A wiry man crossed the avenue and limped under City Park’s arched gate to admire fresh holly wreaths. Gravel crunched under his pointy black boots. “This could be fun.” He raked one hand through the platinum streak at his temple and plucked a glittery ornament from the winding path. “Hard to believe so many rotten children don’t believe I exist.” Behind him, impending sunset glowed through tangled boughs and draped Spanish moss. “In exactly one week, their nightmares will come true.” He crushed the cardboard Papa Noël in his fist. “Yessss…positively jolly fun.”
“Halt, beast!” Cloaked in a flowing sapphire habit, the figure emerged from an ancient grove. She strode through the cathedral of sweeping oaks and blocked his progress. “Not in my city, sir.”
“And who’s going to stop me? You?” The man snickered and offered his bony hand in friendship. “I don’t think we’ve had the pleasure.”
“I’m Charmaine Roussel.” She flicked her gaze to his mock greeting and then locked her eyes with his. “I’m aware of what you are and you know bloody well I’m not alone.”
“Do I?” The man turned and doubled over with laughter. “So, your back-up appears to be a nurse who has clearly never held a pistol before and a crone waving her crooked stick. With all due respect, Mademoiselle Charmaine…” He struggled to compose himself. “You don’t stand a chance.”
“Shoot it.” Charmaine glanced at the trembling nurse. He might look like a normal man, but it’s a disguise. “Shoot now!”
The first bullet flew wide but the next two rounds blasted through the man’s ribs. He dropped to one knee as the swamp around them swallowed the sharp noise and spat back pulsating silence.
“Leave now and I’ll spare your life.” Charmaine gritted her teeth. “You’ve been banned from this city for a century.”
“Oh, the mighty New Orleans…how she has fallen.” The man shrugged a heavy cloak off his hunched shoulders. His fingers plunged into the wound, ripped out the bullet and tossed it into the underbrush. “Seven years of mourning and seven years of weakness after an incompetent fool killed your Duke. Once a coward, always a—”
The elderly woman wailed, stood straight and wielded her cane like a sword, blasting a ball of blue fire that ripped the man from the ground. He slammed back down in a smoldering fractured heap.
Charmaine crossed her arms with precision. “You were saying?”
The groan that escaped his twitching lips descended into a growl as black hair twisted into horns. For a few seconds, the misshapen head of an animal loomed in blue-grey smoke. “Savior of the soldiers, defender of the innocent, care-giver to the hopeless…” A human face fought back while the figure staggered. His eyes glowed a crimson hue only found in the deepest embers of the devil’s fireplace. “I think your Duke was a fraud.”
“Demon!” The nurse tossed her gun aside and grabbed the old woman’s cane, waving it at the beast’s face as if stoking the flames in his skull. “Show yourself!”
Invisible ripples of power exploded through the emerald canopy while the sky beyond plummeted into deep purple. At the moment of sunset, a vampire with tasseled gloves stepped from behind a massive tree trunk and fired her crossbow. A solid gold bolt lodged in the man’s neck. His body twisted and swelled until the fabric of his clothes ripped free revealing the coarse fur of a demented goat. He pawed one cloven hoof and bared warped fangs before lunging at his attackers.
Charmaine took two steps, reached under her habit and drove a swirled blade into the beast’s heart with her final stride. Time flickered and the ground thundered as the creature collapsed to the muddy pebbles, swirling his split viper’s tongue around her ankles.
Four women—a nun, a nurse, a witch and a vampire—stood over the writhing body. In unison, they grabbed the blade’s carved hilt and twisted until the demon disintegrated.
“I’ll take back the Duke’s knife.” Charmaine plucked her weapon from the ash. “Bonne nuit, Monsieur Krampus.”
If you enjoyed this Holiday Lagniappe from theMonsters & AngelsRealm, catch up on the saga...
Most writers choose the endings to their stories . . . most writers are not Weavers.
Laney Holden is a freshman at Madison College whose life goes from normal to paranormal in a matter of seconds. When the antagonist in the book she’s writing shoves her down the stairs at the subway station, she learns she is a Weaver. Weavers bridge the narrow gap between fantasy and reality, bringing their words to life.
Laney soon meets William whom she also suspects is a character from her book—one she’s had a mad crush on since her pen hit the paper. But he’s in danger as her antagonist reveals a whole different ending planned for Laney’s book that involves killing William. Laney must use her writing to save the people closest to her by weaving the most difficult words she will ever write.
THE WEAVER is the first installment of The Weaver trilogy. It is an NA paranormal romance set in a small town on the north shore of Boston. It will leave you wanting more…
~a silly story about a great kingdom and the power of love~ aka: another tale of Luke and Laura
by Elizabeth L. Lemons
WORDS TO USE: Avalon lake crossbow comrade corruption enfold disgraceful grass orphan list
Once upon a time, in a groovy era filled with free love and flower power, Woodstock and presidential corruption, there existed a tiny yet lovely island known as Avalon. Surrounded by shining blue lake waters, this petite fantasy island was known by most households during the 1970’s due to the quotable declarations of a small man on television as he exclaimed, “The plane, the plane!” Anyway, known in the royal history books as “the age of Court Charles”, here on this wee island great meetings were held in the Mouse Castle, where the King’s knights would sit around a custom-created round table made entirely of driftwood and beaver boards. This particular legendary table had been built by one of the local area river rats’ finest artisans whose name was Lucky Charles. To commemorate its creator’s name, the legendary Court Charles Round Table gatherings were born. This fine table was a representation of the King’s intent to bar corruption as had been witnessed in previous disgraceful reigns. The extraordinary table’s design allowed that no one sat at the head of the table, that no one creature was head over another, that each voice garnered equal merit, and even the King himself included his own decisions to be discussed and voted on by his respected rodent Knights that sat round in advisement. This new-fangled practice allowed justice and fair treatment to all the mice of the land. The desire for a better kind of kingdom where every teeny voice could be heard was the brainstorm of the goodly mouse-king known as King Robert Scorpio.
The king was a jolly good and just mouse and was, (as an older, ordinary looking mouse-man with both idealistic and romantic plans), still filled with unfulfilled personal longing. King Robert had his visionary crossbow hairs focused on wooing and marrying the fairest maiden mouse in all of Avalon. When he found her, she was both wise and beautiful, with the softest of grey fur and a comely tail. Her name was Laura Vere. Laura Vere’s tiny mousine countenance was like the golden sun, her smile filled all the good people of Avalon with hope and cheer in the days that were plagued by war, tie-dyed clothing, music by Jimi, Janice and Jim, and bra-burning. Still, Lady Mouse Laura Vere knew a good opportunity for stability and loads of mouse munchies when she saw them, and so, despite the difference in their ages, and lack of any physical attraction, she consented to marry good King Robert. She did truly admire him, and they enjoyed the dancing and the music of the castle, as well as squirrel-back riding on warm days. They had fun and laughter and often exchanged wit and private ponderances, but these alone moments were not the kind of romantic escapades that Laura Vere had dreamed of as a young mousey girl.
