Posts Tagged ‘snippet


Vampire 2.0 – System Shutdown

System Shutdown

The female moaned a little, deep in the back of her throat, as his talented fingers found the spot at the small of her back that had been troubling her. Encouraged by the sound, he worked harder, kneading with his fingers, then circling with his knuckles. She was sitting sideways on the couch, her shirt pulled up to her neck, bra strap undone and bare back turned towards him. So far he had been doing well, managing to get no closer than was absolutely necessary to do the deed. His long years had taught him control and discipline, among many other things, and he didn’t intend to relinquish those teachings now. No matter how much she moaned and squirmed, no matter how tantalizing the smell of her sweat was becoming.
They were in one of his apartments in Las Vegas. He always found it most amusing to hunt there, given the liberties that the artists had taken with him over the years and the fact that it was in the center of the worst desert America had to offer. It was well furnished – and why wouldn’t it be? He was wealthy enough to own dozens of mansions if it took his fancy – with furniture that tended towards Old World style. Lots of leather, dark hardwood and silk. The predominant colors were red and purple, and the few visitors to the place often made snide remarks about it – if they were brave – or seemed to be assessing it poorly but silently – if they were not – but both such visitors were few, and were often mollified when he pointed out that the colors were those of royalty and of his family.
The female was nothing special; dozens of them milled in every nightclub and bar along the strip. Just another girl who bleached her hair, bleached her skin, paid far too much to have her nailed trimmed for her and spent far too much on clothes that were ill-fitting. Drawn by the grandeur and possibilities that Vegas represented – or drawn by what lay over the border in California and either rebuffed or sidetracked before they made it – they were invariably starry-eyed and certain the world existed simply to glorify them. This one’s name was Candi. He had known ten or twelve Candis before her. Also a half dozen Brandis, a Mandi or two, and once, god help us, a Cyndi. Why they all insisted on using “I”s instead of a more traditional Y in their name, he didn’t understand. Why he never once tripped over a Tracy or a Kaitlyn or a Melissa he likewise failed to understand. Parents and their naming conventions these days were something that was always going to be a mystery to him.
While he had been mulling all of this over, his fingers had continued to work. He had only been paying peripheral attention when she had half twisted and laid her hand on his leg. Now she was finger-walking up his thigh, smiling – and of course, her teeth were as bleached as the rest of her – and whispering in what she probably thought of as her best seductive voice.
“Maybe I should massage you. Tit…” and at that, she turned fully. She removed his hand from her back and placed it on one silicone breast as it wobbled out from underneath her shirt. “…for tat.”
He allowed himself to appear to stammer – they seemed to enjoy it when they unmanned their prey, never seeming to realize that a real predator was in the room with them – and tried to pull his hand away. He knew she would grab it and place it back, and was not proven wrong. He gave her a slow smile, a slightly nervous smile, all the while focusing on the side of her throat, at the steady beat there, the slight quivering of the vein picking up speed. She moved towards him, licking her lips as her hand finally reached his member and took hold of it with a grip that spoke of deep familiarity.
He leaned over her, the ache in his gums as his teeth revealed themselves there and gone again. She buried her face in the thick dark hair that framed his features, nibbling playfully at his neck as his teeth – nearly three inches long and viciously sharp – descended towards that quickening pulse.
Then all hell broke loose.
His senses were far sharper than any normal man’s. Had he not been so focused on the female, he would have heard the heavy, unfamiliar treat coming up the walk or along the hallway. But he had been occupied and the intruder had reached that far before being noticed. The loud crash of a shotgun, amplified by the tight outer corridor, rippled through the front room. His front door was standing in tatters, several chunks of it drifting lazily through the air. Some of them were on fire, he observed with a brief flicker of fear. Fire was just about the only thing he did fear, and never mind the hacks’ ideas regarding crosses, garlic, and mirrors. The female was gone, having leapt off the couch and into the bathroom, seemingly in a single movement, and her sobbing seemed to serve as a soundtrack to those slowly drifting bits of cinder.
Standing in the doorway was a short, fat little man that the apartment’s owner recognized almost immediately.
“Ah. Van Hamstring,” he spat. “Don’t you know it’s terrible manners to enter in such a way? Why not knock?”
The fat man stepped over the remains of the door, hammering some more of the frame out of his path. His pale face – topped with an unfortunate crop of red, curly hair – sported two flaming spots of hate as he snarled back at his intended victim.
“That’s Van Helsing. Not like I haven’t told you before.”
The vampire smiled, his fangs pulling back into his upper lip as he twisted one hand in the air.
“Ah, but I shudder to think of what your great grandfather would say of the mockery you’ve made of his name. Now, Abraham, he had some manners!”
He shook his finger at Van Helsing in a tsk tsk gesture, then leapt onto the back of the couch, balancing there quite easily.
Van Helsing spat out the mouthful of tobacco he’d been chewing on, staining the thick carpet – Another black mark in his behavioral record, the vampire thought dourly – and scrubbed his mouth with his left hand, clad in a rugged-looking black gauntlet. The right kept hold of the shotgun, keeping it trained on the vampire.
“Oh, really. You’d just bust into a man’s home and shoot him? That’s hardly sporting.”
He inched slightly to the left on the back of the couch. He knew the layout of the room perfectly, and by his judgment his back was now directly facing the eastern picture window. While dawn was coming, it didn’t concern him overmuch; it wouldn’t induce melting like the picture shows seemed to claim, and while launching out a window and falling twenty stories would probably be unpleasant – especially if the sun caught him out before he mended the worst of the damage – it was certainly better than being vaporized by dragon’s breath shotgun rounds. All his attention was on Van Helsing’s trigger finger; the second he saw it begin to twitch, he’d jump.
Van Helsing seemed unimpressed with the balancing act.
“You can stop that right now, you know. You don’t scare me with your little tricks.”
The click in his throat as he swallowed marked the lie for what it was.
The vampire laughed, full-throated and rich as it rolled across the room, a far warmer sound than the shotgun’s rude blaring.
“Ah, my little Van Hamstring. You’re a terrible liar. Perhaps you’re a better shot?”
Whatever Van Helsing might have said next, he choked back, glancing over his shoulder in surprise. The sound of sirens had filled the pre-dawn evening air, and flashes of red and blue were approaching the apartment. The vampire snarled. He’d forgotten the female. She must have alerted the authorities; when the police got calls from this neighborhood, they arrived almost immediately.
“Well, well. So sorry to say goodbye, but…” He took a bow, but before he was able to somersault out the window, Van Helsing’s attention had refocused on the vampire. The little fat man squeezed the triggers of the Mossberg, and twin jets of flame belched out of the barrels towards the vampire.
The vampire had a brief moment where everything seemed to pause before the force of the slugs struck him in the chest, shredding the expensive silk vest he had been wearing and demolishing the marble flesh beneath. The impact finished the leap he had started, sending him flying out the window just as the sun crested the horizon.
Pain struck him then, pain unlike anything he had felt in nearly six hundred years. Mortal pain, the pain humans felt. He tried to scream, but his lungs were gone, so much ash and vapor probably still trapped in the apartment above. He turned his head, eyes seeking the sun, the hateful sun that couldn’t have waited just five more minutes to arrive, but he saw only blackness. In the moment that he had before that darkness bore down on him, he registered that it was the tire of a police cruiser, moving much too quickly to stop, and then his world was only blackness.


