Illustration to accompany Broken Homes. Copyright(c)2018 by Carol Wellart. Used under license

Broken Homes

Story by Chris Barili

Illustration by Carol Wellart

Tristan paused, his knuckles just inches from the flaking gray paint on the apartment door. The number thirty-one hung from one brass nail, its numbers pointing to the floor, where mouse droppings hid under discarded copies of the Cleveland Press, and roaches attacked anything that stood still more than a few seconds.

Behind him, an old man—wrinkled like a grape left too long in the sun—shuffled into one of the other apartments, muttering about minding his own business.

Inside apartment thirty-one, silence echoed like a tomb, making Tristan shudder.

Then the yelling started again, a man’s voice crashing through the insular quiet and into the momentary peace of the hallway, followed by the mouse-like squeaks of a little girl. Tristan almost went back across the hall to his own apartment. This wasn’t his fight, and his using magic to end it would just get him in a world of trouble. Not that trouble was anything new to Tristan.

Still, getting involved in this would almost certainly land him in more trouble than he’d ever been in. He’d already done more than anyone else, trying the cops. He thought about calling them again, but their answer would be the same: her uncle was her guardian and could discipline her as he saw fit.

He lowered his hand to his side, wiping his forehead on the tattered sleeve of his old Army fatigue jacket, avoiding the peeling Big Red One patch on the shoulder. Then he turned his back on apartment thirty-one.

“Not my world, not my fight,” he muttered.

Inside, the uncle shouted. “God damn it, Tracy!”

Then the sound of flesh smacking flesh cracked through the door, followed by Tracy’s muffled cry. Tristan froze, fists bunched at his sides, and took a deep breath.

“Not my—”

The uncle hit her again, and this time, she crashed to the floor.

“Damn it!” He wheeled around and rapped on the door three times, as hard as his knuckles could bear.

The door ripped open and there stood her uncle, sleeveless undershirt stained with sweat, blue eyes hard as steel. His hair looked like it had gone uncombed for a week, unwashed for two, and the stubble on his chin reminded Tristan of a burned down forest.

“What the hell do you want?” the man slurred. The reek of alcohol burned Tristan’s eyes.

For a moment, Tristan locked up, staring in dumb silence at the uncle. Then he saw the little girl huddled in a corner inside and his neck muscles bunched. He drew in a tiny thread of magic from around him, gathered it all in his chest, and drew back his hand. In a flash, Tristan’s hand leapt out, and his index finger rapped like a bird’s beak on the uncle’s forehead.

The uncle’s eyes rolled back in his head and he fell motionless on the floor.

The girl looked from her uncle to Tristan and back, eyes wide and mouth open. She ran to her uncle’s side, trying to wake him, her panicked hands patting at his cheek.

“Oh, no, please wake up.” She glared at Tristan. “What did you do?”

Tristan turned to go. “He’ll wake up in the morning with a headache. You’re welcome.”

Behind him, her door slammed.

An hour later, Tristan put his feet up on the chipped laminate of his dining room table, and dropped into his chair, making its worn, vinyl cushion squeak. He flipped the switch on his turntable and lowered the needle to the new forty-five disc, resisting the urge to drop it in anger.

The staccato beat of Bill Haley’s drummer echoed through the apartment as Tristan turned the volume up. He leaned back and cracked open a bottle of Schlitz as he lost himself in the music.

He listened to Haley and other Rock ‘n Rollers because their rebelliousness suited his mood most days. He enjoyed pushing the limits of the Board’s restrictions, seeing how far they’d let him go. But he’d taken a crazy chance with the girl. Crazy Man, Crazy.

He glanced at a framed picture on the kitchen counter, just over his right shoulder. His father wore his dress blues, Big Red One on his shoulder. His salt-and-pepper hair was perfect, and his eyes sparkled. His mother’s stunning red dress set off her jade eyes. His dad had shipped out the next day, been killed a week later. Grief-stricken, his mother had been committed to an institution and taken her own life a few weeks later, leaving Tristan alone.

Now, ten years later, they both seemed to stare at him with disappointment.

“I couldn’t just let her get beaten again.” He fidgeted with the leather ring on his right ring finger, rubbing the stamped shape of a serpent winding around it. “She’s just a kid.”

He knew what they would have said. Hiding their magic kept their enemies from finding them. Using magic outside shielded areas in this world would alert their Yag Tan oppressors in another and call down destruction on their people. Blah-blah-blah.

