The Night Bus

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The first time I rode the Night Bus was an accident.

During the holidays we ended up getting out just a little later than usual and I missed the last bus of the night. The stop was well lit and I had some surprises in my purse so I was more annoyed about missing the bus than worried about being out there late at night. As I sent off a round of “Hey can anyone give me a ride home?” texts to my friends, another bus pulled up. I quickly mass texted “Never mind bus just got here”.

The regular city buses were white and blue with silver chrome trim. This bus was scarlet and teal with black chrome. The door slid open and I climbed the shallow stairs that seemed more like a short ladder. At the top of the stairs, I looked for the machine to swipe my transit card; there wasn’t one. I turned to the driver and showed them my card. The driver just pointed me to the seats. When I tried to tell the driver my stop, they reached up and tapped the “Pull Cord For Stop” sign. So I walked back to the seats.

The seats were comfortably padded bench seats with seatbelts draped over them from back to front. I sat in the third seat against the window. The door closed and the bus pulled smoothly away from the curb. The bus turned off the regular bus route at the next intersection. I was wondering if I had gotten on the wrong bus line when the world flipped.

The street lamp lit city was replaced by a noonday sun in the desert. My head whipped around to look out the other windows. On either side of the two-lane highway, the bus was now driving on, was desert. Behind the bus, the highway stretched straight toward the horizon. Ahead the highway curved to the right. I started to stand up and heard a sharp tapping. The driver was reaching up their arm stretched inhumanly long to tap the “Passengers Must Remain Seated While The Bus Is In Motion” sign.

I felt the gentle sideways push as the bus took the curve and the world flipped again. Smooth concrete replaced the sky and domed lights the sun. The two-lane highway was now eight lanes inside a tunnel. I scarcely had time to notice the multicolored cars sharing the tunnel with the bus before the tunnel turned to the left. The tunnel was replaced by a city at night but the bus did not speed through this landscape. It slowed and stopped at a bus stop.

The size of the buildings around the bus felt weird to my eyes like the sidewalk was too wide or the buildings too close. The bus stop shelter towered over the bus. A woman waited under it. She was almost as tall as the bus but had no problem entering the door. The woman walked to the seat opposite mine ducking her head only slightly though she was at least four feet taller than me. She sat easily somehow without cramming or contorting her body between the seats.

“Hi,” she said, her voice deep and resonate, with a smile.

I glanced away in embarrassment from staring at her. “Hi,” I replied.

“You have the cutest voice. Are you riding alone?” No one had called my voice cute since I gave up on voice training.

“Thanks, yeah I was just heading home from work.”

“You work?” She tilted her head to one side. “Wait, how old are you?” Her eyes narrowed as she examined me.

“I’m twenty-three. How old do I look?” The bus turned right and the world flipped. The road was now lined with giant green and blue mushrooms.

“Oh, I’m so sorry. I forget people from little worlds ride the Night Bus too. I thought you were a child.” She chuckled. “I’m Nora.”

“I’m Yenna. Have you been on this bus before?”

“Sure plenty of times. Is this your first time?”

“Yeah, I missed my bus and then this one showed up. What is going on?” The bus turned right and the mushrooms vanished. Another tunnel, this one had clear walls allowing travelers to see into the ocean they drove under. Fish swam in multi-colored schools. A whale glided overhead.

“It’s the Night Bus. At least that’s what everyone calls it. I really don’t know much else.”

“How do I get home?” I asked.

“Just pull the cord for your stop,” Nora said pointing at the cord that ran the length of the bus just above head height.

“But how do I know when my stop is?”

“Your stop is whenever you pull the cord. The next turn will take the Night Bus there and you can get off.”

“I’m not stuck on an adventure through strange worlds?” Another right turn, this time onto a cliffside trail overlooking snow-capped mountains.

“No, of course not. It might be strange but the Night Bus is still a bus. It takes you where you want to go. I like to ride through a few turns before pulling the cord, to see something different. You haven’t been stuck on the bus for too long have you?”

“No, I got on a couple of worlds before you. If you hadn’t, I might have been stuck for a while.”

“You would have pulled the cord eventually and figured it out yourself.”

“Do you ride the Night Bus often?” I asked.

“Only when I work the closing shift. I used to take the regular bus but like you I missed my bus and the Night Bus showed up. I find it relaxing to see these other worlds. Plus it gets me home faster and cheaper.”

