An Orange Unsteady Light

Laurie, Allison, and Kaitlin leaned forward in their folding chairs. The fire only illuminated the trees immediately around their little camp, casting the tall oaks in orange unsteady light. Everything else beyond their circle was black.

The three girls didn’t look at one another. Laurie, unprepared for the evening chill, huddled in her sweatshirt. Kaitlin sipped her coffee and grimaced at the bitter taste, she’d wanted a pumpkin spice latte but Allison had insisted they drink black coffee.  Allison ignored her friends’ discomfort and continued stripping the buds off a lavender sprig. Once bare, Allison tossed the sprig into the fire and the flames choked themselves, spitting olive smoke into the air.

Now they all looked to the center, mouths open and staring up at the plume. It reeked of lavender and the sweet chemical smell of cold medicine. Beneath the flames, and over the amethyst and tourmaline they’d laid, bits of an old dreamcatcher roasted away into ash. “So it’s anyone sleeping?” Laurie asked. “And we just get to tell them what to do?”

“Their bodies, yes. Get ready for it, it’s gonna be a ride.” Allison’s lips were tight, her nostrils wide. She closed her eyes, stretched her arms, and cracked her neck.

“What about people napping?” Kaitlin asked. Allison’s eyes snapped open and she glared across the fire.

“You’re so stupid,” Laurie said, looking at Allison for approval. “Who takes naps anymore except kids and old people?”

“I do,” Kaitlin said. Across the fire, Allison’s eyes rolled back into her head and their leader slumped. Laurie squeaked. Kaitlin didn’t notice and continue defending herself. “I took a nap in May.”

“Shut up Kaitli—.” Laurie started, her voice high with panic. The spell caught her mid-syllable, and she fell to the side over the flimsy armrest of her camp chair.

Kaitlin stared at her two collapsed friends, shrugged, and leaned back in her chair. She was ready when the smoke filled her nose and sent her consciousness spinning upwards into the night sky.

A theft, but perhaps, not a crime. This week I’ve stolen the line “I took a nap in May.” from Apprentice, Never Master for the Legal Theft Project. 


Rubies in the Sun

The knife slipped, cutting through the apple and hard into her palm. Akira hissed and rushed to the railing of the ship, holding out her hand so the welling blood wouldn’t stain the front of her skirts. The droplets, bits of ruby in the noon sun, dripped into the waves below.

Akira rolled her eyes at herself. The cut’s sting turned to a throb. She’d change into something with long sleeves before anyone commented. Palm pressed to palm, she nearly turned away from the ship’s rail, except crimson flashed in churning water below. She paused.

Frowning down at the waves, she forgot the pain of the cut. In the dark blue and grey, lines of sparkling red ran through the water like veins. Akira snapped a glance back to the deck behind her, the rest of Calder’s crew were busy and not paying her any notice. She stretched up on her toes and bent her waist over the rail, leaning down to peer at the water and the strange lines still coiling under its choppy surface.

Something formed itself just beneath the waves. The scales were the color of a flat ocean at night, sparkling black. Across its coils, bands of blood red shone like rubies.  Compared to its leviathan predecessor, the serpent was an unimpressive thing, not even the size of the ship.

Still, Akira’s breath caught. It should not be possible.

The sea serpent’s coils unfurled, undulating in the water. It reared its head into the air and raised its eyes to hers. The slitted orbs were the color of the blood slowly dripping down her wrist. The sea serpent stilled, waiting for her command.

Akira’s mouth was dry, her head suddenly light with an exhaustion she’d not felt in years. Summoning took a physical toll, she’d just never expected to pay it again. Her gift was supposed to be spent, bargained and willingly given away. Despite that, and impossibly, the spirit before her still waited, paid in blood and ready for her instructions.

She stumbled over the next part, out of practice and without a request. Akira said the first thing she thought of. “Find a pearl. Bring it to me.”

If the spirit had a problem with such a simple task, it did not make it known. The serpent half dived, half dissolved, into the waves. Akira watched the empty water, searching for the flash of crimson or dark scales. The spirit was gone from her sight, but she felt a throb in her chest that pulsed in time with the cut in her palm.

A theft most foul! Thieves have made off with my first line. See what they did with it at the Legal Theft Project. 

Hallow the Ground

He pivoted left letting the blade pass harmlessly a breath from his ribs and felt their rage and terror pour into him. Tass peeled his lips back from his teeth. “Storms take the dead,” He hissed.  The knife blade came again and Tass parried it away with his own, grinning at the scarred monk desperately trying to stop him.

Their feet slid on the blood-soaked grass as they fought. The scarred man was the first to stand against him. The devotees, weaponless and resting within the sacred grove, had not suspected the danger. Now, their corpses floated in the grove’s sparkling pools.

The monk charged him.

Tass scored a deep cut to the monk’s side as the scarred man rushed forward but was knocked to the ground under the charge. Tass struggled beneath the monk’s weight, his sword arm pinned between them. Around them, a few remaining devotees shivered at the violence, so common outside, but unheard of under the sacred grove’s fiery autumn leaves. They didn’t know what to do. Tass grunted, and then wheezed a laugh, “As useless as the dead you worship, I’ll send you to them!”

Their glaring fear and offense were worth withstanding the solemn still air of the place. Worth the scarred monk’s snarl an inch from his face as they stared at each other across knife blades.  Worth the growing murmurs of power around him–

Tass shoved the bleeding monk off and sprung to his feet, flipping the knife in his hands. Someone had joined the devotees ringing the clearing, a girl dressed in muddy yellow. She faced him with firmly-planted bare feet on the bloody ground, a shallow vessel of clean water cradled in her arms. The air did not feel still anymore.

