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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It started with bullets…

It started with bullets. Writhing sobbing men slapped down on Reid’s kitchen table. Reid removed the lead from their flesh with quick fingers. His expertise expanded, quick stitches over nasty knife wounds, overdoses, unattended kids fallen out of windows, twisted ankles running from pigs. Always bullets though. Those steady fingers, and an indifferent stomach, made Reid a name. A name he’d later put to use putting bullets in people, instead of taking them out.

But it started on the kitchen table. For those who made their tenuous livings in Brickyard and Shedtown, a trip to the hospital turned ended with one to jail. Once they got a your fingerprint on a form, or worse a scanner at your eyeball, you were done. There wasn’t a person in all Shedtown that hadn’t done something or owed someone. People like Reid were not loved so much as highly tolerated.

This suited Reid fine. It was consistent work he was good at. Aside from payment issues, either Reid or Reid’s brother sometimes had to track people down and threaten to forcibly replace the lead unless bills were paid on time, it was easy work. His brother, Vin, didn’t understand why Reid sighed heavier with each new patient.

“Well–” signed Reid after they’d ushered out the latest patient, mostly good as new. Vin pressed the same question to him. Reid shrugged, “I guess– I just don’t like helping people.”

Vin stared, then laughed his usual quiet wheezing chuckle. “Then do something else.” he signed, his fingers moving as quickly as his brothers.

“You think?” asked Reid.

Vin nodded his hand.

Light the Night

The city was only beautiful at night, when the sun’s baked-in heat ebbed away. The sky faded from layers of pink and yellow until the lights came on.

Sabel waited beneath one of these lights. Back to the fence, feet planted, phone bright. Visible in the pool of yellow streetlamp. She counted as she breathed. Long deep inhales and exhales that kept her pulse thumping quiet, her face slack, hands steady. If your breath was calm, so were you.

The car came late. Its black mass rolled to the curb with the whispery crunch of gravel and broken glass beneath its tires. Sabel watched her yellowed reflection slide over its windows. Shadowed by the hood, her face was blank sharp lines.

A lock clicked inside the door and it opened, pushed out by someone big. They held the door for Sabel,  tracking the steel weight moving beneath her jacket. Sabel slid inside and looked at person brave enough to meet her in person.

“Hello,” said Lane.

“Hello,” said Sabel.

And the Music Challenges have started again. This week Raw Rambles challenged me to use Ghost In The City by The Crystal Method to spark a story. 

Dialogue Only Challenge

“Welcome, it is my pleasure to come before you today. To speak to you, speak with you. This is the end of an era, and the beginning of one. My campaign has marked this beginning. No longer will people fear for their lives, no longer will big business and big interest dictate the lives of your children. This I promise you. And though I have the plan, you have the vision…….” 

“Where the fuck are you going?” 

“Closer.”

“Yah I can fuckin see that. Why are you getting closer? I can barely hear right now where we are with that suited dickwad riling people up. Asshole, who does he think he’s kidding. It’s a fucking Harvest festival, not a rally. This fucking city.  I need another drink—god that line. Come on, food than a drink. There has to be a decent place somewhere in this motherfucking park.”

“I don’t want a drink.”

“I know—I know, but I want one and you and I are hanging out, Sabel. Like normal people, for fucking once—oh don’t sigh at me. Look come on, you do this with me, some food truck tacos and a beer, one beer, and we do what you want next time. Whatever weird batshit, cliff-diving, suicide pact, fight club, deep-sea spelunking thing you want to do. But right now, just normal fucking life for fucks sake.”

“Fight club?”

“It’s a movie you haven’t seen and… would actually probably like. You and the fuck boys.”

“I am not a fuck boy.”

“I know, sorry. That’s not what I meant. It’s a good movie, just not for reasons every guy I’ve ever fucked has thought. We cool?”

“Yes. We are cool.”

“Good. Cut that scary shit then. One of these days you’re gonna teach me how to get that deadas-stare, but fuck it Sabel we’re friends. Save it for work. So, let’s see, taco truck is there and then the beer garden. Come on, use those bony elbows.”

“…..Now my opponents. They want me quiet. It is one of the reasons I am here. They will not debate me. They will not let me show the world what we can do. But there is another reason why I stand here in front of you all. It is because this holiday, this faire, this park, it belongs to all of us. They cannot keep me from speaking here. From speaking at the festival. At a festival I myself attended as a child. This is the power of us— yes. Thank you, thank you. Okay, okay—lets not get too rowdy. My point is, and I want them to hear this. They cannot silence me. They cannot silence us…..”

