About the Author

Edward Willett

Edward Willett is the award-winning author of more than sixty books of fantasy, science fiction, and non-fiction for all ages. He won Canada’s top science fiction award, the Aurora Award, for Best Long-Form Work in English in 2009 for Marseguro (DAW Books); the sequel, Terra Insegura, was shortlisted for the same award. Other science fiction books from DAW include Lost in Translation, The Cityborn, and the upcoming Worldshaper (September 2018), which will launch a new series. He’s also the author of the fantasy novels Magebane (written as Lee Arthur Chane) and the Masks of Aygrima trilogy (written as E.C. Blake). Other titles include the five-book Shards of Excalibur series for Regina’s Coteau Books, and the young adult fantasy Spirit Singer, which won the Regina Book Award at the 2002 Saskatchewan Book Awards. Ed began his career as a reporter, photographer, columnist, cartoonist, and eventually editor for the Weyburn Review, then spent five years as communications officer for the then fledgling Saskatchewan Science Centre. He’s been a fulltime freelance writer (and actor and singer) for twenty-five years. His nonfiction runs the gamut from science books and biographies to local history. He lives in Regina with his wife, Margaret Anne Hodges, P.Eng., their teenaged daughter, Alice, and their black Siberian cat, Shadowpaw.

Books by this Author
Cave Beneath the Sea

Cave Beneath the Sea

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Door Into Faerie

Door Into Faerie

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tagged : arthurian
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From the Street to the Stars
Excerpt

Chapter 1: An Unexpected Roommate

Cold wind lashed my face. Cold rain dribbled down my back. My fingers throbbed like I’d slammed them in a door, my toes squished in my waterlogged boots, my throat felt as rough as rusty iron, and my nose was both stuffed up and dripping, but I kept playing my beat-up stringsynth and singing the best I could. My open case barely held enough soggy cash for a mug of red-bean stew, much less a bed in Fat Sloan’s flophouse, and I didn’t fancy a night on the streets in this weather.

But the few people who splashed by me on their way into the tube station had eyes only for the dry warmth promised by its flickering blue holosign, not for a skinny, ragged streetkid.

That did it. I broke off in the middle of a soulful, wailing note—it was threatening to turn into a cough, anyway—and flicked off the stringsynth. If I’d sunk to feeling sorry for myself, it was time to lift. Feeling sorry for yourself is just another way of saying you think somebody else ought to be taking care of you. First thing I’d learned after escaping the orphanage seven long years ago was that I was the only person I could trust to take care of me.

I fished the thin, dripping handful of feds out of my case, counted them, and shook my head. Sometimes I can’t even trust myself. Unless I could talk Sloan into a discount, it looked like I’d have to settle for a mug of stew and a night of shivering.

Lightning flashed, thunder quick-marched across the sky, the rain beat down even harder, and I decided to give Sloan the chance to be generous. None of the nearby hidey-holes I knew would be any good at all in this kind of weather—they were mostly under bridges or in burned-out basements, and I knew from experience that if they weren’t flooded yet they soon would be. Besides, on a night like this the free spaces would be crawling with rats, both the kind that squeak and the kind that run around on two legs. I could wake up stripped naked and robbed blind—I knew that from experience, too.

Or, I might not wake up at all.

I put my instrument into its soggy case (my ancient, all-metal stringsynth was impervious to rain), slung it over my shoulder onto my back, and started down the street—but I stopped at the first corner and looked back, feeling a strange itch between my shoulder blades.

Under the tube-entrance holosign stood a man in a long black weathercoat, the expensive kind that repels raindrops a full metre in every direction. I ducked out of sight. Can’t be a ’forcer, not with that coat, I thought, but that wasn’t a comfort. The Fistfight City peaceforcers generally treated me all right. Sure, they’d chase me away from a place if they got a complaint, but they didn’t say anything when I went back a couple of weeks later. But lots of other people took an interest in kids on their own. I had my music, but a lot of kids had nothing but themselves—and they still had to eat.

