Sunday, December 23, 2012

'Buck to the Future', part 1: pages 1-15

This is ‘Buck to the Future’, a 15-page comic I created over several days this past summer.  I’ve been cleaning it up over the last few months on my iPad. I’ve gotten the first 11 pages cleaned, but I couldn’t wait to finish the rest before I posted it.
The comic was inspired by this drawing, by Snapai, who is much better at putting these sort of things together than I am.
http://i.imgur.com/JLRhO.png His other work can be seen at snapai.deviantart.com.


























Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"Insomnia" - A 'Who Was Veronica Dawson?' short story


This is a short story starring the characters in my YA series, "Who Was Veronica Dawson?".  The timeline of the story doesn't really matter, because it makes for a nice stand-alone.  Minor spoiler alerts, but since the series has yet to be published it doesn't really matter. :)  Enjoy!  

"Insomnia" - by Graham Patrick Smith 

Another peal of thunder echoed through my window, barely audible over the sound of the rain lashing against the hundred-year-old panes of glass.  Normally there was no more comforting sound than rain, when I was trying to sleep.  It usually felt like a second blanket, pushing me gently down into my mattress and lulling me to sleep like a mother’s quiet song.  Of course, since I’ve never known my mother, it’s probably not the most applicable analogy.  But Sister Gwen sometimes sung me to sleep at St. Ivo of Kermartin’s Home for Unwanted and Abandoned Children, and the soothing sound of rain usually had the same effect. 

That night, however, not even the rain could ease my mind into sleep.  I opened my eyes for the hundredth time and stared up at the springs and mattress over my head, indented ever so slightly from the weight of my sister, Deirdre, in her bunk.  Though we were both in high school now, she and I still insisted on sharing a bedroom, just like we had for over a decade in the orphanage, where we had grown up.  I could hear her snoring lightly, and I pictured her drooling on her pillow, like she used to when she was little.  I envied how peaceful she sounded, and briefly smirked at what the boys who threw themselves at her would say if they could see her puddle of saliva. 

I badly wanted to wake Deirdre up and talk to her about what was on my mind.  She had always been my sympathetic ear, even though she was almost two years younger than me.  But I thought better of it; she deserved a night free from my pestering, and I was getting to the age where I needed to learn to work out these inner turmoils on my own, at least once in a while.  So I placed my bare feet on the shag carpet rug and eased out of bed, trying not to make the springs squeak.  When I was sure that she was still asleep, I padded to the window and placed my fingertips on the cool glass, instantly dampening them from condensation.  The hardwood floor under my feet send a shiver up my legs that met the one from my fingers, scattering goosebumps all across my skin.  I didn’t bother rubbing them away. 

Rain rolled down the window in sheets.  Beyond the window, the only light I could make out was the wishy-washy street lamp half a block away, a melting globe of orange. My reflection blinked two big, brown eyes back at me.  The eyes were positioned over a nose that was so big it looked like it should belong on a boxer instead of a seventeen-year-old girl.  But, though it still bothered me, I felt better about it than I had years before.  Growing up had done a lot for my self-esteem, and the more I learned to accept myself, flaws and all, the more other people seemed to accept me.

Besides, he had never seemed to mind my nose.

 A flash of lightning suddenly lit the room, temporarily making my reflection disappear.  By the time the spots had stopped dancing in front of my eyes another clap of thunder, this one closer than the last, rolled through the houses and trees of my neighborhood.  My mind was firing on all cylinders; I was officially not falling asleep anytime soon. 

When I had first come to live with my five-hundred-and-something year old grandmother, I hadn’t like tea.  But every time one of us was upset, or hurting, or crying, or some combination of the three, Sylvia always fixed a kettle on her stove.  It had grown on me in the last year and a half, and now merely the thought of a cup was wearing the edges off my nerves.  With any luck it would ease me to sleep better than the thunderstorm, anyway. 

The hardwood floor of Sylvia’s old house creaked pleasantly under my feet as I tiptoed downstairs.  Being taller than ninety percent of the girls in the upcoming senior class, I carried a little more than average weight (mainly in my huge butt), and the creaking stairs tried to remind me of this.  But, like my nose, I was growing to love every part of myself.

And suddenly, barefoot and braless, in a t-shirt and my 'fat pants', without a scrap of make-up on my face, I felt very pretty.  The little flutter of happiness moved from my belly to my chest, and I instinctively wrapped my arms around my middle and shyly hid my face, even though there was no one there to see.  What’s gotten into you? I thought giddily. 

Then I noticed where I had stopped.  I was standing in front of the bedroom of Drew Devereaux.  He was the adopted son of my so-distant-we-probably-can’t-even-be-considered-relatives uncle, Charlie Devereaux.  He and his sister, Crystal, had come to live with us after Charlie had been convicted of a crime that he didn’t commit.  Drew and Crystal were two of my best friends.

Drew had a huge crush on me, and hadn’t been transparent about the fact since we had met, last summer.  And he was the reason I couldn’t sleep. 

Drew and I had gone to prom together, his senior and my junior, less than a month prior.  Before I had agreed to go with him, I had laid down the law that we were only going as friends, and for him not to read too much into it.  Drew had been true to his word, and he had been a perfect gentleman all night.  And I had the best night of my life. 

When we slow danced, I placed my head on his chest (he was one of the few guys in school taller than me), and he wrapped me ever so gently in his arms.  He embraced my waist and the small of my back just enough to hold us together.  We only danced with each other that night.  Neither of us minded. 

