Archive for fairytale

The First of Many Strange Days

Posted in Prose with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 5, 2018 by beautifulimposter

It had been a long, shitty, weird day and Abby was glad it was ending. The remnants of it flashed through her mind in flickering zoetrope flashes as she wrestled the last two heavy bags of trash along the narrow hallway from the café’s kitchen to the alley out back. She’d been seething when she’d left earlier, at Maggie for being her usual momma self and trying to fight Abby’s battles even if they weren’t worth fighting, at Jacob and his petty bullshit, but mostly at herself. In her head she’d been screaming vitriol, saying everything she knew she should have, just letting her anger and frustration loose, just once standing up for herself. In the end, that’s mostly what had her pissed off at Mags, not that she’d meddled, but that she was right, if she hadn’t Abby wouldn’t have herself. That, that was what hurt, that Abby betrayed herself at every turn.

She’d been so preoccupied berating herself and just cursing at life in general as she’d stormed down the crowded sidewalk, and that was when the first strange thing had happened. She bumped into some guy, a round shape in a rumpled grey raincoat, which in and of itself was an odd choice for the heat of the day. The face under the flat cap was ruddy, with a fat, bulbous tomato nose webbed over with veins, eyes already a bit cloudy, unfocused.

“Sorry miss, sorry” the round little man mumbled, pulling on the brim of his cap.

“Just fucking watch where you’re going!” The words snapped passed Abby’s lips before she could button them, stabbing into the continuing mumbled apologies. Passers by looked at her, just glances then back to whatever they had been preoccupied with, but still, Abby felt each set of eyes keenly and lowered her head to flee onward. Her eyes flashed down to the pavement, glimpsed the old man’s feet, then faced forward, then flashed back, needing confirmation. They’d been regular feet, in old boots or grubby shoes, they hadn’t been neat, flinty black hooves, no fucking way. He’d moved further on, the tide of the crowd hurrying him away, she lost sight of him in moments but still stood, the people drifting around her as she looked dumbly at where he’d been. She shook her head violently, generating more stares, then hurried on, thrusting the entire episode to the back of her mind.

It just kept up though, little things, all damn day. People at the bank, random passers by, just tiny flashes of oddness, a glimpse of purple, white and red skirts under the drab brown housecoat of an old lady on her stoop, as if beneath she was a Gypsy matron, the kind you might see in old movies. Or what she thought was a large, gleaming eye, acid green, luminous in the deep darkness of a storm drain, but that couldn’t have been. She definitely had trouble with the vivid, swirling cloud of moth wings fluttering about the head of a small girl being dragged along by her mother on some errand, a riot of shimmering color haloing her little blonde head as she pointed and gasped at everything she saw that caught her eye, squealing “mommy, want!!!” at street vendors’ wares and into shop windows. That one had taken a bit to shake off.

Even on shift, ensconced in the rock solid familiarity of the café, there were things wriggling at the edges of her sight, was that a tail peeping out, flicker twitching back and forth from under a table? Were the cat ears that girl and her friends sporting on their headbands? It was a trend, Abby was vaguely aware of that, but they didn’t look right, too far back and they looked so real…that was the first time that night Abby sent a tray of mugs crashing to the floor, trying to walk while staring back over her shoulder. That was just how the whole night went, mixed up orders, slopped coffee and tea scalding her hands, her thighs, bumping into things or worse, people. Any given night she’d usually end up with a headache just from the noise and frantic pace but tonight, with everything just going wrong and the insanity apparently come to claim her at last, her temples throbbed, each beat of her heart sent aching lumps of pain running across her temples. After they’d closed the door on the last customer it was all she could do to keep from crying. At least Jacob hadn’t been in tonight, whenever he was in the office during the day he never stayed for second shift, so she hadn’t had to deal with him or his staring or his fucking hands.

Max had been working the counter and it had been a long night for him too. He was a nice guy, but when it got busy like this and there were only two of you and one was not pulling her weight it could be hell. That was why, after cleaning up the main room, putting all the chairs on the tables, she’d let him duck out.

“You sure?” He looked incredulous, but was already reaching for his messenger bag when Abby told him to take off. He hesitated though, his hand almost seeming guilty of its eagerness. “There’s still the trash to be taken out and it’s really late, you don’t want help with it?”

“I do, but you’ve done your time Max, it’s good” Abby felt her head still throbbing, but it was a bit better now that the big overheads had been shut off, the neon signs no longer lurid and buzzing in the dark windows. She almost managed to make her grimace look like a weak smile. “It was a rough night and I didn’t make it any better for you, I’ve got it.”

“Thanks Abby, I owe you. We all have them you know, those days. I’ll cover for you a shift or something, kay.”

“I’ll hold you to it” this time she did smile and Max gave her shoulder a little squeeze.

“I’m good for it, promise” The words flew over his shoulder as Max walked out into the night, the front door closing heavy behind him. Abby had locked it up tight and went to finish, which was where she was now, lugging the last of the trash outside. She’d almost cursed Max for taking off when she saw that first shift hadn’t taken theirs out, but instead she just groaned and started hauling. This was the very last load and all Abby could see on the other side of the battered steel service entrance door was her bed. All she had to do was grab her bag and arm the alarm and then she would be free and she could put this absolute bitch of a day behind her.

Abby shouldered the heavy door open, shifting the bags awkwardly as she flicked her foot at the doorstop. It took her a couple of tries to get it down, propping the door open, the yellow light from the alleyway turning her skin the color of butter as she turned to toss the bulging sacks into the dumpster just to the left of the door. They weren’t supposed to keep it open, it locked every time it shut and they were just supposed to let it swing closed and use their keys to get back in, but Abby just wanted to be done and didn’t want to fuck with it. Here, out of even the weak ac, the night air was hot, sticky, clinging to her skin like oil. Abby paused, closed her eyes, took a deep breath in and wiped the back of her hand across her brow. The sound of rummaging from the dumpster across the alley behind her nearly made her jump out of her skin.

Very, very slowly, Abby turned around. There was an old street light over head, covered over with a warped tin hat that bathed the area immediately around the door in bright sodium yellow light but kept anything outside its radius bathed in shadow. Her eyes scanned the darkness but it just seemed too dense, it was like nothing at all existed beyond the border of illumination. Abby kept flicking her eyes back and forth, back and forth, animal quick, nervous, wary. It wasn’t a bad neighborhood, but it wasn’t great either and she was very, very aware suddenly of just how alone she was at two am in a dimly lit alley. She glanced over at the door, a portal back into a safe world when this one seemed so dangerous. She began to move towards it, trying to seem casual, not letting the urge to bolt to it take control. She cast one last glance towards the shadowy side of the alleyway and that’s when her heart froze, when what she was dreading most flickered ever so slightly into the rim of light, movement.

“Who’s there?!?” Even she could hear the edge of fear under her words and she winced, mentally kicking herself. What had she said anything? Why the fuck would she do that?!? Whoever it was might not have even known she was there. Well, they did now. There was another bit of rummaging, then a pause. Eyes straining, Abby caught the vague guess of a shape, something so much blacker than the darkness around it. It’s bulk was hunched over the edge of the dumpster as if whatever it was had been leaning down inside but now it straightened up. The shape was huge, bigger than anything had any right to be. It turned then, moving into the little circle of light slowly. Abby wished that it hadn’t.

