[ Writing prompt via my arch nemesis: “Daren becomes a regular at a coffee shop and a manic pixie dream girl falls for him so he has to shake her off” ]

The first week, Penelope played quirky and hard to get. She wore a floppy knitted cap over her long pink hair, despite the heat, and leaned against the coffee shop counter as if she owned the place. Her gaze roamed the room with calculated boredom, falling every few moments on the man in the far corner. She was prepared to glance away the moment he looked at her, thus securing her mysterious allure, but he never looked her way in the first place. After half an hour of this she gave up and slipped out the rear exit, hoping to gain mystery points by disappearing suddenly.

The second week, Penelope played quirky and outgoing. She wore her pink and purple hair in pigtails, chatted loudly with the barista as if they were old friends, and sat at the table directly next to the object of her affections. When his attention seemed to be aimed in her somewhat general direction, she pulled out a pack of tarot cards and asked if he wanted a reading. He slid flat black eyes her way, eyed her expressionlessly, then promptly returned to ignoring her. When she started doing a reading anyway, laying the cards out with great pomp and circumstance, he moved to a table on the other side of the room.

The third week, Penelope played quirky and soulful. She covered her pink, purple, and green hair with the hood of her oversized sweater, sat in a totally opposite corner from her quarry, and pretended to read a tattered paperback with some weird Russian title she had bought for a quarter. Sometimes she would pretend to jot something down on the small notebook in her pocket, gaze around the room as if in deep thought, then go back to the book. She ordered straight black coffee, the man’s apparent drink of choice, though she laced hers with copious amounts of sugar. Her obscure Russian novel didn’t seem to impress him; when she looked up from doodling a flower in the notebook he was gone.

The fourth week, Penelope played quirky and helpless. She wore her rainbow hair in a braid wrapped around her head held in place with mismatched chopsticks, and fumbled through her stuffed animal purse for change when it came time to pay for her fancy coffee. Despite the extended fumbling, the man did not come forward and offer to purchase the drink for her. When it started to rain and she gazed woefully out the window, wondering aloud how she would ever get home in such a storm with no one to accompany her, this seemed if anything to prompt him to leave completely. Penelope tried to ignore the idea that he would rather walk coatless into a rainstorm than suffer her presence; he was probably just deaf or something.

The fifth week, Penelope played quirky and edgy. She spiked up her black pixie cut, its fringe falling artfully over one eye, and took a table by herself where she could prop her legs up and glare at passersby. Like the man, she dressed in all black and spoke as little as possible. While she couldn’t smoke in the cafe, she did tuck an unlit cigarette behind her ear where it would at least be visible. Yet even this attempt earned her nothing more than a few weird glances from other patrons; the man didn’t look at her at all.

The sixth week, Penelope played quirky and geeky. She wore Tardis barrettes and Triforce earrings, a Gryffindor scarf and Avengers hoodie. She read a gaming magazine and rather loudly mentioned to the barista that the drink she had ordered was canonically Super Girl’s favorite. She even managed to accidentally drop a couple Marvel movie ticket stubs from her pockets on the floor beside the man, but not only did he not remark upon their titles, he didn’t even help her pick them up.

The seventh week, Penelope snapped. Hair unwashed, clothes hastily donned and still askew, she marched into the coffee shop and straight to the man’s customary table. “What is your problem?” she demanded. “How long does it take you to make a move? What are you waiting for?” When he blinked uncomprehendingly at her, a scowl pulling at his thin mouth, she sighed dramatically. “Fine. Fine, I’ll go out with you.”

“Pass,” The man’s reply was as terse and monotone as anything she had heard him say to the cafe employees. She spluttered with outrage as he signaled to the barista for a refill of his coffee, dismissing her completely. “Excuse me? That’s not how this goes! What are you, an idiot?” Faster than she would have given anyone credit for, the man stood, towering over Penelope’s petite frame. He scowled down at her as he leaned in and growled, “Get out of my face, kid. If I see you here again I swear you’ll regret it.”

It was at that moment Penelope realized two things: one, that there was a very thin and very sharp looking blade in the man’s hand, and two, that she didn’t really like coffee and anyway, it was about time for her to switch to women for a while. There was a lesbian bar on the other side of town where she could play the quirky, free-spirited bisexual who would win over the heart of some newly out teen, show her the ways of the world, and then leave her for an ex. She made a hasty exit from her former quarry, feeling his eyes burning holes into her back all the way out the door.


“You’ve got to give me something to work with, here,” Tanim sighed as he tossed the file folder he’d been flipping through onto the steel table. Leaning his elbows on the cold metal, he lifted his gaze to the man sitting across from him. “Was it self-defense? Did he attack you?” Only silence answered his question, just like every other one he’d asked in the last half hour. He tried again, determined to break through. “Do you remember what happened, anything at all?” Black eyes blinked languidly back at him but the expressionless face didn’t twitch. Tanim quelled the urge to lash out at the man’s stubborn silence; yelling at a client fell under the category of unprofessional and faintly embarrassing. It certainly irked him, though, that this pale sliver of a human being could somehow get under his skin faster than the kind of client who boasted willingly about their exploits. At least they were honest, even if that necessitated some colorful retelling of the “truth”. He couldn’t build a convincing story for the jury, whether somewhat true or a complete fabrication, from total silence.

