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Anthology Askew - a Collective Perspective

ANTHOLOGY ASKEW

The Collective Perspective

Volume 001 – January 2017

fiction, poetry and artwork by

Mike Arneson ~ Heather Grein

Claire Patel-Campbell ~ William Capp

Mandy Melanson ~ Dave Alexander

Dusty Grein ~ Stacy Overby ~ Lorah Jaiyn

Cindy Tomamichal ~ Leo McBride

Jazzmyn Grein ~ Irfan Bhutia Carlile

Terri VonFeldt ~ Cristina Santana

Talitha Roque ~ Diane Nebelung

Josh James ~ Launa Janousek

Audine Grein ~ Mark Mackey

Brent Harris ~ Wim Verveen ~ PJ Port

E.S. Martell ~ Emma T. Gitani

Published by

Rhetaskew Publishing

Artwork, fiction, poems and designs,

including cover art, RA logo and all other

imprints are copyright by the artists, authors

and poets credited, and all rights are reserved.

This work and its components may not be

reproduced without the express written

permission of the rights owners and

Rhetoric Askew, LLC.

ISBN-10: 154127086X

ISBN-13: 978-1541270862

Anthology Askew – The Collective Perspective

© 2017 Rhetoric Askew, LLC

All Rights Reserved

Contents

Welcome Aboard – Mandy Melanson

About This Volume – Dusty Grein

Words – Cindy Tomamichel

One Candle From Dark – E.S. Martell

An Open Field of Sorrow – Heather Grein

Dark Angel – Mandy Melanson

[++]Passed Over – Audine Grein

Love’s Embrace – Diane Nebelung

The Day Everything Changed – Jazzmyn Grein

Not Quite Sleeping – Dusty Grein

The Intruder – Brent Harris

Decadence – Mandy Melanson

Spirit in a Sheet – PJ Port

A Storm Within – Dusty Grein

Only Emma – Stacy Overby

The Guardian – Cindy Tomamichel

Storm Unearthed:Part One – Emma T. Gitani

Filters – Talitha Roque

A Kind Of Magic – Mike Arneson

Hotel California – Lorah Jaiyn

What Lies Beneath – Talitha Roque

The Veil – PJ Port

The Recall – Audine Grein

Evening Faith – William Capp

The Dark Sun – Dusty Grein

Murder at the Count’s Castle – Wim Verveen

Beyond the Landscape – Mandy Melanson

I Can’t Be Strong Today – Heather Grein

The Clay Man – Leo McBride

For Elle – Mandy Melanson

The Magic Pie – Josh James

Grandpa’s Old Sedan – Dusty Grein

Elisa – Mark Mackey

Move Ahead – Irfan Bhutia Carlile

Gator Tale – Lorah Jaiyn

Ritual – Claire Patel-Campbell

The Cutting Edge – Mandy Melanson

If Only – Heather Grein

The Jakan – Dave Alexander

The Meltdown – Alexander and Melanson

The Seasons of Our Lives – Launa Janousek

To The Readers – Dave Alexander

Contributors – Authors, Artists and Poets Askew

The Staff – Team Askew

Welcome Aboard

Mandy Melanson

Rhetoric Askew is here to ignite a creative fire in anyone who visits its Askew realm.

Askewians are a unique group of diverse people who seek to inspire others through the worlds we create on the page. RA is more than a publishing platform, it is a way of life for its founders and members alike. To be Askew is to challenge the status-quo and be proud to go against the tide.

While Rhetoric Askew is the brain-child of myself, Dave, and Dusty, it was built for the members and based on the idea that authors, artists and poets from all levels of mastery deserve support and encouragement. At Rhetoric Askew we are dedicated to the creation of a Collective Perspective.

As we embark on this creative journey, we would like to express our appreciation to the contributors who have made this collection possible.

We also want to thank you for your support of this unique band of talent and we hope you enjoy the adventure as much as we are.

 

Buckle up, hang on and most importantly, enjoy the journey.

About This Volume

Dusty Grein

The book you are reading is the result of a set of dreams that coalesced around a central idea: there should be an easier way for authors, artists and poets to break into the realm of being published on multiple platforms.

The decision was made early on that we are just too far askew to limit our contributors to any one genre or theme. Instead, we found that by opening the doors wide and inviting submissions from across the board, we collected not only outstanding stories, images and poems for you, we discovered some new and amazing talent as well.

In this “Collective Perspective” you will find tales of science fiction, fantasy, and horror as well as those of mystery, romance and drama. You will enjoy some short stories and some very short flash fiction pieces. While reading you will also discover poetry sprinkled throughout, with both formally metered and deep free verse stylings represented. Scattered among these pages you will also be treated to some wonderful original artwork.

All together, this is an intense labor of love, respect and a dedication that all authors may not have been created equal, but anyone who is willing to work hard and become part of a team, can be Askew.

My personal thanks go out to not only Mandy Melanson and Dave Alexander, but our editors Emma T. Gitani and Talitha Roque as well. They have all put in hours of preparation to bring you this eclectic collaboration of wonder.

Finally, a thank you to all of our authors, artists and poets. You are all twisted slightly out of the mold and you are now and forever, Askewians!

Words

Cindy Tomamichel

 

Words have power

A zephyr flight of a line of poetry that captures an unarticulated secret.

A character that shines the light of courage on despair

Stories that become more real than history.

 

Gentle as a summer rain on the face of your beloved

Fresh as the dew on the petals of a blood red rose

Evocative as the scent of violets on the grave of a son lost to war

Harsh as a kiss from a whiskered aunt at Christmas.

 

Or so sharp they gut you

And you look down and grasp your entrails as they spill.

Tear the veil that hides truth and beauty

Show the reader their true face.

 

Accept the fractures in your mind,

Dark chasms from which a story flies out to smother what you see;

The peripheral vision of your imagination weaves a cloak

That distorts and makes a new reality from all your yesterdays.

 

Naysayers will cast darkness on your spirit

Tarnish the glow of creation.

Hearken not to them and fill your notebook with the words

Paint a picture of the world that lies within you alone.

 

This is your power.

If you hear the words, you must write

else they torment you, the voices.

Scream in their death throws, smothered in the lies you tell yourself:

 

I have no time and I am rubbish

It will never get published so it is pointless

I must do this more important task instead

When I am inspired I will sit down and write.

 

Feel within your heart the death of stories,

of characters, truths and voices you have denied existence.

Listen to the voices and write down the words;

save a lonely soul, and find it is your own.

 

One Candle From Dark

E.S. Martell

 

She’d been angry when Tom bought the case of candles. Each one of the slim white tapers seemed a nail in the coffin of their slowly dying marriage. At first she’d thought his penchant for storing emergency supplies was cute, but then, when money became scarce, it had seemed stupid and paranoid. Now she was glad that she had the candles. They kept the ghosts at bay.

All of the supplies were running low. It was only a matter of time before the little lights were gone and the ghosts would get her.

The wind was starting to pick up. Jane stood on her front porch and looked at the dark southern sky. A storm was coming. From the darkness and the flickering lightning, it was going to be a serious one. Perhaps it would cool things off. It had been unseasonably hot since the flash.

She glanced over her shoulder into the darkened house. The lace curtains in the kitchen were blowing in the wind coming through the screen. It blew in strong gusts every day but gradually died down as evening progressed, leaving the nights to swelter in the unusual heat.

She entered the house, bypassing the kitchen, taking one slow step at a time, glancing at the dark corners. She wearily trudged up the stairs to the master bedroom. There she looked out the window, down at the distant road.

She thought about lighting a candle. She’d always hated the dark and now that the ghosts were here, she hated it even more. It was winning. The blackness would eventually conquer everything. As far as she knew, she was the sole point of light left in the world. She looked at the candle box for a moment.

Returning her attention to the south, she sighed deeply and hoped no one would start up the long driveway toward her house. The area behind the barn wasn’t a place she wanted to visit again, but she knew she’d have to go back there eventually.

 

Tom had gone off to work as usual on the last normal day. He drove over to the Smith’s house to pick up George. The two men worked at an aircraft plant almost one hundred miles away. That was the best employment available near the lightly populated, rural area. The commute had seemed worthwhile, given their debts and reduced income.

Jane had watched Tom drive down the hill from their house. She had seen George climb in from where he’d been standing by his mailbox. The pickup had turned onto the main road trailing a cloud of dust and vanished. She’d gone about her daily chores, feeding the chickens, gathering eggs, and then tending to the garden behind the house.

The garden was Jane’s primary interest. The vegetables were thriving, even though it was still early in the year. Now that the unseasonable weather had set in, it seemed like the corn shot up inches every day. It wouldn’t be long before the ears were ripening. She’d never seen as productive a growing season. Maybe it was the heat. The sun seemed brighter, somehow.

 

She’d been bent over, weeding the potatoes, when the flash happened. She wasn’t sure what had occurred, just that it suddenly grew brighter. She straightened and looked around, puzzled. It was almost like the sun had been shaded by some high clouds that had suddenly disappeared. She shrugged, then turned to the house. It was time for a break and she was thirsty.

The lights wouldn’t come on it the kitchen. Irritated, she checked the other rooms. It looked like the power was out. The stupid electric company couldn’t seem to keep the service going. It went off at irregular periods. She was used to that. It’d come on eventually.

Jane continued working on her chores until lunch time. She threw some greens to the chickens, checked on the two goats, and worked some more in the garden.

The power still wasn’t on when she went in for lunch, so she made herself a ham sandwich, closing the refrigerator door quickly to conserve the small amount of cold that was still in the machine. If the power didn’t come on soon, she’d start to lose food. That irritated her and so did the fact that the phone was out. She couldn’t even call to report an outage.

At two pm, as on every week day, she walked down the hill to check the mail. The box at the end of the mile-long drive was empty. Either the postman hadn’t come or there was no mail for them today. That made her happy. Most days the thought of the bills waiting in the mailbox was depressing. The absence of mail was pleasant, and the long journey back up the hill to the house seemed easier as a result.

Tom was due home by eight. She hated the dark house and the dark corners of the rooms, but it would be better when he returned, unless they started fighting again. The arguments were wearing her out. No, the arguments were erasing their love; that was what was happening. Their discord was slowly putting out the light in her life.

She’d lit a candle as dusk gradually morphed into night. She was beginning to worry, since he still hadn’t arrived.

She tried to dial his number, but the cell system was down, or her phone wasn’t working correctly. It was off, and she couldn’t get it to start. She thought about charging it, but the power was still off.

It was a long, hot night. The wind had died and the still air held more heat than was usual for this time of year. She tossed fitfully on top of the sheets in their second floor bedroom. Tom’s absence made her nervous. Their relationship had been deteriorating for months due to the financial stress when she’d lost her job, but she still relied on his presence. Something about his quiet competence made her feel secure.

He wasn’t back by morning. Jane was forced to consider the idea that he might have had an accident. She had some cereal for breakfast. Might as well use up the milk before it went bad. The refrigerator was now no more than a storage cabinet. She cleaned out the spoiling food, shaking her head at the waste.

Somewhere Tom had a solar-powered radio. That might help with her isolation. She dug around in the spare room upstairs. That was where he kept the bulk of their emergency supplies. Eventually, she found the radio. It was still in the original packaging and had been hidden from view behind some boxes of ammunition.

The sun was shining brightly and the radio powered up quickly, but there was nothing to receive. Turning up the volume only resulted in static. There weren’t any stations broadcasting. She couldn’t find anything from one end of the dial to the other. She went back inside, and sat at the kitchen table, her head in her hands.

She watched the wind blow the lace curtains, her mind blank. After a time, there was a faint noise. She could hear a shrill screaming blowing up the hill, carried on the wind. She laboriously climbed to her feet and looked out the window.

The sound was coming from the Smith’s house across the road. It shouldn’t have carried to her, but some trick of the wind seemed to waft it into her kitchen. Jane scrounged around for her binoculars. She used those for bird watching, but now they seemed perfect for spying on her neighbors.

She couldn’t clearly see what was going on. The Smith’s house was too far for that, but she could see that it was on fire. Smoke was blowing down the wind at an increasing rate. The fire seemed to be out of control.

She stiffened attentively as two figures came out of the house and trotted down the sidewalk. As they walked away, Mary Smith came out of the house, stumbling across the porch. One of the figures turned back and raised something in its hand.

Jane heard a shot. Mary Smith tumbled forward off the porch, rolling down the steps in a flurry of arms and legs, to land, unmoving, on the front walk. The two figures turned and continued on toward the road.

Jane watched for a moment, trying to hold the binoculars steady, although her hands were shaking. The next obvious target for the two marauders was her house. They were coming directly toward her drive. She was ready to panic, but then she found a degree of control in the thought that the two were on foot and it would take them several minutes to get to her door. She dropped the binoculars and dashed for the gun case.

 

 

That was another thing that she and Tom had fought over. He owned more firearms than she felt necessary or even prudent. Now she was glad that he’d forced her to learn to shoot the light hunting rifle. She could manage its smaller caliber and it had a good telescopic sight. She located the gun, fumbled for some cartridges, and loaded the magazine.

It took three attempts for her shaking hands to insert the magazine into the well on the bottom of the weapon, but it finally clicked in. She released the bolt lock. The mechanism slammed shut with a solid, metallic sound, carrying a cartridge into the chamber. The rifle was ready. Was she?

She hesitated, looking at the front door, then climbed the stairs and went into their bedroom. The window overlooked the long drive that ascended the hill. The two marauders – she could now see that they were men – were about half-way up. She watched, waiting for them to get closer.

There was a fence about a hundred yards from the house where the driveway gate hung open. The men approached the gate and Jane aimed through the telescopic sight, observing them. Both carried handguns, but she couldn’t make out the weapons’ details. One was also carrying a large bag filled with some items that must have belonged to the Smith family. They gestured toward her house and joked back and forth. She could hear their laughter faintly.

One lagged behind to check his pistol. He chambered a round as the two came through the gate. Jane shot him before he could take another step, then instantly aimed at the other man. He hadn’t heard the shot or noticed that his compatriot had fallen. The wind was gusting harder and had kept much of the sound confined inside the bedroom. She aimed at the center of his chest. Her mind was cold and elsewhere as she pulled the trigger. The rifle bucked against her shoulder and the man went down.

He wasn’t dead, though. He writhed around on the ground and fired several shots at the house. None came close to her window, although she heard the sound of breaking glass from downstairs. She aimed, took a deep breath, and fired again. The writhing man dropped the pistol, and stopped moving.

Jane carried the rifle with her as she went down the drive to check on the two. Tears were streaming down her cheeks and she could barely walk. Her face was pale with shock as she bent over the bodies. The bag, a pillowcase, contained some collectible items that she recognized as belonging to Mary Smith.

She took the two handguns and the pillowcase of stolen possessions into the house. Then she returned to the corpses, pushing her two-wheeled garden cart. It had an oversized flatbed. Its long handles and bicycle wheels provided extra leverage that allowed her to move both bodies to the back of the barn.

She couldn’t leave them on the drive. How would Tom get in, and what would he think?

At subconscious level, she feared that they would begin to stink and the wind would blow the odor into the house. She couldn’t stay there with that kind of smell.

It was a hard job, but eventually she dumped the second body and returned the cart to the garden. She was still in shock, but now she moved deliberately, calmly, as she went into the kitchen and fixed herself a glass of iced tea, without the ice, of course.

 

Jane sat at the kitchen table. The tea glass was empty. She had placed the men’s two handguns on the other end of the table after cursorily examining them. One – the revolver – held two fired cartridges. She had only heard the shot that had dropped Mary. The only other person in the Smith house had been Mary’s aged mother.

Jane did not want to go over there to check. Mary’s body still lay at the foot of the steps. Somehow Jane was sure that Mary’s mother lay dead somewhere in the depths of the smoldering house.

It was time to think. Something had happened. Something terrible. The power had gone off, then Tom hadn’t come home. Her phone and radio didn’t work. The Smith women were dead and she had two corpses rotting in the heat behind the barn. Everything was somehow related. It had begun when she was working in the garden.

Now she remembered. The sun had flashed. That seemed to be the start of things. She’d noticed the power was off right after that.

Tom had gone over various catastrophic events with her, arguing that they should be prepared for anything. She wondered if the flash had been a solar flare. They’d talked about that possibility. The power and electronics must be related to that. If that was the cause, it was no wonder that Tom wasn’t back. His car must have died and he’d now be on foot trying to walk almost ninety miles to get back home.

She calculated that if he managed to make twenty miles a day, he’d be back by Monday. She resolved to be ready when he returned. She’d show him that she now understood and appreciated his efforts to be prepared.

Jane had brought all of the rifle ammunition into the bedroom. She had set up a shooting position with a blanket to kneel on and a padded rest on the window sill. One of the dead men’s handguns, the revolver, was securely belted to her waist. Now she kept watch for more marauders.

If the problem had been a solar flare, then no one would be driving. Newer cars and trucks wouldn’t work, and people wouldn’t be able to pump gas without electricity. There were two smaller towns within a day’s walking distance. Those places held many people who would want the supplies that were in her house. She was prepared to defend herself and her possessions until Tom got back. He would know better what to do and he would take over. She’d show him that she understood and he’d be proud of her. Their fights would be a thing of the past.

Night fell uneventfully. No one else had shown up, either on the road or coming up her drive. The wind had started to diminish, but was still blowing harder than usual for night-time. The curtains billowed softly, adding to the spooky feeling that now permeated the house. Jane found herself continuously looking over her shoulders and peering fearfully into the dark corners of the rooms. There was an invisible presence that demanded her attention.

She moved from room to room, pausing uneasily at each door to stare into the dark, trying to see if there was someone or something there. The revolver in her hand did not provide any solace. Her sense of unease was too disturbing and yet too diffuse for her to locate the source.

She suddenly remembered the candles. A few minutes later, she had placed two lighted candles in each room, leaving only her bedroom dark. She had shut the windows and pulled the curtains so that the light wouldn’t shine down to the road. No one would be drawn by it. She’d sit in the dark bedroom, where she could watch the drive, unobserved from below.

Something about the candles seemed to keep the spooky presence at a distance, but she could still sense the unease. She first thought that it was the ghost of Mary Smith or her old mother. She slowly became convinced it was the two men she had shot without warning. She thought, no, she knew they wanted revenge for their deaths.

She tried to convince herself that they had deserved to die. They’d killed the women across the street, after all.

Somehow that rationale didn’t make her feel better. Their spirits were still present, hovering around in some dark, unknown space, demanding revenge. The candles were all that kept them from reaching her.

Morning found her asleep at the window. The candles had burned down. She had replaced them every couple of hours throughout the night, but now their remains were pools of wax, accompanied by a slight smoky odor in each room.

 

Jane awoke with a start. There was a small group of people walking up the drive toward the house.

They’d already passed the gate and now were only about fifty yards away. There were three men and two women. All held a weapon of some form. One man had an ax, another a long length of steel bar. The third, a long gun. Both of the women carried kitchen knives.

They gave off a combination of guilty furtiveness and brazen, unconcerned boldness, as if they knew they shouldn’t be planning on looting her house, but were determined to do it despite that knowledge and weren’t worried about being caught in the act.

The rifle spoke five times. After observing the scene to make sure no one else was coming, Jane went for the garden cart. Two hours later there were five more bodies beginning to bloat in the heat behind the barn.

That night the ghosts were back in force. All seven of the unknown looters were after her. The candles were the only defense. She lit them in every room, then cooked one of Tom’s packaged emergency meals on the portable camp stove. The angry spiritual presence seemed to circle around and around the outside of the house as she ate.

Later, she watched at the window, leaving only to check candles and replace those that had burned out. The wind continued to blow, but it hadn’t cooled off. The night was hot and she missed the air conditioning. They hadn’t been running it much since it was too expensive, but still it would be nice to have a break from the heat. Maybe Tom could figure out how to get it going again when he returned.

 

In the morning she drew some water from the old cistern and took a welcome bath. The water was almost the same temperature as the air, but it cooled as it evaporated from her skin, leaving her feeling somewhat refreshed.

Breakfast was more dehydrated food. The food buckets held a variety of meals, and Jane eagerly went through them, organizing them into piles so that she could eat for a week without any duplication.

 

She looked out the kitchen window. Things looked wrong out in the yard. Feathers were blowing across the grass. Something had gotten at the chickens during the night. Jane hadn’t heard it. The chicken run was behind the house, and the wind had blown the noise away. Either that or perhaps she had slept. She didn’t know.

 

 

The chickens were all dead. They’d been savaged. Feathers and blood were everywhere. Jane feared the ghosts had gotten them, until she noticed a large paw print outlined in blood on the back step. She hurried to the small barn to check the goats. The scene there was the same. Both Billy and Nan had their throats ripped out. Something had partially devoured both goats’ abdomens.

Jane backed away in horror, staring at the violent scene. It somehow bothered her more than the bodies of the people she’d shot. She reached behind her for the barn door, fumbling for it as she tried to step out, her gaze still fixed on the two goats. They’d been her special pets. Now they were bloody messes; nastily dead.

There was a growl from behind her. She whirled to face two huge dogs moving slowly toward her, jaws gaping, slaver dripping to the ground. She raised the revolver and fired. The ground between the dogs puffed with the shot, but the animals only flinched, then continued to advance.

Jane ducked back inside and started to shut the door. The dogs lunged forward with snarls, wedging themselves in the narrow opening. Jane shot again and again until the revolver clicked futilely.

One dog was dead. The other was struggling. It limped slowly away from the door, then dropped to its stomach and crawled a few feet farther before becoming still.

She looked at the sides of the barn, the corners of the house, and around the yard. Nothing. She started for the house.

About halfway to the door, she heard a rush and a chorus of growls over the wind’s noise. A whole pack of dogs was coming around the far corner of the barn, running full-out towards her. She screamed and ran.

The distance to the back door seemed infinite, but she somehow moved closer, her heart pounding in her chest. She didn’t look back. It would only slow her down.

A yank at the door knob and a spin followed by a slam, then the door shuddered as several heavy bodies impacted it. She was afraid the frame would break. The dogs snarled and clawed on the wood outside.

She pulled the portable island to the door, overturning it so the solid top was against the bottom panel. That additional barrier made her feel more secure, until she remembered the front door. It was open, the entrance to the house barred only by the flimsy screen.

She sprinted through the rooms, nearly falling as the parlor rug slid across the polished wood under her feet. The front door! She slammed it, and turned the deadbolt.

There was a movement. A dog was looking through the sidelight window at her. Where was her rifle?

She flew up the stairs to the master bedroom. The wind had blown the door closed. The ghosts were conspiring to keep her out. She fumbled with the door knob as a window shattered downstairs. There was the scrabble of rapidly moving claws on the wood floor and the heavy thump of a body falling as its feet slid out from under it at the sharp corner to the stairs.

The knob yielded and she slammed the bedroom door before the animal cleared the top of the staircase. She lunged for the bed, hands reaching for her weapon. She cried out as her hands touched the polished wood of the stock.

With the comforting weight cradled in her arms, she considered what to do, ignoring the scratching and growling on the landing.

 

Jane climbed through the window onto the porch roof and attracted the dogs by yelling.

They clustered in a constantly moving pack below her, dancing in their eagerness. Even the one inside burst out again, as they howled and barked, clamoring for her flesh. The rifle spoke multiple times. The yard became silent.

By the time she’d wheeled the bodies to the back of the barn, it was growing dark again. She’d paused to eat and perhaps drifted away into what might have been a fugue state. She wasn’t sure where the hours had gone. Her emotions seemed flat, almost dead. She felt numb.

The ghosts were thick around the house in the dark, trying to come through the windows. The candlelight held them at bay. Now they moaned for vengeance and howled with a hunger for her body. She shuddered as she kept her vigil at the bedroom window.

 

Two more men tried the drive the next day. Their bodies went into the rotting pile of flesh that was making a nauseating stench behind the barn. Jane didn’t know if she’d be able to go back there again. It was lucky that the wind blew the smell away from the house. She thought of it as a dark cloud that made her retch.

 

It was evening when another marauder started up the driveway. He limped towards the house, moving slowly. She inspected the man through the telescopic sight. This one had disguised himself with a blood-stained rag wrapped around his head, covering part of his face. She sighed, willing him to turn back.

He paused. She hoped he’d change his mind and leave.

The ghosts, now bolder, whirled around him and drove him onward. Jane choked back a sob. She was tired of killing. Maybe it would be better just to submit. If she were dead, she could join the ghosts, and not have to worry about fighting them. If she were a ghost, she could fly around the outside of the house in the dark and not worry about anything but the candles.

Those would be gone soon anyhow. She’d been burning so many every night that the case was nearly empty. When their little lights were gone, the ghosts would surely enter the house and get her. The thought of being absorbed into their black cloud of stench terrified her.

Down on the drive, the figure came on steadily closer. Jane steeled her will. If only Tom were home, he’d know what to do about the ghosts and everything else. His calm presence would make her feel secure. Gone were her doubts in him. The carefully stored supplies that once seemed crazy were now the work of a sane and prudent man. She wanted him back.

The figure below came on, one limping step after another. The Marauder was carrying a large corn knife, a type of machete. She could see blood on the square end of the weapon. Had it been used to kill some other hapless woman? The man kept coming.

In due course, the rifle kicked against her shoulder and the body dropped by the gate. She descended to get the now blood-stained garden cart. The ghosts were becoming bolder in the gathering dusk. They were howling on the wind, the hot wind.

She dragged the body onto the cart and started for the back of the barn, only to pause. The rag about the man’s head had caught in one of the wheels and had wound around the axle. She tugged at it and it slipped off his head.

It was Tom.

She might have screamed in horror, or perhaps she mutely smiled in despairing acceptance of the death of her hope. She didn’t know. Her mind had snapped to a featureless white, then had gone completely blank.

 

When she came back into herself a little, she looked at him. He had been cut across the forehead; a jagged slash that extended down across and deep into his right eye, blinding him on that side. The purpose of the rag hadn’t been to disguise, but to bandage. She saw that, and also noted that her shot, as usual had been dead center in his chest.

She didn’t remember moving his body. When she eventually found herself in the kitchen, she thought to look out the window. His body was gone and the garden cart was standing on the front walk, fresh blood dripping to the flagstones below.

She was getting sloppy. She’d have to move it, but maybe tomorrow. Right now she had a more pressing problem. The ghosts were back, louder than ever, whirling around the house in the dusk.

She lit a candle, carrying it with her through the dim rooms.

She was running out of candles to fight the dark. The ghosts were more powerful than ever. She could hear Tom’s voice mixed in with their continual plaints. They wouldn’t wait. They demanded retribution. She wandered aimlessly from room to room, unaware that the hot wax from the candle sometimes dripped on her hand.

She found the way back into her mind when the candle burned out. She was sitting in the master bedroom by the window. She picked some wax off the back of her hand, calmly touching the little blisters it had raised.

 

Jane did not know how long she sat in the darkening house. The ghosts were spinning through the wind outside, triumphant cries in their silent voices. The rest of the house was dark. Her bedroom was lighted by the next to the last candle. Now, it had almost burned out.

With shaking hands, she took the final candle and held its wick to the barely flickering flame. It caught, flared, then steadied, bringing a comforting light to the room. The ghosts gave cries of disappointment and moved away from the opened window.

They had forever; they could afford to wait. Their dark was winning. She’d been so sure that she was of the light, a creature of life and hope. The ghosts argued otherwise. Perhaps they were correct.

Jane carefully stuck the base of the last candle in the candle holder, then sat quite still, her hands in her lap. She had to make a decision. She’d make it by the time the candle was gone.

A single rifle cartridge sat on the window sill in front of her. She could keep on fighting or she could give up. The ghosts were waiting for her just outside. She could hear Tom’s voice somewhere out there, calling her name. It sounded as though he was slowly coming closer in the dark.

The ghosts cried expectantly outside, not loudly, but never quite still. She took a shallow breath and looked at the candle, then a deeper breath, and looked at the rifle cartridge.

She was just one candle from dark.

An Open Field of Sorrow

Heather Grein

 

An open field of sorrow…

Leaves that blow

Like tears that fall,

Empty branches reaching for air,

Searching for light

To find a way through it all.

 

Trees unable to breathe –

The pressure of grief

Pressing down on their leaves

Yet empty inside,

With aching hollowness

Our companion as we grieve.

 

In this open field of sorrow

Questions go unanswered

In the stillness of the night,

Like a clock without hands.

The minutes stand still –

No end of pain in sight.

 

Tree branches, once so full of life,

Lie empty as the pain sweeps

Blindly through them like tears

What’s left behind is now

An empty field of sorrow,

And an echo of their fears.

 

At the breaking of the dawn

A tiny glimpse of light

Reaches down upon the soul

Bringing light, restoring hope

That this torn and shattered life,

Might one day again be whole.

 

Deep inside, the truth is known,

That whatever tomorrow brings,

One small branch will never again grow –

Forever changed and silent it lies

Even when the other branches

Begin to stir and then beautifully flow.

 

Its time of growth has ended,

It has shed its mortal bonds,

And left a scar, forever to show.

Its spirit blooms so brightly,

But its remains become the soil

In which the others thrive and grow.

 

Now that the sun is bright and warm,

And the new leaves grow rich and green

Here, in this open field of sorrow.

The pain still exists,

And the hollowness inside,

For one there’s no tomorrow.

 

The day my baby boy went home,

Heaven gained an angel,

But left behind a broken heart.

His love is missed so much,

And still no answers come,

Why did we have to part?

 

For my baby boy, the angel,

My memories are what I keep,

As I walk gently through this field;

Each night I cry my silent tears,

And pray for strength each day,

To make it until I’m healed.

 

Dark Angel

Mandy Melanson

Another lost soul falls. The distant sound reminds him he failed his assignment, again. He had been sent here to protect them—which he did, for a while. When he first arrived he was sensitive to the humans’ plight and grateful for the change of pace. Seeing someone die when he could have prevented it was more than he could endure. Time passed. He grew weary of hearing the thoughts of weak mortals. So many selfish indulgences. Few had real problems, yet they chose death.