“How much does it cost? The driver wouldn’t take my transit card when I offered.” Right turn into another clear tunnel looking out at a barren gray landscape and black sky. In the distance, domes full of plants offered the only color.

“I don’t think driver understands money. They’ve never accepted or asked for money. The Night Bus is free as far as I know. Maybe we’re racking up debt that we’ll have for in the afterlife.”

“Maybe we’ll be fated to drive Night Buses of our own until someone else takes our place.” We laughed through the next world.

“This is nice. I’ve never had anyone to talk to about the Night Bus before,” Nora said.

“You’ve never brought anyone with you?”

“No it doesn’t feel like the kind of thing you just show people, you know?”

“Yeah, that makes sense. ‘Come ride a bus through alien worlds with me’ isn’t something you just spring on someone and you can’t talk about it without sounding delusional.”

“Yes, exactly. I wish I could stay longer but I really do need to get home.” She reached up and pulled the stop cord. We rode in silence as the bus made a left turn onto a street in a city. I recognized the scaled-up architecture from the stop she had gotten on the bus. She stood and began walking to the front of the bus. She stopped and turned back to me. “I’m off tomorrow but I might ride the bus if you wanted to talk more.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow I guess,” I said smiling at her.

She smiled back. “See you tomorrow.”

I watched her wave as the Night Bus pulled away from the curb. I waited for two more turns before pulling the stop cord myself. The Night Bus turned a corner and pulled up to the bus stop closest to my home. I smiled at the Bus Driver and thanked them as I got off. The Bus Driver smiled back; their mouth showing too many teeth that were too square. I tried not to think about what the driver was too hard as I hopped off the steps and onto terra firma.

The Night Bus’s doors closed and it drove off turning left at the intersection and disappearing. I walked the rest of the way to my home wondering what I should wear on my date tomorrow night.

This Used to be My Job

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At almost midnight I stand before Grandma Whitkin’s grave. Buried earlier today. Ideally, I would have done this right after her death but the family doesn’t understand things like this. So I waited until it was just me and her. Just like old times, when I knew her as Susan.

Susan was a healer. Like most healers, she built up a residue of death in her body. It’s not hard to cleanse and purge the necrotic energies but she died suddenly, without warning, without preparing herself. The first time I got close to her at the viewing I could feel it. She won’t rise tonight or tomorrow but someday she would.

I kneel and plunge my left arm up to my elbow into the loose mound of dirt over the grave. Freshly turned graveyard dirt is a powerful conductor letting me reach the necrotic energy easily. I begin pulling it strand by strand out of Susan. It coils in my arm; contained, compressed. I control my breathing as my flesh tingles and fizzes under the skin. When I die, I have special instructions on how to dispose of my arm so no one has to do this for me. This was my job. Ensuring the dead stayed dead.

Well, the dead used to stay dead when it was my job but there’s a reason people like me retire early. I feel a blockage and pull hard. It pops free and a surge of necrotic energy burns up my arm. Something gives, blood flows; I jerk my arm out of the dirt. A ragged tear across my palm drips. I squeeze my hand shut and back away from the grave. Did I pull out in time or … A faint thud comes from the ground followed by cracking wood and the dirt begins to shift.

It’s been too long or I’m just not strong enough to do it properly anymore. The result is the same. After a few minutes, Susan begins to claw herself out of the grave. I pull my revolver and put two in her skull and one in her heart.

I wrap my scarf, I really like this scarf, around my bleeding hand. I wait a while to see if Susan will have a second rising and to see if anyone called the cops about gunshots in the graveyard. It’s all quiet for thirty minutes so I make a phone call.

“Hey Johnny, it’s Denise. I need a clean up in Northside Memorial Park Cemetery.”

“Denise? I thought you were retired.”

“Special job. It went a little sideways. One corpse, buried earlier today.”

“Ok, I’ll be there in thirty with my people. Stay safe. Bye.”

“I’m trying. Bye.” And then it’s just me and Susan waiting in the graveyard like old times.

Sunset Watching

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Little Suzie came out while I was recording the evening conditions. “Tía Mary said to come in for supper,” she said.

“Tell her I’ll be in a couple of minutes.” I checked the barometer and noted the reading in my notebook.

“You tell her.”

I laughed. “Ok, I will.”

“Is the sunset going to be beautiful tonight?” I had made a habit out of watching the sunset and recording my thoughts on it even if it didn’t have much meteorologic value.

“Maybe. Why don’t you tell me?”

