Something was missing, he was sure of it. He couldn’t even say what it might be, but there was something about the room that felt off. He glanced around at the desk, the bookshelves. He even let his eyes wander the floor, running along the baseboards and then back up to the walls. The paintings? All there. His laptop lay on the desk where he had left it, lid closed, papers scattered around it. Even the chair was unmoved.
He turned and left the doorway, walking into the darkening living room. Everything was there, as it should be. And the feeling of unease vanished. He shook his head, certain he was imagining things. He padded into the kitchen, flicked on the light, opened the fridge, took out a beer, popped off the top, took a drink. Shaking his head again, he made his way back to the doorway of his office.
No, there was definitely something wrong. Crossing the room and placing his beer on the desk, he peered out the window. It had no curtains, something he had been meaning to get around to. Every afternoon he grumbled about the sun shining on the screen of his laptop, but every morning he’d forget about it until the sun sank low enough to cause a glare. He could see nothing out there, the street light too far behind his backyard to shed any light on the dark lawn. He ought to get a motion light. He added it to the mental list of home improvements he would never complete.
He checked the latch on the second story window. Locked. He gave it a tug, just in case. It didn’t budge. Satisfied, he turned back to face the room again.
His beer was gone.
He was certain he left it just there, on the desk. He had it when he walked in the room. Didn’t he?
Unnerved, he walked back out to the kitchen. His beer was there, sitting on the island. He felt a hum of annoyance at the innocence of the condensation dripping down the neck of the bottle. He could have sworn he had taken it with him into the office. Swiping it resentfully off the counter, he took two long swallows, gasping a little as he lowered the bottle. He felt ridiculous, spooked by a little uncertainty.
He walked to the living, flopping down on the couch and leaning forward to pick up the remote from the coffee table. He clicked through a few channels, found a rerun of a sitcom he enjoyed. He tossed the remote back onto the coffee table, lifted his feet, and leaned back to enjoy the evening.
Except as the light of the television flickered across the table, he saw, sitting there beside the remote, a pen. The hairs on the back of his neck rose. It was a special pen, a gift from a former professor. It was the only pen he took care of, filling it with new ink, keeping it stored in his desk. He only used it for editing manuscripts. It was the only pen he used for editing, and it never left his office. And it was sitting on the coffee table right in front of him.
He slowly lowered his feet to the floor. He turned his head to the right, staring dumbfounded at the door to his office, the light still spilling out into the living room. The beer, he could understand. He was often absentmindedly starting one task before he was finished with another. But that pen never left his office, ever. The habit of opening the desk drawer to retrieve it, using it, and putting it away right where he stored it was remembered in his muscles so thoroughly he sometimes reached for the pen in other drawers before his brain reminded him of what he was doing. To see it, now, sitting in a place so incongruous with its purpose finally alerted him to the fact that something was very, very wrong.
He stood up, keeping an eye on the pen, its surface winking with every flicker of the tv screen. He made his way back to the office, loathe to turn his back on the dark room but certain the answer to all this strangeness was in here.
Every painting on the wall was crooked, leaning slightly to the right. He instinctively leaned his head to correct the angle, and was so engrossed in the unnerving effect he barely noticed the hand around his neck.
The next installment of a story I will soon rename, as it has less to do with Eudora than I thought. :) Check out the first chapter here!
It was the isolation that was difficult. I was a naturally social person, grew close to my colleagues, had many friends. If any of them had tried to contact me, I hadn’t heard of it. I tried making a connection to the guards, but they couldn’t hear me through the barrier, and any way they ignored me. They avoided my eyes. My meals were slid into the cell from a slot in the wall. No one came close.
Three days into my imprisonment, a familiar face appeared in the hallway. I stood quickly, desperately aware how the sweat of the last few days made a grimy layer on my skin. I was still in my crumpled uniform. I felt grubby, a sorry approximation of my usually professional self. The sleek style of the woman standing before me didn’t help.
Sabine Tyrellia was almost as tall as I was. She looked me up and down, then gazed into my eyes. Her expression was inscrutable, but I could imagine what she was thinking. This conversation was not going to be easy.
She gestured, the guard moved, and the barrier dissipated. Sabine sighed, then turned and began walking down the hallway. I glanced nervously at the guard, but she jerked her head in irritation and I trotted along to follow my lawyer.
Sabine held a door open for me and I passed her into a sparse interrogation room, turning to face her as I entered. I opened my mouth but she held up a hand.
“Don’t,” she said, closing the door carefully.
I watched dejectedly as she placed her briefcase on the bare table and sat down. Her eyes bore into me and I took a seat opposite her.
The silence churned between us as I tried to communicate wordlessly, our eyes locked. But soon I couldn’t stand it any longer. I leaned forward.