It didn’t take very long before the Queen’s days in Court began to grow long, they became a total bore, and without any challenge whatsoever. Being Queen allowed Laura Vere and her maidenly mice maidens lots of room to roam, to venture across the island with complete freedom. It was on one of these daytime excursions that Queen Laura Vere took notice of a very charming and handsome knight. Luckily, on that day, longing for some Queenly solitude, she had decided to leave the ladies behind ashore for a quick solitary row for a bit of quiet. The mouse maidens constantly chattered too much and would eat all the cheeses that Cook had provided in the basket way before lunchtime. Queen Laura Vere found their unladylike greediness to be quite appalling, so on this day, she set them and a few provisions on the bank and paddled away. Her solitary adventure began as a fine sunny afternoon, filled with hopes of tranquility, until a westerly wind picked up suddenly, as a summer storm blew in. Laura Vere became frightened as she had floated a bit too far away from dry land and her leaf was teetering in the wavy water. She panicked. Just when she thought she might burst into mousey tears, Sir Luke-alot paddled up gallantly beside her on a large piece of whitish driftwood. Wearing a long forest green morning coat, he reached for her teeny ivory lace-shrouded mouse paw and helped her board his vessel. Sir Luke-alot had saved Queen Laura Vere!
“Queeeeeeeee-nie!” He said, much too familiarly. He held her delicate paw, as he simultaneously and suggestively used his masculine body to closely enfold her as he pretended to steady her stepping aboard.
She trusted him implicitly, because Laura Vere had heard a great many complimentary words spoken by King Robert in regards to his own admiration of this Knight. She knew Sir Luke-alot was her husband’s closest comrade and confidante as he performed his honor-sworn duties. Still, Sir Luke-alot was also known by all the ladies of the kingdom to be a bit of a rogue with a sullied, “ladies-man “reputation. Laura Vere generously allowed a coy smile at him as she said a silent goodbye to her rocking leaf. She decided to be lenient with him, for surely, he couldn’t help his lack of proper manners as her husband had told her that he was an orphan, and could call no other place other than this kingdom his home. That didn’t mean he was not beguiling. He was and he knew it, scoundrel or not. Overly-confident, he certainly was, but Laura Vere fell for it all… the looks, the laughter, the twinkle in his itty bitty mousey black eyes. And he smelled so good!
As Queen Laura Vere made herself comfortable upon the curved inside of his driftwood boat, she laid back in an enticing fashion as she watched him first roll and then smoke some grass with his right paw while his left paw guided them along in the lake. Sir Luke-alot was famous, seriously, he was Mouseketeer famous. Everyone knew him, everyone loved him. He was smart, quick, knew countless ways to avoid traps, water poisons, cats, and he could wield a thorn sword better than any other mouse in the land. He feared nothing and no one. It was this complete confidence that was Lady Laura Vere’s undoing.
Nature, of course, followed its destined course (as you knew it would!), and soon, the unexpected afternoon outing became a looked-forward-to daily pleasure that Lady Laura Vere and Sir Luke-alot partook of in great secrecy and lustful happiness. They were made for each other and Luke-alot (sadly) was everything that poor old King Robert was not. And you also know as well, that, now, just as it was then, there were sneaky spy rats (who were, for some unknown reason, called “Cassadines”) hiding everywhere on the riverbanks and amongst the tall weeds just waiting to uncover a tainted tidbit to tarnish the good Queen’s image and her honored place next to the King. Whether the motivation was just plain devilment or jealousy, a sordid rodent or two always seemed covetous of what someone else had, and Queen Laura Vere was blessed with all the riches of the kingdom and now, love. Soon, she and her secret lover were revealed!
Without going into all the sordid details of this long-tale extramarital affair, it is needless to say that King Robert felt betrayed when he was given the shocking news. It was quite a harsh blow of deception that brought him to his trembling old mousine knees. Yet, he could find no real fault with his beloved and kind Laura Vere. Being a wise old King, he contrived in his mousy mind a list of all the good qualities and traits that he admired about his gentle Queen and he determined in his heart that she ably fulfilled all her wifely and courtly duties to him but one, and it saddened him greatly that he was not physically able to fulfill hers. He knew he was too old to maintain her physical happiness and so he forgave her and also Sir Luke-alot. In fact, he felt a great deal of relief after the initial embarrassment of it all. Sir Luke-alot had assumed the role of lover, thereby letting the King off the hook, so to speak. But forever and ever, the betrayal and story of Sir Luke-alot and Queen Laura Vere and their tumultuous tryst would be told throughout history. King Robert actually felt quite proud of himself for being so gracious and accommodating.
And so, on a morning soon after the revelation of the affair, when interviewed by the daily newspaper, aka The Gouda Gazette, the good King seemed comfortable in trying to put the sordid incident completely behind him as he commented, “What’s done is done. I really don’t want to talk about it, actually, I’m pretty tired. Disappointments happen from time to time, but the truth is, you know… the kingdom will persevere…I’ve simply just had a bad knight.”
“I’ll have you know I don’t normally show up to luncheons wearing designer sequins carrying a toolbox.” The woman wasn’t just wearing designer sequins and carrying a toolbox, her hair was frazzled and sticking about in all directions. There was definitely glitter in it too.
”Oh?” I asked, uncertain. I didn’t know who this woman was or what she had wanted but I had been sitting at the Sammy’s Sammiches minding my own business when this woman had plopped down across from me.
“May I?” The woman held the toolbox over the table where my notebook and cellphone were sitting.
I moved most of my stuff out of the way just in time for her to drop the toolbox loudly on the table top. The only casualty was my half-eaten sandwich. The other patrons of the sandwich shop looked over, some annoyed, some concerned. I tried to form some kind of verbal protest but the woman opened the toolbox and pulled out a stack of loose papers. Was she using a heavy tool box for a briefcase? All things considered I guess that wasn’t the strangest thing.
The woman eyed the papers like she couldn’t quite make out what they said and then leaned over the table at me conspiratorially. “How about forty acres?”
“Mars?” She said this as if it were obvious.
“What are you, fifty?”
I squinted at her, confused. “Twenty-three.”
