king

He was King.  Not by birthright.  Not by succession or election. But because he had worked for it, fought for it, scraped and kicked and gouged and won battle after battle as he ascended to the top, to the throne.  And there he sat, surveying his dominion, King of all he could see.

For the next fifteen minutes or so, anyway, until recess was over.

Then he would have to earn it all over again the next time his class raced out to the play structure.

He was looking forward to it.

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phoenix

She stood in the rain and let the water wash the dirt from her hands.  It was a warm storm.  The shower was refreshing despite the lateness of the day.

She reached skyward, tilting her head back, eyes closed.  The dirt turned to mud and sloughed off in heavy chunks.  It felt like the water was cleansing her soul as well but she knew she would wear the stain of her sins for the rest of her life.  She didn’t expect that to be very long.

Her sins would catch up to her, no matter how clean she got at the end of the day.  She had no doubt about that.  And then she would find the peace that had so long eluded her.

On that night, though, as the full moon stay hidden behind the formidable clouds unleashing their torrent upon the earth, she let the rain wash away all thoughts of what had come before and what she still had to face.  For those minutes in the gentle wrath of the storm she focused solely on the feel of the water splashing against her, the feel of the grit being pulled free from her skin, the feel of her soul rising from its hidden depths to exalt in the joy of the experience.

She opened her eyes and gazed into the swirling darkness above.  It looked like familiar, like how she imagined the place within her where her soul went to hide as she worked.  A smile crossed her lips as she dreamed of slipping free of gravity and climbing into the darkness to hide away forever.  She would enjoy being there, folded in the clouds, surrounded by the thrum of natural energy, traveling the world until spent only to be reborn again and again, like a phoenix of water rather than fire.

She laughed into the storm.  Her voice boomed in her ears but was quickly muffled by the wind and rain.

In many ways, she was a phoenix.  Each new hunt was a cycle.  She was born when she located a target.  She grew, aged, and lived on the hunt.  Then she died with each kill only to be reborn again.

She was dead beneath this storm.  Soon she would pull herself free of the flood and flourish in her way.  One day the cycle would end.  Until then, she would fulfill her fated role.

BLT

Those who had gotten to know him, and knew about his special talent, called him “BLT,” though never to his face.  It wasn’t that he minded the nickname, he was always just nervous that calling out his gift would somehow make it go away.  But, it never did.  Beginner’s Luck Tom, could always succeed at something the first time he tried it.

It started at home, and took him a long time to realize there might be something there, when he would attempt a trick shot and always make it the first time but then never repeat it again.  It was always just that first time.  Eventually, if he spent hours shooting from distance or going for crazy banks, he could get one or two more to fall.  But, the first attempt at a new stance or trick always went in.  So, while he excelled at halftime gimmicks, he never joined a team.  Practice never seemed to help him improve even the most basic of shots.

He was never a great student, always confounding the teachers because he seemed to grasp an idea immediately only to then struggle to replicate it.  When something new was introduced, Tom could give the answer to the first question confidently, as if he’d been studying the subject for years, but then he would be able to answer the next related question or the one after that.  Eventually, he would improve, but he wasn’t an A student.

By the time he turned 18, most of his friends had already started calling him BLT and he begun to trust in that luck.  On his birthday he bought a lotto ticket and won.  It wasn’t the largest payout but it was enough to see him live comfortably without having to stress about work.  He took part of his winnings and invested in the stock market for the first time.  The first stock he picked skyrocketed and made him even wealthier.  The others tanked, but he’d made so much with the first pick that those losses didn’t matter.

So it went, year after year.  BLT, tried new ventures and was always successful but then abandoned each new venture knowing that he would only fail from then on.  He struggled for a bit with resentment over the years.  He watched friends struggle early on but then become experts in their various fields, love and lose and then love again, make mistakes and learn from them to become something greater.  He could never become greater than his first attempts.  Everything else ended poorly.

