Fast Food

Image from WikiMedia by rahematshah kadri

When I first walked in, I was speechless. My best friend and my husband, locked in an embrace in the kitchen. Laura was almost hidden from view, except for one neon pink converse and the fall of her teal hair.

“Honey! How could you?”

Greg straightened, a smear of blood on his nose. “Oh. You’re early.” 

“Greg!”

He eased Laura down into one of the wooden chairs by the table, and wiped away the blood from her already closing neck wound. 

Her eyes were closed, expression dreamy.

“Oh, I um, sorry, dear. I got hungry, and you know, she was right there…” he shrugged and offered a weak smile.

“I told you not to eat my friends!” I snapped, scooping Laura up and carrying her into the living room, propping her up against the arm of the sofa, and turning on the TV. “Sit down!” I jabbed my pointer finger at the marching love seat.

Obediently, he sat. 

I perched next to him, channel surfing to find a good movie, and elbowed him in the side. “You’ve got blood on your nose, you pig.”

He scrubbed at entirely the wrong place. “Did I get it?”

“No,” I hissed, pulling out a tissue and applying it with more force than strictly necessary.

He winced, but held still.

Clean and rather red-nosed, he pretended to be engrossed in the movie. A few moments later Laura stirred, blinked, and then smiled, settling back on the sofa. The human mind was elastic. Something in vampire saliva helped smooth the gap between the moments before the bite and when they woke.

Unless the vampire was stupid and tramuatized the heck out of their meal, the human wouldn’t recall the bite at all.

As far as Laura knew, she’d watched some movie with Greg, fallen asleep, and I’d joined them. 

I narrowed my eyes at my husband, determined to have a talk with him later. He tended to be lazy, and grab whatever was easiest. Which was fine, as long as it wasn’t any of my friends.

Karma Check

II

Image from Wikimedia by Wolfgang Rieger.

I’d been waiting for this day for three years, five months, and one day. That time, plus two weeks, was how long I’d been working as Miriam Lindstrom’s karma balancer.

As a balancer, I did good works. As many as I could. And I suffered the misfortune of her bad karma–twisted ankles, broken umbrellas, bird poop on my favorite sweater–you name it, it had happened. 

I paid her debt constantly, wearing it down in small manageable bites. Some people tried to pay off a debt in one big lump sum–the most lucrative option, but also the most dangerous.

Try to redeem too much bad luck at once, and you’d likely suffer a permanent loss–of a limb, a loved one, or even your own life.

Miriam Lindstrom paid me handsomely for the balancing, of course. She didn’t want to have to worry overmuch about bird poop or hang nails. Some bad karma got through, but rarely, and very minor inconveniences.

She still railed at me over those hiccups, as if I could do my job any better than I did. Each time I accepted her payment, I got some kind of lecture. Instead of a simple direct deposit, she wrote a check because she wanted to hand it over in person and hear me express my gratitude. Gratitude! For doing a job, a difficult job she certainly didn’t want to do?

Entitled twit.

I hadn’t hated her at first, but when I’d picked up my first check, and she’d refused to release it from her manicured fingers until I’d groveled enough… That had done it. Kindled a burning in the pit of my stomach that couldn’t be quenched by anything except revenge.

And today, she’d finally delivered my revenge along with the check.

“Now, Lily,” –My name wasn’t Lily, it’s Dahlia, but the woman doesn’t listen to anything she doesn’t consider important– “Your work has been slipping lately. I broke one of my favorite heels, and I just cannot.”

She paused, tapping her fingertips to her glossy red lips. “I cannot express how that hurt me. You will simply have to do better the next week, then you’ll find the next check at previous levels.”

I didn’t reach for the envelope, my heart racing, but my expression calm. I’d gotten better at swallowing rage and offering a serene smile. “Some bad luck is inevitable. It isn’t possible for one balancer–or even two or three–to remove every possible negative event in a life. It’s in the contract.”

She sighed, as if I deeply wearied her, and dropped the envelope to the gleaming surface of her desk. “I’m not interested in arguing with you, Lily. If you’re going to be unpleasant, I can always replace you.”

No. 

I controlled the lurch in my stomach, and shook my head, eyes downcast. “I didn’t mean to be unpleasant. Only remind you of the contract. I didn’t write it, it’s standard for all karma balancers.”

