At Second Sight

Never judge a book by its cover. That’s what the boss says.

I suppose as sayings go, it isn’t all that deep. C’mon they’ve got board books and puppets singing catchy songs about it to toddlers. By the time they’re old enough not to crap their pants, they’ve moved on to other things, like look both ways before crossing the street. But it’s still true. You can’t tell by looks who’s going to be a good candidate and who isn’t.

Take tonight for instance. A group of high school girls come giggling up to the fun house. You’d think the one hanging back a bit, the one with a nervous laugh, who looks like she’s about to twitch right out of her skin will be the one who sees. Sometimes, you’d be right, but not tonight. No, it’s the one who seems to be leading the group, acting like the only thing she’s scared of is chipped nail polish. She sees.

Not right away though. She doesn’t notice a thing when I hand her back change for her ticket in – and she shouldn’t because part of what I’m paid for is to look ordinary. But while she’s in there, she sees. She sees something behind the strings holding up the fake zombies. She’ll notice something weird in the reflections in mirrors. She’ll see there’s something not really fake about the fake blood.

And I’ll see it. That’s the other part of what they pay me for. I always see and I always remember the ones who just know there’s something underneath the popcorn smell and peeling paint, whether they want to admit it to themselves or not.

Like I said, it’s a different kind of person every time. You’d think little kids would always see but they don’t. They do have a better chance than the average adult, but that’s no guarantee. And of the adults, sometimes it’s the guy in a business suit, sometimes it’s the gothed out punk. You never know on first sight, but you can see it when they leave, if you know what to look for.

I know. And I tell. Then the boss sends the others to collect. It’s pretty smart when you think about it. Why bother with people who can’t see a damn thing? There’s not even any fun in that. But if you know already who can see? Oh yeah, makes getting what you need a lot more efficient. You know the screams will come easy with them.  

Song choice: I'll Be Seeing You

This bit of flash fiction was inspired by the picture prompt at Magpie Tales.

An Excerpt from Titi Rina's Journal

Anna looks like any other little girl when she’s asleep. It’s funny how in some ways she reminds me of Angela, when she was little. There are so many ways Anna is different from mi hermanita, though energy level isn’t one of them.  I wondered if Anna would stay up all night. But she’s out like a light now.

I thought Angela and Fernando would be the hardest to convince to let her stay over. But they were so thrilled to have an evening to themselves, that it didn’t seem to matter that they normally think of me as strange, and possibly not the greatest role model for their imaginative child. Maybe this was an olive branch from Angela for the years we spent not talking to each other. 

No, it was Yuuki who had difficulty letting Anna stay by herself. I don’t know what I expected Ajani to find when I asked him to investigate the presence I felt, but realizing that Fernando has Japanese ancestors if you go back far enough, and by the way, hundreds of years ago one of them managed to trap a fox spirit into serving them, was a little bit of a shock. Oh and said fox spirit had questions about me. And my ability to protect my own niece.

So yeah, I showed off a thing or two. Magdalena would have been proud. The fox seemed satisfied enough to go with Ajani to Philly tonight, doing whatever fae in a city do.

I guess it’s fair to say I have my doubts about Yuuki too. Yeah, I believe that there's genuine affection there. But I’ve done a little research. How far can a creature known for tricks and general mischief be trusted with the welfare of a child, even when they do mean well?

Anna adores Yuki. Even her taste in cartoons shows that (tonight’s feature was Anna’s choice – some Japanese cartoon where a little girl goes into a fae world with a giant bathhouse at its center).

But does she know this world isn’t as cute as a cartoon one? And that for every Yuuki there are things that don’t care she’s only a little girl and wouldn’t hesitate to cause her harm?

Tonight between cartoons, pizza, and toenail painting I taught her some basics. How to ground, center and most importantly, shield. She took to it quickly, just another fun game for her and her crazy Tía to play. I tucked her in and reminded her to do it again before sleeping because it would help keep nightmares away. She told me she never worried about that before. Yuuki always keeps her safe. And she said she knew that I would too.

