I closed my eyes and centered myself with a few deep breaths. It was time for the hunt, but I felt so unprepared. My heart wasn’t in it, but I knew if I was going to have a chance to prove myself I needed to go. I wandered down to where I have always seen my prey. Carefully I sat and waited, weapon at hand. Something called out nearby and I tensed, but it ended up being an empty cry. I resettled myself, bracing for what was to come. Did I have the skill to pull this off? Did I have the energy to triumph? Doubt began to creep in. Would my quarry even come by again? I had hunted here many times before, but had this spot finally gone dry? Suddenly I felt the world around me go silent. My pulse quickened. I looked about slowly, not wanting to frighten it off. Yes! There it was, so close I could almost touch it. I lifted my arm and took aim. One shot, one kill. Now I can put this blog post in the bag.
My kids tell me they cannot go to sleep. When I ask them why, they tell me they do not know. I look around, trying to figure out why, and I think I have figured out the reason. I think that the Sandman is afraid of something in my house so he avoids us as much as possible. The question is what is driving him away. I originally wonder if the kids themselves have made him scared, but I can’t figure out how any of my angels could put that much fear in a mythical level being. I move onto wondering about my snoring, but since I am not asleep as well that cannot be the case as well. That leaves me one explanation. What would cause fear to set a single step into my daughters’ rooms? What could cause so much pain and suffering that the Sandman would rather take a hit to his mythical stature than do his duty in my house? The answer is simple my friends, Legos.
Teaching is a performance art. I think back to the days I used to do theater and I think I still have the same sorts of anxieties I did when I acted. It’s not just being in front of an audience that makes them similar. I think as an actor you want to convey something to your audience. That something could be a fundamental truth or maybe something as “simple” as the hidden desires of the part you play. That is definitely teaching in a nutshell. You go into character, trying to convey information to your audience. It could be as simple as the words on your PowerPoint slides, or it could be a “deeper” meaning of the universe that surrounds your students. We both try to memorize our lines, but are ready to improvise when that fails. Like acting, those moments of improvisation can be more memorable than the real script. When we are fresh and excited about the part we play the audience becomes part of the performance and something magical can happen. Conversely when the audience is passive and gives back nothing the performer or teacher can feel drained as they pour their energy out on the stage/podium. I am already part of the teachers union, but does this make me qualified for the actors’ guildas well?
Kegan watched Sariah leave, pretending to sleep. He really never slept, part of being half fairy that he liked most of the time. Sitting in the dark and thinking was one of his great joys. Doing that while listening to Sariah saw a forest’s worth of lumber, not so much. He gave her a few minuted to make sure she was really gone before he left the couch.
Looking at the time Kegan decided to wait a bit before setting off to search for Asopt. He wasn’t sure if Wyndia or Nellissa would show up at the shop this morning. He didn’t really want to deal with either woman right now, but he owed them a little of his time, so he spent it cleaning up his shop and waiting. After half an hour had passed he gave up and left the shop. He put a sign on the door claiming he was working in the back and was not to be disturbed. He was happy he worked with the part of the population that was literate. He hated pictograms.
It took three stops before Kegan was able to get a clue as to where Asopt was working. He was somewhere in the tinker’s district along the west wall of the city. When Kegan arrived in the district he ran out of leads and people to ask. He tried a small bit of magic, but nothing came of it. Kegan wasn’t surprised since he hadn’t really talked to the man for five years or so. The problem with the tinker district was all the buildings were almost identical and laid out in little blocks of eight along a razor straight grid. It was easy to wander around hopelessly if you didn’t have a decent directions sense.
After a bit of foundering around what seemed like the same two blocks for what seemed like forever, an average man wearing average clothing and the typical haircut for the times fell in lock step with Kegan. Kegan startled and cast his force shield, almost knocking the man over. “Is that how you treat old friends?” asked the friend.
Kegan dropped the shiled and held out his hand in greeting. “Sorry Asopt. I was looking for you, but I didn’t expect you to find me,” Kegan said.
Asopt accepted the hand and gave it a squeeze before letting it go. The grip screamed average as well. “A bit jumpy then, are we?” Asopt asked.
Kegan looked around and continued to walk. Asopt once again fell in step. “After last night I have a right to be.”
Asopt slapped Kegan on the back. “That was you?” Asopt asked. “I wondered who was kind enough to take out a few of Warbashes’ thugs.”
“Well, we didn’t take them out,” said Kegan. “We sort of put them down, but someone else put the arrows in to silence them.”
“You said we,” Asopt said. “Who was the other part of the we?”
