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Love in a Time of Breakfast

February 16th, 2009

A chill breeze swooped through the grey morning, scattering the meager raindrops in its wake.

Sybil liked the cold and she liked the rain. They made everyone feel more uncomfortable than her, and that showed how she was completely superior to those around her.

At least that was what she told herself. In truth these cold, grey mornings made her fell lonely, alone in an indifferent world with no one to shield her from the chill gnawing of the wind. She secretly thought the wind only chewed on people because it was lonely too. She also secretly liked daisies while we’re on the subject.

Hefting her broom over her shoulder, Sybil climbed the steps of Blitzkerk’s town hall. She told herself that she liked being a cleaning lady, that she preferred the company of soaps and dustbins to that of other human beings. She told herself that cleaning products did what they were told all the time, as opposed to people who only did what they were told some of the time. She told herself that she liked living in a small town, everyone understood her well enough to be mildly frightened of her and stay out of her way. But really the fact that no one ever wanted to know her better or spend the lonely hours of the evening in deep soulful converse secretly hurt her immensely.

She paused on the threshold, a few watery shoe marks lay glimmering on the tiles of the entry hall, someone had neglected to wipe their feet properly that morning. Sybil bent low over the offending footprints for a moment and muttered something imperious under her breath. The water instantly coalesced into a single stream and slithered of in a thoroughly purposeful manner. A few moments later she chuckled quietly to herself as the muffled spluttering sounds of someone discovering an inexplicable ounce or so of water shooting up their nose made its way back down the corridors.

Sybil wandered off to sweep out the corners of the hall, whistling merrily to herself, which just went to show how deep-seated her depression really was.

As evening fell Sybil made her way back home, her broom held at a jaunty angle, she was probably the only person who knew how to do that but the effect was unmistakable. She told herself she was in a good mood and her fellow townsfolk noticed it as well, which was why only half of them crossed to the opposite side of the street as she approached. As she let herself into her small, and despondently empty house, she told herself that she had no interest in events of the dark and mysterious persuasion, otherwise she would have noticed the shadowy figure at the end of the street. As it was she overlooked the leather overcoat and the broad brimmed hat that composed the bulk of the gothic silhouette, nor did she perceive the two eyes that glinted from the shadowy countenance, watching her with an intensity she had never before witnessed. In fact, all Sybil did do was go inside and make a cup of tea.

The next day dawned just as grey and hopeless as the last. Sybil had had enough, it was time someone did something to improve the morning. She traced a series of runic equations on the surface of the enormous iron caldron that dominated her kitchen. The water within sprang instantly to a full and hearty boil. She waved her hand vaguely at the floor beneath said cauldron, there was a flash of eldritch light, and flames sprang into existence on the scorched bricks. As something of an after thought she tossed down some wood. Sybil then proceeded to flit about the room, flinging open cupboards and iceboxes, retrieving mysterious packages and containers and emptying their contents into the frothing water. When she cast the final ingredient (an outlandishly contorted root, rent from some far off earth) into the cauldron it let out a venomous hiss that nearly drowned out the sudden knock at her door.

As she went to the door she told her rapidly beating heart that it must be a mistake, “No one calls this early if they know what’s good for them,” she muttered.

Sybil flung the door open to reveal a mysterious man rapped in a leather overcoat, his face, etched with cares not all together worldly, was shadowed by the brim of his dark hat. When he spoke his voice was one of power beyond the mundane realms of time, yet dimmed by weariness vaster than the scope of mortal strength. “Sybil…you are…in danger!”

How could this be? Why would anyone wish her harm? Why would anyone bother, she was not important, and why would this care-worn traveler waste his time on the likes of her?

“I’ll just bet I am. Would you like to come in?”

Sybil’s heart beat rapidly as he crossed the threshold and surveyed the room about him with the wary eye of a hunting cat.

“Ah-ha!” he cried, pouncing upon the frothing cauldron, “and what is this exemplification of your mysterious yet innocent lifestyle which is the mark of your exciting heritage, that, while benign and, in fact, often benevolent towards your fellow countrymen, causes them to fear and abhor you in their secret hearts?”

“Breakfast.”

“What?” he demanded indicating the shriveled tuber, “with a mandrake?”

“That’s a potato, Herbert.”

“Fine, all the same, it is a testament to your inherit exoticness that you’ve opted to make up your…” he gave the frothing mixture a quick once-over, “left-overs in a caldron.”

