Monday, 22 May 2017

Ch 9. Crazy People


As usual, there is adult language ahead, and this is a first draft, so expect some errors. I couldn't find a good place to break this chapter into more manageable chunks, so I decided to post the whole shebang.


Feel free to comment below, and thanks for reading!





“This is my only rain jacket!” said Dimitri, glaring at the jagged piece of metal in his shoulder.

He gripped the rod, and without ceremony, yanked it free. For the next twenty seconds what followed was an exhaustive treatise on the many uses of the word, “fuck.”

When he was finished, Dimitri held up the sheared off length of metal in front of Stirling’s nose. “Do you have any idea how much that just cost?”

Cost? What the hell was that supposed to mean? Stirling looked closer at the protruding bit of metal to see if he could gain any insight there. He didn’t. It was galvanised threaded rod, maybe a centimetre thick, it’s tip coated in blood for a good ten centimetres. Beyond that, it was a regular piece of metal he wouldn’t think twice about if he saw it on the side of the road. He looked back up at Dimitri. “Doesn’t that hurt?”

Dimitri looked at him flatly for a beat. “Well, duh.

Dimitri unbuckled himself from his seatbelt and popped the hood release under the dash before stepping out of the wrecked car. He stumbled over the half-concealed door that was sticking out from, under the car and gave it a spiteful kick.

Stirling grabbed his box of books and followed him outside. The little car was an absolute mess. The front bumper and driver’s door were simply missing, the back end had been smashed on all three sides, and three long rents of torn metal ran from where the driver side door used to be all the way to the demolished rear bumper.

Dimitri didn’t pause to be impressed at the state of the car, instead, he started to run his fingers under the edge of the hood looking for the release.

“I think it’s going to need more than an oil change to get back one the road,” said Stirling.

“A comedian, huh?”

Dimitri wrenched hard on the hood a few times before if sprung free of the twisted frame. His shoulder didn’t seem to be giving him any problems. Maybe Stirling was just a pansy, but he didn’t think he’d be taking the injury as well as Dimitri was.

“Hold this,” said Dimitri, waving his phone in Stirling's direction. Stirling put his box down and directed the little light on the back of the phone at the engine. Dimitri took an object out of his pocket that looked like a thin metal pencil and leant over the hot radiator.  He gingerly reached an arm into the metal and rubber guts of the car with the stylus. Stirling couldn’t see what he was doing, but he heard the distinct sound of metal scratching on metal.

Whatever he needed to do didn’t take long, because a few seconds later Dimitri straightened and let the hood fall back into place.

“Come on, we need to go. A trip over the bridge isn’t going to slow Rag and Bone down for long. We need to get gone.”

Dimitri led him away from the lights of Hastings and into a darkened residential neighbourhood. The dripping branches of old trees overhung the streets making them into tunnels. As they walked, Stirling noticed that Dimitri was paying close attention to the cars parked on the road.

“So Rag and Bone, who are they? A failed nineties porn act or something?”

“That’s funny. I need to remember that one.” Dimitri kept walking and eyeing the cars they passed.

“Seriously, who are they?”

Dimitri turned his head to look at him in disbelief. “Really? You’re joking, right?”

Stirling shrugged and shook his head.

“You’re serious?”

“I am serious.”

 “So, what are you, some kind of shut-in? I thought everyone knew about Madame Rag and Mister Bone. The Two Stations Massacre? The Bloody Snatchers? The Fitzgerald Assassination? None of this ringing a bell?”

“Nope, you got me there.”

A look of suspicion began to creep onto Dimitri’s face. “Wait a second, what exactly did Rag want with you at that restaurant?”

“She wanted to make me an offer I had to refuse.”

“What kind of offer?”

“The usual, the money, the power, the women,” he finished the last few words a bit wistfully.

“Uh huh. And what did she want in return for all that?

Stirling looked at him. Dimitri was fishing, and Stirling thought—hoped he knew what he was fishing for. “She wanted me for my enormous unit, of course” he said.

At the words, he let his mental barriers relax just a fraction. A faint ripple of cold expanded away from him like a skim of ice forming in still water.

Dimitri flinched like someone had sneaked up to him in a dark alley and whispered, “you sure have a purdy mouth,” directly into his ear.

“Fuck! Was that you?!”

“Well, I don’t like to toot my own horn, but yeah.”

“At least you’re not a straight. I thought I might have grabbed the wrong guy, you not knowing about Rag and Bone.”

“That was fucking creepy, by the way. Do not do that around me again. Dimitri chafed his forearms and gave him a dark look.

Dimitri began to drift across the street to where a newer model Jeep SUV was parked. After a quick once over, he pulled his phone from his pocket and without dialling, put the glowing screen to his ear.
“How does this one look?”

“Huh?” asked Stirling, eloquently.

A moment later, the Jeep’s lights flashed, the doors unlocked, and the engine started.

“Wasn't talking to you. Let’s go,” said Dimitri, putting words to action and climbing into the driver’s seat.

Stirling eyed the empty street and walked quickly to his door. He hoisted himself and his office box of notebooks into the passenger seat and buckled himself in a bit more quickly than he might have done normally.

Dimitri pulled away from the curb and accelerated smoothly down the rain-slick street.

“How did you do that? That was amazing,” said Stirling.

“It’s my knack, I’m a technomancer. What’s yours by the way? I’ve never felt a trick like that one you threw out in the street.”

“My what now?”

“Your knack, what’s your knack?”

“That’s what I thought you said. What do you mean when you say, ‘knack?’”

“Are you fucking with me?!”

“Not fucking with you. Also, did you know you say ‘fuck’ a lot?”

“You’re about to hear it a lot more if you don’t start answering my fucking questions!”

“Fine, you let me know what a knack is, and maybe I can give you an answer.”

“You know, your knack, what’s in your wheelhouse? What’s the voodoo that you do best?”

Stirling nodded at him, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Do not fuck with me!”

“I’ve already told you, I’m not fucking with you. What is this? Some kind of homoerotic reverse psychology?”

“What?!”

“Listen to me,” said Stirling, pointing back the way they had come. “That psycho bitch in the Cadillac is only the second person I ever met who knew about magic, and the first one refused to tell me shit.”

“Bullshit. Someone had to teach you.”

“I taught me.”

“Nobody just teaches themselves.”

“How come?”

“Because only crazy people believe in magic,” said Dimitri.

“Who’s fucking with who now?”

“I’m serious. You have to be crazy to believe in magic.”

“Yeah, well, that little Honda shouldn’t have been able to do a hundred and ninety down the highway either. Don’t try and tell me you don’t do magic.”

“Yeah, so?”

“So, are you crazy then?”

“No, but I’m not claiming I taught myself either. Magic isn’t something people should be able to do.”
“I’ve got some pretty damn compelling evidence against that statement.”

“You’re not getting it,” said Dimitri.“Look, I’ll give an example. What happens when you tell a stone to burn?”

“Uh, nothing. Stones aren’t known for being all that flammable.”

“Exactly. You can tell a stone to burn as many times as you want, but it’ll never do anything but sit there and be a stone. A cold, boring-ass stone. That’s reality. Reality is always there, and it’s always turned on.”

“Okay, I’m with you  so far.”

“Magic is not only about making the stone burst into flames, or fly, or whatever, it’s about absolutely believing that you live in a world where that stone should do those things. You can’t do magic without the absolutely uncluttered faith that it’ll work.”

“So, ponder this,” Dimitri went on, turning the wheel and smoothly accelerating back onto Hastings. “What are the chances that you’re that one rare person out of all the tens of thousands who has the inborn ability to do magic. Then, out of that tiny number, you also happen to believe that the laws of the universe just don’t apply to you. In your world, stones should burn, cats should fly, in short, it’s the world of a crazy person. That belief is what it would take to teach yourself magic.”

“So how did you learn then?”

“Somebody showed me. Seeing is believing. Now, would you like to change your story?”

“No, but I have a question.”

“Okay, shoot.”

“Well, if magic is so difficult to learn, how come people can do magic at all?”

“Simple,” said Dimitri, “people panic, they get amazingly pissed, or sometimes they just flip out.”
“Well gosh, that clears everything up.”

“Just listen,” said Dimitri. “When people panic, their brain stops working.” He took his hands off the wheel to make a head exploding gesture. “It’s basic biology, fight or flight. People losing their shit is actually the main reason most people throw their first trick. War zones, natural disasters, places like those are where you’ll find lots of new talent.”

“And PTSD.”

“That too. When the shit hits the fan, the need to keep breathing overrules everything, including a rational understanding how the world should work. It’s why you see so many non-religious people suddenly get godly in a crisis. Praying never worked before, but when you’re grasping at straws what have you got to lose?”

“But back to what I was talking about, so there you are, a tornado bearing down on your double-wide and you just happen to be one of the rare people that have some kind of magical ability. Cows are flying through the air like migrating geese, you freak, and poof! spontaneous magic. The tornado passes, and despite everyone else being sent on a one-way trip to the Great Beyond, you’re somehow still alive”

“People will call it a fluke, or maybe a miracle depending on their religious convictions. What they won’t do is claim it was magic, because only people who are nuts believe in magic.” He eyed Stirling significantly.

“So, where’s the problem? People do magic, I already know that. I do magic. Are you arguing or agreeing with me?”

“The problem is, is that’s panic magic. It’s completely uncontrolled and spontaneous. You never know what’s going to happen with panic magic. There’s huge difference between someone freaking out and deflecting bullets, and throwing a trick on purpose. That shit takes some serious skill and dedication.”

“To do real magic you need three things; The ability, the skill to shape a trick, and the belief that it’ll work. They call it the Magic Triangle. Putting all three of those things together without a teacher just doesn’t happen.”

“Sure, that all sounds good,” said Stirling, “but it’s the chicken and the egg argument. Somebody had to figure it out for themselves. If they did, why not me? You can’t have anyone to teach you if nobody knows, and if nobody figured it out to begin with, there’s no magic, and I think we both know that’s bullshit.”

“Alright, fine, I don’t know how the very first person to do controlled magic learned. What I do know, is that without the skill, the faith, and the knowledge, you get squat. If you’re claiming you taught yourself magic, you at least need to start with the faith, and that kind of belief doesn’t happen unless you’ve seen something to make you believe in magic, or unless you’re batshit, barking, crazy.”

