Wrong Things, Wrong Man

Gall and Wormwood’s night was just beginning. Two days’ hard ride from that miserable holding with no signs of pursuit, it was time to pause the getaway. They intended to enjoy freedom and the spoils taken along with it. Wormwood was already drunk, halfway out of his trousers and singing to the radio, while Gall danced twitchy-like in front of the sunken hearth.

They passed the things back and forth, ancient eyeglasses and yellowing pamphlets. Gall ran her fingers through a horsehair wig, Wormwood cinched a vintage belt around his naked waist. They toasted themselves and the haul, veritable gold from the golden age.

The keeper of the divey one-room inn watched the two sniff up oblivion and drink themselves into stumbling messes without comment. They’d paid him. Two apple barrels and a keg of cider, now safely locked in his grimy kitchen. As gun-toting thieves went, they seemed a decent sort. He retreated to the sole bedroom as Wormwood lost more clothes.

Outside the night deepened until the ground, forest, and sky all became pitch. The hearth’s fire burned down to embers. Gall broke into another bottle and offered Wormwood the first swig.  She shoved him when he didn’t take it. He shoved her back and continued to stare out the window. Behind the rain speckled panes, they could hear the wind tear at the trees.

Gall and Wormwood were not stupid, just drunk. He gathered his knives while she grabbed her rifle with swollen fingers. They set themselves at the door. Without the fire, they could feel the frigid air seeping through the walls and window glass.

Their nerves frayed by powders and herbs, it was not long before one suggested the other go out. Gall lost the hissed argument, and she left out the door, rifle bared. Wormwood lost sight of her in the black. He counted minutes and upon a quarter of an hour, he barred the door.

The decision bought him a moment. Wormwood used it to consider the possibility they’d stolen from the wrong man, or perhaps the wrong things, but probably a combination of the two. It was all he was afforded.

Glass shattered, crude metal flashed in the dark. In the dim of the dying hearth, he marveled at the broken window, and then the thick blade wedged deep in his chest. Wormwood slumped to the floor, his body ripping the machete from his assailant’s hand as he fell.

Wormwood looked up, eyes rolling, as the stranger placed a boot on his stomach. From behind the rough scrap mask, he thought he heard a deep and annoyed outtake of breath. The stranger twisted the blade with a wet wrench of bone and tendon and Wormwood died before he could think anything more of them.

Did I ever mention how much I enjoy Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie’s Wordle Prompts?

Legal Theft: Order in the Wilds

Every message took an hour to decode. Carved into rotted planks and posts, reclaimed by the forest, the work began when he found them. Its trail was long gone and its stake subsumed by a particularly impressive pine. But he was able to wrestle the plank away from the undergrowth.

He dug at the moss covering it, hands turning grubby and green, until he found its message etched deep with specks of leftover yellow paint. With the fog rolling in and the light fading, he tucked the plank under his arm and trudged back the way he’d come. small camp, he strung a tarp between two trees and pried open a can with his hunting knife. The brown mush within wasn’t immediately identifiable. He ate it anyway, scraping the sides of the can with a battered spoon. Once fed and thinking more clearly, he set the plank before him.

His small camp was only a tarp strung between two trees and a dry patch of ground for the fire. He settled in, picking a can from his pack and setting to work on its lid with a hunting knife. The brown mush within wasn’t immediately identifiable. He ate it anyway, scraping the sides of the can with a battered spoon. Once fed and thinking more clearly, he set the plank before him.

The little letters arranged in horizontal lines and clusters meant nothing to him. Uncle had yet to deliver on promises to teach him the old script, and he couldn’t wait. There was work to be done.

He withdrew a folded bundle from his coat’s inner pocket. Aware of the destructive raindrops pattering against the tarp overhead, he unfolded each crease deliberately and smoothed the paper under his fingers. The map had letters and words marked on its green expanse, some of his making but most in the ancient script of the golden age.

