Sunday, October 11, 2009


When I was about eight years old my favorite book was Black Beauty*. I reread it for the first time in twenty years last week. This week it had a part in inspiring a short story.

*No humans were harmed in the making of this story.


"Karen’s been kidnapped by gremlins.”
Carey looked at the desperate face in front of her with her eyebrows up in polite surprise. She saw his wet clothes, his pant leg stuck against him with something dark and slick, his ripped sleeve, the little red marks on his hands, and his pupils still pinpricks of fear. “You don’t believe in gremlins,” she said coolly over the sudden churning of her stomach.
He snorted and rubbed a dirty hand through his wet hair. “Watching them stuff Karen through a drainpipe my arm barely fit in changed my mind,” he said bitterly.
She tilted her head slightly, her face still a mask of polite indifference, not moving from her spot in the doorway. “You’ll get her back,” she said reasonably.
He stared at her like she had grown another head. “You don’t know that. Some people never come back!”
His voice had gone from horrified whisper to shout. Carey looked down the well lit hall, it was empty both ways but that wouldn’t last if he kept yelling. “In,” she said, moving aside and beckoning him on.
He shuffled in, whatever he’d gotten on his pants was on the shoes too and she stopped him in the entryway with a hard grip on his wet shoulder. “Stay here. You’ll get that sludge all over the carpet.”
She left him staring at her and went to the kitchen gathering a stack of newspapers. She spread them out in a trail from the front door to the kitchen bypassing the much more comfortable living room because the wooden kitchen chairs were so much easier to clean than the leather.
“What are you doing? We’re wasting time, she could be-“
She cut off his high whine with a sharp look. “She’s not here now and we can’t get to where she is until daybreak,” she said as condescendingly as possible.
His jaw flexed and he crossed his arms over his chest. “You’re enjoying this.”
“You tried to have me committed,” she reminded him, spreading the last of the papers in front of his wet feet. “So yes, I’m enjoying the hell out of it,” she said, straightening so they were eye to eye. He looked away first. “Come in the kitchen and keep on the papers.”
She could feel his eyes on her as she went. She was dumping grounds into the coffee filter when he finally shuffled in. “Where did this happen?”
One of the chairs squeaked as he sat and sighed. “On our way home, we were just coming up the block and they grabbed her.” His voice broke on the last word.
Carey lifted her eyes to still life hanging on the wall as though asking for help and sighed, her shoulders dropping. “Don’t cry,” she said, turning to lean against the counter.
He lifted his head instantly from his hands. “I wasn’t going to,” he said indignantly, eyes red around the edges.
She crossed her arms over her chest. “Don’t argue with me or I won’t give you any coffee. What block were you on?”
He opened his mouth but shut it again and blew out a breath. “It was near the house-“
“Which I was never invited to, Lee,” she said pointedly.
His jaw bunched. “Near Dufferin and Grant,” he said shortly. He looked even worse in her bright airy kitchen, his light hair was matted dark against his head and one of the marks on his wrist was bleeding. She went to the sink and poured a glass of water and after a moment’s hesitation bent and pulled the first aid kit out from under the sink. She took the seat across from him and pushed the glass of water toward him. “That’s the west entrance. Shouldn’t be a problem,” she told him confidently, surprising herself.  She hadn’t been sure she would help until she said it.
He took the water and held it between his hands without drinking it.
When he didn’t say anything, just stared with his wide blue eyes, she opened the first aid kit and pulled out a bottle of iodine and a pile of cotton balls. “They’ll get infected,” she said gesturing to his bleeding hand.
Lee looked down like he didn’t recognize the appendage at the end of his arm.
She reached over and gently pried his hand away from the glass. He let her set it flat on the table and didn’t move even when she soaked the first cotton ball in iodine. “You’re a lot better about this now,” she said when his only reaction to having the bite swabbed was a faint hiss.
He made a sound that was almost a laugh. “How old was I the last time we had to do this?”
She went over the more minor nicks with another cotton ball. “Ten, maybe eleven. When you were trying to climb-“
“Mr. McBride’s fence,” he said, hissing again when she prodded at the larger cut.
