Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Episode 14: Cat Fight, Round One

What has gone before: Andrew Weazle, the owner of a failing coffee shop trades what the Friday night deposit in return for 'magic coffee beans'. After dumping coffee made by the beans into a potted bonsai tree, a massive ash tree mysteriously grows overnight inside the shop. Following a miraculous weekend which saves the coffee shop, Andrew suddenly and inexplicably leaves work in the company of a mysterious and fatally attractive woman. After he does not return to work for several days, Lara, the shop's only employee, enlists the help of Blackout, one of the shop's regular customers, to find out what has happened to Andrew...

Standing in front of Andrew's apartment door, the ludicrousness of checking up on her boss's private life crashed down on Lara. It wasn't like he was a missing person. He just hadn't come into work. She was pretty sure she knew where he was, and could even hazard a guess at what (and who) he was doing. The resolve behind her misgivings became flimsy in the presence of the utterly mundane apartment door. Blackout’s attendant witness to her paranoid behavior added further to the inanity.

In so many ways, this door was no different than the one she had entered earlier in the year to witness her boyfriend’s infidelity, an image that played through her thoughts daily, though she tried desperately not to think of it. Was that what this was all about? A chance to vent her anger on Andrew, a virtual stranger, what she never could on a man she’d been utterly intimate with? The door was similar. But what lay beyond the threshold was far different. Not a boyfriend. At best, just a friend, at worst, just her boss. This was none of her business.

“This is stupid,” she said, and turned to leave.

Blackout looked surprised, but in a combination of shrugged shoulders and nodding head, began to follow her.

A cry of pain which trailed off into an exhale of ecstasy came from behind the door. It sounded like Andrew’s voice.

“I don’t even want to know what they’re doing,” Blackout said.

Then came the other sound. It was the sort of sound a child hears in the night and wonders if there’s something under the bed. To Lara, it sounded somehow feline, like a cat in heat mewling beneath one’s window, but there was something else in it, something more feral, more guttural…visceral. Like the cat in heat was six foot tall and playing with someone’s intestinal tract instead of yarn.

“What the hell was that?” Blackout had stopped and was looking back at the door.

They stood, holding their breath, waiting for a confirmation of what they believed their ears had heard. Lara could feel her heart beating a rapid tattoo, felt adrenaline beginning to surge into her system. Her lizard hind brain had approximated that the cat in heat was indeed, likely six feet tall, and while it might not be playing with Andrew’s guts just yet, it wouldn’t be long before it was.

There was another cry of pleasure from Andrew, but this evaporated quickly, was cut off and then Andrew screamed. This time the cat-wail turned into a tiger’s growl, soft and low, but present nonetheless.

“We should call the cops,” Blackout said. “I mean…whips and chains are one thing…but it sounds like she’s got a fucking lion in there with them.”

Lara couldn’t remember doing it, but suddenly she was banging on the door with one hand and trying the door handle with the other.

“Andrew?” she shouted. Apartment doors were opening along the hallway and faces were peeking out to ascertain if they would be canvassed by a police officer within the hour. Seeing that it wasn’t a cop, the doors abruptly slammed shut.

The door was locked, and though she shouted several more times, there was no answer.

“Listen,” Blackout said.

She did. There was utter silence within the apartment.

Lara looked at Blackout imploringly. She needed someone to tell her what to do, this sort of “works well under pressure” hadn’t been what she’d meant on her resume.

“Do the Harry Potter thing again,” Blackout hissed.

Lara gave him an exasperated look. “I have no idea if it’ll work again!”

“Then there’s nothing to lose by trying,” Blackout said.

She grimaced, let go of the door handle and stepped back. “Open Sesame!” she said.

The tumblers in the lock moved, and they heard a click as deadbolt shifted. Lara took a deep breath, grabbed the door handle and thrust the door open.

She had a glimpse of Andrew’s apartment, dim light spilling from a room off to the right of the entryway. The bedroom, she thought. But the smell that came from within hit her olfactory sense like someone had slapped her in the face with a handful of shit, wet animal, ammonia, and underneath it all, a distinct odor like chlorine.