Some were on the next street over. They stood in purple-lit doorways, watching for the occasional slow-moving wheeler or talking to shadowy figures uncomfortably like the man in the weathercoat. As I splashed past one of the doorways I heard a man cursing, and the sound of a hand meeting flesh, then muffled sobs that broke off as a door slammed.

Nobody on the street took any notice. They wouldn’t pay any more attention if that guy in the weathercoat grabbed me, I thought, and broke into a run, ducking into the next alley. Several twists and turns later I arrived at Fat Sloan’s, out of breath and shivering. I pushed through the heavy front door into the sour-smelling warmth of the lobby. A man lay unconscious on the shiny, lime-green couch—but only one. Slow night, I thought.

Fat Sloan deserved his nickname. A mountainous bubble of bloated flesh, he must have moved off the stool behind the counter sometime, but I’d never seen it and found it hard to imagine. He smiled at me, yellowing teeth showing briefly between pendulous lips. “Young Kit! What a surprise.”

I raised an eyebrow at him. “You know I berth here when it’s hydrating, gladeye.”

Sloan spread his hands and shrugged, which made his neck disappear in rolls of fat. “Busy night, Kit. You want a room, you’ll have to share it.”

I held up my money. “I’ve got feds for a single.” I didn’t even have feds for a double, but he didn’t have to know that yet. Maybe I could get him to knock down the price.

“Maybe, but I haven’t got a single to give you.”

“No flashman roomie for me, Sloan!”

“Kit!” Sloan, attempting to look shocked, put one hand in the general vicinity of his heart. “Would I do that to you? This…fellow…is a perfectly respectable freespacer. He’s just between ships at the moment. And I know he’ll be happy to meet you.”

I didn’t like the sound of that. I remembered the street with the purple-lit doorways. “No street-trade either, Sloan.”

“Would I even suggest such a thing? This is a legitimate establishment.”

Sure it was. “Then what’s his interest?”

“He told me he likes music, wants to meet a musician. Didn’t know you’d be in tonight when he said that, but here you are. A match made in heaven.”

Huh. I still didn’t like it—but thunder rattled the door, and rain—or was that hail?—rattled on the window, and the truth was, I’d always wanted to talk to a spacer. If I were ever going to escape this interstellar slimepit, I needed a space-friend. And if he really is interested in music…

I didn’t let any of that show on my face. If Sloan knew I was actually intrigued, I’d never talk his price down. “Still comes down to economics, Sloan. Fewer feds for a double.”

He shrugged. “So sleep in the street.”

I put a little wheedle in my tone. “Come on, Sloan, flexibilize for your old gladeye.”

He squinted at me for a moment, then grunted. “All right. For you, ten percent off.”

“Forty.”

“Kit, synchronize with reality. It’s raining. I’m a businessman—supply and demand. High demand right now, low supply. Fifteen percent.”

“Thirty.”

He shook his head. “No deal.”

“Nominal with me. I’ll REM in the street—and spread the data you’re defunct.” I turned toward the door.

Sloan laughed, a remarkably unpleasant sound. “All right, Kit. Tell you what—twenty-five percent off. Just for you.”

“Orbital, gladeye.” I turned back to the counter and paid him, then tossed a couple of extra feds his way. “And add a mealpac to the program.” With the discount, I could actually afford to eat.

“Sure.” Sloan reached under the counter, pulled out a keyrod and a mealpac, and slid both across the stained countertop. “Room 206. Knock first. I told your roommate he’d probably be having company, but you don’t want to surprise a freespacer. He might cut you in two and regret it later.” He snickered. “Or he might not even regret it.”

“Worthless data, gladeye.” As if I’d be stupid enough to burst in on any stranger. How did Sloan think I’d survived this long?

I turned toward the stairs, but Sloan wasn’t finished. “Oh, one other thing, Kit.”

I glanced back. “Yeah?”

“Someone else was asking for you. Not just a musician. You, specifically. Man in a weathercoat. Looked like a high-power meatman to me.” He grinned. “Sleep well.”

