The Third Day of Fic-mas …

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Ghosts of Yuletide Past

Aife made her way silently down the stone path leading to her family home. She couldn’t stop smiling. It felt like she’d been away forever. The chance to see them all again was such a precious gift. She could hardly credit the peace and contentment that had settled into her chest the moment she’d started recognizing the landmarks that said she was on the road home. She’d never dared hope to feel this way again.

Her breath caught in her throat when the squat little grey field stone dwelling came into view as she crested the final hill. A lazy tendril of smoke curled up from the chimney. She imagined she could smell the mulling spices in the kettle on the hearth. She could almost hear the crackle of the warming stones at its edge that would sizzle when they were dropped into full mugs to warm hands when everyone came inside.

She paused to watch her grandchildren for a moment. They were playing in the light snow that had collected in front of the house, darting in and out of the nearby woods, engaged in some sort of game. She wasn’t sure exactly what it was they were playing. It involved a lot of running, flinging bits of snow at each other. They screamed like it might be the end of the world, then laughed themselves into tumbling, breathless, onto the ground. She laughed, too, but, of course, they paid her no mind. The smallest of them seemed to meet her eyes for a moment, but then she squealed and ran back into the trees after one of the boys.

Aife hugged her elbows with a fond sigh. Being lost in play, why do we lose that as we age, I wonder.  She knew at least one soul who seemed to have kept that irreverent sense of finding fun wherever he went, but then again, she supposed he was quite young, too, in his own way. Humming softly to herself, a tune she couldn’t quite place, Aife went inside, leaving the children to their games.

She took a deep breath of the heavy warm air inside the cozy little home. A pot of what was likely cider bubbled merrily, hissing and spitting as steam condensed and droplets hit the logs below. It sounded like home. It smelled as good as she’d imagined, too, maybe even better, with the added savory aroma of a nicely roasting rabbit over the flames.

Her eldest daughter, Rowan, chided one of the younger siblings, about how she was turning the spit. “Ye want te keep it even, don’t ye, now?” When the turning didn’t improve, she huffed a little in frustration, and stopped what she was doing to demonstrate the proper way to turn the spit. “Like this, Morag, before you burn the back an’ leave the belly raw!”

Aife laughed quietly, feeling no small amount of pride at how Rowan was handling overseeing the Yule feast preparations for the first time, like the captain of a well-run ship. All those years at Aife’s elbow. She’d clearly attended to every lesson. She’d be a right terror in battle if she was ever called to it, Aife thought. But like her mother, and her mother before her, she commanded her household troops with warmth and a light amusement dancing in her green eyes. Aife’s admiration for Rowan’s skill didn’t stop her from wanting to help.

Instead, Aife took a seat next to the holiday fire, stretching her hands out to warm them in the comforting blaze. The Yule log burned merrily, the coals dancing in their familiar ashy red glow that never ceased it’s mesmerizing movement. She felt the flames warming her face pleasantly as soon as she sat down. A moment later she was almost startled as a shawl brushed her arm and a thin hand patted her shoulder.

She glanced at her new companion. “Hello,” she greeted softly.

“Ah, Aife, mo leanbh, I hoped you’d be able to come. It’s good to see you, child.”

“It’s good to see you too, Mama. I hope you’ve been well.”

“Passably well, child. How’s it with you?”

Aife swallowed. “It hasn’t been easy …” She swallowed again. She was not going to talk about that now, not here. “But just look at our family … growing, thriving. Strong and happy.” She sniffed a bit, but she was smiling again.

“They are that,” her mother agreed. An’ yer Liam did such a fine job with the Yule log. ‘Tis the finest fire I’ve seen in many a year. It’s so lovely to come here and be warmed by it, enjoying my family. I’ll bless this fire that it brought you here for a chat, too, lovie.”