“I wanted something hot and the microwave isn’t working.”

“I suppose that makes sense, but it really doesn’t have to if you don’t want it to.”

“And by ‘not working’ I mean someone came in yesterday while I was out and smashed it.”

“Ah, an indication of malevolent forces, yet unsuspected, circling round, drawing ever nearer, and yet also, of something else standing between you, doing battle with it in an attempt to protect you for some undisclosed reason. Interesting.”

“Did you kill my microwave?”

“You know, you’re really not taking this the right way.”

“What ever, I have to be going. I told the treasury department that if I found any food rappings on the desks I’d have their eyebrows, don’t want to be giving them more of chance than necessary.” She strode out the door. “We’ll finish this discussion later, and don’t break anything while I’m gone.”

Striding down the town’s chief avenue in the late morning mist, whistling cheerfully, Sybil could not help but feel distracted and oddly melancholy. Thinking about the strange man in her kitchen caused her to feel strangely hot and flustered, so much so, that she opted to keep her shawl on the rest of the day just to prove to herself that she was really quite chilly.

Sybil returned home that evening feeling well pleased with the day’s work, apart from being depressed and distracted and conflicted and fearful that is. She passed a small worried crowd gathered around some van or other and paused a moment in interest. The driver of said van seemed to be unconscious and sprawled on the pavement. It seemed someone had attacked him as he was attempting to enter his vehicle. This struck Sybil as slightly odd, usually when there were strange men lying strewn about the sidewalk, she was the first to know.

It was only when she had almost reached home that Sybil perceived the shadowy figure framed against the setting sun. Because his face was shrouded she could not be sure, but her heart told her that he had been watching her for some time. The desire to run and hide in her closet sprang upon her, yet she was somehow drown to him despite the fact that he frightened her terribly. She didn’t know what she should do.

“Herbert, what do you think you’re doing?”

“I’m being significant!” he called back.

“How are you doing that?”

Herbert sighed, hopped off the stepladder upon which he had been standing, and plodded over. “Surely you were wondering about your thrillingly narrow escape and secretly doubting that mere chance save your life.”

“You’ve lost me.”

“I saved you form being hit by a careening van! Don’t tell me you missed it.”

“Very well, I shan’t.”

“That van parked at the curb in front of the drugstore! It was going to run you down!”

“It didn’t come anywhere near me. It wasn’t even turned on.”

“Of course not, because I saved you!”

Sybil’s heart gave an odd twitch and it was completely due to this that she began to glare. “Herbert, you are blithering.”

“Well what did you want me to do, jump in front of you while it was baring down on you and, I don’t know, stop it with my super strength? That wouldn’t work, even if I had super strength! I haven’t enough body mass to stop an on-coming van.”

“And so…”

“I used forethought. I simply clobbed the driver of said van over head before he had a chance to start up the engine, and thus managed to pull off the heroic with minimal bother to everyone involved.”

“Except that you had to accost me in the street to explain it.”

“Most heroines wouldn’t have had a moment’s trouble figuring this out.”

“What do heroines have to do with it? No, don’t answer that, as much as I enjoy explaining to you just how much of an imbecile you are, someone spilled an ashtray and I must come up with an appropriate response before I turn in. You may show up for breakfast if you have a mind.”

With that, Sybil hopped inside and began looking up nicotine-related curses; she refrained from sighing passionately through a massive expenditure of willpower.

The next morning Sybil was bord. Actually she was an emotional basket case waiting for her visitor to arrive, but her turmoil was so intense that it came out the other side of the spectrum as boredom. In any case when the knock finally came, she opened the door a trifle listlessly. All the same, when he entered the room her breath seemed to stick in her throat. He seemed to radiate a palpable aura of strength and yet at the same time there was an unmistakable air of vulnerability about him. “That hat wouldn’t do a bit of good if someone took a broom handle to his skull,” she thought. All she could think to say was, “Why are you wearing a monocle?”

Herbert rolled his eyes, “this isn’t a monocle. Do you see any glass?”

“Fine, why are you wearing an empty frame around one eye?”

“It’s a mask.”

“Beg pardon?”

“A mask.”

Sybil was at a loss, “How?”

Herbert began marmalading some toast, “Well, masks are mysterious and romantic, so I thought I’d wear one, but, let’s face it, there is always the possibility that a mask is concealing some horrible disfigurement and no young lady really wants to deal with that issue. So I thought I’d go for a half mask to show that not only am I mysterious but also roguishly handsome.”

