When seven days had gone by
Everything had changed completely
Everyone had gone full zombie on her
Killing her hopes for humanity in such a short period of time
When seven days had gone by
Everything had changed completely
Everyone had gone full zombie on her
Killing her hopes for humanity in such a short period of time
Being wrapped up in words
Oblivious to the cold cruel world outside
Obnoxiously happy to be transported elsewhere
Keeping my imagination sated
McGowan’s Pub was a spiritual clone of almost every other Irish pub found in Dublin, except this one was in the heart of the lower east side of New York City. It had a long dark wood bar top that gleamed in the dim light. The brass accents might have been tacky if the light had been any brighter, but in that light they complimented the leather topped bar stools and small intimate tables scattered around the small interior. It had started its life as a gathering place for afterhours Irish police officers in the early 1920s before they went home to their wives, but as the times changed so did McGowan’s clientele. This change was not particularly evident tonight though, as redheads made up the majority of the crowded bar’s patrons.
Tatiana tucked a loose blonde lock of hair behind her ear as she sipped her vodka. She sat at a table by the wall, as secluded as you could get in a bar of this size as it neared the maximum number of occupants. Her long white dress amplified the paleness of her blemishless skin, but somehow acted as camouflage to the tipsy, and getting tipsier by the minute, crowd that inhabited the bar.
She studied the young rust haired man at the bar who seemed to be taking in all the festivities, but he didn’t participate in the toasting of the recently departed. As a matter of fact he didn’t even drink a drop. He just smiled, laughed, and nodded in all the right places, but silent as a ghost. Every once in a while he would turn to the picture of the deceased on the counter and smile before turning back to the crowd. Tatiana desired to move in on the man, but for now she kept her distance.
Finally Tatiana’s dress failed her and one of the mourners/revelers noticed Tatiana drinking alone and decided to stumble over. He was average in almost every way except for piercing blue eyes. He put on his million dollar smile, but he had had too many drinks and it ended up only being worth two fifty and some change. Tatiana gave him bonus points for trying though.
“Hi there, I’m Tom. Are you here for the bride or the groom?” he asked, leaning forward and dropping his gaze from Tatiana’s eyes to her ample bosom prominently framed by her dress before returning back to her eyes.
Tatiana took away the bonus points. “I thought this was a wake,” she said dead faced, adding in a good amount of Russian accent.
Tom waved his hands, spilling some of his dark amber liquid onto the well watered floor below. “No, no, that was just a joke,” he said.
Tatiana stayed neutral. “The wake is a joke?” she asked.
Tom put his glass carefully on the table with both hands before continuing. “No, no, the bride or groom was a joke,” he said. “The wake is real.”
Tatiana pretended to think about this for a moment. “So you are saying that marriage is a joke?” she asked.
“Oh damn,” he said. “No, no, marriage is a joke, but that’s not what I’m saying. I mean I…”
Tatiana put her hand on Tom’s arm to put a stop to his rambling. “I understand. That was my joke,” she said, dropping most of her Russian accent. “I just was messing with you.”
The man pointed at her, then put both hands on his knees and breathed out before standing up and pointing at her again. “That was a good one,” he said. He then turned away from her and waved in the direction of the young man Tatiana had been studying at the bar. “She’s a funny one, Sean.” The young man smiled and waved back. Tom turned back to Tatiana. “How do you know Sean?” Tom asked.
Tatiana handed Tom his drink and then took a sip of vodka as the next toast shouted out. Tom slammed back the rest of his drink before slamming the glass upside down on her table. Tatiana gently swirled her vodka, watching the Tom’s drink push his blood alcohol content into the stratosphere. “How did you know Sean?” she asked.
“He was my uncle,” Tom said. “Actually my god-uncle. He was my godfather’s brother. Coolest guy you ever met, of course you already knew that,” Tom said.
“Of course,” Tatiana said. “What did you like the best about him?”
Tom tried to snag a chair and missed, almost pouring himself onto the floor. He recovered barely and instead leaned against Tatiana’s table. His eyes drifted back to her chest as he continued. “He really appreciated a fine woman and a strong drink. We have a lot of that in common,” he said.
