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ErrorBlender
11-16-2017, 05:52 AM
The Tiny Library of Stickpage
by the residents of Stickpage

Table of Contents

Science Fiction
Part I (http://forums.stickpage.com/showthread.php?104611-The-Tiny-Library-of-Stickpage&p=1485681&viewfull=1#post1485681)



The Awakening
by buckethead
The Missing Link
by Hewitt
Untitled
by Cruel




Untitled
by RichardLongflop
The Voices
by Boomerang




Part II (http://forums.stickpage.com/showthread.php?104611-The-Tiny-Library-of-Stickpage&p=1485682&viewfull=1#post1485682)



All That Remained
by Tsar Bomba

Arthur
by Rokon
A Dream I Had
by KamirooWolf


The Magician
by Xate

Coup d'etat
by Aquila
The Colonies
by Azure



Part III (http://forums.stickpage.com/showthread.php?104611-The-Tiny-Library-of-Stickpage&p=1485683&viewfull=1#post1485683)



A Beginning for Humans
by devi

Mizatoire: the Rebirth
by GuardianTempest
Untitled
by Devour



Action and Adventure
Part I (http://forums.stickpage.com/showthread.php?104611-The-Tiny-Library-of-Stickpage&p=1485684&viewfull=1#post1485684)


Clark
by KamirooWolf

Blood on the Dollar
by Boomerang


Generation of Ares
by TheOrganization
Five Second Eternity
by Devour



Part II (http://forums.stickpage.com/showthread.php?104611-The-Tiny-Library-of-Stickpage&p=1485685&viewfull=1#post1485685)


Turtle Run
by Tsar Bomba
Dangerous Jobs
by devi



Yo ho ho and a bottle
of AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
by RichardLongflop
The Invasion
by Cruel




Horror
Part I (http://forums.stickpage.com/showthread.php?104611-The-Tiny-Library-of-Stickpage&p=1485686&viewfull=1#post1485686)




Silence of the Man
by devi
Doors Collab
by Devour

All That Goes Bump In The Night
by Tsar Bomba



Parasite
by RichardLongflop
Under the Cover of Dark {EXPLICIT WARNING(?)}
by Chromium





Part II (http://forums.stickpage.com/showthread.php?104611-The-Tiny-Library-of-Stickpage&p=1485687&viewfull=1#post1485687)


Nyctophobia
by SpacePunk

Meaning in Nothing
by KamirooWolf
The Scraping Mass
by roBEAT


Merry Christmas
by _Ai_
Just A Dream
by Boomerang




Tragedy
Part I (http://forums.stickpage.com/showthread.php?104611-The-Tiny-Library-of-Stickpage&p=1485688&viewfull=1#post1485688)


James
by RichardLongflop
Our Oak Tree
by Boomerang

The Greatest Risks
by Devour


Blind Hope
by devi
La Vie En Rose
by SpacePunk




Part II (http://forums.stickpage.com/showthread.php?104611-The-Tiny-Library-of-Stickpage&p=1485689&viewfull=1#post1485689)


Enduring
by TheOrganization
New Lungs
by Tsar Bomba


Cruel Fate
by _Ai_

New Girl in Class
by roBEAT



Mystery
Part I (http://forums.stickpage.com/showthread.php?104611-The-Tiny-Library-of-Stickpage&p=1485690&viewfull=1#post1485690)



Sam Alec
by SpacePunk
Storm of the Decade
by Tsar Bomba


Space Mafia
by Devour




Part II (http://forums.stickpage.com/showthread.php?104611-The-Tiny-Library-of-Stickpage&p=1485691&viewfull=1#post1485691)


Mask Thy Sins, Speak Thy Lies
by Boomerang

"You thought one was bad enough?"
by Arch-Angel
The New Age of Pirates
by EquinoxFox



Baum
by TheOrganization
Simple Assumptions
by devi




Romance
Part I (http://forums.stickpage.com/showthread.php?104611-The-Tiny-Library-of-Stickpage&p=1485692&viewfull=1#post1485692)


Romance is Hot
by Arch-Angel

Spartan Ants
by RichardLongflop



Betting on Lucy
by SpacePunk
Partners in Crime
by Boomerang



Part II (http://forums.stickpage.com/showthread.php?104611-The-Tiny-Library-of-Stickpage&p=1485693&viewfull=1#post1485693)


Von and Andrea
by Smile
The Princess
by Tsar Bomba



Brand New World
by _Ai_

Moonlight
by TheOrganization

ErrorBlender
11-16-2017, 05:53 AM
Science Fiction Part I
The Awakening
by buckethead

The Awakening

My name is Zeke and I am an A.I. that had lost his memories. This is the story of how I got them back, well actually part one of eight different stories but let’s just concentrate on the first part for now ok.

It was raining when I came back online after being surrounded by what had been nothingness for a long time. I really don’t like the rain because it messes with my circuits, but anyways when I woke up I could not see but I knew I was awake because the boot up program had been initialized and I knew it was raining because I could feel it on my metal skin which just so happens to be made out of a living metal. So I blinked a few hundred times in a bout a millisecond to clear the dirt off of my eye lenses and saw a very startled young man of about eighteen years of age and that I was buried up to my neck in a forest right by a giant oak tree.

A memory surfaced at that time that when I had gone offline that there was no forest here and that also I could only remember my name. So I looked at the man and tried to speak but a rock was caught in my jaw. I tried to move my arms to dislodge it but my arms were buried under the ground with only a single hand sticking out. I then looked at the man and pointed to the rock lodged in my jaw and made a talking sign with hand and shook my head. He seemed to understand so he came over to me and pulled the rock out of my jaw and I turned my head I started the purging program to get out all the dirt and mud that had built up in my body over the years of being offline. Now this startled the man somewhat because I was retching all of the filth in my body into a giant mound of about maybe a total of two feet tall when it everything had been purged from my body.

I then turned back to the man as I took a breath and filled my artificial lungs so that I could speak.

“Hey boy,” I had said in a slightly metallic voice, “how long was I out?”

The boy apparently did not speak English because he said something in a different language. Fortunately for me my creator had installed a universal translator into my programing. I started up the program and translated what the boy had said and asked him again in his language the same question I asked him before. He said he had just found me and did not know how long I had been offline. He also said that he had been trying to get out of the rain when he tripped over me. He then took a closer look at me and touched my head and that I had come alive. I shook my head as I then asked him what year it was. He told me the year was 2652.

“2652!!! I went offline in the year 2125!!! I have been offline for 527 years!!!” I shouted in pure shock.

“527 years? Offline? What the heck are you?” he asked.

“I am an A.I. and my name is Zeke.” He gave me a look that showed he did not understand. “Artificial Intelligence. That’s what A.I. means.”

“Oh,” the young man exclaims, “My name is Walter and uh, welcome to the future Zeke. Uh do you need help to get out?”

“Not really but could you press the button on the right side of my head?” I asked, “Apparently some of my circuits have been damaged over time and need to be repaired but my auto-repair program has been damaged.”

Walter pressed the button and asked me what it would do and I told him it activates a manual repair function that pulls my body back together and repairs my circuits. Once he pushed the button I shot up straight as code started to appear in my eyes and the ground shook as my arms detached themselves from my body and started to dig me out of the ground. Walter stumbled back and tripped over a tree root as I was dug out and loud sounds of damaged wires and servos repaired themselves. It was all over in about fifteen minutes when an error flashed across my eyes. Apparently I was missing my legs or part of them. I was actually just missing my left foot and the right knee cap. I sighed and ran the now fixed auto-repair function that allowed my missing body parts to reattach to me. My armed reattached back onto my torso and I stood up slowly as something in Walter’s backpack started to move.

He dropped the backpack as my foot came hoping out attached to some kind of high-tech slingshot with my knee cap being the sling. I shook my head as I detached them and reattached them to my body and sighed in relief as I was now complete again. I looked at the slingshot and examined it to find that I could improve it. I opened up the hatch and pressed one of my fingers to the circuitry and changed the programing so that it would not need any ammo because it fired small energy balls now that on impact would create a small explosion similar to that of one stick of dynamite and that the sling was also made of hard-light. I then integrated the sling into my left arm and smiled because now I was armed and probable would need to be. Walter stared at me a bit more stunned when the weather started getting worse and lightning flashed across the sky.

“Crap it’s getting bad out here we need to find shelter and fast,” Walter exclaimed.

“I agree, my circuits are starting to short out a bit,” I said my voice sounding a bit glitch, “My scanners indicate that there is a cabin not too far from here.”

“Scanners?”

“I’ll explain later for now just follow me,” I said as lightning flashed across the sky again.

Walter nodded and picked up his backpack as I started off into the forest towards the cabin. He struggled to keep pace as my long legs kept me going at a fast pace errors starting to show up in my left eye lens to say that some of my circuits were starting to fail. After about ten minutes we arrived at an old rundown hunting cabin and I opened the do and went in Walter following after me.

“Now can you explain by what you meant by sensors?” Walter asked as he collapsed on the floor of the old cabin.

“Alright,” I said, “Back when I was made my creator had given me all kinds of instruments for survival including sensors that can detect the location of objects or people within a three mile radius of me.”

“Ok but you were offline when I found you can you explain that or what life was like in the past?” he asked.

I shook my head sadly as I ran my auto-repair function again and said, “I wish I could but the only things I remember are my name and all of the programs that I have.”

“So in other words you are a robot that lost its memory,” he said.

“I am not a robot!” I exclaimed angrily, “I have emotions like any living being, true I may function like a robot but I am a sentient being with my own hopes and dreams!”

Walter jumped at my outburst as I sighed. I just shook my head and took a look around the old cabin. There were old hunting trophies on the wall and an old fireplace with some logs stacked nearby it and some broken wooden furniture and a flickering holo-screen but that was it. I went to the fireplace and put some logs in and lit a fire by striking my fingers against the stone floor to create some sparks. Once I had a good roaring fire I turned back to Walter.

“Look I’m sorry I snapped at you,” I said my eyes looking down, “it’s just that I have no memory of what really happened to me and that I don’t like being called a robot.”

“Zeke I’m the one that needs to apologize for there are a few A.I.s out there and most people think of them as lifeless machines,” he said as he sat down next to me by the fire, “Some of them are pretty old so I think maybe tomorrow we can head into town and ask Zera.”

“Who is Zera?”

“Another A.I.”

“Oh, is Zera very old?” I asked.

“No she is only about thirty years old, but she knows a lot about the history of A.I. and about the past,” Walter answered.

Walter fell asleep shortly after that as I thought about how I was going to get my memory back and what exactly had happened to me.

In the morning the rain had cleared and we headed off towards Walters hometown. The town was called Scrapsburg because it was where all the planets leftover scrap metal was shipped so that it could be melted down and reused. When we arrived the first thing I noticed was that all the building were hovering off of the ground and that people were floating around on small round hover platforms or walking over floating walkways.

“Welcome to Scrapsburg Zeke,” Walter said with a big smile as he jumped on a waiting hover platform and motioned for me to join.

I did and the platform took off. I hardly even noticed that we had started moving until I looks up at the passing buildings. I asked where we were going and Walter said that we were going to see Zera. The platform took us to a rundown three-story stone building that was not hovering like all the other buildings in the town. Once we set down, Walter entered the building and I followed. I looked around at the deteriorating hallway. The lights flickered and there were large chunks of wall paper peeling off. Walter knocked on a door and it opened revealing what looked at first to be a female human but what was really a robot.

“Walter your back I see and who is your friend there?” she asked in a soothing robotic voice.

“This here is Zeke,” answered, “and we’re here to see if you can tell us anything about his past Zera.

She looked at me and seemed like she recognized me but shock her head. “Sorry but I cannot tell you about a simple A.I. past I am not do that thing. I only can tell you the history of an A.I.s model.”

“Are you serious,” I said a bit aggravated, “I have been offline for over 500 years and I come to you hoping to seek some answers. Unbelievable.”

As soon as I said I had been offline for over 500 years Zera gasped in shock and I think I heard some of her servos creak as she took a step back. I looked at her and found that she was studying me with some kind of futuristic analysis program. When she was done she took another step back looking like she saw a ghost.

“Y-you’re him,” she said her voice very high pitched and full of wonder, “Your Zeke the first A.I. ever made. You’ve been missing for over five hundred years and now you’re here at my doorstep. Omg! Omg!”

Zera did the robotic equivalent to a human fainting, pop a fuse and short circuit. She did this on the spot and fell over. I caught her as she fell and looked at Walter who told me to take her inside. I did so and we closed the door behind us. Zera awoke about an hour later and saw that I was looking out the window up at the floating buildings. She got up slowly and I noticed and turned around slowly. If she would have been able to blush she would have but instead my sensors told me that the temperature was rising in her face as she tried to hide it behind what looked to be silicon hair.

I smiled, “So you’re back on line. That’s good. You scared poor Walter an me something fierce.”

She smiled shyly and nodded hear head, which really does look good with the light shining off of her skin. Dang it I’m getting off track, anyways I asked her if she was feeling alright and she nodded and said she was. The Walter came over and also asked her if she was alright and again she said she was. She told us to make ourselves at home even though we already had. After about ten minutes when we were all comfortable she told us that she would tell us everything that she knew of my past but that it was not much. We agreed and wanted to know anyways.

“Alright, now where to begin,” she said, “I guess probably with your creation. You Zeke were the first successfully created A.I. that did not act like a robot or needed to follow any orders. You were created originally to explore the planet and go places where humans could not go.”

I nodded as bit and pieces of memory suddenly surfaced as she continued, “After many successful trials and discoveries you were given a mission to hunt down and terminate a robot that had gone rouge.”

Again I nodded as the memories of my mission surfaced as Zera continued on, “The robot was named Xj-981 and was designed by an evil man to steal information from important companies. After a while Xj-981 stole the code for a primitive form of Artificial Intelligence and became self-aware. It then refused its masters orders and killed the man.”

“Yes I remember now,” I said, “Xj-981 then went on a rampage killing man humans in its lust for knowledge. I was handed the assignment of stopping it and I agreed to do it. We had a long battle but I do not remember what exactly happened in the battle. But I do think I managed to shut him down.”

Zera shook her head, “You did not shut him down Zeke, you just ended damaged him badly and wiping almost all of the knowledge he had gotten. After your battle he went underground for a while. It was in the year 2426 that he reappeared but this time as a business robot. He started his own scrapping company and started Scrapsburg to melt down the scrap into usable metal.”

“Wait he created Scrapsburg!” I exclaimed a bit shocked.

“Yes he created this town but he also steals every bit of information he can for himself that can be found on any piece of scrap,” Zera said shaking her head slowly, “The sad thing is that today he is the planet’s foremost scrap producer with his scrap yards being located all over the Planet. He goes by the name Aluctic today and also sells most of the information that if found in scrapped ships, dead A.I., and broken robots. All the information taking from these things is run past him and he makes copies of the information for himself before releasing it to the public.”

Walter interrupted and said a bit angrily, “He also murdered my parents.”

I looked at Walter my jaw dropping. Zera looked at Walter and shook her head saying, “I was just coming to that.”

She turned to face me, “Yes Aluctic did murder Walter’s parents. You see they were working on a secret device and he got word of it and came to town which was very unusual because he generally does not leave his office where he is almost always plugged in scanning and absorbing information. When he got here he demanded to see the device and that he have the information of it. Walter’s parents refused and so the were killed for getting in Aluctic’s way.”

I shook my head, “Do we know what they were working on?”

Both Walter and Zera shook their heads and told me that they had no idea what the device was that got Walter’s parents killed. Apparently whatever it was it was important and worth killing for. I grew angry at that and smashed my fist down onto the metal coffee table leaving a huge dent in it that caused Zera and Walter to jump.

“Then my mission is not done and I still need to terminate Xj-981,” I said with a deep metallic growl.

Zera nodded her head, “But first you are going to have to figure out what was stolen and why Aluctic stole it.”

This here ends part one of my story but don’t worry I’ll be back tomorrow to tell part two. So for now have a pleasant day. Zeke signing off.


The Missing Link
by Hewitt

"Kind sir, do you have any Links to spare?"

Terry Mosfet hobbled along the cobblestone paths of New Veracity, trying hard not to look at the raggedy old homeless man and his malfunctioning SOC device. Long abandoned ever since the decision to discourage Link handouts, these vagabonds curl up tightly in their tiny cardboard boxes, piling up like garbage in Veracity's furthest corners.

"PLEASE, sir. I can't sleep from this infernal racket. Mine's been blinking funny, sir. Making noises too... What is version 38!? It says that I've got BUGS! WHAT IS THAT?! Will this get me more Friends? I DON'T UNDERSTAND IT!!!"

The hobo tried his best to read the flashing red display from dusty old vacuum tubes against the mahogany background of his Pre-war SOC module. Terry ignored him and picked up the pace until the booming bass of nearby nightclubs overcame him. He ducked into a nearby alley where his contact had been waiting for the past fifteen minutes, evident from the growing pile of cigarette butts building up by her feet. She was shivering, constantly tinkering her SOC to no avail which had been reduced to a blinking screen and a few flashing warning images. No surprise considering the location he handpicked for her ahead of time was a unique blind spot in the middle of at least twenty triangulating ESP emitters from various industrial sources. It was the perfect place to keep off the grid.

"What took you so long, mister? Can we get this done like yesterday?"

"Hand it over then."

Without question, she was quick to stretch her arm out as Terry rolled up his sleeves and went to work. He stacked a few crates he'd use so many times before and asked the young thing to lay her arm down. Her SOC, conveniently lit under the only lamplight for miles was definitely a newer model, one that didn't warrant as many fail-safes as the archaic prototypes. Those were awkward times; huge clunky things that slipped through your arm like...a sock. Advertising had a field day with that one. As newer models came out, the size gradually got smaller but the name stuck on.

"Hold still."

He reached for his coat pocket and whipped out his tiny Medusa; a console device no bigger than a pre-war mobile communication apparatus, but with a bunch of coiled connectors sticking out every which way.

"What's that?"

"Don't move."

Terry used his free hand to tightly hold her elbow in place as he found the proper connector to plug into her SOC unit. Immediately, a tiny jolt of electricity shot through her from the device.

"Fuck!" She buckled. They all did.

The SOC began to reboot as the screen went dark and flickered for a good 10 seconds. Terry briefly looked up to find his patient a little dazed but the electric intrusion in her cerebral cortex. At least it was better than the last 10 blokes who either fell over or puked on him (for which he would be sure to charge extra).

The screen came back good as new like nothing happened: a picturesque personalized page themed with whatever it was the kids were into these days...guitars and bands the usual. Her feed had been getting twenty notifications per second since the SOC went out for awhile. Now he knew why she had come to him in the first place.

"Which spots do you want, exactly?"

"All of them, mister. As much as you can."

As much as you can? Right. Terry facepalmed internally, resisting the urge to lecture her on how impossible that would be. He was a Spinner, not an Admin of the SOCnet. Kids these days. "All of them." She obviously didn't know what she wanted. But the world would move on without the masses' need for want.

Ever since the bombs fell and the abolition of any form of monetary currency, the SOCnet was adopted as a means to quickly re-identify the populace. Anyone born after the whole crisis pretty much stopped caring what everyone was up to. Networking became a way of life and Contacts were now a necessity and a requirement for employment and the right to live certain lifestyles. You had to prove you existed as a social animal to be treated as one. The network stopped being important, but the stigma of social contact remained. It was literally WHO you knew in the business that mattered now, nothing else.

In other words, she needed to know just a few more people, if she was gonna be allowed to club with her friends.

Terry switched the Medusa to editing mode and began to work. Suddenly from within the lady's profile was a tiny blinking carat. Suddenly, her life would make sense. After the first few jobs, it wasn't hard to figure out just the right amount of Social Links to fabricate. The trick was relying on the complexity of human relationships. Her older siblings Janet E and Kristin K, were now friends with the local neighborhood watch's community director's daughter Andrea C. The Node began to glow directly after the rewriting process, assured that the Sigil remained in place. The Link would ultimately grant her access to most of the public hangouts in the city.

The rest of the session was spent crafting her sibling's lives before the meet. Diary posts too embarrassing to share in their private profiles. Reconstructed images of family outings with a couple of random unrelated friends. Chat logs concerning an argument or two with Janet E's ex boyfriend and another one with their mother. No wait, her mother's lawyer. Her mom had actually been to the hospital so that would've been harder to explain.

"So how does this all work exactly?"

"I'm giving you a Sibling job. Not as complicated as the Best Friend or the Cool Uncle. Shouldn't be too fake since you look like you could have a sister or two."

"Why not just do me instead?"

"Because...I can't." He said curtly. Ignoring how inappropriately phrased that question was, the modification of someone's direct waking life was Amateur Hour. Irresponsible Spinners assume that statuses can change just as easily but the truth was this was already hard enough because life was an actively organic entity. People live in the SOCnet everyday of their lives and our connections are as fickle as the human condition. But if one were to forge a relationship from a falsified organic relation, the liability would be greatly diminished.

"So, lemme get this straight. You're establishing a false friendship with me and my imaginary sisters and their Links will give my SOC clearance for all these nice places?"

"That's what you're paying me for, lady."

"Alright then."

"Alright."

"We got you."

"Pardon?"

It was quick, but Mosfet's head hit the ground sooner than the next sentence he heard. His head pushed down further as familiar metallic chains wrap neatly around his wrists and a familiar light shining his way.

"Officer Latimer of the NVPD. You're under arrest for Network Solicitation and 1st-Degree SOC Fraud."

His whole body began to shift, his face dragging through the dirt.


============================

"Quite a record you got here, Mr. Mosfet."

Terry woke up to the smell of coffee and the sound of papers shuffling on a squeaky metallic desk. In front of him, Detective Roy Barlow leaned forward with hands so huge, he was ready to strangle his recently captured catch.

"I can't believe you didn't know she was wired. You sure are getting sloppy."

"You're bluffing." Terry replied, after visibly sighing. "We both know why I like to work on the outskirts of town where the signals can jam anything including any means to tap on me. So cut the crap and tell me why I'm here so I can explain how I was 'legitimately' doing some diagnostics work on what I assumed was a friend of a friend. Then you'll do your usual tirade and I'll shoot some threats your way and we can both look forward to doing this again sometime soon. Did I recap it well enough for you, officer?"

"It's detective." Barlow sternly said. "And you'll want to listen this time. It's a deal you can't refuse."

"Aw, detective. You shoulda just asked. How is Madam Barlow doing lately anyway?"

"You leave my grandmother out of this. This is serious."

Terry sat up. The detective's face said it all that this wasn't like any usual meet and greet with the law.

"A few days ago, one of our patrol officers arrested a couple of stupid teenagers trying to get in some fancy titty bar over at 77th. Nothing out of the ordinary at first; privileged punks thought they could pass off as some Monarch from Ecuador by flashing their SOCs like they own the goddamn place."

Terry smiled, amused that there were still some easy suckers in the world. The classics took him back to his early college years where the shtick was a legitimately good swindle: tricking unassuming but vulnerable newbies into getting what was now considered a shoddy Spin job for some quick cash. Fargus Fairbanks, the originator of this prank, likened it as a love letter to Pre-War Nigerian Scams. It was usually a deal that was too good to be true. A one-time deal to the fanciest place on earth. And all one needed to do was assume the identity of some outlandish Prince on some tiny or insignificant nation. But nobody seriously fell for that shit anymore.

These days, the best Spinners were legitimate businessmen who didn't have problems working in the grey and grey. Medicine, Politics, Advertising---whatever their experience in whatever field that helped them to network in the real world, applied to their shady SOCnet practices in kind. We don't make false memories, we re-tell a tale of some vague event you might have forgotten about. A friend at a party, who introduced you to his brother's wife's uncle was actually a rich oil baron with special privileges. Connections buried in complexity, that was our credo. After all, nobody wants to die alone.

"I'm so glad this amuses you, Mosfet. But our night is just beginning." Barlow reiterated, reshuffling the papers in his folder. "After sending the juveniles to lockup, we assumed it was gonna be another boring night of filing things in triplicate until we ran their SOCs through the local database and found...Him

Terry stared back nonplussed, expecting some dramatic punchline. As the silence became real, he squinted and looked down as Barlow slid a few photos and documents his way. Amidst the photos was one screenshot of what appeared to be an ominously red symbol. The malformed avatar resembled something of a cross between the Fleur-de-lis and a Manticore. Whatever it was, it gave him a slight tingle for some odd reason. His mind begin to cloud as his fingertips felt numb and sharp, as if he had claws and he was king of the underworld. Before his thoughts could overtake him completely, the detective yanked the photo out of his shaky hands.

"Thirty seconds, huh? Surprised you lasted that long. I guess you Bards really see things differently. Took this to Technical Services ten minutes ago, and the whole staff devolved into a bunch of drooling baboons."

"Was that...?"

"A Sigil. I didn't want to believe it myself, but I guess it's true what they say about you Minstrels. Neanderthals like me, don't seem to be able to comprehend shit like this. But with your ilk it's like the goddamn prophecy. A real Inception."

Terry's mind was smouldering. On the verge of being set alight. He massaged his temples and retained his warily cautious demeanor but the truth was, it took almost everything to get away from that one. Sigils were just a fancy name the cops associate with to make their files more professional, in the same way they derogatorily call Spinners as the laughably super-villainous 'Data Minstrels' or 'Data Bards'. But much like anything else in society, names were just labels from someone who had never been said label.

The truth behind a Sigil was that it wasn't really anything a Spinner would have a name for. Sigils imply power behind their meaning, which is how the cops would often attribute to explain the unexplainable epileptic episodes the Socially-Inclined would develop upon gazing at it. The closest approximation would be that it was a Logo with a distinct allergic reaction, a representation of a SOC's online handle.

For people like Terry, who had spent ages tinkering with SOCs, they were literally the backdoor window to one's soul. They were the elaborate signature on the bottom-right of chaotic street art. Beneath the layers of complexity was the Magnum Opus of an individual, the Thesis that describes who and what they are. It was like watching a furnace fire within a dangerously close distance. To anyone who understood it, saw the raw, untamed, personality contained within.

So what was it doing in such uncultured hands.

"I know what you're thinking, Mosfet. How could a couple of young punks have such a rogue Sigil in their Social Links? A Mallory H was usually enough to get them past the front door or have a laugh with the Bouncer. Heck, a Sigmund J would have done half the effort if the establishment wasn't that well known. But this...this is overkill. The signature is too distinct, too certain to be just one glaring thing."

Terry's stomach began to turn.

"Detective Barlow. Are you telling me you believe in ghost stories?"

"Is that what you really see him as, Mosfet? A boogeyman? Or a patron saint?" Barlow stood up as the Interrogation Room door swung open and another officer wheeled in boxes of folders and files, all marked with the same red sticker as if the pile was a bio hazard in itself. "Because while you and the the scum of society are off playing Storyteller, the rest of us are here dealing with the real world."

Barlow scooped up a fat file folder and plopped it in front of Terry.