Tristan didn’t know whether to believe it or not—he’d never been to their home-world of Grannith, nor seen a Yag Tan killer. No one alive had, they’d hidden here that long.

He tore his gaze from the portrait and took a long pull on the beer. He raised the bottle again when someone knocked on his door.

“Go away!” he shouted, downing another gulp.

The door burst inward, its deadbolt shattering the wood around it. Two men stormed in; their gray suits out of place in his shitty neighborhood.

Tristan tried to jump to his feet, but the chair betrayed him, dumping him on his back. The wind rushed from his lungs, and as he fought to regain his breath, the men fell on him.

At first, he thought they were cops, the way they rolled him over and cuffed his hands behind his back. But as soon as the metal cuffs touched his skin, sparks flew, and he knew they were silver, not steel. An instant later, his power winked into darkness inside him, leaving the silence of a graveyard where once there’d been life. A part of him had disappeared, like his soul being ripped from his body, leaving behind little more than an empty shell. For the first time ever, he wanted to die.

He fought, but the Guardians held him down.

“Stop resisting and we’ll take the cuffs off you, Mr. Neese.”

Tristan struggled only an instant longer, then stopped and nodded.

“I promise! Just take them off. Please.”

As soon as the cuffs came off, his power leapt back to life, a sudden star shining inside him, driving off the void. He felt whole again as if raised him from the dead.

Still, as the Guardians hauled him from the apartment, Tristan whimpered.

— ♦♦♦ —

Tristan shifted on the hard-backed, wooden chair, letting out a loud sigh.

“Is something wrong, Mr. Neese?” The Chairman’s voice flowed like smooth, aged scotch. A Viceroy in the ashtray before him sent a ringlet of smoke upward.

Tristan sat up straight and stared into the shadowed depths of the boardroom. The only light came from a yellowed bulb in the ceiling behind the chairman, a meager glow that soaked into the black marble surface of the long table. What little the light revealed was hidden inside the smoke that wrapped itself around the Board members like fog around gravestones.

Tristan bristled but kept his temper in check. Too much was at stake to blow up. “Just stiff, sir.”

“Good. Perhaps it will help you think about what we have discussed.”

“It’s helping my ass ache.” His hands flew to his mouth, but a moment too late.

Someone at the table gasped. To the right, someone else snickered. The silhouette of the chairman, however, didn’t stir.

“You find this amusing?”

Tristan fidgeted again with his ring. “No, sir. It won’t happen again.”

“We’ve heard that from you before,” the chairman said.

“I —”

“Silence!” The Chairman paused, then lowered his voice. “Your disregard for our covenant could have exposed us to our enemies. You placed your people at risk!

“When our forefathers fled to this world four generations ago, they knew their enemies could sense their magic, even a world away. Today we are still alive, still preparing for our return to Grannith, because every one of us vows not to use sorcery outside cloaked areas.”

“There hasn’t been an attack since we’ve been here,” Tristan argued.

“Because we have been careful,” the chairman said. “Four generations of caution. Until you, our most promising understudy in years, decided to throw caution in the river. We give you a place to live and money, so you can devote yourself to your studies. You could exchange your apprentice’s leather ring for a mage’s steel any day, but for this, you must be punished. Your actions leave this Board no choice.”

“There is always a choice,” said a man with a voice like sandpaper.

Leather creaked throughout the boardroom.

“Of course, Mr. Swayne,” the chairman said, easing the words from his mouth as if they were fragile. “But we believe that in this case, the most severe punishment is appropriate.”

Tristan caught his breath. William Swayne was the Board’s most senior member, once their most powerful sorcerer.

“We?” Swayne said. A thin, bent silhouette shifted on the left side of the table. “I heard only your opinion.”

Tristan could have chipped the tension in the room with his switchblade.

“What do you propose, Mr. Swayne?” the Chairman’s voice quivered.

Swayne’s dark form rose from the chair like a scarecrow from its cornfield. “I propose that Mr. Neese be placed into full-time guardianship. Perhaps having a guardian’s shackles nearby will remind him of his responsibilities.”

“And if he tries to use his power?”

“Then the guardian binds him on the spot and delivers him to the Board to be stripped of magic and sent back to Grannith.”

Tristan shuddered. He’d barely survived losing his power for a few seconds. Losing it forever would kill him. And if it didn’t, returning alone to Grannith would.

“Let us not forget,” Swayne continued, “his parents served us well before their deaths. It was their wish that someday their son should wear a sorcerer’s gold.”

Murmurs danced around the table.

“He speaks wisely, Mr. Chairman,” said a woman on the right. “Mr. Neese has too much potential to abandon if we want to return someday to Grannith. We’ve hidden too long in this world–we long for home.”

More murmurs slithered through the smoke, but the chairman rapped a gavel on the gleaming marble.

“Let us close this matter, then. We will assign a guardian tonight.” He turned to Tristan. “This is your last chance, Mr. Neese. Do not fail us. Or your parents.”

Tristan gritted his teeth and nodded. He owed his parents that ring.

— ♦♦♦ —

The door to apartment thirty-one slammed, rattling pictures on Tristan’s wall.

“Tracy! Get your ass in here!”

Tristan’s stomach knotted as the girl tried to placate her drunken uncle, her voice coming in meek gulps between his outbursts. Tristan knew what was next. It was always the same: first the yelling, then the hitting. Then the dreadful, agonizing silence.

He sighed and lifted the picture of his parents off the counter.

Next door, something smacked the wall and the uncle fell silent for a moment. When glass shattered, Tristan grabbed the army jacket and stormed out into the hallway. Across the hall, a second door opened a crack and an old man peered out. Tussled white hair framed a face that looked like wadded, yellow paper.

“You gotta help her,” the old man said. Something nagged at Tristan’s mind, making him think he should know the man. He scoured his thoughts but found nothing.

“There’s nothing I can do.”

The old man shook his head. “Too bad. No one else in this dump’s gonna help her.”

Flash smacked flesh across the hall, and Tristan’s rage burned in his chest.

“You’re right,” he said, turning to Tracy’s door.

He’d use the same spell from before, but with an added word, a changed inflection. He would weave in a spell for memory loss. Maybe her uncle would forget his rage.

He took a step toward the girl’s apartment, but the door at the end of the hallway opened and the Guardian stepped in. He wore the same suit as before, gray and unassuming, a smoke-colored fedora on his head. His thin lips moved silently.

He held back the flap of his suit jacket, showing off the silver cuffs that would bind Tristan’s power.

Magic rushed toward the man like a torrent of water as he gathered his power. Tristan thought of his parents and his determination faded. His shoulders sagged.

Behind him, the old man mumbled and closed his door.

Stomping down the hallway, Tristan shouldered past the Guardian and headed for the stairs. He needed a drink.

— ♦♦♦ —

The tiny basement pub was almost as dark as the boardroom. It even had the same thin tendril of smoke circling the wooden beams and brass light fixtures.

Tristan sat alone at the bar, brooding over his second screwdriver. His free hand rested on the leather cushion that edged the black marble surface of the bar. He barely noticed the muffled whump-whump of a jukebox in the back.

The Guardian sat outside in a gray Studebaker, alert for any sign of magic use.

“Another one,” Tristan said without looking up.

Joe approached from the sink, drying a tumbler, his bowtie loosened around his thick neck. “You should ease up.”

“If I need a nanny, I’ll tell you,” Tristan said. “Until then, give me another.”

Everything about the night’s incident bothered him, from his own inaction to the old man next door. And the alcohol wasn’t helping much.

“The girl again?”

Tristan nodded. Joe looked away as a man entered the bar.

“Brian!” he called out. “Back so soon?”

The man waved, then went to sit.

“How do you remember everyone?” Tristan asked. “There’s this old man next door to me. I feel like I should recognize him, but I don’t.”

“There’s a trick to it,” Joe said. “Whenever you meet a person, remember the thing closest to them at the time. Clothing, furniture, whatever. Something that you’ll always associate with them. Easy.”

He snatched a towel from his belt and wiped up a puddle, and Tristan noticed his reflection in the bar’s gleaming marble surface.

Black marble.

With a start, he knew the old man. He leapt from the bar stool.

“Your trick worked,” he said. “I have to go talk to him.”

“But it’s almost midnight!”

“If he’s who I think, he’s expecting me.”

— ♦♦♦ —

Tristan kicked aside a grease-stained hamburger wrapper as he strode down the corridor toward his apartment. Half the lightbulbs hung dark in their fixtures, and reddish-brown smears that used to be flies marked the walls between doors.

He winced at the cold silence as he hurried past Tracy’s apartment to the old man’s. Taking a deep breath, he raised his fist to knock.

The door opened, and the man stuck his head out. His cottony eyebrows arched a moment, then he smiled. “Took you long enough.”

“Master Swayne?” Tristan said.

“The one and only.” He opened the door, dressed in a gray cotton robe. “Come in. We have much to do by morning.”

Swayne’s apartment was a contradiction to the rest of the run-down, smoke-stained building. He had repainted the walls, laid luxurious rugs, and hung tapestries and paintings on the walls. Most obviously, though, Swayne had filled the apartment with lamps of all kinds—standing, tabletop, spider lamps, and more. One heavy-looking lamp had a brass bunny as its base and a black fabric top hat for a shade. It was the brightest room Tristan had seen.

“You like it?” the old man asked.

“Your electric bill must be hell.”

“It’s worth it to have a little light in this sewer.”

Tristan admired a tapestry hanging on the wall that bordered the hallway. Its intricate picture showed a snow-covered valley, spotted with thatched-roof huts nestled at the base of a craggy mountain range.

“Wondering if that’s home?” Swayne stepped into the kitchen.

Tristan nodded.

“Well, it is,” Swayne said. “To about forty-million Koreans. I bought it at Mr. Kim’s market down on Washington Street.”

“Does it remind you of Grannith?”

Swayne snickered and shook his white hair.

“How would I know? My family left when my father was a boy. I put the tapestry up for sound-proofing, so I wouldn’t have to hear the beatings.” He held out a glass of water and pointed to a tweed sofa.

Tristan took the glass and sat. “Does it work?”

“Does that awful music of yours work?”

Tristan shook his head and set the glass down. “Why did you stick up for me in front of the Board?”

“Hmm, changing the subject,” Swayne said, seating himself in an easy chair across from Tristan. “Like stepping around a mud puddle in the pouring rain. Let’s just say that I believe we need you.”

“Need me? For what?”

“Don’t know. At least not for sure. But I must follow my heart. It hasn’t let me down in sixty-seven years.”

“I wish mine was that reliable,” Tristan said. “My heart got me into this mess.”

Swayne shifted and his rob fell open a bit, exposing a bony knee, swollen with age.

“Don’t blame your heart, boy. It can’t betray you. But your head, now your head must interpret what your heart is saying, and it’s not always a good translator.”

“Mine must be completely inept. I can’t do anything right.”

Swayne looked Tristan in the eye. “Sometimes, it isn’t what you’re doing, but how you’re doing it that’s the problem.”

Tristan decided to change the subject again. “So, what do you do for a living?”

Swayne chuckled. “You really do love to dance around those puddles, don’t you? Well, I have the best job in the world, at least for someone like me. I’m a magician.”

Tristan choked on his water, and Swayne laughed louder.

“Try not to faint on me, now. Come over here.”

He rose and walked to a door on the other side of the room. Tristan followed, and when he reached the old man’s side, Swayne jerked the door wide.

Glittering stars dotted the pitch-black walls and ceiling of the spare bedroom. Strewn everywhere were the tools of a magician’s trade—not a sorcerer’s trade, as Grannith would define it—but a magician, as this world did. A box with swords thrust through it, a top hat, dozens of decks of cards, and even a black cape hanging on a peg.

They were objects used for sleight of hand, tools to disguise illusion as sorcery.

“You’re a trickster?”

Swayne’s eyelids fluttered a moment like someone had waved a hand before his face.

“That’s what they would call me in Grannith,” he said. “Trickster, charlatan, fraud. They’d run me out of villages and throw stones at me as I left.”

“But you’re a master sorcerer,” Tristan argued. “These tricks are below you!”

Swayne raised an eyebrow. “Below me? I entertain children, Mr. Neese. Children like young Tracy over there. I make them believe in magic for a fraction of their otherwise skeptical, mundane, and often terrifying lives. We’re not in Grannith, so I must use these things to do it. Besides, it gives me a chance to practice.” He stepped up to a platform that held a deck of playing cards and pointed to the deck. “Pick a card.”

Tristan blinked.

“Any card,” Swayne added, shoving the deck forward. “Look at it, remember it, but don’t tell me what it is.”

“Master, this is silly.”

“Pick!” Swayne ordered.

Tristan removed a card. The three of diamonds.

Tristan watched the old man for any tricks, but Swayne didn’t move.

“Do you want to see young Tracy’s future if you don’t help her?”

Tristan nodded, still watching Swayne for movement.

“Then look,” Swayne said, “because now it’s her card.”

Tristan peeked down at his card and gasped. The ace of spades. Death.

He felt his jaw drop.

“How?” Tristan asked. “I felt nothing. There was no hint of sorcery.”

“Suppose I told you that those cloaking spells the Board puts around their offices can be done on a smaller scale, by one man?” He put a gnarled hand on Tristan’s shoulder. “That they keep it a secret, so people won’t do magic without them? Would that change how you feel about helping the girl?”

Tristan felt his heart crawling into his throat.

“So why don’t you help her?”

Swayne looked at the floor a moment, then sighed. “I’m an old man, Tristan. My powers aren’t what they were, and I couldn’t protect her with fists if magic failed.”

“And if I don’t help her, she dies?”

This time Swayne nodded.

“When?” Tristan asked. “How long do I have?”

Swayne frowned. “Tomorrow night.”

— ♦♦♦ —

The next night Tristan waited in his kitchen, drumming his fingers on the orange laminate countertop next to a half-empty Schlitz bottle that his raw nerves wouldn’t let him finish. At his feet lay a canvas duffle bag. His pocket held the entire balance of his savings account. In minutes, Tracy’s uncle would come stumbling down the hallway and Tristan would have to choose: help the girl and destroy his parents’ dream; or walk away and let her die.

His only hope lay in the shield spell.

In Swayne’s apartment—which the sorcerer had shielded before his power faded—Tristan had worked for hours on the spell to mask sorcery. By morning, he could do it right. About half the time.

“Now you can help her,” Swayne had said, walking toward his bedroom.

“I’ve learned the spell,” Tristan argued, “but I haven’t mastered it.”

Swayne turned around, one eyebrow raised. “Mastering that spell took me the better part of five years. Tracy doesn’t have that much time.”

Tristan jumped to his feet. “Five years! Why didn’t you tell me that earlier?”

Swayne’s expression softened. His smile faded, and he met Tristan’s gaze. “When your parents made you promise to become a sorcerer, did they tell you why?”

“They told me it was the only way I could make a difference. That I was the best hope for the world.”

Swayne had grasped Tristan’s forearm. “But they didn’t say which world, did they?”

Since then, he’d thought about going back to the bar, leaving town, or even going to the Board. Anything to avoid the decision. But he couldn’t bring himself to leave his kitchen. Stepping outside his door meant betraying his parents, sacrificing the dream they had for him to help someone not even from their world. But doing nothing felt like abandoning Tracy in a world she didn’t deserve.

When Tracy’s uncle stormed down the hallway, Tristan knew he had to act, one way or the other.

Tracy’s door slammed. Silence echoed for a moment, then the shouting began.

Taking a deep breath, Tristan grabbed his bag and stepped into the hallway.

He’d hoped Swayne would be waiting outside the door, but only the sound of yelling greeted him. Tristan moved in front of Tracy’s door and dropped his bag.

His whole life came down to this moment; like he was sitting at a railroad crossing with a car speeding up behind him. He could gun it and hope to beat the train or sit still and get rear-ended into it.

Again, he thought of his parents, of the picture he’d stuffed in his duffel bag, of their dream for him. He wondered what they would have done, were they here to help him.

That’s when he figured it out; when he realized what drew him to Tracy, despite the warnings from the board. She was an orphan, just like him, a kid from a broken home. And kids from broken homes had to stick together.

He knew what he had to do, what his parents would’ve wanted. What they would’ve done.

The cloak spell required both concentration and accuracy. Even the tiniest error would alert every sorcerer in the city. And the Guardian. And possibly the Yag Tan.

“No pressure,” he mumbled.

He spoke the spell under his breath—volume wasn’t necessary, only precision—and let himself gather a weak, fluttering thread of sorcery. To the Guardian outside, it would feel like a warm breeze, nothing more. Only if the man were close, within arm’s reach, would he sense anything more.

Tristan enunciated each word and made the deliberate hand motions of the shielding spell, then stopped when he had a soft shell of sorcery around himself. Virtually undetectable, it would extend when he launched his second spell, keeping it hidden.

Maintaining the shield required only a tiny thread of will wrapped tightly around it. It would be difficult to maintain while he spun the others, but if he focused, he could do it.

He said the words faster than he ever had, his hands struggling to keep up with his lips. He wove two spells—one to put the man to sleep and another to erase the memory of his niece. The two were more than he was used to combining, but when he tied them off with another thread of willpower, the cloak still held.

He raised his fist to knock, but movement flickered in the corner of his eye. He turned his head, holding the shield, and saw the Guardian standing in the doorway.

