Haunted House — t-minus 42 hours 

Had a productive evening of minor chaos and major productivity at the theatre. Although we didn’t have the full volunteer contingent, we still had double or more of the number of students who participated last year, and they were almost too efficient. I’m very happy with where we left off tonight — still have a list of things to do and materials to prepare, but it’s shorter now. And the rooms are looking close to what I had envisioned. Helped my boy problem-solve his mask-making, podged my Necronomicon and painted the inside covers, too. My enthusiasm is waxing again. This should be a heck of a lot of fun!

Now, if only the teenagers would remember to dress warmly in the cold theatre . . .

   
  

A new friend on loan from other new friends!

 

The Thirsty Blade: Flash Fiction Dark Fantasy

Henry paused the metal detector where the beeping was steady, just like he’d seen on the telly, and dropped a button on the ground to mark the spot. 

Then, he carefully set the apparatus down, removed his coat, and set about digging. 

His son had called him a fool for taking from his pension to buy the thing, but Henry had a feeling in his gut that he’d find results. If not a buried Roman hoard, perhaps relics from a more recent century that could be worth a few more pounds than the machine had cost. And what else was there to do upon retiring from forty years of keeping a pub?

The spot he’d chosen, just far enough into the woods from the motorway that the sound of engines were a gentle growl, was mossy and overgrown. It reminded him of a fairy tale. The great twisted tree roots and a nearby babbling brook spoke to him of ancient mages and whispering Druids, although whether they’d been prone to whispers or taken vows of silence like monks, he couldn’t recall. Still, it had seemed the best place to start his hunting. 

When his spare hit something hard, he knew that he had been right to follow his instinct. Bugger his son for refusing to take chances and get the most out of life!

“Well, once you’ve stood behind that counter for another twenty-five or thirty years, perhaps you’ll be looking for adventure, yourself,” he muttered, sinking creakily to his knees. 

Dampness seeped into the cloth on his knees, and he knew the dirt and moss were likely to leave stains on his slacks, but the faint glint of metal in the clods of earth took away that care, too.

Henry reached into the hole to brush the metal clean. To his astonishment, it wasn’t a box or a decorative rod. It was a sword. 

“I’ve found bloody Excalibur!” He laughed aloud. 

Even though the little dell was shaded from the summer sun, Henry was sweating and his chest heaving with effort by the time he’d uncovered the rest of the thing. Whether it could be properly termed a broadsword or a longsword, he couldn’t be certain, but it was — or had been — a beauty. The hilt was intricately designed with inlays and carvings peeking out from under centuries of dirt and tarnish, and the blade was whole, though edged with notches and blackened by time.

“Poor old thing,” he told it, shaking a hanky open to wipe it down. “Not even broken. Put out to pasture and forgotten before your time, eh? Buried away from slaying dragons and rescuing maidens just when life was getting good? Well, I know how that feels. Indeed I do.”

The hilt felt friendly in his hand. Manly. Henry stood up with it and automatically straightened his shoulders, running the fingers of his open hand along its tarnished edge. One callused finger caught on a crack. He started at the little burst of hurt, nearly dropping the sword in shock. 

“Blast, wasn’t expecting that.” 

He leaned the sword on a tree trunk to fetch a thermos of clean water from his pack. It was short work to rinse his cut. Even shorter to realize that the place on the sword where it had cut him was . . . Clean.

Henry stared. “Blimey.”

He moved closer and adjusted his spectacles. Wiped them on the least bit of dirty shirttail, just in case. There was no mistaking, though — that small spot on the blade’s edge where he’d cut himself, a section no bigger than his thumbnail, gleamed as brightly as a polished mirror. 

“How could that be?” Henry wondered aloud. 

A wind rattled the leaves of the tree, and the summer sun seemed to disappear, leaving a dark chill behind it. Time to leave. Henry shivered, putting his coat back on for a moment before taking it off again. He laid it flat and wrapped the sword in it for the walk back to the car park. No need for anyone else to see his finding, after all. There would be too many unnecessary questions, if someone noticed him tucking a great dirty sword in the dented boot of his car.

When he got it home, Henry locked the sword in his old kit from the war, washed up, and had his tea. He knew he ought to go to bed, but his thoughts were still filled with knights and castles, so he sat at the old computer that his son called a relic and logged onto the World Wide Web to see if he could find some answers. 

How did one clean an old sword, anyhow?

He supposed he could call the curator of a museum, or an antiques specialist, but it was in the back of his mind that they might try to take the sword from him. And he simply could not let that happen. It belonged to him, now.

Henry hadn’t felt this good in years. So energized and full of purpose. He barely noticed the passage of the afternoon into evening, or evening into night. When his son phoned in the morning, as usual, he was still at his computer, and he didn’t take the call. 

