Nanowrimo 2015: Starting with the characters

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Hey everybody, long time no see!

I’m working on a new novel, and this time it is a sequel. This story has been a long time coming, but unfortunately as I’ve come closer to NaNoWriMo time, my original inspirations have started to fade away. Now I’m left with a vague sense of a character, and a setting I have only explored once.

So why don’t we just talk about that character?

Character Profile: Delilah ‘Dada’

Serious, thoughtful, and adaptive. Those are the words I would use to describe Delilah, aka Dada to her friends. She was always going to be a priestess, a woman of the faith of Jua (the primary god in the biggest religion in the setting), if her life allowed it.

Some would call her manipulative. When she speaks to people, she twists her words to get the best result. Her life, since she was young, has been trying to get the world to bend her way. She doesn’t do it out of spite, it is just the best course of action, the way to get the world to work the smoothest. If you see someone angry, why not say what you have to say in the best tone to make sure they don’t take it out on you? This is Dada’s life, and when talking one on one, she becomes anyone’s best friend. When speaking to a crowd, she can make their hearts sing. Unfortunately, when in an intimate group, needing to deal with a few individuals, she suffers as she bounces between different needs in the conversation.

Dada is college educated, with a degree in the theology she uses everyday. Her husband (or ‘mate’ as he would generally be called) balances her everyday life by giving her the time to formulate that she needs to be a priestess in a large busy neighborhood.

Unfortunately for their relationship, Dada is so focused on her religion that she puts her community and temple before her own home. To Dada, she is in love with god first, her temple second, and her mate, Hans, third. This is something she would never vocalize to Hans (it wouldn’t make him feel good after all), but is a fact she holds true to herself. In fact, her love for god could be considered, unconventional even in the eyes of the greater faith.

Dada had a fun past. In fact, she had wild years in college while she was still wondering if she would go through with her major. Drinking, partying, days away from her family household, and the occasional bout of drug usage. She put all of that in her past when she put on her vestments, and with the help of Hans’s family, they moved to a new neighborhood and started their lives fresh.

Now she serves a governor, several wealthy families, and even has a chance to meet some of the most important people in the country. That is, as long as she can keep herself, her household, and her faith, intact.

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Saturday Fiction: Become It (Suspense)

Ready for something a little tense? Maybe even a little spooky? Well too bad, here it is.

Become It

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Don’t let it touch you. That’s what the old ladies always told us. Don’t let it catch you, don’t let it touch you.

It didn’t matter how fast I ran, I could always hear the footsteps behind me. It was a thud and a splat, like a bag of wet garbage being dropped in succession. One after another, they came down again and again. In the pitch black of night, it was hard to keep my feet going one in front of the other. Staying upright was hard, keeping my eyes forward was harder.

The street was empty. In this part of town it was all half-built shopping malls and empty lots. Only the occasional car lit up the roadside patch of dead-grass in front of me. When the street lit up, my heart would fill with hope, only to be flattened each time as 3am drivers sped right by. No one was going to see me die.

They said it chose bad boys that became bad men. As a mother’s tale it was sound. You didn’t brush your teeth, you didn’t wipe your ass, it would come for you. We were supposed to fear it for life. It didn’t end with your trash chores, the absent father and the abuser could suffer as well. Except they never did, and then bad boys forget.

It was close now, I could smell it. It was an odor like rotting eggs drowned in settled mud. I had to fight back the urge to gag. All I could do is push harder.

The sound of another car approached. I made the decision, and split off into the road, almost falling to my face as I did. I ran to the middle of the street, and waved my arms as the bright lights of the car’s high beams centered on me.

I saw it, before I closed my eyes. It was a silhouette then, the car lights turning it into a creature of shadows. Then I saw nothing, and my body clenched as I waited for the car to run me over.

There was a loud honk, and the screeching of tires. Then the honking continued on into the distance, and I opened my eyes and turned to see the red tail lights of the car escaping into the night.

Did they not see it? Were they blind, or was it invisible. Maybe I was just mad.

Another footstep gave me no time to ask further questions. I ran across the street, passing into the lot of a public storage company. It was dark at this hour, with only one light hanging over the gate to the property.

I leaped it, my pants catching on the barbed top, before I yanked myself free and fell to the other side. I ran deep in, hoping to lose it in the process.

There were billions of bad men. Why would anyone think they were the one at risk? There was an answer though, not one I wanted to recognize. It wasn’t just bad boys who were hunted, it was our bad boys. I thought I was one of billions, but I was one in a dozen, the few boys to survive and continue to be around.

Of them, I was the worst. Melrose had a business, CJ was a pastor, Eddie was working two jobs to feed his twins. Then there was me.

I slowed down. My breath came in desperate pants, my lungs were burning, my legs ached. It was a dead end. Some idiot thought having a U shape in the garages was a brilliant idea, and now there was nowhere else to go.

Coughing, I shuffled to the deepest storage unit, and fought with the lock on it. I tried to ignore the whumps growing louder behind me, and the acrid smell that was filling my lungs with every breath. My eyes were watering, and I was covered in sweat.

“It isn’t fair,” I mumbled. There was no way to break in with nothing but my bare hands, “It isn’t fair.”

It was right behind me, I could feel a heat coming off of it. Did it want me to turn around and look at it? It made a gurgling noise, the sound of a man’s last breath.

It struck me across the back of my shoulders, the blow throwing me into the corner between two units, twisting me until I was facing out toward it. My legs buckled and I fell with my back against the wall.

The skin looked like green boils sliding down it in waves. It was wider and taller than any man, but still shaped like one. But unlike any man, the flesh was fluid, like an endless fountain of the bile and blood that it called a body, spilling in undulating waves. It kept coming, and the longer I looked, the more my stomach tried to crawl up my throat.

Both of its arms extended until they hit me in the stomach, and the bile-flesh flowed there, spilling over me. It was warm, strange, terrifying.

It wasn’t fair. Melrose was running his dad’s business. CJ grew up in the church, his uncle cared for him, taught him until he had a congregation of his own. Eddie’s mom remarried after his dad died. I was just the child of another bad man, couldn’t it see that? Didn’t it know I had nothing? I had to take everything to even get as far as I did.

The creature was shrinking as it poured itself over me. The weight built up around my legs and waist. It was a crushing and smothering sensation, the heat and mass. It was becoming hard to breath. No matter how much I fought against it, the force of the flow would just knock me back, pin me to the wall.

There was no escaping it, that was what they said. Don’t let it touch you, don’t let it catch you. If it gets you, you become it.

“I’m sorry!” I shouted into the night. Tears were burning my eyes, “I didn’t mean to hurt her, I’m so sorry, don’t do this!”

I kept shouting it even as the terrible flesh built up around my neck, and I knew it would suffocate me. I was yelling, but I was thinking more. They were excuses, sure, but I thought of them as additions.

I didn’t mean to hurt her, but she swung at me first. I’m so sorry, but this ain’t my fault. Don’t do this, I don’t deserve it.

When it first spilled down my throat, I wanted to retch. Not even that had enough force to counter the flow and the force. It kept coming, it filled me, the sweltering heat over my whole body.

There was something inside its shrinking form. I blinked away my tears. It was a man, pale brown skin locked inside the fleeing bubbling mass. Tears were streaming down his face as he took in panicked breaths, the mass no longer choking him. His familiar eyes were locked on me as he cried, they were just like mine. They were my father’s eyes.

The old ladies always told us, don’t let it touch you. Don’t let it catch you, or you will become it. It will imprison you, and you will become it.

Saturday Fiction: Opening from the pulpit

What, a saturday scene with a priest in it? Surely Marshall is responding to the historic announcement yesterday? Nope, I’m just messing with a draft that happens to have a priest main character. Though I might talk about Friday later this week, my views on it aren’t really necessary.

This is part of a sequel to a previous Nanowrimo. I don’t often do first person, mostly because I sort of throw words out in a mix of past and present tense, which comes out garbled. Either way, here we go. If any of the details of the religion itself throw you off, just remember it doesn’t matter.

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Chapter X

All of their eyes are locked on me. Some of them are powerful people, business owners, veterans, doctors, family heads. In their day to day life they are in charge, but in this moment, they all look to the pulpit and listen.

I adjust my vestment with a hand, and scan the crowd.

“I tell them, love isn’t a rose, not metaphorically or physically, with thorns and all. Though they never believe me, I tell them that if they want to feel the true warmth of Jua, they don’t need anything but the spirit he earned you, and defends for you.”

The lecture was about being close to god. I spent the two nights before preparing it after the Wilt family kid came to me and asked if god and his mates loved him or not. There, out in the grass behind the temple, I fumbled. I could only tell him what I’m sure his mother had told him before, ‘rest assured, you are loved.’

“We must recognize the signs that are already there,” I said tilting my voice up, “We feel love every day of our lives. Love is that sickening feeling in your gut when someone is attacked, or in pain. It rips at your insides, keeps you up, boils your blood. That’s how I know I love this community, that’s how I know I love god.”

They cheered as the sermon peaked, and I looked down to the front row among the clapping patrons. Hans was there, in a pressed suit with his well-trimmed hair, smiling up at me. I couldn’t help but grin back.

“We can look to the stories,” I continued, bringing my voice back down, “I can tell you the line; moon chapter 4 line 22, clash chapter 1 line 10. I can throw quotes at you all day but that won’t mean a thing unless you leave yourself open to seeing him, and loving him. Then you will know what he feels in return for everyone, and you will understand that you are loved.”

The crowd turned to chanting, and I could hear old Eliza swooning in the back rows.

It wasn’t just rhetoric, I could feel the fluttering in my stomach there in front of everyone. It felt like my body, chest outward, was radiating vital essence of the divine. I concluded, and they left row by row, stopping to hold hands, say passing words to each other, give a pat on the back.

“Jojo,” Hans came up to me while my back was turned to the hall to put away notes.

I Turned, and he smiled down, but it wasn’t the same smile as before. It was crafted, strained. It didn’t take long to see why.

“The governor,” He added, and Governor Wilt came forward with his hand extended.

He was a tall man, with peppered hair that he let grow just long enough that no one would call him bald. He kept his brown eyes locked on people, which made it difficult to avoid his face, and I knew that is exactly where he focused his power.

“Governor,” I said with a smile of my own, and a nod, “I didn’t expect to see you until tomorrow.”

“Priestess,” He said with a level of mirth the statement didn’t need, “That’s exactly why I stopped in today. I’m glad I did, that sermon was exquisite. You really are a touch of the divine, I felt infused by every word.”

Compliments were the weapons of kings, both good and evil. There was no way to avoid them, so I let them wash over me, and took what good I could knowing the man in front of me.

“Do you want to go to my office?” I offered.

Wilt looked to Hans, for just a moment, as if to double check he truly existed. Hans didn’t notice, he had taken a step back, and was being talked to by Afia.

“No, that’s okay,” Wilt said with a playful shake of his shoulders, “I just wanted you to know that Wini’s blood will be visiting, old family by the name of Leopold.”

