Review — Welcome to Night Vale (Podcast)

The last few weeks I’ve been listening to the podcast Welcome to Night Vale, knowing very little about it other than what I could conceivably guess based on the title. As it turns out, even there I was mostly wrong. I assumed it was a story about a dark fantasy place, which I was correct about, but I also expected a continuous story along the lines of a typical web comic such as Homestuck. (I have not read Homestuck, but am more or less familiar with the premis.) Instead, Welcome to Night Vale is written in episodes with the intent that one can simply jump in and listen with no context required. So, what is it? Well, it’s a Lovecraftian comedy—a radio news broadcast from the fictional town of Night Vale.

Before I jump in, though, I have one thing I need to say: It should be Nightvale, damnit. One word! I have no logical argument to back that up, it just looks more aesthetically pleasing like that! (Also, it’s annoying to have to write Night Vale, because it’s more work, and I am as a matter of course opinionated against the reason it is more work to write.)

Because my job allows me to listen to podcasts all day, I get through audio content very quickly, so even upon learning I could start wherever, I of course began with Episode 1, and have just finished (with episode 130) today). To summarize, the podcast most frequently takes the form of a (bi)weekly news broadcast in the town of Night Vale. The news is often related to creepy things, such as SCP objects or Lovecraftian horrors. I would liken Night Vale to a “modern day Innsmouth”. The radio host, Cecil Palmer, never really acknowledges the dangerous horrors this town seems to have a very long and deep history with, and thus the combination of the eldritch combined with a lack of logical concern creates a humorous show.

Overall, it’s pretty solid. I’ll admit the punchlines are rarely amazing. I probably laughed out loud about once every 10 hours of content. Not bad, I suppose, given that I’m alone and at work during that time. Nonetheless, the humor is consistently amusing. I’ll say that one thing the podcast does very well is remain consistent with the information it gives you, even if it’s all over the place. A small factoid about a minor character will suddenly become important three years (real time) later, and you’ll find out that it was actually because of X all along! It seems clever, but really I would bet that it’s importance was decided later. It’s done flawlessly, though, and it surprises me how much of a “knowable” ecosystem Night Vale eventually becomes after a time. It transitions from random factoids about a place you’ve never heard of to characters and people with rich histories interacting based on events that did or did not happen long ago in the podcast. And even if you didn’t see that episode, it doesn’t matter because it’ll explain that history when it becomes relevant.

Of course, the podcast isn’t without fault. In my opinion, it has three. The first is that there are characters and events I actively dislike, so whenever they’re given stage time I get frustrated. (I’m also not a fan of it whe  it leans more towards radio play, where other actors are involved. I prefer the episodes of just radio broadcast and host. No guests, no phone calls, no live investigations. In fact, the character I liked the least becomes mayor of the city at some point! That was pretty disheartening.

The second major downfall is that by nature of what this podcast is, the punchlines can get pretty predictable. Even if you don’t know what the exact joke will be, you start to be able to sniff the setup a mile away, which does sort of kill the fun of the experience.

Lastly, for every 25 minute episode, there is probably 6 minutes I skip. The first 2 or so are self-promotion/sponsors, the middle chunk is a 3 minute song that is, almost always, terrible. and the last minute is more self-promotion. It’s annoying because the easiest way for me to skip on Castbox is by 30 second chunks, and I listen on 1.4x speed, so when I was listening to the podcast, I would literally have to pull out my phone every 10ish minutes to press “Skip ahead 30s” a bunch of times. I can’t imagine other people would have major issue with this in particular, but in my specific circumstance, it was quite annoying. Nothing like the hour long podcasts I’m used to that have a single 30 second ad in the middle or at the end.

What I will say, though, is that as time goes on the episodes become two or three-parters, so you eventually get stories that take an hour of content to see the completion of. I do like that, because it gives me something to attach to and it gives the sense that bigger things are afoot.