“Not after seeing those teeth,” I shot at him.

But as I climbed the stairs, my gut clenched. I’d been approached by street-level meatmen before; I told them “no,” and they lifted. But if one of the herd-owners had his eyes on me...

And the guy in the weathercoat had been asking about me the same day this freespacer showed up at Sloan’s asking about musicians? As I reached the dim and grimy second-floor corridor, I could almost feel the jaws of some hidden trap closing on me. Maybe I should take my chances on the street after all…

But the window at the end of the hall lit up with lightning, thunder crashed and rumbled, and wind howled, and I shook my head. I’m inside. I’m warm. I’m dry. And it could all be coincidence. I’d just be careful. Really careful.

I found Room 206 and stopped outside the door, listening. There was plenty to hear elsewhere in the flophouse: a man and a woman screaming obscenities somewhere; the latest Sensation Single pounding from the next room down the hall. I grimaced; I hated that pre-packaged fluff. But I could hear nothing from Room 206. Was that a good sign or not?

I took a deep breath, then knocked.

“Who’s there?” said a voice, and my eyes widened. Sloan had said the spacer was a man, but the voice was soft, high-pitched—like a woman’s!

I grinned. Things are looking up! “Your roommate,” I said.

“Come in,” said the feminine voice.

I stuck the keyrod into its port and, as the door swung inward, stepped through—

—and then jumped back out again, tripping over my own feet and falling on my butt with a thud. I pushed myself backward, crablike, until my stringsynth case pressed hard against the wall.

Two purple eyes on moist reddish-orange tentacles slid around the edge of the door and focused on me. A third eye joined them. “Are you unhurt?” said the voice that had told me to enter.

I found my own voice. I also found I couldn’t do much with it. “I—I—”

“My name is...” The creature made a noise like tearing metal. “In your words...Water that Falls from the Sky?”

“Rain?” I croaked. I resolved to kill Sloan.

“Yes, Rain! Like what it is doing outside.” A fourth eye rounded the corner, and then the entire creature.

Picture a stalk like a plant’s, reddish-orange and dotted with irregular patches of silver and gold. Give it four insect-like legs, positioned equidistantly around the stalk, so it can move instantly in any direction. Top the stalk, about four feet up, with eight writhing tentacles, four of which end in the purple eyes that had been the first thing I’d seen. Add a mouth at the tentacles’ base and breathing slits in the stalk that slowly open and close with a wet sucking sound, and you have my roommate. “You’re a hydra!”

“That is what your race calls us, yes.” The alien sounded slightly miffed. “We would prefer you to call us...” It—I didn’t know if it was male or female—shrieked something well above high C.

“Not since my voice changed,” I muttered.

“What?”

“Uh—nothing.” I remembered I was sitting on the floor and scrambled to my feet. Fat Sloan’s floors were nothing you wanted to sit on for long—or short, for that matter. “I’m sorry I yelled. Fat Slo—uh, the man who runs this place told me I’d have a roommate, but he didn’t tell me he’d be—uh, one of you.”

“Ah. Well, certainly I have the advantage of you there, for I did expect that my roommate would be human.” Although the hydra’s voice had that odd, almost feminine timbre, its Fedspeech was easy to understand, perfectly unaccented. “Won’t you come in?”

“Uh—yeah. I mean, thanks.” Clutching my synth and my mealpac to my chest, I edged into the room. The hydra made room for me, but not very much, and I dreaded the thought of bumping up against one of its—

I jumped as it laid a tentacle on my arm. Its orange skin felt very warm and slightly moist. “Your pardon,” the hydra said. “I believe it is a human custom to exchange names. I’ve told you mine; you are...?”

“I’m called Kit,” I said, a little breathlessly.

“Kit? Do not humans usually have two names or more?”

“I don’t.” I looked around the dingy little room. There was only one bed, but the hydra wouldn’t use one, anyway.

I hoped.

“Is that usual?” the hydra said.