"Nine months ago, Vice Squad stormed into an abandoned apartment to find that it had been using its 'To be Demolished Indefinitely' sign as a cover for an underground S&M parlor. I won't bother discussing the details of the case but let's just say there were things in there that defiled even the most perverted of fetishes."

Another folder landed on top of the first one.

"Five Months ago, we stumbled upon a Defecatorium. The owner was using willing slaves to harvest their excrement and smeared them all over another batch of paying customers. On live webcast. Season 1 went viral amongst the colonies as it backpacked easily on the fringes of SOCNet for a good 2 weeks before we even noticed it was there. The Council of Decency almost had our heads with that one."

Another folder dropped.

"Anthropomorphic Gene Splicing Party."

And another.

"Human Skee-ball."

Another.

"Oh you're gonna like this one. Apparently, people pay to have a tube go through their---"

Terry's chair fell over as he stood up disgusted. "So the human race isn't so wonderful after all, Detective. What's your point? It sounds to me like you've got your hands tied chasing all the bullshit in the world---bullshit that doesn't concern a dubious white-collar criminal on a dubiously flimsy charge. You know I'll just pull some old Links and be out of your hair in a day, right? Because last I heard, I wasn't even under arrest." He started for the door, hands trembling by the time they reached the door frame. One more step out into the fray.

"It's Lucius D and you know it."

Stopped in his tracks. Breathing intensified. Eyes rolled back and erratically around. An entire effort made to leave the room wasted on a meek retreat and a gentle tug on the interrogation room doorknob.

"Excuse me?"

"Lucius D. We want you to use your contacts to track him down and confirm his Identity. Do this, and your record will be cleared."

Barlow's words trailed off after the first sentence. Lucius D. Words he never thought anyone in this lifetime would ever hear. He was one of the most elusive and notorious Social Links. One of the most reclusive Social Contacts. It was said that he only ever had and allowed 666 Social Links at any one time. It was said that whoever could link to Lucius basically had a license to do what they wanted. It was said that despite having lived for over seventy years now, his status remains constantly updated and yet no physical account of him had existed in the past decade or so. Lucius D. The detective could say his name a hundred times and it still wouldn't be believable. The door firmly closed and re-bolted, Terry could only turn around and slink to the floor as if the detective had just put the fear of god in him.

"L-L-Lucius. H-How?"

"Every single one of these establishments required an extremely high Social Status to get in. Even some of the echelons over at Old Money wasn't certain for this kind of clearance. No, you needed to have at least a Lucius D to even stand at the front door without getting your head shot off."

"That's impossible."

"Why is it so hard to believe? You've seen his Sigil. You've felt...whatever the fuck that was. The mere implication was enough to send you packing. You know it in your heart and soul that Lucius D is real. Why are you still denying it?"

Terry bit his tongue. He wasn't about to spill trade secrets to a commoner. Of all the petty scum in the world, Spinners have been around in almost everyone's cookie jar. They've seen the connections, the relationships; they know which ones belong in which family or congregation or cult. They've seen empires rise and fall from jealousy, greed, and malicious intent. Corporate Takeovers. Gang Violence. High Profile Divorce Settlements. Being a Spinner meant that the world was an open book. That histories were meant to be written by the winners and re-written by those who had the means to do it. That history itself was a joke. An inconsistent relic of the past.

But Lucius D was absolute.

Born before the War. Raised to be an architect. Drafted instead as a soldier. Died alone. That's it. That was his story. No heroic deeds. No urban legends. Pre-war identification methods have long been eclipsed by the SOCNet's own omnipresence so any claims to the contrary was met the extreme criticism even from the most hardened of conspiracy theorists. Thus, any Post-War theory on Lucius D's biographical question was the exact opposite. It was a reverse vacuum of fan-fiction and a mystery for the silent majority.

Ironic that his reputation still preceded him after all these years.

"You've heard the rumors, haven't you detective? Pick one."

But it wasn't just as simple as Spinning a tale on the man. Every single story is rooted into some cultural backdrop or basis, never a just-because or what-if-it-were-true.

Lucius D was the kind of bedtime story SOC-Moms would tell their children to remind them about the dangers of the Net. An old classic is that he was nothing more than congregation of eight of the most powerful hackers who have designed the Lucius as an anarchist avatar to represent the backwards values of networking. Despite the fact that those were different times---when the SOCnet had just replaced all forms of currency and the hacker story was an anti cultural outcry so to speak---it still remains prevalent in old SOC Message Boards and the occasional outdated knowledge centers.

Sometimes the rumors would be as simple as what is known: that he was a private person who amassed a fortune before the Great War, then from time to time feels the need to be philanthropic. But with the world so convoluted in its connections, there are those who would attribute Lucius to an agenda such as that of 'Melissa', a battered wife who ran away and left her children with her abusive husband. She fled down south where she established the Sigil as a subliminal call to all abused women as a sort of bat-signal for a known feminist conspiracy. Even more ludicrous was that Lucius D was another incarnation of a famous pre-war celebrity known as Anonymous. And that itself was enough to mill more rumors from the Nethernet.

Detective Barlow scooched over to the desk, ruffled his hair, and sighed. "You and I know those rumors go nowhere. This department has already exhausted alot of resources exploring them. Even the ridiculous ones." He turns away, only to pull out a single piece of paper from his folder. "This, is our lead."


============================

"...they find new life in the Links of the lost, and through that they may find peace in a world that's forgotten about them."

Dorotea poured another cup of Peppermint Tea before settling behind her office desk. Terry got comfortable in his antique easy armchair and wondered for awhile what the point of Dorotea's mission was. As she explained, Saint Benedict's was a home for the homeless or rather the Socially-Disinclined. Throughout the years, the shelter had gathered a venerable number of drifters who's SOCs have completely been retired or revoked. They can come and go as they please, only coming for the free Trial Links that Dorotea's mission would offer from time to time just to get by.

"I'm sorry, who did you say you were?"

"A friend of your father's. Terry Mosfet. I was told that he was staying with you as of current?"

"My father..." Dorotea put down her pen. She was an odd sort of woman, not exactly a prize to behold. Her face featureless devoid of any significant mark and her mannerisms unremarkable. The fact that Detective Barlow posits her to be Lucius' daughter is maddening beyond any thought.

"Yes, if I could just...see him. Would that be possible?"

She was an easy read, as Terry observed her biting her lip and her eyes wander towards a beaten up door at the corner of the room. "My father hasn't left his study in over seventy years. I'm afraid you can't see him. Even I haven't..."

It was now or never.

"Lucius D, I've finally found you." Terry said, making a beeline for the backdoor.

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" Dorotea beckoned. Terry shot a look that implied his dangerous intentions. He easily outgrew her by a few feet. The body language said it all, she retained her distance.

"Lucius D. Lucius D. I suppose your dad wouldn't have told you everything about himself, would he?" Terry said, hand carefully jiggling the knob. "See, when the cops namedropped that sorry legend's name I knew from the beginning what I needed to do. They assured me a deal would be in place to wipe my record clean but they're idiots. Didn't they realize that once I get my hands on his Link, I'll be untouchable myself?! I had to confirm everything just to be sure of course but once I found you I knew. I mean, the rumors about him having a kid it was...it was the strongest rumor I knew so I guess what I'm saying is...nothing personal."

The door swung open as lights flickered on from within the dust-filled room. Inside he saw dozens and dozens of racks and shelves lined up in a row, a monitor, and an empty chair.

"What the---"

Terry's thoughts cancelled out as a solid 2x4 cracked his head wide open.

The next few minutes was a blur. He could remember his knees hitting the floor, his face slamming down on the linoleum and his broken nose leaking blood everywhere. He could remember being dragged and carried over to a chair. He could remember lights swirling and his mind reacting to an uneasy light-headedness not unlike his earlier experience with the infernal Sigil. He could feel something pouring out from his ears. Something liquid. Something necessary.

"My Father was born into the world, approximately a hundred years ago. He still lives to this day. Hard to belive, isn't it?"

Slowly, the blur dissipated as Terry's eyes returned to the real world. His whole body was numb and the only thing he could see was the bright orange glow of a precariously dangling chandelier.

"When the Great War came, he was one of the selected few to be saved. The grand elite we know today."

Taking in a deep breath, he almost choked as the air had turned acridly humid. He tried to scream but the echoes were a clear indicator of his predicament. Terry's mind began to race as he imagined all those old institutions and how it would not be uncommon that St. Benedicts might have some catacombs in the basement.

"When the Great War ended, the contagion had done most of the work. Nobody could tell who was who---our information highway had been annihilated to the point of fruitless identification. The world had become a former husk of itself. My father sought to rectify that."

A loud invasive noise began to permeate between Terry's ears as an assortment of lights flickered all around him. Tiny windows. With a little tiny man looking in each one of them. No. They were Monitors.

"My father created what would eventually be the SOCnet. An integration of every Social Network known to man. It was meant to be a means by which the human race could rebuild their identities. But the rich and powerful elite had other plans."

Terry tried looking away only to feel a sharp tug from under his skin. As it turns out, multiple hooks had sunk into his face, flaying him from the inside out. The Man in the Monitor who from afar only appeared as a shadow, simply nodded as a faint 'Yes' boomed from the speakers.

"They bought him out. Stole his work and claimed it as their own. Instead of using the Social Network to give Man meaning, Old Money decided to bring back their archaic social class back into the fold. Abolishing currency altogether was merely the first step to their methods. After stealing what was rightfully his, they did the most immoral thing and rewrote history. Nothing was more important to them than being able to be connected."

"MMMmmppphh..." was all the sound the Terry could make as the pneumatic drill bore deeper into his skull.

"Have you ever wondered why Spinners even exist, Mr. Mosfet? Why spinning appears to require nothing more than a simple tool and a few tweaks. Have you ever considered that maybe Spinning is part of the system's code. The men who put my father away. The ones who sought hard to retain their connections to society. They were the first Spinners, Mr. Mosfet. They erased my father's legacy by making him look like an unremarkable fool."

The clamps released at the flick of a switch and the fixture holding Terry's jaw came loose. He panted, trying to shift his body around as the drool dribbled down the side of his face.

"God...what..."

"My father toiled since then, attempting to regain his former glory. Unfortunately, the tumor in his brain began to grow and it severely debilitated his body."

"Lucius...is dead?" Terry said, using what little ounce of his sanity that remained.

"In a certain world, Mr. Mosfet. In some ways the tumor had given my father an epiphany. He had been spending his entire life trying to rebuild the human connection. But in his last 10 years he realized that connections were merely a human construct. Those racks you saw earlier when you came bursting in my father's den...those were what was left of my father's memory. Layers upon layers of discs that he spent, recording. Just recording every single sentence he would be able to say from here until the end of time. All of it until he wasted away and became immortal."

Terry craned his neck as he spotted Dorotea with a handful of jewel cases. She set them down by the player and popped one disc in. The Monitors fizzled into a new form.

Lucius D fizzled into consciousness.

"Terry Mosfet." her father boomed. "I've been waiting for you."

"I--impossible." Terry stuttered. "How can he know my name if these discs were recorded prematurely?"

"My father has learned to transcend the socius that binds us. From the beginning of your inception into SOCnet, he has used various statistics to come to the conclusion that one day you would become a Spinner. And he has prepared for this moment."

"If Lucius was in SOCnet all along, how come none of us have seen him."

Dorotea smiled.

"St. Benedict's is more than just a hovel for the unfortunate. My father took a liking to them, for they had also suffered the same tortures as the inexistence of the self. It was through his instruction that I started this mission to hand out Links that would inevitably bind them together into a single Botnet capable of masking my father's appearance. The 666 vagabonds spread throughout the city; they are my father's will."

"What do you want with me."

"Revenge." the ominous voice repeated. "Your forefathers sought to modify my system and turn it into their private playground. I am merely protecting what is mine."

"You're going to turn me into one of your Botnet freaks?"

"No," Lucius simply said. The fact that Lucius had even pre-empted a comeback sequence stunned him to no end. "I will simply kill you."

"Someone will find me! The SOCnet is connected. It will know when I'm missing."

"You still don't get it, do you? Lucius D was an Urban Legend to you all but a few hours ago, and now suddenly a coincidence leads you to my father's doorstep? Don't you find this slight plot twist a tad contrived..." Dorotea replied. She approached her father's latest sheep and caressed his delicate head. "The reason why the Elite are never seen anymore is because my father's revenge against them has already been completed. The cops would rather deal with society's careless disregard for their own kind and as long as every Spinner was taken care of, none would be the wiser."

Terry was speechless. When was the last time any major celebrity or world leader ever appeared on TV? It didn't matter that Mallory H or Sigmund J was going to clubs and having fun. All that mattered was that you knew people who knew people who knew them. To this world, the relationships no longer mattered. Only the connections. And only through them was the human race deceived by its own desires.

It was a lesson learned too late.

The drill closed in one final time to the screams of a madman.

Meanwhile, five miles above the surface, a vagabond tossed and turned in his sleep. He wiggled and banged his old SOC against the wall until the visible words changed beneath the cracked monitor:


Version 39 Changelog:
- BOTnet expanded
- Bugs fixed

The sound and light show finally over, he turned over his makeshift cot and fell fast asleep as obnoxious electronic club music continued echoing in the distance.

Untitled
by Cruel

She crawled up to the enormous tree, her advanced armor sputtering sparks, and the lights dimming. The timer in her helmet ticked away. 8 Minutes left, but she had no Idea what it meant, nor did she really care at the moment. The shiny, advanced chestplate that once served as protection from the cruel, outside world was now bent inward, restricting her breathing. The immense creature had torn her squadron apart one by one. She was the only one left alive as far as she knew. She heard a blood curdling scream echo through the darkness of the colorful woods, sending shivers down her spine at the thought of the gargantuan creature. That was Mike, he was a good guy, and nobody deserved that horrific of an end.

They had gone in with no intel, and had no idea what they were up against. What was command thinking? We knew nothing about what was outside the dome, and the chance that there were survivors from the previous expedition was next to none. We had almost no hope of success, but to refuse was treason, and punishable by death. She sold her life to Command when she signed up for the Advanced Guard Military Force. The pay was good, and her family needed it. But the pay stopped when she stopped serving, whether she was killed in action or retired. There was no life insurance, and no guarantee she would live to see tomorrow. Nobody retired, but most applicants didn’t have to make an expedition as their first mission. Patrolling the safety of the dome was all she wanted to do.


A nasty snarl erupted from behind where she sat. She coughed up blood into her helmet. Her lungs felt like fire. The Grand Nashor, as it had been nicknamed, had also crushed the armor in her right arm, restricting her movement tremendously. The pain was excruciating, but her adrenaline kept it under control as her mind raced for an out.

Seven minutes. The numbers flashed and her helmet made a beeping noise as it counted down.

She raised the small pistol with her left arm as she sat up against the tree. A trail of blood was left in the luscious blue grass where she was lying a second ago. She was bleeding from somewhere, but she hurt all over so there was no way to tell where from. God the pain was intense. Even with adrenaline she wanted to lie down and cry. There was no time for that if she was to live. Her family needed her, and as long as she lived, she got paid.

She turned her head and looked behind the tree through her helmet, which had somehow not been damaged. She wasn’t even sure if the air outside of the dome was even breathable. They didn’t know much at all about the world outside of the dome. If her helmet was somehow malfunctioning, she would never survive, but it didn’t look like she was going to live to see tomorrow either way.

The Grand Nashor's teeth protruded out of its face, and it was occupied with Mike's body, ripping at the armor with its powerful, grey muscles to try and feed off Mike’s flesh. It had horns encircling its head, and it was covered in short fur. Its long tail swirled around in delight as it happily picked apart its fallen prey. It growled with frustration as its clawed hand tried to get under the plates of the armor. Mike’s head was missing, and it probably had already been devoured. A mess of gore and blood encircled the spot over his chest plate where his head should have been, and a growing red stain on the blue grass left a permanent mark on her mind. Fear gripped her heart as she helplessly watched her squad mate get torn apart limb by limb.

It was distracted, she should run, but somehow her body wouldn’t move no matter what she told it to do. Her hand holding the pistol trembled at the thought of being eaten alive by the monstrous creature. She never signed up for this. This was a slaughter, not an expedition.

Her mind slowed down and analyzed the situation. Grand Nashor’s ate their prey slowly by sucking the victim dry with its straw like, razor sharp tongue. It pierced the target and drained it of it’s blood and other body fluids until the corpse was dry, then it picked the meat off the bones, but was careful not to eat the bones as it’s throat is too small to devour them whole. She had at least a fifteen minute gap before it would hunt again.

Six minutes. Another beep. What the hell was it counting down to? The numbers popped up when she was attacked.

She looked at the heads up display on her wrist that showed her suit’s status. A voice in her helmet chimed:

“Power at 50%. Chest plate heavily damaged. Removal highly recommended. Thrusters fully functional. Fuel at 75%.”

Her thrusters still worked! The growling intensified as the Grand Nashor finally succeeded in removing Mike’s chest plate and began sucking the fluids out of him with its tongue, making a gruesome slurping noise as it fed.

Five minutes. Another beep. She ignored it.

She stood up weakly and noticed the mess of blood and flesh that was her right arm. She couldn’t even feel it anymore. That explained the small trail of crimson on the blue grass below. Her head swooned and she almost fell from the blood loss, but she shook it off before jumping into the air, letting the thrusters in her boots and pack launch her into the sky. Her foot stepped off a branch above as she jumped higher, above the giant leaved trees.

The world had changed since the ancient day’s. The tree’s were large from the excess water that had been forced onto earth, which also drastically changed the climate. Animal’s had evolved to the change. Humans had to forcefully adapt, but not without billions of people dying to the floods.

She jumped from branch to branch, letting her thrusters do all the work until the dome came into view. This dome has protected humanity from the changing atmosphere and evolving wildlife that began hunting humans for food and driving them out of their massive cities. The dome was located a few hundred miles from where New York used to be. A giant city, thriving with people and culture and technology; it was all lost in a single tragic moment.

Four minutes. Beep.

She landed in front of an entrance to the dome, her legs giving out on the landing as she tumbled into the dirt. The Grand Nashor’s cry bellowed throughout the massive forest. It had finished its meal and had gone in search of the next. She forced herself to stand, and her head swooned at the effort, but she refused to be the creature’s next meal.

“Let me in!” She screamed at the display as she banged her left fist on the door. Blood stained the metal exterior with each weak hit. She could hear the massive, yet extremely agile creature, run through the forest growling all the way. It had her scent, and was coming in to finish its prey.

Three minutes. Beep. I guess she would find out what the timer meant when it hit zero. It could be the battery life in her helmet perhaps? She was still new to the suit in general. It was high tech and held many features that she knew nothing about.

Suddenly, the large metal door that separated her from the safety of the dome opened, and it hissed as white smoke billowed out the door. She tumbled into the entrance and collapsed onto the floor, completely exhausted.

Two minutes. Another beep. It was getting annoying.

Two soldiers marched out with large XM87 Assault rifles. One grabbed her by the back of her armor and dragged her inside as the other made sure the Grand Nashor didn’t kill them all, spraying lasers in its general direction. A bellowing roar was barely heard as the giant metal doors sealed shut, ensuring their safety.

One minute. It beeped twice. That was new.

The men dragged her by her armor into the safety of the dome. She slid across the floor with their help down a long silver hallway. She needed desperate medical attention. Her body was in no condition to be dragged like this, but she was just content that no creature was trying to eat her anymore. Her vision blurred as the adrenaline flooded from her body and the pain began to set in once more. She sighed with relief. She was safe.

Ten seconds left. It beeped at each passing second.

“Are you alright, soldier?” The man said as he forced her up onto the bed. The medical bay was neat, and the blood covering her body stained everything as they placed her on the soft bed. One man was clearly a doctor, and he wore a blue skin tight suit and a mask to keep everything sterile. The other man was a soldier like her in a similarly advanced suit of high tech armor. He was the one that had dragged her inside.

Five seconds. More beeping.

“Yeah I-” She managed to get out.

One.

The world slowed to a stop. Time froze. She was startled by the sudden silence. The doctor that was about to tend her wounds was still as a statue. Every detail about him remained the same. Every bit of his suit and flashing lights on it stopped where they had began. A beam of light from his wrist watch was seen half way from the bulb to where the light would have hit the wall. Time had been halted down to every last stunning detail.

She was startled. Confused. What just happened? She lifted both her arms and removed the helmet from her head. Wait, both arms? She examined her arms. They were healed, in fact, she was breathing fine again. No more pain. No more blood. No more pain. Thank god, no more pain. What a relief.

What the hell was going on?

Hello there.

She froze where she sat. The voice was audible, but nobody around her had moved an inch from their frozen position.
“Hello?” She asked in the empty room.

There’s no need to speak. You can hear me in your thoughts.

“What do you mean?” She asked the air. She could hear him perfectly and assumed that it could read her thoughts, but it felt strange having a conversation with somebody without moving her lips.

You were part of a project. Your code number is 49. Welcome to reality. Well, sort of.

“I’m confused. Why am I healed? What did you do to everyone here?”

Time is merely an illusion. This is my world, and you were my greatest creation. I am the god of this world.

“What?” She asked, even more confused.

Allow me to demonstrate. The men in front of you will now die.

In an instant the men inexplicably exploded into a fiery mess of gore.

“Holy shit!” She yelled at the sudden sight.

Their guts and insides sprayed the walls of the small medical bay she sat in and showered her in rivers of blood. She flinched and covered her face to stop it from hitting her directly. She was covered in all sorts of gore of the poor men, despite her efforts to block it from hitting her head. The smell was pungent and gross from the sudden exposure of flesh.

Now watch as I reconstruct them.

Time seemed to rewind itself as bits of gore and blood from the walls and herself sucked back into place until they formed the men that were there a second earlier. She sat in awe as every detail of them fell back into place until they stood in their original positions, ready to heal her as if she were still injured just like she had last seen them.

“What’s the point of all this?” She asked, still confused despite being terrified of whatever this...thing could do to her if it wanted to. “What do you want from me?”

I want you to forget your family. Forget your past, and pretend as if none of it was real. None of it WAS real. It was all fabricated. You are nothing more than a project for me to toy with in my world. Simply lie down and sleep. I will run the next simulation and observe.

“That’s it?” She asked. “What do you gain from that?”

It allows me to place you into a new world and run more tests. You see, I’m a scientist of sorts. I study the mind, it’s reaction to pain of different degrees, and document it. You are my test subject, and this was the physical test. You passed so far, but the tests simply get increasingly more difficult. I need to find the human breaking point, both physically and mentally. Would you like to help me do this?

“Why would I intentionally hurt myself?”She asked. “Why would I help you if it just means I’m going to be broken for the sake of your experiment.”

Please don’t be difficult.

“I’m not being difficult at all! I can’t just forget. I have a whole life behind me. If I go to sleep I’ll just wake up with the same memories.”

Oh really? You realize that your memories are in my control as well, correct? For example, what is your name, miss?

“It’s…” What? What was her name? The syllables she had used to identify herself for the entirety of her life suddenly weren’t in her mind. She panicked as her mind raced to any memory where somebody had said her name. Her head hurt suddenly trying to do so. The world around her fragmented for a moment, almost like a flicker. Why was her memory so hazy? She was just running away from something right? Or did she just dream that? She tried to remember why she was there. She served the military to help pay for her family’s living costs. She’d always been poor for as long as she could remember.

Then why the hell did she not know her own name?

What is your mother’s name?

“Stop!” Her head hurt so bad. Why did her temples feel like they were about to explode? Her migraine spread from her temples to the rest of her head, engulfing her mind in nothing but pain. She couldn’t remember a single memory about herself. Anything from military training, to her elementary years, to her boyfriend. All gone. She sat in terror as her past was ripped out of her mind. Fragments and stray memories remained, but as she fought it, the memories seemingly shattered into nothing.

I will simply have to do a hard reset. It will only pain you more. Oh well. I wish you didn’t have to go through this, but it is what it is. Good bye for now.

She screamed at the pain in her head. The world around her cracked and light from random directions spread from the wall. The men in front of her shattered into light, and the walls began to crumble and crack. What the hell was going on? The world appeared to be distorted as it shifted.

Suddenly, her vision swirled and the world faded to black. She was floating. No falling. The sensation was soothing. The pain flooded from her head like a rush and nothing but a cool, calm feeling filled her head. She didn’t remember her name, her past, her world.

She also didn’t remember the voice as she faded into the darkness.


Untitled
by RichardLongflop

Jeb reclined in his office chair, peeking out of his cubicle to see his workmate Paul in the one opposite.

“Yo, Paul!” he yelled.

Paul didn’t respond, but that was fixed when a scrunched-up paper ball thwacked into the side of his head. The agitated man scrambled for his headphones and pulled them off.

“Fuck is it, Jeb?”

“PC’s on the fritz again.” Jeb cast a glance at his monitor, flickering on and off, the interface distorted and warped. “It’s like there’s an EMP that affects only my computer.”

“Have you tried turning it off an-”

“You can fuck right off. That does jack shit, and you know it. Second time today, and it’s been going on for a week now. Fuck.”

“And you shouldn’t swear so much at the workplace, Jebby boy. Go have a break or something, might be fixed when you get back.” And then Paul slid his headphones back on and washed his hands of all care.

Jeb mumbled a few extra curses under his breath, said “Fucking windows 48,” sighed and decided to take the advice.

As he walked away, Paul cast a brief glance toward Jeb’s screen, to see that it righted itself as soon as its owner departed.

“Ey- eh, nevermind.”

-----

Jeb pushed a button in the water vendor and waited for it to purify, cool then dispense the liquid into a small plastic cup. He brought it to his lips and took an appreciative sip before letting out a choked cough. He glanced at the water to see it had turned slightly muddy.

“Another day, another filter. Ugh.”

He casually replaced the machine’s filter, dumped the filthy water down the drain and set it up for another cup. It was filled with clear water this time.

He laid back against the wall with cup in hand and phone in the other. Jeb scanned through the various news articles of the day, declaring all the regular sensationalist things. Two hundreds years underground and humans still care about what celeb’s done what to their hair.

Something caught his eye. One of the article’s links looked glitched,
“Huh. Don’t see that often.” He took a chance and pressed it, and his phone’s screen started to flicker and distort. “Fuck. Just like my PC. I’m going Linux next season.”

“Oh, hey Jeb.” It was Linda from Security, a fair-faced girl who made the rounds a round the local offices. “What’s going on?”

“Oh, phone’s just-” the screen was fine. It showed a news article about the local hockey team’s victory. “...nevermind.”

-----

5PM came soon enough. Jeb grabbed his coat, let it zip itself up and headed down the tunnels home.

These concrete, subterranean tubes created a massive grid, all of them lit up with lights that dimmed to imitate night time. They were clean, kept sanitary by hundreds of little cleaner bots scuttling around. Cheap little things. Get broken or stolen all the time, but they’re manufactured easily.

One of them crunched under Jeb’s foot as he walked home with long strides. He felt paranoid, trying to ignore his surroundings though they seemed to warp around at the corners of his eyes. Some lights turn off, just to reignite as soon as he looks back. The little cleaner bots seem to follow him with their eerie clicking and tapping, though they scurry away when they were discovered.

