Welcome to EFNB 10th Anniversary Week! This entry is a sequel to one posted ten years ago on February 23, 2010.
“He abandoned the station,” Peg said. “He abandoned his post. And three people are dead. The company says we have to go after him.”

“Why us?” said Coolidge. “There are others.”

“Nearest corporate corvette is weeks away,” Peg said. “We’ve got leave to take the cutter.”

“You’re not listening,” Coolidge said through gritted teeth.

“Explain it to me then!” snapped Peg. “Because from where I’m sitting, Taylor killed a regular customer and stole his ship, which we look at pretty dimly where I come from.”

“Not our job,” Coolidge said. Then, seeing Peg’s expression, he added, for emphasis: “Let him go.”

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Welcome to EFNB 10th Anniversary Week! This entry is a sequel to one posted ten years ago on February 22, 2010.

“Hey, Tony.”

“What is it, Ronnie?” I said, sticking my shovel into the sand, frustrated. “You and me here on a body-hiding detail, or are we in a debating society?”

“I found some different colored sands. They ain’t white anymore.”

I looked over, wincing at the bit of Joey’s ripe ass wafting over the white sands. “What?”

Ronnie, shovel in hand, was pointing down at some sand he’d just uncovered. It was glowing a bright, spectral blue in the desert twilight.

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Welcome to EFNB 10th Anniversary Week! This entry is a sequel to one posted ten years ago on February 21, 2010.

Her name was Ramona Dempsey, and she was from the gulf coast–or so she claimed. Close enough that you could see the lights of New Orleans on a clear day, but far enough that oil from Deepwater was still washing up in tarballs. Eventually I started to see some holes in the story, but I think that much, at least, was true.

When we met, she introduced herself as Dempsey, and was with another Ramona. I told them both the story about my previous Ramona, leaving out the police report but leaving in the cigarette burns. They seemed ticked–after all, that’s why I brought it up–and it seemed like Dempsey and I hit it off, especially when she revealed her actual name.

Even then, I should have seen it. The little warning signs and red flags, from things as simple to being constantly asked where I was to bigger stuff like a new name mysteriously appearing on my car’s title. By the time I realized that anything was wrong, I had been so thoroughly cut off from friends and family that I was well and truly trapped. There were even new cigarette burns.

The idea that finally saved me was to pick up the phone and call Ramona. Not Ramona Dempsey, mind, but Ramona McEuen–my previous, and ex, Ramona. Given how thoroughly my phone records were combed, I knew that they would find each other.

I was hoping that they would cancel each other out.

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Welcome to EFNB 10th Anniversary Week! This entry is a sequel to one posted ten years ago on February 20, 2010.

“Look,” Reuben said. “I know what you’re going to say, but I need to make up Friday’s test. My grandmother died.” He was pale, sweaty, and shaking a little–as if he’d just jogged over, at the very least.

I took off my reading glasses, laying them across ungraded student papers on my overstuffed desk, and massaged my temples, which were already aching from a litany of excuses already floated at me via email. No one, it seemed, wanted to take a test the Friday before spring break, even though the department was forcing me to give it and I’d otherwise have readily agreed.

“Reuben,” I said. “This is the fifth time. I’m very sorry that my tests seem to be fatal to your grandmothers, but this can’t keep going on.”

“Would you believe that my family is a group of necromancers, and that we’ve tried to raise her five times now?” Reuben said, eyes wide. “And each time we’ve had to put her down when her thirst for flesh becomes too great?”

“It does have the virtue of being one I haven’t heard before,” I said.

“What if I told you that there was a grandmother-targeting serial killer out there, then?” Reuben said. “And that they’ve been picking off my grandmothers one at a time, brutally in some cases?”

Picking up my glasses, I put them back on and got up. I shut the office door before plopping back into my chair. “I’d say that you need to tell me what’s really going on here, Reuben,” I said. “Wild excuses giving way to wilder ones aren’t going to change the fact that you look like death warmed over. Tell me the truth.”

He flashed a nervous, tremulous, and bright grin. “I wish I knew, Dr. Beck,” he said. “I wish I knew.”

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“We’ve always gone our own ways, pursued our own interests, but…there has been a balance. A balance that is now upset.” The Azure Man exhaled, wreathing his head in blue smoke. “I’ve long had that balance as my interest, my reason. Hues are powerful, as I’m sure you’ve seen, and there is a greater balance at stake in the world which we are a part of.”

“You like to hear yourselves talk, too,” said Harry. “Don’t forget that.”

“Yes, quite.” The Man tapped a pale finger on his cheek. “You’ve let the Lady in Red draw living blood for the first time in decades, set the Green Couple fighting amongst themselves over your soul contract, turned the Yellow Woman’s madness back upon her, and managed to thoroughly, thoroughly piss off the Purple One, whom I count as my dearest enemy. Have I left anything out?”

“The part where I just want to go in peace and leave you Hues alone,” said Harry. “Maybe see Harriet one last time before they give her the chair.”

“That time has passed,” said the Azure Man. “The Hues of this city are in chaos, and they are demanding–or, rather, they will demand–action. I must give them something, even if it is an illusion or a scapegoat. You will do. Or, perhaps, your friend. Perhaps both. Convince me, one way or another, if you think you can.”

Harry fell into a stubborn, sullen, silence.

“Very well then,” the Azure Man said. “Hobson’s choice it is. You choose nothing, so that is what I will give you.”

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“There, there. Try not to move. You’ve been put through the wringer, and I’m not here to hang you out to dry.”

The Purple One set a glass of water next to Harry and walked toward the window, with its expansive view of the city below. They were dressed in a curious mixture of frills and spots, an amalgamation that suggested more than it said, and kept coy about the Hue that wore it.

“Why would you do that?” Harry croaked. “The other Hues have had nothing but trouble for me.”

“Yes, you do seem to have set them aflutter,” said the One. “Perhaps that is what I was curious about. I’m used to their disapproval, you see, and breaking their silly rules. Maybe you’ve got a natural knack for that. Maybe I’d like your help.”

“Just like the others,” Harry said.

“What?” The Purple one was next to him, their violet eyes wide, livid. “I am nothing like them!”

“You say that, and yet here you are, asking how I can help you advance your agenda,” Harry said. “That sounds like every other Hue I’ve dealt with this week.”

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    “Leave it to Green to be so utterly narcissistic as to divide in two, so that there would be someone to love them as much as they loved themselves, and so be of two minds about everything, forever.”

    The Yellow Lady glided down the stairs like a sunbeam, scarcely touching the steps. “And yet it is you who have paid for interfering in the business of the Hues,” she continued. “Your soul in hock. Your lady-friend accused of murder most foul. And you, here, with me. I imagine you’ve heard stories, have you not?”

    “They say you drive men mad,” Harry muttered.

    “Not just men! All sorts. Hues are not immune. I have a talent, like breathing, for unraveling the comfortable lies that people have built up and letting them see the truth. No one likes the truth. It is the harshest of things and can blow away sanity like a dandelion seed riding a blast wave.”

    She was nearer now, and the color of her garment and her eyes was hard for Harry to look at, it seemed to trail behind her as if itself hesitant at the association. “I will show you a truth, and if you are still sane afterwards, then you will have proven worthy of my time.”

    The air around her was visibly shimmering now, a tremblor made visible, and Harry could hear the sound of distant voices shouting and gibbering. Reality seemed to swim about him, and he was drowning in it.

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