Les Demons En Haut

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

+460 words and an odd impulse to write more once I can get out of this desire to make it better than it could possibly be on the first pass and to stop researching islands.  Though, maybe that’s thematically appropriate.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.  Maybe take a minute and drink some wine or some coffee or both or eat some cake or have a cry or read a book or think about Ireland or read your Tarot or lay very still and imagine laying outside in the snow, having it covering you but not chilling your skin at all.

………….

Echoing through the foyer, she heard a warm voice rasp: “She’s returned! Let the games begin!”

The woman had arrived in London via Capri. A journey by boat and rail that left her comfortably swaying, her mind firmly settled in the Grotta Azzurra. She had been meaning to take a stop there and the opportunity finally arose when she completed her task in Rome. Her cargo was light, easily carried on her person and acquired with surprising ease. This meant she could spare a week to explore. The fourth of their four could still taste the limoncello, could still picture the water lapping against the row boat, the Sphinx of sorts that lined the villa of Dr. Axel Munthe.

She had returned, she reminded herself, almost entirely on time. If only to attend this dinner.

A maid gathered up her raspberry velvet cape and if she had any misgivings about where the final guest’s chaperone was located, she wisely held her tongue. She stopped the maid, and gathered from the silk-lined pocket the mail that had been delivered while she was away. This entailed a single letter addressed to her from her tormented prisoner on L’Epine, on L’Ile de Noirmoutier. She had yet to read it, but she knew what it said. Come home, come home, come home.

Pas maintenant, Maman! There is no home. But there is a world to see.

Passing through the foyer, the locked door was swung wide open to the drawing room. A fire was crackling to ease the soft rain that had, predictably, carried through the entire day. The room looked fit to suit the men within. Dark corners, dark furnishings, cigar smoke flowing through the air.

She was, as ever, an interloper. Surely, the gentlemen Carlisle, Smith and Shelburne, would rather their colleague take a more traditional aspect. But if this was a game, it was one that required far more than trousers to succeed at. Amelia picked up a glass of champagne from the table. Smith, full of vigor, had taken Shelburne aside, and appeared to be engaged in some sort of frantic pantomime.

“Giving instruction to the lad as to how to take a punch.”

“I don’t find myself in situations where pugilism might concern me.” Shelburne drew a shy smile and uncrossed his arms to pull a dark blade of hair back from his eyes. He was a few years younger than she, and could fall into giggles at the bare breasts of a Bernini. His calling as a treasure hunter as inexplicable as her own, at least on its face.

“You’re in this room, aren’t you?”

Amelia laughed to herself between sips.

“Now, the lady, she might be able to get away without carrying a weapon.” Smith glanced in her direction. “But when you’re going after something that maybe somebody gives a damn about, there might be a bit of maffickin’ required to get it out of there.”

“I wouldn’t make a plan that did not first include the likelihood of resistance and devise an alternative.”

“As if things don’t go wrong.”

Amelia called over her shoulder, now quite preoccupied by the scurrying bodies of maid, assistant, and honored host as the rushed about behind the east-facing door. “Why don’t you take him out and let him practice upon you, Mr. Smith? Might motivate the spirits before you’re overly motivated by spirits.”

“You have a dark mind, Miss Crevecoeur. Just like that father of yours.” Smith muttered to himself with good humor.

“At every turn, my good sirs, at every turn.”

Others Say She Was Just a Beautiful Idiot

Alright.  meat

Before I fall into the danger zone, I have to wonder if this site – this tether, will be the thing I need to keep myself from going into the nothingness.

I refuse to spend all day gathering and not produce.  Let us play even if we do it poorly, we’ll have something to chew on later.

….

“In a matter of days, the last transaction will be finalized and the request secured.”

“Faster than all the others, I see. ”  He lifted the gold-rimmed glass up and smiled.  He seemed to her to be a bit tired.  There were those lines around his eyes.  Her mother had called them worry marks once, and declared she refused to entertain them on her face.  Her father had retorted they were life marks, and they were visitors no one could turn out.  They’d argued and her mother had been silent for the entirety of the day afterwards.

Looking at them now, she simply thought they made him him.  And she found that he looked…like the ocean after a month in the stuck and staid city.  Still, calm, but below this, a library containing more than it was possible to know.  And handsome.

“A toast to proficiency.”  She raised her glass as well and turned her head away as if to look into his eyes again was to face a firing line.  “And,” he continued, “to charm.”  A quick clink between them before he smiled and downed his nearly-full glass of celebratory champagne.

Amelia found herself willing to smile a bit at that.  He was pleased, then.  It was foolish, but she wanted to be the one who served him best.

In a sudden burst of energy, Kafele called out to the post-meal slump the room had become.

“Come, come, my friends.  There is much we must show you!”  Willoughby had already pushed open the doors from the drawing room into the workspace.  Smith strolled in, holding a champagne glass and its dregs briefly against his chest before setting it on a shelf next to a tray of empty glass specimen jars.  Shelburne, in his inimitable way, excitedly skulked toward the front of the lab.   Carlisle, soundless, distracted, bored, simply was in one room and then was in the next.

They were the last to leave the drawing room and as they walked, Amelia felt the Professor’s fingertips lightly against the small of her back, pushing her, guiding her forward as if she somehow did not know the way.  If it had been another, she might have been furious.  Or at the very least made tense by the unexpected touch.  Instead, a flush ran through her as she felt Shelburne’s eyes catching sight of this briefest moment of connection.  He would be the one to see.  He watched the Professor’s every move to see if he would betray his grand plan in the angle he tilted his head, in the placement of books on his shelf, and certainly in any errant moment he spent with Amelia.

There was a calculation taking place, to be sure of it.

Sundowner, You

pexels-photo-59515

I have nearly more creativity right now, at this point in time, than I can physically handle.
It’s such an odd thing.  I have to embrace it rather than fear it.  I want to supreme my heart into a hundred little segments and set them all out to do the work.

The muse is in residence.  We are having tea, or she is having whatever comes out of an empty tea-kettle when it is poured at a party of the imagination.  I am having wine, sweet as fresh fruit.  I am watching my calories.  I am stretching my legs out.  I am greeting the sun, saluting the moon.

I am living the Faulkner line:  “A story is in you.  It has to come out.”  It feels as though all the stories I’ve ever half-daydreamed a setting for are pulling themselves toward me. They see, perhaps, that I have the time for them that I’ve never had before.  Exercise is helping my head, and unfortunately, I have hours and hours now. Not really, of course,  some of this time needs to be put to use figuring out how I am going to pay to keep myself alive.  But for the time being, I am a mason jar of fireflies.  All the while, I am putting the story into me as I re-read and re-read the book.  I need to keep finishing it so that I can start working on it, which can only be explained by reading it and I can’t give up even a single iota of it until I’ve wrapped my arms around it fully.   Till I can crow about it and sing about it and not have a whole other truth yet to be revealed on a final pass.  I can only say that it is a doorway to me and even if I have to keep passing through and finding myself in the backyard, eventually, I will get in this house.  I will

I know it’s weird.  I gotta go weird for a while.  My weird bucket has been empty for too long and there’s a lot of weird in the well.

Real life:
My sister’s boyfriend, intending to be helpful, being urgent as he can be when he thinks there’s an opportunity ripe on the vine sent me a link to a public radio writing job.  A journalist’s job.  Perhaps if I wasn’t so chock full of…everything.  Not in a manic way, just in a…oh, shit, I love writing and reading and I’ve played so hard at not having time or space for it and now, even out of terrible circumstances, I’ve been handed them back as a gift?…sort of way.  Keeping having to find ways to be grateful for his interest and support, but not express my bemusement at his high expectations of me.  My poor little niecelings and/or nephews.  I will give them an excess of ice cream and tell them unsettling tales of the sea and perhaps let them play with my children who will by then have mastered all of the Archer’s Tales.

Ah, yes.  Real.  Life.

I am not going to be afraid to be inspired because it might make a hard life harder.  I am going to be afraid of fearing inspiration because it has already made a hard life unlivable.

We Paid for Blood

901844_74138128

“Eggs and toast, butter on the side.”  Lurene’s voice had been aged by a pack-a-day of Marlboros habit and the same acidic coffee she was pouring into the detective’s cup.   Most of the folks in Falls Valley weren’t interested in the sights a waitress takes in from behind the formica counter top year after year, even if she gave it to them anyway in snide bursts and asides she no longer pretended to whisper.  Having someone in a booth in Early’s who was writing down what she had to say was about as much like a celebrity as Lurene had felt since prom night.  A night that even Meryl Streep would envy her if she happened to stroll in, order a reuben and listen to the story.

As it was, at first light, when only the trucking crowd and graveyard workers huddled around the corner booths, the detective had been the one to walk in.  Snub nose, hair about the color of chewing tobacco, she strode in, and showed her badge – – Detective Maria Mayfair – and wanted to know about Mallory Green and the mysterious bald man who had breakfast with her two days before the bomb went off at First National Bank.

Now in her late fifties, Lurene might not be able to tell her who lit the fuse, but she could remember a customer’s order when she saw them walk in the door, remember if they up and decided to have an iced tea instead of a soda three months ago.  She could definitely remember the order of those two.

“That’s what he ordered.  Oh, and coffee, of course.  She had the pancake plate with fruit on the side.”  She said with approval.  The pancakes were good, here.  Couldn’t fault anyone for ordering the pancakes.

“But he didn’t eat it.”  The detective scribbled down a note that Lurene couldn’t make out upside down.

“No.  He just watched her eat.  I don’t know, he seemed a little shaky.  Definitely looked like one of those drug addicts.  Or maybe, you know, like he needed a cigarette.  Not that I’d have bummed him one.”

Looking down at her, while she didn’t wear a trench-coat and fedora, the detective had a matter-of-fact sort of expression and a short bobbed haircut that fit Lurene’s expectations well enough.  The sounds of the town slowly waking up as the road that lead towards the highway began to dot with movement, just as things ought.  Nothing had been right since the bomb went off and even this comforting noise felt nervous, fragile.  Lurene didn’t know how to do anything for fragile times.

“That’s right.  She ate his, too, ate like she was starving.  I never liked that Mallory woman, anyone who would marry one of them Greens can’t be right in the head. But then again, I don’t trust people who don’t eat what they order.”

“You hear her call him anything?  Say his name?”

She squinted her eyes, roved down to the other side of the countertop to refill another customer’s cup, and put her hand on her generous hip.

“Every kind of awful name through her teeth, some of it wasn’t even in English.  .  You know – like she’s the kind of woman who can do that to a man and get away with it while the rest of us have to be ladies and say please and thank you.  Still, I would say she liked him.  Only time I’ve ever seen her without that sneer on her face.  Him, he was just thinking.  It just blew over that bald head of his. He was on another planet.”

“She mention anything about her husband?”

Lurene chuckled, “Maybe.  But I doubt Willy Green speaks French, either. Makes you almost feel sorry for him.  Almost.”

The detective’s eyes seemed to glass over all of a sudden, and she sighed and leaned back in her chair, making more notes.  After checking on the other diners, and clearing the ticket of one of them, Lurene realized that her audience was fleeting so she changed tactics.

“How’d you like that coffee of ours?”  She glanced at the cup, not even a glimmer of the pink gloss on the detective’s face seemed to have transferred to the lip of the white cup.

“It’s fine, ma’am.   Now, did they mention Lt. Charles Senna by name? Anything regarding the Falls Valley PD?”

“No.  Nothing….” She paused, pursed her lips, “Do you think they had anything to do with what happened inside our bank?”

“Ma’am…”  The detective shook her head and waved her hand dismissively.  Maybe in her thirties, the woman was small, with a sidearm holstered under her blazer.

“Well, I mean, they didn’t exactly do anything wrong. I mean, they didn’t say bomb, or explosion, or whisper about about killing.  But they seemed, well, they’re outsiders, and that poor kid, growing up without his father…you’re going to go and interview her, right? Arrest her, maybe?”

“I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to say, ma’am.”  She stood up at the counter, resituated herself.  “Here, here’s my card.  Please call me if you think of anything else.”

“It’ll be it for 23…”  Just as Lurene picked up their nearly licked-clean dishes, she had heard Mallory say that.  It hadn’t struck her one way or another then, when she’d paid her attention to the man’s suit.  Not even the Mayor would wear a suit like that to his inauguration.  Mallory had looked like a street person sitting across from him.  But she’d heard it, and maybe it was meaningless…

“What did you say?!”  The detective reached out and grabbed her arm, hard enough that the coffee pot flew out of her and hit the coffee station behind her rattling the metal shelves and knocking the powdered creamers over before gushing out onto the tile floor.  Lurene saw the intensity in the woman’s face as if she’d just caught a glimpse of a fish she’d been waiting on for years and stepped back, forgetting her own muscle memory and backing into the percolator with a yelp.

“My word!  She said, well, the fryer was really going, but I thought I heard her say that will be it for 23, right?”  She practically squeaked.

“You all right there, Lurene?”   Jim, the cook, peeped out of the order window with concern and a face easily unsettled by trouble.

“What else did he say…?”  Suddenly the interview felt more like an interrogation and the spotlight she sought in her gossip circle was a single bulb hanging down right in front of her eyes.  The detective looked furious, desperate, perhaps.  Like she really gave a damn.  Lurene touched her hair to assure herself her updo hadn’t lost its perk, took a deep breath and thought hard.

“He just said it’s already over.  I don’t remember anything else, I swear.”

“Thank you, ma’am, you’ve been most helpful.”  The detective put a twenty dollar bill down on the counter, snapped her notepad closed, and nearly ran out the front door.  The mumble of the diners swirled back in around her, bewildering and delighting the waitress in equal measure.

“What kind of detective leaves a $23.00 tip?”

Elan Vitae: Day One Hundred Eighty-Eight

782909_41362372

 

A muffled noise, the feeling of sheets being draped over and pulled away from his body inch by inch, one by one until the darkness became thick and blue and then, semi-transparent.  The hem of each dragged delicately across his skin, over his face and neck and torso, down to his toes, and then the feeling began again, the light filtering through with more intensity, until, every never was keyed up, and he opened his eyes and saw the barn ceiling overhead.  It was the earliest degree of morning and starlings settled and resettled in the hayloft, a steady rain of dust and pieces of hay fell down on his prone body.

Ayler touched his belly and he could still feel the wound, the gaping rictus that made a mouth out of his midsection, not sewn shut at all, but neither bleeding.  Somehow puckered and dry as if some field held the blood inside of him rather than spilling Next to him was the knife that James used to gut him open, sticky.  He remembered the pain running through him as sharp and bright as a bolt of lightning, knocking him backwards until he was prone, looking down to see red spurting out of him like strawberry extract.  Then, in his mind, he was knew he was leaving himself, rising upward and forward, moving through curtain after curtain, veil after veil of blue gauze.

Somehow, he pushed through one last slip of cornflower and fell back inside himself.   The noises of the animals in their stalls he expected to hear seemed silent.  Without thought nor strength, Francis Ayler pulled himself up on his elbows.

In the barn’s far corner, on her knees, her limbs as bloodied as the day she had been born, a being, a woman sat waiting.  Her eyes were both cloudy and filled with an amber light, though one was bloodshot and twitched erratically until it was momentarily blinked still.  Her blonde hair was long and loose and wild, but she wore a dress fit for any society lady, even through the stain he could see the embroidered flowers.  She looked not unlike Marian, perhaps like a doll made up after her, the detail left up to clumsy hands.

Like it was struggling to conceive of a language both could understand, the body, the gray-white face of the figure slid idly to the left.

scythe

The accent seemed fragile, like it would break into barking if pushed too hard.

The sick eye was the one that saw him first. When he blinked back, focused, it was smiling.

he’s power of a basilisk

Had he the strength to pull himself further upright, he would have crossed himself.  “Blessed Mary.” was all he could croak out.  “What is this?”

“It is life.  No more, no less.”  He blinked and the creature blinked back at him, her pupils widening further than they ought.

“No, no, no…What are you?”  She did not rise to tower over him, but instead, crawled towards him, scraping herself and her dress through the dirt, hay and animal leavings.

Commandednammoc! Oooooooooooh…lemman…for strong a hold had the woman and did the wanderer take up her residence at night and when we darknessessenkrad and crime, and supernatural communionoinummoc the departing devilish lie! would I have plunged into skepticism 

He did not see her lips move, but felt the words run through him, half-understood, half in a tongue that frightened him.  The memories of the events of the past night revealed themselves.

“James murdered Marian…he murdered me…the bastard, he killed us…he killed us!”

“And now you live.”  Her spoken voice was as steady as her thought felt like a child’s verse.  She held out her hands to him as if he could not see her soaked through with what could only be his blood.  “I don’t need to live, it’s HER, it’s her who deserves this unholy resurrection, this life I never asked to have back.”

“He took her body from this place, but her spirit has fled.  Even if I were to have the will to revive her, it could not be.”    And then drew itself up closer to her than he could bear.

“What are you? A spirit, a devil, you are no creature of the Lord. This is unholy…”

“Tis true. I am no woman…no…creature of the Lord.  But now even hell has turned me away.”  She picked up the knife and crawled further on top of him and beamed a grin full of yellowed teeth down at his face. Ayler couldn’t help himself from gasping at that eye, bloodied and twitching in its socket.

The being straddled his left leg  but felt ephemeral, like the shape of a woman made in dust.

bindless the bound the bindless bindnib themselves

“If you do not want this life, I will take it back.”  A stoicism settling on her unpleasant features.  She raised the knife and pressed it against his throat.   He pulled a hand up towards her pale, red-spattered throat, but there was nothing to grip. His hand moved right through the body as if it were vapor.  There was no disbelieving whether she was capable of ending him.

“”Wait!  Wait, you demon…what is it you want from me?”

“I saved you for a purpose.  For an end.  In you, ” She ran her finger over the path the knife had made. “there is a door I would go through.  And once I pass, you will have your vengeance against the man who took your lover.  Against the thing who has made us both.”

He willed himself to stare into her awful eyes.  “What choice is this?  Vengeance against James or you cut my throat? Tell me!”

In a singsong voice, she mocked his pleading, “No! I have to know what it is!”  Haftoo vantoo neetoo ooh goddessssesseddog hear me me here oh me hony dere before gesturing a bony finger back at the pool of blood that was left where Marian had fallen as if everything was explained in this single object lesson.  The sense Mr. Ayler had once claimed as his key to success asserted itself one last time and he pushed her body off of him and stood up, clutching at his stomach and dizzy from the movement, the loss of so much that was vital.

“If I’m your door, demon…”

“I am no demon.”  She interrupted, fiercely.

“If I am your door, then I am entitled to some answers.  What gives you these powers over life and death?”

“You are gifted beyond all men because I give thee life and I give thee purpose.”

He yanked the blade from her bony fist and put it back at his throat.  “No. My life was made forfeit when Marian died, it is of no consequence now if I remain among the living, it is nothing to me.  It is you who care.  So tell me what you are and why this must be done.”

So confronted, her face contorted into a rage.

know the answer why why love is upon you why I bring forth to body why you pay for why we your grave is full why we kill this man

Then, her mind telegraphed a buzzing noise, but no further words.

Her breath smelt of a spent fireplace, her fingers cold against his flesh as she pressed her cheek against his and whispered.  As she pulled her face away, she passed her lips over his in a kiss.

Francis Ayler looked at his savior and in her troubling eye, against everything he wanted to believe about himself, he believed her.  It.  James Horace, his business partner, his best friend, the man who claimed to love Marian but slaughtered them both with a rusty knife, had killed before, and would without restraint, kill again.

This is the vengeance you ask?”

A toothsome grin and a nod were her answer.

“Then I will be your instrument.”

He felt himself shout, but didn’t hear the three cracks. 1) The fist against his jutted chin. 2) The stun of skull against the wall. 3) His spine against the hardwood of the floor.  He crumpled back to his knees on the wooden slats and filth of the barn floor.  A further pressure and his head was forced against the floor as if there was a boot against his neck, his fingers folding up into themselves, a botulism running through his system, contracting every muscle.

As his head swam in pain, he heard her voice as though it filled the barn, blew through the rafters.    “This is the first of our meetings, the next shall be the last.  Until then, you may not return to this place.”

He blinked and the pressure forcing him down was gone, another look and the wound on his stomach was gone, a  scar remained, wide and aggressive but neatly mended, and for the first time in his first or now, his second life, Francis Ayler knew what had to be done.

 

 

Dying Light: Day One Hundred Eighty-Six

1428871_57526841The garden smelled overwhelmingly of lilacs.  Lilacs weren’t like lilies, pungent and moribund, even the stargazers, they held the singular smell of spring.  A smell that could stop her in her tracks and make her smile, inspire colorful inks to bleed across her imagination: mauve, and milk-spun indigo, but also this kelly green that Moira’s garden was made of, that rose out of the dirt every year with greater ferocity.  It ate the dead gray of Falls Valley and spat back flowers.  It was, like Moira, magical.

Willy didn’t like her to be here.  It wasn’t safe because Moira didn’t believe in Jesus and she wasn’t saved.   She also was not concerned about it, which, was worse.