It would have been nice to have someone like that when I started seeing and feeling things. It was months before I understood what was happening to me, before I found Magdalena. And it was years before I felt competent enough to deal with it. There was no fox spirit standing at the gate for me to make sure the dead were at least polite when they tried to get my attention.

I’m looking out the window now. The usual assortment of ghosts are there, flitting around, trying to get someone to listen, and annoyed at that heavy shield I have up. I'm grown though, so they’re mostly harmless, just annoying. There’s one, a little bolder than the others, who is floating right at the edge of my shield. When she noticed me looking, she put a finger to her lips.

I don’t know if Anna has a hard time sensing the dead, the same way I have a hard time sensing fae, but I don’t feel like finding out now. I let them know that for tonight at least, I’m not taking any visitors, even the ones I do know, no matter how quiet they promise to be.

But I think I’ll check on Anna one more time before I go to sleep.

This bit of flash fiction was written as a response to the picture prompt given by Magpie Tales. For previous stories about Anna and Yuuki, check here

Tea With Grandmother

For Sarah, who wanted more of the story and for Max, who approved

Xander and Emma approached the door of the sprawling mansion carefully. The ragged looking human thrall at the gate let them pass without a question. Even if his tongue hadn’t been ripped out, he would have done so; Grandmother taught all of her servants to recognize her beloved grandbabies.

Xander ran a hand through his hair, hoping it would achieve the careless yet fashionable look his grandmother favored.

“Relax,” Emma said, catching the motion. “She’ll definitely help. She probably won’t even tell Mother. Are my pigtails straight?”

“Pigtails? You’re worried about your stupid pigtails. It’s not as if she wouldn’t take you out to any place you wanted to get your hair done.”

“But that’s so boring! Besides, anytime we go out together she’s always the scariest one. No one even pays attention to me.”

“Is that all you care about?”

The door opened, silencing their argument instantly. The servant that escorted them in was of a higher mental caliber than the one that greeted them at the gate. The creases in his butler’s uniform looked sharp enough to cut skin.

“Master Xander, Mistress Emma your Grandmother is waiting in the conservatory for you.”

“Thank you Bradford,” Xander snapped, all his nervousness replaced with impatient surliness.

The children walked through the foyer and down the long corridor towards the conservatory at the back of the manor. Emma stopped to look at the paintings. They were one of her favorite parts of Grandmother’s house. Every wall bore multiple images of Grandmother enjoying some great triumph. Emma had been told that she favored her Grandmother in looks, so she loved to imagine them as future glories of her own. She was particularly fond of the one where a very youthful Grandmother was caressing the head of a recently deceased American colonialist. A dainty trickle of blood highlighted Grandmother’s serene, deep ruby colored smile, her content look deeply contrasting with the agonized expression of the head in her lap.

A cough from Bradford pulled Emma out of her reverie. Bradford’s face showed no trace of annoyance but Xander’s expressed enough for the both of them. Emma just smiled and skipped to catch up with them.

The tea table was set up in the center of Grandmother’s conservatory filled with night blooming flowers from all over the world. Vines twined themselves around four large pillars around the center area and up to form a canopy of green dotted with pale pink blooms. Emma ran to the table when she saw her favorite included among the delights displayed.

“Eyeballs!” she shouted.

“Come give us a hug my darling before you start gobbling things up like a wild creature! Really dear, you need to compose yourself more as you get older,” Grandmother said.

“Grandmother Amaryllis,” Xander with a formal bow. He hugged his Grandmother with more restraint than his sister had. After an enthusiastic hug Emma sat down and began scooping eyeballs onto her plate.

“Xander, you’ve gotten so tall and handsome."

Xander just nodded. He never knew what to say to things like that and thought it’d just be easier to agree with her until he got around to asking her his question. He sat down. Emma had already poured herself half a cup of Earl Grey tea and was beginning to fill the other half with milk and sugar. 

