For our final post in our spooky series, we challenged our authors to write 50 word or shorter scary stories. Let's see what they came up with!
I huddled in the ramshackle farmhouse, feet on the laptop power brick for warmth and my two dogs fully asleep beside me. Suddenly they simultaneously jerked awake, eyes fixed on the doorway. Both tracked in perfect synchronization slowly across the room, and then their eyes moved together up the stairs. After watching upstairs for a few moments, they simultaneously relaxed.
True story. We demolished that house.
Laura VanArendonk Baugh
In the darkness, she avoided looking into the mirror. Who knew what unseen things lurked inside? Thus, she did not perceive the ghostly hands reaching out until it was too late.... She beat upon the glass as her reflection abandoned her without a backward glance at the mirror: her prison.
Jenelle Leanne Schmidt
The young writer was going to do it. She was two hundred words and two hours from meeting her hard deadline. The word flew from her fingers and into the computer. there was no way she could fail. And then . . .
C. O. Bonham
Trudging home by the full moon’s light, you hear a twig snap. You glance up. A large, dark shape approaches. Sharp fangs. Thick fur. A deep growl. A scream scrapes your throat. Kicking up mud and fallen leaves, you run for your life. Then a rock snags your foot...
Readers, tell us how your story ends in the comments!
The Night Lily bloomed once a century. Jane quivered on the greenhouse bench, afraid to blink and miss the moment.
In the moonlight, the bud split open, and pink petals unfurled.
Needle-sharp teeth glistened. A forked tongue flicked from the center of the flower, accompanied by an ungodly hiss.
H. L. Burke
What lurks under our authors' beds?
In our continuing series of spooky Q&A with Fellowship of Fantasy authors we present an assortment of authors answering the pressing question: what lurks under their beds?
Dust bunnies from hell. Story ideas I've forgotten, waiting for vengeance.
Laura VanArendonk Baugh
I don't care as long as they aren't bed bugs. I've lived that nightmare before. Never again.
C. O. Bonham
I prefer not to think about it. I just keep hoping that if I ignore it, it will go away.
Jenelle Leanne Schmidt
I used to think there was a giant electric eel under my bed. The evil eagle lived in the closet and the T-Rex liked to peer in our large picture windows and give me the evil eye as I ran to the bathroom in the wee hours of the night.
Nothing more exciting than a dust bunny, unfortunately! Though...should dust bunnies have glowing red eyes?
Probably vampiric dust bunnies.
H. A. Titus
Whatever it was, the dragon ate it.
H. L. Burke
For the last several weeks, we've been collecting entries in our Short Work Writing Contest, inspired by the Mythical Doorways Anthology (which releases today! Get your copy here). We now have some awesome entries. You can read through them below then vote on your favorites using the link at the bottom of the entries.
Be sure to note the NUMBER of your favorite, as that will be how you identify it.
Remember there are two groups, one for writers who are 16+ in age, and one for writers 15 and under. You can vote ONCE per each age category. Voting starts now and runs through April 3rd!
by A. M. Reynwood
The door creaked open, but Lianne hastened to close it again, pulling firmly on the latch this time to make sure it stayed shut. She then tiptoed across the floor, careful to step over the squeaky board, back to the hearth. Its fire had long since died, the ashes cold and gray as dove down. A dreadful sight in any home, but times were different now. This couldn't be home for much longer.
A quiet whimper sounded from the cradle nearby, its wood shaped and carved by hands far more skilled than her own; a gift that would be left behind. Turned to splinters. Burned. She knelt down and scooped the infant from his nest of blankets, held him close and rocked him back and forth.
"Hush, my little one," she whispered. "It's going to be all right. Your big, strong da will be coming soon to get us, and then we shall be far away from this place. So hush now, so the shadows can't hear. It won't be long." Lianne bent to press her lips against the babe's soft forehead, her dark hair falling in a curtain as though to hide their faces from the darkness that was descending.
Outside, the attack had already begun, its noise growing closer like the creeping flames of a blazing fire, seeking ever more fuel for its insatiable appetite. Screams and wails sounded muffled through the walls, the clattering of homes and businesses being overturned, the roaring of raging flames on dry tinder.
Lianne hunched lower to the floor, clutching the child all the more tightly. "It's going to be all right," she repeated in a murmur as tremulous as her heart. "Your da is coming to get us. He'll be here soon. The shadows won't fall on you, my little one. It'll be all right-"
The door crashed open. Lianne screamed. Boots pounded across the floor, hands grabbed Lianne, pulled her to her feet. She thrashed, but the hands held firm her shoulders. "Lianne!" the man's voice called. "Lianne, it's me. It's me. I'm sorry I'm late, I came as swiftly as I was able."
"Gydean?" Lianne whimpered. Seeing his face, she relaxed and fell into his chest, unable to speak for her tears.
He held her and the babe for the briefest of moments. "I know. I'm sorry. But we must hurry. They're almost here and we need to be gone before they see us." He ushered them through the door, set them before him on his horse and hastened down the crimson tinged streets. Even the sky was kindled with the fire of day's end. A day's end in smoke and death.
"Where are we going?" Lianne asked.
Gydean wrapped an arm securely around her, his other hand on the reins. "Back to Ophnai, where you'll be safe. I will then rejoin my command at the border. This is war, Lianne, and so help me I will end it."
by T.E. Bradford
The door creaked open.
“Is you about, Master Alby?”
Alby didn’t turn to look. He knew who stood in the doorway. “Yes, Crunch. I’m right here.” He pulled his bathrobe tighter around his shoulders.
“Master Vale is sent me. ‘Tell young Alby it’s time,’ he says. ‘Tell him come quick.’ So here I is to fetch ya.”
Alby’s fingers stopped moving. The pen left a trail of ink on the page.
All of the practice, all of the preparations they’d made had led to this moment. Excitement and terror mingled in his veins, turning them cold. The Empty Monster waited for him to come with eyes that dripped darkness.
“When he comes,” Master Vale’s words rang in his ears, “you must be there to meet him, else all is lost.”
Alby slapped his notebook shut, stuffing it into his backpack along with his pen. The yellow case at the bottom already had several pens and pencils, but it couldn’t hurt to have more.
Just in case.
“Let me get dressed…” His words died on his lips as he turned around.
Crunch—his large misshapen head framed in greenish hair that ran straight to his crookedly hunched shoulders—stared not at him, but back into the darkness he’d emerged from, eyes wide. Flashes of light scorched the shadows behind the door like silent fireworks.
“No time,” Alby whispered.
He struggled to pull the backpack on, fear gripping him like a fist. Sweat popped out on his forehead. From somewhere down the hall bed springs squealed. Alby held his breath, waiting to hear his grandmother’s voice call out, but nothing came. She must have turned over in her sleep.
“Dear God, please let her stay asleep until I get back,” he prayed. “Sarah too. Send their guardian angels to watch over them and keep them safe.”
He imagined his little sister’s face as she slept. He was doing this as much for her as for anyone. She’d been through so much already. They both had. More than anything he wanted to protect her. He was all she had left.
A barrage of flashes lit the room.
This was it.
Alby was as ready as he ever would be. He grabbed the flashlight from his nightstand and looked up as Crunch turned back to face him. His big, gray-green eyes were filled with shadows, as if they’d leaked out from behind the doorway.
His words were a rumble Alby felt more than heard.
“They will be if we don’t hurry,” Alby answered. “Come on. Let’s go.”
Crunch needed no urging. Alby followed, his slippers slapping on the wood floor as he rushed behind the hunched giant into his closet. There was a flutter of wind as they passed through the doorway. A sock flapped out, kicked by the air to land beside the bed. The blankets ruffled briefly, then stilled.
The closet door made no sound as it closed behind them.
by Kaycee Browning
The door creaked open and in strolled Lord Cloakhelm III of Natinshire. He wasn’t III nor was his name Cloakhelm, but he preferred III to Jr. and Cloakhelm to Blanket, and I don’t blame him.
“Someone needs to butter those hinges,” He said, casting a disdainful look at my door.
“Butter?” I asked.
“Oil, butter, same principle.” He swept his velvet cloak over his shoulder and seated himself on the other side of my desk.
“Principle?” I asked.
Lord Cloakhelm III huffed. “If one can make perfection a reality, one ought to. One owes it to one’s fellow man.”
I nodded. I didn’t agree with him. I squinted at my notes as though stunned by the profound revelation that “perfection=good”, but really, I was playing bingo with myself to see if his appearance matched my idea of him. I got velvet cloak, slicked hair, clean-shaven, barrel-esque physique, and one-eyebrow-higher-than-the-other correct, but I was wrong about haughty smile (he didn’t smile), oily skin (it looked well-moisturized, well done Lord Cloakhelm III), and handsome (he wasn’t ugly, but his face reminded me of a possum’s- cute, but decidedly unnerving).
“Your mere presence astounds,” I said. “Tell me more about your philosophies.”
“After you,” he replied.
I smiled. “I don’t have any philosophies.”
“Insulting others with obvious falsehoods falls short of perfection. I recognized your name. You’re the little historian causing such a fuss.”
I mimicked a bow. Difficult to do, whilst sitting in a chair, but I managed. “I’m honored you’ve heard of me. Heard, because if you had read of me you would know that I have no philosophies.”
Interestingly, the higher eyebrow went still higher. I grinned and continued. “I attack ancient scrolls, pilfer holy books, pickpocket those of lauded minds and shove it all together into my glorious hoard of impossible idealism. I’m no philosopher, my lord, I am a thief.”
Lord Cloakhelm III stood suddenly. The chair fell backward, and he glared at it, as though the poor thing were to blame for its tragic descent to the floor. He spun back to me. “You intend to use my philosophies, do you not? Imperfect rascal! Utterly!”
I stood, holding my hands up placatingly. I attempted seriousness. “My lord, there is no need to get angry. I would never use your philosophies so callously.”
He scrunched up his possum face and huffed. I couldn’t do it. I burst into laughter. “Fae king above! I would never use your philosophies for anything. The Theories of Perfection? The Duty of Lesser Men? Worthless rascal! Utterly!”
Maybe the mockery too much, but honestly, he’s a garbage human being.
I picked up my bingo sheet and waved it in his face. “I’m just having a bit of fun. A perfect day of leisure.”
He snatched the sheet and stormed from the room, slamming the door shut so hard it inched back open with a creeeeak. I chuckled and scribbled a note to myself.
Butter the door hinges.
by Adam Sevy
The door creaked open…
Ukin held her breath. She glanced back into her room--reserved for the Father’s birthing mothers who had recently delivered--to the form in her bed.
She hoped the Father’s guards would be fooled. The dungeon guard was easy to seduce into her mat. After he was tended to, she had--as planned--taken advantage of his relaxation. Stealing his discarded cudgel, she had knocked him unconscious. Only her adrenaline and desperation steadied her hand.
It was not steady after slicing his throat with his knife. She could not stop her hands from trembling as she had gathered his keys and covered him with her blanket. They still trembled as she held her bundle.
Eyes unblinking, Ukin turned and stared into the semi darkness of the dungeon. Nothing stirred. All she could see in the underground chamber was the sleeping forms of dozens of the Father’s illegitimate children--his growing bastard army.
A soft squeak pierced the silence, causing her to jump. Clutching tightly to her bundled infant, she hushed him quickly.
For my Bitel, she thought desperately, closing the door fast to avoid another creak. She hurried up the stairs out of the dungeon to the barred door, left locked by the seduced guard. With stolen keys, Ukin unlocked it. Her heart broke to lock it behind her, trapping the other women and their children below, but she knew that she would need as much of a head start as she could get.
Even if Bitel could not pass for a pure Senellian, and thus join the Gonzanian Priesthood, the Father will use him to grow his bastard army. Ukin was unsure of all the Father’s plans, but she would not have her child pulled in like she had been.
With Evi’s blessing, Ukin only had to hide from one patrolling guard. Night was still deep when she made it to the stables. Bitel began fussing, but gratefully the lowing of Jord Goats concealed them from the guard.
After feeding Bitel and lulling him asleep, Ukin saddled up one of the massive Goat Steeds. They were not native to her homeland, but she had been taught by her parents how to tend them when Jords traveled through. That was another life. Ukin knew she’d be condemned by her parents should she return.
She had been so naive wanting to see the world outside her small Senellian village. Life was not as she had anticipated. After only a year, she arrived desperate at a brothel. She had still been foolish enough to believe the promises of a wealthy man who offered to take her away from that life.
That was before she really knew the Father.
Scooping up Bitel and mounting the Goat, Ukin rode past the now sleeping guard into the night. Another blessing from Evi. In four days she would arrive at the Valley of the Departed. Even though she knew she’d be an outcast for her choices, it didn’t matter.
Bitel would be safe.
by V. Romas Burton
The door creaked opened as I watched Lyle's shoulders rise and fall one last time before he chose the blood red door on the right, walking through the threshold. The crowd waited, anticipation rising. The door slammed shut, sealing him in, never to be seen again.
"No!" I cried, causing only Schism's eyes to lock on to me.
The crowd stood in awe, then jumped at the chance to trade their hearts for Schism's magical doors. I didn't understand, couldn't understand. Tears streamed down my face as I was pushed and shoved by the lively mass.
