Tuesday Tidbit: Unsettled Hallowed Ground

Something is not right in St. Margaret of Scotland Episcopal Church . . .

Shadow went first, easing through the part-open door, Ears at his side. She and Rings followed, with the Hunter close behind. Beaker came last. Beaker closed the door behind them.

Empty. The church felt empty, sort of, almost as if the owner had removed all signs of personal presence. She looked toward the high altar. No light, no red candle, nothing. She reached up and touched Rings. “It wasn’t deconsecrated,” she half-asked.

“No,” he murmured. “But something—” He stopped and shifted his weight. “Under the organ loft.” They picked their way over to the spot. Shadow and Beaker stayed near the charred pile of something on the south side of the nave. Pisicagheara followed her, sniffing the air. “Here,” Rings said.

Lelia shifted fully to magic sight. She saw nothing. Ah. She turned to her boss. “Sir, would you please try the touchstone?”

Pisicagheara drew the cabochon Labradorite in its silver mount and chain from the pocket of his waistcoat and let it hang free. As he extended his arm, the faintest red glow grew on the blue and brown striped stone. Lelia went to one knee and Rings eased down to the floor. He sniffed, then began pawing at a small mound of debris and dirt. Pisicagheara crouched. The stone glowed angry red, still dull, like a half-spent coal. He said a word in his own language. Rings stopped digging long enough to answer. “Silver,” her boss breathed in English. “It hides yet in the oaken ash. Oak and thorn.” He sounded deadly certain.

She drew power as he tucked the touchstone back into hiding. “Now!” Rings hissed, jumping back from the ashes.

She slapped shadow magic and raw power over the nothing. Lux aeterna, lux argentumque,” she murmured, sliding silvery light under the darkness, filling the void with light and purity. “‘Fiat lux,’ et lux in tenebre lucet.” Let there be light, and light shone in the darkness.

Et tenebrae eam non comprehenderunt,” her boss finished. And the Darkness did not overcome it.

The emptiness filled, then shattered. She caught the pieces and poured more shadow over them. They too disappeared. Still more shadow, this flavored with sorcery power, flowed around her and she pulled her own magic back. Most went to Rings. She sensed Beaker doing something complicated, then withdrawing his power as well. “That was interesting,” the sorcerer of shadow observed. He sounded a little angry and a touch winded. He and Shadow now stood behind her.

“Yesssssss,” Rings hissed. “The physical link remains, melted to the stone.”

Beaker took a deep breath. “Should it be removed?”

Lelia shook her head and regretted it as the world jiggled. “No. Rings and I sealed it. A blessing will be needed, nothing more.” She tried to stand and did, almost.

Pisicagheara and Shadow both caught her before she fell. “What did she eat?” her boss demanded of Shadow once they got her to an undamaged pew and she sat.

“Not enough, sir,” came the clipped reply. “I’ll see to Rings. Make her eat all of the trail mix, please, sir.”

She ate all of it before her boss could say a word. He stood, looking, sniffing the air. Or so she guessed. “The absence is gone,” he observed, the slightest hint of accent in his words.

Shadow plunked Rings down beside her. “That’s where the bael-fire was the hottest, or so Beaker says. The fire marshal and Wizard are ninety percent certain that it didn’t damage the physical structure of the church. The regular fire did that.” Shadow sounded less than convinced.

“But bael-flame would prevent anyone from approaching the true flame until sufficient damage had been done.” Pisicagheara looked to the north side of the nave. “Shadow. What see you under the St. Cuthbert window?”

Shadow turned, looked, and made an odd gesture with his right hand. Pisicagheara half-spoke, half-hummed. Both men, and Ears, went that direction. Rings flopped against her, pinning her to the wooden pew for the moment. She got him water, and drank one herself. Magic moved, shadow power, and she saw a bit of red glow in the darkness. The glow faded.

“They found more.” She drew a tiny thread of power from the night to herself, and “tasted” the magic and the building.

