Category Archives: Lisa Barry

Meow by Lisa Barry

To Kendra Wallace who turned in this fun line as a Story My Friend started. May you enjoy the dark and light silliness of

The crisp fall air hit my face followed by the smell of pie and spice.  If you closed your eyes, it would seem like a typical October day, but as my eyes focused on the bloody corpse on the floor, reality hit. 

I stood outside the back door looking into kitchen of the small a-frame home. The wind whipped through my hair, protecting my olfactories for the moment. I would have to go in. I promised I would.

What was I thinking!

Lillia needed the blood of a shapeshifter to complete the spell she was working on. She said that it was imperative that I returned with at least a pint. Lillia said I must arrive at 3:05 pm to get it in time.

In time? She hadn’t said the shapeshifter would be dead!

I thought for sure I would just have to knock the lady out or maybe I could even sweet talk her. But this?

As I stood staring at the petite little blond lying distorted and bloody on the floor, a cat meandered in from a door to the left. Its orange and white body moved to sit near the lady, just an inch from the pooling blood. Its yellow eyes stared at the body for a moment before it looked at me.

“Meow.”

The strangely deep sound grumbled from its mouth. Then it started to clean itself.

I frowned. That was odd.

I realized with a jolt that I was standing at a back door of a house I didn’t belong to and peering in at a distinctly dead body. I glanced around. Seeing no one about, I stepped inside and gently closed the door behind me.

The smell was bad, but I gathered she was fresh so it was tolerable – and that I just thought that made me cringe. The cat watched me as I searched the cupboards for some way to get the blood from the corpse and into the pint size plastic container I’d brought. Since the blood wasn’t pumping, I didn’t think my needle trick would work.

I found a turkey baster. My stomach lurched. Then I had an idea. I grabbed a cookie sheet and a knife. I stuck the sheet under her head. It was still warm. I swallow back bile. I then sliced the back of her neck.

I watched the blood pool into the sheet. Sighing with relief, I left the body to search for a towel or blanket, something to put her head on when I was done. I couldn’t just leave her there like that.

The house was small but clean and there were shades of yellow in every room. Like she was really happy or trying really hard to look it. When I came back in the kitchen, I saw that the cat had moved. It was now lounging against the back door. When I met its eyes, it yawned.

When the cookie sheet was filling dangerously close to the top, I held my breath and lifted her head. I slid the tray along the floor and tucked the towel in its place.

Carefully, I brought the tray to the sink and putting my container in the sink, poured in the cooling blood. I sighed as I saw it was less than half of what I needed.

I repeated the process twice more without fully vomiting. By the time I put the lid on the container and washed the sheet, leaving it to dry in the drainer, I had determined that I was some kind of macabre, horrible non-feeling person.

Or maybe I’ll have a career as mortician?

I looked down at the pretty girl. I don’t know who had done this, but her life had ended much too soon.

The cat meowed. It had moved away from the door and in fact seemed to be waiting for me to open it. I frowned at it. I can’t remember the last time, if ever, I had heard cat meow at me. I checked my bag for the safe packaging of my spoils and opened the door.

The cat ran out with an odd whine, and I closed it behind me with some sense of finality.

I was about to turn away when a man came around the corner. A handsome young man, my age. He frowned.

“I was hoping you were Gwen. Is she in?”

“No, I’m afraid not,” I answered willing my heart to stay as normal as possible. I can’t sense the supernatural amongst the humans like me but I know what they’re capable of. “I was just dropping off a few recipes.”

That made him frown further. I should have known she wasn’t much a cook by the contents of her cupboard. Damn it!

“Dumb ass, Dumb ass,” the bird in the tree behind me chanted. I knew damn well who it was talking to and I would have killed for my bb gun right then.

“They’re for these no-cook chocolate treats. Really yummy,” I said with a bright dental commercial smile.

His frowned eased a hint.

“How did…why do you smell like blood?”

Thank goodness I’d actually thought about a retort for this one. “Well, that’s rude. I don’t run around asking males why they wake up with erections. Now excuse me,” I went around him careful not to touch him. “I need to get back to work.”

“Ha Ha Ha Ha,” the bird sang.

I could tell he turned and I felt his eyes laser beaming a hole into the back of my head. I really hoped the perfume I put on just for this visit would mask my scent. Actually I prayed. I think divine forces might be needed right now, at least there was a high possibility that my future life depended on it.

When I got to the car, I already had my keys out. I slid into the seat and before I could get the door shut, that crazy cat jumped in. My heart was up my nose he scared me so bad. With no time to waste, I turned on the car and got the heck out of there.

The cat had settled into my passenger seat and purred the whole way to Lillia’s. It was surprisingly peaceful. The way having cats should be.

Lillia was already in the doorway waiting for us when we pulled into her driveway. I swear she could have been drooling feverishly and rubbing her hands together. The cat whisked by her feet and into her house.

“Hello, handsome,” she said to him as he vanished inside.

