I have decided to start a hat collection.

I live in a small (550 population) town in northern Minnesota, and the vast majority of males wear standard ball caps with some sort of logo on the front. I'm a bit odd, though, and since everyone around here knows that I don't really see what's wrong with starting a hat collection; and wearing each and every one in public if my mood and the weather fit it.

The hat collection kind of started with ball caps that were out of the ordinary. My favorite 2 ball caps at the moment are a Mile Hi Distilling cap with an S.S. death's head pin in it and a Minnesota Lynx western conference champions hat. But then the other day my mother and I were eating at a small town cafe in the town where my ISP is located while their techs were looking into installing a 3D video card in my PC. The card wouldn't go in because it was made for a much older PC, but it gave me the idea to buy a Ge Force 3D card, and also allowed me to stop at that cafe where I got a look at the sign across Main Street. The letters were Cyrillic, so I of course went over to investigate.

When I walked in I found a small cafe/shop containing 2 tables & chairs and a sort of breakfast bar with a Russian woman seated at it, and another woman behind the counter. Along one wall were assorted Russian food items, DVD movies, and 4 hats hanging up high. The first leather hat I tried on was too small, but then I spied the fur hat. It is still quite chilly here in northern Minnesota, and I had been looking at fur hats online for a couple months. When she said the price was $50 after I tried it on, I immediately bit without haggling, as all the similar hats I had seen were well over $75.

After mom and I finished our breakfast I started thinking about another hat over there, a tweed newsboy, I now know. I went over, inspected it and found a thinsulate lining with earflaps to pull down if I chose to. When I asked the price the woman said $20, but this time I haggled. "$15?". "O.K.". SOLD!

Now I have been shopping online for more hats and have purchased a dandy straw hat with wide cotton band around the crown to put a magpie tail feather in if I get the bid on 20 of them (I hope, I hope, I hope;GOT 'EM!), a summertime brown/grey houndstooth newsboy, and a navy beret with a U.S. flag on the front. I have an addictive personality, and this seems a fairly healthy outlet.

     I tied the ferret's leash to the stick shift and pulled off my tee shirt and sports bra and sneakers. I shimmied out of my cargo pants and panties, folded my clothes, and stacked them on the dashboard.

     Cooper was already standing naked on the grass, stretching and scratching his back. "No, it's better if you stay in here," he told Smoky.

     The dog whined.

     "What? Oh, right." Cooper opened the rear door. Smoky jumped out, ran over to a picnic table and peed on the tubular steel leg. He gave himself a good shake, kicked grass onto his mark, and happily trotted back to the car.

     Cooper shut the car's doors after Smoky was back inside, then met me on the other side.

     "Think wet thoughts," he told me, lightly touching the small of my back and running his hand down to my ass. My skin prickled into goosebumps at his touch. "Think low pressure. The clouds are our audience; make them come."

     We walked across the grass to the edge of the trees. Cooper backed me up against the trunk of a red oak.

     "This tree's roots touch those in the heart of the Grove," he whispered, planting small kisses on my face. "We're all set to broadcast; let's make it good."

     He closed his eyes and started planting soft kisses down my neck, over my breasts. My hormones lit up like Madison Square Garden on New Year's Eve.

     This is the best job ever, I thought.

     He started moving against me, breathing rhythmically in preparation for the chant. I closed my eyes and followed his body's rhythm. There was a brief, stretching sting as he pushed up into me, but after that it was beautiful. I wrapped my legs around his waist and ignored the scratching of the bark against my back. Once we really got going the pain might actually start working for me. I don't think of myself as a masochist, but my wires sometimes get a little crossed.

     Anyway. I was glad to have the chant to focus on, or else it would all be over too quickly.  Cooper could last for hours, provided I came quietly. But the nightmares had left me with too much pent-up anxiety to have a nice polite little orgasm.  I'd be biting, screaming, demanding the obscene application of popsicles ... yeah, I figured the distraction of the spell was going to be a good thing. Silly me.

     The old, old words started tumbling out of him, first as sounds that might have been little more than grunts of the ancient pre-humans who lived at the sea and rivers, worshipping the spirits they saw in the cool waters. Then his round grunts grew angles, grew more refined; my mind was filled with an image of a sunburned warlock standing in the reeds of the Nile, begging the gods for rain.

     The words were coming out of me, too; my language was different, a tongue that spoke of mists and crashing waves, of broad, gray thunderstorms rolling over windswept North Atlantic islands.

     I felt the air around us stir, felt the tiny hairs on my arms and the back of my neck rise. The tops of the trees began to rattle as the wind rose.

