A few of the beta readers have already gotten back to me, so we'll assume this isn't a typo filled mess, although it still likely is not the finished product. Copyrighted by me, Richard Raley. All rights are reserved. Please do not copy and paste it to the four corners of the Internet, but instead please link back here to the blog.
Post Eureka Blues
Being he was King Henry Price, he wouldn’t get to drive to his own funeral.
Means he surely didn’t get to drive now either.
So, what you’re thinking is: who gets to drive to their own funeral? They’re fucking dead, dumbass!
You, sir or madam or attack helicopter, are lucky enough to not know any necromancers, ain’t ya?
Also . . . seriously, one fucking hobo gets his knee bruised and suddenly King Henry’s banned from the steering wheel for a month? Did he ask the hobo to dive out of the way like that? No!
Plus, he didn’t give a shit if they have photographic proof otherwise or not, that Asylum-issued Borg Fleet car already had all them scratches when he rented it out!
Being he was King Henry Price . . . Glassbreaker, Maximus of the Earth, Learning Council Member Assuming He Ever Passed Orientation, the Hero of Eureka, Slayer of the Curator, Wielder of the Only Fully Functioning World-Breaker On This Here Planet Earth, Honorary Member of the Guild of Artificers, the Foul Mouth, the Curse Word Dude, Lord of the Fucktards, that Guy Who Everyone Says Burned Down the Mound, and worst of all: Vamp Enemy Number One . . . being all that, he was told in no uncertain terms, by the fucking Lady of the Lake herself, that this would be his last bit of freedom for the foreseeable future.
One night to say goodbye, he thought from his place in the passenger seat. One night for ‘see ya later.’ One night to go home again, place you supposedly ain’t able to return to.
Those still standing giving one last college try to fix the unfixable.
Last time they tried . . . well, was quite a bit of screaming between Old Man Price and not so ol’ Jordan Josephine.
Would be tonight too, King Henry imagined.
Inevitable between those two. Had been since JoJo hit puberty, maybe even before, so why stop now even after she popped out a grandkid?
Inevitable. Might even be worse. Lot more spectators to cheer on the death match this go around. Can’t believe she’s bringing Vega. Vega meeting Dad. What the fuck she thinking? Thinking the only way Vega would let his new pride and joy out of the Coyote Compound is if he came with, that’s what. Of course, Vega didn’t go anywhere alone . . .
Bunch of mancers in a house surrounded by a bigger bunch of werecoyotes. What could possibly go wrong?
Couldn’t guess JoJo’s mind—King Henry gave up after the first time she duct-taped him to a chair and forced him to join her tea party—but he knew his own. Thinking he wanted Old Man Price to finally meet Valentine Ward.
The Girlfriend upgraded to The Woman I Love.
Yup, still a little sappy.
Two weeks had passed since him and Val had gotten back together. Try Number Only as they called it. Still going strong. Still going sappy too. If not as bad as it had been at the Guild . . . or the Geo Realm . . . or the few days they spent locked in her apartment.
It was Val in the driver’s seat. Of course. Asylum trusted her just fine. It was only one hobo, really! It wasn’t even like a war veteran hobo you feel bad for either, more like a crack-fiend hobo you caught jerking off in the bushes!
King Henry couldn’t blame the Powers That Be much, being how much he trusted Val too, but the woman could do with driving a little faster. Maybe not King Henry Price Hide-Your-Children-and-Pets Style, but at least I-Got-Four-Meetings-Today-in-Three-States Ceinwyn Dale Style. Time spent traveling just seemed like such a waste these days.
That trip most of all.
The Asylum to the Central Valley.
Over and over.
His whole life.
Over and over.
Not a fan of repetition, King Henry Price. Can’t you tell?
Here’s hoping that when we drive back tomorrow I’m too psychologically damaged to be conscious.
Odds were he would be.
Even with Val around to bring the best out in his pugnacious self. Makes me into a . . . well, not a decent one, but at least a human being.
Couldn’t help but glance at her then.
He’d done a whole lot of it during the trip.
Did a whole lot of it any time he could really, but Val was about the only thing making the trip bearable. Wasn’t like there was much in the Central Valley that could compete with her.
