As he looked around the room, a faint wisp of smoke trailed from his nose. Noticing that distracted him a moment, which he took to close his eyes and count to ten. Rein it in, he thought. I haven’t lived this long among them to be discovered by someone’s incompetence now. Slowly, he opened his eyes, and, while the view still made him want to roar, the only physical sign of his anger was the tightening of his shoulders. The wheelhouse was still a mess. His territory had been brutally invaded, and those who had come seeking didn’t even care enough to bother to clean up. It was as if they had wanted him to know they had been there.
There were maps scattered, and papers littering the floor. There was, inexplicably, some foul smelling liquid drenching the table, as well. Great; I’m going to have to clean up, before I can even clean up. He started feeling the fire in his body start burning hotter again, and clamped it down, before another smoke trail could escape. He sighed and gathered the nearest absorbent cloth he could find – someone’s uniform shirt – to wipe off the table. He stared at the shirt for a moment, wondering just what had happened in the room, before balling it in his hand and forcibly throwing it in a corner. His crew would have to wait until he was calmer before he attempted to find out what they thought they’d been doing. For now, he had to make some sense of the course schedule.
Assembling the maps, he slowly made progress, first noting which maps were pertinent for this particular haul, and putting the rest in a pile. Looking down at one – Aruba? Someone was dreaming big, buddy – he shook his head and decided they could definitely wait to be put away. Right now, he had to make sure they were on track.
Tackling the loosely strewn sheets of papers, he finished the clean up. Now to figure out where they were and where they were going. He grimaced. His crewmates should have known better. It might not look it, but this was a vital part of the ship. Plotting out the course was a vital job. To have had a party in here was not only against the rules, it was stupid. And, it was decidedly something mortals would do. He arched his back, in the vain attempt to sooth wings that yearned to fly away from the idiots – wings he hadn’t physically had in centuries. Unrelieved, he scowled at the paperwork in his hand, as if it had something to do with his foul temper, and threatening it would make everything better. It didn’t, of course, and he sat down to do his job.
A bit of static on the radio distracted him, some few hours later. There was, apparently, another ship in the area. A ship sending out a mayday. A ship they were going to attempt to go help, as they were the closest in the waters. He blinked at that, and then looked at the warning for the area they were in – Pirates.
Hop. Bounce. Wiggle the nose.
Round and round – stopping, where? no one knows.
Skip. Jump. Hold that pose.
Until we reach a piece of paper.
Brown. White. Purple. Black.
Pocket watch. We might be carrying a sack.
Top hat. Gray socks. We all look the same, Jack.
Until we reach a piece of paper.
And then, we weave the most impossible.
And then, we create love unstoppable.
And then, we are monsters improbable.
For we are ever the plot bunnies.
“Burning brightly today?” The question was posed, as it was every day, by the cynical Rabbit. His ear was dented, scuffed with the years of children treating him as some kind of furniture, and he felt that was reason enough for cynicism. I ignored him, as I had been doing the past decade. One could only take so much from a personality.
The children came, and went, and the laughter with them. None of us knew, exactly, what made us alive – if it was the laughter, the innocence, or maybe just the electricity of the bodies, but we knew that it was the children. We owed them our lives, and even Rabbit couldn’t completely hate them for it.
A child wailed, and a collective shudder ran through the collection of animals. The wail took, as it always did, from us. And the cries were as daily as Rabbit’s question. As inevitable as the lights coming on, the music playing.
We saw the children, and sometimes, we saw the children grow into adults and bring their own children, generation after generation giving us life. We heard innocent babies give gurgles of laughter, and children exchange first kisses. Rarely, we saw fights. We saw the best that humanity could offer. Until the day they turned off the music and dreams forever.
She stares at the tree and thinks “tinsel is supposed to shine. I think I bought defective tinsel.” The tree seems to be asking why she wasn’t covering it with the stuff. Her hand drops to her side, the silver threads spilling through numbed fingers. Looking down at the mess, she sees the ornament box in front of her and, with a muted shout, kicks it, then whirls, turning her back on the holiday disarray. Her shoulders are shaking with repressed tears.
“This wasn’t the way this year was supposed to go,” she whispers. “You were supposed to be here, with me, not in that damn country. Not for that damn war.” The radio plays Deck the Halls in the background, as if chastising her for not doing so. “I don’t want to do this by myself.” Her hand rests lightly on her rounded belly, “hell, I can’t even climb up the step stool to top the tree. You were supposed to do that.” Her voice breaks as she asks, “why couldn’t you have done that?” She walks away from the tree, defiantly leaving the mess, as if doing so would summon someone to clean it in apology.