(The story continues here…)


Snippet: Chrysanthemum Graves

Figured it might be nice to not do something involving the spook, and instead do the beginning. Enjoy.


“What the fuck are you doing? Where the hell are your shoes?”
The voice came from somewhere further inside the house, the heavy walls and their tapestries deadening it, killing any echoes and making it hard to tell where it had come from. Still, Danny knew it well enough. Calm, despite the words it chose. Deep, rumbling like a subterranean landslide. Faint traces of an accent, but one that was almost impossible to define.

“Taking care of the floor, man! Isn’t that some shit you’re into? Don’t wanna track all over the place.”

Danny’s voice was shrill, nasal, almost the human equivalent of nails on chalkboard. He hated the sound of it himself, and would complain about it to anyone who even vaguely touched the subject, but there wasn’t much he could do about it. Puberty and its mysterious ways had been unkind to him in that regard.

The owner of the other voice had appeared at the end of the hall leading from the entryway. Contrary to his irritation at Danny’s lack of footwear, he was barefoot. A pair of gray sweats were the only clothing he wore. His chest was bare, shiny with sweat. Danny assumed the other man had been in the middle of one of his routines when he’d heard the bell.

“I like to keep my floor clean, yeah. That’s why I don’t want your nasty feet dragging on it. I mean, couldn’t you at least wear some socks? Go put your shoes back on. Then meet me in the kitchen.”

The man turned to his left, slipping through a beaded curtain that blended so well into the wall that it would have been invisible if you didn’t know to look for it. He was silent as he did so, and despite the rattling Danny knew he’d provoke by walking through it, the beads barely moved, as though they refused to defy the master of the house.

“Uh… right. Whatever you say, Ichi.”

His voice shook more than usual, and Danny cursed himself for it. Ichiro had never done anything to make him feel the pulse of fear that always quaked through him in the other man’s presence. Nothing to him, anyway. But Danny still always had to wonder if one day that would change.

He slunk back up the two short steps that separated the main room from the entrance, slipping his feet into the battered sneakers that had last been replaced sometime during Obama’s first term, before moving to follow Ichiro through the curtain.

He slipped past the beads, suppressing a shiver as they slid over his shoulders in a way that made him think of creatures raking their nails against his body in an attempt to snare him. Ichi’s kitchen was clean, though not in the way Danny would have preferred.

A clean kitchen, to Danny, spoke of use and care. Nicks in the counter, a permanent stain under the coffee pot that was so old and ingrained that it was seared into the fabric of the table but shone with polish anyway. Curtains that had faded a little, that maybe had a blot of pie filling at the edge.

Ichi’s kitchen was clean the way a sterile room was clean. Gleaming white tile, black and chrome appliances that looked like they had just come from the showroom floor minutes before, perfectly clear windows without adornment, pots, pans, and cutlery polished to a mirror sheen and arranged on metal runners more suited for display than usage. To Danny, it looked like a surgical ward, and part of him wondered if it had ever been used that way. It wouldn’t have surprised him.

Ichi was sitting at the table in the middle of the room, an oak affair on iron legs that would have looked more at home in a boardroom than a kitchen. Arrayed at five points were short stools of black steel with glass seats. Not comfortable looking in the least, but Danny was thankful he wouldn’t be sitting cross-legged on the floor. Ichi was prone to making him do that, and it always made Danny’s knees ache.

One of Ichi’s brows rose, as his hand gestured to one of the stools.

“Sit. Stop staring. I pay you for information, not to mess up my floors and admire my decor.”

Danny’s head bobbed with enthusiasm, and he slid across the floor putting as little weight into his steps as possible. He made it to the stool without incident, but pulling it out produced an unpleasant shriek of metal on tile, and as he dropped into the seat he saw the black scuff mark the chair leg had left.

Ichi’s expression was unchanged, but Danny thought he could smell the other man’s irritation. He gave a pained smile, shrugged, and sat down.

“Yeah. You do. S’why I’m here. Information.”

Ichi continued to glare, eyes boring into Danny. Danny hated it when Ichi did that; sometimes it felt like the man was sifting through his guts and brain simultaneously, digging up every piece of dirt he could. When Ichi looked at him like that, Danny wondered why the man needed people to bring him information. All he really needed to do was stare someone down, and if he couldn’t just read their mind, even some of the toughies on the Southside would start spewing whatever info Ichi wanted.

“Um. Yeah. You told me to keep an eye out for anybody who’s real particular about their collars, doesn’t ditch their shirts or coats even when it’s boiling outside, don’t talk much. Especially if they’re hanging around the kid, right?”

Ichi said nothing. Danny wasn’t surprised. He cleared his throat before continuing.
“Well, there’s a couple that just got into town. Haven’t seen ’em myself yet, but one of them was asking around for the kid, and the other’s been asking around for someone who sounds a lot like you. Mentioned your back and everything.”

The other man’s hands clenched, producing a click as the thick silver ring on his right index finger rapped against the table. Danny jumped at the sound. Ichi’s teeth shone through his lips in a grimace.

“So they’re here. Finally.”

His voice was a growl, lacking in human inflection. Danny found it most interesting, as he’d expected Ichi to at least be surprised. Or angry. Or anything. Snarling resignation hadn’t been the response he thought he’d get.

“Um, yeah. Sounds like it, boss. I’ve got a couple guys sniffing them out, checking their credentials. They’ll call me as soon as they know more, and I’ll call you right after, but I figured you’d wanna know ASAP.”

“For once, you’re correct.”

Ichi steepled his fingers, bowing his head into them for a moment and closing his eyes. If he hadn’t seen the behavior before, Danny might have thought Ichi had slipped into a narcoleptic fit or something. He knew the other man was just thinking, though, and thinking hard. Danny remained quiet, giving Ichi time to muddle through whatever was going on inside his skull.


“Yes, sir.”

“Where is Raioh?”

