Deadly Seduction

“Deadly Nightshade,” I said, twirling the flower’s delicate stem between my fingers, “also known as Atropa belladonna. Extracts of it have been used as anesthetics, muscle relaxers, and for anti-inflammatory purposes throughout history. The entire plant is extremely toxic, but under the right dosage and conditions, it can be medicinal.” The spiky, five-petaled purple flower swayed slightly as I continued to twirl it.

“Really?” Camien reached out and took the flower from my hand. “I knew it was toxic, but not medicinal. I’ve also heard it was used in eye-drops that women would put into their eyes because the toxins forced their pupils to dilate, which was considered seductive.”

I arched an eyebrow. “Seriously? People would put it in their eyes just so they could look attractive?”

Camien smirked at me. “Attracting a mate was quite a big deal back then I guess. And considering the amount of money spent on less deadly cosmetics these days, I’d think it still is.” His light green eyes danced with amusement at my expression.

I snorted. Of course Camien McCormack, a half human, half immortal child of Aphrodite would know stupid trivia like that. All the children of Aphrodite I’d met (and there were a lot at the Athenian School for Gifted Children, or ASGC) seemed to be plagued with varying degrees of obsession over finding a mate. Camien was one of the few who actually acted somewhat normal about it. Although my version of normal might have been a bit skewed.

“Of course,” Camien continued, “overuse of the nightshade drops resulted in blindness in some cases. Possibly that’s why it went out of style as a cosmetic.”

“Possibly,” I said sardonically.

“So what are you doing with it?” he asked, arching a pale eyebrow and waving the bell-shaped flower at me.

“I was planning on poisoning Bradley with it,” I said. Both Camien’s eyebrows shot up. “What?” I complained. “I’ll only do it if he rants at me again about something stupid like he did yesterday.”

“And what was that?” Camien asked suspiciously.

“He complained because I was five minutes late to teaching archery class to the eighth graders! It wasn’t like they were even all there yet!”

Camien rolled his eyes. “I hardly think that’s a good reason to be poisoning someone, Alaric. And he is the headmaster of the school you know.”

Sub-headmaster,” I corrected. The fact that I had never met the supposed real headmaster in my four years here was irrelevant, as long as it gave me ammunition to throw at Bradley when he complained about me.

“You can’t just go around poisoning people because they annoy you, Alaric.” Camien admonished. “Especially not people like Bradley.”

“Why not?” I challenged, although it would probably get me nowhere.

“One, because over half the world’s population would be dead by now; two, because Bradley’s only human; and three, because murder is illegal.”

“Fine. But can I at least hit him if he starts being an ass again?”

Camien frowned. “You’re not supposed to go around hitting people either,” he pointed out. I sulked.

Camien glanced down at the flower in his hand for a moment, then sighed. “Here, I’ll make you a deal.” His lips quirked up mischievously as he glanced back at me. “You play nice with Bradley so we don’t both get into trouble, and I won’t make you go to the meeting today.”

I narrowed my eyes. “What meeting?”

Camien leaned against the lab table we stood next to, rattling the vials of potions on it, his smirk widening. “You know, the one where all the children of Aphrodite who have dates drag them to a big, soppy meeting to brag about how great our dates are.”

I wilted. I had forgotten about those thrice damned meetings. They were specifically for those of Aphrodite’s children who had been dating for over a month, and acted as a sort of “initiation ceremony” in which the entire collection of Aphrodite’s offspring living at ASGC accepted their siblings’ consorts into their “family.” Heretofore I had managed to beg, weasel, coerce, and fight my way out of going, but after three months Camien had dug his heels in. I was going to a meeting (just one, he promised) or else. Since I didn’t like the “or else” offer, I finally acquiesced.

Camien must have found whatever disgusted expression my face wore to be funny, because he laughed. “I just said you don’t have to go, so quit looking so morose.”

“Yeah, as long as I’m nice to Mr. Bratty,” I muttered.

“I believe in you.” Camien grinned. He reached out and grabbed a handful of the white t-shirt I was wearing under my beat-up brown leather jacket. Honestly, it was probably too hot for a jacket, even with it unzipped all the way, but that jacket and I were inseparable. I had worn it everywhere since the day my mother got if for me as a gift when I was ten, although it had taken these seven years to grow into it.