Amongst the chaos, a dark presence surrounded itself around me, causing everything to move in slow motion. As if only inches away from my ear, Schism's voice whispered, "Don't worry little Addie, your time will come."
My tears ceased, eyes growing wide in horror as I backed away from the crowd, trying to get away from the hungry look in Schism's eyes. I did the only thing I could do; I ran.
The streets were crowded, filled with people trading their hearts for meaningless items, unaware of the monster in their presence. The sky became darker, the air growing colder, causing my flesh to rise in small bumps. My mind was racing with fear, distracting me from the rounded waist I barreled into.
"Adelaide," Governor Willow puffed through his black pipe, furrowing his thick white eyebrows at me. "You're not supposed to be here."
My tears created rivers down my cheeks, chilling my skin as an icy breeze breathed by. My chest heaved for oxygen, but was sliced by the cruel winter air that had begun its descent upon my home.
"I'm so sorry, Governor Willow," a serious voice above me said. "I was supposed to watch her while Lyle found an appropriate trade."
Confusion replaced my fear as I was being lifted off the ground and dusted off by hands I didn't recognize.
"Ah, Silas," the governor puffed again with a slight smirk, more like a grimace, coming to his lips. Being a veteran Reigner, he had lost most of his emotion with trade of becoming our wealthy governor. A small grimace was the only emotion he could give. "Very good. Well, make sure you get her back to Lyle. She's too young to be here."
"Right away, sir," the voice said again, wrapping an arm tightly around my shoulders.
I furrowed my brow. Lyle was gone. Didn't anyone realize this? Neither Governor Willow nor this stranger had the right to tell me what to do. They stood and watched as I lost the only thing I loved willingly leave me.
As soon as Governor Willow was out of sight, I shoved the stranger's hand off my shoulder and ran again.
"Hey, wait." I heard him call, but I didn't care. I didn't need someone to protect me from things I shouldn't see. It was too late. I had already seen too much.
by Deborah O'Carroll
The door creaked open. A tall, wobbling stack of parchment pattered into the room on little furry paws. At least, that’s what it looks like when your otter secretary comes into your office carrying the mail.
I’m a respectable young man and a magician, and nobody would believe me if I told them my life is tyrannized by an adorable otter.
I braced myself in my chair. “What is it today, Gavin?”
He scampered up the ramp plank onto my desk, where he dropped the sizable stack of parchment with a whump. Gavin’s bright black eyes blinked cheerfully through a storm of sudden dust. He hummed and twitched his whiskers.
“I don’t suppose you’d like to dust in here sometime,” I muttered, sorting through papers.
Gavin scribbled on the blotter with a feather pen as tall as himself: Not in my job description.
Then he stood hovering hopefully over the papers beside me, plumy feather pen waiting in one paw like an eager question mark.
Teaching Gavin to write was the best and worst thing I’d ever done. Best, because I really had needed a secretary. Worst, because he has this addiction to filling out forms. It’s his favorite thing in the worlds.
Magicians get all sorts of requests to do this or that: find a lost child or cat, speak about Enchanted Forest safety, fix the town square’s fountain, entertain at a party, and goodness knows what else. I do my best to keep up, but my schedule is full, and somebody keeps over-committing me.
The forms arrive in heaps, and Gavin is there waiting to fill them out. To save me time. Of course.
“Don’t have time for this party,” I grunted.
But they asked so nicely, Gavin scribbled. Why not?
“Why not,” I sighed, waving a hand in the air to make his scribbles vanish.
Gavin contentedly filled out the form: Would be happy to come. He signed my name.
I stared at an acknowledgment of thanks, for agreeing to enchant the Prime Minister’s office against thieves next week. “This will take ages. I don’t remember signing up for this.” I squinted suspiciously at Gavin’s innocent whiskery face. “You filled this one out without asking me, didn’t you?”
The pen scratched: You’d have done it anyway.
“That’s beside the point! Don’t let it happen again.”
Gavin nodded amiably, passing another request.
“Save the world?” I exclaimed. “I don’t have time to save the world! Look at my calendar!”
Gavin did—pinned to the wall (beside the clear water tank he swims in). Appointments filled every inch. He turned on me with the most hopeful, pleading expression.
I slumped in my chair in defeat. “Fine. Just this once. But don’t let it become a habit.”
Gavin bounced with joy, and happily began filling out the form with inky flourishes.
“And don’t come running to me when the Prime Minister yells at us for being late!”
Gavin nodded and beamed, scribbling away.
I’m definitely in for it.
by Lara Lee
The door creaked open, and the young blond merman peeked into the throne room of the grand underwater palace. Queen Oceanian sat on her large clam-shaped throne with her fishtail curled around her lazily. The mer-queen's unusual black hair floated around her in contrast to her brilliant silver armor and piercing emerald eyes. Her court and advisers were gathered this time for his meeting with the widowed ruler of the sea. Seated next to the imposing sovereign was a more petite prettier version of the monarch. Princess Pearl also wore silver armor and carried herself like the warrior she was. The merman's heart fluttered at seeing the princess. They had never met, but he had often admired her from afar.
"Mother, is this another one of your suiters?" whispered the princess. "I get tired of you parading every pompous nobleman and arrogant warrior in front of me."
"This is most definitely not for you," whispered the queen. "I only seek your advice for a perplexing problem."
The rough merman took a deep breath and swam into the ornate court with more confidence than he felt.
"Come closer, young Karl, and tell me again your request in front of my advisor and daughter," commanded the queen. "I will give you an answer today."
Princess Pearl smirked at him. Instead of armor, he wore a clamshell strapped to his front and back. Instead of a helmet, half a conch shell was tied to his head. His only weapon was an old chipped sword hanging to his side. He knew he looked ridiculous, but he held his head high.
"I seek to fight the Kraken," said Karl. "The monster torments the villages where I live, and I believe I have the skill to destroy it. I have killed deadly sharks and giant squid by myself. By law, I must ask your permission to fight this demon."
"What do you gain by risking your life on such a foolish venture?" asked an elderly merman floating near the queen.
"I will gain the wealth I need to join the military and pursue my dreams."
"You don't need money to join the military," said the advisor.
Karl nodded. "I am a penniless orphan, but I want to become an officer among the elites of the special forces."
Princess Pearl's eyes widened, but her slighted amusement grew into a more pronounced smile. The Queen smirked critically, and the rest of the court murmured among themselves.
"That is quite a goal," said the queen. She turned to her daughter. "Well, should I let him try and risk bringing the wrath of the Kraken upon us if he fails, or should I save his life and send him home where he belongs?"
Princess Pearl studied Karl with beautiful glittering eyes as her smile grew into a large grin.
"Let him fight the Kraken... and I want to go with him."
"What!!!" cried the queen with complete astonishment. "My only child with a wandering vagabond? Never!"
by G.J. Heffelfinger
The door creaked open. I whirled around, heart racing, only to see Willow fly in on her tiny fairy wings.
“That was awfully rude, slamming the door in my face!” She shouted in her tiny voice hands on her hips and finger wagging. She might have been intimidating if she were actually larger than my hand, but being no more than three inches tall her anger was actually more amusing than anything else.
“Hush,” I said, gesturing to the two forms laid out on the tables. One was dark, dressed in black, long black hair splayed out around him, and black wings tucked under him. His skin had a weird greyish tint. About three inches above his chest floated a shadowy black orb. Where the one was dark the other was light, white wings, and robes, brown hair, Angel.
“You found him!” she gasped, her anger forgotten in her excitement. “Who’s the other one?” she asked flying forward and touching the dark orb, which began to move.
“Willow, don’t touch!” I exclaimed. Reaching for the dark orb in hopes that I could put it back before anything happened, but it was too late.
As soon as, I touched the orb a bright white light flashed from it. I stumbled back blinded. After a moment I recovered my sight.
The dark one’s red eyes flew open and without a second's hesitation he leapt diving for the table, but before he reached it both the table and Angel were swallowed by the floor.
“No!!!” Screeched the dark one pounding at the floor which was once again smooth stone. His dark orb molded itself into a hammer and he beat the floor with it until he saw that it was hopeless.
“You’ve killed him,” said the dark one turning to me with tears in his eyes. “Why would you? How could you choose me over him?”
“Oh no!” cried Willow. “It was an accident, I didn’t mean too.”
“Peace, Fae Sister, only a mortal could decide,” the dark one replied.
“What?” I asked stupidly. He pointed to a tablet at the end of the table that read:
Child of day, child of night.
One bring. dark, and one brings light.
For one to live one must die.
Who will choose?
by Genevieve Moultrie
The door creaked open, but only by a hand's breadth. Louvernios put his back into it. Still wouldn't budge.
He looked around in the red glow of sunset. The ruins held few places to hide. Not much of anything, save the small yew growing amidst the rubble. And this door that shouldn't be here.
He'd gazed upon it many times, starting with his explorations of the tribal countryside in his boyhood. Nobody could explain why a broad wooden door, the kind that fronted a chieftain's lodge, would be in the lowest foundations of a destroyed fortress. It must lead underground. But to what? Why was it still here when the rest of the fortress lay in grass-covered ruins?
Louvernios's mind was on another fortress. One still standing. But not for long if he didn't reach it and tell his comrades of the Romans' plan of attack. Or that two of the commander's most trusted aides had turned traitor. If the fortress fell, his people might lose this part of Britain.
Louvernios had hoped to hide from his pursuers behind the strange door. Could what lay inside be worse than the foe? He'd continue once they'd passed.
Then he heard the baying of hounds. They were closer than expected. Louvernios had to open the door. Now!
He pushed with a strength born of desperation. Still, no movement.
In a burst of single-minded force his shoulder slammed into it. It gave way.
Louvernios slipped inside, then shut the door. All was black. Except for a faint glow, apparently at the end of a tunnel sloping downwards.
He followed the light. It brightened. Soon he emerged into---he could hardly believe it. A clearing in a forest. Underground!
The light was brighter here, though he could see no source. The colors seemed richer. The air was warm and scented with flowers he couldn't name.
A woman approached, clad in robes like starlight. "A mortal! How did you enter the fairy realm?"
His heart pounded. "I came through a door." He pointed at the tunnel.
"That's for our use only, when we have good reason to visit your world. But you have no reason at all to be here."
"I was being chased by---"
"No matter. You're trespassing. You must return at once!"
"But my pursuers---"
"They're gone. Time passes more slowly here than in your world."
Four guards appeared, their weapons and armor glittering. This was no time to argue.
Louvernios bowed. "Pardon me, milady."
He turned and headed through the tunnel. And the door.
The light was the gold of noon. He must have skipped to the following day. Now on to the fortress!
Then Louvernios noticed the yew. So much larger than yesterday! But how could that be? Fairy magic?
Then it hit him. How much time had passed?
Louvernios ran towards the fortress. He couldn't be too late. He couldn't!
Finally he reached the stronghold. Or rather, a pile of rubble and charred timbers.
And the grass was growing over it.
by Shannon Izer
The door creaked open and a sliver of light shone through. My four year old daughter waddled through the doorway, wiping sleep from her eyes. She made her way to my bedside and said “Momma, there is a monster in my room”.
I gently stroked her hair and said, “Sweetie, there are no such things as monsters”.
She vigorously shook her head. “Uh, huh. I heard it”.
Letting a sigh escape my mouth, I sat up and swung my legs over the side of the bed. I put my slippers on my feet and gently took my daughters hand.
“I bet it’s your brother hiding under your bed or in your closet trying to scare you,” I said, trying to calm her fear.
We quietly walked down the dimly lit hallway to her room and turned on her light. I opened the closet door, showing her the inside as she stood behind me.
“Nothing in there,” I said, closing the door. I moved to her bed next.
I knelt down and lifted the blanket so that I could get a good look under her bed. There were a couple of dolls, a shoe, and block, but no brother and no monster. I felt her kneel down next to me to look.
“See,” I said, “No monster”.
Then I heard it. There was a light mewing sound that seemed to come from nowhere. I sat up and strained to listen for it again. I made my way to the window and peered out. It was louder this time. I opened the curtains and saw a small, black kitten with blue eyes sitting on the window sill. I gently opened the window and the kitten slid in to the room. It couldn’t have been more than three months old.
My daughter squealed in delight. “Look momma, a kitten!”
She ran to it, but I scooped it up before she had a chance to touch it. We found her monster.
“We don’t know who it belongs to, or if it’s sick,” I reminded her. “We’ll keep make him a box in your bathroom for tonight, but then have to take him to the vet tomorrow.”
She nodded her head. “Okay momma”.
We created a makeshift bed for the kitten in the bathtub. I turned to leave the bathroom and looked at the kitten and had to do a double-take. The eyes that I had been sure were blue, were now emerald green. I shook my head and turned on the nightlight so that it was not in complete darkness, thinking that I must have been wrong. As I turned the larger light off, I heard a deep mewl come from its chest. I turned and looked at the kitten and it peered back at me its eyes boring in to me. The eyes changed color again, this time I was sure of it. The emerald green eyes were now jet black. This was not a normal kitten.
by Katherine M.
