Fragment: MANTICORE

4 Apr

(This is part of a story, I guess, or a novel, that has been simmering at the back of my head for a while. Since it won’t let me sleep, or work, or concentrate on my other projects, I thought I’d share what I have so far. Enjoy!)

There was a muffled sound, like someone clapping his hands while wearing thick gloves, and a strange, burnt smell.

The old man came out of my parents’ bedroom and told me that I had to come with him. He was not that old, I guess, but he had fine lines around his eyes and at the corners of his mouth, and he looked at me with something that might have been amusement, or might have been curiosity. Back then I was five. I did not question his order. Instead I grabbed my emergency backpack and Mr. Teddy, and we left.

My emergency backpack contained everything I needed, in case I ever had to run away from home. There was some clean underwear, two snickers bars and my favorite comic books. I dragged it down the stairs. We left the dark house, passed my parents‘ BMW in the driveway – engine still ticking – and got into a dark grey car with worn seats. I got to sit in the front. The old man belted me in. I looked out of the window as we drove away, but rain had begun to fall, and I could not make out a single shape in the dark.

Looking back, I do not understand why he didn’t kill me on the spot. The job was big money, and he really didn’t need a child. Especially not in his line of work. But he kept me around, never talking much, teaching me everything I needed to know. I grew from quiet boy to stubborn teenager, hardly ever thinking about my parents. In the beginning I accepted that they had sent me to live with the old man, and later – guess I never really thought about what had happened to them.

Don’t know when I picked up what exactly we were doing for a living. I remember endless lines of cheap motel rooms, or sleeping in the car, practicing my spelling while I waited for Mike to return. Then we would order hamburgers, and I would learn how to properly clean the weapons and get blood stains out of his favorite shirt.

Our ways parted when I was twenty-three, stubborn and silent and no longer willing to wait for “my time”, as he called it. I had killed by then, and tortured to learn rich people’s secrets, and had decided that this was not how I wanted to make a living. I wanted to see more of the world, find my own way.

Like so often, chance found me while I was trying to figure out what to do next. I had spent my last money on a dirty room in the outskirts of Singapore, a curvy whore with straw-colored hair and a bottle or bourbon. There was a knock on the door. The person in the hallway wanted to know whether I could find my way around the jungle. Just a short tour, easy money.

I had never been to the jungle.

Of course I said yes.

Three days later I had killed my first beast – a three-headed snake that was the stuff of legends, or nightmares. The client took the trophy and left a tall stack of money. I got as drunk as I had never been in my life, and a week later I took the next couple of guys on their special adventure.

See, if it can kill you, someone will want to shoot it. But with most beasts, the main problem is where to find them. You have to know the right people to show you the way, and the right people to help you get the weapons and the trophies from one country to the next. All this costs money. My clients don’t bother with the small stuff. As long as I deliver the adventure, everything is fine.

Funny how this job finally peaked my interest in old books. I try to locate new beasts, rare and dangerous, and learn the right ways to defeat them. Sometimes it is a powder with special ingredients, other times brute force will do the job. I am the expert, I am supposed to know these things.

This tour is no different. I have hired carriers from a man I trust, rented two jeeps, bought the equipment. Now I am waiting to pick up my client at Agadir Airport. It is late, the sun will be gone in a few moments. With calculated movements I light another cigarette. Unnecessary exhaustion has to be avoided at all costs. The coming days are going to be tough, and Fatima has taken her toll on me as well. I think of her dollar-sized nipples and her smile, and the fact that there is not a single hair left on her body except for that luscious black mane. We stayed up all night. I paid her generously.

The plane has touched ground a while ago, but everything takes its time in Morocco. By the time the person I think is my client steps out of the modern, rose-colored building, the stars have come out. The night is going to be cold. I step away from the jeep and grab her luggage. “Thank the gods you don’t have to pay me by the hour”, I tell the woman.

Her black hair falls to her shoulders like a helmet. Huge sunglasses cover most of her face. Which is ridiculous, considering the fact that it is night, and has been for some time. I let my eyes travel down and up her tiny frame. Expensive clothes, but practical. High heels. Hope she has brought sensible shoes.

“Don’t whine. Are we starting tonight?”

“I have booked a hotel in town. We will leave at dawn.”

Without another word she climbs into the passenger seat. We make our way into Agadir. Cars get in our way all the time. Instead of braking, I honk. My client does not even acknowledge the other people on the road. We might be the last two persons on earth.

The sweat on my back has chilled me to the bone by the time we reach our hotel. The club next door is open, and I glimpse Fatima dancing. I wave and escort my client into the hotel. The keys are in my pocket, and generous tips have made sure no questions are asked.

When I had my client the key card to her room, she stops me with the touch of her hand. “Where do I get a drink?”

“You don’t.” I look at her until her hand drops away from me. “If I have to wait for you, you’ll pay me extra. Good night.”

Still it is almost noon when I finally see her coming out of the hotel. The jeep, parked in the shadows, is nevertheless as hot as an oven. I haven’t slept well, tossing and turning between the cheap sheets, counting the tiles on the walls. Moroccan TV does not interest me. I got up before dawn, packed my stuff in the cars and have waited for her ever since, dozing on the back seat reserved for her luggage.

