December 2, 2014
When I woke that morning, I was alone in the bed. This was not unusual as Rufus often got up early to take his “customary constitutional on Constitution”, but I was sorry anyway. Last night had been lovely, sweet and passionate at the same time. After nights like that I always wanted to wake up in his arms.
I heard the door to my bedchamber open slowly and twisted my head to see if it was he. “Oh, it’s you, Annie.” Out of kindness to the girl, I hoped she did not hear the disappointment in my voice.
“A good mornin’ to you, Senator,” she replied in her brogue. Annie is our maid of all work and came straight to Washington from somewhere near Limerick. “I am here to open your curtains and to see if you’ll be after comin’ down for breakfast or want to have a tray brought up.”
I sat up in bed and made sure my nightshirt wasn’t a scandal. “Is the Senator at home?” I asked her hopefully.
“Himself is not, sir,” she answered, grasping the heavy curtains and thrusting them apart with a clatter of the curtain rings. “Senator King went out quite early this morning.”
I sighed. It was a special day, you see. It was St. Valentine’s Day, and I so wanted to spend it with, well, my paramours is a word I have heard it called. I am sure the wags in Congress have unkinder terms than that. I had hoped to breakfast with Rufus on this special day of all days. I knew he had not forgotten, as he had made reference to the occasion when we lay together in my bed last evening.
“I shall take my meal in here then. Will you be a dear and hand me my dressing gown?”
A neat and prim little woman, no older than 25, Annie was a country girl and seemingly blessedly ignorant of the ways of the world. I once overheard her speaking with the boy who delivers produce talking in low tones. He appeared to have been telling her how my old friend Andrew Jackson called me “Miss Nancy” and my dear Rufus “Aunt Fancy”. She must have expressed some confusion as I saw him lean to her and whisper something in her ear. She drew back with a look of horror on her face and exclaimed, “Jack, no! Senator Buchanan is a very respectable statesman, so he is. He and Senator. King are just housemates. I never heard such a shameful thing in all me days,” she went on. “I am thinkin’ you have a filthy mind, Jack Hamilton.”
I was loath to believe that she was that innocent, I must tell you. But then so young and just off the boat, who knows? I saw to it she got a stern talking to by our cook, Mabel, who impressed upon the girl the importance of not sharing tales with the likes of delivery boys.
I had breakfasted and dressed and decided to go into my study and read up on two bills that my party would bring to a vote in the afternoon. I took my seat by the small fireplace to read when I happened to look up at the mantelpiece. I sat and stared for a moment, sensing something missing. I realized with a start that the empty place on the wall was where my painting of Mr. Jackson, Old Hickory, should be. It was a gift from him. “My stars!” I exclaimed. I shot up from my chair and flew to the door. When I was in the hall I shouted, “Annie! Come here this instant!”
In a moment the girl was standing before me, her eyes wide and her hands twisting anxiously in her apron. “Whatever be amiss, sir?” she asked.
“That!” I said, pointing to the bare spot on the wall.
She peered in the direction I indicated. “Sir?”
“See for yourself!” I accused.
She crept past me, crossing the room to peer closely at the wall. She carefully looked all around, her nose no more than a few inches from pressing against the wallpaper. She reached up a pale finger and touched a spot. She finally turned to me with a perplexed expression. “I be that sorry, Senator, but I’m not findin’ anything amiss.”
Making an impatient harrumph, I stated, “That is just what I mean, girl. You don’t see anything amiss… because what should be there is missing.”
She turned back and looked, then threw up her hands and said, “Saints preserve us! Why this is where that picture of that disagreeable looking old gentleman should be. What happened to it?”
“That ‘disagreeable old gentleman, as you describe him, my dear, is the seventh President of these United States, Mr. Andrew Jackson! The painting was a gift to me from that august personage. And how should I know where it’s gone? I called you in here to have you tell me that.”
Her look of chagrin quickly shifted to hurt feelings. With her fists on her narrow hips she muttered something in what I assume was Irish and then, in what passes for English through her lips, she said, “Senator, you cannot be suggestin’ that I should take the old thing, now, would you?”
I realized she was right, that I had not taken care to be clear that all I wanted to know was if she had removed the portrait. “I beg your pardon, Annie. I was intemperate. I merely wanted to know if the picture had been removed for some reason.”
Giving me such a look of “Are you simple?” she shook her head. “Well I am that certain that it has, Senator. By whom and why I cannot tell.”
Now I was annoyed that she should take such an insolent approach to my obvious wish to learn where my treasured portrait of Old Hickory had been removed to. Impatiently I demanded, “Then go ask cook what she knows.”
Annie put her proud shoulders back and an imperious nose in the air and whisked out of the study. “Aye, sir, that I shall.”
I followed her to prevent her from sharing her less flattering thoughts about me with the cook. When I arrived at the kitchen just behind her I heard her ask, in a manner of utmost asperity, where the portrait of Mr. Jackson that was hung on the Senator’s study wall above the mantelpiece might be.