“I’m so sorry, Lillia,” my voice wobblier than I wanted.

“It’s no problem. Thank you, Holly,” she said, closing the door behind us and holding her hands out to me like she was going to cup water. She was tall and thin, but muscled like an aerobics instructor. I pulled out the container and dropped it into her strong yet dainty hands.

She floated down the hall and to the back of the house to what she called the spirit den. The name had creeped me out until I bled a dead body for her. Now it seems tame.

She was already pouring the thick dark liquid into her cast iron pot heated by a state of the art induction stove. I heard a loud purring and spotted the cat sitting in purple couch across from Lillia, watching carefully every motion Lillia made. It meowed again before settling down with stretch.

Weird.

I shivered. She had told me that she just needed help with this one little thing and then should would make my spell. Seeing as how my little problem wasn’t manifesting right now, I couldn’t help but wonder if she had done the spell already. Like chanted and danced or whatever things she had to do to make it work. If not, this spell should prove to me that I came to the right place. I may not approve of her methods, but if she can help cure me of my…ability, I will be forever grateful. I sat down on the other end of the couch and watched.

The pot snapped and gurgled as Lillia stirred. After seemly forever she declared it ready and after dipping in a large metal ladle, she poured the black stuff into a wine glass and gave a child-like giggle. She gave a glance that seemed a little sultry to me toward the cat.

It started to meow and while I was wondering what her deal was, the meow altered into something else, something decidedly human. I looked over to the cat just in time to see a faint glow dissipate and a very hot, very naked man was now seated on the couch next to.

“Jeez! Uh, ah!” I fell from the couch and landed in a heap on the floor.

Lillia giggled again and came over to me with a metal to-go cup in her hand. She waited for me to stand and then handed it to me.

“Here’s your payment, dear. Now be on your way.”

The man stood, dangly bits and all, and went to Lillian draping an arm around her as she downed the contents of her wine glass.

I hightailed it out of there. When her front door closed behind me, I stood and let my heart settle into its normal calm rhythm.

“Hey!”

I looked around searching for the owner of the voice.

“Hey! Can you get my ball? Please, please, please.”

I sighed and started looking for the dog. I could just make out its nose in the neighbor’s fence. A neon yellow ball glowed in Lillia’s front yard.

I looked at the mug in my hand. I didn’t actually see what it was that Lillia’s potion was supposed to do but I was pretty sure I’d want to give that one a miss. I looked at the dog.

“Hey!”

I lifted the mug to my lips and drank. It tasted like pink lemonade. I guzzled the rest and as it slid down my throat I listened.

“Nanner nanner nanner….tweet, whistle, tweet.”

“Hey, please, please…ruff, ruff.”

I smiled and blinked back tears. Then I picked up the ball and tossed it over the fence. And then I went home.

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Closure by Lisa Barry

To one of my dearest and most loved friends in this world; Erica Kobrin.

I hope my dark words bring closure to whatever ails you. Hugs!
It was a long time coming.  I had waited what felt like an eternity for this moment to arrive and now it had.

I pulled the knife from his chest and watched his face crumple in pain, his eyes disappearing into his laugh lines, his lips just husks of skin. He whimpered.

I shrugged and shook my head. It just wasn’t enough.

I slid the knife into his chest once more. It was a beautiful serrated hunting knife. I had received it as a gift a long time ago after accepting a demon research job. Turns out, when you skewer a demon in just the right place, it stays alive long enough for you to collect some samples and ask it some questions (with the promise of letting it go, of course). Only once did I let one go. He was incredibly handsome, that is, I mean, a real, true heart palpitating out of your throat kind of looks. He promised to visit me in my dreams and I couldn’t resist, strictly for research purposes, to see if he would indeed keep his word.

Son of bitch if he didn’t show up that very night.

And. Boy. Was. It. Worth. It.

A gurgled yell brought me back to my current deed. I realized I had been plunging the knife into the guy’s chest over and over again. Blood was gushing down his body and pooling beneath him. I had him half propped up against the wall. It was his house so I wasn’t concerned about the carpet. I knew his family was out for the weekend while he “worked”. I paid the “work”, which was in the form of a dumb bitch who was here when I arrived, to leave. He gurgled and blood sort of jumped from his mouth and landed on my clean arm.

“A slob even in death,” a muttered. I pulled the knife out, wiped it on his jeans and then stuck it in a plastic bag. I would give it the loving care it needed later.

His jaw was wagging like he was trying to say something. I knew he was in pain. Like mega, holy fuck, I’m actually going to die cause my psychotic ex-wife just stabbed the holy shit out of me type pain.

I smiled at him. I posed in a sexy, sultry way that I knew a certain demon would lunge at me for if he was here. Then I cocked my head and made a sad face.

“You’re loss, babe,” I told him. “You could have had the best of me but no. You had to waste ten years of my life while ensuring that I knew what a horrible, fat, useless person I was.”

His eyes widened and more blood pumped from his chest. Jeez, this guy was blood bag.