During the last song of the evening, as I lay my cheek against his collar bone, breathing in the scent of his cologne and feeling his embrace again, he kissed my forehead, slowly and gently.  Everything about the way he treated me that night – how he held me like I was the most beautiful girl in the world, how every time he touched me he treasured the moment like it might be his last – spoke to me.  It was like he was saying, “She is mine, even if only for tonight.”

Since school had let out and Drew had registered for his classes at the local university in the fall, I had a number of nights like this one. Of course no one had held me like that since Drew (I’d only really had one serious boyfriend, and that had ended in disaster), and no one had ever held me like that before, either.  And, no matter what I may or may not have felt for Drew … I liked the way he made me feel.  No; I loved it.

And on the nights like this one, I wanted to wake him up and ask him to hold me like that again. 

It was nothing sexual … at least, I didn’t think it was, anyway.  I mean, of course my mind wandered on the topic on occasion, but never in relation to anyone in particular, especially not Drew.  It was about feeling wanted, needed, desired; and Drew had made me feel all of those on prom night.   

I mean, I was a freak, a monster, cursed to forever walk the night as the living dead.  It’s not so hard to believe that I desired a boy treating me like I was beautiful.  But I was also notorious at being selfish without realizing it (hence the nights I had woken Deirdre for sister talk), and waking up Drew just so I could manipulate him into making me feel a certain way was probably the lowest thing I could do.  Especially since he openly had a crush on me, and I would just be playing with his feelings. 

It wouldn’t really be manipulating him if you felt the same way, something inside me said.

But I don’t, I rationalized.  It would be wrong. 

Are you sure you don’t?   

Though it hadn’t beaten in years, I would have sworn my heart was hammering in my chest.  My breath was coming in quick huffs, even though I didn’t need to breath, and a familiar, clammy sweat had broken out on my palms.  I was still staring at Drew’s door, I realized a second later, the last thought lingering on my lips like chap stick that I thought was long gone.  

I was sure.  I had to be.  Of course I didn’t have feelings for Drew. I mean, it was Drew.  After all we had been through – battles with Vates, Sleepwalker family drama, undead curses – it would be weird dating him.  He knew too much about me. 

And he likes you anyway, dummy.  Something told me.  There might be something to those feelings he gave you on the dance floor a few months ago.  There might be something to the feelings he’s giving you now. 

I forced my breathing to go back to normal, as if to show the voice in my head that it was wrong.  But I couldn’t ignore the sweaty palms and the fact that I was chewing my bottom lip, something I only did when I was really nervous. 

I needed a cup of tea very, very badly. 

Far away from everyone else’s bedrooms, I took the last flight of stairs a little more noisily, confident that the sound of the storm would drown out my footsteps.  As I descended the last step and walked toward the kitchen, I noticed a muted yellow light spilling into the hallway.  I cautiously approached the entryway, and I knocked lightly on the doorframe with my knuckles as I stuck my head inside. 

Seated at the bar that surrounded the kitchen island was Drew, a porcelain cup in his hands.  Little curls of steam rose from the cup.  On the island’s stove was Sylvia’s teakettle.  The soft scent of lavender and chamomile, one of my grandmother’s most soothing blends, wafted through the air. 

Drew looked up at the sound of my knocking.  His eyes were heavily lidded behind his glasses and his curly brown hair hung limply over his forehead.  The corners of his mouth were turned down in either fatigue or worry, but I didn’t have time to determine which.  When his eyes rested on me the drowsiness slid from his face like a sheet of water on my window, and was replaced with a look of simple relief.  “Hey, Ronnie,” he said gently. 

I found myself smiling, too, and I shyly diverted my eyes for a second before reminding myself that it was just Drew.  “Hey, Drew,” I replied.  “What’re you doing up so late?”

The kitchen’s dark corners were briefly lit by a flash of lightning, and another clap of thunder rolled over the house a few second later.  “I couldn’t sleep,” he said.  “The thunder was keeping me awake.”

“Oh.  Me, too,” I lied. 

Drew gestured to the stool next to him with his chin.  “Want a cup of tea?  There’s still plenty.” 

I smiled and finally entered the kitchen.  The tile was cold under my feet, so I blamed the new wave of goosebumps that spread on my arms on the temperature and not sitting next to Drew.  “I’d love one.  Thanks.”

Drew stood, walked to the cabinet, and revealed another cup.  Soon I, too, had a cup of tea between my palms.  Though the kitchen was warm from the summer thunderstorm outside, the cup’s heat felt good against my palms.  I felt the goosebumps gradually begin to recede.  My eyes drifted closed and I deeply inhaled the tea’s mollifying scent.  It seemed to fill me from head to toe.  I gently took the first sip, careful not to burn my tongue.  Like all tea, the flavor was a little weaker than its aroma, but it was still perfect.

“So why’re you really awake?”  Drew asked as I set my cup upon the bartop with a small clink. 

When I looked to him, I found his brown eyes resting peacefully on me.  I was suddenly, painfully self-conscious of my lack of make-up, but he didn’t seem to mind.  “I told you,” I said.  “The thunder was keeping me awake.”

“Uh-huh,” Drew laughed skeptically.  He took a sip from his cup.  “I’ve seen you sleep like a rock through thunderstorms, Ronnie.”

“If you think you can hear me snoring over the thunder, you’re wrong,” I diverted.  “That’s totally Deirdre.” 

I couldn’t fool Drew.  When he smiled and lowered his chin, I could tell that he totally knew that I was trying to change the topic.  But, in a classic Drew fashion, he didn’t press the topic; he simply wrapped his hands around his cup and tapped thoughtfully on its rim with his fingertip. 

