?

Log in

Buried Treasure

           It was carnage. The sky itself grew lighter as the fires raged in the distance. Orange, putrid, not the colour he was used to seeing. Not even at sunset. It was like burnt leaves covered in oil. The horizon was slick with it, otherworldly. Granger clawed his way out of the narrow entrance to the tunnels, into the early evening. He passed the Gatherers with their solid metal carts, heavy and high with debris. Granger dropped his eyes to the gravel under his boots. A layer of dust sat over the metal toe-caps that covered the worn through leather. His footprints from the previous evening still remained in the dusty, dry ground- reminders of the trail he stomped every night. The days now weren’t worth the risk, too arid and hot. The sun cracked his skin like the ground that peeled away, thirsty and bleached.

            Granger patted his pocket self consciously, a nervous gesture and a complete give away. His eyes darted off the ground for the first time since he’d left the tunnels. He flicked his attention back and forth. The Gatherers ignored him, struggling under the weight of some scrap, half of a vehicle, already mostly stripped. They peeled away any bits that could be worth keeping and carefully placed them in their carts. To his left, a pack of children skittered away behind a destroyed camp. There were quite a few gangs around the area, more now than ever. No one bothered with them. Occasionally, someone might toss them some scraps, but for the most part, they were more scavengers than anyone. A boy, hair covering his filthy skin, glared at Granger. A low growl rumbled in his chest and suddenly every eye in the pack was on him. He’d looked too long and rolled his eyes at his own stupidity.

            The pack circled him before he realised, one of them stabbed quickly at the back of his leg, trying to hamstring him. The pack yipped and snarled to each other, animalistic calls of warning.

            Granger slipped his hand into his pocket, clutching his prize. Why did he had to look around? That was the first rule- Keep your eyes down. Eye contact was just asking for trouble, even with the most unassuming creatures. The pack of children swarmed around him, their hackles up. He’d offered a challenge, a threat. A pack like this didn’t survive without being wary. The smallest of them snarled and whined at him, ducking in and out of the circle of vicious looking creatures.

            There was no point in drawing a weapon, even if he got a shot off it was no guarantee they’d scatter. There was just as much chance they’d swarm over him. He’d seen a pack half as big tear a settler apart for trying to pick up one of the little ones. Fool. It was incredible that there was anyone left on earth who remembered that they had once been children, or even what that had meant. Now a days, they were everywhere. Since The End, packs roamed, defending territory and surviving like that bugs that scuttled in any available crevice.

            Granger kept his eyes low now, watching them from under his eyelashes. They were in a holding pattern, pacing slowly around him. There wasn’t any hope of rescue. Ferdinand had been dead since winter, The Yellow had taken his skin and Granger had burnt him on the ridge. He missed the bickering the most. It kept his mind sharp to squabble over whose turn it was to guard the door in the day, or how many pieces of meat he’d eaten. Ferdinand was a grumpy piece of work, loved to bawl at Granger any chance he got. There’d been good times too, finding the laughs where they could. Gallows humour, Ferdinand called it.

            Granger moved slowly, pulling his satchel around. He clicked his tongue comfortingly at the pack. He slipped his hand inside the battered leather bag and slowly removed a strip of dried meat, enough to keep him alive for two days. He took a deep breath, no choice really. It was his meat or his arm. The piece of rough brown meat flew through the air over their heads. The squeals and howls of the pack followed it.

            The largest of them snarled at him but couldn’t stay. Vengeance at being tricked or looked at was one thing, losing out in feeding was another. Granger didn’t run. That would have just set them off all over again. He took one solid, placid step after another and quietly made his way further away from his home in the tunnels. He had somewhere to be and he wasn’t going to be prevented by anything.

            The roads were littered with skeletal remains of both man and machine. The dry shells of forms that had once move animatedly over the landscape, now crystallised in a statuesque form, immovable, slowly decaying and being picked apart. No one had a vehicle anymore, at least no one Granger had ever seen. Occasionally the buzz of engines whirred in the distance but it could have just as easily been the skin-ripping wind tearing the metal from a carcass. He’d taught himself long ago not to hope, there was no magic rescue coming, no golden city- hidden and protected from The End. Still rumours were flying everywhere. He was embarrassed to admit the glint of hope that sat in the corner of his tired eyes. He touched the prize in his pocket with his fingertips.

            So why was he going to meet this man? After years of laughing at the rumours people were willing to believe. After half a life time of callous and cynical disbelief, he was allowing this moment of hope, of fantasy. He stood on the cliff face of reality and the endless depth of the slowly choking earth stretched out beneath him- and still, he felt the stirring of something inside him. His fingers touched the smoothness of the object in his pocket. A belief was birthed for the darkness. A question- What if it was true? If they took it from him, then it was all real. There was a place that had a use for such a thing, a place where people survived. And if that was true, Granger knew his price. He had never been a man to try and rescue others. That kind of thinking led to the slippery slope of self sacrifice and humanitarianism. From there it was a quick ride to being stripped of everything you had. And for most people, who only owned the skin on their bones, it was one sacrifice too many.

            The dry river bed cut a scar into the wrinkled dry face of the landscape. She’d never been pretty, but the river’s aching wound leant a sense of endlessness and age to the place. Granger stood at the edge and looked down into the small valley, trying to remember what running water had looked like. He’d been fifteen when The End had arrived. The memories of green and sweet and clean were locked away in there somewhere, he wasn’t even sure he wanted to open that box. That was the kind of thinking that could drive a man mad.

           From beneath, he heard the footsteps cracking the riverbed’s surface. Each crunch brought the tall man closer to him. Granger didn’t move. No point in taking the plunge and losing the higher ground. The individual below wore a dark brown coat, his hands shoved deep in to his pockets. His face was a mirror of Granger’s own expression, mistrusting, haggard and desperate. Neither man wanted to show the dull throbbing longing for human contact that drove them there.

‘Did you bring it?’ the stranger called.

Granger tipped his head to one side, ‘Tell me why you want it.’ He demanded.

The stranger shrugged eloquently. ‘I’m a collector.’

That phrase alone was enough to make Granger’s heart race. The concept of anyone collecting anything for pure pleasure had died with The End.

‘I want payment.’ He spoke clearly, confidently calling to the stranger who seemed more relaxed by the moment, like someone who had realised a guard dog was really nothing more than a pet.

‘I’m sure you do.’ The man smiled, thin lips, not showing his teeth. ‘I can offer a month’s water and food, good quality, military.’

Military. That was gold dust, as Ferdinand used to say. The canned stocked food originally intended for soldiers was more valuable than any other item. Granger was shocked the man was willing to offer so much. It was guaranteed pure and untainted, more than could be said for a lot of the food they ate. But there wasn’t a choice, hunger or taint. No competition.

‘I want to come with you.’ Granger was bold now. He tried to hold his voice steady but desperation danced at the edges. The man looked up at him, raised a hand to shadow his eyes. He was smiling. Granger felt his blood growing hot. He clenched his fists at his sides.

‘Just take me!’ he shouted suddenly, his heart racing, ‘No one will know. I’ll come right now.’

The collector smiled still, seemingly unmoved by Granger’s frustration. He dropped his hand and then put both on his hips, shaking his head a little as if Granger amused him.

‘Show me.’ The collector waited. Granger ran his hand over the prize he’d guarded so carefully. Slowly he removed his hand from his jacket pocket, the small item resting in his hand. So insignificant, useless in its own way. Granger had stumbled across it in the tunnels. Ordinarily there wasn’t much worth salvaging in there. The gargantuan vehicles that had lumbered through there were long gone and he knew that few people had walked their before him. How the prize had survived he didn’t know. Obviously the tunnels were solid enough to withstand the blasts and creatures that resided there had little interest in such things.

‘Throw it down.’ The collector commanded. Granger frowned as he looked down at the item resting in his palm.

‘It’ll break,’ he shook his head, ‘Promise me I can come with you.’

The collector pursed his lips, ‘Hold it up high, so I can see.’

Granger obeyed, amazed how the light went right through it and glinted off its delicate surface. He held it carefully by the base, wrapping his fingers around the metallic ridges.

‘Can you use it?’ he asked as he finally dragged his eyes away from the beautiful smooth globe.

The collector nodded.

For a second Granger’s heart stopped. He swallowed, trying to regain his senses. The sudden piercing pain in his side made him cry out- a sharp gurgling sound. His eyes snapped to the collector who had not nodded to him at all, but to the man who had appeared unheard behind him. The blade was in deep and then whipped out again with a suddenness that made his knees buckle. He felt a large hand grasp around his own and for a second he contemplated putting up a fight for his prize.

            He slid fully onto the ground in a heap. The cracked soil drank up his blood greedily as he stared into the distance, seeing nothing. Granger’s fingers weakened, refusing to obey his mind. His grasp slipped from the base of it and the man who crouched beside him, disregarding his pain-filled eyes, slowly removed the prize from his hand.

            The footsteps of his killed were much louder as he walked away than his silent approach. Granger grunted, clawing at handfuls of gravel and sand as he towed himself over to the edge of the riverbank. The collector smiled, positively beamed, as the killer handed him the light bulb. He looked up at Granger one last time, raising the bulb almost as a salute before turning and beginning to walk away.

