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Chicken Pot Pie

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Using trimmed chicken thighs and herbs de Provence with lavender kicks up the flavor of this classic for a modern twist without ramping up the calories in kind. Sure, it’s called “Chicken Pot Pie”, but in these parts it’s known as CHICKEN POT AWESOME.

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Ingredients

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs trimmed of any excess fat and cut into 1″ chunks

3/4 cup roughly chopped carrots

2/3 cup frozen peas

2/3 cup frozen corn

1 cup chopped mushrooms (“Optional,” my husband says. They’re not.)

1 cup chopped celery or fennel (I prefer the fennel)

1/3 cup butter

1/2 cup chopped onion

1 clove garlic, minced

4 tsp kosher salt, divided

2 tsp black pepper, divided

1 1/2 tsp herbs de Provence (if you can get it with lavender it’s better)

1/3 cup flour

1 1/4 cup low sodium chicken broth

1/2 cup dry white wine

2/3 cups milk

2 9″ frozen pie crusts or pie dough

 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Roll you pie dough into a deep casserole pan, leaving enough to top the pot pie if using. If you are going with 2 pie crusts, one will be your bottom and the other will be used for the top. I used pre-made pie crust in the aluminum pans, but turned one out and pressed it into my oval casserole pan, while rolling out the other for the top and it just worked fine.

In a medium pot heat 1/2 TBSP vegetable oil and combine chicken, carrots, peas, corn, mushrooms, and celery or fennel. Sprinkle with 2 tsp salt and 1 tsp black pepper, and sauté over medium heat for about 6 minutes. Carefully add enough water to cover chicken and veggies, leaning away so steam doesn’t hit you in the face. Crank heat to high, cover, and boil for 10 minutes. Drain and set aside. This step can be done as much as a day in advance if need be. Simply store in an airtight container in the fridge and take out about 30 minutes before you’re ready to assemble the pie.

In a bowl or large measuring cup, mix the wine, broth, and milk. In a saucepan over medium heat cook the onions and garlic in the butter until soft. You don’t want these to brown. Mix in the remaining salt and pepper, and herbs, toasting a little while, stirring for an additional 1-2 minutes. Add the flour, followed by one fourth of the liquid mixture. Stir until incorporated. Continue mixing the liquid in batches, stirring until incorporated each time. Once the liquid is well mixed and smooth with the onions, garlic, and herbs, let slightly thicken an additional couple of minutes (should coat the back of a spoon). Remove from heat.

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Pour the chicken and veggie mixture into the bottom pie crust. Pour the liquid flour-onion mixture over the top of the chicken, letting it move down and around every thing. Cover this deliciousness with the top crust, sealing the edges with the tines of a fork or your fingers. Cut 4 or 5 vents in the top about 1 inch long to allow steam to escape while baking. If you’re feelin’ fancy (and that’s okay) you can use extra pie dough to make a design on top or whisk an egg with 2 TBSP water for an egg wash to brush on for an extra shiny golden crust.

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Bake for 34 – 38 minutes until the top is nice and golden brown and the insides are bubbling hot. Allow to cool 10-15 minutes before serving. We didn’t bother to serve ours with a side of anything, though I suppose mashed potatoes might be the norm or sautéed spinach might be good. The fact of the matter is any other food would simply detract from the pie, and who wants that? No one, that’s who.

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Kale Chips

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This may be the hippy-est thing I’ve ever said, but I love me some Kale Chips! Take a bunch of Kale (or two) and dry them out in your oven for crispy, delicious, and addicting healthy treats. When you make this, bake as much Kale you have time for. They cook down more than anything else you will ever bake. It’s like sautéing spinach. So, if it’s a rainy afternoon with hours to kill, do a number of bunches and keep them in zip lock bags, then re-toast to eat as snacks throughout the week. This is time consuming, but EASY, and definitely worth it.

Easy peasy!

