Wednesday, February 26, 2020

#QueerBlogWed: Paula's Prompts

On December 4, 2019, P.T. Wyant posted at a Wednesday Words prompt involving a broken door, a voice singing, and a regret.

This story was the result...

I could the voices singing more clearly now that I’d broken down the door. He wouldn’t be keeping me out or hiding behind it. Not any more.

I stopped for a moment, just to listen to the song. Sometimes it was his mature adult timbre, the one he used in the real world. At others, it was a boyish, vulnerable tremble, perhaps the tone of his inner child. His, or perhaps I should say their final voice plucked notes from the air that were beyond gender, finding a lilting tone between highs and lows with the intonation of a promise which could never be kept. 

They were no longer secret, those inner voices. I’d broken down the door he’d erected within his own mind, keeping them to himself, keeping them safe from the world. I’d probed the cracks in the imaginary wood, widening them until his barrier could no longer withstand me. 

This was a violation, an invasion of his inner self, but I’d wanted to hear the songs he kept locked away. What good did the door do, especially when it never opened, offering any communication between himself and anyone who might listen to his songs. The music was choking him, solidifying within him. This effected his physical as well as his mental and emotional health. 

Yes, I could come up with excuse after excuse for what I’d done. My motivations, however, hadn’t been noble. Greedy for every part of him, I wanted what lay beyond the door. I wanted him to open it up and share. Once I heard a fragment of the song, I was no longer willing to wait. My hunger had been that rapacious.

It now made me blush with shame. 

He looked at me through the splintered barrier, all of his hidden faces smiling, his voices free. “Thank you.”

“What for?” I couldn’t look at him, couldn’t step through what was left of the door, even after all I’d done to destroy it. 

He’s the one who came to me, pushing his way through the broken slats until he stands before me. He took my chin in his hand and forced me to look at him. “May I tell you a secret?” He smiles as if he’s about to tell a joke. “I always wanted you to hear those songs. I pictured singing them to you, only my own fear created the door, locking them away inside me where no one could hear me sing. Or so I thought.”

He kissed my mouth just as my jaw dropped in astonishment. Here I’d been hating myself, thinking I’d violated him by kicking down the door.

Guess the joke was on me. 

Monday, February 24, 2020

Secondary Characters Speak Out: Quartz and Reynard

Reynard: Well met, Quartz, thank you so much for inviting me here today. I wasn’t sure what the cuisine was like in these parts so I thought I would bring dinner for us both, as cooking is rather a passion of mine-I hope you like goat?
A table materializes in response to Reynard’s platter, adored with flowers, skulls, and sporting flatware and table settings featuring an aesthetically pleasing rose and thorn design.

Quartz: Huh? (He glances from the table to the red curtain, which materializes behind the table)

Christopher: (whispering behind the curtain) This is a pattern I’ve seen beyond the Door in the Shadow Forest. I think Dyvian and Duessa may both favour. Not that I eat much myself, but I can visualize this into existence while in the Cauldron. It seems more suitable than anything you and your brothers have in the cottage.

Nimmie Not: (in a much louder voice behind the curtain) Are you implying that I didn’t furnish my dwarf and his brother’s home properly?

Quartz: Hush, both of you! (glances back at Reynard) Thank’ee kindly, Reynard. Last time I had goat, it was in a stew. Nothing like this. (He sniffs at the cassoulet, nose turning a bit red.) This is quite fancy, much fancier than anything I’m used to having.

Nimmie Not: Stop flirting!

Quartz: Right. (rubs nose) So Reynard. What’s your story? What’s it about?

Reynard: Ah, dear me, I’m afraid my story is a sorry one indeed. The things I have to put up with, my dear Quartz-the trials and agonies life throws at me-you could not imagine! Let me start with the fact that the entire fate of the universe lies in my hands. 

Quartz: (between bites, for he’s applying himself with great enthusiasm to the cassoulet) That so?