With the words from the plank in his mind, as one held the image of an object you’d lost,  he scoured the map and its pale lines. The process took time, words were repeated, the plank’s script was wet and rotten, and he checked each find with meticulous attention.

But an hour passed, the rain continued to fall, and he slowly began to understand what the plank had indicated. A diverging trail, and what he suspected were increments of distance. He’d go back tomorrow and find a new post for the sign. The trail was long past saving, but its marker, now recorded on his map,  provided a bit of order to the wilds.

If not a thief, definitely a scoundrel. This piece is part of the legal theft project and the first line comes from Apprentice, Never Master, who invited the project to steal it. 

Staccato Sounds

“And that’s all I know. Our fearless leader returns soon victorious, another bloody triumph, make of that what you will.” Her smile, inches from the steel microphone, sharpened the words. The red bulb on the switchboard flickered. Her eyes flicked to it.

The signal was strong, the light was just crap.She tapped it with a pointed fingernail until it stopped.

“But enough about struggles for the next patch of mud, we’ve got more important things ahead.” She queued up the next song. Something new, filled first with crackling voices and then with spoken rhythm. Mellow but righteously assured, there was something in the cadence of the words that made her want to close her eyes and nod along with it.

Instead, she switched off the mic and let the music race across the clouds. She stood and arched her neck to the side, letting the fire in her veins cool a bit. Without the microphone to hold her attention, she realized she was alone in the studio.

The mismatch of radio equipment rumbled behind her, the delicate metal, plastic, and wires vibrating off each other as the floor trembled. Without the headphones she could hear the sounds of engines, and distantly, gunfire. Familiar voices down the stairs and from the floor began to yell.

Poka met her on the landing and answered before she could demand. The man’s normally braided hair was everywhere in a sleep mussed fall.  “Someone’s here.”

“What?” A more important question presented itself a fraction of a moment later. “Who?”

Poka shrugged wildly and began shakily loading a revolver someone pressed into his hand. “No one knows.But the guard isn’t even here right now, we need to get back, lock a door, hide.” He was barely managing with the gun.

“The hell we are.” She said and grabbed her boots. Poka with his unsure hand could be dangerous at her back, but she’d just make him walk in front. Something was happening and she didn’t hide.

My turn this week, for our music challenge I picked Wax Tailor’s “The Games You Play” featuring the talented Ursula Rucker. Check out Raw Rambles to see what she did with the song. 

Legal Theft: Powder-Blue Beauty

Blue as skies in summer, pouring out exhaust, and attracting a small crowd, he’d never seen anything like it. Neither had the small band of kids shoving each and daring each other to touch a pearly headlight. Whoever the driver was, they were frustrated, turning over the engine and flooding it, trying to get something to catch.

As predators watch limping prey, the children grew bold. A girl with thin dirty braids picked up a rock.

Culled grabbed her shoulder and shook his head. Pale eyes narrowed to slits, and her tiny fingers tightened around the stone. The others waited, frozen between flight or concerted assault. He waited for them to decide. A good strike to his remaining kneecap would have him down and on their level. If they could swarm him fast enough, they had a chance.

A few jeers were muttered in his direction. They were too aware of the machinery making up his left leg to say anything loud. He should be dead. Instead was walking around fine as anyone on metal and gears and keeping them from their fun. Their fear at his strangeness kept things amicable.

The girl dropped the rock and shook off Cullen’s grip. He let her and her little gang slink away, eyeing him and the lux car with equal hatred. One problem solved. Another becoming bigger. Cullen watched dark smoke start to rise from beneath the hood. Much longer, and the powder-blue beauty would be scrap.

Rabid children, decent adults, didn’t matter who you were, no one like meddling. But the car was a rare thing, sleek and timeless amidst the yard’s rusted leavings. He could help, so he would offer. With a tight-lipped sigh, he moved over to tap on the driver’s side window.

Not a thief this week, but definitely late. I may have been robbed. If so, check out the Legal Theft Project to see what others have done with my first line.

