Monday, November 15, 2010

Black Letter Law - an Origin Story. Episode 10. Maryanne M. Wells

“Are you okay?” Nick asked.

I rolled over gingerly and sat up. “No, you idiot,” I spat back. “I was hit by a flying book.”

“So was I. And you shouldn't call me an idiot; my IQ is far above the cut off level for that label.”

I found the book that had hit my back lying next to me and considered throwing it at Nick. I settled for glaring at him. “Okay, you're not an idiot. You're a twit.” I waited for a witty retort that never came. Nick was staring past me and he was deathly pale.

“What?” I demanded, starting to panic. “What is it?”

“Look,” he whispered, pointing.

I looked.

The force and effect of the bookcase had faded away, but the outlines remained. I could see another bookcase through the image of the first, like an image in a gray mirror. And...people. A man and a woman, moving around in a room that looked like the mirror image of the one Nick and I were in.

“They look like law students,” Nick whispered, crawling over to where I was sitting.

“No one I know,” I whispered back. “Wait a minute...look at their clothes. Are those bellbottoms?”

We watched as the man said something to the woman and walked over to the bookcase. The woman caught the man's arm, like she was trying to hold him back. He shook her hand off and she stepped back, hiding her head in her hands. The man grabbed a book off the bookcase.

“What is he doing? That's not the way someone holds a book when they're conducting research,” Nick said.

The man took a piece of paper out of his pocket and put it into the book.

I grinned. “He isn't taking information out. He's putting information in. I have part of that paper, Nick. It's a list of names.”

The man replaced the book in the bookcase. He looked back at the woman, who was shaking her head and gesturing frantically with her hands.

“She kind of looks like you,” Nick said. I looked at the woman more carefully, but didn't see the resemblance.

Suddenly both people froze and looked towards the entrance. The woman moved closer to the man and took his hand. He placed a comforting hand on her shoulder and moved towards the entrance. As he moved he tripped over a bookbag leaning against a chair. He caught himself, but stepped on his own shoelace. He glanced down absently at his shoe then kept moving. He looked back once at the woman, said something, then disappeared.

The woman moved quickly to the bookcase and pulled out a book. She flipped through the pages and tossed the book down with a disgusted expression. She grabbed another book off the shelf.

The man ran back into the room. He snagged the strap of the bag with one hand and grabbed the woman's arm with the other, pulling her out of the room.

“I don't suppose that you were able to read their lips,” Nick said.

“No, but like I said before, I have part of the list.” I reached into my jeans pocket and pulled out the scrap of paper.

The scene before us dissolved. A great wind blew us towards the bookcase.

“What is happening,” Nick shouted.

I opened my mouth to answer and saw a book flying at my head. I ducked. “Head for the door,” I screamed.

We made it out of the room crawling and gasping.

“Unreal,” Nick said, pulling himself upright with the help of the railing.

I got to my feet and listened. “It's quiet.”

“And still. Do we...check the room?”

I did not want to check the room. “Yes,” I said.

We moved forward slowly, but we still got there. I touched the wood frame around the opening with a shaking hand. It was ice cold. We looked in the room.

“It's...perfect. Everything is back in place. It's like none of the weirdness happened,” I said, looking towards the bookcase.

“Uh...Maryanne,” Nick said, poking in my arm in a very annoying fashion.

I turned towards Nick and that's when I saw it. I mean him. It.

Whatever. Point is – we've got a ghost.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Black Letter Law - an Origin Story. Episode 9. Maryanne M. Wells

This is part 9 of a serial story.  The story began here.

Twenty steps up, turn right, cross the landing, twenty steps up, turn left...

Remember there's a ghost up there, spin around, turn right, run down twenty steps, skitter and trip across the landing, ricochet off the wall, catch breath, tell self that there is no such things as ghosts...

Cross the landing again, creep up twenty steps, turn left....

Come on, Maryanne. You can do this. There's no such thing as ghosts, or if there are then you're not a conduit, or if you are it's okay because how scary can a ghost really be if its so lame that it haunts a law library.

I could have waited for Nick. I should have waited for someone to go into the Pacific room with me, but I had to know if I was a conduit or ghost magnet. I couldn't wait for Naomi to find Nick.

Okay: threshold of the room. Deep breath and go.

I walked over to the bookcase and nothing happened. No icy cold breeze, no spectral hand. So anticlimactic I sighed.

Huh. The book that the hand had grasped, the one that Tanya had found the torn list in, was gone. Doubtful that anyone would have checked it out, so where was it?

No books on the table. I dropped down to my knees and looked under the armchairs. Two dust bunnies, a penny, a paperclip, and whoops...a gum wrapper. Better pick that up before the eagle-eyed Dean sees it. Ah, what the heck. Grab the penny too.

I shoved the penny in my jeans pocket and stood up.

“Maryanne,” a voice whispered.

“Nick? Where are you?”

A hand waved around the doorframe. “I'm not coming in,” Nick whispered from the hallway.

“Naomi told you about the conduit thing?”


“It's not me,” I said with a hint of smugness. “I've been in here without anything strange happening. Unless you count a missing volume of the Pacific Reporters as strange. I don't.”

Nick peered tentatively around the doorway. “No cold air?”

“No. And no ghost hand either.”

I heard Nick take a deep breath. He stepped slowly into the room, chest heaving under his immaculate tweed blazer.

Laughing a little I said, “Seriously? A tweed blazer with leather patches on the elbow? Gosh, Dad, where's your pipe?”

Nick opened his mouth and the room imploded with ice and flying books.

Pacific Reporter to the back hurts. A lot.
Previous       Next

Friday, November 5, 2010

Friday Mutant of the Week

According to Jesse Garson, the artist responsible for Quantum Duck's Mutants of the Week, this week's Mutant makes a great pet.

All I can say is...I want one!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Black Letter Law Origin--Part 8: Naomi

I went back to the library and sat down with my head in my hands. Some first year I didn't know came up to ask to reserve a study room, and just kind of stood there for a little while until I noticed. I think he was afraid to say anything. One of the study rooms was mysteriously un-reserved. So I gave him that one and reminded him about the two hour time limit.

