The contessa walked out into the blizzard. Maybe today would be the day she accomplished her task and be able to rest at last. The snow whirled thick around her. She carried the small jar in her over large hands. A simple braid was twined around her wrist. A wick for the snowflake candle she prayed for. It was an ancient fable in her family that one of her line would make fire from the falling flakes. It had to be her. She was the last. She held the jar out and set aside her rage. The long dead alien that had started her line had passed a bit of her magic down the line. Contessa used that touch of magic. Reaching deep inside herself. The snow filled the jar and the tiny wick peeked out from the top. Contessa willed a flame to form and it did. The tiny flame cast a tiny circle of life in the bitter cold. Contessa felt joy fill her. She had done it. She could rest at last. She laid down in the soft snow to die.
The Celebration Box sat unused on the cobwebbed shelf. It had been so long since there was a reason for joy, for hope. Butterfly Woman dragged the kitchen chair down the hall and used a broom to sweep away the cobwebs. Then she climbed up and took the box down. The little cottage was neat and tidy except for this corner. Mercury Quill sat beside the fire, lost in sadness. Butterfly Woman loved him deeply and hoped the Celebration Box could snap him out of his gloom. He had nearly welded himself to the recliner, only surfacing to perform basic functions. Butterfly Woman shut off all of the lights. She closed the curtains tight. She placed the box on the coffee table. Mercury Quill barely stirred at her presence. Butterfly Woman opened the box and stood back. The celebration within began to rise and shine its light in every corner. It was built of happy birthdays and congratulations all wrapped around the soul they had captured. Mercury smiled and at the soul whole.
To balance skin on a knife edge was the workshop name. Marie was more than a little horrified by it. But she was also intrigued. Would this workshop give her the apricot glow she’d always dreamed of? Or would she wind up in some madman’s lair being dissected on a table in a room full of students taking notes. She snapped a pic of the flyer and went on with her days. Fourteen days later she was wandering down alleyways in search of a steampunk festival. She was bedecked in her finery, goggles and cogwheels and gears oh my… She made another turn down another side street and stopped short. The japanese blooms on the sign ticked her memory. She scrolled through her camera roll until she found the workshop flyer. This was the place. Some insane bit of courage. She rang the bell. The door opened and a nice little old lady let her in. She was led past the adorable shop to the basement. The walls were covered in plastic and there was a morgue table in the center. It was Marie’s worst thoughts come true. Marie allowed the strength of Artemis to flow through her. She was startled when the woman opened a side door. Inside, six other girls her age were gathered around a worktable. They crushed herbs using large knives and added them to a large cauldron over the fire. They smiled and she was immediately ensnared in their conversation. The little old woman handed her an apron and Marie got to work. Her eyes were still moonstones as she worked. Jen was in her civics class. Amy lived in her dorm. They mixed and swirled and laughed until dawn. Each of them left with a small jar that smelled of peaches and promises of dewy fresh skin before the next full moon.
The post apocalypse was given a name change. The remaining politicians met in secret. It took three days of debating and the last of the sacred reserve of folgers coffee. They decided upon Fresh Expression. When they went out into the remaining human communities, they did so dressed in the garb of preachers. They praised the survivors as the those who were fresh picked to spring forward into the new world. They spoke of true believers who had survived the fires, floods, and freezing that the greed of the old world had caused. These isolated communities sat and listened to the politician preachers. They nodded their heads along with the passioned speakers who had come so prepared to wow and woo. The politician preachers would have survived longer if they had come prepared to fight. The village witches stepped forward as if to embrace the politician preachers and promptly slit their throats. The village witches knew what bullshit was best for: fertilizer. And so the politicians became food for the fields that fed the masses.
The green house sat at the end of the cul de sac. It’s hedges were long since overgrown. One broken shutter hung precariously on the upper floor and made it look as if it were smirking. It’s last owners had tried to shove their joy into the house but the house fought back. The weird aquatic feature they added in the front – a fountain topped with Adonis – flooded within a week of it being finished. The lovely couple fled in despair from their own hopes turned nightmares. The house sat alone for a year. An old woman came to see it. Thunder struck over head as she entered through the front door. She found the house’s sadness inspirational. The next day the hated fountain was removed. The house breathed a sigh of relief. The old witch puttered and slowly made changes to the house. Soon the floors sparkled. The gardens bloomed with a strange variety of plants and the house was happy once again. The hedges grew ever more ominous and the little old lady in her green house smiled.
I feel tenacious ecstasy. I walked a thousand steps down a hundred alleyways to find myself here. Alone and unafraid. My dingy secondhand coat hides the sparkle of the sequin flapper dress I found in a church thrift store basement. It’s vintage and smells of forbidden days when you could speak easily and consume Patty’s White Lightning in hidden cafes. Now the liquor flows like a river but speech is hidden away behind locked cupboards and mason jars. Everything has been sheet rocked and bottled. Stamped with a whiff of quirk pulled from a list of safe insanities. It’s not hoarding if it’s humboldts. I stare hard at the Cross of Eire scratched into the metal firedoor. The light is dim. There is no art to this etching. It’s raw, scratched in using broken fingernails and dead dreams. I knock three times and the door opens. I step inside to find a bordello of emotion. Passion and sadness are sold beside joy and anger. I smile.
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The mysterious cowboy’s name was Violette. He rode his trusty ostrich into town. He was searching for his soul. He’d lost it in a card game to a man named Sparkle. He had spent the last ten years scraping together every nugget of gold he could find. Now he was going to buy his soul back. He strode into the saloon “I’m here to see Sparkle!” No one even glanced his way. He strode up to the bar. The bartender was a young girl, barely ten years old. She smiled at him, a gap in her front teeth. He gave her a hard stare. “Where’s Sparkle?” She spoke eloquently. “He’s in the church, sir.” Violette nodded and strode out. He opened the door of the little grey church and found Sparkle at the front in preachers robes. Sparkle smiled widely at Violette. “So we meet again.” Violette shook the bag of gold at him. “I’ve come to buy my soul back.” Sparkle frowned. “No can do. It’s already been recycled.”
“Of course. Waste not, want not. In fact you probably met the new owner, she tends bar at the saloon.”
If you’d like to reach the Mount Olympus gift shop, you have to step across the mirror lake. Be careful of the waterfall of dreams, many a weary traveler has succumbed to the lure of a bed of mist and promises of sweet dreams. Those dumb bastards drowned. Don’t be a dumb bastard. The trail starts to the right of the waterfall. It is a deceptively easy climb. There is not much more than a few large boulders to clamber over, but beware. Just as you start to see the trees thin out there is a blind corner. Once you walk around the turn you will find a trail house. DO. NOT. STOP. There is an inviting porch and usually a warm fire in the fireplace. You may be tired but keep going. That is the house of the Diplomat. She cooks up wayward travelers in her soup pot. After that it is an easy walk to the gift shop, located in a cave just after the trees end. Be sure to have the cashier validate your parking before you head back. Good luck & gods speed.