I continued, “Funny what self-defense classes and a few good fucks will do for a girl.”

I squatted and stuck a finger in the blood draining from him. I then proceeded to turn his face into a bright red smiley. It seemed appropriate for someone who, while smiling and talking to you, could simultaneously knock you into the ground and kick your teeth in.

In case you hadn’t picked up on it yet, he was a real piece of work, and I was the lucky bitch who got the kill call. Can you believe it? I got to waste this lying, cheating asshole and get paid for it!

I laughed out loud. I was delirious! I calmed a couple of notches, but just a couple when I heard a motorcycle drive by. My getaway had announced its arrival and continued to the rendezvous at the end of the street.

His head nodded then and I watched as his damned spirit peeled away from the body I had ruined.

It had been a long time coming.

A chill rushed over my skin as I thought of what waited for me at the end of the street. Steaming hot. Caring. Interested. Encouraging. Who would have guessed that a Demon would be my knight in shining armor? He actually wore armor, skin tight body armor, but still.

I had waited what felt like an eternity for this moment to arrive and now it had.

Closure.

 ** The End **

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CONFUSION AND PEACE by Lisa Barry

For Alanna ~ May books be ever present, comforting and dark. Cheers! 😉

It is dawn and the devastation that surrounded me made it look as if the earth were weeping blood.

I know I was.

I could feel the tears running down my thick jaw, thick and sweet. Holding my head high, I dared someone to find it a weakness. If there was anyone left and they thought to find it so, the dragon blessed sword in my right hand, dripping in time with my tears and the dwarf spun dagger in my left hand still glowing from untold numbers of the life essence it had consumed would change their mind.

Wars were won with death and loss. I felt both clamped tight to my lifeless heart as the first rays of sun reached over the horizon.

I searched the field for the rest of the clan, hoping for some movement, some sign that I was not the only survivor. A pool of spit overflowed my tired mouth as I scanned, and I let it drool to the ground. The groans of portending death I listened to were not of my people. They were a malicious brand of enemy, brought together with hopes of removing mine from the Earth’s surface. They failed. Of course, they failed. Barely.

The tears started to dry and the day heated. Behind me, an old castle was crumbling away. I ducked into its falling walls and searched for shelter. An old staircase, partially supported by a lone beam would have to do. I ducked beneath it and dug out my grave for the day.

~~~

All day I waited in the cool dirt to worship the moon again. I could handle the day in partial sun, but I needed to regenerate after the destruction, the completely unnecessary cost of survival. All because one race could not leave enough alone and stand down.

I had stopped praying many, many years ago. There didn’t seem to be a point. I knew I was not of the demons below like many might think but I also knew I was no longer of the virtuous above. I had killed. Not just the initial one by accident. No, I had grown strong and fast and found I enjoyed the flesh a little more than maybe I should have. Rumors say it is common in our kind. I was not of one kind though. I was more. And I had been too far gone at the time to really notice or care one way or the other.

I licked my lips in memory only to be sadly reminded that I was a half foot under the ground. I didn’t bother trying to clean my mouth. I would wait. It was almost time.

Then I would take the time to search the area and find any evidence of the rest of us. Of him. He was really all I needed.

He had helped bring me back. From whence I had vanished. A place of lust and blood, death and life. A dark place with much laughter but no mirth. I hated and loved it. I would have been killed for my being lost in it if it wasn’t for him.

He must be alive else I’ll go back to wish for death.

The moment the sun was about to dip, I dug myself out. I spat. I was tired of being dirty.

I searched the entire field from end to end and across. I found evidence of some of my kind; Gedian’s time piece, Abel’s favorite buckle, Sessley’s gold broach. All littered across what was once a lovely green pasture, filled with flowers, pixies and small animals. All gone now.

I no longer had tears; my eyes were drained. It was he I needed and did not find.

I had fed so much yesterday that I would likely go a week before needing to eat again. I pulled in a large breath of air, took in the copper scent of blood, the decay of rotting bodies and ever so faint smell of new life. I would remember this moment.

I could reach the Den by dawn if I hurried. It was my last hope that he would be there.

~~~

A light was on in the Den.

I prayed.

When I opened the door, I heard the sound of pouring, smelled the deep cinnamon and orange of a fragrant tea. Such a simple thing, a cup of tea. And yet, it meant I wasn’t the only one left.

I ran down the hall and into the sitting room. Sessley sat in the high-backed chair, the tea set laid out carefully on the table next to her. She was covered in gore, her dress torn, her broach lost in the field where I had left it. She smiled when she saw me. I kneeled at her knee and licked her hand. We both inhaled the tea for a few moments before I sat in the love seat nearby.

Sessley always found the scent of the tea calming. She missed the taste but settled for the aroma and it appeared to appease her as he appeased me.

I met her eyes; I knew mine held questions. Her mouth turned down and she shook her head. I let go a breath I didn’t need. There are some human things that never seem right to lose.