Whatever it was was human shaped. The bulk of it though, it was like a big, lumpy slab of rock had decided it wanted to take a stroll. As it made its way slowly into sight she could see it was wearing a dark suit, the material of it worn, shabby and greasy, looking old fashioned, the cut of it almost antique. The menacing figure stopped just short of letting its face be seen clearly, a fact for which Abby thanked God over and over and over again but even the bit she could see was horrible. The skin was grey, dead, something that should be under the ground and buried. The head was round, massive, seeming to sit atop the table wide shoulders without any neck. It’s mouth was wide, lips two plump worms writhing together. The upper portion was shaded by a bowler hat, but the eyes still gleamed, reflecting the streetlight with chilly glittering. Abby could feel her scream clawing its way up from her belly, her throat aching with it.

“S’cuse me mum, dint mean ta startle ya” the voice was worse, the fact that it could speak was worse, so deep that it ran through her, turning Abby’s bowels to water. “I was wundrin’ if you might know the whereabouts of” here a massive, thick fingered hand fumbled in its coat pocket, retrieving a rumpled bit of paper “three oh four Cumberfield Row? Seems I’m a bit lost ya see.” It grinned and Abby might have thought it was trying to be friendly, reassuring, but the mouth it displayed ruined the attempt. If it had fangs, row after row of sharp shark teeth it would have been almost better. Instead, it had broad, flat teeth, gravestones in crooked lines, nothing that could tear or rend but would instead irresistibly grind, pulverizing anything caught between them.

Abby shook her head, backing into the brick wall, feeling the roughness of it beneath her sweating palms. It was real, but that meant that this was real too and oh God this can’t be real, it can’t, it can’t…she shook her head violently, in denial, shutting her eyes tight. That was when it hit here.

She want in the alley, she was underground, deep, deep underground in the lightless earth. She could feel it clotting in her mouth, her nostrils, thick with the scent of must and decay, feel it under her nails as she clawed at the thick clay. She couldn’t scream, couldn’t even breathe to scream, she was buried down with the worms and the dark, crawling things, they touched her, everywhere, here beneath the world, beneath mountains and oceans and all deep places, crushing, squeezing every last inch…

“Dint mean to scare you miss, be a right spot of trouble if I did so. Mebbe I should intr’duce m’self, I’m Mr. Cripple.”

Abby’s eyes slammed open and she drew in a long, ugly, ragged breath, the first it seemed in years and years and years. The alley swam back into view, the streetlight, the brick walls, and the nightmare. It was tipping its hat, why did that make it worse, why did it have to pretend to be human, the lie of it was what made it so much worse.

“Look what you’ve done now, mmmmmmmmmmade things so much worse than they had to be.” The new voice was soft, almost sweet, high, but strange still, sounding as if the speaker had trouble making the sounds properly. At the very corner of her eye Abby could see another shape, not as tall as the first. She didn’t want to look, didn’t want to take her eyes off the first thing in the dark, but her eyes turned traitor, looking over, needing to see. They regretted it rather quickly. If it had been any other place, any other time, it might have looked like an old lady, tall, thin, frail, in a long wool coat that was the color of fresh liver. It was old fashioned too, like something old English women in photos from the twenties might have worn. It even had a prim little hat perched atop its head. All the little touches like that just added to the absolute terror of everything. Whatever it was didn’t seem to move so much as glide, the body swaying with each step as if there were no bones beneath the skin, its face sagging like something wax left out in the hot sun, eye sockets deep and dark and black. Abby shrank back as this new thing approached, then turned and shied from the other, caught between.

“I’mmmmmmm Mizz Flay dear, and as my colleague said, we are a bit lost. We have an appointment we must mmmmmmmmmmm keep you sssssssssssee.” The words crawled up under Abby’s skin, like thin knives or scalpels. Whatever Mizz Flay truly was, it held its hands one over the other as it got nearer Abby, looking as though they were wearing ill fitting gloves of a pale color. Abby begged for them to be gloves. “We really mmmmmmmmmm shouldn’t be doing thisssssssss, but we’re in a bit of a mmmmmmmmmm bind.”

Abby still could feel her flesh crawling, as if it would escape, tear off her and run away on its own. She felt overcome, felt sickened, felt repulsed, but now not by this thing, but by herself. Her body disgusted her, it always had, it wasn’t really hear, it was an alien thing she was trapped inside, that she wanted to claw out of, she could see her fingers tearing at her flesh, ripping off her breasts, digging into her belly till she pulled out the wrongness inside of her…outside of her mind, Abby nearly swooned, staggering, could feel the sour taste of vomit dripping from her lips.

“Thissssssss mmmmmmmmm, is not going well” Mizz Flay retreated a bit and what passed for the real world slowly spun back into existence, at least a bit.

“You got a better idea then? Whole bloody world to work with, all the bloody streets lookin the bloody same, it’s a wonder anyone can find anyfink” Mr. Cripple rumbled from the near darkness, conjuring up new terrors of crushing and smashing.

“Look at their poor thing, she’s nearly mmmmmmmmmm frightened out of her ssssssssskin”

It was too much, too much, Abby was drowning, no, she was scrubbing off her ugly, ugly face with wire brushes, or standing on a platform, looking at an oncoming train and fighting the urge to jump in front of it…the thick, cloying night air trembled with her sobs, her eyes rolling back and forth, showing mostly whites, a tiny, panicked animal, so small, so fragile, hemmed in by fear, tears and snot and sweat gleaming on her face. The two things nattered back and forth amongst themselves, as each one spoke the waves broke over, drowning her slowly. The light inside her head flickered, guttering, the flame of her sanity was a breath away from being snuffed out.

Above, out of the purple grey night sky a familiar shape fluttered, landing upon the lamp above the door. A magpie, black coated and white collared alighted, wings ruffling along its back, head cocked as it glanced down, little black eyes sharp and bright. It was something real, something normal, an anchor Abby’s eyes and abused mind clung to like a spar on the ocean. It was a tiny piece of the everyday. Abby watched it, the movements of it, the way it shifted its tiny clawed feet, how it held its head, all somehow soothing. Until it spoke.

“Now then, now then, what’s all this then?”

It was too much. Abby stumbled, knees and palms scraping down onto the pavement as she struggled to right herself, the pain jarring, but it was what kept her moving, the reality of the sting. She knew, deep down she knew if she didn’t get away she would die, die screaming forever and ever and ever. She careened off the wall and into the diaphanous shape of Mizz Flay, just for a moment, the body beneath the clothing so repulsive soft. The fresh waves of self hatred, the urge toward the rending of her body nearly made Abby swoon but she held on, desperate. She ran then, out of the alleyway, down the street, not caring at all of the few glances from late night faces, all blurring in her speed. She ran until her legs shook, her breath fire in her lungs, until she thought her hammering heart had to burst from the strain, and then she ran some more. Her whole world became a tiny strip of concrete beneath her pounding feet, constantly shifting as she ran.

She didn’t think twice as she yanked open the outside door to her building, slamming it open loudly, didn’t think as her feet stumbled up the two flights, didn’t think how odd it was that she opened her apartment door without having to unlock it, her keys forgotten back at the café. She just slammed the door shut, putting her back to it, bracing her legs on the floor, shutting out the night and the monster’s she’d just discovered were in it. She stood, gulping down air, her shirt stuck to her in a clammy sheet, shaking, making gurgling sobbing noises in the dark.

“I’m very, very sorry you’ve had such a bad evening.”

