Blossoming

Thank you for choosing QuanTel Communications. Your call request is currently being routed to the nearest hyperlight relay. It can take several minutes to establish a connection with your requested party. You will receive a notification when the comm-tunnel is ready.

Darren set the phone on the bed and slipped his shoes on. A glance at the clock by his bedside confirmed it was four hours until Start of Business on the station. Plenty of time for a chat and a stroll. He picked the phone back up and headed out of his berth to the nearest lift. Garden level.

It was peaceful here, so early. The soft sound of flowing water permeated the background of the verdant display. Red, violet, and yellow flowers stood in finely ordered rows, alternating with small shrubs and trees. Occasionally there were plaques offering information or dedication.

Connection established.

“Kara?”

Darren! Hi!

Her voice had a weariness in it.

“Hey! I’m not catching you too late planetside, am I?”

No, you’re fine. I just got home about an hour ago. It’s still early evening here.

“Good. I’m in the garden, if you want to holo?”

Ah, hey, do you mind if we just do audio? I’m—it’s one of those days, you know?

He smiled, even if she couldn’t see it. “You’re still beautiful.”

You’re sweet. You seeing anyone right now?

They both laughed, and the warm sound blended in with the rest of the garden.

It’s probably… what? Biz minus four on the station?

“More or less, yeah. No rush.”

Docking bay strike still going on?

“Geez. Is this a date or an interview?” Darren rounded the corner on one of the paths and saw several flyers demanding more leave time scattered on the ground. He knelt down and framed a shot of them against some amaryllises.

Mmm, sorry. Hard to turn the reporter off.

“It’s fine. I’m just teasing anyway.” He sent the image.

Nice! Let me guess, they’re still making you work?

He leaned down to sniff the red petals of an amaryllis. “Of course.”

Bastards. Not even getting shipments till Astra grows some humanity, but you have to go in? What are you going to sell? Bare shelves?

“Yeah. I know. Not much choice though. I need the credits.” He heard her sigh. “I agree.”

You doing okay, Darren?

He thought about it for a moment. His account was a bit lean, and work was stressful. It would have been nice if his own workplace were unionized, but that was a bit of a pipe dream. He sat down on a bench beside some bright yellow flowers, blooming off long stalks reaching toward the ceiling. Forsythia, the plaque read. There had been some of them growing outside the café he and Kara met at, during Cedurat-IV’s spring.

“Yeah. I’ll be okay.” He reached out with his free hand and let the yellow petals brush against his skin. “How about you? I miss you, Kara. Did you pick up a new beat since the championship is done for the season?’

I miss you too. But yeah, I’m covering a wine festival right now. Cedurat tradition, over four hundred years.

“Sounds great! Any air time?”

A bit! Had a few interviews. The thing’s running for two weeks. Still trying to dig up something juicy. Maybe a local scandal. Poisoned grapes. Who knows?

She laughed.

“If there’s something going on, you’ll find it! I’ll have to check it out during the next Packet.” One downside to station life: download time. Non-emergency data from throughout the Union was distributed roughly weekly to any civilian stations. Planetside, you could just send a text.

Hey, Darren?

“Yeah?”

You’re cute.

“Same to you.” Silence passed for a moment between them. “What’s the winter like on Cedurat-IV?”

At this latitude? Pretty mild. Why? You thinking about coming back to seeee meeee?

“Always. I can probably save up enough to hop on a ship by then. Maybe I can even stay at the same place as last time.”

Well, maybe you… She faded off, and he could tell she was rethinking it.

“It’s okay. I can book a place and we’ll play it by ear.”

He thought about sending a photo of the forsythia. Too sentimental, probably? It could be difficult, wanting to be loving and vulnerable, but he worried about being cloying. All the same, he captured an image and sent it.

Flowers? In a garden? Lovely!

He chuckled.

Wait… I know these. Outside the café.

“Yeah.”

Yeah.

“I’ll make it there soon.” He reached up to wipe the tears from his eyes.

I’m holding you to it.

“Yes, ma’am.”

Now, about that strike…

The next two hours passed much too quickly.

Dirge on Violins

My roommate keeps two toads in a small terrarium on our kitchen counter. Once a week, he goes to the pet store down the road and buys two dozen crickets to feed to them. Last year he was hospitalized for almost two months, and the task of keeping his toads alive fell to me.