Seen one cow fart, seen all the cows fart. Seen one beige building filled with Chinese knock-offs, seen all the beige buildings filled with Chinese knock-offs. Seen one cracked-out whore walk down G Street with semen dripping from her overused coot coot to the pavement below . . . even I considered celibacy after that shit, so hopefully you would too.
He didn’t consider celibacy while glancing at Val, that’s for sure.
She’d chosen her ‘young lawyer ensemble’ as King Henry liked to call it. Maybe not reserved-table-at-a-fancy-restaurant, or even full on dinner-party-with-polite-society, but still quite a bit of style. Quite a bit of style and a red dress. Red dress showing some leg and shoulder and neck and . . .
Them things should be illegal! Not fair, not fair at all.
Was designed to impress, not to entice, but damn if the thing didn’t make King Henry have some very naughty thoughts every time he saw her wearing it. Gold earrings, a single large ruby hanging around her neck, dipping down to brush a hint of cleavage. Had on the SDR ring King Henry made for her a year or so back too, the one that screamed ‘Firestarter’ to anyone in the know, what with the topaz and rubies arranged as eternal flames.
Joke’s on him. She wasn’t a Firestarter, she was the Purifier. Hell, never was a Firestarter, just like King Henry had never been an Artificer. Born to this shit. Fated to it and with how well he knew the Bitch-Queen, he didn’t think it was about to simplify their lives. Especially with all that Chosen One prophecy bullshit getting flung about. But as long as they were together, he supposed he’d bear it.
Just like I’m bearing this long ass boring trip without getting all worked up about how I want to strangle the Lady and it’s not like Ceinwyn’s been any help either. I should—
“You promised,” Valentine teased him with some singsong, better than anyone else on the planet at picking up King Henry’s descent into a sour mood.
“Yeah, yeah,” he grunted out an apology, trying not to brood on where his victory had landed him. Out of the shithole and right up the dragon’s anus, that’s his life for you. Watch out for the yellow circles, cuz those ain’t gold coins!
“This is the turn off!” the second passenger in the Asylum-issued car prompted abruptly.
Thought they were alone? Nope. They were alone and King Henry would be doing a whole lot more than just looking at Val . . .
Nah, three people in that car. “I haven’t seen it since . . . has it really been that long?” Had herself a voice like butter mixed with cognac, all smooth and sultry. Voice just like their mom. “Oh, King Henry, we’re so close!”
Unlike all the attention Val got, King Henry had been trying to ignore Susan. Susanna Belle Price as the full name went, his eldest sister. Preferable to JoJo since Susan didn’t yell or threaten to kick him in the shin, but just barely.
His barely sane sister.
Nothing he could do for her at the moment, nothing he could say or act upon to make today a ‘Good Day’ or a ‘Bad Day.’ All he’d learned of the Mancy, all the artifacts he’d crafted, all the people he’d killed and still . . . still it was out of his power.
Need to fix that, need to fix her.
Susan wasn’t . . . right. Anima Mad they called it. Not all the way consumed, but . . . enough. Enough for it to be noticeable. Didn’t manifest quite like his mom’s Madness had either. Different. Very different. At least for the Good and the Bad . . . thankfully, he had yet to meet the Ugly.
His mother’s Bad Days had been overwhelming, one after another, especially near the end. With Susan it was more a sudden spike out of nowhere. A sudden spike of complete insanity where Susan wasn’t the one in control of her own mind or body no more. Since King Henry had saved her from Obadiah Paine she’d only had the one, lone Bad Day.
That one lone day was enough to make him fear them more than he ever did his Mom’s.
His mom had been mostly normal during those Good Days, maybe a bit too cheerful and flirty, but outside of that . . . normal. A human fit nice and snugly among all the other humans. Susan would never be that. Being she was a necromancer, Susan spoke to the dead. Or the necro-anima that was left over or . . . it was fucked up, okay?
According to Heinrich Welf, massive douchebag that he was, some of what Susan said and reported to those around her wasn’t even Madness, just some freak innate ability of the Mancy manifesting itself. And some of it was Madness. So who knows if she’s really talking to your granny passed last Christmas or if her mind just made it up on the spot?
Not Miss Strange.
Not Heinrich von Welf.
Best to just pretend they were all fake, King Henry had decided, especially . . . especially when Susan talked about one of her favorites.
Mom’s dead and burned, Ceinwyn told me so. She wouldn’t lie about that. Susan’s just imagining . . . has to be.