Abby reacted, grabbing the heavy globe of blown glass she used to weight down her mail on the table beside the door, heaving it as hard and fast as she could in the direction of this new voice, this intruder into her home, her last safe place. In the dark silence she heard it caught, cat quick. Abby opened her eyes, looking towards the bookshelf where the voice had come from. The dim light spilling in from outside glinted frosty on the paperweight, held in a slender hand, the arm seeming to disappear in the shadows between the top of the case and the ceiling. Abby strained, seemed to pick out a shape, something perched atop the bookshelf that slowly, gracefully unfolded itself, stepping down onto the bare boards of the floor. Boots made a slight clunk as they hit. The shadow moved, slim, tall, stepping more into what light there was. The features were sharp, high cheekbones, narrow chin, dark hair falling in waves over either side, framing the face. Details flashed into Abby’s mind, prey instinct making her hyper aware. At least it looked more human.

“I do not tend to interfere in such fashion, but I do feel you are owed an explanation at the very least.” The voice was soft, not deep, but not high either, the tones even, the accent strange, unplaceable. Abby whimpered, eyes still wide, as whoever it was moved closer. “Please, try not to be afraid, I mean you absolutely no harm, I can assure you, although I know well how you might not believe me. Allow me to introduce myself, I am Lord Nevermore, The Beautiful Imposter.” The figure bowed low, formally, arms describing graceful arcs, one before its chest, the other behind its back. The figure straightened and as it did, Abby saw the eyes. Tigers eyes, irises swirling gold, brown, amber, ringing pupils of deep, deep black. She’d dreamed those eyes, felt them on her months ago on a very different night, looking startled, puzzled, but mostly alone, oh, so very alone. They glinted, looking at her, seeing her, seeing her completely and utterly, the hugeness of them was too much, far, far too much.

It was not a cinematic faint, no delicate crumple to the floor, no knees giving out to leave her a delicate puddle. Abby’s eyelids fluttered, what eye did show was pure white as she pitched forward, arms slightly back with the force of her plunge. If no one had been there, her head would have cracked and bounced of the hard floor, however, the dark intruder stepped forward, catching her neatly. Nevermore looked down at the unconscious girl in his arms and let out a long sigh.

“That…could have gone better.”

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What Happened Further

Posted in Prose with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 29, 2018 by beautifulimposter

Far above the grumbling of the traffic, the rising sun rose fat and butter yellow, pouring thick, golden syrup light past the broken stump grey teeth of the skyline. The sky was a deep blue, fading to paler and paler shades towards the line of the horizon, layers of gauzy mist boiling around the edges of sight. If one were to cast their eyes over the rooftops, in amongst the old cisterns squatting upon rickety legs, the forests of old antenna and satellite dishes whispering one to another, their eyes might alight upon a figure standing precariously upon the very edge of one of the buildings. Then again, one might not.

He looked a slash of night sliced neat and clean through the growing daylight, the tails of his coat ruffling only slightly in the feeble fingers of the breeze that even up so high wheezed and struggled to tug upon them. The Imposter squinted into the rising sun, eyes watching the milling crowds below, people and cars and busses traversing paths to and fro as if on rails or writing out in serpentine lines strange runes of daily ritual. This was not really his time, at least so he felt, there was no real restriction put upon him yet he always felt more acclimated to the between times, dawn, twilight, those moments that were not quite one thing or the other. His realm was the cracks between things.

He cast a glance down to his right hand, long fingers parted, the daylight streaming through them, creating an illusion of separate ribbons. They scissored closed suddenly, leaving the stranded beams hanging limp between, the color of fresh clover honey. As he gathered up his new prize the still, heavy air beside him resounded to the beating of wings, a familiar shape feathering the corner of his eye in ragged shadow.

“All is well I trust?” The Imposter turned, looking down at the crow settling his wings along his sleek back, ruffling them repeatedly till they rested to their owner’s satisfaction. “I must say, I thought you cut a fine figure, grey looks very good on you.” At this the crow tilted an ink drop eye, turned, ran his sharp beak down one glistening black feather until each strand was in place.

“Thank you sire” the beak moved and the words ran out of it smooth as silk. While some might know crows could talk, they might well expect it to be a rasping, coughing voice, hardly the deep, rolling Spanish accent that issued forth. It was fortunate then that foiling expectations just happened to be one of the small joys of the speaker. “Things do seem quiet for the time being, The Brethren have been bringing me report and not all have come in, but everything thus far has been in order.”

The Imposter spun, folding down cross-legged upon the ledge, running the strands of daylight through his fingers, parting them over and again until they became thinner, filigree that shimmered and glinted over the dark hollows of his palms. “What of the girl then?” His tone remainder casual, yet Skergaal knew his lord well and could sense the curiosity begging to be satisfied.

“I have had her watched for some time now, as you asked my lord. There appears to be nothing out of the ordinary, just a normal, mortal girl, perhaps twenty-six years of age, although I can’t swear to that. My people do try to be thorough, but I didn’t think it necessary to authorize breaking and entering to get more precise details.” The crow shuffled back and forth, a soldier making report, strutting a bit along the narrow stonework. “I don’t think she is anything to be concerned with, perhaps just a touch more perceptive than most, or perhaps just able to see by happenstance. It has happened before.”

The Imposter closed his eyes, letting his mind see clearly. There was not one thing he had seen that he could not remember clearly and in the soft shadows behind his lids a pair of eyes appeared, he could see the curve of them, the striations in the irises, all the subtle shades of blue rippling through, lines and coronas of color in vivid detail. “You keep saying thus my friend, yet I think there is more.” While it was a general rule that he could not be seen by mortals when he did not will it to be so, even those that could, lunatics, young children that life and passage of time had not yet beaten wonder out of, even…magicians, all felt different. No, this was something else, she had seen him clear and as himself, seen right into the bones of him and that was not right, was worrisome. “It May amount to nothing, as you say yet I feel there is somewhat to be watchful of, it is an anomaly, and I think should not be overlooked.”

Feathers ruffled softly “I think it unwise to concern yourself too much over the affairs of the mortals lord” Skergaal shifted his feet, both out of apprehension as well as the growing heat of the brick beneath them. “Even if this girl was possessed of any scrap or crumb of true power, what of it? Even the most mighty of them have proven at most minor inconveniences, and this one seems hardly that.”

“Yet you seem to be withholding your full counsel, why might that be I wonder?” The Imposter’s eyes flicked open, golden brown, piercing, deep as wells. In his lap his fingers still played with the threads, weaving, plating, nimble and dexterous. “Could it perhaps be that you fear my judgement could be faulty in the matter? Or perhaps you felt her gaze upon you today and have concerns of your own?” This last came with a Cheshire grin, thin lips turning up in amusement as the alert eyes caught the nervous shuffling.

“Do you spy on me now my lord?” Skergaal tilted his bullet head, one eye cocked to meet The Imposter’s formidable gaze, almost, but not quite yet as sharp. “I would hope that my loyalty was not so in question as to lead to such measures.”

“And I would hope you wouldn’t deflect the question with another, a rather obvious device, my most cunning of feather dusters” while The Imposter had no doubt that the affront was entirely feigned he added the gentle needling to put Skergaal more at his ease. “Come now, tell it true, what did you make of her?”

