Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Broken Mirror Shard - Day 3

Big and I talked again about putting out a collection of these Broken Mirror-type stories.  Honestly, between the two of us, we probably have enough for a collection with fourteen or fifteen tales no one has ever read.

But it's unlikely anyone ever will.


            “That claw game over there,” Anthony said, gesturing.  “Can I have a quarter?”
            “Nope,” Stewart said, feeling grown up.  “Those machines are rip-offs.”

            “Nuh uh, that guy just played it and he won a necklace of solid gold.”

            “Solid shit is more like it.  It’s a waste of money.”

            Anthony was adamant.  He was two steps beyond adamant.  “Not this time, Stewart.”

            “I’m not stupid.  You’ll lose, then you’re gonna be mad at me.”

            “Nuh uh.  Why would I be mad at you?”

            “I don’t know, Annie, but you will be.”

            “Don’t call me Annie.  Just give me a quarter.”

            Stewart shook his head, but unzipped the little compartment in his shorts and gave his brother a quarter.  It wasn’t long ago that he’d been a little kid, thinking that he could win prizes—or worse, worthless tickets at an arcade—because the machine looked so easy.  They all looked easy, that was the—

            Anthony came back to his side.  “It’s fifty cents.”

            Stewart rolled his eyes.  “Dude . . .”

            “Come on.”

            Stewart squatted down so he was even with the seven year old.  “Those games are rigged, man.  They look super easy, but the claw doesn’t close all the way, you know?  So whatever you’re after just slips right through.”

            “This one isn’t like that.  The guy with the ear holes pulled out a gold necklace, and the claw was closed on it.”  He made a claw out of his little hand to show him what it had been like.

            “Annie, you’ll be throwing away your money.”

            “Wanna bet?”

            “I’d be betting fifty cents, and that’s too much.”

            “If you’re right and I lose, we can go wherever you want tomorrow.  I won’t complain.”

            “What if we go throw rocks at lizards behind the old quarry?”

            Anthony squinched up his face.  He hated cruelty to animals, even jokes about it.  Then, his face went slack.  “Okay, even that.”

            “No shit?”

            “No . . . shh.  But if I do win, you can’t call me Annie anymore.  I hate that.”

            “You do?”  Stewart pretended to be surprised.  “You’re kidding.” 

            The boy was exasperated.  “It’s just a quarter, man.  It’s not the end of the world.”

            Stewart felt in his pocket.  There were at least two more quarters in there, but he considered claiming he had none.  Finally, he pulled one out.  “Alright.  But when you lose, your name’s Annie all week.  And no bitching.”

            “I’ll tell Mom you said the b-word,” Anthony threatened, almost automatically.  Heck, maybe it was even a joke.

            “And no bitching about language either.”


            He handed the money over.  “Okay, Annie, go throw away your money.”

            Your money, actually,” his brother said, and scampered off.
Words Today: 451Words Total: 1443

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Broken Mirror Shard - Day 2

I took my nephew to his karate class, and got quite a bit of writing done on this thing.  Big told me he already has a couple of thousand words of his story down, so I'd have to get up pretty darn early in the morning to pass that guy back.  But this ain't a race, it's a . . .

Okay, I don't know what it is.  I just know it's cool he's so psyched up about writing again, and I gotta admit: it sort of rubs off.  Kind of like when your roommate starts watching "Designing Women" all of a sudden, and then you start watching it too, even though it's not really your thing, and before you know it . . . both of you are pregnant.

Alright, not exactly like that.  But similar.


                The old Shop N Go convenience store was at the end of the block.  Stewart didn’t usually go there because his best friend Head got caught shoplifting there and was banned from the store.  But Head—or Shithead as Stewart now thought of him—was no longer best pals with Stuart, so he had no qualms about going there today. 

                The annoying bell dinged when they went inside, and there was a blast of cold air assaultimg them, quite a change from the ninety-seven degree weather outside.

                “What size can I get?” Anthony asked.

                “Size what?  Shoe?” Stewart retorted, very weakly.

                “I thought we were gonna get Icees,” he said, just short of whining.

                “Yeah, yeah,” Stewart said.  “Get whatever you want.”  With their mother getting so many hours at work again, he was confident she’d pay him back for whatever he spent on his brother.  Either that or raise his allowance to something a bit more in line with the 21st Century.