“Oh, I’ve seen some arcane shenanigans. I’ve seen shit that you wouldn’t believe.”

“See, I knew it had to be something. Fess up, who was it?”

“It wasn’t a who, and it’s a bit creepy.”

“Half of all magic is creepy. If you cut out the tricks that need bodily fluids to work, you’d be cutting my list in half. Seriously, the ability to do magic should come with an economy-sized roll of paper towels and a jug of brain bleach. I’ve been doing this for years, I can take it. Lay it on me.”

“I can tell when people are going to die.”

Dimitri was quiet for a moment. He poked at the radio until a station he liked came on, before finally saying, “You’re right, that’s creepy.”

The PNE fairgrounds scrolled past on their right, the wooden roller coaster and rides were silhouetted against the light from North Vancouver. Stirling decided that if he was going to tell some of it, he might as well go all in.

“And you know when I did that thing you didn’t like? The thing you asked me not to do again?”
“Yeah, what about it?”

“I do that. All the time.”

Dimitri looked over at him. “You’re not doing it now.”

“No, right now I’m concentrating on not doing it. It’s like trying to stop pee in mid-stream. I can do it, but when I stop concentrating wham! Magic pee all over the place.”

“Wow, that was needlessly graphic. I’m afraid to ask, but anything else you need to tell me?”

“Well, I can see ghosts, but I bet a lot of people can.”

“No, they can't.”

“Really? Even people who do magic?”

“Yeah, even them. Especially them,” he added darkly. “Anything else?”

“Well, maybe.”

“What is it?”

“Ghosts explode when I touch them. Also, they all hate me.”

“Ghosts hate you.”

“Ever since the time I blew one of them up by accident.”

“You blow up ghosts by accident,” Dimitri said, deadpan. “This keeps getting better.”

“I went to shake his hand and bam! no more ghost. Ever since then, they swear at me, flip me off, try and distract me when I’m crossing the street, that kind of thing.”

They pulled to a stop at a red light and Dimitri began softly banging his head against the steering wheel.

“You alright?”

“No, I’m about as far from alright as I can be right now.”

“Want to talk about it?”

“Not really.”

“It might help.”

“You might not know this since we just met and all, but I’m not really a ‘talk it out’ kind of guy. Just shut up for a minute, I need to think about this.”

The light turned green and they continued down Hastings. Dimitri drummed on the steering wheel while he glared out into the rainy night before violently shaking the wheel and shouting, “That bitch!”

“What bitch?” asked Stirling.

“Aleph. She set me up!”

“Who’s Aleph?”

“One of the lesser deities that hangs around here."

“A deity? Really? Like a goddess?”

“That’s what a deity is. This one has set herself up as a kind of go-between for the straights and the freaks like us. Thinks it's her job to keep us all in line.”

“Is it?”

“Nobody asked her to, but yeah, maybe,” he said, starting to calm down a bit. “I’ve heard she works for the Duke’s Own.”

“The who?”

“The magic police.”

A suspicion began to form in Stirling’s mind.

“Ever since I found my name on Rag and Bone’s shopping list of people to grab, I’ve been maintaining a low profile. Aleph heard I was missing and tracked me down last night in Richmond. She gave me your name to add to my list, said those two were after you as well.”

“This Aleph? Hot, long dark hair, wears sunglasses at night like Corey Heart?”

“You’ve met her?”

“Remember I told you I met someone who wouldn’t tell me anything about magic?”

“I knew it! That manipulative, sneaky, asshole. She led me by the nose right to you!”

“So? What’s wrong with that?”

“There aren’t many laws in the community, but the ones we have, you don’t break if you know what’s good for you. One of the big ones is that if you discover someone who can do magic you bring them from the cold in to show them the ropes. It’s called being a sponsor.”

“How come she isn’t my sponsor then? Nothing against you, man, but if I had a choice of a hot goddess and you, it’s going to be the hot goddess every time.”

“The rules are a bit different when it comes to god-like beings, they have to be careful about interacting with us mere mortals. If they find someone, they’re supposed to use proxies. Guess who just got tricked into becoming hers?”

“Well, alright you got tricked, but I’m not a bad guy. Just show me what buttons not to press, and if you want I’ll be out of your hair in no time.”

“You still don’t get it.” Dimitri sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. “People who use magic come in a bunch of different flavours. We call them knacks. A knack is the magic that they’re naturally most talented at. The main categories for these knacks are: diviners, elementalists, mystics, enchanters, alchemists and necromancers.”

Stirling counted them off on his fingers as Dimitri listed them. “Demean?”

“What?”

“When you list them like that it makes an acronym that spells ‘Demean.’"

“Thank god you told me that! Can you focus, please? Out of that whole list of knacks I just gave you, which knack sounds like it might stick to you?”

“So I’m a necromancer?”

“Bingo! And for a follow-up question, guess which knack comes with a bad reputation and a not-quite-secret bounty in the head of anyone claiming to be one?”

“I’m going to go with mystics. They sound shifty as balls in boxers if you ask me.”

“You’d be wrong,” said Dimitri, scowling. “On both counts.”

They slowed and stopped for another red light. A homeless man slowly walked the street divider next to them. He held up a damp cardboard sign asking for change in black marker.

“So, here’s me,” Dimitri continued, his voice sounding a bit unhinged. “On one hand I’ve got a goddess who works for the magic police tricking me into becoming legally responsible for a fucking necromancer. On the other, I’ve got a pair of immortal assassins who have already tried to recruit you, have a reputation for a high body count, and who have my name on their shit-list. Fuck. My life.”

“It could be worse.”

“How?”

The panhandler who’d been slowly walking past suddenly launched himself at Dimitri’s window. He hit the glass with an almighty smack, rocking the SUV on its wheels. He howled at them wordlessly through the tempered glass, and the ghost that had been trailing unseen behind him howled with him.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Ch 8 Part 2 Caution, Speed Bumps Ahead


As usual, there is adult language ahead, and this is a first draft, so expect some errors.


Feel free to comment below.  Hope you enjoy the second part of chapter 8!





Dimitri had Indian features and his dark complexion contrasted with the whites of his eyes and teeth in the dim light. His face was long and thin with a shock of dark hair that looked like it hadn’t been combed for days.

Dimitri rubbed at the blood on the side of his face where he’d been raked by the woman and wiped it off on the front of his jacket. “Crazy bitch,” he said over the roar of the wind coming in through his broken window.

Dimitri’s eyes flicked up to the rear-view mirror and he swore. Stirling twisted in his seat, his curiously overcoming the waves of nauseating pain that were radiating up into his abdomen.
A car was running up the shoulder of the road and rapidly closing the distance between them. He couldn’t see any detail behind the glare of the headlights, but it didn’t take a genius to guess that it was the Cadillac he’d seen in the parking lot.

Dimitri shifted down into third and jammed his foot on the gas, the little car picked up speed and Dimitri cut hard across into the left lane. Cars wove crazily as they swerved to avoid them.

Stirling saw a half-grin on Dimitri’s face and slid his box of notebooks between his feet.

The wind coming through the shattered driver’s side window came in at hurricane force as Dimitri shifted into fourth, the needle on the speedometer rising past the hundred kilometre mark. Dimitri’s knuckles were white on the steering wheel as the car behind them continued to gain.

Stirling didn’t know how this Dimitri was planning on outrunning the blonde woman. Madame Rag was in a car that had been built to deliver whatever the driver wanted, whether it be a top of the line sound system or the horsepower to run down the peasants when they got uppity. Airbags aside, when she caught them, the sheer power and weight of metal of the Caddy would flatten them like a slug under a brick.

The eight-lane intersection of Lougheed Highway and Boundary Road was rapidly approaching. Dimitri’s eyes constantly flicked from the road ahead to his mirrors. Stirling cast a look in his own mirror in time to see the blunt grill of Rag’s car disappear under the hatchback window behind them. They were out of time, Stirling grabbed for the passenger handle bolted to the ceiling and braced for impact. It didn’t come.

Dimitri jammed the wheel hard over to the right, somehow managing to maintain control on the wet road as they cut across the inside two lanes of traffic and sped right onto Boundary. Stirling could hear him cackling as they came centimetres away from death.

The crunch of metal on metal was startlingly close as Madame Rag’s pursuing Cadillac swerved after them, forcing an old Dodge Neon onto the shoulder and down a steep ditch.

If Dimitri thought he could pull off the move and get away unscathed, the next few moments proved him wrong. In an effort to avoid a white pickup truck in the turning lane, he’d had taken the corner too wide. As they turned onto Boundary Road, the front wheel clipped the centre median and launched the car’s left front end into the air. Stirling felt the impact in his chest as his belt tightened around his chest and the world tilted around him.

For a heart-stopping second, they were on two wheels. Stirling looked on, not even having time to be properly afraid as the wet road whizzed past outside his window like the Devil’s own personal bench grinder. Time slowed as the car teetered before it finally righted itself and slammed back onto the median. Dimitri gave a whoop and swerved off the barrier. He downshifted into third and the little car gamely sped away with all the haste its four-cylinder engine could muster.

Rag hadn’t been able to turn as tightly as the little Honda because as Stirling turned to Dimitri, he caught sight of the familiar blue Cadillac dodging in the lanes of oncoming traffic to the left of them. The same median that had nearly launched them into oblivion seconds before, now protected them, a barrier between them and their pursuer.

The sound of Caddy’s engine roared through Dimitri’s broken window, and Stirling watched in disbelief as it accelerated through oncoming traffic, playing chicken as it went, and, for the most part, winning.

The median ahead thinned to a three-foot strip and the Caddilac took advantage by steered sharply to the right and up onto the barrier. The big car hit with an ear-splitting bang and lurched over with the shriek of tires and a shower of sparks. Horns blared in protest as Madame Rag reoriented herself in the lane behind them and gave chase.

Dimitri began a steady mantra of swear words as Madame Rag resumed her dogged pursuit. They screamed through traffic, their small size allowing them to slip through tight spots much easier time than Rag’s whale of a car. Rag countered by using her car as a battering ram, nudging past vehicles, or simply ramming into those too slow to get out of her way.

Dimitri jacked the wheel over hard left, pulled the e-brake and skidded onto First Avenue and up the on-ramp to the Trans-Canada Highway, The Cadillac devoured the pavement not fifty meters behind them.

