A banjo is an excellent story writer. It’s a 5-string choose your own adventure. It’s a thriller. It’s the romance writer of stringed instruments. Go down the neck, and you get some science fiction and fantasy sounds…the bard of a space court. It’s African poetry. It’s a medical drama about a woman needing a musical cure for a rough week. The banjo is a story, and it is the cure.
Poe drew in a deep breath as she sat up, the sound of silence tickling her ears. She scanned X deck, to which she was one of the assigned residents thanks to her exotic last name of Xanadu. The only problem was that she was the only one awake amongst the dozen or so patrons that had chosen last names beginning with X. New space, new names.
As she tried to stand, her legs gave way, and Poe fell to the hard deck, smarting her tailbone in the process. She wished she had paid better attention to the literature about the process of waking up. There was a step-by-step guide to moving again. As a Scrivener, she should have appreciated the words she had been provided to have a less stressful experience on the ship. Soon, it would be her turn to write the words required for others to survive and remember this journey.
She looked around for any indication of why she was the only one awake in at this time. As she tried to stand again, she felt a whoosh above her head, nearly blowing her chin length ginger curls straight.
Poe called out with a cracking voice, “Who’s there? Or should I say what?”
She looked across the deck to a blinking control panel and a perch with a dark presence. Poe blinked her eyes until wings came into focus.
“What are you? I demand to know what has happened here.” Poe was talking to a bird…a large, black one, with coal eyes now staring in her direction. The bird was not there when Poe boarded the Lunessa for the adventure of deep space travel. She could not afford the ship, so she agreed to be a Scrivener to cover the cost of her passage.
The bird, with an agitated flap of its giant wings, swooped towards Poe, dropping a silver brick in front of her that popped open to produce another perch towering over her seat on the floor.
“Hello, Ms. Xanadu. I am glad to see you are awake. I am your Raven guide.”
Poe looked up, biting her bottom lip for a moment. “My Raven? What are you going to do about my predicament of being awake? I suppose you can call me Poe, too. Ms. Xanadu seems a little formal at this point.” Poe noted the Raven had a male accent, British in origin. She had watched movies based on Jane Austen books from the planet of Earth II.
The Raven cawed, a noise that shattered Poe’s confidence in questioning it. “Absolutely nothing. I woke you. It is time to get to work, pay off that passage you so desperately wanted, my dear. Call me Mr. Darcy. I prefer my formal name when you are addressing me, Ms. Xanadu, since we are merely at the acquaintance stage of our relationship.”
Poe rolled her eyes, studying the Raven’s wings, finally seeing evidence of robotic origins under the realistically plumed bird.
“Mr. Darcy, if you could so kindly tell me about the work required of me, then maybe we can proceed to the less formal friendship stage.”
“I am afraid I cannot do that. It must remain a mystery.”
“That’s ridiculous.” Poe was done sitting. She willed her legs to stand so she could look this daft bird in the eyes. When she stood fully, locking her legs and ignoring the swirl of her head, she was still slightly shorter than the impromptu perch.
“A mystery you say? Is there somebody that can help me solve this mystery then, bird brain?”
“Ms. Xanadu, that is a touch rude, don’t you think? You must not fan the flames of discord upon first meeting with someone, after all.”
“I hate to break it to you, but you are a robotic bird, remarkably realistic, but not to the point where I would worry about causing offense. I just want to know why I am awake and how I can get back to sleep.”
“I will ignore your slight. You have been asleep for two years. Perhaps your manners are still asleep. If you follow me, I will set you on the path to solving this mystery. Please grab your writing instruments of choice for you shall document the solving of this mystery.”
Poe grabbed her mental typewriter from the internal pocket of her still open sleep pod and placed little white discs in her ears and a tiny white patch on each temple. Mr. Darcy yawned causing Poe to smirk. While she didn’t want to obey Mr. Darcy, she needed to play along to understand her current troubles.
The glass doors of X deck opened as Mr. Darcy flew and Poe followed. They stepped out onto the circular walkway that was alphabetically the 24th circle up from the ground level of the ship. Poe stepped to the edge of X and looked down into the vastness of the ship, noting there were others roaming on circles below her. She then looked up and saw a man leaning over Y deck waving down to her.
