The Coffee Shop, The Harpy, and the Jock

This is why I can’t have nice things. Covered in hot, foamy coffee and the center of attention I tried to make a discreet exit, but heaven forbid I get out of this with my dignity intact. The coffee and teas I’d been carrying hadn’t just wet my apron. Oh no, they’d managed to spill up and over it, spraying across my chest to drip down between my breasts. Yup. I had no doubt that my favorite shirt and brand new bra were destroyed. But that’s not the worst. 

To add to my humiliation, the person I least wanted to witness this, walked in just as a rather large dollop of foam plopped from my chest and onto the floor. His black hair was perfectly quaffed, the shirt he wore tight against his chest. His chestnut-colored eyes were bright as they entered but darkened as he took in the scene before him. I looked away, unwilling to see his reaction.

Simone, that stupid crone, sat perfectly at her table, the foot she’d stuck out now demurely tucked behind her other one. Her hair and make-up were perfect, as always, but the malicious gleam in her eyes was outshone by the amusement she felt at my folly.  Between her and her friend’s shrill, hiccuping laughter everyone had turned to stare. 

So there I sat, covered in hot liquids that burned my skin and made me flinch from the pain. At least no one else had been hurt. In an attempt to keep the drinks from spraying on a customer, I’d turned as I fell taking the full torrent of scalding liquid across my arms and chest. As I’d fallen, I’d landed on my hip which now throbbed angrily.  Shifting the tray to the floor beside me, I sat up. I picked up the mugs still on my lap and cursed as I felt fluid sink into my jeans. Awesome.

“Alia, are you okay?” Miah, one of the other patrons, asked.

“Yes,” I groaned. “Is everyone else okay? I didn’t get any on you right?”

“No, but you’re covered.” She bent to help me up but I shook my head no.

“I noticed that.”

I got to my knees and cursed. My hand had landed on a broken piece of glass, the sharp edge cutting into flesh. I sat back on my feet pressing my fingers closed as blood filled my palm. Red seeped from my fist then down my forearm. That didn’t bother me so much until the voice that always managed to make my body go warm spoke up.

“What the hell happened? And why is no one helping her?” Rohan pushed through the crowd. He glared at Simone and her friends as he passed, whispering something which had her eyes going wide and their laughter fading away.

The world stopped. What was that about? My heart sped as his face appeared before me, his striking eyes meeting mine. 

“You’re bleeding. Bloody hell, why is everyone just standing around?”

He reached out and grasped the back of my arms. With very little effort he lifted me to my feet just as Heather, another barista, appeared with a few white cleaning cloths. Grabbing a dry one, Rohan wrapped it around my fist.

“Come on, let’s get you cleaned up and this cut checked out.” His palm rested on my lower back as he guided me through the tables and toward the back. “Joseph, can you help get this cleaned up?”

“No problem,” Joseph said. Rohan’s teammate sunk down and with Heather’s help, began cleaning the mess.

Rohan led me past the counter and into the back room where a large sink stood. 

“You shouldn’t be back here,” I said, unable to look at him. My arms stung, the red welts brightening against my tanned skin. Tears stung my eyes.

“I think your manager will forgive me. And anyway, we need to get you cleaned up and your hand bandaged.” He turned on the cold water and made me lean just a bit over the sink. “Put those burns under the water. We need to bring the temperature down and stop them from getting worse.”

Leaning to the side, he removed a handful of paper towels. Rohan ran them under the water so that they were wet. Then he faced me. I’m halfway in the sink at this point, trying to cool the burns higher on my arm.

“I know this is weird, but you look like you’re in real pain. I can see the red marks on your chest. If you’re okay with it, I’ll hold this to them. Just the ones I see while you keep your arms in the water.”

“You want to hold that to my chest?” The question wouldn’t have been a big deal if my voice hadn’t cracked. 

Rohan bit his lip to hold back a smile. “I promise it’s not a line.”

I snorted, “I’m sure that’s what they all say. It’s fine.”

A girly squeak escaped my lips as the cold cloth touched my skin. Almost instantly it began to feel better. I closed my eyes, unable to believe this was happening. My crush and the hottest guy at school was holding a cool cloth to my skin and clucking after me like a mother hen. 

“So, what happened?” he asked.

I glanced up, only then realizing he was inches from me. This close I could smell the soap he used. It was mixed with his own scent, sunlight, and earth. It was intoxicating.

“Um…I tripped.”

“And by that you mean the harpy named Simone thought it would be funny to trip you,” he said. I bit my lip but didn’t say anything. His eyes lowered to watch the movement. “Of course she did. I swear that woman’s a menace.”

“I think the phrase you’re looking for is malicious bitch from hell.”

He laughed. “Yes, that’s a much better phrase. Accurate too.” He smiled down at me. “I think this is the most I’ve ever heard you talk. Unless you’re helping customers that is.”

I straightened and Rohan stepped back. Removing the cloth wrapping my fist, I opened my hand to find crimson painting my skin. He cursed, but I just placed it under the water. At my wince, his hand pressed to my lower back.

“Here, let me see.” He took my hand out of the water and looked at the wound. It wasn’t bad, maybe two inches long with only one deep section. “I don’t think you need stitches, but it definitely needs a bandage. Do you have a first aid kit?”

“Over there,” I pointed, then asked, “Why are you helping me?”

Rohan grabbed the first aid kit then began to rummage through it. He removed a bandage and some antibacterial ointment placing them on the counter. I leaned against the prep table and watched as he avoided my question. When he took my hand, removing the paper towel I pressed to it and meeting my eyes, I could barely breathe.

“I know how they treat you; Simone and her cronies. It’s not cool. We’ve been trying to get her to stop, but….”

“What are you talking about? You don’t know me, let alone acknowledge me at school. You’ve never even spoken to me.”

He shrugged. “True, but that’s because you make me nervous.”

“Nervous?” I said, with a laugh. Warmth spread down my spine and I had to work to control my breathing.  “Me?”

“Yeah.” His eyes flicked up for just a moment before he placed the bandage over the wound. “You’re beautiful. Way out of my league.”

“What?” This time it squeaked.  I was doing great not embarrassing myself. “You’re the captain of the football team, the leader of the debate club, and the most swooned-over guy in our school. Okay, probably the surrounding ones too.”

He chuckled. “So you know of me then?”

I would have rolled my eyes, but I had been struck dumb by the smile he shot me. 

“And I’m…I’m…Well, I’m no one.”

“You’re not no one. You’re smart – you kill it in the decathlon. You’re a hard worker not only here but in school. You skateboard every day and can out trick anyone who challenges you. Which is super hot by the way. I know from sitting behind you in calculus that you’re funny. And you’re beautiful.”

I tried to pull my hand from his, but his grip tightened. He stepped closer and ran a thumb across its back. I didn’t know what to say.

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“How are you feeling? Better?”

“I’m confused and rather uncomfortable having this conversation while soaked in cappuccino and herbal teas.”

He smiled. “Would you consider having dinner with me?”

I knew my mouth had gaped open, but I couldn’t find any way to close it. Luckily, Heather stepped into the back shocking me out of the haze that had overtaken me. I stepped back, blinking wildly.

“Alia,” She said, rushing over. “Are you okay? That was awful, why is she so evil?”

“I’m fine. Wet, sore, but fine.”

“Well, I called Jerome and told him everything. He’s coming in to cover. He wants you to take the rest of the night off and make sure your parents look at your burns. They look awful.”

“But my mom can’t pick me up until after eight. I- I guess I can see if Barb next door can come to get me.”

“No need,” Rohan said. “I can drive you home and, maybe after you get cleaned up, we can go get pizza? Or, we can go another time. Totally up to you.”

Heat rose in my cheeks and I swallowed hard. Damn, I was blushing. I’d nearly forgotten he was there. How, I had no idea considering he still held my hand, and at some point, he’d leaned against the table next to me. I could feel the heat of his body, he was so close.

Heather clearly hadn’t because her smile grew wider and her gaze jumped back and forth between us. “That’s perfect! Thank you so much! Alia, get your purse. Let him take you home and if you don’t take him up on dinner I’ll pour whipped cream down your pants again.”

Rohan let out a startled laugh while I just glared. 

“We’re not starting that fight again. I won last time, remember? And we both almost got fired because of it.”

“Technicality. And that’s beside the point. You want to avoid another war, then go on a date with that hot piece of man meat holding your hand.”


Rohan was shaking with laughter and I couldn’t blame him. Heather was a force to be reckoned with.

“You’re so gonna get it,” I said to Heather, who just clapped her hands knowing she’d won. I met Rohan’s eyes. “Are you sure you’re okay with taking me home so I can de-sugar?”

His eyebrow raised, but he held back comment. “Of course. Are you up for dinner after?” 

I bit my lip and nodded. 

“Awesome. Let’s go.”

I grabbed my purse and jacket, flinging them over my shoulder. When I joined him, he placed his hand on my back and guided me out. I could feel the eyes on me, but in my embarrassment, I couldn’t lookup. 

We met Joseph at the door. He held out a cup to Rohan who took it with thanks.

“Joe, I can’t go out tonight.”


Rohan shook his head. “I have more important plans.”

“Is that so?” His gaze swung to me, a smile spreading across his face. “He finally asked you out, huh? Took him long enough.”

“That or he feels sorry for me.” I held out my arms. “Because let’s be honest, no one wants to go out with a girl covered in welts.”

“You’re beautiful, welts or no welts,” Rohan said, opening the passenger door to a blue truck. I slid in knowing that I was blushing again based on the way the welts darkened. Really? Like I needed another sign of my awkwardness.

Joseph sat behind me, and before Rohan slid in, he said, “He’s had a crush on you for over a year. Be nice to him okay? He’s significantly shier than you’d think.”

“He’s the most popular guy in school. Girls are all over him, all the time,”  I said dumbfounded.

“Which makes it worse. He hates it. He’s a really nice guy, Alia, and he really likes you.”

I didn’t say anything because, just then, Rohan opened the driver-side door.

“We’re dropping Alia off first so she can clean up. Then, if she doesn’t back out, I’m taking her to dinner. We can hang out later. Cool?” Rohan asked.

“Definitely,” he patted Rohan on the shoulder.

“I’m not going to back out,” I said, seriously. Rohan’s eyes met mine.  “Heather’s wrath just isn’t worth it. Plus, how could I say no to the guy who took care of me after the most embarrassing moment I’ve had since entering high school.”

His lip quirked and I swear I swooned. “I’ve heard she’s a force to be reckoned with.”

I laughed. “That she is. Now, Mr. Hot Piece of Man Meat, take me home so that we can go get some pizza.”

Joseph choked. “Mister what now?”

Rohan managed to hold back a grin only long enough to point at Joseph and say, “That will never leave this truck. It gets out or you ever refer to me like that, and I’ll put whipped cream in your boxers.”

“Boxers?” I said. “Wow, that’s a setup from pants. You’re hardcore.”

Rohan winked, then started the car.

Joseph leaned between the front seats. “Um, I feel like I’m missing something.”

“You are, but keep in mind that if he doesn’t do it, I will. And I have no trouble getting creative,” I said, meeting his eyes.

He blanched and sat back against his seat. “Damn, Ro. She’s awesome. Little scary, but awesome. You better treat her right or I’m gonna ask her out.”

“Don’t even think about it.”

I was picking at my nails as we turned onto the street my mind spinning a thousand miles a minute.  How in the world had this happened to me? Was I really in a car with Rohan? Had he really asked me out? Oh my god.

I jumped when Rohan reached over and took my hand to stop my fidgeting. I was about to pull away when I noticed the shy, hesitant expression on his face. He was nervous. He tried to pretend he wasn’t, but by the way he watched me from the corner of his eye, I knew he was. I pressed my lips together, the sweet gesture causing butterflies to fill my stomach. Taking a breath I told myself I could do this. I could be brave and take a chance. I did every day when I skateboarded, why not here? I laced my fingers with his and he shot me a surprised look. 

I glanced out the window before I told him the truth. “I’ve had a crush on you for forever, too.”

“Oh!” Joseph said, stretching out the single syllable. “You two are adorable. I am so glad I was here to witness this.” 

“Shut up,” we said in unison, which made us all laugh.