The Strange Heft of Paper

Spiget chose her escape carefully. Concord’s entrance was clogged with pilgrims, now carefully being admitted through the gates by Calistoga. Her brother could handle any trouble, but he was more likely to get it should the newcomers see an enforcer leave. Best everyone think she was still on the grounds, rifle resting comfortably across her back.

She slogged through the forest parallel to the road, shuffling through the undergrowth and fighting olive mud. Scents of rose, gardenia, and sulfur faded from the air as she walked. The remnants of paradise were replaced by the seething smell of drowned roots and rotting green.

When the sounds of the overpowered the wood’s birdsong, she knocked off the mess from her thick rubber boots and smoothed her hair.

Rain hit tent tops like fanfare. Fishmongers, diabolists, and scavenge men hawked their respective wares, leaning over table and each other to force guts and brass talismans under her nose.  Spiget politely declined a wetwork offer from a rheumy-eyed woman with a bandolier of rusty knives, and another for intimate session with two painted doe-eyed men.

Spiget hurried, shoving her shoulders through the mass of travelers, vagrants, and mercenaries towards the end of the market. Colored glass and strung lights hovered above the entrance of the gambling hall, its sunken doors set down from the street at the bottom of chipped steps. The likeness of an apple was carved deep into the door’s wood.

Someone flicked a stub of twisted herbs and paper at her feet.

Spiget reminded herself who she was dealing with and softened her expression before she looked up. Dealing with the den’s owner required a cool head.

Proper grinned at her in greeting, seemingly unbothered by the dark hair curling and dripping in front of his eyes. His shirt was soaked through and sticking to him. Tucked under to his side under an elbow was her package, safely wrapped in oilskin.

“So punctual,” Proper said, making the comment sound like an insult as if she should have kept him waiting in the rain. He held out his free hand and she dropped three heavy pouches into his long fingers. With what could have been flourish, but was more likely adroit misdirection, Proper vanished the money.

Spiget’s breath caught when he handed over the package. Proper hovered, watching her face as she unwrapped the corner of the slick cover. Beneath the oilskin, thick leather and the barest hint of gold lettering shown warm in the lights overhead. More than anything, Spiget liked the strange heft of its pages.

She hastily rewrapped the book before the rain could get at it. Proper was still watching her when she looked up. “Can you even read it?” He wore his smile at an unkind angle.

Spiget could not. But this was real, she knew it when the papery ancient smell had filled the space between them. Too happy to care about the mockery in his question, she shook her head. “Nope.”

She didn’t need to see his smirk flicker to enjoy his confusion as she walked away. Spiget wrapped her arms around the book and hugged it to her chest.

Thank you Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie for the great Wordle Prompt

Legal Theft: Hidden Appetites

The most irritating aspect of coming back from the dead was that no one believed you hadn’t gone evil. Not only was Bradley stuck eating lunch alone, but even the teachers watched her like she was about to start the next Romero flick. It wasn’t her fault she’d died, or that parents had sold the house to bring her back.

Bradley stared at her fruit cup on the lunch tray in front of her. She’d never seen anything less appetizing than the pale assortment of fruit cubes.  When she glanced up, the entire lunch room looked away.

Even the Christian kids, usually unfailingly nice to everyone, would not look her direction anymore.Considering she had a lot in common with their number one guy now, it seemed a little unfair. Then again, maybe they were just too frightened to ask the questions. Had there been a tunnel? Was she a brimstone or pearly gates sorta gal? And of course, who was it?

The police had not been so spineless. Minutes after she’d awoken on the altar they’d arrived to shoo away the hollow-eyed figures her parents had hired to haul her back into life. A middle aged sergeant questioned her while her mother and father wept with relief. It wasn’t a long interview. The sergeant left disappointed, even a little angry, when Bradley told him she couldn’t remember any of it.

There was a lot to be annoyed about. Her old friends, suddenly distant and scared, her parents hovering intensity, the way her teeth didn’t quite fit right together anymore. But there were some things she could get used to.

