Category Archives: Misc Short Stories

Platypus Update Week (almost) 14

Back in July, we found out I was pregnant.  We’d been trying since February, so it wasn’t that much of a surprise.  I’ll admit that when the second pink line showed up, there was a tiny voice in my head that cheered because I did it.  I am the mother goddess worshipped by the cavemen.

This is not me being smug.  I know pregnant woman can be smug.  This is me expressing that inescapable primal voice which stated categorically that this is the one thing, the only thing, that I should be able to do.  And if I can’t do it, then I am not a woman.

This is a surprisingly un-feminist statement, I know.  Logically, I know that the biological imperative to reproduce is not a requirement for my identity.  Choosing not to have kids is a valid life choice and one I wish more people would take considering the over-population problems we have on this planet.  And while I have been tempted to opt-out of baby-making, especially as I got older, I also feared that sense of regret that childless women are supposed to get.  Utter nonsense and propaganda, I know.  And also a kick in the teeth for all those people out there who can’t have kids.

Among my parents siblings, my dad’s sister and both my mom’s brothers didn’t have kids.  And growing up I always felt there was some kind of shame attached to that.  Hurray for cultural programming.

I am friends with several couples who don’t have kids and they don’t sit at home bemoaning their decision.  Nope, they go on vacations when they like, eat out at nice restaurants, and spend money on nice things that they don’t necessarily need.

I also have friends who can’t have kids.  They have serious health conditions that either make them infertile or make pregnancy a life-threatening condition.  It is a source of trauma in their lives and very much part of the reason I feared “trying” for so long.  That being said, these friends aren’t less for being unable to reproduce.  They are wonderful, beautiful, whole women who inspire me everyday because they survived an ordeal and live a reality that has killed lesser mortals.

The I did it I felt was more in the lines of relief than pride.  Has there been any indication that I might not be able to have kids?  With a mother who had 5 kids and two siblings that are already 2 kids in?  No.  But I’m 32 now.  And modern myth would have me believe that already my eggs are shriveling up and blowing away in the breeze.  Plus, my hubby just turned 39.  We are not what you would call “spring chickens.”  The only reason “trying” was stressful was because there was the implied possibility of “failing.”

So here I am, grateful that we only “failed” for 5 months and that we started this whole thing with the verbal agreement that there was no pressure to succeed.  If it happens, it happens.  If not, we can adopt.  That didn’t shut up the niggling voice in my head every time my period came, but it helped.

Anyway, I’m now at nearly 14 weeks and edging into my second trimester.  At 10 weeks, we got the first ultrasound and discovered we were having a platypus and our dream of having twins was dashed.

Since making the public announcement, I have been asked about morning sickness and cravings.  I found it funny that a lot of the first trimester woes were things I deal with on the daily.  Headaches, nausea, loss of appetite, etc.  Honestly, I’ve had a hard time distinguishing between pregnancy nonsense and my normal life.  First of all, “morning” is a misnomer.  For a few weeks, I had random nausea and severe food aversion.  This means that when I tried to eat some reheated chicken, my body noped so hard I almost didn’t make it to the bathroom.  Food aversion is something I’m normally able to out-think.  Yes, body, I know you don’t like leftovers but I don’t like wasting food so suck it up.  Now, thanks to Platypus, I can’t trust that my mind can conquer my body so I can’t risk eating anything that might not agree with me.  When I go off on the food in the fridge, I’m having cereal for dinner.  I’ve had a lot of cereal in the last 3 months.

The nausea is supposed to go away now that I’m out of the first trimester.  Let’s hope that means I can go back to eating real food for a bit.

As to cravings, I can’t say that I’ve legit had any.  Before I knew I was preggers, when we were on vacation, I wanted salads a lot more than usual.  Having asked around, I found that consensus on cravings was that they are intense and for foods I don’t normally want.  But that doesn’t explain why I want mac & cheese-stuffed meatloaf.  It would explain why out of the blue I decided I needed cereal (we haven’t done cereal in maybe a year) at the commissary and proceeded to have a bowl of it as soon as we got home.  Then again, I could just be giving into my normal food desires because I’m pregnant and feel entitled to eat what I want, damnit.

And now I’m starting to show.  I am wigging out a little.  This pregnancy is inexorably progressing and I am both constantly aware of it and in mild denial that it is real.  I thought the sonogram would make it real.  I was wrong.  We haven’t bought any baby things and we’ve barely touch the registry and I’m not suffering from any nesting instinct yet.  I am tired a lot and bloated and gassy.  I have sudden extreme bouts of rage which have included some pretty awesome dreams where for once I didn’t feel helpless.  I can’t stand in place for very long without feeling uncomfortable, I have to drink more water, I have to pee a lot (even when I don’t drink more water), and my boobs are HUGE.  Like, they keep getting in my way and I have to be careful rolling over in my sleep.

And that is where I am right now.

Week: 13, 5 days

Weight: 137lbs

Platypus: Small Peach

Baby Bump: 37″

Bra Size: Medium (that’s all you’re getting, pervs)

Pant Size: 10




Filed under Misc Short Stories

I did this for Reasons

Yesterday, I got a tattoo.

Tattoo 1Tattoo 2


I saved my babysitting money and spare change for well over a year because I knew it was going to be expensive and I didn’t want that kind of frivolity to come out of our savings.  By April, I had $800, $270 of which was from change.

For my birthday, we went for a consult in Richmond after sourcing around for a good month for the right artist: reading reviews, interrogating my learned tatted friends, looking at dozens of artist galleries, and finally talking face-to-face with the artist about my design.  The artist I chose was booked nearly a month out, but he managed to find an appointment for me on a Thursday afternoon, which was perfect.  Except that Buddy had to work.  This was going to be a solo endeavor.  I was incredibly nervous.

What if I didn’t like it?  What if it cost more than I had?  What if it hurt too much?  What if I did like it but in a year or two, stopped like it.  My inclinations change over the years, as do everyone’s.  Ten years ago, my go-to colors were blue/black/silver and I despised pink.  I was going to get out of the Army one day and be a costume designer.  I was super into Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.  I idolized Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.  I was surrounded by people who had tattoos.  But even then, I knew that my tastes were too fickly to permanently stab something into my flesh.

Since then, my favorite color has shifted to purple.  And my job of choice has shifted quite a bit as well, settling somewhere between writer and book editor.  I have delved deeper into literature through my English degree and expanded my skills as a baker.  I’ve even picked up new hobbies, like sewing and crochet.  I am still super into Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter and Gaiman and Pratchett are still my writing gods.

None of these things are etched into my skin.  No beautiful quotes or Biblical text.  No runes or Elvish scripts.  No Deathly Hallows or crochet hooks or yarn or cookies or the faces of strangers whom I love for their work but wouldn’t know me from Adam.  I went with cherry blossoms.

And it hurt.  The shoulder part was fine, like scratching a light sunburn, an experience I’m well versed in.  It wasn’t much more painful that picking a scab.  The spine was much more needle-like, not in sharpness but in depth.  It felt like a longer, sharper needle sticking straight into my nerves.  It hurt, but was bearable.  The petals on my lower back were excruciating.

