Writing Prompt #5: Talk Me Down

*Note: All writing prompts used for this story are located at the end to prevent spoilers. If you want to use the prompts yourself, have at ’em.

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Talk Me Down

Continue reading “Writing Prompt #5: Talk Me Down”

Writing Prompt #4: Roommates

Note: Don’t forget, if you like this story and want to know what happens next, leave a comment requesting more! My aim is to revisit the stories with the highest demand and add more to them.

Roommates

Mrs. Margery Talbot stood inside the open front door of her two-story home as Mr. Dennis Talbot descended the stairs with a large cardboard box in his arms. Both individuals wore strained expressions as he made his descent, each step carefully measured. As he came level with the woman beside the door, Margery spoke, “Is that the last of them?”

Dennis nodded, “Yeah.” 

“Okay then,” Margery said curtly. She sucked in a breath, “I guess this is goodbye.” 

“At least follow me out to the car,” Dennis said, a hint of desperation in his voice. 

“No,” Margery said, “I don’t think that’s a good idea. Goodbye Dennis. Don’t forget to show up to the courthouse on Thursday at 9, and by 9 I mean 8:45. Not 9:01, not 9:10- 8:45.”

Dennis puffed through his nose like he always did when he felt chastised, “Fine. Bye Margery.”   

She shut the door on his retreating back and turned away. Only then did she allow her seams to crack, and even then, it was only crack. She swallowed hard as she leaned her back against the door and listened to the slam of Dennis’ trunk. She slid down the door to sit on the floor as she heard his driver’s side door shut. She sucked in a shuddering gasp as she heard his engine turn over. By the time the sound of his car had gone too far for her to hear, Margery was sobbing into her knees which she hugged tightly to her body.

*****

“Fuck him,” Her sister, Ophelia, said later that night through a mouthful of Ben & Jerry’s, “He made his bed. Now he gets to roll around in it, his head is wrought with the guilt from having fucked up the only good thing he’d ever had going in his life. What seems like shit right now is going to turn into the best thing to ever happen to you, mark my words,” She was waving her spoon around for emphasis from her spot in Dennis’ recliner, which she was sitting sideways in, her legs draped over one armrest and her back against the other. 

Margery was sitting on the loveseat beside her, nursing a melting jug of s’mores flavored ice cream with a ginger tabby named Herman curled up on her lap. She worked at a smile. Her sister had always been hot-headed and defiantly optimistic despite her edgy appearance. Margery had long brunette hair that she feathered off to one side and always bought her clothes from the clearance rack in the big-box department stores. Ophelia had fire engine red hair (that she dyed a new color every other week) which was shaved on the left side from the base of her earlobe to just above the tip of her ear and then halfway back behind her head. She sported a half sleeve of tattoos, and only bought clothes from local boutiques that specialize in the color black, and had an unsettling affinity for zippers in useless places. 

“Part of me wants to know that you’re right,” Margery said feebly, looking down at the sleeping cat in her lap, “but I just don’t know what I’m going to do. It took both of our salaries to cover our bills, and even then things were tight. I’m going to have to sell it, but if I do that before the divorce…”

“He’s not taking half!” Ophelia said, jabbing her spoon at her sister like a sword. She took another bite of ice cream, and through a full mouth said, “Just get a roommate.” 

Margery looked at her sister incredulously, “I beg your pardon? Who the heck am I going to convince to move in here? You?”

Ophelia snorted, “As if. We’d slaughter each other in two weeks flat, and you know I’m being generous. I meant that you should put out an add.”

Margery stabbed her spoon down into her carton, causing Herman to wake up and relocate himself to the cushion beside her, “You want me to invite a complete stranger into my home! Phelia, that’s how people end up murdered in their own beds!”

Her sister scoffed, “Oh, god, you have got to get rid of your cable, Mar. People take in strangers for roommates every single day. The only reason you hear about the ones who get murdered is that it’s so friggin’ rare that it’s worth talking about. If it happened every day, then people would become desensitized and stop being surprised that it had happened. They would also make it illegal,” she took another bite before adding, “Like hitchhiking.”

Margery frowned, “I guess that’s a good point.”

“Of course it is.” She swung her legs around and leaned over the armrest so her face was closer to Margery’s, the tub of ice cream held between them, “You’re going to figure this out. It’s going to be okay.”

*****

Ophelia stayed at Margery’s house for the next four days to help with the basic functions of living that Margery seemed to have suddenly forgotten how to perform. Margery continued to attend work at Forget Me Not’s, a local antique store. Ophelia took on the challenge of posting “Room Mate Wanted” adds around the internet, but since the rent was so high, they were having trouble getting any takers. Ophelia had offered to post her phone number, partly because her work life was much more flexible than Margery’s, and partly (Margery suspected) to help ease some of the extra stress off her grieving sister. Court dates came and went, and bill dates also came and went. Each day Margery’s savings dwindled and her anxiety grew. Then, one afternoon, nearly two months later, Margery received an excited phone call from her sister while at work.

“Marge! I think I found one!” Phelia proclaimed into the receiver.

“One what?” Margery asked as her foggy thoughts tried desperately to shift gears from pricing fifty-year-old spoons to her sister’s obvious excitement. 

“One what!? A roommate, dummy, what else! I think this guy is going to be perfect!”

Margery’s attention snapped onto the phone, “A roommate?!” She turned her back on the silver spoons and faced the china hutches behind her counter, “It’s a guy? I don’t know if I really feel com-”

“What did I say about that cable? It’s an unneeded expense and you need to wake up to the new decade, Sis. Yes, he’s a guy! And he runs his own business! He can more than afford the price AND get this – he runs his business out of his home! That means your home will be eligible for a crap ton of tax write-offs!”

“I- I’m not sure that’s how that works, Phee,”

“Of course it does! We’ll figure out all the specifics later, but you’ll definitely save money on something.”

“Well,” Margery said, trying to find the blessing in disguise here, “What kind of business is this?”

She could hear the grin on Ophelia’s face as she spoke, “Oh you’re going to love this! He’s a perfume maker! He said he’d even be grateful if you were willing to test some of his new fragrances for him and give your feedback! How amazing is that!? Free perfume!”

Margery frowned, “Free perfume would be nice, but I’m not sure it’s worth the mess. The man mixes liquids and strange oils, Phee. I can already smell all the added costs of having to rip up and replace my floors when he inevitably moves out.”

“I thought of that too!” She chimed, “And he said he’s more than willing to purchase a sizeable shed and set it up in your backyard as his workstation to save your floors. He also said he’s comfortable setting up shop in attics and basements if the landlord is alright with either of those options.”  

Margery chewed on her lip, “I suppose it’s fine if he uses the basement. Dennis has already destroyed the cement down there with all of his engine rebuilds. There are oil stains and god knows what else everywhere. I’d rather that than a shed.” Margery was quite fond of her backyard and had even started a small vegetable garden. She was hesitant to part with any of that treasured real estate, “Means we’ll have to clear out a lot of the crap Dennis has stashed down there.”

“Yard sale!” Ophelia exclaimed, “I’ll start printing fliers.”

“Well, wait a minute! I’ll have to see if Dennis needs any of that stuff!”

“Fuck him,” Came the curt reply.

Ignoring her, Margery asked, “What is this potential housemate’s name?”

“Oh, you’ll love this! Arthur Ashton. Tell me that doesn’t sound like a character right out of a novel!”

“It sounds made up.” Margery agreed sardonically.

“Ooooh my god! Cable! Get rid of it!”

*****

Margery texted Dennis, telling him to come and take whatever he wanted from the boxes she and Ophelia had been packing up. She didn’t tell him she was getting a roommate, just that she was cleaning out the basement for an office. She left the boxes in front of the garage door before work one day and when she came home that evening noticed a few missing. She found a note in his handwriting taped to her front door telling her to sell the rest. The yard sale was a success, largely due to Ophelia’s magical talent in advertising things online. They had cleared away most of the items in a single weekend, and thrown away or donated what had remained. 

As to the roommate, Ophelia had been serving as the go-between for Arthur and Margery since the two’s schedules had never quite seemed to line up. When the day came for Arthur to move in, Margery hadn’t even heard his voice, let alone met him. Her palms were clammy and she kept chewing her lip with nerves as the two sisters waited. 

When the knock finally came, Margery let out a gasp and was on her feet with no recollection of having stood up. “He’s here! What do we do?!” she hissed at her sister.

Ophelia was draped in Dennis’ chair again and was eating potato chips. She frowned at her sister, “First, you need to calm your tits. Then you go answer the door like a semi-normal person and try not to embarrass me. I had to spin a lot of pretty little lies about how cool you are to woo this guy.”

The girls answered the door together. Arthur Ashton was somewhere close to 5’8” with a lean build. He had a full head of sandy-colored hair that looked wind-tossed and which fell irritably close to his left eye making him brush it away from his face every few moments. His face looked as though it had been clean-shaven two days ago, and today could do with another. He wore blue jeans which were a bit stained but seemed sensible for a moving day, and his t-shirt looked to be from some Indie band. He had a box in his arms which he set down at his feet when the door opened, and he was quick with a smile and a handshake. 

“Hello! You must be Margery. I’ve heard so much about you. Arthur Ashton,” He said as he shook Margery’s hand. “And hello again Ophelia. You were right with those directions. This place is easy enough to find and also perfectly tucked away from the dominant streets. The neighborhood is much lovelier than you’d made it sound. Had I known, I’d have tried all the harder to get here sooner.” 

The man had a slight accent that Margery couldn’t place. It was faded with time, like a distant memory that ran in the background, but hadn’t been recalled in some many years. His hands were surprisingly rough for one who worked with luxury goods and they reminded Margery of when Dennis had spent six months obsessed with weight training. Arthur had a slight build to him, but nothing extreme enough to parallel Dennis’ short-lived obsession. 

The girls gave Arthur a tour of the house and showed him the downstairs bedroom that was to be his. Arthur surveyed the room with an impassive expression before asking to see the basement where he’d be setting up, to which the girls obliged. The basement was huge and had just over twice the square footage of Margery’s living room. Arthur stood in the middle of the space with his hands on his hips and looked around the now-empty space. Small windows were set high up on the walls allowing sunlight to illuminate the space just enough to manage without turning on the overhead lights. When Arthur turned back to the girls he was smiling, “I’d like to set up my shop and my living space down here if that’s alright?”

The girls exchanged looks before Margery stammered, “I mean if you’re sure?”

“I’m positive. This space is far more perfect than I could have hoped for!” He was grinning.

Margery looked at her sister who stretched her face out in a confused expression and shrugged. Marge looked back at the man and agreed, “Well, if you’re positive, then it’s yours to do with as you wish!” 

*****

The first few months flew by in a dizzying dance. She and Arthur adjusted to life in each other’s company with few hiccups due largely to their varying schedules. Margery was usually already at her shop long before Arthur woke up and staggered to the kitchen for breakfast. By the time Margery got home, Arthur would be fully absorbed into his work and would scarcely venture up from his basement. Sometimes faint and pleasant odors would waft up through the floorboards above his workspace, and Margery started heavily wishing she had more friends that could be invited over to enjoy their presence with her. 