Poe let out a sigh and looked at Mr. Darcy who was now floating at the center of the circle slightly below her eye level, not even bothering to flap his wings like a real bird.
Poe had to shout slightly over ambient engine and control noise. “Now what?”
“There is no need to shout at me, Ms. Xanadu. It is quite simple. You solve and document the mystery of why you are awake along with these other passengers. If you are successful, as judged by me in two days’ time, then you all can go safely back to sleep. If not, you will all meet eternal sleep, but we will still have your story to read either way.”
“I did not agree to this.”
“Most unfortunate that you did not read the fine print.”
Poe ran and jumped into the circular void, pulling off one of Mr. Darcy’s wings on her way down.
The world globe sat for a century in a glass cabinet of curiosities in the library of a sorcerer who was selfishly proud of its acquisition. He went to see the Wainwright witches about stealing their power, and on that same night, this rusty, dusty spherical trinket which caught the corner of his eye came home with him to serve as a trophy of his successful conquest. He had no use for it after that day, but the Wainwrights had not forgotten its existence.
Solaine pulled into a long driveway, her breath filling the air as she rolled down her window to verify the barely visible numbers nailed to a post. There was an iron gate ahead of her, already opened according to plan. She pulled up to a mansion of charcoal stone and black trim. It was unremarkable architecturally except for its enormous size, a hallmark of misplaced ego and other male deficiencies in her opinion.
She exited her car, a minor feat with her tight dress and pushed up bosom, whispered a few words, and looked down to see a flat tire as cold rain started to fall. She walked up to two rounded wood doors, painted black with no windows, and knocked vigorously. A tiny old man with an ample belly, stooped back, and long, pointy mustache answered. Solaine could hear him shuffling and breathing heavy even through the solid doors.
“Good evening. We were not expecting guests tonight. And if you would not mind, could you explain how you made it through the gatesssss?” He spit through his mustache, barely audible until the last bit about the gates.
“I’m just one guest, less a guest, and more a stranded victim of car troubles on this cold, rainy night.” Solaine pointed to her flat tire. “Could I come in and warm up a bit as I call for a tow? The gatessss were open by the way.”
The troll of man started to shake his head to the negative when Solaine whispered two more words, and he swung his sausage arm behind him, cracking old joints in the process, to usher her into the entry of the ostentatious brick box.
“I will go get Mr. Vrane. He will be pleasantly surprised to have a guest, especially such a beautiful one. Follow me to the library where I will have you wait for him.”
Solaine smiled and narrowed her eyes. Sometimes when she whispered words, she went too far, and truth came out. She probably had worse suitors, but a troll man was still not high on a list for a Saturday night out. He was giving her exactly what she hoped for at this moment though. She straightened her jet black bob slightly, brushed down the corners of her dress which were riding up and followed the miniature mustache man through a hallway, painted flat black, into a room that had books on every single wall, table, and counter available. Finally, there was no black to be seen.
The tiny man smiled with all his tiny yellow teeth.
“Please make yourself at home while I summon Mr.Vrane.”
Solaine thought there was no truer word than summon for acquiring someone like his dark master.
“Thank you. My name is Solaine, Solaine Adams. Tell Mr. Vrane thank you for any help or hospitality he can provide.”
Her faithful new servant nodded his head and scurried out of the library, a prehistoric, confused bug. Solaine immediately turned her attention to the glass cabinet she came here to see, doors already opened as planned. Things could be too easy when you had the most powerful friends in the world. She reached for the globe, and as she did, she smelled a smoky maleness at her back and turned to see a man that could only be Mr. Vrane.
“Do you always show up unannounced and make yourself so liberally at home in the libraries of others? I’m Axel Vrane, and I hear you are Ms. Solaine Adams.”
Axel neither looked pleased nor displeased at Solaine’s presence. His voice was mildly irritated yet laced with charm. He was also not immune to the royal blue dress hugging every curve of her delicate frame. His gray eyes were locked in a repeating pattern, moving up and down her figure. She was warned of his rogue ways and stood firm in her mission, longing to finish this and return to attire without mild attraction spells cast on it.
“I am so sorry. This library is like nothing I’ve seen, and this cabinet was open and called to me. I was on my way to your neighbors up the road for a fundraiser.”
“I see. You are curiously fortunate in your misfortune as my gate and that cabinet are mostly closed. It is also fortuitous that you did not get stuck trying to drive with a flat tire up my old driveway. I assume you were going to my nearest neighbor’s house in your flattering blue dress for this event. Would I be correct?”
Solaine could hear a slight whisper from Axel at the end of his curiously polite summation as if he were casting, so she stumbled back a little to distract him. She should have planned this part better for she did not know the name of Axel’s neighbors, and she had been too obvious with her magical presence. She got lucky as he quickly moved towards her, still finding her intriguingly distracting yet realizing she was a threat, and he grabbed for the globe. She whispered four words at exactly the right moment before he touched the globe, watched Axel jolt, and then found herself and the globe in a slum in India.
The boy was waiting for her, standing between the rows of falling houses and makeshift storefronts on either side of them. There was a sweet rotting smell thick in the air, and Solaine’s heart broke as she nearly slipped on garbage on the broken street beneath them. Somebody had tried to pave it, bless their weary soul.
She bent down to the boy’s level, kissing his cheek, causing him to smile and show off the beautiful teeth she gave him the last time she was here. A rat scurried by them, slightly startling her.
“Aranav, son of Aarush and friend to the Wainwrights, I will take what is mine and give to you the gift of power to change what is around you. That power belonged to your great grandfather and would have been your father’s power to give to you if he were here. All I ask is that when the man arrives here looking for all of it, you do your best to keep our secret. Agreed?”
The boy shook his head vigorously, silently dedicated to this accord.
“Good. And as I have taught you, stealing from others, especially magic, is not okay unless it was not for them to take in the first place.”
The boy shook his head again.
Solaine motioned for Aranav to place his hands on the globe and began to whisper her words. She whispered for a long time as this casting required far more than conjuring and charms. Her magical strength increased exponentially as she paused then whispered more words, now unintelligible, syllables blending in unbreakable song.
At one point, the boy jolted, growing slightly taller and less emaciated, healed by the power between them emanating from the globe. The row houses grew tall and straight, and the slime and putrid smell of the slum evaporated. When she was done, she was exhausted yet full of everything a Wainwright deserved. The boy was also full of everything he deserved as son of Aarush, and the slum was now a simple neighborhood, far from riches, but safe from squalor.
Aranav met her eyes and hugged her, the globe still between them, and he finally spoke.
“Thank you, Ms. Wainwright for returning what was ours with honor,” he said as he looked around at a vibrant street around him, clean and full of food stands, soon to be full of people again as dawn was breaking.
Solaine kissed the boy one last time on his cheek and made her way quickly from this street.
An American man traveled to the area one month later. He smelled of smoke, and he told everyone his name was Jim Adams. Jim was searching for something that was stolen from him, and he deposited money in the hands of many along his way to find it. Jim eventually found his way to Aranav’s street, using a map on a scroll. When he arrived, he realized he had been duped by the magic man he paid to draw this map for the street was decent, not a slum. As he angrily turned on his heals, he saw a boy, tall and proud, carrying a plain glass globe. He pivoted to walk towards the boy, but he was too late. The boy disappeared with the globe in a cloud of smoke. Jim knew what had been stolen would never be stolen back. He would find a new way though for she had not taken everything.
This is the basic premise of a series of books I will start to write. I love when a new story idea is born.
Chronicles of the Wainwright Witches 1: Fire Born
Solaine Adams is living her perfect life in the early 90s as she starts her second year of medical school in Detroit…until she gets pulled into an alley after a Nirvana concert by a man named Anslow Vrain. Anslow says he is here to take all her power away from her, a power with which all Wainwrights are born. He also tells her there is something darkly special about her which is why she must ultimately die. The trouble is Solaine does not remember being a Wainwright or of what power or darkness he speaks, and Solaine would like to keep living.