Reynard: As Cardinal of the Red Robe order of Necromancers it is up to me to divine a Chosen One who will save us all. You would think that was burden enough wouldn’t you? But on top of that I have this wild and unruly flock to keep in order, and I am not talking about goats here, more’s the pity. My acolytes seem to have…ahem…strayed from the path a little…that is to say, a lot…they’re um…(he turns his head and mumbles into his sleeve) eating babies…but I’m sure it’s nothing that can’t be smoothed over by bribing the local press. Did I mention I brought cake? One of my acolytes, Douglas, baked it but it’s perfectly alright I have checked it for small body parts and it’s fine.

Quartz: Small body parts?

Nimmie Not: (materializes very close to Quartz from a cloud of yellow smoke) Ooo, that sounds tasty! (He eyes the cake.)

Quartz: Stop interrupting and the nice man may save you a piece. Besides he says no body parts.

Nimmie Not: Such a pity. All the goblins say that’s the best part of a cake, not that I trust their judgment, oh, no. 

Quartz: Right. There’s a thing called space. What have I said about giving my guests and myself some?

Nimmie Not: I believe you said, “Gah!” right after I materialized in your lap. (smirks)

Quartz: (twitches and gives Nimmie Not a Look)

Nimmie Not: (pouts) Oh, fine! (disappears in a cloud of yellow smoke)

Quartz: I swear it’s impossible to talk around here without someone interrupting. So it sounds like you’ve got a huge part to play in your world, what with your Chosen One and curbing your order’s baby-eating activities. (He makes a face.) Human, why would anyone want to eat human?

Nimmie Not: (in a huffy voice coming from behind the curtain) Excuse me, eating humans is a time-honored tradition among monsters! Not to mention a tried and true way for humans to become monsters themselves.

Christopher: Not to mention a sharp-dressed cannibal gets the prettiest of the angst-ridden boys. Um, I think I picked up that stray thought from the scribbler’s fannish brain. 

Quartz: Pipe down, both of you. Reynard, tell us more about your world. Anything readers ought to know about it? Anything in particular you notice for the better or the worse?

Reynard: Well we’re sort of cut off from the rest of the world, Quartz, on our grim little island called The Skull. Many hundreds of years ago, our Glorious Leader, The Mighty Wiz, Supreme Ruler of the Universe, sent our little group of Necromancers to this secret island and charged us with the task of discovering the secret of immortality so that he could truly become a god and live forever. 

(There’s a sound of pages turning behind the curtain as Nimmie Not looks up The Mighty Wiz in his book listing People of Importance…)

Reynard: And so that is what our sacred order has been doing ever since…sort of…I mean of course we do a lot for the local community as well-cake sales, bridge nights, knitting circles, summer fetes…that sort of thing…which takes up a lot of time.

Quartz: They would. Such activities might be a solution to certain vainglorious witches with too much time on their hands, eh, never mind that. What part do you play in this story of yours?

Reynard: Well, as I said before, mine is probably the most vital role in the entire universe, let alone this short story. You see while my husband, Vivienne, is busy ‘running a tight ship’ as he calls it (And between you and me, Quartz, what he means by that is organising day trips for the orphanage or pensioners’ bingo nights or free milk for the under fives or other such irrelevant nonsense) I have kept true to the task Wiz set for us, and myself and my Red Robes have discovered the secret of undeath. We have Wiz’s soul in a bottle and we are just about ready to transfer it into the body of our Chosen One and perform the…er…secret ritual which will make Wiz immortal at last!

Nimmie Not: (voice behind the curtain) Ooo…a resurrection! They can be so…spectacular! 

Quartz: Right. (trying not to look uneasy) No one can accuse you of thinking small, that’s for sure. Just be certain to follow the ritual to the letter…resurrections can go wrong only too easily. (He rubs his nose self-consciously.) Anything you especially like about your role? 

Reynard: Well, I can’t deny there is something quite heart warming and magical about knowing I am to help bring our Glorious Leader back into the world and immortalise him…I feel rather like the ‘Mother of God’ I suppose…would you like some more goat cassoulet? 

Quartz: Never thought of it like that, but I suppose you are. (He looks down at his empty plate.) Yes, I would like more. Tasty stuff, this.

