Category Archives: Super Heroes

For all stories involving my Super Heroes

Freshman Francis – The Library


Most of the grandeur of campus came down to its architecture. The planners had worked very hard to transform a normal collection of boring office buildings, from the original 1970s college campus, into something more closely resembling some 200 year old Ivy League university. Almost every building had been systematically demolished and rebuilt with Doric collumns and a great copper dome. The only structure left alone was the library and that’s because it was actually built in the 1770s and they had transported it brick by brick to the campus right after getting national accreditation from the Council. Most of the books were originals, black leather covers protected by plastic sheeting and anti-dust spells. According to a gold placard by the door, the library had belonged to a prominent Boston witch who had been the ancestor of one of the founding Councilors.

Francis hated the place. It was dark and smelled of old books and rats. She always felt watched when she sat at the cheap formica tables, scribbling notes in a notebook because the magic always tampered with her laptop.

“Nice gloves,” Simon whispered over her shoulder, gently setting a stack of books next to her. He was hoping to startle her but she had obviously seen him come in.

“I can’t afford to keep buying pens,” she replied distractedly, squinting at a line from handwritten census charts (Ellis Island, 1860-1880). She really wanted 3 more examples for her paper (Talent Nomenclature: Before and After the Great Potato Famine), but sources were proving scarce. When she looked up, Simon was staring at her, his eyebrow cocked in inquiry. “Research stresses me out and I channel stress into the metal things I touch. I don’t need bad luck written into my essays. Usually, pens just dry up, but sometimes they vomit ink all over the paper. Or they’ll find their way into my laundry.”

“And pencils?” He pulled his own notebook out of his bag and settled in the seat across from her.

“Graphite. They start breaking after a few words.” She made a few careful notes, wrote out a quote 3 paragraphs long on a 4×6 note card, then carefully closed the book and reached for the next on her stack (Notable Heroes of the Antebellum Era).

“And your laptop?”

She sighed heavily, and looked him full in the face since he seemed intent on disrupting her studying. “Most of the hardware is coated in gold. Gold only takes good luck.”

“Really?”

“Yes,” she snapped. “Do you mind maybe letting me study? Kind of came in here to work, not to socialize.” She watched the bright curiosity scatter from his face. He lowered his eyes and mumbled an apology, but she saw the dull flush creeping up his neck and into his cheeks. They worked in dense, hurt silence for several minutes. After reading the same paragraph 3 times without taking in a word, she slammed her book shut with an audible growl.

“Look, I’m sorry. This place creeps me out. Wants some coffee?”

“Uh, yeah. Let me just put these on hold.” They gathered their things and took their books to the Reserve desk, where they were set in lockers for sfe keeping. They each got a card with their locker number on it and a date/time stamp. These were not the type of books one could check out.

Once outside, Francis took in a great breath of crisp air, pulling her cowl away from her face so the early winter breeze could get the last vestiges of library musk from her nose. The breeze accommodated by whipping her hair into her eyes along with some icy flakes from the of snow piled up on either side of the entry. She quickly wrapped up her lower face in the cowl and pulled up the hood of her jacket. Simon zipped up his own heavy coat and pulled on a ridiculous, lumpy knit cap. It was striped in to school colors and looked ineptly made, with a bobble perched lopsidedly on top. Simon saw her looking and shrugged.

The coffee shop on campus was adjacent to the library and the best she could say about it was that it was always open. It was always crowded, the tables were never completely clean, and the coffee was one step up from break room coffee, which she’d had plenty of during her time in retail. When Simon turned toward its convenient glow she grabbed his arm and dragged him to her car.

“You listen to public radio?” he asked, buckling his seatbelt. In the confines of her little hatchback, she could smell his deodorant, which was not Axe but something clean and bland. She was grateful for that. She was beginning to think the school was sponsored by the overpowering hygiene company with the stink of it on every male on campus.

“Yeah, only when I don’t have an audiobook to listen to. The radio stations around here are all pop and country music. Not really a fan.”

“Shocking.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I dunno, you just don’t seem the type to jam out to Katy Perry or Lady Gaga.”

“I was, uh, out of the country for a while. Still feel out of the loop, you know?” The heat finally came in through the vents and she gratefully put her gloved hand up to thaw, switching hands on the steering wheel as she drove through the late afternoon traffic. “It’s all the dead words in there.”

“What?” Simon turned down the news report.

“Dead words, crammed together, imprisoned in leather and stone. It just, it feels like, I don’t know. Just wrong.” She pulled up to a stoplight and risked a glance at her passenger. He looked thoughtful, but not in a bad way. She never tried to explain stuff like that before, her weird reactions to things like libraries and museums. Nobody had ever understood when she had tried as a child. It wasn’t until she’d confided in her grandmother’s people that anyone could explain. You have an affinity for the spirits, daughter. Not the dead, but the imprints of their lives.

Simon remained silent for a few more blocks. “My sister could smell ghosts.” Francis laughed. “No, seriously! No one believed her, but then she recognized Grandma’s perfume. I mean, Grandma had died before most of us were born and some perfume lady in a store spritzed some at us and she goes THAT’S GRANDMA and Mo just started crying. I get having weird talents.”

“It’s not weird! It’s just inconvenient. I hate research and it’s so much worse in a place like that.” They laughed, finally letting the awkwardness evaporate.

“Where are you taking me?” He studied the little shopping center she’d pulled into. “Are we getting liquor, pawning jewelry, or getting a tattoo?”

“Ha, I have all the tattoos I need, thank you. No, this is my coffee shop.” And crammed between the neon signs of a pawn shop and a loan office was a tiny cafe called Ruby’s Coffee, Wine, and Yarn Emporium. There was a French cafe-style table out front, thoughtfully attached to the building with an industrial bike chain. In the bright display window was a lifesize cartoon sheep reclining in a lawn chair and sipping from a large mug. On closer inspection, Simon saw that the entire thing was actually knitted.

They had to walk past a group of chattering middle-aged women, needles clicking furiously, rows of multicolored yarns hung on poles in twisted hanks, and a set of bookshelves crammed with novels surrounded by austere leather armchairs. The coffee bar was clear in the back and was manned by a purple-haired teenage girl.

“Oh, hey Francis. Usual?” Francis nodded and the girl bustled away, stopping in front of a monstrous espresso machine the looked straight out of a Medieval torture chamber.

“Is that Ruby?” Simon asked, raising his voice over the sound of beans grinding.

“There is no Ruby. It’s just a name.” The girl busily stirred together syrups and foamy milk, yelled incoherently to someone beyond a black saloon-style door, then brought over a mug roughly the size of her head filled. In the foam, she had spurned traditional pretty fern patterns for a sigil to keep the late warm.

“Your soup’ll be right up. And you?”

Simon had been so distracted by the spectacle of the place he hadn’t even looked at the menu, which was chalked neatly on the wall behind the register. Like many people faced with too many choices in an unfamiliar setting, he started to panic.

“Gimme your hand,” the girl said impatiently. He obeyed and she studied his hand, tracing the creases of his palm and noting the length of his nails. “Ok, you’ll have the Ruby Roast and a bowl of chili,” she concluded and set about filling a mug from a cistern next to the espresso machine. She yelled something about chili through the door and returned with the coffee.

“Wow. Is that your talent? Knowing what people want to order?”

“No,” she snorted. “Everyone likes the house blend. And we made too much chili.” Francis laughed with her while she paid (“I’ll take some chili to go, too”).

After they sat, she admitted that Gemma had pulled the same joke on her on her first visit, and on pretty much every new customer she could. The coffee, once doctored with a lot of sugar and a touch of cream, was indeed delicious and stayed just the right temperature for drinking thanks to the “keep warm” sigil he spotted baked into the glaze at the bottom of the cup. The chili was also satisfying, though he was surprised by the heavy cinnamon flavor and the mushrooms. Francis let him try her lobster bisque, a creamy, buttery concoction that he vowed to get on his next visit.

The two of them wasted the rest of the afternoon drinking coffee and complaining about research papers and essays and spending an hour to do 5 Math problems. Eventually, Francis told him about some of her travels. She didn’t explain why she’d gone to first Ireland, then eventually Nigeria, or why she had come back. But there were plenty of stories about monsters in the black forests of Europe and exactly how bad camel bites were and the time river nymph had taken to following her around half of Greece. By tge time the knitting circle was packing up, all the anxiety fromthe library had disappated naturally and she felt ready to get back to studying.

On the drive back to campus, Simon found a local pop station and started belting out the words to every song that came on while Francis giggled raucously. She made him stop when she nearly ran a red light. They parted companionably in the parking lot, Simon headed back to the library and Francis to her dorm to grab more note cards.

It didn’t immediately occur to her that something was wrong when she got to her room. She dug around in her desk for a fresh pack of note cards and some staples for her mini stapler. With those supplies transfered to her coat pockets, she was halfway out the door before her brain caught up with what her eyes had seen. Slowly, she turned back to the room and she stared at the empty jar on her bedside table. Blood drained from her head, making the floor seesaw under her feet as she rushed to the table. She snatched up the jar, twisting off the metal lid and peering disbelievingly into the cold, clear glass.

She sat down hard on the bed, feeling clammy, a tingle of sick anxiety creeping through numb limbs. The quart jar had been nearly full of cursed coins when she left for the library that morning. Hundreds of pieces of bad luck, some strong enough to be fatal in the wrong circumstances. And there, on her bedside table, scrawled across a bright pink sticky note, was Karen’s sloppy handwriting.

Had an emergency. You never spend this anyway so…

Karen xoxo

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Francis – Hero Trials


She didn’t quite understand why Simon continued to lunch with her. She rarely joined in the discussions he had with Chad about their shared classes or the news or other people they knew from prep school. And it wasn’t as though he had no other friends. He was frequently hailed by other students, more so than Chad, which was surprising considering the latter’s uncanny attraction. Random kids (she called all of them kids, even upperclassmen) would join their little table for a chat, completely ignoring Chad and her. If she hadn’t been so focused on not appearing interested in her boys (when did she start calling them hers?), she might have minded the intrusions. As it was, she amused herself ignoring everybody while she studied and munched on salads. Chad’s clear annoyance at being left out pleased her to no end, though he hadn’t been nearly as rude as their first meeting.

After a few weeks of Simon’s inexplicable presence, it occurred to her that perhaps he joined her little table since it was ideal for discouraging lunch visits. The times when her preferred dining location was taken and she was forced to choose a larger table seemed to coincide with the times when Simon was bombarded with hangers-on. And not just kids saying a quick word on their way across the grounds. If there was room, every chair would fill up and more would be added until she couldn’t eat for all the elbows and chatter. And the conversation didn’t ever mean anything. Small talk, the weather, gossiping about other students, sure, but nothing important or even vaguely interesting. It got to where if she couldn’t secure a small table, she’d box up her lunch and eat in her dorm, though she ran the risk of socializing with Karen. More than once, she’d been shouted at for waking up the girl (and subsequently shouted at for letting her sleep in and miss class).

She considered, the first week or so that this went on, just leaving upon the arrival of her boys. But that felt too much like running away. She was there first, after all.

Today, however, the inclination to bolt to her room was stronger than usual. Despite the smaller table, there were at least a dozen other students. They crammed chairs around until she was caged by them, all excitedly discussing the latest Hero Trials in boisterous voices. Apparently, this year’s Capital course was especially challenging.

Trials were most frequently made up of a series of obstacles, some physical, some intellectual, and all aimed at testing potential Heroes to their absolute limits. Even with strict safety precautions, people died every year in the attempt to earn their capes.

Territory Capitals, which usually drew the highest density of prospective heroes, would have monthly Capital Trials conducted by Betas and overseen by the City Alpha. Sometimes a Territory Alpha would observe as a way of screening Betas for promotion. Outside of the Capitals, most cities held Trials at the Spring and Fall Equinox celebrations. Rural communities might hold Trials at Midsummer, but few bothered. The best training schools were in the big cities so anyone with the right talent would be sent there.

Smaller Trials weren’t very interesting, however. Except to the families and friends of those participating, of course. There isn’t much renown in becoming a Hero in Podunk, USA. Most small communities didn’t get enough participants to hold a Trial,so as long as you passed the written exam and completed a basic fitness test, you got your cape and the rank of Charlie.

Territory Trials were the only ones worth following. Participants who successfully navigated Capital Trials would automatically be granted Beta status and given the opportunity to try the Territory Trials at Midsummer. Surviving that event grants immediate promotion to Alpha, a rank that takes years to achieve otherwise, if it is ever achieved at all.

The chattering group was discussing the most recent Capital Trials, exclaiming loudly about the spectacular failures of this or that competitor. Raven Man had just lost his grip on the Razor Netting of Justice. Glamorella went down on the Unsub with a Gun steps. Deceptron lost his actual leg – his actual leg! – on the Lava Pit Gauntlet. No one had finished the event in 3 months, despite dozens of potentials competing.

“It’s rigged,” one boy was saying. “That course wasn’t built to be completed. Too many women succeeded last year.” Some of the girls scoffed but they didn’t contradict him. Statistically, women rarely completed the major Trials because they were so physically demanding. Last year, a record 17 women had finished, nearly 6 times the number who had even competed the year before.

One of the girls, a tall athletic blonde, argued, “They had to make it more difficult, yeah, but they went too far the other way. Now it’s just impossible.” Murmured assent passed around the table while Francis focused on her salad.

“Well, and why shouldn’t it be impossible? Maybe that’s the point,” said another boy, a short freckled kid with breath she could smell from across the table. “Bunch of the winners last year didn’t even finish their first posting. Disgraceful.” More assent and sage nodding. Her stomach swooped uncomfortably and she set down the forkful of greens she had been about to eat. She could feel the heat radiating off the kids directly behind her.

“Funny way of putting it,” Simon said coldly, making Frances look up. “So they ‘didn’t finish,’ huh? It’s not like they just gave their 2 weeks and went off to pursue their dreams of…of becoming a hair stylist or something. Half of them were killed by criminals in the line of duty and the others were removed by their own Alphas. But I guess ‘didn’t finish’ is as apt as anything else.” The kids all froze and she realized 3 things all at once: Chad had a restraining hand on Simon’s arm, the other kids were definitely afraid of Simon, and she wasn’t the only one who had lost someone to the Trials.

“Simon, he didn’t mean anything by it,” a brunette in a pink sorority sweater said softly. She nudged Bad Breath and he nodded fervently. Simon glared at the group, a dull red flush on his cheeks, but then he dropped his eyes to his lunch. Released from his direct gaze, the kids half-heartedly chatted about homework and in swift order found excuses to leave. Chad didn’t drop his hand until it was just the three of them left. Simon pushed around the remains of his chili mac burrito, then jerkily stood up and marched off with his tray. Francis watched him dump it with the precision of someone trying very hard not to smash everything within reach and then stroll away in the direction of the meditation room, long hands shoved deep in his jeans pockets.

“His sister two years ago,” Chad spoke, seemingly to his loaded baked potato taco. “She, uh, was one of the women killed in the Territory Trials when that guy went nova. And last year’s City winners were almost all alumni from our school. I didn’t know them, but Simon’s got lots of older siblings so.” He shrugged and took a large bite of his taco, the hard corn shell shattering between his sharp teeth, spilling potatoes and sour cream all over his plate.