Skergaal fluttered his wings, turning his back upon Nevermore, head held up at a ‘well I never’ angle, then turning to look back. “As I said, she seems simple enough, perhaps a bit more put together than some of their young. A bit of a study in contradictions at times, although I must say that could go for the lot of them…and yet” here Skergaal trailed off, a pensive expression swirling in the depths of his eyes “…and yet, there was a moment, a brief sliver of time where I felt her gaze tugging at the edges of my seeming, little mice fingers trying to unknot the weaving of it. I can’t say for certain, but given time, she might have seen through.” The words seemed to come more and more reluctantly as if the sharp edged beak were trying to snap them to ribbons before they could find utterance.

“I see” The Imposter returned his eyes to his handiwork, now holding a delicate net, perhaps of veil of woven sunlight, little jewels of it forming the knots between the diamond panes. It sparked and winked, an utter impossibility of golden amber held betwixt his fingertips, giving the dark bronze of his skin an unearthly luster. With a suddenness he stood, unfolding and striding over the rooftop in one motion, slipping the wondrous trinket into one of his proverbially deep pockets.

“Master, what vexes you, why the alarm?” Skergaal burst into ungainly flight, the suddenness of Nevermore’s departure having him hop fluttering into the air, wings splashing in the thick air to keep up.

“No vexation, at least no great one.” The Imposter’s long legs took him swiftly onward, boots scrunching over the gravel upon the rooftop. “Your words have given me more to think on, yet at present there is not much to be done about the matter now.” As he moved, The Border gathered, bright new day faded to muted shades, replaced by twilight blues and purples, strange stars now pricking out of the sky. The building beneath his feet shifted, rose up taller of a sudden, became a steep peak as the church spire that had been just between this building and the next a hundred years ago became a slope his feet climbed effortlessly. “We have lingered long enough in The Real for now and if there are no pressing matters there, I am sure there will be in The Borderlands. Time waits for no one, the insufferable bastard.”

“Very well my lord” Skergaal found the match to The Imposter’s pace, wings beating more sedately as he followed along through the growing familiar strangeness all about them. Gothic brickwork became something more Art Deco, replaced then with peeling paint and rust grimed grillwork as The Imposter descended a fire escape that hadn’t existed for decades. Deeper and deeper the two wound their way into The Borderlands, both lost in silent thought, finding comfort in the weirdness as the bright world closed up behind them.

What Happened Next

Posted in Prose with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 18, 2018 by beautifulimposter

The antique brass bell above the door gave its familiar clank as Abby walked into the café, shutting out the heavy, humid day and trading it for the slightly cooler interior. The broad, arched windows still let in an abundance of the syrupy morning light but it took a moment for her eyes to adjust as she made her way to the bar, passing the scarred tabletops and the artfully battered chairs. Everything about the place shrieked of bohemian authenticity, the overstuffed leather chairs in the alcoves arranged around mismatched and much moisture ringed coffee tables, the walls decorated with advertisements for vermouth and absinthe that would have looked just at home on the walls of an establishment along the Seine. That was the thing though, Abby knew, it was artifice. She’d found out after she started that the place had only been a café for about seven years before she’d been hired so what she’d thought of as a cool neighborhood place that had slowly accreted furniture and patina of time was just an illusion. The owners had spent a ridiculous amount of money making their brand new establishment look just the right kind of art shabby. The bell above the door was a reclaimed piece some pickers had probably sold them for far more than they’d bought it for from some couple emptying out their parents’ attic or barn, clearing out the last bits of whatever it had been from before, a bookshop or the family hardware store. The bar was brought all the way from Italy, she knew that, Jacob was always going one about it, from an actual old café. It was beautiful, certainly, made from cherry with a creamy marble inlaid countertop and a brass rail all around, but it was still fake in its own way, a bit of history wedged into a space it didn’t belong to lend some kind of pedigree that hadn’t been earned. Abby often thought there was some kind of life metaphor in that somewhere, but it was going to take someone much deeper than her to figure it out.

“Hey Samuel, here for my check”

“Abigirl, here bright and early as always, when it’s payday” Samuel turned from the end of the bar near the espresso machine, giving her his big smile. It was like getting hugged, that smile, wide, warm, bright. Sam’s eyes danced with it too and no matter how shitty a day you could be having it would wash over you and take you in. “How’s life treating you girl, haven’t seen you in a bit now?” He worked mostly days and her mostly nights, so it was kind of rare that they’d see each other much, which Abby felt kind of sucked really. She needed more smiles like that.

“Like a redheaded stepchild” she gave Sam her customary smirk, giving her ginger curls a bit of a tousle, “ so, you know, the usual”

Sam walked down the bar to the register, grabbing up the stack of envelopes tucked into the nook beside it, flicking through them. “Well, can’t be that bad now, bit of money in your pocket, at least for right now” he smiled as he talked, his teeth gleaming out from dark lips hedged round with a neatly cropped beard streaked here and there with grey standing out from the black.

“Yeah, ‘right now’ is the operative there, I think the most I’ll see of my check will be from here to the bank” he found the right envelope with her name and address peeping out through the little plastic window, held it out for her.

“I know how it goes, from one hand to the other, quick as quick, been working man all my life, so it goes” he chuckled a bit, shook his head “no use cryin’ over it though, just life right.”

“That’s what they keep telling me” she took her check from him, folded it and jammed it into her jeans pocket, leaving half poking out. “Speaking of one hand to the other, how about a coffee?”

“Comin’ right up Miss Abigirl, fresh pot just dropped” Sam grinned again, turning to fill a mug. Normally, Abby would give a thousand yard death stare to anyone who called her ‘Abigirl’ but Samuel got a pass, just because when he said it it sounded right. You make concessions for your friends. He turned back, handed the steaming mug off, took her bills, made change.

“You working tonight?”

“Nope, whole day off, wonder of wonders, I have a few things I need to get done but I wanted to refuel”

“Have a good one then Abigirl, enjoy yourself” another brilliant smile washed over her, but the tide turned itself as more people started coming in. “Got to hop, don’t let yourself be a stranger now girl.”

Abby turned, walked past the suits and skirts, the morning business crowd filing in for their lattes and americanos. She snagged a seat in one of the overstuffed armchairs by the front windows, tucking her camera bag in between it and the little side table. She let her eyes and mind wander as she sat, legs tucked up under her, mug cradled in both hands, sipping at the steaming, rich, black coffee, rolling the bitterness around her mouth before swallowing. The café was filling up slowly but surely yet most of the tables were empty, a lot of to go orders flitting up to the counter then back out. Thoughts of odd bird behavior were already fading to the back of her mind, joining the forgotten dream of eyes, normalcy settling down to the usual humdrum of background chattering and the smells of espresso and steamed milk.

The bell gave a clonk and Abby glanced over to the door as a lean figure entered. A suit, but different, the cut better, the fabric a light grey, almost like a morning dove. Abby tended to notice the details, her mind framing the shot as if she was looking out from behind her camera. Short, jet black hair, neat, maybe graying at the temples a bit, swept back and gleaming; round, dark eyes that were framed with fine lines. She couldn’t for the life of her say why, but as the man walked past there was something, something just off in a way her brain couldn’t define. He placed his order with Sam then sat at one of the tables, pulling out a paper as he sat, one leg over the other. Abby checked herself, knew she was staring so turned her gaze to the dark mirror surface in her mug. The day’s sense of weirdness started tugging at the edges of her mind a bit, but she shrugged it off.

“Hey babe!” Out of nowhere arms grabbed Abby’s shoulders in a brief hug, followed by a flurry of short, bright blue hair past her eyes as Maggie sat down in the chair opposite hers. “Just can’t get enough of the place huh?” The big chair seemed to swallow Maggie whole, her rail thin frame scooting back into the deep seat.