Why keep stopping them? It’s futile anyway, at some point they will all end up leaving this life.

 

Illustration 1 – © 2016, Dave Alexander

 

It became repetitive: climb to the top of the tower, look down at the world, lament the latest minor setback in their otherwise beautiful existence. Then the decision to end everything. No logic. None. He gave up trying to save the humans from their mistakes. Their voices scrambled until the sound became an unbearable roar. He quit listening. He turned to the mortals’ typical means of escape, inside a brown paper bag. He held the glass bottle to his physical form’s lips and indulged his weakness. The entire bottle downed in one burning gulp. He understood why some chose to despise alcohol. His eyes blurred, his movements a far cry from the elegance he was used to.

I’d rather be stuck listening to the mindless lamentations of the ignorant than this.

A voice cut straight through his fog. The sound was beautiful, melodic, but wrenched by pain.

“Father, forgive me. He wasn’t supposed to die. I only wanted to make him stop. I never wanted to wake up with him on me again. There was too much blood … it says ‘an eye for an eye’.”

He couldn’t believe the pain she felt from protecting herself; he actually wanted to help her. He went to the church tower in what he thought was the speed of light. Funny, the effects of alcohol once it is consumed.

She stood on the ledge. He moved to the top of the building, his senses still clouded. Her footsteps sounded nearby, but he could not find the source. He heard her draw a deep breath, unaware of his existence. Grasping through the dense haze he lunged forward, trying to save her from her mistakes. His hands grabbed a fistful of chiffon and he pulled as hard as he could, but the sheer force of gravity proved too much.

She tumbled over the edge and he followed. He held her tight to his chest on the way down. He thought he heard her whisper, “I wish you found me sooner.” Her brilliant red hair flowed through the air as he tried to shield her from the impact. Why did I give in?

Her body landed with a deep, penetrating thud. The blood flowed with a force he never witnessed before. His muted powers were not enough to save her. His sentence kept him confined; he couldn’t follow her though he tried.

He lost her forever.

 

Passed Over

Audine Grein

 

Black tendrils of fog

Creep along the cobbled street

Choosing random doors

 

As the darkness penetrates

Voices cry from deep inside

 

All hope now is gone

The contagion rages on

Death it’s only end

 

Yet in the homes death passed by

Joy is spread for all within

 

Relief spreads faster

Than the plague that came before

Those spared all give thanks

 

Love’s Embrace

Diane Nebelung

 

Here we are together

You belong to my soul

In true love’s embrace

Never apart, Always there

 

Then one day

He took you away

From my embrace

Always apart, Never there

 

Before you died

To leave this world

I held you in my embrace

Wishing we wouldn’t be apart

Hoping that we would always be there

 

With tears in my eyes

They took you away from my embrace

I know we will always be apart

We are no longer together

 

As I watched them lower you

My heart broke in two

I imagined you in my embrace

I squeezed you so we wouldn’t be apart

And forever together we would remain

 

When He decided to take me I was forever thankful

For I would be able to hold you in my embrace

I knew we would never be apart

For we would always be together Until Eternity’s end

 

“I love you,” he whispered

As He held me in love’s embrace

 

The Day Everything Changed

Jazzmyn Grein

 

Everything in your life can change in a matter of seconds. That’s a hard lesson I learned for the second time one beautiful morning in 2001.

On September 10th, I was a high school senior looking forward to my 18th birthday. I lived in a tiny third floor apartment in New York City, with my mom and four year-old sister, Alli.

My dad had been a F.D.N.Y. firefighter; three years before, he died saving twin babies from a burning building. When Mom and I received the news, our lives were completely shattered. The mayor declared him a hero and posthumously awarded him a medal. Mom had it framed and hung it in a special place next to his picture on the living room wall.

Alli didn’t remember Daddy, because she was so little when he passed.

 

“Faster, Daddy! Faster!” The world spins by me and I grip the bars tighter.

“Are you sure, Holly?” he asks. “I can make it go super fast, if you can handle it.” With one big push, he sends me flying even faster on the Merry-Go-Round.

“Yay!” I scream, beginning to get dizzy. “I love spinning, Daddy!”

“Yeah, you got this, kiddo.”

The world rushes by in a blur of color as my hair flies along behind me.

“Okay, you’re making ME dizzy now,” he says, slowing down the wheel. “How about we go get some ice cream.”

“Yeah! Can we bring some to Mommy, as a surprise?”

“Sure, Boober,” Daddy says, knowing that while I pretend to hate my nickname, I secretly love it. “Let’s do follow-the-leader through the park on our way.”

I follow him through the sunny summer day, doing silly dances and marching along the wooded trail.

 

As the memory began to fade, I realized my eyes were watering and I was on the verge of crying again. It had been three years, but I still missed him so badly sometimes it felt as if my heart was going to implode.

Mom walked into my room and I turned my face away. If she saw me crying, it would break her heart; I knew she missed him as much as I did. I wiped my eyes and focused my attention on Monday’s homework assignment.

My thoughts were spinning like that ride on the Merry-Go-Round, as I struggled to finish my work. I had a busy schedule planned for the next day; September 11th.

 

 

The next morning started early, as they always did. I awoke at 4:00 a.m. which was easy for me; I normally got up at 5:00 anyway, so I could complete my morning routine.

Mom didn’t get up until 6:00. She worked full time as a secretary for an insurance company on the 95th floor of One World Trade Center. In order to make her life easier, I had taken on the responsibility of getting Alli up and making sure she was fed and dressed. I then dropped her off at daycare before I drove to school.

I took my time with my makeup and hair, and changed my outfit three times. I had an interview scheduled downtown at 9:00 a.m. for a part-time job in the World Trade Center’s south tower. It had been arranged by my guidance counselor, and my Business Ed teacher signed off on a late arrival at school.

Finishing my mascara, I heard little feet pad up behind me. In the mirror I saw Allison standing in my bedroom doorway, sleepy-eyed with cute little bed-curls in her dirty blond hair.

“It’s only 5:30, Alli-Cat,” I said quietly. “You don’t have to get up yet.”

“I can’t go back to sleep now,” she replied. “I had to go potty, and now my tummy is waked up. Will you get me some Toco Puffs?”

I nodded and ushered her to the kitchen ahead of me. As we went quietly past Mom’s bedroom I could hear her softly snoring inside. I poured Alli a bowl of cereal then started a pot of coffee. I thought about making a bagel, but my nervousness outweighed my hunger.

I headed back to my room to finish getting ready. Like always, Mom’s alarm clock blared loudly at 6:00 and I could hear her getting out of bed.

“Alli’s already up, Mom,” I yelled. “I got her some cereal and made coffee.”

“You, my dear girl, are an angel and a lifesaver,” she said, heading for the kitchen. She came back toward the bathroom, coffee mug in hand and kissed my cheek as we passed in the hallway.

Getting Alli dressed was about the same as always. First she almost had a meltdown, because I couldn’t find her Winnie-the-Pooh underwear. Then she complained about her socks and I had to readjust them four times before the little seams were straight across her toes so I could put her shoes on. In other words, it was a pretty normal Tuesday.

Mom left for work at 6:45, with a quick kiss for each of us. As she headed out she stopped, hugged me and whispered, “Good luck, Sweetheart. Knock ‘em dead.”

 

“You’re gonna knock ‘em dead, Boober.” Daddy looks like he is about to cry. I only have two lines in the play, but he has been calling me “Miss Holly, the movie star.”

I can feel my smile spread across my face. “Does my costume look good?”

“You are the best looking mushroom in the whole forest.” Daddy gives me a hug then makes his way toward the cafeteria to join Mommy and the other parents. I’m scared, but excited too. I hope Daddy and Mommy are proud of me.

 

After dropping Alli at daycare, I made my way through the heavy midtown traffic. At the underground parking garage, I got lucky and found a spot close to the elevators. Locking my car, I realized just how out of place my aging Pinto looked among all the shiny sedans.

I smiled. My old car had three huge benefits. It was clean, it got decent mileage and best of all, it was paid for.

I got my license the day I turned sixteen. Mom always told me it would be cheaper taking taxis, but I loved the freedom driving my own car gave me, even with gas now over a dollar a gallon.

As I left the elevator from the garage and entered the lobby of the south tower, I noticed the clock said 8:25. I still had a little time, so I stopped at the coffee shop. I was still amazed there was a hotel in the north tower, and shops and restaurants inside the first three levels of the 110-story south tower.

My interview was on the 55th floor, so I headed to the bank of middle express elevators, which served floors 50 – 75. I was a little early, but I loved the views from the higher floors. I knew from the windows of the office lobby, I could see the spot where Mom worked, near the top of the other tower. The trip up seemed to stretch on forever, and I got that same tingly feeling in my stomach I always did during elevator rides.

 

“Daddy, why does my tummy tickle when we go up and down?” The music playing in the elevator is soft, and the paneled walls smell like the furniture polish Mommy uses on the coffee table at home.

“Well, going up and down when we aren’t the ones making it happen, can be scary. So sometimes God tickles us to let us know not to be afraid.”

I think it’s funny to imagine God tickling me, but it does make the elevator seem less scary. “God made us, so He knows we are ticklish on the inside, right Daddy?”

“Right you are, Boober,” Daddy says and gives me his just-for-me smile—the one that makes me love him so much. “Now, can you push the button with the big ‘L’ on it for me?”

 

The number 55 lit up above the doors, and they slid open. I walked to the waiting room window and noticed how blue the sky was in contrast to the silver and gray of the north tower. The world looked bright and beautiful in the early morning sunlight.

Looking down I saw rivers of traffic and ant-sized people pushing their way through the crowded morning rush. The background noise of the busy city was quiet this high up, but still there.

I did a quick check of my watch. 8:42. I took a seat and flipped through a magazine. Glancing out the window toward the offices where Mom worked, I wondered if maybe she was looking back at me.

I noticed an airliner approaching from the west. I remember thinking it was strange to see an airplane, coming in to land at JFK, this close. The plane was approaching very low above the city, and appeared to be headed straight towards me.

What happened next, happened very fast – but every second seemed to take forever. The plane kept coming, getting bigger and bigger. Suddenly, the sunny morning was shattered by the exploding force of the airplane smashing into the north tower. I remember most of all, a sense of total disbelief.

This couldn’t be happening. I did NOT just watch a passenger plane fly into the building in front of me!

My shock was broken by a crashing wave of sound. It rattled the window in front of me as a giant fireball bloomed, engulfing the upper floors of the north tower. With dawning horror I realized the spot where Mom’s office had been was now completely lost in flames and rubble.

Oh my God! Mom!

I don’t remember falling down, but I must have; I found myself sitting on the floor unable to speak.

 

I’m waiting anxiously for Daddy to get home. His two days on duty are over, and we expected him home an hour ago.

Mom is in the kitchen making Daddy’s favorite dinner and the smell of baking lasagna fills the apartment. Alli is in her little pink swing being entertained by cartoon turtles when I hear the doorbell ring.

“I got it Mom,” I yell, getting off the couch.

Approaching the door, I stand on my tiptoes to look through the peephole. The first thing I notice is the uniform. It’s the captain, Daddy’s boss. With a knot of fear in my stomach, I realize he is wearing his dress blues and the chaplain is with him.

That can only mean one thing.

“No,” I whisper to myself. I try to call out to Mom but the strength runs out of my legs and I sit down hard.

“No, No, No,” I hear someone saying, and then realize it’s me.

 

As the initial shock wore off the stunned silence turned into gasps, and then cries, as people realized what happened. Somehow a passenger plane had gone off course and flown directly into the twin of the building in which we were currently standing.

Within minutes the emergency lights began to flash. A woman’s soft gentle voice began repeating over the intercom, “This is an evacuation alert. Please make your way quickly and calmly to the nearest stairwell and proceed to the lobby. This is an evacuation alert.”

My thoughts turned to Allison. I needed to get to the day-care center. There was a chance Mom hadn’t been in her office, but in my heart I knew she was gone. “Oh, Alli-Cat, what are we going to do?” I whispered to myself as I stared out the window at the terrible black smoke now drifting in huge billows over the city.

 

“Momma, what are we going to do now?” The pain is a living thing inside me, and the fear is huge and black. The captain finally left, but for the last hour the world has seemed tilted and out of focus.

Mom sits on the couch, hugging Alli tightly and rocking back and forth, mascara running down her face, a blank look in her eyes.

“I don’t know Boo, I just don’t know.”

I want this to all be a bad dream, but telling myself to wake up only makes the painful truth tear me apart even more.

 

The evacuation alert repeated its quiet warnings, and I stood slowly and followed the sea of frantic people towards the stairwell. There were a few who were still in too much shock to do more than sit, staring out the windows. Above us, across the concrete canyon, an inferno raged.

There was a steady flow of people descending from the upper floors, and the stairwell was congested. I was able to merge my way into the crowd and started making the long trip down. All around me people were crying, talking to their friends and desperately trying to use their cell phones as we slowly made progress down. Passing a stairwell landing, I noticed a woman collapsed on the floor, crying uncontrollably. Part of me wanted to join her, but I knew I needed to stay strong. Not only for myself, but for Alli.

 

“You have to be strong for me Holly,” Mom says, trying not to cry. “Now that Daddy is… gone… it’s just the three of us against the world. I need to know I can count on you.”

“Of course you can Mom.” Part of me wants to just curl up in a ball and cry myself to sleep, but another part of me knows it’s time to grow up. My family is more important than the pain.

“My old boss, Mr. Longmeyer, says they can find me a secretarial position with the company in their new headquarters,” she explains. “Taking this job will mean I have to work downtown, in the Twin Towers. It’ll be full time, and the money isn’t great, but between that and the insurance we should just be able to make ends meet. It is also going to mean you will have to help me keep our household, and our family, going hun.”

“What about the baby, Mom? Who’s gonna watch Alli while I’m at school and you’re working?”

“There is a nice day-care center, just three miles away,” she says. “I can drop her off in the mornings, and you can take the bus there after school and pick her up. It’ll mean an extra bus ride for you, and you’ll have to make dinner most nights.”

“It’s okay,” I tell her. “Daddy says I’m a better cook anyway.” We look at each other and both break out in laughter which soon dissolves into tears and a hug that helps us both hang on.

 

As I approached the 42nd floor landing, the whole building jolted and shook violently. I felt a blast of heat roll down the stairwell from somewhere above me and dust and debris rained down. Someone screamed and in the blink of an eye, panic took over.

People were running and pushing, trampling anyone who happened to fall. I was trying to avoid being crushed when I saw a pregnant woman get pushed to the floor. I rushed to her, grabbed her hands and helped her to her feet. I guided us both to a clear place next to the wall.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. But what in the world happened?” Fear was obvious in her voice.

“I have no idea. I’m pretty sure something exploded somewhere above us. We should go as quickly as we can. It might get worse, and we still have a long way to go.”

She nodded and we again joined the mass of people, desperate to escape. We continued our way down the stairwell, along with what seemed like a million other people. She disappeared behind me as I was carried along in the river of panic.

A businessman was pushing people out of his way, and one of the people he shoved collided with me, sending me into the wall then onto the floor. People continued to panic and push their way through others. As I struggled back to my feet, I watched with horror as the larger and stronger people in the milling crowd trampled those who were smaller and weaker. I noticed just how unfair people could be at times.

 

“It’s just so unfair.” My voice is trembling. “Mom doesn’t understand. She acts like it’s MY fault Alli fell off the couch.”

“No,” Daddy tells me. “It ISN’T fair. No one ever said that life was going to be fair, sweetheart. Mom knows Allison’s tumble wasn’t your fault. She was upset because she asked you to keep an eye on your sister, so Alli’s safety WAS your responsibility. You need to learn fault and responsibility aren’t the same thing.”

I look at him in curiosity. He has a very serious expression, and he doesn’t get those very often.

“Holly, my Boober, you are no longer just a little girl. You are a big sister now and that title comes with some very serious responsibilities. Your baby sister will admire you, and she will try to emulate everything you do as she grows up. You need to remember, she will very often want to BE you, and so you must always watch out for her, keep her safe and teach her how to be a good person. The very best way to do that, is to try and BE the person you want her to become. Does that make sense?”

“I guess so, but the little ankle-biter needs to learn to not try and climb on and off the couch by herself.”

“Well until she learns all the important stuff,” he says with a grin, “it’s a good thing she has such an amazing big sister to take care of her.”

Somehow he turns my anger into pride.

 

The next hour was a blur of frightened pushing people. I remember descending stairwell after stairwell, and getting elbowed, kicked and shoved. The dust and debris was so thick at times that I had to cover my nose and mouth with my shirt, and I could barely see the people around me.

I heard someone say the north tower collapsed, but that made no sense at all. The airplane had flown into it near the top.

Firemen passed me, traveling upward against the tide of people. I knew these brave men were trying to save people who might be trapped or injured above us. They were heading in the wrong direction, like they always do when duty calls and people’s lives are in danger.

 

 

“Daddy, do you ever get scared when you have to go into a fire?” We are sitting on the couch watching TV, and the news is about a fire in California.

“Every time, Boo. But when I do, I think of you, and Mommy, and how wonderful it is that I have a loving daughter and wife at home waiting for me.”

For the first time I realize Daddy’s job puts him in danger, and this is a very sobering thought. “Why do you do it, Daddy?”

“Well, it’s my job honey. More importantly, it’s a way for me to help others when no one else can. Someone once saved my life, so I do what I can to help others and pay it forward. Fighting fires can sometimes be dangerous, but don’t worry.” He smiles and tweaks my nose to reassure me. “Daddy trains and practices all the time, and he works with the best and bravest men in the whole world.”

This must be what they mean by the word hero.

 

Just when I thought my legs would give out and the stairways would never end, I reached the lobby. Everyone was running as fast as they could for the doors, scrambling to get out. No one knew exactly what happened, but we knew there had been an explosion, and everyone wanted to escape.

As I reached the sidewalk, the world behind me was engulfed in a roar of thunder and the air was sucked away from me, taking my breath with it.

A hot cushion of air grabbed me from behind and threw me, spinning, into the street. The debris rained in thick layers on top of everything as the sounds of glass, concrete and steel falling filled my ears like thunder.

A large piece of steel hit my left leg, and I heard the bone snap. The pain was immediate and so intense it made me dizzy. The world around me begin to spin faster and faster, and as my vision faded to black, a single thought flashed through my mind.

 

It’s way too fast, Daddy. I don’t know if I can handle it this time.

 

The pain in my leg was the first sensation to return. It was sharp and throbbing; a tremendous fiery ache. In a way I was glad to feel it. It meant I was still alive.

A beam of dusty sunlight shone on my face and through the haze I could see the blurry outline of a fireman’s helmet. Somewhere from a great distance away I heard someone shout, “We’ve got a live one!”

Strong hands began to lift some of the larger pieces of debris off of me, before reaching down and pulling me to safety. My rescuer then picked me up in his arms and cradled me close.

“I got you, sweetheart,” his gruff yet beautiful voice said gently.

 

“I got you, sweetheart,” Daddy says.

The picnic at the park has been fun, but I’m tired. As we pull into the parking lot I pretend I’m asleep. I know Daddy will carry me up the stairs and tuck me into bed.

As he lifts me up, I go limp in his arms and let him snuggle me in tightly. I can smell his cologne and feel the stubble of his face on my cheek. I know he will keep me safe and warm all the way to my bed.

We both know I’m not really asleep, but he plays along and tucks me in my bed. As he pulls the blankets up around me, I quietly say in a sleepy voice, “I love you Daddy.”

He bends over and kisses my forehead, and whispers back softly, “Love you too, Boober.”

I have never felt more secure and loved.

 

Sunlight streaming in the window brought me to my senses, and I could see I was in a hospital bed. At first, I couldn’t quite remember what happened, but then it all came crashing in.

“Alli! Where’s Alli!?” I screamed, trying to sit up.

A nurse ran into the room and eased me back down. She said everything was okay; I had a broken leg but it was in a cast and my little sister was fine. As I laid back on the bed and focused on calming down, I asked her how long I’d been here.

“Two days.”

Two days?

“Where is my sister? You don’t understand! My mom was…” The grief washed over me and tears filled my eyes. “I need to get to my sister. We’re all alone now.”

“Is your little sister’s name Allison?”

“Yeah, but we call her Alli.”

“Well, you have a couple visitors. They have been here since yesterday morning.”

As the nurse left my room two people, one big and one small, came in; my Great Aunt Linda from Connecticut, hand-in-hand with my Alli-Cat. We weren’t as alone as I thought.

As Alli climbed up on the bed with me I crushed her to me. I met Aunt Linda’s eyes, which were brimming with tears, and I heard Daddy’s voice echo loudly in my mind.

 

“You got this, kiddo…”

 

It’s been three years since that awful day, my 21st birthday has come and gone, and Halloween is approaching fast. Alli-Cat is getting super excited about the whole free candy business, and has already made up her mind (for the seventh time) about what she wants to dress up as – a ladybug. Our lives have changed a great deal since then. We stayed with Aunt Linda while I finished school, and we owe her so much. Last summer, my legal guardianship was finally approved, and I found a good paying job at the airport, working for the newly created TSA. Alli and I moved into a little one bedroom apartment of our own, and have grown even closer, as we learn how to be a family of two.

 

Illustration 2 – © 2016, Terri VonFeldt

 

The terrible attack that took so much away from us has, in a strange way, given us so much. The aftermath of the tragedy has taught me that everything happens for a reason. If I hadn’t been through those experiences and survived, I wouldn’t have had the self-confidence it took to go after and land a job that I love. Nor would I have a wonderful little apartment to live in with my sister, the one person who helps get me through each day. It’s funny how, even though she doesn’t know it, she makes me want to be a better person every day.

 

Not Quite Sleeping

Dusty Grein

[As I sit here not quite sleeping,
in the comfort of my chair,]

while the fire’s warmth is keeping
wintry drafts out of the air,

both my eyes are slowly blinking
and their surface starts to glaze;

Slowly I feel my chin sinking,
here before the crackling blaze.

Lo, the moonlight’s stealthy creeping
‘cross the window’s icy stare

[as I sit here, not quite sleeping
in the comfort of my chair.]

In my mind’s eye daydreams dawning
as the room begins to blur.

Gritty eyes and languid yawning;
my surrender seems assured.

Bands of flick’ring firelight throwing
spectral shadows on the wall,

heavy drowsiness keeps growing,
though I’m trying not to fall.

[As I sit here, not quite sleeping
in the comfort of my chair,]

swirled thoughts like hounds are leaping,
chasing an elusive hare.

Neither wide awake nor snoozing,
silent lullabies float by

consciousness I’m gradually losing;
breathing stretches into sighs

quiet minutes by me sweeping.

Honestly, I just don’t care

[as I sit here, not quite sleeping
in the comfort of my chair]

 

The Intruder

Brent Harris

 

The knife. I need to get to the knife.

It was the same knife Beth and I used to cut our wedding cake. It was on the counter, just out of my reach. The intruder was dressed all in black, though his face was not covered. Beth was in her bathrobe, and she was near tears. My attention was drawn to a bruise across her left cheek, which contrasted sickly against her pale skin and blonde locks.

I have to get to that knife.

The man in black drew closer, as if he could sense my presence. I was caught, stuck between the microwave and toaster, unable to get to the knife. I was trapped in the kitchen, my wife beyond my capacity to save.

I have to do something!

I suppressed my fear and replaced it with a growing, boiling rage.

I burst forward, leaping towards my assailant. I seemed to hover over him and would have collapsed down on him, were it not for a quick stab of white-hot pain which crackled over my body. I felt shock and went still for a moment. My anger burst forth, overcoming the agony until the whole room started spinning out of control.

The man in black must have stabbed me, but with what, I could not tell. A lone light bulb hanging on a cord above him swung wildly, spotlighting the dim room’s cheap particle-board furniture.

 

 

My senses stretched along with the shadows, until the bulb exploded, showering the room in luminescent sparks as glass shards stabbed into the yellowed linoleum.

I was drawn into the living room, static sparking around me as I crossed the shaggy brown carpet. I tried to catch my breath as my hand slammed against the glass of the TV set. Beth and the intruder jumped at the noise. The soft brilliance of the static danced across the living room.

Beth stood in the middle of the cramped room clutching her rosary beads, a streak of red across her forearm. The wound looked vaguely familiar to me.

She looked toward the screen, her eyes wide. The man in black approached again, holding some sort of weapon, I think.

“Inside the TV!” At my wife’s cry, the man in black snapped his eyes towards me. The tv clicked off, and for a moment, I was lost.

I found my way back and discovered I was beside my wife. I clicked on the lamp, but to my surprise she jumped with fear.

She has no reason to be afraid of me.

Still, she looked at the lamp long and hard, then picked it up. It flickered fiercely in her hands.

“He’s here! Inside the lamp!”

The man in black began speaking, although I did not understand his words. I only wanted to get to Beth, but an unseen force prevented me from reaching her.

Beth raised the lamp above her head. She threatened to throw it down. That was our lamp, our wedding gift, just six months ago. Up until a few days ago, we had a matching set. They were the nicest things in the house.

Beth broke the other one. I remember the cut on her arm, her falling onto it as if pushed.

Now she threatened to bring that second lamp crashing to the floor. As she stood there with the lamp overhead, the intruder opened his book and began to chant again. I looked on in confusion.

A swirling vortex opened beneath me. I felt its pull, and used every ounce of my strength to remain free. The man in black continued his assault, his words growing louder, more focused and commanding. Sweat soaked into his starched-white collar. Every electrical device in the house flickered on and off, triggering alarms and noise. Beth and the man were battered with a cacophony of light and sound.

Beth brought the lamp down in one smooth motion. Cascading fragments flew across the carpet and that was it, the vortex had me. A whirlwind of rage swirled around, sucking me into the tempest below, but I couldn’t let her go.

She is my Beth. She doesn’t belong to anyone but me.

I know my anger sometimes got the better of me, but I loved her.

I won’t harm her. Not ever again. I didn’t mean to hit her the other day. I didn’t mean to explode into rage.

“I saw you talking with that guy again!” I had yelled at her, shoving her into the lamp. It broke as she crashed into the floor, a piece of porcelain cutting her arm.

I didn’t mean to do it.

I know she didn’t mean to race into the kitchen as I chased her. She didn’t mean to grab that knife, I know she didn’t. I knew it even as it slid into my heart, just as it had sliced through our wedding cake.

It was all an accident!

 

Illustration 3 – © 2016, Dave Alexander

 

“I can forgive you Beth, just don’t make me leave you! I love you. I love you…” I wailed as I was sucked into the bottomless pit. The last thing I saw was the look of relief on Beth’s face as I disappeared into the depths.

 

Decadence

Mandy Melanson

 

Decadence calls frighteningly, to its hold I bow willingly

I can feel it overtaking, as I submit fearlessly

 

Relishing in my treachery, there will be no recovery

Sinking in my debauchery, my soul broken completely

 

Though I try, I cannot escape, my fate here sealed obliquely

Slowly fading sanity

 

I cannot forget what has happened to me

I cannot forget why I am here

 

Emptiness takes hold

Draining me, forcing me

 

I will fight

I will survive

 

Your voice torments me day and night,

lost within my desperate plight

 

Fighting simply to stay alive, no redemption for my soul

Forgiveness is not an option, victim of my sick corruption

 

Vengeance, justice in proportion.

 

Spirit in a Sheet

PJ Port

 

“Why are you wearing a sheet?”

“So you can see me.”

“All I see is the sheet. Which looks an awful lot like a Mother Mary statue.”

“But I want you to kiss me.”

“No way am I kissing Mother Mary.”

“Come on. Don’t be a prude.”

“Maybe I don’t know how to kiss. “

“Just stick out your tongue.”

“Eeww.”

“How you gonna learn?”

“Maybe I don’t wanna learn.”

“Maybe not. But I do!”

“You don’t even have a tongue.”

“Do, too.” The sheet poked out an appropriate nub.

“Wow. Do you have other parts, too?”

“Maaaybe.”

“So, ah, are you a girl? Or a guy?”

“Neither, last I checked.”

“Uh, okay. But you are a ghost, right?”

“Who said I was a ghost? I never said I was a ghost.”

“But you’re invisible. And you walk through things. And…”

“Doesn’t make me a ghost. Ghosts aren’t real. You know that.”

“But…”

“Not imaginary, either. So don’t even ask.”

“But…”

“Yeah. Got a butt, too. See?” A sheet hand tapped a sheet bump. “No idea what it’s for, though, since I never sit down.”

“Think I need to.”

“Yeah, you do look a little pale. Heh! Maybe you need CPR. I’d settle for CPR. Anything mouth-to-mouth.”

“Eeww. And what’s gotten into you, anyway?”

“Well, if you must know, I read this weird book and it had all this…”

“Oh, crap. Didn’t I tell you books were creepy? And eeww?”

“Yeah, but I thought it might tell me what these were for.” The sheet sprouted two bumps.

“Oh, crap. Those look like boobs.”

“Wow, that’s a relief! Thought they might be horns. Had some of those once. Not pretty.”

“How could you tell?”

“Looked in a magic mirror, of course. Uuug-lee!”

“So, how’d you get rid of them?”

“Gave them to this guy in a red suit. Can’t imagine why he’d want horns, though. Old geezer didn’t even have a tail.”

“Maybe he just wanted to be invisible.”

“Maybe.”

“Say. Could you give me the boobs? Dad says I should be taking an interest by now.”

“Trade them for a…”

“Wait. They will still be invisible, right? Wouldn’t want anybody seeing them. And they won’t get any bigger, will they? Wouldn’t want big ones. Wouldn’t fit in my pocket.”

“Eeww.”

“Why are you taking the sheet off?”