I tossed my stringsynth case on the bed and sat down beside it, then undid the laces on my left boot, wriggling my toes and hearing squelching sounds as I did so. “Most people have an individual name and a family name, but I don’t have a family. My parents abandoned me when I was a baby.” I pulled off the boot with rather more force than was necessary. “The orphanage didn’t give me a name, just an ID number. I was supposed to choose my own name when I was twelve, local. In the meantime, they called me by a ‘pre-name’—Kit.”

“But surely...I am not a good judge of human ages, but surely you are older than twelve now.”

I attacked the right boot. “Yeah, I’m fifteen, local—something like sixteen or seventeen, in Earth years—but I left the orphanage when I was ten, and I’ve had other things to worry about. Kit’s good enough.”

The hydra—Rain—said nothing, though its tentacles continued to move slowly. They made me queasy, so I stood up and went to the wash basin in one corner of the room, where I dumped the water from my boots. The rough towel Fat Sloan provided wasn’t all that clean, but it was dry. I took off my coat, vest and two shirts; hesitated, then shrugged, stripped off the rest of my wet clothes and began rubbing myself dry. Being naked in front of a stranger hardly seemed to matter when it was a multi-tentacled alien who wasn’t wearing any clothes itself. (And yet, I still didn’t know if it was male or female—how could you tell?)

Rain spoke up again abruptly. “What is in this?” In the cracked mirror I saw the hydra lay one tentacle on my synth case.

“It’s a stringsynth,” I said. “A musical instrument.” I towelled my tangled hair furiously. “I’m a street musician.”

“A musician! A human musician!” All four of Rain’s eyes focused on me suddenly. “I have been hoping to meet one! I am honoured!”

I wrapped the towel around my waist. “Well, that’s a first.” Great. I finally get a groupie, and it’s an alien.

“Musicians have great prestige in our society.” Rain caressed the synth’s case. “And we admire human musicians especially. Your vocal apparatus is limited, but you create melodies we have never dreamed of—and your harmonies...! I am honoured, indeed.”

I shook my head. “I’m just a streetkid with a beat-up old stringsynth. You’ve got nothing to learn from me.”

“You are wrong, Kit. I have already learned much from you. I will choose to keep much of it.”

Whatever that meant. “So, you know who I am. What about you?”

“What would you like to know?”

I reached for the mealpac and pulled its tab; the rich, nose-stinging odour of peppered greenfish steamed out of it, making my mouth water. “Well, first of all…if you don’t mind my asking…are you male or female?”

His tentacles waved. “You really can’t tell?”

“No.”

“I am currently male.”

“Currently?”

“We cycle among three sexes as we age. All hydras you see in Earth space are male. Neither our gender-neutral younglings nor our much-honoured female elders leave the planet.”

Okay, then. At least I’ll know next time I meet a hydra. I dug into the stew. “And what are you doing in Sloan’s flophouse?”

“Flophouse?” Its—no, his, at least for now—tentacles waved. “What is—?”

“Hotel.” I gestured at the yellowing walls with my spoon. “This place.”

“It is as I told Mr. Sloan: I am a spacer, but I am between berths. I came here to enjoy new experiences.”

I’d just taken another mouthful of stew, and I almost choked on it. “You mean you’re here—in Fat Sloan’s—as a tourist?”

“I believe that would be an accurate—do you need assistance?”

I swallowed before I gagged on laughter and fish broth. “No, no, I’m fine. Rain, if you want new experiences, stick with me. I’ll show you a side of Fistfight City you can bet your—uh—bottom you’ve never seen before.”

“Thank you!” Rain crowed. “I am in your debt, Kit. Will you also play some of your music for me?”

“Count on it.”

Thunder shook the room and the wind shrieked through a crack in the window, but I was warm, dry, and eating. In my life, I’d learned not to ask for more than that.

Of course, as my roommate proved, sometimes we get things we don’t ask for.