“You know me Mags, glutton for punishment”

“Closet masochist, that’s what you are” Maggie settled into the chair, legs out, spread, taking up space. For someone about five foot nothing and ninety pounds soaking wet, Maggie just seemed to fill up everywhere she was. “It’s your fucking day off, what’re you doing here?”

“Paycheck, and a pit stop, needed to get gas” Abby held up her coffee as proof.

“Yeah, same here, was just stopping in for mine too when I saw you, thought I’d say hi” she leaned forward, fidgeted a bit, let her tongue wiggle the two rings through the corner of her lip. She was never still, just this tiny body of energy thrumming along at top speed. “Got plans? Nasrah and I were thinking of heading down to Market Square, doing a bit of grocery shopping, wanna come?”

“Got stuff to do Mags, run to the bank, get a few loads of laundry in, you know, fun day off type stuff.”

“You sounds like my mom”

“What’s wrong with that, I like your mom?”

“She’s fucking sixty, that’s what, Christ, I’m older than you and I’ve got more of a life.”

“I just like to have things done, I have a life every once in a while”

“Yeah, once in every too fucking long” Maggie sat back again, running her fingers through the blue wave of her hair. “It’s not like all that shit won’t be there tomorrow, so where’s the rush? Being all responsible is cool, but damn, have a bit of fun, go out, see stuff, get laid, something!”

“That’s the problem, it will be there tomorrow only more of it” Abby let Maggie’s rant roll over her, she’d heard it before and she knew Mags meant well. There was some truth to what she said too, but Abby ignored that bit as well. So she liked to get things done, it wasn’t like she was getting the early bird special and shuffling down to bingo. “Maybe I’d have more of a life if I wasn’t always the third wheel?” As Abby finished, Nasrah sat down beside Maggie, handing off one of the cups she’d carried over from the counter.

“The fuck’s that supposed to mean?” Maggie gave a lopsided grin at the dig, her eyes lighting up the way they always did whenever Nas was anywhere within twenty feet.

“I think Abby means she gets tired of us being all lovey dovey” Nasrah leaned forward, putting a delicate hand on Abby’s knee briefly, smiling her perfect smile. It was not hard at all to see why Maggie looked at her the way she did, she was beautiful to the point of it being offensive, long dark hair, big, deep, dark eyes, tall and sleek and perfect. Top that off with being sweet, genuine, and kind and it was no wonder at all.

“She’s just jealous is all” Maggie draped her arm over Nas’ shoulders as she sat back, leaning over to kiss her neck, knowing the pda would make Abby squirm, always teasing. If Abby was jealous of anything at all though it was that, the way they both could display such obvious affection so effortlessly. It was something Abby had never got the hang of.

“Maybe love, but I’ve been there and it can get old” Nasrah turned, gave Maggie a peck on the lips then turned back to Abby. “Did Mags invite you to go with us to the Market?”

“Yeah, but I was telling her I’ve got a lot to get done today, I really would come otherwise.” She meant it too, Maggie was her best friend and Nas was a very close second and she felt like it would be a good day to be around people. Maybe she could skip out on the chores a bit.

The scent of cherry lifesavers made Abby’s nostrils flare. “Sullivan, I need you to work tonight, four till close.” Jacob’s voice had Abby’s hands clenched around her mug, the heat of it burning her fingers. He loomed into view, chinos and polo shirt, the standard uniform. He stood in the space between the armchairs, arms crossed, glowering. “Had two people call in sick and there’s no one else.”

“Seriously Jacob, it’s my day off, you can’t find one other person?” Abby could feel herself shaking, the tears stinging the corners of her eyes more anger than anything else, but still maintaining control. “I bust my ass around here, pick up as many shifts as I can but I don’t want to live here, I’ve got stuff I need to do.”

“So get it done before four, I don’t know what to tell you, show up, or be looking for work tomorrow, got it.” His eyes were squinted, little icy chips in a stony face. “We all have shit to do, I’ve got ordering that needs getting out five minutes ago but you don’t hear me bitching. Just because you haven’t got your shit together doesn’t make it my problem.”

“Fine, just…fine, I’ll be here” Abby kept her voice even, her breathing controlled, gave a forced smile.

“Good.” With that, Jacob stormed off back to his office, leaving Abby with the strong urge to leap out of her seat, onto his back so she could gouge out his eyes. The impotent anger rolled through her like thunder, echoing around in her head.

“What a fucking prick!!!” Maggie went off into a tirade, but Abby was only half listening. She sat and seethed, her eyes wandering back over to the table with the grey suited man. He hadn’t moved much, just had his paper out in front of him, sipping a single espresso. Why did she always do that, why did she always just take it with a smile, fuck!!! As much as she may hate Jacob and his hands, his condescension, his vile, piggish attitude, she hated her cowardice so much more.

“Why do you take his shit?!?” Maggie wasn’t really looking for an answer and her expletive laden rant continued on unabated by Abby’s silence. As her mind turned over the encounter again and again, she still couldn’t help blankly staring. There was just something not right. He was just another business man, suit, tie, maybe a bit sharper than most. She looked at his face, his hands, trying to decide if his skin was more olive or light brown. This is not what you should be focused on she reprimanded herself, he’s just some guy, sitting there having coffee, reading the paper. Yet…at the edges of her mind it nagged, something fluttering, raising up the hairs on the back of her neck, like the feeling you get that there’s someone behind you when you enter a dark room even though there can’t possibly be…it was there, she just couldn’t put her finger on it, it kept squirming beneath her mind’s grasp. It was like, like, the shape wasn’t right, like there was a man shape but that wasn’t what was really there, almost like a double exposure but not…

“…he shouldn’t take it out on you, that’s just bullshit!” Abby snapped back to Maggie, words half heard rattling into place.

“Take what out on me?” She turned her eyes back to Maggie’s face, watching the outrage on her behalf change into something else. Maggie bit her lip, eyes flickering a bit nervously.

“I’m just saying, I mean, if he’s having a bad day or something.”

“That is so not what you meant.” Abby’s voice was cool “you know more than you’re saying Mags, so spill.”

Maggie glanced over to Nas, then back, looked down, clasp per her hands, rocked forward and back. “Look, I knew you weren’t going to say anything, so I gave Charlie a call.”

“What did you tell him?” Abby felt the anger shooting back up through her, shook with it, felt it burning in her throat.

“Just, you know, with Jake, always with the hands, giving you shit, I thought he should know. You don’t deserve any of the crap he gives you babe and I figured…”

“You figured I couldn’t take care of myself, that it?!?” The words snapped out from Abby’s lips. “So what, you thought Charlie would give him an ass chewing and it wouldn’t come back on me, like he wouldn’t figure I’d been the one to go running to Charlie?”

“I didn’t think…”

“No, you clearly fucking didn’t Mags, you just saw that I needed sticking up for, that I can’t deal, that I haven’t dealt with this shit all my life so you did what you do and mother henned me into a closer because that fucker has to spread his misery around.”

“She didn’t mean to do anything wrong Abby” Nas’ attempt to sooth, to calm, just made it worse, Abby knew, she knew she was taking it out on Maggie but it was too much, she felt hurt, betrayed, resented everyone always thinking they knew what was good for her. It was just too much. Abby stood up suddenly, sweeping up her camera bag.