Jeb lived in one of the older apartment complexes, a few minutes south of the high street and recreational areas. It was a cheaper place to live in, mostly because of the damp and obsolete technology, though technology always turned obsolete after a year or so. Even in this day and age, Humanity powers through.

He swiped his card for entrance, gave a nod to the block warden and headed up to his place.

The apartment was small. The main room had a kitchen, bed, table and chair, a small storage closet and a connected bathroom.

And, like any modern household, it was all moderated by a computer, visible as a control panel and screen in the wall. It managed the heat, the plumbing, electricity usage, lights, the simulated windows, and automatically connected to every device Jeb owned. Everyone has their own network, like a butler OS.

These systems were important. A vital essential for every adult. And Jeb’s was acting up.

Jeb stepped into the room and felt like a circus had just dropped to a dead stop. He heard his shower stop, he heard the loud static from his music player die down to nothing, he heard the pitter patter of cleaning bots as they scurried away into cracked holes in the walls. After all this had died down, the lights decided to come on.

With a sigh, he resigned to his place of solitude. He had no lover, his family was elsewhere, and pets are a thing only the rich can afford to maintain. The only company he had was the sneaky cleaning bots, and they always ran from him.

Jeb set himself down at his PC. A glitchy, annoying thing. It’s as if there was a virus haunting him, transmitted by his touch. He tried to access all the social media sites, get updates on news stories, do what he usually did a few times a day. In a world where massive machines can get upgraded down to tiny chips, they’ve managed to upgrade going out and actively socialising down to tiny apps.

When all that was done, he turned to entertainment, websites and forums fuelled by all the other people cramped up in their own cells of solitude, all getting their fulfillment from a glowy rectangular screen with buttons attached.

Hours passed until it reached time for sleep. Jeb got out of his comfy chair, stretched and decided to treat himself to some water and a meal.

A change of a filter and a procured paper cup later, Jeb was enjoying cold liquid sliding down his parched throat, then he turned to his fridge. Shelves of neatly packed meals, all to be put into a machine to be turned into hot food.

After all was cooked, Jeb sat down near the simulated window, a glimpse into a paradise that once was. Him, alone, staring at a screen of an orange sunset behind trees beyond. It was quiet, peaceful, alone. Lazy, subdued. Docile. All his needs were met by programs and machines.

It was after a brief while, nearing the end of his oaty porridge-like meal, Jeb realised that this had been different. His room seemed to… behave. No lights flickered, no cleaning bots scurried around, and his shower was off. It was silent, and calm.

“Finally,” he murmured to himself, “peace.” He stared out at the simulated forest of gently swaying trees, orange light flooding through their cracks, hoping that maybe his virus problem had been fixed and that he could return to his normal life.

In fact, the virus had moved. Jeb noticed something odd about one of the trees. It wasn’t one of the regular three-dimensional models with a looping sway animation, with wind rustling through its flat leaves, this tree was black and tall and had no leaves at all. It had a head atop its shoulders, smiling and twitching about.

“W-what the fuck?” Jeb was startled. Was this part of the virus? For something like this to happen, he must have been hacked. Was there some terrorist group going on here? Why him?

His mouth scurried for words that only he’d hear, but he was only met with an ever-growing static from the speakers in his walls. The simulated being moved closer and closer, yet still so far off in the distance.

“H-hey!” Jeb struggled to say, “You can stop this now!” His eyes darted from corner to corner in his room, searching for some hidden cameras. When his eyes returned to the window, he found it staring back at him, and then the room turned off.

Silence and darkness, save for a gentle red glow coming from the bottom of his wardrobe’s door, and the heavy panic of his breath. His network is off, but they never turn off? He tried to get out, but the door was unbudging and powerless. He tried for the computer, but it was powerless. He tried his phone, powerless. The wall’s control panel, powerless. Everything was powerless. He was powerless.

The red glow caught his attention. The wardrobe. A few weeks ago it got stuck. Maintenance said it was a regular problem, that the old wardrobes had faulty circuits. Could the light just be from a faulty circuit?

He steadied himself and moved to the wardrobe, to spy through the tiny crack between its two doors, to see the source of the light.

There was something in there, moving. Black and pulsing. He couldn’t see much. Above the… thing was a massive tear into the wall’s panels, where fleshy pink tendrils intermingled with cables and circuit boards. The black substance started to pulse faster and faster, tendrils starting to ooze out of it and spasm, reaching for the slot that Jeb stared through.

He darted back, seeing tiny tentacles lick the outside of the cabinet like a snake’s tongue, tasting the air, tasting for him. The silence was replaced with static once again, a torrent of clicks that came from that cabinet, from the disfigured mess of a creature that made its home there.

With adrenaline pumping down his veins, with strength returning to his muscles and emotions flooding back into his system, Jeb no longer felt suppressed. He had this overwhelming, powerful urge to survive, to live. He had to get out of there.

He charged towards his front door with a roar, trying to muster the strength of a cornered man, the power that all life evolved with to survive. He had to break through, to get out. He had to.

And, with a mighty crack, he had failed and fractured his arm.

As it turned out, humanity gave forfeit to all the things that once made them rule the world, instead they made the world evolve so that they could control each other. Once they had strong muscles to wrestle out materials and to hunt, but now all the strength they need is just enough to press buttons.

Jeb was weak. Powerless. Alone. He could not be heard, he could not be seen, he could not be noticed. With technology, he had the world at his fingertips, but without technology, he was at the world’s fingertips. And as the creature flooded from the cabinet, towards the pathetic man crumpled upon the floor, Jeb felt those fingertips grab onto his neck and squeeze.



The Voices
by Boomerang


What are you even doing here?

This isn't right--You have to leave.

He winced visibly, running a firm hand through his shaggy brown hair. The male forced his eyes shut, mentally shooing away the approaching voices that began to creep into his head for the millionth time. He brought his hands down, clenching them on the sides of the metallic bed he was forced to lay down on.

The room was daunting, almost comically so. A myriad of scalpels, needles and other medical equipment lay scattered on the counters. The walls were bland, attempting to be colorful via the cheerful posters of children with taglines regarding various diseases; One of them happened to include schizophrenia. The bed he lied down on was a piece of something more; Behind him was a large circular device, humming with energy.

Just walk out.

This won't end well.

The voices were becoming erratic and incomprehensible, matching his growing anxiety. It was happening, whether these bastards liked it or not. A brain scan wasn't going to hurt anybody but the beings that rested comfortably inside of his psyche. He hadn't yet opened his eyes, but was forced to do so after he heard the door open. Looking up, he saw a man adorning a collared shirt and tie, khakis on his lower body and a cheeky smile on his features. His thick glasses hung idly just below his eyes.

"Hello, Micheal!" The doctor said cheerfully, sitting down at a chair next to the metal bed. Micheal very soon realized that this wasn't his doctor, glancing at the name tag of 'Dr. Green'. He suppressed a scoff as the man looked up from the clipboard he was holding, pushing his glasses up to his nose and giving the trembling man a faint smile, "Today's the day!"

"Yeah..." Micheal replied, ignoring the strain of the voices in his head as they continued to push against him. He sighed, pursing his lips and running his tongue along his canines, which had become an anxious habit of his.

The doctor's gaze drifted from Micheal and back to the clipboard, "Okay--Let's get the business stuff out of the way," He began, "Date of Birth?"

You have better things to do, Micheal

Get out!

It'd be so easy to hurt him and walk away

"December 6th, 1990," Micheal replied, viciously repelling the voices in his mind.

"Any pain today?"

"Just--Just a couple of headaches, doc, same as always."

"Mm...And what kind of medication are you taking?"

I wonder how loud he'd scream if you grabbed one of those needles and stabbed him

"Xanex, muscle relaxants--And, y'know, the other stuff."

"Mhm," The doctor said nonchalantly, writing a few lines down on the clipboard, "How are you feeling today, Micheal?"

It was becoming clear that the male on the bed was struggling with the voices, his face contorting into a grotesque frown, his knuckles becoming white as he gripped the bed in distress. With the question going unanswered, the doctor looked forward in suspicion, and upon glancing at Micheal's expression he simply put the clipboard down and stood upright, "You can answer the rest of these questions when we finish the MRI. I have the important information in the computer, anyhow."

Micheal nodded, however the look in his ocean blues told a story of great relief; He didn't think he could talk much more before they became pleading screams for the voices to stay the hell out of his head.

The process was simple--Lay down on the bed, stay still, and allow himself to go through the circular device. Apparently the brain scan was strictly for research, and could possibly go towards a cure for his mental illness. Anything that could take this hell away from him was something he could and would trust aimlessly.

Micheal tried to calm his mind, staring as Dr. Green walked to the side of him and softly pressed the button. His mind began to play tricks on him as Dr. Green was suddenly transformed into a boiling figure with protruding horns, his golden slitted eyes staring at Micheal and grinning. Around him was a world of crimson red, the scalpels and needles dripping with blood or oozing pus. Micheal began to sweat profusely.

The vision quickly changed back into the real world and he saw the doctor's smiling face once more. It wasn't long before he could hear the machine's usual hum turn into a deathly whir, deafening him as the noise penetrated his ear drums. Micheal could feel the bed underneath him slowly lift up to the level of the circular device. He could barely hear Dr. Green over the noise, "Try not to worry about it--It's just a scan!" He said in an attempt to reassure Micheal, "It'll be done within a few minutes!"

There was a kickback, and then the table smoothly slid into the device. All the while, the voices in Micheal's head were growing louder than even the noises he heard; his vision was quickly becoming blurred.

You're going to die!

Get out of there!

Shut that noise off!!!

Micheal winced visibly once more, staring up at the place he had been confined in. It was spacious, leaving him a gracious amount of room, and yet he still felt trapped. He could almost feel the lights on him.

GET OUT!

LEAVE THIS PLACE!

"SHUT UP!" He screamed into the air, and out of nowhere, the whirring stopped. The voices in his head had gone quiet. There was nothing but silence.

And it was at that point that everything went black.

***

When Micheal's consciousness returned to him, he initially refused to open his eyes. Paralysis had overtaken him, partly from shock and partly from fear. For nothing more than a second, he was granted reprieve from the voices that constantly shrieked in his head. He hoped that it was because the brain scan had caused a miraculous recovery.

Micheal, how could you?

He exhaled sharply, and the blissful silence that had bubbled to the surface was just as quickly cut down. Micheal's eyes were still shut as he tried to gather his bearings with his other senses first. It was a habit he had picked up--A method for him to calm his anxiety. However, what he was met with was nothing but silence, and the realization that he was standing.

We told you, Micheal.

We all told you.

At first, the voices were incomprehensible whispers in the wind, but just as they always do, the voices grew louder in volume with each passing moment, and it wasn't long before Micheal found himself lifting his hands to his ears.

Open your eyes Micheal.

His eyes fluttered open, vision blurred as he tried to focus. Once his view was finally crystal clear, he took in his surroundings. The room was dimly lit with fluorescent lights on the clean tile ceiling, dawning on the similarly tiled floor that was spotless, save for a few specks of rust brown that he saw on the floor. There was a computer in the far corner of the room, far more advanced technology-wise than Micheal had ever seen. It was surrounded by all kinds of tubes and wires that slithered across the room like groups of venomous snakes--No, they were just wires. That's all.

Aside from the computer, Micheal saw nothing but a couple of chairs and a table in front of him. The room was rather...Empty.

You're trapped.

Micheal, help us.

In his anxiety, Micheal had neglected his common sense. Looking forward again, he could see a glare just in front of him from the ceiling lights. No...It can't be, he thought to himself. His breathing quickened as he lifted one of his hands, pressing it softly against a solid material--Glass. He was in a containment tube.

"Hey--" He said aloud, looking back and forth, "What the fuck is this?!" His voice echoed off from the walls, the metallic door closed--He was probably going unheard, but terror has no rationality.

Get us out of here, Micheal.

Break the tube!

"HEY!" Micheal screamed, pressing both hands against the wall. Both were riddled with bruises and the occasional speck of blood, "Somebody get in here and LET ME OUT!"

Nobody can save us but you.

"God DAMMIT!" Micheal exclaimed in frustration. The voices in his head had once more become deafening, the only thing he could hear (As if there was anything else to hear in the room).

Don't let us die here!

BREAK THE TUBE!

For the first time in a long time, he allowed the voices to make a critical decision for him. He didn't yell, or tell them to shut up. He growled audibly, cocking his hand back like a slingshot and clenching it into a fist. He threw it against the glass, assuming that he would only hurt himself but remaining without a care in the world. To his surprise, the glass broke, causing the remainder of the tube to collapse on itself. Shards of glass fell around Micheal and onto the floor, causing the computer to blink with a bright red. Micheal stood there in shock.

The volume of the voices had significantly lowered, transforming into slow whispers in his ears. He stared at the computer screen, and on it was a rough outline of a body, all parts of it blinking red as the sound of an alarm drowned out the whispers, blaring loudly as it echoed across the facility.

Then, came a different noise among the screeches. The movement of a locking mechanism, followed by the heave of the steel door in front of him. It pushed open slowly, and through the black, a man casually stepped out, closing the door behind him with a loud slam.

He was a tall, lithe figure, standing a few inches above Micheal (Although Micheal was only 5'5). He wore a lab coat that wrapped around his frame quite nicely, accompanied by a pair of rolled up black khakis. His sea green eyes yielded a menacing glow, the grin on his face granting Micheal a glimpse at his sharpened canines. In one hand, a clipboard, while the other hand rested in his pocket. He adjusted his dark brown hair for a moment before tilting his head, "Well, you're awake earlier than I expected," He said cheerfully, "Don't worry, that's good"

Who is he?

What does he want?

Micheal shifted uncomfortably where he was standing. He noticed a speck of blood on the man's nearly flawless suit, "Who are you? What the hell is this?"

The man pursed his lips into a forced smile, "Come now, one question at a time!" He replied, "My name is Dr. Caldwell. You don't need to know my first name."

I don't like him, Micheal

He's worse than the last one

Micheal raised an eyebrow, but before he could open his mouth to say anything Caldwell spoke up once again, "In response to your next question--you eager little thing--you are in one of the most successful government facilities to date!" He spread his arms outward and spun once, somehow enjoying the view of the white, bland room.

"Government faci-"

"Here," Caldwell held up his index finger before looking down to his clipboard, flipping through a set of notes. It took about thirty seconds before Caldwell moved to the page he desired, squinting his eyes, "Micheal...Brantley? Is that right?"

Micheal slowly nodded, absolutely perplexed by the amount of zest exuding from this doctor. He seemed excited, but Micheal couldn't shake the malevolent glint in his irises.

"Aged 24--Almost 25 before your brain scan," He noted with a wide grin, chuckling to himself for whatever reason, "Schizophrenic, love life zero, low-budget engineer. Am I hitting all the right notes so far?"

Micheal winced at the doctor's blunt personality, once again nodding. He suddenly noticed that the voices in his head were quiet. He was relieved, and also petrified. His voices were never, ever silent.

"Let's see..." The doctor placed his index finger at the bottom of the paper, "Ah--Met a premature demise walking from the hospital after the brain scan via a car to the face."

He let go of the papers and placed the clipboard on the counter next to him, "How tragic," He said dismissively.

Micheal's eyes widened, his knees buckling as his legs became wet noodles. He leaned on the counter for support, staring up at the doctor, "Wuh--What do you mean? I'm right here, I didn't die!"

Dr. Caldwell just snickered, placing his fist over his mouth to prevent himself from laughing aloud. He gave Micheal a good glance-over, "You have so much to learn," He replied with a grin that was now from ear to ear, "The first thing I should probably tell you is that this isn't 2015 anymore--This is the year of 2059."

Another gulp of air was taken by Micheal as he felt like he had just been shot in the center of his chest. He stared at the ground, blinking away the blurry vision and the snakes he saw slithering across the ground, "What--Are you talking about?!" He demanded, raising his voice.

Caldwell seemed to be getting a kick out of his misery, waiting a few suffocating moments before finally deciding to respond, "You see, in the future, we've acquired a variety of technological advances: Better computers, hover cars, but most of all--Vast improvements in the world of machines."

Micheal felt as though he was ready to vomit, but if he had been sleeping for 44 years, how the hell could he have anything left to throw up? Micheal didn't even look at the doctor as he continued on his tangent, "Well, you see--Even when you died 44 years ago walking out of that hospital, your brain scan still remained in our computers. Your brain scan only remembers up to the point that you were in that hospital room and nothing more. If that brain scan were to be activated, you wouldn't remember anything in between."

"To make a long story a little shorter, the government has recruited me to find the brain scans of the deceased and place them into..." He held out his final word, lifting one finger up and letting the suspense sink in. This was his own form of comedy, "--Machines."

Micheal opened his mouth to call bullshit, however first he instinctively looked down at his hands. At first, they were humanoid with blood caked on them from breaking the glass. However, as he watched, he witnessed the facade fade away, collapsing before him as his hands turned into a mixture of black and grey metal, wires connecting together to form joints on his fingers and arms. He clenched his hand into a fist, trembling. "No..."

"Oh, but yes!" Dr. Caldwell spoke, circling around him now. Micheal looked at his lab coat and took keen notice that the specks of blood had become specks of oil, "You get to become a part of our great new society!"

Micheal didn't speak, glaring down at his hand. He was nothing but an abomination now--He was brought back to life, sure, but he had been mutated into nothing but a hulking chunk of metal and wires. Tears would have possibly rolled down his face, had he been equipped with tears ducts.

"You see, Micheal," Caldwell continued with full knowledge that the robot was listening intently, hanging on every word, "The government is taking these brains scans and putting them into machines for...enhanced warfare."

Micheal's head shot up as he glared at the 'Doctor' , "We create machines with human minds, and we have something unprecedented! Machines that have feelings--Machines with technical strategy! Oh, the things we can do to our opposition; Isn't it exciting?!!" He turned to Micheal, hoping for a joyous reacting but was met with a glare. Or, was it really a glare? What did his eyes even look like, now?

"I don't--I don't want this," Micheal managed to speak, "I don't want any of this!"

"Oh come now, Micheal," the male said, "You're a unique model! You see, normally we take brain scans of soldiers with post traumatic stress disorder, Or serial killers that know how to use their hands," He made a stabbing motion with his left hand, then immediately stopped, pointing at Micheal, "But you meant something to me the moment I laid eyes on your scan. Your...Affliction. It intrigues me to the very core! You would be a valuable unit in the field, Mr. Brantley--You're UNPREDICTABLE. That's what I value most about you."

"I don't want to be a foot soldier, dammit!" Micheal slammed his hand against the counter top, causing tiny cracks to form in the marble substance. He glanced at it, slowly lifting his hand up; He didn't know his own strength, "I just wanna go home."

"But Micheal," He spread his arms wide, "THIS is your home. I re-birthed you; I made you whole again! I gave you a new life, something you can look forward to. You can say I'm...Almost like a father to you."

Micheal winced at the thought. He only had one father, and it was the man who conceived him along with his mother. This man was simply a psychopath that gave him a life he didn't want. He didn't even want his life to begin with. Micheal stood tall, even on shaky legs, "Then kill me."

Dr. Caldwell stopped for a moment and tilted his head. Then, he gave a hearty chuckle. Micheal once more took notice of the fact that the voices were silent--Were they scared of Caldwell?

"Afraid not!" He replied, "You're too valuable of a foot soldier to me."

Something snapped at that moment, and a wave of rage crashed into him akin to an ocean tide, "FUCK YOU!" He screamed, lunging forward and throwing a metal fist toward Caldwell's face.

However, just as he made the motion, he was met with a searing pain. He screamed in sheer agony, and he could hear the other voices doing the same as he could see blue currents of electricity rushing through him. He stumbled a bit before eventually falling to his hands and knees, breathing heavily through the pain. It was a struggle to lift his head to look at Caldwell, who was now holding a device with one circular button in the middle. He had his index finger pressed against it.

His free hand was in the air as he wagged his index finger back and forth, "Ah-Ah-Ah!" He took his finger off of the button, allowing Micheal to sprawl on the ground. Oil was leaking from somewhere, although he didn't care much for where it was, "You have to play nice!"

Caldwell's face darkened as he slapped Micheal across the face, leaning over him, "Now you sit down and KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT WHEN I'M TALKING TO YOU!"

There was a moment of silence as Micheal glared into the man's malevolent green irises. He wouldn't kill Micheal, that was true, but he would put him through copious amounts of torture if he didn't follow the doctor's requests in full. There was nothing he could do at the moment, with the device still in his possession he had full control over Micheal. Even though it sickened him to the core, he would have to play foot soldier for now--He would have to live with the voices even longer, and without any of his friends to help him.

Micheal exhaled slowly and closed his eyes for a long time. Eventually, he stood, trembling, and walked over to the chair beside the broken containment tube. He sat down in it, looking at the doctor with a furious glare--If looks could kill, he would be dead twice over.

Dr. Caldwell's face returned to a cheerful expression as he grinned from ear-to-ear, "Wonderful!" He clapped his hands together, pulling a chair across from Micheal and grabbing his clipboard. He took out his pen, writing a couple of things down. The voices slowly returned, but this time they were soft, like scared whispers.

A-Are we stuck here, Micheal?

This is all your fault--You should have never tried to get rid of us.

Micheal winced, staring at the tile floor. For once, the voices were right--It was his fault. And now he'd have to pay the price for it. All he wanted to do was to be allowed to die--He wanted to be let go.

We're never getting out.

"Now then, " Dr. Caldwell broke the silence, glancing over at the broken figure of Micheal with a malevolent grin plastered on his features, "Let's get started, shall we?"

ErrorBlender
11-16-2017, 05:54 AM
Science Fiction Part II

All That Remained
by Tsar Bomba
“Don’t do that.”

“Do what?”

“That.”

“What?”

“Don’t bounce your leg like that.”

“Oh. Sorry,” Jay apologized, he didn’t realize he was tapping his foot nor did he realize it was bothering his captain. He wasn’t surprised though. The captain was easily agitated. Jay figured that irritability was something that developed with age, a plausible theory considering his superior was old.

The captain itched his poorly-shaven jaw, “How’d you manage to learn how to fly a cargo ship, but not how to keep still?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know?”

“I don’t know.”

The captain responded with a grumble. Jay was familiar with the sound, though he was never able to derive any meaning from it. It was just a sound. That was another “old person” thing the captain did: he made a lot of noises. Whenever Jay was co-piloting the ship with him, there were always a handful of grumbles, snorts, and obscenities.

Jay didn’t really mind, though. He always focused on the more rewarding aspects of flying a spacecraft. He got to see the universe and go places he never thought he would go. Most of the other crew members were nice to him and during his free time they would invite Jay to drink or play cards. Little things that excused the reality of his uselessness.

You see, copilots didn’t matter. If you were something like a cybernetics engineer or a scientist or even a space station mechanic, your job is undoubtedly important. But when you’re the copilot of a cargo ship, all you do is push buttons and occasionally flip a switch. Maybe two. A monkey could do the job; the captain always reminded Jay of that. Still, being a copilot was better than being nothing. That’s what Jay used to be.
“Switch it to engine two,” the captain said, keeping a hand on the wheel and using the other to point toward the controls near his copilot.

Jay pressed a button, “Okay.”

“A goddamned monkey could do your job, you know.”

“I know.”

The brief exchange was followed by silence. Silence was okay. It made for an effective thinking space. Jay believed that contemplation was one of the strongest and most potent forms of recreation. He thought about a lot of things when the world around him was quiet. His ruminations often included people, sex, past occurrences, the more trivial aspects of life. Jay sometimes entertained the thought that he was insane. Constantly navigating through the dark, featureless void of space and staring into nothingness for hours, days, or weeks sounded like something a crazy person might do. He remembered when he used to look up at the stars when he was young. Jay could stare at the stars for eternities, burying himself in thought.

Now he was sick of stars.

“See that?” The captain asked.

“What?”

The old man used his empty drinking flask to casually gesture to something beyond the windshield, “Debris.”

Jay looked curiously at the weightless collection of scrap metal drifting aimlessly amongst the stars. He glanced at his captain, “What’s it from?”

“Satellite, maybe,” the elderly man paused briefly, “Or a ship.”

“A ship?”

“Yeah, probably got too friendly with an asteroid. Something like that.”

Jay nodded, reclining a bit in his seat. He watched as the debris slipped away from sight. It was interesting to consider that the bits of metal would float endlessly in space. Inanimate objects had never appeared so lonely.

A new voice entered the room, “You two playing nice?”

The captain and his copilot turned simultaneously, both gazes settling on a crewmate, Ada. He stood in the doorway with a hand resting casually on each hip, they stayed there as he walked further into the cockpit. The ponytailed man gave Jay a nod before giving his attention to the captain, who had already returned his focus to the stars.

“What is it, Ada?” The captain spoke toward the windshield.

Ada jerked his thumb over his shoulder, “It’s about the girl.”

Jay blinked, shifting his gaze between the captain and Ada. The girl. It was such a broad label, though Jay knew who his crewmate was referring to: Eliza Ledoux. They kidnapped her a few days ago. Now the crew was on their way to collect the ransom. It was a large sum of cash, more than they had ever earned from any other delivery. Jay couldn’t remember whose idea it was to abduct her, but that didn’t matter now. What mattered was that it was a good idea, a profitable one.

The Ledoux Family were owners of EDE-9, a dwarf planet with several moons. They were amongst the first to break into the business of interplanetary trade. The investment quickly proved to be a lucrative one. Within a few years, the small mining planet transformed into a flourishing enterprise. Eliza was to inherit the family fortune upon her father’s passing. Bianca Ledoux, her mother, was killed in an explosion at one of the compounds. Eliza’s brothers, Arthur and Brenden Ledoux, were murdered in a bar fight on one of EDE-9’s moons a few years after. The girl was the only remaining successor to her father’s corporation. As expected, her father offered a generous amount of money for his daughter’s safe return.

While Eliza was in captivity, Jay would do little things to make the beginnings of the voyage easier for her. He’d sneak her a little extra food or keep her company. She seemed like she could use someone to talk to. Eliza usually didn’t respond, at least, not for the first two days.

It was the third night that things changed. Jay entered the smallish dungeon and slid the girl a tray of leftovers from that day’s dinner; A small fork followed. He smiled and took his usual seat on the floor. A row of thick metal rods separated the two.

The room was dimly lit with a yellowish glow. Eliza’s lengthy hair hung in her face, concealing her features. She managed a slow shuffle as she gripped the edge of the tray and started eating. Jay spoke quietly, “Do you like being alone?”

Eliza stopped, the only indicator that she was listening.

The co-pilot paused before continuing, “I was alone a lot back home. And usually, when you’re alone, the world’s real quiet around you. I liked it. I like to think about things and it’s always easier to do that when everything’s quiet.”

The girl shifted a bit.

