the actuary

for a living, i predict death.
not with crystal balls nor palmistry
nor stars and astrology,
but with tables and numbers
and a dash of information—
distributions and statistics
and mathematical inspiration.

sometimes i feel like a reaper,
though i don’t steal life;
i can only forecast
the eventual strife. 

By Any Other Name

I never understood the appeal of royalty names—Victoria, Elizabeth, Eleanor—but when I met her, her rich chocolate hair cascading over creamy skin, it made some kind of sense. Ironically, she hated her full name (“Call me Betty,” she said, extending a neatly manicured hand when we’d met.), much like she despised any hints of pretentious grandeur.

She fascinated me. Her eyes were like bright topaz jewels changing hues in the light, and her laughter was bright and cheery. I could close my eyes and picture her in a painting, which I often did.

Especially after she was gone.

Something Shining

They said the moon fell in love with the sun. That was not the beginning. This was: “Have you ever felt love?” the moon asked, one night when it was full to bursting. “The kind that’s blinding, effervescent, and free?”

“I think so,” the sun said wistfully. “Once, with a distant star. Or maybe a reflection. Something shining.” The moon was quiet.

Years passed, in their cyclic waltz, yet nothing seemed to change. The moon would fill from dark to whole, then wane away.

Something shining. If only.

With a start, the moon realized it had fallen for the sun.

Free Fall

We stood at the edge of a canyon, wind in our hair, cloudless sky above, whispers echoing below. Somewhere, a rock clattered free. Dust swirled.

We were eclipsed by the majesty of nature; the moment felt confessional, as if all our words had greater meaning because we were droplets in a river.

“I never told you,” I said, “that I’m afraid of heights? This feels unwise.”

“I won’t let you fall,” he promised, sure and steady like an anchor at sea.

I looked into his eyes, tucked a strand of hair behind my ear, and thought, I’m already free falling.

Up to Chance

For Serene’s OC Chance at subeta. A companion to “Lucky Cards.”

###

The dice clatter on the sidewalk, and I grin. Eleven. Skateboarding off of rooftops. Today will be aces.

It sounds dangerous, but I’m a spirit. Nothing hurts anymore. I sometimes wish it did, a lesson learned far too late. Life was boring, though — death is much better. I can hang out on rooftops all day and don’t have to wait for scrapes to heal.

People mill below me, unaware of my presence. I have a game I play with myself: reading their futures until something pops out. Seven. A breakup. Six. A victory. Five. A wedding. Four. Three. Two. An accident.

How soon? A minute? An hour? I could stop it; I’ve done this before. I tried to roll for more information — dice were tricky. It was up to chance.

Chance. Hah, my name, get it? But I have more important matters at hand. The dice tumble, and I squint. A car, maybe? Before I can roll again, an encounter catches my eye. A spirit introducing herself to…a human?

I had known there were other spirits, but never saw another interacting with humans before.

Huh.

Flicker

For noemi’s pet Firaffe on subeta.

###

A small mountain of ash fell on Firaffe’s head. Another leaf burned. His stomach rumbled. If only his horns would go out, he thought. Firaffe shook his head, and the resulting breeze made the flames flicker once, twice, three times, and they lit back up. It gave him an idea.

Firaffe ran to the nearest stream and plunged in. His head was immediately extinguished, and he could almost taste victory, the perfect leaf. But when he surfaced, his horns relit.

So he tried again. And again. And again. Nothing changed. Why did it have to be fire? Eating was hard.

A plop caught his attention, and he looked up. Great, it was raining and he was still hungry. Wait, it was raining! He eagerly galloped back to the tree and, sure enough, a hiss of steam told him the flames were out.

He reached up and up and up —

The rain stopped.

The fire was back.

Ash fell on his head.

If the Shoe Fits

The roses were not a surprise. The shoe was.

It was a breezy day on Lake Michigan, under a willow tree and atop a gingham blanket. “William,” Cynthia asked, laughing, “what are you doing?”

“Proposing,” he answered easily. “If you’d let me. You’re always saying you need more shoes, so I thought this’d be practical.”

Cynthia pretended to swoon. “A man after my own heart. How can I refuse?”

William slipped off Cynthia’s espadrilles and intoned, “Cynthia Marie Sinclair — my dear Cinderella — will you marry me?”

Cynthia, in mock seriousness, said, “Well, I suppose. If the shoe fits.”

It did.

Lucky Cards

For Serene’s OC Yurei on Subeta.

###

I wander the lands, turn over my cards, and my vision blurs. The Fool: a woman, a runaway dog, an incoming car. I must find her, and say —

Threads of possibilities are everywhere I look, like partially woven tapestries. Some are fateful, others not. None of it affects me, for I am a shade of what I once was, a spirit. I have lost my life but gained gifts, though the gift of seeing the future somehow translates into forgoing my past, save that I possessed regrets until the end. Even that, I regret. Was I happy in my other life? Did I live well? Had I known love? Questions swirl in my mind, unanswered.

But I make the most of my present, and help humans avoid the worst of their fates. It feels like my duty, as someone who Knows, and might aid me on my own journey Beyond. My cards are in a satchel around my wrist, ready to be used. There — the fey woman with a terrier. If I could breathe, I’d have done so in relief. I found her.

I make myself visible, and she nearly trips over her dog. “Greetings,” I begin. “Please do not be alarmed. I am Yurei, a spirit of fate, and I have come with a warning. My cards have shown me that your dog will run and you will crash into a car trying to catch him.”

She startles, tugs the leash, and sighs, “Oh, Scoots. I’m awful with dogs, aren’t I?”

I give her a rare smile.

“The leaves were fine this morning, but — thank you, Yurei,” she continues. “I’ll be careful.”

Humans can sometimes See, but spirits often Know. It is wasted on the departed, for it is too late for us.

Let it be never, for them.

Days Long Gone

It was a mistake leaving Rebecca, Michael realized. There were no more cutesy notes in his brown-bag lunches, nor feet curled in his lap over breakfast. It was the small things he missed most.

He still remembered how she took her coffee (with milk and too much sugar), how she smiled (tentative and bracketed by dimples), how she laughed (an unladylike snort, no matter how hard she tried to mask it). Memories would overwhelm him as he was walking down the street, hands in his pockets.

And he saw her. With someone new. And a dog.

His heart sank.