“What the fuck are you doing!?” Stirling yelled over the rush of the wind, “she’ll destroy us on a straightaway!”

Dimitri eyed him sideways and smiled a manic grin showing a row of gleaming white teeth. Sure enough, the slim lead they’d scraped together on Boundary began rapidly narrowing as Madame Rag’s dented Cadillac charged onto the highway after them. The blunt, grinning, grill grew close in the mirrors. Dimitri wove around slower cars, using all three lanes to evade the pursuing Caddy, but it was a losing proposition. Rag wouldn’t be shaken. She had speed and acceleration on her side.

Ahead, two cars in the slow and HOV lanes were moving at roughly the same speed. Dimitri was forced to stop weaving for critical seconds to thread the needle between them. He put his foot down hard on the gas, but the little car was already giving all it had. The Cadillac’s bumper hit them hard as they passed between the two cars. Stirling’s head bounced off his headrest and his seatbelt locked tight around his chest. Dimitri cleared the two cars and swerved left to avoid the next hit, cutting off the car in the HOV lane as he did so.

The blue car began pulling along side. If she was able to nudge their back wheel, she could put them into a spin, and that would be it. At the speed they were going, they wouldn’t need body bags, they’d need a warehouse palette of sandwich bags.

Dimitri yelled something unintelligible over the roaring wind, and Stirling experienced a sudden moment of vertigo. The little car suddenly screamed with new power and they shot ahead. Stirling was slammed back in his seat, this time not from the impact of Madame Rag’s Cadillac, but from the acceleration. Dimitri whooped in excitement as the car screamed ahead.

Stirling wasn’t exactly sure what was happening, but he happily joined in Dimitri’s celebration by letting loose with a whoop of his own. He rolled down his window and waved a middle finger at the car receding behind them. For the first time since getting in the car, Stirling felt that they might actually have a chance to shake Madame Rag.

The little subcompact maintained the pace for nearly ten seconds, the gap between them rapidly widening, when without warning the engine began to miss and stutter. White steam filled the window in the hatch behind them. Their acceleration dropped off and Stirling stared at the descending needle on the gauge like a man trapped on a sinking submarine.

“Shit!” Dimitri swore, pounding on the steering wheel. The car surged and bucked as they continued down the highway. Stirling checked behind them. Past the cloud of steam, the unmistakable headlights of Madame Rag’s battered Cadillac were approaching fast. Their speed quickly dropped below a hundred, the engine shuddering under the hood. At this speed, the Cadillac wouldn’t ram them, it would flatten them like a steamroller.

Dimitri shifted down, his eyes flicking between the road ahead and the rear-view mirror.

“Faster! Must go faster!” shouted Stirling, pointing at the onrushing car behind them.

The off-ramp to Hastings Street was sliding past and nearly behind them when Dimitri yanked on the emergency brake and swerved right at the last moment. The Cadillac scored a glancing blow on their bumper pushing them perilously close to the metal divider that separated the offramp from the highway. The already mangled driver’s door scraped past the corrugated metal divider, nearly ripping it off as they shuddered past. Dimitri screamed as the barrier loomed in his broken window and tortured metal screamed less than a foot away from his shoulder.

The rear end of the car impacted the steel post and rebounded away, throwing them both around like the crew of the original Star Trek. Air bags deployed explosively from above the driver-side windows with a noise like the paper bag of the gods being popped.

Defying all of Stirling’s expectations, Dimitri somehow avoided oncoming traffic and the car swerved drunkenly onto the off-ramp. The driver’s door dangled by only a shred of metal and threw up a shower of sparks as they made their escape.

The Cadillac tried to follow but Dimitri’s timing had been perfect. Sparks flew off the Caddy’s door as Madame Rag swerved back onto the highway, the metal divider defeating her attempts to pursue them. She continued down the highway propelled by the weight of cars coming up behind her. There wouldn’t be an opportunity for her to turn the car around again until she crossed the Second Narrows Bridge into North Van.

Dimitri limped the little car up the long off-ramp and turned right onto Hastings, steam pluming out of the exhaust pipe. He parked in the lot of a McDonald's and mercifully silenced the terminally sputtering engine.

They both took in a deep breath in the sudden silence and Dimitri turned to look at Stirling. He held out his hand.

“It’s Stirling, right?”

Stirling didn’t shake his hand, he was too busy looking at the sheared-off threaded rod from a highway divider sticking out of Dimitri’s left shoulder.

Stirling pointed at the protruding bit of metal and, nonplussed, Dimitri turned to look to where he was pointing. He gave the length of metal an experimental poke. It didn’t budge.

“Shit.”

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Ch 8. Caution, Speed Bumps Ahead.


A bit late this week, but there were a few issues with this chunk that I wanted to fix before I posted.

As usual, there is adult language ahead, and this is a first draft, so expect some errors.. Hope you enjoy the first part of chapter 8!




When Madame Rag returned a few minutes later, Stirling had nearly finished his drink and his limbs were beginning to feel pleasantly loose. Rag raised an eyebrow at the pink paper umbrella he’d tucked behind one ear and his near-empty glass as she sat.

“Funny story,” Stirling said, once Rag had settled in, “While you were gone, I got a call. Some police in Podunk, Arkansas want to chat with me about an ex-customer of mine who got himself murdered. His name was William, good guy too. Some black-hearted villain came along, killed him, and the only thing they took was one of my hunting decoys.” He slurped his straw noisily around on the bottom of his glass. Rag’s eyelid twitched.

“I believe it is time for you to come to a decision, Mr Haig,” said Madame Rag, her smile brittle for the first time. “Will you learn to use your talents, or will they be wasted while you make wooden toys for men who like to kill ducks?”

“Do you know what the term, “Fruit of the poisonous tree,” means?” he asked her easily. Drink always made him chatty. She didn’t answer, but that didn’t matter. “It’s a moral argument that boils down to the idea that any benefits gained through immoral acts are themselves tainted,” he went on. “It’s why any testimony gained through torture is inadmissible in court. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not against a little constructive immorality from time to time, but wasting a guy just so you can get your hands on a wooden duck seems a bit much. Plus, I liked William, he was a good sort. If I agreed to learn magic from people who think that it’s just dandy to kill my friends, well I’d have to be some kind of world-class douche socket. So, to answer your question, no, I’m not joining up your fucked-up little club of psychos. Thanks for the drink, I’ll have my notebooks back, and be on my way with a festive, ‘go fuck yourself’.”

Stirling put words to action and stood, wrapping his scarf around his neck and shrugging into his jacket.

“If that is your decision, your notebooks are in my car. If you’ll accompany me to the parking lot we can go our separate ways.”

“Fan-tastic, you have no idea how much I’m looking forward to it.”

Stirling left a few bills on the table and followed Madame Rag outside into the rainy night.
Stirling glanced around and decided the chances that the woman was actually playing him straight would require exponents to calculate. The odds were, she didn’t have his notebooks at all and she was simply luring him to her car. Any chance at all was a chance he’d take.

He scanned the parking lot but saw nothing out of the ordinary. Rows of cars left a lot of places for someone to hide though. He shouldn’t have had that drink, his head was fuzzy, and right now he needed to be sharp. He could just feel that this just wasn’t going to end well. He pulled out his phone, shielding it from the rain as he pulled up a music app. Gloomy Sunday was already queued up and ready to go.  He didn’t press play yet but hummed the first bars as they made their way deeper into the lot.

 Concentrating through the alcohol made things more difficult than usual, but he was eventually able to clear his mind and drop a few of the usual barriers he habitually kept up. A cold more dense than the surrounding winter air began to slowly stream off his body.

A large blue Cadillac chirped and flashed at them as Rag pulled a fob from her pocket. It was a streamlined throwback to the land yachts of the seventies and eighties and looked like it would require a bank loan to fill the tank.

Rag went to the car and pulled a sturdy office box from the back seat and held it out to him. Stirling eyed her suspiciously.

“If Gwyneth Paltrow’s head is in there I’m going to be pissed,” he told her, trying to keep nervousness from his voice.

She didn’t answer, but stared at him, still smiling, her eyes flat and reptilian. Stirling took the box from her hands. He fumbled at the lid and peered inside. The sight of a neat stack of hardback black notebooks greeted him. He ran a finger over the worn cover of the topmost book, it was one of his, he knew it, he could feel it. He sighed and his knees almost buckled in relief.

If it wasn’t for the fact that the lot had been recently salted and sanded he probably would have been caught. As it was, the soft crunch of gravel on pavement only gave him a few seconds to react. He turned to find a man the size of some mining machinery quickly approaching through the rain from directly behind. Stirling didn’t need to think, he bolted.

The relief from seeing his notebooks had destroyed the calm mindset he’d cultivated on his way there. He tried to bring it back, but it kept slipping away. Staying calm in the quiet of the workshop was much different than doing it while half-buzzed and being chased by an enraged gorilla with the height of an NBA player.

He could hear the man gaining on him, every one of his strides was almost two of Stirling’s. There was no way he would be able to outrun him, running would only make him die tired, but it was his only option. Ahead of him the parking lot ahead ended with a grassy strip descending into a ditch before turning into a busy highway.

Somewhere off to the side an engine revved, tires squealed, and Stirling heard a tremendous crunch accompanied by a meaty thud of impact. The sound of pounding footsteps behind him faltered and he looked back over his shoulder. The man who had been chasing him was laid out on the wet asphalt with his upper body hidden under a white subcompact car.

The front wheel of the car was at spinning ineffectively in the air a good foot off the surface of the parking lot. The car had ridden up on the giant’s back and was held off the ground from the sheer thickness of the body under it.

The car shifted gears with a grinding noise and began rocking itself in an attempt to free itself from the muscular hump on which it was high-centered. Back and forth it went, back and forth, the man underneath bellowing like an enraged rhino. The front tire finally gained purchase on the man’s shoulder and the car dropped off, ripping away its plastic front bumper as it bounced back onto terra firma.

To Stirling’s amazement, the huge man, who mere seconds ago had a car on his back, only gave his head a shake before starting to sit up. The only injury Stirling could see was a black skid mark on his sloped, simian shoulder.

