A Simple Trade

I don’t know if this will become a series or random interconnected stories, but this character was interesting enough for me to write him at least one more tale. The first one can be read here though it is not necessary to appreciate this one. 

* * *

I have never taken music lessons in my life. Hell, I had never even touched a piano before tonight. Yet, my fingers felt fused to the ivories of that exquisite instrument. Every note sung out into the audience and reached into their souls. I am not speaking from pride or ego. I saw the emotion dripping from their faces. No one who was within earshot could resist the lure of my music. Ink had worked his magic once more. The pianist’s skill would forever be mine to wield.

I ended my song to applause from the lounge and bar. I sincerely doubt most of the patrons would normally welcome any disturbance to their constant search for inebriation. Such was the power of a well played tune by the hands of a master.

My client would not be ready for a few hours still, so I felt a celebratory drink after my debut performance was in order. Whiskey neat, heavy glass, perfect pour; all that was missing was a rare piece of meat or a good looking woman seated next to me. I should have known trouble was coming when she sat came, especially since there were several empty seats along the bar.

“Is this seat taken?” she asked. I was on the job. Distractions are deadly in my line of work, but it is damn difficult to say no to a fine woman in a little black dress.

“I believe it was actually waiting for you to show up,” I said.

She smiled at my poor attempt at flirting. Her crimson lips parted slightly when she did. The rose hue on her cheeks complimented her lips and alabaster skin. This woman was dangerous. I liked it.

“Does that line ever work?” she asked as she sat down.

I took a sip of my whiskey before responding. “Got you to take a seat, darling.”

“Oh, I was always going to sit next to you this night, Shadow.”

Yup, she was trouble. I slammed my glass hard on the bar. It got the bartender’s attention, yet didn’t faze my female companion at all.

I turned to face her, not bothering to hide the murder in my eyes. She did not retract or flinch from my gaze. “You are not a client, a contact, or a friend, so how the hell do you know my name?”

She picked up my glass and threw the last of its contents down her throat in one quick motion. Just a few seconds ago, I was curious what that neck would smell like as I put my lips on it. Now, I was imagining what it would taste like when I tear it to shreds.

“To be fair, that is not your actual name. It is your chosen title. Everyone among the Darkness has one. Hell, even those in the Light do not go by their true name.”

This dame had knowledge though she did not seem like one of my kind. She still smelled very human.

“Your name, however, is still an odd on. Most of your kind choose a moniker denoting their skill or some inflated sense of ego. Yours does neither. Why is that, Shadow?”

She knew more than she should. Someone had been telling tales out of class and that would not stand. My client would be here within the hour. Assuming I did not enjoy the moment, there was more than enough time to get some answers from her and dispose of the body and any evidence.

“I am not here to cause you trouble, Shadow. I am here to make an offer.”

She could offer me nothing of substance. But if she was willing to provide answers without force, I was not going to stop her.

“Alright, say your peace, woman,” I said.

She ordered another round of whiskey for the both of us. I was not going to risk anything by drinking her olive branch. The drinks arrived quickly and she took a drink of her own just as fast. Her leg was shaking slightly. No doubt the whiskey was a means to calm her nerves. This woman may know something of the Darkness, but she had never truly walked in its depths. I almost felt sorry for her. Almost.

“I know you are here on business.”

“I am here to see a client, yes.” I said.

It was her turn to look incredulous. She did not want to mince words or bullshit at the moment.

“No semantics. You are not here for a ‘client.’ You are here to kill a man on someone else’s dime.”

I was genuinely surprised. “How do you know…” I was silenced by a finger in my face. I really wanted to break that index finger.

“Doesn’t matter. The point is you cannot kill this man or the ones you will be hired to kill after his death.”

I had not been hired to kill anyone else. Granted, my benefactor had insinuated that more work might become available upon a successful and completed job. How did this girl know this? She was definitely human or had some shape shifters just gotten good enough to trick all of my senses and magics? No matter. This girl had to be put down.

“Look lady, I don’t know who this guy is to you, but someone paid for him to die and I have a reputation to uphold. So, I will be taking my leave now. Enjoy the drink and pray that we do not meet one another again.”

She stood up and blocked my path. This woman was becoming a persistent nuisance. She was not very tall. Some would even classify her as petite. She was pretty and, truth be told, she was making the dress work and not the other way around. It was a shame for the world to lose such a specimen, but work was work.

“You misunderstand me, Shadow. The man you are after will die tonight, but not by your hand.”

“Oh,” I asked partially intrigued. “Then by whose?”