Which was why Peter came round at 10.

“Dad! Have you been sitting there all night?”

Henry turned in his chair to gaze blearily at his grown-up child. “Oh. Peter. Hallo. I didn’t hear you come in.”

“You didn’t answer your phone. Had me a bit worried, you know.” Peter tsked, looking over Henry’s shoulder at the computer screen. “What’s this nonsense you’re looking at now? Swords?”

“Yes, yes! You’ll never believe what I found!” Henry pushed away from the table and rose with little of his usual difficulty, in spite of the hours he’d sat in the chair, and went to his kit. Peter was close behind, demanding answers in a steady stream of belligerent remarks, mainly the usual claptrap about wasting money and remembering to keep putting extra by, for the sake of the future.

“Well, if it is worth something, ithe sword will be your inheritance instead of bits of my pension!” Henry snapped. He pulled the sword out, his hand comfortably gripping the hilt as though it had always done so, and turned on one bended knee to show his tarnushed treasure to his son.

He underestimated how quickly he could turn. Was used to his bones creaking and his joints aching. Peter was standing too closely, as he’d been wont to do for years, invading Henry’s space in an effort to be helpful. 

The blackened and uneven blade sliced cleanly through Peter’s side, cutting kidney and intestine right up to the ribcage, where it caught. Henry and Peter stared at each other. Then, following his instinct, Henry put his weight behind the hilt, changed his grip, and thrust the blade upward, cleaving his son’s  chest in two. 

Peter’s mouth fell open and then his head dropped down as though he wanted to watch the sword’s gleaming metal sliding free of the sheath of his body. Henry couldn’t take his own eyes off it, barely glancing as his son’s corpse hit the floor. Under the layer of swiftly clotting blood and matter, threads of fabric and bits of skin, the blade shone almost like new. And then, before his astonished gaze, the blood disappeared. He blew the dried bits of material off the sword, marveling at its craftsmanship and beauty.

“Now that’s a way to clean you up, isn’t it?” Henry whistled, long and low. He turned the blade this way and that, noting how the shine ended where the blood had stopped. He rose to his feet, his back straighter than it had been in years. Henry felt like a new man.

But when he experimentally dipped the last of the tarnished bits in his son’s open wound, there was no noticeable effect.

“Ah, I think I understand, my sir,” Henry told the blade. “I worked in a pub for forty years. I know a thirsty customer when I see one. And only a fresh pint’ll do, won’t it?”

He stepped over Peter and headed for the door. The young fellow who lived next door, who’d kicked his car and dented it — Henry could often hear him outside, strutting about with his mates. He couldn’t wait to see what the bastard lay-about thought of his new sword.

The Necronomicon Takes Shape

I’m a little concerned about flaking here and there, but the paint on the back is nearly done. I may apply a second coat, and a wash of gloss of some kind. Modge-podge? Watered-down glue? 

  
I tried highlighting with red first, but it got almost completely covered, so in the second coat I may mix the red and black together a bit, to a really dark shade that isn’t quite black, try that out. Also wondering whether I might be able to work in some highlighting with glow-in-the-dark paint. It’s green, though. Anyway, I think (hope) that the layer(s) of paint will help to combat the flaking. 

The real Necronomicon would never be so frail . . . (Sigh)

Debating whether to do the second coat on the back tomorrow, or do the first coat on the front. Decisions, decisions . . . Very relaxing, though, crafting and painting a Book of the Dead, even if the fumes are making me feel a bit crummy. That might be due to being over-tired again and not quite fed enough at supper, though. 

Starting to contemplate building a collection of famous/pop culture magical books. Like Winifred’s spell book from Hocus Pocus — one of my colleagues might be able to help me create a moving eyeball! I’ve also seen gorgeous reproductions of the Book of Shadows in Practical Magic

All of this is ultimately procrastination on cleaning, of course. But it’s so darned much fun!

The peace of a productive family night

We had what was, to my mind, a perfect moment this evening after supper. 

Bridget was building and playing in her fantasy world (Minecraft), learning how to spell words like “diary” and “no one” and “secret” and “allowed”.

Jack was finishing his math homework, relaxed and focused, having brought home stellar progress reports from the first month of school.

Hubby was sitting next to me on the couch while I knitted my scarf, occasionally sharing funny videos and articles with me. And playing with the dog. 

   
    
 The TV was off, unneeded. It’s amazing how much easier it has become to turn it off without cable, having our favourite series and films completely on demand without ads. Much preferred over the old stand-by.

