Posted in Character Stories

Luna’s Library

The butcher next door sent us a pot roast for the coming holiday. Luna has it chilling in one of the employee fridges downstairs while she keeps me up on a ladder. I convinced her not to force me to decorate outside, but I have twelve boxes of tinsel and baubles and identical red ribbons to disperse through the library. 

There’s three levels for my festive obligation. Two for guests. One for us. Especially funny or slightly inappropriate signs get put in a separate pile to be used in the employee quarters. 

Stepping down, I move the ladder over another shelf and then climb back up. I would argue this as an abuse of Luna’s employer rights to have me on a ladder in the middle of the night making this place a holiday wonderland before the children and avid readers can come back tomorrow, but I don’t really mind. She’s done too much for me since my head injury. I’ve had amnesia for well over a year now with no indication that I’m ever going to remember what my life was like before she took pity on me and gave me a job and a purpose at this quaint library. 

Luna broke a lot of rules to get me in here. I didn’t have any legal identification to submit. I don’t even remember getting here, but when I told her she didn’t have to help me, she just smiled and promised that this kind of thing was what librarians lived for. 

There’s a couple of other employees who fill in throughout the week, but it’s usually just the two of us here. I really wouldn’t have it any other way. The others are fine. The readers are nice. But Luna is the best. 

I don’t know how to put it into words. I get a warm, fuzzy sensation in my chest when I look at her in her oversized, purple sweater and round golden glasses. Her hair is always thrown into a messy bun to keep it out of her eyes while she reads and bustles around this place. The library wouldn’t stand without Luna. I swear some of the books lean out of their shelves and peek at her in the same way I do whenever she walks by on a mission to another part of this old place. 

“Liam?”

That’s her. I swivel to find her with her arms wrapped around yet another box. Through the partically open flaps, I can see that this one is full of stars in a million sparkling colors. 

“I’m so sorry, but I just found this one downstairs. Do you think you could do them across the ceiling in the children’s reading area?”

She could ask me to catch and slay a dragon and I would say yes. Nodding down to her, I give a thumbs up. The work truly doesn’t matter. I get to do it in this place with her and that makes me so bloody happy. 

“I have one more favor to ask,” she calls up to me after I turn back around to finish securing my tinsel. 

“Yes,” I answer, eyes forward on the sparkling bits of plastic that seem to bring our readers far too much happiness. 

She lets out a giggle, her simple mirth-filled sound infectious as I let myself blow out a chuckle. “I didn’t even ask it yet. How do you know the answer is yes?”

Turning back around, I grin down at her. “It’s always yes, Luna. Whatever you need.”

Her lips twist as she squints up at me. “What if I asked you to clean the toilets?”

I shrug. “Yes.”

“Or I told you I needed you to scrape the pigeon droppings from the roof?”

“Yes,” I’m barely holding in laughter as I step down the ladder.

When I’m on solid ground once more, I step over a couple of boxes to share the same small aisle with her. We’re shoulder to shoulder with the contemporary and historical romance novels. Dozen of tiny eyes stare at us from the shelves as I wait for her next question. 

She steps back a step, some of the joy of the moment fading from her eyes. “You’re too nice, Liam.”

“I don’t see how that would be a problem.”

She rakes her fingers back through her frizzy hair. “Of course you don’t know it’s a problem. That’s the whole tragic flaw in your character.”

Usually, I wouldn’t think twice about the odd way Luna speaks. She lives in these shelves and breathes the air of these old books every single day. Literature is in her veins. She makes odd comparisons to novels all the time. 

She’s not usually upset about it, though. 

So, instead of doing the smart thing and letting this go, I push her to explain. She lets out a strangled sigh and starts to walk away, muttering that she can’t tell me the truth without telling me the truth and I have no idea what that means. 

Abandoning the decorations, I follow her past the fantasy books and the horror novels and the poetry section on the way to the employee stairwell. She’s already through the door, the heavy thing thudding shut behind her before I can grab it. I watch her brown hair bob as she takes the stairs two at a time in a near jog away from me. 

I can’t leave her to just be upset. Maybe I am too nice, but she’s done a thousand tiny things for me since I stumbled into this little town with nothing except the clothes on my body. She even converted one of the office spaces downstairs into a bedroom for me to use while I try to figure out who I am. Nobody accepts the credit of a person without photo identification or a birth certificate. Without Luna, I wouldn’t have a place to stay or a place to work or a purpose in this world. 

I think it’s only right that I’m too nice in return. 

Taking my time going down the stairs, the worn handles sliding easily under my fingertips, I amble down to the employee area. I don’t have to look around for her. She’s going to be in her personal library. The little room has enough space for two shelves packed with books that are out of print or too battered to be put back out on the floor and her reading chair. It’s her place of comfort. It’s the one place she could try to lock me out of since I have a set of keys to the rest of the doors. 

As suspected, the door is shut and locked when I make it down the hall. Letting my forehead rest on the cool wood, I try to listen for any sounds from the other side. There’s some rustling. Perhaps she’s already flopped into her chair with a favorite book and she’s trying to find that one specific page that brings her joy. 

No matter what’s happening in there, we still need to talk. I’m not going back up that ladder until I know she’s okay and she tells me what exactly I did to cause this reaction. 

“Lun-?”

The door flings open before I can get her name out of my mouth. Stumbling forward, I fall into her and the book shoved my way. She’s talking before I can steady myself or get out the next question. 

“You don’t have amnesia, Liam.”

That has my attention. The old book now in my hands has no cover. It’s just a green volume with wrinkled yellow pages. Nothing special at first glance, but clearly loved by its weathered condition. 

“Of course I do. I didn’t even know my name when I got here.”

She shakes her head, her eyes too wide behind her lenses. “You’re not a real person.”

Maybe she had too much spiced eggnog. This is getting increasingly worrying. I don’t have a question at the front of my mind. Well, more honestly, I have a hundred questions, but I can’t figure out how to form any of them into words before she lets out an exasperated moan and snatches the book back out of my hands. 

Ripping it open, she flips through it until she finds whatever she’s looking for and then shoves it back in my direction. Her pink, painted nail points to a sketch with a single word caption: Liam. 

That’s my name. That’s certainly a drawing of my face. I trace the jawline and the nose before glancing towards her. 

“What is this?”

“You were so nice,” she remarks again, her voice too high pitched. “But the writer gave you a terrible end and I just wanted to help.”

I’m not following this conversation. “This is a book, Luna. Just a story. It looks like me, but I’m sure it’s a coincidence and-.”

She shakes her head. “Just listen. It is you. You don’t really think you just stumbled by my library and then I took you in, do you?”

Of course I do. That’s been my daily background for the last year. I’ve lost my mind and Luna took pity on me and I work really hard to make sure she understands that I appreciate her. 

When I don’t answer, she scrambles to continue, “Okay. I know this sounds crazy, but magic is real. Most people don’t believe it and they probably won’t ever see it, but I can and I found a spell in one of these books,” she flings her hand behind her to draw my attention to the haphazard stack of ragged volumes. “I used it. On you. And now you’re in this world instead of dying in this book.”

Oh. Okay. That seems perfectly logical. I keep my sarcasm tucked behind my locked jaw as I continue to stare at her. 

“You can say something now,” she prompts, her fingers curling into nervous fists at her sides. 

“I don’t know what you want me to say.”

She sighs. “You don’t believe me, do you?”

I shrug. “I think you think this happened, but it’s been a really long day and we should probably get some rest be-.”

Luna isn’t sticking around to hear what I have to say. Turning away from me, she grabs her reading chair and, using the full force of her petite frame, drags it away from the center of the space. I want to ask what she’s doing, but I don’t need to. There’s a hidden door. 

Opening it, she steps down onto the ladder. “I wasn’t going to tell you anything, but the magic has gotten out of hand and there’s a leak and I can’t just keep this a secret forever.”

I stay in the main room, holding the book with my face and leaning over to try to see into her secret space. She’s back up in a minute, a wire cage in her hand. “Page 67, Liam.”

I don’t have to turn the pages to know what she has trapped in that very small cage. “So, dragons are real?”

With a skittish nod, she climbs off of the ladder and sits on the floor with the scaly creature tucked onto her lap. I sink down to be across from her as she tells me the story of how her magic escaped and I’m now not the only fictional character to make my way into this world — her world. 

“I’m sure you’re upset and confused and I completely understand, but you’re kind of the only person I can ask to help me.”

She’s right. What I thought would be a typical day has now been flipped upside down and shaken around for good measure. That doesn’t change anything between us, though. 

Reaching across, I let the lizard with wings smell my fingers while I look ahead to the girl who brought a book to life. “Yes. I’ll help you.”

Author’s Note

I had no idea what I was writing when Bridgette sent me this prompt. I usually have no idea, but this vague “day in the life” prompt really threw a wrench at my personal muse. Tossing aside my usual vampires, I had to search for someone with a more interesting spark.

Liam is a character I once wrote an entire Hallmark-esque novel about ten years ago. He’s a hero in every sense of the word. Got the girl, saved the day, did everything he had to in order to fill his position. I just don’t love writing contemporary romance, so threw the book in a dark drawer to rot while I wrote about vampires and danger.

I think he’s going to be amazing in this magic filled fantasy alongside Luna the librarian/amateur witch.

Thanks for coming this week! Please leave your comments and thoughts in the section below. Reader insight is the best motivation to moving forward with these different projects.

As always, check out Bridgette’s story as well: Under the Sign

And catch up on Lore here: Lore by Angelica Reece

We’ll see you next week 🙂

Posted in Character Stories

Enemy Fire

Somewhere in the rafters above me a parakeet squawks. My father’s friend refuses to have a normal pet. She signed up instead for a service bird who has managed to escape every attempt she’s made to take him to Sunday service. 

Maybe he’s a demon trapped in the tiny body and trying to run away from this cathedral before the singing commences. 

In that sense, he and I would have some common ground. 

My heels drag with each step. There’s a pounding in my skull that gets incessantly louder the further I make it into this holy place. My skin doesn’t burn, though. I don’t feel like I’m going to spontaneously combust or puke out the virus that has attached itself to my system. 

The virus that I had hated until it saved my life.

My limbs heavy, I press forward past a handful of bystanders who pretend not to see me. Everyone says help is at the church. It sure is for the wealthy and the affluent. Me, though, in my bloodstained shirt and bare feet, I look like a dead man walking, a bad omen that they would rather avoid than face head on. 

Ash coats my tongue from laying face to face with Death all last night. Some might argue that destiny finally caught up with me. I’d argue that a coward with a hammer caught me off guard. 

