NaNoWriMo Day 29 (1,279 words) Visions from the Coffee Cup

It was a cold morning in the waning days of fall. It was so close to the edge of winter that the building had been creaking and clanking from the radiators, but they still had to keep a window cracked to keep from getting too hot. Allen and Linda donned their best winter coats and got Markey covered up with mittens and a knit cap that went down over his ears. Markey said, “I don’t want to wear the hat and gloves. Why do I have to, and you don’t?”

Linda said, “Because you look so cute.” She squished his cheeks together with both hands and gave him a kiss on the head.

Allen had his phone out and he was swiping through for the camera. He said, “Believe me. I’m going to wish I had some gloves when I am carrying that tree.”

Markey said, “Where are we going to get a tree?”

Linda got down on one knee and put her face next to Markey’s. She said, “Smile little boy.” Markey smiled. Allen was still fiddling with the phone. She said, “Get the picture quick while he is still smiling.”

Allen was now watching them on the phone screen. He snapped a picture. He said, “Don’t warn him.” He snapped two more pictures. “I got to get him before he knows he’s happy.”

Markey started getting impatient. He said, “What tree?” He grabbed the pocket on Allen’s jacket and tugged on it twice. He said, “Hey!” He drew the word about a bit. “You are ignoring me.”

Linda said, “It’s a surprise.”

Allen said, “You will like it.”

Markey said, “Wait. Is this a Christmas tree like they have been teaching us about in school?”

Linda forced a big mock frown on her face. “Oh, no!” She let her shoulders drop in an exaggerated fashion. “Mrs. Packwood ruined our surprise.”

Markey jumped up and down and shouted in excitement. “Yay, I love pagan rituals. What does this one do?” He slid his hand under the flap on his hat and scratched behind his ear. “I bet it invites wood nymphs into the home. Are we going to dance and burn incense?”

Linda said, “I bet we could do a little light dancing. And how about Glade pine scented spray?”

Markey said, “Isn’t that the stuff we spray in the bathroom?”

Allen cocked a wry smile on his face. He said, “Why don’t we just leave the door open so the place can smell like poop and apple pie.”

Markey started laughing. He said, “Poop pie!” He repeated the phrase several times.

Linda tried to frown at this. She didn’t want to encourage such uncouth behavior. She said, “Come on, Allen. You need to be an example for your son.”

Allen had heard and inside tip from one of the other temps at his most recent job that the Christmas trees were going on sale this morning. It wasn’t much of a tip because anyone with eyes could see the men scouting out their corners and setting up the wooden A-frame scaffolds they would need to keep the trees standing. And luck for them, there was even a Christmas tree stand at the end of their own block. Allen’s hands would be freezing before he got back to their apartment with the tree, but at least he wouldn’t be totally worn out when it came time to put up the tree.

Markey wanted to know everything there was to know about this tree ritual and he asked question the whole way out the building and down the street. Linda and Allen did the best they could to answer his questions, and Markey wouldn’t except Allen’s story about a family of chipmunks that lived in the walls of their apartment that needed a real home for the winter. Linda made a few educated guesses about fertility symbols that just didn’t sound quite right to the boy. Eventually they were forced to consult the all-knowing oracle of Google. They read a few things about Saturnalia and the world tree. They said it was a symbol of the connections between the human world, the underworld, and the heavens. Markey thought this was the idea with the most merit until they came into sight of the trees.

Markey saw that they had been cut away from their roots and the earth and were, therefore, dead. He said, “It’s the one about eternal life. They killed these trees, but they live forever. These are zombie trees!”

Markey ran up and back through the Christmas tree stand frightening Linda to death. She said, “Markey, there are cars all over both of these streets. You better settle down before you get yourself runover.” Markey pouted after his mother had chastised him but that didn’t last long. He was excited again and helping to pick out the best looking zombie tree even though he was forced to hold onto his mother’s hand until after they had paid for the tree.

The old man that ran the lot was using his own wallet to take the cash until he needed to make change for large bills than he would reach into his pantleg to pull a larger wad of bills from his sock. He told the family in line before them that it never paid to keep your money all in one place. When they were paying for their tree the man asked Markey if he was ready for Santa Clause. Markey said, “He is the fat one, right?”

The old man laughed good naturedly at the boy and said, “A right jolly old elf.”

Markey said, “I know a few elves.” The man scratched his head and watched them walk off with their tree.

When they got back up to the apartment Allen fashioned a cross out of the two pieces of wood they had bought with the tree and hammered it into the center of the trunk with the long nail that came with it. He was happy the gruagach hadn’t been back recently to hide his tools. They had been sitting in the top of the closet right where they were supposed to be this time. Linda got out the lights and garland she had stashed away and a box of Christmas bulbs. Markey danced around as he helped them decorate the tree. He seemed just as happy as a kid getting ready to celebrate his first Christmas because that is exactly what he was. Raul had never brought him up with Christmas because it didn’t exist in their universe neither did the notion of a savior or a redeemer. Sure, those words existed in the language, but they didn’t hold the extra meanings they did in this universe.

****

It’s time for Christmas stories, the original form of fan fiction.

Bad and lazy writing with stock characters. I’m ready holidays.

Frosted store windows, Christmas music, long flights, and action movie villains.

Christmas music is catchy, nostalgic, and in the public domain.

A car with a busted heater waiting for the windshield to defrost.

Christmas trees and jingling bells a writer’s shorthand for everything.

The Christmas cash grab, the holiday tradition that never gets old.

Plume of car exhaust in the cold morning breathing life into my lungs.

A normal person dealing with the abnormal like it was normal.

Speak your authentic thoughts, but only think what I tell you to believe.

Jack booted thugs and the rule of law in smoking jackets drinking Scotch.

When the world is running smoothly, go out and be the problem you solve.

When you know about solvents, alcohol can be part of the solution.

NaNoWriMo Day 28 (1001 words) Visions from the Coffee Cup

The door fell from the cabinet, and the creature bolted to the other side. Allen leapt to open the other door and swat the creature away before he took that door too. But Allen stepped on one of the plates and his foot slipped out. He landed hard and slammed his shoulder against a plate, and it snapped in half. The voice of the creature came through the cabinet door. It said, “Stop that.”

Allen said, “Stop what?” He struggled to get up from the floor trying to ignore the pain of his fall. He pushed up to his hands and knees. When he reached up to the counter to pull himself up the shifting weight caused another plate to snap under his knee.

The creature said, “Stop that. Don’t break the dishes.”

Allen said, “What? You don’t like that?” He grabbed one of the plates from off the counter and slammed it against the metal of the kitchen sink. The plate shattered into small pieces. There was a thump, and the creature fell out of the cabinet into the counter. The creature got back onto its feet, but it looked dazed.

Allen picked up another plate and held it over his head. The creature said, “I hate that sound. Please, stop.”

Allen said, “Then you better stop taking my house apart.”

The creature said, “Listen, wizard. You called me here and didn’t assign a task for me to do. You can’t expect me not to be bored.”

Allen said, “I am no wizard.”

The creature said, “Clearly not. Wizards are never so cruel. Trap me somewhere with nothing to fix. You know a gruagach who isn’t properly worked at night can’t sleep through the day.” The creature folded its arms and lowered its head. “I was just doing something so I could get exhausted enough to get some sleep.”

Allen said, “If I give you a job, will you go away?”

The creature said, “First you call me an asshole, then you start breaking plates where I can hear them. I don’t think I want to do anything for you.”

Allen said, “You don’t, do you? Then I will make you go away.”

The creature said, “I don’t know how you can see me or even understand what I am saying, but I am starting to think you are not the wizard that brought me here and definitely not the one that trapped me here.”

Allen said, “And what if I’m not.”

The creature said, “I guess that means I get no sleep especially with you breaking dishes, and I have no where to run to get away from the noise.”

Allen said, “If you go back to taking my house apart, I will break more.”

The creature said, “I already figured that out. I’m not stupid.” The creature let his arms drop to his side, and he looked up at Allen. “Well, if you don’t know magic, you could at least show a little hospitality. There is power to hospitality.”

Allen said, “Are you saying you want me to invite you to dinner?”

The creature said, “That’s not usually the way it happens, but that would be a start.”

Allen said, “If you are good, I will ask Linda if you can eat dinner with us. I will even let you talk to my son.”

The creature said, “I would like that. Most people would just build me a bed and leave a little food out at night. Then, they pay me when the job is done.”

