Cats and Dogs

Snobbish. That was the word for them and their twitchy irate tails. They had nothing to be upset about, fed and kept warm and now squealed over. All the other girls, their black overcoats undone, bent and teased the kittens with their fingers. Ellie frowned, she had no desire to have her hands pricked by the small already holier-than-thou creatures. .

She sighed, a deep and designed to be heard exhale of breath through her nose. Ellie saw Matron Havish’s eyes twitch to her disapprovingly before old woman turned, hiding acknowledgement of Ellie’s disquiet behind the brim of her hat.

Ellie tried again and was ignored. She was competing against a lot. The kittens were viciously capricious, and thus they suited the girls wonderfully. Ellie could already see who would be leaving with whom.

Black coats and sharp pointed hats crowded the cat enclosure, preventing Ellie from selecting her own little yowling familiar. Not that she was sold on having one of the mewling aristocrats following her around and giving reproachful looks for whatever slight she managed to blunder into. It was hard enough navigating the social intricacies of her catty human classmates.

Besides, cat’s fur made her nose itch.

Ellie glanced at Matron Havish. The woman was helping Beth extricate a storm colored fluffball from the girl’s coat, picking little claws off the slinky fabric one by one. She was not paying attention to Ellie. No one was.

The swinging doors behind them opened into the shelter’s long back hallway. Thick grey doors bordered the stark almost hospital like interior and Ellie adjusted her hat nervously. It wasn’t hard to pick her destination. A cacophonous mutter of baying rioted when she entered as the dogs threw themselves up against the chain kennels.

Ellie held back, surprised by the aggressive yet earnest vigor. These were not the happy labradors and fashionable pomeranians that came to mind when you pictured ‘dog’. Instead the animals were flat headed or narrow muzzled, scrabbly coated and ill proportioned, all grinning desperately or wheezing in excitement. All of them felt the need to announce either her or their own presence as loudly as possible.

Ears adjusting slowly, Ellie began the slow circuit around the concrete floor. Paws against chain they pressed themselves against the links, searching out her smell or touch. Thunderous as their barking was, each of them watched her with fervid honesty even when they wouldn’t quite meet her eyes.

She was almost back at the door and already feeling the prickle of tears. The kittens back with the others had preened and played, half-enjoying the attention her classmates were so happy to bestow. But the crooked and stubby tails around her wagged violently just at her presence. It wasn’t fair.

Ellie knelt at one of the cages, the edges of her inky coat pooling around her like an oil spill against the concrete. She’d thought the chain link cell was empty at first, as its occupant had been resting in the corner. Its stubby legs were corded with muscle, and its flat viper shaped head was set low on thickly wide blocky shoulders. With short shiny black fur Ellie could only barely make out slitted eyes glittering in the dark under ripped and pointy bat ears, She thought it looked as if someone had shrunk a gorilla considerably and then mated that gorilla with a small gargoyle

But it was a dog. It chuffed and made a quick amble to Ellie, setting its nose between the links, nostrils flaring. Ellie reached out and nuzzled its chin. The dog looked up, grateful gaze meeting Ellie’s while its butt wiggled. Ellie smiled and the butt wiggling intensified.

The gorilla gargoyle dog pressed its face against the metal, squishing fleshy jowls in an attempt to get more of its face through the links and within Ellie’s reach. The dark honest eyes never left her’s though.

She didn’t think she’d been gone long, and she didn’t notice when Matron Havish stepped into the kennel room. She didn’t even notice when the Matron gave a deep, designed to be heard, sigh that would have rivaled Ellie’s best.

“Miss Eleanor.”

Ellie looked up, hand falling away from the odd dog face half squished through the chain links. The dog whined deep in its throat and clumsily poked a black paw through. “I don’t want a cat.” Ellie blurted.

Matron Havish rolled her eyes with another sigh. “Of course you wouldn’t.” The woman made a ‘stand up’ motion and waited while Ellie started to untangle her feet and coat. Matron Havish gave a disdainful yet defeated look towards the dog.

