Neverthere, Guide to Chaos

It is with great consternation and regret that I commit myself to the page, and the tragedy that is my life.

Please do understand that I hold the written word is high esteem. When I am not forced into gallivanting across Neverthere, I can be found at my job at Alexandrian Library. I am a library clerk, cataloguing stories that shall never be written, in a library that in the realest sense no longer exists. Nothing too out of the ordinary for the Neverthere.

I have been content to spend my days amidst the dust and weathered pages, caring for them as they fill me with life. The Alexandrian library is a place that I truly can call my solace, my refuge in a world that is more idea than reality. And it has been shattered, wrecked beyond repair thanks to adventures and excitement and missed tea times! That woman, that awful, incredible paragon that has taken my life and made it into a mockery of the calm that I was so used to. It is enough to make one forget polite language.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me begin with the first of many tragedies that are certain to come. The woman that destroyed my life.

Let us begin with Mrs. Milkshade.

Mrs. Milkshade first strode into the Alexandrian library with purpose. The building was quite empty in midmorning, but those who were there took note. And Mrs. Milkshade took note of the building.

It is a comfortable place, if I do say so myself. When walking through the mahogany doors the woman was greeted with the smell of fresh wood and old tomes. The reception desk was small, always empty but ready to be put in use should anyone need reference. This day it was used, as Mrs. Milkshade requested my presence and was directed into my favorite reading repository.

Those working at the Alexandrian library are all helpful. We would assist any who walked through these doors. And Mrs. Milkshade was no exception. But what I have heard from those of my colleagues who witnessed her entrance is enough to bring back memories. She stood on the tiled floor, and examined the place. Took in every inch from the stenciled paneling to the curve of the desk. The few in her sightline, and several who were not, felt analyzed, picked apart, and laid bare. The woman did not seem to be looking at a place, but rather the very nature of this reality.

I wonder how she considered my repository. It was one of many secreted throughout the library, hidden behind bookshelves and hallways that supposedly led nowhere. It is supposed to be secret, a right to privacy only afforded to those workers the library liked.

I don’t blame my colleagues for giving me up. Not in the slightest. Mrs. Milkshade asked them to.

So she strode through the stack of illustrated prose that was my last line of defense, and stumbled upon me in one of my favorite pastimes. Seated upon a leather couch, pushed up close to my very own fireplace, with a new book and a mug of hot cocoa cooling on a side table.

I bolted up as I heard someone break into my sanctuary, and stopped. The woman was looking straight at me, without a trace of humor.

Mrs. Milkshade was not a remarkable woman to stare at. Something I think she takes great pride in to this day. Dressed in modest attire, in a brown that was austere and white trim to add a ladylike touch. Her iron-grey hair was tied up in a bun, several strands hanging out purposefully. She wore black-rimmed glasses, and sensible flat shoes with stockings.

And her gaze tore me apart to the atomic level. I felt my unkempt, dirty blonde hair hanging about my face. The beard that I only minutes ago considered devilish and roguish now just seemed lazy. My pale blue eyes even watered (I had just delved into a particularly emotional section of the book)… all in all my worst state. I wanted to be considered tall, a little dark, and quite handsome. Now I resisted the urge to dive back behind my book and disappear into fiction. She would not have allowed it.

“My name is Lana Milkshade,” She said. “And I am looking for a summer home.”

That was it. I stared for a moment, and then nodded. “Okay. My name is…”

“Norm Johnson,” She said. “Stand up straight.”

I straightened. It felt like a rod had been jammed down my back. Mrs. Milkshade walked over to my mug of cocoa and handed it to me. I took the offered drink. She held my hands still, keeping my trembling to a minimum as my nerves settled. I finally was able to drink, and she settled on the side of the couch.

“I have long thought about purchasing a residence in Neverthere. The very nature of this realm is intriguing, to say the least. But I confess a certain lack of familiarity with the layout, and where to go. I shall need a guide.

“I have chosen you.”

Me? It is a question I asked myself then and every day since. Why would this woman, this being, even bring herself to acknowledge my presence, let alone take the effort to invade my sanctuary? There had to be a mistake.

