Behind the Moon Door: Part 14

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“You can’t have it.”

I blinked. His voice was sharp, when it had been so reasonable before. I opened my eyes to see if he was still the same man. I folded my arms and narrowed my eyes. I tried to read him– mostly as an experiment. The emotional equivalent of static burned my nerves, even causing physical pain. I willed the chaos to end. All was quiet, but I realized my new found senses were blocked. I sighed. Trajan looked like he’d just swatted away an annoying insect.
“Why? Need a fancy trinket for your collection?” I asked out of nowhere.
He flinched and his eyes narrowed, though his face was as bland and pleasant like vanilla pudding. The beard did not help.

“For your sake. For the sake of the universe I’m sworn to protect.” His voice had gotten a bit deeper like crunching gravel. Despite this shift I knew it to be true.

“I’m not just some damsel in trouble.” I snapped, exasperated.

“You are that, and you carry a weapon you do not understand. My lady, I don’t’ understand it. As a wizard that makes me highly uncomfortable.”

“I need more than that. The wizardly “because I said so” is not helping”

Because it is inimical to life– especially yours.. For another thing, your powers are rogue. We don’t’ know what would happen. As for walking the labyrinth, you are but a child. That… process quails– and kills — wizards more powerful than I. A slip of a girl like you with Deep reality changing magics? You could destroy the natural order, including this place you love so much.”

I frowned and flopped back on the ugly brown flowered couch in the apartment just over the carriage house. He would not come into the house proper, and wasn’t especially clear on why. My head was still bandaged, and hurt. The lights were low, but the wizard seemed to glow of his own subtle radiance. I leaned my head against the curved edge of the couch, squinted and looked away.

I stared at the strange yet humorously antique looking painting of what looked like a Sargent– if he’d ever painted one of his lovely brassy sea going vessels being attacked by a Kraken. I hadn’t noticed the strange disk shaped UFO figure in the clouds before. I wanted to laugh, but the hole in my heart was already aching too hard. The wound ached, seeming to suck all the hope out of my heart.

I pulled myself together and looked back.

“The drow said…”

“And why on earth did you believe her? The Drow have their own agendas, and it is not often you can trust them. The last time the Summer and Winter court worked together doesn’t bear thinking about. Trust me. I was young then, but I was there.”

“Did you or anyone else hear what she said?! I read her. She was speaking the truth. I could even feel her broken oath. She really wants to work for us now… or anyone who will stop this tihing.”

The wizard sighed. “Yes, we heard her story. She appears to belive every word, and indeed everything she describes, much has already come to pass. things even she does not know. But she still works for Drack. IT may be that she is doing his bidding even as she is fooled into thinking otherwise.”

“I know she hasn’t been tampered with. I can tell.” I said stubbornly.

The wizard cocked his head. “Could you? That is a rare talent. Cosciba had it… long ago. But he has passed in to the depths, and we are poorer for it.” he paused and looked at me pointedly.

“I’m sorry to hear that. But, okay?”

“He was killed by the winter court,” he said, voice low. “The house of Cerese are assassins for the king.”

I shook my head, both filing away the information and shoving aside my feelings about this. I turned to look at him. I knew what she said was true, I knew her version of things were accurate
… but I had no proof. I had to get the wand back. But I didn’t know how to go it when it was imprisoned for my own good.

“But I need to see that wand. Efen just visit it?” I asked.

He shook his head. “It appears we are at an impasse. Anything else before I go?”
“Yeah, okay. I guess.”

The wizard narrowed his eyes as I appeared to concede.

“What were the Rye wars?”

“That was the war over the ownership of the portals to this world. The winter court had a stronger claim, but the Summer court said that no one being should control them. So… we have this modern arrangement.
I blinked. “Which is?”

“Each portal is owned by the currently reighning monarch. In winter, it is the Winter court that controls the gate. in the Summer, it is the Summer court’s gate. In spring and fall, they are owned by no one, so as to satisfy the Summer court.”

“Lilly fought in them. She said I should ask you.”

“Lilly is the only Unicorn in that battle– in the whole war– that survived. yes, there are still unicorns, but none of those with ties to your world survived, save her. The rest went deep into the labrynth and haven’t been seen since.”

I was stunned.

“Unicorns were the first birth when the paths between worlds was established. It is their job to steward the magics of earth”

“That’s gotta be big job for one unicorn.” I said.

“Lilly tells me there are those who never fought, who stayed on Earth, who renounced Arcadia for attempting an invasion. But no tales of their works have come across into Arcadia– or even to the In Between. Lilly doesn’t even talk to me about them.”

I I shook my head. “My brain hurts.” I begged.

The wizard smiled, warm despite the words. “Do not attempt to read my thoughts. Blocking such is the first thing a wizard learns.”

I sighed. “you are exasperating.” I said.

“One could argue that is my job.”

I closed my eyelids, feeling their weight like irresistible gravity. Before long a blaze of light turned my inner darkness red. By the time I blinked my eyes open again, he was gone.

The lights were off and a light blanket I did not recognize was draped across my body. Though now it was night, and the porch light was on. I heard someone banging around in the kitchen.
I suddenly realized I had to feed the animals.. hours ago. Fortunately, most of the entourage that didn’t use the attic literboxes were already outside or paddocked. I still managed to fall on the floor instead of slip gracefully out of my impromptu bed.

Patrick appeared with a flashlight. He was even handsome in the half light.

“You shouldn’t be trying to move too quickly.” he advised. “Remember you have a concussion. Don’t worry about the animals, Grace. I took care of them that the help didn’t already tend.”
Hello Kitty slinked past Patrick and lept onto the edge of the couch arm rest. She sat regaly on the edge, tilted her head and looked at my pitifully. Then dangled her tail down just past my reach. I tried to grab it, and she yanked it away. She turned away haughtily, then turned back towards me, leaping to the cushion next to my head. There she crouched, as if to say, “you need someone to keep an eye on you.” In her crouch she looked very intent, but still at rest, with all four paws tucked under her body, like a white puddle. She was part Japanese bobtail, with the white coloring and a couple of black spots on her flank, but she actually had tail intact. The last third of it was black. But her face was more apple than wedge, and her body was rounder and her fur was denser. She had one yellowy green eye, and one deep blue eye, which in the wrong light made her look like a pirate. Her delicate pink collar with a bow competed the picture.

She watched me with incredulity as I attempted to get back on the couch. Patrick actually picked me up and carried me back to the couch, taking a bit longer than was strictly speaking necessary. I’m not skinny by any stretch, but I’m not fat, either. Just… a bit curvy in places. Mom would nag me into oblivion if I turned out like her sister Joelle. But I’m not light as a feather either. He seemed to have no trouble at all hefting me to chest height and swinging me over my sprawling distance from the couch. He set me down gently next to hello kitty, without disturbing her. Once it was clear I wasn’t moving, she padded closer, purred and nudged me with her pink nose.

“If you’d take care of yourself, I wouldn’t have to.” he said, but didn’t sound particularly displeased by it. My heart was screaming something, but I was too tired to hear. I drifted off while Patrick was still smiling.

Gata blanca con ojos de distinto color

Gata blanca con ojos de distinto color

Because, Awesome Beverage: The Spotted Cow (Adult Float)

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So this is a rare as hen’s teeth food post. I know that hasn’t happened in a while but I discovered something amazing.

