‘Tangled Up In You’, sounds inviting, yes?
Please enjoy this Thursday Teaser…. No cover yet. There will be one soon. 🙂
Tangled Up in You
What could he have possibly done to deserve this fate? Bowing his head in obeisance, he left his master’s side to follow the victim.
It was a young victim, barely more than a child, and he hated his master anew for making him deal death to one with so many possibilities.
Defiance was unthinkable and so he approached the victim on rubbery legs. And smiled to make the victim’s last minutes pleasant. “Are you Shawn?” he asked, pluking the victim’s name from the other’s mind without difficulty. This one was an innocent in truth, hiding nothing from those around him.
His victim extended a stubby-fingered hand. “I am. Are you Mr. Reynard?”
So, this is why my master chose this victim. Or at least partially why. Grasping the offered hand, he smiled more broadly “I am. And I can already tell you’re going to be right for this job. Punctuality and friendliness are key.” He took half a step closer in the small office, releasing the victim’s hand.
Shawn. His name is Shawn Michael O’Reilly. Called Mick by his friends, of which he has many. Remember. Never forget.
“Really?” Shawn’s eyes squinted as his smile threatened to overrun his face. “You don’t know how glad I am to hear that.”
Forgive me. Never knowing to whom he prayed, or if there was even someone out there, Reynard stepped forward swiftly and snapped the young man’s neck with a quick twist so that Shawn Michael “Mick” O’Reilly died with a smile on his face.
When the human’s breath was stopped and Reynard was sure the soul inside the body had time to escape, he lowered the corpse to the floor and unsheathed his knife. With delicate precision he cut Shawn’s sandy blond ponytail from his head. Then he pressed the hair to the end of his own braid and murmured “Yours to you and yours to mine. Death to you and some essence to me.”
The hair fused seamlessly with Reynard’s locks, showing its bland color briefly before merging with the off-blond of the strands surrounding it. If his hair had been unbraided, it would have trailed after him along the floor like a bridal train.
He’d killed many in the last ten years.
“Stop mooning over him and feed me.”
Standing, he bowed to his master and then opened his mouth. When his master’s tongue invaded his mouth, drinking the sensation of Shawn Michael O’Reilly’s death, Reynard suppressed a wince.
Please, oh please let this end. But no one and nothing answered his begging and the kiss went on until it was finished.
“Now I can sleep a bit.” The psychic vampire chuckled and turned away, pulling Reynard by one wrist. “Take me home.”
Linked together, they walked from the silent office and toward the stairs. If they were quick no one would realize they’d been here at all. Together they passed between chattering employees.
They were felt; humans shivered with sudden cold. But because of Reynard’s gifts they were not seen.
Invisible to all, they passed out into the sunlight.
* * * *
Jason Campbell stared at the pink slip. Printed on real pink paper. Nothing but the most authentic for a traditionalist tracker like me.
Flipping over the pink slip with some idea of writing a rude response to alleviate his frustration a little, Jason saw this:
–You still get your full retirement package but you must step out.
Step out. His boss, Agent Weinberg’s, way of saying Jason had stayed too long. That he’d overstepped his boundaries one to many times.
Or maybe she wasn’t saying that at all. Overstepping his restrictions was how Jason had often gotten the job done. Maybe Agent Weinberg was simply saying he was too damn old.
Forty-eight isn’t old.
Except, when talking about he tracker profession, forty-eight was out to pasture for at least ten years. A tracker’s career was often measured in years rather than decades. I’m a damned baseball player. Or a figure skating star. Too old for the job and too bull headed to be trusted with a position behind a desk.
Just the thought of an office post made Jason’s stomach knot and he admitted he would never take such a job even if one was offered with triple pay and benefits equal to those he’d enjoyed as a tracker.
I’m already starting to think of my job as in the past. He supposed that meant he was ready for retirement. Or at least ready to accept the pink slip as fact rather than something negotiable.
“Jay. Jay? You in there?”
Oh God help him. Everyone else called him Agent Campbell. Even that upstart, Pierce, managed to use his last name. But this one… This devilish elemental…
Easy, Jason, he counseled himself. There’s one good thing about pink slip retirement already. You won’t have to deal with Bergdorf. Smiling just a little as this idea grew roots, Jason tucked the pink slip into his back pocket and opened his office door. “What?” he demanded, schooling his features automatically before the irritating gnome.