“I don’t know.”

“Look at the sky and tell me what you see.” I flipped to a different section of my notebook and began making notes.

She shaded her eyes and looked toward the horizon. “I see clouds.”

“Are they thick clouds? Thin clouds? Fluffy clouds? Cotton candy clouds?”

“What’s cotton candy?” I forget sometimes how long it’s been since things fell apart.

“It’s sweet and fluffy like a cloud you can eat. Maybe we’ll make some one day. Tell me about the clouds.”

“They’re long and thin,” she said.

“Cirrus clouds. High in the atmosphere where they can catch the light and bounce it back to us. Horizon’s clear so the light won’t be blocked. Could be a nice looking sunset.”

“What’s the most beautiful sunset you’ve seen?”

“The most beautiful sunset.” I paused watching the clouds drift. “After the bombs fell, we huddled in the cellar for two days. We were outside the blast zone of course but we weren’t sure about fallout or like radioactive wind. The cellar wasn’t a bomb shelter it was just a cellar so it was lacking in certain accommodations. We decide to risk going out and into the house.

“When we climbed out of the cellar, the sun was just setting. The sky was washed in brilliant vibrant colors. Reds, oranges, purples, violets. You’ve seen them but not like that. And the scattered clouds caught the light and practically glowed. We were awestruck and just stared until the horizon turned black and the stars took over the sky.

“With the spell broken we raided the house for blankets, pillows, batteries, can food, water, clothes, whatever we thought we might need then we retreated to the cellar still afraid of radioactive wind. But we weren’t so afraid that we didn’t watch the sunset the next day and the one after that. The second night there were no clouds to break up the bands of color. By the third night, the colors were beginning to fade to normal.

“The colors of the sunset are caused by sunlight being scattered by the air. When you have mid to high clouds then the light has something to bounce off and the sky gets some texture and shape. After the bombs, the smoke and thick dust clouds cleared in the first day but the finer dust and ash took longer to settle. So for a few days, there was a thin layer of particulate to reflect the light and boost the colors.”

“Suzie,” her mother, the aptly named Big Suzie, called from the back door, “Dinner time.”

“I’m coming!” she yelled back while running toward her mother.

“You too, Toni.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said and slowly limped back to the house. We were lucky no bombs had dropped out here in the middle of nowhere. Then we were lucky more people came this way. Including Suzie.

“How’s the weather?” she asked, lending me her arm to get up the back stairs. I could have used the railing but this worked too.

“Oh not bad. Might rain day after tomorrow. Temperature is steady for now.”

“And the sunset?” I held on after reaching the landing.

“It’s going to a looker as long as the clouds don’t blow out but I doubt they will. You want to watch it with me?”

“Of course. Dinner first.”

“Of course.” It was a little awkward walking through the door arm in arm but we managed.

Welcome to the Neighborhood

Suburbs Suburbia Neighborhood Neighbors Homes

Hi, there neighbor. I’m swinging by to welcome you to the subdivision. So is it just you and your spouse? Partner, good good. And kids? That’s great! There’s lots of kids in the neighborhood. Besides welcoming you, there are some things I need to discuss with you. Can we go inside and sit down? What? No, this isn’t about the HOA and I’m not trying to recruit you into a cult. Cult recruiting happens at the monthly mixers. I’m kidding! Please, I do have some neighborhood regulations and safety rules to go over with you and your partner.

Most are common sense, wearing helmets while biking, no loud music after 11 pm Sunday through Thursday, no fireworks. I know technically we’re outside the city limits until they resurvey and redraw the lines but some of our neighbors are sensitive to sudden loud noises so they’ve been banned within the subdivision and surrounding area. If you give me your email, I can send you a complete list and sign you up for the weekly newsletter.

There is one rule I have to go over in detail. It’s more of an advisory really. Between the start of sunset and one hour after, you are advised to stay indoors. It’s not a curfew. You can go outside afterwards and no one will stop you from going out during but we don’t suggest you do so. You aren’t really going to believe me, I didn’t believe until I saw it, but I’ll lay it out for you.

We call it The Stranger. About once a week a woman, a man, a person or sometimes a child appears in the neighborhood and wanders around for an hour and disappears. It isn’t anyone in the neighborhood. When it first started appearing we tried to keep watch around the subdivision. Eventually, we tracked it back to the empty lots. So we started staking out the lots but it just appears on the sidewalk and starts walking. At the end of the hour, it disappears mid-step. Like a ghost but it’s not a ghost.