So that was the Good Day Susan, catching up with nice, dead people, real or imagined.
Bad Days with Susan, them delusions took over.
Or maybe it’s the necro-shades actually taking over, Miss Strange wasn’t quite sure.
Fucked up. Very fucked up.
That one lone Bad Day . . .
They ended up sedating her eventually. All through the night. Before that they’d tried tying her to the bed Exorcist style. No green peas, but they sat with her as she yelled and screamed and even threatened. The pleading had been the worst. Val stayed with him. Helped. Helped so much. He wouldn’t let himself cry around Val, masculine bullshit and all that, but for once emotions almost overwhelmed pride.
Finally, they knocked her out and then the next morning Susan had been . . . well, as normal as Susanna Belle Price got these days.
King Henry had been dreading another Bad Day the very moment he witnessed the first. So far . . . nothing. But it would come. How he hoped it didn’t. At least not today of all days. Or tomorrow. Troubling enough that King Henry had to keep reminding Susan to not . . . not talk about certain things once they were around Dad. If she forgot, if she said half the weird ass things that came out her mouth these last couple weeks . . .
Susan reached across the car seat separating them just so she could pat the top of King Henry’s head. Same way she had when he was in elementary school. “I know, Little Bro. Relax! This will be fun. You don’t even have to worry about hugging Dad, I call dibs all night, okay? Have years of hugs to catch up on after all, so it’s only fair. You can be all manly and stoic in the corner. I’m King Henry, I don’t feel anything! I’m a BAMF, yes I am! Look at these muscles and see how I glare at you!”
Val chuckled, the traitor.
King Henry did force himself to relax a little. Odds were with Susan and Val and especially Vega around, he wouldn’t even have to talk tonight. Not like the last time where he had to chat up Marge just to keep the conversation going. What the fuck I know about crochet or gardening? Only garden he ever took care of had a bunch of sand and some stone statues for fairies to live in, and he sucked at that too!
King Henry Price: master gardener, he ain’t.
King Henry Price: master of small talk, he ain’t either.
Long as the house is still standing at the end of this and no one is too bloody or bruised, I suppose we’ll call that good enough.
Win condition: set.
* * *
Off the highway they went.
Down into Visalia proper, such that it was. Visalia wasn’t even directly on the highway. Instead it grew off to the side of the artery . . . like a tumor. Or a pimple. Me, I’d go with a stanky ballsack. But you go ahead and pick your favorite biological analogy, cuz us meatbags are full of ‘em.
Susan did some picking too, of sights from her childhood. Was odd to see her so excited over it. She was the first one to run away after all. King Henry supposed that being locked up in a cell for a few years makes you appreciate what you once dreaded most in your life. Shit, give me a couple years in the Pit and I might even relish a conversation with Welf about proper manners in polite society.
Ran away and yet there was Susan smiling over familiar street signs. Maybe it was an unfair thought, at least with Susan. Letting his memories override hers. She had six years where he wasn’t around, plus she escaped before the worst of it, didn’t she? Susan had a full and normal childhood in this place and was barreling through puberty before the Bad Days started piling up.
Can’t see what you see, Suze. Made him a little jealous, he had to admit. Could do without hearing the dead people and all that, but the golden hue of nostalgia? King Henry had never felt that for Visalia. Look at your face, Big Sis, part of you loves this place, doesn’t it?
Wasn’t just that she missed out on the worst, Susan had a full eighteen years of it too. Lot more than the other Prices. King Henry got sucked up by the Asylum after a week of high school and JoJo disappeared somewhere in the middle of it. Susan did a whole four years and graduated like a normal cog of humanity. Square hat and a paper degree ain’t worth shit, yeah, but . . . friends and boyfriends and plays and sporting events. Normal memories. Good memories. Hanging out with her friends at the mall, not beating on some kid in an alleyway cuz he called you a midget.
Not just good memories but life too.
Studying when she could find the time. Borrowing the car. Taking care of King Henry, trying to take care of JoJo too. Hell, she even took care of their Dad and Mom in certain ways. Did the wash, cleaned the house, cooked if Dad was too busy with overtime to feed them before 8PM. Started watching kids for extra cash by the time she was eleven, had a part time job by the time she was fifteen. Never had time to go for perfect grades, but always managed pretty well. No dreams of college sadly, since who would pay for it?