‘I could have come with you,’ Granger groaned, holding a dust covered hand against the wound. It was a joke. They had no intention of taking him. He was a savage who’d been lucky enough to stumble across something they wanted- and unlucky enough to be unnecessary.

Still, he almost smiled to think, life went on. Somewhere.


Vulpes I

 The clatter of the bronze plate as it hit the floor made him wince. The sound was harsh and metallic, a dead give away. His bare feet slapped against the marble floor as he scrambled up and stumbled on. Vulpes panted, his chest bursting. Suddenly his heart was behaving like the terrified little birds trapped in tiny wooden cages he’d seen in the market. Behind him the sounds of screams and destruction echoed. Vulpes pattered around the corner and through the doors to his mother’s chambers.

             It wasn’t until he was still, curled up on himself in the cramped space under the altar of the household gods that he finally stopped to think. As it happened, he hadn’t even paused, hadn’t blinked or even taken a breath. As the doors had swung open and Roberto burst in, already shouting, Vulpes turned to run. As he moved he saw the men enter, one appeared behind Roberto and slit the slave’s throat in a clean line.

            Vulpes was small for his age, but athletic. Still his brothers outdid him in every sport he attempted. His sister was the darling of the family, named Miranda, admirable, worthy. As Vulpes hugged his quickly bruising knee, he realised that she was there with the rest of them and that all the worthiness in the world couldn’t have saved her. His mind was full of remembrances, things he had seen in the square. The way an executed slave dropped, inanimate, more still than anything living could ever be. He imagined his mother’s eyes, open and starring as the blood ran down her throat. In his mind she was stretched back over the couch with food littering the floor. Her slender fingers touched the puddle of red wine, or blood, staining them in his mind.

             The house was achingly quiet. But his breath was a tornado in his own ears. Outside was stillness, inside- chaos. Vulpes felt his eyes stinging. He buried the ball of his hand into his eye socket, trying to dig out the tension building, trying to stop the tears that burned at the edges of his eyes. He was shaking, fingers like bat’s wings in the dark. The cupboard smelt like incense and wax. He was crouched up on a pile of altar clothes and candles. He tried to pray, his mind whirring with words that didn’t seem right. The prayers he knew well were suddenly swallows in the wind, away from his grasping mind.

             A voice. Footsteps, heavy. He knew they were coming. They found him quickly, wrenching open the cupboard. A towering figure swung into view, grasping him firmly in rough fingers. The immense, vicious individual dragged him out into the room from his tiny sanctuary, clutching him by the arms. Vulpes struggled as the large fingers dug into his skin. The man called out to the others in the stilted voice of a foreigner.

‘Here! Found the little rat.’

He restrained Vulpes easily, holding the whimpering boy as the men ransacked his mother’s things. A moment past before the door opened again.

             Vulpes knew him. He had seen him speaking with his father. He was a noble of some kind, a man whose money showed on him. The man walked towards him, a dagger hanging loosely in one hand.

‘I knew there was another one.’ He smiled, Vulpes felt like he had been kicked in the chest. He held back the scream that was building and glared at the man. Vulpes tried to imagine himself as a huge, strong centurion. He told himself he wasn’t afraid. The man put his fingers roughly about Vulpes’ chin and moved his head back and forwards, regarding him for a moment.

‘He’ll get good coin.’ The blond foreigner who was holding him growled. ‘Young. Pretty.’

‘Yes, probably.’ The leader agreed, ‘The girl will be worth more.’

He looked down at Vulpes again and smiled at the boy. He sheathed his dagger and crouched in front him. ‘He’s barely sniffling.’ He smiled up at the blond man who chuckled. ‘Your mama is dead, boy, your father too. One of your brothers tried to fight. He would have made a fine warrior if he’d had time to grow into a man.’ He smiled again, a hand on Vulpes shoulder, as if he was offering a compliment. The boy swallowed hard, staring directly into his eyes. ‘You father died screaming like a hysterical woman. Not surprisingly. How many years are you, son?’

Vulpes lowered his eyes to the floor. ‘Five.’

‘Five. It’s not so long since my son was that age. You look like your father, you know that?’ Vulpes suspected it wasn’t really a question. It seemed to be a fact that amused the man, nothing more. ‘So, child, tell me. You would rather die like your brother, brave and like a man, or be in bonds for the rest of your days?’

‘Do I have a choice?’ Vulpes spoke softly.

The man stood again, stretching his back and smiling down at Vulpes. ‘No. You, my boy, are what we call spoils of war, a trophy. I will look on you daily and smile to remember this day.’


             Suddenly, Vulpes was moving, being pushed and propelled out of the house. As he was shoved through the halls of his family home, Vulpes caught sight of his father’s body lying in a sticky mess of red. His voice finally broke free of his silence. The wild scream, a small animal, trapped and panicking. The burly individual who held him slapped him hard across the face, throwing him roughly over his shoulder. Vulpes choked on his screams.


            He was tied and then thrown into the cart, the rough splintering wood grating on his soft skin. From somewhere he heard Miranda crying. He scrambled to his feet and tried to peer out of the cracks in the wood, calling her name over and over. The foreigner banged his hammer like fist against the side of the cart, knocking him back. As he sat back, her voice faded from his ears.


            The house was beautiful, as large as his own and even more decorated. Wild animals and decorated patterns covered the walls in friezes and murals. Vulpes was dragged by his tied hands, tripping over his own bare feet as he moved through the halls of the grand villa. He kept his head low, staring at the polished floor. Someone tipped his head up, rubbing his face violently with a wet rag. His clothes were stripped off him and replaced with brown cloth. A matronly woman scowled at him as he raised his eyes to her face. 

He was taken to a courtyard. The sunlight flooded down through a glass dome roof, sparkling off the flat clear fountain in the centre of the courtyard. The tiles were beautiful, stone and glass in every colour. It smelt like flowers and sunlight, so out of place with how he felt.

‘Herminius,’ it was the leader of the men speaking. Vulpes couldn’t remember his name, if he ever knew it. ‘I have a present for you.’ As he spoke a young boy appeared. He was maybe two years older than Vulpes himself, dressed in the fine clothes Vulpes had been used to. He had dark brown hair and approached his father was a quiet smile. The man clapped his hand onto the boy’s shoulder, as he had Vulpes’. ‘Happy birthday boy, he’s called Vulpes.’

            Herminius looked at him for a moment, he seemed to be studying his face, then as he looked at his father and spoke, Vulpes felt something change.

‘Vilis Vulpes.’ Herminius said.

His father laughed and shook his head, ‘Don’t worry, he’s not all you’ll get.’ The man shook his head again as he walked away, speaking to the man who had dragged Vulpes in. ‘My son the wit. I tell you, you spoil children and they’re never satisfied.’

Vulpes was left staring at this boy as his father disappeared.

‘Come on then, Vilis Vulpes.’ Herminius said quietly. And at that moment, Vulpes finally understood. He wasn’t his father’s son anymore. He wasn’t his mother’s little fox. He was a slave, Vilis- worth very little.

 


Words

There's a place
in me.
It's a cave.
Deep and still.
It's not big, not really.
Just a place.
A something aching.
It's a hole, but it's not empty.
It's full of her.

I keep her there,
in the place where the ocean beats the walls
in the dark,
and the warm
where my blood is churning through
it's a room,
in my heart
and only she can hold the key.

She sees out,
when she looks
and the darkness holds her tight.
It's not easy
sometimes
but her heart beats against mine.
She's contained,
cradled in there.
In the cabin inside me.

It's a place
that she built,
while i wasn't even looking.
There's a door
somewhere there
and a blanket for her to hold.
It's deep and red and aching
and full of love and faith.
There's not an end.

She's like a bird,
a clean white dove.
Trapped in a city of grime and destruction.
I've a place, safe and warm,
where the light can't hurt her eyes
I've a place, lined with woods
and a secret whispered word.
I've a place in me
just for one person
just for one person
just for her.

The Sea Elements

Smooth, the underneath of it, the belly of the swell. It churns the cycle, moving the stones beneath its white and grey fingers. The back and forth sliding motion rocks the grooves into the sand, gently carving out ridges, rises and underwater islands. Unseeable, unknowable depth where the light becomes fractured, where the floating microbes beneath are dancing. Aged and weathered wooden shards are polished like stones, shining and skin-smooth on the shore. Glass splinters are jewels, glimmering on the sand like the dancing stars on the flatness of the endless sea. Each wave brings with it- anticipation, breathless, stillness and motion. The collision crescendo of water on land sinks into it- pushes its shape into the sand and rocks, forming its fingerprint. It recoils. The intake of breath rushes backwards. Rippling movements shuffle back, giggling retreating, drawing back in uneven, bubbling itself away. Capturing within its never ending grasp the glossy spirals of shells that hold inside the secret labyrinths of the ocean.

How do Lily's co-workers deal with her?

I don’t know what I’d do without Lily.

Sometimes I look at her and I feel like she’s a million miles away. Really, it’s just the other side of my car. But in truth, she’s not like anyone else. Not a single person in the world has eyes like Lily, endless, like looking into a cave, or up at the night sky.

When I first came to The Life Centre, I was terribly nervous, my heart was pounding in my chest and my mouth was dry. I stood in front of the desk, clutching my bag in my hands. All around me, there were women going about their business, I could hear music from down the hall. A woman in her forties, with her hair scooped back into a long braid down her back, was finishing up on the phone and smiled at me. ‘Welcome. Can I help you?’

