Archive | October 24, 2011

Keeping House

For KC_OBrien‘s prompt.

Commenters: 4

I keep the house.

That’s what my master set me to do, and that’s what I do. The other four and I, we keep the house. We keep it clean, we keep it safe, we keep it well-equipped. We keep it ready for the master’s return. We keep it as clean and pristine and prepared as it was the day he left. That is what we do, and what we have always done.

It has been a very long time, I’ll admit, since the master last returned. It has been months, no, not months, years? No, more than that. Decades. They do tend to fade after a while. Osana’s body faded first, and we buried her under her beloved rosebushes. Then Yuri, under the pavers in front. By the time it was my turn, we knew that death would not remove us from our duties; Yuri still kept the yard tidy and perfect. Anja still kept the house pristine. And it was not that hard for them to make a spot under the porch for me, so that I could continue to answer the door as I had always done.

Decades passed, I believe, although it could be as long as a century. Without bodies, there was little to mark the passage of time. Gregor redecorated every once in a while from the magazines he found, spending the house accounts that he still kept. Osana planted new herbs, and left bundles of goodies whenever a new neighbor moved in. We did what the master wanted. What the master had told us to do.

I think we all knew, by then, that the master wasn’t coming back. What was left of our bodies was crumbling to dust, and we watched the children of the neighborhood grow up, move away, and be replaced by new children. The world had moved on and, somewhere in there, our master had left. But I don’t think any of us really considered that some day, someone else might try to live in our house.

We chased off the first people the realtor brought by, with quiet little things, little spooks and pranks. By the fourth couple, we were getting more carried away, breaking stairs, exploding radiators (Yuri hated the former and Anja hated the latter). But then there were the Abbots… and when they showed up, we realized the flaw in our plan. Because the people that could not be chased away by our antics… well, they are not the sort of people we wanted to live with.

We cannot help but keep the house clean, upkept, and stocked. But these people, these people… They try my patience. They try our resources. They try the definition of humanity.

…do you think, if they died, we’d be free of them, or would they merely haunt our place, then, in their slovenly mess?

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Unintended Consequences, for the Giraffe Call

For Stryck‘s prompt.

Commenters: 5

Asani kept the old place looking run-down from the front; it suited her to have the neighbors ignorant to her presence. She didn’t drive, after all, and didn’t need to leave the house all that often; when she did, she could walk down to the bus stop with none the wiser where she’d come from.

The front rooms of the house were empty, the doors closed, the windows shuttered. It meant that she could light up the back of the house as much as she wanted and, thanks to the dense foliage, even nosy neighbors were unlikely to see the lights. A yard service kept the place trimmed and painted enough to not bring down property values, but they told people (with more than a little honesty) that the house’s estate paid for the work. Asani was left to her work in quiet, and that was how she preferred it.

She liked to take walks at night, when the neighborhood had mostly gone to bed, wrapping her favorite jacket around her, an old white wool duster that, while it might have seen better days, was long, warm, and blocked the wind; besides, who was going to see her, anyway, in the middle of the night?

Late winter, early spring, those mystery days when the weather changed every fifteen minutes, she shrugged into her coat for a later-than-usual walk, walking lightly over the packed and frozen snow in the dim light of very, very early morning. She slipped down the path of trees towards the side gate, only to come face-to-face with a couple of the older boys from down the street, staring at her in frank terror.

“Shit, Jonah, I told you there was a ghost here,” the taller of the two mumbled. “Now what do we do?”

“Run?” the shorter one offered nervously. “Damn, Carter said he’d seen her, but I didn’t believe him. That lady who died, you think?”

“Gotta be. Shit, ma’am, we’re sorry.” The boys were backing towards her gate hurriedly. “We’re sorry. We’ll go leave some flowers for you, all right? Don’t spook us like you did Carter, all right?”

They were gone before Asani could say anything, leaving her wondering what had happened to Carter – and how she could use this to her advantage.

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Ghosts of Finals

For Wyld_Dandelyon‘s prompt.

Commenters: 4

The old school was haunted.

No classes had been taught there since the flood, nearly two years ago now; most of the town had packed up and left, not enthused enough about the town to tough it through, not rich enough to just pour money on the problem to fix things, not picturesque enough to get the TV crews and the charity money they brought with them.

Macy’s family had been one of only a couple that had stayed – Macy’s, and Joe’s, and Fidel’s. Their fathers split the town between them, salvaging what they could and selling it at flea markets on the weekends. Their mothers grew what they could, and canned and preserved and made do the way their grandmothers and great-grandmothers did. The electric company still sent them power, as long as they paid, and the water company still sent them water, and if that was all they had, well, it was better than a lot of people did, or at least that’s what Macy’s mom had said.