The Leopold family was a political powerhouse, larger even than Wilt’s. He wanted me to impress them, or impress upon them.

“Is there a particular lesson you want, Governor?” I said with a straight face, dragging my suitcase full of notes to my side.

The governor looked away for the second time of our whole conversation, his eyes going to the Seal of the Celestial Marriage, a beautiful tapestry laid across the front of the hall that illustrated the mates of god, and at their center the grand god Jua himself.

“Maybe, a focus on the rights of a family head?” He suggested, “It could even be a historical lesson.”

I put a finger to side of my lips, and I saw the governor twitch as I did. The motion was instinctive, but I regretted it anyway. Even if he was so open to manipulating me, it didn’t do to manipulate him in return. That wasn’t my place, and never would be.

“An interesting suggestion, governor. I will see what I can do.”

He held a hand out, I took it, and we bowed to each other. Then he immediately began a conversation with the first person he saw behind him.

“All ready to go, dear?” Hans said when the governor was far enough away. He looked tired, even though he wasn’t the one who just finished talking for a few hours.

“Let me hang this up,” I said yanking on my robe, “and grab my purse.”

I had a lot of planning to do. Important people would be in town, and I had a duty to fulfill. Not just to the community, and by that the governor as well, but to Jua himself.

Saturday Fiction: Sixth Ranger

Sorry folks, I was in Canada last Saturday, so I forgot to post this. Well here it is now, a sort of culmination to the previous werewolf stories. It includes everyone’s favorite extra NPC, Lt. Spatz.

Sixth Ranger

Woofskulls

There was a rustle in the bushes. It was more than just the wind, larger than some rabbit. People were moving, and people meant danger. They always do.

A little girl popped into the clearing, chasing a grasshopper, wearing a small backpack and colorful boots with a cartoon character on the side. She looked around, and her eyes filled with wonder at the animal she saw lying there in the little den.

“Mom,” She said, “Mommy look at the doggy.”

A woman came into the clearing, wearing hiking gear and a larger pack than the child. She was dismissive at first, reaching for her daughter’s hand to pull her aside. Then she saw the wolf, and her whole body went rigid. She pulled the girl close, and tried to be still.

“Ow,” The little girl complained.

The wolf stood, and looked at them. It didn’t move, just stood in the clearing.

“That is a bad dog,” The mother said, “See, he is dirty, and shaggy. Come on, let’s go.”

The mother pulled the daughter along, the little girl dragging her feet at every step.

“But mom,” She said, “I want to pet him.”

He laid back down. Who did that lady think she was, calling him shaggy? He looked at the sun, rising high in the air, and decided he needed to go. He rose once more, trotted through the underbrush, and continued down the hillsides until he could smell the indistinguishable scent of port-a-potties, hot dogs, and motor oil.

His perspective rose, and he could feel his body twisting beneath his skin. Spatz pushed through a bush, and sat down on a bench at the edge of the park. He let out a sigh. There was relief there, he had to tell himself that. Somehow, life was a little better than before, if only a little.

Then his phone started to vibrate out of control. It buzzed, and buzzed, and buzzed until he could pull the iPhone out of his pocket and check it. Five voicemails, at least fifteen texts, the phone stopped counting.

He was going to look through the list of missed calls, but then Meredith began calling. He picked it up, leaned his head back, “Yes?”

“Can you explain to me why you have been avoiding my calls?” Meredith said.

He could tell she was stressed. Considering everything that was going on, he wasn’t surprised. She was trying to construct a new pack, pay respects to the old, and lead a war. He didn’t envy her.

Still, sometimes she was a little snippy, “My phone didn’t exist until a few seconds ago?”

Telling the truth was a bad idea. Which is why it was a bad idea to answer the phone while he was still tired.

“So you’re being funny today,” Meredith said, “you sound like you belong with those kids.”

He deserved that.

“What have I missed?” He asked.

She was talking to someone else in the background. Spike? The two new entries were still adjusting to how Meredith did business. To tell the truth, he trusted Cam and Mike more, and that’s saying a lot since he was sure Cam wanted to fight him.

“More intelligence overnight,” She said, “I believe another shifter is involved.”

That tied Spatz’ stomach in a knot. If she was talking about Levi, she would say so, wouldn’t she? Maybe, he knew Meredith kept secrets, who didn’t have secrets? Still, he prided himself on having some idea what she was planning.

“Give me your report,” Meredith said.

Spatz scratched along his neck, caught a bug that lingered there from the hills, “Well…”

The previous morning, he woke up to a phone call. The sun was barely up, and his phone was already vibrating itself off his night stand.

He grabbed it, checked it, and saw it was a txt from Levi. He still didn’t know where Levi had moved to, which was starting to make him nervous.

It said, “Have werewolves ever thought of just, not wearing leather?”

Spatz tried to read it again, but it didn’t make any additional sense. Was he drinking? Hopefully not.

He replied, “It looks so intimidating, and you feel like a TV star.”

He rolled out of bed, and remembered he worked today. It already felt long.

First job in the morning, he got a tip from Joey at the precinct. There was a scene in Chicago that he needed to see, counting as ‘anything strange or creepy’ just like Spatz asked.

He walked in on the scene, and saw Chicago PD swarming everywhere. They were taking forensics, orders were being shouted back and forth. He sniffed, and the scents in the room made him want to pinch his nose.

“What are you doing here, Lieutenant Spatz right?” asked a Lieutenant from Chicago he saw now and again. The guy was tall, and a hard-ass, real territorial. Unfortunately, he had other loyalties that meant he wasn’t all that useful as a contact.

“Not trying to intrude on your crime scene,” Spatz said as he walked into the social lodge, “I was worried this might be one of the kids I’ve worked with before.”

The guy lifted an eyebrow, “Really? Come over here.”

He was waved into the hall, and Spatz could feel the air get thicker as they walked. They reached a staircase, and the Lieutenant pointed for him to walk down. They got to the bottom, and reached a room covered in tribal gear and chiminage. The walls and ground were painted in blood that stank of something strange. There were two more scents, ones Spatz couldn’t mistake for anything else.

“Oh English, what are you doing,” Spatz whispered.

“If this is one of your kids,” The Chicago lieutenant said, “Maybe you need to think about putting him down. He ain’t much of a kid anymore.”

Spatz flared his nostrils. This wasn’t good.

Later that morning he was at Naperville central. He was out back of the school, and Mike was attempting to do his best impersonation of a shadow on the wall.

“They aren’t saying anything because they don’t know anything,” Spatz said, an arm against the wall, “But they can’t smell you on the knife Mike, I can.”

Mike shrugged, “So I’m not in trouble.”

Spatz flared his nostrils, “No, you’re not in trouble. But I know the knife is yours, and they are freaking out in there. You can’t have knives at school, I’m pretty sure that is in the rulebook somewhere.”

Mike shrugged again.

That was the ‘I didn’t read the notebook’ shrug. Spatz let out a groan, and ran his hand down his face. His phone buzzed, and he pulled it out to check it.

Mike started to walk away, and Spatz called out to him.

The boy turned around. He hadn’t exactly done anything to anyone, and considering what all attacked them at the school in the past, it wasn’t the stupidest idea to have a knife. It was just dangerous, and illegal.

“Good job keeping your prints off of it,” Spatz said, giving Mike a thumbs up.

Mike shook his head, and then went back inside. Spatz was pretty sure he saw a smirk there.

A little later he was outside an ice cream parlor.

Sylvia held two cones out, “You want vanilla, or chocolate swirl?”

“Vanilla please,” He said while reaching out for it.

She gasped, “You don’t seem like a vanilla guy.”

Spatz took a lick, “Are you going to tell me now?”

She sat at the bench-table, and seemed oblivious to what he was asking. Then her face lit up, “Oh, yeah. So we weren’t able to catch him. Still, we looked up the crystals, and they were a bunch of hippy stuff, a lot of articles about clearing the mind and helping stress. The kind of stuff mom would probably use. Then Jennifer and Dick were talking about hunting down other shifters to see what they knew, and I tried to tell them that they wouldn’t know anything, but they just kept talking about finding them and hurting them. She is such a bitch.”

Spatz nodded, and ignored his phone going off in his pocket. He was losing track of what she was talking about, but it seemed like she was interacting with the local Pure girl. If they recruited her, what would they do with her? Most Pure would rather rip a Forsaken to shreds than use them for some scheme.

“Then I started thinking about Leonard, and they might hurt him, and I started crying. So I tried to call him, and he wasn’t answering. With all this weird stuff going on, what if he is already hurt? I would just die.”

He had no idea who Leonard was. Did he forget, or was Leonard just not important?

“Oh my god, what if he is just ignoring me?” Sylvia said, her eyes going wide, “Oh my god, that dick. I’ll punch him. Well, maybe not, he got beat up pretty bad the other month. Still, I told him I liked him, and he said he liked me too. I can’t believe him!”

She pounded her fist on the table, and her ice cream fell off its cone and plopped on the table.

“Oh no!” She cried, “No, no, damnit.”

Spatz rolled his eyes, and held his cone out for her.

Sylvia sniffled, “Really? Thank you. I won’t forget this, ever, you’re the best.”

Her phone rang, and she pulled it out and looked at it.

“Oh, hey, a text from Leonard,” She said with a smile, “He says he is okay. Yes!”

Sylvia jumped up from the table and walked away, dialing Leonard’s number.

Later that day he was in a counseling office with a young man named Jacob. Mundane as far as he could tell, the boy just decided to try to make a weapon at school during shop class and use it against another student.

“No one is going to press charges today,” Spatz said, “Still, you need to ask yourself where you were going with this. I know it seems like this world is everything today, but trust me there is a whole big world out there, and attacking someone like that can-”

His phone started to ring.

Spatz took a deep breath, held a finger up, and then plucked his phone out. It was Levi. He silenced it, and put it back.

“Where was I? You never know how long-”

It started to ring again. He flipped it, Levi. Silenced it.

“Do you have somewhere to be?” The kid said, his voice hoarse from an earlier screaming match with the faculty.

“No,” He said, “I’m here.”

“Maybe you can pick that up, and talk to someone that matters.”

His phone started to ring again. Spatz let out a sigh.

After the meeting was done, his phone rang again, and he picked it up.

“Oh there you are,” Levi said, “Do you think I should order out tonight? Or do Taco Bell again.”

Spatz let out a low grumble.

Later in the evening he pulled over on the side of the road, rolled down the window, and yelled out.

“Cam, need a ride?”

Cam had his bag in hand, full of what Spatz had to guess was boxing gear. There were other kids with him, none of which Spatz recognized. Cam looked at them, and the others laughed before Cam jogged over to the window.

“I’mma just catch the bus,” Cam said into the window, “Thanks officer.”

Spatz had almost forgot he was still in a cruiser.

“Look,” Spatz said, “Streets aren’t exactly safe these days, I was on my way into the city.”

