Scions of Shadowsbrook

Lila wondered briefly if she ought to try harder to convince the Chief to use her first name, or if she should just give up. It tended to raise unwanted questions in visitor’s minds when the Town Clerk, Librarian, and President of the Shadowsbrook Historical Society called the Chief “Gwen” and was called “Miss Emerson” in return. Gwen and Lila looked about the same age, but Lila remembered helping out when Gwen’s maternal grandmother was born, shortly that pair of great-grandparents moved to town. For quite a long time, Lila had been “Miss Emerson” at the small school in town, but as the world became more professional, she’d moved to her current set of positions. She also quite liked the new building, although she tried very hard not to refer to it as such.

At the moment, Lila was wrestling with a particularly knotty problem which had first appeared in the form of an email to the Shadowsbrook Town Library. It was a genealogical question about people Lila had known well. In one case, continued to know, quite well, she thought with a smile. A descendant was trying to nail down a death date, hopefully with a record, for two people. Lila wasn’t exactly certain what had happened to Sarah “Patsy” Johnson. Patsy had changed her name to Elizabeth some time between the wars and left town. She was in occasional contact with her friends in Shadowsbrook, but Lila hadn’t heard anything specific in about thirty years. A quick phone call to Theodore, however, produced contact information for Sarah/Patsy/Elizabeth Johnson/Smith, which she relayed to the descendant without bothering to get permission to do so from anyone. Lila was a big believer in gossip, and if Theodore hadn’t figured that out by now he was past helping. Lila also sent along Matthew Johnson’s contact information, along with a paragraph pointing out that information was accessible to anyone with a web browser who knew to point it at http://www.411.com.

The genealogist, however, was not happy with this response, and shot off a missive almost immediately upon receipt of Lila’s message. But she didn’t reply to Lila; she instead sent a message to the Historical Society of Shadowsbrook. It was a cut-and-paste of the original genealogical query, along with a snippy remark that the Town Librarian didn’t seem to be competent to do her job.

Just thinking about that email made Lila angry all over again. For most of Lila’s very long life, she would not have answered the genealogist’s question honestly. She would have found the faked death record for the names in question (if it existed) or would have notified the people and worked with them to fake a death record and then tell the genealogist. But that was before a decade of urban fantasy had accustomed virtually everyone in the United States to the idea of vampires and werewolves, fairies, pixies, gnomes, djinn, gods, goddesses, skinwalkers, ogres, trolls, elves, ghosts, ghouls, demons, angels and hosts of other supernatural creatures had been living alongside more ordinary humans for, well, forever. And once everyone was used to the idea in fiction, it seemed a lot less risky to try coming out in reality.

As a librarian, Lila had ambiguous feelings about Stephanie Meyer. She loved any book that got kids excited about reading, of course. There were limited connections between the supernatural as depicted by Meyer and the supernatural as Lila knew them, which was inevitably frustrating. But along with all the other, less celebrity-associated authors who had helped pave the way for supes to come out of the closet, Meyer was a Real Life Heroine to Lila and most of her friends.

When they weren’t actually trying to read her books, that is.

Thanks to all that genre fiction, Lila could honestly and proudly hand a scion of Shadowsbrook — a person with dilute supernatural ancestry of her very own — contact information for distant relatives and enable them to claim connection with these fresh celebrities. Lila always liked to think that when she passed out phone numbers and email addresses (never physical addresses), she was creating an opportunity for someone who might otherwise join a bunch a wackadoodles like the Third Day idiot who tried to do an exorcism at Clayton’s house last night, a real opportunity to get to know someone who perhaps wasn’t exactly like them, but who was enough like them to be a friend.

Or at least a family member.

Lila also liked to think that some of these genealogical queries would answer long standing questions people had, like why they didn’t seem to age the way everyone else did, or why they hated the sun, or any number of other anomalies that could be inherited, some of which led to a lot of expensive visits to neurologists to no satisfactory answer.

But every once in a while, Lila got a genealogist who was far enough into the twenty-first century to be using e-mail, but not far enough into it to realize they might have a distant relative from a century ago who was still alive (more or less) and available to answer their questions (and correct their genealogical efforts) in person, or at least on Skype. Usually, when she handed over contact information for a “long-dead” ancestor, she either got effusive thanks (and occasionally, an in person hug or a donation to the library or historical society) or conspicuous silence. Repeat queries that presumed error on her part were rare. In fact, Lila thought, this was the first time to generate a _third_ query.

