Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"The Waterline: Chapter 2"

Author's notes:

Sorry for the massive delay. As always, I'm delving into way too many projects for my own good.

I suppose I shouldn't be terribly surprised to find that trying to retroactively write a story is difficult. Sometimes the plot lines don't connect as well as I'd like. Also, trying to rewrite a story that was pretty much one endless day in a game that now has weather (and hideous "full moon lighting") has been a challenge in and of itself. Bah.

... but anyway, here's chapter two, and future chapters will come faster. 

... I hope.

~ splad

Part Two: "Off the Beaten Path"

Grant woke up terribly early considering that he had gone to bed at 2 a.m. The sun had just cleared the treetops, and the warmth was drying up all the dew. It was going to be a beautiful day. Shame that he had to waste it on work. He loitered by his rumpled bed, procrastinating. But he had to do something practical, since the intelligence that he was being fed was completely useless.

He ate a quick breakfast while listening to some loudmouth on the radio.  Apparently today there was a festival happening at Glenwood Park, and as it was summertime, said festival would mean large quantities of fresh seafood. If nothing else, that meant a pretty-good sized crowd would come and give him at least one opportunity to scout around for his quarry. It was the very definition of a "slim lead," but at this point he was clutching at straws. Upsetting Ms. Strauss was bad for his digestion. And he couldn't afford to lose any weight.
He had to walk to Glenwood. Whatever this festival was, it had drawn in traffic from other towns. The streets were clogged, both with cars and pedestrians. He bought a bracelet pass and a cold beer and sat on a bench to people-watch for a while.

The swarm of people attracted by the steamy seafood pots was nearly overwhelming. Grant watched casually from his perch, beer in hand. Just one more sleepy old man, lying in the sun.

His eyes stayed focused beneath the brim of his hat, watching for the offending agent. People in his line of work carried themselves differently in a crowd. Even more than the average American, they refused to be touched. They were wary, if not paranoid. In a mosh like this, someone that jumpy would stand out.

But the longer he watched, the more convinced he became that she wasn't here, either. On the whole, the people who had come out were in groups. The single women that he observed didn't fit the bill, either. Another strikeout. Damn.
Think, dummy. If I needed to hide in plain sight, what would I do?

… I'd be somewhere inconspicuous, blending in. 

He set down his empty bottle with a thump and went back home. 
His phone was buzzing in his pants, but he ignored it for the moment while happily tossing clothes from the hamper to the floor. If the bus boy hadn't called him yet, the boss wouldn't have any better information. Chances were she was just calling to nag. He sighed as the buzzing continued. Finally, he fished around for his discarded shorts and retrieved his phone.

"Grant, why the hell have I had to call you four times?"

"Because I'm naked," he quipped. There was silence for several moments. 

"… are you?"

"Just about, I'm headed to the laundromat."
 "Wonderful. Yet more images I didn't need or want in my head! I want you back at the bistro tonight, from happy hour to closing. Drink a whole damn bottle of scotch if you have to, you just be there."

"Famous last words," Grant murmured.

"Be there, Thurgood. And be on your A-game."

"Am I off it?" He said it in jest, but Ms. Strauss fell into thoughtful silence. 
 "… no," she finally said. "But this case … is wrong, somehow. It's not going to be a slam-dunk. It's a problem, Thurgood. I can feel it." 

"Can you tell me anything at all about why the agent took off?"

"I don't know what to tell you, Grant. She wasn't my direct employee. All I know is that a superior manager to me ordered me to have her brought in. What she does—what she used to do—isn't exactly public intel, so I'm honestly just as in the dark as you are. I just know they want her returned. Badly."

The earnestness in Ms. Strauss's voice made Grant respond in kind. "I'll do my job, ma'am."

The call ended there.


The laundromat was shady and cool. Grant lounged on a bench and watched the clothes spin. This assignment was quickly turning into some kind of washout. Still, no need to bitch about it. They had to pay him whether he caught the agent or no, and he needed clean clothes. 

