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Submission #1 – The Reluctant Shaman – James
I knew it was going to be a strange day when I woke up and saw an owl perched at the foot of my bed. At first I just rolled over and closed my eyes again, hoping I was dreaming. Maybe I’d watched one too many nature documentaries. My hope quickly faded when it hopped along the sheets until its little talons were digging into my neck. It pecked at my ear and I fell out of the bed.
“So where did you come from?” I demanded. Well actually, I think the first thing I did was yell. Or scream. Yeah, my voice had a decidedly screamy quality to it. So I’m not used to owls waking me up at six in the morning. Who is?
It cocked its head to one side and hooted. You know how they always say owls go “who, who?” This one didn’t. It sounded maybe like a cross between a cat’s purr and a pigeon cooing. I think they call it trilling. What am I, an owlologist? I stood up and backed away from the little bird. It hopped along after me and trilled at me again.
“What, did the real estate market for nests collapse? Why are you in my apartment? Shoo!” And now I was arguing with an owl. Its call went up a few octaves as it shrieked at me. I picked up my phone from the nightstand and shook it at the bird. “I’m calling animal control.”
It hooted indignantly and fluttered silently out of the bedroom. I followed it into the living room just in time to see it wing its way out of my open window. Oh yeah, I’d forgotten I left it open. Not usually a good idea in Pittsburgh, even on the fifth floor, but it was hot last night and there’s bars on the window. I guess those don’t stop owls.
I hurried my way through getting ready for work and dashed down the stairs to the lobby. It takes forever to walk to my office, but it sure beats public transportation and it’s not like I have a car. I had a clunker once, but one too many unpaid parking tickets meant it got towed, and I just let them keep the rust-bucket. It was always more trouble than it was worth.
I stopped at the coffee shop a block down from my place and ordered my usual. Scone, latte, and the smaller size bottle of water. The third item makes the total exactly $9.99. It’s usually important, but she wasn’t there this morning, so it didn’t really matter. I paid with a ten anyway. The barista gave me a fake customer service smile as he gave me a greenish-looking penny. I nodded to him and hurried back onto the street, pocketing the water bottle and downing the scone in two bites.
Just as I tipped the coffee cup back for a sip, I felt hard little needles dig into my shoulder. I think I jumped high enough to try out for the NBA, and I spilled the entire latte down my shirt. If you haven’t already guessed, I don’t handle surprise very well. It was the owl again. He preened himself and dug his talons in deeper, looking smug.
“Seriously?!” I brushed at him, but he nipped at my hand and dug in even harder. It hurt. “Fine, fine! You can stay, just loosen up a bit.” He relaxed his grip and my shoulder stopped feeling like hamburger. I looked down the front of my outfit. “You ruined my shirt.”
The bird hooted contentedly and fluffed up his feathers. Or maybe it was her feathers. How do you tell with owls, anyway?
Leaving the question if this was an owl or or an—owlina?… owlrietta?… owlette?… whatever—for the world’s eggheads, I ran back up to my apartment and changed shirts. The bird hopped off just long enough for me to pull on a new shirt and was perched on my shoulder again before I’d even finished tying the Windsor knot on my tie. I was running late now. No time to walk, I had to take a bus.
There’s no real reason I don’t usually take public transportation. I just like to use my own legs. I spend enough time cooped up in a tiny cubicle every day without riding around in a tin can designed by a sadistic engineer. But being late means less pay. They’re funny about that where I work. They don’t like to pay you for time you aren’t there. So I gritted my teeth, found the nearest bus route that went by the Maclir Foundation, my office, and tried to pay the fare.
“You can’t bring that thing in here,” the bus driver growled at me. Perhaps he was normally a really cheerful person, but today he was grouchy. Maybe he didn’t like Mondays. Or mornings. Or maybe it was just me.
“What thing?” I know, eloquence is a gift that wasn’t given to me.
“The bird,” he gestured a meaty arm in the direction of my shoulder. “No pets.”
“It’s not a pet,” I protested. “It just won’t leave. Look!” I pushed at the owl, and it bit me in response. “Ow!”
“No pets,” the driver growled again. He shut the door in my face and pulled the bus back into traffic. Great.
Now I’m no great athlete, but even with a steady diet of scones and lattes, walking to work every morning keeps me pretty trim. I ran. The city blocks passed in a blur as I rushed down busy sidewalks and cut through a few alleys. I only jaywalked once, and nearly got pancaked in the process, but arrived at the Maclir building in one piece. I dashed past the startled lobby receptionist, and stumbled into cubicle-land panting and wheezing, only ten minutes late.
“Lund! You’re just in time!” My boss, Joe Arik, looked up from his desk as I walked in. He tapped the fake Rolex on his wrist. “Well actually, you’re late, but I’m overlooking it because I have a really cruddy job for you. A copy machine’s on the fritz and it’s your turn. Guess which one?”
I groaned. “Third floor?”
