Tuesday, December 17, 2013

12-17-13: My 31st Birthday, the King of Excuses

Holy crap, folks. It's been a while.

Last time I posted, I was getting ready for another Miles for Missions project for the month of November, the proceeds going toward my mission trip to Guatemala in June of 2014. Even though it's usually one of the best months for running in the whole year (weather-wise), I only logged an anemic 56.75 miles in November.

I have a lot of excuses for why November was so pitiful. For one, the weather was terrible. Cold rain and drizzle more days than not. And I feel like I've been fighting off a head cold for three months: nasal drainage and sore throat do not for a pleasant run make.

Then again, these are excuses. I could have hit the treadmill (as much as a despise it) to simply log a few miles and keep in shape. I could have used the stationary bike as a cross-training exercise. I could have done something. But I didn't, and I lost what should have been a phenomenal month, not just for my running but for Miles for Missions.

Short aside: Thanks to the people who stepped up and sponsored me this month! It means so much that you'd be willing to put your hard-earned cash on the line, especially during the holiday season (when dispensable income is so scarce). I sincerely appreciate it, and I'll be sending you pictures from Guatemala.

Aside over.

With November solidly behind me, I look to December to make up for my missed opportunities. It hasn't started out well: I missed the only half marathon I signed up for this fall, the Christmas on the Country Music Highway Half Marathon because of snow and ice storms. Which leaves me without a race until the end of March.

And here I am, on my 31st birthday, wondering if I'm even going to be able to run a half this spring, much less the Flying Pig Marathon this May. All because of missed opportunities.

If there's one thing I have learned over the last few months and years, its that life isn't really linear; it's more like a record, spinning ever so slowly. The needle will eventually get to almost the same place on a record after a full revolution, but it doesn't exactly sound the same. Sure, there are patterns in the rotation, and it's pretty easy to tell sometimes how long it will take the needle to get back around to a familiar place on the black vinyl. But it's not going to sound the same.

I've gotten into vinyl lately. The metaphor seemed solid.

In my 31 years, I've pissed away many things. Mostly time. And, most regrettably, opportunities. And most regrettably among the most regrettable are the times when others have depended on me. I  realize that it's not the end of the world if I didn't raise a lot of money for my Guatemala trip, since the trip is still a few months off and there will be other fund raising opportunities. But it is simply a reminder of the time I waste, the chances I could have had, if I had only taken some initiative.

Obviously, there will always be opportunities in this life we miss. Missed opportunities notwithstanding, there will always be things out of our control that create legitimate reasons to miss chances (I swear I have been fighting the same head cold for three months now. Thanks, Obamacare! <sarcasm>). But I've done a lot of growing over the last few years, what with all the drastic changes my life has taken. I still make excuses for many things, but they're getting fewer.

With some effort, I'll stop making excuses in all aspects of my, beginning with running.

See you all later this month. I'm in no way done with December.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"Bits and Pieces" - a sequel to "Seeing Through the Mask", from Nov. 1, 2011.

My first new short story in too many months! This one is actually the sequel to a story I wrote way back in 2011, called Seeing Through the Mask. I strongly recommend reading it before taking in this story.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

"Bits and Pieces" 

“Jenny?” I cried, trudging up the leaf-strewn hill.  “Jenny! Are you here?” 

The wind kicked up, sending leaves cascading over my tennis shoes.  Briefly my left foot slipped, but I caught myself with one hand before I hit the grass. But not at the loss of my paper coffee cup, which bounced once on the grass before the top sprang off and its contents spilled out all over the ground. 

“Dammit!” I screamed, staring at the steaming place on the dead grass.  I had really been looking forward to that cup of coffee.

But more than that, I had been looking forward to seeing Jenny again. It had been a year since we had laid eyes on each other. I had been looking forward to this day since  we had first met, on Halloween the year prior.

I pulled myself upright again and zipped up my sweatshirt against another sudden breeze.  The trees in the old cemetery groaned and creaked, their damp, dead limbs protesting the movement. The breeze brought with it the smell of dead things: decaying leaves, old moss, and cold stone. 

