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Zombie Road Trip: Part II

Zombie Road Trip Part II: Green Bay Has Fallen

To read Part I: https://queenofquill.com/2021/07/03/zombie-road-trip-part-i/

We finally arrived at the dock in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The ferry glided as gracefully as a giant can of vomit-producing metal could glide into the port. I thought Zavier might crawl off the boat. Instead, he walked off full of color and spirit again, getting closer to seeing Metallica with each step. I neglected to mention we now needed to wait for our vehicle to be unloaded from the ship so we could drive across Wisconsin and into Minnesota to complete the trip. I’m sure my son would be fine though with a five-hour car trip with his mom. It was the hallmark of an epic road trip.

“I just spent four hours puking on a ship that smells like ass, and now we have to drive five hours through farmland and cheese fields to get to a concert?”

“Yeah, it’s cool, right, totally awesome. Also, watch your language. We can stop and get some cheese curds, see the local sights, explore the world.”

Zavier looked around at the vast nothingness of Lake Michigan and into a tiny town full of tiny houses with oversized American flags. He shook his head and shrugged.

“Well, wake me up when we get to Minneapolis, okay?”

In my book, this was a peaceful settlement with a teenager, not necessarily the excitement I wanted to see on our mother and son bonding trip, but it would do.

As we waited for our car, I watched other passengers. Many seemed to have the same sickly color as Zavier. I remembered faces like a camera and did not think any of these people had the same experience over the ship railing as my son did. I focused on one man in his mid-50s, who seemed to be slightly moaning and coughing. A tear shaped droplet slid down his cheek. It was so dark that it could not possibly be a tear. I was going to check on him, when I saw our car out of the corner of my eye. Zavier pulled at my sleeve with youthful impatience. I’m sure the man would figure out how to seek medical care. I tried a sympathetic smile before turning around, and he just stared beyond me, unaffected. I rushed Zavier to the car, jumped in, and hit the gas. Small towns creeped me out, and I was starting to join Zavier’s camp about driving through empty fields and many more  creepy towns.

About thirty minutes into our ride, absent conversation, but streaming with wonderful music from my son’s eclectic playlist, the young man spoke.

“Mom, I want those cheese curds you mentioned earlier.”

“Then you will have some cheese curds,” I said, overly excited about finally having my presence acknowledged after miles of cows, farms, and summertime manure. I pulled off at the first cheese store I could find, which took less than two miles of driving in Wisconsin.

We went into the store, and despite the presence of three cars in the parking lot besides ours, it was empty. We both poked around, collecting curds and cheese heads, but there was no one to pay.

“Z, wait here. I’m going to check things out,” I said with authority, meanwhile feeling like a chainsaw wielding family was in the back ready to take us out. Eerie silence was never a good thing, worse than my teenager’s current irritated silence.

“Okay, can I eat some curds while you look though?”

I nodded and made my way to the back of the store. The storeroom and offices in the back were empty, too, but off in the distance I could see the back exit slightly open, and I heard moaning noises. I grabbed a massive kitchen knife randomly sitting on a desk, remarkably unsanitary for a food operation if you wanted my opinion, and I walked forward, determined to properly pay for our goods even if it was with our lives. Our Midwestern roots would not allow us to dine and ditch, even for curds.

A moaning sound grew louder, intermingled with crunching sounds, as I moved closer to the exit. I opened the door further, standing carefully in its shadow and peeked out. I did not understand at the time what I was really seeing. In hindsight, I probably did, making this my second mistake of the day. I wrote it off as some creepy orgy type deal where five people pile on top of one screaming person, blood everywhere. Zombie porn. Or maybe it was some form of backwoods cannibalism, and I would call local authorities later. I was not equipped as a suburban mom to deal with such matters. I shut the door, kept the knife, and I threw more money than necessary for cheese turds on the counter. Zavier sighed as I pulled him out of the store, leaving a trail of spilled curds behind us. We sped out of the lot, and we did not stop until Lambeau Field, our third mistake for the day.

“Mom, why do we need to stop at Lambeau? You know I don’t care about football.”