If no one engages The Stranger, it leaves on its own after an hour. It doesn’t take much to catch its attention, a nod of the head, a wave of the hand, a smile, even just brief eye contact might do it. Once you’ve engaged it, it will approach you and ask for help finding an address. The address will be close by, usually just around the corner. You can refuse or just ignore it but The Stranger will follow you for the rest of the hour yelling or screaming or crying. It will beg for you to “play the game right” or to “please help me get home” or curse at you. This is annoying or upsetting or potentially traumatic but at the end of its hour, it will disappear as normal with no other side effects.

However, if you lead The Stranger to his, her, their, destination something else happens. When you arrive at the correct address, you are strongly advised not to take them to the wrong address, we’ve already had two disappearances and don’t want any more, they will ask you inside for a refreshment. Accept and they walk to the front door, unlock it and lead you inside. The inside of the house will not match the outside. It will be bigger or smaller than you expect and the interior design will be odd. We’ve had people report Victoria townhouses, log cabins, Gothic mansions, and single room apartments. The Stranger may offer you various sodas or liquors or juices but your safest option is to ask for plain water. Drink it quickly but don’t be rude and gulp it down. They will lead you to a door other than the one you entered through, exit through it and you will be on the sidewalk somewhere in the subdivision. From there you can just walk home.

Should you refuse The Stranger’s offer, they will walk to the front door, unlock it, and enter alone. When you turn to walk back, the neighborhood will be changed. Instead of the modest two-story houses in the subdivision, there may be sparkling geodesic domes, Brutalist concrete cubes, or giant redwoods with doors and windows carved through their sides. Start walking at slow even pace. Don’t loiter in one place too long or the locals may become hostile. If no one approaches or talks to you, after an hour you will find yourself in another different neighborhood. This will continue for no less than three neighborhoods but no more than eight. Four is the average. Sooner or later you will wander back into our neighborhood. Once you are certain you are in familiar territory you may return home.

Should someone approach or talk to you, ask them to take you to your home address. If they refuse, it is advisable to simply walk away and leave them alone. If they agree to help you, follow them. The house they lead you to will not look like your house but your key will unlock the front door regardless. Offer them a refreshment. If they refuse, leave them on the sidewalk and enter the house. When you enter the house you will find your home inside and the subdivision outside.

If they accept your offer, lead them inside the house where you will find your house but different. No one will be home, the lights will seem dimmed, sounds will be muffled. Provide your helper with their choice of drink. Once they are done lead them to the back door or the garage door, just not the front door. Allow them to exit and close the door. When you turn around you will be in your home properly.

So that’s about it. If you just stay indoors from sunset to an hour after you won’t have to deal with any of that though.

Captain Marvel: Convince Me

I don’t know what to think about the Captain Marvel movie. To be honest, Marvel Studios doesn’t have any experience with female-led superhero movies. Until Black Panther, their female cast was like two women. The recent Superbowl trailer for Captain Marvel didn’t raise my level of excitement. It was mostly scenes we have seen in previous trailers recut with slightly more context. It’s almost like Marvel doesn’t want to show us to much of the movie. Could it be that they’ve already shown us the best parts of the entire movie in under five minutes?

Also, I’ve heard the critiques from the naysayers:

“I mean Captain Marvel could end up being a great inspiration to little girls but why can’t they be inspired by Captain America?” … “What’s wrong with a captain named after our great country?” … “Honestly Captain Marvel sounds like she’s from Canada.” … “There are already so many female characters in the Marvel movie I don’t know why this one needs her own movie.”

With my faith shaken by Marvel’s lack of confidence in their first female-led movie, I’ve decided to conduct an unscientific non-legally binding survey. I want sincere honest strongly held opinions so there are some rules to participate in the survey.

Guidelines:

  • Votes are to cast as donations to my paypal.
  • Odd dollar amounts ($1, $3, $5, etc.) will be counted as “YES” votes.
  • Even dollar amounts ($2, $4, $6, etc.) will be counted as “No” votes.
  • You may add comments to your vote.
  • Comments of interest will be posted on my blog.
  • Any comments that contradict the dollar amount vote (a $2 “YES” vote with comments about how bad the movie will be) will render that vote invalid.
  • All votes valid and invalid are non-refundable.

Goal Levels:

  • Majority “YES” votes: I see the movie secure that it will meet or exceed my expectations and write a review afterwards.
  • Majority “NO” votes: I will burn my ticket stub, post a video of it and write a review afterwards.