Prompt — Old Lady Picnic

“So there I was, sitting in one of the trees at Backarrow Park waiting for… I don’t know, something, when this old lady comes along with a picnic basket. It was a normal day, nice and breezy, the trees shielding the park-goers from any harsh sunlight. Not that the sun is harsh, though I suppose sometimes it is, but it wasn’t this day. I just think that if people are going to be out and about, they like to be in daylight, but not blinded by the sun, you know?

“Anyway, this old lady comes towards me with a picnic basket. Well, not towards me, but in my direction. She didn’t see me. Basically nobody sees me because I’m so small, you know? Well, of course you know that. You’re as small as me. Not that that’s a bad thing. Where was I?

“Oh, yeah, Old Lady Picnic. So she sits down under the tree I’m in and takes out a little blanket from her basket. She unfolds it and lays it on the grass. It’s this cute pink and white quilt patterned with baby elephants and rabbits. Stars above it was the most adorable thing I had ever seen. She probably made it herself! I would never sit on something like that. A work of art like that should never be laid on the grass. But she put it there and started taking out food. Bananas, tiny sandwiches, potato salad, and a gorgeous apple cinnamon pie, and in that moment I knew that if that pie was half as good as it looked and smelled, I would die a happy fairy, wings earned or no. Have you ever felt like that? Where you’re so sure of something that hasn’t happened yet? What am I saying, of course you haven’t.

“So she takes everything out and starts looking in her basket for something. She doesn’t take anything else out, though. Maybe she forgot something. So she gets up and starts walking back the direction she came, and at first I think ‘Hey, she won’t notice if I steal some of her pie, that’s a lot of pie. She can’t eat it all by herself’, but I didn’t want her to see me and I didn’t know how long she’d be gone, so I decided to wait.

“Well, I waited for like an hour, or however long a really long time is for humans, but she never came back so I started to get worried. And then, disaster struck!

“Flies started coming out of the woodworks. Or, well, I don’t know, the sky. I don’t understand human expressions. Anyways, they were coming for Old Lady Picnic’s food, and I knew then and there that this was it: the valiant effort that would earn this little fairy her wings, and, more importantly, the right to go back to Fae.

“And so, the great knight you know me to be, Petunia Peachthorn, leaped off the branches to the food hoard bellow, landing on the soft, billowy pink and white quilt made from clouds itself. I pulled out my sword and yelled ‘You foul creatures will not desecrate this wonderful picnic! I will protect it with my life!’

“They came at me, all eyes and loud wings buffeting the area. Our battle was one for the storybooks as I fought them off one-by-one, trading blows on the top of the narrow basket handle. They spat their toxic acid on me, rusting my armor and breaking some pieces off entirely. I was careful to keep my sword away from it, though, lest my attacks be rendered useless.

“Needless to say, I won. My foes were forced to retreat, some hobbling away with torn wings or eyes. I held no remorse for the savages, bent on taking advantage of Old Lady Picnic’s absence.

“Just when I thought that victory was within sight, however, the ants came. Legions of them, marching down the tree I had just been sitting in. I suppose they must have been army ants, with their perfect formation. As valiant as a knight as I may be, I knew I couldn’t fight a whole legion.

“So, to make a long story short, I certainly didn’t earn my wings that day. I don’t know where Old Lady Picnic went, but I couldn’t save her food, either. But I’ll tell you what, though—I did save that apple cinnamon pie. And it was delicious.”

 

Prompt: https://www.deviantart.com/sandara/art/Strange-Alice-735878743

Review — Brief Cases

Finally, a new Dresden book! …kind of. I think that I started reading The Dresden Files about five years ago, around the time Cold Days came out. By the time I was just about caught up, Skin Game was published. Up until that point, the books were being churned out practically once a year, and well, that was three years ago now. I picked the wrong time to get caught up!