“Yes.” Rings shifted and sat up.

The lack of presence. She no longer felt it. “God’s back. No that’s not right,” she said before he clawed her or something. “But it feels safer again, safer than outside.”

Vocatus atque non vocatus Deus aderit.” Rings quoted, “Bidden or not bidden, God is present.” His voice had grown deeper, heavier with age and almost wild. “What masked the Presence has been lifted. The consecration remains.” He shook, then reached over and left a pale, ashy paw print on her skirt.

“You—! Why—? Naughty lemur, naughty!” Lelia sighed as loudly as she could as Beaker approached. “That was uncalled for, unkind, and uncivilized.”

Thppppth and lemur snickers came in reply.

Beaker had been comparing his notepad with images on a flat digital camera. At the sound of snickers, he stopped. “I should be worried. When Tik-Tik giggles, Defender’s about to be in trouble. Or Tik-Tik is.”

“MaaaaAAAAAAAaaaaybe,” Rings giggled, then subsided.

Shadow and Pisicagheara returned. ” . . . I recognized it too. Draku told me of such, and showed an illusion, but not a true one,” Shadow said.

“You don’t make one of those just to have around as a horrible warning, boss,” Ears groaned. “Someone went to a lot of work.”

“Yes, because to make such without blood-path work requires abyssal aid, or so I have heard it said.” Pisicagheara scowled. Lelia hid her shiver and spiking sense of dread by getting two more bottles of water out of the bag and offering him one. “Thank you.” He took it and drank without looking.

“Defender and I should be the only ones who have the skills to make that, and neither of us did it.” Shadow scowled as well, then took a water.

“Make what?” Lelia heard no inflection or emotion in Beaker’s voice.

“A type of charm spell called ‘Agni’s dance.’ At least that’s what my instructor called it. It is a fire-related charm, used to seek out and burn certain classes of item if you don’t know anything more specific. Um,” Shadow paused and drank more. “Like ‘old French book’ if you don’t know which book by title, or weren’t certain if the target would even be present in the first place.”

Kit tapped the notebook with one square, solid finger. “That’s so open-ended it must take a huge power reserve. Worse than cat-trap-class patterns.” He put the notebook back into his jacket pocket. “My head hurts imagining it.”

Rodney nodded so emphatically that his ears flapped. “Which is why no one does it unless they are blood-path, or have an outside assist. Maybe a coven could do one if they’d been banking power, but Shadow’s instructor had never heard of that being done.” Lelia and Tay groaned in unison, and Rodney added, “What they said.”

“What else was here?” Arthur inquired. He dropped the empty bottle. Lelia caught it and did not sigh. “Why set the charms there,” he gestured toward the north wall, then under the organ loft, “and not the altar or chapel?”

Kit held up one finger and disappeared into the shadows. Arthur and André had a quick conversation in the Clan’s speech, with some long German words tossed in. Lelia recognized two of the long words as spell classes, and made a face. Tay eased over an inch or two and she stood. The world didn’t sway. Kit returned with Merddyn and Rosie.

” . . . You’ll have to aske Fr. Garibay, but in general, a display of old books and artifacts from church history. The display frames and tables were up, but the objects didn’t get here yet.” Merddyn removed his hat as he walked. “Rosie, do you recall why?”

The huge skunk’s nose twitched. “Ah, that is, I think that some of the items went to a museum for a special show, and that the rest were locked up until the batch returned? Maybe?”

Before any of the humans could speak, Lelia sensed cold, like malign ice, flowing from the stones of the nave. It oozed up just in front of the altar, between the lower step and the golden oak kneeling rail. All three Familiars turned and launched, racing toward the coldness. The three mages followed, Pisicagheara right behind.

(C) 2022 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved

The draft of Overly Familiar is finished and is resting. I hope to release it in August.