“Don’t think I wanna kiss you anymore.”

 

A Storm Within

Dusty Grein

Across the sky, a cannonade;

black-bellied clouds give chase

as lightning joins the dark parade,

and chill winds howl and race.

I bundle up against the storm

to ride it out until the morn.

I bundle up,

I bundle up,

but in my soul I can’t get warm.

 

Staccato rain begins to drum,

the world now dressed in gray

as icy water sheets and runs

and washes hope away.

My silent tears fall to the floor

as darkness has its way once more.

My silent tears,

my silent tears

run like the rain, from eyes grown sore.

 

I close my eyes and rest my brow

upon the window pane

and listen to the wretched sound

of unrelenting rain.

I say your name and in reply

no answer comes but stormy skies.

I say your name

I say your name

softly, then hang my head and cry.

Only Emma

Stacy Overby

 

Brilliant me had the awful idea to take the shortcut through the alley. Four guys came out of the shadows and surrounded me.

Why am I not surprised?

However, the rosaries on their belts and crucifixes tattooed on their forearms, caught me off guard. “I don’t suppose you’re just looking for directions, are you?” I cringed as soon as the words left my mouth. Not a good way to start the conversation.

“Don’t worry, my dear. You’ll be giving us the directions we need when we finish with you.” The blond in front of me gave a creepy serial killer smile.

“Would you care to elaborate? I’m not sure what you mean by ‘finish with me’.”

“We must cleanse you.”

I arched an eyebrow.

“You have been cavorting with the damned. You must wash away the stains to save your soul.” A dark-haired guy smiled, too, but it still seemed sinister.

“I’m not sure how my actions are any of your business. And I don’t believe in stained souls or ritual cleansing.”

Please believe me. This isn’t what stains souls.

“Enough.” Blondie stepped toward me. “You have associated yourself with the loupe-garou. Creatures of Satan. The Church must cleanse you to save your immortal soul.”

“Technically, they are faoladh. Not loupe-garou. I can understand how you get them mixed up.”

Before I could say any more, the four gang-rushed me. I only had time to cover my head before they struck. They did not assault me, per se, but their attempted abduction had the same effect. If they performed their cleansing ceremony it would resemble the Spanish Inquisition, and my survival did not appear to be a high priority. I pulled out every move Kris and the others taught me. It was a losing proposition, but I had no idea what else to do. They dragged me toward a van waiting just inside the end of the alley. I fought harder.

Oh man. I am dead if I don’t get out of this.

When the priests went flying one by one, I froze. For a moment I thought it was Kris and the rest of the pack, here to save my ass. I was still learning about his weird magical abilities even though it had been two years since we first met.

 

 

I got a glimpse of those responsible for sending the clergy airborne, and realized I had no such luck. I did not recognize any of them, but they were wolves. They moved too fast, too fluid, and far too much like predators to be human.

I scrambled backwards until I hit the wall of the building. The fight pulsed around the alley. The priests must have done something to amp themselves up, because they held their own against the wolves. It didn’t matter though, they were outnumbered.

I tried to inch my way toward the end of the alley without being noticed. My luck ran true; the fight ended before I got far. A wolf noticed my covert effort to get away and put a stop to it. I found myself dangling by his claws, my feet nowhere near the ground.

“Where do you think you’re sneaking off to?” His growl was so thick I had to think about his words for a second before I understood what he said.

“Just trying to stay out of the way.” His brow furrowed, and he frowned as I spoke. “I don’t suppose a thank you will get me off the hook, will it?”

“Not when we’ve been searching for you for over a year.”

“You were searching for me?”

How did two polar opposite groups decide they needed to find me all on the same day? And on one of my rare days free from pack business?

Without answering, he threw me at two other wolves. My head smacked against the grimy bricks as they grabbed my arms. Stars shot through my eyes into my body, pain erupted from the back of my head.

“This is what it must be like to be an egg when you crack it,” I mumbled, trying to keep from blacking out.

The chocolate-colored wolf holding onto my left arm barked, “What?”

“Nothing. Idle speculation, that’s it.”

“Idle what?”

Real genius. “Asking myself a question.”

“Shut it, then.”

When the honey-colored wolf on my right tied a grungy bandana around my eyes, he wrapped it right over my head injury. The pain seared through me and I lost my battle to remain conscious.

 

I woke up tied to a chair in the middle of a warehouse. Talk about cliché. My head had been bleeding and had crusted down the side of my neck. I tried to scan my surroundings without moving too much; I figured if I wasn’t careful, I might end up throwing up rather violently. Since that was not my style, I remained still.

I was being held in an old car storage space, some of the cars were so covered in dust, I could not tell their make and model, much less a color. The rest of the space was empty. The little light from the windows high above showed me a tiny office walled off on the far end. I assumed the pack out there since no one was in sight.

One of the werewolves sauntered out of the dimness.

Here’s my chance. Charm. I need to charm him into letting me go. Why the hell do they want me anyway?

A pack rescuing me from the Spanish Inquisition priests thrilled me. I would rather have thanked them and moved on, but nobody asked me.

“Would you help me a second?” I tried to muster as much charm as possible.

“What?”

It appeared my charm needed work, but I plowed on anyway. “The blood from where I hit my head on the bricks is itchier than sin. Can I have a towel to clean it off? I’d also like to check my head.”

“A doc checked your head. She put three stitches in. You’ll be fine.”

With that he wandered off into the shadows.

Shit. I guess Kris was right; I do not pull off the sweet and innocent thing well anymore.

Movement caught my attention. Not a good thing. The wolf waded back from the shadows, holding a wet cloth.

“Hold still.” He grabbed my chin and wiped my face. Maybe my sweet and innocent bit worked a little after all.

When he made to leave again, I spoke up. “What do you guys want from me? I don’t even know who you are.”

“You don’t have to. We know who you are. Druid.”

Oh. They are after power.

“You will help us with something special.”

“You ever consider just asking me?” Damn. I needed to learn to watch my smart mouth.

“Nope. If we did, you’d have said no.”

“You sure about that?”

“You already have.” He left again, putting an end to what little information mining I accomplished.

 

The light in the windows faded into a dirty orange glow. The temperature dropped. I was getting cold; it was not the frosty chill from Minnesota that I was used to, but it was frigid. I shivered.

I sensed the movement gliding out of the darkness. My jaw dropped open.

“What the hell are you doing, Lawrence?”

“How many times did I tell you, little Druid, that I needed you?”

He had said as much on numerous occasions, before Kris kicked him out a year ago. I figured he had a thing for me.

“You’ve got one hell of a way to win a girl’s heart.”

“It isn’t your heart I want. Not anymore.”

“I’m not giving you a blood sacrifice. What you’re asking for is wrong. That ritual won’t give you the power you’re looking for.”

“There is only one kind of power, and I need it. Kris is wrong; we can’t keep living among the humans. Not anymore. We should rule them, not hide from them.”

“That ritual will corrupt you. It will eat you alive. I will not be a party to your destruction, despite you kidnapping me.”

“You’re wrong. I can control it.”

“No one can; that’s why it’s forbidden. It never should have existed, much less survived. Lawrence, let me go. I’ll talk to Kris, get you a chance to come back. The others can come, too.”

“He’ll never let me back. Not after abducting you.”

“For me, he will.”

“The ritual begins the day after tomorrow, at sunset.” Lawrence stalked away.

“It will kill me, Lawrence.”

He froze. “Yes. It will.”

I shivered in the empty loneliness of the warehouse.

 

I coached myself through several deep breaths. My nerves steadied, but only because they no longer resembled a major earthquake. I reached out with my magic. The most tenuous of connections teased me with how insubstantial they were.

“Blast the lot of you hairy, mangy assholes,” My magic sputtered and failed once again.

Too much man-made stuff here.

Even the metal had long since given up any connection to Mother Nature. I finally understood on a visceral level why Kris insisted on living away from London. Why he held such a large estate and why he always wanted to keep such close tabs on me.

How these wolves stood the lack of natural energy baffled me. I didn’t know how I would handle it if I had to stay here long.

Man, I need to get the hell out of here.

A metal door banged open somewhere deeper in the warehouse. I held my breath, waiting for the reason to emerge from the dusty twilight.

A voice whispered in my ear. I jumped and scraped skin from my rope bound wrists. I bit my cheek hard to keep from screaming and cursed as blood oozed across my tongue.

“What?” My voice squeaked despite my best efforts to sound calm and collected.

{…I said hello, little Druid…}

I tried to look around, but the ropes bit into my body, reminding me of how little freedom I had.

{…Fear not, little Druid…I will not hurt you…}

“Who are you?”

{…Tsk. Tsk…Such a mundane question…I expected so much more from you…}

“What do you mean?” My mind whirled like a snow globe trying to figure out who the voice was, and what he wanted.

{…Touted as one of the strongest Druids of the century and you are at the mercy of a pack of Omegas?…Really…What are Druids coming to nowadays if you are among the best they have to offer?…}

I strained to see behind me, not caring that the ropes bruised my arms, my chest. “Who the hell are you? What are you talking about?”

{…Such a shame…So worthless…Why should I bother?…}

I wanted to scream. To rail at the disembodied voice in my head. Something about him, his words and his tone, goaded. I bit my lip and centered my mind. From a place of stillness, I mulled over his words and lack of any actions.

“You are not here. You are a projection.”

{…Ah…A glimmer of hope…}

Flushing at the praise, such as it was, but I caught myself. I was no simpering school girl begging for crumbs from the teacher.

I created a mental barrier as a wall and slammed it into place. He seemed contemptuous. I was uncertain if trying to trap the voice inside my head would work, but I figured I had little to lose.

He reminded me of a trapped bird flying against a window as he beat against my wall.

{…What have you done?…Release me!…}

“Not until I have a few answers.”

Footsteps approached, and interrupted the conversation with the voice in my head. An unfamiliar wolf, in his human form, emerged from the shadows. He stalked around me several times checking my ropes. I noticed him smirk at the sight of blood stained ropes.

I shook my head and focused on the wolf’s movements.

Omegas the voice had called them. Was it true? How could I make that work to my advantage?

“You.” His voice reverberated in a baritone hum that wrapped around us.

“Excuse me?” I was tiring of the disdain and veiled insults.

“All this fuss for a pathetic waif.”

His words flew at me like mosquitos. On their own, each word meant nothing, but together the pain multiplied to a surprising level. I thought I had gotten over my insecurities during my time with Kris.

Guess not.

A deep breath forced back the tears. I would be damned if I let them fall in front of such a deplorable excuse for a wolf.

“The boss wanted me to ask you one last time to cooperate. If you don’t, I get to take what we need -- by force.” His grin sent chills through me. “Please. Say you won’t cooperate. I like it better that way.”

 

 

I forced myself to ignore the wolf and to breathe. Something in his voice, told me he would be true to his word. My throat tightened, threatening to choke me. I needed to breathe, to direct my emotions and channel them into something useful, like anger. Not the hot, impulsive flash. More of a smoldering, seething, cold, and calculating upwelling of energy. Anger had become my emotional security blanket a long time ago. I embraced it and gave that part of myself control.

I opened my eyes and cocked my head. “Hmm. Interesting.”

He paused in his slow circle. “What?” He had not expected my reaction.

“Why you?”

“Why me what?”

Good. He seemed easy to confuse.

“Why were you sent out on such a menial task as to ask me for something your boss knows I won’t give him?”

“And you think you know why he would do that?” the venom in his voice was enough to drown in.

“I do.”

He appeared before me with his yellow eyes mere inches from mine. His hands seized my arms and dug into my skin.

“What do you know of me? What do you care?” He hurled his words from point blank range.

I had my sign. His flinch was so slight I might have imagined it, but I felt it in the subtle twitch of his hands on my arms. He was an Omega. An Omega who wanted to be an Alpha in the most desperate way.

And never would.

“I see it all, wolf. I care because that is what I do. Who I am. You’re desperate. You’re tired of always being under someone else’s control. You want recognition. Power of your own. And, most of all?” I leaned into him. “You seek safety.”

Unblinking wolf eyes stared into me. Through me. His hands tightened little by little on my arms, bruising me; much more and he might fracture a bone. .

He vanished. Between heart beats, he disappeared. I heaved a huge sigh. I gambled and won. Would I be so lucky again, considering the day I had been having? The voice in my head was right. The wolves I had seen so far were Omegas. Strong, but Omegas.

“Hey,” I prodded at the voice. “You still there?”

No answer.

“Hello?” I shoved harder.

I got a twitch in response.

“Fine. Two can play this game. I won’t take the barrier down until we talk and I’m satisfied with what I learn.”

More stirring and another run at the mental barrier. I must have done a better job than I thought, because it held.

{…How did you stop me?…}

“I didn’t want you to leave, so I imagined a wall to stop you.”

{…That is not possible…}

“You’re still here.”

{…No…That is not how that is supposed to occur…}

“Well. It did. And, as I said, you’re still here.”

Silence.

“Fine. Sulk all you want. You’re not leaving until I’m out of here safe and sound.”

No response. I pictured myself flipping him off. Petty, yes, but it made me feel better.

I took stock of my situation and realized again how deep into the proverbial mud I was. Yes, the voice pointed out the wolf, and likely the others, was an Omega. Trapped in a tin can of a warehouse limited my magic to almost nothing, and I was talking to a voice in my head.

How on the good earth was I going to get free?

A memory popped into my head. Kris had made me an Alpha in his pack, but only vague memories of what that position entailed came to the surface.

I racked my brain as the last ray of sunlight fell below the cracked edge of the skylight. I had to sacrifice to catalyze the magic. My spilled blood soaking into the ropes more than fit that bill but I needed the energy source, the connection to nature. To cannibalize my own energy would kill me. To steal it directly from another living being was dark and evil, which would stain my soul. What about manipulating an Omega into giving me that connection?

{…It will never work…}

“Thanks for chiming in. You done pouting now?”

{…Why, no…No, I am not…However, the only way I have to get out of here is to assist you…Which may be an impossible task…}

“Whatever. If I’m so difficult, then why are you even here?”

Silence.

I sighed, “You’re too damn sensitive.”

{…No…I am not…I was pondering the answer to your question…}

“And?”

A door slammed. Snarls reverberated through the warehouse. A massive thud echoed in the sudden silence.

I knew a wolf fight when I heard one. Someone either disobeyed their Alpha or challenged the Alpha for the right to lead the pack.

What on this green earth is happening? Maybe I’m getting lucky and the new Alpha will let me go.

Heavy booted footsteps paced toward me. I wouldn’t have to wait long to find out.

A new wolf appeared. Cinnamon brown hair fell in disheveled waves over hazel eyes. Blood oozed from a cut on one cheekbone and a bite mark still seeped blood from his shoulder into the tattered gray t-shirt.

“Emma.”

I blinked several times. None of them had called me by name before. Something had changed.

“You have two choices; either mate with me, or die in the ritual.”

“What a sweet proposal.”

“The pack needs your power. These are the only two options. Be glad I am giving you a choice. Jonathan was not so generous.”

“You’re proposing, and I have no clue who you are, including your name. It won’t take three tries to guess my answer.”

He growled pushing his hands through his hair as he turned away. “I told Jonathan he was wrong.”

He stood with his hands on his lean hips. “My name is Morgan. As of a few moments ago, I run the pack. You’ve learned something about me. Make your choice before pack politics force my hand.”

“I am already mated. I cannot make the choice you so desperately want me to make.” I watched Morgan sort through my words. Mostly true.

“You do not smell mated.”

I blinked, drawing my head back as if his words were tangible objects hammering into my head.

There is a smell for someone who is mated?

I tried to hold onto my bluff out of desperation.

“We were just mated. He is the Alpha. We haven’t spent much time together because of his duties.”

Morgan slipped into a thousand-yard stare once again. He stood so still it creeped me out. He was more wolf than man, and that scared me. What would he say next?

In the end it did not matter because the wolf who had threatened to kill me stepped into the dim light behind Morgan. An odd flicker reflected from something dark in his hand.

I kicked out, catching Morgan in the knee and buckling his leg. The explosion from the gun roared like a bomb in my ears. Morgan crumpled to the floor from my kick as pain erupted in my shoulder. He rolled toward the other wolf.

“Jonathan!” Morgan’s voice growled with the change, which shimmered around him, a heat mirage with no heat. It shifted and roiled as Morgan sprang toward Jonathan. Out of the curtain a cinnamon-colored wolf exploded.

I focused on the fight to hold onto consciousness. Blood streamed down my back and chest and dripped off my fingers from the saturated ropes.

Distracting me from the snarling mass of fur and blood in front of me, the voice in my head shouted.

{…What is dust?…}

“Huh?”

{…Think…What is dust?…}

I blinked several more times as seconds ticked by. At first, the voice asking me about dust confused me. Until it hit me.

Dust is earth. I had been searching for the large energies of trees and grass and the sun, the synergistic energy from being surrounded by life interacting on every level. It never occurred to look to dust as earth.

I closed my eyes and searched for the energy from the dust motes floating around me.

Nothing.

Seconds marched by. Snarls and yelps bounced around the empty building. Blood dripped into an ever-widening pool beneath me. My head was spinning and cold sweat beaded on my skin.

I knew I wouldn’t last much longer. I held on to the growls and yips from the death match and tried again. Something snapped.

Blips of energy like microscopic stars shone around me. By themselves, each dot was nothing. Together, they lit up the warehouse. I sucked in their power. Breathed it in as if it were air. As I pulled the energy in, I wove it into my shoulder, enough to stop the bleeding. The pain lessened. The bullet had passed through my shoulder in one clean shot.

I realized the warehouse had grown silent. I opened my eyes, uncertain of what would greet me and unsure if I wanted to find out.

Both wolves lay on the floor, and blood ran in rivers gathering in a few spots. Morgan had lost his wolf form at some point. Jonathan remained in his wolf form. Since I sensed no evidence of life in him, he must have spent more time in that form than his human form.

I reached out with my magic to heal Morgan.

He stiffened and gasped. I strengthened the healing weave, even as a hollow pit in my stomach opened at Jonathan’s death. Though death is a part of life, I never got used to it.

Morgan stood, clothes bloody and torn, but flesh whole inside the jagged tears. Without a word, he freed me.

I stood and rubbed my aching, dirty, blood covered wrists, wincing at the spots where I had rubbed them raw.

Morgan’s hazel eyes searched mine as his brow crinkled and his lips turned down in the faintest hint of a frown. “Why?”

“No one deserves to die like that.”

One brow arched. “And he deserved to die like this?”

Morgan gestured and I studied the drab gray fur matted with congealing blood. He was right. The living deserved life. Life was not that way though, it was violent even in its beauty, And death was a part of life; even violent death.

I started to tell Morgan as much, when a commotion burst from behind me.

 

Street light flooded the dim space. Shadowy figures streamed around me. Before I could blink, Kris had Morgan pinned to the dirty, bloody floor. Morgan must have hit his head hard on the floor, based on the dazed expression on his face.

“Wait.” My scream echoed through the warehouse, sharp even to my ears.

Kris stopped, one hand raised, claws tipping his rigid fingers. He glanced at me. My breath caught at the feral gleam in his eyes.

“Don’t hurt him.”

Kris stared. I saw him taking an inventory, noting every scratch, cut, and bruise; cataloging every spot of blood. He snarled, “Why?”

“Morgan did not harm me. Neither did the other wolves.”

“Then who did?”

I pointed at Jonathan.

Kris took in the dead wolf before turning back, his head cocked to one side.

“Who killed him?”

“Morgan.”

Kris jerked his head back to meet Morgan’s eyes. Neither blinked for several long seconds.

I moved, soundless and slow, to Kris’s back, knowing I was safe there only because he himself had put me there so many times before. I touched Kris’s raised arm. His wiry muscles quivered with restrained power.

“Morgan caused me no harm. He did what he could to help me.”

I watched for any sign my words had filtered through the predator’s mind to what remained human underneath.

The potential drained from Kris’s arm. He backed off, still careful to keep himself between me and the other wolf.

Morgan climbed to his feet, his movements stiff and slow. He winced several times but he never stopped watching Kris.

“She said she was mated. I presume you are he, yet you do not smell mated either.”

Kris tensed at Morgan’s words, but did not move. “I am he, and the rest is none of your business.”

We stood in an awkward silence.

Panic assailed my heart and mind. “Kris. The others?”

“What about them?” His voice soothed, even as he focused on Morgan.

“Will the others kill the werewolves here? We have to stop them.”

“No one is dying, unless it is by my hand. That is the law.”

I opened my mouth and snapped it shut again.

Law?

It was working in my favor, though, and for that, my heart lightened.

“Tell me what happened after you were taken, Emma.”

I told him. Most of it. The priests, the pack, the ritual they wanted to use me in. I told him about how Morgan saved me. I left out the voice in my head. That little issue needed more thought before sharing. When I finished, Morgan spoke up.

“William was our Alpha. Taking Emma for the ritual was his idea. When William backed off sacrificing Emma, Jonathan killed him and took over. Jonathan and Lawrence convinced the rest of the pack that the sacrifice was the only way to gain the power. I challenged and beat Jonathan for Alpha. I convinced them that making her a part of our pack would serve the ritual the same.”

“Lawrence?” Kris directed his question at me.

I sighed. “Yes. He is here. Or at least was. I tried to talk him into giving up this insane idea.”

“He had the same idea before I threw him out of the pack,” Kris’s words were flatter than the state of Kansas.

“I know.” I watched Kris as a feral gleam sparked in his eyes.

“Where is he now?”

“He was with Jonathan when I came out here. I would hazard to guess he remained with the rest of the pack when Jonathan came out to confront me,” Morgan supplied.

“He is mine to deal with. How did Jonathan die?”

This was something I loved about Kris. Even at his coldest as Alpha, Kris still took care to listen.

“Your mate saved my life. Jonathan chose the path of dishonor and tried to kill me using a gun. She knocked me down. I swear the bullet hit her, but no wound exists.”

At that Kris whipped around. His eyes searched for the wound and found none. I ducked my head. Kris’s stare was becoming too much. One finger touched my chin, inviting me to tilt my head up to look at him. I read the questions about Morgan in his eyes, knowing he would not ask them out loud. I nodded, a slight motion, Kris understood.

Kris turned back to Morgan. “Where is your pack? Are they all here?”

“My pack was decimated. I am the sole survivor. I run with these wolves out of a lack of choice.”

Kris nodded. “Well. If you choose, my pack will welcome you. You proved yourself by protecting my mate. The Honor Law’s are strictly enforced with us. Remember that before making your decision.”

I knew Morgan did what he could to help me, yet I still did not trust him. Maybe it was not as much him, as it was he associated with the pack that had just tried to kill me. However, Kris offered to take Morgan in. I told Kris I was okay with it, and would have to deal with it.

Kris studied me, and it was too much. I could not get a deep breath in, my body shook , and I could feel the tears threatening to fall. I would not let that happen.

Kris crushed me to him, his arms tight, pressing me into his chest. His scent, fresh air and trees, and rich-black earth, permeated my senses and calmed the rising tide in my chest. His strong, even, heartbeat steady in my ears anchored me to him. Safety.

“Come on. Let’s get out of here,” he whispered.

I did not move. The reality of what happened was setting in. The faint scuffs and sibilant rustling of clothes whispered around me as the rest of the pack filed by escorting the rogue wolves out of the warehouse. Part of me wondered what would happen to them. Most of me didn’t care, so long as they stayed away from me.

When sounds died away, I pulled back, tears safely in check. I headed for the door, stumbling only once on my way out. Kris caught my arm so I didn’t fall, then let go. He walked close in case I stumbled again. Kris knew better than to carry me, no matter how much I know he wanted to. He needed that lesson only once.

{…Free me…}

I had forgotten about him. I took the wall down.

{…We are not done, you and I…We will meet again…}

“Promises.”

Silence. I need out of this warehouse.

 

 

The moon hung huge in the late-night sky. Its yellow orange light lay like a path leading me to freedom. We walked in an easy silence to the top of a small hill across from the warehouse.

“Morgan. He planned on freeing you and running with you.”

“I know.”

Kris shook his head and laughed. It sounded self-deprecating.

“Only you, Emma, would get yourself kidnapped and then kidnapped from your kidnappers. Only to free yourself with no help from me.”

I smiled. He was right. Kris ducked to interrupt my study of my feet. I glanced up to save him from the awkward position to look me in the eye.

“Only you could have that much of an adventure on a shopping trip you didn’t want to tell me about because it was for my birthday. And that is why I love you.”

My heart soared as Kris said those words for the first time since we met, though I always knew it.

They felt damn good.

 

The Guardian

Cindy Tomamichel

 

I stand as sentinel in the outer wastes of Earth

None shall pass was written upon my chest

The letters faded and corroded with time

Till I alone remember my purpose.

None shall pass.

 

My maker’s bodies are long since dust

Yet their creation lingers on

They told me to keep their children safe

I follow my programme.

None shall pass.

 

The sun glares across the desert land

Cold red rays of a sun in its final phase

A fragmented moon spins an erratic cycle

In my hard drive I remember it whole.

None shall pass.

 

Messages come from the ships once more

They beg for the people to come to them

But it is coded death comes from space

I will keep the children of my makers safe.

None shall pass.

 

The rocket broke in stages across the sky

Its computer screaming as its circuits burned

I caught the final module before it left Earth

And dying he saw my words.

None shall pass.

 

Storm Unearthed: Part One

Emma T. Gitani

 

Push, scoop, toss; the hole grew larger each time Saraid lifted the shovel. The damp hard dirt like concrete and her arms screamed their protest, but the compulsion only grew stronger. A cool breeze didn’t keep the sweat from dripping into her eyes blinding her from her efforts. She swiped it with the back of her sleeve, then put the shovel into the ground and pushed down with the help of her foot to scoop it out again. Push, scoop, toss.

Saraid’s grandmother walked over to the mounting dirt pile on the seashore cliff, “Sara, what in heaven are you doing?”

She heard her grandmother, but she couldn’t form words, the obsession focused her mind solely to the task. Fear crept into her heart as she shoveled, and the breeze turned to sea-winds whipping at her back.

“Saraid, I am speaking to you.”

The tone. Scoop, toss, I’m sorry Mamó, push. She sounds scared. Not angry? Scoop, toss.

“Young lady, I know it’s hard, but put that down and try to answer me.” Mamó grabbed the shovel.

She yanked back pushing it into the ground once more doubling her rhythm to catch up. The wind blasted sand into her still burning eyes.

Mamó snatched the shovel hard and threw it across the yard.

Saraid fell to her knees. The world around her fuzzed and came into focus. Her head spun. Stomach somersaulted pushing acid into her throat and cut off her whimpers. Welling tears sent the world into a blur again and she swiped at them not wanting to go back into—that—trance. She rubbed her arms and swallowed the rising bile. “I’m sorry Mamó. It may have been a spell or something from the stories you told me as a child. I couldn’t stop.”

“What in this world is wrong with you baby-girl?”

The clouds opened and added a steady drizzle to the chilling winds. “I wish I knew.” With a little help she stood. Her desire for warmth warred with the compulsion to dig. Thankfully, Mamó led her to the house. Sat her in a chair. Saraid grabbed the afghan and wrapped herself in it shivering. She worked on steadying her breath and ignored the building desire to search out the shovel again.

“What Mamó?”

“I’ll get you some tea…dear.”

Did she say and read your leaves?

 

Saraid pushed the shovel into the ground as the roosters crowed sunrise. The rhythm stretched her still tight muscles to their limit. At least I put gloves on today. Entranced again, she dug while her nightmare echoed like a speeding freight train.

‘I love you my darling.’

‘Tristan, they’ll find her when I die. You must steal my magic.’

‘Sweetheart, please don’t do this.’

‘Promise me, Trist, hold my magic. Save our daughter from your uncle.’

‘But my darling Isodel—’

‘Mam is secreting her away this moment. You must promise me!’

‘I promise.’

‘I love you.’

The voices drifted away with an image of blood pouring out an open wound.

She trembled as the wrist was her own. Salty tears tasted bitter and a sour mass lodged in her throat as the blood disappeared like a mirage. The sun radiated on her shoulders pressing down until it burned. She didn’t understand the desire consuming her but she couldn’t center her mind, Push, scoop, toss.

Mamó slammed out the kitchen door. “Sara, no you can’t!”

The shovel connected with something harder than dirt and it reverberated up her arms snapping her out of the trance. The urge vanished. She threw the shovel and fell to the ground sweeping the dirt away with her bare hands.

Mamó screamed, “My beautiful granddaughter you must stop. Please.” She reached her and dropped trying to lift her face.

Saraid could not avert her gaze.

I must see what I’ve unearthed.

Her cries stole Saraid’s breath. She wanted to listen to her grandmother. To respect the wishes of the woman who raised her with a gentle hand. Pushing the last of the cement-dirt off to wooden box, fingers bloodied she stopped. Exhausted she fell into Mamó’s lap. She peeked up and found her crying. Fear deepened every line on her face aging her ten years. Somehow she knew Saraid unearthed a grave. She croaked out, “Who?”

Mamó pushed her away.

 

 

What do I do? Badger her, or get a crow bar. I will have my answers either way.

Her love answered, and she pulled her grandmother back into her arms. “Mamó, please tell me what is going on.” She took her hands. “I love you, please! No matter the story, but you must tell me. It’s already pulling me back to see for myself. Tell me who?”

She stood, “Your Mam,” then ran to the house.

I rushed into our cottage and found her sitting at the worn kitchen table worrying the charms on her bracelet.

She didn’t look up, but said, “Sit baby-girl, and I will tell of your beginning.”

Her stomach churned. “Mine?”

“Yes dear, sit.”

The winds howled outside. It matched the fear growing in Saraid’s heart with their pace.

 

Mamó lowered her head to the table. “I am sorry I kept the truth from you. I swear it was for your protection.”

