Sunday, November 23, 2008

Short Story: Maelstrom Thanksgiving

AUTHOR'S NOTE:This story is based on my current work in progress, a novel about an ordinary human who finds himself managing a group of demons determined to achieve rock and roll fame without resorting to magic. The action of this story takes place during the novel but is not part of it, and was inspired by this week's Sunday Scribblings prompt and the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

Was there anything more depressing than a holiday on the road? Ricky switched through the TV channels. He should be at home having Thanksgiving with his mother, not at the Ambassador Suites hotel, or wherever the hell he was. After so many weeks of touring, it was all running together.

On the television, an aggressively cheerful woman was basting a turkey. She reminded him of his sister-in-law, Joanne. At least he wasn’t having to deal with her today. Small blessings. He turned off the TV and stretched. It was early for the band to be awake, but he had no friends in this town and any companionship was better than none.

The door to the band’s suite opened before he could knock, and Calvin the werewolf blocked his way. “They’re busy, human.”

Ricky tried to peer around him. “What are they doing?” From this vantage he could see Kalila and Nevin on the sofa, huddled over a book.

“It’s a surprise.”

This wasn’t good. Ricky had been managing the band since summer and they had yet to come up with a surprise that wasn’t illegal, immoral, or both. He tried to shove his way into the room, but Calvin tossed him into the hall with ease. Kalila noticed and came to the door with a curt order for the werewolf to “heel.”

She leaned against the doorframe and watched Ricky get to his feet. “Why aren’t you attending to human things? It’s a holiday for you, isn’t it?”

“Yes, but it’s a family holiday. There’s no “human things” for me to attend to out here on the road.”

“Oh. Well, don’t blame us for your troubles.” She looked over her shoulder at Nevin. “Should we let him in?”

“Of course. We’re the only family he has today.”

“That’s pathetic.” Kalila waved Ricky into their suite. “No sentimentality, okay? We’re not a substitute for whatever you would’ve done at home—caroling, hunting for colored eggs, or whatever.”

“I think you’ve got the holidays mixed up.” Ricky went to move Kalila’s book so he could sit on the sofa, but it vanished in his hand before he could get a look at the title.

“None of your business,” she said.

“That wasn’t very nice,” Nevin told her. Then he gave Ricky a childlike smile. “So is there anything in particular you’d like to do today?”

“No, I just wanted some company.”

The fairy nodded wisely. “It seems to be a common sentiment among your kind.” He indicated the closed door to the back of the suite. “Arlinda from the front desk felt the same way. Bo is helping her out.”

Ricky had already noticed the sound of creaking bedsprings. “I thought I told him to leave the hotel staff alone.”

Kalila sank into an upholstered chair and dangled her long legs over the armrest. “He was after a cute girl at the pool until he found out she was underage. He thought you’d be more upset about that than the desk clerk. And you know what Bo is like if he goes too long without feeding.”

With a small shudder Ricky remembered the times the bass player had tried to back him into a corner for a quickie. Bo’s preference was human females, but when an incubus got hungry enough, anything from a human male to a gazelle would do.

“So tell me about this holiday of yours,” Kalila went on, in a tone so artlessly casual that Ricky was immediately on his guard. “It has something to do with football and Pilgrims, right?”

“Not exactly.” Ricky tried his best to explain the concept of Thanksgiving. “It’s about being grateful for the good things that have happened in the year. It’s about sharing as a way of showing thanks for your blessings.”

While Kalila pondered this, Ricky looked around. “So where are Vic and Lazaro? Sleeping?”

“They had an errand to take care of.”

Ricky sat up in alarm. “What kind of errand?”

“Don’t worry. They wore their hats and ski masks.”

That the vampire and zombie were out in daytime was the least of Ricky’s worries. “The sun isn’t what scares me. I want to know where they went. The blood bank? The morgue? How am I supposed to keep you guys out of trouble when you go doing crazy demon shit all the time?”

“You worry too much.” Kalila stood up. “And you’re starting to bore me.” She exchanged a look with Nevin, who took Ricky by the elbow and tried to pull him toward the door.

“Wouldn’t you like to go back to your room?” Nevin said. “You’ll feel much better after a nap.”

“I’m not sleepy. I need to find out what Vic and Lazaro are doing so I can make them stop. I need for Bo to quit banging the hotel staff and start acting like a civilized creature. I need—”

“Oh, Ricky. You’re overwrought by all this silly holiday business.” Before Ricky could answer, Nevin tossed a handful of pink glitter in his face, making sure to catch him when he fell.

* * *

Ricky awoke in his own bed, comfortable and his mind at ease. The sunlight filtered through the half-open curtains at a low angle that made him wonder if it was morning or evening. He spent a few minutes trying to piece together how he had gotten here. Oh, yes. Fairy magic. He relaxed, knowing he would be pissed about it later, but there was no point trying to drum up negative emotions until the effects wore off. What the hell was he in band management for when he could make a fortune selling Nevin’s fairy potions?

A sound of whispered argument from the front room caught his attention. Was it a robbery? Some kind of mischief from the band of washed-up deities that had kidnapped the tour manager, leaving Ricky to handle the tour himself? Oddly, he felt no sense of alarm. Damn Nevin and his stupid spells.

An unmistakable aroma began filling the room. At first Ricky thought his senses were deceiving him, but then his stomach rumbled and he decided that whatever the danger on the other side of the door, it was one that included food and should be investigated. He got out of bed and quietly opened the door.

White tablecloth. Candles. Nevin arranging flowers in a vase. In the kitchenette, Kalila was spooning things onto a plate while Vic leaned against the counter watching in disgust. Bo was on the sofa playing with the TV remote and Lazaro sat in an upholstered chair, tapping a soft rhythm on his knee with a pair of sticks. Overseeing from the doorway was Calvin, gnawing a turkey bone.