There has to be cracks in my skull from the impact. At least, there were several hours ago. I heard the crunch and then laid on the cold concrete while the insidious disease I contracted a few weeks ago carefully put my fractured bits back together like they were only pieces to a simple puzzle. 

My vision wavers as I take another step forward. My right side swings forward fine. My left leg drags. I continue in that movement as wave after wave of nausea tries to overtake me. I continue anyway, my limp more and more pronounced with each step closer to the front of the cathedral. The bishop is speaking over my movements, pretending that I’m not getting closer and closer to his precious grasp on this audience. 

“Where’s my mother?” I gasp over the pain lancing from my shoulder down through my ankle. 

He doesn’t even bother to look at me. Someone nearby tries to hush me. I’m not about to be silenced. My life on the line, the life of my family as it currently stands is in danger. I won’t just be shushed and pushed aside. 

I make it almost to the first step up towards his lifted podium before someone actually gets up to stop me. The bishop never stops speaking. He doesn’t hesitate to spread lies to these gullible people. 

“Let me go,” I growl, my hold on the virus slipping as my vision turns red and claws extend on my left hand. 

I haven’t had nearly enough time to come to grips with the supposed vampire variant. I didn’t even believe it was real until a few days after my run-in with the savvy businessman. The guy who exposed me to the virus left me a number to call if the shit hit the fan. He wasn’t exactly in a place to educate me while I fought to suck in a simple breath of air. He, though, had more civilized compassion than the person who attacked me last night. 

The good samaritan who came to my side is babbling about a hospital when he notices that my eyes aren’t a normal shade. Jumping back from me, he clutches at the crucifix around his throat while some kind of garbled prayer sprays from his lips. If I was a Dracula knock off, that might have done something. Since I’m a very real, likely an invincible recreation of Stoker’s first imagined creature, it does absolutely nothing. 

I make it up the first step before another voice rings through the confused din of the audience. “Erik!”

Mom. Mother. The high heeled attacker who left me for dead in a cold alley. 

Glaring at the Bishop, I watch as his hands tremble over his text. Another time. I’m not going to forget the person who brainwashed my mother and then sent her after me. 

I am going to deal with her first. 

Staggering away from the front of the cathedral, I follow her out the side door and into a dim hallway. She’s uninjured and far faster than me. While the beast resting just under the surface of my skin wants bloodshed and revenge, I only want to talk. 

She’s nowhere to be seen.

Leaning against the stone wall, I squint into the next room. Some kind of archive. Maybe just an individual prayer room with a stack of ancient texts for every need. 

She’s in there. 

“Does Dad know?” I ask the room as I step past the door frame. 

She seemingly materializes from an exit across the room. Hiding. It’s not really the way innocent people act. 

“He knows you got into some trouble.”

Right. Dad runs a bakery. He was injured in the army a long time ago and now she coddles him from the real nasty bits of our world. 

“So, you left out the part where you tried to kill me?”

She doesn’t flinch at the statement. I thought she would show some emotion. Maybe she would take a breath to beg for my forgiveness. Instead, she straightens her shoulders and looks down her nose at me even though I’ve been taller than her since I turned fifteen. 

“When you started sneaking around with questionable men, you betrayed the family. You’re not human anymore, Erik. If you cared for any of us, you would take care of this mess yourself.”

I’m going to puke. 

“Kill myself,” I breathe, the words barely penetrating the thick air between us. 

She shrugs, her thin frame wrapped in a jacket. Like this, she just looks like the woman who used to stand in the kitchen and ask about my grades. That’s not who she is now. It’s more than the additional lines around her lips and eyes or the gray strands she can’t seem to keep covered with expensive dyes in her hair. She chose the goddamned Bishop over the rest of us, vowing her life to his secret society. 

One that dislikes anyone who strays from the traditional path and despises vampires. 

“It’s the best choice for the family.”

Of course. The family is the most important thing. We’re not supposed to upset Dad’s life or distract Malcolm from his booming security business. We’re just expected to keep our chins up and our mouths shut. 

I haven’t ratted Mom out in years. She’s been moving family funds around and going to these secret meetings with the Bishop and his followers. I open my mouth to argue with her and then firmly shut it. 

There’s no point. I dragged myself off of the ground and came here to make a statement. 

But it doesn’t matter. 

“Tell Dad I died. I’ll get out of your life.”

For the first time since we came face to face, her stern mask cracks. There’s something else underneath. Likely not sadness since she was already prepared to wipe me off the planet with nothing more than a hammer and her personal conviction. 

“Where will you go?”

That has to be a ploy. She isn’t really going to let me walk out of here. Is she?

I shrug, the action making everything on the right side of my body ache. “Anywhere that isn’t here.”

“You can’t reach out to your brother.”

“I know.”

It would defeat the purpose of faking my death if Malcolm was aware that I was alive. I’m not willing to keep playing these games. I’m mad, really fucking mad about all of this, but it’s not a fight I can win on my own. 

We’re at a standstill. I don’t know if we’re supposed to say more. There’s no way that I’ll be trading statements of love and well being. 

This sucks. 

It really, really sucks. 

But I know when I have to throw in the towel. 

I didn’t stumble through college just to die in an alleyway. 

I’ve got dreams and I know there’s places for me to follow them. There’s a mysterious number in my phone for me to call. I’ll see where that lead takes me while I buy a ticket out of town. 

Still, I don’t know if there’s something else to do. I went through all of the effort to chase her down and say something. Is this really how we’re going to leave things?

I don’t get a chance to make that decision. She reaches into her pocket and pulls out her phone, clicking through several screens before her dark eyes, the same dark eyes I inherited, pin me to my spot. 

“I can buy you eight minutes. Get out. The others are coming.”

A last minute show of loyalty or just a way for her to force me out of her life, I don’t think twice about turning away and limping down the next hall. The door closes behind me with a final thud. Half dead, rage and disgust and grief rampaging through my intestines, I keep my eyes forward. 

It’s time to see where life will take me.

Author’s Note

This writer is physically and mentally exhausted. November has been a very long month packed with keeping up with all of my usual updates and working on the NaNoWriMo challenge.

I started this prompt this morning with a vague idea that I would introduce yet another one of my characters. If you enjoyed The Last Dance a couple of weeks ago, I’m happy to introduce Erik as the stranger that whisked Miles away at the end. Erik’s story is going to play with familial tension and a resistance to religion as he tries to find himself in this terribly complex world.

As always, thank you for coming to read this blog and support my dream to write. It has meant the world to me these last few months.

Please check out Bridgette’s story as well on the theme of chasing an enemy: Chalky Hands

And if you’re reading Lore, come meet Erisa Nabil through Ashby’s eyes: Lore by A D Reece

I’ll see you next weekend, readers! ❤

Posted in Character Stories

Kitchen Antics

“Izacc, I need you to be down here. You can enjoy the festivities once all the food is ready.”

I’m not surprised. I already told Ma that I would contribute to the cooking and baking and decorating and drink serving that’s going to commence for the Thanksgiving feast. The other boys my age are out kissing girls under drawbridges and playing games that demonstrate their strength. My own thin frame was not made for such things. I’ll gladly stay down here where it’s quiet and safe and the panic that wraps around my chest like an iron vice isn’t so bad. 

She sends me to the electric ice box that we keep on the lower level of the castle’s kitchen. The wizard who brought it called it a ‘refrigerator,’ claiming it was named after the great man who originally crafted it. Refrigerator is a ridiculous name. It’s a mouthful that doesn’t tip off of the tongue correctly. 

It should be called something mighty. Like frost falcon or ice eagle. The doors on the front spread like the giant wings of some arctic bird. The world would be so much cooler if we stopped naming everything after wrinkly wizards who haven’t seen the light of day in half a century. 

I make it all the way down the stone steps before I notice the voices. Not the din of the overhead kitchen. There’s hushed whispers from somewhere down here. 

It’s probably just other kitchen staff. There’s herbs and wines and all sorts of different ingredients stored in the bowels of the lower kitchen. It’s best to keep my nose out of others’ businesses and just grab the list of things Ma insisted were a staple requirement of her feast. 

They already have all the meat upstairs. There’s pigs that have been roasting for over a day and huge slabs of steak that they marinated and left out to make the entire kitchen drool worthy. Ma said if I was really well behaved, she save me an entire lamb leg. 

So, well behaved I intend to be. 

The voices get louder as I wander through the dusty storage areas. There’s flour spilled on the floor. I step right in it, leaving a clear foot path for anyone to see my movements. 

I’ll clean it later. Ma won’t mind. 

White prints stamping along the dark floor, I brush aside some hanging herbs, the sweet scent of rosemary wrapping around my shoulders and wriggling into my nose. Crap. I take a deep breath and try to hold it in to no avail. 

I’m going to sneeze. There’s no stopping it. 

Clamping my hands over my face, I stagger back from the force of the sneeze, bumping into the nearest shelf and sending glass jars tumbling to the floor. They shatter in a ten different piles of glass, some spilling liquids onto the ground while others dump salts or dried flowers. 

Ma is going to kill me. 

I’m not getting a special, holiday plate. 

Crap. Crap. Crap. 

There’s gotta be a broom nearby. If I can just sweep it up quickly, I might still be able to grab all her ingredients and get back upstairs before she thinks I’ve been gone too long. 

It isn’t until I’m at the end of the aisle that I realize that the other voices haven’t spoken in a few seconds. I’m going too fast to stop. I run straight into a wide chest. 

The man reaches out to grab me, his hands wrapped around my biceps in order to keep me on my own feet. I open my mouth to apologize. Nothing comes out. 

This cannot be happening. 

The man keeping me upright isn’t just another member of the kitchen staff or family. He’s not any kind of serving staff. He’s… Luke. Not just Luke. Prince Lucas Lucke of Asterium. 

And he should not be down here. 

I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for this to happen. I have to make this better, but I am physically shaking in his hold and I can’t get a single word out. 

“Hey, it’s okay.”

I understand that he is saying those words, but I continue to stare at him with my mouth open and my eyes far too wide to be considered respectful. Why is the prince in the bowels of the castle? I mean, it’s his castle, I suppose, and he can go wherever he wants, but I just have never seen him here. 

I’ve seen him pretty much everywhere else. He plays tournaments in the summer with his shirt off. Girls are prone to fanning themselves and I have had to hold back from doing the exact same thing for the past two years. 

In the winter, he wears bright tunics that stand out against the white snow layer and rolls his sleeves up to his elbows when he gets warm. There isn’t a single horse he can’t handle. His father is proud of him and awards him several badges each season for his achievements. For that matter, they’ll probably have a gratitude ceremony before dinner tonight. 

