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Friday, December 25, 2020

F³ Hat Trick


I dropped Cassie off at school, but instead of heading to the office, I went to Nikki’s. The Grind with its grungy, hastily constructed post-Depression facades looked quite at odds with the scattered Christmas decorations. The city only bothered to decorate in Midtown while the Chamber of Commerce sprang for decorations in Fairhaven and Badon Heights. Individual businesses in the Grind did as they pleased. Interestingly, Nikki’s Blackthorn Club sported wreathes and garland on the outside.

That in itself was something, but even going in through her parking garage I found the elevator had similar touches, including white fur trim on the red velvet elevator seat. The festiveness didn’t hold as I wound through the back halls to her apartment, but then a voice from one of the side rooms stopped me before I got there.

“In here, Matthew,” came Nikki’s melodic voice.

I turned into Nikki’s studio. It was suitably messy, disordered with blank canvases and painted ones littering tables and floors. Drop cloths were piled both in neat stacks and ragged lumps all over the place. Nikki wore a painter’s smock and jeans as she pondered the canvas in front of her.

“That trick with the hearing really weirds me out,” I said.

“Perhaps you misattribute it to my senses when it is actually my security cameras.”

“Uh huh. I wish it was that. So what’s got you stumped?”

“And why would you—”

“Furrowed brow, you don’t have your palette, and your hips are cocked. You’re a fist away from doing a standing Rodin’s Thinker.”

“That is a trick that I find even more impressive than my own. I’m afraid that inspiration is a fickle mistress, one that even I cannot easily seduce.”

The canvas wasn’t blank, but it wasn’t easy to tell since most of the canvas was painted white, but I could make out snow covered trees in the background. The foreground, though, held nothing.

“Yeah, I don’t know how to help with that. I just wanted to know if I could coax you into helping me out.”

“With what?”

My voice dropped. “Shopping.”

She looked at me for the first time. “Indeed? I should be happy to . . . is that it?” she pointed to my hat.

“Yup. And you’ll be amazed to see what it can do.”

“Nick imbued it with some of his potent magic? I no longer feel any power emanating from it, nor from you, but such is never anything authoritative. What does it do?”

“Check this out.” I cocked my head to the left, then rapidly flipped it to the right. The puffball on the tip of the hat flipped up and over my head to rest onto my other shoulder. “Impressive, huh?”

Her lips twitched uncontrollably, and then she burst out laughing. “A truly momentous feat, Matthew. Help me change and we’ll begin our epic crusade.”

“It’s just shopping.”

“Not when it’s done with me.”

Okay, maybe this wasn’t such a great idea.

Friday, December 18, 2020

F³ State of Mind


My little fire—a little lightning made for a great lighter—was crackling and drying me out quite nicely when the green water rippled and Maddy rose out of the surface. As usual, she was wearing a wetsuit. She grinned at me, but also cocked her head to one side, puzzled.

“This does not seem like a social call,” she said.

I shook my head. “Nope, end of the world kind of thing. You hear about the storm barreling towards Florida?”

She shook her head.

It wasn’t surprising. The Aquarians spent most of their time in the water, so they didn’t exactly have instant access to the web. Even if they had waterproof gear, a signal couldn’t get through the water.

I pulled up my phone and showed her the animated radar map.

“You came up here specifically for my help, not just an Aquarian.”

“Yup, time for us to do the thing.”

She reached out her hand and closed her eyes, concentrating.

I took her hand and also closed my eyes.

The concentration was not a focusing of intent on something. That would actually make things worse. Instead, I focused on shifting myself. I had to reach a different state of mind, one more like hers, while she had to do the same with me. Instead of being the rapid, changeable nature of the winds, I had to smooth it out, go more with the flow. Abrupt changes of mood would give way to evenness and acceptance. I surrendered to the river’s current.

Nothing happened.

I peeked with one eye. Maddy’s face was scrunched in concentration, but I felt nothing.

Maddy always has to be mad at me to get there. Guess it’s time for me to help out.

With my free hand, I made tiny currents of air brush her neck and ears. She shivered. I did it again. I kept it up until she let out a snort of laughter.

“Stop it; that’s distracting.”


She began to convulse as the air tickled her neck.


And then my senses expanded. I could feel the current in the lake. The cold no longer bothered me and my eyes could see down into the water where a small rowboat had sunk, probably decades ago.

I reached out, willing the water to spin and flow into a small water spout, and then crystallize into a small chunk of ice that plopped back to the water.

Maddy reached out, gusting a breeze that rippled against the lake’s waves.

“Let’s do this,” I said, letting loose a green-blue bolt of lightning that catapulted us into the sky.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Card Lady


Today would have been my mother’s 82nd birthday (12/16/2020). And while I miss her and could just generally talk about how wonderful she was, that would just be empty. I want to actually tell people about who she was.

My mother hated her birthday. She always felt that it was too close to Christmas, so there was really no celebration of her birthday as something separate from Christmas. Growing up, any relatives offering gifts or well-wishing always showed up for Christmas with a belated happy birthday for her.