As Anslow sends her on a forced quest for answers she’s not sure she wants, Solaine meets another man, Gray Morgenstern, who swears they are dear childhood companions. Forced to travel down a path of discovery about herself, unraveling her otherwise successful existence, Solaine must also choose her friends and foes amongst these two men and a cast of mysterious and magical characters who have now taken over her life and dreams. The battle between dark and light powers, the choice between science and the supernatural, and her continued existence now rest on the choices Solaine will make.
Last night I dreamed I was back in an Applied Microbiology lab with one of my favorite professors who has since passed from Cancer. He said something back then (early 90s) in his quirky, ominous voice that caused us to lovingly make fun of him for a couple of weeks. This was the guy who had his car keys in his hand when he asked us if we saw them. He was a great teacher, and he loved science. He dedicated his life to research and students. He bought me a $100 distillation tube when I broke mine for the third time in a semester.
He said, “Disease is our enemy, not each other.”
This was during the concerns we faced from the Ebola virus. I wanted to share this before I continue working and before I forget again. He also said we have great power as scientists to help.
“Tallyhooooo and bugaboooooo! Troops, we have a problem,” Smith yelled, forgetting a whisper yell was the preferred communication for the Night Gardeners. He tilted his blue cone to the left and placed his hands on his hips just above his trowel holster.
“Smith, it is just one rabbit. I think this might be a wee overreaction. Yes?” Margie just wanted to weed tonight. Smith had been too focused on the nibbling of rabbits for her taste this week. This garden had a one rabbit problem, and Margie was content to weed and forget, weed and forget.
“Bob, can you explain to Margie about how one rabbit becomes thousands of rabbits, tearing your Centaurea montana from the earth, beautiful flowers and roots…NEVER TO RETURN?”
“You were always better at biology, Smithy. Anyways, what is the common name for Century Mount Tana?”
“Sweet weed whipper near a perennial, Bob. Amethyst on snow. I’m not even going to correct your pronunciation of the French name.”
“I thought it was Latin,” Margie poked the pint-sized, portly bear she called Smith.
“Enough, both of you. The enemy returns in a few minutes, and we must take back this garden and do so quietly. We don’t want to wake the ginger…public enemy number two. I have stacked some rocks over there. When it arrives, we will throw rocks at it until it surrenders…alive…or worse.”
“Smith, have you been sniffing too much weed killer? I am not killing that bunny. Live and let live, I say. It doesn’t attack us, and we are not attacking it.”
“So be it, Margie. Bob and I will be the brave souls to eradicate this menace.”
“Alrighty then, Smith. I’ll be in the back of the garden protesting this war by pulling weeds.” Margie pulled up her gardening apron hoisting the only thing ample about her…her bosom.
It was a muggy night in late June, the air heavier with Smith’s dissatisfaction over the rabbit who was now late to arrive. Bob stood behind Smith, a distracted foot soldier not entirely understanding the nature of this war. And just like that, the rabbit emerged from the darkness, pausing, wiggling its nose.
“Look at that Bob. Our enemy at the gate is mocking us.”
“Where’s the gate? I didn’t think the Rogers had a garden gate.”
“Of course they don’t, Bob! Now shhhhhhhh and grab us our weapons from that pile!”
As Bob slumped and trudged to the rock pile, quickly losing interest in hurting the rabbit, Margie emerged with her tiny shovel from the back of the garden.
“GOOOOOOOOOO NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWW!” Margie went running at the rabbit, like Braveheart against an entire army, her jiggle in full force. The rabbit quickly pivoted and hopped the hop of a thousand hops, disappearing into the night, a silent surrender.
“Well there we go, Smith. I don’t think the fuzzy fellow will be returning anytime soon.”
“Margie, the war is not over. We have won this battle, no thanks to you. We must be vigilant.”
“No thanks to me? Humph.” Margie stomped off with the truth at her side.
The next morning, the ginger girl, enemy number two, ran to the garden. She sprinkled pellets of rabbit food from her pet bunny named Sasha. She was determined to find Sasha some friends. Before she left, she bent down and eyed the gnome with the blue cone before lifting him and setting him face first in the dirt of her mother’s garden.
For the first story in this wee series:
“To the left, Bob. No, not that left, your other left,” the one with the unusually bulbous nose with a spot of dirt on the end whispered harshly into the dark of the night.
“You told me to put it over there the other day, Smith. I wish you would make up your mind. She’s going to notice this time.”