The third email was to the Town Clerk, asking for assistance in checking vital records. A credit card number was enclosed, and Lila was briefly tempted to charge a fee — or several, perhaps — to do the searches and then send the same information again. She paused, however, to reread the last paragraph again.

“I have already contacted your Town Librarian and the President of your Historical Society, who seem to be the same person. I understand Shadowsbrook is a small town and has limited funds, but surely it would be better to not have a librarian or even not have a historical society, than to have a librarian and town historian who replies to a genealogical request for death records of people who must surely have died over a century ago with telephone numbers and email addresses! Am I to believe that not one but both of the people I inquired about are supernatural and therefore long-lived? Surely that is unlikely in any family, but particularly so in this one! Every generation since has died at average age of 45 and the longest lived made it to 62, which was my dear departed husband.”

Lila frowned. She had looked at the genealogical information provided by the researcher enough to know who she was looking for, but hadn’t closely inspected all the names and dates, nor had she visited the site where a larger tree could be found. She took a few minutes to do so, and abruptly realized how this particular woman was connected to Matthew and Sarah.

Lila had a dilemma. She did love to tell a good story — and this was a really good story, because it was the incident that led to fairies being banned from Shadowsbrook, and the death at 36 of the changeling foisted on Matthew and Sarah (and to whom they had been passionately attached) had led directly to the end of their marriage. They had eventually found their natural son, but so many years raised by humans had made it very difficult for him to reintegrate with the community of Shadowsbrook. His decision to stay in the larger human world was part of why Sarah had left town in the 1920s.

Could it possibly be summarized in an email? Was that even a good idea, not knowing how this descendant would react?

For once, Lila opted for discretion. “I am sorry to inform you that your ancestor Gideon was not the biological child of Matthew and Sarah Johnson. Gideon’s parents are not known to me, other than that one of them was a fairy and the other was almost certainly a human. Human-fairy pairings, as you may or may not be aware, often lead to shortened lifespans in themselves and their descendants. Please know that Matthew and Sarah both loved Gideon with great passion and have never forgotten him, or their love of him. They would be pleased to meet Gideon’s descendants, or anyone who has known and loved Gideon’s descendants. I, personally, know Matthew and Sarah (who are no longer married), and knew Gideon during his tragically brief life. He was an honorable man, admired by everyone who met him. This particular episode is very important in the recent history of Shadowsbrook. If you come to visit, I’d be happy to put you in touch with several people who remember it well, and can answer your questions, if you doubt my veracity.”

It would have to do. Lila sent it off, and hoped that the next email from that researcher — because she wasn’t lucky enough for this to be the end of it — would be a little more politely worded.

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having trouble with tags

I can’t seem to tag the second entry in Shadowsbrook appropriately and it is driving me nuts. This is a test post.

I wrote last night’s entries on the iPad; I think the tagging wasn’t working through that interface. Seems okay today on the laptop.

The Exorcist Needs a Lawyer

Chief Ross walked back to her office. It wasn’t far from the diner, just across the street and a few dozen yards down the road, in the same hundred year old building as all the other town services.

“Good morning, Gwen,” called Lila Emerson as Gwen walked down the hall. Lila had not yet arrived when Jack had called Gwen back to tell her Maureen had arrived. “Good morning, Miss Emerson,” returned Gwen.

“Lila! Gwen, Lila!” came the inevitable correction.

“I spent my whole childhood calling you Miss Emerson, er, Lila. I don’t think that’s a habit I’m ever going to break.”

Lila smiled and shook her head, bending her head to the monitor, already back to work.

Gwen took a look in the holding cell, making sure Darren Fitzgerald, the youthful church planter and would-be exorcist was okay. He hadn’t woken up yet, having had a late night and an exciting one. Before settling into her own chair, however, she poked her head into the neighboring office and was surprised not to see Charlie. Backtracking to where Lila was stationed as Town Clerk, she asked, “Charlie went out?”

“Oh, yes. He said he’d left you a message. He got a call, and I was here to take over Dispatch when the shift changed.” The towns shared dispatch for some of the slower shifts, of which Sunday night/early Monday morning was one.

“Thanks, Miss Em, uh, Lila.”

