Mother of Crow 09 – The after the before never changes (Second revision)

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Mother of Crow

By Jenny K. Brennan

This Sundered World - Book 2

A spirit-punk steam-punk tale we don't know where, maybe not even why, and most certainly not how.

Draft exclusive to House of Imp. Copyright 2017 Jenny K. Brennan - All rights reserved.

Chapter 9 – The after the before never changes

Last updated: February 14, 2019 at 8:16 am

There was no town. Instead, smoke and ashes hovered gently over a field of destruction. Muted flickers of quickly dying flames popped in and out of sight between the drifting cloud of smoke. Down the road, half way between a line of flattened houses at the outskirts of town and the forest, Clack paced the width of the road, sputtering curses through clenched teeth. Gabriel wasn’t listening. He stared at the destroyed town in dull fascination.

Gabriel’s hearing reluctantly returned and something tickled his awareness. It was a sound so odd he wasn’t sure he heard it right. He turned to Jesse. She was crying.
She was furiously wiping her eyes and making a sooty mess of her face. Gabriel stared at her. She had one hand over her mouth and with the other she gripped his wrist and pulled him closer.

“Jesse, what?” Gabriel was confused. So okay, one more explosion might be a bit much, even for Jesse who never cried. But still…. He spoke without thinking, “It’s not like there was anything in that place worth saving.” That didn’t sound right. “ I mean, maybe they are better off.”
Jesse stared. “They were human.” She let the anger take over. “Humans, Gabriel, humans!”
Gabriel threw his hands up. “Not all of them,” he said and thought of the broken down machines littering the street on their way to the town hall, “and they…” Suddenly he stopped. Clack was glaring at him. Jesse took a step back.
“What?” He rubbed his face, hiding his friends from view. What was he saying? Faces flickered through his mind. “They weren’t. Not anymore.” Frustrated, he pulled his hands from his face and thrust an arm toward the smoke and ashes. “Are you saying that those. Those people….”
“People. Yes, Gabriel, people. You just said it, people.” Jesse pushed Clack aside and stopped in front of Gabriel. “Humans Do you remember humans? Do you remember your mother? Was she a machine too? Is that why you don’t talk about her? She wasn’t worth saving?” She didn’t scream, she didn’t touch him, but she may as well have pushed him off a cliff. That cliff in dead river. The cliff where Bird had saved him . Or had he saved Bird? He couldn’t remember. He had left his home in ruins. He had left his mother’s vaporized body drifting as toxic vapour after another explosion.
“What about my mother, Jesse? She died, Jesse!” Gabriel’s voice cracked and he strained to breathe. “She did it to herself. What the hell do you know about anything?”
Jesse’s face was so close he could feel her breath on his. She breathed fast. “Nothing! Gabriel, I know nothing and that’s the point. But I know a coward when I see one. A selfish, childish, useless human.”
Gabriel growled, “I’m not the one helping the fucking guardians to catch humans, was I?”

Jesse flinched but she refused to back down. “I’m not the one hiding in some hole waiting for a stupid machine bird to come to the rescue.” She drew a quick breath and grabbed the front of Gabriel’s shirt. She pulled him even closer. “I’m not the one who can’t see reality. I had a mother too, Gabriel. Remember her? The last one she saw was you, Gabriel, you!”
Gabriel gripped Jesse’s hand to remove it from his chest but she held on tight. “But you were all too eager to get out of that place. I got you out of there, Miss Carnival princess. Do you remember that?”
She gaped at him and had to fight for her next breath before talking again, “You? You stupid boy. Did you think I chose to come along on this stupid quest? I had to come along to save you and your pet bird from your helpless selves. What other reason could I have had? After you came along and drove my mother to burn. I should have left you to burn with her.”
It was Gabriel’s turn to gape, unable to rid himself of everything she brought to the front of his mind. “Your Mother? She wasn’t even…”
Jesse let go of Gabriel’s shirt with a cry of anguish and hit him. “Don’t say it, Gabriel. Don’t even dare.” She drew back to slap him again, but Gabriel stepped back, touching his burning face in shock. He opened his mouth. What he was about to say no one knows. And Jesse would never know what she would have done next.

