Moving!

Just a quick note for those of you who have been following this blog for a long time. I’m going to begin moving posts and links over to A Witch’s Path.

I think I’ll eventually set it up so this blog automatically redirects you to my new site. But if you want to keep up with what I’m doing, you should make the jump now.

Hope to see you there!

Back in the Saddle Again

In case y’all were wondering if I forgot about the Pagan Blog Project, the answer is . . . no I didn’t. Ever since I missed that first “E” post, the unfinished project has been hanging over my head. I’ve been debating the whole time about whether I should drop it, try to catch up with it, just jump back in in the middle . . . and since the year is almost half over, I really thought maybe I should just let it go. But I can’t. Not finishing seems . . . well, kind of lame.

Actually, I’ve been struggling to write anything at all for months, what with one thing and another. I’m not going to make the mistake of saying I think things are settling down now, but I will say I’ve been able to focus a bit better for the past few weeks and I’ve been working semi-regularly. I really hope it sticks this time. (So does my writing buddy, I’m sure.)

Anyway, my point is that I’m going to try to catch up with the PBP. My tentative plan is to post twice a week–one catch-up post, and one on-time post.

I dithered a lot about the best way to do the catching up–especially about how to date the posts. I finally decided to go ahead and back date the posts as if I’d written them on schedule, but to include a note that they were written after the fact. I’m doing this because I want to be able to link to the posts through the Pagan Blog Project main blog, in case anyone is finding posts through the past link lists (like I have been doing while I play catch-up).

So starting tomorrow, if all goes according to plan (knock on wood, cross your fingers, wish on a star, etc.) you’ll be hearing from me more regularly. Wish me luck. Again.

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Some things I learned last year:

  • If I’m not blogging or journaling, something in my life is seriously askew.
  • Drama really doesn’t feed my creativity at all. In fact, it pretty much kills it.
  • Everything really can change overnight.
  • Even when everything changes overnight, I am still myself and I still have to deal with my shit. In other words: wherever you go, there you are.
  • Telling myself the truth would save me a lot of trouble in the long run.
  • I would be screwed without my friends.

And with the exception of my favorite books of 2012 post (coming soon!), that’s all I’m going to say about the year we’ve (finally) left behind.

And now I’m sure y’all want to know what’s coming up in 2013! And I’ll tell you:

Fuck if I know.

But I suspect there’ll be more of this:

Always With the Pictures of Weeds
Always With the Pictures of Weeds
I have no idea what's growing out of that Teasel
I have no idea what’s growing out of that Teasel

And this:

Nature

ALSO! I’m participating in the Pagan Blog Project. I’m both excited and intimidated by the idea. I’m hoping the project will give me motivation to get back into the habit of writing regularly, and will inject some new energy into this here blog.

Speaking of which, I thought about starting over with a whole new blog, since my life has changed so much. But this blog has been good to me and I love it, so I’m just going to clean up my links and old posts and move forward.

It’s nice to have something stay the same.

Bloom: The End

Yes, at last, the end of the story . . . better 3 1/2 months late than never, right?

If you’ve forgotten everything that ever happened, you can visit the other chapters to refresh your memory. (Note: at the moment, Chapter 9 is missing. I’m working to resolve this but it might be a bit. My apologies!)

And now, at last, I tie up the loose ends, and give you:

Chapter 16

Pounding punctuates Wanda’s screams of rage: it sounds like she’s kicking the door of the borrowed car. But before I can do anything about it, several battered vehicles screech to a halt on the other side of the knot of smashed cars. My dad and a bunch of guys I don’t recognize–all looking pretty beat up–jump out of the vehicles. They survey the scene, and I turn back to see what’s happening.

The plants have stopped attacking: I can feel gran keeping them at bay with her will, but I can also feel their hunger and aggression intensifying. Even she won’t be able to hold them off for long. At least now that we have reinforcements, we have a chance of winning when they attack again. We should be finishing them off now, but I can tell everyone is exhausted they’re just grateful for a chance to catch their breath.

I’d never seen a real flame thrower before today. Now there are 10 or more, and the guys with my dad are adjusting them and getting ready to go in for the kill.

The screams and thumps coming from the car intensify.

The plants rustle and shuffle in place, and I know they’re getting ready to move again. There’s no more avoiding it–gran is going to die. I mean, she’s already kind of gone, what with being a carnivorous plant and all, but I can still feel a tiny spark of who she was underneath the confusion and hunger.

That’s about to go out forever.