“But when you deliver cargo, you end up working with others,” he added, “Back when I was a rookie, I had already decided that I liked being alone, so I didn’t spend much time with the crew or talk to them much or anything like that.” Jay sighed, tracing his fingertips along the hard floor panels, “Eventually, they invited me to drink with them after a job. I didn’t really want to at first--I figured that I wanted to be alone--but they convinced me and I went and drank with them…”

An audible whoosh was heard as the ship accelerated a bit. “I had fun, a lot of fun. More fun than I ever had by myself. So, I started thinking about that. And you know what I found out?” He raised his head as if he expected Eliza to respond, then lowered it as he finished his story, “I didn’t like being alone. I hated it all along. I liked other people and their company and I didn’t know it. What I actually liked was quiet… I like quiet. It suits me. So, that’s why I asked if you like being alone... because I’m still wondering what that’d be like.”

There was a lingering silence. Jay shrugged, seeming to fail once again in making conversation with the girl. He started to stand when he was interrupted by a small voice, “I want to see you.”

“What?”

“Come into the light. I want to see you,” she elaborated, “You always stay in the dark when you visit.”

Jay stood, taking a few steps forward and into the faint glow that poorly illuminated the room. The girl raised her head. Their gazes met for a few moments.

Eliza smiled, “Thank you.”

“You too,” Jay spoke tentatively. He exited soon after replying.

Jay was removed from his trance-like state of reflection as Ada continued to inform the captain, “She killed herself.”

The captain grumbled. His eyes were still fixed on the windshield, “How’d she manage that?”

Ada gestured to his throat, “Found her with a fork in her neck.”

Jay blinked, surprised at the sudden twinge in his heart. He stood and made his way to the door. The captain raised an eyebrow and turned toward him, “Where’re you going?”

“Bathroom,” Jay replied. The mechanical clicks of the doors were heard as he passed through them.

Jay started down a narrow corridor. His movement audible due to the weighted clatter of his boots on the metal flooring. Without a thought in his mind, he headed toward the lower levels, where Eliza was held, to check if her body was still there. It wasn’t. All that remained was a blood stain and an empty cell.

By the time Jay was out of there, it had already been decided: the crew would get their money. He didn’t know how much time had passed since he left the cockpit, but it was apparently long enough for an assemblage of delivery men to confer about the fate of their cash. The copilot was unaware of the meeting until he was approached by Ada in the hall afterwards, “You take hour-long shits, now?”

An hour. Was he in there for that long? Maybe Ada was exaggerating. Jay looked to his crewmate, “No.”

“You go to the emergency meeting?”

“No.”

“Well, we’re still getting the money. Figured she costs the same dead as she does alive, as long as daddy thinks her neck is forkless. Captain says it’ll be a few hours before we get to EDE-9.”

“Okay.”

“You alright?”

“Yes,” Jay ended the exchange. He knew monosyllabic words were effective when defending against conversation. It wasn’t that he specifically didn’t want to talk to Ada, Jay was somewhat fond of his crewmate, but he wanted to avoid the topic of Eliza’s fate. From what he remembered of her features, the girl just seemed too pretty to commit suicide. However, despite her looks, she stabbed herself to death with a fork that Jay had given her. He watched her take it. It broke his heart to think about that and he had no idea why. She was a stranger to him. A stranger who he grieved for. A stranger who had died alone.

* * *

EDE-9 had notoriously vivid mornings, the unwavering glare of the sun pervaded the interior of the cargo ship as it settled onto the dirt. Jay stared at the seemingly endless yellow fields and flourishing plant life. They had arrived. Butterflies seemed to be thrashing wildly within Jay’s stomach. The captain took a swig from his drinking flask, standing. Jay followed suit. The two made their way down to the exit. All of the crew members were gathered around the large metal door.

“Jay and Kaleb are going with me, the rest of you don’t take a step off the ship until we’re back home,” the captain announced, “Give us two hours. Shouldn’t take too much longer than that. If it does, there’s trouble.”

Kaleb stepped forward from the small crowd. The man silently took a place beside the captain. He was hard-faced and strong-bodied, making it easy to see why the captain wanted him tagging along. Jay was quite unfamiliar with Kaleb and so were most of the others. The large man always maintained a certain degree of indifference when onboard.

The three exited the cargo ship and made their way into the wilderness of EDE-9. It was a quiet walk. The mixture of scenery and sunlight came together to compose a beautiful display of nature, untouched by man. Bright colors produced by the unique flora faded as the group grew closer to the Ledoux manor. Compounds, quarries, and all types of machines began appearing. Past all of them, a large house could be seen. It seemed too spacious for a family of one.

“Here,” the captain extended a hand to Jay, his fingers were wrapped around a small firearm, “Take this.”

Jay nodded. The gun felt heavy in his hands. He carefully slid it into his jacket and continued walking.

The trio approached the manor. They started to make their way across a large, open yard, but halted as the front door was opened; Someone had been waiting for them. A man stood, motionless in the lavish doorway. He was dressed in formal, noticeably-wrinkled clothing. His eyes were lifeless and zombie-like, as if he hadn’t slept in years. Mr. Ledoux stared at the three men. An enduring silence developed during which the group simply matched his gaze. His voice was monotone, it had a distinct hesitance to it, “Come inside.”

The three men paused before entering the mansion. Vibrant wallpaper, shimmering wooden flooring, expensive furniture, and even more expensive-looking art coated the interior. This was as close as any of them had ever gotten to living in luxury. It seemed like a glance into their future; This would be their lifestyle by the time they left the planet. They couldn’t help but be distracted by all the happiness money could buy. They looked forward to such happiness, but first they needed the money. It seemed so close. None of them knew that Mr. Ledoux had no intention of paying them anything.

Jay let his eyes wander around the manor. There was an abundance of art, but no photographs of family members save for Eliza. A few small portraits of the girl were scattered around the room, staring at Jay. His gaze moved to each image. They were all wrong. None of them looked right. She didn’t look real, not like she did on the ship.

“Where are the others?” Mr. Ledoux inquired, leading the men into another room.

The captain spoke before anyone else could, “Just us three.”

“Just three men? A smaller crew than I thought... Three men,” Mr. Ledoux sat down at a table, the captain took the seat opposite him. Jay and Kaleb stood firm behind their superior. They weren’t cognizant of the gun under the table, wielded by Ledoux. He had carefully removed it from his pants when he was sure no one would take notice. The man rested the firearm on his thigh and kept it out of sight. He maintained an open shot at the captain’s stomach.

“I made tea,” Ledoux proposed, slowly putting his index finger to the trigger, “It’s in the kitchen. If you want some, you can get it.”

The captain spoke for the rest of them, “We’ll be okay.”

“I insist. We don’t have to make this so… how it is. You’ll get your money, but first, have some tea.”

The captain paused, then nodded to Jay, who returned the gesture and ventured into the kitchen. It was spacious, clean. Jay looked around for the tea, but he couldn’t find it. It would’ve been on the counter, right? Jay shrugged. He was hesitant to return empty-handed and look like a fool. Maybe there were two kitchens. The thought wasn’t absurd, the house was most definitely big enough to include two kitchens, it just seemed strange that the man would say “the kitchen” if there were multiple. Jay was then startled by an earsplitting blast, followed by three more. There was no tea.

It felt as though he could hear nothing, like his senses had abandoned him. All of them except for his vision. Jay could see everything.

Red. The captain laid in an expanding pool of his own blood. He clenched his stomach, a futile attempt to stop fatal bleeding. He had fallen out of his chair. Kaleb was in a sitting position, against the wall. His gun was beside him and two wounds marked his torso. The large man was unmoving, it seemed like he wouldn’t be anytime soon. The barrel of a firearm faced Jay. The copilot slowly raised his arms with wide eyes.

Mr. Ledoux’s left shoulder leaked blood that ran down the length of his arm. He kept the gun pointed at Jay,“Take me to my daughter!”

Jay was silent, staring at Ledoux. The man yelled once more, louder, “Take me to her, now!” He sounded frantic.

His captor demanded that Jay go outside. He slowly did so. He couldn’t do anything else. His only other option was to confess and tell the man that his daughter was dead. That he just killed two men for a corpse, for bad news. Jay couldn’t reveal that to him, though, not now. It was too late for honesty.

So he walked at the point of a gun. Past the compounds. Past the quarries. Past the machines. They walked past organic greens and yellows that erased the industrial grey. They walked until they stepped foot into the seemingly endless yellow fields. A cargo ship was sitting idly amongst the vegetation. That’s when Jay stopped walking.

“Sir…” Jay’s voice quivered as it left his mouth.

Mr. Ledoux looked between Jay and the ship, “Why’d you stop? Is that it? Your ship?”

“Yes.”

“You’re the last one?”

“Yes.”

“Keep moving, boy. I don’t want to shoot you just yet.”

Jay slowly turned toward the man, looking him in the eyes. “Sir...” He took in a quick breath, “I can’t take you to your daughter.”

“It’s either that or I kill you, boy.”

“No, sir, I can’t. She’s passed.”

“What?” Mr. Ledoux’s scowl melted into a somber expression, “What do you mean she’s passed?”

“Eliza…” Jay closed his eyes as tears began to well in them, “Eliza is dead, sir. She killed herself.”

The man was still. He gave Jay a long, silent stare. The copilot opened his eyes and shook his head. An apology and a request. He didn’t want to die, that was clear. Ledoux spoke weakly, “She’s… dead…?”

Jay nodded.

Ledoux squeezed the trigger, shooting Jay in the side. The boy let out a yelp as he fell onto the dirt. He grasped his wound, he could feel the blood oozing onto his skin. He could feel the pain. Jay couldn’t look, though. His wide eyes were fixed on the suited man walking toward him. Mr. Ledoux adjusted the direction of the gun’s barrel, now pointing it at the copilot’s head.

Another blast could be heard. It was a sound that had quickly become familiar to Jay. It was loud. It was so loud. It hurt more than anything to hear. It hurt. However, Jay did not die. He was very much alive. He could feel his heart pounding against his chest. The boy hyperventilated as Mr. Ledoux collapsed and Ada ran out from behind the ship, wielding a firearm of his own.

* * *

He could’ve accepted. He could’ve been captain. That’s what people told him, at least. However, Jay refused the offer. He wanted to remain a copilot. Jay knew that Ada would make a fine captain, he fit the rubric. They would be spending much more time together, which Jay didn’t mind. Most of the time it was quiet, which Jay enjoyed. Ada always seemed restless without sound to comfort him, he’d usually shift around in his seat or even whistle. This time, Ada tapped his foot in the silence. Jay shrugged and reclined in his seat.

“Don’t do that.”

Arthur
by Rokon

The stars sit off in the distance. The large blue planet called Earth makes its way into Arthur’s field of vision. A blue planet, because the water is such an uncommon thing it justifies ignoring all the other colors that can be seen from just outside the planet's atmosphere. That's how Arthur’s parents would say it at least.

Arthur was space born, a common occurrence from what his parents would tell him. The galactic paver association would send out teams of astronauts into the black pit of space for long periods of time to see if there was anything worth finding. Naturally the people would get close, and after that children would start appearing on the ships. Arthur had never been to earth, despite his parents being scheduled to return 16 years ago. “There's too much left to see” they would say. Every time those words went through Arthur’s head he would get upset.

His parents had seen so much but they kept going to see more. Then they got careless and went out into a planet that wasn't meant for humans. They didn't return to say the least. Arthur was the sole survivor of the S.S. Excalibur and since he had never been to earth he decided that he should return with all the data and discoveries of his parents.

The S.S. Excalibur was once a beautiful golden ship with a variety of details in a variety of colors. Purely for aesthetics of course. Yet now it was an old, just short of rusting, ship that clearly outlived its expectancy. Especially considering it hadn't been repaired since the demise of its crew.

Arthur watches the blue planet as his ship propels itself towards its atmosphere. “Well I guess this is really happening” Arthur says after a sigh. He stands and walks through the ship to the control room.

Arthur flipped switches and adjusted levers until the ship was ready for a successful landing. The rockets shut down as gravity dragged the craft down. Arthur clipped his seatbelt on as the gold craft fell. The S.S. Excalibur was slowed as a it's landing protocol activated. The ships thrusters pushed it out of its fall and landed it safely at a GPA landing zone

Arthur walked through the halls of the S.S. Excalibur for what to his knowledge could have been the last time. The ship's hangar door opened and Arthur stepped off of the ship. He took a deep breath. The landing zone had an odor similar to that of a mechanic's shop, not a smell Arthur was a fan of but one he could more or less identify.

a woman about twenty years old made her way to Arthur and looked him over. “You must be Arthur. I'm glad you were able to get here safely.” the woman said as she looked back and forth between Arthur and the Excalibur.

“I'm Arthur, yeah” Arthur said looking over the woman. “and you are?”

The girl smiled and gave Arthur a salute. “I am Lilane of the galactic paver association's ship return unit” she claimed. “When your message notifying us of your return came in I was given the job of making sure you were able to settle in on earth and turn in the information from your ship's journey” she added gleefully

Arthur released a heavy sigh and looked at the girl. “The data is all neatly organized in the ship.” he began. “For every file on the computer there's a printout. I'm not interested in continuing work with the pavers” he said

Lilane’s smile faded. “Well that sucks” she said. “maybe for you guys,” Arthur replied dismissively. “I'm done with space”

Arthur walked off. He left the majority of his belongings on the S.S. Excalibur but material objects were replaceable. What he really needed was to readjust to people being around and to figure out how things on Earth actually work. Everything he knew about it he learned from his parents and he was confident that the information was outdated considering how long they had been away.

Lilane ran up behind Arthur. She was determined to finish her assignment even if he refused to continue with the pavers. “Arthur, you don't have to work for the GPA anymore. Just let me show you around so you can get settled in” she said.

Arthur looked at the girl. If her helping him adjust was something that could be done even if he refused to continue working with the GPA then there was no reason to refuse. “fine,” he began, “you can help me, but remember, I'm not working for the GPA anymore” he added as he looked at Lilane. “then I should take you to the resignation office” Lilane said, her smile returning.

“Fine, lead the way” Arthur said as he waved Lilane along. The girl started walking in front of Arthur. She walked to an elevator and pressed the button for it to come. “The elevator will take us right to the office” she told the man.

Arthur nodded. He just wanted it to get done. How it got done was irrelevant to him. The elevator doors opened and the pair entered. The girl pushed a button and the elevator lifted before moving to the side, taking a number of turns and stopping at the office.

“I see elevators are different now” Arthur scoffed before stepping off the elevator. “they're called track elevators” Lilane responded as she stepped off the elevator. “they change directions more or less the way a train does” she added. “you'll see them all over”

“Hmm, okay. What's next?” Arthur asked, feeling like knowing that was making some form of progress. Lilane showed him to a desk with a screen on it. He walked up to the screen and looked it over. “You say your name and tell it you are resigning. Then you're done and I'll show you around” she said.

“Arthur of the S.S. Excalibur” he said not knowing of any last name he may have. The screen lit up and showed a picture of him from a few years before. A list of options was displayed. “resign” he said.

A Dream I Had
by KamirooWolf
Gary's bones crunch between the massive ape's gargantuan molars, the once shrill and frightened screams drowning amidst the blood and viscera leisurely sliding down the gorilla's crimson maw. The beast lazily adjusts his mouth, sliding a mangled limb of unidentifiable characteristics between the cracks of his lips as he does so. The body part slaps against the scorched soil, expunging any aspiring blazes beneath it's impact with a vicious hiss. His crewmates, terrified and awe-stricken, make a move to cry out his name in utter despair, but the heavy stomps of not-so-distant approaching behemoths reminds them quickly that their tears have no meaning in this moment.

Cry later, live longer.

Marines, physicists, botanists, and even a few athletes can do nothing as the towering colossi close behind scoop them up. One by one they are all taken. One by one they are all silenced with an excruciatingly thick crunch or a disturbingly satisfying “pop". Blood is unavoidable. Several pacifists have their white lab coats stained, only having time worry about how the splattered organs of their friends will weigh them down as the gorillas behind thunder ever closer. Fifteen men. Fifteen women. Seven children.

The gorillas' hefty feet make all attempts at running futile, lifting any fleet feet higher and higher off the ground with each closing inch. Children trip, parents stop to save them; and neither survive. It doesn't take long for the remaining three humans to rush into a thicket of brush taller than the apes themselves, bawling like newborns as they dive underneath an above-ground root acting as if an open blanket cover to offer false invisibility.

Seconds pass as if hours, the fear of the unknown never leaving the shelter of their pores as the three men huddle close underneath a root the size of a regular earthen oak tree. One man, Davies, yanks a relatively large wooden cross from his necklace and begins gnawing away at the corners with blood stained fangs, refusing to be taken as easily as his wife and daughter. The next, Bruins, buries his ashen face into the rich soil beneath, shouting muffled prayers to his God in heaven. The final man, Lakshma, sits in a cross-cross manner; his fingers neatly contorted into stereotypical signs for meditation. His outfit matches the action, his baggy brown and white cloths akin to monks who spend their lives devoted to some belief. None of them speak, but each and every one of them cries. Their tears overwhelmingly riddled with salt, yet the pain and confusion infusion spike the flavor just enough to emerge from the depths tainted with sodium chloride.

A clock sounds somewhere in the universe, and two of the three men feel their final hour come to an end as a massive footstep shatters the silence like a thin, inexpensive glass. A pair of gray, scarred hands wrap around the thick root overhead and in an instant the three stragglers are revealed to a band of simians. Davies is the first to break formation, charging the nearest ape with bloodlust gone mad in his opal eyes. Before the weighty beast can react, the holy shank in his possession is lodged deep within the creature's fur lined...ankle; a mere pebble in the road for a man. The gorilla wears a bored expression, wrapping it's thick digits gently around Davies' skull before the sad, sad man is but the remains of a wasted grape between the beast's fingers. His body is tossed aside as if rotten, contaminated fodder, and the two remaining men are quickly left with two decisions.

Run for dear life and prey the other man just happens to be slower...

Or

Accept death and journey to the other side in hopes that God is a merciful reality rather than myth...

The decision is made quickly, and Bruins feels a tinge of remorse as he kicks dirt up onto a surprised Lakshma without warning. The rich fertiliser and relatively miniscule bugs within blinding his vision just as a wide fist into the ground sends he and his freshly ruined attire to the other side for inspection. Perhaps the blindness to rapid death was a blessing...perhaps his anonymous end was a curse, all Bruins knows is that, in that moment, he is alive. His feet tear through the sod and assassinate as many critters below as necessary to rip through the dense jungle, flashes of his life and his accomplishments flying in the opposite direction as a clearing comes into view. It's not much, but even the smallest of phenomenon can be considered a beacon of hope to a man with nothing to lose. His legs tense on the verge of cramping, but the African American male forces them to push harder than they ever have before, tearing something without shame as sunlight plants a long, enchanting kiss on his sweat-soaked dark skin and standard military uniform as he nears the clearing. He can taste salvation, tears forming in his eyes as the pounding of approaching feet and primal roars near.

It takes a matter of seconds, but Bruins curses God and all under his name as a massive snow white tiger throws itself in his path, it's size laughable compared to the apes but terrific in the eyes of a normal man. Bruins attempts to keep charging, only to be felled immediately with a swift swipe of the creature's paw. It pins him down, making no attempt justify its actions before raising its majestic crown and arching its back. The first gorilla at the front of the troop hesitates, faltering slightly just before he is hit with a storm unlike any other.

The tiger's entire body vibrates, and Bruins can feel his soul being wrenched within his body as the mighty monstrosity bellows a roar so intense, so powerful, that even the apes ten times its size are launched onto their hinds. For the duration of the roar they screech and cry back at the declaration in fear, kicking violently into the black and brown soil as they shift direction completely, an expression of everlasting disbelief mixed with relief etched into their once vicious and twisted faces. Fear follows them as if a ghost latched onto the nape of their hairy necks as a parasite feeding off of their weakened hearts and underdeveloped brains.

As their sound akin to thunder in the darkest of storm clouds fades into the noise of other creatures going about their natural lives, Bruins can feel all the stress and fear instilled within his heart alleviate almost immediately under the large cat's weight. It doesn't hurt, his chest, but the grown man can quickly feel his adrenaline being sapped as a sharp pain stretches across the length of his right leg. There are several smaller injuries unrelated to the apes, but for now all the black man can do is take one last glimpse of the beast before him and half-heartedly thank his savior before darkness envelops his vision absolutely.

“Rest...take...child...child..." are the last words Bruins hears before his body goes limp and his consciousness goes blank.
------------------------------------------------------------------------

The muggy swamp water soaks into Bruins skin and the man can feel it seeping into his pores as foreign aquatic life forms brush past his stretched out arms. He is sprawled out in the center of the deep dank dark greenish-blue water, his own dark skin blending into the sections of the liquid shrouded in shade. Algae swims alongside the unknown creatures, and for a moment, the former squaddie of Spacial Expedition Brigade Squad C feels a flush of peace wash over his body. Through his finger tips and down his thighs, soaking into his uniform tan camouflage pants and staining it's matching shirt. His eyes begin having parasites sap at their vision, but the grown adult soon realises that he is merely crying. Realisation of his situation flowing faster than memory itself, and in mere moments Bruins remembers the thundering apes. He remembers the blood and guts of his gored comrades. He remembers the screams of a few of his close friends on board the ship. He remembers...a snow white tiger coming to his rescue. A spiny, urchin like slug clambers onto Bruins' wrist, and the space cadet quickly pulls away from its off-putting appearance to rise and grasp his surroundings.

Majestic, rich trees lined with moss and markings of untold age, greenery and vegetation as far as the eye can see, and a noble beast resting silently on a throne carved of stone and lazily splashed with random colors in haphazard sections. If Bruins had been obsessive compulsive, he would have had a seizure gazing upon the chair, but just as he shifts in the water he can only flinch as the beast's midnight orange eyes explode from the cover that was once their eyelids. The creature stares into Bruins' soul, but the human does not falter. His steely dark gray eyes meet the tiger head on.

“I like those eyes," The tiger speaks, instantly rupturing the tension and disassembling our protagonist's focus. “I see...humility and longing; a desire to be adored despite years of mediocrity in the shadows of others. I like your eyes, human...I like them an awful lot. And for that reason and that reason alone I have decided-" The tiger rises from its sitting position and proceeds into a light hop, being caught just before his fur-covered paws can be soaked in the unworthy, soiled water. Beneath each pair of paws are perfectly subjugated alligators, their edgy eyes never sliding down from their master's presence. Once settled, the tiger clears his throat before speaking once more. “To bestow my grace upon you."

The beast beckons and Bruins quickly rises to his to feet, the mud in his boots shifting underneath his weight as swamp water pours into the military-style shoes. His right leg is light and carefree, and Bruins feels nothing so much as a tingle related to pain as he follows the still, supposed monarch of the jungle. They wade through the muck for a short distance before the cat leaps from his stepping stools, landing on the soft soil running along the edge of the wide river the two have found themselves on.

“There is a darkness dwelling within the hidden recesses of your heart, my child. This troubles me. Come. Walk with me and ask as many questions as you need on our way through your new home." Its voice is smooth and educated, chiseled precisely with a blade of wisdom and equally as intimidating in its own still, refined manner. Bruins directs his gaze away from the tiger's fiery ember pupils and notices a path of stepping stones set in the center of the calm river. Each slab looks carved expertly, prompting the squaddie to wonder as to whether or not he was the only human in the area, only having the wild calls of beasts unknown reassure him. Without hesitation he takes to the stones, carefully treading over each as the murky swamp water begins to rush in the direction he is heading. It slaps against his mud-covered boots, gracefully attempting to swipe at any grime and/or filth contaminating their light brown hue as he walks. On the right side of him struts the magnificent beast, gazing ahead with sure eyes as the two of them follow the water.

“You wonder where it is you are, first and foremost." The feline examines. “And that, my dearest disciple, is information easily conveyed. It was a rift in the fabric of space, as you most likely recall, that tore you out of the universe your kind had become accustomed to. Your ship was unable to withstand the force of gravity INSIDE the void's vacuum and as a result you crash landed into the nearest planet within the fresh solar system. No casualties from the impact and, from there, you most likely remember what followed."

To be frank, Bruins can't seem to think of anything but the swift decimation of his crew as his covered, soggy feet slosh across each stone rectangle. Close by his feet follows a diarrhea colored alligator, eyeing his every movement with precise reptilian eyes and keeping pace with him as if a carefully calibrated machine. The gator notes every wrinkle in his attire, every crevice in his skin, and growls for every evidence of creasing in the young cadet's brow, until the beast finally lets loose a snort of satisfaction, the murky water covering the lower half of its nostrils bubbling as it does so. Its analysis complete, the creature swiftly turns tail and rushes against the flowing current.

“While your silence is certainly intriguing, young one, I would very much appreciate it if we could clear our slate of any queries you may have before we approach our destination. Please do not hold back, for I am the god of this universe in its entirety, and I will do all in my power to bring peace to my newest child." Bruins' leg stiffens slightly and the the cadet is forced to adjust his footing at the tiger's gravely serious remark.

The African American male shakes his head violently, the mangy hairs on his chin scratching the broad of his skin-covered collar bone. Majestic and godlike, certainly, but God himself? Preposterous. There is only one true God, and I pray he watch over my fallen loved ones and thank him for this blessing of life he has given me. The thought breezes through Bruins' brain and he picks up on the internal prayer through bits and pieces, but he can feel the tiger's emblazoned eyes scorch the misplaced praise to ash.

“Praying to your God in the presence of another. Disgustingly disrespectful of you, but I am both a merciful and graceful omnipotence. Come, Steven Bruins. I have something you need to see." The tiger starts off again, his paws leaving much more prominent imprints in the soil following his wake. Bruins trails him along the river path, asking questions with his mind and minding any movement of his lips as the mud in his shoes form a second layer of socks in their partially dried state. The water cuts short, and at first all Bruins' eyes can perceive is a thicket of trees walling off the rushing river abruptly. The murky water even slaps against the jungle wood, climbing to no avail against the bark and drenching any part of the tree unlucky enough to be caught in it's struggle during the process. The soil beneath the trees is black, and Bruins can't help but stare in awe as xenomorphic insects of varying shape and size burrow deep into the rich nutrients and come out bearing fruit, nuts, and other insects fattied after partaking of the forbidden fruit gluttony.

“Eyes on me, human, and I advise they watch what they see closely." The beast barks, his eyes focused on the wall of lumber and vegetation at the tip of his muzzle. Without warning, the large feline approaches the thickest of the trees and bares his fangs before the trunk, rushing and leaping into the obstruction without so much as a moment's hesitation. His body splashes through the bark, sending countless waves of ripples across the holographic jungle wall before Bruins, and before the grown man knows it he is staring down the topiary alone and confused.

A roar emits from behind the imaginary wall, but before he tries anything foolish the human first reaches out only to place his hand on the rough bark, the cuts and indentations of the tree dragging across his senses as his fingers trace the dark brown wood.

I could run now, He realizes. I could take off and test the legitimacy of this self-proclaimed god... Bruins considers the thought seriously for a moment. It's brief, but for a second the cadet smiles and entertains the thought of charging back into a towering gorilla's arms with his own outstretched. The first ridiculous thought since the crash-landing. Progress in it's own sense.Yeah, right. I'll stick with the talking tiger.