I feel awful about looking down on women with “tramp stamps.”  I know biker guys with sleeves and devils all over their arms and shoulders look tough, but anyone willing to do their entire tat on the lower back has got ovaries of adamantium.

Some of you might have heard the story I told a few weeks ago about a wasp that mysteriously ended up in my bedroom and woke me with a friendly sting right on my earlobe.  If you have ever been stung by a bee or wasp, you know that pain.  It is hot and deep and nothing you do alleviates it.  This is not a flu shot.  This is an anthrax shot.  Every petal was a set of bee stings.  And he had to keep going back to add details.  He was as merciful as possible, taking breathers when I started swearing, asking if I was okay.  Yes, I’m fine.  It hurts, but as soon as you stop, the pain stops.  I can do this.  I will bite my knuckles and kick my feet, but if you keep going so will I.

It took just over two hours and cost only $300, with tip.  I went to a neat shop down the street and bought an umbrella with a katana handle as a reward.  I also picked up a couple of pastries from a bakery because I had been too nervous to eat all day and my blood sugar was tanked.  It took me most of the drive home to come down from the adrenaline, which had me shaking and jittery.  I spent the rest of the night eating yogurt and drinking lemonade to get balanced.  When nerves get to my stomach, that can take a long time.

I chose the cherry blossoms for three reasons.

First, cherry blossoms have become synonymous with my relationship with my husband.  We both share an appreciation for Japanese culture, though he’s the only one of us lucky enough to get stationed there.  We spent most of our early relationship long distance and when he came to visit for R&R from Iraq, we went on deployment-money adventures.  This included a week stay at the Animal Kingdom Resort at Disney World and a week-long visit to see friends stationed in Japan.  I don’t have any pics from the Japan portion of that trip because the flash drive I put them on got left at Disney.  What I do know was that most of my first days in Japan I was sick from Jetlag.  But then there were the cherry blossoms.  When we went to see the big Buddha, they were still out.

Big Buddha

That was from the second time we visited.  Or rather, I got to visit Buddy while he was stationed in South Korea and we took a 10-day jaunt to Japan.  That site reminds me of visiting the Grand Canyon with my family.  You can take a million pictures (and believe me, I did), but never capture the majesty of something so huge.  You could say that my first Japanese vacation made me enamored of cherry blossoms and in the years since, they have accompanied the happiest adventures with my husband.  They were even on our wedding cake.

By themselves, cherry blossoms are enchanting and my favorite thing about spring.  Symbolically, they represent renewal and rebirth, which is why there are festivals that celebrate them every year.  Something about the blankets of delicate blossoms springing forth so unexpectedly after winter just renews the soul and brings hope.  At least for me.  This is the second reason for choosing them.  I could have gone with any flowering tree and called it a day, but cherry blossoms remind me of the hope of spring.  And sometimes I need that.

The third reason has to do with falling blossoms.  It’s funny how seeing the blizzards of petals is both inspiring and a bittersweet melancholy; it’s a reminder that all beauty passes away.  Trying to hold tight to the blossoms only bruises them.  And those that linger on the branch merely wither.  This last year we lost a lot of people in our families.  I was going to do a petal for each person I have lost in my life, maybe updating it every time someone else passed on.  But who to add?  Just family?  Close friends?  My cat?  By the end I would have a massive flower pile on my hip and would have to add a little guy with a rake to keep them neat.  (Also, considering the amount of pain those blossoms would individually cause, it turns out I’m not that much of a masochist.)  It is enough, I think, to recognize that the falling blossoms represent loss, but a loss that isn’t always an evil.  For some it is just their season and for others a mercy.  It is still sad, still causes grief and pain.  But it is and shall always be the Truth of life.  Beauty fades and all living things die.  That’s also why I decided to stick with the watercolor style for the upper blossoms after learning that the ink will fade faster.  I can touch it up if I want, or let them fade as nature intended.

So that’s why I chose the cherry blossoms.  Yet some of you, might still have the burning question of WHY ruining my Zen.

Look at the top two photos again.  Now look very closely at the second one of just my shoulder.  If you have sharp eyes, you might notice that there are scars all along my trapezius muscles.  Tiny little pale circles, dozens of them.  You see those?  Good.  Now imagine them all along my other shoulder and along my collar bone.  I have compulsion issues.

I sucked my three middle fingers until I was 5, despite everything my Mom did to stop me, including soaking my fingers in tabasco sauce.  I had a sharp corner on my pinky nail once and sucked on my fingers despite it gouging a hole in my cheek.  I remember the exact moment I stopped this habit.  Heather looked over at me in kindergarten and with the utmost derision of a 5-year-old, told me to stop.  So, ashamed, I did.  Thereafter, it was chewing pencils.

And I know some people gnaw on pen caps and the like.  I did that, too.  And I chewed the ends of pencils until the metal end with the eraser came off, totally deformed.  I would bite down pencils like they were corn-on-the-cob.  I don’t remember when I stopped doing that, but it might have been around when I started getting nicer pencils.  As for nail biting, well, that’s another story.

Nail biting was twofold.  If I was anxious, they were goners.  I took to taking extra straws into movies to make sure I had something to worry on besides my nails.  However, if I found a snag in a nail or a rough edge, I would have to fix it.  So I’d keep tearing off a piece, trying to clean it up somehow, unable to stop despite knowing that I was only making it worse.  Have you ever chewed your nails down to the beds?  You don’t realize how much it hurts until later when that exposed skin starts aching.  And you still have to fight that urge to mess with the rough edge.

I have mostly defeated that nasty habit.  What happened was, I was in Basic Training during a field exercise.  I had spent the last month or so stressed so far beyond normal that I hadn’t even thought about my nails.  You really don’t have the mental space for fiddly little nervous ticks.  I was finally getting to a mental place where I could relax and in that moment, I went to chew a nail.  However, upon looking at said nail and seeing all the nasty that was under there, I swore off nail biting for good.  The first time I ever, in my life, trimmed my nails was at AIT a month or so later.  I still do chew them sometimes, but not out of nerves.  It’s that compulsion to fix that edge that still gets me.  Which is why I have nail files hidden everywhere.

My last tick is picking.  There was a time when I thought it was just a bad habit, one I should be able to stop whenever I wanted.  And, typical as this seems, I thought I was alone in this nasty habit.  Picking is related to my nail biting in that it has to do with smoothing rough edges.  A scab is a rough edge.  Remove it and the skin is smooth, if only for an instant.  Logically, it’s dumb.  You lengthen healing time, risk infection, cause pain, AND increase the likeliness of scars.  But logic doesn’t come into it.

Mom saw spots of blood on the back of my shirt once, maybe 5 years ago.  I told her I pick scabs.  She said, “Well stop it.”  And I replied, rather rudely, “It’s a compulsion, I can’t.”

This is not entirely true.  I can redirect my compulsion (as I’ve apparently been doing my whole life from finger sucking to pencil chewing to nail biting).  If I keep my hands busy, they can’t find those little blemishes and worry at them.  It’s an indirect benefit of taking up crochet.  Unlike my other hobby, reading, my hands are in full use with crochet so they can’t wander.  I suppose I could get on medication.  I have a friend who is also a compulsive picker, which is how I found out that I’m not just a freak with a gross habit.  She got on medication which helped curbed her picking.  I just have a problem with doctors, especially Army doctors, who always seem to look for the fastest way to get rid of you.