Because I don’t know much about the names of classic drinks, I’m going to call it: The Spotted Cow. You who are not cursed with dietary weirdness, take note.  This tastes so amazing you won’t care who can or can’t have it.  I’m pretty sure this has a fair amount of sugar in it, but… I didn’t die.  Probably because this was dinner.  (Bad me, I know…)

The Spotted Cow

Ingredients:

1 bottle of Stella Artois Cidre

1 generous scoop of So Delicious Salted Carmel Cluster Ice Cream

Tools: A big spoon, a tall wide frosty glass, a sweet tooth, and a willingness to devour yummy things. Optional long dessert spoon and a wide straw.

Yes, the ice cream is made of cashews. Relax. Also, that texture is supposed to be “slightly more solid than soft serve.”  I found it at the local big box store by chance. (Meijers, if you are curious. Sorry you sad sack folks outside the Midwest. They don’t exist elsewhere. Though there is ONE in NY.  Not sure where. Probably somewhere like Rochester, which reminds me of Michigan in many ways.)

Directions:  Scoop ice cream to your preference in tall frostly glass. Pour your pompously pronounced cidre into the glass. Be a bit careful, as it will foam up if your bottle was freshly opened. (I left the bottle open for a little bit to let them subside, because cheating)  Stir if you dare. Devour lazily as if there is not a calorie in a truck load. I used glass housed cidre, so if the stuff from a can tastes different I can’t help you.

Variations: I bet a shot of apple pie would not be amiss. I could also see adding a few slices of crisp apple to the mix as a garnish. I don’t do that whole foofy garnish thing, unless the object really adds something. Like the olive in a martini.  It adds a fair amount of salt that you’d be amiss without.

Admission of blogfail: I did not stop long enough between creation and devouring long enough to take a picture. The one posted is a thing I found on the wikimedia that looks vaguely similar.  Call it a dramatic reenactment.  🙂

 

Oh, dear. I’ll have to make this again to share it honest and true.

See page for author [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

See page for author [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Favorite SF Books

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ED: Here’s an old draft that I published elsewhere. Stuff is busy today, so I’m bailing on blog posts that are actual work.

There’s supposed to be a short snippet at the OWG about your favorite SF novel. I can’t do it. I just can’t. 50 words about a single title is just too confining.

I guess I will have to settle with which changed me the most in a lasting way. With this, I have narrowed it down to three.  They are… Fairy Land, The Diamond Age, and A Brave New World.   Fairy Land is a book I read in 2001. It broke my head.  Beautifully written, a compelling story with a gut wrenching twist at the end. The style is reminiscent of “When Gravity Fails” except the world is even more layered vivid and intense.

The Diamond Age is a wonderful character driven story that happens to be about how people socialize and learn.  Expect the usual zany Stephensonian world features, and the death of cyberpunk.  But, it was a good death.

I don’t even have to write about A Brave New World. So I won’t.

Woah, wait! That’s not fun!  We can’t have what’s good for you be The Best Science Fiction ever.  It’s about which was the most exciting and engrossing SF, right? I guess I could come up with three.  Fun is a big category, and it’s hard to measure, let alone rank.  Those are– man, do I have to choose?  There are a fist full of Bujold, so I will arbitrarily pick Brothers in Arms.  Weber gave us Honor Harrington– we’re up in the 20-30 range? Pick one. Take two, they are that good.

I’m also partial to Cherryh, from The Pride of Chanur to The Foreigner series.  One of my favorite Elizabeth Moon SF stories is “Remnant Population”.  Then there’s Sarah Hoyt.  Her short stories are overlooked, but let’s make our life simpler and stick to novels.  What, you mean I have to pick… one?!

Oh, no, it’s about mind altering worlds and strange concepts and the wonder in the universe. So Count to A Trillion by John C Wright tops that list.

Should it be all dancing about architecture? well, maybe not. We are storytelling about science. Science in real life is filled with great stories, many of whom are never told.  This is why the System of the World trilogy is technically science fiction. Even if its’ also historical fiction,and a swashbuckling epic romp through at least eight novels woven together into three great ox stunning books.

So… you see the problem?  Wait… this is a PROBLEM?!

The War on Fandom– By Fandom

The War on Fandom– By Fandom

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By The Conmunity – Pop Culture Geek from Los Angeles, CA, USA (Comikaze Expo 2011 – Cyberman from Doctor Who) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

This.

Background here. And this. And this. And this.

Sigh. What happened to that happy amoeba of “we all share our weirdness together”?

I matriculated in the fan culture that built fan run conventions. Yes, I’m talking about cons like Worldcon. Working from the inside, the original culture of fandom was inclusive, welcoming– a veritable melting pot of shared love of our various obsessions. There are many obsessions, but these are mine! See, this is how I enjoy them and we can be our geeky awkward selves in a shared space! For a time, those values overtook barriers of politics, false identity and economic differences and put all that BS aside to have a special place. Then, somewhere along the line, fandom got… popular.

We weren’t really sure what to do about it.

Since then, some values from the outside our ranks have gotten their way in.

They say sinister things, like:

  • Some fans are more fannish than others. They don’t belong among us.
  • You aren’t safe here. We’ll make separate, safe spaces under our broad tent, so you will not be harmed/tainted by these other nobs.
  • You aren’t really inclusive if you don’t specifically check all the check-boxes we say you need to check.

 

All of this boils down to one toxic message:

People who are different from each other cannot hope to get along. Strangers will attack you. Separate into your comfort zones and be safe.

Let me give some people who claim to be our leading lights some insight.

THESE ARE NOT THE VALUES THAT DIY FANDOM STARTED WITH. If they were, mass fandom would not exist.

Why?

First: you live or die by how many people you could entice into the community.  These awesome cons cannot survive without attendees– and fresh blood.  And while families do come to cons, there aren’t enough to support us– or replace us.

Well, if we really believed the new school, why would be bother creating big diverse organizations to begin with? Who would bother to attend conventions in hotels surrounded by people? We’d invite those safe people to our homes, and tell the rest of the universe to go hang. We would be content with local clubs. Under circumstances like these, who would bother inventing WORLD CON?

Why do I go to conventions? I go to MEET OTHER FANS. I could care less what the vast majority of these media conglomerates want to sell me. If I want to buy something? I will go and find that thing on the internet. I don’t need to stand in line for hours for a brief glimpse of some movie star I’m in love with. I can write fan fic in the privacy of my own basement.

Honestly, it is the characters I care about, full stop. The actor wears the visage for a brief shining moment (he or she calls it work) and shares himself with that character so we may all love him. This is awesome, but not my area of interest.

The second thing I want, is meet the minds who came up with these characters, and script their lives. I’d like to buy them a drink (doesn’t even have to be alcoholic) and have a social chat with them. That is why I chose to join fannish society– and that is why I still love the idea of Worldcon.

Maybe DIY fandom can’t scale the way Media West and Dragon Con can. You know what? Unequal numbers don’t bother me. Local smaller groups just makes it easier to find time to spend with the folks who socialize in consuite. I’ve talked to some incredibly famous writers– including Terry Pratchett even a hand full of movie stars. I have truly been blessed to be part of Fandom. And my old stomping ground convention wasn’t even that big, or that rich. We just had a good culture that ran a reliable con, so we got some big names for treating everybody well.