Dollar Tier Goals (Every dollar tier includes the previous tiers.)

  • $10: Popcorn and a soda will be added to my experience.
  • $15: Popcorn will be upgraded to the special Captain Marvel plastic popcorn tub (if available).
  • $30: I will treat a friend to a viewing.
  • $40: I will see the movie a second time.
  • $70: My worn out work shoes will be replaced.
  • $90: All the yarn I need for my current knitting project will be bought.
  • $200: Video of ten tickets being burned will be produced.
  • $60,000: Animated cartoon of this post produced.

Thank you, for your participation.

Crafting

yarn-and-needles

The needle slips into the stitch on the other needle, yarn loops around it and is pulled through to make a new stitch. The old stitch drops from the needle and the next stitch is ready behind it.

In, loop, pull through, drop.

In, loop, pull through, drop.

In, loop, pull through, drop.

Stitch by stitch, row by row, yarn becomes a hat, a scarf, socks, mittens, or a sweater. From simple processes, complex patterns arise.

Like words into a novel.

Like notes to a symphony.

Like atoms into molecules.

Knitters, crocheters, nålebinders, and weavers take the straight line, turn it upon itself and make all things possible.

Shooting Star

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I touch the atmosphere and begin.

The air ignites as it blasts against my surface; tearing bits and pieces off. I’ve traveled millions of miles for these last few seconds. I burn and shine and listen.

How many will I hear? One? Five? Twenty? Or will my final blaze be silent, unwitnessed, unremembered?

I strain to hear past the fire roaring. I struggle to stretch time. Just a little while longer, please.

There almost nothing left of me when I hear:

“I wish-

“I wish-

“I wish-

My light flares for the last time as my body is consumed but my spirit continues within the wishes made upon my funeral pyre.

The Void has Noticed Us and is Hungry

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I had the dream last night. A cloaked tall dark figure stood before me on a desolate plain storm rolled overhead. The figure reached for me a single skeletal finger emerging from its cloak to press against my forehead and then I awoke. We learn about the dream as children. Sometimes it causes nightmares most grow out of the nightmares sometimes they reoccur. I try to find solace in that thought. But if it was the dream I have little time to waste. I roll out of bed, pad across the carpet, down the hall into the bathroom and hesitate before flicking on the light. There on my forehead faintly glowing with golden light is the symbol of the Chosen. I have just one day to live now.

The Chosen are a sacrifice, a gift, a tribute, to something beyond us. Three hundred years ago men seeking power pierced the veil between worlds and something took notice of us. Our world was threatened with total consumption but a deal was bargained between “the unknowable ones” and “those who strayed from the safe path”.

Every day one human, neither too old nor too young, is chosen to willingly sacrifice themselves. Our debt will be settled when the sun eats the Earth. The Chosen are given one day to resign themselves to their fate. At the end of the day, midnight as measured by the position of the sun from where they stand, the emissary of “the unknowable ones” appears and takes their life. If they try to run or hide or fight, the emissary will take reparations: every life within five miles of the Chosen.

The early years of this new status quo were rife with mass deaths caused by Chosen who didn’t know about the settlement with “the unknowable ones”. Even after the information was spread widely, many people were simply too scared to willingly allow themselves to be killed. Only after the children, who had grown up seeing towns and cities harvested, came of age and shouldered their responsibility to the world willingly did the reapings come under our control.

We are taught from a young age, that if we are chosen, it is our duty to die willingly to spare those around us. Not everyone takes this to heart, however. Over the years some have used to threat of a reaping to become tyrants for their last day. Others merely indulge themselves with luxuries. No one denies the request of the Chosen.

Back in my bedroom, I retrieve my phone, took a selfie, and posted it on every social media account I had. I could stay home alone or spend my final hours privately with family and friends. Say my goodbyes, write a final will, and leave this mortal coil quietly and peacefully.

I have other plans. I have a revolution to start.

Daughter of Earth-5

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The Goddess waited in a lonely field. She laid on her back in the tall grass, staring up at the cloudless night sky. Arm outstretched, fingers gliding between the stars. A simple flick of her wrist could sweep the stars from the sky. Maybe one day but not tonight. Soft footsteps caught her attention.

“We could have met in a cafe for brunch or a restaurant for dinner or a library for tea but you insisted on a cold dark night,” the young woman gestured wildly at the lack of human presence nearby causing her coat to flap around her, “in the middle of nowhere.”

