midnight, by the pond.”

“Fine!” she shouted back, crossing her arms and stomping a foot.

“Fine!” Axel turned on his heel and began out into the woods, the others at his feet. She watched them go, her heart thumping so loudly it was banging against her ears, but she didn’t dare move until they were out of sight.

Finally, Grier cleared his throat, “So, that just happened.”

“Yup.”

“Can you, like, even sing?”

Lorelei’s arms fell to her sides and she hung her head, “Not at all.”

***

“I need more alcohol.” Lorelei had finished off half of a bottle of wine, but she wasn’t feeling very tipsy.

“How will that help?” Across the table from her in the empty kitchen, Grier was fidgeting with the icing on a cupcake that Hotaru had shyly given him before heading off to bed. It was close to midnight and the day had gone by too quickly. Now he was looking much younger than he’d ever seemed with chocolate frosting on his finger that he couldn’t bare eating.

“I did karaoke once when I was very drunk. From what I remember, I was pretty good, so that’s our best bet.” She went to stand and wobbled a bit, “Oh, hey, did you see that? I think we’re getting there.”

“Oh, geez,” Grier slapped his forehead, but Lorelei ignored him, grabbing a bottle of yellow-colored liquid from one of the wine coolers.

She made her way back to her seat and worked the cork out, “So, why do they want you so badly anyway? You clearly don’t want to be in their cult.”

Grier sighed, stretching his arms across the table, “Most people don’t survive the curse, but I was one of the lucky few.”

“Slim pickens,” Lorelei poured herself some of the liquid, took a drink, and instantly regretted it, “Ew!” She pushed the bottle away.

“Lightweight,” Grier grinned, the first time he’d smiled all day, “but what can you expect from a human.”

Lorelei crossed her arms, tipping back then quickly steadying herself, “You said Axel, a werewolf, did this to you,” she motioned to her own face, “So why do you hate humans so much? I mean, clearly you used to be one.”

Grier was quiet a moment. He opened his mouth a couple times, then closed it again, but Lorelei was patient. She could wait him out. Finally, the boy looked down at his lap and began. “Axel was my mom’s boyfriend. She didn’t know what he was, not at first, she just thought he was an alcoholic, and that was fine with her. He got worse as time went on, he’d leave, he’d come back, he’d bring friends.” The boy never looked up at her, his voice low. “The older I got, the more I hated him, and when I let him know, he took his anger out on me. I thought my mom wouldn’t let that happen but she seemed, I don’t know, relieved?” he scratched behind an ear, “Like glad it wasn’t her anymore. Then we found out what he was and instead of running away it just made her want to be with him more. It was so stupid,” he slammed his fist down on the table, “So human.”

Lorelei watched him grit his teeth as he stared at his fist, but didn’t speak: there wasn’t anything she could say.

“After he scarred me, he said he’d be back, if I survived, and left us, but he didn’t come back. I thought things might be okay after that, but I was wrong. Mom seemed to just hate me, like she looked at me like I was him, and she said she knew what I’d become. A monster.” His voice cracked, then he shook his head, “When I figured out I could change, I was able to hide it, but I couldn’t hide my face. The kids I went to school with called me names, and no one understood or believed me. Everyone was so cruel all the time, even my own mother.”

Lorelei felt the urge to hug him, but thought better of it as he was explaining to her why he hated the very thing she was. “So, you left?” she whispered.

“Yeah,” he nodded, “A few years ago. I tried making it on my own, but it’s hard. Eventually I found this place, or, well, it found me kinda, and I’ve been here since. I didn’t think Axel would ever come for me. Or, at least, he wouldn’t be able to find me. I hoped he would forget about me, but I’ve learned a lot about werewolves since then, and there aren’t many of us. He’s the kinda guy who thinks there should be more. And he thinks he should be in charge of them.”

“Well,” Lorelei slapped her hand down harder than she meant to, “he’s not in charge of you, buddy!” She wasn’t quite sure where her choice of words had come from and hiccuped.

“You know you don’t have to do this,” he eyed her nervously, “You shouldn’t do this.”

“Oh, you mean I don’t have to challenge a pack of carnivorous wolf-men for your very soul?” she chuckled, “Yeah, I know.”

“Seriously,” his frown was deep, “I mean, Axel’s dumb, but you don’t seem that stupid. For a human.”

“The whole thing is stupid,” Lorelei waved at him, “You can’t own somebody. If they need this little show, though, to prove that, then so be it. You got the thing?”

“Oh, yeah,” he reached down and lifted up a portable speaker box with a microphone, “We haven’t used it in a while, but it still works.”

“All right, let’s go win us a lupin aragog!”

Lupo agon.”

She popped up from her chair and nearly fell over, but caught herself at the last minute, “Whatever!”

 

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Things I Just Don’t Fucking Understand: Fuck Trucks

Oh, Fuck Trucks. Dear Reader, what can I possibly say about Fuck Trucks that I haven’t already screamed into the abyss of my own, reasonably-sized vehicle while on the verge of an untimely and very messy death?

As with all TIJDFU, a disclaimer: I don’t give a shit what you do to and for yourself, but for the love of all that is good and holy, what the fuck are some of you fuckos thinking when it comes to the existence of others? Spoiler alert: you’re not!