“Yes, yes, I know you didn’t write it.” She waved at me dismissively.

I scooped up the envelope, and hesitated. 

“Well, go. I’ll see you in two weeks. And remember my shoes!”

Pressing the check to my pounding heart, I nodded in the deep almost bow that made her happy, and scurried away. She hadn’t fired me, which meant I’d finally, gloriously won.

Karma balancers were well paid, because no one would do such a terrible job without generous recompense. And most of my clients, I didn’t mind. They were polite, paid promptly and electronically, and hardly registered in my life. I did the job, served the term of the contract, renewed or didn’t, and moved on.

Miriam Lindstrom had clearly not read that contract, the one she thought I was too dumb to write. Which was very, very careless of her.

I opened the check, and saw she’d docked 500 dollars from it, which made my eyes well with indignant, pointless anger.

Well, not pointless. She’d broken the contract–she couldn’t alter my payment without written agreement. And she wasn’t allowed to dock my pay for any misfortune she received, unless she could prove I’d deliberately shirked my job.

Right there in the parking lot, I took out my copy of the contract, and pressed the check to the surface of the paper. It hissed and sizzled, the paper giving off heat that stung my face like standing over an open, working oven.

The words “contract void due to provider misconduct” appeared in bold red print across every page. 

Satisfied, I returned the pages to the folder, tucked them into my bag, then started the car.

I’d deposit the check, because I’d earned that money. Best to do it quickly. Miriam Lindstrom would very soon be realizing why she should have read her contract.

Misconduct on her part came with a steep price–all the karma she’d shed on me, which I had balanced with my good deeds and suffered through the negative–it would all rebound on her, in a flurry of misfortune.

I wished I could be there to see it happen.

I Hope They Serve Tacos in Heaven

Inspired in part by Terry Pratchett, and his wee free men–though just a small part of their legend.

Image from WikiMedia by T.Tseng

“Isn’t the afterlife wonderful?” Sam asked, craning her head around to peer up at the sky, the scraggly trees wilting in the parking lot, and the pollen-dusted buildings hemming them in.

Tyson blinked. “Huh?”

Sam had seemed normal enough a minute ago. They had a ceramics class together, and had bonded over how finicky the clay extruder was, and sat side-by-side at pottery wheels for weeks. Normal enough that when class had gotten out tonight, and Tyson was hungry, he’d invited her to his favorite taco truck, which was parked down the street.

“I said, isn’t the afterlife wonderful?” Sam repeated, proving that he hadn’t, as he’d hoped, misheard her. “I’ve been dead almost a year now, so it’s been on my mind as the anniversary approaches, you know?”

“You’re dead?” Tyson floundered, still thrown by the conversation’s sudden jerk of the wheel off the road and fast approaching a cliff.

“Of course. Aren’t you? You seemed like an–” she said a word that twisted through his brain, refusing to process. A painful dagger of static in his eardrums.

He winced.

Sam noticed his pained expression. ” Oh, sorry. I see that I was mistaken. You’re from here.” She shrugged, and took another bite of her taco.

Tyson watched her devour two more bites, then returned to his own food. The barbacoa, avocado, and queso fresco confection deserved to be consumed before the taco grew cold.

As soon as he’d tucked the last piece into his happy stomach, he picked up the conversation again, unable to help himself.

“How can you be dead, and living here? With me? And everyone else?”

“Afterlives are complicated,” Sam said with the air of someone who’d explained this many times before. “For space conservation, some people’s lives are someone else’s afterlife. Like your world is mine.”

“But… you’re alive?” Tyson protested. “You’re eating food, and everything.”

“Well, of course. What kind of heaven would it be if you couldn’t eat? Smell all these wonderful scents, and never be able to taste? I wasn’t a bad person, I’m not in hell.” Sam laughed.

“Uh. Right.” Tyson crumpled up the cardboard boat, and threw it at a nearby trash can. 

It skittered down the metal side of the can, and bounced on the asphalt, coming to rest a good foot and a half from its target.

Ears burning with embarrassment, he strode over to the can, scooped up his trash, and deposited it directly in. He glowered down at the black bag-lined cylinder, which was mostly of crumpled napkins and paper containers and, sacreligiously, half-eaten tacos.