Xander saw his Grandmother’s right eye twitch ever so slightly at the 5th cube of sugar Emma added to her cup. He supposed he’d have to have some tea to make his Grandmother happy, but Earl Grey tasted like perfume to him and the surrounding scents from all the night blooming flowers didn’t help. He was about to reach for it when a maid came to the table bearing a small teapot and placed it besides his setting.

“It’s a special lemon blend,” his Grandmother explained. “Your mother said you much prefer it. Honey with your tea Xander dear? Emma darling, stop putting the eyeballs into your teacup.”

Xander turned to thank the maid, letting his eyes linger a bit longer on her than he intended. It wouldn’t do to let his Grandmother see that! He hoped that she was too busy scolding Emma to notice (her pigtails were in fact not straight enough for Grandmother’s standards). He poured tea into his cup and took a scone, spreading it thickly with Grandmother’s special clotted jam. Its warm metallic taste always settled him a bit when he was tense. Now if he could just think of a good way to ask Grandmother Amaryllis for help…

“Xander has something to ask you,” Emma said with a mouthful of ladyfingers and cream.

“Emma, you jerk!”

“What?” Emma said, crunching on the remains of a last ladyfinger. “You need help and Grandmother won’t say no.”

“What’s this Xander?” Grandmother asked. “Darling, you musn’t keep things from me. You know I will always help if I can. Now what is making my sweet boy look so sour?”

“Emma,” he growled. Emma laughed.

“Manners Emma. No laughing with your mouth full.”

“But if I laugh with my mouth closed and full of food I could choke and die.”

“Nonsense sweeting, you’re already dead. Xander, I mean it. I will find out sooner or later so you had best tell me now.”

Xander looked at his plate and mumbled. “Back at our house. In the basement.”

Grandmother Amaryllis called for Bradford to bring the car around and soon she, Xander and Emma arrived at the children’s house.

Together they looked at the corpulent, trembling man bound in the basement.

“That’s a senator,” his Grandmother said.

“I know,” Xander replied, his scowl intensifying.

“This is not a good idea. Do you know why?” his Grandmother asked.

“Ooh! Ooh! Because he’s still alive and it’s bad to waste food. You should let me eat him while Xander watches as punishment,” Emma said.

“No dummy,” Xander yelled. “By the night, stop speaking. It’s infuriating!”

He calmed himself down and looked at his Grandmother. “Because we have to choose our victims carefully so that no one notices too much and a senator going missing is big news.” Xander looked at the man with disgust. “But Grandmother, he told lies!”

“My pet, all politicians do! You can’t go about killing them every time they do.”

“Xander lost his temper. Xander lost his temper,” Emma sang.

“Shut up Emma!”

“That will do Emma,” Grandmother said and Emma fell silent. “Alright, I can settle this matter quite easily. Bradford, take the children back to the manor so they can enjoy the rest of their tea snacks. Oh and call my personal stylist. Emma, it’s time to get your hair trimmed again, it’s looking scraggily.”

Xander smirked at Emma’s pout. “Thank you Grandmother.”

She waved him off. “Of course sweeting. That’s what grandmothers are for! Now run along with Bradford and enjoy your tea. This won’t take too long.”

After they left, Grandmother smiled at the senator. “My grandson is right. You tell a great deal of lies. I was going to have some of my people contact you to see if there were some mutually beneficial arrangements we could come to. Nothing too outrageous. I have several ongoing agreements with many of politicians. But I’m afraid this will complicate things.” She smiled, showing her fangs off to full advantage. “You have two choices. One you chose to work with me as I originally intended. I shall still have to punish you for my dear Xander of course. I’ll just remove your right arm so I can give it to him as a gift. Don’t worry. I have mages on retainer that can conjure you a new one. Of course, it won’t really work as well as your original one, but it will do. Refuse me, and your head will be found in some desert somewhere after I have evidence planted that you were secretly dealing with a drug cartel. It will look as if you meant to cross them so they had to retaliate. Which do you chose?”

The senator’s eyes were blank and glassy. Grandmother put her ear to his chest. “How dare you have a heart attack while I am speaking to you!”