Ingredients

1 bunch Kale (1 bunch as a snack per every 2 people is a good rule of thumb)

1 TBSP fresh lemon juice, divided

1 tsp Cayenne, divided

1 TBSP olive oil, divided

Kosher or Sea salt to taste

If you’ve got a convection oven use it. Preheat oven on convection to 280. If you’re using a regular oven, preheat it to 325. Rinse kale and cut the leafy part away from the stalk as best you can. You want large pieces because these suckers are going to contract more than Shrinky Dinks. Spread out your future chips on tea towels to dry a bit (you can do this long in advance to preheating the oven if you’d prefer to make them fresh later on). This will also give you an idea of how many batches you’ll have to do based on the size of leaves, cookie sheets, and oven size. This is important; the number of batches will of course be the way you’ll need to divide the lemon juice, salt, cayenne, and olive oil. If you’re good at eyeballing or winging it, do so!

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Scoop a cookie sheet’s worth of kale leaves (about 12-20) into a bowl and sprinkle with fresh lemon juice (I would just squeeze a half of a lemon through my fingers each time), a pinch of cayenne, enough olive oil to lightly coat most without being overly greasy, and a sprinkling of kosher or sea salt. Toss with tongs or hands. Place kale in an individual layer on parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Immediately rinse your hands of any cayenne residue once you’ve got your kale placed. Bake for about 12-14 minutes in convection or 23-27 minutes on a regular oven setting. Some edges may brown; that’s absolutely fine. Place crisped leaves on a cooling rack for 10 minutes. Continue baking in as many batches as needed. You can store in ziploc bags for up to a week and retoast whenever needed.

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Original Black’s BBQ in Austin

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So you may have heard that Black’s was opening on Riverside. No need to drive out to Lockhart for a bite of delicious Black’s brisket. Unlike Smitty’s, Black’s quality stayed consistent throughout the boom in popularity and Food Network attention, and it continues to be some of the best and easily obtainable (I can’t wait any longer for you, Franklin) Q in town. Thing is, brothers Mark and Mike, grandsons of the original Black, were the ones who decided on Riverside…a move the rest of the family was apparently none too thrilled about. Their uncle, Kent, felt that if Black’s was going to bother to open in Austin, it better be done right. And since Kent is the one with the rights to the name, the Original Black’s BBQ opened 3110 Guadalupe Street right near campus in October of this year. Which means it’s best to go when UT isn’t in session. And there’s no game or festival going on.

A day like Saturday December 27th.

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As expected, The Original Black’s on Guadalupe has everything right down to beef ribs. Links of sausage, original and jalapeño cheddar, were $2.49 a piece. The Pork ribs were the spare cut – the BEST cut – as St. Louis style falls to a close second and baby backs being just a joke meant for those who want sauce over meaty fatty melt in your mouth pig flesh. The point is that Black’s is a pro that doesn’t cater to that which isn’t worth it. Their brisket in Austin is just as delicious as their brisket in Lockhart and their sides are standards. All the pickles you can eat, standard cole slaw, über cheese mac, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, potato salad, etc.

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Our order was a small (single) mac & cheese, a single cole slaw, 6 pork ribs, 1/2 lb brisket mixed, and each of the kinds of sausage. The total came to $53. Black’s had plenty of local beers in cans, including a variety from Austin beer works, various bottled and fountain sodas, and, because this is Austin, Topo Chico. Their prices are more expensive than on their website, gotta figure that’s due to their new space and Austin’s rent. Their brisket was $16.50 a pound and the ribs were about $15 a pound. Their beef ribs were about the same. The sides were cheap at a couple of bucks a piece.

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There’s a lot of BBQ in and around Austin. I used to wait until I really needed that melty meat and drive all the way out to Lockhart, pick my favorite cuts from my favorite places and finish off everything with a $1 ice cream cone from Smitty’s. That and their “ambiance” are just about the only reason I stop in there any more. I no longer have to get out there. I love Micklethwait Craft Meats. They’re incredible, but they’re busy enough now where they’re going to need a brick & mortar stat. I was significantly less than impressed with Stiles Switch. And Aaron Franklin is our city sweet heart, known to be a good guy with great eats, doesn’t even need to be touched on. I’m sure I’ll eventually get around to trying Terry Black’s. But now that I know I can get real Black’s brisket and ribs real close, there’s no rush.