“Andrew?” Lara called, stepping over the threshold into the apartment.

There was a dark blur and an animal scream, a sound which reminded Lara of old Tarzan movies, and then hot, bright pain tore into her legs. She kicked out hard and there was a tearing sensation, and warmth…The dark form was clawing its way onto her despite her struggles.

And then Blackout was there, miraculously, holding something large and red which he smashed down into the darkness. It made a very satisfying tang! noise reminiscent of Warner Brothers cartoons before they were deemed too violent, and the thing whimpered and withdrew. Blackout grabbed Lara around the waist and hauled her into the hallway. The door slammed shut even as Lara’s feet cleared the threshold. Blackout slammed against the door and tried it.

“Locked again.” Blackout said. “Some sort of big cat…that’s sooo messed up. We really need to call the cops.”

“Not…a cat,” Lara manage to say between rapid breaths. “Something…else.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know,” Lara replied. “But it’s not a cat.” She looked down at her legs. She was bleeding freely from several gashes in her legs. “I’m starting to feel dizzy,” she said. “Help me stand. I have to get that door back open.”

We need to get the HELL out of here and call the cops!” Blackout nearly shouted.

“Help me stand,” Lara said with steely resolve. “Andrew’s still in there with that thing.”

Blackout shook his head and helped support Lara’s weight. She fixed her gaze on the door and whispered, “Open sesame.”

The lock’s tumblers clicked, then flipped. Blackout reached out to open the door, but even as he did, the doorknob and keyhole turned a glowing, bright red. He pulled his hand back in shock.

“It’s hot…” he said. “Like a stove burner.”

“She doesn’t want us to get in,” Lara said.

“Who? The porn star?”

“That was no cat. And she is not a porn star.”

Lara swooned and Blackout caught her in his arms. “We need to get you to a hospital,” she heard him say.

“Not the hospital,” Lara said. “Back to the coffee shop…to the Tree,” and then passed out.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Images: From the Scrapbook

Here are the first of many images I'll be showing here at the blog which comprise the concept art for what would have become the webcomic of Magik Beans had I not been trying to complete a Master's. I'm just a faster writer than I am graphic artist.

Andrew and Lara, arguing - Lara was originally much more belligerent, although this is the design I stuck with for how she looked. The sketches further down are an earlier, discarded concept.

Andrew and Dragon - we haven't met Dragon yet, but I love this panel...

The Three Bears gag...

And finally, three sketches comprising a story idea where a pint sized fairy falls in love with Andrew, only to be rejected and attempt suicide in Blackout's coffee...

Friday, July 20, 2007

Episode 13: A Series of Uncomfortable Silences

What has gone before: Andrew Weazle, the owner of a failing coffee shop on the University of Alberta campus trades what he believes to be the final Friday night deposit in return for 'magic coffee beans' from a homeless man. After dumping the coffee made by the magic beans into a potted bonsai tree, a massive ash tree mysteriously grows overnight inside the shop. Following a miraculous weekend which saves the coffee shop, Andrew suddenly and inexplicably leaves work in the company of a mysterious and fatally attractive woman. After he does not return to work for several days, Lara, the shop's only employee, enlists the help of Blackout, one of the shop's regular customers, to find out what has happened to Andrew...

"So what did you think?" Blackout asked, unlocking his car, a navy blue Jetta.

"Of what?" Lara asked. "The comic shop, your friends...playing Dungeons and Dragons?"

"It's not Dungeons and Dragons," Blackout protested. "It's a different system. More complex. Better. It replicates reality in a more detailed fashion."

"You're pretending to be elves and dwarves and wizards, and you're splitting hairs over replicating reality?" Lara joked, getting in the passenger side.

"This coming from a girl who listens to 'fantasy metal'."

"That's different!" Lara said. "It's just a musical preference."

"Yeah, for bands who LARP while they play live concerts."

"I thought they were all really nice," Lara replied to Blackout's earlier question. "Except for the metal head--he's way too into himself."

