?

Log in

Recent Entries Friends Archive Profile Tags To-Do List
 
 
 
 
 
 
==========
Thorson Episode 7 — Thunderclouds and Snails
==========
Thunderclouds. Most people know what they look like. So imagine how well the son of Thor can recognize them.

So, yes, thunderclouds. That was definitely what I saw in both Lucy and Luca’s faces the moment I stepped out of the house and started down the steps of the front stoop. They were standing at the bottom, glaring at each other. There was color high on Lucy’s cheeks, and Luca’s forehead was a washboard of furrows. Both had their hands balled into fists. It would have been foolhardy to step between them.

Want to guess what I did?

“Uh, hi guys. What’s up?” I said brightly, as I stepped off the bottom step winding up half-jammed between them.

Their gazes both turned to me. Ever heard the phrase “killing gnats with an elephant gun?” It felt something like that, if I were the gnat.

“Thorson.” Luca’s voice warmed before his eyes, but then they too, cleared. Brown and open and friendly.

Lucy’s flashing eyes sent a final bolt at Luca before she spoke. “Hi, Sean.” her hand lifted and then settled on one forearm.

“What’s with the camping gear, dude?” Luca asked, an eyebrow lifting in the direction of the well-worn and obviously full Scout backpack slung over one shoulder.

“Are you going hiking, Sean?” Lucy asked, her hand lifting from my forearm, to touch the walking stick on that side.

Well, damn. How to explain this? I didn’t know how long this was going to take, nor where, exactly, I was going. I’ve never been able to lie to Luca, and I didn’t want to start lying to Lucy now that we were getting closer.

“Uhm, sorta. I was just talking to my grandfather, and I need to run an errand for him. He, he lost something and wants me to go get it for him. He’s waiting for some people to show up at his home, so he can’t go himself.”

“Where’d he lose it? Alaska?” asked Luca, a smile dancing on his lips.

“He’s not entirely sure,” I said. “Just the general area it might be in. That’s why the backpack, it might take me a little while to find it.”

“Why don’t I come with you, then?” he asked. “Two heads are better than one, right?”

“Who are you, Zaphod Beeblebrox?” I countered.

He lifted both hands and waggled them. “Only two arms, Thorson.”

“Right, sorry.” Well, crap, he’d offered to help and I’d pretty much insulted him.

“If two heads are good, think how much better three will be,” said Lucy, her hand on my wrist, a slight pressure there turning me towards her.

“…” My lips moved, but nothing came out. I cleared my throat.

“You guys don’t need to come with me. It’s going to be pretty boring, and everything, you know?”

“Hey, Gardener!” echoed up from the end of the sidewalk before anyone had a chance to say anything else. I glanced at the street. A fire engine red Tesla Model S sat at the curb. Posed against it, her arms crossed, was a lean woman of indeterminate age.

She was wearing a sleeveless black leather vest, black denim skinny jeans, and black Doc Martins. A hammer with entwining lightning bolts rode high on the alabaster skin of her left shoulder. A red pork pie hat was tilted nonchalantly back on her long dark hair. Her sunglasses perched on the tip of her nose as her dark brown eyes glinted over them.

“Oh. Hi, Rose.” Röskva. She and her brother worked for my dad, doing whatever he needed done. Most of the time that meant delivering messages across the Nine Realms. The Tesla was one of Dad’s jokes. He was greatly amused by the idea of the God of Thunder (and lightning) owning an electric car. Dad jokes, right? Someone should make them illegal. They’re already unbearable.

“Rose?” There was something funny about Lucy’s tone, but I couldn’t quite pin it down. “You know her?”

“Yeah. She’s a friend of the family.” I answered.

Rose had eased herself fully upright. “Your grandfather thought you might want a ride.” She indicated the Tesla with a tilt of her head.

“Oh, yeah, I’d like a ride!” enthused Luca, before I could say anything.

“Oh, yes,” said Lucy. “If Sean’s going, I’m going.” There was still that funny undertone to it.

“Sure thing,” said Rose. “Gardener, you’re in front, so you can help navigate. Your friends can sit in back.”

Oh, great. I’ve heard of worse ideas than Luca and Lucy sitting in the back seat of the car, but the only one that came to mind right then was designing a Death Star with an easy bomb access for the Rebels. No, I thought of something even worse. Leaving them alone together on the sidewalk in front of the house.

I gritted my teeth. “All right.” I finished pushing between them, and walked down the sidewalk. I slipped into the front seat, pulling the backpack onto my lap. And then realized I’d left Lucy standing on the sidewalk with Luca. Crap. This being a boyfriend thing was all new to me. I started to climb out of the car.

“No worries, dude, I got it.” said Luca, and he opened the back door of the car, and issued Lucy into the back seat with a sweeping bow. Lucy glared at him again, and then climbed in. Luca circled behind the car and slipped in on the driver’s side, behind Rose, who was now behind the wheel.

A moment passed, and I glanced at Rose. She smiled and lifted one eyebrow at me.

“Really?!” I asked. She nodded, and her smile grew a little broader.

I sighed. I really wish my dad had a more mature sense of humor. Or that Rose didn’t share it. “Fine. Snail.” I said.

“Snail?” Luca inquired from the rear seat.

“Snail.” said Rose. “You know, like, S car go.” Her grin turned evil. Her foot went down. The Tesla left rubber patches on the street.
==========
 
 
 
 
 
 
==========
Thorson Episode 6 - Spear Shaker
==========
“Boy.” he rumbled again. Odin, in all his majesty, his war aspect on him, dressed in golden mail, his ravens on his shoulders, his helmet tucked under one elbow, staff in the other hand. My father’s father. He glowed like the sun in the mist of my dreamscape.

“Gramps.” I replied. “You do realize that there’s this magic called ‘A cell phone.’, right? It even takes messages, so grandsons can get some rest while they’re sleeping.”

“Smart-ass.” Was that a hint of a smile?

“Better than a dumb-ass.” Yep, just a hint.

Odin, the All-father, loves all his children, loves all his charges. But love is not the same as respect, and he’s an old god, with old attitudes. If you want his respect, you need to stand up to him from time to time. If you don’t have his respect, he won’t listen to you.

My father taught me that smart people learn from their mistakes, but wise people learn from other people’s mistakes. Then he told me stories about his father. I’ve done my best to be wise.

“Now that the pleasantries are out of the way, I have need of you.”

Oh, crap. Way too many of Dad’s stories about Odin started out with the old man saying something like that.

“Gungnir is missing. Your brothers have been killed by its taker. And Fenrir has been freed. I fear that Asgard is under attack.”

My face must have betrayed some of the emotions that washed over me at the thought that Módi and Magni my half-brothers, had been murdered by someone using the Raven God’s enchanted spear. Their names meant ‘Brave’, and ‘Strong’, and they were, and damn near unbeatable in battle.

And Fenrir! The great Fenris Wolf, destined, according to prophecy, to start the Fimbulwinter, when he swallowed the Sun, and then to kill Odin at the battle of Ragnarok, when the world ends, and the new Cycle starts.

“Fear not, they will be resurrected, when the time is right, but for now, they must remain with Hel, until Gungnir is retrieved. Else the thief may find a way to make their deaths permanent.”

“What can I do to help? And why me?” I hoped that came out more forceful than helpless. I wasn’t sure what I could do against someone who Módi and Magni couldn’t stop.

“I have determined the general location of Gungnir. I want you to retrieve it for me. As to the choice of you, there are two reasons. I don’t know who took Gungnir. It could have been anyone in Asgard. Until I know, I can’t trust any of them. And I must stay here to protect Asgard from attack, should Fenrir come this way.”

Well, that explained the armor. “How do I find it?”

He looked at my right hand, and I noticed that I was now holding a golden necklace, with a spear pendant.

“It will always point in the direction of Gungnir, having once been a part of it.”

“Cool, quantum entanglement!” He looked at me. “What? We learned about it in science. Two atoms in the exact same quantum state will affect each other instantaneously, no matter how far apart they are.”

A slow shake of his head, right to left, and back again, repeated once. “Pack for a journey. Follow the pendant. Be brave, be strong, and above all else, be wise. I’ll know when you hold the spear, and will find you.”

A moment of silence. I thought ‘What, the heck, I don’t see him often, I might was well ask now.’

“Gramps…”

“Boy.”

“Speaking of Gungnir and school reminded me of something. One of your kennings is ‘Spear Shaker,’ right?”

“Yes.”

“And you’re the Norse God of Poetry, right?”

“Yes.”

“Uhm, well, we just started studying this guy called Shakespeare in English, and I was wondering, was he, ah, were you…?”

“Boy. Don’t ask questions whose answers you won’t accept. You will believe what you will. There is no answer I can give that will satisfy you.”

“Yes, Gramps.”

“Oh, and Boy?”

“Yes, Gramps?”

“‘A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet.’” And with that the dreamscape was empty, except for a faint echo of laughter.