                Stewart got a forty-eight ounce Mountain Dew, which was the same price as a twelve ounce Icee for some reason, and drank a third of it there at the fountain so he could fill it up to the top again.  Beside him, Anthony was struggling with the Icee machine.  Either nothing came out or it sprayed out like a fire hose, splattering on his hands and bare legs.  The boy made an in-over-his head sound, and Stewart filled up his cup for him, telling him to go in the bathroom and get himself cleaned up.  Anthony didn’t have to be told twice.

                Stewart took the dripping Icee cup and wiped it off with napkins, even wiping up the red spray on the side of the machine (though he didn’t really have to).  He glanced at the big mirror on the wall above him, but the clerk behind the counter wasn’t even looking at him.

                Stewart remembered he’d turned off his phone while skating, and fished it out of his shorts, turning it back on.  He’d gotten a text from Rupe McGavin, who always wrote so much it had to be spread over more than one message.  He had send a dirty joke about a shipwrecked crew on an island of horny cannibals . . . but the punchline hadn’t come through.  Rupert was probably technically Stewart’s new best friend, but the guy never ever showered, and was always pretty ripe.  Texting really was the best way to communicate with him.  Stewart tried to think of what the end of the joke would be, and texted back, “Unfortunately, we are all out of canoes,” which was almost funny.

                Stewart was halfway through a game of “Rest In Peace” on the phone before he realized his brother wasn’t with him.  He looked around.  Was Anthony still in the bathroom, or had he—

                Anthony was on the far side of the store, where the vending machines sat, talking to some strange guy.  The man looked to be about twenty-five, with long ratty hair and ear gauges, and was tying something around his neck.  He headed for the door, and Anthony, who still had cherry Icee on one of his arms, came running over to Stewart.

                “Stewart!  Did you see?”

                “Were you talking to that dude?”

                “I need a quarter!”

                “What are you talking about?”

                “That claw game over there,” Anthony said, gesturing.  “Can I have a quarter?”

Words today: 567
Words total: 977

Monday, July 28, 2014

Broken Mirror Shard (apparently) - Day 1

Okay, so I did write on this bad boy today, but in my notebook, as usual, which means I have to type it up to present it to anyone.  That's a pain, I realize, but I'll add more if I manage to scrape together a little time tonight after podcasting.


Untitled Claw Story

                Now that their mother was working full time again, it was up to Stewart to keep track of his little brother.  Anthony was seven, which isn’t that much younger than fourteen, but to Stewart, it was an uncrossable gulf of age that provided only irritation and annoyance.  Okay, and occasional affection, since Anthony just wanted to be around his big brother, do what he did, talk like he did, go where he went.

                Stewart rode a skateboard, though, and Anthony rode a bike, and not nearly as fast.  To see him pumping his little legs like the devil herself was behind him was amusing, however, and Stewarts friends got a kick out of watching him try to keep up.

                Then Stewart had ditched his little brother at the miniature golf course, and Anthony had been in tears, asking the employees for a phone to call his mommy . . . and Stewart was busted.  His mom had given him such an angry, tearful tirade about responsibility, and child killers, and him being the man of the house  now, that Stewart had nearly cried himself.  With Mom working days, he was only not grounded if he was with his little brother, and that meant right next to his little brother.  So, no more sneaking into construction sites, or breaking windows at the abandoned leather works.  Now he had to go to the mall, or the water park, or the pet store, and entertain his spoiled kid brother.

                Of course, Anthony was thrilled to be able to pick their destinations, and would often insist on holding Stewart’s hand, as embarrassing as that could be.  One time, he told him about the man who’d offered to give him a ride home from the golf course, and that had pretty much cemented Stewart’s dedication to his sibling.

                Today they had gone to the skate park, where Anthony had watched—with admirable patience—as Stewart jumped, slid, and tried to half-pipe with the other skaters, each trying to look coolest for the three girls who also happened to be watching.  Stewart wasn’t very good, but Anthony was enjoying his attempts, and vowed to make him teach him how to ride a board . . . when he got just a little older.

                It was a hot day, sunny and breezeless, and they soon got tired of the summer heat.  “Let’s go get a drink,” Stewart said, and they started down the street. 