Nimmie Not: You’re overeating…

Quartz: I am not! (glowers at the curtain) It’s not like I usually get to eat like this…Reynard, what really annoys you about the part you play?

Reynard: Ha! Well, the one thing that is always a constant annoyance of course is my husband. 

Quartz: Right. (mutters) Sounds like a very good reason not to get married. 

Nimmie Not: What was that? 

Quartz: Nothing! Apologies, Reynard, go on. (digs into his second portion of the cassoulet)

Reynard: For one thing he is always so ‘busy’ that we never seem to spend any time together. Then when we do spend time together all he does is criticise me or make spiteful remarks.

Quartz: Sounds familar, this.

Nimmie Not: Excuse me?! I do not make spiteful remarks!

Quartz: No, not always. Sometimes it’s Opal. Go on, Reynard. (takes another bite)

Reynard: He doesn’t appreciate anything I do; not my cooking, not the time I dedicate to the temple (between you and me, Quartz, I suspect he has lost his faith entirely and sees himself more as some jumped up Community Worker rather than Moderator Of The Curia-tsk!)

Quartz: He doesn’t appreciate food like this? (He takes another bite.) He should try eating my brother’s stew. Doesn’t know how good he has it. (chews for emphasis)

Reynard: He even called The Chosen One (he cups his hand to his mouth to whisper it) a “Holy Little Sh**t”. Can you imagine it? And accused me of having ulterior motives for devoting so much time to his education!

Quartz: Right. He and Opal would get along entirely too well. They should grab an ale together. 

Reynard: So, yes, to get back to your original question, what annoys me most I suppose is being under appreciated and having my good intentions (and my culinary creations) completely misunderstood by the man I love. I just can’t get Viv to understand that just because he is Moderator Of The Curia does not mean that our marriage can be sidelined every time the temple is having one of its little problems. In fact he seems to think that a lot of these problems are caused by me and my Red Robes, which is grossly unfair and completely irrational, not to mention flagrantly false and untrue as well. 

Quartz: Right, it’s all your fault. As if he wasn’t to blame for any of it. He should try eating my brother’s stew or even my daughter’s, bless her, her cooking is better than Opal’s, but nowhere close to yours. Viv might appreciate what he’s got more if he had to eat someone else’s efforts. (He chews some more.) So. What are some of your likes and dislikes in general?

Reynard: I have many passions in life, Quartz-all the best people are passionate people, don’t you think? Cooking, Knitting, Goats, I’m quite a demon at whist…evening strolls along the deserted scrap of craggy island coastline as the sun melts into the sea…not that I’ve had the pleasure of a stroll like that for the past twenty years…but I’m sure I have bored you to tears with moaning about my non-existent love life. 

Quartz: Not at all. Sounds like you’re living and resurrecting to the fullest, makes me a bit envious, that. My own ressurection didn’t go too well. Is there any more of this cassoulet?

Nimmie Not: Stop. Flirting! 

Quartz: Eh, never mind. (rubs his nose) Go on. 

Reynard: What do I dislike? Urg, Vivienne’s home made Damson Preserve-and the wine he makes from it, tsk! Who makes wine from jam, Quartz? I ask you! The man has gone mad. He even insisted that Penny include the recipe of jam wine in the back of the book, si embarrassment!

Quartz: I hear you. I’ve got a little brother who’s terrified of garden gnomes and insists on tugging on his beard. (He smooths his own in a fussy fashion.) Family, what can you do with them? Especially when your scribbler listens to them…go on. 

Reynard: And being alone. In the evenings, having slaved for hours over my latest culinary creation, to be left sitting for hours in the dying light of a lovingly placed candle, daring to hope that he will come home at some reasonable hour and not be in ‘one of his moods’…finally clearing it all away and blowing out the light…and taking myself off to bed…alone.

Quartz: (stops chewing) Alone…never thought how that could be a bad thing. Not when my brothers’ snores make the walls shake, leaving me wishing I was alone. (He looks pensive, thoughtful.) Here you are, going to all that effort for someone, only to have that someone scowl at you, wishing you would go away. (He glances at the curtain.) I never thought about it like that. 

