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Authors: Rachel Neumeier

Black Dog Short Stories

BOOK: Black Dog Short Stories
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Black Dog Short Stories

Black Dog, Volume 2

Rachel Neumeier

 

Published by Anara Publishing, 2015

 

 

1.  Christmas Shopping

Natividad is delighted when the Master of Dimilioc gives her permission to go Christmas shopping in a real town, since she definitely needs to find gifts for her brothers.  But did Grayson have to assign
Keziah
to go with her?

 

 

2.  Library Work

Étienne Lumondiere has annoyed Miguel once too often, throwing his weight around and belittling ordinary humans.  But Miguel’s going to fix that.  He just needs to work out a few more details of his clever plan.

 

 

3.  A Learning Experience

It’s tough for a black dog raised outside Dimilioc to adjust to being a team player.  But Thaddeus is determined to impress Grayson . . . until he is unexpectedly confronted by a black dog kid who reminds him a little too much of himself.

 

 

4.  The Master of Dimilioc

The Dimilioc executioner is the mainstay of the Master’s authority, as Ezekiel knows better than anyone.  He has never questioned his role in Dimilioc . . . until now.

 

 

 

 

 

This is a work of fiction.  Any resemblance to real people, places, or events is entirely coincidental.

 

Black Dog Short Stories

 

 

First edition April 15, 2015

 

Copyright © 2015 Rachel Neumeier

 

Written by Rachel Neumeier

 

 

 

 

Praise for BLACK DOG

 

“It’s the kind of book that made me resent the obligations of ordinary life because I just wanted to keep reading.” – Sharon Shinn, bestselling author of the
Samaria
series

 

1 -- Christmas Shopping

 

 

     Grayson leaned back in his chair, tapping his pen gently on the table, looking exactly like what he was: a busy man hounded beyond endurance by the petty concerns of children. At least, it was easy to feel like a
niña
, when Grayson considered you that way. It was the way he raised his heavy eyebrows. Sort of a pained, faintly astonished expression, as though you’d managed despite yourself to pull off a dubious surprise.

     Which wasn’t fair at
all
, because even if Grayson really was overworked—which he was, Natividad wasn’t denying that, especially short-handed as Dimilioc was these days—but her request was
perfectly reasonable
.

     “It’s not like I can go shopping with Alejandro,” she pointed out. “It wouldn’t be right for him to see what I get him.”

     Grayson set down his pen, exactly aligned with the edge of the table. That kind of precision seemed out of place in so harsh-featured a man, until you knew Grayson a little better and understood the unbreakable control he exercised in every single aspect of his life.

     “You can buy anything you like online—” he began.

     “Yes, but that’s not the same! Anyway, I don’t
know
what to get Alejandro, or Miguel either. And you can’t look properly at things online, you know. It’s not the same as walking down streets and into stores and things. Anyway, my
first
Christmas in America! With a real town only an hour away! It’s not fair to say I can’t go shopping! And Newport has to be safe. Nobody would dare cause trouble so close to Dimilioc, right? Well,
isn’t
that right?”

     Though she couldn’t help but remember those strays that had attacked her the only other time she had been in Newport. Had either of her brothers ever happened to tell Grayson about that? She didn’t think she had ever mentioned it herself. She decided she really didn’t need to mention it now, since those strays had almost certainly been part of Vonhausel’s shadow pack. Nothing like that would be a problem now. She said again, firmly, “Newport would be
perfectly
safe.”

     “Perhaps,” Grayson conceded. “Probably. But
probably
is not adequate when it’s a question of your safety, Natividad. I think you must acknowledge that these are unsettled days. We hardly know what may happen—even in Newport. Also,” he added, his deep, gritty voice coming down on every word with heavy finality, “though Newport is hardly a city, I am certainly not going to approve you driving yourself into or around any town.”

     Natividad hesitated, because that was a point. She didn’t have the kind of license you were supposed to have to drive, but besides that, she had never really learned to drive at all. Only one or two people in Potosi had even owned a car, and unlike her twin she hadn’t been interested in learning. And here in Vermont, there were all those rules and signs and things, most of which she didn’t know, either. She hadn’t exactly thought about that. Now that she did think about it, she really didn’t want to try to drive in Newport. Or anywhere else. She said at last, “Maybe DeAnn would like to go shopping. She probably wants to get things for Conway and Thaddeus. If she drove, that wouldn’t be a problem.”