Dinner. The feast. Ma is going to kill me. 

Maybe she won’t get a chance if I just dissolve into ash in the prince’s hands. 

“What’s your name?”

My heart hammers against my ribs. It rattles in my ears. Of course he doesn’t know my name. 

I’m just some kitchen boy. 

“You’re not in trouble. What’s your name?” He coaxes, his hands gentle yet firm on my upper arms. 

“Zac,” I squeak, my voice cracking on the single syllable that I push through my clenched teeth. 

“Zac?” Prince Luke repeats. He says it slowly like he’s really trying out the weight of it on his own tongue. “I see you a lot in the library.”

I duck my head. Crap. “I’m sorry. I’ve been learning to read. Ma said it wouldn’t be a problem as long as I stayed out of the way.”

“It’s not a problem,”he responds, calmly cutting through my stuttered response. “I think I’d like to see you there more often.”

Me? Little ol’ me?

That’s crazy talk. 

Maybe the prince isn’t feeling well. 

I don’t dare ask, though, as he finally lets me go, but doesn’t take a step back. We’re still so close. I can smell the citrusy scent of his expensive soaps. I always thought he would smell like grass. This is nice, though. 

Or it’s not. 

I’m supposed to be down here gathering supplies for Ma. Not talking to a prince and most certainly not thinking about the way he smells. 

That’s not a normal thing to think about for a boy my age. 

“You can say no if you don’t want to see me, Zac.”

He says my name again and my heart explodes into a million little pieces. “Of course I want to see you,” I blurt, my foolish mouth running ahead of my mind. 

I’m going to have to change my name and go to work at a fishing pier in another land. This cannot happen. I’m a serving boy and he’s a prince. There’s no way we can be friends. A tiny voice whispers in the back of my mind that I’d like for us to even be something more, but I toss that aside. 

Crazy. Super freaking crazy. The kind of crazy that gets people like me thrown in a dungeon or sent on a wild quest that either kills them or drives them mad. 

I’m not the kind of guy who can shoulder his way through the world and come out unfazed. I’m small. I’m frankly quite pathetic. 

Ma says I’m a good boy. 

I don’t want to just be a boy anymore. I want to have a conversation with a prince and not feel like I’m completely lesser. I’m old enough to be providing for my family. I should act like a man. 

Straightening my spine, I take a gasping breath that’s a little too loud for our close situation. “I have to get some things for the kitchen, but if there’s a time you’d like to meet again…”

I trail off. It was a good start. I had the right idea, I think. 

Luke’s lips curl at the edges as he nods. “After dinner, meet me in the library. I’ve got some favorite books you should add to your reading.”

Oh. Today. The Prince wants to see me again. 

There’s no good reason that should make my blood race and my breaths short, but Luke steps into a slight bow and takes his leave. I’m frozen in place for several ragged seconds. The Prince bowed to me. 

Me. 

Just plain ol’ Zac. 

I hear Ma yell my name from the kitchen, her no nonsense tone carrying all the way through the lower kitchen. Right. Right. Right. Chores. Help Ma. Dinner. Library.

With the Prince. 

My heart a wild bird in my chest, I hurry to finish cleaning and grabbing things for the kitchen while my mind looks forward to the rest of the night. Today’s the day my life changes forever. I hope it’s for the best.

Author’s Note

Thanks for checking out the latest installment on the blog! If you’re a Zac fan, this story is going to take place a couple of years before his last story: The Bird Cage.

As always, check out Bridgette’s story on the same prompt: Late Night Visitor

And if you haven’t checked it out yet, I’ve just published the twentieth episode of Lore. You can check it out on Kindle Vella or click the link here: Lore by Angelica Reece

Have a wonderful week, readers!

We’ll see you next Saturday 🙂

Posted in Character Stories

The Last Dance

Matthew secures the mask over my face and then steps back to look at me. “You’re divine, darling.”

I don’t bother to look in the mirror or offer my opinion. This doesn’t need to be a controversy between us. If he says I look better with my face covered, then so be it.

I take a deep breath and try to push down the juvenile need to rip off this entire outfit and hide in my room. Instead, I perform the twirl that Matthew is asking for as he claps and tosses praise my way. 

Maybe it will be a good night. He’s gone out of his way to make this an event for me. I flash him an awkward smile, the edges of my mask pressing into my lips. 

“You’re going to enjoy the carnival themes, darling,” Matthew continues talking, holding his arm out for me to grab as he sweeps us out of the room. “Everyone will be dressed well and have masks and then there’s all sorts of apple treats and I even got a pianist to come play.”

Lucy isn’t performing?

I jot the words onto my pocket notepad in a quick rush.

Matt shakes his head. “She had other plans.”

Oh. It’s fine. I try to breathe past the rock now settling in my chest. This is okay. I’m great. She’s allowed to have a life outside of me. A dark little whisper at the back of my mind whines that something is wrong, but I shake it off. I just thought she would have done something special for my birthday.

No worries. My husband hasn’t let me out of his sight today and I’m in for an evening of perfectly executed activities orchestrated by the great Matthew Krawlski. 

We enter the elevator together as I stuff away my pad of paper, Matt stepping in first as I follow a step behind before coming to stand at his side. He presses the button to plummet us to the bottom, keying in a special code to keep the doors for opening for anyone else in the hotel. I stare straight ahead, my eyes catching on the gold mask covering my face. It follows the curve of my cheekbones, arching over my nose and sealing itself to my features. There’s no embellishments or feathers or anything fun. Its solid gold form fitted to conceal my identity.

Matthew made a point of physically turning me into a trophy husband. 

Whatever. It doesn’t matter. He isn’t even wearing a mask. Matthew Krawlski isn’t the kind of man who hides his face when he can flash people his charming smile and get people to simply do anything he asks. 

It doesn’t bother me. It shouldn’t bother me. 

I don’t know why my head is such a mess today. 

I take a shuddering breath as the elevator eases down to the lowest level. Here we go. Time to be excited for a party I didn’t ask to have. 

The doors slide open. I wrinkle my nose. Sassafras. It’s not my favorite smell. Sweet and woodsy. The cloying quality of it makes me sick to my stomach. Matt takes a deep breath, though, so I don’t say anything as he leads me out into the dimly lit room. 

The party is already in full swing. There have to be over two hundred people milling about in the space below. Matthew clears his throat. I don’t need him to verbally lecture me right now. 

Eyes forward, shoulders straight, and for the life of me, I need to not trip down the stairs. 

The music is silenced. Our names are announced. People cheer as Matt waves and walks with me down the spiral staircase meant for these theatrics. 

When we reach the bottom, my too shiny shoes squeaking across the polished tiles, Matt clears his throat and looks out at the crowd that looks as excited to praise us as they would be to rip us to shreds. “Thank you all for being here. My husband’s birthday is a grand affair. I even got him out of his room.”

There’s chuckles through the surrounding group. To them, I’m a weird recluse, a nobody, a man who sunk my claws into Matt for his money and didn’t look back. Nobody knows the real reason Matthew so rarely drags me out to these affairs. They don’t know that I truly have claws and not enough self-control to always hide them. 

Deep breath. Again. My last therapist insisted that breathing was the key to everything.

I can’t tell if it’s working as Matt signals to someone in the crowd and the lights turn a moody red. Everyone is ushered to the sides. A piano is lifted up onto a stage and light music begins to play at the whim of the pianist. 

“I hired him just for you, darling. He plays all that classical shit you adore.”

If anybody else was nearby, Matt wouldn’t curse. He feels comfortable here. He thinks he’s done a good job. 

We walk by a large table filled with food. There’s chocolate fountains and mountains of meats and cheeses on gold platters that sparkle with the red lighting. Desserts tower everywhere else. Truffles and flaky cookies and a hundred other pastries line circular plates. At the end, there’s sweet caramel apples, some of them sliced open to show off the center. They’ve been there too long. Oxidation has settled in the core, turning them brown amongst the table of delicacies. 

It’s rare for Matt to allow an imperfection. 

I don’t mention it. Instead, I keep my fingers on the crook of his elbow and follow him to the front of the crowd. The dancefloor. He turns to face me as the pianist switches to a slow tune. 

“Will you allow me the first dance, darling?”

It’s not a choice. I don’t need to pull out my notepad to form an answer. I just put my hands into his and follow along to the steps of the waltz. 

The crowd cheers as we spin. I shut my eyes as the lighting changes from red to blue to pink to yellow. It’s a rainbow array meant to dizzy and disorient. 

I miss my footing. 

Matt catches me as I crumple, a curse under his breath. “Keep it together, Miles. We’re in front people,” he growls, no concern on his harsh features for what is likely a sprained ankle as I gingerly limp through the rest of the song. 

There’s applause. My whole leg is throbbing with it. Matt pulls me down into a bow before welcoming the rest of the people out onto the dance floor as the pianist begins a jaunty tune. 

“You should take a minute to recover.”

No pet name. Matthew’s mad. In his mind, I just embarrassed him in front of hundreds of people. 

Even if I wanted to complain, I don’t dare grab the notepad from my pocket. There’s no way I’m writing out my feelings to him in the middle of this elaborate affair. I’ll stay quiet. I’m plenty good at staying quiet. 

Matt tucks me into a booth to the side of the stage that’s mostly hidden from the party. “Take a few minutes. When you’re ready, I’ll be making arrangements with some of the big players in the city. There’s a private table at the back. The security knows to let you pass. Can you handle being alone?”

I excel at being alone. Matt grabs my chin, though, when I don’t answer quick enough. His hold is rough enough to bruise. A shuddering breath rushes through my clenched teeth as I stare up at him. 

I will not cry. I won’t make a sniffle. He’ll be distracted soon. 

“Behave yourself. Do you understand?”

There’s no hesitation this time. I nod. I nod too quickly into his hand and he drops it. Stepping away, he throws an unnecessary affectionate phrase over his shoulder to keep his image good with anybody nearby and then struts off to care for his precious business. 

God. I hate my birthday. 

If I could laugh, I would now. Not some mirthful sound, but a choked gasp at my situation. This is my life. This is the foreseeable course of my life. I have years if not decades or centuries going through these motions. 

Matthew Krawlski will never let me go. 

The piano music changes. I tilt my head to look over at the dark form walking away from the stage as the pianist gives a thumbs up for the requested song. It’s not a classical tune. 

Matt is going to be so upset if he realizes this guy is playing other songs. 

Yet… I don’t want it to stop. I think I can recognize it. 

It’s on the tip of my tongue. A warm wiggling at the base of my mind, the title just barely escapes my capture. It’s something that probably played on the radio once when I was walking through the hotel lobby.