Allen said, “Let me see if I have a shoebox. Would a shoebox and a rolled-up towel be an acceptable bed?”

The creature said, “That sounds like heaven right about now.”

Allen ended up moving all of his tools out of the toolbox and put the towel in there. Allen put the makeshift bed on the counter and set a cracker and a piece of cheese next to it. Alen said, “Don’t eat too much if you want to be hungry for dinner tonight.”

The creature said, “Could you give me a hand? Just hold the cabinet doors in place and I will put the screws back in.” They put the cabinets back together fairly quickly then the creature said, “Put all the broken plates in one place and I will fix them tonight. That is too big of a job for me to do and still get some sleep before dinner.” The creature laid down in the toolbox and pulled a bit of towel over him as a makeshift blanket.

Allen went into the other room to let the creature sleep. He texted Linda to tell her who was joining them for dinner. Linda didn’t seem too shocked to hear the news, and she said that she didn’t think he would eat much. When Markey got home from school, he seemed delighted to hear who he would be having dinner with. Linda said, “Son, this doesn’t mean that you can be that this was ok. You need to be completely sure you aren’t letting things through. It could have turned out much worse.”

Markey said, “Sorry, mom.”

Linda called everyone to the table. She looked at the creature, and said, “I hope you don’t mind paper plates.” Allen looked a little dejected. Linda said, “No, honey. You did great.”

During dinner Markey and the gruagach talked almost the whole time. And by the end of the dinner the creature even whispered his true name in Markey’s ear. After dinner, the creature climbed up on Markey’s shoulder and they went off and played. The next morning, they had a stack of plates in the cabinet that looked just as good as new. And on the counter next to the toolbox where they had left a stack of coins the night before was a tiny note. It said, “Thank you for a great night. The next time you need any work done, feel free to ask for me by name.”

NaNoWriMo Day 27 (2423 words) Visions from the Coffee Cup

Allen was in the kitchen looking through the kitchen one morning trying to find something to eat. He reached for cabinet door and the handle came off in his hand. Linda and Markey were not in the house, so he cussed out loud. When he grabbed the edge of the door with the tips of his fingers and the screw came rolling out and fell onto the counter below. He grabbed the handle and the screw and handle and placed them in his pocket, so they did not get lost while he went to get his Phillips head screwdriver from the little toolbox that Linda allowed him to keep.

She always told him that it was the maintenance man’s job to fix things around the apartment, but he knew how easy a fix most things were. She would say, “Come on, Allen. You are going to get us in trouble. It says in the lease agreement that we are not allowed to make any changes to the building without express permission from the management company.” But he was a man, and men were expected to do this kind of work. Linda even liked to see him get his hands a little dirty from time to time, and by getting his hands dirty she meant tightening screws that had worked themselves loose or applying lubricant to squeaky door hinges.

Linda has had so much trouble going out and finding so much trouble finding cleaning solutions to help her clean up the rust ring around the faucet in the bathroom sink. She has used bleach scrubs and rust removers and always has to end up using tons of elbow grease to get the white porcelain of the sink to look passably clean, but it always ends up stained again. He had offered so many times to take apart the faucet and fix it. Just last week, he said, “All it needs is a new application of Teflon tape around the threads of the pipe. It’s an easy fix.”

She said, “I have had the guy up here to do that. I watched. We just need a new sink.” The thought even crossed his mind to surprise her with a new faucet because even just that would stop it from having that slow leak, but she must have seen the faraway look in his eye. She said, “That is up to the apartment management service, Allen. If you put in a new sink, they will kick us out for sure.” He always said that they wouldn’t mind if they improved the apartment. She always went back to the line in the lease agreement. He had half a mind to read the lease agreement himself to see what it really said because as much as he trusted her—and he trusted her implicitly—nobody ever read their lease agreement. There was no possible way that she could be quoting accurately. The best she might have done was skim over, but he wasn’t sure she had done even that. Who would?

Allen had remembered that he had put his toolbox in the top of the closet, but he looked and couldn’t find it. He moved around the shoeboxes of stuff that they had stored up there. It wasn’t that long ago that he had rearranged everything on that shelf to make room for his tools. Even before he and Markey had moved in with her, there was never enough storage space. He had placed the tools on the far right of the shelf for easy access when he slid the door opened to his side of the closet. The first thing he did when he arrived at her apartment long before they even knew they would be moving in together was make a mental note of all the things that he could fix if he lived there. He wasn’t being presumptuous. He had just had that sort of thing beaten to him by his parents.

His father would always be working around the house or helping out one of the neighbors. Allen was always given the option of helping his father to earn a little extra on his allowance. Depending on the amount of Saturday morning he would be expected to burn on the task, he would earn between three and five dollars, and on really big jobs, he could be expected to earn up to twenty dollars a day. He thought that was big money back then.

His mother always reminded him that the money was only a bonus, and the real payment was the help that they were spreading across the community. He always took that to mean that if he didn’t volunteer to help his father, he would still be expected to go and help only he wouldn’t get paid, but he also believed her about the importance of building up the community. That was something that he missed about living in the city. They lived in a community, but the people never acted like a community. In the city it was always about how your money could help others once it was filtered through some philanthropic organization of course. Everybody needed their cut, like the maintenance man. He was just trying to justify his job by making everyone too scared to do their own simple jobs around their own apartments.

There had been an empty space in the top of the closed where his toolbox had been, and he knew that he was moving the boxes around in vain. Linda must have gotten into his tools and forgotten to put them back. Either that, or Markey had gotten out a chair and gotten into them. But Allen didn’t think that he had because the tools would have been scattered around the apartment, and he would not have needed to look in the closet to know his tools were not there. But there were some clothes piled up in the corner of Linda’s side of the closet. That was strange because Linda wouldn’t just pull her clothes off the hanger, and they didn’t own a cat who might be expected to pull down clothes while trying to climb to the top of the closet to catch a rat. He had heard that rats could be rather sizable in this city, and he knew it was hard to keep out the rats in a city this size. But he had not seen any evidence of one unless this was the evidence right here.

Allen picked up the clothes to see if they had any rodent damage and to put them back up on the hanger had they comedown for some other reason. They were three of Linda’s blouses with the hangers still in them. Wouldn’t you know it, his toolbox and all of his tools had been hidden under the clothes. The toolbox looked like it had fallen off the shelf and popped open dumping the tools except after they fell and scattered, they were all pushed into the far corner and hidden under some clothes. Markey was starting to look like a suspect after all. Allen still didn’t know why Linda hadn’t noticed the mess and cleaned it up on her way to drop Markey off that morning.

He straightened the blouses on the hangers and tried to brush out the wrinkles with his hand hoping that hanging them back up would remove the wrinkles that wouldn’t come out. Then he gathered the contents of his meager toolbox and placed them back inside. He had four wrenches two metric and two standard, a Philips and a flat blade screwdriver, a few wood screws and a handful of nuts and bolts. Just the basics for puttering around an apartment that you aren’t allowed to fix on your own. He pocketed the Philips and placed everything else back in the box.

Back in the kitchen, Allen screwed the handle back onto the cabinet door. He had thought about getting those stubby screwdrivers when he had gone out to the hardware store to put together his home handyman kit, but he was glad he had gone with the medium length screwdrivers. The stubby ones can get into tighter spaces, but the longer ones give you more control over the screws. And sometimes those screws can be squirrely and hard to handle especially the small ones like this one that holds cabinet handles in place. The job was done, and it was a simple one. It would have been even simpler had he not had to search for and then clean up his tools, but he was happy about his work. He smiled and felt like a proper man of the house when he closed the cabinet door to test out his work.

It had taken longer than he had expected to get this job done, and now he was really and truly ready to get him that breakfast he had come in here for in the first place. When he heard the sound of screws falling onto the wooden shelves of the cabinet, he was totally crestfallen. He opened the cabinet to see what needed fixing this time, and the cabinet door came completely off its hinges and nearly hit him on the head before he blocked it with his forearm. He heard the sound of scurrying inside the locked cabinets and what sounded like soft sniggering from the next cabinet before its doors fell away from its hinges. It turned out that it wasn’t Markey after all who had had scattered and hidden his tools. But Markey must have accidently let something in the last time he went through one of his fiery portals to the regions of hell.