That was why I always came to the cemetery to write my breed of dark poetry; it always seemed to put me in the mood to contemplate the fruitless dichotomy of life and death.

Most people would have laughed and dismissed my work immediately at the mere phrase “fruitless dichotomy of life and death.” But not Jenny. She was one of the few people who really wanted to hear what I had written, to get to know the deeper me beneath the metaphors.  Even though we had only spent that one afternoon together last year, I knew I had to see her again.

“Jenny, are you here?” I called. “It’s me, Claire. I brought a lot of new material this year.”

I finally crested the top of the hill, the highest point in the cemetery. This was my old go-to spot, where I came every Halloween to surround myself in the macabre. Last year was the first year I had ever been joined by anyone; I had gotten lucky, in finding Jenny.

This year, I wasn’t as lucky. A skinny man sat at the base of the tree. He wore glasses that looked too big for his face, and at least three sweaters against the chill in the air. The result made him look like a turtle, poking its thin neck out from an overstuffed, puffy shell. The frock of thinning hair on the top of his head stood out at comical angles in the breeze.

“Oh, hello,” he said awkwardly, blinking two magnified, muddy-brown eyes at me from behind his glasses. “I heard you shouting. Are you looking for someone?”

As my old introversions took over, I pulled my Chicago Bulls cap down further over my face. “Oh, it’s nothing,” I lied. “I… um… I probably should be going.”

I had responded before I had even thought about what to say. I only got to see Jenny once a year; I couldn’t leave yet!  But I didn’t want to sit next to that creepy-looking guy. Something about him gave me the willies. Besides, I had no idea if she would even appear if I wasn’t alone at the top of the hill.

“Oh, it’s okay,” the guy continued.  “I won’t disturb you. You can sit, if you like. I’m not going to be here much longer, and I don’t want you to miss your friend.”

He was sitting in my spot. This was my fifth year in a row at the cemetery on Halloween, and my second year in a row with Jenny. It wasn’t fair that he was taking my spot.

Still, he got there first. And at least he wasn’t going to stay long. Maybe Jenny would appear after he left. “Okay, thanks,” I said. I trotted around to the other side of the tree and planted my rear on the thick roots. From my backpack I produced my composition notebook, the one I had covered with Sharpie doodles of skulls and ghosts. 

Last Halloween, Jenny had showed me that, if I let my eyes unfocus and cleared my mind, I could see the spirits of the people buried in the cemetery wandering around. Halloween night was apparently the one time of the year when the barrier between the worlds of the living and the dead was  thinnest.  It has something to do with why Mexican culture celebrates the Day of the Dead on November 1st.

It was also why today was the only day of the year I could see Jenny. 

I had chosen my old spot because of the view it allowed me of the rest of the cemetery. The view from the other side of the tree simply showed off the dead scrub of thorns and weeds that grew at the base of the tree, separating the other side of the hill from the rest of the cemetery.

This sucks, I moped, opening my composition book.

“So, did you say your name is Claire?” The guy’s voice said, from the other side of the tree.

Great. First he takes my spot, then he tries to force me into awkward small talk. I briefly contemplated throwing myself into the thicket of brambles, but then I thought better of it.  “Yeah,” I begrudgingly said, flipping through the pages in the notebook.

“I’d say  Claire is a funny name for a boy, but I’d say you’re probably tired of hearing it,” the guy replied with an awkward chortle. 

My short hair, lack of make-up, and unflattering clothing had yet again brought out the razor wit in the best of society. As if I didn’t get enough of that at school. Then why bother saying it, asshole? I wondered. Instead of retorting, I chose to simply remain silent; with any luck, the guy would take my silence as indication he should leave, and then Jenny would feel free to come out. 

On the most recent page of my notebook, I had drawn a (very terrible) cartoon of me and Jenny, the way I pictured we looked last year at my place on the hill.  Me, in my hoodie and cap, she in her school girl uniform, one knee-length stocking, and one black leather shoe. 