     “Natividad. Do you expect me to risk
both
of Dimilioc’s Pure women without a proper guard, in order for you to indulge yourself with shopping you could perfectly well do here, online? I imagine Thaddeus might have one or two things to say to me if I approved any such notion.”

     Well, when he put it that way . . . but still. It
wasn’t
fair. “You let Miguel—” she began.

     “Miguel has considerably more experience with cars than you do, Natividad.”

     “Yes, but—”

     “Also,” continued Grayson, raising his voice slightly, “Your brother is not Pure. If he should be so unfortunate as to encounter an unexpected stray black dog, there is no reason it should notice him.”  There was a slight pause. Then Grayson picked the pen up again, turning it over in his powerful fingers. “However, I agree that it is unjust to cage you here. As you say . . . this
is
your first Christmas here at Dimilioc. Of course you wish to mark the occasion, where your year—and your life—turns from the past to the present.”

     Natividad blinked in surprise. “You
do
understand!”

     The grim line of Grayson’s mouth eased. “I believe I do. Yes.”  He tapped the pen on the desk again. Tap, tap, tap. But this time she thought the tapping seemed more thoughtful than impatient.

     “You may go shopping,” he conceded at last. “But a black dog must go with you. I understand why you do not wish this to be Alejandro. Very well. Keziah can go with you.”

     “Keziah! No!”

     “Yes,” Grayson said inflexibly. “A little trip together will be good for both of you, I believe. You will have your opportunity to escape the confines of Dimilioc for the day. Keziah will have an opportunity to engage in a bit of harmless frivolity—I doubt she is much accustomed to frivolity. She may even enjoy it. And in the unlikely chance that you should encounter any difficulties, Keziah is perfectly capable of protecting you.”

     Natividad wanted to say,
Yes, but who will protect me from Keziah?
But she had to admit that Keziah was very, very unlikely to actually hurt her. Just . . . she probably wouldn’t be very
nice
, either. She muttered, “I could wait till Ezekiel’s back.
He
wouldn’t mind taking me to Newport.”

     Ezekiel would be delighted to be asked, she was sure, since he was sort of half courting her. And half certain he’d already claimed her. Black dogs were so exasperatingly territorial. On second thought, she wasn’t entirely certain she wanted to ask Ezekiel after all. It was hard to decide whether she wanted to encourage him or try to get him to give her a little more space.

     But she didn’t have to decide right this minute.  Because Grayson only said, “I fear Ezekiel is unlikely to return in time for such an excursion. Keziah. Or—” he tapped his computer’s monitor with the pen—“online shopping remains an option.”

     Natividad sighed. It was plain that now she’d put the idea in his head, Grayson was determined to force her to spend a whole day together with Keziah. Maybe . . . maybe it wouldn’t be
so
bad. They could just . . . go to shops and things. They didn’t actually have to
talk
to each other.

     But if she was going to have to go shopping with
Keziah
, she’d better be able to find something for her brothers. Something just right. If she had to spend
a whole day
with Keziah and didn’t even find anything, she would . . . she would put salt and cayenne instead of sugar and cinnamon in Grayson’s cinnamon rolls. And he would
deserve
it.

 

      “
Christmas
shopping,” Keziah said, tilting her head and gazing at Natividad through her lashes in a way that implied she had never heard of anything so ridiculous. But then she shrugged. “I do not care about Christmas. But I do not mind to go shopping.” 
Even with you,
her tone implied. “But Newport is certainly not the place to go. It is not so much farther to real cities. Burlington is not so far. An hour and a half, two hours. We will go there.”

     Natividad blinked, startled. Going farther than Newport hadn’t even occurred to her. She knew Newport was not really a city, but it was a lot bigger than Lewis or Brighton. It had seemed big enough to her. She had only thought of how claustrophobic Dimilioc could get, of how she couldn’t even walk in the woods because it was too cold and the snow made it hard to walk. It just seemed so . . . stifling, sometimes. So escaping to Newport for a day had seemed enough. Especially since she really did need to go Christmas shopping. But even if she’d thought Newport too small, she wouldn’t have had any idea where else to go.

     Keziah plainly knew all about where
she
wanted to go. That made Natividad feel young and stupid, because it had never occurred to her to look at maps and learn what places were near Dimilioc, what cities might be close and what each was like. Keziah obviously had looked at all those things. She was used to real cities, big cities, and used to coming and going as she liked, and taking care of herself.

     Natividad said meekly, “Burlington would be wonderful. If Grayson doesn’t mind.”