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the aftermath.

A Wee Bit O Pop for Your Morning

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Let’s do this.

There’s a new Lego Movie trailer. I’m an unabashed fan of the Lego games, yet I still feel a little sheepish stating that I’m actually looking forward to the Lego Movie. It looks pretty funny, it’s got a number of my favorite comedic actors in it, as well as Liam Fucking Neison. That being said, he was also in Battleship, so…ugh. That being said, I couldn’t be more excited about a Will Arnett Batman. Here’s the newest trailer for Lego.

Also in movie news, Ender’s Game came out this past Friday. The author of the series, Orson Scott Card, is staunchly anti-gay and has given to numerous anti-gay causes. He’s written numerous essays and articles stating his often violent views toward homosexuals and those who would support them, including “If the Constitution is defined in such a way as to destroy the privileged position of marriage, it is that insane Constitution, not marriage, that will die.” Naturally, this has caused some concern amongst those interested in seeing the film or reading any of his further works. Is it possible to separate the man from the art or will doing something as simple as attending a movie, feed his bank account and therefore views that are aggressive in their inhumane intent toward a particular people? In light of this, Buzzfeed has written an interesting article on boycotting films and whether or not they actually ever work as intended.

As far as human rights go, a member of Pussy Riot has been moved to a different penal colony in Russia. She had faced attacks and subsequently undertook a hunger strike in protest to her incarceration. Apparently 23 year old Nadezhda Tolokonnikova was moved to a more secure prison on October 21st and her family was told they would be informed of her new whereabouts within 10 days. As of November 2nd, her husband reported that they had still not been told of her new location. Pussy Riot is a feminist punk rock group that has frequently criticized bigotry in Catholicism as well as Vladimir Putin. For their participation in a protest, two members of the group were sentenced to two years in a penal colony. At the time of sentencing Tolokonnikova stated “Our imprisonment serves as a clear and unambiguous sign that freedom is being taken away from the entire country.”

And because airports are unsafe and annoying as hell already, an alligator was found in O’Hare this past weekend. Illinois is of course the most perfect climate for gators. And he was stuck under the escalator no less (I’m sure there’s an escagator joke in there some where, but I refuse to touch it). Luckily it was only a baby, think Elvis from Clarissa Explains It All. In light of recent events, I would much rather grapple with a wild animal than a human.

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A paleontologist at Mount Holy Oak believes he has proof that the Kraken was a real sea beasty. Listen, it’s something like 90% of our oceans are undiscovered wastes of terror and possible Kraken homes, sure, and I’m well aware that Moby Dick was based on a true story (want to be horrified? Look up George Pollard Jr. and his Essex to find out more on pain and whales and cannibalism), but I’m still leaning toward rational explanations for all sea myths and legends. I’m also afraid of open ocean, so maybe my fear makes me biased…

NBC loves them some Tina Fey like fat kids like chocolate cake. It’s been announced that they’re ordering another sitcom from the comedy maven and, while details are sparse, 13 episodes have been ordered for Fall 2014. If you need to have your memory jogged of the absurd, TheDailyBeast has some of the best moments from 30 Rock, including my personal favorite: That time Liz had a threesome with James Franco and an anime body pillow.

In a recent interview for SciFy, Neil Gaiman, Lord of Dreams, Master of Mine, revealed the origins of Sandman for its 25th Anniversary. This was a comic I used to buy so much as a kid that my parents actually limited the amount of money I could spend from babysitting and my allowance on. Naturally, I then started spending the surplus on drugs. Good work, guys.

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And in the vein of anniversaries, just a friendly reminder: The trailer for the 50th anniversary Doctor Who special will hit on November 15th.

Austin Gastro Graze: Micklethwait Craft Meats Trailer

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I heard about this little trailer in a recent BBQ write-up featuring numerous places in the Austin area. Opened only right around 9 months, the critic reviewed Micklethwait Craft Meats as “..the next Franklin’s.” And that’s something any self-respecting Austin resident doesn’t ignore.

We headed down to their location near Hillside Farmacy about 11:15 am on a Saturday. They’re located at 1309 Rosewood Ave., near east 11th. There was little to no parking in their tiny lot, but no line for their food, either. Quite the contrast to Franklin’s just down the street. The yellow painted trailer and impeccable picnic tables were a welcome site, surrounded by trees on a sunny morning. It’s a great little spot for what would turn out to be the best bbq I have ever had within Austin’s limits.

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We ordered a half pound of brisket, 3 pork spare ribs, a side of jalapeno cheddar grits, cole slaw, a pork belly sausage, and a homemade Moon Pie. The total came to just under $30 and was more than enough food for 3 people. They accept both cash and credit cards (yes, their Facebook page says Cash Only; this is incorrect, coming from their people directly). I’m in the mood for BBQ about once a month…maybe once every 6 weeks. I’ve been killing to go back to Micklethwait’s since I first bit into their brisket. And it’s only been 3 days.

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Their meat is sold by the quarter pound. This makes getting ribs a little awkward, I tend to order them by the number, “I’d like 47 pork ribs in my face right now, please”, but their customer service is stellar and they were patient with my less than perfect order style. All meat is about $13 a pound, rather than different prices for different cuts, and they also do plates, but I’m a choosie kind of girl when it comes to my Q and just order by weight. Their sides are $1.50 a piece and their cheesy creamy cheddar jalapeno grits were AMAZING. Perfect texture, not too salty, very flavorful and creamy, and an excellent compliment to their meat. The cole slaw was homemade as well, bright, a little citrusy, but paled in comparison to the grits.

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The meat. Holy crap, where do I begin? I’m an opportunivore when it comes to love. I’m not biased for men only or women or dinosaurs. If something is worthy of true love, it earns mine – but it must be worthy. And Micklethwait’s brisket is sooooo worthy. Tender, juicy, perfectly seasoned, flavorful and perfect. They give you a little cup of sauce, but you don’t need it. If someone told me Micklethwait’s brisket was actually Solient Green I wouldn’t love it any less (or, rather, Soylent. Thanks, Dave). It’s THAT GOOD. Their ribs were big and meaty, and so juicy that I took video of the juice dripping out of the pork as I went to take a bite. That’s love right there. Now, I’m not a huge sausage fan. If it’s not a jalapeno cheddar brought out of New Braunfels I probably won’t eat it, but their pork belly sausage was very tasty and a nice change of pace to the usual merely spicy or overly-greasy BBQ joint sausage.

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We ended the meal with one of Micklethwait’s homemade Moon Pies. Flaky, sweet, moist, and creamy, not to mention massive, it was an excellent ending to a fantastic meal. I’m not sure these are the best for a hot summer’s day because the chocolate does get messy, but they come out of a cooler all nice and chilly, and the sweetness cuts through the savory meat flavor, perfectly rounding out a great meal.

Is it better or as good as Franklin’s? Well, them’s fightin’ words and it’s too early in my young years to get into that kind of debate. What I can say, however, is I have no problem skipping the line at Franklin’s and hitting up this joint and I certainly don’t feel I’m missing anything. I no longer have to drive to Lockhart or stand around on hot pavement for three hours to get great brisket and ribs. I can get incredible Q right here in Austin from a food truck and not have to take a half day from work to do it, provided Micklethwait is open. And I believe it will only be a matter of time until they either have to expand or start running out of food early in the day due to popularity. Bottom line is they’re just that good.

UPDATE: I went with coworkers for lunch today. I got a single huge 1/3 pound pork rib, a 1/4 pound of brisket, 2 bottles of water, and a small side of grits. Myself and a male friend split the meal and the entire thing was $11 with tip.

