Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Tea and Toast

Let me tell you something, sir. You want a good breakfast? No I’m talking holy grail of breakfasts. You want that, you want England. Now, I say England has the best breakfast, but unless it’s something you really like, don’t have the “English Breakfast.” Let me detail it out for you.
It’s a big plate with scrambled eggs, stewed tomatoes (I’m not even kidding), baked beans--except they aren’t really baked beans; they taste different--hashbrowns, Canadian bacon (which should be called awkward ham because that’s what it is. It’s ham and it’s cold and it’s weirdly salty), and then finally tea and toast.
Now, the whole dealy-o is...well, I guess if you like that sort of thing, go for it. However, there is one little aspect of this breakfast that is truly divine.
Tea and toast.
I don’t know how, maybe it’s because of Harry Potter and his magic, but for some reason the toast is always perfect. It arrives on this handy-dandy little toast holder, that has each piece in its own slot that must be how they toasted it so perfectly. I don’t know. But it comes out and every piece is gloriously golden-brown, like a perfect marshmallow. (I don’t want to hear from you people who immolate your marshmallows. That is fun if you’re burning down a city, but you just can’t eat that monstrosity afterward.) But the toast, the toast is warm and crispy and not burnt even a little. There’s a lovely array of jams and jellies and butter and you can make your toast as perfect as you want. Take a nice raspberry jam maybe and scratch it out to the edges, adding another layer until it spreads smoothly.
And then the tea. Well, this is England, let’s remember so the tea is going to be superb. The proper tea for breakfast is of course, English Breakfast Tea. And it comes out in a teapot and it’s perfect and it’s lovely and you can’t find better tea anywhere in the world.

[blueberry crepes, it's been ten days since I posted. Very sorry everyone. I'll make up for it in a few days with a longer, interesting post. And probably also another tip/lesson thing too. :) ]

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Family Sandwich (Part two)