“Come here.” Camien pulled me a step forward, so that we stood only inches away from each other.

“What?” I asked suspiciously, trying to ignore how close he was. Swathes of sunlight splashed through the windows, sparking red highlights in Camien’s short brownish-blond hair.

“Nothing,” Camien said sweetly. He leaned forward, his mouth finding mine, his lips irresistibly soft. I felt my heart flutter erratically against my breastbone as Camien’s other hand found the back of my neck, his fingers tangling into my disheveled black hair. It was useless to resist him; my whole body yearned to be closer to him, to wrap my arms around him and forget about everything else.

Camien pulled back, his green eyes bright and pale skin flushed.

“It’s not going to work,” I said, still breathless.

Camien gave me an innocent look. “What’s not?”

“This.” I caught his face between my hands and kissed him again. I slid my hands down his neck, over his shoulders, and wrapped my arms around him. When I finally broke the kiss we were pressed together, both panting for air.

“Still not working?” Camien asked.

I sighed, and reached a hand back to where his fingers were still tangled in my hair. I found the small nightshade flower and tugged it out of his hand. The petals were crushed, but I could still tell what it was. I traced the spiky tips over Camien’s lips, feeling his heartbeat quicken against mine.

“You are so lethally, irresistibly seductive, I’m not sure why I even try arguing with you,” I murmured.

Camien’s lips quirked up into a smile. “You just like trying so that I’ll kiss you,” he teased.

“Maybe.”

“So is it a deal?” Camien asked.

“Oh, all right,” I said grudgingly. I flashed him a wicked grin. “But only if you kiss me again.”

Camien grinned back. “I’m sure that’s a request I can manage.”

*          *          *

“It’s about time,” the skinny, brown haired man said from behind his desk as I walked in.

I returned Bradley’s scowl and crossed my arms. “What now?” I demanded.

He eyed my rumpled appearance and chaotic hair. “I have a mission I want you to go on,” he said, still eyeing me.

“Yeah?”

He tapped a pencil against his desk, then turned back to his computer. “There have been a few reports of strange disappearances in the park downtown. As one of the best warriors here, I want you to go investigate. I can’t give you details on what sort of creature might be causing the trouble since I don’t have any. It could be something of mythological origin though, so I think it should be looked into by one of us.” He glanced back at me, the disapproving look still on his face.

I considered this for a moment. Getting sent out to track down mythological monsters wasn’t anything new to me, so it wasn’t a hard decision. “Okay,” I said, “when do I need to leave?”

“Immediately. I want this matter fixed by tonight.” Bradley glanced at the wall clock, which read 4:00. “You should have about three hours before sundown, which ought to be plenty.”

“Alright,” I said. “Can I bring someone along as backup?”

Bradley gave me a sideways look, but grudgingly agreed. “Very well. That would probably be good.” He brightened suddenly. “Perhaps you could ask Helaine along?”

I gave him a baleful stare. “I’m pretty sure she’s at the Aphrodite kids’ meeting. With her new boyfriend.”

Bradley’s face fell. “Oh, right.” The suspicious look returned. “What were you doing before you came in?”

“Oh, you know, lab stuff.” I watched Bradley reach for the water mug he had sitting on his desk. “Actually, I was lustily making out with my boyfriend in return for not killing you.” Bradley choked on his water, then dissolved into a violent coughing fit. Sadly, it wasn’t fatal.

When he finally recovered he glared up at me. I gave him my best manic bad boy grin. “I want you gathering your weapons and leaving immediately,” Bradley rasped. “And no stopping off to see…friends.”

“Yes, Sub-headmaster,” I said sweetly.

He glared harder. “I’m serious, Mr. Lambros. You have ten minutes.”

I rolled my eyes and slammed the door before temptation overpowered me and I threw something at him. Like that heavy pottery vase by his desk.

*          *          *

In the three minutes it took to walk to the Aphrodite dormitory, Bradley had sent me about five texts, which I ignored. Arriving at the dormitory I pushed open the door to the boy’s side and walked in, wrinkling my nose up at the wall of chemical perfume and cologne scents that assaulted me. The interior connecting door to the girl’s side was open, and siblings of both sexes were scattered throughout the building.