Words today: 407
Total words: 410

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Come On And Do It Again (Mini Broken Mirror Story Event)

So, Big went off to do his annual family reunion summer activity last week, but before he went, he told me he was going to live blog another story as soon as he got back.  Looking around me for inspiration, I challenged him to do another Broken Mirror story with me (which is what I call it when we both write a story based on the same suggested premise, something we actually did earlier this year, but quite accidentally*), and came up with the prompt:

"Despite being warned about them, someone plays a claw vending machine game . . . and wins big."

Big accepted my challenge, and went off to visit his many relatives wherever it is they go.  I figured I'd mention on Facebook that Big and I were going to be doing this, just in case somebody wanted to hold us to it, and said they were welcome to join in.  Unfortunately, my words must have been too vague, because people thought we were announcing a new Broken Mirror Dunesteef contest, and several insisted they were going to enter (somebody even asked which episode had included this announcement, thinking he'd missed a show).  Whoops.

But just like the live-blogging thing that we started in June, anybody is free to join in on this on their own blog, and Big suggested we even put links to the other blogs that would be participating.

It really is a cute idea, even if I'm not so sure the story I'm planning to write is gonna be all that cute.  Or good.

But you know me, I'd never claim it was good, even if I thought it was.  We'll find out starting tomorrow.

Rish Outfield, Writer

*A few years ago, we were tossing out suggestions for that year's Broken Mirror premise, and ended up going with Big's (which was "A child is proclaimed king, but it ends up being more than just a game").  Mine was something like "A bunch of kids make a 'Suicide' by mixing several flavors of soda at once . . . with surprising results," which wasn't as evocative as Big's suggestion . . . but he brought it up earlier in the year, saying he was going to go ahead and write a story about it.  When I heard he actually did so, I sat down and forced myself to write one too . . . and chances are, no one will ever, ever read it.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Rish Performs on Tim Pratt's "The Nex" on Audible

My buddy Marshal Latham (wherever I go, he goes) recently spent months putting together a full-cast audio production of "The Nex" by Tim Pratt.  It's a six hour production about a teenage girl who travels to a parallel world (actually the center of all parallel universes) where she makes a couple of unique friends, and encounters some nasty and/or powerful enemies.  If you know Tim Pratt's work, you'll surely dig this one.

Marshal demonstrated his madness in casting several of his friends and fellow podcasters in the production, including Renee Chambliss, Big Anklevich, Abbie Hilton, Dave Robison, Bryan Lincoln, Scribe Harris, Julie Hoverson, Dave Thompson, Veronica Giguere, Johnny Feisty, and Lauren Nicholson.  I got to voice the evil Regent, who is the crafty ruler of the land, and had lots of nasty lines to deliver.

Further proving the man is crazy, Marshal vowed to split the profits with us (after he split them with Tim, after Tim split them with Audible, of course), so the more copies he sells, the more pennies he'll send my way.  The audiobook is available for sale on at this link: and is already up on iTunes. 


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Live Writing Post-Mortem

When Big finished his story last week, he did a follow-up post talking about how it went.  I guess I'll do the same.

"A Lovely Singing Voice" is a long story, just under 25,000 words (which I'm told is a novella).  Most of the eventual published version (although I guess this too is a "published" version) is identical to what you read here, just with a few alterations and a couple of small additions.  Big and I have talked about my rewrite process, and I am an adder rather than a subtracter.  I always want to know more or see areas where I could expand, or new scenes I could stick in there, and I'm thinking of one more conversation Tanissa and Brekkyn could have while playing Monopoly that examines how the mer-girl first discovered her powers and how she ended up with the woman she forced to be her mother.  I think there needs to be a sentence about how Brekkyn has grown tired of this motherfigure and will soon replace her with another.

If you listened to my appearance on Big's Anklecast recently, you know that my experience wasn't as organic and natural as his was.  I was trying to replicate a lost story, and then suddenly, I didn't have to replicate it anymore.  A lot of times, it wasn't a matter of how much writing would I get done in a day, but how much typing I felt like doing.  And so, Big's experience was a much truer one, a greater accomplishment. 

