Music Review: Open Beta

“Hey brother, a friend’s band is playing on your side of town that I want you to see tonight. You in?”

 

This was the greeting I received after answering a call from one of my oldest friends, about two years ago.  Sadly, I was already booked with family stuff that night. This was the first, but far from the last, time that I would miss out on seeing Open Beta.  Open Beta

 

I missed them at Comic Con 17 by ten minutes, at Comic Fest 18 by an hour. I have had friends, strangers, and an author at a panel I attended tell me to go listen to them. The fates have conspired to prevent it, until Saturday.  I was kidnapped by the above mentioned friend, Michael Klopper. (Pausing for the chorus of, “Hey, I know that guy!” Of course you do…)  We went down to the old OCP (yeah, you know me.), O’Connor’s Pub at Dunlap and the 17.  I’ve never been there before, but me and that bar have become fast friends.  It’s that kind of place.  I kept looking around for a fat redheaded guy smoking a cigar.

 

We walk in as the trio are working their way through a, I’m going to stereotype from ignorance here, classic Irish Jig.  Heads are bouncing, drinks are rising.  The band pulls the eye, a mismatched yet balanced set.  To the left is the guitarist, pretty average looking guy, size wise. I later learn his name is Paul Schmidt. I try not to hold it against him. To the right is Brian Abernathy,  Mike McShane’s long lost brother, tall, wide, and tapping a stick on a large round hand held drum. He’s getting sounds out of the thing that would make Neil Peart look twice.  In the center dances a manic pixie on a violin that is just as modern and electric as Brian’s drums are archaic and unpowered.  Shorter and smaller than either of the guys, she nonetheless dominates the stage, the fiddle speeding up as she kicked and swung, the guy’s faces starting to contort as you could tell they fought to keep up.

 

Every table had at least a pair of people, most of them full up.  I stood at the door, watching and listening, and Klopper quickly and quietly made his rounds, hugging, hand shaking, responding to raised hands and quiet calls of his name.  I’m used to this. It doesn’t matter where I take him, this happens.  Everyone knows Klopper.  I’ve written about this before.  Eventually, the song ends, and Klopper motions to an open chair at a table with some friends of his.  I sit, as Erin leaps off stage and descends upon a large glass of coffee, whip cream piled high.  Brian swears loudly.  “More coffee?”  He looks out at the crowd. “We’re having a hard enough time keeping up, don’t give her MORE caffeine!”

 

The crowd roars, and Erin cackles with glee as she leaps back onstage.  This was repeated a few more times that night.  As well as a few shots done by all three together.  You know it’s a proper Irish band when the players are drinking more than the audience.  The band launches into a song with words, very folk feel, but not one I recognize. I think it might be one of theirs.

 

Klopper asks me what I’ll have, he’s buying the first round . I’m wanting something I can nurse for a while.  “Enh, a beer.”

 

“Cider.”

 

“What?”

 

He glares at me.  “It’s an Irish bar. You’ll have a cider.”  I agree, and he comes back with a couple of glasses and a basket of fried cheese curds as the band takes a break.  He leaves all three, goes to say hi to the band as they split off.  The cider half vanishes in one long pull, I need to find out what he got me, as it was delightful. The curds start vanishing as well. Speaking as a part Canadian who has had lots of experience with fried cheese curds, Wisconsin had better never find out O’Connor’s source of cheese, or they’ll send a crew to wreck the place in jealousy.

 

 

The band returns to the stage.  The next three hours go by in a whirl.  They have a pattern, Open Beta does.  One or two songs with words.  The guys take turns at lead vocal, though its mostly Paul.  Erin does a bit of backup for some songs, but not much.  Then we get an instrumental, just enough drum to keep a beat, a bit of guitar for tuned rhythm, and that violin.

 

There are not enough words to describe that violin.  Erin seems to flit back and forth between beating sounds out of it, cajoling a soft tune, and then just wrestling the strings into submission.  The music just channels through her, and guides her bandmates, and the audience.  Emotion pours out, wordless songs that are nevertheless sung, or a perfect counterpoint to words that are said, the emotions underneath highlighted by the soul of that bow pulling along the strings. I am not a dancing man, at least, not without a lot more than just a glass of cider in my belly, but several times that night, I glanced over to the pool table and wondered how easily I could move it out of the way to make a dance floor.

 

 

 

A little something about me and my tastes. I like building songs. You know, a song that starts with part of the melody, a bit of the instrument. Then on the repeat, adds some more.  Eventually, we have the full song played, every lick, every instrument, bright and loud. Open Beta appears to have a similar taste.  A lot of their songs, especially the ones that are covers of popular songs, build.  A light tap of drum.  A gentle long tone from the violin.  A basic repeating chord scheme from the guitar.  A bit of song.  Refrain and new stanza adds more drum, the guitar picks up some notes between the chords.  The long tones resolve into a touch of plucking and more notes. We come around the bend into the final verse, and the band drops it down into overdrive, guitar bouncing, drum throwing out a pounding that, if your eyes were closed, you would SWEAR was a full kit, not a single lonesome leather covered circle of wood (Bhodran, it’s called. I had to look it up. Bow Drawn. ) And that violin, and it’s player…  Bouncing and skipping across the stage, bow flying across the strings.  Several times that night, I thought to myself, they should do a cover of Devil went down to Georgia.  Because the fiddle part would give her a break, and let her relax her fingers in comparison to what she’s already playing.

 

 

 

They play sad songs, they play happy songs.  I find myself with wet eyes, not sure why, as I’m laughing at the same time.  And in between songs, or often during, the trio banter.  As Klopper says, deep into the third set, “See, you get a concert AND a show.”

 

 

 

Paul and Brian take turns playing straight man funny man, but much like the music, Erin brings the soul.  With a word here, a quip there, and lots of facial expressions aimed at the bawdy antics of the boys, they set the jokes up, and she knocks the crowd down.  One liners that would get a chuckle on their own cause the crowd to explode into laughter as she drops her gaze to the ground, wrist to forehead, bow sticking into the air, and sighs the sigh of the much oppressed and put upon.  Another mug of Irish coffee appears on the table in front of them, and she leaps upon it in glee, the others again exclaiming in dismay.  “Keep this up, and we’ll end up having to do kamikazes every time one of you buys her coffee.”

 

 

 

Minutes later, a pair of shots are handed to them by the barkeep. The revelry continues. The classic folk songs, mixed with their own music, and covers, many geeky.  A low mournful song is played and sung. I listen to the lyrics. I know this song. I know it well, yet they’re playing it in a way I can’t identify, and the lyrics are… ah.   The melody flows into the one I know well, the original song that now serves as chorus, as the entire bar sings together. The words burst out of my own lungs, an anthem of the geeky and proud for the last decade and a half.  “Take my love, take my land, take me where I cannot stand.”  They roll through the song, building, as I mentioned before, and on the final chorus, the rafters are ringing from the audience singing along.  (For those curious, the full song they played is called “Mal’s Song”.  Its an expansion of the Ballad, written by Michelle Dockrey.  Look it up, it’s fantastic. )

 

 

Paul announces that they are about to play a song written by an ex member of their original band, who happens to also be the bartender serving us. It’s a relationship, in eleven minutes, he says.  Klopper smiles and taps me on the chest.  “This is the first song of theirs I ever heard, you’ll love it.”  The story he relates to me is that after a particularly bad breakup, one I remember helping pick up the pieces after, a mutual dear friend of ours dragged him to see the band that would become Open Beta, Talk a Little Treason, and this was the song they played as he walked in. He was ready to walk out, upset by the song, when it reached the final verse. That’s all he would say, and let me experience the song.

 

 

 

It opens with a plaintive request to spend some time together.  A impassioned description of a night spent in each other’s arms. And of course, waking up alone.  The song moves into doubt, wondering, are we or aren’t we a thing?  It strikes a chord, no pun intended.  In fact, it makes me think quite a bit about the mutual friend who introduced Klopper to this song and band.  And we’re well past wet eyes.  There are tears on my face, and I am dumbstruck by this song, and the power it has over me. And just when I’m about to excuse myself, and leave the room, the final verse starts.  And I’m joining the rest of the room is laughter, great, cathartic, side splitting laughter. I may be one of the few people in the room who doesn’t identify with the close of the song, but I still find it funny.  You’ll have to hear it for yourself. I won’t ruin it.

 

 

We’re nearing the end of the last set.  The band has already admitted to the crowd that they have a set list, but they don’t use it, completely. “They’re more like GUIDELINES”, Paul informs us.  The band is in close to each other, whispering, but from my vantage, I hear every word.  “We could.  Or what about Solsbury Hill?”

 

“Yes.” I whisper to myself. “Play Solsbury Hill!”

 

“What?”  Klopper, not having heard them, is looking at me.

 

“Oh, just whispering to myself, no worries.”

 

The song starts. Gentle drum. Just a touch of guitar.  Klopper recognizes their version instantly, and knows my tastes.  “Ooo! You’ll like this one.”  I nod, and listen.  True to form, first verse, vocals, a couple chords, long sweet sounds from the violin.  Brian takes the lead on singing this one, and he’s holding the mic like a lover, the drum aside for the moment.  Into the second verse, the music builds, and as the final verse starts, he’s belting the song out, Erin is dancing like a maniac, bow flying across the strings, Paul bouncing with the guitar, music pouring out of the stage.

 

They finally end, a few minutes past midnight.  I am wrung out. My head is full, my heart is lighter than when I came in.  I laughed, I cried, my hands still sting from clapping and my feet ache from tapping and pounding the floor.  I purchased an album, gave them my compliments.  Listening to the album the next day…  It’s good, but lacks some of the magic.  This is a band best experienced in person.  Go. See them.   http://www.openbetamusic.com/

The Angel Ensign on my Shoulder.

So, I’ve just received the second piece of art to be put permanently on my skin.

Uncle Josh with Lost Dutchman Tattoo put it there.  Wonderful artist, great guy, a delight to work with. Go buy his art, both on your skin, and on paper.

 

Behold, Wesley Crusher.  Let me explain

(also, its 12 hours old.  and a bad angle on my shoulder.  I’ll update the pic in a week or so)

 

 

Continue reading “The Angel Ensign on my Shoulder.”

Tech Support Super Hero, or, How I saved a life while working phones

Back at the turn of the decade, I was working for a company that did outsourced tech support for Logitech.  I helped out people with new gaming gear, got speakers installed and working, taught people about bluetooth, and helped lots of people with webcams.  Well, mostly grandparents and cam girls.  Lots of cam girls. Who often offered free credits to their next show as a tip.  But that’s another story.

You often hear things about tech support that shock and amaze and disgust.  Cup holders.  “Waxy” buildup on laptops.  Illegal exception, my gawd, what did I do, I’m going to jail! I have a story that has a hopefully happy ending, although I have to make it up myself, as I never did learn the end. I did get a piece of the denouement, which was great, but not the end.

I receive a call from a gentleman who has a problem with his speakers.  Now, he has bought the high end self contained speaker system, top of the line setup that Logitech made at the time.  The Z something or another.  Big old subwoofer, 9 speakers for surround, all the hookups, and more power than it needs.  No, really. We had a set in our test lab.  The windows at the front of the office, 100 feet away, would shake before you got it to top volume. I wanted one myself. And stupidly enabled someone at my office to steal almost a dozen sets. But again, that’s another story.

“So what issue are you having with your Z, sir?”

“Well, the sound is really great, but at a certain volume, the subwoofers start buzzing and get muddy.”

“Well, I do hope you’re keeping the volume to a safe level” (we had to say shit like that.  Lots of liability limiting language) “but we do want you to get the most quality and enjoyment possible out of your Logitech purchase.  Now, subwoofers move a lot of air, and if they get blocked, it can cause some problems.  I want to make sure that you have it on a hard surface, not carpet.  And that there is at least 6 inches of space on every side.”

“Well, I have them in my closet, but there is enough space around them.  And it’s wood floor.”

“Okay, well then lets…”  Penny drops.  Plural. Them.  “Sir, did you say them?  Do you have the other speakers stacked on top of the subwoofer?”

He laughs.  The, my god, did that idiot just tell me to reboot my computer? AGAIN? Laugh.  “Man, no, you can’t have the highs too close to the lows. I know that!  I’m not stupid.”  (In the history of all tech support, the customer saying, “I’m not stupid!” is invariably followed by them saying something that proves them stupid.  In 3… 2…)  “The regular speakers are all up on a shelf.  I’ve got the subwoofers all together though.”

I’m processing.  I’m confused. I’ve run out of coffee about half an hour before, and just had Marco, the pc Call of Duty gamer positive that we were hiding the magic formula to let him head shot with a game pad on his laptop. But again, thats another story.

“But the Z only comes with one subwoofer.”

1…

“Yeah, and a gorgeous set, loved the sound in the store. So I bought four of them.”

“Four… Z speaker sets.  Each with 9 speakers and a subwoofer.”

“That’s right.”

“Sir, I…”  (Choose your words with CARE my self.  Saying what you really want to say WILL get your ass fired. ) “So, you have the subwoofers stacked.  All four in a column?”

“Naw, two side by side, with two on top of them.”

“I see…  well, I’m…  glad you enjoy our product enough to buy four, but with the subwoofers together like that, they could definitely interfere with each other.  I would suggest maybe spacing them out around your room?”

(Abort mission, countdown restarts at 3..  2…)

“No, that can’t be it.  I’ve got four Sony ( similar type of set, I forget the name, comparable to the Z ) set up that way under my window, and they sound fine. ”

Stunned silence. Someone managed to say something that made me shut up and think without talking. Everyone who knows me just gasped.  Countdown however, continues.

“In the same room?”

“Yup.”

“You have eight subwoofers with the connected speakers in one room?”

 

1…

 

“Oh hell no, those are just the newest. I’ve got 22 subwoofers, 153 regular speakers, and 10 tweeters.  I’ve got a few different racks they all hook into to split the sound. Some are sets, some are individual, I even have have a dozen car speakers hanging on the wall. Scavenged them from a totaled car. Top end shit, (Insert brand name I dont recall here.) I paid pennies on the dollar for them. But man, when I get this going, sweetest sound you ever heard. Music just pushing in from all sides. Concerts are like cheap headphones in comparison.”

My mind is whirling. I’m concerned for the dude. Downright upset and afraid. “Sir…  hanging from the wall?”

 

“Yeah, thats the great thing about car speakers. put in a nail, hang the frame from it. ”

“So, not shielded or boxed in any way. all these speakers, all running at once, just out and about in your room? How big of a room?”

“Enh… 10 by 20?”

 

“Sir..  thats… thats not safe.”

 

“Not safe? I mean, sure, I might go deaf, but that’s life! (Had the phrase yet been invented, he would have probably said YOLO.  Thankfully, it had not yet been first uttered by man.)

“No, I mean…  have you ever heard of EMF radiation?”

“Yeah, that’s the shit they scan for on Ghost Hunters.”

“Yes!  But they scan for it for two reasons.  One, because some people believe that EMF activity can mean ghosts, but also B, because high amounts of EMF from other sources can… affect people. ”

 

He goes silent, then speaks again. All levity in his voice is gone. He is now SERIOUS caller. “affect them how?”