Before I can come to any conclusion on its origin or importance in my life, the lights swivel to catch on a man in a mask similar to that of the Phantom of the Opera. He has a microphone in his hand. He’s…

He’s singing and looking straight over at this booth. 

That deep voice. The amusing swing of his hips. This guy must be a performer. He’s used to standing in front of people and making a fool of himself. 

But that voice. I could listen to it every day for the rest of my life. 

My fingers trail the scar on my own throat. My memories are jumbled. I think I used to like to sing, though. I would have liked the chance to sing with this man as he repeats the chorus and demands that the audience to his words saves the last dance for him. 

I’ve heard those words before, but I just can’t remember. 

Eventually, the song ends and the pianist continues onto another song. Someone else gets on stage to sing. She’s nowhere near as good as the last guy. 

I don’t have much time to ponder anything because I’m no longer alone. My shoulders stiffen. I try to paste on a bland smile to fend off Matt, but…it’s not him. The guy with the phantom mask. He unabashedly shows off half of his handsome face, daring anyone to identify him outside of this particular event. 

He holds his hand out to me. “I really would like that last dance if you wouldn’t mind.”

How do you know it’ll be the last? I want to ask. I want to know his name and why he has gone out of his way to make a spectacle in my husband’s hotel. 

But, I look into his deep brown eyes and forget to grab my writing pad. 

Is this what it feels like to know in your soul that you’ve met someone in a past lifetime and they’ve managed to make it back to you?

I don’t know. 

I want to find out. 

Knowing there will be consequences, I slip my fingers into his gloved hand and step out of the safety of the booth.

Author’s Note

Welcome back to Miles’ portion of this complex story. If you’re new or want to follow re-read his stories, check out: High School Nightmare, Three Little Words, and Artists as well as this week’s prompt.

There are some exciting twists coming in his story, so hang in there and keep checking back here for his intermittent additions.

If you’re following along with Lore, Matthew Krawlski just became a named character in the latest episode. Read it now by clicking here: Lore by Angelica Reece

As always, I would not make it every week without my amazing writing partner cheering me on. Please go see Bridgette’s rendition of this piano prompt! A Night at the Carnival

Thank you so much for coming here every week. We’ll see you next time!

Posted in Character Stories

Devilish Dealings

The King is busy. 

I let my head rest against the cold, stone wall at my back as I watch the flickering light of the torches dance down the never ending hallway. It seems the country has room to make plenty of enemies. So far, I seem to be the only one lodged down here. Perhaps the King has run a more peaceful regime than propagandists would have suggested. 

My feet scrape across the cracked and sandy floor. For what it’s worth, it might not have been sandy before I got here. I took off my shoes awhile ago and seemed to dump out a whole beach. 

Twiddling my thumbs, I let out a sigh. This is not how I intended for today to go. I should have taken a different highway into town. Maybe then I would have avoided Marcus and the king’s men altogether. Now, my life is hinging on a contract between me and royalty. 

There’s a cough from somewhere down the hall. I suppose I’m not alone. I would have taken more time to thoroughly investigate this area if I hadn’t been promptly dumped in here by the soldiers who took my weapons. 

Nobody is coming to get me. I may as well make a friend while I’m stuck down here. “Hello?”

My voice is carried away on a draft. There’s no immediate response. Pushing to my feet, I tread across the frozen floor and wrap my fingers around the icy bars that contain me to this cell. I press my face against them to try to peer further into the dark. 

Nothing. 

I haven’t been in here long enough for my mind to be playing such tricks. 

I’m about to give up and return to my creaky bench when I hear something else. A tap. Tap, tap, tap. It’s a steady sound across the solid floor and it’s getting louder. 

“Hello? Can you hear me?”

The tapping doesn’t stop. Closer, ever closer, it rings out and echoes down this corridor riddled with empty cells. That doesn’t sound like a guard and I can’t imagine a prisoner from the depths of the prison is ambling towards me. This person is unhurried and precise, the sound of their movement never wavering in their approach. 

Patience may be a virtue, but it’s never one I learned. Grabbing the bars on either side of my face, I give the door a shake, the old metal rattling together in an cacophonous clatter. It makes me grit my teeth and stagger back to clap my hands over my ears. It’s loud enough to stir the dead. It has to be enough to get the attention of that approaching person. 

The tapping has stopped by the time I can unplug my ears and straighten. Nothing. Gone. Maybe they were trying to avoid detection and failed when I made noise. 

Ridiculous. I kick at a clump of hair on the ground, my mind full of possibilities for my current predicament. I came peacefully. There was no reason to resist when I was told that the King wanted to see me. Now, though, a niggling fear wriggles at the forefront of my skull. I was a fool. I’m going to be lead to the docks for a well-fitted rope and a pirate’s demise. 

Or…

Marcus is going to barge into the administration chambers and demand that I be returned to him. My parents signed over the entirety of their estates to him before their deaths. They bought me a place in his home. While they thought it was safety and security against the coming evils of the world, it was a mistake they didn’t live long enough to see come to fruition. 

I can’t go back to Oceanend’s Manor. 

A low rumble behind me pulls me out of my thoughts. Whirling to face the front of the cage, I stare at the well dressed man leaning his weight onto a thin cane. The dungeon isn’t exactly the kind of place for a suit. He’s clearly the person I heard walking closer, though, so I step forward and thrust out my hand. 

The man’s dark gaze flicks over my fingers and then back to my face. “I suggest you hear the terms of my deal before you go shaking hands, little girl.”

There’s a terrible power to his voice. Not something I necessarily hear when he speaks, but something I feel at my core. My soul trembles as I let my hand fall back to my side. 

“Who are you?”

His full mustache wiggles as he blows out a sigh. “There isn’t time for trivial questions. I can get you out of this cell for a price. Are you willing to listen to the terms?”

No. Yes. I don’t know. Either way, I won’t be intimidated into a deal with him.

I take a step back from him. “I can just wait for the guards to come down for me.”

He doesn’t move from in front of the cell as he bobs his head in agreement. “You could. You have every right to sit here and rot until they finish their deal upstairs with a very irate man claiming he has right to the lady pirate.”

Marcus is already here. 

Dammit. 

“Why would you help me?”

His pink tongue flicks out to wet his bottom lip. “Because I, too, need help and we’re in the right predicament to help each other. Are you done with the inquisition, madame?”

I know better than to stop asking questions. Good women hug walls and win wars in silence. I’m not a good woman. 

Yet…

That hypnotic undertone to his voice has made a hole in my logic and left me a victim to his offer. “What are you proposing?”

Tapping the cell bars with his cane, he clears his throat. “I’ll get you out of here. I’ll outfit you in a tip-top wardrobe and give you chambers to carry out our business until the terms of our deal are met.”

Perhaps he thinks that I’m frivolous enough to give away my hand for the offer of fine clothing simply because I’m a woman. His mistake. “And what do you need from me?”

There’s a wicked gleam to his eyes as he tilts his head, the flames seemingly dancing across his pupils. “I need a champion, Amelia Evans, and I believe Fate is too wise to bring me a capable woman for it not to be you.”

There’s a compliment in that statement that has my guards falling further down. Nobody has ever insisted that I’m capable. I have fought tooth and nail for everything that has come my way in the last year. Just today, my crew gave me up because it’s easy to replace me with a wealthy man. 

“A champion for what?” 

My words barely wriggle past my tight throat. Everything about this man makes me want to say yes. The deal can’t be that bad if it gets me out of here and far from Marcus. 

One eyebrow pops up towards his dark hairline. “You’ve not heard about the King’s proclamation?”

“I just got into town a few hours ago.”

Every syllable is tugged right out of me. This man is a force I’ve yet to meet in my short experience outside of this country. I’m losing my ability to think for myself. It’s as if a ribbon is tying itself around the both of us, trapping us in an ebb and flow of conversation I have no chance to contradict. 

The man is nodding to me, a slight grin curving his lips. “The King’s daughter is to be married to whoever wins the competition. Not all people can make the trip or attend the battles, so he has allowed for neighboring kingdoms to send their champions as well. I would like you to be mine.”

Oh?

“So, if I win…”

“Participate and I’ll grant you your freedom when this is over, Amelia Evans.”

Hope is a bird flapping its wings against the confines of my chest. “I don’t have to win?”

His smile widens. “I know you will.” He extends his left hand through the bars. “Say yes, so we can move you to better quarters and start planning our victory.”

My fingertips are centimeters from his grasp when I remember to stop myself from just giving into his demands. “Say I don’t have to win. I have no idea what’s waiting for me out there. I want my freedom even if I lose.”

“Make it into the final game, Amelia and, win or lose, you’ve done enough to be granted your freedom.”

The final game. I have no idea what it will take to get there, but that seems like enough wiggle room for me to earn back my right to live my own life. 

Our hands are nearly touching, the strange man almost statueseque as he waits for me to close the miniscule distance. “I’ll be needing money and a boat when we are done with each other.”

Mischief curls his grin. “Do well for me, Amelia, and I will grant you your heart’s desires after each portion of the game.”

It seems too good to be true, but the alternative is sitting back down on that bench and waiting for fate to find me. I grip his too warm hand and give it a confident shake. “Deal.”

Invisible fire licks up the expanse of my left arm. I try to pull away, but his hold tightens. We’re bound together as the heat intensifies and pain scrapes across my forearm. My knees give out and he continues to hold onto me as I gasp for air from the floor.

Seconds or minutes pass. I can’t tell. Eventually, he murmurs for me to pull up my sleeve. 

In doing so, I find a perfectly formed rune burned into the flesh of my arm. “What the hell is that?”

The man releases me. “It’s been said to be the mark of the devil, Amelia Evans.”

There’s no chance for me to say something in return. The world tips sideways and blackness washes over me.

Author’s Note

Thank you for reading this week’s prompt! While Phoebe would have been the obvious choice to use after last week’s hint of a demonic deal, I wanted to challenge myself to something different. Here’s the second installation of Captain Evans and the journey she has unwittingly began.

As always, if you enjoyed this story, leave a like and a comment down below, so I know to continue tinkering away at this character.

If you’re looking for more of my writing, Lore Ep. 17 is already available on Kindle Vella. Check it out if you’re in the mood for a fun romance between a vampire and the girl who stole more than just his wallet: Lore by Anglica Reece

Be sure to check out Bridgette’s “deal with the devil” prompt as well: http://bridgettetales.com

Have a great week and we’ll see you back here next Saturday!

Posted in Character Stories

Danger in the Dark

“What am I supposed to call you when we’re alone?”