Fur and Fury
The door creaked open. Tali froze, half a cookie hanging out of her mouth. When no one came in, she relaxed and resumed chewing with sharp little teeth. Of all the snacks that humans had invented, chocolate chip cookies were one of the best. She licked the crumbs off the hardcover book she'd used as a perch; Elisa always griped when Tali made a mess in her room. Humans were so strange. They kept all this wonderful food in their lairs and insisted that it only be eaten at certain times and in certain places. She flew over to the small fountain that Elisa had set up for her and mashed a button with a claw. Water flowed out into a shallow dish. Tali lapped it up eagerly, lashing her tail back and forth. She flew back over to the bed, where she'd made a nest out of the soft pillows and a blanket. She curled up among them, wrapping her tail and wings around herself. Elisa always took forever to get home. She would nap until then.
Just as she started to drift off, a loud, obnoxious, yowl jerked her awake. She sat up, wings flaring, puffing her chest out. The annoying, fuzzy thing that Elisa called a cat had wandered through the open door. It jumped on the bed and sauntered over like it owned the room. Tali shrieked in outrage as it pawed at her blanket nest.
The cat jumped backwards and hissed at her, all its fur standing on end. Tali snarled and swiped at its nose. The cat retaliated, yowling furiously. Sharp teeth bit into Tali's right flank, almost piercing her scales. She shrieked.
They bit, scratched, and wrestled with each other. Tali rolled away and jumped onto the bookcase. When the cat lunged at her, Tali launched herself into the air and flew in a large circle. The cat watched her, hissing. When Tali approached, it jumped at her. Tali twisted out of the way, and the cat plopped onto the bed. It ran out of the room when Tali dove at it. She trilled triumphantly and nudged the door until it closed, then hovered at the doorknob and pressed it with one claw. It locked. She'd like to see the silly feline do that.
Tali drank more water from her fountain, and then returned to her nest, rearranging it to her satisfaction. Stupid cat. It belonged to Elisa's sister, but seemed to think it had the run of the house. Elisa even played with it on occasion, which annoyed Tali to no end. Who wanted a cat when a dragon was around?
by Jennifer E. King
The door creaked open with the soft complaint it always made when moving slowly. Gillia froze, her muzzle still pressed against the frosty window. Her eyes shifted from the snow-glowing night, with its stars shining above and below the tree-fringed lake, to the reflection of her bedroom behind her, hoping to see Kares come to check on her. Only darkness leaked through the crack in the door, dancing with the flickering light from her fireplace. In the tremble of shadows, she could not be sure how far the door had opened. That made all the difference. Was it large enough for one of her kits, perhaps, to sneak in? If not, it meant death was coming to try again.
She breathed deeply, slowly, testing the air both with her nose and her tongue. There was a scent, but it was cold, like stone-entombed steel - musty and dusty as ancient dreams. Her long, white hackles began to rise.
She listened, hopefully, for scuttling. Those that scurried were nasty things, quick and unpredictable, and some could jump quite far, but they gave her the best chance.
Was that a whisper?
A log in the fire suddenly shifted and fell, loudly, sending a spray of sparks into the air with a hiss. More from instinct than reason, Gillia launched herself from the window seat, straight up, as beneath her something flew with the speed of an arrow and crashed into the window. She dropped on it.
If she lived, she thought, she would claim that she aimed her claws to pin its neck and tail, but that was untrue. She fell as gravity directed, more startled than the assassin to find a thick rope of scales, longer than her own body, beneath her pads. It thrashed to twist out from under her weight. Only then did she think to extend her claws. Unfortunately, she had caught it below the wings.
It was a drachen this time! That meant both ends, which were still both free, were dangerous. It slashed at her with the venomous spike on its tail even as it turned its head to breath fire, spit poison, or…none of the options were good. Worse, she could not retract her embedded claws to get away. Again she jumped, this time swinging to slam the drachen against the window. Only by luck did the tail-spike miss its mark, scratching through the fur on her flank with burning pain. An acrid stench assaulted her from fluid now dripping down the window, etching the thick glass from the point where its head had struck to a sizzling pool eating through the wood of the frame. Acid.
Again and again Gillia battered the drachen until it lay still. Only then did she dare to bite its neck, severing its head.
Behind Gillia her bedroom door crashed fully open. Relief flooded her as she saw Tolius, her mate, rushing into the room. Then he lunged, teeth bared, toward her throat.
by Laura L. Zimmerman
The door creaked open…
Marvin stumbled in and dropped his briefcase. His heart sped at the sight of his co-workers. He narrowed his eyes, glancing around his apartment.
Half-eaten pizza and party decorations cluttered the dining table and a TV tray in the corner held the beverage bar. Music pulsed softly from his dated stereo, a board game spread out on the coffee table. Used paper cups and plates littered the living room floor. Laughter tumbled from a group of people who occupied his bedroom. Diane, the receptionist, held a cake with four-dozen candles glowing brightly on top.
“Um, it’s not my birthday,” he said.
“We know,” Ted from accounting shouted. “It’s your Death Day!”
“My what?” Marvin’s jaw couldn’t get any closer to the floor.
“New technology from the engineering department.” Stanley held up a glass in salute, a strange smile in place. “Hasn’t even been announced to the public yet. You’re the first one in the company to try it out. Pretty cool, huh buddy?”
“It’s actually quite simple,” said John from IT. “This small piece of plastic,” he flashed a palm-sized black lump that resembled a phone, “can predict the exact day and time of a person’s death with just the click of a button. Revolutionary, really. Think of how much people can accomplish when they know exactly how long they have to live?” He chuckled. “And there won’t be anymore surprise deaths from those in important political positions. The president can literally pass the torch to the vice-president without sending the country into a panic.”
All the information rushed into Marvin’s brain like a flood, swirling and drowning his every thought. “But...but—”
“We’d hoped this would be more of a celebration for you.” Diane’s smile slipped a notch. “No one knew you’d be working so late today, so you sort of missed most of the fun. Sorry about that.”
Ted nodded. “Yeah, we should’ve planned better. We’ll work on that for the next one.”
Marvin finally caught his breath. “Y-you’re here because I’m going to die?”
“Yep.” John glanced at the black object. “Ooo, we can start the countdown.” He held up his hand to get everyone’s attention. “Ten, nine…”
Every living being in the apartment joined in.
Marvin stuttered. “Wait—”
“No. I don’t understand—” His gaze darted around. Adrenaline like a freight train pulsed in his veins.
“T-this can’t be right. I feel fine—” He stepped forward, pleaded with those around him.
Excitement danced in the air. “Four, three…”
“Stop! I’m not ready!” His screams were lost.
Emotion buzzed from his friends. “Two…”
“No! I need more time! I haven’t had enough—”
by Wyn E. Owens
The door creaked open, and Ella nearly dropped the odd, old key in shock. She hadn’t truly expected it to work, but the entrance to the old garden was the only door on the estate that had that strange scrollwork on the handle.
Ella peered past the weathered door and into the garden beyond. It was surrounded by tall, ancient brick walls. Uncle Matthew said it had been locked since his grandmother’s death, and the only key had been lost. The enigmatic walled garden had been bugging Ella since she and Nike had come here six years ago. She had spent years imagining could be inside; anything from a dragon’s den or a faerie kingdom to enchanted treasure or magic stones. Then Ella had found the strange-looking iron key when she had accidentally crashed her bike into the old boxes in the garage, and decided to see if it would unlock the garden door.
Now that the door was open, she had to admit she was slightly disappointed. The unknown, unseen mysteries that lay beyond the garden door turned out to be… a garden. And a rather messy one, at that. Ivy climbed everywhere and wisteria ran rampant, while the beds themselves were a mass of wild green. An old willow hung its trailing fronds towards the ground in the garden’s center, and next to it stood a weathered stone sundial, still faithfully recounting the time after all the years it had stood unseen. Here and there were bright spots where plants managed to put out flowers, but overall it was too crowded to see much blooming.
All in all, it was rather, well, not boring, but… underwhelming and uninteresting. Especially since there were no faeries or treasure in sight.
Well, it seems nice anyway, or it could be with some work. Ella thought. I guess I now know how I’m going to spend summer vacation. And with that, she tucked the key into the pocket of her jeans and stepped into the garden.
Her first clue that something was off was that the inside of the garden seemed a lot darker than it had from outside the wall. The second was that she was pretty sure that there wasn’t a giant black cat with long, sharp claws in the garden before.
I take it back, she thought. It seems the garden is a lot more interesting than I expected.
by Denver Evans
The Tears of a Queen
The door creaked open, and a blast of radiant heat enveloped her. Despite the warmth she shivered as she slipped into the massive, torchlit cavern.
"You have grown stoic, Queen," the dragon rumbled. "Your tears no longer flow with loneliness or taunting. Shall we turn to pain?"
Queen Moira had no doubt a beast who would snatch a queen from her husband and young son would take such measures.
“I’m not a fiend, however,” the dragon said, contemplatively. He swiveled his head and regarded her with a great, burning eye. “I’ve enchanted you a present.”
The dragon rolled a hand-sized sphere of polished marble toward her. “Though enchanted, it will not harm you, Queen. But know that I will if you resist. The time for tears has come again. Touch the stone.”
Slowly, Moira held out her hand and did as the dragon ordered. The cold marble began to glow with a pulsing light and a scene appeared on its surface.
Could it be—?
“Harold! Oh, can you hear me? I’m here! I’m alive—” her carefully controlled tears now coursed down her face at the sight of her stern-faced husband, much older than when she’d last seen him, dining in the Great Hall of their castle.
“Queen! The tears!” the dragon roared, stamping his front feet impatiently.
Mechanically, Moira collected several of her tears in a small vial.
“What about my son—” she shifted her hand on the sphere. The dragon’s huge claw jerked the orb from her grasp. The image, along with the light immediately vanished.
“Prepare a flagon!” the dragon ordered with a fervor she hadn’t heard before.
Pouring his favorite mead into the waiting vessel, Moira emptied the small vial of tears into the drink and extended it silently.
“After all this time: tears of joy! There is hope the change will be permanent!” he babbled, seeming to forget she was even present.
She watched in silence as he emptied the contents of the flagon into his smoking jaws and lumbered into the torchlit passageway, forgetting to order her to leave.
At first she thought it a trick of the torches’ flickering. But, slowly and surely the dragon grew smaller, and in a moment an ordinary man was striding down the passage.
A cold chill clutched Moira. Her tears must cause him to shift. She shuddered. What would her fate be when he discovered the tears hadn’t been purely joyful but were mixed with great sadness? That the change wasn’t permanent as he hoped?
The dragon had dropped the marble orb in his greed for the drink. Cautiously, she picked it up with both hands. It glowed back to life beneath her touch, showing a serious young man seated in the Great Hall. He pushed back his plate and glanced toward the king.
“There’s talk you’re arranging a marriage for me, Father.” His voice came through only vaguely, but Moira’s heart broke at how deep it had become in her absence.
by Claire M. B.
The door creaked open. Someone was behind, and no one was there? And I did not know. I was confused, so I runned out of this house and moved when two weeks was over, and then I went into a fancy hotel, and someone was behind the door. But it was just the manager, so I wasn't scared. And then the same thing happened like last time. It wasn't the manager. It was no one again. So I was scared. It was night time, and all my parents were sleeping. And then I heard footsteps and creaking. I went back to bed and hide under my covers. Under my blanket, I was scared. Someone was in our bedroom with a black eye. They were evil. They had a knife in their hand. I hided and I woke up my parents and my parents called the police. I was scared, and the police was looking around. They found footprints. The police did not know who it was. And I was scared so we had to move again. In the next house, nothing was scary. It was just haunted, but we did not know, and it was abandon, and we did not know it was abandoned. They put the furniture around the house, and then my parents got murdered the next night. So I got a baby sitter, and we keep on moving on. The End
by Coryn L. B.
The door creaked open, but when the new kids who moved into the house looked into the room there was no one there. Someone felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned around, but no one was there. They thought they where being followed, and so they were right but wrong at the same time. They each heard what sounded like a fire breathing dragon, or a unicorn using his/her magic. The people shook. They took sticks with them, but they knew it wouldn't help. They found the basement, and they went down the stairs to check what it was. There was nothing there, but then they heard something. It sounded like fairies talking. Then they each felt someone pulling on their shirts. They each turned around. Nothing.
"Who is there?" a kid said.
"No one. No one. We are here to be here. We like to talk to dragons in the underworld. We like to talk to unicorns in the upper land," voices sang.
The kids thought the song was nice.
"Nice singing!" a kid said.
Then they each saw stairs going way down under ground.
"Should we go down?" a kid asked.
"Of course!" a kid said.
They walked down the stairs hoping to find something epic, and they did find something epic! They saw dragons breathing fire. They saw dragons swimming. Most of all they saw dragon talking to small fairies.
"How cute and awesome!" a kid whispered.
"What about the unicorns that they talked about?" a kid whispered back.
"I don't know," another said.
"What are you doing down here humans?" said a fairy that saw them.
"We moved into the house around here, and we came down here to find this," said a kid that looked in shock.
"Well I guess you should go now before a dragon sees you and thinks that you are food," said a fairy.
"Okay, bye!" said the kids walking up the stairs.
"That's enough excitement for one day," said a kid.