Francis understood.

Her friends use to tease her because she seemed to know all the upperclassmen in high school. It was a side effect of having a highly popular older brother. She was one of the few freshmen and sophomores invited to all the senior dances and she was never hazed like other freshmen. And when some of those kids popped up at local Trials, she’d root for them even if she only recognized them as ‘that one kid who threw up popcorn and jelly beans at Patrick’s 16th birthday party.’

“So that’s why they all suck up to him? Pity?”

Chad took a moment to spoon some of his potatoes onto a larger piece of taco shell. “Yeah, that’s part of it. But you ever wonder why he’s at this school even though he doesn’t have powers?”

She had, but it just wasn’t polite to ask. It was enough of a shock that he even mentioned it at their first meeting, rather like someone introducing themselves with their porn preferences. Maybe she had been too long in Nigeria, but things couldn’t have changed that much.

He’s going to tell me, she thought, and it’s going to change how I look at him. All those kids pretending to like him, seeking his approbation, they aren’t his friends at all.

Am I his friend?

“Don’t,” she said before he could say any more. “Whatever it is, he can tell me. Or not. Doesn’t matter to me why he’s here. Don’t have to be a witch or a faerie to be bad at math.” The bell rang for the end of lunch and she cleared her tray, thinking hard about the stricken features of Bad Breath. She probably should have passed him one of her bad pennies, but perhaps he had his own bad luck coming.

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Francis – Math, Talents, and Lunch


It was pretty clear that Karen had a talent for sigils. Most of her textbooks seemed to be about using text to affect your surroundings. People like her ended up as security specialists or in public relations for heroes. Francis had heard of one sigilist who went into costume design, stitching protective symbols into the warp and weave of the suits she made. Of course, most sigilists could only power one symbol at a time and were limited by distance, medium, and intent. Karen was by no means a greater power, but her ability to power a keep-away spell made in chalk while out of the building was fairly impressive. Francis spent her first week in school surreptitiously checking for hidden sigils in their room. Nobody likes being unduly influenced by chalk, but it appeared that her roommate was no longer interested in affecting her.

They mostly didn’t see each other during the day. Francis had worried that they might have the same lunch break, but it turned out that when she actually attended class, the other girl much preferred the smaller cafeteria since it was more convenient and featured the newest food bar trend: toast (everything you could possibly put on toast, a dozen different kinds of bread including English muffins, bagels, donuts, and gluten-free bread, and a coveted French toast panini option on Fridays). The only class they shared was Hero History, which was solid lectures with everyone struggling to take notes on important landmarks in Hero legislation and the far-reaching implications of Hero involvement in the Great War of 1906.

She quickly noted that she was one of the few students who owned a laptop. Since most of the students fell into the category of middle to upper class white kids, she was surprised by this, but she didn’t really know how to ask about it. Part of her just assumed that somehow laptops were old-fashioned and the younger generation was all about college-ruled notebooks.

Her second math class went much better than the first. Mrs. Hugo had, unfortunately, broken her hip while getting a snack at the vending machine down the hall. As a consequence, she had decided to finally retire from teaching. Professor Williams, her replacement, had no difficulty in believing that Francis was who she said she was. He gave a brief lecture on his syllabus, assigned some homework from the textbook, and then gave them the remaining class time to work through the problems.

Again, Francis found that she was the only one using a laptop. The boy sharing her table was arduously copying out the math problems into a thick notebook, green-eyes narrowed as they flicked between the textbook and his lined paper. He had a graphite smudge on his high forehead from brushing his vivid orange hair out of his face.

“What?” he asked when he caught her looking.

“Oh, sorry, you got pencil on your forehead,” she replied, hastily returning to her work. He rubbed his forehead with his palm, succeeding only in making his skin turn bright red. Francis pulled out her pocket mirror and passed it to him. He licked his thumb for a more serious attack.

“Thanks,” he said when he returned her mirror. “I’m Simon. Training to be a mage.”

“Francis. I’m a leprechaun.”

Simon snorted, but when he saw her face tighten he said, “Oh, sorry. I, uh, didn’t know that was a thing.”

“I didn’t know Mages were a thing, but saw no reason to laugh at you,” she replied tartly.

“Well, they aren’t, actually. My talent isn’t defined yet so I just kinda made up the term. Until my abilities present, I mean.” She watched a blush creep swiftly up his neck and into his face, immediately regretting her harsh tone. Most people’s talents presented at birth or at the onset of puberty. But it wasn’t unheard of for them to wait until full adulthood to manifest, either as weak abilities or (more often) unfortunate physical mutations. Before she could apologize, he waved the conversation away and gestured to her laptop. “I didn’t know Faeries could use modern tech.”

“Leprechauns aren’t like other Faerie types. Affinity for metals, especially gold, is built in. Oh, is that why no one has computers here?” It hadn’t occured to her that most of the students would be classed as Faeries, though it made sense. The college catered to mid-level abilities, either weak Hero skills or non-crime-fighting talents. That meant Faeries, Magic-users, Side Kicks, and Half-breeds, among others. Sensitivity to iron was typical among Faeries, with the most common side-effect being an adverse relationship with technology. She suddenly felt very stupid.

The bell for lunch rang before Simon could answer, so she threw her laptop in her satchel and hurried out. Not because she was embarrassed for not realizing something so obvious. She just hated waiting in line for her food.

Today, she indulged in the pasta bar, piling her plate with as much macaroni as she could and then layering on alfredo sauce, mushrooms, spinach, bell peppers, and pepperoni from the pizza bar. There was an empty four-top on the outdoor patio and it was just cool enough to make most people choose to eat indoors. The spindly-legged table was a bit wobbly, but it was much quieter outside. She was just digging in when Simon sat down across from her.

“So anyway, what can you do? If you don’t mind me asking.” He wasn’t looking at her, choosing instead to focus on drizzling ketchup over his french fries, baked potato, tater tots, and grilled cheese sandwich.

“I bring luck,” she said unabashed. The pasta was over-cooked for her taste, but at least the alfredo was good. “Mostly work with metal, like I said.”

“Fuck, Simon, could you find a smaller fucking table?” Another boy dropped his tray on her table and then scrounged a chair from another table, the metal legs dragged carelessly across the cement. He was wearing navy blue khaki shorts, a pastel pink polo shirt, and smelled strongly of Axe body spray. “Hey, I’m Chad.”

“Francis.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“You don’t look like a Francis.”

“Well you look exactly like a Chad.” His smile was all straight, white teeth and for some reason, her stomach flipped when he winked at her. He was ridiculously good looking, all perfectly tanned skin and broad shoulders. Francis felt small and dark and ugly next to him, embarrassed that she was drawn to him since she was clearly unworthy. The warmth rolling off him made her very uncomfortable, all tingly and languid, so she turned her attention back to Simon. “Do Chads often follow you around? Is there some kind of repellent I could buy?”

Simon snorted so hard he nearly aspirated a French fry, though Francis wasn’t trying to be funny. She was simply over-compensating for the strong desire to rip his stupid polo off and ride him to the ground. Chad laughed heartily, one of those big, honest, gut-born chuckles then smacked Simon on the back with one of his broad hands.

“I like your girl friend. Very fiesty for such a little thing.” He had the nerve to wink at her again, charisma dripping off him like honey. Francis narrowed her eyes and then laid one hand flat on the table top. The swirling pattern warmed to her touch almost instantly and in her mind’s eye she followed the heat along the whirling path to where Chad’s hand rested.