Allen thought he had remembered skimming over something about evil brownies or some other gremlin type creature when he was trying his best to help Markey with his studies of The Grimoire of Shadows, or one of the other books of dark magic that Raul had sent with him. Allen was glad it wasn’t something more serious. A mischievous creature that gets his jollies from taking things apart was much better than a poltergeist or some other thing that could cause him actual harm. The worst thing this creature is piss off the maintenance man if he took something apart that Allen couldn’t fix. He only hoped the thing couldn’t figure a way around the barrier spell that Markey had put up just incase something gotten out during his magic studies. Or worse, what if there were time limits to the barrier spells, or what if this was one of those creatures that grew in power every time it did a mischievous act. Allen knew so little about the dark magic side of the universe. He knew even less about it than he did about actual science, and he really didn’t know too much about that either. He had a feeling he could learn about the dark magic, and he thought he could probably use seeing as how he was the same person as Raul, and Raul was a master of such things. That thought frightened Allen, but at the same time, he knew that he had to take care of this on his own.

He couldn’t leave this creature to the maintenance man to take care of, and he didn’t think Linda would think any less of him if he had to wait for her help. But like fixing things around the house, taking care of infestations was man’s work, and he felt like he needed to prove it to himself. If he couldn’t take care of it himself, it would be fine then to go ask for some help.

Allen grabbed a big plastic bowl from the cabinets. He was going to try to catch this thing. He turned on the flashlight on his phone and started to shine it into the cabinets. At the end of the cabinet, he saw a vaguely human like creature wearing pointed gnomelike hat. It was back in the corner behind a stack of plates and glasses. The creature didn’t seem to like door handles and hinges but it had been strangely careful of the dishes. Its eyes reflected back green light like a cat at night and its skin had a light green tint. It couldn’t have been more than about six inches high, and it was bearing its sharp fanglike teeth. It was crouched like it was going to pounce if it had to.

If he could tell from the body language of a creature he had never even believed existed, he thought the thing was showing a mixture of fear and bravado. He thought it was almost daring him to make a move. He had also seen the almost innate ability Markey had with monsters, and he hoped that with all the studying he had to do just to just barely understand the things that the boy was studying that some of that ability might have rubbed off on him.

He reached into the cabinet to grab the creature, and the thing hissed at him. Allen said, “Now, now. We don’t need any of that.” He moved a few inches closer to the creature, and it lunged forward and snapped its jaws shut in a bluff attack. He said, “It’s ok little fella. I’m not gonna hurt you.” The thing seemed to relax a little with the sound of Allen’s voice, so he kept saying things in a soothing voice and moving his hand toward the creature. He put his hand around the creature, and it bit him. Allen jumped back knocking the plates and cups out of the cabinet. Several of them hit the counter and bounced and made a terrible noise others fell all the way to the carpet on the floor. Amazingly, none of the dishes broke.

The creature jumped onto the counter from the cabinet leaped across the sink. It jumped up knocked the cabinet door open and climbed inside. Allen said, “I can’t believe the little asshole bit me!”

There was a tiny voice from inside the cabinet. It said, “You’re the asshole. I warned you twice not to touch me.” The squeaking of screws coming undone started coming from the cabinet door. The handle fell to the counter and the door started to sag on its hinges.

Allen said, “If you can understand me, then please stop breaking my house.”

From inside the cabinet, the creature said, “I don’t do favors for people that call me an asshole.”

NaNoWriMo Day 25 (2480 words) Visions from the Coffee Cup

Allen had been working for a couple of weeks at the data entry job when he received a call at home. When he got a call from the office manager at Temps Anonymous. He was on the phone with Ophelia. He was just about to leave for work that morning, and he was surprised to be getting a call from them. She said, “I have the address you need for your next job. Do you have a pen and paper ready?”

Allen said, “I don’t need another job right now. You caught me on the way out the door to do the data entry work at Saxon and Sons.”

Ophelia said, “They didn’t tell you?”

Allen said, “They told me I was doing a great job and they would see me in the morning.”

Ophelia said, “Well they called me this morning asking me to send them a replacement for you.” Allen mumbled something of surprise. She said, “Don’t let it get you down. This happens sometimes. The good thing is that I’ve got you work this morning, and this job even pays a dollar more per hour. That is if you still want to work. You do want to work, right?”

Allen said, “Yes, of course. It just caught me off guard that is all.” Allen found a pen and paper and he wrote down the name and address of his new job. She had told him that it would only be a few days work, but she would probably have another job lined up for him as soon as he finished up this one.

The job was entering a shoebox full of food and bar receipts at the East Side Meeting Hall. He was given the address and the name Jim. The front door was unlocked, and the building was empty. Allen almost left, but the lights were on in the lobby. He walked and called out, “Hello!”

He heard a man’s voice from through the double doors into what was labeled: The Ball Room, so he walked in. The room had rugs on the side and hardwood floor in the center of the room. There was a stage on the far side of the room, and half of the room was laid out with rows of folding chairs. Jim had two chairs in each hand, and he folded them out and sat them in the unfinished row.

Jim pointed to the tiny office in the corner. He said, “The computer is over there. I would normally do it myself, but I’ve had more work than I can handle the last couple of weeks.” Allen shook his hand. Jim said, “I hope you can work with noise because I have a big group of religious nuts coming in in about thirty minutes.” Jim hunched his shoulders almost imperceptibly. He said, “You’re not one of them, are you? You’re not wearing red. I guess you are not. Look, don’t tell them I called them nuts. They pay and they want the room just about every morning. Go ahead and get to work. I have to finish this up before they start coming in.”

Allen got to work inputting receipt data onto the computer spreadsheet, and he was so deeply engaged in his work that he didn’t even notice the people in the ballroom until the preacher got up to speak. Allen was surprised to hear the words spoken in their sermon, but the story was very familiar.

The preacher got up onto the stage wearing a red button-down shirt, red pants, and dark sunglasses. Allen saw him through the little office’s window. Allen tried to ignore the preacher’s sermon to get as much work done as possible, but his productivity suffered anyway.

The preacher said, “Markey was a good kid, and he just wanted to please. In his previous life, in the other universe, he was his father’s son. Not that he had a choice. His mother had died. He did what his father asked despite him just wanting to go and play with the other children. His father had a job, so he had a job. His father had plans, so he had plans. It never really went the other way around.

“His father was Raul Botulin, The Emperor of Evil, and so Markey held the apprentice position by matter of birth. Raul was the most powerful source of evil in his universe with the power to raise armies of the dead and send them out to maim, kill, and destroy. If there were other verbs that could be used to describe the same actions, they would be used as well. As Markey knew well, his father was all about branding. You don’t come up with the title, The Emperor of Evil by accident.

“Raul was something of a different sort. He wasn’t one of these deities of death that just sat quietly by and waited for people to cross over the veil. He would tell Markey. He’d say, ‘You don’t want to be a grim reaper. Sure, the name sounds cool, and you get the black robe and the scythe. But really, who wants to just sit on their hands and wait for people’s time to go.’ He would get really excited and crouch down to his son’s level—when he still had knees to bend and a back to hunch. His spirit has since been held in that mirror in their floating castle—and he’d say, ‘No son. You got to get out there and bring the death to them. Cut them down in their prime.’

“Some would tell you that was the only reason that Raul ever had a body in the first place—back before the incident that is. They might say his body was only there to make the murdering more frightening. A disembodied consciousness is much less frightening than one standing right in front of you that you can reach out and touch and can reach out and touch you, is it not?

“Some believed that Raul’s body had coalesced form the gathering together of all the evil energy in the entire universe in one spot. That is almost certainly not how it happened because evil energy isn’t even a thing. It really is hard to tell with beings that transcend time and place because the reality is that there is no one story.

“But not with Markey. He knew where he came from. He was the son of two loving parents. Raul, his father, and Mistress Carla the Empress of Evil. Mistress Carla was at least as evil as Raul. Some say she was even worse. –See, I told you that those people had to be wrong about Raul, I mean how could Mistress Carla surpass Raul’s evil if all the evil energy had been used up to create his body. Can’t everything just make sense? Why does everything have to be so weird?– But this all happened back before they were joined together in the black cathedral downtown.

“You know the cathedral, or rather, you don’t. It is downtown. You pass it all the time, but it exists out of existence. It is just outside the periphery of time and space. If you thought it was weird for someone to exist everywhere at once, then try to wrap your head around a place that exists nowhere and never except only sometimes. The black cathedral is just that kind of place. It showed up at the union of Mistress Carla and Raul Botulin, it showed up to christen Markey after his birth, and it showed up at Mistress Carla’s death when her body was entombed at the base of the statue in the courtyard.