Atlanta, Georgia. Two Years Later.
Billy dropped his head on the hotel table with a demoralizing thud as his brother brought out The Book. Unperturbed by his drama, his brother sat down and let the book fall on the table in a thud even louder than what Billy’s head had done. Billy groaned.
“Texas!” his brother announced, flipping open the book.
“No more,” Billy begged. “No more.”
“But we’re over halfway now. We can’t stop.”
“So help me, if you drag me off to another state to eat another blasted sandwich--”
“But you like sandwiches,” his brother protested.
Billy looked up with a glare that would put off the devil. “Not anymore.” His brother started to protest, but Billy stood up, cutting him off. “Thirty-nine states. Thirty-nine states, Murphy. And in every single state we locate the specific restaurant that has the specific sandwich that is specified in that blasted book! I have had buffalo burgers from Montana, Cuban sandwiches from Florida, the Reuben from New York, cheesesteak in Philly, and let’s not forget the Wonder Bread factory.”
“That was your fault,”  Murphy interjected. “I had nothing to do with that.”
“The point is, Murph, is that I am sick and tired of sandwiches! I did not sign up to go on a quest for the Great American Sandwich.”
“But it’s what we do.”
Billy stared at him. “Are you insane? What is this to you? The family business? Our sacred quest? Dear lord, Murphy, they’re sandwiches!”
“I don’t see the problem.”
“Then let me lay it out: This is stupid and we should stop. I mean who does this, really? Who roadtrips across America looking for sandwiches? We have no jobs, no home. I should be in college. You should be halfway through law school.”
“I hate law.”
“We should have girlfriends and going to crazy parties and visiting Grandma on holidays. Instead we are crisscrossing America like some vagabond gypsies, pulling cons and eating sandwiches.”
“Mm. The gypsy. That was a good sandwich. Where was that? Arkansas?”
Billy slapped his shoulder. “You’re not listening! You do realize that we could be arrested for the cons we pull and for what? Some sandwiches? I don’t think so, Murph. I do not think so.”
Murphy leaned back in his chair, one elbow on the back. “A fine time for you start complaining now, thirty-nine states in.”
Billy was not amused. “I swear you have amnesia. This is the thirty-ninth time I have brought this up.”
Murphy grinned. “Brought it up, sure. Complained, not so much.”
“Whatever!” Billy shouted. “But I am not going to Texas. I’m not going on any more crazy sandwich hunts with you. You’re on your own. I’m going to go to school and get a girlfriend and be normal. Sorry, Murph. Remember to call once in awhile.”
And with that, Billy turned and strode toward the door.
Murphy sighed. “Come back here, Billy,” he said quietly.
Billy stopped, his hand on the doorknob, and with a deep groan, wrenched himself around again. “What?”
His brother patted the table. “Come on.”
Teeth gritted, drumming his fingers against his thigh, Billy tried to think of a good reason to just leave, but dang it all, this was his brother. He couldn’t just walk out without letting Murphy get a word in, however dramatic it may look to do otherwise. He crossed back to the table and sat down.
“Let me tell you something, Bil.”
“Alright, tell me then.”
“Sandwiches, going from state to state in search of them, that’s just the surface. That’s just what I’ve told you we’re doing. It’s actually a bit more than that.”
Billy sat up with interest. “You mean where you go all the time?”
“Yeah. Now look. There’s a lot of weird things in this world and you probably won’t believe me, but I think it’s about time I give it ago.” He tapped the sandwich book. “This isn’t about sandwiches.”
Billy’s eyebrow slowly climbed to his hairline where it stopped, studying Murphy’s face from the higher vantage point to see if that would give more insight. It didn’t, but it did prompt more information from Murphy.
“I mean, it is, but that’s just what everyone else sees. See, there’s a code in the book. Well, I say code, but it’s more like a second text. You follow?”
“I do not follow.”
“Okay. The deal is this. This is a spell book.”
Billy stared blankly at Murphy, then said, “Sure.”
“No, I ain’t kidding here, Billy. This is a bona fide spell book. And you and I are witches.”
“But those are girls,” was all Billy could think to say.
Murphy chuckled. “Yeah, in some cultures. Now our family runs all the way back to the Celts, yeah?”
“Well, the Celts had a strong belief in magic and the like. And you remember Grandma telling us stories about the druids?”