“Holy shit these people, they’re eating his bullshit up. Fucking sheep. Hey, heard his price just got into triple figures – oh just keep eating, no one can hear shit in this crowd, we’re fine. Guess it’s just the price of politics and I’m not complaining. Business is really fucking good, sold like ten ram-horns last week. The weirdos are coming out of their basements, that’s for fucking sure. – don’t turn your nose up Miss. Manners, we’re eating truck food in wet grass, I’ll eat and talk if I want. How much you wanna bet this asshole even makes it a month into the campaign trail? Your professional opinion?”   

“I would not take that bet. You should not either.”

“Damn Sabel, not even a fucking month?”

“No.”

“Why? —- Sabel, look at me. You seem pretty fucking sure – wait holy shit, seriously? You’re up for it – calm down, I told you, no can hear us. Just eat your taco and drink your goddamn beer. Do you need something for it, when were you thinking?”

“—”

 “Fuck you, no.”

“Yes.”

“Sabel—Sabel, do not get up. I’m serious, sit your ass back the fuck down. Okay, just eat, no work. You goddamn promised we’d have one fucking day without crime lords, prick billionaires, and all the bullshit between them. Let’s eat shitty food and get kinda drunk like everyone else.”

“Why can’t I do both? He is right th—”

“Because we never get a normal day Sabel. Ever. Look at me—eyes off the fucking target. Sabel. Sabel, my friend, my best client, do not go over there and shoot that man in the head. Or anywhere. Just be normal with me. Okay? – okay, good. Pretty good fucking tacos though right?”

 “…..This is the time. With your help I promise to take back this city for the people who live in it. Now—thank you, thank you. Now this is not for the people who live on hillside mansions far from the streets they pollute. This is not for yacht owners that have stolen the beaches from your children. Right here, right now, this for is good, real, working people who want their city back. And we are going to take it back. From the petty crime bosses, the corrupt fat cats, the hitmen, the gun runners and arms dealers who flood our streets with our blood…..”

“Motherfucker. Dude fuck him, he doesn’t know me. The only people with clean hands are the bastards who pay others to do their dirty work. How is anyone buying this bullshit? I need another beer.”

“I will split it with you.”

“What? I can just get you one. Not that you’ve drank much of–.”

“No. Not a beer. The job. I’ll split the pay with you.”

“—is this just so I’ll let you interrupt what was supposed to be us hanging out? That is a lot of money Sabel. A lot of fucking money.”

“You are my friend. I feel bad. But he is right there. And it is a lot of, um, money.”

“—fuck.”

“—”

“Triple digits?”

“Yes.”

“—fine. So I should probably get out of here then?”

“Yes.”

Most Daring, Least Scrupulous

The little boat slunk beneath the river bridges. With its sharply cut prow, the vessel’s progress was silent and swift. Its occupants held their breath as they passed under any bridge marked with swaying guard lanterns. But the night was deep and those on watch looked towards the roads, not the inky water below them.

As they neared the city and its great, river-made moat, the smugglers shifted their shoulders and bowed over to make themselves small against the curve of their boat. Here, discovery would ensure a short drop and a sudden stop on the nearby gallows, possibly even before the sun rose. The duke’s justice was quick for those that denied him his tariffs and taxes.

But the smugglers did not turn away, and turned their boat to the grates allowing water to flow beneath the streets and the main city squares. As swift as justice was in the city, the rewards came faster, at least for those who knew their way round the trading metropolis’ winding waters.

Gruff whispers were exchanged by the grate and it was opened on well-greased hinges. They entered the city, quiet as a leaf bobbing on a creek’s gentle current.

The dark tunnels of rushing water providing a warren for the smugglers and their ilk, entrepreneurs as much as any of the fancy clothed merchant princes who dined on the bay’s pleasure barges. Here, beneath the street-side markets that pitched gaudy stalls and tents during the day, another market bloomed in the slimy dark.

The smugglers followed the greasy pricks of light that marked the sides of the underground canals, candles set and burning on the melted corpses of their waxy ancestors. The wax growths provided little real light, but guided the most daring and least scrupulous merchants to their night’s business.

When the muggy tunnel opened up to series of wide causeways set over the underground water, each one of the smugglers’ smiles flashed in the low light. Now came the easy part.

 

Portentous Star

The sun simmered red as it slunk towards the jagged horizon. Tristan opened the morning room window to the sickly gold air and leaned outside. Distant fires turned the treeline to a nebulous grey silhouette and the sun was the worst of it, a hazy swollen orb defying the prospect of rain. He frowned at the ominous star.

Behind him, three books lay open on the settee. All had failed to distract Tristan from the pinched tension between his temples. It was the smoke and ash. Even their monstrous house, impenetrable to ancient armies, civil upheaval, and seemingly time itself, could not keep it out.