Thank you God, Blackout thought. He pulled out onto the road and began driving toward the downtown area, toward Andrew's apartment. The sudden elation of knowing Lara wasn't interested in Ripper was suffocated by the awareness that they were going to check on a friend who at this very moment might be having sex with a girl who looked far too much like a porn star. This was immediately softened by the realization that he was going along to Andrew's as a favor to Lara, which would put him in her good books on some level. All the help I can get...

It occurred to him that they were currently in the middle of an uncomfortable silence.

Need to say something, Blackout told himself. Something that won't upset her...

"That tree...that must have been a lot of work," he said.

"What?" Lara said, her voice sounding a little panicked. "Uh...yeah. It was a lot of work. But I think it turned out really good."

"Good?" Blackout said. "It looks real. I mean, I've seen silk plants that looked good, but to do an entire tree..."

"It's all in the greenery," Lara replied, sounding a little calmer. "Once you get that all hung, it covers up all the spots where the pieces of the original tree are bolted together."

"Still quite an accomplishment. How the hell did Andrew pay for that thing?"

"Uhhh...he still owes me for it."

"But you're working for him as a barrista?"

"Not a big demand for my tree art." She was starting to sound a little nervous again.

Time to change the subject.

"You watch much TV?"

"Don't own one."

Shit. Lead balloon there. And it wasn't like they could talk about music. The only thing Blackout knew about the music Lara was into was the fake lyrics to a Nightwish song posted on YouTube.
Uncomfortable silence it is then...

Which lasted for the drive down into the river valley, over the North Saskatchewan River, and then up into the downtown.

Andrew's apartment was on 106th street, fairly close to the Starlite Lounge, which Blackout knew often had metal bands come through. He told Lara this.

"Maybe we could go see a show sometime," he said.

"Maybe," Lara replied.

Strike two.

They entered the foyer of Andrew's apartment and Blackout scanned the list of names beside a keypad. He found 'Weazle' and punched in the four digit code. The little speaker above the keypad emitted a tinny ringing sound.

No answer.

Lara tried the door, which was locked, which left nothing for them to do but wait until someone walked in or out of the building.

Another uncomfortable silence, Blackout thought.

"Look, I'm sorry for being a little standoffish," Lara said after a few moments.

Blackout made a surprised face. "Standoffish? I didn't notice."

"I just got out of a relationship recently," she said. "To say it ended poorly would be the understatement of the year."

"No problems," Blackout said.

"So I'm not used to just being friends with a guy," Lara said. "Everything sounds like a pickup line to me. I'm a bit defensive I guess."

"No worries," Blackout said.

There was another silence. This one was far less uncomfortable than the others had been.

"Thanks for understanding," Lara said. "I just could really use a friend right now. Things have been crazy. It's nice to be around someone who's living a normal life."

"Yours is abnormal?"

"I'm checking on my boss at nearly midnight to see if the porn star he left work with the other day has slit his throat and taken all his money, what do you call normal?"

Blackout smiled wanly and nodded.

"This is ridiculous," Lara said. "Too bad we weren't in Harry Potter, I could just say, alohomora and---"

The lock to the door clicked.

Which resulted in yet another uncomfortable silence, lasting until Blackout put a hand out and swung the door open. He looked at Lara questioningly.

Lara shrugged. "I told you my life hasn't exactly been normal," she replied and stepped into the building.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Episode 12: Force Five From Above the Copy Shop

What has gone before: Andrew Weazle, the owner of a failing coffee shop on the University of Alberta campus trades what he believes to be the final Friday night deposit in return for 'magic coffee beans' from a homeless man. After dumping the coffee made by the magic beans into a potted bonsai tree, a massive ash tree mysteriously grows overnight inside the shop. Following a miraculous weekend which saves the coffee shop, Andrew suddenly and inexplicably leaves work in the company of a mysterious and fatally attractive woman...

The golden dragon reared up, its long sinuous neck twisting about the confines of the cavern. Stalactites and stalagmites burst as the beast threw its body around in an attempt to shake loose the intrepid soul who had scaled the monster’s back, climbing nimbly to the top of its neck.

