Let Me At My Name

My name means pearl, smooth and pale

The treasure nestled in the cleft of slender throat

A soft bow, a weak glow

The collar about a housewife immortalized on screen

No edges, soft simplicity

The pride of sorority, an insidious slur of fraternity.

Let me at my name

The label of my make, my assemblage

Turn those pale orbs to teeth

The sharp things that gleam brightly from dark corners

A grinned promise to cheat behind fanned cards

The warning to those who would pry me from my home

To string me around their necks

The bared reminder that there is bite in me

It has been a long week, and I didn’t have time to finish the normal fiction, so you all get punished with something vaguely resembling poetry. Mindlovemisery Menagerie‘s Wordle prompt is to blame!

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?

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

Flash Fiction: Certainly Harmless

Red lantern light and the smell of edelweiss wine. He breathed deep, enjoying the agitation in his chest. The cobblestone remained crimson, stained in the light, and he could taste the putrid sweetness of drink in the air.

Memory is only a distant descendant of occurrence, he suspected time in its irrevocable advance had smoothed out recollections of the mild unpleasantness he’d encountered here. But that was years ago, he was taller now and better dressed.

Most men, however, never changed. And neither did their choice pleasures. A red lantern hung in every window on the narrow street. The street’s patrons, grimy and grinning, loped between the glass ready to empty their purses on the delights within.

Women though, he thought, catching a doxy watching him askance from her doorway. He’d always found them admirably adaptable. When capturing someone’s heart or coin, the right pout and angle of eye were refined tools compared to knife or truncheon.

The mechanics of these minute transformations remained a mystery to him, one that he occasionally mused over in a ludic light. The doxy sniffed, flicking ash from a cheap pipe in his direction. He decided to keep walking. The dismissal was familiar. Perhaps it was the cut of his coat, or the set of his jaw, but something informed these red-lit women he wasn’t interested in the pleasures they offered most men.

A curse at times, so used to being up for sale, they were wary of any not buying.  Not that he blamed them. He adopted a soft smile, not exactly guileless, but certainly harmless. They had their charms, he had his, and it was time to put them to use.

Couldn’t pass up this Wordle Prompt, once again thank you Mindlovesmisery’s Menagerie for supplying. 

Brewing Apocalypses

Sparrow was, not for the first time, annoyed at his friend for being so famous. The current iteration of this feeling came mostly from the security staff’s firm grip on his shoulder, as well as the brewing apocalypse growing beneath their feet.

Struggling against security’s attempts to march him away from the private boxes, Sparrow only succeeded in forcing the large suited gentlemen to sedately drag him. Somewhere in the gilded theater hall Aren was sipping champagne, watching the premiere of some penny-dreadful equivalent, and remaining wholly unaware reality was about to crumble beneath them all. Sparrow was trying to fix that, suspecting that Aren was the only one with the knowledge and resources to do something about the impending devastation.

Unable to fend off security’s hold, Sparrow was quickly shoved stumbling out the theater’s back door and into a crowd of reporters. His arrival elicited a reactive wave of camera flashes. The stelliferous outburst ceased as the paparazzi realized Sparrow wasn’t anyone special, no matter how fancy his borrowed suit was.

This false start seemed to be the death knell to the moribund crowd’s hopes. The cameras and people attached to them dispersed leaving Sparrow alone to stare back at the theater and wonder how much time the city had left.

“How far did you get?”

Sparrow looked to his elbow. Not all the reporters had left. A petite young woman looked up at him, a scuffed camera still ready in her hands. “Not very.” He said.

“It’s impossible to get up the staircases onto the upper floors. They don’t like peasants mixing with the royals.” She looked at him sideways like a bird eyeing a worm. Sparrow felt the urge to wriggle away.