“Well, I don’t either, but it is a pretty big deal to some. Your dad would want us to take a picture.”

“Seriously? Okay, but then can we just drive straight through? I want to get some rest before the concert tonight.”

“Fair enough, cranky pants.”

Pulling off the freeway into a plain town with a majestic football stadium interjecting itself proudly in the middle was a sight to see even for football agnostics like Zavier and me. I turned his playlist down a little and whistled. The streets were empty as we drove down Lombardi Avenue. It was Saturday, early afternoon. There should be others around even though football was not being played. I made a note to put the radio on for a bit after this stop to check the news.

Suddenly, a tall, beefy, panicked man ran out in front of our car, forcing me to slam on the breaks, sending some cheese curds from Zavier’s hands into the front windshield. My front bumper tapped the man.

“WTF, mom. You hit that guy.”

I rolled my eyes, rolled down my window, and said to the man now leaning over the front of my car, “Are you okay? You just came out so fast. I’m so sorry.”

I had an instinct not to get out of the car like I normally would have after sort of hitting someone. After the cheese store, I was not trusting the citizens of Wisconsin, even in Green Bay, which I heard is passionately friendly.

The man rose in one motion, dark goop streaming from his eyes, and started flailing his arms, blood gurgling out of his mouth. Before I could react to this with a call to 911 for help saving this man upon whom I inflicted profuse internal bleeding, a woman with an axe came running up behind him. She hacked into his flesh, yelling at us to go.

“Get out of here while you can. Go now. My husband just ate our kids. Green Bay has fallen.” As the woman screamed nonsense at us, she let up on the axe, long enough for her husband to turn and lunge forward into her ample bosom, biting down, causing blood to squirt onto our windshield.

With Zavier screaming, I threw the car into reverse, backing all the way to the freeway at maximum speed until I had enough of my wits back to drive forward and onto the road ahead out of Green Bay. I screamed at my son, who was still screaming himself sending cheese curd remnants flying, to call 911. The call was met with a busy signal. My fourth mistake was not turning around to go home.

 “I think we should go home or go back to Lambeau. I just hit a man, and then we fled the scene of the crime” I said when we both had calmed down about 10 miles up the road. I felt pain at the thought of abandoning our road trip because I hit a crackhead being chased by a murderous wife.

“Mom, Wisconsin is weird. I think they were on meth or something. Let’s just try to call 911 again. That wasn’t your fault.”

I paused. The boy did not want to go home. He finally wanted to be on this trip fully with me. All it took was a wax-yielding meth head and a plentiful curd supply from a Zombie porn store to make this trip worthwhile to him. I had a kitchen knife, and we were making good time. Onward we would go.

In my joy, I forgot to turn on the radio, and we both forgot to try 911 again. Zavier offered me some of his cheese curds forgetting I was vegan. My hands were still shaking, but I took the curds and popped them into my mouth like Xanax. Something was not right here in Wisconsin, but maybe Minnesota would be better.

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Alors On Danse

Synopsis: An assassin finds an all too familiar mark on her path to freedom. Will she find a way to dance around the wrongs of her past? (Written for NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Contest)

Sophie skipped the queue into Le Romeo, a ghost in white sequins, feet choked by stilettos. Her eyes were struggling to stay open under the weight of false eyelashes. If she was successful tonight, her servitude would end. She knew he was not far behind her though. He had been following her since she boarded the Metro for Saint-Germain-​des-Prés.  

She ordered the rare Sancerre at the bar as instructed, checking her back before the glass and small envelope appeared. The discotheque lights bounced off her sequins in way she hoped did not make her a beacon for trouble. Her long red hair was under a sleek black wig, removing any trace of herself from this scene. Stromae’s “Alors On Danse” thrummed in the background, calling forward her not-too-distant past, the one that brought her to this critical moment.

In her younger days, she was on the dance floor behind her, a slender, exotic Irish American in Paris. Her name was Cara. That was until she chose the wrong lover and saw things that shackled her. Tonight, she would be free if she remained undiscovered.