“Sorry, just a bit more,” she said, getting a thumb on either side and pressing straight down and then in. The center of the cut winked open like an eye and a thin white object rose out of it and dropped onto the table. “There,” she said, putting a large bandage over the bleeding cut.
“What the hell is that?” he half shouted, yanking his hand back.
Carey tapped the hard white surface with her fingernail. “Skin hook. You must’ve gotten a pretty good hold on one of them,” she said, impressed in spite of herself.
“Skin hook?” he said, still staring at the thing, his hand cradle against his chest.
She nodded, prodding it with her nail. “See here? It’s barbed and flat, almost like a shark tooth. The gremlins have them in their skin. Makes them hell to grab.”
He made a face that reminded her of the one he’d made when she’d convinced him to eat wasabi on a dare. “I can’t believe we’re talking about this,” he said between his teeth.
Carey frowned and capped the iodine, slamming back in the box and balling up the used cotton balls. “You’re not the only one.”
She put the first aid kit back and washed her hands thoroughly, the hot water almost scalding her as she tried to get herself under control. When he touched her shoulder her feet actually left the floor.
“I’m sorry,” he said quietly.
She shut off the water and dried her hands on one of the print towels she had gotten to match the new tile border around the kitchen. She didn’t shrug off his hand but she did take a deep breath before she looked at him. “You’re going to be sorry when you have to clean my floor.”
They both looked down at the puddle he was making on the slate tiles.
She stepped lightly away from him and put her hands in her pockets. “You should head home and change. We can meet at the pet store on eighth.”
“We really can’t go now? You’re sure?” he asked meekly.
She wanted to hug him, sewer slime and all. “Has to be after sunrise,” she said firmly.
He studied her face and nodded. “Ok. You don’t want to meet at the house? That’s where-“
She shook her head. “It’s not where we can get at them,” she assured him.
He took a deep breath and nodded. “Pet store on eighth. That’s next to the grocery store, right?”
“The Safeway, yeah.”
He nodded again, head bobbing like it was on a spring. He had his bandaged hand held against his chest. “When?” he asked, scratching absently at the bandage.
“Seven sharp and stop scratching that, you’ll turn the skin green,” she said, pointing to his hand.
His eyes went impossible wide and he dropped both hands. “Shit, really?”
She couldn’t keep a straight face. She snorted trying not to laugh.
“Jerk,” he said almost smiling.
Her smile slipped and she gestured toward the door. “Get going, I’ll see you in a couple of hours.”
He went quietly, not speaking until they stood on either side of the doorway again. “You’re doing a good thing.”
She felt the backs of her eyes prickling and made an impatient noise. “No shit. Go change and wear some boots.”
He flinched a little at her sharp tone and hurried away down the hall.
She closed the door behind him and leaned heavily against it. She wiped at her dry eyes with the sleeve of her sweater and let her head fall heavily against the door.
“So that’s the little brother.”
Carey sighed. “I’m not in the mood,” she said wearily.
Frederick was frowning sardonically at her from his side of the hall mirror. “Of course you aren’t. You were on my side working all night. You should’ve told the little shit to come back next week and make an appointment,” he said with a curt wave that showed off the fine lace at his cuff.
“It’s scary to see them take someone,” she said in Lee’s defense.
“As scary as a straightjacket?” Frederick prodded, twisting one end of his moustache between his fingers.
Carey closed her eyes and could almost see the closed ward again. “Stop it or I will make him get an appointment.” She left Frederick in the hall and started gathering up the wet newspapers. This close the smell was definitely sewer. She had no idea how Lee had gotten that far on his own.
“If you slip up they’ll bar you from the city crossings,” Frederick said from the print of Grand Central Station in the living room.
Carey didn’t look up at his face, knowing it was sepia toned to match the print and that he was still playing with his moustache. “I think I know how to do my job, thanks,” she said more sharply than she’d intended.
Frederick huffed, the sound echoing in the large room. “This is why you shouldn’t work with family. Send him to Barker or Grant.”
She ignored him, piling the wet paper into the trash and wiping down the chair with a strong cleanser and a long roll of paper towels.
