I slowly shifted my body against the damp sheets, trying not to wake her up, but on nights like this, I just stuck to everything in the bed. The crickets outside the window chirped their messages of food and sex, and the noises reverberated around my mind like the thoughts I couldn’t find a way to quell. I was flawed, and weak, unable to make the changes I swore daily I’d make – failing her, failing the kids, failing myself. The windchimes rattled, and the crickets quieted, and a cooling breeze forced its way through the room as the calm of the night was set aside, replaced by nature’s fury. Fat, heavy raindrops began beating against the side of the house, my retinas blasted by the first crack of lightning, and the deep rumbles carried me off to a dreamless sleep.
With Apologies to Rosemary Wells
Jackson tripped over his briefcase on his way out the door, banging his shin on the coatrack.
The bus was overcrowded, and he had to stand between two men who hadn’t bathed since the Reagan administration.
At work, his boss was mean, because his wife had threatened to leave over his uncontrolled drinking, and he took out his misplaced anger on his subordinates.
The line at the bistro was too long at lunch, so Jackson ended up eating a Big Mac, again, and spilling secret sauce on his tie.
He had to stay so late at work, his girlfriend told him not to bother calling anymore, and went out to the bars with her “friend” Mike.
At home much too late, he dropped his last Coors Light on the floor, and realized his neighbors were having a wild party which would keep him up all night.
Jackson needs a visit to the Bunny Planet.
Far beyond the moon and stars, twenty light years south of Mars, spins the gentle Bunny Planet, and the bunny queen is Janet.
“Jackson,” Janet says, “Come in. Here’s the day that should have been.”
The table walks to my front, and sits down there, with barely a thump.
The drink on top is whiskey neat, with more than just a hint of peat.
The fairy queen flies in, bright and beautiful without and within.
She brings a magical steed, for me to ride and do great deeds.
We say grace and bow our heads, giving thanks to gods alive and gods dead.
Ahead lay quests, and dragons, and magic, with no remnant of a life all a-tragic.
We fly away, but not too fast, I’m staring at her fairy ass.
At midnight, I awaken to an oddly quiet apartment. The light from the Bunny Planet shone down from the window. “It was there all along!”
Smoke hung heavy in the air, thick and acrid, and it surrounded me, creeping into every crevice of my cloak as I entered the room. Not for the first time, I cursed Malisa for abandoning me when I needed her. It wasn’t just that I was in this hellhole of a country by myself, but she would have cleared the air in the room with just a word, and damn the consequences. There was a singer on the stage, croaking out a song in that gibberish they called a language. I’d been here long enough to pick up a few words, but they popped out at me, jarring in their familiarity but entirely out of context.
Just like me.
No one was supposed to know I was here, but I was a foot and a half taller than anyone else in the room, and I wasn’t green. The crowd cheered at whatever the singer had just done, and I suppressed a shudder. If it was going to be one of those kind of nights, I hoped I could get this over quickly.
I pushed my way up to the bar and ordered a cup of gashink. It was one of the first words I’d learned when I came here, and while fermented onion juice was as repulsive as it sounded, it kept me from thinking about the kind of things that would only get me in trouble. My nights without Malisa. The duke’s nights with her. The blood on my sword, stains no one else could see but me, stains which mapped out the swath I’d carved out in my march across the continent. And my future, a distressingly tiny and whimpering thing, sitting on my shoulder and begging me to leave this place.
The gashink was stronger than usual, and it settled in my stomach with a welcome warmth. I did my best to tune out the singer and seek out that elusive calm that was my only hope in this place. Malisa knew the secret, but I’d only glimpsed it on occasion, unable to wrap my figurative fingers around it, and it slipped away from me, like an oily rat in a dungeon. I felt it fighting me, resisting my efforts, and I stepped back from the quest, signaling the barkeep for another drink. If I couldn’t have calm, I might as well be numb.
In the dark and haze of the room, I knew I’d never recognize him. Probably didn’t matter anyway. Half of the people here were his bodyguards, half were his whores, and half would try to kill me just because they wanted me dead. Any path that led me out the door involved everyone else in the room dying, and whether he was first, last, or anywhere in the middle, dead was dead. I tossed back the last of my gashink and wiped my mouth on my sleeve. I just hoped I’d get him before one of these little bastards got me.
I signaled for another drink, staring at the drops in the bottom of my cup. I knew I was just delaying the inevitable, but that disembodied voice on my shoulder was a hard one to resist. It would be years before they’d find me, if I was smart, and maybe I’d meet some forgiving woman who wouldn’t see the blood on my blade nor hear my cries in the night. We’d raise some kids, and some pigs, and live decades under a roof I’d build with my own hands.
Until they found me, and massacred her, and the kids, and the pigs, and roasted them in front of me before nailing me to a tree.
Stupid fantasies. Closing my eyes, I sought the calm again, and was stunned to find it slip into place with ease. Time slowed down and the stench in the air vanished, taking that horrible song with it. I slipped a hand to my sword hilt and prepared to do what I’d come here for. Before I could draw, however, I felt a hand on my shoulder, a touch I’d know anywhere.