Memorial Day, Decoration Day

This year, 2022, Memorial Day’s observance falls on Memorial Day (actual), May 30. The United States did not have a day set aside to honor war dead until after the Civil War/War Between the States. Because so many families lost sons, fathers, husbands, brothers, the Grand Army of the Republic (northern veterans’ organization) pushed for a day to be set aside. On May 30, 1868, then US Representative James A. Garfield – a veteran – spoke these words:

Thousands of soldiers are to-day turning aside in the march of life to visit the silent encampments of dead comrades who once fought by their side. From many thousand homes, whose light was put out when a soldier fell, there go forth to-day to join these solemn processions loving kindred and friends, from whose heart the shadow of grief will never be lifted till the light of the eternal world dawns upon them.”

The cover of what I suspect was a little history or civics book. Creative Commons fair use. Original source: https://lauriegauger.blogspot.com/2020/05/happy-decoration-day.html

He was at the then-new Arlington National Cemetery. Some in the South had already selected a different date, April 26, to use. However, after 1898, May 30 became the common date in all states. In 1971 Congress changed things so that federal employees got three-day weekends, and Memorial Day was shifted to the last Monday in May. Some people still do not care for this, or for the commercialization and loss of focus that followed.

As my readers know, this is not Veterans Day, or July 4. It is to remember the dead. Celebrate life, enjoy time with family, friends, and comrades, but we should not forget those who never came home.

The YouTube video is John Williams “Hymn to the Fallen” from Saving Private Ryan. The images are of memorials, and US and Allied military cemeteries around the world.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Omd9_FJnerY

Below are links to two history sites with more information:

https://www.military.com/holidays/memorial-day/how-decoration-day-became-memorial-day.html

https://time.com/4750347/confederate-memorial-day-history/

Character Creation: An Exercise

I used to DM RPGs. Or translated into English, I was a Dungeon Master (aka Game Master) for table-top role-playing games. Part of this role [roll?] includes developing non-player characters that are still interesting/challenging/terrifying for the players to deal with. And then trying to figure out what to do next when players went in a totally different direction than planned, within the constraints of their roles.

Sounds a lot like writing fiction, doesn’t it, for certain writing styles?

Since all monsters, magical or high tech gizmos, aliens, armor, weapons, and beasts within a gaming system have certain fixed characteristics the DM/GM and players have to deal with, dice are used to determine outcomes from actions. Dice are also used to create characters, drawing from a roster of strengths, weaknesses, and so on. I recently went back to this when I was trying to kick my mind out of a bit of a writing and imagination rut. I needed to do something creative but different that was NOT writing or working on a craft project. Out came a gaming book, and the dice.

I’m going to be rather vague here, because I don’t know which if any RPG systems you have access to. The idea is more “here’s something you can do to stimulated little grey cells to creativity” rather than a hard-and-fast exercise. So here’s an old character creation sheet from the first run of D&D™:

Used under Creative Commons Fair Use. Original Source: A Weebley that won’t allow me time to copy the URL. Sorry.

The one below is for a more modern game:

From: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/425238389818625587/

Now, these are both from fantasy worlds, where you choose your species (dwarf, elf, human, half-elf, and so on) and your general character type (ranger, thief, barbarian, adventurer, bard, cleric, . . .).

Again from Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/315181673918192620/

They all are based on characters going places and doing things. To my knowledge there’s not a “farmer” or “archivist” player character in the original D&D, but I could be wrong. Someone has probably found a way to do it. The point being, you see characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses. The dice make it either fun or challenging, depending on how you look at it. There are also sci-fi based games, like the Dr. Who set that I have under my bed, and more modern ones.

https://www.d20pfsrd.com/basics-ability-scores/character-creation/

As a writer, let’s say I want to challenge myself with a character I don’t design on my own – make myself work, but not borrow from another author. So, using Ravenloft™ world-data for D&D™ I start with a damphir artisan lawful neutral. My dice rolls *clatter clatter clatter* Hmm. This character is easily startled but not a coward, is an adrenaline junkie [I hear player groans], lost someone he cares about but still sees them in visions and recurring dreams, and needs to see the best in people even if that means ignoring actual malice [more groans from the team]. This character fled into the Mist to get away from something haunting him, and cannot rest. Since this is a horror-based game, you can see that there’s lot to work with, even if I as a writer will have my work cut out for me. Is this a good or a bad person? Well lawful neutral, so more like a person trying to stay out of sight, not battling evil but not seeking to cause active harm, either.