Nimmie Not: (his voice very soft) No, you haven’t. 

Quartz: No. (He shakes his head, rubs a hand over his eyes.) Ignore the curtain, ignore me, I’m getting maudlin in my old age…tell us about the main character in your tale. Just how irritating are they or do they amuse you?

Reynard: Ah, Immanuel. Nothing brings me greater joy than that young man.

Quartz: I know what you mean. I felt the same way about my human daughter, my Fairest.

Reynard: Now I must be honest, Quartz, and say that I think there are others who would consider themselves The Main Character in this tale; Oh I’m absolutely certain that Vivienne thinks he is god above us all and the centre of everything! Probably that skeleton and her zombie wife who we…er…accidentally resurrected and mistook for gods think this story is all about them!

Quartz: Right. If I had a coin for every resurrection gone wrong…never mind. I’ve met a few people like that. Such as a certain evil queen. Probably thought it was all about her night at the ball, her magic mirror, and her cursed apple. (scowls)

Reynard: Then there is that do-gooding nobody…what is her name?

Quartz: Oriana. Only forget the do-gooding, unless it’s good for herself or to make up for past selfishness. 

Reynard: Marie, that’s it-nobody of consequence really but she goes about the place flagrantly disobeying the rules in the name of social justice; feeding thousands of hungry outcasts with a loaf of bread and raw fish, that sort of thing, and you know how rebels like that fancy themselves The Hero Of The Tale. 

Quartz: Right. That sounds nothing like Oriana. (grimaces) Not unless the bread she was feeding to the outcasts was cursed. (grimaces again)

Reynard: But no, Immanuel is the main character of course after all he is The Chosen One, and I should know, I’m the one who chose him! And let me tell you, my dear Quartz, if you could see the artistic sweep of his tousled dark hair, the confident turn of the corner of his mouth, his youthful chest swelling with self assurance…you’d no doubt agree he looks nothing less than God With Us. So don’t put any stock and store by what others may tell you about his arrogance, chauvinism, xenophobia, and lazy attitude to life-they are merely jealous, Quartz, and jealousy is a terrible thing, is it not?

Quartz: Right. (He raises an eyebrow.) Jealousy is a curse and no mistake. Especially when it’s in the shape of an apple. (scowls) Enough about her. Name one thing you want to accomplish. 

Reynard: Hm, let me think…there is a very tricky recipe for sticky toffe bake with crystalised ginger which one of my acolytes, Douglas, makes and try as I might I just can’t seem to nail it as well as he does. My fudge sauce is a little too weak and dribbly, nowhere near as robust as his. 

Quartz: Sounds tasty. Hope you’ll keep trying. (smooths his beard)

Nimmie Not: (behind the curtain) Feed Quartz and it turns out he’s agreeable about all sorts of things I never thought he’d tolerate. I’ll have to remember this. 

Quartz: (to the curtain) As if you’d ever cook for me. Go on, Reynard. What else?

Reynard: Other than that, resurrecting the correct god next time would be good. And, well, patching my feeble excuse for a marriage back together would be the icing on the cake, I suppose. 

Quartz: Eh, if he can resist your sticky toffee once mastered, why bother? (shakes his head) Anything you’d like to avoid or prevent from happening?

Reynard: Well, I don’t really think it’s my responsibility but I certainly think that Vivienne should do something to prevent the fiasco with the baby-eating and the licorice allsorts from ever happening again! It quite turns my stomach! I mean we are Necromancers, Quartz, not monsters! I have no idea how my acolytes went so far astray, but I am sure it has everything to do with the fact that our Moderator has lost his faith and is setting a bad example to the younger temple members and I sincerely hope he will take steps to make sure this sort of thing never happens again. 

Quartz: You and your husband need to have words. If it helps any, let him know if he doesn’t appreciate your cooking, characters in other universes do. (He’s started on the cake. Anything else you’d like to add?  

Reynard: Only to thank you most sincerely my friend for inviting me here today and allowing me to unburden my heart to you like this, it has really been a blessed relief indeed to have someone to share my hopes and fears, my burdens and woes with and I would be happy to happy to return the invitation to you and your friends to join us in the Scattered Isles Of Ire any time you wish. 