Aife gazed into the fire. It was a good one, and the log looked to burn for days. She’d never been much of an enthusiast. She’d always been more of a practical cook-fire sort of woman (and flaming arrows certainly had their place) but today she appreciated the Yule fire, more than she could ever have known. She felt the same sort of pride she had seeing how Rowan was handling her role as matriarch when she looked at the fire her boy had kindled. She’d probably never admit it out loud to anyone, but Liam and Rowan had always been her favorites among her large and well-loved family.

A crackling pop from the log brought Aife back to the present. “Where’s Da?”

“Ach, you know how he is. Has to pop in on everyone’s fire today. I expect he’s at Diarmuid’s hearth just now. You know how he always was about his baby brother.”

“Mmm. Do you think he’ll be by soon?”

“Ye have other plans, do ye?” her mother asked gently.

“I …” Aife began, but was interrupted by the loud crash of shattering pottery. Rowan let loose with a string of words that Aife was quite certain she had not learned from her mother (since she’d never had to follow her into battle). “Rowan! Such language!” she snapped, not really thinking.

Rowan continued to mumble random curses and wishes for the feast to be on someone else’s shoulders as she drafted another one of the younger girls to pick up the shards little Donal had scattered, running through the house, in through the front and out the back.

“I bet you’d like to jump in and sort that all out for yer girl,” Aife’s mother smiled knowingly. “It’s hard, love. Believe me I understand. Letting go is the most difficult part of sitting at the fire each year, but … She’s rising to the occasion. She is. And she’ll continue to do so. She’s her mother’s child through and through.”

“I know … I just wish …”

A large warm hand settled on her other shoulder. “Hey, Aife. I let myself in.” She glanced up and bit her lip. “I’m sorry, but we’ve got to be getting back.”

“And who might this handsome and strapping lad be,” her mother asked, raising one of her grey brows.

“Not now, Mama,” Aife mumbled. She protested, “You said … The feast hasn’t started, Ben … And my da’ …”

He squeezed her shoulder. “I know and I’m sorry. But we’ve got to leave. Like five minutes ago. Gareth can only keep up appearances for us for so long and … We need to go.”

She sighed. “Alright. At least let me say goodbye.”

He hesitated, but then he nodded. “Of course. But be as quick as you can.” He nodded at the old woman by the fire. “A blessed Yule to you, ma’am.” She smiled at him. He touched Aife’s arm. “I’ll be outside.” He left the house to give her the moment free from the demands his presence implied.

Aife squeezed her mother’s hand. Then she moved around the house to each of her children in turn, uttering promises to return whenever she could, patting the heads of the grandchildren who were starting to crowd into the house to warm up and try to sneak bites of food. She stood in the doorway for a moment, giving a last smile and a fond wave, taking one last look at the frantic, but homey, pace of her family.

She stepped outside into the cold that no longer touched her, wiping absently at a tear and suppressing the others that were trying to fall, not that it mattered. She turned to Ben, torn between gratitude that he’d given her this opportunity and fury that he was now snatching it away before she’d seen everyone. “Why?” she asked, her unshed tears constricting her voice. “Why give me this and then cut it so short?”

“I said I’m sorry,” he began. He put an arm around her shoulders and started leading her away. “I thought it would help, seeing them, I mean. Knowing they’re well and your family is … still here and still growing. Carrying on for you.” His voice sounded momentarily tight, too, but though he’d released her shoulders and was now just walking next to her, she detected no change in his face or posture.

“I appreciate it, Ben. I do … I don’t mean to seem ungrateful, it’s just … I would have liked more time.”

“Wouldn’t we all?” he said so quietly she almost didn’t hear it. “And I wish I could have given it to you. I meant to … But we’ve been summoned. As annoying and incompetent as the King of Hell is, he’s still the king.” He held out his hands like he’d try to explain more. This was all still new for her, still a fresh wound. Unable to think of anything adequate, he shrugged.

“Why Yule though? Of all the times, Ben …” She trailed off, near tears again. “I didn’t get to see all of them,” she finished after a minute.

Another shrug. “I knew we couldn’t be away for long, even at the best of times, and I just thought more of them would be here for you. Especially the kids. I know that’s important to you.”