 

“Well, and I have to say, I am not a doctor, and please do not take this as medical advice, but…  Paranoia. The feeling of being watched.  It’s been known to cause visual hallucinations, which is why ghost hunters care, if someone is under intense emf, they could have just been seeing things in their brain. ”

“My wife put you up to this, didn’t she.”

 

WHOA! WHATTHEFUCKWHOA!

 

“Sir, you called me.  I didn’t even know you were married until just now.”

“Well, not for much longer.  I’ve been having… problems.  Lashing out. Seeing things. White flashes, mostly, but sometimes people. My doctor, he’s put me on a bunch of different medicines, and they all just make it worse. We’re separated right now, but.. I can’t hold a job, I keep getting more..  off, and she’s going to leave me soon.  All I have left is my room, and my music. ”

Now, I’ll admit that my first thought is, if you’ve lost your job and are being supported by your wife, whom you’re separated from, the FUCK are you doing dropping three hundred bucks times four for some damn speakers. My second was… shit.  I…  have to talk to this guy, but if this call is monitored, I’m giving medical advice, and I’m admitting that the company product may be harming him. I am SO FIRED.

 

I go into the Councillor voice. I’m good at it. Very soothing. Not deep, i don’t have a deep voice, but I can sound like your best friend.

“So, would you say you’re spending more and more time in your room, lately?”

 

“Yeah, the worse my symptoms get, the less I want to go anywhere, the more I sit here and listen to my music.”

“So… the more you stay in that room, speakers running, the worse it gets?”

 

“Do… do you really think my room is hurting me? My one joy in life… is what’s taking my life away?”

(Folks, I guarantee thinking about this later made me cry, but right now, I’m a fucking professional. not a quaver in my voice.)

“I… I can’t say, but it might be.  You said you’re seeing a doctor?”

 

“Yeah! Hey, cmon man, if this could be caused by EMF, why wouldn’t he tell me? ”

“Well, its not a common thing to run into, a room of a few hundred speakers.  Does he know about your room?”

 

“No. ”

“When’s your next appointment?”

“A couple days. You think, I should tell him?”

“Yeah, i think you should.  and maybe, turn off all but a couple of speakers? I dont mean turn them down, actually unplug them all from the wall.  See how it sounds with just one Z going. It’s still a pretty awesome speaker, right?”

 

“Yeah, okay.  Thanks. ”
Click.

Fast forward about a month. My supervisor pulls me into a conference room for a “comp call”.  YAY!  Those are great.

 

“Alex, I listened to the original call that the customer called to compliment you on.  I’m not filing this comp call, cause them Eric will listen. (Eric was the MANAGER of the center. My bosses boss.) And if he hears it, you’ll be fired. ”

 

…. “How can I get fired for a comp call?”

“Room full of speakers.”

 

My mouth clamps shut. I take a drink of water. “Yeah, okay. Thanks. I appreciate that. Um… what did he say?”

“He said his doctor said you’re right. Hes gotten rid of most of the speakers. Including all four Zs, he says the sony sounds better. ”

My sup and I both shrug at this.  We’ve both heard that before. It’s probably true.

“His hallucinations have gone away, he’s getting a lot better with other people, and his wife is talking about moving back into their house. He’s really grateful.”

I smile, I can’t help it.  You don’t often get to actually change a life doing tech support. I mean, helping grandparents see their newborn grandchild across the country is awesome.  Helping someone set up a headset to use their computer as a phone is cool.  Hell, even keeping the cam girls online and creating boners has a bit of satisfaction. But this?  Warm golden sunshine.

 

“Alex… look, you did good. Thats really awesome. DON’T DO IT AGAIN. You are not a doctor.”

I nod, and go back to the phones.

“Thank you for calling Logitech support, my name is Alex.  Can I have your name please?”

 

“Yeah man, its Marco.  I’ve tried the settings that the last guy set for me a couple of days ago, but its still laggy.  I get fragged every round man. You gotta help me get some headshots.”

I tap mute on my phone, and chant loudly.  “I GOT MARCO!”   A chorus of groans erupts from my fellow gaming techs.  “Better you than me, man!”

The Time Lord Warp

A little parody I wrote a bit ago.  Enjoy.  Or don’t.

 

Its astounding,

Time is fleeting,

Many bodies, one soul.

We’ve got Capaldi,

(Not for very much longer)

Then a new Doctor will keep control.

 

I remember, watching the time wars,

Thinking of the moments when,

Regeneration would happen,

 

And the fans are calling,

CAN THE DOCTOR BE A WOMAN!?

CAN THE DOCTOR BE A WOMAN!?

 

Is it a plot of the Left?

NO THE TIME IS RIIIIGHHT!

Put your hands on your hips.

ITS TOO LATE TO FIIIIGHT!

 

YES HER PELVIC FROOONT, DRIVES THE TROLLS INSAAAAA AAAA AANE!

YES THE DOCTOR IS A WOMAN!

YES THE DOCTOR IS A WOMAN!

 

Its so seamy, they say a woman cant be,

In charge of the T.A.R.D.I.S., no, not at all.

In every dimension,

With altruistic intention,

The Doctor, can be any or all,

 

Yet still the bros flip,

Like we cut off their dick tip,

And nothing can ever be the same.

They bitch over on Reditt,

Its too late WE’VE SAID IT!

 

THE DOCTOR IS A WOMAN!

THE DOCTOR IS A WOMAN!

The creeping horror that infests my happy place

I must open with a confession.  On this All Hallows Eve, I must spill a dark secret that will earn me enmity, derision, and scorn.

 

I really really really HATE Nightmare Before Christmas. I didn’t always hate it, but I never liked it.  It was… okay.  The songs were generic, trying to be all gothy while still being sugary pop (An Elfman staple.  Sorry, his music is hit or miss for me. )  The story was…  blah. Jack as a character was… blah.  I rooted for Oogie Boogie, really.

 

All that changed one fateful October, after years away, visiting the Happiest Kingdom on Earth with my mom and brother.  I raced for the Haunted Mansion. Unaware of what waited. I saw the additions on the outside, and was all… well, okay. As long as they didn’t mess with the inside.  15 minutes later, exiting the Mansion, my rage slowly rising the entire time, I now HATED that movie with a passion. How DARE they.

 

Anyways, a couple weeks ago, a coworker announced they were going to Disneyland for Halloween weekend. I scoffed.  “I do not go to Disney in October. It’s too… painful”

 

Another co-worker, who has heard me rant before, rolled her eyes.  “Jesus Alex, you’re so dramatic about it.”

 

I… may have been temporarily possessed by the ghosts of Houdini, Vincent Price, and Ken Anderson. That is the only thing to explain the next few minutes.  Note, this is from memory, I MAY have tweaked a few lines below.

 

“Dramatic? Too dramatic?  NAY!  I say I am not dramatic enough about this… evil.”

 

I looked at the original coworker, the one who as you read is enjoying the Mouse. “You may be unaware. But my feet will not find themselves passing under the gates this month, or the next, no. Not even until after the Yule season has passed, and the three Kings have finished their annual pilgrimage to the manger, can my soul walk with ease upon the grounds of the so called, Happiest Place on Earth.”

 

I fluffed an imaginary cape behind me, and stood straight.  My voice was carrying, and carrying a mild unidentifiable accent, and I started drawing a crowd. The last three words, Happiest Place On Earth, were said with a sneer and slow sarcastic cadence that I hope would have made Price proud.

 

“You see, there is an unholy abomination this time of year.  There is a blight, a disturbing blasphemy that winds its tendrils through the Temple of Terror. A creeping evil that grows along the walls of that shrine of darkness, that plot of land where all may bask in true darkness.