But if the big tent is divided into ever smaller warring factions– all these cool things won’t even be possible.

What bothers me is that these apparent leading lights of DIY fandom have forgotten their roots, their purpose– and that is a threat to ALL fandom. Because, once we forget our roots, we forget who we are, period.

This divide and conquer strategy is lethal. Because sooner or later, folks will realize they don’t have the money to be a part of this global social club where they only meet the people they are comfortable with. Why can’t they just meet those safe approved people somewhere cheaper? Aren’t there a hundred different ways to have a private safe gathering that exclude people we don’t like? Suddenly, you don’t need a con anymore.

Because, surprise, the con is SUPPOSED TO BE THE SAFE PLACE FOR ALL OF US. Not just the special ones, but everybody.

Take a risk and meet someone new.

Books coming up in the New Year

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Books in the New Year:

I’m afraid I took a look through my “accepted reading list” and some things fell of the back end of last year. Some of them I looked at long ago as early 2014.  Sadly that pushes back some things I said I’d get to early this year.  This is my only slightly arbitrary list for  first quarter 2015.

NOTE: I don’t have dates on most of these yet.  That’ll take another assessment and how quickly I get through each book, as well as just how much LTUE  will disrupt February.

Farm Hand (Second Week of January, most likely) As promised… here. 

Underlake Kia Heavey

Codename: Winterborn Declan Finn

Tears of Paradox by Daniella Bova

Sword and the Serpent by Taylor Marshall

I try to stick to indie authors, but for this I will make an exception–

The Many Deaths of Joe Buckley  by Assorted Baen Authors

If I have time before summer, I’ll squeeze in a few other titles.  The Eternity Symbiote,  and a special something I’ll save up for announcing a little later. 🙂

Book Review: Greater Treasures by Karina Fabian

How ominous and unhelpful.

“What ‘big, bad things? Terrorism? International crime? Professional wrestling? Hollywood divorces?”

She crooked a smile, wiped her eyes with the edge of her index finger, careful of her immaculately painted nail. “All that and worse. I think they want to engineer Armageddon, that’s how twisted they are.”

Armageddon. Yep, another STUC. “Rates just went up.”

She blinked at me, but when I didn’t smile to indicate a joke, she got her purse. As she fed bills into my hand, she protested, “But they shot your partner! What about revenge?”

“Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.” I quoted…”but I say this, I’m a dragon, and the dragon always wins.”

Echoes of the past. A strike at the heart. Meeting new players in the game of shady dealings and artifact dealing.   This tightly written novella is for those who thirst for a deeper look at the psyche of our favorite dragon Detective, Vern.

This is not the best place to start for an introduction into the Dragon Eye universe.  I said it was tightly written, and that means that a lot of the lush world building present in the other novels is only sketched in. You don’t notice it, save to wonder what you are missing without the context of previous experience.

If you are familiar with the series, you won’t miss it, and takes you deeper into Vern’s heart. Part of the reason I was so late, is that I needed some background so I felt more a part of the world, and to try to understand the subtext here.  Happily, I am gifting “Magic, Mensa and Mayhem” to a friend this Christmas, so I did a quick read and discovered all I needed to get a better appreciation of this novella.

I admit, I tend to like lush descriptions, detailed backstories, and so on. I missed some of that from here.  My real complaint– it’s not long enough.  I’d like to spend more time with this story. It seemed to go by too fast for it’s deep seated traumas and intense conclusion.

For one, I expected more feedback from her friends and side characters who would be concerned. What about the  sisters in her order? Wouldn’t some cross the gap just to see her before she dies?  It seems peripheral to the plot, but a wonderful opportunity to enrich her character, even without her being conscious.  Yes, there are probably good reasons why she didn’t.  But I still think some of that would leak through even though Vern spends most of this story running around under a deadline.

There is a mysterious figure who turns out to be very interesting, and a reference to classic noir. To tell you who it is, gives away some of the awesome from the surprise. It’s nice to see he comes back later in “Magic Mensa and Mayhem”.

Final conclusion: Would I buy it?  Yes, I would.  It’s wonderfully readable and I very much enjoyed it.  But I want more.  Tis’ the season, eh?  🙂

Behind the Moon Door– Snippet # 13

Images sampled are in Public Domain (thanks, guys!) This is MINE. Yeah, I know. Unfair.

Images sampled are in Public Domain (thanks, guys!) This is MINE. Yeah, I know. Unfair.   © Margot St. Aubin

 

 

Rooster crowed. Clamour. Flashing lights. Alarm. The world seemed to be shaking and flashing. I squinted. This is what happens when you fall asleep with your chin resting on your cellphone. For once the animals were as surprised as I was, but they were faster about getting out of the way. Well, except Hello Kitty, who was deaf, and found the bright lights to be an irritation.

She had to be pressured off my feet, as she was too far away to be bothered by the vibration. Shadow McTrippy, my new ruminant follower, was also slow to move. I couldn’t remember the black miniature goat’s real name anyway. He lived up to his name as I struggled out of a knot of sheets to the computer that I’d set up on my old work desk.

 

The screen was flashing, my monitor software was on alert. As a twin, my cellphone was also buzzing and ringing and flashing on the floor. I’d dropped it in haste. After my desktop calmed, I picked up the phone and muted it. Then I went back to the big monitor and watched as I saw several figures flashing their way through the dark. I squinted. It was outside– either at The Pit, or… I saw a fragment of busted up concrete with a pebbly brown painted edge, edged by a tuft of grass, luridly lit by a pool of vivid light.

Oh, intruders were back at the New Cemetery. I swore an oath. I called Sarah and got voicemail. I groaned and left a message. that way, people would know what happened if I happened to do anything stupid. I didn’t want to wait hours for the cops to show up. I looked at the clock. Little after 3 am. Knowing them they’d wait until daylight. I groaned.

Hey, I had magic, supposedly. I didn’t know how to use it, but that hadn’t stopped me before, right? The gnomes helped me, so…why not?

I picked up the rifle. I pocketed my 1911, and put my .38 in my left leg holster on my cowboy work boots. I didn’t use the 1911 that often, but I knew it well enough. It is predictable and pretty much indestructible, and it would stop even my father in his tracks. I put on the bandolier and slung the rifle in it’s case on my back. I said, “Let’s go, guys.” to no one in particular, and walked to the paddock. She was waiting for me. She was wearing a saddle, and almost looked like an ordinary horse– well groomed, even. I put some rope and my bug out bag for short jaunts. Just in case, and it only took a second. But I knew it was Crystal Lilly.
“Why’d you come back?” I whispered to her.

“You need me. Don’t expect miracles, I’m not recharged, long story. But I can do a horse’s work. I fought in the Rye Wars at Blunedeh. Ask Trajan when you see him. You’ll need to see him soon.”

“Tell me about it.” I said softly.

