Today I am Abscond

The Story

Beep beep -Really, you’re one of those bitches that just leaves a dude hanging?-

The guy I’d stood up has been texting me these kinda lines for a couple of days. Honestly, they’ve erased any guilt I had for my rude move. Yeah, it was terrible of me to leave him at a restaurant with no explanation for my absence, but wasn’t texting me nasty names and harassing my inbox for days on end a little much?

Beep beep -Your little Speedster has figured out your plan for Tower Bridge. Need new instructions ASAP-

Okay well THAT text is a way bigger problem.

I was loving my new arrangement with LeAnne and her friends, or as I liked to refer to them, the Eights of Diamonds. Because there… were… eight of them. At least in the little squad that was helping me out. I didn’t inquire too much into the rest of their connections or organization or however they knew each other… them wanting to help me and be my kickass henchwomen for the time being in exchange for a percentage of our occasional spoils and my uncle’s scone recipe was good enough for me. I have a full time job, a full time cover life, and a mother that expects me to make it to Taco Tuesdays with her and my uncle, I don’t have time to lay charges 2am myself!

I sent a memo to my boss on my laptop that yes, the Peterson contract was written up and ready for the customer, then switched to my alter phone to be the boss for a minute:

To the dude: -hey, fuck off. Clearly this didn’t work out. Sorry and shut up.-

To Rory, one of my favorite in the Eights: -Alright, still got the equipment? Let’s keep the plan but move to Trafalgar Square. It won’t be as pretty, but has the same kinda pedestrian traffic. I’ll send you a new layout in a minute. Also, tell Frida I need her to make a house call, I’ll forward the lad’s number.-

It was becoming so routine: Wake up, workout, sign in to my real work, while simultaneously answering a few texts from the Eight, and a few fellow villainous gossipers, on a burner phone. Change from slacks into what I’d started to call my “regalia”, but what was really my constantly under-construction catsuit, and hit the town.

Literally. Hit the town. Last week we hit up a small government treasury building (where it turned out they were hiding some jewels! So pretty!) and although I really had planned on Conley stopping us, he only managed to wrangle about half of our plunder back from us before our escape. The week before that we destroyed a train station, and he did make sure there were no casualties, so that was his win. I thought that one was a classic that would make him look great- saving innocents from a runway train is so Wild West! Even if this time it was subway. The destroyed tracks did put the schedule off since though so… whoops.

And it only took like a couple glasses of wine and one or two muffins every single day to stuff down the concerns and small mental fractures that tried to reemerge. Which was fine, because the workouts I was having to do to keep fit enough to survive my encounters with Conley, not to mention the encounters themselves, burned off so much, I was basically a garbage disposal when it came to food. Beach bod? More like criminal’s abdominals.

So it was getting easier to clock out at work and clock into work. It was not getting easier to get across town in business hour traffic, so I needed to talk to the Eights what they thought about me getting a bigger place and making my home and my workspace the same spot somehow. Like Batman. Wow, it was just really nice to have someone to talk to about this kind of stuff.

Oof, that was a guilt punch in the stomach. I still needed to call Jacob back.

His voicemail from a few days ago had been so sweet, even if it was a bit… condescending? But he wouldn’t even know why it was.

“Hey hun, just calling to check in, you ran off rather pale an’ I want to make sure you’re alright. We got the kid back on his feet. Then off his feet witha couple pints to get him over the videos he was sore over. Though between you and me, I thought some’the dances quite catchy, hehha. Kill ya if you tell ‘im! I know it was a bit much for ya, but you did great. If I don’t hear from ya soon I’mma hunt ya down and take ya out for the night- we’re all too spun up these days. So just gimme a ring and let me know you’re alright, alright? Alright.”

Alright, Jacob. I couldn’t hear his voice right now. It would be filled with that countryside warmth that felt like soup in my soul and I need steel in my bones this evening. He’d want a genuine answer when he asked how I was. And, well, I’d already turned on my “Badass Bitch” playlist, so that would just throw me off. Instead, at a red light I sent him a text.

Hey J- Sorry I’ve been MIA. (Man I was apologizing a lot. Gotta stop that.) Been looking after my uncle after the fire w/ mom plus work stuff = been busy. Would love to get drinks soon with evbody. 2night maybe? 

Two birds with one stone: answered a friend and made an alibi. If she was making plans for tonight, surely she couldn’t be the woman standing on Nelson’s Tower, a high beam of granite, threatening a hero across the square, right?

But she was. And here he comes, decked out in his new boots, too, isn’t that nice? I knew they were new because it was I that pointed out he needed a whole new concept after Mattis complained Conley’s run through just the inside of another set of kicks. When his order came in, we’d painted them a metallic steal, so when he ran it looked like steam coming off the asphalt. Even from across the square, I was proud of our work.

In the midst of the dusk, he looked radiant against the sunset. I’d given a small leak to a Twitter conspirator, and that’s all it took to bring the cameras running- I hoped the press was catching him against the rusting glow.

Still, I struck at him with my needled spear-gun.

“Let’s see you hustle, steam-boy!” I called out, “You’re fast, but are you clever?!” I teased, pulling the strings on several charges left throughout the square. As they went off, a little relief went through me, the Eight had setup just as instructed, and these explosions were beautiful. 

He did so well! Dashing across the space to save both patron and press. I had to remind myself to be proud later, there was still work to be done.

“You’re no queen!” He chocked through the smoke as he sped a civilian to safety, “You’re just a fool!”

Okay, ‘You’re just a jester’ would have been a much better line, but Conley had never really paid attention during our English classes. Note to self: casually encourage a book club.

He bolted like lightening across the space, bounced atop the Art Gallery’s dome- lunging for me.

If I’d been another villain, perhaps I’d been caught in this frozen moment. But I’d helped him train. I knew his timing. I knew to dodge before I saw him.

So I let go of the small wire that had been holding me aloft.

I saw his eyes widen. In fear for me? In fury that I’d slipped away? These are the problems with adoring your enemy. You kinda want them to like you.

In the dark, Vivi bungeed from a nearby art fixture, grabbing me mid-air and like a city-struck Tarzan, swooped me into the shade of one of the buildings.

“‘Steam-boy’. I liked that, Diamond. Classic emasculation.”

“Thank you, Vivi,” I took a deep breath, pretending that a fall from 169 feet was totally cool and no big deal, “And he went with ‘fool’ he’s gotta step up his game.”

But speaking of fools…

WAM.

Oh my god. So much light. Too much light.

Somewhere, a bell was ringing.

No. No, I was ringing?

My ears, my ears were ringing.

“DIAMOND!”

“Vivi?”

“Dimond, get DOWN!”

WAM.

Blackness. Then Vivi’s hazel eyes.

“We have to get out of here.”

“What’s..?”

“Another hero-“

Another? No, that wasn’t.. oh the darkness was coming back.

“Vivi, my suit collar, there’s a… a purple button… hit… hit”‘

“Hit the purple button?”

Oh black and blue swirlies were so very inviting and so warm…

“Do…”

“Do it?”

“Vivi… purple…”

So tired.

“Diamond, please I swear to god don’t die, Almighty Bastet please bless her, here we go-“

The naloxone released quickly from the tube inside my collar. 

As I breathed the gas in deeply, I prayed to whoever was listening, that this would work.

The deep blackness was covering over me.

And then, stars.

Oh- oh wait. Those were actual stars. My eyes were open! AW SHIT MY EYES WERE OPEN.

“Vivi!”

“Oh my gods, you’re alive.”

I sat up, too quickly. Stars again, but I spit them out. “Vivi, who the fuck hit me?!”

“There’s a lout up there top strutting in front of the cameras,” she gestured towards the open hole above us. We were in a green-brown darkness, and it stunk. I realized Vivi had pulled us into the sewers beneath the square.

“He’s not trying to capture me?”

“Nah, he came out of nowhere and popped you out of my grasp. Then just as you were getting your footing he popped you again into the shadows of that damn rooster statue thing. I took the chance to pull you down here. He’s still up there crowing in front of the press.”

“Sir Steam?” I was still trying to wrap my slowly-swelling head around it.

“Nooo, no some other fella, in all blue. Too shiny if you ask me. All pomp.”

I started to stand out of the muck, “Can’t have that, let’s go.”

She grabbed my arm, “Diamond! Your face is already changing colors! I can’t rightly let you go out like that.”

I patted her hand, “I’ve got a couple more minutes of this drug in my veins. Just call LeAnne, tell her to give me three minutes, then get me out, okay?”

She gave me a very motherly look for a second, shook her face free of it, and then nodded, “Three minutes, then its all troops on deck.”

“It’s a deal.”

I pulled myself slowly out of the drain, still crouching in the shadows of first evening. Sure enough, as Vivi said, there was a broad figure in some royal blue spandex parading himself in front of a semicircle of press. Royal blue. So overused these days. I was mad already.

“This so-called Queen of Diamonds needs to know there’s no crown for her here!” The reporters laughed obnoxiously at the hero’s stupid joke, “My buddy Sir Steam was doing a great job putting out her smaller tantrums, but now that she seems to want to play with the big boys, I’m here to help out.” He put an arm around Conley’s neck and pulled him close.

Sidekick status.

Mmmm nope. That wouldn’t do at all.

The hairs on my neck and arms stood up, as if the night was much cooler than it had been a minute ago. I had never even danced with Mary Jane, and here I was now putting my life in the hands of EMT level drug, so that was fun. My shock-induced self wanted to examine the science of it. But the villain in me reeeeeally needed to put this douche in his place.

Oh good, I still had my poison-dart gun. I pulled it from my thigh strap. Aimed it, cursed my arm for shaking, aimed it again.

“I think the thing these young heroes are missing is- OW!”

BULLSEYE BITCH.

The Royal Blue Douche turned in my direction, forcing Conley, who was still under his arm to do the same. Aw shit, was that the slow acting poison? 

The press was not pleased: “AHHH SHE’S STILL HERE!” Cue the running and hiding.

Okay, I was not that scary. In fact, I worked very hard to make my ensemble aesthetically pleasing. So, ya know, rude. 

I focused on the approaching hero. Ah okay, so he was much closer than I thought. Maybe planning while still in shock wasn’t a great idea.

Stand up or gadget to higher spot? Stand up or gadget to higher spot?! My eyes un-blurred for a second and I got a good look at how big Royal Blue Douche was. Oh yeah, going up. I rock climbed back up the National Gallery wall while calling in LeAnne.

“Hey I need an exit.”

Her reply came in quick: “No exit plans for druggies.”

I rolled my eyes, “Oh shut up, I’m not going in like Uncle Julian used to. I needed to LIVE, LeAnne.”

Only static came back in my earpiece.

“LEANNE. You gonna hang me out to dry because I wanted to survive?!”

“I promised your uncle no drugs.”

I stopped halfway up the dome, even knowing that there was definitely a genetically enhanced superhuman on my tail, maybe two. “I’m sorry, you told Uncle Julian how much about what?”

“No, no I didn’t tell him anything, just that I was looking after you, and that there were no drugs.”

“LEANNE I’MMA SWAT YOU. I’M ON THE TOP OF A FUCKING BUILDING YOU GET ME AN EXIT PLAN RIGHT THE HELL NOW AND WE WILL DISCUSS THIS AT A LATER DATE.”

“FINE. I’m reading it out now- He just goes by The Executive.”

“Gross.” I kept climbing. There were defiantly large rocks being thrown at my head. Did he mind not ruining the building? Heroes were weird.

“Mostly strength, some earth-compatible components.”

“I NOTICED!” I said as I dodged another onslaught of asphalt hail, “An exit strategy, LeAnne, an EXIT!”

“Well why did you even re-enter?!”

“Because he was mocking Conley!”

“Who the hell is Conley!?”

Oh, that’s right. The one secret I hadn’t, couldn’t share with the Eight.

“A, um, a reporter, that I leak my stuff to.”

