love, men, mother, short fiction, women

A Mother Has All The Weapons She Needs

His father gave a rattling, final breath. Magnus reached out and drew down his father’s eyelids with a precise brush of his fingertips. He turned and looked at his younger brother, Peter who came over and put his hand on his brother’s shoulder. Magnus hid the flinch which came to him and ran his tongue over his lips.

 

‘I do not want the crown, Peter.’ he said.

 

Peter sighed and clasped his brother in his arms and wept with joy. Magnus accepted the gesture, looking past him to where his brother’s wife stood, false tears brimming in the corners of her narrow eyes. The kingdom would survive her, he thought and Peter was well-intended if effete. A harmless king was better than a cruel one, he decided. A cold wind blew the curtains, and Magnus held back the shudder which ran through him.

 

Magnus left the castle after watching his brother take the throne, with letters to prove his identity with enough gold to buy lands and cattle. He sought to live out his days in peace/

 

His brother had other ideas.

 

2.

 

Peter gnawed on a turkey leg as he looked across his council of advisors. Katharine sat to his left, looked to her father and smiled at him, which was his cue to speak. Robert cleared his throat and looked at Peter.

 

‘Your highness, we should discuss the matter of your brother.’ he said.

 

Robert was a good father, and he listened to his daughter. He spoke her words with practiced care as Peter looked at him with a cautious glint in his eyes.

 

‘Magnus lives in the forest somewhere reading philosophy to pigs. He’s no threat.’ he said.

 

Katharine raised an eyebrow and Robert continued.

 

‘Aye, your highness, but even in his exile, he has his champions.’ he said.

 

Peter picked up a goblet and washed the meat down with a mouthful of sour wine as he shrugged his shoulders.

 

‘He’s no interest in the throne. He swore a vow before my father was cold.’ he said.

 

Robert looked to his daughter for guidance. She slipped her hand on his forearm and leaned into his space, gave a smile like a knife being dragged across a windpipe.

 

‘My father has your interests at heart, your highness. The people speak of Magnus with fondness.’ she said.

 

Peter turned his head and grimaced at his wife.

 

‘He doesn’t have to breathe their shit in as I do.’ he said.

 

Katharine smiled and kissed her husband on the cheek.

 

‘No, and his legend grows with each year which passes. Some say you forced him from the throne.’

 

He guffawed and a spray of saliva, flecked with shreds of meat flew from his mouth as Robert sat back in his chair.

 

‘He begged me to take it. Magnus knew what awaited him, and he gave it instead. Clever bastard.’ he said.

 

Katharine glanced at her husband with a quiet, pinched frustration which he ignored with a turn of his head. Robert cleared his throat.

 

‘Your highness, perhaps you could ask his intentions. I have men at your disposal.’ he said.

 

Katharine put her hand on her husband’s forearm.

 

‘You will not rest until you know, my king.’ she said.

 

Her voice was a gentle command as she leaned forwards and pressed against his upper arm. She caught his scent and grimaced.

 

‘See to his health.’ he said.

 

Robert had sent out his men before sunset. A map had been drawn for them, and were acting upon the orders of her queen herself who had addressed them in the stables, wrapped in a black coat with a goblet of wine in her hands.

 

‘Your highness.’ Robert said.

 

3.

 

Magnus walked in from the dark with an armful of logs. Ibb stirred the pot with a wooden spoon as she blew a lock of hair out of her eyes. He smiled and set them down by the fire, before he came and put his arms around her, splayed his fingers over the round curve of her stomach.

 

‘You can’t keep your hands off my belly, Magnus. Should I be jealous?’ she said.

 

Her smile was impish and wild. Magnus rubbed his bearded cheek against her face and chuckled. She turned and kissed him on the cheek before she pushed him away and continued to stir the stew she was cooking. He sat down and poured himself a cup of beer as he watched her prepare their meal.

 

Magnus could afford servants but Ibb refused his money, but had asked for his attention and strength. A simple trade of services and goods which grew into something deeper. It had taken him by surprise, how she had shown no deference to him until beyond his understanding, she had taken him into her bed, and then, by her own admission, her heart.  She questioned why this did not shock him and instead, he pulled her close and pressed his face into her neck and inhaled her skin.

 

It was his answer, a good one, she told herself.

 

Magnus heard the clatter of hooves and got to his feet, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand as Ibb turned around. Her left hand went to her stomach and Magnus smiled at her.

 

‘Finish the cooking, I’ll see who this is.’ he said.

 

.She thought about Magnus and a warm burst of feeling overwhelmed her as she stirred the stew, thinking about feeding her man.

 

4.

 

Magnus looked at the four men on horseback and narrowed his eyes. He saw one man reach for something on his hip and he darted backwards, opened his mouth to warn Ibb. The stone, plucked from the quarry outside Garden’s Hill, slammed into Magnus’s forehead and cracked his skull. He fell away with a shudder, eyes rolled back in his head as blood gushed from his nostrils as he collapsed inside the doorway.

 

The last thing he heard was Ibb calling his name.

 

5.

 

One man drew his sword, a short, pitted piece of pig iron with years of use scarred into its surface as he looked at Ibb and sneered. Ibb stood there, legs apart as she glared at the soldier with cold, hard eyes before picking up the hatchet which sat by the fireplace. He laughed, a short mocking bark which betrayed a measure of caution as he called to the others.

 

She stepped forwards, flung the hatchet overhand and it thumped into his forehead with a dull, damp slap. Ibb took the sword from his hands and shoved him aside. She did not look at Magnus on the way past. She gripped the sword and turned it over in her hands as she charged out of the door. Her stomach ached, but she felt detached from herself as she stabbed the first man in the throat, tugging the blade to the right and bringing his windpipe with it in a moist knot of cartilage and blood. She stabbed upwards on the second blow, punching the sword through the other man’s jaw and then kicking him in the crotch as he fell down with the sword embedded in his jaw.

 

Ibb wrapped one arm around her stomach as she squatted to one side and rested her hand on the hilt of the sword.

 

‘If I pull the blade, you’ll bleed out. Tap once for yes, twice for no. Understand?’ she said.

 

His eyes bulged in their sockets and Ibb tapped the hilt with her index finger, which made him whimper. He tapped once and she sighed as she got to her feet. Ibb knew she was close to having this baby, and she considered how Magnus was not there to share it with her. Her eyes misted over with tears.

 

‘Did you come here on purpose?’

 

He tapped once.

 

She learned what he knew. When she was done, she twisted the blade and pulled it free as the soldier bled to death at her feet. Night had fallen and she looked at the surrounding bodies, including Magnus slumped in the doorway. A shadow had fallen across his broken face, which she took to be a small mercy from the gods as she staggered back into the house.

 

Ibb needed to keep her strength up.

 

6.

