Comfort

The wind had been too warm for too long. The summer spirits had held on, refusing to let the wheel turn. Finally, autumn chased them off in order to prepare for the winter winds.

The voices of autumn were not his; those voices were still a couple of months away. But autumn was friendly, a welcome change from the hostility of summer. The spirits of autumn were cousins to his winter companions, a kind of extended family. He might not speak their language, but he knew their intent.

Wandering freely, he watched the progress of the season and listened for the first whispers of winter. But the clatter of leaves falling said ‘not yet, do not rush ahead, enjoy the transition.’ And so he did.

The colors of the earth hung overhead, serving as a reminder that even far from home, we carry our mother inside us. And that no matter how high we reach, we will return to her one day. The crisp air carried the sound of the faintest rustle far and wide. And the smells! They spoke of a warmth within as a counter to the chill without.

Autumn knew her business. Magic was everywhere just below the surface; one needed only to know how to look. Winter’s magic was deeper, but more brutal. Autumn spoke of a mother’s comfort in the final days.

So he waited, secure that winter would at last come, and enjoyed this part of the cycle in which he was but an observer. The comfort made the waiting bearable. And everyone needs comfort sometimes.

With Apologies to E.A.P.

Colors swirled all around me. How to describe them? Vivid, yes, but that is too weak a word to carry the impact.  Trumpet blasts mingled with the smell of daisies. The taste of red mixed with the color of the number 3. Musical notes danced with the sound of a ripe apple.

But even that does not do justice to the visual symphony.

And the feelings… That feeling where you love and hate. Where you are overcome with terrifying awe and quiet boredom. When hope and tranquility sit down with despair and anxiety. When you feel everything at once and nothing at all. Do you know that feeling? That is what ran through me. More intense than anything I had ever experienced before.

Through the colors and the feelings and so much more, I understood. I understood it all. Everything was laid out before me for my examination. And there was no need to investigate. No knowledge was kept from me, no secret hidden. They revealed the story, and my mind followed.

But I know I have not explained it well. You do not understand. How could you? I awoke with only the vaguest remnant that I had grasped the whole universe, and now it was gone. I have lost it, and words can never bring it back.

Motive for Suicide

The apartment was immaculate. Someone had been meticulous in their cleaning and caretaking. Nothing was out of place. There wasn’t any dust to be found. So the dead body in the middle of the living room rather stood out.

The senior detective bent down to get a better look. A hole in the head. A small handgun on the floor nearby.

“Looks like a single gun shot to the head,” his partner offered.

He sighed as he stood back up. “Yes, it does. Any reason to think it’s not a suicide?”

“None.”

“Is there a note?”

“We haven’t found one.”

Looking around, he noticed a box sitting open on a dining table nearby. “What’s that?”

His partner looked. “Don’t know.”

Rolling his eyes, he said, “It’s your attention to detail that is going to take you places in this job.”

Walking over to it, he looked inside. There was a small empty case that appeared to be intended to hold a handgun. On the table next to the box was a pair of scissors and a photograph. The picture was of a woman, clearly dead, with multiple stab wounds.

“What the hell?” He turned his attention to the package itself. There was no address or postage. Just a plain brown box. “Who is this woman?”

He didn’t expect an answer, but his partner had one. “Wait. I think I know.” He walked over to the couch and picked up a picture frame off an end table. He brought it back and set it down next to the photograph. It showed a man and a woman, both in formal clothes, having a good time at a wedding reception. Pointing to the man, his partner said, “That looks like our victim. And that…”

“Looks like the woman in this photo.” With his gloved hand, he carefully lifted the photo and turned it over. Five words were printed carefully on the back.

‘I know what you did.’

He pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes, trying to stave off the headache he felt coming on.

Last First Day

It was my first day of work. I’ve lost count of how many of these I’ve had.

You know that movie where the guy lives the same day over and over again until he learns his lesson? That was funny and a little heart-warming. This has been anything but. I’m not an asshole. I donate to charity. Volunteer my time. And don’t treat people like dirt. As far as I can tell, I don’t need any big lesson.

Also, my day isn’t funny. I don’t rob banks. I don’t jump off buildings. I don’t even skip work. I keep worrying that this will be the last first day, and I’ll have to live (or not!) with the consequences of whatever I do this time around. No one would ever make a movie out of this.

Just as I had many times before, I sat down at my new desk and turned on my computer. I had been hired to work on a new project. No one could tell you what the point was, but I was to do it. For a long time (an increasingly meaningless concept), I thought if I could finish it in one day, that would make a difference. It didn’t. For one thing, it was impossible to finish in one day. For another, working as hard and fast I could, the only change was my boss calling me back into his office at the end of the day to tell me how impressed he was with my efforts.

I had decided, instead, to go back to a slower pace. If today was the last first day, I didn’t want to have raised expectations too high. After about an hour, my boss summoned me to give me his “welcome to the company” speech. I had it memorized.

It was the same thing at lunch. I had gotten to hear about every single coworkers’ weekends many times over. For my own sanity, I had begun to sit alone. They probably thought I wasn’t friendly or something, but that was better than being actively rude by yawning or rolling my eyes at the same old stories.

