Differences

Something had been off all day. Jess just didn’t seem like herself. At least, that was what Keith thought. She was quieter, seemed to be staring at him or off into space a lot. She hadn’t even remembered to feed the cat she lovingly called her fur-baby. Actually, come to think of it, Keith didn’t even know where the damn cat had gotten to. He looked around the apartment for any sign of normalcy or anything to tell him what might be going on. Jess was in the kitchen now, supposedly making herself a snack. She’d eaten a lot today, way more than usual. He’d wondered at that, but now it was really nagging at him. Her keys weren’t hanging by the door. Why weren’t her keys hanging by the door if she was at home? And where was that damn cat?

“Jess?”

He walked into the kitchen and stopped in the doorway, watching for a moment as she made a sandwich. She sliced it in half and then turned to screw the lid back onto the peanut butter jar.

“Who the hell are you and where’s Jess?”

Jess, or the woman who looked like Jess, turned and looked surprised.

“What?”

Keith pointed one shaking hand towards the jar on the counter.

“Jess is allergic to peanuts. That’s mine. Who the hell are you?”

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Music From the Heart

I’d been busking on the same street corner every summer since I left high school. I had a guitar and a dream and I wasn’t planning on letting go of either, not now and not ever. When things got a little tight, I sold things. But never my old acoustic guitar.

It was a day like any other when he appeared. At first, I thought he would just walk by like everyone else as I strummed my chords and sang my own songs in a voice loud enough to be heard, but not loud enough to bother people. He didn’t though. He didn’t look away or ignore me. He stopped and leaned against a lamp post, closed his sky blue eyes to listen. He had on a suit in a shimmery blue so dark it was almost black and long hair that fell loose to his shoulders. When I finished the song, he smiled and I had to look down. It was almost like staring into the sun. But he stepped closer and dropped something into my case.

“That was some beautiful music. From the heart. Be proud of it.”

I started to look up, to say something. What do you even say? But he just stuck his hands back in his pockets and walked off, humming the chorus I had written. I felt my legs going to jelly as I looked down to see what he’d left. I picked up the $20 bill with hands that shook. No one had ever given me that much. And there was something folded in it. It dropped from my fingers and I knelt to retrieve it. A business card for the Sunburst, a club up town. And there was a note on the back.

Call me if you want a performing gig. It really was that good. -A

Red Eyes

I held the bag tight against my chest and moved through the forest in silence. Drawing attention to myself at this point would be worse than suicidal. I could hear the movement further out in the darkness, just beyond the light of the path. Most Fae avoided the paths. Paths are bad, dangerous, mortal. As a Changeling, the paths are safety for me…except against one thing. The Red Eyes hunt the paths. I can almost feel them watching me as I move. Lords and Ladies, I hope I get home soon. There were rules for this, of course. Not that the Red Eyes follow rules, but instead Faerie Land would enforce the rules for me. If I didn’t think I could get back to our holding, I could take the next turn and hide in the standing stones. No one could harm another in there. Mistress had said they were dangerous for other reasons though, only to hide there if I had no other choice. Whirling around at the sound of footsteps, I nearly dropped the bag, which would have been a mistake unto itself. A younger Changeling I knew was barreling towards me like a bat out of hell. His eyes were huge and wild and his tail coursed behind him like a pennant in a wind. He was one of the ones who had changed their shape as soon as they could, becoming far more a raccoon than a human.

“Coop?”

“Mouse! Run! Hunters!”

He didn’t have to say it twice. I grabbed his arm as he would have gone past the stones and pulled him down that path instead. As soon as we were a few feet down that path, I moved to let go, confident he would follow. He grabbed at my arm, clinging fiercely. Poor guy must be terrified. I thought, just as I passed through the stones and came to a sudden jerky stop. Turning, I was surprised to see that Coop still held my arm and was on the outside of the stones.

“Come on! What are you waiting for?”

“I can’t. It must be the old magic. Come on, let’s keep running. There must be somewhere else that’s safe.”