 

She sold the cattle for a good price, took the money and disappeared. Magnus had fallen ill, she told people, too quick to be saved. Ibb told people it was something which ran in his family. She was going north, back to her people to have the baby there. People wished her well, but exchanged relieved looks when she was gone. She was a good woman, but something about her frightened them and her departure was cause for relief in the village.

 

7.

 

Robert wiped his forehead with a handkerchief as he watched the hounds leap through the grass. He took up a horn and gestured to a servant who walked up and poured wine into it before stepping backwards with a bow. He took a long draught and wiped his lips with his fingers before he looked through the trees.

 

Robert wanted to kill something beautiful. He imagined it was his daughter, which was something he kept to himself, but as she grew more demanding, his imagination warped and grew fat on his resentment. He picked up the reins and ushered his horse forwards.

 

Something stabbed into his neck and he winced. He brought his hand up as he struggled to swallow. Robert gasped as he stared into the woods, saw someone detach themselves from a copse of bushes as his limbs spasmed out of control. Robert’s tongue swelled up and slipped to the back of his throat as he fell out of the saddle. He died on his back, looking up at the sky and wondering what had happened.

 

8.

Katharine wept as they carried her father’s coffin into the depths of the family tomb. She had needed his counsel, not for herself but for Peter. He had become insensible with drink and even ignored her complete refusal to allow him to return to the marital bed since Ethelred had been born. She still needed a poultice between her thighs each night and his distaste for the realities of women had him fleeing to his whores. Her blessing followed him.

 

They had been so close to victory. She had replaced the commanders and the courtiers with those loyal to her plans. An expansion of territory which would see the kingdom grow into a new era of prosperity. Peter had been useful but soon his madness would outweigh his use as an excuse for her authority. She wept with frustration, not grief but few would ask what brought a woman to tears, let alone a queen.

 

She returned to her chambers, Peter had gone to his whores and she stood before Ethelred’s basket, watched him and summoned the feeling of love she was supposed to experience. He was so wizened and soft, like a plucked chicken or a piglet and she wondered what it would be like to slip a knife into his stomach. It had cost her to bear him, and for what?

 

A son was a legacy, she told herself. His utility to her was affection, so she decided not to harm him. Instead, she reached out and pinched the inside of his thigh between her nails before she picked him up and soothed his febrile, hot cries of alarm and pain. Katharine wished her husband was so easy to control.

 

9.

 

He laid on the cushions as she crawled across the bed towards him. He gestured for her to take off her veil but she shook her head.

 

‘I am not worthy to be looked upon, your highness.’ she said.

Peter narrowed his eyes. It was not Petal serving him tonight, and he was sure it was her turn to provide him with his small measure of comfort. Funerals made him drink, and drinking made him want to fuck someone. He knew his erection was inconstant and unreliable so he ushered her over with a sigh.

 

He felt the blade slide between his ribs and gasped with surprise. Her breath was warm and sweet against his cheek.

 

‘He was your brother.’ she said.

 

Peter turned his head and saw she had kept the veil in place.

 

‘Was?’ he said.

 

She drew back and twisted the blade, opening the wound further as she tugged it free and stuck the blade into the side of his throat underneath the windpipe.

 

‘As girls, they told us the best time to best a man was when his sword was sheathed but his dagger was out.’ she said.

 

Peter clutched at his throat, blood spurting through his fingers as his mouth hung open, tongue protruding as he gave rattling, sodden cries through his ruined throat.

 

She stood up and opened the window, tossed out the length of knotted rope she had left in the chamber and tied one end to the bed which Peter bled onto. Ibb turned and looked at him.

 

‘He never told me about you. I found out, was ready to walk away for the lie but he told me you had honoured his wishes and he was just a man again.’ she said.

 

Ibb tore the veil from her face and glared at the pallid corpse on the bed.

 

‘Now, your highness, you will honour mine.’ she said.

 

She climbed out, quiet as a whisper and was on her way to the palace before the guards came in and the whorehouse erupted into a vicious tornado of panic.

 

10.

 

Katharine awoke to a small hand clamped over her mouth.

 

‘Don’t raise your voice.’

 

Katharine swivelled her eyes in the darkness. She feared for her son, but the voice, low and female, chuckled.

 

‘I’ve no desire to hurt the child. It’s your job, isn’t it?’ she said.

 

Katharine pushed against the hand but she took a hard blow to the temple which made her collapse back against the furs. She thought about biting her but a blade came to rest against the side of her throat. She froze in place, wondering if she could fight her way free.

 

‘I see you’ve got poultices on. Hard birth, was it?’ she said.

 

Katharine nodded as much as the blade would allow. The woman sighed.

 

‘My boy came out like shelling peas. He was a pleasure I would’ve shared with Magnus.’ she said.

 

‘He was supposed to be there with me. The first man I’d wanted a child with, and you had him taken from me.’ she said.

 

Katharine swallowed and waited for her to continue.

 

‘My son didn’t last a night. You took them from me, your highness. You‘re going to tell me why.’ she said.

 

Katharine exhaled as the woman’s hand came away.

 

‘Your brother was a threat to the king’ she said.

 

Katharine could not make out the details of the woman’s face, but she caught the shape of a grimace as she shook her head.

 

‘No, he was a threat to you. Magnus was a good man, he took care of me, and he had no interest in ruling over anyone but himself.’ she said.

 

Her fingers bit into Katharine’s jaw and the pain compelled her into stillness.

 

‘Your man was weak, so you played at being the man you needed. A weak, broken version of one, like your father was. Did you try to win my Magnus?’ she said.

 

Katharine’s heart raced in her chest as her stomach cramped with discomfort. She twisted away but the woman’s fingers squeezed her into holding still.

 

‘You sorry, empty coward.’ she said.

 

Katharine stared at the woman, her eyes adjusted to the gloom. There were soldiers outside, but they were too far to reach her.

 

‘I did what I thought was right.’ she said.

 

Katharine’s last thought was to deny the woman her suffering. She had learned how to deal with pain when she carried her son and with Peter dead, she would be a figurehead, nothing more. The woman stood back, sheathed her knife and raised her hands.

 

‘And where has it gotten you?’ she said.

 

Katharine tried to sit up but the woman’s hands were quick, and two sharp punches sent her into a pitching, total blackness studded with flashes of acute agony.

 

11

 

The last command she gave was to find her son. Diplomatic efforts were made to her neighbours but without her husband, and beset by rumours of her plans to wage war on them, made them unsympathetic to her grief. Kings died like flies. Mirabelle had sent a note of condolence but said a determined mother had all the weapons she needed to achieve her aims which Katherine took as a covert rejection and a mocking note.

 

She moved to the North Tower, attended to by a few servants as she sat each day, blank and mute, as the council of advisors took over the kingdom in her name. Ethelred would have been nine years old, and she walked over to the balcony and looked down at the courtyard. Its distance looked inviting and when she stood on the ledge, the wind buffeted her and she let it take her over.

 

There was a moment’s relief before the earth broke her in two. Her mind had been taken from her nine years ago and it was returned to her as her bones shattered and organs burst inside her.

 

12.

 

Ibb walked over to the bank of the river. She watched him bait the hook with a lump of raw beef, his tongue protruding from the corner of his mouth as he stared at it, fingers moving with a glacial care. She watched him in an appreciative silence.

 

He lowered the rod and smiled at her.

 

‘I will catch us a Heaper, you’ll see.’ he said.

 

Ibb grinned and walked over, ruffled his dark hair and kissed him on the crown of his head.

;You will, my son, you will.’ she said.

 

He stood up, cast the hook into the water and watched it with a grim determination. Nine years old, and he could hunt and dress a deer, wield a knife and walk in silence. Ibb was a good teacher, but she missed having a man to guide him into manhood. She feared becoming like his mother, seeing him for what he could do for her over guiding him into maturity. Such fears made her eyes water, but they passed and as the afternoon sun hung high overhead, Ibb watched her son provide for them both with so much love in her heart she thought it might burst.

 

Advertisements
Standard
love, short fiction

A Whole Step Down From The Side

Paul took over on bass with my band, The Spooky Electric, after Lenny, our original bass player developed ALS and retired before the worst of it kicked in and killed him.

 

El recommended him said they had played together a few years ago, jazz and hip hop but El shared old files and we saw the guy could play. It came down to the simple matter of we liked El, and if El vouched for someone, it was worth a go. He had been the most recent member of the band, stepping in when Lewis got religion and went out to the desert.

 

Paul shook hands with everyone, set up with his own bass, tuned down a whole step, and with his own rig. Jenny peeked over and raised an eyebrow.

 

‘You’ve got Lenny’s set up?’ she said.

 

He scratched his beard and gave a short nod.

 

Jenny switched on the Moog. She smiled with curiosity, her glasses perched on the end of her nose as she ran her fingers over the keys.

 

El counted us in and we jammed through Sense Of Place before it became clear to everyone Paul was a natural fit for the band. Jenny never took her eyes off him. He had a telepathic connection with El which was tighter than anything Lenny could manage, even before the ALS kicked in.

 

I had questioned carrying on but there were people depending on us. We had good years, and Paul was coming out on tour to support a greatest hits compilation which took us out of our contract with Empire Records and covered Lenny’s medical bills until he died.

 

‘What do you think?’ Jenny said.

 

I took my guitar off and passed it to my tech. I looked past her and saw Paul stood with El, comparing notes and pantomiming variations they could work on.

 

I was thinking about calling time on the whole thing. My songs sounded like cover versions or parodies of earlier work, and I was faking the joy I took for granted.

 

Yet it was still my band, at heart, and Paul fitted in too well to make me comfortable with him. He was in, but I would watch him.

 

‘He’ll do for now.’ I said.

 

Jenny and I had split up five years ago. It was all amicable, but I still hoped nostalgia would bring her back and it was a test of my capacity for romance I kept my priapic reputation up as a matter of habit and reputation over any real need. The curious glances between her and Paul stung me but I couldn’t justify it to the rest of the band if we had gone with anyone else.

 

Hindsight has such awful clarity to it.

 

2.

 

He stood to El’s right, and he looked at Jenny as he played. She doesn’t miss a note but there was a focus to her playing which ramps everyone up. It’s a balancing act, between meeting commercial considerations and wanting to develop as artists. Jenny played more blues and jazz, and she would hide herself away to write songs for herself. I had one roady keep an eye on Paul but he was smart, hung out with El and the technical crew but I was sure he was sneaking time with her.

 

The paranoia fed on me, made hollow reeds of my bones as I pushed myself onstage, each night, throwing myself into the adoration of strangers rather than tell the people I loved how frightened I was, how I wanted to stop being the performer but I wasn’t sure I could live without it.

 

Paul worked with me when I played solos, pedalling notes to make my runs down the fretboard sound more dynamic and less technical. He turned down solos, preferring to make the more established members shine onstage. He picked out a fretless bass guitar when Jenny played new material, performing with a nuance and ease which makes me grind my teeth with envy.  I wanted him to be a cunt. I learned he was married, but divorced now and one morning, we’re sat having breakfast together when I talked about my marriage. Jenny has slept in, but El and Paul were there.

 

‘Were you married, Paul?’

 

He looked up from his heaped plate of breakfast meat and nodded before he returned to his food. El narrowed his eyes before Paul poured himself a coffee and looked at me.

 

‘What split you guys up?’ I said.

 

Paul lowered his glasses down the bridge of his nose.

 

‘A lack of self awareness. How About You?’ he said.

 

My temples throbbed with indignation but El had given me a hardened stare whilst Paul carried on eating. I looked at the greasy meat on the plate, appetite gone and I got up from the table without thinking.

 

El grabbed me after a show. He was uncomfortable as he asked me if I had a problem with Paul. I waved him off, but I derived a shallow enjoyment from knowing I still held power over things. The tragedy is I’d lost the ability to wield it with any skill.

 

When Leon called to tell me Paul’s left the tour, I poured myself a scotch and lit a cigarette, and it all tasted the same as Leon asked if I want to sue for breach of contract. I looked at my reflection and say why the fuck not?

 

Why the fuck not?

 

Jenny stormed into my dressing room, whilst I was getting a massage. She was in tears, and she told me how fucking twisted I’d become. Her beautiful face was twisted with anger and grief as she pointed at me, and I laughed at her, despite the increasing pressure in my head.

 

El told me in person he was leaving. Paul and El shared the same manager, and they were floating a constructive dismissal charge. We had a whole leg of the tour cancelled, and I told Leon to find musicians who could play the songs. The accounts showed we were bleeding money everywhere, but I stopped caring about it.

 

Jenny left the tour and spoke to me through lawyers. I went out to the beach house and switched my phone off as I poured myself a drink and went out to watch the waves.

 

Leon had a whole band waiting for me and I didn’t want to finish the tour. He quit and told me he’d see me in court. I poured out another scotch and sat in the living room, watched the shadows grow thick and full like mould in a cheap apartment.

 

Something twisted in the back of my head, filling me with heat and thunder as I threw up down myself and felt the glass fall from my hand.  A blockage in my basilar artery which wasn’t enough to kill me.

 

I was found alive but there was enough damage to see me classified as pseudocomatose. I can move my eyes, but a stroke wiped away all the connections to everything else.

 

I’m trapped in here. My silence was my sentence, and I watched Jenny debut her band, with Paul and El as her rhythm section on a live feed.

 

They were married a year later. My children were involved and I had Leon scroll through the photographs, apologising for having accepted. He had changed his mind about leaving when he did the accounts on my back catalogue value when I died. The stroke wiped away my control of my body and I watched everyone I knew move on without me.

 

Jenny came to see me and ranted at my immobile face until she collapsed into hoarse sobs and was led away by Leon.