We rode out in near silence. No, really. Her harness tack, and step was absolutely silent, and we only caused a stir, like a gust of wind. We watched animals freeze as they saw us pass. Did I mention I could suddenly see in the dark? No, not like daylight, but animal eyes glowed hot and green and shapes stood out, as if the veil of night had been raised half way. My flashlight just hung by my side like a club. The rest of my weapons pulled at me like weights. All living things seemed to exude their own light. The grass and trees looked vaguely magenta, the animals a greeny yellow, a sleeping owl a deep blue. Only the dirt and sky still clung to the pitch blackness, save for the palest blush to the east, and the cold, hard pinpoint light of stars.

She bounded over the fences with all the grace and none of the jarring discomfort of dressage. And still we stirred the ground like a driving wind. For a moment I felt like the leader of a vast wind army. What good would it do against men? I asked myself.

Finally we made it to the wrought iron fence, and followed along until we got to the gate. We were opposite the road– I hadn’t realized the iron pickett came out so far.

 

The gnomes can’t follow you into the cemetery, Lilly said into my head.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked. Fear burbled. “Can you?” I asked.

I’m not supposed to, but I can. I think your aunt will understand. But don’t be surprised if… things change for me a bit. The place is barred against most magic, she responded. There was little emotion in her words , which was highly unusual.

What about mine? I replied.

I don’t know.  The reply was calm, but had that same tang of emptiness that did not help my rising panic.

Then I reached over to the gate and unlocked it. I could still see the flashing lights– they were doing something near the graves. A coleman lantern rested on what was left of the grotto. It shed a harsh blinding light that cast the shadow of the figures a good distance behind us.
I looked at them, shading my eyes. The otherworld vision did not seem to work in there.

I swore an oath under my breath. I closed my eyes to clear my eyes of afterimages that interfered with my otherworld senses, too.

I could hear spades scraping against dirt. Anger flared up within me. As soon as my vision cleared, I looked into the dark and unlocked the gate. I turned on my flashlight and let my eyes get used to the light. By some miracle they didn’t hear me over the digging.

 

I pushed open the gate, walking it open with Lilly. While she still seemed able to read my intentions, I could no longer feel her mood, or hear her thoughts. I asked myself what Phil would do. No, that didn’t help. I asked myself what SARAH would do. That’s better.

I charged boldly up the gravel path through the old graves. The harsh mono-directional light cast deep shadows like out of a nightmare. Mostly I was praying. Then I got to the clearing where the New Cemetery really started, and I flashed my light directly on the lead one’s chest. I held the 1911, aimed at the dirt in front of them.

“Excuse me, sirs, you are trespassing.” I said calmly. “You need to clear out of here, now.”

The men stopped digging but looked at the leader, who stood there, smoking a cigarette. he wore brassy mirrored sunglasses. I’m not kidding. Bad 80’s music started floating in my head, and I had to remind myself that shooting him wouldn’t help that. I felt a little light headed after that thought, knowing that was a real possibility.

He stood took one last drag, and regarded me with a dangerous grin. He flicked his glowing butt away casually. A rising tide of bile burned my throat.

HE didn’t seem much intimidated or impressed by my posture. I quickly aimed at the center of mass.

“Do I have to get serious?” I asked.

“DO you know who I am? I am not trespassing. I’m family.” he said cheerfully. He held something in his hand I couldn’t make out. A horrible tingling sensation crawled up my back. I knew it was likely but I could never quite prepare adequately. It was my father.

I looked at his companions, who were less confident, staring at him. He gave me nor them any sign. So they watched him as dumbfounded as I was.

“Come on over here and give me a hug. I know you wouldn’t shoot me. You’ve never had the guts to go through with it.”

“Family doesn’t dig up the miscarried remains of lost children.” I said harshly.

He laughed. “Is that what this looks like? Oh, no, your aunt hid something in here a long time ago. She just asked me to come retrieve it. Must have slipped her mind to tell you.”

“That is a fucking lie and you know it.” I said angrily. I snapped my wrist to aim more carefully. Before I knew it, he had cleared some distance. Lilly was trying to back up, but one of the men had left his post. I had a very bad feeling.

The something hit me in the face. Before I could recover, I dropped the gun, and reached for the reign, as Lilly reared up and plunged on the ground in front of her, charging the second man, who must have drifted off. She became a frenzy of moving horseflesh, ultimately making it impossible for me to do anything but hold on. …And impossible for any of the men to retrieve the gun. It got kicked off by her plunging hoof off somewhere into the darkness, into one of the holes further off.

I don’t know how it sailed that far, but I wasn’t in the mood to ask questions.

Shortly thereafter she calmed, but started stalking the man who had donated half of my DNA. I could hardly call him father. My face was hot and sore, and I tasted blood. He’d struck me on the cheek with a whip, and I saw he was winding up for another strike.

With that kind of force, it was hard to figure how I’d managed to stay on board. Lilly reared up again, effectively dancing out of range– at least for me. I felt her flinch as the whip licked her skin, and muscles bunched under my thigh trembled. Ever forgetful, I mentally apologized, and tried to get to my rifle. The problem with the rifle is that I needed both hands, and when she did this, I had to have at least one. My seat was good enough for forms sake, and a good trot, but I was out of practice for dressage, which was a faint ghostly memory of a poorly remembered childhood. Suddenly I felt incompetent for teaching children anything about horses. but holding on was do or die.

“Get outta here!” I shrieked. “I called the cops.” How could I stand up against three thugs, when there was only one me, the guns and a horse? The very best horse, but none the less, a horse.

There was a movement off to the side. She shifted to the side and tripped him, moving out of the way as he fell. She snorted in satisfaction as he pitched into the dirt.

“They’ll take hours. You know that. Besides. We have an understanding, Sargent Morrison and I.” his voice was edged with anger, but he was never discomposed.

The next thing I knew one of the other guys was coming at me with a shovel, swinging it like a club. The best I could do was block with my flashlight, which smashed as the pyrex face was struck by the edge of the spade, which rung like a demented bell. I blocked several times, but had to take my eyes off my father. Fortunately, Lilly didn’t. She struck out a hind leg, and I felt her strike something solid. A figure shrieked like a banshee crumpled to the dirt.

Then there was another bright light approaching from the road. It could be anything from a cop, to a fleeing bar of light, signifying nothing,

He waited until it turned into the driveway. My father swore and picked up his buddy and started dragging him, like a rag doll. All the wile moaning and struggling weakly. Then something hit me on the back of hte head and rang like a bell.
My last thought was to wonder how he’d fooled Lilly.

I really really have to stop waking up like this. I had a headache. And there was light. LOTS of light. Too much light. There was a man prodding at me with a stethoscope. Eyes, ears nose and everything. I had something pulling at the back of my head.

The unfamiliar face was surrounded by a blue blur which resolved into scrubs. I was hooked up to an…everything monitor and some metal tree holding bagged liquids. Fun stuff. I noted with relief that I was not chained to the bed. And it really did look like a hospital. But the ultimate relief was when Sarah’s pale and concerned face emerged through the parted curtains. Her eyes flew open. “We are… so happy you are alive. DON”T GO INTO THAT PLACE ALONE AGAIN, do you hear me?” Sarah has the unique talent of being able to sound loving and like she will rip your face off at the same time.

I blinked. “Is LILLY okay?” I gasped.