She opened the envelope and gasped, the now throbbing bass muffling her. She followed the length of his beautiful body in the picture from his wavy jet-black hair down to his favorite black leather shoes, polished to perfection. She quickly put the photo in her clutch, housing a .22. Her green eyes, shadowed by a billowy black kohl, scanned the floor, and she found him in the distance.

He looked the same, sculpted in a lanky, carefree way. His teeth caught the lights like her sequins. She couldn’t see the lines of age from this distance. Would he know her when she tried to get close? She was wearing the perfume he gave her, the last drops left in the finely crafted glass bottle. How could she be so stupid, and what had he done to end up a mark? She wanted to stand there all night watching him and then run, but the man who had been following her was here. He was stupid enough to cause a commotion with somebody upon entering, alerting her to his presence.

Sophie knew she had been a fool. They never intended to set her free. The man was here to finish her as soon as she finished Julien, her once beloved.

So, she did what an assassin had to do, she glided to the dance floor, hid in the glistening bodies, and danced her way closer to Julien, closing her eyes if only to escape in her head.

She knew her assassin was watching her, half turned on, half hungry for the kill. She had become a bad person through association but nothing like these wolves. This life was not her choice. She was trying to stay alive, long ago discarded by the lover who ensnared her but still marginally useful to him. Her beauty made an excellent trap, and her only solace was that her marks were horrible human beings. Not Julien though.

She slid into Julien, careful to keep her head lowered so as not to make eye contact, pretending to be sultry and mysterious. He had liked this when they first met. And it worked again. He drew close, but she could feel a hesitation in his limbs.

Their bodies snaked together, the music forming an electric fence around them.

“What is your name?” He tickled her ear in English.

She could not give this away. This had to be done quickly, one chance at success. Her intended killer was distracted by a dark beauty grinding up to him.

Sophie spoke in a husky French accent, asking Julien to follow her to a quiet corner. He nodded, letting her lead the way. He grabbed her hand and wound his fingers tightly into hers, and his touch was too familiar. He could not know her anymore. It would make this impossible. She was at fault for all of this, leaving him for another man, putting them both in danger here tonight. What a cruel twist for Claude to make this her final duty to him. She would willingly let herself be killed over killing Julien, but with her killer closing in, she had a new plan.

She pulled Julien into the first door she could find off a back hall to the discotheque. As soon as the pair entered what was a storage room, Julien grabbed her and kissed her, pulling off her wig, letting loose an uncontrolled stream of red curls. She pushed him back towards a shelving unit, and took her shot, knowing exactly where to aim, watching his face fall as he called out her real name before his body crumpled to the ground.

Sophie slid out into the hall, her assassin’s wide, shiny forehead making its way towards her. She drew, aimed, and hit her second mark for the night and exited to screams and chaos. She discarded her stilettos on the streets of Paris, glistening with spring rain, and ran.

#

“Depechez-vous, Gloria!” her boss implored as the line of customers at the popular patisserie burst. Gloria had only lived here a few months and was already longing for the quiet of the off seasons.

She did not see when he walked in, but other women were noticing, causing an unsettling titter, grown schoolgirls losing themselves over a handsome boy. She looked up and saw what the ruckus was about. It was Julien. It had worked.

As he smiled at her, patiently awaiting his turn in line, he reached into the pocket of his perfectly pressed resort shirt and pulled something out. It was a crushed metal shoe polish tin, now catching the soft light of the shop. Gloria could hear the words of “Alors On Danse” in her mind. She removed her apron and untucked herself from behind the counter, causing a ruckus of French swear words from her manager and spoiled customers. They wound their fingers together and ran. 

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The Taste of Rain and Ruin

It was the 15th spring of the torrential downpour that washed over Verbandy, drowning crops, souring moods, and imprisoning even the most ardent magic practitioners in the kingdom, for the rains were not ordinary. The rains carried the curse of poison. The rains burned the skin beyond recognition and had taken one too many unsuspecting children who did not know better than to catch the first drops on their tongues. The early years had passed into faded memories of what once was, and now the people of Verbandy hid within the walls of the castle, nearing starvation, accumulating disease, and losing more than they gained with the passing of each year this dark magic could not be undone. Many had died trying, with the greatest loss being the magic users sent to their unwilling deaths in attempts to remedy the curse.

