By Anthony Lukas
The power of a wish
It had been an easy
job for Staark—money owed, money not paid, a conversation, money received. Her
green eyes had flashed at the fat little man’s whimpering lies. She had only
needed a bit of minor magic: a couple of his thugs incapacitated, and the
debtor convinced to pay by manifested fire slowly crawling up his legs. He had
remembered where he had enough cash stashed before the fire had reached his
knees. It would be a while until he could walk again, but the debt had been
Staark strode down
the main street of the Sump. The Sump was a section of the city near the port
down-slope from the prosperous city center and into which many lives
had sunk. Its streets were filthy, its buildings neglected, its people the
denizens of the city’s underbelly. Saloons and dives lined this street among
other businesses clawing out a miserable living there.
Staark entered a
saloon, ordered a drink, and sat at a corner table near the door. She scanned
the people in the room. She sensed moderate magic abilities at best, thugs with
just enough power to intimate the Plains, the non-magical. She noticed some
with magic amulets, rings, and related paraphernalia, and shook her head at
such amateur trappings. What next,
she thought, magic wands? These fools
probably still have to utter spells aloud.
Staark could best
any of them, and, even collectively, could probably defeat them, such was her
power. But there seemed to be no reason to ponder that possibility; everyone
was just drinking and murmuring among themselves, with only occasional loud outbursts.
Almost no reason. Staark
saw a few women hanging on the men at the bar and at the table with the card
game. A couple were young, very young. But they clearly had been here for a
while; they had hard eyes and held their own against the comments and gropes of
the men. Long past saving.
Still, Staark felt
an urge to get these girls away from this cesspool. She remembered the hands
and alcoholic breath on her in what seemed like ages ago. She remembered fear
and panic and revulsion, and then acceptance. She suppressed the urge because
it was too late; these girls had sunk into the pit and there was no going back.
A door opened behind
the bar, and a large brassy woman led another young girl into the saloon. She
resisted a little, pulling back a bit with the beginning of tears in her large
“Not again,” she was
pleading. “I don’t want to,” tugging against the grip of the large woman.
“Got to pay for your
keep,” the big woman said. “These gentlemen just want to get to know you.”
Some of the men
grinned, the other girls sneered, one laughing.
“Come on, Sweetness,
time to get plucked,” said the laugher.
The girl with the
crying brown eyes kept trying to pull away, and the big woman swore at
Two of the men
stepped forward. “Give her here, Deidre,” the taller of the two said, “we like
them spirited.” His short, round companion laughed.
Deidre began to push
the girl to the reaching men, but they all froze at the abrupt sound of a
scraping chair and the bang as it fell back onto the floor. They all turned
Staark stood behind
her table staring down the room. “Leave her be,” she said.
Everyone was staring
at Staark. Then one of the men that had been reaching for the girl said, “This
is none of your business.”
Staark could feel
the man starting to Tap, bringing up his magic. She could sense others in the
room doing the same. Staark sent a pulse across the saloon. It rolled across
the room, shifting tables, rattling bottles, and rocking back the people. It
hit Deidre and she stumbled, losing her grip on the girl, who bolted around the
bar and down a hallway. Deidre screeched and thumped after her.
The taller of the
two men stared after them and said, “We paid for our amusement. Now I guess
we’re going to have to get our entertainment from you,” rounding on
Staark. There was a murmur of agreement around
the room. Men shifted and stood, readying their magic. Some actually did pull
out wands. Staark snorted in disgust.
“Now then,” said big
man, and drew in a breath to utter what Staark sensed would be an immobilizing
spell. Staark froze the air in his lungs. The man looked puzzled for a split
moment, then sank to his knees, his mouth agape. His fat companion uttered a
spell which Staark redirected onto another man, who broke out into boils. Biblical,
thought Staark, as she shot a
pulse at the fat man, sending him flying across the room.
Another rushed from
the side, a dagger upraised. Old school, thought
Staark, and thought the man’s arm into a swing that plunged the dagger into his
Some damned fool
aimed fire from his silly little wand at Staark, who curved it aside and fanned
the bar with it. The bar erupted into flames.
Deidre had come back
into the room, dragging the girl. She screamed when she saw the fire, threw the
girl to the floor, and started beating at the flames with a bar rag. The short
fat man that Staark had tossed across the room was up again and lurching toward
the girl, arms outstretched, pudgy hands reaching for her.
Emeralds flashed and
he burst into flames, screaming as the fire burned brighter. Must be the fat,
thought Staark. She
looked for the girl, who had disappeared.
Staark moved towards
the door to the street, shield spells she had erected fending off the stream of
curses and magic directed at her back. She left the saloon, was halfway across
the street when Deidre erupted from the saloon screeching, and Staark turned to
face her. Some of Deidre’s girls had followed her out, staring hard at Staark
as had some of the customers, though they were hanging back, looking a little
reluctant to be there.
“What have you done
with her?” yelled Deidre.
Staark was about to
reply when the girl bolted from the alley next to the saloon, ran up to Staark
and clung to her coat. Staark put her arm protectively around her.
“She’s mine!” yelled
Deidre, “Give her back!”
“No,” said Staark. No, they’ll not have this little one,
she thought. I will save this
innocent from the Sump, from this cesspool that would turn her hard
The girl tugged at
Staark’s coat. Staark looked down at her, and she looked up at Staark with
those big round eyes and whispered something. Staark bent down to hear her
and the girl put her mouth close to Staark’s ear.
“Kill them,” she
whispered, “kill them all.”
Anthony Lukas, firstname.lastname@example.org,
of Petaluma, California, who wrote BP #86’s “The Sump” (+ BP #82’s “Scream”
& BP #77’s “Smith’s Emporium”), is a retired attorney and chocolatier, now
spending time working part-time in a national park and writing a story or two. He
has previously been published in overmydeadbody.com,
bewilderingstories.com, and Yellow Mama.
well known that an artist becomes more popular by dying, so our pal Steve Cartwright is typing his bio with one hand while
pummeling his head with a frozen mackerel with the other. Stop, Steve! Death by
mackerel is no way to go! He (Steve, not the mackerel) has a collection of
spooky toons, Suddenly Halloween!, available at Amazon.com. He's done art for several magazines, newspapers,
websites, commercial and governmental clients, books, and
scribbling - but mostly drooling - on tavern napkins. He also creates art
pro bono for several animal rescue groups.
He was awarded the 2004 James Award for his cover art for Champagne
Shivers. He recently illustrated the Cimarron Review,
Stories for Children, and Still Crazy magazine covers. Take a gander (
or a goose ) at his online gallery: www.angelfire.com/sc2/cartoonsbycartwright . And please hurry
with your response - that mackerel's killin' your pal, Steve Cartwright.