My brain started whirring so fast that it kind of shut down. I had a final the next morning, and I needed to study, but had to write those memos. If my GPA drops, I lose my scholarship. If I don't write either of those memos in a most excellent fashion, I lose my scholarship. I might lose my scholarship anyway, so maybe I shouldn't bother with the memos, but that would be disrespectful to the Dean and would probably land me in more trouble. I was in my second year, but I really didn't want to have to take out loans. My parents always told me loans were what sink people financially, and you should only take out a loan for a house or car, not even for an education.

When Maryanne showed up, she looked wound up but weirdly cheerful. She peeped at me from several different angles.

“You don't look so good...” she began.
“I don't feel so good,” I answered.
“What happened with the dean?”
“You don't want to know.” And I scowled.
“Actually, I really do. And I have more information you might think is interesting.”
“Ok,” I said wearily. “Who goes first?”
“You, of course.”

I couldn't tell if she was being nice or pushing me. I decided to decide she was being nice, allowing me to get it over with, and maybe she could help me.

“The dean is mad that I didn't follow library safety protocols and talked to Sandy before I talked to the police. The fact that I called and couldn't get through doesn't seem to matter. And my scholarship is on the line because of it. He wants two memos due tomorrow morning, one on library safety and the other on why I should keep my scholarship... you're better at sucking up. Can you help me?”

“Heck!” Maryanne never cursed when we were in law school. That started afterward. “I won't write it for you, but I have some ideas.”

“I figure I'll lose it one way or another. The question is which way looks the best... or the worst.”

“Come on, you can't think like that! If everyone did that, we'd all be dead.” And she stopped as if she'd just been slapped.

“You ok?” I asked. I was usually the one to have sudden thoughts and space out.
She snapped out of it real quick.

“You know Tanya Capton?” she asked, in what I considered an abrupt change of subject.

“Uh, maybe. Blonde, preppy, your quarter, too much makeup?” I ventured.

“Well, that describes about half of them, but yes.”

“What about her?”

“She was in the library last night, and she knows something.” Maryanne sounded frustrated.

“What do you mean?”

“She said Nick or I is a conduit.”

“Wha--” I began.

“Someone who can channel or direct ghosts or other... things.”

“Isn't that... something from the X-Files, or something?” I was incredulous.

“SHE seems to think they're real.”

“And she doesn't seem like the sort to make that kinda thing up. Or even believe in it.” I finished, and thought for a moment. “Nick won't believe us,” I told her.

“I'm not sure he has much choice. We need to find out what's going on, and if Nick has or is some kind of key, we need both him and me together.”

“So I'm supposed to observe, or help, or what?” I asked.

“First, you're supposed to finish those memos and study con law. Isn't Nick in that class?”

How did she know my schedule better than I did?

Previous     Next

Monday, November 1, 2010

Black Letter Law, Part 7: Naomi

“Miss O'Connor”, the Dean began.

“Crap”, I thought. It is never, NEVER a good sign when authority figures don't use your first name.

“We have certain rules in this place,” he continued. “And do you know why?” I honestly didn't know whether this question was rhetorical. I supposed it would become clear if the silence stretched out. But it was, in fact, rhetorical. “Because without rules, we have chaos. You are expected to follow the rules so that you appreciate them when you need them in the courtroom or have to impose them on others.”
He paused.

“Do you know why we're talking about rules?”

“No, sir.” They seem to like it when you use “sir” and “ma'am”. And I wasn't about to cop to anything he might not already know about.

“Last night I believe there was an incident with a gun. Is that correct?”

“Yes, sir.”

“What happened, Miss O'Connor?” Whew boy, was I in trouble. I thought I knew where this was headed.

“I found a gun. I didn't know if it was real. I tried to call campus police and couldn't get through, so I called Ms. Richardson.”

His eyes narrowed. “So you contacted the librarian before the police?”

“well, no, I mean... like I said, I couldn't get through.”

“Ms. Richardson was the first person you spoke to?”

“Well, no... I talked to Maryanne, but she was on duty with me.”

“And what is the protocol?”

“I'm sorry, I don't know, sir.”

“Very well. Two memos, due tomorrow morning at 8 am. One on law school safety protocols and the other on why you should keep your scholarship. You may go.”

I felt like i'd been punched in the gut. I TRIED to call the police. What did it matter that I talked to Sandy first? Everyone—me, Maryanne, Sandy-- knew that I tried to call the police. Why would the dean twist the events like that? I felt sick. I needed to talk to Maryanne. The safety protocol memo would be easy enough, but with finals... I felt like I was being set up to fail. And i'd have to word the scholarship memo very, VERY carefully.

Previous     Next

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Black Letter Law – an Origin Story. Episode 6. Maryanne Wells.

This is part of a serial story.  The story began here.

I'll say this for Tanya Capton: she's got guts. Everyone else gave me a wide berth in the student lounge while I gulped down the weak brown stuff the law school called coffee. Not Tanya. She walked right up to me in the student lounge while I was still sipping the first cup.

“Does your sour mood have anything to do with the library being haunted?” she demanded bluntly.

I stared at the petite blond woman from my class and took another gulp of coffee. “Who says the library is haunted?” I asked blandly.

“You did. Last night, when you and that snobby second year student came running out of the Pacific Reporter room.”

Crap. “Oh, you heard that?” I said out loud. “That was, that's almost Halloween and we thought it would be funny to pretend the library is haunted. Maybe spread a rumor or something as a prank.”

“No offense, Maryanne, but you don't seem like the type that could pull off a prank.”

That sounded like an insult. “What is that supposed to mean,” I demanded.

“You take yourself too seriously. Like at the scholarship dinner the Dean hosted before the school year started. You spilled some of your blueberry buckle on the tablecloth and spent the rest of the evening trying to scrub it out with salt and water...while the tablecloth was still on the table.”

“If you treat blueberry juice with salt and water it keeps the stain from setting. But you have to be quick.”

“I think the law school can afford another tablecloth.”