Grandmother Amaryllis contemplated the body. Emma was right. It was a shame to waste good food and the senator looked like he held plenty of blood. She barely touched any of her tea snacks and was rather hungry. Yes, it would be easiest to just arrange for his body to be found someplace since he expired of natural causes, more or less, but it would also be quite helpful to carry out her head in the desert scenario as a warning to some of her other human associates. Plus there was that issue at lunch she needed to deal with.

She rummaged through her purse to pull out her cellphone. “Bradford, please come back around and bring my machete. Oh and please bring the maid that attended us at tea today. No, no, I don’t mean to kill her. If she had flirted with Xander it would be a different thing completely. I just would like her to help me with this body so she understands what happens to people who vex me. My grandson will marry a vampire with wealth and impeccable standing if I have anything to say about it. Thank you.”

This post is part of Holly's Horrorland's Blog Party, Vampire Day Soiree and is the second story about Xander and Emma. You don't need to have read the first to enjoy this one, but if you'd like to check it out, it's here.

Song Choice: Look at Grandma by Bo Diddley

Hallowed Be Thy Flip Flops

The door shut behind him. Sal realized how poorly the water company uniform fit him. He crossed himself as the imposing woman glowered at him.

“You are not the Mother’s Helper I requested,” she said.

“You – you said come in. When I knocked. You told me to.”

Her hair billowed around her, though there wasn’t a trace of breeze in the air today. The same enigmatic wind held up the see-through pink cloth doing a poor job of hiding her butt. A pair of dollar store flip flops finished her look. For a second, her boobs were hidden by the canister vacuum cleaner she held, but when she turned to look at him everything was in full view.

Had Sal not been petrified, the word MILF might have come to mind.

“What is your purpose here? Be quick about it! I have a full afternoon ahead of me and an even longer evening.  I can’t afford lengthy interruptions.”

“I, um, I…” Sal strained to remember what he wanted to say.

A small child floated into the room, outfitted similarly to his mother but his cloth streamed out behind him like a cape. He was contemplating an action figure held in his chubby fist until he saw Sal standing at the threshold. “No poems can please for long or live that are written by water drinkers.  Horace,” the child said.

A second child swooped in, this one holding a torch as well as an action figure. “In the world there is nothing more submissive and weak than water. Yet for attacking that which is hard and strong nothing can surpass it.  Lao Tzu.” He flew at his brother with the action figure in front of him. The two started rough housing in midair.

“Boys!” The Mother dropped the vacuum and grabbed them both by the cape. The wriggling children didn’t seem too bothered by this and continued to mash their figures into each other until the Mother took the toys and the torch from them.

One child pouted, looked at Sal and said, “Heavy hearts, like heavy clouds in the sky, are best relieved by the letting of a little water. Christopher Morley.”

Sal remembered why he came and blurted out. “I’m here from the water company. I need you to turn off all your water so that I can check your pipes.”

The halo around the Mother flared, blinding Sal for a moment.

The children’s giggles broke the silence. “Three groups spend other people's money: children, thieves, politicians. All three need supervision. Dick Armey,” one said.

“In a closed society where everybody's guilty, the only crime is getting caught. In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity. Hunter S. Thompson,” the other said.

“Oh for the love of Me! Really? REALLY? Do I look like someone who would fall for a scam like that? Ugh! I don’t have time for this!”

The Mother pointed at Sal and an action figure clattered to the ground where he once stood.

One of the children picked up the new action figure and floated to the Mother, laying a hand on her shoulder. “Time is a game played beautifully by children. Heraclitus.”

She took the figure from her son and smiled. “Oh, I guess it’s not like Elpis has not seen a disordered house before. I can be a little late to that earthquake.”

Her other child nodded, “A mother is a person who seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie. Tenneva Jordan.”

Sal said, “Pie…um, pipes, um… yeah, you know I think your pipes are OK ma’am. I’ll just go now…”

The Mother smiled. “No."

This story is based on the picture prompt given by Magpie Tales 257