The cook looked up at me then and bobbed a respectful curtsy. “Senator Buchanan, I cannot say.” She turned towards the scullery door and called out, “Jack, come in here.”
From the scullery emerged the tousled headed befreckled face of the young scamp, Jack Hamilton. “Ma’am?” he squeaked. He had a partly consumed piece of cake in his grubby hand.
I took over the questioning. “Young man, a very valuable picture is missing from my study. Do you know anything about that?”
The boy looked from me to Mabel and then to Annie, the look on his face bespeaking a readiness to make up a story turned into genuine puzzlement. “Why, no, sir. I never even seen it.”
Annie said smugly, “It’s a paintin’ of the seventh president of these United States, it is!”
The boy looked back at me, wide eyed. I headed off whatever he was going to say. “Never mind, boy. I shall no doubt have to summon a policeman to look into the matter. Would be so kind as to find one and send him to this house?”
He had gone pale, making me wonder if I had been hasty in exonerating him from guilt, but with one look at Mabel, he stuffed the rest of the cake in his mouth, said something no one could have understood, took his soft cap from a back pocket, and exiting quickly, pulled it onto his head.
It was clear when no officer of the law arrived at my front door within a half hour that Jack had not made the effort. I called for Annie to fetch my coat, gloves and hat. I shall go to the Senate for the rest of the day. If I see a policeman on the way, I will enlist his assistance.”
In the foyer, she helped me on with my coat. I asked, “Is Senator King expected to take his supper at home, do you know?”
“I do not, sir. The Senator left so early this morn that I did not see to speak to him”
I went out the door onto F Street where carts and horses clattered by and natty young gentleman strode with purpose on some business. I had no eye for them at the moment, intent as I was on getting to the Hill.
I did let myself become distracted from time to time as I made my way to Constitution Avenue and the Capitol for I was anxious to spy Rufus along the way so I could inform him of the missing portrait. I was not far from my own destination when I caught sight of him, head to head with a most attractive and elegant young man, laughing and sharing a pleasant moment together. I was about to call to him when I saw him put his arm about the younger man’s shoulders. I quite simply froze. I did not call out.
Rufus is an extremely handsome and well turned out fellow. I on the other hand am plain and what some would call dumpy. I should lie if I did not say it had puzzled me these several years that a man as fine-looking as my Rufus should want to be with me, to live with me, to be my one and only. The result of this uncertainty has been a sort of vigilance where my love’s attention might turn, if that attention is to another quite good looking fellow. I am quite sure some day I shall lose Rufus to such a one. I shall be the pathetic abandoned lover, pitiful in all men’s eyes.
I sighed and turned to walk quickly away.
Seeing a policeman as I approached the Capitol, I waylaid the man and described my loss, the portrait of Old Hickory and not, of course, the future loss of my dearest one, nor of my heart and present peace of mind. He promised to go to my house straight away to look into the matter.
I spent a dispirited day, I can tell you, feeling as if everything I cared for was slipping through my fingers. Rufus was not at luncheon in the Senate dining hall, and as a result I was quite unapproachable and some of my colleagues made some quite common remarks that should not be spoken of in the presence of the fairer sex. Fortunately there were none about in the Senate.
As I wended my way home to our house on F Street , I lacked an appetite for my supper. I fully expected to find my portrait still gone, no news from the policeman, and no Rufus awaiting me with a glass of whiskey and a cigar.
Annie, it seemed, was no more cheerful with me. With no syllable of her lilting speech, she took my hat, gloves and coat. When I asked if the Senator was at home, she gave me a tight-lipped shake of the head and left me standing there quite alone. I proceeded into the parlor with the newspaper which I had taken from the hall table and found my own whiskey and cigar, feeling most misused.
I had despaired of companionship at supper when I heard the front door open and close. I heard Rufus’s voice, shushing Annie as he divested himself of his coat and the rest. My heart beat faster waiting for my love to come into the parlor, then it fell when I heard his footsteps pass the door and head up the staircase. I sat for a while trying to decide what to do. Why had he shushed Annie? Was there someone with him? Someone he took up to his rooms?
I had had enough. I threw down the paper I was reading and stormed out of the parlor and up the stairs. I went to Rufus’s bedchamber door and without announcing myself, I reached for the doorknob. I was surprised when it turned and the door opened. I had half expected it locked, to prevent discovery of whatever indiscretion my Rufus was involved in.
“Jamie, dear!” he called, obviously startled. He spun to face me, and I could not help but stare, admiring him, his slender but manly form, his fine features, his dapper apparel. I found myself thinking, whatever you have done to break my heart, dear boy, I shall forgive you. What I said aloud however was “What are you hiding, Rufus?”
The look he gave me then shook me to the core. He looked embarrassed, sheepish, and guilty. I thought, Here it is. The death of the idyll.
I had to sit down. I stumbled to a chair and planted my backside heavily.
“Oh Jamie, I wanted it to be a surprise. I was going to give it to you at supper.”
I looked up sharply at Rufus. “You what?” I gazed into his eyes to see them twinkling, so full of love and happiness.
