The Keeper (Part 16)

The days that followed weren’t exactly easy for Mona, nor were the nights. During the day, she suffered, watching her father wither inch by inch into his skeleton. His cough worsening. 

‘Why don’t you let me take you to the doctors, Dad?’ Mona had begun to lose patience. ‘Your coughs sound terrible!’

‘I’m fine, Belle. You go back to your work!’ And equally, her father was getting stubborn.
And between looking after him and the other children of the house, Mona was beginning to wish for some comforts her stay at Beast’s had provided. 
It wasn’t the daylight that worried her as much, it were the nights. The terrible nightmares that left her trembling awake. Night after night, she’d been dreaming of Lucifer. And night after night, the dreams got darker and darker and he grew less and less like a beast, but a man. A man suffering. Till one night she woke in such fright, yelling his name into the cold air. 
‘Lucifer?!’ She murmured in the dark. For days, she had tried speaking to him, or the voice of him in her head, but for days he’d remained quiet. This night, it was different. This night, she’d seen him die, or the man he’d become die. The dark corridors of his palace unlit. The rooms once filled with unexplained life now soulless. The voices she’d hear in the corridor gone. Nothing remained but a beast who grew weaker and weaker dream by dream till he stopped roaming the hallways. Till all that remained between her and him was the wall of thorns, the door she’d once seen. This night she’d heard his agony from beyond the door like so many nights. This night, she’d gone in. This night, his moans and groans had fallen silent like never before. This night, the man lay dead. 
‘Lucifer.’ She called gently into the night, her eyes barely making out the shadows in her room. ‘Are you there? Can you hear me?’

Moments stretched as eons and finally his voice broke through, feeble. ‘Yes, beauty. For now…’

Mona squinted her eyes. Was that a flicker of his shadow along the wall. ‘Are you okay?

For the briefest moment, his eyes glowed red. ‘Never better. You? Enjoying your stay?’
Mona rose from her bed slowly. ‘I don’t think you are okay.’ She could hear his laboured breathing as she stepped closer. ‘Won’t you tell me what’s wrong?’

‘Sleep, dear Mona. Sleep.’ His voice floated and echoed around her head. And then he was gone. 

‘Beast? Are you still there?’

Mona couldn’t sleep all the rest of the night. Something untoward was happening and she could feel it. She flew around in a trance all day, from getting breakfast in bed for her father, to getting ready for work. She couldn’t make sense of her worry. Beast was fine. She was sure of it. 

She found a seat on the train and soon, let the restless night catch up with her.

‘Have you come?’ Lucifer asked quietly from beyond the glaring white light. 

Mona blinked till her eyes adjusted. The room was dusky, the curtains still drawn. The massive four poster bed loomed ahead of her and she recalled the ghastly thing she’d once seen on it. This time, there was no sign of anyone, bar the slept in bed.

‘Come closer.’ Mona stepped closer to the head of the bed but remained at arms length. It wasn’t till she saw a striking young man drowned by the folds. His honeyed eyes locked on her with a sly smile. ‘Don’t tell me I still terrify you?’ He laughed, a rough, raspy laugh.
‘Who are you?’ Mona gasped. ‘You sound just like him…’ She dared step closer. ‘Just like him.’

The man smiled. ‘Name’s Lucifer, according to you and many others, but I once used to be called Lucian.’
Mona knew she was staring but she couldn’t help it. Where was beast? She knew she didn’t much like him, but she’d somehow grown fond of him in a way. He was a friend. ‘Where is Beast? What have you done with him?’

Lucian heaved a heavy breath. ‘I cannot tell you.’
Mona narrowed her eyes in a flash of anger. ‘Then what can you tell me?’

‘That, should you marry me within this fortnight, I shall be the luckiest man alive.’

‘Why fortnight?’ She couldn’t help but ask.

‘Because, at the strike of midnight then…’
The dream screeched to a halt. Mona’s eyes flew open as she glared around the carriage bewildered. People stared at her, and she felt the questions rise. She stood up and walked to the door, her stop was next. 

‘What happens at midnight?’ She muttered, looking out into the dark tunnel whizzing past, hoping for a voice to answer. 

None came.

Puppet Master: The beginning

It’s an early autumn morning, and before the sun begins to rise and the fog begins to lift from the sleepy city, they wake, bright eyed and bushy tailed. They who walk amongst us, sit next to us in lecture halls, or the subway, or are the person in the crowd you thought is cute. They make us who we are. Everything that we are. They, who call themselves The Hand of God, but what they really are are puppeteers and we, their puppets. They have our lives in their hands and it’s serious business. Who wakes up 10 minutes late and misses that train to work. Who will accidentally walk in on their partners and the other woman, or man. They decide whether you walk by and notice the food stand and go in for that pie you always wished you’d tried, only to get food poisoning and end up in the hospital, missing your girlfriend’s birthday, and inevitably breaking up. They decide where complications happens, and with it, how and when we die. 
They hold our lives in their hands. And they can make it or break it. It’s that simple. And how do I know this? 
My name is Zane, and I will tell you all about it, but first, let’s tell you the story from the very beginning, from the moment I walked out of my house that morning 5 years ago thinking I was headed to my first day of work as a resident in St Patrick’s hospital. The day I thought my life was about to begin. How naive I must have been. 
It was the day everything ended instead. One mistake. One tiny mistake, and I was no longer a puppet. 