The workers at the pet store gave me the crickets in a clear plastic bag filled with air. It can be difficult to relate to insects, their eyes and their form are so different from our own. There is a lack of mammalian familiarity. Even so, I confess I feel for them. But I feel for the animals that become my own meals as well, yet that has not stopped me from eating meat—too much, if I am being honest.

So I apologized to these two dozen doomed crickets as I used a pair of scissors to cut the knot off the bag. It deflated immediately and I poured the crickets and the small cardboard egg-carton piece they assembled on into the terrarium.

If you have never seen toads feed before, it is a savage spectacle. They hop out from their hiding spots and lash out with their tongues faster than your eye can see. A cricket trying to gain its bearings in its new “home” simply vanishes from sight. One after another, after another, they vanish, their lives snuffed out by amphibious executioners. They won’t all die in that moment, either. The toads satiate themselves and leave the rest to wander the terrarium. It will be another two or three days before they are all gone for good.

I think about this, sometimes.

This week, however, my roommate is here, returned from the hospital for nearly a month. The usual crickets were not available at the pet store. Instead of buying more, smaller ones, he chose to pick up a few large crickets. I came home from work in the evening, and the toads had already eaten their fill for the day.

One thing to know about larger crickets is that unlike the smaller ones, you can hear them chirping. And I hear them. It is called stridulating, and I use that word and try not to think of the crickets as small fiddlers playing their final tunes. There is a certain level of detachment needed to cope with another animal’s feeding habits—or even one’s own. There are plenty of reasons—good reasons, moral reasons, health conscious reasons—to consider giving up eating other animals, but even plants live. We animals, all of us from human to toad, must constantly snuff out life to maintain our own.

Yet, for reasons I don’t immediately grasp, I walk over to the terrarium and see three crickets gathered within a patch of plastic flora, twitching and drawing their legs to make noise. Stridulate. I watch them for a moment, in this glass box where their lives will end, and maybe our eyes meet, neither side quite understanding the other. Then I turn, and decide to write about them.

A little over a month ago I found one in our sink, still alive. My first thought was to put it back in the terrarium, but I couldn’t. This lone cricket had somehow escaped its fate; I wasn’t about to be the cruel hand to strike it down once more. I captured it in a cup and released it outside our apartment, where it likely met an ill end all the same at the hands of the local wildlife. But I had done my part, or so I thought, although it was I who originally sentenced it to its predicament.

The apartment is quiet, now. I think of the bedraggled trio, drawing leg across leg to make their last song. Are they still because they sleep, or because the toads roused from their lethargy and decided to gorge themselves once again? God help me, I’m afraid to look.

It’s all such a mess.

Season’s End: The Harbingers’ Last Stand

The glass lenses on the apothecary’s mask glinted in the sun as they rolled an unconscious Sir Bretonnian onto the litter. They applied a green, foul-smelling paste to the thrower’s bleeding torso.

“He’ll live.” The mask muffled their voice. Znut Mournmaul, Kritt Crowbasher, and Varisk Trollcleaver stood quietly over their fallen teammate.

“At least the heat’s let up,” the apothecary added. “I’ll take care of blondie, here. The rest of you try not to die. New contracts are expensive.” They began dragging the litter and its unconscious passenger back toward the dugout.

Varisk looked back over his shoulder at the line of scrimmage, where some of the Worsca were milling around. Several of them were prodding the yhetee to keep it in check.

“I’m not a betting rat, but I think our chances ain’t good. Three of us, and… well I was never any good at counting, but a lot more of them!”

“Great match so far,” Kritt said, wiping blood off one of his knuckle-dusters.

Znut grunted, his attention focused on the receding Sir Bretonnian. Sweat and blood dripped from his mask.

Varisk shook his head at the two Stormvermin. “You both have issues.”

The three Harbingers lined up, assembled against the full strength of the Worsca of Norsca. Varisk stared up at the tower of white fur and claws that was the yhetee and said a silent prayer to the Horned Rat. Just then, one of the goblin referees approached.

“Overtime’s done, players!” the goblin said. “Since the score’s tied at two to two, it’ll be down to a coinflip!” This didn’t draw happy looks from the humans across the line.

“Hell Pit Harbingers, since you have the fewest players remaining, the call will be yours!” The goblin waited for a moment and then tossed a brass coin into the air. It spun several feet above their heads.

Znut grabbed the referee’s arm and twisted hard. There was the sound of snapping bone, and a scream. Varisk’s eyes widened, but Kritt was already shouting at the Worsca. “Kick it, you bastards!”

The ball flew through the air, as the referee went to one knee, his coin falling forgotten on the pitch. “Double overtime!” he choked out.

Varisk shook his head, dodging the yhetee’s claws just in time as the ball landed somewhere behind him. He never thought he would miss Sir Bretonnian quite as much as he did now.

Rats in the Locker Room

The sound of crunching metal echoed through the Hell Pit Harbingers’ locker room as Qarsk Slategrip crashed into one of the steel lockers and left a sizable dent. Several hoots and cheers erupted from the rest of the Harbingers. Varisk Trollcleaver stood over Qarsk, a wicked grin curling on his muzzle.

“Stay down,” he sneered.

“Leave him alone,” one of the other players said. Varisk looked his way and laughed.

“And just what are you gonna do about it, Your Lordship?” He spat.

Sir Bretonnian—that’s what the other Skaven on the team called him ever since he came back from the surface a few years ago a changed rat, obsessed with ‘honour’ and ‘chivalry’—stared Varisk down.

“Attacking thine own teammate is a churlish thing to do. Thou art no better than a—”

“What? A rat? Well if you haven’t noticed, Sir, WE’RE ALL RATS HERE!”

“I will duel you, fiend!”

“Let it go, Bretonnian.” Qarsk spoke, slowly climbing to his feet. It was then that the Runt came over and kicked him square in the chest. But Qarsk held firm, pushing the Runt back and standing.

“You can take a lot, Qarsk. I like it.” Varisk looked around at the other players. “But he’s gonna have to take a lot more. We’re ALL gonna have to take a lot more than a few kicks. We’re playing the Worsca next. You know what that means? That means WOLVES!”

Even Sir Bretonnian looked cowed. Varisk seized the moment and continued on.

“That’s right! We’ve all heard about Quik the Unseen, that skinny bastard who can put our Gutter Runners through their paces! But you also know Bjorn the Bear! Man turns into a wolf, but they call him a bear! These humans can’t even name their animals right.

“But they’re big! And they’re strong! And they want to eat each and every last one of us! Well, we all know who eats them all in the end, right? THE RATS! And we’re gonna—”

Varisk’s eyes rolled back in his head as he fell forward with a thud. Standing behind him was Skurrskiq Frostweaver, the best Runner the Harbingers had. He smirked, waving the butt of the dagger he had used to knock Varisk out.

“Don’t know about the rest of you, but I was getting tired of hearing him.”

“He’s not wrong though.” Qarsk sighed.

“True,” Sir Bretonnian added ruefully. “Methinks the Apothecary will be working overtime…”

Next Time

Connor sat alone at a small table in the university cafeteria, poring over some maps. A woman’s voice interrupted his thoughts.

“Writing a horoscope?”

He glanced up from his work. A young black woman in an apron smiled at him, holding a pot of coffee in her hand.

“I’m sorry?” he asked.

“That’s a star chart.” She gestured at the papers strewn across the small cafeteria table. “I thought maybe you were writing a horoscope.”

“Oh. No.” He fidgeted with his glasses. Corvus and Scorpio were already at work tracking down the next Knight, and Connor was damned if that was going to happen again. The memories stung in his mind—Aquila’s memories. Failing to make it back in time to stop Corvus from falling to the Darkness. Now she and the fallen Knight both had to be dealt with. Redeemed.

“Are you alright?” the woman asked, putting her hand over his. “You look like a man who could use another cup of coffee. What do you say?”

“Please. And my apologies. I’m a bit distracted. Teaching a class tonight, and I have a lot on my mind.”

“Say no more!” She refilled his cup. Connor reached out to take it and she smiled. “I love your nails.”

Without thinking, he folded his hand to hide his purple polished nails. Stupid. “Ah. Thank you. For the coffee.”

“Oh, god, I didn’t mean to—”

Samantha!

An older white woman with blonde hair down to her shoulders called across the cafeteria. Judging by her uniform, she was one of the managers.