He sounded so bleak. He’d tried to do something so truly wonderful for her, she wanted him to know that even in her disappointment, she was still grateful. “Seeing my mother was such a lovely surprise. I didn’t expect it. It’s been so long.”

“The Yule fire is a funny place,” Ben mused.

“It … I felt so strange, Ben. Every sensation, every smell. I felt I could have picked up a cup and tasted the cider. We’re not really totally even on this plain of existence. I shouldn’t have been able …”

“Did you not think our own traditions and stories had at least a kernel of truth, Aife?” he asked, smiling a little. “It’s half of why our people light the Yule log every year; so our ancestors can come and warm themselves by that fire, if they like.”

“Always seemed made up to me,” she said managing a small chuckle.

“I always believed, or at least, I wanted to. I had a bit of a mind for the magical side of things though. I have Daira to thank for that. She was the wise woman in my village. Took quite a shine to me,” he smiled. “And then, you know, demon, so … I’ve definitely embraced my more whimsical side.”

As he hoped, she chuckled again and her smile stayed in place. “It was wonderful to see them. It does help. It does.” She stopped walking and turned toward him. “Have you ever visited your family?”

Pain sparked briefly in his eyes, but he just gave the barest shake of his head. “Nah, never managed it.”

Aife realized too late why that might be. Oh, the poor boy. All of them. No wonder he struck her as such a lonely soul. “Thank you, Ben. For everything.”

He nodded, his jaw tightening for a moment, before flashing one of his dazzling distracting smiles at her. “Happy Yule, Aife,” he said simply.

Quite unable to stop herself, she pulled him into a hug. “Happy Yule, Ben.”

 

 

Bad Dreams

Author’s Note – I couldn’t sleep the other night and I wound up writing fanfic for my own characters. In case anyone’s been missing them, I decided to share it. ~ J

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Ben sighed quietly and rolled over onto his side with deliberate care. His breathing was finally returning to normal, his preternaturally sharp vision adjusting to the darkness.

He smiled slightly when his eyes came to rest on her sleeping face. The curve of her cheek bathed in the spare moonlight almost glowed like an aura. Her brow creased and she made a soft sound of protest.

It seemed her dreams were as distressing as his. Well, that was probably unlikely given what he’d been dreaming about, but a nightmare was a nightmare.

He didn’t want to wake her. She was exhausted, needed to rest. So he tried smoothing her hair gently off her face and whispering a faint shushing sound.

She settled after a short while. Ben tried closing his eyes again but after a frustrated quarter hour or so he gave up, resigned himself to the fact that he’d had all the sleep he was going to get. Hell, his heartbeat still hammered along quickly enough to be a little uncomfortable.

He hadn’t dreamt of the fight that won him his place in Hell’s nobility in a long time. Decades probably. And if he never did again it would be too soon.

Mal made a soft gasping sound and Ben’s eyes snapped open.

She was looking at him. It was still dark enough that she shouldn’t be able to see him, but he could tell that she could. He wondered briefly if that was something she could always do, or if it was a sign of her growing power.

“Hey,” he whispered softly, careful to keep his voice low so as not to wake the others, still sleeping in the close quarters of the hotel room. “You okay?”

She didn’t answer, just shook her head and moved closer to him. He pulled her in and she tucked her head against his chest. He immediately felt the dampness of hot tears against his worn T-shirt.

Mal hardly ever cried, even when everything was falling apart. She was the determined optimist, the group cheerleader. She was always the light in the darkness.

So when she did break down, he knew it was bad. He did everything he knew to comfort her; stroked her hair, rubbed her back, held her. Still, she clutched at him, her hands balled into fists in the fabric at his back.

It went on for a long time.

Finally, her silent sobbing trailed off. Unlike Ben, who never willing talked about what went on in his head, Mal had an almost desperate need to talk about it, to make the terror her imagination saw fit to throw at her less real.

“I’ve never had such a terrible dream before,” she breathed raggedly.