Going to the window, she stares out, watching as fat flakes quietly drift from the dark sky. She wonders why she never before noticed how grimy snow was. It was as if a particularly dirty faerie was decorating the city, tonight. She startles as bells from the neighborhood church starts ringing, and catches herself counting. Sharply shaking her head, she turns from the window, and gazes around, eyes falling on the empty fireplace. “Maybe start there,” she murmurs and drifts over to the stockings.
Picking up a camouflaged mouse, a tear makes its way down her cheek. She squeezes the mouse, as anger surges in her again, and she briefly thinks about smashing it. The phone rings, as she raises her fist to do so. Her eyes snap to the black box, as she recognizes the tone. She hesitates, then makes a mad dash, praying that she’ll make it before the song is over. “Jayne?”
“Mags, it’s me. Gotta be brief, babe, there’s a line of guys wanting to use the phone. Brass changed their minds. Again. Looks like I can catch a flight at midnight, and be there by Tuesday. I know it’s not the same thing, but how about Christmas on the 26th?”
There was a red curl resting distractingly across her forehead, as I went to butter my toast. I watched as my hand reached over and brushed it back, then smiled as she impishly said, “You know that it’s only going to fall back into the same place, right?” I nodded, shrugged, and went back to my toast.
“So, I had a conversation with Shakespeare last night. He was complaining that Poe wouldn’t listen to anything but ‘emo kids and whining has-beens,’ I believe is how he put it.” The red curl, as predicted, fell back into the same place. I frowned. When we had met, Jenny’s hair had been straight and brown. Practical, without that damned curl. Now, two years later, it was neither practical, nor brown. As I gazed across the kitchen table at her, I wondered when things had changed so much between us.
“Pass the butter, please.” Automatically, I reached over and handed her the butter tray.
Looking down onto my own plate, I saw the same breakfast that I’d been having for the past year on Saturdays. Two pieces of bacon, two scrambled eggs, two pieces of toast, buttered. I gazed at Jenny, and saw that she was as intent upon her newspaper as a dog with a bone. “Of course,” I continued, “it doesn’t help that they share that apartment. I told them before moving in that they wouldn’t have enough space between the two of them, but there they were, determined to make it work. Now, Poe complains to me that his raven doesn’t like his roommate and keeps him up at night with ridiculous two-liners, and Shakespeare complains that he finds roadkill in his bed at night.” I sighed and took a bite of my eggs.
“Hand me the salt and pepper, would you dear?” I asked after tasting the too-bland eggs. Jenny’s right hand moved away from the newspaper, and, without looking, grabbed both the salt and pepper, mechanically handing them to me. I took them with a murmured “thanks,” as she made a kind of wave gesture and returned her hand to stabilize the paper.
“I asked the boys what we should do about our relationship. Poe was no help at all, of course. He asked me if you were dead, and I said no, to which he replied, ‘then what are you complaining about?’ Shakespeare said that I should write you poetry and fight to the death with someone over you. Would you like poetry?” Jenny’s brown eyes looked up from the paper and met mine, smiling a bit.
“Dear, would you mind terribly getting some OJ? I left it in the kitchen.” I shrugged, and, snagging a bit of bacon, made my way to the kitchen, grabbed the pitcher and walked back.
“Bacon’s a bit crisper than usual,” I informed her, before setting the pitcher down.
“Is it? Hmm.” She poured us both some juice, then returned to the paper.
“Maybe not poetry, then. How about a moonlit walk around the park? You used to love taking those little midnight picnics.” I took another bite of the eggs. “I miss you.” I whispered.
“Did you say something, dear?”
Henry was staring at my forehead. I could feel the look, even as intently as I was pretending to read the paper. I hated the new style, but curls were supposed to be sexy, and redheads were supposed to have more fun. I wanted to feel sexy again. And, he certainly seemed to pay more attention to my hair, so maybe he liked it. “Isteban and Johan are coming over for more Latin Salsa lessons today. I think that they’re starting to get along a bit better.” Henry frowned, I noticed out of the corner of my eye. I also noticed that he was finished buttering his toast, so now I could take my turn. “Pass the butter, please.”
Mechanically, Henry’s hand reached over and briskly shoved off the butter tray. I wondered if I’d already said something to bother him. “It doesn’t help that every time Isteban goes to tip me, he brushes his lips across my collarbone. It drives Johan crazy when he does that, which, I think, is part of the point. Of course, Johan doesn’t make things easy for Isteban, either, as he tends to try to mold me to his body when we’re dancing. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. They’re both so …pretty. In a masculine kind of way, of course.” Henry was trying his eggs now. I could have told him that they’d be too bland, but, just like every Saturday, he always had to try them before seasoning them.