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Lake in the Clouds

Lake in the Clouds

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Paths to the Stars

Paths to the Stars

Twenty-Two Fantastical Tales of Imagination
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tagged : short stories
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Song of the Sword

Song of the Sword

Shards of Excalibur 1
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Strangers Among Us
Excerpt

The Cullng by Kelley Armstrong

We grew up with stories of how the Cullings saved us. Stories of the famines and the aftermath, a world that once grew grain and corn in abundance, the forests overrun with rabbits and deer, lakes and streams brimming with trout and salmon. How all that had come to an end, the water drying up and everything dying with the drought—the grain and the corn and the rabbits and the deer and the trout and the salmon. And us. Most of all, us.

Left with so few resources, it was not enough to simply ration food and water. Not enough to reduce birth rates. Not enough to refuse any measures to prevent death. We needed more. We needed the Cullings.

The Cullings removed surplus population by systematically rooting out “weakness.” At first, they targeted the old and infirm. When that was no longer enough, any physical disability could see one culled. Even something that did not impair one’s ability to work—like a disfiguring birthmark—was said to be enough, on the reasoning that there was a taint in the bloodline that might eventually lead to a more debilitating condition.

The population dropped, but so did the water supply, and with it, the food supply, and eventually more stringent measures were required. That’s when they began targeting anyone who was different, in body or in mind. If you kept too much to yourself, rejecting the companionship of others; if you were easily upset or made anxious or sad; if you occasionally saw or heard things that weren’t there . . . all were reasons to be culled. But the thing is, sometimes those conditions are easier to hide than a bad leg or a mark on your face. It just takes a little ingenuity and a family unwilling to let you go.

 

***

“Who are you talking to, Marisol?” my mother says as she hurries into my room.

I motion to my open window, and to Enya, who had stopped to chat on her way to market. She says a quick hello to my mother and then a goodbye to me before carrying on down the village lane.

I murmur to my mother, “A real, living friend. You can see her, too, right?”

“I was just—”

“Checking, I know.” I put my arm around her shoulders. Having just passed my sixteenth birthday, I’m already an inch taller and making the most of it. “I have not had imaginary friends in many years, Momma.”

“I know. It’s just . . . I’ve heard you talking recently. When you’re alone.”

“I argue with myself. You know how I am—always spoiling for a fight. If no one’s around to give me one, I must make do.” I smack a kiss on her cheek. “I don’t hear voices, Momma. I’m not your sister. I have a little of what she did, but only a little, and I know how to hide it. I don’t talk about my imaginary friends, even if they’re long gone. I don’t let anyone see my wild pictures. I don’t tell anyone my even wilder stories. I am absolutely, incredibly, boringly normal.”

She makes a face at me.

“What?” I say. “It is boring. But I will fake it, for you and Papa.”

“For you, Mari. Our worries are for you, and yours should be, too.”

“But I don’t need to be worried, because I am very careful.”

“The Culling is coming.”

“As you have reminded me every day for the past month. I will be fine. I’ll even stop arguing with myself, though that means you’ll need to break up more fights between Dieter and me.”

“Your brother will happily argue with you if it keeps you safe.”

“It will.” I give her a one-armed hug. “I’ll be fine, Momma.”

Excerpted from Strangers Among Us Copyright © 2016

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The Sum of Us
Excerpt

The Dunschemin Retirement Home for Repentant Supervillains by Ian Creasey

Here we go again. Mornings in the Home always began the same way. No matter what time Stafford reached Anarcho’s room, Anarcho was invariably awake, waiting for Stafford to open the chintz curtains. But he never reprimanded Stafford for being late or wasting time. In the old days, Anarcho had been as impatient as all supervillains, ever eager to pursue some cunning scheme. Now there was no rushing and shouting and clanking; no messy experiments left bubbling overnight; no lairs to build or dungeons to dust.

Today’s tasks were more homely. Stafford pulled back the duvet to reveal Anarcho’s shrunken frame, tinged green from over-exposure to tachyons. First came the bathroom routine: toilet, sponge wipe, shave, and so forth. Then the mechanical maintenance: eye lube, claw sharpen and polish, exobrain defrag and reboot. These prosthetics were all obsolete. Anarcho was the Home’s oldest resident, his life convoluted by time travel.