“My apologies, it’s hard to tell these days. You’re a young lady, you are a lady right? Last time I assumed I misgendered someone and they were not happy. I felt terrible about it for days, I’m absolutely determined to never do it again.”
I just nodded. “You’re right… this time.” Was this woman for real?
“I know forty acres on that dustball of a planet doesn’t sound all that great, but listen, terraforming is only a decade away, what costs you pennies on the dollar today will get you a thousand times the investment.”
“Wait a second. Are you trying to sell me real estate on Mars?”
“It’s what we agreed to!”
“Uh, I didn’t agree to anything.”
“Look, I know you might be having second thoughts–”
“I’m not having second thoughts, I haven’t even had first thoughts. I’m just sitting here trying to enjoy a sandwich between my classes and you turned it into a pancake with your toolbox.” I pointed to the pitiful thing, half-eaten and half-squished.
The woman peered around the toolbox and frowned. “Why ever would you put your sandwich under a toolbox?”
“That’s…oh my god.” I ran my hand across my face and tried to find an escape route without being obvious about it.
“Listen here Miss Cargill–”
“Thomas,” I said absently and regretted it the second I did.
“My last name is not Cargill; it’s Thomas. Dany Thomas.” What was I doing?! Run away you fool! Abort! Abort!
“Are you sure?” She looked mildly alarmed.
I pointed to the student ID clipped to my collar.
“Oh my.” The woman leaned back and stared at me like she we seeing me for the first time. “You’re not the person I’m supposed to meet.”
“No…shit,” I said with heavy sarcasm. “You owe me a new sandwich.”
“How should I know?”
“I was supposed to meet them here.”
I lifted my hands in a shrug and then waved my open palms in a half-circle to indicate the rest of the sandwich shop.
“Oh, this is bad! I’ll lose my commission over this!”
“Listen, don’t worry about it. I won’t tell anyone.” Lies! I’m telling everyone this bonkers story!
“Oh no, you don’t understand. It was certain, for sure, the contract is right here! It’s supposed to be signed today! If I don’t have a signature and a buyer, I’m toast! I’ll be banished to live on Mercury! Oh, what a world! The worst. No margaritas anywhere!” She genuinely looked on the verge of tears.
“Are you okay? Humans have only been to the moon. No one is going to send you to Mars, much less Mercury.”
“Oh you poor human girl, you don’t get it do you?”
“I’m obviously not getting something, no, so please enlighten me.” Why? Why did I keep encouraging her?
The woman wiped at a nonexistent tear and seemed disappointed there was nothing there except specks of glitter. “I’m from a small backwater planet about fourteen light years from here. This was supposed to be my big break into interplanetary real estate. This pilot program was going to boost our economy and everyone in my family was going to be able to afford all the finest luxuries.”
I was nodding encouragingly until the entire thing percolated through my sleep deprived, over studied, hyper caffeinated brain. “What?” I said stupidly.
“You wouldn’t know it, I think it shows up as being about fourteen light years from here on your star maps.”
“You’re an alien?”
“For better or worse.”
This lady was either on the fast train to crazy town or already there. Or she was telling the truth. She seemed legitimately upset that I wasn’t the person she was supposed to meet. I honestly didn’t know which direction I wanted to believe.
“Alright,” I said and crossed my arms across my chest. “Assuming that you’re telling me the truth. How do I know that I’m actually going to get the forty acres after I pay?”
I think she got glitter in her eyes while wiping at invisible tears because suddenly they were sparkling. “You’re interested?”
“Oh! Oh! Oh!” The lady started frantically going through her toolbox. “I’ll have to amend the contract but that shouldn’t be a problem.”
“First, what’s your name?”
“Your name is Unpronounceable?”
“Oh! No! I mean, yes, but when I’m here I go by Chuck.”
“Chuck. Okay, Chuck, my last question…”
“How do you know you’ll get the forty acres?”
Chuck readjusted herself and a new demeanor took over her posture. She was cool, confident, and sparkly in her designer sequins.
“I am not of this world. However in two years’ time the Galactic First Contact Association will be contacting your world and providing technological advancements, assistance, and personnel. Your species has been selected for a pilot program to determine if near-space faring species can be contacted and enriched without destroying themselves.”
“It is isn’t it? I’ve seen the reports, even if you do destroy yourselves the chance that another sentient species will rise on your planet is at nearly 88%! Those are great odds.” Chuck didn’t seem to realize that wasn’t encouraging at all.
“So in two years we get contacted and then we get to go to Mars?”
“Yes! We give you the supplies and provide transport and a 25 hour help desk!”
“A Martian day is almost an hour longer!”
My phone beeped and I pressed my finger to the near-silent alarm. It was almost time to head back to class. I could miss one class of Special Topics in Anthropological Literature. I could probably write a whole essay about what I was experiencing right now. If it was real.
“Now, since you are being introduced to this fresh, I don’t want to force you into a contract you know nothing about. May I see your cellular device?”
I clutched my phone close to my chest and frowned at her. “Why?”
“I need to call in a transport.”
I reluctantly handed over my phone and she fussed with it for a moment before awkwardly holding it up to her ear.
“Karen! I need a transport from my location to the prospective acreage. Yes. Yes. That too. New inductee! Byeeee!” Chuck handed me the phone back and smiled happily.
“So…where are we going?”
I didn’t have a second to question that idea because the air around us started to glimmer and a feeling of warmth replaced the cool sandwich shop AC. The chair under me disappeared and I fell to the floor. But not the floor of the sandwich shop, the floor of a UFO.
Chuck appeared next to me and lifted me up onto my feet. “Apologies, our gravity is heavier than yours.” Once I got my feet under me and stable enough I got a good look at the rest of the room. A wide window looked out on Earth and in the distance I saw a sliver of the moon. Other than the window, the room didn’t have many other features. There was a wide doorway that led into a hallway and a single console in the middle of the room.
Chuck tapped the floor with her foot and the area opened up. A couch lifted up and Chuck pushed me to a seat.
Okay, up till now, I had just been playing along, looking for a good story, and not really taking Chuck’s antics seriously. But I was sitting on a purple couch IN A UFO! I was looking at the southern hemisphere of the Earth. Australia and New Zealand took up the length of the window.
“Ready to see your new plot of land on Mars?” Chuck asked.
I just nodded, at a loss for words.
Chuck took up a position in front of the window and tapped her foot on the floor again. A control panel lifted out of the floor and Chuck tapped happily on the buttons. “Here’s hoping I don’t bring this back to Karen dented!”