These things couldn’t be helped. Everyone knew witches didn’t pick familiars, they got picked. Ellie had been chosen by muscley black creature still waggling its butt happily behind the cage door. “I will see what we can arrange. Perhaps its for the best. I doubt a cat would have you.”

Ellie didn’t argue with that.

Legal Theft: Not fair

The rage surging across her skin was probably making her stupid, funny how she didn’t care. It was hard to care about anything at the moment, anything except wiping the smile off Perry Manno’s face.

Problem was, Perry Manno’s face was about two feet above hers and even stupid enough to throw a punch, she’d only hit air. He knew it and grinned down at her.

“Go home kid.”

She should go home. She should nurse her skinned knees and fix her ripped skirt and then figure out a way a skinny ten year old could get back at a fledgling thug five times her bodyweight. She should forget about her purple bag now clutched in his dirty fingers and the way he’d pushed her and taken it without any effort. But she was too angry to go home. Perry Manno had beaten her because he was bigger than she was, not smarter, not braver, not even luckier, just bigger. It wasn’t fair.

She set her feet apart on the cracked sidewalk, one frayed slip-on ballet flat missing, balled her hands into fists, and ordered him to return the bag.

Perry Manno laughed at her. It was short chuckle, whiny and pitying. She cursed a slur. He laughed again and turned his back on her. Fury filled her chest. She was nothing to him, she couldn’t hurt him and he knew it.

She spit at him, not thinking anymore, but it worked. He snapped around with a snarl, a thick hand grabbing her jacket front and yanked her forward. His eyes showed white all the way around as he shook her, face pressed close to hers, teeth bared. Feet barely touching the ground, she hung from his grip paralyzed with shock. She couldn’t win, she realized, and it didn’t make sense. He was the bully, that brute, the monster. Why was he winning?

He threw her down hard, knocking the air from her lungs as her back hit the sidewalk. Perry Manno bent to pick up her purple bag while she curled on the stained cement struck silent, just trying to breathe and think past the sudden injustice of the world.

When she managed to push herself to her hands he was gone, Perry Manno had won.

My crime spree is going strong, and you have The Gate in the Wood to thank for it. The rest of the gang can be seen here

Legal Theft: Rolling In

Thunderheads battled their way past the mountains, rumbling with the promise of a drenching. Aiden knew those clouds well, they never lied, unlike college pamphlets.

Among other things the Hartwell University website boasted a city of temperate skies, sunny days and even a few rare beaches on which to enjoy the weather. Aiden had been on campus all of two minutes before a bone-numbing wind started tossing his hair into his eyes. If the dark rolling sky was any indication, the Hartwell marketing department was full of shit.

Aiden pulled out his phone, ignored the text from his mom, and paid the taxi driver with a tap of his finger. The guy barely waited for Aiden to pull his suitcase from the trunk before speeding away in search of new passengers. Aiden turned to the approaching clouds with a sullen look, as if it were their fault he was now standing alone in a vast and unfamiliar campus.

But then, it kind of was. His family had offered to make the flight with him and join the ranks of the anxious parents and disgruntled siblings orbiting new additions to the Hartwell collegiate. He believed they were willing to haul cheap furniture and then take him out to whatever unfamiliar chain restaurant they found close to campus. Aiden even suspected his mother and stepfather would have liked to participate in the inane socials and welcome events the university set up. They’d eaten it up when his older step brother had done it.

But Aiden saw the relief in his mother’s eyes when he insisted it wouldn’t be necessary, and the tension leave his stepfather’s shoulders when he assured them he would be fine making the move himself.

As much as his family loved him, they were tired of the storms. They wanted a life free from eerie rolling clouds and dark whispers that followed Aiden. He didn’t blame them. The dread curling in his stomach had become a familiar companion, present whenever he looked too closely at the things waiting in the corners of his vision.

When his mother had married Aiden’s stepfather, she’d sold it to her ten year old son as a chance at a normal stable life. It had been exactly that for a good few years, which Aiden remembered through a haze of natural prepubescent angst. His mother was happy, and Aiden didn’t mind his new cadre of boorish well meaning stepbrothers terribly much.