Yes, within the sacred graveyard where I have buried my very heart, to forever thrill in horror and dream sweet in the concentrated nightmare of Glory, the seeds of disdain are planted, and growing vines of decay. My beloved Haunted Mansion, the Manse of Macabre where my true self can be free, is BOUND.  BOUND I SAY!

Bound in chains of crassness, bound with shackles of commercialism, bound by the gauche gaudy ungainly streamers hung by that… that villain.  That KNAVE of pumpkins, who would DARE attempt to claim the crown of Halloween and name himself King, the Man Jack. ”

 

At this point, my coworkers were evenly split between giggling and backing away slowly.  I may have spun a few times and gesticulated wildly with my hands.  I do that.

 

“But his profane influence wanes.  The Glorious Holy Imagineers who, caught in his spell as the summer fades, and fall begins, will soon find their minds clearing.  Yes, even they whose hands did the dirty work of the Pumpkin Knave will doubt, and the true Unholy Peace that is the spirit of the Mansion will cleanse their minds of his taint.  And LO, in the cleansing powers of the new year’s frost, they will put right that which they themselves have put wrong, and Jack and his Ilk will find themselves again in boxes, gathering dust through spring and summer, waiting for their time to again blaspheme. And then, once its halls are restored to their rightful sinful terror.  THEN, and not one moment before, will my feet once again walk the Main Street, and find happiness in the darkness as I wander the tombs of those who have gone before, and enter the Halls of the Haunted Mansion. ”

 

At this point, the crowd was a bit tense.  I figured, enh, cathartic end.

 

“And don’t even get me started on Space Mountain.”

The Rose Queen of Crime

Due to joking about the wildly talented Rebecca Rose’s handsome husband dressing in a Harley Quinn esque uniform, and her playing the Joker, I have this stuck in my head.  (Work in progress)

 

She strolled into the bank to the sound of organ music, no one sure where the sound came from.  A purple dinner jacket flapped like a cloak, matching slacks perfectly tailored, falling to just above a pair of shiny black and white spats. Her face drew the most attention, half in a painted smile, white foundation under lips the color of roses left in the stands on valentines day, the dark blooms passed over by all for brighter, happier shades.  The other half of her face was bare of pigment, yet the eye that pierced out from natural colored flesh bore all the testament needed by the left side of her face.  One glance into that orb of marble and jade left one disassembled and put back together in a heart beat, the unbearable feeling that with a glance she knew all of you. The clown eye shone in joy and extravaganza. The other glinted with madness.

Hair spilled from under her broad fedora, golden strands stained verdigris, like a statue of brass that had just begin to age in the rain. All eyes drew to her, and the figure behind her slipped in unnoticed, a feat considering the bright white and red uniform he wore, and the cartwheels he turned in place of walking.  As he worked his way around the outside of the lobby, bells jangling, she walked to the middle of the room.

 

“GOOD MORNING TO ALL!”  Her voice rang to every corner, and she paused a minute, arms outstretched, basking in the glow of several dozen eyeballs glued to her every movement.  “This, is an art installation.  I call it, Trickle Up Theory.  And you lucky people are audience, artist, and patron, all in one!  Isn’t that great folks?”

Security started to move towards her.  Some of the crowd stared in apprehension, but quite a few whipped out phones and started filming. A couple of the bored customers, standing in line for the next teller, clapped in delight, taking her words at face value.

” I am, as I am sure most of you know, the renowned performance artist and creative genius known far and wide as The Joker, The Rose Queen of Crime! And we shall start today’s entertainment by filling my hat.”  Bowing, she took her hat off and pressed it to the white pinstriped shirt under her jacket. Tossing it to the ground, it landed a few feet away and wavered for a moment, as if untucking itself, and grew nearly a foot larger across.  “Wallets, jewelry, watches, no digital watches, real watches.  No phones, keep your phones, I’m not heartless!”

 

***

Across the room, one of the tellers reached for the hidden button under his desk.  As his hand darted out, a blur of motion intersected it, and pain erupted from his hand as it slammed into his knee.  “Now now, none of that Freddy!”

 

The teller looked up at the source of the voice.  Thick eyebrows and a goatee that screamed Evil Twin framed a loose smile and eyes that seemed kind and caring, yet still filled him with terror. They peeked out over a nose that pointed like a hunting dog sighting it’s master’s prey, and wriggled like a cat about to pounce on it’s own.  A white and red uniform plastered itself to the man, diamonds down the legs matching a marching Sargent’s hat that perched at an obscenely loose angle, as if ready to fall at any moment. The uniform was piped in a bright green that matched the hair of the woman in the lobby.  Against his shoulder lay the head of a croquet mallet.  The shaft was painted a barber pole of red and blue, leading to a handle that was cradled lovingly in the jester’s hand. The teller blinked, the absurdity and incongruity of the handle sticking out even among what was already absurdity, pushing surreal.

 

“Is that.. a lightsaber handle?”

 

The jester smiled, and swung the mallet up to show off the handle.  It was indeed a steel lighstaber, the blue and red appearing out of it as if a beam.  “I have a purple one as well, but I’m not allowed to use it in public.” He put a hand to his lips and mock whispered, “It says, ‘Bad Motherfucker’ on the side.”  He tapped the side of the mallet, where the teller could see words engraved in the painted wood.

 

Focusing, still confused and trying to make sense of the world, he read them aloud. “Croquet. A game for just one player.” He looked up at the jester in confusion.  The jester brought the handle up to his face, his nose and eyes peeking over the top like a living “Kilroy was here”.  “It’s a pun, my dear Mr…”  He glanced at the desk. “Greene.  Really? A banker named Greene.  How gauche. As I was saying, it’s a pun.  Sadly, while it’s quite clever, no one on THIS side of the invisible wall will get it. ”

Self preservation finally made it’s voice known in the gibbering clatter of the teller’s brain as realization dawned that the kind eyed jester was mad, stark, raving, barking mad.  He turned in his office chair, shoving himself back against the thin wall separating him from the next teller over. The motion caused pain to blossom fresh in his hand, and he glanced at it, a bright red mark already starting to purple. “You.. you hit me!”

 

The mallet swung, showing a bright yellow face on one of the striking surfaces, dark black Xs in place of eyes.  “Mr. Ouchy hit you.  Do anything stupid like go for that alarm again, and he’ll hit you again. And if you really piss me off…”  The mallet twisted a hundred and eighty degrees.  The opposite striking surface held a raised brown poo emoji.   “And Mr. Poop will half to talk to you.  Trust me, you don’t want to talk to Mr. Poop.  It’s a sure fire way to have a shitty day. ”

 

The jester stood suddenly.  “Ta ta! Be Good!”   He started to  walk back into the office behind the bank counter, then whirled and pointed at the teller, who froze in fear, hands up to show he wasn’t touching anything. The jester crouched there, pointing for a long moment, then his hand darted forward and tapped the teller on the nose.  “BOOP!”

At that moment, both men looked up at the loud ringing pop of a gun going off.

***

 

The guards were advancing on the Joker, both with sidearms drawn.  The closest guard was armed with a snub nosed revolver, trained steadily at the Joker’s chest.  “My good man!  I normally don’t traffic in guns, but if that’s all you have, I scorn no man’s contribution to the arts! Please, toss it in! ”  With that, she motioned towards the hat.

 

“Sorry Miss, I would, but it belongs to the company.  Can’t donate what isn’t mine, ya know? Now put your hands up!”