Perched precariously, Flyc the Fox, greatest thief of the four quarters, was trying desperately to sink the dagger of Igal into the dragon’s only vulnerable spot; it’s amber eyes. It was requiring all of Flyc’s skill as an acrobat and climber just to hold on; were he to free one hand to stab at the dragon’s eye, he’d be thrown loose for sure. While he was sure he could manage the fall without killing himself, he knew that the price he’d pay for not killing this dragon would be the lives of his companions.

On the ground, positioned in a semi-circle of readiness were the rest of the adventurers, treasure seekers all. The largest of them, a powerfully built woman dressed in armour black as her blacker than midnight (on a new moon) hair, was standing in a ready position, massive battle axe brandished, when she suddenly rolled her eyes and yelled up to Flyc.

“Stab the bloody thing already! It’s my turn to take a swing at it!” the warrior woman shouted.

From the back of the dragon, Flyc looked down at Amadrylia Blackstone and shouted in reply, “Piss off! I need this kill to make the next level!”

“Let me kill the dragon, and you can get your points looting the place!” Amadrylia said.

The older man in mystical looking robes next to Amadrylia nodded his head. “Quit your complaining!” he yelled. “Try being in my line of work for the first ten levels and getting anything that even vaguely resembles power!”

Flyc loosed one hand to give his accusers the finger; the dragon gave one last lurch and Flyc was tossed through the air like a rag doll. The thief did a roll in mid-air before striking one of the piles of gold and jewels that lay strewn about the cavern. White hot pain shot through his leg; likely broken, but all things considered, not the worst that could have happened.

In the meantime, the dragon had stopped thrashing about and was now sitting docile. If Flyc wasn’t mistaken, the dragon seemed to be taking a very deep breath.

“He’s going to use his breath weapon!” Flyc shouted in horror. “Everyone take cover.”

“I’m not about to use my breath weapon,” the dragon said through clenched fangs the size of Flyc’s arm. “I’m counting to ten…”

“Counting to ten?” said Kyaress, the group’s cleric and de facto healer. It was well known amongst adventurers that while clerics themselves got great self worth out of serving their deity, their only appreciated purpose by their team was their ability to take away all the consequences of a bad choice.

“Yes,” said the dragon in a surprisingly calm voice. “If I don’t count to ten, then the breath weapon is a foregone conclusion. And I’ll use it on all of you.”

“You can’t,” a Drow who had been leaning against a stalactite said with a smug grin. “I’ve got armour that’s impervious to heat attacks.”

“See, you’re out of character again,” the dragon said, breathing out a heavy sigh. “Why can’t you guys just stick with playing out the story instead of always getting pissed off about who does what, or kills who, or steals what or gains the most experience points. That’s not the point of the game you know.” The dragon picked his coffee cup that was sitting to the side of the treasure piles and took a long drink. When he finished, he ran his fingers through his hair and sighed again, deeper than the first time.

“Did you lock the door?” the Drow asked suddenly.

“Which door?” the Dragon replied.

“The one at the bottom of the stairs,” the Drow said.

“I was carrying two coffee cup trays,” the Dragon replied. “Besides I invited the new girl from the coffee shop up to see the place.”

The walls of the dragon’s cavern melted away, to be replaced by the familiar space of Force Five Comics, which in the Dragon’s mind was the best comic shop in town, not because of its great selection; one could get a better selection at the monolithic and overrated store on Whyte Ave., and not because of its cool owner, since the guy at Happy Harbor comics was still cooler than Mark Ripper, even though Ripper (The Dragon addressed Ripper by his last name because the two of them shared first names, and having two Marks in the same room was always confusing) played lead guitar in a local goth metal band. It was the best comic shop in town because Ripper opened the space up on certain evenings for the Dragon’s gaming group. And since Ripper had ordered all their miniatures and Dwarven Forge scenery as “Store Décor”, it had been a tax write off.

It also had a much better décor aesthetic than most other comic shops due to the fact that Ripper had been dating a student from the Interior Design program at the University’s outreach college. She’d used the shop as a final project; the green-gray faux finish gave the impression of foliage or castle walls without being overtly tacky. There was only a smattering of medieval weaponry on the walls (the presence of any weapons being the reason they finally broke up) and the shelves containing the gaming figures and scenery were very subtle. The store lacked the cluttered, unorganized feel of most comic shops.