But I digress.  People look in the mirror and see their flaws first.  When I am dressed, I like how I look.  It is when I undress that all the ugly comes out, all the stretch-marks and cellulite and scars.  I look in the mirror and worry that I’m getting fat (just LOOK at those THIGHS) or my face is the wrong shape or my teeth are crooked.  These are all little, daily things, the diatribe built in by an image-obsessed culture.  I also see blemishes and scars.  On bad days, that’s all I see.  It hurts.  It hurts that I can’t always stop myself.  It hurts that there are bloodstains on my nice clothes because I couldn’t help it.  It hurts that I shy away from parts of my closet depending on the state of my shoulders and back.  It just hurts.  Lying on the tattoo table, when the needle first started in my shoulder, it felt no worse than what I do to myself.  I knew then it was the right decision.

I got a tattoo because for once I wanted to look at a self-inflicted scar that was beautiful.  And if that is vain or selfish, fine.  I am vain and selfish.  I dye my hair because it looks good on me.  I wear clothes that flatter my figure.  I don’t wear makeup because it is a hassle.  And now when I look at my ugly naked body, I can turn my shoulder, not to see the damage I’ve done to myself, but to remember that scars can be beautiful.


Filed under Misc Short Stories

Anger and Sadness

There is a fine line between anger and sadness.

Anger is what we use to kill sadness.

When our throats constrict with unwanted tears, when despair claws at our insides, when fear and helplessness tighten our chests, Anger steps in to burn it all away.

When scores of people die in senseless violence

Atrocities against hundreds

Death in the thousands

Blood running in schools

Ignorance and Hatred ruling the mob

Terrors stalking our friends, family, children

There is Anger.


If only what?

Fewer guns?  More guns?  More laws?  Less laws?  Acceptance?  Genocide?

Time Travel?

Go back in time and prevent guns from being invented.

Just to be safe, get rid of gun powder.

Also projectile weapons of any sort.

Or anything sharp.

Go back and break the thumbs of all the early homo sapiens.  That should do it.


There is no fixing this.  There is no solution.  This is reality.  This is what we have built for ourselves.  The world we live in should expect a mass shooting every day, because that is what happens.  Want that to change?  Move to an uninhabited planet.

Anger is useless.  It calls for action where none can be taken.  Cries for justice where none can exist.  Demands retribution from a dead man, and then from anyone else considered culpable.  Anger is loud, unthinking, cruel.  Anger anticipates all these things from its perceived enemies, and is angrier when they don’t act accordingly.  Calls everyone hypocrites because they can’t publically hate on dead people.  Those a-holes have no right to pray and mourn the people they were afraid to share a bathroom with.  Those people facilitated this, so they should be rejoicing on social media, right?

Anger snarls for change.  Fix this with laws and regulations.  (Let’s be honest, if nothing changes after an elementary school gets shot up, what chance does a gay bar have when the LGBT community is considered one of the threats to school children?)

I understand Anger.  We’ve been on close terms for all of my adult life.  When we got too friendly, I knew it was time I left the Army.  It came to my aid when it was time to decide whether I should leave the P/T job I had during college or put up with being treated like an over-paid monkey.

I tell it, firmly, to take a long walk during days like today (yesterday now).  I don’t need Anger.  I need Sadness.  I need it because it allows me to feel everything.  Sadness doesn’t shut you down (Sadness, not Depression).  It opens you up, like a bad cavity.

It makes demands, but not in the same way.

How can I feel better?  How can I stop this ache?  Who can I hold?  Who can I comfort?

We all know the phrase.  Fear leads to Anger.  Anger leads to Hate.  Hate leads to the Dark Side.  I saw some Dark Side today.  We all did.

Here is a better phrase.  Sadness leads to Compassion.  Compassion leads to Love.  Love leads to Everything that is Good about Humanity.

Surprisingly, I saw more love today than I expected.  Maybe I just have my social media filtered correctly, so that only those who agree with me can be seen.  Or maybe I don’t need to relocate to Mars.

Let’s all be sad together.  Then move on before the next tragedy starts the cycle again.

To the Shooter: I hope you’re enjoying Hell.  Even better, I hope we don’t remember your name next week.  I hope you spend eternity knowing that you died for nothing and that no one mourned you or celebrated you.  I hope you fail to be immortalized as a great villain or a true martyr.  You are a coward.  I pity you.

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Filed under Misc Short Stories

Regency Heroes – Solstice

This happens the Winter Solstice after Elinor is engaged to Sir Christopher.  I’m still working on cementing the plotlines and everything, but this scene was itching in my brain and had to be put down.  Let me know what you think!


Chp 2 – Solstice

The mask is stifling.  Each breath seems to make the next more difficult.  But he likes the power it gives him.  Anonymity, of course.  And an edge of something like magic.  It zings through his blood with every step he takes through the tame little country woods.  The wind slices through his great coat like bladed ice, giving him more reason to bless the mask that shields his tender skin from the brittle cold and curse the silly velvet costume he had donned for the Solstice Ball.  Stylish, yes.  Practical, no.  There is a chill seeping up through the souls of his tall hunting boots as they whisper over dead pine straw.  He ignores it, endeavoring to focus on the end of his task.  The knife is safe in its sheath, the blade steeping in deadly poison.  Soon enough, he could discard the suffocating mask and breathe in something besides his own fetid air.

Lily lounges at the base of her mother’s tree listening to stories.  In deference to her new white dress, there is a thick blanket acting as a barrier between nest of dirty roots and the delicate muslin.  In deference to the cold, Henry tends a fire a safe distance away.  Above them both shines a golden moon, which her father’s people call the Golden Cauldron and her mother’s call Odin’s Eye.  Or so the tree tells her.  She does not know if the voice she hears is truly her mother or if it is some wood sprite speaking for her.  No one else hears it.  The voice is sleepy now, this late in the year.  It murmurs softly, sometimes lost among sighing of branches and crackle of ice settling down the forest.  From it she learns all that her mother would have her know about her heritage.

Henry prefers to learn from books and his father’s library is extensive.  Normally, he would be there, peaceful among the dusty shelves.  But the Solstice celebrations are a disruption he can’t abide.  Other boys his age are running through the halls pretending to be knights and dragons and pirates.  Revelers of all ages invade the family home, drinking and singing and dancing at their leisure.  He simply can’t abide the noise saturating his private places.  The smell is even worse and permeates everything.  Smoke and sweat and wine and other odors for which he has no names.  It bothers his dogs as well, which is why the pack is settled around him and his little book.  Occasionally, he reads a passage to the bitch, Lady, as she appears to enjoy history as much as he does.

As far as they are from the festivities, music can still be heard drifting through the bare branches.  Mostly, though, it is quiet.  Just the crackling of the fire, the breathing of the dogs, and the creaking of a forest deeply asleep.  And then footsteps.  Clumsy, heavy boots breaking twigs and crushing dry leaves.  Then clouds pass over the moon, leaving the twins with distorting firelight for company.