Thankfully, a new short story anthology was released, and boy was it nice to get some more Dresden. I recently started listening to audiobooks at work, an with me working full time, I’m getting through them pretty fast. So I am simultaneously ecstatic and depressed that I’ve already finished.

But before I get started let me add a qualifier. The thing that sucks about this review is that it’s more pointless than most reviews. The people that know Dresden will buy it automatically and love it, because it’s the Dresden we all know and love, but the people that don’t know Dresden shouldn’t get it, because like his other short story anthology, there are lots of time skips and even more spoilers. (The last two short stories take place after Skin Game). So instead of me framing it into the vein of “is this worth reading”, I’ll speak plainly in terms of what I liked and didn’t like. That said, this review is not spoiler free. I won’t be discussing many spoilers by virtue of the fact that my opinions tend to paint broad strokes, but I don’t see much point in writing a review that’s half spoiler-free and half not. So let’s jump in.


I’ll start with what I didn’t like just to get over it. The first is that a lot of these stories have sexual contexts I don’t much care for. I mean, I’m not surprised, that’s always been a Dresden thing. But after taking a break from the series and reading so many other things, I’ve noticed how just how much Jim Butcher tends to describe women based on how insanely hot they are, and how naked they tend to get because “the world of vampires and the fey are very sexual realms”. Logical, sure, but I think it would be fair for me to say that the story could redistribute the sex into more polarizing zones. Take it out where it isn’t necessary and emphasize it where it is rather than just putting a little bit pretty much everywhere. (Side note: I am willing to concede that maybe I’m just being dramatic and prude, but at the same time I don’t think the Dresden series would lose much of anything if there was less sex-but-not-actual-sex, you know?)

My second critique is even more whiny than the first: I didn’t really get to see anything I wanted to see. None of my favorite characters, and nothing awesome really happening. Now, obviously he can’t write about important people doing important things in a short story collection—you can’t force your entire reader-base to buy something that’s supposed to be a side adventure—but still. I wanted to see more stuff that had… meaning. “Zoo Day” is probably the best example of this, and it was definitely my favorite story. We see a potentially bad news character introduced, but it was done in a way that doesn’t take away from the main plot when they inevitably return. I also wasn’t a fan of the same plot structure of “retelling a story” used in two of the twelve stories here, though Butcher isn’t much to blame, because a lot of these stories were written at various times over the years and put together, not written for this book.

But the stories in and of themselves are great. I loved everything about the Bigfoot stories, especially the fact that they all dealt with different issues while (unconsciously) foreshadowing future ones. “Zoo Day” is a masterpiece, too. A long scene told in three different perspectives dealing with three different conflicts is great, and Mouse being the narrator to a story was a lot of fun. Top notch.

I love where the series is going, especially considering the scope and the perspective strength of some of the characters, but it’s also nice to take a break and see characters deal with more mundane issues—it puts the huge ones in the main series in a better perspective.

But also I’m mad that Butcher introduced the Lovecraftian mythos in a single short story and we’re probably not going to see much else from the Old Gods for a long time, if at all.

Prompt — An Unexpected Chat

The breeze sent a chill down Merideth’s spine as she waited beneath the tree for the sun to set. It still had a ways to go. The nights came later now that daylight savings had passed. She didn’t know how to feel about that. The only emotion she really felt was weariness, but then, that was every day.

“You know, there aren’t many trees in England these days,” she noted, glancing back to the tree for a moment before returning her gaze to the sunset. “Perhaps that’s why I like this spot. You’re an odd one. An old sentinel from an older time.”

The tree made no reply, as right it oughtn’t. There was a structure to the world, and talking trees simply did not fit.

“I reckon you feel that bloody breeze as well as I, no? It’s a bit drafty up on this hill, how do you stand it?”

“I find a coat does wonders for the breeze.”

Merideth spun around, expecting to see the tree miraculously sporting a trench coat and scarf. Instead, she saw a man with a trench coat and a scarf, tipping his hat as he walked up the far side of the hill towards her.

