Kalm looked at his two-headed axe lying in front of him on the boardroom table and wished that he hadn’t left his shield at his desk. Armor was out of the question, his helm and chainmail sat uselessly in the trunk of his car in the darkest depths of parking level thirty-three, section D.
“-but who is saying that we need to hire consultants?” The vice-queen’s voice cut through him like a shard of ice killing any further thoughts of his forgotten armaments. You could always hear it in her voice first. The practiced fake charm slithered away to reveal the more suitable growl that lurked underneath.
There was no hot water when I went to take a shower this morning. Oh great, I thought. It’s always something. I went down to the basement to see if I could figure out what was wrong with the water heater and right away I saw what was causing the problem: the dragon was dead.
The bell over the door jingled and Claire hastily tucked her book under the counter. It was one of her favorites and she’d just gotten to the best part. She didn’t want a customer to come in and claim it.
An older man, probably twice Claire’s age, entered the store. Actually, he really more danced his way in. The man turned this way and that, his eyes trained on the ground, all the while patting his pants, alternating front pockets and then back. Claire suppressed a giggle at the sight of his search dance – as it was fittingly known in the trade. The man gave up the floor and scanned the shelves by the door, muttering to himself while patting his breast pockets. “I swear I just had ’em. I was walking out the door…” He passed over boxes of buttons, jars full of jewelry, several large sacks stuffed with socks, and a pail packed with pocket watches before stopping in front of a particularly large crate nearly overflowing with keys. He gave a low whistle, eyeing the huge box with trepidation.
“You never sing for me. Why is that?” Rob’s voice was casual, but I froze. It was a breezy evening in March and a tired sun handed out the last lights for the day.
“I have an awful voice. I fear you’ll stop loving me once you hear me sing.” I tried to keep my voice playful, but fear in me didn’t make it easy.
He sighed and put a finger under my chin, turning my face so that my eyes met his. Chocolate brown and inviting—that was what his eyes were.
“Don’t lie, Nupur.” His casual tone had gone, and hurt framed his voice. “You sing for the young, the old, the sick and I always hear that you have a lovely voice. Some say your voice has magic.” With a great effort, I kept my face expressionless. The last word hit too close to home. “So why not for me, love? What have I done wrong?”
“Stop it, TJ, you’re doin’ it wrong!”
“Shut up, Alex, I am not.” Chalk staining his fingers, TJ drew a double inverted arrow, piercing the center of the circle.
“Are, too!” Alex crouched beside his brother, careful not to smudge the lines. “That’s not the way Mom showed us—”
Fred looked down on her burnt form. His squinting eyes bookmarked a crumpled expression and one twitching nostril that threatened to make his voluminous mustache crawl away to find a more appetizing site. Smokey smells replaced the expected morning scent of sagebrush after rain. Her right arm flung wildly above her reposed form, clawed at the scorched bark of an ancient pinyon destroyed by the previous night’s fire.
He scratched his back and rubbed his fingers through the mustache to calm its twitching, then cleared his throat. He looked at the late morning sun, as if to burn the image of her scorched flesh out of his mind.
She opened one eye slightly. Her voice rasp, “I must have slipped out. It won’t let me back in.” Her left fist unclenched, but the right hand kept rubbing raw burnt fingers against the remains of the pinyon.
The snowfall muffled the distant highway, and frosted autumn leaves still clung to their branches. Cody perched on the bench’s edge. His pug flopped into the carpet of snow at his feet. He watched Rachel’s fingers molding the handful of snow—clumsy and awkward. So simple, so ordinary. Magicless.
It was beautiful.
I’ve known Kimball since I was a kid. He lived in the abandoned space between my building and the red brick one on the left. Kimball slept under a mattress that he propped up against the alley’s old chain link fence that kept us kids from getting to school on time.
Kimball was harmless enough. He didn’t talk or scream at ghosts or people on fake cell phones. His arms were clean—no needle tracks. No one ever saw him even drink coffee. But, he was still a bum, and mom hated us talking to him.