The firelight is as reassuring as it is troubling.  It provides a beacon to guide him through the confounding woods, yet also indicates that his task might have an obstacle.  Still, his task must be completed tonight to give him any chance of success.  Even in the dead of winter, the Lady’s power is stronger than he expected.  That, he belatedly realizes, is the tingle of magic he feels fizzing through his nerves.  He is not welcome on these grounds.  She is trying to frighten him with the cold, so he stares at the hot flames and allows his body to instinctively fight toward the desired heat.

At the edge of the clearing, he pauses.  He can see the gate to path off to his right that must lead to the manor and the bright little fire near its dark arch.  The tree centered in the clearing is an oak, he thinks, never caring enough about plants to learn their names.  It towers over the faerie circle of dead grass, taller than the other trees in the woods by at least fifty feet.  He tries not to think of the branches as limbs reaching toward him and turns his gaze to the base of the trunk.

There is a corona of golden red among the roots.  It seems a trick of the firelight, until it moves.  A little girl sits up and stares directly at him with huge, dark eyes.  He can just make out her features in the shifting light, a pretty thing with smooth skin and large, auburn curls framing her round face.  Beneath the mask, he smiles.  She is a tad young for his tastes, but he can think of no better way to defile the sacred ground of the circle.

He focuses on her eyes, willing her to stay, to be unafraid.  There will be plenty of time to be afraid later, but he simply cannot have her running off like a scared bunny.  She fights him, standing up but unable or unwilling to run.  Her dress dances around her knees.  He almost laughs when she balls up her plump, dainty fists and hardens her face into a scowl.  She thinks she is safe here, silly thing.  That is a delusion of which he will happily relieve her.

But no, best not to get ahead of himself.  His task must be completed first.  Then he could play.  The knife is an unaccustomed weight in his hand, yet the mask revels in how it fits perfectly in his gloved hand.  Each stride puts him more into the mask; strong, dark, deadly, and filled with righteous purpose unmatched in the daylight world.  A half a dozen steps to the tree, staring down the witch-child and glorying in this new persona.  The blade rises just as the clouds recede and a dark shape leaps over the fire, latching razors into his forearm and bowling him over the twisted roots of the tree.

The monster growls and slathers over his arm, shaking its blunt black head as he tries to scramble away.  The pain initially paralyzes him, but then fury sears through his panic and his right fist slams into the hound’s head.  The bitch doesn’t release, so he imagines dark river weeds and still deep waters.  The dog begins choking almost instantly and his knife hand is free.  The girl is screaming, dogs are baying, and his arm is bleeding badly.  With a final spiteful look at his would-be victim, he plunges the knife into the base of the tree and bolts for the woods.  He is miles away before he abandons the mask, dropping it into a swift river by the road and riding away on a stolen horse.

Nanny is the first to make it to the clearing.  She had kept her distance from the celebrations, especially the bonfire (which in other times would traditionally been built around someone of her profession) and so had heard the dogs and Lily’s screams.  Her calls alert Sir John and the village men stumble upon the scene only moments after her, all brandishing the weapons of farmhands.  By that point, she has quieted Lily who is crying and clinging to the base of the tree.  Henry kneels nearby staring blankly at the trees the demon had disappeared into and holding Lady in his lap.  It takes a resounding slap from his father to wake him back up to the world.

“Henry, lad, do something about the dogs,” Sir John shouts over the howling.  Henry gives a brief whistle and the hounds are quiet, though they still prowl the edge of the clearing.  “What happened?”

At first, the boy can say nothing, but once he focuses on his father’s face, sees the fear in his eyes, he finds his voice.  “There was a demon.  Kelpie, I think.  Came out of the woods for Lily.  Lady,” his voice wavers and tears leak down his reddened cheeks.  “It had a knife and Lady attacked, to protect her.”  He had been stroking the fur of the dog and here he compulsively holds her closer to his chest.  “It shook her off and then, then it stabbed Mum and ran off to the woods.  They wanted to chase him, but I was scared he would come back so I made them stay.  Did I do alright, Father?”

Sir John realizes Henry was referencing the dogs and is at once pleased and angry with his son.  The dogs might have chased down the brute, but the thought of the demon circling back for his unprotected children froze his chest.  “You did exactly right, Henry.”  He cradles the boy as he weeps and then sees the dagger protruding from the trunk of the tree.  “Martin, take Henry to his rooms.  Susan, you take Elinor and Lily.  I need to speak with Nanny.  You are all to stay in your rooms.  Mr. Oakley, make sure none of our guests has disappeared, will you?”  He would not believe this sort of attack came from his village, but it would be foolish not to be sure.

It took time to clear the area.  Lily did not was to leave the tree and Henry would not relinquish Lady until Sir John had sworn to bury her properly.  The servants swiftly led the children away and the butler, Mr. Oakley, enlisted some of the village gentlemen to search the park before making an inventory of the party guests.  Then Sir John had to organize a watch of his men on the house and send word to the council members of the incident.  Sir Christopher had come up with the rest of the outdoor revelers and the other two Seats join them soon after bearing lamps and heavy cloaks.  It is getting late, but some things can not for daylight.

“No one touch the knife,” Nanny says when all have assembled.  “It’s poisoned.”

“Are you sure?” asks Lady Teine, her red sash the only color among the black and white party clothes.  She is the also the only person in the group unaffected by the chill.

Nanny decides that the woman is not being deliberately rude and answers, “I can smell it.  And the tree sickens already.  Would have been more effective ‘ad he stabbed her heart, but a nick would do with that black magic.”  She spits the words and Lord Gaoth snorts, but chooses not to contradict the witch.  Magic is merely peasant superstition, after all.

“Sir Christopher, Henry called it a Kelpie,” Sir John says before anything derisive can be said.  Normally, he would laugh at words like magic along with his comrade, yet the events of the evening make him less sure of its being nonsense.

Sir Christopher, examining Lady, starts at being addressed.  “Oh?  Yes, they’re quite a bother.  Or they were according to the old texts.  Haven’t seen one in my time.”  Seeing the blank stares of the others, he clarifies, “Horse-type demon.  Said to invite riders on its back and then dive immediately into the river and drown them.  Modern theory says they were probably beast-gifted, either someone controlling a horse or making a good illusion.  The drowning is likely a wives’ tale to scare children away from rivers.”

“So not likely an actual demon, then,” sneers Lady Teine.  With a snap of her wrist, she opens her lace fan and irritably whips it to cool her face.  “I saw several horse masks at the ball.”

“It was a masquerade, my lady,” Sir John says patiently.  “An interloper might have easily snuck in amongst the guests.  It needn’t have been a gifted man at all.”

“The dog drowned,” Sir Christopher says quietly.  He presses gently on the chest of the body and a pool of water dribbles out of the mouth.  A powerful odor wafts up from the pool, that of decay and fetid darkness.

Lady Teine fans herself harder and covers her nose.  “What is that stench?”

“Swamp water,” Sir Christopher says, standing and brushing off his knees.  “A water-gifted did this.”

