Annual Meeting

“It’s been a year.”

“Of course. We only meet once a year. On this day.”

“No, no. I mean, it’s been quite a year.”

“Ah. I suppose it has.”

“Do you think we overdid it?”

“Honestly, I didn’t do a thing.”

“Wait. That thing in the east?”

“Nope.”

“That wasn’t you?”

“Nope.”

“I was sure it was you.”

“Really? I thought I was always more subtle than that.”

“I guess that’s true. So you mean they did that to themselves?”

“Yep. I couldn’t come up with anything worse than they did.”

“Wow.”

“Indeed. I actually had great plans for this year. I think you would have been impressed. But before I could even get going on any of it, the first day of the year already made me redundant. Vandalizing a cultural monument to an attack on a nightclub. And it just kept going. Lies, racism, violence, shootings, upheaval. I just sat, watching, waiting for a lull in order to get something done. But it never stopped. You seemed to be having fun, though.”

“Well, I was behind a few of the storms. But after the first hurricane, the weather spiraled out of control on its own. I actually tried to stop a few of them. Even now, there’s a few things out of control. I’m almost scared to start the next round.”

“Maybe all our work over the years has finally paid off. Maybe we don’t need to do anything more. They’ll take care of themselves without any more help from us.”

“That’s going to be boring as heaven!”

“Yeah. I guess you were right. It’s been a year.”

The Christmas Heist

The tree and its lights provided the only illumination in the living room. Outside, snow was falling. It was a picture-perfect Christmas Eve. Two small figures huddled on either side of the fireplace.

The larger one whispered loudly to the smaller. “Okay, Kevin, you remember what to do?”

“Yes, Rob.”

“When the bag drops, you grab it, and I’ll close the flue.”

“I said I remember!”

“Shh! We don’t want Mom and Dad to hear.”

They fell silent, listening for any movement upstairs, but it seemed their parents had not stirred. The boys stayed quiet, just in case, and waited.

It was so quiet and dark and peaceful that it was hard for Kevin to keep his eyes open. Every so often his head would start to drop and would jerk back up. Why was this taking so long? Couldn’t they just go to bed? But he knew better than to ask his older brother, who had spent days planning for tonight. Rob would call him a baby. So he forced himself to stay awake.

A thud in the fireplace fully woke him up. He lunged and grabbed at the large red sack. “Now, Rob!”

But Rob didn’t move. The light, regular breathing indicated his older brother had fallen asleep. Kevin fumbled around for the flue mechanism, but it wasn’t easy. He hadn’t practiced this like his brother had. After what seemed like forever, he found the lever and pulled it closed.

He fell back onto the floor exhausted from the panic. After he recovered his breath a bit, he laughed. Rob had fallen asleep! This was perfect. Finally something he could hold over his brother’s head for a change.

“You know, Kevin, there are other ways into the house. The chimney is just convenient.”

Kevin’s heart stopped. He looked up at a large man, red outfit, white beard.

“And before you ask, you and your brother are not the first to try.”

“Santa…”

“Quiet now. We don’t want to wake your brother. Let’s talk over some milk and cookies. You did leave some out, didn’t you?”

Kevin nodded and followed Santa Claus over to two chairs. Between them was a table with a plate of cookies.

“So you were going to take my sack for yourselves?”

“Yes, Santa.”

“Why?”

“Well, Rob said we would get lots of presents.”

“And what about all the other boys and girls?”

Kevin shrugged. He hadn’t thought about that.

“Hmm. Do you think you deserve a present now?”

Kevin recognized that same tone from when his mother was upset with something she had done. “No.” He didn’t even look up as he answered. “I’m sorry.”

“Well, then, that’s that. I should be going.” Santa stood as he spoke and walked over to his sack. He reached in and pulled out a present, which he then placed under the tree. “Now that stays unopened until the morning, okay?”

Kevin nodded. “But why?”

“Because, Kevin. We all make mistakes. One mistake doesn’t put you on the bad list. And you’re sorry. You admitted what you did and didn’t try to blame your brother.”

“Thank you, Santa, but…”

“But?”

“What about Rob?”

“Do you think he deserves a present?”

“No less than I do. Sure, he can be a rotten big brother sometimes. But he’s my big brother. I don’t want a gift if he doesn’t get one, too.”

Santa smiled. “Very well. Here’s a gift for Rob, too. And Kevin…”

“Yes?”

“Tell him Merry Christmas for me.”

“I will, Santa. Thank you. Merry Christmas.”

Treasure Hunt

As the wind began to blow even harder, he rewrapped his scarf to better protect his nose and mouth from the sand. If there weren’t rain soon, the whole world might blow away. Even with his goggles, it was hard to see much of anything. Not that there was much to see; the compass on the right lens was the only thing marking his direction and keeping him on the right path.