I tried to explain that to Mrs. Milkshade (several times, emphatically, with evidence) why I wasn’t even close to what she would desire in a guide. The woman settled into my couch, drank tea from a cup that came from nowhere, and nodded politely through my argument. And then maintained her stance that I would be the guide.

I was doomed.

“There, there.” Mrs. Milkshade patted my hand. “It will be all right, young man. I ask for a tour, not a quest. You shall not lead me through the fire to the pit of death that lays at the bottom of Mount Incarceration.”

“That’s three blocks away from BDSM Avenue,” I said. “Maybe a fifteen minute walk.”

Mrs. Milkshade blinked once. Then again. I realized her comment might have been rhetorical. That was not wise to do in Neverthere. Too many sayings were now literal. And too many realities were just ideas in Neverthere.

She held up three fingers, almost steaming that she had to be so forthright. “A place of repose, a house of power, and an event most vile.” She counted off. “With these three in hand and mind I may make a decision.”

I pondered. Repose, solace. This was one, but no. I was not having anyone in my spot in the library. Unless she wanted it. I’d give Mrs. Milkshade anything. But she seemed to not even want to be in the library. People were so unusual sometimes.

But repose. A place that people went to, even congregated as a community for the purpose of solace and quiet reflection. That this was not a library was all the more frustrating.

I wondered what the Second Glass had to offer.

I almost burst out laughing. Mrs. Milkshade at the Second Glass. This was tantamount to courting disaster. A woman of such repute, having to stand in a place that could cause drunkenness by merely breathing. Where the clientele was as likely to rob someone as take a drink. It might just be perfect.

I told Mrs. Milkshade of the planned excursion, and glossed over the salient details. When she raised her eyebrows I was forced to confess my scheme, at which point she agreed that the Second Glass was precisely where she needed to go. Before I knew it I was escorted out of the Alexandrian, with barely a chance to grab my jacket, and into the midst of the Neverthere.

It was sunset out. Or sunrise. The day chose itself rather than be held down by linear progression. Time may move on, but Neverthere decided its own fate. And so at sun-something I huddled into my coat and walked down the cobblestone road towards the Second Glass.

I took in the sights as I could, trying to refamiliarize myself with the terrain. Librarians as a rule did not get out much. There was so much more adventure to be had in books, and with relative safety and ease as opposed to in the outside world. And this particular reality liked to shift itself around, almost to give the inhabitants a new view each day.

But Neverthere was behaving for once. I could pick out the shops, little fronts selling their own brand of quirk. Around them little parasitic corporations slithered, trying to latch on a desired corner or particularly delectable market.

I frowned when I saw Three Trees Trading Company had some seedlings already starting to sprout. They needed to be plucked before any roots could be settled in.

I moved on, and tried to take in the crowd. The people, all the different people. The tourists were easy to spot. They stood on the side of the street and tried to understand this shifting world. Their pockets were picked, souls were stolen, and dreams were dashed long before that shimmering vista was done with them.

The murkier side of the city avoided the two of us. I still had enough of an air of an insider to earn a measure of respect and distance. And no one messed with Mrs. Milkshade.

She was an oddity. I cannot quantify exactly what it is that makes Mrs. Milkshade so terrifying. She is a woman, that is one explanation. But she is human, just like myself. At least, she appears to be human. And she does not seem to have any particular abilities one way or another. If she does possess any, she certainly does not utilize them.

But still, that was the reaction that the passers-by had when coming into her presence. Neverthere is not nice to outsiders. Nice is quaint, small, measured. Like me.

Instead, it is hyperbolic. The most grandiose blessings, the simple and sinister curses that decimate an entire family tree. Anything that can be exaggerated must be. The very idea must be expressed. It is almost a business practice.

The Second Glass was like that. It was a bar like any other. Or perhaps, any other bar was like the Second Glass. I stood at that ramshackle little door, and turned back to Mrs. Milkshade. It seemed rowdy today, even more so than usual. I had no idea what introducing this particular woman to the clientele would do.