A knock at the bed chamber of the king, Lord Landolan, widened his eyes as the hour was late, evidenced by the deluge outside his window casting shadows through the flickering torches surrounding him. His queen, Lady Katala, slept soundly, lulled into stupor both day and night from the endless cascading water, poisoning her once bright spirit, too. Lord Landolan grabbed his robe and walked to the chamber door at the second gentle rap, barely sounding through the rain. It was the Lord’s counselor, Rendon.

“Rendon, what is it that would make you disturb the sleep of the night’s stars if not mine?”

“Sir, I promise you, I bore witness to something you need to hear in haste.”

Lord Landolan took a deep breath and turned his head back to see if Lady Katala had stirred as the rain grew louder, thumping against market canopies many feet below, ominous drums now.

“Well come in and let’s sit by the fire. I think nothing can disturb my lady.”

As they sat, sipping brandy poured generously by Rendon, a story unfolded of a plot to kill the king and free Verbandy of the rain curse. Rendon spoke of a prophecy by which magic practitioners would come to power again as they had in times long ago on this land. Rendon paused, looking out the window and shaking his head.

“The plot is thick, and none of your subjects, even though you provide them comfort and sustenance through the poison deluge speak to your favor this year. I fear their patience has expired.”

Lord Landolan stood and started a steady pacing in front of the fireplace as if carried by the stream of rain outside.

“Rendon, how can I blame them? This is the 15th year, and we are no closer to freeing our people or knowing the reason for why we suffer. We have sacrificed many lives, including our magic bearers. We have questioned everyone, using torture and unspeakable acts, as to the nature of this curse. Perhaps this is destiny. You know prophecies are the gold of fools.”

“My lord, you mustn’t give in to these dark thoughts. Do you think Verbandy will be any closer to freedom if you are gone? You will leave it in ruin, no heir to replace you, causing chaos, internal warring, and destitution. You have done well to at least plan for the rain each year. It is no small feat to host a kingdom in a castle.”

Lady Katala shuffled, causing the men to look back as she made the mew of a kitten. 

“I will not be acquiring an heir anytime soon, not a legitimate one anyways.”

“We need to plan for your survival. No one faults you or your court for seeking manly comfort during the infernal rains that trap us each year. I just wish you would be more discreet and gentile in your pursuits.”

“Your wisdom and loyalty keep me from walking into the poison water of my own doings, Rendon. Please share your thoughts on how I might survive.”

Rendon carefully walked his lord through the potential for death by poison. There were enough witches within the castle to have knowledge of poison, and they had lost one too many of their own, so there was motivation. The witches also held a special allure for the king in his nighttime wanderings. The kitchen staff would willingly participate for they were imprisoned in the kitchen during the long months of rain, toiling away at feeding everyone on an impossibly tight supply of food. Rendon sat up straighter raising a finger to the air. There was only one solution. A young woman, a witch who just came of age, was rumored to have a rare magic that could save the lord’s life without costing her own.

“Lord, there is a Taster that was born a year before the curse. She is not any Taster though. She will not die ingesting the poison that is meant for you. I have heard whispers, too, that she can taste magic that has been cast by tasing the air itself around the spell or curse. A prophecy suggests she might be the one to save us from this curse, too.”

“Enough with prophecies. Will she be loyal to me, Rendon? You can’t trust magic.”

“I already have her mother imprisoned. Their bond is fierce. You die, then her mother dies as she watches.”

Lord Landolan smirked, emerging from his dire moment. The rains were not his fault. He suffered from the curse just like everyone else, even more so with his duties as their lord. He deserved loyalty and protection from their treachery in return.

“Very well, Rendon. Fetch me the girl in the morning. She will start at breakfast. Lady Katala will not be pleased. Her descent into madness does not prevent petty, dangerous jealousy. Watch her, my hawk, around the Taster.”

Rendon paused while walking to the door of the chamber with his lord. He pursed his mouth, willing words to come out of it.

