Hard Luck Blues

An illustration of why it's a poor idea to cause trouble for someone who can manipulate your fortunes.

Everyone focused on the height. The four feet, give or take, of slender, seeming fragility. It didn't matter how road-worn her clothes had become or how many weapons she wore strapped to the hip, shoulder, boot. All they saw were wide copper eyes and an untameable nest of scarlet curls. The narrow shoulders and small, clever fingers that they associated with their children, dismissing her as a delicate dreamer with no place in the ash-choked wastes beyond each settlement's walls.

Even when the word 'puck' entered the conversation, far too few reacted with the surprise and apology that it demanded. For most, she simply became a curiosity, still worthy of no more than condescending smiles. Didn't have fingers and toes enough to count the number of times that condescension had found its way to violence, foolish hopefuls convinced that they could bind her in the back of a rundown vehicle and take advantage of her natural luck without consequence.

The latest holder of that ridiculous idea fell back with hands open and face slack, air abruptly evacuated from his lungs by the elbow she'd brought into his solar plexus. The crowd scattered as he met the wooden floor with spread arms and shoulder blades, heaving in a feeble attempt to reclaim his ability to breathe.

A step closer, and she brought a broad, clunky boot down atop his sternum, pinning him firmly against the stains of alcohol and vomit that couldn't be scrubbed from the floor. That ferocious glint took his red-rimmed eyes again, but before he could think about putting it into practice, the twin barrels of a shortened shotgun swung into line with his face. The design that graced its sides was her own, an intricate play of silver flowers that refused to tarnish no matter how many times she carried it into the cruelty of the wastes.

Didn't look as though he'd make her waste the shot. His hands were open and pressed to the floor, his face slack once more in the presence of fear. The jeers and conversation that had surrounded them were hushed in that moment, allowing her voice to dominate the stink of that undersized tavern.

“Pucks aren't only for good luck,” she reminded him, a warning that she must have given scores of times before. “Touch me again, and things'll go wrong for you in ways you didn't even know were possible.” Or if that ill fortune was too slow to act, she'd settle for putting a round of buckshot between his bulging eyes. That counted as bad luck, didn't it?

He was nodding in dumb, desperate understanding, and slowly, she dragged that boot from his chest. Standing straight again, lowering the unspoken threat of the shotgun toward the floor as he pushed himself clumsily to hands and knees. From there, he found his way back to his feet, colour rising in rounded cheeks. Furious humiliation in eyes and expression as he turned back to the bar, muttering curses against her even as he signalled for another glass.

She hardly had to be told that it was petty. Still, it raised the edge of her lips in a satisfied smirk as the half-full glass slid past his waiting hand and tipped toward the floor. For a moment longer, he stared at his own cupped fingers as though questioning the sudden nature of their betrayal. Then his attention strayed over one shoulder, fixed on her with cold, fearful uncertainty.

Her only answer was that taunting smile, and there was even greater satisfaction in seeing how spooked the poor fool looked as he twisted back toward the counter. Staring fixedly ahead as though he could fix what he'd done by paying her no further attention.

That time, he could count himself lucky. She'd been accosted that way too many times to bother bringing the full meaning of misfortune against every drunken perpetrator. Just enough force to put them off, to remind them what they risked by challenging someone with a scant four feet of height and horns sprouting from behind pointed ears. 

The End

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