“The kid? Last I saw him, he was on the schoolyard, playing baseball or something. Mark’s got an eye on him, will pick him up after school. You told me not to mess up his life too bad unless we have to. Since they haven’t found him yet, figured we didn’t have to. Yet.”

Ichi nodded, keeping his head behind his hands.

“Correct. So long as they don’t go near the school, he stays. Have Mark take him somewhere else. A vacation. You do not know where, I do not know where, no one knows where. Mark and Raioh only. Understood?”

“Yeah,” Danny said. He’d learned there was no such thing as a disagreeable order a long time ago. What Ichi said was how it went down, and asking questions was liable to become more trouble than it was worth.


Despite the word, very little of Ichi’s expression seemed to imply anything good about the situation. He folded his hands on the table, staring at the reflection of his own fingers in the mirror sheen for a long moment, then spoke again.

“You say they are asking about me. Or someone a lot like me, anyway. What, specifically, have they asked.”

Danny coughed into his hand, looking away. Bringing up this subject was liable to get Ichiro ansty, possibly even angry, and Danny preferred not to talk about it. But when your boss’s back is covered in an exceptionally elaborate tattoo that quite a few of the less-than-savory folks in the neighborhood are aware of, it tends to be a central point of identity.

“Well, they were… uh… asking about a guy with a tattoo.”

Ichi’s face remained stony, eyes unblinking. Danny took it as a cue to keep talking.

“Said they’re looking for a man with a big flower on his back. A chrysanthemum. Stylized. Heavy ink.”

Ichi nodded.

“Unfortunate. But not entirely unexpected. What else?”

Danny gulped. He wasn’t looking forward to the next detail.

“They also mentioned that the flower might be covered up or overlaid with a dragon or a snake that wraps around the guy’s shoulders.”

He glanced down into his lap, not daring to meet Ichi’s gaze after that. The other man had done some touch up work on the elaborate tattoo once he had settled here, and supposedly only a handful of people were aware of the changes. Even if someone had come looking for him, the change should have thrown them off, at least for a time. But if these goons were asking about the serpent as well as the flower, that meant they knew something they shouldn’t… and Danny could be held responsible.

Ichi surprised him, however. There was no anger, no accusations. Just a slow nod.

“I see.”

Ichiro took a deep breath, eyes closed, as though centering himself. Danny took the opportunity to raise his eyes again, watching the other man carefully. Several seconds passed with neither moving before Ichi spoke again.

“It will be fine. Bring them to me. Make no threats. Make no promises. Find them, and inform them that I wish to speak to them. Give them my name.”

Ichi’s eyes opened, locking on Danny’s and seeming to spark with a fervor and passion Danny rarely saw coming from the man.

“But do so only after Raioh has been escorted away.”

Danny nodded.

“Uh, sure. Yeah, I can do that. But…”

He trailed off, throat running dry.

“But what?”

Danny coughed again, then bit the tip of his tongue to force some spit through his mouth.

“Is that the best idea? I mean… what if they’re here to cause trouble?”

Ichi laughed, a low rumble like the idle of a diesel truck, but Danny didn’t think there was any actual amusement in it.

“And if they are? They know who they are looking for, and know enough to be aware of things that have changed since the last time their organization saw me. Better to face the tiger head on than hide and have it strike you in the back. Besides… they may only be looking to curry favor with Oyabun Kenose. They will not receive such favors, but let them try, regardless.”

Ichi pushed up off the stool.

“You know what you are to do. Now do it.”

He turned away from Danny, giving the man a full view of the elaborate flower that had been painstakingly etched into his back. Circles of yellow and white, done with a traditional chiseled style, the chrysanthemum. Ichi had told Danny once they were flowers of mourning, done to remember the dead. Danny had never asked who was being remembered, but had often suspected it had to do with the boy Ichi was so determined to keep safe.

Laid atop and intertwined with the flower was a much more recent addition. A long black serpentine dragon, claws digging into petal groups, with the tail circling around to Ichi’s ribcage and the head lapping at his neck. Being significantly fresher, Danny could still see some of the blood beads caused by the chiseling.

Shaking his head to clear it, knowing he had better things to do than admire the craftsmanship of Ichi’s tattoo or worry about the implications of it, Danny stood up.

Through some miracle he avoided causing anymore gouges in the tile floor.
He scurried out, phone already going to his ear and Mark’s number being speed-dialed. Best get it done.


KA Spiral no signature


Snippet: Chrysanthemum Graves

Figured I’d post another chunk of the WIP. Let me know what you think.


Magoichi Saika was feeling unwell. It had started just as they’d been getting ready to leave the little punk’s house, a tickle of nausea and dizziness that he’d written off as a bad taco and the heat. How anyone lived in this hellhole, he didn’t know. One hundred plus degrees, practically year round, and air conditioning was still considered an optional luxury? Insane.
When they’d gotten back to their hotel, he’d cranked up the AC – that had cost them extra, but thankfully Oyabun Kenose was generous – and plopped himself directly in front of it, shrugging out of his sport coat and undoing all the buttons on his shirt. It hadn’t helped. He was cooled down, sure, but it only seemed to make the sickness worse. Rikya had asked him if he wanted dinner, and Saika had waved him off. That had been about an hour ago; Saika figured his partner must have found something else to keep him busy besides a burger run.

That was fine. He hated other people seeing him when he was sick. It showed weakness, and Saika hated looking weak more than anything.
Sweat was running down his face in rivers, which was a bitter joke given how cold he felt. But the cold didn’t feel like it was coming from the air conditioner in front of him, or the room itself, despite it probably being below 60 degrees overall. The chill was coming from somewhere inside, like he’d buried an ice cube somewhere in his chest that was somehow freezing the rest of him from the inside out.

“You’re going to pay.”

Saika jumped, knocking the flimsy plastic chair out from under himself and falling to the ground. He landed face first, and could feel blood dripping from his nose as he sat back up.

“What?” His head snapped from side to side, eyes rolling in the sockets as he tried to spot the source of that voice. They’d swept the room when they first came in, and it had been clean and inaccessible except through the front door. Rikya was gone, and would have likely announced his return; no one should have been able to get inside, let alone do it without Saika noticing and get close to enough to speak to him and vanish again immediately.

The room was still as empty as it had been when they’d first checked in, the only sign that anyone had been there at all being the suitcases sitting on the beds, the toppled chair, and the AC grinding away as it chewed up the hot clouds the natives had the nerve to call air and spat out a blessedly cool, moist breeze. Nothing – no one – here.

“I’m here,” the voice said, and this time Saika realized where it had come from.
His own mouth.

“What the fu-”
His jaw snapped shut on the words without his own will issuing the command. When it opened again, the voice that came from it was not quite his own. It almost sounded layered, as though there was another voice saying the same thing a half second early and in a higher pitch.