“There are other options,” I promised.

She raised an eyebrow. Defeated by her logic, I opened the door and led her downstairs.

The building above the Second Glass was irrelevant. As far as I had known it was there more to provide a basement for the bar, rather than actually have any sort of purpose. Tenants had come and gone, ranging in all sorts of businesses. I saw a “for rent” sign and realized that some poor sap was going to try and live above the establishment. Gods help that sap.

No, there was no natural light coming into the bar. Adamma would not allow it. Instead, she stuck several lamps on the four support posts and candles on the seven wooden tables. The patrons were secretly grateful for the lack of light. No one wanted to look at each other for too long.

The Second Glass was not a place for celebration, or true victory. The tourists were turned away, sometimes lifted up and thrown out. This was where the locals got their rest and shared misery. Damn any who invaded such repose.

There they were. The usual crowd. There were the jovial, the boisterous. The local band, playing too loud to hear the chants to get lost. That pack of cyber goblins that had just found a new digital superhighway to play in. And several barbarians were flexing for the ladies, getting ready to square off. Someone should tell them the ladies were really just holograms from the goblins.

Then the sad ones. A sex demon who had just received a vasectomy, cradling a bottle of virgins blood and trying not to cry. A mad scientist that had to go to therapy. And the golem that was starting to decay. They came from all walks of life, or unlife. Sent across time and space to find Neverthere. Settled into an idea, and the drinks of Adamma.

She was behind the bar. Adamma is always behind the bar. It’s rumored she took her lovers in the stockroom when she needed to do inventory. That rumor was said well outside of the Second Glass. No one thought it on the premises. She might hear them.

Adamma was a dark elf, and proud of it. Her dark skin glinted in the firelight, almost appearing like black gold. She was dressed in tight black leather, revealing skin that modest eyes needed to turn away from. Her white tattoos were the subject of much conversation, but no confirmation was made to the origin or meaning. Adamma liked her secrets.

Her eyes were a pale green, used to the dim light. The dark elf stared at me for a moment, noting a small surprise. She smirked, showing pointed teeth and a luscious smile that always made me a little nervous. I usually didn’t come in unless I had found a particularly abused idea of a book and needed something stronger than my cocoa.

And then they flicked to Mrs. Milkshade, and widened.

Adamma reached for a glass, and threw it at the lead singer. He passed out cold, muttering bars as he slumped to the ground.

“Someone shut up the barbarians!” Adamma shouted. The elf bowed low to Mrs. Milkshade. “We have an honored guest in our presence.”

The reaction was mixed. The sex demon turned away, his sobs taking on a more pitiful tone. The golem nodded to her, before returning to its crumbling existence.

The barbarians ignored her. She was not a challenge, nor was she buxom. They returned to their games. The goblins, however, mobbed Mrs. Milkshade. They whipped out tablets and pocket computers, asking for autographs and coding advice. Mrs. Milkshade shuffled her admirers to a nearby table, waving me away.

I tried to get a better take on the situation. The goblins were in awe of my visitor, asking for drink preferences. They actually squabbled with each other for the honor of fetching her a drink. They were crude, disgusting beings, prone to getting crumbs in the keyboards and gumming up the Net. But Mrs. Milkshade held her hands on her knees, almost shaking in laughter. She talked with each in turn, a smile on her face.

This was an alien thing. Someone nice had taken possession of Mrs. Milkshade, I was sure of it. But the thought that something could overpower that woman’s will was just inconceivable. I needed a drink.

Adamma slid a gin and tonic my way. I took a sip, and sighed. That was better. “Adamma, you are a treasure,” I began. She glared at me.

“What could you be thinking?” She hissed. She leaned close, and I had to look up to avoid staring too far down. She slapped me over the head for that.

“Bringing someone like that in the Neverthere, and my bar!” Adamma said. “Norm, I thought you had better sense than that.”

“Do you think this was my idea?” I asked. “She wanted a place of repose.”

“And she thought my bar was that?”