“He could get hurt,” Frederick helpfully reminded her from a Kalf print near the sink, his red doublet taking on the muted hues of the still life.
She rolled her eyes. “By gremlins? It’s not like he’s going to try and grab another one.”
“If he rushes in after his lady?” Frederick asked doggedly.
She stopped, bent over the wet spot Lee had left on the tile. “You think?”
Frederick nodded curtly, the feather in his hat waving erratically. “I would.”
Carey frowned, deep lines appearing between her eyes. “I’ll just leave him at the pet store,” she reasoned, mopping up the spot with a thick layer of paper towels so she didn’t have to touch the slime.
Frederick actually laughed at her.
“What?” she demanded, her temper for the morning already shot between lack of sleep and her little brother showing up on her doorstep.
“Nothing, nothing,” he insisted, holding his handkerchief properly in front of his mouth.
She gave him a scathing look and threw away the last of the paper towels and the gloves she’d used.
“Only,” Frederick said, his voice still high from laughing, “You really think he’ll wait in the shop after he got as far as the sewers by himself?”
Carey made a rude gesture she hadn’t known before she started working in the interdimensions and left the kitchen and Frederick sputtering indignantly behind her.
She went into her bedroom where she knew he wouldn’t follow for propriety’s sake, and pulled off her sweater. The closet light showed the clear division between her work clothes and the rest. On the work side nothing had buttons, zippers all had covers, shirts and pants fitted closely, shy of actually being tight, and everything from neck to toes was covered. She slid regretfully out of the loose linen pants she’d pulled on after her bath and hung them neatly on side where her dresses and knit sweaters lived. She decided on a thick pair of black jeans that wouldn’t show the dirt and a bright blue Henley that would please the guardian. She had to lie down on the edge of the bed to get the jeans up over her hips.
“You should at least wait until tomorrow,” Frederick said from the hall.
Carey grunted in reply, busy contorting into her jeans. They cleared her hips with an effort, but they still zipped easily.
“Are you even listening to me?” Frederick demanded.
She paused with her arms in the shirt, the neck hole held open with her thumbs. “You think it’s a bad idea. I got it the first three times.” She pulled the shirt over her head and tucked the hem neatly into the jeans. She frowned at her reflection, the style didn’t do much for her, tucking shirts in always made her short torso look shorter but untucking it meant catching the hem on some debris down below or inviting something to crawl up under it.
Frederick didn’t talk to her again until she’d tied her boots up her calves and tucked two gold coins into her back pocket.
“Are we still on for tonight?” he asked from the photo of the blue waters of Lake Tahoe that hung next to the TV.
Carey bent over to tug the tongue of her boot straight and to hide her smirk. “Let me see if I get any sleep. You’ll clean me out otherwise.”
Frederick let out a short bark of laughter. “Best be a long sleep.”
“Just keep pushing and I’ll tell all your buddies about that job in Morocco,” she said, forcing her wallet into a tight front pocket.
Quiet reigned again and she wondered if she’d really offended him. It wasn’t like she would actually embarrass him in front of the others. She was in no shape to be his second in a duel after the night they’d had. At the door he was leaning on the edge of his mirror frame, the wood worked into the same curling pattern as the embroidery on his cape. “I would go with you if I could,” he offered sincerely.
She smiled and nodded. “I know. We’ll be fine, really.”
He nodded solemnly. “If you aren’t I’m going to follow your brother around like a wraith the rest of his life.”
She bit back the urge to have him do it anyway. How long would it take them to lock Lee away if he started seeing a fourteenth century French noble in every mirror and picture he passed? “I’ll remember you offered,” she said lightly. “Wish us clouds.”
“Clouds, and calm,” he agreed, touching his hat to her.