"Okay. I understand that," said another.
The kids ran off back to their normal house, and all whispered "Let's go back there tomorrow,"
They giggled as they headed back home.
by R. Jaynes
Quest for a Cure
The door creaked open. Thirteen year old Ashlynn shivered in the frigid night wind as she looked up to see who opened the door to the old hut witch she stood in front of. A crooked old woman stood in the doorway. Her gnarled face smiled when she saw Ashlynn.
“Come in love.” she said.
Ashlynn warily studied the old woman but complied.
“Call me Eleanor.” said the old woman.
Ashlynn didn’t like her. Rumor said she was a witch, destined to burn at the stake.
“I won’t bite you,” Eleanor cackled as she closed the door to the wind outside. “Now what brings you here this time of night?”
Ashlynn looked down. “My sister has the plague,” she whispered. “There is no cure.” A tear slipped down her face.
“ Child,” said Eleanor. “What will you do to save her?”
“Anything,” was the reply. Ashlynn looked up and gasped. In Eleanor’s place was a young woman. In fear, Ashlynn stumbled backwards towards the door… and fell through it.
Eleanor watched her and smiled. “Every door a portal,” she said. Then she was gone.
Ashlynn was in a castle made of stone. A crimson carpet led up to a golden throne. On it sat a young prince with golden hair, unlike Aslynn’s long brown hair.
“Where did you come from?” he demanded. Ashlynn blinked stupidly at him. “Well?” he went.
“I hail from Maidenville,” Ashlynn said at last.
“Sounds pleasant,” the prince joked.
Ashlynn’s mind raced. Did Eleanor send her here to find a cure? “I need a cure for the plague,” she blurted out. “My sister is ill.”
The prince smiled. “The cure grows in the forest. My pet will show it to you.”
He led Ashlynn outside and whistled three times.
A great bear descended from the sky. It had the wings of a dragon.
“This is Beast,” said the prince proudly. “Climb onto his back.”
Ashlynn fearfully did so.
Suddenly, Beast flew rapidly into the air with Ashlynn. The ground below sped past as Ashlynn held on for dear life.
Then, Beast began to fall.
Ashlynn screamed as they fell towards the treetops below, certain that she would be speared or smashed on the ground.
Then, Beast spread out his wings and they gently glided over trees and landed in a small clearing.
Beast was sniffing a beautiful flower.
Ashlynn went to it and pulled it out by the roots.
“To bad your sister won’t ever taste it,” a voice said.
Ashlynn spun around and saw a mirror image of herself carrying a sword.
Ashlynn shrieked and fled. She looked back as she ran and saw Beast face her mirror image as she ran. As she ran, she came across an old hut that looked familiar.
She ran to the door… and through it.
She was outside Eleanor’s hut, flower in hand. She shook her head in wonder and ran home.
by Nathalie Schmidt
The door creaked open and Alyssa went inside. And in the room she found gadgets. Spoon-makers, bowl-decorators, cupcake-makers. Then she found a piece of paper. The paper wrote:
Find these pieces
then you’ll find
a hidden treasure
that’s brass and fine.
And there was a picture of a door on the paper, too.
She found a key to another door. And in that room she found skeletons! And she found another slip of paper. And it said:
Find all these pieces and you will find a hidden treasure.
This piece of paper had a picture of a key.
She found another key, and went into yet another room!
That room had old dragon bones.
And she found ANOTHER slip of paper. This one had a picture of a dragon wing on it. She looked around and found a dragon wing in a bowl. It was small, like a baby one. It was a magical key. So she used it to go into the fourth room.
In that room she found another slip of paper. It had a picture of a unicorn horn. So she found a unicorn horn. And she used it to open the fifth room.
She found the last slip of paper, and it had a picture of a baby on it. She went back through all the rooms, she put the pieces she had found together, and after she put the pieces together, she found the treasure. And she was very happy when she found it. The treasure was... a BABY!
by Anusha Solai
The door creaked open, and thudding footsteps filled the clock tower. Huddling in the corner, the boys plastered themselves to the wall and waited for impending doom for there was no escape.
They had found the ruins in the woods when they were out hunting, in between them stood an un-ruined clock tower. They had kicked the door down and looted the place. But, just as they were about to leave, there came an eerie noise from the back. There was a door. Very rustic looking and elegant it was, with jewels tracing the outside, which they pried off as quick as possible, and stony designs etched into it.
This was no ordinary door, as you can tell, and one of the foolish boys wanted to open the door. Eyes glowing, he reached for the door knob, as if someone was willing it to happen to him. Fastening his hand on the knob, he opened it and heard a click.
A loud sound had thrown the boys backwards. Here they were sprawled up against the wall. The door opened wider and light filled the room, from their eyes they could see the silhouette of a monster. A witch. Thudding footsteps continued as the silhouette got bigger.
“Who opened the door???” She asked in a deadly calm voice, tangled hair hanging in front of her ebony eyes. The boys didn’t dare move. She asked again, calmer, as a staff appeared in her hands.
Slowly, the selfish boys pointed at the boy who had opened it.
“He did it.” one of them squeaked out.
“Hear that brothers?!” The witch shrieked, looking inside, ”tonight we feast!” A roaring cheer erupted from inside the doorway scaring the boys. She beckoned at the boy who had opened the door. He stayed still. She whipped out her staff and he appeared next to her magically.
“Don’t do that again, okay?” The witch smiled cruelly, “actually, maybe you ought to, then we won’t be so skinny!” She cackled, laughing at her own joke. Grabbing the boy by his collar, she waved goodbye.
“Who are you? What is this place? What’s behind the door?” The boy in her hands interrupted.
“Were from the Monster Prison,” she smirked, ”and you almost let us escape.” A roar of laughter ensued from inside.
“You don’t want to escape?”
“No. Were just hungry.”
“Quite a terrible excuse isn’t it?”
“Shut your mouth! I will personally see to it that I eat you first!” She waved goodbye to the other boys who were staring with shock at the criminal in front of them.
“Ta Ta!” The witch said throwing the boy inside, she put one foot in the doorway but stopped abruptly and turned around, “Oh my, I’m so rude. Would any of you like to join me and the boy??” They all shook their heads vivaciously. She nodded with understanding, and closed the door behind her. Then there was silence, and the everything was calm again.
“Well, that was weird.”
by Leiana Schmidt
The Diamond Door
The door creaked open and Madeline hid under her covers.
Oh no! she thought. The three-headed monster is coming to get me, just like Addison said!
She peeked over the covers and saw twenty bony, claw-like, fingers! She hid back under the covers, and then, all of a sudden she felt the twenty bony, claw-like fingers! She opened her eyes and saw.... her parents!?
“You’re not a three-headed monster,” said Madeline.
“Well of course,” said her mother. “Wherever would you get that idea?”
“Um,” said Madeline. “Addison told me about a three-headed monster who takes away children at night while they’re sleeping.”
“Addison, huh?” said her dad. “Well I’m just about to go over there and give her the fright of her life!”
“Oh, Daddy, please don’t,” said Madeline.
“Okay, I won’t,” said her dad.
“Good,” said her mom. “Madeline, sweetie?”
“I guess she was very tired,” said her mom.
“We’d better leave her alone now,” said her dad.
So they left the room.
Madeline opened one eye. “Oh good, they’re gone,” she said.
There was a vent that led to her brother, Tony’s, room. Madeline knew that if she just kept going straight she would get there without getting lost. So she crept through the vent and got there.
She said, “Tony! Tony!”
“Madeline? Is that you?” Came Tony’s sleepy voice.
“Well of course it’s me!” said Madeline. “Who would you think it was? Your pet hamster who doesn’t exist?”
“Well, it being you does make more sense,” came the reply.
“Is he here?” asked Madeline excitedly. “I mean, the guy who’s going to take us to that special place we don’t know anything about.”
“Yeah, he’s here,” said Tony. “And he’s an eagle!”
“An eagle?” said Madeline. And in her head, she kept thinking, an eagle! An EAGLE!
SCREECH! screamed the eagle.
“We’d better follow him now,” said Tony.
So they followed him through the forest and over the hills and through the fields of cows. The eagle led them to a diamond door in the side of the mountain by their house.
The eagle screeched and then said, “You must open the door together to enter the realm of magics!”
“How do we know we can trust you?” they asked.
“You just have to,” screeched the eagle.
They opened the door and saw elves and giants and dragons and ogres!
“You must see the queen first!” screeched the eagle in a high-pitched voice.
They went to the queen. And the queen said, “It is very nice to meet you. You may stay here for the rest of the night, but you must go as soon as you get tired.”
So they spent the night playing games with all the mythical creatures. And finally, it was time to leave. The dragons took them to their beds and they slept until morning.
“Let’s go back tomorrow night,” Madeline said to her brother at breakfast.
by Anaya H
The door creaked open and a flash of light greeted Alli as she peered around the door and saw a sun-filled library. She saw the library was full of old, dusty books. The air smelled citrusy. Alli pulled down an ancient leather volume entitled: The Book of Kings. “Huh, this looks interesting,” Alli murmured.
“That is a fine book!” said a voice.
“What?” gasped Alli, pivoting and saw an old lady in a flowing white dress sitting at a battered circulation desk “Who… who are you?” Alli asked fearfully.
“I am the guardian of knowledge. My name is Juliette.” the woman said.
“My... my name is Alli. What do you mean by ‘knowledge’?” Alli asked with raised eyebrows.
“I mean the knowledge of generations, written down for others to read.” Juliette responded.
“Oh. What’s in this?” Alli held up The Book of Kings.
“That contains the knowledge of ancient kings, triumphs and mistakes.” replied Juliette. “Can you tell me how you found the library?”
“I was exploring the barn, then I saw the doorknob, opened the door, and here I am.” Alli responded.
“Hmm. Thank you for that explanation. The library is found only by lovers of wisdom; usually children. Would you like to know more of my job?”
“Sure!” exclaimed Alli.
“My job is to protect these books from those who hate wisdom. I found the library when I was a child and I have stayed here. I need an apprentice to take over my job when I am too old to do so. Are you interested?” Juliette looked questioningly at Alli.
“Me? I can’t! My family …” Alli trailed off, looking at Juliette, who suddenly seemed older. Alli looked at the floor to hide her red face. Then she ran out of the library with The Book of Kings under her arm. Juliette cried after her: “Beware! The door may disappear! It was opened for a reason, yet it may vanish!”
That night in her bed, Alli read The Book of Kings. It was the best book she had ever read. The book told tales of wise kings, foolish princes, empires that rose and fell-the book was wisdom in its essence. Alli made a choice that night.
She ran back the next day, afraid the china doorknob wouldn’t be there. She ran, heart pounding wildly into the barn, climbed up to the hayloft and looked around desperately. Thank goodness! By the pitchfork she saw the beautiful china doorknob and ran into the library. “Juliette! I changed my mind!” she shouted. Juliette materialized next to Alli.
“Really? You have?’’ she cried. Alli nodded looking happy, yet sad.
“Can you make everyone’s memories of me disappear, like I never existed?’’
“I can.” Juliette shut her eyes, and a strong wind whipped though the library. “It is done.” Juliette said. Alli was wearing a dress like Juliette’s dress. Juliette squeezed Alli’s shoulder. “Are you prepared?” she asked.
“Yes,” said Alli in a solemn tone. They stood ready to share wisdom together.
by Elizabeth King
The door creaked open.
“I hear you, Bowich!”
Blossom never turned her head. She sat at the table, with perfect posture. Her fork clicked against her plate, uninterrupted, while she ate her breakfast, daintily. Her amber braid stayed still as, suddenly, a blueberry came flying over her shoulder and hit me in the forehead.
I stumbled backward and fell against the door, slamming it shut. Blossom giggled.
My sister was two years older than me, by all accounts smarter, and better at everything, including shape-shifting, which she was now tasked to teach me. That made her, officially, my tormentor.
“Throw some more. I’m hungry,” I said, wiping the juice off my forehead and licking my fingers.
“Don’t tempt me or I’ll throw the whole basket.” She brought me a napkin. “Now try again.”
“I’m serious. I’m hungry.”
I stared at the table, full of baskets of fruits, steaming tea and muffins. My mouth drooled. The food drew me toward it, until Blossom’s hand caught the collar of my shirt, yanking me back.
“Not until you get through that door without me hearing.”
“It’s impossible!” I cried. “You have ears like a bat. No one could get past you.”
Blossom smiled at the compliment, as though she didn’t get a dozen a day from all her admirers.
“Come on, Bowich. You can do it.”
“I can’t! I give up. I’ve tried everything there is.”
“No you haven’t.”
“I have. I turned into a worm, a gnat, a flea, but the door is too tight. I became a fly to try the keyhole but you left the key in it. There’s no way.”
“There’s always a way, brother. Think. Find a new angle.”
I crossed my arms and scowled at her until she dragged me to the door and shoved me out. The door slammed shut in my face and, this time, I heard the key turn in the lock.
“Hey!” I complained, pounding at the door.
“You can do it,” she assured me. “But you better hurry or I’ll eat all the berries.”
“No!” It came out as a howl. Without meaning to I’d turned myself into a wolf. I heard her laugh.
