Monthly Archives: April 2017

Ted the Accountant by Lisa Barry

For Remi Paquette, I hope you enjoy it!

Ted, the accountant walked out on stage and looking over the assembled gods realized that this was not going to be a fun presentation.

Clearing his throat, Ted nodded at the crowd and then turned to his laptop, already connected to the big screen before them. He cleared his throat again and tried to steady his hand before turning back to the crowd.

He gave a weak smile as he fished the laser pointer from his pocket and aimed it at the pie chart on the screen.

“Thank you all for coming today,” Ted said and cringed as his voice boomed by some god’s will over the colosseum.

“I am one of the forensic accountants for Athena.” The crowd turned to look at her where she sat demurely at the end of the second row on the left. She had a small smile on her face but ignored them all.

“As I am sure you all know, most gods take a portion of the collection from the various churches dedicated to their name and use it for their whims on the various planets,” Ted continued. “Madame Athena is no stranger to these practices. Since the advent of the digital world in three of those planets, we have recently upgraded our own systems to track things this way and several gods have even taken classes in the many accounting practices so as to be as knowledgeable as any planetary creature in this nature.”

Someone laughed in the crowd and tried to cover it up with a cough but everyone turned to glare at Hermes. He scratched his eyebrow, middle finger up, his lips quirked.

Ted continued hesitantly. “It has come to the attention of Madame Athena that there are some unusual expenditures on the Earth region. Some of you haven’t dealt with Humans in half a millennium but someone of you are active and visit even now…”

“And we know who you are,” Athena’s voice blanketed the crowd. Ted cringed slightly before continuing. He pointed his laser to the screen. It reflected off a number.

“There are 30,116 visiting gods on earth at any given time…”

“Lies!” someone shouted from the back.

“Put a grape in it, Ares,” Hera shot back, “We all know our procreation is out of control there.”

Hermes choked out a laugh before the room once again gave Ted their attention.

“The problem is not so much the expenditures, odd though they are, but the issue is more with the amount of earth dollars being spent.” Ted cleared his throat again before continuing. He removed his glasses and wiped them with a handkerchief before replacing them and continuing.

“The total of all the various god collections on earth does not even cover the amount that is being spent. What that tells us is that at least one god is,” Ted stopped for a moment and looked at Athena. Her eyes narrowed. Fear rolled over him but he pushed through it. “Living on earth and either earning or stealing to create the funds.”

“How can you prove this,” shouted a deep voice. Thanatos. Ever since Hades started getting so much attention, the daemon tended to be a constant voice at any meetings with more than five gods in attendance.

“What if you live there less than six months of the earth year?” a soft, polite voice asked from seemingly everywhere. Ted thought it might be Hecate.

And he was stumped. He couldn’t recall any law against such a thing. He saw Athena change positions in her chair. Ted started to sweat again. He was supposed to be the expert. Pulled from earth almost year ago, Ted had been sent to the libraries to learn every law on finance and exchange that could be found. Every scroll unrolled, every tablet translated. He had been given the gift of all language by Athena herself and had been content until she forced him to attend the gods in this manner.

Ted gave a silent prayer but after seeing the sudden smirk on Hermes face, his backbone straightened slightly.

“If you were to refer to earth laws, specifically the rules of the Unites States of America, then a person living in one state for more than six months constitutes a homestead. However, there is no law requiring homestead for someone living there for less than six months. From all the tombs I’ve read here in the library of Asgard, I find no reference for or against living somewhere for such a time.”

Ted stared at his feet and waited. The purpose of his presentation was to weed out the gods living on earth and potentially wreaking havoc on their economy. He risked a glance at Athena who was definitely the instigator. She sat, thinking he thought.

It was Hecate who spoke again. Her voice crept in from the sides making you query if she was beside, behind or in front of you. “I have been spending much time in this place called Vegas. I like it. Reminds me of the old days.”

A chuckle from the back. Was that Odin? Ted scanned the back. Odin generally was front center but he seemed to be staying clear of these notions of Athena. Ted scrunched his brows as he guessed why. Perhaps Odin too was enjoying Vegas periodically.

“I too enjoy earth for longer duration,” a calm voice floated easily over the crowd. Several gods and goddesses turned around to stare at Lokey. “What?” His eyes shined with mischief, “It’s fun. I’m fond of the gambling, the smokey rooms, the hot girls, the thieving, the whoring…”

“Enough!” Athena’s voice echoed hushing everyone as it went before it cut off like someone had pulled the PA plug. There was an odd noise and then the end of Athena’s sigh echoed around the room.

