October 2017

Springtime is singtime
Seedtime is weedtime

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The door never appears in the same place twice. You’ll know it’s near by the alluring odor. Look about, and there, in the shadows of a nook or an eve, you’ll find it. Black ebony, worn smooth through the years, with a doorknob of a human skull in tarnished brass. Knock three times, and if you mean well, they’ll let you in.

And there, inside, you can enjoy the best grilled cheese sandwiches in the multiverse.

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Dorko Bachtel
Insists that, among his people, “Dorko” is an ancient and proud name, regardless of how it feels on our tongues.

Beat Rockhold
Her name is supposed to be a derivation of “Bette” but she does not go out of her way to correct it.

Thacker Blood
His father was actually a surgeon, and Thacker was the name of a wealthy and influential patron.

Dark Coolbeth
Elizabeth fashioned herself a new name to reflect her profound love of necromancy.

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The blacksmith, sweat clearing a path through the grime on his brows, struck at his anvil.

“Aah!” yelped Chris, swatting at a spark that singed her face. “Careful!”

“Quiet, woman,” the blacksmith grunted, perhaps thinking of all the times he’d barbecued his own flesh when there was no one to complain to, and stuck his iron back amid the tongues of flame in the forge.

“You won’t be grunting when I’m blind!” Chris added.

The blacksmith came back over, gently scootched Marion’s elbow out of the way, and resumed striking at his anvil. Each blow rang out like a harsh but pure musical note.

“You know,” Marion said, “the light of the forge makes you positively glow, Chris.”

Another shower of sparks. “You’re just saying that,” said Chris, turning away due to blushing and raining hot metal fragments.

“No,” Marion said. “I swear on a bundle of Bibles.”

At the blacksmith’s final blow, the handcuffs around the two ladies’ wrists parted with a ring. “There,” he said. “Now go be romantic somewhere that’s actually suited for it.”

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The first flame is the brightest
Even if it falls on green wood
Youthful sparks yearn to alight
Blaze a wildfire with their passion
Smouldering is their reward
Smoke to relish instead of fire
Cherished tinder was imagined
Kindling a passing enchantment
All the tenderness in the world
Can’t like that which will not burn

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The diner fell silent.

“We don’t trust any water what doesn’t come through the pipes,” said the waitress. She set a glass of it out, clouded with grit and what might have been flecks of rust.

Everyone had turned to look, from the rough-and-tumble logmen in the far booth to the man in a rumpled business suit at the phone booth. A droplet of sweat wound its way down the side of the glass and pooled on the curling linoleum countertop.

If the water wasn’t sipped, and soon, there would be trouble.

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Soul oppresses soul.
Impossible soul escapes.
It was never real.

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Banshee’s Scream Inn
Named after a powerful positive female role model in Irish folklore, the Banshee’s Scream is a hub of social life on the island. From its award-winning Shillelagh micro-brew to its treasured secret recipe pig-in-a-blanket, the cuisine is a local staple. The Scream also lets rooms as a bed and breakfast and serves as temporary headquarters for the Xanthophyll Festival and Mr. Autumn, its mysterious and reclusive grand marshal.

Xanthophyll Festival
Celebrating that most magical of fall leaf pigments, the Xanthophyll festival is a time-honored tradition during decorative gourd season. Come for the homemade pumpkin spice chicken gumbo, stay for the stage shows including music by acclaimed local band Cucurbita & the Pepos.

Langtree Schoolhouse
The sole school on the island, Langtree caters to all students from kindergarten to super senior. It is renowned for its emphasis on musical education, animal husbandry, ecology, and dark magic. It also serves as the local community college, and earned credits transfer to Sim State (go LLamas!).

Ladder Alley Marketplace
Named after a narrow byway that has since been widened into Mill St., the Ladder Alley Marketplace offers all the dry and wet goods the islanders could ever want. With everything from LlamaMart-brand goods brought over from the mainland to local small-batch artisan organic produce, Ladder Alley has something for everyone. Its pumpkin spice jam, pumpkin garlic bread, and gourd-filtered coffee are local staples.

Addams Beach
This secret getaway is famous for two things: its unspoilt stretch of white sand and its riptides. Sometimes called the “graveyard of the leafers” it is notorious for swallowing unwary tourists whole. Legends of a sea monster with an underground laboratory lair are unsubstantiated.

Candlewood Beach
The island’s most popular and most sheltered beach, popular with tourists and those who feel the siren song of the deep unknown. Legends of fish-men emerging from its depths are largely dismissed. Legends of fish-and-chips men selling overpriced seafood to tourists are confirmed.

Innsmouth Seafood
The bounty brought in by the local fishermen who own Innsmouth Seafood is uncommonly rich, with the best of the catch reserved for this eatery. World-famous after being featured in the “Eateries and Estuaries” issue of The Llama Review, it is also notable for having a chef that has never been seen in daylight.

Dr. Alivardo’s Potent Potions
Serving as both the island’s sole physician and its alchemist, Dr. Alivardo was a fixture for many years. After his tragic death in an invisibility potion mishap, his practice is still famous for its high standard of medical care and the potency of its potions, especially the locally famed Essence of Esprit reinvigoration potion. Lose 30 years off your life in a month or your money back!

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“You don’t choose the gift,” Madame Phara says, laughing. “The gift chooses you. And there’s no giving it back once it’s given.”

Phara lives in a small apartment in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward. She shares the three-room efficiency with her husband Stanley, who didn’t do much other than snore on the couch during our visit. “He works the night shift,” explains Phara, “and I make him a powerful sleeping draught for the day so he can catch up.”

Though a sleeping potion powerful enough to knock out your husband for 12 hours may seem like a dream to many spouses, Madame Phara insists that her magical powers can be as much of a gift as a curse. “It’s impossible for me to use the microwave,” she says. “If it’s plugged in and I accidentally cook up a little magic, it’ll blow the breaker.” The microwave sits in a corner, greasy but unplugged; Stanley uses it only when Phara is away. She bashfully admits that it’s the 17th one they’ve had since getting married in 1983.

In the kitchen, the matriarch of magic goes through a litany of things her magic makes difficult or impossible, pointing each out in turn. “I can’t cook with vinegar,” she says. “Stanley has to do it for me. I’ll turn it to wine, even right through the bottle.” She has turned to using vinegar-flavored potato chips instead to satisfy her cravings for the sour and pungent.

Clearing her throat, she adds: “I hope you don’t mind a slice of raspberry pie. Normally I’d choose something without so many seeds, but…” She looks at a blackberry bush that has sprouted from the garbage can and overtaken half of the kitchen. Berries the size of golf balls dangle from its thorny boughs. “You understand, that’s just how it is,” Madame Phara laughs, by way of apology.

How does it feel when her magic interferes so much with her daily life? “You get used to it,” Madame Phara says. “Some things you get nonmagical folks like Stanley to help with, but other times–like when I accidentally raised poor Mr. Washington as a zombie–I just have to sort it out myself.”

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“Aw shit,” I said. “A congressman. How long before every agency with a three-letter name shows up to stomp around in their fancy suits?”

“About half an hour,” said Meyers. ‘What do you think, Carolyn? Should we give them the traditional cold shoulder run around, or opt for the more upbeat ‘fuck you, let’s see the paperwork?'”

“Listen to your heart,” I said. Returning to the grisly scene, I nodded to Elena, who had the latest iPhone and a good data plan. “Get me this guy’s Wikipedia page,” I said. “Full version, none of that mobile crap.”

As she struggled to peel off her gloves, I grabbed our CSI photographer and began pointing out salient points. Roberts was a good guy, and a valuable sounding board, especially when I was mad. We had a standing agreement: no bullshit, just honesty and maybe a little snark when things were in a jam,

“Look at this,” I said, pointing at the jagged hole in the man’s lower back, from which a coiled snake of small intestine peeked coyly. “It looks like he was sawed open by a carpenter. Kidney’s missing. Organ theft?”

“No, I don’t think so,” Roberts said, snapping. “I think that he got stabbed through the kidney and they carved it out, along with all the other bits, to make it look like an organ harvest.”

I raised an eyebrow. “And what proof do you have of this supposition, sugar?”

“None whatsoever, Carolyn, other than the cuts themselves. Someone was in a hurry, and if I needed a kidney, I wouldn’t take one that badly damaged.”

“He was the chair of the House committee on green energy,” Elena said, intent on her phone. “He had a rating of ‘zero hunks of coal’ from the Electric Generators’ Association.”

“Sounds like a motive to me,” I said.

“Sounds like a hunch at best,” Roberts said. “Congressmen have a lot of enemies and even more frenemies.”

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