Tatiana pushed out her lower lip in a mischievous pout. “Really, that’s the best story you have of your god-uncle?” she asked.
Tom smiled. “Oh, stories? I’ve got a million of them. I was living with him once, quite a few years ago of course,” he said.
“Of course,” Tatiana said. “Please continue.”
Tom stared at her breasts for a couple seconds more before blinking and continuing. “He wanted to give me a challenge. He said Tom, you’re twenty eight,” Tom said. He stopped and changed it up a bit. “I mean eighteen. Anyway you need to get out and experience the world. So he drove me to Hoboken to this really raunchy night club. He gave me a hundred dollars in ones and sat me in the front row. He told me to enjoy. Boy did I. When I was done with my ones I looked around and Sean wasn’t there anymore. He had left within like ten minutes of dropping me off. I didn’t have any money for a taxi since I had given my money away to the ladies, if you know what I mean.”
Tatiana nodded, willing him to finish his story. Tom drunkenly obliged. “So that was before cell phones and all that shit. The nightclub bouncer wouldn’t let me back in to use the phone. I was stuck, so I used my head.”
Tom paused, looking at Tatiana for some input. She finally figured it out and said, “So how did you use your head?”
Tom smiled, then frowned after trying to figure out what Tatiana had just said. He shrugged and continued. “I managed to catch one of the girls coming out of the club that I had given some of my money to. I convinced her to give some back so I could get home.”
Tatiana gave Tom a critical look. “How did you manage that?” she asked.
Tom put on a leering smile. “That’s a secret I would be happy to reveal over breakfast tomorrow,” he said.
Tatiana didn’t rise to the bait. “I thought you were telling me something about Sean,” she said.
“Oh, well when I got home I found him sacked out with two of those bimbos at the nightclub with a ton of empty bottles of booze scattered around the place. Claimed he had slipped them a little something something for their time, if you know what I mean. Like I said, fine women and strong drink,” Tom said. “So what about it baby, want to see how I seduced that stripper?”
Tatiana leaned in real close to Tom, giving him an even bigger view of her chest. “I will make sure to take you up on that in a few years,” she said as her blue eyes glittered extremely cold. “You can count on it.” Tom took two rapid steps back, tripping over his own feet and crashing to the ground.
Tatiana gracefully stood up, pounded the rest of her vodka back and stalked her way to the bar. The festivities were winding down and the place was now half empty. Still the young man standing by the picture remained, and when he saw Tatiana he gave her a million dollar smile that evaporated the closer Tatiana came.
Tatiana picked up the picture and held it next to the young man. “The resemblance is amazing,” she said. The young man looked for a way to run, but Tatiana stared him down, freezing him with those ice blue eyes.
The bartender noticed Tatiana standing there holding the picture. “Be careful of that picture,” he said. Tatiana never took her eyes off of Sean as she placed the picture gently on the bar. “Thanks. Can I get you something?”
“I think I’ll have another shot of your top shelf vodka as a chaser,” Tatiana said.
The bartender did a double take. “Chaser? What are you drinking first?” he asked.
Tatiana still didn’t take her eyes off the young redhead. After a moment of silence the bartender shook his head and moved back to the bar. “One top shelf vodka shot coming right up,” he said.
Tatiana smiled a predatory smile. “You’ve been a bad boy Sean,” she said. The young man waved his hands in a negative gesture. Tatiana laughed. “No denying it to me. You grand-nephew collaborated the story.” The young man looked at Tom with pure venom. Tatiana laughed. “Don’t worry. He’ll get his soon. Goodbye Sean.”
With that, Tatiana sucked in the shade of Sean O’Grady, removing him from existence. The bartender placed the vodka at the end of the bar just as she finished consuming the ghost. Tatiana, without looking, reached out, grabbed the shot glass, and threw it back feeling the alcohol burning the bad taste from her palate. She slammed the glass upside-down onto the bar. “Thanks, I needed that.” She peeled off a fifty from a stack of bills that mysteriously appeared in her hand and placed it next to the glass.