“Enough!” Clack took Jesse by the shoulders and pulled her back. “That’s enough,” he said again, “Gabriel,” he snapped and Gabriel shut his mouth. “Jesse, you too.” He turned Jesse the other way and she stayed. Gabriel turned back to the town, struggling with the words Jesse had thrown at him. He breathed hard and he heard Jesse’s muted crying. Clack gave them a second. He sighed. “We have more important things to think about.”
Clack gave it a few beats, looking at Gabriel and Jesse in turn. Then he repeated, “We have more important things to think about.”
Reluctantly, Gabriel turned from his contemplation of the smoke drifting along the cracks in the road at his feet and shrugged. Jesse wiped her eyes and took a second to glare at Gabriel before looking at Clack. The soldier stared hard at the smouldering ruins, looking for something. “Bird didn’t come back with you, did he?”

Gabriel stared at him. Then at the ruined town and a cold dread started at his guts, compressed his breathing, and the last hour flooded through his mind. Hadn’t he? He took a quick step forward and scanned the road, the side of the road, behind him, as if the bird would be right there. Once more rising out of fire and sure death, ready to irritate everyone around him.
Once again without thought, Gabriel took several steps toward Terrytown before Clack caught up with him and pulled him to a stop. “No, Kid. If he was there, he’s gone. We have to get going.”
Gabriel turned to the soldier but he didn’t know what to say. Clack was right.
“He’s not there, Kid. We shouldn’t be here either.” Clack pulled him back further.

Jesse picked up on what Clack left unsaid and scrutinized the soldier, recent argument temporarily put on hold. With her eyes still on Clack, she agreed, talking to Gabriel, “Time to go. The others are waiting.”
But Gabriel’s mind wasn’t ready to let go yet. With a new thought, he turned to Clack, ignoring Jessie. He couldn’t look at her. With the thought of a different target. This new direction of his rage helped chase away the possibility of grief. He avoided looking at Jesse. He found Clacks eyes and glared. “Where is he? That fool that ran by. Where did he go?” There was no sign of the crazy clerk along the road. “He was at the office. And then he ran. Why?” There was trees and brush but nowhere a place for a man to hide. “He did this. I need to know why.”
Clack’s thoughts fell into line with Gabriel’s Logic and he narrowed his eyes at their surroundings. He hadn’t put the running man in the middle of the recent events in the way the young man had. He dismissed a twinge of shame over missing the obvious. “He won’t get far,” he said, scanning the road and the wasted area it sliced through. “If we don’t find him, they will.” His emphasis on the word ‘they’ didn’t miss the target. Gabriel flinched and glanced at Jesse. But she already looked at Clack and waited for more. “What do you see?”
Clack frowned. “Something.” He hesitated and turned his eyes to the sky. “Something. I must have seen something. I’m not sure. It’s too quiet here. I don’t like it.”
Jesse stood quietly for a moment, listening, while watching tendrils of smoke creep across the cracked and dusty roadway until they fractured and dissipated in the still air. She turned her attention to the sky. There was so much of it, so many directions they could come from. “I don’t see anything.”
Clack growled. “Chances are we won’t. We have to go.”
Gabriel turned from Terrytown. He didn’t acknowledge Clacks steady impatience. The soldier was willing to give the kid a moment to get his shit together. But only a moment. And that moment of grace was quickly expiring. “Kid.” Clack barked.
Gabriel ignored him and pushed past and started down the road, looking for the bird killing official. He ad to be there somewhere.
Clack urged jessie to come along as he hurried to catch up with Gabriel. “Bad reason, right direction, one out of two. That’ll have to do don’t it,” he muttered while Gabriel’s stubborn mumbling drifted back to them. “I know he did this. Fucker!” Gabriel increased his speed, shaking off his demons while hunting another.
Clack and Jesse followed in silence. The open fields on either side of the road transformed into forest, one tired tree at a time. Another minute and they would reach denser woods where they would turn toward their camp via long forgotten trails and rails. Gabriel didn’t notice the woods for the trees where a man could hide. His body ached from a set of fresh burns from the Terrytown demolition. He felt none of that. The pain that arose from within, he held at bay. Or he thought he did. Easier than that was the anger. He could aim that at something, or someone. The little man from the office was nowhere to be seen. Finally, Gabriel had to admit that Clack was right. The man would be long gone. He clenched his teeth and stopped dead in-between one step and the next. His mother’s words came as a welcome comfort and a hated reminder of things best forgotten. ‘There are people. Find them,’ she had said before she died.
I did, Mother, see what that got me? What else do you want from me?
Gabriel, go. Find them!
“Shit, Kid. What are you on about?” Clack’s impatience jolted Gabriel out of the forever repeating mantra of failure and confusion. He looked For one last time back at the town, hoping for movement, a skipping hopping black shadow of dirty black feathers appearing out of smoke and ashes. There was nothing. The town was still. Whatever damnation that man set off had levelled the entirety of the tiny one street town. As fires died fast in this world of no wind and even lesser will for destructive forces such as decay of biological material and flammable substances, the extent of the destruction was quickly obvious. None of the big buildings were left standing and the few structures still recognizable as former constructions were all in the very outskirts of the town, nothing was left undamaged. Except for the single water collector that had been at the very centre of town. A population of a few hundred could survive well with only one collector. Gabriel glared at the thing. A memory of a naked woman scraping inedible plants from the canister flashed in his mind alongside impressions of make-shift grub-farms and empty gazes from soulless humans. The mayors beautiful people. All gone now. He dropped his head and rubbed his face hard, needing to clear his mind. Bird had been left in that inferno and there was no point in hoping for a miracle. Even Birds had only so many lives. Humans. He didn’t want to think of them that way. They were gone now. He looked around for Clack and found him glaring at him.
“Are we done?”
Gabriel nodded. Yeah, he was done. Done bothering.
Clack scanned the sky again, shielding his eyes from the sun. “Good. We don’t have time for that,” he said to Gabriel and Jesse while focusing on the relentless glaring blue above. He froze. “About bloody time too. We have company.”

