Safe Inside the Reaper’s Cloak...

Snow fell across the Chicago neighborhood. Acidic and tarnishing, the flakes punished paint jobs and stung exposed skin, keeping everyone inside on this blustery afternoon. History recorded times when children built battle forts and carrot-nosed men from the white flakes, throwing icy balls and stuffing them down each other’s shirts. Even teens my age had enjoyed the fun. I shook my head. A fantasy. Maybe two centuries ago, but not now. Brushing snow from my hood, I marched on through a drift. I couldn’t worry about a little pain. I had to follow the death alarm, even during a snowstorm. A tune reached my ears, riding on the swirling wind. The vibrating strings sounded melancholy, yet hopeful; a typical melody for Noah, the young musician who lived on this block. As street gossip had suggested, his sister Tanya must have generated the alarm. Her cystic fibrosis was, in all likelihood, flaring up again, and Noah was probably playing his cello to help her relax. I followed the tune to a porch with a sheltering overhang. After brushing snow from my hair-and-flax cloak, I knocked on the door. It flung open, revealing Noah, still holding his cello and bow. “Phoenix!” I offered a solemn nod. “Noah.” He waved a hand, a wide smile on his dark, pre-teen face. “Come in!” Keeping my hood raised and my expression serious, I followed him through a narrow hall into a living room. Tanya lay on a tattered sofa with her head propped up, plaited locks spilling across an orange pillow. She wheezed and gasped through every breath. “My job is to care for the souls in my district, both alive and dead.” Tanya’s mother knelt on the floor next to her, holding a compress on the little girl’s chest....

The Tale of the Ivory Tinderbox...

A violent blizzard howled and blew in the winter-besieged lands of Sumarak. In the valley of Mali Potok, a small hut sat high on a flat amidst the sloping terrain. Two Coquillites settled in to wait out the raging storm. The tortoise-like beasts were bundled in thick blankets in front of the comforting glow of the fireplace. The elder Coquillite, Sharlie Ezuchion, stood up and stirred the bubbling soup in a dingy black pot sitting over the fire. The other Coquillite, his grandson Gadgel, had just arrived after a long trek through the blizzard to visit on the eve of Ember’s Light. Gadgel shivered under the blankets, doing his best to rid the cold from his bones. “’Twere foolish of ya to come visit in this blasted blizzard,” scolded Sharlie, glancing over his spectacles. “’Twould take a bigger storm than this ta keep me from celebratin’ Ember’s Night with ya,” replied Gadgel, snuggling deeper into the comfortable chair. The young lad blew on his tea before taking a sip of the warming liquid. “Can ya tell me the story of how Ember’s Night came ta be again?” The elder Coquillite chucked, his long wisps of gray beard trembling from the laughter, and set the soup ladle aside as he sat down in the opposite armchair. “Oh, I suppose I could while the soup’s simmerin’.” Sharlie cleared his throat and began his tale. “Long ago, when the land were still young from hatchin’ from its egg, all the Coquillites only knew summer. All were warm, and the harvest came and went every month. But the Lady of the Winds, ha controls the warm winds and power over the storms, became displeased, for the Coquillites, in their comfort, forgot she gave them their harvest. Her heart...