“Ted, why don’t you go ahead and pack up. Please leave your slides as I would like to review them again. Directors of the Board, I request your presence in Valhalla for brunch and discussion on the handling of this overage we are experiencing in the mortal realm.

There was some muttering, a few boos and a cat call. Ted wondered the purpose of the cat call and then remembered present company and gave up. He packed everything up quickly and left the stage. Ten minutes later he slipped into his apartment, a small but suitable affair just off the Garden of Eden replica and near the Pool of Life. He grabbed a bag of popcorn and sunk into his favorite chair. He had survived another day. His contract would be up in one month, two weeks, three days.

Ted flipped on the TV and with a toss of popcorn into his mouth, he prepared to outsmart the contestants of Jeopardy again.

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Quiet by Nicole DragonBeck

For Michael, thank you for your thoroughly enthusiastic story starter, I hope you like it!

“But Winifred my dear, all that work will…” 

“Don’t call me that, I hate that name!”

She continued to tear at the pink satin ribbon tied to the ends of her pair of shoulder length blond braids.

“But Winnie can’t you…”

“No! Not Winnie either!”

A pink tangle of ribbon with a few strands of blond crumpled with a soft bounce as it hit the floor.

“But Wi…”

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!”

Miranda woke up with a start, the scream that sounded like her own voice still ringing in her ears. This was the fourth time this week that she’d had that dream, and each time it was more vivid than the last. She couldn’t ignore it anymore.

Her desk called to her, with the pen and paper that promised relief, but her bed had an equally strong pull, the warm covers willing her to stay and be seduced by their promise of comfort and sleep. But sleep would not come, she knew this, the echoes of her dream taunting and tantalizing at the same time.

Dragging her legs out was the first step. Her torso and arms followed, and somehow Miranda ended up in her chair, hunched over the desk, a pen clenched in her hand. She closed her eyes, and in the darkness, she searched out the dream.

It came in bright flashes of light and color, and sounds that no human ear had heard. Her pen flashed out, scribbles and scratches doing their best to capture what she was experiencing in her own mind.

And then the quiet came. Miranda’s hand stilled, but there was something wrong. She couldn’t put her finger on it, and her eyes moved back and forth behind her eyelids, searching for what was out of place. Usually the quiet was the end, and everything returned to normal, but this was different. This quiet was incomplete.

Although she didn’t want to, Miranda opened her eyes. The bedroom was dark, and this darkness was overwhelming. She reached over and flipped on the desk lamp. The light hurt her eyes, and she shied away, holding her arm up to shield herself from the attack.

Her eyes fell on the paper, and at first she couldn’t make out what was written there. Squinting and holding the paper closer only helped a little, but word by word, Miranda made out what the cacophony had turned into in the real world. Winifred was apparently engaged to a man she didn’t want to marry, and was throwing a temper tantrum hours before she was to be wed. Her lady in waiting was pulling her hair out trying to dress her ladyship and put on her jewels.

Miranda sighed. Why did all these people come to tell her about their problems and woes? Couldn’t they just work it out themselves? If this Winifred didn’t want to marry the Count of Verdigrad, why didn’t she just say so? What was the point of disturbing Miranda’s sleep with her screaming and whining?

Silent vibrations of that screaming and whining throbbed in Miranda’s head, and she recognized the indefinable disturbance of her quiet. She waited for the rest to be emptied onto the paper, but the silence full of promise continued to burn in her mind.

Miranda sat at the desk for how long she didn’t know, and with a sinking horror, realized that she was never going to be given any peace unless she prompted the tempest. Her eyes flicked to her bed, cold now, but still inviting, and taking a deep breath, she gripped her pen tight, and probed the thrumming behind the blackness.

All of Winnifred’s woes and troubles came pouring out. Miranda had a hard time keeping up, and her handwriting got even messier. Winnifred ranted and raved, her handmaiden, cowered, pleaded, and simpered, and then, after pages of this, Winnifred finally saw the light. It was beautiful. The spoiled, naive, practically useless young woman took the first step to becoming something greater than fate had planned for her.

Winnifred fled the palace without writing a note, leaving her poor handmaiden shaking on the floor of Winnifred’s lavish chambers, imagining in terror the horrible punishment that Winnifred’s father was dish out when he found out his daughter was gone, and so was the alliance he hoped to consolidate with the neighboring land of Verdigrad and all the wealth and power it offered.