Instead of getting out to check on the man he’d hit, the driver of the car opened his door, revved the engine, and popped the clutch. The car’s tires spun again on the wet parking lot. “Think fast, Bone!” the driver shouted, giving the door a good shove on the way past.

The door slammed against the back of the man’s head with a healthy crunch, leaving an extra-large skull-sized dent in the panel. The giant’s head rocked forward and he howled in anger, taking an awkward swipe at the car as it zoomed past. Stirling heard the sound of tearing metal and saw the car rock on its wheels with the impact.

Behind him, he heard Madame Rag screech in rage and a second engine roared to life. Headlights lit the lot behind him as Madame Rag’s car reversed from her spot.

People began pouring out of the front door of Grey’s, no doubt attracted by the noise. The mangled white subcompact slowed as it approached Stirling, and the driver motioned frantically for him to get in. Stirling didn’t need to be convinced. He tucked his box of notebooks under one arm and ran to the passenger side. Of course, the door was locked. Stirling pounded on the window and the driver had to lean across to unlock it. It probably saved his life.

One of the women Stirling had seen from the party inside Grey’s had sprinted over to them unnoticed in the darkness. She reared up out of the night, cocked her arm back, and shattered the driver-side window with a punch that would have made The Terminator proud.

Stirling gaped at her. A ghost, nearly identical to herself, hovered at her side. Its ethereal face was pinched in pain, and looking at her, it wasn’t a mystery why. Chunks of her ghostly flesh had been savagely gouged out all over her body. Angry red light limned the wounds like neon gore. She glared at him through the rain, and with a movement that looked stiff and painful, flipped him off.
Stirling hopped into the passenger’s seat, ignoring the cubes of safety glass under his butt. The driver put his foot down and accelerated away through the parking lot.

Somehow, the woman maintained her grip on the door frame, one bloodied arm reached through the broken window to rake down the driver’s face. The driver yelped in pain and fumbled to unlatch his door. He kicked the door open sending the woman screeched as she swung out away from the car, the rough surface of the parking lot dragging at her shoes. She held onto the door tight with both arms, but as Stirling watched, the door hinge began to droop under her weight, leverage working against her.

“We’ll find you, Dimitri!” the woman hissed through the window. The car hit a speed bump at nearly fifty kilometres an hour and the woman lost her grip, cartwheeling away onto the wet parking lot like a gymnast going for suicide gold in the kamikaze Olympics.

Unfortunately, she wasn’t the only casualty. Stirling hadn’t yet been able to fasten his seatbelt and his butt came off the seat and his head slammed against the roof with a flash of pain. When he landed, the corner of the box of notebooks came down like the hammer of a vengeful god on his testicles. Every atom of breath left his lungs in a rush and he crumpled forward over his box.

They exited the parking lot, sliding sideways into traffic and accelerated away through the rainy night, the blare of horns behind them.

“I’m Dimitri,” the man provided, flashing him a grin. He had to raise his voice over the wind coming through the broken window and crooked door.

“Stirling,” he croaked back.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Chapter 7. Madame Rag






Warning: This chapter contains adult language and humour. If dirty words offend, please read no further.

Again, this is a first draft, so expect errors.  Feel free to comment below, and thanks for reading!





When he woke the following afternoon, Stirling started called contractors, only to find that even if they happened to be answering calls, nobody was available to rebuild his workshop until the New Year. It wasn’t surprising, just disappointing. The blue tarp he’d managed to fasten to the roof of his workshop wasn’t going to last long in the wind and rain of a west coast winter.

As he fed Magnon, he thought on what the faux Constable Queen had told him the night before. It wasn’t that he doubted her sincerity, that had been obvious. It was whether he could make himself take her advice. His long search had finally shown results, and the first thing that happened was that he was asked to stop.

Did Oppenheimer give up? Did Marie Curie give up? So what if he’d invented the Bomb, and it would be the another fifteen hundred years before anyone could safely handle her radioactive research papers. They’d been go-getters. Sure, some of their outcomes weren’t ideal, but you couldn’t fault their tenacity.

It was probably too late to back out at this point anyway. Another decoy had gone dark during the night, and he had the feeling it wouldn’t be long before he’d meet his secret admirers. If nothing else, the fifty thousand dollar shot he’d sent across their bow would hopefully generate some interest. He’d already updated their invoice to include a forty-nine thousand, five hundred dollar service fee for burning down his workshop. He’d added that in the “consumables” column. He was curious to see what the credit card company would say when they came across that little detail.
His phone jittered across the kitchen table playing the chorus of Aqua’s Barbie Girl while an unflattering picture of Rebbecca appeared on the screen.

“Haig Pest Control,” he said into the phone, “busting fleas knees since two thousand twelve, Stirling speaking.”

Rebbecca sighed on the other end of the line. “Afternoon Stirling,” she said.

“Hey, it’s my employee of the month! How’s it going?”

“Those people from the fake warehouse job yesterday want to talk.”

“They do?”

“Yeah, some chick that sounds like Mary Poppins has a massive ladyboner to get in touch with you.”

“Mary Poppins with a ladyboner? It’s like you’re reading directly from my browser history.”

“Before you get too caught up in an all-afternoon session of English Nanny porn, she wants you guys to meet.”

“Yeah?”

“She says she’ll be at Grey’s on Lougheed at five, and that we can keep the fifty thousand if you meet with her!”

“Isn’t she just an eager little beaver.”

“I know, right? Who would pay fifty thousand dollars to meet with you?”

“Maybe she Googled me and just couldn’t help herself.”

“Only in your dreams creep. She also told me to tell you that she has your notebooks, whatever that means. My work here is done. I’m charging you my minimum plus double time for this.”

“You got it, hey since you’re on the clock, check the email and order more of those Dr Evil rubber gloves. Thanks, Bex,” he said and quickly hung up.

#

An hour and a half later, Stirling walked into Grey’s; a moderately upscale eatery a couple blocks south of Hastings known for its goldfish bowl-sized margaritas and the young women that such drinks tended to attract.

He glanced around, unzipping his jacket and loosening his scarf. The place was fully decked out in shiny Christmas decorations and it was hopping. Nearly all the tables were full, and it looked like a company Christmas party was just hitting its stride in the far corner. With all the noise, Stirling wondered how he would be expected to conduct a clandestine supernatural meeting without shouting.

Stirling felt a familiar tightness behind his eyes and made a second survey of the restaurant. He hadn’t noticed them at first, but there were a number of ghosts clustered around the party table. Ghosts didn’t cluster, and they were almost never found in newer buildings. Grey’s had only moved into the complex five years ago, and ghosts usually faded out when their haunt was destroyed or changed too much. A minor renovation was usually enough to clear out all but the most stubborn spooks. These ones shouldn’t be here.

He was interrupted from his thoughts when a smiling waitress standing behind the front server station asked, “Stirling Haig?” When he nodded, she led him to a long rectangular room with a matching long rectangular table made of dark wood in the back of the restaurant.

The room could have easily seated twenty with elbow room leftover. A gas fireplace on one wall gave the room a welcome feeling, while the Christmas decorations and instrumental Christmas music piped in set a festive mood.

A petite woman sitting at the table rose as he entered. She barely came up to his chin and wore the unremarkable camouflage of a business casual skirt suit. Her smiling face, framed by long blond hair, looked like all the fat had been boiled off of it. It was the smile that caught Stirling’s attention the most though, hers was the unconvincing smile of a porn starlet flung into a Shakespearian drama and suddenly expected to deliver something more sophisticated than, “harder!!” or “do me, baby!!”
She held out her hand, “Welcome, Stirling.” She had a high-pitched, almost girlish voice with a BBC announcer’s clipped English accent. “I am Madame Rag.”

Stirling felt a mild pang of sympathy. His own high school experiences were scarring enough, having a name like “Rag” would absolutely guarantee this woman a spot in the Our Lady of Headgear Resthome for the Terminally Uncool.

He took her hand and shook. “Are you the fortune teller type of madame, or more like the Heidi Fleiss humpy kind?” he asked, making rocking motions with his hips for effect. The waitress made a choking noise and dropped off a pair of menus before beating a hasty retreat.
“Neither, Mr Haig, it’s the one where a title is given to someone of worth and distinction.”
“Touche.”

Rag had a strong grip, and as they shook, Stirling caught a whiff of something that brought back sense memories of dissecting cow eyeballs in his grade eight science class. A phantom of formaldehyde, the slightest top-note of decay, with just a ghost of Isopropyl alcohol.
Madame Rag sat herself while Stirling hung his jacket on the back of his chair. His cell phone buzzed faintly in his pocket, he ignored it.

“I’d like first to apologize. We sent one of our people to your home yesterday with an invitation to meet, and it seems he may have inadvertently caused some property damage. We will, of course, reimburse you for any costs.”

“Already on it,” said Stirling, grinning. “What I’d really like is for you to return the things that were stolen from my workshop.”

"Saved, actually,” she demurred. “When the blaze began, our man removed what he could to save it from the flames.”

“So, let me see if I understand this. One of your guys came to my house, accidentally ripped off my workshop door, mistakenly burned down my workshop, then unintentionally took my shit without even leaving a note? Is that what about the size of it?”

“It was a most unfortunate series of events. We only wished to contact you to make you an offer. You see, until recently we were unaware of your abilities.”

“I noticed,” he said. “It’s nice to be appreciated, but you guys seem to be going a bit overboard with the ducks. What is that, five now?”

 Rag didn’t even try and look confused. “We recognize talent when it’s brought to our attention, and you are a most remarkable young man. My employer is interested in giving you the tools to become even more formidable.”

“I get by just fine with my formidable tool just the way it is, thanks,” he waggled his eyebrows at her Groucho Marx style. Madame Rag leaned back with a look like she’d just smelled something unpleasant, which was exactly the point. “But listen, I’ve got a dilemma here,” Stirling continued, “as much as I’d like to sign on with you, I really don’t like the way you people do business. Breaking and entering, arson, and theft, while oftentimes fun, aren’t the best ways to make a great first impression. Your job right now is to convince me that you aren’t the frothing douche jockeys that you’ve actions are screaming that you are.”

Rag’s smile stayed in place, but Stirling could see some serious definition in her jaw muscles. She was clearly falling for his boyish charms. The waitress arrived and took their drink order, momentarily breaking the tension.