But he's eager to do it again (he even said something about writing all of his stories like this, from this point on), and that means I will do it again too.  I don't think I'm the type to keep up this sort of thing for long, but I'm susceptible to peer pressure, so I'll be happy to write when he writes.  And if it means more people are reading my stories, I suppose that's good.

Back when I originally typed and podcasted about this story, I believe I remembered it as being the greatest thing I'd ever written--nay, the greatest thing a human being had ever written!  That was my mind's way of torturing me because I'd lost the story: building it up in my memory as though every page was poetry and every word was perfect.  Once I rediscovered the manuscript, I found there were problems with the story, and scenes where I was less interested in what I was writing (those scenes tend to get really short and consist of only dialogue, or worse, shift into present tense thinking--erroneously--that I'll fix that sometime in the future).  It's not the greatest thing I've ever written, let alone the whole humankind thing.

But I still like the story.  I tried to write from the point of view of a character I'd never done before (and Big did in his story as well, though probably not affected by my own plans), and there is no reference to myself in here (although in the rewrite I was going to have it be me that sold the iPods to the girls, or rather "sold" the iPods to the girls).  Tanissa started out twelve, then became thirteen, and may have gone back to twelve again (I can't remember), but I have no idea what a kid in the 21st Century is all about, or whether any of her dialogue or thought processes are even close to believable.  I did forward this story to my niece, who is now thirteen, and asked her to read it, but so far, she hasn't even opened the email (that I know of).

When I got the last of the story typed up, I sent a text message to Big that read, "I just finished my story.  As soon as I did, I was IMMEDIATLEY filled with the suspicion that it was no good."  (yeah, I misspell stuff).  But the commenters seemed to have enjoyed it, and now that it's been a few days, I like the story, as I said, and I'm glad I got to share it with people.  I struggled with it before writing it, knowing I needed a rational explanation behind the creepy pale girl who could make people do as she liked.  I was at work when I started thinking about siren songs, and the crazy notion of making the girl part-mermaid hit me.  I texted Big then too, telling him of my epiphany.  I forget this reaction, which was something along the lines of "Okaaaaaaaaaay..." but out of context, it must have seemed like madness.

In context, though, I think the mermaid element is what makes this story unique from anything I've written before.  Fiction writing is a kind of alchemy--a mysterious, almost magical process--and while it may be boring to those who don't do it themselves, it's endlessly fascinating to me, even when I'm doing the alchemy myself.

Hope you enjoyed the fish tale.

Rish Outfield

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Live Writing Exercise 26

And here we are.  I do apologize that this has taken so long.  I finished the story quite a while ago, but struggled with . . . stuff.

You've had stuff before.  You know how it is.


            Time seemed to stop completely for Tanissa.  She and her father both looked across the apartment toward the front door, and suddenly it occurred to her: what if it wasn’t Brekkyn at all?  What if she had brainwashed some stranger into coming here with a gun or a knife?  What if she’d gotten a policeman or the building’s handyman to come here, thinking her father was a criminal (or a target?), and Daddy opened the door for him? 

            Worse, what if she commanded her mother to come here, filled with murderous directives?  No matter what she said, with his current romantic state of mind, there was no way Tanissa could stop him from letting the woman in.

            The doorbell rang again.  And again.  Oh, it was Brekkyn alright.

            “Daddy, don’t--” she began, but he was already moving in that direction.  She couldn’t force him to put the tissue in his ears, even if she tried.  What else was there?  She grabbed the spaghetti strainer from beside the stove, and brandished it like a club.  “Dad, don’t answer the door!”

            He turned to her, his lips pursed just like Grandpa, and Tanissa swung the strainer as hard as she could at his right ear.  It whapped with an almost-comic clang, and he threw his hand to his ear, his eyes wide with pain and surprise. 

            TANISSA!” he roared, as upset as she’d ever heard him.  He actually sprayed spittle toward her. 

            She’d been hit on the ear before, and though it really hurt, would it be enough to withstand Brekkyn’s spell?  She couldn’t know.  What if Brekkyn told him to strange his daughter, or burn her with the stove or . . .

            Tanissa ran back to the kitchen.  “Don’t answer the door, Daddy!” she shouted, grabbing the roll of wet toilet paper, and putting it right on the stove where the noodles were boiling.  He saw her do it, his eyes huge and watering.