But this was Winnifred’s story, and Miranda didn’t have to worry about it any longer, as quiet returned to Miranda’s world. She dragged herself up one last time, stumbled over to the bed, and fell into the blissful embrace of the covers, and sank into the quiet.

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Feeling Guilt by Erika Lance

For Mack Mclane; thank you for the fun story starter!

Catching Feelings is like finding spiders…

This is exactly how Marius felt as he walked back towards the abandoned house that he currently called home.

“I hate spiders” he muttered to himself as he walked; brushing down his arms as if this would rid him of the ‘creepy crawly’ sensation he had since he had seen her last.

As he walked he tried to take his attention off of her. He had been lucky to find a home, with a basement that was not in use. He knew the previous owner had died in the house and it had taken nine months for the body to be discovered. Marius knew this because the ghost of the previous resident still loitered on the property.

Sometimes it was easy enough to get them to move on. Other times, like this one, were just stuck. The only saving grace for Marius and this roommate, was that he had convinced his roommate that spirits would be “drained of all life force” if they stayed next to the undead for too long. This meant the ghost would leave him alone for the most part.

The undead can be so stupid sometimes.

As he walked up the stairs of the rotting porch his mind wandered to her again. He closed his eyes and could still smell her. “Heather…” the name fell out of his mouth. His eyes opened. “Damn it!” he swore.

This was never going to work. He knew better then to watch them for too long. He knew better then too talk to them. He knew NOT TO DEVELOP FEELINGS FOR THEM! This time he was screaming at himself in his own head.

The other major issue was he was starving. He needed to eat soon before he lost control.

With a deep sigh he turned around and headed back towards the street.

He needed to find a victim and really it should be her. He knew he could take her in her apartment tonight and it would be some time before she was discovered. She was not a sad case, but more of a determined one.  She studied and researched and basically had no time for a social life, this usually meant 3-5 days before she appeared missing.

He moved faster through the night and although he did not intend to arrive where he was standing his feet brought him to her window.

She was inside, he could smell her.

The ‘creepy-crawly’ feeling came back. Could he do this?

He started second guessing himself; again.

He paced around her home for an hour, weighing the pros and cons of it all. Then he found himself standing next to the bed she laid on. He could hear the minor details of her breathing, the smell of her hair and her skin.

Then there was a noise behind him. He turned to see a man coming in through the window. He wondered if he should watch this activity unfold.

The man coming through the window was in his late twenties. He smelled as if he was not a frequent bather. He also didn’t seem to feel brushing his teeth daily was a requirement either. The smell of drugs on him overpowered all the others. It was in his blood. This is why he was here.

Marius grabbed hold of the man in that instant a moved him outside the window. His prey was now terrified with eyes open in total fear. Marius smiled.

“Tell me somewhere safe to take you.” Marius didn’t use this power often. It normally only worked on those willing or to weak to fend him off.

While his new companion described a ‘safe’ place to take him. Marius closed and secured the window again leaving Heather, damn it he called her by name again, to sleep peacefully.

He had his guilt-free meal.

 

 

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Violet’s Protector by Nicole DragonBeck

For Gabby, I miss you and our storytelling sleepovers!

How funny it seemed, that 12 years later he was still wearing that dirty blue hat.

Violet looked him over. Everything about him was the same. The same grey eyes, the same curly brown hair, the same brown jacket and snake-skin boots. It should have made her uncomfortable, invoking memories that should remain in the past, but she was pleased to see him. He sat at the table in the very back of the tavern, hands cupped around the tankard, staring into it as if held the answers to life.

As if he felt her eyes on him, he looked up, and a slow smile curved up his mouth. It was the same smile, though now it was accompanied by a few more lines at the corners of his eyes. He nodded to the other seat at the table. Violet made her way through the tables, her purple skirt swaying, her pale skin glowing against the cream cotton of her blouse, and sat across from him.

“Violet.”

The way her name slid out on the mellow tones of his voice made her feel the same way now as she did then – safe, like Fate was a protective aunt who would bring her little cakes and she could face all the evil in the world without flinching – and she couldn’t help smiling in return.

“Weston. I can’t say I expected to see you again. Certainly not here. But you’ve managed to find me.”

“As always.” He smiled. “I see you got my message.”