From the other end of the laundry room, he heard a plaintive whine. “What the hell? How is this damn thing always out of quarters?”
 Grant lazily opened one eye. A woman stood before the vending machine, irritably stuffing money back into the back pocket of her jean shorts. He soon had both eyes open. Nice butt.

Apparently she felt his gaze. When she turned to look at him, she was frowning slightly. She managed to force a small smile, though, and ask him if he had change for a $10.   

“Think so … ah, geez, I must have spent it all. Maybe the place next door can help you out?”

“Oh yeah … they’re a bar, aren’t they? Thanks.” She turned to go, but turned back to him just as abruptly. “Sorry, didn’t introduce myself, did I.” She extended her hand. “Dania.”

“Luke.” The pseudonym left his lips easily. He never gave out his real name on assignment; it was just asking for trouble.

“Nice to meet you,” they both barked at the same time, and laughed.

He bought her a beer. They chatted quietly and nibbled from a snack bowl as the bartender made her change. When she went next door again to begin her laundry, he accompanied her to retrieve his own. “Nice to meet you,” they simultaneously said again as they parted ways, and laughed at the blunder.
 Grant went fishing that evening, thinking over what little he knew and could glean from his boss’s scant information. An agent abruptly left the company, and the company wanted her back, to the extent that they were pursuing her with federal approval. There were no details available about what the agent may have done, or why it was so urgent to recover her. She simply had to be recovered in the next seventy-two hours, hell or high water. 

Grant frowned a bit. Ms. Strauss had a good deal of faith in him to do his job efficiently and discreetly, and rightfully so. He had an excellent closer rating, primarily because he did his work with a minimum of questions or even interest, beyond resolving a case. 
Still, there were a few lines that he didn’t like to cross. One of those lines was working on any case that involved internal affairs. There were always too many unknowns, and the definition of a “need-to-know basis” seemed to boil down to “shut your goddamn mouth and do what the hell we said.” A perfectly normal response from middle managers in government work—except when the whistle was finally blown and Congress stepped in, they always seemed to be able to wash their hands of any responsibility, leaving their underlings to take the fall for them. And lately it wasn’t a question of if the shit would hit the fan, but when.

He looked at the large trout dangling at the end of his line and smiled, a little. He didn’t really need to be worrying about it, did he? As Ms. Strauss often reminded him, worrying about the ramifications of his actions was above his pay grade. He had a spot to fish in, and a spot to grow plants in. And he had a job to do. He’d do it. 


For all of his good self-advice, Grant woke up the next day still puzzling over the conundrum. He carefully sorted through his garden, harvesting the fruit and vegetables before another storm set in. The sky was so overcast, it was probably going to be a long rain.

It didn’t take long before the heavens opened up. This rain was no sprinkle, either—it became torrential in a matter of two minutes. He quickly took cover in his small car and turned on the heat for a few minutes, trying to dry his clothes and wondering what to do between now and his evening appointment at the bistro. 

Eventually he decided to hit up a karaoke bar on the west side of town. It was shabby, popular amongst locals and college kids, and usually crowded, more so on days like this. He could people-watch there all day long and never look out of place. Besides, he was hungry. 

His timing couldn‘t have been better. Thanks to the unexpected storm, the bar was packed. The proprietor had turned on the karaoke machine, and various brave souls were taking turns singing to the audience.  The current on-stage performers were horrible, and the crowd wasn’t particularly shy about letting them know it. They sang on, undeterred. Brave, drunk or oblivious—some combination of the three.  
“Hey there, can I get you a menu?”

He looked up. Half-smiled in recognition. “Hey there, Ms. Dania.”

“Hey there, Mr. Luke.” She set a glass of water down next to his hand. “You want anything stronger?”

“Scotch would be nice. But I think I'll just have a beer for now.”

“You got it.” She whipped the cap off in a smooth motion and handed him the bottle before glancing at the stage. The bad singers hadn't taken the hint yet, and the audience was growing impatient. 
Dania shook her head and chuckled. “Jeez louise. Installing that karaoke machine was the worst decision the owner's made yet, and lemme tell ya he's made some real stinkers. All it does is attract people who don’t know when to quit. You just having a beer today, or you want some food to go along with it?”