Around her, the devotees had stopped quavering. They stared at Tass, calm hate grounding their stance. Tass felt his glee wash away like summer dust in the season’s first rainfall.

“What are you doing?” Tass demanded of the girl, advancing. “Stop it.”

The girl met his eyes and raised the cistern to her lips. He stalked forward, intending to knock the water away and slip the knife deep into her unprotected side. Unshaken by his sudden threat, she didn’t move. The air thickened and the smell of a storm grew.

Tass hesitated at the sudden change. The moment cost him. A scarred arm wrapped around his throat, a callused hand caught his wrist, a knife pressed itself to his kidney. The scarred monk dragged Tass back and the girl’s devotees surged forward to help.

Through all this, she drank from the vessel, eyes locked on his and pure water dribbling down her chin. Tass tried to struggle, to scream, but he could not find the sound or the rage to fuel it. The sun above the crimson leaves was warm, the smell of a brewing rainstorm lay heavy in the air, the afternoon bells from the distant market chimed with a sweet harmony. He felt–calm.

He met the girl’s eyes, pleading, as they pulled him away. She did not relent and the  sudden peace smothered him.

I stole this line from The Gate in the Wood as part of the Legal Theft Project. See the original here, and the rest here. A thief is rarely content with condoned thievery and so I have borrowed the scarred monk from More than 1/2 Mad as well. 

Smoke and Stock

“So, after all that, you don’t care?” Calico dabbed at the gooey blood matting his boss’s mangled eyebrow. The eyesocket, red and swollen now, would be an ugly purple tomorrow. Laid out on the floor, Proper’s messy hair fanned around his face in a dark halo. He stared dully at the sagging ceiling beams and Calico shifted nervously next to him, glass crunching under his knees.

“Not very much, no,” Proper said after a minute of numb silence.

Calico breathed out in relief as Proper pushed himself up from the floor. A fresh rush of bright red dribbled out of Proper’s crookedly broken nose. He snatched the dingy rag from Calico and pressed it to his face.

“Someone’ll have take stock.” Proper mumbled through the rag. He looked around and realized he and Calico were the only people left to do so. Proper stood, swaying when his vision narrowed.

The air was smoky, but the haze carried the earthy smell of campfire instead of the sweet caustic scents that normally filled his establishment. Even his regulars, usually deadened to most in the world, had bolted when the windows shattered, kicked in by boots and guns. A week of profits, as well as the powders, herbs, and thick syrups the den plied were long gone, vanished with the roar of motorcycles.

“You seemed to care a lot, talking back to Blues like that.” Calico ducked behind their makeshift, and now splintered bar. “Storms, she took everything, even the hooch. Proper?”

His boss, half up the narrow stairs, had stopped on a charred step. The top level of the gambling den, which housed Proper’s quarters and personal collections, was a blackened mess. From his vantage point below, he could make out the destroyed bookshelves. Not all the volumes had been lost to flame, others had been shredded by hand. Proper bent to pick up a singed page.  The downstairs hadn’t been burned, only looted.

Calico looked up at Proper from the bottom of the stairs. “Blues might have left all that alone if you hadn’t given the lip.”

Proper turned slowly, staring down his last remaining employee. “Get out Calico.”

“What? Proper, I’m the one that stayed to make sure you didn’t choke on your own blood.” Calico protested.

“I don’t care, get out,” Proper said and continued up the landing. Calico swore at the now empty stairs, grabbed a half-crushed twist of herb from the carpet, and stalked out of the ruined den.

This week’s first line has been stolen from Bek as part of the Legal Theft Project. 

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

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

Practiced Excuses

“It’s not my fault, there was a sale.”

Lane lifted her nose from the textbook. Her mother’s voice murmured something else from the bedroom, muffled from across the mobile home. “Mom?” Lane asked aloud. There was no answer so Lane abandoned her homework on the kitchen table.

The scratched laminate crackled under her diminutive weight as she padded over to the ajar door. Inside her mother practiced excuses in front of the mirrored closet. “I’m going to return most of it anyway,” she cooed, running a hand down the front of her pearl-buttoned blouse.  Shopping bags covered the bunched coverlet on the bed.

“Who are you talking to?” Lane asked.

Her mother jumped, hand vibrating over her heart. She pursed her lips when she saw Lane. “Baby. What the hell? You need to stop sneaking around like that.”

Lane stepped half into the room. She flicked her eyes to the bags and new clothes.

“There was a sale, and it’s been forever since I’ve done anything for myself. I’ve been so busy taking care of you. But I got you something.” Her mother grabbed one of the shopping bags and brandished it at Lane, the woman’s gray eyes fever bright and dilated. Lane didn’t move, though her expression crumbled. Her mother huffed and dropped the bag. “And you’re always ungrateful.”

Lane’s fingers went white and bloodless curled around the bedroom door. “There’s no food in the kitchen mom. There hasn’t been any in days.  How much did all this cost and what are you on? Ms. Alders–.”

Her Mother interrupted her with a furious wide eyed stare, like an enraged bull. “–Your caseworker can’t tell me how to be a mother. I’ve seen her handbag and those Coach boots, who’s she to tell me what I can spend my money on? I’ll just explain.” Lane’s mother went back to the mirror, smoothing her blouse again and angling her narrow chin at her own reflection.

Lane watched the woman mutter agitated replies to some unknown critic before Lane gave up, massaging blood back into her fingers and leaving the bedroom.