I poured myself a second cup of coffee. “Why do you care if the library's haunted or not?”

Tanya looked away. “I've got some experience with those kinds of things,” she said quietly.

Looking at her more critically I could see nothing about her that suggested she would be the type to believe in ghosts. “Yeah, right,” I said. “Let me guess: you're a medium.”

“No,” she said firmly. “But someone in the library last night was a conduit. It's the only explanation for the level of paranormal activity that occurred. You and that guy weren't the only ones to experience the effects – everyone felt the cold chills and saw the lights flicker. The only reason more people aren't talking about it is that they've written it off as some kind of stress-induced delusion.”

“What do you mean, a 'conduit'?”

“Someone with a deep connection to the after life. Someone who presence makes spirits comfortable about reaching into the living realm.”

I shook my head a little and blinked. “For a normal looking person you sure talk crazy,” I said.

Tanya frowned. “I knew you wouldn't believe me. No one ever does. Here,” she said, pulling a piece of crumpled paper out of her pocket and thrusting it at me.

“What's this?”

“It's what I found stuck in the back of the Pacific Reporter lying on the floor near the haunted shelf.”

I took it from her, staring with disbelief. “You went in there?”

“After you and the second year went down to the first floor. I didn't see any harm in it. After the two of you left all the paranormal activity stopped.”


Tanya's eyes widened as she said, “That's your reaction? 'Huh'?”

“Am I missing something?”

“Yeah,” she said disgustedly; “The obvious. If everything stopped when the two of you left, then one you is the conduit.” She whirled around and walked away, head high.

Clearly the woman was nuts. There was no way that Nick or I had attracted the ghost hand. But the paper...that was real. I set down the coffee cup and smoothed the paper against the top of the table. The paper was really thin, so thin that you couldn't read the writing on one side without being distracted by marks on the other. I'd heard some of the upper level students talk about that kind of paper – onion skin, they called it. It had been the standard for legal documents decades ago, but no one used it now.

The piece I was holding was torn and frayed. On one side was handwriting, even but almost illegible. It seemed to be some kind of list. Hard to be certain, the way the paper was torn. I turned it over and studied the typing on the other side. It looked like clauses from...a will.

“Tanya,” I said, looking up. I wanted to ask her more about the paper. But she had left the lounge.

Everyone had left the lounge. Dang it, the break must be over!

Professor Thompson stuck her head around the corner. “Are you ready, Maryanne?” she asked.

“Yes, ma'am. And thank you,” I said meekly. Professor Thompson was the only likable first year professor; I didn't want to be on bad terms with her. I folded up the paper and stuck in into the right pocket of my jeans. “I'm sorry for the way I acted in class,” I said.

She smiled grimly. “I was about to take that pen myself,” she said.


“Seriously. Matthew Calif's little pen-clicking habit has been getting on my nerves all quarter. But if you feel a need to do some penance, you can volunteer on the next two review hypotheticals. If I get some volunteers we'll get through the review quicker. You students may not believe this, but I'm as sick of the material as you are.”

And I can get to the library and find Naomi sooner. “You can count on me,” I said.

Previous       Next

Black Letter Law - an Origin Story. Episode 5. Maryanne Wells

This is part of a serial story.  The story began here.

It had to be the longest class I had ever attended.  And not just because it was 8:00am Property Law focussing on review for the final exam.  No.  It was long because I hadn't had any coffee.

I glared at the law student next to me who was clicking his pen like a hyperactive four-year-old on a sugar high.  "Stop that now or I will hurt you," I hissed.  He glanced over at me and dropped the pen.

How could Nick be out of coffee?  And what was he thinking, inviting Naomi and I to spend the night at his apartment when he was out of coffee?

Deep breath.  Focus.  I needed to get through the class and in the ten minutes before my next class started sprint across the law school to the library, hunt for the ghost, and try to find Naomi.  Naomi, who had been sent for by the Dean.

The Dean was a control freak.  He was obsessed with keeping the law school in pristine condition.  It had been named a historic landmark not long ago - gothic revival architecture, big name architect, blah blah blah.  The Dean forbade us from eating or drinking anywhere in the building except the chilly student lounge for fear that bugs and mice would be attracted by the crumbs, or that something would be stained.

Buildings are meant to have people in them.  A building without people is a forgotten ruin.  People need to eat and drink.  So unless the Dean wanted his perfect law school to be perfectly devoid of life, he was going to have to allow food and drink. 

Actually it was Naomi and I who allowed food and the library, when we were in a good mood.  It had to all be gone by closing, and it couldn't be obvious when it was out.  One girl tried to have a pizza delivered to the library - no way.  And to make sure our point got across we confiscated the pizza.

Had some faculty member found out about the library food and reported Naomi to the Dean?  Now I was worried.  The Dean had a reputation for rescinding academic scholarships on a whim.  Or maybe he had heard about the 'gun' incident in the library and wanted to hear the story directly from Naomi.  That made sense.  Yes, that must be what the meeting was about.  I hoped.

Mr. Sugar-high-click-the-pen had picked up his writing instrument and resumed the inane button pushing.  Enough was enough.  He had been warned. 

I grabbed the pen out of his hand and slammed it down on the desktop.  The professor stared, and the classroom fell into stunned silence.

"Is there a problem, Miss Wells?" the professor asked.

"No, Professor Thompson," I said, picking up the pen and disassembling it.  I dropped the pieces on Mr. Sugar-high's desk one by one.  "No problem at all."

Proffessor Thompson studied me carefully.  "Have we...had our coffee this morning?" she asked.

"Well I can't answer for you, ma'am.  But I sure as heck haven't."

Professor Thompson glanced at her watch.  "We're scheduled for a two hour review today, and we've already got an hour under our belts.  Let's take a ten minute break."

A student in the front row raised her hand.

"Yes, Mrs. Black," Professor Thompson said.

Gretta Black stood up and said primly, "We never take breaks, Professor Thompson."

Sugar-high stood up quickly and said, "If we're not taking a break then Gretta has to change seats with me and sit next to Maryanne."