“You know the statue I’m talking about, or you would when it existed—if it existed. It is the one that shows Raul standing alone in his conqueror’s pose, one foot up on a rock and eyes fixed on the horizon. Or it shows the happy couple fingers entwined and eyes locked on each other. Or it shows them looking over their newborn son. Or it shows Markey at his coming of age transitioning to his father’s throne taking his rightful place as the next Emperor of Evil. Or it shows his transcendence to something else entirely. The truth is that no one really knows what it shows because it doesn’t exist but only sometimes.

“The same is the case with Mistress Carla’s death. No one knows exactly how it happened or why. After her death, Raul was no longer the same happy go lucky Emperor of Evil that he once was. He was no longer content with going out and destroying life as fast as it could spring up. No, evil was no longer enough.

“He wasn’t about to let people go on and live happy lives to old age, but he had grown beyond simply leading armies of death. He left his armies to his son. Markey was eight years old. He didn’t know everything there was about being an Emperor of Evil, but it was something that Raul was sure he could figure out with a little on the job training. Raul sent out Markey in his place to destroy all living things and bring evil and death to all corners of the universe starting with the Midwest. First Chicago and then on from there. Raul had more important things to do. He needed to figure out how to bring a Goddess back from the dead if you really could call Mistress Carla a Goddess if a Goddess really could die.

“It was Markey who first saw through the vortex of space and time to see Linda watching him. Markey was the first to mistake her for his mother. It was a strange image as if seen through reflection not too unlike the vision of his father in the throne room mirror radiating darkness if such a thing could be said to occur. But Linda’s was a darkness circled in white. It emitted a warmth that rose up to him like steam. There was a fluidity to her image as if her mirror was not made of glass.

“Markey had seen how distant his father had become in his search for how to get his mother back. It was only after Raul had started to build his machine that his soul had become bound to the mirror. Some say Raul had simply ignored his bodies needs and let it wither away and die. Others believe that there was an intervention. Some say that someone had seen the destructive power of the machine that Raul had branded as the Portal of Souls. Some say Markey had figured out what his father was up to and had to step in to stop the destruction the machine was sure to cause. Of course, this is all speculation, and all answers are wrong when it comes to the things that humans cannot understand. Whatever the case, Raul was in no way quiet about the existence of the machine, or his intentions to use it.

“He let it be known that he had his machine, and he would be using it to bring Mistress Carla back from the dead. All he had to do was harvest the souls from the people that he sent Markey to kill. Most of the Portal of Souls was a battery to power the rest of the machine. And the portal wasn’t even a portal for anyone but Mistress Carla. In fact, it wasn’t even a portal because it wasn’t designed as a doorway of any kind. It was a device designed to bring together all the powers of evil and death. The souls required to start the machine were only just the spark required to set things into motion. Raul only cared that he bring back his wife. He didn’t concern himself with the completely real possibility that it could bring about the end of all things, his universe and all those beyond.

“In fact, the existence of other planes of existence was a new and novel concept for him. It wasn’t until Markey had showed him the image of Linda looking through the veil that he even knew that there was one there. He had thought that existence through all of time and space before and after was all there was. It would seem that even a God, if that was what Raul was, couldn’t be expected to understand the true nature of things. Seeing as how he was tapping into the basic unifying forces of all being in all universes—and all includes even the ones that we are unaware of the existence of—you can see that there are plenty of other entities that could have stepped in to stop Raul than his own son. It was Markey himself that recaptured Raul’s soul and bound it to that mirror. Hoping himself to find a way—a better way to save his father’s life. A way that wouldn’t bring about the destruction of the universe and everything, but he was only and eight year old boy and what could a little boy be expected to do?

“We must find the boy. We must help him return the Mother Goddess. Only she can stop him. Only she can put an end to the destruction Raul has planned.”

After the preacher finished up, they broke into smaller groups to plan out who was going to hand out what pamphlets on which street corner. They made other plans as well, but Allen was able to tune most of that out. He had gotten through two thirds of the receipts in the shoebox. Jim was surprised with the amount of work Allen was able to get done in one day.

He said, “You bet I’m asking for you back tomorrow. I only wish I had more work for you than I do.” He shook Allen’s hand. He said, “I’ll tell you what. When you get finished tomorrow, I will find you some more work for you so you can get paid for a full day. Your company made me sign something that said I couldn’t steal you away from them until you have worked for me for at least six months. But if you quit them and start looking for a different job you go ahead and use me as a reference.” Jim wrote his name, phone number, and address. He said, “You use this, and I will tell them that I knew you for the last two years.” He held out the piece of paper and Allen took it and put it in his pocket.

Allen decided he would wait and see how things turned out at the end of the next day before he decided if he was going to keep the man’s phone number for a reference or not.

NaNoWriMo Day 24 (1056 words) Visions from the Coffee Cup

The cafeteria was in the back of the school. The dining area was big and open except for the rows of tables and benches. The room was surprisingly quiet as the children slowly filed in, but once the hot lunch line had dwindled to a trickle of students, they nearly had to shout to be heard over the sound of the children chattering to each other.

Linda had packed a bologna sandwich, a bag of chips, two cookies, and a bag of raw carrots cut into strips and placed them into Halloween themed lunchbox that his father had sent along with all of Markey’s of the luggage. She had packed him fruit punch in a juice box, and a handful of change just in case Markey wanted to buy himself a small carton of milk. Markey and the other children who brought their lunch had their pick of seats, and while all of the other children had the new cloth lunchboxes that zipped up, Markey had a throwback metal lunchbox that was held shut with a metal hasp with a keyhole in case he wanted to lock his lunchbox for some the same reason that any young kid might do anything, and like any good child his age he had lost the key within days of receiving the lunchbox.

Markey stood at the back of the lunchroom and watched the other kids as they went to their accustomed tables. Markey saw one of the kids that he kind of knew from his class and started to follow her. When he was about to put his lunchbox on the table, she said, “This is the girls table, silly.” She pointed at a table at the end of the row. “Boys sit over there.”

Markey said, “Can’t I sit here?”

She said, “You can if you want.” There was defeat in her voice, so Markey stepped back from the table and looked for somewhere else to sit.

He sat down at the table next to another boy about his age. The other boy was washing a mouthful of sandwich down with a glug of milk and followed that up with a handful of potato chips. Markey followed his lead and just ate his lunch quietly. The tables in the lunchroom were more or less broken down by age. The younger children stayed to one side of the room and the older children stayed to the other. The boys and the girls generally had their own tables but the children in the older grades were more likely to have a mix of boys and girls. The older grades were more interested in separating by the cool kids kept to one side of the room the weird kids stayed to the other side, and the band kids stayed toward the middle. And teachers were stationed periodically along the walls to tell the children to hush when they got too loud.

 Markey ate everything except the carrot sticks. He sat quietly for a little moment before he picked up a carrot stick in each hand and bounced them around on end like little men walking around. He made some sound effects for the carrot stick men and had them talk to each other.

The other boy looked over at Markey and smiled. He said, “What are you playing?”

Markey said, “I’m playing zombies.”

The boy said, “Can I play, too?” Markey handed him a carrot stick and they played until the bell rang for them to go back to their classes. Just before they had to leave, the boy said, “My name is Felix. Do you want to be my friend?” Markey told the boy his name and agreed to be his friend.

The next day, Markey knew right where to sit at lunch. He and Felix ate and talked and played carrot zombies.

One day one of the older kids from the weird side of the room came over to Markey and Felix as they were eating their lunches. He slapped Felix on his back while he was taking a drink of his milk and made him choke. He said, “Why do you two like zombies so much?” He looked at Markey directly in his eyes.

The teacher that was assigned to this side of the lunchroom walked over. She was an older softspoken woman who had been teaching for years and her mere presence walking towards them hushed their entire corner of the lunchroom. The older boy took two steps back. He said, “I didn’t do nothing, Mrs. C.”

Mrs. Cranston said, “William.” There was so much in that one word even Markey who had never met this boy before knew that ‘William’ was not the name that the boy preferred, and that they had a long history that ‘William’ had not wanted to relive. He said, “I’m sorry Mrs. Cranston.” And he went back to his table without any of the swagger that he had approached with.