“Shut up. Your time is done. You’re going to pay.”

Saika’s hands went to his throat. He could feel the muscles beneath his fingers, flexing in tune to whatever puppetmaster was using his mouth as a speaker. The flesh of his neck was cold and clammy, making his fingers feel frostbitten as he pulled them away with a gasp and a wince. Moving was growing harder, and felt as though something was resisting him, something or someone pulling his muscles in the opposite direction of however he was trying to move.

“It’s not fun to fight against someone stronger than you, is it?”

The voice had lost most of Saika’s resonance, now being distinctly feminine, with an accent that reminded him of the rubes down in Kansai. He could still hear his own voice, but now it was the backbeat, no longer dominant. His arms had run cold as well, and the ice was seeping into his legs as they pushed him up.

He found himself stalking jerkily towards the bathroom. He tried to lock his knees, to will himself to fall down, to turn and run the other way, to do anything, but he was completely at the mercy of whatever force had come over him.

“It’s not fun when someone like that shoves you into a tub, and does whatever they want, is it?”

He saw his hands reach down and take hold of the tap controls of the tub, but couldn’t feel them. They were no longer his hands in any way that mattered. They spun the handles and clear water sprayed from the faucet, already collecting in the deep end and starting to pool even before his hands dropped the plunger in place.

“Looks like it was a little clogged, doesn’t it? That’s alright, though. It won’t matter.”
He reached into his pocket, digging past the smattering of change and the small keyring to fish out the knife. His hands held the knife in front of his eyes for a moment, turning it from side to side, making sure to catch the gleam of the overhead lights against the gunmetal gray hilt, before it slid the blade out. He saw his thumb run along the edge, splitting the flesh and causing several drops of blood to splatter on the floor.

He had no control of what was going on now. He felt nothing in most parts of his body, complete deprivation of feeling, except for the tip of his thumb where the blade had bitten. He could feel that with an exquisite sharpness, as though all his consciousness was focused on that one part of his anatomy, tangling with the severed nerves and screaming in unison.

That scream went unvocalized. His mouth instead emitted a laugh.

“Hurts, doesn’t it? It’s going to hurt more soon enough.”

One of his legs lifted up and over the lip of the tub, the expensive leather shoes doing nothing to prevent the water from flooding in and soaking the skin beneath. The water level was rising, coming up over the hem of his pants leg. The force moving him didn’t seem concerned, as it lifted the other leg into the tub, and sat down.

His body leaned back, bracing the legs against the wall, so his head was against the bottom of the tub. His hair, growing wet and losing some of the gel that held it in place, began to tickle against his cheeks and neck.

“So what’ll it be? Drowning, or the knife? I don’t remember which you did to me, so I can’t decide.”

In the back of his mind, the only place that Saika could still think of as “his” – unlike his body, which was continuing to do whatever it wanted and completely divorced of any of his control or sensation, or his voice, which seemed to prefer spouting nonsense that didn’t have any correlation to his actual situation – an image flashed. Him, standing in a bathroom – one not nearly as nice as the one in which he now found himself, but definitely more personal and homey, something that belonged to someone who tried to take care of it, with a fuzzy toilet seat cover, a picture of a cat hanging across from the toilet, a dolphin-shaped soap dispenser and the like – and staring down into a chipped tub.

A woman was floating in the tub. Nothing unique about her to his eyes. He’d seen plenty of girls that way, half-submerged, eyes open but staring at nothing, wrists slashed. His father had shown him how, and he’d done a dozen himself. He didn’t know which one this was, or why she was taking the wet nap – there was always a reason, though he rarely cared what it was – or even when it was. But it was one of his, and he remembered how good it had felt, that spark of joy and vitality he felt right when they finally stopped struggling and whatever it was that kept a person up and moving slipped out of them.
Thinking about it, the feel of his hands around their throats, pushing them down and holding them beneath the water while they stared up at him was arousing. Apparently at least one part of his anatomy was still listening to his brain. His unwelcome passenger was able to sense it, too; her voice pushed the images and sensations aside.

“Ah, so drowning! Won’t need this, then.”

His hands tossed the knife aside, launching it in such a way that it embedded itself in the wall beside him, quivering. Then his body crunched down as low as it could, submerging his face beneath the rising waters.

He tried to scream. Tried to thrash. Tried to do anything. No part of him responded, and his screams only echoed back to him in the emptiness of his own mind. He could feel the cold water soaking through his clothes and lapping at his skin, could feel it flooding his mouth and stomach and lungs and chilling him from the inside out. He could feel his lungs straining, desperate to fill themselves with something other than fluid, felt a horrible bursting sensation inside as one of them ruptured from the strain.

Through it all, he heard laughter. The laughter of a woman, the one who’d told him he would pay. Behind that, a man’s voice, counting to ten.

Then, nothing.


Chrysanthemum Graves is up to 11k this week. Trying not to let it stall, even if it doesn’t make it to the 50k in a month. How’s your NaNoWriMo going?

KA Spiral no signature


Snippet: Chrysanthemum Graves

I don’t know why I seem to like sharing the weird segments of this story that involve The Thirst, but it is what it is. Let me know what you think!


The thirst had returned. As before, it came first, then other sensations. Unlike before, vision wasn’t merely a red cloud. Other colors were present this time, though all of them were muted, as though being seen through a piece of murky gauze.

The sound was duller than previously, and the consciousness that hung from the thirst like some barely-glimpsed parasite found there was room for emotion: gratefulness. Things had been far too noisy during that previous period of waking, and now it seemed more normal. The bugs in the walls and the hum of every piece of electronic equipment was gone, as was the thrumming of the man’s heartbeat.

There were voices. Coming from somewhere in the house. A thought, and they drew close. Three voices, three men. Two large ones, one the man from the night before. The larger ones were speaking rapidly, angrily; the other was responding with an apparent calm that seemed to stoke the rage of the two argumentative ones.

The thirst knew they were speaking, and could taste the flavor of the emotions contained in the words, but was unable to make out the words themselves. It might have thought this was odd, if it were capable of thinking as such. As it was, it was only interested in the flares of color and scent that burst around each of the men as they threw their words at each other like weapons.

There. The one with the longer hair. A splash of black across his torso, as though ink had been spilled. A rotten scent, the stench of sewers and backed up disposal units. Something wrong with him.

Cancer, maybe? The consciousness that piggybacked on the thirst asked, with the tentative voice of a little girl raising her hand for the first time in class, prepared to give an answer she was unsure of. The thirst didn’t know, and didn’t care. All it knew is that the one with the long hair would be foul tasting and unlikely to provide much in the way of sustenance.