She squeezed her hands and reminded Saraid she held them. Mamó’s frozen hands raising the hair on her arms. “The King, my great uncle believes I will fulfill a prophecy and kill him. Mam, killed herself, to save me—we have magical powers—And Dadí bound them to keep me safe?” Saraid shivered as the chill seeped into her bones. “Why wouldn’t you let me honor my mam’s grave all these years?” Tears poured down her cheeks dripping on their hands unchecked.

“It isn’t that easy,” Mamó whispered. “Please, let me finish.”

She tightened her grip and urged her grandmother to continue. Through the window the dark clouds gathered casting the kitchen in shadows.

 

“I am sorry darling your father has left our world and joined your mother in Mag Mell.” She finally raised her eyes, and they swam behind her own flowing tears. “The link with your mam’s magic calls to you. I dunnot think she meant for you to unearth her grave.”

Without thought she pulled her hands away. “Her Grave!”

“I am so sorry baby-girl, I had to leave it unmarked to keep you safe.”

“You don’t think I’m safe?”

“I’ve not heard a word from anyone since your mam died and I stole you away. Your father was kind enough to ship her body for burial on her homeland. The magic could only come upon his death.”

Rain pelted the windows as a storm brewed outside.

And in my heart.

 

Under the torrential downpour, Sariad ran outside to cover her mother’s grave. Fighting the compulsion to undo every scoop she tossed into the darkness below, Sarid fought to return the soil as fast as she could manage. She couldn’t see between the tears and rain, but it didn’t matter. None of it mattered. The hole needed to disappear.

Mamó ran out with an umbrella. The roaring winds so strong they practically lifted her off her feet.

She’s so strong, I can’t imagine the determination it takes to hold on to that thing.

She managed to hold it over Saraid’s head until she shrieked. “There are ships on the horizon. English flags, we should flee while we can.” Umbrella gone Mamó grabbed her arms, “It must be your Uncle coming to steal your power.”

“How could he know where to find me after all of this time?”

“He can scry for your magic. Like the beacon from a lighthouse, he can follow it back to you.”

 

“Why? Why does he want to take from me and mine?”

“It started with your father being shipwrecked right down there in our cove. Your mother found him dying in the surf. She healed him with her magic. Tristan loved your mother deeply, but held a secret—” Mamó dragged Saraid into her arms yelling over the storm. “He was an English-born Lord from the same house that raided our lands for years. Your Ma was to be the king’s wife, but it all went sideways with their hearts involved. Your parents, deeply in love had an affair. When Tristan’s uncle the Crowned King found your mam’s magic would be passed to you and not their future child, he vowed to kill you all and steal it instead. You cannot fulfill the prophecy without it.”

The winds shifted and the waves in the ocean grew. The ships no longer moved toward shore, but rocked back and forth between the expanding swells. Rain came in a steady downpour and the temperature dropped to freezing. Nothing touched the women on the cliff-side watching as each ship sunk below the surface and disappeared.

Mamó howled over the winds, “No Saraid, dunnot use your magic this way!”

 

The story continues next time…

Filters

Talitha Roque

 

As I entered this world without sound without voice

I observed all of you and made my first choice

It was hard to begin with, think that’s why I cried

But little by little I worked and I tried

 

As time marched on and I grew as I should

I dealt with this life better then others could

Stripped of my dignity stripped of my pride

No place to run to, no place to hide

 

No matter how young, I was not yet two

All that mattered was others and then there was you

And broken and shattered, me on the floor

You left me alone, walked out shut the door

 

You couldn’t handle my pain, my hurt, or my tears

And you often scoffed at my doubts and my fears

You needed perfection to feel good inside

You needed a child to save you and your pride

 

You needed a sacrifice lamb or a dove

And on that ability based all your love

And your deep insecurities whittled away

At your power and backbone day by day

 

I was tied to a pedestal up for a bid

No one seemed to notice I was only a kid

As others examined to see if ‘twas good

You auctioned me off just cuz you could

 

I soon learned to please boss man all the time

I became worth every penny and every dime

I fashioned lots of filters for feeling and word

How well I could hide myself became absurd

 

Knew when to smile knew when to frown

Knew when to look up, avert eyes to the ground

Learned how to comfort knew how to care

And knew how to act like I wasn’t even there

 

Vaulted many secrets, knew many ills

If I charged for my silence there’d be many bills

Often a victim, more often a saint

I’d change the filter much like you’d change the paint

 

Customization soon was my trade

I had every filter, if not, had one made

I could cradle and coddle all woes with ease

And wrangle rude children just like the breeze

 

If you were discouraged I’d give a lift

If one changed directions, I’d quickly shift

Addicted, no worry, whether cocaine or speed

Whatever the problem, I’d handle your need

 

Up on that pedestal lonely and scared

I became the one who truly cared

So no other soul would be lost or afraid

Spent many hours as with others I stayed

 

If you needed silence, or a helping hand

Perhaps you were outcast or new to the land

And then there were those lost and alone

I’d search in the rain, try to lead them home

 

Battered and torn, though I’d often be

I push on through the night, twas my destiny

Sometimes perplexed, lonely and scared

But did what I did, showed that I cared

 

Filter on filter, lens upon lens

The picture it took always depends

On what is needed, what is required

My mind is exhausted, my soul so tired

 

I’m happy I’ve helped done more than I should

I’m glad that you’re happy, wonder if you would

Untie these lashes, my chains, and this rope

Set me free, unbridled to be, give me hope

 

Break all the filters, trash all the mimes

Take back my words, were nothing but lines

Rise up my voice loud as can be

Reroute my course, set sail at sea

 

Release my passions and let them rage

I’ll interrupt you, I’m not your sage

Find your own backbone, stand on your feet

Stop with your chiding, I don’t want to be sweet

 

Wipe your own tears, please blow your nose

Stop drinking from my well and get your own hose!

Hold your head high, find your own shade

I hate the sun. Watch where you wade

 

I’m not your lifeguard, your mom, or your wings

Not a savior, or warrior, none of these things

Just a girl sold in slavery not given much choice

Watch out world as I find my voice

 

I will get angry, let my temper fly

Cry if I want to, grumble and sigh

Replace all my locks, gather spare keys

You no longer can enter to do as you please

 

Gather my pearls if you’re acting like swine

Turn up my music to drown out your whine

Dust off my feet, shut all the gates

Argue if I want to, win all the debates

 

And you may not like it not one tiny bit

I am ready for you and your protest or fit

You can stay and support me or walk out the door

No longer your patsy, or mat on the floor

 

I will always be sweet loving and kind

And the greatest friend you could ever find

A passionate lover, imaginative child

Calm, suave, demure, crazy and wild

 

I will dream with the best, sing really loud

Stand all alone or join in with the crowd

Wherever I am it feels good to be me

I’m the child of a King and He set me free

 

So here are your packages, boxes, and bags

Your old rusty issues, these dirty old rags

Meanness and angry sharp dagger words

I shoo them all, may they fly like the birds

 

And here I stand secure in this place

As I clean up and air out reclaiming my space

I take back my sound, take back my voice

This is my time, this is my choice

 

A Kind Of Magic

Mike Arneson

Detective Lieutenant Wilson took the call at his desk and opened the trace log.

[Date: December 4th, 1983
Caller ID: Robert Newsome, wand 4272613.
Call Re: Homicide]

“My ex-wife is dead on my couch.” The man’s voice was calm. “I got home from the pub and found her. You need to come right away.”

“We’ll be there in a few minutes.” Wilson shook his head and looked over the man on the other wand: tall, about 6 feet and 190 pounds, with thinning black hair and three charms on his left ear, a sure sign he followed one or another of the magical cults flourishing around the colonies these days, even though his clothes marked him as someone of at least moderate means. “Have you touched anything?”

“Nope.” The man smiled and brushed a charm on his ear with his left hand. “I got the warning and haven’t even stepped inside.”

“How do you know she’s on the couch?”

The man let out a long breath and gave Wilson a patronizing look, like a child asking an obvious question, “She’s on the couch.”

“We’re on our way, stay outside.” Wilson ignored the stare, broke the connection and dialed the front desk officer. “Call for support, tell patrol and ambulance, we may need a necromancer too.” He flashed the address through his wand to the desk and glanced at his partner’s empty desk, wondering if the man had even bothered to come in yet.

Glancing at his wand he felt a random pang of pride over the thing. Each officer received one upon his graduation from the academy, capable of calling any other wand, transporting to any address within a short distance and tracking individuals if they tried to escape. As each officer moved within the police department, other functions could be given or taken away, as required in the performance of their new duties.

Flashing to the street outside the Newsome residence, Wilson nearly choked on the smoke billowing from the chimneys around them. “What a shithole,” Wilson moved to the door. The district of Orcney was inhabited by Orcs and their followers, the rubbish of mankind, barely able to hold jobs in anything outside of manual labor. Why Newsome would be living here seemed a mystery.

Robert Newsome met them at the door and pointed over his shoulder. “She’s in the front room.”

Waving his wand and breaking the wards on the door, Wilson moved into the front room and saw the body. Newsome’s wife was as dead as she could be. A cut ran from the middle of her forehead, over the top and to the back of her hairline, but there was not enough blood for a head wound. The woman was huge for a human, but small for an Orc, just over two and a half meters. Her face had distinctly Orcish features, with upturned nose flattened and oval in shape, sporting two oversized nostrils in the middle, and two long lower teeth curling up alongside her cheeks.

Propped up against the couch, her side against the cushions and head rolled back, she rested against the tattered bloody fabric of the arm. No visible weapon in the room. Only an enchanted blade could have done this to even a Half-Orcish skull, and those were far too valuable to leave lying around. There were no obvious signs of forced entry and the wards were still in place on the windows and chimney. A glass of a red wine sat on the table in front of the dead woman, another on the counter in the kitchen.

Divining a body required a necromancer, but the wine glasses were within his capabilities. Waving the wand, Wilson could see a ghost of the woman taking a drink from the glass, but nothing else. The divining function on police wands proved effective, but only showed the last use of any given object. The glass on the counter showed Newsome taking a drink, his eyes narrowed into slits as he stared toward the couch, his lips curled in an ugly sneer.

Wilson slid both glasses into evidence baggies after he drained the remaining wine, recording their locations with his wand.

Newsome moved inside and leaned against the doorframe, his arms crossed and his right heel resting against the wall, smirking at Wilson again.

“You said she was your ex-wife?”

“Yes.”

“How did she get in?”

Newsome pointed to the woman’s hand, a key clenched in her fingers.

“Why would she have a key to your residence?”

“It was her particular gift, she could find the key to any lock.”

“You don’t seem too upset that she’s dead.” If she could find the key to any lock, that opened up a whole other line of questions. Wilson would have to wait until later, though; her death made first-line on his docket.

“No, I just wish she’d chosen another place to die.” Newsome smiled. “This place will take a year to air out her smell.”

“Why was she here?”

Newsome shrugged. “She came by this afternoon when I got off work and we had another argument. I told her to leave, then went to the pub for a drink.”

“Why would she let anyone else in?” Wilson made a note to ask the neighbors how often the couple argued, before and after their divorce.

“How would I know?”

Wilson shook his head. “I’ll need you to step out while the Necromancer works.” He waved his hand to the door as the necromancer walked in.

Newsome shivered and moved as far away as he could from the frail looking man. Necromancers tended to be oddballs; dealing with the dead, their anger, frustration and fears, could do that.

 

“Morning Bennie,” Wilson said as Newsome closed the door behind himself. “Feeling better today?” It was hard to tell with Bennie.

“Yeah, just tired of the clingers.” He scanned the room. “The ones that don’t believe they’re dead are the worst. They follow me for days sometimes.”

“How do you stop that?”

“You don’t want to know.” The necromancer moved to the body and reached out, his hand hovering inches above the woman’s head. “What can you tell me about her?”

“Jinny Newsome, ex-wife to the owner of the home, appears Half-Orc, but I haven’t tested yet.”

“I hope she is.” Bennie whispered and smiled at Wilson over his shoulder. “Half-Orcs don’t linger after they know they’re dead.”

Wilson moved through the door and allowed Bennie to do his thing. Necros interviewed the dead, about their death. He saw the coroner coming up with his stretcher and waved for him to wait. “Hold up Gary, Bennie’s inside.”

Turning to Newsome, he asked, “Is there anything you can add? Anything that might help us?”

“She liked to drink, visited a lot of the same places I do.”

“Where were you tonight?”

“The Laughing Dog over on Merlin Plaza.”

“Anyone know you there?”

Bennie walked out of the residence, looking like he just had a conversation with a demon, Wilson followed him away from Newsome. “What’s wrong? Did you talk to her?”

Shaking his head, “She’s not there.”

“What do you mean? How can she not be there?”

“There is no spirit to summon—I think.” He sat on the steps in front of the residence. “I can’t call her from wherever she went.”

“But—” Wilson had no words to help Bennie.

“I need to make a few calls. Maybe Reggie has seen or heard of something like this.” Reggie ran the necromancers in the city, kind of like a union president.

“Let me know what you find out.”

“Will do.” He wandered away.

Wilson watched Bennie and scratched his neck. What could hide a spirit from a necromancer?

“Can I take the body now?” Gary moved alongside Wilson.

“Yeah, make sure you do a detailed report Gary.” He turned back after watching Bennie teleport away. “Something is rotten about this case and you might be the only one to give me a clue. The Necros may be out of this case.”

 

Wilson sat on the step, turning the wand in his hand and contemplated the significance of the magic contained within it. Since the Magical Revolution 80 years before, magical creatures and people had exploded into the world. Old wives tales and fables we heard as children have come to life. Now everyone carries a wand. The thought came, making him shake his head.

The world was small now, little more than a village. For a price you could buy a wand that would allow you to travel anywhere in the blink of an eye, speak to anyone you wanted regardless of distance, and many other wonders. But, with the wonders came horrors: new animals long thought myths, races of legendary beings wandered the streets seeking equal rights with humans.

“Deep thoughts?”

Wilson turned to see Gary coming out of the house with the body on a gurney. “My dad was a cop, fifty years, said the toughest case he had when he was young was tracking a killer that used Trains to travel.”

“Trains?” the confusion in Gary’s voice irritated Wilson. Gary was young and only a couple months on the job alone, history was a touchy subject in colleges and many simply didn’t require it anymore.

“It was how they used to move stuff around the world.” He shook his head again and let out a breath. “This guy would get on a train and go somewhere new, kill someone and ride the train to get away. Took them close to ten years to figure out it was one guy.”

“Sounds like they could get away with anything back then. How many did he kill?”

“That’s part of the problem, they don’t know.” Wilson stood, staring at the body bag. “New crimes rise with the new technology and now with new magic.”

“Come on Lieutenant, its still the same old crimes.”

Wilson fixed him with a simple look, almost feeling sympathy for his innocence. “When magic first came into the world, smuggling became so common, many of the old corporations changed the way they did business; cutting out middlemen and having magicians import straight from the factory, and putting wards on the stores, so no one could simply teleport in and steal their merchandise. Now people can teleport into another’s house and take anything they want, or even murder and rape without a hope of being traced.”

“It’s not that bad.” Gary said and moved down the steps, the gurney following along like a puppy. “We have tools that your pops never thought of.”

“So do the criminals.” He whispered in reply, happy that Gary had at least tapped onto a basic truth; Over time, magicians had begun to give tools to the police, selling them better wands with spells on them which allowed broader functionality. Eventually many magicians joined the police departments, forming special groups that investigated magical crimes and aided in others. Wildlings could control and speak to animals, and people of magical races helped police in the new neighborhoods which had popped up all over the cities.

The bartender at the Laughing Dog set a bottle of rot-gut whiskey on the counter in front of a large Orc, then answered LT Wilson. “Yeah, Rob was here all right. Got here about four, left with his ex about five and came back without her at five thirty.”

The crowd inside wasn’t much help; their stories ranged the spectrum as to what Newsome and his ex had done, but they all agreed he left about five, and came back half an hour later. Alone.

This didn’t fit the coroner’s reported time of death, 6:00 – 6:30 PM. So how do you kill someone in a locked room, without breaking the wards and not leave a trace? The weapon carved her skull cleanly, leaving no trace Cutting through the skull of a half-Orc was as hard as cutting steel.

“What’s new on the case?”

The captain leaned against the door of his office. His pants looked neat and barely used, while his shirt had immaculate pressed collar and cuffs, links inserted. The man had married into money and liked to show his benevolence by working with the police for half salary. He was an asshole.

“Nothing new.” Wilson stared at the notepad, and tried to force some tidbit out of the scribbles there. “I’m not sure anything will come of it either.”

“Just file it away and move on.” The captain pushed off the door frame. “You need to learn when to let a case go.”

Wilson waited for him to leave, before picking up his wand and answering a call from Bennie. “What’s up?”

Bennie whispered. “Can you come to the morgue?”

“On my way.” He disconnected. He stood and moved through the door, grabbing his notepad and coat on the way.

 

As Wilson walked down the hall toward the morgue, he saw Bennie poke his head out of an office and pull back inside. Wilson gave a quick glance behind himself before he stopped in the door of the office. “What the hell Bennie?”

“Shhhh!” The necromancer held a finger to his lips and pulled Wilson the rest of the way into the office and closed the door behind him. He shook, eyes darting around and his appearance more of a shambles than normal. “This is bad news, Wilson.”

“What?” Wilson pulled his coat back on his shoulder. “I don’t appreciate the cloak and dagger bullshit.”

“You’d like being dead less.” Bennie moved next to Wilson, still whispering. “Reggie came in and helped me on the Newsome woman. We took our time and walked through the operation slowly, double-checking each other. Her spirit is gone, Wilson. Whoever killed her didn’t just kill her body, they killed her spirit; her soul. There is nothing left of her in this world—or the next.”

“How is that possible?” Wilson sat on the edge of the desk, knitting his brows and pinching his nose. “How is this possible? The spirit is supposed to be indestructible, a portion of whatever power created the universe, you told me that!”

“It can be done,” Bennie whispered, glancing around like he expected someone to teleport in and kill him, “but it’s horribly dangerous and expensive.”

“How dangerous?” Wilson was intrigued now. “And how expensive?”

“If you fail at the attempt, you’re the one winked out of existence.” Bennie looked like he might collapse on himself. “And not many people can afford a dragon’s eye.”

“A what?” Wilson was sure he heard wrong.

“A dragon’s eye,” Bennie stared at Wilson. “They are real you know.”

“I… I’ve never seen one.”

“Few have, Reggie said he saw one , during World War II, as an apprentice. The Germans had dragons, but they went wild at the end of the war; at least we always thought so.”

Wilson raised his wand and called the city’s information center. “Abbott, “Are there any dragons in captivity?”

“The last dragon known in captivity was Balthazar, a small red, but he died in 1969 in Bonn West Germany.”

Wilson disconnected his wand, staring at Bennie again. “How would we have not known someone killed a dragon? Seems like that would be all over the news.”

“It would.” Bennie moved toward the door. “If someone has the power to make a dragon’s death invisible… I’d let this one go Wilson.” With a quick survey up and down the hallway, Bennie left.

“What in the hell were you involved in Jinny?”

 

The low growling voice of the Orc shook Wilson’s chest. “What do you want cop?” The growling rumble left Wilson wondering how the officers covering this beat handled people like this all the time, especially when they were confidential informants. Bane Hoth stood at least ten feet tall and three wide. He wore a tattered pink shirt and long canvas pants, the sunglasses on his face the latest style. Wilson thought he looked like the Orc version of a tv star. Bane was one of the community leaders in the district; if he didn’t know Jinny or what she was up to, he would know who did.

Wilson handed him a picture of Jinny from before her final night. “You ever see his woman before?”

The surprise on Bane’s face was clear Wilson. “Shit, what’d she do now?” The Orc moved off the sidewalk and leaned against the corner of a building.

“What can you tell me about her?” Wilson kept the conversation going in the direction he wanted.

“She was a troubled woman.” Bane shook his head and handed the picture back. “Always hooking up with humans, getting involved in their plots. I tried to talk her into leaving and coming out with us, but she wanted to keep up with her ex.”

“What do you know about him?”

“Absolute prick.” Bane snorted. “Treated Jinny like dirt, kicked her out when she tried to make up to him. She loved him for some reason, did almost anything he said without question.”

Wilson held his opinions to himself, biting slightly on his cheek to keep from saying Newsome’s story was almost the mirror image of Bane’s. “How did she keep getting a key to his place then?”

Bane shook his giant head, sending the snaky tendrils that passed for Orc hair jiggling like a reggae star. “I wouldn’t know about that He probably kept giving them to her to string her along.”

“What kind of plots?”

“You’re human.” Bane snorted again. “You know better than I do what kind of shit your people are into. Drugs, racketeering, gambling, smuggling; sooner or later the little shit dragged her into all of that and his magic too.”

“He was a smuggler?”

Bane pulled his sunglasses down and glared at Wilson. “I didn’t say he did shit. I said he was an asshole and humans are always doing shit like that.”

“When did you see her last?”

“Hmmm…” Bane put the glasses back on and leaned on the run-down building, “Friday, about three, she said she had to meet the asshole again. Now can you answer me a question?”

“Fair enough.”

“What’d she do this time?” Bane asked.

“She died.”

“How?”

“Someone cut her head in half.” Wilson watched as Bane’s eyes widen then shrank down to slits again.

“That ain’t easy,even for an Orc.”

“Do you have someone in mind?”

“If I did, I wouldn’t be searching for them in Orcney.” Bane turned his back on Wilson.

“Mister Hoth,” Wilson tried to move in front of him. “I need to ask you a few more questions.”

“About someone with a weapon that can cut an Orc skull?” Bane rolled his eyes. “I don’t have one, don’t know anyone that does. It would be a very dangerous weapon, hard to find and expensive as hell; that’s not something I want any part of.”

“What about Robert Newsome? You said he dabbled in magic.”

“Yeah, and it got Jinny in trouble a couple times.” Bane seemed nervous, but still answered. “Witchcraft mainly, but also a little necromancy, if Jinny was right.”

“Necromancy?”

“Yeah, but not like the tame ones you got at the department.” Bane smiled, exposing his large canines. “Real necromancy; raising the dead, zombies and undead, all that shit.”

“Where could he have learned that?” Wilson tried to hide his amazement. True necromancy was illegal. International treaties governed the whole practice, creating zombies and undead was punishable by life in solitary confinement.

“You humans are so sweet it’s sickening.” Bane chuckled, the strain showed on his face. “If you want to learn something, you’ll find someone to teach you. Humans like to think it’s all bottled up. You have us controlled, magic has been cleaned up and is presentable to the public. Get over your ignorance. The underbelly of your own city is so dirty you have no clue.”

 

Wilson walked up to Jinny Newsome’s residence on the outskirts of the city. He waved his wand to release the wards protecting the front door. The front room contained a simple coat rack and shoe shelf, full of ratty and worn belongings . The tile pulled from the floor in the corners and dust collected in the holes left behind.

The flat was a single, a bedroom and kitchen-sitting room. No room for two here. She lived cheaply and it showed; food sat on the table from her last meal—bacon and lettuce on slightly moldy rye bread. The mold was nothing unusual for Orcs, they had notoriously hardy stomachs. The fridge held a small bottle of still fresh milk, various cheap cuts of meat, and a dozen eggs.

“She lived like a pig.” Wilson turned to his partner for the day, Sergeant Rickart. He was one of captain Nelson’s cronies and flipped things around with his hands, tossing the apartment for a clue.

“Goddamn, Rickart!” Wilson jumped at the sergeant, pulling his arms away from the table. “Are you trying to destroy evidence? Get the fuck out of here and wait in the hall!” Wilson may have to put up with Nelson, but he outranked Rickart and could get him out of the way.

“Relax. It’s not like she was human or anything,” Rickart walked out to the hall like he had done nothing wrong.

How can people hold on to such bigoted thoughts anymore? Especially police! The noise of his teeth grinding brought him back. You see that shit every day. He walked back to the table, and passed the wand over each item, all contaminated by Rickart. He waived the wand over the fridge and saw the woman reaching in for something, a smile playing lightly across her face, not totally unpleasant appearing.

Wilson opened the bathroom, and found what appeared to be the scene of the crime, given the amount of blood. The shower was coated in a brownish flaky crust, dried Orcish blood at least two days old. Why had no one come to investigate? Because she’s Half-Orc.

The residence was nothing more than a barely habitable tenement in another bad neighborhood, but this far from Orcney, all of her neighbors would be human. A plastic couch sat against one wall and a single chair on another, facing the television. A stereo in the corner between the couch and chair was scattered with cassettes of top-40 stars.

The scene seemed so normal he almost missed it. She thought she was coming home. As dirty as her home was things had their own sort of order to them, fresh groceries, bills on the table, no treats for a final meal; whatever she was involved in, she didn’t think it was dangerous enough to die over.

Wilson walked through the room again, watching the ghosts appear and fade as he checked the items that hadn’t been contaminated by Rickart, showing a woman relaxed in her own home but lonely and ignored. The Orcs would accept her, but she rejected them. She sought to live in human society, but the memories of her possessions showed no humans ever came here. She was an outcast trying to live in a society that rejected her.

 

Wilson blew past Rickart and teleported to Bane Hoth’s place. He stalked in the front door and drew every eye – the only human in a tavern full of Orcs.

“Tell Mister Hoth that Detective Wilson needs to speak with him,” he flashed his badge at the bartender..

The bartender leaned over the bar and tried to be intimidating. “What does a human cop think he’s doing here?”

Normally, this would have worked, but the anger Wilson felt was overpowering his good sense. He grabbed the whiskers on the Orc’s chin and pulled until the Orc’s face was even with his. “I didn’t ask to speak with you. Get Mister Hoth.”

He let go and the bartender pulled back.

“Detective Wilson, what are you doing here?” Hoth came out of the back room.

“She didn’t come here when you asked her. Did she ever say why?”

“I told you…”

“You said she wanted to keep up with her ex.” Wilson moved in front of the Orc and stared, “That’s what you thought, but did she ever say why?”

After a few minutes, he answered with a low growl. “She said she didn’t want to live like a pig.”

“She wanted to live in human society?”

“Yes.”

“Where did she work? Even in that neighborhood she had to have a way to pay rent.”

“She didn’t work, I told you…”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. She was involved in her ex’s plots and schemes.” Wilson ignored the stares he was getting around the room and pushed forward. “I want his teacher.”

 

Wilson walked up to the door at the address Hoth gave him and did something he hadn't done in nearly a decade. He knocked. Screams followed by chains and moaning immediately erupted from inside, giving Wilson a chuckle-- the typical noises given at the entrance to cheap haunted houses or mediums.

A man answered the door but appeared nothing like any necromancer Wilson had ever met; tall and vibrant, tanned and muscled, with a shock of blond hair and bushy eyebrows.

“Good afternoon sir,” the jovial welcome seemed out of place for a haunted house hiding an illegal necromancy school.

“Detective Wilson, metro homicide. I have a warrant to search the premises.” He flashed the man his badge and slid through while the Orc from the state patrol handed him the warrant. “You will need to wait outside after you release all wards.”

“What is this about?” The man sounded shocked, but Wilson read his anger easily enough under the act.

“We have reason to believe you are operating an illegal necromancy school.” He took one quick glance around then back to the man. “Release the wards and step outside.”

“I will not be treated like this.”

“Mister Rolf Freidman, release your wards and step outside.”

“You have no right!”

The Orc grabbed him, sliding a collar around his neck and cuffed his wrists. “You were instructed three times to release the wards. Now we will remove them for you.”

Wilson smiled and waved to the crew of magicians moving his way from across the street. “The collar is a scrambler, you won’t be able to speak any spells, and with your hands cuffed you can’t use your wands.”

He looked back at Rolf. “We are going to find the school and tools of necromancy. You know what the penalty is for that, so why don’t we talk?”

“What do you think I will say?” The words clipped and accented heavily with German and the modulation of the collar.

“A woman was killed last week.”

“Many women are killed each week.”

“Yeah, but they have spirits for us to talk with.” Wilson watched Rolf’s eyes growing with recognition as he spoke. “Killing a spirit, that’s a complicated spell; dangerous and expensive.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” 

“Dragon’s eye is the most critical piece of the spell. Without it, the caster will destroy his own soul.” Wilson let the information sink in. “The last dragon to die in captivity belonged to Johann Freidman of Bonn. Your father.”

“Detective Wilson,” Bennie yelled from the hallway.

“Do we want to guess if he found a dead dragon?”

Rolf sighed. “What do you want?”

 

Robert Newsome sat in a chair, pushed into the corner of the interrogation chamber, as far away from Wilson as he could get. A holdover from the early days of magical investigations, the room was dreary, and smelled of mold and damp soil. No magic worked inside. Unless your wand was tuned to the room, no spoken spells gained power and nothing summoned. Magical people hated the rooms, police loved them.

“Jinny’s residence was the scene of the crime.” Newsome continued his show of bravado while Wilson talked. “She was killed in the shower, the blood-spatter confirms she fought for her life. Whoever killed her did a damn good job of erasing their presence, not even our necromancers found anything.

“When we searched your residence, we found a few items that were—out of place.” Wilson shifted a few papers in front of him, moving the picture of Jinny closer to Robert. “A receipt for a storage unit would ordinarily be nothing unusual, but this one is in Germany.”

Robert’s face remained the unamused, put-upon citizen, refusing to talk. “The German police searched the unit. There was nothing unusual in it, but you had registered it to a different address.”

Newsome’s eyes flared briefly and Wilson’s was training caught it

“Care to guess what we found when we searched your residence in Bonn?”

Newsome said nothing, but the emotions on his face were cracking like an egg.

“They found dissected remains of a dragon; nothing horrible there, other than a two year sentence for killing an endangered species.” Wilson wanted to laugh, he had Newsome dead to rights, but he wanted an admission. Come on you bastard, you know I’ve got you. Just tell me why.