            “There’s gonna be a fire,” she half-taunted, half-warned.  He immediately moved to get the paper off the hot burner, and Tanissa ran to the table, scooped up her iPod, and headed toward the door.

            Brekkyn rang the bell twice more, kicking the door another three or four times.  Tanissa pulled the headphones out of the machine and tossed them behind her, unlocked the door, and made sure the tissue was jammed into both ears.  Brekkyn stood there,  hyperventilating with anger.  As soon as she saw her new ex-friend, she began to sing.  Tanissa could just barely hear it through her two blocked ears, and but she said, “Nuh uh,” and pushed PLAY on her iPod, holding it out toward the other girl.

            Brekkyn stopped singing as she heard herself on the recording, wailing the siren song Tanissa had taped while on the rooftop.  Tanissa could only barely hear it, but she remembered how nasty and hateful it had sounded, how it had made her feel bad and worthless when the mer-girl had been singing it.

            She looked over to see her father standing just outside the kitchen, one hand over his injured ear, an expression of puzzlement eclipsing his anger.  She turned back to Brekkyn, and found a blank expression there.  She looked like a volunteer at a hypnotism show, which, she supposed, wasn’t too far off the mark.

            The song on the recording stopped, and Brekkyn saying, “I hate you,” could barely be heard.  The recording ended.  Now what?

            Brekkyn swallowed slowly—with difficulty—then slowly turned and walked away, without a word.  Tanissa looked back at her father.  He had tears in his eyes and was shaking his head, slowly. 

            “Daddy?” she asked.

            “Come here,” he whispered, emotion in his voice.


            “I need you to.”

            She closed the door, locked it, and went to him.  She steeled herself for a slap (or worse), but his big arms wrapped around her, and he held her tight, the tears really coming now.  She held him back.

            It was only minutes before the news reached the third floor.  The little girl from Apartment 4 had gone up to the roof and fallen off tonight. 
            No, don’t imagine she jumped.


            Lived there with her mother.

            Skinny, sickly-looking woman.

            She didn’t seem to react to the news, just stared numbly.  Must be in shock.

            Pool lady. 

            No, can’t say I remember liking the girl--don’t even recall her name.

            Brooke or something.  Kind of a sour-faced, spoiled little thing.

            Still, it’s a shame.

            Tanissa knew what had happened, of course.  She’d heard the last song, even if it had been dampened by the toilet paper.  You’re worthless.  No one will ever like you.  Go to the edge of the roof and throw yourself off.  Do it now.

            She was a little bit shocked by it, though only because she understood that the song had been intended for her.  Dad took it worse than she did (especially since he was still depressed from before), babbling about how sweet that lil white girl was and that she was like a daughter to him and  . . . well, that wore off by the next morning.

            In fact, her father seemed to remember little of the previous afternoon and evening, and asked Tanissa if she and her friend had started a fire in the kitchen or if that had been a dream.  He seemed to recall that Tanissa’s friend had killed herself, and that he shouldn’t ask about it, but couldn’t say why.

            That afternoon, as they were coming back from the bowling alley, Mrs. Conlee met them in the hall.  Dad was uncomfortable around her, though he couldn’t say why, but the woman was anything but heartbroken at the loss of her daughter.  Step-daughter, even?  Captor?

            She threw her arms around Tanissa and said, quietly, “Was it you?  Did you say something to her?  To . . . ?”

            “No,” Tanissa said, which wasn’t quite a lie. 

            The woman broke the embrace.  “Alright.  All that matters is she’s gone.”  She didn’t seem heart-broken, or desperate, or troubled anymore.  There was a light in her eyes that hadn’t been the before.  She had had an enormous weight removed from her shoulders. 

            “Is there . . .” began Dad, before shifting uncomfortably, averting his eyes from the thin woman’s gaze.  “Do you need anything, Mrs. Mannion?”

            “It’s Conlee, actually,” she corrected.  “Muriel Eliza Conlee.  And I think I’ll be alright.”

            He nodded, but said, “If you need to come over to eat or--”

            “No, I’ll be fine.  I just need to start again.”  She gave each of them a nod, lingering on Tanissa for a moment, then walked away.

            “Poor woman,” Dad said to himself, unconsciously putting a hand on his sore ear.