“Well, there’s not a lot known about them period, but those who ran in the same circles, knew that the druids were witches basically. And we’re descendant from druids. Mom was one. Grandma is one. Our great-grandfather was one and so on all the way back to who knows.”
“You know how nuts this is sounding?”
Murphy nodded. “Yeah. Bear with me?”
Billy just spread his hands, leaning back in his chair. “By all means. Go ahead. So we’re witches, or druids or whatever. And the sandwich book is a spell book.”
“Pretty much, yeah. Now--”
“So what exactly are we doing as we track down these sandwiches?”
Murphy folded his hands. “You’re tracking down sandwiches. Me, I’m doing spells.”
“Uh-huh. For what?”
Murphy rubbed at his cheek. “Well, so the Celts were big on nature, right?”
Billy shrugged. “Sure.”
“And well, America’s not.”
“Yeah, that’s another thing. Druids were an Irish thing and we ain’t in Ireland. How the heck--”
“Shut up!” Murphy interrupted. “I’m getting to it.”
“Then get to it faster.”
“Okay. Short version: a druid immigrated to America during the potato famine, brought with him one of the last Seeds of Life, which are a big deal in druid culture, grant prosperity, etc, etc. Supposedly, the Seeds had been poisoned and that’s why Ireland suffered so much at this time, he was trying to save the last one, whatever. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that he hid the Seed in America, who the heck knows where, and as his last descendants, it is our job to make sure the Seed stays alive. When the time is right, etc, it’ll go back to Ireland and all will be as it was, and so on and so forth.”
Billy blinked once. “So the what? Keep it alive?”
“Some renew it, some protect it. I mean, America is full of industry and technology which make it hard for something of pure nature to thrive on its own. And then there’s...uh, things that try to eat it.”
Murphy shrugged. “Twisted Guardians of nature, shadow fiends, evil druids, that sort of thing.”
“What?” Billy exclaimed. “Why do they want to eat it?”
“Then they get its power. Supposedly if you ingest it, you’ll be healed of any wound and will not die as long as there is nature. And you get the power of nature, aka could more or less destroy the world if you wanted.”
“Holy crap,” Billy said, running a hand through his hair. “This is some serious crap.”
Murphy leaned forward slightly. “You believe me?”
“Not a whit, but if I did, this would be some serious crap.”
Murphy nodded, sitting back. It was as much as he’d expected.
“So, what’s it got to do with a sandwich book?” Billy asked. “I mean, okay, let’s say I buy this. I have read that sandwich book a million times and I have never noticed a code or anything like that. I mean, are you sure it’s a spell book because I’m pretty sure it’s a recipe book.”
“Well, like I said, it’s not a code per say. It’s that I can see past the surface text to the real text.”
“Like reading between the lines?”
“No.” Murphy turned the book around and pushed it toward his brother. “It’s literally a second sight. You can do it, you just don’t know how.”
“Are you about to freak me out here?” Billy asked, edging away from the book.
Murphy scoffed. “More than I have?”
“Good point.”
Murphy tapped the book. “Let your eyes unfocus on it and sort of...I don’t know, try to believe me.”
“That I’m a magical druid and this is not in fact a sandwich book but a spell book?”
“Yeah. That.”
Billy huffed, then threw his hands up and gave it a go, staring at the page until his eyes unfocused. He rolled through everything Murphy had said, thinking about the different times Murphy would go off in each city they stayed. He’d be gone all night sometimes. Billy always thought he’d been off with some girl or whatever, but maybe...and he did sometimes come back to the hotel a bit beat up. There was the one time in Pennsylvania Murphy had returned with a broken ankle and cracked rib. He’d claimed he’d tripped on some stairs, but Billy hadn’t really believed him, especially not when he’d glimpsed the dirt and what impossibly seemed to be bits of bark edged in the cuts. Billy’s forehead rumpled. What would a twisted Guardian of nature look like? Bit tree like maybe? Capable of breaking bones probably.
Suddenly Billy jerked away from the book as he realized the text had shifted while he’d been staring at it without paying attention. It was most definitely not talking about sandwiches anymore.
“What is this crap?” he exclaimed.
“Gaelic,” Murphy answered with satisfaction.
“You read Gaelic?”
“Yep.” Murphy dragged the book back toward him and grinned. “Welcome to the family business, little brother.”