The day that Margery’s divorce finalized was the first time the two of them had really talked. Ophelia was working a double shift and apologized profusely, promising to show up with ice cream just as soon as she could, but it wouldn’t be until close to eleven. Margery insisted she would be fine, and she was just going to watch some TV for a bit and told Ophelia not to bother. They’d ended their call with Ophelia saying she’d see her sister tonight. 

The TV hadn’t proved to be the distraction that Margery had hoped it would be. Herman was on her lap again, and she sat petting his ginger fur as he purred. She flipped from movie to movie and each time she spotted the romance plot starting to build, she’d change the station again. Eventually, she was left with nothing to watch except for the day’s news, until a story of a man killing his wife to save the hassle of a divorce convinced her to shut off the set altogether. 

Arthur found her in the living room, in the dark, with the cat on her lap, and crying soundlessly. She hadn’t noticed him enter and he’d had to clear his throat before speaking so as not to startle her too harshly, “Is there anything I can do? Perhaps, I could get you the tub of ice cream? Phelia said that was usually the go-to life raft.”

Margery wiped her eyes with the only hand free of cat hair and sucked in a steadying breath, “No. No, I’m fine. Thank you. I – I will be fine.”

Arthur sat on the other couch in the room, “It was today, wasn’t it? The finalization?”

She sniffled and nodded, “Yeah. I’m officially a free woman.” She forced a smile.

Arthur got up, but not without shooting her an empathetic look. She could hear him moving around in the kitchen and smiled when she heard the freezer open. He returned a few moments later with a half-eaten carton of Ben & Jerry’s S’mores flavored ice cream and a spoon. He handed them to her before sitting back down. 

She thanked him, “You didn’t have to do that.”

“No, I did. Ophelia threatened my physical well being if I didn’t.” They both laughed. “It’s hard,” he said as the chuckles died down and the silence had started to encroach, “Losing someone you loved. Someone you’d plan to spend your whole life with… but it’s nearly unbearable when that other person is the one to make it so painfully obvious that they had different plans.”

Margery’s eyes became clouded and her throat worked as she strained to keep the tears down. She frowned, and her voice broke as she asked, “Were you married?” She had wanted to phrase the question carefully so as not to seem too prodding. 

Arthur passed a hand through his hair and leaned back against the couch, “For a time. It didn’t last near as long as I had expected, yet twice as long as everyone else had guessed.”

He told her about his first love, a girl named Chavali. He described her olive skin and her silky black hair and when he described the way she moved, it was poetry. He had met her while traveling abroad through Europe. She was of the Roma people, a gypsy. Her family had been selling their wares in the town Arthur was visiting. He’d met her at the booth she’d been working and promised to watch her perform in a dance that same night.

“Once I laid my eyes on her and the way she danced, I knew I could never take them off of her again.” He’d canceled his other plans and extended his stay in this village to be near her. It took him two long months, but finally, he convinced her to marry him. “Her family was furious. They denied us, of course. So I convinced Chavali to run away with me.”

He took her back to his home where he was learning his trade of perfume making. They were happy for two whole years before the financial strain of being wife to a perfume maker’s apprentice was too much for Chavali. “So, she left me. For another man.” He sighed, “The worst part is that I didn’t even see the signs.” He remarked. “He’d been trying to steal her from me for a whole year and had been giving her gifts. Chavali told me they were from her dance studio where she performed – which, I suppose was half true. The man owned the studio, and his dancers were skilled enough to perform for royalty. It wasn’t that surprising to me when she’d show up in gems and fine silks. I had always believed her when she said they were gifts from their grateful patrons.”

By the time Ophelia showed up that evening, Margery was already in better spirits. Arthur was telling her stories from overseas and the two were laughing as Ophelia entered the house. Margery’s tub of ice cream had been long melted and completely forgotten on the drink coaster beside the couch. 

*****

Things were easier after that day, and Margery started to allow herself to believe they might actually get better. Arthur started making a point of wandering up from the basement to chat whenever Margery came home. He was always telling her stories of the different countries he had visited, and Margery would listen with rapt attention. One day she even asked him, “Have you been to every country in the world?” Arthur had hesitated at this with a furrowed brow before admitting he must be getting close. It amazed her that someone no more than a couple of years her senior could have experienced so much more life than she would ever see in all her years. Margery enjoyed their chats so much, she’d even started cooking again just to stay in the kitchen. She had yet to be asked to sample any of Arthur’s perfumes. However, he always had packages outside the front door, each stamped with a home-printed mailing label, ready for the postman to pick up. So she figured his sales must be doing rather well. 

Every once in a while, during one of Margery’s T.V. shows, there would be an explosion from the basement. The first time this had happened, she had tried to rush downstairs to make sure everything was okay, but Arthur met her halfway up and told her not to come down. The room had been filled with smoke, which was starting to drift up into the main house. Arthur had rushed back down, covering his face in some torn piece of cloth, to open the basement’s small windows before joining Margery in the living room and admitting he’d been careless and allowed one of his brews to boil over. Turns out the substance was highly flammable, but no damage had been done, with the exception of Arthur’s pride. By now, Margery was so used to these occurrences that when they’d happen she’d simply turn up her TV, open the windows, and pray the fire alarms didn’t go off this time.

Six months after Arthur moved in, Margery found herself driving home from work with a smile on her face, the radio playing in the background of her awareness, as she thought of how the time had flown past her. She appreciated his company during everything she’d been through. It wasn’t easy to tear your entire life down and consider rebuilding it, and if he hadn’t shown up with his crazy little business to help her pay the mortgage, then she could never have hoped to make it. She made a note to tell Arthur as much tonight. She was also extremely curious about his perfumes. They must be divine if Arthur was sending out new shipments every day of the week. She made another note to talk to Arthur about buying one when she saw him tonight. She was okay with not being asked to sample any, but by now her curiosity was strong enough that she was willing to pay near any amount to see what he’d been up to all those hours in her basement. All these musings were dashed from her thoughts, however, as she pulled up to her house. 

One of her front windows had been shattered. There was no glass outside of the house, just a jagged hole where the glass used to be. Her front door was wide open and the gate to her backyard was swinging in the breeze. 

“What the hell?” She pulled up to the curb instead of the garage and killed her vehicle’s engine. It was still light outside and dark in her house, so she couldn’t see much beyond the broken window. With trembling hands, she grabbed up her cell phone.

“Yellow,” Came Ophelia’s voice.

“Phee, I think I’ve been robbed!” Margery stammered.

“What?!” Ophelia barked.

“I – I just got home and – my window is broken! Someone smashed my window and -”

“Hold on. Someone robbed your house?! Where are you right now?”

“I’m in the car outside.”

“Did you go inside?”

“No,” Margery said, “Should I?”

“No! Are the police on their way?” Ophelia asked.

“N-no, I haven’t called them. I – I just called you.”

“What?! Marge! Call the police! Get them on their way, then call me back. I’m going to talk to my supervisor and ask to leave. I’ll be there as soon as I can, okay? Police! Now!”

***** 

The 911 dispatcher told Margery to get away from her house. She did so and used her BlueTooth to finish her call. The police showed up in record time, leading Margery to believe she hadn’t been the first to call them. She circled back around to her block when she heard the police sirens and talked to an Officer Roberts while the rest of the responders did a sweep of her home and property. Neighbors had come out to gawk, and a few came over to talk to Margery about what had happened. Everyone had their own version of the events that transpired, but the general idea was this: 

Three black vehicles had been parked outside of Margery’s house. There had been some sort of loud noise that had alerted the first of the concerned residents. The general consensus was that it had been some form of an explosion. Some moments later, a second explosion took out Margery’s living room window. There were rapid-fire pops inside her home that many had described as gunshots, and neighbors had started to call the police at this point. Men in black suits were then seen running out of Margery’s front door and out from the gate leading into her backyard. One of the men had been talking away in a hushed voice on a cell phone as he looked up at the house. He had shouted something at his men, who passed the command around the lines, causing the attackers to file into the black vehicles and drive away. This is where the excitement had ended until the police had arrived. 

The police didn’t find anyone inside, but they did report blood stains and several bullet holes in the wall. There were no signs of Arthur anywhere in the house. Ophelia showed up a few moments before Margery was asked to come inside and identify what, if anything, was missing or stolen from the house. The two sisters went in together. 

The place had been trashed. If something was able to be broken, the thieves had broken it. Furniture was upturned, cupboards and drawers had been opened and emptied of their contents. Her picture frames had been taken off the walls, shattered, and scattered about. Her appliances in the kitchen had been smashed or dismantled, but not stolen, her couches were missing their cushions, which had been torn open and had their stuffing scattered about creating the picturesque scene of the downtown mall at Christmas time. 

Upstairs, each of the bedrooms had been gone through and Margery’s clothes had all been removed from their hangers and tossed around the room. However, nothing seemed to be missing. She checked her jewelry first and noted that, while it’s contents had been spilled over the top of her dresser, nothing had been taken, not even the wedding ring she hadn’t worn in nearly a year. As she talked to one of the officers about the jewelry, Herman, the big ginger cat, came out from under the bed looking as emotionally haggard as one who’s just walked through an active war zone. He mewed at her pathetically and when Margery rushed forward to scoop him up, he picked up his tail happily. She squeezed the cat to her chest as she finished her tour.

Once Herman was securely locked away in this cat crate in the bedroom, Margery made her way back downstairs. Ophelia was standing in the middle of the living room looking down at the shattered 55” TV. “You know, when I told you to get rid of the cable, I did not mean for it to happen like this.” 

The last place left to look was the basement. Margery told the police that she wouldn’t even begin to know if anything was missing down there. It was her tenant’s space and she had never gone down there since Arthur had moved in. For record’s sake, however, they insisted. The two sisters descended the stairs one after the other. The basement was as bad as the house above. On one side of the space was Arthur’s perfume lab. Beakers and vials and flasks and olive-colored glass jars were shattered in glittering piles all over the floor. On the other side, separated by a privacy divider covered in Asian artwork, was an upturned twin mattress, piles of disheveled clothes, a few chairs, countless upturned baskets that had once been full of bottles, and jars and Tupperware contains filled with perfume ingredients. None of this was surprising after everything Margery had already seen. What was surprising, what Margery saw that she hadn’t been prepared for, was the pool of blood in the center of the room. The scattered stains of someone moving about after sustaining a major injury. The smears of blood going up the wall to the open basement window suggesting the injured party had escaped or at least attempted to escape, out into the yard above.

Margery gasped and covered her mouth with both her hands. Ophelia gasped too, and placed her hand on her sister’s shoulder, giving it a squeeze. Margery’s vision began to blur and tears spilled down her face as the scene took its toll on her. She turned back to the office behind her, “Has nobody found Arthur?”

The policeman shook his head, “No ma’am. The trail ends at the window, and until we get the lab results back, we have no way of knowing if your tenant was injured, or if he got the better of one of his attackers. As to where the injured party went, we haven’t gathered enough information to properly say. There were boot tracks and more disorder in the backyard, but no blood. There was also no evidence of anyone having leaped a fence nor moved around in any of the neighbors’ yards. Whoever did this left out the front door or a side gate, to the best of our knowledge.” 

Ophelia held Margery’s head against her shoulder and stroked her hair, “How could they do this in broad daylight and not be identified by at least one neighbor? How could no one have seen any of their faces or gotten a license plate?”