She gave him a salute and stepped into the outer hall, locking all seven locks behind her. When the last lock turned a slight blue glow came from the edges of the door along with a faint sucking sound. She gave it an experimental push and the door didn’t move any more than a section of wall would. With a nod of satisfaction she zipped her coat and walked quickly down the four flights to street level. She didn’t check her watch, she could feel dawn creeping on and adjusted her steps to the flow of morning traffic. At this hour there weren’t many people on the street, just deliverymen with hand trucks and boxes to dodge. She saw Lee loitering in front of the pet store as soon as she turned onto the block. Her eyes went wider and wider behind her sunglasses as she approached. He was actually wearing fatigue pants. They were too long for him and bunched around a pair of brown hiking boots. Over them he had a thick black sweater that hung from his arms like a tent. A navy baseball cap covered his clean hair and huge mirrored sunglasses covered his eyes.
He jumped when she stopped next to him.
“What are you wearing?” she asked as soon as she had his attention.
His head went back and he prodded her blue shoulder. “What are you wearing? Aren’t they going to see us a mile away?”
She swatted his hand away. “We sure hope so, this isn’t a surprise visit,” she said, shaking her head and holding the door of the shop for him.
“We’re going in here?” he asked as he crossed into the dim shop.
“I didn’t have you meet me here for the atmosphere,” she said, plucking at his sleeve. “What do you have under this?”
He pulled out of reach, backing into a stack of cages. “A t-shirt, why?”
She shook her head, it was her fault, she hadn’t told him what to wear. “Ditch the sweater and tuck your shirt in,” she said, leaving him in the aisle and edging between the racks of leashes to get to the counter.
Jerry was already there, his unblinking eyes made small and darker by his glasses. “You need one or two?”
Carey nodded to the cage behind him. “One, but not one of those mini-lops, I’ll take a chinchilla.”
Jerry’s eyes went as wide as they ever did and he nodded with a low whistle. “Coming up.”
Carey watched him put on a thick leather glove and dip his hand into the tiered cage next to the rabbits.
“What’s that?” Lee asked, setting his balled up sweater on the counter next to her.
She looked down and saw that he’d tucked his shirt in. “Chinchilla,” she said, gesturing for Jerry to set the little creature down on the sweater. It huddled gray against the black wool. “It’s been handled?” she asked sharply, watching it shake.
“Of course it has,” Jerry said indignantly.
Carey bit the inside of her cheek. She didn’t want to spend the morning picking through the others to find a less nervous one. “Fine. We’ll take it,” she said, passing him her credit card. “You can carry it,” she told Lee brightly, tucking her sunglasses into one of her jacket pockets.
He was staring at her with his eyebrows up so high they’d disappeared under his hat. “We’re taking it with us?”
She nodded and signed the receipt. “We are, and later you’re going pay me back for the little rat.”
Jerry took the receipt and then her jacket when she passed it over the counter. “You want a bag for it?” he asked, jerking a thumb at the chinchilla which was burrowing further into the sweater.
She shook her head. “The sweater will do.”
Jerry almost smiled and moved down the counter shaking his head.
Carey nudged Lee who was staring at the chinchilla. “Come on, grab it and let’s go.”
He gingerly picked up the sweater and held it against his chest.
She was tempted to warn him to get it with both hands. Instead she gave him a little push to send him further into the shop. “Go on back.”
He was mercifully quiet as they joined Jerry in the back room. The store owner examined the two gold coins Carey gave him under a heavy magnifier. When he was satisfied they were the right grade he dropped them in the jar next to the back wall and beckoned them forward. “Should be nice and quiet down there with all the clouds.”
“Fingers crossed,” Carey said cheerfully, taking Lee’s hand and stepping through the wall. She had to tug hard to get her brother to stumble in after her. She stopped a few steps from the portal to give her eyes a moment to adjust.
“What the hell?” Lee asked breathlessly.
She wasn’t sure if he meant the wall they’d come through or the arched tile walls of the tunnel that were giving off a phosphorescent glow. “We’re near where they come up. Stick close behind me and don’t drop the chinchilla,” she said sternly.
“Right, wouldn’t want to drop the rat,” he muttered sarcastically.
She smiled to herself and edged quickly along the narrow ledge that was cut into the side of the tunnel a few feet above the rank water. Eyeing the water level, she decided that Lee wouldn’t hit bottom if he fell in and moved faster.  “Keep close to the side and try not to stop moving unless I tell you.”
