Trenches

Alright, I’ll admit it. I have no idea what I’m doing here. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I believe in the cause. I made my sign myself after a late night craft store run. The cashier was so funny, asking if we had a project for school.
“No, ma’am, we’re actively participating in our democracy.”
That had been my best friend’s flippant response. I’d seen this kind of thing on TV and I was scared. They kept saying it would be fine though. Somehow, I don’t think they really understood.

Now, I was trying not to cry as I heard shouting and loud bangs that sounded a lot like explosives to my ears. That was when he appeared out of the smoke. A tall man with dark hair cut military short. He was wearing wraparound shades that obscured his eyes, a bandanna over the lower half of his face, and a tight t-shirt with a Spartan logo on it. He grabbed my arm and hauled me up.
“Come on, kid. How’re you doing?”
I tried to speak and started coughing. He cursed in a language I didn’t understand and handed me a bottle and a bandanna.
“Swish and spit. Wet the bandanna and hold it over your mouth. Got me, kid?”
I nodded once, uncertain. We both heard the sound that caught his attention then. It was like a loud pop and then something hissing. I didn’t think, I just moved. Doing as he’d told me, I kept the bandanna over my mouth as I stayed low hoping this stuff worked like smoke. He grabbed my arm and pointed, making signs I’d never seen. I could follow it though. Grab the woman near us and follow him.
He led us up a side street where there were a few people working on a sort of street triage. He nodded to them, clearly knowing each and every one of them. My eyes were burning and tears streamed down my face. The woman we’d helped out was worse off though. Another woman grabbed a bottle of something and was talking quietly to her, saying she was here to help. Not to worry a bit.
When my eyes were clear, I started helping. He coached me, teaching me things I never thought I would learn. I learned more about how medicine really works than I ever had before. And not gentle, kind, sterile medicine. This was rough and we could only do our best. Sometimes, I wondered what he was doing here. He was a soldier. He had to be. But he just laughed and said he fought in these trenches now, in this new kind of war for liberty. If he was a general, I think I would follow him to the ends of the earth.
“Come on, kid. You and me, we’ve got more people to help.”

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Flame

    She watched as the stripped the colors from the old statues and wept. Why were they doing this? These people weren’t from here. They didn’t know, didn’t understand. They had never seen the nymphs of the forest or the satyrs frolicking in a field. But they imagined that they had. They had read Herodotus and Homer and Pliny and dreamed that they had stood atop Olympus among staid and stolid gods of dignity and refinement, relegating their fatal flaws to mere misdemeanor and rendering their colors to muted silence. She pulled her shawl tighter around her shoulders, wondering if her family would ever come back and set to rights what had happened. Would they hear her silent tears or sense the bitter anguish? She took up the poker once more and checked three small brazier before her. They might remove the colors, these foreigners, but they would never extinguish the flame

Archery Camp

I spent a lot of time in the coffee shop on the corner during the end of that school year. I wish I could say it was because of the free wifi or the good coffee. Mostly, it was because I had nowhere better to be and the barista was hot. So, I did my homework there and tried to get her number. Unsuccessfully. But with the end of the school year approaching, I was paying more attention to the tack board by the door where people posted job listings. That day was mostly like all the others, at least until the man I’d never seen before walked in. He didn’t say a word to anyone, just strode over to the board in his heavy black boots. When he raised his arms to attach a small posting to the board, I noticed the arrow tattooed on one arm and the antlers on the other. He had jet black hair tied back in a ponytail and a black leather jacket over a t-shirt that seemed entirely at odds with the rest of him. It was a jarring almost dayglow blue with a bow-and-arrow camp logo. As he walked out, he turned to glance at me for just a moment and he seemed to grin.

So of course, I got up and checked out the posting, my interest piqued. It was for an archery camp looking for counselors, no experience necessary, just a desire to help kids. I could certainly do that. I jotted down the number and packed my things to head home and apply.

The head instructor was unfairly attractive. The kind of woman who could make a room full of nuns swoon just by smiling. Her hair was a chestnut brown that she kept in a messy ponytail, though wisps of it escaped to frame her eyes. I’d thought at first that they might be silver, but that was mad. They were just a very pure gray. She really cared about those kids. Each and every one of them. When one of the littlest boys was afraid of the big dog that followed her everywhere, she took time out of her day to help him work through his fears. I can’t blame the kid, though, I’d thought that was a wolf the first time I saw him.

I’d hoped her co-instructor was her brother or something. No such luck. I’ve met her brother. He’s a piece of work. Blond surfer type who comes on the weekends to help out at the lake with swimming. Not that he’s ever gotten in the water. I think he just likes laying in the sun all day. He’s alright, though. Nice guy and great with a guitar. I think he might have a crush on her co-instructor, which is too bad really because they’re definitely dating.

We were out at the archery range one day, each of the kids lined up with their arrow to the string and their eyes on the target. That was the day we got the word that someone had snuck onto the grounds of the camp who very much should not have been there. She took one look at me and told me to take up my bow, I would hunt with her. The children would be safe in their cabins. I followed her, because what else could I do? We were miles out into the woodland of the camp before I heard a mix of howling and baying…and…laughter? There were other people now, all women like us…but green? They were carrying bows and running with the dogs that were ahead of us.
“He’s nearby. Keep your eyes out.”
That’s when I heard the twig snap and I whirled. There was a man there, a frantic look on his face and a gun in his hand. I had my bow up but panic was quickly setting in. He had a gun. I had a bow. This was not a fair fight. He raised the gun, aiming it right at my face. Just when he would have pulled the trigger, there was a pop like the world shifting and a stag stood in front of me, wheeling in panic.
“Take aim, little one.”
She was standing right behind me and I did as I was told now. My arrow loosed and found its mark quickly. She was laughing as she strode up to where the animal lay, bleeding.
“Never threaten one in my care.” Her voice was cold and harsh for an instant before she lifted the stag onto her shoulder. “Come along. I can leave this with the kitchens and we can have venison for dinner. You hunt well, but we need to work on your form a bit.”
“Of course.”