“Food would be great.” 

Grant finished his meal in under twenty minutes, but he lingered on at the bar for another two hours, laughing and joking with Ms. Dania. He listened in as other, less cautious bar patrons asked her personal questions.  The chatty older ladies wanted to know where she was from (“Jacksonville, Florida”) and the muscleheads wanted to know if she was dating (“Yup, six years”). Her answers were perfectly friendly, but something in the quickness of the responses felt more like deflection than bantering.

… could she …

… no, he was just projecting.

… wasn’t he?
“So what time do you get off?” he found himself asking. Dania gave him a sly smile. Probably remembering that just yesterday, he was not-so-discreetly ogling her from behind.

“Tonight one of the bartenders called in and the other girl is too new to leave behind the bar alone, so I’m technicially on a double. Which Is too bad, because if I don’t have to work at night, I usually head over to Bistro Nagali for their happy hour.”

“Bistro Nagali is the one across from the supermarket?”

“Yep, right across from the Everyday Gourmet.”

“Tell you what,” he said. “Even if you can’t make it for happy hour, maybe you could meet me there anyway and hang out? I’ll buy, no problem.”

“Chivalry isn’t dead,” she said dryly as she reached for his empty beer bottle. “Thanks, but I don’t think my guy would like that much.”

“Bring him along, we’ll make a whole night of it.”

Now her look became a bit more appraising, and Grant noticed the immediate change in her demeanor. He was trained to read faces, and hers was in flux. Her lips kept forming the word ‘no,’ but she kept stopping herself from saying it. Interesting. Was she unwilling to come and embarrassed to turn him down, or unable to think of a good enough excuse to avoid him?

His phone was buzzing. He quickly excused himself and headed upstairs to a quiet corner.
“… yes, ma’am?”

“What the hell are you doing, Grant?”

“Working an angle.”

“An angle? It sounds to me like you’re setting up for a date.”

“I’m not,” he protested quickly. “Look, I know you have confidence in me, but if you want me to get something useable in the next three days I have to be more proactive. That might mean going through an unapproved channel. Your guy’s intel didn’t exactly pan out.”

“… acknowledged, but I still don’t like the way this is heading. And did I hear wrong, or is this lady already taken?”

“You heard right. You also heard me invite her old man along, so spare me the lecture on the agency’s morality code.”

“Alright, enough sass. Whatever I hear tonight better pertain to you and your job, and not you and your libido. You got me?”

The line clicked dead abruptly. Grant snorted. Even though the boss clearly didn’t agree with him, at least she hadn’t completely forbidden him to try this angle. Not that it would have really mattered if she had. She obviously still felt indecisive as far as the case itself was concerned, and he had a knack for changing her mind. Sometimes she didn’t even realize he’d done it. 

By the time he came back downstairs, Dania wasn't there anymore—she had gone on break and left the building, the server informed him. "But she left this for you," the guy continued, and handed over a receipt with a number scrawled on the back.

Probably isn't even hers. Clever.

"Thanks," Grant murmured, and took his leave into the humid night. He found himself looking around for her once he stepped outside, but she was nowhere to be seen.
Why he expected to find her waiting around for him was a question that he didn't bother to answer. But he couldn't shake the distinct feeling that he was being watched just as carefully as he had watched earlier tonight. And for him, that was more revealing than any official memo.  

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

"The Waterline"

A little history:

A long, long time ago (June 2009), I bought Sims 3 and started mucking around with it. After about three days of getting used to the gameplay aspect, I found myself getting bored, and coming back to my old love: storytelling. 

I wanted to write about something, but I didn't have the first clue what. But as I looked at Sunset Valley and thought about how it reminded me in many ways of Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, I began to concoct a really ridiculous idea. What if, in the milling crowds of a peaceful coastal town ... there was a deadly serious spy game going on, with a person's life and freedom at stake?