Something like electricity suddenly filled the air around me. It was nothing I could perceive with my normal senses; it had no appearance, no sound, and no physical feeling. But something happened, there in that moment, which made me feel warm and alive and happy again. Like I had felt when Jenny was around. 

At the bottom of the page in my notebook, a single line of beautiful script appeared, as if written by an invisible pen held by an invisible hand.

It’s him.

I froze, staring at the page. I wasn’t afraid. The feeling the air, the way I felt her with my senses in a way that was nearly impossible to explain, told me that she was near. It was the words that she had written on my page that gave me pause. 

When Jenny appeared to me last year, she only had one leg. She said that when she had been murdered, the previous February, the killer had taken her left leg. It was the signature of the Doll Parts Killer. The police had been unable to catch him for more than ten years. Every four or five months or so, another body popped up, each one missing a piece. The police assumed the killer kept them as trophies, like some sick big-game hunter.

My hands starting to shake as the realization of what Jenny had written on the page sunk in. I took a pen from my pocket and scrawled on the page beneath the script:  Are you sure? 


I stood so quickly that my notebook fell to the grass and I toppled my backpack, spilling its contents at the base of the tree. I stood for a moment, listening, but I heard nothing except for the light echo of traffic from the road, a few hundred yards away. Somewhere among the graves, a crow cawed. 

“So what brings you out here, all alone, on a night like this?” 

I jumped at the voice and spun to find the awkward-looking man only feet from me. He had come around the other side of the tree with barely a sound at all.

The half of my brain that told me to run for my life prevented the half that tried to stay calm from speaking. I choked on some words that slipped from my throat in an unintelligible murmur. The trying-to-stay-calm half gestured at the spilled writing materials.

“Oh, let me help you pick them up,” the man said, taking a step closer to me. He knelt at my feet and started gathering my pencils and books.

Good thing the run-for-your-life part of my brain was still partially in control. I took a step backward, away from the man, which put me nearly out of his arm’s reach when he lunged for me.

He grabbed my left foot and pulled hard, which set me off balance. I fell hard on my butt on the wet grass. He pulled me a few inches closer to him by my foot. He was stronger than he looked.

I screamed and kicked with my right foot. He dodged, faster than a guy who looks so gangly should be able to dodge, and grabbed my right shoe with his other hand. I twisted and kicked my feet, but he had intertwined his fingers with my shoelaces and held tight.

“Stop screaming,” he grunted through gritted teeth, pulling with both hands again. “If you stop screaming, I won’t hurt you.”

I screamed harder as I slid a few inches along the grass, closer to him.  “Help!” I cried, twisting my legs as hard as I could. “Someone! Anyone! Help!” 

On his knees, he released one of my feet and lunged his newly freed hand for my face. I managed to get my free knee between him and me, but he was too close for me to kick my way free.

Then I remembered the pen in my hand, which I had used to write my reply to Jenny’s disembodied message. I thrust as hard as I could and plunged the pen into the palm of the man’s hand.

He screamed and flinched away far enough for my free kneecap to become my free leg. I planted the sole of my shoe as hard as I could into his nose. His head flipped back like a Pez dispenser, and my other shoe was suddenly free of his  hand. I scrambled to my feet and ran.

In the movies, action like that would have bought me plenty of time to run away. In real life, it felt like only a second before I heard footsteps following me down the hill. “Stop running! Stop screaming!” He yelled, his weasely voice full of rage. “You’re just going to make it worse!”

I didn’t realize I was still screaming.

I ran toward the road. If there were other people around, he would leave me alone. Someone would come to help me.

But the cemetery was huge, and the road was a long way away. My lungs burned from the cold air and my legs ached from wrestling with the stranger and running full speed down the hill. A stitch, like a cold knife, tore at my side.

A row of stone mausoleums, each more than ten feet tall and at least as long, came into view. I recognized them: the nine structures made a three-by-three grid. Each held four caskets, one on top of the other.