Because however much I love her, I can’t choose my gran over the entire human race–and at the rate these things multiply and feed, that’s what it would come down to in the end. I look up at her, and it’s impossible to tell that she was ever human. I don’t even know how she sees, but I can feel her attention on me anyway, and across the wrecked cars and the blood and the flames we understand each other perfectly. This is goodbye.

I lift the spray nozzle of my canister and square my shoulders.

“I’m so sorry,” I whisper, and I realize I’m saying it to all of them. If only things could be different. If only they could walk among us peacefully. It’s the same old problem we have everywhere: why can’t we all just get along?

For as long as they’ve existed, plants have managed to stay put, work together, and live harmoniously with their environment. Give them human DNA and BOOM, they’re homicidal monsters. Too bad we can’t flame that part of our nature away like we can flame these plants.

Just as I’m getting ready to flip the switch and advance on the last of my brother’s creations, I’m tackled from the side by a snarling someone. It’s Wanda . . . and she’s transitioning into one of them. But she’s still human enough to speak, and as we hit the ground she says “Sorry sweetie, but if I want to save my ass I have to bring you and your brother into the labs.”

So I was right not to trust her. Too bad the plant infection made her strong enough to break my makeshift restraints. She clearly doesn’t realize that her ass is already grass–almost literally.

Jamie appears in the periphery of my blurred vision, and Wanda leaps off of me to grab him by the arm. She’s strong all right–he can’t get break her grip on his wrist, and she drags him toward me while he struggles. She grasps my arm with her free hand before I can even think of finding the nozzle and spraying her. She seems somehow like an enhanced version of the mutant plants–are they evolving already, or has Wanda been partaking of something else at the labs?

“Come on Wanda, you’re not totally gone yet,” Jamie says. “You’re infected but you don’t have to do this! We can cure you, just let us . . .”

She snarls at him and squeezes his wrist. His face goes dead white as she twists and I hear a sickening crack. My stomach heaves, but it’s been so long since I ate there’s nothing to throw up. Jamie stops talking, and Wanda starts dragging us toward the car.

No one else notices–they’re all too busy taking down the plants, which are starting to fight back in spite of Gran’s efforts.

Wanda yanks on Jamie’s probably broken arm . . . and my brother faints. She starts toward the car again, but suddenly lurches forward and stumbles into the car, letting go of Jamie and me. The jerking motion knocks me to my knees. I’ve been running on adrenaline for hours, and as I lay on the ground panting I think maybe I’d like to just be eaten and get it over with. But I look up, and I see Gran standing over Wanda . . . or what’s left of her. There are a few Wanda pieces on the ground, and plant-Gran has blood all over her leaves. I stare at the vibrant red on green, like the sickest Christmas ever. I heave again, but of course nothing comes up. My mouth tastes unbelievably foul.

“Gran,” I sob, and she shuffles toward me. I should be afraid, I should run, but I can feel her mind, her intentions, and in spite of the gore all over her I know she won’t hurt me. She stands over me, and a tendril of green spirals from among the vines to brush against my cheek.

Then I hear her calling all the plants to her, and I know what is coming next.

It’s not a word, exactly, but as all the lumbering plant things converge on Gran, I hear it: now.

I stumble to my feet. All the fighting has stopped, and the humans are all standing there panting, with expressions on their face that say they know they’ve barely escaped death. A few feet from me is a puddle of blood with bits of flesh and bone in it. In the center of the puddle is an abandoned flame weeder like we used to use on the brick walkways at Gran’s house. Swallowing against the nausea, I grab the flame weeder, turn the propane up as high as it will go, and turn.

“Now,” I scream . . . and everyone looks confused. How exasperating. They’re supposed to be grownups.

“Burn them!” I yell. They should be able to understand that.

“But honey,” my mom says. “Your gran–”

“I KNOW!” I scream. I turn my back on my mother and start flaming the plants nearest me. I hear them scream as their foliage curls and blackens.

The other plants move closer to me, and finally everyone else joins in.

Within minutes the disaster has been reduced to a pile of ash, blowing in an errant breeze.

I can finally collapse.

*****

It’s a week before any of us feels strong enough to have a funeral for gran. We’ve spent the days since our victory rounding up all the survivors and pooling our resources of bottled water and canned food.The soil and water are poisoned by all the gallons of herbicide required to kill off the plant things.

A few doctors and nurses survived, and the hospital wasn’t too badly damaged: Jamie’s broken arm is set, and in a cast, and all the other injuries were treated successfully. Those of us who weren’t killed immediately are lucky we won’t die of untreated wounds and blood loss.