I’d probably try this with a short story or a scene first, because it’s going to be a challenge, and I do have other things I’m supposed to be working on. But the goal is to force you, the writer, out of your mental comfort zone. How would you work with a “not my usual” character? What sort of world would develop around him, her, it, your-guess-is-as-good-as-mine?

Copyright: D&D, Dungeons and Dragons, Ravenloft are all (C) Wizards of the Coast LLC, 2021.

Warm and Cool Voices

One of the intriguing things about the human voice is the sense of “color” that voices can convey. Vocalists, and some instrumentalists as well, talk about warm and cool sounds, or dark and bright sounds. It has to do with the depth and shading of the tones involved. A warm or dark tone sounds richer, with more harmonic shading while still holding a single note. A cool or bright tone tends to be clearer, with fewer overtones or less vibrato shading the pitch. Older singers often have richer, darker voices, but this is not always true [waves paw]. Certain instruments have darker “voices,” and organs can be registered for a bright or dark tone, depending on the stops chosen.*

I was thinking about this as I listened to a recording of a Spiritual that one of my choirs is considering doing. Here’s the recording:

Both the women’s section in general, and the soloist in particular, have a very dark, warm tone, especially for such a young choir. Many Spirituals and Gospel songs require a darker vocal tone, a mature voice that fits the emotions and depths of the song. (This carries over to R&B as well, where older women vocalists are preferred to younger ones. It’s probably the only place in pop music where this is true.)

Renaissance and madrigals, and some Baroque and classical music, demands a purer tone, either to keep the slight pitch variations of vibrato from interfering with the actual notes, or because of the tight harmonics. Or because they were written for boy sopranos or castratos, and so just don’t work with a darker voice. It is hard for someone with a fully developed voice to keep all vibrato and color out of his or her voice, although men in falsetto come close. The easiest way is to tense the vocal cords, which strains the voice and interferes with tone quality. Try doing that for an hour – or better, don’t do that in the first place. Mozart’s choral works, Handel, Hayden, Bach, Scarlatti, Vittoria, they all need clearer voices that blend well, especially in the quieter passages. Solos often do better with a darker voice, but not always.

Some of us have naturally lighter vocal colors. My voice is somewhat warm, but very clear, because I damaged my vocal cords when I was a teenager. (Sopranos should not try to sing tenor at full volume. Bad things happen to the vocal instrument.) My voice remained a “boy choir” voice until I was in my mid-thirties, and even today I have no vibrato to speak of. I can blend with pretty much any other voice. This makes me in high demand for Renaissance music, and as a choral-support singer. I can’t do the great soprano solos, even when they are in my range, because I sound “funny” compared to a woman with a truly developed, darker voice.

MomRed’s voice is like warm cinnamon bread with raisins, or was when she was in her prime. She’d be ideal for the solo in “In the Cool of the Day.” It was a dark, rich voice perfect for lullabys, Spirituals, and other roles. I wanted a voice like that. I’m smaller than Mom (strike one), built more like Dad (a tenor. Strike two), and then had the vocal damage (strike three). So I sing boy-choir solos and Renaissance and folk music.

*Within the constraints of the instrument. A Bach organ, or French Romantic, or Spanish Baroque, will sound very different, and some pieces won’t work as well on each one. Older instruments tend to be brighter and “buzzier,” in pert because of technologies at the time, in part because of sound preferences from different places and cultures.

Overheard in the Halls: Part Thirty-Four

Young Student [somewhat nervous]: So, um, what’s *mumble mumble* like?

