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Witches Brew

Strega, or “Trigger” as we called him, was picked on a lot and Rob was right – the guy’s head was tiny enough to fit one of those traffic cones pretty well. Rob snickered and jumped back as Trigger turned around. “A witch! Burn her!” Rob roared, pointing at him and his new headpiece.


“Halloween was yesterday, moron,” Greg said. Older than the rest of us by about ten years, he huddled at the bare plastic table next to the kitchenette counter. “Geeze, it’s cold.” He sneezed. “Any coffee left?”


A slow grin twisted Trigger’s mouth. “I’ll make some.”


“You make crummy coffee, Trig,” Rob said. “’Bout the only thing good is it’s warm.”


Trigger winked at me and rooted around in the cupboard. I shrugged. We got another coffee break at two and I’d already tanked up at the Bean There at five. I could wait for the next batch. Maybe Greg would make it then. His attempts only smelled like battery acid. I missed Julio. That guy made it thicker than wet concrete.

Greg and Rob started talking about yesterday’s football game. I walked over and put my hands on the cone to pull it off Trigger’s head. He ducked out of the way. “Nah, it‘s all right. I can take a joke.” As he filled the pot from the sink, Trigger turned a bright blue eye toward Rob and let out a high-pitched cackle. “Double, double, toil and trouble!”


“Macbeth!”

Before the rest of us could say anything, the boss burst in. Lenny was a good guy, never complained about the union breaks we took, though he pushed us to work a little longer than Rob’s liking. “Macbeth, Macbeth!” He said again. “Macbeth shall never vanquished be until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come against him!” He attempted to cackle like Trigger did. Trigger cackled again, waving a spoon.

With a half-chuckle, Greg shivered. “That was a good impression, Trig.”


Lenny clapped Trigger’s back and turned the conversation to the upcoming job. He went through a few safety procedures and we all pretended to listen. Then he poured himself a cup of coffee. “Ah, a nice cuppa joe!” he said, and me and Rob and Greg looked at each other like we knew he’d be forcing a smile in a moment after he tasted Trigger’s latest effort. He sipped. We waited. He grinned bigger and took a longer drink. “Perfect bean juice, you guys! Dunno how you do it.” He left and we all turned to the coffee pot in Trigger’s hand.

“What, you put some CBD in it or something, Trig?” Rob frowned. “He only ever takes it to look like ‘one of the guys.’ Ten to one says he dumps it in the bushes.” He crossed to the window of the break room and looked out.

“How dare you mock my brew!” Hunching, Trigger squinted and thrust out his lower jaw. “A hex upon thy boots!” He straightened, grinning as Rob gave him the finger over his shoulder.

Rob turned back around. “Well, I don’t see a puddle out there but if he drank it, he must have burned his tastebuds off the last time you made it.” He flicked the cone on Trigger’s head with a dull thock. Opening a cupboard, he rooted through and grunted in triumph. He tossed a half-finished box of poptarts on the table, slotting two into the toaster for himself.

I wondered if it must be true. It had been hilariously awkward two weeks ago to watch Lenny muscle his way through a few polite sips of Trigger’s coffee. Turning, I caught Greg staring at his own cup.

The older man sat up. He took a longer sip and peered down into the steaming mug once more. Raising his eyes, he stared past me. I followed his gaze. Trigger was pouring out another two mugs. A soft yowl and scratching sounded at the window. Trigger flicked open the latch and shoved the pane aside. A sleek black cat slunk over the sill.

“Hey, get that rat out of here!” Rob flicked a rolled up poptart wrapper at it. “Thing sheds on my food and we’re gonna have a problem.”

It dismissed him with only the briefest of glances and instead rubbed up against Trigger’s arm, purring. He scratched behind its ears and handed a mug to me.