“Attention all residents,” the intercom blared. “Please report for roll call in the lounge. This is not a drill; the perimeter alarm has sounded. Urgent roll call!”

“Sounds like mischief,” Stafford said. “I presume it’s not yours.”

He didn’t expect an answer. For form’s sake, he checked the control panel on Anarcho’s wheelchair but saw nothing. It had been years since Anarcho’s last caper.

Stafford couldn’t decide whether he missed the old days. Back then, life had felt too frenetic, with a never-ending list of chores; every new plot always needed its own elaborate control room, destruct mechanism, and escape tunnel. Yet he’d enjoyed the craftsmanship of building vast laboratories and sinister machines. Now the chores were mundane: the new enemy was incontinence. Had all those intrigues been for naught?

“Let’s get you down there,” he said.

He settled Anarcho into the motorized wheelchair and draped a tartan blanket over his knees. The blanket lacked even the most basic hidden enhancements: no blast-proof shielding, no explosive tassels, not even a hypnotic fractal pattern on the reverse. It was merely 100% wool, soft and warm.

The Home bustled with activity as the residents and their carers converged on the lounge. Stafford ducked aside as Madame Mayhem and Miss Rule zoomed past on their hoverchairs, racing each other along the corridors. Proceeding more sedately, Stafford and Anarcho were the last to arrive.

“Hurry up!” roared Betty Beast. “I’m missing breakfast for this.”

“Oh, I’ll get us some breakfast,” said Doctor Havoc. With a well-practiced dramatic gesture, he conjured puffs of blue smoke from his hand. The clouds of nanites drifted through the kitchen doorway, returning with toast and mushrooms. One blue globule collided with a hoverchair and tried to drag it back, to Madame Mayhem’s furious protests. She retaliated by stealing slices of toast before the smoke took them to Doctor Havoc. In the tussle, stray mushrooms fell to the floor, where three of Legion’s tiny scuttling avatars scooped them up.

“Hush!” cried Matron. “Stop playing with your food.”

A tall, spindly woman dressed in an old-style black-and-white nurse’s uniform, Matron seemed to glare at everyone simultaneously. “Please answer the roll call, and I’d better not hear any cackling. Phipps will physically check that everyone’s here. No decoy holograms!”

Stafford said, “What do you reckon, Anarcho—is it an escape or a kidnap?” Some supervillains couldn’t bear retirement and returned to the metropolis like grizzled rock stars craving one last comeback.

Matron called out, “Narinder Atwal.” “Here,” said Doctor Havoc. “And hungry!”

Phipps, Matron’s diminutive assistant, touched Doctor Havoc’s shoulder to verify his existence. Coincidentally—or not—a blue puff of smoke swirled into Phipps’ face and made him sneeze.

“Sophie Béranger.” Matron only ever used civilian names; she insisted that every retired supervillain must abandon their alias along with their antics. While no-one openly defied her, many surreptitiously clung onto their monikers and misbehaviour.

“Here,” replied Madame Mayhem, her fingers idly stroking a memorial necklace of fangs from Fidosaurus, her deceased pet dinosaur.

The roll call continued until it reached, “Russell Fletcher.” Stafford waited a few seconds, then pinged Anarcho’s exobrain.

“I’m here, wherever this is,” Anarcho said, his voice low and hoarse. “It ain’t heaven, that’s for sure,” said Doctor Havoc.

“Come sit on my hoverchair, and I’ll show you heaven,” Madame Mayhem purred.

The supervillains dissolved into giggles until Matron raised her voice to resume the roll call, which ended with no absentees—or none detected.

“That’s reassuring,” said Matron, addressing the group. “But what set off the alarm? I’ve checked the video, and most of the outside cameras are obscured. It’s remarkable how fast the ivy grows in our grounds. Quite remarkable indeed.” She stared at the motley reprobates. “If anyone knows anything, please enlighten us.”