“If I die of hunger, I’ll come back as a ghost and haunt you!”
I closed my eyes and concentrated, hard. Was it even possible? Shifting shape was one thing, but could I give it up altogether? Could I become…smoke? Light? Air? Why not?
My body didn’t dissolve like I expected. It just separated, becoming bits so small it could pass through the door. I floated, unseen, to the table, hovering over the basket of berries. As I reached for the biggest, most beautiful one, I suddenly became solid again…and fell right in the basket, crushing it.
Blossom jumped back.
“You did it!” she cried, grinning at me with joy. “I knew you could! The berries are all yours.”
I smiled. “Please pass me a muffin for my jam.”
A Short Story by Arthur Daigle
Blowback the goblin threw himself to the dirt floor of his house when the front door was smashed in. He scrambled back as the human (it had to be a human) knelt down and forced his way in, knocking over furniture Blowback had built or liberated over the years. Cheap, flimsy chairs broke. His favorite and only table lost three legs, and the fourth one looked iffy. Blowback’s collection of wigs went next, kicked into the fireplace where they burst into flames. Note to self: keep oiled wigs away from open fire.
Terrified and wigless, Blowback ran for the back door. He’d nearly reached it when the human swung his sword and got it stuck in the nearest wall. It was lodged in good, and Blowback watched the human try to pull it out. One try, two tries, nothing, and on the third attempt the sword came out so suddenly that the man lost his balance and banged his head on the ceiling. He dropped to his knees, clutching his head with both hands.
Still standing by the back door, Blowback watched the invader groaning on his floor. “That looked painful.”
The human whimpered and tried to get up, then crumpled back to the floor. With the threat to his life temporarily over, Blowback studied his invader. He was a human, all right, male, youngish, dressed in leather armor and a heavy winter cloak. The man had lost his broad brimmed hat when he hit his head, showing messy brown hair with a generous helping of dandruff. His weapon was a short sword, well suited for tight quarters and showing a fair number of nicks.
Blowback had never seen the man before today. Was he a brigand? There were some on the roads these days, and winter was making them desperate. Had someone hired a cut-rate goblin hunter? That seemed more likely since brigands usually worked in groups.
Keeping well back in case of trouble, Blowback said, “Hi. I don’t think we’ve met.”
“What?” the man asked. He sounded irritable, as people who’ve rammed their heads into solid objects often do.
“My name is Blowback,” the goblin told his guest/assailant. Blowback was short, bald, and had wrinkly pale blue skin. This would be abnormal for most races, but goblin skin colors covered the rainbow, and several colors that had no place on it. His clothes were raggedy leather garments discarded long ago by a boy who’d outgrown them. Blowback was unarmed but had a few daggers and short clubs within easy reach. Even with weapons nearby, he far preferred running from conflicts rather than fighting. The small and weak know how such battles usually end. “Who are you?”
The man struggled to his knees. “Ofenos. Oh, that hurts.”
“Nice to meet you, Ofenos. It would be nicer if you hadn’t busted up my house. Is this about that chicken, because I apologized yesterday.”
Ofenos rubbed his bruised head. “Chicken? You stole a chicken?”
“Stole is such an ugly word,” Blowback said casually. “The chicken was a poor guest, so I returned it. The farmer was so grateful to get it back that it’s currently boiling in a soup. Farmers and livestock have a curious relationship.”
“Right, no chicken,” Ofenos muttered. He regained his earlier bravado and pointed his sword at Blowback. “Dinner is off, so let’s move on to dessert. Hand over your treasure or die here and now.”
“Treasure?” Blowback looked around his home. It was a single room twenty feet across and four feet high, dug into the side of a hill. The floor was packed dirt, while the walls and ceiling were reinforced with scrap lumber. His stone fireplace was small and barely warmed the house in such cold weather. He liked his house, but among other races it would be considered abject poverty.
“Gold, coins, gems, furs!”
“I think you hit your head a tad harder than is normally considered healthy. I’m a goblin, a race known for setting traps, causing mischief and otherwise being pests. Money and goblins seldom cross paths and never for long.”
“Don’t give me that!” Ofenos’ tone was a warning, and he edged closer to the goblin. “Goblins steal. You steal chickens.”
“I was offering it asylum. You’d think it would be grateful after what happened to the other chickens, but I turned it over to the authorities after what it did to my bed. Can we get back to this treasure misconception?”
Ofenos recovered his hat and put it on. “Look, cretin, I’m in a foul mood, I have an empty belly and emptier coin pouch. Mock me, lie to me or try to trick me, and so help me blood will flow this night. I’m giving you more chances than I should given what your foul kind has done.”
Reason wasn’t working, so Blowback fell back on the ancient goblin tradition of being obnoxious. “Excuse me, but there’s a door, table and three chairs in pieces, which kind of suggests who the troublemaker is here! Did you knock, because I didn’t hear a knock before you came in like a drunken ram! How’s your head?”
“Getting better. I don’t think there’s any bleeding. It’s a known fact that monsters living at the edge of civilized lands raid towns. You’re close enough to the town of Ethos that you could spit on it, so I know you’ve been looting their homes.”
Blowback grabbed a broken chair leg and jabbed it at the fireplace. His wigs had landed in it during the initial attack, and were replaced by ashes. “Yeah, I’ve been there, and you just torched my ‘loot’, Chucko! I had three very nice wigs to keep my head warm. It’s mighty cold outside, and thanks to you I’ve got nothing to put on my head.”
Ofenos folded his arms across his chest. “Don’t give me that load of bull plop! Am I supposed to believe you’d steal wigs and pass up gold and gems?”
Blowback rolled his eyes. “Have you been in Ethos? Not walked through it, I mean been in people’s houses. Last summer’s harvest was confiscated to feed the army. All of it! Men are so hungry they’re foraging in the wilderness for small game. They’re eating ground squirrels, which are admittedly pretty tasty, but they’re still rodents! Men with gold don’t eat rodents!”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Fine.” Blowback tossed aside the chair leg and marched out of his house.
“Where are you going?” Ofenos demanded.
“Outside! You think there’s money in my house? Good luck finding it.”
Blowback went out the door and came onto the side of the hill. It was dusk and cold and snowing a bit, little flakes that never add up to much. He stuffed his hands into his pockets to keep warm while Ofenos ransacked his house for treasure that wasn’t there. It was humiliating.
It also left him looking at the town of Ethos. Cooking fires burned at every house as men and women ate whatever scraps of food they could collect. A few men were still returning from distant fields and streams with snared birds, small mammals, the occasional fish and a few freshwater clams. Hunger had made them desperate, and for the first time in living memory they were competing with goblins for food.
Two more goblins hurried over. A red hued goblin with orange hair asked, “What happened? We heard a crash.”
Blowback pointed at his ruined door. “There’s a human in there trying to rob me. He thinks I have money.”
The red goblin scratched his head. “So…he’s an idiot.”
The second goblin was so covered in mismatched clothes that he had no exposed skin. He coughed up a hairball and asked, “Where’d he get a fool idea like that?”
“We rob humans, don’t you know,” Blowback said sarcastically. “It’s common knowledge, which makes me think ignorance is a virtue.”
“I’m surprised he found you,” the red goblin said. “Your front door was well camouflaged.”
“I’m surprised he didn’t leave a trail of breadcrumbs,” Blowback retorted. A broken chair came sailing out the front door to land in the thin dusting of snow. He watched it tumble down the hill and into the side of a peasant’s house. “I liked that chair. It was my favorite.”
Looking merry, the red goblin offered, “It wouldn’t be much work to bring the ceiling down on him.”
“And bury the few things I own he hasn’t smashed?” Blowback asked. “Have either of you got a wig to spare? I lost mine.”
The second goblin coughed up some yarn and shook his head. “Sorry. Is he going to attack everyone’s house? It’s bad enough you losing everything without the rest of us doing it.”
Blowback shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m not even sure why he’s doing it. I’ve never seen the guy before tonight. Maybe he’s just that poor and is wandering around looking for scraps. Lots of people are doing that. No joke, I saw a woman going through the mayor’s garbage before I got there. She didn’t leave me much.”
“It doesn’t bode well, and there’s another month until spring,” the red goblin said. “What if we smoked him out? Okay, your expression tells me the answer is no, but we could at least run in there and steal his pants. Come on, you got to teach him a lesson or he’ll do it again.”
Blowback’s attention returned to the town. Most of the houses were small and made of thatch. Most, but not all. The mayor’s residence was a large stone building, and ground squirrels were never part of his menu. Goblins were as a rule troublesome, ever ready to cause chaos, and after a night like this Blowback was ready to spread the misfortune to someone who deserved it.
Ofenos crawled out of Blowback’s house. The man was dirty and looked angry and confused. “I don’t get it. The adventurers’ guild told me there was money to be had in the countryside. Bounties, monsters, treasures to discover, but there’s nothing here.”
“You’re an adventurer?” Blowback asked.
“And an experienced one!” the man yelled back. Distant men heard him and hurried off. They’d caught some food and weren’t keen on being robbed. Getting louder and attracting even more attention, Ofenos added, “I’ve guarded caravans, protected important people, hunted devil rats—”
“And after all that you thought goblins had money,” Blowback interrupted. He saw Ofenos look at the two new goblins. Eager to forestall another mugging, he said, “They don’t have money, either.”
“Where would we have gotten this bonanza?” the red goblin asked. He pointed at the town and added, “Seriously, you have to know it wasn’t from there.”
“I don’t know, robbing travelers, digging up graves, eating adventurers,” Ofenos replied.
Blowback covered his face with one hand. “He thinks we eat people. Where are you getting this from? And I want names, not this ‘everybody knows’ nonsense! Some clod is telling gullible halfwits like you that we eat people, God only knows why when there are plenty of leather scraps at the tanners in town, and idiots are buying it! We have to put a stop to this before we invite people for dinner and they think they’re on the menu!”
Ofenos hesitated before asking, “You eat leather?”
“Among other things, none of which are people,” Blowback told him.
The second goblin coughed up a button. “Sorry. I’ve been trying to get that up all day.”
Ofenos looked miserable. He lifted his arms and let them drop to his sides. “This is impossible. It’s five days walk to the next town. What do I do if there’s no work there?”
“I’d be more worried about no food there,” the red goblin said.
“I’ve got debts!” Ofenos yelled. “Talfith Bank is going to send collection agents after me soon. Costing an arm and a leg isn’t a figure of speech with them.”
Feeling just a smidgen of sympathy, Blowback said, “Which explains why you need money so bad. The way I see it, you need cash and I need you out of my life. Fortunately I see a solution to both our problems.”
Ofenos’ jaw dropped. “You do? Where?”
“Come on. You guys come, too.”
Blowback led Ofenos and the two goblins into town. Goblins and strangers with swords would normally attract attention from the authorities. Tonight, however, they had the streets to themselves. It was dark and cold, and every door in town was locked and barred by frightened residents. The men and women had eked out just enough food to keep them alive for another day, and they weren’t going to risk losing it to thieves or monsters.
They reached the mayor’s house, a stone building two stories high and large enough for fifty people. This was a curious state given only eight humans lived there. Smoke rose from the chimney and carried the scent of roasting pork. The windows were closed but not shuttered, and light streamed out onto the snowy streets.
“This is the home of Mayor Cathem,” Blowback explained. “He’s the king’s representative in these parts and responsible for maintaining order and collecting taxes.”
“And he’ll hire me?” Ofenos asked.
Blowback frowned. Ofenos wasn’t connecting the dots and would need a hand. “No. Those taxes I mentioned were collected at knifepoint earlier this month and stored in a steel lockbox, about a foot long, half as wide and three inches deep. Royal tax collectors don’t come to town until spring, which gives the mayor plenty of time to skim off a percentage for himself like he does every year. You want gold? There it is.”
Ofenos took a step back. “Wait a minute! I’m an adventurer, not a thief!”
“I’m not seeing much of a difference after you tried to rob me earlier,” Blowback replied.
“It’s simple,” Ofenos said. “Rob a goblin, a monster, a criminal or some jabbering foreigner and no one cares. Some folks will even thank you. Rob a mayor and you’re a thief. The world comes down on your head, with knights and bounty hunters and adventurers and soldiers. They won’t ask for the money back. They’ll kill you and take it off your body!”
Blowback rolled his eyes. “Amateurs. The authorities can only hunt you if they know who you are. You’re new in town or I would have seen you before tonight. If you cover up your face nobody can identify you, and if you run fast you can reach the nearest city with tens of thousands of people before anyone comes after you. Nobody’s going to find you, or even know who to look for.”
Pointing a sword at the house, Ofenos asked, “That man is going to have soldiers to uphold the law. I can take two to one odds and win, but I can’t fight an entire town’s worth of soldiers.”
“They’re busy,” Blowback said. “I paid the mayor a visit last night and trapped the toilet.”
The red goblin smiled and pointed at Blowback. “That was you?”
“Marvelous work!” the other goblin said, and shook Blowback’s hand.
“The point is, on the way out I made some passing references to living in Fenti Bog,” Blowback continued. “This morning the mayor sent his soldiers to said bog to find and kill me. They’re miles away and no doubt cold, wet and angry. So, no soldiers.”
