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Left Turn

“I told you we should have taken a left turn at Albuquerque. King Oberon is going to be furious.”

“You got those directions from a cartoon.”

“No, Oberon did. That’s how you get to the Seelie Court right now. He thought it was funny.”

Eliese rolled her eyes. “You both watch too much human media. The Movable Court should be found in the old ways, by star and stone and water. Left turn.”e

“You are way too young to be that old and cranky.” Logan grinned at her. “Since we’re here, we should definitely check it out. Then we can go on to Court like we’re supposed to.” 

Eliese gazed at the gates of Disneyland, lines of people winding back and forth in front of them. Secretly she thought that was a great idea, but she had to seem the responsible older sister, even if her sibling always reminded her that it was only by twenty-eight minutes, and that if she hadn’t been so pushy they’d have been eldest, clearly. 

“All right, but just for a few hours. And I’m not standing in those lines.”

They checked each other’s glamour, no pointy ears or slit pupils visible, then held hands and oozed through the lines, people stepping out of the way without looking at them. Logan wanted the full experience, so they did pay at the booth, the green paper that humans were using this era. It would return to oak leaves at sundown, but they’d be long gone. “Enjoy Disneyland! Just put these wristbands on. They’ll mark you as our guests.” The cotton-candy-colored wristband buzzed oddly as Eliese snapped it into place. 

She hadn’t noticed the faint music until then, and she grabbed Logan’s hand again, eagerly tugging them into the park. 

The siblings wandered the park for several hours, riding the rides, eating junk food, laughing at the costumed performers. Eliese thought vaguely now and then about somewhere she ought to be, but she was having far too much fun to think seriously about leaving. This park was the best place she had ever been, the most fun she had ever had. All of the people around her were laughing and smiling. Everyone was having a good time! Even the performers looked like they were having fun, despite the hot costumes. The mermaid was in a tub, just as if she were real. Various princesses wandered the grounds, posing for selfies and waving. A brown-skinned woman in a forest green dress was clearly the star of the princess-show. 

They were wandering along the river, Eliese right on the bank, when something tangled in her ankles and she tripped, landing with a splash. Pain spiked in her wrist, and she sat for a moment in the shallow water, completely befuddled. 

“Don’t just sit there,” said the gray tabby who’d tripped her. “Get out of the river before they notice. Though you’d better pull your sib in too. Their ears are showing.” Panic rippled thru Eliese. Logan’s pointed ears were clearly visible, and they were goggling at her inanely.

“Sis, this is no place to swim. Let me help you out. We still haven’t been on that roller coaster.” They reached a hand down, and Eliese tugged as the cat tripped, and Logan nearly landed on top of her. 

Logan lay still for a moment. “What the fuck? Did they enchant us?”

“No, you dork,” replied the cat. “there’s a mood control gizmo embedded in wristbands. Apparently it makes elves go human. Now get out of the river before security sees you.” Eliese wrapped them in glamour and followed the cat into the private areas of the park. “Are you two gonna be okay now? It’s getting late, which means that the best sunbeam in the park is going to be caressing my fuzzy blanket right now, and I don’t want to miss any of its warmth.”

“Um, okay,” said Logan, still a bit groggy. “But…”

The cat interrupted. “I’ve got to go. Melody will explain everything.” She nodded her head off to the left, then bounded away in search of the best sunbeam. The sibs looked after her in puzzlement.

Eliese jumped, banging her shoulder painfully into a light pole, when the prop barrel beside them emitted a loud squawk. She peered in, to see an enormous green parrot looking back. She thought she’d seen it in the pirate parade earlier, riding on Captain Hook’s shoulder. “What you lookin’ at?” it yelled, then tucked its head under a wing. 

“Don’t mind Polly,” a silky female voice said. “He’s agoraphobic, and spends all the time he isn’t performing in that barrel. Says he feels safe there. I’m certainly not going to make him stop.” Eliese looked over in time to see the mermaid from earlier, still in her tub, wave a hand toward her tail. 

She elbowed Logan and whispered, “Stop staring, dorkface. It’s rude.”