“I know why galaxies collide,” said AlphaMega, his bass voice augmented with infrasonic rumble.

“Yeah, your huge ego turned into a black hole and sucked them in,” retorted Madame Mayhem.

“If you can’t be helpful, be quiet,” Matron said. “I’ve warned the authorities about the perimeter breach. If anything happens outside and it’s traced back here, there’ll be consequences.”

Excerpted from The Sum of Us, copyright © 2017

The Gatekeeper by Juliet Marillier

He stalks up the long hall, each step a small poem of feline grace. An early morning hush lies over Autumn Gardens. Outside, the first birds are calling. Inside, there’s a distant rattle of crockery. He passes the doors, many doors, each slightly ajar. The residents lie still under their quilts, wrapped in memories that will vanish when they wake.

Ah! Feet in slippers, here by the wall. A woman makes a shuffling progress, clutching the rail. He slips away, shadow-quick. Her ending will come soon enough; it is not for him to trip those faltering feet. His task is not to deliver death. Only to witness. Only to guide.

Good smells ahead. The kitchen is at the far end of this hall—he is not allowed to enter. But he eats well. His man feeds him in their safe place, every morning after they wake, every night before they sleep.

There was a time before: starving, snatching, devouring whatever scrap might come his way. Beetles, worms, smears of stuff in sharp discarded cans. It was a time of fear, of fighting, of running, always running. A big tom tore his ear. A hurled stone bruised him. But he got away. Over and over he got away.

A baying dog chased him. He caught his foot in a fence, hauled himself free, ripped flesh from his leg. There was blood. He hid under bushes. Licked and licked, but could not make it better.
A man came with cheese and meat and a trap, and he was caught. He fought the box that shut him in. He bit the hands that touched him; terror made him strong. But they were gentle hands, lifting him out, tending to his wound. He knew, for the first time, the feeling of a full belly.

That was then. This is now. The man—his man—brought him here, made him his own safe place. A warm bed, sweet water, good food. He has a friend now, and a home. He has a solemn calling.

 

***

 

Autumn Gardens Eldercare Staff Meeting: March 2, 2010
Agenda

1. Action items from last meeting
2. April visit by Minister for Seniors: planning
3. Staffing issues
4. Therapy cat for Dementia Ward – protocols
5. Any other business

 

***

The morning rounds bring him to the sunny room where the residents of Ward D now sit in their chairs. Some stare at the television, a flickering parade of images, a buzz of sounds. Some nod in half-sleep. It is nearly time for the wheeled trolley to bring tea and biscuits. He knows who will feed him crumbs and who will look through him, not seeing.

“There you are, Piff.” Kind hands, these, reaching down to stroke him gently behind the ears. The touch contents him. He has many names at Autumn Gardens: Stripey, Honey, Thistle, and Orlando. To his man, he is Hamza. Those names are unimportant. He is Cat, servant of Bast.

Here is the old woman who smells of flowers. He remembers a garden where he hid once, a place all tangled foliage and deep hollows; the same smell was there. He stations himself by the woman’s feet, waiting. The trolley creaks in; there’s a tinkle of crockery up above.

“I’m going home this afternoon,” the flower woman says. “Kalgoorlie. My son’s coming to pick me up.”

“That’s nice, dear.” The trolley moves on.

A generous supply of crumbs descends. They are the kind he likes best. Rattle of cups on saucers; muted voices. More crumbs here and there. He wanders, grazing.

The trolley creaks out again. He settles, comfortably full, to drowse the morning away on a sunny window seat. His senses tell him there will be no further work until night falls and it is time to warm his man’s feet. But soon, very soon, the call will come.

Excerpted from The Sum of Us, copyright © 2017

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Twist of the Blade

Twist of the Blade

The Shards of Excalibur, Book 2
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One Lucky Devil

One Lucky Devil

The First World War Memoirs of Sampson J. Goodfellow
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