As Tatiana made her way out the door and into the frosty night she made sure to blow a kiss at Tom that made him shiver. That was a promise she was looking forward to keeping.
Josh was late for work, his car wouldn’t start, and he missed the closest bus by like five minutes. Now Josh was impersonating an Olympic speed walker, strutting down the street trying to get to the next bus stop before he missed that one too. If he did, he was doomed to walk the five miles to work and even worse, walk the ‘I’m late, sweaty, and tired walk’ past the boss man. Josh didn’t want to even contemplate the lasting impression that would make. Josh preferred to stay out of the limelight, especially if it would be negative, considering how the day was going so far.
As Josh turned the corner onto Main Street and checked his iPhone. He was going to make it with a couple minutes to spare. Josh decided to check his email and drop his speed a notch. Maybe he could answer the first few emails of the day on his way. That would give him a bit more leeway when he got to office. His email updated just as he ran into someone. His phone dropped to the pavement and he could hear that distinctive snap of the screen breaking. “Damn it all!” exclaimed Josh.
“Excuse me?” asked a rich alto voice in a not to friendly tone.
Josh looked from his broken phone to the woman he had collided with. He immediately wished he hadn’t. She was at least six foot four, her afro sticking out at odd angles. She was carrying various plastic grocery bags in both hands. She was dressed in a ridiculously large muscle shirt and very baggy shorts showing off as much skin as twelve supermodels in bikinis. Her skin hung in folds, and the folds had folds. It reminded Josh of his friend Arnold, who had lost a hundred pounds, but the skin flap around his belly was still there. This woman must have had the extra weight all over. She must have been a sphere at one time she had so much extra skin. Now if she weighed a hundred twenty pounds she would have been lucky. While Josh was almost overwhelmed by her physical presence, he found himself drawn to her eyes. The large brown eyes burned with a fire that almost mesmerized him.
“Are you going to apologize?” she asked.
“Apologize?” Josh asked. He was still trying to figure out the figure in front of him.
“You just ran into me,” she said.
Josh reached down to retrieve his phone. His couple of minutes were evaporating quickly. “You ran into me too,” he said. He tried to move around her to continue, but the woman moved back into his path.
“Are you kidding me?” she asked. “I should knock some sense into that head of yours.” She rattled her plastic bags for emphasis.
Josh threw his hand into the air. “Really? Look, I’m late for work already. If you want me to say I’m sorry to get you to move, fine. I’m sorry,” he said. Yep, those extra few minutes were almost gone.
The woman dropped her bags to the ground. Josh wondered if a strong wind blew at this moment would she fly away in all that skin. It made him smirk a bit. “You think this is funny?” she asked. “That’s it. I’m going to rough you up.”
Josh took a couple of steps back and held up his hands in surrender. He didn’t want to have to hurt this woman if they got into it. He had to be twenty years younger and outweighed her by a hundred pounds of muscle. The blessings of being on the track and field team through college. ”Look, I’m sorry,” he said in a tone that showed he meant it this time.
The woman seemed less ticked. “You better be,” she said. “I’d hate to open a can of whoop-ass on you.”
“Is that what you carry in those bags?” Josh asked before his brain had processed what the sarcasm generator had created. Josh winced as he waited for her response.
The woman let out a surprising musical laugh. “That’s a good one,” she said. “You have a pretty quick wit there.”
Josh joined her in a smile. That smile crashed and burned as he saw the bus pull up to the bus stop. Josh was way too far away to make it.
The woman noticed him staring and turned to witness the bus doors open. “If you hurry you can still make it,” she said.
“No way,” he said. “Those doors will be closing any second now.”
The woman looked at him with those intense eyes again. “You can make it. You have something special inside of you. I can see it. If you want to know more come find me. I’m always around these parts.” She then bent down to get her bags.
Josh decided to see if he could get at least get close enough to wave the bus driver down. If the driver was nice they would let him on. Josh began to run, reaching deep. He felt his feet move faster, almost on their own. He hadn’t dug this far down since the last race he had run where he had come from behind to win his only cross country event in his whole running career. Each step brought him closer and closer until he was at the bus stop and the doors were still open. Josh was surprised the driver hadn’t pulled away yet.