Rag looked at him intently, still smiling. “We know you have been looking for people like us for a long time. We can teach you things beyond anything you have been able to imagine. That you have managed to train yourself even the tiniest bit of magic is impressive, but we are part of a culture that has been studying and working with magic for thousands of years. We are the gatekeepers to knowledge and power. Regardless of what you believe we may have done, are you willing to throw away your one chance to learn, to be more than you currently are?”

Stirling didn’t have much to say to that. She was absolutely right, even with what they had done, could he afford to let this opportunity go? They might be his only chance to get full control of his magic and lead a normal life. Her hard eyes searched his. “I’ll let you consider that. If you’ll excuse me, I need to powder my nose.” She rose and left the room.

Self respect and integrity were important, but in Sterling’s experience, pragmatism also had its place. He pondered this as he reached for his phone to see who called. As his hand closed on his phone, it buzzed again, it was Rebbecca.”

“Haig Pest control,” he said, “You got the rats, we got the bats, Stirling speaking.”

“Where are you?” Came Rebbecca’s worried voice.

“Just kicking back here at Greys.”

“And what about Marry Poppins?”

“She went off to powder her ass, why what’s going on”

“You know how you sent out that group email to your duck mailing list?”

“Yeah, so?”

“Well, I was checking your email, like you asked, and the cops replied! One of your customers from somewhere down in Asscrack Arkansas was robbed and murdered, the only thing that the murderer took was one of those stupid ducks you make! The police want to talk to you about it.”

“Holy shit, William?!”

“Yeah, that was the name of the dead guy! What the hell is going on with your ducks?”

“I have no goddamn clue.”

“Do you want me to call the police? Marry Poppins might be packing more than an umbrella, if you know what I mean.”

“I hope you don’t mean what I think you mean, because I’ll not have you casting shade on our transgender friends. They have a hard enough time as it is.”

There was a beat of silence on the phone while Rebbecca presumably tried to figure out what he’d implied. “I’m talking about a gun! A gun, you epic fuckwit!”

“Oh, well, that’s alright then. Don’t worry about it, I’ve got things under control here, besides, it’s Canada, we’re too polite for guns. If we need to fuck someone up, we’ll just produce another Celine Dion or Justin Bieber. The best part is, they don’t even know they’ve being fucked with.”

“Well, be careful, alright? You’re weird and a jerk, but deep down you’re a decent guy, I’d hate to have to start looking for a new job around Christmas.”

“Aww, thanks Rebs, that means a lot.”

“Don’t call me…!”

Stirling hung up and the server arrived with their drinks, a gin and tonic for Madame Rag and a goldfish bowl of neon-green margarita for him. He swirled the limy alcoholic slush around with a straw. It was the sound, he decided, of the plot thickening.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Chapter 6 Queen of the Rails

Chapter 6
Queen of the Rails


Warning: This chapter contains adult language and humour. If dirty words offend, please read no further.

Again, this is a first draft, so expect errors.  Feel free to comment below, and thanks for reading!


Crackling blue electric arcs leapt from the centre rail to Aleph’s bare feet as she sprinted west along the elevated track, the flickering light from below bathing her face in faint ghost light as she ran. Energy hummed in the centre rail like a disturbed beehive and coursed up into her legs. She’d be awake for the rest of the night after this little jaunt, the electricity giving her the equivalent buzz she'd get from slamming a quadruple espresso. It was worth it.

Running the tracks was one of her favourite ways to get around the city. High on the concrete guideways, she was hidden from most prying eyes, and at this time of night, the trains would still be down for another four hours, meaning she could run as fast as she wanted.

She’d changed out of her uniform once she’d left her interview with Stirling Haig and now wore her usual jeans and leather jacket. The cold wind of her passage snapped her scarf and braid out behind her as she ran parallel to Lougheed Highway, easily overtaking traffic as she moved deeper toward Vancouver.

The interview earlier that night had been an eye-opener. She’d been told Haig was intelligent, but she hadn’t expected him to see through the disguise. While it was true she was technically a cop, the uniform had been mainly a prop to put him in the right frame of mind. Nine times out of ten, when people saw a uniform the only things on their mind was if that baggie of pot hey had in the freezer was hidden well enough, and what was the quickest way they could get rid of you. What they didn’t think of was knocking holes in your cover story based on how you wore your hair.

Even odder was how he claimed he needed to concentrate in order to contain his Algere. If he was telling the truth about that, and she had no reason to think otherwise, she truly felt for him. The effect Algere had on people was probably the one thing that made his kind so disliked.

When she’d first heard his story, she’d almost spilled everything right then out of sympathy, her promise to Penhold be damned. Haig’s cover was already blown, and it wasn’t like she honestly believed that Knox would give up on him if he took her advice and ran. The only thing that held her back was that becoming a Sponsor right now would have been impossible, on top of the fact that he probably wouldn’t survive the next few days, she didn’t have the time. Three more people in the community had been reported missing earlier that day, bringing the total up to fifty-seven since the end of summer.

In a rare stroke of luck, she’d actually managed to track down one of the missing people, a technomancer who went by Dimitri Singh. Unlike the others before him, he’d somehow seen the trap closing around him, and been clever and wise enough to go to ground. His only misstep had been a furtive errand during daylight hours through the streets of Richmond. Showing his face outside was mistake enough for one of her children to spot him and report on his location.

When she’d confronted him, the webmage had confirmed what she was already certain of; Rag and Bone had been stalking him and were the ones responsible for the disappearances. It seemed he’d been running his own surveillance on the pair, which he happily showed to her. The data he’d collected from the thousands of cell phones and tablets he’d infected with thaumotech malware were completely illegal, unethical, and absolutely non-admissible in a court of law. For all that they were astonishingly detailed and accurate.

It didn’t take a mental titan to connect the dots from Rag and Bone to Knox of the White. It was an open secret that Knox had employed the husband and wife duo off and on for centuries, but without iron-clad evidence of Knox’s involvement, Dimitri’s story would be about as practical as a chocolate chastity belt.

The Alchemist Guild employed an army of lawyers on retainer who would defend Knox to the bitter end, after which they would blacklist everyone involved in bringing unsuccessful charges against one of their own. It was how The Guild worked, and it was why there were so few people willing to be witnesses in any case against an alchemist.

Admissible or not, Dimitri’s tale, combined with the assassination of Elanor of the Red the night before, was ample evidence pointing toward Knox being at the centre of something big.
A spray of fine mist rose from the tracks behind her as she blurred through the night and made her way toward the nearest gate to Asphodel in Victory Square. It was past time for a face-to-face with Penhold, with an entire city to cover even a goddess could get spread thin.





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Saturday, 29 April 2017

Chapter 5, pt 1. Chick Magnet

Chapter 5.
Stirling Haig, Chick Magnet.



Warning: This chapter contains adult language and humour. If dirty words offend, please read no further.

Again, this is a first draft, so expect errors.  Feel free to comment below, and thanks for reading!




Stirling spent the rest of the evening speaking with the police and salvaging what he could from his workshop. A box of jars that hadn’t cracked or been melted in the fire sat in the corner of his living room. They didn’t smell like sandalwood anymore, now they just smelled like burnt plastic and unfocused rage.

Another one of his ducks had disappeared a couple hours ago, and what little doubt remained that the break-in was connected to the decoy disappearances was officially gone. Someone was officially fucking with him.

 With no contracts for the next few days, no workshop to experiment in, and all of his research material gone, he found himself at loose ends. In a fit of sudden inspiration he sent out a group email to his decoy mailing list asking if anyone had lost, sold, or recently had their decoys stolen. That took exactly fourteen minutes.

He was considering a night in with a large White Russian, Netflix, and the very real possibility of getting lucky with himself, when her heard a knock at his door. That in of itself was surprising, the number of people who’d darkened his door in the last year could have been counted on Luke Skywalker’s fingers—the real ones.

He glanced at his phone, it was a bit after nine, technically it was still early enough for visitors but late enough that it was unlikely. He got himself ready to drop a few of the mental safeguards he habitually kept up, stormed to the door, and yanked it open.

“Mr. Haig?” asked the police officer at the door taking a step back in surprise. She wore an RCMP uniform under the standard blue bulletproof vest, sunglasses, and carried a notepad. I’m Constable Queen, you reported a break-in earlier today? Stirling eyed her sunglasses, then poked his head out of the door to look up at the sky which had been dark since four thirty, then back at her with a cocked eyebrow.

“I just had laser surgery on my eyes. I need to wear them for a couple more days,” she explained apologetically.

“Huh. That’s got to suck,” he said. “You want to come inside?”

She nodded and they walked into his living room. She was almost as tall as Stirling with pale skin and a long glossy black ponytail that fell to mid-back. It was the first time in over two years since a woman had been in his little apartment, and the thought was more than a bit depressing.

“Can I get you a drink? I’ve got coffee and uh… water,” he offered. She smelled really nice.

“Coffee would be great,” she said, examining the box of soot-blackened jars. She picked up the jar containing a dried owl pellet and shook it lightly. The vole bolus made a rattling sound.

Stirling noticed what she was doing. “I see you’ve found my vole. Total chick magnet,” he confided. “It’s only too bad the poles are reversed.”

She replaced the jar of desiccated rodent back in the box. “So, would you mind going over what happened to your shed?”

"Workshop," he corrected her.

Stirling turned to the stove and carefully measured out coffee grinds into the stainless basket of his Mocha Pot, twisted the apparatus together and put the coffee maker on a reddening element. He really needed to get his shit under control, he wasn’t a teen anymore for god sakes.

“I already filed a report,” he said, ignoring the ever-deluded part of his brain that was telling him that if he was really nice and helpful, she might sleep with him.

“This is a separate case,” she said smoothly. “Your break-in may be linked to a group we’ve been investigating.”

Stirling shrugged and retold the story.

“Can you think of any reason why you were targeted?”

“Not really, I made duck decoys. They’re expensive, but they’re not worth going to jail for.” He was getting tired of this.

“And the safe? What was in that?”

“You know, family heirlooms, war medals, a box of vintage 80s porn, a kilogram of homemade thermite, the usual stuff. How do you take your coffee?”

“Black, thanks,” she said dryly.

Stirling noticed a streak of flesh-coloured makeup had rubbed off on the woman’s grey collar. The strip of skin beneath was an ivory white.