Gee, I wonder where I get my smart-ass attitude from?
==========
 
 
 
 
 
 
==========
Thorson Episode 5 - Mom, and Kid Napping
==========
“A WHAT?” It could’ve been worse. Mom wasn’t happy, but she wasn’t glowing yet. She claims she doesn’t, at all, that it’s just her Irish temper coming out, but I swear, when she’s really mad at me? She shines. Oh yes she does.

“Draugar,” I muttered.

“You fought a Draugar, in a movie theater, and you’re just NOW getting around to telling me about it?”

“…Yes?”

“Sweet shores of Ireland protect me! I know you’re not stupid. What were you thinking?!”

“…I wasn’t?”

She sighed. Still not glowing. I might slide out of this one, yet.

“Leanbh milis, I know that. You’re so much like your father that way. But you’re not your father. You’re still young and you still have so much to learn. Now, let me see if I understand this. A Norse undead shows up in the theater you’re in, attacks you, and then ignores you?”

“Yes, and no, and yes?” Oops, is that the start of glimmer around her. Better dial the smartass down a little.

“I mean, yes, it was at the same theater I was. No, it didn’t attack me. Yes, it seemed to be ignoring me. It was dark, and I didn’t notice it until the stench got so strong. I thought it was after me, because it was trying to get through our row, but it didn’t actually seem to notice me. I was backing away from it when it changed direction and tried to walk through the seats in front of me, so I just, sorta, helped it over the seats. Then belted its ankles together, then went to get the manager. It had disappeared by the time we got back.”

Mom shook her head. “Ceann beag, you have to be more careful. Draugar are dangerous. And someone has used Draugar to kidnap the children of Asgard before, you know. Years ago. They took both Hel’s daughter, and Freya’s daughter. They found Freya’s baby girl, but Hel is still mourning her loss.”

She ruffled my hair. “I won’t lose you, Sean. I want you to be more careful, and I want you to tell me when anything, _anything_, out of the ordinary happens. Please?”

“All right, Mom, I’ll try. But it’s kinda hard to tell what’s out of the ordinary for me, you know?”

She laughed. “Yeah, yeah, I know. Well, dear, I’m off to the shop. Just remember what I asked, all right? Stay safe, and tell me about anything weird? And do your homework.”

“Yeah, yeah, I will. Except maybe the homework thing.” I laughed when she stuck her tongue out at me on her way out the door.

Now what to do with myself? Lucy was busy with family things, and Luca was never around Sunday mornings. I didn’t feel like playing video games by myself, and I taken care of my weekend chores the day before, so Mom would let me go to the movies. Homework after all.

Back to my room then. My room is the best place to do my homework, because there’re no distractions there. It’s also the worst place to do my homework, because there’re no distractions there. Mom hasn’t let me keep electronics in my room, since the time I accidentally zapped my computer during a nightmare.

Homework. Where to start? Civics reading, I guess. Mom tells me when I’ve got a lot of stuff to do, to start with the stuff I want to do the least, and get it out of the way first. So, civics reading. I lay back in bed, and started reading about bicameral legislatures, and checks and balances, and other exciting stuff.

It probably doesn’t surprise you that it took less than fifteen minutes of that to put me to sleep, right?

Oh, but not restful, pleasant, dream-filled sleep for me. Oh no, not in my family. I slipped into sleep, and found myself on a colorless plain, enshrouded by a pearlescent mist that seemed to shine with its own light.

“Boy.” echoed around me, and I recognized that deep, grumbling voice. I turned and found him. He appeared as a tall man, this time, broad-shouldered and still built like a barrel for all his breadth. Long, gray hair. A staff in one hand. A raven on each shoulder. A patch over one eye.

Odin. All-father. Spear Shaker. Roarer. Battle Wolf. Raven God. Or, as I like to refer to him, Gramps.
==========
 
 
 
 
 
 
==========
Thorson, Episode 4 — Choices
==========
“You didn’t have to laugh.” I said, peevishly. I knew it was peevish, but the tips of my ears were still warm, and probably just as red as I was afraid they were.

“I know, and I’m sorry,” said Lucy, the bubble of laughter still there under the sweet sound of her voice. “But it was so unexpected. And…cute.”

Gah! Cute! Nobody wants their girlfriend thinking they’re cute! Which reminded me.

“I heard you telling Robert that I was your boyfriend.” I said, not sure how to ask the questions I wanted to ask. Or even if I wanted them answered.

“Well, what did you want me to say? ‘The boy who brought me to the movie and bought me popcorn and water and sat with his arm around me but who definitely _isn’t_ my boyfriend’? By the time I got all that out, you could have been dead! Since you heard it, I guess you’re just stuck with being my boyfriend now, Gardner. Suck it up. And what was that bit about trying to send me home, and then telling me stay behind you? Who do you think you are, Hercules?”

“Wrong pantheon,” I said, under my breath, as I opened the door to my house.

“Mmmooommmm! I’m home! Gonna watch some TV!” I yelled, so she wouldn’t be confused by the sound of the door opening this early.

“Boyfrie…,” I started to say, but was interrupted by another shout, this one from the living room.

“Thorson! Get your butt in here so I can kick it from one end of the field to the other in Rocket League!”

I couldn’t help it. I winced, just a little bit. It was Luca. What was he doing here?

“Thor…son?” asked Lucy, raising one eyebrow at me. I hadn’t known she could do that, and I probably would have thought it was wonderful if it hadn’t been aimed directly at me.

“Uh, Luca thinks he’s being funny,” I said as my treacherous best friend walked into the hallway, grinning evilly at me. “It’s my middle name.”

“Hunh. And I thought the T. always stood for ‘The’, you know, Sean The Gardner, like Kermit The Frog.” and there was that bubble of laughter under her voice again. “Thorson. Hunh again. I like it. Suits you. And I guess that explains the Avengers underwear.” her smile was fleeting, but warm, a ray of sunlight through the clouds. “Anyway, I should go, you’ve got company. Catch you later, Thorson.” She leaned over, kissed me on the cheek, and slipped out the door before I could say anything.

“My, my, my,” said Luca, leering at me. “I see there’s something you haven’t been telling me.”

Now, before I go on, I should tell you a little about Luca. Although he’s kind of hard to explain.

Luca is tall, and handsome, and quick, and graceful, and funny, and charming, and everything I should hate in another guy my age. He was the kind of guy who succeeded at everything, and so easily it looked like he wasn’t even trying. As far as I could tell, he wasn’t. He’s smarter than I am, and better at video games, and sports, and classes, and talking to girls.

But, the thing is, to me he’s just Luca, my best friend. We’d met in kindergarten and been together ever since. Why he hung with me, I don’t know. Maybe he enjoyed my reactions to his constantly getting us into trouble, and then back out again. He liked to tease me about things, like ‘Thorson’, but this was the first time it’d ever happened in front of anyone but the two of us.

“What?” I asked, and it came out peevish as well. I was going to have to work on that.

Luca’s grin just got a little wider. “Little miss kissy-face,” he said. “Your girlfriend.”

Girlfriend? Was I the only one who hadn’t known?

“It was just the movies. They’re playing the Thor double feature at the Hamilton.” Searching for a way to drag the conversation away from Lucy and girlfriends.

“While we were at the theater, there was some excitement. It was probably just some dopehead who’d slipped in somehow, but from the stench it was almost like it was a zombie.”

“What kind?” asked Luca, as we moved back to the living room. “Fast, or slow? Caribbean? Resident Evil? 28 Days Later? Walker? WWZ?”

“Draugar.” I said, smugly.

“So what, you chopped his head off with an iron sword and burnt the remains?”

“Nope, just dumped him over the seats and belted his ankles together. Like I said, he was probably just stoned and looking for money. But, boy, that smell…”

“Dude, you’ve got to stop having adventures without me,” Luca said, smiling. Then the smile faded and he looked at me a moment. “Seriously. I haven’t seen much of you lately.”

I squirmed slightly. He wasn’t wrong. But Lucy…

“I know, man, sorry.” I punched him lightly in the shoulder. “But we can hang tonight. Rocket League, right?”

“Wish I could, Thorson, but I’ve gotta run, places to go, people to see. It’s date night, right? Call me tomorrow if you wanna hang with me instead of Lips.” and then he was the same Luca again, grinning at some private joke only he knew, and heading out the door.

And there I was, on NOT-a-date (or maybe it had been?) night, without a date or a best friend to do anything with. If I didn’t know better, I’d think someone with a malicious sense of humor had it in for me.
==========
 
 
 
 
 
 
==========
Thorson, Episode 3 — Belted
==========
I backed, hands up in a defensive posture, as the Draugar slowly approached. The only thing that kept a Draugar from being unstoppable was the fact that they were clumsy. The whole rotting corpse thing plays havoc with their coordination. They tend to stumble, and their pace can be described as glacial.

’Good one, Thorson! Glacial Nordic zombies, you’re a riot!’ echoed the voice in the back of my head. ‘Stop with the funnies and do something!’

“Shut up, Luca,” I whispered, as I noticed something. The Draugar kept trying to turn toward the front of the theater, bumping into the back of the seats in the next row down. I backed a little faster, and the Draugar kept trying to change course. He didn’t seem to notice my change of pace. In fact, he didn’t seem to notice me at all.