And now, as I sit waiting to pick up our teenager from karate, Hubby is helping Bridget with her math, exhibiting much more patience and firm guidance than I could have with her. To be perfectly honest, I sometimes struggle to keep the emotional coolness needed to help with homework after a long day. I get frustrated trying to help her. But Mark understands her and how her mind works, to a far greater degree, in part because she shares many of his personality traits and likely has similar learning disabilities. Certainly, the diagnosis last year of Bridget having a mild intellectual disability fits, and while it’s not quite what he had to struggle against in his youth, it’s close enough. He can relate to her and be the firm voice that she needs. 

   
 I think kids just listen differently to one parent than another, especially when one tends to be a pushover (I blame years of being over-tired, particularly while anemic). Or they listen to certain authority figures differently than a mom or a dad. That’s why it takes a village to raise a child: it’s far easier to tune out the voice that’s around even fractionally more frequent, than the voice called in to take over, pinch-hit, or teach a skill set that is one’s own weakness.

It’s much later, now. Bridget is in bed, and by some miracle, she not only finished her math with her dad, she also VOLUNTARILY learned to — by the holiest of Holies — wash the toilet. 

Bridget. Cleaned. The. Toilet. 

  
This child, who whined and outright refused for MONTHS whenever I told her to clean the toilet, begging for other jobs to do (and doing them with less and less fanfare), sulking on the couch earlier, scrubbed the toilet with Scrubbing Bubbles’ disposable brush thingy. 

I am in heaven. 

And I made time to layer the front of the Necronomicon with papier mache — got creative with a little corn starch (and salt for preservative), seeing as I forgot to bring glue home. 

   
 
Yes. It’s been a good night.

Project: Necronomicon 

(Before I start, let me just say that I love how Autocorrect and Google automatically know that the Necronomicon is a thing!)

I decided this evening to get going on my very own, top-of-the-charts, awesome Raimi-inspired Book of the Dead. Found a handy guide on Instructables and a fortunately-sized piece of cardboard in a TV box. Determined that parchment paper would be a funky material for pages because a) I didn’t want to wait on going to the dollar store to get easily-ripped scrapbook paper, and b) parchment paper looks freaking gorgeous when it’s been browned in an oven or stained by tea. At the moment, it keeps wanting to roll back into its storage shape, but I’m hoping that being stuck between the covers will convince it to behave. 

   
 
I ended up hand-sewing the binding instead of taping because I am a masochist who goes for detail! And I couldn’t find the duct tape until later. And the shipping tape wasn’t sticking to the parchment paper.

  
Looking creepier! The instructions said to add wrinkles with more duct tape. Result:

  
My son says it looks like a girl at the spa, wearing a mud mask while talking about other people. 

Hm.

Tomorrow I will start the covering process. The instructions say to use masking tape, but I’m feeling wild and crazy — going to run with layers of papier mache, using glue and water with paper towel or toilet paper. In my mask-making experience, the effect is really good, creating a nice texture as long as the pieces have ripped or jagged edges (vs straight). Plus, the added bonus of a bit of pores showing here and there! 

After that dries, I will have at it with paint, singe and brown the pages, and then research the spells and diagrams for some awesome authenticity. 

Gods, I love Hallowe’en! 

(Small voice whispers: I’d love it even more if I had a clean house and all our decorations out . . .)

Addendum: my daughter just saw it! She looked horrified and told me I was weird, but that may have been due to the creepy chuckle I was giving. Muahahaaaa!

Sweet Lust Affair, with Photo Proof (Flash Fiction True Story)

It was most definitely lust at first sight. 

I couldn’t look away. She was round and firm, dressed in simple but elegant style in fall colours, awaiting an invitation for a party for two And all the signs were there that she wanted me to take her home: the seductive brown eye catching mine, the smooth roundness of her body, laid back and relaxed behind a clear window deliberately designed to frame the object of my desire, to make my hands clench in anticipation, to have my mouth watering in need. 

I tried to walk away. I knew it was wrong. 

I didn’t need it.

But oh, I wanted it. 

I wanted the satisfaction. I’d never had this before, not completely. Selfishly, I wanted the taste. I had only had a sample of it before, dampening my lips, a hint of it on my tongue, and I wanted more.

I tried to walk away, but my feet took me in a circle — right back to the window, to the temptation, and my will crumbled. 

In my hands, we almost lost control. I couldn’t stop looking at her. She popped her top open on our way to the door, and her sweet fragrance overwhelmed my senses. “Just wait,” I murmured tenderly, uncaring of the state of the people nearby. I covered her back up, carefully. “Our time is coming.”

But not yet, I thought on the way to the car. No, I want the anticipation to build. I want the first moments to curl my toes. 

So I brought her home, and I made supper. Was it the suspense of the wait, the delight of certainty of the decadent pleasure that made my dinner so good? I held myself back from rushing, savouring every mouthful in practice and preparation for my . . . dessert. 