Violet nodded. “You wanted to meet to discuss something…something about what happened…” The memories floated up again, “…what happened in the Grindlevale those many years ago.”

“To be honest, I wasn’t sure you would come.”

“Why not?” She blinked in surprise.

“You never answered any of my letters.”

“I never got any of your letters,” she countered. “What did they say?”

He chuckled, the same wry, self-reproving laugh that warmed her when life got cold. “It has to do with what you saw, but it’s a bit more complicated than can be easily covered over a single drink.”

“Then we’ll have dinner,” she said. “I haven’t eaten, and I’m famished.”

He nodded, and Violet turned in her chair, searching for the barman. As her gaze traveled over the patrons, trying to pick out the rotund man with wispy hair and the stained apron who could bring them food, her eyes lit on a figure standing in the shadows beside the door, and her heart leapt to her throat. No, it can’t be. Not here. Not now.

Lurking under the pale skin and dark cloak was the harsh, deformed face of a darkling, stuttering in red flashes like the world illuminated in the brief glare of lightening, replaced by the visage of a normal face, only to reappear again, making her insides cold and her eyes burn. Violet’s hand tightened in her lap, and she turned back to Weston, her face drawn.

“I’m not as hungry as I thought,” she said, barely moving her lips.

“You see something?” he said, and took a casual drink from the tankard.

She nodded, and fought the urge to squirm in her seat. She itched to know where the darkling was now, what it was doing, but she couldn’t look, couldn’t draw its attention to them. “It’s a darkling. In here. By the door.”

Weston put down his ale, and took a pocketwatch from his jacket. The ticking of the hands sounded like thunder in the room, the voices of the patrons echoing dully in the void of impending doom.

Weston stood, and offered her his arm. She stood and took it, fearing to look up. He left a silver on the table, and started to walk away. Violet thought he was planning to waltz straight out the front, so she stumbled slightly when he turned to the back and led her down a narrow passage way, to small door behind the kitchens.

It opened into a small yard. Chickens strutted about the dirt and pebbles, and two pigs nosed in the slop pile, watched over by the lordly gaze of a ginger cat stretched out on the low wall. Weston peered around before stepping through the door and pulling Violet after him.

“Where are we going?” she whispered, trying to see over his shoulder, but his brawn blocked her view.

“To meet someone.”

“Who?”

A figure stepped out of the shadows and glided towards them. Violet’s insides clenched in an icy mass. The face was horrible to look upon, the eyes black and menacing. Violet tried to speak, but her voice was caught in her throat.

Weston held his hand up, and the darkling paused at his voice. “You’re late.”

A voice issued from the creature, though it had no mouth, and it resumed its approach. “We are running out of time.”

“Remember our deal?” Weston called out, and the creature stopped.

Slowly, it nodded and pulled up its hood, concealing its features, and Violet’s body relaxed. The figure stood there, silent. Its shoulders rose and fell as though it drew breath, but Violet didn’t think darklings breathed.

“Weston, what’s happening?” Violet whispered, forcing her still-frozen voice from her lips. “Why are you talking to it?”

“Violet, this is who I want you to meet.”

She stared at him, sure she couldn’t be hearing correctly. He grabbed her shoulders and turned her so she was facing him, and looked down at her with an earnest intensity that frightened her more than the darkling did. “You remember what you saw?”

The memories bubbled up again. The dark night. The silver pool. The reflection of the stars. The old woman who had the same blue eyes as Violet, the same scar on her chin, but white hair instead of blonde, the face weathered, not smooth. The apparition fading as the cold from the presence of the advancing darklings grew.

“You remember what you saw?” Weston pressed, his fingers squeezing painfully but not unkindly.

Violet nodded, because it was the only thing she could do. One day you will have to make a choice. This choice will determine the destiny of many. “What choice? What must I choose?” Violet had asked. You must choose only what your heart and your mind tells you is right. No one can tell you what you must choose. To do so will bring the darkness upon all.

“Do you remember?” Weston repeated.

“I have to choose,” Violet whispered. “I’m the only one who can choose.”

“And that makes you important,” Weston said. “More important than you can imagine.”

“You’ve figured out what it means?” Violet said, her eyes widening.

“I didn’t figure it out, someone explained it to me.”

“Who?”

When Weston’s eyes went to the darkling, Violet shuddered.