About the author

Jenny K. Brennan is a Swedish/Canadian vocalist, songwriter, and writer living in Ontario, Canada since 2002 with one husband, one dog, and unfinished projects in the thousands. Find her on
The House of Imp,, and anywhere else Mr. Google can locate her. She studies English and braille at The Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually impaired. On her free time, she learns Wordpress by trial and error, audio production using Apple Logic Pro, and carpentry by association.

Mother of Crow – 08 All the birds? (Second revision)

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Mother of Crow

By Jenny K. Brennan

This Sundered World - Book 2

A spirit-punk steam-punk tale we don't know where, maybe not even why, and most certainly not how.

Draft exclusive to House of Imp. Copyright 2017 Jenny K. Brennan - All rights reserved.

Chapter 8 – All the birds?

Last updated: February 2, 2019 at 19:24 pm Ch 8 from Mother of Crow, the novel I publish as I need to making an idiot of myself, edit, revise, despair, and look for interesting words. #houseofimp #fiction Click To Tweet

There were no birds in the monastery gardens. They had gone silent along with everything else. As humanity went insane and nature lost its purpose for being, the forests and gardens grew still. With the dead quietly losing their meaning as well as their colouring, they faded in memory as well. With time they lost their place in the collected consciousness of the remaining human population. They turned into faded images. There were no birds. That’s what went through Frederico’s mind in the moment he saw it. There were no birds.

The bird was beautiful. Clad in a deep blue feathering that gradually changed through indigo and dark purple to shimmering charcoal at the crown of its head. It was a creature so magnificent it would have taken Frederico’s breath away. If he hadn’t been breeding his butterflies. Stunningly close to perfection but still only a bird.. It was no larger than could easily be cupped in a mans hand,
“Oh.” John exhaled “
Oh.”, He said again and started moving past Frederico who let go of the door they had just come through.

John didn’t make it past. “Fred, look!”
But Frederico didn’t need to look to know that John had just made the first of many mistakes he would make in the world outside. There was a bird. On a branch. Just outside the only place anyone could exit the monastery. A bird.
There were no birds. Unless….
Before the thought was fully formed in his mind, His arm shot out and in the fraction of a second it took for the bird to decide to take off, he caught it just as it raised its wings. It never made a sound when Frederico tightened his fingers around the tiny body. He robbed it of air first. That way it couldn’t call out. It flapped its wings but Frederico ignored it and tightened his grip. The bird struggled in wild panic. It drove its sharp beak into the hand that held it, again and again, but to no avail. Frederico ignored the pain and finally, tiny bones cracked, and other things whirred and buzzed one final time before going still. The bird grew limp. Gabriel held on until he was sure it wouldn’t move. Then another minute. He closed his eyes and lowered his head. He let out his breath and dropped the creature on the ground. “Be quiet now, little one.”, He mumbled. John moved beside him and he opened his eyes to turn his attention to john. Blood dripped from Frederico’s finger tips and he let it fall to feed the parched ground at their feet.