And at the same time, while she waited in the kitchen, perched coyly on my table, I thanked my lucky stars that my son had to be driven to karate as soon as I was done eating. That my daughter was having dinner at a friend’s house. I prayed that my husband would stay asleep where he was napping in the bedroom, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to stand the thought of us being interrupted. 

I wasn’t in the mood to share. 

Took the teen to his class. 

Went into the kitchen.

And she was mine. 

I had her fully in my hands, now, and oh, Gods, I wanted to just open my mouth and lick her clean, bury my face in her depths, consuming her coolness with the heat of my lips. I hungered like a vampire, baring my teeth, hovering over her curves with only a hair’s breadth of will keeping us apart. But it was too coarse, too quick. Our consummation had to be leisurely, slow, and entirely centered. A marathon, not a sprint. I wanted the pleasure to linger, rising and falling, rather than a burst of sensation over too soon.

So I brought her to the love seat, the better to support my feet as I stretched my legs beneath her. I took my time, choosing the perfect crevice into which to sink my tool. She gave gracefully, bending and breaking under the touch of my outstretched silver, opening to me in a delicate burst of fragrance and pale flesh. 

When I finally had her in my mouth, smooth and velvety, she tasted just as I’d imagined, just as I’d hoped. I closed my eyes to appreciate her flavour, rolling it on my tongue. 

And then I did it again. And again.

She’s in the kitchen, even now. Waiting for me to come back to her. I’m waiting for the others to go to bed, to have privacy once more. 

Like I said, I’m not going to share.

Want proof? It’s in our photos. Go ahead and look! I don’t care who knows about it, so long as you don’t come between us. 

Me, and my sweet lust affair.

   
    
    
   

Nicky-Nine-Doors

Not sure how much of a relief it is that in today’s technology-smattered age kids still get off on this, but we had a unknown visitor knock merrily and run away tonight. Impressively quick at hiding, too. Probably went around the house next door, or maybe ducked behind a car, even ours.

Imagine playing Nicky-Nine-Doors and one of your targets was a haunted house, though? There are some very creepy-looking abandoned buildings in this area. Of course, you’d never want to knock on the door of an abandoned house, not unless something compelled you to do it . . . pulled you in, on some irresistible urge, like a itch or a sneeze, drawing you closer and closer even though the dread was making your hair stand on end . . . The dread, and the rising excitement in your gut, because nobody else had ever or would ever dare to play Nicky-Nine-Doors on That House . . .

Or what if you didn’t know that it was abandoned? The grass is overgrown, but there are still lights on inside, occasionally. Movement in the windows — twitching curtains, or a face pressed against the glass. It wouldn’t hurt to run up and bang on the door and run away again, would it? No chance that the door would creak open on your second knock. That a cold and veiny hand would reach out of the shadows to clasp your wrist in a death-grip, yanking you off your feet so fast you’d leave your shoes quivering on the splintery wooden porch . . .

Sometimes the abandoned houses are reclaimed, renovated and made new again. Graffiti painted over and new siding put in place, new windows to fill the broken gaps, new shingles to keep the rain at bay. So why not Nicky-Nine-Doors it? Just stupid fun, right? Until you wait and wait and wait for the owners to frustratedly open the door so you can laugh at them, and then you get cold waiting, and your knees hurt from crouching or kneeling behind the bushes or by the car, so you creep up to the window to peek inside and see with fascinated horror what the spirits of the house have expressed to the new owners about their alterations . . .

Yup. Takes a brave person to play the game. Almost like a Russian Roulette kind of a thing. Imagine playing Nicky-Nine-Doors on the Addams family, or the Munsters.

I should write a story about a kid who’s the renowned champion, and the trouble he (or she) gets into by playing with the wrong house . . . But I’m too tired tonight. It’s only Tuesday, after all.

Sleep tight, world. Or have a good day, if you’re on the other side of it from me.

Wishes and Fools: my NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge Round 1 Story!

A few months ago, I teased this one because I didn’t want to post it until I knew how I’d done. No feedback just yet, other than two most excellent beta readers (love you, Tar and Jenny!), but it did place 10 out of 15. The story for Round 2 this weekend is under way; I’m currently struggling with an ending.

Here, for your reading enjoyment, is my 1,000 word flash fiction fantasy with a setting of a mountain stream, and milk as my object!

Wishes and Fools

Synopsis: When a hero desires to win another’s heart, the lore of his village says to petition the Wee Folk of the mountain stream with a gift of milk. He completes his journey, but his skepticism, greed, and impatience prove to be his downfall when he unintentionally murders one of the Fae, and he must pay for the crime with his own life — although not in a conventional way.