He slowly turned and lifted a package wrapped in brown paper and tied with twine. “Since you caught me with it, I suppose I shall just give it to you now.” He came towards me, and I stood to face him. He held the package out to me.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, dearest Jamie,” said in that soft warm voice of his with its Alabama drawl. “I love you.”
I must have looked like a trout, standing, holding the package and staring into his eyes open-mouthed. “I-I love you too, my darling Rufus,” I managed to get out. “What is it?”
“Open it. Here, I’ll cut the string with my pocket knife.” He proceeded to match his actions to his words. The twine felt to the floor and, meticulous as he always is, he crouched to pick it up and tuck it in his pocket.
I turned over the package and unfolded the brown paper with which it was wrapped. I could see at once that I was looking at the back of a frame. The wire for hanging it was attached. I turned the gift over as Rufus carefully refolded the paper and set it aside to reuse. He is as frugal as he is meticulous. Well, except for fashions. Those he spends what he must on.
He looked at me expectantly as I gazed back, then I lowered my eyes and was confused. What I held in my hands was my portrait of Andrew Jackson. The portrait that Jackson himself gave me. I stammered, “W-why, Rufus, it’s wonderful.”
“What a silly man you can be, Jamie. Look at it. There is something different. That is your gift.”
I looked again, perplexed. Then I realized what the difference was. “It’s the frame. It’s new.”
Rufus gave me one of those patient indulgent looks he often gives me when I am being obtuse. “Yes, but you don’t see it, do you. The wood. It’s hickory! Old hickory!”
My Rufus was the one who had removed my treasured portrait of Old Hickory and had a new frame made of old hickory wood. I was speechless with wonder and gratitude.
Rufus went on chattily. “I was on Constitution today as I was going to pick this up at the woodworker. I ran into Simon Beauregard. Do you remember him? That very tiresome fellow from Tuscaloosa. I was so excited about seeing the new frame I could not get away from him fast enough. He is a pretty man, to be sure, but all I could do was pretend to laugh at his jokes and get away as soon as I could manage.”
He reached to take the portrait away from me and set it down on a table. He walked the short distance to the door and bolted it. He came back, took me in his arms, and pressed his sweet lips to my own thin ones. I relaxed into his embrace.
“I do so love you, Jamie,” he said softly when we ended the kiss. “These past years have been such golden ones. Promise you will never leave me for some younger, more handsome man.”
I could only lean back in for another of his delicious kisses.
“Take me to bed, Jamie,” he sighed against my lips.
“But what about supper?” I reminded him.
“It can wait.” His hands were already at my cravat loosening it as he applied the firm but gentle pressure to my chest to guide me through the door and into his bedchamber.
Author’s note: Was President James Buchanan gay? He and William Rufus King lived together for many years and their colleagues in the Senate called them “Mr. and Mrs. Buchanan”. Their nieces burned all their letters. Let’s just say we don’t really know if he was, but then again we don’t really know that he wasn’t.
Christopher Hawthorne Moss wrote his first short story when he was seven and has spent some of the happiest hours of his life fully involved with his colorful, passionate, and often humorous, characters. Moss spent some time away from fiction, writing content for websites before his first book came out under the name Nan Hawthorne in 1991. He has since become a novelist and is a prolific and popular blogger; he is the historical fiction editor for the GLBT Bookshelf, where you can find his short stories and thoughtful and expert book reviews. Moss is transgender, having been born with a female body but a male heart and mind. He lives full time as a gay man in the Pacific Northwest with his partner of over thirty years and their doted upon cats. He owns Shield-wall Productions. Moss welcomes comment from readers via email and can be found on Facebook and Twitter.
September 28, 2014
I stumbled into the kitchen and rubbed my bleary eyes. Caffeine. I needed my fix. The coffee machine was my first stop, but when I knocked over the carafe and dropped the grounds, I was forced to concede defeat. Apparently, I wasn’t awake enough to brew a pot. No worries. I was prepared for these types of emergencies. I pulled the refrigerator door open and fumbled inside until I had a bottle of Diet Coke in my grasp.
I had the bottle tipped all the way back and the last of the caramel-colored elixir flowing into my throat when I heard a voice.
“It’s nice to know some things don’t change.”
Seeing as how I lived alone, I found the question disconcerting. Particularly because I recognized that voice: Preston Shultz, the man who had disappeared from my life ten years earlier. Was I still asleep?
I reluctantly lowered the bottle and blinked until I could see clearly. Yup, that was Preston. Older, a bit less hair on top, a bit more hair on his face, but the crystal-blue eyes were just as bright, the crooked smile just as warm.
“Uh,” I grunted.
He put his arm around my shoulder, led me to the table, and pulled out a chair. “Sit,” he said as he deposited me on the wooden surface. Then he walked over to the coffee maker, picked up the carafe, and started pouring water and measuring grounds. “I’m assuming you still take it strong enough to wake the dead?”
He didn’t wait for my answer. Good idea because the only thing I seemed capable of saying was, “uh.”