I darted among them, and when I was sure I was sufficiently hidden, I pressed my back against the cold stone and tried to will my heart to stop pounding in my ears. Behind me I heard shoes come to a stop on the grass.

He’s trying to find the best place to enter, said a voice in my head. It was warm, soothing, and kind.

Jenny! I thought, and I nearly melted from relief.

He’s two monuments to your left, Jenny said. Move around the right side of your block.

I did as Jenny instructed. Somewhere close by, shoes crunched on dead grass. A frustrated grunt met my ears.

Rotate again, same direction, Jenny said. That will leave you facing the road.

Again, I did as she told me. I was now facing the outside of the mausoleums, and I could see the road some hundred yards away.

He’s still looking for you. You have to run for it.

My heart lept in my chest. I can’t leave yet!  I haven’t gotten to see you!

Jenny’s voice was frantic. Claire, you have to go, now! This is your only chance!

But I won’t get to see you for another year! I protested. I felt on verge of tears, and, to my surprise, they weren’t from fear.

There will be many more years! Jenny said. But only if you get out of here alive! I care too much about you to let this bastard have you, too!

You’re the only one who’s ever gotten to know me, I replied.

And you’re the only one who’s ever known me, Jenny said, her voice thick with emotion. But Claire, if you care about me at all, please save yourself! Run!

The conversation had happened in less than the blink of an eye; at the speed of thought. I gritted my teeth, squinted the tears out of my eyes, and ran as if my life depended on it. Because it literally did.

It took the pursuing footsteps a few seconds to figure out which was I was going, but then they thudded behind me. Panic filled my chest and I ran until my heart felt like it was going to explode and my legs felt like they were made of hot slag.

I love you, I thought to Jenny as I approached the cemetery gate and my body screamed for me to stop.

I love you, too, she replied as I stepped past the gate and into the parking lot.

I didn’t stop until I got to the road. When I finally had the nerve to turn around, the man was gone. In full sight of all cars on the road, I pulled my cell phone from my pocket and dialed 911.

Police arrived. Armed, they went into the cemetery to find the guy who had chased me. He was nowhere to be found, but they did recover all my stuff from the top of the hill.

I wanted to go back in with them. I wanted to talk to Jenny again. But they wouldn’t allow it.

My parents showed up. A news crew interviewed me the next morning. A police sketch of the man went on every news station in three states.

I had no idea why the Doll Parts Killer was in the same cemetery as me on Halloween night. I would have asked Claire for some insight, but by the time I made it back to the cemetery, days later, there was no answer from her. 

So I decided what I had to do.

First, I had to find another way to talk to Jenny. I needed her.
Second, I had to catch the Doll Parts Killer.

Monday, July 29, 2013

"Sometimes I Feel Like I'm Being Watched..."

This short story stars Jillian Nightingale, nurse of supernatural creatures for The Agency for the Betterment of Cryptohumanoid Health.  If you'd like to read her other adventure I've written, it can be found here.  This story takes place before the previous one, when Jillian is new to her rewarding, sometimes frightening, job!  

- Sometimes I Feel Like I'm Being Watched.... - 

“And you say the cough has persisted?” I asked, trying to look my patient in the eyes.

“Yes,” she replied.  “It’s been three days, and it hasn’t gone away. A terrible tickle in the back of my throat.” 

When I looked down at my electronic tablet, a steadying breath slipped between my pursed lips.  I had been successfully looking Ms. Pfeffernusse in the eyes for two minutes, but I was getting exhausted.  I pretended to look at the screen a for a few moments longer than necessary, touching it even though I had minimized the program that I used to keep track of my patients.  When I could stall no longer, I said, “Well, we’ll see what we can do about that cough today,” and I looked up.

Into hundreds of pairs of dead, glassy eyes. 

“Is there something wrong, dear?” 

Ms. Pfeffernusse was my second patient of the day.  Her house was a little four-room ramshackle structure that was probably older than my parents and was situated in the area of the city known as ‘Little Loch Ness’.  She looked to be in her eighties, but, according to her file on my tablet, she was quite a bit older than that.  Apparently, her appearance was deceiving.