“Dah fuq,” I muttered. If he wasn’t after me, what was he doing here? A monster straight out of Norse mythology pops up at the movie I’m watching, and he’s not after me? Well, figure that out later. He’s still after someone, and needed to be dealt with.

Various conversations with Luca ran through my mind. We’d talked a lot about how to handle zombies, as we watched “The Walking Dead.” Which always devolved into talking about the different kinds of zombies. All the different kinds. We’d never managed to actually come up with a cohesive plan. It was too much fun arguing about which zombie was the worst.

Okay, think, Thorson, what do you know? Draugar were supposed to be treasure protectors, generally only concerned with anyone who defiled their graves, or tried to steal their treasure. Occasionally one got a serious mad-on for someone about something that didn’t have to do with grave-robbing, and then they’d follow that person until their sense of justice was satisfied, ignoring everyone else. Right. I hadn’t stolen anyone’s treasure lately. So this one was ignoring me because it was after someone else. ‘Who’ didn’t matter right now. What to do did.

‘Use its weakness against it, bud. It’s slow and clumsy.’

Right, Luca. Here goes nothing.

Before I could think enough about it to talk myself out of it, I rushed the Draugar, grabbing it at the closest elbow and knee. Using its own momentum and weight against it, I dumped it over the back of the seat it was currently banging against. It landed on its head and grunted something I was sure I didn’t want to understand. One of the old-fashioned ways of dealing with them was to tie their big toes together. They weren’t adroit enough to untie the string, and couldn’t walk with it in place.

No string in my pockets. Fine. Improvise.

I whipped off my belt, wrapped it around the Draugar’s ankles a few times, threaded the end through the buckle and cinched it. Given its clumsiness and the fact that its head was wedged under a seat two rows down from me, it wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Time to boogaloo outta there.

I exited the theater at a half-run that turned into a sprint towards the lobby, one hand holding up my pants. Where I stopped short, dumbfounded. Literally. My mouth opened and closed a few times but not a single sound came out.

Lucy was standing at the concession counter, turned away from me, calmly talking to someone at the counter.

“I’m the manager. Now, what did you say was the matter?” he asked.

“There’s an individual in theater 3, and he’s disrupting the movie. Drunk or something. My boyfriend was trying to deal with him, but sent me out to talk to you.”

I did? Wait, boyfriend? She thought I was her boyfriend?

My stomach did a funny thing that was half flip-flop and half explosion. I missed what she said next. Then she noticed me and waved me up to the counter.

“Here he is. Sean, tell Robert what’s going on.”

Robert. Right, there it was, right there on his name tag. Robert. I was her boyfriend?

“Right, well. I tried to talk to the, ah, individual, but I don’t think he’s doing well. He fell over the seats and is kinda stuck right now. That’s why I came out, to find someone to help with him. You might want to call the police, too. I think it’s more like PCP or meth than alcohol. A druggie, not a drunk. He just didn’t look right.”

“Let’s see what we can do, then. Can you show me where he is?” suggested Robert.

I nodded. “Theater 3, near the back, in the center. Follow me.” I lead the way back, stopping for a moment just inside the theater to let my eyes adjust to the dimness. No way I was going to get close to a Draugar if I couldn’t see, even a hog-tied one.

Robert followed me as I climbed the stairs, and I noticed that Lucy was following him. “Lucy, you should stay back, this might not be safe.” I whispered, turning to Robert and pointed. “He’s right ov… Uh, he was right over there?! Maybe he’s slipped further down between the rows?” Where there should have been a pair of belted legs waving there was nothing but air.

I got to the middle of our row, and still didn’t see him. I leaned a little over the row in front, without any sightings of him. I saw my belt, a knot on the floor, but no sign of the Draugar. He’d disappeared as mysteriously as he’d arrived.

“I guess he must have got himself unstuck, and left,” I said, without much conviction. Robert nodded without saying anything, but the expression on his face said all that needed to be said. It said ‘Sure, kid. Got up and left. Right. I’m pretty sure you’re the one on drugs.’

“Sorry,” I muttered, quietly, feeling a little embarrassed.

“It’s okay. I’ll have the rest of the staff keep an eye out for him, in case he’s still wandering around,” said Robert, as he exited the row.

I sighed as Lucy came up to me. “Is everything all right, Sean?”

I nodded. “Yeah, but maybe we should just leave, for now. I’ve got the movie at home, and we can watch the end of it there, without bothering anyone else.”

I leaned over the row in front, to grab my belt.

Which is when my pants finally fell down.

Right in front of Lucy.

Revealing my Avengers underwear.

F. M. L.
==========
 
 
 
 
 
 
==========
Thorson, Episode 2 — Movie Night
==========
“Who’s not like what?” Lucy whispers, sitting up straight, dislodging my arm from around her shoulder.

The cool air where her warmth had been seemed a perfect echo of my disappointment.

“What?” ‘Yeah, brilliant repartee, Thorson. Are you trying to convince her you’re an idiot?’ flitted through my mind. I’m not sure why the voice in the back of my head always sounds like my best friend, Luca, but it does. Maybe because we’ve been inseparable longer than I can remember? Well, except for lately. Lately I’d been spending a lot more time with Lucy. Which brought me back to my brilliant repartee. Sigh.

“Who’s not like what?” she asks again, and is shushed at by someone three rows below us. She leans in close, her lips nearly brushing my ear, and the warm breath does odd things to my heart rate, and my anatomy. “That’s the sixth or seventh time you’ve said ‘He’s not like that!’ Who’s not like what?” she repeated for the third time.

“Oh.” ‘Idiot. She’s sure you’re an idiot. Say something.’ “Thor.” I manage to say, gesturing at the Hamilton’s movie screen, where “Thor: The Dark World” was currently flickering. The Hamilton is the local second run movie house, and this weekend they were showing a double-bill of “Thor” and “Thor: The Dark World”. I’d seen them both, several times. Surprise, right? But having seen them, I could concentrate on better things, like Lucy’s warmth.

“Of course he is. He’s just like he was in the first movie.”

I turn toward her. “That’s just it. Both got it wrong. He’s not like that. Not blonde and boy-scouty and slow and humorless! That’s not him at all!” This time, it’s my turn to be shushed.

“What’s he like, then?” The screen’s flickering makes Lucy’s eyes dance, and make her lips smile, and disappear, and smile again.

“Well,” I start, unsure how to continue, or even if I should. Mom’s been telling me to keep my mouth shut about my dad my entire life, but I can tell Lucy what he’s like, without telling her how I know.

“Yeah, he’s big. But he’s a red-head, not blonde. And he’s the original slacker god. He partied with the best of ‘em, could drink anyone under the table. Once he drank from a magical horn connected to the ocean, and changed the tides! And he was known for his justice — he sits at the base of Yggdrasil to hear the cases of the Nine Worlds, and settle them fairly. And he makes jokes all the time. Bad ones, but still, jokes.”

Apparently, my voice had risen a little during my defense, because I got shushed again. Closer this time. Or was it a shush? No, not a shush, something more like, well, like harsh breathing. Coming from the opposite side of me from Lucy.

That’s when the stench hit me, and I panicked a little. Draugar!

Draugar, as I’m sure you know, are the Norse answer to the undead. Yep, Nordic zombies. And not the cool, smart, sexy iZombie zombies either. Reanimated corpses, complete with rotting flesh. Also, impossible to kill, being already dead, and nearly impossible to destroy. Iron to slow ‘em down, decapitation to stop them for a bit, fire to turn ‘em into ash, and then scatter the ash at sea, so they don’t pull themselves back together.

Gods damn it. I had no iron, nothing sharper than my wit (‘Hah!’ says Luca, ‘A dull blade at best!’) and hello, we’re in a movie theater, fire’s a really bad idea. They don’t even let you yell it here, let alone use it.

“Lucy,” I say, clearly. “Stay behind me, and get out the other end of the row. Even if I don’t follow you, keep going. I’ll meet you at my house as soon as I can.”

“Sean, what’s wrong?” she asked, but I could tell by the volume that she was moving, and in the right direction. When the gods handed out brains, they gave Lucy a double dose. In fact, she may have gotten my allotment, because I stayed where I was, to fight a Draugar with my bare hands.
==========
 
 
 
 
 
 
==========
Thorson, Episode 1 — Dad Jokes
==========
It started raining the moment I set foot outside. This, of course, happens. But generally not when it’d been a vivid blue sky and bright sunshine seconds before. Well, generally not to _other_ people.

I glared at the sky. Lightning jumped from cloud to cloud. “What!” I shouted. The thunder growled a question.

“No, it’s not a date! It’s just a movie with a friend!” More lightning, more thunder.

“Yes, a female friend. No, it’s NOT a date!” The thunder was conspicuous by its absence this time. My face felt warm, and I realized I was blushing. The blush turned into a different kind of warmth as the anger rose.