“Would they really keep me here if they thought I did it? This is a minimum security facility. If I really caused the Raven Fire, wouldn’t I be powerful enough to break out of this place?”
“Is that really how you want to start this conversation?”
I sighed and leaned back.
“I didn’t do it.”
“I certainly haven’t heard that before.”
“Yeah, but I actually didn’t do it.”
Sabine just looked at me.
“Do you represent a lot of criminals?”
“You hired me. You didn’t check my credentials?”
“I hired you because you keep people out of prison. I didn’t pay much attention to what they had actually done. Or not done, as the case may be.”
Sabine crossed her legs and settled into her seat.
“I have kept a lot of people out of prison. I am good at what I do. And it’s not my job to decide whether that’s right or wrong.”
My stomach tensed as she folded her hands and rested them on her trousered knee.
“But this…this is different. I don’t know if I can do this.”
“What?” My voice was hoarse.
“I’m a criminal defense attorney, Tennyson. This is political. This is a little heavy, even for me.”
“You can’t just abandon me!”
She looked annoyed.
“‘After all we’ve been through together?’ I didn’t say that. I am not abandoning you. But I’m telling you I may not be the best solution to this problem.”
“The problem being that I have been accused of committing the greatest crime in recent history, possibly in all recorded history.”
“You always were a dreamer.”
I paused, then spoke quietly, honestly, letting her hear the fear in my question.
“Do you believe me?”
Sabine looked directly at me, but she couldn’t hold my gaze. My heart fluttered.
“My job is to either provide enough evidence that my clients didn’t commit a crime,” she said slowly, “or to discredit the prosecutor so charges are dismissed. What they’re saying out there…” She lifted her eyes to meet mine, and the despair I saw there brought bile to my throat.
“It’s bad, Tennyson. Really bad.”
“Will you tell me?”
Sabine teased a smile.
“Of course. I’m your lawyer, idiot.”
I grimaced, but I felt microscopically better. Sabine opened her briefcase and pulled out her tablet, tapping quietly as she consulted her documents. She slid the tablet toward me and I glanced down at the headlines streaming across the screen.
“RAVEN FIRE CAUSES WIDESPREAD PANIC...LEADING QuiP EMPLOYEE SUSPECT IN DEVASTATING RAVEN FIRE…DESTRUCTION OF RAVEN DRUMS RESPONSIBLE FOR ELECTRICAL LAPSES...POLITICAL TURMOIL AS HISTORIANS MAKE A GRAB FOR POWER…”
The headlines continued, but I handed the tablet back.
“Why didn’t I hear about this?”
“What do you mean?”
“The Raven Fire happened almost a week ago. It was terrible, sure, but it may have been a long time coming. We all went back to work. Why is this happening now?”
I gestured helplessly to the tablet. The upside-down headlines seemed to leer at me as they passed. Sabine looked puzzled.
“I don’t know. Maybe once they identified you as a suspect they felt they had more to go on. They could revive the story.”
I shook my head, suddenly feeling confidant.
“Something’s not right here, Sabine. And I think you know it.”
You know how you can love something so thoroughly it becomes the most important thing in the world? That’s how I felt about Benny. He was everything to me.
It was mostly physical, at first. The wrinkles around his eyes. The infectious smile you couldn’t help matching even if you tried. The way his hair curled against his neck. I couldn’t look at him without wanting to be a part of him.
But I came to love him as I grew to know him. No, that’s not right. I realized I loved him, and perhaps always had. The love, it was like it was already there, waiting to bloom. It just needed the right nourishment.
Benny was a kind person, if not always honest. He would do anything to spare someone’s feelings, which meant when he and I argued it was vicious. I wanted truth, no matter who it hurt. He wanted peace.
So it was almost ironic when he went off to war. He, who would keep secrets to preserve even the most tenuous semblance of harmony, went off to face the brutal honesty of the greatest lie of all: that we actually wanted peace. That we loved our fellow men and allowed each other the grace to fail. Failure was impossible. Failure was inevitable.
When the letter arrived, it was so expected it only took a moment for me to realize I was already heartbroken. I had already given up. The smudged ink only affirmed what I already knew. Benny’s love had nourished me for so long his absence was like the slow release of air from a balloon. By the time the letter arrived, I was already deflated.
I looked up from the novel I was only half reading. It was Gothic. Wordy. I didn’t like it.
My sister was standing in the doorway, her face arranged in the mask of pity I had come to hate. I hated it, and I had told her so, but it was inescapable. She could only tiptoe around the void, attempting to spare me pain. She was so like Benny in that way. And I couldn’t really blame her, because she was the only one who knew what Benny truly meant to me.
