Water Witch

Spiget slammed the door on her way out of the holder’s house, nearly knocking over his wife as she went. The pretty redhead blinked and clung to the packages she’d been balancing.

“Stuff it Lively!” Spiget snapped before she could hear a friendly greeting and burst into the street outside. Icy winds threw her hair and plastic yellow coat back. The normally muddy roads were solidly frozen, packed down by the many feet that wound their way through the holding’s wide streets. Spiget’s boots crunched over the iced dirt as she stalked away from the house.

Further from the holding’s busy core and without its bustling crowds, she could really feel the hurt rolling in her belly. Spiget shivered finally, some of her heat lost in the cold afternoon. She allowed herself one shaking breath, hugged herself, and kept walking.

A teetering building at the edge of town marked the narrow way towards Concord’s hallowed glens and her home. She stared . A dozen clunky bikes, with exhaust pipes and thick tires caked with filth, waited parked outside the club’s low entrance.

Spiget took the steps down to the scratched door almost timidly. Those who sought succor within the holding generally came to Concord’s holy waters, or the potent but questionable offerings here, at Eden.  Spiget’s reservations melted a little despite herself when she opened the door and thick, warm air rolled over her with sweet addicting smoke and the scents of cooking meat.

The inside was characteristically dark, but Spiget could have found Blues and her gang in the pitch black of solstice night. Their shouts, hollering, and bawdy singing beckoned her to the corner room. Men and women lolled over the decaying furniture, drinking from amber bottles and smoking little twists of herb.. In the center of it, draped over a card game, a yellow-maned woman in a red bikini top and tattered pants wheezed with laughter between gulps from a dirty bottle. Blues, the Chopper

Spiget approached slowly, stepping over a few bikers in the way of the door and to the edge of the card table. The Chopper looked up and squinted through the dark.  “What do you want water witch?”

“Hi Blues.” Spiget shrugged off her slick yellow coat. It was stifling with so many bodies warming the already cooking air. “I need to talk to you. Calistoga got hauled off, taken. I need someone to go after him.”

“Oh. Yah, sounds like it.” Blues chewed the taste of her last swallow of rum.

“And I thought, since you two– you know, it sounded like your kinda gig.” Spiget tried a cheerful smile, but her lip trembled. “What do you say?”

“That the roads are ice, its winter, this placed is stocked with more shine than even I could drink, and while Calistoga had some pretty scars and a nice ass, this all sounds like holder problems. Go ask Allison, you two used to shack up, maybe put out and he’ll do something about Calistoga.” Blues took another long drink from her bottle.

“Allisons not– he’s not going to help. I need your help.” Spiget pressed and her rising voice got more of the gang to look up annoyed.

“Well that stormin sucks, cause I don’t need yours. Fuck off.” Blues grinned at her, filed canines sharp in the dark. A few around them chuckled.

“You have to help me– I control Concord, its pools, its waters and you and yours have a habit of  get awfully scratched up–” Spiget took a step closer, feeling herself begin to shake.

The room went silent.

Blues was off from the table and nose to nose with Spiget in a blink. “Are you fucking threatening me witch?” Blues purred with boozy breath.

Spiget realized she had only a moment before this went very badly. Spiget opened her mouth, took a deep breath, and then utterly burst into tears. Blues leaned back, blinking. Around them the rest of the gang stared, looked away, and then stared again as Spiget dissolved into wracking sobs and clutched at Blues, mumbling and dribbling over their leader.

“Holy– storms –” Blues tried to extricate herself, but Spiget held on, wailing. A few of Blues’ gang were beginning to laugh and though Blues glared at them, Spiget kept on with the tears and stumbling grabs.

Blues swore at her, “Stop –stop or I’ll–  FINE! Fine.” Blues hopped backwards and held up a hand, warding Spiget away. “Find me something or someone to get me over those iced roads and deal, I’ll check on Calistoga. But you better leave right the fuck now.”

Spiget sniffed, then smiled, “deal.” She ducked out of the room before Blues could say anything more and hurried back to the front door. Spiget left Eden with a blooming smile, and flicked the last tear from her cheek as she stepped into the cold wind.