“Thanks for waiting, man,” he told the driver as he swiped his payment card. The driver just stared at him, surprise on his face.
Josh didn’t give it a second thought. He just sat down in an empty seat and smiled. That run had felt good, really good. Josh tried to figure out why he had stopped running. He always loved it when he was younger. He knew he had a second gear that was fun to kick it up to, but in competitions he just couldn’t find it. Heck, when he was running with someone he couldn’t find it. It was only when he was on his own, running to his own tune when the speed just seemed to come out of nowhere. Josh was happy it had come out today.
“Close the doors already,” called out a woman on the bus somewhere behind Josh. Josh looked up and the door was still open. The bus driver was just staring at Josh in the rear view mirror. Josh sheepishly smiled and waved at the driver. That seemed to snap the man out of it. The driver closed the door and pulled away from the curb.
The rest of the bus ride was uneventful. Josh couldn’t get that woman out of his head. Of course she must make an impression no matter where she went. Still, Josh wondered what she meant about seeing something special inside of him. By the end of the ride, Josh had figured it must have been his great sense of humor.
As Josh got off the bus, the bus driver stared at him again. “Dude,” Josh said, “take an Instagram, it’ll last longer.”
The driver blushed. “Just never saw an Empowered up close,” he said.
Josh was about to respond when the driver closed the doors and drove away from the curb. Empowered? Last time Josh checked his sarcasm hadn’t counted as a superpower. Those people were freaky. Now having a superpower might be cool, but all that responsibility? No thank you. It was nice being normal.
Josh waved at his boss on the way to his desk. The woman looked almost upset that he had made it on time. Maybe she was the one who had sabotaged his car. Now that was a funny thought. He opened his browser and checked the email he couldn’t do on his broken phone. After seeing nothing important he headed into the break room to get a coffee. Suzy and Fred were already there, mugs in hand.
“Did you see it Josh?” asked Suzy. “I heard it was incredible.”
Fred nodded his head so hard Josh thought it might tumble off. “It was awesome. At least that’s what I heard. I wasn’t there, but a friend of a friend tweeted me about it.”
“What are you two talking about?” Josh asked as he poured a large dose of the black stuff into his mug.
“There was a dust up between Shyla and the Dark Hatter this morning,” Suzy said. “They took out a small part of Broad Street, just a couple blocks away from Main. Shyla finally clobbered the Dark Hatter, leaving him for the police before disappearing. She is so amazing.”
Josh took a sip. Nice and strong, just like he needed it. It did need a hit of sugar this time, so he put in half a packet. Much better. “That explains the bus driver this morning. He looked like he had seen a ghost when he picked me up on Main,” Josh said.
Fred pulled out his phone. “You’ve got to see this picture that friend of a friend took. It is freaking amazing!”
Suzy grabbed ahold of Josh’s arm. “You saw someone who saw Shyla? How awesome is that?” she asked.
“He seemed more spooked than awesome,” Josh said, “and I don’t blame him. The thought of people who can do all the stuff they can just doesn’t seem right. Who is supposed to keep them in check when one of the Empowered goes rogue?”
“Here it is,” said Fred. “Check this out. Shyla is like a solid muscle.”
Josh took the offered phone and glanced at the picture, not really caring. Then he did a double take. There in the picture was the skin fold woman, except she was almost busting at the seams with muscle. Her muscles had muscles. How could this be?
“Shyla keeps them in line,” Suzy said. “Her and the rest of the Enforcers. They believe Empowered should live by the same laws.”
Josh handed the phone back to Fred and returned to drinking his liquid intelligence. His mind was still trying to reconcile the scarecrow of a woman with the powerhouse in the picture. “I still love how she just disappears after dealing out justice,” Fred said. “Must be hard to blend in with all that.”
Josh almost choked on his next swallow. “Something like that,” Josh said.
Suzy struck a heroic pose. “I wish I was Empowered. I would be out of here like a shot,” she said.