“Girl, you gotta get your emotions under control. Listen, I’ve got something cooking now- keep heading that direction. Dianna has a mirrored flyaway net, you’re gonna jump towards it, it’s gonna look like you just disappear, then y’all will shed your outfits, and back here on backroads.”

“Fine, fine,” I launched another needled arrow at the Royal Blue Dou- The Executive, hitting him square in the chest. He barely flinched. Sir Steam came up on his left and I shot one at him too, on his right calf, and it took him down. 

“DIAMOND THREE,” I heard Dianna call. That was my warning. I moved quickly in that direction, with The Executive growling obscenities closely behind me.

“DIAMOND TWO,” Get to the spot, get to the spot, The Executive’s speed didn’t matter much, because he was so strong he could launch himself off the roof and was gaining yards on me pretty quickly.

“DIAMOND ONE- GO!” Dianna called, and with every last bit of shivering energy left in my body, I threw myself off the building with the faith that her net would catch me, turning to shoot off one last flame into the night sky. 

Because diamonds shine.

 

Dee-dadalada-bada-la-dadeee

“I can’t answer it.”

Dee-dadalada-bada-la-dadeee

LeAnne leaned against Uncle Julian’s counter giving me a low-lidded look, “So another voicemail will be easier to handle?”

Dee-dadalada-bada-la-dadeee

I glared at her, and she winked at me, deliberately pouring more Pinot Noir into my glass while Vivi sewed my left temple back together.

Dee-dadalada-bada-la-dadeee

“You’ve got one more ring, my sweet,” she purred.

“I can see,” I carefully sipped from the glass, “why Uncle Julien loved you so.”

I started to lift the the phone to my ear, but even that hurt my shoulder and I hissed.

“We’re just gonna ask anyway, might as well,” Rory reached over to the phone for the speaker button.

“Rory, no-“

Dee-dadalada-

“…hello?”

“Jesus. I texted you back. And then aga’n, and aga’n! Got me worried after what went down at the sqaure- did you see?!”

“Yes, yes I saw.”

“Conley’s been off his rockers. He’s asking for ya. And I need ya, doll. I can’na handle him with out you. This new hero has him in knots. The Executive Asshole. And you had me in knots. I thought maybe the Queen had killed you with her damn fireworks. I’m sorry if I was too much the other nigh’, if I was- “

“No, Jacob, you were fine. I just needed air, it was,” I looked up at LeAnne, expecting her to just nod, but instead she raised her brows at me, “Look, can we get that drink sometime soon? I do need it like you said.”

“Yeah! I’m heading over to Mattis’s now with some bottles. Conley is getting debriefed with some fancy ass heroes ‘parently an’ then is headed there too. Meet me there?”

The ladies around me all rolled their eyes, “Men.” LeAnne mouthed.

“Well, I guess- OW!”

Vivi tugged her thread a little unnecessarily tight to remind me I was in no shape to see anyone tonight…

“Hey you alright there?”

“Yeah,” I gritted out, “I um, it’s not a great time tonight, J. I uh-“

In unison all the women began pointing at their uterus. Blessedly Vivi did not follow suit, or I may have lost an eyebrow. I quickly made the cut it out motion across my throat. I would NOT use such a cliche’ lie with such a good friend.

“-I’ve got a text from Uncle Julien. He and mom are starting to fuss being cooped up with each other. I’ll check in on them and then head over, alright?”

I received some approving head nods from the Eight and a “Sounds like a plan, hun.” from Jacob.

“That’s one gentleman taken care of,” I said to our small crowd, “now what are we going to do about this new guy? Where they hell did he come from?

“Looks like he’s one of the bigger guns,” Gertrude called from the couch where she’d been typing away on her laptop, “He’s got a bit of a history.” She turned the laptop towards us so we could see the multiple articles blasting titles the likes of: ‘The Executive Does It Again!’ ‘The Executive takes Down the Howling Hoods!!’ ‘City Makes The Executive Honory Major!’

“Well shit,” I spat, hoping they couldn’t hear the small vein of fear in my voice. Seeing the face that had gotten so close to obliterating my own beaming and championed across site after site was just… mildly unnerving. “Why has he shown up here to play with me?”

“I believe, my young Queen,” LeAnne patted my shoulder and smirked slightly, “the world is noticing just how good you are at being bad.”

The Word

Abscond (verb): Leave hurriedly and secretly, typically to avoid detection of or arrest for an unlawful action such as theft.

Ya know? I just enjoying writing the Queen of Diamonds! Even if she is going through some turmoil- maybe especially because she is. She has so many roads she could take, and several directions she’s being pulled in, with lots of influencers around her.

But at least it’s nice to have your talents noticed, right? 😉

I’m kind of learning her as I go, and I think that’s part of why she’s so fun to write. She wants to keep with her original motivations, but then new stakes and new temptations are arising. Haven’t we all experienced that occasionally? Sure, we’re not firing off laser guns to get it done (…hopefully) but I think we’ve all started a race with one finish line, and halfway through, realized the goal we want now is over a different hill.

Those are my rambling thoughts for the day with my little villain royalty. Happy racing, happy reading!

Today I am Demise

The Poem

On Death, And Loving You

If Death knocks on your door

He better rap mine too

If He doesn’t take me with Him

I’m coming after you

He’s granted mercy on the battle field

Looked away away when I was ill

But if He takes you from me

It’s His against my will

Like Orpheus I’ll travel

Like Hercules I’ll rise

And once I have you gathered

I’ll keep to good Lot’s eyes

I know Death’s to be honored

I know Death’s owed His due

But there’s no reason living

If I must do without you

So pay the ferry twice

And pack my things as well

Or ready Odin’s table

If there’s where we’re to dwell

But if Death will not take me

If He says I cannot go

Stop your mother’s mourning

For there’s no need for woe

We will depart together

Or we won’t depart at all

My love for you unceasing

And Death’s agreement, or downfall.

The Word

Demise (noun): 1. A person’s death. 2. Conveyance or transfer of property or a title by demising.
(verb) 1. Convey or grant (an estate) by will or lease.

This poem came from somewhere deep within me. I’m hesitant to explain- but I think we all can touch upon it. Be it sibling, partner, friend, we’ve had that unworldly blessed connection that we would go to the edge of the world for. And Easter, when Jesus drew the line and crossed it, seemed an appropriate time to celebrated such a blessed type of love.

Happy sunbathing, happy allergery-avoiding, happy egghunting, and as always- happy reading, dear reader.

Today I am Endure

The Story

It’s adorable really, the ways she tries to kill me.

The first time, she poisoned my wine. I was impressed, albeit irritated that she’d disturbed the smoothness of an expensive Chianti. She blushed with pride and anticipation when she saw me take a big gulp of my glass. Later that evening, I admired the pretty new robe she’d bought herself, told her I loved her, and was quite entertained with how well she pretended all was as it should be.

The next morning, I found the dealer who sold her the powdered ratbane, and snapped his neck. I didn’t want anyone else’s wine spoiled.

A few nights after that, she tried the smothering method. Less planning, more opportunistic, as I’d gone to bed a bit early after a long day spent brooding in my office. Our king bed with its gaudy frame she loved so would have been an excellent place for her to pose alongside my body, telling an officer how she’d come to check on me, offer me a pill for my head, only to find her dear unresponsive. But unfortunately for her, after she spent several long moments making sure my body had gone still under the silk covered pillow, I rolled over, and let out an obnoxious snore to let her know there was no need to call the authorities quite yet.

She let out a wail of frustration, I had to bury my head in the sheets not to laugh.

My least favorite was the gun. I’ve always disliked the use of gunpowder, except when they were developed into fireworks, some people are ingenious. Over time, humanity has found less and less honorable ways to commit violence and I cannot help but associate that with the gun itself. At least she chose a revolver, pairing it with those black tights I like under a gray pencil skirt. It was like she’d walked out of a noir detective movie and into our library.

“Yes, darling?” I’d said.

POP she’d replied.

“Oh my,” I answered, shifting to inspect the hole in my favorite reading chair, “what a terrible accident, dove. We’ll need to get you some lessons if marksmanship is going to be your new sport.”

POP

I stood, taking the hot instrument from her shaking hand, turning to see the second hole had hit my signed copy of The Lady of the Shroud in its place on the bookshelf. What an utter shame, it was going to take centuries to hunt another down.

“This thing is going off like crazy, sweet. Let me take it and have it checked by my man. And let’s get you a glass of wine, and here take my sweater, you’re shivering!”

All through dinner, she kept poking her little finger through the hole in my cardigan. It was so cute.

For a few weeks following the library incident, my poor sweet seemed to wane into a sliver of herself. I offered to bring her friends over for a party or buy her any trinket she desired, but nothing seemed to cheer her. I decided she needed some fresh air to liven her spirits. And yes, this brought a spark to her eye! So off we went, a tour around Europe. With each passing day I filled her with French croissants and chocolates, Italian wines and German meats, she seemed more like her brilliant self again. I was filled with joy! We laughed and danced through the cobbled streets of the old world, like a second honeymoon, lost in one another.

And then, when we reached Ireland, we were taking in the sunset, I peered into those deep dark eyes that enchanted me so, and she pushed me off the Cliffs of Moher.

How I chortled on the way down! Oh she’s so clever, my doting wife. My heart and stomach full, defenses down, and away I went! The story would have come together so simply too- we’d been drinking fine Irish whiskey all afternoon, and fooling around on the cliffside, how easily to believe a creature of my age could innocently loose their footing, leaving a shocked widow crying out to the wind.

When I finally made my way back to her, she had her hands on her hips. Her eyes were large as the boulders I’d landed on, but she was chewing on her tongue to keep her mouth from opening in awe.

“How clumsy am I! Sorry you had to wait for the climb up. Shall we go for another round of whiskey, love? Or should I call you lass here? HA!”

I offered her my arm and she took it, staring me down over our glasses all evening long.

Even though the Cliffs had let her down instead of me, my flower still appeared rejuvenated from our trip, and I was glad for it.

Her creativity really knew no bounds. Honestly, it’s one of the reasons I fell in love with her all those years ago- she looked so elegant, all in black, as we gazed at each other across her father’s coffin. He had not noticed the difference in his wine, apparently. She was capable of so much; she just needed someone around to encourage her avocations. “When you get bored playing bachelorette,” I whispered after the service, “I’d love to take you out to dinner. I think we’d have a lot of fun.”

And I was right! Since our wedding, she’d raised several champion race horses, built four successful charity foundations, one of which is international, patroned multiple young artists from unknown to world-renowned, and this new hobby was quite engrossing as well.

Look at these markings! You’d never notice the tiny dots between my toes unless one was looking hard for foul play, and who would look past an aneurism on someone with a couple silver streaks as I? She looked a little shocked in the morning when I came down for breakfast, but made me a coffee the way I like it all the same with cream, no sugar, and we chatted friendly over our eggs.

She loosened the straps on my saddle when we went horse riding. I of course had the trainer fired and she spent the rest of the day with the poor, spooked beast. I offered to buy her a new horse instead, but she said this one just needed more attention. I took that as a clue, as all good spouses should, and took her on a proper date that very evening, as well as throwing a party that weekend for all her favorite friends.

I’m not sure how she got our replica statue of Discobolus set on its edge, she’s such a lithe one. The timing had to be impeccable, and I couldn’t help but smirk at her calculations as the athlete came crashing down on me. Scratched the marble in the foyer terribly, though. She cooed such sweet nothings to me as we both blamed what absolutely must have been the new maids for such a mishap.

We took a romantic canoe ride across the pond in the back garden, and she had hidden a large brick in the picnic basket under the biscuits. No wonder she wouldn’t let me carry it for her. While I basked in the sun with my eyes closed, she tied this to my shoes and sent me over the edge of the boat. When I waded back to the shore, I told her we’d need to meet with the gardener. Wouldn’t a few more lily pads be lovely for when she was out here painting in the summer? She agreed, and offered to carry my wet clothes for me so I didn’t catch cold, the saint.