 

 

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Little Hurts, Like Legs

Take the little hurts they give you, fold them up in your hands and let them beat there. Nothing so hopeful as captured bird, but a spider with legs brushing alien across your palm.

Hands clasped, you hold it, stuck.

Eat it. Feel it fight for a grip on your tongue, try to swallow it.

You shudder. You swallow. You draw a new breath.

It is there, kicking in your stomach. Oh it turns, and prods, and shivers. But you don’t have to look at it, you don’t have to hold it. Your hands are open, ready, unholding. Free to be used again.

Dead Week

Something had happened here. Some disaster? An attack? Sabel wondered as she edged around a sniffling frat guy in the library hallway. He was not the first crying person she’d seen, though most were just slack-cheeked and glassy-eyed, shuffling from one place to another or crumpled over study tables. Survivors of something, Sabel reasoned, watching a frayed-looking girl begin to scream at her chemistry book.

She’d followed her friends trail from the sorority house when it’d become increasingly apparent something horrible had occurred at the University. Sabel wove through the stacks, avoiding the unstable students ducking from one shelf to another as if their lives depended on finding a single illusive book.

The computer terminals were all taken. Her hovering made people hunch up in their chairs and one even bared teeth when Sabel got to close. She left quickly resume wandering.

Sabel found Sara behind a small fort of reference books, Sara and her sticker-covered laptop at its center. Sabel breathed in relief and swung herself into the chair next to her friend. “Quick, we should go. Something has happened here.”

When Sara ignored her, mouth slightly open and her eyes reflecting her furious typing, Sabel reached out as if to pause her friend’s work–

“Sabel, if you fucking touch anything– I– I don’t know what I’ll do. I’m busy.”

“But something is wrong here, everyone is… affected.” Sabel darted her gaze around before she noticed the tremble in her friends fingers, the dark circles beneath Sara’s eyes that for once wasn’t make up. Sabel leaned closer, brows knitting.

“You are fucking affected. Sabel it’s dead week, leave me alone. I’ve got a bio final in two hours and –” Sara breathed through her nose. “–and I’m gonna fail it. So just please–” Sara trailed off and started typing again.

“What’s going on?” Sabel asked.

No answer.

“What is dead week?” Sabel asked instead.

No answer. Sara typed, stared at her screen, then typed again.

“What is–”

“Dead week is where if you don’t fucking leave me alone right now to study I am going to kill you. Dead.” Sara’s black eyes were manically round when she twisted to Sabel. “Okay? Don’t know how, don’t care how. I’m gonna find a way to kill you. Now leave me alone to . You are just the sort of calm that is the worst.”

Sabel had leaned back when Sara had snapped, now she slowly unfolded herself from the chair and backed away. Her friend was too far gone, that much was clear. Sabel shook her head, decided college was as horrible as it sounded, and left.

Crown of Moss

Crown of moss, ore, amber, and vine;

this is earth’s daughter and she has come for the cruel. 

Vera almost missed the turn-off, the tires tipping as she jerked the wheel towards the side road. Broad trees edged the way, their roots rippling the broken pavement. Vera leaned over the wheel to pat the van’s rocking dashboard in apology.

Squinting out past the light of the headlights, Vera noted the deep black between the trees. Their tangled branches blocked the stars above her. These were trees older than the road, older than the town she was trying to get to.

Like the turn off, the town itself was hard to spot. Dark windows, no streetlamps. A unlit wooden sign marked the motel. Beneath the buzzing porchlight, paper flyers covered the bulletin board behind a single pane of scratched plastic. Advertisements for the farmer’s market and guitar lessons. But mostly it was missing kids, some missing adults too. They smiled from photographs beneath block letters begging for information and promising rewards.

Vera checked into the motel and asked directions to the nearest liquor store. Vera smiled through their warnings. She could use the walk. Gravel and mud crunched beneath her sneakers. The sooner she learned what lurked in the dark the better.

More old trees watched her trudge down the road to the promised liquor store. She could smell the cold wood of their knotted trunks, their roots deep and mean beneath the road.