As far as Spatz could tell, getting Cam to trust you was the hard part. How Levi had ever managed it was a mystery that Spatz had never figured out. Spatz didn’t want to call it trust issues, with the bit of the guy’s history that he knew, he was right to keep himself distant. Still, he had some friends right there, that’s better than before.

“I don’t know if you’ve been watching the news,” Cam said, “But a Black guy jumping into a police car, not the safest scenario.”

Spatz started to laugh, but let it fall off. He wasn’t exactly sure how to respond to that one.

Cam looked over his shoulder, and waved goodbye to the rest of his group.

“Look, I wanted to talk to you anyway,” Cam said, “So lets just do this.”

He circled around the car and jumped in. Spatz pulled away, and they were off toward Chicago.

“So you got some new friends huh?” Spatz asked.

“Oh, you noticed detective?”

Spatz shook his head, “Fine, what did you want to talk about?”

“That hunt thing,” Cam said, his voice getting, “That was… that something you guys do all the time?”

Spatz smirked, “Wild right? Not all the time, no. It helps control the chaos. We can’t just jump at every fight that pops up, sometimes you need rules. The hunt is the game. It makes it like a soccer game, sets up the boundaries, and defines the players.”

“Except instead of a bunch of guys kicking a ball around,” Cam said, “You’re killing people.”

There was a little regret there. Spatz could hear it. That wasn’t Cam’s fight, maybe it wasn’t the best time to bring him in. He didn’t know what the shifters were doing, he didn’t feel the pressure to get revenge against the Pure.

“Usually spirits,” Spatz said, “Like that spider-creature we fought. Or someone like Bohle.”

Cam nodded, “I’m not against it, just trying to figure out what I’m signing up for. I can’t be up every night chasing whatever pissed you guys off that morning, you know?”

“Yeah, I hear you.”

“What the f-”

Cam didn’t get to finish his sentence, a mess of fur and screams hit the sidewalk next to them. It looked like it fell out of an abandoned apartment building. It rolled over, scrambled to its feet, stood up like a man.

“Beshilu!” Spatz said as the car yanked forward and screeched to a stop.

“What?” Cam said.

The creature ran off into the night, and then a woman with animalistic features on her face landed where it once did, and buckled from prominent injuries along her arm and chest.

“A rat,” Spatz said, “Come on, we need to catch it.”

Spatz jumped out of the car, and Cam leaned out the police car window, “Why not just chase it in here?”

“Not in the police car,” Spatz said, and then ran to the woman’s side.

That didn’t resolve itself until well into the night.

“It was unrelated,” Spatz said as he collapsed on the bed in Levi’s motel room.

“Unrelated like, what?” Levi said, “Because a scary rat spirit sounds like it could be related.”

Spatz shrugged, “Beshilu are always around. Another werewolf thing. Father wolf couldn’t destroy them, so they spread around the world, getting their revenge on us for always hunting them.”

Levi frowned, “Do you ever, you know, listen to yourself when you’re telling those stories?”

Spatz sat up, “I brought ice, I don’t know why you didn’t just get some from down the hallway.”

“I don’t trust those,” Levi said, “Thanks though. Now we can have drinks.”

He tried not to roll his eyes. He was drinking at a younger age, though beers instead of colorful cocktails.

“You’re kind of extra grumpy today,” Levi said as he went into the motel room freezer and pulled out a small assortment of alcohol.

“Long day,” Spatz replied.

Levi took it all to a table, “You’re not going to talk about it are you?”

Spatz just let out a noncommittal groan, and closed his eyes. He was fine just listening to Levi work, and not worrying for a one minute.

“Another user got attacked,” Levi said over the clink of ice, “This one was a bird, they said something about werewolves. I’m starting to think Meredith is trying to start something.”

She wasn’t, it already started. Spatz didn’t bother explaining that, he knew what Levi’s response would be. Still, shifters and werewolves didn’t always get along, and that is just how it was. He was risking a lot even being there. What if Levi was also working with the Pure? What if that was why Sylvia was so close to Jennifer? What if he was just being played, or lead into a trap. What would be his excuse to Meredith when she found out he put central Illinois at risk, over what?

He realized he was growling, and he sat up with a start.

Levi was staring at him.

Spatz pulled himself off the bed, and reached out for his coat.

“You’re going?” Levi said, a note of actual concern in his voice, for once.

“Yeah,” Spatz replied, “I have to be somewhere tonight.”

Levi was standing in front of two half-made drinks, “Fine, I guess I’ll get drunk alone.”

He didn’t have time to be guilt-tripped. He put on his coat, and went to the door.

“Call me tomorrow,” Spatz said as he opened the door.

“Sure that won’t interrupt you and your boyfriend?” Levi snapped.

Spatz shook his head and closed the door behind him. He went down the stairs, checked his phone one last time, and then stopped and looked up to the sky.

There, peeking from behind the clouds, the full moon. He could feel it, like the heat of the sun at high noon, burning against his skin. Another werewolf might give in to it, another werewolf might have looked for bloodshed, or at least some act of violence or passion.

Spatz walked around to the back of the motel, and his body began to shift. He fell to all fours, and let out a howl that made the night tremble. This was his night, and he had a long run ahead of him.

“So that’s all?” Meredith asked, “A few incidents at the school?”

Spatz cracked his neck, “That and the situation at that lodge in Chicago, but you heard about that one.”

Meredith was silent on the other side of the line.

“Fine,” She said, “Can you pick up the boy? I want him to join us tonight, and he seems reluctant.”

“Yes ma’am,” Spatz said. Then she hung up, and Spatz let out all the air in his lungs. Another day, and more work ahead.

Saturday Fiction: The Other Alpha

Woofskulls

I almost forgot to post fiction, on Saturday. What a travesty that would have been. Another Werewolf fiction, coming at you. This one featuring our group’s favorite little alpha in training, Sylvia.

The Other Alpha

Sylvia walked out of the community center with her phone in hand. She waved goodbye to some of the kids, and then headed toward her car. It was the middle of the day now, she had the whole evening ahead of her. She could spend some of that heading back to her apartment on the Northside, or see what Kimiko was up to, or go on a run, or maybe Tessa wanted to chat.

She opened a new text message, “Have you found her yet? Maybe my sniffer can help? Plz call.” Then sent it to Tim.

She looked up, and found Jennifer leaning against her car.

“Hey, get off of there!” Sylvia shouted. She ran over, waving her arms like Jennifer was a seagull to shoo away.

Jennifer, a good head taller than Sylvia, gave her a stern expression as she stood up. “We need to talk.”

“Yeah, cool, whatever,” Sylvia said as she pulled out her keys, “Except I have to go now. So, later?”

Jennifer’s hands came down on Sylvia’s wrist. She squeezed tight until the keys slipped free and fell to the concrete. When Sylvia looked up, Jennifer still had that same expression.

“You’re in my territory,” Jennifer said, “I told you before. Your pack is gone, you gave up your claim. This is my pack’s land now.”

Ever since they all broke up, Sylvia was the only one really left in town. Sure Mike and Cam came by to visit family, but then they were gone just as fast. Then Jennifer stuck her fat nose into everything.

“You mean your dad’s pack?” Sylvia said. She regretted it as soon as she said it. Unfortunately, the thought just popped up, and came out of her mouth. Jennifer was always so sensitive about everything. She was supposed to be evil, Sylvia had to be careful.

Jennifer grabbed Sylvia by the shoulder, stretching the straps of her shirt. She growled for a second, real dog-like, and then let her go.

“I just want to be normal, okay?” Sylvia said, “No wolf stuff. Is that okay? Life is hard enough.”

Jennifer crossed her arms, and snorted, “No wolf stuff. I’m okay with that. But I’ll be watching.”

Sylvia swept up her keys, “Sweet. Bye!”

She jumped into her car, and as Jennifer stood there brooding, she drove off into central Naperville. It was a nice day, the wind kept her cool, and she could relax. At least, it was close to relaxing. Every time she thought about it all, she got twisted up inside. It felt like she was going to puke, or cry, or both. She missed the past, which is weird because it included a lot of scary stuff, and nearly dying. Going to college was the last idea on her mind then, and here she was.

Sylvia sniffed at the wind, and hit her brakes. A car behind her honked.

“Damnit,” She huffed, “Sorry.” She said as the car passed. She pulled over to the side of the road and pulled out her phone.

“Call me OK? & tell Cam I know that is his real number, so he should txt me.” Then she sent it to Mike.

That smell. It was like, dust, fungus, strange wood. She got out of her car, and walked around to the roadside. There was a small bit of woods there, and she knew if she followed it west, it would keep going until it hit a reserve.

“I swear if this is just Jennifer’s fat ass,” Sylvia swore to no one.

She looked both ways, and then covered her face with both hands before she started walking forward. There was the small snap and shift as her nose changed into a snout. She sniffed again, and got even more. This wasn’t normal, whatever it was. At the same time, it was a little familiar.

When she was far enough from the road, she pulled out her phone and looked at it. She took a deep breath, stuffed it back in her pocket, and hunched forward. The ripple of the change went through her. It was a lot like shrinking, with the world rushing away from her, and finding yourself with a new perspective.

Her paws were damp from the grass. She could feel her sharp teeth locked in place. She was free, loose, a full wolf. She shook her fur, walked in a circle, and then sniffed at the ground. Whatever it was, whoever, they had walked this way.

She let out a small bark as she started to run. The wind rushed past her, the trees brushed against her. Occasionally, she stopped and sniffed again. Male, a little older than her, hurt? It had the smells of the city, but not, a little too country.

Sylvia stopped and marked a tree, and then wished she could laugh as a wolf.

She charged forward again, sniffing at the air, feeling a change in the winds. Whoever it was, they were up ahead. It wasn’t the first time a strange scent popped up in Naperville. Hopefully this one wasn’t a rat-monster, or some weird spirit. Those kinds of things were hard to deal with, and sometimes she just had to leave them alone. It wasn’t like she was a pack all by herself. Well, she kind of was.

When she got close, she felt something new. Her fur was standing on end, there was power here. Magic stuff, Tim’s stuff. She looked between the trees, There was a big boulder there, large enough to have a few other rocks in the same outcropping. It looked like someone had cleared it of trees once, maybe they used it as a little ritual circle, or just a campsight.

There in front of it was a guy, cross-legged. He was sitting in a pattern dug in the grass, almost like a large symbol. She could hear it, he was whispering.

Sylvia shifted back, and stepped into the clearing.

“It’s you?” Sylvia snapped, “What was your name… Jamal?”

The guy turned around. When their eyes met, for a moment, the guy wasn’t all there. It was like he was looking through her, his eyes just ornaments in his head. Then he shook his head, and started to fidget. he stood up and backed against the rock.

He was a rabbit shifter. They met him before, trying to steal from one of those crazy spider-creatures. He almost died last time, and then he said he was never coming back. Except, now here he was.

“You? Shit,” He looked around, “Is the rest of your pack here?”