Malisa smiled at me, silent apologies in her eyes, and I nodded. It was time.
“Daddy daddy!” A blur of sandy hair, and my son flew past me, some wooden toy gripped in his short fingers. The toy caught in the Chancellor’s robes, and the man’s arm moved faster than I could have imagined, his hand locking around my son’s wrist, holding it tight. The Chancellor’s dark eyes bore in on my son, and the little boy froze, more surprised than afraid. Finally, his weighty gaze turned to me.
“How much is this one worth?”
“I’m sorry, m’lord – he meant nothing by it. He knows not to run in the shop.”
“Oh, I’m not angry. Boys will be boys.” He smiled, lips turning up in a grin which didn’t touch his eyes. “And I have a need for boys. You will be well compensated, of course.”
I tried to swallow, and couldn’t. A neighbor had sent his son to live in the castle, years ago now, and then disappeared himself one day. His shop was now boarded up. Most considered it haunted, and would walk circles around it.
It took every ounce of courage I had just to speak, and I had to tear my gaze away from his. “I’m sorry again, m’lord. He is not for sale.”
“Ah – so you will resist. I can just take him, you know. But I try so hard to be civilized.”
“Take him? But the king…he knows this shop, me. He wouldn’t.”
The Chancellor laughed, deep and dark. “King Joseph? You have no idea what he would do.”
“You will call when you get there, won’t you?” Mother’s hands were pale and naught but bone, worn down from years of hard toil for not nearly enough hard cash, and she worried her necklace – a remnant of better days gone by – between her fingers as she spoke.
“There isn’t a there to call you from, Mom,” I thought but didn’t say – speaking was harder than I thought it would be.
“You kids think you know everything – but there’s more to heaven and earth, as they say. I still talk to your father regularly, and he’s been dead a lot longer than you.”
Shambling past the catacombs, the acolyte lifted her luminary and peered around the corner. The dungeons had a slapdash look, assembled after the cardinals announced the changes coming to the church.
The prelate at the front of the room was sweaty and red in the face, spittle flying from his mouth as he berated the brown-robed man cringing in front of him.
“…done nothing wrong! I’ve protected the church. This whole argument is predicated on a liberal version of the gospel that would undermine everything…”
The acolyte continued past the room, letting the prelate’s ranting fade into discordant echoes. Things were changing, and she was one of the most obvious signs of that change. The prelate had made it clear that she had something to fear from him. She knew one day it would be safe for her to walk unaccompanied in the halls, but today was not that day.
“I want it.”
“Sire, the Merowl is not a pet, nor will it be caged easily.”
“That’s what you said about the Yeti, the Wraith, and the Dragon. And I watched them all feed this morning in my menagerie.”
“Yes, of course, Sire, but…”
“Does it have the Yeti’s brute strength?”
“No, Sire, it does not, but…” But the Yeti had a weakness for chocolate, and spiking chocolate is child’s play.
“Does it have the Wraith’s ability to pass through walls and draw life from the living at a touch?”
“Of course not, Sire, but…” But the Wraith was as powerless as a newborn kitten during a new moon, and once captured, needs to feed on the blood of a princess to escape.
“Can it breathe fire, like the Dragon, or have armor none of my strongest swords can pierce?”
“Not as such, Sire, but…” But this Dragon was as dumb as dirt, and didn’t fly away simply because I told it that it couldn’t.
He didn’t speak, but just glared at me. And I nodded. There was nothing else to do.
The Merowl was easy to find. I still had the key to her apartment, after all, but I hesitated before using it. The memories of what happened the last time I’d walked through that door were too strong. I could still smell the flowers I’d brought for her that day, and hear the roaring of the Dragon coming from inside. I’d burst in, but the incantation died in my throat as I saw what the two of them had been doing. It took me months before I stopped seeing his forked tongue and where it had been every time I closed my eyes.
Trapping that god-awful stupid beast had been one of the happiest days of my life.
Sighing, I put the key back into my pocket and raised my hand to knock. The look she gave me when the door opened was smoldering – with anger or lust I couldn’t say. Probably a combination of the two, knowing her.
“I didn’t think I’d ever see you again.”
“That makes two of us.” Oh, she looked good, and I could feel myself beginning to respond, looking at her lithe tail and remembering nights wrapped in her feathers.
She drifted back into the living room and waved at me with her tail. “Well, are you coming, or aren’t you?”
I smiled, stepping in and kicking the door behind me.
The king smiled as he watched her flitting around her cage, her every word a curse for me more vindictive than the last. “And you acted like you couldn’t capture her. That was just to raise your price, wasn’t it?”
“Not at all, Sire.” I tried to stifle a yawn and failed.
“Long night?” He smirked. “Well, return to your quarters and rest. You’ve earned it.”
I bowed, and made my way down the hallway. As I passed the Dragon, I waved, flipping him off with my triple-jointed fingers.
The breeze blowing in off the sea was chilly, full of portents of autumn and death, and it rattled the map the Professor and I were trying to read. Fading ink and irregular creases were too much for her aging eyes, but finally I saw it, the mark of King Anchilor, nestled along the southern coast of Itraina. The double cross looked suspiciously like the markings for a small forest, but once seen, it was undeniably what we were looking for.