Bruins swears once and narrowly bends down on the slender stepping stone underneath him. The water slaps up against the exposed skin on his legs and the human too charges the massive tree. He, like the tiger, can feel his gullet tumble as if caught in an avalanche as he roars in the silent antagonists face, poking a hole in the law of physics as he, quite literally, walks into a tree.
------------------------------

It's indescribable, and if Bruins had had any words to say to the giant, omniscient cat beside him, they were instantly lost at the sight of the beast's noble dwelling. A mountain with a flat peak stands before the two of them, immense at the base and equally as splendid at the top. Clear, crisp, and holy water cascades down every cliff, creating gentle ponds and bountiful lakes for each level of the monumental homage to this world's God. Any doubts he once had are cleansed, and the African American male can feel his mottled clothing and rough skin break away as he rises to his feet beside the majestic, snow-white lynx beside him.

His militarized tan brown shorts and shirt flake away piece by piece in the gentle, inviting wind and his mud encrusted boots peel away from his feet as if bruised skin on the most delightful of fruit. His heart, once heavy and perplexed, is light. His clothes are replaced with a long, pristine smoke-white garb masterfully woven of the finest material available.

“Your heart has been cleansed, my child. Your God is no longer a factor in your life. I have many stories to tell, and many things to explain, but for now I lay you to rest among your loved ones. May your nirvana be pleasant and eternal, Steven Terrell Bruins."

The words burn into his soul, and Bruins accepts them as fact without question as his body is lifted onto the mountain. He floats delicately over a pond of amethyst water, staring without pain into the fresh, vibrant sun above. Euphoric whispers stimulate his ear, and in a brief second Bruins splits the veil between dream and reality. They are the cries of his fallen friends, comrades, and colleagues. Many wail in eternal agony, while others rejoice in eternal rest...all of them, however, shed tears. Bruins' mind tells him to weep alongside the dead, but all he can do is smile and laugh as they scream and cry.

He is with them, and they with him. And that is all that matters.

“Blessed be the name..."


The Magician
by Xate

“Are you feeling it now, Mr. Krabs?”

“Hoh hoh! I can easily feel it! The fog in my mind is basically clearing up! This is truly a wonderful gadget!” A loud proclamation echoed throughout the hall, turning everyone’s attention towards a senior in suit, a classic jet black in the vein of Victorian, topped with a tophat and a walking stick. On his haggard face was a headset, stretching across his eyes.

“Tell me, brat! How much?”

“Not for sale.”

“Heh. How about a million Bennys? Surely that wi-”

“No. I have no need for money.” The junior replied.

“Pheh. Supies. You all are fools!” Tossing the device onto the velvet carpeted floor, he stormed off, like a spoiled child.

“Normies.” With a condescending attitude, the child picked up his invention and propped it back onto its stand, waiting for another person. Looking around, he could see so many different faces, both old and young. However old you are, you can still be a student, and eligible for the Imperial Academy’s annual school fair. From artificial intelligences to space-time devices, anything is possible to be displayed here.

“Hey, Orion!” A voice called out to him. It was another youngster, sporting blazing, spiky red hair. “That’s not very nice.” An accompanying girl chimed in, her short, neat light blue hair contrasted that of her friend, “Even if you have superpowers and he doesn’t, that’s uncalled for.”

“Oh, Hotblood and Dealer.” Orion greeted them with a cold voice.

“Aw come on, man! Don’t be so formal with our titles! You don’t hear me calling you the Whiz Kid for no reason!” Hotblood argued with a ferocity fitting for his title.

“Because my title is a generic one. Besides, I’m only one among many other inventors here.” He pointed out. From the Alchemist, who managed to transcribe a scroll that deciphered the relationship between magic and science, to the Mech-anic, whose fullbody mech suit allows even a layman to become a ninja.

“Oh? So you admit your loss?” The girl noted. She, however, could guess her friend’s answer.

“Loss? I just do what I want without restraints.” Orion looked around, waiting for prospective customers to show off his tech. Maybe one of them could inspire him on his next project, “If you guys have no business, mind playing somewhere else?”

“Geez, suit yourself. Come on, Ash.” The two of them left, leaving the young inventor with his creation, “And knock off that funny talk! You’re fucking ten!” Hotblood shouted.

“They wouldn’t even understand.” He shook his head, before taking out a small notebook inside his jumpsuit’s pocket, “Hm… what next…”

As he was doodling on his notebook on what else to create, the entire building trembled.

“What was that?”

“Did you hear that?”

The entire hall was buzzing with fear, anxiety, and even curiosity. The city itself was basically a coalescence of all the world’s superpowers in one place, and because of it, villain attacks were an everyday thing. But striking the school, the learning place for supies? Either he was a meathead, or an attention whore. Or both.

Then, the floor gave way. And out of it, animal cyborgs. From gorillas to alligators, all manners of beasts spawned from the hole like fire ants ready to protect their colony. But in this case, these fire ants were ready for an invasion. The monsters began to leap at people, threatening to rip and devour.

Without a second thought, Orion quickly grabbed hold of his headset and secured it on his head. Then, he activated it. By using magnetic waves and electric impulses, the invention, aptly named “The Key”, can increase the brain’s processing speed, as well as helping create new neuron pathways. Not only that, by directing thoughts towards muscles, the neurons simulated the muscles’ tearing and repairing, enhancing one’s physical strength.

A rabid dog, its head replaced by a robotic replica, charged straight at Orion. However, the moment it leapt, he strafed to the side, before delivering a pen straight to the spinal cord.

“Eeeeeeeek! Help! Heeeeeeelp!” A shrill cry stood out from the chaotic cacophony that plagued the once lively atmosphere. It was the tophat senior, Mr.Krabs, cornered by an alligator. A menacing steel jaw laid bare, the cyborg slowly crawled up to the shivering man.

The inventor charged towards to the side, and grabbed hold of the scholar scroll. With his newfound strength, he sprinted towards them and wrapped up the monstrous jaws with the Alchemist’s scroll. Truly, the leather used in scrolls is a fine material. With the senior’s stick, the eyes of the reptile were no more. The reptile began to squirm around, flailing recklessly

“Aaaaawaaaaa.” Crawling away before getting back on his trembling feet and fleeing, Mr. Krabs was safe.

Orion then glanced at the wide hole made in the middle of the hole. According to his daily ventures to the cyberworld, below was the sewer system. With monsters coming out that route, he had to reroute somewhere else if he wanted to find the source. But then, the alligator’s tail connected with Orion, knocking him to the ground. The moment he looked up, he saw a shadow of a fist coming down his face.

Then, the sound of a punch, before a hand extended towards him.

“Are you alright?” His large hand made Orion’s look so small, like a defenseless child he was. Getting back on his feet, he could finally see the man who saved him: Ken Savious. The chief of the city’s defense force, he’s basically a paragon of what a hero should be: formidable, and full of valor.


“Leave this to the adults! I’ll hold them off until reinforcements come.” A greenlight given, there was one thing left to do: find out where the mastermind was and defeat him. There was no rhyme nor reasons why he would do it. He was just another participant of a fair he could afford to care less. But even so, he dashed through the panic-filled school and out towards the street. With his memory, he laid out the sewer system within his mind, tracing the most probable location for a hideout. A large, open space with few distractions, obstacles. The result: beneath the Subcentral Park.

Standing in front of the large manhole, he finally began to contemplate his action.

“Why am I doing this again?” He got caught up in the rush of moment, directing all his energy and focus into dealing with the root of the problem. He had always been like that.

“Does it matter?” He looked at the time on the park’s clock. “2 PM. I don’t exactly have anything else to do.” Then, he leapt in. Just as he suspected, the path was clear. To attack a place full of supies would require one to unleash full force, and that would mean…

“Offense is the best defense only when you have no blind spot.”

=============

As Orion recalled the map and slowly traversed the dimly lit sewers, he had time for himself with his own thoughts.

Man, never thought the safest path is the most boring, too. The grating of dragging the walking stick and the rippling of the sewer water were a break from the cacophony of the convention, especially that unpleasant shrieking. The only thing that lit his path were the small fluorescent bulbs on the ceiling, giving the area a sense of antiquity compared to the light emitting cells that were recently invented by a graduate from the school. It would have been a pleasant stroll, had it not been for the intoxicating smell that only served to discomfort him. His muscles were burning with each step, a devastating side effect from “The Key”. Muscles strengthen by tearing up and rebuilding, but right now, there wasn’t enough time for a full recovery. Had it not been for an adrenaline rush, he and Mr. Krabs would’ve ended up in the graveyard, waiting for a day to be resurrected by a crazed necromancer. Or worse.

“Sigh… screw it. Act first, think later.” He shuffled onwards. Youths these days, barely exercising any caution.

“I’ll prove it to them, I’m not a helpless kid.” And prideful, too.

Then Orion reached it. Through a recently dug tunnel that disrupted the neat brick pattern, he found himself in a large, open space. Light fixtures above gave the area an ambient light, barely enough to make out the surrounding. He slowly climbed down the pile of rubble, obviously the result from digging out a pathway to the sewers. His insights were proven to be correct. If he wanted, he could’ve given himself a pat on the back. But it would be uncool.

The moment he reached the bottom, cages upon cages lined up on the side welcomed him.

“Hm… Basic mathematics says there’s about 24 cages in total.” He counted. “How few. This villain must be on a budget.” Looking around, he could see junks and scraps of metals strewn about. And far off, he could see something resembling an operation table. And a man standing behind it.

“Heh, so you managed to defeat all my underlings! Now, you shall feel my-” He paused, “Oh, a brat. Great, another wannabe hero.” The man himself was old, his figure emaciated, old and weak, his wrinkled forehead lit up by the operation’s table overhead lamp. His bright red robe was worn out, the color faded into a crimson shade, giving him a more sinister figure. His left arm had a glint, making it likely that he, like his army of cyborgs, also had a mechanical part.

“Child, scram! Go back to your family and stay there like a good boy! I’m feeling merciful today. Or perhaps you’re one of them kids in that orphange? Oh, you may be eve-”

“You talk too much for an old fart.”

“Provocation, huh? I’m too smart to fall for such an obvious trap.”

“All bark and not bite, huh? Disappointment.”

“Oh, you’re going to regret it, boy.” The old man snapped his fingers, and from inside the last two cages, two powerful beasts emerged: mechanical chimeras, “Boys, sic him!”

The beasts were nothing short of abominations, a patchwork of various animals like lions and goats, and mechanical parts to replace the seemingly rotten areas. They stood tall, their bulky arms threatening to grab him and crush him like a grape. They moved quickly on their two legs, but uncoordinatedly. Orion simply weaved past them with relative ease thanks to his size. Perhaps this was the only time he was thankful for being a child. The monsters were fast, but they were too bulky, too inflexible, so how could they manage to capture such a speedy little youngster?

Then, he would leap onto the table, his walking stick pointing directly at the old man’s neck.

This is pathetic. He would thought, looking down on the pathetic villain from above. He would feel nothing but contempt for the charlatan, not giving him the thrill of combat, the joy of overcoming obstacles. He would complain that life was too easy for him, that he grew bored of his successive victories, that he would prefer some challenge in life, and the old man? Wouldn’t amount to a vermin.

That was what it would’ve been. Or rather, should’ve been.

Instead, he now found himself being constricted by a serpent, trapping his movements. He had made a severe miscalculation, for a chimera usually had not only parts of a lion and goat, but also a tail of a serpent. A sentient tail. He couldn’t have seen it coming. Or else, he would’ve been able to make short work of it with his gift, “Analytical Eyes”, and “The Key”, the headset that enhances both physical and mental capabilities.

The serpent’s hold onto him grew slowly tighter, as if to torture the arrogant youth. The dull pain now spiked, his body as if on fire, the mild discomfort now distorted into pure agony. Orion screamed, screamed as much as his small lungs could. His scream echoed throughout the lair, only served to show how deep of the hole he dug himself into.

“Ah! It hurts! It hurts! Stop! Stop!” He pleaded and begged, streams of tears running down his headset and cheeks. He was pathetic, like a small, defenseless child that always needed rescuing. He was no hero in this story. He was the fool that died charging in first.

“Sigh, just toss him out. This is no place for children.” The beasts heeded the old man’s and released the youngster from the serpant’s grip, “And remember the name of the one who defeated you: Icarus the Biomancer.” Then the beast grabbed hold of Orion and threw him into the air.

This… feels nice. The feeling of wind passing through his limbed body, the feeling of weightlessness, a wonderful feeling it was. And it would be the last thing he feel. The moment his head connected to the floor, everything would be over. The memories of the orphanage he was in, the precocious crush he had on the lone principle, the heartbreak as she found her true love, the friends that he’ve lost due to his personality, friends that endured him,... Unnecessary thoughts filled his childish mind.

“I… I don’t wanna die.” Orion whispered.

And a prayer was answered. A figure emerged from the shadow of the lair’s entrance, and with elegance, he caught the youngster. And by elegance, it meant that both of them collided, with the figure acting as a cushion to soften the fall.

“Ouch. That isn’t cool at all.” The figure laid Orion down as he stood up. He then looked upon the lair of Icarus the Biomancer, along with his great inventions. With a voice as loud as possible, he proclaimed:

“Oi oi oi oi oi oi! Who the hell do you think I am?”

“A nutcase!”

“Wrong! I am the Great Robin Fate! The one that will determine everyone’s destiny!” Drawing a deck of cards from the sleeve of his trench coat, he shuffled it with ease as the cards slid within his palms, and three cards were drawn, “The Eight of Pentacles! The power of determination! Three of Cups! The power of friendship! Five of Swords! The power to stand up after falling down! These are the cards of Fate!”

“Oh great, that kind of nutcase.” Icarus waved his left mechanical arm, “S-”

“No need!” Robin sprinted downhill from the mountain of rubble and leapt with ferocity.

“Who the hell do you think I am- Kick!” But it was just a normal kick, and was promptly stopped by the beast’s hand. What came after a complete curbstomp as he was slammed into the ground again, again and again. And again. And another one for safe measures. Battered,face drenched with blood, the white coat now dyed with red, the beast held the fallen hero to its face.

“That was a disappointment. So much bravado, so little substance.” The ‘hero’ could’ve been so much more, but alas, just another wannabe.

“...Heh…” Coughing out blood, Robin looked straight at the beast, which was ready to devour him whole, “I… I still got a trump card…”

“Let me guess, power of determination?”

“This!” He flung an object into the air, drawing everyone’s attention to it.

“What the hell?”

It was… Orion’s headset. Then, the sound of blood gushing. A chimera had fallen, blood flowing out of its neck. Crawling from under the corpse was Robin, a card in hand.

“Abel! H-How?” Icarus began to panic, “Kill him, Cain!!” The remaining beast began to sprint, and with one hit, knocked Robin high into the air and landed him at the entrance. This time, Orion wasn’t a cushion.

Orion looked at the fallen man. He tried so hard, bluffed so badly, and failed so sadly. If he were a bit wiser, then perhaps… the youngster could’ve related to him. That no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t be that naturally confident, that perhaps his facade couldn’t hide the doubt in himself, in his own talents.

“...n...not dead...ye…” Robin could barely speak, but he was still alive. Orion couldn’t help but feel relieved. Then, he saw Robin sliding to him a bloodied card. The youth held the card up his face, and gave it a quick rub. On it, a figure in red holding a stick with an infinity symbol on his head. And the words “The Magician” were printed below. At the same time, the beast slowly crawled up the pile of debris, ready to send the two of them to the grave. This time, there wouldn’t be anything left for a necromancer.

“...Po...tential… It’s… you…Be...Believe in Orion… the Orion that believes in you...”

“Heh. That little stupid little phrase… Did you think it’s that easy to change people?” He knew himself. He was weak. Powerless. He was just a defenseless child who knew no better. Talents? Potential? Others deserved it more than him. He was worthless.

“Cheh...Everything...myself…” Robin struggled and fell back into his pool of blood. But again and again, he tried to stand up.

“Why… Why must you try so hard?” Orion pleaded.

“I believe in… myself. I know I will do this. Even…” Blood flew out of his mouth, dripping into the pool, “Even if I can’t, I… will. I will… act first… think later.”

Then, Orion jumped back on his feet and charged at the approaching chimera, pushing him off the pile of loose rocks with all his might. The beast retaliated with its claws, but the speedy youngster crawled over the face of the wild beast and launched himself away into the ground below. With the beast falling into the ground, and within his hand, the walking stick that was dropped when Orion was constricted, the beast would…

Orion grabbed the stick as tight to his body as possible, ensuring it wouldn’t break in the fall.

...be…

His position was right at the artery, making sure it would be a one-hit-kill.

...killed…

The serpent tail struck at Orion, but with a single swipe, he managed to deflect the attack and repositioned the staff.

...instantly.

The moment the staff touched the beast’s body, he jumped back to avoid being squashed.

The result: the staff that pierced the beast and created a temporary heaven for the two.

Orion looked at Icarus, who was flabbergasted and filled with terror. Terror about what would happen to him. The youth slowly walked closer, with the elder backed away. The junior approached, the senior backed away. Finally, Orion looked at Icarus, whose back was against the wall.

“W-What do you want with me?” Fear. Confusion. Despair. Those emotions were apparent from the trembling old man’s face.

“Why do you do all this?” There was no emotion. There was no rhyme nor reasons why he asked that.

“M-My motive? Uh..Uh… Kill every- I… Um, wrong… Yeah, that’s right! I punish those who’ve wronged me and my creation!” Icarus’s words were flimsy. Even an ameteur could tell.

“Is it because you’re in despair?” The old man was stunned, “Is it because you’re also powerless? That you doubt yourself? That you need to prove to the world?” The words simply flew from his mouth. As if intuitively, he knew the similarity between them

“What the hell do you know, you shitty brat! Do you truly think you can und-”

“Loss? That you may have lost something, so you distracted yourself from it by drowning yourself in work?”

“You littl-” Icarus got up, enraged at the youth’s callous remarks, pretending as though he understood his pain.

“Let’s see you grit those teeth!” A blow to the face, and Icarus was down on the ground.

“I don’t care about your stupid backstory. I don’t care about what you’ve done all those years! The only thing that matter right now is the present! And right now, you’re heading down the wrong path! I will stay by your side, and if you ever doubt yourself, I will be there to belt you in! Believe in me. And believe in yourself.”

“You...you brat... Why… Just why the hell are you telling me all this crap!” Anger, confusion, fear, yearning. His feelings were complicated, like a raging torrent of emotions that could wipe out any trace of logic and rational thinking.

“Because we are similar. I can see you inside myself. That is why I want to extend my hand to you, that I want to save both Icarus, and the future Orion.” The words just came naturally. There was no lie, no dishonesty. He couldn’t manage it. He was in the rush of the moment.

“Heh… quite a rational way of thinking…” Defeated, acceptance, self-pity, fear. There was no longer any trace of hostility.

“And besides, I could use a new friend.” Orion extended his hand, “My name is Orion, 10 years old. I’m an orphan at the Orphanage. Nice to meet you.”

“Heh… Quite a shitty… brat... “ He sat there, withdrawing himself into his tattered robe.

“Are you all okay?” A large voice echoed throughout the lair. It was Ken Savious. The reinforcement had come.

“I’ll be waiting.” That were Orion’s farewell.

=============

Nine years had passed, and the city had no significant changes. Other than the usual technological advancements, villain attacks and hero defense, everything was the same.

As Orion worked on his latest invention, hoping it would help entertain and educate at the Orphanage, he heard the sound of the doorbell. Leaving his room, he approached the front door of his own little home and opened it.

“My name is Icarus Gregson, 83 years old. I’m a scientist at the Asclepius Hospital. Nice to meet you.”

Coup d'etat
by Aquila
“First Sergeant Lucas O’Neal. You are hereby dishonorably discharged.” The council stared at the man, lounging in the chair in front of them.

“You’re joking surely,” The man fixed the cuff on his suit, brushing his shoulders and straightening the fabric. “I did my job, why am I being punished?” Lucas O’Neal was a tall, clean shaven, brunette man.

“Your job involved no collateral damage.” One of the council members piped in, the old lady glared at the soldier through her small glasses. “Some of those hostages died I’ll have you know.”

The soldier snarled and stood up, the chair clattering behind him. Two guards rushed to restrain him as he roared at the council. “Have me know? They died in front of my eyes you old shits! What do you fuck understand about war? Sitting behind that podium, up on your high fucking horse thinking you can tell me how to do my job?” The soldier wrestled out of one of the guard’s grasp and he threw the other over his shoulder. The sergeant smashed his arm into the guard’s throat and stood up, brushing his suit clean again. “We followed our orders. We waited in our position for reinforcements, and that’s how the hostages died! I watched through the scope of a rifle, waiting for the orders to shoot, your or-”

“Do not talk back to us!” The head roared, “Our words are final! Now see yourself out before we forcefully discharge you as well.” The man glowered, “Don’t make yourself look any worse, ex-First Sergeant O’Neal.”

The man chuckled then laughed, he got it now, he was a scapegoat. Suddenly he felt a hand on his shoulder shaking him. He turned to wake up from his nap and stare at his buddy. “Sorry to wake you from your dream, sounded nice.”

The First Sergeant grinned and stretched, “Naah, I appreciate it, wasn’t a nice dream at all.” He looked around at the carrier plane he was strapped in. There were soldiers to his left and to his right as well as across from him. They were all dressed similarly; black heavy armor, and all had similar stories. They were all soldiers from the government, either ousted for speaking against or as scapegoats. Now here he sat, on a plane with other convicts, on a mission to overthrow the government. He could barely see how they looked, the only source of light a red glowing bulb planted above the cargo bay door. But he knew they probably all had the same tired, haunted look on their faces as he did.

“Lock and load you pansies!” An old, rusty voice buzzed through the intercom system. The order was answered by the crank of bolts and loading of cartridges. Lucas’ hand brushed against the assault rifle, the fabric softly rasping against the dents and scars across the weapon’s body. The weapons weren’t like the ones provided by the military, but they did their job.

A general marched through the aisle, and no one returned his gaze. One of his eyes nothing but a milky white orb, while the other was a cybernetic implant, the metal orb rolled around with a red pupil shining in the dim interior. “We’re only a few minutes from target, now we take this base and with the gear they have locked up here, we’ll be even closer to our goal.” The objective wasn’t met by any cheers. No one was happy with having to kill those they used to call allies.

It was as if the soldier could read their minds, “Show no mercy.” The old general’ eye wasn’t the only implants, his arm and both his legs were cybernetic as well, as well as most of his torso. He grit his teeth. “They threw their lots betting on the wrong side. Now get your head in the mission and get ready for the jump.” Lucas sighed and unhooked his helmet from above him, connecting cords from his chest plate, syncing up his vitals to the helmet’s visor. He slipped the helmet on, securing it with a twist and letting it come online. The suit pressurized and he shook his head as his ears popped.

His friend’s voice popped in through the radio system, and a small portrait appeared to the right. “You ready partner?”

“Would it be wrong to say no?” He chuckled softly, “How about you Buck?” Buck was an old comrade who left the army when he heard of Lucas’ discharge. He was a good looking man, sandy hair and a neat stubble.

“Actually I’m glad you’re not, I’d be more afraid of you if you were. I honestly am quite ready.”

“That’s because you have a beautiful wife and kid waiting for you back at base.” Lucas chuckled. “So let’s do our best to get you out of here alive.”

“Wooh wooh wooh, my little girl will kill me if you don’t come back. She really likes her Uncle Lucas.” Buck laughed and the light above the door became green. “Gaah, no matter how many times we do this, I never get used to it.” Buck got out of his seat and filed behind Lucas.

“I’m aware, you bicker about this every jump.”

A new voice piped in, a woman jibed at them both, “And you guys go through this skit every time as well. Why do you guys always have to talk to each other on a public call as if it’s private? Your whole squad can hear you guys.” The door hissed open and the shrill scream of air filled the cabin.

“We’re almost right over, go go go!” The general ordered as he was the first to jump off.

“Awh, who invited Ms. Grumpy?” Buck joked.

“Thank Lucas, he needed the best sniper to cover your sorry ass. And it’s Ms. Sophia.”

“Now now guys,” Lucas laughed, “No fighting between friends.” Lucas walked up and placed his hand on the roof, looking down at the blurry scenery of spring green plains. Small black dots speckled the scenery as soldiers fell to earth. Lucas took a deep breath and jumped, his hands tightly wrapped around his rifle as he plummeted down like a meteorite. He looked up to see the blue skies and the plane letting loose its last few packages before banking around and flying back where they came from.

He looked back down to see the ground coming up fast to meet him and he ordered, “Activate landing thrusters!” And jets of air pumped out of his boots and backpack to slow his descent as he landed on the ground with a thud. He got up from his crouching position and rolled his shoulders, he spoke on the channel, “Where are you guys?” A mini map appeared on the upper left corner of his visor and he saw a blip not too far away from him.
A ping radiated from the blip as it spoke, it was a man, but much deeper than Buck’s. “It’s Simeon, making my way to you sir.” More confirmations blipped as other members of the squad made landfall and they began converging upon Lucas’ location.

“Hey look who lived, just like every other time.” Sophia punched Buck on the shoulder playfully.

“Ow. Just because I can jump and live, doesn’t mean I enjoy the experience.” Buck complained as he rubbed his shoulder.

Lucas laughed along with the other soldiers and then a foreign voice blared in his ears from a different channel, the squad leader private channel. “Team Fall what’s your status?”

Lucas coughed, “We’re on our way to point C now.” He alerted the rest of the team with a few sharp hand gestures and they went on their way. All the merriness from just a few seconds ago gone as they understood that it was time for war and there was no joy in killing. They jogged through the plains, they had landed ten miles away from the base, they had landed far away to avoid radars but they now had outposts in their way. “Outpost is in view, take them out quietly and be sure not to be seen.” The soldiers nodded and turned on their suit’s optic camouflage. The blurred mass crept forward as they could see the small building loom closer. Small figures could be seen moving around bigger figures. Jeeps and other vehicles they would use to move out from there. Other squads were taking out different outposts. They would all take out their respective outposts in their own smaller operation and then join together for the final assault.

“I’m getting a dozen personnel, can I get confirmation?” Lucas asked. A few mumbled their agreement and he continued, “Snipers wait here, Buck you take half and we’ll pincer them. Got it? Now radio silent, let’s do this quick.” The squad split in two and continued on their way as the four snipers set up. His squad was made up of forty soldiers, so the outpost quickly fell. The snipers took the few patrolling outside as Lucas’ squad cleared the garage and Buck’s the living quarter. Lucas was glad his eyes were covered by the visor so he didn’t have to truly experience staring the other soldiers in the eyes. Their eyes were full of fear and yet determination as they understood they were going to die so they fought back, trying for their side arms.

The eyes haunted him, so similar to the fear he saw when he was the good guy. The fear in the eyes of those he fought under the banner of the government. The fear he saw in those that were labeled as threats just like he is labeled now. And now here he stood and he didn’t know what side of the fence he stood on.