“I can’t say that no one did, ma’am. We’ll have more answers once we’re able to look at all the evidence back at the station. In the meantime, Mrs. Talbot, do you have anyone that you can stay with?” 

Margery frowned, “Ms.” She said, “Ms. Ta- erm, Wilde. I’m divorced I just – I haven’t gotten my name changed back yet.”

“Sorry,” The officer said as he took notes, “Ms. Wilde. Is there anyone you can stay with for a few days while the station conducts its investigations?”

“Of course,” Ophelia chimed in, “You can shack up with me for as long as need be, okay, Sis?” Ophelia smoothed the hair away from Margery’s face and put both her hands on her sister’s shoulders, giving her a little shake. Ophelia looked back at the officer, “Is she allowed to take a few things from the house, like clothes and toothbrush and such?”

“Of course,” the officer said.

*****

Two weeks went by, and no new leads came to the surface. The lab results on the blood and other hopeful DNA analysis came back inconclusive. Something about corrupt data or a contaminated sample or some other technical stuff that Margery couldn’t quite understand. There was never any word on Arthur. Margery filed a missing person’s report at the station, and the two sisters went around putting up posters, but no one ever called. Margery had been allowed to return to her home for a whole week, but fear had kept her away. Ophelia’s place had felt safe, but there was no denying how painfully small her studio apartment was. Ophelia told Margery to stay for as long as she and Herman needed to fix up the house before selling it and downsizing to something smaller, but Margery knew she’d well outstayed her welcome long before any such renovations could be made, so, rather than wait for her welcome to expire, she went back.

It was her day off, and Ophelia had already gone to work for the day. She didn’t tell her sister what she’d planned to do with her day, partially because she hadn’t known she would really do it. Somehow, the voice in the back of her mind knew that this was something Margery needed to do on her own. These were her fears, her demons, and she couldn’t hide behind her little sister when she went to face them. 

The police tape was still up, and a large board had been hammered onto the outside of Margery’s shattered window to keep out any unwelcome visitors. The house was exactly the way it had been that day she’d come home, only this time with perhaps a little extra dust. Margery sighed as she looked at all the work that needed to be done, and then went to get the broom. She started with the hallway, the smallest room and therefore the easiest first victory. She found a cardboard box for all the photos as she separated them from their shattered frames, and swept all the broken frames and glass up into the large trash can she’d brought in from outside. She took the rugs up and shook them into the trash to dislodge any glass, mopped the hardwood entryway, and then vacuumed the rugs once she’d set them back down. 

Next came the kitchen. She sorted the broken appliances into boxes for the recycling and put back together what could be salvaged and placed in the sink what merely needed cleaning. She swept, mopped, wiped counters and cleaned out the fridge filled with all of its spoiled foods. 

By the time she had finished with the living room and moved the broken TV to the garage where it could later be taken to the recycling center, the sun was starting to set. Her phone was ringing in the hallway where she’d left it, and by the time she got to it, she realized she had three missed calls from her sister. 

“Oh thank god! You know I was one missed call away from filing a missing person report! Where in the hell are you?” Ophelia shrieked. 

“Home,” Margery said, a little deflated, “I’ve been trying to get this place cleaned up.”

There was a long pause on the other end of the phone, “I’ll be there in a second.”

“No! No, Phee, it’s fine. You rest. You had a long day and I’m sure you’re tired. I’m fine. I’ve already finished most of the downstairs.”

Another long pause, “Are you sure?”

“I’m sure. I need to do this.” Alone, she didn’t say. “I’m going to be here late. I don’t work tomorrow either. Don’t wait up for me okay? I’m going to make dinner here. I still have some pasta here and an unopened can of sauce.”

“Okay. If you need anything, call me. I expect to see you home by midnight, young lady, no exceptions. Otherwise, I’m filing a report, capiche?”

Margery chuckled, “Yes, Dad.”

She hung up, turned back towards the living room, and screamed. In one swift movement, a hand was over her mouth. She tried to pull away but backed into the wall and the hand-pressed tighter. Arthur leaned in closer as he shushed her, “What in the hell are you doing here?!” He demanded. He released his hand as Margery shoved him.

“What am I doing here? I live here! What are you doing here?” She demanded.

“I came back to make sure you hadn’t done something stupid like, oh I don’t know, coming back.”

“The police declared this an isolated incident. They said it was highly unlikely that the same robbers would hit the same house twice and told me I was safe to return. So that’s what I did.”

One of Arthur’s brown eyebrows shot up, “Robbers? And what did these people take exactly?” Margery was silent. He had her there. “That’s what I thought. These people weren’t here for your things. They were here for me. They will also do damn near anything to get to me, including kidnapping you if they thought that would work.” 

“You? Why in the hell would these people want…” She fell silent as the realization dawned on her, “Oh. My. God. You aren’t a perfume maker, are you?” 

Arthur raised that eyebrow at her again as he crossed the hall to glance out the window beside the entryway door. “Just now figuring that one out, huh?”

Margery felt a flare of anger at his words, “You – were – all this time I – you – I can’t believe I was so stupid. I knew getting a roommate was a bad idea. I told Ophelia, I told her this is how you get murdered. I cooked your meals, and let you into my home, and all this time you’ve been cooking drugs in my basement?! How could I be so stu-”

“What?!” Arthur rounded on her and took a few steps forward, “I do not deal in narcotics.” He spat that last word like it was a swear. “If you want to know what I do, then follow me. I need to see if they left me anything salvageable downstairs, and then we have to get you somewhere safe. Is Ophelia’s place anywhere close?”

“I’m not going to take you to my sister’s so that you can go and do to her place what you and your friends did to mine!” Margery spat. Arthur was heading towards the basement and, without thinking, Margery followed him. “You’re some kind of criminal! I let a criminal into my home!” She was bordering on hysterics now. 

They were halfway down the stairs when Arthur wheeled on her again and threw up a hand to silence her. Margery wrenched her face away from the violent motion and would have fallen if Arthur hadn’t caught her arm and steadied her, “Did no one shut that window after I fled out it?”

“What? Of course, they did! The police locked the whole place up, why do you a-” But Margery saw it. The window directly opposite of the stairs still had blood smeared on the wall beneath it. The setting sun was filtering faintly through, and from here, Margery could see it was open. “How did that-”

“Shh,” Arthur hissed. The room below them was dark. Arthur had moved right past the light switch without turning it on. Margery moved back up the stairs and hit the switch. Arthur shot her a glare before continuing down into the room. The piles of glass still remained. Arthur’s belongings were still scattered about, but there were no home invaders. “They must have come back after all the police had cleared out. Must have searched the place again.” He grumbled.

“Search?” Margery asked, her heart racing, “And what, exactly, were they searching for?”

“Something I’d never be stupid enough to hide here.” He answered as he started scooping up armfuls of clothes and tossing them into a pile. He was clearing a path to the cupboards lined up against his walls. They were all open and many of their contents littered the ground. He began picking up bottles and vials and jars that had managed to stay undamaged. He gathered a few in his arms and moved over to his shattered workspace.

As he worked, Margery decided she was not finished with her questions, “Where have you been these last two weeks? Who was injured? How did you make it out of here? What did those guys want so badly that they decided to trash my house in broad daylight? What in the hell are you doing?” 

Arthur, who had been ignoring all of Margery’s questions, had set the armful of random storage contains down on the counter and picked up a bunsen burner. He then sifted carefully through the broken glass until he found a sizable beaker that had gone undamaged. He moved back to his scattered belongings and rummaged around until he found a broom. He used it to clear away some of the shattered glass from his work station before reaching under his table and pulling out a stone mortar and pestle. He then began mashing up some of the items he’d collected from his cabinets and Margery eventually fell silent as she watched him in confusion. He moved to the small sink in the room and filled one of the beakers about a third of the way with water before moving to place it into a little metal contraption that held the beaker above the bunsen burner that he now lit. He poured all the ingredients from the mortar into the beaker and gave it a stir with a long metal tool. He then poured a few more ingredients into the mortar and shuffled back to his upturned mattress. He fit the extra-long twin back onto its frame before sitting down and grinding up the ingredients in the mortar.  

Exhausted, Margery finally broke the silence, “What on Earth are you doing?”

Arthur looked up as if remembering that he wasn’t alone and beckoned her down off the stairs towards him, “Come here. I’m going to need your help with something. Over there in my cabinet, I need you to dig through the wicker basket. There is a putty knife in there that I need you to bring to me.” Margery did as she was instructed. Once she held it up for him to see, Arthur nodded and said, “Now, see that cabinet over there? The second one from the wall? There is a first aid kit down there. Can you grab it? I need the bandages, but I’m also bringing that with me when I go, so you might as well grab the whole kit.” She nodded and brought both objects over and set them on the mattress beside him.

Arthur set his mortar and pestle aside and then slowly, gingerly, with a grimace and a grunt, removed his shirt. On his left shoulder was a bloodsoaked bandage. Margery sucked in a breath. Arthur groaned as he began to peel the bandage off. There was a matt of plant material packed against his skin. He huffed rapidly through his nose as he peeled the herbs away from his injured flesh. The wound oozed a dark liquid and had a faint sour odor to it. Margery’s breath stopped short. She’d read enough books to know this was bad- real bad.

Arthur used the putty knife to scoop up the paste he’d made in the mortar and smeared it into the wound. He sucked in a breath as the paste made contact, and hissed through his nostrils as whatever he’d made started to take its effect. He shifted, turning his shoulder to show Margery the bandage that had been stuck roughly to the backside of his shoulder. “I can’t really reach back there. Would you mind?” He handed her the putty knife, handle first. 

“Me?” She asked, bristling, “I – well – I’ll do what I can.” 

“Thank you.” Arthur sighed.

Margery worked at the adhesive edge of one bandage. She noticed that this one had herbs spilling out the underside as if Arthur had struggled to pack them properly into the wound. When she found herself having trouble removing the bandage with ease, the man grunted, “You’re going to have to get a little rough with it. Don’t worry, you can’t hurt me any worse than the bullet that made that wound to start with.”

“At least you have an exit wound.” She said as she yanked harder, freeing the edge as Arthur groaned. “You could have been stuck with a bullet to dig out.” She peeled the bandage away and held her breath as the smell hit her. She used the soiled bandage to grip the matt of plant material and started to pry it away from the wound.

“I’m sorry. I should have offered you gloves. I promise I’m not contagious, though I’m not sure what my word is really worth to you at this moment,” Arthur chuckled. 

“I know, I trust you, I just-” She hesitated as she looked at the weeping wound. “This looks really bad.”

“Eh, it looks worse than it is. Just use the knife and put some of this salve in there. This should patch it up well enough until I can get my hands on some real equipment.”

Margery frowned as she scooped up the last of the salve. She coated the wound and packed the paste down into the ragged flesh as best she could without causing too much extra distress to the man in front of her. After both fresh bandages were securely in place, Arthur thanked his landlord and returned to the beaker over the fire. 

The liquid inside had turned a rusty red-brown color and was boiling. He killed the flame and started rummaging around in the storage containers that were tossed around the room until he found an uninjured mason jar with a lid. He poured the contents of the beaker into the jar and laid it back on the counter, lidless, to cool. He dropped a few pieces of what looked like bark into the jar before returning to the mess which was his belongings. He gathered up a weathered, brown leather messenger back and started throwing more of his unharmed jars of – things into it. He scooped up handfuls of herbs from baskets and broken containers before stuffing them into large matchboxes. Jars of roots, powders and mystery items were also thrown into the bag. Next, he pulled a duffel bag out from under his bed frame and threw it down on the mattress. He scooped some of the clothes off the ground, sifted through them, and packed only what seemed a sensible amount for a weekend away. He also threw a beat-up paperback into his bag as well as an old photograph from a broken frame which he slipped between the pages of the book. 