“She never does, but it seems to just work out this way.” Both girls half rose, Maggie looking devastated, hands out to keep Abby from walking out. Abby slung her bag over one shoulder, held her hand palm down and out. “I’ve got to get going, I’ve got shit I need to do and it’s got to be done before four, talk to you later.” She stormed past Maggie and Nas’ protests, hit the door at stride and banged it open, making the bell above clang sharply. The traffic noises swallowed her up, but they couldn’t drown out the voices in her head as she fled.

Behind, in the café, a few moments later the man in the dove grey suit quietly folded his paper neatly, tucked it up under his arm, stood, brought his cup to the counter and walked with purpose to the door. He passed two young ladies, one consoling the other and walked out onto the street. He glanced about in either direction, his gaze sharp, questing, seeming to look through the jostling bodies swirling around him until it settled on a hint of red already a few blocks down. Turning, the man followed, melting into the stream of pedestrians. Very faintly, mixed in with the sounds of cars and the babble of voices, one could almost hear the beating of wings.

The Imposter Remembers

Posted in Prose with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 4, 2018 by beautifulimposter

The wind makes the tails of my coat snap, pennants whipping behind me. It moans, softly, but steady, a constant, drawn out exhalation, weary, grieved, the sound after the first sharpness of loss, when it’s become dull, familiar. The only other sound at all in the vast, flat emptiness is the hiss of dust, fine particles rubbing one over the other, small, but when multiplied by a billion billion times it becomes a delicate roaring, the terrible monotone of absolute desolation. The dust is red, fine as sand yet gritty and it stings my cheeks.

In every direction there is nothing, maybe the faintest trace of geography, the hint of a hill worn down, pressed into submission by Time’s heavy thumb, or the suggestion of a valley, but for the most part the land is a table beneath the perfect bowl of the sky. It is a nothingness made so much deeper when added to the knowledge of abscence, the ache of a festering within flesh that appears whole, the rememberence of a wound scabbed over, healed, but still present. There was something here once and it lingers in the hole it has left.

I know, right where I stand was a plaza, the architecture of it a wonder, stone and steel and living plants woven together, hung with lights, glistening with fountains that would lift up columns of air and water that caught the beams of lanterns and threw up jeweled fire into the night air. Beside me, a bench still holds the lover’s that sat, hands entwined in knotwork of love and flesh and bone, content to be each with each, watching the passers by but only with concern for one another. Children swirl around, have me spinning on my heels as they run, a school of bright fish flicking this way and that, laughing, mischievous, full of wonder and dreams and promise. I can look into a shopfront, see the makers at their trades, here haggling, there bent to their craft, one taking their meal with a spouse that brought it, another passing along the secrets held within a lifetime of callouses, failures, and successes. It was all here, and now it is gone. I see it still though, I must, there is not a thing I do not remember, not one since my eyes opened. Every single moment exists perfect and complete within my mind, drawing the was over the is, making a palimpsest, a double exposure that defines the emptiness and drags it across my memory like a razor.

I had no choice. If I had not acted, the one who came from Outside would have riven the entire universe, shaped it into what its vision thought it should be and all would have been undone, every life across billions of planets snuffed out. I tried to reason with it, tried words to steer it from its course but these failed. It was far too sure in its reason, built an impregnable fortress of certainty and righteousness. So I, being the guardian of The Real, sought to fight it. That, that was foolish. The power of it was vast and deep, so deep the well of it could crush you down just by the pressure of it being. Those inside do not change anything, not really. Magic, power, it can be used to make things happen, bound in patterns and spells, but reality itself remains the same as both hammer and nail remain fundamentally the same when applied one to the other. Their nature never changes. Those Outside though, with the power in them make things different, can simply make what is in their mind be and not only be but always have been, reweaving the threads of reality. It was a power I could not withstand.

We fought across the stars, across worlds, plunging through clouded nebulae, where it passed The Real screamed, tortured into new shapes, rent apart in ragged wounds I did my best to suture shut even as I fought back, striking with every charm or spell I could remember or devise, attempting to surround it with The Border as a body might do with a cyst, condoning off its infection, but it changed and shifted and slipped free. I know not how long we fought, time flowed in torrents, a gale of it whipping me, lashing and battering as I contended with The Outsider until at the last I was weary, wounded, a blackened rag flapping at its heels while it was undiminished, a titan that would pale Chronos, towering, invincible. It turned to me and in that moment, in its eyes I could see my undoing, but not just that, my cessation, the complete unwriting of me and everything that had ever been. I could see only one avenue, one small, desperate gleaming thread, so delicate that it might snap even by clinging to it. I knew what it would mean as it and I stood upon the curvature of the planet’s atmosphere, I knew the cost down to the penny, down to the last bright life just as I knew that if I did not act the price would rise too great to account for. In that last moment, as it turned to gloat in its triumph, I broke The Border.

The Unreal poured into The Real. The space around us boiled as nothing became something and then nothing again, endlessly, warping everything it touched, dissolving the rules, eating away at the is with the isn’t as a wave might eat a castle of sand upon the shore. It crashed into The Outsider and where it was became something else, twisting so rapidly even it could not hold onto itself and was undone. Alas, it did not stop there. The planet beneath us was tortured, racked by storms of madness, stone and seas and flesh melted, ran like wax, became something else but all of it, all of it dead. By the time I’d grasped the ragged seams of reality and knotted it back together all that remained was a planet shaped grave.

All of this I can see, as I stand on the planet’s surface, on what once had been stone, in the middle of what once had been a plaza in what once had been a living city, that had once been a part of a civilization that exists only in my memory of it. I come here every year to stand upon the red, red sands and remember them. They kept their history in one long song, each new thing, every discovery, every new event another verse. I learned it long, long ago and it still exists perfectly in my mind. So every year that has passed since then, millions of years before life would even be a contemplation for its nearest neighbor, I come, and I stand in the emptiness and let the wind bite at my coat and let the dried blood sting my cheeks and I sing. I sing the decades, the centuries, the rising and falling mingling with the dull ache of the moaning wind, I sing the life of a people that were beautiful and terrible as all other people save these where stalks mowed too soon leaving their field fallow and barren. Alone, I sing and remember, always, my purpose and my failure.

The Girl Waking Up

Posted in Prose with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 31, 2018 by beautifulimposter

The eyes looked at her, looked through her, seemed to see everything there was in her to see, stripped through layers of pretense, the little fictions everyone maintains to stay whole, to stay sane. Two eyes glimmering in the dark, deep, as deep as the night sky in the spaces between the stars, rings of amber and gold circling wells of black just staring, seeing, knowing. Then the waves of it, falling down and down into them, the gravity of them pulling, smothering, the terrifying feeling of being alone, suffocating in its pure emptiness, it was too much, too alien and all on its own, singular and empty, oh so empty, not even air, no air, no…

Abby gasped awake, lids slamming open, taking in air with deep gulps. A trembling hand pressed against her forehead, slick with a thin sheen of sweat, fingers pushing the few stands of her hair back and up as she rose up from the dream. The room was still dark, still coming into focus, but it wasn’t the full velvet dark of true night, it had silver about the edges of it hinting at morning. Her head turned, hand fumbling now for her phone, thumbing the home key, the thin white numbers declaring at to be a bit after six am.

“Fuck me” the words hissed out into the thick, muggy air of her dim room. She closed her eyes again and found the dark behind them mercifully empty. The eyes had disappeared once more. She had no idea why she dreamed them, why a dream of eyes was so very frightening, but it was and they were just the same. The room was hot as hell but her skin was nothing but goosebumps and she shivered. “Get it together” a deep breath, then another. Abby sat up, throwing her legs over the side of her bed, kicking free from the twisted sheet. Daylight filtered in from behind the curtains, outlining the familiar clutter of her room. The dream faded away, being forgotten with each breath.

