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Mercurials

tagged Elroy

Short Leave

Elroy recognised Kaya by the feel of her presence before he could see her, naturally. As they exchanged greetings and she slipped into the seat across of him, he noted the changes she had made: red-haired, pale and freckled rather than black haired and olive-skinned, and she was a good head shorter than she used to be. The butterfly tattoo near the corner of her left eye was also gone. She apparently liked changing vocations every couple of decades.

"What are you up to now?"

She showed him an anchor tattooed on the inside of her wrist and grinned.

"Klabauter?"

"Yes. I figured as a ship-spirit, I'd get around more than being assigned an area for psychopomping, or a charge as a muse or guardian. Maybe it'll hold my interest longer.” Her eyes flicked towards the faint shimmer of his wings. "How's your current charge?"

"Sleeping."

She chuckled. "Or you wouldn't be here?"

"Yes; he's not doing well at the moment, so I better pay attention." He caught himself before saying more than he should and dragging the mood down. "What about you? Do you already have a ship?"

"No, but I've been scouting for one." She grinned self-satisfied. It was more unusual than having one assigned. "There's an oceangoing freighter on keel that hasn't been claimed or assigned yet, and I put in my application early. Means I'll have to idle for a while, but it won't blur me."

"You could always read up on old cases."

"Not too old. The age of sail may look romantic in hindsight, doesn't help much with a modern ship, though. Besides, you just want to lure me to a date in a library."

"Not only."

She laughed, and Elroy felt himself unwind into comfort. Guarding meant little direct interaction with anyone, not even his charge. Taking a break had been a good idea.

A Spot of Colour

Commuting by bus had a big advantage in addition to not having to look for a parking space which Elsa never mentioned, in case other people would consider her selfish: It gave her privacy for a while. Between heeding “no cellphones” signs and being surrounded by strangers, she had twice twenty minutes each day to relax, usually without being bothered by anyone.

She had heard of friendships started on the bus, but of the few people she recognised most belonged to the group of punks loitering at the main station. A boy with a hooked nose who changed hair colours more often than his clothes, a girl with the rat riding on her shoulder, and their half-dozen friends, drinking in broad daylight, talking loud enough their voices carried to the office three streets away sometimes, littering, and generally acting as if they owned the world. Some days Elsa carried her briefcase as a shield between herself in her business suit and that crowd, other days she switched it to whichever hand was farthest from them, as if they might snatch it. Only occasionally she even noticed what she was doing, and even more rarely she realised that they had never taken notice of her.

Hyper-aware as she was of their imagined threat, she even noticed a newcomer with her head swimming from a monster of a meeting, frustrated at being mostly ignored by her colleagues. Two hours late, and the last bus of the day gearing up to leave, Elsa hurried through the fry-fat smell of biodiesel behind the bus, and missed her footing on the high curb. There was a crack and a crunch, and she found herself dizzy and on her knees on the platform, suddenly close to tears. Oh god, it’s backed over my briefcase and I skinned my knee like a little girl and it’s all so embarrassing.

She pushed herself up, wiping her hands against each other to get rid of the grit. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the punks staring, and the newcomer, a guy with bright green hair and so many tattoos on his arms there was barely and skin in sight, approached her with long steps.

Looking to the left at the bus, she saw more people staring, and the driver getting out, looking... almost sick. Elsa hoped it wasn’t too obvious that his discomfort made her feel better, less awkward and alone.

“Hello! Are you ready for an adventure?”

The voice made Elsa jump, and when the words registered, she answered the punk with a hostile stare. “Go away.”

He smiled down at her -- what was it with kids these days being so awfully tall? -- and answered, “Sorry, ma’am, just doing my job.”

“Oh, go find someone else to mock. Or an actual job, even better.” Elsa raked a trembling hand through her hair and looked at the ground, left and right. Where had her briefcase ended up?

After a few moments the punk asked gently, “Why haven’t you looked behind you yet?”

The dread this suggestion evoked stopped her breath for a moment. Her voice was a tiny squeak. “I can’t.” She stared at the ground. Old glass shards glittered in the cracks between the cobblestones. A hand rose into her field of vision. Only now she noticed the tattoos on the punk’s arm didn’t consist of abstract swirls of colour, or feature flames and bones and knives, like she had unthinkingly expected. Those sleeves were made up of nothing but butterflies, wing-edge to wing-edge.

“You know what happened.” His voice was soft and sympathetic.

“I’m not... Do I have to?”