“I thought we ran you out of town.” Sylvia said, “What are you even doing?”

He looked down at the weird circle, and some small rocks and crystals sitting at the base of the rock, “Look, It’s Jeremy, I have to do this, okay? Just, don’t look into it.”

“Yeah? And I have to kick your butt.”

Jeremy scrunched up his nose, and lifted an eyebrow.

“Wait,” Sylvia shifted tone, “Do you mean like, someone is controlling you? Or you just really want to do it?”

The rabbit-shifter cringed as if someone smacked him over the back of the head.

She remembered, he smelled hurt. Now that she looked at him, in his dirty jeans and some beat up shirt, he just looked like a hitchhiker. He didn’t seem hurt. Well, maybe a little twitchy, maybe he was emotionally hurt. Could she smell people’s depression? She didn’t know if that was awesome or not.

“Hold still, shifter.”

Sylvia turned, and saw that Jennifer was coming up behind her, with Dick Worth in tow. There was another boy there, younger even than Dick. Sylvia realized she didn’t know how big Jennifer’s pack was.

Jennifer walked up until she was close enough to reach out and touch Sylvia. “You couldn’t keep your promise for a whole hour.”

“Yeah, well.” Sylvia didn’t have anything to add there, but she was sure a comeback would come in time.

“I’m guessing she is in charge now?” Jeremy said while pointing at Jennifer.

Sylvia put her thumb to her chest, “No, I’m the alpha!”

“We’re not even the same pack,” Dick shouted.

“Still, I found him first,” Sylvia said, “So back off.”

Jennifer motioned, Dick and the new guy started to walk toward Jeremy.

Jeremy’s took a step away from the rock. He was sweating now. Last time Sylvia saw him, he was a jerk, but he at least kept his cool. Something changed, and she didn’t know what it was. Why was he so worried? She could figure that out after she kicked Jennifer’s ass.

“I’ll just go,” Jeremy said, and then his body twisted down until he was just a brown rabbit. He bounded around the boulder, and started off into the woods.

“Oh no you don’t!” Dick growled before shifting into a large black wolf and bounding after him.

Sylvia turned and was prepared to shift as well, except Jennifer grabbed her by the shoulder.

“Wait.”

They turned and looked at each other. There wasn’t anger there like last time, Jennifer looked concerned. She pointed to the weird stuff by the rock, and started to walk over.

“Dick will run him down, or at least out of Naperville,” Jennifer said, “Look at this.”

So far, Jennifer had only ambushed her twice in her life, not counting today. That was still a good track record. It was two to one now, but maybe she could get away if she really needed to. She walked over and kneeled by the little shrine Jeremy was building.

“This is a locus,” Jennifer said, “So I guess he can use essence. Still, this is weird, why all these symbols and offerings just to get essence?”

“Maybe it is a ritual or something,” Sylvia said. Then she thought better of giving Jennifer any good ideas, “Wait, nevermind. It can’t be that right?”

Jennifer grabbed the crystals and rocks. They were different colors, shapes, sizes. Some of them had symbols cut into them, but each was different.

“I think the crazy shit in Chicago is starting to spill out,” Jennifer said, “Bad stuff is coming.”

“You mean like your dad?”

Jennifer groaned.

“Well, I mean, he isn’t the baddest guy,” Sylvia clarified, “But he is still an asshole. He tried to kill us.”

Jennifer stood up, “So you don’t know anything then? What about the others? The little guy, Tim, maybe he could figure this out.”

She could see Jennifer was mad. Good, her dad was bad, she needed to deal with that.

“I’ll see,” Sylvia said with her nose turned up, “Next time, don’t follow me.”

“Richard saw you pull off the road.”

“That’s such a bad guy thing to do,” Sylvia said, “Just following someone into the woods. You don’t know what I was doing out here. Maybe I was jogging, or streaking.”

Jennifer shook her head and snorted, “Why do I even try to talk to you? Come on Lee, we’re leaving.”

Sylvia’s heart jumped, “Wait! I’m sorry. Look, I want to help, okay?”

“You aren’t part of my pack,” Jennifer said, “We should be killing you right now.”

Sylvia smiled, “But you aren’t.”

The Pure girl looked at Lee, the new kid, and made a hand motion that caused him to run off in the direction Dick went.

“I know you’re just trying to help the city,” Jennifer said, “So I’m being nice. I’m not like my dad, I know when to put my teeth away. Still, if you stop being useful, I’m putting you on a bus to Chicago.”

Jennifer grabbed all the stones, and started to walk back to the road.

“Whatever, I drive now,” Sylvia mumbled as she pulled out her phone and took a picture of the markings in the grass and on the stone.

She opened up a text message, “OMG, I sniffed something in NPville. You would be so proud. I nearly got killed, but it was weird, so I followed it. It was something strange, and I found Jeremy, or Jamal, whatever. He was there, and acting weird. Then guess who 1 of 2”

“Showed up? Jennifer. She is such a bitch, but she wouldn’t fight me. I think she likes me. What if she was mad in love with me? Wouldn’t that be weird, like a secret undying love? I think she is good now, maybe. Whatever, her pack is helping. So I will figure it out, until you come back. Then you can help. 2 of 2”

Then she sent it to Levi, with the picture of the stone attached, and signed ‘Pack Alpha’.

She laughed, and then jogged to catch up with Jennifer.

Saturday Fiction: A Little [Surreal] Mystery

I asked myself, ‘why don’t I ever write anything surreal?’ Besides being an odd question to ask yourself, it was also a bad time to ask myself. I have a lot of stuff I should be writing, so trying another project right now was a terrible idea. Still, I started a story, and here it is. Hold on to your butts.

A Little Mystery

There was a knock at the door. Arty didn’t answer. He was looking at the painting on the wall of the hospital room. It took up a sizeable piece of the far wall. Men being mauled by lions, the browns in their faces distorted and lengthened as the beasts bit down on them. It was obviously a fake, who put a real painting in a hospital room?

The door cracked, and someone popped their head in. He couldn’t tell who, not until he heard the heavy footsteps on linoleum. They had a snap to them, each bootfall had emotional weight with them. It was Clark. Arty could see him now, pulling up a chair by the hospital bed. Carl was all shoulders, hunched forward, his eyes twisted up in sadness.

Arty did this to him. He was different before. Taller, wider, brighter. Before Arty had to sit in hospital rooms, staring at paintings.

“Hey, partner,” Clark said, leaning against the bed.

“Hey, buddy,” Arty replied. He didn’t bother looking at Clark.

Clark let his words hang in the air. He sniffled, and Arty could hear him squeezing his hat in his grip. It was painful, watching Clark sink into himself, become more tears and sobs than man. Back on the force, he was larger than life. He was always the man-of-action, could push Arty into doing anything.

Now he had a leak he couldn’t plug. He was pouring over Arty’s sheets, occasional blinks stymying the flow. The old man had been stuck in the face, and he was letting it all out.

“We have a real one right now,” Clark said, “We could really use your help out there.”

Arty turned, his eyes focusing in on Clark.

“It is your kind of case. Me, I don’t know what to do with it. You know how it is, if I can’t shake someone down, I’m lost.”

Clark laughed, but it didn’t stop the tears. This was interesting, it was something to do, anything besides sitting, waiting, listening.

“Tell me everything,” Arty said.

Clark shook his head, “I don’t know. Maybe I shouldn’t be bothering you with this. I don’t want you stuck with this.”

Arty leaned against the other side of the bed, leaned over, “Tell me everything Clark, do it.”

He knew he couldn’t shake Clark.

“Hell,” Clark said, “Whatever. You aren’t here for sappy stories. Plus I thought of you as soon as I walked in on the case.”

Arty closed his eyes.

‘You should have seen this place. It was beautiful, Victorian style, everything redone. Inside it was Oak everywhere, the floors, the cabinets, the walls.’

When he opened them again, he was in the doorway. A stairwell lead off into a black wall of shadow, one turn left into the sitting room, old oak bookshelves and tables. It was the sort of house you inherit, but keep in great condition. It was a house that had history. The kitchen was even better, all new installations, with nods to the past. Pictures hung from the walls, faceless people watching looking back at Arty as he walked through.

He made the loop back to the living room.

‘There were signs of a struggle, but only inside. Blood smeared across the floor, pictures knocked from the wall. Then I saw her. She was your type Art. Her skin was as smooth as silk, curves in all the right places, that short black hair. Her make up made her look like a doll, those bright red lips, eyes bold against pale skin, shit.’

She walked into the room. She was wearing red, and had that slight smile when you meet eyes with someone for the first time. Her eyeliner pulled back to the side, like an imitation of some actresses Cleopatra.

What was she doing here, in this room? Why was she dressed so nice, was she going somewhere? In a house like this, was this her lifestyle, wake up and dress to impress? He needed to know more, he wanted to know her.

‘That bastard. Arty, he put one right between Mrs. Moon’s eyes.’

He heard the pop. Her eyes went wide, and the dark hole drilled through her forehead. She didn’t gasp, didn’t cry out. She just collapsed backwards, struck the hardwood floor like a sack of meat.

“Damnit, Clark,” Arty said, “Damn you.”

‘I can’t figure it out. He didn’t drag her out there. The blood is her husband, dead upstairs. He dragged the fool to his bed. As far as forensics understands, Mr. Moon was dead first, then the monster came back, found her, and killed her with one shot. He didn’t take a thing, the house was intact, no locks broken. He came in, and sent a message, and the only man who knows what it is got the same damn treatment!’

Arty looked away from Mrs. Moon. Clark was in the kitchen now, leaning over the bed. Arty walked over and put a hand on his shoulder. Clark put a hand out and grabbed Arty’s hand on the bed, his real hand, laid out with tubes sticking out of every hole they could find.

To Arty it was a white mess, a hole he didn’t bother filling. It was the splotch he didn’t need to fill to see the puzzle complete.

“I’m going to go,” Clark said, “I need to get back out there, catch this guy. I’ll do you proud.”

Arty looked around, “Wait, tell me the rest. I need more.”

Clark’s chair screeched against the floor, “You be strong. I know you’ll come out of it buddy. You owe me a beer, remember?”

“Clark, what else is in the file? Time of death? What did they do for a living? Neighbors?”

Clark reached out to the door to the patio, opened it, and looked back inside to Arty. He didn’t say a word, just walked into the darkness, and closed the door after him.

“Damnit.”

There were footsteps, and Arty turned around in time to see Mrs. Moon walk into the kitchen.

“So I guess that just makes me and you,” She said. The hole in her forehead was still smoking.

She leaned against the doorframe, her arms crossed across her chest. Mrs. Moon smiled at him, and then walked to the cabinets in the kitchen. She opened one, and pulled out two glasses.

“Are you thirsty?” She asked.

“Always.”

She looked over her shoulder, “That’s a shame. Sit down, I’ll get you some water.”