He glanced up to see Sam dropping her boat, uncrumpled but properly empty, into the can next to him. 

She smiled. “Don’t worry, I think whoever’s in charge isn’t all that strict, really. I’m sure your afterlife will be a nice one, too.”

“Nicer than here?”

“Maybe,” she shrugged. “This world isn’t too different from mine, really. Except it doesn’t have the–” another painful static word, cut off midsyllable as she remembered. 

Tyson winced anyway. That whatever-it-was hurt.

“Doesn’t have… these dangerous aerial predators,” she corrected. “It’s nice to be outside during the day.”

She drew in a deep breath, and beamed.

Curious, Tyson took a breath, too. The humid air teemed with the scent of delicious tacos and spices, fumes from the truck’s generator, and the traffic from the road bordering the parking lot. 

He coughed. “What do they look like? These flying things?”

“Mmm,” Sam considered, and for a moment, he thought she’d run out of ideas for her strange story. “You don’t have anything like them here. My life… our planet’s atmosphere is thicker, and the air currents are really strong. So lots of animals are fliers–you can travel a good distance, over land or sea. Have to be small and fast, or big and tough, if you want to survive. People used to be small and fast, but we developed a lot like you did–bigger brains means better tools and higher survival rates.”

“Uh huh.” Tyson was impressed at how far Sam was taking this tall tale.

“Just like your bigger brains have some downsides, ours made us too slow. And gradually our wings were more vestigial, like your tails. We could glide, but not really fly distances. And we were slower. Too slow for the–” she caught herself before she said the word again.

“For the… deadly wings. We live underground, mostly. Build into the sides of hills. Travel in subways and tunnels. And luckily, the deadly wings have terrible night vision, so we can go out at night. But carefully, of course.”

“Of course,” Tyson prompted.

“Do you know how many predatory animals you have in your world that eat humans?” Sam asked.

“Um… one?” Tyson suggested.

“Tyson!” Sam’s eyes widened in genuine shock. “You should spend  your time on your phone on sites that are more educational than Grindr. There’s several–big cats, bears, sharks, and alligators, to name a few.”

“Oh, yeah, right.” Tyson scratched his head.

“Don’t worry,” Sam brushed her hands off against her pants. “Like I said, the afterlife is wonderful. I’m stuffed. Do you want to go for a walk?”

Tyson nodded weakly, planning his escape. He’d sit somewhere else in ceramics class next week. Or maybe skip it entirely.

Sam glanced to her left, then strode directly  into the road, and bounced off a car speeding down it. Thrown clear by the impact, she landed in a tangle on the sidewalk.

The car kept driving without pause.

“Ohmigod!” Tyson bolted toward her, just in time to see her stand up, unhurt.

“Whoops! I keep forgetting you drive on the right. So weird.” She shook her head.

“Yeah, weird.” Tyson goggled. “You have a little–” he pointed, hand shaking, at the smudge of oil on her jeans.

“Oh, dear. I hope that comes out.” Sam scrubbed at the smear, spreading it further.

“I’m–I’m sure it will.”

“There’s the spirit,” Sam winked.

Top Ten Tues: Fave Bookmarks

Top Ten Tuesdays, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, feature lists related to all things bookish–characters, authors, titles, and favorites. They’re an excellent way to find new interesting books on a variety of topics, and to find bloggers that love the books you do.

Check out their blog for their top ten and lists by other bloggers!

November 12: Favorite Bookmarks 

I have an impressive bookmark collection, so this is a tough one, but here goes!

Handmade cloth leaf bookmark gives me fall feels year round.
I have several wood inlay bookmarks. So pretty!
Finding neat bookmarks at art fairs is my jam.
I love how this one clips into place, and you can reposition the ribbon. Never lose your bookmark!
Fair trade upcycled sari fabric.
Dang cute.
Another handmade art fair find. Sequins!
Tiny sprout that folds into the book when you close it.
Zipmark. So fun.

Upcycled book spine with pretty bead tassel.

Top Ten Tues: Halloween

Top Ten Tuesdays, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, feature lists related to all things bookish–characters, authors, titles, and favorites. They’re an excellent way to find new interesting books on a variety of topics, and to find bloggers that love the books you do.