So far we’ve managed to keep reporters away by crying infectious disease. But sooner or later we’re going to have to leave. Sooner or later we’re going to have to account for all the dead–dead whose bodies are missing. And we just don’t know what to do about that.

Gran doesn’t have a body to bury either–it’s all just ash. There’s ash everywhere, ash and poison and blood stains. Birds and fish are dying, the trees and grass are dying, from all the poison. We have to go.

As we stand at Gran’s funeral I can see on everyone’s faces that they think it’s over. And maybe it’s over for them.

But not for me. Because as I stand here with the sun shining on me, I can hear them. I can hear all of the un-mutated plants. And they’re suffering.

Whatever happened to me when I was one of the plant things has changed me forever.

The minister’s wife–the minister was eaten, but his wife memorized all of the rites–finishes her final prayer and we all walk away from the marker we’ve placed for gran even though there’s no body to bury.

When we get back to Gran’s house, the sounds of suffering from her garden are more than I can bear. I go to the shed and find our old flame weeder. There’s plenty of propane in the tank to finish the garden off. Somehow it’s louder than all the other green places, and I can’t take it anymore. I’ll burn it to the ground and then till the soil.

As I’m picking my way through the rakes and shovels, I trip and fall full length on the hard floor of the shed. Gardening implements rattle and fall around me, and my hand slides across something sharp. I feel my flesh slice open and remember the horrible incident with the knives, Jamie and Wanda bleeding the poison out of me. I force myself to breathe. I force myself to stand up. I kick my way out of the shed, determined to finish this mission before I do anything about my hand. And anyway, what’s a little more blood on the leaves?

I drop the flame weeder at the edge of the garden. I want to say goodbye, since I know the plants will understand me now. Maybe someday this new ability I have will seem like a gift.

I touch a rosemary bush with my bloody hand. Red smears over the foliage, and flashes of Wanda’s blood all over plant-Gran make me gag a little bit.

“I’m so sorry,” I say–just like before, and I wonder how many more times in my life I’ll have to apologize to plants I’m getting ready to kill.

I’m reaching for the flame weeder when I feel it. There’s a shift in the sound the rosemary makes in my head. It’s like . . . relief. I turn back to look at the plant.

My blood has vanished, like the plant soaked it up. Or drank it.

And either I’m hallucinating, or the leaves that were starting to wither and blacken are brightening before my eyes.

My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth and the hairs on the back of my neck lift. What if it’s beginning all over again? What if Gran’s garden goes all horror show on me?

But the good vibes I feel coming from the rosemary reassure me. It doesn’t feel anything like the evil plant creations, it’s not turning gold, and it’s not moving or growing at an alarming rate.

Maybe plant telepathy isn’t the only gift of being turned into a monster, being bled half to death, and having to kill my gran. Maybe the change in my blood can save Gran’s garden, and the rest of our town.

And I just happen to have a not-so-evil genius brother to help me figure it out.

I yell for Jamie.

Bloom, Chapter 1

Welcome to the first installment of Bloom, a Round Robin Blogvel. Table of contents can be found here. And now, I give you:

Chapter 1

Mom and dad were poor. So, so poor. They couldn’t find jobs in Oregon, so they looked everywhere else. They both found work out of state. They were vague about all the details except one: they couldn’t bring us kids with them.

That’s why they dropped Jamie and me off at Grandma’s house and left for New Mexico. But even Gran can’t explain why we never saw them again. She filed a missing persons report when they’d been out of touch for a week. The police traced them as far as a campground in Albuquerque, and then . . . nothing. They paid for one night of camping, but the camp host couldn’t remember if he’d seen them actually set up camp or not. I said it seemed like they’d been abducted by aliens. Jamie said that was ridiculous. He doesn’t have much of an imagination.

Jamie is my brother. He’s a genius. And before you ask, yeah, it looks like he’s headed in the direction of Evil Genius.

He’s at university right now, studying something evil-genius-ish. He’s kind of closed-mouthed about his plans for the future, actually . . . well, he’s closed-mouthed about everything these days. And he’s not coming home for the summer, either. He didn’t even bother making excuses like “I’m too busy”; he just sent a letter saying “Not coming home. I’ll come for my furniture the last week of August.”

Maybe he’s just a Douchebag Genius?

It wasn’t always this way. Back when mom and dad were still around, he used to be nice to me. Of course, sometimes being nice to me meant things like stealing candy for me–but still, he could have stolen the candy and kept it all to himself.