I didn't get particularly far into developing that story before I ran head-first into EA's new "Story Progression." Suffice it to say, my expert bachelor spy suddenly became a father, with no wife, girlfriend, or even "remote acquaintance" to otherwise explain this immaculate birth. I decided to roll with that punch, and although the story I ultimately wrote was one that I enjoyed and was pleased with, it wasn't at all what I had set out to do.

Four years (and countless game-choking mods) later, I'm just now attempting to write the story I meant to write when I first started.

Wish me luck.

~ splad

Part One: "When Duty Calls ..."

Grant Thurgood was one of those unfortunate men who had always appeared to be older than he really was. He was practically skin and bones despite his excellent athletic ability, and a persistent injury in his left ankle from his early twenties had left him with a more-or-less perpetual limp. His hair was so blond it was practically platinum. This, combined with his quiet demeanor, faded clothing and stumbling gait, made him look like a 48-year-old at age 26. He was one of those men who sit at the counter of a diner all day long, lingering over endless cups of coffee and blending into the wallpaper.

It hadn't done much for his social life, but it was the perfect cover for a spy.

Grant was an old hand at the business. His average, bland looks were so innocuous that he could slip in nearly anywhere without being noticed, and from there he eavesdropped and committed entire conversations to memory. He only wore a wire when his bosses made him, preferring to trust his enormous power of recollection. 

But over the years, all he could hold onto were the conversations. The places and times merged until there was nothing left but the stained linoleum countertops and the dingy coffee cups. 

There had been the occasional woman, but they were never around for long and all he truly remembered of them was the curve of their hips and glossy hair. Names, faces, personalities--those had vanished into the endless days. Which was just as well. It was dangerous to love a man whose job often ended by leaving town in the middle of the night.

Once he had tried, tried to truly care for one and build a corner of his world around her. But he soon found that there wasn't room for espionage and love in his life. The job usurped the time that rightfully belonged to her, and she grew jealous, then suspicious, eventually bitter. When he called, she was distant; when he returned from a week out of town, she was either overwhelmed with emotion or (more often) furious with him. 

The air in the house stifled until the day he left for an assignment in Pierre, South Dakota and she left him for good.  He came home to empty closets and missing furniture, spent three weeks alone surrounded by her mementos, and finally donated everything left in the house to a charity the next time he left town. He had a small picture of her wedged into his wallet; the sun had faded it badly, and time and dust had glued the photo to the leather. It wasn't worth the time or trouble to scrape it off now.

Some of his friends in the business had kept their work and their lives separate, but Grant wasn’t so sure that they were the lucky ones. Though they had families to go home to and beautiful homes in the suburban countryside, they also had that much more to lose. These were the men who had never told their wives their real names and had to take a different way home from work every day. They constantly watched the fire exits when they went to the movies with their kids and performed regular background checks on their neighbors. 

In other words, they were paranoid, and rightfully so.

After the failure of his brief marriage, Grant decided that he didn’t care about being alone. In a moment of absolute frankness, he had told his boss that he wasn’t worried about where they made him go or what he had to do, as long as he had a space to himself, a patch of grass nearby, and a place to fish. And his boss, in a moment of startling generosity, had sworn to Grant that he would have it, no matter where he was assigned to. 

So here he was, in the middle of a tourist town right on the southeastern Atlantic Ocean. There had been no assignments for a few weeks now, but he didn’t mind. As long as he had a sunlit sea for his backyard, he could tolerate anything. 


The sun had shone for several days straight. Great weather for tourists, but a bit of trouble for the plants. Grant found himself spending significantly more time than usual in his front yard lately, trying to save the grape and potato vines from smothering in weeds. He faintly heard the phone ring, but didn’t bother to go back inside for it. Probably just some telemarketer anyway.

It was only when his pocket began to rattle that he stopped digging in the dirt. A vibrating ring meant that the boss was calling. Ms. Tatiana Strauss let him get away with a lot, but he was at least expected to take her calls. He wiped his hands on his pants quickly before answering. “Good morning.”

"Morning, my ass. You’d better not be just waking up.”

“Not hardly. Just busy fertilizing. Be thankful you can’t smell me. What’s going on, did I send my last memo in the wrong font size?”

