“Strike Breaker,” part 4

Thanks for following along on my serialization of “Strike Breaker,” a story about a princess whose elf-staff has gone on strike. Here is part 4!

Strike Breaker, Part 4

Part 1 here.
Part 2 here.
Part 3 here.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

As the smoke cleared a strange figure stood in the kitchen.

Periwinkle came to Princess Amadea’s side, and they both gazed at the figure. He was all skinny legs and arms, and he stood a bit taller than one would expect for a resident of this kingdom. He wore a scarlet morning coat, a blue silk tie, dark blue trousers, and on his head, a gleaming top hat. When he saw the two women staring at him, he removed the hat and held it in his hands.

Periwinkle gave a little gasp. Amadea, too, was surprised to see his ears were long and pointed.

Periwinkle crossed herself superstitiously.

“Good-day,” he said. “Have I the pleasure of addressing her Royal Highness Princess Amadea?”

Amadea nodded, still coughing slightly at the smoke. “And you are –?” she asked.

“My card,” he replied. With a flourish, the odd creature took out his card and offered it to Amadea. It read, “Ezriel, Goblin Master.”

Periwinkle gave a sharp intake of breath. “Not goblins!” she exclaimed.

Amadea had only a vague notion of what goblins were. She had never seen any, nor could she remember her father mentioning them to her as a child. She had an impression they weren’t the most trustworthy of creatures, but she didn’t think that was reason enough to fear them, as Periwinkle seemed to. But then Periwinkle had always been superstitious.

Ezriel’s smile never wavered. “Oh, there’s been bad talk about goblins for ages,” he said. “But I’ve found through my work that goblins are in fact most easily trainable and highly well-adjusted creatures. I think you’ll find their services can be quite satisfactory, especially on an emergency basis –”

“Goblins are trouble!” Periwinkle broke in. She gave Ezriel a look of pure revulsion.

“There has always been a lot of nasty prejudice against goblins,” he said.

“Prejudice! What a lot of nonsense!” Periwinkle went on. “They’ll rob you. Steal the children –”

Ezriel sighed. ” – curdle the milk, make your livestock go barren –” He shook his head, an indulgent smile on his face. “It’s sad, really, that the old stereotypes continue to be perpetuated.”

“What do you want from me?” Amadea asked.

Ezriel bowed again. He said, “I understand you’ve got a bit of a situation here. The Banquet of Lords is to be held here tonight, and your union of elves has inconveniently gone on strike . . .” His smile was sympathetic.

“We’ll manage,” Amadea asserted, just as she’d said to Mitchell.

“I believe I can be of service,” Ezriel continued. “I can arrange it so your guests will not notice anything out of the ordinary, so that everything goes perfectly –”

“You could get rid of the elves?” she asked.

“Not remove them. I could mask their disturbance, however. Not only that, my goblins could provide the palace service that is normally done by your elves.”

“And what would be the cost for such a service?”

“Well,” Ezriel said smoothly, “normally I do charge a premium for such service. But, in this case, I am willing to forego my usual charge in exchange for certain considerations.”

“Such as?”

“That you consider replacing the elves with my goblins . . . permanently.”

“Your highness!” hissed Periwinkle. “Not . . . goblins!”

Amadea considered the situation. She hated to go against Periwinkle’s judgment, but she couldn’t afford to settle with Mitchell. Perhaps it would work out. What choice did she have?

“How soon can your goblins be here?” she asked Ezriel, ignoring Periwinkle’s gasp.

Ezriel smiled even wider. “Everything will be arranged immediately,” he said.

“And you’ll do something about the picket lines out there?”

He nodded. “It’s as good as done, your highness.”

A sense of relief swept over Amadea. Soon everything would be taken care of. It would all work out.

She had a momentary concern that Periwinkle might abandon her, given her loathing of goblins. But after a long silence, Periwinkle said, “Well, you’ll need someone to protect you, with those dirty devils about. Let the heavens protect us now!”

(To be continued!)

Happy writing!

binge watch

:) by mikest is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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🙂 by mikest is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

“But still he checked each lottery ticket which littered/the empty lot next door, praised their silver latex glitter,/praying to the beautiful unscratched, like little gods.” – Richard Michelson, “More Money Than God”

You drank all the champagne last night but you forgot until you woke up this morning – well, closer to noon – and you saw the six empty champagne bottles lying on the carpet.  The green shag carpet in the basement rec room of your mom’s split-level in the suburbs.  Who was it last night, Margaret and Tanya and Jeremy and Peter, they all came over to celebrate the solstice, at least that’s what they said last night, even though the winter solstice is still a month away.  Thank goodness your mom’s in Baltimore visiting your sister, that’s why you had the place to yourself last night, so that you don’t have to explain yourself to anyone else, and by the time she gets back you’ll have the place back to normal-looking, six champagne bottles in the recycle bin – maybe even off the premises, so she doesn’t get suspicious.