Sybil snorted. Actually she was acquiescing, but it sounded like a snort.

“But then there is the issue of symmetry, and besides, one might still be half-ugly, which also isn’t very useful.”

“So you went for a monocle.”

“If you’re going to insist on calling it that, than yes. Wearing this proves that although I am, in fact, remarkably attractive, I am also unconcerned with such trifles. You wouldn’t be able to get that if the mask actually covered my face.”

Sybil stared at her bread until it began to brown of its own accord, “Perhaps I’ve missed something, but why are you trying to be romantic?”

“Oh, because I am in a romance.”

“What, why?”

“It’s a long story.”

“Hmm, if it’s a long story coming from you, I probably don’t want to know, come to think of it.”

“True, I’m also a vampire.”

Sybil took a moment to remove some toast from her windpipe, “When did you die?”

“I haven’t died.”

“How can you possibly be a vampire without being dead? That’s what being a vampire is all about!”

Herbert looked affronted, “Goodness, no. Vampires are all about lost and lonely souls seducing young women.”

“Um, right. So you’re saying that being dead is optional for the living dead?”

“Well, think about it; falling in love with a corpse? That’s just gross. No, it’s more like a tragic curse that permeates our lives, making us noisesomly miserable, alone, and angsty.”

“But what’s the point of drinking blood if you don’t need it to sustain your unholy existence?”

“I don’t drink blood.”

“What?”

“But I could if I wanted to.”

“Well so could I!”

“But that’s not the point.”

“Is it too much to hope that you’re even some horrible manifestation evil?”

“Well, I certainly have an unquestionably vile nature that I’m always acting in spite of,” he supplied cheerfully.

“But,” Sybil cried, exasperated, “what is the point in being a vampire if everything that composes a vampire is mysteriously absent!?”

Herbert looked thoroughly bemused, “Vampires are edgy.”

She blinked a few times, “And that’s it?”

“I do not understand the question.”

“Were you even bitten by, oh I don’t know, anything?”

Herbert waved his hand airily, “Vampirism is more of a state of mind than an actual physical malady.”

“Fine,” Sybil felt a headache coming on, “So who is this poor sap you are trying to seduce, anyway?”

Herbert glanced over at the mangled microwave, “Oh, would you look at the time, must be vanishing mysteriously.”

And with that he was again gone from her life. Sybil’s first impulse was to throw herself prostrate across her couch and weep for no apparent reason, but her self control reasserted itself and led Sybil back out into the world to glare at toilets until they became uncomfortable enough to clean themselves.

That afternoon Herbert came upon her in someone’s momentarily disused office. She had strewn the contents of the filing cabinet in a rough circle on the floor. Said financial records were now emblazoned with intricate inscriptions in a flowing, slightly luminous script. Sybil was standing in the middle of it all, looking pensive and prodding a turbulent energy vortex with a rubber duck. “Er, Sybil, we need to talk.”

What was this all of a sudden? He had never spoken like this before, the earnest worry, the deadly seriousness. Could it be that his feelings had changed? The suspense was unbearable, she had to know yet feared the answer even as she looked into his eyes and found the courage to speak.

“Later, I’m busy,” she said without looking up.

“It’s important.”

“If its about that whole ‘in danger’ thing, tell them to wait outside, I’ll smither them presently.”

“Actually, I never found anyone who would be willing to try and kill you, so we’re kind of working with hypotheticals at the moment. Anyway, the point is-“

“Do you think I should have used blank paper? All these typed summaries could be interfering with the containment field, I’m not that good at inscription, to tell the truth.”

“You’re not listening, are you?”

“Hmm?”

“Look, there is a reason I’m spending most of my time hanging around you while trying to concoct a romance.”

“I mean, it’s supposed to take all the disused food rappings and switch them with single-minded swarms of mosquitoes, but all that came out was this sundry bath toy, and every last roll of toilet paper in the building has vanished.”

“The point is, it’s you I’m supposed to be seducing.”

“Anyone who thinks that rifts in the space-time continuum are good time-saving devices is clearly off their rocker.”

“You know, most people inscribe on the floor itself. You’re supposed to be madly in love with me at this point.”

“What and get it dirty? That would be a bit counterproductive, don’t you think? The entire point is- wait, what!?

“So I’m sure you’ll understand when I say that, so far, you have been less than helpful.”