Knowing she always needed to talk after a bad night, even though it always hurt him to hear about her pain, Ben asked, “What happened?”

He also knew sometimes her dreams were prophetic, so it paid to listen even when it was hard to hear. Still, he was struck silent at her words.

“I … I think I was you. I was in a ring of fire, but it was cold, so cold I was turning blue. And I was covered in blood. A lot of it was mine. But there were bodies everywhere. At least a hundred.”

She felt him tense and assumed the cause was his usual distaste for anything that caused her even remote discomfort.

“Then I heard them. They sounded like dogs … but when I saw them come out of the dark, through the flames …” Another sob found its way past the hold she’d placed on her tears.

Ben held her tighter and she heard him whisper, almost too quiet to hear, “How are you having my dreams?”

“What?” she asked, surprised into being a little louder than her intended whisper.

Across the room, Chris snorted and rolled over and Aife mumbled something. Mal lowered her voice and tried again, “What do you mean have your dreams?”

He cursed silently. That had just slipped out. He considered deflecting, but chided himself. If he couldn’t be honest with Mal, who the hell could he be honest with?

“I was dreaming of the day I won my title. A little bit ago.” He faltered at how shaky the admission made him sound. “Mostly I dreamt about the end, the dogs … I …”

He stopped. He couldn’t go on. Because if he did, he’d give in to tears just like she had and he had no interest in doing that. He hated to cry. He felt strongly that he’d rather bleed.

He found himself being hugged so fiercely that if he’d been fully human it would probably have hurt.

“Hey, hey, shhhh,” he soothed instinctively. “It’s okay. You read my mind sometimes anyway. I’m so sorry my dream got into your sleep.”

“No!” she whispered almost angrily. “Don’t be sorry that I know. You never talk, you never tell. I know it was hell, but I … Ben, I’m never letting you go back there. Never.”

Instead of tears, there was a cold sort of determination in her voice.

He suppressed a sigh. Scion or not, he didn’t think there was much she could do to stop the inevitable. “I know, Mal,” was what he said instead of what he was thinking. “I love you,” felt like the most appropriate thing to say. It was true and he had no comfort beyond his feelings to offer her.

“I love you.” She paused and finally pulled back from his chest to look at him. He could almost have sworn her eyes were glowing faintly like his often did when he was emotional. “And that’s going to be enough.”

He knew what she meant. Still, he didn’t want to talk about what the future held. Instead he kissed her, long and well.

“It’s always enough.”

Something’s Gotta Give (A Demonic Short Story) Available Now!

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$0.99 on Kindle or for Free on Kindle Unlimited.

An assignment in Hollywood? That sounds like Paradise …

Ronoven should have known better.
In Hell, nothing was ever as easy as it sounded.

Take a trip above, they said. Use your human name. Go around as Ben again if you want.

Collect a movie star’s soul.

It’ll be easy, they said.

And he bought it.
Hook. Line. And sinker.

Then he met her. An innocent; caught up in her own pain, in the whirlwind fame of Hollywood’s heyday.

He couldn’t save her life, but if he was willing to play the odds, he might just be able to save her soul.

Ben had always been a gambling man.

Something’s Gotta Give – Available now.

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Ain’t No Mountain

Just another little piece of nonsense from this month’s writing challenge. ~  J

“Write a 250 word stream of consciousness from the perspective of a woman whose life will change drastically in three minutes.”

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Oh, dear God, that hurts.

Why am I here?

It seemed like a fabulous idea when it first came to me.

Life changing, liberating, making everything right.

Then there was the thinking, planning, and second guessing.

I was certain the labor would be worth the feeling at the end, but now I’m not so sure.

Finally arriving at the decision to go ahead felt like such a perfect thing.

Why did it have to become so complicated, so difficult, so painful?

I feel like I’m going to tear in half.

It’s not like I expected it to be easy, or fun.