"We're taking a break and Maryanne is getting coffee from the student lounge," Professor Thompson said firmly.

The non-caffienated me has a reputation.

Previous      Next

Monday, October 25, 2010

Black Letter Law: Origin Story, Part 4

I called the police, but I still couldn't get through. I had one ear cocked to listen for Nick and Maryanne coming back down the stairs, and as the minutes ticked by I got more and more nervous. I decided to put my bookbag in the chair of the study carrel where the gun lay so nobody would try to sit there, and then i'd risk going upstairs.

I was about halfway up when someone called out “Naomi! What are you doing?!” It was Sandy. “I was going upstairs to check on Maryanne.”

“Where's the gun?!”

“Over here.” And I led her to where my bookbag was blocking it from view.

“That's yours?” She asked, pointing to my bookbag. “Why's it over here? … never mind, you can tell me later. Did you call the police?”

“Yes, three times, but I can't get through.”

“All right, stay here and don't touch anything. Put your backpack on the floor or behind the front desk. I'm calling the police again.”

I don't know if she called a different number or spoke some secret password, but the police arrived very shortly after that. They took one look at the gun, picked it up gingerly, and declared it was not real. Then they questioned me, and Sandy went to find Maryanne and Nick. I supposed they'd be questioned as well.

I told them what I knew, that i'd found the gun and I don't like guns and I don't know how it got there and I tried to call them but I couldn't get through. That was probably one of those times I should have taken a breath in between words. Or sentences, even. But I couldn't. Cops make me nervous. Guns make me nervous, and it took me a while to recover. I needed a drink.

It didn't help matters that Maryanne looked rather ill as she walked into the room to talk to the cops. I shot a concerned, questioning look at Nick, but he shook his head, so I shut up and walked back out to the front desk and sat down. Sandy appeared with some tea. It tasted funny, but it was warm and calmed me down. Almost as good as a vodka.

When Maryanne came out of the office, she was less green and her face was set in a grimace I would see many times later. She was trying to work something out in her head and give suitable answers to the authority figures at the same time. I admired her for that. I just stammered and resented them.

“Why'd you scream?” I asked her quietly when Nick was in the office. But apparently not quietly enough, because Sandy echoed my question.

“Why DID you scream? When was this?”

“Oh... before you got here. I was just nervous about the gun, and something startled me upstairs.”

Sandy had turned around to make another cup of tea for Maryanne, and when her back was turned, Mar made a face that let me know I should not have asked that particular question at that particular time.

Nick came out of the office looking rather proud of himself. But then, he looked like that a lot of the time, so I didn't know what to think. And I didn't want to risk another dirty look from him or Maryanne, so I just waved.

The police left, and Maryanne and I assured Sandy we were ok to finish our shifts. Sandy stayed with us, however, and helped close up the library for the night. Nick stuck around too. Afterward, we three students walked out to the parking lot talking. I was still wound up and didn't want to go home alone and go to sleep. I suggested International Waffle Hut, but they weren't in the mood... so we ended up back at Nick's place.

“What exactly happened up there?” I asked, referring to the screams I'd heard.

“a Brr like worry” Nick said.

“What!” snapped Maryanne. “You ran! I wanted to go back in!”

“Stop,” I said. “Both of you. Don't make me resort to a talking stick.”

And so I learned that the Pacific Reporters were haunted. I didn't say it, but I blamed myself, a little bit. I'd always wanted to meet ghosts and aliens, and maybe I'd wished too hard. Now my friends would get to, too, whether they wanted to or not.

“Where did it... he... the ghost, come from?”

“We don't know. We don't even know for sure what it was. All I saw was a pair of eyes and felt a cold feeling.” said Maryanne.

“And you saw it too?” I asked Nick.

“I think so... I mean, I definitely saw something...”

It continued like this for a while, but since nobody had any definite answers and we had finals coming up, we had to get some sleep. And since nobody wanted to sleep alone in their own apartment, Nick let Maryanne and me have the bed, and he crashed on his couch.

The next morning when I reported for my shift at the library, I was Sent For by the Dean.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Black Letter Law, Episode 3: Naomi O'Connor

I used to work three shifts a week at the law library. All night shifts. It was decent money to supplement the student loans, and whatever I made there, I didn't have to account for to my parents. So I ate out and bought more gadgets than I should have. I love gadgets. Unfortunately, they're usually not much help when it comes to the supernatural. Because, you see, the gadgets run on logic. It's the only way they exist. And the supernatural, as i've experienced it, is profoundly illogical.

I didn't want to touch the gun, because the sum total of my experience with weapons goes something like this:

“This is your grandfather's rifle. Don't ever touch it.”
“This is your father's BB gun. Don't ever touch it.”
“This is a bow and arrow. Start shooting when I blow the whistle and stop when I blow it again, otherwise you could hurt or kill someone.” It wasn't even a compound bow.

So I was not at all eager to be involved in some sort of library gun mishap. We all knew students did stupid and thoughtless and occasionally dangerous stuff around finals. And I was just finishing off a quarter full of crim law. If that gun was fishy, I wanted nothing to do with it. I might have been further along in school, but Maryanne had certainly worked at the library longer.

I knew about the noises. Students started coming to me and complaining. At first I was sure it was the wind, or rats, or the foundation settling. But then when I finally heard them, I knew it wasn't any of those things. The gun was in a study carrel within sight of the front desk, so I paced back and forth between the desks to make sure nobody else touched the gun and that I could help if someone came to the front desk. It helped to burn off nervous energy. I fidgeted with my cell phone in case i'd have to call the campus cops and/or head librarian again. Maryanne and Nick went upstairs.

I heard her scream and my discomfort shot through the roof. I couldn't be in two places at once, much less three. She was with Nick, and i'd have to comfort myself with that. I stopped pacing for a moment to dial the head librarian. I honestly didn't know what else to do. I hadn't ever learned the protocol for this, and if she told me to call the campus police i'd try that again, but my hierarchical brain said to follow the chain of command. And since Maryanne was... screaming, that meant Sandy Richardson, the head librarian.