“His name is La’reque,” Weston said, his voice deliberately low and soothing. “He told me that the darklings are after you, but not for the reason you think. La’reque has been watching out for you, since you got here.”

“It’s…it’s been watching me?” Violet managed to get past the faintness rising in her head. “Why?”

“To protect you, of course,” Weston said. “While we put some plans into action, gathered some missing pieces, figured out what we have to do.”

“Who’s we? And what do we have to do?” Violet said, struggling to make sense of all this new, vague information.

“All in good time,” Weston said. “What you have to do is stay here.”

“Stay here!” Violet exclaimed, indignation pulling her face into a tight glare. “What did you think I was doing before you showed up?”

“Remember, La’reque has been watching you,” Weston said. “He can tell when you’re getting antsy.”

“I would’ve felt him,” Violet said.

“Only if you saw his face,” Weston smiled. “Do you still trust me?”

“I don’t know,” Violet told him. “I never thought you’d be working with a darkling.”

“La’reque,” Weston admonished. “If we’re going to pull this off, we’re going to have to be friends and work together.”

“And yet you won’t tell me what this is.”

“All it good time,” Weston said. “Right now, La’reque is going to take you some place a little more difficult to find, while I go fetch the others.”

Violet didn’t bother asking who the others were, because Weston wouldn’t deign to answer. Instead she glanced at the darkling, thoughts and feelings warring inside her. Weston’s warm presence beside her stilled the tumult. She still did trust him, even if what he was saying was counter to everything she knew. The darkling stood silent, and after several deep breaths, Violet nodded.

“Lead on then, La’reque.”

 

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Why It Had Begun by Lisa Barry

For Shelley Martin; enjoy.

 By the time it ended she would understand why it had begun.

Marla blinked at the fortune teller and turned to her friend. Becky was big eyed and nodding in agreement with the fortune teller like she had understood his cryptic telling.

“What a crock of shit,” Marla commented and stood. “You may believe it, but I know better.”

She walked out of the tent and met the dusk with a glare. So much of the day had been wasted at this stupid carnival on her sweet 16th. She looked around for her boyfriend. He’d said he was going to try to win her a prize. She was thinking about making her sweet 16th very sweet and invite him to visit her room later. It would be an amazing top off to this oddball day. Her own parents had left for a bowling tournament in the next town and forgotten her special day. The devil-may-care attitude could sometimes get old. At least she got to take dad’s car. Becky came out of the tent just as Marla spotted Chris.

“That was very rude,” she said but when she saw the look on Marla’s face she paused and turned her head.

Chris was leaning against the seven mirror maze. He was embracing a petite blonde. Becky winced when she saw that it was the kind of embrace you don’t want to see your boyfriend having unless you were having an out of body experience and watching yourself.

Becky turned to console Marla but stopped with her hand out-reached. The blood had faded from Marla’s face and she stood, stony faced and emotionless. Her fisted hands gave away the stark anger that seemed to pulse from her.

A strange wind started up, dusting the dirt up at their feet at first and then whipping through their hair. The haunting carnival music stopped abruptly. A few pieces of hail hit the blonde in the head and she startled away from Chris. He threw an arm over her and looked around a bit frantically.

The wind continued, pulling itself into funnel and sucking up debris only to shoot it up and out. The ground shook in waves.

Becky giggled with glee. Marla’s lips quirked slightly, but she pulled her frown back and squeezed her fists tighter.

People were starting to scream and run around. The seven mirror maze shook, the sound of breaking glass echoing the wind’s roar. Marla yelled and flung out a hand. The maze broke apart and swept Chris and the blonde in before closing back up, pulling in the wind behind them with a whoosh.

Marla let out a contented sigh. Becky giggled again. The music started back up.

“Feel like joining me downstairs to mete out some vengeance?” Marla asked Becky.

Becky nodded but spoke up for the blonde, “she probably didn’t know you existed, ya know.”

Marla shrugged, “By the time this ends, she’ll understand why it begun.”

Becky giggled again. “See? Some of those guys really know how to tell a fortune.”

Marla rolled her eyes before sinking downstairs.

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Keldrin’s Story by Nicole DragonBeck

For Alexis, who is quite wonderful!

It was amazing to see him after all this time!

Valeria couldn’t contain her relief and joy at the unexpected pleasure, and a smile grew on her face. Her pace quickened, and she caught up to the tall man walking ahead of her on the street.

“Keldrin?” she asked, her hand reaching out for the broad shoulder.