“They also found a tungsten sword. Unusual. Armorers don’t use tungsten, it’s too hard to work with. The spell on it though, that’s very unusual. Keening. A spell to make the edge so sharp it can cut steel like butter; definitely sharp enough to cut through a Half-Orc’s skull.”

Wilson saw the hatred and anger playing across Newsome’s face, but he still refused to speak.

“When they checked the owner of the blood—there wasn’t much, but the Germans are very good at necromancy—guess whose it was?”

Newsome finally lost it, “I was at the Laughing Dog when she was killed! You said the coroner confirmed it!”

“The temperature of the body seemed to confirm she died when you were there, but even an apprentice necromancer would know how to change the temperature of a body with ease.”

“I don’t know the first thing about Necromancy!”

“I’ll admit your act when our necromancer arrived was pretty convincing. But the evidence in Bonn says you’re fairly skilled at it. That and statements from your teacher. Care to guess who’s blood was on the blade in your residence?”

Defeat finally crawled across Newsome’s features, draining him of resistance.

“We have the weapons used to kill her and the necessary materials for the spell to destroy her spirit. We have statements saying you know how to cast that spell, we know that you have the skill and the ability. We also have enough evidence to prove motive; you wanted her dead to protect your smuggling.” Wilson paused, savoring this moment.

“Oh, you think we didn’t know about that?” Wilson leaned forward, his elbows on the table, a smile creased his face, “We know all about your operations, the illegal animal parts, substances banned in the Colonies. We can prove all of it—I just want to know why.”

“She didn’t realize how good she really had it.” Newsome scowled at the table. “She was the prettiest woman in Orcney, she could have had anything, but she wanted to be human…”

 

Illustration 4 – © 2016, Dave Alexander

Hotel California

Lorah Jaiyn

 

The sheets of rain against the windshield made my wipers useless. I crawled down the road and cussed the morning weatherman’s forecast.

“No rain today, folks, zero precipitation. Not a cloud in the sky this entire Fourth of July weekend.”

Three hours after leaving home, my last-minute decision for a weekend trip to the beach slapped me upside the head adding to the headache that already brewed.

My luck for wanting to see fireworks over the ocean.

Just before dark, I rounded a bend in the road and the rain let up a little. A sign, “Bed and Breakfast”, hung near a mailbox. With a deep sigh of relief, I turned into the long driveway. An old house dwarfed the roundabout.

Creepy looking. Lights shone through the front windows. I hope they have a room.

I ducked through the rain to the porch and found the door unlocked. An elderly lady occupied an overstuffed chair in the foyer, her knitting needles poised over her lap as she stared at me.

“Key to your room.” She motioned to a key that sat on a coffee table.

Confusion clouded my mind. “You were expecting me?”

“Only room available. Top of the stairs, down the hall, turn left.” She dismissed me with a final glance and returned to her creation.

Odd duck. I picked up the key, uneasy at her indifference to my question. I relaxed when I reached my room. The thick carpet and curtains were deep crimson, the bed spread and sheets a silky black satin. An ornate lamp provided a soft glow. Vases of fresh flowers decorated the dresser, a bottle of wine chilled in an ice bucket the centerpiece. This place is gorgeous! A little dark, but beautiful. They were obviously expecting someone.

I helped myself to a large glass of wine, then took a long, hot shower to soothe my tense muscles. The plush courtesy robe caressed my skin as I stretched across the luxurious bed and nestled into the soft pillows.

MOMMMMEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! “

My eyes flew open as the little boy’s wail outside my door echoed off the walls, followed by a repetitive squeak down the hallway. I jumped up and wiped sleep from my eyes.

MOMMMMMEEEEEEEEEEE!” came the cry again from further down the hall.

Hairs stood up on the back of my neck as the sounds continued. I rushed out in time to glimpse a little boy on a tricycle round the corner.

My God, he’s heading for the staircase! I ran to catch the child before he pedaled down the steep flight of stairs. I reached the landing and came to a dead stop.

 

 

Nothing. No child, no tricycle, but the sound of squeaky pedals lingered in the air.

I shook my head, breathing hard. Was I dreaming?

I leaned against the wall and closed my eyes to re-center. My ears filled with the sounds of a child crying. I cocked my head. Where is that sound coming from?

I padded down the staircase and approached the foyer. Despite the time that had passed, the elderly lady still sat in the same overstuffed chair.

She glanced up from her knitting as I approached, but didn’t seem surprised to see me, despite the lateness of the hour.

“Excuse me, but can you tell me if there’s a child staying here tonight?”

She relaxed her hands into her lap and blinked twice at my question. “No, dear, you’re our only guest.”

“But you told me when I checked in I got the only room you had available.”

“You did.”

“But I’m the only one here besides you? In this huge house?”

“Yes.”

“You only rent one room?”

“Yes.”

Her short answers annoyed me. “Then who’s crying for his mom?”

“Cyrus.”

“So we’re not the only two people in this hotel.” My logic’s sound, right?

“Yes, we are.” Her expression never changed. Only her eyelids moved. Blink. Blink.

“Then how is there a little boy riding a tricycle upstairs?” My voice raised an octave as I tried to drag an informative answer from the old lady.

“Read your Bible my dear. It answers all.” With that, she turned back to her knitting and dismissed me once again.

Bewildered and speechless, I accepted defeat and turned to leave. “What time is checkout?”

Her eyes never left her knitting nor did she miss a stitch. “You can checkout anytime you like.”

I shook my head as I walked away, the Eagles’ song in my brain. You can checkout anytime you like, Don Henley sang, but you can never leave.

I listened intently all the way back to my room for sounds of a crying little boy who rode a squeaky tricycle. Nothing but silence reached my ears. I locked the door and sat on my bed. My eyes landed on a Bible near the television.

Is this what the old bat meant?

I’d never read the Bible and as it turned out, I didn’t have to. A paper inserted amongst the pages floated down onto my lap. Old, brittle paper made the print hard to read, but it looked like a contract as I struggled to make out the words.

 

June 21, 1891.

Cyrus Thomas, age 4, death by broken neck after riding tricycle down flight of stairs at his home.

 

June 23, 1891

Clara Thomas, age 32, death by suicide, intolerable by the laws of the Church. Sentenced to eternal condemnation in solitary Hell.

 

July 2, 1891

Clara Thomas’ suffrage waived after deal granted by Satan. Free to be with son in afterlife pending one annual condition: One soul for condemnation to Hell, provided on 2 July each year. Penalty for failure is instant separation until fulfilled.

 

Goosebumps formed along my flesh.

Today was July 3rd, a day late.

Blood froze in my veins as I heard a squeak came down the hall toward my room. A moment later, I heard the sobs begin again.

“Mommmmeeeeeee,” Cyrus cried, a gut-wrenching plea for his mother to answer him.

I rose as the sounds came through my door. Literally.

Cyrus rode his tricycle into my room. His swollen eyes stared straight ahead and snot ran from his nose as he rolled toward me.

Squeak. Squeak.

The sound reverberated with each rotation of the pedals.

“Mommy!” his face lit with a smile.

My heart stopped as a woman behind me answered.

“Cyrus!” The voice was full of joy and a soft whoooosh of movement filled the room.

White hot pain ripped through my chest. I stood paralyzed as darkness thickened. I struggled to catch a breath that wouldn’t come.

Cyrus jumped off his tricycle and threw himself into the arms of the woman.

My room mingled death with reunion.

Don Henley sang on. “… and I was thinking to myself, this could be heaven or this could be hell…”

 

What Lies Beneath

Talitha Roque

 

What lies beneath the mirrored glass

Beyond the sight and care

Draped in wears of upper class

And hidden in childlike air

 

Past the jeweled mosses lies

And trees of status height

There seems no need for alibis

When looked at through this light

 

Littling eyes with cherub face

Hair so cute and trim

Chubby hands fit in this place

Of purity and whim

 

Beware oh soul though you don’t know

That just there out of sight

Beneath the glimmering glassy glow

There lives an awful fright

 

Behind the veil of purity

She hides her secret well

And keeps within obscurity

The truth that there doth dwell

 

If you look close with care I plead

You’ll find in murk and mire

A monster hides and waits to feed

Controlled by her desire

 

The Veil

PJ Port

 

“They’re not ready, yet.”

“I know.”

“They need more transition time.”

“You’re preaching to the choir.”

“I’m ranting. That’s what I’m doing.” Deep breath. “But how can we protect them without the Veil?”

“Can’t.”

“They won’t even recognize those horrors as their own creations.”

“Some will. Some already do. Look, Panthayo. It’s out of our hands. They’re nowhere near reaching the ‘Hundredth Monkey’ quota.”

“But they’re just children. Playing at creation.”

“They’re destroying their world, either way. Even without the new dimensions they’re imagining for entertainment. We can’t hold them back much longer. Best we can do is assure they only face their own creations, and not each other’s.”

“Can we even do that much?”

“With our number, and the help of those who’ve created utopia’s — and a huge portion of luck — we should be able to transmute the Veil into a grid. With like-minded groupings.”

Panthayo plopped onto a cushioned seat of his own projection. “Better that than nothing, I suppose.”

“And, those who ‘do’ recognize their creations as their own, those may even devise a means of escape. No limit to the power of their minds, you know. Or their ingenuity.”

“An odd thought occurs to me, Uniqua. Who imagined ‘them’? And this asinine situation?”

“Well. Obviously, you and I did, old friend. We and those with us. Else we wouldn’t be here having to deal with it.”

“Figured that’s what you’d say.”

“Then why ask?”

“Same reason I have to rant on occasion, I suppose. Someone, somewhere, ‘wrote’ me this way.”

“At least we’re aware. And have learned to school our thoughts into more pleasant creations, now.”

“Still seems unfair, though. Having to deal with creations of creations. Even after learning not to make them.”

“Careful, there, Panthayo. We’ve enough trouble with this world, already.”

“You’re right, of course. Okay, then. What’ve you come up with? How do we wangle this mess into something short of Armageddon-for-all?”

“By letting go. Once the Veil transmutes, they’re on their own. Multiple dimensions. Each group in their own.”

“What about those with multiple creations? Won’t they have to split?”

“Don’t ask for trouble, Panthayo. Unless you wanna get trapped in their imaginings.”

“Wish them well, and head home. Is that it?”

“No going home as long as they’re spiraling into multiple dimensions. We’ll still be here with them. Just not struggling to filter and channel their worlds into slow manifestation through the Veil. Up to them, now. Sink or swim, as they’re fond of saying. The Veil’s reached its limit.”

“Wish we could at least warn them.”

“Been warned. They don’t listen. Did we?”

“Apparently not.”

“So we gather our forces, and transform the Veil as gently as possible.”

“Have you seen some of the monsters they’ve imagined into being?”

“Any worse than our own?”

“Maybe not.”

“Gather our forces, Panthayo. Call up the volunteers. And school your thoughts. Pure light. No more rants. Natural Attraction will sort them out. Not us.”

And so it was. Is. And will be.

 

The Recall

Audine Grein

 

“You don’t really think they’d abandon all this, do you?” Turner looked out of the ship at the rolling fields of corn, the children playing in the square, and in the background, the massive temple that was nearing completion. The strange color of the natives’ skin and hair no longer bothered him, and as much as he hated to admit it, he’d grown to love this strange planet.

Sims pushed away from the radio and sighed. "You know as well as I do, if this Sirius crisis develops into war, they're going to recall every survey and development team on the frontier. Maybe we'll get lucky and they'll forget we're here." Sims too, had grown fond of the lovely planet they had discovered. The colors were all wrong -- the oceans were too green, the skies too blue -- yet it was similar enough to home to fight the loneliness and homesickness. "We can't sit here and stew about it all day," Sims said decisively. "There's work to do."

Turner picked up the log book and scowled. “Just as I thought,” he said, feigning anger. “I get to go act farmer and show the locals what to do with all that corn we taught them to plant, while you get to go palaver with the chief.”

Sims knew that Turner loved the feel of dirt between his fingers almost as much as he hated the conference table, but their day wouldn’t be complete without this ritual bantering. “That’s because someone with brains has to run this outfit; it’s why I’m the captain and you’re the crew. Now scram!”

Turner threw him a mock salute, went through the hatch and skimmed down the ladder. Sims followed, but descended the ladder more slowly. He was dreading the meeting today. Before crossing the fields to the tribal chief’s lodge, he turned his gaze to the large temple structure.

 

It looked like a giant child had stacked rectangular blocks one on top of another, getting slightly smaller as they went. The enormous pyramid-style ziggurat rose to a magnificent height. He and Turner could take a small amount of credit, but most had to go to the intelligence, diligence and hard work of the natives.

 

As Sims entered the village, he smiled again at the small children playing naked and carefree in the square. He felt a wave of determination; these people were so innocent, friendly and intelligent, that recall or not they would not be abandoned.

Entering the chief’s lodge, he realized it was going to be a rough meeting. Konotek, the chief’s high priest, witch doctor and adviser all rolled into one, was already there. Sims bowed respectfully, first to Chief Potanchat and then again to Konotek.

“Come in, Great God Seems!” Potanchat’s booming voice was accompanied by a toothy smile. “Sit down.”

A look of distrust was evident in Konotek’s eyes as he nodded almost imperceptibly. Sims sat in the offered chair. After nearly a year on the planet, Konotek still seemed to resent Turner and Sims. It was understandable, after all, the position of high priest is reduced in stature considerably by the arrival of two Gods.

Potanchat himself poured goblets of the strange dark brew that the natives drank. Handing Sims the first cup. It was similar to coffee, in the way that leather was similar to steak. “We meet today to seek your approval for the dedication of the new Great Temple. The ceremony is to take place when the moon changes to its next face.”

Sims was surprised. That was only about a week away. The chief was enthusiastic as he explained about the costumes, the procession, and the dedication of the fruit, grain and juices. It would be a celebration of the harvest, as well as the temple.

“Then, Great God Seems,” the chief said, “you and Great God Toornar will give the blessing.”

Konotek had been silent while Potanchat rambled on, but now, flushed with anger, he threw his goblet to the floor. “No!”

Sims jumped at the explosive outburst. Potanchat scowled. “Sit down, Konotek.”

“No! I have sat too long. You are a weak old woman, Potanchat! Foolishness with fruit and juice will surely bring destruction down on our tribe. Only the sacrifice of a temple maiden will bring bravery to our warriors and a blessing to our village. There must be a blood sacrifice!”

Sims blanched and his stomach churned. He had thought Konotek had given up on that particularly gruesome ritual.

Potanchat stood, his girth and great height towering in the small room. “The Great Gods Seems and Toornar have brought us the True Word, Konotek. The Great Gods do not require a sacrifice of our maidens, so there will be none. That is the word of Potanchat!”

Konotek bowed stiffly, then turned and walked stoically out of the room, but Sims knew that there would still be trouble.

“Please forgive him, Great God Seems. The old ways die hard in his heart. Please sit, and let us finish our talk.”

 

Sims was staring at the log entries when Turner climbed into the ship.

“Good grief, Sims. I tell you, I am getting fed up with being a God. Every time I try to show them how to do something right, they think I am working too hard, and they stop me. They insist I tell them how to do it while I sit and they wait on me.” Turner paused in his rambling, and stared at Sims. “Uh oh, must have been trouble at the chief’s palaver. Okay, Captain, spill it. What’s the beef?”

Sims sighed. Maybe talking it out would help. “It’s Konotek. He’s all hopped up over the temple ceremony, insisting there must be a sacrifice.”

Turner whistled. “I thought that was hashed out months ago.”

“So did I.” Sims began pacing up and down the length of the small cabin. “Why is it, Turner? Why must it always be the same? We find a young civilization, give them a written language, a calendar for their planetary orbit cycles, agriculture and even sanitation, and we always run up against the same stumbling block! Religion! And it’s never benevolent Gods, either. No, they demand spilled blood and sacrificed lives in their worship.”

“Whoa, slow down a little.” Turner was looking at him strangely, and Sims sat down at the panel. Turner grinned. “I wonder how much of your agitation is because of the native sacrifice in general, and how much because of the fact that Lehaney is the number one temple maiden.”

Sims felt his pulse start racing. “Now just a minute, Turner.”

"Okay, okay, back off buddy -- just kidding." Turner's grin was maddening. "Anyway, I'm going to let you stew on the problem alone for a bit longer. I've got paperwork to do, and seed supplies to check." Turner went below to the storage area, leaving Sims to think about what he had said.

He knew that Turner had been joking, but maybe there was a small nugget of truth behind what he had said. It was crazy, and he knew it. There was absolutely no percentage in getting involved with the natives. Knowing that, however, did very little to stop how he felt when he thought of Lehaney. The strange color of her skin and hair were definitely an attraction, but her eyes and her gentle smile intrigued him even more.

A dull, persistent noise penetrated his reverie about the same time that Turner popped his head up into the cabin.

“What’s going on?” Turner beat him to the question.

“I don’t know, but I suggest we find out.”

 

As Turner and Sims climbed down the ladder from the cabin of the ship, they could hear the distinctive sound of drums and chanting. The throbbing rhythm seemed to penetrate to their very bones, drawing them forward across the fields, through the village and then into the jungle beyond the temple construction area.

“It must be coming from the original temple site,” Turner observed as the two men followed the path into the jungle toward the sound.

“I’m afraid so,” Sims growled. “Konotek is up to something.” He suddenly felt cold in the warm, humid air.

They stopped as they came to the edge of the ancient clearing, and watched the activity. About half of the tribe’s young men were in the clearing, dolefully chanting and dancing in slow solemn circles. The drums beat out a pulsating rhythm, while Potanchat stood off to one side. He saw the two men, and approached them.

“Please, do not be angry, Great Ones. As you can see,” he waved his arm at the dancers, “it is only the simple prayer for strength and courage, that they dance.” Potanchat took it for granted that the Gods would be aware of every one of their rituals, and was waiting eagerly for some sign of approval.

Sims tried to smile. “We are not angry. We just came to watch.”

The chief was still very eager to explain. “Konotek was very unhappy about my decision to not have the sacrifice. Even though I am Chief, Konotek, as the high priest, and even when he goes against the wishes of the Gods, he has many loyal followers. He asked for permission to conduct a few of the old rituals, since we weren’t going to have a sacrifice, and I consented. This should appease him and his followers.”

Sims felt a strange foreboding, but he nodded his approval as Turner began swaying back and forth.

“Yeah, why not.” Turner’s voice was almost monotonous. “It seems like a good evening’s entertainment. The music could be a little livelier, though.”

“Sure.” Sims nodded again. “Why not.” He couldn’t shake the feeling of uneasiness that sank into him, as deeply as the throbbing of the drums.

 

The next couple of days were uneventful except for the drums that throbbed each night, but the nagging voice that warned of a storm brewing would not be stilled. There was nothing specific however until two nights before the temple dedication ceremony was scheduled, when Turner climbed wearily into the cabin as the drums began their nightly serenade. He plopped into a chair looking exhausted, while Sims was busy filling out yet another of the tedious daily reports.

“I think we goofed, Sims.”

“Why?”

“We never should have let Konotek start holding his little jam sessions again.”

“Well, you were the one said that we needed a little entertainment.”

“I think I was wrong. What about you? Don’t you feel a change in the air?”

“Yeah. I felt something wrong about it from the beginning, but I hoped it was just my imagination. Anyway, nothing has happened.”

“Maybe it has.”

Sims stiffened. “What do you mean?”

“I don’t know. Maybe it’s nothing, and I’m just borrowing trouble.”

“Well don’t just sit there. Tell me!” Exasperation at Turner’s vagueness was obvious in his voice, as Sims stared at the other man.

“Well, it’s just that yesterday, a few of the boys on the harvesting crew didn’t show up. I didn’t think too much about it then, but today fewer than half of them showed.I wonder if maybe Konotek has gotten to them.”

Sims slouched back in his chair, running his hands through his hair and suddenly feeling very old. “I think you’re right, Turner. We goofed.” He pounded the arm of the chair. “How could we have been so stupid? We should have sat in at those little jam sessions. We not only gave Konotek a bandstand and an audience, we gave him a free hand to spread his propaganda.” As the pieces fell into place in his mind, Sims began pacing in the cabin.

“I’m not sure I understand what you mean.” Turner looked puzzled.

“Don’t you see?” Sims was berating himself mentally for being such a fool. “You’ve been busy every day, seeing to the harvest. The chief and I have been busy working out all the details for the completion of the temple and the dedication ceremony. Meanwhile, Konotek had half the village all to himself with the old ceremonies bringing back all the old memories. He’s used every trick in the book to convince them to join him, you can count on that. We were complete idiots to think that Konotek would be satisfied with just these small ceremonies.”

“You really think it’s that bad?”

“Of course it’s that bad. Konotek won’t be happy until he’s got the whole ball of wax right back under his thumb.”

Turner considered what Sims had said. “So, now that you’ve got this figured out, what are you going to do about it? Even more to the point, what do you think Konotek is going to do about it?”

“That’s the biggest problem. The dedication ceremony is tomorrow and you can bet that Konotek will try something. I’m pretty sure he means to have a sacrifice, even if he has to do it without the chief’s approval. If he fails, it will mean the end of his popularity, so we need to see to it that he fails.”

Turner glanced at his watch and sat down at the radio. He and Sims had agreed that there was nothing they could do about Konotek and his possible plans tonight, so he decided to see if he could find any news from the peace conference. “You think things are going well in the great outside?”

Sims seemed very preoccupied. “You know these things can be touch and go.”

Reception was spotty as usual, and the news they did pick up wasn’t good. Negotiations for a peaceful settlement of differences had broken down again, and the Sirius delegate to the peace conference had walked out of the last session.

Sims snapped off the radio with a sigh. Things were piling up way too fast. “I’ve had enough Turner. Maybe we should just disconnect the radio. That way, we won’t hear the recall order when it comes.”

“Don’t you mean if it comes?”

“No, I mean when.” Sims sighed. “I can feel it; it’s only a matter of time. I’m bushed, and tomorrow will be a busy day. Let’s hit the rack.”

 

Knowing that their recall was inevitable did very little to prepare Turner for the alarm when the transmission came, and it startled him awake. He and Sims collided as they both tried to enter the control room at the same time.

Later, as they sat in the galley having coffee and nursing matching bumps on their foreheads, Turner was the first to speak.

“I don’t get it. It’s like the year we’ve spent here has been wasted, or is totally unimportant. They expect us to just drop everything and return, without tying up loose ends or anything.” The recall order hadn’t offered any explanations or time-frames. Just that they were to return immediately. Turner’s shoulders slumped and he stared into the bottom of his cup.

Sims knew what he was thinking. They would leave before the ceremony, and Konotek would take over again. Soon the natives would be reduced to their previous level of savagery.

Turner downed his last swallow of coffee and stood up. “I suppose I’d better start getting things battened down for take off.” As he approached the door, Sims seemed to come out of his trance.

“No.”

Turner stopped, and turned to face his commanding officer. “Come again?”

“I said no. We’re not leaving yet. One more day can’t hurt, and we have a temple to dedicate and a high priest to deal with.”

Turner grinned. “I was hoping you’d say that! So, do you have any brilliant ideas up your sleeve?”

I actually might. If Konotek plans on attempting a sacrifice, he will have to do it during the dedication ceremony, so the whole village can see. That will mean he will have to do it at or near the top of the temple steps.”

“Okay, so what do we do?”

“We still have a couple hours before dawn, so there should just be enough time. We will prepare a little Godly surprise of our own for him. Gather a couple fire extinguishers, a couple handfuls of that pelletized tear gas, and a few nose filters. We have work to do!”

 

The sun was sending long pink fingers over the horizon as Sims and Turner climbed back aboard their ship, flopping down on couches in the galley.

“Do you think we have enough stuff up there if Konotek decides to get cute?” Turner was fidgeting, despite being tired.

“Sure,” said Sims, trying to sound confident. “They’ll be so surprised and awe-stricken they’ll be crawling on their bellies, begging the Gods for forgiveness. He clenched his fists.Konotek wasn’t stupid, nor was he foolish. Sims refused to let himself think of the consequences if his plan failed. “Okay, Turner. Let’s get ready. You know that they will be here soon. The Gods will be the guests of honor at the ceremony.”

By the time the two men had cleaned up and changed into their dress uniforms, they could hear the chanting as the village procession made its way across the fields. They were coming to carry the Gods to the ceremony at the new temple site.

Chief Potanchat himself led the way; he was a magnificent sight, dressed in his formal ceremonial robe. The robe was made of the feathers of the Moabba, a large bird indigenous to the planet. Sims, however, only had eyes for Potanchat’s companion. As the number one temple maiden, Lehaney walked alongside the chief, ready to serve the needs of the Gods. Dressed only in a simple white garment that stopped well above her knees, Sims thought she was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen.

Konotek was directly behind Potanchat and Lehaney, and Sims was more certain than ever that trouble was brewing. The high priest carried himself with the arrogant self-confidence that seemed to Sims to prove just what he thought of his position in the village order. Hopefully they would be ready when he made his move.

Turner and Sims climbed down from their ship and met the procession. A platform was brought forward with a pair of cushions for the Gods to ride on. They were to be carried all the way to the top of the temple.

As they sat, Turner turned, and switching to intergalactic speech, said “I don’t like this, Captain. These men carrying the platform are some of the missing members of the harvest crew.” He nodded to the temple ziggurat. “One simple trip, and it would be a long tumble down those stairs.”

Sims grimaced. “I know what you mean,” he answered in the same sing-song language. “I’m counting on Konotek’s desire to make a much more spectacular come-back than that.”

They arrived at the base of the temple, and Lehaney proceeded up the stairs, scattering flower petals before the platform bearers as they began the climb to the top. Despite Turner’s foreboding, the procession was smooth, and sooner than either of them would have thought possible, they arrived at the large platform atop the temple structure. There, two beautifully ornate thrones had been built, and the Gods were escorted to these seats of honor. The platform bearers took up positions behind each of the thrones, one to each side, and Lehaney knelt between the two Gods and bowed her head. Potanchaqt and Konotek stepped up to the small altar dais and faced the cheering villagers who covered the steep steps, and massed at the bottom of the temple. Potanchat raised his arms, and the crowd immediately went quiet, as he began the ritual dedication.

The ceremony was long, as Potanchat presented the offerings of fruit, grain and juice. These were blessed by Konotek, then placed around the altar, accompanied by the chanting pleas of respect for the Gods who looked on. As the ritual neared completion, Sims thought maybe he had been wrong about Konotek and his plans.

That was the moment that he felt a sharp stinging sensation in his right arm. He turned to look at the native guard on that side of his seat, but the man gave no indication that he had moved or seen anything.

 

The cold numbing sensation of whatever drug he had been injected with traveled slowly down his arm, and Sims finally understood the depth of Konotek’s plan. Not only would there be a sacrifice of a temple maiden, but the Gods would approve, for they would sit and watch without lifting a finger to stop it. The natives would have no idea that they had been paralyzed, and once the sacrifice had been made, the Gods wouldn’t be able to admit it, for it would reveal them as mere mortals. Either way, Konotek would win.

Quickly, as the cold made it’s way into his system, Sims turned his ring and used its built-in injector to neutralize the toxin. He glanced over at Turner and winked, as he saw his junior officer follow suit. It was a good thing Turner was on the ball as well. Sims casually felt around with his foot for the small button that they had placed on the inside of the chair leg. He could feel warmth returning to his arm, and knew that Turner would be following his lead. They both sat as still as possible to watch the conclusion of the ceremony. The next move was Konotek’s.

At the conclusion of the rituals, Sims and Turner were to give a speech and grant their blessings on the new temple. Potanchat started to call them forward, but Konotek stepped close to the chief and grabbed his arm. Sims felt sure that the chief had just been given his own dose of the paralyzing toxin.

 

 

The high priest calmly led Potanchat to a smaller seat off to one side, where he was joined by two attendants. It appeared that the chief had been given a seat of honor, but Sims knew the two attendants were actually Konotek’s guards and he could see the paralysis taking effect as Potanchat tried to object. The stuff was quick, and he felt fortunate that he and Turner had both reacted quickly with their anti-toxin. Technological advances were the one thing that Konotek wasn’t able to foresee or counter.

Konotek approached Sims and lowered his head, whispering “Watch.” He then stepped over and did the same thing to Turner, before returning to the front of the platform. The murmuring of the crowd had been slowly growing louder, but when Konotek raised his arms wide, silence followed.

“The Great Gods, Toornar and Seems have spoken to me.” He turned to look at the two men, and his benevolent smile turned to gloating grin of victory. “They are well pleased with the sacrifices we have made of grain and fruit, but more is needed. Even a grand and glorious temple in their honor is not enough, unless we are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, and supreme offering.”

He swept the fruit and grain from the altar, and pointed at Lehaney.

The two guards near Sims grabbed Lehaney and started dragging her toward the altar. She screamed in terror and turned back to look at Sims, her eyes both disbelieving and accusing. Sims could stand it no more. He gritted his teeth. This had to look good. He made eye contact with Turner and gave an almost imperceptible nod. As billows of foam began pouring out from beneath their thrones, both he and Turner stood.

“NO!” His bellow resounded through the still air and the entire area around the thrones was boiling in fire-suppressant foam. Then the tear gas pellets exploded by the feet of the guards. Sims saw Konotek’s face become a grimace of fear, and pressed his advantage.

“You, Konotek, have lied and brought upon yourself the wrath of the Gods!” The guards had by this time fled, coughing and stumbling, down the steps away from the angry Gods. Lehaney had retreated to seek safety with Potanchat, fear of these mighty Gods written on her face.

Konotek tried to regain his composure, but now he stood alone at the altar facing an angry God. Turner was administering a dose of the anti-toxin to the chief, as Sims crossed his fingers and continued.