I coughed into my hand and leant forward to speak to her softly. ‘My name is Hilary Simpson. I’m starting here... today.’

‘Oh, of course!’ She smiled at me again and pointed down the hall, ‘Why don’t you go on down to the sun room, that’s where Lily’s set up, she’ll show you the ropes.’

I nodded and started to walk, I looked back over my shoulder at her. She nodded encouragingly at me. I tried to smile back but it just seemed to come out thin and strained.

I walked down the hall in the direction she had shown me. Eventually I came across a glass door leading to a conservatory room. It was full of girls and young women, maybe ten or twelve. They all slouched around, listening to music and talking. I could see they were drinking coffee and cans of soda, munching on chips and cookies. In the middle of the room I caught sight of the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, lounging like a cat in the sun. She was stretched out, her long curling hair laid out along the floor. I was captivated by her, by the elegance in her limbs. So distracted in fact, that I didn’t notice the door was open and a girl was talking to me.

‘I’m sorry?’ I refocused my eyes and looked at her.

‘You want something?’ She said, leaning against the doorframe. She had a thick Boston accent, and the attitude to match. A lot of people think that Boston is all colleges and rich families, but it’s not true. There are areas I would never go after dark, far away from Harvard.

‘I’m sorry. I’m looking for Lily.’ I looked down at my hands.

‘Oh, sure. Come in.’ She moved away from the door with easy, relaxed movements, I stood awkwardly and shuffled my feet.

‘Lil, there’s some chick here to see you.’ The girl flopped back down on the floor and leant back on one of the chairs. Lily sat up from where she was lounging. I knew it would be her. It had to be, she commanded the presence of the whole room, without even trying. She moved, catlike and slow, stepping to her feet and wandering over to me, her hips swinging.

‘Yeah?’ she purred at me. And I mean, purred.

‘Hello. Sorry. I’m Hilary Simpson. I’m supposed to be starting here... today.’

Lily tipped her head as she looked at me. ‘What are you sorry for?’

‘Huh?’ I stumbled over my words, ‘I mean... excuse me?’

‘You said sorry, when you introduced yourself.’ Lily smiled, ‘Never mind.’

            From that moment I had the weird sensation that Lily was going to play some part in my life. I guess there are people like that sometimes, people you meet and you just know they’re going to change everything. She started coming to see me, when I was helping out with the employment office at the centre. Basically my job was to try and find work for single mothers, girls who were out on their own, anyone. Lily used to show up in my office, come in and sit on my desk, long legs crossed over each other. She would always fiddle with something, chewing on the end of a pencil, or running her fingers along the rim of the lamp. Having Lily around always made me smile, but at the same time, I felt my hands go to the collar of my shirt, adjusting it. To start with it was visits and then it was lunch. Eventually, somehow, Lily convinced me to go out to a bar with her. I hadn’t been to a bar in years. Not since...

            I can’t say it was a magic wand. There wasn’t any one thing that Lily did, not a single moment that I can point at and say ‘there’. But somehow, just knowing that there was someone at my back, someone like Lily, was more than enough. She never let me down, not once. And somehow, just seeing her moving, dancing and laughing awakened something deep in me. Something I had forgotten was even there. She reached in there. I won’t say she healed me. I don’t think it works like that. It’s not something she, or anyone, could touch- let alone fix. But she stood with me. And that was enough.

 

****

 

            I don’t know how I could live without Lily. In fact, I wouldn’t even be alive. I guess it was my own fault and all that. I was kicking it in a neighbourhood that just vibrates with bad, you know? It wasn’t like I had an elsewhere to be at. There weren’t many other choices where I’m from. These girls kinda adopted me when things got real bad, and at that moment it seemed like just about the best thing ever. I let this guy with a chronically bad moustache tattoo a symbol on my arm, and we were sisters for life.

            There were these twin girls who ran the gang. They were real bitches sometimes, kept us all in line. Sometimes you’d get real fed up with the whole situation, tired of it. I never felt so tired in my whole life as I did when I was in with those girls. Tammy and Shania would set us up against boys, gangs like ours, but not as good. We’d beat them down, some of the girls would give them a kiss, you know, slicing them up with a razor. We all got busted a bunch of times. It was part of the fun.

            I guess I’d been in there about two years, I was nearly seventeen, working my way up to be in charge I guess. Things were getting out of hand. We had this problem with these assholes, kept on trying to grab girls, taking them right off the corners and throwing them in vans. We fought back- it was the way of things, slashing tires, whatever. Couple of us got rowdy with it, torched this building where they all crashed.

            They came for us when we were all sitting around on the corner. The girls were drinking and getting high. Everything was swimming. They pulled up in this van and we scattered. I couldn’t focus, trying to get away. I could hear this guy breathing behind me, running. He was laughing. His voice was harsh, I felt like he was against me already. I headed towards light, any light. Some club or something. The guy grabbed me, pulled me down. My cheek grated the pavement. His fist connected with the side of my head. I tasted copper. He kicked me once and I tensed up, curling into a ball, trying to hide my face. But nothin’ more came.

            I waited. Then I heard a soft gurgling, choking sound. As I peeled my fingers back off my face I looked up. Lily stood over the guy, who was slumped in a heap on the concrete. She looked down at me and raised an eyebrow.

‘You ok, kid?’

And from that moment on, I knew I was. I was gonna be ok. 

            So, she found me this place to stay, and this community college that did some night courses. She got me in the centre and now I run this group for girls like me. Lily loves it, she comes down nearly every week and talks to them. They all love her, cause she’s strong, fierce and never talks bullshit. Lily is straight down the line, and knows how it is. Without Lily, I don’t think I’d be anything.

 

****

 

Lily Deacon. I don’t know what I’d do without her. I have never met a more spiritual, more unusual woman in my life. She’s such a free spirit, really embraces and lives the ethos of the place. When I first set up the centre, I imagined what it would be like, the kind of people I would get working here. Lily is indispensable. She runs self-defence, tantric yoga, self-esteem classes, counselling and supervises the young women program. The kids she deals with are exactly why I wanted this place. Ever since I moved to Boston and ended up in one of the worst areas in the city. Raising my three girls there, I saw a lot.

            It was an investment, something I believe it. It was worth it. Sure, I’ve never been able to move to a better house, in a nicer neighbourhood. And sure, my girls never knew what it was like to travel, or go to a private school. But I figure they learned more in the Day Care Centre at the Life Centre than they would ever learn anywhere else.

I took out mortgages, charity donations, government incentives. I worked my behind off trying to keep the place afloat in the early days. I had more volunteers than anything else. But eventually things started to work. Looking after survivors and women in need isn’t exactly something you can charge for. But there are other things, yoga, self-defence.

Still, there are days when I feel like it’s all too much. Like I can’t manage to make it work anymore. She found me like that one night, sitting alone in the office with piles of paper surrounding me on all sides. Lily wandered in and sat down on the floor at my feet.

‘Accountancy getting you down?’ she purred.

I tried to smile, but I could feel the weight of it pulling me down. All these women, these families relied on this place for support. We were often the only place they felt safe after what had happened.

‘I don’t know what we can do. There’s just not enough.’ I shook my head. I’d been through it all a dozen times. Foreclosure loomed.

Lily tipped her head and leant against my leg. She was so comfortable with people.

‘I’m sorry your stressed Marcia.’ She rubbed her head against me. ‘But this place needs to survive.’

‘I know.’ I sighed. Lily needed us as much as the next woman. There were very few people in the place who had a life without trauma. We’d helped them, they’d helped themselves. The place built a new lives.

            I sat in my office all that night. I fell asleep on the pile of accounts. In the morning, when I finally stumbled my way into consciousness, I found a cup of coffee waiting for me. It had a big yellow envelope balanced on top of it. I took it and sipped the coffee. Bleary eyed, I peeled the end of the envelope and tipped it. Lumps of cash, bound together with rubber bands fell out onto the desk.

‘Oh my god...’  I whispered, looking around as if someone was going to try and arrest me. I put my hand in the envelope, pulling out a scrap of paper.

‘Marcia,’ the note read, ‘When my dad died, he left behind a lot of stuff. I never really thought about it that much, and I certainly don’t need it. I do need you. And I need this place. And I’m not the only one. I sold one of his antiques. This is what I could get. It’s for you. For all of us who needed somewhere to come in the night. With Love, with thanks, Lily.’

            She might not be perfect, in fact sometimes she’s down right weird, but still, I don’t know what I’d do without Lily Deacon. I really don’t.



The door swung closed with a solid thump and the voices of the two women faded as they moved down the stairs. Thirty seconds passed in silence and then slowly a small, white, fluffy head appeared around the corner of the kitchen doorway. Tom’s eyes shifted back and forwards for a moment.

‘Excellent. Peace at last.’ He smiled a kitten smile to himself and trotted merrily towards the stairs. A hop, a scramble, a hop, a scramble... Tom made his way up the stairs, one struggling movement at a time. He gritted his teeth as he climbed. ‘Bloody humans, legs are much too long. Who the hell really needs legs that long? It’s not like they bother to cover them up... tramping around in...’

Eventually he arrived at the top of the stairs, in the bedroom. His claws clicked as he crossed the floor to the chest of drawers that held the girl’s clothes. The drawers were all slightly open and Tom leapt up, balancing on the edge of one.