“That was my idea.” I winced as she slapped me again. Elves were supposed to be elegant. Dark elves just as much, if more malicious. Adamma ignored the convention in favor of hitting people. It made her happier.

“What does that… that person want?”

I shrugged. “A place of repose, a house of power, and an event most vile.” One down, two to go.

“Great. Go to those and get out.”

“Why?” What was the hurry? I glanced around. No one seemed to be in any particular danger. And Mrs. Milkshade seemed to be the happiest she had since I met her.

“She does not belong here,” Adamma said.

“The Second Glass is always open for anyone who can stand it.” I said. It was as close to a motto for the bar.

“And I’m proud of the policy,” Adamma said. “But I meant here, the Neverthere. What is someone like that doing tramping through this much chaos?”

“Mrs. Milkshade never tramps.” That needed to be said. I didn’t know what I was doing in defending her. But Mrs. Milkshade was just terrifying. As far as I could tell she hadn’t actually done anything. And I wasn’t going to ask her to leave just for being disconcerting.

I’d wish she would leave for much less. But quietly, and out of range from anything she might do.

“Well?” Adamma said. “What does she want?”

“If you must know,” I said. “She is looking for a summer home?”

“Here?”

“Apparently.”

Adamma grabbed me by the shirt, and dragged me into the storeroom. She flung me against the crates, and locked the door behind us. I had a flash of thoughts, blushed, and turned them away. The elf seemed more angry than anything. She rifled through the containers, and started muttering to herself.

“You really do do inventory,” I said.

“Of course,” Adamma said. “It helps me think. And try and figure out a way to get you out of this, Norm.”

“Out of what?” I held my hands open, confused. “Seriously, what is this trouble you are so worried about?”

Her,” Adamma said. “She is not right for this place. Not right for you.”

Right. I often forgot that Adamma cared about her customers. She treated us all with bare hints of scorn and disgust. Part of being a dark elf, I supposed. Adamma’s heritage assumed anyone and anything that came close to her must be an inferior being. She sometimes fought against this.

Adamma stroked my hair, and looked me over. “I fear for what she’s going to do to you, Norm. You are so used to being just a face in the crowd. Even worse, I think you like that. But being around a being like her, it makes you important. Special. Be careful.”

“I’m just giving her a tour,” I said.

I didn’t mention the fear that I was holding in my heart that she was right. Mrs. Milkshade was already becoming a commanding presence. All of my attention was focused on her and the effect she had on my life. I hadn’t thought of my books since we left the Alexandrian. Something was seriously wrong.

But I had agreed to give her a tour. That was a promise.

Adamma unlocked the door, and I remembered the rest of the tour. “For the other two items, any clue?”

Adamma frowned, and considered. “A house of power is easy. If it tries to hide itself, it holds power.” That was true. Only those who didn’t have power felt the need to flaunt it.

“But an evil most vile, that is a little harder.” Adamma leaned against the door to the storeroom.

“What’s going on in Neverthere?” I asked. “Any invasions or plots?”

The dark elf shrugged. “A small alien invasion in sector V. The Suits have that contained. There is talk of Mordred rising, but it’s a seven-year cycle. Probably nothing to that. The Bloody Pony is rampaging through the Fields of Joy?”

I shook my head. “It’s the last Thursday before Fall. Getting the wild oats out.”

The two of us were well and truly stumped. It was not that there is no evil in the world, or even small time in Neverthere. Actually quite the opposite. There was so much carnage and death, trying to find something most vile was a challenge. How to separate the full-on malice incarnate from the merely indescribably awful?

“You could ask Sally Mooneyes.” Adamma suggested.

I ducked back into the bar, a bit more quickly than normal. “Keep it down. Don’t mention her name!” I said. Everyone was all in a fuss over someone like Mrs. Milkshade. What would happen if Sally Mooneyes was thrown into the mix?

Mrs. Milkshade was now by the fireplace with a cup of tea. The Second Glass did not usually have a fireplace. But she wanted one so that she could sit in a stiff-backed leather chair and look over the local paper. We didn’t have those either.

The goblins huddled in front of the fire, content on their handheld devices. They sat a respectful distance away from the lady, but kept their bodies facing her, in case she needed anything.