I was upset when we lost the mountain cabin though. It was so peaceful and quiet away from the world, up where the bears and blackberries grow. But the flames against the night sky were magnificent, like an ancient pyre. And I was so dazzled by her brilliance- not even the insurance inspector could figure out how the chimney flue latch had broken! Several days later we nuzzled under a blanket while she showed me the designs she’d drawn up for our new cabin. Such a renaissance woman, is mine.

The tripwire at the top of the stairs especially delighted me. She had to have put it up so quickly! I came out of my office, found her in the library, kissed the top of her head, and said I was going to freshen up for dinner. I was only in the bedroom for a moment to put on a clean shirt and wipe my face off. And how delicate her dainty fingers had to be, for the thing was insanely sharp- the ends of my slacks were now in irreparable ribbons where I lay. Yet, here I find her, unruffled, looking as if she has not moved an iota from where I last left her. The only notable difference when I reach her side is there are now two glasses of port on the small table next to her.

One for us each.

“Happy anniversary, my love,” she whispers against my cheek with a kiss.

“Til death do us part, my sweet,” I clink my glass to hers, and chuckle.

The Word

Endure (verb): 1. Suffer (something painful or difficult) patiently. 2. Remain in existence; last.

I feel like somewhere in the government, there are 3 lists of people who make the google searches like the ones I did while writing this story: 1. Potential Murders, 2. Potential Authors, 3. Might Be Both.

I’d like my own personal FBI stalker to know that I’m list #2 (which I know, is something list #3 would say) mostly because I’m probably way too clumsy to get away with anything I’d want to, so best to just let things be.

The further along I got in this short little number, I couldn’t help but think of Gomez Adams from the Adams Family. How he would be so very supportive and complimentary of Morticia if she’d decided her new hobby was to try to kill him and get away with it, haha. Gomez really is one of the top spouse goals, isn’t he?

Just a fun little one-off I wanted to get down on a very windy night. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I did writing, and find yourselves partners just as supportive of all your hobbies! But… different hobbies, hopefully.

And, as always, happy reading!

Today I am Lost

The Story

“You know, I loved the Rocky movies.”

“I swear to every god anyone has ever prayed to, I am going to punch you in the throat.”

“Loooot of good punches thrown in the Rocky mov-HUU!”

PRIVATE DARLUTH.”

“Apologies, Captain.”

The Captain’s shadow had fallen over the campfire, and the quiet chuckles came to a quick cease-fire.

“I understand,” her voice rumbled across the space, “that the air is tense. I acknowledge Sergeant Teak and those she took with her have been gone longer than usual. However, we have been schooled in the unusual for the past several centuries. And our best healer is among her crew, not ours. I expect you all to act accordingly.”

Captain Collins’s dark eyes scanned each of her pack. The fire flickered over their familiar faces; shoulders were low, spirits were low. She and Teak often played off each other with the Called as authority and cheerleader, but for the past several months, she’d been on her own with both roles. She knew in the morning, she would have to rustle up a good training to reenergize them as well as herself, for her own worries had crept in.

Teak would never go so long with no contact without good reason. She seemed to always find a way to get a message back to the Called, even if it meant training a set of migrating hummingbirds to carry a note together, or leaving an inside joke in some famous moment in world history for them to hear, Teak found a way. She’d never figured out how Teak had managed the jelly-donut speech mixup, but when Private Arrowood stopped laughing, he confirmed to the Captain that the radio’d speech meant Teak’s company was well and on the way home. Collins often joked that this was Teak’s extra talent while others had the Sight or Healing.

“There’s no such thing as having ‘the Talk’, Captain.” Sergeant Teak had rolled her eyes.

“Maybe it’s like speaking Tongues.”

“Could you take that back please, Captain? I see clouds and I prefer not to be struck by lightening.”

Yes, Captain Collins was worrying. But that came several counts down the list from keeping the Called organized and in line. It would keep them all sane… ish.

“Private Darluth, after you lend Private Elmer the energy to heal Private Jones’s neck yourself, the two of you will be on night duty together for the rest of the week. We will remain in camp here for another moon change in anticipation of Sergeant Teak’s return. Understood?”

“Yes, Captain,” Darluth nodded, red in his cheeks. From fury or embarrassment, it was hard to tell.

Jones merely nodded, one hand still on his neck.

“We have been called?!” the Captain growled.

“And we will answer!” the Called responded, with much more fervor than any of them were feeling.

~ ~

I stared into the stew pot in front of me. Steam rolled slowly to the top of the hut, but it wasn’t enough to warm the ice that had settled between my shoulders. I was tired. And cold. And sick of stew.

The strange but kind villagers had been happy to add us to their small trading route when we showed them how adept we were at hunting the quick mountain deer, once we got used to the snow. So for the past past serval weeks (maybe months? the sun didn’t seem to move here) our pattern had been thus: follow my gem’s hum into the mountains, get lost in a snow blizzard, head back following the ropes and notches system the villagers taught us, grab a couple deer on the way back into town, eat stew and mountain booze until it was our turn for night-watch, and repeat.

The villagers thought we were interesting, and we felt the same about them. McKoi was having an excellent experience exchanging medicinal knowledge with the village’s herbalist as well as their medicine woman. Genile got a little exercise trying to learn a type of slalom with the kids where they’d race and throw an etched stone. I tried it a few times to placate my crew; it was okay. Fendoialin was pouring over the many tomes in his pack constantly. No wonder that thing had been so heavy.

I, personally, was going to lose my mind! If we weren’t immortal, I’d think we’d died and gotten stuck in a frozen purgatory with oddly polite captors.

Genile sloshed the ladle around the pot. “We could eat with the village, they have offered many times.”

McKoi glance at me, then back at his bowl.

I sighed, “I know you all are bored with hearing this: but we cannot get too comfortable here. They have been very gracious, and I know they said they see travelers like us get stuck many seasons, but I’m sure it’s clear to them now with our excursions and everything that we are not the usual kind. No. We make our own meals, we eat only what we’ve seen cooked with our own eyes.”

“Then damn, I wish one of y’all knew how to make dumplings. Those things the kids eat look GOOD.”

“…Darluth knows how to make dumplings.”

Without looking up, I knew there were three sets of eyes on me. Despite how close the Called is, and the glances we occasionally got, neither of us had ever confirmed the minor romance between Private Darluth and I. But I was so exhausted, and tired of snow being on everything. and everywhere! and this damn gem just making shit up and damn it I missed him. And I was tired of this stew too!

But no reason to make myself the center of attention. I glanced up at Fendoialin, “Are the old rumors about you true?”

The angry caterpillars he called eyebrows shifted slightly over gray eyes. He seemed mildly irked, but settled himself back down before answering, “There are many tales of those that have seen my years, young Sergeant.”

I rolled my eyes. Here I thought we were all having a moment around the cook-fire and he had to be annoying as usual, “Yeah, I’m talking about the magic ones. The oracle ones. The Pythia-got-nothing-on-me ones. The why-you-were-chosen-to-hold-the-prophecy ones.”

“Ah.”

Fascinating. In all my years. All of them, I’d never heard Fendoialin stop at just the one syllable. The only sound in the hut was Genile choking on her stew, probably in similar shock, and then McKoi patting her on the back.

“Well?” I prompted again, swirling the cooling mush with my spoon.

But the wrinkled man did not look back up at me. In fact, it appeared he had dozed off.

“Gods help us,” I muttered, taking my still half-full bowl to empty and scrub in the snow, and maybe a walk to relax would be good too. I didn’t like being in the small hut for so long, and apparently Fendoialin’s new game was if he couldn’t irritate me by talking too much, he would do it by not talking at all.

I passed through the village heading towards the trail into the mountains. It was quiet, as strong winds had sent most villagers inside their family huts for cover. The paths to and from each little building had been beaten down from centuries of booted feet, and the warmth left behind from those shuffles seemed to keep most of the flurries from obscuring the aged routes.

Just as I was leaning over to grab a pack of leading ropes, I felt a presence join me in the rising gusts. I turned to see an approaching shape, gliding easily over icy walks.

“It’s not time to go out,” came a smokey voice under the deerskin hood.

My shoulders dropped, I didn’t feel like arguing with anyone right now, especially an innocent old village person, “I know it’s not a good time, with the wind rising, but I’ve got work to do.”

“Your work can wait, it has waited all this time, hasn’t it?”

Starting to sound a bit like Fendoialin, this one.

“I… suppose.”

“Come. Get warm with me, give your companions a break.”

Give my companions a break? From ME?! Well I never-

And yet, the wind picked up again. And if something went sideways, I could defiantly take this man with one arm cut off at my shoulder. Hell, I’d fought off a ThunderKishi with less.

So I followed the fur-covered shadow back to the open flap of his hut. I didn’t even hesitate to go inside. I sensed no one else within, and if this hunched being was truly wishing to ambush me- I was in the mood for a tussle.

“You can ease yourself, old hunter.”

Loooot of people judging my age this evening. Would love for this guy and Fendoialin to square off whether I was ‘young sergeant’ or ‘old hunter.’ I feel like it would be a very heated, yet very slow, conversation.

Also pretty rude to call me old when it sounded like this one had stoked one too many pipes. I hadn’t aged in centuries! But maybe it was a cultural thing.

“Bring the fire back up so we do not freeze while we cook.”

I wasn’t used to taking orders from anyone other than Captain Collins, but nothing in the past serval… months (really, how long had we been there?) had gotten me anywhere. I wished Darluth were there to give me a little Sight-nudge. I pretended to scratch my chest to feel for my gem, see if I got any hints from that. Nothing. Alright I was on my own, and my instincts said that I hadn’t finished my boring bowl of stew and he said the word ‘cook.’

So I worked on the fire, as spookily instructed.

Keeping an eye on the being in my peripheral, I brought the fire up from small embers to a soft roar. As I did so, I saw my new companion shuffle off their outer coat and unwrap a long shawl to reveal auburn hair in bundled-up braids and a deep blue kurta. It flowed still lake water over woolen pants that led to very small booted feet. I glanced quickly around the room, with shelves of jars and dried plants hanging from the elevated ceiling.

Oh, excuse me, I was dealing with the herbalist.

She knew who I was the moment we met, and it’d taken me this long to figure her out. All this time in isolation with an unsuccessful Champion hunt had gotten me off my game. It was no wonder the privates were sassing me.

“That’s warm enough, now you will help me mix,” She was pulling jars and bright clay bowls from various shelfs, and one bundle from the ceiling.

We sat across from each other over a short table, with various packages nearby I recognized from sectioning out the mountain deer we caught.

I finally ventured, “what are we making?”

“You and yours are quite lost. Me and mine have enjoyed your company, but it’s time you found your way again. Together we’ll make the Feast of Fortune so you can find your next steps.”

Help from outside The Called was… damned unusual, but as Sergeant it was my job to get my small crew back to everyone safely, and with a mission complete. And I hadn’t gotten very far by our usual methods. So if I was the one risking it tonight, I was willing to take a little chancing.

“Okay, but first- how do you know we’re lost?”

Finally her face lifted enough for me to see it in the fire light- and she laughed! Her skin was both sun kissed and wind-torn, and I found it immeasurably beautiful. Her dark eyes were bright with humor, surrounded as they were with age and wisdom. I could see the elaborate bronze earrings that sang slightly when she moved her head, no longer muffled by her hood. She reminded me so much of the Arrowood privates, I ached again for the full company.

“Didi! Are you not lost?!”

Okay, well, she did have me there. But I thought we were doing a better job of pretending we were just mildly inconvenienced travelers rather than super wayward scouts. Guess not. I was going to try to play it off a little better though, still had to keep appearances. Still wanted to get back in one piece.

“We are indeed looking for something we haven’t found yet,” I nodded, focusing on the spices she was pouring into the muddler before me, “I’ll say that much.”

“Mmm, and you feel guilty because you’re their leader.”

I didn’t remember signing up for this therapy session. “I am frustrated.”

