The Cost Of Doing Business

Twitchy is the first one to arrive. He’s always early. He doesn’t come in immediately, not that he ever does. He sits in his van, slumped down in his seat and nervously watching the building for a while. Sometimes he does this for as long as twenty minutes before sprinting for the stairs. Today it’s only five.

Twitchy isn’t his real name; I don’t know his real name. I don’t know any of their real names, except for Lucy.

Twitchy doesn’t say anything to me. He slips past me when I open the door and only relaxes — relatively speaking — when it’s closed again. I don’t like being alone with him, but there were guarantees. I go back to making the tea. The tea is part of the deal, and the cookies are part of the deal, and they have to be perfect, or there’s complaining.

The Witch comes next, leaning on her cane. She rings the bell once and waits patiently. She smiles at me when I open the door, thanks me, calls me ‘dear’. She leaves behind a faint scent of powdered sugar and vanilla when she passes. Sometimes she asks me about my day. I try to be vague; she doesn’t pry. If I didn’t know the company she kept I would have no reason to fear her, none at all.

There are three more. Sometimes, like today, the Fat Man gives the Kid a lift, and they arrive together. Sometimes the Kid pedals up on a bike, or rolls up on a skateboard, or doesn’t show at all. Fat man is wheezy and exasperated, and immediately eats a cookie but ignores the tea; the Kid is lost in his smartphone.

By the time I see Lucy approaching the bottom of the stairs, I’m done with my part. I grab my purse and slip outside, pulling the front door closed behind me.

When Lucy reaches the landing, I begin, “Listen—”

“Good afternoon.”


“Is everyone here?” He interrupts again, his tone civil and imperious. “And is everything prepared?”

“There was a murder. Last time, that night.” I rehearsed this, practiced it in my head, but just being near him, the anxiety…

“I’d imagine there are murders every night.” His mouth stretches slowly into a smile. “People being people.”

“This was the kid from downstairs. From downstairs.

“I don’t see what that has to do with—”

“The cops came. They were asking questions, was there anyone strange around, any vistors. They asked the rental office for the security footage.” I shake my head. “A kid, Lucy. A six year old kid. That wasn’t part of the deal.”

Lucy looks at me like my mother used to look at me when I was little, when I railed against an eight o’clock bedtime. He puts his hands on my shoulders; they are uncomfortably warm against my skin, but under them a chill spreads through the muscle and bone. “The deal was, you live. Instead of bleeding out all over the roof of an upside-down Charger like your boyfriend. There’s nothing about the kid downstairs in the deal. And there won’t be anything on the security tapes.” He brushes nonexistent dust off my coat-sleeves, he straightens a collar that was never askew. “So stop worrying.”

He steps past me, opens the apartment door, closes it behind him. There is polite applause from the others. I hurry down the steps. I will go to the diner on the corner, and order lunch, like I always do; I will eventually vomit it into the toilet in the back, like I always do.

Zombie Drabble #439 “Roommates”

He was a shadow under the door, an indistinct rattle, a muffled slide of worn-out sole across bare floor; she sat with her back to him. “The people in the town have invited me to live with them again.”

Across the room, the window was open a crack, as it always was, to keep air flowing. From outside came sounds of a breeze ebbing and waning and birds chirping, and no traffic sounds at all.

“They say I can’t bring you.” She leaned her head back, closed her eyes. “Maybe after I’m there a while, I could sneak you in.”


The music washed over him, soaked into his ears and the corners of his eyes, nudged his lips open and slid across his tongue and down his throat. There were wavering drones and percussive noises and phasing patterns all mixed with field recordings from some alien environment. He’d never heard anything like it. Eventually he realized he was also experiencing strong, but somehow unfamiliar emotions. He pulled one earcup off and said, “Why do I feel… I’m not sure. Like I’m home, and tired, but satisfied?”

“There is a telepathic component.” The alien said. “The specific results depends on compatibility with your nervous system; yours is sufficiently similar to ours that it should translate well. This particular entry is a meditation on Rithk, the ceremonial end of our migratory season.”

“Wonderful.” He pulled the headset off, laid it in his lap. “How much?”

“For the complete Gwainisch library, and six headsets: one hundred Polixaci credits. We also have a selection of add-on libraries from other systems. Thirty credits each.” It held up a long, blue, nail-less finger. “We don’t guarantee compatibility for those.”

It was a small fortune, but his clientele would pay through the nose for this. “Play another.”

Fantasy Drabble #380 ”Barry Constantine”

I killed a demon in the parking lot of a Waffle House three days ago. That’s not really the beginning of the story, but it’ll do for now. Since then they’ve been trying to find and kill me. One of us for every one of them, that kind of thing. But they’re not that bright, so the number of us I owe keeps going up.

Sorry. But staying alive is kind of a priority for me. So if I’m asleep and someone knocks on the door, asks to come inside, but can’t say the Lord’s Prayer… don’t let them in.

Fantasy Drabble #379 “Raised”

The bones slide and spin and skitter across the stone floor to construct a pile; they pull themselves up, end over end, one upon another, balancing and wavering and finally knitting together into the terrible shape of a man.

“You were Robasch.”

The skull’s expression is unchanged, and unchangeable. It nods, once, slowly, with a sickening scrape.

“You swore an oath.”

Again a nod, deeper, almost a bow.

“Below us, deep within this cursed warren, lies my ring. Remember? You will retrieve it.”

The skeleton turned, but hesitated.

“Take heart. They have already killed you; they can’t do it again.”

Fantasy Drabble #378 “Rekkit and the Highwayman”

“Give me your scrip.” The man has a blade, the handle carved from volcanic stone. “Now.”

Rekkit, dressed as a beggar on the dusty road, smiles. He knows the man, his name, his story. “You have more than me. Why take what little I have?”

“Not your concern.”

Rekkit shrugs, gives the robber the meager fruit of his pockets, and then watches while he continues on, down the road.

The folk haven’t discovered radiation yet, so the robber will not know why he sickens. Vyl will be angry, as all folk are her children, but some lessons must be taught.