“Well, it’s about time she noticed. Everything would be dead out here if we weren’t helping her out.”
“I think she is doing a pretty good job. Her rosebush finally bloomed, and all of the perennials she planted last year came back.”
“Bob, she murdered the succulents, and she weeds like she is blind. Please do not defend her,” Smith wiggled his finger at Bob in admonition.
Bob shrugged and then started to pull on the planter with all his short, squat might to move it ten inches to the left, grunting and sweating even though it was a cool summer night. Sometimes he wondered if Smith was moving things around just to move things around even though he tried to sound like one of those botanists with his reasons. Bob stopped to adjust his long, pointy hat which had flipped to the back. He preferred it at attention, a centered green cone on top of his red, scratchy hair. It was then he heard a sneeze from the back of the garden, a dainty sneeze to start which triumphed at the end with a foghorn type sound. Margie had arrived.
Margie emerged from behind a Rhododendron. “Hello, gents. I see we have a good start to tonight’s efforts. How can I help?”
Smith sighed, hands on his hips. “Perhaps you could start by not sneezing like a ship coming into port, Margie. You know her kids can hear us. The ginger one comes to the window like a sentry when we are out here, and then she babbles stories to her mother during the day about us.”
“Oh, Smith, always so worried you are. If you could just enjoy this and worry less, I think you would have better humor.”
“My humor is not up for discussion. The health and success of this garden is our concern!”
“Okay, okay, no need to get your trowel in a tizzy. I will weed diligently tonight.”
“Perfect. Be sure to get weeds hiding inside of the bushes and plants. She always misses those,” Smith stroked his beard as if doing this made him look more in charge than he actually was. Bob was too genial to challenge him, and Margie did not want to spend precious gardening time to take on old Smithy.
The three gardeners worked well into the night, trimming, moving, watering, weeding, and all other manners of good gardening practices. As night faded into morning, they returned to their places, satiated by the soil and pollen covering them.
The ginger was the first to come out that morning. Her skinned knees met their eye level as she wandered around inspecting their hard work. She stopped briefly to stare at each of them. They could not respond. That is just not how they worked. She wandered the entire perimeter of the garden before returning to Smith and kneeling to look him directly in his immovable eyes.
“I know what you do at night, Smith. Even if my mom won’t listen, I know what you do, and someday I will catch you. Then, we can be friends.” With that, she ran off giggling like a fire-haired elven princess. To Smith, elves were like tall, beardless gnomes. He had no use for them, and he had no use for this little girl, especially the daughter of a substandard gardener.
NYC Midnight Microfiction Contest Prompt: Ghost story, with the word focus, and action of licking an envelope
Mark, always the focus at their table of friends, let Anna sit in a quiet shadow beside him. He would toast her, like he always did, to make up for it.
“To Anna, a bright light lost to shadows,” Mark solemnly spoke as he raised his obligatory glass.
Anna struggled to grip her wine glass, perplexed at the toast and her last fight with Mark. When the fight ended unresolved, she licked an envelope at his insistence, still remembering the odd metallic taste.
Anna went to speak, but Claire sat down through her, grabbing Mark’s hand with a coy smile.
“Promise me you will move on,” Wren insisted with ragged breath through the fence. Even through her mask, she could smell his intoxicating spice.
“I want to go with you,” she screamed as he walked away for the last time.
Two years later to the day, she sat at a desk in the grim flat issued to her upon surviving the final wave of illness. Her focus was lost to an apparition on the wall and the smell of spice in the air. Suddenly compelled, she licked the envelope containing her positive response to the previously unrequited love of another.
Violet in the Dark
Violet found the darkest corner of her closet, leaving a tenuous sliver of focus into her room, lit only by unicorns and stars projected onto the ceiling. Her hands were covered in a dark, oozing slime found around the necks of her parents and sister, stiff in their beds.
The apparition was here now, preceded by a telltale chill. It picked up something off her desk. Violet swallowed her breath as it licked the barely visible flash of a white envelope, setting it down outside the closet door, palpably pausing, then leaving. The note read, “You killed them, not me.”