She slid the muddler over to me. I began to grind the small multi-shaped seeds.

“Your healing companion thinks very highly of you.”

I snorted, “Well that’s good to hear, if they’re talking behind my back it might as well be good things.”

She laughed at that too, and it felt nice to not be sniping with someone.

As I was rolling thin dough sheets out, as strictly instructed, over and over again, I let out, “I know my duties. I’m good at them. But sometimes things just don’t work out. And because I’m in charge, that feels like I let them down.”

“Mmm,” she nodded, “and each time you think you’ve let them down, you allow doubt in. And doubt alone is like dry sand. Nothing can grow within in. Yet, with a little water, even the cactus flower blooms.”

I stopped my floury restorations. “You’ve seen a cactus flower?”

“You are in the mountains yet you were not always here. Can I not be the same?”

I was beginning to wonder if all older people talked in such phrases. Would I talk like that if I got wrinkly and propheqierical? I certainly felt old with all these years, so I made a short prayer to any gods listening that I would never talk like that to the younger Called.

After mixing the minced deer meet with the spices, she spread the mash over the sheets. She showed me to dip my finger in a bowl of slowly melting snow to wet the edges of the dough, “water of the mountain, it flows from Saraswati and seals your fortune,” she whispered.

And then how to make exactly seven folds for the Seven Sisters in the stars, daughters of Atlas and followers of Artemis, “they know both the sky and the hunt, hunters like you.”

I nodded and folded. My calloused fingers were not coherent at pinching the dough in the delicate pattern as hers, and often I pulled too hard or added not enough water and had to start again or else lose a fold or watch the pastry slide open- but I’d been around too long to question someone about gods and stars.

With the herbalist successfully stuffing many more dumplings than I, she told me to hook a pan into the chain above the fire and pour in some oil.

“Shall I put these in?” I offered.

“No, no, they need one last touch!” She shuffled to her shelves and back, seeming alight with glee. In between her hands was a small clay jar with a glass stopper.

The hair on the back of my neck raised. Perhaps I had gotten too comfortable here, “what is in that?”

“The Dust of Destiny!” She pulled the glass stopper out with a flare, taking in a deep inhale, “Oh didi, this traveled a long a way to get to our Feast of Fortune tonight.”

She hummed as she sprinkled it over the pale crescent pouches on the table. It was a tune that sounded so familiar, and yet for the many lives of me, I couldn’t place it.

“What will it do?” I whispered.

“The Dust of Destiny will ignite the heat inside you! You will be filled and all we have done tonight will not be lost again once morning comes.”

I couldn’t help it, I slid a finger across the plate where a little gold powder had landed and lifted it to my lips “…this is cumin.”

“Yes, they are the same.”

When she looked up and saw my glare, she burst into another round of very joyful laughter.

We sat in easy conversation as we steamed and folded and ate many, many destiny-dusted dumplings. I told her about my favorite travels deep into steamy forests where colorful creatures dwelled, and she regaled me how these quiet people had come to live in the mountains, how she too had traveled to cities when she was young but had been happy to return and be a part of the village’s simpler steady life.

When I was near full to bursting, she told me it was time for rest, and sent me away with a large satchel of dumplings, and a few collections of herbs for McKoi.

“They may come of use to him, they may not.” She mumbled, patting my heavy laden arms.

“Can’t he come get them in the morning?”

She gave me a knowing look, “Rest well, didi. I enjoyed your company this evening.”

“Same to you, and thank you for the dumplings. They’ll be so pleased.”

After fighting with the wind again, I made it back to our own little gray hut. I realized how long I’d let us stay in such a colorless place, compared to the herbalist with all her dried flowers hanging and bright pottery.

I held a dumpling in front of Genile’s nose until she woke up, “FOR MEEE-MPHFF?!” she squealed, the savory pocket halfway down her throat before I could even answer.

McKoi was already pawing the jars and wraps of herbs he’d been sent, but still managed a “I assume the ban has been lifted on village food then?” between bites.

“Wha- what’s all this about?! Waking up an old man in the middle of the-” Fendoialin grumbled to a state of consciousness, but was also quickly placated with warm food-that-wasn’t-deer-stew.

“Alright, alright,” I eased onto my own sleeping satchel, which felt cold as the snow beneath it compared to the herbalist’s fine rugs and pillows, “settle down crew, my heart hasn’t grown three sizes or anything.”

“You look better though-“

I shot McKoi a look.

“Healthier, I mean, Sergeant. A healer’s opinion, is all,” he put his eyes back to organizing his new dried tid bits, “Are you going to tell us of your evening adventures, Serg?”

“Yes, but not now, Fendoialin is right.”

I took pleasure in Genile choking on her 10th dumpling in shock. McKoi lost count of his jars.

Even Fendoialin looked at me, eyes as shocked wide as I imagined his cumbrous brows would allow, “Pardon?”

“Well it’s quite late, as you said. And I’ve decided we’ll be leaving here in the morning. I expect you all to be packed and ready before the villagers rise, and I plan to get some rest before that.”

Cowardly, I played with the drawstrings of my sack for a moment, pretending to stuff some tools in, before I looked up. I’d been expecting a where are we going?, or why are we leaving now? or did you get a sign from your gem then? Any or all of the above.

But when I did, I was met instead with determined nods, a chorus of “Yes, Sergeant”s. And Genile’s cheeks puffed out like a squirrel’s.

I smiled at her, nodded back to them all, and settled down for a quick doze. We were going, and I knew the way.

The Word

Lost (Adj): 1. Unable to find one’s way; not knowing one’s whereabouts. 2. Denoting something that has been taken away or cannot be recovered.

Have you ever been stuck somewhere? *Laughs in 2020*

No but really. I guess we all have now, but really stuck. Side of the road with a blown tire and no phone, or walking through a new city and yep- that turn looks exactly the same as the last, or you went off the trail for just a moment to get a pretty picture and now the sun is going down a bit quickly?

Well The Called have been up on that mountain for a long time.

No really. In real life these 4 Called have been up there almost six months! I put them up there in August of 2020!

I’ve been a little lost myself with my writing. I’m proud of the words I’ve put out, but it’s been some really chase-and-tackle work with my muse during this pandemic, and LOTS more deleting and rewriting than I’ve ever done before. It was like I kept marching up that path with Sergeant Teak, only to lose my way and have to follow the breadcrumbs back.

I’m sure the whole world is feeling that in at least a couple points of their lives. I don’t have any answers. But sometimes it’s nice to know that we’re not out there alone, wondering in the snow. If we bump into each other, we can at least huddle for a bit before going on our way.

Although I have tried eating lots of dumplings too, and it does help. Sergeant Teak found her way, so here’s hoping we all find ours.

Happy hiking, and happy reading 🙂

P.S.

Things I ‘Borrowed’ From Other Cultures for My Story (Not stuck on this name for the section)

As you may have noticed, The Called travel a lot, and their world is sometimes like ours, sometimes kinda like ours, and sometimes very much not like ours at all. As my growth as both a writer and a human person, I know that just throwing in words from other cultures just to spice up your writing isn’t cute. I do try to use context clues as to where The Called are or what their kinda-world-location can be most related to, though. But I think in not giving any sort of definition in these stories, it sounds a lot more like me trying to claim or re-define those words as my own, rather than the context clues I mean them to be. So I’m going to try this little section below- and I would love feedback (via the Connect page) on how readers feel on this.

Pythia – Highly regarded oracle of Delphi, said to channel prophesies directly from the gods

Didi – Nepali word meaning ‘auntie’ as in older female family member, term of endearment or respect

Saraswati – One of the Tridevi in Hinduism, the goddess of learning, wisdom, music, and aesthetics

Atlas – Greek god who held up the sky, father of the Seven Sister stars

Artemis – Greek goddess of the hunt, wild nature, and (hilariously)* chastity

Hajur ama – Nepali respectful word for Grandmother; often affectionally shortened to “Ama”

(Thunder) Kishi – Angola mythological monster, said to have two heads, one of a man and one a hyena. [I added the thunder part for The Called cause why not make them dodge lightening too]

*it’s hilarious that she’s the goddess of chastity because really this can only be a stiff-collard patriarchy’s opinion on things. She’s often referred to as “Appollo’s virginal sister” yet to her women priests she charges they bring in the wild animals, the “women driven mad” (coughRUN AWAYScough), demands her worship have “dances wild as waves”, the daughter of a TITAN, has all these nymphs and ladies-in-waiting with tales Dionysus would be jealous of. She doesn’t refuse to take lovers, she refuses to take lovers of low quality. And just as the neckbeards of today, men of history decided that if she didn’t pick everybody, she must be the virgin queen, so thank goodness her only big myth with a male is that of her being super picky, or she’d be stuffed into the back pages of mythology as a monster… #justiceforMedusa

Today I am Companion

The Story

I pull a cold washcloth across the blossoming bruise and she barely flinches, “How’s the water?”

“The tub or the ice sheet you keep torturing me with?”

“Well,” I rinse the washcloth again, “I’m glad your sass has gone uninjured.”

She sighs a bit, a sound that pleases me with its normalcy, “They’re both fine Nurse Worry Wart, thank you.”

“Good, I wasn’t changing either anyway,” I hand her an advil and continue with the cold cloth on the worst spots.

She closes her eyes and leans back into the tile, “Do you think people have soulmates?”

“What?”

“Never mind.”

“No,” I pause my tidying of her broken pieces for a moment to make sure she knows I’m looking at her, “I’m sorry, I heard you. It just surprised me.”

“It’s okay,” she tries on a smile, it doesn’t quite fit, and I know her lip hurts on the left side where the swelling is in full bloom.

“What do you think?” I’m still not ready to answer as I rinse her blood down the sink and twist the top off the Neosporin.

She pauses, and I can see the calculation going on behind her eyes, “Yes. I really do. It makes sense that people come in pairs.”

I raise an eyebrow at her, “…even Louise?”

She laughs a bit, enough to distract her so she barely noticed the sting of the antibiotic I swiped over her chin.

“Okay, maybe pairs come in all shapes and sizes… but yes! Even fucking don’t-touch-my-mugs Louise.”

I nod, but it kinda hurts to agree. Because I’m lonely. I’ve gotten kinda close to being somebody’s someone a few times, but it’s never lasted. We both thought she’d done it this time.

“What do you think?” She asks, cautious optimism in those amber orbs. Even when they’re sunken low in shadows.

A deep breath, because it would be easy to pass off a top-layer answer. Easy to say what I’d like to say. But she’d see that for what it was, and she is looking for more tonight. Plus I’d tried lying to her before and it never worked out.

“I know you and are old friends. I’m a believer in God, and all that jazz. But, despite the clause on that, I knew you before. And I think I’ll know you next time too. I think that’s why it’s okay to be mad with you for a while here. Why I don’t worry when you pout for a couple months. What’s time to us when we’ve got forever?”

She reaches up to my arm and squeezes it.

“And the rest of them?”

“What rest of them?” I place a small bandaid on her forehead, checking there are no dark russet locks caught in the ends.

She has such a bigger capacity for affection than I. Once, I thought that meant she was better at love in general. It took a long time for me to see a difference between the two, and even longer to realize it wasn’t something you could be better at. Our worlds were just full of different things.

A small blee-ba-dooop emits from her sequined clutch.

“That’s him.”

I see her chew her lip. It’ll have no chance of healing anytime soon with that habit of hers. She’s decided what to do already but hasn’t chosen if she’s was okay with it yet.

“I can write it,” I murmur, “Let me take care of it, you just soak for a bit.”

“I won’t ask you to do that,” but she pushes her purse towards me across the floor where the rest of her things fell, and pulls her arm back into the tub.

“You did it for me,” I kiss her forehead.

“When?” she laughs.

“Last time!” I call heading to the bedroom, typing away on her thin little phone, “or maybe next time, the time after that…” I chew my lip out of habit as I hit send and wipe him clean of this part of her too.