Josh thought back to what Shyla had told him. She had seen something in him. Then he had run and caught the bus. That should have been impossible. The bus driver had said he had never been near an Empowered before. He wasn’t talking about the fight.
Josh put down his mug. “I’ve got to go,” he said.
The boss entered the room. “Back to work I hope,” she said.
Josh smiled. “Nope, I’ve got a bus to catch,” he said, and with that he disappeared.
Shyla fumbled for her keys. She didn’t want to put these stupid bags down. It would be nice if she could just kick down the door, but she didn’t want to bulk up just to damage her own place. She tried to place the key into the lock, but it fell from her plastic limited fingers. “Damn!” she said. The keys stopped falling and the key magically appeared in the lock. “So you figured it out,” she said.
“Yeah, it took me a bit,” Josh said. “How did you know?”
Shyla put the bags on the step and turned around to look Josh in the eyes. “It’s in the eyes. That’s why most of the time we Empowered wear glasses of some sort. Stops us from giving ourselves away.”
Josh stroked his chin. “But why didn’t you have yours on?” he asked.
“I broke mine while fighting the Dark Hatter,” Shyla said. She took the broken pair out of one of her bags and showed them to Josh. “And they were my favorite pair.”
Josh looked like he was having problems figuring out what to say next. “How do you, I mean we, do what we do?” he finally asked.
“Come inside. I’ve got a proposition for you,” Shyla said. Josh looked like he was about to comment when Shyla waved a finger in front of his face. “Don’t make me kick your ass. You know I can do it.”
Josh smiled. “Only if you can catch me,” he said.
Shyla smiled. “We can discuss that over some food. Going large always leaves me starving,” she said as she opened the door. “And keep you mind out of the gutter.”
Josh shook his head. “I think this might be more fun than I thought,” he said as he followed Shyla inside.
“Who would you kill if you could kill anyone, anywhere, with a single thought?” asked Tatianna. She never broke stride as we walked between dorms on the way to the science center. It was cold outside. The spring semester had just started and the cold winds had also just come back from vacation.
Still it was that question that stopped me in my tracks. “Why did you say that?” I asked.
Tatianna stopped and laughed in her typical tee-hee fashion. “Darling, it was just a fun thought tease,” she said. “All these reports of people having superpowers freaks me out. Still, if I had the power to kill someone with just a thought, I would use it.”
Man I loved that accent. It was one of the reasons I was so madly in lust for her, not that she knew that. It was one of the many secrets I held from her, not that I wanted to. It was just easier this way, or at least that’s how I slept better at night, when I could sleep.
“Well, I don’t know. Who would you kill?” I said as we started walking again.
Tatianna hooked her arm around my elbow as we picked up the pace. Man it was bitter with that wind. “I would start by taking out all those terrorist assholes. Then I would move on to the drug cartels,” she said. “After that, we would see where the crap floated to the top. There would be plenty of crap once I got back home to St. Petersburg.”
I shook my head. This is where being a philosophy major had its perks. Okay, this might be its only perk, but it is still a perk. “I don’t think it would be that easy. Where do you begin drawing the line?” I said. “I think it would be easier to just let things play out on their own and not get involved. Things get complicated way too quickly.”
Tatianna leaned in close as the wind rose in fury. “This is worse than the time I visited Siberia. Let’s cut through Proctor. It’ll be shorter,” she said.
Proctor was a small park that sat on the edge of campus that was one of the only wooded places that might cut this accursed wind. It was also after dark and all sorts of people used the place to hide, from drunk under aged colligates to the occasional rapist. I made it a policy to avoid the place at all costs.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea. I would rather play it safe,” I said.
Tatianna turned us towards the trees. Did I mention she is a six foot two inch blond amazon goddess? Oh and I’m only five ten and maybe one sixty wet? She wins, not that I tried too hard. I did mention I was in lust. Maybe under the trees we could find a romantic spot where we wouldn’t get frostbite while we make out. Oh, and maybe I would win Miss America as soon as they open it up to young scrawny males who have good hair. I do have good hair.