We’ve survived two days together. I flaunt my appearance as Alyssiana Laur and watch the vampires in this mansion shrink away. I don’t know all of her history yet, but she’s a real piece of work who knows how to keep people in line. Perhaps in another life, I would be as cold and malicious as her. 

Laur is always by my side. He’s quiet during the day and a bit boisterous at meals, but he doesn’t truly come alive until we’re shut away in our shared room. I tried to argue to stay in my own chambers, but he insisted that I could protect him better if we stayed close. 

He was right. 

I haven’t slept since receiving the envelope with this job and it’s starting to grate on my general wellbeing. “We could just not talk,” I grumble, the edges of my personality blending with the cruel persona of Alyssiana Laur. 

Laur snags a pillow from the bed and heads for the couch on the opposite side of the room. “I think I liked you more when you were trying to cut my heart from my chest.”

I shouldn’t care. This man is a means to an end. He’s a job. A job that if done well could result in me making enough money to pay off my debts to Jack. I didn’t mean to become a mercenary. It seems like a lifetime ago that I made a deal with the well-dressed devil. Now, though, since Laur has agreed to split the estate’s wealth with me if I remove Alyssiana from the picture, I have the first real chance in eighty-seven years to make a gamble for my freedom. 

The word is a bubble of hope that clogs my heart. It’s stupid. I shouldn’t be putting too much thought into all of this. My dreams are a seal about to be swallowed by a killer whale. 

There’s no real escape from my lifestyle. 

Laur has slung a quilt over his legs and crossed his arms over his chest. I shouldn’t care that he’s a pouting fool. I can’t decide why his scrunched eyebrows under that ridiculous dyed blue hair matters.

It doesn’t. That’s the truth. 

Something akin to sympathy or concern registers in the back of my mind. Feelings. This stupid excuse for a man is ruining my heartless image. 

It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have made this bargain with him. There’s no janitor waiting around these halls to clean up my emotional mess, so I have to deal with Laur myself. It’s for the best that we continue to play a united front. 

At least, that’s how I try to argue that my next words are more for him than me. 

“Phoebe. No last name. Just Phoebe is fine.”

Laur sits up instantly, surprise coating his features as he gathers his blanket in a heap in his lap and stares at me like I’ve repeated complete gibberish instead of real words. “You’re Phoebe the phoenix.”

It’s not a question. He’s tasting every syllable on that silver tongue. It shouldn’t matter what he thinks. It doesn’t. Yet…when he utters a name I haven’t used in the better part of a century like it’s a title meant to be worshipped or praised or never forgotten, I can’t completely ignore the way my chest warms a little too quickly. 

I should say something else. I should turn out the lights and tell him to go to bed. I should…

The power flickers and then cuts out completely, drenching us in darkness. 

Laur immediately scrambles to his feet, grumbling as he stumbles to get out of his blanket and manages to kick something with his big toe. I don’t move. There’s thumping and cursing coming from Laur, but nothing else. 

A sliver of moonlight sneaks into our room through the thick, grey curtains. We’re alone. It’s dark and we’re alone.

Laur doesn’t let fear quiet him. “Who do you think did it?”

The undead man can’t see me any better than I can make out his dark form in this room. If he was a full vampire, then I could use his specialized vision to our advantage. No, as we are, I need him to be quiet while I listen for any threats. 

My arm outstretched, I hold my hand at face level as I let flames break out along my fingertips. It’s not a lot of light, but it’s enough for him to see me raise a single finger to my lips in a motion of silence. Quiet. Somebody has cut the power on purpose. They want to catch us off guard. 

It’s probably that woman from the dining room yesterday afternoon. I can’t remember her name. All of the people here think too highly of themselves. They have ridiculous names to go with their posh demeanors. This one in particular had her hair piled on top of her head and a dozen roses threaded through it. She thought it was clever to hand out flowers to the rest of the gathered women.

I was foolish enough to take it from her. 

A thorn bit into my hand and a single bead of blood welled to the surface. I saw her nostrils flare. My exterior is perfect. I look exactly like Alyssiana Laur, but I’m no witch and no vampire. There’s no way to cover the smell of ash and lingering smoke that runs through my veins. Her eyes dipped right to my hand before I could excuse myself from the room. 

She knows. 

Maybe this isn’t about Laur at all. 

My heart thunders in my ears as I move to stand closer to the window. If this isn’t about Laur, it’s about me and they’ve been smart enough to attack at night. Magic still swirls through me, but a phoenix is tied to the sun. I won’t be able to change my appearance rapidly or keep a flame lit through the long night if I also have to run from a predator or engage in a fight. 

I hear the footsteps too late. They’re already in the conjoining room. 

”Get down!” 

I hiss the words at Laur, but he’s too busy staring at the door to pay me any attention. “Who’s there?”

My physical appearance can be changed at will, but there’s nothing I can do to reduce the effect physics has on me. I can’t move faster. I can’t stretch my arms beyond their limits and wrap them around Laur across the room from me. Instead, I’m rooted to the floor as the door splinters inward and he’s slammed backwards. 

His head cracks against the wall. There’s a smear of something that can only be blood as he slumps to the floor. I let the flames on my hand die. 

We’re trapped. 

“Make this easy, little bird.”

I know that voice. I’ve fulfilled jobs for that sultry voice. I will spend the rest of my days wishing I’d never met the owner of such an addictive tone. 

“Jack?”

There’s a snap of fingers and the lights come back on. I blink against the sudden change, glaring across the bed at the man who broke into our room. He tilts his head to the side, taking in Laur’s prone body and my undressed state. 

“Didn’t realize you were getting paid for evening deeds, dearest.”

I bare my teeth at him, flames biting at my gums and reshaping my smile until I am sharper and deadlier than ever before. “Most mercenaries work at night, Jack.”

His black eyes flick between me and Laur once more. “Shouldn’t you already be done taking care of this job?”

I shake my head. “He’s the client.”

Jack’s depraved laugh rips through the room. “I wouldn’t have approved of that. Who gave you the mission, little bird?”

This is not the time or place for this conversation. Cassias Laur is a private man, but his estate is only so large. Eventually, someone else is going to realize that there was a problem with the power and come looking for the supposed master of the house. 

“I’ve been doing this long enough to take my own cases, Jack. Let me finish this one.”

Arguing with Jack is miserable work. The demon has the patience and wit to walk most people in circles. He’ll have me agreeing to something far worse if I can’t get him out of here quickly. 

He obviously has the same idea. Another snap of his fingers plunges the house back into darkness. My heart stutters. It climbs to my throat and demands to be released. 

I wouldn’t admit it to Laur, but I’m terrified of the dark. Phoenixes are terribly difficult to kill. It’s much easier to lock them up somewhere and forget the key. Jack knows that. 

He knows I dread the night. 

His cool breath caresses my ear. I don’t move. My skin crawls and sweat coats my palms, but I don’t dare move. 

There’s certain rules in dealing with Jack. He can’t touch me unless I make contact first. 

“Are you getting attached to your clients now, fire walker?”

“Never.”

Jack’s low chuckle seems to vibrate in my bones as he circles me. The man is more shadow than figure. The moon doesn’t dare peek in anymore. My vision is gone. He moves too quietly for my ears to pick up on the movements. I’m prey sitting pretty for my predator.

Terror winds its way down my spine like a centipede, weaving its writhing body through my nerves and pinning me to the floor. 

I was ready to deal with a witch to retrieve Laur’s heart. 

I don’t know if it’s worth going toe to toe with Jack. 

There’s a low moan from the other side of the room as Laur starts to come back to life. My foolish heart gives a hopeful thump, thump, thump. It’s a worthless reaction, though. Cassias Laur is a coward and a scam artist trapped in this house by the witch who took his heart. He isn’t a hero. He can’t save me. 

Nobody can really save me from Jack. 

Jack is what lurks at the edges of my nightmares. He is night incarnate. A blackened soul ready to reap the vulnerable with a cutting grin and curling fingers. He is the darkness made physical. 

He holds the key to my freedom and knows it. 

Unperturbed by Laur’s waking, Jack clears his throat. He’s centimeters from my face. If I waver at all in my current stance, we’ll brush together. 

“I was contacted to come retrieve my asset by the lady of the house, little bird. You can leave with me now or I will give her permission to deal with you as she sees fit.”

That damn woman in the dining room. She must have snitched to the real Alyssiana Laur. Any attempt to take the witch by surprise is now gone. 

There’s no good way to get back Laur’s heart without going straight through Alyssiana. I wanted to sneak my way into her world and tiptoe back out, but that option has been ripped out from under me. 

We’re completely screwed. 

“Don’t worry ‘bout me. You can go home. I’ll deal with her on my own.”

Laur’s words are slurred. He’s still on the floor trying to recover from the damage Jack’s arrival caused. 

“You’re a dead man,” I murmur, my words struggling to penetrate the consuming darkness. 

There’s a scuffle. Laur must be trying to push himself up into a seated position. “I haven’t lived in a long time. I’m willing to go down for this, but you don’t have to stay involved. Go back to your life, Phoebe.”

Fuck me. 

I would have. 

A day and a half ago, I would have wiped my hands of the money and the possibility to better my life in order to return to the relative safety of my previous lifestyle. Now, with my name on his lips and his pain my fault, I can’t just leave. Cassias Laur needs his heart. He deserves it more than anyone else. 

I won’t abandon him. 

Jack must sense my wavering loyalty as he leans close enough for me to smell the peppermint on his breath. “When Lady Laur is done with you, I’ll have a dark hole to shove you into, Phoebe,” he snarls the threat, my real name a weapon in this circumstance. “Don’t make me the villain, little bird. Come with me now and we’ll pretend you didn’t just try to make the biggest mistake of your career.”

The dark. 

That’s his promise. 

If we fail, Laur dies and I’ll be tortured to live out my extended lifetime in some mildewy pit deep within the earth. I’ll be down there long enough to forget the way the sun feels when it tickles my skin at the beginning of the day. He’ll keep me hidden from the world until my magic is dried up and my name is long forgotten. I’ll die a thousand times in the dark. 

Somehow, Laur makes it across the room and presses his fingers into my trembling hand. “It’s okay. Go home.”

I shake my head. If I leave now, Laur is dead. If I fail, Laur is dead. However, if I stay and best the witch, we both get a chance to live. 

It’s not fair to throw away his life to save my own. 

I may fear the dark more than anything else on this planet, but I won’t let it conquer me. Holding onto Cassias Laur, I send Jack away and accept my fate. 

Win or lose, I’ve made a decision and can no longer deviate from this path. 