The Word

Companion
(noun) 1. A person or animal with whom one spends a lot of time or with whom one travels. 2. One of a pair of things intended to complement or match each other.
(verb) 1. Accompany.

Sometimes, stories come welling up from inside and I stop them. I think they’re too short, or not “on brand” or too sad or say too much or not enough, so I tuck them into my Drafts folder where they sit and gather metaphorical dust. This is one of those tales, but I finally decided to bring it out, dust it off, shine it up a bit, and show you.

One of the reasons I started writing was because I loved when words did 1 of 2 things: hit me, or let me hide. I liked when words took the breath out of me, made me think, made me grow, elevated me, traveled me, challenged me! I also liked when words built an igloo around me into a world where the good guys stayed good and everyone had a theme song with drums 🙂

If I’m to achieve either of those things, I cannot shy away from the short little tales that I think could mean something, even if they’re not my usual thing. I said this blog was to make myself stretch, so I can’t cramp myself into a box of my own making.

Never the less and always- Happy reading

Today I am Bind

The Story

Calliope has knit three emergency scarves over her life:

The ugly ochre alpaca yarn was first. She had just graduated college, and, promising her parents that yes she would do something with the business degree if this all didn’t work out, taken little else than her favorite tool box to California to begin her apprenticeship with accomplished metalworker Leland Brasher.

Calliope had always considered herself a relatively strong person. She’d survived middle school as the only one in a set of twins that got acne. She’d once given the quarterback of her school a piggyback ride to the dorms after the busses stopped running and he couldn’t use up his legs because the game was the next morning. But oof, Leland Brasher was one torch-wielding bastard, and he got to Calliope.

On the phone with her sister, she confessed she’d tried everything she could think of. Killing with kindness, giving what he gave, drinking wine, eating excessive amounts of cheese, drinking more wine. Then moving on to her other arts, which included a special tea she made for herself, and then a special tea she made for Brasher.

“You drugged the man?!”

“No, Caroline!” Calliope laughed into the phone, pouring a glass of Merlot. “Damn I wish you were close enough to make me a real drink. I just made an ice tea that would open him up to me, not to like actually change him.”

“Of course,” her sister sighed, “I’m sorry, I know… Also that much wine is going to bloat you. You know when you’re this anxious you get bloated easily.”

“I know. When I go to bed, I’m rolling around like an inebriated beachball.”

“You need to find your calm. And get some cognac and make a Sidecar before I come out there and do it myself.”

“Do come out here, I’d love that!”

“I will, my first week off. But you know what you have to do. Even I know that much.”

“Ugh, not the classics.”

“Yep. That old school stuff.”

It was kinda irritating that Caroline was so naturally knowledgable about the practice when she did not want to be active in it. Calliope tried to avoid that her sister was right for a few days, but after Brasher made her solder 806 iron circlets just to decide he wanted them melted down again, she gave in. Reaching down into her old tool box, she brought out two of her most powerful weapons- a set of steel blue knitting needles.

Unfortunately, due to a plethora of fertile friends and quickly-made baby blankets, the only material left in her closet was a large length of soft brown yarn with yellowish highlights she’d picked up at a farmer’s market because she’d spent too much time petting an alpaca and felt bad not purchasing anything from its owner.

Brown had never been Callipe’s favorite color. She understood its importance- woods and earth and fur and all that. But it washed her out and it did not spark joy. However, there were not a lot of late-night yarn stores in L.A., so she’d call it hazel or cinnamon or cocoa and it would have to do.

Every night after work, or after a night out with the other apprentices, she’d come home and pour a glass of wine or put in a movie, and start to knit. A simple stitch: 4 knit, 4 pearl, repeat 3 times.

In it went the stress from her shoulders, the aches from her fingers, the strain from her new muscles, the yells at Brasher that get stuck in her throat, and every static bit of anxiety that had pulsed through her in the past months making her weary and restless. With every knot her needles tied, one inside her loosened. When she was done, it was the ugliest scarf she’d ever seen in her life. She laughed out loud at it, grateful for how good she felt. Wrapping the monstrosity around herself, she snapped a picture and sent it to Caroline. Quickly her phone beeped back with a text.

Don’t post that horrid thing anywhere, people will think it’s me 😉

~

The second scarf was actually quite beautiful. It was a pearlescent teal, the colors of impossibly calm waters she wished would well up inside of her. That morning she’d gotten a phone call from her father, thrown any t-shirts without paint or grease stains into a bag, and picked the closest craft store on route to the airport.

But once in the store, her feet felt a bit frozen to tiled floor. She begged her body to get a little further into the journey before the shock started in, but her toes were stone in her sandals.

“Ma’am, looking for something soft today?”

She decided the kind gentleman in the yarn aisle had to be some sort of guardian angel, as he appeared out of nowhere to lead her to the correct yarn weights, and then quietly checked her out at the back counter with the frames so that she could skip the long line at the front.

“Try a sand-stich,” he commented, as he wrapped her yarn in paper so it wouldn’t go frizzy in her carry-on.

“The what?” Calliope’s mind refocused from fussing with her wallet. Always pay attention when the universe speaks, even if it feels random.

“The sand-stich,” he said again, handing over the parcels for her to stuff between snacks and extra shoes, “it’s calming, and comes out like a little wave. I think you’ll like it with this color.”

After a smooth sail through TSA and boarding, thanking the spelled labradorite and shungite corded around her neck for the assist, she sent a quick text to her sister that she was on the way:

“Boarded! Be right there, how is she feeling?”

“Stable for now. Won’t lie, not looking good. Will give you more doc details when you land”

“How you feeling? My own worry is spiking too bad to get a read”

“If I weren’t the family taxi between house and hospital, I’d be 6 mojitos deep. Neal keeps texting me to update on the bar, I know he thinks it’s reassuring but I’m about to scream. Want to sit with her but everybody needs something”

“Block Nate’s number, explain to him later. We can split chauffeur duty when I get there. How’s Dad?”

“Acting strong, snuck him a moscow mule in a thermos lol, he’s nursing that while playing cards with Nonnie whenever she’s awake. Seems to have calmed him”

“and Mom?”

“Rum with coke and cooking snacks at house. We have enough chex mix to feed the coast guard :P”

“You and your drink magic ;)”

“Ha. Ha. See if yours will get that plane here faster”

“Will do :* Love you!”

With her last minute of wifi before takeoff, she googled the sand-stich. Calliope was very pleased with the four inches of tiny waves she had knitted by the time the plane landed, and when she was able to wrap her arms around her twin, felt those calm waters start to move within her and ripple across to her sister.

“She’s leaving soon, isn’t she?” Calliope whispered, still tucked tightly into her sister.

“But she waited for you. Uncle Frank even tried to pretend I was both of us and Nonnie was so furious, they had to sedate her!” Caroline tried to laugh but it was more of a hiccup, “I’m just glad you’re here. I feel like I’ll survive this now.”

~

The third scarf… wasn’t done yet.

Calliope had to admit that after losing her grandmother, she’d had a hard time picking up knitting needles again. She focused on other aspects of her practice: teas, candles, massage. She also had her actual work. Having graduated from her apprenticeship with Brasher’s rare blessing, Calliope was welcomed into an artists’ workshop where she could continue learning from experience professionals while getting a few of her pieces on the market. So she had a good excuse for not picking back up on the habit.

Then Caroline’s calls became more frequent. It wasn’t their usual monthly check-ins with random dailyish texts- Caroline had called Calliope in the middle of the night for the first time ever, after having been so careful about the time difference for years. With no hello, she was suddenly ranting about a rough day at the bar as if she was 19 again with her first fake ID.

“I mean a spritzer?! At The Swan?! Did I work this hard to still be wasting good wine watering it down?”

“Wait, what?” Calliope gulped from her water bottle, barely realizing this wasn’t a dream, “You’ve had rough days at bars before- can we get to the point? I have to wake up for work in like…” she pulled back the window curtain, checked the sky, “just 3 hours!”

“Fine, so Neal put all the highballs where I couldn’t reach them tonight and I may have overreacted because you know I’m still upset about Nonnie, and then he was so weird when we were doing shut down EVEN THOUGH I showed him that cool way to juggle shakers but then he tried to do it with soda in them which you can’t do ’cause it goes everywhere and so I-“

Such were the calls for weeks. Caroline would ring with some nonsense about the grocery store being out of the color grapes she liked or that one of her regulars wasn’t feeling well, but really it was about Neal. Calliope recognized it was less of a “would they/won’t they” thing and more of a “who has fewer trauma scars to take a risk” thing. Enjoying more of a buddy-system herself, she wasn’t able to offer much advise, and she knew Caroline wouldn’t take it even if she had it. Their mother had never really been one for romantic advice, having nabbed their father by accident in the second grade. They needed their grandmothers. Oma had studiously picked the best of six suitors to start her family, and Nonnie had run away from her family to marry their Papap and refused to come home until the family accepted the marriage.

So, well, Calliope had to get the next best thing- the knitting needles inherited from Oma, with the craft last done by the side of Nonnie. Almost like the universe had planned it. She rolled her eyes at herself, while knowing it was true.

In her closet, behind some half-done canvases (why had she thought painting was her thing last year?) and a suitcase with a broken handle, was her carry-on bag from that trip. She’d just thrown it to the back of her closet and hoped she’d be strong enough to deal with it later. Oma’s needles were still there, along with the leftover shining teal strands.

The next morning Calliope stopped by her favorite coffee shop, tipping the barista for the smile and extra shot of espresso in her dirty chai. Then to Stitch & Bitch, where all the local biddies gathered to hook up their grandsons and judge each other.

“What can I do for ya, sweetie?”

Calliope considered for a bit, “I need light pinks. Like almost white pinks. Maybe whites too. And I may need some purples.”

“Mmmm,” the lady behind the counter pursed her lips, “any reds?”

“No!” Calliope insisted, but then paused and considered the older woman, “not yet that I know of.”

There was a smirk growing across the clerk’s face, “Is this project for you or someone else?”

“Someone else.”

The woman nodded, “I see…” they exchanged a look of knowing, and with a wink, the woman led her to a small shelf of very soft lengths of all different shades ranging from picnic clouds to hot magenta. Some even had all of of them dyed in one bundle. “Perhaps you’ll find what you’re looking for here?”

“Yes, thank you, these…” Calliope was already running her hands over some of the coral threads, “these are perfect.”

She stayed in the shop for hours, long after she’d settled on a rose, silver, and plum set of yarn to make her sister an infinity scarf for Valentine’s Day. The biddies had inserted themselves in her choosing, then after Calliope had paid, they’d inquired to the nature of her project, the stitch pattern, every detail of her work. They knew one of her fellow workshop artists- a husband of a second cousin. She imagined they may collect every detail of the city in this manner from those who wandered through the shop.

Then they demanded she sit with them a minute, and how could she not? But then they saw her cast on and had to correct that immediately. Apparently she’d been doing it the “cheater’s way” her whole life, whatever that meant. As long as she could still do her own work upon the knots, she was happy to abide by more practiced knitters’ rules. Calliope settled in, watching some of the other ladies who had introduced themselves: Joan crocheting her third grandbaby’s new hat, LuAnn making bears for the children’s hospital, Margie knotting a plant-hanger for her husband. Starting into her own rows, each stitch felt more energized than usual. Calliope had always knit alone; this was the first she had ever been in a knitting circle, and she’d never felt such a wave of power like this. Did these women, these nine-to-five-ers and stay-at-home-ers and retirees know what power they wielded? Should she- ?

Calliope shook her head. Of course they did. And maybe they didn’t. But that did not matter. They used it either way it to take care of the people they loved. Just as she would.

The Word

Bind (verb): 1. To make secure by tying; to confine, restrain, or restrict as if with bonds. 2. To put under an obligation. 3. To constrain with legal authority. 4. To wrap around with something so as to enclose or cover; bandage.