“So why couldn’t you find a line?” Tatianna asked.
The wind blew her hair into my face and I inhaled the perfume she wore, or maybe that was her shampoo. Either way I was not complaining. Choking on paradise, maybe, but not complaining. “What about the kids of those you kill?” I asked. “They don’t deserve to lose their parent.”
Tatianna leaned in close as we entered the trees. The roaring wind died down to a moaning and the sound of tree branches dancing to a tune they didn’t enjoy. “This place always freaks me out,” she said.
“Then why, pray tell, did you come here?” I ask softly. I’m sort of freaked out as well, but I don’t want her to know that. Hopefully she didn’t notice my shaking a bit.
Once again the tee-hees pour forth. “If you could see your face right now,” Tatianna said. I knew I blushed, but in the dark and bitter cold I hope she mistook it for frostbite. Yes, I know frostbite is white, but I was still hoping. It is darker amongst the trees. She continued to pull me along. “But what about the kids of the people those dictators killed and maimed? You don’t get off that easy,” she said.
I kept my head on a swivel. Okay, I kept my eyes more on a swivel. I was enjoying leaning in and breathing Tatianna. Still, all was quiet on the eastern front, or was this west? Doesn’t matter, all was quiet, minus the tree and wind thing.
“Relax,” Tatianna said. “It’s too cold for anyone to be out in this. You would need to be crazy, or desperate.”
“So what does that make us?” I ask, then immediately regret it. I have a wonderful case of athlete’s tongue from all the running of my mouth.
“Hopeless fools?” Tatianna responds, giving me a small peck on my cheek. Okay, I almost fall over with the brute force of that small kiss.
I stop and look into those pale green eyes. I can’t really see them well in the dim light, but I have them on speed dial in my memory. I leaned in close and pressed my lips to her. I could feel a tingle pass through my entire being as we kissed. I didn’t want that moment to ever end.
I didn’t want that moment to end, especially as I was flattened by a truck the size of a linebacker. I rolled to my side and saw Tatioanna sitting on the ground with a large guy standing over her, holding that beautiful blonde mane in one ridiculously large fist. Two other guys materialized out of the dark trees as well.
“Look at what the wind dragged in for us guys?” said the thug holding Tatianna. “Looks like we get to have a bit of fun.” The two other thugs looked at Tatianna in such a way that left little doubt what they considered fun.
“Leave her alone,” I said as I began to stand up. The two other thugs took that as their clue to practice river dancing on my spine. My attempt at rising ended in a lot of groans and me getting into the fetal position to protect myself as much as I could.
“That’s enough boys,” the first thug said. “Don’t kill him yet.” Tatianna moaned. The thug looked at her. “You behave, and we’ll let you and your boyfriend live. Understand?”
Tatianna looked at me, pleading me to do something. I wanted to. I wanted to be that hero, but I couldn’t be. I watched the thug grab her breast hard and Tatianna just went limp. She was giving up everything, just so we could live.
I looked at the two thugs who had been dancing on my spine, then I turned back to the thug holding Tatianna. His hands groped her back into a standing position. I could feel my anger overwhelming my helplessness. “Leave her alone,” I growled. This earned me a few more kicks and I almost blacked out, but I kept my eyes on the thug holding Tatianna. He tried to kiss those lips that had just graced mine with their presence. Now they were the site of a hostile takeover.
“Leave her alone,” I said again, the red haze in my vision coming from the hatred or the brain damage I was receiving. I didn’t know, and I didn’t care. I felt something snap inside of me, but it wasn’t a bone or an organ. It was that moral place that always knew where the line really was, and I had never crossed it. Now though, the line had snapped.
I looked at the two closest thugs to me and I pulled my mental trigger. The two of them fell like someone had cut their strings. The thug holding Tatianna broke off his assault on Tatianna’s mouth and looked at me like his world had just been blown apart, which it had, since he fell to the ground dead as well.