“You know I don’t remember you being this bossy,” he grumbled, keeping surprisingly close behind her despite her speed.
“Well, I am the one who knows her way around. Stop!” she called suddenly, throwing an arm across him and flattening them both to the wall. A moment later a hole in the wall ahead of them produced a stream of shimmering black sludge. The leading edge of it felt around the ledge for a foot or so in either direction. They were too far off for it to feel their heat. It gave up the ledge after another minute of searching and dropped into the water below. Carey waited until she saw it slink up the far side of the tunnel before she let go of Lee. “Ok, let’s go.”
“What the hell was that?” he hissed, still flat to the wall, clutching the sweater with both hands.
“Slime,” she answered shortly, “Try not to squish that thing.”
Lee shot her a look. “Considering the number of times it bit me, I should have thrown it to the slime.”
Carey gestured for the sweater and Lee passed it carefully to her. The front of his t-shirt had small pots of blood on it. She carefully picked the chinchilla up and passed it to Lee who took it gingerly around the middle. She tied the arms of the sweater so they closed the neck hole and held it out like a sack. Lee dropped the rodent in and she bunched up the bottom hem and handed him the package. “Just don’t drop it.”
He nodded and they continued down the tunnel.
“The chinchilla is an offering,” she found herself explaining as they came to a t-junction and the ledge ended. She hopped gingerly down into the channel, grateful that the water level was lower here and only came up to her calves. When Lee splashed down next to her she led them off into the left tunnel. “There’s a guardian between us and the gremlins, we give her the offering and we can get in.”
“I still don’t see how we’re going to get Karen away from them. I tried to grab one and the damn thing’s skin bit me,” he said quietly, an edge of frustration in his voice.
“We’re not going to grab anything,” she said absently, stopping again and peering down a smaller tunnel that branched off from the main one. There was definitely a white glow coming from it, but she didn’t want to crawl down any of the smaller passages if she could help it.
“More slime?” Lee asked tightly.
She shook her head and beckoned him on. “Just planning the route. The entrance changes.”
They walked on in silence for a long time, Carey trying the gauge the brightness of the glow down the side tunnels and at the end of the main one. Except for the shuffling of their feet it was as quiet as Jerry predicted.
“Carey, how are we going to get her?” Lee asked softly.
They had just come to a larger junction and Carey signaled him to stop, holding a finger to her lips. She poked her head around the corner and quickly drew it back. “Ok. Here’s where you need to do exactly what I say, exactly when I say it,” she told him just above a whisper.
Lee edged closer to her. “Whatever we need to do, sis.”
The nickname made her grimace but she couldn’t let him run around trying to wrestle gremlins. As funny as that would be it would get her banned from the tunnels. “We’re going to go make the offering. You aren’t going to talk to the guardian. Got that?” When he nodded she continued, “Then we are going to go in. You are going to stick with me no matter what. I don’t care what you think you see or what you think you need to do. The only way we get Karen back is to negotiate.”
“You think I’m going to screw the deal,” he said grimly.
He couldn’t do any worse than she had the first time, but they didn’t have time for that. “Just remember that she’s not being hurt and you’ll do fine.”
He nodded slowly.
She nodded back. “Good, now walk in slow next to me, no sudden moves.”
She hooked their arms together for good measure and they rounded the corner. Part of her took perverse pleasure at the choking gasp he made as they came into the light. “Steady,” she said, holding him in line with her as they approached the form blocking the tunnel.
The guardian’s enormous square head brushed the top of the curved ceiling and her gleaming wet skin glinted white as she swung down to look at them.
Lee let out a squeak at her approach, but he didn’t move.
Carey waited until one large glowing eye was a foot from them. “We seek passage.”
The guardian’s long flexible neck shifted until she had turned her head to look at them with the other eye. “You bring the offering?” she asked in a low voice that rumbled from the ridged slit between her eyes.
Carey took the sweater from Lee and retrieved the chinchilla. Its little heart beat fast against her hand. “I bring this,” she said, holding it out for inspection. The gray creature huddle against her palm.