 

Paul came over. He knew I disliked him and why, but he bore me no ill will over it. I glared at him until he lapsed into a mournful silence and stood up.

 

He looked at me, the hate and frustration alive in me was so powerful I wanted it to reach inside his chest and burst his heart but instead he smiled at me without malice and walked out of the room.

 

The next video auto played. It was the eighties, we came back with the double album, four hit singles and Lenny starting to drink more to keep his hands steady. I look at Jenny’s eyes and will my heart to grow cold. The attention makes it burn all the more, but I bear it without complaint.

 

I have no other choice

 

Standard
beauty, love, short fiction, women

a walk from the past

To anyone watching, he appeared pleasant and self-contained, groomed and polite as he took books out, or as was more often the case, sat down with a book or a stack of graphic novels and read through them with a focused enthusiasm. He smiled if anyone made eye contact and indulged in balloons of conversation which flew away.

 

Liz handed over the dvd and smiled as she watched him take a book over to a chair in the corner and sit down. He leaned forward and looked up, caught her eye and grinned before he returned his attention to the book.

 

She watched him before Ellie came and asked her if she wanted a cup of tea. Liz nodded without looking at Ellie, who chuckled which made Liz turn around, embarrassed and ashamed.

 

‘Sorry, I was miles away.’ she said.

 

Ellie chuckled and went away to make tea. Liz looked down at the book open on the desk. Wuthering Heights, for the eighth time, and a book which reached inside her chest and squeezed each time she read it. When she looked up, she cried out with alarm as he handed over his library card.

 

Liz watched him ask to check on the status of a reservation before she realised he was asking her to do it, and she hurried herself with a tight-lipped embarrassment before she passed the card back and told him it had not arrived. He thanked her and walked away as Liz stared after him. Ellie came back with two mugs of tea and Liz sat there, awash with the fear she had looked ridiculous with the man.

 

His details were still on the computer and she opened another tab rather than delete the information. Ellie talked about her plans for the weekend, Liz had dinner with her parents on Sunday but nothing otherwise.. She seldom voiced how much pleasure she took in it but Liz had developed a sense of what was appropriate with others over the years, a lack of ostentation was a useful trait to survive, if not to live.

 

She had books.

 

Ellie went out to deal with the influx of returned books and Liz waited until she was on the other side of the desk before she clicked on the man’s information.

 

Joseph.

 

He didn’t look like a Joseph, she thought. He didn’t live far from here and she wondered what his house looked like. The information gave a telephone number and an email address, but nothing about his circumstances or what he did for a living.

 

Such a thing required copying his name into another tab and letting the internet do the rest.

There wasn’t much. No social media accounts and even an image search came up empty. She looked at the reservation.

 

Baudrillard. Simulacra and Simulations.

 

Postmodernism gave her a headache, the ghost of too many university boys eager to fill her skull with words before she gave up on dating. Still, he moved with a quiet boldness which didn’t lend itself to the twitching unease of the small town intellectual. She liked his hands and his beard, how he stopped and spoke to people. Liz wondered what it would be like to have his attention for a time, but it crashed into her own wall of insecurities and she closed down both tabs in a hurried rush of guilt. She was curious about him, but it was fragile in the face of her experiences to date.

 

Liz was small, delicate in manner and wardrobe enough to pass for younger but her manner betrayed her. She had a small circle of friends, fellow survivors of the social wars being fought over so little and even a few of those had been absorbed into relationships, either with other people, cats or in Katharine’s case, academia. Liz had a small, quiet life, enlightened by spasms of acute loneliness. After a gilded adolescence, and experiences in further education which prepared her for a gradual lowering of expectations, Liz felt diminished by the years, those she carried already and their allies in the distance.

 

She left the library, letting her hair cover her face as she hurried home. Liz was tired, but made herself walk into the supermarket, dazzled by the overhead lights and the shrink-wrapped line up of choices. Liz picked out a tray of chicken breasts and laid them down in the basket when she looked up.

 

Joseph had picked out a tray of steaks and put it in his basket when he looked around and saw her. His smile widened and he took a step towards her.

 

‘We should stop meeting like this, people will talk.’ he said.

 

Liz fought the rush of blood to her cheeks as she turned away. She liked how he was with people, but when he turned his attention towards her, it made her twist with discomfort.

 

She looked back and saw him stood there, with the basket dangling from his fingers as he looked at her with a cautious interest.

 

‘I’ve seen you at the library.’ he said.

 

Liz smiled at the acknowledgement but struggled to keep herself even and nonchalant.

 

‘Me too.’ she said.

 

He smiled, raising an eyebrow as he moved towards her.

 

‘What you’ve seen yourself at the library?’ he said.

 

She frowned, not getting the joke until he shook his head and changed the subject of conversation.

 

Liz had worked at the library for three years. She enjoyed the work, but worried telling Joseph about it would somehow diminish her in his eyes. The logic of his regular visits eluded her as her choir of anxieties sang from the same hymn sheet.

 

‘You don’t recognise me, do you?’ he said.

 

Liz stared at him with surprise. There had been something, amongst the warm timbre of his voice and the easy manner he carried, but she paid it no more attention than she had anything else about him.

 

He looked around him before he leaned into her space.

 

‘I said you had a bum man should get on their knees and worship. We were in rehearsal for From Land And Sea, Helen Taylor was there.’

 

The mention of Helen tore at Liz, since she emigrated, Liz had entered a broken correspondence but it had been her turn to email. She looked and saw the twinkle had remained, masked by the beard and the polished armour of confidence.

 

‘Joe Mason.’ she said.

 

Different surname, she told remembered, but hadn’t his mum remarried? Liz’ mum would know, but the thought of explaining it made her feel faint, so she gave in to her surprise and stared at him as he nodded.

 

‘You look good.’ he said.

 

His voice lowered the burr reached into Liz’ stomach and caressed a slow, liquid heat into being. The sensation made her feel girlish and strong and she straightened up a little in the face.

 

‘No, but you’re kind to say so, Joe.’ she said.

 

She coughed and took him in. He was thicker across the chest and shoulders and he had shaved his head, which contrasted well with the beard.

 

‘You do too.’ she said.

 

They laughed through the awkwardness in the polite, unspoken way people did. Ghosts of roads not taken put their arms around Liz, whispered at what she had missed out on, but Joe had never taken his shot either. He had been quiet and polite, but that one comment aroused her interest and he had seen the look in her eyes across the stage and never followed up on it. She had burned for him to ask her out, but his attentiveness and concern grew pathological and she had resigned from the vigil when Bradley asked her out to the school disco.

 

She blinked away tears and Joe smiled as he peered into her basket.

 

‘Want to get something to eat, Liz?’ he said.

 

She was scruffy and tired, embarrassed not to recognise him but Liz brushed her hair from her eyes and told him she was starving.

 

He was reading the Baudrillard as research for a book he was writing.

 

Liz stopped and looked at him with surprise.