I tried to shake off his grip, suddenly wary.

“Coop, come on, don’t be silly. As long as you’re not going to hurt anyone, you can come in here.”

Listening for a moment, I realized I couldn’t hear any other footsteps. Just the sound of our heavy breathing. Then I felt his fingers tighten even more on my arm. That’s when it hit me.

“Oh…oh no. Coop. No…no…no…no…You didn’t. No. There’s no way…”

He let go and flung himself at the space between the standing stones, falling to the ground in a pile of fur and snarls. There it was, on the back of his neck. The Red Eye. There were tears pouring down my face as I curled up in the middle of the circle. Mistress would find me later, I knew. But until then, I could wait here and mourn for my friend.

All the World’s a Stage – Part 1

Mr. Williams passed out the scripts and then went up to the front of the room.

“Alright, folks, we’re going to be putting on the classic Romeo and Juliet this year.”

For a long moment, there was nothing. Dead air. Then a boy in the back started laughing, a sharp noise that cut through the silence. As if that was a sign, the rest made their thoughts known in either groans or cheers in their turn.

“Oh, come on, it’s not that bad. We’ll be having try-outs in a week, so make sure you read through so you can decide what parts you’d like to try for. And be glad I gave you the full script! The original actors only got a roll with their lines on it!” The bell rang and as everyone scrambled to grab their bags, Mr. Williams gave them a big smile. “See you tomorrow!”


RomaMontanari burst onto the stage with all of her usual dramatics.

“O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy name!”

Mr. Williams just sighed inwardly. He was used to her antics by now, after all, she was usually the female lead in the end. Every theatre had its diva, and Roma was theirs. A few more lines and she took a bow. The dark haired actor leaning against the wall groaned.

“Yes, Mr. Capello? Can I help you with something?”

The boy strode forward.

“This is ridiculous, Mr. Williams. Every single girl that’s come out here has done the same scene, rolling out the same tonality and the same manners. This isn’t some rom-com, this is one of Shakespeare’s great tragedies!”

“You think you can do better, Juan?”

Roma shoved him slightly and he grinned back at her, dark eyes flashing.

“Oh, you better believe I can, Montanari.”

Mr. Williams stood and walked towards the stage.

“Both of you cut that out. Let me get this straight. Juan, you’re objecting to Roma’s interpretation of the scene?”

“Yup, that’s about right.”


The trio of giggling girls had them cornered, the two freshman boys knew that quite well. They had been trying to check the prop room for a few things to help Duncan plan for the set build.

“Look at the pair of them.”

“Duncan’s little lap dogs.”

“But are they?” The middle girl, a blond like the other two and ever, it seemed, chewing on her gum, leaned in to grin. “Have a look at this one. Ken MacFinnley.”

“Mercifully?” The girl on the right giggled again and Ken took a half-step back and nearly back into his best friend, Benji. She was still staring at him. “ The Ken MacFinnley who’s going to do the set design for the next play? The Ken MacFinnley who’s going to be the next drama club president?”

“That’s…that’s not right. No, Duncan’s president. And he’s the one doing the set design. And I’m only a freshman…”

The girl on the left patted his cheek and smiled sweetly.

“Oh, but dear little boy, you will take his place.”

Finally, Benji spoke up.

“Um…what about me?”

All three girls turned to him and spoke.

“You’re next.”

Spirits

The little boy ran down the street, bare feet slapping loudly on the dirt road. He was laughing and smiling, with a wooden toy sword clutched tightly in one hand. There was to be a Triumph today for the returning legionnaires. He was especially excited because the armored man Mama couldn’t see had said that his father had brought home a surprise for them. The armored man was following after him, passing through the crowd without hesitation.
“Cato, slow. You don’t want to run into someone.”
The boy slowed with a sigh and waited for the man to catch up.
“But I want to see. I heard there were elephants and everything.”
“You’ll see soon enough.”
Cato smiled brightly up at the armored man as they walked through the crowd and began to notice. No one else could see the man he spoke to, no one but one of the legionnaires returning home from far Germania. Marcellus smiled when he saw the family Lare standing with his son and his eyes widened when he realized that young Cato could see the spirit as well. If it was coming on him this young, then perhaps, just perhaps, there was a bright future ahead for Cato in the service of the gods. They hadn’t caught it young enough for Marcellus, but they had for Cato, and he would have all the chances he needed to succeed.