The Goddess sat up and smiled, “Hello to you, too.”

“Oh yes, hello and glad tidings, Mother,” the young woman said, sarcasm biting at every word. She sighed and continued sincerely, “How have you been?”

“Very fine.” The Goddess stood up and walked to her. “Earth-18 has started cooling finally and Earth-9 is on the verge of intelligent life.

The young woman allowed her glasses to slip down her nose.

“Why are you wearing eyeglasses? Your eyes should be perfect!” The Goddess stared into the young woman’s eyes. “They are perfect.”

“They’re just flat lenses. When I change identities, I get new frames to help change my appearance. Along with changing my hairstyle and clothes. It’s getting harder with face recognition software. My current identity almost fell apart because of a picture posted on Facebook that got auto-tagged with my previous identity.” She paused continuing cautiously, “You don’t know what Facebook is, do you?”

“I didn’t until you mentioned it. I am lightly touching the global unconscious mind; just to pull words and concepts out as I need them, nothing more.”

“So, I could say Micky Mouse and you would know what that is?”

The Goddess’s face lit up with a smile. “Oh, that’s delightful. Why didn’t you mention him earlier?”

“There’s a lot ‘delightful’ things here but also a lot of terrible things.”

“How is your Earth doing?” The Goddess closed the gap between them an wrapped an arm around the younger woman’s shoulders. “How is your father doing?”

“Didn’t you see him when you returned?”

“No, I came here from Earth-2 directly via quantum tunneling. Wait, what did I say?” She slapped a hand over her mouth.

“Is that how you travel from planet to planet?” she asked. “You never explained how you do that.”

“Yes, but I didn’t realize the people of this Earth had reached that level of understanding. They have words, real words, for it. You haven’t been helping them have you?”

“No. Of course not. The first rule is no interference with the normal development of local civilization. Anyway, Dad is doing fine. His flares and spots are in decline but that’s normal. I can’t understand him like you can but I still talk to him. You don’t need me to tell you any of this. You can just know it if you want.”

“I do need you to tell me about your Earth. I stopped watching when you asked. You wanted privacy so I gave it to you.”

“That was only two hundred and twenty-four years ago. Not that much as changed.”

“Still tell me about it, please.” They started slowly walking through the field.

“No major geological changes, of course. Oh, there was that island that disappeared but it might have been made up to increase a country’s ocean border. Some men walked on the moon–”

“Space Travel! Now that is news.”

“They only went a few times to the moon about thirty years ago. There are a few space stations but nothing really beyond that.”

The Goddess looked up to the sky, her smile brightening. “What about the probes to Pluto, Jupiter, the rovers on Mars? Oh, that one probe that to the comet was ambitious. Oh sorry,” the Goddess ducked her head, “I went a little deeper into the global unconscious mind. Just about space travel. I promise. I won’t do it again. What else has happened?”

“Um, well global temperatures are on the rise. Lots of wars, and conflicts and … and …” She choked on describing the atrocities people had committed and continued to commit.

“It’s ok, go on.” The Goddess pulled her tighter against herself.

The young woman gathered herself. “People are still people; just as horrible to each other but still capable of surprising kindness. I – why did you leave me here?”

“This is your home.”

“But I don’t belong here. I’ve been alone since you left. I have friends but I can’t keep them for more than a few decades before they notice I don’t age like them. And they die so easily.”

“People will always come and go from your life. It’s not about keeping them forever; it’s about being with them while you have time. Also, you asked me to leave, remember?” the Goddess said.

“Not for so long. I just wanted a little space. I little time for myself. You were always right there and you always knew everything. I just wanted a little space not to be abandoned.”

“You are almost eight hundred and sixty-three years old and you will live many many more years. You’ve been living at a human pace for your whole life but out there,” she swung her hand up and across the sky, “Out there away from the human reminders of time, you’ll find it moves at whatever pace you want it to move. I gave you as much space and time as was safe for you. I’ve never been too far to hear you call for me.”

“I wanted to call you but I wanted you to come back because you missed me not because I needed you.”

“It could have been both. Anyways, I’m here now and I’m not leaving but I won’t crowd you as much. We’ll start with ten year breaks and figure it out from there. What do you say?”

“Five year breaks?”

“Whatever you want. Come on, your father will be rising in a couple of hours and there’s a ridge that has the best view right over there.”

