The Teakeeper and the Demon

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. 

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Boots crunching through leaves, 

a cathedral golden lit, 

branches in chorus. 

Perpetual change 

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. 

LJ Idol - The Known Enemy

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. 

LJ Idol Week 4 - Impossible

'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. 

LJ Idol S11: Living rent free in your head

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." 

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LJ Idol: Resolute

"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 - " 

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LJ Idol Week 0: Introduction

"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? 

Household Spirits. 

Blue

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.

LJ Idol: Take a Hike (or a Swim, in this Case)

The half moon was just barely winking above the horizon as I pounded down the beach early one spring morning. It was my first time being out since last fall and I smiled for a second as my run interrupted some sandpipers out in the tidepools looking for breakfast. They all took flight at once, a dozen tiny brown flightlings yelling pint sized squeaks. I ran around them, breathing in the salty air and squinting a little as the sun began to rise overhead. This was my favorite time of day, right at the cusp of dark and light, when everything was soft and tinged with pink.

If you took a listen to the music blasting in my headphones, though, the picture wasn’t so rosy. Beach runs meant punk, screaming guitars and earth shaking drums. My girlfriend’s punk band, specifically. Mystics of Venus’ second studio album had dropped a month before, and between tour dates and press appearances, this had been my first chance to listen to the whole thing like the fans did. And it was good. Devon’s vocals were just right, perched over the instruments so you could always hear her and know that she was the frontman. That voice still made me go all shivery in the knees, even four years after I’d first heard her sing. “Like the memory of that first cigarette you sneaked in college, and the girl with the ripped jeans and bubblegum lipstick who gave it to you,” Rolling Stone had described it. Of course I’d cut out that review and tucked it into my wallet. I sighed and checked my watch. Devon wouldn’t be up for another hour or two, but maybe I could bring her a coffee from Salty Dog after I was done with my run. Yeah, I liked that plan, of tiptoeing back into the house, shedding shoes in the mud room, softly opening up the bedroom door to see her tousled red hair and purple painted toes peeking out of the bedcovers.

Up ahead, I could see a figure coming out of the waves. I frowned. It was a little early in the year for swimmers and surfers, but maybe if they had a good wet suit and a devil may care attitude about their safety? The figure was tall, I could see that, and solid looking, almost assuredly a woman judging by those hips. I drew closer just as the dreamy ballad “Subtle” was starting, and tried not to be distracted by how sexy Devon sounded when she sang the first verse, all breathy high notes and husky lows, blending in perfectly with the keyboard. But really, who would be out in the waves when the water was still so cold from the winter? I really hoped they weren’t crazy. I’d had my share of crazy people this week and I didn’t need another one.

“Good morning!” I called as I got within ear shot. The woman had a hefty build, but she wasn’t fat, I could see that. Or at least, all that extra had a purpose. She was dressed in a long brown dress with what looked like green glitter on the bust. It clung, and I looked away quickly. Long black hair and scuba fins on her feet. No one I knew, but my little town of Linden, Maine, was changing fast these days, and I was away so much with Devon that it was a wonder I knew hardly anyone.

“Beverly Chang,” I heard her say, and I pulled up, my thighs quivering from the sudden stop. Her voice sounded like an ancient creaking door swinging open. I felt a chill, crazy person sensor all atingle. But I didn’t want to run off. Maybe she needed help. Yeah, and maybe she had a conveniently placed truck with a bed big enough to carry my lifeless body out to the woods, too, I told myself, rolling my eyes.

“Do I know you?” I asked, walking a few steps closer. “I’m Beverly.”

The woman looked at me with eyes that looked like the clearest green sea glass. “Oh, I know,” she said. “I’m Doris, the sea witch.”

“Uh, sorry,” I said, assuming I’d misheard. There was no way she had just called herself a sea witch in real life. “Who? You’re… what?”

“Doris the sea witch,” she said again, a touch of annoyance in her voice. “You know the old rhyme, when Doris the sea witch appears, you needn’t be afeared…”

“Uh,” I said again. Definitely crazy. I took a step back. “No, sorry, I don’t know that one…”

“That’s a shame,” said Doris. “What are they teaching in schools nowadays? I know it’s been a few years since I was on land for any longer than a day, but do you mean your governess didn’t sing you that song?”

“Governesses haven’t been a thing for about a hundred years,” I said. Why was I still standing here talking to this woman? “Folk tales aren’t exactly big on the mainland anymore.”

“Folk tales!” huffed the sea witch. “Come now, I’ll show you what a folk tale I’m not!” She raised her hands and gestured to the water, and a small, tongue-like wave formed, different from all the other waves somehow, and glided towards us, bumping her gently on the bottom. She laughed and the wave seemed to wiggle. I stared. I’d seen ghosts before, of course I had, this was Linden for God’s sake, but water sprites? That was new.

Yeah, new, and if she kept up with this chatter, I’d never get to the Salty Dog in time to get Devon coffee. “Well, that’s just great!” I said brightly. “But I’ve got an appointment, so I’ve got to go now.” I backed up a few more feet. Maybe if I didn’t turn my back on her, she wouldn’t hex me. Or something.

“But aren’t you curious how I knew your name?” she replied, sighing, even as I kept backing up. “You humans always are. It’s in your natures to be curious, you sweet little things.” Then she stopped and shrugged. “Oh well. I can’t win them all I suppose. You go on, enjoy your day.”

“Oh,” I said. “Well… okay. Bye! Enjoy the… water.” (How did one end a conversation with a sea witch? There had to be some Wikipedia article on that.) I turned and strode up the beach toward the parking lot, frowning. The music had stopped on my phone during my conversation with Doris, but now that it was over, the music started up again, filling my ears with Devon’s songs. The sun was slowly rising higher in the sky, and I looked back to see Doris walking along the surf line, apparently having a rousing conversation with a crab. As I continued to watch them, Doris reached down, picked up the crab, and bit off his head. I smiled a little and shook my head. This was Linden, after all.

An hour later, I met Devon on the front porch. Just as I predicted, I had arrived at home too late to surprise her in bed with coffee. “Hey babe,” she said, wrapped up in her robe and two blankets, peeking out from under the blue and white striped duvet. “I got the strangest call while you were gone. Who’s Doris?”

“Someone I met on the beach during my run this morning,” I said, handing her her cup and sitting down next to her on the porch swing.

“Well, she’s just the nicest woman,” Devon said. “We should have her over for dinner sometime, she said you were really kind to her. What happened?”

“Oh,” I said. This was a turn. “We just chatted briefly as she was coming out of the water. I assume she likes fish…” Above my head, the conch shells on our wind chimes jingled with the cool spring breeze. Doris wasn’t done with me yet, that much was certain. Now, did I want to cook Dover sole or Lobster thermidor for her?