Haunted Hide and Seek

The fences around churchyards were iron for a reason. Time wore on, though, as it always does, and that reason was forgotten. People erected chain fences and used padlocks to keep other people out. They forgot about the things that needed to be kept in.
Jack stood by the gate with her hood up, watching the people as they moved about among the tombstones to visit ancestors and loved ones. With any luck, none of them would see her. It was rare but possible. After all, those who were close to needing her services were likely to have death on the mind. She glanced at the sky. The sun would be setting soon, and then it would be time to get to work. Once the living were gone, then she could look for that which they had set free.
A long, low moan echoed through the now empty burying ground and Jack winced. It was the sound of metal grinding somewhere. Probably a crypt door, if she knew anything about her line of work. Now came the first of many unpleasant parts of the evening: crossing the boundary line into the sanctified part of the grounds. Jack stretched and pulled her hood down as she walked towards the fence. Then she passed through it. That was never a fun time, but she had made it through. That meant it was hunting time. Extending her hand, she called her scythe forth and spun it idly as she walked.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are.”
She singsonged her words as she scanned the area around her. There was the open crypt. Time to investigate. She stepped up to the door and stuck her head inside.
“Olly olly oxen free!”
But there was nothing undead in there. Nothing moving.
“Well, that’s bad. That means it’s out there somewhere.”
Turning, she scanned the horizon again. It would be here still, somewhere. Then she gritted her teeth. No, it had a way out, dammit.
“Stupid humans forgetting the rules!”
Scythe in hand, Jack sprinted for the main gate of the cemetery. Iron would have kept the thing in. Iron would have kept the humans safe. Iron would have made her job a world of easier. Instead, she found herself getting there just too slow as the undead creature wrenched the gates open and crossed the barrier. The land of the living had been breached. Jack swung her scythe up into an attack position. She still had time, before something else noticed what had happened. She could still reap this lost soul and keep the world in balance. Then something slammed into her from behind. When she stood again, her prey was gone and a human teenager sat on the ground behind her, blinking up with wide confused eyes from behind his too-large glasses.
“Well, shit. This day just keeps getting better and better…”

Remember

Remember. You have to remember.

The words spun in her mind as Alycia fell again and again. It seemed like nothing would stop this torment. Every time she tried to get to her feet, another set of hands would push her to the ground and she would have to summon her strength and courage again.

Remember. Please.

She didn’t know what she was supposed to remember, who that voice was, anything. She didn’t know anything. Another fist met her face and she crumpled again. She wished there could be darkness. Darkness would make the pain stop, at least for a while. But the voice wouldn’t let her. The voice was so insistent. Who ever they were, they wanted her to remember, to live, to keep fighting.

Remember, Alycia. Remember who you are.

Who was she? She was Alycia. She knew that much. But who was she really? An elbow clipped her cheek and it flared with pain, blotting out the thoughts. She had to remember. She had to do what this voice said. She didn’t know who they were, but she trusted them. She had nothing else.

You have to remember so you can come home.

Home. That one word surged through her mind like a blazing fire. She turned and slammed her own fist into the face of one of her attackers. She was Alycia. Her knee met the side of another and then she kicked up into his neighbor’s gut. She was Alycia and she was trained for this, trained to fight like this for the sake of her world, her home. And the voice. She knew that now too. She landed a solid palm strike, knocking an opponent back a few feet and grinned. She would recognize Cassidy’s voice anywhere. She could even picture the other woman’s face now.
“Don’t worry, love. I remember now and I’ll be home soon.