Eventually he stopped being angry and accepted who he was and fell into a comfortable pattern of living.  He used his vast wealth to pay people to do the mundane things so he wouldn’t screw them up: driving, cooking, cleaning.  He had his friends give him ideas on new things to try, because if he sat down to think of new ideas on his own, something he had done before, none of the ideas he came up with would be any good.  And he lived day to day, riding the high of his constant beginner’s luck.

unsolved

He grew up in a haunted house so each new place he moved to he was open-minded to the possibility that it too would be haunted.  He looked for signs.  He watched for movement and listened for unexplainable sounds.  He waited patiently for the ghosts to show themselves but they never did.  Then, one night, nine plus years after having moved into his current home, he heard her voice coming through the shower pipes.

He dismissed it at first.  Ghosts don’t just show up unless something happened to invite them in or to keep them from leaving.  Nothing tragic had happened in the house or nearby.  There was no reason a ghost should have chosen that specific night to reach out.  But, she continued to talk through the pipes when the shower was running and that made it so he couldn’t ignore her.  Besides, he’d waited for so long he didn’t want to.

Her words were garbled.  The water made them impossible to understand but her voice only came through when the water was turned on.  No matter what he tried, he couldn’t understand her.

It was disconcerting to have her chattering away while he showered.  Though, once the initial shock wore off, he tried to engage her in conversation.  She didn’t respond to any of his questions in any discernible way.  It didn’t seem like she cared what he said because her tone and the pacing of her words never changed.  He grew used to having her voice in the background as the days passed, until it no longer seemed strange and he no longer even tried to understand what she was saying.

And then, one morning during his shower, her words turned to screams.

He called out to her, asking fervently how he could help, what was wrong, what she needed.  When there was no change, he turned the water on and off, hoping to get a break from the onslaught.  Hoping the cycling of the water might help or reset the scenario or anything that might break off the noise.  He turned on different taps and called out through them.  But, when the water was on in the shower nothing stopped the screams.  Nothing he tried did anything to diminish her wails.

He had to turn the water off.  Even at a trickle her cries of anguish came through at piercing decibels.  He felt bad about it but he had to go about his life.  He couldn’t leave her screaming while he wasn’t home.  He couldn’t leave her screaming while he was trying to get things done around the house: eating, sleeping, …

He turned off the tap and left it off for several minutes.  The silence was nearly as deafening as her screams had been.  Nearly.  For the first time since her sudden arrival, he was scared.

What would happen when he turned the water back on?  What if she was still screaming?  What if she wasn’t?

The unanswered questions couldn’t wait forever.  He only had one bathroom in his place.  Eventually, and sooner rather than later at that, he would have to turn his shower back on.

He couldn’t face it naked, though.  Though he had mostly dried in the process of running around trying the other taps in his house, trying to get to the women, to help her, to get her to calm down, he still had soap on him.  He didn’t worry about that, though, as he finished toweling off and put some clothes on.  Then he walked back into the bathroom, haltingly, timidly.  And with his heart racing, he pulled the lever that would turn his shower back on.

Water poured forth but nothing else.  No screaming.  No talking.  Just water.

He stared at the drain as the water filled around the edges before being pulled away, forgotten, lost forever.  Where had she gone?  Had he imagined the whole thing?  What was he supposed to do now?

He shut the water off and then immediately turned it back on.  Still, there was no hint of his ghost.  With a frown he turned off the tap and left the bathroom.  He had to get to work.  The mystery would wait until he got home later and could see if she had returned.  Then again, perhaps he would never know why she had come, why she had screamed and why she stopped…

hungry

The sound, a low rumbling, caught my attention.  In the darkness I caught sight of something large slip between the cracked garage door, like a tongue licking giant lips.  Was the house purring?  Is that what I heard?  It was happy knowing it was about to be fed?

My path did not cross directly in front and I certainly felt no desire to get any closer to the garage.  The curiosity of what I’d really seen and what I’d heard was strong, though.  Perhaps if my errands hadn’t been quite so urgent, I might have crept closer to see what there was to see.

Then maybe this story would have a different ending….