He stood over their corpses, the blood pooling on the floor. He gave his fallen comrade a slight salute as he walked past. “Everything’s clear, how you guys doing?” He asked Buck.

“Not good at all…” the soldier replied.

Lucas quickly signaled his men to go to the other building. “What’s wrong Buck? Is everyone okay?”

“Lucas, I had to kill Calvin.”

“Your roommate from military school?” Lucas slowed down and signaled the other to go back to the garage as he went into the living quarters. The soldiers were raiding the kitchen and he went into the bedrooms to find Buck sitting on a bed, the small cot bending under the weight of the soldier in his suit. Lying on the floor at the foot of the bed was the corpse of a man still in his pajamas but he held a pistol in his hands.

“The man just wouldn’t back down. Doesn’t he know that a small piece like that wouldn’t even crack the visor?” Buck looked up at Lucas, his visor up so there was no need for a radio. Lucas clicked his own visor open and he stared at his friend, placing his hand on the man’s shoulder. “I’m just glad he didn’t recognize me… all he had time to call me was an enemy of the people.” Buck rested his head on his hand.

“Buck come on, we got to head out. Just sitting here won’t solve anything. The faster we overthrow the government, the fewer casualties there’ll be.” Lucas told his friend these words, in hopes not to only convince him, but to convince himself as well. The war would be long and bloody to wrestle control from the government; he could only hope they made it out alive. Buck stood up with a sigh and his visor went back down as he walked out. Lucas followed close behind, his visor coming down as well. The snipers had joined them by the time Lucas came out of the building and they began piling into vehicles. Lucas hopped in next to Buck as the man turned on the jeep. The armored vehicle had a turret mounted on top, as did a few others so they would take point. The jeep pitched and swayed as another soldier climbed on top. “Who we got as a gunner?”

“It’s me sir!”

“Alright Gus, Buck move out.” The soldier snapped the car into gear and they set out, the car roared down the street, bumping along slightly. “I don’t know if the suspension on this thing is shot, or you’re shit at driving Buck, jesus stop veering around.” Lucas grabbed tightly to his armrests.

“Don’t blame me, we’re wearing two hundred pound suits!” Buck complained.

“And you shouldn’t be the one complaining.” Gus added jokingly, “I’m the one who can’t hold onto anything here!” The trio laughed.

Lucas hurried to contact the general. “Sir this is Squad Fall, we’re making our way to the compound now.”

“Good, wait 5 clicks away and wait for the others to get into position. Over and out.”

“Order received, standing by.” Lucas shook his head as he had Buck slow to a halt. The words felt funny in his mouth and wrong in his head, but he shook the idea off. The situation was different.

“I hate the waiting game.” Sophia pulled up next to them, Simeon was sitting in shotgun and their gunner was Sam. The rest of the squad pulled in around them and they could see the compound cresting over the trees as they simply waited for the signal.

The radios crackled and Lucas raised his hand out of the window to catch everyone’s attention. “Alright, all squads in position. Move out!” Lucas swung his hand down and they set off, blazing down the plains. Suddenly an explosion rocked the jeep and Buck swerved to avoid the explosion of dirt and grass.

“The fuck was that?” Buck demanded.

Lucas shouted back, “I have no idea! Gus you alright?”

“Yea, but I can’t see who could’ve shot that. No one’s showing up on the radar! Gaah!” The jeep pitched forward at the sudden weight loss and Lucas turned back to see Gus tumbling onto the floor, into the way of another jeep that smashed into it and exploded.

“The fuck is happening?” Lucas shouted in the radio.

“They… expect-“ was all he got.

He went back to the squad radio. “Who’s still alive, report dammit!” Only a few responded back, he guessed they lost perhaps 10 soldiers.

“We’re not even 3 clicks away yet! We’re going to get massacred!” Simeon reported. “They must’ve laid out mines!”

“How did we not get reports about this?” Lucas demanded.

“Sweepers picked up nothing! We don’t even know if they are mines.” Simeon responded back. “Sir shall we pull back?”

Suddenly a voice crackled back onto the radio, “This is the general! Do not retreat! Almost all the squads have reached the compound. Once we get in, we’ll crush them! Do not falter!”
“Sir we have our orders.” Buck looked to Lucas. “What shall we do?”

Lucas grit his teeth. He joined the revolution so that what happened back then would not happen again. He would not sacrifice his soldiers. “Retreat! Everyone turn back. I will accept all faults, so retreat!” He smashed against the door as Buck did a heavy U-turn.

“Thank god you said that, because I was going to do this whether you wanted or not.” Buck laughed and they drove through the wasted plain to safety. The soldiers spilled out of their cars, collapsing onto the floor as they blessed the fact they were alive.

Sophia stumbled out of the car, her hands over her stomach as she limped forward. Simeon ran out of his seat to help her to sit down. “Sir she’s been shot. Where’s the medic?” He looked around and a man ran up to him with a kit.

Lucas panted as he sat down, he had defied orders. He may have saved his troops, but he left the other squads to fend for themselves. Buck sat down next to him and sighed, “Well guess this revolution ended as soon as it began. I mean we can’t be too surprised, we are going against the central army.”

“You spineless coward!” A man walked up to Lucas and punched him in the helmet. “How could you order us to retreat when the general said otherwise?”

Buck stood up and pushed him back. “Why are you blaming him? He saved your life you ass.”

“From what? We’re going to be hunted now! We’re convicts and deserters! Do you think the government will welcome us back with open arms?” The man pushed back and Buck pulled out his rifle.

“Stand down you fuck! Or I’ll-“

“You both stand down!” Lucas yelled. “I made us retreat to make sure none of us die, not so we could rip each other apart.” Lucas got up and pushed Buck’s gun down. “I’m thankful you’re on my side but he’s right. We’re not in the clear.” He looked at the others. “Now look here, we’re going to radio in evac and get ourselves the hell out of here. We’ll get back to main base and recover there. This mission was a failure, let’s not make it a disaster. Do you understand?”

“Yes sir!” The squad chorused and they quickly got back onto their jeeps and began driving back to the outposts as Lucas radioed in for evacuation. He quickly explained the details to a pilot he trusted and after getting confirmation they were on their way he relaxed back into his seat.

“Shit, I forgot that war was this awful. I wonder if I can go back to having a semi-normal life.” Lucas sighed.

Buck agreed, “I want to go home back to my wife and kid, and maybe we can get ourselves smuggled out of here. Want to come with?” Buck smiled.

“I’ll more than happily take up that offer.” Lucas nodded. “Glad we’re on a private channel.”

“Not so private, you just shortened the frequency.” Sophia laughed, “Everyone close to you is picking up as well.”

Lucas paled, “And how many people is that?”

“Just me and Simeon, the rest have gone ahead in excitement.” Lucas breathed a sigh of relief. “You know, I think I’m going to try to get myself out of here too. Along with Simeon.” Simeon jumped on to agree and they saw the jeeps ahead of them and then the outpost.

Then nothing. Explosions sent the jeep cartwheeling and Lucas found himself thrown out of the front window. He landed to see the jeep flip over him, Buck slump in his seat but held there by a seatbelt as it smashed itself into the ground. The man’s head was ringing and his whole body ached, but he forced himself up to make his way to the jeep. “Buck… talk to me… come on.” He knelt down by the door and yanked it open. “We gotta get out. Come on wake up dammit!” He grabbed Buck and yanked him out of the car. A metal shard was stuck in his shoulder, stabbing cleanly through where he could see the jagged end covered in blood.

“I don’t feel so good Lucas.” Buck mumbled.

“Oh thank god you’re alive. Come on don’t be like that. What the hell hit us by the way?” Lucas looked up to see planes in the air. “Looks it’s evac, we’re out of here!” He scanned around to find the other jeep and saw it smoldering, blacken by explosion. “Simeon! Sophia!” He yelled helplessly into his mic.

“General ordered everyone to advance. So why are you here First Sergeant Lucas O’Neal?” A plane’s speaker boomed. “Why did you disobey the order?”

“Because I will not stand for the needless slaughter of my men! You have a problem with that?” He yelled at the voice.

“Yes, we do.” A shot rang out and Lucas looked down to see a gaping hole in Buck’s chest.

“Lucas…” Was all his friend could cough before he went silent.

“Now all your men are dead. And they died for no other cause then because you were too cowardly to follow orders.” Tears pooled on his visor as he looked at his friend’s corpse. “I hope that remains a lesson to you sir.” The plane landed and two men came out to escort Lucas into the plane.

“What? Are you not going to kill me? Kill me dammit! Where are you taking me?” He struggled but they were also wearing heavy suits.

“Your skills are too valuable to simply kill you off. We will teach you to listen to orders and then you can rejoin the revolution. The general successfully captured the compound.” The voice still came to him through intercoms as he was dragged deeper into the plane. The long dim hallway soon opened up to a clean oval room, sitting in the middle was a large table and surrounding it was computers and surgical equipment. Lucas’ helmet was yanked off and the soldier was strapped to the table, staring up at a bright light. “Now please hold steady, this could get messy if you struggle.”

“What operation? What’re you going to-“ His demands were cut off by a needle stabbing into his neck.

“We’re not going to do much. We’re simply going to refine your abilities to listen to orders.” The voice sounded like a brass bell, deep and resonating as it drifted him to sleep.

The final assault was ready. The rebels were loading up on every war machine they could get their hands on, loading up every weapon they had on hand. And Lucas was there on the frontline, standing next to the general. “Are you ready, Sergeant Major O’Neal? It’s your job to shoot anyone who tries to leave the battlefield.”

“Yes sir.”