Time to get up I guess she thought to herself, pushing away from the bed, stumbling through the blanket of clothes, feet shuffling, eyes in that half open not quite awake squint as she wandered into the bathroom. Flicking on the light, cursing it’s brightness Abby fumbled her way through the usual ritual. She swore again as she stepped into the shower, the water turned full cold to wash off the stickiness, settling into the cool relief of it after a while. She hummed a bit, the remains of the night swirling down the drain.

On to the kitchen/living room, pulling on the old Murmurs t-shirt that had used to be her big sister’s, the fabric dragging on her still damp skin. Standing in front of the sink, water filling up the carafe, looking out the window but not really seeing anything, the usual line of flat, grey buildings crawling beneath the sky. Once the coffee was on, the machine gurgling to itself in a warm, fragrant steam, Abby untwisted the plastic bag, pulling out an English muffin, carefully plunging a fork into the soft, squidgy sides of it, pulling it apart just so that it came away in two halves of jagged deliciousness. Toaster, butter, jam, mug of coffee, sit.

Abby scrunched herself up small on the kitchen chair, taking a big, ungainly bite out of her toasted muffin, fully awake now. The light grew brighter and whatever bad dreams she’d had melted. A bit of buttery jam dripped down her chin and she wiped it up into her mouth. This was always her best time, sitting alone, watching the morning growing, eating breakfast, the only sound the rattling clank of the nearly useless air conditioner wheezing from her bedroom window. She absent mindedly pushed around the ripped envelopes and scraps of paper on the battered tabletop. The sight of a bill nagged at her but she pushed the thought back. It was her day off and she just didn’t feel like dealing with it now. She would eventually, of course, just not now.

The appearance of the bird nearly gave her a heart attack. Wings battered the air outside the kitchen window, muffled by the glass but the flurry of movement and sudden sound was magnified by the silence. A black, bullet head above a white collar stared at her from the fire escape railing, cocked at a curious angle.

“What’re you looking at?” Her heart was still hammering as she got up and walked over to the counter for a closer look. The bird, a magpie she thought, just kept looking at her, it’s eyes two tiny drops of ink. “Enjoying the view?” Abby chuckled softly, shrugged, then went to get dressed. It wasn’t too unusual, birds gathered outside all the time, but mostly pigeons. She couldn’t shake the feeling that it was actually watching her either, but she shrugged the idea off. Just a dumb bird.

A few moments later and Abby was out the door, stuffing keys into her jeans pocket, grabbing her camera from the hook in the hall, hanging the strap around her neck. It was still early and there probably wouldn’t be that many people out and about which suited her just fine. Maybe she could get some nice shots in by the river, catch the light on the water just right. The outside air hit her cheeks, already warm, promising to be unbearable as the sun rose. She moved along quickly, eyes alert, the few vague people shapes catalogued in her head as she walked to the end of her street, took a left into the park. It was just early enough that the breeze was still able to rustle the leaves above, the sound of it so soothing. Why can’t it just always be like this Abby thought, just quite and soft. She never once looked up though, didn’t notice the narrow, sleek, dark shapes fluttering from branch to branch.

The water slipped by the low, grassy banks, it’s surface ribbons of current breaking up the sunlight. The big willow overhung the river, slender branches trailing in the flow of it. Abby squatted down, pulling the camera up, focusing it on the shifting patterns of light and dark. These were going to turn out well, she could feel it, almost see the images forming on the film as she clicked away. The second thunderous fluttering of the day had her stumbling back, landing on her ass.

“Jesus fucking christ, what is it with you today?!?” This time it was a large crow, his wings settling along his back like a schoolmasters hands. He cocked his head to one side, then the other, croaking softly. Abby gave a crooked grin, watching him hop-step in front of her. Without quite knowing why, she brought her camera to bear once more. “Want your picture taken, that it?” She clicked away, muttering under her breath, “that’s it, oh yeah, fierce, work it, oooooh, right there, a bit more pout, lemme see those bedroom eyes.” In spite of herself Abby laughed as the crow strutted back and forth, occasionally giving the thick grass a vicious pecking. “You know a pervy magpie by any chance?”

“Crawk!” It was almost, but not quite a response. A strange feeling prickled at the base of Abby’s neck, the fine hairs standing up. “What’s got into these fucking birds today?” She stood, taking a step back. Whatever peace she’d felt, the satisfaction of doing a thing she loved, how she saw the world through the camera lense fled. “Seriously, go fuck yourself Mr. Crow” Brow crinkled, Abby turned away, walking back the way she’d come. She’d need to stop by work, get her check, then the bank. Her mind wandered back on to normal thoughts, trying to push away the sudden oddness. Were there really more birds than usual? No, just her vicious mind toying with he again. “Get a fucking grip”

Abby left the park, her feet finding the familiar grooves, the growing sounds of cars and people washing over her, walking off the unease behind her. Just another day, one more in a long line of them, same as before, same as the next. She let out a sigh and went over her list, the things that needed done. As she let herself get carried out into the city, Abby didn’t once look up, didn’t see the flock of crows and magpies trailing behind her like autumn leaves, didn’t feel the eyes on her, black ringed with amber gold watching from their perch upon the blank streetlight as she passed beneath. They followed her until she walked out of sight, another girl fading into the crowd.

The Imposter Has Coffee

Posted in Prose with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 27, 2018 by beautifulimposter

The breeze winds it’s way through the canals, cool, but not unpleasantly so. Early morning light washes over cobbles, not entirely succeeding in banishing lingering bits of the night still hiding in the cracks and under windowsills. The table I occupy sits just out front of a small cafe, mostly empty but filling up slowly with somewhat harried and bleary eyed people in smart suits and skirts. The waiter brings me my espresso, leaving it on the wrought iron tabletop, a vaguely baffled expression clouding his features as he struggles with the conundrum of why he’s serving no one. I don’t need to eat or drink but sometimes the mood strikes me and when I do so I always pay and tip well as I appreciate the effort it takes most to accommodate me. I appreciate good service.

I take a sip, roll the rich, dark coffee over my tongue. Say what you want about humans, they have found several excellent indulgences. I place the cup back upon it’s saucer, pull out a slim silver case and remove a cigarette. I inhale deeply, expelling a plume of blue-grey smoke, twisting it into strange shapes, tableaus of writhing forms that twist and dance around my head, amusing myself as I wait. Then, of a sudden, there is the delicate thunder of wings.

“Of all the habits you could pick up m’lord, must it have been one so noxious?” The chair beside me scrapes over stone and Skergaal sits, dressed today in seeming flesh and a rather sharp suit. Armani I think. “I don’t think I’ll ever understand your amusements sire.”

“Always so formal.” A slight smile crosses my lips. “Have a cup of coffee and enjoy yourself a little, it won’t hurt.” I wave at the waiter. He has no idea why his attention is diverted from walking back into the cafe but he sleepwalks over.

“A cappuccino, please” Skergaal turns his bird bright eyes to me, out of place in the narrow, predatory face. One myth is absolutely true, no one can ever hide the truth in their eyes, no matter how cunning a master of form. The waiter ambles off again, shaking his head to clear it. “After our last conversation my position seemed to be made very clear m’lord.” The tone is even, only knowing him so well can I detect the hint of reproach, the hurt. I wince a little, take a deep drag.