The liquor store was a hazy colorful destination across a field when lights began to peak through the trees just off her path. Blue silver like moonlight on snow, the small orbs bobbed in the black between the trees to catch at her eyes. Vera’s mouth went slack and she took three steps off the road, a hand rising to reach out to the dancing lures. Soft sweet music filled her ears.

Deep roots stretched, shifted, groaned in the dirt beneath her as she walked from the road. Their cracking whispers called her back. A young root caught her sneaker, sending her sprawling to the ground. The fall broke her sight of the beckoning lights and Vera shook herself out of the thrall. “Nice try,” she called out to the wisps, wise enough to mean it.

Nothing troubled her more that night beyond an overly curious liquor store clerk. The little town didn’t get visitors anymore, too many disappearances. Vera walked back to the motel sipping bourbon and thinking. Fey were tricky as they come and cruel as early winter.

The next morning Vera fished out boots from the back of her van. The fields and thick woods around the motel were muddy. She spent her days wandering hither and thither, the bundle in her arms growing with a wild harvest of whin, rosemary, and St. Johns wort. Her fingers bled and stung, pricked by thorn and nettle, but she did not tire each day until the sun did.

A week later the farmer’s market was a popular as the flyers promised. By Vera’s weather eye, most of the little town had to be in the square perusing fruit, sweets, and amateur crafts. She parked her van in the midst of it and threw open the doors. Inside hung the colors of burnt autumn, frosted with the occasional mint and moss of winter. Wreaths, bouquets, and boxwood bundles wove their earthy scents into the air and drew a quick crowd.

Vera took money only if offered and was quick to pass out free blossoms or twists of twig to the children that passed by. The market wore on and Vera’s van emptied. Everyone had something bright and fragrant to take home, many households left with more than one wreath or bundle.

The sun spread its last rays over the remains of market. Vera slid her van doors closed and went to get into the driver’s seat when a chill drilled between her shoulder blades. Vera turned. A young man regarded her with narrowed eyes. He was lithe and apathetic as a teen, though with none of the fledgling awkwardness.

“Sorry, I thought everyone had gone.” Vera smiled and touched the van’s door. “I have a few more.”

The corner of his nose twisted with disgust and the air grew colder. Vera watched his eyes turn, some nameless mundane color flashing to brilliant grey ice. The stretch of his lips wasn’t human and his words settled into her skin like snow. “Leave. Take your weeds with you.”

Vera stepped back against the van’s side before swallowing her fear. Deep beneath the stone and concrete of the square, old tree roots curled strong about the iron of the town’s bones. She listened to them grow for a moment. Vera threw back her van’s door and the encroaching night filled again with scents of whin, rosemary, and St. Johns wort. “Without a parting gift?” She asked with a bold jut of her chin.

The fey recoiled, choking on the warding herbs and swearing.  Vera planted her feet solid. “There are older things than you here and they grow strong,” she told him.

He left her with a sneer. A moment there, a moment gone. Vera only breathed once back in driver’s seat, the scents of her craft circulating through the van’s AC/heat vents. She sighed, this was as good a place as any to spend the winter. The town needed more help than she’d thought.

The Devil’s Name

One day, in a place where the corn grows in endless glossy waves, a young man decided he was not satisfied with what he had and went off to remedy his dissatisfaction. This young man’s name was James, not Jim, nor Jay, nor Jam, and would not be called anything but James for reasons he’d explain, but did not like to. You see, James had entered the world as most do: unhappy, red, and promised little but a name. But everyone did get a name, and James would take nothing less than what he’d been promised.

But even a given name isn’t enough for some. A longing settled somewhere beneath James’ breastbone and his heart hit against it, and then in the pit of his stomach so no food would sate him, and then between his eyes, sending them searching out over his mother’s fields to some distant place he did not know.