Margery barely caught the sight of two people’s faces before it was safely hidden away. Lastly, he picked up an old walking stick and threw it on top of the zipped up duffle. 

It was a huge stick made from a thick and gnarled tree branch. Different colored threads had been wrapped around parts of the stick and threaded beads dangled about it and clacked together as the stick was moved. It was covered in intricate carvings that looked as though they belonged to an age before civilization. Margery couldn’t help but stare at the wood in wonder for a time. When she looked back at her tenant, he’d picked up the steaming jar of rusty liquid and had taken a swallow.

He sighed through his nose as he drank, his eyes closing slowly as his body relaxed. He drank half the liquid in one go. “That should hold me over for now,” he muttered, more to himself. 

“What is that, some kind of – tea?” Margery asked.

Arthur gave a huff that was almost a laugh, “No, it’s much stronger than a tea. It’s going to help prevent the infection in my arm from spreading any further.” He screwed on the lid and tossed the jar into his leather bag. “Come on. We both need to leave,” he said, moving over to pick up his bags, “And I don’t want to hear that you’ve returned here again, is that clea-” 

Arthur cut his words off suddenly and threw a hand up at Margery indicating she was to stay silent. It took her a moment before she heard it too. There were footsteps on the floor above them. Margery’s heart was pounding in her chest. She looked wildly over at Arthur who held up a finger to remind her to stay silent before gesturing at the open basement window. Margery nodded. Arthur dug through his leather bookbag for a few painfully long seconds before extracting a vial of dark gray liquid. He leaned in close, holding up the bottle, “Drink half, then hand it back to me.” Her expression must have been incredulous, because Arthur looked at her in disbelief, drained half the bottle himself, then handed it back, “Not poison, drink!” He urged so softly she almost didn’t hear him. She drank. The liquid was bitter and she almost coughed in her efforts to take it all down. When she looked back at Arthur she gasped. He had turned the same murky gray color the liquid had been in the bottle, and not just his skin, but all of him. His skin, hair, clothes, the bags slung around his body, the walking stick in his hand, every bit. He looked like someone had dipped him into a bucket of paint. 

As Arthur was shushing her, Margery looked down at her own self and noticed she too had started to turn the same gray color. She brushed her hands over her arms, but her skin felt exactly the same. She looked back at Arthur in panic, but he had moved to the open window and was motioning for her to hurry up, then held his hands together in a way that told her he was going to give her a boost up. She ran over and put her foot into his hands, and almost fell. At that very moment, her home phone started to ring. Both parties held their breath for several long moments before they heard the feet upstairs speed up, then stop suddenly. Arthur sprang into action first. He whispered, “Now or never,” before hoisting her up. She managed to wriggle out into her backyard. She scanned the scene, and although full dark had set in, she couldn’t see anyone beyond. Arthur hefted his duffle bag up first, and Margery helped pull it through the window. He tossed his leather bag up next with the walking stick, and Margery took those too. He motioned for her to get back, and she did. He ran at the wall, grabbed the ledge and heaved himself out in one practiced sweep. Gathering his things, Arthur whispered, “Stick close and stay silent. I think he’s alone.”

Margery nodded. Arthur darted on ahead of her, crouched low. She noticed, as he gained some distance on her, that the gray color of his body and belongings made him very difficult to see slinking through the dark landscape and, although she had no idea how he’d done it, at least she understood why. They moved to the gate at the side of her backyard. Arthur stopped for a moment to listen, and when he seemed satisfied that no one was there, he pushed the gate open with his walking stick. As they peered around the side of the house, they saw a black car parked out front. Margery was about to make a break for her car, parked in the driveway when Arthur’s hand shot out and she smacked into it. He pointed. A man was coming out of her front door. 

He was dressed in a business suit. His black hair cut short to his head, and a cell phone was pressed to his ear. “Yeah… Oh, someone was in here alright. I think it was the housewife. Most of the first floor has been cleaned up… No, no sign of her yet…” There was a chuckle, followed by, “Please, if the alchemist were here, would I have been able to walk right in the house? No. It’s her, and she’s unguarded, I’m sure of it. I’m going to do a sweep of the property. There’s no way she would have left the lights on if she’d left. She’s here, and I’m going to find her.” The man was silent for a long time after that. “Yes, sir. Very well, sir. No, I understand, Sir. Right away.” The man hung up the call. He dialed another number and waited for the new party to pick up. “I want eyes on the housewife’s house NOW! The bitch’s car is down here, so I know she’s here! I have other matters that need attending to, but I want this woman found, do you hear me? Found!” He crossed the yard and got into his own car. Margery felt the panic rising again and for a while, she was afraid the man wasn’t going to leave until his back-up arrived. Then, finally, after what seemed like years, his engine turned over and he pulled away from the curb. 

Arthur held up a hand for a long moment before saying, “You have your keys, right?” Margery held them up.

*****

Arthur drove. He’d taken her keys, and Margery was far too shaken to put up much of a fight. She didn’t even know where they were going since she hadn’t told him where Ophelia lives and he hadn’t bothered to share with her his destination. She had his bookbag on her lap, the duffle was in the back seat. She was hugging the bag against her chest and hadn’t gotten her thoughts together enough to ask a single question for a solid ten minutes. Arthur kept shooting sideways glances at her. Whatever they had drunk must have run its course, because most of his possessions had returned to their original color, and his skin was fading out to a light plum hue. “Are you alright? I’m sure you must have questions.”

Margery’s voice was distant, and her forward-focused stare was unyielding, “What did you say your line of work was again?”

He sighed, “I suppose it’s sort of out of the bag now. I’m – well, I’m an alchemist.”

She frowned at the road ahead of them, “Like – a holistic medicine man, or something?”

Arthur bristled, “In the crudest sense, sort of. I do use herds and such, but the useless dribble these ‘medicine men’ produce should be criminal. My potions actually work.”

That got her attention, and Margery arched a sculpted brow as she turned to face him, “Potions? Like – from video games?”

That seemed to make him bristle even more, “More like from history. Look, it’s going to take a lot of work to explain all this. It’ll be easier just to show you when we arrive.”

“Arrive where, exactly?” She asked, sinking down lower in her chair.

“At a friend of mines- Gerald.”

“Oh, and is he an alchemist too?” She asked with a hint of scorn.

“Actually,” Arthur hesitated, “He’s a wizard.”

“Of course he is,” Margery said, frowning again. “So are these all code names for your drug syndicate or something? Alchemist, is that like the ‘cook’ in the meth business? I watch TV, I know the terms.”

Arthur hissed through his nostrils and Margery was suddenly reminded of Dennis, “I told you! I’m not a drug dealer. I make – medicine, in short. Those people back there, they – they’re bad news. I stumbled upon something some several years ago, and they found out about it. They’ve been chasing me for a long time. I thought – I thought if I went domestic, and stayed away from my usual signature haunts that they’d have a harder time finding me but,” he trailed off, “This time was even faster.”

She studied the severe lines on his face as he processed the thoughts he hadn’t bothered to share. “How long have you been on the run?”

“A long time,” He said again, vaguely.

“What did you find that they want?” She asked.

“Something powerful. You’re asking all the questions I can’t answer. You don’t have to go into work tomorrow, do you? It’s the weekend, so your boss will be covering the store?” He asked.

“Yes. Why?” She asked. 

“Because we have another hour of drive time ahead of us, and I don’t know if you’ll be able to return to that town. Can you call Ophelia and have her meet us in Cravalho? Tell her to get to the town and call you from the first gas station she sees, then we’ll figure out where to meet. Tell her anything you want to get her there. Tell her the truth if you want. Just don’t,” He shot her a sideways glance to make sure she was listening, “Listen, don’t tell her about the twilight potion, okay? There will be time for that later.”

“The twil-?”

“The thing that turned us gray.” He picked up Margery’s cell phone from the mount on the car’s dash, “Call her now. It won’t be long before those guys realize she is the closest link to catching you. They have already figured out that you’re a link to getting to me, and they’ll do anything to get to me. And – tell her to bring Herman. Gerald loves cats, and Herman will fit right in.”

Margery took the cell phone, and when she unlocked her screen there was a missed call from her neighbor, Cindy Moore, coupled with a voicemail. When Margery saw the time stamp, her heart fell. It was from two minutes ago. She touched the voicemail notification and when the robotic voice asked for her password through the car’s speakers, Margery plugged it in. After the robot lady informed Margery of her new message, the car was filled with the small, watery voice of a frightened teenage girl, “Hey Mrs. T, it’s Penny from next door. I – I need to tell you something. I – I should have told you before, but – I didn’t think anyone would listen to me – but I -” The girl’s voice sucked in a breath, “That day when your house was robbed, I – I saw something that I wanted to forget, something that I told myself I hadn’t seen. I didn’t want to tell the cops because – well,” The girl trailed off again, and in a muffled voice suggesting she had covered the receiver whispered, “Come on, Penny, you can do this,” Her voice came back louder and clearer now, “The thing is, Mrs. T that this thing came back again tonight, and this time I know, I know that my mind wasn’t playing tricks- I know you’re probably not going to believe me, but – I saw your car at your house today. I also saw the man in the suit enter your home. He looked like one of the thieves, so I tried to call you and warn you – I think that must have scared him off because I watched him leave right after the phone rang. I never saw you, but I did see your car drive away after the man was gone. I hope that was you, Mrs. T., I hope you’re safe. The creature came after you were gone. Four of those black vehicles showed up at your house. More men in suits got out, more even then that day, but there were also these – things with them,” Margery shot a look at Arthur that he exchanged only for a moment, “They were wrong Mrs. T. It looked like – I was upstairs in my bedroom, but from there, it looked like – these things walked on their hands. Their necks were – too long, too- bendy. They curled up from the shoulders underneath and were able to look up and pivot around at all the men in the yard. Their legs were up in the air, their feet hanging at an uncomfortable angle over their heads. This part may have been my imagination, but, everything outside seemed to grow a bit darker when they got out of the car, and I was having a harder time seeing them. They stayed for a long time Mrs. T. Maybe 15 minutes or so before one of the creatures shrieked and… and… he killed one of the men in the suits. I don’t know how he did it. There was a sound that I – I felt more than heard, and the next thing I saw was one of the men in suits with his head spun backward, dropping to his knees and falling flat. The creature swung its neck and spoke to one of the men in the suits. I couldn’t hear their words, just their voices, and the dead man was dragged away and stuck in the back of an SUV. I don’t know what this means, Mrs. T. I don’t know how to tell anyone what I saw. I just – I hope you’re alright. Please be alright. The creatures are all gone now, but if they came back once, they might do it again. If you get this Mrs. T, then don’t come home again. Please. Don’t come home again.”

A woman’s voice filled the car next, “End of Message. To delete this message press seven, to save it in the archives press nine, to hear more options, press zero.”

The phone gave a low boop as Margery ended the call.