“Hi Alaric!” one of the girls greeted me. I ignored her.

“Where’s Camien?” I asked, looking around.

A boy—Caleb, I thought his name was—smirked. “At the meeting. I kind of thought you might be there too…” He shot me a meaningful look.

“Yeah, thanks.” I left to a chorus of muffled whispers and snickers, and what sounded like a couple of bets being paid up.

Heading down the path that lead to the communal gathering space where most non-official events were held, I decided to see what Bradley was in a snit about. I snorted derisively as I read the messages, tempted to send back a snide reply. Bradley was just damn lucky Camien was so convincing, or he’d have a black eye and I’d have a double workload as punishment. Assuming he didn’t punish me anyway for the whole choking incident.

I heard voices as I came up on the meeting. A large circle of kids from around fifteen to eighteen were gathered on the grassy meadow, chattering and teasing and laughing. At the edge of the crowd, I caught sight of Camien’s familiar brown-blond hair. I walked over, trying to avoid notice by anyone else.

“Hi Alaric!!” at least five girls squealed. So much for anonymity.

Camien glanced up. The smile he gave me as I slunk across the grass was utterly heart melting. “You came?” His expression was a mix of hopefulness and uncertainty.

“Yeah,” I sighed and flopped down next to him, handing him the phone. “Bradley wants me to go on a monster hunt and said I could bring backup.”

Camien’s smile widened as he took the phone and leaned against my shoulder. His face dropped into a scowl as he read the messages from Bradley, basically telling me exactly what I’d already heard. With a few extra threats about being late.

Camien wrinkled his nose up. “What’s his problem? He’s seriously pissed at you about something.” He shot me a sideways look.

I tried to look innocent. “I promise I didn’t hit, scratch, kick, bite, or bludgeon him over the head. I didn’t even say anything particularly snide.”

Camien snorted and tossed the phone back to me. “If you say so…”

“Of course!” I grinned.

“Come on. It’s probably best not to make him too annoyed.” Camien stood, and I followed suit. Across the circle I caught one of Camien’s siblings watching us. It was Helaine, sitting next to her boyfriend Bruce. She grinned and nudged a different boy next to her. He scowled, but reached into a pocket and handed over a few bills to his smug sister.

“Why do I get the disturbing impression your siblings were betting on whether I’d show?” I grumbled as we left.

Camien chuckled. “Probably because they were.”

“What is this, some sort of weird tradition with you people?”

“They do it to everyone.” He waved in the group’s direction. “They bet on who’s going to get together with who, when they’ll get together, if they’ll stay together long enough to come to meeting, if they’ll get engaged, married, etc. It’s possibly the most interesting and unpredictable form of gambling ever.”

“Aphrodite kids are psychos,” I groaned.

Camien sent me a mock offended look. “Well, lucky for you I have to go get my jacket. So you’ll have time to chat with my siblings.” I rolled my eyes.

A few minutes later Camien and I walked toward the front gates of the school. A girl was leaning against a tree near the entrance, scribbling in a notebook. Like almost all of Apollo’s children, she had gotten the pale skin, golden-blonde hair, and light eyes that he liked to pass on to his offspring. I, of course, got to be the odd one out with my dusky skin, black hair, and dark eyes which were passed on to me from my Navajo mother.

“Hi, Jackass,” Phaedra said, without looking up.

“Gee, nice to see you too, sis,” I shot back. “Glad to see such respect for the head of the Apollo kids, and your half-sibling.”

“You’re just the head of the boys,” she sniffed, glancing up. “Oh, hi, Camien.” Her eyes flicked back to me. “What do you want?”

“Bradley sent us to go investigate suspicious behavior in town,” I said.

She snorted derisively. “You mean he sent one of you and the other one decided to go too.” She waved toward the gate dismissively. “Go ahead. I’ll tell Bradley you either got eaten or eloped together if you don’t come back.” She went back to writing.

“Thanks, queen of insults,” I said sarcastically.

“Jerk!”

“Freak!”

“You’re the one with the boyfriend,” she taunted.

“I’ll buy you a new outfit while I’m in town,” I yelled back. “Maybe tar and feathers!”