“Very funny, Thurgood. Listen up. You know that fancy restaurant in town that you hate so much? Be there in fifteen minutes and order a scotch on me. We found our little problem."

"Sure, be right there … oh, hell, you’re letting me buy scotch? This must be serious!" 

One of the agency's employees had gone AWOL and vanished three months back. The case had been passed around the office--one person keeping tabs on all vehicles involved, someone else wiretapping the agent's last known phone number and watching for any signs of electronic activity, someone else monitoring the bank accounts and the credit card balances. Suddenly, Grant understood why he had been sent to this sandy town for seemingly no reason and hung out to dry for six solid weeks. They needed him on the scene so that he could step into the case as soon as a body resurfaced.

"Don't be so flip, you’re only getting one glass. Besides, it's not nearly as much of a cakewalk as you think. At least, I don't think it is."

"Well, I hope I can at least order a good scotch to make up for it," he said dryly. “Or do I have to stick with mid-range for budget’s sake? What’s our incredible disappearing mole look like nowadays, anyway?"

"Our intelligence has determined that Agent Carlson has dramatically changed her appearance to avoid detection, possibly going so far as to have plastic surgery to alter her features. She is believed to be in the company of a male partner who may or may not be a willing accomplice. She should be considered armed and dangerous.”

“Are you done reading me the memo?” 

“… You will observe her from a distance until you are absolutely certain that it is she, in which case you will immediately return to the corporate office and file your confirming report." 

"And then the boys in blue come to pick her up?"

"It's beyond the local police. This broad's going to the federal pen."

He chuckled humorlessly. "You want me to trail someone who knows that when they're caught, they're going to prison for the rest of their life. Seriously? You might be buying me the entire damn bottle of scotch tonight, boss."

"You've dealt with worse. Besides, I only give the worst assignments to the agents best suited to perform them. By the way, the federal prosecutor on this case is writing up the charges as we speak and they'd like to have Carlson on next week's court docket, so you'll need to move fast. You get four days to figure it out. No pressure."


Fortunately, Ms. Strauss was entirely correct. Grant was more than competent to handle an assignment like this with a bare minimum of information. He didn't actually need to know what Agent Carlson looked like, either then or now--it would just prove distracting. Suppose he found out what his quarry currently looked like. Then what? He couldn’t exactly run around town punching out every woman with a similar haircut, hoping to get lucky. 

It would be a much better idea to go to a place that the agent was known to frequent and spend an evening observing. There was no reason to turn down free booze, especially when the boss was paying for it.

He changed into a pin-striped oxford shirt and slacks, but hesitated when it came to the shoes. The bistro had some semblance of a dress code, but he had noticed very quickly that only tourists wore dress shoes when they went out on the town. Locals rarely wore anything other than some kind of open-toed shoes, no matter where they went. And he needed to look like a local. If this former agent was any good at all, she’d realize that she was being watched in less than fifteen seconds. 

The sun was low in the sky when he arrived, throwing its pastel light across the flagstones of the patio. He walked past the sign that said "Please Wait to be Seated," slid into a patio chair that gave him a clear view of both the indoor and outdoor seatng area, and pretended to bury himself in the paper. 

It wasn't often that official intelligence was wrong, but Grant eliminated every woman in the place within 30 minutes. To keep himself amused until he got the inevitable call from Ms. Strauss, he watched the families and couples strolling by. As usual, no one noticed the old man leaning sleepily over a half-empty collins glass and the sports page.

"Dad, you said we could play catch. Dad, please ..."

"Cooper, stop it. Now."

Grant didn’t even need to look up to tell instantly what was going wrong there. Father and son, boy was about eight years old, and struggling to keep up with his father’s pace. Dad was straight out of the suburbs—wasn’t used to life on island time. Had probably gotten pissed off waiting in line for gelato. Son was on the verge of tears. Dad likely hadn’t even noticed. 

Grant snuck a quick glance before going back to the editorials. 

"Can I get another one of those for you, sir?"

This time, Grant actually looked up. The server had the face of a college student, but she was a grown woman. The gentle wrinkles creasing her neck gave her away. He pretended to be startled by her voice and knocked over his glass.