“Knowing is better, and seeing helps knowing.”

When she took the offered hand, Elsa finally became aware that the bus driver and a few other people were milling around, but ignoring her completely. She turned and looked over her shoulder, for a glance at her body. The bus had backed up right when she had fallen backwards.

She sighed. “Typical. When you think things are at their worst, something’s going to prove you wrong. I’d expected something like a water pipe or major appliance breaking.” It was a rather feeble attempt at humour, but helped steady her. She was glad for someone to hold her hand, even a rather alarming-looking stranger. “So, what now?” She squelched worries about what this would do to her colleagues and friends, deciding right now it was time to be selfish.

“You need a rest, and a change. A chance to become more yourself.” His warm smile widened a bit, eyes narrowing in amusement. “You seem to be more optimistic in your soul than in your habits, for instance.”

“Or I wouldn’t have pitched forward?”

“Exactly.” He offered his other hand, too, and Elsa took it.

The colours of his tattoos seemed to become even more vivid, the grey concrete and cobbles around them fading to nothing. Elsa felt light and warm, and watched with delight as the world broke into fluttering shards of colour, jewel-bright. Her last giddy thought was that a riot of butterflies was prettier than angel wings.

This story was originally published in the July 2011 issue of the Ellen Million Graphics Zine.
It's in the same setting as Career Choices

tagged Contemporary Fantasy

Career Choices

Marie tried to write despite Ron reading over her shoulder, looming just at the edge of her vision. That would have been distracting enough even without the stench of the vile thin cigars he smoked, and of course—

"You know you've got three adverbs in that paragraph already? Are you even trying?"

"I'll worry about phrasing later."

A fingernail clicked against the F key without pushing while she tried to jump back onto her train of thought. Duller clicks as she typed a few words, a few lines...

"Didn't you spell that name with an i rather than y in chapter one?"

...and a patter as she dropped her fanned fingers onto the keyboard rather than going for Ron's eyes.

"You are not helping."

"Hey, I'm your muse. Means I'm the expert for creative work here."

Marie glared up at him and gave a barely audible growl. "Whoever thought this'd be the job for you must be a complete idiot."

"Your invective isn't exactly imaginative. Besides, the people doing the assigning are experts, too."

Telling him to go away while staying where she was to continue work without him watching had never worked before, so she just got up. "I'm done for now."

"Yow. Don't be so touchy. You'll never get anywhere—"

Marie interrupted him by walking right through him, making him waver like a mirage.

Ron "tch"d before disappearing in a shower of sparks.

***

The next time Marie went to work on her novel, Ron popped back. As always. She would have brought an axe if he hadn't been incorporeal. As things stood, she tried to ignore him.

"Bad news for you, you're getting what you asked for."

That cheerful proclamation did make Marie curious. And worried. "Getting what?"

"Rid of me. There was some mixup with the paperwork, and I shouldn't be working as a muse."

"So I was right."

"Oh, no, there was no idiot who-thought-I-was, just an idiot who switched two sheets."

"Whatever... They aren't going to send a replacement, are they?

"I didn't ask. Don't think so, unless you wish again."

"Wonderful," Marie said dryly, turning to the screen. "So shove off."

She sighed with relief when he disappeared a moment later.

***

Ron was just as glad being rid of the little ingrate. After a change of career, he'd certainly be assigned to someone who appreciated his input.

He showed up early at the Agency for orientation. The instructor gave him a brochure with information about his assigned future position. It sounded a perfect fit. His satisfied smile failed when he read some of the terms.

"Here, what is that supposed to mean?" he asked the instructor, pointing out a paragraph.

"That means that you are required to be semi-corporeal while interacting with your assigned human."

"But why's that?" Ron remembered one previous client throwing a wine bottle at him while he had been in that state. It had hurt.

"Read on."

He did, and sputtered with outrage. "Beat up, stabbed or shot?!"

The instructor made a calming palm-down gesture. "It might not come to that. At least not regularly. But the fact of the matter is that for some creative people, the main reason for externalising their inner critic is to get a way to get rid of it."

"I won't—"

"I'm here to teach," the instructor said, nodding towards half a dozen other people that had wandered in. "You're welcome to listen and learn along with your prospective colleagues. It might be a good idea to get the full picture, rather than rushing off half-cocked to complain to the Agency."

Ron made a disgusted noise, but then pulled himself together and found a seat. He even kept from snapping at the guy next to him, who gleefully reminded him, "We live to serve, pal."

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