“You heard all that?”

“Just the bit about the cold, I’m afraid,” the stranger replied. He sounded American.

“You must think me daft,” she smiled, scoffing a bit at her own embarrassment.

“No, but you do seem to be struggling with the draft.” He emphasized the last word to rhyme it with her pronunciation of ‘daft’.

“I’m not entirely sure it’s wise to mock the accent of a person native to the country you’re visiting.”

“Yes, well, ‘Hello I’m Raymond Stenton’ becomes a boring introduction after a time. I try to lead with the insults first and then be nice later.”

She eyed him, not sure what to think about his peculiarity.

“Hello, I’m Raymond Stenton, by the way,” he added with a wink as he extended a hand out.

“Merideth,” she replied, taking it.

“Lovely name,” he smiled.

She grimaced. “Okay, ease it up a bit, I’m not fishing for compliments.”

“Would you like me to make another quip about your accent?”

“Does this work on every girl?”

He shrugged. “Only the ones who are lonely enough to talk to trees.”

“You’re interrupting a perfectly good evening.”

“I should say the same to you, what if I wanted to chat up this tree?”

“I saw him first.”

“Yes, but I think your tree flirting could use some work. The weather is never a good place to start with these things.”

Merideth folder her arms. She wasn’t in the mood to talk to strangers. Especially not one like him. And yet there was something about his presence that seemed… genuine.

“Why are you here?” she asked.

He tapped a satchel he kept at his side. “I start every travel vacation by climbing to the highest spot I can find and drawing places that look interesting. Then I go there.”

“Not much of anything interesting here.”

“I wouldn’t say that. I’ve found no shortage of conversation, and if you run off I can take my chances with the tree.”

She chuckled at that, and Raymond’s eyes lit up. “I’m not sure you’ll get very far,” she said.

“Oh, I don’t expect to. Trees aren’t known for their love of long walks.”

“You talk almost as if you have quip for everything I say.”

“I do. I keep a small journal at home of every possible sentence a stranger might say to me, and I’ve written and memorized a response for each. It’s a lot of work, I admit.”

“I can’t imagine that leaves much time for anything else,” she reasoned.

He waved it off. “It was just a long weekend for me. Now, if you don’t mind me asking, what were you doing up here?”

Merideth looked back out to the horizon to watch as the last shred of light dipped beneath the skyline. She thought about telling him the truth, but he wouldn’t believe it. Nobody could, without seeing it. Still, she couldn’t outright lie.

“I was… planning on a chat. With someone I haven’t seen for a long time.”

His face grew more serious. “You weren’t talking to the tree.”

She looked back at the tree that served as the invisible grave marker, wiping away a tear. “No, I wasn’t.”

Another breeze went by and the cold flooded through her body. Before she knew it Raymond’s coat was wrapped around her and the frigid air was staved off.

“I’m sorry for interrupting you,” he said. “I had no idea.”

“It’s alright. You really are charming.”

“That’s nice of you to say, but in my ignorance I’ve been terribly rude. You can keep the coat as my apology. It was a pleasure to meet you.” He was already moving towards the direction he’d come, and Merideth was hit with several emotions she couldn’t immediately place.

“How about coffee?” she called after him.

“I’m sorry?” he turned.

“Let’s do this properly tomorrow, yeah? I’ll buy you a coffee and return your coat.”

He smiled and nodded. “I’d like that very much, Merideth. Have a good night.”

 

 

(Not as faithful to the prompt as I usually am, but hey, the story wanted to go it’s own way. I think it turned out all the better for it.)

Prompt: https://megatruh.deviantart.com/art/garden-in-the-sky-726244864

garden_in_the_sky_by_megatruh-dc0dy4g

Me — Taking a Fiction Break!

Hey, everyone. I have a few news things to share. The most important thing on that list is the fact that I’m just burnt out. I would have mentioned this last week but I’ve only decided this in the last few days.