‘Now... what treasures do you hide for me today??’ Tom’s whiskers twitched. He wiggled his backside, balancing as his tail whipped from side to side. A momentary pause and then a leap and Tom wriggled through the space into the second drawer. He burrowed deep under the silky items that filled it.

‘Oooh... well, well... someone’s been shopping.’ He smiled a wicked, sharp-toothed smile and dug a single claw into the silky stocking. He carefully ran his claw down it, shredding the fabric. He barely contained a chuckle. Tom sighed.

‘Bliss...’

A second of stillness and then Tom attacked. He grabbed the stockings between his paws, tangling himself in the soft lengths as he rolled, bucked and scrambled. Viciously savaging the stockings and meowing, he rolled on his back, shredding every inch of Bambi’s delicate items.

Panting with exertion, Tom lay in the remains as pieces of silk floated down around him. ‘Well, I’ll give her one thing...’ he smiled to himself, ‘That horrid wench certainly buys quality...’

 

After a moment of rapture and relaxation, Tom slowly pulled himself up out of the drawer, peeling that last shreds of stocking from his paw. He frowned a little guiltily as he looked back into the drawer at the ruination. Ordinarily he allowed himself only one stocking a week, enough to make Bambi think she had caught it on something. This was going to be harder to cover up. ‘Right, may have lost the plot slightly.’ He winced briefly and then shrugged. ‘Well what can you expect? I lead a very stressful life. It’s like therapy really... I’m sure...’

 

The bathroom was his next stop, he leapt up on to the sink, shaking his kitten paws whenever they touched damp patches. He chewed on a toothbrush thoughtfully for a moment as he considered his reflection in the mirror. Tom turned his head from side to side and regarded his profile.

‘Very dapper.’ He praised himself, dipping a paw into Bambi’s eye-shadow and carefully drawing patterns on his fur. ‘Ooh. Glitter.’ He spent a few moments creatively colouring his white fur before prying the bathroom cabinet open with a careful claw. ‘What have we here?’ Tom jumped up into the crowded shelves, being a tea-cup kitten came in handy every now and then. The shelf was covered with bottles and containers, marked with various handmade labels. Tom found the one he was looking for and carefully held the round tub between his paws. He was balancing on the edge of the shelf, performing the difficult task of opening a cylinder with no thumbs. ‘Come to me, my tasty beauty! Careful... careful...’ he tried to turn, foot sliding on the smooth surface of the shelf. ‘Aah!...No!’ Tom slipped, tumbling and sliding down into the sink, the container coming with him. ‘Oh for god’s sake.’ He scowled. The lid had at least come loose and the tub was currently spilling its contents into the white porcelain sink. He quickly scrambled back onto his feet and righted it. He immediately began to lick, with a tiny pink tongue at the soft cream-coloured mixture.

‘Mmm...Mmmm... Handmade....mmm...organic...mmmm...Mango...Body... Butter...Mmm...’ he smiled as he plunged his head into the container. The best thing about being forced to reside in a house with two witches was that they shared everything. They would blame each other for the way they seemed to go through a container of body butter a month.

‘Oh... so good.’ Tom licked his paws and rubbed them over his ears, mixing the colours of the eye-shadow with the oily buttery mix. The trick was leaving it on the edge of the bath so Kate would complain about Bambi leaving things around, something at which Tom was now a master. Moving it wasn’t graceful, but it was successful.  

In the living room, Tom took the plunge and leapt the great distance from the armchair to the turntable. He balanced carefully on the edge, grateful again that he wasn’t any larger. He tipped his head to read the title of the album. ‘Bloody hippy...’ he grumbled. Kate’s taste in music wasn’t exactly Tom’s cup of tea. He rolled his eyes and hung down over the side of the turntable, batting at the switch that turned on the radio.  After a moment of fiddling, he tuned it to something he liked, rolling his paw over the knob dexterously, leaving a tiny smudge of body butter. A quick flick of the volume soon flooded the apartment with music.

‘MORE THAN A FEELING!’ Tom joined in at the top of his voice. ‘I BEGIN DREAMING!’ He mumbled through the verse lyrics, not entirely sure of the accurate words. ‘WITCHES...MY...HMM-A-HMM....TALK AWAY!’

Tom bobbed his head up and down in time with the music, stomping his little feet along. ‘MORE THAN A FEEEEEL-LIIIIING!’ Whenever he sang, he tipped his head up towards the ceiling, bellowing as loud as he could.

‘Fantastic song.’ He smiled, suddenly forgetting the damage he had caused upstairs. He leant back onto his back legs and indulged in the popular music of twenty years ago. No one would ever know... Tom paraded back and forwards, stomping his feet and performing various, slightly out of time dance moves.

 

            One spring and he was on a stack of leather bound books, another leap and he landed daintily on the coffee table. After shouting abuse at the celebraties in Bambi's magazines fo a few minutes, Tom’s tiny claws tapped for a moment as he looked around the room. His blue eyes flicked up to the curtains floating into the room, bringing with them a warm breeze.

‘Much too nice a day to be cooped up in here,’ He mumbled to himself. It was time to venture out. He was an exploratory kitten by nature.

‘To boldly go,’ He grinned. There was an elaborate system of jumps, which he had perfected when they first lived in this apartment. The newer house had caused him all sorts of issues, but as he leapt through the air, from surface to surface Tom grinned. ‘Like falling off a bloody log,’ He flicked the off button on the stereo as he passed, sniggering at the thought of it blaring Joni Mitchell at full volume next time Kate turned it on. He attached himself to the curtains and proceeded to climb, one claw covered paw at a time, grunting and swearing as he went. Arriving on the window frame, he looked down onto the roof below, and beyond that, Chinatown.

‘Not as young as I used to be.’ He panted and then took a deep breath, ‘Ooh Kung Po Chicken with Cashews. Delicious.’ Tom had an inherent fear of Chinatown, driven by the suggestion (and Bambi’s assurance) that people might want to eat him. In the past the blond strumpet has insinuated that he was a tempting entrée, if deep fried and served with chilli dipping sauce. Still, adventure was his middle name!

 

            The bouncing kitten arrived down on the street within moments and carefully looked back and forwards, ensuring that there were no prying eyes, no evil people lurking nearby to catnap him. He quickly scampered into a nearby alley. He indulged in a noodle. He’d die before allowing the two witches to discover he’d been known to eat off the ground. They would think he was some kind of animal. Tom sucked the noodle into his mouth in one go. A rustle from beside him made him jump straight up and land of a slightly soggy cardboard box. ‘Bloody hell!’ he looked down to where a small cat slinked around the edge of the dumpster. ‘Oh my...’ Tom straightened up a little, smoothing his fluffy white and mottled bluish-green fur, still a little greasy from the body butter. ‘Well hello...’

He leapt down onto the ground in front of her and regarded the black feline for a moment. ‘May I say, you are a very lithe and attractive young...’ The cat barely looked at the tiny white kitten, sniffing him once as she passed, tail swinging elegantly from side to side. ‘Well... I say...’ Tom flustered and trotted to keep up with her. ‘That is to say... I was merely enquiring as to the origin of such a willowy and limber individual, I don’t mean to be forward, but you are without a shadow of a doubt one of the most... eye-catching...uh, miss?’ The cat rounded the corner into the street and began to walk off down the pavement. Tom stopped at the corner of the alley and watched her walk away. Technically he wasn’t really a cat. Still, he had all the instincts of a cat, whether he liked it or not. ‘I'M THOMAS! IT WAS LOVELY TO MEET YOU!' he called after her, the cat didn't even look back,  'Good lord... what a woman.’ He mumbled as he leant against the wall. ‘Meee-owww...’

 

            Tom scampered down the pavement, in and out of people’s ankles, trying his best to avoid being stepped on. He wove his way quickly through the streets of Chinatown, grateful of his many travels in Kate’s shirt to give him an inherent geographical knowledge. Eventually his tiny legs were exhausted and Tom took one final bound onto a passing tram, riding the rest of the journey under one of the seats. He listened carefully to the sounds of San Francisco and the talk of the ignorant humans, but his mind was elsewhere. He missed his stop and spent five minutes trotting along the pavement swearing. ‘Bloody brainless witches living in California, honestly... they don’t have to wear fur... don’t wear much of anything... Whorish... vile... dim-witted... god I’m hot... my paws are practically shredded...’

 

He arrived outside the shop and carefully waited nearby for a customer to open the door. As the fat woman in her forties walked out, clutching a paper bag with a picture of a spider on it, Tom took his opportunity and ran head long into the dark little establishment.  For a moment he sat on the floor, catching his breath and looking around at the shelves of books and knick-knacks.

‘Shop!’ He demanded haughtily from just in front of the counter, ‘Service!’

There was a pause. After a moment, Seth’s head appeared, leaning over the counter to look down at the tiny ball of fluff in the middle of his shop.

‘Tom?’

‘No you blithering idiot, I’m Queen Elizabeth!’ Tom rolled his eyes.

‘Where’s Kate?’ Seth raised his eyebrow, still leaning over the counter.

‘How the bloody hell should I know!? She’s off gallivanting with the blond whore. Probably selling themselves for beer money.’