The Joker grinned and flourished in his direction. “Well, company loyalty AND a good come back joke.  I appreciate it, really I do.”  She took a quick step towards him and put one elbow on the gun as if leaning on it.  Head propped against fist, she grinned at him from inches away as he pulled the trigger over and over again. Click. Click. Click.

 

“A good sense of humor aside though, I can’t let you keep the bullets. ”  She fanned her free hand in the air, several shining copper jacked rounds nestled between fingers.  With several deft flicks of the wrist, they sailed in a long arc, one at a time, into the hat, quickly joined by a flood of jewelry and wallets being tossed in by a now truly frighted crowd.

She looked back at the guard, smiling, and slipped the hand into her jacket.  He stood stock still, sweat beading on his brow, trying and failing to keep his eyes from flicking back and forth from her to his fellow guard walking up behind her.  Still staring the guard in the eyes, she whipped her hand out of her jacket and pointed it behind her, directly at the face of the second security guard.  She curled up one side of her face, the unpainted one, the guard noticed, and spoke in her worst faux gangster impression.  “Dontcha even THINK about it, copper.”

 

She turned her head slowly, making a CREEEEAAAAAAK noise under her breath.  All eyes were focused on her hand, an on the giant silver ring that adorned it.  The guard looked at it, eyes narrowed past the barrel of his gun.

The ring appeared to be of a single piece.  Bright silver, the band went around her pointer and middle finger, a thick piece of silver with numbers carved into it. The primary focus was a human hand, maybe two inches from finger tip to wrist, in the classic finger gun position.  The pointing forefinger was hollow, a gun barrel the size of a bb.  The disembodied mini hand was held up by two small bears, with a third, smaller bear, standing on the curve of the top of the hand.  It appeared to be trying to push the thumb backwards, like cocking a gun.

 

“I call it “Bearing”.  It’s a statement on way we’ve trivialized gun ownership to the point where everyone has one, like hands.  There are some deeper levels of meaning, but who has the time to go over it? Also, its a pun.  You know, to bear arms.”

“Cute, now put your hands up. ”

Without moving her hands, the Joker slowly grinned back at the guard, a wider, wilder smile than any she’d yet worn.  The guard stared at her lips, a dark pit opened into the recesses of her soul.  He couldn’t help but feel like she was pouring every ounce of disdain and hate she had through those lips, and his vision swam dark, his fingers and cheeks growing cold.

 

“Do you know why the baby bear is cocking the gun?”

 

“Because..  uh… children and guns that aren’t secure?”

 

“OO!  Good.  That, and , because, well.  Papa bear, he’s too hard. Mamma bear, she’s too soft. And as we all know, the baby bear?  He’s JUST RIGHT. ”

 

A stream of liquid shot out, clear and quick, splashing in the guard’s face.

He spluttered, blinking his eyes to

Short Story Challenge: The Thousand Doors of Olive Garden

So, saw a comment from the forward thinking Rose Eveleth ( @roseveleth on twitter, check her podcast, Flash Foward ) about a small contest being run by another writer @hels on twitter.   Write a story using this opening line, and she’ll buy you dinner at OG.  Well, im good without the dinner ,but the first line was too good to pass up.  Especially since literally minutes before reading it, I had been discussing with a coworker dopplegangers.  You know the old saw about how everyone has one?  I met mine, when I was 6, in a restaurant bathroom.  We were looking at each other in the mirror while trying to comb our hair.

 

There is only one Olive Garden, but it has a thousand doors.  They come in a hundred shapes, a dozen sizes.  Some have knobs, and a sign that says “Pull Me”. Some have brass plates inscribed “Push.”  Some slid open, sound waves detecting the unwary that walk by, smells of garlic and chianti enticing them to enter. One, Western themed, has handles made of cast copies of the Colt Peacemaker.  If you are reading this, though, you are unlikely to ever come across that door, as the world on the outside of it has a gravity that will snap your bones and stop your blood in your veins.

 

Chances are, if you’ve been to four different Olive Gardens in your life, spread around your home state, you’ve only walked through one actual door.  Maybe two. They are like holes, drilled into the shell of a vast multidimensional Nautilus.  Each leads to its own chamber. Alike, but different, growing into being as the Nautilus extends it’s shell in directions whose mere existence would decimate your mind to comprehend.  Growing larger as the Olive Garden beast grows, the door, the same door, appearing across each individual landscape as it bends and buckles in four dimensions, a hyper door, a single door for each face of hole into that particular cavernous chamber of the growing beast. Perhaps one day there shall be a thousand and one doors, but today, there are a thousand.  The shell of the Olive Garden beast keeps each chamber apart, keeps the denizens from mingling, but the back of the beast runs through them all.  It twists in those dark directions our three dimensional mind knows not.  Ana and Kata, Ceriden and Quariden. It spins and turns, passing through vast holes in what, to our small minds, seem solid walls painted in yellow tones and festooned with fake rock slabs.

 

It takes a determined klutz to fall in a direction he doesn’t even know exists.  And as my mother, friends, and lovers will all tell you, I am a DETERMINED klutz. (We aren’t talking about the chicken egg incident. It was as much Samantha’s fault as mine, and I hear most of her hair has grown back and the skin graft took with only minor scarring. )  Digging into some pasta dish with a dozen tiny sea creatures cooked into it, I managed to miss my mouth with the glass of Merlot. I mostly blame the fact that my mouth was a moving target, as I was mid delivery of a particularly bad brick joke when I tried to take a sip.  Excusing myself from the gaggle of coworkers who had gathered for lunch (when you’re here you’re family MY ASS), I shuffled my way in the supposed direction of the bathrooms.

 

Dabbing at my soaked shirt with the napkin in my hand, I slammed bodily into a large man in a suit coming out of the hallway to the bathroom doors.  I ricocheted off his solid bulk, hit my head on the hanging lantern behind me, which caused swears of surprise from the couple seated at the small table there, and spun widdershins on one foot trying desperately not to fall on my ass. I brought my other foot back down to support me, and stepped on… something.  If you’ve ever accidentally stepped on a person while navigating a dark room during a sleep over (or whatever parties you may have gone to that involved many people on the floor, I won’t judge), you ALMOST know the sensation of squirming flesh under my foot.  It twisted, it moved, in a direction that felt WRONG.  My feet slid out from under me as the ground was suddenly off to my side somewhere, and bright lights flashed behind my eyes as I rolled up hill, down hill, the world spinning around me.  I slammed against the wall, finally, and tried to rise to my feet.  My stomach churned, the white sauce laden sea bugs in my stomach threatening to make war upon my esophagus, and I lay there trying not to vomit for a moment.

 

Finally rising, the world seemed to flicker in and out as I blinked my eyes, like a badly programmed video game redrawing vectors slowly.  Blinking, I stumbled down the hallway and pushed past the heavy wooden door marked “stneG”. The light was dim, and someone was already standing at the farthest sink from the door.  I grabbed a stack of paper towels and stood next to him, blotting up wine.  I looked down to wet the paper towel and looked back up at myself, but I found that no matter how I moved my hand, I kept missing the stain, just touching the pale cream of where I HADN’T spilled on myself.  This went on for a few moments before I realized that something was wrong.  I looked at my face, and saw that my eyes were pointed to the side.  I had never seen the side of my eyes in the mirror before!  There was something else wrong with my face, but it wasn’t immediately clear.

I panned my eyes to my right, and found myself staring at myself, the way a good mirror should.  There was a mark on my forehead where i had smacked into the lamp, a red mark quickly purpling into a bruise.  I slowly raised my arm to touch it, wincing, and noticed in my peripheral the man next to me doing the same.  My eyes flicked back and forth between the two images of myself.  Same clothes. The face…  the one without the mark on his forehead looked like pictures of myself. Not my face reversed in the mirror. I have a missing tooth in the front, that was the most obvious misplacement. And the stain on our shirts were almost mirror images of each other.  Not quite the same, no Rorschach blotch test could ever produce two identical stains, but close enough.  I could see his eyes flickering back and forth as well, our brains moving in unison.  Slowly, we turned and faced each other.