Camien sighed. “Do you get along with anyone?”

“You,” I said.

Camien shook his head. “You’re more trouble than you’re worth.” But he reached out and twined his fingers through mine as he said it.

*          *          *

The black motorcycle snarled to a stop by the curb. I killed the engine and pulled off my helmet. Camien released the death grip his arms had around my waist and pulled off his helmet too. The large park stretched out to our right; a playground with a grassy area around it and farther back a large thicket of trees. Only a few people were out at this time, all of them seemingly normal.

I dismounted from the motorcycle and watched as Camien shed the jacket I’d given him for when we went out on rides together. “Where do you think we should start?” he asked.

“I guess just taking a walk in the park.”

He snorted, apparently amused, and followed me as we strolled across the grass. We both wore weapons belts sporting an assortment of daggers and quivers, but neither they nor the bow Camien had slung over his shoulders could be seen by human passersby. The weapons had been spelled so that they were invisible to the mortal eye.

We circuited the park a couple times, but nothing out of the ordinary showed. Then Camien nudged me and jerked his head toward the trees. “Alaric, did you see something in there?”

I glanced over, watching the lengthening shadows under the trees. “No,” I said quietly. “What’d you get?”

“Flash of movement, maybe. Nothing definite.”

I walked slowly along the trees’ perimeter, Camien at my heels.

“Alaric,” an unfamiliar voice called softly from the direction of the trees. I sensed Camien tense next to me, and felt warning prickles run down my spine. “Hello? Alaric?” the voice called again.

Camien hissed between his teeth. “Who is that?”

“Or what,” I whispered. Dropping one hand to the hilt of a dagger, I moved toward the trees with Camien next to me.

“Alaric!” The voice was possibly masculine, but I knew I had never heard it before. I began racking my brain, trying to think. What Greek monster lives in woodlands and calls people’s names? I couldn’t think of anything at the moment, except maybe ghosts. But I got the feeling that wasn’t it.

We walked farther into the thicket, which was much deeper than I had thought, although the trees were not terribly close together. Sunlight dappled the ground, but shadows still lurked behind tree trunks. I pulled out a long dagger and held it close to my side, ready to strike should the need arise.

“Oh, Alaric! You brought a friend?” I whipped to face the voice, and this time a body came with it. A young man stepped from behind a tree, his youthful, smiling countenance seemingly at odds with the warning chills racing over my skin.

“Who are you?” I demanded. “And how do you know my name?”

He spread his hands. “I heard your name just now, when you and your friend were talking. You reminded me of someone…” He tilted his head, frowning slightly. “Ah, well. It’s too bad really.” He sighed, seeming lost in thought.

I eyed him warily. “What are you doing out here?”

He smiled again. “Oh, I love trees! All the lovely forest sounds. But I should introduce myself. You can call me…Kyle!” He extended a hand toward me. I hesitated a moment, then switched the dagger to my left hand and reached out my right one.

Before my fingers even touched his, the air around him rippled like heat off asphalt, his form shifting and blurring. One second a smiling young human was in front of me; the next, I was being hurled backward by a snarling four legged monster. I slashed out with the dagger, saw red droplets splatter across saffron colored fur. The air huffed out of my lungs as I slammed onto my back, making me dizzy. I blinked and looked up into a gaping mouth, but instead of the sharp fangs I expected to see there was a single jagged ridge of bone running along the creature’s top and bottom jaws.

There was a vicious hiss and something flashed above me, the feathered end of an arrow suddenly appearing in the creature’s neck. With a howl of pain it turned, lunging off me and toward Camien. I turned my head, and got a good look at it. It was the size of a small horse, with a tufted tail and covered in saffron fur that was spotted and striped with black.

Something clicked in my head. Lots of monsters could have looked much like this one, but the perfectly human voice calling my name, luring us into the forest, the boney ridge in place of teeth… Only one creature jumped to mind as fitting with those things.

“Crocotta!” I yelled to Camien.

Another arrow slammed into the creature’s chest. The crocotta let out a hyena-like laugh and grabbed the shaft in its teeth, yanking it free. “Silly boys, is my name all you know?” He curled his lips back, showing the tooth ridges. “No weapon of steel can kill me, so fill me with your arrows and daggers. It will make the feast all the sweeter.”

