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TITLE: Beads of Horn Silver
GENRE: adventure, magic realism
WORD COUNT: 55,817
SUMMARY: Two reporters journey to a small Midwest town to cover a harvest festival and to find the reason for their editor's sudden and eerie breakdown.
The lunch crowd at The Black Bean was large enough for most people to maintain their anonymity. Nonetheless, Mel Ang hid behind the business section of a newspaper that had been left by the previous occupant of her chair. Every few moments, she would peek from the edges of the paper to a point just beyond the salad bar and wince before disappearing back into the depths of black and white. A half eaten chicken sandwich, a tomato and avocado salad, and a glass of apple juice stood stoically untouched by her right hand.
“I didn’t know you had a sudden interest in the stock market.”
Mel slowly lowered the newspaper revealing a disapproving expression of sharp dark eyes and down-turned mouth which was somewhat spoiled by her black hair that had been braided into pig tails. A man, short dark hair—tousled and spiky—wire-framed spectacles, a white t-shirt that said “Tech Geek” plastered on a swimmer’s build, sat opposite of her. He grinned and took a bite out of his own sandwich. Mel mentally counted to three to prevent herself from rolling up the newspaper and bashing him on the head.
“Can’t you see I’m hiding?” Mel stabbed a fork into the salad. “Mad Dog is here.”
“Where?” He turned around to look, but Mel suddenly let go of the salad fork with a clang and grabbed the front of his shirt.
“Stuart. No. He’ll see you.”
He slumped back into his chair when she let go. “What’s the matter with you? He’s just our boss.”
Mad Dog, known as Ralph Bartlett in more professional circles, was the chief editor of the New Halis cultural magazine Hot Tread. As his nickname suggested, Mad Dog had a rather formidable and well-deserved reputation for being insanely tenacious.
“A boss that just got back from a vacation,” clarified Mel. “If I hear just one more time about his ecstatic tour to the middle of nowhere and his new found fondness for crab apple jelly, I’m going to scream.”
“Remind me to buy earplugs then,” Stuart replied.
She turned her nose up at him and with an audible rustle of papers, the shield was erected again.
But when she made another furtive peek, her lunch companion said blandly, “I trust you’re being entertained by the prices for ComTech shares?”
“ComTech,” he repeated.
“For a reporter, you play way too many video games.”
“ComTech is a computer company, not a video game.”
“It’s all the same difference to me.”
“So! Roubere. Ang. This is where you two have been hiding on lunch break,” boomed a loud sonorous voice just above their heads.
Mel gave a small shriek and the newspaper slid to the floor.
A tall beefy man in biker leathers, a swirling dragon tattoo on his right bicep and scraggly blonde hair on his chin and head pulled up a chair at their table and plunked his lunch down. He shoved his sunglasses over his head revealing eyes as gray as the beads on the strange new necklace at his throat. “I have a great idea for the both of you. It came to me while I was standing in line to get lunch.”
“Oh, great,” said Mel.
“Are you sending us overseas?” Stuart asked hopefully. “I’ve always wanted to do a story on…”
“It’s even better than that,” Mad Dog replied. “It’s one of the towns I passed through during my vacation. Gavot. They have the greatest crab apple jelly.”
Mel made a strangled sound at the back of her throat.
The editor ignored the noise. “They also have this strange little harvest festival they hold every year. It was just too bad that I couldn’t stay there to see it. So I figured, why not send you two to cover it? And when you come back, you can tell me all about it. And we’ll get an article about it.”
“Why send the both of us?” Stuart frowned. “Isn’t it small enough for just one person to cover it?”
Mad Dog shook his head. “You know as well as I do that you and Mel work better as a te…”
The editor made a disturbing choking noise as his eyes rolled upward. His head jerked unnaturally. Stuart and Mel made startled exclamations and reached to help. Their hands simultaneously grabbed onto the necklace.
Mad Dog suddenly flailed into a seizure and flung the two away. They let go of the necklace too late and the string holding it together snapped. Gray beads popped and skittered and landed into Mad Dog’s untouched sandwich.