 

‘You can’t just drop it into conversation and not elaborate.’ she said.

 

He wrote comic books under a different name, published in America and he had put out original series alongside the short runs on superhero titles. He looked at the pewter Captain America badge on the lapel of her coat and told her the name he wrote under.

 

To her relief, it was work she remembered and enjoyed.

 

Liz admitted she had looked at his information and he chortled as he drew closer to her.

 

‘So we both have our secrets don’t we? I’ll keep yours and you’ll keep mine.’ he said.

 

She looked down, felt the blood rising in her cheeks. Liz had not played the coquette before but he made it simple to work out how to do it without looking foolish.

 

‘Deal.’ she said.

 

They went into the pub, found a booth at the back out of the way and he said the steak was good here. She had been looking at the menu, unsure of what to order and she leapt at the chance to delegate the decision to him. Steak sounded great, she said and he smiled at her as the waitress came and took their order.

 

Liz couldn’t talk about Tom at first. She talked around him, but Joe looked at her, asked questions which opened her up to fill in the gaps since high school.

 

‘I was married. It didn’t work out.’ she said.

 

A universe hung between those words.

 

He sat forwards and picked up his beer.

 

‘I’m sorry, Liz. I never went down that road.’ he said.

 

Her hands shook as she wrapped them around the glass and lifted her chin.

 

‘We’re not smart when it comes to love, are we?’ she said.

 

He looked down and smiled then reached his hand across the table. She looked at the thick fingers, the dark hairs on the backs of his hands and the thick wrists before she put her hand atop his. The contact was galvanising and he looked into her eyes with a quiet, gentle acceptance which gave speed to her thoughts.

 

She breathed out and got up from the table, excusing herself with a soft whisper as she went to the bathroom and sat in a cubicle. Liz wanted to take him home, but the flat was a mess and her grooming routine had descended into washing and finding a gentle comfort in toying with the hair as she laid in bed reading.  She decided not to announce the fact but telling herself meant she could commit to it without feeling bad about it.

 

Their food arrived and the conversation grew light as they enjoyed the food. They shared memories of music and film, books and television to paper over the gaps in their mutual experiences. Liz checked her phone for the time and saw it was close to nine o’clock. The time had flown by, and although she should have been sensible, there was a spring to her perceptions which made being around him a good, if impulsive decision.

 

He turned around outside the restaurant and kissed her. She whimpered as his hands came up to touch her cheek and she placed her hands on his shoulders, then his neck before she pushed him backwards, exhaling with surprise as she stared at him.

 

‘You can’t come to mine tonight.’ she said.

 

He chuckled and shook his head.

 

‘You’re assuming I wanted to.’ he said.

 

The prickling of anxiety fled at the smile he gave and she kissed him again.

She led him to the river, and they walked, with her arm looped around his, looking for a relative measure of privacy.

 

Liz heard the caws of contempt from the boys sat on the bench. She tightened her grip on Joe’s arm without meaning to, and he lifted his chin and smiled at them.

 

‘Evening.’ he said.

 

They looked away and smiled. Liz saw one of them wink at Joe and she blushed as they walked past. She stopped him when they turned the corner and she kissed him again. He accepted the gift of her appetite without concern before they found a bench and she straddled him.

 

It started to rain and she drew him close. His hands closed on her backside and she drew back.

 

‘Joe, do you still feel the same way about my bum?’ she said.

 

He smiled in the dark and squeezed her underneath his fingers as he pulled her down towards him.

 

The rain did not wash the past away, but it cleared a path for them both as they reunited, familiar strangers rewriting history as the new day watched from the shadows, eager to begin.

 

Standard
short fiction

Episode 30 – Force of Arms (The Transformation)

Previous episodes are here.

1.

A surge of electricity had fried everything, cameras and alarms before someone had bust through the door, the locks wrenched like taffy and the cabinets torn open.

 

A pair of combat revolvers.Four boxes of ammunition.

 

Pump action shotguns. A bandolier. Eighteen shells.

 

They had taken the good knives. The fixed blade models and sheaths.

 

What scared the police and Frank, the owner, was what were these people going to do. Frank was glad the cameras were out because he wasn’t sure he could look at whoever it was and be able to sleep again.

 

2.

 

The Editor took off her spectacles and rubbed her eyes. She was drunk with exhaustion, sat in the neat, back bedroom of the Golem’s house. There were multiple forces at work here, two pairs in proximity whilst another moved towards them.

 

There were bodies around all of them. She saw the information as glowing flecks of red coal scattered like ashes next to the soft flames of their presence. She saw the light of the monsters and the people burned by contact with them. The Golem had arranged for men to connect direct surveillance of the sites, and with a phone call, had police reports available of the pertinent events.

 

The slaughter in the woods.

 

A robbery which ended in an assault by something described as a gigantic wolf or bear.

 

Families brutalised in their homes. Strangulation or blunt force trauma, conducted over a short, vicious space of time.

 

The Editor had asked for a moment and the Golem had one of his men take her to the room. She had heard his footsteps echo down the hall and laid down on the bed.

 

The bedroom smelled of fresh polish and citrus, old oak furniture polished until it shone. She sighed as she laid down.

 

A sleeper agent in another realm, sent into a place which had appalled and enthralled her. The Editor had taken ill, forced to contemplate whether it was the world killing her, or a rejection of the woman she had been before this. She met someone strong with her, did not sit and suffocate her, stayed over but accepted the jagged rhythms of her work and the need for space. She missed him, hating the lies but knowing the cost of candour with him. In bed, at night, she’d sleep with her head on his shoulder, tucked into his arm after they read together.

 

She ached to tell him about all the additional Hemingway work she knew. The poetry of Hypatia, a female version of Lovecraft which was taught in schools. He was happy with his world, and when he stayed over, watching her laugh and dance, she believed she could be too.

 

They would kill him if they knew about him. It led her to wonder about the life she wanted, and where.

These thoughts followed her into a thin doze before there was the clatter of alarmed activity and she was on her feet, reaching for her spectacles and opening the door.

 

3.

 

Olivia practiced the flex of transformation in the mirror, Amaro’s touch had opened her to an intimacy of flesh which lent itself to a new art.

 

Cosmetics. She had tightened the flesh along her jawline and given her lips a sensual flushness. Her hair was thicker and longer, and she knew it would lead to hunger pangs but she wanted the experience.  

 

Her work was her priority, she told herself. These abilities were signing bonuses and when she watched Amaro enter the room, she smiled at him in the mirror.

 

‘Are you ready?’ he said.

 

She stood up and smoothed down the front of her cream blouse. The glasses were tucked into the front pocket as she turned and smiled.

 

‘I will head out now and be at their offices by morning.’ she said.

 

He smiled and walked towards her with open arms.

 

‘You’re following the money?’ he said.

 

She nodded and slipped her arms around his lean waist. Amaro was centuries old but his flesh was warm and lean as he held her.