“I need to suggest something that does not come from a place of disloyalty, but rather the deepest loyalty I can give.”

Lord Landolan let out a brandy-laden breath. “Enough with all of these troublesome words tonight. Speak plainly.”

Rendon stepped close to his lord, lowering his voice to a hiss. “I would suggest we save the Taster’s skill for your security and longevity only. Lady Katala does us no favors in her current state. Perhaps it is time to find a queen who can produce an heir.”

“Rendon, you are both loyal and wise.”  

Rendon smiled and nodded, closing the door with quiet precision as he exited.

Lord Landolan walked to the chamber window, staying far enough away as not to feel the burn of cursed raindrops on his skin. He smiled, for he had known the Taster’s mother, Vareena, on many occasions. Vareena was not very accommodating during his vists, but Rendon could fix that if commanded.

In the steady downpour of the morning, Rendon walked through the castle, posture high, on task. He wound down several staircases to servant quarters. Even magic providers had to perform other duties while sheltering in the castle. The Taster’s duty was a maid to the lower royalty housed on the upper floors of the castle.

The young woman was standing by a wash basin, fiery hair pulled neatly into a plait at her slender back. Rendon startled as she turned around before he could announce himself, for her azure eyes, dewy skin, and raised cheeks, were remarkable. She was her mother’s child.

“Master,” she bowed ruggedly for a lady, “how may I serve you?”

“I seek loyalty and truth for the lord, our king, Miss Carenna. You bear the magic of a Taster, do you not?”

Carenna’s eyes answered before she did. There was a pride in magic that spoke truth through the glint of her eyes. Her youth had given way to magical womanhood this year. Rendon remained serious as others quietly worked around them, pretending not to listen.

“Yes, Master Rendon. I am a Taster. I am new to the skill though.”

“Wonderful for that was the only correct answer. You have a new role in our cursed lockdown then. You are to be the Lord Landolan’s Taster. People have grown restless from our collective rain-filled nightmare. You must ensure his safety, whether it be from his food or the air around him.”

Carenna walked closer to Rendon, bringing her delicate, opal skin out of the rain shadows.

“Master, if I may be so bold, I prefer my current duties.”

Rendon now decreased the distance between them, red in the face, making a show of it to curious eyes.

“I do not present this as a choice. Your mother is imprisoned until you get the king through this test to his power. If you are not successful, then I do not need to speak of what this means for her.”

Carenna stood still, glance forward, narrowed eyes and a stiff back.

“Very well, Master Rendon. I shall start with breakfast.”

“Ay, I will lead you to the chamber. One more small matter. You serve our lord, not our lady. You will do well to remember this with each taste of his food and the air around him.”

Carenna nodded. As she walked behind Rendon, winding upward, she let her ginger hair loose behind her back, and straightened her maid’s frock, tightening it around her waist and chest. When Rendon led her into the chamber, she was greeted by Lord Landolan’s glowering countenance. As tight as her dress was now, her resolve was tighter.

Carenna performed her duties well for weeks, catching two poisonings and a weak attempt at a long-term sleep spell cast on the lord at a choral performance in the music chamber of the castle. When Lady Katala was awake and present, which was rarely, she glared at Carenna. It could be that Lord Landolan stared at Carenna too long as she was performing her duties. Lady Katala, during an unusual spoken moment, even implied that Carenna was her mother’s child with a bite and click to her tongue. Carenna took pleasure that she was not asked to protect the lady for the queen had quietly slunk to the shadows while magic practitioners were sent to their rain deaths to save the kingdom.

Carenna had earned the trust of even Rendon, stalwart in his distrust of most. His trust came in the form of a quiet respect and space to perform her duties even when he was not present. It was, however, time to perform her real duties to the kingdom and her people. It was the sixth unbearable week of the cursed rain, halfway to when the people of Verbandy could return outside. There was a celebration in the hall with abundant food and wine for subjects than on typical days. Carenna had not been allowed to see her mother at all during this time, but she did not need to see her to know her heart’s charge.