An uncannily dry summer had baked the trees brown; now somewhere they burned unseen, belching black smoke into the country air like the worst factories of London. Beneath his annoyance at the ash-laden ache and ugly scenery, Tristan knew that if his neighbors estate could burn, so could his.

At the window, an itch grew in the corners of his eyes. With a fanciful but deeply ground logic, Tristan was hesitant to ignore the red portent hanging over his lands. Fate usually prepared the worst for those who willfully snubbed such signs.

“Tristan.” His name came patiently, but as if it’d been repeated. Tristan turned. Arianne had come into the morning room and stood with her hands clasped in front of her skirts. A fine sheen of sweat made her cheeks shine. All else about his sister was perfectly in place.

Tristan was down to his shirtsleeves. Decorum could only survive so long in this heat. He smiled at her, “I am quite distracted apparently. Sorry.”

Arianne moved to the window and pinched her face against the thick, burnt, air. She hustled him back and snapped the window closed. With the glass between, the haze seemed even thicker, the sun bigger. Arianne went to gather the books he’d carelessly left gaping. “The doctors already been called on account of Sally. We cannot have you falling ill.”

Tristan nodded. She was right. With the fires so close, and the sky imposing down on them, he was probably expected to do… something. He went back to the window, looking out over the alien landscape that he was supposed to be lording over. “Doesn’t it look peculiar? All the strange haze and smoke– like something from Revelation.”

“Do not say such things,” Arianne said without real reproach. From another, it would be crass, from her brother it was fancy. As it always was.

Tristan’s smile acted as apology. He did not say anymore, but as he followed her from the room, his eyes slid distant across the glass of the windows and the simmering crimson sun outside them.

This post is part of the Legal Theft Project (also the Mindlovemisery Menagerie prompt here that I run). Some thieves have stolen my first line to write their own. See if any show up below: 

The Girl with Thin Fingernails

Dawn cracked ripe and ready for a downpour. Zak eased the front door closed with silent practice. He didn’t mind running in the rain, but it turned the roads to mires and the hillsides to slosh. Better to get his daily circuit in before the skies opened up over the isle.

His route took him from mother’s front door, through the village he’d spent all of his sixteen years racing through, and up along the island cliffs and their winding, overgrown heights. Zak stopped on the main overlook to let his chest swell at the sight of his concave world. Cradled on all sides by jagged obsidian peaks, the wetly green interior and mist-hazy lake still slumbered.

Except… a single light nestled at the back of the manor house. In the dark of the valley, a small lantern gleamed like a dandelion fluff in the wet air. Someone was up early, Zak thought as he stretched.

The distant little light continued to hook his eye between the trees and sharp glassy boulders as he ran. And as he found the valley again with its rolling hills and easy sodden paths, his feet slowed and paused. The village and his morning chores waited on his left, and to his right, a much smaller trail would bring him to the manor house and the dawn-lit lantern.

Zak shook his dribbling hair and started down the smaller trail. He’d not been near the manor house in years, not since cajoled and convinced by other children, he’d stuck close to steal a hanging chime off a window sill. Sick with guilt and fearing the stories of the manor’s occupants, he’d crept back alone to replace the little chime.

Now, with a longer stride and wider shoulders, Zak moved around the exterior of the peculiar house. He slid his eyes along the the strangely peaked roofs and the mismatched doors adorned with fearsome carvings. Around the corner, a clear dirt back yard housed a chicken coop and a single step set below that pale lantern. Bathed in the splash of light, a very young woman sat on the step and stared blankly into the yard. Tears ran freely down her cheeks.

Zak exhaled his held breath, disturbing the cold quiet of the yard and she snapped her head to him. Her sheet of black hair swung around her face so that strands of it stuck to her tear-sodden cheeks. They blinked at each other before Zak thought to ask if she was alright.

She shook her head, eyes lost somewhere far away from him. Zak guessed that’s where her gaze had been when he’d interrupted her, in thoughts worlds apart from the house and their glass-cradled isle. Her thin, uneven nails caught on her finely woven robe as her fingers worried the fabric. It looked like she’d been shredding them.

“Can I make it better?” He spoke the thought aloud as it occurred to him.

He expected to be scoffed at. Zak was well-accustomed to rolled eyes and huffed dismissals whenever he dared speak his mind in the village. But the girl stilled, drawn back to the isle, the kitchen yard, and the stranger offering help he couldn’t possibly understand. Then slowly, she pressed her lips together in a feeble smile and wiped her hair back from her face. “Maybe. Share some breakfast?” She asked in a small rusty voice.

Zak nodded and waited for her to stand. He followed her over the step and into the manor house.

Another Music Challenge. This week I challenged Raw Rambles to write something to or inspired by The Decemberists’ Make You Better and I did the same. I’ll link her’s here when it goes up.