Ofenos looked at the mayor’s house. “No soldiers.”
“No soldiers and one lockbox full of cash,” Blowback said. He went to the nearest window and waved for Ofenos to join him. “Look over there. Those are brass candlestick holders. Do you know how much those go for? No seriously, how much?”
“A couple silver pieces,” Ofenos told him. “You get more for silver candlestick holders, and way more for gold ones.”
“The point is those shiny beauties are the same as money. And I see silverware on the table, and the mayor has a gold ring. This house is like a giant treasure chest filled with goodies. I bet you could pay off your entire debt to Talfith Bank with what’s here. All you have to do is bust in there, like you did at my place, not ram your head into a wall or ceiling, grab the loot and run for it.”
Ofenos backed up. “I don’t know.”
“What else can you do?” Blowback asked. “You can walk for days with no food to the next town and hope they have work, or someone you can legally rob. You can wander around here looking for monsters with cash or treasure, except there aren’t any. The last monster in the area was a griffin with no money, no gems or artwork, just a bad disposition. The townspeople ate him. Or you can go to your bank and ask them to be reasonable, or at least merciful.”
That suggestion made Ofenos and all three goblins burst out laughing. When they finished wiping tears of laughter from their eyes, Blowback said, “I’ll grant you the last choice was a joke, but you’re out of options. Look at it this way; you’re only doing it once. Tell your friends you beat up a monster and found all that nice stuff. They’ll believe you, because they’re so mind bogglingly stupid that they think goblins eat people. Nobody will know except us, and who believes goblins? And later on, when legitimate work for adventurers come up, you can keep your mouth shut about this and take the job.”
“I, uh,” Ofenos stammered. He stared at the house, drooling at the scent of cooking food. He took a scarf from a pocket, wrapped it over his mouth, and headed for the door.
Then he knocked.
Blowback’s jaw dropped. The red goblin shook his head. The last goblin put a hand over his face. But to their collective amazement, the door opened.
“Huzza!” Ofenos ran in with his sword drawn. Men and women screamed. The goblins didn’t follow him in, instead waiting outside to watch the chaos in relative safety.
The red goblin looked at Blowback. “You talked an adventurer who wanted to kill you into becoming a bandit and robbing the mayor. That, sir, was some mighty fine work.”
“I am feeling a bit of pride right now,” Blowback admitted. He saw a chair fly through a window, sending glass shards and broken furniture across the street. “It’s actually kind of nice watching him happen to someone else.”
The other goblin picked up a broken chair leg and chewed on it. “He’s got a real talent for needless violence. He’s also as bright as a coal pile. I think that boy’s got a bright future ahead of him in politics.”
“Hey, wait a minute, there’s making fun of a guy and there’s being offensive,” Blowback said. Another window shattered, and they heard pottery breaking inside the house. “He’s sure taking his time.”
“He’s being thorough,” the red goblin replied. “I mean, if you’re going to do it, do it right.”
Moments later, Ofenos ran out of the mayor’s house with no one in pursuit. He had a bag filled with loot over his right shoulder, the lockbox under his left arm and a pork roast under the other. Breathless, he ran off into the night, never to be seen again.
* * * * *
The next morning was a time of confusion. Soldiers returned from Fenti Bog dirty, tired, dispirited and hungry. They were immediately sent out again, except they had no idea where they were going. Mayor Cathem’s steward called together the entire population of the town. These men and women frankly had better things to do in such harsh times, and it showed on their faces. Goblins gathered at the edge of the crowd to see what was going on, including Blowback.
Blowback still had to repair his house and replace destroyed furniture, no easy task for a small goblin. It could take weeks or longer, using time better spent trapping outhouses or painting caricatures of famous people on the sides of cows. Still, meetings like this could be entertaining provided he kept out of sight, so he waited for the show to start.
The steward rang a bell to get the people’s attention and then began to speak. “Good people of Ethos, last night the honorable Mayor Cathem was brutally attacked in his own home. The intruder did assault him, his servants and his cat. The intruder also stole goods valued at—”
Mayor Cathem, a short, man with long white hair and fresh bandages, tugged on his steward’s coat sleeve and whispered to him. The steward frowned and asked, “How will they know what to bring you if I don’t tell them what was stolen? Okay, okay, you’re the boss. The intruder stole goods of value from your mayor, goods that must be recovered in their entirety. Any citizen or visitor who captures the intruder or returns the goods will be rewarded with—”
Another whispered conversation followed. The steward spoke loud enough that the crowd could hear him, making for a one sided and embarrassing conversation. “Sir, you have to offer a reward in these situations. Because they’re risking their lives for you! No, I do understand, it’s just with a little work you can…fine. What if you offered a deferred reward, like reducing their taxes next year? It’s not insane! I just think…”
The steward looked like he was about to snap, and with the soldiers gone again no one was present to protect the mayor if that happened. But with a superhuman level of restraint, the steward held back his rage. “You will receive the mayor’s thanks for returning his stolen property. Thanks cannot be inferred to mean money, livestock, food, tools, kitchenware, land, reduced taxation or anything else you might actually want. That is all.”
Blowback noticed a total lack of enthusiasm among the crowd as they dispersed. They had another long day of foraging for food ahead of them, and with no incentive they had zero interest in hunting down an armed robber. The mayor and his steward shared harsh words before leaving. But as they walked away, Blowback saw the mayor’s hairline go up an inch until he pulled it back down.
“That’s not his real hair,” Blowback whispered. He grinned and rubbed his hands together. He’d lost a lot last night, including his three wigs, and it looked like the dear mayor would be helping the goblin rebuild.
About the Author
Arthur Daigle is the author (no jokes, please, he’s heard them all) of five books set on the world of Other Place. These include William Bradshaw King of the Goblins, William Bradshaw and a Faint Hope, William Bradshaw and War Unending, William Bradshaw and Fool’s Gold, and Goblin Stories. Expect serious issues drowning in a sea of silliness, mayhem and outright madness. See goblins, the perennial losers of fantasy novels and games, be put into positions of importance no matter how hard they try to avoid it. Feel free to come visit, but watch your step for trip lines and pie traps.
A Short Story by Arthur Daigle
Callista the nymph had a hundred good reasons not to attend Duke Gallows’ party. Topping that list was the fact the duke had likely invited her solely as a sign of his power. After all, who but a mighty man could bring a magical being to his private estate? Then there was the equally insulting possibility he’d invited her to be gawked at by his rich and powerful friends. But his invitation mentioned that he’d requested an old friend of hers come, and there was a chance, be it ever so small, he wanted her presence for a legitimate reason. It was risky, but she’d decided to attend. In a few more minutes she’d learn whether or not that was a mistake.
The road to Duke Gallows’ private mansion was lined with the rich, the influential, and the dangerous. They were exiting carriages or dismounting horses now that they had arrived at the party (Callista lived only a few miles away and had walked). Mostly there were humans dressed in fashionable clothes and expensive jewelry. A few elves had come from the Yelinid Banking Cartel, and they were staying far away from a pair of stout dwarfs representing Industrial Magic Corporation.
Those were the intended guests, while their bodyguards made for a more diverse crowd. Most of the guards were humans wearing the wildest collection of armors and clothes, while their weapons were equally varied. Callista also counted three minotaurs, two ogres, four adolescent trolls, a stone golem and a darkling, its shadowy form constantly shifting. Guard animals were also common, with hounds, a griffin, a mimic, and some fool had brought a unicorn that was already straining at its reins to attack.
“Ah, Lady Callista,” an elf banker said as he approached. He had blond hair and wore the yellow and white robes common to his cartel. “I was unaware that such an august personality would be in attendance.”
Callista faked a smile and shook his hand. “You’re generous with your praise, but I claim no title of Lady. Just call me Callista.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.” The elf’s eyes roamed across her body, although thankfully his hands did not. “Our host was vague as to the reason for this event, but I can tell from our companions on the road that there must be something great in the works.”
“I’m sure it will be quite an evening.” She’d brought a sword in case it was too much of an evening. That had happened too often in her three hundred years, and there had been four parties she’d had to fight her way out of.
The dwarfs walked over, and one of them stepped on the elf’s foot. The banker howled and jumped up and down as the smirking dwarfs left. “There’s a line for a reason, you stunted freaks, and you were at the end of it!”
“The duke asked to see us personally,” a dwarf said. He glanced at Callista and nodded to her. “I’ll do what I can to get you in early as well. Leaving you with this lout is a form of torture.”
“The line is moving fast enough for me,” she told them. The sun was only starting to set as guests entered the mansion, and they’d all be inside soon. That was a pity. She’d been enjoying the landscaping. Duke Gallows had planted flowering trees along the road, and beyond that lay expertly manicured gardens and ponds teeming with brightly colored fish.
Someone yelled, “Look out!”
Callista rolled her eyes as the unicorn broke free and tried to impale the nearest guest. Those animals had a well-deserved reputation for being psychotically aggressive, yet men with more money than brains kept thinking they could tame them. The stone golem tackled it and dragged it to the ground, earning a smattering of applause.
The line kept moving until Callista was near the mansion’s entrance. She found human guards armed with swords and two attack dogs waiting for her. Smiling, she handed them her invitation.
“Hello Miss…ah,” he began, and the man’s jaw dropped.
It was a typical reaction. Callista possessed the otherworldly beauty found only among nymphs, and she moved with superhuman grace. Her figure was stunning. Her hair was gleaming silver, as if purest silver coins had been melted down and spun into thread. Her eyes were green. Elves said they were the color of finest jade. Men said they were like the deepest of forests. The last goblin that looked into her eyes had said, “If you’re going to throw up, aim for someone else.” It had made her laugh, a memory she drew upon in hard times.
Callista’s clothes were less impressive than her figure. She wore a white dress that covered everything except her face and fingers, a garment she saved for the rare times she went to social events. Her tailor had assured her that the dress allowed for a free range of motion, which had proven true in three fights. Her shoes were white with silver thread. She wore only one piece of jewelry, a fine silver chain necklace with two gold rings strung over it.
“Callista,” she prompted the guard.
“Yes, um, ma’am. You honor us with your presence.”
Callista looked at the dogs and smiled. “Aren’t they beautiful!”
“Ma’am, those aren’t lap dogs. They’re guard dogs trained to—”
The dogs lunged into her waiting arms and she hugged them. Their ears perked up, and their tails wagged so hard that the animals might take off and fly away. Both dogs rolled over to let her rub their stomachs.
The guard sighed. “Trained to sniff out goblins and keep them out of the party.”
“That is so cute,” Callista told him. She’d once spent a year living among goblins to avoid a king who considered kidnapping an acceptable form of courtship. That time gave her a good appreciation of what goblins could do, and it amused her that the guards thought dogs could keep them out.
The guard glanced at the sword strapped to her back. “Uh, ma’am, we’re under orders to collect weapons from the guests. We’ll look after it and return it when you leave.”
That made Callista pause. She didn’t like going unarmed. It encouraged bad behavior by worse people. Still, it was unlikely that someone would be so offensive that she’d need to cripple him when there were so many witnesses at hand. She reluctantly unstrapped the sword and scabbard and handed them over.
“You’ve got a fine weapon,” the first guard said. The sword wasn’t magical, but had been engraved with images of dragons and set with rubies and pearls.
“It dates to the Ancient Elf Empire and is a gift from my first husband,” she explained. Callista then pressed a finger against the guard’s chest. “I will be very upset if something should happen to it.”
“Uh, uh,” the man stammered.
“Your table is by the fountain,” a second guard said.
She smiled at them, causing the first guard to pass out (his fellow guard barely caught him in time), and then headed for her table. The mansion’s great hall could comfortably sit three hundred and was nearly full. She walked between tables seating men to be reckoned with, and every head turned to follow her. She saw a woman with a baby pressed against her shoulder. Callista smiled and stroked the baby’s cheek as she went by, making the little one laugh and wiggle.
Callista had to give Duke Gallows credit for the decorations. There were huge marble urns planted with gorgeous flowers. Tasteful paintings hung from the walls, and the statues of athletic men and women standing next to every column were masterfully carved. Musicians were placed across the room and filled the air with pleasant melodies. Maybe this night wouldn’t be a disaster.
Ahead of her was a young human couple that gave her pause. They stood side by side, the man’s arm around his wife’s waist as she held onto his hand. They laughed and exchanged loving glances. It stopped Callista in her tracks, but only for a moment. She continued on, whispering, “Be happy for them.”
She spotted a large fountain and a round table big enough to seat ten people. That had to be the one the guard had referred to. To her surprise, there was only one person sitting there, a girl of about fifteen with brown hair and wearing a red dress.
Smiling, Callista took her seat. “Hello there, I’m Callista.”
“Hi.” The girl’s shoulders slumped and she stared at her empty plate.
“Do I have to guess your name?”
“Oh, sorry. I’m Gail Heartstone.”
Waiters walked between the tables and set down platters of food. Callista smiled and thanked them when they brought roast pheasant garnished with potatoes, onions and shallots. “Well, Gail, it seems we have this feast to ourselves for the moment, so let me serve you. Breast or thigh?”
Gail didn’t answer right away. Callista sliced off a generous portion for herself and kept smiling. “You’re young to come to a party on your own.”