She only brings a tiny bag. Today her clothes are worn and practical, and she is wearing boots. From the distance already I can smell vodka on her lips.

We leave without another word. One of the carriers is driving the second jeep. He knows where we are going, so I do not worry about losing him in heavy traffic. I step on the gas pedal and head for the mountains.

We drive all day, only stopping once when we need new gas. The villages start disappearing. This is a forgotten country, even with the new highways and thousands of tourists pouring over the borders every year. The real county is about to get lost, and only adventurous wanderers glimpse its beauty. People like us.

Later that night we fuck in her tent. Her fingers are white against my skin, and surprisingly soft. She pushes me back on the blankets and mounts me, riding as if she had to escape from the desert. We rest, and then I roll her around and press my chest against her back. Her smell intoxicates me. It does not take long, and our moans echo from the rocks.

Morning finds us stretched out next to each other, and she idly caresses my chest. “I like my men with more hair”, she says in a purr. “Not that I am complaining.” Her pale finger traces the scar running down the right side of my body. “Angry client?”

“Angry troll”, I reply. The client was just a nuisance. He didn’t listen, almost died and put more holes in the troll’s pelt than you’d expect in an old wool blanket in a brothel. I later shot him when he would not pay as agreed, and sold the troll fur on the black market.

She scoots down next to me, and the next thing I know her lips are around my shaft, and she is sucking. At first I am not sure whether I still have the energy left for this, but then everything is finished in a matter of minutes.

“Why are you doing this?” she asks, gesturing vaguely. Her naked body is framed by the early sunlight. Her nipples cast prominent shadows. The mountain air is cold. “You could be a movie star, or a model.”

“Why are you here?” I ask in return, “you could be at home, fucking your millionaire husband until he drops from exhaustion and waste his money on strippers.” I hold her gaze. Her lips have gone white. “Of course I know who you are. We can never be careful enough. But don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me.” I get up, put on my pants and leave the tent. The stale smell disgusts me. Besides, it is time to get to work.

Legends were not clear, so I had to experiment with one of the few manticores living in captivity. The problem with putting them in zoos is not that they are hard to care for, for they do not die the way most exotic beings would. Instead they fade. The one I killed, in the end, was barely more than a shadow against the wall. A burning arrow did the trick. Wild manticores should be – more, somehow, I guess. More of a fight. Put the fear of gods in those humans who see them, right before they tear them apart. Manticores have been extinct in Greece and the Middle East for centuries, but somehow a small population has survived here, in the mountains. If everything goes according to plan, tomorrow there will be one less. Its head will make a lovely addition to someone’s collection. I bet she has a collection at home, hidden away from spying eyes. Does her husband know? Who cares.

[...]

Jumped off the edge of the planet…

26 Mar

… or at least that’s what it feels like at the moment.

Remember how we moved to our new place, just a few streets from our old address? This is a not-too-small town, former capitol of Germany. You would think getting a new internet connection is not that hard.

We informed our old provider that we were moving, and they could not decide whether they were able to provide their services at the new address. “Yes – maybe – no – probably – under certain circumstances  – definitely not.”

This conversation took two months. Once they had finally made up their mind, we contacted another provider. Then another. Want to know what their reactions were?

At first, “Ooooh, seems there is a problem with the Federal Network Agency, they are not assigning you a new phone number.”

Then, “Your cables are too old.”

Then, “The previous tenant’s provider won’t release the connection.”

We tracked down the previous tenants with our mad PI skills (e-mail our landlady, learn they live down the street, shoot them an e-mail and find a piece of paper in our mailbox later that night) and they got their provider to release the connection.

And the last one, “The local uber-provider won’t release enough interconnection points.”

Richard almost blew a fuse when he talked to their customer service on the (mobile) phone recently, asking, “So what are we supposed to do now?” – “Wait for an interconnection point to free up, of course.”

I know, the market is tough. Prices are down for everything, and selling a private phone line won’t get you much money. But you’d have thought that SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE would know how to provide proper customer service. Every time there is another problem, and even if we somehow manage to DO THEIR JOB and solve to (supposed) problem, there is something new.

And that is the story why we have been without a landline or internet at home since December.

Rant over.

Imbolc cake

18 Feb

Torte

I wanted to have some Imbolc cake based on dairy products, light and sweet and full of promises for the coming season. Fortunately the internet is full of recipes, so in the end I decided to have some apple vanilla cake smothered in mascarpone cream. It’s not as pretty as it could have been, mostly since I had to improvise and spread the cream with my fingers. Apples fit well with this season, since they can be stored for the winter.

(In the end I was full of cream and sugar. I love baking.)