The old mothers of the village have always said that when you want something badly enough, an offering to the Wee Folk is as sure to help as anything.

I remain skeptical. But every morning the winds sweep down from the mountain and over the fields of flax as golden as her hair, and every evening the sky rises dark and sparkling as her eyes. Her lips are the red of the wine in my cup, and her bosom soft and fragrant as two rounds of bread by the fire . . .

I won’t tell anyone. No-one has to know that I have sought blessings on the mountain, from the Little People. Perhaps, one day, when her golden hair has silvered and my hands are weakened, I will tell her how my longing drove me to the hidden stream near its peak, where no water should flow, bearing a gift for the Fae stolen from my grandmother’s she-goat.

I leave before sunrise. There is enough light cast by the setting moon and the earliest blue of morning to see my way along the slender trail as it winds along the waist of the mountain. So few walk this path, there are places where it all but disappears. I know the way, though.

We all know the way.

My feet tread the ground in time to the beat of my heart. I pass the first marker,  touching the mass of boulders where the muscle of the mountain bulges forth, and I press on, following the path as it ascends through a field of slippery shale. It is here, the old mothers have said, that trolls made their home until the Wee Folk came and drove them all away.

A rope bridge provides passage over the second marker, a cascading waterfall so high above the valley that its waters disappear into an underground river well before they ever reach the village. I check that my pack is secure and grasp the sides of the bridge tightly.

In the middle of my crossing, strong gusts swirl up from the chasm, blinding me with icy spray. The bridge shivers and sways, and I lose my footing, falling to my knees on the twisting fibres. I feel the flesh split and scrape on my legs, splinters digging into the soft skin between the callouses on my hands.

I pass the test, crawling the rest of the way over the bridge. It is tempting to lay still on the solid rock, breathing in the scents of lichen and damp stone, but I am so close . . .

The air is thinner here, where the path is steepest. The sun breaks over the horizon as I keep my weight close to the steps on the near-vertical cliff. It is as though each brief platform had been carved as stairs for giants.

And then, the final ledge ends not in another sheer wall, but opens out into a miraculous plain. Here, the snow field meets the bare rock and the granite is darkened with sheets of water. There are patches of soft grass that grow wider near the stream, and tufts of strange, fragrant flowers.

I stumble forward, my footsteps loud in the stillness — not even the wind dares to blow in this place. The gurgling laughter of the impossible mountain stream makes me shiver. Hurriedly, I crouch by the streambed and work open the leather knots of my pack.

I pour the milk into the bone cup I’ve brought, and say the words. “Please, let her love me as much as I love her,” I add in a whisper.

And then I wait.

What happens next? The old mothers were never clear. I expect a fairy to appear, smiling knowingly; an elf to come forth, nodding sagely.

I am so weary, I put my head down on my arm. I dream of her, dancing, whirling close to me and then away again. Always away.

The bright light of the sun wakes me, now fully over the horizon. The stream gurgles and laughs at me.

I am a fool.

Enraged, I rise, prepared to kick the stolen milk over the precipice. But it wouldn’t do to waste it. Instead, I take the cup to drink it down myself.

Too late, I see the little figure clinging to the edge inside.

I feel its wings flutter madly against the roof of my mouth, sharp nails grasping at my teeth and my tongue. But I have tossed back the drink as I would my ale, and in another swallow, the Fae is gone.

I fall back, stunned. My stomach twists, and I pound at my midsection, willing myself to bring it up, but there is nothing to be done. I lay in a heap, sweating, my heart racing.

I must get home. The old mothers will know what to do.

I try to rise, but my legs refuse me. My pulse thunders in my ears; the twisting in my gut now a burning pain. I shudder, my back arching; I am a fish on a hook, pierced through the shoulders; my gasps and cries come to my ears strangely, as though they belong to someone else . . .

I am spent. Thirsty. The leaping water beside me giggles and beckons, but I roll over, looking for the bone cup. My tunic feels too heavy, falling over my head like a tent; I pull my arms out of too-large sleeves to crawl. The soft grass cradles my naked waist and legs, for I have left my breeches and boots, too.

The cup looms before my eyes as a near-empty barrel, glowing pearly white with milk film. I put out my tongue, laving up drops of the precious liquid.

There are footsteps on the path. I see wisps of golden hair flying free of her braid.

I must hide my nakedness. I make to rise, and a wind aids me.

The thrumming pressure at my back is not the wind.

I have wings.

