Prose

Ten Hours

Image Credited to Darren Murph

Image Credited to Darren Murph

This was a travel essay assignment I wrote back in college. Found it while trying to find “filler” for the website, since I’m knee-deep in some important writing projects. Kinda glad I found it.

Many a soul have traversed the path known commonly as Highway 80, and have each had their own memories of the wonders and horrors of that stretch of road. For long commuters it serves as a decisive short cut between the infertile lands below the Sierras and the prairie-like flatlands of Central California. I, too, use this stretch to trek my way home in a grey station wagon designed for soccer moms and families of five. My vehicle and I are an unlikely pair – one, a car built for many passengers, the other, a hapless college student returning home for the first time in over eight months. Home is where the heart is, they say. I’d rather prefer to think of it as the place where I left my soul.

Oregon has the strangest effect on people. Visitors come and take in the foliate scenery, mumble incoherently about the dreary climate, and complain further about the nativist population. Granted, Oregonians aren’t the most welcoming to outsiders. However, there is a silent understanding; you aren’t an outsider anymore if you’ve been there long enough. The northwestern state grows on you like a fungus, crawling deeply in the very roots of your subconscious, latching on to the part of the brain that produces waves of nostalgia. At the very least, that’s how I’ve come to see it.

Years have passed since I was welcomed as a migratory plague from California, infesting the landscape with my “smog-ified” presence. I didn’t care to be considered one of them anyway. The city of Portland, and all its peripheral towns, mattered little to me. The scenery was intoxicating though. Long walks and bike rides caused the coniferous environment to sink in like an intravenous surge. Urbanized teenagers rarely catch the bug to return to a Rousseau-like “state of nature”. But like many unsuspecting white flight transplants, I became a native. Maybe that was their plan all along, to haze newcomers before the natural infection of comfort sank it – the diseased word known as “home.”

This time around, though, I returned not as a native, but an outsider. I still used an Oregon license, insured my grey vehicular monstrosity in Oregon, but I hadn’t been there for long stretches of time in over three years. Nevada had done its best to weed out the Northwesterner in me. As the years passed, it had almost succeeded. I referred to it as a state rather than my state. Have you ever had the feeling that you don’t know which place to call home? Or whether or not you even have a home?

However, once I hit the road, flipped on factory stereo that belted out static rock, and set upon 80 to connect with I-5 North, that lost part of me rekindled – a spark that had refused to die. The journey from the Reno to Sacramento – via the Sierras – was beautiful, but only partially distracting. The flat expanse between Sacramento and Redding didn’t even shake me as the cruise control was activated. Looming ahead, the Siskiyou pass approached, winding roads that continued for at least an hour or two. I never kept track of it. Why should I? It was just another obstacle between the desired destination and I. Then the first positive marker arrived.

The Oregon border. Ashland would be coming up soon. My eyes began to weigh on me heavily. Little sleep due to anticipation, and post-academic lethargy threatened to hinder my progress. For a time, they succeeded in curbing my journey in the form of much-needed rest at an isolated rest stop. An hour’s worth of a power nap banished the need for any more delays. Roughly four more hours and Portland would be in view.

One interesting fact I’d forgotten to mention is how awe-inspiring a night drive can be. Typically, when returning home, I leave Reno in the late afternoon so as to skip past the rush hour blitzkrieg. By then, I-5 would have already cleared up on the way out of Sacramento, and the drive would be smooth sailing from there on in. Yes, the drive is boring if one is looking for outside distractions to keep them occupied while putting along, but the obsidian blanket of twilight also has its form of shrouded majesty – as if the world had been put on hold while you continued moving. In a poetic way, the journey goes smoother.

A tune chimes in on the radio that I know all too well on the road trip cassette I’d made – Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, and Willy Nelson crooning away about reincarnation in “The Highwayman”. How fitting, I think. A song talking about the eternal journey chiming in as I return to the place where I believe my spirit is at rest. That song has stayed with me since I was a child, and here it plays as I return to the one place where the child in me hasn’t died.

So what if I wasn’t much of a child when I first came to Oregon – a snot-nosed prepubescent 5th Grader with dreams of aliens still dancing in his geeky little mind. Although California encompassed the greater part of my elementary school years, most of the “growing up” took place in the rainy state I’d been forced to endure. Maybe this was because the adolescent travails had begun. I’m not too sure. One thing is certain, though, the coincidence is almost too convenient – the most prevalent of my memories are from a place I’d moved to, not a place I’d originated from.

Three hours pass and the signs informing me of Salem’s approach whisk by. I look at the time – three-thirty in the morning. I peer down at my numbing legs, still pressing the gas with shaky anticipation. The gas gauge blinks at me, relaying the dire need for fuel. Pulling over at a Chevron, I curb the grey Taurus next to a fuel stand, exit the driver’s side, and proceed to remove the pump.

“Sir, what’re you doing?” a vagabond-looking attendant says from behind me.

It takes me a moment to fully process what he’s asking. His beady eyes peer down at the pump then return to me. At that moment the realization clicks. Oh yeah, Oregon doesn’t have self-service gas. Shrugging, smiling weakly, I hand the pump back to him, beckon for regular unleaded, and stop into the mini-mart to sustain me with a Twinkie. Of all the little things to remind me of home, it was a bearded man with a lazy eye asking for a gas pump back. Yes, they say home is where the heart is. I disagree. It’s where your soul rests until you go to reclaim it.

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Monday, September 23rd, 2013 Prose No Comments

Time-Dept

Several months ago, a former co-worker of mine showed me a song of his while we were having beers. It was extremely rough, but it hit me far harder than I expected. Weeks later, it inspired a story from the cosmic imagery it invoked. This was the result.

Time-Dept

We made love in the desert.

She liked it that way. There was this spot right outside of Stead Spaceport where she liked to camp out. For some reason, she always dragged me along with her to watch the colonial rockets take flight. Eventually, stargazing turned into gazing into each others’ eyes. Sex was a side-effect.

“This is still a weird place to be doing this,” I said amidst grunts and giggles.

I wasn’t looking at her, but rather past her. Regardless of the light and noise pollution emitted from the nearby port, the stars at this particular spot appeared like firefly swarms.

“Shut up, Vin, and concentrate,” she replied angrily while on top of me – thrusting upright.

Her red hair spilled about her shoulders, masking her face. But I could tell she was trying to hold back laughter. The absurdity of our location wasn’t lost on her.

She also knew that I was at my limit. There was only so much a guy could do with a woman on top of him. Frankly, a half-hour was a record! I could no longer distract myself away from the moment for the sake of…uh…longevity. She was too good, and I was too enamored. Our bodies were one writhing being – symbiotic, dirty, yet destined.

At that moment, the ground rumbled. A low growl perforated the air. The wind picked up from the east. I looked at my phonepad.

Crap, a launch! I thought.

The roar of engines and fuel invaded the quiet sagebrush-laden landscape. A massive, chrome-colored body of metal took flight several miles away from us. It took to the sky with ferocity, rending its connection to Earth’s gravity with the assistance of several rings coiled around its cylindrical body. I could hold out no longer.

I emitted a high-pitched whine of climax and let out one last thrust. I was done. And I blamed the rocket. Laughter escaped me. How could it not? The rocket was a fitting metaphor. With a sigh of disappointment, Rae removed herself from me. I wanted to apologize, but I couldn’t. The moment – at least for me – had been perfect. A launch followed by a die-off – parallel and pristine. Completely poem-worthy.

Rae pulled out something from her camouflage-colored duffel-bag, an odd transparent pipe with a fluorescent pink flower at the base. It looked similar to a traditional bong but more…alien. I frowned. Since when did she become a petal-puffer? Disappointing. Were Earth herbs no longer good enough for her?

I shrugged and grasped for a pair of binoculars to my right. The rocket was reaching its second stage. Coils fell from its massive body like a serpent shedding its skin. Someone had told me those were “gravitic repulsors”. They made it easier for massive, multi-ton, space-bound vehicles to exit the atmosphere. Once they reached the ionosphere, the vessels cast them off like useless clothing.

With a flare of light, the colonial rocket disappeared.

“Where do you suppose that one went?” I said in attempt to make small-talk, grabbing for a joint.

Rae gently puffed at the edge of the beaker-like mouthpiece of her “bong”.

“Dunno,” she said, exhaling pinkish steam from her nose. “More than likely, Gliese 163C. Terraforming efforts have begun there.”

“That’s New Sahara, right?” I said, lighting the wrapping of paper and leaf in my mouth. Canadian estate-grown cannabis – couldn’t beat it. Why anyone would want to puff petal over this was beyond me.

“Mhm,” Rae mumbled with a nod. Her eyes were fixed on the spot where the rocket’s wake had been.

“More and more phallics are leaving each month,” I mentioned. That was our local nickname for colonial rockets – phallics. For obvious reasons.

“Not hard to see why,” Rae responded. “Not much left here.”

I shook my head – my raven-haired cue whipping back and forth. “Bullshit. Earth’s still got some life in it.”

“We had a good run here,” Rae said cryptically.

“The planet’s still very much alive,” I rebuked while tasting burnt leaf.

“But it would be better off without us,” she returned. “At least some of us.”

I had no reply to that one. It was a given that the planet was overpopulated. Whole sections of it were uninhabitable. Continents were left barren, and the few fertile places left were massively impacted. Colonization of the few habitable worlds we discovered was inevitable. Still, there was a lot here to love.

Rae whipped around, nearly dropping her petal pipe, and leaned toward me. Almost within kissing distance. Here green eyes were dilated. Damn, I loved those eyes.

“Do you know what they call the duration it takes messages to cross the vastness of space?” she asked suddenly.

It was a weird question. I only had a rough idea of what she was referring to. Apparently, when ships traveled faster than light, time no longer moved the same way. I didn’t know my physics from flowers, but for every week that past when traveling at (or beyond) the speed of light, years past for those planet-side. Or something like that. I didn’t know the exact figures.

“Time…depth?” I guessed.

“Time-dept,” she corrected.

I gave a slow nod. “Heard about it. Something about faster-than-light travel affecting travelers.”

“Five months to us could be five minutes to a traveler,” she explained briefly. “Hard to say.”

“Time is a touchy thing,” I tried to agree, taking another puff. “I’m fine with the time I have left here.”

She said nothing.

After a few minutes, I asked, “You okay?”

“I think it’s time to go,” she finally said – dressing and packing her duffel.

“‘Kay.”

I dropped her off an hour later. She lived in Reno; I lived in Sparks. Not too far apart…but just far enough.  When I got back home to my dingy apartment, I zapped her a message via phonepad.

“Where did you go with your thoughts?”

*****

Five years later, I received a reply.

“My thoughts are still with you.”

Acknowledgements:

You can hear the original song – “Gravitational” – HERE.

You can find the other Knownothings songs HERE.

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Friday, October 12th, 2012 Prose No Comments

The Revenge of Finbarr’s Persian Princess in 1910

This review is actually a sequel of sorts. To read its predecessor – for context – go HERE.

Don’t you hate it when you wake up in the morning and end up in another time period? So do I. As far as I know, it’s only happened once – today. I found myself awake at the ungodly hour of 7AM after hearing a loud gagging noise coming from my cat. That was usually the early warning sign of an impending (and rather messy) hairball.

After dealing with that little nuisance, I figured I might as well stay up and get some water boiling. It felt like an oolong morning, so – naturally – I went for the gaiwan. Pot and apparatus at the ready, I proceeded to plug the kettle in.