“The tea is really good,” I said after a few moments of silence. 

“Thanks,” he replied genuinely.  “It took three tries to get it right.  Turns out, boiling water is harder than it looks.”

I laughed even though the little self-deprecating joke wasn’t very funny.  I didn’t even realize that my hand was resting on the bartop until Drew’s suddenly rose and lay gently on top of it.  He didn’t smother my hand with his; he just laid his fingers across mine, a subtle, gentle gesture.  Just like how he had acted at prom. 

“I’m glad you came down,” he said softly.  “Drinking tea in the rain was no fun by myself.” 

My fingernails looked like crap.  I had cut them short so I could help Sylvia in the garden without getting dirt under them, and my nail polish was chipped and hideous.  Still, his hand didn’t move.  Another flash of lighting lit the kitchen, and was quickly followed by a low roar of thunder.  The scent and taste of the tea, Drew’s warm touch on my cool, undead hand, and the placid sounds of the storm had warn away the edges of my nerves.

“So am I,” I replied, meeting his eyes.  

Saturday, April 7, 2012

"My Ex From Hell"

WHERE R U, RANDAL?  WE NEED 2 TALK.

The text message had arrived at some point during the last three class periods, but my phone had been on silent so I hadn’t noticed.  It wasn’t until the end of the school day, when I was gathering the stack of papers to grade over the weekend, that I found it.

With only four weeks left in the school year, my mind was on everything except cryptic, errant text messages.  But the fact that this one was from Julie, my ex-girlfriend, sent a shiver down my spine.

Julie and I never had what could be called a functional relationship.  Meaning, we fought.  A lot.  The topic never really seemed to matter.  Actually, we never really talked that much unless we were fighting.  We dated for a year and I still doubt that I knew her favorite color, so we never, ever talked about ‘the relationship’.  

Not that it was all bad.  All the fighting meant lots of make-up sex, which seemed to make all the fighting worthwhile (for a few months, anyway).  And we certainly weren’t just using each other for angry sex; I thought we were really in love, for a while.  But, despite the good times, Julie and I seemed to be toxic to one another. 

We hadn’t spoken in over a year.  I wasn’t even sure why I still had her number in my phone.

I shivered again and closed the door to my classroom, and then quickly dialed Julie’s number.  It rang seven times before diverting to voicemail.  “This is Julie.  Leave a message,” her throaty, sensual voice purred. 

“Hey, Julie,” I said, and my voice cracked from nerves. “This is Randal.  I just got your text.  What’s going on?  Call me back.  Bye.”

The second I pressed the ‘end call’ button, my phone buzzed with another text.  I CANT TALK NOW. NEED 2 SEE U 2NITE.  CAN I COME BY YOUR PLACE?

I wanted to ask why Julie wouldn’t just call me, but, then again, she had always been a strange, particular creature.  SURE.  ILL HAVE PIZZA N BEER.  C U @ 8? I texted back.

A few seconds later:  C U THEN.


The doorbell rang at five minutes after eight that evening.  I had been so nervous about Julie coming that I had graded the entire stack of Geometry tests and already cracked into the six-pack I had picked up on the way home.  After I was sure that the table was clear of tests and beer bottles, I opened the door to my apartment. 

Julie was just as beautiful as I remembered her.  Five-foot-six, head full of thick, raven-black hair, emerald eyes, thick, pale lips. 

The toddler she held in her arms, however … that was new. 

“Hey, Randal,” she said, her eyes full of emotion.  “Can we come in?”


“Are you sure she’s mine?” I asked for the hundredth time in half an hour.  The pizza and beer were long gone.  Julie had disposed of most of the pizza.  I had handled most of the beer.

“Positive,” Julie sighed yet again.  “I told you, Randal, there wasn’t anyone else, and there hasn’t been anyone else since." 

The baby was beautiful.  She already had a frock of black hair on her little pink head, just like her mother.  The baby’s eyes were hazel, but, as it goes with babies, that could change.

“Brigid,” I said, watching the baby suck on Julie’s fingers one by one.  My Catholic upbringing sparked a memory of the name.  “The patron saint of infants and fatherless children?”

“Mm-hmm,” Julie replied, her eyes on the baby. 

I stood and pulled my fingers through my hair as I paced the room.  I desperately wanted another beer.  “Why didn’t you tell me sooner, Julie?” I cried.  “I mean, she’s, what, six months old, now?  You couldn’t have called me when you first found out you were pregnant?”  The more I talked about it, the more I felt like I was going to collapse.  Damn it, I needed another beer.  “Why did you suddenly decide to pop back into my life tonight?”

Julie’s eyes briefly flashed with anger.  I had seen that expression before.  “If you knew, Randal, you’d be a little more understanding.” 

I braced my feet and threw my hands into the air, ready to scream my response.  Then I noticed the baby in her arms, calm and placated, and made an effort to lower my tone.  “Please, enlighten me.”

The anger in Julie’s face melted as she looked away from me.  I caught a shadow of shame and embarrassment on her face before she managed to mask it.  “There’s something you don’t know about me,” she began.

“Like the fact that you were off having my baby somewhere, while I was living my life, thinking I was free and clear of my ex?” I said.  “I think I’ve realized that by now.”

“No, you asshole!” she cried, holding the baby closer to her chest.  “That I’m not even human!” 

Her cheeks flushed with red and she gently rocked Brigid, who seemed to be getting fussier by the second.  I stared incredulously at Julie, but she wouldn’t meet my eyes.  “Oh, what is that supposed to mean?” I huffed.  “Is that something a psychologist told you?  Like, ‘you’re only a human by the people that define you’ or some other new-age crap?”