The bad news was Tatianna fell to the ground too. Her eyes were open wide and her breathing was fast and shallow. I tried to comfort her. “Tatianna, it’s going to be okay. Everything is going to be okay,” I said, as I tried to get to a sitting position. Okay, maybe a bone broke in there as well since my ribs ground against each other.
Tatianna then put on a bright smile. “I know it will be. I promise. Everything will be okay,” she said. She took out her cell phone. “I have the subject in custody. Send in the sweeper team.” Then she blinked.
Liza’s screams never traveled farther than the lid of her coffin. She pounded on the top again until her bruised flesh gave away to the bones underneath her knuckles. How could she have trusted him? He had seemed so nice. She brought him back to her house for a bite, but that’s when it got fuzzy. He must have somehow drugged her. She could barely remember his rants about his brother and what she had done as he beat her with a silver cross. It didn’t matter, she was a vampire and she had eternity to dig her way out.
Christopher donned his white garb and covered his face. This was supposed to be the hardest test yet. If rumor was correct, this was the last one as well. All he had to do was slip into this McMansion on this cold winter’s night and deliver a small silk wrapped figurine into the master bedroom and onto the nightstand. If Christopher could do all of this, and get away without getting caught, he would pass. The compensation for the job he was auditioning for was in the seven figures, so Christopher knew he was against tough competition, but they only selected the best of the best, and Christopher always believed in being that.
As he approached the wall from the downwind direction, Christopher placed a small listening device into his left ear. Suddenly the mostly silent night exploded into sound. He pressed his ear against the wall and closed his eyes. Centering himself before attempting an insertion was one of the ways he earned top spot in his class as a Navy Seal. Three breathes in and he could almost map the sounds from inside the compound. There were at least three dogs wandering. The hum of electricity spoke of cameras nearby. He figured there must be at least two people, but they were on the far side or inside a structure since their voices were so muffled.
Christopher looked at his watch. His diversion should kick in three, two, one. He was over the wall before the lights had fully gone out due to lack of electricity. He took out a small crossbow and fired off one, then reload and fired a second shot. The smell of roast beef carried into the night. Christopher ran the other way, turning down the listening device, but he didn’t shut it off. Two dogs seemed to be running towards the free meal, but he could hear one coming his way. Whether the animal could smell him, or Christopher had ran into the dog’s most likely path, he couldn’t be certain, but he reached for his favorite dog toy. The Doberman came around a bush and Christopher triggered his ultraviolet flash, blinding the animal temporarily. Christopher threw his last helping of meat in front of the dog as compensation before running as silently as possible to the window.
A few magnets were carefully stuck to the outside window casing and two laser diodes trained at the photodetectors to defeat the alarm system should it come back on. A quick layer of tape over one of the panes and then a swipe of a glass cutter took off the first layer of glass. Another cut and more tape took out the second layer. He quickly opened the latch and let himself inside. He fixed the windows with a bit more tape to stand up to a cursory inspection from the guards that were undoubtedly roaming the compound because of the loss of power.
Christopher military crawled on his elbows an knees out of the room and towards the staircase. He didn’t have long before… and there it was, power was back on. The cat jumped back from Christopher crawling up the stairs. He had noticed the cat when he had done his reconnaissance two days ago. The cat guaranteed that as long as he stayed less than two feet off the ground that the alarm shouldn’t trigger. That and it was badass to talk later about military crawling a marble staircase, especially without pads. At the top he reoriented himself to where the master bedroom should be. He stopped in the first bedroom on the staircase and left a present of his own. Once the package was delivered he continued down the hallway.
The master bedroom was closed. Christopher put his ear to the door and listened, one person breathing in and out, slightly out of unison with something else. Damn! He didn’t think anything else would be there. There could be another cat, but Christopher hadn’t seen anything other than the cat he already encountered. Flashlights flashed above him from the floor below. The guards must have found the dogs’ treats. Well, fate favors the bold. He pulled his feet underneath him into a crouching position. The alarm must be off if the guards were in the house. He pressed the button on his belt, opened the door and rolled into the room and to the right. He tucked himself behind a chair as the alarms went ballistic. An older man jumped out of bed, his white hair looking comic with a severe case of bedhead and his beard covered in drool. The old man ran through the door among shouts from the guards down below. The small dachshund that had been sleeping with the man blinked in the sudden light, but didn’t move from the warm pillow it had been sleeping on.