The other one, who seemed to prefer being quiet except to punctuate his apparent friend’s statements, had no similar blemishes. He was surrounded by a faint green glow, and smelled of fresh grass.

Not here, the mind behind the thirst cautioned. Not now.

The thirst pulsed with rage for a moment, but subsided. That inner voice was right. It wasn’t entirely able to resist its urges, however; the thirst blinked, and found itself tangled around the long-haired man, breathing in that scent and relishing the smell that was underneath it. Something red, thick, metallic. What the thirst really wanted, what it needed. Something about this one was almost as appealing as the man from the other night, scratching an itch that the thirst didn’t understand it had.

There was a gap in the man, something missing from him in a fundamental way that the thirst could see but not explain. It knew what to do, how it would get what it wanted. Slipping into that metaphysical hole in his being, merging into it and settling in like a bear into a den, the thirst waited.

It didn’t know what it was waiting for, only that it would know, given time. This was what it was supposed to do. Something inside said so, just as it had said to wrap around the man from last night’s throat, just as it had whispered to awaken and see this man here. Something was guiding the actions of the thirst, something beyond or above the faint traces of a mind that it still possessed. Whatever guidance was being provided was nearly of the highest importance, second only to the thirst itself. The thirst, having been sated previously, chose to follow direction.

Curling within the man, the thirst saw a multitude of images flickering by, mostly of violent actions. Again and again this man had abused, broken and stolen people and things. That mattered little to the thirst; it was a slave to its own nature, and understood. What puzzled it was the apparent pleasure the man took from it. He did those things not because he had to, but because he wanted to.

Then one image froze. The mind behind the thirst gasped. Red began to seep back into everything, fury driving out other concerns.

It saw, just for a moment, the man standing above a bathtub in a tiled room that was both alien and somehow familiar. In the tub, eyes bulging, arms hanging limply over the sides, gouges torn into the wrists that turned them into lipless mouths that grinned death and spoke blood, was a woman.

Something about this woman fueled the thirst’s anger, made it determined to kill the man it found itself hiding within. In the image, the wrists of his red sport coat were wet. His fingers were pruny. In his left hand he held a pocketknife stained with rust and fresh blood. The sense of satisfaction in the image was almost a physical thing. The thirst could practically hear the man muttering to himself about a job well done. He had killed this woman, and had enjoyed it.

The red haze grew stronger, overtaking the image and leaving nothing but a crimson void. The thirst wailed, wanting more, but knowing it was powerless against the forced slumber that was coming.

But, as before, there would be a period of waking to follow. Retribution would follow that. The thirst demanded it.


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Chrysanthemum Graves

Being unable to hold it in anymore, I scribbled the first few paragraphs of my NaNoWriMo project. I thought I’d share. Let me know what you think!


“What the fuck are you doing? Where the hell are your shoes?”

The voice came from somewhere further inside the house, the heavy walls and their tapestries deadening it, killing any echoes and making it hard to tell where it had come from. Still, Danny knew it well enough. Calm, despite the words it chose. Deep, rumbling like a subterranean landslide. Faint traces of an accent, but one that was almost impossible to define.

“Taking care of the floor, man! Isn’t that some shit you’re into? Don’t wanna track all over the place.”

Danny’s voice was shrill, nasal, almost the human equivalent of nails on chalkboard. He hated the sound of it himself, and would complain about it to anyone who even vaguely touched the subject, but there wasn’t much he could do about it. Puberty and its mysterious ways had been unkind to him in that regard.

The owner of the other voice had appeared at the end of the hall leading from the entryway. Contrary to his irritation at Danny’s lack of footwear, he was barefoot. A pair of gray sweats were the only clothing he wore. His chest was bare, shiny with sweat. Danny assumed the other man had been in the middle of one of his routines when he’d heard the bell.

“I like to keep my floor clean, yeah. That’s why I don’t want your nasty feet dragging on it. I mean, couldn’t you at least wear some socks? Go put your shoes back on. Then meet me in the kitchen.”

The man turned to his left, slipping through a beaded curtain that blended so well into the wall that it would have been invisible if you didn’t know to look for it. He was silent as he did so, and despite the rattling Danny knew he’d provoke by walking through it, the beads barely moved, as though they refused to defy the master of the house.

“Uh… right. Whatever you say, Ichi.”

His voice shook more than usual, and Danny cursed himself for it. Ichiro had never done anything to make him feel the pulse of fear that always quaked through him in the other man’s presence. Nothing to him, anyway. But Danny still always had to wonder if one day that would change.

He slunk back up the two short steps that separated the main room from the entrance, slipping his feet into the battered sneakers that had last been replaced sometime during Obama’s first term, before moving to follow Ichiro through the curtain.


Fiction Snippet: Lune de Amant – Running

She ran. It was times like this where she was most at peace with what she was. With the restraints of her position removed, with no one constantly looming behind her with her hand held in a vice or a possessive palm against her waist, having no need to primp and preen and endure hours of near torture to put on the airs of a respectable lady, she felt free. More than that, she felt alive.

Alive. Something she wasn’t even sure she understood the meaning of anymore. Not since Martin had found her, at least. She might have been in pain, ill, possibly dying. But she had at least felt something. Now, as she drifted along at his side, everything felt as though it was being pushed through a bit of gauze drenched in filthy water. No smell was particularly noticeable, no color vibrant. Even her own thoughts felt dull and muted.

But out here, when she ran free wearing thick, warming fur instead of choking silk, acting with instinct rather than carefully measured thought and planning, going where her pulse and nose took her instead of where Martin led her, she was someone else. She was herself, much as she might resist the admission.

Tonight was different, though. She had run, not because the animal in her had begged her too, not because the moon had called her to it, and not because Martin had told her to. She had run because some part of life’s former brilliance had bled once more into her human guise and she had not known how to process it. It had been a year since she had felt that way, had interacted with the world as someone who walked in it rather than through it, and she had been afraid.

To run as a wolf was simpler. Easier. Less to think about, nothing to worry about. It gave her an opportunity to exhaust herself and let her hot blood cool. To settle herself back to that comfortable grayness when she walked on two legs again.

Nicholas. It was his fault. If she hadn’t met him…

She paused, shaking her shaggy head and chuffing in an attempt to banish it. Even in a world composed mostly of smells and vague shapes, she could see his face clearly in her mind. He’d done nothing, really. Merely extended a hand and asked for hers, leading her to a dance that was so much more lively than those that Martin had taught her. Laughing, spinning, tasting things that had almost led to her cry at their sweetness, all at Nicholas’ arm. Never with him commanding it, always him asking, always her accepting.