“Dented?” I asked. The view out the window shifted as the ship turned away from Earth. I felt no movement or momentum. The only indication that we were moving coming from the track of stars across the viewer as the ship turned. The view went white and colors streaked as the ship zoomed forwards. In seconds we were no longer in orbit around Earth. The rust red surface of Mars filled the window and I gasped again. The pictures I had seen of Earth and Mars from space did nothing to compare to seeing them with my own eyes. I gingerly got up off the couch and went to stand next to Chuck at the window.
“Amazing isn’t it?” Chuck asked.
“I can’t believe it.”
“Seeing is believing!”
Chuck tapped a sequence into the console in front of her and the ship began to descend. I watched with amazement as the Martian landscape filled the viewer and Chuck landed the ship on a flat, rocky bit of terrain. In the distance, huge mountains broke up the horizon line.
Chuck led me further into the ship and at an airlock had me pull on an overlarge EVA suit. I felt like I was wearing a tent. “Why is this so big?”
“This is the suit that was made for the previous contract signer. We had their measurements prior to this flight. After we visit your plot of land we’ll have to have to get your measurements.”
“My measurements? What for?”
We have to make sure we get the right habitat for you. We can’t be trying to put a human sized person into a cat sized habitat now can we?”
“Wait, are you selling Martian real estate to cats, too?”
“Well, of course! They have every right to be there just like you!”
The image of a cat habitat with cats in little cat jumpsuits was unavoidable. I snickered.
“Come along!” Chuck had her own suit on, and of course, it had sequins and glitter all over it. We walked out onto the Martian surface. Chuck used a little red laser pointer to show me the area of land I was being sold.
“How much?” I asked after a minute. It was too much to take in. As soon as I got back I was going to skip class and go home and sleep.
“One US dollar an acre.”
“A dollar…an acre? That’s really cheap.”
“Like I said, pennies on the dollar!” She clapped and then wiggled her fingers outwards like she’d just performed a magic trick.
Forty dollars wasn’t that much if this all turned out to be real, but forty dollars was a weeks’ worth of groceries for my poor college ass if it wasn’t.
“What’s the chance this all falls through and I don’t get to come to Mars?”
“Oh! The money is held in escrow until successful integration and introduction is complete.” Chuck seemed really proud of that.
“Wait, why do you even need money? Earth money isn’t going to be good on other planets.”
“On the contrary. The galactic economy is built on the economies of every species in it. If your planet successfully enters the galactic society your Earth money will be incorporated. One of the reasons my people are doing this is because the sooner you get a jump on and initial standard of another planet’s money the more profitable you’ll be.”
“Well that sounds really complicated.”
“It is.” Chuck nodded.
I looked out on the barren desert and tried to imagine it lush with gardens and greenery. “Two years?”
“Two years. I believe they will try to aim for a slow news day on Earth. They have some algorithm they follow but that is not my forte.” Chuck smiled at me through her helmet.
“Alright. Sure. Let’s do it. I can eat ramen for a week.”
“You can come by my apartment and have some if you want.”
“I would enjoy that. I’m very fond of the chicken flavor. It’s very ubiquitous.”
I laughed. “That’s one word for it.”
So I signed the contract and handed over forty dollars. Chuck joined me for a ramen lunch and two years passed with little trouble. There were only a couple times I regretted the purchase. But the ride to Mars alone was worth it. I graduated from university, got a job as a programmer, and found myself sitting in a cubicle typing code for hours on end. Above my monitor I had a postcard with a picture of Mars on it. Chuck had given it to me after I’d signed the contract. I had put a sticker of a cat in a spacesuit on it at some point.
Chuck had never given me an exact timeline of when Earth would be contacted by aliens but I really wanted it to be today. It was slow, the news was just stories about a goat rescue in China, reforestation in Chile after a forest fire, and every baking show was a rerun.
I guess whoever was in charge was listening, because every screen in the office flickered and a message appeared on the screen.
From the creators of the #1 bestseller The Box Under The Bed horror anthology and its #1 bestseller sequel Dark Visions, comes Nightmareland . . .
A horror anthology with 23 stories from 14 authors!
In a rundown shack deep in the woods, a high school girl dares herself to try the strange new drug all the kids are talking about. One injection of “Nightmareland” is all it takes to unleash a person’s biggest fears to them – and then they are on their own! But rebellious Jessica thinks she will prove herself to her peers and parents.
Tremble along as she is strapped into the chair and becomes a lost child on a Florida party island, an investigator looking into a circus’ bizarre side shows, an abused prisoner locked away in a desolate concrete cell, and much more as Jessica faces the most terrifying ride of her young life.
Compiled by USA Today bestselling author Dan Alatorre, this anthology of horror once again unites the minds and pens of more than a dozen amazing authors.
Nightmareland will send you into the foggy twilight of the eerie and macabre, with heart stopping stories from:
The chilly October sky turned cerulean and sanguine as the sun dipped below darkened clouds. Thirteen bats flew across the sinister backdrop, signaling the arrival of Leah, my level-headed, put-together boss, to my chilling abode.
Leah stepped out of her SUV, paying no attention to the avian warning high above her head, and gave me a joyous wave before holding up a bottle of wine. She was just as at home here in my dark den of shadows as she was in her high-rise.
“Welcome to my home.” I greeted while motioning for her to enter. The front door of my ramshackle Victorian home gave a squeeeaakkk.
“Thank you for hosting our monthly dinner, Vivien. The renovations are almost finished, but my house is certainly not ready for company.” Leah kissed both of my cheeks before she stepped over the threshold and took in my Gothic décor. I waited for her to flinch, but her smile remained intact.
“Please make yourself at home. Dinner is almost ready.” I pointed towards the living room and waited for her to be seated. “Would you like something to drink? I’ve some vintage Blood Wine.”
“Yes, Blood Wine, what region is that from? I don’t believe I’ve heard of it.”
“It’s a rare blend. Transylvanian, of course.” I hand her an empty skull filled with wine and gestured for Leah to take a seat on one of my matching scorpion-shaped chairs.
Leah took a deep sip. Her face turned pallid then flushed scarlet. “Viv, this is a thick wine but is full-bodied. You must share your source with me.”
I nodded and headed back to my kitchen. I’d slaved all day cooking my favorite foods to share with Leah. We were complete opposites but had always worked well together. Sharing this part of my life with her pleased me.
I used my trusty hack saw to slice thick pieces of brioche and then topped them with bat brain jelly, laying them out prettily on an old silver tray. To go with this, I made a delightful meatloaf macabre, filled with all manner of chunky, crunchy surprises. And, of course, to drink, I had plenty of Blood Wine. A most filling meal, I believed.