The angry blush crept down Julie’s neck onto her collar bone.  She shook her head slowly.  “Do you have to be such a prick?” She smoldered.  “No, Randal, I mean that, by definition of species, I am not a human being.”  She sighed, and the shame and embarrassment that I had noticed earlier returned.  “I’m a demon.”
 
I had been preparing a come-back for when it was my turn to argue, and already had my mouth open, ready to let it fly.  But at Julie’s last words, whatever I was going to say evaporated from my mind.  I closed my mouth.

“And no, that’s not some new-age or born-again Adventist crap,” Julie went on.  “I really am a flesh-and-bone demon.  A succubus, to be exact.” Julie closed her eyes and snapped her fingers.  When she opened them again, the green hue that I had fallen in love with was gone.  Instead, her eyes shone like two orange garnets.  Julie then braced Brigid against her hip and lifted her own black bangs.  Jutting from her forehead were two tiny red horns, each no longer than two inches. 

I didn’t realize how quickly I was backpedaling away from her until I collided, hard, with the dining room table.  I gripped its edge until my knuckles turned white.  “What the hell, Julie?” I tried to cry, but my voice squeaked out at just above a whisper.  “I mean … like … what … the hell?” 

“I didn’t tell you when we first met because … well … because I liked you.  A lot more than any other mortal I’ve ever met.” She dropped her bangs and cradled Brigid again.  “Normally, succubi just use sex to sustain ourselves.  We need it to survive.” She finally raised her eyes to mine.  “But it was different with you.”

Her voice was sultry and her words were honeyed, but my freaked-out brain wasn’t listening very well. “Oh my GOD, Julie!” I yelled.  “You’re a demon!  Like, a real, freakin’ demon!  And you don’t tell me until after you give birth to my child?”

The shame and embarrassment in her face were replaced with anger and hurt.  “You want to know why I never told you?” she defended.  Her voice was husky, like she was on the verge of tears.  “This.  This is why.  Because you’re the only mortal that I’ve ever … that I’ve ever loved … and I couldn’t stand the idea of you rejecting me, okay?!” She hid her face.  I would have sworn that the tears running from her amber eyes were made of gold.  “As for why I didn’t tell you about the baby until now: succubus births can get a little … complicated.  Not to mention that, for the first few months after birth, cambions – that’s the offspring of a succubus and a human – are sort of volatile.” 

I released the edge of the table and slowly approached my ex.  Yes, she was a real, honest-to-God (no pun intended) demon … but she was still the same Julie I had always known.  The only difference was that I knew what she was, now.  And, actually, for as little as I had bothered to learn about her during that year we dated, I probably would have ignored her if she had tried to tell the truth.  Hell, for all I knew she had tried to tell me, but I had been too unconcerned with our relationship to care.

God, she was right.  I was an asshole.    

“I’m ... I’m sorry, Julie,” I whispered, sitting cross-legged in front of her.  I gently touched her knee, and to my relief she didn’t shirk away.  “I’m just a little freaked out.  Ex is back in town.  Ex brings my baby with her.  Ex tells me that she’s not human, and our baby isn’t exactly human by proxy.  It’s sort of a lot to process.”

“I didn’t mean to do it like this,” she said.  Her black hair hung around her face like a curtain.

“Can I hold her?”  I asked, the words tumbling out faster than I could consider them.

Julie raised her face. Her eyes were back to green, but bloodshot and puffy.  Succubi really aren’t that different from normal girls.  “Of course,” she whispered.  She lifted the baby beneath her pudgy little arms.  Brigid wore a little pink onesy with ‘cookie bandit’ written across the front.  She kicked her legs in excitement as her mother held her aloft. 

Following Julie’s lead, I took the baby beneath the arms.  “Hey, baby,” I tried to say in my most comforting voice.  It felt strange, holding a baby.  It felt even stranger to know that the baby was mine, and stranger still that she wasn’t precisely human.  “I’m … um … I guess I’m your daddy.” 

The words weren’t as terrifying as I thought they’d be. 

Brigid giggled, and I found myself smiling.  “You are the happiest baby ever,” I marveled, bouncing her up and down.  “Why, I’ll bet you smile all the time.”  I bounced her a little higher.

“Um, Randal, you don’t want to do that,” Julie said quickly.  “She just ate, and cambions can be sort of …,”

Brigid’s mouth flew open and a gout of fire engulfed my face.

“Ohmygodohmygod!” I screamed.  Brigid was instantly taken from my hands and I slapped at my still-smoking eyebrows with both palms.  The smell of burned hair filled the air.

“When cambion babies spit up, they spit up fire,” Julie said meekly. Though her tone was apologetic, I could tell that she was trying to suppress a laugh.

I blinked against the spots that were forming in front of my eyes.  Brigid, however, was now laughing harder than ever.  Julie laughed and bounced the baby on her knee, though more gently than I had. She looked so beautiful during the simple act, more beautiful than she ever had during our long argument and makeup sessions.  “I guess it’s something I’m going to have to get used to,” I said simply. 

Julie’s eyes turned garnet again and her tiny horns reappeared.  In our rocky history, the two of us had never done much talking.  The look of relief and appreciation that came over her spoke louder and more clearly than any conversation me and my succubus girlfriend ever had. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

"After the Fall"

 Title:  "After the Fall"
Wordcount:  >1300 words
rated PG-13 for mild suggestive dialogue 
Author:  Graham Patrick Smith


"It's good to see you again," I said, my nervousness apparent in the way I diverted my eyes and shuffled my feet.  If she took note, she gave no indication as she stared back at me with steely gray eyes.