Kegan ducked his head low and in towards Asopt. Kegan said, “She didn’t want me to tell you this, but-“.
“Sariah’s back?” Asopt whispered.
Kegan stopped and looked Asopt in the eye. “Is that one of your questions, or a statement?” asked Kegan.
“That makes so much more sense,” Asopt said. He rubbed his hands together. “This is going to be so much fun. I’ll need to let Gordo know I’m not available after this.”
Kegan shook his head. “Wait a minute. Sariah hasn’t said anything about getting anyone back together, and what do you mean after this.”
Asopt smiled his average smile. “It’s simple. They were testing you last night, and I know who did the testing.”
Kegan smiled. “You’re still fast on the thinking there,” he said. “So who was it?”
Asopt started off down the street. “I’ll tell you after you help me with a job I need to do. It won’t take more than an hour.”
Kegan groaned, but began to follow. “Why can’t you just tell me now?”
“Now who is asking all the questions?” asked Asopt.
Kegan had to practically run because of the length of his legs to catch up to Asopt. “What is the job?” he panted.
“We are going to see a man about a horse,” Asopt replied.
Kegan groaned for the second time. “I told Sariah she always brought trouble with her.” That elicited a laugh of joy from Asopt.
Marybeth read the letter again.
‘Congratulations! You have been selected into the MIT computer engineering program with a full scholarship. Fill out the enclosed forms and return your confirmation in two weeks’ time.’
Marybeth opened the door to her son’s room and placed the letter on his pillow. Tears fell like rain, but she didn’t worry about getting the letter wet. She looked to where her son sat and said, “You got into MIT, just like you told me you would.”
Her son didn’t reply. Marybeth continued, “Why couldn’t you keep your promise about drinking too?”
His urn stayed silent.
Words fly and spin within my mind
Calling out for me to choose
A pot of gold for me to find
Or a bestselling novel for me to lose
Crafting a story out of blood and bone
Sculpting worlds of light and dark
Mothering characters as they are grown
Wondering if they will hit the mark
The pain of creation is all too real
I have the marks to prove it
I bare my soul for all to steal
Giving permission to abuse it
And now I release this as a tease
Go read my other stuff if you please
Sariah slipped out of the shop early, feeling apprehensive. She had worked for King Georde many times, but she always had used Tomais as her fixer, her go between. That allowed the king a bit of protection should things go bad. It also benefitted Sariah since she did not have her face associated with the king. That was what really bothered her so much about the attack last night. She didn’t want to worry Kegan, but very few people really knew what she did. She had some public scraps, but they could be attributed to her fighting skill. The more people who knew her directly, the more problems she would have.
That brought back the picture of her house fully engulfed in flames. That is why Sariah usually used a fixer. Now she had nothing to hide. If someone killed her they would be putting her out of her misery. Until that time she was going to make sure she handed that misery out with a generous extra helping of mayhem.
Space was at a premium in Ferngreen, so very little of it was wasted. Because of this small shops backed up to the castle on three sides, leaving the south side that faced the lake free for kingly views. Sariah walked past that view and headed to the east wall. There she ducked into a small cobbler shop that seemed a bit down on its luck. The bell tinkled as the door opened. Sariah was almost blinded coming into the shop. The amount of light coming from the multitude of gas lamps left no shadows at all.
Sariah nodded at the mountain of a man cobbler. The man was working on a dainty boot with his huge hands, but his dexterity was amazing. Small taps from his hammer placed the tacks perfectly as he shaped the boot. Sariah loved seeing such craftsmanship. She picked up a pair of light military boots. The bottoms were supple, but had a real toughness to them. She brought them over to the cobbler and waited while he finished attaching the sole of the boot he was working on.
Once the man was done, Sariah showed him the boots she was holding. “How much for these in my size?” she asked as she lifted her foot.
The cobbler glanced down at her foot then looked at the boots. “Eighty-five lumbics,” he replied. “It will take me five weeks at least. You show up on week four for a fitting. Sixty lumbics now, twenty five on delivery.”
Sariah put the boots down and pulled out her sack from underneath her tunic. She fished inside for a moment before pulling out her mark. The cobbler’s eyes widened a bit, then went cold. “Why did you waste my time then?” he asked her.
“I still want the boots,” she said pulling out the full eighty-five lumbics. “I wanted you to know why I am giving you the money up front.” Sariah left the money and the boots next to the cobbler as she moved past him toward the back room. “Hopefully I’ll be back in four weeks for my fitting.”
“If not they will look great on your corpse,” the cobbler replied. That brought back the grim smile to Sariah’s face.
