Harski licked each of his twelve fingers slowly in turn, relishing every drop of the sweet, sticky nectar. The harvest had been especially bountiful, more shining dark purple pods swelling to ripeness at the top of waxy lavender stalks than he had ever seen. The stalks were so heavy with nectar pods they bent toward the ground within easy reach. He had worked long and hard, carefully stripping the glistening globules without damaging the stalks.

The only problem was how to store all those pods. Harski had already filled his two favorite hollow logs and had almost filled a small, dry cave. The cave was far from the stalk field and the pods felt heavier with every trip he made there. He rarely returned to his nest, sleeping in the open under the three Moons to save time. If he hurried, he might be able to find a second cave before moonset to store the abundant nectar. There were still a handful of sleeps to go before he’d have to hunker down in the dark.

He spread his tattered lupt on the carpet of leaves in the shade next to the velvety red trunk of a hraffli tree. Lying on his back, Harski filled his lungs with the fragrant air then exhaled a contented sigh. He untucked his ear flaps, gave them a long, satisfying stretch, and brought them around to cover his eyes, blocking out the dim light filtering through the umbrella of yellow-orange leaves. He wondered if other dreffigs were having the same wonderful harvest in other stalk fields, enjoying full bellies, working hard until moonset. Did they dream, like him, of one day living in a colony with thousands of other Gwims instead of eking out a lonely existence harvesting and trading nectar?

Stop it. No colony wants dreffigs, only nectar. He drifted off, wondering what life in the Great Tree Colony was like, or if he might prefer the Mountain Rocks.

Harski woke with a start, instinctively thrusting his enormous ears straight up. He blinked his large, luminous black eyes, angled his head and twitched both ears searching for the source of the sound. For a moment, all he could hear was the fast thrump-thrumpity-thrump of his pounding heart.

Still a long time before moonset… His nostrils, two vertical slits above his wide mouth, vibrated with terror. Too soon for—

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In Another Life

Sarah was the only person still at the laboratory. Her obsession demanded that she be the last person to leave, and the first person there in the morning. Most nights she didn’t even go home at all — why should she? Not even a cat waited there to greet her.

Next to her monitor sat an old fashioned photo, with a print and a frame and everything. She did not want a digital device. Her heart could only handle a single picture. The blue light of the computer illuminated it so she could see it all hours of the night. Except for the dim emergency lights, her monitor provided the only bright light in the entire building at this hour. Darkness blanketed the rest of her office and the whole laboratory building. At 3am, only Sarah and her work existed. Not even Joe, the janitor robot, ventured away from his charging module at this hour.

The mahogany frame held a picture of Abram. Sarah glanced at it while she thought, and her chest constricted painfully. Why did she even keep it around? But every time she convinced herself to finally toss it in the trash, she turned and set it back on her desk instead.

He was a handsome man even though he had been twenty years older than her. Sandy hair, wireframed glasses, hazel eyes with laugh line crow’s feet. Even now she remembered every inch of his features. And he’d been an absolute genius. Sarah spent her life amongst people as far beneath her as a dog was beneath a human, but in him, she had finally found an equal.

It was perfect. Even their names were written in time – Sarah and Abram – the parents of descendants as numerous as the stars.

But he was gone now, lost to her. Everything they had planned for ended one awful day a decade before.

She would bend the universe to her will, do anything to have him back. The cost didn’t matter. Sarah Cowen always got what she wanted.

Sarah stared at the picture for a moment longer. The despair always lurking at the edge of her mind surged forward, threatening to consume her again. Angrily she slammed the picture face down on her desk, removing it from her sight. The glass covering the picture shattered from the force she used to knock it down. The breaking of the photograph barely registered with her. Breaking it was of little consequence now.

She would have the real Abram back soon enough, and wouldn’t need the picture any longer. She was so, so close to finally finishing it. So close to finally realizing their work.

And then she would get her happy ending, and it then the last ten years would never happen.

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A Day Without the Horned Goddess

As the druidesses scraped moss from her horns and hooves, Una realized she hated the Waking. From the shrill wail of the pipes which cut her from hibernation, she hardly had time to stretch and relieve herself before the druidesses came. The crown of woven twigs and throne of branches they brought prickled like fleas. As they carried her up into the highlands, the sun blanketed light on her still sleep-blurred eyes, and the winter-heavy wind sickled through her. The people awaited in the circle of standing stones on the rocky shore of Loch Glinnon. There they ululating wailed songs as she arrived. Una dutifully waved to them. They didn’t know any better, the druidesses least of all. They set her down closest to the lit hearth in the center of the henge. The warmth was welcome, until they brandished curved knives and began to rake clean her horns and hooves.

As moss was thrown into the hearth, the archdruidess stepped forth to proclaim something to the crowd. The words were too familiar to Una to register, but the villagers fell quiet. The archdruidess approached Una then, bowing her head and holding out a deep urn of milk. Una accepted it and raised it to her lips to drink. Then she’d walk, skyclad, to the Loch with winter still in the air, and pretend to enchant the water. As she’d done for decades. As Mum had done for centuries. As Mum had planned.

So Una gave the urn back.

The archdruidess looked up. The lesser druidesses exchanged uncertain glances. Head by head, the crowd began to uneasily shift and chatter. “Horned Goddess,” the archdruidess finally asked, “Is something amiss?”

“No,” Una answered. “I simply don’t want to do this.”

“But…” The woman fumbled for words. “The earth must wake, Horned Goddess.”

“Yes.” Una nodded slowly. “I just woke, too.”

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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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