The night was amazing. They dropped me off, I got cleaned up, and then we went on a date. I have no idea how the most embarrassing moment of my life turned into the best night of my life, but it did. The best part was, at school the next day, telling Simone thank you for setting us up. Now that had to be the highlight of my year. She spat out her soda all over her cronies who sat with her in the lunchroom and began screaming. Then Rohan had walked up, wrapped his arm around my waist, and escorted me to the table where Joseph and a few other guys sat. as we sat down, Rohan leaned over to whisper in my ear. The moment he asked me out again, I said yes.

Published on OBW Blog May 7, 2021 © Tracey Canole

The Truth Behind the Mirror

**This piece is a little longer than my usual posts, but it was so much fun and the characters were determined to tell their story. I hope you enjoy the mix of sweet interaction and creepy, unexpected events! As always, thank you for reading!**


South Mountain Amusement Park – The Place for Fun and Adventure!

The single bulb illuminating the sign welcomed those who dared into its depths. The once bright colors had faded, but the carved script was clear even as the chips and gouges in the wood became visible. A depiction of a Ferris wheel arched up and around the words only to sink behind a set of brightly colored balloons. I cringed, knowing the reactions I got from this sign were far different than most.

The others around me laughed. Their excitement was palpable, tingling on my skin and tasting of freedom, anticipation, and a hint of lust. The tight t-shirts the guys wore accentuated their athletic forms. The scent of their cologne wafted back to me with the wind and I had to hold my breath, the acrid scent overpowering. They tried to pretend that their dates exposed stomachs, or how their skirts rode up, didn’t affect them but they couldn’t.  The girls? They didn’t even try to hide. They openly gawked, shooting hot glances when they thought no one was watching. It didn’t matter, even if it weren’t so obvious, the teenage mating ritual always drew attention. It was a dance so unpracticed, that the experienced couldn’t resist the urge to sit back and partake in the show. Even I could see the humor in the scene before me and I was probably worse off than any one of them. 

That said, I couldn’t blame them for their excitement. They’d been looking forward to this for weeks.  Whereas I had not. Situations like this were completely out of my wheelhouse.

I straightened my fitted band tee, pulling it down so that it didn’t bunch over my breasts. I grabbed the braid that fell across my shoulder and played with the end. It was hard not to compare myself to them, to feel inadequate. With my frayed skinny jeans and red converse, I wasn’t even like the teenagers here with their families. I was different and not just in look. Maybe I should have dressed up. If I had, would it have brought me closer to their world? I didn’t think so. It wasn’t just the way I dressed that was different. It was something deeper, more intrinsic, and those I met always seemed to sense it.

“Where’s your man?” I asked my best friend, Wren. “I thought he was coming tonight.”

Her blond hair shimmered in the moonlight as she reached out to slip her arm in mine. I could feel her vibrating through the contact and had to smile. 

“How did you talk me into this again?” I asked. “Oh wait, I remember. I’m a sucker.”

Wren just laughed because we both knew why. She was my closest friend and after she’d confided that she was nervous about coming tonight, I’d volunteered. Stupid on my part really, but since Luke had to work late and she was riding with a bunch of Luke’s friends-whom she wasn’t comfortable with yet-I was here. Why she thought I would make it better, I have no idea. 

I was the weirdo in school, the one people stared at for being strange. Different. To be honest, they weren’t wrong. But I was happy to say that, up to that point, they’d pretty much brushed off my presence. It made me sad to think that the peace I felt being ‘normal’ wouldn’t last. Things would change, they always did.  

I pushed away those thoughts as Wren rested her head on my shoulder. Warmth filled my chest. It was nice to know that my being here allowed her to be as relaxed as the rest. That’s why it was all worth it. Regardless of my inability to feel the same, I couldn’t blame them for their joy. I definitely didn’t blame her.  

“He’s meeting us at the Merry-Go-Round. Which should be just up to the left,” Wren said. I shook my head amused as she tightened her shoulders and let out a high-pitched ‘eek.’ If she hadn’t been holding onto me, she would’ve shaken clenched fists in the air and maybe even bounced. 

God, she was adorable. 

It was lucky Luke was a good guy. If he hadn’t been we would have had serious problems. He never would’ve gotten close to Wren, but he’d quickly proven the type of man he was. I learned just how kind, funny, and good to her he was. That’s all I could ask for. Plus, he’d never blinked an eye at our friendship as so many others did.

We passed the sign and, from the corner of my eye, I saw the bulb flicker then go out.  A sense of foreboding ran up my spine like spiders running along my skin. I shivered. Wren noticed and leaned in to whisper in my ear.

“Everything will be fine, I promise. Just stay close. No rides are expected of you and whenever we’re on one, you stay close.” She said those words but picked up the pace. 

Damn, she was nervous too. We caught up to the rest of the group in just a few strides and instantly got sucked into Jackie and Andre’s debate about which carnival dessert was better-deep fried snickers or cotton candy. 

Before Wren had the chance to insert her opinion, and I knew she would, I pulled her in and kissed the crown of her head. “I know. Don’t worry about me. Just have fun tonight.”

“Hey!” Luke said, jumping out of the shadows. He wrapped an arm around Wren while pushing me away playfully. “What’re you doing hanging on my girl? I saw that kiss and in front of my friends no less. For shame!” 

Wren laughed, her eyes bright and happy.  I shook my head, a grin stretched my face making my cheeks ache. I really did like Luke. There was no fear of me, no hesitation to stand near me, to talk or joke with me. He also understood Wren was my sister.  He treated me like I was normal. I appreciated that more than he knew. We’d even hung out and I’d been shocked when nothing bad happened. Only Wren had ever kept the darkness away.

I shoved his shoulder. “I was making sure no one else tried to swoop in and steal our girl from us. And considering I kept her from the best dessert debate, you should be thanking me. You know how passionate Wren gets about churros.”

He slapped my back. “True that. These guys have no idea how close they were from getting an ear full.”

“Hey! I’m not that bad.”

“No honey, you’re not.”

I chuckled, Wren poking Luke in the side at his placating tone. 

“I have a surprise,” Luke said, the mischievous look in his eye making me wary. My muscles tightened and my stomach clenched in warning. With a grin, he continued, “Alec, I want you to meet someone.” 

A pretty girl with deep red hair and honey brown eyes stepped from the shadows. I recognized her heart-shaped face from school. She was a year younger and, from what I’d heard, ridiculously smart. Sweet too. Beautiful. Okay, so maybe I’d noticed her before, but I never would’ve approached her. It wasn’t worth the risk. I wouldn’t want someone as kind as she was getting the backlash of my presence. Let alone my attention.

“This is my sister, Heather. Heather, this is Alec. I think you two have seen each other at school.” He pulled Heather closer. 

She stood, hands clasped, her lip trapped between her teeth. The soft pink lipstick she wore matched her simple v-neck blouse. I could tell she was nervous, but there was an eagerness there too. I could smell it in the air, lemon and honey, which mixed with her own lavender scent. 

“Breathe Alec” became my new mantra. 

“Hey, um… I hope you don’t mind if I join you guys,” she said, her voice a melody. “I’ve wanted to talk to you for a while so when Luke…” 

She shrugged, a flush rising on her pale cheeks.

It took me a long moment to find my voice. Had she just admitted to wanting to get to know me?

“Hi, Heather. Um, yeah.” I turned to glare at Luke then leaned close. In a harsh whisper, I said, “You promised to leave it alone, Luke. I don’t want anyone to get hurt. Especially not her.”

Heather’s gaze dropped to the ground and a wave of guilt passed through me. I swallowed hard.

“Alec,” Wren said. I could feel the reproach in her gaze. “I promised nothing would happen tonight and it won’t. Come on, it’s been weeks since anything bad happened. You’re seventeen and you deserve to have a life. Luke invited her after he caught Heather checking you out at the football game. When he mentioned it, she admitted she’s had a crush on you for a while.”

Wren met my eye, leaning even closer. I could feel her breath on my cheek. 

“And I know for a fact like her too. Take the chance, Alec. You deserve it.” I opened my mouth, about to say something, but she stopped me. “I know all the arguments. You and I have had this out before. Luke trusts you and so do I. So just try, okay? You two will stay with us and if anything happens, I’ll be there. I promise.”

Fear roiled through me. It may have been months since the last incident, but that usually meant that when it happened again it was going to be bad. I met Luke’s eyes and he nodded. With a deep breath for courage, I turned and smiled at Heather.

“So, uh, would you like to go play some games? Wren is crap at ball toss and it’s always fun embarrassing her”

A smile spreads across her sweet face. “That sounds fun. Luke is terrible at darts so maybe we can take turns embarrassing them.”

Just like that, the night got significantly more interesting. Let’s hope the curse didn’t decide tonight was the night to flare.

Heather smiled, then slid her hand into the crease of my arm. Her fingers were warm and soft, tingled shooting from the contact. My mouth went dry and my heart pounded in my chest. I needed to calm down. Things got worse when I was nervous.

Luke’s amused gaze swept us. The rest of the group watched us with interest.

 “Alright then,” Luke said. “Y’all ready for this? Fun, games, and maybe a little trouble?”

With cheers, the girls grabbed their date’s hands and pulled them forward. Wren rested her head on Luke’s shoulder as they fell in behind. Shoving my hands into my pockets and with Heather’s hand still laced with my arm, we headed inside. 

The lights of the arcade and carnival games were welcoming as they glittered brightly, bouncing off the technicolor signs. Pictures of hot air balloons, creepy clowns, and exaggerated cartoon animals lined the stalls. We strolled from one to the other, taking turns at each of the games to see who could best whom. The next hour was amazing. We competed, we laughed, and we acted like normal teenagers. It was the first time I had done anything like it. Even Luke’s friends relaxed around me until it felt like I was one of the crew. For a moment I forgot about who I was – what I was.

I won Heather a giant panda. She’d laughed at the way Luke and I had bantered as we shot water into the mouth of some pretty creepy clowns. The insults had ramped up the closer to the finish. When the lights began to flicker and the tent to shake, I started to panic. Without asking, Wren rested a hand on my shoulder and it all went away. To everyone’s surprise, I won. As a thank you Heather kissed my cheek. I almost died.

“You’re blushing!” Wren teased. 

“Careful Alec, that’s my little sister. I’m watching.” Heather snorted, rolling her eyes.

“She kissed me!” I laughed. But I refused to back away instead, taking Heather’s hand. Her shy smile hit me hard. I lifted it to my lips and kissed the back. A burst of shock lit me from within. Had I just done that? 

Wren tried to hide her squeal and failed, but I couldn’t be mad. I knew what Wren had already figured out, I  liked Heather. We’d been talking so much since we started and we had a ton in common. She was fascinating, funny, and more at ease with herself than most girls our age. She made me feel interesting and not in a bad way. It was the best night I ever had.

“So what’s next?” Heather asked.

“Ferris wheel and then the house of mirrors!” One of Luke’s friends, Connie, screamed. 

“It is going to be awesome!” Simon, her date said.

With each step toward it, my breaths quickened. I swallowed the lump that had begun to form in my throat.  Luke placed a hand on my shoulder and I swear I felt his kindness seep into me. 

“There’s a bench at the base of the Ferris Wheel. I was going to ask if my jerk of a sister would ride with me while you and Wren waited.” He glanced at Heather.  “Wren doesn’t care for heights and I don’t want to leave her alone.”

Lie. I glanced away.

“Sure. Hey Wren, could you get me a soda? I figure you’re getting one for this bumble-head anyway.” Heather elbowed her brother.

“Absolutely! Coke?”

“That’d be great. Thanks.” Heather released my hand before stepping onto the platform.

For a moment, I got distracted by her golden ponytail. It shifted in the breeze like golden silk. The clank of their door shutting made me wince. My hands went clammy and I had to hold my back the urge to yank them from the Ferris Wheel. That wouldn’t be weird at all.

“They’ll be okay,” Wren said. “I’m right here and this park does daily checks of all their equipment.”

Like that mattered. I glared at my best friend. 

“You don’t understand. I really like her. What if something happens. No, I can feel that something’s going to happen. I can’t let her get hurt.”

 “You’re just being paranoid.”

Anger, so hot my fingers began to ache. She knew what I was. She’d seen what I’d done in the past. How could she say that?