            “Yeah,” his daughter said, but she wondered.  She had been a poor woman, until now.

            It turned out there was no funeral.  Ms. Conlee was having the body cremated, and planned to scatter the ashes in the ocean, which surprised everyone but Tanissa.

           “Would you, uh, like to go?” Dad asked when they heard of the arrangement, via a telephone call from downstairs.  Tanissa did not expect to say yes, even when she said it.  But once it was out of her mouth . . . it was out.

            “Okay,” Dad said, then surprised her by asking if she wanted to dress up or just wear regular clothes.

            “I don’t have any church clothes here,” Tanissa said, and that solved that.  She would wear the nicest outfit she had brought, and he would dress to match.

            It was only an hour drive to the coast, but Dad was preoccupied and overly talkative.  Did she remember Great Auntie Gretchin?  Could she remember that funeral?  He kept asking if Tanissa was okay, and trying to broach the subject of death and loss and hopelessness.  He had had a friend in high school who had killed himself after his Senior year, even though he’d gotten a nearly full-ride basketball scholarship to state college and had knocked up his own cousin.  Dad’s story was backfiring, and he was getting increasingly ill at ease, but endearingly so.

            Finally, she spared him, her hand on his big shoulder.  “Dad, that’s enough.  You know what happened, and you know why.”

            He shook his head, taking his hands off the steering wheel and rubbing them on his dress pants.  “I don’t think any of us can know why.”

            She looked at him, squinting, trying to read his expression.  “Do you really not remember?  Remember her song?  Remember her trying to take you away from me?”
           “I . . .”  Now he was looking really hard at the road.  “I don’t know what you mean.”

            It was a lie, and one he must have struggled with telling, but before she could call him on it, he added, “Nothing could take me away from you, baby.  I’ll always be your daddy, and always be there for you.”

            “Me too,” Tanissa said, and decided to let it go.  They drove to the Pacific, and watched from several yards away as Muriel Eliza Conlee poured the grey sand-looking dust into the shallow waves.  Some of the ashes blew back on her and she wiped her face, then dropped the urn into the water.  The tide took it, and everybody watched it go.

            She turned and made eye contact with the three others who’d come to the funeral, then at the Gunns.  She had tears in her eyes and absently wiped at them, but those did not seem to Tanissa to be tears of sorrow.  It was an awkward subject to bring up with her father, but already the woman looked better, the circles under her eyes all but fade, the hunched, beaten posture straightening, the mouth no longer tightly drawn out of stress or fear.

            Dad seemed to pick up on it too, because he kept talking about how nice a morning it was, how cool the breeze felt, how pretty the ocean is, and it was a shame it was such a solemn occasion that brought them there.

            “Uh huh, but maybe we could get some popcicles and just walk alone the shore,” she said.  “Take our shoes off maybe?”

            He seemed relieved.  “Yeah, good idea.”
            As they approached the water, Tanissa thought she could hear something out there, a song coming from the distance, a song not unlike Brekkyn’s, except prettier, more skilled.  Her breath caught in her throat, and though she scanned the horizon for something--a figure, a swimmer, a face--there was nothing.  The song came again to her ears, carried by the wind, maybe by the waves.

           “Do you hear that?” she asked, suddenly afraid.

            Dad cocked his big head.  He heard it too.  “Probably just a boat,” he said, not entirely convincingly.

            “Yeah,” Tanissa said.  “Probably.”

 the end

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Live Writing Exercise 25

I had a conversation with Big the other day, talking about this exercise, where I probably came across as something of a douchebag.  He said he was going to write a follow-up post when he finished his story where he talked about the experience, and asked people for their comments, and suggestions, and any typos they may have found.

I told him I didn't plan on doing that, and why.

He said, "If somebody found a typo you wouldn't want to know about it?"  I told him it was my job to find typos, not theirs, my job to make improvements, not theirs, because the story is mine.

But afterward, I thought about it, and realized I probably came across as a bit of a bag of douche there.  So I'll say it now: if you find a typo, please let me know in the comments, and I'll be happy to change it to a not-typo.  Thanks.

And thanks for reading.