“I am sorry old friend, I was out of sorts already and I lost my composure. You know I value your council, cunning, and wisdom very much.” He preens just a bit, tugging on the cuffs of his shirt. “Our relationship is always a bit fraught, I being who I am but you are the closest thing I have to a true friend Skergaal, and that does mean a great deal.”

“I understand master.” There’s a look that wanders over his face for a moment then flees, perhaps sympathy, perhaps pity, but any such overt emotion is quickly replaced with the usual sternness. “I do try my best to advise, but in familiarity bounds can be overstepped.”

“Sometimes they should be. What worth is an advisor if he cannot speak the truth, even to ears that might not take pleasure in it?”

“Yes, well, the matter seems to have cleared itself up. There’s been no sign of The Outsider and his companions, the magician (this with not even remotely concealed contempt) and the warrior woman have been relatively quiet. I still think you should have been more direct.” As he speaks, the waiter brings Skergaal’s coffee, setting it down, sweat beading on his brow. Ignoring me is one thing, but Skergaal is something else. As he’d never stoop to actually transforming into a human, he simply clothes himself in a semblance of one. This means that ostensibly there is a well dressed man sitting at a table of a cafe while at the same time, inside, is a large, rather intimidating crow. Mortal minds are very, very good at convincing themselves that what they see isn’t, but limits can be tested. The look of relief on the waiters face is nearly pathetically comical.

“Anyway, to business. The Border has been relatively quiet for a while, so there’s something.”

“It is nice when things go as expected” I settle back into my chair, cup in one hand, cigarette in the other. “What if the new arrival?”

“The dragon has been settling in nicely, an absolute terror to the lands about. Several very brave but I am afraid terminally stupid knights have already met their end. The damsel it’s taken doesn’t seem to be minding her new circumstances much, in fact, I’ve report they’ve become rather good friends. Somewhat bucking tradition, but of no real concern.” Skergaal takes a slow sip, movements neat, precise.

“That’s good, and I’m not at all surprised, the beast seemed to have a deep affection for girls.”

“Other than that most recent little event, all else seems unusually stable.”

“Don’t sound so disappointed, it could be considerably more exciting”

“I know master, yet I feel this is but a prelude, I’ve a sense of storm shivering through me.”

“As is usual my friend, when does it not?” I notice some pinwheeling above, set aside my coffee, dip my hand into my pockets and scatter a fistful of seed. The air fills with green purple iridescence and liquid burbling as the pigeons settle.

“Bah, look at them, smug bastards” Skergaal bridles a bit, putting up a wall of scandalized affront. “They think they own the world, strutting about, believing themselves so clever just because the mortals stuff them silly. Gone to fat is what they’ve done, not a trace of The Navigators. Puffed out chest, putting on airs of civilization when they’re little better than flying vermin now.”

“Your people have been known to haunt the footsteps of armies in anticipation of feast, one might not put on so many airs.” I chuckle, knowing this will sting his pride a bit. “Harbingers of woe and wrack as they say old crow”

“Humph, waste not want not, they’re always going to slaughter themselves, I don’t see why good meat should go left to rot.” He glances over again, sharp eyes probing. “You know well their capacity for death, and it isn’t always influenced by the others, oft it’s their own hands turned to it.”

“I know.” There’s a new melancholy unlooked for.

“I worry for you at times Nevermore, your love for these mortals in particular, among all of your charges. The fascination may grow unhealthy.” I cast my gaze about us, watching the city springing to life, the faces of it milling about much the same as the birds at our feet. “They’ll break your heart master.”

“I know” the sigh wells up from somewhere deep, deep within the heart of me, of what I am, of memory and more than memory, what was an what is. “They always do.”

There is a long silence filled with city noise, cars, scooters, the white noise babble of voices punctuated here and there by rising shouts or exclamations. The morning is turning fine, the sky above glimpsed through a maze of ancient rooftops is robin’s egg blue. We sit, two of the strangest strangers, in an island admits so much burgeoning life. We both sip our drinks.

“Excellent coffee” Skergaal breaks silence first.

“Yes, some of the best I’ve found.”

“How are the pastries here?” I reach for another cigarette.

“Decadent, rich, and sinful” Skergaal perks up at that, settling back into his chair.

“Best call the waiter back then, I could murder one” we both have a chuckle at that. “Oh, pass one of those along, I’m gasping for it.” I pull a cigarette from my case, light it as he takes it from me and holds it to his lips, inhaling deeply. We both sit back, smoking, drinking coffee, surrounded by a cloud of smoke and disbelief. “Damn fine day master.”

“I think so too my friend, indeed, very fine.”

The Romantic Imposter

Posted in Prose with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 26, 2018 by beautifulimposter

It is a fine evening, the sun making its way lazily through the deepening blue sky, gently kissing the line of the horizon. There’s some respite from the heat of the day but still, there is a haze in the air, a faint mist clinging to any bare skin. The air seems perfumed, like someone has just split open a ripe tangerine, a thick, sweet scent of flowers mingling with the usual aromas of cars and pavements and people. Yes, it is a fine evening indeed.

“I love you” the words are a sigh, the exhaling of a breath, quite, meant only for the ears of the loved. I brush past the couple, two women holding hands, one’s head resting lightly on the others shoulder as they stroll. I’m quite sure that neither would have noticed me even if I was apparent, even if I’d bowled clean into them. At best I would have been a momentary impediment to their closeness. I can see the threads, red as red as red winding between fingers, knotted and plaited in their hair, tied to lips and tongues and lashes. Not my work, no, the province of another, but I can appreciate the craftsmanship, the complexities of each tied to each, a web of words and touches.

I still along as I am wont to do, letting my eyes wander, following the strands. It seems a night for lovers, the streets cross crossed with fine weavings. A young lad stumbles, a girl laughs and just then a streak of crimson runs from her mouth to his heart. It may amount to nothing at all or it may give birth to a tapestry, but it is a beginning, a hint, a promising of expectation. Not all such seeds bear fruit, but I find the potential pregnant within them intoxicating. If nothing else after all, I am made of nothing but possible so it is my nature. I like to think I could have been a romantic.

Further on an old man is winding up the awning over his shop. His skin is pricked all over with threads, an explosion of crimson webbing him to his store, to the windows above it, to the stoop, the bustop down the way, if you follow them all they’ll touch upon the whole neighborhood in some fashion. The Legion Hall where they’d first danced, the old bench down by the park where they’d sat and held hands, fingers laced together like piano keys side by each. There’s one that flies over to ‘Nam where her letters had kept him less broken than some. One hanging above a mantle somewhere where she’d fought for them both, getting disowned in the process. All the places he and her had touched together, even the bare room where she became nothing more than a shape barely described beneath the sheets, her hand eggshell in his. Fifty six years of thread followed him as he shut up shop, thrumming beneath his skin, telegraph talking of the good and the bad and the inbetween. I can’t help but read it all, feeling a bit of the voyeur, but it makes me smile as I move through the growing evening.

It’s all beautiful in some way, I can’t help but feel it, even I, perpetually and very necessarily alone. Here and there I sneak a few stands into my pockets, they won’t be missed and are quite useful. My footsteps become a waltz, slowly turn and turn about, moved by such aching, beautiful love, all the strands of it being played by the gentle summer breeze. I sigh as well, soft and low, mingling with all the others.