The Witch Downstairs – A Francine Non-Adventure

Index

Author Note: This is the start of the second serial story of Francine’s Non-Adventures. The first story was published last year and can be read from the link above. I’m currently working on rewriting parts for my overdue ebook collection.


I knocked on the door with the Coexist bumper sticker on it. The “witch’s door” as many people in the building called it. We had never met but I knew her from reputation. Well actually I had started hearing about her after the ghost in the park across the street started wailing my name on odd nights. I assumed I was supposed to talk to the witch about the ghost and kick off either a horror plot or supernatural drama. I had done neither by getting a pair of earplugs and simply avoiding her floor.

Now I was deliberately invoking a plot hook. After my recent success in dealing with the magic serial killer, without getting too involved, I noticed the plot hooks I normally had to dodge were gone. It was refreshing to not have to worry about spies or wizards or ghosts. Of course, nothing lasts forever and a few weeks later I was back to dropping USB sticks and throwing away magic rings. And the ghost started wailing my name again.

It didn’t take a genius to figure out that taking care of the magic serial killer had satisfied the god-like force that wanted me involved in these “adventures”. So, I decided to talk to the “witch” and see where this plot hook was headed.

The door opened and a woman a few years older than me opened the door. She looked like Hollywood’s version of a New Age Hippy. Loose clothing, scarves tied and draped around her body, long curly messy hair, small glasses perched halfway down her nose. She smiled then frowned.

“Hold on a second,” she said, took off her glasses, and replaced them with another pair from her pocket. As she looked me up and down thoroughly, I noticed the glasses she was wearing didn’t have lenses.

“Um, hi, I’m Francine. I live on the fourth floor.”

“Francine … Francine,” she muttered as she stepped into the hall to circle around me. “Oh, you’re whose name I hear screeched every night from the park.”

“It’s not every night.”

She looked up to my face, “It’s been every night for the last week.”

“Has it? I wear earplugs so I don’t hear it.”

“Earplugs? That’s one solution, I guess. You could just go see what that spirit wants with you. May I?” She gestured at my arm. I nodded and she gently raised my arm up.

“I’d rather not engage with the supernatural directly. That’s kind of why I’m here. I’ve heard you’re a … an expert on the subject.”

“I’m a witch if that’s what you mean. Wow, you are a mess.”

“Excuse me?”

“You got your fate lines all tangled up and twisted around.” She waved her hand in the air under my arm. “Look at that. I don’t know how you make it through a day without tripping over yourself.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Fate lines. They’re possibilities, paths through life that you could take. Most people have a dozen, at most, but not you. You have a couple hundred but most of them are slack like they aren’t pulling you in a direction. They’re just there and you’re all tangled up in them.”

“Ok, I think I do know what you’re talking about.”

“Do you? Then spill.” She stood in front of me arms crossed.

“I think I’m being railroaded by a ‘higher power’ into having for lack of a better word ‘adventures’.”

“Huh. So you have a lot of ‘adventures’?”

“When I was younger. After high school, they stopped. Last year strange things started happening like something was trying to get me involved with new adventures. I started avoiding them and then things got really weird.”

“Really weird how?”

“I’ve seen things that made me doubt my sanity. Have you ever seen a portal to another world? Or magic rings? Or wizards dueling in alleyways? Or heard ghosts screaming your name?”

“No. No. No. Yes. Well, not my name. Your name, yeah. What can you tell me about the ghost?”

“Nothing. I don’t know anything about it.” If I had my way it would stay that way.

“But it’s calling your name.” Her eyes narrowed as she studied me again.

“Yeah, something wants me to investigate the ghost and … do something.”

“Something like what?”

“Well, usually ghosts mean the person was killed or had unfinished business so I guess I’d have to find the killer or finish their business for them in some way. Shouldn’t you be telling me how to deal with the ghost?”

She nodded, “If you know what to do why haven’t you done it?”

“I don’t want to get involved with … all this,” I said waving my arms around me.

She closed her eyes and was silent for a moment. “Then why did you come to talk to me?”

“I need your help.”

“Why my help?”

“Because… Because you’re a witch.” She opened her eyes and smiled.

“Interesting,” she said while adjusting her lensless glasses.

“What? What’s interesting?”

“One of the fate lines has lost some of its slack.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means you’re moving toward one of the paths that fate has made for you.”

“So, will you help me with the ghost or not?”

“Of course. I have a fate line of my own that leads straight to you.”


Index