I always tried to celebrate it as its own holiday, but it was hard because by the time I had come along to recognize her birthday, she was quite over even the ritual of adding another year to her age. For over 20 years she was 39 and holding. When she did recognize her birthday, she didn’t want a physical gift. She preferred a sentimental card or a meal out to eat, usually at her favorite restaurant, Olive Garden (which I am planning to honor, myself).

She was happiest on her birthday when one of her granddaughters and grandsons happened to be born on the same day. To her, it was far more important to celebrate their coming into this world than her own, and constantly demurred her own celebration in favor of theirs. But she was also very proud that they shared her birthday.

While she didn’t like a fuss about her own birthday, she diligently celebrated that of others. Close friends and relatives and members of the ward received cards every year, for birthdays, “get wells,” or even “thinking of you.” But they were all (with the aid of a computer) handmade. This started off as a hobby to fill the time after my Dad had passed away, but quickly became a job she relished and fervently pursued.

For the ones to friends and family, she signed, but to those going out to others, she didn’t want recognition. She believed that she could remain anonymous when creating dozens of cards a year. No, I take that back. She didn’t believe she could remain anonymous, she wanted to remain anonymous. She didn’t want to draw attention to herself. The cards weren’t about her or what she did, but about the person receiving the card.

And to her, it was no big thing, but I saw the hours and hours she pored over their making. She didn’t just choose a design. She customized the graphics and message to each person, to each occasion. She got colored pens and glues with glitter and further decorated each card, spending hours and hours at her desk. This would go on for days as she worked from master lists of birthdays. The pens and glues required time to dry, so every horizontal surface in her room became a place for cards to dry. She would only stop for the day when either she reached the end of her list or she ran out of space for cards to dry.

Of course, you cannot make dozens of cards year after year and people not figure out who was making them. And several times in the ward people wanted to give her credit and make it an official ward calling just for her, but she deflected. So it became an open secret.

I can only guess at how many thousands of cards she created over the years. Despite my pressing, she would never save the cards she created on her computer. She would claim that she just wasn’t that good with computers, but now I think it was that she didn’t want to make the cards about her, and saving them would have been a kind of bragging, a “look at what all I’ve done,” that might draw attention to herself.

Well, I know there are people who got her cards who have held onto them as cherished keepsakes, and I’m sure there will be hints and remembrances of The Card Lady told here and there. But I suppose I get to have the last word on it as I, and I’m sure my brother Ed, will be adding this little bit of story to her biography, forever memorializing what she did.

Friday, December 11, 2020

F³ Wrongness


I had reached halfway to my regular fedora on the hat rack next to the garage door when Cassie stopped me.

“Aren’t you forgetting?” she said.

I stopped and shrugged. “Force of habit,” I said. I went back into my bedroom and grabbed the Santa hat from my dresser. I hesitantly put it on, ready for something to happen. Of course, it didn’t.

“Looks good on you,” Cassie smiled.

“It feels wrong.”

“It doesn’t fit?”

“No, it’s a perfect fit, like it was tailor-made for me.”

“Then what?”

“It’s not a fedora. Detectives wear fedoras.”

Cassie rolled her eyes at me as we left the house.

“What? It’s a legitimate complaint.”


Friday, December 4, 2020

F³ Message Delivery


Even from thousands of feet in the air, Lake Huron was enormous. Superior and Michigan got all the attention, but Huron was actually the number two lake. They were all so gigantic that they had shipping lanes, like seas. A number of ships sailed on these lanes, carrying cargo, some shuttling passengers, and there were always more recreational boats out on the water.

I used a cloudboard to surf down to the southern end of Great Duck Island. It was a tiny island, even for the Great Lakes, but it was undeveloped and was the agreed-on meeting point. Unfortunately, she didn’t know I was coming. A few calls had just been met with voice mail, which meant that she was likely underwater.

I waded into the frigid water, cursing every inch I sank in.

People who swim in this are insane. Just get it done, fast.

Deep inside me, lightning surged and tumbled around in my gut. I was going to let it out, but had to change it, first. A pinpoint lightning strike would kill a lot of the fish wherever it hit, but that wasn’t what I was going for. What I needed was for a well-branched lightning that would dissipate throughout most of the lake. I slipped my hands into the water, shivering, but then concentrated, imagining the path the lightning would take. It was harder with the water, which constantly shifted. Even though air constantly shifted, it wasn’t as dense, making it easier to keep the ionic channels intact.

Perfect wasn’t necessary, though, and I even wanted the lightning to go its own way as much as possible. I just didn’t want it concentrated enough to kill anyone. Finally, it was as good as I was going to get, and I let out a massive discharge into the water. There was no flash of light or boom of thunder since I was already in the water, not even a pop or sizzle. One moment it was inside me, the next it had exited out my fingers. I repeated it two more times for a total of three pulses, one short, one long, one short.

I pulled myself out of the freezing water and sat on the gravelly beach. Waiting.

I hate this part.

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