I sat silently as she entered the room, her skirt fluttering gently around her. It was one of our mother’s dresses. I had been surprised she kept it, let alone wore it, but I couldn’t deny it suited her perfectly. Mirasol seemed to share my surprise, yet wore it almost in defiance of its previous owner. She wore it like armor. But we both harbored an unspoken fear the dress was imbued with some of the malice and bitterness of its predecessor that would somehow affect its heir.
I avoided her eyes as Mirasol sat beside me, the cushion buckling uncomfortably. I shifted my thigh.
“You got another call from Henry.”
I declined to answer. Henry was a friend, once. Mirasol sighed.
“This isn’t productive, Patrick.” She gestured vaguely at the book in my lap, at the half-eaten apple on the plate beside me, its brown core glaring at me as though in accusation.
“I don’t need to be productive,” I replied, keeping my eyes fixed on the carpet. “Mother at least gave us that.”
Mirasol snorted, then looked into her own lap, as though the fabric of the dress reminded her of the significance of our circumstances.
“Benny wouldn’t have wanted this,” she said quietly, and anger made my head pound.
I stood quickly, the book thumping to the floor.
“You have no idea what Benny would have wanted.”
Mirasol stood in anger too, the malice in her skirt murmuring encouragingly.
“You’re wrong, but you’re too frightened to admit it. The truth is, you want to be just like him. Desperate to keep the peace. But the fact is you’re a coward. Why else do you think Benny left and you didn’t? Why else was he willing to go to war if not to get away from you and your disturbed obsession with truth-”
We both stood shocked as silence engulfed the room. I sat down, hard, the cushion relenting reluctantly, painfully. Mirasol turned away, her hand to her mouth.
The truth? Is that what I wanted?
I looked down at the book on the floor, its pages bent awkwardly, its spine towards me. The binding was broken, the title worn. I recognized it with horrifying clarity. It was Mother’s favorite.
I looked at Mirasol, whose eyes glistened above her shaking hand. Her skirt rustled.
I wasn’t sure what to write about today. I feel I am more adept at fiction, and that my editorials are sometimes labored. But my friend Rachel suggested writing about the nature of change, and I think that is a good idea. I am in a very transitional period of my life right now, so there is definitely a lot to think about.
Change can come in many different forms. There is the swift, inevitable, uncontrollable change. There is the slow, anticipated change. There is the sudden choice to encourage change, or the slow decision to change which takes years to implement. There are all sorts of circumstances in which change can occur and not all of it is unplanned or unwelcome.
I, for example, thrive when there is a certain level of change operating in my life. I like there to be some consistency, but mostly in the sorts of things that are necessary to support myself. I like to know how I’m doing financially. I like to have control over my schedule. I like my house to be the way I’ve prepared it. But too much consistency is stifling. It doesn’t always have to be major things. I like to change my hair. I like to explore new places and immerse myself in ever-changing scenery. I like to read new books in genres I may not be familiar with. I think everyone enjoys a degree of change when they can control when and where that change is taking place.
I also just recently quit my job, which was a huge change with a lot of uncertainty attached to it. I didn’t have a new job lined up. I didn’t know how much money I would get on my final paycheck (turns out, less than I was hoping). I no longer have health insurance. These changes, while a result of my own decision, come with a lot of variables that I don’t have control over. Searching for a new job is difficult, and I don’t have any control over whether or not a potential employer is interested in meeting with me. I may have an unexpected and expensive medical issue come up. It may take longer to get a job than I anticipate, forcing me to make more difficult decisions and changes to stay afloat. But although these things are scary, and leave a lot up to factors outside of my control, it comes down to the fact that I made this decision. And honestly? The change has been great. I love having time off of work to relax, catch up on some reading, play video games. I am sleeping better than I have in a long time. And I am much more motivated to work on other projects when I’m not mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted from work. So overall it has been a good change.
There is, of course, change that is not so good. Climate change skeptics insist that the earth is warming anyway, and that the impact of humans is minimal. While science supports the theory that the earth would be continuing to warm on its own without our help, humans have contributed to the acceleration of that change. And it is not good. We can see the evidence of these changes in more severe weather, melting glaciers, and species going extinct at an alarming rate. These changes are unfortunate, and while to some extent inevitable, we have the power and technology to mitigate some of that change. Just not the political interest (at least in the United States).
Perhaps what is most interesting to me is the idea of perceived change. Without getting too deep into the history of white supremacy, many white people in the United States (and likely around the world) are currently expressing surprise and despair at the so-called change of the nation’s attitudes and values. However, this country has always had a deep-seeded philosophy of fear, xenophobia, racism, and cruelty. It’s just that they didn’t see it. Or, if they saw it, they chose to ignore it. It didn’t affect them, so they turned a blind eye and are only now beginning to understand: these things have always been there. This country didn’t change; we just see it more clearly now.