“Come, Leah,” I beckoned her towards the dining table and smiled pleasantly when I noticed traces of the Blood Wine dripped from her mouth.
“Oh, Viv! You’ve outdone yourself. I must make a video to share with our friends.”
My forehead scrunched. To her, “our friends” meant work colleagues. To me, “our friends” meant all of those that lurked beneath the ground of the cemetery out back. But I enjoyed my boss and would humor her eccentricities. After all, unlike me, she was still part of the living.
Trickles of murky water danced between shadows and fractures on the underground wall. Flickering candles twisted wilted blooms and innocent stone angels into a jungle of goblins.
“If you’re still fussing, you should have started earlier.” A redheaded vampire flashed through the arched doorway and scowled at his watch. “This space will never be anything but a tomb disguised as a fancy courtyard.”
“Like the desolate streets above us, masquerading as our city?” A man in a tuxedo slicked his mohawk straight up and adjusted his bow tie. “I thought you said rebirth was near, Mister Steven.”
“It’s so close, I can taste it. You’ve followed my instructions to the final detail?”
“Haven’t I always, sir?”
“As much as humanly possible, I guess.” Steven pointed to a steaming carafe. “Pour.”
The man’s shoulders slumped. “What am I now, your waiter?”
“I didn’t mean…that came out all wrong. Pour me a taste, Zachary. Pretty please.” Silence and a smirk followed his lingering sip. “Ah, silky smooth with a viper’s bite.”
“One coffee blunder was humiliating enough.” Zachary tipped his chin in the air. “That other swill tasted like it was blended with the ashes of the dead.”
“Sure wasn’t chicory.” Steven shuddered. “Ick.”
“Don’t worry. The tool who sold it to me, is at the bottom of the river.”
Steven planted one hand on his hip. “So, where did this brew come from?”
“Cross’ the lake.”
“Hope you’re taking my bodyguards when you leave the French Quarter.”
“So much gloom, even your soldiers can’t tell where the safe zone ends and enemy territory begins anymore. Sun hasn’t come out in years.”
“Yet, the dreadful humidity remains. Just to remind us we’re home.” Steven snapped the cuffs of his dress shirt. He inspected the linen tablecloths, uncovered serving dishes, smiled at the scent of peppermint and turned his nose up at licorice. “My chocolate?”
“All your favorites.” Zachary bowed in front of the dessert tower. “Amaretto, raspberry, almond hazelnut…but, the hazelnut still sucks.” He tapped the artery in his neck. “How bout’ a taste of this?”
“Later. Be available,” Steven said. “Eat a little cinnamon.”
“You…are damn bossy.”
Steven waggled his finger. “Leaders delegate, Zach.”
“Oh well, excuse me.” Zachary plucked a sugar cube from the pristine buffet and dropped it on his tongue. “Will it be the usual guest list tonight?”
“Yes, and I’m sure you’ll hate them all.”
“They turn the room frigid. Swear I can see my breath.” Zachary pointed to the fountain. “Your snooty, light-up water feature was frozen solid after last week’s festivities.”
“There’s a method to my madness. We’ll need the allegiance of all the coven leaders, from every corner of the globe—even the villains—to take back New Orleans.”
“Hmph.” Zachary crossed his arms. “Bastards do seem impressed. You’re still the king of decadence, like in the old days.”
“Just wait for the new days.” Steven leaned over the pastel bubbles and watched glittery fish spinning in circles. “When our family is back in power, all this melancholy will be a distant memory.”
“What about that man with the sapphire eyes?”
“You mean the warrior?” Steven sighed dramatically.
“He’s more than politics to you, isn’t he?”
“Is that a hint of green demon I hear in your voice?”
“After so many years of us…” Zachary shuffled his feet and stared at the fish. “Never mind.”
“His fire, his army—that blood.” Steven spun and pumped his fists. “The warrior is our savior. He holds the keys to an empire.”
Zachary stepped back, but not in time to avoid Steven patting his cheek as if he were a petulant child.
“My empire.” Steven flashed back through the arch. “All mine.”
October is just around the corner and all the coffee shops have already busted out all the fall flavors. Outside the air stirs, still warm but with the occasional chilly draft. The fall equinox is only a few days away. Alex is excited for the change and ready to let go of this dreadful summer haze.
The summer had been awful. Loneliness had been his constant companion; he’d been unemployed; a small-town wannabe actor freshly moved to the big city looking for acting work. He’d had a hell of a rough time, unable to join in with the rest of the city as everyone cherished those precious few weeks of perfect weather.
But then, right at the end of summer, last week, things finally improved: he got a job. Not just any job. He was finally invited to join one the most successful theater companies in the city, Elysium Theatre, and a role in their current award-winning production, The Last Victim.
Today is his first day. During his interview he already decided he loved the company. He’d met most of the actors and the stage crew, although of course he didn’t even lay eyes on the main actors. The big shots were just way too important and busy to ever hang out with the main company. They hardly come out to rehearsals, Alex learned to his disappointment, although he wasn’t surprised. He had especially wanted to meet Ben Morgan, the lead actor in the play, who had been Alex’s inspiration to become an actor, and his motivation to join this particular theater company. But Alex is thrilled nonetheless—he might not even see him, but he’s going to be in a freaking play with his hero!
Alex is the first one in. He came jogging from his studio apartment; he was too excited to sit still. He didn’t know what time everyone comes in to the rehearsals, so he chose to arrive an hour early, to be safe. Inside the designated auditorium, some lights are on but there’s no one around. He sits on a chair in the front row.
“Hello,” he hears a voice above him.
He looks up and sees—Ben Morgan? Holy crap!
“Hi, Mr. Morgan,” he stammers.
“Please, dude. Call me Ben.” Ben descends a metal ladder that’s propped against the lighting platform above the stage where he had apparently been, doing who knows what in solitude. About halfway down he jumps off and lands with uncanny grace on the stage. He sits on the ledge, right across from Alex’s chair.
“Right. Ben. I’m Alex. I’m new. I’m playing the banker, the smallest part, I know, barely two lines, but just the fact that I’m in this company, wow, I’m so excited and humbled. And to have my one scene be with you—well, the young version of Caleb, that’s, well, just, incredible.” Wow. Halfway through that logorrhea Alex knew he should stop talking, but he was so nervous that he just kept babbling on. He takes a breath to steady himself because he feels like he wants to talk some more to apologize, or to explain himself, or just to fill the silence, but he decides it might just be best to never speak again.
Ben is looking at him strangely. In his eyes there is a mixture of pity and humor. “Well, Alex, nice to meet you. But let me correct you, so you don’t go around spreading false statements.”