He didn’t notice the subtle change in temperature, but he did notice when at the first bite his entire burger and toppings slopped out from between the buns and into his lap. He leapt up, swearing vehemently and Simon really did aspirate a fry.

After he stopped laughing, Simon offered some napkins from the sizeable stack he had on his tray. “Dude, you should know better than to try charms on women here.” Chad glowered at him and then snatched the napkins and began aggressively wiping at the mess of mustard and ketchup down his front. “Sorry, he’s a Siren,” he explained.

“He lures sailors to they’re death with his song?” She stared incredulously at both of them.

“No,” Chad interrupted. “I’m naturally enticing. I have to be an asshole or else people just fling themselves at me.” With that, he took his tray, dumped the contents in the trash, and went back inside to resupply. Watching him saunter away, Francis admitted to herself that had he been less of a dick, she would have happily thrown herself to sea for the sake of his backside.

“So that was self-defense?” she asked, still staring from under her lashes.

“Sorta. Most people don’t care how he treats them so long as he smiles,” Simon sighed. “Growing up with him was tough, you know? I had to be his conscience a lot because he never learned empathy. It’s a real handicap. But rudeness does help temper the attraction, so maybe it is a kind of self-defense. Though, I’ve never seen it work so effectively.” He chortled appreciatively and ate a few fries.

By the time Chad returned with a new burger, Simon and Francis were discussing their classes and dorms and the absurd obsession the school had with Jeffersonian architecture (does every building really need columns and domes?). By the time the bell rang for afternoon classes, Chad was cheery again and his effect on Francis’ libido had softened enough that she didn’t want to rip his shirt off, even just to treat the ketchup stain.

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Francis – Day 1


The first day of classes was fine. They were all basically the same. Roll call, syllabus, lecture about how the students aren’t in high school anymore. Most professors were pretty adept at covering their surprise that Francis Kelly was a small black girl. Her Math professor called her a liar and told her to leave because she was disrupting the class. On her way out, she left a quarter on the stupid woman’s podium and went straight to her advisor.

“Ah, yes, Mrs. Hugo. She’s been teaching here since the school opened in ’75.” The young man behind the desk squinted through thick glasses at some paperwork, his tone dismissive. “She’s set in her ways, that’s all. And it wouldn’t be the first time students have tried to pull something like that.”

Somewhat stunned, Francis countered, “Something like what? She called me a liar in front of the class because my name isn’t black enough. I didn’t try anything but take a required Math course!”

Mr. Peebles (for so his desk proclaimed him to be) looked up startled by her heated retort. “Well, there’s no cause for raising your voice, young lady. Maybe if you controlled your temper, you’d still be in class.”

Francis could feel the heat rushing to her face. Young lady?!? She wanted very much to dent his thick head with his name plate. Instead, she took several deep breathes through flared nostrils and focused all her anger down her left arm and into some coins she held tightly in her pocket. When the tingling stopped and the coins cooled, she felt calm. “Is there another class I can take?” She knew her tone was too sweet to be believable, but he seemed satisfied.

“There are a few, but you’ll have to take this class eventually if you want to graduate. I’d stick with it, if I were you. You’ll just have to apologize at the next class.”

She did not slam the door when she left. Across from his office was a huge cork board covered in notices for clubs and events. She focused on a page while forcing more rage into her pocket of change. By the time the halls filled with students heading to their next classes, she had read nearly all the flyers and felt almost giddy.

The coins were heating up in her pocket again, so she decided to stop by her dorm before lunch to drop them off. Her father had warned her against keeping metal that she had charmed. Channeling strong emotions into metal was a great talent to ease stress. But when kept close to the source, those emotions would try returning. “Never keep your anger close, love. It’s too easy to take it back and it grows in strength the longer you hold on to it.”

The milk jug was nearly half-full of her feelings. The good feelings she tried to pass along, usually to harried service workers. A couple pennies could make a major difference in a bad day. The bad feelings she had to treat more cautiously.

The cheerful jingle of change unfortunately woke her roommate. “Dafuq?” she slurred, glaring bleary-eyed at Francis with her sleep mask askew. “Why are you making all that noise? It’s almost 1:00 am!”

Francis decided to respond by jerking up the blinds to let in the blazing sunlight. To her intense satisfaction, the other girl shrieked like a scalded cat. “Better get dressed or you’ll miss lunch,” she said in a sing-song voice on her way out.

About twenty minutes later, she was just finishing her lasagna and considering the dessert bar when Karen plopped a tray down at her little table and dragged a chair over, looking freshly showered and clearly disgruntled.

“Well?” the girl snapped. Francis raised an eyebrow. “Why the hell didn’t you wake me? I missed 2 classes this morning.”

“I. Am not. Your mother.” Deciding that dessert wasn’t vital at the moment, she took her empty tray to the wash station and left the cafeteria. The classroom for Hero History of the 20th Century was locked, so she sat outside the door reading a book. Karen was going to be a problem if they couldn’t establish some ground rules. Imagine getting mad at someone else because you were too stupid to set an alarm?

Her reading was disrupted by an impatiently tapping foot. Karen was glaring down at her, a picture of righteous outrage in pink khakis. “Oh, do you have this class, too?” Francis asked breezily, returning to her book.

“Why are you so mean!”

Francis let out a long sigh. She was stuck with this idiot for the foreseeable future. Did she really want to make an enemy of her? Her father never let anyone think he didn’t like them. It made borrowing money that much easier.

“I’m sorry, Karen. It hasn’t been a great morning. I didn’t mean to take it out on you.” The girl stilled, clearly unnerved by the sudden change in tone. Francis gave her her most winning smile.

“Fine, apology accepted. Just don’t do it again.” She carelessly dropped her backpack on the tiles and slumped down next to Francis. From an outside pocket she drew a hairbrush which she drew rapidly through her thin, blonde hair a few times, wafting a heavy floral scent into Francis’ face. As she gathered her hair up into a ponytail, she considered the other girl’s hairdo. Francis hadn’t bothered to do much with her hair today, abandoning styling creams for a simple headband to keep the wiry curls out of her face.

“No,” she said just as Karen opened her mouth.

“What?”

“No, you can’t touch my hair.”

“How did you…”

“Everyone asks.”

They remained silent the next few minutes, until the professor, a narrow, older woman in layered skirts and a hijab, opened the door. Karen took a seat next to Francis, who had the willpower to not find a different seat.

Professor Rushdie followed the same pattern of the other teachers, though she didn’t bother looking up from her roster and so missed the chance to double-take at Francis. She also made it clear that she expected most of the students to drop the course over the next few days. After a droning thirty minute lecture on just the syllabus, Francis understood why.

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Freshman Francis – Roommate


It only took one trip to unload her car. She had put off moving into her room, wanting to avoid the crush of weeping mothers and high-spirited teens. They had all moved in Friday morning before the first orientation event. Luckily, her friend Algernon lived near enough that she could crash on his couch for most of the weekend. Which was why she was slouching her way up three flights of stairs under the weight of her dufflebag while the rest of the freshmen rocked out on the Commons lawn across campus.

Everything about the dorms felt off. The linoleum was too smooth underfoot and all the steel doors had rings of black where thousands of hands had pushed them open. Florescent lights gave an awful green tinge to the cinder block walls and she could feel their buzz in her fillings. Notice boards hung at regular intervals between rooms, already infected with flyers and reminders that whispered at her as she stole past. You don’t belong here, they said and sniggered behind their hands.

In front of room 406, she paused, trying to get her chest to fully inflate. The oppressive silence rang in her ears and her hands were cold and slick on ther duffle straps. Her pass key to unlock the door was in the back pocket of her jeans, but she couldn’t unclasp her fist from the strap. You don’t belong here beat against her skin, filled her nostrils, stuck in her throat and she couldn’t breathe couldn’t breathe couldn’t breathe.