The man stopped and turned. Valeria’s smile faltered. It was definitely him, but there was something off. He eyes were duller, the face tired and blank. Valeria noticed that his coat was threadbare, and his clothes needed patching. He was thinner, his belt barely able to keep his pants up.

“Keldrin?” Valeria asked again, her voice hesitant.

He searched her face with a frown, and finally a small spark lit his eyes, and brought this shadow of the man closer to her memory. “Valeria. It’s been so long.”

“Yes, too long,” she agreed. “Where did you go off to?”

He was silent for a long time. “Not where, but when.”

She blinked. “What do you mean?”

“I broke it.” Keldrin’s voice was so soft she had to strain to hear it.

“Broke what?”

“Everything.”

Valeria didn’t know what to say to that. She didn’t really know what to do, but she couldn’t stand there and do nothing, so she took his arm and led him along the street. He didn’t say anything, and he wouldn’t look at her, not even when they were seated at a small table in a tavern, surrounded by the warm sound of chatter and laughter, and the smells of meat and bread.

Valeria smiled at the young man who brought them plates of food and tankards of ale, twisting her skirt through her fingers. A terrible fear turned her mouth sour, a fear of what Keldrin might say. What on earth could he mean, he broke everthing?

Keldrin didn’t seem to notice there was food, though it appeared he had not eaten regularly for some time. Valeria pushed the plate towards him, and his eyes flicked to it. Again, it took him some time to really see what was in front of him. When he did, life sparked to life, and he dug in enthusiastically. Valeria had no appetite whatsoever so she just watch him demolish his plate, then hers, without stopping for breath.

When both plates were cleaned, Keldrin leaned back, and a small smile played on his chapped lips.

“That was mighty fine,” he murmured. “Almost like it was before.”

“What happened?” she asked.

He sighed. “I went to the Raladam, and fell through. It was so dark, but the bindings got easier and easier to find, and I pulled myself back. But the cracks followed me, and there was nothing I could do to stop them. The bindings were coming loose, and I don’t know how to tie them up. I don’t think I have much time.”

Valeria was lost. She didn’t understand anything after Raladam, and even that she didn’t think she fully understood what he was talking about. The Raladam was an area, and also the people who lived there, but little was known about them.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to stay long,” Keldrin continued, the regret in his voice made her flesh crawl.

“Where are you going?”

“I don’t know. The cracks never tell me.”

He chuckled at a private joke, but it was hard for Valeria to do more than breathe. Something inside her was desperately trying to understand something she instinctively knew was more than she could handle.

“Goodybye Valeria. I’m glad I got the chance to see you again.”

He held something out. She looked down, and his fingers uncurled to reveal a single flower with wilted petals. It looked like nothing she had ever seen, and though it was hard for Valeria to believe it, she knew it was from a land that she would never go to.

She looked up just in time to see Keldrin walk into the tavern and stop just inside the door. His left leg dragged a little, and a white scar closed his one eye. Wild brown hair was knotted around bones and feathers. The staff he carried was topped by the skull of a creature with two mouths full of fangs.

Valeria looked at Keldrin, who sat at the table with her, and her eyes widened as he faded until just the hint of his smile remained, and then that too disappeared totally.

A heavy thunk on the other side of the table made her look up, and Keldrin glared at her with his one good eye, his hair rattling as he looked from side to side. She didn’t know what to do, but she couldn’t do nothing, so she waved over the serving boy for more food.

 

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Snakes on The Brain by Brandon Scott

For Kevin, a man of deep conversations. I hope you like this story that went way off the rails.

Hiss!

Jerald’s eyes darted left, and then right, and then back to his dinner date. “Did you hear that?”

Destiny looked up from her desecrated lobster and wiped off her hands with a small moist towelette. She pursed her lips and looked also in the same directions as Jerald.

“What do you mean? It’s loud in here. Which sound?”

“It was um…”

Jerald became aware, more aware anyway, of the group of people sitting near him. The restaurant was packed with patrons for the day. Each of the circular tables held two people, and each table was only given enough space so that moving back a chair would not result in a collision.

Jerald leaned forward, and Destiny dutifully followed along, leaning over her lobster, and her dark hair touched the butter sauce and clung to a bit of it.

“It was a hissing,” Jerald whispered.

Destiny also whispered back. Though not in nearly as stealthy of a way. “Like what? Like a snake?”

