ramblings and writings of a southern hobbit

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Dark Waltz: Part Three

Part 3: Deliverance

And Things Not What They Seem

Amandus and Zo’koll sat silent throughout the long morning, caught fast in their icy tower.  Not even the thought of the warm stones and blowing trees of the Ever Living Lands cheered them.  Amandus was quickly losing heart, seeing no way out of their prison.  They had tried melting the walls, but they grew chilled too quickly and they decided they needed to conserve their body heat.  They took Zo’koll’s earrings and chipped away at the ice, but both earrings were soon bent and broken.  So they sat in gloomy despondency on the frozen floor.

Suddenly, a door clanged somewhere, and heavy feet sounded coming down the hall outside the heavy wooden door.  Amandus and Zo’koll leaped to their feet and pressed against the wall in panic as a key turned in the lock and the door swung open heavily.   A huge cloaked figure stood there, a whip in his hands.  He cracked it once, and it flicked between them, leaving a ridge in the ice.  The hobbit slipped on the floor and fell painfully, trying to avoid the lash, and so she didn’t see it curl around Zo’koll’s foot.  She realized what was happening only when Zo’koll started yelling as she was dragged across the floor.  The cloaked person drew her towards the door and wrapped the whip around her legs and arms; then he turned to Amandus, who drew up her legs and cowered against the wall; but he only spoke to her.

“The Brown Marshmallow People are sacred,” he hissed.  “Remember today what you have seen.”  The hobbit hid her eyes and the door slammed shut.  She lay on the floor in a miserable heap, her thoughts taking refuge somewhere beyond where anyone could follow…

*               *                   *

Sir Tisdale reined his horse across the frozen wasteland, picking his way carefully along the faint track between the stones.  They had stumbled across it quite by accident, and it hugged the hillsides and made use of every bit of cover available.  The Mountain of Lost Souls loomed far in the distance, where Tingenek, also called the Tower of Bare Ice, was set on its stormy peak.   “The hobbit is imprisoned in that tower,” he said.  “I know this in my heart, for it also beats with the love of the Ever Living Lands.”

Jack patted a covered bundle on the back of his saddle.  “We have this,” he said.  “With it, we can rescue hobbits from anything, be it cold or heat or snow or drought.”

“Yes,” Sir Tisdale agreed.  “None dare stop us.  Forward!”  With that, he urged his horse forward along the trail…

*               *                   *

…Amandus opened her eyes.  There was no Sir Tisdale.  She knew this truth, for she could never be Sir Tisdale.  In her mind, he and she were one and the same, but he was only a fabrication of her imagination, dashing about the countryside with his faithful side-kick saving the world from evil.  But even Jack seemed pale in comparison to the situation before her, and she had thought longer and harder over a name for him than any part of her Sir Tisdale imaginings.  But no…it was useless.  The floor was too hard, the walls were too cold, and the snow outside was too real.

Dusk fell quickly, as it does in the Northern lands when snow is on the ground.  Shadows gradually crept across the floor, touching gently the huddled figure in the corner of the room, moving on in their own business and remembering her not.  The moon shone over the white stillness, already well on its way to the zenith of its climb as the daylight faded, and its glow through the small window was like a lance in the darkening room.  Amandus sat up slowly, marveling gloomily that so clear and pure a light would dare enter a dungeon of ice.  It seemed to mock her, being so free with its beams.  Despair was heavy on her heart, and she leaned her head against the wall.  There was no life.  Zo’koll was gone.  The White Wizard held the land in a hard grip.  She was in darkness.

A little breeze entered the room, a light zephyr of air, slightly out of place in a dungeon on the top of Tingenek, the Tower of Bare Ice.  It played across the hobbit’s pale face and whisked over her boots.  She opened her eyes and raised her head.  It was different from the bone-chilling wind sweeping across the frozen plain below; cold, but clear and fresh, it brought color to her cheeks and wakefulness to her clouded mind, and she wondered.  It left her, but she could hear it blowing in the window and around the room, and she listened.  She heard it faintly examine the door and touch the walls and corners of her prison; she couldn’t understand how she could hear it and track it, but she could…almost as if she could see it.   The sound was calming, and she felt strangely refreshed and cheered.  It was then that she became aware that she wasn’t alone.