And…nothing happened. I pressed a button – still nothing. I gave the thing a good punch. And…

A flash of light transported me, my plastic tea kettle, my gaiwan, and my pajama’d self to somewhere straight out of a Jules Vernian nightmare.

A “geared” world at sunrise greeted me. Airships dotted the sky, hovering about almost aimlessly. The ground below them was rattled with structures of varying shades of copper and rust. My immediate attention, though, was directed at an Irishman pointing a revolver at me.

His beard wasn’t just red – it was magenta. His attire was so flamboyant that even a metrosexual leprechaun would’ve blushed. What topped off the dandy’s appearance was a crown perched ever-so-slightly to one side of his head. He flashed a welcoming grin as he cocked the brass-plated pistol.

“Welcome to 1910, Mr. Literatus,” the Irishman lilted.

“Looks more like the 1890s,” I replied, backing away slightly.

Something pointy prevented me from backstepping any further.

“Ah-ah-ah,” a feminine voice from behind me warned. “Stay put, my dear.”

I turned my head as I raised my hands in the air. The mysterious woman behind me was shrouded by purpble robes. A bejeweled dagger was the “pointy thing” that gave me pause.

“Perhaps some introductions are in order,” the Irishman said. “I am Finbarr. This is Persian Princess.”

“She doesn’t have a name?” I wondered aloud.

“None that you need to know,” the woman said, giving a light poke with the pointy.

“And Finbarr…you don’t mean the fairy king of the Daoine Sidhe, do you?” I asked.

“No, that’s my cousin,” the Irish dandy corrected. “Finn Bheara.”

“Confusing.”

“More than a little,” Finbarr shrugged.

“Wait a minute,” I said with rising frustration. “Finbarr…Persian Prin-…THE DEVOTEA SENT YOU!!!”

At that moment, a slightly transparent, disembodied head appeared out of thin air.

“What he said,” Finbarr agreed as the disembodied Devotea winked out of existence.

“Then why are you here? Why am I here!?” I demanded.

“Truth be told, we’re seeing if our namesake blends actually hold up,” Finbarr explained.

“We want to make sure he’s doing us justice,” the Persian woman practically purred.

“And who told you that kidnapping reviewers was the way to do it?” I asked again.

“Petersham, of course,” Finbarr said delightfully.

“Of course,” I repeated flatly, rolling my eyes.

A table with a tea set, three bags, brewing equipment and a tea kettle miraculously appeared amidst sparkles and smoke. It was an odd thing to say that this was becoming far too routine for me. I perused the different ounce bags. One was labeled “1910”, another “Finbarr’s Revenge”, and a purple bag read “Persian Princess” embroidered in gold trim.

I put down the gaiwan and plastic tea kettle I’d forgotten I was still holding. “Well…let’s get this over with.”

The first I went for was the English Breakfast variant – the 1910.

“It’s a blend of Ceylon, Indian teas, an-“

“I know what it is,” I interrupted.

The dry leaves were both burly with malt and fruit-sweet on the nose, giving the impression that the blend consisted of Assam, Keemun, and a low-altitude Dimbulla Ceylon. It’s a credit to the blender that the leaves all looked the same, creating the illusion of single origin orthodoxy.

The liquor brewed lighter than I expected – a full-bodied bronze rather than the usual English Breakfast copper. The color may have been because of a Yunnan sourcing for the Chinese black in the blend, rather than Keemun. The smell was exquisitely smoky, really not sure how that happened. This was an incredibly smooth morning cup – no bitterness, dryness or kickback.

“Deceptively smooth and quite invigorating,” I said with approval.

“Next is my namesake,” Finbarr gestured toward the second set-up.

I couldn’t tell what went in this, but my best guess was Assam and low-altitude Ceylon. The smell was straight, burly malt (like the 1910) with no other deviation. One would think they were having a straight-up Assam on whiff. I actually decided upon a full pot of it.

The liquor brewed bold copper with the same manly malty aroma as the dry leaves. On taste, though, it was oddly forgiving. Instead of punching the tongue with its chewy presence, it shook hands first, imparting a floral forefront before the introduction of the malty middle. Here, the Ceylon and Assam worked quite well together. And – boy! – did it wake me up.

“This stuff actually gives you the courtesy of a reach-around before punching you in the junk,” I commented.

“Rightly said!” Finbarr guffawed, patting me on the back – hard.

The Persian Princess gave a loud – and disgusted – sigh. Speaking of which, it was time for her blend. She didn’t bother speaking up about it, though.

The thing that really surprised me about this blend was how sweet it smelled. There was some requisite malt, but a woody and sweet underpinning crept up in the fragrance. I’m pretty sure the teas used were Assam and Yunnan, but – as with the other Devotea blends – one can never be too sure.

The resulting brew-up was an amber-colored liquor with a smooth, Ceylon-ish aroma – floral. On taste, the deceptive sweetness came back packaged with a strong, malty intro. Then it did the oddest thing by smoothing out completely – like an actual princess with a feigned, even-keel temperament. The best part? No bitterness to speak of and only mild astringency.

“Strong but not bitter,” I said briefly. “Like an actual princess should be.”

She still said nothing.

“Can I go now?”

Finbarr looked confused, “Go where?”

“Home? To 2012? My 2012.”

“Oh, lad,” Finbarr laughed, but there was mischievous shift in it. “This is your home now.”

“…What?”

“Aye, the trip’s one-way only.”

“…Why?”

“Revenge,” the Persian Princess finally spoke.

One would think a man whisked out of space and time would do something brave – like, say, fight off both of his assailants. Not the case, here. I took off running as fast as my slippered feet could carry me. Like a little bitch. I did make sure my beeline to…nowhere put me in contact with my trusty gaiwan and kettle, though.

Both of my kidnappers were in hot pursuit. Denizens of this steampunkish realm observed the spectacle with some amusement. I supposed they didn’t get many men in sleep attire – brandishing tea equipment – running down their streets. I ducked down an alleyway, hoping to lose the blend-named pair. As my luck would have it, though, it dead-ended at a bonfire surrounded by this realm’s version of the homeless.

“Nowhere to run now, eh laddy?” Finbarr said with a pant.

The Persian Princess glided in front of the Irishman, dagger drawn and eyes fixed. I did the only thing a man-bitch could do – I let out a full-bodied scream. In my ensuing panic, I lost my grip on the plastic kettle. It fell into the makeshift hobo fire. Then something…well…terribly inappropriate happened.

A blood curdling scream resonated from the flames. The discarded kettle fumed, smoked, melted and contorted into something hideous. The only comparison I could make was a demonic vagina.

It floated in the air, wailing loudly. Finbarr and Persian Princess halted their advance, but the vagrants around the fire fled in terror, providing me ample time to think.

That shouldn’t be possible, I thought. Unless…

“A dream!” I said out loud.

I looked down at my one remaining tea apparatus – my trusty gaiwan. If Leo had a spinning top as an anchor in Inception, then this lidded cup was mine. Turning around, I walked straight into the bonfire. I expected to feel warmth and…uh…”burning”. Instead, I was back in my kitchen – still pajama’d, still tired, but fully tea’d.

Epilogue

“Well, that could’ve gone better,” Finbarr said, scratching his head.

“His time will come,” the Persian Princess said, disrobing her covered head. A porcelain, Asian woman’s face turned toward the Irishman. “At least we know his weakness now.”

“You’re one stubborn woman, Ms. Guan Yin,” he remarked.

“Take the tea away from a man, then he is just a man,” she said to no one in particular. “Take the teacup from a man, then he is merely a boy…in hot water.”

The End (?)

To Purchase The Devotea’s Teas (1910, Finbarr’s Revenge, and Persian Princess):

In the U.S., go HERE.

In the U.K., go HERE.

In Australia, go HERE.

(No actual tea equipment was harmed in the making of this review.)

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Wednesday, June 20th, 2012 Prose, Steep Stories No Comments

Guan Yins,Tigers and Lords, Oh My!

For context, READ THIS FIRST

For once, I thought I’d get a full night’s sleep. The work week had been murder, and for some odd reason, I couldn’t stay in bed for more than six hours. Well, this time I had an excuse. A loud roar jolted me from sleep. When I opened my eyes, standing in front of me was the Bodhisattva of Compassion herself – Guan Yin – standing atop a rubber ducky (???). And she looked pissed.

How did she get in my room? Wait…where was my room?! I was greeted by blackness all around me as I sat straight up. The only occupants in this void/nullspace were me (still in bed), the ducky-perched Chinese goddess, and a third shadowy figure.

“Are you the one they call the Lazy Clitoris?” the bodhisattva asked.

“That’s…Literatus,” I corrected her.  “Ma’am.”

“Silence!” she snapped.

“But you asked me to speak,” I reminded her.

She did not take my dry comment well, bringing a lightning bolt down within an inch of my bed. The smell of ozone wafted once the crackling ceased. I didn’t even know she had that ability.

“You have wronged me greatly,” Guan Yin said, lowering her duck.

“Is this about the story?”

“Of course, it is!” her voice boomed and echoed.

“But it was all true,” I replied.

“True or not, you have sullied my name,” she said. “And now, you must make reparations.”

“Why are you on a duck?” I had to ask.

“My dragon – Ao Bing – is…on vacation,” she replied, flustered.

“But why a duck?”

“A mutual interested party provided him,” she said, motioning for the shadowy figure to step forward.

A youthful man in dated formal attire approached in a carriage…pulled by two very imposing Bengal tigers. His attire was a mix-and-match of Victorian and Georgian influences, his cravat was flashy, and his top hat seemed to glow with its own aura. The man’s visage bore a striking resemblance to American actor, James Franco.

The Faux-Franco bowed in my direction, “Viscount Petersham, at your service.”

I cocked an eyebrow, “Petersham?”

“Yes?”

“Who is Peter, and why is he a sham?” I asked with a half-smile.

He simply looked at me for a moment, then spoke, “Oh! That was an attempt at humor. How precious.”

“And why are you here?” I asked of him again. “Wherever here is?”

“The lovely Bodhisattva and I have come to an arrangement,” the viscount explained. “One that involves you.”

“What for and why me?”

“My, you’re annoying quizzical,” Petersham sighed. “You wronged her and an associate of mine. She brought you to this ‘space between spaces’ where you will be subjected to a Trial by Tea.”

“Trial by-”

Tea!” Guan Yin finished for me. “If you pass, you live. If you fail…”

As if on cue, one of the Bengals roared. I gulped. No one wanted to die in their pajamas, especially not out-of-season Santa Claus pajamas.

“The idea, my good chap, is this,” the viscount said, dismounting from his grand tiger-chariot. “There are two teas in my repertoire that need testing. One was tailored specifically to me, the other – well – named for my feline friends over there.”

“So…what do I have to do?” I queried.

“Simply try them,” Petersham said with a grin.

“And if I don’t like them?”

“That won’t be possible.”

“Get on with it,” the goddess said impatiently.

“Yes, m’dear,” he said with a roll of the eyes.

He stretched out his hand. A platter, a teapot, a metallic kettle, two transparent 8-ounce teacups, and an hourglass perched above his hand.

“How did you-?” I started.

“I’m a dead man with two pet tigers,” Petersham stated flatly. “What can’t I do?”

“Fair point,” I nodded.

“Now, how do you take your tea, lad?” he asked.

Me? A lad? I look older than him! I said inwardly.

“1 teaspoon of leaves, boiling water, three-minute steep,” I replied.