 

“Mirror world?”

“Rerrem dlrouw?”

 

His voice broke over my eardrums like static, obviously reversed.  From his expression, mine treated him the same.  Almost as one, we pulled the small notebook and pencil from our back pockets.  While I couldn’t HEAR backwords, I had spent lots of time as a child learning to READ backwards.  Wizard writing, it was called in several books.  Hopefully he had done the same.

We communicated slowly through writing, both easily able to read backwards. I told my story, and he nodded, understanding.  He told me that he had slammed into the same man, but avoided the lamp.  We threw out theories for a few minutes, then, flipping to a new page, he wrote out a single word.  “ANA?”

 

I wasn’t thinking as quickly as he, I blamed the bash to my head and getting twisted in some unknown direction.  It wasn’t until he wrote “ketchup packets” that I remembered.  A book I’d read as a boy, with people that moved in other dimensions.  Left, right. Up, down. In and out.  And for the fourth? Ana and Kata. I nodded slowly, and closing my eyes, tried to remember the feel of moving that strange direction.  He giggled a strange reversed sound at the sight of my head bobbing, then gasped as bright light and geometric shapes burst out in my eyes again.  I moved back and finally did throw up, losing my lunch into the sink next to me.  He looked a little green as the smell rose.  I can’t imagine what chirality must be doing to the smell of bile.

 

Grabbing his pad, he wrote, “Your head vanished!”  I almost had it.  I held out my hand and he took it, and closing my eyes, I stepped.  I felt his hand slip out of mine, and desperately hoped that he was left in his old world, and not dumped randomly somewhere, unable to step in this new direction.  Opening my eyes, i saw fragments and pieces of the bathroom, and the rest of the restaurant, panels sliding in and out of existence as I walked. In the distance I saw a great curtain of white, the only truly solid thing as I stepped around.  I suddenly felt the floor squish under me again, and jumped backwards.  Embedded into the floor was a great column of grey flesh, nearly a yard across, and raising a foot high before descending back into the ground.  It pulsed, red veins specking it, a large black cord running down the middle, just inside the translucent body.  It ran off in either direction with no end in sight.

 

I followed it, ducking around portions of walls, half lamps that hung in midair, and the occasional chest, head, hand, or leg.   After several minutes of walking, I came to the white curtain.  I touched it, and it was solid, but also round under my hand.  I understood that it ran solidly in this fourth dimension i could now move along, the large flesh tube running through a small hole in it.  Ducking down, I crawled over the flesh and moved Kata back the way I had twisted.  I found myself in Olive Garden, the walls solid, the curtain and tube gone.  I walked to the main dining room and saw my coworkers sitting at our table, my own spot empty.  Breathing a sigh of relief, I rushed to the table.  Marjory looked up at me and screamed in horror.  I stopped dead, looking into her one, large, green eye, flickering in the center of her forehead.  I heard the bathroom door open behind me, and I was shoved out of the way by… myself.  The rest of the restaurant had started screaming and pointing, and I watched myself lumber to a stop, and turn around slowly.  A single giant eye, a saucer sided plate of glass held by two thick bars in front of it.  I spun and watch as the walls slid away, and I could see the cord to follow again.

The cord seems to only go in two directions, and following it back the other way seemed obvious, but past the mirror world was one where the atmosphere was thick and foggy. I’ve traveled up and down the grey cord for a year now, grabbing plates to eat when no one is looking, sleeping on empty tables.  I’ve thought about walking out the front door a hundred times, but there seems to be a safety in the Olive Garden, no matter how dangerous the outside is, it only inconvenienced me within the chambers of the great Nautilus that is the Olive Garden. I’ve tried drawing a map, but it’s useless, the cord moves in directions I still can’t perceive.

 

It is an interesting thought though.  Should someone ever find my notebook, and understand the words, realize.  Every time you enter this place, nine hundred and ninety nine other you’s do as well.  Some just slightly different. Some downright monstrous. But they are all you. Related through time and space, even if not truly related by blood.  A family of other yourselves.  And now I understand the true meaning of their slogan. When you’re here, you’re family.

Scrivener on the island

Scrivener Spills is a persona I am creating for a local gaming / SCA / Party group.  He is a multidimensional traveler who writes lots of “based on a true story” novels and sells them wherever they might be interesting. I have taken to writing from his perspective for the fun of it.  The below is setup story for one of the parties that the group throws regularly. The theme is Mysterious Island, with a suggestion of beast people and mad scientists.  I’ll be bringing potato salad and sake, which I worked into the story as well.

 

Enjoy

 

Personal journal of Scrivener Spills.  Lost at sea : Day 5

 

It has taken me nearly a week to properly secure suitable shelter, as well as to wait for the rains to stop so that i could lay my parchment out in the sun to dry.  I learned my lesson about drying it over a fire on the South Weston exhibition, I can assure you.

 

My current journey began, as so many of my journeys do, at a party!  I took a mysterious portal to a place that I was informed was called Dachaigau. The locals called themselves a name that I would, in a story, apply to some group hellbent on, well, bending hell, but the Dark Ones know how to party.  A myriad of delightful foods from a hundred lands, drinks of various colors and potency, all quite tasty, and a scandalous amount of flesh on display, a soothing site to lecherous old eyes.  I danced, I sat at the fireside and exchanged yarns and lies with some of the most interesting creatures.  It was more fun than the Queen of Scansion’s last poetry recital.

 

I declined to walk through the glowing gateway that opened at the end of the evening, staying to help clean up the mess, and booking passage with a local pirate who had come to the party and was shipping out for a port quite near my home in the morning. I should have taken the portal.

 

A week in the water and three days of it storms.  At the last, the sky was pitch black at noon, the only light the glow of shuttered lanterns and the occasional bolt of lightning splitting the skies, while wind tossed the small ship about.  I was put to work bailing, as rain water was pouring in and filling the bilge. I was in the bilge when we struck rocks.  The hull burst while I was below, dark rock caving in the sides.  I still have splinters in my cheeks from the spalling wood.

I really don’t know how I made it off the ship and into the water. It’s a blur.  Screaming, cracking, splashing.  I woke up to daylight, half laying on a piece of debris about a hundred feet from shore.  I swam in, and found trees not too far uphill from the beach. As I wrote already, the rain was quite steady, so I never wanted for fresh water.  Several of the trees here have gigantic leaves that make great catch basins.

Food on the other hand…  There are small rodents, I see them around, but have been unable to catch them. I have found a few handfuls of berries that taste delightful, and didn’t get me sick. But for most of my meals I have had to rely on what the Pumonites on Tiki Tara taught me …  larvae.  Large grubs pulled from under rotted logs.  Heavy in protein. Slimy, but satisfying. I haven’t seen any of the crew, but i have seen signs of larger beasts. Ones I aim to stay away from.  They’ve carved into the bark of the trees much like bears marking their territory.

The claw marks, however, strike a chord of wrongness when I gaze upon them. Four parallel slashes, with a fifth curving inward as the slash travels down.