            They went down the hall, and entered the stairwell, though she was sure Brekkyn had never taken the stairs before.  But the roof was only accessible from the stairs, and though the door was secured, it did open if you pulled up on it while twisting the handle. 
            They emerged into the still-sunny late afternoon, and Tanissa squinted to look around.  They weren’t the highest building on the street, but they could look down on other roofs, a swimming pool in the building next door, the tops of trees, cars driving past, a dumpster, and a couple of kids on the sidewalk below.  There was a cool breeze up here, and the smell of detergent coming from the laundry room, which was strange since it was on the first floor.
            Nobody else was up here.  Nobody else could see them.  Tanissa wondered if she really came up here of her own accord, or if there was no choice in the matter.  “So, what did you want to show me?” she asked, only a hint of nervousness in her voice.
            “What?  Don’t you like it up here?”
            Brekkyn gave her a look, scrutinizing, and asked, “Have you ever tasted a wine cooler?” Brekkyn wondered.
            “They taste good.”
            “My dad says beer makes you fat.”
            A shrug.  “Didn’t you know, I saw it on a show that parents just say stuff like that to scare us away from things they don’t want us doing.”
            Tanissa didn’t know if that was true, but had to argue anyway.  “Yeah, but--”
            Brekkyn sighed theatrically.  “Look, I’m in charge, okay?  We’re friends and we can have lots of fun together, but I’m boss.  Alright?”
            “Friends, Brekkyn, can take turns being boss, doing what the other one wants, maybe finding out you like things you didn’t know you’d--”

            And the mer-girl began to sing.  With only one ear, there was something dissonant about the tune, something off-key and tinny, like Miley Cyrus without Autotune.  Before, she’d always thought it was a pleasant enough song, even knowing it was working its magic on a driver or clerk.  Faintly, Tanissa got a sensation—a suggestion—that she should do whatever Brekkyn Mannion said, maybe even bow down and kiss her feet.  But it was just a feeling, just a weak inclination, and easy to dismiss.

            The other girl’s expression changed from one of confident spite to confused anger.  “What did you . . .” she started to say, then reached over and pulled the earbud from Tanissa’s ear.  Gangsta Rap began blaring from beside her, and Brekkyn connected the dots, because she called Tanissa just about the worst name possible, and began to sing again.

            This time Tanissa got the suggestion that she wallow around on the ground like a landed fish, gasping for air, desperate for relief.  It was disturbing, but she had been clever enough to take a wad of toilet paper, jam it into her right ear, and then put the earbud in . . . and the siren song was no more than a suggestion.  She steeled herself, fighting any desire to obey, and stared daggers at the spoiled little bully. 

            Brekkyn reacted much like she had when the old man had disobeyed her.  She was stunned, and then her eyes got wet and her face got red.  “How . . . ?” she began, then stifled any crying.  “Doesn’t matter.  I’m gonna go downstairs and make your dad think I’m his daughter.  He’ll love only me . . . and hate you.  Then you’ll understand how I feel.”

          “No,” Tanissa couldn’t help but say.  “Why?  Why would you do that?”

            “This could’ve worked out,” Brekkyn said.  “We could’ve been sisters.  But now, your own dad’s gonna kick you out, maybe spit in your face.”

           Tanissa had no doubt the girl would do it, whether it would work or not.  She didn’t want to find out.  “Don’t you dare,” she hissed, and grabbed the younger girl’s arm.  “You leave my dad alone.”

            Brekkyn did start to cry then, and tried to push past to get to the stairwell.  Tanissa blocked her path.  “No.”

            “Let me go!” she squealed, and her voice echoed from the building next door. 

            “No.”  Tanissa was trying to control her breathing, control her fury.  She focused on the words.  “You leave us alone.  You have to promise, and I have to believe you.  We’ll stay up here until you do.”

            Brekkyn’s red eyes blazed with something beyond anger, and she did, for a split second, look like some inhuman creature from the sea.  She took a deep breath, and Tanissa was afraid, afraid of what was about to happen.  She still held her iPod, meaning to stick the headphones in again, but got a different idea. 

            As Brekkyn began to sing, she pushed a button on the machine, causing the 2Pac to go silent. 

            The mer-girl sang her song again, tears and snot running down her face, and this time, it had an evil tinge to it, as though she’d been trying to make it pretty all the times before.