Knitting is an under appreciated art form. I mean, it’s appreciated, but I still think it’s under appreciated! Many yarn and thread arts are unfortunately still considered “women’s work” which is very silly, not only because putting gender stereotypes on art is literally a waste of everyone’s time, but also because it’s an incredibly soothing pastime with an useful end result. “Oh man, meditative state… and suddenly… BLANKET?!?!” I see no reason men should not have this.

I try not to pull too many super personal experiences so blatantly into my writings. Don’t get me wrong, inspirations happen frequently- things in my life or characters I come across. But this one I’ll admit is pretty “hello, is me.” I did learn how to knit from my Nanna when I was very young. I picked it back up when my Grandma passed and I inherited her knitting needles. And I did make a very ugly scarf that I treasure very much using my Grandma’s needles, while I sitting next to my Nanna as we talked about some silly show on rocks we were watching. But it is one hella ugly scarf- I’d been practicing new patterns and not really paying attention when I dropped stitches. Even though I love it dearly, I actually cannot wear it in public due to its terribleness, haha.

I’m not super into tea/color energy though, so if I got any of that information wrong, I do apologize. Your girl is doing her research but mistakes do happen! I however, do love a good crystal. I’m not sure they have any specialness to them, but I have always LOVED a good rock. I used to steal really nice ones from my grandparents’ pebbled driveway, and I can’t remember who, but some adult threatened that I would have to pay to have the whole thing re-rocked if I didn’t stop. It did not deter me ONE bit! Still have some. Go rocks!

There are lots of cool places to learn how to knit online, like Ravelry. And places like Etsy have lots of beginners kits (hashtag support small and local, yo). And no matter what kind of energy you think is moving around us- it most certainly is within art. We as a society take something like thread and yarn- necessary for so much else throughout history, and make it more than useful, we make it beautiful. I think that’s really cool. And I think if you work with it, you’ll think it’s really cool too. Just a suggestion if you’re looking for a new project 😉

So happy knotting and unknotting, whether it is with what’s inside of you, or if you decide to find some string, and as always- happy reading 🙂

Today I am Nepenthe

The Story

It’s weird, time travel.

Scholars have been driven absolutely mad trying to figure out both the moral and scientific intricacies of how one moves between the particles of the timeline. How would a single shifted leaf affect the people left behind when the experiment was complete? Would the battery of such an instrument hold to return the scientist to their intended year? And as with every new trial in a learning world- is the risk worth the knowledge?

So I tell you with no small amount of seriousness, that I’ve time traveled many an instance, with very little effort.

The mixture is unordinary. I’m not of the fairy mindset myself, but my ancestors speak of a time when the ingredients once had to be gathered by the woods. My grandfather, and his father-in-law before him, and those before him, would go out to the woods to a special tree stump and leave an offering. He would then turn away. When he would turn back, there would be a special elixir waiting for him.

He would bring this elixir to his wife, my Nanna. With a careful hand her mother taught her, she would take eggs from the hen as a sign of fertility, vanilla from the vine as a gift from earth, cream from the cow as signature of purity, the elixir from the woods, and just a bit of sugar- for the sweetness of life.

And she would make the concoction that makes one capable of traveling across the centuries.

Knowing the preciousness of this alchemy, Nanna guided her sons and daughters, and then I and my siblings, through the steps so our hands would come naturally to them whenever the season asked. It is a dance to be a part of, a beat and a rhythm to scour hot sugar and conduct whipped whites to peak as one begs the barrel’s best angel share to impart onto the yolk of one’s offerings.

I’m talking, of course, of eggnog.

Not that nonsense that can be poured from 3×16 paperboard from your local grocery. True sorcery made from backwoods moonshine, or front-woods Wild Turkey should the world conspire against you, and a dash of magic.

I cannot give you the full recipe, no. Because I’m bound to secrecy. Those are the rules. The recipe can only be exchanged in person. You haven’t been taught by hand, haven’t been guided by someone who has gone before. I can’t have you lost among the years not knowing how to get back. I’d feel so guilty, and the great aunts would probably haunt me. I inherited their coffee table so they know where to find me.

But one sip, one whipped, spiked bubble upon your lip- and you can go anywhere.

I myself only make the delicious concoction once a year, so to get my traveler bearings, I always start with the same place: Madison, Georgia, USA, 25 December 1982.

It’s a safe place for me, and when you’re traveling, you need a place that you know really well. I’m lucky, I once got one of those storybook Christmases where there’s too much family and too much food and too many dogs and it’s too hot in the house and too cold outside and just enough yelling while a casserole gets slightly burnt around the edges. Then I fall asleep on the couch with my grandfather holding my hand because he’s worried if he moves, he’ll wake me. No matter where I am, I can recall the exact feeling of his large, calloused hand against my smaller one as I failingly beg my eyelids to stay open. From there I can build every inch of the scene around me: his turquoise sweater with folded back cuffs, the white pastel-striped couch we’re sitting on and its many satin bird pillows, my mother rising from the chair beside us to refill my Nanna’s glass of chardonnay, the beige carpet beneath her feet as she does so, the grand tree in the background, the displaced wrapping paper beneath (dark green and gold that year), on and on and on. And I’m there. Looking through the eyes of someone decades younger than I am now.

Grounded, I can continue.

When someone has passed recently, my next trip is always to my favorite memory of them, or their favorite memory of me. It’s a shame how much more frequent this has become as I get older. It would be cruel to warn the youth about it, but somehow I wish we could.

But there are, of course, drawbacks. I remember the first time I made a visit I was unprepared for. After falling asleep, hand in hand on that Christmas, I grabbed a strand and found my way to the other side of my family, to my passed Grandmother. I sat at her dining room table, with its thin white lace runner. Supper was finished and someone else has been tasked with gathering dessert. She turned to me with gray eyes, and asked me about my college courses. I begged my mouth to tell her I missed her, to form the questions I’d never properly asked. But instead they’d formed the responses I had given that day.

“They’re going well! I have a lot of hours next semester, but I really love Professor Scallion so-“

Suddenly back in my kitchen, mug of eggnog spilled across the counter, stomach turning over, heart beating furiously. It would not allow you to be upset and travel. Mmmm no, this was for pleasant traveling only.

So you learn to make it strong, to warm the extremities as well as ease the mind. Learn to appreciate the truly good moments and reach out for them only. You learn not to travel where you’re not wanted or not welcome, and where it does not hurt.

The best thing about traveling, is it helps you remember pieces you may have forgotten. It reminds you of stories that previously may have been lost. I’ve been asked before by companions how I know so much about my family tree, and I always say “oh word of mouth, we can’t help but tell stories!”

Which is true. But I hear them over and over again each winter, when I finish pouring cream over sugared yolks and a few other whispered ingredients. And go traveling.

The Word

Nepenthe (noun): 1. A drug described in Homer’s Odyssey as banishing grief or trouble from a person’s mind; any drug or potion bringing welcome forgetfulness (via Latin from Greek nēpenthēs ‘dispelling pain’, from nē- ‘not’ + penthos ‘grief’; sense 2 is from modern Latin) 2. A plant of a genus that comprises the Old World pitcher plants.*

This may be the most personal story I’ve put here. Every story has a bit of me, and I put myself in my characters feet as much as I can (and there is ONE character that I think is most like me, meaning they’re probs the least, but would love your guesses if you’re up for it, team). But THIS one has the most real stuff. Should I say that on the internet? Don’t be weird, guys. I’m trusting you, readers. To not be weirdos.

Anyway, readers. My family really does make eggnog from scratch every year. And due to -gestures vaguely at the world- I made it alone this year. And not to get too sappy, but I wasn’t all that alone. Between group chats, phone calls, and zoom calls, I had a lot of togetherness and was very lucky. We do a lot of story-telling (where I get it from!) and general merriment-gathering around the eggnog, and that’s what led to today’s story. And I have LOVED this word ever since I found it. I hope I did it okay justice.

And I hope your holidays were lovely, reader. We made it through whatever 2020 was. Here is 2021, and we’ll do this too. Happy reading!

*There is also a VERY good brewery in Baltimore, MD named Nepenthe that I would highly recommend if you are ever in the area. I was so exuberant about knowing what the name meant, that I bought the first round, and the bartender slipped me an extra beer simply because he was so amused 🙂

Today I am Chrysalis

The Story

All I can do is pace. Step forward again, again, again, turn, swish. Step forward, again, again, again, again. It’s a warm June day and yet there’s the distinct feeling of black ice under the soles of my shoes.

I almost told Jacob all of it: About the Queen of Diamonds, about Conley, my poor uncle, my secured office space where I keep all my dangerous thinga-mabobs and notebooks, everything. It would have only taken a couple of seconds to crash down the years of secrets I’d been building.

The warmth and confidence of his arms around me unwound the seals I’d thought were so tightly fixed. Luckily, in the last moment, one single strand of strength fought through depths of my addled mind and shouted some clarity into the rest of my system: I couldn’t do this. I could not fall to pieces in some man’s arms like a cliche’, no matter how good a man it was. Now could not be the time to find out how understanding my friends were. And also, I wasn’t done. The Queen still had more to do. So I shook him off, put on a dainty smile and apologized for my outburst, which he of course said was fine. After some mumbled excuses, I quickly left the house. I’m sure they all assumed it was just from all the blood and stress. The convenient thing about protective men is they always assume the women they’re protecting need it.

What I actually needed was air, and maybe something safe and silent to spill my secret into. It was like tears after a hard slap or bad news- no matter what I did to hold it back, it was coming out. But who could I tell? My sister had already done so much for me; always the older, bigger one, she’d guarded me at every turn from high school bullies to my first heartbreak. She often joked that she was glad Conley had come along so she could take the occasional day off keeping an eye on me… little did she know, right?

I couldn’t call Uncle Julian. He was understandably still flustered over the fire, and even if he wasn’t, from what I heard, his life had been full of enough drama and trauma in his younger years. There was no reason to pile on that. Which meant Mom wasn’t an option either, since she was looking after Uncle Julian.

My feet took me back home to pace in relative privacy. Yet as I moved back and forth, the whole apartment felt fake. When I moved in after college, I hadn’t put much thought into my space, I was just glad it was close-ish to both my family and Conley’s headquarters. The real world still existed, so I soon got a real world job, as a paralegal with a nice firm, which was actually handy as I got to see up close the legal aftermath of the damage I caused after-hours. Within a year, they mistakenly trusted me enough that I was able to work from home, which was good for both checking in on my uncle and my more nefarious doings. And it also gave me an excuse put more time into the decor of my little home.

I bought framed etchings on the walls of scenes from the Canterbury Tales. Put up pictures of my old roommates at Halloween. I hung the grand tapestry my sister had sent me from her trip to Egypt. A caricature of Conley and Mattis at the Eye of London stood proudly on an end table. There were little tiger figurines hiding in the bookshelves. I’d adored the deep velvet pillows I’d found at a market sale. Crystals strung from windows. This time looking around, it felt off balance. I couldn’t decide if the deep purple and gold theme was mine or the Queen of Diamond’s. Had I chosen these curtains with or without her in mind? How long had I been her? Oh gods, was this spiraling?

This was not fresh air, this was not working. I wanted to go sit outside and scream at the sky, but had enough of that sanity left to know getting arrested for public lunacy would only further tangle my predicament.

If I could just stuff my face with something yummy. No, I couldn’t bare interacting with a person. It seemed very likely they’d ask “Will that be for here, or to go?” and I’d reply, “I’m the one that burnt Parliament to the ground. And I enjoyed it!”

Maybe… maybe Uncle Julian had one of his baking stashes back at his place. When he retired from his more formal painting schedule, he’d become quite the avid baker and I rarely saw his counter without a plate of lemon bars or snickerdoodles.

That feeling of emptiness took over. I felt like a teenager again as it engulfed me, like a wave over unsuspected sand domes.

I. Needed. Carbs.

I needed them to fill the empty parts of my heart.

Were they going to permanently fix the shattered places? No. Were they going to glue them together long enough for me to grasp back on to a shred of calm? Possibly.