A simple tune hit her ears, just a few notes that repeated pleasantly like the call of birds in the jungle. It was a song the women of the tribe had taught her, a little lullaby that she could almost imagine hearing her mother sing, though she had died when Francis was only a few months old. The stay-away spell dissipated at nearly the same moment she recognized her own voice echoing down the hall. Glancing above the doorframe she noted a small, indistinct chalk mark. Clearly someone wasn’t anxious to share their room. She made a mental note to wipe off the sigil just as soon as she found a step ladder.

The room was big enough for two twin beds, two desks, two small bedside tables, and two closets which featured a door latch that could be secured with a combination lock. The carpet was an indeterminate umber and had the audacity to cover the floor as well as the walls. It smelled of cigarettes strongly overlaid in a chemical approximation of flowers, someone’s attempt to cover up decades of student indiscretion.

The left side of the room had been claimed by pastels; sheets covered in pale pink unicorns and lavender doilies (of all things) draped over every horizontal surface. Textbooks were piled unceremoniously under the little desk to make room for the vanity mirror and what looked to be the inventory of Sephora. Twinkle lights had been hung around the window and the top of the wall, possibly for ambiance.

Francis dropped her bag on the floor of the right side with a satisfying thud and then proceeded with unpacking. Her computer tablet, a bribe from the Council to draw her back sooner, was set up on the desk and plugged in to charge. Her textbooks were all digitized, thank goodness. Her sheets were plain white and brand new, still smelling like the plastic they were packaged in. Over them she spread the quilt her grandmother had made for her a decade before when her gifts had finally presented. The colors were vibrant and the design subtle, with swirling stitches that she could follow endlessly with her fingers when she couldn’t sleep.

It was only when she was unpacking her neatly rolled clothes that she realized both closets were locked. The locks, she knew from her welcome packet, were provided by the school with instructions attached to set a new combination before its first use. On the back of the right closet lock had been taped the directions, which could only be done when the lock was open.

“Well this is stupid,” she muttered to herself and gave the lock an extra jerk just in case it was being stubborn. Then she took her irritation and channeled it to her hands and tapped the lock dial with her finger. It sprang open and then fell to pieces. “Oops.” The door rumbled a little as it slid sideways into the wall and she stopped caring about breaking the lock.

The closet was crammed full of clothes, at least the part of the closet not occupied by a cheap, over-sized dresser. Hats, scarves, and purses were packed on the narrow wire shelf above the hanging bar. Shoes were piled ankle-deep on the floor.

“What the fuck are you doing in my room?!?” The voice was high-pitched and harsh, not at all suited to the sweet-faced white girl who stood in the doorway looking scandalized.

Francis froze, but quickly recovered. “Karen, right? I’m your roommate.”

The girl stalked in and slammed the door. “Bullshit. No way you’re Francis Kelly. You’re black.”

“You don’t say?” Francis was used to this reaction. It happened every time she introduced herself. Usually she would explain about her Irish father and Nigerian mother having a whirlwind romance, but it was late and this girl’s aggressive attitude was grating. “Hate to disappoint you, but I am definitely Francis and you put your clothes in the wrong closet.”

“Gah, this is such bullshit! I shouldn’t be sharing a room! Some kind of admin mix-up. The form asked if there was someone I wanted to room with so I left it blank because, duh, I’m not a baby. So I thought the stay-away spell would keep you away until they fix it and there was NO WAY I was getting all my clothes in that dinky closet.”

“You mean both the closets look like this?” Francis felt winded from the rapidity of her chatter. Karen paced around the little room as she justified herself, barely glancing at Francis while she gestured dramatically about the cruelty of the college world. After another minute of ceaseless squawking, she interjected, “Stop! Just sit still a minute. There’s no mix-up. All freshmen have to share a room. You can request a specific person to room with, but if you leave the request blank they room you with someone at random. It’s in the welcome packet.”

Karen sat on her bed, staring with wide hazel eyes. “Well, fuck.” She looked thoughtful for a moment, then said sheepishly, “You don’t need much closet space, right? I mean, you’re so tiny, surely you can spare a little,” she trailed off.

“Get your stuff out of my closet.”

“I’ll do it first thing tomorrow, after breakfast.”

“You’ll do it now or I’m chucking it all out in the hall.” She could see the moment when the other girl considered arguing and then changed her mind. With an angry pout prominent on her sharp features, Karen bundled her belongings into the left-side closet, opting to toss most of it in a pile on the floor. Francis busied herself with organizing her shoes under the bed (1 pair shower shoes, 1 pair sneakers, 1 pair dress flats) and putting away her school supplies in her desk, ignoring the mutinous mutterings coming from the closets (“It’s not like she can even REACH the top shelf”). Eventually, Karen turned off the light and flung herself on her bed with a martyred sigh. Francis just turned on her desk lamp, meticulously arranged her clothes in the dresser, and then spent an hour going over the campus map and the syllabi for her first day of classes.

Right before she went to bed, she dragged her desk chair out to the hall and carefully removed the chalk mark above the door.

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Freshman Francis


Francis felt old.  The entire weekend, she had been trying to pin down the bizarre feeling twisting over her skin.  Two days of orientation; getting tours of campus from upperclassmen with fresh haircuts and brittle-bright smiles; the awful claustrophobia when she walked into the low-ceilinged…not cafeteria, what did they call it…dining hall and saw nothing but crowded tables and disjointed counters lit redly by heat lamps reflecting off vaguely sinister foods.  Her group ambassador had bragged about all the options.  “Every day can be Taco Tuesday because we have a taco bar!”  And a potato bar.  And a macaroni bar. And a pizza bar. And in a dim corner, hidden away like the shameful artifact that it was, a salad bar.  The only bar Francis had wanted in that moment would have served her a Long Island Iced Tea. Most of these kids couldn’t buy alcohol without a fake ID, she thought scornfully. Instead of booze, she bypassed the miasma of heavy garlic, sharp chilies, burnt cheese, and baked potatoes, and opted to eat some wilted lettuce doused with Italian dressing on the patio outside.

They had played games the first day to “break the ice.”  Go around the circle and say something about yourself.  Not the normal stuff, something special.  Then, to make sure you’re listening, name all the people who spoke before you and their special fact.  They played children’s games like Duck, Duck, Goose and Telephone.  In another game, they had to make someone in the circle smile or laugh. For most of them, all it took was standing in their space bubble and making eye contact.  Francis just stared the boy down until he got nervous and picked a different target.  She was good at staring people down. The entire circle had subsided into nervous silence when she had faced down the hapless boy.

Both days dinner was on her own, but they told her she had to come back for the welcome party the last night.  She asked if it was required to complete orientation.  They seemed confused that she would only attend if it was required.  “Well, no, it’s a party.  Don’t you want to party?”  No, she’d thought.  I want to go to college.  Why do they seem to think college is some kind of social engagement?

The second afternoon, she had attended the Club Fair, an event to showcase all the extra-curricular groups that one could join.  She went because numerous sources encouraged extra-curricular groups.  Looks good on a resume.  Networking, and all that.  The gym had been crowded with tables set up pell-mell around the indoor track, the floor strangely springy underfoot. There was a tang of body odor and rubber in the air.  Someone had decided that what young people are really looking for in any activity is music too loud to talk over.  None of the clubs seemed interested in job prospects or education.  They had cool t-shirts and signs made in bright colors and drenched in glitter.  Amid the crush of curious new students, they competed for attention with air-horns, silly string, Nerf guns, and non-alcoholic Jell-O shots.  Francis didn’t see any tables inhabited by the kind of quiet, studious people she wanted to meet and by the time she got halfway around the track, her chest was too tight from anxiety to keep looking.  Green eyes firmly fixed on her tennis shoes, she scurried for the exit and consoled herself that she could always join clubs later.