No. It was not fair to blame him for it. She had made her choices. She could have – should have – declined his invitation to dance. Could have excused herself and clung to Martin for the evening before returning to their suite, none the wiser.

Unable to banish his face from her mind, she ran on. Stopping only gave those thoughts a grip. She ran faster, her pumping legs serving as pistons to shove his image aside.

After several minutes, when she thought she had left such thoughts behind her, she realized she had done no such thing. Apparently thoughts of Nicholas still held her in sway, even as she fled under the gaze of mother moon. She dug her claws into the soggy earth, stopping as she realized where her feet had taken her.

Nicholas’ estate lay below. She could still see the brilliant glow of the windows, and dim forms milling about in the courtyard, their shadows grown grotesque by the flickering lanterns set high on either side of the walkway. Her twitching ears could make out the sound of the band playing on, even though the revelry had ostensibly ended hours ago. She suspected they’d carry on this way until dawn at this point.

There. Her nostrils flared, and it was almost a physical pull on her snout that drug her gaze towards one of the second story window. Her eyesight in this form was not as good as it was when she walked among the sheep, but some scents were so strong to her that they became visible; the person standing in that window was covered in two such smells.

One looked to her a muted green, lingering mostly about the figure’s neck and arm. It was one she knew well; the same color trailed behind her in paw print shapes. Her own scent.

The other glowed to her, an orange that shone brighter than the lanterns scattered about the estate and was nearly as intoxicating as the rum-laced drinks she had sampled earlier in the evening. The only scent that had drug her out of the gauzy filter and drawn her interest. Nicholas.

She couldn’t tell what he was doing, beyond standing at the window. The sounds of the remaining partygoers drowned out anything that might be coming from his direction. She saw him stiffen, as though started, and glance over his shoulder; the colors of his scent sparked in a brief flash of red, before returning to orange once more. He seemed to shudder, though she thought he might actually have been laughing. A moment after, he turned back to the window and pulled it shut before snuffing the light within and cutting himself off from her senses entirely.

She wanted him. Without the clutter of her human thoughts, she could admit that at least. But he represented a life she no longer lived, an unsettling sense of normalcy that would forever be beyond her. And regardless of what she told Martin, a part of her didn’t want to return to normality, treasured the time she spent running on all fours, free beneath the cold light of the moon.

Part of her wanted to run to him, and use the gifts given to her to shred and claw and destroy the thing that had disturbed her so. Another portion wanted to go to him and make him like her, so she would not feel so alone. A third felt she should divorce herself of the night world, subdue all such wild urges, and seek him as a human woman might. She knew she could make him hers with unnatural talents – Martin had showed her how – but she wanted him to be hers in a more natural way… as she would be his.

She whined, tail tucking down behind her. It was too much. Too many possibilities, too many consequences, and all of them were too hard to think about in this shape. It felt constricting and cloying instead of free now, trapping her with circular thoughts and vague fears.

She bounded away, pausing to give one glance back to Nicholas’ window and giving a low howl that – thankfully – was not answered. She would run. She would hunt. And she would steer clear of him until this internal storm calmed.


Believe Me snippet


The scratching of pen against heavy paper had always been an evocative and pleasurable sound to Lila. Something about the noise, the way it made her think of the sensation of holding the satisfying weight of the implement in her hand, the smell of well-made paper, the idea of creation and creativity being unleashed… they all pleased her.

It was a complete conceit of vanity to be doing it now; she knew that. It didn’t lessen her enjoyment, however. If anything, it was enhanced by the knowledge that doing it this way made it all seem so much more theatrical and magical. After all, part of the allure of what she did was tied up in public perception. No one believed – or wanted to listen to – a psychic who just told them something point blank. They wanted a show, they wanted waving hands and obscuring smoke and the idea of someone scribbling prophecies by candlelight.

For all intents and purposes, that was exactly what she was doing right now. Close enough, at least.

Lila had been at the table, scribbling idly, mostly to feed her own self-image and partly to pass the time, for five hours. She knew it would probably be another two at least before she had news and could write something of substance, but it soothed her nerves.

She wasn’t certain why she should be nervous; after all, the gig had been going for three months already and every step had been as carefully choreographed as any large-scale dance production. But there was always the nagging voice that could never be fully silenced, the one that asked things like “what if he screws it up,” “what if he turns you in,” “what if they find out” and possibly worst of all, “what if this is wrong?”

She hated that question the most. Perhaps because she knew it was.

Thinking about it wasn’t helping her any; she pushed the thoughts back, raising her head to stare at the door, then glancing pointedly down at the gaudy gold watch that hung limp against her thin wrist.

Still to early. You know that.

She did, but it didn’t change the fact that she just wanted this part to be over. Tom Petty’d had it right; the waiting was the hardest part. But the dividends that waiting paid out were worth it.

Sighing, knowing there’d be nothing more of value to write until Kelsey got home, she flipped her notebook shut, pulling the elasticized velvet strap into place to hold the page she’d begin writing on once the deed was done. Setting her pen, a stainless steel, gold and silver monstrosity that had cost more than most people’s cars, alongside it, she pushed out of the chair and drifted out of her writing nook and into the living room.

As she went, she trailed one hand along all the things her labors had gotten her; the wrought-iron chairs imported from some European country she couldn’t name, let alone pronounce. A table supposedly hewn from a thousand year old tree in a forest that no longer existed and polished to a mirror sheen by weeping orphans in a Chinese labor camp. A hand-stitched leather davenport, dark green with gold filigree in a fleur-de-lis pattern.

For someone who’d grown up in a doublewide trailer alongside more siblings than she could count, Lila Morrigan felt she was doing pretty good for herself.

She’d only had to commit a handful of murders to do it.

Not like you did them yourself, she thought. That was the voice she preferred to listen to, the one who didn’t harass her by begging moral questions about the ends justifying the means. That was the voice of the woman she wanted to be, the grown-up voice of the child she had been, the one that had been beaten down and kept locked away and found a thousand reasons to be silent until recently.

It was also true, Lila thought as she sank into the sensual smoothness of the davenport, letting her bare feet dangle over the edge. She balled one fist up against her cheek and stared at the door. Part of her hoped she could fall asleep, not just so that the time would pass faster while she was unconscious, but because she knew Kelsey thought it was cute when he came home and found her asleep and facing the door, like a child waiting for their father who is too tired to still be up when the door at last opens and a booming voice announces “Daddy’s home.”

Her brain didn’t seem to be on board with the idea, though, chasing itself in circles. When she’d been sitting at the desk and testing out phrasing for her next grand prediction, she’d been focused, able to easily ignore the otherwise near-constant debate inside her skull. With nothing to occupy her but the waiting game however, they now had free reign.