But then the storms rolled in and it didn’t take long for Aiden to realize that his family’s chance at that normal stable life might only occur if he wasn’t in it. So he’d studied, something that he wasn’t naturally inclined to do, and applied to every school on the opposite coast. Hartwell University had promised sun, a cheery student body and the best pre-law program in the country.

Aiden shook his head, clearing his thoughts as the first fat raindrops hit the asphalt with the scent of ozone. He hefted his backpack, struggled his suitcase upright, and started off towards the closest building that might feasibly contain dorms.

My crime spree continues, this week’s line comes from Kate Kearney. You can see the rest of the Legal Theft crew’s spoils here

Sparrow: Part 2/2

This is the sequel to Sparrow: Part 1. 

The house was mostly dark. A quick look into the window of the four car garage confirmed his suspicion. Aren’s sleek ozone-destroying sports car was there, alongside a pearl colored convertible.

Sparrow tried a side door. Locked. The windows too were uniformly sealed. Sparrow almost walked up the front path and rang the doorbell before he remembered the profuse amounts of balconies.

It took some climbing, but Sparrow found the exertion leisurely without the threat of a hellbeast beneath him. Soon he was up, over the sculpted railings, and padding over the dark marble stone. Even half crouched behind the stone fire pit the glass walls of the upper levels afforded him a wide view of the interior.

Two people, a man and a woman, leaned in across a glass coffee table deep in conversation. The woman, a curtain of cherry red hair hiding her face from him, pushed a delicate glass of something towards the man.

Aren took the glass and leaned back, taking a long drink as he did. Sparrow winced, that could be a few different kinds of bad. The two people inside looked to be on good terms for the moment, or at least Aren was still breathing.

Sparrow was lucky it was not the woman who looked up first. Aren glanced over and his expression froze as Sparrow leaned out of his hiding place and waved. Aren recovered quickly, face melting smoothly back into calm. He stood, leaving his suit jacket on the chair, and explained something Sparrow could not hear. The woman frowned but Aren bent and kissed her hand before exiting out to the balcony. The door swung shut behind him.

Sparrow didn’t move from his spot. Aren could see his friend fine from the corner of his vision. Upon looking outside the woman would simply view her guest gazing out over the lake. “Sparrow, it was you who advised taking some time off. I do enjoy your company, but I am currently enjoying someone else’s.”

Aren sounded bemused, not hostile. It was a good sign. You never knew with enchantments.

Sparrow took a breath. He’d done some research on the area, first out of nothing more than curiosity. His friend was leaving to spend a week in close proximity to a nature reserve and Sparrow had been following the lakeside population recovery of grey foxes for a long time. However, alongside the special interest blurbs of the local newspaper regarding fauna there were warnings for campers, hikers and anyone in the area. People, young men in particular, had been disappearing in alarming rates. “She’s a succubus Aren.”

To Aren’s credit, he missed only a beat. “You have proof?” The words were  uttered only loud enough for Sparrow’s ears.

“Twelve disappearances over the past three months, all young men around the lake. Local geotechnical reports record high levels of sulfur in the soil and tree roots, also a hellbear attempted to maul me.”

“A hellbear?” Aren asked with a frown but shook his head slightly a moment later. “You know what, nevermind. Well go over that later. How do you know it’s her?”

Sparrow gave his friend an apologetic smile, hoping they would get to discuss the hellbear later, so far it was the highlight of the trip. “You’ve been gone three weeks.”

Disbelief finally widened Aren’s blue eyes. “That’s– its been days.”

Sparrow shook his head. “Where’s your phone Aren? No one has been able to contact you. You dropped off the map.” For the most part anyway, Sparrow was just glad Aren had vanished into the mountains and not into the middle of a urban sprawl where it would have been impossible to find him.

Aren’s hand went to his pocket, and the phone that he’d thought had been there all along. Sparrow saw his friend’s jaw tighten. “You brought hellsbane?”

“Shredded by the hellbear.” Sparrow said. “Sorry.”

“Traditional approach then.”