Everyone else had cleared out rather than disturb the woman. Probably the best move.

“She would know,” Adamma said. She slid back behind the bar.

I nodded. “And suddenly this little tour becomes something quite different.”

“What?”

“It actually becomes something.” I said. At the time I was clinging to the idea that this was still happenstance. Chance did not happen in Neverthere, nor coincidence. Someone of importance comes upon you, it means something. But if I could keep it to a tour, it was entirely possible that fate was not going to intervene.

“Too late for that, Mr. Johnson,” A voice said behind me.

I didn’t want to turn around. I didn’t want to acknowledge her presence. If I thought about anything else, anyone else, perhaps this would turn out to be a haze, a fantasy brought on by exciting readings and spoilt cocoa.

“Please turn around, Norm.” No. “I can hear you thinking no.” Dash it all.

I turned around. A little girl sat on one of the tables. Her legs swung one way and then another. She was a little waif of a girl really, dressed in ragged jeans and torn cotton shirt. Her pale face was smudged with grime, and her bare feet were only spotless because she had run them through a puddle recently.

But her dirty appearance was more a show than a reality. Her silver hair that fell down to her shoulders glistened in the firelight. A heart-shaped face was cocked to one side, smirking at me. Her purple eyes were almost laughing as she took me in.

Adamma tapped a new gin on the bar. I downed it immediately, and took an offered cocoa. So, I was in an adventure. Time to start acting like it.

I bowed to Sally Mooneyes, and held out a hand. She took it and jumped off the table. “Sally, would you like a cocoa?”

She stuck out her tongue, and looked at Adamma. “Gimme a bourbon. Bottom shelf, dark elf, behind the crap. Don’t even think about giving me the low quality.”

Adamma nodded and was already reaching for it. Of course Sally Mooneyes knew what was where in the Second Glass. She knew everything in the Neverthere. It was her business to know.

Everywhere there is a secret government. Even in a place of chaos like Neverthere, there is some order. Someone who holds the reigns just enough to stop reality from unraveling. Sally Mooneyes was our government. She stalked the streets and fields, keeping an eye on everyone and everything.

As to her own power, I don’t think anyone really tried to delve into its depths. She was backed by something, some organization that had a plan for Neverthere. There were beings who profited on Neverthere. They made Sally Mooneyes possible.

Or that was all a lie. But Sally knew where to go when her name was spoken.

“Norm Johnson,” the girl picked up the bourbon. She slurped the liquor down, barely taking the time to taste it. “Don’t really see you out of the Alexandrian. What brings you out of your fictions?”

“Giving a tour to Mrs. Milkshade,” I said. I nodded to the woman, whose chair blocked her from view. If she heard us, she did not stir.

“Mrs. Milkshade…” Sally ran her tongue over the words. “You are a long way from home. And likely to cause trouble. I may just have to remove you now.”

“If you would like a spanking, I would be happy to provide.” Mrs. Milkshade said. The goblins quickly shuffled away from the fire. They were happy to be my guest’s underlings for a time, but Sally Mooneyes was scary. No one would want to be between the two of them.

The bar crackled with energy. Adamma grabbed me, pulling me closer to the bar and away from Sally. The girl stared at the chair, considering her move. The fireplace shivered, and blew itself out. Mrs. Milkshade still did not remove herself from the chair.

Sally smirked, and bowed her head. “If you’d like to speak with an old friend, Carrion Bone is hiding in Hotel Nekron.”

The power was sucked out of the Second Glass. Mrs. Milkshade stood up. The chair faded out of existence, as did her tea. She nodded to me. “Come along, Norm. We have an appointment with Carrion.”

Sally held up a hand. “A moment.” She finished her bourbon, and smacked her lips. “That is the good stuff.” The girl looked up at the older woman, and smiled. “Can we keep the shifts in the planes to a bare minimum?”

Mrs. Milkshade bowed her head. “I will keep your house in order.”

Sally laughed, and quite suddenly hugged her tight. “I’m gonna miss you!”