The rest of the workday was usually easy. No one interrupted my work, so I wasn’t sitting waiting for it. It was monotonous, but quiet. I just went over the same numbers I had gone over dozens (or was it hundreds?) of times before.

The work day came to an end, which should have been a relief, but it just meant the worst was yet to come. A good friend had set me up on a blind date. She was a nice enough person. Smart and interesting. But for me, it was no longer blind. I knew everything about her that a first date could reveal. Pushing the conversation deeper would make me seem too intense or intrusive. And there is only so much small talk any two people can have. But she was a friend of my friend, and I wanted to be a decent date. So I sat through it once again. I would probably enjoy it more if there was a chance at a second date.

Then it was back to my apartment. It was the one time I let myself behave differently than normal. I drank two bottles of wine before eventually passing out. Sometimes it was beer. Or whiskey. Just for a change. If I ever get through this first day, I’m going to have a massive hangover. It will have been worth it though. It numbs the dullness of routine that had long ago come to define my life.

If this were a movie, this would be the story of my last first day. But I already told you that no one would make this into a movie. And sure enough, tomorrow was another first day.

Envelope

There was nothing fancy about the envelope, just a standard white business envelope. The postage was the basic flag forever stamp. Nothing but the address and return label on it. It would have been easy to ignore, toss it out as junk. But I recognized the return address, and it demanded my attention.

She had gone out of her way to type the address rather than write it in her easily recognizable looping script. That seemed heavy with meaning. Yet I couldn’t be sure what that meaning might be.

It would be simple to just open it and remove all the mystery. Instead, I had sat staring at it for over an hour, not even daring to touch it. It merely lay there, a veiled threat, already made, but not yet received.

It was probably the letter where she finally tells me everything I did wrong. How I hurt her. How I destroyed the relationship. Why I was a bad person and would never find happiness. The letter I had been waiting for, that confirmed everything I had been thinking over the last year. I wasn’t ready for that.

On the other hand, it might be mundane, just some unfinished business, fallout from disentangling two lives. Something about a signature on an official piece of paper. Or settling some outstanding financial matter. In any event, that would explain the impersonal envelope. Just business, nothing emotional.

I wasn’t sure which would be worse. Did I want to read someone else confirm all the horrible things I thought about myself? Or did I want to see five years reduced to some meaningless paperwork? I didn’t know. And I still haven’t opened the envelope.

Cut Off

He sat cross-legged in the grass. His knees complained only a little, which, given his age, was remarkable. Briefly closing his eyes, he summoned frost on the grass to encircle him. The flames that most used for such a ritual had always eluded him, but the frost was an adequate substitute, and a more appropriate one at that.

The sun was setting on his left as he drew forth a small bag from the folds of his robe. With a practiced gesture, he cast the runes on the ground in front of him. Closing his eyes so as to better feel them, he passed his hand slowly over the spot they lay.

But they weren’t there. He opened his eyes in surprise, and saw the stones right where he had cast them. He simply couldn’t feel their magic. They were inert. Quickly gathering the stones and placing them back in the bag, he cast them again. Once more, they were invisible to him.

Closing his eyes once more, he summoned a blizzard. When he looked, only a handful of snowflakes fell before giving up entirely. The frost making up the circle had already begun to melt.

The magic was still inside him; he could feel it. But he couldn’t access it, as if it were sealed behind a barrier. A sense of vulnerability began to overwhelm him. Nothing like this had ever happened to him. To any mage, as far as he knew. There must be some solution, but until he found it, he couldn’t count on magic to save him.

Always Turning on the Light Switch

She flipped the switch. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the light. The bedding was mostly on the floor, and several bottles of champagne had been emptied and left in different positions on the nightstands. It was a familiar scene.

A woman wrapped in a towel stepped out of the bathroom.

“Oh! I’m sorry. I didn’t realize anyone was in here.” She turned to leave, but the other stopped her.

“It’s fine. You probably need to get this room cleaned up. I’m afraid we made a bit of a mess.”

“I can come back later.”

“No, really, I don’t mind. I’m almost done, after all.”

She wasn’t sure what to do. The room needed to be done before check-in, but she wasn’t supposed to rush guests.

“Please stay.”

Reluctantly she turned back into the room. The woman was drying her hair with another towel.

“Thanks, I’ll stay out of your way. It’s just kind of… lonely. You know, the morning after?”

“I can’t say I do.”

“You clean all these rooms, but you’ve never enjoyed a stay in one?”

“No.” She stripped the bed and carried the sheets out to her cart. As she brought in a fresh set, she saw the woman was staring at her from the bathroom doorway.

“What do you do? For fun, I mean?”

“I do this.” She finished smoothing the sheets before returning the comforter to the top of the bed.

“This isn’t fun. This is work. Oh! Come out with me tonight!”

“I am not supposed to socialize with the guests.”

“Well I won’t tell anyone. Come out. Have fun. There’s more to life than cleaning up after other people. Please?”

“I… I’ll come back later to finish up. I’m sorry for intruding.” She left the room quickly before the woman could stop her again.