The coffee maker had the mechanical version of an asthma attack on the stove-top, and Stirling poured her a cup. He poured himself a mug as well and they sat at the kitchen table.

“Why do I have the feeling you aren’t being completely open with me, Mr. Haig?”
“Because I’m not?” he guessed.

“Any information you can give me will only help up apprehend these people faster,” she said earnestly. “Are you worried about someone coming after you?”

“No, that’s really not it.” If anything, the opposite was true.

“Then why are you holding back?”

“I’m trying to figure out how you fit into all of this,” he replied, tasting his coffee.
“What do you mean?”

“You’ve almost got the cop act down, but you’re not quite there.”

“It’s not an act, I am a member of the RCMP.”

“You’re no cop.”

“I assure you, Mr. Haig, I really am.” She pulled out a leather badge case and showed him a very authentic-looking badge.”

“That’s a nice badge,” he said pointing at it, “But I’m still thinking probably not. See, I’ve been expecting someone to make a run at me ever since the workshop got torched, and posing as a police officer was the first thing I thought of.”

“And the fact that police would naturally investigate an arson doesn’t give me any credibility?”
“It might if I hadn’t already filed my report with the real police this afternoon,” he said. “You, Constable Queen, are a biiig phony.”

“What can I  say that will convince you?”

“Not much,” he admitted.

“Okay then, let’s try this. What reason do you have to doubt that I’m a real police officer?”

“Well, to start off with, female cops have a rough enough time proving themselves in a career that is basically one big sausage party,” he began. “Wearing your hair against regs is all an opening some douche needs to start talking shit about how lady cops get preferential treatment,” he said, nodding at her ponytail. “Not when you can fix it with five minutes and some bobby pins.”

“That’s it?” she asked flatly. “Your entire argument against me is based on my hairstyle? Egads, Sherlock, you’ve cracked the case!”

“Not done yet. Your radio has been turned off the whole time you’ve been here, you haven’t written down a single note in your notepad, but the main reason is that there’s no way in hell the RCMP would ever let someone recovering from freaking eye surgery out with a sidearm! I mean come on, this is Burnaby, not downtown Waco. Good job on finding a Smith and Wesson 5906, though, you really went that extra mile.”

“And that there’s someone in your home with a handgun who you suspect isn’t a real police officer doesn’t bother you at all?”

“Not really,” Stirling admitted. “Under all this boyish charm and good looks lurks the heart of someone with nary a fuck left to give.”

She looked at him curiously. “If I’m not a police officer, then what am I?”

“No idea,” he admitted freely, “And to tell you the truth, what you are is much less important to me than why you are here.”

“Why am I here, Mr. Haig?”

“Elementary, Watson, you’re here because of magic,” he said,” spreading his fingers in a Doug Henningesque motion. Take that, Benedict Cumberbatch.

She sat back in her seat and sipped her coffee. “Magic?”

“Magic.” he agreed.

She eyed him for another thirty seconds before saying, “Not bad,” though Stirling wasn’t absolutely positive if she was talking about the coffee or his uncanny skills of deduction.

“Just so we’re both clear, I’m here with the blessings of the RCMP, the VPD, and most of the other police departments in the Lower Mainland.”

“Most?”

“Abbotsford PD doesn’t accept there are people with non-standard abilities,” she said.

“Hah! I knew it. So you’re what? The magic police?”

“No, I’m just here to let you know that it’s in your best interest to stop.”

“Stop what?”

“Whatever it is that you’ve been doing that has been attracting so much attention.”

Stirling began to speak, but she held up a hand. “I don’t want to know about it, if I did, I might have to do something that neither of us would like.”

“That’s an enlightened attitude, even for a pretend cop to have, I approve,” said Stirling. “So, you aren’t the one who broke into my workshop? The one who has been messing around with my decoys?”

“I don’t know anything about what you just said, please keep it that way. What I do know,” she went on, “is that you’ve attracted the wrong kind of interest. It’s probably already too late, but there’s a small chance you can still slip under the radar if you stop it right now.”

“Magic is real,” said Stirling, speaking more to himself than her. “I need to find someone who can teach me.”

“Nobody can teach you,” she said flatly. “The only thing you’ll discover if you keep it up is the key to a doorway leading into a world of shit.”

“Do you think you could be just bit more cryptic? I’m low on my vague warnings quota for the month.”

“I know, and for what it’s worth I really am sorry, but the less you know, the better it’ll be for you.” He opened his mouth up to speak, but She held up a hand to stall him. “I’m not saying this to be a bitch, I’m saying it because I can see the big picture. I know what kind of danger you’re in. The ones who broke into your workshop aren’t the nice kind of people who will kill you quickly. Take a long vacation, go live on a mountain somewhere and forget you could ever do anything out of the ordinary.”

Stirling eyed her and leaned back in his chair. “Do you know I have to concentrate just to make it bearable for other people to stand my presence?” he asked casually. “I’m doing it right now. If I didn’t keep my shields up, you’d be out that door and gone in under five seconds.”

She didn’t look convinced. “Because of magic I’ve had all the social appeal of a five-foot-ten septic hemorrhoid from the age of fourteen. Until I discovered how I could dial it down, I could literally clear the urinals at a beer drinking competition. I once had an escort offer to pay me to go take care of myself so she could cut the night short.”

“That sounds awkward.”

“I can’t sleep without losing concentration,” said Stirling, “You know what it feels like to drift off next to someone you really like, just to have them wake up screaming and in tears five minutes later? My magical talent is to be unlikeable, alone, and cock-blocked. Just how am I supposed to forget that shit?”

The faux Constable Queen winced and took a final drink from her cup. “I don’t know, I’m just here to make you aware of the situation.”
 
“Come on, throw me a bone,” said Stirling. “There must be something you can tell me. I’ve been trying to find anyone clued into the magic scene for years. I just want to learn how I can be normal again.”

“I can’t, you can’t.”

“You won’t.”

“I won’t,” she agreed, sounding a bit regretful. “People are all the same, Mr. Haig, no matter what their abilities are,” she said rising to her feet. “When they get scared they either run away or they smash what they are scared of.” She looked directly at him, and even with her sunglasses on he could feel her eyes lock onto his. “If there are people out in the world who know about magic, there’s probably a good reason we haven’t ever introduced ourselves.”

She walked herself to his front door.

“Thanks for the coffee, Mr. Haig, and please think about what I’ve said. I’m sorry I can’t do more for you.” With that, she left.

“Well fuck me,” said Stirling. Now he had a headache. Date night was officially off.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Well-intentioned Thermite

Chapter 4




Warning: This chapter contains adult language and humour. If dirty words offend, please read no further.

Again, this is a first draft, so expect errors. This is one of those chapters I'm a bit worried about infodumping in.  Feel free to comment below, and thanks for reading!




Stirling watched glumly as the fire crew rolled up their hoses and prepared to move out. Thermite, no matter how well intentioned, had its consequences.

 When the alarm pad inside the workshop counted down to twenty seconds without the right code being entered, a signal was sent that ignited a magnesium ribbon leading to a kilo of homemade thermite. The thermite in question had been packed onto the top shelf of the gun safe so everything below would be drenched in molten metal.

Stirling had put the thermite there when he realized that some of his creations were a danger to the public on the same scale as radioactive waste, or that seasonal favourite, “Last Christmas” by Wham!. Twenty seconds would tick away after the signal was sent in which a magnesium ribbon would slowly burn its way toward the thermite. It would be just long enough for Stirling to open the safe and yank out the burning ribbon if something had gone wrong with the keypad.

Once the thermite ignited though there was no turning back, it would burn through anything with a melting point below twenty-two hundred degrees Celsius—which is nearly everything.

The out-gassing of the exothermic reaction had blown the safe door off its hinges and embedded it into the drywall next to the entrance. From there, the fire had spread out to engulf a third of the workshop before the firetrucks had shown up. By that point, the thermite reaction had ceased, and the conventional fire was easily put out.

Once the hot spots were all doused, the fire crew had begrudgingly let Stirling pick through the remains. The duck he’d completed the night before had been squarely in the burn zone and no trace of it remained. Stirling wasn’t surprised because he could still feel it in his mind, it hadn’t burned, it had been taken. At that very moment, it was on the move somewhere to the west of him.

A dust-free silhouette on the soggy shelf by the door showed where a neat row of over twenty hardcover black notebooks used to be. Losing the duck was a blow, but losing the notebooks was a genuine catastrophe.

The notebooks were the journals of his progress, more than that though, each one of them was an irreplaceable work of art. They weren’t DaVinci’s journals, but the notebooks were as close as someone like him could manage. He’d documented countless experiments, every breakthrough and failure. There were pen and ink sketches, hundreds of tables and graphs. He’d invented his own shorthand to better describe the mental processes needed for specific spells. They had literally taken years to create, they were the reference he needed for any future work and they were gone.

He began his first notebook out of necessity at the age of fourteen. Up to that point he’d led a perfectly regular life, then, for a few brief minutes in that golden summer of his youth Stirling had ceased living and everything changed.

It had been a long sunny afternoon swimming with friends when he performed a spectacular dive off a wooden dock, and just as spectacularly, slammed his head into a rock at the bottom of the lake. It took long minutes for his friends to notice that Stirling hadn't surfaced and by that point his heart was already struggling toward stillness below the surface of the water.

They located him minutes later, motionless on the rocky lake bottom, a red halo gently drifting around his head. By the time they tugged him back up to the surface, his body contained all the life and vitality of a dented can of Spam.

In most cases that would have been the end, but as luck would have it, one of the girls on the dock that day was training to be a lifeguard. She administered CPR long enough so that when the paramedics finally arrived, they could do more than simply check ID and wait for the Coroner.
Immediately after his abortive death, Stirling was the centre of attention for his friends, school, and community. He was in the papers and the local news station did a story on water safety using his experience as a cautionary tale. The local parents even banded together for long enough to get the dock closed to the public for the rest of summer.

While he didn't bask in the spotlight of his dubious celebrity, it was still jarring when the initial furor passed and people began to draw away from him. Friends that he’d known from childhood were distant, and a cold bubble of exclusion began trailing him wherever he went.
From then on it was impossible to make new friends, and it was around the same time that animals began to shy away from him. In under a week he’d become the social equivalent of a pubic hair in a bowl of vanilla ice cream, and the worst thing was he had no idea why.

