Gargoyles and Gunmetal

He capered across the wall, and those rising to start their tasks looked away from him. The new morning sun shone off the buckles and rings that adorned his chest, flashing as he moved from foot to foot and then hand to hand, untroubled by the reluctant audience below.

One particular spectator kept the glinting metal cornered in her vision. His bright display was unusual within the bleak walls and thick stone buildings she’d slowly come to call her home. He was manic as the sun in summer, piercing the cold and burning up the clouds. Still, she refused to stare, lest he thought his stalking presence cowed her like the common laborers.

She did stiffen when he stopped his odd patrol to neatly perch over one of the settlement gates. There, he tilted his head down so his diamond-patterned mask grinned at those who sought to pass through the arch into or out of the holding. She pulled up the tattered swath of gray cloth already looped around her shoulders, covering her head and casting her own mask in shadow. Only then did she approach the gate.

On the heels of a departing merchant wagon, she took cover behind the shoulders of those anxious for an early start. Layers of mottled black and charcoal cloth blended her adolescent frame into the cold stone and drab crowd. She did not know if above the gargoyle of a man noticed her passing, but she took note of the shudder that passed through her fellow travelers.

Beneath her own gunmetal mask, pale lips twitched. She didn’t shiver with the herd around her, but could appreciate the effect.

A thief always, but a thief in good company now. Having stolen a first line from More than 1/2 Mad‘s post, I’ve written my own with it. Perhaps others have as well. See them at the Legal Theft Project

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Frail Mysteries

There is a look I’ve come to recognize, it says, I know something you don’t.

There was a time I enjoyed it. When I was young, their covered smiles promised a mystery. Now it turns lips up in condescension, or down in distaste, and my stomach turns. The mystery is still there behind their hands, but it isn’t for me. They’ve made that clear.

Veiled judgment aside, I am still required to drink with them.

The sweet wine the servants ply doesn’t clear the taste their stares leave in my mouth, but it makes it all easier to swallow. I loosen my collar. I stretch a simper across my lips. I try to forgive those among the glittering crowd I count as friends. Soaked with apology, their glances lack the other’s edges. But they cut the same. I know something you don’t. 

I take some comfort in the frailty of mysteries.

It would have been simpler for them to share, but why deprive them of this conceited pastime? They certainly seem to enjoy it, for all its a fleeting game. Secrets break with only a few words, puzzles are built to be solved.

Nature Hates You

“You have something furry on your back.” Simon held up his hands in a calming gesture, trying to get his older brother to hold still. The expression on Simon’s face, however, compromised the effort and Ethan proceeded to not hold still.

Rotten branches and leaves crunched under their hiking boots.

“Furry?” Ethan twisted, trying to see what furry thing had hitched a ride and glare at Simon simultaneously. “What is it? Get it off.”

“Umm–” Simon hovered as his brother pivoted, trying to keep his footing in the forest’s thick undergrowth. “Stop flailing. It has a lot of teeth.”

That actually got Ethan to pause. “Teeth?”

“Yes– so don’t piss it off.” Simon bent slowly and picked up a heavy stick, keeping narrow eyes on the thing clinging to Ethan’s back.

“A stick?” Ethan said through a clenched jaw. “I thought you said not to piss it off. Remember the teeth?”

“I can see multiple rows. You told me to get it off. Have a better idea?” Simon hefted the stick pointedly.

“Go get Liam.” Ethan flicked his eyes to his armed brother, unwilling to move his neck and stuck frozen between steps.  “That’s my idea.”

Simon huffed. “I can handle …whatever it is.”

Simon took a step forward, eyeing whatever was on his brother’s back with enough challenge to make Ethan uncomfortable. Ethan snapped a finger up in front of his brother’s nose. At the sudden motion, claws dug into the back of his shirt. Ethan suppressed a shudder, “Simon, for the love of all that is holy, Go. Get. Liam.”

“Geez. Fine. It’s not my fault nature hates you.” Simon backed off a step. He didn’t drop the stick as he trudged off into the dark spaces between the trees to find their friend and a solution to their furry stowaway.

A thief is rarely good company to keep, but people keep me nonetheless. This week I (may) have stolen the first line of this piece from Apprentice, Never Master. Check out the company she keeps at the Legal Theft Project

Outside the City

Afternoon thunderstorms brought clear evenings. The summer air cooled and became hospitable if you were willing to risk the mosquitoes. Unlike the rest of the household, Lane wasn’t, and waited for night to fall completely before opening her window and creeping out onto the roof.

The ranch house was two stories with the bedrooms all set in the upstairs. Her’s overlooked the dirt road leading up to the front of the house. Lane considered the overhanging roof her personal porch, accessible only by twisting out the window and onto the angled shingles.

She glanced at her phone and leaned forward down the roof to check the drive. The truck was still missing and Cole had vanished into a friend’s mini-van an hour past curfew.  He was lucky his parents were already out,  Lane had heard the teenage hooting from outside all the way up in her room.

Confident she was alone to spend her Friday night as she pleased, Lane settled on her back and cradled her head against a skinny arm to watch the stars. It was the only good thing about her new foster placement. This far out of the city, she could see every speck of light in the midnight sky.

Lane didn’t know the constellations, so she just traced them with her eyes, and debated learning them. It probably wasn’t worth it. Her next placement might be back in the city.

Uncounted minutes or hours later, Lane jumped a little at the crunch of gravel and dirt under robust tires. She didn’t straighten or scamper back inside. Without streetlamps, she would only be spotted against the yellow backdrop of her window. Instead, Lane stayed down. If she turned her head she could see her foster parent’s truck down the slope of the roof.