Squeezing Laur’s hand, I let my head fall on his shoulder as the lights flicker on and the night continues.

Author’s Note:

Happy Saturday!

Thank you for making it to the end of yet another short story. I made a total of three versions of this story, covering the subject of vampires chasing different characters through the dark and creating intense fight scenes from thin air. None of it hit the mark of being scared of the dark, though, so I dug around in my phoenix story for a better lead. I hope you all enjoyed this character development and the official first time I’ve named Phoebe.

For anyone new to the blog this week, most of my stories have recurring characters. To follow along with Cassias Laur and Phoebe, you can check out my other stories containing them: Here for a Heart, Villain or Hero

As always, take a few more minutes to check out Bridgette’s story as well! Afraid of the Dark

Thanks for your continued support and come back next week for a story centered around a “deal with a devil.”

Posted in Character Stories

Fated

It’s the twenty-second day of winter and I am nowhere closer to winning this battle. Mushrooms are thriving around the doorway of the apothecary shop. At this rate, they’re going to have me sealed in before spring can arrive. That’s not my main problem, though. 

I scrounge around the back of the shop for another watering can and then head out to the garden. The green house in the far left field is untouched. I wasn’t stupid enough to let him in there. The rest of my plants, though…

My lettuces have turned grey and started to flake under the distress of the gentle wind. The stems for my carrots rotted the moment he stepped foot in this area, a prisoner in their soil. When I pulled them up, they were black and shriveled. Other plants show the same treatment. What was once a thriving garden is now in a match for life over death and losing more each day. 

Harry is unlike anyone I’ve ever met. He’s kind and funny and paid attention when I talked about my little business. I liked that he wore bow ties to every one of our dates and didn’t make comments about my ladylike career like other people I’ve wasted time on. I wanted to take him home. I wanted it to work between us. However, he forgot to mention that he’s a lord of the Underworld. 

I should have noticed sooner. There were never plants around us at our dates. Later I found out that he always got there first and disposed of them. What a huge red flag. 

Other people acted odd around him. I didn’t notice. Instead, he got into my head and became attached to a sprocket of my thinking mechanism. I didn’t find it odd that severs would linger closer to my side of the table or set his food down on the edge without leaning into his personal space. 

How could I?

He had me captivated with his dark, brown eyes and I was in a frenzy to find anything worth holding onto before this wretched, winter season took over my life once more. 

I’m an idiot.

It killed me to oust him from my garden. I didn’t notice anything when he first stepped into the shop. Most of the plants in there are dried and mushrooms apparently have no dislike for his kind. The moment he stepped out back, though. I shudder at the memory of my plants withering before my eyes. 

I finally found someone I really, really liked, but I won’t give up my life’s work and my garden for what would likely only be a fling. 

I walk the even lines between garden boxes, gently watering anything that seems to still be hanging on. More blackened leaves fall from my dying plants. I don’t dare dig up the affected soil yet to see their dead roots. I have to swallow a sob. This is so not fair. 

It’s fine. 

It’s not, but I’m not going to dwell on it. 

Taking my watering can with me, I leave behind my dying plants to visit the green house. There’s a padlock on the outside just to keep any rambunctious teenagers or animals out of my exotic plants, but otherwise, my path is unobstructed. Using the key I keep around my throat, I let myself into the building. 

Lush, green plants sprout from their designated pots. I grow things from outside of this country. Orange and yellow and pink fruits dangle from trees that branch up towards the vaulted roof. There’s a rainbow of vegetables alongside the left of my greenhouse, all of them expensive species that can single-handedly pay the rent on my property when the market comes to town and tourists arrive in hordes. 

To the right, flowers in every shade appreciate the soft glow of special orbs I have situated above them. There’s striped petals on some and beautiful gradients on others. I have one species that is pink with gorgeous, yellow dots. A few carnivorous breeds hide their sharp feeding canals with bright red leaves. There’s more diversity here than the entire west coast. 

I can’t ever lose this. 

Lost in thought, I move around the space, gently talking to the plants as I water those that need it and sprinkle love on the ones that don’t. I could do this all day. I honestly would do this all day except there’s a knock at the door. 

“The neighbors probably need something,” I mutter to an especially dazzling Dahlia before setting it back down and heading to the front of the greenhouse. 

The door is already open. This can’t be happening. I recognize the tall figure from the middle of the greenhouse. He’s wearing odd clothes and partially obstructed by dangling monstera leaves, but I know who he is. 

“You can’t be here!”

I inwardly cringe at my own voice. It would probably be smarter to not scream like a mad man at a lord of the dead, but I can’t contain myself. These are my plants, my life, my entire business and his presence is enough to slaughter them all. 

No. I can’t do this. 

Out. I have to get him out before I lose the rest of my livelihood and have to move to some deserted town in the middle of nowhere just to get by for the rest of my miserable days. 

“Percy.”

His voice is a cool balm to my frazzled nerves. It shouldn’t be. It should have the opposite effect since he’s literally every one of my current problems. However, I can’t ignore it. My shoulders loosen and a rush of excitement zips from the base of my skull to my stomach. 

Gods, this isn’t fair. 

As much as I would rather hide in here and not make any real eye contact or have a physical altercation, I have to save my plants, so I step closer to the door. Not directly in front of him, but within a couple of meters. He can see me. I can see him. I think I’ll completely lose my nerve if he reaches out to touch me. I’ll forget my head and say yes to some kind of deal before I can get him out of my greenhouse and effectively out of my life. 

We were working so damn well before all of this. 

“Percy?”

Oh. Harry’s been talking, his face blurry behind a shield connected to the weird suit currently covering his body. I haven’t heard a single word from him. My mind is abuzz with thoughts. There’s electricity trapped within my veins. I’ve been struck by Zeus and I might not live through this encounter. 

“Why are you here?” I choke on every syllable, but I get the words out between us. 

He makes a gesture at his suit. “I’m trying to make this work.”

The cackle that leaves my body belongs more to a witch than myself. “Make this work? This? This isn’t anything. You left three weeks ago!”

Harry tries to put his hands in his hair, but just plunks his gloved fingers against the cage surrounding his head. “You told me to leave. I’ve decided that I should have stayed.”

What a man. Of course he thinks the solution to our problem is just him making a definitive decision and following through with it. I would kick him in the shin if I wasn’t keeping my distance from him. 

“I can’t have you here, so please, just go.”

“Percy,” my name is a plea on the lips of a hanged man. He has my attention. “Please, just watch.”

He reaches his left hand towards the large, holey leaf on his side. That plant took me five years to grow. My heart leaps up from its proper place and stuffs its throbbing body into my throat.

 No. Please. Not that one.

I can’t get anything out as I stagger forward and try to catch his hand. He’s quicker than me, though. The black fingertips of his suit make contact with the plant. 

It’s over. It’s over. I met the wrong guy on a dating app and now my life is over. 

Except…

The plant is fine. 

Unlike everything in the garden outside, the monstera leaf is absolutely perfect. Heck, it’s gorgeous in his hold. 

“How are you doing that?”

I can just barely see his grin through the clouded mask. “I had this suit made to contain my powers, Percy.”

I don’t know if I should laugh or cry or sputter something incomprehensible, but all of it comes out of me at once. My knees cave in. The dirt floor meets me as I crumple. 

Harry kneels down in front of me while the world continues to spin. “Are you well?”

“You made this to protect my plants?” I gasp, reaching out to touch my fingers to the thick fabric covering his right forearm. 

Harry’s opposite hand comes up to cover mine. “I made it for you. So, I could see you. If you’ll let me come around again?”

The words are so sincere. I’ve got this man on his knees and I have absolutely no idea what to do with that information, so I focus on something else instead. 

“Wouldn’t you rather have someone more like you?”

Gods. It shouldn’t matter. My eyes are hot. The tears are starting and there’s nothing I can do to cover it. My legs are soaked from the watering can landing on its side next to me. I’m a dirty mess and this man, this lord of the dead, is staring at me like I’ve sprouted a field of dandelions off the top of my head. 

Harry shakes his head. “I’m tired of those like me. I want you, Percy.”

Again, he’s made a decision and is willing to make it work by sheer force alone. “How?” 

Harry gently tilts my chin up to meet his gaze through the thin barrier between us. “However you’ll have me.”

I swallow hard. He means it. This is everything I’ve fantasized about since throwing him out of my life three weeks ago. 

Am I allowed to say yes to something like this?

We’re so different. We’re literally from completely different worlds. I am plants and life and he’s… he’s staring at me like nothing can change the way he feels right now. 

“Okay.”

His teeth are a million north stars blinking to life as he grins at me. I think this may be the first time I’ve seen him smile like this. Like it’s real. Like it might last. 

“Okay?”

I nod, my mind stiff foggy from the onslaught of emotions his appearance has brought. “We’ll try to make it work.”

In the next moment, he clasps his arms around me, tugging me tight to his broad chest. “We’ll make it work.”

When said like this, when uttered by a lowly god, I don’t think I have a chance to oppose him. 

Our fate has been set.

Author’s Note:

For this week, I wanted a small reprieve from the crazy cast of characters I usually use. The phrase “tumultuous soulmates” immediately reminded me of the Hades and Persephone lore, so I decided to write a queer story between a plant shop owner and the devoted lord of the dead. This was a really quick and fun write, so I hoped you enjoyed reading it!

Thank you to everyone supporting this blog and my writing career! It means the world to me to see views and comments on this page every week 🙂

Please take a moment to check out Bridgette’s prompt as well: The Cornfield

We’ll see you next week!

Posted in Character Stories, Uncategorized

Piracy

“Name?”

I stare down my nose at the stout man in charge of the pier. “Captain Evans.”

His bushy eyebrows bob as he starts to write and then stops. “First name, Sir?”

I cross my arms over my chest. “Captain, Sir.” He opens his mouth to respond, but I’ve no time for it. “My parents were very set on me becoming a seaman. Full name is Captain Evans.”

I watch him take in my dark boots and the red coat draped over my shoulders before glancing to the ship behind me. “So, Captain Captain Evans?”

I have to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing as I nod. “That would be me, Sir.”

“And your crew?”

I shrug. “We’re docking for just the night. They’re likely to stay onboard while I procure provisions.”

He pulls out a handkerchief decorated with purple paisleys and dabs at his moist brow. “If they come out, I’ll need proper identification.”

They know the drill. Most of them are probably already off of the massive ship. Sneaking behind naive dockmasters is a specialty of the men following me. 

Waving the man off, I give him the proper money for the ship to stay and then meander down the well-built pier. In the distance, the blare of a French horn cuts a festive tune. There’s an answering lilt of some pipe. Christmas songs likely. 