I growled in acknowledgement.

Is there anyone else? I wondered.

“I feel several though they have hidden themselves well. I am not certain why they do not come home. There is one. Slow and odd but he moves closer with each motion of the moon,” Sessley said.

She must have heard my mind. Sessley had a built in tracker. She could feel where our Kin were located. If she had shared their blood, she could even find specific people. As far as I know, she had never done so with him. I felt confident that if she had she would have told me if she felt him or not. Or where he might be.

I was even more glad that there were more of us. Perhaps hiding for a time from the evil that wished to see our demise was sensible but there were as few of us as them now. I didn’t think it would be trouble again until our numbers came up once more. A massacre of two races. I shook my head. Like the world wasn’t big enough for everyone.

I left Sessley to her tea and took a long, hot bath. I felt better but still empty. The darkness could come in so easily. I needed light.

~~~

It took him two days.

He was light. And dark. And fear and joy. He was confusion and peace.

As soon as he came in, I dropped down and rubbed my face on his knees, licked his hands and face. He laughed and rubbed my head. I growled and chuffed and licked his face again. He took my furry hands in his and gave me a very humanlike hug.

“You made it, boy! I should’ve known my pet would make it home.”

~~~

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Beautiful Demons – Lisa Barry

For Lizard. One of my most wondrous and most favoritous people in the whole world. Xo

I had two HUGE Rhodesian Ridgeback dogs when I was in my twenties…

At least that’s what people wanted to see. I let them. It would have been difficult to explain that they were actually demons. Huge, beautiful and cuddly but still demons. I had captured them when I was just a novice. I had only recently discovered that I could see things beyond the norm. We were at the mall when I mentioned it to my best friend Matt. He laughed at me before nudging an elbow into my ribs and asking me to check out the blond at ten o’clock. Like I cared about a dumb girl when I could see the most amazing creatures. It didn’t take me long to figure out that some of them were actually living undercover in our world and weren’t doing any harm. That made me pleased as pie. But some of them. Well, some of them weren’t very nice. I’d been lucky so far not to see anything really horrible–and truthfully, I was pretty scared about that day when it finally came. And I was certain it would. But for now, the mall was a good place to find the ugly idiots who were pranksters and thieves.

You may wonder why I would look for trouble. Initially I hadn’t. I had discovered the most wonderful thing. They had no idea I could see them. The best part? When I touched them, something about me was pain. I was terrified the first time I laid a hand on one.

I watched him walk out of the electronics store with a brand new pair of $200 headphones, and I was not cool with that. I had to work in my mom’s book store for two weeks to make enough to get those. There was no way I was gonna let that orange bumpy faced freak get them for nothing. I walked right up to that guy and put a hand on his shoulder.

He screamed bloody murder and fell to the ground, the headphones skidding across the floor and landing at the entrance of the store. I moved my hand away as though he shocked me, which he hadn’t. He stopped keening but stayed on the ground shaking with the aftermath.

“I’m so sorry,” I said to him. He growled at me, which was weird seeing as how he looked like a goldfish out of water rather than anything like a dog. He slowly got up and backed away. I just watched. It was too weird for me honestly. He finally turned and ran. When I looked back at the store, a shop clerk was holding the headphones and looking around in bewilderment. I almost snickered but decided to keep a low profile.

A week later, after having avoiding all weird looking creatures, I casually poked one as I walked passed. He was leaning down to look at a newspaper in a stand. No one seemed to be watching so I reached over and just poked the middle of his back. He cried out and crashed to his knees. I kept walking like I didn’t see him. That’s what everyone else did. The creatures could be creating dust storms and hollering all sorts of hocus pocus and the humans just cruised on by like nothing was happening.

I had asked my mom if she ever saw weird stuff around. She laughed and said I should hang out near the soup kitchens. I was pretty sure she misunderstood the question. My dad had split a long time ago so I guess whatever my odd talent was, it was his fault.

I had been seeing the weird creatures around for two months when I saw my demons. They were in cages at the pet store. At first I had noticed how sad they were and it pulled at my heart strings. But then I noticed that other people could see them too. A little girl saw them and pulled away in fear. I was so happy I almost ran up to her, joyous that I had found another like me. But then her mom smiled and waved at the demon.

“He’s a big doggie, isn’t he?” she asked her daughter. The girl nodded with big eyes and stuck a thumb in her mouth. They moved on to look at the hamsters.

I went to one of the cages and sat in front of it. It was the first time I had the opportunity to do so without humans thinking I was a nut bag.

“How did you end up in here?” I wondered aloud.

“You don’t mess with the boss’s car and get away with it,” he answered. I sucked in a breath and skittered away. We stared at each other for a while. The demon in the next cage must have had his interest perked as he moved as close as he could while still in his cage. I wasn’t sure how I felt about them but they were so big and the cages really didn’t fit; I felt a little sorry for them.