“Konotek. Because of your disbelief in our words, and your dishonesty, you will be branded.” Sims waved his hand in Konotek’s face, and the now timid man, fell coughing and crying to his face on the platform at Sims’ feet, thoroughly defeated. The natives were almost all prostrate on their faces along the steps and at the bottom of the temple.

Turner brought Potanchat and Lehaney forward, and they stood behind Sims as he addressed the villagers. “Many of you have listened to Konotek’s lies and helped him. For this reason, the Great God Turner and I must leave this world. The temple maiden Lehaney will go with us, not to be slaughtered like an animal on the altar, but to live among the Gods.” Sims now turned his attention to Konotek.

“High Priest, the sign of our displeasure will appear on your face before the sun again rises on this land. If you work hard and keep the new faith in us, the mark will fade.” Sims turned to Turner and raised his arms. Turner followed suit and together they turned and faced the people. “Rise, our people, and we shall bestow our blessings upon the new temple!” He turned and smiled at Lehaney, and the warmth and desire he saw reflected in her eyes, let him know he had made the right decision.

After a lengthy blessing and reminder that Potanchat and his line were in charge, Turner and Sims, with Lehaney in tow, made their way down the temple steps. Amid the roar of approval from the crowd, they marched calmly and proudly back to the ship.

 

On the viewscreen, the planet began growing smaller as the ship raced away. Turner, Sims and Lehaney sat and watched it recede. Turner looked at Sims with a puzzled expression. “Captain, I meant to ask you before. What was all that hocus-pocus with Konotek and a brand all about?”

Sims chuckled. “I sprayed him with a little dye. It won’t show up for hours and then will wear off in about a week or so. Until then he is going to have the prettiest purple face you ever saw.”

Lehany had been silent until now, her eyes riveted to the image of space and her planet on the screen. She turned to Sims, her large brown eyes brimming. “Oh Great God Sims,” she said. “Will I never see my home again?”

Sims draped his bare arm over her shoulder, the contrast between his green skin and her bronze tan was marked. “Don’t worry, my beautiful Lehaney. Your planet Earth is a lovely world, and we will return one day. I know that your Inca people will be a great nation.”

 

Evening Faith

William Capp

 

The winds of change blow cold tonight

to play the embers of my light

and spark old flame’s deceiving dance

to burn me if it gets the chance,

yet warmth is foreign to this fire,

it leaves me cold, alone and tired.

The darkness sometimes seems so deep

that I am nearly lost…can’t sleep

and there’s a chill that haunts my soul,

vows to possess my self-control;

but I just pull my robes round tight,

relinquish what I cannot fight.

I wait and pray the dawn comes strong

on choruses of Savior’s songs.

So if tonight my faith is thin,

still I will put my trust in Him

‘til Morning Star makes evening flee

and finds me safe upon my knees.

 

The Dark Sun

Dusty Grein

 

Free from worry she is spinning,

dancing, twirling, brightly grinning,

as her final day’s beginning,

‘neath the dark sun, ruby red.

Caring not about the glances

of her neighbors as she dances

on this final day of chances,

‘neath the dark sun, ruby red.

In the sky the birds are wheeling.

She finds joy to be appealing

for this final day of feeling

‘neath the dark sun, ruby red,

dying dark sun overhead.

 

 

Scientific fears abiding,

On errors, all hopes were riding;

at the end, there was no hiding

from the dark sun flying high.

Warnings first were taken lightly;

now, while holding loved ones tightly

Near the end, the light bursts brightly

from the dark sun flying high.

Most have no real way of learning,

‘til deep red, the clouds are turning;

in the end the air starts burning

from the dark sun flying high,

dying dark sun in the sky.

 

 

All their great works torn asunder,

instantly, in silent thunder.

No one left to sit and wonder

where the dark sun used to be.

An expanding glowing bubble

rapidly it’s size had doubled;

nothing left to cause more trouble

where the dark sun used to be.

Super-nova quickly growing

eating planets without slowing;

empty space is what’s left, showing

where the dark sun used to be,

dark sun once, now memory.

 

Murder at the Count’s Castle

Wim Verveen

 

I feel their eyes on me as they pass, their faces filled with disgust and superiority. My appearance is that of a floozy on the street, giving her body in exchange for gold.

I ignore their glances. Between the piles of garbage thrown out on the street at Ghent Harbor, I wait. Ghent is one of the largest cities in Europe, due to the tax exemption on grain signed by the Count of Flanders, its size and wealth only surpassed by Paris. Ghent is a place of many opportunities, but it is also a place of suffering to those of lower classes.

Ghent. My home.

The door I am watching opens and interrupts my thoughts. It is part of a house with strategically placed swan emblems, a sign with more than one meaning here. The Baron and his servant appear, both looking disappointed.

He hasn’t found what he is looking for..

He tries to blend with the public on the street as he hurries to a nearby alley, commonly called “Rental Daughter Alley,” and for good reason.

I have to move quick.

I take off in pursuit of my mark. When I catch them, I tap the servant’s shoulder.

“Go away, hórcwene. We don’t want your kind.” His words trail away as he notices my appearance. I have taken care to dress according to the Baron’s preferences. My hair and my makeup are precisely what turns him on. If there is a perfect specimen to be found in Ghent, it’s me.

The aide turns to his master and begs for attention “M’lord.”

 

The Baron turns to face me. He is even more impressive up close; his skin is perfect and clean, his garments are the finest made, and his face is that of a man of authority. His eyes burn through me and I wait while he sizes up his new prey. When I see a devious smile on his lips, I know my preparation has been successful.

“Price?” His words are like a knife in my body. He talks as if he were haggling for food on the market, instead of acquiring the services of another human being. I ignore my feelings and ask for a hefty sum. His aide gasps in horror at the affront. The Baron’s face however, shows no sign of emotion in response to my outrageous demand.

I’m well aware of his specific taste and it’s going to cost him. His interest increases at my refusal to compromise When we finally agree on a fee, he smiles.

I should’ve asked for more.

He waves me to follow him, but at a safe distance. People, especially those in power, don’t want others to know what kind of service they have hired.

I can’t help but feel nervous as we approach our destination. As the most powerful building in the city, castle “Gravensteen” is a huge fortress -- a symbol of the Count’s power.. Right now however, it is only used by his friends, including the Baron. Wealth attracts friends, and the Count has more than enough of both.

The guards at the gate stop me for inspection. I pay no attention to their contempt.

“I haven’t seen you before. You are not one of the regulars. Who are you?” Their leader snarls as he looks me over.

“I’m with him. Please let me through, sir.” The attempt to appease his ego doesn’t work. His eyes scan my body again. I see him considering what to do. The exit is close by, but I would never reach it before they caught me.

“Let her through, Mark. She is with me.”

The guards step aside at the Baron’s demand and without further interrogation I proceed through the enormous gatehouse and past the outer walls. In the courtyard I have a close-up view of the central Donjon that towers above the city. Seeing the structure up close reminds me how powerful the Count is. The large doors to the castle slam shut behind me and make my heart skip.

So many people have come to this place and never returned; sometimes their screams could still be heard during interrogations. I remember the expressions on their faces during executions all too well. A shiver travels through my spine as I relive the past.

The Baron tires of my stalling and pulls me toward a smaller building, which has been erected against the outer wall bordering the river.

Back at the gate the Baron’s servant is still in a discussion with the guards, and they are clearly not in agreement. My attention is diverted to the Baron as his hands travel all over me. My stomach does flips as he opens the door.

This is the point of no return.

The Baron pulls me inside the building and leads me to the second-floor guest quarters, slamming the door shut behind us with a loud bang.

“Well?” he asks.

“Yes, Baron.” My voice trembles, but my clothes drop on the floor one by one. I stand before him to show what he has acquired. He takes his time to seize up his new conquest in full detail.

His smile implies he must be content with his investment.

“My Lord desires some wine?” Without waiting for an answer I walk over to a cabinet at the side of the room where I notice a can and several beakers.

I hear his clothes falling to the floor behind me. Footsteps approach while I fill the beakers with wine. My body trembles when his hands land on my hips. I do my best to block out what follows, and focus on the room and its contents.

With his left arm, the Baron balances himself against the cabinet. His breathing is heavy and he looks dead tired.

I give him some wine, and some time to drink it and recover.

His eyes follow my every movement as I sit on the bed. He approaches me again, like a predator. Slightly surprised by his agility, I moan his name as he holds me down.

“Is your name really Isabelle? Such a nice name for a girl of the night.”

I ignore his words and I turn him on his back with a strong leg movement. I scan the room again, while I try to drown out the sounds of his ragged breath.

A gold coin glistens from the floor; it must have escaped from a purse. The large windows show only darkness outside. With carpets on the walls, this is a room with luxury very few can afford.

A change in his behavior grabs my attention. His breaths speed up. He is panting.

No. He is gasping.

His hands grow rigid and his nails sink into my breasts. I ignore the pain and look him in the eyes. No longer filled with lust, they have changed to mortal fear.

“I… cannot… breathe…”

He gargles as arteries swell up on his face and he turns blood red. His hands desperately grasp at me as I slip away.

“Why, is something wrong, My Lord? You were doing so well.”

His head shakes while his voice rattles.

“I… am… choking…”

Panic spreads across his face. His hands let go of me, and he weakly pulls at the sheets as he loses control of his muscles.

“Help me…”

“Yes, My Lord. Your wish is my command, My Lord.”

My hands slide to his throat and once there, tighten their grip. The panic in his eyes is replaced by dismay. He tries to fight me.

Desperate, he attempts to move away; my hips and knees keep him in a tight grip with no chance of escape. My sudden strength seems to have surprised his Lordship. None of his normal playthings have ever shown him that.

My hips move back and forth until he stops breathing and all his muscles go limp. “Sleep softly, my Lord Baron,” I whisper.

Silence sets in, and I sit on top of him, still looking around the room. The events slowly fade into the past as I realize what I have done.

Something is not right.

A bang at the door stops my heart momentarily. “Open the door, My Lord. Open it immediately!”

I try to grab my clothes but it is too late. The door crashes open and three armed men barge in.

“In the name of the City of Ghent, I arrest thee!” The leader of the group walks towards me, his arms extending forward to grab me. Before he has a chance to react, I spring into action, moving sideways and forward. The dagger I’d been hiding behind my back lands directly in his fat neck, and with a loud scream, he falls on the floor.

Evading hands as the others reach for me, I turn towards the bed. A quick jump and I grab the top of the bed, where I use all my strength to pull myself up swiftly.

My legs grapple the nearest guard and pull him towards me. He tries unsuccessfully to break the lock I have on his neck. I pull and turn sharply, and I feel his neck snap. His body goes limp and I let go.

My feet land on the floor before his body does and I face my third assailant. He has pulled his sword and observes me cautiously. “You will pay for this, blond tife!”

I consider my options, keeping my distance from his blade. The room has little space to maneuver and I’ve lost my dagger. Blood has spilled across the floor, the way to the door is blocked and it’s unlikely I can make it to the gate unscathed.

With caution, the guard probes my defenses. He is distracted by the exuberance of my exposed female form in front of his eyes. The thrust of his sword is easily evaded.

“Please don’t hurt me, my Lord. I did not mean to do it.”

With a heinous smile he approaches, but he oversteps and is off-balance. In a deadly dance, I step aside, grab his arm, and hit his knee. My fist meets his nose, and I turn against his arms like a lover meeting her long lost paramour. Grabbing his arm, I hold it tight while my knee crashes into it.

I’m two steps away as reality sets in for my opponent. His sword crashes helplessly to the ground while he attempts to cover his broken nose with his disabled arm, all the while screaming like a baby.

Time to go.

The door to the interior of the building stands open. I run for this exit, slipping on the floor with my bare feet. I become aware of approaching footsteps.

“There she is!” Another armed man has spotted me.

I rush back into the room where the disabled guard lies on the floor, whining and crying in pain. I jump onto the bed, ignoring the dead Baron, readying myself for the approaching guards.

The window.

I kick the window open and look outside into the night.

“Don’t let her escape!”

Ignoring the guards rushing into the room I gaze down into the darkness. The moat must be somewhere down there.

Something glitters in the night.

Water?

There is no choice. Since I have nowhere else to go, I don’t hesitate. Mustering all my strength, I jump.

The icy water envelops me, contracting every muscle in my body. As soon as I am able, I swim like never before. High above me I hear yelling.

I don’t have much time.

I swim to the other side and grab a small dock attached to one of the houses. As I climb it, cold water flows off me like a light dress falling to the ground.

I grab the door and venture a look back. I can see torches in the distance, crossing the bridge and coming my way. I push hard against the wood. The door opens, faint light coming from inside. I slide in and shut the door.

Where is the exit?

“Who is there? Oh my God! Who are…” This is followed by the muffled screams of the person I push aside on my way by.

I make it to the street without a problem. People are shocked to see me running naked, but I don’t wait for them to recover their senses; I run away into the darkness.

Commands are shouted, and behind me I hear the footsteps of guards in pursuit. The unwanted cold bath is making me shiver. Drunken men exiting a bar notice me and begin yelling proposals.

“Stop her!”

I look around and realize I’m boxed in from two sides. The building next to me is my only chance.

The singing and buzz of people talking is interrupted as I through a room filled with people, who watch me with a mix of shock and excitement, while their eyes feed on my appearance.

I slide through a mess of beer and grease until I land directly in front of a huge guy who must be the innkeeper. He drops a mug of beer in terror and begins whispering bible passages. I push him away from me and leave through the back door, ending up in a small garden with kitchen herbs. A gate leads to the back alley.

I’m hidden again in darkness as I run through mud and into the street beyond.

“Stand fast!”

I freeze in place, my eyes fixed on a large armed man approaching me. My escape is blocked. I jump over him, using his shoulders as a springboard, then somersault onto the muddy road. Crouching on the ground, I see more guards approaching.

This doesn’t look good at all.

Looking left, I see the triumphant look in the guard’s eyes. He’s already fantasizing what he is going to do to me when he catches me. He licks his lips. I take a deep breath as my feet sink into the mud. His hungry eyes seem to be trying to hold me in place; he is sure of his victory.

My hands feel through the mud until they find a stone. The man’s eyes betray his thoughts and delay him a few precious seconds. Much to his surprise I lash out, throwing the sharp stone for all I’m worth. It lands in the middle of his face, and he howls like a pig being slaughtered.

I do not hesitate, disappearing into several consecutive alleys between the houses. Slowing down to reduce the noise, I then walk carefully pressed against walls and hedges to make myself as invisible as possible. I know that I cannot continue this chase for much longer; a quick solution is needed. I am exhausted, cold, and naked.

They are going to catch me soon.

I look around in the dark for possibilities. A small barn just off the road stands out. The door easily gives way, allowing me to quietly sneak inside.

Just in time.

Armed men pass by in haste. They seem to be everywhere.

I glance around in the dark. There are horses, hay and… I chuckle for a moment. At the back of the barn, in the hay, a man and woman are lying on the ground. Luckily, they are way too busy with each other to have noticed me. I sneak towards them and take the man’s clothes.

A few moments later I peek outside. It’s quiet. I get out on the street again and mingle with the few people on the street. Nobody pays much attention to a simple peasant. The guards are too busy looking for a naked woman covered in mud to look in my direction.

 

As inconspicuous as possible I continue my walk. I make my way to a more exclusive part of Ghent. At a church, I pull at the cap I stole, hiding my face. Humbly, I enter the church.

It is dark and mostly deserted. Only a few candles provide light inside the holy house. My knees sink into the soft covering on the floor inside the confession booth. Kneeling, I wait for a moment. The exhaustion of the chase begins to take over. I shake my head and gather my senses.

It is time.

“Good evening my child. What is burdening your soul?” the friendly voice of the priest brings me back to reality.

“Father, I have sinned.” My voice trembles as I whisper the words.

The silence is deafening inside the confession booth. Thoughts of what happened tonight rush through my head. The Baron, how he died. The chase afterward. Not many in the clergy would believe what happened. The priest on the other side of the curtain shuffles around in his seat, as if getting ready for what I’m about to tell him.

 

 

“What have you done, my child? Do not be ashamed and speak freely, only the Lord is listening to your words.” His caring voice finds its way through the curtain. I listen very carefully, before I respond with even more care.

“Father I have sinned. I have been in a conversation of the flesh. I have to confess that something else has happened, this very night.” My voice trembles.

“Is it done, then?” A sudden change occurs in his voice; no no longer does he speak with a caring tone, but now has become business like and direct.

“Yes. It went fine. I had some minor issues, but they have been resolved.” If the curtain had not blocked his view, he would have seen a big smile on my face.

The curtain opens slightly, to make room for a sack filled with a generous reward. Before I have a chance to see his face, the curtain is closed again.

Ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.” In devotion I listen to his words.

The sack of gold slips into my hands and the curtain of the confession booth falls back in place behind me. The side entrance of the church is now open, as expected. I disappear into the night, and make my way further into the city.

The streets change into alleys, but I continue until I can see a specific house where I stop at the back.

The ornaments are placed perfectly, enabling me to climb to a spot where I can reach a window, kept shut only by a small clamp which easily releases. Silently, my feet land on the floor. The room is dimly lit by a few candles.

The door is closed and I’m alone. The stolen clothes fall on the ground in a small heap, and a closet in the corner provides a good place to hide them.

A bowl of water and towels are useful in rinsing away the dirt of the night. On a table a large jar and a basin are there for a purpose. I bend forward and pour the contents of the jar through my hair. The basin fills with blackened water. After several repeats my hair is as black as the night outside.

I look into the mirror, and the black haired woman I see is not at all like the blonde one the guards have been searching for. I open the closet, but before I can grab a dress, the sound of something on the other side of the room’s door draws my attention.

Someone is passing!

He stops and walks back to the door. The sound of the bolt being drawn against the wood is my cue to quickly hide behind the door, just before it opens.

A man walks in and looks around. My hand finds a thin dressing gown hanging from a hook behind me. His scream is smothered by the fabric covering his head. My arm around his neck makes him gasp for air and my legs wrapped around his waist keep him off-balance. I only let go when he no longer resists and drops limply to the floor. Some rope around his wrists, ankles, and his mouth insure that he won’t be alerting anyone anytime soon.

He’s a problem which I will need to attend to later, but there is no time for that now.

I quickly get dressed and make my way down the hall, to a more familiar room. Here I rearrange my hair and add a few bits of jewelery to finish myself off.

Satisfied, I emerge into the hallway and continue further into the building.

I examine doors as I pass them. All are closed and nobody seems to be present. In the distance I hear sounds. Lovely music, it seems like a party.

As I move closer, I can hear people talking and the air fills with the scent of delicate foods. At the end of the hallway stairs lead down towards the source of the sounds and smells.

Gracefully, I walk down the stairs. People look up, their faces showing smiles of recognition.

“I love your necklace. Where did you find it?” someone calls out. A vague answer and a mysterious smile are enough to prevent further questioning.

The ballroom is filled with people, the air mingles the noise of the crowd with the smells of food and drink. The doors to the outside are quite heavily guarded.

Ignoring the guards I proceed through these beautiful people, trying to avoid any that I know. I scan the room.

He has to be here somewhere.

“Tinne! There you are! Women do take their time don’t you think, men?”

Men laugh while my arm slides into that of my loving husband. Someone hands me a drink and I join the group he’s part of. He gives me a kiss. I look up at him sweetly.

“All for you.” I whisper so only he can hear. I smile when I notice the council members.

“Good evening, Sir Juede, Sir van Gravere, Sir Crooc.” Politely, I bow to the men as I name them each personally. I turn to the one who is having a conversation with my husband. “How are things tonight, Sir?” I ask him, in a humble tone of voice.

“A very busy night, my lady. It seems there has been a murder, and unfortunately I must excuse myself from your exquisite presence.” He makes a polite bow and prepares to leave.

“How terrible! I hope the perpetrator will be caught soon.” I grab the arm of my husband, squeezing it tighter for protection as I look worriedly at the council member.

“No doubt we will, dear lady. A blond woman of dubious status has fled. Apparently a robbery gone bad. One of the protégées of the Count has been murdered in cold blood today while praying in the castle’s chapel. The Count will not be pleased, not be pleased at all. We will have to put all our available men to it. She will be caught. There is little chance of escape.”

“Terrible that such devout men of great status, come to such unfortunate ends.”

“A very unfortunate event right at the moment the Count has to deal with the current troubles.” My husband’s voice is low and private. I watch the council member leave the room as a little smile plays across my lips. Hidden under my clothes I can feel the sack of gold.

This has been a very good night.

After a loving smile for my husband, I mingle in the crowd.

I feel someone touch my hand, and a piece of paper is transferred. I quickly look around, but I can’t see who did it. I however, know exactly what has been given to me.

Another assignment.

 

Beyond the Landscape

Mandy Melanson

Illustration 5 – © 2016, Cristina Santana

 

Sticks and stones may break my bones

Their words, they always hurt me.

 

I don’t think they know or, they do not care

What they do to the innocence, once within me

 

Could I find a reason to stay? Not without losing my soul

Can I fight against their evil plot? Not for even one more day

 

Somewhere beyond the landscape I see,

There is a place waiting to be found by me

 

Here, I would wither until nothing remained.

There I will become the master, the king, the priest,

 

And the man I will forever be.

I Can’t Be Strong Today

Heather Grein

 

I can’t be strong today, my fractured heart is broken.

I try, but so many words were simply left unspoken.

 

I can’t be strong today, my world is shattered.

I try, my sweet child, to prove that you mattered.

 

I can’t be strong today, I’m broken beyond repair.

I try, but my heart is so full of despair.

 

I can’t be strong today; for today, I am weak.

I try, in my weakness to find the strength to speak.

 

I can’t be strong today, yet I hold my head up high.

I try, though my tears fall like rain from the sky.

 

I can’t be strong today, so I let my weakness burn.

I try, with faith in God that my strength will soon return.

 

No, I can’t be strong today, but see, I haven’t lost all hope.

I still try, for though I miss you, I must find a way to cope.

 

The Clay Man

Leo McBride

 

The clay man lay unmoving, imprisoned behind walls of glass for endless lines of fascinated onlookers to gawp and point at. He did not stare back, his eyes plucked away long ago by the ravages of nature.

His skin was withered, mummified by the dirt of the bog. Every detail of life that had marked him lay exposed here to the world. The cut he had received in his fight with Fergus in his youth was there, sharply raised on his thigh. The scar from the battle against Ui Domhaill fled down one side. Then, of course, there was the ragged hole across his throat from his murder. His jaw was stretched from his slow, eternal scream.

A week before, a poet had arrived and sat for a few days studying the corpse, as if trying to discern the nature of life by looking at the nature of death. The corpse had looked blankly back, unmoved. Finally, the poet had left, perturbed, preoccupied.

Now the poet was back, standing directly in front of the glass, with his breath slowly fogging up the plate. He stood there, his glasses perched precariously on his nose, eyes flashing behind them. The clay man did not react. He remained unmoved as ever, his only motion remaining the aeons-slow process of decay.

Yet another day brought the poet once more, sitting across from the glass, occasionally jotting down in his notebook the detail he thought so essential.

The clay man cared not. What understanding could be gained from the body of a man dead these hundreds of years, his throat ripped greedily open and his every drop of blood spat into the land that his killers stole? The land that had swallowed him whole and preserved him for centuries – that land that could not be called anything but his own, he who had bled into this peat. And now he had been brought here to this glass cage, for this pretender to understanding to look upon. How could he understand when he had only sampled life? The clay man had seen both life and death. He endured. This flimsy writer would be consumed all too quickly by maggots and worms.

But still the poet persisted. He returned time and time again. He came once with a young woman by his side. She smiled and tried to be polite to him, but he became distracted and irritated. Her presence somehow disturbed his communion with this image of death. She did not return with him again. This spectator was different from the others. Most of them came along, stared and pointed once or twice and shuffled out. This one, there was more to him.

He reminded the clay man of another. Fergus. Fergus had been wild in his youth, it was true, but as he grew, he had become more and more withdrawn from the world. He saw everything through different eyes. To him, everything was filled with something more, something greater than could be seen at first. It had been no surprise when Fergus had cast off his wildness and left the village. He returned only once after that. In his wanderings, he had become a bard. He weaved tales for the village, but his reception was poor. This was, after all, Fergus. Little Fergus. How could anyone take him seriously when they remembered the time when he stole Suilleabhain’s apples, or when he slipped and fell in Ui Dalaigh’s pig muck? No. Fergus had said his final goodbyes to those who had sat and listened carefully to what he had to say, and then he left. The clay man had accompanied him as far as the ridge, and as they walked, Fergus spoke.

“My friend, I tell you that there is more to this world. In all things, there is something more than flesh and blood and bone. We all have spirits in us. Essences. Tell me, my friend, where do they go when we die?”

“What makes you ask that, Fergus? You know that they go to the otherworld.”

“I don’t know. Do you? Have you ever died, so that you can find out? No. Those are just tales.”

“Then maybe they just get eaten by the maggots like everything else.”

“And then the maggots get eaten by the birds, and the birds get eaten by the wolf, and then we eat the wolf. Does the spirit carry all the way around too?”

“Fergus…”

“Think of it, now. Think what we would be made of. My heart beats with a king’s spirit, my fingers play with the power of the greatest bards. The very thought makes us gods. We do not die – we simply become the foundation for the years to come.”

The clay man stopped. They had reached the ridge.

“And what of our thoughts, Fergus? Do they last? Is that thought of yours the same thought some priestess had 50 years back? And that it’s mere luck that means its time has come around again?”

Fergus turned, the flash of his eyes brilliant and still with that faint wildness there.

“Perhaps so,” he said. “Perhaps so.”

The two stood and faced one another on that ridge, knowing this would be the last time they would see each other.

“I don’t understand you anymore, Fergus,” said the clay man. “No one here does.”

“I know,” Fergus replied. “But then I don’t understand this place any more, either. This world. The road will teach me, I hope. The road and where it takes me.”

Silhouetted against the top of the ridge, the two embraced and then parted. The clay man watched as the distance between them grew, as Fergus became smaller, ever smaller. And just for a moment, he thought he saw Fergus look back.

 

 

For several days, the poet did not return. In the meantime, the crowds came and went. They stopped. They pointed. The clay man, as ever, did nothing. But then came a day when the windows of the museum rattled in the rain and the wind and the halls stood empty. Empty but for the poet, his raincoat damply coiled on the seat next to him, his glasses steamed up from the change in the air. There was something different about him this time. No longer did he jot absent-mindedly in his notebook. Now his writing was ferocious, an unstoppable scrawl. His eyes flicked between his words and the case containing the clay man, back and forth. What brought him here? What was he seeking? What could the clay man tell him? What could he give the answer to?

The writing stopped. The room was quieter now. He put down his pen. Stood up. He advanced to the glass encasing the clay man, his gaze meeting the other’s sightless eyes.

“Which are you, my friend? What do you see in your death? You lie here, immortal, immune to Time. What has your spirit seen? What happened to you when you died?”

The clay man looked back, without understanding of this man and his modern tongue. What did he seek? Was he like Fergus? Always trying to understand Death, while still remaining alive? Foolish. The clay man knew that. But still he whispered soft words that slowly fogged the glass. Foolish man, don’t you know that Death is the greatest prison? An eternal prison, where your spirit lies trapped, gazing out at who knows what the eternities bring? Of course you don’t know. You never will, not until the day that you die. Only then will you know. But time will bring too many changes.

Even now, you sit here in this great hall, in this world of wonders. I wish I could warn you, you who seek to understand. When Death comes, be sure to close your eyes.

The poet left that night, as they locked the doors. He never returned. But the clay man remembered him. Of all the people he saw in his hundreds of years, he remembered him. And as Time wore on and more centuries slowly passed, and thousands upon thousands more gazed and stared, he remembered another. He remembered Fergus. Fergus with his eyes always searching for an answer. He thought of those eyes in another head. He knew those eyes as the eyes of the poet, still searching.

“And then the maggots get eaten by the birds, and the birds get eaten by the wolf, and then we eat the wolf. Suppose a woman eats some of the flesh and gains part of that spirit. If she has a child, who’s to say that the spirit of the child isn’t that of the man, come full circle.”

The clay man thought on all of this, day by day, year by year.

Had you come full circle, Fergus? Was that you? Was that you?

 

For Elle

Mandy Melanson

 

Tempers hold what moonlight sought to bury

Darkness overpowers a shattered soul

Her heart the one to suffer bitter parry

 

“I won’t force you, it is temporary.”

Manipulation, the means to control.

Tempers hold what moonlight sought to bury.

 

Intuition warning her – be wary.

His words taken from a liar’s scroll.

Her heart the one to suffer bitter parry.

 

Empty threats, her soul forced to carry.

Reassurance he spewed to console.

Tempers hold what moonlight sought to bury.

 

Knowing only to believe contrary

to what his mouth would constantly extol

Her heart the one to suffer bitter parry.

 

Trusted confidant turned adversary

Time heals but also reveals unknown roles

Tempers hold what moonlight sought to bury

Her heart the one to suffer bitter parry.

 

The Magic Pie

Josh James

 

After I got home, I reached into my bag of groceries and pulled out a pie with a note.

I didn’t buy this pie.

It’s not that I don’t like pie, I love pie, but I didn’t buy that pie. What disturbed me more was the note. The note confirmed my suspicions that someone put it in my bag. My options were to toss it, eat it, or call someone and complain about it.

What do I do with this?

As my mind ran wild with the possibilities of pranks or unknown enemies, I sat the pie down in the center of the kitchen counter so I could read the note.

Dear Simon;

I know you don’t remember me, but you saved my life. It took me some time to think of a way to repay you. I could have given you many things, but everything I thought of seemed unworthy of your kindness. So I gave you the pie. Each piece will grant you one wish. You choose your own rewards. I suggest you eat it with caution though, and be careful what you wish for.

A friend

The note did absolutely nothing to ease my worries.

‘A Friend’? I doubt that claim.