Without warning tentacles shot from the wide base of the guardian’s neck. She heard Lee gasp as they wrapped around the chinchilla and lifted it from her hand.
“The offering is accepted,” the guardian rumbled.
“We offer thanks,” Carey said clearly, dropping her hand.
“Has it been well handled?” the guardian asked eagerly.
Carey nodded and crossed her fingers behind her back. “Jerry says it’s been very carefully raised.”
A rush of hot air filled the tunnel as the guardian laughed. “Jerry is an old cheat. You should see the fennec foxes he tried to pass me last year. Completely wild.”
“Sounds like Jerry,” Carey agreed.
There was another rush of hot air. “Go, on, the emissary is waiting for you,” she said, offering a tentacle.
Carey accepted it, holding Lee’s arm tightly against her as the tentacle wrapped around her elbow.
A blinding flash of light encompassed them with a feeling of weightlessness before their feet hit hard ground. She felt Lee stumble beside her but he didn’t fall. “Steady,” she said quietly, her eyes adjusting to the dim light.
“I’m not going to pass out or something, damn,” Lee said, trying to pull his arm from hers.
She didn’t let go, grabbing his hand and squeezing until he winced. “I’m going to say it one more time for your own good and Karen’s, quiet and do what I say.” Her eyes darted over the ornately tiled room. There was no sign of the emissary but she was sure he was watching and probably listening.
Lee stopped twisting in her grip and she let up a little. “I totally thought that thing was going to eat the chinchilla,” he said in a low whisper.
Carey’s eyes widened. “You what?”
“I suppose she does look quite fierce despite the lack of teeth,” the emissary said, walking through the wall on their right.
Carey took a tight grip on Lee’s hand and dug her nails in. She easily kept her eyes on the smoothly scaled gremlin and not his mount, but she knew without looking that Lee was staring. Between the gremlins silk covered knees was the neck of a young dark haired man, a bit protruding from either side of his mouth and a heavy blindfold over his eyes. “We’ve come about a human,” Carey said evenly.
The emissary smiled, showing double rows of teeth. He settled one hand on the top of his steed’s head, long fingers sinking into his hair. “We have many. Do you have a specific one in mind?”
She felt Lee shaking next to her and tucked his arm in hers so she could get a better grip on him. “A woman,” she clarified.
He made a low hiss that made the human under him flex his hands. “I wouldn’t think you needed our help with that,” he made a suggestive gesture at Lee who was pinned against her.
Carey bit the inside of her cheek to keep from swearing. She was going to have to push to finish this quickly and they were going to tax the hell out of her shipment the next time she had to use this passage. “They both belong to me,” she said firmly.
The gremlin’s eyes narrowed. “Both?” he said skeptically.
She nodded. “This one is my brother, the other is my sister.” She felt Lee squeeze her arm at this declaration and almost smiled.
The emissary was no longer smiling. “A breeding pair?” he asked coolly.
“Yes,” she answered immediately, almost smiling again when Lee choked.
“Very well,” he sighed, drawing his fingers though his mount’s hair before taking the reins again. “When was she taken?”
“Last night, near the west border.” She watched the gremlin carefully, his little feet were curled where they rested against the man’s chest. He was very unhappy about letting Karen go, which didn’t make much sense because he had a mount of his own.
The gremlin nodded. “I have seen that one. Follow me,” he said, turning and heading back though the wall.
Lee didn’t hesitate to follow her this time but he did stop short in the main chamber. It was full of people, walking and running up and down the narrow streets, ever one of them with a scaly green rider. “Carey, what is this?” he whispered.
“Later,” she said out of the corner of her mouth, pulling him along in the emissary’s wake.
“Yours doesn’t mind very well,” he said curtly when they caught up to him.
“They frown on the blinders up top,” she said evenly.
The emissary laughed and urged his man to walk faster. “So I hear.”
They were drawing the interest of some of the people whose eyes weren’t covered but she didn’t make eye contact and none of them tried to talk with their bits in. Lee was tense beside her, his head turning as his eyes darted through the crowd for Karen.