None of that struggle filtered into Susan’s descriptions however, making Val smile along with her as she reminisced over one story after another. Being Val drives so damn slow, Suze has plenty of time to chain them along. Yes, he was still salty! How was he supposed to know it was a one-way street? What good is a sign if you’re going too fast to read it, huh?
“You don’t have any memories to share?” Val tried to tease him out of his continued funk. Same funk every person on the planet got when they started thinking about all the shit choices they made in their lives.
Still, was a nice, friendly smile aimed his way, one he was quite fond of, so King Henry made an effort. “Stole cigs and girly magazines from that there ShopsMart for the better part of two years. Almost got caught once, but I kinda knocked out the cashier. Well, more like the Mancy knocked him out than my little ass, but I didn’t know about it at the time. Shit . . . that was like the day before Ceinwyn showed up too.”
Val’s knowing smirk should’ve been a warning sign. “Actually, it was the exact day she arrived.”
“Nah, day before.”
Val shook her head.
King Henry frowned, pretty sure he was right. “Had detention the next day, don’t remember what for exactly—probably called a teacher a ‘fucktard’ if I had to guess—then afterwards I head home and there’s a weird car in the driveway. Day after that I went shopping with Mom, got off the high school rolls and then I—” he barely managed to shut his mouth in time.
But Val pushed, eyes-without-irises squinting in suspicion. “Then you got into one last fight?”
“Nothing important really,” King Henry tried to ignore the memory. A memory that included a pair of gigantic fourteen-year-old ta-tas that he’d been quite fond of squeezing at the time.
“I’m a very understanding girlfriend, you’ll remember. As an example: you slept with Isabel during our break and I still haven’t killed you for it.”
“Please don’t bring that up,” Susan complained from the backseat. “It grosses me out just to think about it! She used to wear my body all the time too. Really, Little Bro . . . eww!”
“There was a mystery to solve,” King Henry tried to maintain a small amount of dignity. “It was the only way to be sure it was her.”
“Double eww!” Susan rebutted. “Furious Big Sister Disappoint aimed right at you!”
Big sister disappointment did nothing, but Val’s calm, expectant regard sure did the trick after about five seconds. “Okay, yes, you’re the best girlfriend ever,” King Henry finally relented.
“This is true!” Val’s face broke out in flamboyant satisfaction. “The best girlfriend . . . with a horrid, no good, unworthy boyfriend who won’t entertain her with old stories about his mysterious past.”
“Only cuz you were around for all the important bits,” he reminded her.
Her smile twitched in pleasure for some reason. “Not this one apparently.”
Well, she’s wasn’t, was she? He didn’t know her name yet. He didn’t even know Val existed. And I mean, compared to the Isabel thing or the Annie B thing, it ain’t even nearly as bad, right?
With a sigh of defeat, King Henry let his mouth run at its usual pace, “Day after I met Ceinwyn, last day before the Asylum, wasn’t no fighting, but I did give Sally Hendrickson an epic goodbye present.”
“Sally Hendrickson?” Susan was far more astonished by the name than Val turned out to be. “I babysat for her at least a dozen times. You barely even paid any attention to her.”
“Yeah, well . . . she was eight. After you left she went through puberty, got some huge knockers and I was quite fond of huge knockers back then.” King Henry said ‘fuck it’ and kept going, “Actually, I still like huge knockers. Any kind of knockers really, although ‘knockers’ ain’t a very accurate description once they get tiny, is it? Like the only way Hope Hunting is gonna knock you out with one of her itty bittys is if her frozen nipple pierces your skull and gives you brain damage.”
Val gave him that look of hers that said, I think you’re funny, but you should probably stop before you get either yourself, or worse, the both of us into trouble.
But a mouth locked and then released was even worse than a mouth always free, “Yours are somewhere in the middle. Perfectly in the middle. Like . . . knockers that my hand was crafted to hold. I . . . I like ‘em. A whole lot. Great pair of knockers. They are the Ones Who Knock, yes they are.”
After such a deluge, Val couldn’t help but lay on some sarcasm of her own, “Given the attention you show that area any time my shirt happens to be off, I’ve never really worried about how much you like them. Still, it is nice to be told, I suppose.”
“Not a zero sum game, is it? I try to pay attention to all your areas . . . as much as possible, as often as possible,” he corrected.