On the third ring, she picked up. “Hello?” She sounded sleepy and annoyed. It was just past 10.
“This is Naomi. I am SO sorry to bother you, but we found a gun and there are strange noises.”
“Call the campus police. I'm coming up there.”

Friday, October 22, 2010

Mutant of the Week for Friday, October 22, 2010

You know what the best thing is about these Friday Mutant posts from the collection of Quantum Duck Mutants?  They don't cost an arm and a leg.

Whoops!  Spoke too soon.  My bad.

How about a hand for artist Jesse Garson?  That man sure has a leg up on the competition.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Black Letter Law - An Origin Stroy. Episode 2. Maryanne Wells.

This is part of a serial story.  The story began here.

There's nothing creepy about a room. Unless it's that room. The southern room on the second floor of the library, the room too small to be called a hall but too big to be an alcove. The room with floor to ceiling bookshelves on three walls, crammed with dusty law books from other states. The room where the lights flicker for no good reason.

“Are you sure you didn't hear the noise somewhere else, Nick? Anywhere else?” I said.

Nick strode into the room and pointed to the bookcase across from the window. “There. The scratching sounds are coming from there.”

I walked over and peered at the spines of the books. Pacific Reporters. “West coast cases from the 1960s. Wow. I can see why you're drawn to this place.”

“It's quiet in here,” Nick said defensively.

“Except for the scratching.”

“Except for that,” he agreed

The lights dimmed and then flickered.

“Well, it's pretty quiet right now. Let me know if it gets weird again,” I said, backing out of the room.

Of course that was when the scratching noises started. It sounded like someone was dragging their fingernails down the back of the bookcase.

Nick glared at me.

“What,” I snapped.

“Do something,” he said, pointing at the bookcase.

I walked over reluctantly. The scratching continued.

“There! Second shelf, fifth book from the right,” Nick said.

I glared at him over my shoulder. Between studying, late hours and caffeine my nerves were strained to the breaking point. “Okay, genius. You've figured out where it's coming from so you deal with it,” I hissed.

“You work here.”

Great. Just...great. I reached out and carefully pulled the book from the shelf. The scratching stopped.

“There. I fixed it,” I said with relief. I put the book back on the shelf and turned away.

The scratching started again.

“Do you hear that?” demanded Nick.

“Of course I do! Don't ask me that.”

“I'm sorry, I just...I'm not crazy. If you hear it when I hear then I'm sane.”

“Maybe we're both crazy.”

“Not helping.”

“I tried helping; the scratching started again.”

Nick stared at the bookcase. “I have a twisted feeling in the pit of my stomach, a physical reaction to an impending brush with destiny,” he said softly.

Say what? “You know, you might be crazy regardless of scratching sounds,” I told him.

Nick took a deep breath and step forward. He reached out and touched the book with his fingertips. He tugged gently. The book didn't move.

“It's stuck,” he said.

I shook my head. “Can't be. I didn't have to force it back in. There's plenty of room on the shelf.”

Placing his whole hand on the top edge of the book, Nick gritted his teeth. “Hello, destiny,” he whispered. He pulled.

The book came off the shelf in his hand, but it brought something with it. A ghost hand was clutching the book from the other side.

I could lie about what happened next, but why bother? Truth is, I screamed. I screamed like a pig caught up by a twister.

Nick didn't scream. He shoved the book back into the bookcase and ran. Halfway down the stairs he realized I wasn't with him and he came racing back.

“Let's go, Maryanne,” he said, grabbing my arm.

“The book...the book fell out,” I gasped, pointing with a trembling hand at the volume on the floor.

I shook off Nick's hand and ran to the bookcase. I yanked out the books adjoining the empty space on the shelf and leaned in. A pair of eyes stared back at me.

That's when I screamed for the second time.

“Come on,” Nick shouted. He pulled me out of the room. Muffled cries came from the bookcase as we fled.

Three other law students peeked up from their study carrels, their heads bobbing up like nervous meercats.

“What's happening?” one of them asked.

“The Pacific Reporters are haunted,” I yelled, sprinting for the stairs.

“Oh. Okay,” he said, and sat down.

As we reached the top of the stairs all of the lights on the second floor began to flicker and the temperature dropped about twenty degrees. I stumbled on the steps and Nick caught me.

“Hey, what's going on with the lights?” someone shouted.

“Where's the library worker,” called out another.

“An anagram for library worker is 'A Brr Like Worry',” I gasped.

Nick looked at me strangely. “Anagrams?”

“It's what my brain does when I freak out,” I explained. I straightened up and took a hesitant step toward the haunted room.

“What are you doing?” Nick whispered frantically.

I didn't have a clue. Out loud I said, “I'm on duty. Safety in the library is my responsibility. So I'm...going back in there.”

Even the smartest girls can have bad ideas.

Previous       Next

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Black Letter Law - an Origin Story. Episode1. Maryanne Wells

The events that follow took place in October - November of 2005.

“It's real, and I refuse to get my fingerprints on it,” Naomi said.

I stepped closer to the study carrel and bent over, angling my head for a closer look. “It's fake,” I said. “I think.”

“So pick it up.”

I straightened up and glared at her. “You pick it up. You've got seniority,” I said.

“You've got more experience with these things.”

“You found it.”

“Doesn't matter because I'm not touching it.”

I sighed. “Fine. We'll call campus police and let them figure it out.”

“That's what I said in the first place,” Naomi said, walking to the front desk. She picked up the phone receiver and dialed the campus safety department.

Naomi O'Conners was a year ahead of me in law school. We met working in the law school library. We were the crazy people who volunteered for the closing shifts, known with dubious affection as the 'graveyard shifts.'

I could never figure out why we were friends. On the surface we were completely different. She was a worldly city girl with a rocker chick look and fearless demeanor. I was the country girl, too smart for my own good and constantly worried that my classmates would discover how much younger than all of them I really was. But for some reason the friendship worked. I guess that deep down we were just the same kind of people. And by that I mean we were both a little off in the brain pan.