“Only three minutes?!” Petersham looked aghast. “What are you, some kind of dandy?”

“You asked,” I shrugged – an odd question coming from a man with a lisp.

He sighed dramatically. “Very well.”

With a wave of a few fingers from his other hand, steam rose from the kettle – bubbling was heard from within. I wondered where the water had come from, but this was a magic void. Wondering was pointless. The kettle, then, poured the water itself into the pot. I guessed the leaves were already housed within. The hourglass flipped itself over independently and remained suspended in mid-air.

Three minutes passed by with awkward silence. Guan Yin had dismounted the rubber ducky and crouched down to pat the head of one of the tigers. It bellowed a loud purr in response. Petersham made unique use of a snuff box in the interim.

When the hourglass ran its last grain of sand, there was a loud chime. The tigers perked up in alarm. The source seemed to resound from all over. Petersham was unperturbed by it, gingerly waving a finger, and levitating the pot.

The liquor that poured into the clear cup was an even copper with a light gold ring on the periphery. It was a lovely looking beverage. I put cup to lips. On introduction, there was a bit of a citrus bite, followed by a slight tannic lean in the middle. Then it snapped at the top note with a presence of peppers, allspice, honey and Keemun sweetness. So many different flavors were at play – all vying for steeping supremacy.

“Damn,” I said with approval.

“Poetic, isn’t he?” Guan Yin said dryly.

The viscount, however, appeared overjoyed. “And, now, the Two Tigers blend.”

He repeated the same songless dance with a new set of “tea”-quipment. Water boiled, apparatuses flew about, and another clear cup was magically filled. The smell of the rising steam was strong on the nostrils.

The liquor had brewed only a slightly deeper copper than Petersham’s namesake blend with a very even and sweet aroma. Malt was also there but understated. Flavor-wise, it possessed a very crisp forefront, which transitioned to a strangely floral middle. It tapered off nicely without much lingering bitterness.

“A strong morning cup, for sure, but one polite enough to call you a cab afterwards,” I said.

The viscount looked puzzled. “I don’t quite follow.”

“It’s a sex reference,” Guan Yin growled, arms akimbo. “He does that.”

Again, Petersham was un-phased. “Splendid! You passed!”

“All I did was like the teas,” I said.

“That’s all that was needed,” Petersham said, clasping my shoulders. “You live to drink another day.”

With that, the youthful – and possibly immortal – lord retook the reigns of his tiger mounts, bid a gloved farewell with a “toodleloo ” of his left fingers, and rode off into the darkness. The cups of tea and brewing equipment, however, remained suspended in place – hovering. All that remained were me, the tea, an ill-tempered goddess, and a rubber ducky.

“Okay…” I started. “I passed. Guess that means I get to go now?”

“No,” she said.

“No?” I gulped – voice a little higher.

“You get to live, yes,” Guan Yin agreed. “But I get to determine the ‘where’.”

I said nothing, but my gaze narrowed.

“Here in the void,” she said with arms outstretched. “This suits you perfectly.”

“So, it’s like that, then,” I said, taking the cup with the Petersham blend.

“It’s like that,” she repeated.

I also grabbed the cup of the Two Tigers blend. “You’ve never read my work, have you?”

“You work?” she chuckled.

“I’ll take that as a ‘no’.”

I held out both transparent cups so she could clearly see them. At first, she appeared puzzled…but then her eyes widened. I bore a toothy grin as I poured the contents of one cup into the other.

“NO!” she screamed.

“You forget, Bodhisattva,” I began. “When I blend, I don’t think of the consequences. And when I drink…”

One of the cups began to glow. The copper liquid bubbled and churned from other. Out of thin air, a third cup appeared. No, not a cup. A mug. I moved the three together. The shape looked…oddly (but appropriately) phallic.

“This. Is. MY CUPPA!!!” I bellowed, taking a swig.

Both blends combined tasted like all the things that men are made off – earth and smoke with an astringent stubbornness that couldn’t be quelled. I relished in the power. This was true tiger’s blood.

Cracks and fissures of glowing light pierced the pocket void-realm. The “ceiling”/sky/whatever flaked and crumbled. Shadows retreated and the intruding rays of luminescence penetrated ever-inward. Guan Yin screamed as her handiwork unraveled in mere moments. Without a means to retaliate, she retreated to the solace of the rubber ducky and made a hasty retreat.

As the last of the shadows receded, I found myself back in my haphazard room. All was in shambles, but it was the mess I had made – not the goddess. My bed was as I left it. Yet I still held the combined, phallic-looking tri-teacup.

“This isn’t over, Clitoris,” boomed a disembodied woman’s voice. “Those blends were his, and he still owns you until you finish.”

“His? He who? Finish what?” I asked the ceiling.

There was no response, only the echoes of tittering laughter.

“That’s LiterATus!” I corrected…to no one in particular.

What had she meant by being owned? Who was I indebted to? Who owned and/or made those blends? Not Petersham, he said they were commissioned. Then whom?

The realization hit me when I looked down at my computer.

The rubber ducky? Petersham? I inhaled sharply. HIM?!

I was in someone’s debt, someone for whom I owed a writing project. So long as it went incomplete, he owned my soul. Without further thought, I fired up the computer and went to writing. Shivering all the while, imagining his eyes (and ducky) were looming over me.

Acknowledgements:

Thanks are owed to Jackie, one of the co-pilots of Tea Trade, for passing the two Devotea blends my way.

Thanks, also, to The Devotea himself – Robert Godden – for making them. They were superb. (As if there was ever a doubt. One of these days, I’ll have to pick his brain for the recipes.)

You can buy the Lord Petersham blend HERE.

You can buy the Two Tigers blend HERE.

And, lastly, thanks to Jason Norman (my cousin) for helping me out with some last-minute Photoshopping. Much obliged.

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Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012 Prose, Steep Stories No Comments

The Tea Trolley

“What is it?” asked a passerby.

“What does it look like?” said a grizzly, overalled Brit sitting on a bench.

“A train,” was the American’s curious response. “Not like any I’ve ever seen.”

“That’s because it’s not a train,” the Brit said gruffly. “It’s a trolley.”

And indeed it was. A curious contraption to boot; instead of cars and compartments, it was three brass trays synced together with various clockwork gears and turbines. If one were staring at it from afar, they would’ve seen a go-cart or a push-table. But no, it was an actual trolley of weird and rare design. Like a table on railroad tracks. People milled about, all with teacups in their hands, some in their nicest finery, others in their pajamas. it was a bizarre sight to the newly-arrived American.

“What are they doing?”

“Tribute, I think.” It wasn’t a question.

The American left the gnarled Brit to his sitting and approached the crowd. Various women and men – some in Victorian attire, others in modern garb, and others still yet identifiable – were crowded around the odd locomotive.

Then, as if by some invisible chime, they raised their teacups to the sky. Not a word was spoken. Any murmuring ceased. The American was at a loss, for he didn’t have a cup to raise…nor a reason to raise it. He was confused by the entire display.

“Here,” came a sing-songy voice from behind him. “I have an extra.”

A slender, middle-aged woman in a bonnet and a sweater adorned with the British flag had her hand outstretched. Funny, since she didn’t sound British. He accepted the cup gently and graciously.

“What is this for?” he asked.

“That?” she said with a giggle. “It’s for the tea trolley.”

That is a tea trolley?!” he exclaimed with a furrowed brow.  “Isn’t it…”

“Rather large?” she offered. “Oh yes. Wouldn’t have it any other way. How else can you have tea if you can’t travel?”

“So…it’s a trolley…in the shape of a trolley.”

“You catch on quick,” she said wryly.

“Why this display then?”

She sighed, “Because the tea trolley has ceased its run. All these people were once her passengers.”

“A eulogy,” the American said.

“No, a celebration,” she laughed. “Eulogies are far too dour.”

“Were you a passenger?”

“I better have been,” she said. “I invented it.”

“I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude, Mrs…”

“Milly.”

“Mrs. Milly?”

“Just Milly,” she smiled.

The former passengers still had their cups raised. None seemed to be tiring with their arms outstretched, or if they were fatigued, they didn’t show it. Probably couldn’t.

“Well, are you going to join in?” she nudged.

“Should I?” he asked nervously. “I mean…I was never a passenger.”

“Don’t be silly,” she assured him.

With that, he reluctantly raised his dainty cup.

“You already are.” Her voice trailed on the wind with an echo.

The American looked behind him…but she was gone.

Author’s Note: Mildred P., a.k.a. @MildewPea (on Twitter) – or simply Milly – was one of the first people I ever talked to when I joined the site o’ Twits back in 2009. She was almost TOO wholesome and incredibly witty. It took all my gumption just to keep up with her.

One of the fun little games played on Twitter was the addition of “#TheTeaTrolley”…and me being the idiot I am, I thought it was an actual trolley. I never let on that I had no clue what a tea trolley even was, but I still considered myself a happy passenger.

R.I.P. Milly, you taught me how a Tea Twit should conduct themselves. Here’s a cup to ya.

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Tuesday, January 24th, 2012 Prose, Steep Stories No Comments

Fortune and the Goddess

This week I was accused of writing soft-core tea porn. Last I check, I had no soft-core tea porn in my repertoire. If I’m going to be accused of something, it damn well better be true. So…here’s some soft-core tea porn to make it true.

He was a Scotsman and a botanist. Strange occurrences followed him like flies to food. “Trouble” was his modus operandi, but nothing from his homeland compared to this. Being chased by a dragon mounted by a beautiful Chinese woman; this was entirely new to him. And all over a bag of seeds.

Robert Fortune’s “humble native merchant” disguise hadn’t worked as well as he hoped. Being run down by a mythical creature was proof of that. It was just his luck that the one garden he chose to steal tea seeds from happened to belong to some famous sorceress – a normally even-tempered sorceress. Apparently, she didn’t take to kindly to thievery. Stern resolve lined her face as she directed her dragon mount forward – fire pluming from its serpentine maw.

The last flaming blast had singed his fake, raven-haired queue. The ponytail smelled like burnt dog. He barely survived the last fireball directed at his person. Never had he run so long and hard in his life. After hours of this chase, he was close to the breaking point. His lungs burned.

Nary a few moments later, he ran out of breath. Fortune could go no further. He collapsed in a heap at the shore of a solitary lake. Moonlight basked the eerily calm water in an ethereal, pale-white glow. Night-blooming jasmine and lotus blossoms dotted the aquatic surface.

Odd, he thought to himself while panting. Sipalika is not native to China. It’s from Ceylon.

He heard a low rumble behind him. The dragon had coiled to the ground a mere few feet from him. The sorceress dismounted the now-docile wyrm’s head. She looked at him quizzically – fury dissipating from her face. It was an oddly “knowing” look, as if she was reading his very soul.

“Those flowers were a gift from the goddess Indra,” she said softly. “They normally don’t grow on water, but these were a special breed. Spiritually-imbued.”

The tired botanist sat up, “You practically kill me. Now you want to talk flora?”

“You stole from me. It is only natural you be hunted down, foreigner,” the sorceress stated firmly. “But now…you fascinate me.”

“How so?

“You went through a lot of trouble to steal my sacred tea seeds,” she said.

“I didn’t know they were sacred,” he replied hurriedly. “You want ‘em back, here. Just don’t kill me.”

“Oh, I’m not going to kill you, foreigner,” she giggled. It was strangely melodic to his ears. “It’s far too late for that.”

“Too…late?”