Back in her office, Gwen checked voicemail on her office line, then pulled out her cell and noticed that Charlie had texted her. Gwen hated that; she could never seem to remember to check for text messages. The hair salon at the strip mall had called to report a vehicle had been in the parking lot for over 24 hours and wanted to know if they should have it towed or the police wanted a look at it as a possible stolen vehicle. It had no plates; Charlie had gone over to read the VIN off it and see if it had been reported. Gwen didn’t understand why whoever had called it in couldn’t read the VIN over the phone to Charlie, but she wasn’t about to call him up to ask him now. She needed to get Darren moved along, or she’d be sharing space with him until his trial date.

Darren had used his phone call the night before to call a friend who was doing church planting for Third Day. The friend was supposed to figure out who to contact at Third Day’s headquarters to get legal assistance through the religious organization. The voicemail Gwen had waiting that wasn’t from Charlie was from the friend and the news was not good: “Hey Darren. I called my dad’s friend in the Legal Department. They have a bunch of pdfs they can send with guidelines but they don’t provide lawyers and they don’t have a fund for lawyers. Get this — they said you should ask for help from the church that you haven’t grown yet or, failing that, your home church.  Ha! Good luck; you’re gonna need it. If I had two pennies, I’d give you one, you know that, right? Ask for a public defender, is my advice.”

Lovely, thought Gwen. She leaned back in her chair, crossed her leg and steepled her fingers. Frowning, she tried to imagine a good outcome for this kid who was clearly way out on a limb enthusiastically sawing it off. The judge who was going to decide what to do with him had little patience for ignorance, no tolerance for religious bigotry and had a history of handing down some hefty fines and prison time for even _soliciting_ exorcism of a registered ghost owner, never mind an actual attempt. Rumor had it some of the judge’s extended family (it was extensive) had been targeted by Third Day activists, but Gwen doubted that would lead to a recusal, even if it were true.

Community service in Shadowsbrook had to be a part of the puzzle; the kid needed some exposure to the people he was so casually ready to offend while he attempted to shove them back into the dark places they had occupied for so long. If he was willing to put in the time and energy and made a good faith effort to understand and get along with a wider range of people — if he was willing to widen his definition of people — there should be the possibility of expunging the attempted exorcism from his record. But he needed to understand the seriousness of what he had done, and he couldn’t be allowed to just go through the motions and then return to Asheville to recruit more people to some foolishness about there only being the one kind of resurrection, and that after the Third Day, and not to a continued life or afterlife or undeadness or whatever here on Earth.

Maybe Robert Mason, Esquire, would have some ideas.

Gwen waited through three rings. Just as she was resigned to leaving a message for Bob, he picked up. “Hello, Chief! Good Morning to you!” sang out Bob.

“It’s Monday morning, Bob, and I’ve got a would-be exorcist snoring in one of the holding cells. It is what it is.”

“This the Third Day kid who took a shot at Clayton?”

“I knew I could rely on you to have the news already, Bob.”

“What’s the town’s interest, Gwen?”

“Not exactly the town’s interest. I got a message back on last night’s phone call and there is apparently no lawyer forthcoming from Third Day or elsewhere, barring a minor miracle.”

There was a slight pause. “You are calling me because … ?”

“Want to do some pro bono work?”

“For a Third Day idiot?”

“I was thinking of it more as a consciousness raising exercise for someone’s quarter life crisis.”

“You’re like a marshmallow behind that vest, Chief: all sweet and squishy.”

“Don’t tell anyone.”

“They wouldn’t believe me. Do you have a particular offer in mind?”

“Unfortunately, no. I was trying to imagine a form of community service that would benefit Shadowsbrook and enlighten young Mr. Fitzgerald so as to divert his evangelical energies to a more worthy or at least less explicitly illegal end.”

“Admirable, but probably leaves picking up roadside trash right out.”

“Give it some thought and I’ll call you when he wakes up, assuming he’s amenable to talking to you?”

“Mind if I call around and see if anyone has any scut work, er, ideas for community service?”

“Feel free. Thank you, Bob! I owe you.”

“Strictly speaking, Mr. Fitzgerald is going to owe me. I’ll see what I can come up with to balance the scales. Of justice. Or something. Until later, Gwen.

Well, that was something, thought Gwen, even if Bob just came back with picking up roadside trash, they could at least arrange to have him sharing shifts with some of the younger werewolves who were still working off Disorderly Conducts from the last full moon. There was an endless supply of those, anyway.  But just as she was getting a glimmer of an idea involving assisting the vampires who did most of the upkeep at Shadowsbrook’s town cemetery, the phone rang.