Then things began to get more strange.

He would be riding the bus, or walking through the mall when for no apparent reason he’d begin to shiver. Most of the time it didn’t last long and he’d be able to sit down and wait for it to pass. At the time he thought they might just be a lingering reaction to his mishap, a neurological tick from lack of oxygen, but he began to notice a pattern. The chills never happened when he was alone and they occurred the most when he was around the elderly.

Some of the episodes were nothing more than feeling his hair rise, lasting just a few seconds, others felt like he was suddenly biting down on the leads of a set of jumper cables.

It was six months after the chills began while visiting his grandfather in his nursing home that the pattern behind the shivers suddenly became clear.

The lady in the room next to his grandfather, whom he only remembered for her lurid fuchsia lipstick, was undergoing palliative care. Her family was present, holding vigil with tissues and red-rimmed eyes. A near-tangible silence flowed heavily from her room into the hallway.

The care nurse told them in the kind of quiet voice that people normally only used in libraries, that the room’s occupant had only hours left. By the end of the visit, Stirling was shaking so violently that the nurses, his mother, and grandfather, were all convinced that he was coming down with the flu.
The nurse in charge of the floor, who possessed bosoms that any airbrushed Valkyrie would envy, palpitated angrily over and whispered at his mother that, “The boy not come back for a visit until he was feeling well.” And, “Didn't she know that the elderly were much more susceptible to illness?”
Stirling knew better, he wasn't feeling at all sick. The pattern had clicked in his mind, he understood where the the chills came from and why they mostly happened while he was around the elderly. Somehow he could sense death, the closer it was, the more violent the reaction. From that day forward he was careful to avoid care homes, hospitals, and any restaurant that advertised an early bird special. He also began to test the limits of his ability and wrote down his observations in a series of black notebooks.

Stirling fished his phone out of his pocket and dialed Rebbecca.
“Don’t call me Beccy,” said Rebbecca.
“Fine.”
“Or Double b Double c, or anything else but Rebbecca.”
“Sure.”
“Say it with me, Ruh-bec-ah.”
“No time for love, Dr. Jones. You know that credit card number you got for the job today?”
“Yes?”
“Did you already run a deposit on it?”
“It’s what you pay me to do.”
“Good, run that deposit again, but this time accidentally add another couple zeros on the end. We deserve a nice big Christmas tip.”
“What!?”
“It was an accident, it could have happened to any number of self-absorbed party girls, which is exactly what I’ll tell the credit card company if they ask. Besides, everyone knows us millennial-types are a bunch of feckless moochers.”
“I’m not self-absorbed! And my sex life is just fine, not that it’s any of your business.”
“I said ‘feckless.’”
“Oh. So you’re just going to rip these guys off?” Stirling was a bit surprised at the lack of resistance. He thought that he’d have to spend time convincing her to go along with his little plan.
“Probably not. The credit card company will claw it back when they realize the mistake, but in the meanwhile, I want to open a dialogue with these people.”
“How come?”
“Because when I got to East Van nobody knew a thing about the job, and when I got back, my place it had been broken into and my workshop was burned down.”
“Wait! I think I’ve heard about this kind of shit! Burglars get everyone out of the house, then break in and steal Christmas presents right before Christmas.”
“Yeah, that was probably it,” agreed Stirling, examining his fingernails.
“Did they take my present?”
“Did you hear the part about how they burned down my workshop?”
“Yes, my present wasn’t in there was it?”
“No, but they…”
“And you have insurance?”
“Yes, but…”
“So, the question is, did they take my present?”
“Not sure, I’ll have to check,” he said evasively. Rebbecca caught the tone of his voice faster than a piranha on fresh meat.
“Wait, did you get me another Carnivore Club membership?” she asked, her voice turning dangerous. “Artisinal cured meats delivered to your door monthly?”
“Of course not, you’re a vegan. Anybody who has ever spoken with you for longer than thirty seconds knows your a vegan.”
“I was a vegan last year and it didn’t stop you.”
“I thought it might be just a phase.”
“I’ve been a vegan since we met at university. That was ten years ago.”
“Just put the credit card through, alright?” he said.
“Fine, but I want a thoughtful gift this year, no bags of pork rinds.”
“Okiedokie.”
“And if this credit card thing comes back to bite me in the ass, I’m totally blaming it all on you.”
“Got it. Thanks, Reba.” He hung up.

A firefighter with an impressive salt and pepper ‘stache straight out of a 70s porn video, noticed he was off the phone and walked over to where Stirling stood off to the side watching.

“I’m Dave Richards, the Assistant Fire Chief,” he said extending a hand.

Stirling shook. “Hey Dave, love the moustache, thank you very much for all of this,” he said motioning to the burned out workshop. “If nobody’s told you this yet today, you guys are fucking fantastic.”
“Thank you,” Dave replied, smiling. “This your house?”
“I rent.”
“Any idea what might have caused the fire?”
“Might have been the ceramic heater.” Stirling offered.
“That’s one hell of a ceramic heater.”
“I have poor circulation in the winter, got me a real good one.”
“Ceramic heaters don’t usually blow the doors off of gun safes, or get hot enough to do this,” he said tossing Stirling a glob of blackened metal the size of a golf ball. Stirling caught it, it was still warm.

“I loved that heater,” Stirling sighed.

The fire chief shrugged and nodded toward the workshop’s heavy metal door that had been ripped off its hinges and tossed to the middle of the lawn. The handle was missing, and the door itself was bent back from the deadbolt at a ninety-degree angle.

“Like I said, it must have been one hell of a heater, because that door wasn’t us. It was already sitting on your lawn when the trucks arrived.”

Stirling nodded, there was nothing short of a nuclear strike that could have taken that door off, he’d installed it himself. The thermite certainly hadn’t bent it like that, and he couldn’t help but draw a mental line between the mangled door and the three missing decoys.

Seeing he was back, one of the local ghosts had perched on top of the burned-out shed and was gleefully yelling insults while shaking his glowing ghost ass at Stirling. He ignored it.

“You got insurance?”
“Some, it’ll cover the damages, not the intangibles.”
“It never does. Well, sorry about your workshop, lousy thing to happen around Christmas. Good luck with the insurance company.”
“Thanks, Dave, and please thank your guys for their help,” said Stirling waving weakly at the fireman’s retreating back. Dave waved back without turning.
“Hey, Dave,” Stirling called, thinking of something.
The fire chief turned. “You think your guys at the hall would like artisinal cured meats sent to the station monthly? I’ve got an extra gift certificate.”

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Chapter 3 pt. 2 Ashes to Ashes,

Chapter 3 pt. 2 Ashes to Ashes.






Wherein our hero gets an unexpected job and disaster strikes.


Warning: This chapter contains adult language and humour. If dirty words offend, please read no further.

Again, this is a first draft, so expect errors. Feel free to comment below and thanks for reading!




Hastings Street was tarted up like a festive yuletide stripper, soggy tinsel pasties swaying gently in the breeze from every lamp post. Fairy lights lit up storefronts so doused in glitter that they resembled the aftermath of an event put on by the Pixie Hollow Swinger’s Club.

Outside of Rocky’s Meats, a Salvation Army Santa clanged holiday shoppers to an early migraine with a jolly, “Ho! Ho! Ho!” It took more effort to be seasonally festive in the rain, but the little neighbourhood of Burnaby Heights had practice and it was shaking its Christmas moneymaker for all it was worth. Stirling had barely noticed any of it.

On the short walk from his house, it had finally come to him why he was feeling out of sorts. Not one, but two of his ducks had fallen off the grid.

A year ago Stirling had made a plan the inspiration for which came from a computer program called SETI@home. SETI@home was designed to answer the question, “Are we alone in the universe?”

This was something of a coincidence because it was a question that had been on Stirling’s mind ever since he discovered that he alone could depopulate whole ant colonies with only a bit of concentration.

In their search for aliens, the people at SETI recorded a huge amount of data from the cosmos in the form of radio signals from the Arecibo Radio Observatory. It was so much data in fact that there was no way for them to analyze it all on their own. They solved this problem by sending out packets of information to individual personal computers all over the world. Once received, the computers would grind up the data into a fine powder and sift through it for signals from little green men.

The program was set up to run as a screen saver, simultaneously solving the question of our place in the cosmos, and screen burn-in at the same time. Once a computer was finished with its piece of data, it sent the results back to SETI where the staff looked at it, sighed deeply, shrugged, and kept looking.

Stirling came to realize what the people at SETI had already figured out; some tasks were just too big to do by yourself. He needed agents out in the world to do his work for him. As SETI had an army of personal computers to search for alien life, Stirling decided to use decoys to search out magical life.
Like the people at SETI, Stirling had come to the conclusion that he probably wasn’t a unique and special flower growing wild in the universe. If there was one, there were probably others with similar talents as his. Stories about magic were found in all cultures in all times. As the saying went, where there was smoke there was a Burger King.

He’d come to the realization almost immediately that metaphorically whipping out his eldritch junk and outing himself as a freak on national TV would be a very bad plan. He didn’t think anyone would feel safe if people discovered someone in their midst who could do the kinds of things he could. The best outcome he could imagine would involve him being used as a lab rat while white-coated science monkeys biopsied his brain.

So, how could he make contact with others like himself without exposing himself more thoroughly than a pantie-hating socialite getting out of her car? After some thought, he settled on the solution of creating magic hunting decoys. He would carve ducks, have his contact info laser etched onto the bottom, and ship them all over the world so they could be his calling card to the magical world.
He could sense his magic in them, and if he could, others might too. It had taken months of experimentation, but the first of the enchanted fowl had sold from his Etsy page in November.
Until he had proof that there were other people like him there would always be a little voice in the back of his head whispering that insanity was a lot more likely than the ability to do magic.

Now though, something had happened to two of his ducks. It might be nothing more than they'd been involved in some mishap and destroyed, but it also might not. It was worrying and exciting at the same time. His palms got tingly and his heart beat a bit faster thinking of it as he walked the rain-darkened sidewalks.

He was crossing Hastings and heading for home, his backpack heavy with groceries, when his phone buzzed in his pocket. He checked the display, it was Rebbecca.