Check out their blog for their top ten and lists by other bloggers!

October 29: Halloween Freebie

Top Ten Spooky Elements in Books.

1.Black Cats. Though I’d argue against cats of any color being more or less spooky, this is a common Halloween theme. And black cats are awesome.

Image from WikiMedia by Misko3

2. Cemeteries. Fun things can happen in cemeteries–fights, revelations, magic–you name it.

3. Ghosts. I like ghosts in stories that aren’t necessarily ghost stories. Just casual ghosting about.

Image from WikiMedia by Tuvalkin.

4. Murder. The ultimate spooky event. Plenty of stories start off with a corpse.

5. Resurrection. It can be overdone, but in the right way at the right time, a character coming back from the dead is a great twist.

6. Monsters. There’s so much variety to the things that go bump in the night.

7. Unexplained Happenings. I enjoy a good mysterious noise, or objects moving, or strange sight. I think they’re best if they’re never explained at all.

Top Ten Tues: Traits with Character

Top Ten Tuesdays, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, feature lists related to all things bookish–characters, authors, titles, and favorites. They’re an excellent way to find new interesting books on a variety of topics, and to find bloggers that love the books you do.

Check out their blog for their top ten and lists by other bloggers!

October 8: Character Traits I Love/Personality Traits I Love to See In Book Characters/Things That Make Me Love a Character/etc. (submitted by Hannah @ Books Life and Other Oddities)

  1. Cleverness. Sharp wit makes for a fun read.

2. Determination. If the going gets tough, dig in and refuse to give up.

3. Humor. If you can’t laugh at yourself, somebody else will.

4. Improvisation. A character who can think on their feet can derail or add to the plan–either is fun.

5. Loyalty. Not ever good character has to have this, but any of them that travel in a group need to, if it’s going to work.

6. Puns. There’s such a thing as too much, but every now and then a really bad pun just makes a character.

7. Sarcasm. What can I say, I love the snark.

Top Ten Tues: Fall TBR

Top Ten Tuesdays, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, feature lists related to all things bookish–characters, authors, titles, and favorites. They’re an excellent way to find new interesting books on a variety of topics, and to find bloggers that love the books you do.

Check out their blog for their top ten and lists by other bloggers!

September 24: Books On My Fall 2019 TBR

Here’s the books I’m most excited to get to between now and the start of winter on December 21st! They’re all on hold at the library, so it’ll happen. Alphabetical as always.

1.The Testament;: Margaret Atwood. Lots of people are excited about this book. How can you not be?

2. Ninth House; Leigh Bardugo. I’ll read pretty much anything this woman writes.

3. The Girl with no Face; M.H. Boroson. The Girl with Ghost Eyes was amazing, so I can’t wait to read its sequel.

4. The True Bastards; Jonathan French. This world, where half-orcs have to deal with orc and human enemies alike, was gripping. And this book has a female protagonist. Represent!

5. Ash Kickers; Sean Grigsby. More firefighter dragon slayers!

6. Darkdawn; Jay Kristoff. I’m not ready for it to be over, but I really need to read the end!

7. Gideon the Ninth; Tamsyn Muir. Did someone say ‘space necromancers?’

8. Wayward Son; Rainbow Rowell. The first book was adorable. And how can you not support fictional fanfic that becomes a real book?

9. The Art of Theft; Sherry Thomson. Lady Sherlock? Absolutely.

10. Rosewater Redemption; Tade Thomson. The first books set up so much conflict. Will it be resolved? I sure hope so!

Top Ten Tues: Snacks

Top Ten Tuesdays, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, feature lists related to all things bookish–characters, authors, titles, and favorites. They’re an excellent way to find new interesting books on a variety of topics, and to find bloggers that love the books you do.

Check out their blog for their top ten and lists by other bloggers!

September 17: Favorite Things to Eat/Drink While Reading (submitted by Jana’s mom)

I don’t have many favorite book snacks, though I do read and eat often, it’s just anything I’m using utensils for. Don’t worry, I put the book to my left or behind the plate so I don’t drop food on it!

Image from WikiMedia by Silar.

Chips. I have mastered the art of turning pages one handed.

Image from WikiMedia by Pudding4brains.