Macy and Joe and Fidel, sometimes they helped their dads scavenge, or work on cleaning up or building up their homesteads, and sometimes they helped watched their little brothers and sisters, or helped their moms in the kitchen, though all of them would rather be pulling siding off a rotting building than turning the crank on the food mill. And when they could get away and do what they wanted, they went down to the old school.

Their dads wouldn’t touch it, so they’d done what they could, pulled the books that had survived up to the top floor and dried out the ones that were only a little damp, thrown everything else in the dumpsters so the whole place stopped smelling of damp and misery and sewage, run the janitor’s hoses and soap through the whole first floor until it gleamed. There was no-one to tell them to do it, but there was no-one to tell them not to, either, so it was their place, their fort. Their flooded-out swampy dreams.

Fidel said that’s what it was haunting the place – ghosts of finals they’d never get to take, and the ones they hadn’t cared as much about, ghosts of the dreams they’d had of scholarships, and college, and a better life, all washed away with the damn river. Joe said it was memories, their friends that had died, the ones that had just left with what they could take. They didn’t touch the lockers of those friends, and wouldn’t help their dads clean out those houses.

Macy thought they were both right, and both wrong. When she was alone there, in the third-floor room they’d made into a library, she could hear them. Mrs. Proctor, who’d made sure all the kids were out and safe and gotten hit by a floating road sign. Mr. Talbot, who’d had a heart attack and drowned in three inches of water. Mrs. Gonzalez, who’d been sobbing when she packed up and left. She could hear their lessons, the ones they’d already taught her and the ones they’d never gotten to. And as long as she could hear them teach her, she could still learn.

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Revenge of the Pumpkins, a sequel of Tir Na Cali for the Giraffe Call

For Ankewehner‘s prompt.

Tir na Cali. Cali has a landing page here (or on LJ)

After When in Rome (and on LJ), which is after Too Hot for Prime Time (and on LJ) from September’s Giraffe Call.

Commenters: 3

A costume?

“Yes, Mistress,” Jason managed. “What sort of costume?” Some of the stuff out the window was ridiculous, some of it was beautiful, and some of it was risqué or straight-out pornographic. It looked a little like Hallowe’en at home, he guessed – brightly-colored costumes, at least – but the grown-ups seemed just as involved, if not more, than the kids.

“You’ll have to wait and see,” she chuckled. “Don’t worry. It’s just for the little party we put on at the estate; you’re not going out in the streets.”

“Okay, mistress,” he choked. That was supposed to be good? Not going out in the streets? He hadn’t tried running away in a while, and in the press of costumes, it wouldn’t be that hard to get lost – but she seemed like the sort of person who’d have thought of that already. He couldn’t do anything about it, so he watched the scenery.

Feathers, there were a lot of feathers, and rich, elaborate robes, animal skins, antlers, lots of antlers, and some that looked really, really real. He could hear them laughing and shouting and singing even inside the car, stopping traffic with processions across the roads, dancing on the back of trucks.

Then a scream echoed through the crowd, the sort of thing where one person started screaming, then those near them, and then further out, like the wave. Even the people he could see screaming looked as if it was part of the game, though, some sort of ceremony? As the crowds parted in mock-fear, he could see people wearing giant papier-mâché pumpkins on their heads stomping forward, wielding large staffs that they were swinging back and forth. Every so often, someone unfortunate or slow would get hit with the staff, paint splattering all over their costume.

“What…?” Jason asked, staring in awe.

“Oh, that?” his Mistress laughed. “That’s the Revenge of the Pumpkins. It’s supposed to be a teaching lesson, about wasting food; they’re supposed to be the ghosts of pumpkins smashed or left to rot, and food left on plates uneaten.”

“People seem to really want to get out of the way of the stick,” he noted, as one woman brushed at the paint dripping down her, tears streaking her face.

“Well, yeah. Wouldn’t you? Considering, I mean,” his owner answered offhandedly. As she drove away, he saw two of the pumpkin-heads pick up the sobbing woman and carry her off.

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When in Rome…. – a story of Tir Na Cali for the Giraffe Call

For Lilfluff‘s prompt.

Tir na Cali. Cali has a landing page here (or on LJ)

After Too Hot for Prime Time (and on LJ) from September’s Giraffe Call.

Commenters: 6

Jason was still trying to figure out what was going on, but the tall woman who has just bought him was, comments about babies or not, still better than the work camps, as far as he could tell, and he didn’t want to give her any reason to change her mind, so he didn’t ask any questions, or give her any trouble, as she steered him by the back of his collar out of the auction hall.