These days he doesn’t share anything, ill-gotten or otherwise. Not with me, anyway. He doesn’t even email or update his Facebook page anymore.

Wow, this is getting depressing. Anyway . . . I just graduated from high school. I’m no evil genius, but I was in the top ten. I had my name in the paper–Jessica Henley, 3.7 grade point average.

Jamie didn’t make it to graduation.

BUT! Now it’s summer, and I’m working at the flower shop in town, and Gran helped me buy a car, and in the fall I’m going to college (not the same school as Jamie. Who wants to be the less intelligent Henley sibling?).

I guess I’m feeling a little lonely. My friends Sarah and Amy are both away for the summer, camp counselors in the mountains, and I have two days off per week and no one to hang out with. I’m spending a lot of time in the woods taking pictures. I’m going to study botany. Plus, photography is very therapeutic.

Today is the hottest day of summer so far. It’s hard to tell with June: sometimes it rains all month and the temps barely rise above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, other years it’s suffocating by the middle of the month.

This is one of those suffocating years. Another reason to spend a lot of time in the woods–shade. And there’s a creek about a half mile down the trail from Gran’s back yard. It’s mostly fed by snow melt from up the mountain, so it’s freaking cold. It’s shallow, but sticking your feet in ice water will cool you off no matter how hot it is.

Jamie used to splash me mercilessly every time we came to the creek together when we were younger. Once he got into high school, though, he wouldn’t come into the woods anymore. He said there was nothing interesting happening there.

Sometimes evil geniuses are kind of dumb.

Anyway. Hot, muggy, and the mosquitos are swarming. Gran makes me this special insect repellent with essential oils and stuff, because she says she won’t cover her grandchildren with poison just to keep the bugs away. It smells really good, and it works almost as well as the kind in the aerosol can. Sometimes Gran is awesome. Of course she’s really strict, too, but I figure that’s because she’s old.

I’m on the trail (wearing jeans and boots because there’s poison oak), and the trees are creaking and shaking their leaves, and there are about a million crows arguing up in the highest branches. Even though I’m only halfway from the house to the creek, I can already hear the water in spite of the crows. I’ve got my camera in my backpack, and a notebook, and (thanks to gran) two apples, a bottle of water, and a granola bar. Gran is a fervid believer in healthy snacks.

I’m just about to the place where the trail forks–the left fork goes to the creek, and the right fork goes straight through the woods to the elementary school playground–when I hear a sound like aluminum cans clinking together. Maybe it’s just because I’m bored, but righteous indignation at the thought of people trashing my woods with beer cans makes my whole body tingle. I step off the trail and pick my way through the ferns and fringecup toward the noise.

I don’t stop to wonder why I don’t hear any voices or human noises until I step between the trunks of two red cedars and see . . . not an underage drinking party at all.

It’s stunning. It’s . . . a sculpture, I guess. It looks like a stand of flowers–sort of like sunflowers, but not exactly. The flowers are made from metal, I think–but I have no idea how the artist found so many colors of metal, or fused them together so seamlessly to create the dappled petals. The flowers are all in different stages of the bloom cycle–some are tightly closed buds, some half open, some fully opened. One of them is even sculpted to look like it’s wilting, and a petal has fallen off. It lays on the soil at the base of the twisted silver stem.

When the breeze picks up again, I discover the source of the clinking. The flowers sway and knock against each other like any flowers would–but with a lot more noise.

Who would make a piece of art like this and leave it in the middle of the woods? Why isn’t it installed somewhere public?

I put my backpack down and dig for my camera.

I look up again just in time to see another petal fall from the wilting flower.

I clutch my camera and shiver in spite of the heat.

After a few minutes I step forward and touch the fading blossom with one fingertip.

The rest of the petals fall to the ground, clicking against each other as they land. What will I do now? I broke someone’s art project! If that’s what it is. I pick up one of the fallen petals. The metal between my fingers is so thin I could tear it like aluminum foil. Each petal is a deep coppery shade at its base, fading to a pale bronze at the edges. The disk flowers remaining on the stem are pale gold. I run my fingers over them, and a few fall off. I crouch in the soft soil beside the flowers.

I grab my pocket knife and dig at the base of the wilting one: it has roots.

Impossible. Completely freaking impossible.

If this is an art project, the artist is a genius to rival Jamie.

Jamie. He’s the person I would go to about this if I could.