“Fred?” John said. The name was muffled because both Johns big hands covered his mouth. Suddenly his hands moved to cover his eyes instead. “Fred, I can still see it.”

Frederico pulled John’s arms down. “I know, my brother, I know.”

Both of them stood a moment and looked down at the bird that was not a bird. Frederico hadn’t known for sure, but now they both knew. And John had to see to understand. The body at their feet lay exposed to them and the metal parts of the bird were easy to see. Tiny gears, springs, and scalpel blades appeared to have grown along with the birds natural anatomy in ways that Frederico could never hope to understand. John stepped closer and bent down to look at the remade pretty little bird. His fear was suddenly replace with curiosity. He poked at it. Frederico looked around while John satisfied his curiosity. “Yeah, be quiet now, silly little monster. You didn’t think you would get away from Fred, did you? Silly thing. Fred? Did it hurt you?” John’s expression was grim when he stood up. “Fred!”

Frederico ignored him. He plucked one of the remaining camouflage rags from John’s metal clad chest and wrapped it around his bleeding hand. He still didn’t know how he had caught the guardian. He only knew that he had and if he hadn’t, it would have brought the rest of the guardians within moments. It must have been posted there for that purpose alone.

“Nasty.” John said with finality. “Birds are bad.” He nodded. “Nasty bad monster birds.”

To Frederico’s dismay, John wasn’t looking at the bird, or even at the sky where there may be a swarm of guardians sailing around looking for them right that moment. He was looking at Frederico, seemingly searching for something that wasn’t there. Frederico wanted to look away.
John asked, “All of them? All the birds? Even pretty birds?”
Frederico nodded. He wished with every fibre of his body that it wasn’t true. But it was better that John believed it. “Yes, John, all the birds.”, He said, “All the birds and maybe all the other animals too. We don’t know. Maybe they are all nasty bad monster things now. Let’s always remember that. Okay, John?”

John sighed and wiped his nose with a metal sleeve, then wiped the sleeve on a piece of an old polishing cloth tied around his other metal sleeve. “Okay,” he finally muttered. He wouldn’t look at Frederico. He shuffled his feet and glanced at somewhere other than on his fellow monk, dead guardian bird, or glimpses of sky above them.
Frederico sighed inwardly and looked up. “We have to go, Brother. Now.” There were but a few patches of sky seen through a ceiling of wood and vines carefully arranged to grow grapes. All was quiet. What was happening within the stone walls would not be heard on the outside. But it was happening nonetheless. When would they figure out that someone was missing? He turned away from the stones that had been his home for the last three decades. A crumpled leaf crackled beneath his foot and suddenly he recalled the plenty that had been before. When all the monks had to do was walk outside and pick grapes from just above their heads. Now, the vines were a tangle of dry cracking branches and long crumpled leaves.