“Too late,” she repeated, undoing the sash that held her white robes in place. They spilled off her like a garment waterfall, revealing skin as pale and shimmering as moonlight. Fortune nearly thought she emitted her own glow. It was quite possible. She did own a dragon.

She pointed her slender index finger at him and twirled it slowly. Before he knew it, his own merchant disguise was gone, leaving him clad only in skivvies. The sight of them made the sorceress titter. The sound was hypnotic to him. Fortune desired that laugh for all eternity; there was serenity in her mockery of his foreign undergarments.

“Ao Bing, be a dear and warm the lake,” she ordered the dragon.

With a loud harrumph, the dragon uncoiled and slowly slithered to the lakebed. He parted his scaly lips only slightly, just enough to let flecks of flame part his mouth. Ao Bing kept this up until steam rose from the body of water. The steam – to Fortune’s nose – smelled of flowers, butter, and…peace. If the latter part could have a smell.

The nameless sorceress slowly waded through the water. Her naked form glistening in the rising steam, like a shroud of spirits providing a transparent nightgown. She took water with both hands and spilled it over her face and hair, letting the droplets caress her porcelain – almost ageless – frame. She was like a goddess statue made human – if “human” was the right word.

“Aren’t you going to join me, foreigner?” she beckoned.

Reason dictated that he make a run for it. Alas, after hearing her tantalizing laughter, he was no longer subject to reason. He did as he was told.

“Ah-ah,” she tisk-tisked. “Your remaining garb.”

The drawers dropped on command.

He waded nowhere near as gracefully as she did. In fact, he splashed and tromped his way into the water – eagerness and nervousness guiding his feet. This caused her to laugh even further until he clumsily reached her position. She pressed her tiny bosom to his chest and wrapped her arms around his neck. Her breath was like warm silk to his nostrils – her touch, pure softness.

“Long ago, I was known as Miao Shan,” she began. “I was human once. Make me feel human again…then I’ll let you go.”

Fortune pressed his lips to hers as his hands dutifully explored every inch of her. The more he touched her, the more he longed to remain in her embrace. This was no ordinary woman, nor a typical being. He had no other words to describe her other than “goddess”. When his hands failed to grasp her essence, his mouth took over. His tongue was humbled by the flesh it caressed, it curled around her as if in worship.

The once-Miao Shan returned the favor in kind, bestowing his unworthy form with pleasure by way of simple touch. Every flick of her finger sent waves of warmth throughout his body, like acu-pressure points of pure ecstasy. It was almost too much to bear. A mere mortal like him wasn’t worthy of her; he could barely keep up.

Before he knew it, he was one with her. The feeling was like being one with nature – a feeling akin to Buddhist attainment only more primal. They writhed together as one being in the water, causing ripples to flow out from their pressed bodies. Steam still rose, floating blossoms bobbed in the water, and the chill night air contrasted the heat within.

They crescendoed together, and then the world fell silent. Fortune found himself floating to shore, arm-and-arm with this unknown woman. When they hit the pebbled surface, reality return. She parted from his embrace and whispered “thank you” in his ear – in a long-lost dialect. He stretched out a hand as if to grasp her, but she was too far away now. His vision blurred. And before he knew it, he was asleep.

***

“Boss!”

Tap-tap.

“Boss!”

A shrill voice brought Robert Fortune back to the waking world. Sun beamed down through the canopy of trees. One of his Chinese assistants was poking him with a stick. His first reaction was to cover his vitals, but he suddenly realized he was fully clothed.

“Enough, Shin,” he grumbled. “I’m awake!”

“Oh, thank goodness!” the assistant sighed. “We were worried sick. You were gone all night. What happened to you?”

“I was…” he paused. They would never believe him. He looked down at his hands. In a simple cloth was a gaiwan – a lidded cup for pouring tea. On it, etched in blue marble, was the figure of a woman standing atop a green dragon. He held the cup up to his eyes and fixed his gaze on the image.

“Where’d you get that Guan Yin cup, boss?”

“Guan Yin?” he asked.

“Yeah, the Bodhisattva of Compassion,” Shin explained. “That’s her on the cup. Fancy, too. Where’d you get it?”

“I…don’t know.”

“That must have been some tea you had,” Shin chuckled.

“I guess so,” Fortune replied to no one in particular.

He parted the lid from the gaiwan. In it were spent oolong leaves that smelled of lotus, earth, spice, and something else. It was her scent. He could never forget it.

He clutched the cup to his breast, eyes closed, wishing that night had never ended.

Image "Mooched" from Chan Teas

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Thursday, October 27th, 2011 Prose, Steep Stories No Comments

The Legend of Lapsang

The following story is not to be taken as fact, nor as an allusion to the real origin story of the namesake tea. It is a screwball (and possibly epic or stupid) yarn concocted after a lengthy conversation over Twitter…and copious amounts of caffeine. I wrote it in one night, twelve hours (and six pints of tea) straight. Errors may be present. To some of you, I apologize in advance. To the rest of you…”BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!” Um, ahem. Enjoy.

The novice journeyed for days to reach the meeting hall where the Council of 34 convened over all things tea-related. The bicycle he rode whirred with the clockworks powering it, anticipating the stop ahead. Why he traveled in so antiquated a ‘mobile was the subject of much derision in his circle. Common answer? “I lost a bet at sci-fi convention.” And stuck with the steampunk gizmo, he was.

He was adorned in his best, amber-colored uniform. Musket to his back, rapier sheathed to his right; he was proficient in neither.  Yet both were required ornaments for the Order he was a part of. To be a Tea Musketeer meant looking the part. “All for one, and tea for all!” was the credo. One he only loosely followed by. While he was a champion of the loose leaf, there were times – in secret – for the sake of convenience he dipped a teabag for a beverage on the go.

And like so many times before, he was caught in the act.

“That is neither the steed nor steep fit for that uniform,” said a strong but soft Aussie voice behind him.

Names were not used in the Order, but monikers were commonplace. Many called this man The Herbalist, mainly for the elaborate gardens worldwide he was caretaker to. He was known to be a mild-mannered man, slow to anger, and scholastically wise in the ways of the steep. But none dared cross him. All remembered The Great Teabag Burn of ’87…and his part in it.

“A-a thousand apologies,” said the novice, chucking the contents of his travel mug. Bag and all.

“Don’t waste a cup, either,” The Herbalist whispered with a smile.

The bespectacled man was likewise dressed in Musketeer amber. Whoever selected that as the Order’s color needed a serious talking-to. Rumor had it that the company tailor based the palette off the first cup of tea he had that day. Much to everyone’s dismay, it was a Darjeeling first flush. Great tea…bad uniform color.

The Herbalist’s steed was an unimposing mare -chestnut brown with white points. He chose not to stick out unless he absolutely had to. Such an approach suited him well. When an impression was needed – but unexpected – he made his presence known. He was an easy friend but one to fear. And the man never stopped smiling. Knowingly.

Further down the road, both caught eye of a lone gent in “similar” amber-colored clothing but custom-made differently. His uniform coat was cut and adorned like a troubadour’s traveling cloak, the usual feathered hat was exchanged for a fedora, his boots were stouter, and instead of pants he wore pantaloons. In place of a musket was a guitar; in place of a rapier, a knife sheath and a satchel for mustard. Musketeers didn’t call him The Bard for nothing.

The Bard traveled without a steed, preferring his feet to aid his wanderlust. And wander, he did. Part of his role in the Order was to spread the word to men across the world that tea was as manly as breathing. In certain parts of Northern and/or Eastern Europe, he got his point across wearing Viking horns. Sometimes he forgot to remove them once he hit Asia Major, which – in turn – caused confusion.

He appeared lost in thought, humming some unknown tune as the duo approached. The Herbalist put a finger to his lips, directed at the novice. Riding up beside The Bard, he slapped him hard on the back. That awoke the minstrel from his reverie so effectively that he accidentally drew his mustard bottle instead of a proper weapon in response.

The Herbalist guffawed. The novice stifled his laughter. Humorous, though it was, he dared not mock a senior Musketeer – especially not The Bard, who was quick of wit and knife.

“I’m afraid you won’t find us appetizing, no matter what condiment you use,” The Herbalist said.

“Anything’s a weapon if it is thrown true,” The Bard retorted, adjusting his hat.

“Truer words were never mustarded,” the novice offered with a nervous laugh.

Both simply looked at him quizzically. He thought he heard crickets and a cough.

“Mustered…I mean…nevermind,” the novice sighed.

“So, hes the wordsmith,” The Bard said to the older Musketeer.

“He has no title as of yet,” spoke The Herbalist in his place. “But his cup is true. Most of the time.”

“And he was the third one sent to represent the Order at the Council of 34?” The Bard asked.

Sick of being referred to in the third person, the novice chimed in, “I volunteered since others refused.”

The Bard scoffed, “Our brethren are scared of it, too.”

The Herbalist nodded. “So it would seem. If the reports are true, we all should be.”

“You’ve had it, I assume?” The Bard asked. His lilting voice cracked a little at the ‘it’.

“I have,” The Herbalist said flatly. “Increased my chest hair count. Tenfold.”

“That’s not so bad,” The Bard shooed. “First time I tried it, I woke up in another country.”

“My first had me yelling obscenities at strangers. Doctors thought I had Tourette’s . The Order’s Scribe finally told me that was a common side effect, and that Tourette’s was borne from the stuff.”

“Um…excuse me,” the novice interrupted. “What are we talking about?”

The Bard looked at him, dumfounded. “Do you even know why we’re here?”

“Some issue about a tea?”

“Not just any tea,” The Herbalist corrected. “The most dangerous tea known to mankind. The stuff can blow up an asteroid.”

The novice chuckled at that, but The Herbalist’s face was a mask of intensity.

The Herbalist continued, “The only thing harder on the Moh scale than carborundum is this tea.”

“Don’t forget about The Scribe’s third testicle,” The Bard interjected.

“That too,” The Herbalist eye-rolled

“Not to mention it causes women’s breasts within a ten-mile radius to increase three sizes,” came a young-ish voice from behind them. “Of course, I kinda like that part.”

The source of the voice originated from a brass chariot pulled by two grizzly-polar bear hybrids. Within the chariot were two twentysomething males – one plainly dressed with a blonde woman under each arm, the other in a Victorian suit with a leather bound book cradled in his right hand. A keg could be seen in the rear seat of the chariot. It bore an immaculate, etched sign that read: “Da Hong Pao”.

Stories of the Acolytes of the Iron Goddess were widespread. Two men traveling the world in excess, quoting from the Book of Oolong, and leaving a path of destruction and broken hearts in their wake; one in charge of his own duchy and earldom (with successful tea gardens in each territory), the other a purveyor of various brothels from Turkey to Tucson, Arizona. Occasionally, their “business” ventures crossed paths. Said partnership had yet to be outmatched.

One was simply known as Duke; his lothario compatriot, Pain. The Bard often referred to them in passing with a light-hearted sneer. A friendly rivalry existed in spreading the word of tea and manliness. In some ways, their methods – while uncouth at times – fared with better results. The ensuing property damage (and pregnancy scares), though, sometimes undermined their efforts. Membership to the Tea Musketeers had been rejected – mainly for insurance reasons – but they were often brought in as “consultants”.

It was Duke who spoke. “And let’s not forget that heroin was once made of it before being deemed ‘too potent’.”

“Or that even J.J. Cale was too scared to write a song about it, changed the title to ‘Cocaine’,” The Bard lamented.