Seizing the opportunity, Christopher jumped out of his cover and ran to the nightstand, placing the figurine in place. Glancing at the bed, the dachshund seemed to almost be smiling at him. Christopher snapped himself back into the now and looked for possible cover. With none to be had, he quickly slipped out onto the porch off the bedroom. He slung himself down from the railing and fell the story to the ground below, rolling as he hit. Christopher came up and tried to run, but found out he had twisted his ankle on landing. He began to limp as best as he could, but the flood lights came on lighting him up.
“Hands above your head or you won’t have one,” called a deep male voice from the porch.
Christopher put his hands over his head and turned around. He wanted to go for his pistol, but he was told no wet works under any circumstances. There was the old man with a sniper rifle pointed straight at Christopher. Christopher was impressed. The man held it like someone who had many hours of practice with the weapon. “Look,” said Christopher, “this is all a misunderstanding.”
The old man actually ho ho hoed. “Misunderstanding young man? I know who’s been naughty or nice, and you were definitely naughty tonight,” the old man said. “Putting a fog grenade in a spare bedroom was brilliant. the perfect diversion. Something I might have done back in my day.” Christopher bowed but didn’t say a thing.
The old man paused, thinking. He then threw the figurine, still in the silk cover, to Christopher who caught it with one hand. “You forgot this.”
“Thanks, but I believe I was supposed to leave it with you,” Christopher admitted.
“Well, you earned it. You made it farther than any of the others,” the old man said.
Christopher looked from the figurine, to the old man, and back to the figurine. “What do you mean old man?” he asked.
“Open it if you want the job,” the old man said, a twinkle in his eye.
Christopher opened the drawstring on the silk bag and looked inside. It was impossible to see what it was. Christopher looked back at the old man. “But I failed,” he said.
The old man whistled and out waddled the dachshund. “There was no chance you could have won. Not unless you had some magic of your own,” the old man said. “Besides, Blitzen here has taken a liking to you.”
Christopher laughed and dropped the figurine out of the bag and into his hand. It was a small statue of the man in front of him, winking with a finger alongside his nose. Christopher held it out to old man. “Okay, what’s next?” he asked.
The old man dropped the sniper rifle on the table and threw himself off the balcony. Christopher tried to move to catch the old man, but his ankle failed him, dropping Christopher to the ground. The dachshund morphed into a reindeer and lightning quick took flight and caught the old man before he had dropped five feet. The two of them glided to a stop a foot away from Christopher. The old man held out his hand to help Christopher up. “Welcome to the corps,” the old man said.
Christopher stood and felt his ankle mend immediately. “Are you Santa?” he asked.
The old man ho ho hoed again. “If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me that question I would be rich,” the old man said. “Actually my name is Stanly. You just became a part of the Santa Corps. People have screwed it up for so many years we decided to just keep the Santa Claus moniker. Makes us seem even more mysterious, a single guy doing something miraculous.”
“How many are in the Corps?” asked Christopher.
“I know you have many questions, but I’m hungry, so let’s go get a bite to eat. The elves should have something ready by now,” Stanly said.
“My private security. One can never be too careful,” Stanly said as he dismounted Blitzen. “How do you feel about beards?” He began walking back to the house. Christopher fell in beside him.
“I don’t mind them,” Christopher said. He looked at the house again. “Why did you have me break into this place?”
“What can you do if your magic ever fails? We need capable men and women,” Stanly said.
“Men and women?” asked Christopher.
Stanly put his arm around Christopher. “It’s just the beginning. I’ve got forms you need to sign, and we need to get you some training, but let me tell you the fringe benefits are awesome.”
Christopher let himself be led inside. “But what of the pay?” he asked.
Stanly smiled. “I can tell you it’s not just milk and cookies.”
Suzdal is the blog run by Alex Markovich (author, artist) about one of the most famous towns of the Golden Ring of Russia.
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