*****

If you enjoyed this story intro, and you’d like to know what happens next, then please say so in the comments below! If commenting on, and following blogs isn’t your thing, then feel free to follow me on Twitter for regular updates @ChoiceWords2 – more social media accounts will be made as I start to figure this internet thing out, so stay tuned!

Writing Prompts Used:

These are again from Bryn Donovan’s 5000 Writing Prompts book on Amazon
**Note: Each prompt was chosen using a random number generator

150 General Fiction Prompts
46. A divorcing woman whose husband is moving out of the house needs a roommate, fast – and finds one who’s very different from her.

100 Prompts Based On Occupation
60. Perfume designer

Weight Loss

I have a confession to make. I started a trendy diet. I know, I know, your first thoughts are probably, “She conformed to societal pressures through body shaming! Tragedy is thy name!” I assume this is your first thought because this is exactly what my first thought used to be whenever someone started a new food fad. However, after a few recent events, some serious soul searching, and a substantial amount of self-help books, my entire view of weight loss has completely changed. Allow me to give a little background information on my life.

My mother was adopted. This means that she and I have no medical history to share between the two of us- nothing, nada, zip. “But, Ashley,” you might say, as my doctors before you have, “Surely you have half your medical history. What about your father’s side?” To you, I will say what I’ve reiterated to my doctors time and again, “Yes, you’re probably right. When I hear from him next, I’ll be sure to ask about that, right after I find out what was so much better than watching his daughter grow up into a semi-functioning adult.” I know, “ouch.” You can say it again if it makes you feel better, but hey, at least I can have a sense of humor about it. In his defense, he does come out of the woodwork to text, call, or facebook message once or twice a year. In these calls, he will usually spend a good two to five hours lamenting me with his present woes. Funny how, in these annual conversations, I never seem to remember to add, “Oh yeah, by the way, all your dead and dying relatives, what ailments did and do they have? Is there anything that I should be concerned about, genetically speaking?” Somehow I think the answer would end up being a bewildered, “I don’t know!”

Failed genetic record-keeping aside, one of these significant life events was a $200 genetic test kit that also assessed our health. Myself, my mother, brother, and yes, even the estranged father (after I gifted him the kit for father’s day) took this test. There was nothing too surprising, and I was told a lot of things I already knew, such as the fact that I’m 100% pure white person (which my sugar-free almond milk latte could have told you already), with the most substantial majority of that being British and Irish (redhead, duh). There is, contrary to my father’s insistence, no percentage of Native American anywhere in me (which I already knew thanks to my ivory complexion). I also had little to no genetic tendencies towards any unsavory degenerative diseases or recessive this-and-that’s which could be passed to all the offspring I’ll never have, which was a bit of a relief (though, since I’ve already decided I will be living forever, I was unsurprised by this as well).

It was my mom who got the breakthrough in the form of a second cousin on her mother’s side of the family. I think I was the one to start up a dialogue with this cousin, and using the information my mother and I provided her, she clicked us into her family tree. This girl, I kid you not – her family tree went all the way back to the 1400’s! The mother stinking 1400’s people! Do you know how excited we were to have this information! Granted, we didn’t know what to do with it, and technically we still don’t know what to do with it, since it was just a bunch of names, birth dates, and death date- a lot of death dates. That was when I figured it out – everyone on my mother’s side of the family, including the only sibling of her’s we could find a record of, all died in their 50’s and their 60’s, with one grandmother who had married into the line dying in her 70’s. Guys, my mother is in her 50’s!

This information was upsetting, but not particularly core-shaking nor life-altering. The real heavy blow came some few days later when my mother went to her general practitioner for some antibiotics when her bronchitis had started back up again. They were getting through the initial check-in and taking her vitals when the nurse frowned. They’d been taking my mom’s blood pressure and the nurse, sounding a little hesitant, declared they were going to try that again. She tried it a third time and then excused herself from the room. She came back in with a second nurse, and they brought between them a large machine and declared they were going to try again. They took my mom’s blood pressure five total times before announcing that they were admitting her to the ER. My mother’s blood pressure was 221 / 122. If you Google a chart of blood pressure ranges they all end at 190 / 120. My mother was in the stroke zone with no knowledge of her situation nor any perceived symptoms. My entire reality had been shaken to its very core. In that one day, I went from seeing my mother as an indestructible female version of He-Man, to someone mortal who won’t be around to scold me one day, and whom I won’t be able to torment endlessly with my superior wit. I realized that one day, and one day soon if she didn’t tear down and restructure her entire way of living, my mother would be gone, and with her, my sense of security, my place of fall-back if adulting becomes too much for me to bear. This was quite a shift in perception for me.

I was frantic, texting my mom every fifteen minutes for updates, calling my grandmother who had been calling the doctor’s directly, and getting whatever updates they’d been willing to give her after my mom had permitted them to speak to her. My mom called me about five hours later from the BlueTooth in her car to say they’d discharged her and she was heading home. We talked a bit about what the doctor had said and what they had done before my mom announced that she was next up in line. “In line where?” I had asked. She was at Starbucks! I shrieked at her to get out of the line! She was genuinely confused as to what she had done wrong. “What in the seven hells do you think caffeine is going to do to your blood pressure, Mom?” I demanded of the receiver (Side Note: I am so glad that my mother hates reading and will therefore never read this post).

Needless to say, nothing has changed. My mom takes her blood pressure pills, but most of her life has stayed the same. She skips a few extra mochas here and there and pretends she’s doing something beneficial for herself. She goes to the gym three days a week (though with the number of times she and her personal trainer cancel on each other, it balances out to once a week) and my mom is considering signing up for an individual meal service, but I know that she’ll finish those meals and then go see what other junk food is lurking around the house. These events, these facts, these hard checks on reality have done nothing to instill a sense of seriousness in her. Life is a never-ending joke and has never been anything for my mother to take seriously.

I have spent my life coming to terms with the fact that my relationship with my mother, though playful and sisterly, has been extremely codependent. It’s been a 12-year road to realizing that I can never hope to convince her to change any of her self-destructive behaviors. However, this acceptance doesn’t have to mean I can’t do anything to regain some sense of control over life’s events. Between the family tree and my mother’s medical situation, I realized that there was something to be gained, and there were actions that could be taken to save a life, to save my life. See, if I am going to achieve my life-long goal of immortality (not amortal, immortal, mind you), then I had better start by getting my own eating habits and weight under control. I am 5’ 4” barely, and at my last heaviest weight I had been 223 pounds. I didn’t actually weigh myself before I started the diet, and therefore, I could have been worse than I realized. I was a size XXL with a 48 DDD bra, and I hated shopping for clothing items of any kind. Today, I still hate shopping for clothes, because I’m broke and clothes are expensive, and shopping is stupid. That said, a mere four months after my mother’s health crisis, I’m 181.4 pounds, a size medium and a 43 D bra (which is actually too big for me now that I think about it, but I do not want to buy another one yet).

What was my secret to losing all that weight? Well, I just gave it to you. The diet that I’m on isn’t the point. The food that I choose or the supplements that I take also don’t matter. What mattered was my “Why.” What mattered was the motivation behind finding a diet that worked for me and then making that choice day, after day, after day, to stick with it. What mattered were the days when I would wake up, consider eating something that I knew would set me back, and then reach for that feeling of determination and chose to start all over again from a stance of resolution. People always say that we can do anything that we put our minds to, but that saying is meaningless if we don’t have a strong enough, “why.” If you want to make a change in your life, whether it’s your diet, your weight, or a goal for your career, then you need to know exactly what it is that you’re working towards and you need to make sure you genuinely want it. Find a way to let go of the excuses that are holding you back, and make your “why” as specific as you possibly can and as achievable as you possibly can so that you don’t sabotage yourself before you even get started.

I know a lot of this is “easier said than done,” but believe it or not, there is a lot of outstanding help out there. For those of us unable to afford a counselor or a personal trainer or a dietitian, there are self-help books, podcasts, motivational YouTuber’s, audiobooks, bloggers, and so much more! There are whole communities of men and women out there ready to support you and become your cheer squad. You need to understand that you are worth more than the life you were given at birth, whether it was a good one or a bad one, and that there are people out there who are excited to help you grow into the dreams you were born to make happen.

I won’t list the things that have helped me here, today, in this post, for fear that it will be perceived as an advertisement and therefore diminish the impact of my words. If you want some suggestions on where to start your personal growth journey, or where to turn to get over life’s next hurdle, feel free to leave me a comment below with a description of the personal goal that you’ve been struggling to overcome. I’m not going to pretend to have any level of expertise, but I do generally have a book, podcast, or another auditory medium I can recommend for just about any topic. I hope we can grow together as a community, and maybe, just maybe, we can build up our own little cheer squad here on this site to boost each other up on those rough days when we just want that dang frosted cookie. If anyone has a success story they’d like to share, I would also like to invite you to share with us in the comments.

I look forward to hearing from you all, and I hope that your comments will inspire my next personal insight. Until then, take care of yourself, and make sure to drink your water today!

Wool/Joma™ Wool

Now, What’s the Big Deal With Wool?

Wool is a highly favored fiber for many reasons. Like silk (see my article on silk here), wool is a proteinous, renewable fiber, and unlike silk, wool is carbon dense. Sheep used for wool production are generally allowed to graze in spacious, open fields and spend their days consuming plant matter. Plants extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in their tissue for later use in tissue growth and photosynthesis. As the sheep digest the plant fibers, the carbon is then extracted from the plant and used in the production of wool, where it is then stored. Fifty percent of wools weight is pure carbon. This carbon is stored in the wool for the duration of its life, thus removing it from our atmosphere, and since wool is the most heavily recycled fabric on the planet, that life is very long. Wool is also praised for its ability to clean the air around it by absorbing chemicals from its environment such as formaldehyde, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide which it then locks away like the carbon (5). When wool inevitably reaches the end of its use, it is 100% biodegradable (3,28). 

Unlike silk, wool is not a smooth strand but a crimped fiber. This natural crimping prevents the wool fibers from laying side by side, instead forcing the fibers to construct hundreds of tiny air pockets throughout the animals coat. The air trapped in these pockets is then able to be warmed by the body, which is exactly how the sheep insulates its own core.The construction of this fiber also adds bounce, loft and supportive contour which comes into play most readily in our mattresses (1). The quality of wool depends on the animal it comes from, and the manufacturing process by which it goes through. Cashmere, for instance, is a smooth and silk-like thread that is soft to the touch and used in clothes meant for layering or for warmer climates, while the hair from a black sheep is so rough and course that it can’t even be used in clothing manufacturing (Side note, did you know most black sheep are castrated or worse since they are considered to have “bad genes” that are undesirable if spread to the herd, hence the phrase “black sheep of the family?” I’ll never use that phrase lightly again). The thread in which the wool is woven into also makes a difference. Threads such as “worsted thread,” a favorite in men’s suits, is combed over and over and over again to remove as much of the natural crimping as possible, whereas the threads in your favorite scruffy sweater or tweed jacket are left loose and jagged (6).