The ancient hammer pendant throbbed against my chest. I drew it out by its fine silver chain, and wrapped my right hand around it. The anger built, and with it something deeper, something primal, something that had to be released.

I raised my left hand, pointed its index finger at the sky, cocked the thumb back. “Screw you!” I bellowed and fired the thumb. The lightning bolt fled from finger to cloud, and the thunder it spilt in its wake sounded an awful lot like laughter.

“Gods damn it,” I muttered, and wondered if everyone else’s dad thought they were funny, too.

Welcome to my life, such as it is. I’m Sean Thorson. Yeah, my mother’s got a sense of humor, too. FML.
==========
 
 
 
 
 
 
Horace the Saurus, Or How I Got Grounded by Billy Ishikawa-Watson, age 8 by Shawn Bilodeau

Uhm… Teacher said I had to write [author, compose, type] an essay on how I got grounded, so this is it. I’m not allowed to vid it because it’s sort of a punishment [discipline, sanction, abuse]. But it’s not fair! It’s all Teacher’s fault, really.

It started out because of the earlier [previous, prior, preceding] essay Teacher had me vid. I did a vid on a really, utterly, Wholly SPARKLE new Lego kit that Grampa had got me. It was the Hover Police Urban Assault Tru-tank, with the real AI so it would do what I told it.

It was a wholly sparkle vid, too, but Teacher said I “showed a minimal vocabulary with a heavy reliance upon current slang.” It said I had to do the vid again, but that I had to spend time with the Saurus, first. At least I thought that’s what it said. I’d sorta rammed the tru-tank into one of its speakers making the vid, so it sounded kinda funny and I wasn’t listening as hard as I could.

It was a little confusing [confounding, perplexing, upsetting,] too, as I didn’t know which saurus it wanted me to spend time with. I asked it which saurus, and it just said, “No, the Saurus.” again. Half-etched Teacher! Mommy and Daddy wholly need to replace it with a sparkle nova model.

So, I did what Teacher keeps telling me I need to do when I’m upset. I stopped bouncing on the sofa, I took a slow deep breath, and then another one, and I thought about the problem. I thought about all the sauruses I know [cognize, ken (hah, like that half-etched old doll!), fathom.]

There’s the Tyrannosaurus, and the Stegosaurus, and the Titanosaurus (which can snack on Tyrannosauruses any time it wants to,) and the Allosaurus, and the Brachiosaurus, and a whole bunch of other sauruses, but none of them were The Saurus that Teacher said I had to spend time with. Then I remembered Mommy’s Gene Machine.

It’s how Mommy works when it’s work time. She sits and thinks and when she’s done thinking [deliberating, meditating, reflecting, reflecting that’s pretty funny, she doesn’t look like a mirror] she pushes buttons on the Gene Machine and it makes animals for her that she sells, which puts food on the table. (I’m not sure how, because the Cook is the only one I see putting food on the table.)

Since I didn’t know which saurus Teacher wanted me to spend time with, I decided that I’d use Mommy’s Gene Machine and make one that had a little of all of the other sauruses in it, that way I’d get the one that Teacher wanted, too. I went and talked to the Gene Machine and told it what I wanted and to make sure it put lots of Titanosaurus in it, and T. Rex and Brachiasaurus and all of the others. And some puppy dog, too. Our neighbors, the Crick-Hernandez’s have a puppy that is so much fun to play with.

That’s how I wound up with Horace the Saurus. The Gene Machine whirred and clicked and blinked and SPARKLED! And in a little while, out came Horace. He wasn’t very big to begin with, but then he found the stasis box and ate everything in it. Everything. Including all the containers. By the time he got done, his head was bumping against the high ceiling in the living room.

I think Horace was glad that the living room door was open. He ate the screen out of the screen door and went outside and starting all the bushes around the outside of the house [dwelling, mansion, residence]. By that time, he was nearly as tall as the house. He had to bend down to eat the gate, and then he stepped over the wall.

When he started walking down the street [pavement, roadway, thoroughfare] I wasn’t happy. How could I spend time with him if he wandered off? So I hopped on my hover bike (its name is Bike) and followed after him. It was all pretty exciting, watching him eat [devour, scarf, snack on] tree tops, and step on parked cars, and scratch his chin on solar collectors and keep on growing.

But then we got downtown. He’d stopped growing, because there weren’t that many trees there and I got a little worried [nervous, concerned, perturbed] when Horace started looking into buildings and people started screaming. I didn’t want him eating anyone, or hurting them. So I Bike fly us all around his head to distract him.

It worked really well. He started snapping at me, and almost got me. It was scary and exciting [astonishing, breathtaking, dangerous] at the same time. I moved farther away from him, and he started chasing me. I wasn’t sure what to do then, so I had Bike call Daddy.

He was surprised [amazed, startled, taken aback] when he answered. It was good for me that he was a little bored with work, I think. Bike explained things while we kept leading Horace away from downtown. Daddy told Bike to lead him to the park and it worked! Horace started eating all the trees there and completely forgot about us. We landed and waited there just like Daddy said until he came and got me.

They’ve built a big wall around Horace and he’s the main attraction [allure, draw, inducement] at the park now. Lots of people come from all over the place to see him, and the city charges them for that so they can afford to feed him. Which is good, because even though he’s stopped growing, Horace still eats a lot.

Daddy asked me what had happened, so I told him about Teacher and the Saurus and the Gene Machine and how I was just doing as I was told. Daddy laughed for a very long time after that, then he explained to me that Teacher had been talking about a thesaurus, a big book of words that mean the same thing as a lot of other words. It all seems like a lot of work to me, but then a lot of what grownups do seems like that to me. Maybe I’ll understand it better when I’m older.

So here is my essay [article, manuscript, thesis] that you wanted, Teacher. And I used the thesaurus just like you said. Oh, and as to how I got grounded? Daddy forgot to get Bike when he picked me up, so it’s still in the cage with Horace and I haven’t gotten brave enough to ask Daddy to get it back yet. Until I do, I have to walk everywhere, completely grounded.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Laceylolly: A Fairytale for a New Generation by Shawn Bilodeau

Once upon a time, in a land far away (but not as long ago nor as far away as you might think) there lived a young girl with her Wicked Stepmother.

Well, the young girl (whose name was Lily,) _thought_ her stepmother was wicked, anyway. Her Wicked Stepmother, the Queen, was constantly forcing Lily to do things she didn’t want to do. Things like classes in Deportment, and History, and Economics, and Languages. Classes in Diplomacy, and Military Strategy, and Governance.

The Queen insisted that Lily learn these things, because some day it would be Lily’s turn to be Queen. Lily did not, however, _want_ to be Queen.

Lily wanted a number of things, but none of them were to be Queen. Lily wanted her father back. She wanted her mother not to have died in childbirth. She wanted to make her art. She wanted to design her own clothes. She wanted to run wild in the streets with no supervision. She wanted to fix motorcycles. She wanted to be a tattoo artist. Most of all, what Lily really wanted was to NOT be Laceylolly.

Laceylolly. That’s what the two ladies-in-waiting her Wicked Stepmother had watching her called her, behind her back, during Deportment class. Mostly behind her back. Of all the classes that Lily had to take, she hated Deportment the most. And of all the people in the castle the two she hated the most were those ladies-in-waiting: Grace and Crystal. Grace, the Countess of Airedale, and Crystal, the Marchioness of Malodour.

Grace was simpering, and Crystal was fatuous. Crystal was vague, and Grace was flighty. Grace was mean, and Crystal was meaner. Both were bullies. Their favorite pastime was building themselves up by running others down. The Queen might be Wicked, but her ladies-in-waiting were just plain evil.

Never openly, of course. The Queen, a point in her favor, had caught them tormenting a page once. She’d pointed out that they really wouldn’t enjoy the loss of family titles and family wealth, should they be caught doing it again.

Grace being flighty, and Crystal being vague, they took the Queen’s admonishments to mean that they should be more circumspect with their pleasures. They became adept at finding their targets alone; in a hallway here, or an empty chamber there. They invented nasty little nicknames that they passed onto their sycophants to use. The accidental bump that spilled wine down a rival’s white dress. The slightly misplaced foot that sent a sweet young noble tumbling head over heels. Grace and Crystal were quite inventive in their malice.

Lily was a favorite target of the ladies-in-waiting. Tall, gangly, awkward, and newly come into her growth she was an easy target, too. Particularly during Deportment class. Grace and Crystal were the teacher’s pets, and had her social-ladder-climbing self wrapped around their little fingers. Lily’s back was never straight enough, her turns never graceful enough, her enunciation never clear enough.

Lily’s real torment began the day that the ladies-in-waiting pointed out to the Deportment teacher that tall, gangly Lily, in her outgrown lace gown and bustle, looked much like an upside down lollypop swaddled in lace. Thus, Lilly became Laceylolly. In whispers, and giggles, and the occasional ‘Oops’ out loud. The sycophants laughed and pointed, and the teacher smirked and ignored. Lily hated it.