Nobody would go into this situation thinking that, not unless they were a complete blithering idiot anyway, but holy hell, if I’d thought it would be this hard I’d have just gotten some other poor schlep to do it.

People will do anything for money.

Just a little further, a little more work. Push, push, push … and I’ve made it!

Jesus, that splash was satisfying.

I think I’ve weighed the body down enough that it won’t come back.

The water in the cove is deep and full of fish anyway so they should make short work of him. Think maybe I separated my damned shoulder. I hope Ivy can fix it. If not, I’ll have to think of a good story or maybe go to the ER over in Mendocino.

Just a short walk back to the car and I’m home free.

I was right.

It was worth the effort.

On the fourth day of Fic-mas, we look to the new year, and find something not quite new to fear …

Out With The Old

“Mikey, I said no more cookies,” Mary Davies called out to her son, who was in the kitchen, ostensibly to get the wine glasses for the table.

“Um … Sorry!” drifted back through the swinging door.

“Were those sleigh bells I heard in there,” her husband Clark asked with a smile, as her finished setting out the silverware.

His wife grinned. “I may have hot glued some to the inside of the cookie jar lid. You know, for enhanced security purposes.”

He chuckled. “That is positively diabolical and makes me glad that I’m on your side,” Clark said, leaning in for a kiss.

“Ew, get a room you guys,” Mikey groaned as he came back from his assigned task, bereft of cookies. He began setting the glasses around the table. “Also, very funny, Mom. Like haha. I didn’t know you worked for the cookie CIA or something.”

She smirked, her eyes glittering with mischievous good humor. “I’m more the private security type, but my methods are, nonetheless, highly effective.”

Mikey rolled his eyes, and leaned against the table, his last pointless task for the evening completed. “Why are we doing this whole thing?”

“It’s all you this round, babe,” Mary said as she headed into the kitchen. “Maybe he’ll get it if you explain it to him.”

She tossed a reproving look at her son and exchanged a sympathetic glance with her husband. The tween years had been rough, and now Mickey was going from an only child, an only child who would be thirteen come May 4th, to a big brother. As signs of the impending arrival of the youngest member of the Davies clan compounded, Mikey got exponentially surlier with his parents.

His father took a deep breath and tried again. “It’s Christmas Eve, son. And when I became a deacon of the church, well, I agreed to observe their traditions.”

Mickey tried unsuccessfully to conceal a roll of his eyes. His father went on smoothly, pretending he hadn’t noticed.

“One of those traditions is hosting an elder of the flock, who for whatever reason is alone this time of year. Mr. Morrow hasn’t been here for very long and has no one to share the holiday with … So, I offered for him to come here.”

This time Mikey rolled his eyes openly. “Lame.”

His father puffed a frustrated breath through his nose. “You know what, Michael? I’m done with your attitude. When our guest arrives, you will be polite, cordial, friendly, and not the sullen spoiled brat you keep showing your mother and I lately! Do I make myself clear?” he asked.

Michael thought one thing was very clear. He’d pushed a little too much today. Better to just suck it up, get this dinner over with, and head up to his room. He could turn the light off, pretend he was sleeping, and just go online. “Yes, sir,” he said, only sounding about half as sullen as he felt.

A chime sounded from the living room. “There’s the doorbell, now,” Clark said. “Why don’t you go let our guest in, Michael?”

He gave his son a hard look. His father was sticking to his full name, a good indication that he better play nice or the Wi-Fi password would get changed.

Mickey opened the door, and took an instinctive step toward the man on the welcome mat, almost reaching out a hand to steady the old fellow’s elbow, hardly recognizing him from church, where they’d met last week.

“Are you okay, Mr. Morrow?” Mikey asked, skipping over the normal ‘good evening’.

Before him stood, or more accurately stooped over a cane, what could best be described as a memory of a man. Wispy and frayed around the edges. A wheezy laugh escaped Mr. Morrow on a zephyr’s breath.

“That bad, huh, kid?” he asked with amusement.

With surprising agility and grace, the old man slipped around Michael and into the house.