     “Grayson spoils you so. I am sure he will not want you shopping for Christmas in
Newport
. We will leave tomorrow early and come back in the night. Then we will not need to shop quickly and I can look for what I want. Maybe a bracelet with moonstones.”  She touched her moonstone earrings, gave Natividad a swift, amused glance, and added, “
You
could get a better coat. You Pure are so delicate. You could get a pink coat that is all puffy with feathers.”

     She strolled away before Natividad could think of an answer.

 

     Even with Keziah, getting away from Dimilioc for a day was wonderful. They left as the sun rose behind the mountains, the pearl-gray dawn giving way to rose and peach, lavender and gold shining around the edges of the clouds. In this light, the mountains were beautiful, too. The leafless forest still looked stark and forbidding, but wherever it was open, the snow had melted a little on top and then frozen again, white and shiny and smooth, so that it glowed with the colors of the dawn. The trip would have been worth it just for the drive. Natividad rolled her window down just a little to let in the light. She even enjoyed the sharp cold.

     Keziah slanted a sideways look at Natividad, but said nothing about the window. Black dogs did not feel the cold, and she was not one of Natividad’s brothers, to worry that perhaps Natividad might feel the cold too much. Keziah was very good at driving cars, though she drove faster and more aggressively than Natividad liked—but that was a black dog. It was foolish to expect one to drive gently. Natividad gazed at the mountains unrolling beyond her window and watched the light of the brilliant winter day fill the world and let Keziah drive as she chose.

     Hardly more than an hour and a half later, in the heart of Burlington, Keziah tucked the big car into the single available parking space near a big church. The parking space seemed too small, but Keziah parked exactly the same way that she drove: with smooth, elegant skill and a complete disregard for what anyone else thought of her. She hadn’t hesitated to steal that space from another driver who had obviously been waiting for it, slipping neatly around his SUV and into the place she wanted. The other driver looked mad, until he got a good look at Keziah. Then he just looked stunned.

     Keziah, emerging from the driver’s side with lithe grace, seemed oblivious to both his annoyance and his admiration. Natividad was sure the older girl was acutely aware of both. Keziah liked to be admired.  She wanted people to look at her. For this trip to Burlington, she was wearing smooth black leggings and high-heeled knee-high black boots and a silk tunic, sapphire-blue but with jagged streaks of black across the blue. Her moonstone-and-crystal earrings glittered, half hidden by the thick fall of her black, black hair. Lavender powder dusted her wide-set eyes, making them seem even larger in her elegant, triangular face.

     Next to her, Natividad knew she looked very young. Like a cute girl, maybe, but just a girl. If the other driver had noticed her at all, he probably took her for Keziah’s younger sister. They didn’t look anything alike, but their coloring was almost the same. She had already found that most
Norteamericanos
noticed only the color of hair and skin and eyes and not the shape of the mouth or eyes or anything, and so thought she and Keziah looked like sisters.

     Keziah put her hands on her hips, glancing up and down the street. “Well, it will do, I suppose. That is the shopping area, just there.”  She nodded toward the area she meant.

     “I think it’s nice,” Natividad protested. All these red brick buildings so neat and well-kept, the park around the big church pretty even in winter. She liked the church, all red brick except for the white bell tower. She might have liked to go look at it, but probably that would not be high on Keziah’s list of things to do.

     Keziah rolled her eyes. “It is hardly a city. There are real cities in California. New York is a real city. This . . . well, it is better than Newport.”

     “New York would be a little far to go for Christmas shopping, never mind Los Angeles!”  Natividad wondered if the Saudi girl missed Los Angeles. Or, for that matter, whether she ever missed wherever she was really from, Riyadh or wherever. But she couldn’t imagine asking anything so personal.

     Even though there were a lot of cars, the street was not so very crowded with people, not even with Christmas approaching:  summer was tourist season here in this cold country. In the summer, lots of people came to Burlington to go boating on Lake Champlain—the website Nativiad had found said so. Boating sounded like fun. She had found herself wondering if maybe Ezekiel might like to go boating with her on Lake Memphremagog. Lake Memphremagog was near Newport, so close to Dimilioc that maybe Grayson would not mind letting Ezekiel free for long enough. Even Ezekiel could not go off on assignments and kill strays
all
the time. Especially not in the spring, when the leaves came back and flowers bloomed and the air smelled of damp earth rather than snow . . . maybe Ezekiel would like to take a little holiday, in the spring.

BOOK: Black Dog Short Stories
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