She was next to me in an instant. I only jumped slightly.

“Don’t worry too much about importance, Norm,” she said. “You’re not important. Or special, or anything really big. That’s why we’re going to be with you.”

She struggled on top of a chair, and kissed me on the cheek. “If you need me, just call.”

She ended with pointing at Adamma. “I know what you’re planning. I’m watching you.”

“I can cut you off,” Adamma said. Sally left, and took the bottle with her.

“Come along, Norm Johnson,” Mrs. Milkshade said. “Say goodbye to your friend.”

I waved to Adamma. She grunted, and stared at the now-empty Second Glass. Her customers would come back. Many had nowhere else to turn for solace.

Just like Adamma.

Hotel Nekron was unlike the houses Adamma and I described before. It did not proclaim its purpose or power. The hotel did not rest in a graveyard. It wasn’t hidden behind a giant coffin or nestled in the necromancy section of the Alexandrian. But this was where its subtlety ended.

It was old, mixing into the fashion of today in the Dead district. It was little advertised, but it was in the charter for the district. Everything that dealt with the dead and undead had to be registered. For clarity’s sake.

The Dead district catered to all those concerned with what happened after the first mortal coil was shuffled off. Vampires, ghosts, ghouls, anything from the mad scientists, all could find a haven in the district. And for the tourists, both living and otherwise, it was all they could do to not become a permanent fixture.

The motto for the Dead district was simple. “Death should not be experienced just once.”

Night fell as we entered the district. Sunlight was not allowed in. The entire district had petitioned the sun for special consideration given some of the unfortunate side effects of their condition. The sun had been only too happy to oblige.

Hotel Nekron was not for most of the denizens of the district. The Ribbed Motel, Bloods R Us, and Stitches, were all for the experience of death. Nekron was for the makers, or unmakers. The grave robbers, the mad scientists, the necromancers. Hotel Nekron was their Tower, and proud to be so.

Mrs. Milkshade sniffed at the edifice. “In my reality, necromancy is outlawed.” She said. The smile that had graced her face in the bar had disappeared the second we reached the Dead district. Anything and everything that had crossed our path quickly turned into an open alley or down a sewer. Some had even turned tail and ran, disappearing into the night. They could sense her disapproval, and knew to fear it.

Hotel Nekron towered over the structures next to it on the street. One was a blood bank, always out of stock. The second was an Italian restaurant that had closed up its doors and remained only to be vandalized. More a statement than an actual establishment.

Set in the form of a medieval castle, the doors of the hotel seemed designed for a moat to surround the place. The hotel had tried to get a moat, but the zoning permits proved to be too much.

Mrs. Milkshade walked up through the front doors and strode through. The great doors fell open at her touch. I followed her in quickly. Mrs. Milkshade nodded, and turned to me.

“A house of power, and my evil. Thank you for being so accommodating, Norm.”

I nodded, and kept my eyes peeled for anyone. The main lobby was a great hall, opened to allow public demonstrations that required lightning and other elements. The hotel tried to accommodate its blend of Satan worshippers, grave robbers, noted alchemists, and pure scientists by providing the best amenities. Looking down from the expansive ceiling one could see the best creature comforts and a string quartet. Many flesh golems and homunculi handed out drinks and finger foods. I turned them down after a glance from Mrs. Milkshade.

Today it was being used by a local cabal. I later found out it was the Order of the Black Saw. Another of our quaint secret societies concerned with dominating the world and monthly brunches. They were in the middle of a panel on the best stitches for the flesh golems, with some of the staff used as examples.

Mrs. Milkshade cleared her throat. The Order looked at her, confused. She did not have the ceremonial saw, or any blood splatter. Not even a name tag. Why was she interrupting their most excellent work?

Mrs. Milkshade tilted her head up, an enunciated clearly. “Carrion Bone. I found you at last.”

The building shook. Several tiles fell down, shattering upon the Order and their brunch. Mrs. Milkshade strode forward, deeper into the hotel. “You cannot hide from me, Carrion.”