Beyond the protective ceiling of vines, tight rows of fruit trees took over, and beyond that, the forest on the other side of the monastery gate continued into the eastern paradox, a vast forest stretching far into places Frederico didn’t know. As far as he had heard, , it didn’t stop until it reached the ocean. That was several days travel by horse, on a decent road. But that wasn’t where they were going. He frowned. Where were they going to go? He pulled John behind him, and they made their way through the tight rows of fruit trees, glancing back at the monastery door and the spot where a tiny guardian lay crushed. “Shit.” He said and stopped, He looked more carefully at where they had come from.
John plucked at his coat. He was impatient to go.
“They will know,”Frederico whispered and stared at the bloody rag wrapped around his hand , “the bird. We should have brought it.”
“But why?”
“Well, we could have buried it, or hid it, or kicked some dirt over it or something.” Frederico felt his focus scatter. He wanted to run back and hide any evidence of them escaping the monastery. He wanted nothing less than to go back there. They he… had killed a guardian. A small scout, an insignificant messenger to be sure, but still a guardian.
“Fred! Come on. We’re going to Severin. He knows what to do.” John started pulling at his friend. . Suddenly at a loss, thankful to let that specific complication turn out however it may, , Frederico allowed John to take the lead. They reached the wall in a few minutes. To Frederico’s relief the gate was still open. That had always been the way of the monks. ‘Always leave somewhere for the unfortunate to find their way in. If they eat well from our garden and disappear again, so be it. If they come openly and make their way to ask for our assistance, so much the better. Leave it half open so it appears open by mistake. It makes them feel safe to come to us.’ Memories of those words and the gentle man who had uttered them him were painful. The abbot’s words and attitude had surprised Frederico at the time, but now he wondered. Perhaps making it easier for strangers entering the monastery was not the only reason for leaving a gate open. He glanced thoughtfully over his shoulder. Perhaps the conveniently hanging vines had been more than for simple convenience. And suddenly it was obvious that the carefully constructed hanging vineyard was there for a very good reason. “Oh, Mother, how did you create such an ignorant one like this one?” He shook his head when John looked at him. He wanted to ask forgiveness for stupidity, but John was not the person to hold a grudge and wouldn’t understand the need to atone for anything, especially not for being a bit slow in the head. Frederico did however thought a quick apology for that sentiment. Slow indeed.
They slipped through the narrow opening and stopped for a moment on the far side. The forest was ancient and had been left to its own devices for hundreds of years. But the foliage was limp and offered sparse protection from above. Frederico scanned the patches of visible sky and saw nothing but misty blue. It was the same relentless unnatural shade of not-quite-right blue as he recalled from the last time he had-seen it, several months ago. Or was it years?
“Don’t do that.” John said quietly. He stood close to Frederico and glanced surreptitiously at the same glaring blue as Frederico had.

“Do what?”

John looked down and trampled nervously in the same spot. “Don’t look.”

Frederico didn’t ask. He knew why. If the guardians were coming, seeing them wouldn’t help. He reluctantly turned to the trees surrounding them.

Despite this, Frederico felt safer away from the monastery grounds. There was no logic to the sensation of relief he felt. The weight of innumerable tons of monastery granite and marble slid off him like a silk scarf swirling off cool skin. He was momentarily taken aback by the thought of skin and he blinked. John pulled him between tree trunks and over dry ground and crackling moss. “Do you know where to go?”

“Of course I do.” John pulled and Frederico followed, confused.
“How?” He brushed a spindel off his arm and watched it scuttle under a rock, turn and glare at him. Before he was pulled deeper into the woods, he could swear that the spindel, a creature that had never existed before the Mother disappeared, stared at him. Spindels had no eyes but Frederico knew it was looking at him. What did it want? Then the thing was out of sight and he focused on his confusion again. “John, how do you know? Did someone tell you?”

John squeezed his big form through a pair of dormant ash trees and pulled Frederico through behind him. At the same time, he seemed to both shrug and wave aimlessly at something somewhere. “They told me.” He went to push a branch out of the way and it broke off the tree with a loud snap. Frederico froze. John carefully put the branch down on the ground and stared at Frederico for a second. They glanced around the silent scenery but nothing moved except for another spindel, now situated prominently on John’s shoulder. Frederico went to brush it off but John took a step back. “NO.”


“No!” John glared. Actually glowered at Frederico who gawked at the wiry bug. “But it’s a…”


John grabbed Frederico again and hauled his fellow monk through a stand of trees that Frederico couldn’t identify. They were not quite dead, not quite alive, standing silently with their limp leaves and dusty smooth bark. They could have been silvery white once. The ground rustled and branches protested when they pushed their way through. Frederico kept an eye on the spindel. It clung to an edge in John’s armour, traveling quite contentedly with the big man’s protection. It bobbed and wiggled to keep the balance but some how, some way, it always managed to keep an eye on Frederico. “I don’t trust you.”, It appeared to say, “I’m just going about my business, you stupid human, you tend to yours why don’t you? See? We’re all friends here. Got mi eyes on you, Sir.”. Frederico frowned. Spindles didn’t have eyes. Or mouths. Or even a mind as far as the monks ever discovered. But this one had gained the full protection from one of the full metal monks. Now that was a feat even the most important of humans had a hard time achieving. “This one has its ways,” the spindle continued in Frederico’s mind. “You’re a bug.” He said to the bug and looked away before it could inspire further conversation between Frederico and… Frederico?
John stopped. “See?” He pointed, “Severin’s house.”

John’s attention was wholly on the ruin of a cabin ahead of them. Frederico pulled a twig out of his hair and poked at the spindel with it. The bug jumped out of the way and scrambled over to John’s other shoulder., out of reach. Frederico bared his teeth at the thing. He didn’t know why. It was the right thing to do, he was sure of that. The spindle reared back and raised its four front legs, wiggling them back and forth. Frederico grinned wider and leaned closer. The spindle dropped its legs and backed into John’s linen collar and crawled in behind it. “Shit.” Frederico breathed through his aching teeth, glancing at John who turned o grab him again. The spindel looked like nothing more than a tuft of trash tucked behind Johns slightly dingy tunic. “That’s right,” Frederico mumbled at the spindel, “ I am bigger than you.”

“Fred? Are you sick? Are you going to puke or something? Fred, you look really sick.”

Frederico stared at his companion. “What?” and then he felt the stiff grin on his face. A grimace. He let his face relax and tried to smile. No good. . He tried harder and on his second attempt he managed an actual smile, however awkward it must have looked. “Sick? Oh, no. Not at all.” Satisfied, John waved at the overgrown little cabin in the withered forest and nodded. Frederico took a closer look and scrubbed at an itchy spot.“Severin’s place? That? Well, what do you know? It’s there. I can’t wait to meet the maker of this…marvel of a … err, home?”

About the author

Jenny K. Brennan is a Swedish/Canadian vocalist, songwriter, and writer living in Ontario, Canada since 2002 with one husband, one dog, and unfinished projects in the thousands. Find her on
The House of Imp,, and anywhere else Mr. Google can locate her. She studies English and braille at The Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually impaired. On her free time, she learns Wordpress by trial and error, audio production using Apple Logic Pro, and carpentry by association.

Mother of Crow – 07 Fred, can we go now? (1st revision)

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Mother of Crow

By Jenny K. Brennan

This Sundered World - Book 2

A spirit-punk steam-punk tale we don't know where, maybe not even why, and most certainly not how.

Draft exclusive to House of Imp. Copyright 2017 Jenny K. Brennan - All rights reserved.

Chapter 7 Fred, can we go now?

Last updated: January 30, 2019 at 7:38 am Ch7 from Mother of Crow, the novel I publish as I write, edit, revise, and despair. John and Frederico in a dark corridor. #houseofimp #fiction Click To Tweet