Mrs. Cranston looked over at Felix and Markey only long enough to quietly assess the situation. Felix quickly grabbed some napkins from the dispenser in the center of the table and cleaned up the mil that the older boy had made him spill. Mrs. Cranston walked back to her station against the wall, but she watched William quite a bit more than she had earlier that day.

Markey motioned with his head to where William had sat. He said, “I bet his name is Billy Butt Face.” Both kids laughed.

Felix said, “Don’t say that too close to him.”

Markey said, “Butt Face?”

Felix giggled. He said, “He is a butt face.” They went back to playing carrot zombies. Felix said, “I don’t like him. He’s always mean to people. If we leave him alone, he will find someone else to pick on.”

Markey said, “My dad would call that weak.”

Felix said, “Mine too. But what can we do? He is big.”

Markey said, “I could send some zombies to gobble him up.”

Felix said, “Here is Billy Butt Face.” He pulled a piece of uneaten celery that his parents had packed in his lunch. He said, “Get him zombies.” He had his carrot jump on top of the celery’s head and he made roaring and chomping sounds. Markey joined in with the carrot stick zombie mayhem.

NaNoWriMo Day 23 (1827 words) [planning day] Visions from the Coffee Cup

—For anybody that reads this, I am using my writing for the day to collect my thoughts about the novel I have been writing. It has gone so far out of control that I need to take time to think about what I am trying to write at the same time that I am trying to write the thing. I am writing it down and counting it as part of my monthly word count because I have gotten to the point that I don’t know how to proceed on the novel. If you read this, you will see that the first fifty thousand words are only the beginning of my journey. I am going to have to rewrite almost from the ground up. I never thought writing a novel was going to be easy. Also I never thought it would be this fun.—

November 23 the day the novel died. Of course, it has been dead for a long time, but today is the first day that I actually had to resort to forcing my self to write anything despite it not even being disguised as part of the novel. Today I am simply writing to achieve the word goal. I had a general direction for my novel until about halfway through the month when Linda, the main character completed her story arc. This being a nonconventional story, her arc was about coming to grips with who she is. But there is so much strangeness going on in the novel that it makes drafting the story difficult.

I gave up on Linda’s story arc when she got Markey to come stay with her. I was having an easier time with that part because I could write about the strange goings on of a child that has come from a place where he held absolute power and could do anything he wanted to do without concern for guilt over the welfare of others. I thought this would be an easier story to write because it would be similar to Bewitched and all of the other Bewitched clones. However, I have this problem where I don’t want to make my stories to similar to everything else that you see out there. But when I started on this new story arc, all of the momentum of the novel went away.

I like the way the feeling of the story now that it is about Markey, Allen, and Linda, but it doesn’t feel like the same story. At first it felt like the resolution to Linda’s story, but it has kept going for far too long to be a resolution. I have even started to try to build up some tension in the story by reintroducing the cult aspect from Linda’s story, but it seems like the cult wasn’t fleshed out enough for me to make it come back to life in this second part of the story.

I am trying. But I don’t know the motivations for the cult other than they are the new villain. I should have known that it was going to be a bad angle because of how the cult just fizzled into a nothing in the first part of the story. I think what I need to do is look at what the cult is doing.

The cult has broken off from its original allegiance to Raul. Now it worships Stacy who was only ever an aspect of Mistress Carla’s greater personality. It had originally been an end of the world cult working to reunite Raul with his wife after she died. Raul had been working to help Linda reunite with all of the other aspects of Mistress Carla’s personalities. So that means I am going to have to rewrite the first part and add more places where Linda absorbs aspects of Mistress Carla’s personality. But what does that mean for the cult? So the cult of Raul could have been collecting aspects of Mistress Carla’s personalities. But Raul can’t have meant to reunite them in Linda because he wants to bring her back to be with him. Ok… I think all the cult stuff that I have been adding to the end of the story is going to have to go to the beginning of the story. Markey has to come with them to live earlier in the story too. Raul will be continuing to power his machine while he is allowing Markey to live with her. That means Raul finds out about Markey coming to see his mother after he comes to collect spot.

Crap! That means that I am going to have to create so many more characters. I don’t know how many characters I am going to need. Seven is supposedly a sacred number, but seven is a lot of characters to deal with. And seven seems like a lot of subplot goals to create. Three is another sacred number because it mirrors the Trinity, but that doesn’t seem like enough. So far, I’ve got Stacy. I think Judy will have to be sacrificed to become one with Mistress Carla. Judy and Stacy both have magical objects, the toy boat and the hairbrush. Those are parts of Raul’s destruction of the universe machine. So I need more of those. Linda’s mother was the original Mrs. Carla. She needs to be sacrificed. I don’t know how that is going to work because I thought I killed her off. That is right. Death is not Death in this story. It can happen at the hospital similar to the way she met with Markey and the other Allen at the hospital. So that’s three. Ellie May Henderson, Judy, and Stacy.

Mr. Branzino has a coffee pot. I think that means that his dead wife is going to be absorbed. Something bad has to happen at each of these absorptions too. I liked Mr. Branzino. I think he is going to have to lose all the memories and perspective that his talks with the coffeepot gave him. His life is going to have to go to shit. How does a life go to shit when all you are is a single old man who runs a sandwich shop? For one thing it means he doesn’t get to be grandpa for Markey. I get it. Mr. Branzino knows. He has been talking with Linda through the coffee pot for years. So he knows the plan. The same way he knew when to expect Linda through conversations over the years. I think he has to beg not to lose what she has given him. She had readied him for his wife’s death and readied him for her arrival but could never quite ready him for the sacrifice she is asking him to give. His scene has to happen earlier in the story. I don’t think that sacrifice is big enough for its placement late in the story.

So that brings me back to the cult. What do they want? Well, they must have to be controlled by Raul, but they have to be undercover. So instead of being the church of Raul in the beginning they have to start out as the church of The Mother Goddess as headed by Stacy. She can have gotten the toy boat from Allen, but she wouldn’t need to kidnap him until and unless she was trying to draw Linda to her. Then, that is why it is unusual when Linda sees Allen in her coffee. She is seeing him in her world because he has been placed there by Raul. Then, that means that Raul knew about Linda before Markey met her. Now, I remember. Markey saw her and told his dad about her previous to the spot incident. But that could be a good reason for Raul to get into contact with her and allow for Markey to stay with them. So Linda has to have found and absorbed one of the aspects of the Mistress Carla personality—Why did I have to write such a strange story without planning any of it in advance? It is making coming up with a story plot very difficult—so what is it I do know now?

Raul is orchestrating the cult.

Stacy is at the head of the cult as a kind of final boss or whatever.

Judy has to be absorbed.

Mr. Branzino’s wife has to be absorbed.

Linda’s mother has to be absorbed.

Markey has to go live with them earlier to have trouble at school and the park.

The appearance of a naked and beaten Allen is still the inciting incident.

The cult has to be involved in all of this. They were there on the street corner when Francisco disappears, and Allen ends up in her bed. Judy hasn’t simply cleaned up, but she had cleaned up with the help of the cult. So that means that the cult reaches beyond the city—also, I have to come up with a name for the city. Linda’s coffee powers need to have a use and a price. I know what that use is. Linda has to call the people through the coffee in order to absorb them. That goes with the undead theme of Markey’s powers if she has to absorb her dead mother and Mr. Branzino’s dead wife. That would give Markey a use for his powers too if they had to work together to call back the dead for Linda to absorb them.

Problem: Why is Linda going out and absorbing people? What is her motivation for this other than the cult is annoying? She has to have some motivation to bring her personalities back together. Raul has to be lying to her. He has to be telling her that she needs to regain her original personality in order to stop the cult from bringing on the destruction of the universe. However, it turns out that she must regain her personality in order for Raul to power his machine destroy the universe and bring her back to him.

Something has to be happening with Allen because he is the same person as Raul. Somehow, he regains his connection with Raul. It could be his taking over of the fatherly responsibilities of Markey. Markey still has to be evil-good so he has to practice his necromantic powers. I think that Allen’s accompanying Markey through the portals to hell and tutoring him in the Necronomicon and all that would require a bit of Raul’s powers. I think that Raul will have to intentionally diminish his own power to loan it to Allen. In the final battle Linda, Markey, and Allen will all have to work together to break Raul control of the machine and stop it from destroying the universe. I am not sure any of this helps me to come up with more novel to write for the rest of the seven days of this month, but at least I got today’s wordcount finished.