Blackout, now fully removed from any Draconian persona, put his coffee cup back down onto the long, heavy wooden table which was used for reading and sketching during store hours. It was currently covered in pieces of graph paper, polyhedron dice, a forest of pencils, lead figurines in various stages of paint, Dwarven Forge scenery and Blackout’s Dungeon Master’s screen. Everything a geek could desire on a Tuesday night.

Seated around the table were the five other gamers. Mark Ripper, the store’s owner, had been hastily working through a last minute level-up of his character, his eyes fixed on his character sheet, chewing on a pencil, head leaning on one hand, his long, straight dark hair falling in a curtain to either side of his face, when he’d paused to look up and ask Blackout whether or not he’d closed the door leading up to the shop. Ripper was the group’s dark heart, playing the Drow bard whose goal was to find a song that would undo creation, or barring that, to aggravate Blackout, Dragon or no.

“I asked the new coffee girl to come up and see the place after she gets off work.” Blackout asked him. “Is that okay?”

“Yeah, no problem,” Ripper replied. He looked up from his character sheet. “Are you interested in her or something?”

“Not sure yet,” Blackout said. “But until I know, hands off, okay? I don’t stand a chance against you and your rockstar charm. Especially with her.”

“Why’s that?” asked a brunette girl with ice blue eyes (one of which was currently sporting a decent shiner) who was wearing a dirty green and black rugby uniform. Courtney won the award for ‘least likely to play tabletop fantasy roleplaying games’; she was in her third year at the University, played for the U’s rugby team, and worked with troubled youth on weekends part time. Courtney was Amadrylia Blackstone, the group’s warrior-woman who wielded a two-handed battle-axe and wore more suitable armor than a chain mail bikini, much to Ripper’s chagrin.

“She’s really into the kind of music Ripper plays,” Blackout replied. “I imagine he’s like her wet dream or something.”

“Girls don’t have wet dreams,” Courtney replied matter-of-factly.

“Whatever,” Blackout said. “Speaking of wet dreams, have any of you seen Andrew the past few days?”

“Saw him on the weekend,” said a teenager with dreadlocks. Mikey was the baby of their gaming group, and yet the most experience player with nearly 8 years under his belt, having played ever since he was in grade 5, as well as having been Flyc the Fox in their current campaign.

Since the weekend Mikey,” Blackout said.

“Nope,” Mikey replied. “But I had to stay home last night and finish up a math assignment.”

“Man I’m glad I’m not in school anymore,” Courtney said.

“You don’t think of University as school?” asked a middle-aged man with a goatee and salt and pepper hair. George, aka ‘Geo’ aka ‘the Geomancer,’ aka ‘G’, was a late blooming gamer, introduced to the game through one of his students a few years earlier. He had joined their group when Ripper had put up an ad on the comic shop wall looking for “someone who can competently play a magic-user’. As a professor of mathematics, Geo could more than competently play a magic-user. He was the first player Blackout had ever gamed with who had frustrated him as a Dungeon Master.

“No way Geo,” Courtney replied. “School…as in what Mikey attends, is where they force you to take subjects you have no interest in. University is where, with the exception of calculus,” she aimed a look at Geo, “You get to choose courses you want to take.”

“And go for free on a rugby scholarship!” grinned a short Korean girl with platinum blonde hair chopped above her shoulders, adding an enthusiastic “Yay!” If Ripper was the group’s darkness, Sun-hi, or Sunny as she liked to be called, was definitely its light. She played Kyaress, priestess of the Light, who was fond of undoing the darkness Ripper’s Drow unleashed. It drove him nuts. She was generally oblivious.

“Like you need caffeine,” Blackout growled. “So none of you have seen Andrew?”

“I haven’t seen him with my eyes, but I did run into him online Sunday night,” Courtney said. “We were on a chat, and we talked for a bit, but he went into a private chat with somebody. That was the last I talked to him.”

“Why are you inquiring?” Geo asked. “I’m not sure I want to know why talking about nocturnal emissions reminded you of Andrew.”