Have we really been out at sea that long?

The scent of the ocean fades as I enter the bustling city and sweet maple wraps its way through my senses. Orange and yellow leaves are dried and gathered into long ropes that hang around doorways, giving the dull brickwork a bright pop of color. There’s a market out here, the citizens wrapped in fur coats as they try to persuade sailors like me to give up their well-earned coins in exchange for worldly goods. 

There’s pastries and wrapped sweets. Another stall offers all sorts of nuts. I don’t slow as I walk by, sticking my hand into the almond bin and then stuffing the stolen pieces into my pocket. Nobody says anything. They didn’t see anything. I didn’t fight my way to be a Captain only to be shoddy at my immoral activities. 

Up ahead, a woman inflates rubber balls with her breath and then holds them out to children. There’s squeals of delight as they take the balloons in exchange for a single copper piece. Flashes of red and yellow and blue overtake an alley to the left as the children run off to play. 

This is a good city. There’s honest work to be made. It’s the only reason we stopped. 

It’s my home. 

It was my home. 

I gave up the finery of lace dresses and servants at my beck and call for the rough seas and a rougher entourage. We’ve had a good year out there. I went from a staff of three to thirteen. We upgraded from a sad excuse of a boat to the ship I commandeered half-way across the world. Captain Evans is a name to be feared. 

Funds, however, aren’t the easiest to keep. There’s holes in my clothes and not enough food on the ship to keep us going for another two months. Should I want to pay my men for their time and loyalty, I need to gather chests of gold or equivalent jewels. I won’t be letting my ship and crew and fate fall through my fingertips at the expense of pride. 

It’s time to make a house call to the neighbors that owe Amelia August Evans a favor. 

A scream rips through the air. The horror and agony is something I’ve heard from men unfortunate enough to find their way into a lion’s teeth. Curiosity digs serrated claws between my ribs. 

It won’t hurt to take a small detour. 

Abandoning the road that leads home, I break into a run as I follow the screams. A woman. The words are unintelligible. There’s no plea for help. Instead, she’s a cornered creature yelling out her last sounds into the cruel world. 

Not on my watch. 

Not in my city. 

Sweat and sea air cling to my brow as I hurdle down another street. The screams are getting louder. 

A small voice in the back of my mind warns me to slow down. This is unusual for this area. Crime is hardly a concept here. Men and women get along. The people are happy for the most part. 

This is something else. Perhaps something I don’t want to entangle myself. A year of rowdy taverns and finagling my way through a man’s world has given me an engorged sense of self-confidence. I’m going to be the one to save this woman.

There’s a crowd. I don’t leave time for pleasantries. No words are passed between me and the band of strangers as I shoulder my way through the mass of well-dressed men. Grumbles and complaints come from a few of them as I press forward. They’re not my concern, though. 

There’s a woman in trouble. 

Up ahead, I catch sight of the girl. She’s in a plain dress. Likely a serving woman. A cart of goods has been knocked over, littering the street with red apples and tangled balls of thread. 

The man in front of her is someone I hoped to never see again. 

My ex-fiancé. 

The Count of Oceanend has his back to me and the girl corralled against the wall. I don’t care to find out what he’s trying to get from her. My hand on the hilt of my sword, I yell over the din of unhelpful men roaring for him to do worse to her. 

“Unhand her!”

Wet eyes meet mine as the girl shakes her head. Her screams have stopped. As the Count turns to face me, she immediately grabs her things and hurries down the alley. 

A trap. 

Malice glitters in Marcus’ eyes. “Welcome home, Amelia.”

Heart thundering in my ears, I stare at the jagged scar down his left cheek as I remember the night I left. Bruises marred my body for weeks after my escape. The memory of his hands on me… 

I can’t think about it right now. 

Now, I have to escape once again. It was a mistake to come home. 

Of course, there should be no reason he would know I’m here. 

“There’s a snitch on my ship, isn’t there?”

Marcus grins as he unties a bag of coins from his hip and tosses it behind him to a member of my crew. “I hear you were a plenty good leader, Amelia, but money has a way of changing loyalties, doesn’t it?”

Bastards. Every last one of them. 

I unsheathe my sword and level it between myself and Marcus. “I won’t be going anywhere with you.”

He clasps his hands behind his back, that awful smile turning into a sneer. “I don’t think you have much of a choice, fiancée. Your parents and home are gone. Your crew has turned on you. It would be foolish of a woman of your stature to turn away my good grace.”

I won’t let my hands shake. The crowd behind me is murmuring. There’s questions about my identity beneath the loose fitting clothes of the sea. They expected a fight between men. Nobody wants to see a woman dressed as a man. The concept could collapse society. 

The fragility of society and the male existence is too complex for this moment, so I brush it aside as I step to the left. Marcus hasn’t moved. He doesn’t think he’ll have to make any real attempt to contain me. Between the crowd and the chaos he’s stirred, he thinks I’ll give in. 

Marcus has made more than one mistake in underestimating me. 

Another step to the left. 

He’s talking, but I’m not listening. Instead, I’m trying to figure out if I can leap over the barrels blocking that path out of the alley. 

Doesn’t really matter, does it?

Even if I fall or make a mess, I’ll go down fighting for my freedom. 

So close. Almost time. If I was a man on the run, I’d probably make some comment about how they almost caught me. 

I don’t have the time or ego for it. 

More yells come from up the street. Heads turn. They’re distracted. I brace myself to make the jump and run. 

I don’t get the chance. 

Horns blare. Soldiers on foot and seated on horses make a semi-circle around us, yelling for everyone else to leave the vicinity as a man pulls out a scroll and starts to read in a booming voice. 

“Captain Evans?”

As the only person dressed in any form of attire for a captain, I don’t ask them to clarify that they mean me. I could still run. I won’t make it far, though. I slide my sword back into its sheathe. 

“How can I help you fine gentlemen?”

The sour-faced man glares over his scroll at me. “You’re to be arrested for the act of piracy. Give up your weapons and come willingly.”

I sputter. “Piracy? I’ve not done anything here besides walk down the street.”

This man doesn’t care for my arguments, he clears his throat again as he looks over the edge of his wired spectacles. “The King has need for a pirate, Captain Evans. Do we need to take you in chains or will you walk along yourself?”

The King?

If there’s anyone who can get me away from Marcus, it would be royalty. 

And I want a new ship with a better crew. 

Negotiations already turning in my mind, I wave the men to lead the way as I exit the alley and head towards the castle.

Author’s Note

Happy Saturday, loyal readers!

The prompt was vague enough this last week that it could have honestly fit any of the characters I’ve already introduced, so I wanted to challenge myself to create someone new. I hope you enjoyed Captain Evans as much as I did! Let me know in the comments below if you would like more stories done from this perspective!

As always, please take a moment to read my writing partner’s story on the same prompt.

Bridgette White: https://bridgettetales.com/2022/09/24/meet-me-at-the-elephant-ears-a-short-story/

We’ll see you next Saturday!

Posted in Character Stories

News

“Ashby!”

A hand towel thrown over my shoulder, I look down at the list of ingredients for this recipe again while Lucy bounds in from the other room. Cooking is still difficult. Baking is impossible. She wants me to make cherry blossom cookies from some handwritten recipe her mother gave her a lifetime ago. It, however, is not going well. 

Unconcerned with my baking implements or her personal safety, she hops up onto the counter. Flour coats the side of her leg. Her dazzling eyes snag on my boxers and then bare chest before meeting my gaze. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the way she devours me without any hesitation. There’s no way to describe the way my chest begins to flutter at her mere presence. Lucy is magic and that’s all I truly know in this world. 

“Yes, Lucy?”

She flips her phone towards me, the bright screen jittery in her hold as I try to read the bold words: Archaeologists in Poland Just Unearthed the Remains of a 17th Century Vampire. My fingers wrapped around her wrist in order to steady the device, I read the heading twice while I try to suppress a smile. I think I already know what she’s going to say. 

“Did you know her?”

Yep. That’s it. Grabbing a pinch of flour off of the counter, I flick it onto her tank top while I shake my head. “How old do you think I am again, Lady Lore?”

She laughs, scooping up flour and sprinkling it into my hair. “Just old enough, Mr. Carter. Seriously, though, I know you couldn’t have known her while she was alive, but do you know about the vampires in Poland?”

I shrug. “Ivan supposedly comes from there. He might have known her.”

Turning the phone back to herself, she scrolls further down to show me details of how the poor woman was buried. A sickle over her throat and a padlock on her left toe. It makes for a great story, but would be effectively useless against an actual creature of the night. Not that I’m volunteering to test that theory. I think being buried alive is one of the worst punishments in this world. I’ve lived through it and I won’t do it again. 

“Apparently, she had large front teeth, so the community thought she was either a witch or a vampire.”

I work on putting all of my ingredients together as I shake my head at her. “You’ve likely met more than a few vampires in your life, Luc. We don’t walk around with our fangs showing.”

Waving my reply off, she continues to scroll. “This anthropologist down at the bottom says that the fear of vampirism has always been thought of as an outside issue in these old towns, but this woman seems to have been a wealthy occupant of the community. That’s so horrible! Her own people likely turned on her because she got sick.”

“People have died for less, love.”

She pushes my shoulder. “You’re so pessimistic today, Ashby!”

I pull myself away from the cookie dough long enough to give her a lopsided grin. “Death is something that has been put into artwork for centuries. Talking about it doesn’t stop it from existing. I didn’t know this woman. I just know that she’s likely not a vampire.”

The oven chimes to let me know it’s hot enough to start baking the cookies. Lucy pulls the mixing bowl closer to herself and starts spooning cookies out onto the already lined tray. She’s quiet. I don’t’ push her to say anything. Instead, I give her a moment to process what she’s read and come up with the questions I know she’ll want to ask next. 

There was a time in my life that I built a metaphorical wall between me and anything else. When I met Lucy it became a chain link fence, letting good moments filter through between us. Now, there’s nothing but comfortable silence as she scoops my poorly mixed dough onto the tray. 

“Do you think you’ll ever have to bury me?”

The words are so quiet, I would’ve thought they came from the back of my mind if I hadn’t seen her lips move. Panic swells through my chest. Yes. I’ve thought about death for months now. I know how it looms over the naive, more than willing to take a life before it’s ready to go. Death will not come for me. Try as I might, it seems to pull away every chance I give it, but it could definitely hurt me more by coming after this woman on the kitchen counter. 

“Why would you ask?” I finally make myself say, depositing the first tray of cookies into the oven and leaning against its warm front to give myself a way to stay grounded in this tumultuous conversation. 