The Keeper (Part 15)

Days melded into one in a huge blur, as if no time had passed between Mona having stood at the platform awaiting train and now. She was back to her old life. Nothing else and no one else seemed to have changed but she herself. She’d wake every morning, before the whole house woke and sit on her bed knowing that somewhere, she didn’t even know where, but somewhere out there was an old manor of sorts, dark, aged, and quiet. And in its long mysterious halls walked a man, or thing she’d never fully seen but she knew he was there, roaming those hallways as if in search of something. She’d hear him sometimes walking down the hall towards her room. His footsteps would still outside for what felt like ages, then they’d walk again, back into the darkness. She used to be terrified of those moments, as if he’d barge in and torture her somehow. He never did. In fact, he’d been nothing but kind. Now that she thought about it, she felt a kind of peace, even a hint of longing to hear those reassuring feet walk towards her room. Make sure she was okay like he’d done. Those were the days she always found his letters with her breakfast, to see how she was going and if she desired anything else.
‘Mona!’ Came an unexpected shriek of her eldest sister. ‘Mona, come quick, dad needs you!’
Without haste, Mona flew off her bed and ran down the hallway to her father’s room. She caught him as he tried to stand. ‘Why are you up? You need rest, daddy.’
‘All I’ve been doing is resting. If I rest anymore I’m gonna be dying.’ He held onto her shoulders. ‘I want the sun on my face today.’
‘It’s a cloudy day daddy. You’re not gonna see the sun, but I can put the fire on for you.’ She led him to the lounge and placed him on the couch before trying to kindle a fire. 
‘Why did you come back?’
‘What you mean? It’s my home, and I missed you.’ She turned in time to see tears stream down his haggard face. He held his hand out to her and she went to him. ‘I’m where I belong.’
He nodded. ‘What will happen to you when I’m gone?’ He held her face gently. ‘My Belle. What have I done to bring such a beauty in this world, huh?’
Mona smiled and kissed her father’s cheek and held his hand. ‘We will be fine.’
He coughed, a deep cough that sent her into a panic. He wasn’t sounding good these days. ‘I thought I made a trade, my life for yours.’ Her father caressed her check reverently. ‘I thought he’d give you the world, whatever you asked for, but here you are, back in the grind. Slaving away for people who don’t deserve you.’
‘You are my family.’ Mona felt confused. What did her father mean when he said he’d traded his life for her. ‘I asked to be here. This is what I want.’ She searched his face for answers but none were coming. 
‘What a life it could have been.’ He smiled small. ‘Beauty and the …’

Beast! Her thought reeled straight to him and she didn’t hear what her father was saying. 
‘Belle! My Mona.’
‘Yes, daddy.’
‘You’re getting late for work today. Go. Before they wake up and pretend they are royalty and you Cinderella. Go child.’
Belle hugged her father. Something in his voice made her spine tingle and not in a good way. ‘I hate leaving you with them.’
Her father laughed. ‘Now you know how I feel when I think of leaving you with these selfish monsters.’
‘Don’t joke about that please, daddy.’ She planted a kiss on his head. ‘I’ll get you some hot porridge and tea before I go. And make sure they feed you lunch yeah? I’ll bring us something special for dinner from work, the two of us.’
‘Goodbye my princess.’
Mona stopped and stared at her father. Something was not right. She could feel it in her blood. ‘Are you feeling okay?’
Between wet, snarky coughs, he nodded. ‘Get going.’

All day, thoughts about her father and Beast interrupted her. She was giving wrong change to customers, serving milk when they’d asked for black coffee, burning toast, or forgetting orders. 
‘Are you alright, Mona?’ Her boss pulled her aside after lunch rush. ‘You don’t look so good. You getting any rest at home?’
Mona stared at him, perplexed. Part of her wondered everyday why she hadn’t been fired. Part of her wondered why they hadn’t asked why she’d gone missing for more than a month. But they again, she’d felt it odd when she’d gone back to the diner to ask for her old job back, they’d laughed. 
‘Why? What happen to you last night? You hit your head or something? And why aren’t you already in uniform?’
‘What?’ She asked.
‘I’ve been watching you all morning. Your heads somewhere else.’
‘It’s my dad.’ She sighed. ‘He didn’t look well this morning, and started talking strange, like he was saying goodbye or something.’
‘Go home. I can’t have you working like this where clearly your head and heart is at home. Go home and be with you dad. You can come back when you are ready.’ 
And that was it. Moments later, Mona was back at the same platform waiting for the train. She couldn’t help but think of the brick room where she’d first arrived aay Lucifer’s. Had Beast been entirely a figment of her apparently very wild imagination? She wasn’t quite sure, but she did miss his voice in her head. 
‘Wondered when you’d be thinking of me.’ The unmistakable boom echoed in her mind and she jumped.
‘Are you kidding me?’ She looked around. There were a handful of people around her. Their eyes furrowed in query. She half smiled. ‘The train’s late again!’ She turned away, staring down the track.
‘Are you even real?’ She whispered, aware of looking like a loon talking to herself. ‘How do I know you’re even real?’
‘Look around. Tell me what you see.’ And she did just that.
‘A platform, people waiting for train, train tracks, billboards, the schedule screen, the guards…’
‘Look down the platform. At the tracks. What do you see?’ Mona turned, taking a deep breath as she focused on the track. ‘Just where the shadows start. What do you see?’
‘I…’ She couldn’t be sure, she swallowed, her throat suddenly dry. There on the tracks, just beyond the shadow a figure looms, two eyes glowing dim red for a few seconds before everything belongs to the shadows again. ‘Your eyes,’ she managed breathily. She could never forget those terrifying eyes.
‘Breathe Mona!’ His voice in an instant floated around her ear, as if he were standing behind her. She turned to nothing but air. ‘I’m here. Whenever you want me.’ His voice floated to her other ear. ‘All you have to do is call my name.’
‘Lucifer,’ the name volunteered itself out of her and in a delusional moment, she saw a tall figure, looming on the edge of the platform. 
Mona searched the commuters on the platform to see if anyone had noticed the sudden appearance of a very tall man, but no one had. When she turned, there was no more than air and the screeching sound of rails gliding a locomotive towards her. 
She took a deep, staggering breath and closed her eyes. It’s not real. It’s not real. No one else can see him
As the train pulled into the platform, the doors opened and a rumble of people staggered out. That’s when she saw him again, standing inside the train, staring at her, a smile she could barely make out. Those eyes. Those terrifying eyes. 
She blinked hard hoping to erase her thoughts, but an image flashed in her mind. A garden of sort, everything in it dead, wilting. Everything in it dark and colorless. All except a rose blooming from a seemingly dead rose bush. One simple, beautiful red rose. 
When Mona opened her eyes, he was gone, but the image remained in her mind. Seared in fact. The train doors beeped, sending her in a rush before they closed on her.  A rose. What did it have to do with him? 