It was when she sat in the auditorium for the Honor Ceremony, where they signed a contract stating they wouldn’t cheat while at school, that she realized what she had been feeling.  Stealing over her like the over-abundance of Axe Body Spray wafting through the freshman class was the reality that she was old.  She sat in a pin-striped pencil skirt and matching jacket over a satin cream shirt that contrasted nicely with her skin, painfully aware that she was the only one amid the fifty or so students who had dressed in business attire as the welcome letter had instructed. She had spent over an hour taming her tightly curled black hair into some semblace of neatness.  Around her were fresh-faced girls in bright, too-short sundresses and swaggering boys in pastel polos and boat shoes.  They all looked ready to begin their Coming-of-Age stories. Francis had already come of age. She couldn’t articulate what story she was in, but she thought it was a completely different genre from theirs, likely written for a different medium. They were podcasts and she was a serial novel from the 1800s.

In her sensible navy hatchback, idling quietly in the parking garage that night, she stared at her hands on the steering wheel. They were good hands, long-fingered and straight, the bare nails glowing pink against her espresso skin. They could sew a straight seam every time. They made bread that never went stale or moldy. They brought small doses of luck to metal coins which she could pass along or keep as she liked. They had small magics that she often didn’t notice and couldn’t control. The big magics she kept to herself.

She had been ordered by the Council to finish her training. They had allowed her time to mourn, to take her father’s remains to her distant relatives in Ireland to be interred as tradition demanded. They had even allowed her time to visit her grandmother’s people in Nigeria. And she took her time getting there, traveling dark paths through Europe, the Middle East, and northern Africa. But all her kind had to submit to the will of the Council, even the small-gifted like herself. So she finally replied to increasingly insistent summons and enrolled in the small school she had been accepted to just before her father’s murder.

 

Francis caught her gaze in the rear-view mirror, her dark face lit from beneath by the rainbow of dashboard lights. “I am twenty-six.  I am NOT old.” Her reflection clearly didn’t believe her, but she ignored it and drove out of the parking garage determined to put that niggling sensation behind her.

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Movie Review: Batman v Superman


We went to see Batman v Superman Friday night. No, it did not live up to the hype, but let’s be honest: NO MOVIE COULD HAVE. We had 2 YEARS of teasers and trailers and set photos and rumors and fan theories. They made a bigger deal about this movie than the new Star Wars (except in merchandising, where Disney is KING). And while Star Wars was wonderful, BvS had no chance. Most of the plot was already known and without story to keep it going, the movie had to rely on action. Frankly, I’m getting tired of “Batman who Beats Up Criminals with His Bare Fists and Broods Over His Computer While Alfred Serves Tea and Snide Remarks.” You know what DC stands for? Detective Comics. Not Action Comics. I know the market has been flooded with Sherlock, but Batman is the Sherlock of comics. So maybe a few less fancy toys/cars/suits and “Batman’s P90X Workout Video” and more detectoring! On a scale of Catwoman to Dark Knight, I place this film well above Green Lantern, but about even with the Director’s Cut of Daredevil (which was made to focus more on crime solving than sexually charged teeter totter fights).

And you want to know the scariest thing about this assessment? Ben Affleck did an amazing job. In fact, all the actors were great. I wasn’t sure about Eisenberg as Luthor, and he did go a bit deep-endy with the psychoses, but I was pleasantly surprised. And Gal Gadot WAS Wonder Woman to her core, despite being in only a few scenes. Henry Cavill’s only real drawback is that he is too damn confident and attractive as Clark Kent.

The problems came with a disjointed story structure and (I’m sorry Hans Zimmer) a truly awful score. It was actually distracting. The music is supposed to draw you into the film, not jar you out of the moment. Mostly, though, the storyline sucked. They tried to put too much into this film, especially considering all the introspective asides they slid in there. Yes, they’re trying to set up the next movie, BUT CAN WE PLEASE STOP MAKING MOVIES TO SET UP SEQUELS?!? Have we heard about not counting chickens before they hatch? You make the first movie right, then you start thinking about sequels.

I’ve said this before and it bears repeating. DC needs to stop competing with Marvel in the cinema. They were too slow to catch on to the innovations Marvel brought to the party. Like the bonus scenes at the end of movies that can set up the next movie WITHOUT INTERRUPTING THE MOVIE YOU JUST WATCHED. Or doing origin films to build up to group films that branch off into more individual films. Or (with the exception of Spiderman) rebooting the same characters over and over again. I’m not saying Marvel is without flaws (cough cough Fantastic Four: all of them – though that’s definitely Sony’s fault). I’m just saying they adapted faster to the market and learned from their mistakes.

If DC really wants to make a mark, they should take their heroes back to their origins. And I don’t mean yet another reboot. I mean, period cinema. Think about it. Every time they bump up the time period for Superman to land on Earth, it becomes less and less reasonable that no one would have noticed. At this point, he’s hitting Smallville in the middle of the Cold War. We were already freaked out about Sputnik blinking away in the atmosphere and an effing space ship plows into a field without a single military/government official checking it out? Not to mention how much harder it is to adopt a kid you find in a field. But that kind of stuff is reasonable back in the 30s, especially around the Depression when there were all sorts of parent-less children popping up. Let’s also keep in mind that with face recognition software, Superman’s secret identity would be almost impossible to keep.

And that’s just Superman’s side of it. It would be really refreshing to see a Batman movie that isn’t geared toward gear. Yes, as a vigilante, he’s a showman with the cape and the car and the smoke packs. But that’s become all he is now.

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That’s why Bruce Wayne is supposed to trump Tony Stark. Except the movies have conveniently failed to illustrate the last three items on the list. Because Batman is a super hero and super hero movies are synonymous with action movies. Apparently, no one wants to watch a movie about a Sherlock Holmes who also kicks ass (wait, there was that one…or two…). At least, not if he’s wearing a cape and mask.

So DC, I recommend you take your hero tropes and put them back in the nostalgic past where they don’t need to get in a shoving match with Marvel over who can senselessly destroy more sets.

And in other news, I am an awful person. I giggled through the entire opening scene depicting the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne. But it’s not my fault. It’s casting’s fault.

“So who should we try to get for Bruce’s Dad?”

“An actor who doesn’t mind dying in the opening scene?”

“So…Sean Bean?”

“No, too obvious. He dies in everything.”

“Jeffrey Dean Morgan?”

“PERFECT. Get his agent on the phone ASAP.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Jeffrey Dean Morgan. The American Sean Bean.

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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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Regency Heroes 4


It is not to be wondered at that over the next twelvemonth, Lord Riverton and Miss Forster became exceedingly fond of each other. Elinor was often reckoned to be one of the prettiest girls in the county, was highly accomplished in music, art, and archery, and possessed a very fine talent for discourse. All this combined with a very sweet disposition and a generous heart made her quite the object for love, despite her lack of gifts . And while Lord Riverton was very senior to her, he had none of the graveness or solemnity of other gentlemen even ten years his junior. He was merry without being silly, witty without being cruel, and passionate without being a frivolous romantic. He was decidedly handsome in a way that no foppish youth could ever aspire to, all dignity and poise, but with laughing sea-green eyes. With only a few meetings the couple found themselves quite inclined to like each other. After six months, Elinor was resolved that if she couldn’t love him as a man (she did try, though her heart told her was impossible), she could certainly esteem his as a dear friend and so could look on their future with unreserved satisfaction.

