Well. That was a whirlwind of a week.
My hubby got his layoff for the end of season, so we threw the kids and a few changes of clothes into the van and scooted down to Calgary for a couple nights. The main goals were to visit with my sister and to give my better half a chance to unwind after working three months straight. The side goals were to check out the Calgary Zoo and to let the kids go swimming. I'm happy to say that all goals were achieved!
The tiger we got to watch on Tuesday was the 19 year old female, bred and born in captivity, and she honestly rolled her eyes at every trick because she just wanted the damn treats lol. Once she even roared and paw slammed the bars out of irritation about not getting treats after not doing multiple tricks, which was a good reminder she is a few hundred pounds of murderous intent wrapped in claws, teeth, and fuzziness. She did get the big reward at the end because she completed the needed tricks for her handler to ensure her health. (Note: the big reward is for participating, she would have gotten it even if she hadn't done all the tricks, and it was two of her favorite things to eat wrapped in a tear-it-open paper bag. She walked away a happy giant murder floof with a tiger's lunch-sized treat bag.)
I did get some writing done, as well. Not nearly as much as I wanted to, but more than I expected I would get considering the quick holiday away from All The Real Life Things. Family time and writing time in one week... it was beyond awesome. Hope you have a great weekend!
2. The Other Assassins
Draessellor scoffed and put the contract away again. He wasn’t an assassin, so the mention of there being ‘other’ assassins would never stop looking ridiculous to him; almost as ridiculous as there being a mage stamp in the contract’s seal. There was too much magic for his tastes these past years. Whole wars were being fought by mages rather than swordsmen and mercenaries. The last person he’d spoken to had even tried to convince him that the unnatural uses of magic all these mages were inventing were for something or other positive that supported some greater good. With honest murder becoming a scarce occupation, and deaths by potions and invisible means on a sharp rise, it was hard to believe that magic was some kind of ‘better’ goodness than a steel blade and some dragon scale armor.
Adding emphasis to the thought, Draessellor thumped a fist against the large scales protecting his soft underbelly. These had been a gift from another of his friends, a Storm Dragon from distant mountains he hadn’t crossed in many, many years.
“Call me Cliff,” was how the dragon introduced himself after a lengthy discussion of why Draessellor was perched in what he’d thought an excellent hiding place until Cliff had ripped the top off of it. Cliff had thought the small Reptillian was seeking fame or fortune by killing dragons, and the long conversation confirming he was only there to ambush a passing caravan had been carried out with Draessellor literally underfoot. (Perhaps the conversation hadn’t been lengthy, but only looked that way due to the amount and size of teeth asking the questions.) Cliff had apologized for the misunderstanding.
What solidified them into friends was that the queen who’d hired Draessellor for murdering the caravan had tried to hire him to hunt the dragons he’d spent a pleasant afternoon with. He hadn’t taken the job, she’d tried to have him killed under her kingdom’s treason laws, and Cliff heard about it. He and his wife had found Draessellor just before the execution and laid waste to half the palace and then carried their new friend back to the mountains so he could regain his health in peace.
Cliff’s eldest son had cut the strongest scales from his father’s body and fashioned them into armor for Draessellor when the old dragon passed on. It had been a gift of both unequalled kindness and unparalleled sadness. The armor had been how he’d learned the ancient dragon had died.
A familiar scent arrived on the breeze and Draesellor tasted the air for clearer definition, his tongue slipping out and back in like a snake’s. An Elf assassin and her daughter that were known to him from wars throughout the decades were coming. They weren’t friends of his, but also not enemies.
“Old lizard,” the mother greeted him politely once they arrived beside his fire.
“Good Elf,” he rumbled out the appropriate reply. “You’re expected here for the doorway portal?” he asked pointedly. In his mind it was best to be certain that they wouldn’t be in each other’s ways if their jobs were different.
“We are,” she agreed. He uncurled his hands to show they were empty as an invitation for them to join his fire. They made the same gesture before sitting down. “Might I ask you to allow my daughter this kill?”
He’d heard the rumors that the younger Elf had started doing more in her apprenticeship. A controlled kill like this would be a good place to practice.
“I’ll watch,” he agreed. The mother smiled kindly at him, and then beamed at her daughter. The younger female sat prouder.
“Do you know who the third and fourth assassins are?” the daughter asked. He decided to not bother correcting her that he was just a murderer because she was obviously attempting to be polite while discovering if he had any further information that could help her.