But Moira knew how to make grilled cheese sandwiches and bake carrot cake and she was willing to tell her about her mother, even if, as Moira said, she was not, necessarily, a woman who left a lot to tell.

Today, though, was business.   As Moira harvested herbs from a collection of terracotta pots that lined the porch steps, Lillie was given the task of pulling weeds out of the terraced garden and found it profoundly satisfying to dig a bit around, avoiding the wriggling worms that populated the beds, and expose the network of roots before yanking the dandelions all the way out without breaking the taproot.  Moira hummed a tv jingle for a used car dealership.  It used to be Crazy Hank’s Car before the days of political correctness and now was just Hank Teller Autos, but the crazy showed through in the gleam of the Hank’s eyes as he rattled off the deals on used Volvos and Buicks.  But the jingle with its glockenspiels dancing below a three-part harmony advertising Cars, cars, cars! You can see our lot from Mars! was incredibly catchy and and Lillie bobbed her head along.  In this soft, waning daylight, Lillie set about gleefully stabbing the dirt with her spade and digging out around the base of a particularly woody and intractable  before gripping with two gloved hands around the sturdy neck of a Canadian thistle, grunting once and watching spatter of earth as she pulled it out and dropped onto the top of her heap of weedy carcasses.

Suddenly, Lillie turned her head towards her ad-hoc guardian, “I feel bad.  It was just sitting here, living its life and we said it had to go.  But I sorta like pulling them out of the ground.”  The spiky thistle had left a few malicious prickles in her glove and Lillie sat on the stone seat nearby to carefully pluck them out.

“Alive, these ones here will choke out all the vegetables, the flowers, they won’t share the food in the soil, they just take.  We take them out, and these plants can go in the compost and make life for plants that can feed us.  Not that I think that’s a philosophy for people, but in a garden, we are the keepers, it’s alright to steal the dandelion’s fate.”

“What do you mean?” She screwed up her face in a smile, getting the last needle out the glove that was hidden in the fold between the thumb and index finger and putting the pink lined gloves back over her hands.
“I mean, go on, Lillie, pull those weeds.”  Moira gestured with a grin.  They worked for another half an hour or Lillie felt Moira’s own gloved hand on her shoulder.

“Come on, it’s getting late, you staying over now? I made us a pound cake for dessert, it’s got lemon in it which is from the store, but it also has lemon verbena which is right over there.”  Lillie saw the little plant sitting in its own pot, painted with blue swirls.  Moira said it was important to know what you ate because what you ate was what you were.  If that was true, Willy was a frozen dinner.

Lillie chuckled to herself and followed Moira in through the screen door and towards the wooden table, past the empty plate-setting left for Tara, Moira’s sister, who Moira said was a spirit now, but somehow was still entitled to hot tea.  She sat down in her usual chair with a few pillows beneath her for adequate height and  readied her spoon.

She was about to mention the fact that Willy had told her that she wasn’t to stay over so much when Moira’s muscled forearm poured a thick, red liquid into her bowl.  It didn’t steam, but the smell of garlic was heady.

“In this house, we read at the dinner table.”  Moira sat down with her bowl and quickly slipped a thin pair of reading glasses on, and reached, seemingly at random for a book on the shelf.  Lillie took her book, all about kids who ran away to live in a boxcar out of her backpack and slurped at what Moira called gazpacho.

So unlike anything she was given at home, so unlike her grandmother’s heavy-handed globs of starchy mashed potatoes and brick-like meatloaves, at her first taste she started laughing.

After the meal, Moira held her close, squeezed her arms into her ribs and planted a kiss on the top of her head.  She whispered, “You are the best thing that has ever happened to me.  And for a good long while, we’ll keep it just so.”

Barnum: Day Twenty-Eight

Amelia is what’s known as a Riveter, after that Rosie broad who looked tough in all the old posters they’ve reprinted and posted around.  A strength that survives even after they took away the mechanism for us to grow beyond the manual labor that Rosie was the cause celebre for.  She runs the planes. She makes them them come and lets them go as I she sees fit.  If she don’t want to let you ride, you will walk across the great and burning desert as brambles cut your feet, for that is all that can be found in the lost lands between cities.    They’ve taken so much away that four tiny planes and a pair of runways makes for a certain amount of cache.   And this, Amelia, refuses to forget.