“Lilly?… You mean that white horse you got out of nowhere? Lilly is fine. I had Colin take her home to get her cleaned up. She’d been roughed up and probably needs a vet too. He’ll take care of that. She got struck with a shovel, but I don’t think they broke anything. Didn’t hit her on the head, either.” she gave me an almost accusatory look. “but I can’t stay angry at you.” she snarled with a touch of sadness.

I wondered what Dr. Klingman, the old vet who took care of all Sarah’s horses, would make of Lilly. That made me giggle a bit. But he was old enough that maybe he had seen a thing or two, considering he’s one of the Irish Hills’ longest practicing vets.

“Did you get him?” I asked in a low tone.

“We pulled in just as he left. One of his men had been trampled. I think the guy who hit you two with the shovel. That horse… I’ve seen horse accidents, you understand. You know that Sally got badly hurt, when she tried to play a prank on Colin, when he was a lad.”

“But I swear that horse knew what it was doing. It was defending your unconscious body like… it was trained to do it. Then it let me and the paramedic tend you as sweet as you please. Where on God’s green earth did Phillomena Sweeny get a trained war horse that looks all the world like a Lipizzaner? And why, did it choose you to imprint on? They don’t fly with just some stranger. They’s worse than a guard dog.” In her exclamation, bits of Ireland came back in her voice. “I haven’t seen the like, since…” she trailed into silence. The next face that came through the gap in the curtain was Patrick.

I was both fanatically happy to see him, and intensely embarrassed. First, I’d done stupid and I knew it. Second, there was hardly anyone who I’d rather see. I wondered what Kendra would do or if she was mad at me.

I had nothing whatsoever to do with Pat and his ways, but… Kendra was touchy about trust. We understood each other about family issues, and she was less lucky than I. She only had Sarah, because I had Sarah. The rest of her family was all alike and she had tossed them all out of her life. Rumor had it she had some aunts that might have been okay, but they would not approve of her lifestyle choices.

So she was a ship alone in a hostile ocean, and she gained company only when she felt like it. I wondered how long it would be okay to call her back. That she hadn’t talked to me yet had me wondering. I’d wait a day for the ringing in my ears to stop, and I’d start calling her.

“You really need someone to stay with you in that house.” he said.

“Yeah. I keep getting pounded. Thanks for pointing that out.” I said.

He frowned. “I didn’t mean it like that. But I meant to say that I’m glad you are still with us.”

I smiled back. “It’s nice to be here. Except for the pain part. And the ear ringing part. and the thirsty part.” I said.

He handed me a glass of water and I sipped it thirstily.

“That’s a nice horse you have. I don’t remember seeing it before.” he said conversationally.

“That’s Lilly. Be NICE to her. She’s impressive. Well, not like a chess playing bear, impressive, but she was in the shed. Ken took care of her while I was laid up. Also, she tends to take care of herself. She gets out and grazes when she wants to. We don’t know why she doesn’t just run away. She’s smart enough to start taking over the world.”

Pat grinned, “All she needs is minions and thumbs.” he said.

“Well, arms and hands, too. But thumbs would be a good start.”

We chit chatted for a while.

“Well, glad your back. Don’t go off hurting yourself again. I’ll be back in the morning, okay?”

“It is already morning.”

“I mean real morning. After the sun is up.”

Apparently it was little past five when they left. I sighed and fell back into bed. I wondered if I’d be charged with assault with a deadly horse. I was asleep again before I knew it.

**

I woke up and had a chat with a female officer. She said no one was pressing charges but I needed to talk to them about what happened while it was still fresh. I told her everything I could remember, and they went over my injuries, wrote lots of notes, then left. A bit later, a man in a rumpled linen suit and a bowler hat appeared between my curtains. He looked strangely like a clerk who boxed in his free time. His bulk was mostly muscle, his face was scarred, but his hands were soft and calloused as a writer’s was, and he even had a few ink stains. He held a stack of papers.

“I’m here to represent you in case your father presses charges. Sounds like a charming individual. How many stitches did they put on your cheek?” “five.” “He do that to you himself?” he asked with more than professional interest.

“Um, yeah. Not the back of the head, though, that was his friend with the shovel.”  I said, wincing at the memory.  Every time I closed my eyes, I could see that shovel flashing at my face.

“Helluva nice guy. I’d be pleased to run him into the dirt for you. At bare minimum you should have a restraining order out against him.”

“I’m fine with that, but I don’t know what good it will do. He’s a law unto himself.” I said.

“Karrie Grace. What we are doing here, is painting a picture, in the event of a future prosecution. I can guarantee something like that will come across the courts in a matter of weeks, or months if we are lucky. Trust me, I have seen this sort of thing before. Not exactly, you see, these circumstances are…novel, but they tell the same underlying tale. Men like him don’t stop. They get frustrated, seem to go away for a while, then come back even more determined than before. You have to be ready for them.”

“Um, are you suggesting I should hire protection?” I asked weakly.

“That wouldn’t be a bad idea, but that’s not my area. I could get some names for you, if you’d like,” he said.

I smiled. “I think I have some cousins who would volunteer for that role and be considerably less expensive than strangers. All I’d have to do is feed them.”

The man sighed. “Far be it from me to bely cousins. But you must understand that they will not be… professional. People will be more likely to die.”
“Um, Mr… ?”

The man smiled, he looked Irish enough to knock me over. “Mr. Kenny, Esquire. Dale, Margrove, and Kenny, Associates. That Kenny is my father, not me.” he said sheepishly.

I raised my eyebrows. “Nice to meet you. But you must know they were retired military. I mean with honors. One of them was an MP. I know it’s not the same as professional security, but he has given thought of going into that field, at least in the winter when there’s less to do at the farm.”

“That’s the other trouble with family, especially the working kind.”

“Yes. I have to think about how to get this done while keeping my obligations to my other family. I think I’m actually safer at the Phil’s farm…for various reasons. But that place does need some watching over.” I said, thinking out loud. It was actually less painful to talk than it was to think hard inside my head. Yes, even with stitches against my teeth.

I sighed. “Mr Kenny? I’m afraid my visiting hours are nearing over.Ii have a lot to think about and an aching skull to do it with. Thank you, and go ahead with filing the restraining order and whatever other preparations you want to do. I’ll even look at your list but I can’t make any promises. Thank you.”

He looked a bit glum, but took some notes, nodded curtly, and departed without a word. I wondered if I’d somehow offended him. Then it occured to me, he looked like the sort of person who’d let you know– on no uncertain terms, if you did.

Later Pat showed up. “Hi.” he said. “You are going to have to get used to me being around. Oh, and Colin, too. Sarah hired a couple of hands she knows to take up the slack, and we are going to come and take turns keeping you safe.” he said.

“Sarah can do that?” I asked.

Pat nodded. “She can afford it. She’d just rather make her money off us.” he said it lightly, so it might have been a joke.

“Can you afford it?” I asked, weakly. I wondered if I needed to share my pay with them. I was already relying on them so much, it seemed hardly fair not to. But there was school, and… I sighed. I would probably have to take the fall off and work some anyway.

“Don’t worry about it. We’ll be fine. Especially Collin. And me, I don’t need much.”

“That doesn’t help. I already owe you a share of my pay from Phil. At this point I should make you partners,” I said.

