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Friday, June 25, 2021

F³ Not My Fault 01

             I woke to screaming by Natalie and Kate. I had been yelled at a lot, so thought nothing of that. I did wonder why Kate was there, though. Her territory was the Pacific Northwest, whereas Natalie looked over the Great Lakes area. I had the in-between up to the Rockies.

            “Why’s Kate here?” I said. At least I thought I said, the words echoed and muffled in my head.

            They were still screaming, but I couldn’t make anything out. I tried to sit up, but couldn’t. I was sore, everywhere, as if I had spent all day yesterday working out. I felt drained, too. I was out of lightning and air, which was not generally a good thing for a storm rider. We absorbed both ambiently, and I had been full up not that long ago.

            Or maybe not. How long was I out?

            “Whoa!” I made the time-out T with my hands. “I can’t hear you, so save your voices.”

            The muffled sound was gone, but the echo was still there.

            The two women looked at one another and began speaking in what I assumed was quieter tones. Their mouths didn’t open as wide.

            Kate nodded to whatever Nat said, then they waited.

            Ten minutes later, and I was able to hear clearly. I still couldn’t sit up, though.

            “What the fuck happened?” I asked.

            “You tell us!” Kate yelled.

            I shrugged my shoulders.

            “Reilly, what’s the last thing you remember?” Nat asked.

            “Waking up.”

            Nat smacked me upside the head. Kate followed on with her own.

            “Ow. Okay, I was cloudsurfing chasing this . . . thing. Seven tentacles on its butt. I hit it with some lightning and it went down. Don’t’ remember anything after that.

            The women looked at one another. Kate hauled on one arm and Nat the other, getting me to a sitting position.

            I looked around. I was in a crater.

            “This is not my fault.”

 

Friday, June 11, 2021

F³ Evasion

             Nikki stepped back, but not to leave, not to recoil in horror from me, but to sit in the chair in front of the desk. She carefully arranged her skirt, showing the perfect amount of leg according to some arcane formula only she knew, but I couldn’t argue with the results.

            “That won’t work, Matthew.”

            “Hmm?” I said, still staring at her legs. She wore some kind of micro fishnet, the holes in the stockings bigger than in regular nylon—who am I kidding, Nikki wore silk—and ordinary fishnets.

            Wonder if they factor into her equations.

            “Staring at my legs will not relieve you of telling me the story.”

            “How about your heart. That’s looking fairly unprotected, right now.”

            “My breasts are not enough to distract a mind like yours for long. Do credit me with knowing you like I do.”

            “Do you?” I flounced in my chair, sending up puffs of dust. “I don’t think I even know myself, anymore.”

            “Stop evading, Matthew. You were gone for weeks. Jennifer and Jessica were worried sick. Your curt messages did nothing to allay any fears. They—we—deserved better than that.”

            I took a deep breath, prepared to argue the point, especially as the events of the past week flew through my head. I hadn’t realized it was weeks, here, but it made sense. Time was relative, according to Einstein, and he didn’t have to take into account mythological realms. I blew out the air as a long sigh. “Yeah. Yeah, you do. I could offer up excuses, but that was lousy. I’m sorry.”

            “The best apology is an explanation. You might be able to fool mortals, as they have not seen what I have, but I perceive a change in your down to your soul. You have been through much in the time we’ve known each other, and though you have suffered through traumas, I have not seen the like affecting you so.”

            I gave a slow nod. “It’s still pretty raw in my head, Nikki, so don’t expect a tight story like one of Marlowe’s.”

            “As long as there is a femme fatale,” she smiled.

            “Ha! Yeah, you could say that. More than one, actually. God, where to start?”

            “As with all stories, Matthew, the beginning is traditional.”

            “Okay, you ever heard of Storm Riders. . . ?”

Friday, June 4, 2021

F³ Coming Back

             I stared at the door. A piece of cardboard had been taped over the glass, covering my name and profession, which was probably for the best. But what surprised me is that the place hadn’t been rented out to some other business.

            I tried my key, and it worked. Another surprise. I had skipped out without paying the last month’s rent, so I fully expected both a seizure of property and a changing of the locks by building management.

            I flicked the lights on, and the old fluorescents took time to flicker back to life, as if unsure of how they were supposed to do that. Jen’s desk was still there, covered in a fine patina of dust that I tried not to stir up. I passed through into my office, my soles echoing strangely on the floor. I hung my hat on the rack, along with my coat. The feel of the place was entirely different, now. Colder, lifeless, exactly the spirit I left it in.

            I pulled up the blind, looking out at the darkness, but here my name was still on the window: “Matt Allen Investigations.”

            “It’s about time,” the breathy, seductive voice made me jump out of my skin. Only one person could do that to me.

            “Hey, Nikki.” I didn’t turn to look at her.

            “I think I deserve much more than that, Matthew.”

            “If you say so.”

            “What happened to you? You were able to elude even my resources.”

            I shrugged.

            “I much prefer your usual demeanor to this taciturn version.”

            I shrugged again.

            A slight prickling of neck hair was all the warning I had before she spun me around, traversing the distance from my door to the window without the clack of a single heel.

            Cold hands held my head, forcing my eyes to meet hers. I stared into those ancient blue depths. I wanted to lose myself in them, but I wasn’t feeling it.

            She looked into my eyes, then flinched back. “What darkness has moved into your soul?”

            I looked away, not wanting her to see any more. “Life,” I said.

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