The walk was short at the pace the emissary set and soon they were crossing another wall into what looked like a lounge. The walls were a pale yellow and they were lined with deep red sofas where unfettered humans sat drinking coffee and talking while gremlins tended to their bare feet.
“Karen!” Lee shouted.
The entire room went quiet. A woman with dark hair and wide eyes turned from her conversation to look at them. She smiled brightly but didn’t answer.
Carey elbowed Lee sharply and had to drag him toward the partition on the far end of the room where the emissary was waiting.
When they reached the doorway he led his man to a chair in the far corner and dismounted to sit on a raised platform that put him just above eye level. “You know if you handed this one over we could straighten him out very easily,” he said disdainfully.
Carey smiled and forced Lee into his seat. “I’ll keep him as he is for now.”
The gremlin made a thick clicking sound in the back of his throat, clearly disapproving. “She was taken within our borders,” he said suddenly.
Carey nodded, wondering what Lee’s outburst was going to cost her. “My people have protection,” she calmly reminded the emissary.
His eyes narrowed again as he pulled out his blackberry. He scrolled through his database with another disapproving sound. “They aren’t on your list, either of them.”
“They are now. Blood is enough to put them there,” she said firmly.
His fingers twisted one long ear. “We can’t be faulted if they weren’t listed.”
Carey’s eyes widened as she realized the problem. She shook her head quickly. “No fault, I just want them home and added to my list,” she assured him.
His eyes narrowed to slits. “No fault?” he asked warily.
Carey nodded. “None, I should have registered them sooner.”
“Sign and it’s done,” he said, pushing an electronic signature pad toward her with his foot.
She scrawled her name with the stylus and pressed enter. Her listing came up with Lee and Karen’s names at the end. “I can take them now?”
The gremlin smiled and nodded. “As soon as you wish. Come.” He mounted his man again and led them back into the main room. At a gesture to the gremlin at her feet Karen’s shoes were put on and she was urged to stand. “Lee?” she said quietly.
Carey released her brother’s arm. He looked between her and his wife several times until she nodded and nudged him forward. He ran to Karen and hugged her so hard he lifted her off her feet.
“She would have been a good ride,” the emissary said conversationally.
Carey looked at him curiously, keeping the couple in her peripheral vision. She had to swallow past the lump in her throat. “I thought you liked the tall ones,” she said, pointing to his mount.
He nodded. “I do, but she was for my daughter. She’s just learning to ride,” he said, pride evident in his expression.
“I’m sure you’ll find a good replacement,” she said in a convincingly sympathetic tone.
The gremlin shrugged. “Enough of you make it down here.”
“Too true,” she agreed. There were always enough people who tried to get down here, were willing to throw off responsibility for the contracted time, work for the gremlins in return for food shelter and a pile of money when they were released. Of course it would be easier for all sides if they only took the willing. “You’ll excuse me?” she asked politely.
The emissary waved her away. “Go, before they make a scene.”
Carey had to tap hard on Lee’s shoulder to get them to break apart. “Come on, we’re out of here.”
Lee stared at her then hugged her as hard as he could with one arm. “We’re ok?”
Carey gently pushed him away and took the arm that wasn’t wrapped around Karen, guiding them back across the room. “You owe me a hundred bucks for the chinchilla.”
“And dinner?” he asked, looking hopeful.
She frowned at him. “You want to owe me dinner too?”
He nodded seriously. “Our place, tonight. Any night.”
There were a million excuses available. She was tired, she was supposed to play dice with Frederick, they still had to get back up to the shop without running into any slime, and she hadn’t forgiven Lee. “Tonight sounds good.”


  1. One of the great things about reading this story was trying to figure out how this was supposed to be inspired by Black Beauty, and how the connection wasn't apparent at all until the end.

  2. Who are you? And, why aren't you rich and famous?? I started at the "beginning" and I'm working my way through your blog....I've just started, and I have to force limits on my reading...or I'd never get anything else done. I love your world...

  3. From your keyboard to a publisher's ear.

    I'm working on rich and famous (only a few hundred more queries to go) but the best part of having this blog has been the readers. That people I don't know take the time to read my work is kind of amazing. Thanks for reading!


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