Just because you didn’t do the stabbing doesn’t mean you’re responsible, one of them pointed out. And profiting from it, doing nothing to stop it…

The voice trailed off, but Lila had heard it often enough – both from her shrink as a teenager and from inside her mind – she knew what came next. To derail it, she took a deep breath and assumed a pompous, stuff-cheeked bass voice.

“The only thing that evil needs to triumph is for good men to do nothing,” she boomed into the empty house.

Words. Empty words, just as empty as anything else she’d told her clients. Uncle Joe was not watching out for them, Aunt Shelly hadn’t given her dying breath to whispering how much she loved an estranged grandchild, and your husband Bob had been a cheating scuzz who wasn’t proclaiming his eternal innocence from the afterlife. Just words. Words that had kept her just above the poverty level for almost a decade.

But real words, words with some power and knowledge behind them, like those that had just “come to her” after Susanne Winters had been murdered last year, or perhaps the message from the other side that Darlene McClintock had offered her a couple months ago, or even the as-yet unwritten post scripted suicide note that Candace Meyers would surely be whispering to her by the end of the day… those words had a purpose, a guiding direction to them. Who was she to deny them?

You’re Lila Morrigan. You used to be a good girl. There’s still time to change things, you know.

She hmmphed, rolling over and facing the couch cushion. Good girl. Yeah, right. Nobody’d ever thought so before, no reason for them to start now.

He’ll kill you, too. One day.

Lila jerked up, moving without thinking about it. She slid on the leather and found herself hitting the ground with a harsh thump that left her spine aching and made her clip the tip of her tongue with her teeth, flooding her tastebuds with the too-salty taste of blood.

“Horseshit,” she hissed to the empty room. “He loves me.”

Does he? Or are you just convenient?

“Shut up!” She launched upward, digging her nails into her scalp and twisting her fingers into her thick blonde hair. Eyes wide, teeth bared and bloody, she swept her head from side to side, daring that voice to show itself, to give her a target, something she could hit, and claw and bite until it was silent. Part of her realized how idiotic the idea was; the voices all came from inside, and she knew it. That part was buried in the rubble of the Lila-who-was’ panic at the very idea and the smug satisfaction of the Lila-who-could-be’s insinuations.

Only one thing would shut them all up. She didn’t want to do it. Kelsey would be mad, and it would mean an extra day before they could really get the ball rolling on their latest masterpiece. But if she didn’t they’d drive her crazy long before he got home.

She turned away from the living area, eyes narrowing as she focused on the bathroom door tucked discretely against the stairwell.

Don’t. Please.

The voice wasn’t frightened, as Lila would have liked it. It wasn’t even angry. It just sounded disappointed.

“Please, my ass. I do as I please.”

Lila had long ago stopped worrying about talking out loud to her own internal monologues. No one was around to hear it, anyway. When Kelsey was home, those voices were quiet, overruled by his own confident tones. When he was away… well, what he didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him, that was her motto.

She started towards the door, undoing the buttons on her silk blouse and letting it drop to the floor. Caught in the sudden chill, her bare shoulders and neckline instantly rippled into tingling ridges of gooseflesh. Lila caught herself wondering what Kelsey would say if he was here. Would he have been turned on? Would he have asked to see more, maybe interrupted her self-destructive tantrum with his touch and tongue?

No way to know. No matter. He wasn’t here, and she wouldn’t be stopped. But that didn’t mean she had to ruin a good blouse, especially a white one.

She pushed open the door to the bathroom, reaching out and flicking on the lights. The small room had been done entirely in black tile with chrome accents. Even the sink, toilet and tub matched. When she was in here, alone as she was now, she could believe she’d stepped into a hidden pocket in space where she could float freely and nothing would disturb her. The reflection of the single fluorescent bar bounced from the mirror and against dozens of tiles, enhancing the illusion by dotting space with a myriad of stars.

She let the door swing shut and reached forward, pulling the mirrored cabinet open. Finding her way by touch, her searching hand danced across the bottom shelf before finding something hard, flat and sharp. Tweezing it between her fingers, she brought the object close, tipping it from side to side to catch the light.

Put that thing away. Walk out. Call the police.

The voice was finally showing some signs of distress. Not that it would make a difference. Smiling, Lila angled the razor blade with the cutting edge turned towards her palm. She raised her arm above her head, cocking the elbow. With the blade hovering just above her shoulder, she used her free hand to swing the mirror shut.

There was enough light for her to see her face. Twisted into a manic grin, blood dribbling over her lower lip from her wounded tongue, eyes wide, pupils dilated, small traces of maroon in her hair at the temples, where she’d dug her nails in without realizing it. Others might have thought her insane; Lila considered herself fierce.

Locking her tongue into the corner of her pursed lips, keeping her eyes on the eyes of the Lila in the mirror, she brought the blade closer. Cold as her shoulders already were, she still felt as though there was a pocket of frost around the tiny blade as she brought it to barely an inch above her vulnerable flesh.

“Shut. Up.”

She began the cleansing.

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Believe Me – Fiction Snippet


Carole stood by the side of the bed, running her fingers over the chilly forehead of the child she thought of as her daughter. She looked very out of place, a paradox that shouldn’t exist; in sharp contrast to her solidly built frame, smart sport coat, sensibly long – but not too long – skirt, and authoritarian hair bun, the room was small, brilliant pink, festooned with rainbow streamers and had the added attraction of an audience: a set of mock bleachers crammed with stuffed animals of every description, their glass eyes fixated on the princess-style bed and its occupant.

Sarai was half tucked in, having insisted that the covers not be pulled up completely. Carole had fought with her on it, especially given the chill the girl was giving off, but had finally relented when it became apparent that Sarai was only going to fuss more and toss them off the second Carole left the room anyway. When they’d gotten home, Sarai still sniveling and fitful but at least willing to be led to her room, Amanda had knelt down in front of the girl and told her that she needed to have a little discussion with someone, then had left the rest to Carole.

“Somebody who needs his hide tanned,” was the explanation Amanda had given her wife, and while Carole didn’t disagree that Gabe was in need of a fresh reminder of his responsibilities, she still felt that tending to their daughter was the more immediate issue. Amanda hadn’t quite seen it the same way, and had blown out of the house to hunt down her ex-husband.

Carole didn’t really mind; it was probably better this way. Lord knows, Sarai had been jumpy and more than a little fragile of late, and might take her mother’s anger as a sign that she’d done something wrong.