Seth smirked and shook his head, ‘Charming.’ He walked around and scooped Tom up in his hand, placing him on the counter so they could talk eye to eye. Seth sat back down on the stool and shook his head again. ‘Is there something I can do for you? Wait, how did you get here?’

‘I got the buggering tram, which might I add, was truly appalling on numerous levels.’

Seth nearly laughed, but Tom’s severely pissed off facial expression prevented more than a twitch at the corner of his mouth.

‘So... can I get you some tea?’

‘God yes! I thought you’d never ask. You have always been the most genial of Kate’s friends.’ Tom smiled at him sweetly, showing all his kitty teeth and squeezing his eyes closed tight. Seth raised his eyebrow warily. This cat was up to something. And whether Tom realised it or not, he was painfully transparent.

 

            Seth returned a few moments later with a small cup of tea and a saucer. He broke a biscuit onto the plate and placed it in front of Tom who nodded his head in thanks.

‘You’re too kind...’

‘Tom,’ Seth sipped his own tea, ‘I doubt this is a social call.’

‘Yes, Quite. Straight to business. How very professional of you. I’ve always respected that about you Seth. Straight as an arrow, reliable, trustworthy...’

‘Tom.’ Seth frowned.

‘Alright, alright! Intelligent too by the way, and quite the snappy dresser!’

‘TOM!’ Seth rolled his eyes, ‘I do have things to do.’

Tom grinned at him sheepishly, ‘Yes of course you do. Terribly busy...So, to business. You see there’s this very serious issue, I need your assistance, and your assurance of confidentiality.’

Seth didn’t say anything. He was a man of few words. He simply waited, not particularly worried, if it was an apocalyptic issue, he was sure Kate would have been in tow.

‘You see I require of you a spell. Some form of magic which I myself do not possess.’

‘I see.’ Seth nodded.

‘Well, it is vital. Vital.’ Tom insisted, ‘there is this cat you see. And it is of a world-shattering importance that she is given a great deal of intelligence. Immediately.’

‘A cat?’ Seth frowned, ‘Just a normal cat?’

‘At present yes, but soon, she will be nearly as sparkling a wit as I myself.’ Tom chuckled, as if it wasn’t possible.

‘You want me to create a familiar?’

‘That’s it in a nutshell. See, very intelligent, sharp as a tack you are!’

Seth looked at him and sighed, narrowing his eyes. ‘That’s not... I mean... Tom...’

Tom glared at him for a moment, bright blue eyes intently regarding the Euthanatos. ‘I know you can do it.’

‘That’s not the point.’ Seth replied calmly, ‘The fact of the matter is, a familiar, as you know, requires a great deal of care and commitment, not to mention the rituals and journeys involved in establishing a deep, spiritual connection with an otherworldly being.’

‘Don’t lecture me you half-wit! I know more about the otherworld than you can even imagine! I have power that your puny human intellect will never comprehend!!’ The rant was some what ruined by the delivery from a tiny white kitten, jumping up and down with pure indignant rage. Seth regarded him seriously.

‘I know that. I don’t mean to offend you Tom. But, who would the familiar be for?’

‘THAT DOESN’T MATTER!’ Tom shouted, knocking his teacup. Seth’s hand shot out and caught it swiftly, replacing it back on the saucer.

‘What’s going on?’ He asked gently.

‘Nothing.’ Tom mumbled, grumbling under his breath. ‘Nothing at all.’ He leapt down from the counter, landing on the floor smoothly. He began to walk out resentfully with his nose in the air.

Tom paused at the door.

‘Have you got anything in an aphrodisiac?’

 
****
Back at the house, Tom knocked the phone on to the ground and curled into one of Kate's shoes. He rested his head on the phone and pressed speed-dial.
'It's me... I need to talk...'

Xero leant against the wall, behind the door, listening to the tiny white kitten who woke him with a fury-fit in Bambi's drawers before proceeding to sing and shout his way around the apartment. He had now returned to the house and started to speak to what sounded like a therapist.
'I just feel trapped... uh-huh... I know... it's just... I'm having a crisis. I really need to... uh-huh...It's all this bloody idiot Seth's fault. Honestly you'd think he was hit on the head as an infant...'
'I am worthy and deserving of love.' Tom repeated, 'I am in control of my descisions. Insults are defensive and words can hurt.'
Xero bit his knuckle to stop from laughing.
'I am a worthy and deserving being. I am loveable and loving.... In with anger, out with love.... Actualise.... Believe...' Tom breathed. Xero doubled over against the wall.

****

Kate and Bambi wandered back into the apartment some hours later, Bambi was laughing, poking Kate as she tried to put her keys in the bowl by the door. They had been living in a state of bliss, since arriving back in the place where they both felt they belonged. Kate laughed her way into the living room and looked at Xero sitting on the couch with a baffled and amused facial expression.

‘You have the weirdest cat in the whole world.’ He said shaking his head, ‘I think he forgot I was here.’

Tom's eyes shot open from where he was was curled in a ball on the arm of the couch and had been for an hour, when he arrived home, Xero had still been asleep, he was sure of it. He stretched and stood up, arching his back. As Xero spoke he walked along the back of the couch to rub his head against the boy’s.

‘Oh, hello Kate. Nice outing?’ He smiled, rubbing his head on Xero’s ear. ‘You say anything, anything, and I will kill you in your sleep.’ He whispered savagely. 
The Hollow One grinned, 'In with anger, out with love, Tom.'

 


Ghosts and Demons- Refusing interview since assaulting David Letterman on live television, Saul Peterson breaks his silence for the first time by kidnapping Lucy Manson.

 The twenty-eight year old pianist and songwriter shot to fame with his first album, arriving out of nowhere with a sound as honest and unpretentious as the musician who created it. Son of Laura Peterson- the late classical pianist and singer and growing up in Los Angeles, Peterson now lives in Boston with his family.

 

Saul Peterson can’t help but be noticed.

The rumble shook my coffee cup as he arrived outside the café, in a fiery red Trans Am (complete with eagle). Seconds later Saul strolled in, flicking his keys round his finger once before shoving them into his dark denim jeans. He immediately headed to the bar, ordering himself a coffee. Despite his best efforts to avoid my eye contact, I find myself drawn to watching him. He moves with an odd sort of grace for such a big guy. Even with the shining charisma of his friend and producer Jiro Jones radiating as he cheerfully shakes my hand, my eyes are drawn to Saul.

Eventually, once he’s gained a large black coffee, he arrives at my table. There are only a few people in the place in the early evening, and Saul hasn’t quite gained the recognition of the general public. Still, he behaves as if people are going to approach him as he slouches in the chair and applies four sugars to his coffee.

 

Jiro Jones is chatting to me, explaining details of releases and future tour plans. I take notes carefully for a few minutes, but my interest is in finally speaking to the man who has staunchly refused to speak to the press, with the singular exception of David Letterman. I wonder if I should be worried as he glares at his hands. Eventually, Jones announces he is leaving. For a second, it’s almost as if Saul is concerned but then nods silently and shakes Jones’ hand casually. He leans back in the chair and looks at me.

‘So what do you wanna know?’ he asks me, with a sense of foreboding in his voice.

Finally, I get to talk to him.

 

Your album has been one of the most popular new releases on the alternative scene this year. Has your success changed the way you look at music?

I don’t think it’s changed how I think about music. Not really. I guess I’m still just surprised. I invested in this thing, and I guess I sorta had to take everyone’s word that it was gonna pay off.

 

So, I know family is important to you. I hear you just adopted. Congratulations.

(Peterson smiles slightly) Anyone who knows me, knows that family is pretty much everything to me. And thanks, yeah. She’s a doll.


What kind of father do you think you’re going to be?

(Smirks) Well. I guess I already know that. Micky could tell ya. I’ll be like I always have. Annoying. Overprotective.

 

You raised your brother Micky from when you were eighteen and he was thirteen? And you have custody of your youngest brother Jonah who is seventeen now?

Yeah. That’s correct. (Peterson shifts in his seat, looks at his watch.)

 

Would be prefer we didn’t talk about them?

No. (Peterson looks back at me) We can talk about them. Sure. They’re both geniuses. Joey is at Harvard now and Mick’s a scientist. They’re unbelievable. I’m more proud of them than anything I could ever do.

 

Both of them feature quite heavily in the music on the album.

Yeah. It was a bad time for the family, when I was writing that. I guess that’s half the reason I was surprised people wanted to listen to it.

 

What do you mean?

Well. You know. It was about... ghosts. And the past. It wasn’t happy music you know? It wasn’t supposed to be. I mean, a couple of tracks are nostalgic you know? Like looking back at something important in your life, missing it, but glad it was there when it was.

 

Do you think that people only want to listen to happy music?

Apparently not. I mean, I guess I did, but if I ever really thought about it, most of the stuff I hear isn’t all love and flowers. Except like pop music crap. And that’s fine. You know, for kids to listen to.


So what plays in your house?

My house? I guess it would depend on who was in control of the stereo. Joey has a tendency towards pop music, though he does like some classical stuff. My wife Kina is pretty into like folksy-girl singing... stuff... I listen to good stuff.

 

Good stuff? Such as?

You know.... classic.

 

Schubert?
(Peterson laughs, hides his smile behind his hand) No... Zeppelin.

 

As in Led?

No, as in I like listening to 1930s air balloons. Of course Led! What, you don’t like Zeppelin?