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Micklethwait Craft Meats trailer is open for lunch Wednesday through Sunday 11am – 3pm and is open for dinner Wednesday through Saturday 4:30pm to 8pm. They are located at 1309 Rosewood Ave., near east 11th street. CASH AND CARDS ACCEPTED

ATX Gastro Graze: Michi Ramen Brick & Mortar

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There once was a food truck – an amazing wonderful food truck – located at NATY, or North Austin Trailer Yard that served the most delicious Ramen you could ever imagine. Michi Ramen. Their twitter feed consisted of only numbers, for they could only serve a limited number of bowls each day, and used their tweets as a count down. And they inevitably sold out every single lunch and dinner. This ramen was like nothing you’ve ever had before, with broth cooked for days with pork flesh and bone to ensure a richness that couldn’t be matched. Life changing goodness, body fortifying. And almost literally good for your soul.

…Okay, I may be exaggerating, but only a little.

Any way, one day Michi couldn’t keep up with its fans demands and closed shop (or truck as it were) to find and establish a brick and mortar location. We had to go months without ramen, settling on Ramen Tatsu-Ya…which I should really do a Gastro Graze on (while it IS good, it’s a bit over hyped and it ain’t no Michi). But finally our patience paid off: Michi Ramen restaurant is now a go!

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Located on North Lamar in the old Afin location (6519 N. Lamar, ATX, 78752), Michi’s space is open and bright. They don’t have a liquor license just yet, but they’re working on it and in the mean time it’s BYOB. Having a larger truck means that they get to have more food offerings, including numerous sides or little bites and dessert on top of their four different styles of ramen, three different broth thicknesses, and a plethora of toppings available.

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I apologize for the bit of blurriness in these photos.

We order bowls of the Michi in both Light and Stout, the Sapporo in regular with an Onsen egg, and the Veggie in regular, as well; Tatsu-Ya at this time does not offer a vegetarian option. I had had the Ajitama egg when they were a food truck and while some may be turned off by its color due to marinating, it is absolutely delicious. We also ordered both kinds of fried chicken, the calamari salad, the vegetable tempura, gyoza, and Burnt Ends. It was hard to get pictures of every thing, as most was devoured as soon as it hit the table. The food came out fast, was very delicious and affordable, the atmosphere was baby friendly, though the crowd was primarily people aged about 27-42 without children.

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Sapporo with regular broth and an onsen egg mixed in.

For $7-10 you get this steaming hot, seemingly bottomless bowl of ramen, with perfectly tender noodles. My Sapporo came with corn and scallions, as well as three huge slices of pork, mushrooms, beans sprouts, and so much goodness. I paid the extra 50 cents for an onsen egg which I immediately mixed into the broth, making it even richer. I found the Sapporo to be a little sweet, though not in a bad way, and we attributed that to the fresh corn that a welcome firmness in texture to the soft, but not soggy noodles.

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Calamari Salad

The calamari salad was both bright visually and in flavor, without any hint of fishiness or chewy texture. It was, in short, refreshing, an excellent palate cleanser, and even those at the table that don’t like this sort of thing found it tasty!

The Burnt Ends are fatty, tasty, crispy little bites of pork, smokey and sweet. There’s no picture because we were close to wrestling one another for the last bite, let alone anyone pausing to snap a shot.

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Tatsuya Age

Our table ordered both offerings of fried chicken the Tatsuya Age and Toriten. Both were very good, large, juicy, white meat chunks, and large portions for the $4 they charged. While there’s no picture of the Toriten (a tempura batter fried chicken) I think that was my favorite, though the Tatsuya was very good as well with the lemon and bright dipping sauce. There was something delightfully Texan about the Tasuya, but it wouldn’t be something that would be a necessity on their menu. Both would be great for pickier eaters or children.

The vegetable tempura and Gyoza were also good. Nothing amazing. Simply easy staples that should always be good – how could you mess them up?

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Mochi Ice cream!

Finally: Dessert. Michi offers ten flavors of Mochi Ice cream. While it’s not hard to find mochi ice cream even in grocery stores now a days, they did have some flavors I hadn’t tried before. And while we all shared Lychee, Pistachio, and the Chocolate Peanut butter flavors, at $3 for 2, and so many side plates for under $5 I’ll be hard pressed to not stop in regularly for “a quick bite” of so many of their offerings.