Sybil’s heart leaped into her throat, this was it, the declaration. All her life had seemed to be leading up to this one moment. And yet, now that it was come, it seemed like it would end here too. Was this the beginning of something new, or the death of safe and familiar? Her mind was a swirling vortex of conflicting emotions; she didn’t now what to say first.

I’m one hundred and twenty-seven!

“And I’m immortal. Don’t you understand, it’s perfect; not only will you be incorrigibly soppy about me; you will also respect me deeply as a much wiser and higher being. Where as I, despite my feelings, will worry constantly that the gap in our ages denotes that we are unsuitable for each other. It will provide this wonderful tension in our relationship.”

“How can you possibly expect me to be party to this, and with you of all people? I spent twenty years being invisible just so I wouldn’t have to deal with the landlord, for Pete’s sake!”

“See, you have body-image issues. Tell me that’s not the mark of a good romantic heroine.”

“I’d love to. In point of fact, you have no clue what makes a good, romantic anything, except for, perhaps, premise. Your notion of the romantic hero is, if anything, worse than that of the heroine. All you’ve really managed to pull off is a sense of vague creepiness, and that’s with the improvised narration, don’t think I haven’t noticed. I mean, ‘power beyond the mundane realms of time?’ What does that even mean?”

“Fine, so this sort of thing is antithetical to my nature, but at least I’m trying.”

“Really? Well if I am a proto-version of you, than it’s antithetical to my nature as well!”

“I thought you said you were going to forget I said that.”

“We all lie to ourselves from time to time. And the question still stands, why are you picking on me of all people?”

“Actually, you were the only female character available.”

“Well, now that we can see how silly this is, we can drop this whole romance thing and go back to our own affairs, can’t we?”

“Um, no. The universe is a romance now, and it won’t stop until it gets some closure.”

“But the only interaction I’ve ever really had with men was to send them on shopping errands.”

“I brought you some chocolate.”

“Yes a very robust variety I see, I don’t think a bowl of Hershey’s bars is quite of the amorous archetype, do you?”

“I don’t understand.”

“My point exactly.”

Herbert sighed, “Look, if you want out all you have to do is get to the finale.”

“And that being…”

“How about you fling yourself into my arms and kiss me passionately.”

“How about I run you through with my broom?”

“I don’t think that will work, we’d have to go back and lay down way more subtext.”

“Oh, come on, can’t we try?”

“No.”

“Than I want a new hero.”

“Ha, have fun trying to find someone else who deals in pure emotion, because you’ll need one if you pull him in this far along in the plot.”

“Else? Herbert, you don’t deal in pure emotion. You deal in paranoia and adrenalin.”

“It doesn’t matter, no one is going to fall for this genre unless they do it on purpose. So just fling yourself already, there’s nothing else you can do.”

“Oh, yes? Just watch me,” she gave the ring of papers on the floor a vicious kick, scattering them to the four corners of the room. There was an odd snapping noise and the wormhole began to distort and expand like a jagged tumor in the fabric of space, which, to be perfectly frank, it sort of was. The sound of rushing wind filled the room and spilled out into the hallway. Sybil plunged both arms up to the elbow into the writhing vortex as bits of carpet began to tear themselves off the floor and vanish into oblivion. “I manipulate people into saving the world, that’s my nature. It’s why this was a stupid idea to begin with, but it’s also why I am going to save this bloody, stupid romance of yours. I am going to find a suitable heroine, there has got to be one in the nether somewhere!”

There was a deafening bang, a blinding flash, and a huge, billowing wave of dust. Sybil stepped out of the swirling cloud holding something in her arms. She set it down on the half destroyed desk with an audible clunk. “This is Florence,” she said.

The bowl of Chocolate had never seen anything so beautiful in its life, the brilliant white, and alluring, pink floral pattern, the way the light glinted off the charming curves. It was the perfect melding of form and function. And since it dealt with the opposite side of the digestive track, together they formed the perfect single unit of being.

Herbert blinked, “A chamber pot?”

Sybil shrugged, “Help me find the vacuum cleaner, will you?”

Short Stories

  1. Nathan
    February 16th, 2009 at 12:51 | #1

    As usual, great job.

  2. Josiah
    February 17th, 2009 at 16:56 | #2

    I like how they’re aware of the text.

  3. December 17th, 2011 at 02:10 | #3

    visit your blog the second time found your site on google today many thanks for information will come back.

  4. February 27th, 2013 at 16:21 | #4

    I was delighted by this read. Clever, original and charming.

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