But it wasn’t her appearance that was leaving me so unnerved.  It was the hundreds of porcelain dolls that covered every available surface in her tiny living room.  On top of her television and china cabinet, situated single-file on the couch, across the plant shelf that ran the perimeter of the entire room.  Everywhere.

Even if this was a normal house call, I would think there was something seriously unhinged about a woman who kept that many effigies in her home. But this wasn’t an ordinary house call. I never did ordinary house calls, anymore.

“When did you first start feeling under the weather?” I asked.

“Maybe a day before the actual cough developed,” Ms. Pfeffernusse went on. “I felt a tickle at the back of my throat for hours. Even drinking water didn’t help.”

While my patient drolled on about her psychosomatic cough (I had already figured out it was all in her head; she hadn’t once coughed since I had set foot in her apartment), I finally let my eyes probe the room.  It seemed that no two dolls were the same. There were boy dolls and girl dolls, each with a different combination of eye color, hair color, and skin tone. Even the ones that seemed almost imperceptibly similar wore different outfits, though they sat on shelves together, like twins. 

I must have been looking at the dolls for too long, because suddenly Ms. Pfeffernusse cut off her statement about her imaginary cough and said, “Do you like my children?  They’re really beautiful, aren’t they?”

I swallowed.  The Agency had told me not to talk about the dolls unless she brought it up, and to try to divert the conversation as soon as possible if she did.  “Yes, they’re lovely,” I replied, and when I put my eyes back on my patient I quickly added, “Are you allergic to any medications, that you know of?”

“Would you like to see my favorite?” She asked, struggling to her feet from her recliner.  “I’ve had her for so long that I don’t remember exactly where I got her.” 

“Would you mind looking at this list of medications, Ms. Pfeffernusse?” I asked quickly, acting like I was doing something important on my tablet.  “All you have to do is tap the ones that you’ve taken before, and how they affected you.  It’ll help me get a good idea of….”

“Janet is her name,” Ms. Pfeffernusse interrupted, and when I looked up from my tablet I found her turning from her piano back toward me. On the piano there was an empty spot in the layer of dust, as big as a doll’s bottom, and in her arms was the former occupant of that space.  

The doll’s porcelain face was so perfectly handcrafted that, for a moment, I thought I was actually looking at a miniature child in Ms. Pfeffernusse’s arms.  Then its unearthly pallid complexion, synthetic-looking brown hair, and disproportionate limbs revealed the doll’s true nature.  The old woman slunk back into her recliner and cradled the doll in her arms.  When she sighed contently, she almost seemed to melt down into the old chair.

I had been doing well thus far with addressing Ms. Pfeffernusse and drawing as little attention to the dolls as possible, like the Agency had instructed me.  But now Janet’s lifeless glass eyes seemed to bore into me, and I couldn’t find the willpower to draw my eyes away from them. 

The doll’s eyes blinked.

The Agency had warned me this might happen, and had told me that if it did, I above all shouldn’t panic.  But even though I was half expecting, I still jumped like a frightened cat at the disturbing sight. 

“What’s the matter?” The doll asked in Ms. Pfeffernusse’s voice. 

The Agency had warned me that, if she slipped, it was very difficult to bring her back peacefully.  That if I wanted to keep her calm, I had to choose my words carefully and exercise a great amount of understanding and tact.

Instead I panicked, fumbled my hand into my medical bag, and stammered, “Uh… um….”

Hundreds of glazed eyes turned in my direction.

If I had more experience, I would have been able to talk her down and deescalate the situation without immediately reaching for my trump card.  But it was my first day visiting Ms. Pfeffernusse, and only my second week on the job.  Though they were completely valid, I didn’t feel very confident in my excuses as I whipped a black wand from my purse and pressed the gem set into its end against my temple. 