Change can be good, bad, or even things out. It’s all a matter of understanding how and why the change is taking place. Sometimes it’s within our control, and sometimes it’s not. You can embrace it, or ignore it. Sometimes it’s better to let things go, and sometimes you have to fight to make things better.
You know that line about death and taxes? To quote “Avenue Q,” “everything in life is only for now.” Change is a natural part of life. Consider the way you react and relate to change. What works for you, and what doesn’t? What do you wish you could change, and where do you feel powerless? Understanding these things will help manage expectations, cultivate motivation, and ease uncertainty.
To catch up on the exciting adventures of Minty the Bard, start here!
“Uh, greetings, fair...um, creature,” he began, then paused. He supposed he ought to say something about meeting here in this strange place, but he didn’t even know whether or not it could understand him. The customary exchanges between travelers didn’t really seem applicable here.
But before he could come up with anything, the badger sat up on its hind legs. Minty took a step back, although there were still several yards between them. And then the air around the badger started to ripple. Minty blinked a few times, sure it was the flickering torchlight that was causing the illusion. But no, something magical was happening. Minty could feel it. As he watched, feeling queasy, the badger seemed to melt. Minty closed his eyes against the nausea rising in his stomach.
After several moments, there was a small cough. Minty peered out of one eye, the other tightly closed in case whatever he saw really would make him vomit. Then he opened both eyes in surprise, because he saw, not a melted badger, but a gnome.
The gnome stood at a little more than half Minty’s height, and was clothed in black and gray. Minty wasn’t altogether sure its suit wasn’t made of badger, but the gnome also wore a brilliant belt of white gems around its slight waist. They were grinning, and seemed pleased as punch that they had fooled Minty.
The natural bardic inclination for improvisation notwithstanding, Minty was at a loss for words.
“Oh man, you should have seen the look on your face,” the gnome giggled. Their voice was high but surprisingly robust, although Minty wasn’t sure he could be surprised by much else at this point. Slowly regaining his sense of self, Minty shrugged and allowed himself a quick smile.
“I live to entertain,” he said shakily, and the gnome laughed again.
“But can you…..see?”
As Minty said it he realized it was probably a terribly insensitive question, but he had noticed that the gnome’s eyes, like the badger’s, were milky white.
“Sorry,” he stammered, but the gnome waved their hand dismissively.
“It takes more than eyes to see, especially down here, Stoneskull.”
Minty frowned, not in the mood to be teased by a shape-shifting gnome badger. But he wasn’t about to turn his back on a stranger, so he dipped into a bow and introduced himself.
“Aminton Erenstein, Bard.”
The gnome cocked their head and smiled.
“Tremeldonna Garrick,” they replied, “but you can call me Brock.”
Minty had known few gnomes in his life, but he knew about their affinity for names. Most gnomes went by their chosen nicknames, which had nothing to do with their given or clan names. It was quite confusing.
"Thank you, Brock. It is a genuine pleasure to meet you. Not everything in this tunnel has been as...polite.”
“Of course not, Stoneskull,” Brock laughed, and Minty realized with a sinking stomach he had just been granted his own nickname. “Why bother hiding something if it was easy to get to?”
“Then you know about the…” Minty gestured knowingly, expecting Brock to nod wisely. Brock just looked at him.
“You know, the…..” MInty nodded and winked several times, his gestures becoming more obvious. Brock was silent.
“The treasure!” Minty blurted, then regretted it instantly. His voice echoed throughout the tunnel, and several small lines of dust fell from the ceiling. There was a pause.
“Well, yeah,” Brock replied, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. Minty gaped.
“Well, then, why aren’t there more people here, trying to get it?”
“You think there haven’t been? It’s not like people don’t try to get the treasure. They just can’t.”
“You know how many people have died here? Bergin of the North, Master Thomel son of Tamer, the Warrior of Garlong, Lady Illora Yngeral, Paterson Hamstring, Frank…” the gnome was counting on their fingers. Minty felt the nausea return.
“Ok, ok, I get it!”
Brock stopped, looking sly. Minty sighed and ran his fingers through his tousled hair.
“Minty, you Stoneskull, why did you agree to this? You know you’re not cut out for this kind of thing. You should never have fallen for it. There are other Elven wizards out there…”
“But you don’t have to die here.”
Minty froze, turning back to Brock.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, those Stoneskulls didn’t listen to me.”
“Yes, me,” Brock replied, looking put out.
“And why would you help me if you didn’t help them?”
“I didn’t say I didn’t help them,” Brock said. Minty frowned. “But I will help you, for a share of the treasure.”
“The treasure isn’t for me,” he said finally. Brock looked incredulous.
“Then what in the four corners of the sky are you doing here?”