Husband and I coined the term Fuck Truck after witnessing much, well, truck fuckery while living in Tampa, Florida, USA. (Sidenote: I really wanted to color the letters of USA red, white, and blue, but that doesn’t work on a white background, so please just imagine it that way. Also, please imagine them kind of flapping in the wind like the letters are on a flag. And there’s an eagle there. And also if you could just imagine the rest of this post that would save me a little bit of time (read: actually a surprisingly large amount of time considering the end product).) The abundance of Fuck Trucks in Tampa is overwhelming, but that may be due to the insanely dense population and the explosion of the average size of trucks over the time we lived there. But probably it’s just my keen ability to attract assholes, and the pervasiveness of toxic masculinity. Don’t worry, we’ll get there.

A loose definition of a Fuck Truck is as follows:

Fuck Truck
/fək trək/
noun
noun: Fuck Truck; plural noun: Fuck Trucks

1. any vehicle with an attached bed that is disproportionately sized to the other vehicles on the road, has any number of superfluous embellishments, and has the potential to transport goods but is currently not

You’ve very likely seen one, probably as it came dangerously close to you in some manner. Maybe you admire them, maybe you even own one, or maybe, like me, you marvel at the fact that they exist because what the fuck have we done as a society?

Your standard Fuck Truck is too big, too loud (both visually and audibly), and too pretty to actually do any work. They usually need to be stepped up into (or in my case, a running jump is necessary), have an abundance of chrome accents and stickers/decals depicting the owner’s love of something typically unsavory, a visible underbelly from being “lifted,” and some way to pollute the atmosphere around it even more be that smoke stacks, extra headlights, or a train horn.

Now, if Husband and I see a truck that would otherwise qualify but it is doing work e.g. towing something, carrying tools or other large cargo, or is very dirty from clearly having worked, we don’t give it the Fuck Truck name (as if ANYONE gives a shit what we call their car). These trucks that are actually doing what a truck is intended to do also tend to not get in your way on purpose and threaten your life for fun, which brings me to the larger concept of the Fuck Truck. What doesn’t get conveyed in the above definition is how a Fuck Truck isn’t just a thing, but an attitude, a way of life for many. Fuck Trucks are easy to pick out by sight, but they too often come with very specific behaviors. The oversized rims and seven Punisher decals are a dead giveaway, but the fact the truck is parked diagonally across multiple spaces is unsurprising. When one chooses to change lanes without signaling or regard for the fact you are already in the exact spot they have decided they need to be in is another telltale sign. Or, my favorite, glancing in your rearview mirror to be greeted with the grate of one bearing down on you while you drive in the right-hand lane with two open lanes to your left while you’re already going ten miles per hour over the posted limit. Fuck Trucks are the perfect vehicle for assholes. This isn’t to say every Fuck Truck owner (Fuck Truckers) is an asshole, but the ratio of Fuck Truckers to assholes is very nearly 1:1.

What’s strange, or perhaps not, is how almost all new trucks are potentially Fuck Trucks. The size of them, and really all vehicles, is just increasing so damn much. I even bought an SUV myself (classed as a compact SUV), not to “keep up” but just to “keep alive” because I really like not just being “not dead” but retaining “full use of my limbs and brain.” It’s almost as if people don’t realize that when they get behind the wheel of any vehicle they have strapped themselves into a weapon that they have the potential to hurdle across the country at speeds that will completely obliterate the human body. Humans. Are. Idiots.

But why? Why does anyone need something that big just to go to and from work or the grocery store? It’s not cost efficient, environmentally friendly, typically convenient to maneuver, or above all necessary in any way. I get that when we make purchases, especially very large purchases, we want them to be for things we really like both in the thing’s use and aesthetics. That’s fair. But what drives (ha, get it?) people to desire the biggest, most destructive thing on the road?

I tried to liken it to coloring my hair because that’s the only lens I could see this through: it’s a thing I do that’s totally unnecessary and doesn’t benefit society in any way. I often color my hair wacky, unnatural colors, and people insist this is just for attention. I know better, so I thought perhaps I am being just as close-minded about Fuck Trucks? But the impact of dying one’s hair purple and driving a three-ton, rolling death machine are vastly different. While the cosmetic industry most definitely has a negative impact on the environment, I choose brands that strive for safety and are free of animal cruelty. The automobile industry and the subsequent impact of any individual driving something way bigger than needed is exponentially greater. Also, once my hair is purple, it literally does not affect any other person AT ALL. It doesn’t take up more parking spaces than it’s alloted, it doesn’t run anyone off the road, and frankly it doesn’t inspire me to be a total dickbag to other people. Yes, I feel good about having freshly dyed hair, I feel pretty and happy, but if anything that just makes me nicer to people, not act out like an entitled man-child.

There are, of course, explanations that delve into the deeply damaged psyches of the average American, and to be honest, this might not be a TIJDFU, this might be a TIUATFW (Thing I Understand All Too Fucking Well), but telling a Fuck Trucker these things won’t help them. Asking them might. So what the fuck, fuck truckers? What’s with the truck fuckery?

 

As an aside: I can appreciate the work, art, and passion that goes into these things, and if they’re used for shows, etc. that’s one thing, but the day-to-day use of something this large just seems SO incredibly inconvenient!