“What did you do?” I asked scooting a little closer. It had occurred to me that if they hadn’t escaped yet, they weren’t going to do it with me sitting here. The one in the other cage laughed but there wasn’t any happy glow in his black eyes.

“We thought it would be funny to cover it wax.”

My face pinched involuntarily. “Even I know better than that. What kind of car did he have?”

The two looked at each other. The other one gave a small nod.

“Ferrari.”

My face screwed up even more. “Geez, that was stupid.”

“Thanks,” he whined. “As you can see we’re waiting patiently to be adopted so if you could get lost that would be great.”

“You mean like, get a new home? Like you were fired from…uh, wherever?”

They just stared at me.

“How in the world can people see you?” I asked.

“We look like dogs to them,” the one in front of me said.

“Really big dogs,” the other said.

“How long have you been here?” I asked.

The one in front of me blew a long snort from his nose ending with a low whine. “Too long,” he said.

“Years,” said the other.

“How is that possible? I thought the store would get rid of you before then.”

“Magic and torturous boss,” was all the beast said. I stood and left them then, headed straight to a clerk.

“How much for both of them?” I asked. The skinny teenager gawked at me, pushed his glasses up his nose and blinked. I waved a hand in front of his face. Yeah, I knew I looked good. I used to be really into worrying about it, making sure I was top notch at all times. But after my sight arrived, that’s what I called it, I didn’t care so much anymore. My music, my friend Matt, and figuring out this other world, that’s all I was really into. I only went to school to finish up my last year and be free. I hadn’t figured out how I could make money with the sight yet, but I sure wanted to.

“What…t…t?” he stuttered at me glancing at the cages I pointed to, “Th…th..there’s nothing there.”

I was looking right at the demons. I am pretty sure one of them rolled its eyes. I walked back.

“How come the customers can see you but the shop guy can’t?” I asked.

“If anyone tries to adopt us, we go invisible,” the whiner said.

“That’s a cheap trick,” I said mimicking something my mom said here and there.

“You’re telling us?” said the one on the right, who seemed to be the smarter and less complaining of the two.

“Well, I’m going to get you out of there and in exchange, you’re going to help me learn about your world.”

“He would kill us!” Whiner demon shrieked.

“No he won’t,” Smart one said, “he doesn’t care one way or other.”

“Yes, he does!”

The smart one looked funny to me as he sat, his head lolling to the side, brows raised. I chuckled.

“I’ll be right back,” I said.

I wandered through the store and found the things I needed. When I went through the line, the nerdy guy from before ran up my purchase. Poor guy couldn’t say a single word without messing it up. I flashed him a brilliant smile as I took my change and my bag. I didn’t wait to see his reaction. I left the store for a moment so I could unpack my stuff and get it ready.

I went to the cages.

“I will free you and take care of you. You will help me learn and protect me. Do we have a deal?” I said. They looked at each other for a long moment. One of the first things I would ask is if they could do that ESP thing.

They turned to me at the same time and nodded. I glanced around. A couple were oohing and aahhing over a cat, one perky girl clerk was helping an older gentleman with different types of dog toys, and the nerdy guy was ringing up cans upon cans of cat food for a lady who trailed three kids under 5. I turned back to the demons. I opened the Smart one’s cage and slipped a collar around his head before fastening a leash to it.

“Your name shall be Rebel,” I said as I led him out. I quickly did the same with the other.

“Your name shall be Yell,” I told him and led him out as well. He chuffed at me. I didn’t know if that meant he liked the name or not but I thought it was funny so he gets what I like.

I walked out of that store with my two huge “Rhodesian Ridgebacks” and never looked back.

 

That was over ten years ago. Since then I graduated with honors, met my boyfriend (who happens to be part dragon – oh yeah he is so hot) and started a very successful creature removal business. (Turns out that even if people can’t see them, they sure can have problems with them.)

My demons? After Matt, who still doesn’t believe, they’ve turned out to be a woman’s best friends.

 

 

 

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I Believed by Lisa Barry

For Marie Weppelman, whom I will always know as Yolanda. J

To health, happiness and bright futures. May you always believe.

 

I knew I shouldn’t have done it, but that voice that comes from somewhere deep inside me, where I seldom look, gave me no choice.

 

I went to the dance.

 

Keeping my eyes half-mast to avoid the painful lights, I hid near the trees at the back of the festival. The celebratory dance was just about to begin, and I just couldn’t think of lifting one foot with this horrendous headache shooting spasms down my neck. Why did I listen to the voice?

 

Rubbing my temple with one hand, I felt my way backward into the forest, eager to hide. No need to get pounced and pulled into the party only to find myself heaving up dinner at the feet of many eligible nobles and their friends.

 

I knew the music would have normally carried me away into a world of freedom and joy, but the farther I went, the softer the tones became. A sharp stab made its way into my eye, and I moaned.

 

“Are you well, Shilah?” an all too familiar voice whispered from the darkness to my left. The one bachelor I really did not want to see right now was obviously nearby.