“Mine,” she responded showing me the blade she had managed to conceal. I honestly could not find a single place where she could have hidden the knife on her person. I wanted to try to find it, but that seemed ill advised in the bar.

“I don’t care about credit or money. I just want to be the one to end the life of this man and the ones that will come after him. You get the names. You keep the rewards. I take them down.”

“Is this your offer, girl? I don’t know you or how you could possibly have any of the information you possess. Frankly, I am debating whether to kill you now or after my actual assignment is done. Why would I agree to your ridiculous proposal?” It took every ounce of self control to not raise my voice or cause a scene or slit her throat there and now.

“Because I’ll let you keep their blood and give you a vial of my own.” My ears perked up at her suggestion. She knew of my ability. Many would die for that. Some I even considered friends.

“That’s your thing, right? You collect blood as some sort of weird trophies?” So, she did not know the true reason for the blood or at least she was smart enough to pretend to not know. I was actually considering her offer at this point. I needed information and her being alive might be the only way to get it.

“I can acquire what you offer on my own without much difficulty. You give me nothing I desire.” I began to move pass her, but she grabbed my arm before I could move away.

“What about the blood of a changeling? Would that be enough of a prize for you to agree to my terms?”

Changelings, true Changelings, were a rare creature. Most believed they were extinct, but rumors persisted of a few survivors that had managed to avoid that sad fate. If I could get a sample of a living Changeling’s blood or skin or just anything, I would have an unimaginable advantage.

“If you can provide such a trophy, I will slice up anyone you name and present you their remains on a silver platter with a bow.”

“That won’t be necessary. Just agree to work with me and give what I have asked for.” She held out her hand. Bonds and oaths were terrible things in my world. For humans breaking them meant very little ultimately. For us, however, the costs of going back on our explicit word were not without substance. But this was too good an offer to pass.

I grasped her hand in agreement. “You have a deal. Shall we begin?”

She released her soft touch. “Yes, we should.”

We made our way through the lounge bar passing the addled occupants of the hotel lobby toward the elevators. I had the details of our target. She was the instrument of his demise. These terms were acceptable. I inserted the special key to access the upper penthouses and selected our victim’s last abode.

“Since we’ll be working together for the foreseeable future, I think I should have your name like you have mine,” I said over the droll sounds of annoying elevator music.

“Agreed. You can call me Nemesis,” she responded.

“Really? That is your actual name?”

She turned to meet my skeptical gaze. Her eyes were full of fire and rage, yet resolute in what was to come in her journey. “It is as much my name as Shadow is yours. It shall be what I am known as for this job.” She returned her sight to the elevator door grasping the blade in her hand. There was no more shaking, no more jitters, no more hesitation.

I don’t know who you are or what you are doing girlie, but I can tell this is going to be a fun ride. 

On Failure

I am still plugging away at NaNoWriMo, but I am behind in my word count. I am hoping that the upcoming weekend and break from work will give me some extra time to play catch up. However, I know that there is a chance I will not win NaNoWriMo this year. Essentially, I might fail in my quest to kill the word dragon and take my novel crown.

The thing is, I am kind of okay with that possibility. Don’t get me wrong. I am going to work my ass off for the remainder of November to try for that glorious victory. I will be writing for most of my last weekends and during Thanksgiving vacation. I am holding off on playing the two beautiful looking games I just bought (Dragon Age Inquisition and Shadows of Mordor). At some point, I will probably pull an all-nighter just like my college days.

The point is that even with doing all this, I still might not finish what I set out to do and that is okay. At this point, I have written more words for a single project than I have in a very long time. I also have a complete story in notes, so that i can and will eventually finish this story in progress, though perhaps not in November. Basically, I might fail NaNoWriMo, but I still managed a few smaller victories in the process. Not to mention the entire experience has been genuinely fun up to now and I doubt that will change anytime soon.

Just like with anything else in life; the point of failing is learning what you need from the situation, getting up, dusting yourself off, and moving on. So, I will gladly fail this round because I will still come away with something to show for my efforts. Hopefully, if I do happen to stumble, I’ll be able to turn the momentary lapse into something I am proud of.

Wish me luck that I will not fail at this, but know that doing so is not the worst thing that could happen.

Lessons From…MasterChef Junior

So, normally I am not a fan of reality television, but there are a few exceptions. I like shows that have participants with some level of skill or talent. You can keep the dumb, loud, obnoxious, drunken fools as long as there are the occasional aspiring musicians and chefs competing against one another. MasterChef is one of the reality shows that I actually like, so when I heard of a similar setup involving children I had to tune in. I was pleasantly surprised and not at all disappointed. Thus, this week’s lesson analysis comes courtesy of MasterChef Junior.