Dozens and dozens of porcelain mouths opened in silent screams.  To my further horror, each doll began to lift from its place, scattering motes of dust about the room, and levitate inches into the air.  The dolls drifted toward me, mouths open, staring with fixed gazes.  Lazy circles of porcelain dolls drifted around me and my Agency-issued folding chair. I held my breath, bit my lip, and pressed the tip of wand against my temple until it started to give me a headache. 

Janet Pfeffernusse had lapsed into a full poltergeist episode.  The Agency for the Betterment of Cryptohumanoid Health didn’t have many ghosts on in their caseload (ghosts’ physical health was rarely an issue, and they moved locations so frequently that they were often difficult to find), but Ms. Pfeffernusse was a special exception.  According to her file, she had collected dolls during her life, and when she died, the compulsion to collect only became worse.  As her house filler, her phantom developed a separate personality for each doll, even having a commissioning a life-size one made in her old image. 

I was supposed to keep her talking, keep her phantom contained in the largest doll.  But I’d screwed up.

Poltergeists are psychic phantoms.  In her full poltergeist episode, Ms. Pfeffernusse was, not entirely of her own free will, trying to feed off of my fear.  Luckily for me, the wand of mind-shielding the Agency had me pick up that morning was working perfectly. 

Once I was convinced that I was in no immediate danger, my breath started to return to normal.  Trying my best to tune out the horrifically creepy image of the open-mouthed dolls, I flicked my fingers across my tablet to find out what I should do next. 

“Ghost touch” I murmured aloud as my eyes skimmed the screen.  Urgently, I dropped the tablet and rummaged my free hand into my medical bag. A moment later I produced a piece of marble as small as my closed fist, carved into the shape of a headstone.  Per the instructions on the tablet, I knocked twice on it with my knuckles.  

The tiny headstone disintegrated into a pile of dust on my lap and released a subtle pulse through the room that made my ears pop.  The drifting dolls froze in the wake of the ghost touch talisman.  Their eyes rolled back in their heads (an image that was sure to visit me in my nightmares for months to come), and the drifted back to their places on the dust-covered furniture.  The tablet had explained how each personality would follow its psychic trail back to its resting place, or some other supernatural mumbo-jumbo. All I was concerned with was that I was no longer surrounded by those horrible, silent faces. 

The only two dolls that hadn’t moved were the little Janet, which must have been Ms. Pfeffernusse when she was younger, and, of course, the full-size doll that I had been talking to since I had stepped into the rundown little house. 

I dusted the remains of the talisman back into my medical bag (I’d clean it out later) and, now sure that all the dolls were temporarily incapacitated, I removed the wand of mind-shielding from my temple.  

In my bag was the medicine I was supposed to give to Ms. Pfeffernusse, disguised as treatment for whatever one of her personalities had convinced her she had come down with this week.  I was supposed to have earned her trust with small talk and then offered it to her, to ensure that she’d take it every day and keep her multiple personality disorder in check. 

So much for that. 

I popped the top from the bottle, took one pill in my hand, and slipped it between the artfully crafted porcelain lips of the old woman.  Awkward minutes passed, during which I watched and waited, trying to ignore the pupil-less eyes of the dozens of other dolls. 

Finally Ms. Pfeffernusse’s eyes blinked open, and she sat up in her recliner.  Her arm had been cradled around the doll of her younger self the whole time.  “Oh… oh my, what happened?” She mumbled, pressing her free hand against her forehead. 

“It appears your condition is a little more serious than I first thought,” I lied to the ghost inhabiting the huge doll.  “You’re going to need to take two of these every day; one in the morning and one in the evening.  Do you understand?” 

 Ms. Pfeffernusse still seemed disoriented, but nodded anyway. 

Even though she had been dead for quite some time, my heart broke for the confused poltergeist.  If I had done my job correctly, she wouldn’t have lapsed into the episode, and I wouldn’t have had to use the ghost touch talisman.  Before I could talk myself out of it, I took a piece of paper from my medical bag and scribbled my number on it.  “If you start feeling bad again, you can call me at this number, any time, day or night.  Would that make you feel better?”