 

“No,” I whispered. Just the effort made me pause and press a hand to my stomach. What was wrong with me? My back hit a wide tree trunk, and I allowed myself to sink down and settle, bent and dizzy, in the leaves on the ground. A warm hand brushed along my temple. Safety.

 

My heart wanted to flutter and dance in delight, but my nerves and my stomach could only bring tears.

 

“Shilah?” he said urgently, squeezing my shoulder, “what’s happening?”

 

I opened my mouth to speak and merely exhaled loudly several times before swallowing deeply and trying once more. “Ill,” I managed to say. Why had I come again? The voice. So often I listened, and it had reigned true. But this time? My pounding head stopped further thoughts as I winced in pain.

 

His arms went around me so quickly I hadn’t registered them, but now that he stood holding my head against his solid chest, I panicked. Of all the men, please, why? So many I could think of to lose my stomach on but not him. Not him.

 

~~

The morning sun seeped between the heavy drapes warming my hand as it rest on the bed. My eyes flew open, and I took in the floral blanket draped over me, the softness of the bed, the gold and ornate coverings on the walls. I did not recognize the room, and yet for the first time in possibly years, it was the safest place in my heart. The light scent of lavender and roses effused the air and made me feel free. I must have blacked out last night, and yet here I was feeling fit and clear headed.

 

I noticed a table to my right with water and fresh mint leaves. I grabbed the cup and drank every bit before dropping the leaves into my mouth, relishing the last vestiges of last night’s fear leaking away and leaving me refreshed. I was just placing the cup on the table when I stopped midway as my eyes rested on a chair in the corner.

 

There he sat, dark curls in disarray, eyelashes resting heavily on his cheek as he slept sitting up. Lord Byram. My heart’s one and true love.

 

I put the cup down so as not to disturb him and watched him sleep. His clothes were slightly wrinkled, but it only made him more adorable. Many, many moments passed before I remembered.

 

The warm and satisfied smile that had found a home on my lips faded. I pulled the blanket down and saw that I was still wearing one of my two handmade dresses. A lip pulled up slightly before settling back again when I saw that he was indeed a gentleman.

 

I needed to leave. The fantasy, though brief and wonderful, had ended. I had work to do at the home of the Crescent’s, where Lord Byram’s dear sister resided with her gruff husband and their two children. I had no life with Lord Byram.

 

I ever so slowly slipped from the bed to the side away from him. As I hid behind the bed listening to the sound of his breath, I saw my boots, cleaned and set at the doorway. Hearing no change in his breathing, I tiptoed to the door, picked up my boots, and placed a hand on the door pull. Escape.

 

“Shilah?”

 

His voice was soft and yet commanding. I froze and turned to meet his amber eyes as he gazed upon me half-lidded.

 

“Yes, sir?” I whispered.

 

“Leaving so soon?” His voice was soft.

 

I curtsied before speaking. “I didn’t wish to disturb you, sir.” He stood. “You seem to have…uh.” He took a step forward. “You saved…” He took a longer step. “You helped me and I am…”

 

He stood before me and pressed a finger on my lips. I shut up and with wide eyes looked up at him. He was frowning. This couldn’t be good.

 

“I’ve no wish to make a tramp of you, my lady, but I most certainly want to kiss you.”

 

“But I am no lady,” I whispered. My heart couldn’t seem to decide if it wanted to beat from my chest or stop completely. He ran a hand down my cheek and then dropped it to his side.

 

“A lady is a woman who is polite, thoughtful and well-spoken. You are most certainly a lady,” he said.

 

“A lady is a woman who is high born in an upper economical class. I am most certainly not a lady,” I countered. Now I was getting angry.

 

“Well, you can’t have it both ways,” he chuckled.

 

“There is no both ways. There is only what others believe.”

 

He nodded and bent his head to the side, his eyes narrowing slightly before he breathed out a sigh. “That may be true, love, but we make others believe what we wish.”

 

You make others believe. Nobles make others believe. Those of my stature merely clean the homes and look after those who make others believe.” Tears welled in the corners of my eyes, and I blinked them away.

 

His hand gently touched my chin. “Shilah?” he asked gently.

 

“Yes?” I said barely audible even to myself.

 

“I believe we shall make others believe. Do you trust me?”

 

I sighed. “You know I do. Since the time you stopped that stable boy from bothering me. No has ever tried again.”

 

He smiled, the glow so radiant and so warm, that I really believed. We would make others believe.

 

~~

When we walked into the Crescent’s home arm in arm, I thought my legs would buckle. The fear ate at me. The villagers and the Lords who had never noticed my existence of course hadn’t blinked an eye at me, save maybe full perusal of my new dress but the Crescents? They had known me since I just a girl. They kept me on even when my mother had passed. Surely they would oust me and I would lose…

 

I glanced to him by my side. Beaming. My husband. My legs started to shake again.