There was a groan from one of the main supports. The engineer running the ride stiffened, eyebrows dropped low in concern. Somehow Wren missed it.

“Take a seat on the bench there. I’m gonna get sodas for Luke and Heather from the shop fifteen feet away. Take a minute and calm down. Also, be aware that, even up there and with her brother, Heather is looking at you.”

My cheeks heated. I glanced up and, Yup, she was right. I waved. She waved back. 

“Fine,” I said sitting where she indicated. 

I shut my eyes and leaned back against the fence that surrounded the ride. The bench was hard, cold against my skin. I took some breaths, but they did nothing to calm me. I felt it approaching, the darkness that followed me everywhere. For a long time, I’d thought it fed on my fear, but I’d learned the truth was far more unsettling. I hadn’t told anyone yet, not even Wren.

The energy I couldn’t seem to get a hold of leaked from me, calling the creatures living in shadow. I tried to lock it down, but the panic that sat at the base of my skull grew, screaming to the universe that I was out of control. It rose again and there was a snapping sound behind me. 

Shit, they were close. I should have looked, but I couldn’t. If I did, it would only get worse. So instead I focused on that flow of energy escaping me. I willed it to stop. 

“Wren!” I screamed. I couldn’t see her. She was gone, lost in the crowd and I was alone. 

I knew then the evening frivolity all these people craved was about to become a nightmare. I blocked out the sensations of anticipation and fear from those on the surrounding rides. Their emotions tried to seep into my veins, but the walls I’d erected held. There was a deep whine and then the sound of metal bending. Shocked screams echoed and the engineer cursed. A burst of terror swept over me and it forced its way through my control. I shook. Too much power.

I curved into myself when it rushed out of me to slam into the metal supports keeping the Ferris Wheel aloft. No one around noticed the wave of pure black, but I did. I knew it was mine. The structure tilted and screams filled the air. There’s one loud pop, and then another. I press my hands to my temples hoping to hold in another blast of power.

The worker in charge of the ride miraculously stayed calm. Mostly. He moved quickly to unload people as quickly as possible. One bucket, then the next bucket. He kept the buckets moving, yanking people from their perches. I scanned for Luke and Heather. Not the last bucket, but close. The panic threatens to push me over the edge, but before it has the chance to overflow I feel Wren. She’s dropped the sodas running toward me. I stumble as her arms wrap around me, her head pressed to my chest. 

Wren is light chasing away the darkness devouring me; love, laugher, joy.

Air rushed into my lungs and my mind cleared, every ounce of uncontrolled emotion gone. Pain, terror, distrust it cannot live where she is.

“It’s okay. I’ve got you,” she says into my chest. 

“You left.” 

“I’m sorry. I thought you could see me.  I wasn’t far. I’m sorry. You’re okay. Just keep breathing. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“But I did!” My voice cracked, tears stung my eyes. I pressed my face into her hair when I noticed Connie and Simon watching me. The distrust and accusation were clear in their expressions.

“No one was hurt. You’re okay. It doesn’t matter. This was an old ride.”

“I shouldn’t be here.”

“Yes, you should,” Luke said, startling me. 

I hadn’t seen him or Heather approach. My last memory was their worried faces over the side of the bucket. I gasped as kindness and understanding flowed through the hand he placed on my shoulder. I sucked it into myself needing every ounce they could give. I stood there a long moment, the sound of emergency personnel rushing around a hum in my ear.

Wren pulled back to meet my eyes. Like only a few times before, I couldn’t help but see something in that gaze that said there was more to her. There was an ancient quality to the soul who looked back. That’s when I knew, that she knew, what I was.

I swallowed hard. She wasn’t afraid of me. How was that possible? 

Heather joined Luke. 

“ Are you guys okay?” I asked.

“We’re fine, but I wonder what happened,” Heather said.

Luke’s sent me a sad smile- a knowing smile- filled with apology. 

Connie, still sending wary looks my way, touched Luke’s arm. “Why don’t we head over to the house of mirrors. I don’t think I can handle another ride.”

I dropped my head. “I don’t think I should go,” I whispered.

“What? No, it’s my favorite,” Heather said.” Please?”

Every single person in my small circle had the same thing in their eyes, a hope and determination to spend time with me. I understood and appreciated it, but the fear of losing control was still fresh in my mind. In there? I’d kill people. 

“We will not be more than 5 feet from you,” Wren prompted. Luke agreed, patting my shoulder

This was a bad idea. With a deep breath, we walk to the House of Mirrors. I run my hand down my braid as we step inside. Sweat beads along my spine. I’ve always hated places like this. Lost, was never a good idea for someone like me. And for some reason, the house of mirrors had always been the worst. Maybe it’s because I could see myself so clearly with all the different angles, my flaws, and doubts on display in each and every mirror. No matter the direction or angle for which I appeared. Then there were the mirrors that altered my reflection, twisted it into something dark. Was that the truth of me? I didn’t know.

The first few mirrors were fine. The second set, too. Then we went deeper, into a maze that I swear pulled the wrongness from me. I clenched my jaw at the image of wings arching back and up in black rivulets from my shoulders. Ten or more feet long they drug on the ground as the feather-like tips trace my path in the dirt. 

No one saw them. No one reacted. 

Just like the wings, the black lines that stained my skin, starting at my spine and working around my neck then down my arms, were invisible. The crimson marks that encircled my eyes and mouth, and tinted my fingernails were only apparent to me. Or so I thought. When they’d appeared first in a mirror I thought Wren flinched, but then she smiled only to disappear around the corner. I must have imagined it.

Heather and I were right behind them. We examined our reflections commenting on the strange changes each mirror caused. I tried to act normally, but the proof of what was on my skin was more than I could handle. My heart rate picked up, my eyes stinging with tears of frustration. But halfway through, nothing had happened. Yet. It was about then that I realized Wren and Luke are gone. They’d taken another turn too quick for me to track.

I told myself it didn’t matter- that they were right there, but then I glimpsed a change that terrified me to my very core. In a new mirror, a line of maroon vines extended from my left eye. It reached up, disappearing into my scalp while another skated down to wrap around my throat. These were new. As I swallowed, I saw it contract and, I swear, I felt its power. A malevolence that tasted of blood and the darkest shadows of the human soul. Bile rose in my throat. It was getting worse!

Unable to take it anymore, I screamed for Wren. I heard her somewhere far off. Heather comforted me, but the darkness came from within this time. It swirled, snaking around my stomach and then my throat. I resisted the urge to puke.

Wren’s voice called back. It was farther away this time. She couldn’t find her way.

I’m not happy to admit that I did not respond well to this. The panic peaked, the fear that I’d hurt someone sucked into the vines, and those taunting lines began to glow. The knowledge that no matter what I did, I would fail filled me and I held in another scream. I spun in a circle praying she’d appear.

An image stopped me in my tracks. It was the mirror that stretched your reflection. To me, it always felt like the one which revealed the most truth about the subject. I wish that was not the case because as I stared at my distorted form I was able to see everything.  Something lit my eyes from within and my wings solidified. They stretched and shifted. With every movement, the light grew brighter. My blood went cold, fingers and toes numbing. Here it came. 

 The world tilted. The ground opened and cracks appeared in every direction. Heather fell to her knees with the force of the tremor.  I called for the others to run – to get as far away from me as possible, but there was no time. A growling rumble had me covering my ears. Then Connie was sucked down into the ground and out of sight. Heather squeaked. Cracks at my feet extended, arching in a circle fifty feet wide and the floor disappeared. A sinkhole materialized and everything within its range slid into the darkness below.  

Heather lost her footing. My knees cracked as they hit the concrete, my hands latching onto Heather as she fell.  I held on with everything I was.

“Wren! Luke! Help us!” I screamed. I lowered my volume and spoke just to Heather. “I’m so sorry. This is all my fault.”

“No, Alec,” she said, between harsh breaths. It struck me how calm she was. “You are not to blame here. You are young, only beginning to become what you will. Do not blame yourself.”

“What?” I asked, still attempting to pull her up. She strained, but the suction below had a good grip.

“I think it is time for your training to start,” Heather said. “Wrenwitch has waited too long I fear. That is alright. We can fix it.”

She was nuts. Got it. Her hands slipped and I almost dropped her. Her feet suddenly found purchase which allowed my grip to steady. I put every ounce of effort I have behind my next pull. A bellow of determination ripped from my throat and with it, every mirror shattered. Glass exploded outward. Screams of those not yet out filled my ears. Heather grinned.

“So much power,” she whispered. 

 Her words didn’t register. I was too focused on holding her as my arms shook with the effort. This sweet girl, who decided to show interest in someone she shouldn’t, didn’t deserve to die. If I let her, I would never forgive myself.

Like a light switch turning on, something clicked in my head. I slammed my eyes shut at the pain behind my eyes. When I opened them again, the darkness that overtook me, the emotion that burst free to hurt everything around me, congealed into a mist of solid shadow.  It swayed as if waiting for instruction. I didn’t think, I acted.  I pulled with all of myself. The darkness slid down my arms, around my fingers, and along Heather’s arms. She gasped. With one final attempt, I and my shadows drug her up and over the side. It took forever. But there was no slipping, no pain, just relief as she fell into my arms. I clutched her to me, whispering apologies and requests for forgiveness. She snuggled in closer.

We stayed like that for a long moment until, with a pop, sound came back. I hadn’t realized it had gone. Thundering steps approached and then Luke and Wren were there. They encompassed us both in their embrace. Love, laughter, kindness, and loyalty poured into me with their touch. I calmed instantly. But there was something new there too. What was that? 

Placing my hand on Heather’s neck, I closed my eyes and focused. She tensed. Sitting up she stared at me warily.

“Madness and Lust?” I said, shocked. “I don’t understand. Those do not fit you at all.”

She smiled, brushing her hair behind her shoulder. “And why not? They are a part of each of us in varying quantities. They are my burden to bear just as fear and rage are yours, but they do not define me. Just as yours does not define you.”

Her fingers brushed my cheek and my eyes closed instinctively. I had no idea what to say to that.

“I know you believe that you are evil, but this is untrue. You are important to this world, a fallen now tasked to balance the emotions of this world. It is our penance.”

“Our penance? Fallen? As in angel?”

Luke nodded slowly. Wren placed a hand on my leg.

“Yes,” Wren said. “You will remember everything. Just give it time.”

 Published on OBW Blog April 9, 2021 © Tracey Canole  

Failure of a God

The warm evening air sizzled with energy, prickling along her skin. The warning was amplified by the scent of the wet moss and death that coated her tongue and throat. Someone was here. An intruder to this realm. 

Samina walked through the buildings of the small downtown and stopped at the corner. Rising to her toes she glanced in both directions. No one. Nothing. But that couldn’t be. The creature’s energy was strong, but something within it must have blocked her ability to pin the direction. 

The shops had closed hours before so the street was silent. The scarcely placed lanterns provided the only sense of movement as the light flickered across the concrete to reveal potholes littering the street. As she watched, the shadows quivered, whispering to the night and telling secrets to the wind. It had been this way for centuries.   But who was there and why had they come? 

Samina knew that if she were to find this intruder, she’d have to use another method.  Crossing her arms, she turned in a slow circle and searched the darkness for that wicked malevolence she’d felt earlier. It was there, a remnant of its presence which had leaked from its very soul, like a snake shedding its skin. 

“What are you trying to tell me, Father?” Samina asked the heavens. No response came.

Samina sank to the ground to sit on the curb. Whatever this thing was, she knew it would pass this spot eventually. She rested her arms on her knees as she continued to reach out with her powers to read the energies flowing through the world. Usually, it wasn’t this hard. Beings from other realms couldn’t shield unless it was someone powerful. Scarily powerful.

“Well, at least this time they aren’t after Timmy.” Samina flopped to her back, arms out wide to the sides. “If they attacked him at home, my wards would trigger.”

Samina sighed as she gazed upward. The sky on this planet was filled with so many stars. They watched the occupants of this realm and so many like it with the cold indifference of the gods. For that was what they were.  But she knew they did not really see what occurred down here. It was below their attention and she preferred it that way. The star just left of Great North glittered spasmodically. Interesting.

“Father, what are you up to?”  She asked, her voice barely above a whisper.  Could he really hear her? No, but she as she’d given up that ability when she took this job, this was the closest she would get. Jumping worlds allowed only a very few to communicate between them. She was not of that level. So, her home realm was out of reach.