Eventually, he came to the table holding a giant mug. I instinctively reached for it and he smiled at me, the sides of his eyes crinkling. I’m pretty sure I stopped breathing.
First my brain, now my lungs — I was down two major organs.
As I took a sip, Preston sat next to me and pulled his chair so close that his knees touched mine. I moaned. Strong and sweet, just how I liked my coffee. And my men.
“Good?” he asked.
I nodded. “What …” It was a step up from “uh” but still not coherent. I raised the mug back up to my lips. By the time I finished the coffee, some memories from the night before had started surfacing.
Preston knocking on my door, saying he missed me, asking me to take him back. Me yelling, and then crying, and then collapsing in his arms.
He was back. We were back.
I darted my gaze over to his still-handsome face. “You didn’t kiss me last night.”
He leaned in and cupped my cheek. “You were so tired. I wanted to make sure you’d remember our first kiss.”
“We’ve kissed lots of times,” I corrected him.
“Not like this.” His voice was barely a whisper. “This will be our last first kiss.”
His lips met mine and my heart stuttered. That was three organs down. I needed more caffeine.
Cardeno C.—CC to friends—is a hopeless romantic who wants to add a lot of happiness and a few “awwws” into a reader’s day. Writing is a nice break from real life as a corporate type and volunteer work with gay rights organizations. Cardeno’s stories range from sweet to intense, contemporary to paranormal, long to short, but they always include strong relationships and walks into the happily-ever-after sunset.
September 19, 2012
To celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day I wrote a short story to share with everyone.
First Officer and pirate Brian Owen has secrets. Some secrets he has to keep from everyone. Some he keeps from the two men he loves most in the world. When Owen’s past collides violently with his present, all his secrets are revealed and everyone he loves is at risk. While his ship is attacked and sunk, Owen has to decide whether to save the family he misses or the one he’s made since.
Find it on my website: www.eemontgomery.com.
Read more of my work at 25% off for 4 more hours – Click here.
September 19, 2012
Keyfer wrapped his fist with the tape, then turned his head, cracking the bones in his neck. He looked across the sawdust of the Wishborne Arena at his opponent. The big bastard was at least a foot taller than Keyf and twice as broad. He was pale and bald with a fat ginger mustache in contrast to the young pirate’s long, auburn hair, slight frame, and sun-goldened skin. Keyfer readied himself for the big man’s first punch. Someone barked Keyf’s name and his opponent’s as well, Dronson.
The two men circled the arena, their fists raised before their eyes. Keyfer eyed Dronson, noticing the man’s mouth quirk beneath his mustache. A tell. Keyf ducked as the man swung his fist, driving a punch to Dronson’s barrel-like ribcage.
“Ha. Good one, pirate.” Dronson smirked and bounced around the ring. Keyf remained silent, not taking his opponent’s bait. Keyf threw a punch with his left hand, and Dronson slapped it away. Keyf followed with a right that Dronson blocked as well. Then the big man countered with a right hook that caught Keyfer on the shoulder. Dronson underestimated his own reach. Keyf shook off the blow and dashed forward with two quick punches to Dronson’s midsection. Before he could drop back, the big man brought a fist down on Keyf’s back, driving the pirate to his knees in the sawdust.
Keyf didn’t miss a beat and rolled away from his opponent. Dronson stamped at Keyfer as the pirate scrabbled around the arena. Dronson growled in frustration and lunged at the smaller, quicker man. Keyfer dodged, and Dronson kicked out, catching him in the stomach and forcing the breath from Keyf’s lungs. The crowd’s cheers were sprinkled with boos of disapproval. If Dronson wanted to fight dirty, Keyfer was ready to return the favor.
The pirate dashed up and slapped his larger opponent. Dronson grunted angrily and swung at Keyfer, who rolled away. From the sawdust, Keyf lashed out with his foot, catching the other man’s ankle and toppling him to the dirt. Keyfer loosed a chuckle that infuriated Dronson even more. The big, bald boxer dove for the smaller pirate, who stood up, crashing his skull into Dronson’s jaw. The other man blinked twice before collapsing to the sawdust. Keyfer threw his hands into the air as the crowd erupted with cheers. The men climbed over the rails and rushed the ring, hoisting Keyf onto their shoulders.
After the impromptu celebration, the arena master approached Keyf as the pirate dressed. “That was quite a show,” Blenter stated. “Well done, my son.”
“Isn’t there a prize for beating your gorilla?” Keyfer asked, pulling his wool coat from the bench.
“So there is. So there is,” Blenter answered, pulling a wad of bills from his waistcoat. He reluctantly counted out half and handed it over. “You ought to come back when Greymarrow’s here. That would be a fight I’d like to see.”
“Maybe,” Keyfer said noncommittally as he stuffed the bills in his overcoat. “I don’t know how much longer we’ll be here.” Keyfer walked out of the arena, wondering how his shipmates were faring with their interviews and inquiries. Wishborne’s arena had been a welcome distraction for the restless young buccaneer.