 

 

Day Seven

I have found a couple of the crew. What’s left of them anyways. Whatever… thing… got to them prefers innards to muscles.  After making sure nothing was watching the kill, I managed to secure a compass, a couple of knives, and some good string, from the bodies.  Also, a fresh shirt.  Their boots were too small, sadly.  I placed a few drops of an exquisite purple ink I carry, from the Niemian province of Marcus, on the bottom of my worn soles.  Besides the vivid tone it conveys when thinly lined on parchment, the ink absorbs smells as it slowly dries. It would prevent anything from sniffing out my trail as I left the scene.  The knife and string have proven useful, I’ve prepared myself a much better shelter from cut fronds and branches.  It stays dry inside, and warm.  I’ve seen much of the island from a small rise, but I can see from the darkness on the horizon that it stretches a distance, details unknowable until I investigate further.  Do I wait here, and hope another ship passes that I can signal, or explore on?

Yes journal, stupid question. The best stories come from doing, not waiting!

 

 

Day Eight

I have discovered why the marks on the trees disturbed me.  No animal hand clawed those marks. That fifth mark, curving in… was a thumb. The crew that I found dead, their abdomens opened and emptied, were killed by …  beast men of some kind.  Each different, they walk like men, but look like beasts. Fur, feathers, pointed ears, and long, wicked claws.  I saw them dragging the bodies down the beach.  They were accompanied by a man that looked like a man. Except his face!  That horrible contorted face, deep in madness as he screamed at the beast kin.  He slashed at them with a large leather whip, and they jumped and scurried and whimpered.  He berated one of them particularly, for “wasting good parts” by eating the innards the day before. He wore a strange white robe with many pockets, and a shiny circle of metal rested on his brow like a diadem.

The beast kin thankfully do not appear to have any finer hearing than an average human, as I was able to trail them without arousing any suspicion.  They came to a small harbor I had not seen in my explorations, and placed the corpses in a smallish rowboat.  The mad man and his three beastly charges then got on the craft, and two of them sat down and rowed.  The boat quickly maneuvered away from the island, then set off in the water at a much faster pace than I could manage. I will have to follow on land, and hope I spot where they return to the island.

 

 

Day Fourteen:

 

I am almost out of that wonderful purple ink, but it has helped keep me safe.  The beast kin wander the island every night for prey. It has taken me a week of slow travel, moving under cover by day, sheltering in treetops at night, but I have found the source.  A large home, incongruously planted in the middle of a large field on the island.  A small pond lies next to it, apparently fed by an underground spring.  It is clear and free of growth, but glows at night in an unholy manner while screams of pain and torture come from within the home.

 

I have seen another human in the same white robe, goading the beasts on their tasks. As for myself, I have made my home in a cliff overlooking the house, a good half mile away.  It lets me keep an eye on them, as well as providing shelter.  There are crates and boxes strewn about, refuse of previous wreckages brought from the shore to this place. I have secured myself bowls, plates, silverware, and several bottles of fine alcohol. The fields contain many crops, including one I have harvested quite a few of.  It’s a large reddish white tuber of some sort. Very starchy, it practically bleeds milk when you cut it, but boiled it tastes quite fine.  Needs something though. I’ve found some birds eggs, and some seed pods from a local tree dripping with oil I can press from them with my knife.  I think I may try an emulsion to coat the tubers in.

Several crates have also yeilded glass bottles of various potency.  I am fond of this clear liquid that burns nicely in my mouth. I can’t translate the pictographic language written on the label, but it has a white cloud of particles that settles to the bottom and must be shaken up before serving.  I have saved a label in my journal, hopefully I can find out what it is when I escape this place.

And escape is never far from my mind. Don’t let the platinum chef routine and heavy drinking fool you, I want to get home.  But first…  there is a story to be told about this place, these people. And I aim to learn what it is, Journal!

 

 

Day Sixteen

 

The horror…  Another ship came today, but as it skirted around the rocks lining the beach under my cliff, trying to escape the storms that still pound this island, a great beam of light came from the direction of the house. With the crackling of a hundred forge fires, the ship was DRAGGED into the rocks and quickly broke apart.  Beast kin were on the beach as the survivors reach it. I know now why I only ever saw the bodies of two of the crew.  I was lucky to be floating off shore, that is all that saved me from…. this.

The survivors were dragged along to the house.  They were chained up to the front, until after night fall. One by one, they were dipped in the glowing pool.  They were then taken into the house, and screams and wailing filled the air.  The windows shone green, then all was still.  Then a few hours later, beast kin left the house.  The only ones I had seen before had already left to go hunting elsewhere, and the tattered clothes that still clung to them made it clear.  These were the same people I’d seen dragged in.  The beast kin were the result of some unnatural process.  I must end this abomination.

The days when my skin won’t fit

Its one of those weird, floaty days,

When nothing feels right,

When my arms feel like a costume,

They hang loose, not tight,

When this body of meat i wear,

Drags heavy, not light,

And I’m looking out another’s eyes,

This isn’t my sight.

 

I hate feeling big, bull in shop,

my skull rattles round,

I wish the sloshing sound would stop,

Every doorway too small,

I turn and from the desk things drop,

My flesh a jacket,

Handed down, too large it still flops,

These days when my skin just wont fit.

 

Wicked Pens Writing Prompt Dangerous

A short writing prompt (dangerous) for a writing group I’m part of turned into a bit of a short story!  Warning, NSFW.  (im going to edit it to be even more so, later. )

 

 

Eyes closed, she breathed in, slowly, deeply.  The popping of the bubbles in the drink just under her nose tickled, bringing the various herbal odors in fits and starts, slowly filling her lungs.  Regina always enjoyed the smell of the flowery drink that was the main item served at the eponymous bar, before finally sipping it.  The taste of the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing never lived up to the promise of its smell, though it certainly was a wolf as it ran howling through your system.

 

Raising the glass to her lips, another scent filtered into her nose. A dangerous scent. A predator’s scent, but overlaid with a soft smell, lavender, perhaps. A smell that deserved the same name as her drink. Several long slow gulps later, she lowered her cup and looked to her right.

 

He was scanning the room slowly, while appearing to be conversing with the bar tender. A shared laugh, and a delivered drink, a shot, not the mixed drink held by most hands in the room. He sipped it, and she felt herself flush at the flex of the muscles in his jaw as he smiled, enjoying the slow burn.  Freshly shaved, with a chin that was present without being pointed.  A Roman nose, crooked in the middle, well trimmed hair, the bare start of a receding hairline, and arms tightly bound in his shirt, a build that looked like it had more to due with regular heavy use, not time spent at the gym. She caught herself from licking her lips.  He looked as delicious, as potentially dangerous, as he smelled.

 

He turned and caught her staring, his eyes widening and lips curling to a slight smile. His gaze drifted slowly down and back up, and he finished his drink with a gulp.  He stood and walked, each step deliberate, like he was climbing the floor towards her.  She grinned at his stalking motion, so deliberate, so obvious, and so so effective.

 

Standing over her, he spoke, teeth perfectly white and polished, voice deep without being threatening, but rumbly, a roar held in restraint.  “You’re not actually drinking that fruit juice and tea masquerading as a drink, are you?”

 

Regina met his gaze, and deliberately sipped from her glass while holding his eyes in her own. She set the empty cup down, and slowly licked the last crimson drops from her lip, an action that brought a smile to his eyes.  Green, with webs of gold, she saw now.  Pupils taller in the middle than they were wide, a subtle difference that most people wouldn’t see, unless they were looking for it. Which, of course, she was.

 

“I like the way it smells. ”  She stood, taking a step closer, nose just barely between that delectably kissable chin and the pressed collar of his shirt. She took a slow breath in, the musk and flower splitting in her nose, the spice taking shape, prickling her nose like tiny claws. “I like the way YOU smell.”

 

He glanced down, his vision filled with her ear, sliding down into her long neck.  Her own musk filtered up, and he took a quick sniff as he watched her pulse flutter against the tightness of the skin of her neck.  The smell made him think of rabbits and snow, and he could feel his body tensing in anticipation.  “You smell quite nice yourself. That’s an odd way to say hello, however.”