“I’m in your corner if you need anything. The Chief’s being to hard on you if she gave you any sort of reprimand for that Warner business. I’ll stand right up next to you and tell her so. Just watch me.”
And he probably would, the loyal fool. That was one of the biggest reasons Bergdorf hadn’t risen higher in the ranks during his five years as a tracker. He was still too trusting, too protective of those he considered friends, and too devoted, if such a thing could be, the SearchLight’s tenets.
“It’s nothing like that,” Jason told him. “I’m being let go. That’s all”
“Fired?” Bergdorf all but squeaked.
Jason considered the pink slip and nodded. “Yes.” Bergdorf’s fearful expression compelled him to add, “But with full retirement benefits.”
The younger agent’s face cleared and then clouded over like a bright blue sky hidden by the District of Colombia’s most pervasive smog. “Then you’re not really being fired?”
The pink slip’s duplicity had been chewing at the back of Jason’s mind as well and he said, “I suppose I’ll find out the truth when I speak with Agent Weinberg.” He plastered a pleasant expression on his face when Bergdorf continued to look uncertain and troubled. “Don’t worry. This will straighten itself out.”
As commanded, Jason Campbell skipped through the wild flowers that divided his sister’s wheat filed from the dirt lane.
He walked. Neither shambling nor plodding, he walked. And although he had been ordered to “go skip in the daises” by his sister he was only obeying because he wanted to be out of the house. He’d been in Kansas less than three hours and he already wanted to run back to DC.
But nothing awaited him in Washington. The nation’s capital held nothing for him now that he’d been let go.
Jason stopped, head tilting as he caught the ringing, mournful sound of an acoustic guitar being strummed. He discounted it and kept walking. Any idiot could make the guitar sound beautiful. It was a welcoming instrument, almost as easy as a child’s recorder and much more pleasant.
He stopped again, and a slow smile warmed his broad features. The guitarist was plucking the instrument and making music. True and compelling runs of notes like water over a fall. Jason nodded to the melody carried on the galloping accompaniment. He knew this one and he began to sing softly.
“Papa, Papa, build me a boat
“That I might on the ocean float.
“To hail all ships as they pass by
“And to enquire for my darling boy.”
It was a griever’s song full of loss and no promise of comfort. Jason loved it and would have, he told himself, even if he hadn’t been smarting from forced retirement.
He left the band of wildflowers and walked beside the dirt lane where only the occasional tractor passed. He would be trespassing in the neighbor’s field by following the music but he had a hope that trespassing wasn’t as strictly watched and enforced here as in DC.
The melody rang over the broken chords and the second verse flitted through Jason’s mind. He didn’t sing. It seemed blasphemous to cover the guitar’s voice with his own.
As we were out on the Eastern Isle
We lost four men
And your darling boy.
As we were out on the Eastern Isle
We lost four men…
And your darling boy.
He entered another field of wheat, passing between the rows like a ghost, unseen and leaving little to no trace of his passing. Children of the corn. He smirked briefly before letting it fall away. Child of the wheat is more to the point but who ever heard of a horror story with that title? There were things that lived in corn fields. And wheat fields. Hungry things that called for human blood and were often sustained on birds and bugs while waiting for weary travelers.
Jason had killed some of them.
He shrugged the memories away and fixed his gaze on the single grain silo that lifted its head above the drowsy August world. There was a farmhouse beyond the grain silo but a good distance off, leaving the gray and circular exclamation point all but alone.
The music seemed to be coming from the grain silo’s top. And impossible as that surely was—grain silos were places of storage, not sitting—Jason shielded his eyes and squinted, looking up for the first glimpse of the player.
“I’m too far away,” he whispered as the music left off “The Sailor Lad” and went into a skipping tangle of notes that he didn’t recognize. “I can’t possibly see him. Or her.”
Still he peered and much sooner than he would have thought he’d reached the base of the grain silo. There was a broken ladder on its side, a rusted thing that hung in defiance of the silo’s otherwise well-tended look.
He began circling the silo, searching for another way up. Because the music was definitely coming from above him and he needed to find the guitarist. He needed to.
And while he sought, the laughing melody went on.
* * * *
Reynard sensed the gnat far below and his heart ached. He fell into a faster rhythm in an attempt to relieve the pain. Go away, he thought at the gnat who was really an innocent of some kind. A human innocent of some kind. Go away. Save yourself. Not that he was dangerous on his own but he was bound to a ravenous beast.