“Dearest, Lily, why must you always run to your tree when you should be at your lessons? Miss Jane is worried sick she will be dismissed on your account,” Elinor called up into the branches, a laugh in her voice.

“I would not for all the world wish Miss Jane to be dismissed before she finishes my instruction in Greek. It would be like unto a tragedy by Aristophanes,” Lily replied in the affected the high oval tones of her poor governess.

“Aristophanes, as you well know, wrote comedies. You will never be equal to me in your wit if you do not attend to your studies. But I suppose if you are determined to commune with nature to attain your learning, then I shall take my letter and read it alone, for you shan’t comprehend any of it.” Elinor had taken barely three steps before the loud report of bare feet hitting the dirt announced Lily’s return to earth.

“Is it from Christopher, um, Lord Riverton?”

“Do I have your promise to finish your work and apologize to Miss Jane for your negligence?” There is a heavy sigh and sullen assent, but it is enough for the elder sister to excitedly open the letter and read the contents from atop one of the many great tree roots that seemed to grow just for the purpose of saving Elinor’s petticoats from sitting long in the dirt. Sir Christopher was especially eloquent in his letters, though he spent little time divulging any deeply felt romantic pains. He often shared humorous stories “from the village,” of which he had such an endless supply that Elinor strongly suspected his being the author of all tales. It was not what most girls of seventeen would expect from a lover, but it was a delightful diversion for Elinor and an excellent inducement for Lily to behave somewhat as she ought. The young miss was not allowed the enjoyment of Sir Christopher’s letters if she was lacking in shoes, for instance, and she frequently had to sacrifice time in the forest to time in the schoolroom. But the entertainment was sufficient to make such pains worth it.

Elinor was at quite a loss as to how Lily’s education could possibly progress once she left the estate and there ceased to be letters to draw her obedience. She was not aware of Nanny’s own exertions on that same subject or she needn’t have worried. Had Lily remained in her perch a half an hour more, it would have been the witch calling her to heel, a situation the girl was becoming more than ever eager to avoid. Yet as the leaves changed, the girl felt driven to the outdoors by some need for activity. She had no focus for history or language because her hands itched to be working at something more than copying down tables or dates. When pressed, Nanny suggested that the land was preparing for winter, storing up what it could save and devouring what couldn’t last. “You, gel, are naught but a chipmunk anxious to be collecting nuts. Won’t ease your spirits none, not till you’re of age to perform the rituals. Best use that energy as you can in your studies and your training.” Nanny would hear neither excuses nor entreaties, only assured Lily that neglecting her education would have the type of dire consequences that need not be voiced to be understood.

The letter left the girls breathless from laughter, featuring as it did the antics of a very ornery and almost entirely deaf grandmother and her equally difficult ass. Dusting off their dresses, they began the short walk from the Lady’s Clearing to the house just as the sky came all over in heavy clouds. Lily’s spirits were unexpectedly oppressed by the change in weather, so much so that she stopped more than once to stare at the purpling sky as though trying to divine its purpose in ruining a good mood so hard-fought for. It was only when fat drops of rain spattered the girl’s freckled face that Elinor managed to drag her into a run for the shelter of the house, where they were met by a post-horse and a messenger soaked through and shivering.

It was a matter of moments between the delivering of a letter to the butler for Lord Forster and his being taken down to the servant’s quarters for dry clothes and a remedy for the cold. Elinor only took notice long enough to ensure he was well-tended, then turned to Lily with prepared orders for dry clothes and hot tea dying quickly on her lips. The girl was almost entirely dry but for her face which was uncommonly pale and wet with tears. When interrogated she only claimed complete ignorance of their cause. “I did not notice them, Elinor. Perhaps it is just the rain, but I feel ever so sad.”

Miss Forster led her sister straight to her room, changed her into a night-dress, drew the curtains, and with all felicity urged her sister to rest herself. Miss Jane was sent for to watch over the girl and then Elinor went in search of her father. Lily did have strange moods at times, but this was no surprise since her mother was of the same disposition. Changes in seasons were the hardest because it seemed to make her much more sensitive to every alteration. Sir John was pacing in his study when Elinor found him. She related Lily’s sudden depression, blamed it handily on the rising storm, and promised to send for Nanny should it turn out to be more than a passing mood. As she turned to leave, her father called for her to sit by the fire.

“I assure you, father, we were not caught much in the rain. My bonnet is already dry and my slippers barely damp.”

“You saw I received a message?”  She answered in the positive and further stated that she assumed some business matter could be the only purpose for such a rushed communication. “Yes, of a sort. I am afraid it concerns you and I would ask that you sit before I tell of it.”  Warily she obeyed. “Lord Riverton sent me letter a few days ago indicating his intentions of a visit here with his son and two elder daughters. He had some idea of doing a ball for the children, a sort of Hallow’s Eve celebration. It was to be a surprise.”

“That sounds quite the diversion Sir Christopher would devise. I shall tease him for keeping secrets. Oh, but I hope this weather has not detained him.”

“It has. He sends word from an inn two days from here to say that the roads were badly washed away causing them to become lost, and his coach overturned at a fording. I’m afraid all parties were badly injured and young Nathan,” his voice caught and he took the seat opposite his daughter, unable any longer to look at her paling face. More brusquely, he said, “Young Nathan suffered a knock to his head and drown before the coachman could fetch him. The girls won’t wake and Christopher, he writes that he is as well as can be, but the apothecary’s note marks him very ill from cold.”

Unwilling to sit still, Miss Forster began an agitated stalk before the blazing fire. “We mustn’t delay,” said she at length.  “A message will have to be sent for Nanny, as no apothecary can answer for this. She will be able to ride ahead if the rain slackens soon. We can take the carriage and retrieve them all here, since it is closest, just as soon as they may be fit for travel. If we leave now, and take all four horses, I’m sure we can be there in time, father.”  All the urgency in her voice and stance did nothing to stir him from his seat. She was only answered by a throaty grumble of thunder.

“Do you ever recall a storm so severe as this?”  She avowed she hadn’t, but that certainly there must have been one. It was far from her first acquaintance with thunder and lightning. “No, listen to it.  The hail dashing to bits, Thor raging with his hammer, all the sky weeping, and that howl like wolves in dead of winter. This storm is not like any you have seen because you were not yet born when the old Lord Riverton died. It is the torrent of the river losing its master. And this is worse yet than that, because the river has no son to follow without Nathan.”

Without any order from her higher faculties, Elinor’s knees gave and sat her on the scorched hearthrug. “You cannot be certain,” she said, surprised at the high pitch of her voice. “Surely there is something,” but she cannot continue, finding her breath trapped in her swelling heart.

“Nanny will be sent, as I still have hope for the girls. But it was important that you understood. I would have you free of any undo delusions.”  He stood to leave, yet made one last attempt to alleviate her disappointment. “You need not fear for his children. He had a sister who should be charged with them.” He did not add that the next Lord Riverton may well be younger and better suited as a match and that at least timing had saved her from being a widow.

Elinor sat for a very long time trying to cry. She certainly felt the weight of grief, an oppression on her chest and an ache behind her eyes. And there was a well of sadness and disappointment. She had at last come to terms with the arrangement, had become resigned to it, and even endeavored to call herself well-pleased by the sham it would have been. Still, stirring inside her was a most treacherous seed of relief. She was free from her obligation without neglecting her duty as a poor, gift-less daughter. Moreover, she was free from the guilt that had been digging away at her in equal proportion with her growing regard for her intended. Understanding struck and she knew the relief was not for her own freedom, but for his. He could not now be shackled to a child for the sake of a friendship, nor have the ignominy of being the sport of his neighbors for entering in what would be seen as a perverted relationship. He would never be assumed a lecher and a cuckold for marrying so young and unloving a partner.