A little horror flash fiction to sink into your skin

On Deacon Street, two or three of the older buildings had been knocked down and vacant lots with tufts of weeds sat between the struggling dollar store and Bill’s Tattoos and Piercings. The tattoo place had been there for years, even before the structures demolished last spring were built, and it looked it: pits and peeling wood showed in the sign, despite the layer of fresh paint applied to it every year, and the stonework on the corners of the walls had been smoothed by generations of tough guys and sassy girls leaning against them. The sidewalk in front of the parlour was permanently stained by countless cigarette butts, the ends of cigars, and spatterings of chewing tobacco, dropped or mashed or spit in displays of careless nonchalance, studied flirting, or seconds of fury. The original owner of the building had installed a fancy stained glass window over the picture glass, and to the business and patrons’ credit, no-one had ever destroyed it. Bill’s Tattoos and Piercings might have been exposed to all kinds of other abuse when drunks fought or breakups happened, but the window stayed. And so did the business.

They’d taken in a new artist in the past week, Tanya knew — the advertising was all over social media. A specialist in portraitures and three-dimensional skin art. His name was Brown Chimes (she still shook her head at the thought of parents who’d curse their child like that), and he wasn’t from the area. But for what she had in mind, he was perfect, even if the price was a little high. 

Memorialize your loved ones or pets with Brown Chimes’ expertise in lifelike portraits, in colour, sepia, or black and white! Sessions by appointment only — $500 minimum.

Tanya cracked her knuckles as she passed the vacant lots, checking her phone again for the time. It wasn’t the pain of the tattoo that she was worried about, or being late; for once in her life, she was actually early, and this was far from her first visit to Bill’s. It was the risk she was taking, having seen other people’s work. A portrait had to be done with care or else it would look as awful as that time someone had tried to fix Jesus’s picture in that church overseas. If she ended up with something ugly and exaggerated inked into her skin . . . Well, the worst that could happen would be a cover-up, but that would have to wait until the first one healed, and the new one would depend on the size and details of the old. It was all very risky. 

But she had a mission. It had been on her mind ever since Eddie’s funeral. She had her boyfriend’s pictures still, lots of selfies they’d taken together and a nice formal shot from prom. He had been the love of her life, Tanya just knew it. She’d thought about following him into the dark after he’d been killed in his car, hit by a drunk driver, but she’d also known how he would have felt about that. He’d want her to move on. Eventually, she knew she would; she’d date again, maybe even get married, although it still hurt her deeply that it wouldn’t be to him. One day the photos might fade, or be lost in a fire, or deleted if she forgot her Facebook password and couldn’t get to her account, but a tattoo — that was forever. Just like their love would have been. And if she did fall for someone else and get married, he would still be with her. 

The tarnished old bell jingled as she opened the door and stepped inside. Classic rock was playing at a reasonable volume on Bill’s stereo, and one or two young people were lounging on the black leather couch in the centre of the room, mocking their friend as he was getting inked on his back. Tanya approached the counter where a red-haired woman in her twenties was focused on finishing a design by hand.

“Hi! I’m here for–”

“You’re Tanya,” a quiet voice said. She jumped, startled, and turned to her left. 

A tall, gangly man with startlingly pale skin and a brown beanie was smiling at her. He had exotic tattoos covering every inch of the right side of his body, neatly dividing his face down the centre of his slightly crooked nose, over the centre of his Adam’s apple, and descending through his collarbone into the neckline of his tank top. Tanya didn’t usually stare at people with body art, knowing it was rude, but this — she’d never seen anything quite like it. It was as though someone had started in a colouring book and folded the page over to keep half of the picture untouched. 

“I know, it’s shocking, isn’t it?” He beckoned to her, turning as he walked away. He kept talking, despite not looking back to see if she was following him. She liked his faint British accent. “It’s a work in progress. I’m always adding small things as I go. I move around a lot, so I get a fresh tattoo to remind me of every place I’ve visited and everyone I’ve met.”

It was on the tip of her tongue to ask why he’d chosen to keep the one side of his body pure, but it wasn’t her business. Tattoos were personal choices. 

He led her into one of the back rooms, but left the door open. “Bad Moon Rising” drifted in on their wake. 

“Did you bring the picture that you wanted to use?” 

Suddenly, Tanya’s mouth was dry. She nodded, fishing around in her purse for the snapshot of Eddie half-turned away, his lips partly open at the start of a laugh. She held the photo tightly, tears gathering in her eyes and blurring her vision. 

“It’s so hard to let them go, isn’t it?” Brown said. He sat on a padded stool and scooted it close to her to see. He patted her hand kindly. “Don’t worry. I’ll give you what you want. It’s my personal guarantee.”

The first session would be the sketching, he told her, and that would take about two hours. She’d let that heal for a week or two, then return for the shading (if she wanted it). Tanya considered again where she wanted the tattoo: it had to be a place where she could see it, but not too visible all the time. Private. Personal. 