“C … c …. Can I take your coat?” Mickey squeaked, caught entirely by surprise.

“Why, thank you, young man,” Mr. Morrow croaked.

If Mickey had thought the man appeared frail while wearing his coat, without it, their ancient dinner companion seemed like he might just blow away. He looked about as substantial as a paper snowflake.

A shiver rippled up and down Mickey’s back as Mr. Morrow’s eyes pierced him. Mikey thought a smirk might have passed over the old man’s face, but he was so wrinkled and dusty looking it was hard to tell. Mickey shivered again, this one shaking his whole body a little.

“Never seen a walking cadaver before, have you, boy. Hehehe,” he chuckled, then the strange hollow laugh turned into a body-wracking cough. His ribs were visible through his threadbare dress shirt. Mikey offered an arm to help steady his guest, feeling a strange mix of pity and revulsion when Mr. Morrow gratefully accepted.

“Mr. Morrow, are you alright?” Clark asked, coming into the foyer, having been alerted to the difficulty by the noise.

Wiping his mouth with a faded handkerchief, he showed his hosts a toothless grin. “Well, I thought I was, but I guess I’m in the minority. No matter. I’ve caught my breath now. I would like a seat though.”

“This way, sir,” Mikey said, leading his guest into the dining room and helping him into a chair as quickly as the old man’s labored movements would allow. Mikey had a strong, inexplicable urge to no longer be touching him.

“There’s a good lad,” Mr. Morrow said with genuine admiration, though for what, Mickey couldn’t know. The man patted his hand and made momentary eye contact, his expression grateful.

Mikey suppressed a shudder when those blue eyes met his brown ones. There was something off about the man’s gaze. His eyes just weren’t right. It was like they didn’t fit his face, like they didn’t get that they were old, or something.

Mary came into the room and offered, “Dinner isn’t quite ready, Mr. Morrow. If you’d like we could move into the other room to wait where the furniture is a little more comfortable.

He looked at her with something like understanding. “No, thank you kindly, all the same though. But you look like getting up and down from these low chairs is about as much fun for you as it is for me.”

He nodded at her very obvious baby bump. She smiled at his thoughtfulness. That had been almost exactly what she’d been thinking.

Mr. Morrow suggested, “Why don’t we stay right here? I’d prefer it, if it’s all the same to you. I like sitting around a nice table. It’s more personal, intimate. You can talk and really look people in the eye.”

When he said the words, he gave Michael another look and a nod. The boy tried not to fidget, but he felt himself squirm under Mr. Morrow’s scrutiny.

Mr. Morrow smiled his strange old wrinkly smile with nothing of it to sparkle but shiny pink gums and offered, “How about a story to pass the time? I know some good ones.”

“Sounds like fun,” Clark answered for the group.

The evening passed pleasantly. Mr. Morrow did know some truly wonderful stories. Mary was an excellent cook, and Clark a terrific baker, but dinner a dessert played a definite second fiddle to Mr. Morrow’s tales. Both the real historical accounts and what sounded like outrageous swashbuckling fiction enthralled the family.

It was like Mr. Morrow had been born with many lifetimes worth of firsthand knowledge, and that he was somehow passing it off into this room, into this gathering we nothing more than the gift of shared time and a few words.

Mr. Morrow was just concluding a harrowing tale of near death and shocking bravery from the French and Indian War, when he paused to look at the clock as it began to chime softly.

“Well, look at the time. Merry Christmas, one and all.”

Mikey let out a soft sigh of relief. That meant Mr. Morrow would be leaving soon, no doubt. And good stories or not, the guy just gave him the creeps something awful.

“Don’t look so disappointed, son,” he father said. “I’m sure we’ll do this again.”

Good old Clark, Mikey thought. Missing the general mood as usual.

“No,” the old man said, with an almost sad shake of his head, his silver hair looking too much like spider webs in the sun for Mikey’s liking. “Most likely not,” he continued. “I’ve much to do and prepare between now the new year.”

