Subscriber Bonus 2: Roundabout Protection

Welcome to your secret subscriber bonus page!

As a thank you for being a monthly newsletter reader (or signing up – YAY!), here’s a download link for Roundabout Protection, a short story written by and read by me:

 

 

Also as a bonus for those of you who cared enough to visit this page, here is the text of my original, 750-word short story (for those of you interested in seeing how it changed). The beginning, up to the ellipses, is the required “prompt:”

 

A man is pushing a shopping cart around the Milpas round-a-bout. The cart is full of plastic bags, bulging with the necessities of his life, a rumpled sleeping bag. The man is dressed in an old and weathered suit. Maybe it was black once, maybe grey, but now it is the color of driftwood. An old-fashioned bowler hat is perched on his head. It is too small, but somehow manages to stay put. Long stringy grey hair falls limply from the brim. After each circumnavigation, the man states a number. He says it in a clear voice, not loud, and to no one in particular. It is three am, and traffic has long ago dwindled to nothing. The early morning is dark, but for the pool of fluorescent light on the traffic circle. The man reaches 487 and stops. A figure approaches from Carpinteria Street…

…in an oversized sweatshirt, hood pulled low. Blood started double timing through my veins. I shifted my weight, pulled out my cell, watching.

A criminal stereotype was heading toward Grey. The scenario that popped into my head was bad: Grey’s disguise was too good. Some gang initiate assumed nobody would miss a crazy homeless person. The criminal was wrong: Santa Barbara would miss Grey – and peaceful safety forever – if the protections weren’t renewed tonight.

Grey rummaged for components. I knew from 2012, when I’d drawn the short straw, that he was hyper-focused. He had no idea he was being approached, possibly in danger. I called it in.

Tipping my bowler hat down, cell to my mouth, I dialed and whispered, “Dispatch, we have an intrusion.”

“Copy, Black Cat. What circuit?”

“487.”

The dispatcher swore, “You’re kidding me. Bystanders?”

“No.”

“Cast fog. Wind too. Hard knock him down. We’ll power you up from here. Hold him for the last three circuits. I’ll anonymous tip the SBPD.”

“Got it. Thanks.”

Grey crouched to scatter blessed quinoa, starting circuit 488. Hoodie reacted, checking all directions for witnesses and stepping off the curb.

Standing, I breathed in so deeply, so fast, that my ribs creaked loudly.

Then I exhaled an incantation. Dispatch focused the coven, their intentions and mine sending amplified breath gusting down Milpas. At East Beach, air plunged into the sea. The magic forced air to scoop up ocean, swing in a huge curve, and surge back toward the roundabout.

My lungs, empty and aching, reversed to become a vacuum. Sucking water-filled air created a brutal northward squall that I directed at the intruder. Inhaling the mini El Nino closer, I checked on Grey.

Sorcerous power in the wet wind made Grey increase his pace. Disciplined, trusting the coven to protect him, Grey’s lips constantly whispered the protection renewal spell. No nasty goblins, ghosts – or worse – would be sneaking into our world via the roundabout portal on Halloween. Circuit 500 would protect Santa Barbara for another year.

Grey hunched, threading fingers through the cart’s grating. His suit flapped, but his bowler remained in place. The intruder wasn’t so lucky. Our watery wind smashed him to the ground and his hood fell back. A black emptiness and demonic violet eyes turned on me with hatred. I watched…It…go rolling by like a twig in a flash flood.

Not a criminal. Not even human. But thankfully corporeal enough to be swept away past the green stoplight at Quinientos. I released my breath and the magic. Up the street, red and blue lights arrived.

My phone vibrated with a text:

Nice work, Black Cat. Brace for Circuit 500.

I crouched just in time to be protected from an explosion that rivaled anything seen at Los Alamos. I couldn’t see Grey, just a familiar net of glowing pinpoints: rising, then falling; Covering the roundabout and sinking into the concrete.

A cart rattled, and Grey landed on the drive behind his bags.

“Let’s get out of here,” I said.

“Another year, another portal sealing. What was with the wet magicking, Black Cat?”

“Intruder,” I replied, turning onto 101. Away from police lights and violet demon eyes. “But we’re safe for another year. And next year, we’ll be ready.”

“Ready for what?”

“Well, let me tell you what I just saw…”