Upgrade at the Knusperhaus

12 Feb

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Finally, I made some new “bricks” and mortar for my witchy Knusperhaus. After weeks without any real baking or cooking lust, yesterday I had to use up some eggs and remembered a few of my favorite recipes:

Honey banana peanut butter muffins

Blueberry and buttermilk banana bread

Lemon curd

And I decided to confirm my suspicion that our blender is not strong enough to make date-based vegan truffles and then made the dough with a fork and my bare hands instead (it works!). My basic recipe, loosely adapted after several recipes I had read online:

Diandra’s Cursed Vegan Balls

5-6 Medjool dates (they are bigger and superior, you could use about 8 normal dates, I guess)

3 heaping tablespoons peanut butter (and I mean heaping! There is no such thing as too much peanut butter.)

about 1 cup of ground hazelnuts

200g dark chocolate

1 teaspoon coconut oil

1. Soak the pitted dates in some water for at least 10 minutes. Drain, put in a blender and curse because that stupid thing only squishes the dates in the corners.

2. Add peanut butter to see whether that improves the situation. Watch with horror as a solid mass forms in the corners below the blades.

3. Remove the would-be dough from the blender with a spoon, lots of patience and a bit of cursing (to taste). Mash the dates and peanut butter with a fork until a uniform paste forms.

4. Add ground hazelnuts and mix with your hands until a solid dough ball forms.

5. Make 18-20 dough balls and chill these for at least half an hour.

6. Chop chocolate, add coconut oil and heat (I used the microwave in 1-minute intervals, stirring between intervals and repeating until all chocolate was molten, maybe 3 minutes at best).

7. Dip balls in chocolate with help of a fork (honestly, I just threw a bunch of them into the chocolate, stirred and then removed them with the fork), tapping the excess chocolate at the edge of your chocolate bowl.

8. Chill balls once more on parchment paper until the chocolate is solid.

9. Eat remaining chocolate with a spoon, drizzle it over bread or cake or use it to make some real hot chocolate (with a pinch of chili).

I am not a good person, but I’m trying

31 Jan

Maybe this is a problem none of you ever have. I don’t know. But once again I have discovered that I am not a truly “good” person, and that with just a tiny change in the fabric of history I might have become quite a bully.

There is a person I know and despise. And recently I found some information online with the potential to damage this person’s reputation, relationship and probably end its work contract. And of course I do blame my writer’s brain, but one of the first thoughts was, “Wow, and imagine the catastrophe if someone forwarded this information…”

Luckily I have several friends who are convinced – and have repeatedly convinced me – that I am not that bad a person. But of course I look at my brain suspiciously, “How do you get your ideas? Is that part of who we are? Or is it due to our creative training?”

I don’t know.

I left the information where it was. Didn’t save it anywhere, didn’t forward it. Didn’t tell anyone about it. Part of me was curious what might happen, but… this is definitely who I *want* to be.

But I’ll definitely store that idea for later use in one of my stories. The best ideas are firmly rooted in reality.

 

(I know a truly good person might go and tell the person in question, “There is some compromising information you posted in the past that you might want to look into…” – but I am not THAT good.)

Like sleeping in a library

22 Jan

That’s how Richard describes my latest change to our bedroom. I mean, imagine if you found yourself with a giant wardrobe, what would you put in it?

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Books, obviously.

One big advantage of our new flat is that it comes with an inbuilt wardrobe. It has sliding doors, and due to construction one compartment is always open. Since we have two white cats intent to Shed On All The Clothes!!!, this compartment is really not for clothing. So I got to use it for two of the most precious things in the world to me: Books, and my altar.

My altar is still under construction (second shelf from the bottom) and only consists of my bonsai tree, my divine balance statue and my tarot cards. I have not yet figured out how to add a candle without burning down the house, and in time more magical objects will surely make its way into our wardrobe. But I am not in a hurry.

(That is one fifth of our wardrobe. Envious?)

And the books – see for yourself. Pretty, right? The shelves hold our university textbooks, dictionaries, scientific books on interesting subjects (from serial killers to “good officialese” from the fifties) and my witchy books.

I have started spreading my library through the complete flat, with the cookbooks in the hallway…

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… and some interesting books one would not mind showing to guests in the livingroom.Sorry for the crappy picture, it is all still under construction.

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Most of the novels and some random volumes still inhabit my personal office, where more shelves are needed (You can’t see the remaining books lining up against the other wall.)

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The Wildwood Tarot

14 Jan

As a lover of tarot decks, I recently bought The Wildwood Tarot. And I had intended to tell you about it sooner, only… a strange thing has happened.

I am extremely protective of my Wildwood Tarot.

To the point where, when someone comes to visit who likes tarot cards, I make sure it is stashed somewhere safe so our guest won’t mess with it.

This is extremely unlike me. I don’t do “touching messes with my cards’ energy” or such. At least under normal circumstances. But in this case… let’s say it is an extremely jealous relationship.

The book, on the other hand… I cannot say I like it too much. It’s all spiritual enlightenment, love yourself, transcendental stuff. Not my way of doing things. But I like the images, and the liberties they have taken with the names of the cards and the elements. It’s more down-to-earth than most tarot decks I have encountered, and also less fluffy-bunny. I strongly recommend checking it out for yourself.

Which are your favorite cards? Please leave links, I love finding new decks.

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