Quartz: Why, thank’ee…will there be cassoulet again?

Nimmie Not: (makes a growling noise behind the curtain)

Quartz: Right, right. Thank you for stopping by and bringing tasty treats. You wouldn’t happen to be willing to share the recipe by any chance?

Nimmie Not: (more growling noises)

Quartz: (looking a bit deflated) Eh, never mind. 

If you wish to become better acquainted with Reynard, his cult, quest for immortality, and the floods of lemonade threatening existence, here is a buy link to Necromancers, by Penny Blake…

As for Quartz, he appeared as a minor character in Fairest, by K.S. Trenten, which you can find at…

…only he was dead in that story. He’s been protesting his death ever since in a monthly blog called Secondary Characters Speak Out and is currently bullying his scribbler into writing his own story, Of Cuckoo Clocks and Crystal Coffins, letting everyone know he’s not dead, simply sleeping an enchanted spell off, like so many others in his universe. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

#QueerBlogWed: Paula's Prompts

On November 20, 2019, P.T. Wyant posted at a Wednesday Words prompt involving a mistaken identity, a statue, and the moon.

This story was the result...

For a moment, the professor thought the statue was of her sister when she saw the moon crest at her feet, only Artemis preferred to weave flowers in her hair and often carried a quiver. 

This stone goddess from forgotten times wore the moon crest in her hair itself, catching up, holding it, and keeping it from falling. Not that she’d ever move again, fixed in the rock. 

“Did you cross Medusa’s path before I dealt with her?” The professor closed her eyes and crossed her arms. She could almost hear that mortal boy’s screams, what had his name been? Ah, yes, Perseus. How he’d wailed and cried, fighting to break free from Hermes’s grip. 

“I won’t do it, do you hear me? You can’t make me! I love her! I love her!”

Foolish mortal, as if he’d even known what love was. He’d been quick enough to lop off his beloved’s head, to console himself over her loss in the arms of his Andromeda. 

Nothing would ever console Athena, even though she’d been the one who’d manipulated and coerced the boy into picking up the blade. She still missed Medusa centuries later, but she’d done what had to be done. 

*Exactly what I’d expect from an Olympian.* The soft, sad murmur whispered to the professor’s mind, even though no one else could hear the statue’s voice. *You accuse us of being monsters, yet you’re no less monstrous yourselves, particularly to those you love.”

“What would you know of love?” The professor was curious, in spite of herself. What tales did this ancient have to reveal? What secrets would she spill?

*More of a gentler nature than what beats in your breast. I simply kissed my beloved to sleep.* The statue could not lift her head or regard her with disapproval, but the professor could hear the reproach in her voice. *You slaughtered yours.*

“Not always. Not by choice.” Pallas…it still hurt to hear of her childhood sweetheart, whom she’d accidentally slain. It irritated her that the loveliest of maidens had been changed by spiteful minstrels into a randy he-goat who’d tried to violate her as an example of the fate of those who threatened her chastity. No one wanted to believe the Goddess of Wisdom had once loved another girl in her youth. Nor had it been the last time. “Now I share my love in the form of wisdom with all whom are willing to listen. I haven’t killed anyone in centuries.”

*You could, if someone roused the old anger in you.* The soft reproach became an accusation. *If another Medusa, another Arachne, or another Paris was to cross your path, you might well kill again.*

Would she? It had been so long since she’d felt such rage. She liked her quiet life, surrounded by books, where the most violent thing was raised voices in debate. She wasn’t Ares, for all that she could use his favorite tools against him. 

*You might, too, if someone released you from the stone.* The professor let this truth fall. *Olympians may have become monsters because we had to, in order to defeat the ones who’d swallow us whole if we didn’t.* 

After all, no one could deny what Cronos had done, had driven his own son to do. The Titans had laid the bloody path which the Olympians would later follow. 

*Yes, there was a reckoning for all we did.* For a moment, the statue’s eyes seemed to widen, even though that was impossible, or was it? *Beware. Someday there may be one for you.*

The statue fell silent, content with these last words. As well she should be. The former Goddess of Wisdom turned professor couldn’t help but shiver in response. 