Carenna dressed in an emerald green velvet gown with beaded bodice, a gift from the lord for her service, whispering words that inspired the steady rains of the day to become a cacophony of large drops on the castle, soaking it and creating an impossibly damp chill in the corridors.

When Carenna finally arrived at the great hall, she was pleased the din of the party was muffled by the glorious torrent outside. She pushed her red ringlets to her back, pressed her chin and chest high, and walked into the hall, catching the faltering torch lights on her hair and face. There was a hush at each table as she walked to the front center of the room. From the back of the cavernous hall, she could see Lord Landolan’s mouth agape. Lady Katala was awake and at his side, her eyes narrowing on Carenna as she came closer.

Carenna reached the front and bowed, “What a lovely gathering for our people, my lord and lady.”

“Please, join us at the table. Lady and I hope you enjoy the festivities after your duties. The night is for the young ladies and gents of Verbandy, even during our solemn rain tomb of Spring.”

Lady Katala snickered and looked away while Lord Landolan made a sweep of his arm to invite Carenna to the table to taste. Rendon was nowhere to be seen, but Carenna knew her lord would let her proceed without him. This was what weeks of saving his life and fluttering about him with her feminine wiles earned her. Rendon also helped with his consistent praise. She arrived at the table and tasted the lord’s food and drink, she strode around the table, far enough to taste the reach of magic. The lord watched closely for he enjoyed watching her like he had enjoyed watching her mother and other beautiful witches too often, eventually forcing them to partake of his brutal pleasures. He preferred to watch her from the neck down, and this along with the now clamorous rain provided cover for the words she whispered next.

It only took five minutes, a few bites of food, and a trickle of wine for the lord and lady to slump forward to the table, unquestionably dead. It took another five minutes for the rains to stop and everyone in the hall to pause in recognition of the end of their watery prison. Carenna raised a glass and tapped it gently with a knife, waiting as stunned faces turned towards her.

“People of Verbandy, the curse has been lifted. I am Carenna, daughter of the sorcerer Rendon and his lady love, the witch Vareena, from this day forward, your king and queen. The curse arrived after my birth as prophesized and lifted with my coming of magical age this year. Magic shall once again rule this kingdom, never to be abused again. Women shall also not be abused by men of power. You know the suffering of which I speak,” Carenna paused as two large men removed the lifeless, treacherous bodies from the table. “If you respect magic, its users, and the women of this kingdom, you will never suffer the rains again. And always, without compromise or hesitation, believe in the prophecies of magic.”

The hall erupted in cheers as Carenna raised her glass. Shortly following, her witch mother, as red and alabaster as her daughter, was escorted in on the arm of her father to join her at the table.

For years, Spring came to pass with normal, gentle, crop growing rain. Children could catch the first rains on their tongue and dig up worms from the mud in the days following. The use of magic was controlled by its users and not the selfish, shadowy whims of magicless lords and ladies, and there was peace and prosperity in Verbandy. Carenna in the 10th year following the end of the curse, gave birth to a girl of fire and marble who would be a Taster, a witch, and a queen like her mother.

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Chronicles of the Wainwright Witches: The Globe Heist

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.

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The Night Gardeners 2: The War of the Rabbit

“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:

https://queenofquill.com/2020/06/13/the-night-gardeners/

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The Night Gardeners

“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.

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100 Word Ghost Stories

NYC Midnight Microfiction Contest Prompt: Ghost story, with the word focus, and action of licking an envelope

The Toast

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.

The Promise

“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. 

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The 10th Quarantine

I remembered the day I opened my door after the last six-month quarantine of The Great Illness. I lived on a typically quiet cul-de-sac in a sleepy Midwestern town, but the sound of an amped guitar hummed through the air, and I could hear the lyrics of Here Comes the Sun carried to my doorstep like it was floating on water.

I walked onto my porch and dots of bright yellow dandelions littered my lawn. Nobody cared anymore what their lawns looked like during quarantines. We only cared about when we would be let out again. Suddenly, I heard the sound of laughter from my two favorite neighbors, the Smith twins. All of my children were now grown and sheltering elsewhere, so the Smith twins brought me the joy of youth and possibility.