He didn’t have time to discuss this specific episode of systemic classism in the film industry, or to explain he was only attempting to contact a friend who’d turned off their phone. The city was about to collapse under the weight of paranormal cataclysm. For a moment, Sparrow debated the wisdom of enlisting a member of the media for help. Matters of the unnatural were sensitive, and best resolved quietly. Reporters weren’t known for their discretion.

But facing down apocalypse, Sparrow didn’t have much of a choice. “Do you know a way onto the second floor?”

Sparrow looked up when she did. Above them archaic fire escapes dotted the back of the theater. She smiled,”Yes. But I’ll need a boost.”

This piece is written for Mindlovesmisery’s Menagerie’s Wordle Prompt

Contemptuous Waters

The smell wafted up on the tidewaters. It stung Hal’s nose, and he made sure to wrinkle it when Katie was looking.  She stared at him mutely, and then went back to picking careful steps through piles of seaweed. The rotting mounds buzzed with gnats and tiny crabs. Hal watched the creatures climb over the black and green mess, thinking that Katie just might be right. The ocean was sick, heaving its verdant guts all over their pristine beaches.

He called to her, wondering if she could hear him over the waves. Hal hopped a bit, pulling emerald strings off his ankles. Katie didn’t respond. She was calf deep in the water and letting the waves soak the rolled cuffs of her jeans.

Hal reached her side. The breeze had pulled bits of hair from her ponytail. The frizzy little strands framed her face, which was red and tight from the wind. Her windbreaker was an ugly shade of dirty purple. She’d bought it for her research here, replacing the bikinis and bohemian shifts she’d worn to the beach before.

Those clothes were only memories now. Hal remembered when she’d smelled off wisteria and hairspray, instead of brine and rotting seaweed. He’d loved the beach then. They’d met on a beautiful white-sand shore, right next to a cultivated private green. Their parents introduced them on the sand, and Katie had favored him with a small shy smile. He knew now it’d been a fake thing, something demure and softly contemptuous.

He would welcome that sly dislike now. Even it would be better than the blank windswept girl waiting for him in the water. Something had occurred, something here had stolen Katie from him and the perfect white beaches where they’d shared sharp smiles. Hal looked out over the dark grey water, knowing the white capped stretch hid greater expanses beneath. Next to him, Katie also watched the waves, her eyes fixed on whatever penetralia she’d found there.

Chilled fingers found his, clammy and slick. Hal shivered at her touch, and tried to draw her away from the water and back to the stinking shore. She did not move, and would not loose his hand. He pulled at her but the tide tugged back, sucking their feet into the sand as water churned about their legs, rising.

He opened his mouth for some purpose, a demand or curse, but her cold lips found his before words could form. Hal choked as she kissed him, brine rushing into his mouth as the tidewaters claimed them.

Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie provided the Wordle Prompt for this piece. 

Flash Fiction: The Crow’s Mile

Dusk always hits the crow’s mile hard. After the beagles hang up their truncheons and plod home, the stretch from station jail to hangman’s rope forgets the warnings of the day.  A hum builds first, the shuffle of workers off their shift, the yell of school boy, and clatter of late carriages. The decent folk make their escapes behind gate and wall, before, like specters, those that serve the night materialize from alley and dock.

They come and the mile unfurls. Sailor, guttersnipe, and bruiser, anyone with full pockets is welcome. Pub, den, and coffee houses light their windows, casting the cobblestones outside in squares of yellow.  Dollymops hang from the coffee houses singing bawdy choruses, unwashed sirens calling out to cross their threshold.

Brawls divide the night’s revelry into acts, small showings in the tap rooms and dance halls. They build inertia from drink and boast, until something breaks with fists and flying spittle. Such things are brief affairs, squabbles on clear seas.

There is still order in the mile. The barmen and dollymops know it because they see it, and newcomers learn or they don’t. A bad step on the crow’s mile in its golden night, means a long last walk in the pale sunlight the next morning.

It’s been awhile, but Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie gave me a chance to try out some Victorian slang with this Wordle Challenge.