Samantha made an exaggerated grimace at Connor that her manager could not see. “Call me Sam,”  she said as she trotted off. “Let me know if you need another cup.”


The next day Connor ordered his coffee at the counter. Sam was there. Immediately concern appeared on her face.

“Oh god, what happened?”

He waved his hand dismissively. The polish on his nails was scraped. Connor could tell Sam was staring at the bruises along his neck, where Scorpio had tried to crush the life out of Aquila.

“Archery accident.”

She raised an eyebrow, but let it drop.

He cleared his throat. “Connor.”

“I’m sorry?” Sam blinked. “I didn’t catch that.”

“My name is Connor,” he said. It had always been his name, but it felt strange and heavy on his tongue.

A grin curled on her lips. “How do you take your coffee, Connor?”

“Black.”

“Like the night.”

He shook his head. “The night is full of stars.”

“You’re an interesting one.” Sam passed him his coffee. “You should let me do a reading for you sometime.”

His eyes met hers. “No.”

“You’re one of those astronomy kids, aren’t you? Don’t believe in what the stars have to say?”

That made him chuckle. Or was Aquila the one laughing? “I never said that.”

There was the sound of someone else clearing their throat. Connor and Sam both looked over to see Sam’s manager staring at the two of them. Her look was not an approving one.

“At least tell me your sign,” Sam whispered.

Connor picked up the coffee. “That is a hard question. I’ll see you next time. Sam.”

“There’s a next time, huh?”

He looked down at the mug, which was warm in his hands. There were swirls on the dark surface. “Always.”

Arkham Horror: Encyclopedia

“Umurdhot?”

“Umôrdhoth,” Daisy corrected her. Jenny watched the librarian as she pored over the enormous book on the desk in front of her. She leafed through its pages so quickly Jenny wondered if she was even reading any of the words.

Encyclopedia“You think something about this cult is going to be in… an encyclopedia?” She adjusted her Oxfords. Traipsing about London with her fellow socialites was one thing, but running from cultists through the streets of Arkham had been quite another.

“The Orne Library keeps an extensive collection of rare books, ancient and modern. I was just reading Dr. Margaret Murray’s The Witch-Cult in Western Europe last week, when Professor Warren came in and… my God.”

“What is it?” The librarian’s expression was one of shock.

De Masticatione Mortuorum in Tumulis! That’s what he borrowed. It’s about—Miss Barnes!

The knife hit Jenny in the side, just under the ribs, and she fell to the ground. It was a wicked, curved blade. Its wielder stood over her, tall and imposing in his ragged green coat. He smelled of the woods, and wore a deer skull mask.

She slid the switchblade out of her dress and fumbled for the button, but the man’s blade was coming down again.

There was a thud, and the hunter stumbled sideways, crashing into a bookshelf. He appeared stunned, but recovering. Daisy stood there with the encyclopedia she had just battered him with in her hand, and she reached down to help Jenny up.

“Run!” she shouted. Jenny held her injured side and didn’t argue.


Arkham Horror: The Card Game is a cooperative Living Card Game by Fantasy Flight Games. My vignettes are appreciative fanfiction of a game I love and highly recommend.

This vignette was based on a suggestion by @InfiniteBertez on Twitter.

Arkham Horror: Alyssa Graham

“Miss Barnes.” Jim held his right hand up. His left held onto his trumpet. “Jenny. Why don’t you put the gun down?”

Tears streamed down her face, but Jenny Barnes held the large pistol steady. Problem was, she was pointing it directly at Alyssa. Alyssa’s eyes were wide with terror.

“Tell me where she is,” Jenny choked out.

“Miss Graham don’t know where your sister is, Jenny. Shooting her ain’t gonna help that.”

Alyssa Graham“All their bodies were there! Armitage, Dr. Morgan, Leo… that creature even got Wendy. Izzie’s been missing, maybe… maybe they took her too.” She wiped her eyes and gestured with the .45 at Alyssa. “You can talk to them. You can find out if… if she’s…”

Jim knew a thing or two about the dead. His daddy’s trumpet felt heavier as he thought about it. “There’s always a cost, Jenny. Believe me. You ain’t one of them monsters. Don’t start now.”

Slowly, Jenny began to lower the gun. Her shoulders slumped, and the tears started pouring. Jim took a few steps toward her. Alyssa backed away and let out a breath.

“I’m scared,” she almost whispered as he put an arm around her shoulders.

He felt his own tears hot on his cheeks, and nodded at Alyssa. “Ain’t we all?”


Arkham Horror: The Card Game is a cooperative Living Card Game by Fantasy Flight Games. My vignettes are appreciative fanfiction of a game I love and highly recommend.

Arkham Horror: Painkillers

Daisy Walker limped through the museum’s corridor, clutching the Necronomicon to her chest. Her footsteps echoed in the dark. She glanced back nervously at the dark trail of dripping blood she left behind her. A horrid black serpent stalked the exhibits—even thinking that made Daisy fear she had lost her mind. It was real, though. The throbbing pain in her leg reminded her of that.

She gasped in agony and stumbled into a stand. The Eighth Dynasty serving bowl that had just occupied it shattered on the tile. For what felt like an eternity, she held her breath, cursing herself.

Nothing stirred. She still couldn’t hear where the others may have gotten to. Roland, Agnes, Dr. Armitage. Daisy would have even given anything to see that drifter Pete and his mangy dog.

PainkillersThere was no other choice. She reached into her bag and pulled out the small Aspirin tin Pete gave her earlier that evening. You be careful with these, he had told her, ain’t just any Aspirin in there.

Daisy swallowed some of the pills down dry, nearly choking. Quietly she waited, her fingers worrying at the cover of the terrible book they came here to find. Something about it felt oddly familiar. She glanced down and saw the book was not the copy she had taken from the museum minutes ago, but the one she’d seen in the Orne Library last week.

How did this get here? Looking in her bag, she saw Wormius’s translation, but didn’t recall putting it there.

She would worry about it later. The ache in her leg had numbed, and it was time to find the others.


Arkham Horror: The Card Game is a cooperative Living Card Game by Fantasy Flight Games. My vignettes are appreciative fanfiction of a game I love and highly recommend.

Just a Song

“Breathe,” he told Thorn. “Slowly. And time your steps to your breath.”

It wasn’t that the Tycherosi woman had no grace; there were times she moved like a shark through the water, hungry and with dark purpose. Other times, however, she acted like a child who was about to be hit, or who craved a toy she could not have. Song needed her to be consistent. They were about to swim among a different kind of shark, and those nobles would smell blood in the water.

“I’ve done this before, you know.” Her tone was a little indignant. “I taught at the university, and we would have parties all the time—some of them would be very nice, except you could feel their eyes always looking at you.”

He grinned. “Breathe. Exhale as you bring your good foot forward. No, don’t copy me exactly, you’ll need to focus on your left. As if you were about to lunge to stab someone.”

“I don’t need to stab anyone, Song.” Thorn met his eyes, and a chill ran through him. Those sleek, shining black eyes reminded the Skovlander that she was as much of a predator as he. Continue reading “Just a Song”

Arkham Horror: Lone Wolf

“Essex county? You sure you want to go there after that awful train wreck?”

Rex Murphy grabbed some pencils and threw them in his satchel. He looked at Minnie. “I’ve got to, Minnie. You remember that other night at the Clover Club?”

Lone WolfThe photographer frowned. “That one where you ran off and almost got yourself killed when some ‘rival thugs’ busted up the place?”

Rex pulled some petty cash from the drawer despite Minnie’s protesting gestures. “Wasn’t a rival gang.” He hadn’t slept since that night. Whatever that thing was, some amalgam of horrid spheres that moved and undulated and—no. He had to stop thinking about it.

She folded her arms and gave him one of her looks. “I know. I ain’t stupid. You aren’t as good at lying as you think, Rex.”

“Let me tell it to you straight, then: I’m going to Essex county. Alone. There’s something dangerous going on.”

“All the more reason we should go together.”

“NO!”

There was an awkward silence in the empty office, and Rex realized he had shouted at her. His heart sank, and he felt himself shaking.

“We’re a team, Rex,” Minnie whispered.

“No,” he repeated, slinging the satchel over his shoulder. “Not right now we aren’t. Tell Harvey… ah hell, I don’t know. And Minnie, please, for your own sake, don’t follow me.”

The door slammed shut behind him as he ran out.


Arkham Horror: The Card Game is a cooperative Living Card Game by Fantasy Flight Games. My vignettes are appreciative fanfiction of a game I love and highly recommend.