He pulled up a chair to his bed, and sat down. Something else was lingering on his mind, and he couldn’t lock it down. It was hard to figure out, especially when she was in the room. His eyes couldn’t help but follow her, the curve of her back, the twist of her fingers as she held both cups under the tap.

A rumble shook the house.

Arty looked around. The door Clark left through, it was dark outside the window. All the windows, they were black, he was alone here, with her.

She put a glass down in front of him, and pulled up a seat on the opposite side of the table.

“Get comfortable,” She said, then took a sip.

He put the cup to his lips, “You’re wrong.”

Her eyes popped wide, “Huh?”

There was a growl from outside the kitchen, like a tiger locked in a cage. He could feel it on the side of his face, as if it was right there. The sound of it made the house tremble, but still, he knew it wasn’t here yet.

“We’re not alone,” Arty said, “He’s here.”

Saturday Fiction: Who Was Mike Jones?

I GM a lot of tabletop roleplaying. Well, I used to do more, but now I get into it now and again. Two years ago I ran a game of White Wolf’s Werewolf: The Forsaken. A game that is typically about scary werewolves dealing with scarier werewolves and terrifying spirits. Instead, we morphed the game to be about high school kids who had to deal with spirits while worrying about who to take to prom.

That game randomly stalled and ended in 2013. I still talk with all of the players. So when it was brought up again, I decided to do something weird. I wrote some ‘fanfiction’ of our game. It was argued that it isn’t fanfiction, because I wrote the story. Still, the primary characters are not mine, so to me, outright controlling them in a short story, is odd. Here is one of those stories now, about two years after the original plot.

Woofskulls

Who Was Mike Jones?

It was impossible to focus. There were chattering voices everywhere, new scents and sounds, but that wasn’t the worst part. It was the eyes. No matter where Mike looked, everyone was looking at them.

That’s why he avoided these little get togethers as much as he could. He was running out of choices though.

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Cam whispered to him.

Cam was at least a head and a half taller than Mike, and twice as wide. As far as Mike was concerned, he earned his nickname.

“I just want them to leave me alone,” Mike said back, pulling up his hood.

A voice boomed at the end of the Chicago dive bar. It was some biker-looking guy with a beard that needed trimming and eyes that looked bloodshot. Mike had gathered just from the time in the room that he was important, probably lead a pack of his own. A few other men in biker jackets cheered as he started to talk.

“Who is he supposed to be?” Cam whispered.

Mike put a finger up to shush him. For a brief moment he could actually feel Cam get angry. He didn’t know if that was some more strange magic stuff, or if he was just that used to Cam.

“This is it!” The man shouted, “This is the night we have waited for. This is when we take back blood for blood lost, and we show our ‘cousins’ what it means to be a hunter. No cheap tricks, no games, no distractions. This will be war, and they will cry to the heavens for a general worth the battle they have called down on them.”

The crowd erupted around them. Mike knew a little of what they were talking about, their battles with other werewolves, the ‘war in Chicago’. It kept encroaching on Naperville, it kept pushing their little ‘pack’, if it had ever been that, until everything fell apart.

Now, he was trying to finish his last year of highschool, and he couldn’t even name any of his teachers. What would Levi have called it, “Stupid werewolf drama?”

There were still a pair of eyes on him, and Mike found them at the front of the room. It was a woman he knew all too well. She was sitting in one chair of three set in a line, her legs crossed and her eyes focused down on Mike.

“She’s here,” Mike said.

“Who?” Cam responded, looking around before he saw her, “Oh… Meredith.”

There was another cheer, Mike was losing track of the speech.

“But this fight isn’t just ours, brothers,” The beard man said, “This is for all of us here in Chicago, that is what a war is. Our packs must stand together. That’s why tonight’s hunt belongs to the first to lose a Wolf-brother, Shifting-Winds.”

Some of the men and women in the crowd cheered, others grumbled just below what Mike could hear. Meredith stood, flattening the tank top of her outfit, hiking gear that looked out of place this close to the corridor.

She hugged the man as she walked past him, like a football player embracing a fellow player, and then they shared some quiet words.

“Oh good, I didn’t miss it,” Said Lt. Spatz from behind them.

Cam and Mike turned, the older man standing just behind them. He was slightly dressed down, but he still had on a ridiculous pair of shades, and looked like he hadn’t shaved that day.

“I’m glad you came,” Spatz said with a nod to Cam, “both of you. She’ll be glad you’re here, and safe.”

Somehow Mike didn’t feel like his safety was her main concern. This felt like a recruitment drive. There was food, he was being paid pointless attention. If Spatz was in an army uniform, it would be like any other army recruiter he saw at school.

“Yeah well, lets see if I stay,” Cam said, “I’m feeling a little out of place.”

Spatz laughed nervously, “If Charred-bone’s boys were here from Englewood, it wouldn’t look like a bike gang’s pit stop.”

Meredith cleared her throat, and a silence passed over the crowd. She narrowed her eyes and looked over the room. Mike had to admit, she commanded respect from her own. As far as he knew though, she also got a lot of her own killed. Long-claw, and wasn’t there another? At least Levi never lost anyone.

“I left Chicago for a reason,” Meredith started, “It was just over 10 years ago we were at each other’s throats. We didn’t care if it was Pure, or Uratha, we went for the throat. Chicago has a history, of cutting itself apart, and then crying in the pool of blood. We are both the criminal and the victim. Except that isn’t the story of the Forsaken, or the tribes of the moon.”

“Oh man,” Spatz whispered, “She is really into it tonight.”

“When Father Wolf fell, there was chaos, and there was blood. No one, not even his first born, could set this world straight. Then the Uratha answered that call, we became the soldiers in a world with no one to defend it!”

Though her voice raised, she stood stoic. Mike could feel the energy in the room rising. Whatever they felt about Meredith, the other werewolves cared about her words.

“Today we revel, and we drink, and we sing the songs of Mother Luna and Father Wolf. Because there is a poison in this city, vermin who stand with our enemies, mercenaries at the fore of a war it is about damn time we started winning.”

There was a cheer, and beer bottles clashed against each other. Mike even heard a howl, and it sounded feral enough that he expected a wolf to brush against his hand.

“And when there is nothing left of them, when they are nothing but a pool of blood at our feet, we will see that it was tears of pain, but the cries of joy. Because we are not victims, and we are not criminals. Brothers and sisters, we are the Uratha!”

She put a hand up, and everyone in the bar howled in unison.

Pointless werewolf drama.

Spatz put a heavy hand on Mike’s shoulder, and let out a loud howl of his own.

The crowd became a party. Beers flew off the wall, cheers started spontaneously, conversations started in every corner of the room. It seemed the speeches were over, this had to be the revels.

“Lieutenant,” Cam said as he turned on Spatz, “Now that all that is over, you heard from Levi?”

Spatz blinked, and then scratched at the side of his nose, “Why would I have heard from Levi?”

Mike rolled his eyes.

“I guess whatever he is up to,” Spatz said with a shrug, “He is still up to it. I’m sure he didn’t just want to up and leave you guys.”

Cam let out a guffah, “Yeah, because he always wrestled with guilt over every little thing.”

Mike smiled, but Spatz sneered for a moment before grabbing a beer from a passing girl walking around with 4 in each hand.

“Is this them,” Said a younger guy who looked like he was one missed paycheck from being a hobo, smelled like it too.

“Spike,” Spatz said with a nod of his head.

“Eech-Dubya,” the guy responded. Another guy came behind him. They both looked like they lived a tougher life than Spatz or Meredith ever had, with clothing that belonged to South Chicago rather than the suburbs of Naperville.

“That has to be them,” The second guy said, “They were the ones who told Taft to piss off, right?”

Spatz lifted his beer as an answer.

Mike felt naked. It seemed like a bad idea to bring any weapons here, and now these two came forward like two predators sniffing around for weak prey.

“Heard they took down a group of hunters too, killed the whole pack of them. You two’ve earned your fur.”

Spike grabbed a pair of beers and passed one to Mike and the other to Cam, then looked down at Mike, “You’ll make a good Meninna.”

Meninna, he knew that was one of the ‘Tribes’. The hunters in darkness, the ghost tribe.

“Has to be better than following Big Bird,” The other said with a laugh, then he turned a side-eye to Cam, “We can teach you a little discipline, tactics.”

“You have something to say to me?” Cam said with a step forward.

Spike turned on Cam with his teeth bared, “Sit down pup, or you’ll lose that little patch of fur.”

“Or maybe I’ll show you what I learned from Big Bird.” Cam jabbed with his finger.

“Whoa,” Spatz said, “Come on, Spike, Sack, they’re kids.”

Mike put a hand on Cam’s chest, “Chill, man.”

Cam took a deep breath, then popped the bottle off the beer while staring the two men in the eyes.

“Yeah,” Came the voice of Meredith. She reached between Spike and Sack and grabbed the bottles out of Mike and Cam’s hands, “And we don’t give the kids alcohol.”

The two hobo-wolves looked at Meredith like children being chastised.

“They’re going on the hunt right?” Spike said, “Come on, don’t you think they’ve earned it?”

Spike held his own beer in front of Mike, and Mike’s hand went out for it. Meredith knocked it to the ground with a tap of her finger.

“No,” She said.

“Come on,” Cam said, “Isn’t that a party foul or something?”

Meredith didn’t smirk, smile, or even groan. She looked at Spatz, and Spatz let out a sigh before kneeling down and picking up the dropped bottle.

“Tonight is our hunt,” Meredith said, “It would be our first hunt together as a pack, if you can accept that.”

“We’re still mulling that over,” Cam said, “You and Levi didn’t exactly get along.”

“Or Tim,” Mike added.

“And where are they?” Meredith replied, letting the question hang in the air.

Tim was in the city, Mike knew that. He knew what the little spirit binder was hunting for. The question was, was he making progress? He had no way to know, he was vague on text messages, and he never answered calls.

“Whatever,” Cam said, “I’m here. If you can take care of us, we can help you.”

Mike didn’t bother adding. Cam always did work as a good backup alpha. Mike wasn’t here because he needed someone’s protection, he was here because he needed to figure this whole situation out. Ever since he became a werewolf, everything was chaos. He couldn’t become some lycan-drifter. What did they call it, a ghost wolf? With Cam here, at least he had someone to talk to.

“Hunts-With-Heart,” Meredith said.

Spatz stood, and took a sip from his beer, “Yes, ma’am.”

“What about your eyes?” She asked.

He pulled out his cell phone, woke it up, and then put it away again.

“Dispatch has spotted them near Lawndale. We should have them coralled in Garfield park by sundown.”

“Good,” Meredith said, looking at the two hobo-wolves, “Relay that to Dusk, and you go see if Charred-bone has changed his mind. I want all the major packs in on this.”

They both nodded and walked away.

Mike had to ask.

“What is it we’re even supposed to be hunting? Why so many wolves?”

Was that a smirk on her lips? What did he say that she found so amusing? There was no easy way to tell.

“Go on,” Cam said, “Spit it out.”