“Maybe after the holidays, then?” Clark asked. “I mean, really, Mr. Morrow, I truly enjoyed this evening.”

“As did I, Clark; as did I.”

The old man paused and looked around the table, eyes grazing Mikey again, asking him something, it seemed. The boy had an inexplicable urge to either be sick or to shout at his father to put the old man out on the mat, now. To not say what he was going to say next. But his silent scream didn’t stop his father’s words.

“Well, I invite you to join our family, any time.”

Mikey actual had to swallow to keep his dinner from coming right back up onto the table at the little flash in Mr. Morrow’s eyes just then. Then the old man spoke again, and the boy felt strangely faint.

“Thank you kindly, Clark. In that case … I do believe we’ll be seeing each other again. Very soon.”

“I … um … I’m not feeling very well,” Mikey blurted. “May I please be excused?”

He looked everywhere but at Mr. Morrow as his mother rose and came over to where he was sitting, laying her bare wrist against his forehead. “I don’t think you have a fever … But this is awfully late for you. Why don’t you go get some rest?”

“Thanks, Mom!” he practically yelled.

Then he said quick perfunctory good nights all around and disappeared upstairs, climbing into his bed and pulling the covers over his head, and dozing into strange dark dreams before the adults had even pushed away from the table.

After an after-dinner drink, in no particular hurry for the evening to be over, the Davies showed Mr. Morrow to the foyer.

“Thank you for coming,” Mary said as she opened the door while Clark helped the old man with his coat.

Mr. Morrow stopped at the door, turning to face Mary. “You, dear lady, are a wonderful host.” She was going to thank him for the kind remark, but he reached out and put his gnarled, blue-tinged hand against her swollen belly.

A cold chill raced through her body, that her sleeping son, who was now moaning softly with a terrible dream above their heads, would have recognized.

Mr. Morrow spoke softly, gazing into her face with an unwavering assurance. “A New Years’ baby, I should think. Much like our meeting …” He paused, and the Davies both thought he might have just lost the thread of his thought. But then he looked at them both very seriously. “Both a blessing, and a curse.” That hung in the air for a moment. “Good night.”

Mary and Clark both found themselves oddly unsettled. Mr. Morrow turned to them as he reached the end of the walk. “I’m sorry. I really am just so, so sorry.”

He walked off into the chilly dark, leaving them speechless.

Read the rest in The Twelve Days of Fic-mas – Holiday Tales With a Twist Vol. I

Baby new year

*****

The Velvet Dark

Here’s the opening to a little trifle I started a while ago. No sparkles, I promise. Just a little darkness, easy to dispel. ~ J

Prelude

The dark pressed in around her from all sides. It felt as though the darkness was, itself, a physical thing, enveloping her like a blanket. And truly, it may as well have been. Her back pressed firmly against the pillow-like softness beneath her, and she could only move a few inches to either side. She could not even move enough to shift her position and lessen the prickly sensation in her limbs that she knew would, after a time, become pain, and then numbness. In front of her, she could just raise her hands to touch the satin lining of the lid to the box that held her here in the blackness. They felt sticky, yet dry, and she couldn’t imagine why that would be. When she awoke, it had come slowly, through a haze. She could not remember where she had been or what she had been doing. Her first coherent thought was that maybe she’d had too much to drink at the club. That was so easy to do, to just drink and lose yourself in the sensations of the place. It would not have been the first time that Nightingales had made her forget herself and take things a little too far. More than once in the last few months her roommate had helped her make it back to her room to sleep it off.  “Keep this up, Vicki, and I’ll start to think you’re really one of us,” Mere had said. She tried to roll over to get out of bed, but found that she could not even get all the way onto her side. She tried moving the other way, thinking dimly that she, in a fitful sleep, had tangled herself in her blankets. This time she felt her shoulder contact something very firm, but soft. Undeterred, she attempted stubbornly to sit up and quickly smacked her forehead on the same firm, soft surface that held her shoulder back. As she became more truly awake, she began to feel the closeness around her. It felt as though she was enshrouded in an endless smooth blanket. Her heart began to beat faster. Thump, thump, thump; a quick staccato beat in her ears. She began to struggle against her newly discovered bonds, thrashing first one way and then another. The atmosphere in her prison grew hot and close and she realized finally that she was in a very tight space. Conceivably, she could be wasting a limited supply of air. Her exertions and the accompanying surge of adrenaline had awakened her fully.