“Huh? What do y—”
“The banker. He’s not the smallest part. He may have only two lines, but he’s one of the most important characters in the story. He’s the pivotal person in Caleb’s life; the one who changes the course of Caleb’s whole life, when he says those two lines.”
Speechless, Alex can’t reply with words other than reciting the lines he’d already memorized, in a half whisper. “ ‘Young man, I’ve been watching you. I believe I know someone who might be quite excited to meet you.’ ”
“Aha.” Ben holds his index finger up and displays a dazzling smile. “And who did the banker mean by someone?”
“The benefactor. Mr. Lawrence.”
“Yes. And Lawrence changed Caleb’s life,” Ben reminds him. “Had it not been for the banker, Caleb wouldn’t have met Lawrence, and he wouldn’t have risen to where he did.”
“I guess,” Alex stammers.
Ben cocks his head to the side as if considering the young nobody before him. “Did you know that The Last Victim is based on a real-life story?”
“No, I didn’t,” Alex has to admit.
“My character, Caleb, is based on a young man who lived in the 50’s. His name was Charles, and he was an orphan. Just like in the play, Charles struggled in life, had many afflictions; and on one particularly bad day, having almost given up hope, he met the banker. The banker saw past the unfortunate circumstances that plagued Charles and saw only his beauty. He introduced him to his wealthy acquaintance, believing this acquaintance would be interested in Charles. And he was right. The wealthy friend took an instant liking to Charles and became his benefactor. We all know what happens next.” Ben pauses for effect, then he narrows his eyes and smiles that knowing smile of his. “But here is where the play differs drastically from the real story. In the play, Caleb goes back to his hometown as a wealthy man, and he purges the men who spurned him as an orphan, right? But in real life, Charles went back to his hometown, alright… but he killed those men.”
“What?” Alex’s face puckers in disbelief. “Just for mocking him?” In the play, one of the things young Caleb struggles with is being bullied by a few older boys that he works with. Later after he’s rich, he has them convicted and put in jail.
“They did more than mock him,” Ben explains. “They beat him up so bad, he couldn’t defend himself. He couldn’t even beg for his life. They left him for dead in the marsh where they worked. But he lived, he healed, and he persisted. He quit that job, went to a bank to borrow money to start a business. He met the banker. His life changed. And later when he was powerful, he went back and got his revenge.”
“Is that true?” Alex asks, unease creeping up his spine. “And he killed them?”
“Yes,” is Ben’s smart reply.
“But how did he do it?” Alex doesn’t really want to believe the supposed real version of the story, so his words are partially laced with disbelief. He doesn’t know where Ben is going with this, but it sounds like the guy wants to tell this story, so might as well ask him.
“I mean, how did he manage it? There were three of them and one of him.”
“There were eight of them and one of him.” Ben drops that in a deadpan voice. “In real life,” he adds.
Alex begins to get a weird vibe. Is Ben messing with him, or what? “So he paid people to do it, or…?”
“Alex, what the popular version of the story which we act out every night fails to mention is… the so-called benefactor, Lawrence, who in real life was named Lehmann, was actually a powerful vampire who fell in love with his intended victim, the little orphan boy that his banker friend brought to him as a gift. The vampire bestowed the gift of immortality on the young Charles. Not right away. Lehmann saw young Charles as a little pet; well, a pet that you have an intimate relationship with. But after some time he turned him into a vampire. And just like Caleb returns to his hometown as an adult in the play, Charles returned as an adult, albeit a vampire one, and had fun getting his revenge.”
Alex realizes his mouth is hanging open and quickly closes it. Ben is obviously joking, but he sounds so serious, Alex doesn’t know how best to reply. He looks at Ben expecting the face to reveal the butt end of the joke, or some clue as to why he’s hearing this fictional story from one of the most renowned actors in modern theater, but the man remains as serious as if he was retelling a news story from last week. Alex decides to play along. He never dreamed he’d converse like this with Ben Morgan on his first day; might as well roll with it.
“Wow, um. So, how do you know all this?”
“I play Caleb. It’s my job to know his character well, inside and out; what is written in the play, and what is not written.”
“Okay,” Alex says, frustrated with the lack of answers and not exactly knowing how he should react to Ben’s story. “Well, if Charles was a vampire, did he even die, like Caleb?”
The Last Victim is named so in reference to the main character, Caleb. After becoming rich and using his power and influence to get his revenge, his decisions gradually cross into the gray area of questionable judgment. Not being particularly trained in morality or ethics, and being quite young, he chooses to bestow assistance to people or deal punishment as his whims dictate. In the end, one particular bad decision puts the life of another young boy in peril; and Caleb, finally seeing his folly, dies tragically in a fire to save the boy, who reminds him of his former innocent self, in a gallant attempt to redeem himself. Thus, he is his own “last victim”.
“A vampire would’ve survived that fire,” Alex challenges. “He would’ve been fast enough to save the boy and save himself.”
Ben’s expression changes and his voice fills with sorrow. “He did perish in the fire. He started it, and both him and the innocent boy died in it. The boy never made it out. Charles didn’t save him. He watched as the smoke claimed the boy and had no remorse. It was Lehmann who killed Charles, finally realizing he had lost control of his little pet. So you see, Charles didn’t die in the fire like Caleb did in the play, but he equally died because of it.”
Alex, temporarily forgetting this story can’t possibly be real, feels awful for the little boy who didn’t make it out of the fire. The play, despite being a tragedy, is generally liked because this one sweet innocent unnamed kid is saved.
“So it was all a lie?” he demands. “Saving the boy, Caleb’s sacrifice?”
Ben shrugs dejectedly. “The writer didn’t like the ending, so he wrote a different one.”
“Well, he shouldn’t have,” Alex says a bit angrily. “Everyone thinks Caleb was this great tragic hero. They all applaud him, and he was an asshole.”
“He was an asshole, but Lehmann loved him. He had turned Charles into a vampire because he wanted to spend an eternity with him. Lehmann felt guilty, thinking he should’ve taught Charles better, guided him better.” He sighs. “It was Lehmann who wrote the story.”
“Wait, what? Lehmann—Lawrence? He’s the author?” Alex tries to remember the writer’s name. He can think of the playwright, but not the original author.
“Wait.” The author of a real play and the vampire in a fictional story clashing in his confused brain is too much for Alex at the moment. He covers his eyes with a hand, trying to reassess. Of all the things that don’t make sense, the one question that comes out is, “How do you know all this?”
He asked the same question earlier, but in a whole different frame of mind. Disbelief back then, mostly. This time, he wants to know. This time is different.