“But… she was fake when we saw her earlier. That was clearly a costume.”

“I apologize for my sib,” Eliese said, walking closer. “They’re a bit of a dorkface.”

Melody smiled beautifully. “A bit of latex to create a seam, and those wristbands. They make people gullible and happy. A lot like your glamour, really.” 

Eliese nodded thoughtfully. “I’m really not pleased about humans having glamour, especially something that works on elves. Oberon is going to be furious. But how did you end up here?”

“Oh, it’s perfect,” the mermaid replied. “I hope King Oberon doesn’t interfere. Most of the cast are fae of some sort. It’s a good job, since the humans don’t notice much and we fit in so well. Nearly all of…” She broke off, and Eliese followed her gaze. The princess in the green dress, the one she had thought was the star of the show, was walking past, oblivious to the mermaid watching her.

“You should sing for her,” Eliese said. “Excuse me, Your Highness,” she called after the woman. 

“Oh, hi,” the princess said. She was nearly as beautiful without the glamour making her look princessy, and that dress was a stunning color on her. But Eliese wasn’t here to admire on her own behalf.

“Do you like singers?” Eliese asked. The princess nodded, a bit perplexed. “Because Melody here is an amazing vocalist, and she would love to sing for you sometime soon.” 

The princess’s face lit up. “You would? Do you know any of the old jazz standards? I haven’t heard them live since I was a girl.” Eliese left them chattering away about Billie Holiday, wondering idly what kind of fae the princess was, and how old she was, then wondering more urgently where Logan had vanished to. She didn’t want to call, because park security might notice her. Where could they have gotten to?

She turned a corner, past a weathered building that held bits of a pirate ship, and a few ghosts. She nodded politely, then spotted Logan picking something off the fence. Their hands were full of tan bits of fur. 

“What are you doing?” 

“Picking up tufts of fur. I’m trying to figure out what left them. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a basilisk around here somewhere.” 

Eliese rubbed one between her fingers. Not basilisk, or Arctic bass. She sniffed it. Herbivore, not a threat.

“Oh,” said a passing contortionist, clearly of marshwiggle ancestry somewhere along the line, “Josie has been wandering again. She gets bored in the Animal Kingdom after hours, and sneaks out.” She neatly plucked the ball of fur out of Logan’s hand. “I’ll just get rid of this so she doesn’t get caught.” The contortionist leaned in confidentially. “I think one of her ancestors pissed off a djinn. Being a sentient pack camel must have sucked. At least Josie got into the park. I play cards with her sometimes. She’s amazing at poker. I lost my firstborn to her last week. I don’t know how she’s going to raise a passel of polliwogs.” She headed off, stuffing the fur in a pocket.

Logan squealed. They tugged at their foot, where a series of tendrils had wrapped around their jeans above the shoe. “What the fuck!” They pulled harder, nearly falling over. “That plant is trying to eat me!”

Eliese bent down to look. Yellow flowers, prickly green fruit. “You’re being menaced by a cucumber,” she laughed. 

“It isn’t funny. I’m stuck!”

Eliese whispered to the plant, and the tendrils rapidly unwound, springing back from Logan’s leg.

“Wow. What did you say to them?”

“It’s because I’m older,” she replied. “I have powers you don’t share.”

They punched her in the shoulder. “That’s not true and you know it.”

Eliese giggled. “Pickles.” At their feet, the plant trembled. 

“Unless you want to stay and watch the fireworks, we should get out of here. Somebody in charge is going to eventually notice us, and we definitely need to tell Papa about the glamour wristbands.”

“He won’t care much,” Logan replied. “He’s not interested in technology at all. He’s going to regret that eventually.”

“That’s why we keep an eye on it for him,” Eliese agreed. “If he leaves the park alone, all these folks will keep their jobs and hiding places. But we definitely need to make sure this mind control doesn’t get out of hand.”

Logan nodded. “We are going to have to go the long way around, aren’t we, so we can take a left turn at Albuquerque.”

Eliese sighed. “Yeah. Yeah, we are. Stupid dad jokes.”