     Cooper's chant rose to match, changed to something more musical, Western and Eastern in the same breath. I caught a flash of storm clouds boiling above a vast American plain as a medicine man dressed in deerskin and buffalo hide raised his ropy arms to the sky. I could smell the damp plains earth and sweating leather on Cooper's skin.

     My chant shifted to match; I spoke the shadow of an old priest in a bear pelt cloak, standing in the dry forest of a new, green land, pouring the last of his mead on the thirsty earth and asking the Father God to grant him and his men a touch of rain.

     Then Cooper's body jerked, and his chant was chopped short by his sudden, pained gasp. I heard the scream in my mind, smelled entrails being pulled from a still-living body and thrown on a charcoal fire.

     "Oh God!" Cooper turned and gave me a hard shove away from him. I tumbled backward over the grass.

     I rolled to my feet, feeling confused and exposed, wishing my clothes weren't all in the car. "Cooper, what the --"

     His body had gone rigid; the cords of his neck stood out, and his tattooed sigils glowed faintly purple in the dim light. The air was growing ominously electric, the clouds above us darkening into a slate-gray spiral.

     "Get away!" He sounded as if something was choking him. "Far. Fast. Now!"

This is purely self indulgent drivel I came up with to avoid doing homework. All of these are characters from previous stories.

* * * * *

She found a dead bird in the grass, its eyes eaten out by ants, its neck and wings bent at odd angles, its breast torn and bare of feathers, its body desiccated in death.

She dropped to her knees and bent down low and, gently, blew onto its face, and life like fire kindled inside. Flesh and feathers rushed reformed and with a beat of little wings the bird flew from her hands and took to the air, tongues of flame trailing behind it.

She grinned and waved goodbye, then hurried to catch up with her brother. It was probably best she didn't mention the bird; he always got nervous when she brought things back from the dead.

* * * * *

She found a dead bird in the grass and almost walked past it but stopped when, from the corner of her eye, she saw that its white wings were stained with dried blood and bent out of shape.

"Stupid," she said, crouching. She ran a finger along its breast, avoiding the hole where a cat or something had ripped it open.

"Look at you. You're pathetic." She lightly-prodded the body. "You got those spindly legs and the neck and the hollow bones. I could break you on accident. You snap like dry twigs."

She picked up the bird. It hadn't died long ago: its body was still soft and limp. She fanned out a wing and made a face like tasting lemon juice.

"Figures He'd give you our wings," she said. "I wonder what he was trying to say?"

There was a bed of freshly planted flowers nearby, with soft loamy soil. She went over and casually kicked away the dirt, digging a in the ground with her foot until there was a bird-sized hole. Then she placed the bird down. The hole wasn't long enough, and the bird's head tilted to the side. Its eyes were black and sunk into its head.

Without a word, she buried the bird and went on her way.

* * * * *

He found a dead bird in the grass. It was mostly whole, he noticed, save for the tear in its breast. He bent over and picked it up. It was a pigeon, mostly white with patches of pink and tan around its neck, and clean save for some dried blood on its primaries.

He casually looked around to see if anyone was looking, then knelt down on the grass. He pulled out his pocket knife and cut the bird's neck. The blood was mostly clotted, but a whispered charm decoagulated it and soon a small puddle of red welled up in his hand. Then, using his finger as a pen, he traced a sign onto the back of his hand: a tiny circle surrounded by tinier script illegible to any eyes but his own.

They read: from death, life.

When that was done, he blew onto his hand to dry the blood. The sign burned emerald green for a split second before vanishing entirely, leaving no trace it was there.

He smiled, feeling the rejuvenating effects of the spell, and left the bird's body in the grass, walking off with a spring in his step.

* * * * *

He found a bird lying in the grass. Tentatively, he picked it up and said, "Be alive."

The bird sat in his hands, lifeless.

"Be alive."

The bird remained dead.

"Be alive! If Mia were here, you'd be alive! You'd be alive for her, why can't you be alive for me?"

The bird hung limply in his hands. He gently set it back down into the grass and walked off, anger and envy and sadness fighting painfully in the pit of his chest.

* * * * *

He found a bird lying in the grass and took it happily between his jaws. It tasted fresh-ish, and though its blood was clotted, it was still good. He lay in the grass and gnawed on the bird until the Little One That Smells Like Home came over and said,

"For fucksake, dog, we got food at home. Spit that out and come on."

He didn't understand the words, but the meaning was clear. He dropped the saliva-covered lump that had once been a bird and trotted away.

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