These men make grown adults cry and are still allowed near children.

These men make grown adults cry and are still allowed near children.

No SPOILERS warning for this one since it is not narrative based and frankly if you want to watch the show just do so; I’m not going to ruin anything. The show runs on the same premise as the original with the exception of having children aged 9 to 13 as the contestants.

These kids have better palettes and cooking skills than I can dream of.

These kids have better palettes and cooking skills than I can dream of.

While the show is competitive in nature, there are two elements that I find the Junior version contain that the original lacks. These two elements also happen to be the basis of this week’s lessons. I know, what are the odds?

One thing is common between the MasterChef and MasterChef Junior contestants; they are all very passionate about cooking. This makes both sets of contestants seek out new recipes and try to make complicated dishes. The difference is that the competitive nature of the show makes the older contestants mitigate their risks to still try to win whereas the younger contestants just try to make good food regardless of the risks because they literally do not know any better.

Obviously, they are aware of when they have made a mistake, but the possibility of error and loss is not a deterrent for them. They are merely grateful and joyous for the opportunity to pursue their passion. This brings us to the first lesson: Try your best to pursue your passions with a childlike wonder and innocence. Allow yourself to learn and take risks and be content with the simple act of being able to do what you desire.

Unsurprisingly, this sort of leads into the other takeaway lesson from this show and the major difference between the original and Junior versions. In both shows, there is a judgment portion in which the dishes of the contestants are critiqued by the three hosts/judges. Now, to be fair, the judging portion for the Junior version is far nicer since the judges do not want to come off as assholes, but even so there is a discernible difference in the reception of the critiques.

Because of the competition aspect and the power of the human ego, most of the adult contestants attempt to explain or make excuses for their mistakes even up to the point of arguing with the judges.

Yeah, they seem like a reasonable bunch.

Yeah, they seem like a reasonable bunch.

On the other hand, the adolescent participants simply pay attention to the critiques and legitimately try to learn from them. The children have no fragile ego they are trying to protect. They know they made mistakes and can do better, so they listen and soak up the advice they are given without hesitation. We all could learn from their example: Set your ego aside and be fully present and open to criticism. It is the only way to learn and improve.

Thus endeth today’s lessons.

One last note, how the hell does a twelve year old cook a perfect, succulent rack of lamb and a pasta I have never even heard of when I have trouble making macaroni and cheese from the box?

Sharing Books

Last month, I decided to really participate in All Hallow’s Read by offering books to followers who commented on a post. Now, I do not have a large following by any means; even if you combined all my followers from all platforms, the number would not be that significant. I am no Eliza Doolittle by any means. (Watch Selfie!)

Am I using the example above as pretense to post a picture of Karen Gillan? Probably, but does it matter.

Am I using the example above as pretense to post a picture of Karen Gillan? Probably, but does it matter.

So, I shot for gifting eight books to people, and I managed half that goal. Considering this is the first time I ever attempted anything like this, I am going to count it as a win. Honestly, it was kind of fun to ship random people books based solely on the premise of what I thought a stranger might enjoy reading. Hopefully, they like the books I sent and if not, at the very least find some pleasure in the surprise and exchange. Probably will try this again next year, or maybe even sooner. Christmas is just around the corner.

Oh, also I was gifted a book and will begin reading it soon. Thanks CrazyinParis. The Other Boleyn Girl feels like a good read.

On Allowances

No, I am not going to speak about the small sum of money you were given as a child for doing basic household chores or not being a total screw up as a kid. Frankly, I never got such a thing because it was expected of me to do shit around the house. I also, kind of, secretly hated all the kids in my school and neighborhood that got an allowance, especially since they seemed to be the terrible ones.

No, I mean allowances in the original sense of permitting something in a regulated and specified manner. Sort of like what Dave Grohl meant in one of  his more colorful quotes:

      You listen to this man!

You listen to this man!

Now, to be fair, I slightly disagree with him on the topic of The Voice because I unabashedly love that show. However, I completely understand the point he is trying to make. All artists should allow themselves to suck for a bit.

No one, except for those truly rare talents, is good, much less great, at their beginning. I even doubt those exceptional individuals who claim that their first works were good. Every creative person, regardless of your medium or level, needs a few allowances. We need those quiet moments of reflection and work to see our creations in a new light and discover things about them and ourselves to put into the next project.

I think this is why I like the idea of NaNoWriMo so much. Very few scribes in history have ever written a tome in so few days, but that’s the essential point. You are not writing a masterpiece in November; you are simply writing down the story you want to tell. It is a permission slip to suck at writing along with thousands of others across the country.