Camien’s face paled, and his eyes flicked to me for confirmation of what the monster said. The crocotta charged, slamming his head into Camien’s stomach and hurling him to the ground. The third arrow Camien had let loose missed the creature by inches.

The crocotta laughed again and stalked back toward me as I struggled to my feet, leaving Camien curled on the ground. “So, which one of you shall be first?” He licked his lips. “I haven’t tasted the flesh of a demigod in years.”

I edged back, scrambling to find the pouch I had tied to my belt with one hand while pointing the dagger at the creature with the other. I just needed one more moment… The crocotta tensed to spring, his eyes glaring at me victoriously.

“You don’t want to do that.” I knew that mellifluous voice, its faint Scottish lilt, the irresistible sweetness overlaying a tone of command. The crocotta froze, then turned to look over his shoulder in bewilderment.

Camien was crouched on the ground, one arm wrapped around his ribcage. He raised his head. His usually light green irises had been completely eclipsed with hot molten gold. He was focused on the monster, but I could still feel the sudden urge to do whatever he said, the all-consuming need to please him. My brain reeled, automatically fighting against any constraints, but my emotions were shot to Hades.

“You know you’re really not hungry,” Camien purred, staring down the confused crocotta. He wasn’t even looking at me, but I was already trapped in his powers of persuasion, all my emotions telling me to do exactly what he said. That’s what I got for falling for a child of Aphrodite; if I’d hated him, or just been disinterested like the crocotta, it would have been harder for him to seduce me.

The crocotta shook his head, but couldn’t tear his gaze away from Camien’s. “I don’t…understand,” he hissed angrily.

“Of course you do,” Camien soothed. “We’re here to give you medicine. Alaric’s very good at making medicines.”

Electrical thrills ran through my body as he said my name. I remembered the pouch, and clawed for it again, pulling open the drawstring. A cylindrical glass vial slipped into my hand, the top corked tightly. The crocotta whined as I walked toward him, laying his ears back and baring his teeth again. “Medicine?” he asked suspiciously.

Camien’s blinding smile made my heart flip over. “You don’t remember?”

The crocotta growled and took an uncertain step forward. I threw the glass vial toward his face, and his jaws crunched down on it as he reflexively caught it. “Swallow!” Camien ordered. The crocotta’s throat convulsed. Then he staggered back, spitting glass shards out of his mouth. He shook his head, howling either in rage or pain. His pupils widened as the juice I’d crushed from nightshade berries earlier that day seeped into his system. The crocotta shuddered and wheeled away from us, snarling into the forest at something only he could see.

I darted over to Camien and pulled him up. The crocotta continued to snarl and snap at the air as we moved away from him, going quietly to avoid notice. I wasn’t sure if the dose I’d given him would actually be lethal, but the toxins had enough effects for us to escape.

The sun was only slightly lower in the sky as we broke out of the tree line, Camien leaning heavily against me. The few patrons of the park that had been there when we arrived had left though, so we had the place to ourselves.

I stopped and turned to Camien. “Let me see.” He let me tug up his shirt to show a darkening bruise over his lower ribs. I placed my hands against his skin and let the heat race up my arms and into my palms. Not only could I mix together medicines, I had my own innate power that allowed me to heal most injuries with a touch.

I watched the bruise fade until it had disappeared. Camien sucked in a cautious breath and then let it out. “Thanks. I’m pretty sure I had a couple cracked ribs under there.” He favored me with a wan smile, his eyes now returned to their normal green color.

Reluctantly I removed my hands. “You alright?” I checked.

He sighed and raked a hand through his short hair. “Yeah. Just…getting that crocotta under control was seriously draining.”

“Well, you still did a fantastic job of it.” We grinned at each other.

“You know,” I added, “Bradley will probably be flipping out if we don’t get back soon.”

“Yes?” Camien arched an eyebrow.

“So, what do you say we go get some dinner? Or dessert. A little energy boost for you.”

Camien smiled and linked his arm through mine like we were an old fashioned couple taking a stroll down the promenade. “I’d love to.”