 

‘My good girl. Do me proud.’

 

He moved back and looked to the door as she went through. An unpleasant splash of dismissal hit her on the cheek as she went out to the waiting car. She reminded herself such spasms of feeling were unwise here, despite the gifts of her new existence.

 

They were monsters.

 

4.

 

Kelly stroked the fur along his muzzle. His eyes were closed, but he was breathing in deep, even bursts as his chest rose and fell.

 

‘I need you to wake up, John.’ she said.

 

She shook him, wondering what she had done here, a single thought forged into a single command, fired from her head like an insult she couldn’t take back. There was a phrase when you coined the perfect comeback after being insulted, in French, l’esprit de l’escalier and it had felt like delivering one of those before the event.

 

Kelly fought the panic as she heard screams from the house behind her. They had found the boy.

 

Kelly focused on reading John. She saw the sluggish flow of neurons, the pneumatic pump of his circulatory system and analysed it as an engineering problem. Her fingers knotted in his fur and she pushed a command into him, felt the power of the word flow down into him as it bloomed inside him. A perfect, qlippothic thought which was a phrase she never thought of before, but it fitted as she plucked it from the massive storm of knowledge within herself. Kelly had used it to hurt people, but within her was the capacity to help. To heal.

 

He opened his eyes and sniffed the air.

 

Kelly put her hands to her face as she watched him get to his paws by degrees.

 

He pushed his muzzle against her belly, gave a soft butt into her stomach before he turned and padded away into the shadows of the garden. She walked with him, trembling with anticipation at his reaction when he became a man again.

 

She had hurt him and been hurt in turn. Kelly followed him, felt the chill of night bite into her skin as they moved back to the grounds. She had climbed the wall with ease before, but now, exhausted and aching, it looked impassable. John barked and lowered his massive shoulders to the ground as she looked at him.

 

Kelly got it as she climbed onto his back, the raw power of his form pulsing through his bones and muscles with each breath as she dug her fingers into his fur. He stood up, bore her weight without effort as he turned away from the wall to gain some ground. She gripped onto him and closed her eyes as he charged the wall, moving from a trot to a sprint which ended when he pushed off his back legs and leapt into the air. John was the only solid thing beneath her as they left the ground and she fought the dizzying nausea of being airborne before they landed on the ground.

 

Kelly opened her eyes but kept her fingers dug into his fur as he ran towards the facility.

 

5.

 

Adam racked a round into the shotgun as he walked out of the shadows, his hair hung in his face as blue sparks of electricity flashed between his gritted teeth. His skin had become translucent and yellow, visible patterns of veins and musculature in motion with each step he took towards his target.

 

He looked at the house and smiled at the chance to act according to his purpose. A line from the one of the books he had used to educate himself, back when he was at war with his creator.

 

“Long is the way and hard, that out of Hell leads up to light.”

 

Adam climbed the wall with ease as he sent his consciousness into the electrical grid of the property, overloading it with the force of his will. He shut down the lights and power. There were two of them here, and they had force of arms to protect them.

 

He lifted the shotgun to his shoulder and watched the movement through the windows.

 

‘Come out and face me.’ he said.

 

His voice was a sonorous, booming thing which shook the glass in their frames.

 

The metallic rasp of weapons being loaded came to him and he smiled as he walked across the lawn.

 

A door swung open and the muzzle flash drew his attention as the round whipped past his head. He squeezed the trigger and the shotgun boomed as he walked. He heard the thump of a body hitting the floor and he pumped another round without thinking.

 

Another volley of rounds came through the dark, one took the meat of his right cheek in a spray of blood and skin whilst one buried itself in his shoulder but he fired and heard someone cry out. He shouldered the shotgun and drew the revolvers, brushed his thumbs over the hammers, having tooled them for a lighter action.

 

Webs of light danced across his ruined cheek, knitted the flesh together with an ugly economy as he saw a shape through the gloom and fired at it.

 

The bullet to his forehead stopped him, like holding a sneeze and a sick throb of pain went through him as black blood squirted from his nose. He lifted both revolvers and fired, watched the man’s head burst apart before he moved into the house.

 

Adam brushed the hair from his face as he watched the men point their weapons down the hall at him. He snarled at him, awash with hate and pain, all of it harnessed to his will.

 

‘Bring them to me.’ he said.

 

They fired at him, enough to bring him to his knees but he got up and fired both guns as he walked.

 

A spike of sensation charged through him, as they shot the flesh from his bones but his shots never missed, even when a bullet took out his jaw and it hung from his face before a corona of electricity glued it back on and two men were dead before he smiled again. He slipped the revolvers back into the shoulders and brought up the shotgun, cutting a path with the force of his violence.

 

There was a flickering light past the men, visible through the air, thick with smoke and bullets as he kept firing.

 

A fire, waiting to burn him.

 

6.

 

She slipped the contact lens in, calm despite the roar of gunfire and the screams of dying men. The Editor brought up a quantum keyboard and started to write a better version of events than this was turning out to be.

 

He had found them instead, and she focused on crafting the right opening line as the Golem walked out of the room, smoke rising from his skin as he told her to get working. She could work to a deadline, she thought.

 

Standard
short fiction, women

Episode 29 – Love Is Violence

(I took another look at it, and seeing as you’re a small and forgiving readership, you deserved something better. Thank you and I hope you are enjoying the series.)

Previous episodes are here.

 

She spreads herself wide open to let the insects in

She leaves a trail of honey to show me where she’s been

She has the blood of a reptile just underneath her skin

Seeds from a thousand others drip down from within

Nine Inch Nails, Reptile.

 

1.

Kelly leapt over the wall and landed in a crouch. Her mandibles sliced the air as her eyes adjusted to the twilight and she saw the incandescent streams of information, twisting through the air as shimmering globes of energy rose into the surrounding air.

 

Her joints throbbed and she exhaled as they elongated and twisted inside her armour. The pressure made her drop onto her stomach and she crawled as her joints reversed and she welcomed the alleviation as she stalked towards the mansion house, mandibles twitching with hunger as she moved towards the source of the streams and globes. In the pit of her stomach, she felt a deep rush of pleasure to explore her new appetite.

Her new flesh.

 

She experienced it all as a passenger in a car going too fast for comfort. Kelly had spent nights in the backs of cars and vans, huddled with other guys stinking of nerves. Kelly got to stay in the van most of the time, but that was worse. The adrenaline had nowhere to go and she remembered the quaking in her legs as she waited for the guys to come back. It was like being back in the plane again. The sick wrenching sensation when she woke up and the ping of bullets passing her.

 

The first time she saw the wolf.

She wanted to scream for losing control. A seizure of overwhelming disconnection. She was monstrous, the sharp edge of her desire to know, to feel through the numbers and to put something together elegant was tattooed into her skin. It was magic, and now it had cast a spell which she loathed.