Finals are coming up soon, and I recently just got a new job on top of that (more details on that maybe soonish, because nothing is set in stone). I’ve stated my intentions to write Lisa 4 ahead of schedule several times, but I still haven’t even picked up Lisa 3 in over a week now, and I have no drive to continue, either. It’s a shame, yes, but writing 3,000 words of fiction a week is just not sustainable in my current mindset. I think forcing myself to write that much when I’m not in love with the words I’m producing is a bad move when I’ve already got so many other things going on.

There are also glaring flaws with the entire concept surrounding Lisa Stenton, and it mostly ties to the fact that it’s modern day. Flaws such as “where are all the cellphones and social media and whatnot” when I don’t want to make that a part of the story. Yet neither do I want to say that “technology doesn’t work around magic” like every other urban fantasy story, because that just makes things easy.

That said, I do still plan on continuing Lisa Stenton. It just won’t end up being one per month like I had hoped. I’m going to finish Lisa 3 when I stop feeling burnt out, and then maybe Lisa 4 after that. Now, in the past (November and December), I had taken a break from my blog and only posted Spear Gate excerpts once a week. I’m going to do the opposite this time. Only blog stuff: Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I might still do Friday flash fiction pieces, but I’ll reserve the right to skip it, too.

Funny thing is, I’m not going through a rough time right now. In fact, I’m the happiest I’ve been in a while. That’s also sort of how I know I need to take a break from writing. Writing isn’t simply hard because I’m depressed/down/whatever. Writing is hard only because I’m very busy and I’m not currently in love with any of my projects.

Actually, I am very interested in two writing projects. But those are personal, and will (probably) never see the light of day, because while this blog is still more for me than anyone else and I’m very open about my personal thoughts and plans, there are still necessarily things that are best kept to myself.

Good news is on the horizon, though. And as something entirely unrelated, I placed in Diamond 4 in the ranked play of Heroes of the Storm, which is higher than I’ve ever been. I’m actually pretty confident that if I wasn’t going to school and could devote 4+ hours a day to it, I could play semi-competitively. Well, not competitively, obviously, but I like striving to be the best in everything I do. (For perspective, Diamond is in the top 8%-ish of players. The tier after that is “Master”, which is the top 1%. A little research pretty much states that the difference of these two ranks is more commitment than skill based.)

So, my apologies for the break in fiction. Don’t worry, though, I don’t intend this to last more than a month or two.

Lisa Stenton — Lighting the Lackluster Lamp (Pt. 2/3)

“I’m a little new to this whole ‘magic is real’ thing,” I said.

“Are you now?” Cara smirked. “Well, looks like we’ve got lots to catch up on.”

“Maybe we should both be sitting, then.” A glance towards the couch full of unfolded clean laundry told me that wasn’t an option. We went into my bedroom instead.

Unfortunately, my bed was only marginally better.

“Sorry about all the mess,” I grumbled, grabbing a dirty bowl and bag of oreos from my bed and putting them on the nightstand.

She elbowed me in the rib before sitting down in the now clear spot. “I knew there had to be a reason we only ever hung out at my place.”

“Well, yeah. Plus we couldn’t exactly pick on your little brother if we were at my house.”

Cara laughed. “It’s the solemn duty of the older sibling to bring their friends over and harass the younger one.”

“Especially when that friend is an only child.” I laid down on the other side of the bed, which she took as a cue to do the same. “How is he, by the way?”

“Oh, Bax is great. Sophomore in high school now. Same age we were when we started dating. He’s still a big nerd, unfortunately, but I managed to get him on the lacrosse team. I told him it’s a good way to meet girls.” She looked at me and winked.

“I wouldn’t advise him to introduce himself the same way we met. That bump never went away, by the way.” I rubbed the back of my head in the familiar spot.

She rolled her eyes. “How many times are you going to make me apologize for that?”