Within moments, she was picking up ice chips from the table and promising to bring him a fresh drink while simultaneously shaking off her shoes. He felt a slight twinge for getting her feet wet, but he was mostly disappointed. This wasn't his spy either; no agent worth their paycheck let a complete stranger throw liquid at them, even if it was just water. "Sorry about that. I'll take another one, but no rush."

She smiled and nodded before making a trail of wet shoeprints straight back inside. He sighed to himself. This was turning into a complete washout. Either this spy was damn good or the feds were damn wrong, and he was beginning to bet on the latter.

His pocket vibrated.

"Yes ma’am."


"This place has shitty scotch.”

“Fantastic, I’ll keep it in mind if I ever vacation there. Have you made visual on Agent Carlson?”

“I have not. How recently was your intel, anyway?”

"We spent two weeks verifying that she regularly comes to that restaurant for their 4 p.m. happy hour. Our plant assured us of it, that's why I'm wasting your time and mine. Are you telling me she's not there?"

"Look, anything's possible. Hell, she worked for you, so obviously she's pretty quick on her toes. But I know 'em when I see 'em and I don't see 'em. Not in here, anyway."

"Could I persuade you to talk to the busboy before you leave?"

"The busser? Are you kidding?"

"He's like you, no one pays him much attention and no one realizes he's wired. He sent me a message that she had started showing up at his bar for the twice-weekly drink specials." The boss sounded worried and exasperated. "The guy's never let me down before. I hope like hell she just decided to go somewhere else to get plastered tonight, or heads are gonna roll. Starting with mine."

"No pressure, right?" Grant said with a smile that he hoped the boss heard in his voice.

He found the busser inside, mopping the floor under three tables pushed together. From the magnitude of the mess and number of bottles, seemed that the dinner guests had gotten quite rowdy. The guy was going to be there for a while. 

Grant leaned against a nearby booth and cleared his throat gently. The busser looked up and nodded in quick acknowledgement. He went back to scrubbing the floor.  

“I heard you know my boss pretty well,” Grant said.

The busser shrugged, a little. “Your boss a dude or a lady?”

Grant laughed. “Oh, she’s no lady.”

The busser actually stared at him for a second before laughing along. “Damn, bro. You know she can hear you, right?”

They loosened up a bit after that. Grant drank his second scotch and the busser described the agent’s current appearance in the vaguest of terms. Long brown hair, brown skin, dark eyes. Grant groaned. “Well, that narrows it down to no more than 200 people. Damn it, the next time they call me in here, this broad better have her ass planted on a stool with a mai tai.”

“Yo, man, I can’t help it. You don’t stare too hard at the women who come in here, they’ll call a manager over faster ‘n you can blink. I just know what she kinda looks like from a distance. A long distance.  She’s prolly one of those that’ll kill you from across the room with a soup spoon.”

“You watch too many damn spy movies. Here’s my number. If she actually comes in, call me. I’ll be here in five.”

“No problem, bro. Watch your step so you don't fall.”


Grant suffered through another phone call from his boss while on the way to his favorite greasy spoon. When confronted with his lack of progress, he gave Ms. Strauss a bit of backtalk. “It’s not exactly my fault that the woman didn’t show up tonight, is it? You act as though I should start knocking on doors and hanging up ‘missing’ posters.” 

“May I remind you that a federal prosecutor is breathing down our necks, Thurgood?”

“You reminded me of that four hours ago. And that doesn’t change the fact that she wasn’t there tonight and I don’t have any other leads besides a description that could send me on a hundred wild goose chases.”

“My point is, I intend for you to be a bit more aggressive. Maybe she is in hiding, but we’ve still got precious little choice other than to chase her down. Everyone else did the hard part in actually finding where the hell she went, you’re just stepping in at the end of the game to make the winning move. So stop whining about being the one who’s going to receive the main credit for reeling her in, and get to it.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Grant muttered, and hung up before going in. Arguing always killed his appetite.