 

Not exactly. I mean, I appreciate...

Don’t gimme that! People always say that when they don’t know what they’re talking about. How the hell can you be allowed to work for Rolling Stone and not like Led Zeppelin? That’s insane. (Peterson leans forward and downs the rest of the coffee in one go.) You obviously never listened to it.

 

Sure I have. Stairway to heaven... Whole lotta love...

(Cutting me off) No, no, no, you don’t know what you’re talking about. You obviously never really listened to it. C’mere.

 

(Peterson stands up, pulls his keys out of his pocket. He drops a handful of change on the tabletop for the waitress and starts walking towards his car. I gather up my voice recorder, paper etc and follow as fast as I can. By the time I reach him, he is standing beside his flame red Trans Am, with the passenger door open.)

 

Are we going for a drive?

Sure. You gotta drive and listen to this. What car have you got?

 

I have a mini cooper.

Get in.

 

(Peterson holds the door for me and then walks round to climb into his side. The interior of the car is pristine. He shakes his head at me like he’s disappointed and then turns the key. The car roars into life and we begin to drive through the streets of Boston. He pokes a battered cassette tape into the stereo and cranks the volume up. The car is instantly filled with the hectic sounds of ‘Communication Breakdown’. I find it’s pretty much impossible to interview him during the drive. I wonder if it was a technique to avoid questioning, but as I look over at him, Saul genuinely looks like he is enjoying himself. He drives fast and well as we cruise for about fifteen minutes through the early evening until eventually he pulls over at the waterfront and switches off the engine, plunging the car into silence.)

 

Well?

 

That’s pretty energetic stuff. Seems strange compared to your sound.

Well I never learned the guitar. It’s probably best for everyone really.

 

So where does your sound come from?

Peterson turns the key to bring the music back, turns the volume down so that Zeppelin his just moaning in the background) I guess... Well I guess... My mom.

 

She was heralded as one of the greats. She taught you to play?

Sure. Yeah. She taught me.

 

I can’t imagine a lot of Led Zeppelin going on in that house. You mother was classically trained. Did she have diverse tastes? What’s the music you first remember?

(Peterson smirks) No. Well I don’t know. I doubt she would’ve liked this stuff. My Dad was a violinist before he met my mom. So it was all pretty classical stuff. The first music I ever heard was her singing. She used to sing all the time when we were kids. I guess that’s why I sing to my kid. It’s nice. Nice memory.

 

Would you like Delphi to grow up to be a musician?

Oh god, I dunno. I haven’t really thought that far ahead. She’ll be whatever she’s gonna be. I guess I might teach her piano, if she wants to know.

 

Do you worry about her future?

Sure, I guess any parent does. She’s gonna be ok. I’ll make sure of it. That’s my job. And she’s got all these people who care about her. I’d hate to see anyone try and mess with that kid. (Laughs)

 

You have a fierce protective instinct. Will you tell me about Letterman?

I knew you were gonna ask me about that. (Sighs) Ok. Ok. Here it is. Seeing as you’re the only one I gotta talk to. The man said something I didn’t like. I overreacted. I was nervous. I shouldn’t have hit him. I mean regardless of the fact I think he’s a tool. I thought that before, and what he said didn’t change it. I don’t like talking about the past. Maybe that’s why I write about it. I knew he was gonna bring it up, and... well... what’s done is done.

 

You write about the past, but it’s personal. Do you think that’s why people relate to what you’ve created?

Yeah. Probably. I mean I had a pretty fucked up time for a while. I guess a lot of people have shit like that in their lives. More than I’d like to think. Music is my way of dealing, music and making sure my kid’s ok, that she never knows a life like that.

 

Do you think a troubled background leads to greatness, musically?

(Pauses for a moment, looks out the window) I think you can’t help where you grow up. There’s stuff in life you can’t change. Like, how smart you are, or whatever. It’s just the way it is. I guess where you go from there is up to you. But if you’re asking do I think my kid will be average because she’s been happy, god I hope so. I would rather have a happy, boring accountant kid who never had to worry about nothing, than a kid with a messed up background who’s a genius. 

 

So, how are things now?

I guess I feel like maybe I’m where I’m supposed to be.

 

Where to from here?

(Smiles) Well, I guess, musically, more of the same. I wanna write an album for my daughter, full of songs about her. But you know, not in a sappy 'I just called to say I love you' way. I mean like... I dunno. I haven’t really thought out the details yet.  But if you mean where are we going now... then I’d have to say to a dealership to buy you a car that don’t run on four AA batteries. (Grins)

Xero.

For the first time in his life, Xero handed his boarding pass to a cheerful and enthusiastic looking woman and boarded a plane. He’d made his way to Boston in a train and everywhere else had been greyhound buses and hitching, or the occasional stolen car. The plane ride was almost fun. Or it would have been, in other circumstances. Instead of really taking notice of the journey, he stared blankly out of the window. The clouds slowly rippled past and Xero sipped his lemonade. His mind wandered and he thought about what he would say when he finally arrived. The thought of it made his stomach turn and for a second he cast his eyes to the little paper sack provided. Taking a few shuddering breaths he readjusted his position in the seat and tried to slow his heart rate. The woman next to him glanced over, warily eying the young man with bloodshot eyes.

Eventually he scrambled in the backpack that rested by his feet and pulled out a notebook. He tore off a handful of pages and pulled down the little tray table to lean on. Xero wrote quickly, with the messy handwriting of a boy who never finished high school.

Dear Kate,

So I guess I’m a coward. Guess you’ll be disappointed, but right now I can’t even care about that. I can’t care about anything. And I don’t care what the rest of the kids will think about me. I’m gonna hand you this note so I don’t have to tell you the story. So I don’t have to say the words that I had to say to Grendel.

Riff died.

They came for me. Knocked me out and dragged me away. They took me back down the Mississippi. I don’t even really know who they were. Crazy Nephandi wannabes I guess, trying to raise my parents. They came to get me, trussed me up on some throne like the prince of the place... I dunno what they wanted. I don’t know what they expected. Anyway, by the time I got rescued and Raven had turned the whole town to nothing and I got back home, Riff was gone.

Took me three days to track him down. They had him in a hospital. The fuckers had kicked him and broken him. They cracked his skull. They had him on life support in this intensive care. I didn’t know what to do. Micky came to help, you know, like he does. They took him up to the Verbena Coven.
They couldn’t fix it.

After he died, I guess I kind of lost the plot. I took an axe to his big old reddish coloured tree they have up there. All the Verbena freaked out. I kinda ran off. I don’t really remember what happened after that. It hurt so bad.

I heard Micky say to someone, you know, that it wasn’t fair. Cause Riff Raff was just a kid, and he hadn’t even really figured out whether he liked girls or boys. That it wasn’t fair that he should die, just a casualty. He was just in the wrong place. In my bed.

They had the funeral today. All the kids were gonna bury him up at Hunter Moon, and then have a wake. You know, like they do. I couldn’t face it. I couldn’t deal with everyone talking to me, hugging me. Micky took me to the Spiritworld. I’ve never been there. Not like that. I saw Riff there. Micky let me talk to him and I said goodbye to him. It didn’t seem real. He wasn’t really him. I don’t know how to explain it. He seemed happy, peaceful, kinda grown up.

So I had to tell Grendel. I thought she would hate me. I basically stole her high school sweetheart off her. I don’t even know what I had with him. He was such a nice kid, and sweet and... she didn’t hate me.

Anyway. It was pretty much vital that I left Boston. I don’t know. I guess I thought maybe you would be someone who would be able to... oh, hell I don’t even know what. I need you Kate. And like I said to Mick, I need to not go to Cloven, who by the way is turning thirty in like four days. I’m weak and I want someone.

I know you know a lot about... well, a lot. And I feel like you’re my guide. I’ve never really lost anyone, not like this. And this is my first big relationship, you know where I feel strong and in control and like I know who I am. We had a good thing going on, and I didn’t have to pretend or do the stuff I used to. So I hope it’s ok that I’m fronting up on your doorstep again. I haven’t seen you since after the whole evil book situation. I hope you’re ok. I can’t say this stuff again. Not now. So I’m gonna hand you this letter and then kinda sit on the couch and wait for you to say something.

Just tell me Kate, does the dull ache go anywhere? Do you ever get over this? I’m kinda past the point of seeking revenge, or trying to think of an elaborate plan to raise him. I did think about it. I did stand outside someone’s house and wonder if I could force his spirit into someone’s body. Fucked up. I know.

That’s it. Plane’s landing. I’ll be in your house in no time. It feels like the house, being with you is a sanctuary. I need it. I’m sorry I’m so pathetic. I got nothing here. You know?

Ok. Well. I’m done. Thanks.
Xero.

P.S.- A bunch of the kids have hepatitis. How bizarre is that? I so need to learn to heal. I want to be able to fix that stuff, and I want to be able to change me. I want to be in touch with the world. Like you are. Living life while it’s there.