It’s late in the afternoon, the light worth remarking on as it presses itself through the wooden slat shades,  It’s almost time for Amelia to make her rounds, review the accounts one last time before closing her business for the day.

Before she can return to her bungalow and the relative luxury of a good meal and a bottle of wine that this success affords her,  there is, of course, the matter of the Traveler.

She adjusts her fascinator, puts the white gloves in the snap-latched purse and leans over the desk .

“It’s been a bad year for your kind,” she peers at him, “And you don’t know that men from our time light ladies’ cigarettes to say that they’ll listen to a dame if only for the time it takes to let the ashes fall into an ashtray.”

She gestures at the empty smoked glass bowl sitting in front of her.  For Amelia, that little knick-knack, the only one in the spartan room is beautiful, but only because that beauty is serviceable.

He says nothing.

She snaps open the purse again and pulls a little cigarette from some secret compartment, and lights it with a knowing, blase click.

“Oh, don’t cry now.”  Through pursed lips, she murmurs mostly to herself,  “How strange that men may cry if they find themselves so far from home, so at the mercy of a woman who has little reason to offer succor but for mercy.”

The Traveler wore a suit stressed and strained at all its seams, caked in reddish dirt.  He’d come through the wild lands, that much was clear.  Some of his wounds were new, from an over-eager security team that’s found little enough to secure when the city’s police pursue their invisible justices with terrible and overwhelming authority.  Some less recent, but still raw, including a stinging zipper of a cut running deep along his forearm. Crawling beneath the fence was reckless, almost, if Amelia were the sort of woman to be so swayed, brave.    It is only that they sent her a photograph that she knew him for what he was, and it is only, perhaps, that these long, weatherless days had been driving her to distraction that she called for him to be brought to her office before they they turned him over to the police.  A gaunt, unhappy character,  he looked like most of her employees.  Except, of course, the tattoo his kind wore in hopes her kind might recognize it, in blue ink right above his collarbones, and the tears pearling along the brick-red waterline of his eyes.

“There’s planes,” she said, almost idly, as if it was something to mention while stirring your tea, “from here and there. If that’s what you want.  Those I say can be gotten for pennies, for cheap thrills, when the cards are played right.”

The traveler takes a breath and nods, those tears just about gone to the end of his chin and dead.

“From here to there is easy,” Amelia says as a ring of smoke makes an axis or a nimbus around his heavy head. “From now to then’s…another matter.” She tap, tap, taps the cigarette.  The churn of the typewriters in the pen of offices outside the glass window behind her stops until she bangs her fist on the desk that separates them.  The cloud of white noise resumes, but quieter, and less frantic, more orchestrated.

She stands up straight, circles lightly, and lets herself land on the other side of the isthmus of mahogany.

He croaks, his face contorting in pain as the words slip out between teeth and lip. “They say you’re the lady to talk to.”

Amelia laughs, having heard that once or twice before, though never from a Traveler.  “At the moment, the yellow-grey sky is all my birds, all my sky.  Still, I need to pay these folks. And, you sir, don’t look like you’re up for much, certainly not to cover the fuel. So you’ll have to find a way. Maybe the mayor. He thinks he runs the town, and we let him think it because someone has to pull the sun aloft and someone has to butter the bread. Maybe he can swing you a ticket. But how do I pay him, you ask. Quite a fix, I say, I’m not sure what he’ll want. Some letters delivered, some men boxed up tight in a freezer. But it’s better than what I’ll ask.” I lean against the beveled edge, to take the weight off my heels. “It’d be easier for you to give.” A plane screams over all the noise and she shudders despite being accustomed.

But it isn’t the noise that makes her jump, it’s the Traveler’s worn and callused hand that Amelia can feel even through the industrial nylons.

“At least you know,” She says, with a strange sense of relief as she slides backwards on the desk knocking over the blotter, and ashtray, sending the whole works askew, “how to get from here to there.”

“Don’t even need a plane,” the Traveler says.  His face is not handsome, but worth remarking on.  Earnest,  sincere, a beauty that is serviceable even through the bruises and the bloodshot.  He smiles with a thick lip that’s been bitten dry. She feels it with with her own, until till they share the red between them.

“Now and then?” He whispers into her ear.

She presses the lighter into his hand, fumbles for another cigarette, and leans in, waiting for a spark.