She looked at me with those glassy doll’s eyes, and for the first time I wasn’t creeped out.  “Thank you, dear. That does make me feel much better.”

I left the medicine with Ms. Pfeffernusse, bid her a final good-bye, and left her little house.  I can’t believe I just gave my phone number to a ghost, I berated myself.  I’m just begging to be haunted. I should have just left the medicine and gotten out of there.  I can’t save them all.   

“Maybe I can’t save them all,” I told the doubting part of myself as I climbed into my car and started the engine.  “But I can damn sure try to help the ghost of Janet Pfeffernusse find some peace.” 

I pulled away from the little house and followed my GPS to the next patient prescribed to me by the Agency for the Betterment of Crypohumanoid Health.  According to his case, which I had read the night before, he was a gorgon who had accidentally looked at himself in the rear view mirror of his car and turned himself to stone. 

Lucky me. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

"The Best Medicine"

Eyes on the electronic tablet in front of her, Jillian did the math in her head.  “So, you’ve been here for… six months now?”

“That’s right,” replied her patient, who had been identified by her tablet as Wesley Baumgartner.  He wrung his long, thin fingers together one moment, and then absent-mindedly picked at his eyebrows the next. 

Jillian winched away in disgust and hoped that he hadn’t seen, quickly donning her professional face.  This man was one of her patients, after all.  “Are you thinking of moving into more permanent housing soon?” 

Wesley’s large, watery eyes became distorted as he looked around the extended-stay hotel room through his thick glasses.  “Um… well, I suppose I could,” he replied nasally.  “But, I’m sorting of holding out that mother will change her mind and let me move back in with her.  I mean, right now, the basement is completely unused.  It’s a waste, really.” 

Shifting in the folding chair the Agency had given her, Jillian tapped a box labeled ‘attachment issues’ on her tablet screen.  “Mr. Baumgartner, I think that your mother asked you to move out in an effort to help you rather than punish you.  You have to admit, it’s hard to get by with your… condition… while you’re living with your mother, isn’t it?”   

The thin, weasley, middle-aged man swallowed, and his eyes seemed to flicker even faster behind his glasses.  “Oh.  I was… um… wondering if you were going to bring that up.” 

“Well, it is why the Agency sent me, Mr. Baumgartner.” 

Wesley seemed to sit up a little straighter in his chair.  “Oh.  Really?”  Jillian noticed the man’s knees beginning to shake.  “Just… um… how did the Agency expect you to… remedy my problem?” 

Remembering her training, Jillian put on her most serious face in an effort to diffuse the situation.  “Simply to examine your living conditions and prescribe medication if I think it’s necessary.  Standard procedure.” 

Lower lip now trembling, Wesley replied, in what Jillian would later realize was a laughable attempt at a seductive voice, “Are you sure they didn’t send you to perform a… physical examination?” 

A sliver of fear slipped into Jillian’s stomach, but it didn’t show on her stone-cold expression.  Even so, she remembered her training, and let her right hand slip toward her purse.  “Definitely not.  This is a very standard, very professional visit.  You shouldn’t be worried.  This sort of thing is much more common than you’d think, Mr. Baumgartner.” 

“Please.  Call me Wesley,” Wesley said, just before leaping to his feet and lunging for Jillian. 

Adrenaline and fear filled the nurse like a hot poker placed on her skin.  Jillian leapt to her feet, dropping her tablet and knocking her folding chair to the floor.  Though she twisted away from the man, Wesley managed to grab her wrist. 

And then he licked the back of her hand. 

Jillian shifted her weight, broke Wesley’s hold and, with a twist of her hips, planted the sole of her right foot squarely into his sternum.  All the air left his lungs in a great whuff, and the scrawny man tumbled backward over his chair.  In the moment she had bought, Jillian snatched her purse from the floor, where it had fallen, and produced the instrument she had reached for earlier. 