****

Xero folded the paper and jammed it into his pocket. He walked in a trance off the plane and hailed a cab. The journey to Kate’s house was quiet, punctuated only with the sound of the cheerful music from the driver’s stereo. He climbed out of the cab and looked up at the building.
The doorbell chimed and he adjusted his backpack over his shoulder. Shoving his hand into his pocket he clenched his fingers around the letter.
The man opened the door and smiled at the boy in front of him.
‘Can I help you?’
‘Uhh... Is Kate here?’
The man shook his head and frowned. ‘Uh, I think maybe you have the wrong house?’
Xero sighed heavily. ‘No. This is Kate Merlin’s house. I know it is.’
‘Well, we just moved in here, so maybe you’re looking for the people who used to live here. Sorry. I don’t know where they went.’

Xero walked back out onto the street and leant against a lamp post. He could feel the tears stinging his face. He screwed his eyes up and felt his chest shaking with the strain of holding it together. People walked past him, ignoring him for the most part. Xero started walking. Aimless and alone.

Three hours past and he found himself a bar to sit in. He spent everything he had on drowning his sorrows. By the time they threw him out, he was so drunk he could barely stand. He wandered the streets again, stumbling and falling, somewhere, his backpack had gone missing. He walked into things, bumping people and slurring at them as they passed. He collided with a woman, nearly knocking her down and his vision swam as he tried to focus. Xero dropped his head and stumbled past. He felt someone grab his arm,
‘Xero?’
He turned and half focused on the blond woman staring at him with one eyebrow raised. He managed to slur out half of her name before passing out on her shoulder.

Bambi pushed open the door to their home, the home she had made, and wandered in. She gestured vaguely to the couch and the lovely young man who had offered her assistance placed her unconscious young friend down.
‘Thanks Rod, you’re such a sweetheart.’ She led him back to the door and yelled, ‘Call me!’ as he left.
Making her way upstairs, Bambi greeted the sun at the wrong end of the day, she was heading to bed, but the love of her life was just sipping her morning tea as the sun rose over San Francisco.
‘Xero’s downstairs. He’s drunk off his ass.’ She crouched beside Kate, resting her head on her shoulder. ‘I found this in his pocket. I guess it’s for you.’ She placed the letter into Kate’s hand. ‘Anyway. I’m going to bed.’
Kissing her lover on the top of the head, sleepy Bambi wound her way back down to the bedroom they shared, leaving Kate to the sun.

Flip alone in the house.

Flip ran her fingers along the spines of the leather bound books on the shelf. Each one had a little layer of dust. Dominic had only been gone two days and there was already dust. It was a dusty sort of house, always had been. It suited him down to the ground. Flip was sure she had read somewhere that people’s houses were a symbol of themselves, like the walls around them picked up their essence. Or was that pets?
Either way, the house thing was certainly true about some people she’d known. From Francis and his boathouse, to Kate and her apartment, people’s homes leached out something familiar, something homely.
And with Dominic gone she felt like the place was a shell of him. Each empty room seemed to echo with her footsteps.

She had never really put herself on anywhere. There was the trailer she had briefly in San Fran, but she hadn’t been there long enough to make it her own. And her mother’s house was like a distant memory now. It was the lack of stuff that did it. No possessions. No home. She had been a complete nomad from age eighteen. Nearly ten years later and she was just about as settled as she was ever going to be. Still, it was someone else’s place. Dominic was a man who liked his belongings in a certain way, he made the place his. She was sure he didn’t even notice that she didn’t really have anything of her own. He didn’t think about things like that.

She sighed as she sank into the soft leather of his arm chair. She never sat there, mostly because Dominic himself was reading. With him gone, the scent of the brown, supple leather was as close as she would get to him. From there she could reach all the things that were him, his reading glasses, the last book he had touched, (Pilgrims Progress), the abandoned cup of tea from two days ago, (he wouldn’t have left it there, it would have been washed and back in the cupboard by now) and his record player. Flip leant over and pressed the button to start the turntable.
The Rolling Stones. What was it with him and the Rolling Stones?

As the music crackled its way into the room, Flip leant her head back on the cushion of the chair. She pulled her glasses off and rubbed her eyes. He couldn’t wait to get out of the house. It was like the call from Boston had been something he was waiting for. Any excuse. He had come into the bedroom where she was sitting on the window seat, staring out into the rain.
‘Phillipa?’
Always Phillipa.
‘I’m going away.’
She turned to look at him over her shoulder, her face stayed blank, something she had learnt over the years. Through growing up.
‘It’s an emergency. You understand.’ Not a question. She understood. He was going. He had to go.
‘I’ll be back within the week I should think. I’ll ring you if I’m to be any longer.’
So casual. Not cold. Just straight forward and simple. Like nothing was wrong.

She burrowed her face into the wing of the chair. Flip wished she had said something. Shouted. Anything.
As she looked up she caught sight of the blanket folded neatly at the end of the sofa. He stayed up late every night. They never discussed it.
‘The research is going really well. I was up until three just reading.’
That was as close as he came to an excuse.
An excuse for why he hadn’t touched her. Hadn’t come up to their bed.
She ached.
Dominic was the first man in her life who had treated her like a woman, who had talked to her like a friend, cared for her. He was strange, sure, and embarrassed. But they lived in their own world. Their world of two.

She couldn’t face him, and she just didn’t know what to say. He had held her hand so often while she babbled at him about things he couldn’t even begin to understand. He might have been generations older than her, but that didn’t mean he could understand what it was like to be a young woman trapped in a phoenix cycle of death and rebirth. She was one of a kind. Or so he told her, with some pride. She was his student. It was as if he had created the bizarre situation that she found herself in.

For someone who lived through death on a yearly basis, Flip was surprisingly fearful of it. She dragged herself through a symbolic death/rebirth cycle, following the rituals they had learnt or created together. But sometimes the phoenix made its demands and ripped the life from her, burning away everything, rebuilding her from the ground up. She had gone through more cycles than most people ever would in their lives, and through nearly every one, Dominic had been there. He had held her when she had been torn apart, stroked her hair and whispered to her about how she was shedding her skin, nothing more. But Flip knew the truth of dying. She knew the sensation of the blood stopping in her veins, the breath caught in her throat as if she were drowning.

The cycle was necessary, and even if it wasn’t, there was no stopping it. All she cared about most of the time was that she would come out the other side. Occasionally, she longed for it, for the fierce revolution that shook her body and soul, and churned her spirit around into its new form. Still, every now and then she dreaded it, like there was a chance she would get lost. What if she found herself in the underworld, with no map? What if she couldn’t find the door back? What if?

Once, in the middle of the night as she finally awoke from a journey that had plunged her deep under the ground, deep into herself, where the dark walls were soft with her black blood, she felt his hand on her brow.
He stroked her hair away from her eyes and bent down to kiss her forehead.
‘Nice to see you again.’ He said politely and she chuckled a little, gripping his hand.
‘Have you been waiting?’ Her voice was horse.
He nodded a little and shifted to lean against the wall, her head in his lap.
‘I was guardian. I always will be.’
She nodded into his leg. She didn’t want to talk about it. Not yet, and he knew that, from experience.

Then he said something, he had never said before.
‘I’ll never hurt you.’
She looked up at him, her green eyes dark, pupils dilated wide in the dimly lit room.
‘I know.’
‘No, Flip, listen.’ He called her Flip. Only ever when they were together, wrapped around each other in the warmth of their bed. ‘I mean, I will never be the one to take your life. No matter what. Even though I know you’ll come back.’
She squeezed his hand and then wrapped herself around him. She couldn’t even speak to tell him what that meant. She longed to explain the whole thing to him, to tell him how hard it was for her, how much she loved him. Instead she just held him and he placed a hand protectively on her head.

But he had lied.

When it came to it.
When the blackness was inside her again and the prison of her body was all that contained it, he had placed a blade to her neck and with one stroke, he had stopped it.
He had killed her.
Because he had to.
Because it was what needed to be done.
To protect.
To protect them all.

She had come back.
She always did.
But things, would never be the same.
((I know you've read this before Vixen, but I thought it was a good example of Tom))