“Go away, go away,” he chanted against the plucking of his right hand. “Go away, go,” he muttered as his left hand found chord after chord and changed the song without Reynard’s conscious desire to another sad song. This one was without words and Reynard hated the silence left when he quit speaking.
He purposely changed the song and, unable to keep away from sad songs, began making up one of his own.
“Fly, little, fly, little,
“Fly, little bird.
“Far away from me,
“Far away from him,
“Far from your own desires.”
That wasn’t half bad and Reynard went on:
“Run, little, run, little
“Run, little bear.
“Dangerous parents you have
“Dangerous you will become,
“But dangerous I am.
“Run. Run. Run.”
But the gnat—the man—was now prodding at the ladder below. If he kept doing that he would discover the silo’s secret. Then there would be little Reynard could do to keep him away. To keep him safe.
He bent a touch more magic into the song, hoping it would affect the man as his first attempt with small magic had not. And he sang.
“Creep, little, creep, little,
“Creep, little gnat
“Far from me.
“Far from here.
“Far from your death.”
For an instant this seemed to work. The man hesitated with his hands not quite resting on the invisible rungs of the ladder that only looked rusted.
Then he began to climb.
He did it fast, as if he was afraid he’d rethink his actions. Or maybe, Reynard decided when he caught a glimpse of the man’s briefly upturned face, as if he had climbed invisible ladders before. The act might be completely commonplace.
What sort of man is this? Reynard stepped back from his window as the stranger neared. Why isn’t he affected by my music, by my magic? A frisson of excitement rushed to the ends of all his fingers and curled his toes. There had never been a mere mortal able to resist him. Who was this man?
Maybe he isn’t a mere mortal human. But when Reynard had sent out his magic to stop the stranger he had felt no answering magic. The immune newcomer was as mundane as sliced bread
He allowed himself a brief smile as the memory of his childhood, years without sliced bread, years of loaves never precut, flitted through his mind. He’d lived long enough to see something that had once seemed ostentatious become common. This man, to, might become the accepted thing.
But not now, he thought as the stranger climbed through the window and stood in the same room with Reynard in spite of the ‘go away melody. Now he is a miracle. Reynard bowed, not wondering at his sudden desire to be formal. “Welcome.” That sounded as if he’d expected the man. “You are a surprise. That sounded rude. Quit analyzing your words and say something that is truly you. “You are welcome here, miraculous stranger.” That at least seemed like him even if it remained overly meditated and formal.
The average-looking man returned his bow. “Thank you. I am Jason Campbell.
Weren’t names a thing of power? Yes, but this man seemed unafraid of that. And he may not have given his full name. Or even his true one.”Rey.” He paused. “Reynard.” Let the man make of that truth what he would. Many of those Reynard introduced himself to ended up dead at his feet.
A lock of sandy brown hair dropped over the man’s forehead and he brushed it away with what looked to be an impatient gesture. As if he wasn’t used to having even a little bit of hair out of place.
Or I’m reading too much into a simple movement. Ah but I haven’t been this off kilter in my responses and assumptions for years. Of course, he also hadn’t met anyone unexpectedly in years. Not since the beginning of his slavery.
“Do you claim to be the fox god or something akin?” Jason Campbell asked.
Reynard grinned. And transformed into his fox form, his clothes fading into nothingness as he shifted. Peering up at the man through his fox eyes, he wondered why he’d thought his guest ordinary He smelled of years upon years of close contact with magic even though he had none of his own. He also smelled of a woman, another man, and children. At least a dozen.
And chickens. He smelled of chickens.
The scents were threatening to overwhelm him and Reynard changed swiftly back to his human shape, clothes reappearing around him. Such distractibility was the cause of his enslavement. And in any case he had no desire to stop talking with this stranger Particularly when there was little danger of his master discovering them and hurting what was quickly becoming the most interesting person Reynard had known in decades
“That proves only your shapeshifting ability.” Yet Jason Campbell had taken a step back. “Leave it for now. I have no desire to become entangled with another magical creature. I came because of the music you played
Came because of it rather than being driven away? Curiouser and curiouser, thought Alice. He didn’t allow his mouth to twitch with this quote. He wanted something from Jason Campbell and he might even get it if the man was as unaffected as he seemed. “You enjoy depressing ballads?”