Very faintly visible in the corner opposite her was a figure resting on the floor.  As she gazed at it, it became clearer, and she saw what appeared to be a girl sitting cross-legged, regarding her with not a little curiosity.  As it took shape more clearly, she saw that it was dressed rather strangely for a country of the North, wearing nothing but a short sleeved white tunic belted at the waist, light green leggings, and knee-high leather boots.  She was leaning on one elbow, chin in hand, playing absently with a strand of her long brown hair.  On her belt was a dirk; the blade was black and bare.  However, the most remarkable thing about her personage was that she had a tail.  It wasn’t too long, only half past her knees, and it was similar to the thickly-furred tail of a Maine coon cat.  Amandus blinked and glanced at the door, which was still securely shut.  “Who are you?” she asked.

The girl moved for the first time and smiled.  “Actually,” she said, “the question should be coming from my end, because you are the first person looking like you that has ever come to this tower.”

“Then are you a bad guy?  What do you want?”

The girl leaned back against the wall and laughed for a good long time.  When she finally sobered, she said, “I am the cat that walks by itself.  I confide in no one, yet all are my friends and I welcome them.  Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow…don’t walk behind me, I may not lead… walk beside me and be my friend.”  She stood to her feet and held out her hand, smiling.  “Will you?”

Amandus still wasn’t sure.  “You haven’t answered my questions.  Who are you, and what do you want?  Like what is your name?”

Again the girl with the tail laughed…she seemed rather fond of doing so.  “I am a Pooka.  I have no public name.  As for what I want…”  Here she smiled.  “I want to observe and I want to learn new things.  All the world is my playground, and all of life is an adventure.  And some people are more fun to play with than others…which brings me back to my own question.  Who are you?”

And so the hobbit told her everything.  About why she and Zo’koll left the Ever Living Lands, about coming too far north and the blood tree, about being kidnapped and imprisoned by the White Wizard, and finally about the mysterious abduction of Zo’koll from the cell.  When she mentioned the White Wizard, the Pooka’s eyes flashed green fire.  “And after they took my friend, I didn’t know what to do.  And then you came somehow.  Do you have any ideas to get me safely out of here?”

The Pooka was pacing to and fro around the small room.  She looked up.  “Nope.   None.  I am a Pooka.  I come and go as I please and none hinder me.  Not even the White Wizard.  I can’t say the same for anyone else.”

“Then perhaps you can talk to him and convince him to let me and my friend free.”  Amandus spread out her hands.  “I don’t even know why we have been captured, or what he wants from us.  Could you at least influence him to tell us why?”

The girl gave a short mirthless laugh.  “I have no influence over the Wizard.  His goal is world dominion, and he is ever on the look-out for minions to do his dirty work.  I am no minion of his…we understand each other and each have little or no influence over the other, and he seems as frozen as the land he rules.  However…”  A thinking expression crept over her face and she looked sideways at the hobbit.  Then she turned upside down and sat cross-legged in midair, which made Amandus laughed.  That was the whole point, of course.  Then she shot over to the window and landed on the edge and looked down.

“K, so I just realized I lied.  Not exactly, but sort of.  I can get you out of here easily, but to do it safely is another matter, and I have no ideas for to do that.  But I can get the first stage going.”  She turned.  “Are you ready?  To go?  Like right now?”

Amandus nodded.  The girl leaped next up to the rafters and hung there briefly.  “Alright,” she said.  “Over you go.”  With that, the Pooka disappeared, and a rope shot through the air and over the edge of the small window.  Amandus blinked.  It was very pale even against the blue whiteness of the ice and she almost couldn’t see it.  One end was tied securely to the beam above her head, and the other end was out of view out the window.  “Hurry,” said a voice.  “You said right now, so go.”