Now, regaining her wits, she tried to assess her situation. The blackness was total, as if the sun ceased to exist, or more truly, as if she were in a world that had no sun. The thought felt utterly melodramatic, but at the same time completely true. She tried to slowly move her hands and felt the firm silken softness on all sides. Her arms and hands ached inexplicably. She knew she was lying on her back because her weight rested there, rather than on her feet.  Her senses told her that she was in a box of some sort, comfortably lined with cushions and soft folds of fabric. Her pulse began to race again. Her predicament, this box, no, if she were honest, this coffin, meant that only one person could be responsible for it. And she began to remember why this was so. She tried to push against the lid with her hands, to force it open, but found that she did not have enough room to gain advantage against it. Then, she tried to bend her legs to kick at it, but neither could she get purchase with her feet. She was becoming as much frustrated as afraid. She knew that it had always been about keeping this on her terms. Despite her rising panic, she realized that if it were a simple matter of pushing against this lid to regain the light, he never would have left her here. No, he would have been sure to see that her captivity was total, and that only he could free her. He would want to return for her at his leisure. She felt a cool breeze disturb her hair. Air was making its way into her little cell somehow. Apparently he intended for her to be alive when he returned. Of course he did. The moment was still hers. She still had options open to her.

Remembering how she had caused the aching in her hands, she ran her fingers down the silken lid. She laughed, just a bit at first, and then with increasing hysteria. It had all seemed like such an amusing game when they met. The way he dressed, the way he played his part at Nightingales, the way he’d used her name, and her nickname for him. It seemed like they had known each other forever, on the first night they’d ever met. It seemed, in fact, that he knew her and her intentions better than she did herself. As such, she never would have expected him to intervene in her life in this way. He had brought her here for a reason, left her in this softly luxurious tomb. In a way, how he had left her here was too perfect. Left her; locked away in this soft lush place, waiting for The Velvet Dark.

 

July 18, 2016 ~ JF

“Write a free form poem about the formula for happiness.”

Formula for Happiness

You want to know how to be happy, do you?

A seeker, huh? Pursuer of that golden blessed state we all crave.

This isn’t going to be easy for you to hear, so I’m giving you a chance to walk away.

No? Still here?

Okay you asked for it.

If you want to be happy, you have to realize that you are going to die.

You’re dying right now, in fact.

Do you feel that?

Down in your guts?

Maybe at the base of your skull?

Those are Death’s cold and grasping fingers, just making sure he knows where you are.

And someday that bony hand is going to close over yours.

No future.

No past.

Just…whatever.

Still with me?

Whoa, you okay, buddy? Need to sit down a minute?

No? You’re good?

Great.

So, now that you get that, what is there?

Now.

This.

Moment.

Heart thumping in your chest, maybe next to the heart of another, if you are very very lucky.

There’s the way the sun kisses the clouds before it wakes up for the day; the moon rising to say good night to Brother Sun and they both hang in the sky for a few minutes.

Your cat’s tufty ears and her whiskers brushing your arm in the morning; your dog’s slobber when you come home.

Sheets fresh from the clothes line in spring; underwear fresh from the dryer on a winter’s day.

The smell of the earth after a rain; dew on the grass.

The first day of summer.

The silent sound that snow makes, muffling the world, softening it.

Hot chocolate and children’s voices calling out to home from the sledding hill.

Food.

Sex.

Love.

An embrace.

You can still have all of these things, but you have to appreciate each of them as they come.

And if you are very very brave.

You can have

This.

Moment.

Now.