Out on the street, Keyfer pushed his way through the crowd looking for his friend and lover, Radish. The Alchemist Radley Timmons (Radish to his friends) had joined the crew of the Wayward Grace a few months ago and it wasn’t long before Keyfer fell for the bespectacled young man with the strawberry blond hair. Keyfer reached up and adjusted the rope holding his own messy brown locks in a ponytail that trailed between his shoulder blades. He wanted his hair out of his eyes so he could spot Radish easily.
Billy, captain of the Wayward Grace, and her two crewmen had come to this remote town seeking to hire a new magic user for their ship. They’d lost their last mage, Dill, a faerie spellweaver, in a terrible storm and subsequent crash. Though Keyf showed some latent aptitude for the mystic arts, he was unwilling to investigate that power for the time being.
Keyfer’s breath formed a cloud before his eyes as he pulled the collar of his wool coat up. The weather in Wishborne certainly wasn’t what the young pirate was used to. Wishborne lay hidden in the mountains between Anglica and Weylan. The inhospitable forests provided natural cover enhanced by wards and magic placed on them at various times by its wizarding founders. The crown looked upon magic as highly volatile and criminal, forcing most sorcerers and witches to hide their talents from the world at large. Wishborne existed as a place away from prying eyes where they could retreat for seclusion, without fear of repercussion.
The village had soon become a haven for the less scrupulous element of society. Bandits, highwaymen and other unsavory characters used Wishborne to disappear when their shenanigans landed them in the sights of their local constabulary. Faeries and the Fey Folk were a not uncommon sight on the Wishborne high street and Keyf had to sidestep to allow a pair of tiny hedgehogs dressed like the finest of gentleman to shuffle past.
He smiled as he thrust his hands into his coat pockets. The little Hedgehog men owned a shop of mystical objects and items that would aid in all manner of dishonest pursuits; amulets, rings of invisibility, and even a hand-shaped candle that froze everyone in a home while unlocking every door in the building. They had other less than savory items that could do all manner of unspeakable things to men but they kept those in a back room behind a thick dark curtain. Keyf had never visited that portion of their store, but he had entered numerous times just to look at the curiosities within. The price of the objects prevented him from actually buying anything in the little shop. He watched as the spiky proprietors opened their round, red door and entered their storefront. Although the door wasn’t always in the same spot each day, it was the only thing on the dreary street with any color, unfortunately the color of fresh blood.
Keyfer had to admit Wishborne may have once been a picturesque little village, looking like something plucked directly from an Anglican Faerie Tale, but it looked now like a child’s story with the innocence and soul drained away. The buildings were dark, drab and in most cases in need of serious repair. A foul smog sullied the air above the city and the streetlights burned constantly, some regular gaslights and others glowing a faint eldritch blue. Unsavory characters milled about on every corner. He wondered why they’d called it Wishborne, for it was more like a place where wishes came to die. Wishkill, Keyf thought and shivered.
Despite all the villains in such a small space, Wishborne remained quiet and civil with nearly no crime at all, unlike most other villages of its kind. Of course, breaking the law in Wishborne wouldn’t earn you a cell in a dreary dungeon. You’d more likely be set on fire, fed to a giant toad, or turned into a giant toad and forced to eat criminals. It could be some combination of the three as well. Everyone mostly kept to themselves or carried on polite conversations. Keyfer heard that the original founder had created a spell to protect the city that carried on to this day.
Keyfer turned in surprise when he heard the commotion start at the far end of the high street. He could see sparks and magic, lightning and bird feathers as the excitement rippled through the crowds of people on the streets.
“What’s the hullabaloo?” A familiar voice asked near Keyf’s jewelry-laden ear.
“I don’t know, Radish.” Keyf turned toward his friend. “Just started. Where’s Billy?”
“Still in the tavern,” Radish answered indicating the saloon behind him. “She’s settling up the tab.”
“Any luck?” Keyf asked.
“Quite a bit of luck, actually. All bad, I’m afraid.” Radish removed his delicate spectacles and cleaned them with his scarf. “She found a stuffy, old sorcerer but he’s not looking for a life of adventure on the high seas. Or above them for that matter. He just wants to sit in a drawing room reading books. A few months ago I might have agreed with him.” Radish smirked and then planted a quick kiss at the corner of Keyfer’s mouth.
“Bollocks,” Keyfer growled. “What—“ he didn’t finish the question because a woman screamed as the source of the disturbance rushed into view. A strange, lanky man ran out of the crowd on the sidewalk. His clothes were odd with bits of clockwork stuck to them, and he had traveling goggles perched atop his bright orange hair. Keyfer thought he might be a Faerie from the way he guffawed as he ran from what passed for the town guard: two empty suits of armor. They clanked after the man, firing spells at him from wooden staffs in their tarnished hands.
As the man passed Keyfer and Radish, he plucked Radish’s spectacles from his hands and continued running.
“Hey!” Radish called after him. “I need those.”