“Well, that’s why I invited Lara – the new coffee girl – up. But she’s not the wet dream part,” he blurted. “She’s really worried about Andrew. He left work yesterday pretty abruptly…with a girl who was a dead ringer for a famous porn star. That’s the wet dream part.”

“Which one?” Ripper asked, suddenly interested in the conversation again.

“Which what?” Blackout said.

“Which porn star?”

“How would I know?” Blackout said with very convincing ignorance. “I wouldn’t have even known she looked like a porn star if someone hadn’t told me.”

“Who?” Courtney asked.

“Who what?” Blackout replied.

“Who told you she looked like a porn star?”

“We’re getting off topic here,” Blackout recovered.

“If I left work yesterday with a girl who looked like a porn star, I doubt I’d have come into work either,” Ripper said.

“Well, she’s worried about him,” Blackout said, “And I offered to go over to his apartment with her and see if he’s sick or something.”

“You seriously think there’s something mysterious going on here?” Ripper asked. “Andrew is a first class vanilla personality. He has nothing going for him. Sounds to me like he got himself a hooker with his newfound prosperity and is taking a few days to enjoy himself.”

“She said it wasn’t like that,” Blackout said.

“She’s only known him for a week,” Ripper said. “How well can you know anyone in a week?”

“Well, I’ve known Andrew for longer than a week. I took a few classes with him last year,” Courtney said. “And he didn’t say anything on the chat about prosperity or taking time off. In fact, almost everything we talked about had to do with how much financial trouble the coffee shop has been in and how relieved he was when they broke even.”

“Yeah, that Tree sure adds a certain something to the place,” Geo said. “I went in there for a tea and ended up staying all afternoon reading.”

“So he didn’t say anything about having met a girl?” Blackout asked Courtney.

“Not in so many words, no…” Courtney replied.

“But…?” Blackout prompted.

Courtney rolled her eyes. “We were on a singles’ chat. And if you go to private chat with someone, it sometimes means you’ve met someone.”

“Or you’re having cybersex,” Ripper said.

“Will you please not think with your dick for just one minute?” Courtney growled.

“I did,” Ripper replied. “It was like ten minutes ago when Blackout was out getting us coffee.”

Courtney punched Ripper on the thigh, giving him a Charley horse, which, while it did not make him quieter, helped him to stop thinking with his dick for not one, but several minutes.

“So you think he met this porn star on a chat?” Mikey asked. “That’s just crazy. You don’t meet porn stars online…you meet losers.”

Courtney shot him a look.

“What?” Mikey said. “I’m a loser. You need to embrace your inner geek already. You may be an athlete by day, but you’re a serious barbarian babe, otherwise referred to as la-hoooz-er by night.”

Courtney flipped him an ‘up-your-kilt’ salute and turned to Blackout. “Maybe she just looked like a porn star. Maybe they got talking, shared fantasies, and she came dressed as his.”

“And he hasn’t answered his phone or come into work because….?” Blackout held his hands out, awaiting a plausible explanation.

“Because she’s really a succubus,” Ripper said, putting his pencil down with a sarcastic finality that signaled he was done leveling up his character and was ready to get back to the serious business of gaming. “And she’s been sucking the life force out of him for the past 24 hours.”

“A succubus,” Sunny said brightly. “We killed one of those once, didn’t we?”

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Episode 11: Worried-Den-Mother-Mode

What has gone before: Andrew Weazle, the owner of a failing coffee shop on the University of Alberta campus trades what he believes to be the final Friday night deposit in return for 'magic coffee beans' from a homeless man. After dumping the coffee made by the magic beans into a potted bonsai tree, a massive ash tree mysteriously grows overnight inside the shop. Following a miraculous weekend which saves the coffee shop, Andrew suddenly and inexplicably leaves work in the company of a mysterious and fatally attractive woman...

Lara was now in full worried-den-mother-mode.