Or that the Opium Wars were fought over it. The other name was deemed too long.” The Herbalist volunteered.

Pain stood from his women-sandwiched seat, “Remember the Acolyte who drank it? Boom! Tasted its fire, sang with a voice like Barry White…killed thirteen. Cause of death? Fainting.”

“The Bonfire Debacle,” The Bard said, nodding solemnly. “Two of our Order died that day. May they rest in peace.”

WHAT TEA?!” screamed the novice.

“It cannot be named,” warned The Herbalist. “To do so would cause the aura of the one who utters it to self-destruct. They’d live, but others might not.”

“Only the sacred hall of the Council of 34 is protected from its might,” said Duke. “Legend has it that the Council hall was where the first batch was made. Someone divided by zero and…there it was.”

“Yep, time-space continuum nearly collapsed,” agreed Pain, once more sitting, propping an arm around each of his damsels. “Practically swallowed the Universe whole. Council was born that day, too. Kept the tea world in check ever since.”

“Various representatives from many tea groups around the world – consolidated and cooperative,” The Herbalist added.

“Well, cooperative most of the time,” The Bard countered. “The Overseer’s a temperamental old coot. Some say he’s over ten thousand years old and not even human, alive when The Tea That Shall Not Be Named first came into being.”

The Herbalist looked to the sky, “Speaking of which, sun’s starting to fall. The Overseer’s big on punctuality when holding Council.”

All five pressed on with their various means of transport. Duke and Pain held the rear, instigating the occasional bellow from their unholy bear-mounts. The novice stiffened his back at each roar. No one appeared to notice. A fear of bears was perfectly natural…even when the bears in question weren’t.

An hour and a half passed, and a chrome-colored, saucer-shaped structure came into view. Mounted atop the oddly-discus building were four curled spires – jet black and ominous. They were situated at the four “corners” of the temple. It reminded the novice of a Frisbee with spikes. This was the great hall of the Council of 34 – a ten thousand-year-old tribute to tea throughout the ages. The fact that it looked like the lair of a supervillain hadn’t escaped anyone’s notice.

The Bard was the most vocal critic of the hall, “You’d think the Overseer would brighten it up a bit. Maybe a little aqua-blue?”

Duke overheard the minstrel’s grumblings and shot back with, “You’re not…serious, are you?”

“Primer?”

“Much better,” Duke approved.

They arrived at an imposing, Asian dragon-carved gate. The Dragonwell Door stood as a sentinel to the great hall’s inner chamber. The design was that of a whirlpool with three serpentine dragons circling an invisible drain, each one joined by the tail and mouth. It was supposed to symbolize tea appreciation throughout the centuries. Instead, it looked like the downward spiral of a very deep tea cup – the drinker pulled further in by the dragons. Nothing was more alluring – or awesome – than dragons, according to Pain.

To the novice’s surprise, the dragons appeared to move when the door rumbled. It wasn’t his imagination. As if on invisible tracks, the three dragons began to “swim” in reverse, irising (or unfurling?) as the ancient door unlocked. Once the great wyrms were at a distance, the grand gateway parted open to let the travelers enter. They were apparently the last to arrive.

From within the spacious domed building, statues of marble, obsidian, and other unidentifiable minerals lined the walls – legendary figures of tea’s past. The novice recognized Wu Long, the Zen Buddhist Eisai, and even the 2nd Earl of Grey. Duke saluted the latter statue. The novice didn’t know why. Among the statues, various figures – clad in robes of their respective orders – stood next to the statues. He recognized, maybe, two of them – The Picardian Priesthood and the Mad Hatters Hive Mind.

(Sidenote: There were female orders – such as the Tea Trolley – that had tried to gain acceptance within the Council of 34. But given the feminine stigma placed upon tea to begin with, all attempts were denied. With the masculinity of tea under constant attack, only the brotherhoods were granted access.)

“No women are allowed within these walls, Acolytes of the Iron Goddess,” came a high-pitched, nasal voice from the shadows. A diminutive figure in white-and-gold robes pointed at Duke and Pain.

Pain paled a bit, Duke shot him a glance. The two blondes in their company recoiled at the voice. The two young men dismounted their bear-chariot and shooed the girls out the gate before it closed.  They promptly took their places near one of the statues.

The three Tea Musketeers did likewise. The Herbalist ushered them to a spot by a statue of a man with a dog. The Bard told the novice that it was an Irishman named “Sencha mac Ailella”. No one knew for sure if he was directly connected to the Japanese green tea, but apparently important enough in the tea world to have a statue. An amazing feat. For an Irishman.

All eyes were on the white-gold-robed figure positioned at the center of the meeting hall. A single tile, the one he stood on, hummed with life and hovered upward. With a motion from a single, slender finger, the tile stayed suspended ten feet in the air. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind who the Overseer was.

“Minister Norris,” the Overseer commanded. “You will present your case to the Council.”

“Thank you, Overseer,” was the calm reply from a broad-shouldered, open-robed man at the other side of the room.

Had the novice heard that correctly? Surely, it couldn’t be…

Minister Norris pulled back his hood. Indeed it was the Terror of Texas, perma-fifteen-o’-clock shadow and all. Just staring at him caused beads of sweat to pool on the novice’s brow. His eyes were steely resolve, his clasped hands were veined, calloused and battle-worn. And only known to a select few…he was a tea drinker. He represented no order, no brotherhood, and no collective. His position on the Council wasn’t honorary but earned; and the title of Minister of Tea Manliness was his and his alone.

The Bard had extolled about the man in great detail, for he desired his seat once he ever did retire. There was no greater cause in the Council than the promotion of masculini-“tea”. And Chuck Norris was the proverbial fist of that operation. Rumor had it that it was a particular tea that gave him his power, but no one knew what that was.

“Friends, colleagues, and tolerables,” he began. “You all know me. You all know what I stand for. You also know why we are here. In the last five decades, something has secretly been changing the face of the world as we know it. Both the Exxon Valdez and the recent BP spills were not caused by oil, but rather another crude substance. Both were a means of preventing smog caused by said liquid. In the last year, NASA launched a space shuttle, testing out a new fuel system. They accidentally sent it to Mars. No word yet on what happened to the crew. Even more recently, the no-fly zone over several countries in the Middle-East were enforced through the consumption of a mysterious drink.

“The crude, the fuel, the no-fly zone,” Norris cleared his throat. “All were caused by one tea…Lapsang Souchong.”

A veritable gasp resounded throughout the meeting hall. Tremors and commotions of dozens of dialed-down voices filled the dome. The Bard was arguing with a red-robed figure to his right, while The Herbalist leaned up against the leg of Sencha’s statued dog – fingers clasped to mouth, lips pursed in thought. The novice didn’t know what to do, until…

“Silence!!!” bellowed the Overseer. “Minister Norris, pray continue.”

“Yes, Overseer. My fellow tea drinkers, we’ve known of this tea for millennia. It has survived throughout the ages, spoken of only in hushed tones, never given name by we of the ‘tea’-lite. Those not in the know speak its name freely and frequently. They give it power. A force that even I cannot surpass.”

“I don’t believe it!” cried the novice. He meant to say it to himself, but the words came out of their own accord. Both The Herbalist and Bard glared at him.

Minister Norris merely smiled, “I wish that were true, but there is one thing you must know about me. It is Lapsang Souchong that is the source of my power.”

The dull commotion in the room crescendo-ed to fevered protest. Shouts of heresy even rousted The Herbalist from his contemplation.  At the far end of the room, Pain and Duke joined in the verbal carnage. Cries of “Silence!” from the Overseer were deafened by the frenzied, robed mob.

Only one dared a voice of opposition to the crowd. A mocha-skinned man, chiseled by the tea gods themselves, disrobed and stood by Chuck Norris’s side. “He speaks the truth!”

Many knew him merely as Old Spice Guy. He had a name, but it didn’t matter here. The position of Deacon of Diamonds was held by him. In many ways, he was better with words than the venerable Norris. In the world of wordplay, he was the undisputed king. He took over the mantle of Deaconship after Sam Elliott and Morgan Freeman retired.

“Friends, settle down and hear the words from my magnificent mouth,” Old Spice Guy continued. “It doesn’t matter where Minister Norris received his godly powers but how he uses them. I – too – was touched by the titillating tendrils of that smoky-sweet beverage so long ago. Old Spice scientists discovered me after I had imbibed it and realized how much manlier it made me smell and sound. Tests were also administered in households with pets. It was conclusive: The lovely Lapsang eliminated any and all odors simply by opening the tin.”

“My mother was a Lapsang Souchong drinker,” said a raspy-voiced man with a shorn scalp. It was Bruce Willis. “Since then, I’ve never had need of hair.”

“On deh set of mah moovee,” chimed the thickly-accented Arnold Schwarzenegger (to Bruce’s left). “Special effecks veren’t needed to make mah skull metallic. Mah skeleton really eez metal! Thanks to Lapsunng Soochong. The supah-secret last round of the Meester Yooniverse competition was drinkeen eet.”

This time the Overseer took over, “But for all the good done by that cursed drink, look at the evil it has wrought tenfold. Two continents were destroyed by its very inception. My people wiped from the face of the Earth. Only I remain – the last Lemurian. It took centuries to convince the world that a simple village in China created it from pinesmoke. The Council figured that most would ignore a drink from so humble an origin, but that is no longer the case.

“Up ‘til now, all we’ve had to contend with are the clones of the original batch. Their power is significantly diminished, resulting in only mild ripples in the status-quo of the tea world. Someone is threatening that balance. There is an entity out there that seeks to divide by zero yet again – risking the very fabric of our reality – in order to create a new flush of Lapsang Souchong. The destruction…could be the end of tea as we know it. Manly or not, this tea cannot be created or recreated.”

There were general mumbles of agreement from the gathered assembly.

“Pardon, sir, but I’m gonna hafta disagree.”

“Sam Elliott? Is that you?” asked Old Spice Guy.

“Nope. Close, though.”

A flash of light struck the center of the chamber. The ground shook with thunderous ferocity, statues shuttered, and smoke plumed from the impact point. The Minister, Deacon, and two action celebrities were thrown from their respective places. Only the Overseer held steady on his floating tile, but his hood had flown back…

Revealing the face of a blonde-haired, hook-nosed woman in alien-esque sunglasses.

“Lady…Gaga?” the novice sputtered and stared.

The Herbalist shrugged, “Not surprising, really. She’s a man. And a tea drinker.”

“And not human,” The Bard interjected.

The novice shrugged in reluctant agreement.

From the impact crater, sparks cackled and smoke rose. The room filled with a familiar fragrance – equal parts chocolate, hickory smoke, campfire, flowers and death. It was the smell of Lapsang Souchong – “smoked tea”, the manliest and most dangerous drink in existence. And the mysterious figure was bathed in its scent.

It took the novice only a moment to realize that the smoke was not smoke at all, but rather steam rising from within and around the huge silhouette of a man-thing in front of them. The creature’s aura emanated the cursed tea. As it came into the light, its appearance shocked the masses. It – or rather, “he” – was covered in brown fur from head-to-toe. He held a shovel in his gigantic left paw. As far as clothing went, he only wore faded blue jeans with a leather belt held in place by a brass buckle.  A beige forest ranger’s hat sat atop his large head. One word was etched into the front of it – “Smokey”.

“I-I’ve heard stories about him,” The Bard said with a quiver in his lilting voice. “Rumor has it that some idiot camper left a mug of tea in a forest. Trees burst into flame. A feral bear cub happened by the mug, and – miraculously – it became, well, him. No one knew what tea it was.”