“Hey Double b Double c, what’s shaking?” he asked into the phone.

There was a silence, “I’ve asked you not to call me that,” came the reply. “I could fine your ass for harassment.”

“It’s your name, not your boobs I’m talking about,” Stirling replied. “The name ‘Rebbecca’ has two Bs and two Cs,” he explained patiently. “You’d need to have four boobs to have two Bs and two Cs, and for me, that’s just a boob too far.”

There was a pause as she digested this, “So three breasts are your ideal?”
“Total Recall had an impression on teenage me.”

“I don’t know what that means,” said Rebbecca. “Just stop it, alright?”
“Fine, did you call to scold me, or is there a job.”

“That depends on whether you keep calling me Double b Double c,” she replied.
“By Grabthar’s hammer, I promise to stop calling you by that name.”

“Whatever, weirdo. It’s a good thing you have me as a buffer between you and your customers. You’re just too strange sometimes.”

She was more right than she knew. Years of little to no social interaction and working the night shift had atrophied Stirling’s mouth-brain barrier to the point that it was better if he had someone else to be the public face of this company. The blind had seeing-eye dogs, Stirling had recognized in himself the need for a speaking-mouth person. Being one of the most socially adept people he knew, Rebbecca was his first choice.

“Agreed,” said Stirling, “it’s why I pay you the big bucks. You’re the Jon to my Ponch, the Beau to my Luke.”

“This is what I’m talking about. This is why you don’t have a girlfriend.”

“The Salt to my Peppa,” he continued undeterred, “and, dare I say it, the spaghetti to my meatballs.”
Rebbecca sighed. “The job’s in East Van, I’m texting you the address and contact info, they need it done today. Like in the daytime when normal people work.”

“Really? You told them about the off-hours double-time?”

“Yeah, boss, they said it was urgent, something about ruined stock, got the credit card number and everything. You won’t burst into flames if you go out in the sun will you.”

“Nah. I’ll pack my parasol. What’s the job?”

 "A warehouse with a rat problem.”

“Ewwwww,” he said drawing the word out.

“I know, right? Mammals are nasty.”

“It’s the extra fluids,” he said sagely. “Alright, I’m almost home, print me out an invoice, and let them know I’ll be there in an hour, give or take.”

“Will do.”

“Bye, Beccy!” he said cheerily into the phone.

“My name…!” he heard as he pressed the disconnect button.

Twenty minutes later, Stirling was suited up, and in the van speeding down Hastings, missing ducks momentarily forgotten. Double time was always welcome, especially around the holidays when work tended to fall off around Christmas.

He arrived at the address and pulled into a paved parking spot along side of the building. It was one of the many warehouses that clustered around the rail yards in East Van. The building at the address Rebbecca had provided was long, grey, and aggressively uninteresting.

Stirling hopped out of the van, positioned his faux respirator on top of his head for best effect, and mounted the steps that led to the building. An unenthusiastic-looking twenty-something guy wearing ironic glasses and a flannel shirt sat behind the reception desk looking at a tablet. The distinct scent of recently smoked pot filled the air.

“Hi, Stirling Haig, I’m here for your rat problem,” he said by way of introduction, peeling off an elbow-length rubber glove and offering his hand.

The receptionist shook his offered hand on reflex. “Rats?” he asked, seeming confused.

“Yeah, I’m the pest control guy,” he said, handing over a card with his dead bug graphic.

This got him a long blank stare. “You know, rats? they’re small, furry, spread the Black Death. I’m here to make sure yours have eaten their last piece of cheese.”

“I know what rats are, but we don’t have any.”

“You sure?”

“Pretty much. We make kayaks.”

Stirling checked the text Rebbecca had and rattled off the address.

“That’s us,” the guy agreed, “but nobody told me you’d be coming in.”

“I was told the contact would be a guy called Brad. Is he around?”

“Sorry, nobody named Brad even works here, I think someone might be jerking you around.”

“Can you maybe just give your boss a shout and double check?” He was going to be pissed if this was a false call. They didn’t happen often, but they happened.

The receptionist shrugged, picked up a phone from the desk and dialed some numbers. “Nobody would’ve even be here today if we weren’t expecting a shipment, everyone’s off until after Christmas,” he said before speaking to someone on the other end of the phone.

Then Stirling felt it.

To sense one of his decoys he needed to concentrate, but the decoys were to the contents of his safe, what the residents of Tokyo were to Godzilla. No concentration was necessary to feel it. The cold presence of the safe in his workshop was always there in the back of his mind. Except now it was quickly disappearing from his senses.

“Motherfucker!” he shouted and dashed out of the building.

Stirling pulled into his driveway just in time to watch the fire department shake off the last drops of water from their hoses onto a charred hole in the side of his steaming workshop.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Chapter 3 Ashes to Ashes. pt 1. 




Moving right along into chapter three. These early chapters made me a bit nuts because I'm trying to introduce the reader to the world without infodumping on them. Not sure how successful I was in that. It'll be interesting doing a re-read when I come back for the second draft.



Chapter 3



When Stirling woke it wasn’t because he was rested, it was because something was different. The afternoon overcast gloamed through a crack in the curtains with the colour of a dirty ashtray, but it wasn't the light that had woken him. Something else had punted his sleeping mind out of dreamland, and for the life of him, he couldn’t think of what it was. 

As he lay awake thinking, a sound from the kitchen drew his attention. It was the regular metronome tap of a beak on heavy glass. It was a sound he knew well.
“Tis a visitor, tapping on my chamber door,” he croaked.

Stirling rolled out of bed, knowing that the longer he waited, the louder and more annoying the tapping would become. He pulled on a terrycloth robe and lurched woodenly out of the bedroom and into the kitchen. In the time it took him to walk from one room to the other, the measured easy listening beat of the tapping had become a speed metal jackhammer. 

“Alright!” he called, wiping his gummy eyes. 

At the ground-level window above the sink waited a large crow named Magnon. The crow eyed him with glass-black eyes, ruffled his feathers, and rapped hard on the glass with its beak three more times; the little bastard.

“You can see that I’m coming, right?”

Magnon hopped back to allow him to push the window open and bobbled over the sill before Stirling had a chance to move back. He fluttered onto the counter, flinging drops of rainwater onto the drying rack of clean dishes, his talons slipping and clicking on the brittle 1950s micarta. Stirling raised his eyebrows at the bird. Magnon eyed him back, unrepentant, and cawed loudly, the closed space in the small kitchen amplifying the sound.

Stirling wiped the spray off his face. “Wet today?” he asked, stooping to pry open the steel cat food container where he kept his supply of unshelled peanuts. He took out a generous handful and sprinkled them on a black rubber car mat that took up a quarter of his available counter space. He took another handful of peanuts, leaned far over the sink, and tossed them out into his backyard. The three or four crows who were waiting for this scrambled for the nuts filling as many as two or three in their beaks before flapping away to eat or hide their prizes.

Magnon attacked the peanuts on the mat, holding the nuts in his strong black talons and using his large beak to break the shells open. He puffed out the feathers around his neck in a self-congratulatory way as he ate.

“Keep them on the mat,” Stirling said, “I’m tired of picking shells up off the floor.” 

Magnon didn’t deign to look up.

Most animals tended to like him about as much as the bedbugs and fleas did. All but the most friendly dogs kept their distance, and cats hissed at him as he walked by. The cat thing didn’t bother him all that much, it always seemed to him as though their permanently raised tails were giving the world the middle finger anyway.

Though few animals were willing to accept his presence, one of the ones that would was the crow. Magnon and his crew had visited him every day without fail for the last three years, demanding peanuts and the occasional scraps.

Their relationship had begun with a rocky start. His backyard bordered on a greenbelt where there stood a large Alder tree that the local crows had claimed for their own. At first, things were fine, the crows did their thing, he did his, good neighbours respecting each other's boundaries. Then, without warning, every day, all day, for two hellish weeks, the crows participated in their own version of primal scream therapy. 

Sleep during the day was impossible. Stirling shouted at them, threw rocks, banged pots and literally danced in furious, naked, sleep-deprived rage. Nothing worked. He began to fantasize about crows falling dead from the sky as he lay awake with gritted teeth, bloodshot eyes staring at the ceiling. 
In a final Hail Mary attempt before bringing his talents as an exterminator to bear, he extended an olive branch in the form of peanuts tossed out into his backyard. He didn't hold out much hope it would work, but he wanted to at least be able to say that he’d tried.

On spying the peanuts, the crows swooped down, darted nervously in, and flew off to devour their prizes on the tops of telephone poles and roofs around the neighbourhood. For the rest of the day he slept soundly in the arms of blessed silence. The next day Stirling tossed out the same bribe, and as a result slept well for the second day in over two weeks. Things progressed to the point where he could depend on the neighbourhood flock to arrive every afternoon and line up on his backyard fence to collect their tithe.

As the feeding continued, Stirling noticed that some of the peanuts he threw would land a bit shorter than the rest. There was an invisible no-man's-land, that most of the crows wouldn't enter, even for the promise of roasted peanutty goodness.

One crow, however, lacked the sense of self-preservation of its less trusting friends. It would eyeball Stirling as he watched from inside the kitchen and sidle in to snatch the peanuts that fell closer to the house. It became a game to see how close he could get the crow to come. Now Magnon woke him every afternoon to eat breakfast with him.  

Stirling flicked the switch of his espresso maker and went to the fridge. There was only a thin line of white at the bottom of the milk jug, if he wanted milk for his coffee, which he did, there would need to be a trip to the store soon. He poured the last of the milk into a porcelain coffee mug, ate some toast and jam, and gave the crusts to Magnon.

Having finished its lunch, the crow hopped up to the windowsill and turned to look expectantly at Stirling. Stirling opened the window and watched Magnon hop out and launch himself into the air. 
As he watched the crow go, he still couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right. He noted with mild surprise that it had stopped raining, maybe that was it.

He dressed quickly in jeans and a button-up shirt, walked to the door, and took his rain jacket and hat off the hook. In Vancouver, rain in December was only a matter of time.



Notes:

Feel free to add comments. 
This is a first draft, so expect errors. 
This is written in Canadian English so the spelling may differ a bit from what you are used to. 
I know "gloamed" is not a word, but I liked it in this context.