The echo of footfalls drew her attention to the right. They were quiet, but increasing in volume. The steady beat told Samina whoever it was, was jogging. Her head lulled to the side and waited. When the figure appeared, Samina bolted to a seated position. She cursed under her breath when she saw the figure he carried.

Well shit.

The man was large and covered in a thick, black leather armor from the neck down. Intricate stitching covered his chest and wrapped up one arm. At at least six and a half feet tall he was intimidating. Or would’ve been, had she been a lesser being. With black hair tied back at the base of his neck, very little of his features were visible because the helm he wore covered half of his face. None of that worried her. Neither did the annoyance which pulled back his lip. 

Huh. Looks like Timmy has been working his magic.

Samina tilted her head. She needed to see what was hidden. Because, there was something more here, a magic that altered reality and chose what the caster wanted seen. Samina reached within, pulling on her father’s line, and broke the glamour. Another curse left her lips. The cruel aura he exuded blanketed both him and the small figure over his shoulder. It was an aura she hadn’t seen in millennia.

Timmy struggled, his feet slamming into the man’s stomach. His fist beat against the soldier’s back as he hollered profanities.

“Sam!” Timmy screamed the moment he spotted her from his upside-down position. His face was red from the blood that had rushed to his head. “Help me!”

Samina stood slowly, brushing off her jeans as she straightened.  

“Why were you not within the wards?” Samina asked, calmly. 

To an outsider, she would sound uncaring, but Timmy knew that was not the case. It was her duty to protect him, her privilege, and unfortunately-or fortunately, if you thought about it- this had become a regular occurrence for them. Samina placed her hands on her hips and shook her head. She was so proud as her adopted kid brother fought tooth and nail to escape his abductor.

The man, for she was pretty sure he was a man based on his size alone, did not slow at their exchange. This was not surprising. She had yet to allow him to see her. In truth, only those like Timmy could see Samina when she did not want them to. Which told her something about this thing. He was powerful, but not almighty. A soldier if she were to guess. High ranking yes, but a soldier nonetheless.

“Samina,” he whined. “It’s not funny. Help me!” Her lips turned down.

No, it wasn’t funny. This poor kid had no say in his life and never would. The mark over his head made sure of that. The fact that she’d found him as an infant, so small and frail, had been the only reason he still breathed. Of all the worlds this universe held, never had Samina expected this one to birth a Hyldemoer; a tree spirit. Especially a male one. That was unheard of. Never had there been a male Hyldemoer, but the world had changed so much this time around.  What he was, was not just rare, but impossible.

“Hey Tim, remind me to hunt down and kill the person who leaked your secret,” she called, beginning to follow. 

“You tell me that every time, and yet, you haven’t done crap.” His exasperated tone nearly made her smile. 

“Yeah, but you’re not helping either. That spark within you becomes brighter every day. I shudder at what is to come. Puberty will kill us both.”

He snorted then pushed off the giant’s back allowing him to rest his elbows there. His chin propped in his hand, he rolled his eyes then began to drum his fingers impatiently.

“Alright, I’m coming,” she said, attempting to hide her amusement. “But Tim, when I get him to drop you, you need to run hard and fast, back to the wards. This one is different. Can you feel it?”

He nodded.

“Good. Then let’s get this over with.”

Samina unsheathed the short sword she carried along her spine. She tilted it this way and that, examining the perfectly balanced blade. Along the metal, beautiful sweeping marks were etched in patterns that appeared random. They were not. These symbols were that of her line and linked her to this legendary sword that had existed since the beginning. In her hands, they were both gifted with abilities -amplified by the power of the first being. 

Samina ran. She spun the sword in a circle as she called on each marking one by one. Power flared, lighting the markings from within. At the same instant, the matching power flowed through her, clean and bright.  It was a welcoming caress, a thank you of connection. Now the sword was as alive as she.

The soldier turned down the next street and toward town square. Late-night shops and restaurants had been busy as she’d passed through earlier. She hoped that most had cleared out since. Samina began to sprint.

“Myst,” she whispered to the universe. “Settle and meddle, keep the humans unknowing.” 

A translucent fog spread from her, expanding out and out until it met the minds of the mortals. It would not hurt them, but it would keep them from sights that should be left unseen. 

Samina spun on her feet and sprinted down the street closest to her. It ran parallel to the one the creature had taken. With long strides and a little boost from her powers, she reached town square in seconds. It was a thrill she rarely allowed. She was technically human in this body, but even so, her original bloodline could not be denied. Limiting its use, however, was always a good idea for there was no point to send out a beacon of her presence. Sam raced across the courtyard diagonally to cut them off and that burst of speed had allowed her to reach the spot before they did. 

Timmy and his kidnapper appeared. Timmy, still over his shoulder, was once again screaming and fighting the hold. Good boy.

Samina dropped her veil and the man pulled up short. As she appeared in his path, he slowed to a stop. She had to give him credit. He had more grace than someone of his size should allow. Perhaps it was the way his wide shoulders were balanced by the thick ropes of muscle he called legs. The creature snarled, but Samina only chuckled. 

Finally close enough, she examined the leatherwork of his helm and chest plate. The fitted hard leather wrapped tightly around his body.  Across the chest and one shoulder the depiction of a dragon, teeth bared, was stitched in silver and red. Its claws were extended to encircle two unique symbols which were burned into the leather strap holding the chest piece to the arm guard. A high-ranking fighter then. Interestingly, the main symbol over his heart held between the dragon’s teeth told her more about him than anything. 

He was from an original line.  One she was familiar with.

His helm was also made of two-tone leather. The pieces overlapped, twisting together. They started at his jaw then arced up to shield the top half of his face. What was the most astonishing was how the leather near the top was then molded up to extend back several inches as if they were the wings of the great beast resting below. 

It was beautiful armor and extremely concerning.

Samina sighed internally. This was going to be a pain in the ass. She’d have to get Timmy away as soon as possible because never could one of his ilk get a hold of one like him.

“Well, well, well. I have not seen one of your house in centuries.” Samina said, confidently. “You must be of Balak’s blood to wear his colors.”

His eyes narrowed and Timmy went still.

“I have to say I never thought I’d see that fancy cap of yours again. I figured it was buried along with your father.”

A menacing growl reverberated from his huge chest. Anger or a warning? Probably the latter considering the long knife he withdrew from his belt. In someone else’s hand, it might be considered a sword, but in his large paw, it was definitely more knife. 

“Get out of my way Sambucus. This does not concern you,” he said. The man’s thick accent was deep and threatening. As he spoke, he shifted slightly causing the moonlight to reflect off his blade. 

So he knew what she was. Interesting. It had been a long time since someone called her by that name. Especially considering she was something far more than an Elderberry. 

“Let go of my kin, Titan. You should not be in this realm.”

“You are not kin.” He chucked, then continued, “We’d heard the boy had a protector, but no one guessed it was one of the sacred ones. The council will be very interested to learn this.”

“You will not get the chance to share that information with your filthy Devorr,” Samina growled. “You are all half-breeds and do not deserve the name of Titan. Your father was the last of the true line and he has long since been dead by my hand.”

With a wicked grin, he said, “You are the one who took his life? I thought your kind abhorred killing.”

She shrugged. “It’s been a long existence. Much has changed this cycle.”

His eyebrow lifted and before she could do anything, he flung Timmy toward the front window of the shop nearest them. His body crashed through the glass. He rolled, slamming into one of the display cases.

Samina winced knowing how painful that would be for him. Samina wanted to run to her ward, but if she did, both their lives would be forfeit. A groan leaked from Timmy’s throat and then he went silent. Thank the gods he was alive. That would have to do for now. She’d deal with healing him after this. Samina readied herself. He may be impure, but the Titan clan were not to be underestimated. 

The Devorr attacked, surging forward and brandishing his weapon with obvious expertise. He swung low sweeping upward in an angled arc aiming for her abdomen. 

Samina jumped spinning in the air, the enemy blade passing inches below her. Before her feet touched the ground, Samina’s own weapon was on track. Metal clanged as her sword made contact with his and sparks flew into the air. He swung again, but she knocked it away with a fluid move that immediately led into an attack of her own. She spun gracefully, swinging her blade to connect with the armor at his side. A small grunt was her only reward. The armor wasn’t even scratched.

Angry now, he advanced, his vicious war cry confirming she hadn’t done any real damage. 

A slash at the soft spot near the armpit. No luck. A parry and then she came down on his shoulder, side, then thigh in one well-practiced move. He countered each one, coming back with a combination of his own. Her arms shook at the vibration of his last hit. She stepped into him. She kneed him, then her elbow swung up making contact with his lip.

He grinned. The soldier wiped away the blood then advanced again.

The sound of battle resonated through the square. Humans glanced around, looking for the source and telling her the spell she’d cast was fading. The few that glanced their way and whose eyes went wide were the rare supernaturals who called this town home. They knew her or thought they did. They at least understood the importance of hiding the truth from the humans. So when they began to add their energy to the spell or create their own, pride shot through her. Even if this meant her time here was over, she couldn’t feel anything but grateful for their help. The gods never approved of humans knowing the truth.

The hits came hard and fast as the Devorr took his turn on the offensive. It had been a long time since Samina had come across a well-trained opponent and he wasn’t bad. That said, she had to stop this. Samina called on her power. Her sword glowed and her speed increased. Hit after hit the soldier countered, but there was no way he could win. He would wear out, she was only getting started. She kicked him straight in the chest and he flew into and through a neighboring building. The wall collapsed and dust shot into the air with a plume no one would miss.

Samina approached the downed building, sword at the ready.

He pushed himself from the debris and when he emerged, the light in his eye had changed. There was doubt there now. Instead of the blind confidence that he could destroy her, there was a new understanding. His only hope was to get away and tell the others of the Titan clan what he’d discovered. There was a Sambucus out in the realms looking for and protecting Hyldemoers.  That knowledge could change everything.

Samina saw the realization and cursed. She had to stop him. Samina attacked, her hits quick and hard. With her advance, he was pushed backward, back up the street where their fight began. There she boxed him in. It was time to send him away. 

The Devorr flinched as she began to chant in rhythm with her blows. It was a language he had not heard in a lifetime at least, for the words had power. Alone, they felt like spears being stabbed into his skull. He had to escape. There was no way out for she was moving too fast. Knowing he was done by the way her words burned his skin, he made a dangerous choice. He slammed into the shop at his back then burst his way through the wall adjoining the next store. The store where Timmy lay.

Samina screamed her fury. Still, she managed to get between him and Timmy, but only barely.

“If we cannot have him, then neither shall you!” the soldier growled just as he flung a knife at Timmy’s prone body.

Samina lunged her sword at the Devorr’s chest. It sank home and Samina’s chants picked up pulling energy from the sword. His image flickered, here one instant and gone the next.

“What is this magic?” he asked, lifting his hand to watch. “I will not yield.”

Being the fighter he was, the Devorr pulled another knife from his belt. He attacked. But with so much power activated, Samina had no trouble avoiding the blow. She stepped from his path. She kicked out slamming her boot into his side with a crunch of bone. 

The soldier fell to his knees.

“It is magic even older than you. It may be splintered, but it is still strong. Of the primal source and a power your kind cannot withstand,” Samina explained. Stalking forward, she caught his gaze. The words to one final spell slipped from her lips and he screamed in agony.

“We will get you for this!” Were his last words before he vanished. She watched as his body disintegrated into mist, swirling then collecting in front of her. 

“You, soldier, will no longer be able to reach us. Nor shall you interfere again.”

His essence congealed then rose upward on a path to its new resting place, one he could never come back from. The sky brightened with a great flash the moment his soul reached the star he was now confined to. 

Silently, Samina recited a prayer to the great spirit which shared its heart and power with her. She thanked the universe for protecting the soul who’d just attacked Timmy as it traveled the lifetime to its new home. The moment the last prayer was released, she snapped back to reality.

Timmy. Panic speared through her. She spun toward where she’d last seen his body and gasped. He lay motionless, so tiny against the debris that littered the floor. 