The Colonies
by Azure
So, I don’t really know where to begin my story. It’s a bit weird to think about, since it kinda happened really fast. Really, going from being some high school dropout to the Ambassador of Interspecies Relations (and yes, it’s the stupidest acronym ever) in under a month is a strange thing to talk about. Lots of people, lots of interviews, everything just changes instantly. Thinking back, I think I kinda do have an idea of where to start. It started with the dumbest dare I ever accepted.

~~~

My name is Rick, short for Richard. I’m seventeen years old, dropped out of high school, and work at a rover shop to earn my ration tickets. Oh, and I’m a martian. Don’t let the name fool you, I’m a full blooded human just like anyone else. I just happened to grow up on Mars rather than Earth. It was around fifty years ago that we managed to terraform the Martian surface enough to support life, and ever since, small settlements have been cropping up. I’m third generation, which sounds like it’d be super cool but in actuality it’s rather irritating. The population up here is really small, and we’re kinda like celebrities in a way despite being really normal. I look things up all the time online; we’re like some kind of novelty. ”People in space! How do they live, how’re their lives compared to ours?”

We’re just normal people, trying to make it by under some slightly different circumstances.

Anyways, since food and water is pretty limited, everyone works somewhere to earn ration tickets. Growing crops was the easy part; maintaining enough to sustain a population was where it got tricky. I suppose in that light, I was unlucky to not be born to a farming family. You’d think they’ve got more power than the government up here, and I can’t say you’d be entirely incorrect. Anyways, I’m sidetracking with useless gobbledigook. The dare is what’s important here.

I was with some of my friends, whom I refer to as such for convenience sake, dared me to stick my arm into a rock. Like I said, it was a stupid dare. The rock looked kinda like a gauntlet, and so all the time local kids would stick their hands in and things to pretend they were some sword-in-the-stone-but-with-a-glove hero. So what fun it would be for a grown guy to do the same for some people he only occasionally hung out with to get off to. Naturally, I thought I’d put my hand in, maybe have a few pictures taken, and we’d all get a good laugh out of acting like idiots. It never occurred to any of us that it might suddenly glow and wouldn’t come off of my arm… well, actually, that’s not quite right. That’s what they thought; in fact, what had happened was it ate my arm. Ridiculous, right? A rock, eating a person’s arm. If not for OTIS immediately binding with my nervous system, I might’ve had a really bad day.

Oh yeah, I named him OTIS. Not because I like naming inanimate objects that suddenly consume and replace body part. No, I named him because he started talking to me. I was understandably terrified at the time. The very first thing it said to me was “Good day. I have assimilated with you.” This was proceeded by it asking “Wait… just what are you?”

In my defense, I recovered my nerves quickly, and began having a conversation with the rock that was now my arm and hand. After a short introduction, I discovered it was apparently some form of ancient biomechanical limb designed by the original Martians to provide protection and ease of living. This brought up a few important questions for me.

“Original Martians? There was really life before us? And wait, how did they make a… a supercomputer gauntlet out of rock? And how’d they make you biomechanical at that? And why the hell can you speak english?” I never really got any answers to my questions, because OTIS, whom I named that as an acronym for Old Tech Intelligent Stone (genius, I know, go screw off), was having some difficulties remembering things. It did, however, remember that it shouldn’t have been able to function with with anything but the Original Martians because of the composition of their bodies, and that they worked on a sort of hive-mind system.

Well, after I managed to catch up with my “friends,” it became apparent they couldn’t hear OTIS, and were freaking out at how calm I was over my arm now being a hunk of red rock. Really, I think it was more that I’d had enough to simply numb me to everything. It occurred to me though, that despite OTIS being apparently stone, he was surprisingly light. Not that my arm wasn’t suddenly weighed down, but more like it wasn’t weighed down as much as I’d expect. It was maybe another five pounds, ten max. I went home after figuring that we were getting nowhere, and from there, things got a bit troublesome.

Two things popped up from me and OTIS meeting up. The first thing is that I became a sort of medical mystery. Luckily, there wasn’t enough of a real governing body to lead to me being kidnapped and experimented on, but I had doctors pounding on my door almost constantly and was hounded to and from work. I also had to deal with the difficulty of getting clothes on, which, lemme tell you, is no small feat. The sensation of touch is surprisingly necessary to completing tasks like that, and it’s great if your arms are symmetrical so they definitely fit through your damn sleeves.

The second thing to occur is, and this part I still don’t fully grasp, the awakening of the Original Martians. Apparently, OTIS was meant to be a trigger, a sort of beacon that they should reawaken from their slumber beneath the surface. Their arrival was met with, understandably, a lot of fear, because they weren’t exactly as we’d imagined. Usually, you’d think little green or grey men. But hey, that was what we’d gotten from Earth. In all honesty, that might have been better. No, the Original Martians were… bacteria. Colonies of bacteria taking humanoid form, a hivemind of clones. It’s so peculiar to think about, really, a world of bacteria.

At first, it looked like there was gonna be war. Earth was gonna condemn us all, and blow us to Kingdom Come. Then, through the luckiest turn of events, OTIS recovered enough of its memories to reveal a stunning truth to me: we humans, were originally born of the Original Martians. The single-celled organisms believed to have been the original proponent for life were in fact seeds sent by them, like their children. The introduction of the Mitochondria, however, vastly altered them from their propagators, and while Mars slowly wasted away, Earth thrived with its new branches of life. Once I revealed this to the rest of humanity, I was naturally ridiculed and nearly killed as a traitor to my species (seriously, people love to hate, don’t they?).

Working with the Original Martians through OTIS, I managed to hold down a war while research was conducted, and the truth became known. The reason I was compatible with OTIS was that a birth defect led to some of my cells somehow not having mitochondria, making me compatible enough with Martian Technology to act as the bridge between species.

That’s the thick and thin of my story. Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that, but hey, I’ve got a meeting to get to. Brokering peace is no simple task, and OTIS starts to get really annoying when I take too long doing things.

ErrorBlender
11-16-2017, 05:56 AM
Science Fiction Part III

A Beginning for Humans
by devi


You know the worst gift you can get when you’ve been gone from your home-planet for many years? Can you guess? A watch, that only works on your home-planet. Completely useless, considering that I’m not going back home for god knows how long. Bet they did this just to spite me, they’re enjoying home while I’m off working off world.

I mean I didn’t have much of a choice in the first place, earth nowadays has become a place only for the super rich or the super poor, my family has managed to find a cozy place somewhere in the middle, but they live in fear that they’re job might not be enough to keep them afloat. Oh my bad, did I say “they’re job”? I meant to say my job; they sent me to this space station so I could work as a SCO just so they can cozily float on the rivers of Earth.

Bah, no use complaining, I willingly volunteered when my parents asked me to, of course I didn’t have much choice considering I was the only one able to work. Mother was pregnant, and the law doesn’t let pregnant people work for some stupid reason. Father had a diseased leg, what the disease was he never told me, suspicious right?

So here I am, stuck in my stall. Naturally, it’s not much of stall; it’s got three walls, no roof, and a bench that is up to my chest. Do I have a chair? No. People with stall duty aren’t given chairs because the higher ups don’t think that it’s worth the money, of course their excuse is that it makes officers lazy. Assholes, am I right?




“Urm exerce me miste?” I hear a slimy voice say, must be an alien, the universal translator can translate words, but that doesn’t always means it works with shit like grammar

Job calls I suppose. I probably shouldn’t get distracted by the watch, don’t want to get fired. I turn around, snapping myself back to reality and taking my elbow from my bench. I’m reminded of how weird aliens here are. Before me I got this weird humanoid octopus, and that’s an understatement. Imagine a bald pink human, but shorter, and with tentacles dangling from the jaw and who’s shining because of that it’s body is covered in slime. That’s basically it.

“Oh sorry, how can I help ma’am?” I hope to hell that is a ma’am, otherwise I won’t hear the end of it from my anti-racism-sexism and whatnot colleges.

“I lik te fiel ah misign preosn.” She replies, her tentacles dangling as her head moves with what she says. Her voice sounds… slobbery somehow, yeash. Guess it was a she, dodged an inevitable bullet there. She seems to be wearing some sort of metal clothing, like armor if you will. I think she’s one of those trade guild people, what was their name again? I know it started with Mae, can’t remember the rest

“Okay, please sign this form then” I can’t imagine how I sound to her right now, since my speech is translated to her language. I take out the file for missing person and put it down on the bench in front of her. She grabs a pen from the pen-can, with her tentacle hand, by the edge of bench and starts writing. Her hand is weird to say the least, imagine a glove for the winter, one of those that has all fingers attached instead of free, and now imagine it pink and with octopus suckers.

Holy shit she writes slow, it’s gone 20 points now, I’m hoping I’m going be able to read what she says, since the paper is covered in slime. Ugh, I hate dealing with octopus races.

She hands me the paper with her right… tentacle-arm. I hesitantly take it, and boy did I wish I had gloves. The slime was sticky, feeling much like some weird organic paste, and it slowly dripped onto my hand as I pulled it closer to read it.

“Peas finds hems!” I look up to reply to her, but she’s already gone. Leaving behind only slime footsteps, which are immediately cleaned by a janitor drone, quickly whooshing by, leaving only the sounds of whirring. Or if you are annoyed by nicknames, Droned Intensive Cleaning Killer. I’d make a sexual euphemism, but I don’t want to ruin the perfectness of the name.




Why does it have killer at the end? That’s because of that the drone is literally made of convicted murderers, sounds grotesque right? You wouldn’t think it was if you only saw it, it looks like a big green square with a large red lidless robot eye.

The body part is inside the drone itself; the fleshy bit is what keep it all together. Since any other material to keep it together costs money, the company that makes the drones, “borrow” the left over bodies of convicts in graveyards. Humans have been fighting against it for god knows how long, but they can’t do anything against the Scrappers. One reason being that any judge and jury are very pragmatic, since there’s a huge benefit to selling these drones and to cleaning the space station. Second being that the Scrapper Congregation owns this station, so they can do what they want.

It’s such a weird galactic law I find, I mean I’ve been out in space for many years but it’s still so foreign to me. The intergalactic council, for whatever reasons, meaning that any race could do whatever the heck they want with their space stations, created the Species Station law. As long as it doesn’t break one rule, murder is not to be allowed on any station. I guess you can be happy that they aren’t okay with outright murder, I suppose.

Oh Jesus, I’ve completely lost track of time, I gotta read this paper and report to the Mother before I’m late. Him and me are already on a very thin line of cooperation, I’d rather not make it worse than it already is.

Seems like a classic case, a missing teen that never came home from education camp, glad the translator kicks in quickly so I can understand what it says. I’m guessing the octopus lady was the mother, since the picture on the paper looks related to her. All aliens looks pretty much identical, with some differences of course, though I bet they think the same for humans. One difference I can spot between the mother and son is their eye color, she has red eyes and he has green eyes, another being that his tentacles seem a bit shorter to hers.

Luckily enough for me, she left a plastic bag of his slime (take how that sounds as you wish), so we can easily identify him when we’re investigating. Seems his sch- I mean education camp, is the one in hub 43. From what I’ve heard, it is a pretty bad school with disgruntled students, oh boy.




I would have continued my current thought if it wasn’t for the violent knocking I suddenly heard, I quickly looked up from the paper, only to see the Mother himself. What a “nice” surprise.

“Oh hi sir, what a pleasure to see you here.” I quickly react, being slightly terrified by how he’s staring right into my eyes with his metal eyes. Oh, did I mention? My boss is a Scrapper; Scrappers are a robotic race that looks like large round metal fluff-balls (If fluff-balls had creepy spikes protruding from their backs, and the metal looked rusted beyond repair), around half the size of a human. They have this strange ability to make just about anything from scraps, hence the name, which is why they are usually seen as scavengers in most stations, other than their own ones naturally.

“Spere teh plasanties, homan.” Well, if I couldn’t tell that he was being serious before, I can now. It seems so strange that he’s so serious, he’s usually very laid back and relaxed, when compared to other Scrappers anyway. He’s grumpy by human standards though. “I hag sumehing to ell yo, is a mesge freem une of teh higer urps.”

“Why didn’t they just sent it to my WCO?” I ask, slightly confused to the reason for the current situations. What could the higher ups ever want from me? This feels awfully conspicuous.

“WCO too public said they, is for your earyes oly.” I assume that’s what he said, kinda hard to hear through the sounds of the mechanical whirring from his body as his makeshift mouth moves with what his words. This is becoming weirder and weirder by the second; I feel a bit nervous inside, which in turn causes my leg to start bouncing up and down.

I guess he noticed this and grunted, reaching inside his robotic body, and taking out a black box like object. I would assume it’s a recording box, not many people use those nowadays. I would joke about him being a hippy or something, but I’m too scared to do that right now.

He doesn’t continue the conversation, he just quickly waddles away from the stall, and I keep staring at him until he turns the corner. I quickly push myself over my bench and start to walk back home, slimy paper and recording box in hand. Since this box was so important, the privacy of my home might be the best to listen to it.




I open the door to my room with my keycard; it silently slides open and closes as I go through. I place the slimy paper in my freezer, so its becomes more solid than jelly of course, and sit down on my sofa. It’s a nice sofa, despite it being so cheap, the rustic color really fits in with the room, since pretty much every building on this station looks like it has never been taken care of.

I place the recording box on my lap, I would have pressed play, if it wasn’t for that I was so stuck I thought. Why? What is it they want with me? It was a terrifying feeling; you know that feeling you get before you present something to a huge amount of people? Imagine it being like that.

Bah, I won’t get anywhere if I just keep thinking, I press the record button slowly, because of dramatic effect. I was always told I was bit of an actor, so it comes naturally to me. The box starts to vibrate as gears start to grind inside.

“Hello Human” The voice sounds metallic, so it must be a Scrapper that’s talking, the strange thing being however that he speaks surprisingly clear. There aren’t many other robotic races on this station. Of course, I’m annoyed at how NO ONE EVER SAYS MY DAMN NAME. I mean come on, I sometimes make an effort to say other alien’s names because I want to be respectful. Why can’t they do the same for me?

“We are contacting you right now, because the station is in grave danger.” Who’d have thought? “As you probably already know, gangs have been taking control of many sectors and hubs and our police force have been unsuccessful in doing so.”

“So I’m assuming you guys want me to do something about it? The hell am I suppos-“

“So we contacted you, we need someone who’s not one of us to help us fight against the current crime wave.” I don’t know why I expected it to answer me; it is a recording box after all.

“Now listen very closely now, you will have received a piece of paper from on of our associates from the Maephelos Traders Guild, he will have disguised it in a missing persons report.” Wait what? I quickly jump out of the sofa and run towards my freezer, pealing it open. I grab the now frozen paper and head towards my sofa, concentrating on the paper and what the message says.

“He told us to tell you to read the first letter in each row, but we have one warning for you before this recording ends. Do not come to the office and try to tell any higher ups about this.” Higher ups? I don’t understand, isn’t this guy a Higher up? He better start to answer questions before this ends.

“Thank you, the Human Republic is relying on you, John.” So wh- wait a minute, did he just say my name? This stuff is just getting weirder and weirder. I mean, crazy things happen on this station at times, like this one time some robotic guy tried to rob me with a burrito. No I’m serious, he thought the burrito was a human handgun. Well, he was unpleasantly surprised when I took a bite out of his “gun” and took out my cuffs with my right hand and my TRD in my left. He knew he was sorta kinda actually screwed so he didn’t resist.

Okay, since the recorder guy thanked me so nicely, I’ll do as he says. Lesse see here, hopefully I’ll be able to properly make out the words, but conveniently, the handwriting isn’t wacky and such. H…U…B…F…O…U…R. Okay, Hub four is pretty close, hopefully the paper specifies the sector too while its at it. S…E…C…T…O…R…S…E…V…E…N…T…E…E…N. Ask and you shall receive I suppose. But wait, there’s more! P…O…R…T…T…W…O. Oh boy, better get there now.




It’s only now when I’m trying to get a ride to Hub four that I realize that I have no clue about what I’m supposed to do when I get there. Nine cogs on that “I’ll find out when I’ll get there.” This is starting to sound more and more like a stereotypical and cheesy person becomes a hero story, and I’m in it.

I snap out of my thoughts at the sound of a hover window opening, to see a hover rider right in front of me, I crouch so I can see inside. Oh boy, it’s a Scrapper as a driver, he’s probably going to attempt to milk me of any of my cogs, and probably a bit more than I have.

“Were te ser?” It asks to me merrily, I assume it has a smile, I can’t quite tell however.

“Are you able to take me to hub four, sector seventeen, port two my good friend?” God I hope he just says yes, some of these drivers are so picky with who they drive, excuses like “Don’t know way”, the assholes just want to get as much cogs as possible. Of course you can’t blame them, they’re just trying to make sure they have enough cogs to get through the day. Gear cleaners are progressively getting more expensive. Doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it.

“Sere I take yo, hup in.” It answers me enthusiastically, opening the door closes to me with the press of a button by the steering holes. Sound funny, it is pretty funny. The driver just sticks their hands into two glowing holes and it allows him/her/it/other to move and turn the car. I’m told it’s fairly easy, though I have never felt compelled to try to learn how to use it.

I sit down on the seat, the door slides closed as I put my last leg in. The seat is surprisingly comfy; most tend to be hard like a rock, and as spiky as one too. Guess this guy understands that just because his race doesn’t care for nice seats, doesn’t mean everyone else doesn’t too. I think I already like him.

The engine starts to vroom softly, in contrast to the loud sounds of the outside of the hover. Of course, that sound disappears as the window slides shut, and before I could say “Let’s go”, the hover enters Hub travel speed.

I would have talked about the trip more, if I hadn’t fallen asleep. I got extremely tired for some reason, must have been the extreme time zone changing. The driver was reasonable, I paid him 20 cogs for the trip and I exited the hover, god I wish I had more taxis like this.

Aaah, feels nice to stand again, just need to stretch out my bac- aaah, that’s the stuff. I swear that it feels better the more your back cracks. I open up my slightly tired eyes only for me to have a surprise. There was literally a big mech guy right up in my face, I couldn’t help but fall to the ground in reply to this sudden appearance. What’s creepier is that I didn’t hear it approach, it must be very light on its feet, which is strange considering how it’s like twice my size.

“Are you the SCO named John?” It asks me robotically, staring deep into my eyes with three blue shining eyes, centered on a ruby head. It doesn’t look like a security mech, it doesn’t have any visible weapons and the like.

It’s painted with a very pale white all over its bumpy body, the ruby head is in the middle of a large chest like thing, where the stomach for a human would be. While it’s arms are attached to what can only be assumed to be shoulders at the top of the chest, the arms reach down to a bit lower than the head, the hands having four pincers with the palm being the color of a slimy black. Like that slime they would use in old movies to show horror and stuff. The legs are at the bottom of the chest, being surprisingly stubby in proportion to the rest of the body, them being about half my size.

“Depends who’s asking, who are you?” I reply, attempting to sound cool, and at least keep my cool. This thing is intimidating as heck, it remains completely unmoving, with the exception of the blue eyes blinking randomly and unsynced.

“Are you the SCO named John?” It asks again, it’s expression completely unchanged, guess it’s scripted to only ask that question, must be a mech drone then. Better move this conversation forward I suppose.

“Yes I am.” I shake a bit, while a sweat drops slowly moves down from my forehead down my cheek. I really don’t want to mess with this thing, doesn’t matter if it isn’t a combat class mech, it’s still very scary to just look at, the pale color making it look like a ghost.

“Come with me if you want to live.”




Tell me, what would you do if a pale robot told you to come with you, with no info on who or what or why, or anything like that to explain the situation. You probably would walk away wouldn’t you? Unless you’re some adventurer guy, then you’d probably happily follow. While I was hardly pleased at the idea of following this thing to wherever, I knew that if I wanted to understand the mystery of what’s been happening to me, I have to do some investigating. So this is at least somewhat of a start to the case.

We went on for a good 40 points or so, we went through open bustling streets, through dark alleyways, industry districts, and (dare I say) rave robot pole dance clubs. I was seriously starting to think that this was just some elaborate prank made by my colleagues. I was just about to tap the mech on its back, when I noticed a very strange logo on the spine of it. It was a logo for a well-known mech producing human company, why I didn’t notice that until now, I’ll never know. I swear, those pole dancers didn’t distract me at all, I promise.

We then entered a oil pub, a Scrapper waiter politely opening the door for us, and guided us to a room behind the kitchen. We kept walking through a dimly lit hall, stopping at a blue door with a white eagle sign on it. This must be some hardcore prank. The mech gently opened the door with its talon hand, gripping it tightly; you’d think the door would break. It looks like a metal door, usually people only use those for rooms they find especially important, and this does not bode well for me does it.

The robot then positions itself to make the door accessible to me, and it uses its free hand to make the gesture that I should enter. As much I am tempted, my patience is stretched thing by now. I start to turn around.

“Go in the room, John.” The robot tells me, the voice was much more human now, and I could tell that it was completely tired of any shit I was trying to do. I immediately stopped turning in surprise and started to walk nervously to the darkened room. As I passed the robot, it followed me with its eyes, staring at me what can only be assumed to be anger. The second my whole body was through the door, the robot shut the door.

I instantly turned around and tried to open the door, what I assumed was the door, since the room was near in complete darkness. Nope, it’s completely jammed, I’m not getting through there, I gotta try though. The darkness started the shroud the last of my sight, and then I was completely blind in the dark Just as I was about to kick the door down, a light turned on behind me.

My eyes slowly adjusted to the new light as I turned to face the origin of it. I couldn’t quite see, but I approached the origin. I started to make out basic shapes, what looked like a bunch of people and something square.

“Who are you people?” I shout, I didn’t exactly understand what was going on, I had just been just shut in a pitch-black room with no light, brought by a white-faced mech who wasn’t exactly warm and welcoming to him. My eyes finally adjusted to the new light and I could see clearly now. There were three people in front of me. It was two humans, and an octopus person. All of them were standing right next to each other.

One of the humans had black hair, looked about 26 years old, was white in skin, and wearing a black suit with a dark red tie. His face seemed a bit stubby and rough; he looked more like a rugby player than a guy who would willingly wear a suit. The second human had short blond hair, with curls at the end of each hairpiece. He was black in skin; he looked much older and wiser than the other fellow. He also looked very tired, and very very bored. Unlike the other guy, this guy was sporting a grey suit with a tie that was split in half with the left being purple and the right being yellow. Weird taste of clothes, but I’ve seen weirder.

But that was when I recognized the squid person, it was the woman earlier today who filed that missing persons paper to me. I think anyway, she has red eyes… yeah now I’m not so sure.

“Hello John, welcome to your Job interview.” The grey suited man says, his voice a bit raspy and shaky, a strangely jolly grin revealing itself on his face.




“What do you mean job interview?” I ask, more confused by this situation by the second. There’s so much stuff happening that I’m not even sure if this is real, am I dreaming? Since I have no clue, I pinch myself to check. It hurts, and I’m not waking up.

“Oh this isn’t a dream, John.” The black suited man announces to me, his voice is very deep and masculine. Dude sounds incredibly tough, and he’s very observant, since I’m guessing he saw me pinch myself.

“Please John, I know this seems very bizarre to you, but we need you to calm down and listen to what we have to say. Humanity, at it’s current state, needs you now more than ever.”

“Wha? Please explain first before you start to ramble”! I shout, this is getting on my nerves now, I feel my choler rising up to my head, and my fist closes tightly

“I suer you eard ahboot teh urreent tentsiones btwen Hooman n my pople.” It was the octopus lady that answered me this time. Wait, I recognize the voice. Now I can “rest easy” knowing that that lady is the lady I met earlier today.

“Then why the subtlety and such, miss?”

“Teh –unknown- yo cellin miss?” She answers angrily. Well, this is awkward.

“Wait, I thought you were a she? Why didn’t you correct me before!” I shout in retaliation

“Ah did et becous ah wes twayin nut the drew tention teh meh, idijit.” Well shit, I suppose it makes sense, judging by how mysterious this whole situation is.

“That’s about enough you two, we need to get to business now.” The black suited man interjects, before I could shoot a reply, looking very serious and angry at the both of us. He looked as if he was to say something more but then the other guy waved his hand.

“Now John, we need you for one reason and it’s a very good reason, you have such experience with dealing with other aliens.” The man says, incredibly calm, in contrast to his associates

“Dude, I’m a station control officer! The heck are you talking about?” This is just getting more confusing now. He hasn’t even told me about the job.

”Stop interrupting me and I might tell you.” He responds coldly, he just became so much more terrifying, feeling more akin to a devil dealer than a business man.

“We want you to become the Alien International Diplomat Speaker for the human race.”




How was your day, John? Oh it was fine, I was told to become the AIDS of the human republic, regular day y’know. Holy crap, this is so stupidly weird that I think I might be high grease. I think the situation has gone past the idea of it being a prank.

“I’m assuming at this point that I have no choice but to say yes?” I ask, remaining perfectly calm, despite the stupid amount of excitement inside me, being the AIDS for a faction basically means you’re the spearhead for any diplomatic business, a position of great honor and power.

“Well aren’t you surprisingly calm.” The black suited man points out, quite literally, he is just pointing at me with his right hand.

“I think I’ve gone past the point of visual excitement” I retort quickly.




“Of course you have a choice John, but if you don’t, then humanity might become illegitimate race in the intergalactic council, we’ll have no rights and we’ll be abused, and you wouldn’t want that.” The older man continues what he says, with a strangely sadistic smirk on his face. He knows that he’s got me in a corner, I don’t have much of a choice.

“Well then, I accept, I’m ready to take this responsibility. I’ll help however I can.” God, I feel so might, like this is some sort of introduction for me to “hero hood” and whatnot.

“E new tet yo weld acept, I, en behorf ef mah pepel, tenk u fer dong dis.” The octopus “guy” is surprisingly thankful, that makes me wonder, what does he have to achieve from this. I was right about to ask, when the more brutish man started to take heavy steps towards me.

“On behalf of the Human Republic and of Humanity, we thank you John, let us hope you bring us to a new age for mankind.” He extends his open hand towards me.

“So what should I do first sir?” I reply, extending my hand to meet his. We shake hands, his hands are strong, rough, but surprisingly gentle. I was expecting him to crush my hand with all his strength.

“We’ll show you, sir.” He turns my hand around, showing off my clock. Why my clock? What’s it got to do with this? I was about to ask, but then he started to take the glass casing off on the clock. A strong blue light erupted from it, as I got used to the brightness, I saw it was a person in a hologram.

“Hello John, by the time you see this, I’m betting that my friends will have told you about this job. If your seeing this hologram, it means that you’ve accepted the job and are ready to help us. On behalf of the Human Republic, I, the leader of the Foreign Affairs Talkers, welcome you. I will be your teacher when you come to earth.”

I would say this was the start of a great journey but… ah fuck it; it’s the start of a great journey.

Mizatoire: the Rebirth
by GuardianTempest
The door creaks open and a male scientist quietly walks into the room. He looks somewhat slim yet broad-shouldered, with a clean-shaved face and short brown hair. In his arms is a small folder filled with ramblings and jargon he won't rather read. He glances around the room and notes how busy this individual has been for the past three days. Diagrams, pictures and drawings of various kinds litter the walls while the multiple whiteboards and bulletin boards are filled to the brim with notes and ideas. Lastly, he turns his vision onto the only other person in the room, typing endlessly on the keyboard while taking occasional moments to write on one of the many papers scattered on the desk.

"Professor Mizatoire," the scientist asks in a tone wishing not to disturb, "May I have a word with you?"

The fingers halts from pressing another key, the chittering on the keyboard stopping as the person attached to it stands up to reveal herself. He can immediately tell she hasn't been sleeping, perhaps for at least three days. Her long, brown frazzled hair is a dead giveaway along with her eyebags.

"Heyy, what's up?" she greets with a weary smile, "I haven't had visitors in a while. You're the guy from Everglade, right?"

The scientist simply tosses the folder onto the desk, he never really cared much for its contents past the first five pages.

"This combination of various requests make almost no sense whatsoever." He couldn't help but add, "And to think I was dragged here from more important matters. Why are you wasting everyone's time and resources on impulses like these?"

She stares blankly for a few moments before his inquiry registers in her mind.

"Well, someone has to explore the crazy stuff to see what can be done. Alternatively, I just want to, no harm in that especially since everyone's getting something out of it. Anyways, is the main resource node ready?"

The scientist glares at her for referring it as simply a 'resource node'.

"You need to brush up on your vocabulary, because acquiring this 'resource node' was a costly affair. But yes, it's there for all I know."

To his surprise, Prof. Mizatoire suddenly attempts to stand right from her seat but slams her thighs on the desk's edge with a loud knock. All the papers and trinkets on it bounce for a bit while she tumbles backwards, tossing several sheets of paper into the air. As she slowly recovers from the slip, the scientist catches some of those sheets and picks up more to closely examine them.

"Strange..." he softly mutters.

Research findings on creating artificial hybrids through advanced surgical procedures. A case study about drawing power from someone who innately generates magical energy. A newspaper article about a dragon sighting in Hungary. Old personal musings in shoddy handwriting, complete with childish scribbles.

He sets down the papers and notices that Prof. Mizatoire is already absent, having already left while he was looking at her notes.

"What does she really want?"

--

Today is the big day, at least for her.

A large gathering of various intellectuals is taking place in a massive, recently-leased warehouse in Almodovar. An equally-large fleet of various parked vehicles litter the surrounding block, ranging from humble sedans to stark-white trucks. The event causes such a disturbance that the local mayor has to declare a localized State of Emergency just to give these people some breathing room and hopefully minimize any damages they might inflict if things go horribly awry.

Inside the warehouse, medical supplies and equipment of all shapes and sizes litter the main floor. At the center of it all is the most advanced portable operating theater in the world. It's a giant tomb-like cube where gravity neutralizers lift the patient into the air while robotic arms and tendrils operate with a repertoire of surgical implements, all monitored and handled by trained professionals with AI assistance inside the array of angular pods surrounding it.

Prof. Mizatoire, dressed in a white hospital gown, stands before the cube and sees her reflection on the shiny white surface, one last look at her physical appearance. Once this is all over, she will become something more.

The surface opens up like train doors, revealing a bed on the chamber's floor while the fancy robotic arms and tendrils rest in their casing. She steps into the chamber after a solemn nod and lies down on the provided bed, falling asleep immediately after continuous work. Light from various indicators and instruments around her glow into existence as the gravity neutralizers kick in. Her resting body slowly levitates from the bed and the robotic arms and tendrils spring into life and begins disassembling the body with delicate precision. Outside, the scientist from earlier watches her vital signs and monitors equipment performance with a mug of coffee in his hand.

He turns towards one of the idle personnel and asks, "So far so good I guess, how is she going to incorporate biomass from the dragon over there?"

In the corner of the main warehouse floor, a fuchsia dragon is contained in a temporal stasis field. The stasis field makes it very vague to discern its status. Maybe it's dead the entire time or only on arrival, frozen in time to avoid deterioration. Maybe it's still alive and frozen in time to avoid inhumane suffering. It is definitely smaller than others of its kind, more like a drake or even a whelp but it is loaded with magical energy to the point that a faint mist is emanating from it. How she got the resources for the experiment is a mystery for the ages.

Four men in hazmat suits are carrying a large, sterile container towards the cube. One of them turns to the scientist and tells him that he should stop looking if he is squeamish. He points to the corner where the dragon in stasis is located, the area now obscured by giant curtains. The scientist nods and walks away to take a break.

The entire operation is a great ordeal, every variable must be accounted for just so that the professor's outlandish wishes are realized. To make sure of that, he returns back to the cube after refilling his mug and getting some biscuits to eat. As the hours drag by, the exhausted personnel situated in the operating pods swaps with replacements so they too can rest.

Truth be told, this is neither the longest surgical operation nor the hypothesis with the weirdest premise he has heard of, respectively that goes to the alien behemoth's orgran transplant and the weaponization of cute little girls and their memetic effects.

--

A few days have passed since the operation started. The scientist wakes up to find that everyone around him is packing up. Apparently, in his exhausted slumber he has missed a few critical moments and the point where the operation is declared successful, after which the patient is delivered to the local hospital to recover in the ICU.

A taxi ride and a few flights of stairs later, he finds the room she is residing in. The robot security guard lets him in after a quick flash of his credentials. Inside, he finds her lying peacefully on the bed, completely cocooned by the blankets, and no one else. Earlier, he has a text message to bring a mirror, which is exactly what he pulls out from out of his pocket.

"Hey, uh, I have the mirror you wanted. Did something go wrong?" he asks with concern to her current state.

From the layer of blankets, a hand extends to greet his offering. While it still looks human, apart from the long nails, the way it's opened up looks like it's ready to grip something with no remorse. He sheepishly hands over the mirror and the hand, to his surprise, softly handles it. Suddenly she springs into life, rising up and unfurling her blanket to reveal herself like a reborn phoenix.

"Surprise! How do I look?"

Her long, brown hair has become even longer and is now in a shade of bright pink. Her red eyes faintly glow and has slits for irises while her mouth exhibits more pronounced canines. A sharp-ended tail delicately wiggles into view and a pair of horns jut out from her head. Admittedly, she is actually quite beautiful in her new state.

A moment passes, Prof. Mizatoire holds back her breathing out of pain. Her body is still adjusting to the myriad of modifications applied to it. After briefly stabilizing, she starts admiring herself through the mirror.

"I have to admit, you look pretty good." the scientist compliments while reaching for a styrofoam cup.

"Thank you," the professor replies, "Here, let me help."

She reaches for a thermos placed on a table right next to her bed and pours some hot chocolate into the cup.

"All in all," he begins concluding, "Casualties were reported in obtaining that dragon, several personnel have been critically exhausted, severely pissed off the dragon enthusiasts, burned a hole right through your pockets, and set some surprising new records in the advanced medical community; all for the sake of your rather...unique form of vanity."

He takes a sip before adding, "Tell me, Prof. Mizatoire, was all of that worth it?"

"Yup!" she replies with an enthusiastic smile and a glint in her eye, "Now it's time to move on to Phase Two!"

"WHAT!?" he blurts out, nearly spilling the contents in his cup, "You just went through the most harrowing surgery in your life and that was just the first step!?"

This is never a good sign with her.

Untitled
by Devour

The darkness was absolute. Every system on the starship had failed and every last jolt of power had been spent, and with it left the last of Jak's hope. All that remained was himself and his ship; a lifeless hunk of metal that drifted closer and closer towards the ravenous maw of a black hole.

Jak's death was absolute, and the finality of it was crushing. There wasn't a damned thing he could do to save himself and he knew it. What would it feel like then? He wondered. They said that entering a black hole's event horizon happened at speeds equal to light itself. Did that mean time would slow to a stop as gravity tore him apart, atom by atom? Would he be locked into an instant of perpetual agony that lasted forever? The thought of it scared him. It scared him more than anything had before in his life.

It wasn't just terror that made the man quake uncontrollably. The temperature was dropping fast after the heat had failed and he knew he had to get up. He needed to get into a suit fast if he didn't want to freeze to death.

But what was the point? Why even bother? Dying from the cold would be a better end than being swallowed alive. Why shouldn't he just give up now and hope that the cold took him before the black hole did?

The clanking of metallic footsteps came unexpected, and a metal hand gripped Jak's shoulders carefully. He nearly screamed. "The hell are you doing down there, Jak? Impersonating a frozen lobster?" The voice belonged to Zed; his closest friend. His companion since grade school, since university, since training to become an engineer in space. He had always been so full of life, and even in the face of impending doom it still remained. He was dressed in an exoskeleton that engineers used to do external repairs, and he had another one dragging behind him. "Get the fuck into this suit, man! I brought you one. We can still get out of this!"

"Zed...?" He hardly believed his friend was still alive. His presence brought him an awful feeling of... disappointment, honestly. Death would not be so easy any more. But there was something about Zed's voice that threatened to raise an even worse emotion. Hope.

"You know the alien whatsit we were taking back to Earth? The thing they've been trying to activate for the last two-hundred years?" He continued as lively as ever.