In short, I recommended the trailer without hesitation until it closed. I now highly recommend the restaurant as well. For families, for dinner, for a date, for lunch, for dessert (and BYO saki), for foodies, for punks, for whomever. Michi has excellent ramen for a variety of tastes, excellent and affordable sides, great though stark atmosphere, and I hope they’ll be a new constant on the Austin restaurant scene.

The Attack

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I only buy bras at Victoria’s Secret if I have a coupon. That’s the stipulation, otherwise it’s just too extravagant for my income level. Luckily, VS sends me coupons…entirely too often.

Last night upon a shopping excursion, I was disappointed to find that not only did Victoria’s Secret stop selling my favorite bra, but that they were reverting all bras back to the styles of the 1940’s. “You don’t understand,” I began to explain to the sales girl. “I wear a lot of v-necks – 80% of my wardrobe is black, low cut tops!” She smiled understandingly and then directed me to a medieval boulder holder that lacked even the slightest padding. Jazz videos played on TV’s hanging from the ceiling and intended, I suppose, to enthuse us toward the styles of the past. I was less than thrilled.

I found  Chip, and steered him from the store. The waves were restless, crashing hungrily on the dark rocky outcroppings along the coast that evening. As we walked I lamented to him about my experience in the shop. He listened, nodding, keeping any opinions he may have had inside; much more likely they simply weren’t there at all. I trailed off in my Bra Tale of Woe, noticing a man in long dark robes – a wizard, actually – teetering perilously on the black rocks.

“There’s something out there, something coming! Get some lights on the water!” he shouted, right before falling in. Chip rushed to take off his coat and dive in after the poor man. As I climbed down the rocks to pull them both onto land, my attention was caught by the ominous black shapes moving toward the shore.

There could be no doubt: ORCS!

I dragged my wizard-tugging friend out of the water, scrambling over rocks and lurching toward home. “We must get off the road, out of the town!” I gasped, and off we ran. What happened to the water logged man, I’m not sure.

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Photo Credit Blogspot

Once settled into the living room of my Aunt’s house, where we were staying, I nervously watched our cats play on the carpet. Too shaken due to the approach of Orcs to watch television, I told Chip we should turn off all the lights, not draw attention to the house on the edge of the sea, and let the Orcs pass along with their thirst for blood. The living room was cozy, but featured a large wall of windows without dressings. It was quiet, warm, and horrifying, sitting there in the dark and feeling so exposed. I don’t know how many hours we sat waiting, fearing. I heard a thud, and suddenly the worst smell filled the room. We attempted to turn on the lights, but the electricity was faltering and the lamps could only muster the dimmest of glow. Against my better judgement, I chose to activate the flashlight app on my phone, just for a moment to check the cats. As I did so, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and dove to the floor, hiding the light beneath me. While the cats were alright, we were not. Just outside the window was a gang of orcs – and on the floor in front of me the dead body of a neighbor.

“RUN!” I whispered to Chip, and sprinted toward the kitchen. “To the stairs, we’ll head up!”

My aunt’s house was built into a hill, so while the front door was on the main floor and exited out, if we could exit out back on the attic level, four stories up, we could reach the back field and escape. I grabbed the banister and wheeled around it, hurling myself up the stairs, my left hand searching behind me to keep a feel for Chip’s presence. I slowed as I reached the top realizing that other neighbors had sought refuge in the same place…and had booby trapped the second floor hall. There wasn’t time to stand in the open. Without giving our position away, I delicately made my way down the corridor, attempting to not make any Orc sounds while not making any sound at all. I reached the back bedroom and immediately looked around for a human leader of some sort, combing the room for the man courageous enough to protect his family and remain rather than fleeing, as I was attempting to do. There were children clinging to their crying mother. She must have been imploring her husband to leave with them.

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I turned to Chip, “Take the children through the hidden door. I will be there in a minute to direct you out.” I wanted to know what was going on outside. As Chip got the others out, I approached the man who had constructed the traps, I noticed he was shaking. He was a little shorter than I was, or was slightly cowering, in his late 40’s, fair-haired. He seemed the man who had always worked the vague office position, settling in his cubicle nicely, but not decorating it either, like a piece of furniture that could use a computer. Even still, he was the man who stayed, the one who tried.