I almost refused but the smell curled up into my nostrils. You know that feeling you get after you eat the perfect steak dinner, and know you have just enough room for hot apple pie? Then that first bite of the apple pie melts in your mouth in a sticky, tart, wholesome way? Then you know you can leave the dinner table ready to face another shift of pouring and smoothing concrete until two in the morning?

No, maybe not. That’s what it was, though. The taste was even more.

Greg was looking at me, eyes bugging. He nodded and I nodded.

Rob belched. “Right. Let’s get back out there.” He yawned and shoved his empty plate aside.

“I’m going on ahead,” said Trigger, setting his empty mug into the sink. He adjusted the cone on his head, paused by the door to grab something from behind it, flashed Greg and me another wink, and vanished out into the day. The cat scratched its chin and sauntered after him before the door shut.

Rob stood up and tried to take a step. He fell over with a yell. “Sonova-“ he rolled and drew up his knees. “The hell?” His bootlaces had been tied together. “How’d that happen?”

“Don’t piss off witches, Rob,” said Greg in a quiet voice. He set down his mug and got to his feet. “C’mon.”

I left Rob to curse and untie his boots. Outside, Trigger was nowhere in sight. Greg pulled out a stick of gum and stuck it in his mouth. “Should we wait for him to come back?”

“I think he’ll meet us there,” I said. Rob’s cursing died down inside. I shoved my hands in my pockets. The November breeze kicked up the dried leaves into chuckling around us.

“Why do you say that?”

I shrugged and smiled. “He took the broom.”

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The Story of the Artificer – Chapter 2

Kepta Valley spanned between two mountain ranges. Snow, ice, towering ledges, and faces of granite brooded near cloudlevel while the trees thickened farther down the slopes. A river gushed from the junction of three mountains to the west, feeding into a greater way whose tributaries supplied the inhabitants of Kepta with fresh water, along with irrigation, and revolutions on their mills.

In the forested foothills of Llerenos, the fourth highest mount in Kepta valley, rested the gnome kingdom of Vastway. Allied with a community of halflings who dwelt in the plains and grassier hills, the gnomes traded with their taller neighbors for food and textiles. When dwarves appeared across the valley way from the depths of Llerenos itself, gnome King Vastway the First sought trade from them as well. With the raw materials supplied by the dwarves, the gnomes soon turned bits of metal and gems into cunning devices and beautiful works of art. Halfing gardeners grew alchemical foliage in gnome lodges and used the strange illuminating crystals of the dwarves to cultivate new plants which could flourish underearth. The dwarves delved deeper and faster with the gnomic mechanical marvels aiding their mining production and strengthening their shaft supports.

With the acumen and merchant contacts of the halflings, raw materials and craftwork alike flowed from Kepta Valley for considerable amounts of gold. Vastway I, the dwarf king Propnear, and halfling Mayor Longfollow, along with landowners and members of their courts, convened the first Kepta council to swear a new alliance. As the wealth of the three groups grew, each could see the wisdom of a defense pact. Each tended to his kingdom and curtailed most non-valley folk, known as Nonva, from exploring much within the borders of their kingdoms.

Through the years, tensions arose often amongst those who would expand trade, incorporate new techniques, invite foreign scholars to help improve art and technology, and those who would prefer a more isolationistic policy. Kepta could certainly stand alone, self-sufficient in supply and determined in defense. Vastway I had witnessed the detriment of foreign invaders in the Exile three hundred years before. Others, like Pikespear Willowbank of the Longfollow Court, argued trade brought the influx of new ideas and strengthening of generations. Voices for and against filled the places of power down the decades of Kepta's governance, and many near-conflicting statutes, precepts, and provisions littered the laws to the day.

It was only with great reluctance and heavy pressure from the Southern Alliance that Kepta allowed the entry of Hilt’s clergy. A church was constructed in Longfollow. Clerics ministered to the halflings and slowly earned the good graces of the gnome monarchy. These workers of the divine power never quite impressed the wielders of the arcane, however, and continue to possess a tumultuous relationship with the gnome wizards and mages. As for the dwarves, the clergy found the underfolk welcoming but stubbornly resistant to the ways of Hilt, preferring the worship of Edro as most dwarves do.