Still, the note offered more than I could have hoped for. It was too good to be true. I tried to think of who I saved.

How could I forget saving someone’s life?

 

My memory is terrible, but that isn’t the kind of thing that I would easily forget. Still, I couldn’t recall doing something heroic. On the other hand, I thought of a few people who might play a nasty little prank on me. My list of friends was short. Then there were coworkers and acquaintances that may feel the need to play a trick on me. Not that I could imagine why…

I half-expected someone to jump out from behind a wall if I ate it. I didn’t notice anything unusual or see any cameras, but it seemed like the kind of setup you would watch on those ‘Funniest’ shows. I don’t like those pranks. Now that it was sitting in my kitchen, I just wanted my pie.

I placed the note on top of the pie and put away the rest of the groceries. Still suspicious, I checked the house to make sure my roommate wasn’t home. Nobody was around.

People don’t just give out wish granting pies.

Even if I did save someone’s life, granted wishes seemed like a disproportionate reward. I couldn’t even recall being that nice to most people. To be honest, I didn’t remember having enough interaction with anyone for something like that to have happened.

But here it is in my kitchen.

Worst case scenario, it was poisoned. I called myself an idiot for considering eating it, but the temptation was too much. I had never even won on a scratch-off lottery ticket, so the thought of a wish, let alone eight of them, pulled me over the edge. I thought hard about all of my past regrets and lost opportunities. I tried to decide how afraid I was to die, and found that the fear decreased by the minute.

If it meant being given anything I wanted, I imagined I could find my courage. Either way, it felt like I was running around in circles. Mentally exhausted and stressed over a pie…

I’m an idiot. It’s a pie.

I put it in the fridge, with a note on it which said Don’t Touch!

I hoped my roommate wouldn’t come back that night.

 

The next morning when my alarm went off, I just unplugged it.

My day off.

After I stared at the ceiling for a while, I dragged myself out of bed and walked to the kitchen. From force of habit, I put on a pot of coffee and started rummaging through the fridge when I saw it.

That damn pie.

I had forgotten about it until now. I wanted to leave it alone. I wanted to throw it away. I even considered letting my roommate eat it and being an onlooker to the aftermath, but I didn’t do any of that. I grabbed a piece of pie, got a cup of coffee and sat down in the living room. I tried to think of something I wanted. I turned out to be way more greedy and materialistic than I thought I was. I settled on something small and insignificant, and I ate my piece of pie. After finishing the last bite, I closed my eyes and made my wish.

I cracked open one eye and glanced down at the coffee table.

Did I just ingest poison?

But my wish came true. There was now a slice of pumpkin pie where the previous piece of magic apple pie had been. With shaky hands, I cut into the new piece of pie with my fork and took a bite. It was real and delicious! The universe opened all doors to me, with an invitation to look at it’s secrets.

Magic is real.

With that realization I had to accept that I saved somebody’s life -- somebody with power far beyond my understanding.

I could not recall anything that tasted so good.

Ambrosia…

Nothing else would ever compare. More importantly than its taste, it worked. My perception of the world would never be the same because of a single piece of pumpkin pie.

Who even thinks of enchanting a pie?

My thoughts ran wild and I contemplated all the fun I could have with this. There were too many possibilities, beyond the farthest reaches of my imagination.

My conscience slapped me back to reality. I was being given unlimited power, for a moment. As much as I wanted to go crazy and dig into the depths of my deepest desires, I had to be responsible and use restraint. Everything I did would be dangerous.

Cause and effect.

I might not like most of the world, but I wasn’t out to hurt them either.

I rained on my own parade, but there were still seven wishes left and I could have anything I wanted. I just had to be careful what I wished for.

What do I want? Money? Power? Fame? Wisdom and intelligence? Love? More stuff?

It was my day off so I had time to think about it. It was still early and my roommate had never come home. I decided to go for a walk.

 

The overcast sky unleashed rain about five minutes into my walk. I hadn’t brought an umbrella, so I went back home.

So much for distance…

Once again, I found myself at the precipice of unlimited power. It was within my reach if only for a moment. I stood so close to it. Almost grazing it with my fingertips, but I couldn’t reach it. I knew I would go back to that pie and when I did I would make another wish then suffer the consequences from it. If I did, I would probably have to use another wish to try and fix whatever problems I caused. It was a limited power, the more I thought about it.

I tried to distract myself. It was futile. I sighed, closed the book I tried to read and sat it down on the coffee table before I headed into the kitchen. I got another piece of pie, sat back down in the living room and started eating it. As soon as I finished the last bite, I wished for the first thing that popped into my mind.

Grant me immortality.

For most people, this would turn out to be a foolish wish but I am not like most people. I was an orphan, so I have no family. There are only two people that I consider my friends and I’m rather anti-social. I could live for six billion years and maybe mourn the loss of eight people. Without a lot of emotional attachment, I could keep moving forward. Being immortal doesn’t make one invincible. Invincibility sounded boring. It takes all the risk out of life. I didn’t want to live that way. I wanted to live as long as I could, so I could embrace those risks. Immortality comes with the potential of a lot more fun.

Most people would probably gorge themselves on the entire pie, immediately. My stomach wouldn’t stand it. I’d already had three pieces of pie and two of them were magical. Technically, the other was created by magic, and there was no way to know how magic would mess with digestion. I needed to do something else.

I tried picking the book back up, but I couldn’t focus on it. I put on a movie and hoped I would have better luck with it. I lit a cigarette and realized it was the first time I thought about smoking all day. I hadn’t even felt the need for one until I sat down with nothing to do. I stared at the cigarette for a moment. A Korean horror movie played in the background as I savored the last draw off that cigarette. I snuffed it in the ashtray and returned to the couch with another piece of pie. My next wish was for a completely clean slate of health.

I didn’t want to simply quit smoking, nor did I just want the nicotine out of my system. I wanted a fresh start, medically speaking. I was immortal after all.

I wondered if it worked so I turned over my right arm and looked down. The scar from when I caught my wrist on the top of a chain link fence was gone. I started checking for other scars and couldn’t find any. I got up and started walking around the house. It was wonderful. No pain. None. I had never felt that great in my entire life. Even the slight queasiness from eating so much pie was gone. Actually, I felt hungry again.

I sat back down on the couch with a third piece of pie, but I hesitated as I had with the first. There was a problem. I was building a foundation to my future, with no design. The more I thought about it, the less I knew what I wanted.

After hopelessly staring at the pie for ten minutes or so, I called one of the only two people I could think of. A friend from college, who never had a problem telling me her honest opinion. Her name was Amy and she was a bubbly, overly energetic, and brutally honest nutcase. Her phone only rang twice before she picked up. “You sound thrilled to be awake,” I said.

“This better be good Simon. Someone better be dead if you’re waking me up on my day off.” I couldn’t help but laugh. I was about to ask one of the most important things I’ve ever asked and she was already annoyed. There weren’t many things that would really bother her, but interrupted slumber was high on the list.

“I know Amy, just listen. This is really important. Are you really awake now? Don’t fall back asleep just yet.” I could hear the rustling of her bed sheets as she struggled to sit up and plastic clicking against her nightstand as she fumbled for her glasses.

“Okay. I’m all ears, but this better be good.”

I took a moment to decide how to phrase it. It was best to be simple and straightforward with her. “Alright. If I were to hypothetically quit my job and start a career, what should I do? Let me be clear, what do you think I should do?”

Obviously, I picked my words poorly, because she started to freak out. “Wait a second. What do you mean? Are you quitting your job? That’s the last…”

I didn’t need to hear all of that right. I needed advice. “Calm down! There’s no need for all that. I haven’t decided on anything yet. If I were going to do something for the rest of my life, what do you think would be the best career for me?” Even though she calmed down, I sensed I had aggravated her even more. At least she was contemplating it. After waiting and agonizing over her silence, she finally told me what she thought.

“Well… I think you should keep looking at the stars. Just like you always have.”

Thinking about it, it was a profoundly simple, yet brilliant suggestion. Amy and I had met in the college’s astronomy club. I usually skated through life, without really caring what happened, but I was always looking at the stars.

I thanked Amy and hung up. It was a fantastic idea, but I wondered how to utilize it.

I could be an astronomer. No, I could do that without a wish. An astrophysicist? No, I’ve got a ridiculously long future ahead of me. I need to think long-term, even if I die tomorrow.

What if I could see them up close? I may not be an astronaut, but I could do that. I could wish for an interstellar spaceship, but that would bring its own set of problems

Then it hit me.

I ate the slice of pie like it was the best thing I ever ate, and made my wish. I wished to know more about science and technology than everyone else in the universe.

If it worked, I would be able to design my own way to the stars -- as long as there were other beings in the universe who could travel outside of their own solar system.

A sudden stab of pain in my head just before everything went black. The brain can only do so much at one time. To not only be adept, but masterful, in every field of science and engineering in a split second was a bad idea. It should have killed me. I wondered if it was going to.

 

It was dark when I woke up. I had no idea how long I had been out, but I was like a teenager with their first hangover. Everything hurt and I could hardly move. Which was worse now that I knew what it felt like to be pain free even if only for a brief but wonderful moment.

I couldn’t move my legs. They were weighed down by something. As my eyes started to adjust, I saw a short figure with glasses hidden behind long, black hair. She could have been right out of a horror movie, but I knew better. Her personality was way too bright and bubbly to scare anyone. Most of the time.

Her smile turned to a frown as she poked me in the chest, a jab right in-between two ribs. “You jerk! You scared me, you know? I rushed over here to make sure you didn’t do anything stupid, only to find you passed out on the couch. I wasted my entire day off, waiting around for you to wake up. I didn’t know if I should call an ambulance, or if you were just taking a nap… Or…” Amy’s breath became ragged as she struggled to hold back her tears, but they came out like a torrential downpour.

I felt so bad. I had never seen her like this. I sat up to hold her, which was really hard since she was sitting on my shins. She leaned into me and cried for several minutes. When she was calm enough to speak intelligibly again, I pulled my legs out from under her and readjusted so I could sit normally.

I asked if she was okay and she told me she was, but I asked again to make sure. I didn’t need to be told it was okay, I needed to know. I apologized and she accepted, but threatened to castrate me if I ever scared her like that again. There was no way for me to tell how serious she was, so it was kind of scary.

She took a moment to simply breathe as she brushed everything off then she changed the subject. “Oh yeah. I ate the rest of the pie in the fridge. I didn’t know when you would wake up and I left my wallet at the apartment when I rushed over here. I should make you treat me to dinner after all this.”

With the throbbing migraine and the hysterical crying, I had momentarily forgotten about the pie. Now I was terrified. There were too many ways Amy could have altered the universe.

I forced myself to calm down and considered my dilemma. I had eaten three pieces and there had been five left. For all I knew, she could have thought about something and it came true. Then again, it may have needed to be phrased as a wish. Looking around me, the only light I could see was coming from the kitchen, but I didn’t see anything weird.

She was now a part of this and I needed to know what I was in for. “Amy… By any chance did you happen to think of anything specific while eating that pie?”

She looked at me like I was some kind of idiot. “Actually, it was so good that after each piece, I wished for more pie exactly like it… Damn, now I kind of want more pie.”

Not what I was expecting…

I had no idea what effects this may have had. It could have unraveled everything that had happened so far, or I could have suddenly become able to get anything I wanted for the rest of my life. It had been a double edged sword so far, but this could turn out interesting either way.

I stood up and scanned the living room for more pies.

“What are you doing?”

I ignored her question and walked into the kitchen. The shift in light blinded me for a second, but as it subsided I saw five pies on the island counter in my kitchen. It was the most glorious thing I had ever seen.

Amy came up behind me. She immediately asked about the pies, knowing that they weren’t there earlier, There was no way I could keep the secret from her. We weren’t good at lying to each other. She narrowed her eyes at me and then shifted her focus to the pies.

I convinced her to sit on the couch, turned on the lights in the living room and came back with two slices of pie.

I told her to close her eyes and make a wish after the last bite. She looked at me like I was crazy, but agreed to do it.

As I took my first bite, I wished for her dreams to not damage the world too much. Amy finished her pie first and as she closed her eyes, I braced myself for impact.

 

Grandpa’s Old Sedan

Dusty Grein

Frost clinging to the trees and grass,

we wandered the old family farm,

stumbling onto the rusted shell

of Grandpa’s old sedan.

 

A memory of days long past,

one time itself could never harm,

now decades past the new-car smell

of Grandpa’s old sedan.

 

There was a time it went quite fast,

now squatting past the old red barn;

history in each line and tell

of Grandpa’s old sedan.

 

As his first love its role was cast,

it watched the old man’s calls-to-arms,

life’s imprint in each metal cell

of Grandpa’s old sedan.

 

It might have been the price of gas,

richer than was the big car’s charm,

that sounded the final death knell

of Grandpa’s old sedan.

 

A remnant that was built to last,

before seat belts and car alarms,

magic still lives within the spell

of Grandpa’s old sedan.

 

Elisa

Mark Mackey

 

Elisa watched a woman dressed from head to foot in black, as she faced a small black coffin. The size fit a child, of either seven or eight. Elisa’s heart wrenched and her eyes prickled. She had never witnessed a funeral in her nineteen year-old’s life, much less an innocent child’s.

“Oh, I hardly think my child’s innocent,” the woman said as she turned.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Elisa whispered as her heart raced and her eyes widened.

“Come have a look.” The woman beckoned her with outstretched bony fingers which seemed to pull her closer with every movement. Elisa walked toward the coffin without wanting to.

I don’t want to see this.

It pulled.

I must see inside.

Elisa jumped. Her heart pounded as a bizarre screech came from inside the coffin. Her eyes focused on the lid as it pushed open with an eerie creak.

Her blood ran cold as the freakish child-like monster slithered from its coffin. Its lobster claw hands grabbed at Elisa while its mermaid-like tail flipped. It had a head that inspired nightmares. This child would have had a normal human head if it had not been smashed flat as a pancake and flipped wildly. The monster raced toward her as it exposed its long, sharp teeth. Elisa shut her eyes tight.

Please, don’t be real.

Elisa reopened her eyes and as they refocused through the hazy, dull green light, she realized she stood in a graveyard. A young girl sat in a rocking chair, blood dripped from the black wood, but the girl’s white dress remained pure. It contrasted against the raven colored hair that concealed her face.

Inches away, a crow perched on a tombstone. The crow’s caw seemed to call her closer to the grave. She tried to make out the markings on the tombstone, but they were unfamiliar.

The girl in white placed the monster-child onto the ground. It raced toward Elisa, teeth bared as it sank them into her ankle.

 

 

The crow landed in the pool of blood at Elisa’s feet, her eyes blurred and she saw the name etched in the stone.

*ELISA*.

 

Move Ahead

Irfan Bhutia Carlile

 

I’m STUCK,

I’m out of ENERGY,

I need to

MOVE AHEAD.

 

I’m TRIPPING,

My grip is SLIPPING,

It’s hard to

MOVE AHEAD.

 

DODGING,

DEFENDING,

I’m trying to

MOVE AHEAD.

 

LOST,

FORSAKEN,

I have to

MOVE AHEAD.

 

I see the CROSSROADS,

I stand on the PRECIPICE,

Its tough to

MOVE AHEAD.

 

RESENTMENTS,

Stir after RESENTMENT,

It urges me to

MOVE AHEAD.

 

APPREHENSION,

DISORIENTATION,

I’m forced to

MOVE AHEAD.

 

Fading MEMORIES,

Muffled CONVERSATIONS,

It’s better we

MOVE AHEAD.

 

Watch the SUNRISE,

ERADICATE negative influences,

Learning to

MOVE AHEAD.

 

MOST of all, I know you’ll not be there,

And I’ll not cross your MIND.

So I’m FOCUSED to

MOVE AHEAD.

 

Gator Tale

Lorah Jaiyn

 

For every fish story, there is always another version. Sometimes you just don’t expect it to be told.

 

“Well see, I don’t normally fish and tell,” the old salty dawg paused in dramatic fashion and took a swig of his beer, “but since y’all are dying to hear ‘bout it…”

A small cheer rose amongst the tourists crowded into The Rusty Anchor, a favorite watering hole located on the boardwalk that ran along the eastern shore of a small lake, known for its bountiful fishing and beautiful camping resorts.

The fisherman’s ruddy cheeks flushed under the attention, and his bloodshot eyes gleamed wickedly as he observed his new fans. He motioned for another beer and began to weave his tale.

“The night was dark and stormy, when that ol’ gator showed by my dock. Ya’see, I live at the end of this here boardwalk and my little dog was out doing her bedtime business, when here comes this gator a’hightailin’ it up from the lake jus’ lookin’ for a night time snack.”

Murmurs arose from the crowd -- "poor dog" and "oh my lawd, what did you do?" The man smiled as he took a long drink from his mug.

“I saws him comin’ up after my lil bit, and I knew I had but a split second to save her.” He paused and looked from table to table with wide eyes. “So with no thought fer my own safety, I done ran down and jumped on that gator, right on his back. We ‘rassled around in that grass, til he turned a death roll and throwed me right off. I grabbed my lil bit and hauled ass up to the house before the gator done figured out I stoled his food.”

A round of applause exploded at the news the dog lived to see another day.

“I reckoned that’d be the last we saw of that ol’ gator, scarin him off as I’d done. I went fishin the next day, taking my jon boat out to catch me a mess of shellcrackers fer dinner. So here I am, my anchor throwed, holdin’ me in place, when what swims right up to me? Yup. That same gator jus’ itchin fer a fight. He was real o’nery that I done stole his snack.”

 

 

A gasp echoed through the room. “What’d you do?” rang a voice from the back.

“I ignored him at first, concentratin’ on my dinner, figurin’ he’d get sick a’hangin’ round. I was really givin’ him a chance to get gone on his own. But then he went and grabbed a fish as I reeled it in. The hook done got caught in his gullet as he swallowed, leaving me with a gator on the end of my pole. Since he made it so easy, I guessed we’d just be havin’ us some gator tail for dinner ‘stead of fish.”

“I pulled that anchor up and trolled my way back. I docked right off this here boardwalk,” he swept his arm through the air, “and hollered at some o’ my mates to help pull it up outta that lake.”

“Did you eat that gator’s tail?” a woman asked with bated breath from the nearest table.

He shook his head, and pouted a lip. “I handed my pole to a nitwit and he pulled too hard. That line snapped easy as a spider web and the gator was a’gittin. I wasn’t ‘bout to let my dinner just swim away so I jumped in that there water and grabbed that big ol’ swamp lizard by the tail.

“Oh for the Love of all the Gods in Heaven, how many times you gonna tell that cockamamie story?”

In unison the crowd turned and stared at a woman as she entered the bar and wove her way to the fisherman. His face flushed a deep red as she approached. “You get too many brewskies in you and that story gets bigger and bigger each time you tell it.”

“Who are you?” someone demanded.

“I’m this yay-hoo’s wife, that’s who I am. When he di’int show up fer dinner, I knew he’d be down here just a’spinnin his tale.”

“A tale? What really happened?” The crowd echoed its agreement with the question.

“I’ll tell y’all what happened. It was a coupla years ago when he took lil bit out before bed. That gator did come up outta the lake jus’ like he says. Then he,” she motioned toward her husband, who rose and inched toward the exit, “started just a’squealin’ like a skeered lil girl. Lawd al’mighty, you ain’t never heard such screeches comin’ from a grown man. He sounded worse’n a wounded pig.”

Snickers erupted around the room. The fisherman pulled his hat lower on his head to block his face as she continued. “The dog got all confuzzled and started barkin’ her fool head off. I don’t know if she was sayins that she wasn’t a snack or if the high-pitched shrieks scared the b’jesus out of her. She took off as I came out of the house to see what the ruckus was all about. I grabbed my broom and shooed that gator right back into the water.”

She paused and took a drink of her husband’s beer. “Mr. “jumped on the gator’s back” here chased after the dog, ran right past this drinkin’ hole, before he tripped over his own two feet and fell straight off the boardwalk into the lake. Knowin’ that gator was close by, I swear the man walked on water as he screamed all over agin. It took me forever to catch the dog and git ‘em both home.”

Laughter erupted, but she motioned for quiet. “As for his boat, why don’t y’all ask him where it is NOW.”

The fisherman froze in his nonchalant shuffle toward the door. All eyes turned on him and he knew his time was up. He bolted for the door and let it bang shut behind him.

“Oh, he went fishin’ alright. And he caught that gator on his pole. What he didn’t tell you was he got so befuddled that he pulled that anchor right up and dropped it in the boat – so hard that it went right THRU the bottom. As it sank, my brave ol’hubby thrashed around so bad that he got hisself tangled in the fishing line before he snapped it all on his own. That ol’ gator was so spooked by the girly screams…”

She finished off his abandoned beer. “….that it hightailed it straight over yonder to that there courthouse to git a restrainin’ order.”

 

-

 

Ritual

Claire Patel-Campbell

 

I’m the only one on the bus when it leaves the station. It’s a weird feeling. Emptiness writ large. It’s getting dark already and there’s a little nip in the air. I shiver. It’s the same every time. Always the dark, always the chill as the season shifts. I could sit anywhere I want, but I choose a seat about midway along with a little step up. It has less legroom than any of its siblings but I like it. I like the feeling of floating above the road. I like the detachment. Like dreaming. Like dying.

It’s early evening – that twilight time between the end of the school day and the end of the working day when there’s no one around. No one on the street. No cars on the road. Just me and the driver. Just me. I always choose this time if I can now. I want the emptiness. What I don’t want is to run the risk of having to speak to anyone I know. The very first time I did this, a year after it happened, I made the mistake of taking the morning bus and ran into two acquaintances inside ten minutes. They both asked me what I was doing, why I wasn’t on my way to work, and I silently cursed this damned incestuous town. I don’t remember what I said to them. Some half-cooked lie. Dentist or something. I never did it again. I don’t want to think. I don’t want anyone else to muscle their way in, to distract me. I only want to feel, to be inside this. To be fully alone.

Just to be.

So I switched. So far, it’s working, or seems to be. The last four times, it’s been like this. It’s been OK. Safe. This journey doesn’t get any easier, of course. It’ll never be normal, no matter how much time passes, no matter how hard I try to pretend. But at least I know I can avoid the scrutiny. I can hide in this strange in-between time and no one ever has to know.

Four times. The realization catches me off-guard. That means five times in total. That means five years.

I brush the thought away. It’s too soon. I still have a few more minutes. I try to think of other things. Real things. I think about the college and my office and the stack of marking that never seems to get any smaller.

I think about the constant stream of young faces that flow in front of me every year. Some of them I remember, some I don’t. Always, the gap between us gets wider. I can’t hide from that, much as I’d like to. It’s not so long since I was one of them, I tell myself. I’m not that far gone. But then I think of the year I matriculated and the year now and it hits me. Thirteen years. That makes it ten years since I graduated – the first time, that is. There was a master’s and a PhD in between, but… God. Tonight is a night for startling realizations, it seems.

The bus jolts and jounces along, passing houses I could paint from memory, and then I let go. I start to think of you. This whole thing is about you, of course. You’re at the heart of this silly little ritual of mine. There’s no getting away from that in the end. But I don’t let you into my thoughts until I have to. I always focus on the journey, on the practical, tangible things first. I count out the exact change I’ll need for my bus fare. I pay. I choose my seat. We set off. Then, if I can’t hold on to that long enough, there’s work. Then when that starts to wear thin, I know it’s time. We pass the street where you used to live. I know it’s coming. I could tell you down to the second how long it takes to get here. But it still catches me, every time. I can’t help it. I’m never ready. I’ll never be ready. All of a sudden, there it is. The house that used to be yours. It’s still yours technically, I suppose, because it was never sold. Even from here, I can see one of the windows is broken. I don’t know whose responsibility it is to fix it now.

That’s when it begins in earnest. With your house. That place that was so much part of you. I remember sitting on the worn woolen rug by your writing table, watching you work. I can picture it exactly. The big bay window, where the light was best. The odd red-and-white textile wall hanging whose provenance you never did explain. I remember the roof tiles you never replaced, the loose floorboards you never fixed. And then there was your room, with the unmade bed and the piles and piles of books. They were everywhere – on chairs, under the bed, in drawers, in the wardrobe, spilling out all over the house. Far too many to fit on your one sad, rickety bookcase. You always claimed to know where every single volume was at any given time, but I never believed you. I never tested you, either, though. I hope you appreciated that at least. It’s part of the ritual now, passing the house. Like a monument to you. Like a gateway.

The anticipation builds all the way up to that moment, almost like excitement. Then I pass through the gateway. I try to start as slowly as I can so that it doesn’t overwhelm me – the little things first. Your hands. Your smile. The way you walked, the way you talked. The way your hair looked in that special dim, dusty light so specific to your office. Your eyes. Your wonderful, warm, wicked eyes. I think of lunches by the river and sneaky cigarettes out the window. I think about the first time you kissed me.

You’d taken me out to this upscale Italian restaurant in town, very dark, very discreet – it’s closed now, I think – and I felt so grown up. Ostensibly, it was a celebration for the completion of my dissertation, but we both knew that was just a pretext. That was the first time I felt like we were a real couple, even though I knew we were hiding. I think about how you grabbed my hand and pulled me into a stairwell so no one would see. I think about the way your lips still tasted a little of the wine we’d been drinking. I think about how alive I felt, how outrageous, how decadent. I think about your bed, the way it felt to be in it for the first time. The way you looked naked – so slight, but so perfect. I smile a private little smile.

Even after months of fantasizing about it, of trying to flirt without flirting, of dancing around each other, it still wasn’t how I imagined it would be. You were gentler than I thought you’d be, more concerned about making sure I didn’t feel pressured. I think I just assumed that because you were older – fifteen years older, in point of fact, but still so young in so many ways – and more experienced, you’d be more commanding. But you were so tender, so patient. I think about that first morning, waking up with you, feeling like I wanted to stay there forever. Then I think of what we were to each other, or rather, what you were to me. It’s funny – I don’t remember if you ever actually said you loved me. You’d tell me you were very fond of me and that I meant a lot to you. But I don’t think you ever said love. I loved you, though. Oh, I did love you.

Suddenly, the bus stops. For a moment, I’m confused, dizzy. It takes a moment before I come back to myself, before I understand. Someone is getting on it. I squint, wishing I’d worn my glasses, and realize I recognize her. Rachel something. She works in admin at the college. Fat, middle-aged, well-meaning, completely oblivious. Shit, I think. Shit. What the fuck are you doing here? We’re still two stops away from where I’ll need to get off, and I’m now cursing myself for choosing this wretched seat. I feel exposed. I feel naked. I squeeze my eyes shut, hoping to be able to ignore her, hoping, like a child, that if I can’t see her, she can’t see me. My heart is starting to race, palms sweating, head pounding. Please don’t look up. Please don’t look up. Please.

I let it go for a few more minutes and then I can’t take it anymore. I have to get off. I have to get out. I can’t breathe. It’ll make the walk almost twice as long as it would otherwise be, but if I stay on the bus, I feel sure I’ll pass out. I half-trip and almost fall in my hurry to get up, feeling my ankle jar painfully underneath me, but I don’t care. I all but run to the front, frantically hitting every bell as I go. I can feel the driver glaring at me, reproaching me, thinking me some awful impatient middle-class bitch, but I don’t even look back. I let him think it. I barely let the doors open before I jump down and I keep running for a few meters even after I’m free. I stop for a second under a street lamp, breathing hard, suddenly feeling ridiculous. I just fled a completely harmless woman, who’d barely pass as an acquaintance, as if she were coming after me with a butcher’s knife. I pause for another moment, calming down, coming back to earth. It’s OK. I can do this.

I take a few wobbly paces forward, getting my bearings. The familiar odor of dog shit and decaying leaves is reassuring. Everything is as it should be. I’m safe. Somewhere, I think you’re probably laughing at me.

As I get closer, I start to think about the way things ended. Five years since you’ve been gone and almost six since we broke up. Broke up. I used to hate that term – it sounded so teenage. But it fits. There was an awful lot of breaking in those last few months. I felt like a ship, dashed on your shore. I was still so young, even by then, still so willfully naive. I was still trying to convince myself your moods and your tempers were part of what made you exciting. It was what attracted me to you in the first place, as a silly little eighteen-year-old, even though it was a good couple of years before you even looked at me. You were so unusual, so mysterious, so brooding. It sounds so foolish now. I had all that education, but absolutely no understanding of the real world. I used to hide at the back of your seminars and imagine the kind of torment that must be roiling inside you. I’d revel in it, imagining I could rescue you. I feel silly even admitting it to myself, but I used to follow you back then. I was just so desperately, stupidly in love with you. I used to try and appear where you weren’t expecting me. To get you to notice me. To get you to see me. I hope you never knew.

I thought I’d hit the jackpot when I landed up as of one your tutees in my final year. I remember at least three or four of my friends were sick with jealousy. For an hour a week, I could have you all to myself. I could make you fall in love with me at last. Everyone had a crush on you, both girls and boys, and I think you probably knew it. I think there were probably others before me, too. The sad poet-genius thing really worked, apparently – certainly worked on me. You were so clever. So very, very clever.

Before we were together, I remember seeing a couple of different girls coming out of your office, flushed and smiling secretly to themselves. I knew what that smile meant and I hated them. It never occurred to me to hate you. Of course, I was different, I told myself. I was the one you kept around. I was special. You told me as much yourself. I was your Erato, you said, although I wonder now whether Melpomene might not have been more apt.

In those early days, in that first flush of infatuation, I thought it was romantic. I’d cast you as this Gothic hero, this sort of tragic Byronic figure, and it took a long time to shake the image. I liked it. I liked the way you’d disappear at a moment’s notice and come back days or even weeks later, without a word, but with an armful of exotic gifts. But in the end, I couldn’t take it. You never told me where you’d been and you never denied it with as much conviction as I’d have liked when I asked if you’d been with anyone else. You could make me feel like the queen of your heart one minute, and then a silly, petulant child the next. I didn’t even have friends to turn to because you never did let me tell anyone about what was going on between us. I was basically living with you, but it didn’t matter. For years, I had to keep up the pretense, keep paying rent on my crappy studio flat. Plausible deniability. The college could never know, even after all that time. I was your dirty little secret.