This is good. You are supposed to be bad. Even the organizers of NaNoWriMo know and expect this which is why they have Revision commitments for January and February. So, take the challenge and do something just because you love it. Let yourself be unimaginably terrible at it content in the knowledge that you are supposed to be and in time will improve. And even if you don’t, you still probably had some fun on the ride.

I’ll leave this with a pep talk of sorts on the subject by the ineffable John Green:

Lessons From…The Way Way Back

I will attempt to keep this short since I should be working on another writing project, but I am a lifetime procrastinator and might be using this post as an excuse. I had been meaning to see The Way Way Back for awhile. It was written by Jim Rash and Nat Fixon whose other writing credits include the Oscar Award winning The Descendants so I thought they could tackle the “coming of age” story well. I was neither wrong nor disappointed. As always, SPOILERS ahead.

Told you I wasn't joking.

Told you I wasn’t joking.

The movie has a pretty simple premise; a child of divorce is spending the summer away with his mom and her new boyfriend at his summer place. It would already be kind of weird and shitty, and to add to this unfortunate circumstances, the boyfriend (played by the great Steve Carell) is a total dick. Seriously, he is a childish, bullish jerk. I was so amazed by this subtle performance that I genuinely began to believe that maybe Steve Carell is an asshole in real life.

The face of a dick!

The face of a dick!

In order to find some solace from this man and the increasingly juvenile actions of the other “adults” around, Duncan, the put upon main character, begins working at a local water park under the tutelage of Owen, Caitlin, Roddy, and Lewis (Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash; yeah there are just incredible actors all around in this film). From this point, Duncan learns and grows and faces the obstacles provided by his mother and her boyfriend.

While these struggles, particularly the actions of the adults, are perfect for mining potential lessons, I wan’t to focus on two moments involving Duncan, and unsurprisingly Owen as well. The first is broken into two parts: the first is their initial encounter at a Pac Man machine. Owen is playing but has to leave allowing Duncan to finish the game for him instructing Duncan that he cannot “follow a pattern on his quarter.” Basically, he must play the game and not try to figure out how to win it through the systematic patterns inherent in the game. This is similar to a later scene where Duncan is finally having a legitimate heart-to-heart with Owen about his home situation, especially the boyfriend Trent, and Owen gives him some advice. “That’s about him. That has nothing to do with you…You’ve got to go your own way, and you, my friend, are going your own way.”

I'm not crying! You're crying!

I’m not crying! You’re crying!

Both these moments are equivalent in their message: You are not [just] the product of your parents, your friends, or any  other persons in your life. Obviously, these people have an influence, sometimes major, on who we are and who we can become, but ultimately we get to choose how far that influence goes. We get to decide who we are regardless of how badly our families screwed us up. Of course, we can also throw away the opportunities they provided, but it is still up to us.

In the movie, there is a rumor of a kid who managed to take the lead in one of the water tunnels/slides and pass the person in front of him. This is basically the water park’s legend and no one know if it really happened or how. At the end of the movie, Duncan, due to Trent’s actions and decisions, is leaving the summer house and town prematurely. He doesn’t really get a chance to say goodbye to his coworkers and friends, but decides to do one last thing before being whisked off. He escapes from the backseat of the shitty car he is forced into and runs to the water park. Once there he enlists Owen’s help to try and pass him in the tunnel. Without a second thought, Owen agrees and they are off with the entire park watching and waiting. His mother, Pam, along with Trent and his daughter, Steph, run after Duncan to learn the truth of what he has been up to the entire summer up to that point. They genuinely had no idea what he was doing when he rode his bike in the morning.

Duncan is successful in his attempt and is seen as a hero and legend before finally departing. He does not tell anyone how he accomplished this feat instead saying simply “you just have to try it.” As far as Duncan knows, this did not change anything. He still leaves and has to say goodbye to his new friends and surrogate family at the park. He believes his mom will still date the douche she is with and outside of the park, he will still be the shy, awkward kid. However, he knows what he accomplished and that changes something in him, which eventually does have other effects in the long run.

This brings forth the next lesson: Sometimes all we have is the small victories and that is more than enough. We might never be the hero. We will probably never change the world or write that bestseller or make that great film in our heads. Sometimes all we will accomplish in a day is that we survived it and that is okay.  That is more than a lot of people get. I am not saying to not shoot for the stars. Or to give up on dreams. What I am saying is that it is fine if you don’t manage to accomplish all you want to, today.

Thus endeth today’s lessons.