“Aye,” grunts Nanny.  “He came to kill the Lady.  Only reason to bring a poison blade to this place.  No way of knowin’ the twins were here.  Shoulda been down at the ball.  And he weren’t a guest or you woulda known ‘im,” she gestures at the four gifted before her.  Four Seats to balance the power and protect the land.  Earth was the weak link, with the Lady’s death and Lily being too young for the power.  And the attacker knew it.  It was only her continued link to the land through the tree that kept the balance.  Now that was gone.  The tree would be a husk by the dawn.

“I certainly would have known a water-gifted among the guests,” Sir Christopher sighs.  “And if I meet this one, I will know him by the stench he leaves here.  You have my word, Sir John, I will seek out this monster.”

“We all will,” Sir John affirms.  A cursory search around the circle gives no further clues and the search parties return empty-handed.  With nothing else to do, the four Seats and the witch file out of the circle, Lady carried gently by Sir John.  He locks the gate to the clearing behind him.

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Twain and Zombies

My favorite Mark Twain novel is A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.  If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.  It’s the most sci-fi Twain ever gets, as it involves time travel and sciencing the sh*t out of Medieval England.  Of course, there are some flaws in the basic plot concepts.  The Yankee in question is struck on the head and wakes up in 6th century Britain.  Even if we ignore the glaring change in location on the part of the protagonist, there are other factors to consider.  For instance, there is more and more evidence that King Arthur’s fabled court never existed at all; if it did, it was under and entirely different reality than the romanticized versions that survive into the modern day.  Also, the fact that the Medieval characters speak modern English is unlikely.  They’d still likely be speaking Old English, which is a lot closer to German than what we speak now.  Or they’d be speaking Gaelic or Welsh dialects, depending on location.

All this is besides the point since this is a fictionalization of the time period based on common literary sources at the time of its inception.

What matters (and is truly the core of this ramble) is that an ordinary man from 1889 gets mystically transported back to Camelot and not only survives, but supplants Merlin and drags the kingdom into the almost-20th century.  For a few years, anyway.  There have been many modern adaptations of this story in film and on stage.  The most recent seem to focus on how ridiculous the Medieval knights are and seem to forget that the Yankee survived through ingenuity and practical skill sets.  I mean, the protagonists escapes death in his first few days by remembering when the solar eclipse was going to be.  In Britain.  In the 6th century.  That type of stuff is not common knowledge any more.  He also knew how to fix a well, set up an electrical grid, and establish a telegram system.  Do you know how to do any of that?  Realistically, a person sent back to that time from now would be dead in a matter of days.  And not just because of the rampant disease.  The guy knows the ingredients list of fireworks, for goodness’ sake.  In the last battle, he sets up an electrified fence and machine guns.

No, this is not a rant about how much we suck as people now thanks to advanced technology.  This is actually about the zombie apocalypse.

See, zombie apocalypse happens now, we face global destruction and the collapse of civilization.  The survivors in the extreme cases (like TWD), learn to survive without things we take for granted (electricity, running water, Google).  They also have to acquire skills like growing food, first aid care, and basic carpentry.  The strongest survivors tend to be the ones who echo the lifestyles of people from the late 19th century or earlier.

If the zombie apocalypse struck in Twain’s day, I don’t know if anyone would notice.  Except for the zombies walking around.  Oh no, we no longer have electricity.  Well, we only got that last week, so no loss.  No running water?  I guess we’ll have to keep using the outhouse and mock our neighbors who got them new fangled crappers.  Ah, the telegraph system is down!  How will we communicate with everyone?  Well, everyone I know lives here, so…

Sure, big government would fall apart.  But on the whole, I think the Reconstruction Era Americans would thrive against zombies.  At least it would be a cause to bring unity back to a nation recently torn apart by civil war.


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Thursday? Again?

Well, not for another 6 minutes.

I now have 4 hats for sale on Etsy, which is probably too many.  But I like making them and it delays the time when I should try making another purse.  Which involves measuring and cutting and sewing, all things not nearly as natural to me as crochet.

I’ve averaged 3 workouts a week so far.  I missed a week last month due to migraines and work schedules, but doing 3 plus a weekend jaunt is at least a step in the right direction.  Buddy wants to do weight lifting on the weekends, which I’m all for (except for the going-to-the-gym part, necessary but yuck).  Turns out, weight lifting helps burn fat better than cardio.  Makes sense, but puts the lie to half a dozen years of Army thinking.

I haven’t been writing, or thinking of writing this week.  I’m gonna knuckle down to some research, though.  When writing a historical-ish story, one needs to know a little bit more about the time period than what one gleans from Jane Austen novels and period films.  Also, when creating a semi-alternate universe, one needs to build the roots of the present in a fictional past that is plausible.  So in order to write about super humans in 1800’s England, I have to look back to other formative time periods, like the Protestant Reformation.  And I also need to brush up on the Napoleonic Wars (most of what I know comes from Alexandre Dumas and some fantasy novels).

This is actually good news because I will finally get to use something I learned in college.  RESEARCH.

Bollocks.  Now it’s Friday.


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In the Dreaming

There were two constants in my life.  Vivid dreams and migraines.  When I think back to my earliest memories, these two experiences dance about foggy scenes of playgrounds and bright toys and fights with my sister.

Vivid dreams.  Vivid is not accurate.  It’s lacking in a dimension, as all words do when needed to express something beyond words.  Vivid is not enough for the experience of drifting into universes where lifetimes pass within forty winks.  Colors brighter, emotions sharper, sounds more complex, and truth so clear that the heart breaks when the eyes open to the mundane world.

You have dreams like these, too.  You wake up exhausted from them.  Your mood is darkened by them.  Your reality is questioned by them.  It was so real.  And you were there…and you were there…

I used to dream I could fly.  Then for weeks I felt like I really could if only I could remember how.

When I was in my early twenties, I had a dream that I was on a plane with my younger brother.  And then it crashed.  I watched the ocean pour in through the cockpit and whip my brother away from me and up into the darkening waters above us.  We were drowning, dying, helpless.  But that isn’t how I wanted it to go.  I was not going to let my brother die like that.  This was ridiculous.  So I stopped the plane’s descent into the abyss, reversed time as one can only do in dreams.  This time, when the plane started going down, the pilots remained calm and we landed on the water, safe and sound.  We all disembarked and were floating in the water when a yellow dock appeared so everyone could be rescued.  Still, I wouldn’t leave the water because I knew there was a baby somewhere and I had to make sure he was safe.  When I found him, and everyone was out of the water, which was also imperative to me for no reason, then the dream changed.  I went from the controlled landscape of lucid dreaming to something more relaxed.

The next day I saw on the news that a plane had been forced to make an ocean landing.  Fortunately, there was a yacht nearby to take in the passengers.  A two-year-old boy miraculously survived the ordeal.

It was also about that time that I was diagnosed with chronic migraines.  They’d come once a week, sometimes once a month.  Felt like someone pressing a white-hot poker to my brain.  No, that’s not right.  I don’t know what a white-hot poker feels like.  It’s a cold, metallic pain.  Like if I wrapped my brain in tin foil coated in peppermint oil.  It would tighten around my skull until all I could do was lie in the dark and wait for it to pass, popping pain pills as frequently as I dared.