I hurried after Mrs. Milkshade. Hotel Nekron seemed afraid, and who knew what it would do to me?

I had never truly set foot in Hotel Nekron. I had only read about it in the papers. It was normally featured in the obituaries as a job listing with a correction from dead to undead. But it had always seemed so clean from the articles. This, this was chaos.

All the workers of the dead streamed out of the halls past us. The walls were shifting, molding in ways that defied three dimensions. I could hear muffled screams coming out of the walls. Some were caught in their rooms, or someplace far more sinister. I clung to Mrs. Milkshade for safety.

The woman did not share my concern at all. Nothing came close to touching her. The floors were rising up in waves, the ceiling dripped stones around us. And always they were turned away, driven back by a power that emanated from my guardian.

We passed up hallways. Then through them. Through walls, and barriers, and people. Nothing came close to impeding Mrs. Milkshade. Soon we stood in the center of Hotel Nekron.

The world snapped back to sense. Mrs. Milkshade nodded, and looked to the center of the hotel.

“There you are.”

We stood in the center of a circular room. Stone had solidified around us. A pale light from nowhere lit the three of us in gray. Mrs. Milkshade stood to one side, and looked at Carrion Bone.

A skeleton stared back at us. Pure white, it shivered and chattered. It pointed its finger at Mrs. Milkshade, and howled.

“You thought you escaped me, didn’t you?” Mrs. Milkshade said. “Fleeing to this chaos for comfort and safety. ‘Mrs. Milkshade would not venture into Neverthere.'”

She nodded. “And you were right. I would normally never come here. It does not suit my composure at all. Too varied, too unpredictable. Nothing proper about this at all.”

Her eyes flashed. “But I had unfinished business. And you are part of it.”

Mrs. Milkshade clenched her hand into a fist. The skeleton crumbled into powder. Mrs. Milkshade looked to me, and nodded.

“Shall we return?”

In that instant, we were somewhere else.

We were back in my refuge. My fire was relit, and a cup of cocoa waiting for me. Seconds ago I had been in that place, with what she called Carrion Bone. And now I was back.

I wanted to dive back into my book. I almost turned to my bookshelf, but Mrs. Milkshade was there. She sat by the fire, looking in.

“There are few things that I truly hate,” She said. “Mealworms. Crows that ignore the signs to keep out of my garden. Too much poetry. But what I truly despise is chaos perverted into a semblance of order.

“Necromancy falls under this. Taking a life, something that has a clear beginning and end, and just tacking on extra time because one journey isn’t enough. It offends me. It offends the very nature of life itself, of order. And Carrion Bone was a small part of that perversion. One that crossed my path one too many times.”

I sat down next to the woman. She drank her tea again. Some could say that she herself was order and chaos. That her very nature demanded both as a response. But that would be unwise.

“I have decided against a summer home,” Mrs. Milkshade said. “Neverthere is just a bit too hectic for my tastes.”

“It may calm down with you gone.” The words escaped me before I could hold them in.

The woman chuckled, and nodded. “Perhaps. But I rather doubt it.” she finished her tea, and nodded to me.

“I must be off. There is a blood feud starting to progress back home, and I must look over my apple tree.”

She took one last look at me. “You are an unusually normal man, Mr. Johnson,” she said. “I rather look forward to hearing more about you.”

“If I am lucky, you never will.” I said.

“Oh, dear.” She smiled, and started to fade away. “You are in for interesting times. Adventures, tragedies, and great battles will gather around you. Prepare.”

“Prepare?” I stood up, looking at the fading woman. “No! I don’t want to be extraordinary! I’m normal, let me be normal!”

But Mrs. Milkshade was gone. Faded back into her own time and place. I shook my fist at where she had stood.

“I am normal,” I muttered.

I was. I still believe I am. I am not a chosen one. My parents have passed on, silently and after a quiet fifty years of marriage. There is no djinn that owes me their life, no great calamity that was started because I spoke with a goddess. I am normal.

And yet my life has been irrevocably altered. All because of this woman.

I’m about to be involved in excitement.

I needed a drink and a book.

copyright 2017 Jack Holder