James walked out of his mother’s house and left to cure his discontent. He traveled down many roads and met all manner of peoples, but no one seemed entirely content with their lot. The farmer desired a bigger crop, the banker a larger account, the wife a handsomer husband, the father a better son, the child a longer summer. There was not a single man or woman, rich or poor, young or old, that had what they entirely wanted. And so, James continued on and on, wandering past seas of barley, potatoes, and corn, meeting many and learning their unhappinesses and wants, the things they had, and the things they hadn’t, so he could learn what might finally satisfy him.

It was after years of travelling that James came to a small town nestled into the corner of two roads. The town was well-accustomed to travelers, and James was young, friendly, and brought news from all the places he’d been. In the inn, the townspeople bought him beer and cider, and got him to talk of his journey and the reason for it. When they heard it, many shook their heads at his quest.

“The young look so desperately for things,” they said, “searching, grasping, trying to win this and that, makes them miserable,” they told him.

“But are you satisfied then, with what life has given you?” James asked.

They burbled, they sighed, they hemmed and James knew that they were not. James pressed, if not them, then someone in this town. With all the travelers, vagrants, peddlemen, wanderers, and rovers that passed through the crossroads, there must be stories of those who’d won, gotten all that life promised them.

The old patrons stopped talking to him. They paid up their tabs and left James to his wanting. Time stretched long, stars pricking the heavy night outside the inn’s confines. James closed his eyes, feeling the growling ache in his chest, his stomach, between his eyes. Alone, he had nothing but his name.

“Wasn’t life that gave it to them. But there are some—who’ve gotten what they’ve asked for.” The words drew him from himself. And old woman with glassy milk eyes smiled at his elbow, her hands were dirty, her shawl stained. The witch took his beer and took three great gulps in payment for her knowledge.

“How?”

“Go to the crossroads when no moon shines in the sky. Bury three new pennies in an old box. Call the Devil by his name, the thing we’re all promised and given. He will come to deliver the rest, all that life withholds.” she said, air whistling between shore-rock teeth. Another three great gulps for her instruction.

“And what should I ask for?” James asked the witch.

The witch went to drink again, one gulp, two gulps, but the glass was empty, the beer gone before she could take her third in payment for her advice. The witch shrugged and said, “something he cannot twist.” And the witch waddled away,

Beneath the next new moon, James placed three shiny pennies in a box and buried it at the crossroads. He stood and called the Devil’s name into the night. The wind whistled through the fields, bringing with it a malty scent of barley and a cold that prickled his bare arms. James waited at roadside with earth on his hands.

The Devil stepped from the road. Not from a car, or from the field, but from the center of the junction where the roads crossed. He was not a tall thing, or a short thing, but had dawn in his eyes and wide-lips full of promises. The devil met James on the road’s edge, the tips of his leather shoes touching James’ work boots. They said their pleasantries, as James was raised right, and the Devil is always polite, before getting to the business at hand.

“All who come to the crossroads are given what they ask, this I promise,” the Devil said slyly, his long pianist fingers moved, ready to weave and twist James’ request. “What do you ask? For riches and power?”

“Thrones are lonely.” James replied.

“For talent and fame? Your fingers flying over guitar strings, your voice soothing as midnight rain?” The Devil asked.

“Stages as well.” James said.

“Girls to follow you about, flowers in their hair? Boys sighing as you walk by, golden in the sun?” The Devil supplied.

“They’ve brought misery to many.” James said with a smile.

“Then what? Money, love, fame, magic, health, children, happiness— these things I can give.”

“And twist,” said James.

“Then what do you want?” The Devil leaned close. A thousand newborn stars waited to be born in the depths of his eyes, pinpricks of light in a black sky.

“Your name.”

The Devil paused, radiant beneath the brim of his hat. “My name? But you already have your own.”

“As it was promised to me, so I have it,” James said. “And I want yours.

“You think it will satisfy your ache?” The Devil sneered.

James shrugged and did not step back from the lovely face. He did not trust his feet to move. “Tried everything else. The fame, and love, and power. Borrowed for a time, then gone. The way I reckon it, a names the one thing that’s real and truly yours, promised and delivered, the one thing you can hand over proper, without it spoiling like a dream at sunrise…”

“A strange thing to ask. A stranger thing to want,” the Devil said.

“Mine has served me well, now I want another.” James reasoned.

