Monthly Archives: May 2017

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St Lucian’s Star

Earth, 2087

“I’m closed!” I didn’t look when the bell jingled on the front door. It was likely just Alma. Again. The 103-year-old woman could never keep track of her keys. Or her purse. Or her teeth. Locating another lost set of keys was not on my agenda for the evening, but saying no to Alma wasn’t an option. What she lacked in size and strength, she made up for in attitude. The majority of my referrals were from Alma. If I denied her once, most of my clients would go with her. Finding lost keys wasn’t very exciting, but it paid the bills. At least it would be quick and then I could go upstairs, get in my pj’s, eat cold pizza, curl up with Jake and read the latest Declan Finn novel.

I inherited the building that served as both my home and office a few years past when the gentlemen I was renting from died. He had left me everything, which wasn’t much beyond the building and a cabin at Spirit Lake. I sold the cabin and used the money to fix up the building and upgrade the outdated appliances. I didn’t have much, but I didn’t need much.

On the first floor, the front door opened into a hallway that led to two rooms. The larger of the two was my work room, where I entertained clients. The other was my closet sized office where I kept the records for my floundering locating service.

Troppe Recovery.
Nothing is too small to locate.

I could have more business if I had moved to a big city, like New York or Los Angeles, but I liked it in western Iowa. Leeds was quiet and within walking distance of everything I needed. Although, on occasion, I wished for a little excitement.

There were some things I couldn’t locate no matter how hard I tried. It didn’t stop people from asking though. I had little control over when my gift worked and when it didn’t. I was ten when my gift first became apparent. The nuns who ran the orphanage had at first thought I was possessed and tried to get the local priest to do an exorcism. Father Andrew was kind and saw my ability for what it was, a gift. He convinced the nuns that I needed protection from those who would abuse my gift. So, for the next eight years I was kept cloistered in a monastery, using my gift on rare occasions for the Church. The decision to use or not use my gift was left up entirely to me. I never refused, considering the Church and the nuns had done so much for me. Everyone had expected that I would eventually join the ranks of the nuns, but my heart was elsewhere. I was never a very good Catholic, even though the nuns tried.

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The Harsh Mistress

According to Hank Crandall’s GPS, the little house did not exist. The last home on this street was supposed to be number 87, but there it was: Number 89. Its white aluminum siding was in need of a good power wash, and the landscaping had gone to hell from neglect. As near as he could figure, 89 Cedarcliff Road was in his sales area.

He parked his old Toyota in the cracked, empty driveway and lugged the sample vacuum cleaner out of the back seat, through the overgrown grass, and up the stairs to the stoop. Looking at his reflection in the streaky glass of the storm door, he adjusted his tie and ran his hands through his mussed hair before ringing the bell.

It had been a slow month. His commission would be practically nil – which would make the big boss, Mr. Potts, happy. The lack of sales, however, would not do the same. Surely, someone wanted to buy the quality cleaning instrument which is the Velocity Vac 3700!

Maybe in this house.

The interior screen door was whisked open. The short, white-haired man had a surprised look in his eyes. He took a couple of cautious steps forward and eased the storm door open, which Crandall then held in place with his hip.

Hank launched into his sales pitch: “Good afternoon, sir,” he repeated by rote. “My name is Hank Crandall, and I represent Potts Industries, Inc., makers of the –”

“How did you get here?” the man interrupted nervously, his eyes darting about the outside world as though it was all new to him.

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The Case of the Unicorn

I wouldn’t have picked Miss Lawrence for a nut when she first sat down in my office. She held her back rigidly straight, as if she would be penalized for slouching, and her iron gray hair was shellacked into metallic curls. Her eyes behind her sensible glasses were sharp and fiercely intelligent, and although she dressed in classic little old lady style (navy blue dress twenty years out of style, the kind of shoes that only old ladies and old fashioned nuns wore), there was nothing of the sweet little old lady stereotype in her attitude.

So she surprised me by her opening remark, especially since she sat in the straight-backed chair for a whole minute, studying me, before she made it. “You’ll do,” she said. “I need someone to find my unicorn.”

I folded my hands on my desk. “A statue? Porcelain? Some kind of heirloom?”

She glared at me as if I’d exposed some unbelievable vein of stupidity. “No, of course not. A live unicorn. She disappeared yesterday and I must get her back.”

I chose my words carefully. “I don’t know, Miss Lawrence, where you got my name — “

“It’s none of your business,” she replied without hesitation.

” — But I’m a private investigator. I’m not a psychiatrist, I don’t do delusional clients, and I don’t have time to play games, with you or with anyone else.” I began to rise from my chair, to give her the idea, but she eyed me sharply. There was something about that gaze that told me this woman, in her prime, had probably terrorized whole rooms full of people. I sank back into my seat.

“Don’t pretend you don’t believe in unicorns,” she said, glaring at me. “I know you do. I know you’ve seen one yourself. I know you can still see them.”

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Shini-tai

Shintaro Oba rushed through the forest, his hand closed about the hilt of the heavy uchigatana he wore at his waist. Shouts, the crash of steel and the screams of stricken men had broken the tranquillity of the forest with such suddenness that the samurai found himself running towards the sounds of battle before he was even aware of what he was doing. A moment’s thought, however, spurred him to greater effort. Even in so civilized and settled a region of Mu-Thulan there were still gangs of bandits waiting to prey upon the unwary and renegade ashigaru willing to use murder to earn their gold.

As the samurai emerged from the trees, however, he found a very different scene than the one he had expected. Instead of the cart of some unlucky farmer or wandering merchant, he found a half-dozen shaven-headed monks surrounding a large sedan chair covered in yellow silk. Instead of bandits, Oba found that the attackers were something all together different. They had the rough appearance of men, but their skin was rough and leathery, faded into a dull crimson hue. Their faces were twisted, demonic visages with jutting fangs and scrunched, snout-like noses. Heavy straw cloaks drooped about their bodies and in their clawed hands they wielded a motley assortment of swords and axes.

Namahage! Oba recognized the beasts at once. As a warrior in service to the Sekigahara clan, he’d fought against such creatures in many campaigns. Long ages past, demons had sired offspring with human women. The namahage were the degenerate descendants of this profane lineage, mortal like men but possessed of the ruthlessness and evil drives of demons. Almost every mountain range throughout the empire was infested with tribes of namahage and it was rumoured that entire clans of the beasts lurked beyond the northern frontier. However fiercely the daimyo and hatamoto tried to exterminate them, the namahage would always manage to endure and return to raid villages and farms.

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The Last Winter

In his youth, Ozel came to seek the visions of the Milk-eyed Crone.

The Crone threw her bones and said ‘You live forever, boy. The tribes in the woods and across the sea will wonder at your undying, ever young flesh. Where others rot, you will rise.’

He lived his life with a head held tall ever after.

But witches lie, and the few truths they tell are only in service to greater suffering.

Her prophecies were no comfort when Mother Cold breathed death upon the land.

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