“Bingo!” he grinned and did that stupid two handed gunpoint that some people do, you know, the forefinger and thumb making a gun? Anyway, then he blinked and stared at me, or rather at the passenger on my shoulder. “Is that an owl?”
“Yeah,” I shrugged. “It won’t leave me alone.”
“What, like, at all?”
I poked at it. It ruffled its feathers and hooted drowsily. “Do you mind? I have work to do.”
It blinked at me, spread its wings, and flew back to the lobby, where it pecked at the front door until our puzzled receptionist let it out.
Submission #2 – The Rule of Olympus – Micki
The long procession of people filed past the tiny window of the small clay house as Michala glanced up from the wool she was working on.
“It’s that time again.” she said softly, speaking to her sister on the far side of the room
Elysah looked up from sharpening her long dagger.
“They are lost to be sure.” she said, shaking her head.
“Berenice asked again if we were going to the temple.” Michala replied, her hands working to untangle the woolly mess.
“She keeps wondering why we do not join everyone in their weekly sacrifices to the other gods; or at least appeal to Zeus since he is the head of the Greek gods and the main god of this city.”
“And why would we do that?” Elysah asked, checking to see the balance of her now sharp dagger.
Michala looked up and gave Elysah a long look.
“You know as well as I do that not everyone understands who we are.”
“Let them stay confused about who we are, why do they need to know?”
Michala shook her head, a slight smile playing on her lips.
Elysah put her dagger back in its sheath and came over to help with the wool’s knots.
“Nothing; I wish I had your ability to see things in that way”
Elysah shrugged, continuing with what was left of the wool still needing to be done.
After a bit, the knots where out of the wool and it was wrapped neatly into individual balls.
Michala rose and, picking up the wool’s basket, headed for the door.
“Are you taking that over right away then?” Elysah asked.
“I had planned on it. Octavia said she needed it as soon as possible, and since we would not have to do it later we will have more time for tonight.” Michala replied, putting her shawl around her shoulders.
Elysah nodded her approval, so Michala left for her errand.
Closing the door, Michala turned and watched the crowd of people trying to move through the busy streets.
Walking into the nearest stream moving toward the center of the city; she tried to keep her place in the river of sly merchants, grumpy buyers, and tired workers on their way home after a long day.
Not long into the progression, the pace slowed as it neared the center of the city, which was always full.
With careful going, Michala was able to turn down a small side road that led to some small houses with sheep pens.
The sheep were used for the temple sacrifices, but sometimes their wool would be harvested and used.
Octavia had harvested her husband’s sheep’s wool while he was away, but couldn’t spin it herself so she had asked Michala if she could do it for her.
Coming up to the door of the Valarious’ house, Michala quietly knocked and waited.
The door moved open a crack and an eye peeked around the edge of the door.
Throwing the door open, Octavia welcomed her with open arms and a wide grin.
“It is so good to see you!” she said, ushering her into the small house.
“And I, you.” Michala said with a smile, switching from her home tongue Hebrew that she used with her sister to the language of the city; Greek.
“You have finished the wool already? But that was so fast!” Octavia asked, taking the offered basket.
“Not so fast as you might think, I had it for longer then it takes most merchants.” Michala replied.
“How much do we owe you then?”
Octavia disappeared for a moment and came back with a small pouch.
“You owe me nothing. It is an honour to serve those who are humble enough to ask for help when they need it.” Michala put her hand up to stop Octavia from counting the money.
“But I must give you something for the work, and truly wonderful work it is.”
Michala thought a moment, her head down and a finger against her lips.
“Do not pay me, bestow it forward.” she answered.
“What do you mean by that?” Octavia frowned; Michala and her sister where good people but rather odd at times.
“It is a saying that my family said often. It means instead of paying me, do something for someone else.” Michala said.
Octavia thought a moment,
“That is a rather nice saying actually. Very well.” Octavia put the money back into the pouch.
“Will you not take something as a thank you instead of payment? A loaf of bread?”
Michala stood a moment, Octavia thought to consider, not catching the movement of Michala’s lips in prayer.
Elysah and Michala lived solely off of what their Lord gave them.
He provided to their needs as they did the work He asked them to do.
So Michala asked her Heavenly father if this was one of those times, or if this work was to be truly free from payment or gifts.
After a moment, she had her answer.
“Very well.” Michala said, looking up; a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.
Octavia looked relieved and disappeared into another room.
Michala knew that most people could not understand why she and her sister did things in this fashion; that sometimes they would accept payment or gift and other times they would not.
They had tried to explain it once before in another town they briefly stayed in; but no one understood, or wanted to. Everyone, it seemed, scorned their God or was indifferent to him; not realising how much he really was in the world.
Octavia reappeared with a wrapped bundle that she handed to Michala.
“Thank you again for the work you did. If I had tried doing it myself it would not have been ready for the merchant we promised it to.” she said.
“No, thank you.” she replied.
Turning, she left the Valarious’ house and made her way back to the steady stream of people.
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