This time, Ben replies honestly.
He looks into Alex’s eyes, deep into his soul, it feels like. And Alex immediately knows. It’s all true.
“Would you like to know … more?” Ben Morgan hops off the stage and extends his hand down to Alex.
I walked the dusty path that led to the family cemetery located beneath some spindly old cedar trees on the expansive property of the looming Eirewood Plantation. On my way, I stopped to eat a few of the tart bitter blackberries growing there and pondered on how I’d come to such a quiet place.
The sprawling white Greek Revival sat imposing in the sunlight. The tall, thick columns stood stately, supporting the two story gargantuan house while the rocking chairs on the front porch silently invited someone to relax and rock a spell,taking in the beauty of the Southern landscape. Though I had trekked some distance from the house, I could still see the majesty of the house patiently waiting for something, or maybe someone. It’s empty loneliness bothered me very little. At first sight, I was overcome with the feeling of having always been here, having belonged. Whatever the reason, this home was not alone anymore.
Three weeks ago, I received a letter in the mail requesting my presence at McAllister and McAllister Law Firm to claim an inheritance from an anonymous benefactor.
Upon meeting with them, Misters McAllister and McAllister led me to a polished long cherry table in what must have once been the dining room in the old Victorian house they’d converted into their law firm, and there over tall glasses of ice tea, they informed me that I’d inherited the two hundred year old house and the surrounding land that made up Eirewood Plantation from an absolute stranger. Despite my fervent attempt to refuse such a preposterous gift, the McAllisters presented me with the deed, already in my name, and bid me to have a good day.
Now, I stood somewhere between the hulking house and the graveyard filled with crumbling tombs all sporting the name “O’ Brady”, trying to figure out what I was going to do with this unasked for and unusual gift. Unaffected by my presence, a large, husky squirrel bounced from one oak tree to the next as if rejoicing at my arrival.
For a spring afternoon, it was a bit chilly beneath the shade of the trees, and just like the house, this piece of land had a feeling of waiting. A solitary rusted out shovel discarded by the old stone wall surrounding the graves solidified the feeling of a space frozen in time.
“Welcome to Eirewood, Ms. Endicott.” From behind one of the twisted oaks, stepped a nice-looking gentleman wearing light pants, a blue cutaway coat and holding a top hat that he’d just removed from his head in his hands.His cream colored silk cravat accentuated his dapper look. “I’ve been waiting for you to return.”
Startled by his unannounced presence, I took a step back from him but not before I noticed his uniquely light colored eyes. The color of frozen ice, just barely blue, they were visible even in the dappled afternoon light.
“Thank you. Wait, return? I’m sorry, Sir, but I have never been here,” I insisted then introduced myself. “You may call me Eilene I have recently acquired Eirewood Plantation, so I’ve come to see what it’s all about.”
The man moved closer to me. His handsome looks struck a chord in my heart, a memory I couldn’t quite grasp, even if his clothing and manners were two hundred years out-of-date. Perhaps he was here for one of those reenactments I’d heard about history buffs having. Either way, something about his demeanor drew me towards him. My fingers tingled, itching to reach out and touch this mysterious stranger.
“Eilene,” He said my name slowly as if he was savoring his favorite sound. “Then you may call me Jonathan. I’m Jonathan O’Brady.”
“O’Brady?” I recalled the names on the tombstones just behind Jonathan, and the hair on the back of my neck stood on end. The intensity he watched me with was unnerving and somewhat alluring. There was just something about him, something I couldn’t exactly put my finger on. “Jonathan, are you kin to the people who owned this house? Do you know why the previous owners would leave it to me?”
“You kept your promise,” was his reply. “You vowed that you’d return, that not even death could keep us apart.”
My heart sped up as I processed this stranger’s words. “You have me confused with someone else.”
“Oh?” Jonathan offered his hand to me. “Then let me show you, my love.”
I should have ran off, gotten away as fast I could and called the cops on this crazy anachronistic man. Instead, without any hesitation at all, I rested my hand in the crook of his offered arm and allowed him to guide me back into the shaded cemetery. We weaved around graves, one O’Brady after another, until we reached a battered Celtic cross. At the base was the epitaphs and memories of two.
Eilene O’Brady Jonathan O’Brady Born April 30, 1832 Born November 1 1825 Died May 14 1862 Died May 14 1862 Eternally Yours
Something in my subconscious stirred, awakening memories of someone else’s life, promises made by a woman I was not. I should have fled. I should have gotten away as fast as I could. I didn’t know what this man was trying to pull, but I wanted no part of it.
Then I made the mistake of looking up from the tomb into Jonathan’s love-filled eyes. Within their pale depths, I saw that he, too, had been waiting. Just like the house and this land, he had been waiting for his love from an old age long gone to begin again-new.
Rudy is literally a fish. Rudy wants people to know that because when he implies that he is a metaphorical fish, most people are confused. Rudy is a fish and lives in a saltwater tank at a fancy restaurant on the west side of a big city. He only knows this because he can see a sign outside the tank that says “Welcome to the West Side” and beyond that he can see the tall and pointy skyscrapers of a huge city. In his tank is a miniature version of the city with little cubby holes he can pop out of. Before his time in the tank the little miniature had the name of the city printed on the side, but the salt water of the tank had long since worn it away all that was left were the letters R U D and Y. His name.
Rudy is literally in love with the owner of the restaurant. Rudy wants people to know that because metaphorical love is meant for poetry and Rudy is not a poet. The restaurant owner is a man named Finny. Finny is a part time chef, part time sea captain, and full time love of Rudy’s life. Finny comes to Rudy’s tank and feeds him every morning before the restaurant opens and every evening before the nighttime rush. But most importantly of all Finny tells Rudy stories about the outside world. The last story Finny told Rudy was about the time he was thrown into the “drink” (this is a term that Rudy has come to understand as a place called the ocean which from what he can gather is a very large fish tank somewhere out there in the world) and had to swim back to shore with nothing but his wits and the clothes on his back.
Rudy was born in a tank in a pet store on some other end of the city, the only thing he remembers about the pet store is the ceiling fan above the tank clacking noisily, he doens’t remember his siblings, they all looked the same honestly, and he doesn’t really remember his parents. What he does remember is the moment Finny’s face appeared before his tank and he said to the shop owner, “I want that one.”
Rudy was in love the moment he was lifted out of the tank and his second sight of Finny literally took his breath away. Though, if Rudy was being totally honest with himself, fish can’t breathe out of water so it might have just been a coincidence.