A moment later, Wesley’s hands appeared on the back of the chair as he struggled to pull himself to his feet.  His previously combed-over quaff of hair was disheveled and his glasses sat skewed on his nose.  “Wow,” he wheezed.  “I know it’s been a while since I used the Venom, but I forgot how powerful it can be!  Just not so rough from now on, okay?” 

“I think you’ll find, Mr. Baumgartner, that I’m immune to your Venom” Jillian huffed.  Her adrenaline-quickened breath made her hand rise and fall rhythmically, but still she maintained perfect aim on Wesley with the implement in her hand.  “The agency made sure to inoculate me against every possible poison, venom, toxin, hypnosis, mind trick, and curse known to cryptohumanoid kind. So if I were you, I’d not try that again.  This thing was freshly enchanted this morning.” 

Wesley’s eyes widened in fear at the red-handled, ruby-tipped wand in Jillian’s hand.  “Oh.  Oh, no.  I’m… I’m so sorry,” he stammered.  “I had no idea.  Oh god.  I’m so sorry.  It’s just been so long… I mean, look at me!  I’m not supposed to be like this!”  Wesley returned to his chair and put his head in his hands, which put Jillian more at ease. Still, when she righted her chair, she made sure to place it a few more feet away from the man, and to keep her Wand of Stupification in her hand. 

“It’s not healthy for an incubus to stay holed up in his mother’s basement,” Jillian went on professionally.  When Wesley opened his mouth to protest, she added, “no matter how good his video game collection is.  Your kind survives on the sensual energy of young women.  And there are NO young women playing video games on the internet.” 



Wesley lowered his face shamefully. “I’ve tried everything, though.  I mean, look at these pills I ordered from an ad I got in my inbox.”  He trotted to the room’s nightstand, opened it, and produced a pair of plastic bottles, each the size of the venti coffee Jillian had drunk that morning.  Written across the front of the red bottles were the words ‘LOVE MACHINE’ in black letters, plastered in a yellow comic-book style starburst. 

“Mr. Baumgartner, you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet,” Jillian said, setting down her wand long enough to make a few quick taps on her tablet.  “I’m calling you in a prescription meant to help incubuses just like you with this very same problem.  Soon you’ll be looking like your old self again, and you’ll have no trouble with the ladies.” 

“Thank you, Ms. Nightingale,” Wesley said, looking repentant.  “Mother has been teasing me because I look older than she does.” 

“That’s because she’s a succubus, and she feeds regularly,” Jillian replied, “and doesn’t spend all her time playing video games.”  She flipped the cover on her tablet closed and stood, collapsing her folding chair.  “Your prescription will be ready by tomorrow.  Simply take it, and concern yourself more with your health instead of how many headshots your squad is accumulating.” 

Wesley nodded, his hands clasped in his lap.  “Thank you again, Ms. Nightingale.  And I’m so sorry about my little… outburst.  I hope you can forgive me.” 

Despite herself, Jillian smiled.  “It’s not the worst that’s happened to me in this job.  Coincidently, werewolf bites itch like you wouldn’t believe.”  With that, she stuffed her belongings into her back, bid Wesley a final good-bye, and left the hotel room. 

On her way down the hotel’s stairs, Jillian recalled the patients she had seen that day.  A harpy with a broken wing.  A merman with a terrible case of athlete’s flipper.  A troll, currently living under the Watterson Beltway Bridge, with fang rot.  And, lastly, an antisocial incubus with a hormonal imbalance. 

Jillian Nightingale, nurse practitioner for the Agency for the Betterment of Cryptohumanoid Health, returned to her mobile office (a.k.a. her car).  No doubt, it had been a long day.  Though she could have squeezed in one more patient, she decided against it, and picked up her phone to text the Agency that they’d have to find another agent to treat the Sasquatch with fleas. 

The nurse left work at five o’clock, officially, and headed in the direction of her favorite bar.  The wizard bartender had promised her a Wand of Flypaper for the pixies she was supposed to visit tomorrow, should they try any funny business. 

Just another day.