[The second and last part of this particular short, broken up for your convenience. Though the length between postings is because I forgot I was posting in parts.]

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Family Sandwich (Part one)

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Murphy sprinted down the asphalt street, heavy bookbag slapping against his back with every step, the cold, early spring air ripping each breath from his throat with the sharpness of knives. He took a sharp turn at the end of the alley and poured on more speed, driving toward the industry corner of the city, away from the parks.
Why was it here? Why was there a Guardian in Philly? What in heck was wrong with the thing? What part about ‘it’s a city’ didn’t it get? Murphy raced toward a chainlink gate surrounding the factory, scrambling up it and leaping down the otherside, his shirt tearing on the barbed wire. He felt the sharp pull as some of flesh pulled away with the shirt and then landed hard on his feet, his hands slapping the pavement. He had no time to stop and inspect his new injuries or even catch his breath. A little thing like barbed wire wasn’t going to stop a Guardian.
Murphy kicked open the factory’s side door and barrelled up the stairs to the main floor. He wove through the machinery and conveyor belts until he reached the middle of it all. Only then did he stop, bending over his knees as he sucked down air. His legs were shaking from his run, but even surrounded by metal and industry he didn’t feel safe, wasn’t safe. The bookbag slid up his back with gravity, threatening to flip over his shoulder and he straightened up again, swinging it off his shoulders and kneeling down beside it. Fumbling with the zipper, he wrenched it open, almost breaking it in panic. It had to be a Guardian. Of everything in the world he thought he’d come across in Philly, a Guardian was not it. They hated cities.
After a few seconds of useless rooting, Murphy finally just dumped the bag upside down and let the contents flop to the concrete floor. The book fell out first, followed by a small waterfall of other odds and ends from chalk to matches to leaves to a pocket calendar to Gatorade bottles of blood. Murphy flipped the book open to a dirty, dog-eared page with one hand, his other hunting through the pile of things for the oak leaves. He bunched them together and picked up the matchbook, striking one match which broke. He tried twice more, then discarded the matches and dug his lighter out of his pocket.
His brother hated that lighter; he thought Murphy was smoking and was in extreme disapproval of the idea. As Murphy set the oak leaves on fire, he couldn’t help but let out a tired chuckle. He may not smoke cigarettes or weed, but it couldn’t be denied he smoked.
While the leaves burned, Murphy hastily drew symbols on the concrete in a circle around the leaves, then unscrewed the Gatorade bottle and sprinkled blood over the whole thing. He leaned over the book, scanning the text, but just as he opened his mouth to start speaking, silence descended over the empty factory.
Murphy lifted his head in alarm. Even the sounds of the city were missing, the creaks of a building settling, of metal shifting marginally. All he could hear was his heavy breathing and his heart hammering his ribcage. His arm and hands throbbed painfully, almost audibly from his leap over the fence. Then a shriek of twisting metal pierced the air. Murphy slowly looked down at his little spell. It wasn’t going to be enough.
A thunderous crack of snapping concrete made him jump and he hastily bent over the book again, chanting in the dim light of the burning oak leaves, as the ground trembled and concrete snapped and cracked around him as roots bubbled up through humanity’s efforts of domesticating the earth. Murphy whipped his head toward the way he’d come to see a tight weave of vine ripple from the hallway, spreading out to coat the walls, floors and ceilings, stretching toward him. And then the Guardian arrived.
Hallway splintering around its enormous form, the massive creature stepped onto the factory floor. It was an upright Guardian, built like a redwood with much of its coloring. But it was a twisted Guardian, as Murphy had figured. Black sap coiled through the ridges of its flesh and built up to create spines and ridges along its body. The Guardian was twisted and hunched so its trunk like arms nearly stooped to the floor, giving it some semblance of its kinder cousin. The black ooze dripped from its foggy, white eyes, carving tracks in the creature’s face.
Murphy hesitated a moment longer than he should have, watching the beast with sadness. They were noble creatures, Guardians, at least before they were consumed with wrath and driven mad with grief. The beast took a step and bellowed, the machinery crumpling. Murphy covered his ears and hunched over the ashes of the oak leaves, just barely smoldering, and quickly inhaled deeply, the smoke shooting up his nose and mouth.
He jerked his head back and exhaled smokelessly, feeling the spell take place. The fire flared up again among the ashes and Murphy stood, facing the twisted Guardian. Smoke curled out of Murphy’s nose and mouth, growing in volume quickly until he was surrounded in the cloud as if he were wearing a heavy robe. He dug into his pocket, but the only thing he found in there was his phone. Murphy grimaced, then pulled it out and held it firmly in his fist. The smoke followed his movement, curling around the phone and then flowed up and down into a tall staff covered with glowing images, namely his various apps. Murphy forgave the spell for that; he’d given it a poor weapon to use.
The Guardian charged. Murphy floundered backwards, surprised by the charge, flailing his staff-phone in front of him. It cast beams of blue-white light toward the Guardian, forcing the beast to halt. It bared black fangs and bellowed again, sap flowing down its arms and stretching out into vicious claws. With a swipe, it broke past the light and came again, black vines and roots tearing up the concrete before it. Murphy turned to run, but the vines had surrounded him, blocking off his escape.
One tangled around his ankle, and Murphy stabbed at it with his staff, trying to pull his foot free. It finally recoiled away, but not until a loud snap echoed through the room as Murphy’s ankle broke. He roared, bracing himself against his staff to keep his feet, then saw through the smoke, that he’d received a text message and from the spell no less.
Turn around, it read.
He spun back toward the Guardian in time to see its claws easily encircle his torso and squeeze. Murphy shouted in pain, only the spell keeping the creature from breaking his ribs. He swung his phone and the smokey staff swung with it, smashing into the Guardian’s head. It stumbled back, but then the burning ashes went out and the spell died. The Guardian batted the phone from Murphy’s hand. It hit vines and he heard it crack into pieces as the roots crushed it into pieces. Murphy glared at the beast.
“That was a new phone,” he growled.
The Guardian wrapped its other hand around Murphy.
“Domhan a thabhairt dom neart. Sp√©artha a thabhairt dom √≠onachta,” he wheezed as he felt his ribs crack without the spell’s protection. But he rubbed his hand across his bleeding arm and then smeared it across the Guardian’s face. Its eyes widened and it dropped him, reeling back. Murphy watched from where he laid as the Guardian retreated, howling in agony, the vines and roots withdrawing with it.
Only when the sounds of the city reached him again, did he drag himself back to his bookbag, scatter the chalk and the ashes of the oak leaves, and then sketch out a new spell. When it was done, he packed everything up, fashioning a brace for his broken ankle, and then limped from the factory before the police could find him there. He didn’t really care about the police though. The real trouble would come when he made it back to the hotel and his brother saw him.
Murphy wiped sap off his face and winced. He had no idea what excuse he was going to use this time. 