Following Naomi to the front desk I said defensively, “Well I wanted to look at it first. If it turns out to be a fake then we will have caused unnecessary trouble for a classmate.”

“Some idiot third year with a practice court case decides to leave all his study material and case evidence in a study carrel and you're going to be sympathetic? Maryanne, we are not responsible for the fate of personal items left in the law library. Everyone knows that. So if somebody leaves something here, they do so with full knowledge that it may be gone by the time they get back.” She gestured to the phone and said, “Still ringing. Can you believe it?”

“Maybe they're busting up some undergrad party that got out of hand.”

“Meanwhile we've got a possibly loaded firearm sitting out on a desk. Great,” Naomi said sarcastically.

I looked back at the study carrel. “I just hate to get anyone in trouble needlessly. What if we're being alarmist and jumping the gun? Maybe I'll pick it up and look closer.”

Naomi grinned. “Jumping the gun? Nice,” she said.

Dang it. I hate puns!

I turned around and strode back to the study carrel. Gnawing a little on my lower lip, I reached out my hand towards the gun. Really, I thought, my trepidation was stupid. I had grown up around guns. My parents had stressed gun safety since I was a kid. I'd been on hunting trips with friends and relatives since I turned twelve. So one little handgun sitting on the edge of a desk in the law school library shouldn't have freaked me out.

But it wasn't the gun that had me on edge. It was everything about the night. Final exams were just around the corner and every student was on edge. Library hours had been extended to provide more study time in a quiet environment. I'd been happy about that at first because it meant more work hours for me. But they were dark hours filled with strange shadows and pale, hollow eyed classmates. And then the noises began.

“I swear I'm not crazy,” a voice said.

I jumped and spun around in the air. “Don't do that,” I gasped. “Don't ever sneak up on me when things are creepy.”

“Sorry,” Nick said.

Nicholas “Nick” Porpington was in his second year at law school, like Naomi. When I first met him I thought him the definition of pretentious. Seriously, the guy was descended from Scottish nobility. And he had this effortless air of cool dignity. There was nobody like him back home in the Panhandle.

Underneath it all he was really nice, and Naomi and I counted him as a friend. Normally I'd be happy to see him, but when he startled me and started talking about his sanity he just added to the general creepiness of the library.

I pointed at the gun. “Real or fake?” I asked Nick.

He peered at the gun and said, “Don't know and don't care.”

“Some help you are.”

“How about helping me? The noises upstairs are getting louder. And I'm not crazy or delusional; something is up there.”

I rubbed my forehead and said, “I believe you. I heard the noises last night when I was closing. I found another student on the floor and dragged him over to the corner bookcase. He heard the scratching too.”

“So,” Nick said grandly.


“So what are you going to do about it?”

“Report it to the head librarian and let her call maintenance.”

“But the noises only happen at night,” Nick pointed out.

Yeah, when I'm on duty. Great. “What do you want me to do about it?”

“The noises are stronger tonight. I've been able to pinpoint the source to a single bookshelf. Come with me and look around,” Nick pleaded.

This job was supposed to be easy. Shelve a few books, study when you can. Why can't it be that simple?

Monday, October 18, 2010

New Story Starts Tomorrow!!

Tune in tomorrow for the start of "Black Letter Law," the first Undead Bar Association Origin Story.

Two authors will be writing this story - me (Maryanne) and Naomi.  I'll be leading off with two episodes, Naomi will do one this week, we'll have a Friday mutant, and Naomi will post on Monday...and so on!  To quote Naomi, "This should be interesting."

Monday, October 4, 2010

Faubourg Fairy Tale--The Finale

I hoped that it would not be Dani. She was too young, and, for my selfish part, I wanted to pursue someone who was alive and would continue to be that way for a reasonable human number of years. I hoped that the heir would not be me... How could it be, since she had known me only a couple of weeks? But she did seem to know a lot about me, and had ensured I got the particular job that I had. I wondered with some apprehension whether the “find the forger and make it stop” game was some kind of test.

I last checked my watch that night around 2:30 am. I woke up in my own bed in my apartment the next morning, alone and with no memory of how i'd gotten there. This fueled my sense of alarm. I felt the tingling on the back of my neck that usually signaled a panic attack... NECK! I must check my neck! I thought wildly and ran to the mirror. No bite marks. Check. Coffee will not do in this state. I have to have some food and then get out and do something, spend this nervous energy. So it was in my slightly frenzied, not all there state that left the apartment, but the rhythm of walking slowed and steadied me a bit, and I ended up back in the French Quarter without really realizing where i'd come.

On this Sunday morning there seemed to be a few new faces and a few I'd seen before... The sickly looking man was selling the same sketches... and a print of something that almost had to be Mara's. Now we'd get to see how good an actress I might be. He looked nervous. I tried to smile. It may have been more of a leer. I asked about the painting that I was pretty sure now was one of Mara's. I wanted to see how well he could cover. He came up with some vague answers that probably would have satisfied anyone who wasn't trying to probe and poke holes. I bought one anyway. I wanted to study it. I asked if he had a card, and he did. His name was Julius Ringe.

My brain (finally) kicked into gear: I have a name, I have evidence. If I could talk to Mara again, we could make some progress. I realized with annoyance that all my contact with her had been through Dani. I would have to get Mara's info. And so... I texted Dani.

Can I get Mara's email address or phone number or something?

A few minutes later:

She doesn't really like technology and doesn't want to leave a paper trail. That's part of the reason she keeps me around. What's up?

I was alert (perhaps bordering on paranoia) for clues about Dani and her relationship with Mara. “Part of”? What was the other part?

I texted back: found the seller. Have a name and a copy. Please tell M

I have to say, I was surprised when Dani showed up at my apartment that evening to collect the info. I had expected another meeting the next week with Mara.

Wait, why are you here? I mean, that came out wrong. I'm glad you're here but--”

I came to get the things you mentioned. Mara wants to look at them.”

Shouldn't I bring them myself so I can talk with her?”

She'll tell you if she needs you.”