 

She stopped and wretched but a spasm of sublime hunger overcame her. Kelly had fought all her life, but her body was no longer her own and it was cunning in its rebellion. She wretched and kept moving, locked inside herself as she felt the cold, implacable thing she had become run towards the house.

 

She saw the young man through the window with a can of soda dangling from his fingers as he spoke into his phone. He laughed and she studied his face, watching as a ball of energy slipped from his forehead into the air. Kelly’s instincts made her turn and snatch a ball of it which drifted past her. He made a face like an emoji. She saw him as something to play with. A whim with teeth coiled around her as she released a burst of cold inquiry through the glass as she crawled forwards.

 

Her nervous system had sharpened and she sucked in the songs of the world around her, and she knew everything about him.

 

Eric wore his fears like infected piercings, and his desires were like waking up in damp sheets, pretending to be a feminist and waiting until the women he partied with were passed out drunk. He stuck to soda and he would feel them up in a way which never felt as good anymore. He told himself he never went inside their underwear to justify what he was doing. Some of them have nightmares about it because they don’t want to think it’s him but Eric knows so he’s pretending to show solidarity with women. Certain women.

The lies made his head hurt, but he couldn’t help himself.

It wasn’t enough anymore. He had thought about getting them alone. Condoms were a necessity and he had ordered non-latex condoms ahead of the weekend. Trent would get bored and go home but he’d provide an alibi.

 

He wanted to do it once. There’s a girl he liked, who trusted him. Talked about her boyfriend, a fucking plumber, and how they kept fighting because he wanted her to stop the protesting. She had no proof of this because he never called her and she believed it, was upset and piss drunk. Eric believed he blended in, by his mewling need for approval. He was safe in the way socks were safe but there were whispers, and he wanted to do it before he got caught.

His parents had money. These things would go away.

 

It embarrassed his father, Eric thought, but he wanted to do it once.

 

Kelly found a door and looked up at the alarm system. She saw its processes as veins of information and she scrolled across them, silenced the system with a pinch and shutting off the alarms as she pushed a command into the door and felt the lock turn as she reached out and opened it with a brush of her taloned fingers.

 

Eric took a lot of photos. He had perfected a look of

 

He took photos of himself and had asked Trent if he was going to the #metoo march at the weekend. They planned their lives around the anger and pain of women.  He practiced smiling until his face became a mask, and whatever it was which lived within him, drew Kelly to him like a moth to a flame.

 

She looked up at the ceiling and crawled up the wall, stepped past the framed pictures with a gymnastic grace as she pressed her palms against the ceiling. Minute spines extended and slid into the plaster as she took in a breath and switched his phone off with a thought.

 

Eric looked at his phone in disbelief. He walked out into the hallway, pouting with irritation as he opened the door. Kelly flexed her thighs and lower back, felt the muscles piston with a rippling power which allowed her to wrap her arms around his neck as her mandibles shot twisting beams of electricity into his head.

 

She did not give him time to scream. Through the chitin, she sucked out his thoughts in a swift as he juddered and kicked in the air. His eyes were rolled back in his head as his tongue protruded, galvanized as she drank his thoughts down into her, took them for fuel. She dropped him, alive but empty. Hollowed out into catatonia as he fell to the ground and slumped against the wall.

 

Kelly wept within herself as she felt her mind worn away again by the satiation of her hunger, and the power it gave to the entity which was controlling her.

 

There were others here.

 

A seismic rumble stomped into her perceptions. Something had followed her from the room where she had woken up.

 

Her first meal was tainted with disappointment as she crawled into Eric’s room.

 

Its paws thumped against the lawn. Kelly composed a thought of zen violence and sent it towards the hulking, furred thing which came towards her, an engine of bone and fury as it bared sharp, white teeth.

Through the glass, she saw its eyes as the thought sunk into its skull and it fell forwards, flecks of foam launched into the air and it collapsed.

 

She smashed through the glass as something unnamable drew her forwards. The edges glanced off the armour where her momentum had not pushed her past them as she charged towards it.

 

Kelly shuddered against the warm bank of consciousness which emerged and she returned to herself as it washed over her.

 

She inhaled him, the chemical signatures landing on her soul like kisses. Kelly tried to weep as she realised the horror of what she had become. She had returned to herself and her body revolted at the revelation.

 

The skin on her cheeks tingled and the mandibles drooped as the additional tendons in her jaw popped and they fell from her face. Her joints twisted like God had practiced judo on her before the pain took her away for a second.

 

Her heightened senses became a perfect aperture to torture. A razored instant of agony as her body warped back into fragile humanity.

 

Life was pain and even this escape from it had been a different expression of pain.

 

Kelly peeled the armour off, but the claws had cracked and she had to pluck them off as she looked at her hands and struggled to keep from screaming.

 

The house lights came on and she reached towards John as she heard someone scream.

 

She was afraid it was her.

 

Standard
short fiction

White Rabbit

download

“Men ought either to be well treated or crushed, because they can avenge themselves of lighter injuries, of more serious ones they cannot; therefore, the injury that is to be done to a man ought to be of such a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge.”

Nicollo Machiavelli, The Prince.

 

1.

 

Ibrahim walked down the street, cursing Ellen for making him clean out the frier again before he left to attend mosque with his uncle. He hated the job, but Mohammed insisted he finish out the summer before he got him an internship at the firm.

 

He didn’t want to be late. Mohammed was fastidious without being vain and he had known nothing but his faith but he did business without it being a problem.

 

Ibrahim drew comments and stares. No one wanted to feel alien in their own skin and he would slip out of the way, finding something to do in the back until their attention went elsewhere or he pretended not to have heard anything. He simpered and it hurt to do it but once he was working with his uncle, he would earn respect without being made to suffer for it.

 

He was running late.

 

It was the only thing which saved him.

 

He saw the mosque and quickened his pace before a massive hand slapped him backwards. He smelled his hair burning and his eardrops popped like balloons as he fell backwards, breaking his coccyx against the sidewalk.

 

Ibrahim lay there, mute with pain as his hair burned and his body turned inside out with pain. He had bitten his tongue and each swallow tasted of burnt copper as he struggled to breathe.

Continue reading

Standard
love, romance, short fiction, women

Episode 26 – The Transformation – Minor Players

Previous episodes are here

1.

Perez called on the way back. Jasper’s reunion had become an eviction party by the time the cab parked outside the warehouse. He watched Ezra and Josh wheel the roadie cases into the back of a waiting truck. Ezra scowled at him as they walked past, into the warehouse.

 

‘If he’d seen what I had, mate’ Jasper said.

 

Perez was still struggling with the news. He walked as though every step caused him pain, hands in his pockets as he led Jasper to the office at the back.

 

‘Ezra’s pissed about the job going south. We all are, but with what you’ve told me, it changes things.’ he said.

 

Jasper lit a cigarette and glanced at Perez.

 

‘I’m sorry, I had no fucking idea.’ Jasper said.