She hated it, and blamed her Wicked Stepmother, because she knew that the ladies-in-waiting tormented her the most because they couldn’t torment the Queen. If the Queen had just kept her mouth shut, Lily felt, Grace and Crystal would have left her alone. You must remember, of course, that Lily was young.

There was one bright spot in Lily’s life. Personal hour. Her Wicked Stepmother gave her one hour a day in which she could pursue other courses to round out her education. Usually, Lily would draw. Animals, particularly tigers. The human figure (but when she did, her drawn versions always wound up with tattoos that the models had never had.) Sometimes it would be music, where she discovered that her favorites were the great punk bands: The Crash, Ramens, Black Frag, The Dead Carmodeys. One day a week she spent with the Royal Artificers (tho’ she felt quite sure the Queen would not approve of how hands-on that education was.)

So Lily endured her classes. And her tormentors. And her Wicked Stepmother. Lily endured because she dreamed of tigers, and tattoos, and pounding, wailing, vital music that set her free from everything.

Then one day, it came to be known in the castle that the Great Bananaroo Traveling Music Festival was coming to the kingdom. Bananaroo! Part concert, part carnival, part circus, complete and utter and glorious chaos and everything that young Lily’s soul yearned for.

Which, she was sure, was the reason her Wicked Stepmother wouldn’t agree immediately to let her go when Lily brought it up. It had nothing to do with the Queen’s concerns about her safety. It had everything to do with her Wicked Stepmother needing to crush her soul. Such is the logic of youth.

The day of the Festival drew nearer, and Lily grew glummer. The Queen hadn’t yet agreed to let her go. Grace and Crystal’s needling became more pointed.

Lily was sure that it was deliberate that the morning of the Festival was a Deportment class. Not just her Stepmother, but the entire world was Wicked. A belief that she felt was completely confirmed when Crystal bragged about the tickets to the Festival she’d scored and Grace called her ‘Laceylolly’ right to her face.

Lily had never been so angry. There was no thought involved in her next action. The ‘Laceylolly’ went in her ear, and immediately came right back out the fingers of her right hand as it slapped Grace’s face so hard her head rocked back a good eight inches.

Crystal was livid. So was the hand print on Grace’s cheek. The Queen was speechless. Lily was grounded. And desolate. She threw herself down on the floor of her bed chamber and cried herself to sleep.

—————

“Gonna sleep through the Fest, chick?” were the words that pulled Lily from her grey dreams, hours later.

She jerked upright. She was no longer alone in her room. She simply stared at the apparition sitting on her bed, kicking the four-inch heels of her knee-high, button-up, black Doc Marten boots idly against the floor. Lily wondered if she were seeing visions. “Whuh..?” was all she managed to get out.

“I’m your Fairy Gothmother,” the dream said.

“Godmother?” Lily asked, unable to take her eyes away. The spirit was a study in chiaroscuro. Her hair was nearly as pale as her skin. Her eyes were smokey and her lips were as black as the little black dress that clung to her form. The lace at her throat, and the mice climbing up and down her body, were white.

“Gothmother,” was the reply. “I’d like you to call me Amaris Darkshadow. I’m here to help you get to Bananaroo.”

“Amaris Darkshadow?!” echoed Lily, still not quite awake.

“I said I’d like you to call me that, not that it was my name.” sighed the fairy. “Fuck it, my name’s Ethel. Let’s get down to business.”

“You mentioned Bananaroo, Ethel” said Lily, with a hint of desperation in her voice.

“Right. The Fest. We need to get you dressed, get you transportation, and get you right down front of the stage. First, dressed. What’s your style?” Ethel asked, glancing at the Laceylolly dress that Lily still wore, much the worse for having been slept in.

“Not this!” Lily squeaked. “Uh, Punk.” she added, impulsively.

“Punk? Ur-Goth. I can work with that.” She pulled a little black bag seemingly out of the air, and began to rummage around inside it. “Just a sec. Need the right tool.” She pulled out a broken drumstick, held together with black electrical tape, and safety pins. “Terry Chimes,” she added, before waving it in a circle around Lily’s head three times. “Rock the Casbah, rock the Casbah, rock the Casbah,” she chanted.

Lily felt a tingling, a rush, an electrical charge move through her.

“Yeah!” chortled Ethel, jumping to her feet. “Take a peek, kid.”

Lily turned to look in one of the mirrors that populated her bed chamber. “Is that me?” she gasped.

What she saw was a tall, lithe vision in black and orange, from the high-back orange Chucks with black laces on the feet, to the black and orange striped Mohawk that added at least another eighteen inches to the elfin height. Her legs were encased in run-scored black and orange striped tights, her hips barely wrapped in a torn black denim skirt, her torso encased in what was left of a black t-shirt with the left arm ripped off. Turning, and glancing over her shoulder she saw that back of the shirt said “Never mind the Blossoms, We’re the Sex Pistils!”

She noticed a flash of black and orange around her neck, and realized that it was the tattoo of the tail of a tiger coiling around, flowing down her left shoulder. The rest of the tiger’s lean body was tattoo’d down the length of her arm. The head was her hand, its eyes two cat’s eye amber rings, its fangs her sharpened nails, its mouth the pink of her palm. The entire rim of her right ear was encircled by a crystal tiger, anchored in the numerous piercings she’d so far managed to hide from her Wicked Stepmother.

“I’m… I’m…,” she stammered.

“Yeah, yeah, you’re punk,” Ethel snorted. “But you’re a damn fine punk,” added, grinning. “Transpo next, right kid?”

“Lily,” Lily said. “My name’s Lily.”

“Not tonight it ain’t, kid,” Ethel said. “Tonight, it’s Tigerlily, kick-ass punk.”

“Yeah,” the young woman said. “Tigerlily!”

“Gotta get you to the Fest, tho’.” Ethel reminded her. Picking up a black plastic pig from a sideboard, she coaxed the mice from her dress to the floor around it. “Transmaniacon MC,” she muttered tapping each mouse lightly on the head, and then twice on the plastic pig. There was a flash of light.

Tigerlily blinked, blinked again, and found herself and Ethel in the courtyard, with six Harley Davidson motorcycles, each suppporting an albino in black leather, wearing a black denim jacket, “Mus Musculus” embroidered on the back. Ethel patted the seat behind the lead rider, and Lily climbed aboard.

“That’s your ride to the gig,” Ethel stated. “All we need is access now.” She tapped Tigerlily’s right wrist, murmurred “Cameron Crowe”, and smiled as the words appeared as text, wrapped themselves around Tigerlily’s wrist, and shimmered into a golden VIP wristband.

“Now, you know the rules a magic, right? None of this’s permanent. It’s all gonna fade. Get your butt back home before it does.” Ethel instructed.

“Midnight, right?” the black-and-orange young woman asked.

“Hell no!” Ethel exclaimed. “You’re Tigerlily! Punk bad-ass queen a the night! Midnight? No way! You’ve got until the sun comes up, and chases the night away.”

Afterward, Lily was never able to remember the details of the next few minutes. What stayed with her was the sound of thundering engines, the feel of her mohawk cleaving the wind, the utter certainty that the night was hers.

Moments and miles later Tigerlily and Mus Musculus pulled up at the gate for the main stage at Bananaroo.

—————

“Do you know who we _are_?!” was the first thing Tigerlily heard when the sound of the hogs died.

Glancing at the source of the indignation still ringing in the air, Tigerlily flinched. It was Crystal and Grace, at the head of the line, attempting to browbeat the gatekeeper into letting them in immediately. Lily’s first thought was to slip by them, as quietly as possible. But then Tigerlily had a thought, a thought that put a very wicked grin on her face.

“I don’t care if yer the Queen hers’lf,” the bouncer was saying, as Tigerlily swept up, all of Mus Musculus in tow behind her. “Yer not gettin’ in with counterfeit tickets. Come back when yer got real uns.”

“’s okay, bro,” Tigerlily said, stepping up to the bouncer, her eyes on a level with his own. She lifted her right hand, turning her wrist so that a light flashed off the golden all access pass coiled around it. “They’re with me. I’ll take care of ‘em.” His eyes glinted with dark humor as he heard her slight emphasis on “take care”.

“Rightcha are, miss,” he said, grinning and opening the door embedded in the gate.

“Ladies, gentlemen” Tigerlily growled, “follow me.” She danced through the gate, excitement bubbling through her.

“Who _is_ that?!” she heard Cyrstal whisper behind her.

“Who cares?” Grace whispered in return. “She’s getting us in!”

“Girls,” Tigerlily said, turning to face her tormentors, “have you ever been to a punk rock concert before?”

“Oh, sure, lots of times,” said Grace. Crystal nodded enthusiastically in response. Tigerlily’s grin broadened. She knew them well enough to know they were lying.

“Then you know the best place to be at one is right down in front of the stage, in the mosh pi.., ah, the dancing area, right?”

“Right!” the two ladies-in-waiting agreed brightly.

Tigerlily threw an arm around each girls shoulders, and started forward, practically dragging them along with her in her eagerness. “It’s going to be a great night,” she said, and laughed. “Boys?” she said, raising an eyebrow, and Mus Musculus formed a flying wedge and led the three girls through the crowd to the stage. And the mosh pit.