Lovely, I thought. I'm a not-lawyer for a not-client, who is not-alive. And on top of it, she's pushy as hell. I thought I wouldn't have to deal with that until I had real clients. And on top of all that, i'm not getting anywhere with Dani. My life, as a friend of mine likes to say, is an endless trial. I suppose that's better than unlife being an endless trial. Because then it's a little more literal. Anyway.

In the end, Mara apparently didn't need me. Dani continued to be nice to me in the office, in a sort of confoundingly cheerful way that left me distracted, but she did not and would not talk about Mara at work. Ms. Devereaux was satisfied with my work, I suppose, but she never offered to write a recommendation, and I never asked. The criticism slacked off, but not the work. I wondered how much she knew about my moonlighting or my feelings toward her niece.

Once after work, I asked Dani about the copyright case, and all she would say was that the situation was being handled. That could mean almost anything. I tried not to think about the more unpleasant possibilities.

On my last night in New Orleans, Dani and I went to a club that was known for its burgers and its jazz. We split a burger that was as big as one of our heads. On this particular night, a singer/songwriter of Celtic music had the stage.

Some of her passion floated on the smoky air and echoed around my brain:

when time finally tempers this heart sick and sore,

and your eyes no longer dance in my dreams any more

I will still sing your praises from a time long before...”

And I wondered if i'd even have a chance to get that close this time. As if she'd heard my thought, Dani started talking:

I know you're leaving tomorrow. I wanted to tell you I'm studying in Europe this year.”

With Mara.” it came out like an accusation. Part of me meant it that way, but I was embarrassed that I was so obviously jealous.

Well, yes, she's offered me a job after graduation, and sort of as an advance, she's taking care of my school expenses this year. And she's going too. To France.”

I was disappointed and trying hard not to show it.

I walked her home. On her steps, she kissed my cheek, stepped back to look at me, and ran inside without saying goodbye. I didn't sleep that night and kept playing the scene over in my mind in the car the next day on the way back home from New Orleans. I almost chucked the mojo bag out the car window in frustration, but then, maybe I had been lucky. I hadn't been turned into a vampire, and did get a kiss. It could have been a lot worse.

A few weeks later I received a postcard from her. It took me a moment to figure out what it was. I'd never seen her handwriting before, since we'd always texted, and we typed most things at the office. I read it slowly two or three times, then turned it over. The picture was two people standing behind a wrought iron fence, out of which grew a willow tree. They were talking in the sunrise. And at the bottom was her signature. I guess the cards came out right, somehow.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Naomi's Musings

what does it feel like?
i wondered. that first moment:
waking up vampire.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Faubourg Fairy Tale--The Fourteenth

After work on Tuesday, I sent Dani a text. I did not want to use work time or work computers and leave a paper trail. I asked her if she could check with Mara about a meeting for the following weekend. On Thursday night, just as I was drifting off to sleep, I received a text from Dani that Mara could see me Friday night at 10. I prepared a list of questions, but Mara waved them away when I arrived. She had decided to tell me a story instead.

In 1722, a girl was born to a merchant family in Marseille. Her name was Marie. She helped her mother keep shop but often got in trouble for drawing in the ledgers. She was 10 when her father died, and her mother was unable to care for all the children, so Marie was apprenticed or sold off to a printmaker. The printmaker knew of Marie's artistic talent, and her mother was glad to see she was provided for, but there was another part to the bargain, that the printmaker had not told the family. He was looking for a successor both to his art and to his line. I'm sure you've all guessed it by now. He was a vampire, Dracula's clan.

Ah, well that tells a bit of what I needed to know about how she might behave and what's likely to offend her,” I thought.

Marie was a clever girl and she discovered this soon after she was sent to live with the printmaker. He told her he would kill her if she told anyone. She was terrified at first, but on the whole he was a good master, if strict. And he taught her art, which she loved. When she was 17, he gave her the choice to leave and marry and lead a normal life, but she wanted to stay and serve. The printmaker knew then that he had found his successor. Although it was odd, he hired a tutor for her and she learned Latin and Greek and algebra and geometry and rhetoric. And art. Above all, art. Her skill at drawing and painting had only grown since she was a child.

Just after she turned 30, the printmaker sat down with her to talk about the future. He asked again if she wanted a normal life, but by that time she thought that a normal life was out of her reach. He proposed to send her to the French colony in Louisiana to trade and study, but he wanted to make sure of her loyalty. So he would turn her to bind her to the clan and to him. She thought about it but came to a decision quickly. He had taken her in and allowed her the thing that she loved, her painting, and she saw no reason not to acquiesce. And so her unlife began in the winter of 1752.

She stayed the winter in France and sailed on the first ship in April of 1753 to New Orleans. Sometime later, the letters from the printmaker stopped coming, and she learned that he had been hunted and killed. She never learned by whom but suspected a rival clan of vampires. Mara implied that Degas had learned a bit from her during his time in New Orleans. As time went on, people came into her life and drifted away, and she grew lonely and her paintings reflected that. She changed her name to Mara, “bitter”, around the turn of the last century. And she was looking for an heir.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Faubourg Fairy Tale--The Thirteenth

I panicked. Had anything happened last night? I tried to go back through my memory to detect anything stupid or untoward, but I had only had a beer or two and didn't remember anything of the sort happening. And she was moving around the apartment going thru what appeared to be her normal morning routine, so I decided to take that as a good sign. I looked at the clock. Not much time to get to work. Quick shower, probably no time for me to eat. Maybe a granola bar in the car.

So would it be weird if we go to work together?” I asked.

Nah, just tell them you picked me up on the way.” This seemed like it might be a regular occurrence for her. I felt a little sick to my stomach.