[part one of two of this particular short story]

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Bared Souls (Part 3)

Jones whirled toward her in confusion in time to see her reaching toward him with a cross in one hand, and then a black shape swirled toward him. A sudden windstorm billowed around Jones, somehow both around him and inside him, everything black. Something was shrieking in his head and then his face started burning, his body started burning.
He jerked upward with a sharp inhale, feeling as if he’d been drowning. The corpse stood over him, Talia kneeling beside him and patting the crucifix she’d placed around his neck. Jones stared at her, then looked up at the very mobile corpse.
“Isn’t that a problem?” he asked.
“Quite so,” she replied brightly.
He tilted his head, briefly studying her expression. She was enjoying this, the sadist.
The corpse looked at them with black eyes, then extended his hand toward them. Jones reacted on instinct, grabbing the shovel, flipping the flat part up into the air, and slamming the corpse in the head. The dead man dropped and Jones leapt to his feet, preparing to run, then realized that he would be running from the thing he needed. He halted and cursed, staring at the corpse trying to regain his feet.
“How do we get the demon out of the body?” he asked Talia.
She shrugged. “I’ve never exorcised a dead person.”
He narrowed his eyes and shot a look at her. “Did you exorcise me?”
She just smiled. “What else?”
Jones grunted, then dismissed that. “Can you exorcise a corpse?”
The demon stood again with much more fluidity than before, and Jones and Talia retreated toward the door.
“Hit it again. I’ll try,” Talia said, her eyes briefly flicking down then back up to Jones’ face.
The demon held up his hand and blue flames snapped into being, burning with a strong, sulfuric scent. Then the demon thrust his hand forward, the fire roaring toward them. Jones dove one way, Talia another.
“Can you maybe try exorcising a moving target?”
Exorcizmus te, omnis imundus spiritus,” Talia chanted hastily.
The demon spun toward her and sent a carpet of fire running toward her. She leapt onto the desk to avoid the blue flames.
Jones stepped up behind the corpse and smashed the shovel against its head, the neck snapping too far sideways with an audible crack. The demon didn’t fall this time, though. He just popped his head back into place and turned to eye Jones. A stiff grin crossed the dead man’s face and he wrapped his hand around Jones’ neck, squeezing.
Jones’ eyes bugged out and he grasped at the cold wrist, struggling to choke down air. Then Talia loosed a canteen on the demon’s head. Steam rose from his skin and he screamed, letting Jones go. Jones sucked in a deep breath, regaining his balance, then punched the demon hard while Talia chanted.
The demon frantically send droves of weakening fire toward them both, finally launching himself at Talia. She flicked the canteen toward him, but it was empty. The demon chuckled, then seized her by the neck and hurled her against the wall with a sick crunch. Jones ripped the crucifix off his neck and pressed it against the dead man’s forehead. The demon screamed again and tried to push Jones away, but Jones drove him back, slamming him into the wall and pinning him there, cross to his forehead until black dust swirled from the body and vanished into the air.
Jones stepped back, panting. The corpse dropped lifelessly to the floor and Jones looked at Talia. “You okay?”
She lifted her head and nodded. “Broken rib, I think,” she said. “I’ll be alright.”
Jones helped her to her feet and she chuckled wheezily.
Her eyes slithered down his chest, then unabashedly returned to his face. “You’re naked.”
Jones looked down, realizing for the first time that he was in fact naked. It seemed a bit late to do anything about modesty, but he made a half-hearted effort.
“I warned you,” she said, her eyes most definitely not on his face.
He remembered her saying a demon would strip him naked and eat his soul. He had to admit that he thought she’d been kidding. Apparently not. “So is my soul eaten?”
She shrugged, her hand on her ribs, and lifted her gaze again. “Go take that thing to the church. I’m going to steal your horse and get a physician.”
Then she slowly, stiffly left the room, leaving Jones with the corpse.

Jones stared at the bright morning and adjusted the naked corpse draped over his shoulders. That fact that he was also naked was just an unexpected turn of events, but he had what he wanted. Mission accomplished, cashflow secure.
He stepped forward onto the busy sidewalk and set off boldly along the path, smiling and tipping his head to every passerby who didn’t know what to stare at first.

[Part 3 of 3 of the short story, broken up for your convenience.]