Whether open or recalcitrant, what each ruler of Vastway could agree upon was the need for a strong, loyal agent for their royal person. Vastway I's steadfast lieutenant surrendered all twenty names for the one his liege bestowed: Kingsage. In exchange, the lieutenant and one heir in each generation would serve the king with all he or she had. If that heir were to die, then another of the family would take up the burden.
Photo by Photo by Tim Rüßmann on Unsplash
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Ghostwriting the King

It was the days of treating your neighbor like a fellow man, it was the days of not being able to tell who your neighbors are – days of knowing when to leave Miss Clawdy, and days of having no choice but to forgive her. Sometimes you’d see through the lies; others, you’d be hypnotized by big blue Spanish eyes to ignore them. Twenty days of light and twenty nights of starless sight turned my spring fever into blue Christmas nineteen days early. The two of us had it all and nothing, and only death would tell us what we had after because neither of us knew right then. It ain’t like it is now by a long shot. Those who know what it was like tell it like it was tall, ignoring the fact it was moody baby blue and all.

A Tale of Two Cities by Elvis Presley

A wee blurb written for my How to Make Money From Your Writing class. Lesson 7 discussed the possibilities and ideas of Ghostwriting. We were instructed to take the opening lines from Dickens’s work, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…” and give them a new voice. My attempts at Oprah and Confucius bemoaning the turmoil of the French Revolution were substantially worse than sorting through various song lyrics, so there you go.

The Story of the Artificer – Chapter 1

When the pearlescent blue liquid fizzed, Able’s nose caught the faint fragrance of fresh bread before the froth ignited in an explosion. The young gnome flew back through the air into a pile of discarded paper. He coughed, ears ringing. Around him, sparkles of blue and pink burst and hissed.

Light bloomed in his peripheral vision and Able turned his throbbing head to see a taller, older gnome thrust the workshop door open, panic on her round face.

As fast as Able’s heart sank, the panic morphed into a mixture of anger and worry. In quick strides, his mother crossed the ruins of the glass beakers and most of the table and knelt next to him. Her lips moved and he made out, “Are you hurt?” as she prodded his arms and torso in brisk examination. Shaking his head, Able winced. The ringing in his ears increased with a rising pain and warm fluid trickled down the right side of his jaw.

Continuing to glare at him, his mother cradled the side of his face in one warm, callused hand. Her grey eyes closed and her lips moved in words he could not hear nor identify. She raised her other hand and snapped her fingers next to his ear.

The click returned sound with full force; Able jerked his head away at the sudden roar of atmosphere. The bleeding ceased, the pain lessening but not ceasing entirely.

“Able Kingsage,” his mother did not shout. Able’s stomach curdled at her quiet tone and he dropped his gaze. She turned his chin up to stare into his eyes. No glare remained, her expression now disappointed. “What have I told you about going into Gramfer’s workshop?”

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Unto Us

City of a thousand dreams, graveyard of worry until the oncoming morrow, Las Vegas spread as gleaming gold under Night’s cloak. Within the city, among the towering edifices, standing in the entrance to The Templeton Casino and Suites’s parking garage, Dale Carmichael was neither a poet, nor in a position to see the vast city stretch out before him. He pushed his glasses further up the bridge of his nose and sighed. Jerking the lapel of his ill-fitting uniform straight again, he wandered back into the attendant station. The small booth reminded him of his apartment near the edge of the city, both being of equal size. And both coffee makers locked on the too-weak-to-caffeinate-a-cockroach setting. And the walls of the booth were thicker. And the booth had a television, albeit broken.