The door to the backroom was a tight squeeze, forcing Sariah to move almost sidewise to get through. The backroom was darker than the front making Sariah pause for a moment to let her eyes adjust. The backroom was a bit crowded with boots and four armed guards with crossbows pointed at Sariah. They were spread around the outside wall, no one in the shooting path of another, and no way to take them all out at once. They did take their back door security seriously here in Ferngreen. She noticed that the bolts all had a discoloration on the tips. “Watch were you point those things. Someone might get killed,” said Sariah, displaying in her hands in a non-threatening way, making sure her mark could be seen by the four guards.
A fifth guard came from behind a stack of boots to Sariah’s right. She noted two more places there could be people hiding. Yep, they took security very seriously.
The newly revealed guard took the mark and did something to hit. The mark glowed for a moment then dimmed down. “She can pass,” said the guard holding the mark. “Follow me.” He gave Sariah back the mark and proceeded to lead her to the back of the shop. The four crossbow wielding guards never took their aim off of her. The guard leading her paused in front of the two doors at the back of the room. The guard opened the left door revealing a closet. “All weapons are to be left here. You will be checked thoroughly before proceeding.”
Sariah took off her sword and pulled out various knives hidden on her body and placed them in the closet. “Do I get dinner after you are done?” she asked when she was done.
The guard did not answer, but he closed the left door and opened the right door. Something small flew out from behind the door, but Sariah didn’t worry about that because a monster of a dog came leaping out at her. She dropped into a fighting stance, but the dog pulled up short. “What was that?” she asked, then she felt the prickle of a touch of magic from behind her. It was a gift and something she told no one about. She turned slowly and saw that the small flying thing was a mayna bird. They were a semi-intelligent bird that had a talent for magically detecting hunting implements. The mayna flew back into the corridor and the dog grinned and followed it. Sariah swore and looked at her escort. “Are we done playing games?” she asked.
“I am, but I am sure you are not,” he said and he entered the door.
Kegan dropped the crossbar down locking the door. “That should keep us safe till morning,” Kegan said. “I’ll sleep on the waiting couch and leave you the spare bed in the back.”
Sariah laughed. “Decided it was too risky to walk to your new bed?” she asked.
“No, you were right,” said Kegan. “If they wanted to kill us they would have. That means they were testing us. I am testy enough now to take any more tests tonight.” He opened a small locker and took out a flask of amber liquid and two crystal glasses. He filled them both and handed one to Sariah.
“Any more ideas on who was behind this?” asked Sariah. She swirled her glass a bit and breathed in the aroma. “This is quite the brandy.”
Kegan lifted his left eyebrow in surprise. “Good nose,” he said. “It was magically aged for two hundred years in sentient oak. I keep it to help customers loosen up their wallets.” Kegan took a large swig and held it in his mouth for a moment, savoring the taste before swallowing it. “I love this stuff. I just wish it wasn’t such a kick in the wallet.”
Sariah sipped hers, liking the way the brandy played across her tongue. There were hints of oak and a sweetness that played well with the alcohol. When she swallowed the taste lingered on her tongue, playing games with her taste buds.
Kegan refilled his glass and continued, “I was thinking that whoever it was has a good sized group of people to draw from, or money to blow, or both. They must have been pretty sure we would wipe the floor with the ground crew and wanted to make sure if when we won the power would stay anonymous for now.”
“For now?” Sariah asked.
“It was a test. If we failed we would be dead. Since we passed I’m sure we’ll be contacted for a job soon,” Kegan replied.
Sariah took another sip and savored the flavor. She shook her head and said, “I hate being blind in these things. That’s why I’m my own fixer now.” That got both eyebrows raised from Kegan. Sariah held up her hand. “I’m not going into it right now, but let’s say Tomias and I didn’t agree to come out of retirement together. He lost his head about it and I left him behind.” Sariah could tell that Kegan wanted more, but he showed his patience as she continued. “I need to know more before we’re contacted. I can’t negotiate blind.” She took in another sip of this wonderful spirit.
Kegan pointed at her. “You know what,” he said, “I know of one way to find out, your old apprentice, Asopt.”
Sariah spit that wonderful spirit right out of her mouth. “Asopt?” she asked. “He was never my apprentice. I never took him on.”
“Hey, remember this stuff is ridiculously expensive. For intake only,” Kegan said.
Sariah ignored the remark. “I can’t believe he thought that I… Oh that little…” Sariah’s glass was moving in larger and larger arcs as Sariah became more and more agitated. The liquid looked for an avenue to escape.