“Damn!” Keyfer wasted no time dashing after the odd thief. He heard Radish calling to him but knew without his spectacles, his friend would only slow him down. The stranger elbowed people out of his way as he continued careening down the street, the suits of armor in his wake. The stranger hurdled a cart of dodgy vegetables, and the first suit of armor attempted the same, catching its foot on the side and toppling to pieces on the ground.
The stranger grabbed a lamppost, spinning around it and kicking the other suit of armor. The pieces scattered on impact and the merry thief continued his mad dash. A grizzled older fellow dressed like one of the frontiersmen of Allied Libertannia stepped out of a shop only to have his hat snatched by the giggling stranger.
“Oi!” The old man growled and took up the chase just in front of Keyfer. Unfortunately, the stranger had just dashed around a large man with skin like stone, standing in front of the sweet shop. The old fellow crashed right into the giant of a man, causing the bigger man to drop the box of treats in his huge hands. The old stranger regained his footing quickly and continued after the thief.
“You made me drop my sweet rolls,” the stone man said as Keyfer dashed past him, the suits of armor in pieces around his pounding feet. It looked as if they were trying to reunite with themselves but Keyfer didn’t have time to pause and see if they’d manage it. He was right on the old man’s heels now, and he could hear a steady stream of curses as he ran. The old fellow pulled a clockwork pistol from under his coat and fired at the thief. The stranger ducked around the next corner into an alley.
“Got ‘im now,” the chasing man growled. “That alley’s a dead end.”
Keyfer wondered if the older bloke addressed him or spoke to himself. Either way, both pursuers turned the corner a moment later, surprised to find the alley empty. “What the hell?” Keyfer asked.
“Damn it!” The grizzled stranger dragged a hand through his long gray hair. “How’d he do that?”
“Magic?” Keyfer asked. Keyf sniffed the air. “Do you smell elderberries?”
“That wasn’t magic,” the older man stated confidently, pointing at the dead end. Keyfer was about to ask him how he could tell when the heavy sounds of drums filled the alley. Then Keyfer noticed the man’s hat sat on the cobblestones at the end of the alley with Radish’s spectacles resting on the brim. The man in the long leather coat stooped to pick up the spectacles. “These yours?”
“My friend’s,” Keyfer answered taking the delicate glasses. “Thanks.”
“Hey!” The stone man’s voice boomed from the entrance to the alley. “You made me drop my sweet rolls.”
“Hold on there, mate.” The old man held up his hands. “I’m sure we can straighten this out like proper gentlemen. Um, or gentletrolls, as it were.”
Troll? Keyfer thought. That’s a troll? As the old fellow retrieved his hat, Keyf stared at the first troll he’d ever seen. The troll’s stony brows rose in shock and then turned down with anger.
“Aw shite,” the grey haired man spat, and Keyfer turned to see a pristine sweet roll sitting on the street just beneath the poor bastard’s hat.
“You stole my sweet roll!” the troll bellowed.
“Aw shite.” Keyfer echoed the stranger’s sentiment. The troll stormed into the alley and with a hand like a gravestone batted Keyf out of the way. He flew against the wall of the alleyway and bounced off, landing hard on the cobblestones.
“Keyfer!” Billy shouted from the street. Keyf took his eyes off the old man, who had assumed a boxing stance as the troll advanced. Poison Billy Stillwater, his oldest friend and adoptive sister, rushed over to Keyfer with Radish in tow. Billy’s fiery green eyes sparkled beneath her tricorn hat, and Keyf was relieved to see her. Keyfer handed his friend’s spectacles back. Radish slipped them on quickly, and they all watched as the old man traded punches with the troll. He walloped the big bugger in the jaw, and a tooth like a paving stone shot out of its mouth. The troll threw a left that the gray-haired man ducked only to get hit with a right just after. The three friends winced at the bone rattling impact.
“Damn it, man,” the old bloke spat. “I didn’t steal your sweet roll!” He charged the troll and landed a tremendous upper cut that knocked the big beast back. Then the determined older fellow hauled his foot back and aimed a kick right between the monster’s legs. The troll doubled over, cradling its sensitive stones. “I’m sorry I had to do that, son, but you wouldn’t listen to reason.”
“Trolls are real?” Radish whispered the question as the triumphant stranger retrieved his hat a second time.
“Apparently,” Billy answered.
“And that old fellow just fought one with his bare hands,” Keyfer added with awe and respect.
“Halt.” A tinny voice drifted down the alley. The rusty suits of armor had reassembled, although one of them was missing a glove. “You are a criminal, sir.”
“This isn’t what it looks like.” The tough, old bastard held his hands up again. Keyf noticed his knuckles were torn.
“That troll accused you of theft and you assaulted it,” the armor stated.
“All right, then it’s exactly what it looks like.” The man scratched his stubbly chin slowly.
“The sentence is transfigurment. A candlestick, I should think.”
“Too lenient,” the second suit of armor stated.
“Obliteration?” the first asked. Its partner nodded noisily. “Obliteration, it is.”
“Let’s not get hasty there, mate.”