“Yeah…” Jerald said, worrying about fangs biting into his foot at any moment. “I think it might be one.”

“That’s silly,” Destiny said, leaning back and addressing her loaded mashed potatoes with the gusto of a prostitute hired to have a dinner date with an awkward rich guy.

“You’re being silly,” she added.

Jerald briefly wondered who used the word “silly” anymore—before shaking his head to clear the thought. “No, I’m serious. It sounded just like a snake was here. Right around us. Don’t move your feet.”

“How would it get in here?” Destiny said and gave a cursory glance at her high-heeled limbs. Nothing there, of course. She did not expect there to be.

“I don’t know…someone’s pet?”

“Look, sir. I don’t know why you want there to be a snake. But if that’s what you want, I can play along. But don’t introduce roleplay without some warning.”

“That’s not…I am not going to deal with that right now. I really do think there is a snake. Should I… I don’t know, tell the waiter or something?”

“Well, don’t scream ‘snake’. That’s for sure.”

“Duh,” Jerald said and glanced around again. “But I need to do something about it. It is imperative.”

“Impera—what now? Look: let me eat, and then I can come with you out of the snaky restaurant, and you can do what you want to me for a night. That’s what you paid for, and what I came for.”

Jerald lost his paranoia for a moment as the promise of that very purchase’s outcome flashed to his head—but he was sure of the serpent. And when he opened his mouth to say something: the universe deemed him worthy enough to give confirmation to his concern.

The person eating next to them—a woman with a purse full of dog and earrings threatening to rip off the cartilage—screamed and shuddered before falling flat on her face into her soup. Cream of mushroom to be precise.

The liquid dripped around the porcelain rim and a loud hiss thrummed the air.

Several people screamed, and Jerald pulled up his feet.

“I told you! Oh God, that poor woman!”

“Poor woman?! What the shit is a snake doing in this place?” Destiny said, drawing up her feet and grasping for the lobster cracking tool with intent to defend herself if necessary.

“I don’t know! I don’t know!” Jerald shouted as everyone shouted. The waiters were calling on their cell phones, people were moving onto tables. One daring son-of-a-bitch went fully rogue and leaped from top to top in some vain hope of making it to the door—when there was at least a six-foot gap of open space there right at the end before the mahogany portal.

Jerald composed himself again, more frayed this time. “Okay, here’s what I think. We can wait it out, right? It’s not like it can go up a table. We just sit up in our chairs.”

Two tables away, an elderly man with a half-finished roast in front of him shuddered and uttered a sound before dropping into his meal. The woman across from him screamed before tipping out of her chair with a spasm.

Destiny screamed and someone pulled the fire alarm.

Water, buckets of the stuff, descended from on high to soak everyone. A million dollars plus in clothing all became what all clothes really are: lumps of fabric to cover nudity.

Destiny looked at her lobster in dismay, and her hair flopped down on her as the chemicals holding them up broke under the torrent. Her eyes covered, she shoved the locks aside with a look of pure annoyance.

“I am never going with you again. Get a different whore.”

“If we live,” Jerald said, “I will.”

Ten tables off, another dropped from a bite, and no one knew what to do about it anymore—if they ever did. Something about a snake and death made everyone lose their collective common sense.

But Jerald, Jerald did what any brave man should, he looked around and spotted the incoming black slithering monster, and hurled his steak knife with a shriek two octaves higher than any postpubescent man should be able to achieve.

The snake was apparently rather tender as the knife severed it cleanly. A few drops of blood dripped from the dead serpent, and the water continued to pour—washing the liquid away.

“It is dead!” Jerald proclaimed, and in the rain, the others cheered. Except for Destiny, who booked it out of there, clutching her purse containing her payment, even if she’d planned to weasel some more free stuff out of her date. But not dying was good enough—and the dude was probably awful in bed, anyway.

“The snake is dead!” Jerald said and repeated it a few times. Until he heard a scream in a familiar voice.

Destiny had the door open and was now stepping backward from it, into the restaurant, with her hands on her chest and yet another scream stuck in her throat.

Streaming in, in waves and sheets, were more snakes than anyone could conceive of existing in the world. Each one with coal eyes, and flitting red tongues, and seeking a bite of the people who liked fancy food.

“Oh…” Jerald said. “Oh…the snakes are not dead.”

Off in the distance, came the sound of a firetruck running off the road, and then exploding, followed by a hiss so loud it may as well have been the only sound in the entire world.

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