“Let’s do it on my upper thigh,” she decided. “If my future husband doesn’t like it, screw him. Eddie was my soul mate.”

Brown nodded. “I’ll give you a cloth to cover your lower half, then, and we will begin.”

He gave her a few moments of privacy to remove her jeans and arrange herself on the table, and then cleaned his hands and put on black protective gloves. She watched as he picked up the needle, and sat up, alarmed. “Aren’t you going to make a stencil first?”

“I always go freehand, love,” he told her. “I’ve never had a dissatisfied customer. And if you don’t get what you want, I’ll do a cover-up for free. Oh, and do you mind if I sing while I work? It helps me to concentrate. And I’ve been told I have a pleasant voice.”

Mollified, she relaxed and nodded, and let him begin.

* * *

“Look, Eddie,” she whispered to the stone. “Isn’t it great? I’m going back on the 17th to have it coloured in.” 

As soon as Brown had finished up and put the bandages in place, Tanya had paid him in cash and headed straight for the graveyard. Peeling back the surgical tape was about as annoying as the needle had been, and she knew she was risking infection by exposing it to the air so soon, but she had to show him. Plus, she was glad to see that the forget-me-nots she’d planted a few days earlier were still alive on his plot, and thriving. 

“Baby, I miss you so much it hurts,” she told Eddie’s stone. “But this is helping. It’s helping a lot.” 

She replaced the bandages, patting them carefully into place, and leaned over to kiss the top of his grave marker. The tattoo twinged as she moved, and for a second it felt as though her skin was crawling where the fresh ink was settling in. Tanya slapped her leg with the flat of her hand to kill the itch. 

* * *

“The skin tones and highlights are almost done,” Brown told her at the end of her second session. “But I’m afraid you’re going to have to come back one more time for the final details.”

“How much more is that going to cost me?” Tanya asked. She tried to hide her dismay, mentally calculating what she had left in her bank account.

“Don’t worry, sweetheart. It’s included.” He soothed her, smearing a layer of clear jelly over the portrait. “Two more weeks, and you’ll have your Eddie forever.”

Tanya smiled, though she didn’t feel very assured — it was hard to see the face on her thigh without a mirror, and he was working so fast to cover it with a fresh bandage that she hadn’t gotten a good look. She paid the second half of the deposit, her mind already steps ahead and in the graveyard. 

As she approached Eddie’s grave, she sighed with annoyance. The forget-me-nots were rampant, no longer a pretty sprinkling over the grass: they threatened to overgrow the stone and spread to the neighbouring plots. Would that bother the mourners who came to the other graves? Tanya hated to do it, but she spent the time on her knees pulling and trimming the flowers back. Kneeling pulled uncomfortably on the skin of her thigh, but she’d left her hand sanitizer at home. No showing Eddie his portrait tattoo today. “I love you,” she whispered, kissing her grass- and dirt-stained fingers to his stone. 

The tattoo itched and crawled, burning under the bandage. 

It bothered her so much, she barely slept that night. After-care rules were generally to keep the tattoo covered up and dry for twenty-four hours, but after tossing and turning until three am, she had to see what was going on. 

“Please, don’t be infected,” she begged, standing in the bathroom with her leg propped up on the toilet. 

To her relieved surprise, when she peeled back the tape and lifted the gauze, everything looked normal. Perhaps a bit more swollen than she was used to — Eddie’s face appeared to have contours and hollows, but she reflected that Brown Chimes did have talent in depicting the third dimension in art. She picked up a hand mirror to look at it from another angle, and dropped it promptly when the eyes in the tattoo flicked and looked back at her. 

“Shit!” she cried. “Seven year’s bad luck!” 

Tanya’s hands were shaking. She told herself it was because of the noise of the shattering glass. She knew she should tiptoe over and around the shards to get the broom and dustpan, but she didn’t dare take her eyes off her thigh. 

On the counter, in her makeup case, was a small travel-size compact. She rummaged for it until she found it, and then, not breathing, held it over the portrait.

It was fine. Nothing moved. Just her imagination, then. A trick of her eyes. 

Tanya laughed to her herself. The air felt good on it, so she ripped the rest of the tape off to let the tattoo breathe, and went to get the broom.

* * *

“Listen to me! There’s something wrong with my boyfriend’s grave!” Tanya pounded on the door to the groundskeeper’s office. “Maybe there’s a broken pipe or something, making a sinkhole. It’s disrespectful! If you don’t fix it, I’m going to report you! Are you even in there?”