“What’s happened?” I asked calmly, quietly, attempting not to spook him.

“Th-they came in the night. I took my family and the neighbors who answered and got them in here – they’re in the attic – WE’VE GOT TO GET THEM TO THE FIELD!” The words tumbled from his mouth like each was trying to escape before the other. His voice also got louder, something we couldn’t afford. I could hear the Orcs now in the house on the main floor. I looked past the man’s shoulder and saw who I assumed to be his son, maybe fifteen years old, slowly, nervously, rise from the back corner. I placed my hand on the man’s arm.

“You’ve set up some nice traps out there. I don’t know if it would do for you to stay-“

“I can slow them down!” he charged loudly, cutting me off.

“Okay,” I pressed softly. “Do what you feel is best. I’m going to gather the people in the attic-“

“YES! Please get them out -“

“Yes, I’m going to get the women and children out.” I said calmly, forcefully, as though trying to move my levelness to him. “Do you want me to take your son?”

The man turned slowly, his breaking heart evident on his face as he did so.

“Y-yes,” he choked.

“Okay.” I motioned for the boy to follow me, pausing at the hidden attic door to allow emotions to be conveyed between the two. After a moment’s wait I stepped through the entry stating “Come” over my shoulder. I moved into the area, searching for faces as I did so. Numerous children, all younger than the man’s son. Five or Six women. Chip, darkness. Quiet sobbing. I heard the door slide shut and knew the boy had left his father. Noises began from outside. The panic that spread on the faces of the hidden was immediate.

“We are not at the top floor yet,” I stated firmly, controlled. “We have to go up two flights. It is after dawn, and they are coming.” Attempting to move everyone out to the hidden stair before the children had time to whimper their fear, I directed everyone toward the stairs in the corner of the room. Daylight was beginning to creep through cracks in the wood. In the odd design of the home there was no third floor from this tiny area, merely two flights to a forth floor attic. Built as if aware of the impending Orc threat, the third floor was what appeared to be the only attic, and only accessible from the obvious attic entry from a drop down ladder in the ceiling of the second floor hall. I assumed the orcs would search there and, while I also assumed they would eventually find the hidden door, I hoped their shear stupidity combined with the unnamed man’s heroism would buy us sometime.

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Photo credit Tumblr

Once we scaled the steps to the small fourth floor attic room, I moved the children away from the door, huddling with the women toward the back to help keep them quiet. The teenaged son stayed defiantly at the door, as if ready to pounce on whatever came through. I allowed him his courage, knowing it would be both pointless and hurtful to him to attempt otherwise. Chip stood against the eave. And I watched.

There we stayed for who knows how long. I did my best to convey calm while I listened closely to the sounds of the house, attempting to decipher anything close, measuring the distance of each noise. The sun was up by the time the sounds shrank enough that I dared move. Much to the dismay of Chip, I wouldn’t allow an exit onto the field until I knew we either had to escape or that the orcs were truly on the losing side within the house; I didn’t know what awaited us on the exterior of the house and I wasn’t willing to take any chances until I was sure. I sat there, arms crossed, slightly leaned toward the door, silent, intent.

Eventually, the shouts and bangs quieted down. I turned hearing a train in the distance. Now. Now was the time to move. We needed to get as many people as possible away from the area and that train was our chance. I moved toward the pitched roof interior and slid my hand over the wood, looking for the break I knew was there. Finding the hidden handle, I tugged, popping out a three foot by two foot piece of what would other wise look like attic roof. I stuck my head out the opening and could see a few other humans gathered on the field, anxious, but waiting. Without hesitation I motioned everyone out of the attic. I remained there alone for a moment, listening to the lessened, but still aggressive clamor coming from the other parts of the house.

I wish I could say that I found my courage. That I went back through the door leading to the stairs, charging down the hidden flights, to find the man who remained and hauled him to safety.

I didn’t. I stared at the door, swallowed, and left.