“I’m not alone, sort of not alone. My dad is with the duke. He’s trying to impress him with how important our family is so the duke will order one of his sons to marry me. Thigh meat.”
“That’s depressing. Here you go, one leg of pheasant. And your mother?”
“Mother went to…oh God, not again.” Callista followed Gail’s gaze, where a woman strongly resembling Gail sat at a bar. Gail blushed and put her face into her hands. “She promised she wouldn’t drink tonight!”
“And I thought I was going to have a rough time.” Callista sat down next to Gail and put an arm around her shoulders. “Don’t worry. It will get better in time.”
“How? My father is bartering my life like I’m a poker chip. My mother is going to get drunk, again, and embarrass the whole family. There’s nothing I do to stop either of them. Nobody else can, either. It’s been like this for two years.”
“Shh, it’s okay.” Callista took Gail by the chin and made her look up. “Your father isn’t going to marry you into the duke’s family tonight or ever. I’ve heard of the Heartstones. You’re prosperous and well thought of. You are not, however, in the same league as the duke. His sons are destined for arranged marriages with rich, well-connected women. You’re safe for now.”
Gail’s face practically lit up. “You’re sure?”
“Positive. This is one of those times where not being good enough is a good thing. As for your mother, this isn’t the first time I’ve been to an event where someone overindulged. You and I will see half the people here staggering like toddlers in an hour, and many are going to be too drunk to stand. It’s a sad problem, but not a rare one.”
“It’s something.” Gail cut up her food and started eating. “I’ve heard of you, too. Where’s the lucky guy who came with you?”
Waiters brought more platters, this time heaped with beef roasts garnished with carrots and tomatoes. To their credit, the waiters didn’t stare at her too long. Callista took a small portion and handed the platter to Gail. “I came alone, and before you ask, I plan on leaving alone.”
“I wasn’t going there,” Gail promised. Curious, she asked, “Seriously, you couldn’t get a date? There’s got to be a thousand men who’d give anything to be seen with you.”
“The number is a good deal higher than that.” Callista saw a waiter walk by with bowls of fresh peaches. That was a favorite of hers. She was going to ask if he could leave it at her table when a young man hurried over and brought her the bowl.
“Miss Callista, uh, ma’am, here, let me get that for you.” He placed it on the table to her left and took a step back.
“Why Max, look how you’ve grown,” Callista said cheerfully. “Gail, this is Max Dalstay. He’s the son of a friend of mine. Max, this is Gail Heartstone.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Max said. At sixteen, Max was handsome but still growing into manhood. He had a slender build and black hair, and dressed in dark clothes. Quickly turning his attention back to Callista, he said, “I’d have come sooner, but my family is seated across the room and I only just saw you. Can I get you anything?”
Gail stifled a laugh as Callista replied. “That’s sweet of you, Max. Gail and I are doing just fine. Is your father about? Oh, silly question, he’s behind you. Bernard, hello!”
Bernard Dalstay put a hand on his son’s shoulder, and the youth yelped in surprise. The family resemblance was striking, although Bernard was more muscular than his son. The raven haired man had an animal magnetism that bordered on magic, and he drew admiring looks from nearby women (including Gail).
“Dad, I was just saying hi to Miss Callista.”
“That’s kind of you,” his father said. He had a deep voice that commanded respect, and he gently turned his son around. “Our dinner is fast turning into a negotiation with the duke, and he’ll expect to see you with us. Come.”
“But we haven’t seen her in years! It’s rude not to say hello!”
“The night’s young, boy, and you’ll have time to reacquaint yourself later. Now join your mother.”
Bernard’s tone made it clear the matter was closed, and Max reluctantly left. Bernard was about to go as well when Callista said, “He’s the splitting image of you, in every way.”
“What was that about?” Gail asked once they were gone.
“History repeating itself. I first met Bernard at Imperial University when he was eighteen. He came to me several times asking questions, most of which had nothing to do with his studies. Two days later he asked me to marry him.”
Gail burst out laughing. “No!”
“And he repeated the request at every opportunity for the next year and a half.” Callista waved for a waiter to come over.
Gail watched Bernard work his way across the room “He moves like a tiger. You said no to that?”
“It wasn’t easy. It’s never easy. Waiter, could you please bring my friend and I something to drink with our meal?”
“Of course, ma’am.”
Once the waiter had left, Gail asked, “So what happened?”
“Bernard wasn’t giving up without a fight, metaphorically speaking. It took some time, but I managed to introduce him to a young lady from a good family, who is today Mrs. Dalstay and mother to his children. I’ve kept in contact with her over the years, and according to her letters life is very good. You have simply got to admire the woman’s stamina.”
Gail’s expression was blank. “I don’t get it.”
“You will when you’re older, dear. I met Max three years ago. As you can see, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.”
“He’s trying to flirt with you when he’s so much younger than you are.”
The waiter came back with a decanter of wine and two glasses. Callista accepted them and said, “I’m three hundred years old. Everyone’s younger than I am.”
Callista felt something brush against her leg. Casually as possible, she picked up a bone from the pheasant and slipped it under the table. An unseen hand took it from her, and she heard a soft munching. She smiled. Goblin sniffing dogs indeed!
Gail watched Bernard and Max from across the room. “If he’d been older when you first met, would you have said yes? I’m sorry to pry like this, but marriage has been coming up a lot around the dinner table at home, and I’m curious.”
“It’s a fair question, and since we don’t have an audience I don’t mind answering it. Bernard is a good man, hard working, fair to the men under him and kind to his children. If he’d been older when we first met, though, I would have still said no.”
Callista was tempted not to answer, but she could tell that Gail was scared for her future. The nymph had been scared many times before and wished it on no one, so she reluctantly replied while she poured drinks for them both.
“Gail, how much do you know about me?”
“Not much. People say you’re pretty, that you’ll never grow old, that animals love you even if they’re wild, and that you’re nice, but not much more than that.”
“The nice part might not be correct.” Callista took a sip of wine and swirled it in her mouth. “I have been married twice. The first time was to a captain of a warship. Martin Starlit. You, you would have liked him, Gail. He was a commoner who worked his way up through the ranks. He never lost his connection to the people, not the way some men do when they gain power.”
She stopped to look at Gail. “He was the one who taught me how to speak the human language. I learned so much from him about the sea and ships, and about fighting. You’ll never guess how many hours he spent showing me how to defend myself. We were so happy together no matter how many men tried to come between us.”
This was difficult for Callista to talk about. She went through her memories until she found a time when Martin had comforted her so long ago. “This is hard. I know. It was hard for me when I went through it. But I know you and I know what you’re capable of. You can get through this.” There, that stemmed the flow of tears.
“Time happened, Gail. We were married for thirty-one years. Three thousand years together wouldn’t have satisfied me. He grew old and I didn’t. One day he died. It wasn’t in battle or from his ship sinking. Those would have never killed him. He just passed away in his sleep.”
Callista felt something brush against her leg, but this time it was different. Tiny hands grasped onto her. Looking down, she saw a small boy of perhaps eighteen months holding her leg. He wore simple white clothes and had an unruly mop of brown hair, brown eyes, and an infectious smile.
“Why Gail, we’ve got a visitor! Hello there, little man!”
Callista scooped up the child and sat him down on the table. Gail grinned and reached over to stroke his hair. The boy laughed and grabbed her fingers. “Hi there! What’s your name?”
The boy didn’t answer. Instead he smiled and steadied himself by grabbing Callista’s wrists.
“He’s too young to talk yet,” Callista said. She felt a sudden impish urge, and tucked a napkin into the back of the boy’s shirt. “There you go. You’ve got a cape. Important men like you should always wear a cape.”
“Ooh, let’s give him a spoon,” Gail said. Once she’d armed him, the boy eagerly whacked the spoon against the table. Bang, bang, bang.
“Do you have brothers, Gail?”
Gail handed the boy another spoon, and he banged both against the table before throwing them away. “Two of them, and a sister. They’re in almost as much trouble as me. Father has plans for us that don’t involve letting us choose who we’re being married to. I’m just the first one to get auctioned off to the highest bidder.”
“Dear, don’t joke about that.”
“Sorry. It just feels that way sometimes. Let me hold him!”
Callista tried to pass the boy off, but he was having none of it. He grabbed onto the nymph again and pulled himself into her lap. She gave up trying to move him and instead cuddled the child. Memories flooded back of times she’d held her own children, fed them, consoled them, taught them.
“Children are so uncomplicated,” the nymph said. “They want love and their basic needs met, nothing more. If you gave this boy a gold necklace he’d try to eat it, and throw it away when he realized he couldn’t.”
A woman in a blue dress marched up to them and scowled. Callista stood up and faked a smile. “Is this young man with you?”
“Yes, he is,” she said tartly.
“Sorry,” Gail said sheepishly. “We would have returned him, but we didn’t know who to give him back to.”
The woman took her son. “I can’t turn my back for a second without Hank running off. He doesn’t much care which woman is holding him.” Her tone was pure acid when she added, “Rather like his father that way.”
They waited until the woman was a safe distance away before Gail said, “See, that’s why I worry about being married off.”
“I can’t help if you’re looking for advice on dealing with bad marriages. Both of mine worked out.”
“About your other marriage. I mean, I hope I’m not pushing.”
Waiters came with more platters of food. This time they brought steaks with sharp knives to cut them, meat pies, loaves of bread drizzled with honey, and vegetable soup. There wasn’t room left on the table for anything but their plates and the plates of their still missing fellow diners.
“There’s enough food here for twenty people,” Gail said. “How much do they expect us to eat?”
“It’s considered good manners to overfeed guests at these kinds of parties,” Callista explained. “You give them so much that they can pick and choose. Leftovers go to the staff, and the bones and fruit peelings are eaten by goblins.”
Gail laughed. “You won’t find a goblin within ten miles of this place! The guards and dogs will keep them out.”
“Guards, dogs, magic wards, goblin confounding talismans, and I think I saw someone pouring piles of kitchen scraps outside to distract them. It didn’t work.”
“Didn’t? What do you mean didn’t?”
A voice under the table said, “Pass the mayo.”
Callista took a small dish of mayonnaise off the table and placed it on the floor, where a pale blue grubby hand pulled it under the table. She also dropped a handful of bones, which the goblin also took. Gail opened her mouth to scream, but Callista pressed two fingers against the girl’s lips.
“The other guests are having such a good time. Let’s not ruin it.”
Callista decided to continue answering Gail’s original question to distract the girl from causing a scene. “My second husband was Anthony Bester. He grew the best grapes and mixed the finest wines, and it took a lawsuit to get the elves to stop claiming otherwise. I met him when I was still dealing with the loss of my first husband. Specifically, he took the glass of wine I was drinking and poured it down a sewer.”
“He did what?”
“You had to have been there to understand.”
Memories flowed over her of the moment when Anthony had said, “Good God, woman, if you’re going to get falling down drunk again, at least drink decent wine. Here, try this.”
“Anthony was a widower, so he knew what I was going through,” Callista continued. “He taught me a lot about wine and grapes, and about dealing with loss. We were married twelve years when he passed away. There were thousands of men that plague could have taken and left the world a better place, and it had to take Anthony.”
Gail looked to be on the verge of tears. “You lost both your husbands?”
“I’m ageless, Gail, ever young, ever beautiful, and ever losing those who matter to me. I outlived my husbands, and the children we had together. They didn’t inherit my agelessness, and I watched them age and die, and then saw the same thing happen to our grandchildren. That’s the reason I haven’t taken another husband. It’s not because there’s no one worthy. When Bernard Dalstay proposed to me he was young, strong, handsome, and more importantly I knew he was a good man. I turned him down because I couldn’t go through that again. I couldn’t watch him weaken and die like Martin and Anthony. It’s too much.
“I have perfect memory. I remember everything that happened during my marriages. Every minute we spent together, every word we said, every touch is stored in my mind as if it happened yesterday. If I could forget it somehow maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, but I can’t, and there are days it hurts so much.”
Callista looked at her meal. Magnificent as it was, she found herself with no appetite. “It’s made having friends hard, too. I’ve had so many over the years and outlived them as well. There were years I attended one funeral after another. These days I try to stay as professional as I can with others and maintain my distance. I’ve found a few beings that enjoy long lives, like gnomes and dwarfs, and one dragon, and we spend time together. I don’t want to shut myself away from the world. I know Martin and Anthony wouldn’t want that, but sometimes it’s so hard when I know that all I see is going to pass away and I won’t.”
It was strange. The room was filling to capacity with revelers, many of them drunk and getting loud. The musicians played louder to be heard over the clatter of silverware and people talking. Somehow, in spite of all that noise, there was a profound quiet at Callista and Gail’s table.
“I’m sorry,” Callista said softly. “It wasn’t fair of me to burden you with that. I keep thinking I’ve dealt with these feelings, and then something comes up and dredges them back to the surface.”
“It’s okay,” Gail told her. “Um, what do you do when men are…interested in you, and you’re not interested in them?”
“That’s become a specialty of mine. The nice ones take no for an answer. I redirect the persistent ones, like I did with Bernard. It’s not easy, but I can do it. I’m not gentle with the ones who aren’t nice. I can give as well as I get, and I’ve got more experience dishing out abuse than nearly everyone on this world. As for the really obnoxious ones, I’ve maimed more than a few.”