Samina slid her sword into its sheath then bent to kneel over the boy she loved like family. A sob racked her at the sight of the knife sticking from his back. Samina had miscalculated. In that last moment, the Devorr had thrown true. His knife, which she hadn’t been able to stop, had hit its mark.

Samina lifted him to roll him to his back. His eyes were open and linked to hers instantly.

“Timmy, dear one, hold on. We must get you ready to move before the shine wears off.”

Blood covered his face from where it had dripped from a cut along his hairline. Dirt crusted into it, making him look disturbed, and a bruise covered the left side of his face. Tears shimmered in his eyes. He tried to speak, but nothing came out.

“You’ll be okay. You will,” she said, running a hand over his hair.

He shook his head and, with a smile, mouthed three words. “I love you.”

“No,” Samina whined, placing her cheek against his. “No, no, no.”

Damn it, why couldn’t she heal? How, of all the gods, was this not one of the gifts bestowed to her? Instead, it was her Sister Elder who received that gift. And for what reason? Sister Elder did not leave the home realm. Why had the great spirit chosen her and not Samina? 

“No, please, dear one. I thought you were the one. Please come back to me.” 

Timmy’s eyes closed, there was a slow exhale, and his body went limp. The light in his eyes disappeared and Samina felt as his spirit left his body. It was no use. She could feel it beginning to absorb back into the universe. It spun in the breeze, traveling up and up until it disappeared into the cosmos.

Wetness streaked down her cheeks. Tears she had not let fall for hundreds of years. She pulled his small body into her arms to cradle him. Samina didn’t know if she could take this again. Timmy had been so pure, so kind, and she had failed him. How could she take another lifetime waiting for the next graced one, let alone be able to maintain distance. What if the next one didn’t have the power to unite the spirits and save the universe? Could she walk away then? Now?

No. For this was the last time. Should she fail, the universe would never again reset and all realms would collapse. Life would cease to exist and the great world tree, her protector and partner in this world,  would die.

Samina sat back on her heels. As the last traces of the myst dissolved, she looked up to find the grim faces of the town and she knew. It was for them she fought. For eons she’d fought for life; for those of the past, those of the now, and those to come. It was the way of a Sambucus, the Elder who protected this world. 

Sighing, she placed Timmy’s body on the dirty ground and pushed to her feet. With one last glance at his sweet face, she pressed the marking on her forearm. It lit from within and she dissolved into air, the others watching. It was time to leave this world and again be lost to the search for those who could save this life.

Sambucus – ElderSambucus Canadensis Tree – Ancient mythology states the Elder tree is sacred and is linked to the Elder Mother, or ‘Hylde Moer.’ In the greater story presented here, they protect the Yew Tree, the Tree of Life/World Tree, or Mother Tree.

Devvor – Half-breed Titan. Refers to either: 1. Council (a group) of titan representatives. or 2. Used as a derogatory term for an individual.

Published on OBW Blog April 23, 2021 © Tracey Canole 

Fixer Upper

I walked into the house and immediately felt at home. The walls had cracks that extended from the ceiling all the way to the floor. The wallpaper was awful, a lemon yellow so bright that it was hard to look at. The stairs were rotten in several places and the entire place smelled like feet and sour milk. It was a very distinctive fragrance. But there was potential.

This place had called to us with its high ceilings and old rustic architecture. So what if it was a fixer-upper? This was our first home, a place where we could start out and grow, maybe even start a family. As kids were still a few years away, this house would be our project – a way for us to grow together and make the life we dreamed of.

“Are you ready for this?” Ron asked. He was scanning the room and the look in his eye screamed excitement.

“No,” I laughed. “And Yes.”

With a grin, he wrapped his arms around me, resting his chin on top of my head. I closed my eyes and took in his scent. We stood there for a long moment before he pulled away to look down at me. 

“What about you?” I asked.

He snorted. “About the same as you. So, Yes, and not even a little bit. But when I look around I have a hard time not jumping around.”

He let go of me then stepped farther into the room. He lifted his arms and spun in a slow circle. Once he was facing me again, he said, “This, my love, will soon be everything we’ve ever dreamed about. Just imagine it.”

He shifted to the far wall of the main room which sat just off the right of the stairs.

“Here will be a built-in bar so we can entertain. We’ll put wainscoting along this wall,”  He touched the adjacent wall. “And we’ll put a couch over here with two beautifully contrasting chairs here because God forbid you want matching furniture.”

I laughed. It was true. I leaned towards the more eclectic styles. I followed as he headed into the den just behind the living space. His exuberance was adorable, filling me with love.

We entered the den and I saw the built-in shelves that spanned from floor to ceiling. They needed some love, but once restored would be the focal point of the room. I couldn’t wait. 

“Then in here will be your office, a space where you can write in your heart to your heart’s content. You’ll get published, get a movie deal and make a million dollars.” His hair fell over his forehead as he smiled. I wanted to brush it back but decided not to. His disheveled state mirrored mine and it made me want to press myself to him.

I shook my head. “That is highly unlikely, my love. I write nonfiction.”

He threw his arms into the air and said, “Still! It is going to be amazing. Then, when you’re ready, we’ll have babies and be sleep-deprived, and sit on the back porch drinking a glass of wine after they go to bed.”

I slipped into his arms and rested my head on his chest. I could see everything he described and it was everything I wanted. We stood there until the smell and dust became too overwhelming. Then we headed out, locking the door behind us, to get ready for tomorrow when demolition began and our lives moved forward. I couldn’t wait.

 Published on OBW Blog March 26, 2021 © Tracey Canole 

Feckless Liar

The book Lucja held was heavy in her hand. It smelled of ink and musk. It smelled of heaven. It was her favorite scent in the world, but today even it couldn’t pull her out of her misery. She could feel the eyes on her and although she wanted to believe it was the half-naked man on the cover who drew attention, she knew it was the red, swollen eyes leaking water down her cheeks. She closed the book, giving up on reading, and placed it on the small table next to the newspaper. 

When her mother had called only days ago to let her know about the freak accident which had taken his life, she cried for hours.  Truthfully she’d wondered if it were a joke because there was no way that Roland was dead. The pain at the confirmation was nothing she’d ever experienced before. Hell, the only reason she’d left her apartment today was because of work.

Lucja picked up the newspaper and examined his face. His eyes were brilliantly blue, framed by dark eyebrows hitched in amusement. His auburn hair was messy as always, but it was the smile that stopped her breath. She’d always thought him beautiful, an Adonis out of her own dreams, but now seeing that face, all she felt was pain. Her chest tightened and her throat became thick. She sighed through her nose. She would never see that smirk again, never have that need to both kiss him or punch him. 

Roland McNeil 02/05/1990 to 02/15/2021

Lucja had to get a grip. She knew that, but everything still felt so new, so raw. Lucja took a long breath, closed the paper, and slipped it into the bag on the floor next to her. As she sat straight, her eyes were drawn toward the front window. Should feel someone’s attention on her. Not the pitying glances from before, but as if they willed her to notice them.

The afternoon light filtered in, basking the first few tables in its warmth. A couple sat, heads together near the door. A woman with a laptop, headphones on, hunched over her keyboard. The cafe was insanely busy today. Every table was filled with happy voices as they discussed their weekend, or business people meeting for a quick lunch break. So many faces swam around her, but it was the small seat in the corner that caught her attention and caused her to freeze mid-motion. 

A man sat there, his lips were curved in the very same smirk she’d just been missing. It was the one she’d always known, the one that could stop a woman in her tracks. He wore his trademark gray t-shirt and jeans just as he always did. 

Was she imagining this? Lucja didn’t know. It was possible, she supposed. She hadn’t exactly been sleeping well and her eyes felt so swollen that she wouldn’t be surprised to find her vision were impaired. So she stared, unable to look away.

Lucja had just begun to think she had lost her mind when a busty blond approached and began to flirt with him. She ground her teeth. Nope, it was real. 

Roland barely looked at the poor girl as she bent, low showing off her impressive assets, then tried to give him her number. She batted her eyes, pouted her lips, and even caressed his arm.  As she did this, Roland’s eyes were locked on Lucja. 

She began to pick at her nails – a nasty habit from childhood. He scowled but did not come over. He had to know her thoughts and the shock which ran through her. He also knew the anger which was building too. In her circle of friends, she wasn’t really known to hold back her temper. Or her claims over him for that matter. So when he leaned back in his chair, sipped his coffee as if nothing were wrong, and then winked,  she knew it was him. He was playing with her.

Lucja growled low, her eyes narrowing. 

He’d winked! He fakes his death and then decides to show up here and taunt her. Oh hell no. A fire built in her stomach. She focused her breaths. That was the only thing that was going to keep from either full-body tackling him or starting to scream. She looked down at her splayed fingers on the smooth wood of the table and counted to ten. 

Kill him and you’ll get arrested. Kill him and you’ll get arrested, she chanted in her head. When she had some control, she pushed herself to her feet, the chair sliding backward to fall to the ground. She picked up her bag, then her drink, and glided over to his table. 

His face paled with her cool approach. The apprehension in his eyes made her want to smile. When he set his own coffee hesitantly on the table then straightened slightly, she grinned wickedly.

The blond was still there, having yet to realize he wasn’t listening. Lucja didn’t care what she was saying, she just knew that Roland was there and she was pissed.

Roland’s eyes tracked her every move from the moment she’d stood. Okay, he’d tracked them from the moment he’d walked into this cafe. But when she appeared at the poor girl’s side, said hello, and then poured her nearly full iced coffee on his head, he knew he’d never loved her more. Roland gasped as the cold drink poured down his face. He jumped to his feet, trying to wipe off the whipped cream dripping from his temple and limit the amount on his clothes. It was no use, he was soaked.

Lucja smirked.  “Oh, Honey,” Lucja said to the girl. “He’s not worth it. He’ll just fake his death when he’s done with you and disappear from existence. I recommend you leave now because, truthfully, he’s not that great in bed. He’s just a feckless liar.” 

Lucja pulled the newspaper out of her purse and slammed it on the table, the obituaries section open for all to see. She glared daggers, spun on her heels, and strode out the front door. She could feel as every eye in the place watched her exist and knew she’d never be able to show her face there again. That was a shame because it was her favorite cafe along the east side. 

Her strides were long and hard. She pushed them faster needing to escape not just the scene, but him as well. 

He was alive. He’d left her to think him dead knowing what it would do to her. How it would hurt her! Lucja held her head high, not a trace of sorrow on her face as she made her way down the street and out of sight. It was only when she’d reached the entrance to a small courtyard that tears filled her eyes. She turned into it, away from the busy street. Her throat began to burn as she held back the heaving breaths which would lead to uncontrolled sobbing. She sat on a small concrete bench hidden away in a back alcove and waited. He would follow her, she knew it. She just hoped her heart would survive the encounter.

She knew it was him when the sound of heavy steps echoed. His gate was always easy to recognize, not just for the power, but because she’d spent her entire life waiting for it. She controlled her breathing and pushed back the tears. It wouldn’t save her anything. He’d know she’d been crying so she turned away. 

He knelt next to her. He was quiet as he scanned her, taking in all the signs of the pain and torment she’d undergone. He’d known what it would do to her, to think him dead, but he didn’t have a choice. Had he not done as they asked the outcome would’ve been much worse. It had killed him to lie to her. It had been worse to be apart from her. 

Gently, he placed his hands on her wrists and pulled them away from her face. Her skin was pink and wet, her eyes bloodshot. Yet, she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. Even as she poured that drink over him, all he could think was that there was no other creature as magnificent.

 Still, Lucja didn’t look at him. So he brushed her beautiful golden hair behind her ear and lifted her chin. He leaned in and kissed her cheek – her skin soft under his lips. She inhaled sharply, but he didn’t let go. He pulled back to look into her eyes.

Lucja didn’t fight. In fact, she barely registered it as the shock of his touch short-circuited her brain. He was warm, his lips an electrical zap straight to her broken heart. When her gaze finally met his, she stopped breathing. 

Roland smiled as Lucja held her breath. It was something she did when she was overwhelmed and had always been a focus of ridicule from her parents. He, however, found it adorable. Roland chuckled then blew a quick burst of air on her face. 

She sucked in a breath, more of a gasp as his coffee and cedar scent hit her. His smile widened. 

“It’s not funny,” Lucja snapped. 

He had the nerve to chuckle again. “I’m not laughing.”