Charming Mr Stewart 

What does a writer do in the course of a typical day you think. Well, I’d tell you, but I’m not quiet sure myself! Today, this unusually warm winter Sydney day, I went dress shopping with a friend to a town we both had never been to (Hail GPS for that!). Then meandered through a mall never before been to either, wearing heels mind you (ouch right there). Then killed a couple of hours for a film screening to begin by sitting in a darkish corner of a chocolate house (Max Brenner for those who know). I love those Crunchy waffle ball things they have, so had one of those and wiled away the minutes by reading things on Facebook and then Pinterest, then back to FB. Bored a little.

Before long I actually remembered I had bought a notebook to keep me entertained so finally, after my drink went cold and I had nothing else to do, I pulled the book out and mulled over a book blurb (in anticipation for my next release come Christmas!!!!!!). So I wanted to share this with you and maybe get your opinions. 
I’ve been mulling over a new title I wanted to try, and a new direction for the blurb. So here goes. Oh it’s a romantic genre for those interested. 

Charming Mr Stewart
When Ellenor Grace first meets the unrelenting Mr Stewart it was warning bells at first sight. Her palms sweat, her heart skips a beat, or maybe it was the heat of the day. Either way, the danger is present. Love. 

For someone who never wants to love again, it’s not an easy decision to make, to cover or not to cover the wedding of the year. Taking on the job is half her problem; her real problem is Mr Stewart who insists on being called Dean, his snobbish mother, and a woman hell bent on letting Elle know Dean is hers. If Elle wants to make it to the other end of it in one piece, she must keep her heart. Hard to do when Dean attempts to steal it every chance he gets. 

(Eeeee. How did it go? Come on, give me honest opinions. I’d like to make this as good as it can be. I hate writing blurbs!! Lol)

The Man who waited: 2

It was the first day of a new week in the house. The house that had once been Keith’s. Georgia had moved in couple of weeks ago, carefully going through the place and keeping anything of value in boxes and stashed neatly in a corner of the attic she’d managed to clear a bit of. That monster she’d have to sort out on a much later date. First up on her list was to make the place inhabitable. Not that old Keith had been a terrible housekeeper, but let’s face it, he was a lonely man in a family home he tried to preserve. It had gone through a lot in the years, but the main thing was, it had gone through being stuck back in time. If Georgia had to live in the house, then she supposed she’d need to fix it up, and fix it up she was going to. The first thing she wanted gone was the dog-eared carpet that was balding.
‘All the carpets out, yeah?’ She followed a man out the front door in a rush. ‘How long before the floor is replaced with new ones?’
‘You sure you want to go with carpet?’ He asked. ‘I mean, it’s got nice hard wood floor underneath that we can buff and varnish. Be a beauty soon enough.’
Georgia felt perplexed. Ask her about how she wanted her cafe to be and it would be a piece of cake to decide. Ask her how she wanted her new home and it was as if she were being asked which of her parents she’d loved more. Neither. And both. God, stop with the questions. 
‘Well what?’ She rummaged through her bag in search of her keys. 
‘Wood or carpet?’ 
‘I don’t know, Piko. I really can’t decide.’ In fact, Georgia hadn’t been able to decide since she brought in Piko to consult almost two weeks ago.
‘How about you pop back in at lunch. We should have all the carpets stripped by that time and you can see what wood looks like.’
Georgia nodded vigorously. ‘Sounds great.’ She rushed off down the porch steps. ‘And anything else you need…’
‘I’ll send Spanky down by the cafe to get you.’
‘Right,’ she nodded and rounded the corner onto the side step. ‘See ya later then!’

