Smoke billowed out of the speakeasy. Officer Arlington averted his gaze, clenching his jaw. He hated it. He hated all of it – the jazz, the booze, and especially the bribes. But he didn’t have a choice. His son was sick; the polio treatments were so expensive. He always patrolled just outside – half to keep the ne’er-do-wells aware that there was a line that could be crossed, and half to make himself feel he wasn’t entirely worthless.
He was staring, boring a hole into the entrance when a young woman – one of those flappers, though hiding her dress under a long coat – came up to him and asked for a light. He scoffed and shot her a look.
Most of the speakeasy’s clientele knew better than to engage him, and when they did left him alone after they realized his disposition. This woman just repeated her question.
“I don’t smoke on the job,” he muttered, and turned away.
“Well, you also don’t do your job,” she smirked and his eyes became slits as he whipped around back at her.
“I’m here to make sure none of this gets out of hand.”
“Per the law, this is all out of hand, unless I’m mistaken.”
He said nothing. He wished she would go away.
“Come on in, and have a drink. You look like you could use some fun.”
A year on this beat and no one had ever engaged him. He finally looked in the woman’s eyes and for once didn’t find the thickly drawn kohl outline corpse-like. He just saw kindness.
Cat cut the cord, her breath hissing between her teeth when she was done. The overwhelming hum of electricity was immediately silenced.
“Well?” Andrea pestered, peering over Cat’s shoulder to look at the mass of wires she had so artfully disabled.
“Perfect,” Andrea whispered. She put a hand on Cat’s shoulder and pressed upwards, using Cat as a balance. Her eyes shone though there was no light. Her pupils were wide in the darkness, and quieter than a mouse, Andrea shuffled forward, towards their prize. It was a one-of-a-kind piece of art – one that just so happened to be entirely made of platinum and rose gold. It was a sculpture of His Great Image. Andrea wanted to spit on it.
Well, the security system was off. She could. She did.
“What are you doing?” came Cat’s hushed reprimand.
“When else are we going to have a chance to desecrate His Great Image?”
“What do you think we’re here for?”
“Yeah, yeah, put a lid on it.”
Andrea laughed and reached her hand, looking for the locks with her skilled and nimble hands. There – with a flick, she released one, and ah – there’s the other. Cat had finished packing up her prize.
The stars were covered. Penelope had finally emerged from the forest, ready to find her way home… But the stars were clouded over with ominously grey clouds that sucked the light out of an already dark sky. She fell to the ground, her knees sinking into the soft dirt. She was ready to give up. She may as well accept it – she was never getting home. Angry with herself, with the world, with the strange green bird she had followed earlier into the forest, she beat the ground.
Through her sobs she did not see the glow, did not hear the beat, beat, beating of a drum – no, a heartbeat.
Penelope heard a throat being cleared and knew it was not her own. She wipes away her tears, leaving behind a trail of moist, rich earth.
“If you wouldn’t mind,” spoke an earthy, feminine figure, “I was trying to sleep.”
Penelope’s eyes grew wide as she took in the full form of the being: forged of the same rich dirt that she had fallen into; a leafy cascade of amber, red, and green was her hair; lips of dew-dropped earth; and a tunic of moss.
“I’m sorry,” the words fell from her lips before she knew what she had said.
It had been 2000 years since Dendrick had first taken the form of a gargoyle. It wasn’t his choice. He used to be a bard. He used to be the greatest bard that had ever lived. That was probably still true, if his fate hadn’t literally been set in stone.
He spent most of those 2000 years trying to figure out the best insults he could throw at the nymph that cursed him. So what if he shared the tale of their union in every pub? He always got a free drink from that story, it was a good story. And she was beautiful. Or at least she used to be until vengeance overtook her and she cursed him to an eternity in stone. Pretty hard to think someone is beautiful after they ruin your life.
Watching the world around him change was so boring. And so disappointing. He had seen such great wonders when he could travel the world, but now he was stuck mounted to a… Well, people always came in and out with lots of money. One time there was a lot of people with weapons that camped outside pointing inwards and he almost thought he was going to finally be free of this entrapment.
But no. Some guy in a mask came out and found a cage of his own. He felt for the guy. But not really. 2000 years stuck inside a gargoyle doesn’t leave much room for empathy.
Izanami smirked as she watched the students for her next class file in. She watched their faces as the incense filled their lungs, as their eyes adjusted to the dim lighting. She watched the newer ones widen their eyes in amazement at the weighted and rhythmic rocking of the sōzu in the garden just off the patio. They could hear the sharp thunk of the bamboo hitting rock through the window. She had often explained to her students that the sōzu was an ancient Japanese meditative device. It wasn’t. It was meant to scare off herbivores that liked to nibble on nearby plants.
As far as Izanami was concerned, it didn’t work. Most of her students were vegetarians and if anything it only brought them closer.
She never really got into yoga, it was just one of those jobs that fell into her lap. She came from a circus family and flexibility was trained into her from a young age. Yoga wasn’t a choice, it was just something they did and found out it was this huge commercialized movement years later when they finally got cell phones. When Izanami came out to her family, they kicked her out. She was the eldest, and they couldn’t rectify their need for an heir with their need to love their daughter instead of their son.
So she moved to California, and started teaching yoga to pretentious middle-class moms. Her favorite part was making up names of the more challenging and lesser known positions. It’s amazing what you can get away with when people only see your skin. It was her small little vengeance against those who saw her skin as her culture, and her vengeance against the people who refuse to see her as the woman she is.
Every night he woke to the faint skittering of claws on wood. He got up, grabbed his peashooter, and rushed out of bed, sheets trailing behind him. Kal often forgot the outside world as soon as he heard those claws. He often forgot that it was less than freezing and he was only in his boxers. He forgot that the front porch was often icy from the warmer weather during the daylight. All he knew in those early morning hours was that he wanted those animals gone.
This morning, he found himself standing on the porch – just barely – he had nearly slipped and instead sprained his back from the recovery – a crazed look in his eye, and the pea shooter at his mouth to hit the next warm-blooded monster that made noise.
There it was – a crack! Before he could see what it was he aimed and fired a shot. A shriek followed quickly after. When the rage had cleared from Kal’s eyes shock had settled in. An adonis in furs stood before him.
Realization settled over both of them, and their eyes in unison fell over Kal’s nearly naked form.
If it was near freezing, Kal could not tell for how much his cheeks burned in embarrassment.
Pru crunched a vinegaroon under her boot as she watched it try to skitter away. They were fast, but not fast enough. The California sun beat down hard on the flat desert expanse. Pru wiped her forehead, flicking away a bead of salty sweat. She crushed another vinegaroon as she rethought her decision to abandon civilization to build her own private homestead in the middle of nowhere. Her neighbors were nice enough, though they were miles away. She insisted on building her house by herself, which meant staying in a trailer until she’d completed her task. And it was slow work, very slow work. She’d just finished the foundation and was taking a break to hydrate herself.
She pinched the skin on the back of her hand – she heard once if you were dehydrated your skin would lose elasticity. Still elastic. Also, ow. She sighed and took a big old swig of water, making a face as the taste of hot plastic hit her tongue. The amount of water she had to drink was definitely the biggest downside to moving to the desert.
The upside was the amount of pride she felt for controlling her destiny. For literally building her own home. She learned and set her own limits.
And that was worth all the plastic-tasting water and vinegaroons in the world.