Ricky stepped into the room and everyone stopped what they were doing. Kalila turned to Nevin with a frown. “He’s not supposed to be up yet, is he?”

Nevin shrugged. “Close enough.”

“I suppose.” She set a plate of food on the table. “Happy Thanksgiving, human.” When Ricky didn’t answer right away, she glanced at the plate in concern. “We got it right, didn’t we? “Turkey, stuffing, potatoes …”

“And I found us a football game to watch,” Bo said.

“I thought you only watched porn,” Ricky said.

The incubus set the remote aside. “I can make sacrifices. Enjoy your dinner.”

“With your new family,” Nevin added. He pointed to his plate of green beans. “I can join you, right?”

“You can all join me.”

“Food’s not bloody enough,” Vic said. “But thanks.”

“No. Thank you. You guys—”

“Stop that,” Kalila said. “No weird human emotions.”

Ricky sat down. “But it doesn’t work like that. This is a day for being grateful for food, friends, family, and all the other good things in our lives.”

“Or our deaths,” Lazaro reminded him.

“Right. For whatever we have that we like.”

Nevin set down his plate and gave Ricky a hug. “And we like you.”

“That’s pushing it a bit, glitter boy,” Vic said

Kalila crossed her arms and looked at Ricky in annoyance. “So are you going to eat, or what? I did a lot of research on that meal to get it to your silly human standards.”

“And I’m grateful for it,” Ricky told her, picking up a fork. “Even if you are a bitchy genie.”

“I’m a what?”

“And I’m grateful for you, too.”

Kalila’s face changed slightly. “Are you really?”

“Yeah.” He scooted over and patted the place beside him on the sofa. “Want to join me?”

Their eyes met and Ricky held his breath. The only thing Kalila hated more than being disrespected was being liked. Had he gone too far?

She ran a nervous hand through her hair. “I guess there would be no harm in it.” She sat down beside him, as cautiously as if Ricky might be dangerous.

Bo grinned. “What’s the matter, djinn? He’s the only one in this room who doesn’t bite.”

Kalila ignored him and pretended great interest in Ricky’s food. “So I got it right? The cranberries and everything?”

“It’s perfect Kalila. Thank you.”

She nodded in cool satisfaction. “You’ve done a lot for us. It was the least we could do.” She hesitated, then gave him a quick, embarrassed hug. “Happy Thanksgiving…friend.”

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Strangers to All, Strangers to None

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is a true story, and one I hadn't thought of for years until it popped into my mind for no particular reason last week. I recount it here for Sunday Scribblings.

When my grandmother was still alive, Dan and I would make an annual summer pilgrimage to Connecticut to visit her. Since everything in New England is so close, we always combined the trip with other fun adventures, including the annual Covered Bridges Half Marathon in Vermont. We had a favorite rural B&B we stayed at, and after a few years of visits, we felt quite at home there.

One of our favorite things to do in the evening was make tea and sit in chairs on the front lawn, looking at the night sky. There were no street lights or city lights to dim the vast expanse of stars, and it was so quiet that we could hear the wind in the pines and the rushing water of the brook up the road. It was a peaceful way to end our busy days before turning in for the night.

One evening we saw a pair of headlights make their way slowly up the country road. We watched in that lazy way one watches everything in the country. To our surprise, the van pulled to the side of the road right in front of us and a man rolled down the window. In broken English with an unmistakable Spanish accent, he asked directions.

Now, usually tourists like us are the worst people you can ask directions from because they spend most of their time lost, too. But this was our third summer in the area and Dan did, in fact, know the place the occupants of the van were trying to go. Since we were from Texas and bilingual, we understood without having to ask that we would only get them lost again if we gave the men directions in English. As it turned out, they were natives of Ecuador, on their way to the annual Pow-Wow in one of the nearby towns. We were impressed that they had come so far. We explained in Spanish how to get to their campground, wished them well, and watched them drive away into the night.

As we went back to our tea, Dan and I pondered the strange ways the universe works. What were the odds that a group of Spanish-dominant South American natives should become lost on a rural road in Vermont at night and happen across a pair of bilingual Texan tourists who just happened to know how to get them where they needed to go and could explain it in their own language? Strangers to each other and all of us far from home, we found each other, anyway. Sometimes the universe gives us exactly what we need, that lucky little break, just when we least expect it.

We sipped our tea and returned to admiring the velvet sky and its infinite span of stars. We were no longer strangers here. We were home.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Writer and the Pesky Spouse

I'm sure I speak for most writers when I say that I need control over my environment when I write. Everyone has a setup that works for them, but for most of us, it's one that is one of limited random distractions.

Somehow, I can't get my husband completely on board with this. He knows that once I've made my evening tea and shut the door at night, I'm not to be disturbed. But I like to use my Sunday morning to read through what I wrote the night before and maybe write a little more. For some reason though, Dan doesn't get it that the previous night's "don't disturb" rules apply to morning writing time as well.

And so I get pestered with questions, bits of cheerful morning song, requests for things to pick up at the store when I go run errands later, and tales of what the cat or bunny are up to, and although it's always a lovely thing to have one's spouse in a happy and sharing mood, there are times when it's just aggravating as all hell. I read the same three paragraphs over and over, unable to get the full effect (or just check if there even is an effect) because of the pestering.

"Have you seen my running shoes?"

"Where's the sugar?"

"Does this coffee cup look clean?"

"Come see what the bunny is doing. He's so cute!"

Oh well. There's always tonight for writing.