I wished good morning, briefly, to the receptionist and Ms. Devereaux and Mr. Robbins. Two of the three of them seemed glad to see me. I arrived in my office to find paperwork and a new stack of cases on my desk. I worked straight through the morning on a prenup and a name change. Since I was a summer associate, they were really good about giving me the whole hour for lunch, and I decided to run downstairs to a sandwich shop and pick up a po'boy to eat at my desk while I researched copyright law. And this was the result:

Some form of copyright has been recognized (in Britain) since 1694, and in France since 1777, but originally only written works were protected. In the US, the first Copyright Act was passed in 1790. But Louisiana was not acquired until 1803, I thought. The Berne Convention, an international copyright treaty, was established in 1886 and revised in 1896, 1908, 1928, 1948, 1967, and 1971. So I need to know where Mara's works were painted, and when. The term of protection is generally the life of the author plus 50 or 70 years. Great, I thought. Now we get into that pesky life/unlife distinction. I hate trying to explain that one. And this time my “client” is a vampire. She will not be pleased.

I scanned through the rest of the nutshell, and it appeared that none of the exceptions would apply, but I would need to interview Mara in more detail, which would mean another meeting. I'd probably have to contact her through Dani. It seemed to me that the only sticking point was whether or not Mara was alive. Clearly she was walking around like the rest of us, behaving more or less like a live person, and... if no death certificate had ever been issued, we might have a case! Although proving her birth date might be a bit tricky.

I wondered: do you issue a cease-and-desist letter before you know you have a case? Maybe Mara wants to pursue legal remedies to avoid starting a clan war. That would be prudent. But I didn't know exactly how vampire society worked or where Mara ranked in it. It did seem as if an interview would be the best option. I supposed it would have to wait till the next weekend, since I could not afford to do late nights during the week.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Faubourg Fairy Tale--The Twelth

I wanted to get home. I wanted to relax. But that was going to be difficult. On top of all the strangeness and potential danger of the weekend, tomorrow I had to be at work. Next to matters of life and death and undeath, family law seemed pretty mundane, and Ms. Devereaux wasn't nearly as threatening.

I walked home quickly, glancing over my shoulder repeatedly, but when I got there, I found I didn't want to be in my apartment alone. I didn't really know many people in the city, and I wasn't going to go out, so it seemed the only thing to do was to call Dani. We could have a drink, which would calm me down, and maybe talk, since I had lots of questions, or if she wasn't in a talking mood, maybe we could watch a movie. After all, there was so much education she was missing.

I picked up the phone and dialed...

Hey, are you busy?”

Not really, just cleaning a bit, why?”

I had a weird day and I want someone to talk to. Can you come over?”

Yeah, i'll be there in a little while.”

Um... be careful. I don't want you getting followed...”

I didn't care if I sounded paranoid. I didn't really want to tell her everything on the phone. At least when I tell Maryanne, she won't think i'm paranoid or crazy, I thought.

I popped open a beer. Good thing New Orleans has good local microbrews.

I picked up the phone again to call Maryanne. I hoped she wouldn't worry too much. She's always been protective of the rest of us. This time she picked up:

Maryanne, it's Naomi! How are you?”

Busy, like always. I got your message, what's going on?”

Are you sitting down?”

Yes”. I couldn't tell if she was anticipating or dreading the news.


WHOA! Take a breath and start that sentence over.”

I met... a vampire. And now I'm working for her on the side. And this girl at my office is friends with the vampire and I really like her.”

Wow... I guess this kind of seals it. We'll be working with or for the undead whether we like it or not. What are you doing?”

She wants me to track down some people who are selling her art without permission, and find legal means to deal with them. I'm in the process of IRACing the problem. But IP is hard.” Maryanne was used to my whining on the subject.

I continued: “and Dani is amazing. She files stuff at the office and she's a university student and she introduced me to Mara.”

Mara is the vampire?”

Ah. Yes. Sorry.”

You haven't told her, have you?” Maryanne sounded concerned.
“ but it's probably pretty obvious.”

You've been there a week. And workplace romance is always a bad idea. And you're leaving at the end of the summer. Focus on your work.”

She's coming over tonight.”

Maryanne decided to change the subject: “What about the vampire, Mara? What's going on with the case? Do you know what house she's from?”

Not a lot on the case. Don't know what house. Today I decided to play tourist and see if I could snag one of the fake paintings, but so far no luck. I might be being followed, though. And a voodoo guy gave me a bag.”

I'm glad it's YOUR life that's weird right now. I had enough after last winter.”

You said yourself we're marked. Things will get interesting again. In the Chinese sense.”

Yeah...” she said vaguely.

So, any advice on the vampire or IP front?” I asked hopefully.

unfortunately, no. Just read up on both subjects and know what you're dealing with before you act. And take care. I miss you and I want to see you back in the fall in one live piece.”

I will. I miss you too. Thanks.”

Bye” we said together.

And at that moment the doorbell rang. I had all the locks on and I crept to the door and looked out the peephole. It was still daylight, or I would have taken my softball bat along to the door. Never know when you might need it for an intruder or zombie uprising. Fortunately, it was Dani.

You get here ok?” I asked out of habit, and then remembered that I was actually concerned.

yeah, just fine.” she either didn't know what kind of weirdness was dancing about in her city or she was used to it.

you want something to drink?”

Brought my own” and she pulled a Zima out of her messenger bag. I almost started laughing. I grabbed another beer from the fridge and sat down on the couch.

So I went looking for the person selling the paintings today, and a whole bunch of weird stuff happened.”

Like what?”

Well, a lady read my palm, and I think someone was following me around, and the man at the voodoo museum seemed to know me and he called you “my girl”.”

Oh. Yeah, I was in there looking for spell ingredients, and I mentioned you.”

You practice, then? What kind of spell?”

It's a secret. You'll have to wait and see.”

She really frustrates me sometimes.

Then I remembered: “What's this?” and I pulled out the bag the man had given me and handed it to her.

She looked at it, felt the contents thru the bag, and smelled it.

John the Conqueroo. It's for luck in sex and gambling.”

ohhhh...kay. What do I do with it?”

Just keep it. You never know when it might come in handy.”

I was skeptical, but maybe I'd give belief a shot. Enough improbable things had happened that it seemed like a good idea. And suddenly, somehow, I was tired of talking.

Do you want to watch something?” I asked.

Yeah,” she agreed.

And so I popped Firefly into the DVD player. I passed out on the couch, and when I woke up the next morning, Dani was still there.