“Uh, are you sure…” began Crystal, facing the writhing, whirling, flailing mob. “…this is best place for the show?” finished Grace, half-shouting over the wailing, screeching sound of the current band on stage.

“Definitely!” replied Tigerlily. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world.” With a hand in the middle of each girl’s back, she shoved, hard, and then plunged into the melee after them.

Inside the mosh pit it was like being caught in a riptide of human bodies. Bodies made mostly of hard boney parts: fists, knees, elbows all pushing, banging, hitting.

For the ladies-in-waiting, it was like being slowly, oh-so-slowly, tenderized. Every time they turned to leave the crush, it strove to crush them in return. In the first seconds, Grace was clipped in the nose by an elbow. Crystal caught a fist in the stomach. Both had their feet stomped on, toes mangled, arms twisted. In no time at all, it felt like every single part of their bodies was bruised and swelling.

Tigerlily, however, was in heaven. She danced through the mob of shouting, hitting, wailing humanity that was the mosh pit. The music roared, and Tigerlily’s soul roared with it. People moved around her and she moved with them.

She turned, twirled, bent; leapt, spun, soared. No fists hit her, no elbows pummeled her, no feet assaulted her. Elbows brushed her lightly, feet provided launch pads to lift her higher, hands caressed her. With each touch, she felt lighter, more powerful, at one with everyone around her. It was as if each person in the mosh pit was sharing their energy with her. She danced until the energy filling her pored back outward again, and then danced some more, a human sun moving beneath the moon.

—————

Hours passed as Tigerlily ruled the mosh pit, until deepest night was turning into pre-dawn. Two or three hours into the evening, a small part of her mind had noticed Grace and Crystal being dragged out of the dance area, and left semi-conscious near the front of the stage. She hoped they’d learned something from their evening’s adventure, but suspected nothing could teach them what they really needed to learn.

Everyone was taking a chance to catch their breath, or staunch their wounds, as suited them best, as the most recent band left the stage and a new act took their place. Tigerlily simply stood in place, in the middle of the pit, and felt the entire Fest around her, a part of her.

“Hey, hey, hey, listen up, listen up!” boomed the loudspeakers. “Hey, hey, hey, listen up, listen up!” they repeated.

“Hey, hey, hey, listen up, listen up!” screamed the crowd in united response.

“It’s time for the final act of this year’s Bananaroo,” roared the loudspeakers. “Put your hands together, put your bodies together, and let ‘em know how you feel about it. It’s time for a brand-new local group: Prince S and the Slam Dancers!”

On the final syllable, the darkness of the stage exploded in light. As Tigerlily’s eyes adjusted, fighting the glare, she saw a carmel-colored statue in the center of the stage. A carmel-colored woman, oh most definitely a woman!, wrapped in a black sports bra and boy-cut shorts, feet encased in neon-pink ballet toeshoes, complete with matching calf-embraching criss-crossed ribbons, chin resting on chest. The statue was that of an athlete, the shape of every muscle visible, crisp, clearly-delineated. A microphone was clutched in its left hand.

The semi-silence of the night exploded into the scream of defiance that was an untuned guitar. The eyes of the statue clicked open, black pupils nearly swallowing the surrounding white. Tigerlily’s heart lurched as something filled it. The microphone lifted until it kissed the statue’s lips.

The motionless-ness of the mosh pit exploded with a renewed frenzy, as the statue’s mouth opened and single word leapt from the speakers. “Dance,” it crooned, in a voice that came from a noir angle, bourbon-soaked and cigarette-baked and straight from heaven. Tigerlily’s heart overflowed, throbbed once, and then again, and she danced. Danced with every fiber of her being.

The honied voice continued to pour out of the speakers:

“Oh, fighter girl,
come dance with me.
Be my battle queen,
be my battle scream,
come dance with me.”

“Oh, dreamer girl,
come dance with me.
Be my loving queen,
be my loving scream,
come dance with me.”

Tigerlily’s head snapped around, staring at the stage, only to discover the singer staring straight back at her.

“Oh, tiger girl,
come dance with me!”

coaxed the singer, and Tigerlily’s mind went completely blank for a moment. Then all thought exploded into fireworks and Tigerlily dashed towards the stage. A lifted foot, and then a rising knee provided the first rungs in a human ladder. A swinging hand and a solid shoulder next gave Tigerlily sufficient height to launch herself high above the stage.

She soared until gravity stole the last of her flight, arched back, felt herself falling as she turned. She landed in a crouch, her right knee bent, her right hand flat on the stage, her left arm held high and back, her left leg stretched out behind her.

Tigerlily felt her left hand taken, felt herself lifted and turned. Found herself staring straight into eyes darker than any she had ever seen before. The singers voice purred from the speakers:

“Come dance with me?”

Tigerlily swallowed around a lump in her throat. Nodded once.

The singer tossed the microphone carelessly over her shoulder and began to dance, never releasing Tigerlily’s hand. And Tigerlily danced with her. They danced for what felt like hours to the young punk, as the guitar screamed and the bass throbbed, and the drums beat out the rhythm of a young heart madly in love for the first time.

Hours, or minutes, what matters to the young, or those in love? Hours, or minutes, it meant nothing to Tigerlily, who was both. She danced, with her love.

Danced until a rooster’s crow sounded over the music in her ears, cut through the music in her heart, echoed a dim meaning deep in her mind.

A rooster’s crow meant something. Meant dawn. Meant first light and the end of the night. And Tigerlily froze, pressed hard against the singer, her love. Her magic ended at dawn! She couldn’t stay here any longer. She had to flee before Tigerlily became Laceylolly in front everyone.

While these thoughts had dragged through her mind, the singer, Prince S, had also stopped dancing. Her hands had lifted to each side of Tigerlily’s head, holding her gently. She’d leaned in, and finding no resistance, now kissed Tigerlily deeply, passionately, fiercely. And Tigerlily returned the kiss in kind, and in full, love pouring out of her with each beat of her heart.

Returned the kiss for a moment, and then remembered the rooster’s crow, and the approaching dawn. Remembered it, and quailed for fear at the thought of her Prince seeing her as Laceylolly. She struggled against the kiss, fought her lips free, and cried “I’m sorry, I must go!”

“No!” wailed her singer. “Stay with me!”

“I can’t!” apologized Tigerlily, pulling back. She felt the backings on her tiger ear cuff pop free, felt the cuff tugged off as the singer refused to let go. “I can’t! I’m sorry!” She turned and ran for the edge of the stage.

“Mus Musculus!” she roared, and the boys were there, a solid knot of black and white cutting through the mosh pit. She threw herself at them, was caught, and borne back through the crowd to the gate in mere moments. The rooster cried again, and the sky was curdled with the light of near-dawn.

Moments later, or a lifetime, the roar of engines dying in her ears, Lily found herself standing in the courtyard of the castle, dressed once again in her Laceylolly outfit. Mice scattered around her, and she held a black plastic pig in her hands. She sighed, and slipped into the castle, heading for her bed chamber.

—————

She woke with a throbbing head. No, not her head. A knocking at her door. An insistent knocking. A relentless knocking. Her Wicked Stepmother’s knocking. Lilly groaned, and dragged herself upright in the bed.

“Come in,” she said, somewhat weakly.

The Queen swept into the room, a smile on her face.

“How are you this morning, dear?” she asked. “Sleep well last night?” she continued, her voice filled with an odd tone that Lily couldn’t place.

“Uh, I guess,” she stammered.

“Anything special happen recently you’d like to talk about?” her Wicked Stepmother asked, that odd tone still there. This time Lily thought she recognized it. Teasing. The Queen was teasing her.

But why would the Queen be teasing her? Unless she knew about the Fairy Gothmother, and Bananaroo. But how could she know?

“You know about…?” Lily asked her Wicked Stepmother.

“About last night’s visit from your Fairy Godmother? And the Fest?” the Queen replied.

“Gothmother,” Lily muttered.

“I know because I arranged for it,” the Queen continued blithely, smiling. “It’s a slightly early 17th birthday present for you. Having had something similar happen to me in my youth, I thought you might enjoy it. You’ve certainly earned it. I can’t tell you how proud I am of you, my dear, my lovely girl. Of how proud I am of how well you’ve done with all of your classes, with all of your training. You’re going to be a marvelous queen!”

“But…” started Lily.

“How?” her Wicked, no, maybe not so wicked after all, Stepmother asked in turn. “Let’s just say I know…people…who know…people. So, how was your evening? Did you not just love your gown? Did you meet anyone special?”

“Uh…” Lily essayed, then cleared her throat. “I, ah, I loved how I was dressed. Will have to see if I can replicate it for my own closet.” She cleared her throat and thought for a moment. “And, uh, yeah, there was this one Prince I danced with last night…”

“Prince? Oh, marvelous!” her stepmother beamed. “You’ll have to introduce us once you’ve gotten your crystal slipper back.”

Lily thought that perhaps that was a conversation for a different time, just yet, but decided against saying anything about it. Which made her think that perhaps she was growing up, after all.