 

Perez blinked and tilted his head to one side.

 

‘If he’s not human, then he’s smart enough not to fuck with. Either that or you lost your fucking mind.’ he said.

 

Jasper shut his eyes and shook his head.

 

‘I wish I was crazy.’ he said.

 

Perez gestured a thumb to the office at the back and smiled at him.

 

‘Tell it to the boss.’ he said.

 

Jasper gritted his teeth, hissed out smoke between the gaps in his teeth. A fresh crop of sweat beaded along his hairline as he walked towards the office.

 

They heard a voice telling them to come in.

 

Jasper and Perez looked at one another.

 

‘I’ll back you all the way.’ he said.

 

Jasper looked at Perez, and there’s something detached in his eyes which makes Jasper take in a sharp intake of breath. He opened the door and stepped inside. The brittle crunch of plastic sheeting made him chuckle as he looked up.

 

Jasper had seen the man at the house. He had been one assistant, but he smiled with a bright amusement as he gestured behind Jasper.

 

‘Hey Jasper.’ Miller said.

 

Jasper looked as a man closed the door before he gestured to the chair with his gun.

 

‘Fucking do it, then.’ he said.

 

Miller shook his head.

 

‘Oh well, if you insist.’ he said.

 

The man lifted the pistol and shot Jasper in the head. Miller shook his head, disappointed at Jasper’s refusal to allow him a chance to gloat at how transparent his ambitions had been. They had found the crew, doubled their take and told them to wait for Jasper to check in. His ears rung from the shot, and he wiped away a fine mist of blood from his face.

 

Miller told the men to clean it up as he left the office. Perez was stood with his arms folded, looking out at nothing. When he saw Miller, he stood up and glared at Miller.

 

‘Tell Mary we’ll be in touch. Sorry about your friend.’ he said.

 

Miller willed a flicker of recrimination to appear in the other man’s face, but none came. Everyone had their price, and this crew had come in under budget. Perhaps they had heard about what happened to the last crew, but Miller had lost the taste for tradecraft and just wanted to get back to the house. Mr Felipe had asked him to take care of the matter, whilst he assisted Olivia with her transition and it was as depressing as having a team meet at the warehouse, tell them to clear out, pay the crew off in cash and wait. Perez was hanging around for an extra piece, seeing as he had brought Jasper back in.

 

Perez opened his mouth to speak but Miller shook his head.

 

‘No, I’ve said what I needed to. Fuck off, spic.’ he said.

 

Perez curled his upper lip and squared his shoulders but Miller held his ground with a varnished, smug grin on his face. He turned and walked away from Perez, who heard the sounds of plastic sheeting being gathered inside the office. Perez swallowed and it tasted like hot gravel pouring down the back of his throat as he turned and walked away.

 

The money was too good, he told himself. Whoever Jasper’s boss was, it was better to take the money and run.

 

Miller got into a car and made a call.

 

‘It’s done. Clean up is underway, sir.’ he said.

 

Mr Felipe thanked him and ended the call. Miller sat back in the seat and exhaled with satisfaction as he closed his eyes. His work kept him active, and although he had sacrificed a normal life for it, his needs were met. In time, he hoped, so would his ambitions. Jasper had come into the business under false pretences, and when he committed to those over his current employer, Mr Felipe had seen fit to deal with the matter.

 

He had been privilege to the secret of the man and took it as a measure of trust. Miller never acted against Mr Felipe, and it had been rewarding beyond his imagination over the years. He did not ask about being altered because he knew his use was in his appearance and manner. Olivia might have been capable of anything but she was bound to him forever. Miller saw the long term appeal of service but at an age and station where he would enjoy it.

 

Miller played out his subtle dreams of power behind his closed eyelids.

 

2.

 

The Editor looked at the cardboard sign and winced at the spelling of her surname.

 

MS SLATTER

 

She sighed as she walked towards the man, looming over her with a protruding forehead and acromegalic jaw.

 

‘You must be the Golem?’ she said.

 

He shook his head and lowered the sign.

 

‘No, he’s waiting for you.’

 

She sighed and checked her handheld device. He had sent her a message telling her he was thinking of her. A single x. A stolen ache slipped from her control but she grimaced and put the device back in her jacket pocket.

 

She followed the man out to a waiting car. He opened the door for her and she got inside. Her nose wrinkled at the bitter tang of burned flesh, like an oil on her tongue as she got in and closed the door.

 

He took up most of the back. Each breath was the soft roar of something large and mechanical as he sat with his knees close to his chest.

‘I dislike this place, Ms Slater. I am here because I am instructed to do so. Your skills as an editor are spoken of with warmth and respect but I am the Golem. You know of my reputation?’

 

She lowered her eyes and nodded.

 

‘It means you know mine, doesn’t it?’

 

He gave a slow nod. What light there was in the back of the car revealed pink skin which had healed into tight bands of scar tissue. She saw the wet glint of his teeth when he smiled.

 

‘We have two signatures to track. Evidence of a third, not including us.’ he said.

 

She had the lenses in her jacket pocket but the time on the plane had allowed her to read.

 

‘I will need information if we run a line edit on this.’ she said.

 

He grunted and the car started up.

 

‘I have a house we will use. There is internet there, and I have room for a sky tank, if you need it.’ he said.

 

His voice was the rasp lava made when it tongued its way down the mountainside and it unnerved her to be so close to it. He had worked with Special Lexicon, working with religious texts and had discovered an unknown word of power. His pronunciation of the second syllable burned most of his body but the change had been in his mind.  The surgeries and editing had transformed him and now he was a specialist, called in on serious matters.

 

She shook her head.

 

‘I’ve got what I need. We can talk along the way. What’s your story?’ she said.

 

He chuckled and rolled his shoulders.

 

‘In the beginning was The Word.’

 

She made notes in her head as she listened.

 

3.

 

Kelly watched John play with his dog on the lawn, squatting over it as he tugged the length of rope between its jaws. He looked up and she smiled at him, his eyes widened before he returned his attention to Duke.

Her thoughts gathered thunder, drawing information into her head where it waited for her interpretation. The pallet of scent signatures was intense, and she shuddered when she inhaled the perfume of coffee or the slow, narcotic pulse of nicotine but it was all overwhelming. He was teaching her meditation practices, a discovery he arrived at through need and taught to her as a way of managing the pressure.

 

She felt no urge to transform but there was an unsettling tension to her thoughts and reflexes which made everything a potential vector of concern. Kelly walked out onto the lawn and joined them both.

 

Later, when things turned bad, it was a happy memory for her, the decision to step out and join him in his space, but then she was driven by a desire for the silent comfort he offered without expectation of reward. It was enough for her then, to acknowledge it as he looked up and gazed into her eyes.

 

John’s phone rang and he answered it.

 

His face tightened and he asked them to contact the legal department. He ended the call and put the phone away.

 

‘They’ve asked about me and the cabin.’ he said.

 

Standard