So I forced a long slow breath in through my mouth, out through my nose, made my gate casual, popped in my earbuds, and made my way back to uncle’s apartment. To check on the fire damage. To ease the insurance company’s worries. For good reason. For a snack.

When I got up the many flights of stairs to the very top, proud of how well my workout regiment must be going but still sad the elevators were still under the firemen’s review, I noticed the door to my uncle’s apartment was cracked.

It could’ve been left like that by an innocent firefighter. Or maybe we left it like that after my mother and I gathered a few sets of clothes. Unlikely, yet possible. But after the day I’d had, no chance needed to be taken. Conley may not have caught on yet, but what if other heroes had? I quickly pulled the thin dagger from the waistband of my joggers and checked that the throwing darts in my sports bra were still in place. I didn’t have anything else on me, having been so out of sorts when I stopped by my apartment, and too nervous to go by my little office-lair yet. If there were more than just a couple people behind that door, I was going to have to do some major improvising.

I moved quickly, silently, slipping through the door, flying across the room. I had her flipped and pinned to the wall in a matter of seconds. One hand at her throat, the other pressing the dagger against her wrist so that she couldn’t yield her weapon which was a-

-a… scone?

I blinked into blue eyes, crow feet surrounding them leading into a graying blond bun.

“Ah, so you’re Stew’s girl.”

I jumped back, flicking on the light by the kitchen counter, “Oh my gosh, Miss LeAnne, I’m so sorry,” I recognized her from the picture’s on Stew’s refrigerator and the few sketches in his notebooks, “I’m so sorry, I thought a robber was taking advantage of the fire and-“

“It’s okay sweetie, I’m a transplant from both Atlanta and New York, I understand.”

She was still standing against the wall, watching me. Her eyes tracing up and down my frame like a scan.

“I, uh, Uncle Stew needed some more clothes, and I wanted to check out the place.”

“Very sweet of you dear. I didn’t have such kind intentions. I just knew he probably left something tasty on the counter when you all had to rush out.”

Now she moved, her eyes still pinned to me. The way she poured onto the tall chair at the counter reminded me that Uncle had mentioned she’d once been a very successful dancer.

I laughed, forcing myself to relax a bit, “Yeah, I’ll admit that was an encouragement.” I took a scone myself. God, raspberry and white chocolate. Uncle was amazing. I downed it quickly and reached for another. Casually I asked, “Why were you sneaking in the dark, Miss LeAnne?”

She grinned, “I guess I was afraid there was someone with sharp knives around…”

I choked.

She continued, “I wanted to check before I turned on the lights.”

I coughed up the crumb that had lodged itself in my throat, “I am so sorry about that, Miss LeAnne.”

“Just LeAnne, sweetie. And it’s fine! I would have done the same thing. I’m so pleased Stew has someone so talented lookin’ after him. He’s a good man.”

I nodded, “He is, thank you. He speaks so highly of you, too. I think you’re his best friend. I’m surprised we haven’t met before.”

She twirled with a pearl stud in her ear, “Until recently, my job kept me very busy. Hopefully I’ll be around a bit more often. Maybe I can take some Stew-shifts off your hand.”

I was on my third scone, “Oh, I love spending time with him. But I’m sure he would love a break from hearing about my troubles. He probably gets tired of playing baker-therapist for me.”

“Ha! Oh doll we are too alike, he’s sewed me back together literally and metaphorically so many times! And here we are thinking we’re taking care of him!”

“That’s the truth!”

I laughed with her, and it felt so nice. Just a moment, in Uncle’s beautiful penthouse covered in art, laughing over scones with another lady. It was a salve.

“Alright, time to spill. I’ll play therapist tonight, young lady. I can’t bake, but I do know where your uncle keeps a wine stash.”

I couldn’t hide my shock, “Mom said he quit drinking over a decade ago.”

“He did,” she pulled the top off an ottoman, clicked something, pulled up another layer, and then pulled out a bottle of red wine, “but he also said that I could keep what I needed here for emergencies. So I do. This feels like an emergency.”

She had no idea.

I framed it all like boy problems. Turned war into romance, which was easier than it should be. Still got my point across about feeling betrayed and confused, and she nodded along and refilled my glass as the sun went down through the glass of the patio french doors. When the bottle was empty, she stumbled over to the coffee table, clicked something under it, and another wine bottle popped out! Then she began to tell me about all her adventurous travels of the world. She and her girlfriends had seen the Catacombs of Paris, Queen Anne’s Ice Palace in Russia, had served as scribe maidens in the Scotland’s National Book Town festival, and so many more.

And when that bottle was empty, she sent me to his armoire and instructed me how to pull a little lever on the side and a secret bottom would pop open in the middle drawer. I found another bottle of red wine, an extensive first aid kit, and a notebook. I pocketed the notebook for later, and closed the drawer, bringing the bottle back.

“There’s a good girl, old women like me can’t keep walking around on flimsy feet for the third bottle,” Her speech slightly slurred but she didn’t spill a drop as she refilled our glasses, “Now tell me again why you and Mr. Jacob don’t just run away from this whole mess and live happily ever after.”

I felt the heat rise through my cheeks, “Am I that transparent, LeAnne?”

“You are now!” She roared with laughter, and I had to catch her from tipping off her stool.

When she leaned back forward, I saw her eyes were as brightly sober as mine.

“Alright, LeAnne. What’s your deal?”

“You’re good, kid. I even spiked the second bottle.”

“I know.”

“You wanna fight first?”

“No, because we both know I’d kill you, and that would upset my uncle. I meant it when I said you were his best friend.”

“Second only to you.”

“Which is why we should get along. So I ask again, what’s your deal, LeAnne?”

“You’ve got some good ideas, young lady, but what you need,” she paused, took another sip, and then smirked in a strange way that made her wrinkles disappear, “is a henchman. I’m retired from my old gig, but still very good at what I do. You’re right you can take me, but you’re a feisty one and these old bones still got a lot left in them. And I also happen to be awfully bored.”

“Now why would you think I need henchman? I’m just an innocent girl with a nine to five.”

“Sure. And I’m a toadstool with a stick up my ass.”

I took my first actually long swallow of wine for the night. That feeling of ice under my feet had returned, and I needed to remain in control.

“There are plenty of organizations that could keep you occupied in your retirement. Why would you want to work with… someone of questionable circumstances.”

“You’re riding a star upwards, sugar, that much is clear. And if that’s for the betterment of womankind, I’m perked ears. You gonna take a man down along the way? Ain’t no better to have to in your corner than me an’ my friends.”

Take Conley down? That wasn’t the goal. But to have even closest cohorts think that was the goal would keep the secret safest.

“And what do expect in return? I do occasionally rob a bank, so I’m happy to split that up, but that’s not exactly the objective.”

“My girls and I are mostly looking for action. And like I said, the upward movement of gals like you. Plus, if we both continue to keep Stew clean and clear out of all of this, I’m happy. I owe him several life times of favors.”

I nodded, understanding how much cost the favor of a loved one really carried.

“So you and your ‘friends’? Are they answering to you or to me?”

“They’ll answer to me, I answer to you. We’re picky but loyal. And if you’ar who I think you are, we’ve got reason to sign allegiance…”

She was finally asking me to reveal my identity. To say it out loud, seal the contract with trust.

My identity. Wasn’t this supposed to be the other way around? I take the mask off and say the name on my driver’s license? But here I was, not even any mascara, and when asked of who I really was…

“I’m the Queen of Diamonds.”

“Then it is a honor, your majesty.”

The Word

Chrysalis (noun): 1. A quiescent insect pupa, especially of a butterfly or moth. 2. The hard outer case enclosing a chrysalis. 3. A transitional state.

Butterflies? But that is a Spring thing! Why discuss them in December? You ask. Because I said so! And our argument is simply an assumption of my imagination and thus I win every time! But, I’ll explain myself anyway 🙂

I kept coming back to the word Evolution, but for our growing queen that wasn’t quite right yet, and the above story wasn’t quite right yet, and I haven’t felt quite right for the past several weeks (who has? this year has been hard for many). So as I was writing, and our main lady is realizing all her pieces aren’t quite put together as well as she thought, I was reminded of the chrysalis. And this is what inspired me to put the rest of today’s tale in place and set her back on her path.

You see, the cool thing (or one of) about butterflies/moths entering the Pupa stage where they’re in this cool casing, is that they become completely undone. They’re goo; there is nothing recognizable about what they were before they entered this arena. And then of course they exit and they have these cool wing things and fly around WEEEEE flap flap flap. BUT. What scientists have discovered is that they have memories from when they were caterpillars. Can you imagine? Becoming COMPLETELY UNDONE. Unrecognizable to people who weren’t watching closely. Nothing like you once were, but still holding on to the few things that mattered from before?!

Why yes… yes I think many of us can.

And I think our Queen here is just… lost in the goo (ew, gross metaphor) but still holding on to the parts that matter. And it’s understandably frightening to realize you’re not like you once were, and to look forward and realize you still don’t know what’s coming but the process is in full swing now, baby! All you can do is keep growing.

This time of year when it gets dark, I can get really down. But then little inspirations like this lift me up and I’m reminded that this part of the season is a lot like Spring. It’s a time for growth. Not the bursting forth that we see in the flowers of May, but in the resting and recovering that slow times can bring. In the letting ourselves wrap up into our blanket chrysalis with hot chocolate and look back over the year and see what parts we’re going to keep as we move forward. Maybe that’s all too deep for a story about a lady who’s building rocket launchers while eating raspberry scones but… it’s what I’m thinking about today 🙂

I hope all you readers are doing well in your goo (ew, I did it again), and I look forward to seeing your beaaaautiful wings! Happy reading!

Today I am Tincture

The Story

Before my sweet husband died, I liked white wine, specifically a light Germanic Riesling. Something about sticky honeysuckle paired with minerals while arguing with acidic lime was very exciting for me.

But after my husband’s death, I didn’t want excitement. I wanted soothing. I needed melody, something with body while I myself withered away. Mother tried to tell me to drink tea, as if that would do anything at all. Uncle Pete offered me a sip of his whiskey, but it bit back as it always had.

My hippy sister made me a strange tonic from her garden, it was all bubbly and tasted like vinegar. My less hippy sister gave me a handful of unmarked pills from her pharmacist husband. Though I appreciated the gesture, I’ve still got every single one in my medicine cabinet. My brother told me to take a shot of vodka, and get a hobby, like knitting.

Out of spite, I did, and I knit him a thong for his birthday. Unfortunately, the satisfaction from his panicked blush in the crowded room was only temporary. My rows and pearls were perfect, yet my heart was still frayed.

I tried turning back to my Riesling, but that wouldn’t do. Just as the first notes lifted from the glass, I knew it wasn’t right. I’d seen the love of my life placed into the dirt, and I was sure that was enough minerals and acid in my throat I’d ever need.

My only solace was among the leathery aroma of his closet, where his favorite onyx-studded belt still hung, and the smell of his cologne wafted off his shirts like a vanilla, pepper spiced ghost. What I needed was the taste of his lips when he’d find me at the gallery, soft and distinctly masculine and herbed from the rosemary crisps he snuck while listening to the artists I brought in that week. I needed the sultry deep colors he caused in my world when he touched the back of my neck at the dining table, promising a long dessert. I needed the warmth he left in a room, from the lingering smoke of his outdated pipe he insisted was classic, to the laughter he caused in every social circle.

I needed my husband.

I needed my husband.

I needed my husband.

The only other option was to untie my own line from the mooring of this life, and I just didn’t think my family could take that. So, like a good woman, a good widow, I did what needed to be done.

He had always been so proud of me. Whenever we hosted a new patron or budding artist for the gallery, he’d always find a time in the night to boast “There’s not a piece in this world she can’t get her hands on. If she wants it, she’ll have it. And you’ll see it in the gallery!” Then he’d laugh his big laugh and our guests would be laughing with him as he refilled their glass. It was charming how confident he was in me. And of course it helped that he was right.