The smirk faded, “We’re hunting a pack of abominations. Dog-shifters that have been working in concert with the Pure.”

Mike felt his heart thump in his chest, and Cam twitched and looked down at him.

“Dogs?” Cam said, “You sure?”

“Maybe your bird friend made mistakes like that,” Meredith turned and started to walk away, “but this is a war, so we try to keep our intel straight.”

Cam growled at her, but Meredith walked back into the crowd of werewolves.

Mike was trying not to imagine Shannon, running around Garfield park, being hounded by wolves. The image was so vivid in his head, the sound of clamping teeth, the look on her face as a wolf brought her to the ground. He could practically taste it as the blow came down on her neck.

“Relax,” Spatz said, “She’s intense, but she means well.”

Mike realized his fist was squeezed so tight, a sharp pain was in the palm of his hand.

“Right,” Mike said, “I guess we’ll see.”

Saturday Fiction: Get Right With Me

A long while ago I asked myself, what would it be like if the usual formula of ‘Christian Romance’ was flipped. The story of ‘this person who isn’t right with god, suddenly meets someone who they love, but that person is too Christian to love them back until they are a proper Christian.’ I’ve shared this story somewhere before I think, but while a short scene, I still find it interesting to look back at. I could see it the other way so easily, but this way would still be foreign/strange, and on TV, Beth would be the hero if it was the normal Christian story, but in this version she would be a villain.

A chill ran up his spine before she replied.

“You don’t really believe in that whole religion thing,” Beth said, “do you?”

Beth looked at Shawn with one eyebrow up, and her whole body tilted away from. If there was ever a more blatant sign that you were supposed to lie to someone’s face, Shawn hadn’t seen it.

His hands were out, cupped upwards in that ‘I just got done spilling my guts to you’ pose, and now he was stuck there. His mouth hung open, his eyes seeking someplace to look besides her patronizing stare.

“Well no,” Shawn began, “I don’t think so.”

He did, or had. Just saying otherwise made his stomach burn, and a nervous grin spread across his face.

“I was raised that way though,” He continued, “Is what I was getting at.”

Beth chuckled, and Shawn felt something he imagined was supposed to be relief. Instead, his stomach was still in a knot, and he was afraid she was going to hit him any moment. They came outside to get away from the little party inside, and now Shawn found himself looking back to see how the party was going.

“Who isn’t raised that way?” Beth said, kicking one of her long legs at the dirt in front of them, “We were Catholic for awhile, then my dad switched for some reason. Same bullshit though.”

She smiled at him, gave him a wink, and Shawn’s only coherent thought was how beautiful blasphemy sounded coming out of her lips.

“Which were you?” She asked.

Shawn sat up, hands going to grip the brick outcropping they were sitting on, “Presbyterian, you know, normal.”

She rolled her eyes, “Nothing normal about it.”

He looked at the ground. In all the time he had known Beth, he had never seen this side of her. She always seemed like such a nice girl, wore a cross to school every day, helped on campus and even volunteered. He was excited to talk to her, and to be honest, get a chance to kiss her. Beth was his dream girl, spunky, but in control of herself, right without being self-righteous.

“You okay?” She asked, her eyes looking him over.

It sent a chill through his spine, and he swallowed hard. He could feel himself leaning closer to her, his face reaching for hers, his lips pursing.

“Mmmhmm,” He mumbled.

She leaned away from him again, a look of confusion on her face as he floundered after his failed kiss. “You didn’t think I was a little church girl, did you?”

Shawn sat up, shook his head, “No, hell no. I mean, why would I?”

Beth dug into the front of her button up blouse, and pulled out a silver cross. She bat her eyes at him.

“Who doesn’t wear a cross,” He said, feeling his face getting hot, “Like, a majority of the country claims to be Christian.”

Her face went plain, and she stared him in the eyes. His heart thumped, and he didn’t know where to look. Was that her kiss face? Was that her angry face? He didn’t know,

“You do believe, don’t you?” She said, “Admit it.”

Shawn rolled his eyes, “I don’t know what you mean, you were just saying…”

Beth put a finger to his lips, and Shawn sucked in air through his nose.

“Should a good Christian boy be lying?”

He squeezed his lips shut, closed his eyes, “Shit.”

“I can’t believe you!” She yelled, “To think I was going to kiss you.”

“You were?” Shawn gasped, “Well what does this have to do with it?”

She bobbed her head, “Besides lying to my face?”

His mouth opened, but he had no defense for that part. That didn’t stop him from saying, “You were leading me.”

He tried to laugh, to lighten the mood, but she looked genuinely hurt. Her lips flattened, and her brow furrowed.

“What’s wrong?” He asked, “What is the big deal?”

“Are you on the prowl for a wife?” Beth asked.

There were a lot of questions you usually didn’t have to answer in highschool, that was one of them. A wife was the last thing on his mind. Sure, he thought Beth was nice enough that maybe he could take her home to his family, a girlfriend he would be proud to show to everyone. That didn’t mean he wanted a wife.

“No,” Shawn said while shaking his head, “Of course not.”

“Then what do you want from me?” She shrugged, “Some first fuck and a story to tell your inevitable grandkids?”

“Why would you even say that?” He said, “Now Christians can’t date?”

“No,” She snapped, “Christian boys don’t date, they search for servants.”

While Shawn was willing to put up with a lot, there was a limit. He turned and faced off toward the yard, trying to cap the boiling sensation he felt in his gut.

“Who even says that?” He replied, “Your parents were Christians, their parents before them.”

Beth laughed, “My mother never read more of the bible than she needed to prop up her high horse.”

“You’re calling your mother a servant?” Shawn asked.

“Have you seen my mom? She can’t take two steps without looking to my dad for approval on the second,” She began, “My mom wants me to find some nice boy, so he can help me settle down, so he can bring me closer to the lord. As if I want to be close to someone who requires a man for him to love me.”

Shawn shook his head, “That is,” He stopped himself, tried to figure out how to phrase what he was saying, “That isn’t the way most people see it. My parents are devout, and they love each other.”

She shrugged, looking out over the little back yard with its playground and fence, “I know Christians can love each other. I’ve seen it. I just don’t want that kind of love.”

“They just want to be right with the lord,” Shawn said, “You get right with god, love god first, and your relationship will be stronger than any other.”

Beth looked at Shawn, “My parents divorced 2 years ago.”

He took a deep breath, held it.

“Are you going to tell me now that they weren’t right with god? That all their praying and sundays spent at church was done to the wrong beat? Maybe you’ll say it was god’s plan? Fuck your fairytale, I would rather have someone who loves me first.”

Shawn dug his feet into the dirt. He wasn’t a pro at proselytizing, he knew enough scripture for his own relationship with god. He knew that it wasn’t his job to fix her parent’s relationship, but between him and Beth, that was something different.

“I like you,” Beth said, “I like you a lot. But if you want to get right with me, you have to get rid of your invisible boyfriend first.”

She stood up, and walked back into the party. Shawn sat in the cold, trying to figure out when high school got so complicated.

Saturday Fiction: False Teeth

Since this is a month of editing, I’ve put the Tri-star stories in my editing pool. In the meantime, I wrote this based on an idea while at work. Then Daredevil released, and I got distracted before finishing it.

toyteeth

Viktor looked deep into the blue of her eyes. She looked back, her lips trembling at his mere proximity. His hand at her waist made her shiver, he could feel his hold on her heart, feel the pump of her blood despite so little contact.

“I’m going to do it now, Deborah” He whispered.

She didn’t fight, she couldn’t fight. The predator within him had her cornered there, at the edge of the party. Despite the music in the background, despite the small talk all around them, she was trapped in his world. All she could do is move closer, beg for his embrace, and hope he was merciful.

Deborah turned her head, and wiped away her blonde hair to expose her neck. Her eyes were still locked on his, and Viktor nearly lost himself when he saw her swallow in anticipation.

“Be gentle,” She said.

What foolish words. She knew why she was here, and she knew what pain was in store for her. Still, she would dare ask for anything less than domination. His hand wrapped around her waist, and he pulled her in close. He could smell her now, feel her heat against his body. What before only the monster could sense, now the man could as well.

Viktor’s mouth opened. A hiss escaped his lips as he bared his fangs. He held there for a moment, drank her in as she was, her innocent beauty, her unblemished skin, the virgin personified. His fangs sank in, and Deborah whimpered and squirmed in his arms.

Then she grabbed his arm and squeezed it so tight he thought it would snap.

“Ouch, ow you fucktard, that hurts!” She screamed before Viktor let up.

She put a hand over her neck. Her face was screwed up and red with some mix of what Viktor could only guess was anger and frustration, “Did you actually draw blood? Am I bleeding? Asshole.”

Viktor opened his mouth to stammer some response, but he felt the jaws of anxiety clamp down on him. He could only open his eyes wide and gesture at her, as if a psychic conversation was going to transpire.

He looked around the room, and saw that others were looking at them now as Deborah’s screams were echoed around the room by whispers of gossip.

“Calm down,” Viktor said, trying to smile.

Deborah punched him in the arm with her free hand, then pulled the cute blue blazer on her shoulders tighter. She punched again, then moved to leave.

“Deborah wait,” Viktor gasped as he took hold of her hand, “Please, I’ll do better, I’m sorry.”

She shook him free, “Call me when you do, ‘Viktor’,” she said with venom as she walked away.

Viktor tried to play it cool, but he could feel eyes on him. He put his back against the wall, pulled the black faux-leather close to his neck, and sneered. The low light would hide the fact that he was crimson red, and soon they would find something new to talk about.

“What was that, Vic,” Said Damien.

Viktor looked over and saw his ‘friend’. Wearing a black wifebeater and makeup that even Viktor found gaudy. Around his wrists were spiked bracelets, and whenever he chewed that bright bubblegum in his mouth you could see his fangs.

“Don’t want to talk about it,” Viktor said.

Damien put his back against the wall, “I thought Deborah was in the bag. You guys have been talking for a while now right?”

Mostly online. It was easier to be Viktor there, where he could think about what he was going to say before he posted it. In person, he was always afraid Deborah was going to laugh at him. Instead, she usually laughed with him, let him goof up a little, even gave him leeway when he was trying to remember important character names.

“Just drop it,” Viktor growled, showing his teeth.

Damien, even in character, was an asshole. It wasn’t that he didn’t know when to back down, he just didn’t seem to care. He had almost been killed a few times before, mostly when he thought it would be funny to show his fangs to a prince, or pick a fight with an enforcer.

Damien hissed back at him, and by rote they found themselves standing off against each other, their teeth out and hands at their sides as if a fight were about to break out.

“Hey you two,” shouted the slightly rotund enforcer, Gregor, from across the room, “Don’t make me bust out the UV lamps.”

They both calmed down, and Viktor felt justified in turning his back on Damien. Anyone willing to nearly get him in trouble with a hall enforcer was too much trouble for one night.