Just Another Morning at a Steak Through the Heart

Maureen stepped into the diner at a quarter of seven on a Monday morning. She was hoping for a cup of coffee, a bowl of oatmeal and some uninterrupted time using the Steak’s wifi. Jack waved at her from behind the counter, on the phone with someone.

Maureen picked out a table, then dug her tablet and a keyboard out of her oversized purse and logged into the server so she could start adjusting her listings. It was March, so things were still quiet, but there were always a few places for sale — certain ones would never really sell, she knew — and a few more available for rent. Shadowsbrook wasn’t large enough to keep her as busy as she preferred, so she also covered three smaller neighboring towns. Jack came around after a few minutes and took her order.

Most of Maureen’s changes were updated photos, since the worst of the mud had dried and more of the spring flowers were out. But there were a few description changes, a result of in person visits to two of her newer rental listings. The third bedroom in one of those listings wasn’t a legal bedroom and had to be removed, and the two car attached garage in another wasn’t for two cars, unless you were prepared to do something really tricky with a couple Smart ForTwos.

By the time the oatmeal arrived, with cinnamon, raisins, nuts and heavy cream, just the way she liked it, Maureen had wrapped up round one on the website and was willing to risk an email check. She was never sure just how long she’d end up mired in reading and replying to email, and didn’t like to start on it when she had a better defined task to complete.

There was email from the police chief, which she didn’t even have time to open before she saw her walk in the door. She paused to watch Chief Gwen Ross scan the diner. When Gwen saw Maureen, she said, “Just who I was looking for,” and added, as she walked over and pulled a chair out opposite Maureen without bothering to ask if she could join her, “Jack? Black with sugar when you get a chance.”

Maureen sighed and shut down her email, folded her keyboard up and put it and the tablet back in her purse. Jack came by and refreshed her coffee when he brought Chief Ross a cup, and the Maureen resigned herself to a long, not unexpected and arguably well-deserved harangue about what happened at one of the rental houses she represented.

Gwen opened her mouth to start, then paused. She added sugar and cream to her coffee and blew across it briefly before taking a cautious sip. This was wise; Jack had just finished brewing the pot and it was hot, even with cream in it. “Maureen, did you get around to reading my email?”

“No,” Maureen answered, “I was just about to when I saw you come in.”

“Ah.” Gwen settled back. Maureen thought that was a little ominous, but kept quiet. Gwen liked to tell her stories in her own way; interrupting her never sped things up and could make the process more painful.

“I’ll try to keep this brief, because we’ve had this conversation a few times already. The Zimmermans — you know, your renters at the Clayton place — threw either a couple parties or one very long party with interruptions, depending on your perspective, two weekends ago. Quite a lot of the party went on during daylight hours.”

Maureen winced. “The lease is real clear on that, Chief Ross. They know there are decibel limits, activity limits and number-of-persons-on-the-premises limits during daylight hours.”

“I know. But the lease is not clear as to why those limits are in place.”

“Clayton prefers not to have his renters aware of his presence. He feels that a contract is a contract and if the contract covers the things he objects to, they don’t need to know he is there and he won’t be disturbed by anything they do and he gets the income to keep the place maintained and available for him to, er, occupy.”

“Haunt, you mean?”

“Clayton doesn’t care for that term. He feels it reflects negative assumptions about ghosts.”

“Did Clayton mention to you the lease had been broken?”

Maureen shook her head.

“Well, let’s just say that the Zimmermans’ sleep was disrupted for most of the last week.” Maureen was about to say something, but Gwen put up a hand to forestall her. “I know. He’s fully within his rights to do something, and he did not commit any property damage to the renter’s possessions. They made noise. He made noise. Basic squabble between roommates. Whatever. But the Zimmermans are new to Shadowsbrook, and are not, shall we say, adapting quickly.”

Maureen sighed. “Did they yell at the priest?”

Gwen laughed. “Well, yeah. It’s routine with people who rent the Clayton place. They break the lease. They find out they’re living with a ghost. They try for an exorcism. They’re told no way, the ghost is the owner of record. They yell at the priest, because everyone knows that when a priest tells you he can’t do something because it’s illegal, not to mention immoral and unethical, yelling at the priest is going to change his mind. Lawsuit to try to break the lease follows as predictably as moss in the shade of an aging tree. Well, the Zimmermans have added a new twist. They found someone from Asheville to do an exorcism.”