“Oh, I forgave you years ago. But it’s still funny. You’re not going to live that down anytime soon.”

She jabbed me in the gauze hard enough to hurt, but still in jest. “Didn’t you have a bunch of supernatural questions you wanted to ask?”

“I did, it’s just… You know, when I recognized you back in the Passway, I expected this conversation to be a lot more awkward.”

She nodded. “Yeah, me too.” The moment passed, and she sat up with her legs crossed. “So anyways, like I said, most humans are born Wizened. It’s sort of like how you tell your kid that Santa Claus is real, only you then go to Santa Claus’ house for Christmas. It’s s—”

“Wait,” I interrupted. “Santa Claus is real?”

She laughed again. “No, no, no. It’s just an example. You tell your kids fairy tales, only when you grow up in a Wizened family, they tell you true stories. Most Wizened people belong to guilds that serve different purposes. Some are mercenaries, some are intermediaries, some are commerce oriented, that sort of thing. So since you’re born into being Wizened, most people are also born into their guilds.”

“Hold on for a second. Every person I’ve met in the supernatural has used the term ‘Wizened’. What does that mean exactly?”

“Oh, that’s just any person that is aware of and involved in the supernatural community. It pretty much exclusively refers to humans, because obviously faeries and goblins and whatnot are, you know… supernatural.”

“I’ve never met any of those. Only Doc.”

“Only what?”

“Doc?” I called, raising my voice. “You here, buddy?”

“Yes…” his little voice replied. The little blue spirit crawled out from underneath my side of the bed. “Sleeping…”

“You sleep?”

“Don’t… know. Maybe?”

I lowered my hand to the ground and he hopped onto it. His little feet felt like ice cubes without the wetness, and I lifted him onto the bed with us.

“What the hell? You have a pet leech?” Cara asked, making a face.

“A what?”

She folded her arms. “That’s a leech. Basically spirits that have lost so much of their humanity they’re dumber than a wolf hunting a squirrel.”

“What’s wrong with that? We can’t all be smart. Plus, I think he’s cute.”

“They obsess over humans because they miss being alive, so they crave attention and human interaction. That’s pretty much all they know once they get to that stage. You keeping one as a pet is like feeding a rat that lives in your home instead of exterminating it.”

“I think that’s a little harsh, don’t you Doc?”

“Hmm… Harsh,” he nodded before lying down on the bed like a snow angel.

“Besides,” I added. “He’s taught me lots about the supernatural, since nobody else would.” I couldn’t think of any examples off the top of my head, but he had taught me… some things. I was sure of it.

“Well, it’s extremely rare that some random person just becomes Wizened,” she said. “You can’t even see spirits like him until you are. How’d you do it?”

“Funny story,” I said. “This guy walked into my apartment through my closet one day.”

“Your Passway?” she offered.

“Yeah, but I didn’t know it was there, obviously. He had a dog mask on his face and was looking for my mom. He gave me that magic Sharpie.”

Her eyebrows raised at that. “Black and white robes? Tall and gangly? Looks like a grim reaper wannabe?”

“You know him?”

“Oh, that’s one of the guilds I mentioned earlier. They’re called the Scavengers. They’re sort of like the black market of the Wizened world. There’s two things that are really weird about that story.”

“What’s that?”

“Well, first is that he knew your mom. That means she’s Wizened. And didn’t tell you about the supernatural world.”

“Yeah, I got that far. My parents moved to London several months ago, though, and this Scavenger guy thing happened only like last month. I’ve tried contacting her, but she’s been even harder to reach than usual.”

“That part’s not surprising,” she said. “Magical beings don’t like technology. Lots of liasons to the supernatural world are practically Amish. But anyways, second important thing. He gave you that Sharpie? No deal, no contract, no money?”

“Nope. Just told me to give it to my mom next time I see her.”