New kids come to the camp every year and it’s the safest place they could ever be, no matter what else happens in the rest of the world. And I would never leave here. Even if she’s in love with Orion. Even if her brother is too. It’s alright, this is home.

Another Day, Another Deity

There was something about the man leaning on the counter that inherently bothered me. At first, I wasn’t sure what it was. He was probably just another tourist, or maybe one of the souls trying to argue their fate with my Lady.
“Can I help you, Sir? We’re having a special today on clay pots and carnival glass if you’re interested.”
He chuckled and gave me a grin.
“Actually, I was hoping your boss was in.”
That caught my attention and I stood straighter, trying to identify him. He was tall and thin, but in that muscular way, with a crop of bright red hair that didn’t seem to know what gravity was. His eyes were hard to describe, but something in them reminded me of open flames. He had spiraling tattoos going up both arms that looked almost like some kind of snake, but the style was pretty distinct. Not exactly tribal, a little more… Then it hit me. They were Norse. He wasn’t an Olympian. He was something else entirely.
My comprehension must have shown on my face as he started laughing again, calling my attention to the scars on his face. They were around his mouth…like someone had sewn his mouth shut.
“So, is the flower child in?”
“I think she’s out back, World Breaker.”
He flipped a coin into the fountain as he strode out the back door of the shop. It wasn’t until he passed through the door and I heard him greeting my Lady that I relaxed again, slumping against the counter. My momentary peace was shattered utterly by two sets of giggling voices and I looked up again, eyes huge. Children. There were two little boys running around now, in and among the various items in the shop. Suddenly one of them poked his head over the side of my counter, blue eyes huge in his small face.
“Where did Dad go?”
Then the second one appeared at his side, slightly taller but built nearly the same.
“Who are you?”
“Do you have any candy?”
“Will you play with us?”
I pointed towards the back, hand shaking slightly.
“He went that way. I work here. I don’t have candy. I’m working.”
They both nodded, clearly happy with my answers. Then they scampered off towards the back. Closing my eyes, I silently prayed that I wouldn’t hear crashing or shattering.

The White Elephant

The problem with working at the white elephant is that you never really know what’s going to come through the door. When that white elephant is on the seashore at the convergence of two ley lines, it gets worse. Or at least more exciting. Really depends on your outlook on life. I was the summer help that year, hired largely to deal with the sudden influx of tourists poking through the labyrinthine barn that was the store. Make sure they didn’t got lost amid the knick-knacks and statues, keep the fountain in the center running, cover the register if it looked like someone might actually want to buy that lobster trap they found under a pile of sea glass and clay pots. Things like that.

Mostly the store was run by my boss and her daughter Mel. It wasn’t a serious job for them, but then they didn’t need it to be. Not when her husband wore perfectly tailored suits and drove a car that I’d have to work for the rest of my life to even consider affording. The front of the shop had two pillars holding up the overhang, dressed up to look like old Greek columns. The first time Mom dropped me off, she laughed and said it looked like I was working in a mausoleum. It was funny then, I suppose.

It was a work day like any other. Mel was out for a bit to walk Spots the Great Dane and my boss was on the front step watering the flowers. I was rearranging the collection of questionably acquired street signs. How the couple got in past her to end up in my sphere of responsibility, I will never know. But then, I’ve also never seen tourists this lost. The woman was sure they’d taken a wrong turn, the man laughed, somehow certain they were in the right place.

“If you need help with anything, just give a shout.”
They didn’t seem to hear me, their argument becoming less and less clear to understand. For a moment, I thought they’d switched languages. Finally, she hissed at him, baring her teeth and he chittered back. I set down the stop sign I’d been working on positioning and turned. Taking a step towards them, I held up my hands defensively.

“Excuse me? Sir? Ma’am? Are you alright?”

They both turned towards me and I nearly fell backwards. Their faces were gone. He leaned in, chittering loudly at me. Before the scream could issue from my lips, my boss was there. Her hand was on my shoulder, her eyes on them. When she spoke, it wasn’t that distant and distracted tone she normally had.

“You’re being rude.” She wasn’t speaking to me. “Are you here to appeal the decision of the Judges?”

Both of them nodded and she sighed.

“Fine. But I would say it’s fairly clear that Asphodel is already calling you. If you wanted Elysium, maybe you should have lived your lives. Now, get out of my store.”

They turned into shadows at her command and vanished through the cracks between the floorboards. I knew I must look like someone had just slapped me with a fish. That would have made more sense.

“Sorry about that. Sometimes people just don’t like harsh truths.” She pulled a cloth out of her pocket and held it out to me. “Wipe your face, you’ve got some dirt. We’ve got a box coming in this afternoon. Can you take it?”

“O-of course.”

Her eyes focused on me again, pure and direct.

“Very good. And don’t worry, I’ll teach you to deal with them properly when we’ve the time. You’ll need to learn if you’re going to be in my service.”

The problem with working in the white elephant is that you never know what’s going to come through the door. But with the stygian iron in my pocket and the words in my mind, I know I can face just about anything. But that’s what you get when you end up in service here.