Llia lay gasping on the floor, her blonde hair plastered to her face by vomit the red-black color of month old blood, her palms scraped and knees bruised by the long climb up the tower’s rough stone stairs. Several feet away lay her one time partner, Jared. The pupils of each of his brown eyes changed size independently as he tried to focus. On the other side of the overturned work table she could hear the hiss of caustic chemicals mixing, a sound more worrisome than the glass of broken phials and beakers digging into her face. The lab smelled of noxious death, like the inside of crypt wyrm’s second stomach; a stench that would have made her retch had the poison not already done so.
It was a humiliating situation for the two best alchemists in the city: to have been poisoned by the very concoction they had pioneered together. Ebon-rot was generally considered to be universally fatal, guaranteeing its victims a slow, excruciating journey beyond the grave.
Between the two lay a tarnished iron lockbox, graven with runes of sealing, bound shut by words they shared, but neither knew.
“Damn it Jared,” Llia said, her voice rough with pain, “just tell me your half of the unbinding!”
“Why should I trust you? You sold me out to the Consul. I wouldn’t put it past you to fake your symptoms.”
“For the last time Jared, I did not sell you out! And you know that the symptoms of Ebon-rot can’t be faked.”
“Then you poisoned yourself. I know you want me dead, you’d do anything to get your hands on the antidote now.”
Llia raised one hand to feebly swat at his face, but missed entirely and only succeeded in cutting herself on the lockbox. The blood that oozed from the gash was the consistency and color of pitch.
“You’re the only person crazy enough to come up with a scheme like that,” Llia’s azure eyes brimmed with tears, “I think your paranoia has finally pushed you over the edge. I’ve never wanted to hurt you.”
Jared began laughing, a high pitched, manic sound which cut off suddenly as a bout of retching shook his twisted frame.
“I swear it Jared,” Llia said, the words coming slowly, “If you vow to me that this isn’t some mad plot to avenge yourself for what you think I’ve done, I’ll give you my half of the unbinding.”
Jared stared at her for some time, and from long years of working by his side Llia could see that he was trying to find the hidden trap in her offer. After a few moments, moments which stretched into an eon for Llia, he nodded.
“By the Codex Apocrypha, I swear I did not poison you. By the Dictum of the Veiled I vow it. May Azroxithum the Tormentor forever hold my soul in bondage if I speak untrue.”
“Sono sempre vero,” Llia whispered.
“Siamo mortali,” Jared croaked.
When Jared completed the unbinding the runes on the pitted gray surface of the lockbox burst into light, flashing crimson and amber before winking out of existence. There was a muted click, and the box popped open. Inside a small glass phial lay on a velvet lining as black as the space between stars. The liquid inside was the deep red of heart’s blood, and shone with a dim light of its own. Llia reached to take it from its resting place, when a shadow detached itself from a dark corner of the room and strode smoothly to stand over the two alchemists.
“For two so gifted in the arts of poison, you are sorely lacking in the other arts necessary to an assassin. The guild is better off without you, now that I have this,” a black gloved hand reached down and plucked the phial from her reach, “You were so easy to play against each other, I was almost bored.”
With that, the guildmaster stepped over their prone forms, laughing softly to himself as he left the two poisoners to experience the horrific death to which they had condemned so many others.
I’ve been meaning to send this to someone and realized after they commented on a post that this might be the easier way to get it to them. I wrote this last year for a creative writing class, and promptly cried when I finished it. I miss him so much. I guess today is my day for memorial posts… Oh well, such is life.
The Way I Remember
I remember the cab of the truck, always smelled of gasoline. It was an old truck. It sputtered occasionally, was sorely dented, and painted a mismatched patchwork of blue and gray, but there was nothing wrong with it, nothing to account for the smell. It served us well, those early mornings on the dirt roads of rural Wyoming. Most days I sat in the middle of the bench seat, between him and Uncle Burt, or good old Jimmy, but not this particular day. It was dark, the faint light of predawn glowing red on the horizon, and though I usually slept late, today I was happy to up before the sun. Today Grandpa was taking me fishing.
I can’t say for sure how old I was, more than five, less than ten, and I can’t say how much of this memory is truly real, but only that I remember it. My Grandpa Ray (just Grandpa to me) was a solid man, who looked old but laughed young. Though he’d lived in the city for more years than I could imagine at the time, his clothes gave way his roots.
He wore faded denim overalls, the blue still dark in the creases of the fabric, but elsewhere near to white; its tarnished brass buttons bespoke an age greater than my own. His red and blue plaid shirt was thick, not flannel, but warm enough for a late summer dawn in the mountains. His cowboy boots were good strong leather, dark shining brown when polished, but today they were scuffed and scratched, caked in dried mud and grass. The baseball cap that concealed his bald dome was navy blue, and stitched in gold upon it was the image of a warship, U.S.S Craven it read. The hat, I later learned, was the memento of a reunion for the ship’s crew, decades after World War II had brought them together to ply the waters of the Pacific. The clothes changed many times on those trips, but I cannot remember one without that hat or his boots.
Seated next to me was the tackle box, stocked well enough to give any fisherman pride. A lure for every situation: plain silver spinners in three sizes, brown and green and gold as well; flies that bristled black and umber, some tied with feathers from a bird I imagined to be most exotic. Less exciting, but equally (if not more) important, were lead sinkers: 2 weights of clamp-ons plus the big cylindrical ones; plastic bobbers in red and white; barbed hooks and clips to attach them; and baits of strange color: from the neon green sticky stuff we never used, to the bloody red of salmon eggs (which we did). Next to the box also sat a tin, filled with soft, rich smelling soil brought from his garden at home, squirming thick with hand dug nightcrawlers, caught special for this trip.