This leads us into Joma™ wool which is found in a few of the mattresses my company carries. The JomaWoolⓇ company is located in New Zealand and relies on the participation of local New Zealand farmers to acquire their wool. The sheep are all free roaming and their farmers all follow the five freedoms rule (Freedom from hunger and thirst. Freedom from discomfort. Freedom from pain, injury or disease. Freedom to express normal behaviour. Freedom from fear and distress). For more on the ethical practices of the JomaWoolⓇ company, click here. To make Joma™ wool, the raw product is run through a crimping machine with an end result of curly on steroids. This added texture grants hyper focused levels of bounce and support to the fibers. The wool is then pressed and compacted down into its packaging, and if opened, would spring back into its original volume. This is the same premise as our pocketed coils. When a theoretical coil of 8 inches is compressed down into a 6 inch bag, it creates a constant force always pressing upwards, trying to escape. This technology gives the wool push-back and offers a greater level of support and body alignment.

In sum, wool is a carbon dense fiber that removes harmful CO2 from the environment for the duration of its life. Wool is 100% renewable, biodegradable, and recyclable. The wool used in our mattresses is harvested from ethically farmed and cared for sheep. Wool traps in pockets of clean air and allows the body to heat it up preventing those in contact from getting cold. Wool also filters the air around it, removing and trapping harmful chemicals inside its structure thus creating a healthier sleep environment. Wool adds life to a bed and yet again extends the quality you can expect out of your investment. Why wouldn’t you want something healthy and natural in your sleeping environment?

Source List

  1. https://joma.nz/ourwool
  2. https://www.iwto.org/wool-industry
  3. https://www.iwto.org/sustainability
  4. https://www.iwto.org/sites/default/files/files/iwto_resource/file/Green%20Wool%20Facts_April%202014.pdf
  5. http://oregonshepherd.com/why-use-wool/
  6. https://www.realmenrealstyle.com/man-wool-fabrics/
  7. https://www.brintons.co.uk/why-choose-wool

Silk

The Luxury of Silk In Mattresses and Bedding

According to Chinese legend, sericulture, or silk production, originated in China during the reign of the Yellow Emperor in 3,000 BC when it was taught to the people by his wife, Lady Hsi-Ling-Shih, the goddess of silk. Archeological evidence, on the other hand, suggests that silk production might be twice as old, if not older. In 1924, silk eggs were discovered dating back to around 2300 BC. Later, silk ribbons were found dating back to around 3000 BC. More recently, an ivory cup with carvings of silkworms was found alongside sericulture tools. All date back to around 6,000 – 7,000 BC (1). These findings show that humans owe a longstanding loyalty to silk.

There are over 500 varieties of silk moth in the world, and an even crazier number of silk producing insects as well as arachnids (spider webs), but only three species of silk moth are used commercially. Those moths are Bombyx mori, Samia cynthia, and Antheraea pernyi. B. mori is a blind, flightless, domesticated moth and is not found in the wild. B. mori also has a very unique diet – it only eats the leaves of the mulberry tree. B. mori produces the most lustrous silk of the three. S. cynthia only eats the leaves of trees belonging to the Ailanthus genus or “The Tree of Heaven,” and has a coarse, yet more durable silk which is more affordable than B. mori silk. A. pernyi, or the Chinese tussah moth, is the one who lends his name to “wild silk,” which is commonly known as Tussah silk or Ahimsa silk. Wild silk is produced by any species of moth other than B. mori. (2)

Silk is made up largely from insoluble protein fibroin and protected by a coating of a water-soluble protective gum known as sericin (about 25-30% of raw silk protein). Silk proteins form into triangular prisms which allow the fiber to catch and refract light in many dazzling ways giving silk its notable shimmer. Most of the sericin (but not all) is stripped during processing and discarded as a pollutant, however, studies have shown some benefit to sericin. Sericin has proven to be antibacterial, UV resistant, oxidative resistant and possesses moisturizing properties. In cases where sericin was separated from the degumming liquor, this biomolecule mixed well into creams and shampoos to make them more moisturizing and was blended into textiles, making them more resistant to molds, bacteria, and overall wearing (5). Some websites I stumbled across that talked up their silk sheets even indicated that the sercin left behind in the silk offered restorative, anti-aging properties to the user.

Despite less expensive, synthetic fabrics such as rayon appearing in the world, silk production has doubled over the last thirty years, with about fifty percent of all silk originating out of China and Japan (1). This increase in demand is due to several factors. One being that silk is smooth to the touch without being slippery like its synthetic counterparts. It is one of the strongest fibers produced by nature and silk only loses 20% of its strength when fully saturated as opposed to rayon’s 75%. Silk is not particularly flexible, however, and when forced to stretch tends to stay stretched, whereas rayon has a nicer bounce-back, especially when married with polyester and spandex. Both rayon and silk are prone to shrinkage and dry cleaning is recommended over machine washing. Silk is also a poor conductor of electricity and is prone to static cling unlike rayon (2). However, this low conductivity is also a good thing as it keeps warm air close to the skin in low temperatures, and its high absorbency makes it a favored fabric for hot places and for physical exertion, since as the fabric absorbs moisture it becomes cooler.

Silk production has seen a rise in criticism in the 21st century since the silkworm is typically killed in the extraction process and is then later eaten or used in fish food. For this reason, the industry has seen an upswing in wild silk, which is produced largely by S. cynthia and A. pernyi. These two species of moth cannot be cultivated in a domestic setting, and therefore most of these cocoons have already been vacated by the time they are retrieved. When a moth is ready to escape its cocoon, it produces a chemical that fills the cocoon and bores a hole in one side so that it may escape. This chemical damages some of the silk fibers resulting in shorter strands. Long-fibered silk from a B. mori (which was not allowed to complete metamorphosis) is reeled when processed, while short fibers from S. cynthia and A. pernyi are spun (7).

I do not know whether the mattress industry as a whole tends to use more domestic silk or if they prefer wild silk for their products. I spent a sizeable amount of time looking for this information and had this vague memory in the back of my head of one of our sales reps telling me the industry tends to use a method of silk extraction that doesn’t kill the worm. Could it be possible that mattresses prefer wild silk instead of domestic silk? It certainly makes the most sense looking at the processes involved in their making. When a B. mori caterpillar weaves its cocoon, it uses one continuous line of silk for the entire process. When the cocoons are later boiled, the end of the silk string is found and the cocoon carefully unspun. One cocoon can reach over 3,300 feet, meaning it would take only ten cocoons stretched vertically to reach the height of Mount Everest! These long fibers are then spun together, requiring up to ten individual silk fibers to make one silk “thread.” Wild silk, since it has been damaged by the emerging moth, has been severed into many short fibers, and is, therefore, a better contestant for “loose fiber” silk/wool blend (which is what we have in many of our natural mattress lines). This is all speculation, of course, all I do know is that every ingredient that goes into our US made mattress is OEKO-TEX Ⓡ certified. OEKO-TEXⓇ will be further expounded upon in my piece on latex.

In sum, silk is one of the strongest fibers generated by nature. It’s excellent at cooling a body down, is highly absorbent, and is smooth to the touch without being slippery. The sericin that remains in the silk after degumming is believed to have restorative properties and is naturally antimicrobial. There are two types of silk, domestic and wild, and it’s not entirely far-fetched to believe our mattresses use wild silk for their filler. Silk not only adds to a products story of longevity, but also to its breathable, temp-regulating story.

  1. http://www.silkroadfoundation.org/artl/silkhistory.shtml
  2. http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Silk
  3. http://textilelearner.blogspot.com/2011/08/characteristics-of-silk-fabrics_5368.html
  4. http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Protein
  5. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/biochemistry-genetics-and-molecular-biology/sericin
  6. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/fibroin
  7. https://www.ehow.com/how_8163302_determine-silk-rayon.html
  8. https://www.oeko-tex.com/en/business/business_home/business_home.xhtml
  9. http://www.silkewerk.com/rtsr.html
Featured

The Purpose of This Blog

First and foremost I’d like to say “welcome” so- Welcome! Welcome to my blog, and thank you so much for showing interest in my interests.

Second, I thought it might be a good idea to explain and outline my hopes and dreams for this little project of mine. I will start with my personal goals and things I hope to gain, and then I’ll outline my hopes and expectations from you, the reader.

Personal Goals:

  • I hope this blog will offer incentive to keep me writing and practicing the art of shaping my thoughts with words.
  • It’s an excuse to get my 1,000 words or more completed each day by creating a sense of commitment to you, my treasured supporters.
  • It’s an excuse to exercise many of the writing prompts I’ve found intriguing, and to push myself to write stories and genres I would normally be afraid of approaching.
  • It’s an excuse to visit a new world and new characters on a regular basis so that I don’t burnout on a piece the size of a novel

My Hopes For You The Reader:

  • I hope to receive constructive feedback from you the readers that will help shape me into a stronger writer
  • If you think a change or clarification needs to be made, let me know! I am always willing to change, edit, and improve my pieces if I feel the suggestions are a good match for my personal style and voice.
  • I wish to hear which stories you loved and which ones you didn’t.
  • I want to hear which ones you are craving more of.

How You The Reader Will Personally Shape My Content:

The goal of this blog is to push myself to explore worlds and characters and stories that I wouldn’t have explored, yes, but I have another hope- a grander hope. As stories begin to receive feedback, and as readers start asking to know what happens next or what happened before, I will go back and revisit my story snippets. I wish to build upon the stories, enter these worlds once again and expand them into a mini-series- almost like comic books, but without the pictures. These are my visions, my dreams of the future of this blog. So what do you say? Will you help me shape the future of this site?

Writing Prompt #3 : The Ashen Grove

Note: Don’t forget, if you like this story and want to know what happens next, leave a comment requesting more! My aim is to revisit the stories with the highest demand and add more to them.

I didn’t use any dialogue prompts in this one, because if I had, this story would have been even longer. Story prompts will be at the bottom.

By popular request:

Pronunciation Guide:

  • Kieroan Virhorn – Keer-own Veer-horn
  • Jhaeros – Har- ohs
  • Shivonnan Coarvim – She-vohn-uhn Core-vim
  • Aoersis – Ear-sis
  • Éadaoin – A-deen
  • Saoirse – Sear-sha
  • Crónán – Say – crow-nawn

Feel free to ask for more pronunciations in the comments below.

The Ashen Grove

Kieroan Virhorn sank to his knees in front of a massive white ash. The deciduous giant stood in the center of a dense grove. Trees of all varieties formed perfect circles which radiated out from this centermost point. The ash was one of the largest of its kind, if not the largest, with a trunk that measured well over eight meters in girth and which reached some 40 meters into the air. Its bark was as dark and gray as the substance for which it was named, and its branches creaked and moaned as the wind passed solemnly between them.

Kieroan reached up and lay a steady hand on the scaled, swollen bark of the trunk as his face flowed through a series of unmasked emotions. The Elvone had known what he would find in this grove, but seeing it for himself made it all too real. The tree was truly and unmistakably dead, and with it, so was his Queen.

“I knew I would find you here,” A man’s calm voice broke through the grove behind him.

Without turning, Kieroan answered, “All these years, and never once did I leave her side. I knew to go to Brinstrand was the wrong move, but what was I to do? I could not disobey my Queen…”

“Hush, Kieroan.” Came the voice of Jhaeros, Right Hand of the King and Voice of the King in his absence. He was also Kieroan’s oldest and dearest friend. Jhaeros spoke again, “You can not blame yourself. If you had been there, the only thing that would be different now would be one more dead tree in a grove of death. We are praising our good fortune that you are still here to guide us in this hard time.”