NaNoWriMoDay 22 (1162 words) Visions from the Coffee Cup.

One day after, Markey came home from school when Linda was going through his backpack looking for his new homework, he said, “Mom, is my dad evil?”

Allen was in the kitchen pouring mink into a glass he had the chocolate syrup on the counter. Linda said, “Allen, are you evil?”

Allen said, “No. If I were evil would I be making chocolate milk?”

Markey said, “I know Allen is not evil. Is my dad evil?”

Linda said, “You know he is the Emperor of Evil.”

Markey said, “Not like that. Is my dad evil evil?” He pulled something out of his pocket. “Billy gave me this in class today. He said he found it on the sink in the bathroom.” Markey handed his mother a small religious themed comic book printed in black ink on pink paper.

It was made of strips of paper about two inches wide with a saddle fold and a single staple as binding. Written in bold letters across the front page said, “Are you following to your own destruction?” It was illustrated with the image of a face in a mirror inside of a bold lined circle with a slash through it. In smaller print on the bottom or the page it said, “Brought to you by the church of the mother goddess.”

Linda flipped through the pages. She skimmed a few words here and there, but that wasn’t truly necessary. The intent of the message was made clear in the drawings. It showed what was clearly meant to be Raul powering a machine with an image of the Earth broken in half. The next page showed flames, destruction, and dead and dying people begging for forgiveness. The final page had big letters that said, “The destruction of your eternal soul.”

Markey said, “Mom, you said he just wanted you back. You said he changed his mind, and he won’t use his machine.”

Linda said, “He did Markey. He decided not to use his machine. I showed him he could change, and he could give you a better life here. You can go into the bathroom and call him.”

Markey said, “But the comic called him the Father of Lies.”

Linda said, “Son, your father has never lied to you.”

Markey said, “The comic book is fake like the science book?”

Linda said, “At least, the science book wants to be right. I am not so sure about these people.”

Markey went into the bathroom and hummed a tune and waved his hands in front of the mirror and the face of Raul appeared. Linda went into the kitchen to talk to Allen. She said, “These people are getting worse.”

Allen said, “I don’t know, Linda. I was just approached that one time at the park. I don’t think it is as bad and it seems.” Allen was telling the truth, but he had been actively trying to avoid them as much as he could and when he couldn’t avoid them, he had noticed that their rhetoric had been getting more and more offensive. He said, “How do you think Raul is going to react to Markey being dragged into the middle of all of this?”

Linda said, “Aren’t you supposed to be the one who knows that?”

Allen said, “I don’t even know how I want to react. Let alone how a distant memory of someone I may or may not have been and may or may not still be might react. But at least, he is trapped in that other dimension and only has a limited ability to take action here.”

Linda said, “He still has that machine that he was planning to use to hear the universe apart.”

Allen said, “That was only to get you back when you and he were not on speaking terms.”

Linda said, “But what if he decides to use it to bring Markey back?”

Allen said, “Markey can come and go as he pleases. I don’t think it will ever come to that.”

Markey called out, “Mom, can you come in here? My dad wants to talk to you.”

Linda walked into the bathroom. The mirror was blacker than the last time she had spoken to Raul, and the green light that emanated from his face seemed just a bit brighter. Raul said, “Linda, I thought you said this was going to be a good experience for my son.” He took a breath and gathered himself a bit. “Our son. I am sorry about being so intense, but it is hard to see my son with his feelings hurt and I am here unable to do anything about it.”

Linda said, “I don’t like to see his feelings hurt either. But that is part of life.”

Raul said, “And you still don’t think he should just smash his enemies?”

Linda said, “No, Raul. I don’t believe these people are his enemies, and violence is not a proper response.”

Raul said, “I am not saying that he should go punch them in the face or anything. He could send a flaming serpent from the bowels of hell, or sink their houses into a lake of fire.”

Linda said, “I don’t think those types of interventions help.”

Raul said, “Of course they do.”

Linda said, “These are the same people that you had been manipulating to get to me earlier.”

Raul said, “I have turned off my machine. They should have just gone back to their old lives.”

Linda said, “People don’t just stop. You wound them up and set them moving and now they are moving with the same momentum but with no leader. And they now think that you are at fault because they lost their leader shortly after you had Stacy take control of Allen.”

Raul said, “Who was the one that put a stop to that Linda? It was you if I recall correctly.”

Linda said, “I am not placing blame, Raul. I am only showing you things from the perspective of some who lives here. If you take drastic action, it causes consequences that you can’t control.”

Raul said, “You live there, Linda. You have the power and ability to make them do anything you want.”

Linda said, “I thought we already had this discussion. I didn’t let myself die just so I could continue on as The Empress of Evil. I am trying to make something else of myself.”

Raul said, “You don’t have to use any of your infernal powers. You said that Stacy was their leader and Stacy is a part of you. You know that she always was.”

Linda said, “I don’t know, Raul. That sounds too much like exactly the kind of life that I am trying to leave behind.”

Raul said, “Well, at least think about it. Ok, Linda? Just don’t let anything happen to our little boy.”

Linda said, “I won’t.” She called out for her son. “Markey, come say good bye to your dad.”

NaNoWriMo Day 21 (1702 words) Visions from the Coffee Cup

Markey’s second grade classroom was brightly lit and buzzing and not just with the low hum from the florescent tube lights that liked to come back on one at a time every time the Mrs. Packwood flicked the lights to regain the classes attention. The children were gregarious and often more interested in the little baubles they brought into school in their pockets than the subjects being taught. The walls of the room were covered with a blue paper and yellow borders that had been stapled to the corkboard, and the blue was tacked over with the more visually interesting of the children’s assignments. Markey was the new kid having started in the middle of an already established school semester, and none of the corkboard displays contained any of Markey’s work.

The had just finished a science assignment that was supposed to have gone up on the one of the walls over the weekend, and for some reason Mrs. Packwood had not gotten around to putting them up. She called Markey up to the front of the room. He almost didn’t hear her because the little girl sitting next to him had been showing him the spring and led dispensing portions of the inside of a mechanical pencil she had found broken on the floor next to her chair. Mrs. Packwood said, “Markey, would you come up to my desk please?”

An accusing murmur went through the classroom and one of the children said, “You’re in trouble.”

Mrs. Packwood said, “Hush class. He is not in trouble.”

Markey sure felt like he was in trouble. He heard the quiet snickers from the children he passed as he walked to the front of the room between the rows of desks where he had been seated. And he saw the looks from the other children as he passed. Billy who sat two seats in front of him on the left was even rubbing his index fingers together and mouthed the words ‘Shame, shame, shame.’ Billy knew that this was an illicit action once the class had been hushed, and he hid his hands and moving lips behind the back of the child seated in front of him, but Mrs. Packwood saw him anyway. She said, “Billy, eyes straight ahead.”

Billy said, “Yes, ma’am.” He sounded dejected.

When Markey got to Mrs. Packwood at the front of the classroom, he saw the pile of assignments sitting on her desk and his was sitting on the top. Mrs. Packwood picked up the paper and held it where only he and she could see it. She said, “Mark, the assignment was to illustrate the life cycle of a beetle.”

He said, “Yes ma’am.”

She said, “What is this?” She pointed to the section of the cycle that he had labeled ‘undeath’ and had drawn the beetle with red colored pencil on its face to show blood dripping from its mouth. She said, “You were only supposed to copy the diagram from the textbook.”

Markey said, “The lifecycle in the book was missing something. It doesn’t include death or anything after that.”

Mrs. Packwood said, “Mark, how is your homelife? Moving to a new school can be tough.”

Markey said, “It is fun. I like it here.”

Mrs. Packwood said, “You can tell me.” She waited for a response from Markey, and he looked at her and smiled. “Ok, well, you have to redo this, and only include what you see in the textbook. You will have to stay in here and complete the assignment while the other children go out to PE.”

Markey pouted. He said, “But Mrs. Packwood…”

She said, “Just follow the directions next time and you will be able to play with the rest of the class.”

The next day, Linda was called into the office with Mrs. Packwood was there with the school counselor, Mr. Bilal. She met Ms. Suzy at the front desk of the office and was led back behind the office desk and down the back hallway to the counselor’s office. The counselor’s office was small and dim. He had the blinds drawn shut as if he thought more light would make the conferences with parents less confidential. Mrs. Packwood had been waiting in the office with Mr. Bilal. They made their introductions and Linda sat down on the other side of the desk.