“Surely, there is something else?” The Devil spread his hands, many sunshiny promises on his wide lips.

“No. Your name. This is what I ask for at the crossroads,” James said with a firm jut of his chin. James was the sort to take nothing less than what he’d been promised.

The Devil snarled, gnashed his teeth, stomped his nice leather shoes. The wind tore up around them, the fields thrashed about, and a great howling came from the road. And with a crack, a sliver of dawn rose in the East. The Devil sighed and took James hand in his clawed one. “Mr. and Mr. Scratch it is then.”

“I suppose so.” James Scratch settled into his new name, finding he liked it.

“Are you satisfied?” The Devil asked.

“It is not in my nature to be, I think.” James said.

“We are of a kind then.” The Devil said.

And the two left to wander the world meeting many and learning their unhappinesses and wants.

Little Bird

The men don’t know what is in the old mine. They don’t warn their sons away from the north road which runs down, descends with rain broken dirt, from town and through the winter trees to funnel all things into a deep mouth.

But the women, they have an idea. They pinch, and nag, and hound their daughters until the girls watch the north road with squinted eyes and unmoving feet. Girls turn to women with an idea of what waits and shifts in the old mine. They tell their daughters.

Be bold, the stories tell boys. The stories are wrong.

Be wary, the stories tell girls. The stories are right.

There is a girl, her name is Wren, who was told no stories. Her mother is gone, left, taken, somewhere else. Wren does not know where or why her mother is. Only that when she places her feet on the north road, no warning words shepherd her to safety.

Wren follows the fluttering sounds to the deep mouth, where they beat deep beneath the dirt. She walks inside, bold and unfearful, unfettered by stories, below the stone and sliding earth. Through dark warrens laced with silky veins of metal. And when she finds it, it unfolds its wings for her.

Wren does not emerge for a very long time. She greets the air with grey stone eyes and sunless skin. She unfolds her wings.

This week I challenged Raw Rambles with Thom Yorke’s Unmade. Check back in every other week for more Music Challenges, where we challenge each other to write something to or inspired by different bits of music. 

Crown of Teeth

Crown of teeth, cold, and bone;

this is death’s daughter and she has come for the guilty.

Remy sliced her keycard up and down through the reader. Weight pressed to the door, she clenched her jaw when the little light flashed red. “Come on.” She tried the old card again, weight pressed to the door ready for it to open. This time she felt the heavy bolt click and Remy darted inside, escaping the mechanical eyes of the hallway camera.

Bag held tightly beneath her arm, she hurried past the empty desks with quick little steps. Floors above her, people still worked. Beat cops to low in the hierarchy to avoid the graveyard, and detectives used to late nights. But in the lower levels, labs, and basements, Remy’s coworkers had all gone home.

This left the labs and its holding fridges to Remy.

The corpse was easy to find. Most remained with the county morgue a few blocks away, exceptions only made for pressing cases. Remy wheeled the gurney to her normal station, the one she worked at during the day, and rolled back the thick plastic sheeting.

Washed and chilled, the girl was serene as new snow. So different from the crime scene pictures. Still, Remy’s expert eye fell to the soft bruises covering her temples, the dry cuts beneath the girl’s chin. It was nothing compared to the damage to her torso, but the shallow wounds still made Remy’s veins beat cold with anger.

The technicians, Remy included, had failed to find the girl’s killer in all the wet bloody places he’d carved into her body. And so the private mortuary would come tomorrow to take her away to be pumped full of terrible chemicals, turning her once habitable body into an inorganic poisonous thing.

So Remy came to work after hours this night before the girl’s body was made inhospitable. If the body answered no questions, the spirit might. Remy laid marigold petals over the corpse’s eyes, sprinkled drops of lemon on her lips, rosemary brushed over dead fingers before they were drawn into Remy’s living ones. And then, as the lab’s light dimmed, and its sterile air ceded to the scent yerba buena, Remy called the dead girl’s name.

The corpse woke with fluttering eyes.

Remy smiled at the girl and squeezed her hand. “Hello, resting one. I have some questions for you.”