Kieroan’s throat worked visibly as he forced down the emotions swelling inside his chest. Heat pressed at his eyes, and as he blinked, a tear rolled down his porcelain cheek. Jhaeros was right, of course, but that knowledge, that fact that there was nothing Kieroan could have done, felt as foreign and unbelievable as the idea of never seeing Shivonnan again. Kieroan’s imagination had been racing since the moment he’d heard the devastating news. He played the scene in his mind a hundred thousand different ways, each time coming up with a new solution, a different chance to save his bloodsworn. He was the best strategist the Matridom had at its disposal. It was hard for him to accept that he would not have had enough time to prevent what was now already done if he’d simply been where he was always meant to be.

His forehead dropped onto the trunk, causing the sharp corners of textured bark to press sharply into his flesh. His fingernails scrapped over the dry scales, desperate to feel close to her again, to caress her cheek, to tuck a strand of cotton-white hair behind her delicately pointed ear. The hard and dry indifference of the rotting trunk only made this need all the more intense. The fact that he would never have that closeness, never smell the lilac perfume of Shivonnan’s eggplant-colored skin again, stirred the rebel inside of him and every electrolyte in his body surged with violent denial at his new reality.

He did not know how long Jhaeros let him sit there. In fact, he’d forgotten that Jhaeros was even there at all, and the delicate presence of a compassionate hand on his shoulder caused Kieroan to start. “Come. There will be ample time to grieve and to heal. I think you’ve spent enough of it in this place for one night.” Reluctantly, Kieroan stood on stiff and awkward limbs. His legs had long ago fallen asleep, he’d simply chosen not to care. Jhaeros caught him as he stumbled, and the two made their way back to the palace.

*****

The Palace of the Fae Queen was built amongst the bows of many sturdy Heart Trees. The trees belonged solely to members from both houses of The Greater Fae Parliament. The members had served as pillars of the Greater Fae Dominion for more than three thousand years, and the decision to use their heart trees as the building blocks for the physical representation of their work seemed only logical. Special care had been taken to cause the least amount of damage to the trees, and the carpentry expenses had been a very terse subject among the lesser social classes for a few centuries. The palace was only two centuries away from celebrating its first millennia, and already it had been the home of three queens, soon to be a fourth. Never in recorded Fae history had such a thing occurred.

The palace was dark by the time Kieroan had found his way back to the royal living quarters. The lamps were filled with exhausted fireflies that drifted around inside the glass jars of each wall sconce. The lamps were not sealed, and the flies were no prisoners, this was simply their nightly job. When they heard someone coming, they would light the way, and once the visitor had passed, they were free to go about doing whatever it was they wished.

Kieroan entered what looked like a common room. There was a large hearth with dying embers to one side surrounded by goose feather poofs, armchairs and couches. Bookshelves lined several walls, and two desks were set up side by side among them. Tapestries covered the bare patches of wall and rugs littered the floor to insulate the room and save bare feet from the harshness of a cold floor. Kieroan stopped in front of a door on the far end of the common room and held his breath as he listened. He could hear the soft murmur of young female voices on the other side. The whispers warmed his heart only for a moment before the loss came crashing back. He sucked in a breath, smoothed his hair, straightened his clothes, and opened the door.

Inside was a bedroom with two beds separated by an end table. Perched on the edge of each bed were one of two girls, each looking to be in their pre-teens. The girl to the left was the picture-perfect image of her mother, with the same eggplant-colored skin, hair as white as sun-bleached ivory, and eyes a vibrant shade of crimson. The girl on the right took after her father, with pale grey skin sporting plum undertones, hair as black as ravens feathers and eyes of lavender. Both girls wore their hair down for sleep and were in their nightclothes. There were no lanterns in this room, but a glowing orb of light hung in the air above them. It was a simple spell, most likely cast by the girl on the left who loved to flaunt her magical prowess. Both girls jolted to attention as the door opened, and in a matter of seconds, Kieroan was staggering to stay upright as he was enveloped in two, tight hugs.

Kieroan sank to his knees and hugged the girls properly while planting kisses in their hair. The raven-haired girl, Saoirse was crying, while Éadaoin, who was the first to be born and therefore the eldest by a matter of mere minutes, held her chin high and made a show of her emotional restraint. Éadaoin and Saoirse were the daughters of Shivonnan, born of a union between Shivonnan and her late bloodsworn, Crónán, who had died in the battle to protect the late Queen Aoersis. Kieroan loved these two girls with all the strength of a true father, and the girls loved him back as well as any stepchild could. Now, it seemed, they were all each other had left.

Gods, he thought, They’re orphans. Kieroan wept freely now, his body shaking as he held the girls a little tighter. Even Éadaoin wiped her cheeks against Kieroan’s shoulder.

*****

After leaving the two girls, Kieroan made one more stop before retiring to his bedchamber. He entered a common room similar to the one he’d just left, and crossed it into the room of a small boy who looked to be no more than four years of age, though in truth he’d be celebrating his twentieth name day soon. Time passed differently for the Fae than it did for the other races of the land. Kieroan sat on the edge of the sleeping child’s bed and counted his breaths. The boy was fairer than his two half-sisters. His skin was faintly touched with gray, though in the dim light of the room, he looked as porcelain as the father who sat beside him. Kieroan brushed a strand of white hair away from his brow, and the boy stirred but didn’t wake. He did not know how long he sat in this room, watching his son’s peaceful face, as he mourned all of the moments and unmade memories his child had now lost.

In his own room, Kieroan was restless. He had known that sleep would never visit him on this night and had, therefore, wasted no time attempting to coax it upon him. He instead paced through his bedchamber, mind racing. It had been roughly a fortnight past that the fatal news had reached Kieroan and his army on the road back from Brinstrand, and it had taken the rider equally as long to contact them. The ambush had been thorough, the messenger had told him, and his Queen’s entourage had been overtaken in a matter of minutes. The Orckin were ruthless warriors and barbarians. They had spared only one of the Elven in the convoy, a squire to Serr Cravos, though not without holding him prisoner for days to truly trauma soak the poor child. When at last they sent him back to the castle, it was astride an ass since they had butchered the last of the horses for meat. The Orckin had sent him with a warning and told him to recall all he had seen on that day so as to instill fear throughout the Matridom. He told no one, save the Council- thank the gods, but the realm had still needed to be informed of the Queen’s fate, and, brutal details aside, there was still a tense unease settling in among its citizens.

Kieroan’s heart sank as he tallied up the time that had passed since his bloodsworn had been wrenched away from him. His Queen had been gone for nearly two months, no wonder her heart’s tree had already started to look withered. Shivonnan’s reign had been a short one as it had barely surpassed a century. As the Queen’s Right Hand and Voice of the Queen, she had been the only logical pick for the position after the death of Queen Aoersis, who had passed away quite suddenly to a wasting disease. The Greater Fae Council had voted unanimously in Shivonnan’s favor. Now they would have to choose again, and Kieroan, as the elected king, would have to be the figurehead of the proceedings. He would be present at the Council meeting tomorrow which would decide the candidate for the new Queen, but his presence would be a mere courtesy since his title held no real political sway. He would also be responsible for overseeing the public announcements, which meant he would be expected to travel from capital to capital to declare the election results and the date of the coronation. He would host social galas to introduce the new Queen, and be the one overseeing the coronation itself. He had been, thankfully enough, spared the duty of having to declare the death announcements since he had been on the other side of the Matridom when the incident occurred. That mournful task had instead fallen on Jhaeros.

The fact that Kieroan was also the Queen’s bloodsworn would not be taken into account in the weeks to come. This was because a romantic blood oath between the Queen and the king, an elected figurehead, was highly unconventional. If news of their coupling had reached beyond the walls of the palace it would have caused scandal throughout the dominions. This secret had always been an easy one for Kieroan to keep since his love for Shivonnan had always been a deeply personal experience. He took strength from the fact that it remained untainted and unobserved by the world. He had once told Shivonnan that the world would warp what they had, twist it, and shift the ownership of their union into the hands of those who could never understand it. Shivonnan had agreed with him on the surface, but she’d also been very vocal about the guilt she felt and compared their secret to a lie. Her loyalty to her people was everything to her, and lying to them felt impure.

Kieroan was twisting his oath band around his ring finger when the knock came upon his door, “Who is it,” He moved to a window and brushed the heavy curtains aside to reveal a stream of sunlight. When had the sun come up?

“M’Lord King, Jhaeros begs your presence,” His guard called through the door.

“Send him in,” Kieroan chanced a glance at his looking glass and saw that his appearance was about what he had feared. There were bags under his spring-green eyes, and his face was strained with exhaustion. His high cheekbones stood out sharper than he was accustomed to and his chin bore an unkempt sprout of beard which was in desperate need of maintaining. His long golden hair was disheveled and greasy, and his clothes looked as though he’d been wearing them for days because he had been.

When the door opened, Jhaeros came billowing into the room in fresh robes. His short brown hair was newly styled, his golden eyes were sharp from a night of rest, and his shimmering bronze-colored face was freshly powdered. He smelled of spices with a hint of lavender. He froze when he saw Kieroan, and his expression fell. “I assume your night went about as well as I’d feared it would. Did you at least try to sleep?”

“No,” Kieroan said curtly. “Is it time for the council to convenes?”

“Oh, please, I’m hurt. You should at least know me well enough to know that I know you better than that! They convene at midday, which leaves more than enough time for me to make you presentable. Come on, I’ve already ordered you a bath.”

The warm water had been a welcome respite to his travel-sore muscles. When he’d commented on this, the servants added a tincture of fragrant oils to the water that they said would further relax his tension. He hadn’t even minded the help offered by the servants who scrubbed him until his skin turned pink and washed his hair with lavender soaps.

After the bathing was finished, the servants ushered him into a seat where they could prep his appearance. Kieroan had tried to object to all the pampering, but Jhaeros would hear none of it, and Kieroan was far too exhausted to argue. Some of the servants worked on combing out the many tangles in his wind-blown hair and did so with an enchanted comb so that his hair would dry all the faster. Once it was damp and not sodden, they twisted and braided and wove the top part of his long hair into an intricate half circle that secured in place the silver circlet which was the symbol of his office. The intricate pattern his hair made ended in a knot at the back of his head while leaving the underside of his hair down past his shoulders. The other half of the servants busied themselves with his face and hands and feet. They shaved his face clean and rubbed oils into his skin to make it soft. They drew on black paint around his eyes for definition and painted his lips to bring some life back into them before finishing his paint off with the same powder that frequently adorned Jhaeros. His hands and feet were scrubbed with porous stones to remove any dry or callused skin from the traveling. They trimmed and shaped his nails and massaged fragrant oils into his skin to make it soft once again.

“Have you thought at all about who you’ll have me elect?” Jhaeros asked from the lounge chair behind him as he picked fastidiously from a basket of fruit. It was considered a dishonor to the former Queen for her king to nominate a candidate at Council. Instead, suggestions were to be left up to the King’s Right Hand, so that the king could be left to grieve. However, it was common practice for the king to choose, and the King’s Voice to agree, though you’d never catch anyone at court giving voice to such a notion.

“I thought I’d leave that up to you,” Kieroan’s said, dryly.