"It's good to see you again, too," she said.  The warm, late-summer wind blew across the hilltop where we both stood, making the amber-colored fields of wheat and the still-green trees of the rolling valley below us dance and sway, filling the air with their rustling like the churning of the ocean.  We stood under a giant oak tree, one that was prematurely turning the golds and oranges of the immanent autumn.  My tennis shoes crunched the fallen, discarded acorn tops, cast aside by the squirrels and other creatures that used the massive, old tree for sustenance.

I suppose, in that aspect, the creatures and I were the same.

She stood barefoot on the organic carpet.  The light breaking through the oak tree's canopy in patches where the leaved had already been shed lit her pale, shimmering skin.  Another gust of wind, this one cooler than the last, tossed her light blonde hair around her head, making her curls bounce and sway around her slender shoulders.

It had been almost three months since I had last seen Ostereth, and I had missed her terribly.  Not that I even knew her real name was Ostereth; it was merely the name she gave me, and I never questioned it.  I wasn't even sure she HAD a real name, or if she merely liked the way it sounded and decided to call herself that.

She wore a dress of light blue that made her gray eyes stand out like silver, and a slight smile played across her face as she looked at me the way she did every time we had our encounters.  I wasn't sure if she could tell that I had fallen in love with her or not. I knew that she knew things, impossible things about me and my life that I had never told her, so I wouldn't be surprised if she had figured it out.

It was the fifth time I had summoned her, that wily spirit of the air.

The old book I had discovered in the estate sale my parents had purchased had described the processes of summoning spirits, willing them into physical form from the Arid Places of the world.  I had tried it two springs ago, in the very place where Ostereth and I now stood, the day before the first day of spring as the book had described.

And Ostereth had appeared.

She had been beautiful and elegant, clad only in the wind that supplied her with her name.  She said she was young as far as spirits go - only three-hundred and thirty-seven years old, at the time - which made my seventeen seem ridiculous by comparison.  The book had warned of speaking with spirits, saying they loved to play tricks and make unfair bargains and treat mortal creatures with distain.

But she had asked nothing from me.  She had no deals, no bargains, only curiosity, for she said it was her first time visiting the mortal world.  We had spoken for hours that first night, and even when the late-winter air had made my limbs numb I still sat with her under the oak tree.  I had fallen in love with her long before she had asked me to help her try out her new form of flesh beneath the massive bows.  She had been as warm as a summer breeze.

And that was how it had been, the day before every seasonal change, for over a year.

The months between our meetings felt like years.  I agonized over my feelings for a creature I knew I could never fully have any more than I could cage the wind.  I wasted time wondering if an everliving spirit could have feelings for me like I had for her, though she would outlive me by millennia.  In the weeks and days that preceded each summoning I would prepare a barrage of questions for her.  What did she do during our months apart?  What were the Arid Places like?  Did she understand human emotions?  Was I a fool to spend my months pining after her?

And every time the nearly-four-centuries-old Ostereth (who didn't look a day older than me) appeared, all those prepared questions disappeared, along with the worries that my love for her would never be fulfilled.  When she was there, nothing else mattered; not the doubts that I sometimes had as to whether or not she was even real, not the worry that she might not show up when summoned.  Every time she appeared, she smiled that beautiful smile and greeted me as warmly as I did her.

"How have you been?" she asked me, her smile as lighthearted and joyful as it had ever been.

"Fine," I lied, and she knew it.  Every time we met was sweeter and more heartwrenching than the last, and this time I knew that we wouldn't have a proper meeting untill the spring.  The summonings were always harder after the fall, because winter is the time when air spirits are allowed to play and roam and let their essences mix with their brethren.  The pull from her fellow spirits makes the pre-winter summoning more difficult, and she can never stay as long.  And although I knew it was stupid and childish and very human of me, I always became a little jealous during the winter; the thought of Ostereth's essence mixing and spiraling with the other air spirits made me envy them terribly.  I knew she wasn't mine, nor was I under any illusions that she could ever be mine ... but that didn't stop me from desiring her every time I felt a snowflake on my face.

"You're lying," she replied with a smile, laying a warm hand, the exact temperature of the pre-autumn air, on the side of my face.

I smiled sheepishly.  "How did you know?"

"You told the same lie last fall."

The wind suddenly shifted and became much warmer, shoving her straight at me.  As I put my arms around the centuries-old spirit and our lips met, I caught a whiff of the wheat feilds and the old oak tree and the other fresh, renewed smells that signaled the end of summer.  And it occured to me that I wasn't smelling my surroundings; I was smelling her, because she was my surroundings.

We pulled away at exactly the same instant, and the rational side of my brain did its best to ruin the moment.  I knew that, at midnight, when Ostereth dissappeared and I was left alone on the hilltop, that I would wonder if it had all been a dream.  I knew how bad it would hurt tomorrow, going back to school and mortality, where there was no magic and no Ostereth.  But, with her in my arms at that moment, I didn't care.

From nowhere my wandering mind suddenly found one of the questions I had been burning to ask Ostereth for over a year now.  I swallowed and stammered, "Will you miss me, at midnight?"

She grinned, eyes glistening.  "I always do."  Running her fingers through my hair, she added, "my nervous pile of blood and sweet emotions."

