“Smells like you’re brewing up something special, Mama,” I said, while Mama Hog settled her stooped old bones into a chair and motioned for me to be seated as well. “Wouldn’t be Troll after-shave, would it?”
“Might be a drought to shut smart mouths,” said Mama, brushing a tangle of matted grey hair out of her face. “Then where would you be, boy?”
“Out of work.” I shoved the owl aside and picked up a worn deck of fortune cards. “What’s in my future, Mama?” I asked. “Trolls? Gold? Angry vampire hordes?”
The old lady snorted. “The half-dead are no joke, boy,” she said. Her eyes might be old, but they’re sharp as knifepoints, and they glittered. “No joke.”
I plopped down a card. “Neither are Trolls, Mama,” I said. “This bunch might wind up losing their tempers. Soon.”
“They might,” said Mama Hog, her voice softening, losing some of the old-hag put-on rasp. “Certainly so, if they find that which they seek.”
I threw down another card. “So you know?”
“They tell you?”
“They told me.”
I shuffled, cut, tossed down a card. “So who else knows? Eddie? The Watch? Who?”
Mama Hog smiled and scooped up the three cards I’d tossed out. “No one else knows,” she said. “I told them to trust you, and only you.”
“You told them that? Mama, why in the Nine High Heavens did you tell them that?”
“Your fate and their task meet now, Finder,” she said, her eyes bright and hard in the candlelight. “Meet, and mingle, and merge.”
“Drop the carnival soothsayer act, Mama,” I said. “It won’t wash with me.”
She slammed a card—one of my three cards—down on the table, face up in the flickering light.
I could just make out the worn, faded image of a man running away, a sack slung over his shoulder. Coins dribbled out of a tear in the sack.
“Greed,” said Mama Hog. “Flight. Abandonment. How much can they pay you for your soul, Finder?”
“I don’t know, Mama,” I said. “How much do you charge for fate?”
The second card went down. Crossed daggers glinted against a half-full moon. “Vengeance,” hissed Mama Hog. “How many lives will you waste to avenge a single death?”
“Six,” I snapped. “Maybe five, if it’s wash day.”
The third card hit the table. On it a skeletal hand beckoned, bony forefinger crooked in invitation.
“Death,” I said, standing. “Even I know that one. Death, the Final Dancer, the Last Guy You’ll Ever See and Boy Will You Hope There’s Been a Mistake.”
Mama Hog stood as well. “Jest if you will, Finder,” she said. “But take care. You stand at a crossroads. One way leads to the dark.”
“How much do I owe you, Mama?”
Mama Hog went stiff. All four feet of her puffed up and for a moment I honest to gods thought she was going to slap me. Then she let out her breath in a whoosh and broke into chuckles.
“No charge to neighbors,” she said. “Even disrespectful unbelieving smart-mouthed jackanapes who don’t know their friends from their boot-heels.”
“My friends don’t usually send feuding Trolls to my door, Mama.”
“This one did,” she replied. “Now get out. I’ve got an appointment.”
I stomped blinking into the street, telling myself that Mama’s cards were just so much tattered pasteboard and third-rate flummery.
The street stank, and in the absence of my Troll friends, it bustled.
Wagons creaked, carriage drivers cussed, horses snorted, and everywhere people rushed back and forth, hurrying against the daylight so the night people could have the city by night.
A man passed in front of me, a sack slung over his shoulder, just like on Mama’s card.
I fell in step behind him all the way to Haverlock.
Yep! Another excerpt, this time from The Mister Trophy, which is the very first Markhat story. It's still one of my favorites.
The Mister Trophy first saw print in 1999. The magazine was "Adventures in Sword and Sorcery," and it was a print magazine. For all you digital age youngsters out there, 'print' magazines were composed of a flimsy physical substance called paper. That's all we had, back in the dimly-lit days of prehistory before iTunes and the Kindle.
The editor of AS&S kept 'The Mister Trophy' on his desk for a full year before deciding to buy it. He told me in a letter that he loved it, but it was 'so weird' he wasn't sure his readers would get it. Well, he took a chance, and 'the Mister Trophy' was voted favorite story in that issue.
It was also scheduled to appear in an anthology (Best Fantasy of 1999, or something similar) before the editor and the magazine simply fell right off the face of the Earth.
If you're out there, Randy Dannenfelser, drop me a line!
I loved writing 'The Mister Trophy.' I set out to do something new and fresh, and I still think I nailed that. Writing as Markhat is always a blast.
'The Mister Trophy' is the shortest of all the Markhat entries. It's a fun, quick read, and a good introduction to Markhat's world. If you liked the excerpt, here's where you can buy the whole piece, in whatever format your little heart desires: