Saturday, March 28, 2009

Strangely Familiar by Cari Z.

All too soon it was time. They sat down along the outside of the circle, knees nearly touching. The five elder witches were chanting softly, hands joined, eyes focused on the elaborate markings inside the summoning circle Cecily had chalked there earlier. Cecily sat in the middle of her sisters, holding hands with Brigit and Katrina. They were mustering their power, adding it to the mix, and the spell blossomed in her mind’s eye, beautiful but amorphous, a hovering fog of ever-changing colors hanging over the circle, waiting to coalesce. It was her turn to concentrate.

Cecily shut her eyes, trying not to get distracted or let her nervousness get the better of her. Visualize what you need…visualize what you want. It will come to you.

Easier said than done. What did she need? Strength to accentuate strength, wisdom to compliment wisdom? Beauty, or speed? No. The problem was, Cecily didn’t know what she needed. She had never been allowed to fail. She had never done anything without the approval of her family, their guidance and love. She’d had plenty of that. What she didn’t have was anything unique, anything that had ever challenged her. Who was she, really? Cecily didn’t know. She felt sometimes like she was a reflection of all her elders, the result of patient poking and prodding and expectation. She needed something totally different. Something challenging.

There, on the edge of her consciousness. A tremor, something clawing its way into her mind. She breathed in deep, trying to open her mind and let the presence make itself better known. Colors swirled, shades of gold and green and black working their way to the forefront.

Strong. Fierce. Confused, hurt, and lovely. Emotions hit Cecily like blows from a hammer, falling one right after the other into her brain. She gasped, her eyes momentarily flying open at the intensity of the creature’s pain. It was an immediate sense of recognition, a sudden kinship. What was it?

“Come to me,” she breathed, certain now that this was the familiar for her. It called to her, siren-like, irresistible. Something she could help, something for her alone that would help her in return. What was it? “Come to me.”

It was so hard. One second she felt the pull strongly, could almost see the animal, but the next it was gone, almost impossible to reach. She began to chant along with the elders, focusing her powers. She reached out with the spell, grabbed the creature’s essence, and pulled.

Suddenly the mist shrank, silhouetting a low, stocky form before suddenly popping like a soap bubble. In its place was her familiar. At first groggy, after a few moments it sat up, then stood. It growled.

Cecily was transfixed. “A jaguar.”

“It’s huge!” her sister Hannah marveled.

“It’s not under your control yet,” Melinda, the coven’s leader, snapped. “Touch it, Cecily, connect your minds.”

She reached out, both physically and mentally. The bond was there between them, and she drew the jaguar’s face towards her own. It continued to snarl, clearly angry. When she put her hand on its shoulder, it reared back and clawed her.

“Ahh!” Cecily drew her hand back in astonishment, looking down at three-inch long scrapes on her forearm that were just starting to well with blood.

“Cess, control it!” her mother ordered.

“I can’t get in,” she replied desperately. “I can feel him, but I can’t enter his mind.”

Melinda glared at the jaguar pacing the circle, which suddenly seemed way too small to contain it. “Is it…no, surely not!” Nevertheless, she pulled a small dry charm from a satchel on her belt, throwing it at the jaguar. “Show yourself, creature!”

Cecily was about to object when suddenly the jaguar melded into a human. Not just a human, a man. A huge, dark, naked man. And he looked pissed off. “Oh, Goddess,” she whispered.

He stood up, glaring at her. “Who are you? How did you force me here?” He spoke English with a thick Brazilian accent.

“A were,” Melinda muttered.

“A were?” Cecily knew her voice was shrill, but she couldn’t help it.

“How could that happen?” Brenda demanded. “I’ve never heard of such a thing before in my entire life!”

The man suddenly squatted before Cecily, his eyes filled with anger, rage in his voice. “A witch,” he hissed. “What spell is this, witch?” If looks could kill, Cecily would be bleeding out on the floor. She felt the connection between them tremor, as though twanged like a string. It was there, but tenuous and fragile. His reddish-brown eyes captured hers, smoldering like coals in his broad face. His skin was dark brown, and his head was shaved. She didn’t let her eyes travel past his face, knowing that way lay danger, not to mention distraction.

“I…” she stammered, unsure of herself but knowing what she felt, “I…summoned you. To be my familiar.”

“A witch’s familiar.” His face twisted in a fierce grimace. “You thought I would be your willing slave? Release me, witch, or die.”

“No threats from you!” Melinda threw up a shield around him, a complex defensive magic in which she was an expert. He turned towards her, snarling and shifting towards his other shape, but the spell held him fast. He hovered in between man and jaguar, hideous and beautiful at the same time, a frightening vision of power and grace and barely-contained fury. “And there you’ll stay until we determine the cause of this.” She stood up, straightened her skirt, and turned to Cecily. “We need to talk.”

“May I come?” Brenda asked anxiously.

“No. Stay here, keep him contained. The rest of you, stay!” She motioned Cecily towards the door.

The air in the hall felt cold. Goosebumps rose on her skin and she shivered. Melinda faced her and set both hands on her shoulders. “What did you feel during the summoning?”

“I felt…need,” she whispered. “Loneliness. Anger. It was easy to connect at one point, difficult the next.”

“A were,” Melinda sighed. “Bloody damn, this is going to be tough.”

“How could this happen?” Cecily asked desperately. “The spell only works on animals!”

“He was an animal when you summoned him. You connected with that part of him and drew him to you. It’s the human half that’s causing the problems.”

“Can’t we, I don’t know, send him back? Let me try again?”

The look on Melinda’s face dashed her hopes even before she began to speak. “We don’t often tell people this, Cecily, especially not before their summoning, but this spell can only be done once for you. You and your familiar are permanently connected. If he dies, you lose much of your ability. If he leaves, the pain of separation will be agonizing for both of you. Our familiars are our greatest strength and our most potent weakness. That’s why we have so many protective spells for them. You could fire a cannon at your mother’s hawk and it would survive.

“This has only happened once before that I know of, and then it was a much different situation. The witch and the werewolf knew each other before the summoning. You’re going to have to live with this, Cecily. Live with him.”

“Live with him?” she squeaked.

“Your apartment is big enough, isn’t it?”

“Yes, but…”

“Cecily Anne Mason, you will make this work or you will give up your abilities as a witch,” Melinda said firmly. “Forsaking your familiar means forsaking your power. I know it wasn’t your fault, I know you weren’t expecting this, but it happened. You need to improve your bond. Be understanding. The longer he takes the animal shape, the harder it will be for him to leave you. Encourage it. He won’t hurt you.”

“But…” She gestured at her arm.

“A reflex. It won’t happen again, and it isn’t deep. Clean it thoroughly.” She gently squeezed Cecily’s shoulders, then let go. “Let’s go back in. You need to make it clear to the others that this is what’s meant to be.”

“All right.” Dazed, Cecily followed Melinda back into the altar room. All eyes turned towards her, but she had eyes only for her familiar. He was back in jaguar form, thank the Goddess. She walked over to the circle, took a deep breath, and dissolved the shield spell. The jaguar was growling, but as she knelt in front of him he stopped. “Why did he change?” she asked softly, not taking her eyes off the were.

“I don’t think he had a choice,” her mother said crossly. “Like most weres, he has next to no control over his emotions. When he got mad, he changed. We need to get him to change back, get in touch with his Alpha, and send him back to wherever he came from.”

“No, Brenda.”

Her mother’s eyes widened. “Oh, surely not—not really—”

“Yes.” Melinda’s voice was firm.

Cecily did her best to block out the arguments that were erupting all around her, the exclamations and questions. She focused on the jaguar, trying not to be afraid of its giant head and thick, muscular body. She reached out, feeling for their bond, touching it, trying to strengthen it. The jaguar blinked at her once, but gave no other outward sign of responding to their connection. She could feel it, though. She could feel the fight going on inside of him as well, his human, independent half rebelling at any connection, crying out for freedom. The jaguar quelled it. It was tired of being alone. It was tired…

“He has no pack,” Cecily said softly.

“How do you know?” Brigit asked. She was the only one close enough to hear.

“He’s lonely. He’s so lonely. It’s been a long time since he’s had a pack, or a mate…but jaguars are solitary animals. Aren’t they?”

“Even creatures that prefer their own company have to come together sometimes,” her sister rationalized. “It’s in their nature. For mating, at the very least.”

Cecily trembled slightly. “Do you think he wants to mate with me?”



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Blue Willow by Gregory L. Norris

“Don’t be shy or nervous,” said Mister Lang.

The old hippie’s musical baritone again hypnotized Brent.

“Please, touch him. Touch him anywhere you’d like. As modern men, we’ve become disenfranchised from the male body out of fear and prejudice – by our peers, by the conservative media, and by our own preconceived notions of what it might imply. We’ve grown ashamed of what it means to have a cock and how it feels to be a man.”

Brent blinked himself out of the trance created by the melody of Mister Lang’s voice, the humid, earthy scent of the woods and the fresh morning rain, and the image of the volunteer standing in the parade-rest stance of a soldier before the phallic totem in one of the camp’s sacred spaces. He’d noticed this man soon after his arrival at the men’s retreat weekend; he’d been walking along the lake alone, a solitary male figure looking forsaken in this vast bucolic landscape. He seemed even more lost now, surrounded by nearly a dozen naked men ranging in ages from Brent’s twenty-two seasons up to the golden years of silver pubes.

Brent was surprised by the flicker of jealousy that jolted through his blood when one of them placed a hand on the volunteer’s midriff, a terrain of ripped muscles and coarse, dark fur.

The volunteer, the lost soul, tensed. The wounded look in his eyes, a pair of magnificent twin emeralds, intensified. Some unaffected register in Brent’s dazed thoughts noticed the handsome man’s throat as it knotted under the influence of a heavy swallow, the perfection of his naked body shuddering at the physical contact. Fresh sweat dripped out of the dark thatch at his hairline. Beads of perspiration clung to the lush hair on the crossbar of the T-shaped pattern stamped over his torso.

“A man is more than a cock and raw, ruthless lust,” Mister Lang continued. “A man embodies the spirit of a warrior. His greatest desire is to be a hero, to make his family happy and to protect them from all harm. The need is no different whether he’s straight, gay, or bisexual. Inside, all men dream of being champions and when we are given that chance, we fulfill our destinies.

“The man before you wants to be a hero, and he will be. He will rise up. Touch him. Feel this man, this hero.”

Brent reached a shaking hand toward the man, a volunteer from among the attendees who hadn’t really volunteered so much as he’d been chosen by Mister Lang. But then he caught the tick-tocking swing of his cock and realized he had gotten hard, somewhere during the a capella solo of Mister Lang’s voice. His face flushed and he withdrew his hand to conceal his erection. Brent turned away, but the power infusing Lang’s words spun him back.

“Wait. Are we to be embarrassed by the swellings of our cocks? Have culture and religion shamed our erections into the shadows, along with our male emotions? Be proud, young brother. There is nothing to fear in the excitement of your magic wand.”

Removing his hands and allowing his hard length to hang in the open for all to see was the second-greatest feat of Brent’s life. The first had come less than a day earlier, when the clothing-is-prohibited rule went into effect. Getting out of his blue jeans and his underwear had taken a Herculean effort; now, among these strangers, he had thrown a boner and was being asked to display it without shame.

“What is a man?” Mister Lang asked.

Tapping his walking stick, he stepped closer to Brent, a tall slender figure with a gray ponytail reaching almost to the sagging flesh of his bare ass and an enormous length of foreskin drooping down his front. The neck of his cock was decorated with a wreath of wildflowers picked from the nearby meadow.

“Modern man is body hair and skin and smells. Musk and foot odor and hairy legs and balls that sweat and facial stubble that must be shaved daily, right?”

Shoulders shrugged and grumbles passed around the men.



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Vampire Nights by G.A. Hauser

Cheesy tiger mascot banners with the Class of ‘87 on them hung on the wall of the catering hall. As she walked through the lobby, she noticed a desk set up with cutout photos from the yearbook album made as lapel pins. Seeing her black and white face alongside the hundreds of others who decided to mark the event and get an eyeful at the aging process first hand, Vivienne picked up her laminated pin and smiled at the two girls manning the table, both of whom she didn’t recognize. Before she stuck the photo on her blazer, she took a good look at the seventeen year old she once was. The only thing she recognized was the long dark hair. Everything else had changed somehow. Where twenty years had gone, she couldn’t begin to explain.

Moving around, looking for someone familiar, the squeal of what sounded like excited juvenile girls hit her ears she cringed. There was something so offensive about that noise, like nails on blackboard, which made her embarrassed to be female. Thankfully, it wasn’t her own group. Seeing Kelly waving to her from a table they had all planted themselves around, she smiled politely and approached that pack of wild women.

“Hi all!”

“Viv! Look at you. You look fantastic!” Kelly, the leader of the old group, her dyed blonde hair and bright blue eyes, still shining with that same old mischievous glimmer, directed her to the chair next to her.

“My God! We all made it.” Vivienne scanned around the table in awe. “Beverly! How are you? Darlene! Oh, my God, I can’t believe we all are sitting here in the same room.” She sat down and waved at Lulu and Connie in excitement. “Christ, does it feel weird to have us all together again or what?”

“Have some wine.” Lulu poured her a glass from a bottle that sat at the table. “They haven’t opened the buffet yet. I’m starved.”

“None of you brought your husbands?” Vivienne looked around at them curiously.

“What husbands?” Kelly laughed, “Lulu and Connie never married, and the rest of us are either separated or divorced.”

“Christ, I don’t know if that’s funny or sad.” Vivienne sipped the red wine.

“What about you, Viv? Did you ever marry?” Beverly asked.

“Came close but decided last minute it wasn’t right.”

“She never got over Roger.” Kelly smirked into her wine glass.

“RJ!” Connie shouted, “Whatever happened to him, Viv? You two were so cute together.”

“Her first love.” Kelly made a silly face at her. “I swear once you and he were together, we never saw you around.”

“I was around,” Vivienne defended, then thought about Roger and smiled. “I don’t know what happened. He ended up moving to Europe or something. I really had it bad for him.”

“You think he’ll be here tonight?” Beverly sat up and looked around.

“Oh, God…” Vivienne shrunk down, “I’d die! I bet he’s bald and fat.”

“Don’t say that,” Connie chided, “He was voted best looking boy in the yearbook. He’s probably still a hunk.”

Vivienne passed the bottle around to top up their glasses. “All right. Then he’s got three ex-wives and children with each.”

Lulu stood and looked around. “I think they are allowing us the pleasure of the food now. Look, they’ve opened the curtain to the buffet tables.”

“Great, I’m getting too tipsy with just wine.” Kelly stood up and a line formed behind her marching to the tables.

Vivienne inspected each of her old friends. On the whole, they seemed very well preserved. Kelly’s face had perhaps a wrinkle or two around her eyes and mouth. Darlene had gained a little weight around her hips. Connie appeared slightly haggard from heavy smoking and drinking. Lulu seemed to have lost that sparkle to her skin. And Beverly had salt and pepper grey starting to show up at her temples. It was bound to happen. They were nearing forty. However, in general, they all were still the same crazy bunch of girls she had grown up with through those tumultuous times of sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

A plate in her hand, a rather plain, unappetizing spread laid out for consumption, Vivienne felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand and immediately looked around for the cause.

Blending into the darkness of a wall of curtains, which stood behind the food tables, was a man in a black leather jacket and dark black slacks. Her eyes seemed to be playing tricks on her, because that man, that amazingly handsome man, hadn’t aged since she had last seen him. “Roger?”

His lips curled into a smile as he watched her mouth his name silently. “Viv,” he mouthed back.

“Oh, my God…”

“What is it, Viv?” Kelly looked back at her as she piled her plate high.

“He’s here.”

“Who?”

“RJ.”

“No way!” Kelly stopped scooping food and looked around for him. “Where?”

“Right there. Against the curtains. Can’t you see him?”

Kelly scanned the area. “No. I must have missed him.” She kept moving down the line, finding more goodies to eat.

Vivienne stared at him in amazement. Her plate still suspiciously void of food, she moved away from her friends as if in a hypnotic trance. When she was at the end of the chow line, she set her plate down and walked over to him. “My God, look at you. You haven’t changed.”

“Vivienne…a day hasn’t passed that I haven’t thought about you.”

When he reached out his arms, she instantly fell against him for an embrace. The contact brought back memories flooding over her, as if she was suddenly underwater. An unpleasant feeling of disorientation enveloped her. To rid it, she shook her head to wake up from the spell. Images of sunshine bombarded her suddenly. Flashes of their intimate couplings overwhelmed her. She remembered the unlikely places they had found to make love; the field beyond the running track, the back of his mother’s car, the bathroom at a friend’s party.

When she leaned back to see his face, he smiled. “We did some very wild things back then.”

“Yes,” She blushed crimson, as he seemed to know exactly what she was thinking.

“You still look delicious,” he purred.

“My God, RJ, it’s as if you haven’t aged a day since high school. Whatever exercise regime you have, share it.”

Soft laughter emerged from him. “Twenty years, Viv, is a very long time to miss someone.”

“Oh, don’t tell me you’ve missed me, RJ, come on. You left me, remember? Completely heartbroken and really not interested in loving anyone again.”