As she kissed me for the first time in three months, I dreaded the thought that it was going to be a very long, lonely fall, untill I saw her again just before winter.  But a portion of me felt that spring was already on its way. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Trigger Finger



Brigit's Flame - February 2012, week 1 entry
Prompt:  Thank you
Title:  Trigger Finger
Wordcount:  ~1700, rated PG-13 for mild language and violent imagery
Author:  Graham Smith (chuck_the_plant)

My ears filled with thunder when she pulled the trigger.  She blinked involuntarily against the sound and her shoulders moved less than they did the last time, but all five cans still stood along the fencepost.  “You missed again,” I told her. 
Sasha spun to me with venom in her eyes.  “I know that!” she screamed.  “You don’t have to rub it in my face!” 
I felt my back straighten as I stared at the twelve-year-old.  “Look, do you want to learn to shoot or not?”  I asked her, my voice like iron.  “Because I don’t have to teach you, you know.”
“If you’re going to keep being an asshole about it, then no!” she screamed back.
I pressed my lips together in frustration and kneaded my hands together, trying to repress my own shouting.  I definitely was not being an asshole about it, but screaming at her wouldn't prove it.  Besides, she had already fired off three shots, and that, combined with her screaming, was going to bring the flesh-eaters from miles around in the next hour.  We had to move. 
“Pack your stuff.  Were leaving,” I told her, shouldering my backpack.  I held out my hand for the gun.  She glared hatefully at it for a second before handing the gun over.  Sasha then gathered her meager belongings, hoisted them on her back, and followed me out of the open field, where we had camped the night before. 
The zombie apocalypse hadn't been what the movies made it out to be.  It wasn’t an exciting slug-fest against the forces of the undead; it was everyone you’ve ever known and loved, suddenly losing their minds and becoming overwhelmed with the desire to eat living meat. 
The biological agent had hit a little over a year ago, as near as I could tell.  In under a week, the phrase “We are the ninety-nine percent” became redefined to describe those that contracted the agent.  I was lucky; I had been pretty much a loner my whole life, and my southern upbringing meant I already had a sizable stockpile of guns.  Even luckier, I was one of the one percent of Americans that seemed to be immune to the agent. 
Sasha hadn’t been so lucky.  Sure, she was immune, but because she was adopted, she was the only one in her family.  I found her when she was eleven years old, hiding in an upstairs closet in her family’s home, when I had gone inside scavenging for food and weapons.  The bodies of her family had been in the living room, where they apparently had ripped each other to shreds looking for their next meals.  I never asked Sasha if she had witnessed the grizzly scene, but judging from how little she talked about it, she had. 
She was a little too old to be my daughter and a little too young to be my sister, but regardless I had dedicated myself to protecting Sasha.  We quickly became friends and learned to depend on each other, but lately we had been fighting a lot.  Especially since food had become scarce.  Now both of us were almost constantly hungry, which made being on the move from the flesh-eaters very difficult. 
“Where are we going?” Sasha asked after we had walked a mile, south, in silence. 
“Wherever there’s food,” I said, “and ammunition.”
“Because I throw so much away every time I pick up the gun?” she accused.  “Because I’m such a terrible shot?”
I gritted my teeth.  “I didn’t say that.  We just need more.” 
“That’s what you meant, though!  If I’m such a waste of ammunition, why are you trying to teach me to shoot?”
Sasha’s bad attitude was getting on my nerves, and the growl in my stomach was doing nothing to help.  “Because you need to know how to defend yourself.  I might not always be around to protect you.” 
“So I’m just a defenseless little kid?  Something you have to constantly look after?  A burden?”
After traveling with a pre-teenager for over a year, I should have known not to get into a argument volley with her.  If I would have ignored her she would have gotten over it.  Pushing the subject was the worst thing I could have done; she was younger than me, and I would tire before she did.  “Well, just judging by how you handle the gun, I’d say yes!” 
I didn’t mean it.  She and I were both hungry, and I knew that our words were more based on empty stomachs than real emotions.  Not to mention that I was the adult and she was the child, and I had a responsibility to watch what I said. 
When Sasha replied, her voice was a husky whisper.  “I hate you." Then she sucked in a great breath of air and screamed, “If you don’t want me around so badly, why don’t you just feed me to the zombies?  Then you’d have all the food and bullets to yourself!”
We had to get at least five miles away from the gunshots to lose the flesh-eaters that would be attracted by the sound, and even further if we kept screaming.  “What food?” I screamed back at her.  “In case you haven’t noticed, we haven’t eaten in a day and a half!  Now how about we shut up and keep walking!” 
Sasha turned and started walking to the west, toward the setting sun.
“Where are you going?” I demanded. 
“Anywhere away from you!” she screamed back.  “I’ll be fine on my own!”
I glanced to the south and noticed a large barn a few miles away.  “Sasha, get back here.  Look, we’ll stop in that barn tonight, and when we wake up tomorrow we’ll both feel better.”
“No!” she screamed.  “I’m getting away from you!  You’ve done nothing but be mean to me since we met!  I hate you!”
After all I’ve done for her, that’s what she says to me?  Hunger filed the edges of my response into sharp blades.  “Fine!”  I screamed at her back.  “When I find food, I’m going to eat it all myself, for once!” 
Sasha didn’t respond, but kept walking west.  I huffed an exasperated breath out of my nose at the infuriating girl, then turned and trudged south, toward the barn. 
I didn’t find any food in the barn.
It looked like there had been some seed corn there, maybe a few months ago, but it had been scavenged.  Now only the bare wood remained.  As the sun set I climbed into the loft, dropping my bag of guns by the ladder in case I had to make a hasty exit.  As I spread out my sleeping bag I thought about Sasha, but when I looked out toward the horizon she was nowhere to be seen.  I thought about going out to look for her, but I had no idea where she had gone.  If I was lucky she’d remember that I said I was headed for the barn and she’d find me. 
After a few hours of moping and worrying, I put my small handgun by my side and slipped into my sleeping bag, feeling just like the asshole she claimed I was. 
It was still dark when my eyes snapped open to the nearly inaudible sound of feet creaking on the loft.  My instincts instantly surged at the thought that I was surrounded by flesh-eaters, but then I remembered that flesh-eaters couldn’t climb ladders, and I had left the loft’s ladder down in case Sasha tried to find me.  Even so, I slowly slid my hand out of my sleeping bag to my side, where I had laid my gun. 
It was gone.
And it was then that I heard the small, angry, muffled whimpers of a twelve-year-old girl, and the familiar click of the safety being switched off on my favorite gun.  
It was dark and I was laying on my stomach, so I had no idea where Sasha was.  But, wherever she was, I was completely at her mercy.
Fear and adrenaline flooded my senses as I realized what was happening, but I managed to keep them under control.  If I jumped up from my sleeping bag and tried to tackle her, she might panic and fire.  My breathing quickened, but I tried to still it.  She was twelve years old; if she knew I was panicking then she’d panic, too, which would increase my chances of being shot.  Even if she merely wounded me and didn’t kill me, there was no way I’d be able to get five miles away before the smell of my blood brought the flesh-eaters out of the woodwork.
I laid there, waiting for Sasha’s next move.  After what must have only been minutes but felt like an eternity, I heard her take a few steps toward me, click the safety back into place, and gently set the gun back where she had found it.  She fell to her knees beside me and her whimpers turned into full-blown sobs.
I had no idea what to do.  A little girl that I had basically adopted had nearly killed me in my sleep, and was now crying her eyes out.  But just as I was deciding whether or not to be furious, terrified, or pitying, Sasha stretched out onto the floor and curled into my side, desperately pressing herself against me. 
Even after what I had said to her, even after seeing her family butcher themselves, even after surviving in our living hell of a world for over a year with a relative stranger, even though she'd have twice as much food without me around ... Sasha still wanted to trust me.
I acted like I was stretching in my sleep and draped my arm over her.  The girl wriggled closer, and I pressed my face into the top of her head.  She stunk like little girl sweat, and I couldn’t imagine how badly I must have smelled, but we laid like that until her sobbing stopped and her breathing became heavy and steady. 
When I was sure Sasha was asleep, I whispered to her softly, “Thank you for not giving up on me.” 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sandworld, Episode 1: Hot Water