“Yes, you are and I’m too angry with you to find you charming,” she said, through her teeth.

His expression sobered. He dropped his eyes, and said, “I know and you have every reason to be. I just want to explain.”

“Explain? You want to explain?” Lucja pushed on his chest, but he didn’t budge. She growled. “So, you want to tell me how you faked your death then proceeded to not let me – ME of all people – know until you just show up at my favorite coffee shop? Really?” The volume of Lucja’s voice rose with each word. The air around her felt tight, the frigid rock beneath her taunting. If she weren’t careful, that cold would suck her in and consume her.

 She swayed a little. Between her heart beating so fast, the fact she’d not eaten since yesterday, and the considerable amount of crying she’d done over the last few days, Lucja’s body was running on empty. Her limbs felt heavy. She braced herself on the wall next to her.

“Are you okay?” Roland asked, worried.

With a droll look, she asked, “do I really need to answer that?”

“No. I guess you don’t.” Roland ran a hand through his hair. 

It was darker than she remembered it, a deepening in color which, in this light, made it appear nearly black. The shade made his eyes more vibrant.

“I need to explain,” he continued. “I hope you know I would never have left you if it weren’t necessary.” He rested his palms on her thighs as he spoke. The heat of her skin made him pause. 

She stayed silent so he continued, “There were…unforeseen circumstances as of late.”

“Which were?”

“Do you remember that story I told you about my grandfather? How he died at the age of thirty-one?” She nodded. He took a deep breath then said, “Well, come to find out… He’s not as dead as I thought.”

“So what? Faking one’s death is a familial trait then?”

“Luce,” he scolded. She just glared. “I didn’t understand at first either, but I do now.”

Roland shifted to sit next to her and took her hands. 

“Do you remember that story I told you when I was a kid? The one about my grandfather and the last time I saw him?”

“Of course. You snuck out and climbed in my window. You said you found your grandfather in the study with your father. They’d been arguing about you – I don’t remember about what.  Then you said he disappeared, shimmered then turned into smoke right there in front of you.”

“That’s right. You convinced me it was a dream. I hadn’t been sleeping well remember?” he asked. She squeezed his fingers and he lowered his voice to say, “Well, I learned last week that it wasn’t a dream.”

“What do you mean?”  

“Grandfather is alive and well. We, we…” Roland started but trailed off. His hands shook ever so slightly and sweat beaded down his back.

“We are not human,” a new voice said. 

Lucja spun to see a man materialize beside her. She stood and stepped back, bouncing off Roland’s chest. He steadied her as smoke billowed from the wall. It spun into the shape of a figure and, from one second to the next, it solidified and an older version of Roland.  Tall and well built, he stood like a man comfortable with his power. The gray at his temples and wrinkles lining his eyes did nothing to distract from his beauty. He screamed dangerous. 

“Hello Lucja,” he said, kindly. “I have heard a great deal about you.”

Lucja didn’t know what to do. She’d just witnessed… what the hell had she just witnessed?

“Okay,” was all she said. 

He smiled. “Please sit down child. You look exhausted.”

Lucja straightened, then said harshly, “Excuse me? I don’t think you have the right to tell me I look awful. First, as I have never met you, and second because I have a feeling that you are the reason he,” she jabbed her thumb into Roland’s chest, “was stupid enough to fake his death and not tell me about it.”

Roland’s grandfather laughed joyously. “I like her, Roland. You have done well. Lucja, let me introduce myself. I am Jorn, leader of the Shades.”

Lucja suddenly felt nauseous. She sat unceremoniously on the bench, her hand pressed to her stomach. Roland wrapped an arm around her and she leaned back into him for support. 

“Shades? I, I’m sorry sir, but I need more info here” she said. “Not human?”

Jorn sat on her other side. “Well, that’s not entirely true. Let’s just say we are one branch of humanity. Here, let me help you with that,” he said and placed a hand on her shoulder. 

Instantly, the nausea disappeared. She gasped. 

Jorn left his hand there for a long moment. His face shifted. She could tell he tried to hide his thoughts, but Lucja could read it just as she’d always been able to read Roland. The joy of meeting her slid to confusion, and then eventually to shock. 

“What did you do?” she asked.

He ignored her. He sat before her thinking, putting the pieces of his past together. When he finally spoke, he told her something that made her world spin uncontrollably.

“Did you know that I knew your father?” he asked. “Quite well in fact. He was part of my inner circle. He left a long time ago and now I know why.” 

“My father, Jim Baker? How?”

“No, dear one. Your father was Morrell Addland.”

Roland stiffened behind her. “That’s impossible.”

“No, it is not. It makes sense actually.”

Lucja glanced from one man to the other. “I don’t understand.” 

“Lucja, you’re one of us. I did not realize who you were until this very moment, but it would explain why Roland is so attached to you and how you carry his child so easily.”

“What?” Lucja and Roland asked in unison.

“No, I’m not. I’m not pregnant!” Lucja exclaimed.

Jorn stood. He took her hand and pulled her to her feet. He squeezed her arm.

“Yes, child, you are. She was just hiding from you until now. Our presence told her it was safe to show herself.” He shook his head and smiled. “She’s going to be powerful if she was able to hide you both this long.”

“She?” Lucja asked.

“What do you mean, Jorn?” Roland asked.

“I can explain more, but we must get them someplace safe and quickly.”

“We weren’t followed. I made sure of it.”

“Yes, but now that the pregnancy is known, they will be able to sense it. They will come for her.”

“If she’s one of us can we just travel by smoke?”

Lucja felt dizzy. There was so much happening in so little time. I leaned on Roland for support.

“No. The baby inhibits that. That, and she has never done it before. It’s too dangerous. We must get her home. Now!” Jorn said, his head swiveling to the doorway. “They’re close.”

Roland grabbed her hand and pulled her to the door, but Lucja’s feet were cemented to the floor. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t think. He spun back to her.

“I know you’re in shock. I am too, but we have to get out of here. It’s not safe. I promise to tell you everything, but please come with me.” 

He placed a hand on her stomach. She looked down and gasped to find a tiny bump where it was previously flat. Her baby girl had ‘hidden’ herself from her? Oh, man. She slid her hand over his.

“You won’t leave me?”

“I never planned to leave you in the first place. I fought to tell you.”

“He did,” Jorn said. “Even if you were not one of us, the offer would have been made to bring you into our world. Roland is too important and you were obviously his match. That has been clear from day one.”

“Clear?” Roland asked. “Then why all the yelling?”

“Because you’re a stubborn fool.” He slapped Roland on the back. “You get that from your grandmother.”

Roland snorted.

“You were really coming to get me? Either way?”

“Yes. I love you, Luce. I could never live without you,” he admitted.

Lucja kissed him. “Then let’s go. This world is nothing if you are not in it.” 

 Published on OBW Blog January 29, 2021 © Tracey Canole

Match Up a Tree

Spending the night up a tree leads you to discover a balance you wouldn’t think possible. It’s something innate, a skill for survival that keeps aloft. Up there with the invisible insects and winged nocturnal hunters you’re safe from the rest of the world even as your legs burn and the scratches you received sting with the cool breeze. The issue you don’t expect is, as time passes, how much harder it will become to get down.

I climbed up there because no one would expect a woman of my breeding to be up a tree. But you know what? Screw breeding, screw my pedigree, and most of all, screw him. I would not – could not – do what my father asked. That man was easily twenty-five years my senior and, from what I’d seen and heard, he was a scoundrel. 

“What in the world is a girl doing up a tree this far onto my land?”

I jumped, the sound of his voice startling me. I managed to keep my seat, but only barely. Looking down, I found a man dressed in only cotton trousers. He was of average height, with strong shoulders and a smattering of chest hair. His nose was crooked, his dark hair messy, and a light sheen of sweat covered his bronzed skin. Heat rushed to my cheeks. Even in my distraction, I have to admit I took a modicum of pride in the fact that I didn’t tumble to my death in front of this stranger. He was beautiful, but not in a conventional way. Not in the way my upbringing would agree with. He had power, a strength I could taste the air, and an aura that was more animalistic.

“Oh come now woman, this isn’t the 18th century. I am covered enough.”

As if taking that as a cue, he swung me up in his arms. I wiggled, shocked by his decision. I attempted to get him to set me down, but he refused stating that he would not until a doctor checked me out. 

He chuckled, “Is that right? Then why are you so flushed, young one?”

“Because you startled me,” I said. I brushed my hair over my shoulder and glared at him. “And excuse me, but I am nineteen next month. Why are you out here anyway?”

“This is my land. I was out for a run. Also, and I’m sorry to tell you this, but nineteen is young.”

An amused smile crossed his lips at the scowl I shot him. I wanted to scream. Instead, I pulled an apple from a nearby branch and threw it at him. 

He laughed outright, catching it in his hand. 

“I did not mean to offend you, Miss, only figure out why you are so distraught. And as such, up my tree.” 

I studied him carefully. He was not old, maybe twenty-five. He did not look like others at court. Maybe he was new to the area? I was not sure, but I sensed there was something more going on here. 

I shifted and winced. My back was tight, a spasm shooting down into my hip and thigh. I took a mental note; when choosing trees to climb in the future, select ones with a space comfortable enough for sitting. 

He saw my grimace and said, “I mean you no harm. That said, you cannot stay up there. It is to be cold tonight and there are wolves which roam here.”

My body began to shake. Wolves? “I, I cannot go back. What they request is too much. I will not do it.”

His eyebrow arched in question. He crossed his arms over his chest, his muscles flexing and waited for me to explain.

“They wish me to marry Sir Theodore Wrightcliff the Second.”

The man grunted and shook his head. “That man is twice your age and a swindler of the highest caliber. Come down here lady and I will help you. Both by hiding you and then by stopping this lunacy. You may stay with me until we get this is sorted.”

Stay with him? In his house? I did not know this man any better than my betrothed. He chuckled. 

“Do not worry,” he said, at my hesitation. “My mother and sister will be there as well. They can tend you. You will not be left alone with a man you do not know.”

A weight disappeared from my chest. For some reason, I believed him. Maybe it was the honesty that leaked from his pores. We watched each other until a howl filled the air. I startled, tilting violently. Again, I caught myself, but he’d stepped forward as if he were going to catch me. 

“Be careful, Miss.”


“Miss Lanette,” he smiled. “Let’s get you down from this tree before you fall and somewhere safe.”

With a grimace, I admitted, “I am not sure I can get down. I have been up here a long while and my legs and back are quite cramped.”

Chuckling, he said, “I have no doubt.” 

He stepped to the tree and began to climb. What had been quite difficult for me, seemed as easy as walking for him. Granted, I wore a gown, but still. Not fair.

Reaching the branch next to me, he scanned my position. He sat gracefully, dangling one leg and propping his other on a nearby branch. 

“That looks extremely uncomfortable,” he said. When I just glared he smiled. “Here give me your hand.”

I did so, his warmth instantly seeping into my skin.

“Here is what we are to do. You will spin and place your back against the trunk here, alright?” I nodded. “Then, you will straighten your legs and brace one here on my thigh and the other on the branch here.” He pointed to the branch he sat on. “This will give you time to stretch your legs out. Then, when you are ready, I will lower you to the ground. It is not far.”

“I feel as though I should be embarrassed about my current situation,” I admitted, unable to look at him.

“Why? Any woman who can thwart her parents by running up a tree is one to behold. It says a lot about you.”

I snorted. “That I am an imbecile?”

“Hardly.” he chuckled again, and I had to catch my breath at the sound. “It says you are strong, smart, and willing to make hard sacrifices. I hope that my sister would do the same should we demand a match that is unfit for her. In truth, cannot wait for her to meet you, Miss Lanette.”

“Thank you for the compliment, but I think you overestimate me.”

His eyes crinkled, shining in the moonlight. “Ready?”

Nodding, I spun slowly, my hand locked to his. Once my back was against the trunk, I flopped back onto my butt and squeaked as I tilted backward. He wrapped an arm around my waist, stopping a dangerous descent. 

“Thank you,” I said, through heavy breaths. 

He led one of my feet to the branch next to him, the other he placed on his strong thigh. I groaned as my legs protested the change in position. Both grateful to be out of that spot and a little embarrassed at how badly it hurt, I leaned my head back to stare at the sky.