“That’s weird. A magical artifact like that is bound to be insanely expensive. I wonder why he gave it to you. He must have owed your mom a huge favor or something. Or maybe it’s cursed.”

I paled at that. “What would that mean?”

She shrugged. “Dunno, could mean a lot of things. Maybe after a while it’ll start using your blood instead of normal ink, and it will slowly, bit by bit, start consuming your soul.”

I gulped, looking back to the nightstand where the Sharpie sat. Such a powerful object, yet such a high price.

But when I turned back to Cara, I could see her stifling laughter.

She got a pillow to the face.

“You’re such a jerk,” I said.

“Yeah, well, you know. Oh. Actually, there’s three weird things about your story.”

“Go on?”

“Where did your door to the Passway come from? They’re usually made by the Locksmiths, which is another Wizened guild. And they have real, magic locks on them, not like your dumb padlock.”

“Hey, I did what I could!”

“Sure, it works for weaker stuff, but if a vampire sees a door without a proper lock on it, you’re screwed.”

“Well, that means I have to go find a Locksmith, right?”

“Sure, but that doesn’t answer the question. This guy. This Scavenger came into your apartment through the Passway. Before you bought a lock for it, your door was completely free to be opened at any time. It was only a matter of time before something came through, you were just lucky enough to have it not want to eat you. But it begs the question of how long that door was there, and who put it there.”

Lisa Stenton — Lighting the Lackluster Lamp (Pt. 1/3)

I didn’t want to die. I hadn’t really been worried about the possibility until the lake of lava about a month ago. But since then it had become a near daily concern.

Rarely though, was that concern as immediate as it was now, being marauded by almost a dozen demon skeletons.

“Back!” I yelled, magic red Sharpie sword in hand. No words came out, of course. The Passway was as eerily silent as it always was.

The skeletons did not relent. They stalked towards me as a pack of wolves surrounding a squirrel. Do wolves and squirrels live in the same ecosystem? Wouldn’t they fight over who got to eat it? Bad analogy I guess. You’ll have to forgive me for that one. Not dying was a more immediate concern than being clever.

I swung my sword out, and they took a step back. Not afraid, but at least they knew I was a threat, glowing red eyes seething hatred as they watched.

“You know, I’ve never enjoyed the stereotype of the damsel in distress,” I said. “But I’ll allow it this once, if you guys don’t mind waiting for my Prince Charming to show up.” Feeling my lips make the words brought some comfort at least.

One lunged for me. Swinging in panic, I brought the sword in between us, and the skeleton impaled itself. I might have screamed, but since I didn’t hear one it probably didn’t happen.

Relief washed over my face when I realized I was fine, but then it receded immediately. It was a skeleton. The sword had passed through all his ribs and he was now flailing his arms wildly at me.

“This is probably the grossest thing that’s ever happened to me,” I muttered, grimacing at the skewered thing swing like an overturned cockroach. Okay that analogy was much better. I could tell because I almost puked just thinking about it.

With a mustered force I shoved my foot right into his femur. It snapped in two with what I imagined to be a sickening crunch, and the demon skeleton collapsed to the floor.

Only eight more to go.

Seeing their brother-in-bones fall in combat sent them into a frenzy. They watched as his skull hit the ground and roared, glowy red essence spewing from the gaping holes of their mouths as, obviously, no sound came out. I bet it was terrifying. Bone-shattering, even.

They charged.

I swung, seriously hoping I would have the foresight to take swordplay classes in my next life.

A flash of red and silvery-blue, and a glimpse of something else caught my eye. Another person.

No time to look, though. I kept blocking and batting away claws and bites, staggering back into the wall of the Passway. Several blows hit their mark, and I could feel stinging pain on my arms, chest, and face as their hands clawed at me. It had never occurred to me how sharp phalanges could be. Especially demon skeleton phalanges.