Princess Sparklemittens

“Breaking announcement from the White House!” The emergency broadcaster’s voice crackled over the radio. “The First Daughter has lost her kitten. Everyone is to stop what they are doing and look for Princess Sparklemittens. She is a grey, short-hair tabby cat. She was last seen wearing a pink collar with a purple bell.” The broadcaster repeated the message several times before the line went dead.

Karen, a middle-aged woman in a one-piece skirted bathing suit clapped her hands, signaling all of the children that it was time to come out of the water. “Jenny, you take the little ones back to the house. Keep them entertained while the rest of us search for Princess Sparklemittens.”

“Yes, Auntie,” Jenny said. She gathered a baby on each hip and then had the toddlers form a single file line as Karen began to organize search crews.

* * *

The President paced the oval office. “I should be out there, searching for Princess Sparklemittens. What are we going to tell Sophia when she wakes up from her nap if she hasn’t been found?”

The Vice President clasped the President on the shoulder. “We’ll find the damn cat, Sir. You have more important things to be worrying about right now.”

“But you know what happened the last two times Princess Sparklemittens was lost. We nearly didn’t find her in time.”

“That is why this time, we’ve engaged the entire county in Operation Tantrum. Somebody will turn up the cat. We’ve never let you down before, have we?”

The President massaged the bridge of his nose. “No, you’re right.” He pressed the intercom button on his desk phone. “When Princess Sparklemittens is found, I expect to be notified immediately—no matter which foreign dignitary I am currently meeting with.” (more…)

 

The Woman who Slipped Below

“Help!” they cried, running toward my tower chair, stumbling over little sand dunes on their way. An older man and woman, and a middle aged man.

“She’s drowning!”

I stand and scan the lake where they are pointing. The surface is glassy. Unperturbed. I grab my red rescue tube and slide down the ladder. I run toward the three.

“Where?” I shout.

“Just there!” they say, they all point to the same place in the lake.

“I don’t see anyone!”

“She’s flailing, man!” Says the older woman in the tankini. I scan the lake and the beach again. The half-dozen other beach goers are looking at me.

“Go!” she says. (more…)

December Stories at the Confabulator Cafe

Hello, readers. I hope you all didn’t mind our quick catnap at the Cafe last month. With NaNoWriMo in full swing, our staff was a bit overworked and needed the time off.

But we’re back and ready to regale you with new stories this month.

For December, we like to do what we call “freestyle month.” That means anything goes. Stories can be short or long. They can use a prompt from previous months, or they can be completely original. They can be about Christmas, but they certainly don’t have to be.

We hope you’ll peek in from time to time this month and read what the Confabulators have found to share with you. Here is the December schedule.

Saturday, December 2: “The Woman who Slipped Below” by Emily Mosher
Saturday, December 9: “Princess Sparklemittens” by Eliza Jaquays
Saturday, December 16 “Deadly Seduction” by Isabel Nee
Saturday, December 23: “To Catch the Christmas Spirit” by Sara Lundberg
Saturday, December 30: “Prison of the Mind” by Dianne Williams

 

Hope your holidays are safe and happy, and we’ll see you next year!

 

Will of Bequest

The wrong aunt had died. At least, in my opinion. Aunt Fiona had never been a welcoming woman, and she’d become truly frigid toward me a few years back. Truthfully, I wished she was the one who’d died, not my gregarious and soft-hearted Aunt Josephine. But Great-aunt Josephine was the eldest sister, so I suppose I shouldn’t have been too surprised to find myself walking across the cemetery grass at her funeral—or, “life celebration.”

True to her nature, Aunt Josephine had insisted on festivities in her honor, although any liveliness during the burial ceremony was quashed with an icy glare from Aunt Fiona. As Aunt Josephine’s closest living relative, she was the one in charge of the actual funeral arrangements, so the burial had a definitely somber air. She had begrudgingly allowed for a feast afterward, and welcomed friends of the family with a resigned glare.

I’d been “accidentally” avoiding her all afternoon, partly because I’d brought my boyfriend Jimmy Martins along. I didn’t think it was the best idea, but I liked the company. My brothers certainly had no qualms about bringing their girlfriends. They’d also ignored Aunt Fiona’s increasingly disconsolate expression as they trooped up to her with their girlfriends in their coquettishly lacy black dresses.

(more…)