“Oh; of course.”  Amandus grasped the rope in her hands and climbed up to balance precariously in the window.  The rocks were hundreds of feet below, and for a moment she shut her eyes, dizzy.  “Go,” the voice prompted her again.  “You will be quite safe.”  So she held onto the rope firmly and slid her feet carefully over the edge of the window and found a toehold in the ice.  She looked down to make sure of her footing and nearly screamed in fright – she couldn’t see her feet…or her legs…or any of herself, for that matter.  Soft laughter sounded all around her, and the rope quivered in her hands.  “You’ll notice,” said the Pooka, “that the rope is visible, while you are not.  Pookas have the gift of either attitude as they choose, and also the gift to bestow it on other things or beings for a short time.  Makes it easier that way sometimes.”

The climb down the tower was a harrowing experience, and although the moon had sunk behind the tower, leaving her side in shadow, it seemed to Amandus that hours passed before she finally reached the ground below and could hide behind a snow covered rock.  The voice had coached her all along, but it had been painfully slow, and she collapsed at the bottom breathing hard.  As she dropped the rope, she was immediately visible again and the rope was not.  But she heard it slither down to the ground and land next to her, and then in a trice she was scooped up by a quickly-moving flat sort of object and whisked toward the trees.  They entered under the snow-laden branches and careened around rocks and boulders straight towards a cliff.  Amandus squealed and they went over the edge…or not quite.  A deer trail tipped over the lip and around the rocks and they came to an abrupt stop before a tall slab of rock, spilling her off into the snow.  A moment later the Pooka was leaning against the rock beside her, whisking her tail in a very satisfied manner.  “What was that?!” the hobbit gasped.

“It’s called a Sledd, dear hobbit,” was the reply.  “They are quite the convenience when it comes to transportation over snow.”

Amandus lay on the ground and tried to slow her breathing.  “Now where do we go?”

“Into the ground, of course,” the girl replied.  “You can’t think that your escape wasn’t observed and catalogued, for it probably was…even if it wasn’t, we must act as though it was.  Safer that way…fewer surprises in the end.  We must get as far as we can before discovery, and there are fewer eyes below ground, depending on where you go.  Come!  This way!”

“No!  Wait!  I can’t leave my friend.”  Amandus still sat on the ground.  “I made it out, but Zo’koll is still in there somewhere.”

The Pooka laughed.  “Would you believe me if I told you that most of the White Wizard’s palace is under this very mountain?  There is nothing in the tower…I saw them take you and then poked around to see what else I could find.  No, no she isn’t in the tower at all – she is under our very feet.”

Amandus rose to her feet and looked at her.  “I’m not sure I trust you.”

“You are wise.”

They stood regarding each other for a moment.  Looking at her, Amandus felt the bounce that had left her upon coming north begin to flow back into her veins.  The Pooka tilted her head.  “Shall we?  Or not?”

The hobbit looked back through the trees at the icy tower, thinking long of her friend and of what she had to do.  Boldness was returning to her, and she felt that she actually was Sir Tisdale…only her side-kick was a little odd and she wasn’t named Jack.  Courage once again flowed though her heart, and she spun around on the snow and looked straight into the eyes of the girl with the tail.  “Yes!”

The Pooka laughed again and whisked out of sight behind the rock.  “Come then!  We must get supplies and things, and I know Peoples who live down this way.  Come!”  Amandus followed her around the rock.

To be continued….

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Dark Waltz: Part Two

Part 2: In the Womb of Winter

All Colour Runs Together

Amandus sat warming her toes by the fire while Zo’koll read aloud from a book of fairy tales. Though it was cold without, it was warm within and the hobbit was content. The memory of her past shame was almost forgotten.
Suddenly, breaking the stillness like a bolt of lightening rends the sky on a clear night, a horde of masked figures in black  broke through the doors and windows of the cabin and carried Amandus and Zo’koll into the bleak night before they even had a chance to scream. Their pale hands were as cold as ice and froze the young hobbit’s blood. Then all was darkness and she remembered no more.

*                *                    *

When she awoke Amandus found herself in some sort of dungeon. It was dark and very, very cold. A single window let in a patch of cold, pale sunshine which did little to warm or cheer the room. Amandus crawled to the window, pulled herself up slowly and painfully, and looked out. Winter had come that night and the land lay covered in a shroud of snow. She leaned her hand against the wall for support and the warmth of her hand caused the wall to melt ever so slightly. Then the truth dawned upon her: she was imprisoned in a tower of ice.

“I know where we are,” she said.

Zo’koll, who sat huddled in the farthest corner of the room, stirred at the sound of Amandus’ voice. “Where?” she asked, in a frightened voice.

“This is the land of Michigan, a land of perpetual ice and snow. It is said that the snow only melts once every thousand years.” The hobbit fell silent. An evil laugh echoed through the room.

*                *                    *

Sir Tisdale laughed. He had little reason to laugh; he had long been exiled from his home in the south, doomed to wander in the northern wild and help those he may. Yet still his heart was light and he laughed.

“Sire!” shouted his squire, Jack, who rode ahead. “Come see this!” He pointed to a clearing ahead where an abandoned cabin with broken windows stood.

The knight rode ahead and dismounted. “Der Nachtfalter’s work,” he said disgustedly, eyeing the two blood red leaves pinned in the shape of a moth to what was left of the door.

“I found this,” said Jack. He handed Sir Tisdale a small blue velvet cloak. “There are hobbit tracks around the cabin as well. A hobbit was here. A hobbit from the Ever Living Lands.”

Sir Tisdale looked very grave.

“The heart of a hobbit from the Ever Living Lands will beat and stop beating as any other heart,” said the knight. “But, if you eat it. . . .”

He stopped and swung himself into his saddle.

“Where are we going?” asked Jack.

“To rid the world of darkness and despair!”

To be continued. . .


Dark Waltz: Part One

I find I have been remiss in my duties…I have neglected to put up Dark Waltz! This ongoing story was started back before school ended. Part One was written by Der Nachtfalter of Requiem Aeternam, Part Two by myself and Part Three by The Pooka of Musings and Sensible Nonsense. Rather explains the characters, doesn’t it? I will be posting each part separately. Enjoy!

Part 1: The Dying Time

We are the lucky Ones

It was the dying time. The trees understood and celebrated the passing of time with brilliant reds, yellows, and oranges that shone luminously in the afternoon sun. For them the chill breeze whispered promises of rest, a detachment from the heat and activity of summer, the burrowing grub, and the worm. They rustled in unison, waving their limbs freely in the open air, the last stretch before the deep sleep. It was the dying time, and the trees glowed in anticipation.

“Do you think we’ve come too far north?” asked Amandus. “The sunlight is thin here and chills my blood.”
The small hobbit wrapped her blue velvet cloak tighter around her body, her fairy eyes darted nervously from tree trunk to tree trunk. Where she grew up everything lived in a dreary yellow-green stupor, crushed by heat and humidity, but everything always lived, and she had never known the dying time. In the distance a raven screamed.
Her companion put an arm around her, comforting her. “Have you so soon forgotten the shame that drove you here and me with you? Cousin, whatever we find here, whether ice or flame, dead or living, can be no worse than what we have left behind.”

Amandus leaned closer to her friend and nodded. “You are a true friend Zo’koll. Not the kind that stabs poor hobbit friends in their sleep at all. What you say is true. Dead or living, it can be no worse.”
Ice or flame, dead or living—these words held no meaning in the dying time which was all of these things mixed together heartless and terrible. A live nemesis can be killed; a dead one has no power. But what happens when the living and dead fuse together in the womb of winter?

* * *

They came to the blood tree. Year after year its blur of blood-red leaves festered deeper and darker than the red of any other tree. It towered ancient and primeval over the pathway easily older and taller than anything else in the forest. Under the thick leaves a shadow fell and a darkness that crowded in on the hearts of Amandus and Zo’koll. They fell silent without knowing why and in silent agreement simultaneously lengthened their strides. They passed the blood tree, shaken by the whispers which jumped from leaf to blood red leaf. They passed the blood tree and did not turn, and so they did not see the black hooded figure which stepped out of the shadows to watch them. The figure lingered near the path and leisurely plucked two leaves of deepest red before vanishing into the woods.

* * *

The hobbit and her friend soon forgot the shadow of the blood tree though it did not forget them. Slowly, their natural warmth and cheerfulness returned as the sun grew stronger. A stream gurgled nearby. Suddenly, Zo’koll laughed as if a spell had been lifted.

“Really, we are the lucky ones to have escaped with our dignity and lives. I mean—imagine the shame that would have followed you for the rest of your life! Being proposed to in that dark musty closet?! But here we have each other and freedom. And these woods and the cool air have their own charm. Aren’t the colors beautiful?”

Amandus shuddered. “Zo’koll! I was trying to forget! But it always comes back to me. When I close my eyes, I can feel his sweaty palms all over again, hear my great-aunt trying on coats in the back of the closet. I get nauseated from the smell of the gallon of cologne he must have been wearing! Can you believe it, he wanted to kiss me!”

Zo’koll’s foot was much too big to fit in her mouth, but at times she wished it would. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to remind you of it all. It must have been very horrid. I’m sure I would have died from the mortification if it had happened to me.”

“It’s ok, cousin,” said Amandus. “I’ll forget eventually, and so will everyone else. We’ll be able to go back then.”

“Yes, cousin. I feel that this is a place of forgetfulness and healing. We are going to have the time of our lives here!”

“Yes, and we’re almost there!” replied Amandus. “The real estate agent claimed there was a clearing there full of thick soft grass where we can run barefoot chasing sun rays until our hearts are ready to burst from happiness. That will heal anything.”

Shame, mortification, stress—all these things disappear in the dying time. From the time the first snow falls to the spring thaw, an enchantment falls over the North woods. White numbing forgetfulness. But who is the enchanter, the blizzard-bringer? Who wears the frost-iron crown? And what does he do with the survivors?

* * *

On a knoll overlooking a small log cabin the hooded figure watches. A dagger glints in the sunlight, the tip of its blade resting on the tip of the hooded being’s left index finger. The dagger spins, digging into the fingertip until blood drips, falling on two blood colored leaves. Although the afternoon air is mild, the blood freezes on impact with the leaves, and the hooded figure picks the leaves up. He places their tips together, carefully spreading out the bases, and drives the dagger through them, pinning them to a willow tree, the leaves forming a pattern like ragged bleeding moth wings.

Only a short distance from the cabin, Amandus and Zo’koll felt a sudden chill as if a great coldness had taken hold in their hearts. They shivered and held hands, stumbling together to the dark waiting cabin.

To be continued . . .


Dueling Banjos!!!

What does this post have to do with banjos? Absolutely nothing! It all started when I came back to my dorm room after work to find several new emails in my inbox. They consisted of the following stories written by a friend and my roommate, along with an email reading “your turn!”

First story, written by my friend:

“Well… *sigh* .. since i find myself alone and destitute (but still stunningly beautiful) .. i have no choice but to wander away into the cold dark world.. quite,quite alone.. *snif snif* .. farewell,” said the notorious gangster G-money, AKA, G-Daddy, AKA the Big G-Z, AKA Agent Z. It didn’t matter what you called her though–she had had enough. She was getting out of the game for good, and doing it the way she did things best–with a good old-fashioned killing–back where it all began on the Richmond docks.

G-Daddy pulled a knife out and slashed a long hole into the side of a heavy bag full of quick-mix cement. She deposited its contents into a small tub of water and began mixing the solution with her hands and then her shoeless feet before standing motionless in the center of the tub.

Waiting for the cement to harden was the worst part. If she went over the edge before the concrete was set her feet would come free and her survival instincts would kick in. But that would never work. If the New Jersey mob under the vicious Mr. F. knew she was still alive they’d go after her family–maybe even her wittle puppies. She hoped the water wouldn’t be too cold. She pictured it in her mind, over and over again as she waited. The rush of air, the brief feeling of weightlessness, then the splash, the darkness, the cold blue monster pushing its way in through her mouth and nose, the internal screaming, the silence.
It was time. The young girl who was without her guns, without her bling, again merely Grace Zockoll gracefully let herself fall toward the water.

THUD.

thud? not splash?. She opened her eyes. She had placed the tub too far from the edge of the dock! Frantically she tried to pull herself toward oblivion, but the tub was too heavy. She stood up again and tried hopping toward the edge, but the cement held her feet motionless. She gathered her strength and sprang toward the edge of the dock, but only succeeded in nearly pulling her knees out of joint.

There was no more struggling, no more strength to draw from. There was no point. There was no rush to oblivion. She had cemented herself smack dab in the middle of the dock accidentally saving herself from a painful cliched death. Zockoll sat as best she could and resigned herself to being discovered in the morning by dock workers. The shame of her failure to perform a simple suicide overcame her and silent tears left a soggy dirge on her proud cheeks. High above her, a single solitary star danced brightly enough to penetrate the thick smog. All else was darkness.

And this concludes tonight’s episode of “America’s Dumbest Crime Lords”

…….

Second story, written by my roommate

You guys think so small . . .
Whispered notorious felon Tim the Fence. Stupid coppers. He squinted down at them from the roof. They were searching his flat again .. probably planning on sending him up the river if they found out who he sunk in the river.

His thin lips twisted into a wry smile. Well, he hoped they’d enjoy the little surprise he’d left for them. Might get a bang out of it.

Tim watched the last policeman step through the door far below him, then jogged to the fire escape and slid down a pole into the dark alley below. Walking briskly up the sidewalk, he pulled a little black box from his pocket and flicked up a hidden lid. Tim’s thumb rested lightly on the small red button and he bit his lip to suppress a rising chuckle.

Bye-bye, boys.
A sudden voice in the shadows made him pause. “Not so fast, Fence.”

Blast. Another second was all he needed. He stopped walking, closed the lid, and turned cooly to the smart aleck in the doorway.

“So, Arty. Trying to foil my plans again, eh?”

The tip of a revolver darted through the shadows and pressed against his abdomen. Tim looked down at the black metal shining in the light of the streetlamps and his grin twisted into a dark scowl. He grabbed a fistful of the collar in front of him and pulled Arty Tinsdale into the light.

“Thought so. Starting to get wise, huh?” He slammed the smaller man against the brick wall.

“You got no business down here, Fence.”

“Don’t forget who introduced you to the boss, kid. I set you up .. and I can knock you down again. But I hope I don’t have to.” Tim examined his nails in the dim light. “Hate to get my hands dirty.”

Arty swallowed but pushed the revolver harder against Tim’s ribs.

“Look, the boss told me you’d be down here. He says he doesn’t want any trouble with the cops. Says to tell you he’s through with all that. Says from now on, we’re underground. And you are too.”

Tim shifted the black fedora back on his head and narrowed his eyes with a tight grin.

“Does he? Well, I’d like to see who’s gonna make me.”

“Pretty sure lead speaks for itself.” Tim heard the sharp snap and knew the gun was cocked.

Tim licked his lips. “I’d think that over, if I were you, Arty. Seems I found a little something you dropped on our last raid.” He fished something out of his pocket, something wrapped loosely in an old handkerchief. Lifting a small corner, he waved it in Arty’s face, then shoved it back in his pocket. “Think the feds might want a look at it?”

Arty paled and shook visibly. He snatched the gun from Tim’s abdomen and shoved it in his holster.

Falling on his knees in front of the older gangster, he grabbed Tim’s shoe and whispered desperately, looking up in the Fence’s small black eyes.

“Tim, please! I’ll do anything! You know what’ll happen if they tie me in with that!”

****

to be continued..

Continuation, written by my friend

Continuation, Part the First:

Something like a smile lingered on Tim’s lips for a second. Maybe two. “Yeah, Arty, I do.” He licked his lips again, savoring the almost gone cherry tootsie-pop flavor lingering there. It might only take three licks to get to the center of a tootsie-pop, but it takes a lifetime to get the flavor out of your head. Sort of like organized crime, only less sticky. He shook himself free from the part-time thug and took a step back reaching inside his trench coat.

“That was real smart, putting your gun away like that, Arty.–good way to get killed. You live by the gun, kid, or you die by the gun. You put the gun down like that, and you’re not living by it anymore, see? That’s when you end up dying by it.”

Tim slowly pulled his arm slowly out from inside his trench coat and leveled a tootsie-pop at Arty’s head.

“You want it? Grape’s all I got left.”

Arty shook his head. “I quit a couple years ago.”

Tim tore the wrapper off and deposited the sucker in his mouth. “I bet you did.”

The sickening sweet smell of grape flavored fructose permeated the night air as the two men stared in momentary silence. Knight to King’s Bishop 3. Queen’s Pawn to Queen 4. Stalemate. The same game played over and over in both their minds with different openings, different moves, but always the same result. The stakes were higher on Arty Tisdale’s side though, stuck as he was between the hand that fed him and a walking steel trap with handfuls of seductive tootsie-pops at the center. That meant he had to play the more careful game. Or change around some of the pieces.

“I’m going to go talk to Baby-Face first thing tomorrow. Before the Boss knows you’re still alive.”

“You do it, Arty, and I’ll kill you myself. I’ll worse than kill you, you understand? I’ll let everyone know what I have here” gesturing toward his pocket.

“What do you have against her?”

Nothing, really. But this was all part of the game. Control the board, constrict the opponent’s movement, and win slowly, piece by piece stifling the poor sap sitting on the other side of the board. Baby-Face Zockoll was a queen of crime and the other person in on the raid with Arty and Tim. She would complicate things for sure, maybe even side with Arty if Arty caught her ear first. Tim had been bumping into some of her boys on the east side of town, and no one was happy about it.

“Look, you just go tell the boss you finished me off, ok kid? I’ll pull through somehow and lie low for a while. We both got too much at stake here to go after each other now.”

It didn’t take long for Arty to think the idea over. He’d never been the killing type anyhow, except for in self-defense. “Ok, it’s a deal. But you stay low! I don’t wanna hear a word about you for a solid month!”

“You got it, kid.”

Tim the Fence watched Arty walk away propelled by short skittish legs and disappear down the fire escape. This time the smile lingered on his face for a long time. He pulled out the detonator and leaned far out over the edge of the roof to catch as much of the explosion as he could. The cops had finished searching his flat by now, but what did that matter to the bomb? What does anything matter to a bomb? The shockwave threw Tim on his back and left a ringing in his ears and a tingling sensation of pure excitement all over his body. He rushed back to the edge, unwilling to miss any of the glorious flame-dance. True Beauty. If there were a tootsie-pop that tasted like fire he would eat and drink nothing else. He sat watching deep into the night until only a blackened hull and a faint glow remained.

A half hour later, hiding a new stash of tootsie-pops, Tim the fence crawled into a cab. “East. Le Chateau de Grace.” It was high time Baby-Face found out what else Arty had been up to. And, he knew from experience, she had a weakness for Raspberry.

to be continued.
….

Final story, written by me

The night air whispered through the curtains as Grace silently approached the bed where her master slept. Her knife glittered menacingly.

“I don’t ask for much,” she muttered through clenched teeth. “Just High Lord of Virginia. Or perhaps my real name. Just a little respect.” These words had become her mantra. Just a little respect…just a little respect….

She had faithfully served Tim the Fence for years. She had been there to rescue him the time he got caught in barbed wire, the incident that gained him his famous nickname. She had tended the wounds that became his iconic scars. She even washed his socks and ironed his shirts and made him ham sandwiches, all without grumbling and for sub minimum wage. She could’ve turned him in at any time. But she never did. And was she ever thanked? No! Never!

Grace clutched the knife harder. She stood poised over the bed. She hesitated. Then she remembered that just the day before he had called her a withered old hag and said her ham sandwiches weren’t even that good. Her face hardened. The knife moved a fraction of an inch.

“Grace, what are you doing with that knife?” said Tim. Grace stepped back startled.

“Yes, I’m awake, ” said Tim, opening his eyes and sitting up. “Put the knife down, Grace,” he said coldly. “I wouldn’t want you to get hurt.”

“Wh-what do you mean?” she said breathlessly, still clutching the knife fiercely. Then her eyes rested on the gun pointed directly at her.

“Yes, I have a gun,” Tim said slowly. “And it would be tragic if I had to pull the trigger.”

“But what you don’t know is that I have a bazooka!” Grace shouted hysterically.

That’s when the police came in with a herd of purple polka dotted elephants and Frank Sinatra appeared singing “My Way” at the top of his lungs.

….

“Woah, what a weird dream!” thought Grace as she stared at the top of her bunk. “My subconscious scares me.”