She shrugs, eyes down as she starts dishing cookies onto the next tray. “I’m a syren. I have magic and I’m pretty cool, but I don’t know what my expected life span is supposed to be. My mom left so early, you know?”

I nod and cross the space between us. She spreads her legs to allow me to slip between them until I’m close enough to hold her warm body to mine. Her head on my shoulder, I hear her sniffle and my heart breaks. 

“I’m going to find a way to never have to leave you, Lucy Lore. I’ll do whatever it takes, okay? Vampires have been taking on mortal companions since the beginning of time. I’m different since I’m a man-made vampire rather than a naturally occurring phenomenon, but I know there’s an answer out there.” 

It’s the best I can give her. Research on this subject hasn’t been the easiest to find. There’s too many unaccounted variables for me to make any positive assumptions. All I know is that it’s possible and I’m the scientist that can figure it out. 

Nothing is going to take me from Lucy. 

She sniffs again and then leans back, giving me a chance to wipe the tears from her face. “Do you promise?”

My chest aches at the way her voice cracks and I immediately nod as I press my forehead to hers. “Yes. I promise that nothing will part us, Lucy Lore. Death can try, but I will always find my way back to you.”

She presses a kiss to my nose. “I promise, too.”

Author’s Note

This week is just a short and sweet scene between Ashby and Lucy since they’ve been on my mind. I completely stumbled across the article detailing the recently discovered vampire and thought it would be a fun conversation between these two. Obsessed with vampires, it was a fun week to dig into some different myths and legends surrounding the death and captures of these infamous creatures.

If you have been following these two in my Lore series on Kindle Vella, you’ll be excited to know that episode eleven will be available this afternoon!

If you haven’t check it out yet, use this link to follow Ashby and Lucy through the beginning of their romance: Lore by A. D. Reece

As always, Bridgette has a story for this week’s prompt and it would mean the world to us if you read that as well:

Have a great Saturday! I’ll be here next week 🙂

Posted in Character Stories

Artists

It looks like my silent visitor is back today. Tucked into a secluded booth usually reserved for V.I.P. guests during the shows, Miles slowly unpacks his art bag with a determined expression. I work through the rest of the steps to the dance I’ve been choreographing for the hotel’s latest show as I watch his gentle brushstrokes onto the canvas. 

Once more with music. 

I click the remote in my pocket. A popular pop song about pondering love blares through the speakers. Miles jolts in his seat, his wild eyes scanning the room. Sometimes I forget that he isn’t used to loud noises. 

Turning the volume down to a whisper, I step through the dance. My focus isn’t on the movements, though. It’s on the way Miles has switched from watercolor paints to a charcoal pencil as his gaze flicks back and forth between me and his work. I wonder what he sees up here. Probably a girl with her life together. At least, I hope I’m managing to pull that much off these days.

The last thing I need is my boss learning from his husband that I am not emotionally competent at the moment. I swear the last three years have shaved a decade off of my life. I’m still a dancer. I still sing. However, if anyone is looking close enough, they’ll notice I’m just going through the motions. 

I run through the dance twice more, sure that I can teach it to the weekend crew. Matthew Krawlski asked for better dances or he would change the entertainment deployment, throwing some of these hardworking dancers out of a job or back into the serving industry they are trying their best to escape. 

I’ve known a hero or two in my lifetime. Good people who gave their lives to better causes than themselves. That’s not who I am, but I think people deserve a chance to fight for their happiness and success, so I’m going to give all I can to these new shows opening at Matthew’s hotel lounge and bar. 

Sweat drips from my hairline as I step off of the stage on tired legs. Dabbing at my face and neck with some napkins, I toss them into a trash can on my way to Miles’ table. It’s not very often the mysterious man is left alone with me. It’s not very often he’s let out of his apartment. Matthew must be too busy to take him out on a proper date. Whether or not he’s attempting to make up for it by letting Miles linger down here isn’t really my business. I think I’ll just take a few minutes to keep Miles company before I head back home and start working on the dance routines for my own club. 

Sliding into the booth across from him, I give him a gentle wave and a big smile. “How are you today, my artist friend?”

His returned grin is a mixture of embarrassed and proud as he points to the canvas he started working on when he got here. The sketch is incredible. A large skull. The impressive shading makes it look like I could reach out and grab it. In each of the eye sockets, he’s carefully painting vivid depictions of the galaxy. It’s beautiful. 

“What does it mean?” 

He pulls out his notepad and jots down a quick note. Does it have to mean something?

I smile at him and shake my head. “Guess not. It’s pretty amazing, though. Has Matthew offered to get you a gallery yet? You must have so much art around your home.”

His nose scrunches. Not very many good pieces.

“Hey,” I tap his note. “Don’t talk about yourself like that. I love your art. You’re a real artist, Miles. The kind of tortured soul that sees more than he could ever say.”

Red brightens his cheeks. Embarrassed. Excited. Some combination of both? Either way, Matthew must not be paying him enough compliments on his work. I’ll just have to make up for it. 

“Can I see what else you were working on?”

That pink stain continues to mar his face as he shakes his head. Not finished.

I shrug. “That’s okay. I won’t judge you. Come on, artist, show me it.”

Biting the corner of his lip, he taps his pencil on the table. Some kind of internal battle is happening behind his brown eyes. I don’t say anything else to pressure him. This is his decision. I won’t take it personally if he’s not ready to share his sketches. 

He returns to writing his notes instead of uncovering the sketch. You’re an artist, Lucy.

I start to shake my head, but he taps his note as if to emphasize his point and then points to the stage. Tears prickle my eyelids. It’s been a long time since someone complimented me for doing more than just my job. 

Before I can come up with a response, he uncovers his sketch and flips it towards me. It’s…Well, it’s me. He has captured my round face and full hips. I’m in just a tank top and leggings today, but this sketch has me in a costume with a plunging neckline and criss-crossing tights. It’s what I wore the last time he came to my show. 

My fingertips flutter over my lips as I stare at the looping lines. He’s captured me with my arms above my head and my expression serious as I stare out at the audience. Not stare. I’m looking for something. For someone. 

Tears burn my eyelids. 

I blink them away to give him a wide smile. “You’re really good at this, Miles. I feel really beautiful in your art.”

His head tilts to the side and then his pencil is moving again across the notepad. You’re sad?

I wave him off. This is not the time and place to admit my own emotional shortcomings. “You’re just so good. I can’t believe someone would draw me.”

He reaches across the table and puts his hand over mine. Tilting his head again, he silently implores for me to say more. 

I almost do. 

The words are clawing at my throat. Vegas has been more than just a difficult transition and the last three years were more than I ever thought I could survive. I’ve had some small successes. I’ve had more failures. I lost everything I thought I needed and survived. 

I’m cut off from explaining myself by a shadow drifting over our table. Matthew Krawlski stops next to Miles, his dark gaze pinned to the spot our hands are connected. I should move. I should walk away. I can’t, though, because Miles tightens his hold on me and bids me to stay with a gentle smile. 

“Do I pay you to sit around, Miss Lore?”

I blow out a slow breath. Smile. Ignore the condescension. A boss is a boss whether I’m home near the Bay or out here in the desert. “I’m not actually on the clock, Mr. Krawlski.” I utter the words with as much polite energy as I can muster, daring him to reprimand me in front of his fragile husband. 

“Miles,” Matthew turns away from me to focus on the real artist at the table. “We have somewhere to be.”

I could have imagined it, but I swear Miles flinched. He pulls his hand away. Everything is happening quickly, but I know his fingertips trembled just slightly before he got his hand off of mine. 

Matthew Krawlski puts on the mask of a good husband. He shows off Miles, forcing him to stay on his arm during big events and make several appearances each month. They have been put on the covers of magazines and interviewed by several large news stations. Of course, the cover of a story isn’t always the truth. 

Miles isn’t really in a position to speak out. He might be good at playing his part as a compliant spouse, but there’s worry in his eyes. He fumbles with his pencil in front of me, ducking his face away from Matthew as he scrawls a signature into the corner of his notebook and rips out the sketch of me. 

“You don’t have to give this to me,” I murmur, gingerly accepting the paper from him as I set aside my worries to focus on this moment. 

He smiles and insists, taking his hands off and waving for me to leave. Ever so carefully, I slide out of the booth with his sketch and grin back at him. 

“This is going to hang in my office, Miles. I really love it.”

I watch as he lays his right hand over his heart and mouths two words: thank you.

It’s such a simple gesture. My chest warm, I step back a few more steps, my smile never leaving my cheeks. I need him to know that I appreciate this. 

What can I do for the husband of the richest man in Las Vegas?

I’ve got it. 

Directing my attention solely on Miles and not on Mr. Krawlski as he hovers over this moment, I hold up one finger to him. “I have something for you, too.”

I run to my bag near the edge of the stage before either of them can stop me and pull out the business card from my latest entrepreneurial venture. Crisp, black script cuts across the center of the card: Nabil’s Night Scene. My friend has had the business for a long time, letting it exist as a seedy bar for shady business dealings and mercenaries looking for a night off, but I’m working with her to retheme and make it better. I’ve already got her to agree to let me choreograph some dancers and to let me sing on the weekends. I think she wouldn’t mind letting me convince her to show off some art, too. 

“Whenever you’re ready for people to see your work, call this number. I think I’ve got the perfect spot for you.”

I hold the card out to Miles, but Matthew plucks it out of my hand and shoves it into his breast pocket. “Thank you, Miss Lore. I think that’s quite enough of you today. Please return for your business hours only.”

Matthew Krawlski has the exterior of a model. He’s got the charming smile with a dimple on his left cheek and dark hair to contrast against his blue eyes. On the outside, he’s everything that people look for in a businessman and potential crush. 

Inside, though, there’s something dark and twisted waiting to take an unsuspecting victim in the dead of night. His tone is polite and he smiles at me, but I know there’s ominous implications to his words. I can come back when I’m scheduled. Matthew doesn’t want me anywhere near Miles. Failure to comply will risk my job and possibly more. 

Ducking back towards the stage, I grab my things off of the ground and sling my bag over my shoulder while I continue to hold Miles’ sketch with all of the care it deserves. I’m out of the employee entrance a moment later. 

I don’t glance back to see Miles, but I hope someday he has a chance to reach out to me.

Author’s Note

Happy Saturday, guys! Thanks for reading this week’s prompt. I hope you all enjoyed a little Lucy and Miles scene. Come back next week to see what happens!

As always, please check out my partner’s blog as well!

Bridgette White: https://bridgettetales.com/2022/09/03/the-broken-shell-a-short-story/