“We do now,” said The Herbalist, rapier drawn. The blade crackled with lightning.

The Bard followed suit, brandishing knives that appeared from out of nowhere. From across the room, Duke and Pain could be seen reading from the leather bound Book of Oolong. An apparition coalesced into being at their summons, taking the form of an ironclad woman with two curved blades.

From the center of the room, “Ah-nuld” sprang to his feet, his eyes glowing red; his expression like that of a stern machine. His hands morphed into two abnormally large Gatling guns. Bruce Willis, likewise, took a stance with two Desert Eagles brought to bear on the…uh…bear. Minister Norris dropped his robes and donned his trusty wide-brimmed cowboy hat.

“You’re no ranger,” Norris growled.

“Horse, come forth!” bellowed Old Spice Guy as a gargantuan Pegasus/unicorn hybrid manifested at his words. Its fur and mane burned of a radiant blue fire; its eyes, diamonds.

Overseer Gaga clasped his/her/its hands together, spoke something unintelligible (in what sounded like Swedish), and a large ball of red flame appeared above her head.  Gaga held the fireball in “their” hands for a time, floating off the hover-tile. With a scream, the blonde she-man let the ball fly.

“Take that, monster!” the Overseer shouted.

Old Spice Guy also responded. He pointed at the ranger man-bear, and the blue-fired uni-Pegasus flew to intercept – corn point lowered. It “nay”-ed with a hideous screech as it closed in.

Smokey placed both hands on the base of the shovel; the blade in front of his face. Calmly, eyes closed, he raised the shovel above his head. When both the fireball and fire-horse were within inches of him, he opened them again. Time seemed to slow, sound muted, and visual space rippled as he brought the shovel stick down. And hard. A shockwave expanded from the shovel, blanketed in the same aural smoke that surrounded the man-bear.

The fire-horse and fireball were extinguished instantly.

The thirty-four robed Council members flew back as the shockwave passed through them. None were harmed, just dazed. The novice felt around his person and was relieved that all body parts were accounted for. The Bard and The Herbalist were dizzied by the wave but still on their feet with weapons drawn.

Gaga stared at the bear, face whiter than usual.

“Don’t you know Lapsang Souchong puts out fires?” Smokey asked in his mild-mannered, Elliottine drawl. “Cancels it out.”

“What are you doing here, you…dazzling beast?” Old Spice Guy demanded…oddly.

“Isn’t it obvious?”  the man-bear countered. “The world needs more Lapsang. I need more Lapsang – newer, better, smokier – even if I have to destroy a continent or two to do it.”

“It’s your life force,” Norris sneered.

“Bingo,” Smokey winked and pointed.

“I veel crush yoooo!” shouted the gun-armed Austrian behind Chuck Norris.

Arnold’s Gatling barrel-hands spun to life, revving with heat, and with a thunder-clapping FOOM!-FOOM!-FOOM!, he unloaded spent-uranium shells at the humble-looking assailant. The man-bear in turn sighed, brought his shovel up, and spun it counter-clockwise. The more he twirled, the faster it spun. The bullets whizzed off their intended path when they connected with the propelled shovel. Statues, pieces of ceiling, and even a robe-clad Council member (or several) fell prey to the stray rounds.

The Governator ceased firing when he heard the screams of casualties. In a blur of motion, Smokey was in front of him. And with a loud clang of the flat end of the shovel, Arnold was down. His eyes went from red to glassy-blue.

Gunfire erupted from behind the bear’s position. Willis had used Arnold’s bombastic attack to get behind the threat. Both Eagles poised, he fired round after round into Smokey’s back. The man-bear actually seemed surprised at each hit.

“Magic nullifier bullets, motherfucker,” Bruce one-lined and continued firing.

Each time a null-bullet struck true, the wound glowed. After the umpteenth round, the bear looked like he’d had enough. Not out of weakness, but rather visible annoyance. At first he was kneeling with a glow-dotted back, the next he was in front of Bruce. With one sidestep.

Smokey sighed while face-to-face with the bald action star. “I always liked you.”

“Ah shit,” Bruce opined.

With a clank! of the shovel, “Die Hard” was down.

The novice looked around. The action stars were decommissioned, Old Spice Guy was whining about his ashen horse, “Lady” Gaga was still frozen in fear, and Chuck Norris merely stood there, taking it all in. Other Council Members didn’t intervene, nor did they look like they could.

Then Norris looked at him.

“Kid, if you’re going to do anything, now’s the time,” he said with a nod.

Right! the novice thought to himself.

The rookie Tea Musketeer stepped forward – dropping his musket and rifle – and withdrew a small pouch, a briar pipe, and a kitchen torch.

The Herbalist grinned. His rapier glowed with arcs of energy. “Looks like it’s our turn, eh?”

The Bard shrugged. “Dunno what we can do against that thing, but I’m ready.” He had three knives in one hand, arranged like a deck of cards, and the bottle of mustard in the other.

“You two upstarts ready?” The Herbalist asked the Acolytes.

“Fuck yeah!” they said in unison. Their “Iron Goddess” automaton raised its swords in recognition.

“Get to it!” Norris commanded, charging at the bear with a flying scissor kick.

Smokey turned to intercept Chuck’s foot with the shovel blade. As he did so, Duke and Pain’s Iron Goddess golem advanced on him, plunging her blades down on his shoulders. One connected, the other missed. The man-bear roared in pain and fury.

The Herbalist brought his arc-rapier down, and a bolt flew from the blade. A long tendril of pure, white lightning coiled around the struggling guy-grizzly. It singed his fur as The Herbalist pulled the rapier back, tightening the lasso.

Now it was The Bard’s turn. He uncorked the mustard bottle and lathered the three knifes with the condiment. On touchdown, the blades glowed magma-yellow in his gloved hand. After dropping the mustard, he gingerly removed one blade from his hand by the hilt then flung it at ol’ Smokey. He repeated with each knife. One struck the man-bear’s foot, one missed, and the last hit him square in the eye. The roars of fury transitioned to high-pitched wails of agony.

The bear went berserk.

With his one free hand, he pulled against the lightning lasso. In doing this, The Herbalist slid forward. Smokey brought the shovel up, and struck at the Iron Goddess’s torso repeatedly. Dents formed in her abdomen as sparks flew from the repeated bashes. With each hit to the golem, and each pull of the energy rope, the man-bear regained his footing. His smoke-aura strengthened.

Norris looked at the novice again. He, too, had a pouch, a pipe and a Zippo. “Now, kid!”

“Y-yessir!”

Both Musketeer and Minister plucked small batches of black leaves from their pouches.  They pressed the contents into their respective pipes, and with their torches, lit them. The novice watched as smoke billowed forth from the mouthpiece of the briar. With that smoke, he began to write.

The words that formed weren’t in English or any language known to humankind. The markings were sigils of a bygone alphabet of a long lost time. Years had passed since the novice had smoke-written anything in Old Lemurian. He wasn’t sure he remembered how, until this moment. It was just like riding a stupid steampunk bicycle; you never forgot how, no matter how much you wanted to.

Norris’s scripting was far better than his, but the words were the same. He hoped his were effective. Once he dotted the ancient “I”-s and crossed the ancient “T”-s, he puckered his lips and blew. The long-forgotten words flared with life, and flew on the wind toward the berserking bear.

The two glowing sigil-sentences struck Smokey, and he flared with blinding light. The smoke aura around his body turned white, glowing in unison with the Lemurian sigils. The man-bear convulsed, reared back, and struggled against the binding smoke.

“You can’t do this!” he roared. “I need it! I nee-“

Chuck Norris stood in front of him, arms akimbo. Smokey froze in his frenzy.

“Only we can prevent you,” Norris said softly as his beard glowed white.

From the aura around his facial hair, a fist formed.  Smokey looked down on the beard-fist as if accepting his fate. He closed his deceptively gentle eyes. The spirit punch hit the man-beast square in the jaw. And he shattered into a dazzling debris of fur, smoke, shovel steel, denim and ranger beige.

Lady Gaga came to from her stupor and surveyed the damage. Over half of the statues in the great hall were rubble. Twelve Councilors were dead or dematerialized. The rest were in some state of wounded or wellness. Arnold and Bruce also awoke from their shovel-induced slumbers. Old Spice Guy said a small prayer for his lost steed then stilled his diamond tears.

“Minister Norris,” the Overseer began. “I am leaving the Council in your care. Clearly, I’ve outlived my usefulness to this world. My race has diminished…and I should follow.” Gaga removed the now-tattered, white-gold robe and handed it to him. “You are now Overseer Norris. Govern well.”

The torch had passed, and he/she/it simply vanished.

Overseer Norris stared at them for a moment then looked up at the remains of the Council. The novice, The Bard, The Herbalist, the two Acolytes, Arnold, Bruce and Old Spice Guy stood to either side of him. The other Councilors retreated through the Dragonwell Door. Only those nine were all that was left of the Council of 34.

“You all fought well,” Chuck said.

“What was that you did back there?” Duke asked.

“Epic Beard Fist?” Pain offered as a guess.

Norris shook his head. “Nope, just a little trick I picked up.”

The Herbalist studied him. “And you’re a smoke-writer.”

“I prefer ‘Lapsang Laureate’,” the new Overseer returned.

“Wait…what’s that?” Pain said, scratching his head.

“The Laureates of Lapsang are a somewhat secret order of scholars and writers who protect the original Lemurian recipe of Lapsang Souchong. They also prevent said recipe from falling into the wrong hands.”

It was the novice who explained.

“And you’re one of them,” The Bard pointed.

“Was,” the novice corrected. His face reddened. “They…kicked me out. For being too lazy.”

“Not surprised,” said The Herbalist, arms folded. “Teabags.”

“Leave him alone,” The Bard said, slapping his back. Hard. “I think he’s earned his keep.”

“Indeed,” Norris agreed. “You’re welcome at Council, anytime.”

He surveyed the damage again.

“Might choose better digs, though.”

***Epilogue***

The three Tea Musketeers parted ways with the new Overseer and his equally-famous ilk in the morning. A little worse for wear save for The Herbalist. The Iron Goddess Acolytes were kind enough to share the contents of their Da Hong Pao keg the night prior. Turned out it was whiskey-infused Da Hong Pao. All partook except for The Herbalist, who viewed the desecration of Red Robe oolong as a travesty. The Acolytes had left earlier in the morn – courtesans in tow – slurring something about “finding Teasus”. No one knew who they were talking about.

While back on the road, The Bard had an epiphany.

“It occurred to me that you still don’t have a title, dear novice,” he said sing-songedly.

“I have a name, why not just use that?”

“And that is?” the minstrel asked.

“Martin,” was the reply. “Martin Stuart. But most folks call me Marty Stu.”

The Bard made a face of disgust. “No, too droll. Songs can’t be sung of Marty Stu.” He said Martin’s name with effeminate emphasis. “How about, ‘The Laureate’?”

“Oh yes, wildly creative,” The Herbalist said dryly.

“You can do better?

“Teabagger.”

“God no!” Marty and The Bard said in unison.

“Then Literatus,” The Herbalist answered again. “The Lazy Literatus.”

“Um, that doesn’t quite send a good message,” Marty replied warily.

“You think I wanted ‘The Herbalist’? I wanted ‘The Devotea’.”

“The Order’s higher-ups thought it was too, what’s the word?” The Bard patted his chin. “Punny! That’s it, punny.”