                Mira could barley move her arms.  They were pressed against her chest, palms up, and she tried to free her left hand enough to reach into the metallic belly of the contraption.  Sweat poured from her brow and soaked her hair, which was pulled into a tight braid and pinned beneath her head.  “Can you see it, Mira?” she heard her father ask. 

                “Ot yeh,” Mira replied.  She had tried to say “not yet”, but the light clenched in her teeth had prevented her from doing so. 

                After a second of silence, her father said, “Is that a yes, or a no?” 

                With a grunt of frustration directed at herself rather than her dad, Mira wriggled the fingers of her right hand until she was able to take the light from her mouth.  It had started to dim, so she shook it as well as she could.  Its light gained a little strength.  “Not yet,” she replied.  “This is the same model we worked on yesterday.  Why is the coupling not where it’s supposed to be?” 

                From the room around her came the modest sound of someone clearing his throat.  “I’m afraid that’s, um, my doing,” said Mr. Mayota, Mira and her father’s latest client.  “I had some, um, modifications made on it a few months ago.  Now it only takes half as much coal to keep it hot!”

                “Until it breaks down,” Mira grumbled to herself.  Louder this time, she asked, “Do you know where they put the power coupling when they did these ‘modifications’?” 

                “Not really,” Mr. Mayota replied.  “I don’t know much about these things, so I didn’t really ask questions.  Which is also why I called you two instead of crawling under there myself.”

                Mira squinted into the metallic underbelly of the huge pressure-cooker.  Everyone in Beryl had one, and fixing them was what kept Kinvara Repairs in business.  Her father had started the business when he was not much older than she, and since her arms had been long enough to reach into the metal bellies of the things, Mira had been tagging along.  Mira suspected that her father used his daughter’s knowledge of contraptions to keep himself from clambering beneath the things.  She teased him about it often, but only because she loved him. 

                Suddenly she spied a familiar part amid the mismatched and jury-rigged innards:  a narrow, hard glass cylinder that was capped on both ends by brass knobs.  Inside the coupling was a spring, which was supposed to be at least somewhat compressed.  This one had decompressed almost completely and nearly forced one of the brass knobs off the end.  “I found it!” she cried in triumph.  “Wow, it’s a wreck.  There’s no recompressing this one.  It’s shot.” 

                Mr. Mayota said a curse word, to which Mira’s dad responded, “Kish, if you don’t mind!  My daughter is in the room!”

                “I’m sorry, Maleer,” he replied, though he still sounded flustered.  “It’s just … I thought my troubles were over when I paid for those modifications.”

                “Think of it this way,” Mira said as she twisted her left arm among the cogs and pistons of the contraption.  “The money you saved on coal will pay for the new coupling.  So you haven’t really lost anything.”  She took the coupling with her gloved hand and tried to pull it free.  Whoever had cheated Mr. Mayota out of his money for the so-called ‘modifications’ had really forced it into place; Mira bit her lip in frustration and pulled harder. 

                Without warning the coupling pulled free, and her hand came flying back.  A thin stream of lukewarm water issued from the coupling socket and splashed onto Mira’s face.