Mr. Bilal said, “Mrs.” He looked down at the student file that he had sitting opened on his desk. “Henderson. We have had some concern about how your child gas been adjusting to his new class surroundings.”

Mrs. Packwood said, “As a public school teacher I am a mandated reporter. Your son has made several comments of a kind that seem inappropriate for the scholastic environment. But I didn’t really start to worry until I saw this.” Mrs. Packwood showed Linda the assignment that Markey had turned in on the lifecycle of a beetle that had the inclusion of the undead segment.

Linda said, “I know. Markey told me that you made him stay in and redo this.”

Mrs. Packwood said, “Do you see that?”

Linda said, “He told me that you wanted him to follow directions, and I agreed with you. Are you saying that he still didn’t follow the directions even after you made him redo it?”

Mrs. Packwood said, “I am a mandated reporter and that is a clear threat on the school.”

Linda said, “A ladybug with a red face?

Mrs. Packwood said, “That is clearly blood dripping from that beetles face.”

Linda said, “So what if it is? There are plenty of bugs that bite. Spiders for one and mosquitoes even drink blood.”

Mrs. Packwood said, “That is a beetle and spiders are not insects. They are arachnids.”

Linda said, “You do understand that Markey is a young child, right? How is he supposed to know the difference between insects and arachnids? And how is he supposed to know that you are going to overreact to seeing a drawing of an insect with blood on its face? You do see that he labeled this stage the undead stage, and you understand that a zombie is considered to be undead and in popular culture zombies are known to bite people?”

Mr. Bilal said, “We do understand that he is a child. But threats against the school are serious and if this or something like this happens again, we will be forced to call the police on your son, and you will have to explain to them why they should ignore a credible threat just because it came from a second grader.”

Linda said, “A zombie beetle is not a threat on the school. This is the stupidest conversation I have ever had.”

Mr. Bilal said, “We didn’t call you in here so we could call each other names.”

Linda said, “But I think you did. I was told that this was a progressive school. I was told that this school was tolerant other people’s beliefs.”

Mrs. Packwood said, “You really think you can turn this around on us. We came here to…”

Linda said, “To do what Mrs. Packwood? To make baseless accusations against my son?”

Mr. Bilal said, “That thing you call a zombie beetle is…”

Linda said, “Is free religious expression.”

Mrs. Packwood said, “A zombie is hardly religious expression.”

Linda said, “What about Voodoo. Are you saying that Voodoo is not a religion? Just because it is not your religion does not mean that it does not exist.”

Mr. Bilal said, “Who are you kidding, Voodoo?”

Mrs. Packwood said, “To be honest, Mrs. Henderson, you don’t look particularly Hattian to me, and I don’t recall zombies being a big part of Voodoo unless there is some offshoot that no one has ever heard of. If you belong to one of those, I think we can discount such fringe religions as that.”

Linda said, “Is that the kind of you would like this school to be known for persecuting a second grader for believing in a slightly different form of afterlife? In fact, rising from the dead after three days sounds suspiciously close to a zombie.”

Mr. Bilal said, “I don’t think many Christians would take that as a favorable comparison.”

Linda said, “I bet they wouldn’t like it. That is why public school is not an appropriate place for a religious discussion. And a very inappropriate place for people to decide whose religion should be discounted. I imagine that people could lose their jobs at least if the whole school didn’t lose its funding all together. And honestly, I think the police are smarter than you think and if you were to report my son to the police for something as innocuous as a zombie beetle it is going to get a lot of press coverage, and since the mother of the child you are unfairly targeting happens to work for the newspaper, there is no possible way that your stupid decision would be overlooked.”

Mrs. Packwood said, “I am just looking out for the other children, Mrs. Henderson. I came to Mr. Bilal with my reservations about this drawing about a bloodthirsty beetle. I thought that there might be some things going on at home causing him to act out in such a way. He is the one that mentioned that it might be some kind of threat to the school.”

Mr. Bilal said, “I don’t think so Mrs. Packwood. You are not going to hang me out to dry. You came in her complaining to me about the crazy things Mark has been saying like his father being evil and his obsession with death and zombies.”

Mrs. Packwood said, “I don’t know now with this talk about religion.”

Linda said, “Look, this has been a trying and absurd waste of my time as well as particularly offensive, but Markey has never said anything other than how nice you are. I am willing to chock all this up as a misunderstanding as long as he continues to enjoy his time here. But I do expect to never be called back in here for anything else like this. You are both adults. Act like you are.”

NaNoWriMo Day 20 (1,242 words) Visions from the Coffee Cup

Lind was right the change of scenery really did help her get her work done. No longer being cooped up in her tiny apartment the sound of other people became and enjoyable kind of white noise that freed her writer’s mind rather than occupied it with the overcritical resistance disguised as professional concern. Also being in the park made connecting to the internet a few steps harder because she would have to get out her phone and set up a hotspot if she wanted to waste her time researching what she already knows. She was lost in her work and had gotten a good start on her work when Markey and Allen came back up to her on the bench.

Markey said, “Mom, I saw a little girl from my class. She was going to the swing set. Can I go play with her?”

Allen said, “We will be over there if you start to look for us.” He pointed up the hill a little way to the children’s play area. There were several other children playing and their parents on benches in varying degrees of attentiveness to their children’s activities.

Linda said, “I’ll meet you up there after I get a bit more work done. I’m on a roll right now.” She put her mind back into her work and resumed her typing.

The children’s play area had several slides and a catwalk connecting them. It was shaded with large trees and gravel under the play equipment was strewn with old leaves. Markey was playing a game with the girl from his class and her sister. They ran around the slides and up the stairs shouting new rules to each other as the ideas popped into their heads.

Allen stood just outside the wooden border that had been installed to contain the gravel. He moved here and there trying to keep Markey in his sight until he decided that the boy was old enough to warrant a little bit of slightly less supervised play, and when one of the mothers got up to collect her child and leave, Allen sat down in her place.

Linda was too busy to notice the pair of men in red shirts and sunglasses who had made their way over to the playground area where Markey was playing, but she did notice the change in tone from interactions between children and the occasional parental intervention. She heard men’s voices sounding preachy, and she heard Allen sounding defensive. The men had walked up at opposite sides of the children’s play area and began speaking to the other parents. One of the men approached a young mother with a young child next to her in a stroller. He said, “Young lady, do you know what kind of man that is over there?” He pointed over to the bench where Allen was sitting. There was no mistaking who he was talking about because Allen was the only man on that bench and one of the few attending parents who was a male. He said, “You don’t want your children around that man.” The lady called her children to her and told them they were going to leave. The children began to whine. They wanted to stay and say good by to their friends.

The mother next to her had overheard and she said, “What did he do?” But she didn’t wait for a response before she started calling her daughter to her.

The other man was much more obvious. He pointed at Allen. He said, “That man over there is a false profit. He lured our Mother Stacy into unclean acts.” These parents were more incredulous, but they stared at him and called their children to play closer to them where they could see them. Then, the men approached Allen one on each side of him.

One man looked at Allen and said, “What are you doing here pretender?”

The other man said, “You should be ashamed to show your face out in public.”

Allen said, “Why don’t you just leave me alone? I’ve got my son here.” Allen looked all over the park for his son. Allen saw him waiting his turn at the top of a slide. He said, “Markey, come here. It is time to go now.”

Markey said, “Please, can I stay a little longer?”

Allen said, “No, son. Come down here now. It is time to leave.”

One of the men said, “That’s right heretic. Get your child and leave.”

Markey came down the slide and Allen grabbed him by the hand. He said, “Come on Markey. Let’s go.” Allen pulled Markey along behind him, and the men followed along behind them.

One of the men said, “Little boy, your father is keeping you from your only hope of salvation.”

Markey said, “Go away. I don’t like you.”

Allen said, “Hush, Markey. These are bad men.”

Markey said, “Let go of my hand, Allen. I can call up some demons from hell to make them leave us alone.”

Allen said, “No Markey. These men are only assholes. They don’t need to be torn limb from limb.”

Markey said, “Why not?”

Allen said, “Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it.”

Linda had folded up her laptop and made her way over to them. She said, “Allen what is happening?”

Allen said, “Nothing. We are just leaving.”