“Captain?” The voice came over the piece in his right ear.

“Yes, Sam?”

“Scans are spotty in the storm, but we think we’ve detected one or two life signs 150 meters in front of you.”

“Thanks, Sam. I’ll keep my eye out.”

Damn. 150 meters would put him right on top of his destination. He had hoped to get this before anyone else found out about it. Now he needed to be prepared for whoever might be waiting for him. He gripped the hilt of slug thrower to reassure himself. Most bandits, if they had any defenses, had energy shields. Slug throwers were the cheapest counter, even if they did sometimes jam.

His visibility was still limited to a meter or two, but he hoped that would work for him as much as against him. Stone and metal started appearing above the sand or in spots where the sand had been blown away. Out of caution, he slowed his pace. Eventually, he stood before a pair of steel doors, closed against the elements.

It took a few moments to locate the operating panel. He entered the code he had found, drew his gun, and stood to one side as the doors slid open. No attack came. But a voice did echo forth.

“Come in, Captain. You are in no danger.”

He peered around the corner. A figure in a grey robe stood several meters from the door. “Who are you?”

“I am the keeper of this place. Now please, come in. The sand is beginning to pile up.”

He lowered his gun – but kept it out – and stepped through the doors. Immediately, they slid closed and silenced the wind.

“What do you mean that you’re the keeper? This planet has been abandoned for centuries.”

“Has it? I did think it seemed rather quiet lately.”

“Are you joking? Did you really not know?”

The keeper smiled. “Of course I knew, but that has nothing to do with me.”

“You called me ‘Captain.’ How do you know who I am? Some sort of vision you had? Or a prophecy?”

The smile grew bigger. “What odd ideas you have. No, I listened to your communication with your ship.”

“Oh.” He looked around at the room he was in. Large, but mostly empty with only a few benches here and there. Perhaps it was a sort of entry way? Several doors led beyond. “What is this place?”

“Come now, Captain. You did not come here without knowing what this was, did you?”

“I heard there were artifacts here. Some priceless. Others, powerful. But my intel said nothing about a keeper. What do you keep?”

“This,” he gestured around “is a storehouse, of sorts. I imagine there are items you might find… useful. Mostly it is a library. This building houses the knowledge of a past civilization. I am charged with its preservation.”

“And keeping people like me from taking anything?”

“Just so.”

“But why? If the civilization is gone, why preserve this place?”

“It is my charge. Nothing more. Nothing less.”

“So I leave, or you’ll kill me?”

“Oh nothing so dramatic. And besides, there is no need for you to leave. I will show you this place. There may be things you can take without removing them. The collection must stay intact, but knowledge is shareable.”

He considered for a moment, then triggered his comm. “Sam, everything is alright. Someone here wants to give me a tour. It may take awhile, but it’s safe. I’ll call if I need something.”

“Very good, Captain.”

“Okay, lead the way.”

A Vision

Simon opened the door part way and stuck his head through. “Your next appointment is here, two minutes early just like you said.”

Matthew nodded at his assistant. “Have them wait in the outer room.”

“Very well.” Simon closed the door.

Matthew looked down at his notes. Cristina. She would be mad if her name was spelled wrong. Indeed, she would almost certainly see Simon’s calendar. He should have warned Simon to make the correction earlier. What was she coming to him for?

Boyfriend. That’s right. Is he cheating on her. Matthew hadn’t even bothered to do a reading beyond getting that much information. In his experience, anyone who came to him wondering whether their partner was cheating already knew the answer. They came either looking for confirmation for their anger, or hoping that they were wrong. No one was wrong. You don’t pay a hundred dollars for a reading if you’re wrong.

Beyond the bit about her name and why she had come, there was nothing else written. No point in going further. He just had to make a show about “uncovering” her answer and collect his fee. It would be a simple visit.

Two minutes having passed, the door opened and a woman walked in. She was in her late 20s or early 30s and wore a frown.

Matthew stood and gestured to a chair across the table from him. “Welcome, Ms. …”

She cut him off before he could finish his greeting. “Cristina. Just a C. Not a Ch. Not a K.”

“Ah yes. I’m sorry about that. Simon means well, but he doesn’t always remember to ask for a spelling. My apologies for not catching it. What can I do for you today?”

His quick apology seemed to have caught her off guard and deflated her ire. She sighed and looked down at her hands on the table. “Well, I originally came here because I thought my boyfriend was cheating on me.”

Matthew frowned. “And now you don’t?”

“I still do. But I don’t really need to ask you because he left me this morning, said he found someone else.”

“Oh. Well, that is too bad. I’m sorry.”

“Thanks. Miserable bastard. Probably better this way. Still, I already had the appointment, so I thought maybe you could still help me.”

“Of course. You have another question?”  Matthew forced himself to smile, all the while berating himself for his overconfidence. How hard would it have been to do a full reading, to see deeper into today? Instead, so sure of himself and of the shallowness of his clients, he stopped at infidelity. Now he was going to have to do some real seeing in front of another person. And he had no idea where it would go.

“Maybe. I don’t know. I just feel lost and aimless. I’m finally free of… him… of anything. And I don’t know what I want to do next. I thought maybe you could point me in a direction. Give me an idea of where I should go now, you know?”

“I don’t think I can help. It sounds like you need a friend. Or maybe a counselor. I can only provide answers to specific questions.”

“Fine. What should I do next? That’s a specific question.”

“That’s not really that specific.”

“Can you tell fortunes or not? Are you just a fraud?”

A flash of this woman angrily spreading word that he had not helped her scared Matthew a bit. It wouldn’t matter that he wasn’t a fraud if everyone believed he was. It would not look good.

“Fine. I just… I am not in the business of giving advice. I’m not a life coach. I can just share what I see. I’m not responsible for what you do with it. Understand?”

She nodded.

“Okay. Let me see.” He walked over to a shelf. On it were several popular divination tools. Decks of cards. Dice. Stones. Even a crystal ball. None of them worked, of course, but he understood that people expected them. And they did sometimes help focus the mind. He selected a deck of cards and brought them back to the table, placing them in front of her.

“Shuffle those while you concentrate on your question. When you feel like you have shuffled them enough, hand them back to me.”

Cristina did as she was told. Her hands fumbled a bit, but managed to shuffle them several times. Then she gave them back to Matthew.

As he began to lay out the cards in an appropriately complicated pattern, he focused his attention inward, looking for potential futures. Immediately, a scene appeared before him. His client was sitting amongst the white flames of a summoning circle. A demon stood outside. He was … old. And the two were bargaining. Fear crawled up his spine.

“So what does it say?”

He opened his eyes and looked her.

“The cards. What do they tell you?”

His gaze followed her gesture down to the cards. Not even an implausible lie occurred to him. There was danger all around and he wanted to be far from it.

“You should go,” he finally choked out.

“What? What is it?”

“Go. Now. There is no fee for your visit, but you must leave.”

Anger and confusion took turns on her face as she stood. “Fine. Thanks for nothing.”

After she stormed out of the room, he summoned Simon. “Cancel the rest of my day. Take the rest of it off yourself.” Before his assistant could ask any questions, Matthew left the room and climbed the stairs to his private apartment. He needed more information.

Winter, with a Voice

They say it’s going to snow tomorrow.

“Who’s they?”

Will you shut up. I’m not writing that kind of dialogue right now.

“What kind of dialogue are you writing?”

Shut up! I’m not writing any kind of dialogue. I don’t need you, or any other voice, for help with this. I just want to talk about snow.

“Oh. Got it. Sorry.”

Okay, so… Tomorrow it’s supposed to snow. There is even a blizzard warning up for the afternoon. It’s almost enough to get my hopes up. But I’ve been disappointed so many times, it’s hard to get too excited. I know we got some snow last year, but it still didn’t feel like a proper winter.

So far, the change in our winter weather feels like the biggest personal impact climate change has had…

“Oh. A political post. You haven’t done one of those in years.”

It’s not a political post. I’m talking about winter.

“Yeah, but climate change is so charged with partisanship these days.”

Hmm. I suppose you might be right. But this isn’t about politics. Just that I worry about not having proper winters anymore. We never got a lot of snow around here, but when we did, it stuck around. Now we get melts in January and February. During my favorite season. It’s depressing.

Anyway, sorry the repeated interruptions. Sometimes the voices get restless. And if I haven’t done any writing for them in awhile, they get really restless.

Back to winter.

I have always found peace in the snow, in the cold of winter. The world grows quiet, still. Sound is muffled. It’s a time for introspection, for rest, for regrouping. It gives reasons for drinking hot tea while curled up under blankets and cats. A season of long nights, beautiful skies, and twinkling lights. It brings a softness and peace to the world. Without its pause, it feels as though the world will never stop. It will just keep going and going until it wears itself out or tears itself apart. Winter is our chance to step back and consider what really matters.

So even thought I might be let down again, I still have hope for snow tomorrow. Hope that we might get a little peace. The moon needs something to reflect off of, after all.

“That was nice.”

I didn’t ask you.