                Of all the things that could have happened when she removed the coupling, that was the worst possible.  The spring inside the power coupling was meant to stay compressed and regulate the heat from cooker’s coal-fired belly to its water pot.  The result was steam, which powered the contraption at three times the efficiency of coal-fire alone.  Every time the steamer was used, the spring decompressed a little, until it had to be reset.  But whoever had messed with the cooker’s innards hadn’t put it back correctly; the trickle of water could only mean one thing.  Mira was seconds away from a blistering blast of steam to the face. 

                When the water splashed onto her face, Mira squeezed her eyes shut and tried to turn away from its source.  “Pull me out! Pull me out!” she cried frantically to her father, who had been holding her ankles the entire time.  Two hands yanked hard on her boots, and just as Mira slid from beneath the cooker she felt a searing blast of steam broil her long braid, which trailed behind her head. 

                “Mira!  Are you all right?!” Mira heard her father cry.  She finally allowed herself to spit the acrid, metallic water from her mouth as two hands slipped beneath her back and lifted her from the floor.  Mira flung away her heavy gloves and wiped her face with a handkerchief from her pocket. 

                “I’m fine,” she assured her father when she could see again.  He sat in front of her, his dark eyes full of worry and his tall, prominent nose only inches away from her.  His huge arms wrapped around her and squeezed her tightly and his onyx-colored beard, peppered with its fair share of white, scratched comfortingly against her cheek. 

                When he finally released her, Mira turned and looked at the damage to the cooker.  The low-ceilinged room had become stiflingly hot and muggy from the blast of steam.  The floor beneath it was covered with water, and even from a few feet away Mira could feel the heat that radiated from the puddle.  If her father hadn’t pulled her out when he did, she’d surely be dead.   Or she’d be in so much agony that she’d wish she was dead. 

                “Mira!  Maleer!  I …. I ….” Mr. Mayota stuttered.  The short man ran his hand across his bald pate, which was covered in sweat from the heat of the room. 

                Mira, her heart thundering in her ears from the close call, tossed the broken coupling at Mr. Mayota’s feet.  “That’ll be seventy-one cogs for the new coupling, ten cogs for removal fee …” she looked back to the cooker.  As if on cue, it burped out one last blast of steam.  “ … and twenty cogs for installation of the new one.  Once your cooker cools off.”  

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Johnny Jackrabbit and the Treasure of Mad Badger

Brigit's Flame All-Stars contest, week 2
Topic:  Transcendent
Title:  Johnny Jackrabbit and the Treasure of Mad Badger
593 words, rated G
Author:  Graham Smith (chuck_the_plant)

“Who’s that, daddy?” asked a small voice from my lap.  A little hand pointed to the screen. 

“That’s the main character, as a kid,” I whispered to Tucker. 

Tucker turned around and blinked two huge brown eyes at me.  “But I thought that he was a grown-up.” 

“He was.  I mean, he is.  This is a flashback.”  I ran my fingers through my son’s silky blonde hair.

“Oh.”  Tucker turned back to the screen and focused on the cartoon characters for another moment, then turned back around in my lap.  “What’s a flashback?” 

In front of us, a teenage girl turned around and sent an acidic look to Tucker and me.  I could have returned the gesture, since I had been ignoring the blue glow from her cell phone since the movie started and plainly wasn’t interested in the movie through which she was babysitting the two kids next to her.  Instead I ignored her and whispered to Tucker, “It’s when someone thinks back to something that happened to them in the past.  See?  That’s why Johnny Jackrabbit is smaller, here.” 

Tucker looked back to the screen, as if just seeing it for the first time, and then turned back to me.  His seven-year-old eyes were wide.  “Oh!” 

Tried as he might to keep his voice down, his last word had come out louder than he had intended.  Through the darkness of the theater I saw several more heads turn our way, and I stifled a laugh as I pressed my finger to my lips and made a shushing motion.  Tucker’s hands flew to his mouth like he had just discovered his transgression, and he turned back to the screen. 

Jonathan Jackrabbit’s flashback ended, and the grown-up version of the character appeared on screen again.  With his band of other cartoon animals, he set off on a quest to find buried treasure.  During a musical montage that showed the characters traveling by boat, plane, and hot air balloon, Tucker turned back to me.  “Is that why he’s looking for treasure, daddy?  Because he remembered reading about it in his flashback?” 

“You got it,” I told him.

This time, the teenage girl actually turned around and shushed at us.  Tucker jumped from surprise, nearly dropping his popcorn, and the girl turned around before either he or I could confront her.  Tucker beckoned me with his finger, and when I leaned down he cupped his hands around my ear.  “That girl’s mad, isn’t she?” he said, his voice almost silent. 

Imitating my son, I cupped my hands around one of his tiny ears.  “I think so.”

It was Tucker’s turn again, and I didn’t even mind that his hands were oily from the popcorn.  “Maybe we should be quiet so she won’t get madder.” 

Instead of replying I merely winked to my son and gave him a thumbs-up.  As he turned around and stuffed his cheeks with more popcorn, I realized that it wouldn’t bother me if everyone in the theater shushed us, pelted us with Raisinettes, or tried to blind us with their cell phones.  I had never enjoyed a movie as much as Johnny Jackrabbit and the Treasure of Mad Badger.

“I love you, Tucker,” I said softly into his ear. 

Tucker turned, shushed me much louder than was necessary, and then looked back to the screen.  A second later he turned and whispered, “I love you, too, Daddy.”  He then quickly added, “Are they going to use those shovels to dig for treasure?” 

I shushed my son, nodded, and squeezed him tightly.