When I was a child, loose boned and dirt streaked, my mother told me that the wolves would come. When I was older, cattywampus and mooning, the first blood appeared between my legs. She said then, the wolves have arrived. Sent me out, into the winterfrosted woods with furs and a silken-sharp dagger, to meet the wolves that lived deep in me. Come back in three days, she said, giving me a shove from the welcome door. I stumbled over oak roots and scraped my knuckles on pine bark until the first day ended. I wrapped myself up and gnawed on squished berries, the pulse drumming low inside my hips. The moon hung on leaf skeletons, waiting. I waited too. The cold, the pulse, the warmth repeated. I thought, perhaps, that I would die. The dagger tempted with its shine. The cold, the pulse, the warmth. And then - bone marrow breath on my hair. A soft whine. A speckled paw. The wild curled up against my back and wagged their tail. I turned and caught a flash of eyes like the heart of springtime. A curled lip. You have fangs too, little one, they said to me. You too were built for ripping hearts and howling your victory. After three days, I reappeared at the welcome door, blood streaked and thrumming. I have met the wolves, I told my mother. They send their greetings.
The tinkling of the bell through the mid morning silence makes me startle. I drop the bag of genmaicha I'm weighing out. Half the bag spills out onto the tiled floor, and I curse under my breath. A Teakeeper shouldn't be so careless with such a delicate blend, but I'll just have to make my apologies later with the gentlest of broom sweeps. For now, I look up for the person who's caused my present distress and try to force a smile. After all, they're the first customer all day, I should be more grateful. They don't call out a familiar hello to me, so I make the customary half-bow with supplicant palms. "What can I get you? What tickles your sense of delight?" I ask.
"It's not my sense of delight that needs tickling," says the person as they wind their way through the tight maze of shelving at the front of the shop. I can hear heavy boots on their feet and the swish of a long winter coat. They smell like feral brimstone, and I am old enough - wise enough - to feel a flicker of something like fear. I clear my throat. "Whose, then?" I ask as they come into view.( Collapse )
Boots crunching through leaves,
a cathedral golden lit,
branches in chorus.
is the sermon of the day
as I contemplate.
Autumn's cape grows.
The scent of incense rises.
Burdens lift from me.
I emerge later:
Nature's church will wait for me
until next Sunday.
Through the summer haze
Through the green of my drink
Delicate as a luna moth's wing
I see her stride in.
Red hair as wild as an August sunset,
Black boots echoing on the bar's tile floor:
She, heralder of siren's call
She, with a voice that sways and poisons,
She, my undoer.
Our eyes meet.
My hand chokes my sweating glass
And the world swirls darkly
Around the edges of my vision.
My soul rises to perch on the upturned edge of her crimson smile.
Once more I am awash in her soft and breathy hellos,
Inhaling them like nag champa, head spinning.
Once more I am consumed by how it ended,
The memory of a sputtering candle spinning slowly on broken floorboards.
I refuse to be that dying ember.
She will not put me out again.
I stand and feel my heels sink down, grounding me, spine straightening.
I take my heart back from the empty-sky blue of her eyes and tuck it safe under my arm.
She will not put me out again.
I pluck my soul back from her bloody lips like grabbing an old friend's shoulder.
I feel my self slide home, behind locked doors that only I get to open.
I feel my self burn bright, lighting up windows and rooms that have been dark for too long.
She will not put me out again.
'Gluten free milk stout
Would be impossible on its own -
Had to make a deal with the faeries
To get ours to taste full grown.
If you look too close at the bubbles,
You'll see tiny worlds floating in the beer
Each one a work of art
That carries a hint of danger near.
Can't have too many of these,
That's what the Fair Folk said -
After all there's just a few worlds
That can bubble up inside your head.
Just two or three a night will do
Until your laugh grows loud
Laughter keep the Fair Folk at bay
And makes us feel so proud!'
- Marketing copy on the gluten free milk stout produced by Household Spirits.
Candlelight flickered over the table laden with food. Honeyed apples, crackly-skin roast chicken, and a bright, peppery arugula salad, all in warm-colored stoneware bowls, dressed the old wooden boards right up. Kate tilted her wine glass in her hands gently, gazing at me with jasper eyes. "So you bought this bar because the entity in your head asked you to," she said in her flat way. She smirked. "Girl, when you gonna make that bitch pay you some rent for all the space she's taking up in there?"
"To be fair, I invited her in," I said quickly, spooning apples onto my plate, followed by chicken breast. "So she's basically a house guest. She's not meant to pay rent."