I gave as good as I got, of course. All that studying wasn’t in vain: Shakespeare really did write the best insults, and I had all of them at my disposal. I’d hurl a few at you, slam a few doors, lock myself in your study. Then I’d wait. You were always penitent, or at least pretended to be. You’d come with your pretty words and I’d forgive you. I’d always forgive you. I wonder if you ever forgave me.

I want you to know I never did say a word. Not even to Steph, my closest friend at the time. She knew something was up, but she could never quite figure out what. She used to say I had this look about me – somewhere between guilty and euphoric. That sounds about right. Sometimes, I wonder if you ever said anything yourself. I wonder if you ever told anyone. I wonder if you told them you loved me, even if you never said it me.

The worst thing I ever said to you was on the last day I ever saw you. I said you’d ruined my life. I said I hated you. I said you were such a fucking cliché in every other regard, I wished you’d just kill yourself like any self-respecting tormented artist, and then we’d both be better off. I think we both knew there was no coming back from that. I left pretty soon afterward and then I never saw you again. I always meant to call, or write, or…something. I really did. But the more time passed, the harder it got, and then, at last, it was too late. I knew, logically, of course, that it wasn’t really my fault. You weren’t well. With hindsight, I can see that clearly now. Still, I think I’ll always blame myself.

 

 

I’m at the church now. I always go in first, sit in a pew for a minute or two, warm up. Steel myself. I always say a little prayer for you, too. You’d think that was silly, of course. Bloody papist, you’d say. But it helps – and if, by some chance, it helps you, too, then so much the better. Then I go out into the churchyard and I find you.

I don’t need a light. I know where you are. I sit down in the grass, cross-legged, and take the candle out of my bag. I brush any detritus away from your inscription, and then I stand it next to the remains of the last one and light it with the Zippo I stole from you. It’s engraved with your initials, or rather, it was. They’ve almost worn away now, through age and repeated visits from sad, lonely fingertips. Then I take a nip from the flask you gave me. I’ll drink to you and I’ll sit here until the candle burns down, until I’m frozen stiff, until I can bear to get up. Every year on this day, it will be exactly the same.

That will be my penance.

That will be the piece of me that will always belongs to you.

 

The Cutting Edge

Mandy Melanson

Torn asunder by selfishness and greed,

humanity could have never foreseen

the effects, so their cause they could not plead.

Immortality they wanted to glean,

never knowing what their pursuit would mean.

Joyfully withering before their time

by the hands of their creation – machines

intended to protect all of mankind.

Lost deep inside the sordid pantomime,

their own creations bring them their demise.

Push, pull and shove along the rapid climb

leading to their souls being compromised.

A broken pile; shards left in defeat.

Insatiable hunger, never replete.

 

If Only

Heather Grein

 

If only…    the question that we face
in our time of sorrow,
so much life now gone
with no time to borrow

 

If only…    the hollow words replay
throughout our every thought
no child should pass and leave us
in this hell where we’re now caught

 

If only…    the wretched emptiness
could just be filled
and we could once again begin
the life we started to build

 

If only…    we could move on
from the brutal pain
for caught in this darkness
we are no longer sane

 

If only…    two little words
with such deep meaning now
our child has passed
and left us questioning how

 

If only…    such pain and sorrow
did not have to exist
and we didn’t have to deal
with the tears we now resist

 

If only…    there was a way to go back
and change the past
for now we bear this burden
and wear this child-loss mask

      

If only…    the world knew
what we deal with every day
or there were words enough
to make it all ok

 

If only…    we knew how to move on
with a simple real smile
without the fear that tragedy
will strike again at any given mile

 

If only…    the words that echo in our hearts
each and every single day
as we pull ourselves together
and we try to find our way

 

If only…    we didn’t have to carry this heavy
feeling of loneliness and sudden tears
and had the strength to live each day
without the constant worry and the fears

 

If only…

 

The Jakan

Dave Alexander

 

“It’s still there?” Karal hid deep inside the cave.

“Yes. Hasn’t moved in three hours.” Torin kept his eyes on the entrance. The Jakan hovered in the distance, its blasphemies whispered to any who would listen. A good quarter-hour passed with only wisps of the noise in the air.

“Karal.” Torin watched him move toward the entrance, “don’t get too close.”

Too late. The enraptured herder ambled out of their sanctuary to join the rest of the Thralls gathered underneath the Jakan. They would stand there until they died of thirst, or sunstroke, all listening to the soft madness as it echoed through their bones.

Torin heard it once. Fortunately, his bike had good balance and the same intolerance as his mind for the litany of temptations. The bike sped on, taking him out of range.

The withdrawal—painful, the first time. He only heard about two others who broke free of its hold. The sweats, sickness, shakes, and the nightmares—things no-one should see. Karal marched towards the Jakan. The floating sphere claiming yet another victim.

Something snapped in Torin’s mind, the frown across his brow was all business. “Not today!”

In one smooth motion he donned his goggles, launched himself into the seat of the oversized wheel and gunned the engine. The trailer rattled its usual protest at the rough terrain as the mechanical beast thundered towards the Jakan.

Torin locked the bars and leaned out of the side. He grabbed Karal and hauled the enraptured herder inside the product of his unholy engineering, built for one. He looked at the herder sprawled across his lap, “Confused? Understandable.”

The whisper was deafening. It tried to overtake his mind as they shot underneath the brilliant orb. Torin struggled to hold on to his senses, to his sanity. Another herder within arms reach. Torin seized the thrall, yanking the body across Karal. Under lighter circumstances, I might be amused at the sight of us crammed in here.

Torin slammed his foot to the floor while he still had his mind. The Wheel took off as the engine roared at the chance to go faster.

Pitch black, and the whispered remains of the Jakan’s obscenities.

It only took about two miles to see a glimmer of light peek around the edge of the darkness. The engine sounded miserable as it spooled down, bringing the contraption and the pile of refugees to a halt. Torin threw his passengers to the side once they regained their senses. The frown still across his brow.

“Karal, you stay right here. Look after this… Lady?”

The shape under her robe was unmistakably female, it clung in ways not usually seen this far into herding country. But there was no time to appreciate such a stroke of luck. Torin slapped Karal’s attention back to him. “Understand me, Karal?”

“Yes… Look after your Lady. I well understand your right of claim. Where are you going?”

“There are five more people alive under that Jakan. I’m going to get them.”

“You’re WHAT?”

“You heard me, I’m going to get them.”

“Torin, you’re both lucky to be alive and to have a woman.”

“They’re people and they deserve to live. Just like you. Just like her.” Torin didn’t hear what was shouted as the engine screamed back to life.

Two down. Five to go.

 

The Meltdown

Alexander and Melanson

(a Mindweaver story)

Ethaniel’s color fades as he realizes I don’t wield the power – I am the power. Maybe now he will regret using me as his lab rat.

The effects of my hatred destroy the place I once called home. A rush surges through my body as the fire rises.

I want more.

Ethaniel is pinned against the tree by nothing but my will. All I have to do is channel a portion of my energy in his direction and I will finally see him cave.

I want him to break. I want vengeance.

Vincent’s screams try to break through my singular focus. I can’t make out his words. Both of his hands are extended, his eyes look desperate.

Since when does Vincent plead Ethaniel’s case? He led me straight to the Devil’s lair. There is no room for question here. Guilt will not taint this moment for me. Our entire project was based on identification of the source, extraction, and neutralization. I’m sticking to the objective. His stubborn pursuit of technology is what got us here in the first place. I warned him. Maybe, I should show him exactly what he’s done. What he made. His fragile ego can’t handle it. I used to care. But I don’t know that version of myself anymore. My innocence is long gone – because of him.

Ethaniel struggles to get free. His skin boils and blisters from the radiation as I step closer. “Tell me, Daddy, where did you hide the rest of them?”

He tries, but words fail him. Ethaniel gasps for his next breath. I love being the one to bring him to his knees. He begs for me to release him as flames crackle around me. His realization of the scope of my strength is reflected in his eyes.

“Only a fraction of the power is being unleashed through the orb. What do you imagine I could do with all of it? You know, I understand why you became obsessed with harnessing them all.” I revel a moment in the thought of the artifacts together. The possibilities under their unadulterated intensity feeds the monster I have become. I crave more.

Vincent steps closer. He wants to interfere, again. A thrust of my arm in his direction and he slides into the parked cars lined up against the curb. The car door buckles under the impact. I hear the crack of his spine and the air leave his lungs with an involuntary ‘Oomph’. He winces as he tries to stand. He decides to crawl instead. He thinks I have lost control, I can see it in his eyes. I haven’t. I gain power by the second. I see him mouth the words, but I can’t stop. I don’t want to stop. I turn my attention back to my father,

Ethaniel.

“I will take them one way, or another. You can tell me, or I will use your blood to find them. You decide. Now.” I look directly into Ethaniel’s eyes. There is no fear anymore, at least not from me. I see him swallow hard as he considers his lack of options. His creation exceeds his expectations. The flames grow. There is no escape left for him. He lifts his arm in front of me. I brace myself. Instead of his typical brand of deceit, he turns his wrist to show me a clear view of his timepiece. The dial glows to reveal a map.

“There,” he says before he slumps over on the ground. I rip the watch off the croaking obscenity’s arm.

“Burn.” The words lost inside the open sore that was once his ear. I watch Ethaniel’s muscles liquefy and add the mess at my feet that I once knew as my nemesis. I look at the watch, its pull is strong.

“Rose, no!” Vincent yells from the jumbled heap I left him in at the curb. His face covered by the suit he wears to protect himself from sharing Ethaniel’s fate.

“I almost hope that Demron protects you.” I slide the band on my arm and feel the power overtake me. It surges through my body and lifts me so that Earth is beneath my feet. I can’t make out Vincent anymore. Everything is red.

Life burned.

People burned.

Concrete burned.

The slate was wiped clean.

Rose fell to the ground in a heap.

“I will fix this,” Vincent mumbled before his vision went black.

In Memoria

[
__]

In honor of our fellow authors, artists

and poets, In each issue, we celebrate

the life and work of a deserving individual.

Thank you for the legacy you have left us.

Launa Janousek

(08/08/40 ~ 11/15/11)

 

Launa Janousek was born Launa Yeager. She grew up in the little town of Longbranch, on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula.

She had many trials and tribulations throughout her life, yet somehow she would always put others first. Her writing reflects her spirit and dedication to others. This was not written for the masses, but her family feels it speaks to us all, and deserves to be shared. Their hope is that it touches you as profoundly as it has all of them.

 

The Seasons of Our Lives

Launa Janousek

Spring is a time of rebirth and renewal. In the spring, seeds can be planted in the rich earth that has been melted from its icy winter hardness into a receptive and fertile field. In the spring, we feel the surge of new life, the urge perhaps, to begin new projects and relationships, or to see the old ones in new light. After the long, dark, cold winter, we feel the hope and promise of warmer days, as the earth readies itself for the celebration of summer and the coming to fruition of all that has been carefully and lovingly sown.

Summer is a time of ripening, of coming to fruition. All the energies of the universe now favor abundance. The days are long and warm, the nights rich with all the fragrances of the earth. The seed that was planted in the spring comes to term in the summer; the heat of the sun alternates with the softness of the rain to bring the earth to its apex of fulfillment. Summer is also the time of relaxation and appreciation; it is the traditional vacation season, when we put aside our duties and cares to make room for rest and rejuvenation. At the end of the summer, we taste the satisfaction of the fruits of our labors, as what we have put our energy and faith into can now be realized.

Autumn is the season of harvest. As such, it is tinged with a bittersweet quality, for it involves both maturity and decline. Traditionally, harvest time is a time of gathering of both crops and people, all come together in joy and goodwill to help one another pick the fruits of the earth and share in the bounty. But even as we rejoice in the gifts and beauty of fall, we are aware that the glorious colors of the changing leaves have already begun to fade. The dusk is coming sooner, the air growing colder. So autumn contains both joy and urgency as we harvest and we store, making the necessary preparations that will give us sustenance during the long winter nights ahead.

Winter is the season of reflection and challenge. In the rhythm of natural cycles, it corresponds to that part of us that must conserve our resources, draw inward, and allow ideas and situations to hibernate and awaken in their own time. Winter is a time of opposing forces that teach us beauty through harshness. The cold both chills and invigorates us. The snow and ice can be fierce in their fury or breathtaking in their pristine purity. The long hours of darkness make us yearn for the day, while appreciating the stillness of the night, the warmth of the evening fire. Through winter we learn the art of patience and the joy of discovering new inner strengths, as we wait for new growth to emerge.

As human beings, we need to stop and look at the trees through the seasons of our lives. Trees are magical and spiritual symbols. The tree of life and the tree of knowledge are bridges between heaven and earth with the branches reaching high to the heavens and the roots traveling deep within the earth. Without trees, life on earth would be barren and uninhabitable. Trees filter our air; the roots secure the topsoil we grow our food in; we use trees to build our homes; trees to shade us from the hot sun and provide windbreaks; we burn trees for fuel to cook with and keep us warm, and many foods, medicines and countless other useful items that we take for granted come from trees. Do you remember, or have you ever noticed how you or other children are naturally drawn to play in or around trees?

Trees have guardian spirits, and we can learn many things from sitting quietly near a tree and communicating with its energy. Find a tree that you enjoy, stand back so that it is in full view and take your eyes to the top of the tree, admiring the space where heaven meets earth. Then look at the details of the tree, the beauty of its branches, the strength of its roots. Trees can teach us about strength, dignity, peace and giving.

There is a season for us all, for the time to go. Death comes not in terror but in gentleness, and always on time. Death is a part of the natural process and everything has its allotted time on earth. If you have faced the loss of someone dear to you, imagine this was or is that person’s time to go. It is the right time, the perfect time. The best way to send your loved one on is to release them in peace and total trust to the expertise of the angels.

 

Accept the timing of the universe in death as well as in life.

 

To The Readers

Dave Alexander

 

Congratulations! You made it to the end of our inaugural edition, showcasing some of the best new writers and undiscovered talent. We’ve had a blast creating this volume for your enjoyment.

There’s a mystique about getting published. It seems like some kind of unscalable mountain, and more than one of our Authors Askew have, in these pages, reached this pinnacle for the first time.

We’d like to extend that offer to you.

Whether you’re a Poet, Scrivener, Artist or Flash Writer, there’s a home for you at Rhetoric Askew.

Somewhere the editing staff works with the writer instead of summarily dismissing your work.

Somewhere the slush pile isn’t a black hole where a manuscript will languish eternally.

Somewhere you can learn, where your art will be appreciated, and where you can be walked through the process of being published.

These authors did it… you can too!

We believe in you. You can, and will, succeed!

And always remember:

Whatever you do, do it to your own beat.

Come visit us online, at www.rhetoricaskew.com

Contributors

Authors, Artists and Poets Askew

 

Michael Arneson was born on the Oregon coast, and raised in southern Oregon. He has served in the Navy, worked in the construction industry, been a graphic designer and taught art and design. Along the way he managed to raise three kids, travel to some wonderful and other horrible places. In his youth he fell in love with the fantasy works of authors like Tolkien and Lewis, and expanded later with the likes of Jordan, Salvatore, Brooks. Sci-fi greats like Asimov, Niven, and Pournelle as well as authors like King and Koontz bear influences in his work. His first novel, Journey Begins, grew from a short story written for his daughter and was first published by Amazon in 2015. Michael currently lives with his wife, Kris in Virginia Beach, with their three dogs; Smokie, Ollie and Jethro.

http://www.Shakespir.com/profile/view/MichaelArneson
http://www.facebook.com/MichaelArnesonBooks/

William Capp started honing his skills at an early age. He would work on alternate endings to movies and imagine how DC characters from comics might face off with Marvel Characters. He was encouraged by teachers and professors throughout his education days. The head of the English department paid for him to take a class to edit the annual college magazine which involved teacher and student submissions. He received the Golden Poetry award in 1977. He has managed to collect rejection slips containing little notes such as “Wish we could have used your story.” He has written about 200 songs and song fragments. He is now retired and working on a few novels and revisiting old material.

http://www.facebook.com/william.capp

Irfan Bhutia Carlile is an ardent reader and lover of words. His major influence in writing came from meeting fellow writers, who are now his friends, through the Facebook groups Rhetoric Askew and Elements of Genre Writing. With their encouragement he explored his own creative gift with poetry and flash fiction. He lives with his family which includes a little fur baby in the hills of Kalimpong, India. Writing to him is a cathartic process which gives him the kind of joy and contentment he believes he could never find in any worldly pleasures. Besides writing he is a lover of music. Irfan says that a song is just a poem supported by music.

http://www.facebook.com/ibhutia

Audine Grein is a retired mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. In early 2017, with the addition of great-grandbaby number thirteen, her family tree’s branches will number twenty-seven. She has always loved reading and writing, and notes with pride that she has passed this passion on to her children and grandchildren. In her off time, which is most of it these days, she loves puzzles, word games and the occasional trip to sing karaoke. The short stories she is now sharing with the world were originally written for her children, and her new novel is dedicated to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

http://www.facebook.com/audine.grein

Jazzmyn Grein is a high school student who is taking concurrent college courses, and will graduate in a couple years with most, if not all, the credits she will need for an Associates degree. She enjoys reading, writing and spending time with her cat, her dog and her boyfriend – but not necessarily in that order. She, along with her older sister, represent the third generation of Grein family members who are now Authors Askew. Unlike her father though, she has plans OTHER than becoming a novelist.

Heather Grein is a homemaker and mother of five children. She has two girls and three boys, the oldest of which watches over his family from Heaven. He grew his wings at three months of age, and since his passing, Heather has devoted a lot of her writing talent to the expression of grief and the healing of pain, through poetry. She is a beacon of hope for other families who have suffered this most devastating of tragedies, when she’s not taking care of kids, dogs, and a busy household.

http://www.facebook.com/eddysmommy4life

Brent A. Harris recently graduated from college and is still trying to find uses for his old text-books. Some of them have made for good booster seats at the supper-table for his two kids, who he is attempting to raise at home while his wife saves the world daily as part of the US Navy. When not changing diapers or finding creative uses for school-books, he can be found writing alternate history and science fiction short stories on his mac-n-cheese encrusted keyboard (thanks, kids!) for Inklings Press. His novel, A Time of Need, an alternate history of the American Revolution, debuts Fall 2017 via Insomnia Publishing.

http://www.facebook.com/authorbrentaharris

http://twitter.com/BrentAHarris1

Lorah Jaiyn started to focus on her writing career after developing a nasty case of empty nest syndrome. Her flash fiction and short stories have appeared in various publications, and she has several novels in the works that span different genres, each blended with a romantic element. She spends her days behind a desk, and writes in the evenings while entertained by her muse and greatest distraction, her Jack Russell terrier. She enjoys hiking and exploring the great outdoors, being a mom and Gramma, and is a total Hallmark Channel addict.

http://www.facebook.com/lorahjaiyn.

Josh James is a musician, artist, writer and self-proclaimed Jack-of-all-trades. He has been an actor, a grip, a landscaper, retail clerk, farm hand, and a seasonal haunted attraction attendant, just to name a few of his many talents. Josh considers himself a strange individual, who has done many things in his short life. Born and raised in Norfolk, Virginia, he maintains a love/hate relationship with the place, and will tell anyone who asks exactly what he thinks about it.

http://www.facebook.com/josh.james.12764

Mark Mackey started writing screenplays while living in Chicago. He has won screenplay awards for his short screenplay Horror in the Woods and his feature-length screenplay A Tale of Two Girls. He has short stories published in charity anthologies, and is a former author for Pure Ice Publishing and Titan Inkorp Publishing.

https://www.facebook.com/mark.mackey.127

Eric S. Martell has a doctorate in experimental Psychology. He says that the primary benefit of his graduate degrees is that he learned to learn. The author of several books and a longtime student of the spiritual, he holds a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, is a licensed Heart Math™ provider, and has been trained as a Quantum Energy Healer and medical intuitive. Eric also plays the electric guitar. His taste in music runs the gamut from country through Reggae and Rock to Jazz and New Age.

http://DeclanDunham.com
http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B0080GU8U8

Leo McBride is an author of speculative fiction ranging from fantasy to sci-fi, horror to alternative history. He has been published in a number of anthologies, including several from Inklings Press, such as the Top 20 sci-fi anthology Tales From Alternate Earths. He has also been featured in the Blue Moon Season anthology from Starklight Press and in Norman Turrell’s Points of Possibility collection, which reached number one in the UK in its category. He has self-published a short story collection, Quartet, and is busily working on his debut novel.

http://www.alteredinstinct.com
http://twitter.com/alteredinstinct

Diane Nebelung was abused as a young child and labeled by the state as being mentally retarded. She was deemed unteachable. Diane failed first grade. At age nine, a pastor and his wife adopted her and changed her life for the better. She finally felt love and peace. Today, Diane writes to be a voice for abused children. She wants to inspire and remind her readers that there is always hope. Diane lives in Michigan and has been happily married for 10 years. She is the mother to a beautiful six year old daughter and considers herself blessed to be on this journey.

http://www.facebook.com/groups/genrewriting/

Stacy Overby works as a substance abuse counselor for teenage boys by day, and as an author by night. Her day job provides inspiration for many of her stories, including her short stories “The Trial of Summer” and “Karma Incarnate” released in 2016. She has several pieces featured in the Fall 2016 edition of OWS Inked, an up and coming literary journal. When not at work or writing, she can be found playing with her son, hiking, camping, or involved in other outdoor activities – if it is not too cold.

http://thisisnothithchikersguide.wordpress.com

Claire Patel-Campbell is a writer, journalist and blogger, based in the north of England. She is working towards the publication of her debut novel, Abernathy, through crowdfunded press Unbound.

http://unbound.co.uk/books/abernathy

PJ Port writes “Omelet Fiction”-- her term for speculative/fantasy musings, and love stories, that don't quite fit established genres. She has taught Algebra and Reiki, rubbed oil on naked people for money (legally), and changed diapers on babes and grannies. Strung tobacco, served burgers/pizza, pressed pants in a factory, and played piano in church. She is a Southern USA gal and Interfaith Minister who favors religious tolerance/respect, LGBTQ rights, and legalization of cannabis. And she reads. A lot. But mostly, she is a writer and gramma with a hankering for Happy Endings.

http://www.pjport.com

Cristina Santana studies media arts and lives in Bronx, New York. Cristina owns her own graphic design company. You can reach her on Facebook.

https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100005734574513

Cindy Tomamichel is a writer of action adventure romance novels, spanning time travel, sci-fi, fantasy and paranormal genres. Her great grandfather crossed the world seeking new adventures in Australia. Cindy has carried on that tradition, working as a geologist in remote areas where she was the first woman to work underground. Later, she continued working as an environmental scientist, focusing on cleaning up pollution. She has travelled around Australia, explored the South Pacific, the USA and South America. Cindy’s recent published work includes winning a fractured fairy tale competition with a twist on the Rapunzel story. Madwomen Monologues has presented two of her monologues on stage. Cindy is happiest when writing, accompanied by the sound of a cat purring. Her book, Druid’s Portal: The First Journey will be out with Soul Mate Publishing in 2017.

http://www.cindytomamichel.com
http://www.facebook.com/CindyTomamichelAuthor

Wim Verveen started his career in biology before he became an IT professional. He is a Consultant and Director at Ormer ICT. He has written many articles for magazines on IT related subjects. He likes to write stories focusing on social interaction, while trying to find new and surprising angles to current themes. Wim lives in the Netherlands.

http://www.facebook.com/KarelEnDeElementen
http://www.amazon.com/Indexed-social-media-Wim-Verveen/dp/1511727977

Terri VonFeldt is a fourth generation Colorado native who loves exploring her boundless backyard. Her loving husband, four kids and twelve grandkids enjoy her passion for music, art and writing. Through the years she’s enjoyed writing a bi-weekly article for the local newspaper, teaching Art at a private school and coaching developed classes in Tole painting and woodworking. One of her favorite hobbies is visiting the green grass atop her family plots and reading aloud the rich poetry of the romantics.

https://www.facebook.com/terri.vonfeldt

The Staff

Team Askew

Mandy Melanson is a single, stay-at-home mother of 3 home-schooled children who are the loves of her life. Mandy’s passion for the written word began with the bedtime stories her mother would read to her. She has been a writer since the age of 7, when she wrote her first short story “Jane the Tiger.” It was written in crayon and on construction paper, but that was the moment she knew what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. Her love for fictional worlds has traveled with her throughout her life. Mandy is the founder of Rhetoric Askew, which she considers an honor to operate with her closest friends and allies in this business, whom she deeply respects for their skill and dedication to the craft of writing. Mandy has published her first chapbook, The Mind of the Muse, which is available on Amazon. Her work can also be found in the Our Write Side Anthology. She is currently working on two full length manuscripts due out in 2017. In the meantime, she posts her flash fiction and poetry in the Facebook writing groups RhetoricAskew and Elements of Genre Writing.

http://www.rhetoricaskew.com
http://www.facebook.com/groups/551246565025153/

Dave Alexander is the Creative Development Coach, Concept Engineer, and Co-founder of Rhetoric Askew. Tired of fighting the uphill battle most authors and artists face, he wanted to make a difference in the writing community. That defining moment was not long before he met Mandy, and Dusty. They found that they shared disdain for the way authors are often looked at by the non-writing community not to mention the way author’s stories are often treated within the writing community. They embarked on a mission to change the world of creative writing and Rhetoric Askew was born. Says Dave “I’ve had I don’t know how many jobs and false starts at careers, but writing has always been there. What makes me frustrated is the lack of support I’ve had for it. It’s amazing what a little support will do. I promise.” Dave’s promise is that “no one will be left unpublished” if they commit to becoming an Author Askew.

http://www.rhetoricaskew.com
http://unholy1.com

Dusty Grein is a contributing editor at Rhetoric Askew, an author, a poet and a graphics designer. Originally from Federal Way, Washington, he currently lives in the Pacific Northwest where his 15 year old daughter and a dog named Naked are working together to keep him in line. His critically acclaimed novel, The Sleeping Giant, is available in print and as a Kindle Select title. His shorter works and poetry have been published in several collections, including Chicken Soup for the Soul, OWS Inked and The Quarterday Review. An award winning poet, he is a contributing member of The Society of Classical Poets, and a part of their Advisory Board. His how-to essays on crafting classical poetry have appeared both online and in two of their annual collections. His blog, From Grandpa’s Heart… is followed by fans around the world.

http://www.rhetoricaskew.com
http://dustygrein.wixsite.com/author
http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00W36LH6U

Kris Dugger-Foley is a self-published author who specializes in contemporary romance which she calls realistic love stories. She says that it is “the ride that gets you to the love story that will leave you with a lovely reader’s hangover. You know, the one that pain pills can’t touch and only a sequel can cure.” She is busy working on the sequel to her first published book, Damaged. As an administrator of the Rhetoric Askew Facebook group, Kris says she is proud to see the talent of Askewians come to life through the Anthology. “I remember when Mandy and Dave approached me about starting this Facebook group. At first we, we wanted to create a group that focused on positive, motivating feedback. And this group has exceeded that. I can’t wait to see what is next.”

https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100012913900534

Wade Garret is the youngest, and only boy, of three children. The Gray Jedi is 35, and was born in NY, but raised in the Southern United States. He’s married to a wonderful woman, has a beautiful daughter with another on the way, and he has a convict for a dog. When not reading, writing or occasionally drinking at the pub, he can usually be found researching the latest Fantasy/SciFi/Comics or in the chair of his favorite tattoo shop. Genesis is only the beginning of Mr. Garret’s epic Kingdom Come Series. As a Facebook administrator of Rhetoric Askew, Wade focuses on helping authors further develop their creative skills.

http://wjgarret.blogspot.com
https://www.facebook.com/wadejgarret
http://www.twitter.com/wadejgarret
https://www.amazon.com/Genesis-Book-One-Kingdom-Come/dp/0988659093

Emma T. Gitani is a Nonna-grandmother, living in South Florida. She began her literary career as a technical writer and editor. Later, systems testing fulfilled her desire to break things. Emma has settled down to write children’s and young adult fiction. She edits for the Rhetoric Askew Quarterly, and freelances. She received her first publishing credit in Tales From Our Write Side. In her not-so-spare time she works as an admin for several online writing groups.

http://www.facebook.com/EmmaGitani

Talitha Roque is a writer based in Vermont. When she isn’t soaring through her imagination on the back of her dragon, she is usually involved in some real life adventure. Those adventures usually involve one of her five children, cooking, or traveling. Though poetry and children’s literature are her true loves, she has also dabbled in fantasy and science fiction. Whether giving voice to emotions or helping a child discover ways to embrace and love their imagination and who they are, Talitha does it with a unique sense of ease, wonder, and imagination. As an administrator of the Rhetoric Askew Facebook group she seeks to support others and inspire them to explore their creativity and talent.

http://www.facebook.com/talitha.roque

 


Anthology Askew - a Collective Perspective

Anthology Askew - a Collective Perspective Volume 1 showcases some of the finest poetry, flash fiction, short stories, and artwork from the members of Rhetoric Askew where members are encouraged to "write to (their) own beat". Inside you will find a varied collection that can be devoured in one sitting or taken in bite-sized morsels to savor the content within. www.rhetoricaskew.com

  • ISBN: 9781370401062
  • Author: Rhetoric Askew
  • Published: 2016-12-31 00:35:31
  • Words: 52301
Anthology Askew - a Collective Perspective Anthology Askew - a Collective Perspective