Would he listen to me if I took one of the flowers to him? Would he believe me if I told him I think they’re GROWING here somehow, in defiance of every natural law ever? Or would he tell me not to waste his time, like he did last summer when I wanted him to help me clear garlic mustard out of the back yard because it’s so invasive?

This is definitely a little more exciting than garlic mustard. But I don’t know if Jamie will listen.

And for some reason I don’t feel like I should talk to just anyone about this. I don’t know if it’s because they’re in my woods or what, but I feel sort of protective of these crazy plants. If that’s what they are. I don’t want people crashing through the woods to look at them, trampling the wildflowers.

In the end I take 127 pictures and trudge home.

I load them onto my computer and google “metal flowers,” “metallic flowers,” “copper flowers,” and finally “alien flowers”. By the end of the evening I’ve found a lot of references to The Little Shop of Horrors and expensive steampunk jewelry, but nothing that looks like my flowers.

I dream of carnivorous plants and wake up with a killer headache.

It’s going to be a long day at work.

Chapter 2 will be posted next Monday at Creativity Rebellion. I hope you’ll all follow along!

Let’s Write (Another) Blogvel!

For those of you reading the posts on my spiritual journey, I’ll post the next entry soon. Today I’m taking a break for a little fun.

Do you all remember Skeleton Key, last summer’s Round Robin Blogvel? It was possibly the most fun I’ve ever had with my blog, and I think we need to do it again.

What’s a Round Robin Blogvel, you may ask? It is a Blog Novel, written by many different authors.

Here are the details of how it works:

  • I will write chapter one and post it on my blog.
  • The next Monday, someone else will write chapter two, based on my beginning, and post it on his or her blog.
  • The Monday after THAT, someone else will write the next chapter, based on developments in previous chapters, and post it on his or her blog.
  • Repeat until everyone has had a turn.
  • I will write the concluding chapter and post it on my blog, UNLESS someone else feels a burning desire to do so.
  • Each person who posts a chapter will include a link to the FIRST chapter (for newcomers who want to start reading at the beginning), a link to the PREVIOUS chapter, and a link to the blog where the NEXT chapter will go up, to make it easier for readers to follow the whole story.
  • I will make a Round Robin Blogvel page and update it weekly.
  • Chapters will go up on Monday every week.
  • The more authors who participate, the longer our blogvel will be.

I think it’ll be a great way for writers to meet other writers, and for readers to find more awesome blogs they didn’t know about. Also I think it will be very fun.

So here are the RULES:

  • You can write in your own style, and you can make just about anything happen. The only thing I ask is that what you write flows naturally from what came before. A hypothetical example: If Mary Sue has always been kind to animals throughout previous chapters, and you decide she is going to throw stones at a puppy in your chapter, you MUST provide a believable motivation for the sudden change. Like, you know, demon possession, or being under a spell. Or maybe a killer puppy.
  • Please keep chapters to 2,500 words or less
  • Please be sure you can do it if you sign up. It will be more difficult for everyone (but especially me) if you flake out.
  • Post your blog entry on MONDAY the week your chapter is scheduled. Email me a link to your chapter at michelle [dot] simkins [at] gmail [dot] com.
  • I’m happy to give feedback/editing help to anyone who participates–if you can get me your chapter by noon Pacific Time on the Sunday before it’s due.

Now you are asking, “How do I join in on this fantastic adventure?” Lucky for you, no dwarves or wizards need mar the green paint on your door to issue an invitation. All you have to do is email me at michelle [dot] simkins [at] gmail [dot] com. When you send your email:

  • put “Round Robin Blogvel” in the SUBJECT line.
  • include a link to your blog
  • let me know if you want to write a chapter at the beginning, middle, or end of the blogvel. OBVIOUSLY if you start at the beginning, you will be writing your chapter sooner. If you go middle or end, you are at the mercy of the plot twists of all authors who came before you.
  • Get your email to me by 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, May 31.

After sign-ups close, I will take all the authors’ requests and assign chapter numbers to everyone. We’ll shuffle things around as need-be over the weekend, and I’ll post Chapter 1 on Monday, June 4th.

Still undecided? Consider reading Skeleton Key, and see how much fun you’ll miss if you don’t participate.

First Sunday Short Fiction: Cruelty Free

Welcome to the last First Sunday Short Fiction of 2011.

Edit: You can read the final installment in Steph’s series here.

This month’s story might not be new for some of you: it was the winning entry in a flash fiction contest on Writer, Writer Pants on Fire earlier this year.  I didn’t intend to use it for December, but life happened! So here it is, and I hope you enjoy it.