The night staff greeted him loudly. Grant was a regular by now and the servers rarely asked him what he wanted. If he came by in the morning, he was looking for a bit of corned beef hash and diced potatoes with eggs over easy. A lunchtime visit meant chili dogs all the way. Late afternoon stops were usually pot roast with whatever vegetable-of-the-day they had left. And a late-night stop was always—

"Buttermilk waffles and bacon fried crispy. You got it, hon." Marjorie didn't even bother to write it down. "Coffee?"

"Sounds great." He stifled a yawn.

"Don't do that! You'll knock me out and I gotta be here all night."

"Sorry. Long day."

"At least yours's ending," she snapped, but winked at him. "Hot coffee coming up." 

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Fountain

This is a (very) short story I wrote on request from the fabulous Minraed--she had a last minute request for a "medieval" type story to add to an issue of SF Magazine. Lucky for her, I work great when given last-minute writing assignment and I love Ye Olde English.


"The Fountain"

Everyone in the small village knew the legend of the fountain—the final resting place of a village girl who had been claimed against her will by a noble of the land. It was a lake created and fed by a small stream that ran the length of the village, and four hundred yards more. A brisk walk would bring a man there in under five minutes. But no one visited this place, and those who stumbled upon it in the darkness often crossed themselves in fear before slipping away as quickly as their trembling legs would allow. No fish swam in these waters. No hand stirred the surface to seek a drink. A worn statue stood in its center, a memorial to the unhappy woman, and the hollow stone eyes seemed to follow intruders with displeasure.

As a young boy, he had heard the whispers, and taken them to heart. Ma and Da had little to say beyond, "Ye keep well clear of that place," and he did. He and all of his boyhood friends held the fountain in a dim, mystic reverence of superstition.

As a young man and a squire to a knight, he was stripped of his presumptions. 

One by one, the lessons that he had been carefully taught were knocked from his mind's grasp, and replaced with information more suitable to the service of the king. Whether this new information was to his benefit would be hard to say. But he became a useful squire to his knight, and accompanied Sir Eston to more than one successful battle and tournament, which brought glory and fame to the king of their land, and subsequently to Sir Eston. But not to the lowly squire. 

"Ye must find a venture of thine own to stand conqueror o'er, m'son, for that is the way glory is won," the burly knight told him. 

He rode out alone, a day's steady ride returning him to the land of his upbringing, and in doing so he passed the haunted fount. But the lessons he had learned as a squire of a ferocious knight drove all thought of ghosts and bewitchings far from him. All he saw now was a pool of water to quench his mount's thirst. He let the mare approach the brink, dip her snout to the surface.

How long he sat there for, he could not tell, but he started as if waking from heavy sleep. 

There, on the farther bank, stood a female form, lovely and shimmering in the dim shade. Whether she saw him as well could not be doubted, and yet she made neither movement nor noise. She was, in truth, a living statue—but for her hair that fluttered in the low breeze, and her keen eyes that gazed unblinking upon this traveler. He stared back, entranced.

The movement of the horse's head brought him to himself. He did not know how much time he had lost, but the sun had surely moved on while he idled. Or had he idled at all? Had he not rather been witched?

He immediately heard the laughter of his sir knight ring in his ears, and he blushed for shame. There were no such things, Harold Eston insisted. 'We live in an age of science, boy. Those stories are for the young and foolish. Ye are grown to a man now, heed them not."

But heed he must, for the mare ailed, and shook, and as the horse fell heavily to the ground he was thrown, which was the sole reason he managed to keep both legs whole. He needed only one look to know that there was no hope.  He looked again at the copse where the vision had been , but there was nothing save the whispering trees. 

With a feeling of dread sapping his knightly honor, he left quickly by the nearest overgrown grassy path. 

The next day it was widely reported that a late traveler had seen the fountain run red, and the villagers discussed the event till it was well nigh threadbare and wondered whom of them was so foolhardy as to run counter to the legend. 

And in a quiet stable of a roadside inn, a young man was preparing to go a mission of honor by negotiating to purchase a new horse, and silently concluding that despite the age of science, some legends were better left to themselves.

~ fin