“Second,” the armor addressed his partner. “Fire!” But before either suit of armor could attack the perpetrator, they were lifted into the air and smashed together.
“Sorry, Lumpy. I can’t let you do that.” The man held his hands out toward the mixed up suits of armor. An arcane purple light emanated from his skin.
“He’s a wizard.” Keyfer stood. The old wizard walked over to the wall of the alley and placed his hand on the plaster. The once-white material bubbled and rippled. With his other hand, he guided the various bits of armor to the wall, where they sank into the plaster trapping the enchanted metal bits.
“You have committed a grievous crime, sir.” The helmet stated from its plaster prison. “The sentence is death! The sentence is death!”
“Damn. Looks like I’ve overstayed my welcome,” the scruffy wizard lamented. His attention was drawn by a moan from the troll. “Shite,” he barked and walked over to the beast, leveling a kick to its jaw, knocking it unconscious.
“Death!” the armor screeched. “The sentence is death!”
“Nothin’ for it.” The guilty wizard shrugged, turning on his heel and running for the street.
“Hold on!” Keyfer jumped over and grabbed the man’s sleeve. Keyf tipped a wink at his mates before he asked, “Need a ride?”
The tough, old wizard squinted one eye and studied first Keyfer, then Radish and Billy. “Pirate?”
Keyf smirked and shrugged. “Guilty,” he answered. “Sometimes.”
“You have a ship?”
“We do,” Billy answered. “I’m her captain.”
“We’re a tad far from water for pirates,” the old man replied.
“I guess it’s a good thing she’s an airship.” Billy crossed her arms and raised her chin.
The old man’s grey brows raised wrinkles on his forehead. “An airship?”
“This I have to see.” The odd wizard slapped Keyfer on the shoulder and offered his hand. “Curtis Greymarrow,” he said, introducing himself.
“Keyfer Lockswit,” Keyf said, taking the offered hand. Greymarrow raised a brow at the name. “Long story. I’ll tell you some time. This is Radish Timmons, and you’ve already met Poison Billy.”
“Pleased to meet you folks,” Greymarrow answered as they walked quickly away from the scene of the crime.
“Mr. Greymarrow?” Radish asked. “If you can use magic, why fight a troll bare knuckled?”
“Must keep my hand in, mustn’t I? Don’t want to lose my touch. I find magic to be used best as a last resort.” The wizard smiled. “Plus it’s dead fun, fist fightin’ trolls.”
Keyfer smiled as they reached the edge of Wishborne. He was really beginning to like the grizzled old wizard. “There she is,” Keyf said pointing at the ship, now visible over the trees. “The Wayward Grace.”
The Grace had been fully converted from a sea vessel to an airship since the crew had modified her with whatever they could get their hands on to escape the island that had once been their prison but was now their hideout. Her hull remained basically unchanged though she sported bat-like wings and enormous fans to move her through the air. Large cloth bladders clung to the hull with wooden shields wrapped around them. An enormous canvas rudder on the rear of the ship assisted with maneuverability and on the bow the original masthead beamed down like an angel.
The wizard stopped in his tracks, looking up with his mouth agape and his lilac colored eyes wide. “Bugger me sideways. You’ve really got an airship.”
“Did you think we were lying, Mr. Greymarrow?” Radish asked.
Greymarrow, Keyfer thought as he finally made the connection. “I’m glad I didn’t sign up to fight you, old man,” Keyf stated, patting the stunned wizard on the shoulder.
Read more of Eon’s work at 25% off for 6 more hours – Click here.
March 13, 2011
The hammer shook in Jamie Duncan’s tiny hand. The job of putting it back on his father’s garage workbench was forestalled by confusion and fear. Eight years old, he did not have the frame of reference needed to process what he was seeing. The frayed and battered tennis shoes, the ones his brother Benjamin wore every single day, were suspended about a yard from Jamie’s frightened face. Surprised amusement had surrendered quickly to shocked disbelief as Jamie noticed the white socks still peeking out from below his brother’s jeans, just above those beloved red canvas shoes.
A strangled scream, drowned in his panic, erupted from him as nothing but a strained whimper. Reaching out, Jamie touched his big brother’s leg, alien in its stillness. The younger boy could not remember a time when Benjamin had ever been so still; it was almost worse than the silence. Staggering back several feet, Jamie continued to stare at the cherry colored sneakers, terrified to look any higher and see his brother’s face.
“Benji?” Jamie whispered, his voice small and scared, it was almost as if he were trying to wake his big brother, like he did after he’d had a bad dream. In his heart, the little boy wished as hard as he could. In fact, some may have even called it prayer. He wished that Benjamin would wake up and tell him that there was nothing to be afraid of.
“Benji, I’m scared.” He thought about how his brother would sigh and pretend to be mad when Jamie woke him in the middle of the night. In the end, the older boy would always pull his blankets back, inviting his little brother in so he could protect Jamie from the monsters.
Jamie looked up to see his brother’s staring, unseeing eyes and he knew that the monsters had finally gotten Benji.