The old man didn’t actually scream. Frederico heard it nonetheless. An echo of his own cowardliness followed him when he escape the monastery corridor with John. Despite the old man’s assurance of a painless death, Frederico was sure he heard the old man dying. Not from poison. From claws and razor sharp blades tearing him apart. Even when the small door closed., cutting off all sounds as well as light, he imagined it. His spine prickled in the need to move. Away from what would become nothing but death and carnage in just a few moments. He had left the old man to die and the shame burned him, urged him to turn around. To open the door back to his duty. To be with those who would all be dead within minutes of their betrayal. But damned the duty. He had done his part and look where that had gotten them. The abbot had known it would come to this. Even John hadn’t been surprised. The only one that hadn’t understood was Frederico. So blinded by his work that would somehow pay off. The guardians would keep them safe. Maybe even reward them for their loyalty. But of course it had been wishful thinking. If he just worked hard, made it happen. He would give them what they had requested and things would work out. He dropped that useless thought and grabbed John. The passage was dark, void of any openings to the outside or oil lamps. These waslls . Not even the simplest torches hung on these walls. It wouldn’t have halped as Frederico hadnt thought to bring anything to start a fire with. No torches, no lamps, no windows. For some inexplicable reason, that had been one of the odd things about the monestary that Frederico knew without knowing why and how he knew. That was the way it had to be and that was that. Trailinga hand along the rough stone wall, they entered the system of maze like passages running through the huge construction. Frederico brought up the mental image he had memorized years ago. It came willingly enough but it never dawned on him that maybe it was strange that he had done so in the first place. John clanged and banged his armour against the wall. But it couldn’t be helped. Another few steps and they reached another door. Without a word, John handed the ring of keys to Frederico who unlocked the door on his first try. Once through, he stopped and pulled John to the side. Panting, he carefully closed the second door behind them. Still quiet. He quickly examined the ring of keys and locked the door. He glanced toward the sound of John’s wheezing breaths.
“Don’t move.” Suddenly, all air seemed to leave him and his skin alternated between burning and freezing. He shivered, gasped for his next breath. . He gripped the ring of keys in a damp hand and pressed it to his chest. There was a hint of movement from his friend. A nod? A sob? Didn’t matter. For no reason at all, Frederico nodded with a stiff neck. His entire body felt like a rung out rag and he fell back to lean on the door. He stood there a long silent moment, before he heard a controlled breath from whom, he didn’t quite know. The oppressive silence slowly turned into a good thing. Something more blessed than cursed. He could breathe again and fifty inhales and exhales later, he thought that maybe they wouldn’t rip through the door and shred them both to bird feed. The door, none of the doors between them and the killing ground back there would protect them from weaponized guardians. That meant that they simply hadn’t noticed the door. Not yet and maybe not for a while. But those left behind wouldn’t be so lucky. What would happen to those who did not die instantly? That was another thing Frederico’s mind fought against. Fought and failed. His fragile control frayed at the edges and he turned to the silent John. Don’t move,” he said again to the monk who hadn’t moved. “It’s okay, John. Are you okay? John? This is not so bad, is it?”
After a moments hesitation, john said, “I’m not afraid of the dark, Fred.”
Frederico swallowed hard, not listening. Calming John could be difficult when he got that way. When the world became too much for the slow minded monk and he had to shut himself away from the others for a while. A soothing voice often helped. But now, he didn’t know what to say so he said, “Not so bad. We’re fine, john. It’s okay here. No birds, see?” His voice rose in pitch for every statement. His throat narrowed and words exploded into the air in strained bursts when he said, “No birds… here.”
“I know,” John said calmly. His voice was clear and careful, soothing a friend who was fast becoming hysteric.
Frederico continued, “They can’t get in here. The birds… out there… doing things.”
“Fred,” John touched Frederico’s shoulder, “I know, fred. They can’t come in here. You locked the door, remember?”
Frederico struggled to keep the monk calm. “ You know. I know. You don’t need be afraid. Not in here…”
“Stop it,” John snapped. Then he sighed and whined, “Fred, don’t whine. I don’t like it when you whine.” John sniffled, “don’t do that, Fred.”
Frederico stared blankly into the darkness for a moment of embarrassed recalibration of reality. He pulled a tentative breath and let it out slowly. “Oh,” he finally said, “sorry.”
John shrugged in the darkness and the metal parts in his suit jingled and scraped. “Yup.”
Both men took a careful step away from each other and the silence stretched.
. “Go?” Frederico finally said with a squeak in his throat that couldn’t have been his. A giggle escaped the big figure and Frederico collapsed in relief. He reached for the big dumb monk with an overwhelming feeling of love and hopeless responsibility warming and hurting his heart. He hesitated. They had to hurry. But would it be any safer to try to escape? Wasn’t it just as well to stay right there, in the dark, and hope for the best? The guardians would kill everyone and then go. They would search the … kill everybody. They would search… everywhere. Guardians did not leave jobs undone. They took their time…
“Kill everyone.”

Frederico jolted up straight. John’s whisper was not a question. And it mirrored Frederico’s own thoughts so precisely that for a moment he thought they were his own.

“Fred? Can we go somewhere else? Can we go to Severin’s house now?”
“Severin’s house. Yes, that’s where we’re going.”
“Oh good.”
Frederico didn’t have the heart to tell him that maybe it wouldn’t be that easy. He said, “Severin’s place. Sure thing, big boy.”

Frederico got John moving. With the corridors so narrow, one could touch both walls at once and that’s how they navigated . Only once did John walked face first into a closed door. He shook it off and grunted to Frederico to open it. After passing through each door, they locked it again. They moved quickly through several more doors, passed years of dust, they reached the final door in only minutes. “He’s dead now, isn’t he?” John said once they stood at the door. Frederico stood still, wondering if there was any point in hiding the truth from John. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Yes, John. I think he is.” He wanted to say something more but there was nothing more to say. The sign of the Mother made his fingers twitch. But they resisted the comforting gesture. There was no comfort to be had in empty symbols and hollow words. He tightened his fingers in a hard fist around the longing for ritual. The mother hadn’t been there for so long, for so many hopeless prayers. He touched his fellow monk on the metal clad shoulder and let his fingertips pull from the big man what he couldn’t find within himself. A measure of comfort. But also a sliver of innocence that had always shone so purely from the man who’s mind had never caught up with his body. A warmth that came from nothing and without reason, without shape or form, filled Frederico and he surrendered to the moment. “They are all with the Mother now, John. All safe. Safe on those wings of chaos, John. Safe.”
John said nothing. Frederico pulled his fingers away. “We trust this. We wish this. And she knows this.” Frederico mumbled the familiar phrases and waited. “And she will return.” He finished with his own desperate wish. He wasn’t sure he did believe it. But John might. And maybe that would be enough.
John mumbled the rest of the childish prayer, so softly that the words faded before finding a surface to bring them back. “Mother of Crow, save us for we are weak.”
Frederico smiled. “We certainly are.”
They turned to the door. Beyond it was the outside and the garden that the guardians did not know about. As far as he knew. Oh, Mother, you cruel bitch, you better save us now. He pushed open the door.