My condition is not unusual.  Most of you have ventured into other people’s lives and just never knew it.  That’s what my dreams were.  The weird ones, anyway.  The one’s I couldn’t relate to the waking world.  There are obvious influences.  I saw this on TV and that I read in an article and that bit was a meme on the internet.  The weird ones were different.  Are different.  I’d walk in the minds of people.  Sometimes, I could help, like the plane crash.  I don’t know how to fly planes, but I was a calmness when it was needed.  In most cases, that’s all I could do.

There were times when I could be a stronger presence, be almost entirely in control.  When that boy was being beaten by his father, he gave up.  I felt him leave to where ever he lives when Father raises his fists.  I also felt how strong he was from working his fields and raising his cattle and walking to the market every day to sell his products.  Father paused to catch his breath, his belly bulbous over his expertly mended pants, I stood the boy up and punched him, a straight jab with his open palm right into his nose, just like I had learned in my on-campus self-defense classes.  Father’s face was painted scarlet, his eyes vacant as he drifted leaf-like to the mud floor.  I could hear the boy screaming as I was pulled back to my own mind, my own dreams.

In my own dreams, I am weak.  I throw punches that bounce off.  I run but gain no ground.  I am helpless and afraid and so very frail.

I got married.  This changed things, in more than the usual ways.  It was the first time since childhood that I had shared such a close space with someone.  He did not take my dreams seriously.  The plane was the only documented incident I could point to for veracity, yet it was easily shrugged off as coincidence.  All the others, well, everyone has weird dreams sometimes.  It didn’t mean I was traipsing about in other people’s lives.

The migraines got worse.  Instead of ruining one day, the pain would gather and sit in my brain for up to three.  I might get a day of respite before the next bout, or I could go another month.  My husband took me to the doctor when I couldn’t get out of bed for two days, taking me in to the bright daylight swathed in blankets as though the light would catch my skin aflame.  The doctor suggested I keep a diary to track my food, water, and exercise so that she might determine a trigger to avoid.  She also gave me a prescription for stronger migraine meds.

The diary was no help as no pattern developed.  And the meds took my dreams.  After a week of no migraines and no dreams, my husband couldn’t wake me up.  He shook me and yelled and splashed water on me.  Halfway to the hospital, I took a deep breath and threw up all over the EMTs.  I decided to live with the migraines.

That night, after I was released from the hospital with instructions to contact my doctor for a meds adjustment, was the first time I entered my husband’s dream.  His nightmare, I should say.  He was lost in a maze.  There were creatures in there with him.  They looked like dream monsters, all talons and pinchers and needle-sharp teeth, but only frightening to the dreamer.  They spoke to him with the voices of his father and mother, his brothers, old friends, old girl friends.  There was a grotesque spider creature the size of a bulldog that had stolen my voice to taunt him.  He was so little, maybe five or six, running and crying.  Around every turn was a beast that beckoned him to safety only to devour a piece of his little body.  Fingers, toes, stomach, eyes, until he was crawling and the ground was burying what was left of him.

I had to watch as it happened over and over again.  Thousands of times.  Millions of times.  Time doesn’t work in dreams.  Our minds only remember a fraction of what we see in the dreaming.  Unless it isn’t your dreaming.  My body shuddered next to his, trying to wake up yet trapped, suffocating in his terror.

I realized then that I was asleep in a nightmare that I hadn’t made.  Awareness was all I needed to gain control.  I went ahead of him in the maze.  I had a blowtorch.  The creatures squealed, the maze burned.  When I woke up, I could still smell the smoke.

My husband didn’t say anything the next morning over breakfast.  I hadn’t been able to get back to sleep, but he had slept peacefully the rest of the night.  He ate his oatmeal in silence, checking the stats on his fantasy football league.  When he left for work, he forgo our normal routine peck on the cheek for a more substantial embrace.

The twin’s dreams were more troublesome.  Mostly they were too insubstantial for me to understand.  Swirling colors and shapes, vague feelings of fear or anxiety.  I could only be a safe presence.  When they got older, I lost their dreams.  It was only when my daughter mentioned her own headaches that it occurred to me that maybe they weren’t having their own dreams anymore.

Years later, when the doctor found the tumor, my husband asked me to stop.  By this point, we had not been talking about my dreams for fifteen years.  We had also not talked about how his recurring nightmares had stopped the night I burned down the maze.  We did not talk about the seemingly random news articles I saved in a special file on my computer which I labelled with dates from my therapy-ordered dream journal.  We argued about the week-long stints in bed, wrapped in darkness and throbbing agony.  Our therapist believed I had a highly active imagination.  He said that I suffered from depression and anxiety and that if I only stayed on my medication I might get better.  I did not take my medication.  I tried.  But it made the dreaming worse.

I would be stuck in that groggy almost-awake state, dreaming while awake.  Walking in others while clawing desperately to stay in myself.  The mental vertigo was frightening.  Driving  the twins to school through the tortured terrain of some child’s nightmare.  My son had to take over because the road became a trail of bloody body parts and the poisonous scales of a laughing snake.  The therapist said it was only a hallucination brought on by stress and not the fault of his drugs.  I told him truthfully that I had vomited for an entire day and that falling asleep that night had felt like I was falling into death, a sudden drop from awake to sleep.  I stopped seeing him.  But I continued my journal.

I laughed at the image of my brain.  It was very colorful, except for a large, dark shape perched happily on what the doctor called my amygdala.

But my husband asked me to stop when we were alone in my hospital suite, shared with three other women.  They were all hidden behind privacy curtains, silent in their white tombs.  I knew they couldn’t dream anymore.  He asked me to stop.  He said it was hurting me and that I had to stop for me and for the twins.  He said it quietly, his voice gentle so as not to upset me.  That was his “dealing with me” tone.  When I attacked the boy who got away with beating up my ten-year-old son, that tone reminded me that I was the grown-up and that violence begets violence and that allowing the cops to put me in their shiny car was a sound way to avoid a lawsuit.  When I woke up screaming because I dreamed my mother’s suicide, that tone broke through the hysteria so when the hospice nurse called after they found her, I could deal with it rather than completely detach from reality.  That tone convinced me to eat when the migraine told me food was a lump of sawdust in my throat and a writhing pile of snakes in my stomach.

It was a good sign that he was using that tone.  It meant that he cared, that he wasn’t patronizing me, and that he really and truly believed me, perhaps had always believed me.  So I didn’t laugh in his face.  There were deep lines etched in his face, worry lines and laugh lines.  The stubble on his dark cheeks was white, like powdered sugar on a brownie.  He was rounder than when we met, but it was the weight of age settled on a once wiry athlete.  I took his hand and stared at it, stroking his skin and then flipping it to look at the contrastingly pale palm.

I told his palm that I had never chosen to walk the dreams.  When I slept, I was taken away.  There was no choice, no decision to travel.  The sea of consciousness pulled me, the riptide taking me anywhere it chose.  If I went to his dreams, or the twin’s dreams, it was not because I wanted to but because he needed me.

But I burned down the maze.  I did that when he couldn’t.  If I could do that, I could do anything.

I closed my eyes and felt something wet drop onto the back of my hand, resting in his palm.  I opened my eyes and saw that it was blood.  Another nosebleed, the symptom that had scared us badly enough to bring me to the hospital for an MRI and a CAT-scan.

I’m going to die soon.  It isn’t fair.

I have died thousands of times.  Car crashes, murders, suicides, old age, even plague.  I’d close my eyes and open them in someone else awake on the other side of the world.  I walk with them and eat with them.  I sit in their minds like a spider in a house plant.  Sometimes, they’d die.  Sometimes I’d make their deaths better.  Sometimes I could only watch because I was only dreaming, as they say.

I have killed people in my dreams.  Strangers to me, but real people.  I found their faces and gave them names.  They didn’t always deserve it.

I have murdered nightmares.  I have watched guiltily the erotic dreams of people around to me.  I have frolicked in silly fantasies.  I have stumbled drunkenly through drug-induced hallucinations.  I have walked through the broken glass of broken minds.  I take their scars with me.

There isn’t a book about this.  No instructions or schools or magical mentors to teach me.  I do not decide when to be lucid and when to just be.  I do not know how it works or why I am taken to one mind over another.  I do not choose to go or stay.

The nurses rush in when I start convulsing, alarms shrieking.  They break my hand to free my husband from a grip far stronger than I should have.  My bones are brittle and sound just like celery when they snap.

The coma has been nice.  Yes, having a bag attached to me filled with my waste is a bit humiliating, but I am enjoying resting, truly resting for the first time in years.  It is a bit lonely in here, but the dreams are all mine.  Most of them are simply my mind making up stories to whatever it hears from the television.

My sister sits with me a lot.  She reads or knits.  Her children don’t come with her because they don’t like the smell.

The twins bring me flowers every week.  My son brought his boyfriend to meet me yesterday.  I dreamed about their happy future.  He doesn’t get the headaches.  My daughter is studying dreams.  She wants to be a doctor, I think.  Or maybe she wants them to stop.

I want to tell her how.  How to control them.  How to be the master of her universe.  How to finally stop them.  I figured it out, now, too late.  The waking world only a distant thing that disturbs the reality of the dreaming.  It wasn’t the dreaming that killed me.  This was where I was meant to be.  Death is only real to the waking.  In the dreaming, we can never die.  We can only wake up.

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Merry Christmas, Ya Filthy Animals!

I just want everyone to know that I am boycotting Starbucks.  Just as I have been since I discovered Dunkin Donuts.  The design of the cups does not in any way change the fact that they are over-priced and pretentious.  Besides which, I never expected the evil corporation selling me my syrupy, pompous cup o’ Joe to celebrate a Christian-appropriated pagan holiday.

And also, I dislike the phrase “keep the Christ in Christmas.”  If you mean that we should keep the spirit of love and forgiveness taught by Christ during a time when most of the country is focused on buying as much stuff as their credit cards will allow, then God bless you.  If you mean that it’s a Christian holiday and by not saying Merry Christmas people are persecuting Christians, I’ll ask you to do some reading into the history of the season (especially where a majority of the ‘Christmas’ symbols come from, like Christmas trees and Santa “Coca Cola” Claus) and look up the definition of persecution.   Let me know when Starbucks starts lighting Christians on fire to light its gardens.

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Lady Bertram to Fanny

Yesterday, I found myself explaining to an incredulous teenager why I chose to get a P/T job.  I must have something to keep me sane.  I was so BORED.  House too empty and quiet, no one to talk to but the cats.  I picked up crochet again, to a pretty insane level.  And I watched a TON of TV and Netflix.  And I slept too much.  And it was boring and depressing.  I wanted a job in books, still do.  But while I was waiting around for responses from publishers and internships, I was going crazy.

And applying for P/T work felt like giving up.  Getting a retail job is not what I wanted at all.

But I spent 6 months not contributing to my own life.  Not needed.  Not wanted.  And now I am useful and helpful.  I have coworkers who are already addicted to my food.  Everyday, I get to help people.  I get to color-code fabric, put buttons on the correct hooks, and in general feed my OCD-ish need to keep stuff tidy.  It is enough for now.  I still have time for my hobbies.  And the commute is getting me through a ton of audio books.

So, teenagers, be advised.  Your dream might be to have a permanent summer, no school, no job, no responsibilities. But I’ve done it and it gets old.

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Regency Heroes 5

Miss Abigail Simpson was by all accounts a prodigious beauty.  She had a fine figure, bright eyes, and a voice frequently compared to all manner of musical instruments.  In fact, she would have been the most desired lady in the neighborhood but for the fact that she was ever so poor.  Daughter of a gentleman who had squandered the fortune on gifted fighting rings, she was only fortunate that her mother’s sister was not so stupid in her choice of husband and therefore had the funds to take in the poor orphan girl when her father met his rather unfortunate end.  The aunt, Mrs. Rockworth, had been exceedingly fond of her sister, and quite desirous of having a daughter, especially after bearing four sons, so the arrangement was suitable on all sides.  Miss Abigail was still poor, there being very little to bequeath her after the rightful heirs, but she had the benefit of a fine education, good breeding, and the influence of high society to recommend her.  For most of the year, she lived with her aunt, uncle, and cousins in a modest manor less than a mile from the Forster estate.  She was brought to the neighborhood shortly after the unfortunate death of Lady Forster and was of an age with Miss Elinor.  The two naturally became intimate friends and confidants.

“My dearest Elinor, can you forgive me?  I would have come as soon as I heard, but it was not in my power.”  The two girls embraced in the breakfast room the very morning she returned from her annual holiday in Bath (for her health).  Her affection was such that she had not even been home, having insisted that she be left at the Forsters, dirty petticoats be damned.  Her vanity was not so high as to forestall immediate condolences just to change from riding clothes and tidy her hair.  “I was still so ill when the word came and Auntie refused to depart until she was assured of my blooming health.”

“She was correct in detaining you, for you look quite the picture, even if you are dirty and unkempt.”  Abigail feigned insult remarkably, and then confessed to a desperate hunger for something besides inn food and hard biscuits, to which her hostess quickly obliged her with breakfast tea.

“You cannot imagine my torment.  Every day spent at the beaches, with only my toes to dip in the waves and then the evenings spent at balls and parties and dinners until I could not dance a wheel or even tell what card game I was playing.”

“Yes, sounds excruciating,” said Elinor with a small laugh.

“You laugh, but I do not in any way exaggerate.  I was simply exhausted by the frivolity.  How could these people dance and gossip and eat when my dearest friend in the world was suffering?  It was intolerable for my nerves and I daresay it delayed my return a whole fortnight.”  Despite her famished state, Abigail ate the tea biscuits and cakes with remarkable delicacy considering how quickly they disappeared from her plate.  Elinor had to order another tray rather sooner than she had expected.  “But be honest, my love,” she continued between bites, “how do you fair?”

To her credit, Elinor took her time in replying.  The first month after Sir Christopher’s tragedy, she had automatically responded to solicitations that she was fine.  It was sad, to be sure, but one cannot expect strong feelings from the seventeen-year-old near-widow of a man of five and forty.  And strong feelings were so dreadfully embarrassing for everyone.  She was still young, plenty of prospects, and should not fret that no more offers will come her way.  Certainly no reason for emotional outbursts.

“I am better,” she ventured at last, allowing her artificial cheer to dissipate.  It was a profound relief to drop the pretense.  “I won’t deny that it pained me a great deal.  I did not think I would ever recover from the disappointment.”

“Well, losing a fortune and a title is a decidedly large disappointment,” Abigail said archly over her tea.

“Do not deliberately misunderstand me, you wicked girl,” exclaimed Elinor, reviving somewhat from her melancholy, which had become a near constant companion to her in recent weeks.  “I cared little for either except that it meant my future security.  And if he had been a disagreeable man, I shan’t have cared what he was worth, as you well know.”

Leisurely sipping her tea, the guest nodded her acknowledgement of the truth and awaited further enlightenment.  Elinor’s gaze dropped to her folded hands.  “He, he was a very good, very kind man.  He offered me what was most dear to my heart: a place in his family with no, no expectations.  Do you know he was the only man of my acquaintance besides my father with whom I felt totally safe?  He didn’t, I mean, I never felt his eyes on me.  He never wanted,” she trailed off, words failing as she tried to express that which she barely understood.  Abigail shifted to sit next to her and grasped her hands.

“I know precisely what you mean.  There I was, sickly and weak, obliged to attend gathering after gathering.  And you know, I could not say a word to a gentleman without ten ladies insinuating that we were courting.  To be expected to flirt with every dance though I had barely the strength to concentrate on my steps!  I swear, every time my hand brushed with my partner’s, even by accident, it was a proclamation that I was interested in his advances.  And some were, quite frankly, abhorrently forward in their remarks, especially if they learned how destitute I was.  Patronage is not so formidable a protection as genuine privilege.”  They sat in silence a moment, listening to the racket of busy birds outside the sill and the clanging of pots just audible from the kitchen.  “My cousin Edmund proposed just before I left,” Abigail confessed with a sigh.

“Edmund?  But he is not yet twenty!”

“Yes.  I refused, of course.  He has no profession to support himself, nor any idea of getting one, though his inheritance will be a pittance.  Has no mind for practicalities.  And his mother would kill me.  I was not brought into her home as a future wife, whatever her affection for my mother.  Besides, he is abominably short,” she chuckled.  “But were he the richest and finest looking of my cousins, his manners would speak so thoroughly against him in any case.  He imagined that he did me a favor, that I was certainly pretty enough to be a good wife, and that my filial love would grow to a more substantial attachment over time.  Also, he had hopes I might pass my affliction on to a son that we might gain preferment on the coast.”

“Thinking well ahead of himself, I see.”

“All this he dared say while odiously gripping my hand and staring deep into my eyes as though he were most seriously afflicted with love.  It was most unsettling.”  There is a loud noise from the second story and then the galloping steps of a young girl fleeing the schoolroom.  Nanny would not be pleased.

“It isn’t just the loss of situation that hurts, Abigail,” Elinor said suddenly.  “The idea of a safe home, a marriage without…obligations, these were the chief tempters at the beginning, of course.  But I confess to a fondness for him stronger than I have felt for any man, young though I am.  I cannot guess if that might one day have burgeoned into love.”  Her voice breaks gently and she must pause to repair it.  “When I heard the news, when it first became real to me, there was a hollow comprehension that I would never know if I could love him.  It was nearly a week before that hollowness eased enough that I could cry, and all the while my well-wishers consoled me that I was too young to feel the hurt.  How unfeeling they thought me, to stand on the banks of the river as he was sent downstream and assume that my heart couldn’t break for an old man who was so very, very kind to me!”

It was some moments before Elinor regained her composure, yet Abigail felt no urge to reprove her for losing it.  She rocked her friend and patted her curls, humming a soft melody until her breathing came easier and her trembling subsided.  Feelings relieved, Elinor felt more herself than she had since the tragedy and Abigail felt all the gratitude of being needed after months of feelings quite the contrary.The tea things were taken away at this point and Elinor, rather wetly, offered to walk her guest home, as she was clearly fatigued from her trip (requesting the carriage was out of the question unless they were to explain the guest’s travel-worn attire and the hostess’ blotchy complexion).  They strolled along the path amiably, arms entwined to support each other.

After a time Abigail spoke, “So what think you of the new Lord Riverton?”  This was said casually enough that her friend was immediately suspicious.  In truth, she had heard a great many things from acquaintances in Bath and was eager for more reliable gossip.

“I think nothing of him,” was the high reply.  “I saw him only at the service, where he performed his duty succinctly and left with nary a word to anyone and only a bow to the Riverton orphans whom he had supplanted.”

Abigail detected her eagerness to dislike this stranger.  “I cannot believe that.”

“As if I would lie about something so serious?  I tell you, it was the scandal in the village, where not days before he had been quite generously received.  All the young ladies were in a swoon over him before ever he descended his coach.”  Abigail smiled at this reference to ‘young ladies,’ many of whom were probably older than they.  Elinor was such an old soul sometimes, making even her elders seem bratty children in comparison.

“And after?”

“We were staying with Lady Mary’s cousins in the village, so it was difficult not to hear all about it.  At first, it was assumed that arrangements kept him secluded.  I was in regular correspondence with Mrs. Hempstock, Sir Christopher’s sister, at this time.  Along with her regular updates as to the health of the elder girls, who were still very ill, she told me how very disagreeable he was.  Standoffish to everyone, but the girls.  For them it was naught but kindest felicitations.  And then performing his duty to the barest minimum and retreating as though under attack, it was quite a disappointment to many fathers of eligible daughters.”

“I cannot tell if you are serious, dearest.  Your tone is so snide as to be unfeminine!”  Both ladies laughed at this and Abigail was relieved to see a genuine smile on her friend’s face.  “Do you mean to say he was agreeable in all but temperament?”

“Wealthy, titled, and single is all anyone heard before they started adding ribbons to bonnets and discussing courting strategy,” she replied contemptuously.

“What of his looks?”

“I did not notice them except that he was dark-haired and slender.  As to his age, I believe him five and twenty, no more.  Further inquiry will have to wait until the Solstice ball, for that is the next I expect to see him.”

“As you have decided so thoroughly against him, I suppose I shall make a try of him.”  She straightened her bonnet in mock determination, eliciting another torrent of giggles.  “Nay, I will not fix upon him the ignominy of a disagreeable temperament based on his behavior during such a difficult time.  His care toward the daughters certainly speaks well of him, even if his ceremonial actions were perfunctory.  I cannot imagine the stress of suddenly taking on the charge of a river when one hadn’t the slightest idea of inheriting a creek.”

Agreeing to the rightness of this supposition, the girls continued on the path, chatting aimlessly as they were wont to do before illness and grief had struck them.  Presently, they arrived at the gate for the Rockworth garden and parted, both the better in mood and health for having seen the other.  It is not to be underestimated how potent are the healing powers of having a friend with seemingly worse troubles than one’s own.

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