Laconic Sophomore: Not bad.

Y.S.: Um, but I heard that, well, hard case?

L.S.: Only if you ask for it. [significant pause] You know, like that one class did.

Y.S. [much relieved]: Oooooohhh. Got it!

********

Sr. Scholastica [Aka the Dean]: So, Slow Senor, Silly Senior, and Skeptical Senior all need to take the final?

Me: Yes. Slow had too many absences, Silly’s GPA is below the threshold, and Skeptical wants to bump her grade if she can.

Sr. Scholastica [over reading glasses]: Skeptical wants to take a final exam, of her own free will, to raise her grade?

Me [hands raised]: Yes, Sister. I believe this is one of the signs of the end times?

Sr. Scholastica: I’ll have to confirm with Fr. Gonzales, but I believe it is.

*********

I am passing through the commons after making copies. Jaundiced Junior looks up from his sprawl in one of the lounge-ish chairs.

J.J.: Miss Red, is it true that Poland once invaded Russia?

Me: Yes, in 1603, during the Time of Troubles. Poland-Lithuania got about a quarter of western Russia.

J.J.: That explains a lot! Thanks, Miss Red.

*********

As seen on the Fridge of Wisdom. Just below it:
********

Me: Any further questions?

A hand waves frantically from the end of the second row.

Me: Yes? [trying not to sound impatient]

Frosted Freshman [sounding impatient]: Miss Red, if this is from Chapter Three, and that was last semester, why is it on this semester’s test?

Me: Because Confucian culture, filial piety, and the Mandate of Heaven come up every time we discuss China.

F. F. [sulking]: Oh.

The rest of the class glares at Frosted.

Me: Any other questions?

F.F. [looks up from his paper in great haste]: Can we go over number ten again?

Rest of class: Basso profundo growl.

Me: No, I’m sorry, but we need to move on. Please ask one of your classmates for the answer. So, number fifty-two. . .

*******

The last faculty meeting concludes, the fridges have been emptied and exorcised, and all books and grades are accounted for . . .

Catch us if you can!

. . . and the faculty disperse until August first.

Tuesday Tidbit: Preparing for Trouble

In which our protagonists contemplate the mayhem waiting in St. Margaret of Scotland. . . .

Monday evening, André returned Deborah’s phone. “The next time, it will be permanent.”

She gulped. “Yes, sir.”

“However, you are not getting the minivan keys back. Because it is going to be replaced.” He wrinkled his nose. “I can’t find parts for the engine that don’t cost more than the thing’s worth, and that’s wholesale. And I’m not dropping the engine and replacing it with a racing engine.”

Confusion surrounded Deborah like a cloud. “Who—? Wait, Hi wanted to do that?” Her voice went up at least an octave. “Race the minivan?”

Lelia flapped the dishtowel at her husband’s Familiar, who briefly sported a faint halo illusion. “Yes. Egged on by a certain Familiar who is not a lemur.”

“Yeah. I wanted him to cut the top off and turn it into a Vannagan or a camper van so I could go to that safari park in Ohio,” Tay grumped.

Confusion flipped to a horror. Deborah made warding-off gestures from at least two different cultures. Lelia felt inclined to agree. The prospect of Tay and Rodney on a road trip . . .

“Ahem,” André gave all of them a sour look. He began counting on his fingers. “Deborah, do not abuse the phone. I will take you to school, or your mother will. As soon as your mother knows her schedule, she will see about picking you up, or you will need to carpool. We’ll cover gas for carpool.” After four he stopped, looked up through his forelock at the ceiling, then remembered. “Oh, yes. The minivan will be replaced with something used, safe, and dull.” He pushed the forelock back out of the way.

Deborah and both Familiars drooped. “Hey, I bet we can find a sports car in primer. That’s a dull finish!” Rodney exclaimed. He and Tay raced from the kitchen, no doubt intent on mayhem. Deborah followed. Her parents sighed.