“There’s nothing depressing in the contemplation of death as part of life’s dangers,” Jason answered.
Reynard retreated to his guitar and picked it up. “Do you play?”
“A little. I’ve never had the time that I’d…” He frowned thunderously “If that was an example of your magic, getting me to say more than I intended, it is unwelcome.”
“I do not use my magic to get others to talk.” Only to listen. “There is little mortals can teach me.” He held out the guitar, gripping it casually by the neck.
Jason took it with both hands and with a reverent ease that reminded Reynard of a priest he’d met once. The man had handled chalice, bread, and other holy implements of his faith with a comfort borne of long use and an ingrained sense of responsibility.
Jason tucked the guitar against his body, holding it in place with his right arm as his left had found a chord on the neck. He strummed on open fifth and then a seventh chord. Then he was singing the first verse of “The Golden Vanity” about the boy who’d been tricked into giving his life for an ungrateful captain.
Reynard joined him on the second verse even as he strode to the far wall and took down his fiddle. He settled into the easy chord structure Jason played—I, IV, V, I—and found the countermelody by the fourth verse.
They finished together:
“Oh there is a lofty ship and she sails on the sea.
“But she sails without a cabin boy the age of twelve and three.
“And she fears she will be taken by a Turkish enemy…”
Here Jason dropped out, although he continued to play the chords Reynard halted in the middle of the first word of the last line and asked, dropping the countermelody and matching Jason chord for chord, “Why did you stop?”
“Because I love the…” Jason coughed and his fingers stuttered on the strings. He fumbled the guitar and the music died. “Don’t do that. I am not your toy.”
Reynard held the fiddle at his side and the bow in his opposite hand. He tried to look innocent, knew it was a lost cause because of the foxy—pun definitely intended—slant of his features. “My magic doesn’t work that way.” This was closer to a lie than his first statement. His magic could be used any way he chose. Or nearly. “In any case, I meant nothing by it if I did release a little magic.” That was more honest He did not want to frighten this man away now that he was here.
Jason raised sandy colored eyebrows at hi and his mouth turned down for a moment, revealing wrinkles that spread all over his face before disappearing. He was older than he’d first appeared.
So perhaps I am not the only one who is more than he seems. Reynard discovered he liked the idea of an older human. It was as if the burden of years carried with it a promise of experience. And he liked his men experienced.
There went his libido. Dormant while doing his master’s bidding. Even asleep when the young man or woman they approached held every characteristic of conventional beauty. Now his cock was half erect and he took a step closer to the object of his desire. “How old are you?”
Jason snorted and some of the tension went out of his posture “Does it matter when you have all but claimed to be older than the hills?”
“Not older than they.” He smiled, hoping to entice an answer, a true answer, out of Jason without magic. “Humor me?”
For some reason that age seemed to bother him “You are handsome no matter your age, Reynard blurted, surprising himself into a blush. He knew it would show like a beacon against his pale and freckled Irish skin.
Jason snorted again; There was little to no humor in it. “I am a retired SearchLight agent if that means anything to you.”
Reynard tensed, but tried to speak casually. “I know of SearchLight. They can do little to help my present situation but I know of them.”
“What help do you speak of?” It was Jason’s turn to take a step forward.
“More than you can give,” Reynard answered quickly, retreating from the concern in the man’s softening gaze. “Let’s play more.” He lifted his fiddle to his shoulder. And relased more than a touch of magic to encourage even though his magic had done little so far.
This time Jason was taken in. He tucked the guitar as before under one arm. “What shall we play?”
Reynard was disappointed. His miracle man hadn’t survived much more than a drop of magic. Apparently, he wasn’t as special as Reynard had first thought. “‘Mary Hamilton,’” he said in response to Jason’s question. This was a more modern ballad but it fulfilled Jason’s stated desire for songs about death that he somehow didn’t find depressing.
“I don’t know that one.” Jason sounded disappointed. Even a little sulky. Then he brightened. “But my sister says I can play anything if I hear it once. Play the melody.”
Hating the effect his magic had wrought and yet unable to take it back without casting more magic on the half-puppet, Reynard began to play.
And, true to his word, Jason picked it up almost at once. If not for the slightly lost cast to his eyes having someone to play with would have been bliss.