 

“Byram!” Lady Crescent strode into the room like she was going to take down a bull but instead, gave Byram a tight hug as she laughed. It had been months since he’d visited. She turned to me, took my hands, and looked into my eyes. Familiar eyes. Byram had trained me and trained me some more to keep eye contact until I thought I would throttle him. I didn’t look away. She smiled then. I was surprised to see her eyes become moist before she batted her eyes together a few times, and it was like it had never happened.

 

“You are officially welcome to the family, my dear Lady Shilah of the house of Lord Byram Stropefeld. May your children be one day crossing my threshold.”

 

I blinked. I felt his warm breath on my ear. I blinked. I smelled the vanilla in the air. I blinked.

 

And I believed.

 

~~*~~

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Crunch by Lisa Barry

For Nicole ~ who knows that some dragons are bad but many are good. Hope you like! Xo

He USED to think the only thing worse than an angry bridge troll was an angry dragon…

But then he married Evelyn.

She was, by far, angrier than any troll bridge or any dragon could ever be. Loldrin Sethreen hadn’t slept in his own bed since she arrived. He had been assured ten different ways that arranging a marriage with a foreign royal would solve all his problems.

  • He would get an heir.
  • He would not have to deal with the pain and sorrow of true love.
  • He would have someone to cook meals and clean the place while he battled the aforementioned angry trolls and angry dragons.

But now, after saving damsels in distress, rescuing fairies from rogue mermen and arbitrating gold and supply trades between unicorns and goblins, he came home to his castle in the same shape he left it. No dinner was cooking over the hearth, no clothing was cleaned or pot scrubbed.

And there, sitting in the rocking chair that he had built with his own two hands, on the rare days he took time off, was The Terror. Lady Evelyn Shylo Meryin Lautry, the second heir of the Castle Traudlands.

His wife.

At least she was knitting. He had two sock pairs in the last week. They were softer than rabbit fur. He wasn’t sure what kind of yarn she used, but he hoped she never ran out.

Loldrin walked past the spiral staircase and continued with feigned purpose through the living room. He caught her eye and gave a quick nod as he headed to the far doors toward the kitchen. It had been a long day. He was tired and just wanted a bath and to lounge in his bed with a good book.

“Lord Sethreen?” she asked, her voice a soft feather over his skin. He stopped instantly just two footsteps shy of the door. Since he had shown up at the Castle Traudlands to complete the arrangement a fortnight ago, it was the first time that she had spoken.

He had felt the brim and firestone burning from her rosy pink cheeks, which unfortunately for him, had made her ivory skin and deep burgundy hair an admirable image to see but never touch. He wasn’t a damn troll after all. She was obviously genuinely and completely incensed to be in this new land, and possibly more so, to be married to him–a dark haired, bronze skinned foreigner from the south.

He turned and found that she had stood. Any other day, he would have known before turning. He met her eyes, bright, blue and fierce.

“You may call me, Loldrin, Madame.”

She nodded in reply.

And then those dark red eye brows dropped, and he could have sworn he saw fire slide through her eyes.

“Loldrin,” she said. It made him smile. It sounded so strange. Her brows lowered a bit more. “I do wonder, why is it that when I need toast and a bit of tea that I must fetch it myself? Where are the servants? And where in the name of the gods do you keep the honey? I am appalled at this household!”

Stepping back, a bit closer to the doorway, Loldrin waved a hand at the window in front of him. It overlooked his full stable, sixteen horses he had. “I have three stablemen, my lady. And I think they all prefer sugar.”

He turned and headed to the kitchen to make himself something to eat.

Later that evening, he sat at his desk, twisting the top of the ink well off and then on again. He pondered the best course of action and once decided, he picked up his quill and began to write.

First thing in the morning, he gave two letters to one of his stableman to deliver. As it had been every other morning, the lady was asleep in his bed. Yes, he had looked even though it wasn’t quite decent of him.

He kept that work-day light; an arbitration with a brownie and a tree sprite over some rain drop rights, and a fox medic demanding payment for saving someone who swore they just wanted to be left to die. That was a bit of tough one, but the fox ended up losing out. There just wasn’t very much evidence either way.

When Loldrin returned home, he went straight to the barn with his beautiful Alterian horse, Lexnor.

“Sir!” Arem, the youngest stableman stood at attention.

“At ease, boy,” Loldrin said and handed the reigns to the him. “Did you deliver the messages?”

“Of course, Sir. Madam Baker promised a proper solution to ya at supper time. And the other? Well, that was just a nod.”

“Excellent!” Loldrin said. He gave Lexnor a final pat and waved at them both, making his way to the castle to get cleaned up for supper.

Evelyn greeted him with slitted eyes. Her current project seemed to be close to done. It looked like a very nice sweater. He pressed his lips together as he passed. How does one become so angry? His tolerance for such behavior was short. It was no wonder she had been still available for marriage.

Just as he was putting on his boots after a nice hot bath, his stableman, Rakshaw, hollered up the stairs.

“Your delivery is here!”