“Come on,” Damien said, “I’ve been with you how long? We’ve risen up the ranks together, you’ve saved me countless times. Let Damien pay you back, that little doll is yours to have, Vic. She was just sitting on your plate, let me get her back on the fork.”

His dialog wasn’t wrong, but something about hearing Damien talk about Deborah that way made Viktor want to punch him in the mouth. He was a natural at it, that complete disregard for human life.

Viktor looked over his shoulder, and Damien popped his gum, then grinned. When Viktor didn’t acquiesce immediately, Damien wiggled his eyebrows.

Viktor sighed, “Okay.”

Damien let out a groan of delight and put an arm around Viktor’s shoulder, “Oh yeah, time to get Viktor his virgin.”

“If she’s even still here,” He said. He felt deflated, beaten down first by Deborah, and now by Damien. It was hard to keep up the hardheaded confidence he knew Viktor should have.

Damien got on his toes and looked around the party, then pointed.

“There she is, talking with Regi,” Damien said with a shrug.

Viktor’s spine went stiff, “Regi?”

As in Prince Regi?

Saturday Fiction: Giorgio the Juggler

In 2013 I participated in NaNoWriMo, writing a small novel in 30 days. I also worked together with my other half to write short stories to be read alongside her NaNo. All of the stories were the origins of Circus folk in a mystical circus with some unusual members. This is the story of their resident juggler, Giorgio.

Excuse the simple language, Giorgio is a simple guy.

Giorgio the Juggler
Smalltown, USA

Sometimes you don’t get to make the choices in life. Sometimes everything is out of your hands, and you just get to go along with the ride.

That’s what Giorgio thought. Life hadn’t been easy so far, but he didn’t stress about it. He wasn’t that smart, and he knew it. School had never been easy for him, when he even bothered to go. His family had come to America with a hope that things would be different, that they could have a fresh life. Instead he spent his life hearing stories about the old country.

He had a skill though, a talent. When it came to sports, Giorgio was a natural. It didn’t matter what he put his hands on, a baseball, a basketball, he could move it with such ease that it blew the minds of his family and friends.

It didn’t matter if he was out in a field juggling a ball, or wrestling in a backroom, no one was better than Giorgio.

One day, when Giorgio was still in school, he was juggling out in the yard with the other boys. He had found heavy rocks, and produced a knife from his back pocket.

“I bet you can’t do it,” One boy offered, “I bet you my lunch.”

These are the bets he loved most. A free meal, and plenty of fun. He threw the first rock, began to pace it in the air, and soon the second rock, before the knife joined in. The other boys were in awe as it spun in the air, its blade gleaming, narrowly missing his palm each time it came down.

To Giorgio, this was easy, a carefree way to spend the time.

“Another rock,” shouted one of the boys, chucking one at him. He caught it in his left hand, and soon the rock joined the rotation, floating through the air as if weightless.

“Giorgio!” Shouted a girl’s voice. It was his sister.

He caught the rocks, one by one, and let the knife fall to the ground. It landed with its point digging into the earth near his foot.

The other boys turned their face to the black haired girl approaching them, an angry look on her face.

“Mary,” Giorgio said as he dropped the rocks behind him.

“You know you should be studying, you know what mother said.”

He turned his face away. The other boys ran off, snickering as they went. He didn’t want to be yelled at, not for doing something he loved, not for being good at something.

“Come on Giorgio,” She said while grabbing him by the hand, “We have to go back, school will start again soon.”

He let her hand go, “I’ll catch up.”

She looked at him, but he grinned in a way he knew she couldn’t resist. A big brother’s grin.

“Trust your brother.”

Mary looked back at the school, nodded, and ran off.

Giorgio retrieved his knife from the ground, balanced it in his hands. It was a pocket knife, his favorite, worn through years of service. Given to him by his father, before father left.

“Have you always been that good?” Asked a voice.

Giorgio turned, and there stood a man, hidden under the shadow of a tree. Giorgio turned away from him.

“Everyone says,” Giorgio started, “Giorgio is the best there is.”

The man laughed, it was a jolly laugh. Whatever made him happy, it was none of Giorgio’s business, but he remembered thinking he had never heard anyone that glad to see a boy juggle.

“Giorgio,” Said the man, “I think I know something you could do, and do well.”

It was an offer, a job. If he wanted, and the man always left him the choice, he could join their circus. Giorgio knew it was in town, saw the signs about the big top, saw the peak of the tents on his way to school.

At first he didn’t like the idea, but the man offered him the chance to come and see, meet the people, try it out. They were leaving in a week, and by then he could make his choice.

Giorgio went after school. He wasn’t that impressed with the carnival rides, and the loud vendors. It seemed like a place for children, and in his eyes, he was almost a man. He didn’t need cotton candy, or hot dogs.

Then he saw the strong men, and the jugglers. These men showing off great might and skill, smiles on their faces as they hoisted weights or juggled blades in pairs.

The jolly man took him to the back of the tent, introduced him to the other circus folk. Some of them were no older than him, some looked ancient in comparison.

“What can he do?” Asked a man only a little older than Giorgio.

The man looked at Giorgio, then to the juggler, “Give the boy your blades.”

Giorgio had never juggled long blades before. He held three in his hands, weighed them, practiced tossing one.

“The boy’ll end himself,” Said the juggler with a heavy accent.

“Hush,” Said the man who brought him there.

Giorgio looked at all the eyes on him, bulky mustached men and skinny acrobats. He swallowed, and began. His hands slid over the hilt of the blades, and one by one he launched them, juggled them in the air, and soon they were dancing above him like anything else.

The people were watching him, and at first he thought he saw anger, frustration. Then, they burst into cheering, claps and shouting for him to go on. Giorgio smiled, and the blades went higher, twirling in the air.

When he finished, the strongman smacked him on the back, and the juggler squeezed him in a hug. They smelled of barn straw and sweat, but they looked happy, and they made him happy. He stayed with them, listened to their music, tunes he had never heard, sometimes in languages he didn’t understand. They were unreal.

When he returned home, the lights on the street already lit, he could see his sister waiting for him outside their house. Her face was red with rage, and Giorgio’s smile did nothing to slow her anger.

“Where have you been?” She cried out, “Mother is worried sick.”

Giorgio looked through the window, but he knew what he was looking for wasn’t there; his mother’s face. She would be inside, sleep for the next day, ready to work.

“Where were you?” Mary asked as Giorgio passed her. She grabbed him by the arm, tried to hold him in place. Giorgio would have none of it, and pulled himself free.

“I was at the tents,” He said, “For the circus.”

The explanation was simple, but it did nothing to change his sister’s expression. She looked hurt, on top of her anger. They squeezed inside the house, and Giorgio sat down in a chair to take off his boots.

“You went to the circus without me?” Mary said, “With what money? What were you doing there?”

Giorgio didn’t look at her. It was hard to ignore her, not to see something of his mother there. She was so concerned, but it never felt like concern for him. She was trying to keep him in place, make sure he became the new father of the house, with the same work, the same lack of control. She didn’t seem to understand, father was gone.

“I was invited,” Giorgio said, “For no money. The recruiter, he wanted to see my talent.”

“Your talent?” Mary said, her voice rising.

“My talent. He says I am exceptional. He says I could be great in their circus, I would bring in great crowds and be happy there.”

Giorgio didn’t see the strike coming, but he felt the sting of Mary’s palm. It felt like a hot coal across the cheek, and the pain lingered, made the room spin.

“Stupid,” She said, “Did you even think about us? Did you think about your family? You will be happy there, but what will they pay you? How will we live, Giorgio? You are being a stupid boy.”

He looked at her, and he could see her palm reach back again, a look of fury in her eyes. Giorgio caught her arm, stood up from the chair.

Even without his boots, he towered over her. Looking down she was exactly what she should have been, a child. Her wrist was small in his palm, flimsy. He had to concentrate to loosen his grip, and she pulled her arm free, held it in her opposite hand.

“Stupid,” She whispered. Then she sniffled, her breath caught in her throat.

Giorgio took a deep breath, “I want to be happy, Mary. Can’t you and mother come with me? We can travel, see the world, and all of us will be happy.”

Sports, running, juggling, these things were what his life was all about. Asking anyone, they would have told you the same. Giorgio loved to move, Giorgio had a natural talent. He thought of the other boys with talents, some were good with numbers, others were good at fixing things, these talents Giorgio could see going places. They would work, and their sisters would be happy, they wouldn’t fight in the dark.

“It doesn’t work that way,” Mary said, turning and heading to go to bed.

Giorgio sat back in the chair, looked around their house. It was tiny, full of pictures and gifts from family. It was home, but it didn’t make Giorgio feel welcome.

The next days he spent with the circus folk, dancing, singing, playing. It was beautiful. The women were extraordinary, hair flowing as they span in circles. The men were free, they played instruments when they wanted, and their work looked like play. They would draw in crowds of people, show off their skills, and Giorgio would watch.

One day, the juggler invited him over to join him. Giorgio had never juggled with someone else, but he wasn’t afraid now. He took his position, smiled to the crowd, people from his town and beyond. They surrounded them as the long knives were pulled out, they wowed the crowd as they tested the knives by cutting ropes, by digging them deep into wooden poles to show they were deadly. Then the juggler threw him his first knife, and without fail, Giorgio sent it right back to him, found the timing between them. The act created cries of awe from children.

Then another man lit small torches, and threw them to the juggler. The number of objects doubled, but they still juggled them without fail, smiles on their faces, cheers from the crowd. The torches felt hot on Giorgio’s palms, the light was blinding, but it was a rush like he had never felt.

When they it was time to stop, Giorgio caught the knives, the juggler caught the torches, and they both bowed to the audience around them. Never had Giorgio been part of anything so wonderful.

When the crowd dispersed, the recruiter man came to him.

“Juggle these,” he said, handing Giorgio two small rubber balls.

Giorgio shrugged, and did this.

“I want you for this circus,” The man said, “You don’t know what that means to me. We don’t hire just anybody, we only bring in family. If you come with us, you are one of us, and we will protect you as our own. You are something special Giorgio, and I don’t say that lightly.”

The man had a fast tongue, but his words only made him think of Mary. His sister would have hated what the man was saying, maybe she would have slapped him too.

“What about my real family?” Giorgio asked.

The man looked over his shoulder, and he nodded at the strong man. The man took a black dumbbell he was using, and without hesitation, threw it at Giorgio.

Giorgio was afraid, but then he caught it, and he juggled it. The weight seemed light, as if it was fake. Giorgio felt silly for ever fearing it in the first place.

“We can send your money home,” The man said as he watched Giorgio. He nodded to the strong man again, and another weight was thrown. This time Giorgio didn’t react, he caught it, added it to the whirling air show.

“My sister, she will not be happy,” Giorgio said.

“Your sister doesn’t know what is best for you,” The man said, “You don’t belong here. They will put you in some factory, or working on a farm. This is not your destiny, Giorgio. I’m here in this city for you.”

“I will think about this,” Giorgio said.