Cruelty-Free

This is not my morning. I’m running late for Introduction to Faerie Combat, the latest rain shower just plastered my hair to my skull, the iron poker sticking out of my backpack keeps banging me in the back of the head, and I can barely read the handwriting on my class schedule. As if that wasn’t enough, I’m pretty sure something is following me: if I had the sight, I’d be able to tell if it was something under an invisibility glamour. But no, I had to get stuck with unreliable prophetic visions instead.

I finally reach Building 6 as the shower ends. When I stumble through the door (which creaks loudly, of course), 17 blank faces turn my way. 17 pairs of eyes scan me, and then dismiss me.

“You are not Ronald Hayes,” the instructor says.

The light glints off her fangs. They are very white and very sharp. I notice that all the windows are completely covered. And that 9 of the 17 students in the room are vampires. The other 8 appear to be human. I wish for the second time today that I had the sight.

I wonder why vampires would take a Faerie Combat class.

I clear my throat. “No. I’m Carrie Manchester.”

She shrugs. “Well, we have an empty chair. Take a seat.”

My wet sneakers squelch loudly on the linoleum as I walk to my seat. All the vampires are dry; I wonder how they got here in the daylight. There must be a tunnel or something. Of course they are all perfectly groomed, even though it’s the middle of their night. Sometimes I hate vampires.

I drop my backpack on the floor, and the iron poker thumps on the linoleum and then makes a louder clang when the top of it hits my chair leg. Why couldn’t I have found a rail spike or something?

“All right.” The professor only looks at the vampires as she speaks–it’s like the humans aren’t even in the room. “Welcome to Cruelty-Free Feeding. Most of you are here because you wish to seek a career path that frequently brings you into contact with mainstream human society, and you need to be able to drink from humans without draining them.”

Wait . . . what? I raise my hand. The teacher ignores me and continues talking.

“We have a collection of volunteers present to help us practice exercising control when we feed. Be aware that I am armed with Rowan and will not hesitate to use it on you if you don’t stop when you are told. The stakes were blessed by a priest, a rabbi, a fundamentalist preacher, and a buddhist monk. Even a non-fatal blow will leave you in pain for weeks, and will run the risk of serious infection. I have a perfect safety record in my classes, and you will not ruin it.”

I wave my hand. She keeps ignoring me. I’m just about to jump up when I feel a vision coming on; the room tilts and my head starts to spin. I grip the edge of my desk and see the door to the classroom opening, and a man bursting into the classroom with a flame thrower. He sets the teacher (and the teacher’s desk) on fire. The human students–all except me–jump up and rip the black-out curtains off the windows or produce stakes from backpacks and pockets. Flames crackle, blood splatters the desks and walls. The vampires retaliate by ripping out throats and breaking bones, but the sunlight and fire reduce them to piles of ash.

I don’t realize I’m screaming until the vision clears. The room has gone quiet, and everyone is looking at me now. I want to shrink into my seat, but I never know how long it will be before a vision comes true. And though I might resent the vampires’ perfect grooming, I’m not willing to let them be slaughtered.

They probably won’t listen to me if I talk, so I jump up and grab the messenger bag of the student next to me, tipping it upside down before he can protest.

A dozen Rowan stakes, a vial of holy water and a crucifix clatter onto my desk.

“Someone is coming with a flame thrower,” I say. “He was following me through the woods. I don’t know how long you have. They’re all in on it.”

The classroom erupts. The vampires all jump for the humans, and I wish I’d thought more carefully before I acted. I’d rather nobody died today. Fortunately the teacher’s hiss freezes the vampires before they hurt anyone. I don’t blame them–I wouldn’t mess with her either.

“You,” she says to me. “Wait by the door with that ridiculous poker. Looks like you’ll get to use it this afternoon after all.”

I nod, grab my poker, and assume the position.

“As for you,” she says to the humans. “Out the back door right now. And if you aren’t far away by sunset, I’m going to let my students track you down.”

They’re all white and shaking. The instructor doesn’t have to tell them twice; they scurry.

The back door has barely shut when the door beside me opens and the man with the flame thrower jumps through. I whack his hands with the poker, making him drop the metal nozzle and trip over the fuel hose. The professor is on him before he hits the floor, picking him up by his shoulders.

She smiles, and I’m glad she’s not smiling at me.

“So nice of you to join us today,” she says to the man. “Have a seat. I have some questions for you.”

I slip out the door while everyone is looking at the man. I suspect that Cruelty-Free Feeding is about to lose it’s perfect safety record.