“What are you doing, Mr. Neese?” he asked.

“I’m ending this,” Tristan gave the response he’d planned earlier. “I’ll punch a few teeth out and then see if he still beats the girl.”

The Guardian approached, his gaze locked on Tristan. If he came too close, he would sense the shield.

“Back off!” Tristan ordered. To his surprise, the man halted a few yards away. “What I do without my power is my business.”

The man didn’t move, a confused look flickering on his face.

Tristan turned back to the door just in time to see it fly open. Tracy’s uncle stood in the doorway, face bright purple and scrunched like an evil doll. Tracy lay on the floor inside, motionless.

“I knew you’d be back,” her uncle growled.

Before Tristan could react, the uncle’s fist flew up and cracked him on the side of the head. Tristan staggered backward, lost control of the shield, and fell on his ass.

A few yards away, the Guardian’s eyes opened wide.

“You were warned!” His hands came up and a torrent of sorcery washed past Tristan as the Guardian drew in his power. Under the man’s coat, silver flashed.

Tristan struggled to his feet, but the uncle grabbed him by the shoulders and flung him against the wall. Something cracked in Tristan’s shoulder, and pain exploded down his arm. He collapsed on the floor as the man towered over him. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the Guardian move closer. The uncle turned and glared at the man.

“Who the hell are you?”

Tristan knew he had to act while the uncle was distracted, so he rolled to his right and came to his feet between the Guardian and the uncle. The uncle spun, but too late.

Tristan launched his spells, dropping the tatters of his shield and throwing all his will into the other two. The uncle’s eyes opened wide as Tristan’s power knocked him back into his apartment. He was out cold before he hit the floor.

Power surged at Tristan’s back. He cringed, waiting for the cuffs that would subdue him like a taser, and he screamed as he felt its heat explode.

A clang rang out behind him, followed by a thud. The Guardian’s power disappeared. Tristan turned, easing his eyes open, to see him sprawled on the floor.

“You goanna stand there all night?” Swayne asked.

The old man leaned against the jamb, the brass bunny lamp in his hand.

“They’ll strip your power,” Tristan said.

“Don’t worry about me.”

Swayne crossed the hallway, into Tracy’s apartment. He helped her to the tattered couch and brushed a shard of glass from her silky hair.

She shivered as Tristan wiped the blood from her lip.

“You need to go,” Swayne said, rising. He gave Tristan a deck of cards. “You’ll need these.”

“Come with me,” Tristan pleaded. “You can keep mentoring me.”

Swayne smiled and looked at the gold master’s ring on his hand. With a sigh, he took it off. He closed Tristan’s hand around the ring, his gnarled fingers trembling. “I don’t have a steel one to give you, so wear this one when your heart tells you it’s time.”

He turned to leave. “Take the girl to safety. Her uncle’s memory is erased, but not his violence. Besides, she’s seen too much for the Board to leave her alone.”

Swayne stepped over the unconscious guardian as he headed for his apartment.

— ♦♦♦ —

The rain smacked rapid-fire against the windows of the bus, a thrumming that lulled Tristan closer and closer to sleep. He watched tree after tree streak by outside the window until they blurred together into a wall of green and his eyelids slipped lower. He felt a tug on his sleeve.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” Tracy said. Her hair had been brushed back, revealing a sleepy glaze on her eyes. It was the first she’d spoken since they’d left.

Tristan smiled. “It’s in the rear of the bus. Be careful. The floor’s slippery.”

She nodded and started to get up, then stopped and studied Tristan with eyes like the night sky. “Where are we going?”

“Detroit,” he answered.

“And after that?”

“Not sure.”

She considered it a second.” How will we survive?”

Tristan sighed. He’d been thinking about that for hours. Since he had no work experience, finding a job would be tough.

Removing a deck of cards from his pocket, he shuffled them and handed one to the girl. The three of diamonds.

“We’ll do magic.”

— ♦♦♦ —


Next Week: Thumbnail illustration to accompany Dead Man Walking. Copyright(c) 20118 by Tim Soekkah. Used under license

Dead Man Walking.  By C.M. Saunders, Art by Tim Soekkha

Mike Malone had seen a lot of things in his time as a PI.  Nothing, however, prepared him for this client.  “So… when did you die?” Malone was pretty sure that in all his years, he’d never uttered that particular combination of words before.  Now he’s on the case to find out how his client died and if it was foul play.  It’s not every day you see a dead man walking…

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