Before I knew it, the skeletons were reduced to a pile of bones on the ground. The sole credit went to my rescuer, whose daggers seemed to be literally engulfed in flame and… ice? Once the threat was gone, the person directed me to sit with my back to the wall and gestured towards both directions of the Passway. Can’t sneak up on you if your back is to a wall, the person seemed to be implying.

I really was a damsel in distress now. To my dismay, though, it wasn’t Prince Charming that had saved me, but some girl that looked… really familiar, now that I thought about it. And she was staring at me.

Wait, I knew those eyes.

Carmen?” I mouthed, at the same time she mouthed “Lisa?”

That was ludicrous. Carmen was a guy. We dated back in high school before he moved away.

And now he was back. And female.

As soon as she realized I recognized her she averted my gaze, turning her attention to my wounds. She was untouched somehow, daggers safely tucked away at her hips. They hurt a lot more now that the danger and adrenaline had passed.

“You don’t happen to have any magic band-aids, do you?” I said. She was obviously just as deaf as I was here, but it was worth a shot.

I watched as she frowned in sympathy at the cuts on my arm, carefully avoiding inspection of my face and chest. There was no use in staying here, though. I grabbed her arm and pulled her up with me as I stood. When she looked up I motioned in a direction with my head. Back towards my apartment. She still seemed a bit uncomfortable by the situation, but nodded.

 

“I thought you moved,” I accused, frowning as she wrapped my bicep in gauze. We were in the dining room at the desk where I did my painting, with me sitting in the only chair. I held my breath and clenched my teeth as much as possible to keep her from seeing how much it really hurt.

“I did,” she said, as if she was conceding some well kept secret. “I still live in Oregon actually. It’s just pure coincidence that our doors to the Passway happen to be very close right now. How’s that?” she asked, patting my arm.

“It’s fine… A little tight, though.”

She looked up at me. “I can loosen it if you want.”

“No, it’s fine. I’ll be fine.”

She ignored me, loosening the wrapping and redoing it with less force. The affectionate warmth of her touch encroached into awkward territory as I found myself staring again. She was just so… different now.

“I… uh…” I sighed. Where to even start. “There are so many questions flowing through my head I don’t even know where to start. Carmen, it’s been so—”

“Cara.”

“What?”

“It’s Cara now,” she corrected.

“Isn’t Carmen a unisex name?” I asked. It’s not like I had a problem with that, it just seemed strange.

“I know, but it’s Cara now. Please. Can we not talk about that?”

I shrugged. “Alright, sorry.” It was quiet for another moment as we both avoided eye contact. “Can I ask one more question before we change the subject then?”

She looked into my eyes, and for that one moment I was back in high school, wishing that I had done everything differently. Wishing that I hadn’t made so many mistakes with her. She nodded.

“Is…” I paused, unsure of how to phrase it. I settled for gesturing at her general person. “Is this why you broke up with me?”

She nodded again, expecting the question. “It’s more complicated than that, but… yeah, I think so.”

“Alright.”

She finished up by closing the first aid kit and standing. “I’m sorry.”

I punched her in the arm.

“Ow! What the hell?”

And then hugged her.

“Thanks for probably saving my life,” I said.

It took a moment, but she hugged back, and all the tension in the room washed away. “Yeah. Any time.”

“In that case, could you maybe do it faster next time? I could have donated all that blood.”

“You donate blood?”

“Well, no. But I tried one time. They rejected me ‘cause I didn’t have enough iron.”

I broke the hug, and we locked eyes for another minute. There was something there that I couldn’t place, but it didn’t matter. Hers were the only eyes I felt comfortable looking into, and I was glad to know that that hadn’t changed.

The moment passed, and all the other questions came flooding back.

“Have you known about the supernatural this whole time?” I asked.

“Sure. Born into it, like most humans. You’re saying you weren’t?”

“Yeah, I’m a little new to this whole ‘magic is real’ thing,”

“Are you now?” she smirked. “Well, looks like we’ve got lots to catch up on.”