Lelia gave her husband a sympathetic look. “I’d suggest swapping them for Rosie, plus their food to make up the weight difference, but the Jones know them already.”

“Dark my lady, I fear every magic worker on the planet knows of them, and gives thanks to whichever deity they do or don’t follow that they are not us.” André held up one finger. “Except Mike. He’d offer to trade.”

It was her turn to make warding-off gestures. He gave her an evil smile, then followed the others into the living room. As she started heating water for tea and getting popcorn-making things assembled, she heard his voice. “I have no problem with that sports car. No, the second one, with the custom flame paintjob.”

“But boss, it doesn’t have an engine, and it’s not for sale!” Rodney’s protest echoed down the hallway.

“Which is why I have no problem with it.”

And the rental agreement doesn’t allow lawn ornaments in public view. Why someone would want lawn ornaments not in public view had always puzzled Lelia, but she shrugged and measured oil into the popcorn pan. There was always “that one guy” or gal.

André took Deborah to school the next morning. “You are going to sleep in,” he’d told Lelia the night before. “I’m serious. Because I’m not going in to Fernandez Auto-Mods until after ten on Wednesday, so you will have to take Deborah to school that morning.”

Love, you are working too hard. After so long, she’d stopped trying to persuade him to slow down. “Yes, dear.”

“You agreed without protest. I should be worried.” She’d kissed him, ending the discussion.

Now Lelia hunted through the big freezer in the garage, looking for aging meat and anything with freezer burn. “What? Mystery meat soup it is.” She straightened up, a package of meatus unknownius in one hand and a large freezer bag of veggie blend in the other. The mixed chopped vegetables dated to fall, three years before. “You thought you’d hidden yourself, but I win,” she informed the package as she bore it in triumph into the kitchen.

“Normal people don’t talk to frozen food,” Tay observed from the hall doorway. She gave him a firm look. “As I said.” She shook the paper-wrapped chub at him.

The mystery meat proved to be sausage. She added a hand-full of rice to the soup, stirred it, then retreated to the living room to look for a book. “Tay, do you remember if André’s book about finding spell elements is in the locked case or in with the others?”

“No, yes.” She glared over her shoulder at his nest, and the lemur tail dangling over the edge of his nest. “Meaning no, it is in the general case now. He moved it once both Mrs. Schmidt and Mistress Cimbrissa said Deborah needed to know how to identify and locate spell-associated injuries.” He moved, or at least the silvery-white tail moved. “Not my fault if my mage is imprecise.”

“Thanks, Delphic oracle,” she muttered as she hunted through the titles, tomes, and pamphlets until she found the correct book. The black spine stood out from among the green and light-brown herbals and plant books. Lelia pulled it off the shelf and set it on the couch. She went back to the kitchen to get some water before she settled in to read.

She skimmed the introduction and the usual warnings and cautions. “Right, as if we ever have time for that.” Setting up a full circle, shielded, and wards, and a pattern to warn off Elementals if needed? Maybe Kit had the resources and time, since he tended to work after the excitement was over. Mages in general, shadow mages in particular, did everything on the fly, or so it felt. “Probably just as well.”

Tay climbed down the carpeted lemur tree and sashayed over to the couch. She felt orange eyes staring up at her. “What’s just as well?” he asked before jumping onto the couch to flop against her.

“Not getting the time to think and prepare before we tackle trouble, most of the time.” She turned a few pages, then drank a third of her water. “This bit is about how to shield so that it won’t interfere with looking for evidence of spells.”

Her Familiar wiggled a little, then sighed. “You do think and prepare, just not the way she’s writing about. You and Shadow are always thinking about ‘what if someone attacks now? What if she is a shoplifter? What if Pisicagheara needs back-up?’ It’s just not surface-level anymore. Do you consciously find all the doors in a club or store?”

“No, I just do. You never know.” They’d had to use the last-ditch exit at Two Bats once, and she’d fled the grocery store out the back once, when that gal pepper-sprayed, then attacked the checker she thought had stolen her husband. “But point acknowledged.”