Gail dropped her silverware. “What?”
“Martin taught me how to fight like my life depends on it. I’ve taken lessons from others on combat over the centuries, always the best in their fields. There aren’t many who can fight me and win. It helps that the magistrates in my home city have been understanding when I have to send someone to a healer.”
There was a savage satisfaction when she replayed a memory in her mind of the last time that had happened. “This is the fifth time as magistrate that I’ve had to discipline a man for trying to force his attention on Callista the nymph. Admittedly this is the first time the defendant wasn’t able to stand, speak, or maintain bladder control after the beating she inflicted. I’ll take that into consideration during your sentencing.”
“That’s got to make parties like this hard for you,” Gail replied. “All the people drinking too much and acting dumber the more they drink.”
“You have no idea. It used to be fun when I went to parties with Martin and Anthony. Martin never liked celebrations and ended up spending his time with the staff. He’d get them singing and laughing so much that they had a better time than the guests. As for Anthony, if he was here he’d be complaining about the wine, and he wouldn’t be shy about it.”
Callista took a sip of wine and frowned. “Oh yes.”
Memories of Anthony came back and made her smile again. “This wine isn’t supposed to be served with roast pork. It should have been served to the pig.”
There was a sudden crash from across the room where the bar was. Gail slid down in her chair in a desperate bid to hide. “That was my mother, wasn’t it?”
Callista stroked Gail’s hair. “She’s okay. Someone’s helping her up.”
With the conversation paused by Gail’s humiliation, Callista took a moment to study the room. Many of the tables were only partly occupied since so many guests were milling about in large groups and gossiping. The largest group was centered around Duke Gallows and included at least fifty people vying for his attention. But to her surprise and delight, a white haired gnome in a tuxedo walked around the crowds to join her.
“Fiddler Plast, you rogue!” Callista called out as she rose to greet him. “It’s been ages. You look wonderful.”
Plast bowed at the waist and climbed into a chair next to her. The duke’s servants had thoughtfully provided a footstool for the gnome, and he reached his place without difficulty. “I’d say the same to you, but it would be redundant. You look as you always do, Callista, the personification of beauty. Ah, our host was kind enough to provide adequate sustenance for the evening. If you could be so kind as to pass the rest of the pheasant?”
Gail did so, and watched in awe as Plast devoured every last scrap of meat on the bird. He proceeded to crack open the bones and scoop out the marrow, then drained the decanter of wine to wash it down. The gnome reached for the nearest full platter and said, “I’m pleased you could make it. I have developed a mathematical formula that I hope will explain the movements of the constellation Erving the Marmoset. As I doubt the duke will have anything of relevance to say tonight, I hope we can spend a few hours discussing the matter.”
“I’d love to, but Gail and I—”
“Are finished,” Gail said. “You answered all my questions and more, and if this makes you happy then I don’t want to keep you from it. I didn’t even know you were interested in the stars.”
Plast laughed so hard he nearly fell out of his chair. Gail’s face shifted from embarrassment to anger and back again before she asked, “What’s so funny?””
“I’m a professor of astronomy at Imperial University,” Callista explained.
Gail’s jaw dropped. “You’re an astronomer?”
“A girl’s got to do something to earn a living.”
Putting two and two together, Gail said, “So when you said you met Bernard Dalstay at Imperial University, he was in one of your classes.”
“My lectures are always well attended, sometimes by people actually interested in Astronomy. Fiddler Plast is a fellow astronomer who built the largest telescope in the kingdom, and kindly lets me use it.” Callista was about to tell Gail about her job when a most unwelcome face appeared in the crowd. “Dear God, it’s Lord Bryce.”
“What’s that idiot doing here?” Plast demanded as he continued serving himself.
A voice called out from under the table, “Quick, pretend you’re dead.”
Lord Bryce was a lesser nobleman but possessed wealth that few could rival. Between his riches and high birth he was an absolute bore on a good day, and a pompous, lecherous malcontent the rest of the time. He had good looks and dressed in fashionable clothes with a touch of jewelry. Such a fine appearance fooled people meeting him for the first time.
Lord Bryce’s passing drew notice from the other guests, but not their approval. No one invited him to join them or engaged him in conversation. Most looked away when he neared them, a sign of unofficial disapproval among the rich. It didn’t bother Lord Bryce in the slightest. He noticed their snub, but instead of anger or embarrassment, he showed only smug certainty.
“Callista, how good to see you again,” Lord Bryce began as he approached their table. He could be charming for short periods of time, but it never lasted. “The time since our last meeting has been far too long, and I hungered for the chance to see you again.”
“The last time we met, you were ejected from university grounds and then banned from them entirely,” Callista replied. She had learned thousands of insults over the last three hundred years and was sorely tempted to use them. Instead she kept her voice calm and tried to end the conversation without stirring up trouble.
“You do have the most odious men running that establishment. They have no sense of humor or knowledge of their rightful place.” Lord Bryce put a hand on her shoulder and gave her a predatory smile. “Thankfully this time we can spend time together without interruption by lesser minds.”
Keep calm, she repeated to herself. She’d dealt with many men like Lord Bryce. Keep calm. “Duke Gallows invited us both for a reason I’m sure he intends to share, and that allows no opportunity for private affairs.”
“Gallows is busy and will remain so for hours,” Lord Bryce replied with a smirk. “That leaves time enough for us and an estate large enough to spend it alone.”
Keeping calm, very calm. She could smell alcohol on his breath, and he would be even less reasonable drunk than normal. “I fear I must remind you that while these are private grounds rather than public, the behavior that cost you your place at Imperial University would be no more appreciated here than it was there. Your hand, remove it.”
Fiddler Plast didn’t look up from his plate, now filled with food. “You’re not among commoners this time, Bryce. Make a fool of yourself among your peers and the consequences are going to be massive.”
“It’s Lord Bryce,” he corrected the gnome through clenched teeth, “and my words aren’t directed to someone beneath me in every possible way.”
Plast chuckled. “Racial slurs. I didn’t see that coming. Oh, wait, yes I did, because you talk like that to everyone all the time.”
Callista took Lord Bryce’s hand resting on her shoulder. For a second he smiled, but that disappeared when she slid his hand back to his side. “There are limits to my patience, and you reached them. Kindly return to your table and I’ll make no mention of this to our host.”
Lord Bryce’s face turned red. “I will not be talked to this way. I will not be treated like a servant. You may no more dismiss me than you can stop the tide!”
Nearby guests turned in surprise as Lord Bryce grew louder. Gail sunk into her chair, trying to avoid notice. Plast stopped eating and gripped his fork and knife like weapons. The goblin under the table ran, but only far enough to retrieve two more goblins hiding beneath another table.
Lord Bryce grabbed Callista by the shoulders and turned her around so she had to look at him. “You conniving vixen! The others here may be fooled into thinking you are a lady of class, a woman of distinction, but I know your history! You gave yourself to a penniless bilge rat pretending to be a captain, and then a drunk while your first husband’s body was still warm! You let wretched men of no breeding have you and turn down your betters? The nerve!”
Memories of her husbands crashed into Callista like an avalanche. She remembered how they’d fought for her, defended her from monsters like Lord Bryce, protected her in court when she’d had to defend herself. She remembered their deaths, the agony of it fresh like a knife wound, the pain of knowing she’d go on living, not for decades but for centuries or even millennia, every day of it without them.
The pain mixed with her loathing of Lord Bryce and hundreds of men like him she’d met over the centuries. This, this dog! This drunken, inbred, idiotic blight on humanity! Martin and Anthony were a hundred times the man Lord Bryce was, and to have this cretin smear their good names in front of everyone!
“How dare you!” Callista screamed. She slapped him. Hard. Then she kneed him in the crotch. Lord Bryce staggered back, which saved him from the worst of the kick she aimed at his head. The blow could have broken his jaw but instead only split his lip.
The three goblins attacked him, kicking him in the shins and stomping on his feet. At three feet tall the dirty little creatures couldn’t reach much higher and hadn’t come armed for a fight. Lord Bryce howled in outrage and knocked them aside before balling his hands into fists and charging Callista. Plast jumped from his chair and moved to help her. Poor dear Plast, he didn’t realize who really needed protection.
The guards at the mansion’s entrance may have confiscated Callista’s sword, but her first husband had taught her to improvise. The steak knives at the table were five inches long and looked freshly sharpened. That would do nicely. She snatched the nearest knife and threw it at Lord Bryce’s throat.
Time seemed to freeze. The knife sailed through the air. Lord Bryce didn’t see it coming and so didn’t try to dodge. It would have killed him except a blur of black slammed into him. It was Max Dalstay, lighter than his enemy but running so fast he knocked them both to the floor. Max rolled off as Lord Bryce screamed and staggered to his feet.
Men ran in and got between Lord Bryce and Callista. Two guards grabbed him and shoved him against a wall. Bernard Dalstay ran over only seconds behind his son, just in time to see Lord Bryce burst free and come after Callista again.
“Get out of my way!” Lord Bryce’s voice was hateful, animalistic.
Bernard Dalstay stood his ground, with Callista and his son behind him. His voice was soft yet still commanded respect when he answered. “Walk away while you still can.”
The guard came back with reinforcements and seized Lord Bryce. They held him while a crowd gathered and Duke Gallows came. The Duke was an older man in formal wear, and the look on his face would have terrified a lion.
“Bryce, you idiot! I knew your reputation for womanizing and placed you as far from Professor Callista as humanly possible. I thought you’d have the common sense to not make a fool of yourself yet again.”
“How can you place the blame on me when Dalstay’s brat struck me?” Lord Bryce demanded.
“He was saving your miserable life.” Duke Gallows marched over to the wall behind Lord Bryce and pulled out the knife embedded in it. Marching back to Lord Bryce, the duke tossed the knife to the floor at the man’s feet. “Had he been a second slower you’d be dead.”
No one in the room believed the story, and they politely agreed that was exactly what had happened. It was a convenient lie that let Max Dalstay avoid the repercussions of attacking a man his equal and the potential blood feud that would entail. But that didn’t end the matter. All eyes remained on the duke, for he was their host and the highest-ranking man in the room. Enough of them had seen and heard Lord Bryce that his actions couldn’t be easily swept under the rug or explained away.
“Callista, may I offer my most profound apologies,” Duke Gallows said. “Your attendance was a gift, and your generosity in coming was poorly repaid. I understand if you wish to leave after such an incident, but I would consider it a personal favor if you would remain. As for you, Bryce, guards, take him outside. I’ll deal with this myself.”
“You can’t do this!” Lord Bryce yelled as he was dragged off. Clearly the duke could, especially in his own home. It was actually a kindness since they’d be able to settle things without witnesses.
Callista sank back into her chair, physically and emotionally exhausted. Why did social events keep turning into battlefields? The other guests drifted off and learned that scores of goblins who’d snuck into the party had taken the opportunity to rifle through their purses, coats, wallets and anything else they’d left at their tables when they ran to watch the commotion. Plast patted Callista on the arm and then sat down himself.
Not far away, Bernard Dalstay told his son, “You could have been killed just now.”
Looking miserable, Max asked, “What else could I do?”
“Nothing, son, nothing. Go back and tell your mother that you’re okay.”
Bernard Dalstay was about to leave when Callista said, “He’s your son, all right.”
Bernard smiled and his chest puffed out in fatherly pride. “That he is.”
Watching them leave, it occurred to Callista just how much trouble she was in. Not for hitting and nearly killing Lord Bryce. That idiot was reaching the limits of how much trouble his money and family connections could buy him out of. His peers had not ignored his behavior up to this point, but they’d been quiet in their disapproval. Causing such a scene publicly made that impossible, and Lord Bryce would soon find himself a pariah.
The problem was going to be Max Dalstay. He’d been seated at the other end of the room and still came running to the rescue, even if he hadn’t saved the person he’d intended to. She’d hoped his interest in her was a passing thing, but what he’d done tonight bordered on the heroic. Clearly he wasn’t going to just let his infatuation go. It could take years to dissuade the boy, and he might never give up on her. What was she to do?
“Did you see that?” Gail asked. She was looking at Max as he left. “He took on a man twice as big as himself.”
Callista was about to correct Gail on the difference in size (Max being more like two thirds Lord Bryce’s weight) when she smiled instead. Maybe this time it wouldn’t be hard to redirect a man’s attention, and do Gail a good turn at the same time.
“Wasn’t that brave of him?” Callista asked. “You’ll never guess what his family does for a living.”
About the Author
Arthur Daigle is the author (no jokes, please, he’s heard them all) of five books set on the world of Other Place. These include William Bradshaw King of the Goblins, William Bradshaw and a Faint Hope, William Bradshaw and War Unending, William Bradshaw and Fool’s Gold, and Goblin Stories. Expect serious issues drowning in a sea of silliness, mayhem and outright madness. See goblins, the perennial losers of fantasy novels and games, be put into positions of importance no matter how hard they try to avoid it. Feel free to come visit, but watch your step for trip lines and pie traps.
A blog about all things fantasy from the elements we all love to how to write it. Posts are from our very own Fellowship of Fantasy authors.