Linda gave the two men in red shirts an angry look. She said, “You two should be ashamed of yourselves.”

The men stopped following them. The taller man said, “May the mother Stacy have mercy on your souls.” He sounded just as passive aggressive as Linda thought any human being could ever be.

Markey said, “Mom, why are those men being so mean?”

Linda said, “I don’t know, Markey. I think they are just confused.”

Markey said, “Allen wouldn’t let me call up demons from hell to rip them apart.”

Linda said, “He was right, Markey.”

Markey said, “But it’s hard.”

Linda said, “I know Markey. Sometimes doing the right thing is very hard.”

Markey said, “Mom, if Chompie really is a monster, can I make him come bite them.”

Linda took a little too long to answer him, so Allen said, “No, Markey. You can’t do that.”

Markey said, “Please, just a little bite.”

Linda said, “No son. Not even a little bite.” But inside she felt like they really did deserve at least a little bite.

They never did make it back to see Mr. Branzino when he had more time to talk. After their confrontation at the park, they all felt like were ready to get back to their small apartment and forget about the rest of the city for at least a little while. When they were back at their apartment, Markey called up his father on the bathroom mirror. He told him what had happened with the men at the park. His dad, the evil vision in the mirror said, “I don’t know, Markey. I think you should listen to your mother. You were right those men did deserve to be ripped to pieces, but you mom seems to think that is not the best course of action. You are in her house so you will have to follow her rules. If that means you have to let insolence go unpunished, then that is what you are going to have to do at least for now.”

NaNoWriMo Day 19 (1542 words) Visions from the Coffee Cup

Linda was sitting at her kitchen table with her laptop open in front of her working on horoscopes for the next issue of the paper. She was having a hard time coming up with an interesting way of wording the horoscope. She felt like writing the same thing over and over again would make it easier because she had the format down perfectly. Now, she had a whole new set of things she had to worry about. She would wonder if each of the horoscopes were read back to back would each of the horoscopes sound too similar to each other? Would they sound too different from each other? Did she say the same thing last week, the week before? Should she pay closer attention to tone?

Today she hadn’t even gotten down a single word. Every time she sat down at the table to write there was another thing that came up to pull her away from the work. Earlier Markey had wanted her to make him a glass of chocolate milk. After that, Allen had come to her asking if she had seen his house slippers. This time, it was her own fault. She was online researching how to write a horoscope. She had decided that after a lifetime of practice giving psychic readings and lucky numbers and the like she had no idea of how to do exactly what it was that she was an expert at. She was currently going back and forth between a page on astrological charts, one on the elements of writing style, and a competitor’s horoscope page to see if she could bust some ideas loose in her mind.

She thought she had something to write down, but the idea evaporated out of her mind when she switched to her word processor program and stared at that blank page. Technically, it wasn’t blank because it had a one-word title: Horoscopes. Somehow that made the task of writing the first word that much more daunting. She could hear Markey and Allen chasing each other through their little apartment playing hide and seek and she wanted so badly to get up from the table and go play with them as well. An eight-year-old child could be so much fun and so tiering simultaneously. And when that eight-year-old is a talented necromancer in his own right, things can get downright hectic. Like right now, she was smelling sulfurous smoke. Her first thought was that the apartment was on fire. Then she saw how much trouble Allen had finding Markey in his new hiding spot. Linda folded down the screen of her laptop. Linda said, “Just give up, Allen. You are never going to find him.”

Allen said, “I know. He cheats. Earlier he was using a scrying spell to find out where I had hidden, and now, I think he opened a quick portal to hell and ducked inside.” Allen cupped both hands around his mouth. “I give up, Markey. Come on out!”

There was a woosh and another hit of the sulfur smell. Light at first and then stronger like a good fart, and not too far off from the smell. Markey came out of the bedroom with a big smile on his face. He said, “I win. You gave up. I win.”

Allen grabbed him and said, “No, I just got you.”

Markey said, “That’s cheating.”

Allen said, “Slipping between dimensions is cheating, too.”

Markey stuck out his bottom lip and crossed his arms. He said, “It’s not fair. You know where all my hiding spots are.”

Allen said, “The house is only so big. What do you want me to do?”

Markey said, “You can erase your memories again.”

Allen said, “You know I don’t have any powers in this body.”

Markey hardened his face and said, “You’re lying.”

Allen said, “I am not.”

Markey turned to Linda. He said, “Mom, erase his memories again.”

Linda said, “I’m not going to do that to your dad. Bad things happened the last time I did that.”

Markey said, “I know that Allen is my dad, but my dad is my dad. Can’t you just make him one person again?”

Linda said, “I don’t think I did that to him, Markey. There is more than one of all of us.”

Markey reached up and touched Allen’s arm and pinched it. Allen yanked his arm back and threatened to pinch Markey if he didn’t stop doing that. Markey said, “He’s not a doppelganger. I think he really is my dad, but not at the same time.”

Linda said, “No not a doppelganger. Those are just shapeshifters. Allen is you dad. He and Raul are the same.”

Allen said, “Do you remember when we talked about the multiverse theory?”

Markey said, “That was just for science class. Science is fake.”

Linda said, “Science isn’t fake.”

Markey said, “Then why do my friends at school say that monsters aren’t real, and why does Mrs. Packwood say that you can’t bring zombies back from the dead?”

Allen said, “I bet your friends at school do believe in monsters. Ask them if they believe in Chompie, the bull shark that is supposed to live in the pond at Leucothea park.”

Markey said, “A shark isn’t a monster. It’s a shark.”

Allen said, “What is a monster? A monster is big and can eat a person. And a shark is big and can eat a person.”

Markey said, “Monsters are evil, and sharks aren’t evil.”

Allen said, “Well what about, Spot. The black slime that your father is keeping for you while you are living with us. Is he evil?”

Markey said, “Yes.”

Allen said, “Why is he evil?”

Markey said, “Because he eats people.”

Allen said, “Aha! Then Chompie is evil, and he is a monster.”

Markey said, “Who has Chompie eaten? Spot was going to eat you and mom.”

Linda said, “He’s got you there, Allen.” Linda thought for a second then she said, “I am having trouble getting any writing done here. Why don’t we go to the park? You two can try to get a picture of Chompie, and I will take the laptop along and maybe the change of scenery will help me get some of my work done. I sure don’t want Mr. Hutchinson mad at me again for not getting my work done on time.”

Markey got excited and started dancing and jumping in a circle. He said, “Yeah, yeah! I have never seen a real live shark before. If I see him, I will tell you if a shark is a monster or not.”

It was a bright day winding down toward noon and only a short bus ride to the park. Markey was excited that he would be able to see Mr. Branzino. Markey had taken to calling him Grampa despite Mr. B’s claim that they were not related. Mr. Branzino’s shop had taken surprising little damage in the fires that day and his insurance had covered the repairs. They ate lunch at Mr. B’s Deli. He couldn’t talk much because business was doing well, but he did give Markey a stick to wear on the front of his shirt. It was a cartoon picture of Chompie with a sharp toothed grin and a dorsal fin raised in a thumbs up. He said all the polite things you say to the people you know, and he told them to come back after the lunch rush when he could talk more. He smiled and said, “If not, the coffeepot will keep me informed.”

They found one of the more secluded benches on the hill overlooking the pond and Linda sat down with her computer in her lap. She watched as Markey ran toward the pond dodging a couple teenagers playing frisbee and an old couple walking along the running trail. Allen called out after him. “Wait up. You will need my phone if you want to take pictures.” He was digging in his pocket and trying to jog along after Markey at the same time.

There were several pairs of people dressed in red button up shirts and dark sunglasses stationed throughout the park passing out pamphlets. In fact, they had seen several of these redshirted people on the street corners who they had passed while on the bus. There had been a schism in the Church of Raul after Linda had come along and reabsorbed Stacy to become a whole person, and this offshoot had almost totally eclipsed the numbers of the previous cult in numbers of proselytizers at least. They were preaching to any who would listen about the return of Stacy whom they were referring to as The Mother Goddess, and they were denouncing Raul as a false God and the Prince of Darkness. They weren’t far off from the Emperor of Evil, but Raul really wasn’t as bad as these people were making out. Linda only hoped that Markey would not hear what they are saying about his father. She was afraid it might hurt his feelings. She figured no well meaning adult of any faith would want to hurt the feelings of a young boy even if they weren’t going out to do it on purpose.