So, after a few busy weeks of planning and scheduling, I returned to the gallery. I was afraid I would have to reestablish myself from quite low after so much time spent away, but the loyalty I had built there was still very strong. All the way from the haughtiest benefactor to the sweet, strong-backed workers who heaved the weighty sculptures to and fro, I was still offered trust and favor. And I would be thankful for each and every one.

My family noticed the change in me immediately.

“Oh dear, this is wonderful! I think getting back to work is a healthy decision.”

“There ya go kiddo, that’s a little smile I see.”

“I’m so happy, you’ve got a little color back in your face!”

Unlike the previous years, I did not spend my days working until dusk at the gallery, awaiting the sound of my husband’s Oxfords to come clicking across the marble to whisk me home. No, I took myself home in the afternoon so I could spend the rest of the day working in his old study.

And so it went. From the small sliver of window I allowed to escape the curtain, I watched the seasons change. Do-gooders would come see if I needed company on holidays or special occasions, knowing the firsts without him would be the hardest. They delivered champagne for New Years, Chambord for my birthday. But these well intentioned gifts sat untouched by the door. Because I didn’t need to try another salve. I wasn’t truly without him, not now. It was what comforted me as I worked.

A full year after my husband’s heartbreaking departure, I decided to throw a celebration of his life. A party he deserved that I had been unable to give him closer to his funeral, due to my dismal state.

I invited everyone who had ever brought cheer into his life: both our families, his old college rowing teammates, his partners at the firm (well, the ones he liked), the rotary club, every artist who had stepped foot in the gallery, their muses, and their patrons. I made sure our old neighbors and new neighbors could make it, the butcher from his favorite organic farm, the owners from all the vineyards we toured on both coasts and Europe, even the caterers were told that once food was set out, they were encouraged to join in; not a soul was to be left out of celebrating the one I cherished above all others.

And of course I furnished all the delectables he loved. Sage-buttered brisket, garlic lamb pops, squid sautéed in their own ink, enormous slabs of velvet cake, the kind of food that’s ridiculous to eat in a large crowd of people, which makes it all the more joyous to do so. And of course, best served with red wine and it had to be his favorite, Cabernet Sauvignon. I had several bottles flown in from every good year and terroir left on earth so that guests could have their choice within the varietal, but it was my demand that if you held a glass, it was filled with Cab Sav.

The night appeared to be a huge success. There was dancing out in the garden to the same jazz music that had played at our wedding. Where I worried the food may be too heavy, everywhere I looked models and athletes alike enjoyed a second, maybe third, helping. Even Mother touched my sleeve as I passed by and gave me a small smile, which made me pause long enough to realize she was in the middle of one of her lavish stories. Everyone seemed to be truly cheerful, and that was the best way I could think to dedicate a festivity to my love.

Before the revelry could ascend beyond control, I stood in the doorway of the patio and clinked my glass. It wasn’t near loud enough for them all to hear, but slowly the attention rippled through the crowd until there was hush enough for me to speak.

“First, I must thank you all for coming, and for indulging a widow in celebrating such a great man,” there was a round of cheers, “I could go on forever about how wonderful my husband was, but you all know it’s true, and many of you were kind enough to speak so here a year ago. Instead, I hope you’ll indulge me once more.”

I heard a few clinks as the cue was heard.

“You’ll see that waiters are coming around to fill your glasses afresh. This has been the passion project I’ve been working on these past many months that has brought me both closer to my late husband, and back to life. In his memory, I’ve made our very own Cabernet Sauvignon blend. Just a small batch to start, and for all of you, our dearest friends, to have the first taste with me, tonight.”

An enormous cheer went up in the crowd, and by the time the applause died down, all glasses were full and ready.

I raised my glass. “To my love!”

“Hear, hear!” They called back, and drank.

As I made another round of greetings, I received many genuine compliments on the wine! This person thought it had a nice fruit-forward mouth, this other loved the spiced back. Yet another detected the tobacco I’d worked so hard to capture.

I must say it was very reassuring. I had a small worry all my work may have been a fool’s errand. But I had to agree with them, it was a satisfactory wine. I stole away to the study for a private moment with my second taste.

Swirl Yes, like a mist of plum over the blood red surface.

Sip The pepper hits first, then his vanilla, and the leather last.

Swallow And just as with him, it is the slight smoke that lingers, and the warmth spreading into my fingers.

Another sip, and I pick out the more earthy, mosslike tones as well. They hadn’t been my favorite when I settled on a blend, but I felt they were appropriate to keep, considering what I’d gone through to get them.

As I passed back through to rejoin my guests, I caught myself in one of the hall mirrors. I did indeed have a nice glow about me. They were right what they said- a little color back in my face. Though I could do without the stain red wine leaves on one’s lips.

Yet, what a small sacrifice to taste my husband again. Beauty may be in the eye, but flavor… that’s in the heart.

The Word

Tincture: (noun) 1. Medicine made by dissolving a drug in alcohol. 2. A slight trace of something. (verb) Be tinged, flavored, or imbued with a slight amount of.

Happy Hallow’s Eve!

This year looks a bit different for most people when it comes to Halloween, but that doesn’t mean we can miss out on the good stories. For myself, I am a scardy cat, but I still really love scary stories! I’ve wondered why that is for a long time. I think it has to do with the mystery, the intrigue. To actually be a scary story, it has to be well written. Think of stories that have truly spooked you- they’re all good authors, right? You have to know your way around timing and character, laying down the law and the land and a few clues to really draw someone in.

So attempting to write a scary story is actually really good practice for growing authors (such as myself). It helps you find that sweet spot of how much to tell readers, when to pull back, if a gotchu-moment is right for this one, when it’s not, etc. It’s interesting to say the least!

Today’s story was inspired by an actual TRUE story, themed much like the one above- a little sweet, a little spooky, and it is that of the Mother of Horror herself, Mary Shelley. If you don’t know what she used to keep in her desk, go check it out! Also just read up on Mary Shelley in general, because although she did not have the best life, she was a fascinating person that had really interesting things happen to her, and in between some of it she wrote Frankenstein.

Today I am Savor

The Story

My hand gets a little heavy with the newbies’ first glass or two, just a splash for that extra ounce or so. They’re often nervous, trying not to stick out, which makes them stick out even more, and I take it as part of my job to calm them down a bit. The ones hiding among a group of experienced tasters are even cuter, nodding along with the notes, trying to keep up with the different names and phrases.

I’m Head Vino Guide at Leonadi Vineyards, here just below Tulalip Bay. All that means is I’m the dude pouring your wine, and I’ve been here longer than the other dudes pouring wine.

Here, Cab Sav is king. But lucky for the red-shy newbies I adore so much, Riesling is prince, so there are still a few flavor notes with which I can wade them in.

For the sweet second-wife out with her new husband and adult step-kids, I point out the cool minerality left on the back of the tongue. She likes this word, and rolls it around in her mouth before swallowing. I wink at her coyly so she knows this is a good move. When we later discuss the Syrah, the step-daughter happily agrees with her that this is distinctly not “mineral-y”, and I feel like I’ve helped.

When the young man enters toting a very excited girlfriend, I point out the lime he’ll inhale before he even sips. He gets excited when his flared nostrils do indeed, and makes a note every time he finds another fruit throughout the tasting. Girlfriend appears very pleased, even mildly impressed. She pecks him on the cheek and I feel a whisper of it on mine.

The Bridge club comes in, and this time there’s a new member among us. After a happy wave and a swift update on everyone’s medical issues and grandchildren accomplishments, I am told this is Luanne. Her husband retired recently and Annette noticed at church that sweet Luanne needed some time out of the house, thus the Bridge club. They have come here almost every Saturday for the past two years, and I still have no idea if they actually play Bridge. Luanne, though charmed by the pear essence in her Sauvignon, is equally so with the spiced butter notes in the Chardonnay. I tell her she has quite the refined palette and accuse her of knowing more than she lets on. She blushes and the other silver birds laugh, pleased to have another in the flock.

I’ve been here a long time. Like I said, the longest of any of us. It wasn’t on purpose. I kinda landed here. Several years ago, I was gunning for top spot at a suave bar in the middle of the city, the kinda place where A-list celebrities hide in dark glasses and rich old women go to tell their stories to poor novelists. But I was knocked out of the running by some up-and-comer with “more the attitude we’re looking for.” While I was soaking my sorrows in a 2012 Keuka Pinot Grigio, that up-and-comer slid a napkin with a number on it over to me.

“I know you don’t want to work under me. And it’d be a shame to waste that pallet. My sister knows a guy up north looking for someone like you if you want some fresh air.”

And here I am. 

Fresh air turned out for the best, I think. I belong with the wine people more than I ever did the cocktail crowd. I can read these fellas now as well as the legs of a merlot down the sides of a glass.

You can see it in the swirl, the carry tells you everything if you look properly: the depth, the age, the blush, where it came from, where it’s going. Some are bright and joyfully effervescent. And I do love a bold, deep body that has aged into its place. But others are dark with too much density. There’s no need to carry such weight if you have the flavor to back it up, ya know? Or those that think their lack of complexity makes them cute and quirky, when really we all know they’ll just be put on the shelf until next summer.

Yes I know, there’s a certain joy and sophistication in simplicity. But there has to be a class to it as well. Take this young gentleman breaking away from his table. A few hours ago, he showed up with what looks like his date and the date’s family. It’s a fairly new romance, as he’s still trying to make impressions, but all parties already appear pretty comfortable. During the tasting he stuck close to said date, yet made sure to make several comments affirming the mother’s favoritism towards the peppery Petit Sirah. He’ll buy one for the table later as a thoughtful gesture. But oh how his face lit up when we hit the Barbera. I’d had a feeling since the beginning he’d want all those dark blackberries, so this is where I let my hand linger for just another moment over his glass. An extra drop for courage. After they all giggle and gush over their charcuterie board for a bit, here he is back at the bar as predicted. Hazel eyes and a genuine smile. When he asks for a bottle of the Petit Sirah, I know I’ve gotten another one right. A good man. Pairs well with the more emblazoned, does well to balance others. Uncomplicated, yet classy. 

Nothing like the heady cougar who has brought her third boyfriend of the summer and put it all on her husband’s tab. She’ll push the glass back and forth across the bar, barely ever taking a real sip, while her companion smiles coyly at her. She’s light, but astringent. He doesn’t know how long the flavor will last, and since he isn’t listening to my tasting notes, I can’t give him any warning. 

That’s the only time I suppose I get frustrated. I’ve been here a long time, longer than anyone else. I know these vintages, and can read the new ones fairly well. Take my word for it, if a sommelier like me makes a suggestion, you ought to take it.

The Story

Savor (verb) 1. Taste (good food or drink) and enjoy it completely. 2. Have a suggestion or trace of (something, especially something bad). (Adj) A characteristic taste, flavor, or smell, especially a pleasant one.

I have to admit to the pleasure of knowing I’m the wine snob among my group of friends. One of my friends recently pointed out that it’s the time of the year when I start the official campaign for us all to switch back to red wine, and she’s not wrong (although THIS year, time has meant very little, so stick with whatever colors suit you).

This character and I fought for a while. I couldn’t decide whether he needed to be playful or creepy with his ability to read people. You can decide for yourself which way he went. And he might pop back up again, get reworked, lean the other way. People do change, ya know…

Personally, I love people watching, but I think there’s a huge difference in doing so and actually being able to pick up on someone’s entire story. Are you able to pick up on people’s stories as they go by? Or do you ever wonder if people can sense a chapter of yours as you go by them?

I can’t wait for the day when sitting peacefully at a winery is a common occurrence again. It’s one of my happy places, not just for the wine, but because of the people there as well. Whether it’s Fall or Spring, it always seems to have an air of anticipation, and I’m always on the edge of my seat, and yet somehow relaxed.

I hope whatever you’re up to, you can find a nice place to people watch, or read, or just sit for a moment and sip, dear reader. Cheers!