“Whatever, Lahikma Joe,” The Herbalist mumbled. “What does that even mean?”

“It’s poetic!” The Bard protested. “And they would’ve gone for it, too… if I had more time to convince them.”

“Can we wait on the name until we get back to HQ?” Marty requested meekly.

“Oh alright.” The Bard folded his arms, pouting. “But you’re not off the hook yet.”

“What a beautiful sunrise,” Marty said, looking ahead (and changing the subject).

“You know what we have to say at sunrise, don’t you?” The Herbalist chided with a wink and a nudge.

“Oh please, no. Not that,” The Bard whined.

“All for one!” Marty shouted, rapier drawn.

“Come on, guys. Plea-”

“And tea for all!” The Herbalist finished.

“Huzzah,” The Bard muttered with a finger twirl.

“And teabags for none,” The Herbalist added.

“Except whe-” started Marty.

“TEABAGS FOR NONE!”

***Credits***

If you weren’t plainly aware, the four principle characters (i.e. the non-celebrities) were based on actual people. They were the ones mentioned in the footnote that contributed greatly – albeit unwittingly – to the inspiration of this cheeseball yarn. Here they are:

The Devotea (i.e. “The Herbalist”) is a dear Twitter friend with an extensive list of accomplishments. Among them, he is a Youtube vlogger, a blogger, a blender, and a published author. You can find his vlogs HERE and read his diatribes HERE.

Lahikmajoe (“The Bard”) – another Twitter friend is an acoustic musician, writer and teacher; a veritable renaissance man like his counterpart here. You can read about his tea and travels HERE.

DukeOfEarl and Tea_Pain (“Duke and Pain: Acolytes of the Iron Goddess”) are founders of The Tea Blag. Arguably, the funniest tea review blog on “teh Internets”. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little envious of their prowess with prose. They are just as nuts as I made their fictional counterparts. Don’t believe me? Follow them on Twitter. Then watch your brain melt.

To those of you who made it through the entire story, I say “Thank you”. To the rest who thought it was pure dung, I say “Sorry”. (Although, I regret nothing.)

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Sunday, April 10th, 2011 Prose, Steep Stories 4 Comments

*Le Gasp* The Start of a Novel? At Long Last? Maybe…

A little background. This is an idea I’ve been kicking around as a prequel to this idea. I decided to start it first because…well…it came first. I have no idea how far I’ll take it. I know how all the events transpire. The only issue is that this is my first foray into fiction writing in eight (or so) years. I’m putting this up and out there to see if it’s a decent start.

If you happen by the site – whether on accident or on purpose – lemme know what you think.

Thief

Laerem was stuck in a supply duct.

Not the most dignified of locations, especially with another woman’s hindquarters mere inches from one’s brow.  Her “partner” had ordered them to stay very still. Night drones were heard down an adjacent corridor. Had her tormentor/accomplice done her homework, she would’ve known that supply drones weren’t armed – nor equipped with alarms. That didn’t stop the left-eye-patched upperclassmen – bald save for a raven-colored tassel-tail – from halting their progress.

As to what progress that might be, even Laerem didn’t know. The blue-haired cadet was the victim of trite blackmail. One moment, she was on a tour of the Razhti Metanautics Muesum; the next, she was a wannabe terrorist. And all over a holograph…

*****

Blood trickled down her chin as she took the blow. Strands of her long, aqua mane matted her sweat-drenched brow and clouded her vision. She only knew the number of attackers by the silhouettes. Brave bunch, this trio – clocking a girl in broad daylight. Had it been any other day, she would’ve had to mull over who was out for her hide. It was, however, not just any day. The anniversary of her arrival to the Royal Fleet Academy Annex was known by all – the first native Razhti recruit, ever.

“Got something to say, bluebitch?” came the innovative challenge from the lead, stout silhouette

“Not really,” she said after spitting a molar. She hated having to grow new ones, painful as all hell.

“What about apologizing?” one of the hench-shadows suggested – rather forcibly by a boot-push to the shoulder.

“For?”

“For killing Telakni!” the lead shadow retorted.

He followed that up with a swift kick to her abdomen. Laerem doubled over, more for show than out of pain. Of course, it still hurt. Like a bitch, even. However, the four impacts to her person prior to that sad excuse for a gut-shot hurt far more. Anything after was child’s play, and she would know, having taken beatings as a child also.

Wiping the strands of hair from her colorless eyes, she finally got a good look at her “brave” assailants. The lead: Bortan, a short but solid specimen of stupidity – Cadet, Junior-Grade like her. He was known for having quick reflexes and a temper to boot. None too bright, but capable of surprising feats of force. His only real weakness was his vision – figuratively and literally – he was shortsighted and nearsighted. Parents hadn’t footed the bill for ocular correction.

The two henchies were far more capable than their stubby superior. Gromahd was a lanky but intelligent tactical cadet, destined for Core Fleet fame. The plain subordinate to Bortan’s left – Ashai – was a Fringe Noble; his status as a future Defender of the Kingdom almost guaranteed. Their blood was bluer than Laerem’s hair. What they were doing taking orders from a low-born ground-pounder-to-be made no sense. Perhaps they were all united in their universal hatred of the natives.

“Listen, boys,” she began with emphasis. “Can we discuss this another time? Classes end in an hour. I’m sure we can have a meaningful debate then.”

That attempt at diplomacy earned her a throat grapple. Two shaky fists firmed their way around her slender neck. The grip wasn’t tight enough, though. Ashai seemed unsure of what he was doing. Just like a Noble, never knowing how to get their hands dirty. He did have enough strength and resolve to pull her up to eye-level.  As Ashai held her, Bortan grabbed a fistful of hair and forced her gaze away – from her “choker” to him.

“No, we’ll talk now,” seethed the low-born leader. “We’ve been waiting a year for this…discussion.”

Bortan released his grip from her hair.

“Ash, release her,” he ordered.

Ashai gladly loosened his fingers. Laerem fell back to her knees. She caught a glint of red and silver from the corner of her right eye. Finally, the moment she’d been waiting for. Bortan was through with the theatrics. The proceedings were far too cliché for her to take them too seriously. Granted, being the pummelee wasn’t all that fun, but it was a means to an end. Eventually, attackers tired of bravado and went for the blade – either the one in their pants or the one in their hilt. Lucky for her, these three hadn’t figured out the former.

In his right hand, Bortan held a blade. Not just any blade; a curved Shiqaal hunter’s knife with cat-eyed jewels in the hilt. The blade itself was cast in a crimson alloy known only to form on asteroids…on the other side of the galaxy. In non-humanoid territory. How a commoner like Bortan got a hold of such a rare artifact, Laerem could only guess. Probably stolen, she thought.

Bortan motioned to his two lackeys to hold one arm each. She wasn’t putting up a fight as they brought her back to her feet, but she assumed the lead Luddite wanted to make it look good. Laerem attempted to look as scared as possible as Bortan brought the blade over his head in a wholly stupid sacrificial stance. Before the blade came down…she smiled.

A little known secret about Razhti humans – other than the curious origin of their blue hair – was their dexterity. They were capable of amazing and improbable acts of physical grace, particularly the women. This made them expert dancers and even more adept lovers.  Razhti courtesans, male and female, were renowned throughout the Kingdom. These boys should have guessed that a Rhazti girl would possess some of these traits.

Apparently, they didn’t. Bortan’s blade only cut air, and ended its downward swath with a clank to solid ground. Bewildered, he looked up. The blue-haired girl was above her attackers, poised in mid-flip over their heads. If he had kept his eyes open he would’ve noticed the back-flip, but now he stared at her exposed upside-down back and the muffled faces of his two high-status henchman.

Laerem completed her flip behind her two grapplers. Their grips had loosened once the knife started coming down. The lax restraint on her arms gave her the window she needed. One casual leap up and backward had turned the tide in her favor. Now behind her restrainers, she palmed both boys in the back – pushing them forward into Bortan. They collapsed like sports pins.

A dull ring signified that Bortan dropped his knife in the ensuing tumble. Laerem claimed it for herself.  “Spoils of victory,” she said.

A spray of heat whizzed past her hair. She felt a burning sensation across her left temple. Whipping around, Laerem found herself staring into the distant barrel of a pulse gun. In the hands of Gromahd, whom she thought had remained unusually passive during the scuffle. This time, his hands didn’t shake. And unlike Ashai, his grip on the gun was tight and resolute – his gaze, steel.

“Y-you know those are illegal on Annex grounds.” She fumbled her words.

“Don’t care,” was Gromahd’s tight reply.

“Who was Telakni to you, anyway?”

“My father.”

“Shit,” she said with a sigh.

As Laerem exhaled in defeat, a flash emanated from behind her. Warm yet cold on her back, she felt and heard the sound of electric cackle. The smell of ozone reached her nostrils, sizzling in her nasals. Gromahd’s face paled, as did the two other boys who still struggled to correct themselves. Another flash and a long, white bolt struck Gromahd square in the chest, launching him backward. He struck a wall then fell forward – smoke pluming from his back. The arc of energy had seared clean through.

Speechless, Bortan and Ashai collected themselves and made with the swiftest retreat Laerem had ever seen. With good reason.

“His piss-shooter was barely legal,” said a tenor female voice behind her.

Laerem turned around slowly, coming face-to-face with a girl slightly taller and a year older than she. A faux-leather eye-patch with an unknown sigil adorned her left eye. A single phase-scar also ran down the left side of her face like a clean, bird talon’s cut. Her head was shaved bare, save for one long, top-knotted tail of space-black hair – braided for the first half, free-flowing for the rest. Other than the scars, warrior cue, and thin-lipped expression, she was quite attractive.

The hard-faced teen hoisted a bulky, beige rifle behind her shoulders. “Now this,” she motioned to the hand-cannon behind her. “Is illegal.”

Words tried to form in Laerem’s open mouth, but they wouldn’t come.

“Just so you know,” the raven-tailed girl continued. “CP drones’ll be on this place in a matter of minutes.”

“B-but…I didn’t do anything,” Laerem sputtered. “Surveillance will show I was the one attacked!”

The other girl let the rifle fall to her side, “Yeah. About that. See the camera?”

Laerem looked to where she was pointing.

“I was just outta range of its field of vision,” she said. “Still am. And all those two other boys saw was light.”

“You mean-”

“Campus drones will think you fired the bolt.”

“And you’ll correct them, right?” Laerem asked.

“Yeah. About that, too.” The girl pulled out a hexagonal contraption from her legging. “Holocam with sound dampener.”

She clicked the side of the device. A holographic movie of the bolt attack replayed from her viewpoint. However, the footage made it look like the energy discharged from the crimson blade Laerem now held. The girl played the holo again in slow motion.  The effect was flawless.

“Nice blade ya got there,” she said, replacing the disk in her pocket. “Shiqaal design, if I’m not mistaken. Y’know, some of those hunter knives have been known to act in a projectile capacity.”

Laerem looked at the hunter’s knife but said nothing.

“Not that one, of course. Too small. But reputation is a remarkable thing.”

“Is this the part where you blackmail me?” Laerem asked.

“Persuade, actually.”

“To do what?”

“Join me on a museum tour.”

“I have class in ten minutes,” Laerem said.

“History of the Pirate King: The Early Years,” the girl countered. “Yes, I know your schedule. And considering you’re covered in blood, and kinda/sorta killed a kid, I think it can wait.”

Laerem sighed again, “What museum?”

“Metanautics.”