 

She stepped back, upper teeth lightly chewing on her lower lip as she appraised him. He watched her body shift subtly, arms moving apart and away from her body, hips swiveling into a looser stance as her body language betrayed the inner decision her mind had just made.

 

“Hello then.  Look, lets be honest.  I’m not here to get drunk. Not on liquor, anyway.”

 

“To be honest, neither am I. The prices are bit much and I prefer flavors I can…. savor, on my tongue.”

 

“Well, shall find someplace else where we can… drink?”

 

He grinned broadly, and took her shoulder in hand, leading her to the door.  His fingers flexed against her flesh, the power in them evident even as he handled her softly, with care.  The feeling of strength in his hand and arm thrilled her, the quiet alarm in the back of her mind growing almost imperceptibly louder. Outside the bar,  he flagged a taxi and opened the door for her.  She slid in first, he quick after, his hand on her thigh.

 

The driver rolled his eyes at the display of lust behind him. “Where to folks?”

 

He looked hungrily at her, squeezing her thigh as her own hand grasped his wrist, slowly guiding it higher on her leg. “What is the old line, your place or mine, …”  He paused for a moment. “In all the rush, I was rude enough to not even ask for your name!”

 

“Regina, and you?”

 

“Walter.”

 

Regina giggled.  Too perfect.  “Walter the wolf, are you?”  He tensed a moment at her words, but muscles softened as she stroked her fingers along his chin, drawing his face closer to hers.  “Are you hungry like the wolf, Walter?”  She drew him in, and their lips met, parted.  His tongue darted into her mouth, a pressure against her, inside her, a promise of more pleasure to come.  He tasted of rare steak and cinnamon, and his teeth were sharp against her own tongue, the alarm of danger raising another decibel in her mind as he devoured her in play.

 

As they slowly drew apart, he answered, the hidden rumble in his voice coming to the forefront, the roar of desire barely held back.  “You have no idea.”

 

“Ahem.  Lovebirds.  Address?”

 

Regina looked up and snapped out an address, and the cab went into motion as the pair dove back into each other.  Walter drew his teeth slowly across her neck, drawing a gasp from Regina as she wrapped one arm around his back and buried the fingers of her other hand into his short black hair.

 

The kissed and teased, Walter turned so that he faced her, one leg between hers, a hand pushing on her shoulder, crushing her against the seat. Again, she could feel more strength in him than his physique should allow, and knew she was in trouble. She delighted in that feeling, the tenseness across the back of her neck as his wet lips traced across the front.

The taxi stopped suddenly, the driver honking and swearing. The couple came forward away from the seat, then Walter pushed  without thought, slamming her roughly back into the fake leather bench.

The driver peeked in the rear view. “Hey, Samson, you break it, you buy it.”

Worry filled his eyes. “Sorry Regina, you okay?”  He looked to where his hand caught her shoulder, and realized he was gripping hard enough that her skin between her fingers was turning white.  She struggled for a moment against the hand, failing to free herself from his grip, before he loosened it.  Her face fought between panic and ecstasy before devolving to disappointment as her shoulder came free.

 

“I’m fine.  You’ll have to try harder to break me.”

 

He smiled, bringing his lips lower on her chest, nuzzling at the line between dress and skin.  She caught something mumbled, ending with, “by the pound.”

 

The cab stopped, and Walter fumbled with his wallet, the pocket obviously held tightly closed by the straining of his erection. Sliding it free, he threw several bills at the cab, and slid out backwards, pulling Regina with him and popping her out of the car.  The door slammed, the cab peeled away, and Regina looked around.

“DAMNIT!”

 

Walter stopped, his hand already dragging upwards at her dress hem. “What’s wrong?”

 

“That bastard dropped us off a block away.  C’mon. ”  She dragged at his hand, pulling him into an alley leading between the two rows of small houses.

 

“Where are we going?”

 

“Shortcut.”

 

He stumbled along behind her, amused.  “I would follow that delightful ass anywhere, but is this safe?”

 

She came to a cross roads of alleys, and darted left, then right.

“Damnit!” She tried a door, and it failed to open, latched from the inside.  “Okay, this way. And of course it’s safe!  I’ve got Walter the wolf with me. ”

 

She pulled him close for a kiss, her hand popping a button of his shirt, sliding against his chest in the newly made hole.  He pulled away briefly, looking around at the alcove of cinder block walls that hid them from view. “Pretty private place right here, come to think of it, my delightful little snack.”  His tone slowly changed as he spoke, and the warning bells in the back of her mind turned to claxons.  DANGER DANGER!

 

She smiled hesitantly, looking around.  “Yes, well, I want you in my bed. Lets…  go?”  Her voice turned to a squeak as his hand slowly wrapped around her throat. He slammed her back into the wall, and she saw stars as her head bounced off the cinder blocks.

 

His voice burst out in the promised roar, long held back. “I think I want you right here.  Every last morsel. ”  His face shifted slightly, nose lengthening, teeth growing.  His skin changed hue, the lightly tan Mediterranean skin turning into rings of light and dark.  His hand slid from her neck down her arm, his other hand grabbing the opposite wrist.  He lifted her, the cinder block scraping against her back, her arms held out wide.

 

She could feel the needle like claws he now had puncturing her skin.  Her heart pounded in her chest, her breath came hot and fast as her mind convulsed with fear.  She could feel the adrenaline rising with a host of other neurotransmitters, the fight or flight response pegged on the far end of flight.  She struggled against him, but his fingers were like iron bands.  In the dim back of mind, she thought to scream, but as her mouth opened wide to breath, he clamped his muzzle over her mouth, long tongue now raspy and scraping across her tongue and teeth. She felt herself drowning in fear, the danger facing her palpable, pulsing, thudding in her ears.

And she reveled in it.  She could barely keep from pissing herself, and she never felt more alive. The cocktail of homemade drugs in her system eeked sweat out of every pore, and Walter’s nose expanded rhythmically as he smelled the fear leaching out of her. He let go of her mouth, and pulled back to look her in the eyes.  Glass eyed and cowed, she looked up into his own, the slight peaks now full blown oval pupils, the gold streaks glowing in the darkness.  The panic rose to a fever pitch, and she felt her body tense in pleasure, as the world darkened around her, grey mist filling in everything she saw but his eyes.  And just when she couldn’t stand any more, as gasps of panic fought her throat with moans of pleasure, the orgasm racked through her body, and every switch in her set to flight, flipped.  Endorphins rushed to opposing settings, the fear evaporated.

 

With a flip of her arms, the hands that had pinned her to the wall crashed together.  She swung her fingers around, talons piercing his wrists. Even as her feet hit the ground, she lifted, and a turn and step reversed their positions. Her steel claws pushed through his flesh, into the cinder block wall, and Walter screamed hoarsely.

 

“Thank you Walter!  You are quite the frightening brute.  I haven’t been scared like that in years. ”  Her own elongated jaws nipped at his neck, drawing drops of blood.  She licked them from her lips, a parody of the motion she had made to lure him in, earlier in the evening.

 

“I am a bit peckish as well, but, I DID go to that bar to get laid.”  She kicked off one pump, and with her leg now twisted and furry, joints moving in ways no human leg could, she brought up a clawed paw to his crotch, slicing denim like it was tissue paper.  As she pulled away his clothes, she kissed him, chewing on his tongue until blood ran like wine. Pulling back from his mangle face, she pushed her body up against his, still pinned to the wall.

In a low tone, she whispered into his pointed ear. “By morning, you will fill my belly, but lets see of you can’t fill anything else before I kill you. “