Two chapters later, just before she threw the book down on the cushion on frustration, Lelia found what she needed. “OK, here we go.” She read under her breath, then stopped. “So, in Lelia-English, since I know what Beaker and Spots, Shadow, and I already did, and since we were the only ones casting spells that had effects inside St. Margaret’s, Shadow and I should be able to sift out things that taste like shadow-magic. Anything else is what we’re looking for, since Beaker will be with us, and he can identify his own work.”

Tay nodded. “Right. You know Spots’ magic as well. Pisicagheara will probably be more help than Beaker. Beaker, well,” the silver-bleached round ears twitched, and Tay sniffed. “Yeah. He’s not used to excluding spells. He can tune them out once he identifies things, but if things are as messy magically as Shadow is thinking, Beaker will miss subtle, even blood-path subtle.”

“And blood-path can be subtle. It’s usually not, but it can be.” I don’t want to have to track down a subtle blood-path worker. I’m not that patient. She leaned forward and tapped the wood of the coffee table, just in case. Then she turned back a few pages. “This spell,” she tapped it, then turned the book so Tay could read. “Can Pisicagheara use the touchstone even if Shadow or I’m working this one?”

Tay nodded vigorously. “Oh yeah. That’s usually how it’s done, with the Hunters. Raabe and Imperotessa are working magic through either Pisicagheara or the Senior Hunter, or another clan magic worker is doing her thing, while the Hunters use a touchstone to confirm what needs to be dealt with. Outside spells don’t effect the touchstone unless they are being used against the stone’s owner. Owners in this case.”

“That makes sense. The stone can’t hold magic, because Labradorite leaks too badly, and the mount is silver shielded with silk, and kept in silk.” She’d never seen the Senior Hunter use the touchstone, but she’d never Hunted with him alone, only with Arthur as well as Arthur’s brother. She nodded, then went back to her earlier place, and finished the chapter, and the next. “OK, I think I know what to do, besides supporting Shadow and Pisicagheara, and trying to keep Rodney from tracking ash all over the pickup, if there’s still ash in the church.”

Tay leaned away from her, orange eyes wide, and pointed at his chest with one paw. “Are you insinuating that my associate would deliberately track something onto a black fabric interior?”

“Insinuate? No.” She stood and set the book on the coffee table. “Observe, remember, and anticipate? Oh heck yes.”

“Um, yeah. And this is Rodney, so he’ll probably get his brush full of ashes, too.” Tay sounded resigned. “Rich would just roll in everything and leave paw prints on the ceiling beams.”

Do I hear envy? La, la, la don’t even think about it! Too late—she had a momentary vision of Tay cavorting in the Gothic arches and beams of the ceiling. She took her glass to the kitchen for a refill, and so she could stir the soup. She added a small dollop of minced garlic, then girded her loins and armed herself to scrub bathrooms.

That night, André helped her into the pickup. “I told Deborah that if we’re not back by ten, she’d better be in bed when we do get home.” He made certain that they had both recharge bags, plus the truck bag, then closed the door. “She was working on geometry proofs.”

Lelia made a face, tongue stuck out, nose squnched up. “Ick. That’s when I bailed out on school.” Granted, the cultural flip from Catholic to hard-core Protestant hadn’t helped matters. She’d gotten her GED later, as part of her probation terms.

Her husband gave her a patient look, then turned his attention to driving. Their Familiars stayed quiet. Riverton had suffered a wave of stupid-driver syndrome, setting André on edge. Was it something in the air, or the surge in road construction causing people to stress out and act like idiots behind the wheel? Yes? Well, parking had never been something Riverton possessed in surplus, so that didn’t count.