“No,” he replied honestly.
“Do you have a description of the Human?” she asked another question.
“What about the stones that were mentioned. Do you –”
Her mother interrupted her by placing a restraining hand on the daughter’s arm. He stayed staring at the thwarted questioner and swiveled only one eye to look at the mother.
“The impatience of youth,” the mother excused her child before turning to look at her daughter. “When speaking with an equal regarding a joint effort, we assume they have the same contract that we do, delivered by the same means,” she instructed quietly.
“He’s only a mercenary,” the daughter hissed, her condescension much quieter than what she expected him to be able to hear from this distance.
“He’s been my colleague in combat for more years than you’ve been alive,” the mother replied at the same volume, her tone chastising. “Isn’t that right, old lizard?” she asked, her voice dropping even quieter for the question.
“I lost count of the years we’ve fought on the same and different sides many years ago,” he replied.
The daughter gaped at him for a moment and then slammed her mouth shut and sullenly glared at the fire. The mother hid a smile by digging through her pack. The rations she took out smelled and looked delicious to the two of them. However, having tasted Elf food before (and considering the amount he trusted these two) he easily declined the offer of sharing with them in favor of eating from the serpents he’d killed the other day.
Once the customary meal was complete, confirming they would eat together so must be on the same side, Draessellor packed his kit and slung it across his back before walking away to go check on the serpent hide he was tanning into leather. The younger Elf peppered her mother with questions as soon as she believed him out of hearing distance, because he was out of sight, and he chuckled quietly while trying to remember ever being that young and naïve.
Another scent he recognized arrived with the evening wind while Draessellor was sorting through the dead serpents’ bones. He’d cleaned and scraped them, and now he was looking for one that would carve and dry nicely to make a delicate hilt fit for a Human female’s hands. He was decided since this morning that it would be appropriate to actively look for his friend’s son due to the logic that she must be extremely worried if she’d contacted him. Plus, the pay would be fair, it would be pleasant to see her, and if her kingdom was going to war then there was likely more profit to be made… and she would likely need a new knife. He wasn’t good at gifts, but practical weapons he understood well. After some consideration, he selected the female serpent’s skull.
The scent in the breeze grew stronger as what Draessellor called ‘the winged thing’ approached. He sighed as he tensed and relaxed to settle his scales comfortably for standing after crouching for so long. Whoever had done the hiring for this job wasn’t very smart, or was young and not very well informed. Neither provided a comfort for what would be the irritating night ahead.
It's still Friday evening here, so I'm not late with my Friday schedule blog posting. It was a busy day (in a good way), and I'm starting a new short story today, so I also have zero complaints about posting a few hours later than I usually do. :)
It was a good week for writing for me. I got a lot of progress on my terrible stories that I'm using as training grounds for a couple of complex characters I want to be able to write well in my main manuscript, and I was able to add more words to the first book of my main manuscript. The major revision I started on it left my word count short, but also highlighted areas I'd written too thin (and have started thickening up) and has given me room to expand on my 'villain'. Did I mention before how happy I am with this revision? If I did, I'm going to repeat myself. These changes make the story so much better!
As for my non-writing updates, this week only had two appointments in it and the lack of struggling to run around and Get Things Done on a daily basis for every day of the week was wonderful. There were sill busy days. The difference is that things were completed and there was time to stop and have proper meals AND to sleep each day. The to-do list doesn't seem shorten, but the anxiety and depression definitely have less to feed on.
Please note that today begins the long weekend for November. I'm lucky enough to be spending these coming days with loved ones. November 11 is a day I personally feel as very important. Both my grandfathers were military, with my dad's father serving during WWII (his father serving during WWI), and my mom's father having a career in the RCAF. I have zero respect for war, but more respect than I can put words to for the men and women who fought and fight them on behalf of the freedoms I have. Please remember this Remembrance Day. Hope you have a great weekend!
1. Friends & Contracts
Draessellor stirred the flames of his small fire and watched the burst of sparks drift up to wink out between the stars. He would be paid well for sitting here and waiting once he killed whoever arrived by the way described. The contract didn’t mention who was coming. That was fairly normal and, to be honest, it never crossed his mind to ask. He’d been a mercenary and murderer for hire for too many years to bother counting them anymore. Not fancy enough for assassinations, and not pretty enough for subterfuge, he’d simply killed a lot of people for money. Over those many years, he’d made a couple of friends as well. Not easy, considering. More of a surprise when it happened, actually.
Ruffling feathers caught his attention and one eye swiveled up to look at the messenger crow one of his friends had sent to him, reminding him of the letter she’d sent asking for his help if he was able. She’d even offered payment, and written a sincere wish for his continued well-being. He stirred the flames again. Ceil was a good friend.
He set aside the stick he’d been using to stir the fire. He needed to get some rest and locking his joints was easier than lying down, so he hunched a bit rounder and settled in for a comfortable night. The contract mentioned other killers but didn’t say who else was coming, or precisely when, so he decided it was best to be able to move quickly. The fire ebbed down to embers as his eyes closed to slits and he entered into the nearest state he was capable of that was akin to sleep as mammals understood it.
His subconscious watched the stars spin overhead, their positions counting the hours that aligned perfectly with how far the fire was burning down. The messenger crow stayed perched on the low branch of the nearby tree as it slept.
As dawn arrived, so did the forewarning scents of approaching scavengers. Draessellor stood and walked away from his fire so he could bring his weapons to hand without being seen doing so, and returned to find one of the serpents coiling around the heat of the embers. She lifted her head to speak with him and he snapped out a blade quicker than she could dodge, separating her head from her body. Serpents rarely had anything useful to say, and the ones that could speak tasted exactly like the ones that couldn’t. Her male companion attempted to attack from behind and lost his bottom jaw to the first sword swing. The second swing cut the serpent in half, the front writhing away to bleed out rather than turn back for a swifter death.
Draessellor ignored the dying, useless half of the male and set to inspecting the female. Her hide looked like she’d recently gone through a shedding and would make good leather he could sell for additional profit. The nearby half of the male wasn’t in as good of condition so wouldn’t be worth the effort of tanning. As he started skinning the female, he decided that tonight he would track the front half of the male and cut out the fangs to sharpen for daggers. The serpent ivory was too brittle for his preference, but some lords and royals paid well for the small blades due to the rarity.
His friend’s promised second messenger crow arrived with a pop of light on the fourth day of waiting for the target. Ceil had said in her first letter that, if he wasn’t able to help her, he needed to reply within three days using the first crow. If he was able to help, he didn’t need to reply at all and she’d send a second crow with a small portrait of her offspring that had gone missing. Of course he hadn’t replied. The second crow delivered the portrait to his hand and then flew up to the low branch to roost with the first. Draessellor studied the image of the young human, memorizing every line, and then tossed the page into the fire he always kept burning.
Her first letter had said her king was dying and a neighboring country had tipped over the brink into war, so her country had sent troops to help. One of her sons had gone to war, and then then other had disappeared. She didn’t ask him to come and fight, which is what he’d expected, but instead inquired that – if their paths happened to cross – could he please protect and guide her missing offspring safely home to her kingdom, as he’d once protected and guided her. She expected to compensate him at his usual rate, which was odd because he didn’t know where – or even if – he would cross paths with Ceil’s wayward offspring.
He smiled at the flames as he stirred the fire; her dealings were always so professional.
He set aside the stick and took a blank parchment roll out of his pack. Careful with making his letters because he rarely used them, he scratched out a short letter using charcoal that stated he would look to find her offspring. He paused, and then added his sincere hope that she was also well despite the problems she was facing. He cut the note from the roll and put the roll away, then called down the crows by holding up the letter. One of them plucked the note from his hand. The two circled for a moment, flipping and spinning around the column of smoke from the fire, before disappearing through a pop of light.
Teleportation was neat to watch, but only a few species were capable of surviving it. Draessellor didn’t know if he was capable, and he wasn’t willing to try and see. Crows did well at it, and rats. (The rats couldn’t be trusted to reliably deliver messages, they were too independently minded, however seeing swarms of them sent to harass enemies never failed to be entertaining.)
While his pack was open, he replaced the blank parchment and took a moment to scan over the contract he was here to collect on. Whatever he was meant to kill had been described as only ‘Human; male’, but the method of arrival was set out in detail: portal teleportation, unique due to the use of twelve stones that created a doorway appearance. The final sentence mentioned that there would be at least three other assassins present to ensure success, and all would be paid without question even if only providing eyewitness proof of seeing the Human killed.
Hello! Hope you all had a lovely Halloween yesterday. It made for a lot of excitement at our house, that's for sure. (And resulted in a lot of candy lol)
Let's see... what's been going on...? My current short story, The Clearing, wraps up this week, which means the free downloads are posted and waiting for you! With this one ending on November 1, I'll be starting a new short story next week. :)
And how is it already November?? Can we have an extra October in 2019 so there's a chance to catch up on where I needed to be this year? And an extra week or two in November would be great – especially for all the NaNoWriMo2019 writers! I won't be officially participating, but I'm planning to keep track of my word count and see where I finish by the end of the month. I will also be cheering for and encouraging all the participants I run across in Twitter-landia.
No idea what that weird 'NaNoWriMo' abbreviation is for? No problem! Check out this link:
My muse is unpredictable and, unfortunately for me, setting goals in anything has proven to feed my anxiety and block my productivity. It's weird, but if I want to achieve something, I get there faster without establishing plans and assigning deadlines. This is something I used to want to change about myself, which added to the anxiety mess inside my head, but now I realize it's part of how I operate: clear ideas of what I'd like to have, fuzzy methods of achieving it, and massive amounts of contingency planning with completely open exits for switching pursuits when and as needed or wanted.
Inside my head is messy.
However, with all the extra people... um... 'characters' in here, being chaotically organized lets me keep track of my and their realities simultaneously. That helps a lot when writing. I like to think this personality trait of mine is creatively useful. (Which is a much better spin on it than being constantly scatter-brained while still knowing what most of the loose ends of thought are attached to.) Hope you have a great weekend!
5. Debts and Promises
Felix woke up to dogs barking. He scrubbed the disorientation out of his eyes and sat up. Had he been out here all night? Distant voices yelling his name, the sun being up, and more barking answered the question. The events of yesterday, why he’d slept outside all night, slammed into his conscious mind. A squeak peeped out of his armpit as his body tensed with remembering Luis hitting his mom and then chasing him out of the house. His call to nine-one-one must’ve been answered because he remembered the sirens when he’d been running away, but… why was he out here with some old unicorn toy that had been forgotten outside by some kid probably ten years ago wedged under his arm?
His shoe thunked against something hard and he looked down to see the music box he remembered dreaming about. He set the scruffy unicorn aside and picked up the box, winding it once and hearing enough to know that it played The Teddy Bears Picnic. The lid closed with the snap of the stopper inside interrupting the spring-driven spinning of the little gears. He finished winding until it clicked because, well, why not? Then he set it down and looked around. There were five toys close to him, six if he counted the unicorn he’d been sleeping with, but these five were pretty beat up; they were mud encrusted from their chins down and had small sticks, thorns and dead grass poking out all over them.
He remembered cleaning up the unicorn before… he’d played picnic with it and then fell asleep to dream about dancing with him… it? Felix realized that he must’ve had a breakdown episode after everything with his step dad last night. He absently reached over to the five toys and picked branches out of frayed stitching and thorns out of plastic fur as he attempted piecing together the likely reality from the breakdown memories and dreams. The dogs and yelling people coming to find him were too far away and too loud to hear him if he answered, and the toys looked better once they were cleaned up. Tidying them and then setting them around a broken tea set like they were having a picnic presented as a cute idea while he was waiting to be found.
Once the tea party was set up, he propped the unicorn against the music box so it looked like it was about to turn the peg. In his dream, the music box had been protectively hidden inside a soggy shoe box, but he didn’t see that anywhere. He smiled at the toys having their party and, with nothing else to do, decided walking toward the people searching for him meant getting found and going home sooner. His stomach was already growling.
He started going the way most trampled, which was obviously the way he’d come from because that’s where most of the yelling was originating right now, but a growl in his memory was louder than the growling from his stomach. A stained scrap of fabric fluttered in the weak, morning sunlight from where it was caught in some thorny weeds, the pattern on it the same as one of Luis’s shirts. Going that way was a bad idea. In one of his dreams last night, Luis had found him here with the toys. He was right now standing where he’d dreamed Luis stopping. Felix backed two steps away from the direction most trampled. During the dream, moving toys had freaked out Luis enough that he’d run away.
The music box plinked and Felix spun around. All the toys he’d left facing each other were looking up at him. The music box he’d left closed was open. The little toy unicorn hefted the lid and snapped the music box shut, its head lifting slowly until its scratched eyes full of glitter were staring at him. Felix collapsed to his knees. It hadn’t been a dream! The toys really could move.
“You guys took care of me last night, didn’t you?” he asked, smiling at the realization. They all nodded once in unison. “But now I owe you,” he said. His smile faded as quickly as his stomach dropped when they all nodded again. “What, um… what do you…?”
Only the heads of the five toys at the tea party twisted to look at the unicorn. It glumly poked a hind hoof at the remains of the old shoe box Felix had squished while sleeping and then been sitting on when he’d looked around for it. He smiled at how sad they all posed for the ruined box.
“How about I get you something better than cardboard?” he offered. One by one, they stood and tumbled toward him on floppy limbs and loose stitches. It was easy to ignore the clawed gouges of their footprints mismatching the wobbling steps he could see. He hugged them gently as they snuggled against his waist, each one fluffy and soft around what his eyes told him were sticky sap stains. The little unicorn came last, dragging the music box. He picked up the cube, lifting the unicorn with it, and hugged both to his chest. “I’ll get something to keep this safe for a long time. I promise.” Their heads twisted in unison to look up at him. “Will that pay you back for keeping me safe?” As one, they all nodded and then hugged him one more time.
He set down the unicorn gently as the other toys ambled back to their tea party. The unicorn stood with a sequined hoof on his leg, watching with him as the other five sat in their places and then flumped into stillness.
“I promise I’ll get something to protect this and then I’ll bring it back,” Felix said to the unicorn.
The unicorn hugged his hip tight enough to make its squeaker peep. Felix stroked its back and cradled the music box safely into the crook of his elbow. The unicorn limped away, flumping into stillness before reaching the tea party and – for all intentions – appearing to have been dropped by a child too excited to remember they were holding a toy after seeing the rest having tea.
He stood up and brushed off the dry leaves sticking to his pajama pants. The most trampled way out of the clearing was behind him. There were also dogs barking and people yelling kind of in front of him and off to his left, though, so he decided that way was a much better direction. He jogged at first, wanting distance between himself and the clearing so the search dogs wouldn’t get into the toys, and then starting yelling replies to the people calling his name once he knew he was far enough away.
A warm jacket was wrapped over his shoulders and he’d already talked to his mom on someone’s phone when the screaming started. It was originating from the direction of the searchers who had been approaching toward the way most trampled. His grip tightened on the music box he wouldn’t let anyone else touch. Chatter over the search team’s radios confirmed they’d found Luis. What was left of Luis.
Animals had gotten to Luis. There were coyotes out here, after all. The search and rescue teams all agreed it was a miracle that Felix wasn’t hurt.
Felix looked over the arm that was hugging him, consoling him over the loss of his step father. The arm belonged to a woman who smelled like melon perfume. Two eyes that were too perfectly round were staring at him from the dark shadow inside the rotten end of a fallen tree behind her. The button eyes belonged to a little penguin with a flipper arm that was falling off. Felix’s vision flickered and the penguin changed, but quickly went back to looking right when he blinked. Felix hummed a couple of bars from The Teddy Bears Picnic and, smiling, decided he would bring thread and needles when he brought the music box back.
Oh hi! Happy Friday!
The kids' school had a professional day today so there were no classes. This means I'm getting a bonus long weekend this month! Yay! My hubby works nights and usually goes to bed around the same time I'm taking the kids for school, so I got up at my usual time for getting out the door for school, left the kids sleeping and him awake, and got to go shopping by myself! Without a time limit! Because once the kiddos are up and fed he can leave them with a movie and go to sleep. He texted me when he was going to bed, and they watched a movie until I get home.
In case you're worried, I'm not a jerk who sprang this on him last minute, I asked if this would be possible last night during his first break and he said sure. He ended up staying awake later than usual due to hating the feeling that the kids are 'alone' (even if he's there to wake up if something goes wrong for them), but he wasn't up a lot later. And I got to leave the house for Alone Time Shopping without needing to clock watch. There's also a happy ending to this story: we have groceries again, I could hit four stores easily in one shopping trip, and Canadian Tire had indoor / outdoor strings of 100 purple – PURPLE! – Halloween twinkle lights. (This last thing may not be a big deal in your house, but I just scored tree lights in the favorite color of both kids and we can use them for Halloween through to New Years. WIN!)
My creativity died this week under doctor appointments, school volunteering, weather-change pain, and the general, failure-feeling anxiety which, for me, rears up whenever I don't get much writing done. That only means it was an editing week. :) Hope you have a great weekend!
4. Fluffy, Safe... Toys
Felix thought Luis was growling, but then Luis stopped advancing and glared around the clearing for the source. The growl didn’t sound like anything from the normal night noises. The bear that had carried the shoe box to Felix had collapsed to its back when all the toys had stopped. Now, its arms dangled and its legs jerked stiffly as it rolled to its belly. Then to its back. Then to its belly. It ended the jolting movements in the empty space between Felix and Luis.
Felix’s vision flickered and… he had to be having another breakdown episode. That bear was a pink toy with loose stitching and fluff coming out where one ear used to be. That’s what it had been when it delivered the music box. Felix closed his eyes and shook his head quickly. When he looked again, the toy was wobbling upright to stand in the fluffy, clumsy way it moved since however long Felix had been here, its belly rising from a patch of tall weeds hiding its legs.
But it was still growling. And when his vision flickered again its back legs were shifting in steps that kept the bear’s feet high above the tops of the tallest grass as the toy’s arms swayed, hanging loosely from its sides. The front legs of the walking thing protruded from the remnants of the bear’s chest. Felix blinked again and saw only the bear wobbling toward Luis on its back legs. The tracks it was leaving between the patches of weeds were clearly made by something walking on four feet. Every new scar showed four claws scraping the earth for each footprint.
The flickering way things looked made everything around him confusing to see. Felix knew the toys didn’t have antlers, they had soft ears. They were slightly worn but still fuzzy pastel colors, not fabrics long rotted into earthy hues. They had stumpy, round, soft paws, not long, sinewy arms ending in claws and hands with only fingers and no thumbs. Every time he blinked, the flickering cleared and they were what he knew them to be: every day, soft toys that people put in cribs with babies when they were new and didn’t get that forgotten look until after a first camping trip where they got left out in the rain. They didn’t have pointed teeth and gleaming eyes that stared out from the wrong places in the last of the stitching. These weren’t nightmare things, they were just old, forgotten toys.
They were silly, soft, safe toys.
He squished his eyes shut and curled tighter. The unicorn with the glitter frozen in its scratched up eyes thumped a sequined front hoof to his chest and then wiggled out of his arms to flump beside the fallen music box. Felix’s gaze dropped to watch it, the sounds of Luis’s feet stumbling backwards fading quieter in his ears. The unicorn bounced to peep out one squeak and then hugged the music box. The adorable way it cuddled the cube enchanted Felix’s lips into a smile. He picked up the music box in one hand and the unicorn in the other and then folded his legs criss-cross applesauce so he could set both of them down, one balanced on each of his legs.
“What the hell is…?” Luis’s voice tightened and strangled off the last part of the question.
Felix looked over at where Luis was backing away from the toy-wearing things jerkily rolling and lurching to collect between where Felix sat with the unicorn and Luis. Except Felix knew the toys weren’t things, they were only a bit worn out. He blinked. They were fluffy toys. Blind rage was slowly turning to blind panic on Luis’s face. The soft toys flickered as Felix watched, revealing impossibly long limbs suspending the toys and Luis staring in slack-jawed terror. Felix blinked.
The unicorn bounce-squeaked and patted Felix’s hand; pulling his attention back to the items in his lap and then nuzzling against his forearm. The unicorn looked so much nicer since he’d gotten it tidied up, and its plastic fur was soft against his skin. Felix twisted the peg on the side of the music box, leaving the lid up to listen to the song start when he finished. A rush of small animal noises hurried away, the quiet peeps of squeakers fading out of the clearing behind him as the first notes tinked and plinked up from his lap.
There was something that sounded like distant roars, maybe far away screaming, but the tune from the box was louder. The little unicorn snuggled against his wrist and he petted it gently. After a moment, the penguin he’d retied the flipper arm for came and sat with them, swaying to slowing pace of the song. Felix quietly sang words he hadn’t remembered until seeing the little unicorn bobbing its head along with the beat:
“If you come into the woods tonight, you’re in for a big surprise.
If you come into the woods tonight, their truth will be in disguise.
Fey wear the cloak of any old toy and gather here in the clearing.
To play is fun, but the hunt’s begun, and the Teddy Bears want their picnic.”
Felix wound up the box again, smiling at the antics of the unicorn that had been – for lack of a better description to fit the shuffling, dipping and popping – dancing on his knee while he sang, the little penguin clapping its flippers. As when he’d first gotten to the clearing and the toys had shuffled out to see him, he realized this breakdown wasn’t too bad. He turned a bit and set the unicorn on a patch of clear grass, smiling as it danced with the penguin, the rest of the toys forgotten.
This breakdown was safe, soft and friendly. Not at all like the bloody ones that Mom said his real dad had.
The unicorn was warm when he snuggled to sleep with it, blanketed under stars. The music box played along with his dreams, all the toys returning and becoming lovely, person-sized versions of their forgotten selves in his imagination. He dreamed of dancing, and slept with a smile on his face.
I think I'm at the point were I just have to accept that things are going to remain too busy for the next while. Plus the kids are sick again. This time just colds, but good grief there have been a load of viruses this school year! And we're only half way through October! [sighs in mom] This is the fourth illness to come through - yes, they've each been different enough to know they're separate strains - and I'm hopeful a weekend at home with blankets, hot tea, and silly movies will do the trick for getting everyone feeling better.
3. The Music
The toys leaned closer as Felix studied the contents of the shoe box. There was just an ornate little cube inside with a peg sticking out from a circle of fancy inlay. He lifted it out. The unicorn hanging over his leg wiggled and then spun, its front hooves reaching for the cube. Felix held the cube closer to it, watching as the rounded, sequined hooves repeatedly clapped onto and slipped off of the peg. It stopped trying to hold the peg and looked up at him, the glitter in its eyes twinkling like tiny stars in a scratched-up sky.
Felix turned the cube a few different ways to look at each side of it and found a pair of hinges. He changed his grip and pulled the cube open. Protected in a plexiglas case, the bottom half contained the guts of a music box that were attached to the peg the unicorn had been trying to grab. The top half was a plastic lock box; a treasure vault for a small child painted with old-timey teddy bears that looked like they were… dancing? Maybe. Nothing was inside the vault. The unicorn put one hoof on the peg.
“You want me to wind up the music box?”
They all nodded agreement, each toy holding up the round-ended arms they each possessed. None of these toys had proper hands. Felix smiled at them and snapped the music box closed. He twisted the peg, listening to the ratchet, and nodded to himself when it clicked.
“Do you want to open it?” he asked, holding the cube down to the unicorn. He held the bottom secure as the unicorn’s floppy arms lifted the lid.
The toys leaped and played, silently cheering, as the first few notes tinked. The song paused, signaling that it had wound down at the end, and then strongly clinked into the first few bars of The Teddy Bear’s Picnic. The toys danced around, bopping and spinning in time with the music as the song repeated over and over. Felix wound it up again before it stopped, timing the winding so it didn’t interrupt the tune.
The toys flopped as the music started again, all of them returning to the state of crumpled disarray that had to be reality. The footsteps of a much larger animal were close and approaching quickly. So much for a pleasant breakdown, Felix thought.
Luis stomped into the clearing. The look on his face made Felix very clearly aware that being found here, as a fifteen year old boy playing with dolls set around like they were at a luncheon, the sweet plinking of the music box providing a childishly girl song, was among the top three worst things Luis had ever seen. And that Luis seeing it meant that Felix was the one to blame for causing the images to be seared into Luis’s brain.
The old music box wound down to silence. The rage in Luis’s eyes was making his expression as blank and staring as the toys. Felix’s chest heaved and his heart raced. The unicorn in his lap moved, its head twisting to stare up at him and its front hooves pressing into the back of his hand. He jerked his head down to stare at it and it touched its horn to the peg on the side of the music box before twisting to stare up at him again. It was time to wind up the music box again so the toys could keep dancing.
“I’ll show you,” Luis muttered.
Felix’s eyes snapped up to look at his step-father, the boy shaking as he realized that the man was there. Luis’s hands were slowly working the button at his waistband loose. His second stride landed on one of the tattered kitties with a squeaker, and was the same toy that had played catch with the penguin Felix had retied the stitching for. The peep was truncated and wheezing.
The unicorn in Felix’s lap tapped his hand. He startled so bad that he dropped the music box. The notes it had paused on twanged loose in a harsh chord that shattered the breakdown vision and made Luis’s footsteps sound louder than only a moment ago. There wasn’t anywhere to run away to out here… Felix picked up the unicorn and held it tightly, wrapping his arms around it protectively as Luis kicked through six toys that had slumped over in the middle of a tea party. Felix’s heart was pounding so hard that he thought its beat would bruise his ribs. The unicorn hugged against him so closely that he could feel it turn its head and nod.
Something started growling over in the direction the unicorn was now looking.
Why are Authors crazy? I can't answer that, but I can provide bits of my own thoughts so that you can piece together why I may be.