Sparrow frowned slightly, confused.

“I confront her about it. If she breaks up with me, not a succubus. If she tries to consume my soul, succubus.” Aren looked back to the window, cold anger barely evident in the smooth smile he gave the ruby haired individual within. Sparrow caught it, he’d known Aren a long time.

“Give me a sign before she starts the latter.” Sparrow shifted, his crouch finally getting uncomfortable.

Aren nodded, then paused. “No ‘wait, let me talk to it‘ or ‘its just acting to its nature‘ this time?”

Sparrow shook his head. “She summoned a hellbear into a non-native protected ecosystem, its probably already threatening the grey fox habitat.” Sparrow paused, he would have to do something about that.

Aren laughed softly. “Well it makes things easier. Ready?”

“Ready.” Said Sparrow.

Legal Theft: Bedside Manner

Oranges meant vitamin c, and vitamin c meant a swifter recovery. Terre blinked, hoping she’d misread the handwriting. She had not. This was bad.

Um no. She wrote in glaring red ink next to the statement. Terre hovered her pen over the offending words. First she took a deep breath in and then out, then she scribbled out her own note, and wrote instead See me during office hours.

She scowled; the prospect of prolonged interaction with any undergrad was easily enough to ruin her night but this needed to be corrected. Vitamin c, she thought with an eye roll and forced herself back to grading.

****

“Um.” The girl said and leaned into the office.

Terre looked up at the noise. “Oh. Hi.” She hastily cleared some of the papers from the desk so they could see each other and motioned to the chair and its frayed seat. “Serena right?”

“Yes.” Serena said through teeth, already smiling nervously. She sat and folded her hands. Terre noted the crystals hanging from her earlobes and nazar beads set incorrectly in gold around her wrists. “I got your note on the test.” Serena prompted.

Terre nodded. “Thank you for coming. That was the third case study you’ve tried to treat with citrus. I felt we should talk.”

Serena frowned.  “I don’t understand why I got it wrong.”

Terre took a deep breath and looked at her desk, trying to curb her initial response, which was not nice. “Well for one, the patient didn’t have scurvy.” She said with an attempt at levity. Serena just looked confused. Terre continued in what she hoped was a kind voice. “Vitamin c doesn’t cure anything aside from vitamin c deficiencies.  Not the common cold and not toxic-metabolic encephalopathy, which is what the patient in question was suffering from.”

“But the vitamin has been proven—“

Terre was already shaking her head. “No.” She stopped Serena firmly. “It hasn’t.”

“But recovery times–”

Terre raised her hand, silencing the other student. “When you leave here I want you to look up a man named Linus Pauling, he’s the one you have to thank for that bit of misinformation. Well intentioned, but wrong, in the 1950’s he convinced everyone that vitamin c dosing would cure most anything, there was a lot of stupid medicine then. Problem is, this idea stuck.”

Serena’s fingers twitched agitated around her bracelet. “I just don’t think pills and chemicals should be the only options.” She was defensive, Terre realized. .

“Okay.” Terre said slowly. “But prescribing oranges to a patient recovering from a traumatic coma is negligent. So is prescribing it for a cold, there is just less consequence when it does nothing.”

Serena’s mouth thinned into a line and her nostrils flared.

Terre groaned internally, she should never have agreed to TA a class devoted to general medicine. She sighed. “New methods should be explored, believe me I agree, but they have to work. There is a difference between creative alternatives and old fashioned snake oil.”

The undergrad nodded, but the girl was obviously unconvinced.

“Just keep it in mind to be a doctor, good intentions are necessary, but so is being right most of the time.” Terre straightened and stood up, hoping Serena would mimic her.

“Yah.” Serena said and stood. “You are not going to change my grade then?”

“No, but keep anything that sounds new agey or like a folk remedy out of Professor Moss’ tests and you will be fine.”

Serena nodded with a disappointed sigh and left. Terre sat back down, very proud of herself. The last undergrad had left crying, she was getting better at this.

Stealing is fun, all the cool kids are doing it. You can find them here at the Legal Theft project, along with the line that started it all, by Kathryn. 

It and the Thing.

This is in response to a wordle prompt from Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie

Think fingers, tapered to cruel little points, ran themselves over the weave. The undulating barrier was strong, designed to prickle and burn the fingers even as they broke the delicate and unseen threads. It sneered at the pain, pain was nothing. Not compared to the thing on the other side of the biting ward. It licked its thin lips and stared hungry at the thing set and waiting on its small pedestal. With such a thing It would be rewarded for its courage, and the fun they would have.

It sucked its teeth, frustrated as the threads began to reweave themselves. Tricky thing, but then such a treasure would not be unguarded. It snarled and plunged its claws through the hindrance doing as it was designed. It tore and ripped and destroyed until there was a gaping hole with threads waving pitifully as they tried to regrow. The barrier tried to reconstruct, but It scurried through hissing as the frayed edges burned down its scaled back. But It was inside. And the thing was….

Gone. Its slimy eyes widened and narrowed to slits. The thing was gone. It snarled, gnashing needle teeth before bringing Its fingers around the empty pedestal, reducing the white stone to rubble. The ward around It was bright and whole again.

A trick. But the thing. The thing had been there. No one in all the realms, not Its or any other kind could fake such a thing. The thing was close.

It saw the thing. Now outside the barrier and wrapped in the arms of something, no someone, else. Raven’s hair and delicate as the threads that encircled It. Breakable, It thought, and small. But holding the thing to chest, protective and pleased with a smile on blood colored lips.

It roared and charged, rending Its thick fingers and pointed claws against the barricade keeping It in and from the thing. The threads were bright and like metal now, flashing in the weak starlight. They did not break or tear under Its furious swipes and bites.

The someone waited. Waited for It to tire of the trap. It did. The barricade was strong now. It coiled angry but caught. Time to talk then, time to deal. “Stupid …” It stopped. The someone was not a reaper, but reeked of soul. Not mortal, no mortals here. Probably dead. “Stupid someone.” It spat. “Orphan you. Rend parents and kill loved.” It snapped Its teeth for effect. Didn’t know what someone was, could be cowed, It didn’t know.

“Centuries too late for that.” The someone said. “Rending and killing only happens if you get out.”

“Got in tearing.” It said and took another swipe at the warded weave imprisoning it. Its pointed claws reverberated and burned, like metal on metal.

“A trap doesn’t work if your quarry can’t get in. As with everything here, getting out is the trick.” The someone said dryly, also unafraid.

It barred its needle teeth at the someone. It didn’t care what the someone knew. “The thing. Give the thing.” It watched the thing, wrapped so carefully in the someone’s arms. Not a reaper as It would smell that stink. “The thing not yours.” It smiled, knowing what the someone was now, It hissed the word. “Thief.”

“No, not mine. But not yours either. This is the bait.” The thief shifted the thick bound paper between arms.

“Give name Thief.”

“No. But I’ll take one, not yours, someone else’s.”

“You deal?” It questioned. Deals were something It knew.

The thief nodded. “I deal.”

*****

Lena was rummaging through her bag in a panic. With a final desperate move she upturned the cloth and dumped its contents over the inn’s bar. Scraps of paper, gum, hair bands, and even a few marbles rolled over the shiny wood surface. “Noooo” It was half a whimper, half a moan. She dropped her forehead to the bar, hair pooling amidst the misfit residents of her purse.

“Lena?” A familiar voice asked behind her.

She didn’t look up. “What?” The response came out muffled.

“Did you lose something?”

It was an innocent question of course but it made her want to cry. “Yes.” She sniffed and raised her head from the bar, beginning to turn around. “My—“

“Notebook!” She finished, eyes going wide at the thick bound paper the other woman held out to her. “Oh if I had lost this thing….” Lena was so relieved she could have hugged her friend, she didn’t of course.

“You didn’t.” The notebook was pressed into Lena’s arms with a warm smile.

“Thank you.” Lena breathed out.

“Don’t mention it.” Another smile and she was walking away, leaving Lena to wonder what had just gone on.