Dale ignored the groan of the chair as he sat down upon it. Management said replacing chairs on their last legs wasn’t high on their list of priorities unless he was a patron or worked in the gaming areas. Resigned to the ultimatum that if he didn’t want his rent checks bouncing, he supposed the depressed chair would be his friend for a long while yet. Dale picked up the battered copy of Les Miserablés his girlfriend gave him and opened it to the place he left off. “At that moment,” he read, “she suddenly felt that the bucket was gone. A hand, which seemed enormous to her, had just caught the handle, and was carrying it easily.

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Chocolate Library

Author’s Note: I first heard of Fortnum and Mason in the BBC version of All Creature’s Great and Small. Their hampers were treasure troves of the sweet, rich, and sumptuous. Back in October, my sister sent me a link to their writing competition. I didn’t win, but I did have a bit of fun assembling my entry. Have a gander!

Meltdown at Carnegie Hall

The stars were out and the stars were in. The hall hummed with conversation of the glamorous and eager, half an ear cocked to their neighbor, the other toward the stage. In the pit of the orchestra, James Doolridge wiped his mouth in dismay.

In his chest beat the tempo which the dervish delighted and the debonair despised, and small wonder! For in his dressing room, midst flowers and adornments from the adoring, a riffled drawer gaped, plundered.

For Doolridge, the strains, the melody, the symphony he guided with motion of hand and rosewood shaft sweetened his ears, but the richness of chocolate, the envelopment of treacle set sweetness upon his lips. The sugar imbibed instilled stanzas as his innards welcomed confection bonanzas. No Mozart was mastered before him, no Beethoven beheld his movement, no Debussy displayed without the lingering languor of chocolate, hastily masticated before returning to rostrum and continuing command. 

And now theft threatened to leave the last portion of the performance to pieces; his muse, plucked from his vanity, not long for the barbarous ministrations of a detractor he did not doubt, would not aid him in tending orchestral efforts.

Even as the hiss passed through backstage, muffled by curtain on the cusp of rising, “Thirty seconds! Places!” and Doolridge ascended his stand, his mind whirled. Was it the clarinetist, the scarlet-maned woman of simpering smile melting to glowering glare when he demanded she arise and move down one chair? Could it have been the concertmaster, bowed but unbroken before Doolridge’s shoe catching his violin case in hasty chocolate chase before the overture began? Or Vincent Van Veers, his assistant anxious for opportunity to co-opt a community and be the youngest conductor at Carnegie in years?

Introspection mingled with introduction, his arms raising in automatic attention, but as bows were set, the horns glinted and raised, James Doolridge was stricken with thought.

To apoplectic memory flew the percussionists sneer, the half-muttered comment loud enough to tickle one Doolridge ear, “’Give a fool two sticks and he calls himself a drummer?’ Check your pocketbook, grant him only one, and behold! A conductor.”

And was that a smirk on the villainous veneer, one curl of the lip over collar of lace? Where smudge of melted chocolate and gold tinted glittering grin, fresh in finkly face?

The orchestra and audience shared a high gasp, as conductor landed on timpani with an indecorous crash. Baton and mallet clashed in irregular rhythm and the guilty soon fought with all desperation within him.

Cast from conduction for conduct unconducive, Doolridge flounced off in fury. He consoled himself with what confections he’d buy, sending the energy into study, into examination, and soon before jury. One might feel sadness at seeing one so musically inclined turn to the tricks and trade of law-as-defined. Fear not, gentle reader, for he is not unhappy, though if he does not curtail his chocolate consumption, one Doolridge Esq. will soon be disbarred.

The Horse and His Boy

Which is your favorite Chronicles of Narnia book?

Mine is The Horse and His Boy.

I didn’t know why. Growing up, I wanted to be Peter and kill wolves and rule Narnia as High King. I also wanted to be the oldest. And command armies. But even when I finished reading The Last Battle, still struggling to accept it as the completion of the series, my thoughts still trailed to the story of an orphan slave and a talking horse. I found more concepts there with which I identify than the rest of the series.

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