“I thought that’s what you’d say,” Jhaeros popped a grape into his mouth and made a face, “They are always bitter this time of year. Oh well. Anyway, I was thinking we’d play it safe then and nominate, Magdaleen. As the Queen’s Right Hand and the Voice of the Queen, she’s the most obvious candidate, and it will stir no unwanted scandals, which is the last thing our already full plat needs.”

Jhaeros grunted, unable to nod since a servant had his chin held firmly in place while he worked, “Magdaleen is a good choice. It would be an honor to serve her.”

“Indeed,” Jhaeros said, his tone heavy with contemplation.

Once Kieroan was fully dressed and pronounced a sight to make women weep from joy, he stood before the silver looking glass. He could hardly recognize himself. He sucked his lower lip into his mouth to chew on it anxiously, but caught himself in the mirror and thought better of it. I’ll be pleased if this polish lasts until the whole hall is seated, Kieroan thought, Gods give me strength.

*****

“And now for our most pressing order of business,” The High Speaker, Elder Grunwynn, called out, his voice filling the circular room which was occupied by over a thousand Lords, and elders and leaders of innumerable titles and monikers. Each represented a different group or race of Fae who had once been free and independent nomades, all of which had either been annexed into the Greater Fae Dominion after conquering or had joined willingly for the protections the Dominion had to offer.

“As you all know, our Great Queen Shivonnan was taken from us some three-and-a-half fortnights past. As many of you may not yet know, last night, our Noble King, Kieroan Virhorn, made his return to our fair city.” Kieroan’s attention snapped onto the High Speaker. His thoughts had been distant through most of the proceedings, and he had that disjointed feeling one gets when they can’t remember how they arrived in their current location. Jhaeros, who sat beside him, shot him a glance and squeezed Kieroan’s knee reassuringly. “With his arrival, we may now proceed to select our new queen.” A murmur went up from the many tables filling the room. “The council would now like to open the floor for nominations for the position of Queen Regent of the Greater Fae Dominion.”

The room broke out in a thousand different voices, all talking to their neighbors or advisors. The conversations carried on for several long minutes before Jhaeros gave Kieroan an encouraging look and stood up. One by one, the room fell silent until the High Speaker called out, “And who does our King’s Hand nominate?”

“The King’s Right Hand would like to nominate the Right Hand of the Queen and Voice of the Queen in her Absence, Magdaleen of the House Thorn.”

“Very well, Jhaeros, the House hears you.” The High Speaker said with a respectful nod, “All in favor of Magdaleen of the House Thorn?”

Something close to half of the room stood in silence as the High Archivist counted the votes and made a record. Apprentice archivists ran up and down the rows of seats counting the number of standing people in each row to double check the High Archivist’s tally. When all votes were taken, the apprentices ran to stand at the foot of the High Council’s table. “You may all be seated,” The High Speaker called, “Are there any other nominations?”

Vos, the Queen of the Changelings, stood next, and nominated herself, to the surprise of no one in the room. She’d done this for every Queen’s election she’d attended. Again the crowd was asked to rise, and this time only a handful of people rose, most of which were Lords under her banner. This time, after the apprentices had done their tally and the High Speaker asked them all to sit down, he asked a new question, “Are there any among you who wish to strike your vote for Magdaleen of the House Thorn and vote instead for our Lady Vos?” None stood.

The next to stand and make a nomination was a chieftain of the tree folk, a seven-foot-tall humanoid who’s fleshy skin was dappled and brown and looked exactly like the bark of a tree with hair and beard the color of moss. He nominated a maiden of the Merfolk who had been sitting beside him. Her flesh was blue and ringed through with shades and tints of white and blue giving it the appearance of the sun dancing down through the surface of a deep pool. Her hair stood from her head like forked branches of coral, and gills opened and closed about her neck nervously. The amulet around her neck made it possible for her to be on the land. That sort of magic didn’t come cheaply, and the enchantments don’t last forever. It would be difficult for her to rule and to live in the castle, but it was doable. Kieroan’s musings were for not, however, for those that rose for her were few.

On and on the proceedings went, with different rulers declaring individuals who were important to themselves, and every once in a while individuals would stand and change their vote each being asked who they had voted for before as the High Archivist made his notations. Jhaeros had started filling Kieroan in on all the latest gossip surrounding each person as they were nominated, and Kieroan did his best to nod and appear as though he were listening or was at all interested in each invasive scandal. His mind continued to wander back to Shivonnan with every story. A few times, he thought he might break down, and a few times he thought about excusing himself from the hall, but duty put him in that seat and duty was keeping him in it.

“As you all may know, the House of Roath has prided itself on being the oldest family in the Guild of Mages.” All around the hall voices hushed as the peculiarity of the statement captured everyone’s attention. Lord Vester Roath stood amongst the crowd dressed in fine, richly colored silks. His cloak was the deep shade of blue the sky takes after the sun has settled below the distant mountains and was woven through with individual strands of silver thread so that the cloak glittered and twinkled with each subtle movement. A silver clasp secured his cloak in place, and though Kieroan could not see it from where he sat, he knew it was in the shape of a hand with a spiral of glittering clear stones set into its palm. The cloak and clasp were the standard garb for a member of the Guild of Mages.

“Magic is the defining characteristic of the whole of the Fae, and magic is what brings every race of Faekin together under one banner. For this reason, the Guild of Mages would like to see a queen who embodies this central-most foundation of our great Dominion. Therefore, House Roath would like to nominate Princess Éadaoin, Daughter of the Late Queen Shivonnan and the brightest pupil I’ve had the pleasure of mentoring in my thousand thirty years of service to the Guild.”

The room erupted into a thousand conversations at once. Voices rose and fell as the shock washed through the room. Jhaeros was sitting, dumbstruck, with his mouth hanging open while Kieroan felt the color race from his face. The sounds of the room faded as Kieroan’s mind frantically tried to understand what he was hearing. Éadaoin? His little Éadaoin? The daughter of his Lady Queen and a newly made orphan?

Jhaeros seemed to remember himself then and turned his attention onto Kieroan, “They can’t do that,” He said, “I’m nearly positive that they can’t do that. Parliament was formed specifically to prevent direct lineage rule, there’s no way that Éadaoin can legally take her mother’s office.”

Kieroan felt a touch of color return to his face as he met Jhaeros’ eyes. “Okay, you’re probably right. Besides, she’s just a child. She has no right to rule. She’s not yet a woman grown.”

“Until this fall…” Jhaeros muttered.

“What?” Kieroan blinked.

“She is not yet a woman grown until her name day this fall. The girls are about to celebrate their hundredth name day, or had you forgotten?” Jhaeros said, his body stiff with emotion. “That will be just in time for the coronation. The timing is actually quite perfect, a fact that I’m sure didn’t escape Lord Roath.”

Roath was shouting over the crowd, which eventually quieted enough for his voice to break through, “I assure you, my Lords and Leaders, this nomination is quite legal. The Guild has studied the laws, though I encourage our High Archivist to let me know if my Scholars are mistaken. While the Parliament was formed to break the cycle of direct lineage rule, it does not expressly forbid it if all vote that the decision is fair and just.”

The High Speaker looked to the High Archivist who shrugged. The room fell silent so that the old man could speak, “As far as my memory serves, Lord Roath makes a valid argument.” The room erupted in speech again, and it took several minutes of the High Archivist’s ancient hand in the air for them to fall silent once more, “However, I will consult with my peers, my books and my scrolls to make sure that such a vote is, indeed, within the scope of the law. Until then, I see no reason why we can’t simply settle the matter with a vote. If the Princess loses the vote, then perhaps an answer to this question might not be so pressing.”

“Very well,” the High Speaker called over the roar of voices, “All in favor of the Princes Éadaoin of the House Coarvim?” Nearly half of the auditorium rose. Once the apprentices finished their tallies and the High Archivist had taken his notes, the High Speaker called, “Are there any who wish to change their votes?” Several members stood up. Kieroan’s heart fell into his stomach.

Once the changes were made, and the Council once again were seated, the High Speaker called out, “Are there any final changes our Lords and Leaders would like to make to their votes? If so, stand and tell us now.” Many of the lesser lords who had voted for candidates that were clearly knocked out of the running stood now. Some changed their vote to Magdaleen, and others changed their vote to Éadaoin. Kieroan was chewing on his lip when Jhaeros’s elbow found him, “The paint,” he hissed, “You’ve nearly chewed it all off. I’ll have to fix you myself before we make any more public appearances.” Kieroan ignored him. The damage was already done, anyway. When his lip was too sore to chew anymore, he sat so rigidly that at times he forgot to breathe and was forced to suck in a lungful of air through his nose. Several long moments passed before the Archivist turned to the High Speaker and began to whisper urgently with him. Kieroan watched as anxiety twisted itself around inside his gut like a beast stretching. After several thrown hands and agitated finger jabs in various directions, the two broke apart and turned back to the room.

“My Lords and Leaders of the Council, it would seem we have on our hands a situation not yet faced by this Parliament. It appears that Lady Éadaoin and Lady Magdaleen are tied for votes.” The room exploded with noise. All around them the council members rose, shouting and gesturing and talking urgently with those closest to them.

Kieroan sank back in his seat, stunned. A tie, He thought, How can that be?

Beside him, Jhaeros sighed, “And here I was trying to avoid scandal. Instead, we end up with two of the biggest pieces of gossip our Kingdom has seen since the suicide of the Late Queen Geldriel.”           

The High Speaker held up both of his hands to signal for silence. Slowly, very slowly, the room quieted, and the council members resumed their seats. “I must say that I am at a loss for how to proceed. If any of you have a suggestion, please rise and- one at a time- we will hear your ideas. Please keep in mind that a recount is forbidden by law once the final call for vote revisions is concluded.”

Several men stood and spoke their ideas, but it was Lord Vester Roath who caught the attention of the Council, “Since it is magic that the Guild so values, and since it is magic that binds us all together under one banner, I say let us hold a tournament. Each nominee must complete tasks that the council votes upon and sets up for them, and the Lady to perform the most ambitious, cunning, and creative solutions to each puzzle will win our crown. It will be up to members of the Council to decide who is the winner of each round and consequently, who wins the ultimate prize.”

The room muttered softly among itself as this proposal was taken in. Finally, the High Speaker called, “All those in favor of Lord Roath’s suggestion?”

Every Lord in the room stood except for Kieroan.   

END

Prompts Used

Character Prompt:

5. Insomnia Disorder: for long periods of time, he is unable to get a good night’s sleep and feel well-rested.

Donovan, Bryn. 5,000 WRITING PROMPTS: A Master List of Plot Ideas, Creative Exercises, and More (p. 175). Munds Park Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Plot Prompts By Genre:

Fantasy Prompt:

135. Each person’s spirit is connected to a particular tree in the forest.

Donovan, Bryn. 5,000 WRITING PROMPTS: A Master List of Plot Ideas, Creative Exercises, and More (p. 32). Munds Park Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Classic Plot Prompts:

50 Plots From European Fairy Tales and Mythology

42. The Queen of the Fairies dies and the fairies need to elect a new one, but they have trouble deciding between two candidates. They decide whoever does the most amazing feat will win the crown. (“Rosanella,” French fairy tale.)

Donovan, Bryn. 5,000 WRITING PROMPTS: A Master List of Plot Ideas, Creative Exercises, and More (p. 145). Munds Park Publishing. Kindle Edition.