“Why?”

“Tell ya later.” She winked

“Whatever.”

The Razhti walked to the tasseled girl’s side. She returned Laerem’s acquiescence with a pleased – if wry – grin. And with that, she led the way, swinging the guilty rifle behind her.

“By the way, name’s Lenika,” she said, extending a hand. “Lenika Andrys. Most call me Leni.”

Laerem didn’t return the favor.

Leni shrugged, “Suit yourself, Laerem Praedopf.”

Quicker than the Razhti realized, she’d received a kiss on the cheek from her coercer.

“Cheer up. This’ll be fun.”

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Saturday, February 19th, 2011 Prose No Comments

“The Flying Tearoom of Tally Furrowbrow” – (A Children’s Novel Treatment)

I’ve been toying with this idea for a children’s novel since late-January. The story behind it can be found HERE. I’m just as shocked as you are that I even thought of something that didn’t involve zombies and spaceships.

Lemme know what you folks think.

Caleb Priddy Pace is a 12-year-old street urchin with a polite demeanor residing in the mountain town of Grayslot – a port-of-call for deploying soldiers, planes and train-delivered goods. There is a war on, a global conflict. He is unsure of who is fighting whom. It is beyond him and beneath him. He flits the day away playing an ocarina and melodica at an abandoned train station. Both instruments – to him – symbolize the parents he never knew.

Said station has tracks on either side that lead to nowhere. Yet Cale cares not. He figures that whatever passerby happens to leave him money from so remote a location is a worthy one. He stays there because it brings him some semblance of peace. A part of him has always felt drawn to the station, and every time he arrives, he practices the same song in front of the tracks; a song that has been in his head for as long as he can remember.

All this changes when he sees something peculiar, a cream-white cat riding on the back of a Saint Bernard. Both stop in front of the train tracks. From the distance, a whistle sounds. As if out of thin air, a steam locomotive (hovering slightly above the tracks) appears. The cat and dog board it, Cale follows suit.

Upon entering he is greeted by, not human passengers, but scores of creatures only found in storybooks – elves, dwarves, goblins, halflings, miniature dragons, and some still unidentifiable. An orc-ish looking passenger bumps into him in the hallway declaring, “Outta my way, winged worm.”

As the train picks up speed again, he travels down the aisle looking for either the cat or dog, or at the very least a familiar (read: human) face. He sees a girl about his age seated to the rear of the car – violet hair, pretty face, fancily-attired, face in a a book (James Hilton’s Lost Horizon). To her side, a dwarven handmaiden with a perma-smile.

Cale sits in the seat across from them; at first worried they’d protest the intrusion. Quite the opposite happens. The handmaiden waves at him, while the girl pays him no attention at all – still enraptured by her book. A conductor – a thin, slight-of-build minotaur – demands to see his ticket. The boy’s face goes white.

The well-dressed girl pipes up from her book, “He’s my luggage boy. Move along.”

The minotaur bows apologetically and continues down the aisle.

The dwarven handmaiden, Llysiph, introduces the both of them. The girl is Lady Rhiaveth par Danann of Ireland. Rhiaveth rolls her eyes at the title. As Cale converses with Llysiph, the little “lady” snorts, then let’s out a rather loud, boyish sneeze. Her fairy wings unfurl as she does so. Cale’s jaw drops.

He emphatically declares, “Is anyone on this train human?”

Both Rhiaveth and Llysiph appeared taken aback by the question. Llysiph’s perma-smile vanishes, replying that no humans can board this train. Cale then asks how he was able to board.

Rhiaveth finally removes herself from her adventure book. Her face lighting up. She instantly starts drilling him for questions. The boy is taken aback…slightly.

Llysiph appears worried, and interrupts the conversation, stating that no one must find out he’s human. Such an occurrence would be considered an emergency. Thinking fast, she removes a feather duster from her satchel and some beeswax. She paints the wax around Cale’s mouth and plants the duster on his face.

“There. Now you’re a dwarf. Sort of,” Llysiph says with a large grin.

Rhiaveth opens the window and pokes her head out, Llysiph tries to bring her back in. She hocks a sparkling loogie out. Cale – being the boy he is – peers out to see where it lands. He looks down and sees that there is no ground. Rather…water. The train sails along over the ocean, unimpeded.

Cale notices a coastal town approaching fast. He asks why no one can notice the train. Llysiph explains that all magical things exist “outside” of human notice. She tells him to look again at the coastal town, Cale does so. Where before there were just a few squat buildings, a giant spiraling citadel with several rings is nestled among the man-made structures. How something like that could escape notice, he couldn’t fathom. The fairy noble girl and dwarf giggle at his shocked expression.

The train zooms through a tunnel that appears out of nowhere as a ring suspended in mid-air. When it arrives out the other end, land greets it. Or at least, a land mass hovering well above the ground, deep atop a layer of clouds. A floating island.

“First stop! The Flying Tearoom!” a voice bellows from all around.

Llysiph and Rhiaveth get up to exit. He bids farewell. Rhiaveth urges him to come along saying she still needs a “luggage boy”. Then Cale sees the dog and cat appear from amidst the crowded car to exit as well.

He agrees to disembark.

As Cale is literally given her luggage to carry, Rhiaveth walks ahead doing the occasional cartwheel in her fancy dress. He whispers to Llysiph that she’s not quite the proper “noble lady”. Llysiph giggles and explains that she was sent to the tearoom by her father to learn how to be polite and more ladylike. That is, after a certain incident regarding a dining room fire.

However, the tearoom is hardly the dainty place Cale would’ve thought it’d be. Loose stones of a castle’s foundation line the property. The estate itself – while large and inviting – hardly gives the impression of “tea”. Three towers rest on either side of the triangular property – one, a lighthouse, the other a windmill, and the last, a parapet/ residence. An herb garden and greenhouse are off to the side. To the rear, a large, bulbous, domed area with sepia-toned bay windows overlooking the sea of clouds.

The main entrance is even more peculiar, an arched doorway at the base of the lighthouse tower. Upon entering, they see that the walls are lined with books. A large Persian rug is spread with delicately woven fabric, spelling out “Welcome”. The lighthouse tower stretches up to multiple levels, all lined with further bookshelves. The tea bar itself rests to the right of the entrance, further past that, a sandwich deli. At the back of the tea bar are rows upon rows of water jars attached to pipes; all boiling at different temperatures. To the left, an entrance to the herb garden. Center-stage, the entrance to the tearoom itself; bearing the appearance of an airplane cockpit only far larger.

Cale sees the cat and the dog milling about. Both appear to be straining. Within seconds, they increase in size and stature to the frame of human adults. The cat says, “That’s ever-so-much better, eh, Abby?”

“M’yeah,” the dog shrugs, heading to his station at the deli.

Cale is wide-eyed. Rhiaveth excitedly introduces herself, Llysiph tries to correct her manner, encouraging a curtsy. The cat does a clumsy half-bow in return while donning a “Kiss the Kitty” apron. He introduces himself as Tally Furrowbrow. Since the Saint Bernard doesn’t chime in, Tally says his name is Abacus Rex.

The boy is perplexed by Tally, noticing that he does indeed have a “furrowed brow” – or rather, a brow-like scar above his eye-line. In appearance, Tally is a peach-point, cream-colored Ragdoll breed of cat. Cale even guesses as much out loud. Tally is impressed that he knows his cats.

Tally then turns to Rhiaveth and says, “So, your father sent you here to become a lady, eh? Well, I don’t know much about that, but I suppose we can show you a thing or two.”

He points to the books lining the wall and tells her to pick one. Rhiaveth asks what that has to do with tea. Tally simply winks. Cale and she go about examining the titles on the spines of the books. All of them bear names of tea. They realize that the books ARE the tea holders. They come to a consensus on the “Gnomish Oolong”.

“An excellent choice,” he says with a smile.

The book floats over to him and opens upon his motion. Inside the book, the two children see leaves dancing out of the pages, coming to settle in a small measuring cup in Tally’s hand. He drops the leafy concoction into one of the many boiling water jars – the one labeled “Oolong”. He whips out an hourglass. Cale and Rhiaveth whisper to each other, wondering what he’s doing. When the hourglass finishes, Tally withdraws two unassuming clay mugs. He pours the contents of the jar from a strainer-spigot. The tea stream magically split in two and fills into the cups.

“Every tea tells a tale, and every tale’s to a “T”.

Both Rhiaveth and Cale take a sip simultaneously and are instantly transported…literally…

To another time and place.

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Saturday, August 15th, 2009 Prose 2 Comments

“The Fix” – Another Story From My Sleep

I love it when I’m just the camera in a dream, not the one the camera focuses on. It’s probably the closest I’ll ever get to lucid dreaming, and it’s usually indicative of a good mood the prior day. This one actually occurred to me about a month ago. The whole thing was pieced together over TWO sleep sessions. This one convinced me to – mayhap – compile my weird story dreams into an anthology of sorts. Still working out the kinks on that minor epiphany.

Apologies if the writing appears stream-of-consciousness-ish. It’s just a summary of events…and I was excited. I know, not much of an excuse.

A blind hacker/fixer who wears specially-affixed sunglasses for blueprint read-outs – named Tactile – moves to a new town and is introduced to the underground black market via an old friend, a big black guy named Tomb Eric Root.

At a makeshift club called “The Neutral Zone” he sets his sites on a woman who is a notorious street warrior and gang leader.

He asks said friend – now known as Tombs – to set up an introduction. Even though his friend informs him that the gal – Jeri Planck – hasn’t dated a man since she KILLED the last one.

(I.e. She’s only dates women.)

But before Tombs can even set up an intro, his lover and right-hand-man – a burly Asian named Min Yun – jumps HER gang in plain sight outside the club. Min – an excellent fighter – succeeds in killing her two male bodyguards, but is quickly dispatched by her. Barely left alive. When Tombs, Tactile and Min return to their boss – a guy named Quade Quake – they explain the failure. Quade takes Tombs aside. He explains that he never expected Min Yun to survive but is glad he did. However, Quade has to use him as an example. He gives Tombs an order:

“A finger should do. As a warning and a lesson.”

Tactile uses this as an opportunity to get in Quade’s good graces and offers his unique talents to dispatch Jeri Planck. Tombs and Tactile also leave to carry out Quade’s order, slicing off an index finger of Min Yun. They meant to accomplish this anonymously, but there was a mix-up. Tombs is found out. Said lover confronts him at The Neutral Zone that evening.. The club owner – Rue-B Lo-Fi – tells folks to clear the dance floor and erects a holographic boxing ring as a joke (on Tactile’s advice). Tombs wins the fight, and informs Min Yun that he and Tactile hatched a plan to leave Quade’s gang. He doesn’t care, seeking to kill Tombs for the missing finger. Tombs kills him instead.

In the ensuing brawl, Tactile makes his move on Jeri. Her three other female compatriots try to interfere any which way…but he cleverly dodges them…or outright parries a blow. However, instead of killing her, Tactile kisses her. She returns the affection, impressed that a man could get that close to her without dying. Tombs fight finishes. Tactile and Jeri are making out. Epilogue, Jeri replaces her two male bodyguards with Tumes and Tactile.

Tactile is approached by one of the three female members and she says, “You know, you still have to allow Jeri her women. In return, she’ll allow you men.”

Tactile explains, “Sorry, I like women.”

Girl: “Damn, you’re gonna have a problem there. So does she.”

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Friday, June 26th, 2009 Prose 1 Comment

I work for tea money.

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