‘Well?’ Piko stood with hands on hip and stared at the dusty wooden floor in the living room. ‘We will sand it back and varnish it. Look brand new then.’
‘I’ve never had wooden floors.’
‘Easy to clean and maintain in my opinion. Sweep, mop, doesn’t stain when you spill things on it. And if you want you can have rugs in the rooms. And save you a ton of cash.’
Georgia’s phone buzzed in her pocket and she busied herself with the message. ‘Yeah, let’s go with that then.’
‘What? The wooden floors?’ And she nodded. ‘And what do you want us to do with the letters?’
‘What letters?’
Piko held up a hand to signal a moment, then rushed out to the kitchen. He walked back with what could be called a stack of sealed envelopes, old and stained in his hand. ‘We found these under the carpet by the front door. Thought you might like them.’
‘Yeah, leave them on the counter. I’ll check them when I get back home this evening.’ 

Georgia meandered through the stripped rooms with wine in hand, trying to imagine what they would look like once all done up. She’d thrown away all of Keith’s furniture or given them to St Vinnies where appropriate. Now, most rooms stood empty bar one or two items. She’d kept the old wooden rocking chair for herself though. It looked hand made and from the rumors, might have been something Keith had made for his wife who had been pregnant once. She wondered, as she passaged through each room what life was like for the Richards. Who were they? And most importantly, where were they now? Why had Keith been awaiting their return. That’s when she remembered the pile of letters Piko had told her about earlier. 
She found herself soon in the kitchen, going through the pile. They seemed peculiar to her. Aged, grimmed, somewhat damp, and oddest yet, no postage stamp. On the front was scrolled in a beautiful writing: Keith. Some even said ‘Dearest Keith’. And a couple simply said nothing at all. As if the person responsible for these had given up addressing him after a while. She picked one at random with Dearest Keith on the front and ripped the envelope. 
Dear Keith,

I write this with utmost fear that you will not read it. I wish I could have explained to you. To make you see why I did what I did. I know you must be angry. I would too if I were in your shoes. You have every right to shun me. To pretend I do not stand by on the other side of the street waiting for you to open the door. Or some days, you don’t notice me asleep by our door. Please. Please give me one chance. I need to talk to you. Please, hear me out. 



Who was Nina? Wondered Georgia. And what had she done? She topped up her wine, gathered all the letters, and made her way to her room where there was nothing more than a queen mattress on the floor and a lampshade beside it. Temporary of course. 
Long into the night, Georgia read the letters one by one. The more she read, the more puzzling Keith became. What kind of a man was he in life to do what he did?!

The Man who waited: 1

Georgia had picked the prettiest bouquet she could find. She didn’t even know if Keith had had a favorite flowers but she didn’t want to go empty handed. 
‘How do I look?’ She turned to Ahmed in the small office out the back of the kitchen. 
‘Like you’re going to a funeral.’
He had a point. ‘What will his family say when they find out what he did?’
‘You just smile at them, give your condolences and leave the party before anyone can ask questions.’ Georgia nodded. ‘So when do you actually get the key to the place?’
‘I don’t know. The lawyer said he’d talk to me after the funeral. I don’t know if he meant today or another day.’

A little more than crestfallen, Georgia lay the flowers at the foot of the grave and stood wondering. Wondering where Keith’s family and friends were. Wondering what kind of a life he lived if he left barely any footprints. There has been barely a handful of people to say their goodbyes. None though that she could say we’re related to him. After a moment she began to walk away.
‘Excuse me, are you Miss O’Keefe?’
An elderly gentleman stepped up beside her as she walked past him. ‘Yes.’
‘Then these are for you.’ He held out a sealed envelope and as Georgia reached for it she could hear faint jingle of keys. ‘The keys to Keith Richards property. Which is now yours.’ He reached for inside his jacket pocket and pulled out another envelope. ‘And this. It’s a letter with some of his wishes, in case anyone ever comes looking for him.’
‘Thank you,’ she studied the envelope. So many questions floated in her mind. So many she doubted would ever be answered. ‘Can I ask you why me? Why did he choose me?’ She looked around and could no longer see anyone. ‘Where is his family?’
The lawyer shrugged his shoulders. ‘Keith was a very private man. Hardly told me anything. He had a family once but I don’t know what happened to him. He never talked about them. Just said someday they may come back.’ The man started walking back to his car and Georgia kept pace. ‘You see, that was the reason he never sold his place. He was hopeful they’d come back and he needed to be there.’
The lawyer stopped at his car. ‘He was going to give the house to charity but he came to me few months ago and told me he wanted to change his will.’
‘He met you I guess. He didn’t say much then, just said if he had a granddaughter, she’d be like you. Old man’s wishes, I suppose.’ He scoffed. ‘Anyway, I’m sorry for your loss. Everything should be in order and I’ll send you the new title in a week or so. You can move in whenever you’d like I guess.’ He got in the car and with a reserved smile, drove away. 
Georgia stared at the two envelopes and felt a new wave of sadness. He was waiting for his family to come back all these years. As she got into her own car she couldn’t help but wonder where they were. Or if there were any left. 

The Man who waited

Georgia A O’Keefe had been a waitress at a tiny Corner Cafe for a full year now, and she loved her morning shifts. She always had. She was a morning kind of person. Since she was a kid really. She used to get up before her parents and sit around reading a book or watching TV, and sometimes, daydreaming about Milo, a boy in her class she fancied. Nowadays, Georgia still loved waking up early, but it was mostly so she could enjoy the quiet, calm city before the bustle had a chance to ruin it. 
It was a winter morning. Snow foot deep in places, but the plough had ensured the roads were cleared this morning and Georgia grabbed her usual hot mug, filled with her own cocoa concoction, donned her wooly jacket that drowned her nearly, tied a knitted scarf around her neck her mum had made for her 13th birthday and stepped out into the morning just like she did every other day. 
‘Morning Mrs Willard!’ She yelled across the yard as she found her neighbor grabbing the morning paper. 
‘Morning, Georgie! How are you this morning, love?’ Mrs Willard’s smile revealed she’d forgotten to put her dentures this morning. 
‘I’m fine, thank the Lord.’ Georgia closed the tiny garden gate behind her and started her 15 minutes walk to work. ‘Want me to bring you any bread rolls or milk this afternoon?’ It was one of Georgia’s routine, to replenish her elderly neighbors fridge with stock items in winter. In her philosophy, there was no need for elderly folks to be out and about in dangerous conditions if it could be avoided. Besides, Georgia worked in a cafe. Heck, she was now a quarter owner of The Corner Cafe, and by all means she could offer to bring bread rolls for her neighbors than to let them go to waste. She hated wasting perfectly good food; something passed down from her mum no doubt. Wasting food is one of the biggest sins, Georgie! Her mother used to say. 
‘I have yet to finish the last ones you got me!’ Mrs Willard waved and Georgia waved back, sipped her perfect hot cocoa and trampled the snow triumphantly towards work. 

‘Good morning, Mr Richards!’ Georgia piped as soon as she saw that like most days, the old man was already there before her. Mr Richards was a true regular according to her. He came by the cafe every single day, rain, hail or shine. He only lived a block away, in one of the only original homes left on any street so close to the city. He had refused to sell for a bucket load of money the rumor was, and no one knew his reasons. God knew he could use the money. Georgia was curious like most anybody, but she never tried to snoop. The man seemed lonely, and in his loneliness Georgia sympathized. After all, she too had no one left in the world. ‘Don’t you ever get tired of waiting for me in the cold?’ She laughed, giving him a hug. 
‘Not if it means I get the first kiss of the day from a beauty, and a soul awakening coffee before all the noise.’ He leaned down, helping her with the grill as the ice had it frozen somewhat. 
‘You’re gonna pull your back one of these days, and I’m gonna have to start bringing soups to your home.’ They rushed in, and as she ran to turn the alarm off, Keith closed the door behind them as usual. ‘Speaking of which, have you had any breakfast this morning, Keith?’
Keith slipped into his favorite berth closest to the coffee bar. It was the warmest spot he said. ‘You know I’m not good with cooking these days,’ he rambled eying his hands.
As Georgia set about turning the whole place for business, she turned the heater on, and brought it close to him so he could warm up while she got the brew on. ‘It’s no trouble you know, I can have Sidharth bring you warm food every evening before we close.’ 
Keith remained quiet this morning, which was rather unusual to his usual ‘Oh no dear, it will only make me lazier’. 
‘Are you okay?’ Georgia placed the tray of food down on the table and slipped opposite him. For the past couple of months, since she befriended Keith, they’d made a routine of having breakfast together so each one had ‘company’. Or at least that’s what she told him; but the truth was, she knew that between his meds and his regular dialysis, Keith didn’t have much money left at all. This way, she knew if nothing else, he got a good bellyful of hearty food and warm drinks in him at least once a day.
‘Did you make this soup, darling?’ He smiled from the bowl of lentil and pumpkin soup. That one smile told her he hadn’t had dinner at all the night before. Georgia nodded and watched him eat, forcing him to have seconds and thirds till he was truly full. 
‘I’ll get you another coffee?’ She rose, warm happiness in her belly. 
‘Oh no,’ he waved, munching on a bread roll lathered with butter. ‘You do your work, I’ll grab it myself if I need it, go on.’ And thus of she went, setting about her work till Ahmed walked in the door at his usual 7am and left the door open for customers. 

It was a busy morning so Georgia had barely a chance to keep track of how Keith was going. It wasn’t till 11 am when it was time for her to go on her break that her business partner Ahmed walked to her. ‘Something’s wrong with good old Keith.’
She peered around his wide shoulder and indeed saw Keith looking rather worried. He was hunched over and in his hand was a white envelope he kept twirling. ‘He was fine this morning,’ she slipped passed Ahmed towards the pastry section, pulled out a carrot cake, warmed it up, and took over a pot of coffee with it to Keith’s table.
‘Oh boy, are we busy this morning or what?’ She semi laughed, putting the items down on the table and slipping in opposite him. ‘I thought we could do with some sweets!’ Keith barely looked up. ‘Everything okay?’
He sniffled and tapped the table twice with the envelope before sliding it across to her. He didn’t say a word till he pulled the cake to himself and pushed his coffee mug towards her for a refill.
She poured him a coffee and waited till one of the waitress brought over her large panini. She placed one half of it onto Keith’s plate and then finally pulled the envelope to herself. She turned it over and read a neat writing in ink, handwritten. It simply read ‘To Georgia A O’Keefe’.
‘What’s this?’ She asked.
Keith sniffled again. ‘Its for you.’
‘I see that, but what is it Keith?’
‘It’s my gratitude, for your friendship and kindness all these months. They truly have meant a lot to me. You mean a lot to me.’ He finally looked up and Georgia could see his eyes were tear streaked.
‘What is it? What’s the matter?’ Panic welled in her. ‘You okay? You are doing okay, right?’
Keith reached over and squeezed her hand. A smile on his face. ‘I am as fine as I can be, and no worse.’
‘Then what’s this?’
Keith leaned back on this seat and enjoyed a forkful of cake. The moment felt long for Georgia but it couldn’t have been more than few seconds. ‘One day, dear, you and I both know I will stop coming here in the mornings. One day, you will eat your breakfast alone.’
‘Keith, please.’
He looked at her with a puzzling look, one she couldn’t read. ‘When that day comes, please open that letter only then. Promise me, Georgie girl.’
Tears came just as easily. Something about the way Keith was speaking rendered her tearful. ‘You’re not saying goodbye.’
He shook his head. ‘No, but, I’m old. It’s just a matter of time.’ She clutched at the envelope. Her apatite gone. 
‘You’re still going for your dialysis? Aren’t you?’
He nodded. ‘Now stop worrying and eat your cake!’

‘Morning Mrs Willard!’ Georgia yelled across the muddy yard. Winter was weening away, and snow was starting to melt. She was struggling to keep her boot gripping tight on the icy footpath. 
‘Morning Georgie!’ Mrs Willard waved from her porch. ‘Could you please bring me a liter of milk tonight, dear?’
‘Will do! See you tonight.’ She waved goodbye. Her days were almost predictable these days. Wake up, get dressed, make cocoa, leave home, wave to Mrs Willard, the walk to work, and open the store with Keith’s help. She smiled at the thought and wondered what she should make for today’s special. 
As she rounded the last corner, she thought she’d ask Keith for advice. Perhaps it could be his favorite dish she could put on the menu, after all, he did eat there often enough.
‘I was thinking Keith, that we could work on a new menu…’ She stood ready to hug him, but there was no Keith to hug. ‘Keith?’ She looked around the other corner. Keith was no where in sight. 
‘No, but, I’m old. It’s just a matter of time.’ The words streamed through her mind. Before she could think what to do, she started running down the street, towards Keith’s house. She’d lonely been once to drop him off home after a particularly challenging day and it had been under a lot of snow. She only hoped she could recognize it now that the snow was gone. 
She skidded dangerous and fell on her bottom right about where Keith’s house was. Of course she didn’t have to worry about not being able to recognize it, it was the only house left amongst large flats. She pulled herself up, pain shooting through her sprained ankle. ‘Keith!’ She called out as she practically hobbled to his door, holding onto the handrails all the way. She knocked thrice on the door. No response. 
‘Keith, it’s me, Georgia! Open the door!’ She pounded on the door, feeling it shudder under the force. ‘Keith! Open the door!’
She wobbled to the window and tried to look in. It was dark and she could barely make anything out. She rapped on the window again, yelling. ‘Keith!’ It was then she thought she saw a leg behind the sofa. ‘Keith!’ She screamed, stepped back and threw her coffee cup at the window to break it. ‘I’m coming, okay.’ She struggled through the broken glass, slashing the back of her hand as she protected her head from sharp edges. 

She sat in the corner of her dark room, still dressed from the morning. She had ended up needing six stitches on her hand. She closed her eyes. Keith had been on the floor face down. There was nothing they could do. He’d been dead for hours they told her at the hospital. He must have had a heart attack in the night and since he lived alone. But none of that made her feel any better. Keith was dead. Gone. And now, all she had to remember him by was an inch long scar and an envelope she’d been clutching since she’d gotten home.
She sniffled, finally got up and went to her bed, turned the reading lamp on and tore at the envelope. She’d promised after all. She pulled out the sheets carefully and sat down to read. Her hands still shaking. 

Dear Georgie Girl,
You’re reading this. I’m sorry for the hard day you’ve had. I am. I wish I could have given that burden to anyone else but I have no one else in my life but you. These past months have been a blessing. You have been a blessing to this old man who had lost all hope. You have not just given me food and friendship, but you have given me something so precious, something I had missed out on stupidly in life. A daughter. You are sunshine in my cold world. You gave me a reason to fight on. 
I enjoyed every morning I got to share a hug with you, to enjoy your company for breakfast, to laugh with you. Your joys and your concerns moved me. My dear child, I love you as much as an old man can love his daughter. I wish life will not let you get by alone like it did with me. That will be my last prayer on this earth; that you will find someone to keep you as you’d kept me. I thank you and bless you with all my heart.
As I say goodbye, I leave you something that’s precious to me, my house. A house I once had my family in. I know you will do what’s best, for you and this house. I held onto it as long as I could hoping my scattered life would come back to me, but now that it is yours, I hope you find some meaning in it to, whatever you will end up doing with it. My only wish would be that you keep it, as a gift, but that’s an old man’s assumption that you will want to keep it. Either way love, I hope it will help you. It’s close to work at least!
With this letter, consider this my last will. I bequeath all my property to young Miss Georgia Anita O’Keffe, the quarter owner of The Corner Cafe down the block.
Thank you and God bless.

Keith Owens Richards

Of 101 Percival Street.

Georgia stared at the letter unable to grasp what she’d just read. Keith was dead and left her with everything he had. Why? She read the letter again, and couldn’t keep her vision of Keith on the floor from her mind. He knew he wasn’t going to live long. He knew, didn’t he? 
Georgia cried that night. She cried all night in fact. She couldn’t imagine going to work the next morning. She couldn’t open the store alone. No. 

The Keeper (Part 14)

Mona found herself back on the cold slab of the room she’d first woke to in Lucifer’s home. Could it be that she was already back there from her father’s house? What a lousy promise he kept then. Not even one night, and Mona was already back in his curious castle. She slipped off the slab and walked towards the wall where she knew a door had been from her memory.
‘You call this fair?’ She yelled and her words reverberated. ‘Not even one lousy night? I don’t even get one lousy night? Did you not see that my father is not well?!’ She pounded with her fists on the cold wet walls. ‘He needs me, now more than ever, and you do this beastly thing?! You take me from him just when he thought I’d be there in his end days?!’
She expected him to pop up behind her but no such thing happened. Instead, Mona was alone and scared in a room she’d rather not see again. ‘Lucifer isn’t an apt name for you!’ She yelled, her voice rebounding off the wall. ‘At least we know he was an angle. You. You on the other hand are just a beast! A beast, you hear me?! A beast!’ 
Mona kept pounding at the wall and screaming till her voice went hoarse and her fist were bruised and bloodied. ‘You said I was free to go!’ She whispered, last remnants of her strength dwindling till there was no more. Just her, her broken heart, her bleeding fists and the ever present darkness. Mona didn’t know when it was that the darkness melded into sleep, and when that sleep let her rest. When she woke, it was still dark. Pitch black in fact and her heart sank. Guess he hadn’t heard her rant. 
Then again, the room no longer felt damp, and the surface beneath her felt like the softness and warmth of a bed. Her bed intact. Mona reached instinctively for the lampshade and when the room came into view, she was intact back in her room as if she’d never left. Perhaps she hadn’t and the whole Lucifer episode had be a terrible nightmare conjured by her migraine-induced hallucinations. Perhaps. Except the rather large antique chest that sat towards the bottom end of her bed. A chest that had never been there before. It’s austerity only letting her know that the Beast had been real. It was after all a trunk from the room that had been hers. 
Mona slipped out of bed in her nightgown despite the chill and opened the trunk. She had to make sure it was in fact real. Inside lay all the dresses she’d ever worn in the castle, including all the new ones she’d made. An enveloped with the same brilliant writing from all the notes she’d read while a guest at Beast’s house lay tucked in one corner of the box. Mona reached for it and brought it back the to the lamp with her. 
Dear Mona Belle,
Here you will find all your belongings from my home. Should you desire anything else, anything, you need only write it on the back of this parchment and it will be sent to you. As promised, your freedom is yours. You were no more than a guest in my home and I do home our hospitality lacked none. Should you ever wish to come back and join us, we would only be delighted to have you. However, despite my name, even the new one you have bestowed upon me last night, I feel it is my duty to let you know however I desire company, I am not that beastly to keep you from that which you desire. After all, I did make a promise to your father that I shall give you all you want. If nothing else, I keep my promises. 
I wish you all the best in your life. 
Yours truly,
Your Beast 

The letter ended thus and for a moment nothing but sadness gripped young Mona’s heart. The beast was not very beastly after all.

Grim: 4

What does one do while net it down, again? One writes on their phone’s note section for later use! Alas, that was me yet again so here is quite a lengthy offering for Grim. 


Grim: 4

I stood at the end of the Great Hall, as they used to call it. It wasn’t just any hall. It was the Great hall, tucked beneath the massive palace grounds, in the belly of the cavernous caves that lined the coast. They say that in the Golden Era of King Maylord VI, some thousand year ago, the hall used to dazzle with the likes of nobility of all realms. They still say some portals may yet be open to those lost realms. Now, the only realm we knew of were the faeries, the elves, the dwarfs, and of course, the useless selfish hoards of humans. We didn’t much like mixing with the humans. Too many questions, too many breathes wasted and none grew wiser. I wasn’t exactly any of these creatures either. I’ve always been in the mixed realm they called the Limbo. As far as I knew, Limbo had started out as a realm for the outlaws, the criminals, and sometimes the creme of the crops who were banished for fear of how they could influence the public. As of 1200 years ago, the band of outlaws formed their own community, and it was a mix. No beings were discriminated against. That was until Maylord’s descendants were overthrown during a coup by their maternal side of the family during an upheaval. 

I looked up at the large domed ceiling and could only see the flickering white flames floating as if in gentle breeze, not that there was a breeze inside. I’d been practicing my flames for the last two months and all I could manage was a spark that lasted few seconds. Pretty embarrassing seeing how I was from the line of Phoenix Guards known for their aptness with the fire element above all else. It was safe to say I would not be getting into the Legion of Guards anytime soon, if at all. Every single member of my family were in the Legion, vowed to protect the Royal Family at all cost, every last one of them. Even my younger brother, Cian was already mastering through all his training and was now on the list for the qualifying trail.

“You are not dancing, Belladonna,” Lord Bradan Lowrie approached me. He wasn’t a man I was very familiar with, but almost all of Limbo was familiar with his reputation. He was not a man I wanted to notice me. “Such a beautiful young lady should not be standing by alone I dare say!”

“I have a twisted ankle, My Lord.”

He eyed the hem of my dress where my ankles should be. “It’s simple magic my dear, to heal sprained ankles.”

I nodded. “But not for someone who is still struggling with her lessons, Sir.”

He turned then, cutting me off from the rest of the hall. His towering self inches from me. He smiled, a smile that churned my stomach. I could only imagine what he was thinking and even that made me feel ill. “Shall I heal it for you, Bell- adonna?” He leaned in. His warm breath falling on the nape of my neck and I did wish then that I hadn’t agreed to put up my hair. I could faintly feel his lips brush against my skin. “Oh how I love a damsel in distress.”

I stepped back, feeling the wall hit my back squarely, and faintly smiled. “I’m fine, Lord Lowrie. But thank you for your offer.” I tried to slip past him as calmly as I could, but soon felt his hand on my arm.

“Not running away from me, are you young miss?”

I could feel the spell ripple my skin where he touched. I tried to say no, but the room whooshed in and out of focus suddenly, and I felt myself swagger. “Please, let me be.”

“And let a lovely thing like you go?” The sinister smile on his face made me panic. Worst yet when I knew I was under his mercy. Blasted spell! If only I knew how to deflect them. Alas, I knew no such thing. The panic welled in me as he looped my arm through his and started leading me across the floor, towards the south exit, to the portal that led to Faerie land. A land not many ventured to. A land I knew next to nothing about.

“Excuse me, Miss Blight?”

A young man stood in our way in strangely colored clothing.

“What do you want, jester?”

The man nodded to Lord Lowrie and then to me. If only I could ask him for help. Instead, I stood emotionless clasped to Lord Lowrie’s arm and feeling sick. “Miss Blight’s mother is looking for her past half hour. They are heading back home and have asked all attendants to help find Miss Blight and bring her to their carriage.”

He nodded to Lord Lowrie and offered his arm to me. “Allow me to escort Miss Blight to her carriage, milord. While you are free to go about enjoying the evening.”

I felt Bradan’s reluctance to let me go. His hand gripped my arm in vice grip before he passed my arm over to the young man, huffed and turned around, disappearing into the dancing crowd. 

He led me out the side door, and we happened upon a small ledge overlooking the great sea where I could finally breathe. 

“Please,” he pointed at my arm. “May I have a look?”

I nodded, still feeling remnants of the enslaving spell on me. I couldn’t yet move on my own but my mind was my own now. “Thank you, for saving me inside.”

He nodded and reached for my arm gently. He pushed aside the material and there, on my forearm, almost the entire length of my forearm was a black bruise in the shape of manacles. Very large manacles. “Nasty spell this one. Lucky I noticed him casting it when I did otherwise no one would have detected it after it was already cast.”

“What is it?”

“A sort of an enslavement spell. Ancient dark arts. Arts that have been banned for anyone other than royals and the Legion since Maylord Era.” 

I nodded, watching him examine the bruise intensely. He seemed to be muttering a spell I vaguely recognized, though the language was foreign. The manacles clamped tighter around my arm and made me wince. “What is your name?”

He held my arm gently, allowing me to clasp his as hard as I could. “You may call me Val, though my name is Valor.” He pulled what looked like a small black obsidian from his pocket the size of a pebble. “Please close your eyes. This is going to hurt.”

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. “Val.”

When I opened my eyes again, I found myself back in front of my pub. I had walked hours simply to get back to where I started. I was tired, I was sad, and worst of all, I hadn’t slept in over two days. I let myself in, walked through the deserted floor and up to my apartment. I fell on the bed, pretty much exactly how I had fallen on my bed all those years ago after Val had rescued me. How was I supposed to kill the only man I’d ever loved? 

“You promised.” His voice gently echoed in my ear.

“I know,” I whispered back, feeling our realms merge even while sleep swept over me. “Just give me a little more time to dream while I still can.”

Grim: 3

As daylight faded, Shade became more and more visible. I hadn’t moved the last three hours. I couldn’t. Not really. Not after what I had to do. “How long have you known?”
Shade shifted his hefty weight against the opposite wall that groaned in protest. “A few years.”
“Is that why you’ve been avoiding me?”
He sighed. “You know I only come to this realm if I have to.”
“You had to now, didn’t you?” I couldn’t help but scoff. Had I really seen Val just hours ago asking me to kill him?
“He kept away from you as long as he could, Bell. Give you that normal you wanted.”
A tortured laughter escaped me before I could contain it. My stomach churned. “I’ve lived these years alone on top of a bar for the last 140 years, serving booze to drunkards, Shade. Before that, we all know those years weren’t my finest moments.”
“He hurt you.”
“He didn’t hurt me.” I shook my head and pushed myself up off the dusty floor. “He ran away. That’s what he did.”
“He couldn’t watch her die.”
“Neither could I.” I squared my shoulders. I wanted to leave that place. Wander the streets with my thoughts, but I couldn’t see a damn thing in the darkness. “Mind showing me light?”
In moments, a slender white flame flickered in front of my eyes. Beneath them, the titan’s giant stone hands glowed a faint green, like lichen on trees. He took my hand in his and passed the flame over, where it floated just over my palm where it whooshed into a geyser before falling back down. No heat, no sting. Just a bright column of light. 
“Don’t let the darkness claim you, Bell.” Shade whispered. “Don’t fulfill a vow you once promised to break.”
I clasped my hand into a fist and watched the darkness fall. I could not bear for him to see tears rolling down my face. I was not that young scared Bell anymore. No tears for me, not this time. I wiped them away and patted Shade gently on the arm before slipping past him. “I can’t let the darkness go yet.”
I walked out of the old house into the night, making my way over and around any obstacle. I had a lot of thinking to do and a long night ahead, so I began walking. Aimless some would say. But what would they know about a troubled heart that still dreams. It was a long time ago, long time ago since it beat. 
Maybe there was a way out of this. The promise. The curse. The stinking bloody memories.