"And you think that's still a good idea?" Kate said, popping a forkful of chicken into her mouth. "Yum, by the way, as always." Chewing thoughtfully, she shook her head. "It's never ended well, you know. This whole host business. She's running you into some big trouble, and goddess knows these hands are too delicate to help you clean up that mess when it goes south." She put out her palms, softened from years of her milk and honey lotion, as proof. "So you've gotta have a backup plan, sweetie."
"I feel more than capable of running a bar on my own," I said, stabbing my apples with perhaps more vigor than necessary. "Especially the kind of place she has in mind. No fanciness, no jiggers, just downhome, easy, and cool. I mean, I've been in the business for long enough, it should come naturally at this point."( Collapse )
"You can't just buy a place like that, and move in, and expect everything to be hunky dory," said Mason, my real estate agent. (He also happened to be my godfather.) Long, lanky, gay as a Saturday in April. "A place like Good Time Charlie's, it's seen some shit." He put a lot of emphasis on the last word in that sentence. Gesturing to the flyer on the big mahogany desk between us, he shook his head. "If it were me, I wouldn't go for it, no way, no how. Mouldering heap of junk. Haunted too, word goes."
"I don't care about ghosts," I said, my hands curled into fists on the arms of the leather chair I was seated in. "I have a vision, Uncle Mason, and I've got my inheritance from Dad. I want to buy the place."
Mason raised his eyebrows and mopped his bald shiny pate with a lavender handkerchief, then sighed. "You know how I feel about your Dad's inheritance, and I've said my piece. If you want to move forward, I'll be happy to represent you, may as well, given that I've already shown you the place. I suppose it's performing my duty as your godfather." He slid the papers across the table to me. "So go ahead, make an offer. This place isn't going to move fast, so take some time to think about it if - "( Collapse )
"Support your local cryptid!" reads a flashing neon sign hung on the front window of the bar. Sometimes the bar is an old Victorian house with many small rooms, hung with more draperies than your grandmother's bedroom. Sometimes it's a long, low-slung building that reminds you of a hobbit's house, or a bomb shelter. Different looks for different people, but inside, it's all the same. Warm, crackling fireplaces, brass fixtures and deep leather chairs, carpets in jewel tones thrown over mahogany floors. Always a touch of scattered glitter in the corners (no dust bunnies here, only glitter bunnies). It smells like melting candle wax, spilled grenadine, lemon rind, and incense. A weekly schedule is scrawled on a chalkboard near the bathrooms. It reads:
Monday: Queer Communist Tea Swap & Book Club 7pm (bring your own teacup)
Tuesday: Team Trivia Night with Tasha O'Brien
Wednesday: Witches Trade (bring your own work of choice, get a free drink; work must be visible)
Thursday: Stuck in the Middle Cuddle Party (18+, upstairs)
Friday: Fearsome Critters Myth and Story-telling Roundtable
Other signs are scattered around the place too. A cluster of small animal skulls on the fireplace mantel. A cairn of pebbles by the cash register. Lavender sits in a pot by the window, sunning itself. The place calls to mind a housecat: soft, lovable, claws sheathed, but there always lurks the possibility of sharpness. Danger just a moment away. And the place's name?
Okay, so we're doing this.
Beverly always liked to get in the restaurant during the blue hour. The place was silent like church, with only the hum of the walk-ins to punctuate the quiet. When she breezed in, past the porter waiting for the early deliveries, the energy of the place was like walking into the ocean. It enveloped her. For a precious few minutes, there was nothing. No noise except what she made. Starting from scratch, for real.
She flipped lights on, the fluorescents joining the walk-in hum, a little higher pitched. Coffee. The pulse and whine of the Burr grinder, then filling the basket and flicking the machine to on. She moved to the basket of chalk by the chalkboard and wrote ideas for the day's specials, her finger tapping against her pale lips. Early mornings were times for starting braises, dough, stock. She poured herself a cup of coffee and lifted it to her mouth.
All of this done in the perfect quiet, so silent she can hear the whoosh of the gas range as she flares it to life. This one hour is all breath and beat (rhythmic onion chops), scattered sleepy thoughts that don't need to go anywhere, that have no set destination. Sometimes she would steal a spoonful of yogurt or a handful of fruit and pop up onto a silver prep table, chewing slowly, almost meditative.
And she had the feeling that someone soon would be paying her a visit. It's a Saturday and the air just had that quality to it, like if you reached out with a feather and pushed, you'd get a completely new day. She took her coffee out to the darkened dining room. Her visitor didn't need lights to see. She sat down in a booth and waited, her only movement the sound of a chewed ragged fingernail tapping against her watch. It was time.