“Good! I’ll be right down.”

Loldrin forced himself to slowly finish dressing and combing back his wet hair before heading downstairs, not wanting to look too eager. He found Evelyn had not budged from her chair. The item she was working on before was folded next to her and a new one started. Boring. She didn’t even glance up.

Loldrin considered himself a good, honest man. He had many friends; he worked hard. He liked simple things. And things would change. Maybe not in the way he had originally thought, but he would get want he wanted. One way or another. A clean home, hot meals, and someone to talk to now and again.

He opened the door with a flourish and smiled. Standing before him, holding a basket of delightful food items, was a lovely little yellow haired woman and her young son. She seemed a bit taken aback. The boy however smiled, his two front teeth missing, and waved a hand.

“Allo, Mista! I’m Jack and this is me mum, Tabitha. We’re here to help ya with your chores!”

“Well, allo to you too, boy. I am pleased to make your acquaintance. Please, do come in.”

Jack barreled in and Tabitha followed a bit more timidly. She did nod as she passed him. At least she wasn’t shooting daggers with her mind. He could tell.

He led them to the sofa and waved for them to sit. He could see out the front bay window as he looked them over. Evelyn stood from her chair near the fire.

“What is this, Lord Sethreen? I am not accustomed to the help sitting on the fine furniture.”

That would be obvious, Madame,” he said and turned back to his visitors.

“Now, Ms. Tabitha, I am prepared to give you four gold pieces a fortnight…”

“That’s exorbitant!” Evelyn shrieked.

“Hush, Evelyn. As I was saying…I also offer room and board,” he pointed at a doorway across the hall, “for you and your boy. Now in exchange, I would like hot meals for the morn and eve and I would like the place clean. Is that acceptable?”

“Well, I…” Tabitha started timidly.

“Well!” Loldrin said loudly, efficiently cutting her off. “Was that Prince Eracourt’s carriage that I saw heading toward the back courtyard?”

He heard Evelyn scramble from her chair, straighten her dress, and dash out the back of the room. He gazed out the front window, leaving Ms. Tabitha to open and close her mouth like a fish, perhaps wondering if she should speak now. He waited, even closed his eyes and breathed in deeply, noticing for the first time that Ms. Tabitha smelled like a fresh harvest. It was quite lovely.

A squeak, a crunch, and a loud belch echoed through the room. Ms. Tabitha’s eyes went round. Young Jack squirmed in his seat. Loldrin sighed with relief. He smiled at them both.

“Now, where were we? Oh yes, what do you think of that offer?”

Ms. Tabitha’s wide eyes looked at Evelyn’s empty chair behind him and back to him a time or two.

“No need to worry, dear. Not all dragons are bad.”

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The Music Box by Lisa Barry

For Trish Collins who submitted this amazing story starter to us!

The music box sprang open in her hand, and the tinny, cheap mechanism played a song she hadn’t heard since the night she killed him.

She could still remember his sweet blood trickling down her throat. Her teeth elongated slightly just thinking about it. She had never regretted that particular kill. He had been so sure of himself, so cocky. He deserved everything he’d gotten. And more.

She closed the music box and ran her finger along the fine detail of the wooden box before placing it back in the metal box and lifting the next item. It was a statue carved from black wood with ornate ivory accents. The statue depicted a young girl kneeling with her arm stretched out. Maura had always felt a kinship with her. The call for help that never came.

A glance in the box told her she had found what she had been looking for. Nestled beneath where the statue had rested was her first journal. The journal of a new life. She set the statue on her dressing table and lifted the book. The edges of the leather were worn, the pages yellow with age. It had an odd smell, a mix of salt and cinnamon.

He peered into the doorway of her room.

“Maury?” he questioned.

“I found it,” she answered and lifted it with a wave. He smiled; this simple action still had the ability to make her lifeless heart jump. She returned his smile knowing his angelic beauty outshone her own any day.

She lowered the book and opened it. As she flipped to the day it had happened, the day she had killed him, Raoul came to stand behind her. His fingers brushed the softest touch over her bare shoulders before settling at her hips. He looked over her shoulder easily.

She read from entry, her voice calm and soft.

His blood was better than the finest wine or the purest water. I had fleetingly wondered if I was coming to my own demise with such a delicacy allowed to my numb taste buds. I felt his breaths coming so fast and slowing, each beat becoming more and more distant, his struggle becoming less and less apparent. I breathed in his scent, delighted in it knowing it would vanish with his last breath.

And when the last of the air departed, when his heart gave its final stretch, I rested his head on my lap. I ran a hand over his porcelain skin, his pink lips before biting my wrist and holding it over his mouth. I coaxed the blood in with gentle massages of his throat. When I began to feel weak, I lowered his head to a pillow and curled into him. I could hear a haunting tune playing from a music box next door.

When he woke, he smiled. His teeth were different of course but the effect was the same. He was mine forever.

“Happy birthday, my love,” Maura said and turned her head to snuggle his chest.

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