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Photo credit Mind Touch

There were no screams outside. My eyes, wincing in the sun, found the women gathering the children, comforting them, while searching for their other relations. Dozens of people were beginning to converge on the field from all directions, but slowly, as if exhausted, not scared. My eyes scanned and finally rested on Chip. He was observing a group of musicians who had not only escaped, but had done so with their instruments. They were setting up to play, as if desperate for normalcy after the horrors of the previous night. Chip’s face was blank.

I took out my phone and looked up a train schedule for the area. It was all well and good that we seemed relatively okay for the moment. Reinforcements for the Orcs would be coming, however, and if a military force didn’t show up soon any safety we felt now would be shattered.

8pm. I sighed, knowing that train would be too late, though I hadn’t stopped to check the current time in my haste. 11:34am. Definitely too late. It seemed impossible that the morning was almost over, that the sun was not only out, but high in the sky.

“Kate!”

I turned to the right to see my friends Nell and Fiona jogging toward me. “Thank God!” We embraced. They began to recant to me their own tale of surviving the night, my look expressionless as I tried to take everything in. They were so animated in comparison to my own fatigued, stoney face.

“What’s next?” I murmured staring down the outlying road.

“That’s what we were going to ask YOU!” stated Nell. “Have you heard anything?”

“No….but last I checked the Orcs didn’t drive a caravan of white shuttle buses.”

The girls turned to follow my line of site. Coming down the road and circling the field was a dozen or so small white shuttle buses.

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Photo credit Bus Sales

“LET’S GO!” the girls screamed and ran toward the closest one. I didn’t budge, instead taking a moment to watch the scattering people that had grown to a crowd in the hundreds, searching for Chip, rather than dissolving into the mayhem. I was positive I would see him boarding a shuttle on the opposite side of the field near the musicians. Only I didn’t.

“Kate! KAAAATE! COME ON!” shouted Nell through the shuttle window.

Military men were now walking the grass, barking at people to get on the shuttles and move out “ASAP”. Where was Chip? Hesitating I began to move toward the bus, still ever hunting for some sign of Chip, listening for a shout, anything. But there was nothing.

Fiona half pulled half dragged me onto the bus, my face never leaving the field. I was fumbling with my phone waiting for his call to say he was fine. I could hear Fiona and Nell assuring me that they were certain he was alright, but it was kindness and not assurance that made them say such things, as if they were trying to smother the doubt in their throat. I stared out the window as the bus began to move. Mostly everyone was on a vehicle at that point and field was almost deserted save for the remaining military personal. I began to text Chip, glancing incessantly out the window. Where was he? Why wasn’t he contacting me?

Chip. Shuttle bus. Chip. Chip. Please. Shuttle bus. Chip. My texts repeating, begging more than asking.

We circled the field on the exit. As we did so I noticed a young orc, maybe a teen at most, who was obviously suffering from hypertrichosis. The hair on his face had been dyed neon green, I assumed as fear tactic imposed by the other orcs. He looked right back at me, both sad and humiliated, as military scientists descended on him for study. I had enough strength within to allow my heart to ache for the orc boy, even in the attack of the night before, even with my missing friend, because that’s what makes us human. Empathy.

I looked at the phone in my hands. Silent. Still no message from him. I looked up as the buses began to cross a bridge to the mainland – and noticed they were separated into two lines, each going in opposite directions.

“Wait!” I shouted. “WAIT! Where are the buses going? Will we meet at night?!” I was blindly trying to dial Chip while searching anyone for answers on the bus.

“Ma’am, please calm down. We need to get everyone as far away as possible. All will be revealed at a later time.”

The phone was ringing. Ringing. Ringing…Voicemail.

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Photo credit BBC

———-

That’s when I woke up. I saw the outline of Chip, his back toward me asleep. It was all I could do to keep from hitting him awake and berating him for ignoring my calls. You can bet he got an earful when he woke up.

Also, I’ve been texting him all morning: “Chip! Cell phone! SHUTTLE BUS!”

And each time he’s sent me a reply. Thank goodness.