“What?!” asked Maureen, shocked. “That’s a felony!”

“Maureen, I know that. Darren Fitzgerald is relaxing in a holding cell while he tries to come up with bail money.”

“Who?”

Gwen shrugged. “Clayton nudged the panic button which brought me and one of the volunteers to find out what was going on. Darren looks like he’s about nineteen, although his ID claims he’s twenty-five. He says he’s a church planter for Third Day.”

Maureen rolled her eyes. “Did he have any idea what he was doing?”

Gwen laughed. “Not at all, although Clayton wasn’t going to wait to find out once he realized what Darren intended. When we got there, we found a Bible, a bunch of Third Day literature, some candles, a jar of water, a cowbell and he was smudging in the living room. He set off the fire alarm, but we got the smoke aired out and the smoke alarms turned off before the neighbors summoned the fire department.”

“Smudging? That might have worked. What was he using?”

“Sage.”

“Oh. Amateur, then.”

“Fortunately. Next time? Who knows what might happen. Clayton is going to have to get over this or you are going to have to vet the renters and refuse to rent to people who are going to freak out about living with a ghost.”

“Chief, I’d love to pick and choose among my renters based on that, but you know perfectly well that kind of selection will lose me my license.”

“You’ll talk to Clayton?”

“I’ll talk to Clayton.”

“Can’t ask for more than that, I guess. Although I sure would like to.” Gwen reached for her wallet, but Maureen stopped her.

“I’ve got it Chief. I’ve drunk more than enough of your coffee to even things out.”

“Thanks, Mo. Good luck with Clayton.”

Maureen watched the Chief leave the diner, and thought briefly about pulling her tablet and computer back out and checking her email. She settled for waving Jack over for the check and looking at the subject lines on her phone. Other than the Chief, nothing seemed urgent; they were almost all requests for inventory she didn’t currently have. A glance at her watch told her the hardware store was probably open by now. She could go see if the signs she had ordered were in yet.

The Toy Not Played With

Somewhere in the basement is a toy that has not been played with. I bought it because it seemed developmentally appropriate, or perhaps it just looked like fun, or a way to distract one of my kids when they were screaming or bored or I felt sorry for them. It’s in the basement, because when I tried to get one of my kids to play with the toy — whether in the way the designer and manufacturer intended or some other way that didn’t look immediately lethal or likely to damage expensive property belonging to others — I failed.

So it sits in the basement, not played with.

For a while, that toy was a Fisher Price Smart Cycle, but then one day my son, who is now almost too big for it, or perhaps my daughter, decided to try to drag it up the stairs. I helped, hooked it up to the TV and a love affair was born, where once only screaming happened. When I bought it, I had hoped my son would learn to pedal a bicycle (he had a balance bike but assiduously ignored pedals wherever he encountered them). When I saw him on the bicycle, however, I felt a kind of existential panic at ever conveying to him that what he did on the bike connected to the action on the screen. I doubted that any kid ever could make that connection (altho the TV ads for the toy certainly suggested otherwise).

Now, almost too big for the toy, he can rattle through all the games and will interfere if his sister tries to play and doesn’t make progress quickly enough.

Most of that is true. But the toy not played with isn’t really what I said it was. The toy not played with is actually a gift. A considerate, well-meaning gift, developmentally appropriate and likely to be adored by my children. It sits in the basement not played with, because they’ve already got a crate of the exact same toy (and a million of its accessories).

ETA: Again, wildly unsatisfactory because it is too memoir-y and not fiction-y. *sigh* I’ll sleep on it and try again tomorrow.

A short short: Genealogy

In the network, a forest grew, each person branching upward by twos, except when family secrets or disruption added or subtracted. I planted a tree, and then a few more, connecting myself to my husband above as well as below, entangling ourselves and our brachiate idea of ourselves. I grow a canopy. For the kids.

This is unsatisfactory for a variety of reasons, mostly because it’s still memoir-y, not fiction-y. The auto-word count feature on wordpress is neat for this, tho.

Once Upon a Time

I’ve been blogging over at LJ for years as walkitout, and before that I used to participate in fora such as rec.arts.books, rec.arts.sf.written, and bb at the UW. However, I’ve never blogged fiction, and over the years, my capacity to write fiction has atrophied by comparison. This is a freebie attempt to even things out a bit. If it works — and I like wordpress — I might get Real Ambitious and migrate the old blog over as well.