Giorgio stopped juggling, catching the balls in one hand, and the weights in the other. The dumbells, which seemed as light as air a moment before, regained the weight he feared they had before. At first Giorgio strained to carry them, then realized it was impossible, and dropped the weight to the ground where it crashed into the dirt.

Giorgio’s arm flared with pain, and he looked at the dumbbells, unsure what to think of them, or what just happened.

When he looked at the recruiter, the man was staring at Giorgio intently.

“See that you do think about it,” He said, “You have two more days, Giorgio.”

Giorgio returned home, and this time his sister didn’t bother to welcome him. He walked into their house, and she was in the kitchen, cleaning dishes. He sat down and took off his boots.

The main thing on his mind was those weights. No matter how much he asked, no one would explain what happened. He tested them, and found they were as heavy as he expected, as were the other weights of the strongman. Still, when they were being juggled, they felt weightless. Was this what all circuses were like? Was it just a trick they used? Some special show business?

The man, he made it seem like it was Giorgio’s fault. How could that be? All Giorgio knew was to play, to juggle, to enjoy himself. Sure, he had a talent, but it wasn’t something like that.

“You didn’t go to school again,” His sister said as she brought out a plate of food and set it on the table behind him.

“Thank you,” He said. Taking a knife, and digging into the simple plate of veggies and chicken. He could tell she was annoyed with him, but he didn’t bother to look up at her.

“Everyone was worried,” She continued, “They wanted to know where my brother had gone. I told them, he wants to be carnival folk. He doesn’t care if his sister and mother starve.”

“I do,” He said as he chewed, “I do care.”

“This isn’t how you act,” She said as she went back to the sink and scrubbed more dishes, “You’re acting like a spoiled child. You think only of your own dreams. You think I wouldn’t want to join the circus? When we were younger, I dreamed of that all the time. Then things changed, because we got older.”

“The man,” Giorgio began, “He says I can take everyone with me. We don’t have to worry about money. We can live with them, earn money, and be safe.”

“And be circus freaks?” She said, a crash of dishes accompanying her frustration, “Do you think mother wants to live like that? Can’t we be normal people, brother? Is that so difficult for you? No childish tricks, no showboating, just working and living.”

He swallowed a mouthful, and scooted his chair away from the table, “You want to live my life for me.”

Mary turned, “No, Giorgio, I just want us all to be happy. Not just you.”

“You want us all to be miserable,” Giorgio replied as he stood up, “I will do what I have to. You can go on being miserable.”

Mary’s eyes could have lit a pool of water on fire. She watched him leave the room, and head back to bed. Then Giorgio could hear her go back to washing dishes.

The next day his friends knew about his decision. They surrounded him before school, jeering and chatting between each other.

“A circus freak?” One boy said, “Giorgio is definitely unique, like a wild tigerman.”

“A real brute,” Another said, “Will they put you in a cage?”

They laughed and poked fun, but Giorgio didn’t listen. They were his friends, but at the same time they were never close. They were just the boys in his class, the same ones that were there every day, for him to play with, wrestle, juggle for. They were sometimes mean.

“I will juggle,” Giorgio said, “He says I am talented.”

“Really?” Said one smaller boy, “Talented like that bearded lady they got?”

They broke into laughter again, but now the bell rang. They had to head to class. Giorgio did what he always did, try to survive the session. He wasn’t bright, and he knew that, but he absorbed what he could. He could count, and he could write, and that suited him just fine. He knew some history, he knew some math, and that got him through tests when they asked.

When the bell let them out into the yard, Giorgio stretched, and headed down to join the other boys. He saw a commotion, a circle of boys around a man. It was the strongman.

The man saw him above the school boys, and waved. The kids were all crying out at him, shouting insults, throwing small rocks at him. He ignored them.

“Friend Giorgio,” He said, “I am here to see you.”

Giorgio charged the circle of boys, pushed his way in.

“Stay away from him,” One yelled.

“He stinks,” Said another.

“Get him.”

When he finally made it through the crowd, the strongman reached down and grabbed him. Lifting Giorgio up in his arms, he was brought a few heads higher than the crowd. From up there, Giorgio could drown out the cries, ignore the pebbles being launched at them.

“You wanted to speak to me?” Giorgio said.

“I am here to say, we leave tomorrow, just after dawn, if you wish to come.”

Giorgio looked down at the people at the strongman’s feet.

“What if they don’t want me to come?” Giorgio asked.

The strongman seemed to know the look on his face, and brought Giorgio closer. He could smell that earthy smell on the large man.

“It is tough choice,” Said the strong man, “But, I find these things solve themselves.”

The man nodded, and put Giorgio down back in the center of the circle.

A rock flew straight for the strongman’s head, and with one sweep of his arm, the strongman caught it. With a squeeze of his fist, the rock crumbled into smaller pebbles. The large man made an angry face, flaring his nostrils and twitching his mustache. The boys gasped, and all backed off.

With a wave, the strongman left the schoolyard.

The other boys gathered around Giorgio, and soon the flinging of insults was focused on him as well.

“What are you doing with that freak?” Said one boy before he pushed Giorgio.

“Do you think your circus folk can protect you?” Said another.

The circle became nasty in a way that Giorgio had never imagined before. It was almost like watching animals snapping at large food, wolves slobbering at the muzzle. Giorgio looked around him and saw exactly what he was afraid of, people with nothing to accomplish, sad people who didn’t know what to do with themselves. Were their lives so empty that they had to attack him for something as simple as wanting to juggle.

He broke out of the circle, tried to head toward home, but a few of the boys followed, staying close behind him on the paths home. He started to run, trying to create as much distance as he could between him and them.

They ran as well, and here Giorgio knew he was truly in trouble. There was no way to get away from them, not unless he was faster, could run longer. Maybe he could, but even then, what if they knew where he lived? Would they stop at his door, or would they try to come inside? What did they even want?

So right before a field, he stopped and turned on them.

At this point only 4 of the boys remained.

“What do you want?” Giorgio shouted as the boys surrounded him.

“What are you doing with those people?” Asked one of the boys, “We’ve heard you were doing your little show there, you might even go live with them?”

This was Mary’s doing. She was telling others about the circus, and it had angered his schoolyard buddies. It seemed strange she would go this far, but he didn’t need to look far for proof. The red in their eyes was something only Mary could create. She was good at moving people’s hearts with just her words. Maybe that was her talent.

“It isn’t your business,” Giorgio said, “I’ll go where I want.”

“You think so?” Another boy said, “Maybe you’ll figure it out when you can’t walk so good.”

Giorgio imagined Mary telling the boys, spreading lies about the circus, about his new friends he enjoyed so much. Why else would they be so angry at the strongman? The most dangerous thing about him was his odor, and his booming laughter. As he told her, she was trying to stop his happiness. He couldn’t take that anymore.

Giorgio clenched his fist, and the boys came at him. Four on one wasn’t fair, no matter how much Giorgio liked to fight. It didn’t matter how many punches he threw, or how many he wrestled to the ground, if they had the numbers to surround him.

When they left him he was bruised and covered in dirt. His eyes felt like they were swelling, and he didn’t even know if he could sit up.

They stood around him, and one of them spat on him. Then they left. Giorgio rested his eyes.

When he got home, Mary was already sleep. He set his alarm clock, and laid down to go to sleep. His bruises kept him awake, each twist and turn sending a shooting pain through his ribs. Still, if he woke up early enough, he could pack up his things, and he could go to the circus. No matter how many people his sister sent, she couldn’t stop him from being happy.

When Giorgio’s eyes opened, it wasn’t to his alarm clock. It was to Mary’s smiling face, hanging above him.

“Wake up, sleepy,” She said.

He saw that sunlight was coming through the window, and sat up.

“My alarm,” He said as he got out of bed, “What happened to my alarm?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Mary said, “I decided it would be better if you slept.”

He turned to his sister, and she looked at him with an expressionless glance. It was cold, sinister.

“No,” He said, “Where is the clock, what time is it?”

“What time did they tell you?” Mary said as she walked toward the kitchen, “They should already be on their way out of town.”

Giorgio rushed to his cabinet, pulled out a pair of pants and threw them on. He tried to pull a shirt over his head as he got into the living room, but Mary was standing in front of the door.

“Where do you think you’re going?” She said, “Don’t you get it. Its over. Go relax, brother. There will be no more circus.”

Giorgio grabbed her at the shoulder, and pushed her aside, pulling the door open to the bright morning sun. She was right that he was late, the circus would have packed up through the night, they were likely on their way already. He had to make it there before it was all gone, see if he could talk to someone.

He ran from the house, and Mary followed, “Come back Giorgio,” she said, “You can’t.”

It didn’t matter what she thought. He had no other choice. If he stayed here now, Mary had made sure he had enemies at school, that his former playmates hated him, and his life would be miserable.

Mary kept pace as he ran the trail. The road was ahead, right before the clearing where the tent had set up. He couldn’t see the tents. It made his eyes sting with tears, his feet felt heavy. He wanted to see some sign, any sign that they were still there. He could feel himself slowing though, giving up. Maybe she was right, there was no hope. He would have to live the life defined for him, some time in a factory, an eternity of misery, day by day.

He could hear her coming up behind him. He stopped before the road, cars passing each way.

“Giorgio!” She shouted, and he turned to face her, “Stop!”

She ran into him, full run, and knocked him back. He heard the cry of a horn, and heard the screech of wheels. Then something heavy hit him in the chest.

When his eyes opened, Giorgio could hear voices all around him, could see the colors of the circus.

He tried to sit up, but a hand held him down.

“Stay down, friend,” Said the strong man.

The colors he was seeing, it was clowns, their painted faces looking down at him in a red, blue, and yellow dotted pattern. The crowd cleared long enough for Giorgio to see around him.

A truck was over-ended in the road, a wheel turned way off its axis.

People were crowded around the edge of the road. It seemed his town had come to see what the commotion was.

Across the street, he could see Mary, crying so hard that her face was red. She was being hugged, by his mother. When Giorgio looked, his mother turned her eyes to look at him. They were tired eyes, a dead stare that he only saw occasionally on weekends. It was a face that fed two kids, wearing an apron and a layer of dirt.

Mary’s eyes turned on him as well.

The recruiter touched him on the shoulder, “I know you’re shaken,” The man said, “But we have a schedule to keep.”

Giorgio looked at his sister, waved for her to join him. Mary shook her head no, hugged closer to their mother.

It felt like he was sore all over, and his stomach was on fire, and he didn’t know what was causing which. Giorgio bowed his head.

“I’ll come,” He said.

There was a cheer among the circus folk, and the strongman pulled Giorgio up into the air. Though they were just somber, they were already full of happiness and song. The movement of their dancing caused a jolting pain through his chest, and Giorgio pulled up his shirt to see what the cause was.

A handprint was across his chest, so large that he knew only one pair of hands that could make it. He looked to the wrecked truck in the road, and the saddened faces of the people he used to know. He never had a choice, he was born with a talent, and he was going to be happy.