The mechanics of creativity is very interesting. We–meaning a bunch of us writers–were judiciously avoiding the actual act of writing on a chat and the subject of urban fantasy tropes and heroines came up. I then casually mentioned that I not only own a sword but have been known to use it. This would not come as a surprise to my social media friends, but it may come as a surprise to some of my readers and it was a surprise to the writers in the chat.
Caliborne’s Curse was written on a whim in 2017 because of this chat but stayed in my pile of unpublished works because genre-wise it doesn’t quite fit in anywhere. It’s kind of tongue-in-cheek as it pokes at the tropes of the Mary-Sue urban fantasy heroine: she of the magical combat-only coordination; she of the plain-but-gorgeous visage; she of “the one” with the man-harem.
But when Jim Curtis approached me about this anthology and said I could submit anything, regardless of genre, I realized that Caliborne’s Curse had found a home.
No way this ends well.
Mallory Caliborne winced as she lowered the sword and reluctantly looked up. Dried paint and plaster drifted down like fine snow. Except it wasn’t snowing. And the six-inch slash in the ceiling was no cloud, silver-lined or otherwise.
The powder settled like dandruff atop the black CitroLu spandex of her tee-top. The Italian woman on the television kept going, slashing the fourth of an eight-cut sequence, all set to music, in some high-end studio filled with mirrors and overly coordinated fitness-types. And very high ceilings.
Mallory muted the sound and set the old katana on the second-hand couch she’d pushed to the wall to clear enough space to “Forza her way to fitness” as the DVD cover promised. She’d done a decent job of rearranging everything. No sense in slicing through the television. But she hadn’t thought about the ceiling.
The previous four lessons had all used angled cuts like two-to-eight or ten-to-four but today, her caffeine-fueled straight up and down cuts had been … enthusiastic.
Sure. The landlord will buy that.
She saw her deposit shrink to zero. After the flood, the fire, and the frogs, she thought she’d used up a lifetime’s supply of bad luck. What was next? Fiery hail? Locusts? Darkness? Come to think of it, there had been that three-day power outage starting on the day she’d moved in. Cross darkness off the list. Only two to go. She sighed.
The house had been a bit of a wreck to begin with, but she’d been desperate and a six-month lease was hard to come by. Great location. Good price. Vacant. Furnished. The previous tenant had been a packrat—an eccentric packrat. Borderline hoarder, probably. But, no dead bodies had been unearthed after she’d taken possession. That would’ve been too much. Even for New Orleans.
She could put up with almost anything for six months.
All the clutter had given her the impression that some old person had once lived here, some collector or academic. She hadn’t even begun to deal with the walls and walls of books, other than to note that not a single one was written in anything even resembling the Roman alphabet.
The sword had seemed like one of those cheap props you see at uber-geek conventions. Until she’d found the DVDs. Some were serious training videos, all in Japanese, featuring men who never smiled, realistically hacking at each other with curved wooden swords. No samurai movies though. Not a one. The workout video was the only one in English. So very strange.
She turned the television off and put some water to boil in a kettle.
Maybe the previous tenant had been an urban fantasy fan-girl with a cargo-cult belief system. The kind of woman who fancied herself a warrior by virtue of having a katana laying around for no reason. Said belief system hoped that the virtue of having something like said sword would result in the delivery of a desired cargo. In the urban fantasy context that would no doubt consist of a man-harem.
She smiled. Oh, that wouldn’t be bad. Not bad at all. Mmm. Better than fiery hail and locusts any day. And with all the clutter around here the honey-do list could be long enough to justify a whole harem. Maybe the previous tenant hadn’t been so crazy after all.
The kettle whistled and she set about making jasmine tea. Of all the kanji-bedazzled tins in the cupboard, she’d been brave enough to try only the one with a prominent jasmine flower on the lid. No sweetner. She added sugar to the top of her shopping list. Just for grins and giggles she added condoms.
Hand wrapped around the tiny cup, she returned to the living room to pack up the sword and rearrange her furniture before heading to the hardware store for a ladder.
She moved the cushions around, looking for the cond—she shook her head and her grin widened—the pretty silk sheath that she’d found the sword in.
The cup wobbled, spilling tea.
Great. Now she had a cut and a burn.
Several drops of tea swirled on the end of the bloody sword-tip. Frowning, she bent to get a closer look at the play of light as she sucked her finger.
“Please,” a deep voice rumbled from behind. Mallory pivoted and scrambled backward, knocking stuff over as she went, the bloody finger preventing a scream.
“Allow Ambrose to do that for you,” the heavily accented voice added.
Bloody hell. Some vampire-movie reject from the theme-bar down the street had walked right in. She inched away, eyeing the distance to the couch where the sword lay. Too far. She threw the cup at his drop-undead-gorgeous head, and ran for it. On cue, she pulled a Mallory special, tripping over her own two feet like she was some young-adult novel heroine—except that she was clumsy all the time, not magically coordinated for all combat scenes. Of the many leaning towers of books gave way. She ducked underneath her crossed arms as the books pummeled her, one after the other.
Thunk, thunk, thunk.
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