They circled St. Margaret of Scotland twice before Kit Wilmington moved a barricade for them. They parked next to his official vehicle. A large pickup festooned with scratches, at least four custom tool-boxes, and a paint job that screamed “I’m a work truck!” lurked off to the side. André parked, then peered left and right. “I wonder where your boss—” 

“Ahem.” Lelia tipped her head to the side. Arthur materialized from a patch of shadow. He was dressed for a Hunt, as were she and André. Arthur moved without making a sound, flowing from shadow to darkness to concealment. Some day he’s going to do that, and I’ll have a heart attack. Then he’ll be sorry. Or be furious if she keeled over between October fifteenth and Christmas and left him to deal with the holiday rush. She got out of the truck, collected Tay and the two main recharge bags, and followed the men to where Kit stood. André rechecked Rodney’s protective paw covers, then straightened up.

“This way,” Kit said. He led them around the corner.

Merddyn and Rosie waited by the north door. She wore paw covers like Rodney’s. “I have a key,” Merddyn told them. “The support cribbing is up already. That’s all that’s been done, other than removing the largest and most dangerous of the debris once the Fire Marshal and Beaker said it was safe. We,” he petted Rosie’s head, “didn’t sense anything obvious, but we didn’t look, either.”

“That’s not my strength,” Rosie murmured, downcast. “I’m sorry.”

Beaker rubbed his chin. “That you didn’t notice anything is helpful. I’d rather know that we didn’t miss anything and that there wasn’t obvious residue going in.”

Rosie perked up. “Um, it’s been empty, sir.”

Merddyn tipped his ball cap back, then folded his arms. “No Elementals at all. Not even the usual air Elementals that wander in through open doors, or the like. Nothing.”

Lelia glanced to André, then to her boss. Pisicagheara frowned the slightest bit, the only sign of grave concern. Beaker made an interested sound, then nodded and pulled the door open. “If you don’t mind,” he told Wizard and Stripes, “we’d like to look around on our own for a few minutes.”

Wizard shrugged. “We’ll wait for you  to open the door again. It will give us a chance to check some things without overly-curious onlookers.” He sounded patient.

(C) 2022 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved

A European Sort of Morning

A summer morning dawned with the usual slanted light as the sun moved north. Crisp, chilly air with a hint of flowers/urban scent/hardness eased in through the part-open window. The hour was early. At least two hours would pass, perhaps more, before it was time for breakfast. For a moment I thought I was in Central Europe.

Nope, still in the High Plains. It was a strong reminder of just how much the little details set the scene, in this case the light and the “feel” of the morning air.

I’ve spent so many Junes on the road to various places that I’ve become attuned to the differences in light. Out in the desert southwest, sunrise is at least an hour earlier than back home, wherever home happened to be at the time. So I’m up and about well before the Hour of Food, trying to sneak around so I don’t wake up those who are sleeping the sleep of the just. It’s a good time to go stretch one’s legs, take photos before the light gets too direct and harsh, and have a moment of quiet time with the birds. The wildlife, however, does require due care and consideration. The light is clear, with edges, often chilly and always dry.

Central Europe . . . In the cities, the hint of diesel exhaust is one of my markers, because trucks are only allowed to do deliveries early in the mornings. Cool soft air, full of moisture unless a cold front has passed, covers everything. The light is soft, filtered by clouds or humidity, and begins very early. By 0500 I can read without turning on the lights in the room (most of the time. Not always.) By 0530 I need a hat and long-sleeves when I venture out. Often the place is still and calm, with birds and perhaps the distant rumble of early traffic the only sounds. No, I take that back. A soft, steady Shhhh, shhhh, shhhh of a broom on cement and stone reaches my ears as an older woman in the faded floral-print uniform of matrons all over that part of Europe sweeps in front of her house or family business. We ignore each other as I pass, as one does. If she acknowledges me, I smile back. The city or town or hotel grounds are mind to meander as I please. No babble of voices comes from the market square, save on market days. The river or town stream murmurs in liquid tones as it dances through the little channels in the streets, or along its bed where the wall once stood.

Sometimes, that same light, the same cold late-spring air washes over the Texas panhandle, and for a moment I’m in a different place.