On a particular Tuesday morning, and Rudy only knows it’s Tuesday because his tank is right next to the flip calendar the wait staff use to mark special requests from customers, Finny came with a gift at the same time he came with breakfast. Finny reached down halfway into the tank, where Rudy took great fun in swimming back and forth through Finny’s very long arm hair, and dropped something in an open space in the tank.
The little ceramic piano settled to the bottom and Rudy thought his whole world was about to change again. He loved music. The piano player at the fancy restaurant could always play the most delightful tunes and now he had one of his very own. Rudy swam a couple circles around the tiny piano.
“Oh Finny!” Rudy sang enthusiastically. “You make my world so spinny!”
Fish can’t sing, but don’t tell Rudy that.
Finny grinned down into the tank. The tattoos on his very wrinkled neck stretched happily as he smiled. “Lookie here Rudy, happy birthday! It’s been a year since I got you!”
A year? A year was like forever! Had it really been that long? Rudy desperately wanted to give Finny a hug but was again irritated that he didn’t have legs.
“Alright, Rudy. Behave yourself!” Finny said as the last bit of fish kibble floated down from the surface of the water.
Rudy didn’t know how he could possibly misbehave, he was a fish!
Other than apparently being his birthday, Rudy didn’t expect a Tuesday to be anything more than a normal day, but Rudy and Finny, and most of the city that Rudy had pulled his name from was about to get a very interesting surprise.
Rudy is a small fish, a yellow tang about three inches long, so it should come as no surprise that it was small thing that changed Rudy’s life. It wasn’t the new piano, it wasn’t the little kid who found his tank halfway through the day and decided that a fun game was letting Rudy follow his finger across the surface of the glass (as fun as that was), but instead it was the arrival of a magician. Not one of those run of the mill illusionists, but an actual wand and magic word magician. The guy showed up outside the restaurant and stared at Rudy through the glass. He looked more like a hobo than a magician but when he waved his hand across the glass Rudy was captivated. The man came inside, requested a glass of water and then stood above the tank looking down at Rudy with a thoughtful look on his face. There was glitter coming off his fingers and his wand was a bent metal straw. When the maitre d’ gave the man a cup of water the magician dropped his wand into it and sucked loudly at the straw. His eyes never left Rudy and Rudy didn’t look away either.
“You’ll do,” the magician said and when his cup of water was drained he tapped the metal straw on the glass tank. It was a small event in the scheme of things, a tiny tap on the glass, a little glitter magic falling to the floor beneath his tank. But that’s all it was. The magician left, the restaurant went about its business, and when the restaurant closed for the night Rudy felt the change begin. He started to grow, and at first he didn’t notice but when he was as big as the miniature city in his tank he knew something was wrong. WHen he was so big that the tank broke under him he knew he was in trouble.
Or so he thought. Instead, he found himself on the floor, and he had HANDS. Rudy stared at the hands like they were tumors. They were tumors, fish don’t have hands!
More than that, he was breathing IN THE AIR. Rudy stood up and stared around the closed restaurant. He was as big as a human person now.
There was something wiggling at the back of his mind. An urge to walk out into the street and just destroy everything around him. But that didn’t make sense to him. He was very fond of all the sights and things around him. He didn’t want to destroy anything, especially not this restaurant. It belonged to Finny, the love of his life… FINNY! Rudy looked around the restaurant and tried to get a sense of where Finny might be. He usually only saw Finny in the restaurant but he knew Finny had a home somewhere with his wife and three children.
Rudy didn’t want to break anything more so he found a seat in the restaurant and waited. He would wait for Finny to arrive.
Finny, short for Finnegan, had worked really hard to building his restaurant, his brand, and his life. And he didn’t realize just how lucky he was that a tiny fish named Rudy, his favorite yellow tang, loved him as much as anyone could. When he arrived at his restaurant to open up that Wednesday morning he was startled and shocked to find Rudy’s tank demolished and a tall yellow man sitting in a booth drawing on the back of a menu with some crayons. When the man saw him, he stood and grinned crookedly.
“Finny!” The young man yelled.
“Uh… Who’re you?”
“Rudy,” the man said.
“Rudy,” Finny said, and stared at the man. He was as yellow as his Tang, but he was a MAN. He looked between the destroyed tank and the yellow man. It was impossible. But there was no way he could have gotten in here without breaking anything and the only thing broken was Rudy’s tank.
Finny blinked a few times, then wandered to the back where the security cameras could tell him the real story. And the real story was just as the yellow man said. In the camera he could see Rudy growing and bursting open the tank and slowly transforming into a human-like creature. He turned to see that Rudy the former fish was standing behind him, naked as a jaybird.
Finny sighed and wondered what he had done to deserve this oddity. He pulled out the lost and found and retrieved a sweatshirt and an apron from the kitchen.
“Oh! Clothes! I’ve always wanted clothes! Thank you, Finny.”
“You’re welcome Rudy.” Finny helped Rudy get sort of presentable and started to clean up the mess from the broken fish tank. A shadow crossed the window outside and Finny looked up to see the old hobo from the night before staring into the restaurant. His face was a mask of anger and confusion.
Finny poked his head out of the door. “Can I help you? Do you need another glass of water?”
The man pointed past Finny at Rudy and shook. “You! Where have you been? What have you been doing all night?”
Rudy blinked and then pointed to the table where he had sat all night. “I was drawing a picture for Finny. Who are you? Where were you all night?”
The old man balked. “What… why… I am a chaos magician! You’re supposed to be wrecking chaos!”
Rudy just stared perplexed at the magician. “But that would destroy things. I don’t want to do that. Also, Finny told me to behave, I think that falls into the territory of misbehaving.”
The magician stared at Rudy incredulously. “What is wrong with you!”
Rudy frowned at the old man. “I’m a fish that is now a human person, what isn’t wrong with me?”
The old man made an angry squeak and turned on his heel. He limped down the street and shouted nonsense into the air.
Finny glanced back at Rudy and laughed. “You know, I knew I picked well when I saw you at the pet store. You are a special fish, Rudy.”
“Oh, thank you. I’m sorry about the tank.”
“I don’t have to go back to the pet store do I?”
“No, I don’t think they have a tank big enough for you. Besides I think you deserve to be family.”
“Can we go fishing? Can I meet your family? Your kids?”
“Of course. I think they’d love you just as much as I do.”
Rudy is a literal fish. But he has the heart of a human, and the soul of someone who loves the people who love him. Things could have been different, and for another unfortunate fish in another part of the city they were. Because not a few days later, a huge, hulking puffer fish the size of a barge wrecked up the east side of the city and shouted angrily at everyone “how about I puff you up!”