The Orc Who Cried
This time, Harley managed to wake before the sheets actually caught on fire. She tugged on the chain of the beside lamp, pushed herself up on her hands and examined the sheet beneath her.
The movement yanked on her wings. She’d tangled the top sheet up in them again. She pulled at the sheet with one hand and dumped the entire thing into the bucket next to her bed. It hissed as it settled in the water.
The sheet beneath her was a dark brown, almost black. Cotton fibers glowed orange. Embers.
Harley eased herself off the mattress, so her wings didn’t fan the embers and make the sheet and bed whoof into full flames. She’d learned that the hard way. Grimly, she pulled the comforter to the floor and stripped the bed. She pushed the bottom sheet into the bucket. Steam rose as the embers were extinguished.
The mattress protector beneath the sheet was scorched a dull brown. It wasn’t charcoal, at least. Scorch marks she could live with. Not that she had a replacement for it, anyway.
The oversized teeshirt with the slashed back she was wearing was also stiff with melted fibers and brown where it had rested against her. She pushed it into the water with the sheets. By then it was gone five a.m. She had an incoming call at five-thirty, so she dressed and padded downstairs to the kitchen.
It was still pitch-black outside. The solstice had only been three days ago. It was Christmas Eve, and the snow was deep and crisp and even.
Mrs. Ulick had left the kitchen pristine, as usual. Plus, there was a bonus—a batch of raisin oatmeal cookies in a plastic container, with Harley’s name written on a Post It note. The handwriting was ill-formed. Mrs. Ulick’s claws didn’t let her wield delicate tools like pens with finesse. But she could still cook like a dream.
It was too late to thank her. The Ulicks would be settling in for their night, down in the basement.
Harley ate three of the cookies in big bites, then made coffee while she ate a fourth. She picked up a fifth, settled at the scratched Formica table in the breakfast nook and opened up her laptop.
She sipped her coffee until the call came in. It connected and Michael Jones’ clear Celtic features formed. He smiled, showing even, white teeth. “You look tired, Harley.”
“And happy Christmas Eve to you, too, doc.” She sipped her coffee.
Jones tilted his head, his eyes narrowing. “It happened again, didn’t it?”
Harley gave him a hard smile. “I woke before the bed actually went up in flames.”
“That’s progress, I suppose.” He rubbed his jaw. “It’s perplexing. I’ve never heard of any of the fire elements doing this.”
“Know lots of firebirds, do you?” she asked sweetly.
He smiled. “I wish I could say you are one of a kind, Harley.”
“You actually know firebirds?” She lowered her mug.
“Just one. He’s…also unique.” Jones shook his head. “And before you ask, no, he doesn’t set fire to his bed while he’s sleeping.” He scratched his jaw with a thoughtful expression. “I’m sure there is a way we could arrange for you to come out here. I’d really like to examine you—”
“No, doc. I am absolutely not traveling to Spain just for you to feel my pulse. I have a job to do here. I’m the town’s police chief.”
“If we arranged a flight, it would only take a few days. They could spare you that long, couldn’t they?”
She rolled her eyes. “I have two constables, both completely new to police work and the nearest RCMP office doesn’t want to have anything to do with this town. There is no one else, Michael. I can’t justify abandoning them for even a few days. There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.”
“But you’re eating like a famine is due to hit tomorrow. That’s your third biscuit while we’ve been talking. Your resting body heat is climbing so high your bed smolders while you sleep. You might feel fine, but something is not functioning as it should.”
“It’s Christmas Eve,” she pointed out. “And besides, what commercial flight would let me on it? I don’t have a passport.”
“There are private planes and ways to get around borders, especially here in Spain, for Old Ones.”
She laughed. It was the only sane response to that idea.
“At least promise me you’ll think about it.”
“I’ll think about it.” In her mind, she qualified the statement. She would maybe consider if she wanted to think about it at all. “But while I can do my job, I have to keep doing my job.”
He sighed and nodded. “Very well. Until next week?”
“Have a good Christmas, Michael.”
“And you. Do you have plans?”
She paused. “I…ah…sleeping, probably. Maybe send Bohdan and Mojag home for the day and run the station by myself.”
He frowned. “That’s not good, Harley. Don’t you have family?”
“Who are willing to talk to me and not pretend I died six months ago?” she asked, her smile brittle.
At that moment, her phone vibrated, jiggling upon the table.
Jones grimaced. “I’ve been watching that happen to Old Ones for years now, and I am still no closer to understanding why.”
She read the screen of her phone.
Need you at Maze Peak lookout. Body. 🙁 Mojag on his way. It was Bohdan Kask, her other constable.
“If I ever figure it out myself, I’ll pass it along,” Harley told him distantly. “And I have to go.” She looked up at him and lifted the phone. “A body. See?”
“It’s almost like someone heard me,” Michael Jones said with a wry smile. “Take care, Harley.”
They disconnected. Moodily, she finished her coffee and ate another cookie and watched through the big picture window next to the table as the moon sank to the horizon, and the last of the glow left the untouched snow in the backyard. It was so cold out there that frost was building on the corners of the window, making it look like a Christmas cliché.
Then she ate yet one more cookie, just because. Who the hell cared, anyway?
When Mojag arrived and honked his horn, she brushed her jeans of cookie crumbs and went out.
Falconer folk are a little strange…
Harley von Canmore, firebird and Chief of Police of Falconer, a tiny town in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, struggles to reconcile her new life as one of the Old Races. It’s Christmas Eve and bitterly cold, yet Harley is setting fire to her bed while she sleeps, paper burns when she touches it, and no one needs a room heater when she’s in it.
When a body is found at the base of Maze Peak lookout, Harley must put aside her personal issues and investigate. What the RCMP suspect is a simple accident grows complicated when she digs a little deeper…
The Orc Who Cried is part of the Harley Firebird urban fantasy series of novelettes, which is set in the same world as Taylen Carver’s Magorian & Jones series.
1.0: The Dragon of Falconer
2.0: The Orc Who Cried
…and more to come.
Urban Fantasy Novelette
Also, don’t forget you can get your copy of the story a week before everyone else, if you pre-order directly from me (see the links below).