About the author

Jenny K. Brennan is a Swedish/Canadian vocalist, songwriter, and writer living in Ontario, Canada since 2002 with one husband, one dog, and unfinished projects in the thousands. Find her on
The House of Imp,, and anywhere else Mr. Google can locate her. She studies English and braille at The Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually impaired. On her free time, she learns Wordpress by trial and error, audio production using Apple Logic Pro, and carpentry by association.

Do you thank your Alexa? Here’s why I think you should. – A reflection

Thank you text on chalk board
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Do you thank your Alexa? Here’s why I think you should.

A House of Imp Life-hack Click To Tweet

So, you’ve got one of those. The Alexa, the Google assistant, the Cortana, the infamous Siri on your phone, tablet, computer, or of course that smart speaker sitting there on the counter listening.

Do you ever ask for something and she says, “I don’t know about that.”?
What do you say? And do you make sure she is listening when you say it?
I ask that because I’ve noticed a difference in how my husband and I talk to our brand new Echo device, namely Alexa. He asks her for a song and she gets it wrong and no matter how he tries to get the correct title or artist, she just doesn’t get it or the song is not available for some reason. At that point he gets frustrated and says “Alexa, Fuck off!”

Yeah, I get it. The funny thing is that I say it out-loud too, but I don’t say the name. So, I don’t say it when the damn thing is “listening”.

Yep, I am really big on anthropomorphizing, I admit it. And I’m well aware of it.

And that is why, when I ask Alexa to create a list, or look up something interesting, or when she tells me something amusing I didn’t expect her to say, I say Thank you. I don’t always make sure she hears it, I’m not all that out there. But I do say it. I say it in almost the same way I thank my dog when he brings me something he shouldn’t have picked up in the first place or when he sits politely when I ask him.

The other night my Alexa played some pretty ding and said, “I’m reminding you, about that thing.”
I had totally forgotten so I said without reservation, “Alexa, okay got it, thank you.”
“Of course,” she said.


The thing about that little interaction is that it made me feel good. I mean, not in any earth shattering type of way but in some abstract sense of decency kind of fashion that is so hard to describe. What I believe is that my thank you was an expression of gratitude toward the technology and the people behind it. I’m grateful for this kind of thing, the convenience, the ease of use, the amazing people making that semi-creepy human-machine interaction possible.
It fascinates me, it scares me at times, but overall I am delighted.

So yeah, I do thank my smart speaker when it gives me something I find of value, like information, entertainment, or cleverly stupid lame jokes. I thank my stupid privacy killing talking speaker because it makes me feel good.

To be fair, I am the kind of person who says thank you to the impossible-to-open packaging when it finally gives me the goods. I thank the printer for spitting out my shopping list without a hitch. I give my thanks to something in the air around me when I hang up the phone after a successful phone call.
It’s all about gratitude,. And I am grateful for so many things. In some odd way, having Alexa gives me an incentive to express that gratitude more often. And I think that is a good thing. Whatever makes me feel better in some small way, has to be a good thing.

So, don’t tell your idiot device to go shove it when it gets it wrong. Remember that behind that little thing and beyond all the wiring and intangible signals, are humans. People with amazing ideas, and awful flaws. Be grateful for all it has to offer instead.

Say Thank you.


About the author

Jenny K. Brennan is a Swedish/Canadian vocalist, songwriter, and writer living in Ontario, Canada since 2002 with one husband, one dog, and unfinished projects in the thousands. Find her on
The House of Imp,, and anywhere else Mr. Google can locate her. She studies English and braille at The Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually impaired. On her free time, she learns Wordpress by trial and error, audio production using Apple Logic Pro, and carpentry by association.