Her barefeet squeaked slightly as she grooved her way into the living room, balancing the bowl of yoghurt on one hand, she licked the spoon as she did a little twirl and poked at the stereo with her toe to skip to the next song. Her long slender legs moved fluidly as she danced her way around the room for a moment, the spoon in her mouth as she hummed. Bambi was wearing her favourite tiny denim shorts, and a shirt that nearly covered her navel, it was checked black and white and sleeveless. As always she was opting for the least amount of clothing that was feasibly possible.
Her blond hair curled over her shoulders as she looked down at her feet where a small kitten was twining between them. She tipped her head and raised an eyebrow.
'What do you want, furball?' she asked around the spoon.
The tiny kitten planted itself looking up at her and posed as best he could, playing the cute card for all it was worth.
'What have you got in there?' the pompous British voice asked.
Bambi smirked at the kitten and shook her head, pulling the spoon from her mouth.
'Nothin' for you. You think I eat cat food?'
'I'd believe you'd put anything in that foul mouth of yours.' Tom retorted snidely as he turned his back on her. 'Besides, someone's been eating my CatMeow, I'm sure of it.'
He jumped onto the arm of the sofa and curled into an indignant ball.
'Why in the hell would anyone want to eat your stinky cat food?' Bambi shook her head as she danced over to the mirror to examine her face for a moment.
'How should I know?' Tom snarled, 'You're all mad. And you do all sorts of ridiculous things when you're drunk.'
Bambi scoffed and turned on the cat, he was the only one in the apartment at that point, and she had to argue with someone.
'I do not!' She exclaimed, waving the spoon in his direction.
Tom pulled himself up to his full height, coughing in disagreement. If he was forced to admit it, he quite enjoyed his debates with his witch's 'roommate'. It certainly passed the time, and he enjoyed running rings around her mentally.
'What about the time you told your beau of the evening that you could juggle me?' He demanded hotly.
Bambi grinned at him for a moment, 'Beau?' She smirked and then shrugged, 'Besides, I could have done it...'
'Like bloody hell you could have!' Tom exclaimed.
'Sure I could.' She nodded and walked over to him, scooping him up in her free hand, 'I'll do it right now if you don't believe me.'
She started to wave him up and down, his little indignant voice crying out as she whizzed him through the air, 'Stop it! Stop it immediately! I'll make you pay! You'll regret this!'
Bambi giggled and placed the dizzy kitten back on the floor, watching him totter from side to side. She scraped her spoon around the edge of the bowl and popped the last few bits of yoghurt into her mouth. Tom stood for a moment and then tipped sideways, landing prone on the floor. Bambi looked down at him and then winced, placing the bowl on the coffee table quickly.
'Ah, shit... Furball? You OK?'
'No I am not bloody well OK.' He said, stressing the last word to express his displeasure at using the American-ism, but making no effort what-so-ever to stand up. Bambi crouched beside him and sighed.
'You're fine, stop being a drama queen. Come on, if you're good, I'll take you out somewhere.'
Tom raised his head slightly, breaking the sulk. 'Where?' He inquired somewhat suspiciously.
Bambi grinned as she sat next to him and pulled her legs up underneath herself.
'I dunno, anywhere!' She poked him with one finger. 'Come on, it'll be fun.'
Tom sighed dramatically. 'Alright then.' he agreed finally and pulled himself to his tiny feet. Bambi scooped him up in her hand and leaving the bowl on the coffee table, headed over to where her shoes had been abandoned by the front door.
'Kate'll be out all day. So you and me, we can do whatever the hell we want. What do you fancy Tommy? Chinese food?'
Tom shuddered at the suggestion, his white fur bristling against her hand. 'You know how I feel about that.' He grumbled at her.
Bambi winked at him and crouched to pull her converse sneakers on. She laced them, balancing Tom on her hand while he grunted at being passed about. When she was ready she grabbed her keys from the jar where Kate kept them by the door and smacked the crystal hanging in front of the entrance.
'Let's go!' She grinned and stomped down the stairs.

San Fran was in the middle of one of its hottest summers, and Bambi was glad to be out of the house, in the fresh air. She was also glad of her choice of clothing that ran to small and smaller. She chatted merrily to Tom as she walked along, carrying him neatly in one hand. Bambi wasn't the sort of person who cared whether people were looking at her funny for talking to a cat, and after all, it was San Fran. She was the least of the weirdoes.
'We could go to the movies?'
'That American, brainless drivel? I don't think so.'
Ice-skating?'
'Are you mad?'
'What about the swimming pool? Nice and cool...?'
Tom shuddered. 'Oh please. Don't be so ridiculous.’
Bambi huffed and stopped in the middle of the street to look down at the kitten in her hand in frustration. She put her hand on her hip and brought the other one up to her face so she could look him in the eyes.
'No wonder you never go out! You're such a wet blanket! What do you do for fun then Mr. Smarty-no-pants?'
Tom rolled his bright blue eyes and gave her a thoroughly withering look before considering exactly what he did want to do that sunny Saturday afternoon.
'Art Gallery?' he said, smiling his best kitten smile.
'No way!'
Museum of Ancient History?'
'Please!'
Tom narrowed his eyes at her, becoming frustrated. 'The park?' He demanded, glaring at her.
'Fine!' She sneered back at him and started to walk again. It took both of them a few seconds to realise that they had agreed on something.
'This will be lovely fun.' Tom offered cheerfully.
Bambi grinned. 'Hot guys playing Frisbee…’
Tom clicked his tongue in disgust and tried to pretend he wasn't with her.

The park was full of young and old, children ran in and out of the fountain and people cycled past in groups. The place was packed with sun-seekers and picnicers. Bambi found them a shady tree and carefully placed Tom on the soft green grass. He smiled up at her and looked around.
'Most civilised. If it wasn't for all these idiots, it would be perf... Oh! A leaf!' Tom scampered frantically after a falling leaf, missing it considerably. Not to be put off he hid down in the grass, preparing himself to stalk said leaf. As he wiggled his tail in the air in a concentrated fashion, Bambi laughed and sank down into the grass, to lean her back against the tree.
Tom growled slightly in a completely non-threatening kitten manner and then leapt into the air, barely clearing the grass as he threw himself towards the leaf in question.
The offending object skipped out of his frantic claws as he reached it and he began to chase it desperately.
'Come here! You'll pay for your disrespect! Fear me!' Tom exclaimed as he tackled the leaf.

Bambi tipped her head up and ignored the tiny leaping creature near her feet. She looked up through the branches of the tree and stared at the sky.
'That's a cute kitten.'
She put her hand over her eyes to shield the sun as she looked up at the man smiling down at her.
'Thanks. He's just the sweetest thing.'
The guy crouched down next to her and smiled as he watched Tom lying on his back with a leaf between his teeth. He seemed to be trying to disembowel it with his back feet.
'Take that my crunchy foe.' He mumbled and Bambi coughed loudly over the small British voice.
'You wanna get an ice-cream?' She said as she stood, bending to scoop Tom up into her palm, leaving him clutching wildly at the pieces of leaf that remained after his razor claws had destroyed most of it.
'Sure. I'm Peter.' He said as she walked past him over to where the ice-cream man had stopped his cart. Bambi swung her hips as she crossed the grass quickly, leaning in to speak to Tom.
'Now play nice fluff-ball.'
'Why should I? You're using me as your... your... kitty-pimp! I will not to be a party to this disgusting display of...'
'I'll buy you an ice-cream if you shut up.' Bambi offered smirking.
'Chocolate fudge sauce.' Tom demanded.
'OK... but you have to pretend to be cute.' She countered.
Tom paused and looked between Bambi and the ice-cream man for a moment. 'Very well, your terms are accepted... Hussy.'
Bambi grinned at him and kissed him on the head.

She bought herself and Peter an ice-cream each, and then bought a small cup full of vanilla and chocolate fudge sauce for Tom. She dug the money out of her pocket, and winked at Peter as she handed him his. They returned to the tree and sat down, as she placed Tom back on the ground she heard him mutter.
'Ah leaf, my old advisory.'
Bambi threw him a warning look and he sighed heavily before meowing in a vaguely convincing manner. Bambi placed the ice-cream in a cup on the grass for him and he galloped over to it, shoving into it, face first.

Peter watched Tom licking at the ice-cream and then returned his gaze to where Bambi was watching him with her slightly predatory gaze. She licked the ice-cream cone slowly, running her tongue over the white surface of it. As it slowly started to melt, some dripped onto her bare leg. Bambi grinned at him and bent over to lick the liquid off her skin.
'You can get the next one.' She grinned at him and turned back to her ice-cream.
He smiled at her, slightly dumbstruck and seemed to have forgotten his own ice-cream which had melted down his hand.
'So...so... What do you do?' He asked her lamely.
Bambi opened her mouth to come out with something flirtatious when a loud British voice shouted from near their feet.
'OH DEAR GOD IT HAS ME!!'
Bambi's eyes shot down to where Tom seemed to have been dragged into the cup by his frozen treat.
'HELP! It's possessed! Demon cream! Save me!" he squealed as he tried to claw his way out of the fudge.
Peter gasped, dropping his ice-cream onto the grass. 'Holy shit!' He exclaimed and scrambled to his feet. Bambi reached over, throwing her own ice-cream onto the grass, and tried to pry Tom out of the mess. She dug into it with her fingers, trying to excavate him.
'Oh man, Tom this is foul!'
Bambi lifted the fudge and cream covered kitten clear of the cup and screwed her nose up as the mixture ran down her arm. Peter looked down at her in shock.
'It... it... it...' He pointed at Tom, who looked up at him through a layer of brown and white sludge.
'Yes, it talks! And a lot more efficiently and eloquently than you, you blithering idiot!'
Bambi looked from her hand covered in wet, sticky kitten to the young man with a horrified look on his face. She rolled her eyes.
'Jesus Tom...' She sighed and stood up.
'Don't litter.' She said to Peter and indicated the dropped ice-creams, before turning and walking away, holding the mess of fur and fudge as far away from her body as possible.

As they walked home Tom started to place blame.
'Why? Why would you think a cup was a good idea! I could have drowned! Then how would you feel?'
Bambi flicked her fingers as she tried to remove some of the mess from her skin.
'How would I feel? Maybe like I had a moment’s peace? Maybe like I was going to hook up with a cute guy?'
Tom rolled his eyes and scoffed, 'Is that all you ever think about? You have more than enough men in your life, and I would very much appreciate it if you didn't use me as a pick up line! I feel violated!'
Bambi rolled her eyes and tried to ignore him. Eventually once inside the house, she took him to the bathroom and dumped him in the sink.
'This is gonna suck for you.' She smirked at him.
Tom looked up at her and then at the taps.
'No! NO! NOOOOOO!' his desperate cries faded beneath the sound of flowing water and Bambi's chuckles.