Standing as high as his little feet would allow, Jamie stretched up and pulled at his big brother’s T-shirt. He wanted to make Benji mad, to make him yell – because even yelling would be better than the silent blank stare. A crumpled piece of notebook paper fell from his brother’s slackened grip and dropped to the grungy floor. Not taking his eyes from those red sneakers, Jamie bent and scooped up the note.
Slowly, he sounded out each word like Mrs. Martin had taught him. Reading the words around the damp smudges, he thought maybe his brother had been writing in the rain.
Their hatred burns like fire, scorching, consuming
The very air blisters my lungs
I can’t breathe
Acrid smoke blocks out the sun
I can’t see
Roaring Flames engulf my soul
Everything lies in ruins
There is nothing left
I’m just so tired. I can’t fight anymore.
They tell me I’m going to go to hell for being a fag and maybe I am, but it can’t be any worse than school.
I’m so sorry. Please tell Jamie that I’m sorry. I’m supposed to be there to protect him but how can I do that when I can’t even protect myself?
Clutching the note against his chest, Jamie sank to the floor and pulled his knees up trying to protect himself from the weight of his brother’s confession. He knew what it was like for kids at school to be mean. Joey Thompson had pushed him off the bars at recess a few days ago. In his child’s view, he couldn’t understand why Benji didn’t tell a teacher. They had to have teachers in the tenth grade, just like they did in third.
The reality of his brother’s death became more real for Jamie as he held the note in his hand. He wanted to run, he wanted to tell someone, but he just couldn’t leave his brother alone. In that note Benji sounded so scared. Benji would never have left Jamie if he were feeling scared.
Jamie continued to sit on the cold concrete floor below his brother’s body and waited for someone to come.
The Trevor Project helps to show our GLBT youth that It Gets Better and that they are loved
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Copyright (c) 2011 – J. P. Barnaby – http://www.jpbarnaby.com
November 2, 2010
I can’t help myself – I need to check in on my characters from time to time, in order to make sure that they’re still okay!
If you’re interested in seeing what the Lost Treasure gang are up to, you can read Lost and Found. It’s just shmoopy, nothing too serious – but it’s set after the end of the book, so don’t read it until you’re finished with Lost Treasure itself.
I hope you like it!
October 20, 2010
N.B.: This short story is a “lost” chapter of Infected: Prey, which takes place within that story’s time frame, after the episode with Matt Skouris and his stalker (called by him “Rambo”), within the story Prey. So there’s some warning – if you haven’t read it or read that far, there’s a very mild spoiler.
Gold For Bread
It was after Hipster Doofus’s latest visit to the coffee shop that Matt realized he didn’t want to be a barista anymore.
It wasn’t the Hipster’s fault. It was probably a revelation he’d had before and simply forgotten. He wanted to blame the history of drug abuse for his hummingbird attention, but the truth was he’d always had attention deficit disorder. He was diagnosed with it at six and started taking Ritalin, but as soon as his mom found out he was selling it on the playground to older kids instead of taking it, that was the end of that.
September 12, 2010
“With Gladness”, written specifically for Dreamspinner and Andy Eisenberg (my friend!), available here: http://marchwellbooks.wikispaces.com
(I hope I did this right!)
April 27, 2010
The sun was warm on Ted’s face even with the tinted windows and the air conditioning in the airport terminal. He’d begged and pleaded to be allowed to come through security to meet this particular plane. His friend’s injury had finally been what tipped the scales in his favor. Les couldn’t walk so he couldn’t carry his bag on crutches. The argument wouldn’t have worked on a larger airport but Lexington was small enough and Southern enough to bend the rules for a sob story about a man who just lost his leg and needed help adjusting to his new life.
It was all true. It just wasn’t the whole truth. The whole truth was that Ted couldn’t wait a moment longer to see his friend. They’d kept in touch the entire time Les was gone, but Ted had come to realize it was far more than friendship that bound them together. Thus the flowers in his hand, the stems crushed by his nervous grip. Les had said repeatedly that he wouldn’t have made it without Ted’s unwavering support so Ted hoped maybe Les felt the same way. It had taken his friend nearly dying, though, to give him the courage to do more than dream.
The plane taxied into place, the jet way moving into position. Ted told himself Les would be the last one out because he’d need a wheelchair, but that didn’t stop him from hovering at the entrance to the jet way, just in case.
The departing passengers streamed past Ted, smiling as they saw the flowers in his hand. He figured they were wondering who the lucky girl was. Ted only hoped Les would consider himself a lucky guy. Then Les was there in front of him, hobbling on crutches but under his own power. Ted held out the flowers, hope shining on his face.
“What are you doing here?” Les asked, laughing.
Ted took a deep breath and leaned forward, brushing his lips over Les’s. This was the moment of truth. Les would either kiss him back or deck him.
Les kissed him back.
April 25, 2010
Then be sure to come back to Dreamspinner Press and order the Midsummer’s Nightmare 2010 Daily Dose package including The Scenic Route. Remember – every $10 spent enters you in the Dreamspinner April Showers bring May iPads Promotion.