“Are you trying to convince me you never fell in love? Never married?”

About to tell him exactly that, she looked up into his light eyes and became mute from the gaze of adoration. “Where’s your pin?” Vivienne looked down at his leather lapel.

“I must have dropped it. Never mind.” Roger touched her long hair, running it through his fingers. “You still live here, don’t you?”

“Yes. I live very close to where I grew up, RJ.”

“In Newton?”

“Is that sad? Should I have moved away? Like you did.”

“It’s not sad. I miss home.”

“Where did you go? Your parents said you moved to Europe.”

“I did. Temporarily. I’m back in Boston now.”

“Are you?”

“Yes. Are you happy about that?”

She wanted him. Every part of her remembered the sex, the closeness, the intimacy they shared. She would have married him in a heartbeat, crushed the day he went away, away without a goodbye, a word of explanation, or a letter. He just seemed to vanish out of existence. But, even though every fiber in her being wanted him desperately, the memory of that pain, the separation and hysteria of him leaving the way he did, made her wary even now, twenty years later.

Out of thin air he whispered, “I’m sorry.”

Blinking her eyes in confusion at him, she waited for the reason why.

“I know I hurt you back then, Viv. If I could have done it all over again, I would have spared your feelings.”

The fact that he knew she still felt the pain was unendurable embarrassment to her. Here she was, this magazine editor, paid six figures, and still, somehow, he made her feel as if she was seventeen and helpless.

He cupped her face gently. “You still are so lovely. I could devour you.”

Tingling from his contact, Vivienne said, “It’s so strange, Roger, you look like a young man but you sound like a mature one. It’s very disorienting.”

“I’ve learned a lot in the last twenty years, Viv. I’ve learned a lot.”

She looked back over her shoulder and found her friends all waiting impatiently for her to give them an update. Though she wanted to spend more time with them, she couldn’t walk away from her ex-love, and didn’t know if she wanted to. Without thinking of propriety she asked, “Are you married?”

A low laugh emerged from him. “No. I am not married.”

“Uh, dating anyone?”

“Not presently.”

“Good…I mean I wouldn’t mind having coffee with you. You know, catching up on old times. I’d like to find out how Europe was. You were gone for so many years.”

“It would be nice to catch up. How about you? Married?”

“No.” She blushed and looked down at his leather coat. It was jet black and as smooth as the skin on his face.

“Dating anyone?” he smiled impishly, having used her line.

And seeing that sly grin, she shook her head. “No. I’m not. I’m too busy at work.”

“You always had it in you to be the career woman.”

“You used to like that.”

“I still do.”

When they kissed, the fire started at her midsection and swirled outwards from there. Vivienne felt as if she had lost her bones and was a rag doll, being held up by his one powerful arm. It was all there, just as she remembered it. And the desire to strip his clothing off and lick him from toe to chin was overwhelming. When they parted, she oozed like Jell-O and imagined falling when he let her go.

“I want your address,” he purred.

“Yes. Let me write it on one of my cards.” She forced herself to stand on her own two feet and then fumbled with her purse. Shaking, her whole body quaking, she wrote her home information down and handed it to him.

“I’ll be in touch soon.”

She nodded, feeling as if she could agree with anything he asked at the moment. Luckily, he didn’t tell her to take off her clothing and dance on the tables, because she didn’t know if she could resist his command.

When she looked back up to say something, he was gone. Disoriented by the vanishing act, she spun around curiously because she had no idea which direction he went. Instantly, her friends surrounded her.

“Viv! He looked fantastic! What did he say?” Kelly gasped.

“My God, Viv! You kissed him,” Darlene exclaimed.

“Are you going to go out with him again?” Connie asked anxiously.

“Did he miss you?” Lulu chimed in.

Touching her lips and still feeling his mouth on hers, she just shook her head in disbelief.

“Wow,” Kelly laughed, “Just like old times. A star struck Vivienne Starr.”

As if she had just come to after a fainting spell, Vivienne grabbed Kelly and asked her, “Did you see him?”

“I did! We all did.”

“Jesus, Kel, he looked so young.”

“We were all commenting on that. You know what kind of plastic surgery he must have had or Botox.” The women all nodded their heads in agreement.

Vivienne touched the skin of her face lightly. “I’ll ask him where he goes. I want some of whatever he’s getting!” She laughed and the little group all joined in.


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