A travel writer by trade, Heidi Ruby Miller started writing speculative fiction after pursuing her Master's degree in Seton Hill University's Writing Popular Fiction Program. Her guidebook MOON Pennsylvania Camping was realeased by Avalon Travel Publishing in May 2006. Her work is also in Scifaikuest, Dispatch, GoNOMAD, and Write On Maui.
“Did I tell you I got a butterfly yesterday?” Mara asked. She glanced over the salad options on the menu.
“Finally! You’ve been talking about it forever.” Kelly twisted a dark braid around her finger. “What color?”
“Cobalt blue like the tiles in that mural above the open kitchen. And the green was almost mint, like the color of those curtains over there.” Mara motioned toward the bank of windows facing the rainy street. “It wasn’t very old.”
“Almost wet to the touch, huh?” Kelly shivered. “How can you stand to handle that stuff?”
Kelly snickered. "I guess the butterfly wasn’t as messy as the snake."
"But the snake was a lot easier to get.”
“That’s because he was old,” Kelly said.
“He still had some fight in him.”
They waited for their forty-something server to fill their water glasses. His receding hairline was a cropped blonde with slivers of grey.
"The scorpion was worse." Kelly whispered. "You were messed up for a couple of days after that one."
The waiter left without looking up.
"I remember." Mara rubbed the little pink scar on her wrist. "That's why I went after the bird next.”
“You mean the bleeder?”
"Yeah, that was a lot of blood."
"I'll never help with the preservation again. Getting rid of the left-overs was too much trouble. Then pressing it all under glass? Took forever." Kelly pursed her lips and waved a mocha finger at Mara.
"But, it was the best one in the end, don’t you think?"
“Pardon me, can I get you ladies something to drink?” Their server returned.
“Three iced teas,” Mara said. “We’re expecting someone else. And we'll have the red pepper soup for now.” She noted the edge of a homemade tattoo peeking from beneath the man’s crisp, white cuff.
When he left, Mara said, “If you’re going to get something permanently etched into your skin, then you should go to a real artist, someone who takes pride in their work.”
“I don’t like them. Would you ever get one?”
“I just like to look. Some of them are true masterpieces,” Mara said.
“Speaking of masterpieces. Check him out.” Kelly inclined her head toward a large-jawed man staring at them from two tables back.
Mara looked over the man's shiny tanned biceps. “Probably a body builder. He doesn’t even have hair on his arms. Not my type.”
“And Dan is?”
“You shown him your menagerie yet?”
“Are you crazy? He’s not ready for it. Might think I’m a little nuts and get scared off.”
“You're more than a little nuts!” Kelly said.
“Everybody collects something. Like your sister and those fuzzy little bears.” Mara scanned the sandwich selections.
“You can't just go to the store and pick up your kind of treasures, though."
"All depends on who's shopping there…"
"Why don't you just hang outside of 'Think and Ink'? Wouldn't that be easier?"
"No challenge. Too many tribal bands and crosses," Mara said. "Plus theirs are all jumbled together. I only have so much room."
Kelly closed her menu and plopped it onto the glass top table. "I'm thinking egg salad. What are you looking for next?”
“A jellyfish. I should be getting one soon, but it won’t be ready for display right away,” Mara said.
“Well, I'm not helping this time. Too much mess.”
"Shhh. Here comes Dan."
"Hey, girls." Dan sat down, rain dripping from his forehead. He kissed Mara in greeting.
"Does the office pay you for working halfway through your lunch?" Mara asked.
"Actually, I took the day off to get you a surprise. I just didn’t think it would take this long.”
"You got it?" Mara’s limbs tingled in anticipation.
"Got what?" Kelly asked.
"The one bizarre thing Mara said she would do anything for..."
Mara read Kelly’s expression as This is cheating.
"Well, let's see it." Mara tugged at Dan’s wet shirt collar.
"Not here." Dan laughed. “Besides it doesn’t look very good right now, still a little bloody and slimy from the salve. Give it a few days and it’ll be ready.”
The server returned. “Your menu, sir.”
“Thanks. Hey, nice tatt,” Dan said. “I just got one today.”
“It’s a jellyfish,” Mara said.