“At least it was a full moon tonight,” I said.

“It did make it a little easier to spot you.” At the alarm in my expression, he said, “Do not worry, I think you are right. Few would think to look so far, let alone to look up a tree.”

I giggled. “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

He patted the foot which rested on his thigh. “As do most ridiculous decisions.”

I smacked his chest, then froze as we both realized what I’d done.

“I am sorry sir,” I said, embarrassed.

“Nothing to be sorry for, but I suspect I should tell you my name. Especially if we are so familiar as to have you abusing me.”

“Abusing? Hardly.” I smiled wickedly. “And I do believe I like that you are, for now, just my rescuer. I hope we can both agree to keep my improper actions to ourselves.”

He bowed his head. “I think acceptable. Now, Miss Lanette, let’s get you out of this tree. I will have to touch you.” I nodded. 

He slid sideways then moved one of his feet to another branch to brace himself. He reached out and gripped my waist with his large, warm hands. He pulled me closer and my fingers pressed to his chest for balance. I froze as his eyes met mine, a heat within them I’d never before seen in anyone. I bit my lip.

“I am sorry.”

“It is alright. I would rather you not fall. Place your hands on my shoulders for now.”

I did so. I glanced away unable to meet his eyes. He lifted my chin forcing me to meet his eyes.

“Miss Lanette, this is not a time to be shy. It is the time to lower you to safety. You must trust me, I will not allow you to get hurt.” He began to lower me, my grip biting into his strong shoulders and then his arms as I slid lower. “When you are about a foot away from the ground, I will let go. Land with your knees bent, roll if you must. Can you do that?”


His grin spread beautifully. “Then let’s get you out of this tree.”

I slid down his front until his arms extended. I dangled unceremoniously until he said it was time to jump. I let go and landed just as he’d instructed. I wanted to call out in triumph, but I did not. A moment later, he jumped, rolling. 

As he stood, he examined me from head to toe. He pressed a hand intimately to my cheek and asked, “Are you alright?” 

“Yes, thank you.”

“Can you walk?”

“I believe so. I am sore, but I will be alright. Just please forgive me for a slow pace.”

As if taking that as a cue, he swung me up in his arms. I wiggled, shocked by his decision. I attempted to get him to set me down, but he refused, stating that he would not until a doctor checked me out. 

“You are being ridiculous, an oaf.” I called him more names, but that did not deter him. Still, he carried me as if I weighed nothing.

It only took a few minutes to reach his house. A large cottage I’d seen only in passing. From what I knew, the family had been here for generations. They were of noble blood but rarely mingled in society. Too often they spent time at their other home in a nearby province.

“Serene,” he called out, once we were close.

A young girl of maybe fourteen appeared at the door. She stepped out, her eyes going wide before she turned and called for their mother. She held the door open as my rescuer carried me inside.

“Brother, what happened? Miss, are you alright?” Serene asked.

“I am fine,” I assured her.

“She is not fine. We should call for the doctor to come check after her. She has spent this night up a tree and it is quite cold out.”

“Up a tree?” A woman, obviously my rescuer’s mother, asked as she entered. Bowing she said, “Good evening, Miss.” 

My rescuer smiled as he sat me down upon the couch in the library. 

“Yes, up a tree. Possibly not the best decision I have made recently,” I said. “I got stuck and your brother had to help me down.” 

He grabbed a small blanket and wrapped it around me. I pulled it tighter and shot him a challenging glare.

Serene giggled as a servant entered and handed him a shirt. 

As he pulled it over his head, he said, “Do not laugh sister. Miss Lanette has had a hard night. Not only does she requires protection, but she is sore and had to deal with my boorishness.”

“You have been nothing but kind, a gentleman.”

“You? I do not believe it,” Serene said. He pulled his sister to him and kissed her head. 

“Hush sister. We have more pressing matters. An improper match which she requires protection from and we will provide it.”

At the questioning stares, they explained what happened, about the proposed attachment, the run through the woods, and even the trip back down the tree. The two women listened intently and when the story was complete they turned to him with amused smiles.

“Well you have made quite the impression, Son, but you seem to have left out some important information the dear Miss Lanette requires,” his mother said. She paused for emphasis, her arms crossed over her chest. “Have you not, Theodore?”

I sat straighter. Theodore’s embarrassed grin did nothing to hide the flush which spread across his cheeks. I thought back to the evening with my father, the meeting with what must have been the elder Theodore, and the calls which rang out as I ran from the house. I paled.

“I am confused,” I admitted.

Ducking his head, Theodore said, “You were not to marry the man you met. You see, he is already married with children.” He straightened and his eyes met mine. “The match offered was with his son, Theodore Wrightcliff the Third. Me.”

“But you called him a scoundrel.”

“As is his right as a firstborn son,” a man’s voice she recognized from earlier said from the doorway. Theodore’s mother and sister laughed. The smile on the elder Theodore’s face was genuine and filled with pride as he gazed at his son. “Theo likes to jab at me, as I do him.”

Theo stood to welcome his father. 

“Well done, Theo,” his father said. “I am glad you found her safe.”

“Safe and well hidden,” Theo smirked at her. Her lips pressed together in irritation and his father laughed at the exchange.

Just then, another man entered. He looked haggard, his jacket was askew and dark shadows lined his eyes. Her father’s eyebrows were pinched in worry. I swallowed hard. 

“Daughter,” he said, sitting next to her on the couch. “Are you alright?”

I nodded. “Yes, Father. I am sorry to have scared you. I was…”

He held his hand up. “No need to explain. I am sorry, I should have spoken to you about it prior to their visit. Not sprung it on you so. I would, however, like to know why you ended up a tree.”

I sighed, leaning back against the couch. “I shall never live this down.”

Theo approached, inclining his head to her father. His expression was a mixture of amusement and hope as he met her stare. He held his hand out. My fingers slid gently into his and then his warm lips were there, brushing her knuckles.

“Perhaps,” Theo said, a mischievous glint in his eye. “Should you accept the match, I will build you a treehouse. A place where you can hide, but is far easier to get down from.”

Laughing, I shook my head at him. I had to admit he was quite charming. Handsome, too. I stood, then gazed into his eyes meeting that dark humor head-on.

“I don’t know. It seems as though, with your help, I was able to descend quite easily,” I said, eyes bright. “Why would I need a treehouse? And besides, what makes you think I am so easily won.”

Theo laughed out loud at that. 

“Oh, Miss Lanette, I do not think that at all. I do however believe my initial assertion was correct.”

“Which was?”

“Strong, smart, and willing to make hard sacrifices. But, I think I shall add one more.” Taking far too many liberties considering her father stood just there, he brushed a hair behind her ear. “You are beautiful a well. Well worth any challenge you provide. I think you shall be a great role model for my Serene.”

The others chuckled knowing, in that instant, that this match was a good one. I could feel it too. It was a coupling found and tested in a moment of uncertainty. One that felt honest and clear, earned with trust and patience. I may have run into those woods afraid of an uncertain suitor, but I am happy to say that I am no longer worried. Theo would not push but instead would provide me the time to decide my own fate. Somehow though, I already knew that in the end he would be my choice and it was all because I was stuck up a tree.  

Published on OBW Blog February 12, 2021 © Tracey Canole 

Happy 80th to Me!!

Francis showed up to her 80th birthday party with her hair dyed bright blue. She wore a sundress that she felt showed off her curvy figure well considering her age. It was fitted at the waist, flared just slightly, and fell just below her knees. So Francis strutted in feeling strong and beautiful.

Her daughter, Tabitha, staggered, “Mom! What the, wait, is that a tattoo?” She pointed to the sugar candy skull on her retired, librarian mother’s arm.

“Yup!” said Frances, her chin held high and proud.

Tabitha took a deep breath. Shaking her head, she asked, “And what in the world made you get THAT tattoo?”

“So you’re not upset that I got one at all?” 

Francis lifted the sleeve of her shirt so that you could see the tattoo in all its glory. The huge grin on her mother’s face made Tabitha’s husband, Matt, snort.

“Why? Because it’s badass!”

Tabitha choked back a laugh. “It’s definitely something. That’s for sure.”

In truth the skull WAS actually pretty badass. Bright and colorful, with clean lines. Considering the artist had done it on an eighty year-old’s skin that was even more impressive. Okay, Francis looked damn good for her age, but she was still eighty. There was no way anyone would consider her skin youthful or elastic.

“I love it! You should totally get one, they’re freeing! When Boulder first suggested it, I wasn’t sure, but after some convincing,” Francis wiggled her eyebrows, “I figured why the hell not?”

Tabitha did choke this time. She’d been taking a sip of her wine and, just like that, it had gone straight down the wrong pipe. Damn that burned.

“Boulder?” Tabitha asked through her coughs.

“Yeah my boyfriend.”


Just then a big biker dude in jeans and a leather jacket came sauntering in. Easily twenty years younger, he held an air of danger about him. Tabitha couldn’t help but think that even at sixty he was sexy. Even through his jacket you could see his arms were well defined, he stood tall, and the scruff on his jaw and gray at his temples gave him a look that screamed silver fox.

Tabitha glanced at her husband who seemed to be barely holding it together. His shoulders were shaking in quiet laughter, his face red, and lips pressed tightly together. She was a little afraid he was going to embarrassed himself or, worse, anger her mother. Matt did not want her Mom’s anger pointed at him.

Tabitha turned back to her mother and asked, “This is your boyfriend?”

“Yeah I’ve been dating him for a few months now.”

“What? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because you’re a fuddy duddy,” Francis said, simply, “And you never would’ve approved.”

“Don’t be too hard on her,” Boulder said, his deep voice sexy as hell. He leaned down and kissed the top of Francis’ head. “You’re throwing a lot at her right now. She’ll get used to it, sexy lady.”

Tabitha gaped. Oh good lord. That man could probably get any woman he wanted with that timbre and the fact that it was pointed at her mother as he flirted with her? She didn’t know what to do.

“Just because I’m eighty, Tabby, doesn’t mean I can’t have some fun.” Francis patted Boulder’s chest. “And he’s a lot of fun.”

Boulder wrapped his arm around Francis’ waist, looked Tabitha straight in the eye, and said, “Your mother’s a very unique woman. Beautiful, smart, and able to keep me in line when needed.”  

Her mother’s suggestive giggle was the last straw. An involuntary shiver that ran up Tabitha’s spine.

“Okay, Mom,” Tabitha said, stepping back. She held her hands up in front of her. “I’m happy for you, just please stop with the sexual innuendos.”

“Party pooper,” Francis said, her bottom lip pouting.

Boulder smirked. “If you don’t put that away, I’m gonna bite it.”

“And…I’m out. I’m going to go check on the kids. Boulder, make yourself at home,” Tabitha said, before she turned and nearly ran for the backyard.

There were a few moments of silence. Then, when it became clear Tabitha was gone, Matt lost it. He bent at the waist and pressed his hand to his chest. Tears came to his eyes as he chortled.

“That was the best thing I have EVER seen!” Matt said.

Francis giggled evilly.  “I am so glad we decided to do this. Not only do I have a hunk on my arm for the day, but I get to watch Tabby squirm.”

“That was awesome,” Boulder agreed. “Matt, I think this was the best idea you’ve had in a while.”

“Hell, I’m just glad you were willing.”

“Well after meeting this firecracker how could I refuse?” Boulder winked at Francis and Matt swore he saw her blush.

Matt blanched, then said, “Oh dear….please tell me you’re not really flirting.”

Francis wiggled closer into Boulder who grinned. After a long moment they both laughed. 

“No, Matty boy,” Francis said. “But I am glad to know I can torment you too. Next year I’ll have to up my game.”

“That’s a terrifying concept,” Matt admitted. “We better get out there or Tabitha might think you’re up to something.”

Francis nodded then led Boulder to the back door. 

“Can I grab your ass?” Francis asked, before they stepped out.

“Only if I can get  some side-boob action,” Boulder said. Francis growled sexily. Before they exited, he turned to address Matt, “Oh and remember, only a select few are allowed to know about this at the office. Right?”

Matt nodded, not able to breathe as he leaned against the bar. “No problem. And hey, tell Tabitha I’ll be out in a minute. I need to find my composure before I face her. Today is gonna be a long and wonderful day!”