Every action had consequences. The Olympians were, indeed, due for a reckoning, if they weren’t in the middle of one now. 

Which was better? To be conquered and overthrown? Or to be demonified, replaced, and eventually forgotten? 

In the end, the Titans might have been the lucky ones. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

#QueerBlogWed: Paula's Prompts

On November 13, 2019, P.T. Wyant posted at a Wednesday Words prompt involving a pattern, a recipe, and a change of weather.

This Wind Me Up, One More Time freebie story was the result...

The air was getting cooler. Time to start making more cold weather dishes to bring to Nathalie and Grace’s home. Perhaps a pie?

No, Maia would bring the recipe and the ingredients. This way Grace could watch her make it and be a part of the baking. It was good training for her, learning how to make a real pie with a buttery crust rather than the bready ones which were always served in the pub downtown. Christine Weaver really ought to have known better. Ah, well, she might make good scones and apple brownies, but she didn’t necessarily know anything about pies. Not like Maia’s mother had. 

“I used to roll the dough out at Isabeau’s house all the time,” her mother confided once to a young, wide-eyed Maia. “We’d talk about all sorts of things when she’d get out the flour, the butter, anticipating whatever I needed while we sorted out the world’s problems. I sometimes thought everything could be solved if you spent time in the kitchen.” 

She smiled a little, yet the wrinkles around her eyes deepened. Memories of happiness could almost be like sadness when they were gone forever. Maia learned this whenever her mother spoke of Isabeau Morisot. 

Now here Maia was going off to Isabeau’s house to spend time with her daughters. To make pie with her daughters. The pattern repeated itself once more with another generation. 

Well, this particular pattern wasn’t a mistake. Maia closed her eyes, imagined Grace cocking her head, watching her hands knead pie dough, until Nathalie drifted over to the doorway, hair like a coppery cloud around her head, a tiny smile playing upon her lips. 

Something swelled within her chest, yet eased at the same moment. Being observed by the two sisters made cooking so much meaningful. 

Besides if Maia hadn’t shown up with food, Nathalie would have simply picked some vegetables in the garden and roasted them. Not that roasted vegetables weren’t tasty, but she wanted the Morisot sisters to have a chance to try some of the things her own mother made for her. 

Like a bacon and cheese pie. 

Many of the dishes Maia prepared in their kitchen left Nat as wide-eyed as her little sister. Neither of them had ever tried spaghetti carbonara until Maia made it for them. Noodles and cheese, however, had brought a glimmer of recognition to those luminous pupils encircled by golden-green irises. 

The latter had been something Maia’s mother had made for years. She must have made it with Auntie Morisot as well. The ghost of their mother’s relationship lingered over the three of them like a shadow at times, but it could be a comforting shadow. It gave them a connection, a shared family history. It made the three of them almost like family themselves. 

Family. That swelling sensation accompanied by the easing of the tension in her chest returned whenever she thought of that word in connection with the Morisots. She wasn’t sure if they were family, but she wanted them to be. 

If only wishes could come true. If only she had been truly Iama the Terrible, an enchantress, someone who could make that wish come true. 

Maia could only hope Nathalie and Grace felt the same way. 

Want to get to know Maia, Nathalie, and Grace better? Here are links to their story; Wind Me Up, One More Time...

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

#QueerBlogWed: Paula's Prompts

On November 6, 2019, P.T. Wyant posted at a Wednesday Words prompt involving uncontrollable grief, a ribbon, and a bowl.

This story was the result...

Marlene couldn’t stop sobbing, holding the bowl in front of her. Tears trickled down her cheeks, dripping into the dish. A tiny pool was forming over the ribbon at the bottom. It looked absurd, a torn piece of blue cloth, stained with blood, but the blood was important. 

Blood and tears, they were the key ingredients. To transform the pain and the sacrifice into a summoning, Marlene had to stand and sob, letting each droplet of water she shed mingle with Charlotte’s blood. 