Maggie’s Last Stand
“Focus is what you lacked, Maggie. I’m finally done taking care of you,” he said before he licked the envelope and slammed it on the table near the stairs.
“The only thing I lacked was your love, Greg,” Maggie said, looking down at her tattooed bruises, colored sunset purple.
With narrowed eyes and clenched fists, he walked past her. Sometimes, he would walk into her, delivering a jab or push.
Greg fell to his death down the stairs that night, the startled victim of a whispered threat. Maggie’s death certificate was found in a sealed envelope near his crumpled body.
Note: This is the first of a series of stories set in Lake Fortitude.
The town of Lake Fortitude slept in the valley of a mountain range not pretty enough to entice a tourist’s time. They were old mountains, worn down to shaggy, only slightly craggy hills. People of means today wanted massive peaks they could pretend to climb or lush hills, that when blanketed with snow, offered great skiing and romantic evenings around a fully stocked and modernized cabin’s fireplace. The Vandalay Mountains did not even merit a local park. So, the town of Lake Fortitude continued to sleep, holding its 722 residents safely in its quiet bosom.
It was summer in Lake Fortitude and Gwen, the town’s young librarian, was devoid of sun-kissed skin. She preferred the light of the library to that of the beach, and as she walked to the town’s bakery for her before work latte, she swore at the inconsiderate rising sun for bouncing off of her wire spectacles. Gwen was the only one in town who drank a latte. The other 721 residents were sensible and stuck to straight black coffee or coffee with light cream and real sugar, none of that packet stuff. Gwen, in fact, gave the owners of Meyer’s Bakery, Frank and Marley Meyer, the heebie-jeebies with her special coffee order. They had to Google it, and Mrs. Meyer did not trust the Google much to Gwen’s secret frustration. According to Mrs. Meyer, it could lead people down the dark path to leaving their town, ruining the perfectly curated composition of the place.
“Good morning, Gwendolyn. Will it be your usual?” Mrs. Meyer questioned with a firm sigh at the end.
“Hi Mrs. Meyer! I was thinking of trying almond milk in my latte today. Would you have any on hand?”
Mrs. Meyer’s shoulders dropped, and she tilted her head. “No, we do not, dear. Farmer Jack does not milk almonds after all. Besides, a young woman like you could use a healthy dose of calcium each day so you don’t shrink like me.”
“I guess I will just have my usual then. Milk alternatives are gaining popularity from what I’m reading online lately though. I would love to try some almond or soy milk if you would humor me.”
“Well aren’t you just the young chick continually exploring outside of the safe, warm nest! Lake Fortitude has survived all these years without fancy milk alternatives, darling. I think we will continue on just fine without. Boy, you sure do come up with some interesting thoughts upon perusing the Google, don’t you?”
“It doesn’t hurt to explore the world outside of Lake Fortitude does it? I’m the town librarian. I should help you all find a window to that world. At least that is what my mom taught me.”
Mrs. Meyer muttered under her breath, “And a lot of good that did her.”
“What was that, Mrs. Meyer?”
“Oh nothing. Let me get you this latte so you can back get to those lovely classic stacks at the library, sweetheart. The internets can be left to those unpleasant dreamers beyond our lovely Lake Fortitude.”
Mrs. Meyer whipped up Gwen’s latte, spending less time at the frother than Gwen liked. It would be impolite to point this out though. Gwen knew she was being humored, so it was best to provide cheerful humor in return. Persistent pleasantness was the way in Lake Fortitude. Gwen paid her dollar for the latte and made her way to work.
As soon as Gwen was clear of the bakery, Mrs. Meyer picked up her rotary phone and dialed Peter, Lake Fortitude’s esteemed Mayor.
“Yes, Peter, it’s Marley. Uh-huh. I hope you are having a great start to this lovely day, too. I hate to tarnish it, but we may have a problem. Yes, it is Gwendolyn again. She is on the Google again. Now she wants almond milk of all things. It might be time to tweak her programming again. Her exploratory protocols seem to be set to the maximum. We can’t have our town librarian getting too many notions about the outside world and leaving us again. Oh, I know! We would have to stick her in the closet next to her mom, may she rest in silence. Okay, thank you so kindly, Peter. Always happy to help. Toodle-loo.”