“Happy 80th to me!” Francis called as she kissed Boulder’s cheek and stepped out into the backyard.

Published on OBW Blog January 22, 2021 © Tracey Canole  

A Conversation Between Artists

“Hey, honey? Do you know where my skull is?” Hazel asked.

“Your skull? No, but I know where your severed head is.” Chance pulled back the hairs of his paintbrush and released it. Paint splattered across his canvas. “It’s in the back of my car.”

“Ah, perfect! I have a visitor coming today who wants to use it.” 

Hazel wiped her hands on the towel hanging by the sink. Gray clay smeared across the fabric. Soon, it would need to be washed seeing as little of the cloth was still exposed.

“I was worried it ended up in the trash.” 

Hazel removed her apron and hung it on the hook. Grabbing the keys she exited. The warm air touched her skin and she sighed. Pausing, she lifted her face to the sky and closed her eyes. The studio had been so cold today and the feel of the sun against her skin was heaven. Soon, spring would be in full swing and the garden she passed through would be filled with flowers. Then they’d open the windows or work outside. She couldn’t wait.

The car beeped, the back door opening on command. Hazel found what she searched for exactly where Chance said. Removing it from the bag, she ran a finger over the forehead and down the nose. She was happy to find no damage had been done to the face. The white foam was smooth, the facial features still intact. Awesome! She shoved back in the bag and closed the trunk.

“Morning neighbor!” Mrs. Mathews called. 

Hazel smiled at the old woman. In her late sixties, she was one of the nicest people they’d ever met. Her short gray hair was curled and she wore a yellow dress that fell to her knees. The watering can in her hand was a bright blue. She was adorable.

“Working on something exciting this week?”

“Yes,” Hazel said. “I was out here to get something I needed. My severed head.” 

Hazel held the bag up for her to see. Mrs. Mathews went pale and she took an involuntary step back. When her hand rose to her throat. 

At the panic in her eyes, Hazel asked. “Are you okay?” 

Mrs. Mathews didn’t respond. She just stood frozen, the watering can dangling from her fingertips. Confused, Hazel glanced at what she held. By the shape, it did look like a head in a bag. Okay, no big deal. But then she noticed the significant amount of red and brown paint which covered the bottom half. Realization hit her like a mack truck. 

“Oh… No!” Hazel said, her eyes going wide. She swallowed, then continued, “It’s not what you think, it’s…”

But Mrs. Mathews was already gone. During the time she’d glanced away, her elderly neighbor had high-tailed it back into her house. Damn, she had some speed. Hazel dropped her arm, the cloth dangling from her fingers. With a heavy sigh, she headed back to the studio.

As the door creaked open, Chance asked, “Did you find it?”

“So… I expect that we’ll have the cops showing up on our door within the hour. There’s also a chance that we’ll need to move when the neighbors talk to Mrs. Mathews.”

Chance’s eyebrows shot up. He rested his palette against his thigh while his brush hovered in the air. 


“Well, let’s just say I may have inadvertently told her that I was getting my severed head out of the car.” She lifted her arm. “With the bag looking like this.”

For a long moment, Chance stared. Then he burst into hysterical laughter. He even set the palette down to wipe his eyes. 

“Oh my God. Sometimes I forget how strange our conversations are. Could you imagine if she’d overheard us as well?” he asked. His head shook back and forth in disbelief. “Even better, do you remember the conversation we had last week about the nude models and the lesson they played in history?”

Hazel was laughing now, her green eyes sparkled. She joined him next to the easel and he snaked an arm around her. She grinned at the light kiss he planted on her temple while her eyes raked over the painting. It was beautiful. It was a galaxy never seen before, a giant ship of mythical proportions approaching from the right. Large fins of orange and gray spread from its back.

“Talk about a rumor to spread. She’d think we were swingers with a harem of women – and men – at our beck and call.” Hazel ran a hand through his messy hair. “Now that’s a rumor I can get behind.”

He snorted. Smacking her butt he said, “I’m sure. Now get back to work. If you’re gonna start rumors about severed heads and harems, I need to finish this.”

She giggled. “Fine, but maybe we should go talk to her later.”

“Naw, this will be so much more fun.”

Hazel placed the head on her work table and prepped the afternoon project. Faces and expressions were hard to master when dealing with clay. The moment you thought you’d gotten it, the pressure of your finger would change and the entire face would shift. Having the form helped, but didn’t lessen the complexity. Human expression was complicated.

Hazel thought back to Mrs. Mathews and the look of horror then panic on her face and began shuffling through her expression printouts. Finding the three she was looking for, she grinned. Laughter, horror, and shock were all so similar and yet completely different. They were perfect for today’s lesson. The minute changes in the shape of the eyes, eyebrow, and lips were the perfect challenge. Perhaps she might also teach her student how the conversations of artists should only be had where no wandering ears are present. Because let’s be honest, that was nowhere near the weirdest thing she and Chance had talked about during their marriage.

  Published on OBW Blog March 19, 2021 © Tracey Canole

Grace and Conflict

Aislign entered the grand ballroom and had to hold back a gasp. The ostentatious decor was undoubtedly beautiful, but in such a way that it was overwhelming. 

“Good Evening Madam,” the doorman said.

Smiling, Aislign said. “Good evening Thomas-and please-tonight it is Counselor Weaver.”

“Yes, of course Madam. My apologies.” 

He bowed lower than she thought a man of his age could. The glimmer in his eye told her he was up to something.

“If I may be so bold, you look lovely. That dress suits you. I have no doubt of the impact you will make on tonight’s event,”

Aislign snorted. Thomas was an undeniable flirt. She had no doubt that in his younger years he had the pick of any woman he wanted. 

“Now Thomas, I doubt Silvia would appreciate your comments.”

“If my wife were here, Counselor Weaver, she would say the same.” 

“True. Sometimes I think she may be a bigger flirt than you are, old friend.”

He chuckled then leaned closer to whisper in her ear. 

“Give them hell tonight Counselor.”

She had to push down a laugh. Aislign shook her head and stepped to the top of the stairs.

“Please welcome, the honorable Counselor Weaver,” Thomas announced as she began her descent.

As was usual, many turned to watch her. She hated the attention, but did what was expected of her status. She ignored their stares and acted as though she were royalty because in many of their eyes she was. 

When she reached the bottom she headed for the main stage where the Supreme Chancellor, Soran Protaneous, sat with his advisers and most of the ruling government. 

When the Soran spotted her, his gaze slid over her with just a little too much heat. He bent and kissed the soft skin of her hand. She suppressed a shiver at the feel of his lips on her skin.

“My Lady Aislign, good evening,” Soran said.

“Forgive me my lord, but here, I am Counselor Weaver.” She curtsied as she should, then straightened looking him in the eye. “We would not want the visiting dignitaries to misunderstand my position.”

“Yes of course, Counselor Weaver,” Soran chuckled, but it did not reach his eyes. “I hope we find you well this eve.”

“You do, thank you.” Another man approached and she smiled. “Hello Father.” 

Taking her hands in his, he kissed her cheeks.

“You look wonderful daughter. We were worried you would not make it.” His irritation sat in the tightness of his jaw.

“You should know better. The only thing that matters to me is my position within the council. I would not miss this evening for anything.” 

“We are glad to hear it,” Soran said. “Well, now that you are here, I would like to introduce you to our visiting friends. As many have not been back since you were elected, they are very interested to meet you.”

“Even though I have meet them before?” 

“Yes well. You were not important then.” 

Aislign bristled at his words.

“Come,” Soran said. 

Soran took her arm and led her a few feet away to a group of people speaking exuberantly. One of the men said something that made everyone laugh. She thought she recognized the voice, but no. There was just no way. 

“Excuse me for my interruption, but I would like to introduce Miss Aislign Weaver the youngest member to the Imperion government.” 

Aislign kept her face neutral as he spoke. She recognized the Capsidian prince and princess who stood with the Sordonian Emperor, his wife, and their eldest daughter. A few others she didn’t recognize made up the group, but she could guess their identities. She believed were from Borsoba. Excitement shot through her.

“It is my pleasure to meet you all officially. I am excited to be working with you this week as your liaison to the Imperion Summit. Please let me know if there is anything you need,” she said. 

Aislign turned to the Borsoban delegates and repeated the same words in their native tongue. Borsoba was the planet the farthest from theirs culturally, their language nothing like Imperion’s.

The delegate’s mouths dropped before grins spread across all their faces. 

Speaking in Borbosan, one addressed her, “I did not know you spoke Borsoban, Counselor Weaver.”

“Yes, high one. As your honorable people are our newest allies I have studied much of your history and culture so that I may bridge the gap that still exists between our peoples,” Aislign said, with a delicate bow. “I look forward to working with you and hope that you can forgive my, no doubt, ghastly accent.”

The entire Borsoban convoy laughed. Then, the one who had spoken stepped forward. Understanding hit Aislign as he bent and kissed her forehead. This was their customary greeting for those of their own kind. It was a huge honor for her to be welcomed as such. She accepted the kiss, then returned it before touching cheeks. 

He stepped back and said, “Thank you for the honor of your welcome Counselor Weaver. With you here we know this will be an effective summit. Please let me introduce myself. I am Roskayti Mers and these are my companions. I look forward to speaking with you more over the next few days.”

“Thank you,” Aislign said, finally dropping their tongue. 

Soran leaned close and said in a teasing tone, “Please tell me you weren’t plotting an overthrow, my dear.”

“Hardly,” King Niessary said. “She just made friends with Roskayti. Which I have never seen before. Nor have I ever witnessed them welcome someone like that, unless they were born of Borsoba.”

“It is an honor Highness,” Aislign said. She felt a blush sting her cheeks at his praise. 

“That is wonderful news! Now Aislign, You remember Emperor Sterling and Prince Gideon.”

Aislign curtsied again, then rose to smile at them. “Good evening your highnesses. It is my pleasure to see you all again.”

“You grow more beautiful every time I see you.” 

“Thank you, Highness. You become ever more charming.” He chuckled. “But I do say, my lord, that your wife and daughter far exceed me in beauty. I cannot believe that this is the young Starla. She is nearly grown.”

Aislign kissed the cheek of first the Empress then turned to Starla. Breaking all etiquette rules Starla pulled her into a hug before kissing her cheek.

“Oh please Ace, like we need the formality,” Starla said, making those around her laugh. 

Aislign smiled at her old friend then turned to Prince Gideon. His wide grin lit up his face. She’d spent some time with him as children, but it had been years since she’d seen him. 

“You do look striking this evening Counselor Weaver,” Gideon said.

“Well at least someone remembers my title,” Aislign said, shooting an amused glance at Starla. Starla stuck her tongue out. “And this must be your new wife.”

Gideon beamed. “Yes it is. May I present Princes Astoria, the woman of my dreams.” 

Astoria rolled her eyes. Her voice was soft and feminine when she said, “It is a pleasure Counselor. I have heard much about you.”

“Well that’s never a good sign.” She shot a look to Gideon who just grinned wickedly. 

“Don’t worry it was all good. And- I must say- well done. The Borsobans are not easy to impress.”

“Thank you, Princess”

“To be perfectly honest Lady Aislign, Gideon was not the source for the stories,” she explained. She gestured to the man standing nearby. “It was Lord Reydan.”

Shock hit her so fiercely that she thought she’d collapse. Luckily, Aislign had trained harder and for much worse situations than this. 

Soran pressed his hand to her lower back. “Yes! Counselor, I forgot to tell you that my nephew is back from his studies. Of course you remember, Lord Reydan.”

Aislign couldn’t breathe. She didn’t understand how he was here. Why he was here.

“My Lady Aislign, it is so nice to see you again…” Reydan words were cut off when Aislign’s hand made contact with his cheek. The force of the blow snapped his head sideways.

Gasps erupted around them.

“Counselor!” Soran reprimanded.

“Aislign, what is this?” her father asked.

Reydan held up his hand.

“It’s okay. I deserved it,” Reydan said. 

Aislign started in surprise then shook it off. 

“Please excuse me. It seems I need some fresh air.” With that, Aislign turned and exited through a side door that led out to the gardens. Her gown fluttered behind her.

  Published on OBW Blog November 6, 2020 © Tracey Canole 

Scroll to Top