Kegan wiggled his fingers and the glass flew from Sariah’s hand and landed on the counter. “Hey, why did you do that?” Sariah asked.
Kegan opened up the bottle and filled both glasses before putting the bottle away. “I wanted to fill it up and calm you down. Whether he was your apprentice or just claims it, he is the most connected person in this city, besides the Minister of Lies whoever he is.” He gave Sariah back her glass.
Sariah took a small gulp of the brandy. “I don’t want him knowing I’m in town,” she said. “He was like a puppy. I couldn’t get him to leave me alone. Tomias thought it was cute and encouraged the kid.”
“That puppy has grown into a pit dog with plenty of teeth,” Kegan said. “He still works for Gordo, but runs a network twice as big as Gordo’s. Honestly I don’t know why he doesn’t just go out on his own.”
Sariah finished her glass with another gulp. “Because he never wants to be that responsible. It is all about Asopt all the time.”
“I’m going to talk to him in the morning. See what he says,” Kegan said.
Sariah noticed what she had done and regretted not enjoying the brandy more. She stared at the glass mourning her loss. “Fine, you keep me out of it though. I’m going to get an audience with the king.”
“You want to stay unknown, but you are going to see the king.” Kegan pulled back out the bottle and gave Sariah one more refill.
Sariah raised her glass to toast her host. “I have a get in without being seen card.”
Kegan tapped her glass with his. “But someone already knows you are here. Remember that.”
“No, they better remember,” said Sariah as she watched the amber fluid dance in her glass.
Fred sat up straighter. “While sure,” he said. “We finally got home a couple of days later and my wife forgot to let the dog out before coming back to bed. Or at least that’s what I tell people.” Christine put on a professional smile, as well as the keep going eyes. It worked like a charm. “Well, it was cold out,” Fred continued. “I sort of shuffled in the dark, trying to find my slippers. I thought they felt different, but when nature calls the dog, you either answer it or clean up the message, if you know what I mean. I took the old girl down and let her out the door. Just then the sun was coming out and I saw I had put on the ruby slippers. That was impossible though, since my wife’s feet are like half of mine. I thought about how bad I must have destroyed them, but they looked fine. As a matter of fact they felt comfy.”
One of the crew snickered. Christine shot him a very unprofessional look of death. Sarah pulled him out of the room. Christine focused back on Fred. “I’m sorry about that,” she said. “Please continue.”
Fred nodded and cleared his throat. “Well I used to do a bit of soft shoe back in the day, and well I had on these awesome feeling slippers, so I began to dance while waiting for the dog. Want to see?” he asked.
Christine laughed. “That would be great,” she said. “Anything to make the story more interesting.”
Fred stood up and faced the camera. “Is it okay to do it here?” Fred asked.
“Please,” Christine said. She turned to the camera. “Make sure you get a good shot of this.”
Fred said, “I’m a bit out of practice, but here goes nothing.” He began to hum to himself, something out of the forties, big band style but for solo hummer. His feet began to move with a grace Christine hadn’t expected. Left shuffle shuffle, right shuffle shuffle, hop hop, then spin and ended with three heel taps with jazz hands.
Fred then sat back down while Christine gave a very professional clap. When she stopped clapping at a very respectful length of time she said, “Very nice, but if you don’t mind me asking, what does this have to do with your fortune? Did a Broadway producer see you and offer you a huge contract?”
That caused Fred to blush. “No, that would have been weirder than what really happened. You see after clicking my heels together three times and when I was doing my jazz hands I felt myself almost go into a dream. I was suddenly standing in a field where there was a fallen down house. Everything around me seemed more real than you and me right now. The green grass was greener. The air was fresher and more vibrant. The sunlight almost danced as it struck everything. I know what you are thinking. I must have had some good drugs. My wife said the same thing. I really didn’t. I gave those up years ago when I gave up being a professional dancer.”
“I noticed that there were people there, but they were all people who had dwarfism. They were all dressed in clothes from like 1920s Germany. The odd thing was the way they kept looking at my feet. I then realized I still had on the ruby slippers. They asked me if I had known Dorothy, and I had to be the bearer of bad news. They were saddened by this and brought me to this scarecrow, except it was one that talked and danced”
Christine got up out of her chair. This was getting to be too much. That’s when Fred said, “On the way to the scarecrow they took me on a gold brick road. They were real gold bricks. I brought one back with me. Want to see it?”
Christine sat down and nodded encouragingly. Fred ran from the room and returned with a gold brick. Actually it looked like a cobblestone really more than a brick. When Christine took it she almost fell out of her chair. “My goodness that is heavy. Is it really gold?” She asked.