The ribbon wasn’t even something Charlotte would wear, not any more. She’d cast away ribbons and flowers to put on tight suits, golden earrings, a ring on her right finger, not her left. Frills were part of the old life, one Charlotte left behind along with the rickety house and the friend she used to explore it with. 

What would Charlotte think of all this? Once she would have loved it, the ritual of blood and tears. Marlene was the one who would have shrank from it, just like she was the one who would never have entered the haunted house. 

Only Marlene was the one who couldn’t leave. Charlotte had left it all behind years ago. She could only pray that somehow her former friend would hear her crying. It was taking every bit of energy she possessed to hold this bowl. 

A car engine growled outside and was silent. A door opened. Footsteps, the clack of high heels tapped their way up the steps and opened the door. 

Marlene shuddered, almost let her concentration break, but she managed to keep the bowl upright. 

The clack hit the floorboards, only to make their way up the stairs. They moved towards the room where Marlene was trapped, waiting. 

The door opened. There was Charlotte, hair cut short, dressed in a trim red suit. Lips parted at the sight of the bowl, floating in the air. 

Would she see Marlene? Or just the bowl? 

Charlotte bowed her head and shuddered. “You’re here. You’ve always been here, haven’t you?”

“Where else would I go?” It was a relief to let the bowl go, to let it fall, shattering on the ground. “I died here.”

Charlotte gazed at the pieces of bowl, of blue ribbon. She walked with shaky legs over to them, picking up the wet piece of cloth. 

“This was my blood.” She said the words in a thoughtful, almost meditative fashion. “It should have been me. I was the one who wanted to come here. I cut myself, only to hand you the knife, but you cut yourself too deep.”

“I begged you not to leave me.” Marlene shut her eyes, not that she had eyes any longer. They’d rotted away long ago. “We made a vow, remember? We’d never leave each other. We’d always be together.” 

“Why can’t you leave?” Charlotte opened her eyes, gazed at Marlene once more. “Why are you haunting this place and not me?”

“This is where the you I remember died.” Marlene reached out for her hands. “Please. I need you to stop denying, avoiding what happened.”

“I ran.” Charlotte lay her hands upon her former friend’s. Marlene could guess how cold they felt. After all, they were made of air and vapor. Her real hands were gone, too. “We both fell, but I got up again. You didn’t.”

“I was already dead.” Marlene swallowed, aware she no longer needed to do such a thing. “I found myself lingering here, waiting for you. Only you never came.”

“It was too painful.” Charlotte lowered her chin, gazed at their hands. “I was never the same after I lost you. I withdrew from everyone.”

“I know. I’ve sometimes seen you from afar, even though I couldn’t speak to me.” Marlene smiled, forcing what weren’t really lips in a fascimile of a smile. Expressions were simply memories now. “I wanted so badly to comfort you.” 

“I have a lot of acquaintances. People I drink with, work with, but no friends.” Charlotte shuddered. “I didn’t want any when I lost you.”

“Here I thought I couldn’t leave because I couldn’t let go.” Marlene let out a shaky laugh. “I now wonder if it wasn’t because you couldn’t.”

“Marlene, I’m so sorry.” Tears gathered in Charlotte’s eyes. “I’m sorry I got up and left your body behind. I’m sorry I lived when you didn’t.”

“You have nothing to feel sorry for.” Marlene felt lighter, felt her fingers dissolving into air. “If it helps, I accept your apology, though.”

The release, the easing of the knot of sorrow in her chest was sheer bliss. Only she didn’t have a chest. Marlene wasn’t really there. She hadn’t been in the house where she’d died. Not for a long time. 

The last thing she saw was Charlotte’s sad smile, a light gathering behind her eyes. The eyes drew Marlene, beckoning her to whatever lay beyond. 

She let herself go, letting go of the illusion of a form she hadn’t possessed in a long time. 

Charlotte felt her slip away, letting herself sob when she did. She’d never gotten over Marlene’s death. She’d simply pushed her grief aside, going through the motions of living. 

She never imagined this avoidance would trap Marlene as it did.

“I’m so sorry,” she whispered again, even though it was unnecessary.

Her apology had already been accepted.