“Oh, Jon, you’ve done it!” The Professor’s eyes had grown weak, but her voice was strong, and I heard an echo of the young woman who’d first circumnavigated the globe in her fervor. She turned to me and took my hand between her gnarled fingers. “You’ll be the first, you know. The first to see the sacred texts in three eons. But there will be others, and you must be vigilant.”
“No, Professor – that honor will be yours. I’ll be there at your side, of course.”
“Nonsense. This journey is yours. Sixteen hundred leagues, overland? Twice that by sea? If I was but ten years younger, you wouldn’t be able to stop me.” She sighed, her white eyes filling with tears. “Really, it’s enough to have found the map, to have discovered the location. There were many nights I despaired of ever coming this far.”
She turned to look out over the water, pulling her coat tight around her slender form. “I always loved this time of year. Autumn holds so much promise for rebirth.”
The moon was fat and red, hanging low in the eastern sky, and the bark of the bare birch trees looked diseased and bloody. Allie shuddered, the cold seeping in through her thin jacket as she struggled to wake up after a day of restless sleep. Her boots crunched over the icy snow, just a layer over the dirt this far south as she made her way over to Billy’s Gator Hole, and her steps fell into rhythm with the thumping bassline making its way through the night. She’d spent every night this week at Billy’s, draining his stock of Shiner’s and fending off his advances – well, most nights. Their coupling on the rough wooden floor two nights ago had been sloppy and nauseating, and did nothing to scratch the itch that had been growing deep within her. She’d had to pretend to be fighting off cramps all night to keep him at bay last night, and she was sure tonight he’d be even more pushy. But there was nowhere else within walking distance to get drunk in this shitty little fuckhole of a town, and if she had to face the day without medication, she’d just explode.
Billy’s was packed tonight, and she knew that more than half the eyes in the room were glued to her ass as she walked up to the bar. In the old days, she’d have taken care of these rednecks without a second thought, but she wasn’t interested in the little lives of little men, not when she knew there were bigger prizes out there. But they’d gotten a little too close to her in Phoenix, and she couldn’t stop bullets – not yet. Billy was busy with some loudmouth in the corner, and Missy, his assistant/part-time entertainment handed her a bottle without a word. God, how Missy survived around these assholes without braining them was a mystery Allie was not smart enough to solve.
She leaned against the bar and tilted back the bottle, downing half of it in one swallow. The music changed to some raunchy blues song, and she let the music carry her away as she felt the first tingle from the beer. It wasn’t as good as a spark, but it was something, a bit of methadone for her habit. Missy popped the cap off another Shiner’s and set it on the bar behind her, and Allie allowed herself a little smile as she drained the last of the one in her hand. One of life’s great simple pleasures – a bartender who knew what you wanted and shut the fuck up.
By her third beer, Allie was beginning to relax a bit, shrugging her denim jacket from her shoulders as she grew warm both from the outside and the inside. Billy flashed her his most charming-ish smile from the other side of the room, and she began to rethink whether she’d end up with before sunup. She was trying to decide which smile to give him when the door flew open. At first, she thought it was the wind, slamming it back against the outside of the Gator Hole, but that’s when she saw him.
In a dim room, a candle can hurt your eyes, and this guy was no candle. He was two steps short of a fuckin’ nova, and everyone turned to stare, though only one person in the room knew what she was looking at. Hell, this guy didn’t even know what he was, but he knew he was something as he headed straight for Billy and shot him between the eyes, without so much as a “Hello” or “Motherfucker.”
As Billy’s body thumped to the floor, the only sounds in the room were the wailing of a damned awesome guitar, and the man turned to face the crowd, his face split in a grin that made it clear he didn’t care if they ran or not – he had all night. Allie turned away from him and picked up the next bottle that Missy had set behind her. The screams started, and so did the gunshots, but she ignored all of it. She was rusty, but oh so hungry, and the time for fasting was through.
A bit of a different story for me…
Laura ran her finger around the rim of her martini glass, watching the liquid inside bounce back and forth off the sides and giggled. She hadn’t let go like this in a long time, and her third (or was it fourth?) drink of the night had her feeling more than a little restless and more than a lot horny. She squirmed against the hard wood of the stool, wishing that she could be sitting on something entirely different.
Or someone. Like her husband, glowing his own bad self from the whiskey he’d been downing all night and leaning somewhat unsteadily against the bar next to her, talking to the bartender about the ballgame on the TV. He’d been ready for her all day – it wasn’t that often that they had an evening to themselves without the kids – and it was time.
Laura downed the rest of her drink and slid down off her stool, her dress slipping up just a little bit higher than she’d have allowed if she wasn’t this drunk and this aroused. She staggered slightly – oh, the walk back to their room wasn’t going to be the least bit dignified – and leaned up to whisper in his ear. “Do I get a head start, or do you want to try to keep up with me?” She darted her tongue against his ear and slipped a hand around the front of his pants – just for a second – and then was gone.