He hadn’t been outside, except in the back of a van, since he’d been taken; the sun was bright and the air chill on his skin. He tried to keep walking anyway, relying on his Mistress’s hand to direct him. Mistress. She might not be a work camp, but she’d still bought him, like a piece of property. He struggled against the uncomfortable gratitude that someone, anyone, had turned out to want him and the unhappy feeling that he was letting this place get to him.

“Here,” she murmured, and, like putting a prisoner in the back of a cop car, pressed down on the back of his head until he bowed and folded into the back of a car. “Try to get comfortable,” she suggested, as she belted him in. “It’s a long drive.”

And, it seemed, she was driving it herself. Jason let his eyes adjust to the sun as she maneuvered the big, expensive-looking car onto the road; by the time she was in traffic, he could study his surroundings.

The city buildings looked, more or less, like a city – a little brighter, a little taller, a little less square than he was used to, but still city-shaped. The roads had less cars than he’d expect, but maybe it wasn’t a high-traffic time? And the people…

He stared at the people going by in awe. He wasn’t even the least-dressed person around, although the lady with the feathers at least had paint. And most of them weren’t wearing slave collars, although he saw one lovely redheaded girl in an expensive-looking gold collar, wearing a high, gold crown to match her collar and an elaborate kimono and geisha face paint.

It wasn’t until he passed three people in a dragon costume, dancing around a man dressed like Uncle Sam, that Jason found his voice. “It looks like Mardi Gras,” he marveled. Mardi Gras with no morals; there were three people having a very fun naked time on the base of a statute while a fourth took pictures. “It looks like…” Like the things in the anti-California pamphlets that made the country seem so interesting.

His Mistress chuckled, looking back at him in the rear-view mirror. “It’s Samhain,” she told him. “I think it’s called Hallowe’en in your country? And, lucky you, I even have a costume for you.”

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Consulting – a Dragons Next Door story for Giraffe Call

For MeeksP‘s prompt.

Dragons Next Door Verse. DND has a landing page – here (or on LJ)

Commenters: 7

Generally, when a call comes in at odd hours from a caller who is stressed, distressed, distraught, and dismayed, they are calling for Sage. He’s the consultant, after all, the Black Tower graduate with a decade on the police force.

But once in a very long while, the call is for me, someone who has an issue, usually with one of the smaller races – they don’t think to call in a mediator so often when it’s a Large Race Problem. They’re just as overwrought, just as hysterical, but usually, when it’s done, I get to laugh a little.

That was the case when the Museum of Natural History downtown called me. They thought they had a problem with brownies or pixies; something was messing up their doorways, all of them, knocking the plaster around and leaving holes in the cornices. They’d had an exterminator in, but they didn’t have bugs, and an exorcist had told them it wasn’t demons. That left, it seemed, me.

I left my youngest at home with Sage and caught the bus downtown, listening to the gossip bouncing back and forth, watching the way the human and mostly-human dealt with the non-humans and the non-even-humanoids – at least the ones that could fit on a bus. There was a lot more interaction than there had been even five years ago; it seemed as if, slow but sure, integration was happening.

Once at the museum, however, it was another story. The staff were human. The visitors were human. There were two brownies serving as janitors, but everyone seemed to ignore them. Even the archeology was primarily human, with “the other races” having one small wing. Integration, it looked like, had no place in natural history. I nearly left right then.

But the money and the reputation gains for consulting are good, and perhaps, I thought, I could do some good for their impression of the non-humans all around them. I studied their dents and holes, listening to their anguished stories while paying more attention to what the brownie janitors were trying to tell me. Not a Small Race. They didn’t know what it was either, but the small races were afraid to come here. Not even the tinies would come in the museum – and the tinies were anywhere they could find a corner.

That was a red flag, but a hard one to explain. Some humans still called exterminators when they found out they had a tiny population in their walls. So it wasn’t the smalls, and it wasn’t the tinies. A Large Race would have left a lot more wreckages – especially if they’d seen the Other Races wing. I wandered off from my handlers when they were busy arguing, and traced the impact lines in their doorways.

They found me, ten minutes later, sitting on the floor in the Africa wing, giggling uncontrollably. When I could finally get control of myself, I managed to explain.

“The giraffe,” I told them, pointing at the skeleton proudly guarding this wing. “Your people… there’s skeletons of three of a race of very small creature wired into his skeleton. There, there, and there. Their ghosts take him riding at night. They must love being so tall!”

I had a hard time getting paid for that call, but it was worth it for the story I got to tell.

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