There was another knocking at the door. A page entered at the Queen’s cheery “Enter!”

“Your Highness, there’s someone at the gate, claiming they have to see every young woman in the castle. Something about finding someone who fits something… I’m not sure why the guards haven’t just turned them away, but…”

“Oh, just what we were speaking of!” exclaimed the Queen. “Dear, why don’t you go meet your destiny? And make sure to bring them so I can meet them, please.”

“Yes, Your Highness,” Lily said, standing and bowing.

“Dear, you’re nearly a grown woman now, and you’re going to be queen. Why don’t you just call me Ella?”

“Yes…Ella,” Lily smiled.

—————

Lily had made her way down to the courtyard, and the gate. Two guards stood there, with a slim young girl. Lily looked around, seeking sight of her singer. While doing that, she absent-mindedly tucked her hair behind her right ear.

The slim young girl started, her eyes riveted to the pattern of piercings evident there. She lifted one hand, the light glinting off what she held there. “Tiger?” she asked, tentatively, her bourbon-soaked, cigarette voice that of a noir angel.

Lily’s head snapped around. “Prince?” she squeaked.

“Stephanie. Steve, to my few friends.” She smiled, a white crescent in her caramel-colored face. She put the crystal tiger ear cuff in Lily’s hand, her fingertips a feather’s caress across Lily’s own.

“Steve. But last night…” Lily began, fastening the ear cuff on.

“Fairy Gothmother.” Steve smiled. “I’d always wanted to be lead singer in a punk band. And you?”

“Yeah, me too. Fairy Gothmother.” Lily smiled. Her hand crept of its own accord into Steve’s. “There’s someone I need to introduce you to. And then we should probably introduce ourselves to each other. And learn a little more about each other, too.”

“There’s no rush on that,” Steve said, contentment stamped upon her face. “We’ve got the rest of our lives for that.”

And the two girls started back to the castle, hand-in-hand, to spend the rest of their lives living happily ever after.
 
 
 
 
 
 
The Hounds of Actaeon by Shawn Bilodeau, copyright 2014

She was the goddess of the moon, and the bow, and the hunt. Artemis, sister of the Sun. Virgin protector of women, and animals, and the wild land.

He was the master of hounds, and harts, and heroes. Actaeon, the greatest hunter of them all. No hart escaped him, no hound disobeyed him, no hero matched him.

This is the story of the terrible price paid because of a hunter’s pride.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

“Our quarry is an ancient master. Everyone knows what that means.” Oleg Ryan glanced around the room, catching an eye here and there, getting the occasional nod in return.

“The unknown.” said his second-in-command, Bethany “Doberman” Brown, when his gaze fell on her.

“That’s right, Dobe. The unknown.” continued Ryan. “For those not familiar with master vampires, and thank your lucky stars you aren’t, each one is different. As they ‘age’, they change. No one is quite sure how or why, but they develop odd powers. We’ve taken out one that breathed fire, and another that just faded into a shadow. Your individual briefing packets will provide a complete list of the various masters we’ve ended, with all the details we have on their observed powers, and how to counter them. You must be prepared to deal with any or all of them.”

“And the unknown,” added Brown.

“Right. The rest of the raid should be pretty standard. Because of the master, we go in hard, bright, and loud. Hard: we blow every entrance at the same time. Bright: as soon as we blow the entrances, we fill the place with ‘Sunburst’ UV flash grenades. Loud: Everyone wears a screamer, and they start screaming as we’re filling the place with Sunbursts. We can’t hear ‘em but they play bloody hell with the vamps’ ears. Past experience shows that this approach will take care of nearly 90% of the nest. The other 10%, which will most assuredly include the master, will have to taken out room-by-room.”

“Now, You’ve all been issued assault shotguns with Stakemaster rounds. These rounds are essentially deer slugs with a silver-tipped wood exterior. Be sure of your targets with those, as you can kill each other just as easily as you can the blood suckers. If you run out of ammo, stay behind someone who hasn’t, and be prepared to use your blessed machetes. One of those to a vamp’s heart will end it just as permanently as a Stakemaster, but it’s not safe being that close to a vamp’s teeth.”

“That’s it for this briefing. Go read your packets. Meet back here an hour before dawn, suited up.”

- - - - -

The raid had gone as planned. They’d gone in hard, bright, and loud, with Ryan leading one assault team, and Brown another. The resistance had been minimal, the teams catching the vampires just as they were settling down for the day. The nest was small, the room layout matching the plans in the briefing packets.

There’d been no sign of the master, yet, but there was one room left to clear, deep in the heart of the building. One door, no windows. A perfect master’s lair.

Ryan was first through the door, the first to see the two figures on the other side of the coffin-laden altar. One towered above the other, its mouth at the other’s neck, its back to the door. Ryan put three Stakemasters into it, climbing the spine: heart, neck, head.

All they appeared to do was to make it mad. Roaring, it turned towards Ryan as he moved further into the room, his team fanning out at his back. The shotguns stuttered round after round into the monster until one by one they fell silent, out of ammo. The thing laughed, and seemed to grow larger.

“Shit”. That was Brown, at the door.

“Stay out,” grunted Ryan. “Too many in here already.”

“Not for long,” laughed the vampire, now so large it had to duck to keep from banging its head on the ceiling. It lumbered forward with a snarl deep in its throat.

The fight was violent, brutal, and short lived. The monster was big, but it was slow, wearing not much more than the shreds of its clothes. Every member of Ryan’s team was fast, armored, and trained. Each time the great beast turned to deal with one attacker, another slashed at it from a different direction. The Stakemasters the team at the door were pouring into it didn’t do much more than distract it occasionally, but everywhere the machetes hit, it bled. And as it bled, it shrank.

It was nearly down to Ryan’s 6’2” height when the fight ended. Gonzales managed to get a machete into its heart just before Ryan took off its head. It fell and stayed down. And shrank more, until it was just an unremarkable woman (barring the fact that her head was six feet away from her body.) Brunette, middle-aged, plain features. Nothing to show that this was the same creature that had left one team member dead from a broken neck, two more with broken limbs, and a fourth with a concussion.

Ryan put the loss from his mind for the moment. He’d mourn later, but for now, there was a victim still to deal with.

She lay behind the altar, her head back, her face hidden by the waterfall cascade of her dark hair, her throat a bloody mess. For a moment, Ryan thought she might be dead, but then he saw her chest lift, fall.

He knelt beside her, lifted her small frame in his arms. Her eyes fluttered, opened, focussed. “It’s all right. You’re safe now. What’s your name, sweetie?” he asked.

“Diana,” she whispered.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

She had spent the night hunting, as she so often did. So fleet and light on her feet it seemed she rode the very wind. The moon smiled down, gilding its mistress with its brilliance. The doe ran before her as it had never run before, not in terror but with fulfillment. Every clench of muscles, every plunging leap, every sudden twist taught it more about itself than it had ever known.

The night waned, and the doe tired, for nothing on four legs could outrun Artemis. Just as dawn broke, the goddess of the moon claimed her prey. A leap, a reach, and a tap just above the heart. Her laughter filled the glade as the doe stopped, trembling, unable to move further.

The goddess took its head between her hands, gazed into its dark eyes, and blew into its nostrils. Its head lifted as the goddess blessed it with health, and life, and fertility. This one would be the first of a great tribe of harts; swift does and mighty stags for generations to come. Artemis patted it on the shoulder, and then slapped its rump, once. It left the glade with a flirt of its tail.

Artemis glanced around the glade. This was now a holy place, as touched by her blessing as the doe. With a tap of her mighty bow against a rock, a spring bubbled up, filled a mossy depression nearby, overflowed, and began a journey that would finally end in Poseidon’s domain.

The goddess knelt, cupped her hands, and drank deeply of the cold water, ambrosia after the long chase. Its coolness promised refreshment. Artemis slipped out of her tunic, and began to bathe.

- - - - -

He planned to spend the day hunting, as he so often did. His bow was strung, his quiver full, his arrows sharp. The hounds were eager, rested, ready to run. By dawn they were in the forested hills, the dogs baying as they found a scent.

The scent lead to tracks, but despite the speed of the dogs, the tracks (as fresh as they were) did not lead to a deer. Determined, and intrigued, Actaeon picked up his pace. As fast as the pack was, nothing on four legs could outrun the master of the hunt.

Faster he ran, and faster still. His feet sure, his speed outstripping the wind, a thrill in his heart at the thought of a worthy prey. And there she was: a doe, perhaps the largest he had ever seen, a magnificent beast. The doe twisted, leapt, ran, but nothing she did let her escape her pursuer. The doe ran, Actaeon chased, and time fled.

The trance of the chase only ended for the hunter when the doe found a glade and stopped. Actaeon’s bow was off his shoulder and in his hands, an arrow nocked, before he noticed the naked maiden. The naked maiden now standing between his arrow and his prey.

“Sweet lass, please step aside, as I wish to claim my trophy.” he said, and if his smile as he let his gaze roam over her naked form was a bit predatory, he was, after all a hunter.