“I said, don’t worry about it.” he said, “And what about the lawyer, who’s paying for that?” I asked.

“Oh, Mr. Kenny? He’s actually Sheila’s Lawyer. Sarah uses the firm, too. Kenny is their hatchet man.” He snickered. “he usually deals with violent offenders. On one side or another. ”

I paled. “Why would Sheilla need a lawyer like that?”

Pat shrugged. “you’d be surprised what happens in the Lawn business. Run into some who take offense easily, who are also powerfully physical. It can be a rough road.” he said casually. “She’s offered to pay for him.”

Oh. So now I owed Sheila forever. Well, worse things than that, I guess…

Coming soon: Book Reviews! (A rough schedule)

Edward_Collier's_painting_'Newspapers,_Letters_and_Writing_Implements_on_a_Wooden_Board'This whole book review post is going to become a habit. I’m a writer, I know writers… so it just kind of makes sense.

 

800px-Poland._Flowers_crop

 

A  Garden of Visible Prayer, by Margaret Rose Realy is coming up, probably late next week. This one is in progress as we speak. Because it is a how to book, I’m going through some of the process before actually publishing my review. Then, when I get the actual space put together, you can see the results! So, yes, a non-fiction book, for once.  While it is written with a Catholic sensibility in mind, it is flexible enough for any Christian, or spiritually directed space!

And…. now for something completely different.

Okay, this is embarrassing. A friend gave me a book for free *ahead* of these other two books I got in the mail. I lost track of it.  Being a horrible penitent friend, I’ll post this review after I’ve completed the one I’ve already started. Sorry, Declan, you’ve befriended another flake Creative Type™. But at least it’s not a snow job! The very next fiction book I’m reviewing is It Was Only on Stun!

In other circles, I am known for my dislike of “Amazon Women on the Moon.” I consider it  McCrumbs hate quitting of fandom. We’ll see how it goes.  I’m betting it’s better.  There’ll be ICON injokes I’ll actually get, because I get reports of said joys from what is likely the main source of discontent for the esteemed Declan Finn.  I’m just lucky that way.  🙂

There is a short story that takes place in this spacetime that I quite enjoyed… I’m taking that as a positive indicator.

Lastly, but not leastly, I’m going to be looking at the esteemed  Karina Fabian’s “Greater Treasures”, a novella set in her “Dragon Eye” universe. That would be Vern, the dragon private eye, and his nun side kick, Sister Grace.  So, it’s like Father Dowling with dragons– but probably more fun.  And do check out her website.  It’s beautiful!  St. George need not apply.  😀

I’m not exactly sure when all of this is going to fall into place. I’m working on a long term project that’s really sucking up time. If I drop everything and things into some form of rational order– I’ll get nothing done!

No, this picture refers to nothing in particular. I just like it.

Enjoy!

Behind the Moon Door #11

This snippet is probably not in order. Sorry about that. It’s the cost of having snippets straight from the forge, if you will.

That evening I spent digging through old newspaper clippings in Frank’s office. Yes, both Phil and Frank had separate offices– Phil’s inevitably looked like a tornado hit it, save the fact that the floors still passable. But her rolltop desk was an impenetrable mountain peak of paper, binders, receipts, tchotchkes and old books. Frank had acres of open space by comparison– he had a big flat top executive table and a narrower side table making an all embracing corner of workable area.

There was an old leather blotter, a nice library light with a tubular green shade, a hutch framed the second desk and had neat cubbies with well organized slots, a dish for paperclips, a mug full of pens, a taller beer stein had scissors, rulers and even a set of slide rules and an engineer’s ruler and a couple of compasses. A large naval compass in a chunk of weathered glass stood in for a paperweight nearly as big as the paper itself, though all it weighed down was the latest balance sheet booklet for Sweeney financial empire. The farm balance sheet, the taxes, his business, her business, the alfalfa and clover tally, the eggs purchased by the restaurant down the street, the few dollars given over to the neighbor kids who harvested them every Monday evening.

It was time to collect the money from the box, I realized. I had entries to make, such as my last purchase of fish food, and the new delivery of frozen mice that was no doubt collecting frost in the vet’s freezer. The single vet appointment for Zanzibar, and Fuseli’s checkup after dental surgery. The goat chow was getting low, and I needed to record my next withdrawal from the feed bank for the cows. I noted that some of it was already recorded in a thin spidery hand that looked almost too small to be of human origins.

I really needed to get my act together, if they were even doing the paperwork for me. I felt better because I had done the cows this morning, including the milking, and the ritual passing out of dishes and fresh milk. The rest I put into the chiller, and from there, I’d dose out some for myself and some for the pasteurizer. I wonder which of the barns housed the summer feed for the cows. Sure they had grass and clover in pasture, but apparently they liked to feed them, too. Maybe it was a milking thing.

That was when I found the files on the history of the Irish Hills– and the sad record of the various amusement parks and shutting down of the attractions. “The Blarney Isle” the property that Phil managed though not generally open to the public, wasn’t the only casualty. She had articles about every major attraction– even the twin towers and saga of the Spite Tower, and the popularity of the Wagon Train, run by a War hero and movie star, the tenacity of the Mystery Spot, who was Sherrill’s most famous client. Sarah had deals with a couple of the owners for horse trails through some of them… odd that some of Sarah’s paperwork was in there, too. I blinked.

Oh, yeah. Uncle Frank, was an accountant. Sure, he did the blog thing, but he also did taxes and wrote up contracts– so he’d wanted to be a financial lawyer at one time? Funny how I thought of him as a writer and not a sharky bean counter. I saw that Sarah and a few others got a discount for yard maintenance. So many absentee landlords. I suppose we were lucky enough that the old sites weren’t just plowed under and turned into subdivisions.

And there was the trouble with the Old Mill Bar and their sign being too near the road, blocking other signs of a couple attractions down the road. Seemed like such a big deal back then, I saw from the clippings. If only they knew. But perhaps it’s best they did not.

I spent the rest of the night perusing them, and stumbled to bed– which was fortunately not far down that narrow hall. I collapsed and shortly found a cadre of furry sentries making sure I was safe in my sleep. They couldn’t protect me from disturbing dreams.

The next day, I got up early (again) and did all my feedings and various chores, then chilled over second breakfast, which must have been invented by farmers. Wasn’t quite 10 o’clock yet, but I’d earned it. Strong coffee and a little hot cereal and fresh milk, still sweet from the cow. Oh, and a doughnut from yesterday, only slightly stale, but still tasty. it was even better soaked in milk.

I grabbed the old walking stick and headed out– straight to the cat this time. Then I was going to check that property thoroughly. Just to make matters more disturbing, a scraggly weed was growing out of the eye socket of the cast concrete cat, washed old bone grey by weather and time. Paint hadn’t adhered well, and Phil was ever debating on whether she should repaint this one, or remove it.

The creepiness factor was inconsistent with the other statuary, and was clearly some kind of last ditch effort to add some literary panache. It was the Cheshire cat, grinning wide, yet oddly looking up. Along gangly weed danled from one soil filled eye socket. The dirt made the already skeletal head look down right creepy. The land around it was blasted and barren, with a few tall trees that played streaky shadows all over it. Wind whispered unpleasant things through those branches. Today the wind was still brisk but the sky was clearer but still trespassed by high, fast moving clouds. A watery sunlight bleached everything with a too strong light. Eh, maybe I was due for a migraine in a few hours. At least the opressive humidity had broken, though the air was still a bit thick. Puddles of water stood here and there, though the land around the ghost of Cheshire cat was dry, a pale crust over a darker substrate of mud.

The few weedy plants that grew around this statue were thin unhappy looking lambs quarters and slender grassy things, and all were stained fuchsia, as if a paint fairy had splattered them. I shivered and turned away.

The whole thing felt wrong. I wanted to drag the thing over to the rock pile and blast it into fragments, with Frank’s favorite 20 lb sledge hammer. Couldn’t do it without Phils permission, right? Right? I wondered at her pathological need to change nothing.

She’d always said she was going to restore the steel leprechauns brownies and sprites, but that had been, what, over 10 years ago now? Some of the metal parts had been restored and renewed, in some places the rust had been cleaned, but no painting that I saw had been done. Painting was one of the few skills I possessed that might be applied in this area. One summer I painted houses, interior and exterior. I’d planned on going back to it this year, until Phil seduced me away.

Granted that made better money, but this was easier on the old psyche. Or so I thought. It was certainly going back through memories. It was probably about time for that, anyway. I realized it was time to make a phone call. I walked in a lazy loop around the clearing and made my way back to the groomed trail, and double timed it home.

“Mom?”

“Yes, Karrie Grace.” she sounded tired.

“Um, hi.” We did some small talk, mostly about her garden, the weather, and her ongoing feud with the hysterical society. What set of improvements were they blocking this week, because the plans were insufficiently historical?

“Did you get your flower boxes approved?” I finally asked.

“Yes.”

“What you do?” I said, more joking than anything. But then, mom sounded more defensive than a joke would warrant.

“Nothing. Just submitted my paperwork the approved number of times, and waited 6 weeks. Though some people think I set fire to the old firehouse where some of the records were kept. But I didn’t. Fortunately, police don’t seem to think I’m much of a threat. Thats something, anyway. With all the accusations flying around, I thought I was going to be arrested.”

I sat there, stunned. “But… how?”

“Back window on the building was busted. Some helpful soul tossed in some glass bottles of gasoline, then tossed in a molotov cocktail. At first the beat cop took a look at my garage, but somehow didn’t see what he thought he should. His techs didn’t think so either, and they never came back. But it sure was exciting.”

“Mom, why didn’t you call? Something?” I squeaked.

“Oh, it wasn’t that big of a deal. I figured you’d call this week anyway. My heart is fine.” she said in a tone meant to be assuring.

“Well, that’s good. They didn’t take anything? do you want me to come down, and help you clean up after them?” I pleaded. It wasn’t that far, only a couple hundred miles. Mom lived in Ferndale. I could spend a few hours at her little house in the suburbs, pet her psycho dogs, and rearrange the garage. That way, the goats wouldn’t be staring at me. That black one was starting to creep me out.

“That’s not necessary. You can come have lunch on Saturday, or go to church with me on Sunday.” she said brightly.

A knot got stuck in my throat. “Saturday lunch sounds great! But I have to check on the cows on Sunday.”

There was a pause. “Well it will be good to see you on Saturday.” she said. She knew I didn’t have to check on the cows specifically on Sunday, but she let it go by this once, thankfully. “So Philomena has cows again.” she said for conversation.

“Five this time.” I said softly.

“Well, at least it’s not horses. She does poorly with horses for some reason.” mom said sadly.

That was a dead end. Finally I asked her. “Do you know where dad is?” I rasped. My throat felt strangled, my face hot.

There was a pause. “Why do you want to know?” mom asked. Her voice was low and quiet.

“I think he might be up here.” I said, voice distant.

A long pause. “Do… you think he’s wants to talk to you?” she whispered loudly.

“I don’t know. I’m not sure if he’s really up here. Dorn at the gas station thought he saw his car. And, ugh, his cigarette brand butts all over the ground afterward. No lipstick.” I said.

‘Smoking at a gas station is just like him.” mom said. Her voice was still flat and hissy.”But… I thought he quit.” she finished, her voice almost normal.

I shrugged. “Maybe I have a half brother.” I quipped.

There was a long silence, like a dead thing.

“Don’t you joke about that.” Mom said. It was… like an old era breaking into this one. A time of uncertainty, flight, and hiding. Flashes of old emotions scathed my mind, and I felt cold in a hot stuffy room.
I made a strangled sound– without meaning to.

“Are you all right?” mom asked, edged with concern. She snapped out of her old self, and into the new. But I hadn’t quite caught it yet. I still thought of her like old mom.

“Yeah.” I said quickly. Too quickly. But she ignored it and moved on, leaving me startled.

“Strange things going on since you got up there. ” her voice brooded. I felt a storm coming.

“Tell me about it. I want to run, but if I do… I leave Phill in a bad place. She doesn’t deserve that.” I said irritably. “Besides, the animals will starve without me.”

Her voice came on slow but strong, like a glacier sliding across a field. “Then do it. Just get it done. Doesn’t sound like you decided that yet. Stop dithering and do what you got to. It’s the only way I got away from him. Don’t let him catch you in your own net.” Words were like a slap in the face.

“But…I should see him?” I asked.

“See him if you have to.” was the inevitable reply.

“But what if he…hurts me?” I squeaked.

“You are a grown girl. You gotta gun. If he comes at you, why you’ll just do all of us a favor. Make sure people know where you are, and know to be on the lookout for trouble. Just don’t let him– or your fear of him– control you.” Her voice was implacable.

I laughed. It was a high piched kind of hysterical laugh, because I was visualizing what would happen if I told Sarah and Patrick. Kendra would excrete a very uncomfortable shape if she was within sniffing distance of this conversation. Then I realized I had one very important question yet to ask.

“Mom. Did dad have… gifts? Was he weird? Does he have er… weird friends? I mean, supernatural friends?”

There was another silence.

“You been talking to Kendra, haven’t you?” she asked. Flat.

“Yes and no. Mom– you know what it’s like out here. It’s not just a carnival atmosphere. It’s something in the water, in the sky, in the land.”

At first I thought she’d hung up.

“Mom?”

“He used to go out at night. You know. I don’t think he was always trysting with hussies, because he was’nt always at the bar or that bowling alley place where he met his marks. He collected strange things. Natural things. Roots. He had a mandrake in a jar. He used to joke he’d feed it to the dog if I caused too much trouble with him. That’s why we had to give Sugar away. I was afraid he’d kill her for some purpose. He had books. Aleister Crowley, and worse. He had those stinking cards he’d play with, and was said to play poker with tarot cards. I thought it was some kind of game, Tarocchi or something? It had some kind of meaning though, beyond what folks speak of in daylight.”

The monotone of her voice, like reciting a tired litany, scared me. The words themselves– I could barely parse them.

“Is that true? Was it there before…?” I sputtered.

“I would not marry a man like that, Karrie. You know that. Not even back then. I wasn’t always a good girl, but even I knew you don’t take a man like that home.Your Gran would have something to say,” she urged the words forward. It cost.