“Not zero sum,” Val agreed as a twinkle of mischief came alive in her dark eyes, “but there is opportunity cost, isn’t there? You only have two hands after all.”
“Only two hands and so much of you to touch . . .”
“Not while I’m right here,” Susan complained, “and not while I have to listen to Mom comment on stuff like that. She’s worse than you are, Little Bro! ‘The boy has a tongue, doesn’t he?’ Who wants to hear their mother say that?”
Silence reigned following that pronouncement.
Well, that’s one way to kill a conversation. King Henry considered himself an expert on killing a conversation, but Suze might be even better.
Killing a conversation or starting one.
Comment like that do a good job starting one at the dinner table tonight.
JoJo doesn’t want to hear about what a tough pregnancy she was, Mom! And no, we are not having the grandchild talk again, give it a rest!
Please, please, please let her just remember for one night.
“Ceinwyn was there,” Val tactfully ignored Susan’s slip after a minute or so. The flirting seemed to have also disappeared, but King Henry supposed it was a worthy sacrifice.
“Ceinwyn was where?” he asked, happy for the save.
“Before extolling Sally Hendrickson’s charms, you mentioned the ShopsMart. Ceinwyn was there, watching you steal with the Mancy. I’ve heard her version a dozen or so times . . . it still hasn’t lost a bit of its entertainment value. Each time I almost stop breathing from laughing so hard. Her impression of you at that age is shockingly good. She even does this cute little strut if you get her going.”
“Bullshit,” he called. On all of it, but especially that Ceinwyn was there that day.
“Really. The clerk’s the one who called about you, he’s a corpusmancer.”
“Gimpy ain’t a fucking corpusmancer!”
“Please tell me you weren’t stealing from a handicapped person?” Susan groaned. From the look on her face she couldn’t decide if she was more mortified about that or how he’d called the guy Gimpy.
“He’s just a cog that worked at the ShopsMart,” King Henry tried to explain . . . somehow, “Technically I was stealing from the owner. Also, Ceinwyn or Val’s full of shit, don’t know which one. Ain’t no way he was a corpusmancer being I knocked him out.”
“You knocked out a handicapped person and that’s better?” Susan smacked him on the head from behind.
“Well . . . I mean . . . when you put it like that . . . he did put a hand on me, does that help?”
“No, Little Bro, it does not!”
“Point is,” King Henry decided, “yes, I was an asshole at fourteen. Still am, mostly. But back then there’s no way I was knocking out any corpusmancer, one leg or not. What kind of corpusmancer would be working in a ShopsMart anyway? Nope, ain’t buying it.”
“The kind that lost his leg in war and needed time off from being a corpusmancer,” Val kept throwing out facts, burying his doubts under evidence. “His real name is Truman Martin. He’s in ESLED now. You’ve even met him.”
“Bullshit,” King Henry kept with his less complicated reality.
“He was with Estefan when Christmas was kidnapped!” Val got just a little exasperated for once. “You walked right by him like four or five times while he was dealing with my parents. How are you so perceptive about every detail in everyone else’s lives and this oblivious about your own?”
It was like she’d sent King Henry down a warp pipe. Or a hash pipe. Definitely involved pipes and psyche-altering mushrooms either way. On one side he saw Gimpy clearly in his memory with that ShopsMart uniform and nametag, on the other he saw a hazy ESLED agent Truman Martin, who he had barely paid any attention to, trying to keep Peter and Ronnie Ward calm.
“I feel . . . weird,” was all he could manage.
Val had reached full exasperation mode. “Blood gods and dragons are fine, but this? Knowing Ceinwyn watched you for an extra day throws you off?”
“Gimpy’s a corpusmancer, Val! My life is a lie! This is horrible . . . I mean, not as bad as if Sally Hendrickson got a boob reduction or you dyed your hair red or something like that, but it’s up there! Don’t ever do that, by the way . . . especially your pubes. Them natural blond pubes might be better than your knockers.”
The Best Girlfriend Ever somehow didn’t smash her face into the steering wheel.
Only a taste, I know! Full release looks good for August 20th, $2.99 just like the last novella, about 150 pages this time. Lots more laughs though! One beta reader has already claimed physical harm, so...here's hoping I get a few of you to pee your pants. Kind of my goal in life really...