It had taken Lara several stages to get to this particular mode. It had been preceded by pissed-off-catty-mode, which she went into after Blackout had informed her that the woman Andrew had left the shop with didn’t just look like a porn star, but actually was one. This wasn’t the result of any physical or emotional attraction to Andrew; she had no interest in him beyond the fact that he had inadvertently summoned up a massive and ostensibly magical tree (and perhaps the fact that he signed her forthcoming paychecks). It had more to do with the fact that Blackout not only knew that the girl was a porn star, but that he also knew her name. This was the result of a physical and emotional attraction to Blackout—she knew most men looked at porn, but she was hoping Blackout was part of the 0.000002 percent in North America who didn’t.

This mode had escalated to full-on-bitch-mode, which she had moved into when Andrew had called her late that evening, apologizing for not returning to the store, thanking her for closing up, and then asking her if she could perhaps open tomorrow. The female giggle in the background had been the final straw.

“You’re an asshole,” Lara had said. “And I’m not opening for you, you horny dickhead.” After which she hung up. Paycheck or not, she wasn’t going to get up early to cover for Andrew just so he could bang that blonde bimbo late into the night.

She moved into might-be-taking-a-lot-of-smoke-breaks-mode when she had come in for her afternoon shift to find the shop yet unopened. This had morphed rapidly into starting-to-think-there’s-more-than-meets-the-eye-and-not-in-a-Transformers-way-mode when Ima had come up the stairs from the basement while Lara was taking off her coat in a frenzy.

“There was a source of power in the shop yesterday,” Ima said. “Dark power.”

Lara felt a little uncomfortable talking to one of the Fates somewhere other than the dark recesses of the basement. It took all the glamour out it, seeing Ima in all her middle-aged glory under fluorescent lighting.

“I’m a little busy right now,” Lara replied. “And why the hell didn’t you tell me about this yesterday?”

“We were out seeing the Wailin Jennys over at the Horowitz,” Ima replied. “We love a good all-girl band,” she added when Lara displayed a confused look.

“We noticed the trails of power on our way in after the show,” she added. “The fact that there was residue from it means that the original source was quite potent.”

“Well, I didn’t see any Ringwraiths in here,” Lara said, putting on an apron and tying her hair back. “So unless you can tell me something else about this, I don’t really know how to help you Ima. In fact, I could use your help on the floor today if you don’t mind.”

“You want us to help you work?” Ima said.

“Mostly just keeping the tables and dishes clean,” Lara replied. “And I’d only need one of you.”

Ima had called Hatima’s name, but when Lara tried to picture the dark, taciturn woman helping her with customer service, she quickly told Ima not to worry about it, she’d do fine on her own.

“Very well,” Ima said, turning to go back down the stairs. “It’s female.”

Lara wrinkled her nose and lifted one eyebrow. “Come again?”

“You wanted to know something else about the source of the dark power,” Ima told her. “Whatever it is, it’s female.”

“What do you mean, ‘it’s female?’” Lara asked. “Dark power sources have gender?”

“Of course they do!” Ima replied in a matter-of-fact tone. “Where do you think we got little baby monsters from? The stork doesn’t bring them you know!”

“So this dark power source is a monster?”

“Most of the dark power sources are,” Ima replied. “Except for the people who write tabloids. They’re a complete cosmic anomaly.”

“There weren’t any monsters…or paparazzi in the store yesterday.”

“You’re sure about that?”


“Nothing strange or untoward occurred?”

“If that means did I see any weird shit, the answer is no…well, unless you count Andrew leaving the store with a porn star on his arm.”

“Sounds pretty damn weird to me,” Ima said. “When did you last talk to Andrew? Did he come in today?”

“I talked to him last night…and he didn’t show up this morning, no.”

“You’d best give him a call,” Ima said, retreating into the basement’s darkness.

When Lara called Andrew’s cell phone and repeatedly got no answer, she moved into somewhat-concerned-for-my-boss-mode, which lasted throughout the rest of the day. By 7:00PM she had finally reached full worried-den-mother-mode.

She’d been able to keep her concerns at bay by immersing herself in the day’s endless tasks. It wasn’t nearly as busy as it had been on the weekend, but the flow of traffic was steady, and there was the occasional rush that really kept her jumping. When Blackout walked in shortly after 7:00 though, the day’s stress all rushed in on her at once.

“I need 6 large coffees to go,” Blackout said.

Lara repeated the order, "6 large coffees to go," and then burst into tears.