Dungeons and Cookies

Dylan/Jeziel: All right, guys, I’m back. Gary/DM: Dude, thirty minutes for a bathroom break? Can we get back to the adventure now? Jake/Shade: Where were we? Logan/Mizzah: You’ve forgotten already? Jake/Shade: I got a little sleepy during Dylan’s quest to destroy another bathroom. I dreamt it was already Christmas morning. Gary/DM: Still Christmas Eve. Now, you are in the ice caves under Santa’s workshop. You’ve just reached a fork in the path. What do you want to do? Jake/Shade: I want to listen! Gary/DM: Roll for it. Jake/Shade: (crying) I rolled a one. Dylan/Jeziel: I told you to burn those dice and bury the ashes in the back yard. They’re cursed. Gary/DM: Your character has a problem with earwax buildup. He hears nothing. Jake/Shade: Can I try again? Gary/DM: Yep, at a minus five penalty. Jake/Shade: Ha! A twenty. Cursed? I don’t think so. Gary/DM: You clean out your ear and hear something down the right corridor. Jake/Shade: We’ll go towards the noise. Logan/Mizzah: Wait. Are you sure? What if Santa’s down the other direction? “They are discussing, in Drow, how to prepare Santa to sacrifice him to the spider queen.” Dylan/Jeziel: Then I guess the little children of the world can all blame Jake. Gary/DM: Guys, which way do you want to go? Jake/Shade: I go right! Logan/Mizzah: Fine. I follow. Dylan/Jeziel: Okay. Has my character eaten lately? I think he needs a snack break. *Crunching sound of gingerbread cookies being chowed down upon* Gary/DM: And where did Jeziel get those? Dylan/Jeziel: The last village we stopped at had a Krogers—buy ye one, get ye another free.” Gary/DM: I’ll allow it. Logan/Mizzah: Since you’re not going to share, can we get on with the game? Gary/DM: You hear voices. Jake/Shade: I hide in...

A Super Christmas

Mild-mannered Maggie burst out of her high-rise office building and slalomed through the pedestrians. Though she could hear an argument ten blocks away and easily zoom in to settle it, she tuned out the minor distractions to focus on her main objective. Checking her watch, she accounted for traffic conditions and weather and grinned. She was determined to make it home in time. “Oh, dear.” The small lament tugged at her as the streetlight changed for her to cross. Behind her, a heavily laden, elderly lady hobbled to make the light, but dropped one of her packages. Maggie sighed and went back to help the woman, who thanked her profusely as they crossed. Nodding, Maggie checked her watch again. She still had enough time. As she waited at the bus stop, a blur sped by her and grabbed the nearby Salvation Army bucket from underneath Santa’s nose. She cursed under her breath and sped after the jingling thief, not worrying how she looked running down the sidewalk in her tight-skirted suit and high heels. Apparently, everyone else was too involved in their own cellular worlds to care. Maggie’s blood boiled. Not on Christmas Day! “Gimme your wallet.” Maggie paused her pursuit at the all-too-familiar words of a mugging. She peered down an alley where a scrawny guy was pointing a gun at someone. Maggie shook her head. Really? She took off one of her heels and flung it at the fleeing felon, striking his hand before he rounded the corner. He dropped the collection bucket with a squeal, turned back to sneer at Maggie, then ran off as nearby citizens filmed him with their phones. Maggie hoped one of the bystanders had the sense to call the police. Dashing down the alley, she saw...

A Very Zyan Christmas...

Christmas is a time for peaceful moments and quiet reflection—like when you’re deciding what kind of liquor to use in your Holly Faery Berry cocktail. I considered my options: go with the old classics, or get extra festive with the ghoul-brewed moonshine that one of my clients had given me. Talk about a ho-ho-ho jolly good time. I’d just decided on the moonshine when my roommates rushed into our apartment. Quinn and Riley, my fellow bartenders/supernatural bounty hunters. “What’s got your jingle bells all in a tangle?” I asked, pouring a not-so-careful measure of ghoul liquor into my glass. “Zyan, have you been watching the news?” Riley asked, hands on his hips. “It’s madness out there!” “It’s Christmas. Madness is the reason for the season.” I swirled my glass, admiring my cherry red nail polish as I did so. The liquor let off a distinctive you’ll-regret-me-in-the-morning scent. Maybe a noteworthy warning for mere humans, which I was not. “We’re not talking about crazy crowds cursing each other over parking spots downtown,” Quinn said, her golden witch eyes huge. “We’re talking a bunch of supernatural Christmas legends wreaking havoc on the streets of Pikes Place.” I downed my shot of moonshine straight. “Sounds like my kinda Christmas.” Ten minutes later we jogged towards the market. I carried my katana unsheathed in one hand. Snow sprinkled down on us and crunched beneath my boots. After traveling a block in near silence, I stopped to look at Riley and Quinn. “I’m gonna be really pissed if you pulled me away from my cocktail for nothing.” No sooner had the words left my mouth than a maniacal laugh cut through the night. Something dark streaked across the white streets, an indistinguishable blur. Another laugh. The noise crawled on...