This is a twitter flash: five minutes of soliciting prompts on twitter, then an hour of writing something that includes ALL of them. Then I post it here, largely unedited, and as fast as I can. It’s a fun game!

Today’s prompts were courtesy of:

@ce_murphy: A mermaid falls in love with a star

@mjandersen: Saucy romance between a cat and her sunbeam

@outseide: A brain implant that can control mood via electricity has been developed that is safe. Go!

@ImperfectSong: Two elves get lost and end up in Disneyworld.

@thekittymeister: Camel hair!

@evilrooster: Rivers and memory

@zanzjan: Malevolent cucumbers.

@SamhainNight: But the music was faint

@julieczerneda: Parrot in a barrel

How’d I do?

Special Collections

The job ad said NOTHING about canoes. Librarian needed, experience with cataloguing and customer service. I’d never heard of the research institute whose library I was taking over, but they offered a good salary and it wasn’t in Texas.

The problem was, most of the collection wasn’t books. I was curating an enormous collection of, well. Bottles. Packets. Mysterious containers of all sorts. They were all labeled, yes, but in faded, spidery, near-illegible handwriting. The founder of the institute, Ernest Albertine, well. He was eccentric, I suppose, because he was also ridiculously wealthy. Otherwise? Well.

  • Powdered unicorn horn: opaque cobalt jar, shelf 43, cupboard 8. (Rattles when shaken.)
  • Fragments of the True Cross: linen packet, shelf 1, cupboard 17. (Extensive provenance.)
  • Fragments of the fake cross: assorted linen packets, shelves 2 thru 8, cupboard 17. (Each packet with extensive provenance, and catalogued individually.)
  • Cephalosaur baculum: wooden box, shelf 12, cabinet 8.
  • Scent of extinct roses: set of six vials tied together with red silk ribbon, cabinet 11. (I did not open one, much as I wanted to.)

And so on, and on, and. I had all the equipment I needed: computer, camera, state-of-the-aat digital collections management software. Even a couple of student interns who came in several afternoons a week to photograph the packages and the labels. I was including both in the item metadata. Eventually the digital catalog would be made available to researchers, and then I’d need more of my reference desk skills than my cataloging chops.

I jammed a hat onto my head to keep the mosquitoes off of my buzzed hair, and crawled unsteadily into the front of the canoe, holding onto the sides. Dr. Eric Albertine, Ernest’s great-grandson and my boss, had the grace not to laugh as he pushed the boat away from the shore and climbed in the back. Stern. Whatever. Being that rich meant you had good manners and a perfect haircut, apparently. I wondered if his barber would cut my hair. Some barbers didn’t cut women’s hair, but I’d rather go to a barber than a stylist, unless I wanted color.

The canoe rocked a bit, snapping me out of my hair musings. I reflexively grabbed the sides, then relaxed when I realized it was just Dr. Albertine paddling. “Sorry, sir, I’ve never been in a canoe before.”

“Well, I’ll make sure you have some time to practice, then. You’ll be traveling back and forth to the island on your own in no time.”

I peered ahead of us, where a proper Victorian folly rose: a small island, with an attractively fake Classical ruin. “I still don’t understand why the collections are split into two parts. Why not store everything at the main institute building?”

Eric was silent for a minute or two. “We’ve always kept Special Collections on the island. It’s much safer this way. Despite the folly, there’s a quite solid building there, and the things in the collection can’t cross water.”

They’re paying me a lot. They’re paying me a lot. They’re paying me a lot. The institute could be as weird as it wanted, as long as it was solvent. I didn’t ask any more questions until we had walked up the path to the modern-looking concrete bunker roofed in solar panels. My institute badge unlocked the door, and the lights came on automatically as I followed Dr. Albertine inside.

The reception desk was empty, and we let ourselves in through a serious-looking security door. Instead of the mismatched wooden cabinets and odd steamer trunks of the main institute collection, this storage area had neat rows of drawers of different sizes, a few shelves of ancient-looking books behind glass, and actual typed labels on everything.

“This material will be much easier to catalog,” Dr. Albertine said as we walked up and down the rows, “but I wanted to start you on the oldest material right away, so I could find a replacement quickly if you were not suited to the job. But I am very pleased with your progress, and how quickly you’ve adjusted to working at the Institute.” When he said it, “institute” was always capitalized.

“Thank you, sir. I’m enjoying the challenge. This is nothing like the collections I’ve worked with previously.”

“No, nothing like this exists anywhere.” We stopped in front of a even more serious door, reinforced with a grid of iron bars. “You’ll need to take notes on paper and bring them back to your office. Despite the lights, computer equipment doesn’t work reliably on the island. We’re too close to the Doorway.” Like “institute,” “doorway” was clearly capitalized.

“You’re the boss,” I replied, distracted by something moving off to the side. “Oh, sorry, Dr. Albertine. I didn’t mean…”

“Of course you did – as long as I pay you, you’ll humor me.” I probably looked as sheepish as I felt, but he was right. Eric Albertine could be as eccentric as Ernest Albertine, and as long as I was getting paid and enjoying the work, I’d stay. Something was definitely moving in that corner, but every time I turned to look at it, there was nothing there.

Dr. Albertine glanced back. “Ignore it. As long as there’s no tentacles, it’s probably fine. But don’t take anything out of this room without permission. He turned to the iron door. “Your badge won’t let you into this door. Once you’re properly trained, you’ll be given access. Your duties will eventually include staffing the reference desk here at least two days a month.”

I looked around, wondering just who might need librarian assistance on an uninhabited island. Dr. Albertine pulled a sword from the umbrella stand by the door. I took a step back. Maybe this wasn’t such an interesting job after all.

He looked back at me, then down at the blade. “This is just precautionary. It’s a bad idea to go in unarmed, and a steel blade is the best choice.” He looked at me again, eyebrow raised. “I don’t suppose you’ve ever studied fencing?”

He pulled the door open, and I followed him through. It looked like a moderately nice hotel foyer, with comfortable chairs and small tables arranged around area rugs, even a reception desk. Where the hall into the hotel proper would be, though, was… nothing, a featureless black surface. Not a wall, not a window, not a door, just emptiness. I stopped short, staring. I’d never seen anything like that. Dr. Albertine watched me carefully, probably to see if I’d freak out or something. No, but I was intrigued. I walked closer, trying to figure out how the illusion was done. That light-absorbing paint, maybe.

Dr. Albertine kept a bit ahead of me as I walked, and a step to my right. An irridescent flash, and he shoved me back as a tentacle lashed out of the blackness. He slipped while dodging it himself, and it swung over his head, then came back the other way. I grabbed a vase off of the nearest table, silk flowers scattering, and hurled it at the base of the tentacle-thing. The vase bounced off the tentacle, then shattered on the floor, sending glass shards flying. The tentacle lurched and withdrew, scattering drops of greenish blood from where the shards had hit it. Or would that be ichor?

Dr. Albertine lifted himself off the floor. “Nicely done,” he said. “You’ll have to apologize later, but he really shouldn’t have been snooping around. I’m sure he will see that, certainly by the time you’re able to come back on your own. And it could have been something dangerous. That’s why we carry swords, after all. I’m pleased to see that you react well under pressure, even though this should have been a simple orientation.”

I mulled over what I’d seen as we walked to the canoe. How much of the collection was real? All of it, maybe. “So,” Dr. Albertine began. “Canoe practice, and fencing lessons. You’re an excellent librarian, but working the reference desk in fairyland requires some additional skills.” He looked down at me. “Unless you’re planning to quit now?”

“No, this is even more interesting a challenge than I expected. I’d like to continue.”

He smiled. “You’d better call me Eric.”


The game:

I solicit prompts on Twitter, then write a flash piece using all of them, as quickly as possible, and post it online immediately. Usually these are very short flash pieces; this time I got a bit carried away.

Prompts:

@schlowlibrary – a non-stereotypical librarian.
@evilrooster – the scent of extinct roses.
@MarissaLingen – a canoe.
@scribofelidae and @outseide – you know what you did.