“Your trophy? This animal is mine. And close your eyes before I give you cause to regret they were ever open.”

“My trophy. I ran her down, she’s mine. And how could I ever regret seeing such beauty?” This time his leer was as sharp as the arrowhead still pointed unwaveringly at maiden and doe.

“Like this,” the goddess stated, her voice growing deeper. “I curse you now, for your pride. I curse you now, for your presumption. I curse you now, for your very gender. Feel the weight of a goddess’ wrath!”

Actaeon attempted to answer, and found himself unable to move, a stature of flesh and bone.

“Should you ever attempt to speak of this to a living creature, the curse will fall. You, the hunter will become the prey. You, the proud, will know the humiliation of fear. You, the master of hounds, will feel their hot breath at your heels and their sharp teeth at your throat.”

Still frozen, Actaeon watched the goddess dress, and leave, the doe following, both disappearing from the limited scope of his unblinking eyes.

- - - - -

He was still frozen some time later, when his dogs finally found the glade, and their master. He remained frozen until the bravest nudged him and he fell to his knees, dropping the bow, the arrow burying itself in moss near the small spring.

“What took you so long, you flea-bitten excuses for trackers?” he said, scratching one behind the ears. “You left me here on my own, and I got into trouble, as usual. Oh, but the trouble was worth it! I’ve never seen such beauty as a bathing goddess.”

Actaeon felt a wrenching pain begin, and realized his mistake too late. The pain was a red haze before his eyes, in every part of his body. Before he could take his next breath, before he could think his next thought, he changed.

Where Actaeon had knelt now stood a towering stag, a king of harts. Eight feet at the shoulders, the head and antlers taking it another eight feet higher. So golden was its fur that it seemed to glow in the dimness of the glade. Its hooves were platters, its tail a club, its nostrils sheer furnace pits. It was the greatest buck to ever stride the earth.

But it was still a stag, and it was surrounded by hounds, and it followed its nature. It ran. Actaeon ran for his very life.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Diana didn’t say much. Didn’t seem to remember much beyond having spent far too long in the nest. Her looks, her slight stature, her general air of innocence all said she couldn’t have been much more than a teenager, but she didn’t know for sure. Didn’t remember any family, or friends, or where she was from, she said.

So Ryan took her back to their headquarters. This was the way he’d built his teams. With former victims, and their family. With the survivors. Accepting those who already believed. Accepting those who were willing to devote their lives to the cause. Accepting those who hated.

The training was like the breath of life to the young girl. She took to it like an olympian. Spent all day in the gym, or the library, or on the range. There wasn’t an inch of the headquarters she didn’t visit. And when she wasn’t training, she was with Ryan, asking questions.

“But what about the gentle ones?” was one of the things she wanted to know. “What do you do when you find a nest that takes only those who want to be vampires, ones that don’t kill for their blood, that use their long lives to learn and create and give back?”

Ryan snorted. “Never met one like that. But I suppose that if I did, I’d probably put a Stakemaster through its heart, cut off its head, and burn the body. The only way to end a disease is to eradicate it completely.”

Diana nodded earnestly. “I agree. Cut the head off.”

- - - - -

A week of training passed, turned into two, and then a month. By then, Diana was just part of the crew. Had served as backup on a small raid. Become just a part of the background, cognizant of the routine of Ryan’s headquarters. Knew his schedule as well as he did.

Which is how she knew that after a raid, unlike the others who partied full out, he retreated to his room. He preferred to write up the debriefing notes, update his own personal files, deal with the paper work that running this size organization required.

She found him at his desk, the only light in the room the small lamp that illuminated the papers before him. He looked up, his eyes far away for a moment before they recognized her.

“Diana, what can I do for you?” he asked.

“I just… needed to talk, I guess.” she answered, moving closer.

“About what?” He glanced at the papers he’d been working on, then put his pen down, and pushed his chair away from the desk.

“Why do you it?” she asked.

“Do what?”

“All this,” she replied, gesturing vaguely around her. “The fighting. The killing. The slaughter. Did you lose someone close, lose them to a vampire?”

“No.” he said. “No, I didn’t. I guess I do it because I’m good at it. I’d been in the Marines, but didn’t like the orders. Was fresh out of my second tour, wondering what to do, whether to re-up, or maybe find another line of work. A friend of a friend asked me if I’d provide a little backup when he re-kidnapped his kid from a cult. I said ‘Yes.’ Turned out the cult was a front for a nest of vampires. Couldn’t rescue the kid, but I did get my employer out, and managed to take out most of the nest while driving the others out of town. Discovered what I was good at. Been doing it ever since.”

“No big philosophical reasons then? No moral outrage? No need for revenge? Just because you’re good at it?”

“No, no, no, and yes.” a faint smile graced his lips as really looked at her for the first time. Her eyes were dark pools, and he felt himself falling into them.

“You remember what you said about eradicating a disease? Cut its head off?”

“Yes,” he murmured sinking deeper into her eyes.

“It’s time.” she said, and that was the last thing Oleg Ryan ever heard as Oleg Ryan.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The greatest stag to ever live ran, a pack of the fiercest hunting hounds ever trained by man nipping at his heels. The greatest hunter to ever stride the world ran, using every trick he’d learned in all his many hunts to escape the slavering dogs close behind.

For every trick he knew, tho’, he’d trained his hounds to counter. No leap was far enough. No turn was quick enough. No horned lunge was close enough. So the great hart ran, and ran, and ran, the bellows of the hounds his final dirge.

The great hart ran until there was nowhere else to run to, trapped against a broad tangle of thorn trees. With nothing left to do but fight, the stag fought. The antlers stabbed, and the hooves struck, and the pack suffered. But the pack was trained, and many in number, and their blood lust was up.

Hound after hound fell, but for each one that fell, Actaeon paid a price. For each dog he killed, two others would sink their teeth into him, tear chunks of flesh free, make him bleed. The loss of blood left him weaker, slower, less sure. Now three, or four, would attack from the sides and behind as he turned to defend himself. And then one leg tendon was severed, and another. The magnificent animal fell, and the remains of the pack tore it apart.

So Actaeon died, at the teeth and nails of his own hounds, a victim of a goddess’ anger and his own pride.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

“Wake up,” she said, and he did, not knowing himself. “I am Diana, your mistress and your goddess, giver of life after death.”

He tried to speak, coughed from a dry throat. She ran the silver blade of a small knife up one wrist and offered the small wound to him. He drank. Drank again. Would have swallowed a third mouthful of the ambrosia he tasted had she not taken her wrist away. She licked it, and the wound healed instantly.

“Who am I?” he asked, when he could speak.

“You,” she continued, “are my Actaeon, new born, given a second life. You are my mighty hunter. You will grow strong and skilled, and when you are you will strike down my enemies. But first you must be trained.”

The training began for the new vampire. He learned to use his new-born strength and speed. He learned to control his new senses. He studied with martial artists that had honed their knowledge and their skills down long centuries.

When he had nearly finished his physical training, Diana herself began his mental training. She started with the history of the nest, which was her history, as well. She taught him how to feed properly, to take only what he needed, to leave the donors alive. She taught him arts of seduction and mesmerization and deception. She shared her powers with him each time she fed him.

And her Actaeon learned. Not like the sponge, which gives up what it has absorbed under pressure, but like the coral, which builds its body from its environment. He absorbed everything she taught him, took it in, made it a part of himself. Filled the void of himself with her words, her life, her blood. Everything he was, was due to her.

Never once in all the long hours while her new weapon filled himself with her did it ever occur to Diana that he was becoming a part of her, as well.

- - - - -

The longer one lives, the more one comes to realize that all things will end, and so it was with Actaeon’s training. A time came when there was nothing left to teach him, no skills to reveal to him, no disciplines in which to train him. With an odd reluctance, Diana fed her mighty hunter with her blood, her powers, herself one last time, and sent him after Ryan’s hounds.

“Kill them all,” she said. “Kill them all that our people may live.”

- - - - -

That was the last time she ever saw her hunter. But the seers among her nest told her of the great battle that took place in Ryan’s headquarters. Not one in four of the hunters there survived the onslaught. But they had been trained by the greatest hunter ever, and survive some did.

Despite his skills, despite his training, despite his powers, Actaeon was alone, and the hunters fought as a team. Every time Actaeon destroyed a hunter, two more left their marks upon him. The wounds mounted, multiplied, took their toll. In the final battle, Actaeon proved too weak to defend himself from Dobe Brown’s dying blow. Her last breath became his as well, and the two died entangled, his teeth in her throat, her machete through his heart.

Diana considered her revenge right, fit, and fulfilled. Her nest would be able to exist undisturbed. It would be decades before the hunters could rebuild themselves, if ever. A man like Oleg Ryan was not common.

So time passed. The nest flourished. And if the members of the nest noticed a growing distance in Diana’s gaze, wasn’t a goddess above all others?

- - - - -

And on those rare occasions when Diana is by herself, she sometimes thinks of her Actaeon. Feels every second of the centuries alone. And despairs.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -