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Caliborne’s Curse was written on a whim in 2017 because of this chat but stayed in my pile of unpublished works because genre-wise it doesn’t quite fit in anywhere.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.
Her pursuer reached through the clutter, pulling books away. There was a smirk on his face.
“Cherie,” he drawled, flashing a tiny bit of fang through pouty carmine lips. His eyes were black-in-black like his hair, and his skin was as white as the poet’s shirt that was open to the waist and tucked into dark leather, bib-front pants.
“You hurt, cherie?”
His touch was ice-cold around her hand as he pulled her upright and brought her injured finger to his lips. His gaze held hers as his tongue swept across the cut. A tingle slithered along her finger and snaked into her wrist to send little sparks all through her body, but mostly into the low, dark places inside her.
“Did you hit your head, cherie?”
She jerked her hand right out of his grasp. “How did you get in my house?”
“Cherie, you invite Ambrose.”
Wonderful. He was nutty as a fruitcake too. Her luck was consistent if nothing else. Sometimes, consistency just wasn’t the virtue people made it out to be.
She took a deep breath, and said, “No. No, I didn’t. Get out now, or I’ll call the cops.”
NOPD’s average 9-1-1 response was seventy-three minutes according to the last audit. Hopefully he didn’t know that.
Long dark lashes fluttered over a pout. “I can’t get out. The Sun.”
She ducked past him, and ended up doing some sort of retarded dive-and-roll over the couch, but her hand found the katana. Sword in hand, she faced him down, driving the pointy end toward his semi-bare chest.
He backed towards the window where swirling dust played in a beam of fading sunlight. As soon as the light hit his neck and face, his skin bubbled and his hair sizzled.
The smell was—ugh. It turned her stomach. Maybe there was something to that whole sparkly vampire thing. Lowering the sword, she switched to a one-handed grip and covered her nose. She took a step back.
He stepped out of the light. “Merci.”
“Nice trick, by the way.” She spoke through her hand. It had to be trick. Something from the stage he’d fallen off of, or the movie set he’d wandered too far from. Or maybe it was a local thing. Plenty of people around here professed to living a vampire life-style, right down to drinking blood and sleeping in coffins.
He raised an eyebrow. “You’re welcome to get closer, cherie. If your eyes and nose deceive you, touching Ambrose will convince cherie.”
“There is going to be no touching.” She lowered her hand back to the sword. The Forza woman had said there was more power in a two-handed grip, and with magical coordination and grace still forthcoming, she was going to need it.
“No touching? Then how we going to—”
“Oh no. I know where this is going. You’re not real. This is just a dream. ” I’m going to wake up any moment now.
The moment passed. So did its sisters, brothers, and all its cousins.
His smile widened. “Ambrose called dreamy before, ma petite, but not because he not real.”
Read the rest of this story and others by Alma TC Boykin, Dorothy Grant, Kathey Grey, Pam Uphoff, JL Curtis, Jonathan LaForce, Peter Grant, Lawdog, John Van Stry, and Wayne Whisnand, by clicking here.