Below Lane, Hannah stopped the engine and stepped out the driver’s side. The older woman was sure-footed on wedge heels and held her sweater balled in a hand.  Wyatt came around the front, trailing his fingers over the truck’s hood. He wrapped an arm around his wife’s waist and leaned in. Hannah’s giggle was cut off by the kiss.

The two stayed that way, swaying back and forth until one broke and leaned back an inch.  Lane could hear the sleepy smile in Wyatt’s voice, “You look wonderful tonight.”

Hannah answered him with another long kiss before the two strolled, leaning on each other, up the porch steps.

Lane waited until she heard the front door click to breathe out a tight sigh. She’d known there was something weird about this family. Couples only acted like when they had an audience.

Whatever she’d just encountered,  it was outside her experience. Shaken, and slightly ashamed she’d witnessed what was meant to be private, Lane took one more look at the stars and went to fold herself back through the window.

For this week’s music challenge  Raw Rambles set me to writing something to, or inspired by, Eric Clapton’s Wonderful Tonight. Above is the result.  See what she did here.

Against the Current

She’d never grown to love the city. It’s shallow tides lapped against the bridges and only narrow diminutive boats bobbed in the canals. In summer, even the water smelled of the unwashed bodies that packed the uneven streets. It had taken a long time for her to be able to sleep here without the lull of waves.

Set into the lagoon named for it, the city may have been built on water, but it was nothing like home. Still, she’d been here for years now, it felt strange not to say goodbye.

The respectable parts of the city were slowly folding themselves up for the night, while the more disreputable districts were just unfurling with red glass lanterns. She wandered from one to the other, her fine boots clicking on the crimson lit streets. When she first arrived, the city’s requirement to wear shoes everywhere had seemed like a horrible imposition. She bowed her head to hide the smile at her own expense.

Landborn sailors and merchants poured from the docks into the narrow twisting streets. Small and dressed in high-necked dark silk, she received only curious glances from them. They had brighter and bigger fish to catch.  As they flowed in, she went against the current, finding her way down to the docks.

Here, real ships creaked and shifted at their moorings. In the growing dark, she could not see the colors they flew, and could only hear the flags snapping in the cold wind.  The waves lapped against the ships’ hulls. Soon, the sound would lull her to sleep once again.

With a soft exhale of breath, she turned away from the water and found a bridge back into the heart of the maze-like place. She had more of the city to see for the last time. When missing its shallow waters and strange night metamorphoses, she would take comfort in knowing she’d said goodbye.

The Right Machinery

He’d gotten the idea staring into the pod’s green glass. Its exterior was only mildly reflective; his dark image on its surface seemed to stare out from within like a ghost trapped inside. The plan had formed from there, changing from hope to scheme to design. Until it had become an untested prototype in the corner of his workshop.

Taller than himself, wrapped in burlap and protective plastic, the pod was ready for the next fog. His fingers ached any time he walked past.

It’d taken the better part of a year to find the materials in decent condition, months after that to trace the scintillating wires and their arcane purposes, more time still to turn the emerging machine it to his own purposes. Created long ago to hold people and keep them alive, most of the pods had broken at the end of the golden age and failed their occupants, turning them wraiths. Now lashed to the world only by memory, these ghosts emerged from the fog that formed them, inscrutable, untouchable, and miserable.

He’d seen a potential in his reflection on the glass. Containment was the answer. If he could hold the wraiths, study their memories, question their seemingly ceaseless mourning, then maybe he could understand how they’d come to be. It was not their deaths that intrigued him. Death was easy to explain. Bodies broke, insides malfunctioned, only so many things could be replaced.

Death didn’t interest him, it was final. But suffering? Suffering he could work with, suffering could be tinkered with, inspected, and potentially fixed with the right machinery.

In his experience, you learned things from pain.

He intended to learn from theirs.

The Necromancer’s Door

She glared blearily into the lidless yellowed eyes leaning over her bed. The thing’s face was stretched like fine brown parchment over its skull, giving the creature a perpetually anxious expression. A grunt escaped its desiccated lips.

“Go away,” Resa muttered and turned over under the coverlet.

Her word was law to them. The creature shuffled away a few steps and stopped.

“Out.” Resa growled loudly from beneath the blanket.

The creature took its leave, rustling like paper as it walked. Resa waited to hear her chamber door to fall back into its frame. The heavy fall of metal and stone didn’t sound. Resa groaned and flung the coverlet back,

“Useless carcass,” Resa mumbled, cursing herself for teaching them how to open but not close doors. She swung her feet to the stone floor and stalked over to the door, stumbling over the detritus of robes and tomes littering the chamber. Resa jammed her foot against an overturned urn and swore vehemently.

The state of her bedroom would have been less alarming if Resa could remember how it had gotten that way. Resa pushed the door closed with a resounding clang, she barred it for good measure. Deep beneath the tower, locked and barred below the ground, no sunlight could tempt her.

Better to stay inside, the world, and perhaps her chambers as well, would thank her for it. Her bed beckoned.

She was half way under the coverlet when a small bit of shadow peeled itself from the ceiling a drifted down. “Mistress?” It asked with a voice like sand falling through an hourglass. The shade hovered an inch away from her nose.

“What?” Her short exhale of breath made its shadowy form waver in the air.

“You’re back.” It whispered, its dry voice trembling. For a moment Resa remembered crafting it, her fingers stained with ash and heart’s blood. She’d breathed a bit of her soul into it and the shade had slipped along the walls of the lab like a pleased cat. Now it stared eyeless down at her. “You’re back.” It repeated.

“Yes.” Resa wriggled down into her mattress, pulling the blanket to her nose. She had been gone, lost and tangled up somewhere, to disastrous effect.  Resa closed her eyes.  “And I’m never leaving again.”