But then your cell phone rings, and it’s a Facetime call, and it’s your mom.  Your mom.  You click the button, “Accept,” and you put on your normal-happy face and drop into your cheerful nothing-going-on-here voice.

“Mom!” you say.  “How’s Baltimore?”

She’s wearing bright purple sweats and a yellow scarf.  “Just went for a jog,” she says.  You see your sister’s fifties-style ranch house kitchen in the background, pink appliances and all.

“Jog?” you say.  “You never jog, Mom.”

“Your sister took me around the track at the high school,” she says.  She pauses.  “Right after we watched the video.”

“What video?  You mean NetFlix?” you ask.  Your mom has just recently signed up for streaming NetFlix and you’ve already caught a season or two of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” on the TV upstairs.

“The video.  The party video,” she says, pleasantly enough.

Your head is spinning.  Is it the champagne hangover making you groggy?

“Mom, what party?”

“You know.  Jeremy, Tanya, Peter, and . . . what was that other girl’s name?”  In the background, your sister says, “Margaret,” all echo-y in the kitchen.

You pause.  She’s not supposed to know about that.  She’s not supposed to know about the champagne and all.  She’s in Baltimore, for chrissakes.

“How did you -” you manage to say.

“Nanny cam, sweetie.  They put them on the Internet these days.”

It sinks in.  You glance around the rec room, searching.  Where is the damned camera?

“Just thought I’d let you know.  You’ll probably want to tell your friends you’ll be busy for the rest of the week.”

“And if I don’t?” The words are out before you’ve even thought about them.

“Well, there are new videos going up on YouTube every day,” she says sweetly.  “Your sister’s going to show me how just as soon as we’re done here.”

“We’re done, Mom,” you say wearily.

“I thought so.  Love you!”

As your mom’s face winks out, you silently curse your sister for being more net-savvy than you – she always was – and your mom for being the all-around sneak that she is.

By the time you’ve washed up the dishes an hour later, you’ve got a plan ready for the rest of the week.  It takes less time than you expect to set up a new subscription to Amazon Prime, and your mom’s Amazon account still has the same password from when you lived at home full-time in high school.  Binge-watching premium movies is a great way to spend the week, and you’ll look innocent enough on any hidden camera in the house.  Interstellar.  The Hunger Games.  The latest Mission: Impossible movie.

And she may not even see the bill for a month or two, who knows?



it was just a lost coin

Ten pence by Karl Baron is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Creative Commons License
Ten pence by Karl Baron is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

“And add the halfpence to the pence/And prayer to shivering prayer, until” – William Butler Yeats, “September 1913”

Abby found the ten pence coin in the street.  She had gone outside to play on her mother’s orders.  “Screen time’s up – out you go,” her mother had said.  Reluctantly Abby turned off reruns of “I Love Lucy” and got on her jacket, then went outside to sit on the front steps.

It was a small coin, the ten pence.  She might never have seen it if the crowned lion on the face hadn’t growled.

Yes, growled.  At first she didn’t recognize the sound; was it a bit of machinery from around the corner?  But no, the sound was definitely coming from the street in front of her.  Was it something below the street, then?  She got up and went to the curb to look.  There was no traffic, it was a quiet Friday afternoon – Veteran’s Day, so she’d gotten the day off of school – and besides, on their small cul-de-sac they didn’t get many cars except the neighbors’.

Abby’s mom did at-home payroll for an IT company, and she didn’t like Abby hanging around inside the house, much as Abby loved to curl up in the big chair in the living room and read when she wasn’t watching old TV shows on TiVO.  Abby had gotten used to poking around outside for things to do, although it didn’t make her enjoy time being outside any better.  Just because you’re used to a thing doesn’t mean you get any pleasure out of it.

It didn’t help that it was November in Seattle, a time after the end of Daylight Saving Time, when it got dark at five in the afternoon and most days were gray and dreary.  But this day was unseasonably sunny and even a little warmer than usual.

At the curb Abby looked down, and right there on the dark pavement, nestled next to the iron-cast storm drain with its painted fish logo (“This drain goes straight to Puget Sound”), was the coin.  Looking closer, she could make out the stamped outline of the lion, paws akimbo, crown on its head.

What was that rhyme?  “Find a penny, pick it up – all the day you’ll have good luck.” The verse ran through her head as she crouched down.