In his pockets he carried three knives: the wickedly sharp folding Buck knife he used to clean the fish, its dark wooden handle polished by his hand; the thick, red Swiss Army knife he used to cut the line or whittle back at camp or perform any of a hundred little tasks which might arise; and a smaller Swiss Army that was to become mine that day.
And finally there lay in the truck bed our most important tools: the poles. I remember mine but dimly, a cheap affair with plastic casing the reel, and a button to release the line, but his entranced me. Twice the length of mine it seemed as though it could bend in half without the least worry. The reel unspooled when he cast with the ease I imagine in a spider descending on a thread. And when he reeled in a fish the golden arc which pulled the string spun with a speed and ferocity that indicated perfection in my mind. I dreamt of the day when I could graduate from my ugly childish reel to one as graceful as his.
We rode along the bumpy road to the river quietly, I still waking and he enjoying the sounds of morning. We rode far into the forest, till the road became but a set of tire-tracks burrowing through the tall grass. When at last we reached the fishing hole, a secret one known only to our family, he assured me, we climbed from the cab to stand in dim light on the river bank. That was the day I cleaned my first fish, with the new knife, all my own. I laughed at his jokes, and the way he would pop out his dentures for my amusement, and discovered that bugs could leave their skins hanging on trees. And that is how I best remember him, who meant the most to me, before the cancer and the hospitals and the tears.
My last post made me sad, so I’m posting something a little lighter: a limerick from one of my fantasy worlds. You don’t need to know anything about it to get it, though the curious may like to know that Remiacor is a large port city with a somewhat unsavory reputation.
A Soldier’s Limerick
I once knew a girl from Remiacor,
I gave her my love, and she gave me a sore.
It blistered and swelled and hurt like the Hells,
So now I don’t see her no more.
Eyes that shone with laughter;
silken copper hair; a smile
Venus herself would envy;
yet your image brings no joy.
Instead, the obvious pleasure
you once took in life
only highlights the injustice
of your death. That you
-who could dance in a storm,
or frolic in a prison cell-
should be entombed
in the dark, uncaring earth
so young, has shaken my faith.
So I weep before your grave;
seeing upon the tombstone,
roses not half so lovely as you.
I’m posting this (now that I finally have somewhere to put it) in memory of Amelia Butler, a very dear friend who died much too young. I hope that it does her memory justice, and that it will serve to remind everyone to stay in touch with those they care for. We hear it all the time: to say “I love you” or “You are special to me” every chance we get, because tomorrow does not always come. And while most of us acknowledge this sentiment, few enough of us really appreciate it. The last time I spoke to Amelia I was out of town on business and it was my last night there. It was late, and I was tired. I ended our conversation somewhat abruptly and promised to call her the next day, when I got home. I forgot. I called her a few days later, and left her a voice mail. I wasn’t worried, we had a habit of playing phone tag for weeks on end. It was a few more weeks before I found I’d missed my last chance to talk to her, and that will haunt me forever. So please, if you read this and have someone special to you that you haven’t told lately, call or text or email them; just don’t miss your chance.
This picture is from March. I was out in the back yard, getting a feel for my new camera, and had about a half second to snap this shot. I’m not much of a bird watcher (by which I mean not at all) but I think it’s a Starling. It landed on the fence across the neighbor’s yard and glanced back at me as if to say “Now or never,” and then flitted away. I spent the rest of the morning chasing birds trying to catch them in a moment of stillness to get a good shot.
I learned that birds are creatures of incredible energy, and yet that matching their energy will not allow one to capture their moments. Instead one must be as patient and still as cat stalking them would be; and then able for strike (metaphorically of course) with a predator’s speed. I spent hours trying to quell my shivering in the cool spring air, waiting with my lens trained on a particular spot the birds seem to like, ready to focus and snap in as little time as possible. And after all that I only got a few good pictures: a few of what I believe are some Finches, and one of another starling.
The Finches in particular were both a frustration and a joy. They loved the brambly tree that grew at the junction of the four yards, hiding among the branches like it was their only sanctuary from the world. And maybe it was, wiry branches provided an intricate net within which to shelter, and the deep sanguine shade of the berries made me doubt their edibility. They darted about inside the tangle of branches, pausing briefly now and again to chirp at each other or scramble deeper into the bramble when a larger bird wandered too close. I had previously had a basic understanding of the term “flighty” but the time I spent watching the finches, my eye glued to the view finder for fear of missing my moment, really illuminated the meaning to me. The dichotomy between their motion and my stillness was profound, and somehow enlightening.
This last Starling made it both very easy and very hard to get a good shot. It sat at the very top of this old half-dead tree, and didn’t move anything except its head for about ten minutes. And of course that was the problem. Every time I took a shot its head would move, so that I either got a blur, or the back of his feathery crown. But at long last it decided to look at something long enough for me to snap a shot of its face.
This was my final project for a creative writing class last year. It was inspired by some examples of New Media work that our teacher showed us, such as Hotel Rot (though obviously in a very different vein). I loved the idea of giving a piece more life of its own, without altering the fundamental form of written poetry. I wanted to use visual and auditory elements to enhance the poetry, without distracting from it.
Who are you? They called out, at the edge of this village.
I am one of you, the poet called back.
Though he was dressed like the wind, though he looked like a waterfall.
– Mary Oliver
Clouds on the mountains, winter winds
call me to distant lands.
The flash of snow and sky so blue
take me by the hand.
The holly bough, Solstice night
pull me far away,
to places strange:
another world, or some far distant day.