“Okay…” Tanim drew in a calming breath and mustered his remaining patience. “Can you tell me why you were there, at least? Maybe in, like, two words? One? Could you write it down?” That last offer was, of course, a wry attempt to bring humor to the situation; Tanim was in no way allowed to hand his clients anything that could be used as a weapon, even handcuffed as they were. The expensive fountain pen in his suit’s breast pocket would certainly be considered one, and based on what this man had done with less… even if he were allowed, he wouldn’t risk it. Not with this one. Not that the option, or lack thereof, mattered when his client was so obviously determined to give nothing away. If not for the ID in his wallet when he’d been arrested, who knows how long it would have taken to even identify him. Time to switch tactics. Or maybe just throw tactics out the window completely.

“Fine,” Tanim took hold of the file folder and tossed it aside, glossy crime scene photos fluttering out as it landed on the tile and slid against the far wall. He crossed his arms and glared at his client. “No more questions. You obviously don’t want to answer them, and I don’t really feel like talking to a wall all day. So I’m not going to. You can say whatever you want, or not; your choice, Daren. I’m on your side, but I can’t force you to help me.” With that he fell silent himself, staring up at the single barred window as if the overcast sky outside were incredibly interesting. The ticking of his watch became the only sound in the room, a steady beat to mark each second he accomplished nothing. One minute passed, then another, then three, four, five. Ten. Fifteen.

“He deserved it,”

Tanim blinked, caught off-guard by the soft, monotone voice. When he turned back to Daren, the man was gazing down at his bound hands, his expression as blank as before. He could regret his violent crime, exalt in it, or wish to repeat it right now with Tanim and there would be no way to know by reading his face. Tanim thought with an odd envy that the man would make an amazing lawyer. He didn’t remark on that, though. Instead, he leaned back over the table, nodded in acknowledgement of the comment, and said only, “now we’re getting somewhere.”


I don’t feel worthy of much right now; of looking into The Lady’s amber eyes, of reading and interpreting the cards, of channeling the dark gods. I wonder what any of them would want with me, why they would bother to answer my summons or pleading. I’ve nothing to offer lords and princes, after all, and even a mother can tire of her child’s fumbling antics. And fumbling I must certainly seem, confused and desperate as I am. The writing I do produce must look to them all like marker scribblings on paper, shapes you could maybe make out as people and a house with curly smoke if you squint and turn it sideways. Hardly something worthy of putting up on the cosmic fridge. So what do I do? Do I avert my eyes, wrap up the cards, apologize profusely and crawl back into bed? At what point is trying no longer good enough?


I used to imagine us walking through cities late at night, hands clasped and hair flying in the wind. I don’t know why; I’m not a city girl. I don’t even like them, really. They’re bright and noisy and full of people, and they assault all your senses at once. But cities at night have this foreign, almost alien beauty I’ve always found alluring. Cities at midnight, or maybe four AM, they’re transformed into a living darkness dressed in bright jewels of light. They’re free of the daily cacophony of work and play, leaving every sound amplified in the silent darkness; the scuff of a shoe, the flick of a lighter, the whispers shared between two bent heads. Cities at night, they feel anonymous and magical, like anything is possible. We could have been transported anywhere – Bordertown, Riverside, London Below… even the city where two men meet their entwined fate over and over again. I guess that’s why I imagined us running through dark, slumbering cities and leaning over rooftops to gaze down at the glittering landscape below. You felt ethereal, mysterious, impossible and unbelievable, and you needed a setting to match.


What magic do I need to summon the words – any words? What ingredients do I need for the spell to draw them forth from the ether, from the depths of my soul? A circle of torn paper and candles the color of creamy vellum; a mixture of ink, rainwater, and fresh turned earth, smeared onto both wrists in a sigil for poetry? Or one on the forehead to unlock fiction’s power? I think I could write the spell, maybe, just maybe, I might have that much left in me at least… but do I even believe in magic? Enough to make it work?


the lighter is familiar; smooth silver metal scuffed from use, the size, the weight. the flip-snap of the lid flicked open and closed. snick. snick. spark in the darkness but no flame. damn thing’s empty but still carried anyway. like the feel against the palm. undemanding companion. flick flick flick, back and forth. snick snick snick, tiny spark. burn marks against wood; the ghosts of flames. isn’t fire the domain of the sun? not everything is as it seems. you don’t have to touch the flame for it to leave its mark. does the flame not deserve to live as well? to eat, to grow, to survive and thrive? we are reborn in ash and smoke. fire may come naturally to the sun, but the moon better comprehends its potential.


you gather the runaways and castaways
while I recruit the exiles and outcasts;
you search for the needy strays
while I seek out the angry ferals;

I’m the breaker of locks
the opener of cells
the liberator of chaos

it’s no wonder I never fit in
on an island full of misfits;
you were forming a family
while I’m forming an army