Bradley’s pulse refused to quicken as she ran the school’s track in gym, or slow as she breathed in a joint, or hush as she curled in bed. Steady and strong, it drummed to the meter of the robed creatures’ chant. Her heartbeat never broke the rhythm she’d awoken to on that altar.

It made lying to the sergeant easy.

Bradley remembered who’d found her on that jogging path. She knew his hands, familiar and usually around her hips, instead wrapped tight about her throat. She knew his voice, though they’d never talked much out of class, whispering terrifying things into her ear.

They’d blame her, maybe not to her face, but in the back of their minds. Her parents, the police, her classmates so intensely not looking in her direction anymore.  A cautionary tale of a girl who got involved with someone she shouldn’t have. Bradley got up from the table and upturned the lunch tray into the garbage.

Not everyone could stay away from her. When Bradley left the lunchroom she spotted him in the hallway. Unlike the erudite, possessed persona Mr. Shaw affected while teaching his classes, these days he was perpetually on jagged edge. His hair had thinned, his color drained, people wondered if he was sick. Mr. Shaw shuddered as Bradley passed him. Neither of them said a word.

Unlike hers, his heart could still race. Bradley heard it from the other side of the hallway, wet and hammering inside his rib cage.

He had confided his hidden appetites to her that night on the trail. Someday she would return the favor. Until then though, she had sixth period with him, where Bradley could sate herself with the ripe sound of Mr. Shaw’s fluttering pulse.

I am a thief and cannot be blamed for zombies given the line I was told to steal.  The Gate in the Wood challenged the Legal Theft Project to use the line The most irritating aspect of coming back from the dead was that no one believed you hadn’t gone evil.

Painted Telephone Polls

Months travelling across the country’s respective belts, rust, wheat, and bible, had left him hungry for something substantial. Something that didn’t taste of sun bleached plastic and salt. Something that didn’t sound like the radio cycle.

Gas stations, covered in dirt and rust, marked the sides of the pavement, monoliths along an ancient highway. They relinquished their hold first to uniform suburbs with perfect miniature lawns and malls, and then finally to mismatched storefronts and painted telephone polls.

Now beneath apartment buildings with mismatched windows, he paused to explore.  Hung over the bars, boutiques, and smoke shops, black fire escapes draped the building’s sides like lace. Musty liquor shops survived with peeling stucco and vandalized loitering signs. They carried on amidst new whiskey lounges and self-service dog salons, serving the budding alcoholics of their community, graduate students and disillusioned hipsters past the partying scene but still in need of oblivion.

He found a coffee shop first, an easy feat with one almost on every block, each with their own smart blackboard sign on the sidewalk. Smells of burnt coffee and sugar coated pastry filled the air with bittersweet scent. In the corner, a singer with scruffy brown bangs curled around her guitar. Caught in their screens and crisp paperbacks, no one watched her warble a cigarette-rusted song. But she set her fingers to the guitar’s strings and creased bills climbed the sides of the fishbowl before her.

He dropped a crumbled single into the bowl before he left, the meager fruits of pudgy Midwest audiences, and went to seek his own stage.

This place was a moment in time, dirty sidewalks and artisan bakeries, designer jeans and molding blankets. Eventually, the liquor shops would close, replaced by fair-trade markets, the homeless would be pushed out to make room for yoga studios. A year, maybe three, maybe ten from now, and they’d buffer this place until it shone, bright and soulless.

He set the case open before him on a street corner, and cradled the violin tenderly beneath the angle of his chin. For now though, the sidewalk remained dingy, the mix of dispensaries, vegan eateries, and craft tasting rooms, confused. He might as well be part of it all while it lasted. The string hummed against his fingers when he set the bow. He smiled and began to play.

This weeks challenge comes from Raw Rambles, as she challenged me to write to Angel Olsen’s Give It Up. I went for feel instead of subject matter this round, but see what Raw Rambles came up with as well on her blog