Miss Forster stood and composed herself, then adjourned to her sister’s room, where, in the day made dark by the pounding hail and flashing lightning, she told all of the day’s tragedy. They lay under the covers while Lily wept for Nathan and the girls who might never wake and their siblings orphaned. She cried for Elinor who couldn’t and her father who wouldn’t, and when Henry snuck in, he was welcomed and held until the storm washed the grief away.

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Regency Heroes 2


Henry Forster had the unfortunate condition of being a very large boy with a very gentle temperament.  While his cousins enjoyed sports and hunting, he found contentment in his mother’s vast library and was the favorite of his tutors.  His twin sister, Lily, though she shared much in the way of physical similarities, did not share his love for dusty knowledge.  No amount of cajoling or threats could induce her to remain indoors when she so desperately needed to be outside.  Her father bemoaned her ever being properly educated while her step-mother lamented only that the sun turned her so dreadfully brown.  The new Lady Forster was ever ready to coddle her step-children.  She had heard too many tales of wicked step-mothers to feel any sort of security in her present position and was only too aware that were it not for her handsome fortune she would have little to recommend herself in the ways of intelligence or skill.  So while she had no talent for art or music and was eminently stupid, at least she was kind.

Miss Forster had no great liking for her step-mother, conscious that the woman was barely ten years her senior as well as being dull and silly.  But she endeavored to be civil, if only because Lady Mary doted so genuinely upon the twins and was so humorously discomfited by Elinor’s presence.  It was perhaps cruel that she did nothing to alleviate that discomfort, but at least she was aware of that cruelty and mildly ashamed of it.

The twins, for their part, could not understand the coldness exhibited by their elder sister and loved Lady Mary with all the ardor of small children who have all their wishes acquiesced by someone who should be controlling their behavior.  So it was that Henry was allowed to neglect his physical education while Lily was allowed to wander the grounds without escort and often (to Elinor’s horror) without shoes.

“Lily, I shan’t speak with you like this.  Civilized persons do not converse from trees.”  Lily was in her mother’s tree, which had grown to be a great oak over the last ten years.  Since she could walk, she had been drawn to the clearing and her first clear utterance was concerning its origins.  The bark, though strangely smooth, still bore three scars on the trunk which looked very nearly like the hand prints of a small child and two infants.

“I don’t see why you cannot join me.  If I can get Henry to read outside, surely I can tempt you to greater heights,” she called from among the branches, her bare legs dangling carelessly.  Henry looked abashed and hid behind his ornithology text.  He had never been tempted to the heights of those branches, but he did admit to a certain comfort in reading at its base.

“You know very well how inappropriate it would be for a lady of my standing to behave like such a buffoon.  You continue this way and the whole village will think the faeries exchanged my sister for an ape.”  Both twins blushed at this remark, Henry in embarrassment and Lily with anger.  Elinor immediately regretted the insult.  It was said in temper by the spiteful part of her which knew exactly the best way to cause the most harm.

“Well, if I am the changeling chimp of your real sister, then perhaps I should start acting like it.  Henry, fetch me some manure.  I am certain I have a strong desire to fling it at unsuspecting ladies.”  Henry did his utmost to disappear into the trunk of the tree.

“Oh, Lily!”  A dozen threats skittered through Elinor’s mind.  Why was she given such an unruly sister?  What would happen to the twins without her to give them some semblance of order?  With that thought, her anger dissipated and she was left only with the deep melancholy with which she had set out to find her siblings.  “Lily, please.  I have some news and I would like very much to speak of it with dignity, not scream it into foliage.”  Lily responded with ape-like shrieks and some rude noises, so Elinor placed one slim hand on the tree trunk and asked her mother to dislodge her troublesome sister.  Moments later, Lily found herself unceremoniously tossed to the ground next to her brother.  Henry, seeing the resigned set of Elinor’s shoulders, reverently put down his book and draped a massive arm over Lily’s shoulder to keep her from scurrying off again.  Lily resigned herself to sulking.

Elinor paced from one side of the small clearing to the other.  Now that it had come to it, she couldn’t quite bring herself to blurt out what she had come to say.  She really wished the twins had found some place less personal to seclude themselves.  For all that she didn’t want to tell the twins, she was especially reticent for this news to reach her mother.

You are lucky, dear Elinor.  You are the eldest, yes, but you are not the heir.  I married out of duty.  Fond of your father as I have become, our wedding was the bitterest of days because my heart felt nothing for the stranger I was joined to.  You have no duty to this house but to leave it.  They will tell you to marry well and I urge you to do so by marrying him to whom you may give your heart.  You have no other duty.  To do less would break my heart.

“I’m to be married to Lord Riverton twelve months hence.”  The admission gave her no relief, only adding to the oppression she felt with her father’s announcement.

“But…Nathan is only twelve this year,” said Henry slowly.

“Good God, you can’t mean Old Riverton?” exclaimed Lily with undisguised revulsion.  “Why, he’s older than father!”

Elinor colored at this remark.  “Lord Riverton is a very fine gentleman and father says it is a most desirable match for me.  I have little enough to offer a suitor.”

“But you cannot seriously accept that old man as your husband.  He’ll be dead and buried before an heir is born.”  Elinor was shocked so utterly by this inappropriate statement that all manner of composure was forgotten.

“Fortuitously, as Henry pointed out, there is already an heir to the title.  I, at least, am not only a broodmare to carry on the family affliction!”  The words passed her lips with no input from years of genteel upbringing, or she never would have uttered them.  Lily’s face paled, but instead of lashing out, she shook off her brother’s arm and dashed further into the forest in a flash of copper curls.  There would be no finding her now.  The trees would hide the girl until she chose to come home.  Without the least concern for her skirts, Elinor sat on the grass with a heavy sigh.

“Wish you wouldn’t fight,” Henry moaned into his chest.

“I know.”  Silence but for the chirping of some songbirds and the clicking of insects.  “I’m nearly seventeen, Henry.  This is the only offer I may ever get.  I have no fortune and I have no gifts.”  She hesitated to share her full reasoning with her brother.  It might hurt him, yet she could not leave him with only the impression that she sought only security and fortune in this arrangement.  “Young Nathan has taken the iron testing* and shown great promise, so there is no pressure for me to provide an heir, as I said.  Can you understand the fear this alleviates?  I have lived in terror of the birthing room my whole childhood.  Thrice did I watch my mother suffer through it, each time more painful and more prolonged.  Last of all I watched the iron take her to madness.  I heard my gentle mother, who never raised her voice or spoke a harsh word, ranting and shrieking as I lay in bed in the dark.  And after all the screaming and pain, when it was over, she was a stranger to me, the life drawn out of her into those hated bracelets.”  She wiped her face with a kerchief.  “At least Lord Riverton is kind.”

To this, Henry had no reply.  He had always been in awe of his sister, who had seemed like an adult from his earliest memories.  She had acted as their mother in a way that nursemaids and tutors could not.  While she and Lily were constantly at odds, he had every confidence that Elinor always acted for their betterment.  To see her so resigned, so helpless, so defeated by her circumstance suddenly made him feel much older.

“He does have a nice estate.  A very fine library, I understand,” he ventured at length.  To this she smiled, acknowledging that from him it was high praise indeed.  It was only when she smiled that Elinor took on the visage of her mother, the only one of her children to take after her in looks.  Henry and Lily both took after their father in figure, though only Henry has his blonde hair and brown eyes.  Lily’s eyes are a shocking shade of emerald like her mother’s, an early indicator that she inherited her mother’s power.

“Nanny approves.”

“Next time, I suggest you start with that information.  Lily is always more amenable to Nanny’s opinions.”

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