Thus Carole stood the vigil, having been the one to shrug Sarai out of the little black dress, so grown-up and carefully chosen, and into her soft squirrel jammies. She had cleaned the makeup from Sarai’s face, had used the polish remover and cotton balls to strip the already-chewed gloss off her fingers, had given her hair a hundred strokes with the brush and then a dozen more for good measure, pulling back the costume of the woman Sarai would be and once again revealing the child she was.

Then it had been off to bed, with a cup of hot cocoa and a Benadryl to help her sleep. Sarai was fighting it, though, every few minutes forcing her eyes open and staring at Carole in a way that was far too intense for a child and made her skin feel like it was attempting to crawl off her bones.

Carole hadn’t been aware that she was halfway to dozing until she was jerked to full wakefulness by Sarai’s voice. It was thick with sleepmud and the effects of the pills, slightly slurred and deeper than usual, but perfectly understandable.

“Is momma gonna hurt daddy?”

In her distress, Sarai seemed to have regressed to her younger language; she’d been using “mom” and “dad” for over a year, occasionally dipping a toe into the waters where “mother” was an acceptable term – though she typically saved that for when she was upset or exasperated. Carole’s lips pursed in a scowl, as she reached down to brush an errant lock of her daughter’s thick black hair from her brow. Rather than the chill that had been present previously, she now felt hot to the touch, causing Carole’s frown to deepen.

“Why would you say that, honey?”

She asked in as flat and calm a tone as she was capable, but between the scare she’d been given by jerking awake to that voice and her own worries, Carole thought she could hear a faint tremor in it. She just hoped Sarai hadn’t caught it.

The girl rolled over, pulling back from Carole’s touch. She scrunched herself almost into a ball, hugging her knees to her chest.

“Dunno,” she mumbled. “Dreamed it.”

Carole took a deep breath before speaking, trying to steady herself. It helped, as when she responded her voice was solid, with none of the shakes or fear she felt breaking through. Now she was once again the no-nonsense librarian, completely in control of the situation.

“Just a dream, love. Mom wouldn’t hurt anyone, especially not you, or me, or your daddy.”

Silence. Carole saw Sarai’s back moving, slow and steady. She thought that Sarai must have fallen back asleep, and probably wouldn’t even remember this in the morning. Just when she’d managed to convince herself of the idea, and was reaching for the light switch, intending to head to her own room and begin the wait for Amanda to get back home, Sarai spoke again.

“She might. If someone hurt me. She told me so. And daddy hurt me.”

“Oh, honey…”

Carole came more fully to the bed, pulling Sarai up into a sitting position and wrapping her arms around her. The girl was shaking, and Carole was expecting another crying fit. Her body was giving off an unholy amount of heat.

“You’re burning up!”

Sarai pulled her head away from Carole’s chest and stared up at her with eyes that seemed to be nothing but pupil. In those black depths, Carole saw nothingness. An absolute void that seemed to be calling to her, pleading with her, begging her to jump on in as it promised the water was just fine.

An involuntary shriek tore its way out of her chest, leaving her gasping and struggling to take in a fresh breath. Not knowing what else to do, she swept Sarai off the bed and made a dash for the bathroom, holding the girl close with one arm while her free hand sped over the handles and switches of the tub to get it running with fresh, cold water.

Once the water was running, Carole set Sarai down. The girl stood, still just staring at her with those empty eyes, while Carole shucked off the pajamas and tried to coax her into the tub.

“C’mon, honey. You need to cool down a little, alright? You’re scaring me.”

Sarai didn’t seem to have heard. Didn’t even blink. Carole found herself wondering if she’d seen Sarai blink at all since picking her up off the bed, and wasn’t certain that she had. Still, the immediate situation needed to be dealt with. When it became apparent that words weren’t going to be enough, she hefted Sarai again, and dunked her into the water. It would probably ruin her sport coat, but Carole wasn’t concerned about that right now.

The effect of the water was immediate; Sarai began screaming as though she’d been dunked in burning gasoline. She started to thrash and claw at Carole, her teeth clenched and guttural snarls slipping out between her cries. Between the flailing arms obstructing her view, and her own attempts to grab hold of Sarai’s wrists so she wouldn’t put a hand through the shower door and cut herself, Carole swore she could see the girl’s eyes dilating rapidly, caught in flux between that black stare and a puzzled, but at least human-looking, blue.

Carole didn’t let it deter her; she did her best to maintain the upper hand, keeping Sarai in the tub while her mouth worked, chewing out the air and spitting out prayers she wasn’t aware she was offering. After a time – Carole wasn’t certain how long, only that it had felt like aeons had come and gone but probably only the space of a few seconds – Sarai quieted, and Carole was able to loosen her grip and sit back.

Without looking as though there was anything odd about the situation at all, Sarai scrunched herself up, scooting to the back of the tub and a natural sitting position, before staring up at her. Her eyes were a clear, blameless blue; tears were pooled at the corners, but appeared to be from the tantrum rather than any present source of pain.

“Momma? Why’m I in the tub? Did I have an accident?”

The question was asked in such a genuine, confused way, such a goddamn normal way, that for a moment Carole was unable to process it. When it sank all the way in, a harsh laugh that didn’t sound at all like her burst from her throat. It took her a moment to respond, time which Sarai gave her. The whole time she was staring at Carole, head slightly cocked and with one corner of her mouth tweaked in a confused smile that suggested Carole might be the crazy one, and that she had certainly done nothing out of the ordinary.

When she could finally answer, she found that most of the shaking fear had faded from her voice, leaving – mostly – the stern confidence of the librarian she knew her daughter frequently compared her to as the only tone.

“No, honey. You’re sick. You were burning up. I had to cool you off. Sit tight, okay? I need to make a phone call.”

Sarai nodded, her expression not changing. Unlike before, where the lack of change had troubled her, this seemed natural enough to Carole; it was the “parents are crazy” face that so many children seemed to wear when the actions of the adults around them were incomprehensible or stupid. Carole could live with that.

She stepped back from the tub, backing into the hallway and pulling out her phone. She left the door open, so she could watch the girl while she called, but wanted to be far enough away that she couldn’t hear what was being said; she’d had enough trouble for today, and would probably only get worse if she realized how much of a fright she had given Carole.

Button three on the speed dial was Dr. Najeeri’s after-hours emergency number; Carole’s finger danced over it for a moment. On the one hand, Sarai seemed better, now; bothering the doctor if it was nothing would be embarrassing both for herself and her daughter. On the other hand, better safe than sorry… and there was the matter of what her eyes had been doing. What if Sarai’d had a stroke or something?

Thinking about a stroke decided her. Her father had suffered one ten years ago, though he’d acted like he was fine at the time. Found dead in bed hours later. Silly and overprotective or not, Carole didn’t want to have to deal with that scenario all over again with Sarai.

She pressed the button and hit “Call.”

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