            Tanissa Gunn, through her left ear only, felt a wave crash over her, a sense of despair, of worthlessness, of realization that she was alone and would never be loved.  Tears came to her eyes as well, but whatever it was supposed to accomplish--other than depress her--it failed.

            “I hate you,” seethed the girl, when she realized it hadn’t worked. 

            Tanissa shook her head, wiping away the one tear that had escaped.  “Huge loss.”  She took a step out of the way.  “You leave me and my daddy alone.”

            Brekkyn seemed poised to say something else, but she saw the opening, and went to the door, sniffling and mumbling.  She was gone.

            Tanissa pushed Stop on the iPod, then hurried after her, just in case the girl was headed for her father’s apartment instead of her own.  But when she got to her dad’s place, he was alone, cooking pasta on the stove, smiling when she came inside.

            “Is Brekkyn here?” she asked.

            “No.  I thought you were with her.  That’s what her mama said.  Turns out her first name is Muriel.”

            Tanissa locked the door behind her and walked to his side.  “You . . .  you talked to her mother?”

            “I did.  I . . .”  He snorted, a self-depricating sound.  “Think I made a bit of an idiot of myself.”

            “What did you say?”

            “I . . . well, it’s complicated.  I guess she didn’t feel the same connection when we met as I did.  No worries, though.  I’ll keep workin’ on her, see if I still got some of the old Gunn charm.”

            In a way, that made her admire her father, even if he was under a love spell.  “What did she say?”

            “She told me I was crazy, that we didn’t know each other, that I was better off without her.  Some sad stuff you wouldn’t understand.”

            “You should listen to her, Dad.”

            He sighed.  “Maybe.  I was so sure she was into me, so sure we were gonna . . . you know, live happily ever after.” 

            She hugged the man tightly.  “You will, Daddy, just not with her.  You’ll find somebody better.”  And she hoped that he did, even though she had been secretly longing for her parents to get back together, and bring the world back to the way it had been when she was little.

            He released her embrace.  “Tanissa,” Dad began, and by his tone, she knew a lecture was coming.  He was still a prisoner of the siren song, though maybe not as strongly as before.

            “Dad, if I tell you to do something, will you do it for me?  Even if it sounds weird?”

            “Well, I don’t know.  Depends on what it is.”

            “What if I promised you it was really important?”

            “I could try, baby.”

            “If Brekkyn comes over, don’t let her in.  I locked the door, and we can’t--”

            “No, no, Tannie, I don’t want to hear any of that talk.  She’s welcome here, same as you.  I love both my girls.”

            “She’s not your girl.  You just think she is.”

            “You two been fighting?  If you’ve been mean to her . . .”  He gestured toward the linguini he was boiling on the stove.  “I’m gonna have to eat all this myself.”

            “That’s okay, Daddy, if you promise to do something for me.”

            “I won’t lock her out.  If she comes over, I’m gonna make you two sit down and work out whatever you--”

           “If I give you some toilet paper to put in your ears, will you do it?”

            He looked at her as though she’d just started talking backwards.  “Say what?”

            “I . . . I’ll show you,” she said, and headed quickly for the bathroom.  She grabbed an entire roll of bath tissue, and got it wet in the sink.  When she came back in, he was opening a bottle of Barilla marinara sauce and shook his head at her.  “I’m supposed to put that stuff in my mouth?”

            “Your ears, Daddy,” she said, tearing off a couple of squares.  “Like this.”  She rolled each wet piece into a little jelly bean-sized ball, and stuffed one in her left ear, and held the other to her father.
            “Sorry, kid, that’s ridiculous.”
            “Please, Daddy,” she said, realizing she was whining, but beyond caring.  “Just do it for me.  I promise you’ll understand after.”
          “After what?”
            What could she say?  He was obviously still deluded into thinking he loved--and trusted--little Brekkyn Manyon.  And what if Brekkyn didn’t come over tonight?  What if she waited until tomorrow morning, or the middle of the night?  What if she just called her dad’s cellphone and sang into it?  Would that work?  Did she have his number somehow?  Could she get it?  Of course she could, he had called her mother in the last hour or so.
           “Just trust me, Daddy, please.  Do it for me.  Please.” 
            He looked at her, not with affection, but something not unlike suspicion.  “I’m not sure what you’re trying to--”
            And then the doorbell rang.