Cookies. All kinds of cookies are a happy food.

Image from WikiMedia by Mindmatrix.

Hot Chocolate. I’m not a hot chocolate snob, but I do enjoy the real stuff when I have time, made with melted chocolate and milk, with a sprinkle of cinnamon. Mini marshmallows are a must.

Image from WikiMedia by Takkk.

Hot Tea. Especially when it’s cold or rainy out, a book and a cup of tea is perfection.

Image from WikiMedia by Melissa Doroquez.

Iced Tea. I live in the southwest US. I am 60% iced tea in the summer.

Mirror, Mirror: A Twisted Fairy Tale

Image from WikiMedia, by Martheau.

Thousands of shards littered the floor, shattered pieces of silver light, marred by a splatter of red.

She shouldn’t have hit the mirror. Her aching knuckles dripped on the floor, and when she examined the damage, yes, she did have a sliver embedded in the skin. With a sigh, she went to the window for the best light. Several painful moments later, she had three slivers extracted, stopped the bleeding, and properly wrapped her hand.

A glass of wine fortified her enough to deal with the mess. The broom chased glass, skittering across her solar floor. She swept and swept and swept, and each time she paused to check her work, glass glinted from a crevice in the wood.

Eventually, she surrendered. The damn mirror had won, again.

Large shards clung to the ornate frame, a spiderweb of lines radiating from that single, satisfying, ill-planned punch. She draped the dark purple shawl she habitually employed between uses over it, to hide the evidence of her temper.

With the glass mostly swept up, and the remains covered, no one would notice what she’d done. That was for the best, because she didn’t want to explain. Didn’t want to describe how the enchanted mirror had showed her the future–her deepening wrinkles, graying hair, and sagging breasts. And her stepdaughter, currently a skinny girl of seven, blooming into a beauty with creamy skin, lustrous jet hair, and limpid blue eyes.

Everyone aged. Even her pretty stepdaughter someday would be a crone someday. If she lived that long, unlike her mother, carried off on a child bed fever trying to bear a son.

The king had proved too old and infirm to sire another child, for which she was grateful. She’d seen cousins and friends swept away in silence, replaced without a second thought. Just as the former queen had been.

Glaring at the hidden, formerly mouthy, looking glass, she sat at her vanity, with its blessedly unenchanted glass, and set to repairing the damage her exertions had done. When she was as perfect as she could be, she pulled her long sleeves over her hands, and went in search of the princess.

Top Ten Tues: Avoidance

Top Ten Tuesdays, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, feature lists related to all things bookish–characters, authors, titles, and favorites. They’re an excellent way to find new interesting books on a variety of topics, and to find bloggers that love the books you do.

Check out their blog for their top ten and lists by other bloggers!

September 10: Books On My TBR I’m Avoiding Reading and Why (maybe you’re scared of it, worried it won’t live up to the hype, etc.) (submitted by Caitlin @ Caitlin Althea)

Most books I haven’t read on my TBR is because I can’t stop adding new books to it, but there’s a few I’ve skipped over. Alphabetical as always.

1.The Black Jewels Trilogy; Anne Bishop. I picked this up used, started to read it, wasn’t feeling it, and haven’t started again.

2. World After; Susan Ee. The first book traumatized me, and I haven’t been brave enough for the second.

3. The Beautiful Ashes; Jeanine Frost. At first I was waiting for the next book to come out, so I didn’t have to worry about cliffhangers, then I just… haven’t picked it up.

4. The Wicked + The Divine; v. 1; Kieron Gillen. Another series I was waiting for a few to be out, and now it’s been years.

5. The Tribulations of Tompa Lee; Edward Hoornaert. I feel anxious about not liking an indie author’s work, because I have to be honest in my review, but I don’t want to tank someone’s ratings.

6. Shield of Kings; Christina Ochs. Purchased this from a blogger whose snippets I read, and haven’t even touched it, because if I don’t like it, I have no idea how to review it.

7. The Mime Order; Samantha Shannon. I loved the first book, but reviews warned this might not be as good. It needs to be good, though!

8. The Window and the Mirror; Henry Thomas. I picked this up at a book fair because I liked the author’s interview, but now I’m worrying I’ll feel bad if I don’t like the book.