“It is. They all were. That’s why when I went back the next time I brought a bulldozer. I figured if they could pave their streets with gold they had plenty to spare,” Fred said.
Christine gently gave Fred back the brick. “How much gold did you take?” she asked.
“That’s a secret, but let’s just say they have paved streets now, that I paid for, to replace the gold I took. After that I am still very well off,” Fred replied. “The Munchkins…”
“Munchkins?” Christine interrupted Fred.
“Sorry,” Fred said. “That’s the name those dwarfism folks gave themselves. I mean nothing of it.”
“Of course you don’t,” Christine said. “Please continue.”
Frank said, “Well, those cobblestones sucked to move goods to the Emerald City. With my blacktop in place it saved them so much time and energy. They loved me for it. I also helped with their employment problem.”
“How did you do that?” asked Christine.
“I found another chap over in England who was looking for good help,” Fred said. “I just hooked the two of them up.”
“Who is that?” asked Christine.
“Willy Wonka, the candy maker,” said Fred. “That was another win-win. Of course then there were the flying monkeys.”
Christine shook her head. There was just not a professional face or gesture that fit. “Flying monkeys,” she repeated. “Boy, without this cobblestone I would think you were telling me quite a tale. We will be right back to hear about the flying monkeys.”
To be continued….
Christine looked into the camera and pasted on her professional persona. “This is Christine Grady and I am here tonight with entrepreneur and philanthropist Fred Smith. Mr. Smith, I understand your path to fame and fortune is a rather unique one. Would you care to share it?”
Fred Smith smiled a goofy smile and checked to make sure the color of his blue polo shirt was down. “It’s sort of a crazy story. It all begins when I was traveling through Kansas. My son, Kurt, wanted to visit Emporia State, so we decided to make it a family vacation. So after checking out the school we decided to look around the area. That’s when I stumbled upon them.”
Christine jumped in with her interviewer’s intuition. “Stumbled upon what?” she asked.
“There was a garage sale and it looked like they were selling some old musical instruments. Well I love collecting musical instruments and making planters and lamps out of them so I stopped the car and checked it out. Found out that this woman, I believe her name was Dorothy had just died and it was actually an estate sale. The whole family poked around. I picked up a coronet and a Suzuki style violin. My son just sat outside and played with some dog. My wife though, she found a pair of the reddest slippers that glittered like they were made of rubies. I thought they were gaudy as hell, but she wanted them.” Fred stopped up short. “Is it okay to say gaudy as hell?” he asked.
“Don’t worry about it,” Christine said. “We can always edit it out in post. So what was so special about the violin?”
Fred laughed. He said, “The violin was a piece of crap. I gave it to some homeless guy in Vegas. No, the slippers were the real find.”
Christine used her profession nod technique. She then probed deeper. “They were made of real rubies?” she asked.
“Don’t know, and I really don’t care,” Fred replied. “You see, those slippers are how I made my fortune.”
Christine decided to fall back on the nod again. “Fascinating,” she said to Fred. She then turned to the camera and said, “We’ll be right back after this commercial break.” She smiled at Fred. “Excuse me for a minute please.”
“Sure,” said Fred.
Christine got up and found the Sarah the director. Sarah could barely contain her mirth. “Really, ruby slippers? You sure this isn’t a homeless guy and you’re pranking me?”
Sarah laughed, but then she got herself under control under the burning gaze of Christine. “Look, he is the real deal. He made a fortune in gold and no one has ever gotten him to talk about it. He said he would only talk to you. This is going great.”
“Going great?” Christine asked. “He sounds like a nut job.”
Sarah looked Christine in the eyes and tried to wipe the smile off her face. “He may be a nut job, but this is your job. The bosses want this interview, and you are the one to do it, so suck it up and do your job, even if he sounds ridiculous.” Christine didn’t look convinced. She placed her hands on her hips and looked like she was about to throw a fit. Sarah continued, “Besides, this guy must have something going for him. He has made billions, and you are his first interview. Treat him like the virgin he is.”
Christine shook her head, then stomped her right foot, but she then spun on that foot and cruised back over to her chair, her professional smile pasted once again on her face. “Thank you again for this opportunity Mr. Smith. May we continue?” Christine asked.
Fred looked like he hadn’t heard a thing. “Sure, that would be awesome, and please call me Fred. I’m not that special.”
“Thank you Fred,” Christine said. Turning back to the camera Christine continued, “We are back with Fred Smith. When we left off you were talking about how a pair of glittering bejeweled red slippers were the key to your fortune. Would you like to explain more?”
To Be Continued….