“Hand me the salt and pepper, would you dear?” Henry asked, as I knew he would. Living with someone for a year and a half made you know some of their quirks, at least. My hand moved away from the newspaper, grabbed both shakers deftly, then passed them on to him. They were in the middle of the table, but he liked asking me for them. Murmuring something that might have been “thanks,” he took them and I returned to staring blankly at the paper.
“I asked the boys what we should do about our relationship. Isteban was no help, as he said that he didn’t want to talk of other men, that I should be making mad, passionate love every night, and if you didn’t want to, then he would be happy to. Johan was a bit better, although I don’t think that you’d ever write me poetry or get into a bar fight with someone to show your affections.” I looked down for my glass of juice, and noticed that I’d forgotten to bring it out. I dropped the paper I wasn’t reading anyway, and smiled sweetly at Henry.
“Dear, would you mind terribly getting some OJ? I left it in the kitchen.” He shrugged, and, snagging a bit of bacon, made his way to the kitchen, walking back with the juice a heartbeat later.
“Bacon’s a bit crisper than usual,” he muttered, before setting the pitcher down.
“Is it? Hmm.” I poured us both some juice, then hid back into the paper. “Do you remember when we used to take midnight picnics? I could tell how much you hated them, because we were up so late, but it was so romantic. Sometimes, I think to myself, that if we could just see the stars again, like we used to, that we’d be able to fix what’s wrong. I miss us.” I looked down at my hands, and heard him mutter something. “Did you say something, dear?”
I blinked, then reread the last sentence. It still didn’t make sense to my mind, but then, humans seemed to delight in confusing me. I tried going back a few paragraphs, then reading up until the sentence that had both confused me and delighted so many. It still read “he sparkled.” A faint whimper resonated through my closed mouth, as my lips folded down into a frown.
I looked into the mirror, and faced my reflection. For thousands of years, I had been the thing of legends, ever since I had killed my brother. I’d have gone insane far before now, had it not been for the game I’d invented to while away the time. For each legend that humanity had created about me, I’d play to the stereotype. It had been interesting, and had allowed me the chance to recreate myself over and over again.
So, okay, the Greeks thought that I was a woman, and the Chinese thought that I ate souls, and after that one night having had too much to drink, I’d actually tried out those myths about myself, but other than that, it had been pretty enjoyable.
Then, the middle ages had happened, and I was being served garlic left and right. It was almost enough to make me go to the Americas, where they didn’t have the herb, but being as pale as I was, I figured that that wouldn’t be a wise decision. So, I toughed it out, and, eventually, things got better.
The legends seemed to forget about me, for awhile, until a new author came up with an idea that would fester in the minds of horror writers to come. I sighed, thinking of the catastrophe that had been. I’d had to buy a castle, then train dogs to howl at every little thing. The women I got to dress up in scanty clothes made not sleeping at night totally worth it, though. By then, I’d already given up red wine, having had my fill of it in the middle ages, and having to go back to that was almost hell itself. It was better than the alternative, however. As much as I enjoyed my game, drinking blood simply wasn’t something I’d ever gotten used to.
I grew comfortable in my lonely, and expensively heated castle, and thought that things were on the up, when technology boomed around me, and they created a monstrosity called movies. I shuddered as I thought about what had happened because of those moving pictures.
Suddenly, it was all I could do to keep up with the various legends. I cut my hair, styled it into a widow’s peak, dyed it black, used my mind powers to look monstrous, in one town, I attempted living in the sewers. I’ll never do that one again, I’ll tell you that.
All in all, I’ve had thousands of transformations. The latest one was actually pretty enjoyable. I got to dress up like a rock star, and allow women to fawn over me. My voice has always been suitable for singing, so this persona was probably one of the most natural and, well, fun. Certainly a far cry above dining on rodents.
But then, this book was written. I sighed and scowled at the novel in question. It seemed that the rock star days were over, as the media was now clamoring over this freak show. Then, slowly, I picked up the cellphone my last reincarnation had been hip enough to purchase, and dialed up my personal assistant. Ah, the perks of being a rock star. He picked up on the second ring.
“Yeah, it’s me,” I growled into the phone. “Who else has this number? Know what? Nevermind; I don’t want to know.” I took a deep breath, then plunged into the real reason I was calling. “We don’t happen to have any of those sparkling lotions, do we? And, while we’re at it, what do you know about baseball?”