Well.  This wasn’t a penny.  But it was something.  Was it real?  Maybe it was play money.

She picked up the coin and ran her thumb over the lion’s outline.  The text around the lion said, “Ten Pence.”

Then she remembered the growling she’d heard.  Had she imagined it?  There was not a sound now, not a peep.

Make a wish.  She should make a wish.

It was a little tarnished.  One edge had a dent, as if it had been run over or caught in a clencher like a vise.  If the coin was once lucky, had the luck been bent out of it by its prior collisions with everyday life?  Perhaps as a coin wore out it became less lucky.  Or perhaps the opposite was true – the more marks and blemishes, the better.  She thought of the story of Aladdin’s lamp and how old and battered the lamp looked, leading Aladdin’s wife to give it away to the villainous lamp collector-magician.  . . . or maybe that was Ali Baba with the lamp?  No, definitely Aladdin.

Abby closed her hand around the coin and felt its cool steeliness smooth her palm.  Lucky or no, it was a treasure, a ten pence coin that had turned up in front of her house.  A ten pence coin that had growled at her, no less!  She was positive of that.

But what would she wish for?  Like Aladdin, she felt stymied by the possibilities.  A million dollars.  A new house.  A pony. – Didn’t every girl her age want a pony?  Well, no, not a pony – a horse.  A brilliantly fast chestnut mare, who would run to Abby when she called and take her anywhere she wanted.  Who would love her as much as Abby loved the horse.

That was ridiculous.  As her mother said every time Abby brought it up, “Where would we put a horse?  You don’t keep an animal like that in suburbia!”  And Abby would imagine the horse, her horse, in their back yard under the chinaberry tree, and she knew her mother was right.  Her back yard was no place for a horse.

Huh.  Abby walked slowly back to the front porch.  She sat down on the steps, still holding the coin tucked inside her fist.  She had to think about this.

Well, a wish was as good as a prayer.  Her grandmother was always asking Abby to pray for everyone who needed it – those who were sick, those who had lost loved ones, those who had had some family tragedy.  Her mother would say that her grandmother had a taste for drama.  It was probably a good thing that her grandmother was back in Michigan and her mother and Abby were out here in Washington.

A wish was as good as a prayer.  Abby decided to close her eyes and make that wish.  She would wish for what she really wanted, what she truly sincerely wanted, not just something that everyone thought you should wish for.

When she opened her eyes, nothing had happened.  It was perhaps a little later in the day, the sun turning paler and the light coming across the yard next door.

But the coin had disappeared.

Years later Abby would think about that coin, would wonder idly where it might have gone next.

When she got old enough she moved to Colorado and took a degree in horse management, and then afterward she found a job with a ranching co-op near Fairplay.  Her horse, a chestnut mare that ran brilliantly fast and came to Abby when she called her, was named Lyric.



fishing greens

Boulder Mountain Cutthroat by slashvee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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Boulder Mountain Cutthroat by slashvee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

“obsessed by their elusiveness/what’s out there/what you can yank in with a careful line” – Florence Kassen Mayers, “Fishing Blues”

She pulls on her long waterproof waders as though she were slipping into the music of a belly flop.  The hooks and carefully tied flies are in the tackle box, the hot coffee in the steel thermos, her waterproof billed cap tight on her head.  It’s time to feel the run of the river, the blue purpose of steelhead, the green intelligence of fishy eyes.



it’s only words

All Day in The Park by Nico Time is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Creative Commons License
All Day in The Park by Nico Time is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

“Words can bang around in your head/Forever, if you let them and you give them room.” – John Koethe, “Ninety-Fifth Street”

If I’d have known that Felicity was going to rent a bright pink VW bug, and take me to that sliver of a park next to the railroad tracks, I might have had second thoughts.  She was always doing something outrageous, and a part of me was no doubt hoping for an adventure.  Still, of all my friends, she was the most dangerous, and I should have remembered that before climbing into the rented car and flying along that unfamiliar highway.

She would tell you it all turned out fine.  Felicity would say, “What’s the big deal?  So, we hopped into an alternate universe and did a few things that were . . . somewhat illegal, sure.  So what?  Everyone’s better off now anyway.”

Suffice to say that when we got there and she stopped the car, when she persuaded me to take a ride in that phony red phone booth-portal, pink cherry blossoms swirling about us, I had no idea we were reversing the events of the past few days.  When we got back and I saw what had happened, I knew that Felicity and I were the only ones on the planet that remembered how the election had turned out. – Before, that is.

They say the end justifies the means.  Does it?