The lily skinned twins with shocks of bright red hair ran to my doorstep. “Mrs. Rogers, Mrs. Rogers, we’re so happy to see you.”

“I am so happy to see you, too, my darlings. Would you like some freshly baked chocolate chip cookies?”

“Oh, yes please,” they said with crooked grins of missing teeth.

As soon as I gave them the cookies, they exchanged additional pleasantries, and jumped away like dolphins on the open ocean.

As I stood, my dress swaying in the spring breeze, watching them return home joyful, I could see my roses in bloom in my front garden. I took in a deep breath and stepped out onto my lawn. Somebody was cooking something spicy smelling of Sriracha and garlic. The Great Illness could not take my senses, my sculpture of memories, or my will to dance in life’s ballet of normal. I left the safety of my lawn and the 10th quarantine of my lifetime to visit the rest of my neighbors, with the words of the e.e. cummings’ poem “I carry your heart with me” in my head.

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Lake Fortitude #1: The Librarian

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.”

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The End

The metronome clicked at the required intervals as Kai completed her pre-travel report. She had no idea how many times she had completed this same activity in her lifetime. Her life was not the focal point of a single timeline now. Kai happened throughout time, completing this same activity when she finished what she was asked to start along one point in time before traveling to another, thus requiring another pre-travel report, or a PT as referred to by all field agents of Traveler’s Quest, Inc. The only consistency in Kai’s timeline was that Cole Rainier was present at every point in time she landed in this plain white box of a room for PT completion.

“I see you are not quite done yet with your pre-travel report. Are you feeling fatigued from your most recent activity?” Cole walked up on Kai like he always did. She could hear his self-important breathing before he even spoke.

“How would I know? I don’t remember what I did. I only fill out PTs. I assume someone else is collecting the results of what I did last,” Kai snapped.

“Fair enough. You wouldn’t be here though if you didn’t want to be. This is your choice.”

“What made you think I was complaining? I’m just stating a fact. I was simply having a moment wondering how many PTs I have filled out.”

“I could tell you, Kai, but I’m not sure it wouldn’t mean much other than a number to satisfy your sudden curiosity. Curiosity is the first sign of burnout in our agents according to a recent study,” Cole said as he shifted his substantial weight from one foot to the other and placed a hand on his hip.

“No need to get bothered by my curiosity, Cole. It is not that important. You should be more worried about me finishing this PT before the metronome hits my travel click.”

“I was simply checking on your well-being. We do care about our agents here at Traveler’s Quest. The world needs your service to determine how The End arrived. It is the only way we will find The Begin Point.”

“So you say. I would very much like to be the agent that finds Begin Point.”

Cole stepped away without further word at this. He was skilled at talking in generalities or disappearing when it came to a discussion regarding the purpose and importance of agent work. Kai was sure it also had something to do with his strong concern over agent burnout. She quickly averted her mind back to the PT in front of her as time was waning based on the clicks, which she learned to count in the background like a concert pianist.

She took her chipped hand with her assignment in it, held it to her empty report screen, holding her hand there until her PT populated. The next step was to review her PT assignment and agree to it by once again touching her chip to the screen.

Kai found it odd sometimes that there really did not appear to be a clear process for disagreeing with the assignment. She always just agreed to what was in front of her. Today should be no different until she started to read the screen.

“For this assignment, you will be sent back to 2020 on the afternoon of October 10. You will report to a bar called The Green Door in Lansing, Michigan on the night of October 10, 2020. You are a waitress named Kate at this bar, and you will report there for your shift at 21:00. You have a vial of poison in the travel pack on your right thigh. You will empty this vial in the drink of Cole Rainier, your customer, at approximately 23:00. He will die. You will leave. PT complete.”

Kai gasped and looked around the room in vain for anything which could be recording her or provide some sign of how to reject this PT. Had she been asked to kill before? And why would Traveler’s Quest want one of their own dead? If they she and Cole were here working, they were part of the solution to get to Begin Point, not a part of the problem that led to The End.

Kai started to scream just as her metronome hit the travel click, and her world went black.