Gran had died in the middle of the worst of the separation, I realized. When things where bad. That’s why Sandy took us in. Dad’s sister. Phil was beside herself. I stayed here, but it was mostly Frank who took care of me. Phil spent all her time out doors working at the farm… or just gone. Sometimes with the plane. Frank told me not to bother her, because he was just happy she got up in the morning.

They sent me to Phil’s place, because mom couldn’t stand to see me, and… to keep Phil anchored in this world, I suddenly knew. Except I tended to go out into the woods for long walks, too… but I rarely encountered her. I would tell myself she was in the barn, but I knew the barns were empty of humans for most of the day. When I found her, sometimes she was riding a horse, looking far away. Sometimes she didn’t see me, or even seem to recognize me. So I retreated into a world of ‘imaginary friends’.

Only they weren’t so imaginary. And that’s what’s hard to deal with. Those painful days at the therapist because I didn’t want to leave, and believed I had to stay with Phil forever. It was like someone stabbed my heart with a pencil, and they broke it trying to get out. Bits were still lodged inside. I’d come to believe I was so weird, I couldn’t have real relationships. So I had friends, but…. couldn’t stand to be close to a guy who might learn the truth.

Some days Frank sent me over to Sarah. And that’s when I met Patrick for the first time. Back then, he’d been nerdy, reading a lot. Sure, country kids can be nerds, but they also go out doors and do things. Usually technical things, like fixing engines or building the perfect tent, or doing the naturalist. Camping, hiking, collecting specimens that sort of thing. He’d made a primitive, battery driven robot out of sticks, wood, scrap, washers, paracord, duct tape and rubber bands. He was forever working out how to get the clamp or fingers to work. In the end he used a hook, strap, and clip model, but he was never really happy with it. He made the block and tackle that Sarah used to haul in the feed for the horses, and then made a smaller one for Phil, too.

 

He even made his own bug spray. NO not with chemicals, but with essential oils he ordered from a catelog. No, he did use chemicals, too. He made them. He had Popular Mechanics, Ranger Rick, The Boy’s Adventure Book, and an old chemistry textbook from one of his brothers that he coveted. Sure he hid them, but I knew. He also went hunting with his brothers, father and uncles on the weekend. No one teased him about being a geek, because he’d shoot well and clean the kills without flinching– and shoveled twice his weight in horse manure in a few hours. Most folks read in the evenings in the country, and if he happened to read SF and engineering manuals– well good on him.

These days Sarah had Jeb made his spray in big vats and even sold some at the country store. But she used more than half of it on the farm– hung in little vials along the trails so our horses and riders would be more comfortable.

I remembered being sick. I fell or something. I remember needing to stay in bed, and he was asked to watch me. So he sat there, sat for hours, reading. He’d come in after his morning chores, which he always did without complaint. I marveled at him. Sure, you asked me then, I said I hated him, or at least didn’t like him. But he was a good looking boy in a scholarly way. Looked good in glasses. Since then he had been working out… or doing heavy labor and got contacts. The outdoors had been good to him. I’d seen him read in the evenings still wearing his old pair of glasses. I guess he just got new lenses when his prescription needed to change. He said he wore contacts for work, because glasses tend to get in the way or fall off.

But we talked. About things. And I had realized that something about me scared him, but I couldn’t figure out what. It wasn’t even really being a girl. OR maybe it was. But I didn’t think so. Maybe I was a cousin? No, he and Ken got along pretty well.

No, It was something I did. But I had no idea what. Thinking about it made my chest hurt– bad. So I decided to not go there. If it was important, it would come, right?

***

So there he was shooting. I came up behind him… not too close, because startling anyone firing a gun is a bad idea. But I waited until he was getting ready to reload and I cleared my throat and bit a bit closer. He turned to me and smiled. He seemed genuinely happy to see me. I wanted to say something, to ask to speak my mind. I was falling for him, and hard, and I knew I wasn’t the kind of girl he wanted. But I wanted to say something. My heart contracted and a stab of pain tore into my chest. I reached deep into my self control so he couldn’t see the pain. I smiled instead.

He took off his ear protection, set down his weapon, making sure the safety was on, even if it was empty.

‘So, what’s up?”

I opened my mouth. I felt cold, and nothing came out.

I tried again. “I.. just wanted to see you.” I said lamely.

He nodded abstractly. He came over and gave me a considering expression. And a hand on the shoulder.

“What’s going on with you ?” he asked. His lively green eyes were sympathetic.

“I.. don’t know. I… am going through a lot of old memories. Only they aren’t complete. That’s got me disturbed. I don’t know what to think. I don’t even know what you think of me. I know Kendra has always liked me but… I just remembered that you acted kind of strange around me when I was sick.”

He sighed. “Do you want to know now? Or do you want to remember?”

“I actually want to know.”

 

he was quiet for a while, as he field stripped and cleaned his pistol. I was amazed at how many tiny parts there were, and how he just knew where all of them went. His hands worked mechanically as his voice was measured and neutral, as precise as his hand movements. When I met his eyes, they were blank. He glanced quickly away.

“You attempted suicide. When they told you you’d have to leave Phils. Your mom didn’t deal well with that. They were going to institutionalize you , but somehow mom and Phil talked them out of it. Sent you over to us for a while. Mom was going to have you stay with us. But your mom decided that wasn’t going to work. So she sent you to a therapist. I had no idea how to react to that. I understood not wanting to live anywhere else, but I couldn’t comprehend why anyone would want to die.”

There was a long pause. He looked down at his peices set out with precision, examined each one, and rubbed it down with black cloth. he stopped, arms at rest. Then looked up. He regarded me, almost challenging.

I had nothing to say. I could barely think. He must have seen something in my eyes, because he turned away again, with a swift soft glance that was almost apologetic. He started talking  as he fitted each piece back together.

“Mom told me your dad did bad things to you. So when was sitting there reading, I was thinking –or trying not to think– about the various ways I might have to kill your father if he tried to take you back. Or what I’d say to your mom if she broke her promise and took you back before the agreed date.”

By then, the firearm was back together, and his hands were clean. He examined it critically, and dry fired it a few times into the weeds at the base of a dying old tree. He set it back down on the stump, and looked ready to listen.

I couldn’t breathe. “I can’t imagine being like that,” I said softly. “I mean… things have sucked, but… I haven’t’ wanted to die– not since I can remember. Never when I can remember.” I gasped.

I felt like a wound had been torn open. I curled up on the second table. He came over behind me and rested his hands on my shoulders. It became a hug, as I leaned into his arm. I was leaking tears, but sobs wouldn’t come. I just felt achy, sore and tight.

“To be whole, is it worth getting that back?”  Patrick asked, gently.

“What good could come of knowing something like that?” I asked back, feeling irritated I couldn’t come up with a better reply. I didn’t know. I really, really didn’t know.

No wonder mom was freaked out about dad being up here.

But there was a new feeling emerging from the depths… something I hadn’t felt since I was a kid. Sure, when you get cut off in traffic, you feel affronted. When your friend betrays you, you feel rage. But this was a whole new level of fury.  It was ALL for my father. I reached over and grabbed his hand and put it next to my cheek. He did not resist. I felt his fingers delicately touch my cheek.

“I think I need to prepare.” I said, voice soft and low.

He nodded.  “Need help?” he asked.

“Yes.”