Furious, she turned on one foot and stalked away, back toward Eddie’s plot. The forget-me-nots were as wild as ever, but they looked as though they were crawling up out of a ditch: for some reason, every time she’d come to visit over the last weeks, his grave looked for all the world like it was sinking. If the flowers hadn’t been there, she’d have sworn that someone was stealing dirt by lifting the sod and putting it back, but the plants were undisturbed. 

“Don’t worry, Eddie,” Tanya promised. “I’ll look after it.”

And now she was late for her last appointment at Bill’s. Tanya ran the last few blocks, pissed off with herself for wasting time at the graveyard again, and arrived just as the red-haired clerk was fitting her key into the lock of the front door. 

“Wait! I’ve got an appointment with Brown!” 

“We’re closing early today,” the woman said, looking her up and down. “It’s a holiday weekend. You should have been on time.”

A hand appeared in the glass door front. Brown knocked on the window, smiling down at them, and he pushed the door open. “It’s all right,” he said. “I was just cleaning up, and I was waiting for you, Tanya. I knew you’d be here.”

Gratefully, Tanya slipped through the small opening he offered. She didn’t bother to look as he shut the door tightly, heading straight for his back room. The little jingle and the slide of the lock into place echoed through the empty ground floor. 

“So, how does your tattoo feel? Healing well?” He entered the room noiselessly, making Tanya jump. “This last session will be painful, but it will be worth it. It will truly bring your portrait to life.” He gestured widely, grinning.

Tanya’s heart beat faster. Her skin felt cold and sweat broke out on her forehead. “How much more needs to be done?” she stammered. “I mean, it looks pretty good to me.”

“Small details, sweetheart,” he reassured her. “Just get comfortable.”

“Are you going to sing again?” 

“Of course!” He showed her all his teeth. “It’s what I do!”

He was right about it hurting more. Over and over, Tanya gritted her teeth and gripped the vinyl mattress on the table. Her sweaty palms wore away the thin paper covering that was meant for sanitation. Brown worked steadily without a break, grinding lines into her skin with a needle that felt like a razor blade, singing all the while. 

And then came a sharp clap of pain she hadn’t expected at all, a streak of lightning in her skin that seared to the bone. She flinched, crying out, and the next thing she knew, he was dabbing her face with a cool, wet cloth. 

“Is it over?” she asked. Her throat was dry. “Are we done?”

“Yes, my dear, you have what you wanted. Eddie is with you forever, in portrait as well as in spirit.” He helped her to sit up, handing her a plastic cup of water. “Would you like to see before I wrap it up?”

Tanya actually wanted to be sick. “No, it’s okay. I believe you. I just want to go home.”

He shook his head, understanding. 

At the door, she paused, and then took his hand. “Thank you for this. I’m sorry I was such a whiner. I really do appreciate your time and your talent.”

“It is my pleasure.” Brown said, covering her hand with his own. “I’m honoured to be able to do this for you. Find me if you are at all dissatisfied, and the cover-up is free.”

Uncomfortable, Tanya ducked her head, and clumsily opened the lock to let herself out. 

Her thigh burned and leapt under the bandage as much as it had after her second session. More, even, by the time she had reached the graveyard. Limping, she made her way over to Eddie’s stone, where the depression in the earth had gotten so deep, she couldn’t see the forget-me-nots anymore. Moaning, she stumbled over to the plot and looked down to the bottom. 

Dead and withered flowers and their stalks lay twisted over a layer of brown grass. The brass fittings of Eddie’s coffin were visible around the edges of the pit, glinting in the late afternoon sunlight filtering into the shadow of the grave. 

Weeping, Tanya fell to her knees, and once more, the skin on her thigh pulled. It throbbed, actually. She laid a hand over the bandage, feeling the muscle of her leg twitching and jumping. It was turning her stomach. Nails scratching her own flesh, she tore away the tape and gauze, and then she shrieked as the portrait’s nose flared in the fresh air. She crawled back, trying to get away from her own leg, while Eddie’s tattooed eyes blinked and strained to look up at her. His upside-down grin looked like a monster’s grimace. She hit another gravestone and was trapped.

“Hey, babe,” said Eddie’s tattoo. “What’s shaking?”

Rage Knit-Quit

  
Look at that. 

It’s deceptive, isn’t it? 

From a distance, it looks fine. 

But somehow, over the past SEVERAL MONTHS I’ve been working on this damned scarf, I’ve added stitches. So many stitches, in fact, that it barely fits on the needle anymore. 

What the hell!!!

I am sorely tempted to unravel the whole thing and start again, this time with markers to keep me on track. 

But all that work . . . 

Tonight, I tried reducing stitches and I think I only made it worse.

Which option is better? Muddle on, attempting to fix the errors and covering up the mistakes by adding buttons or felt flowers? Or taking it all apart and beginning again?