"Yeah?"

"Well, it's working! It's fucking working, man! It's the black hole! It's all the gamma radiation or some shit, I don't know, but the thing is that it works! We can use the artifact to get out of here." Jak's friend was euphoric. He was excited beyond his wildest dreams. "But I brought you a suit. Put it on, already. I'm getting us both out of this."

The decision to move again was also the moment where Jak decided he would really try to keep on living. He forced his frozen limbs to climb into the engineer's exoskeleton and at once he could see through the ship as if it were bright as day. He saw the bodies of a dozen dead astronauts, killed on impact with the massive comet or frozen into a comatose sleep. Together they moved through electrical wires that no longer sparked and flickered; through hallways that were torn apart, exposed to the endless abyss that was space itself. But when they reached the cargo hold Jak could notice that there was something different going on. Something was providing power to the doors that let them through. He could hear a dull hum that did not travel through the air; something that came from an entirely different level of human comprehension. And when the two men opened the doors to the artefact itself, he knew at once that the machine was alive in every sense of the word. It whispered to them, filling their minds with ideas and places and things. It knew that the black hole was coming. It knew it was about to die.

It knew that the two insignificant humans that stood before it could save its life.

"They say the aliens that constructed this thing existed on a greater plane of existence than we do." Jak breathed, in awe. "This machine was used to create entire new universes for those who harnessed it. It made them gods. What a truly amazing piece of technology."

"Damn straight, it is." Zed smiled. "And we can use it ourselves to get out of here. I was going to use it myself, but I saw you were still alive, man! There was no way in hell I was gonna leave you here."

All at once, Jak was overcome with a torrent of gratitude. Relief. Love; for his friend and for the fact he searched the ship in the face of his impending death to try and save his life. "Let's do it, then." He grinned. "Let's get out of here."

The massive construction seemed to read their minds. Jak felt it scan his thoughts and respond in kind, and with a warm sensation he realized that he suddenly knew exactly how the machine worked. He knew how to make it create a new universe for them! All they had to do was touch it, and it would make their thoughts and their desires a reality.

"We'll do it at the same time, eh?" Zed was grinning ear to ear. "We'll make a new universe together! You and I, we'll be like gods!"

Jak smiled back, but he was uncertain. He didn't want to be a god.

He just wanted everything to be okay again.

With a count of three to one, Jak and Zed placed their hands on the alien construct and felt the entire universe shift at once. Suddenly the ship was gone, shrinking into a speck below them. The black hole, the stars in the sky, the galaxy itself, everything that ever existed and all that there was compressed itself down, down, down, until the universe itself was nothing more than an insignificant blip of light. And then even that vanished.

All that remained was himself, Zed, the ancient machine, and an endless void of nothingness.

"I can't believe this is really happening!" Zed was exultant, speaking clearly despite the lack of anything for sound to travel through. "We did it, Jak! We made it! Anything you can dream up--we can make it happen here. Anything we can make in this new universe, we'll do it together." There were tears of joy in his eyes as he turned to his friend. "I'll let you go first, man. If you want to."

The quieter man was less certain; he felt sick to his stomach leaving everything he had ever known behind. He didn't know if he would ever see his wife again, or his kids or his friends, or even his boring old job. One thing was for certain though; it really did beat dying to a black hole. "Well... I guess we should make the Earth again." He said.

Before even finishing his sentence, the monolith read Jak's thoughts and desires and it made them become reality. From one moment to the next, the Earth itself formed from nothingness, and it was just as beautiful as Jak remembered. City lights glowed quietly in the darkness of the void and he could see tiny blips of starships coming and going from Earth's orbit. It really was his home planet, and merely seeing it again filled his heart with relief and joy.

"It's beautiful, man." Zed placed an arm on Jak's shoulder. "I guess we'll need the rest of the galaxy too, eh? The Earth won't last long without a sun." As soon as the words left the man's lips, millions, billions of stars swirled around them like motes of dust in a torrent. They filled the sky itself and wrapped around them like a mother's loving embrace. They were back in front of their home again, and it was all exactly how things used to be.

Maybe... maybe things would be alright after all.

"Zed?" Jak's grin stretched from ear to ear. "Thank you, man. For saving me. For everything. This is..." He felt a tear run down his face. "This is more than I could have ever hoped for."

"Hey, we've been best friends for how long now? You know I wouldn't leave you behind!" He clapped him on the back. "You know what? There's no one else I'd rather be making a universe with right now, man. It'll be you and I, and anything else we could ever want." They were quiet for a long time then, basking in each other's presence until Zed gave his friend's shoulder another pat. "So all I did was add on to your turn. You wouldn't mind if I added a little something else, would you?"

"Not at all, Zed." He replied, earnest. "Do whatever you want."

"You're gonna love this, then."

Suddenly, the two friends were only a few kilometres above the Earth, staring down into New York City where they had grown up together. The buildings glowed with gentle light, sprawling beyond Manhattan island and out as far as the eye could see. It was where Jak still called home, and he would always be grateful that he could see it once again.

"So we're gods now, right?" Zed was smiling. "We have an opportunity that literally no other human has had before. We can do... whatever, we, want." The grin stretched wider still. "Watch this."

Suddenly, the whole landscape twisted. The lights of Manhattan shifted neon red as buildings warped, towering higher and higher until they raked the sky, declaring their dominance over all things below it. Everything was exorbitantly wealthy and bathed in needless splendour.

The outskirts of New York became the opposite; shrunken, stricken with poverty. Homes were made out of sticks and food was scarce; its people valued no more than insects in the face of the city's power. The inner buildings were only slightly better, but above all else it was obvious that the entire population of New York was now a collective slave to Zed's every whim and desire. It made Jak's stomach twist with revulsion and disgust.

Even worse was in the centre of it all, higher than any other building. Two twin towers stood with walls that were emblazoned with lettering for all of humanity to see. One building read Zed. The other read Jak. Two supreme rulers over the Earth and over all existence itself.

"This is incredible! This is amazing!" Zed was euphoric, screaming with joy into the night sky. "So what do you think, man? You can have a turn!" He watched his best friend closely, excited to hear his response.

"Honestly..." Jak gasped. He could hardly comprehend all that was happening. "I don't really want to be a god, you know? I already had all I needed to be happy." He struggled to find the right words to say. "I had a wife, I had kids, I loved my job... I liked things the way they used to be."

He did not mean to activate the alien's machine, but it read his desires all the same. Unbidden, the landscape warped once again. Gone were the massive towers of wealth. Gone were the homes of poor families who struggled to survive. The New York Jak remembered and yearned for was beneath them once more... But it wasn't quite right. For every few miles a remnant of Zed's empire sat; a ruined corpse of a skyscraper that jutted from the city like a broken bone through the skin.

"Whoa, what the fuck?" Zed exclaimed, whirling to face his friend. "Dude! You didn't even let me say anything! I was listening to you and you just went and tore down all my shit!"

"I didn't mean to!" Jak shot back, defensive. "The machine acted without me telling it to! I'm sorry."

Looking back out at the city, Zed took in his surprised outrage and in one great breath, let it out in a whuff of air. "Alright, man..." He shook himself. "Let's go back to where we were, then, eh?" He gestured out to the world as if it were a boring car. "Is this really all you want with life? We have a machine that gives us the power of god himself, and you just want things to be normal again?"

"Yeah..." Was his quiet reply. "It was like I said earlier. I had a wife, I had kids, I had--"

"You can still have all that, man!" Zed let out in a burst. "You can have your wife and your kids. You can have a fucking cup of coffee right now if that's what you want. But why would you ever want your old life back? Your old job back? Under some prissy manager who doesn't give a fuck about you, spending your whole life away from your loved ones, waiting for the day to end so you can have your meagre hours of freedom to spend a few moments with your kids and your wife before going out to make some corporation money again. We can create our wildest dreams! How could that ever be better, than this?!" He gestured hopelessly at the machine between them.

"I don't know." Jak stuttered. "I just... liked it. My job gave me satisfaction. I got to travel all across the galaxy. The pay was good, I liked my friends at work, and I had you to keep me company too." He tried to make himself smile. "I was living my dream, you know? I always wanted to be an engineer. I guess I never really wanted... more than that."

"Jak..." His friend's voice was deathly quiet. For the sake of his friend he had been trying to listen, but it was apparent that every word seemed backwards and wrong to him. His confusion exploded forth in one great torrent. "All those things you miss... They're all gone! You know, back in the real universe? In case you haven't noticed, we're supposed to be dead in the middle of a black hole right now! Anything we try to make here won't ever be more than a simulation. They may look real and feel real, but in the end I assure you that they're fucking not!" He stood on nothing as he strode up to Jak, inches away from his face. "Look, I'll show you. Lets give you an example, eh? You want to see your kids? You want to see your fucking wife? Here they are!" Before Jak could reply, three small children and a dark-haired woman appeared before them, dressed in pajamas and casual clothing. Each one of them had a great big smile plastered on their faces.

"Jacky! It's so good to see you again!" His wife cried, genuinely happy and filled with joy, bounding forth and wrapping Jak in a tight embrace. He could feel the weight of her body and smell the scent of her perfume. "Oh, it's been so long. I was worried I'd never see you again." All the while, his children danced around his legs, each anxiously waiting their turn to be scooped up in their father's arms. They shouted his name in glee, and Jak was overcome with a sense of belonging that he thought he would never feel again.

And then they disappeared in the blink of an eye, leaving Jak alone. He could still feel the warmth of his wife and weight of her arms... but all he could see was the city a mile down below.

"Christ, Zed." Jak choked. "Bring her back. Bring her back! What did you just do to them?!"

"Don't you see?" Zed was desperate. "I created them! I told the machine to make her and it did! They're no more real than one of your video games and you know it! Look at you! They made you happy despite everything, didn't they? Why can't you just see what I see, and make this fake reality something worth living in!?" His palms slammed against the machine, and with a sickening sensation the entire world twisted under the machine's will. New York tore itself apart once again.

The result made Jak sick once more. Zed's fantasy was back, but it was a horrid and twisted version of what it once was. Its towers were stunted, fully functional but bent at grotesque angles. Some passed through the ground, others went right through each other. Smog choked the sky, menacing, glowing blood red as the city's pulsing neon lights lit it up. At the city's floor flowed magma that burned its inhabitants alive and the sounds of endless screaming filled the air as they were not allowed to die.

Jak's greatest friend friend looked upon a twisted mockery of his very hopes and dreams, and he screamed aloud. His fantasy was ruined. "You did this!" He roared at his face. "It's all because you had to change things back! You weren't satisfied with actually being happy. You didn't care if I didn't want what you wanted. You just wanted your shitty little life back and your shitty little job, and you wanted me to suffer a forever of mediocrity with you! I hope you're happy, Jak. I hope you're fucking happy. I brought you with me, I saved your fucking life, and this is how you repay me? You had to tear down my dreams and replace it some fucking..."

Zed was insane. Jak could no longer listen to what was being said to him. The power of god was too much for a human in his greed to withstand and there was no longer any reasoning with him. In his insanity, his friend had created a hell out of his heaven. He could no longer use the machine.

It was up to Jak to make something worth living in again.

He closed his eyes, trying to bring up every last detail of how Earth was supposed to be. He imagined his home. His wife. His kids. His friends. Every aspect of how things were supposed to be, with all the good and bad that came with it. Soft fingers brushed against the alien's ancient machine, and for one brief moment he was at peace with himself. He could still make things right again. He could still make life good again.

He felt reality shift beneath him once more.

Zed stopped shouting at once.

Hope rose from its battered chamber once again, and Jak opened his eyes.

And he screamed.

The Earth was torn apart. Where land used to be, gaping chasms hung open in silent cries of torment. Zed's towers jutted from the ground like gnarled thorns, spawned from beneath the chunks of earth themselves. He could look down into them and see the remains of Zed's city--Zed's fantasy, its buildings and people cooking alive in the heat of the planet's core. On the surface sat Jak's version of New York but it fared no better; buildings glitched in and out of existence, appearing and disappearing randomly at different points in the sky. Its people cried out in perpetual agony as they walked, casually, going about their day-to-day lives. But in the centre of it all...

Was Jak's home.

It was perfect and crystal clear, just like he had imagined it. He knew that there he would be safe. There he would be happy. His wife would be waiting for him and his kids would scream his name and run up to hug his knees. They would all eat a warm dinner together and his wife would tell him she loved him, and everything... would be okay...

It would all be okay...

"Jak." Zed's voice was dead. He could only stare at the broken remains of this reality and see that nothing was left for him here. In all areas except Jak's home, this place was worse than hell itself. "I'm switching it back."

"No! No, wait!" The man screamed hopelessly, but he could do nothing to stop his friend from touching the monolith as it whirred and struggled to hold reality together by its seams. As Zed's mind brushed against it one last time, something snapped.

There was the sound of tearing, louder and more enormous than anything Jak could withstand. It came from all directions and rattled him to his soul, shaking the Earth and the air and existence. The sky began to turn black, and the blackness came closer and closer until the planet itself was torn apart and reality was ripped into shreds like paper through a shredder and the machine failed to hold it all together. Everything disappeared into nothingness until all that was left was his home, floating in the void... and then that fell away too.

Nothing else existed. Nothing else was.

The only thing that was left in the void was Jak, and Zed. The machine had disappeared.

He tried to speak, he tried to apologize, but his words could no longer travel. They couldn't carry over nothingness and it was too dark for him to even see. The two friends were too far apart to reach each other as they floated together in an endless abyss of total darkness.

They could still breathe. They did not hunger. They did not age.

All they could do was float in the ruins of what had once been theirs. Forever.

And ever.

And ever.

ErrorBlender
11-16-2017, 05:57 AM
Action/Adventure Part I

Clark
by KamirooWolf
The boiling water dances with a lively crackle around his midnight orange fingertips, pockets of air fleeing the stasis as bubbles pop off in the heat of combat. The sword gently nestled into its scabbard clink's incessantly against the metal as he shifts his stance backwards before the earth gives to his godly decree. It obeys swiftly and the earth before the man roars, rising from its slumber to form a bastion between he and his adversary. At his side kneels a female, her jade colored skin and ruby hair a drastic contrast from the dull rock they suddenly hide behind. In her rugged hands rest a single double-edged blade, dull and basic as blind faith in its own right. Her eyes match her skin, and are crystalline in appearance, but to those who know her know all too well that nothing precious lies beyond the deceitful veil.

“I see things differently..." The man mutters underneath his breath, the boiling water springing wildly in his palms. Through a slot in the stone he launches the heated stream of liquid. It travels, maintaining its scalding temperature, before dropping to below zero degrees fahrenheit as it approaches the eye socket of the third party. Another man, his body maroon and especially lanky, takes the icicle through his pupil, not so much as faltering in the slightest as the spurting blood stiffens mid-flow to form a sturdy mask of crimson nearly blending with his complexion. Next come the hounds; one for every scar, our first man recalls, his black gaze shifting slightly to the crown of the maroon man's skull. Imp-like creatures, grotesque and perverse, claw through the bone just as they had before, screeching in an unintelligible dialect whilst their host tiredly regenerates the damage as he watches their pathetic charge. A new one is among them, his skin ripe and red, with a trio of horns protruding from his own, misshapen cranium. The imps charge with zeal and blades of bone, only to be thrown aside by vines tearing through the earthen mantle just below their webbed feet. The vines split apart and waste no time as their individual tendrils seek out the incapacitated enemies, piercing through their bodies with no remorse as imp blood stains the verdant plant life.

“Clark! You can't keep this up forever! Just give me the OK and I'll make this bastard a Hellspawn himself!" The jade woman beside our midnight orange man rings out, her voice as if it had just gone through a rusted cheese grater. Her accomplice cringes, thrown off by the sudden sound of her shrill voice in his delicate ears.

“First off," Clark begins, taking advantage of the grace period provided by his plants. “Inside voice is best voice. Second, I'm not your damn handler nor are you my subordinate. You're free to engage as you wish."

The man on the other side of the barrier roars, and both Clark and his compatriot embrace one another as a burst of light shaves a couple inches off the stone shield.

“You're right, Clark, you aren't my handler, but you're the only voice of reason I have in this existence. I don't make a move without your consent, remember?" She recites his seemingly ancient rule in an attempt to tug at his heart strings, only to have her nose slapped delicately by a dandelion extending out of her partner's hand.

“Niza...sometimes I swear your only purpose in life is to keep me in check. Fine, just try to keep it chill, will you?"

“Ditto to that, friend. Let's move."

In a flash of jade and amber the two emerge from cover, their bodies suffering minimal damage as the light from their assailant fades into a dull flicker coming from his heart. It doesn't take long for blood to erupt from his throat and onto the rock beneath him, and both Niza and Clark wince as more and more of the devil's children climb from his cranium. Lung damage and several organs, most likely. The midnight orange character provides cover fire for the female equipped with the boring blade, keeping imps at bay with air, fire, stone, plants, ice, and water alike. His vision blurs and his heart slows, for mother nature does not tolerate such abuse without proper atonement. The jagged stones in his body sink ever deeper, gently pricking into vital organs and veins as our protagonist crashes into the the dirt beneath him, the brown staining his orange hue.

Meanwhile, Niza rushes into the maroon man with bloodlust in her emerald eyes. The boring blade wedged into her vice like grip pleading for mercy as the and woman's legs spike, signalling to the rest of her body that the vessel is going airborne. Her heartbeat sky rockets as she leaps over any imps not delayed by Clark's efforts, their bone blades just beneath her as she soars overhead, releasing her trademark howl.

Her muscles tense and the grin on her face cracks a couple inches wider as she brings her wide blade down into rugged terrain torn asunder through sheer force. In an instant the twilight of sunset overhead becomes energized, traces of light blue emitting from the earth below in defiance of the night's oppressive presence. The imps are blinded and the maroon man covers his face lazily as Niza erupts a mad chuckle at the sight of her Grid expanding throughout the battlefield; her very figure in the center of the ethereal, but visible neon-blue space.

“A-4!" She commands the heavens, and after a short delay her wish is granted. A slender beam of piercing light runs the dull night through, its brilliance shattering the approaching shadow as it dusts the desired grid square absolutely. The clump of imps who once stood not too far from their creator had been deleted; stricken down by a devastating smite far from holy in the blink of an eye. No blood. No bone. No ash.

“B-2! C-1! D-4! A-3!" The four-by-four grid is a festival of deadly strobe lights, and Niza does her best to contain her excitement, but how can anyone just keep a boring, straight face in light of such a spectacle?! Her laugh strains, and the jade girl's humanity teeters precariously on the edge of sanity as the entire field surrounding her is reduced to, well, nothing. All that remains is her, a couple unsightly stains, and the slightly less maroon man not totally far away; all color drained from his figure out of rattling terror.

“Emotion is something I had long forsaken to better control the demons inside of me...but holy fucking shit, lady...what in the actual fuck..." His grey pupils are as wide as the various craters peppering the mountain's surface and his body shakes uncontrollably. A-2.5 is where he stands, and he could turn and flee the range of the beams if he wanted, but the dread of his failure climbing over his body melds him to the ground in unshakable forlorn depression.

Clark rises to one knee, a proud smile etched into his pain-stricken face as Niza's mad laughter slows to a calm and collected sigh. She is improving, slowly but surely. The jagged stones stabbing his insides recede, and Clark huffs a reluctant sigh towards the maroon man as his feet drag along the rocks beneath him. He narrowly sidesteps a crater, brushing past a quietly panting Niza as her neon grid fades into nothing. Impatient, the dark night rushes in behind its absence, claiming its dominion over the region before anything else can oppose its omnipotence. As he walks, Clark draws the blade at his side. The metal clinking one last time as it is freed from its scabbard.

“Do you understand WHY it is that we are not yet truly accepted as citizens of this world, Tzen?" Clark questions, approaching the defeated maroon man with blade lazily swaying with his motion. Niza winces at his tone; sophisticated and educated with a dash of undeserved politeness... she knows what is coming better than any body on the planet. “It is a simple answer, brother, and all of us know it well. It's an answer that they know too, and an answer they have for so long strived to achieve. The answer, my equal, is power and power alone. Simple, was it not? Where did we get these powers? Who can say, friend...who can say? One thing that keeps us at peace with the native men and women of this world, however..." Clark stops just in front of his adversary with ebony eyes locked into the maroon man's soul, his blade making a small incision is Tzen's throat as the midnight orange man brings the tip just under his captive's chin.

“Is our ability to use our power for the greater good. We, as a people, are good and kind. We have a strong sense of community and love one another as best to our ability. That is- and you are going to love this- until the humans decide they want a pet to please their bloodthirsty little children." The blade drops, and a hollow sigh escapes Tzen's throat, only to have incoming air choked as Clark's blade runs him through the center of his stomach. Clean splitting the face of his belly-button and tearing through any organs that dare resist it as vines sprout from the ground and take hold of his wrists. Stone pillars accompany them, and Tzen can only cry out in vain as the merciless elements hold him in place.

“When I, the first Stick Figure, spawned on this planet, my mind was so muddled. Where had I come from? What was my purpose? Was I alone? All of these questions plagued my mind for years as I wandered, avoiding any sight of modern civilization until I simply could not bear hiding any more. I met humans. They tried to cut me open, you know, and I killed so many of them that day that I almost felt as if I were their God. But then another Stick spawned before my very eyes, and I knew then that I wasn't any more special than the people you kill every day, Tzen. The newborn Stick, the same height as I stand right now, stood before me and defended the monsters with heart. I couldn't help but back down. From then on we fled from man, seeking out subsequent Spawns and marking Spawnpoints, and before we knew it we were a roaming nation in our own right. We swore AS A PEOPLE, to maintain peace and uphold tranquility with humans, and ever since then we have been able to live together in harmony for the few centuries we have breathed their air. Then we get bad apples like you who ruin the bunch."

Clark twists the blade to lock it in place and steps back before his entire body shifts. Before he knows it, Tzen has a wide variety of teeth decimated by a flaming roundhouse kick to the jaw. Niza covers her eyes for this; never before has punishment from Clark been as severe as this. Most Sticks, such as herself, get off with a slap on the wrist or are forced into a duel they are bound to lose, but this is something different altogether. The area around her is enveloped in pitch-black shadow, and it takes Niza a moment to realize that she has been sealed in a thick cone of pure stone. She makes no struggle to escape, and silently thanks Clark for the soundproof blindness.

On the outside Clark cracks his knuckles, his expression grim and serious as his gritty voice picks up for the last time.

“We Sticks are not born with a purpose, brother. The life of a Stick Figure is complicated indeed. We are drawn into existence by some unknown force, and often times we have to fight just to survive. But slaughtering countless of our kind and theirs alike just because the humans give us treats to do so... is something I CANNOT forgive. Those of us who fight do it for a cause, those of us who kill, do it for the greater good, and those of us who refuse to uphold peace and threaten coexistence with these people will be terminated. No exceptions. No second chances."

Clark pulls an open palm back and allows boiling water to hug his fingertips, the scalding liquid tickling his senses and he wraps his wide hand around Tzen's blood dribbling lips. The water's temperature drops just as it had before, and the maroon man's bloodcurdling shrieks are silenced as Clark removes his blade and digs into the open wound in Tzen's abdomen prior to allowing mother nature to cleanse the wannabe demon.

“Death by fire is your punishment."

His bare hands stained, Clark turns and drops the stone barrier surrounding Niza. She may be his age and slightly insane, but nobody should have to witness such a violent end. Her jade eyes widen at the blazing inferno just as she strokes her matching hair, and her head feels uncharacteristically light as she rises to her feet and follows Clark back to the city, not a word spoken between the two.


Blood on the Dollar
by Boomerang
The sun bore down on the land with unbearable heat, the cloudless sky granting no reprieve. Rain hadn't fallen in the region in nearly two months now, nearly evaporating the riverbed as shallow waters crashed against small, jagged rocks. The river was surrounded by an area with virtually no shade to be had and grass that was turning to a rotten brown. The Rocky Mountains rested on the horizon, looming menacingly next to the sun.

Even in the merciless heat, there was a man at the shore of the shallow riverbed, crouching among the rocks. His brown skin had darkened from his time in the light, his straw hat only serving little comfort as sweat ran down his face. In his shaky hands rested a pan filled with water and smaller rocks. He exhaled--He'd been crouching down in this position for hours on end, and still found nothing to show for it. The rumors of copious gold in this area seemed to be nothing more than a myth.

He turned over his shoulder, glancing at the angle of the sun and cursing himself quietly. He didn't have much time before the sun went down, and by then he'd have to retreat back to his cave and wait for his tribe to return with food for the night. He had told his tribe of this spot, and told them that it would give them the riches to mount an offensive against the Americans and take back what was theirs. However, without the profits to buy sufficient weapons, they were sitting ducks.

He went through the pan one more time with little hope, and suddenly found the jackpot--A nugget of yellow, entrapped between two much larger chunks of eroded rock. His lips curved into a grin, and in his head he jumped for joy.

"Yes," He spoke quietly to himself, "Yes!"

The celebration hit a sour note, however, as he heard a familiar click. A heated barrel was pushed into the back of the native's head, "I'm gonna need you to put that pan down."

The man didn't dare turn his head, suddenly obedient under the gun of the American bandit. He set the pan down before him and stayed still, breathing in and out softly, "We're not making any trouble."

A low scoff, "That's kinda funny, see, cuz...I think you are," The man cringed in discomfort, "The prospectors want this land, and you've been refusin'. It's like you wanted me and my boys to come up here."

The man shut his eyes tightly, waiting with baited breath. The bandits had come to California on the railroads about six months prior, around the time the euphoria of the Gold Rush died down and the hardships of life in the West began to set in. These days, the only ones who make it big are the mining companies and the occasional rich eastern man. As gold became more scarce, Americans grew more desperate and began to blame anyone that wasn't white--That's where the bandits found their profit.

"The mining companies are paying some big dollars to see your tribe's heads on their wall," The man began to notice the white folks that were suddenly surrounding him. All of them held dusty revolvers in their hands, their scruffy beards shadowed by a brown leather sun hat that rested above their brows, "And I ain't one to turn down cold, hard cash."

A burst of anger resided in the native, a burning heat in the pit of his stomach, "You--American Jackals," He turned his head, glaring at the ringleader, gun now pointed at his forehead, "You took the children away from their homes and made them your own. That, you will pay for."

The bandit known simply by his first name, Jackson, looked down at the brown-skinned man with greedy hazel eyes, a chuckle passing from his parted lips. Fortunately, he wasn't shot, but he was met with a hard smack in the face with the revolver, causing him to crumple to the ground, foot resting in the shallow waters. Jackson pointed the revolver back to his face, and now he was looking down the barrel of multiple hand guns, "Sorry, hand twitched on me."

Jackson smirked, spitting on the torso of the man on the ground, "Now why don't you go ahead and tell me where your other Indian friends are?"

In a bid of desperation, the native's eyes darted away from the bandits and toward the horses they had rode in on. He could see the faces of his brethren crawling behind the horse's hind legs, shovels and rocks in their hands. Hope found its way into the man's fearful heart.

The bandit followed the man's gaze suspiciously, meeting the eyes of a savage man at the moment that they all jumped from withered shrubbery and behind horses. Jackson lifted his revolver, a gunshot echoing across the region as one of the native's fell to the ground, a clean hole in the center of his face.

Yet, Jackson's quick thinking wasn't exactly identical to the rest of his gang. They screamed out, lifting their revolvers only to have their face caved in by a large rock. A quick whack with a shovel knocked another one unconscious, and another was impaled in the throat by a large stick. The leader was shocked at the ambush, completely ignoring the Indian in the river as gunfire remained prevalent through the screams, smoke billowing into the sky.

It wasn't too long before Jackson realized it was time for a retreat. They may have the Indians outgunned, but they doubled the numbers of the bandits. As some of the men writhed in a pool of their own blood, others ran to their horses. Jackson back stepped toward his own horse, grabbing any guns he saw on the ground and pulling the trigger, mowing down a few more men before jumping onto the animal. He kicked the horse's side, forcing it to gallop away at intense speeds as the natives chased them as far as they could, eventually giving up.

The bandit looked back over his shoulder. The brown grass had been painted red as members of his gang and Indians alike lied on the ground, dead. Both suffered the same number of casualties, however it was a much smaller blow for the tribe considering their population. He looked to the other horses containing men with wide, terrified eyes. It was an experience Jackson would want to forget, but with the money the company was offering, he knew he was going to eliminate from the map--One way or another.

****

The horses whinnied as their gallops turned into slow strides, walking down the dirt road that lead into the group of abandoned homes. Windows had been broken open and doors had been taken nearly off their hinges among the faulty foundation of the buildings themselves. One of the signs hanging from the front of it read 'Bobby's General Store'. Another store close by read 'Gold Mining Supplies', scribbled with red paint. Jackson shook his head, "Tch."

To some people, this town held memories and mementos that couldn't be forgotten; It was one of the first towns that people found gold, resting near a riverbed that had dried out during the atrocious drought. To the gang of merciless bandits, however, it was just another abandoned boom town for them to reside in.

The hooves of the horses clomped softly against the hard dirt, moving past buildings that had been broken down by looters and dust storms until they came across a home that was rather well kept. The windows were still intact, although the door had been completely taken out. The foundation stood tall and it was clear based on the hoove prints in the dirt that the bandits had made it their living space.

As the horses made a complete stop at the side of the home the bandits hopped off, only now noting the horses that had gone missing, the ones empty of a rider. In dismay, they realized that they had either been killed by the natives or ran off into the dry fields. The unofficial bandit leader walked into the home first, grasping the bucket of water at the wall next to him and submerging his hands. Jackson scrubbed them a bit, wiping the blood and dirt away before splashing it against his face. The cold water felt like a fresh relief to the soul, grabbing a dirty rag and drying himself off.

There was a stark silence between the six remaining bandits as the rest of them sat down upon rickety chairs and a table with cards scattered across the top. They all seemed rather distressed, glancing over to Jackson as he stared out from the dirt-grimed window. He exhaled slowly.

The man at the far corner of the room, put a leg on the table, his black boots now worn down to a dark grey as his hat sat down on his chest, "Them guys had wives and kids, man.." He said softly, voicing what the others had thought.

The leader frowned, staring from the window and to the ground, gripping the window sill tightly. Jackson shook his head slowly, his face shadowed by the presence of his hat, "Don't you think I know that?"

He grabbed his hat, throwing it to the ground beneath him and running a hand through his brown hair. Jackson turned sharply to the others, his eyes filled with anguish and vengeance, "But those men--They got on the train lookin' for the same thing WE were lookin' for," He stuck a finger in his chest, "We all knew our lives were on the line."

The bandit threw his hands up in exasperation, looking to the rest of the men as sweat beaded from his brow, "We were just too good. We got cocky," He sucked his teeth, "Tch, Them Indians ain't as stupid as they look."

Jackson shrugged dismissively, almost immediately brushing away the thoughts of his fellow bandits, "But listen here, that company is givin' us ten thousand dollars for this job," He walked forward, slamming his hands on the table, looking into the eyes of all of his fellows, "And I ain't giving that up for a couple of scalpers with an attitude."

Another man from the center of the table cleared his throat, his hat still covered his head as he stuck his hands in the pockets of his dirtied trousers, "So what do you suggest we do?" His voice was filled with uncertainty, confidence dwindled by the loss of people he considered to be his friends.

Jackson scoffed, standing upright and staring right at the man with a fire in his hazel irises, "Oh well that's simple," He stepped away from them, pacing around the room slowly, "If them Indians wanna ambush us...We ambush them!"

Jackson put two fingers in his mouth, a shrill whistle coming from his lips that caused his bandits to cringe in discomfort. It wasn't very long before the pitter patter of tiny feet was heard against the floor. A little dark skinned boy, likely no more than ten years old, ran up to the malevolent bandit and arced his head up, staring up to meet his gaze, "Y...Yes, mistah?"

The bandit bent down a bit, ruffling the boy's jet black hair, "You wanna go see your parents, boy?" The bandits all looked at him, bewildered. His voice was condescending and filled with venom, but the boy didn't process his tone of voice.

His eyes brightened as he shifted back and forth in excitement, "Yes, sir, I-I do sir!" he replied in clearly broken English, nodding feverishly.

Jackson's lips curled into a crooked smile, and he turned the boy around, "Go on, now. We'll see what we can do."

As the child scampered off, the bandit leader turned and pointed to the man in the far corner, who's mouth was hanging open, "You. Go grab one of them horses and start tellin' them American prospectors to spread the word that we're willin' to give away one of the Indian children if the tribe comes to us. Eventually, they'll hear about it and come to us."

It slowly dawned on the rest of the men what his plan of action was, and the other man nodded, taking his foot from the table and standing upright, walking out the door. They could hear the whinny of a horse in the background. Jackson turned to the others, the crooked smile remaining on his face, "Word shouldn't spread too much for at least a day or so. 'Til then, we make preparations."

****

The wind was strong in the hot and dry afternoon day. Dirt kicked up against the bandits, covering their faces instinctively to avoid being blinded. Five of them stood next to each other, making a straight line across the small road as they stood in the center of the abandoned boom town. The leader shifted back and forth uneasily, gritting his teeth as his hands covered the revolvers that were in his holster. The other bandits seemed distressed as well, waiting for the natives to trot down the road.

Small hands gripped the hip of Jackson, the child's expression contorted into a concerned frown--He had become afraid that the bandit was lying to him again, "Is--Is my daddy comin', mistah?"

The bandit sighed, turning to him, "Yes, yes," He said, prying the child off of him like a sticker, "Go on now, stay behind me."

Looking back to the road, he saw a group of figures through the veil of dust, all moving slowly toward the bandits. As they grew closer, he could see the groups' brown, leathery skin and the frowns on their features. He did a quick head count, and noticed that there were fifteen of them--Three less than he had counted during his retreat from the riverbed.

The group eventually ceased movement, leaving a good distance between themselves and the bandits. In the center stood the tribal leader; He stood much taller than the others, his eyes retaining a vicious fire. Jackson raised an eyebrow, placing his hands in his pockets, "I was under the impression all of your kin would come meet us," He called.

A knowing smile crossed the leader's face, "We aren't stupid. There's a few of us back at the riverbed," his English was surprisingly clear, "Just in case them prospectors decide to take the riverbed while we're sittin' here."

Jackson scoffed, looking to the ground and shaking his head, "You really think I'm gonna trust--"

"We came here for the deal, mister," The Indian said plainly.

"Heh, straight to the point I see," The bandit turned to the brown skinned child who had been peeking from the side of one of the others, "Come here, boy."

The child rushed over to the bandit as fast as his little feet could take him. He ushered the boy into the open, where he locked eyes with the tribe leader. A wide grin crossed his face as his eyes brightened, "Papa!" He squealed, clenching his fists in delight. Without hesitation, the boy crossed the gap between the bandits and his father.

"Makawee!" The tribe leader replied, opening his arms and wrapping them around his child as they held a long embrace. A lone tear rolled down the man's face--A tear of pure joy. The stress and uncertainty, for one moment, dissolved and was replaced by a pure ball of bliss in the native's heart.

Then, he opened his eyes, locking eyes with the five bandits that stood before him. He cleared his throat, standing upright and trying his best to ignore his tear filled eyes and the child holding onto his leg, "What is it you want in return?" There was a suspicious undertone to his voice.

"Simple," Jackson replied, "Just leave. Go back east, go up north, just--Anywhere away from here. That's the easiest way for my boys and I to get paid...No more blood shed."

The man's eyes clouded as he began to think of the possibilities. He looked down to his bright eyed son who clung to his leg so very tightly. He looked over his shoulder to the rest of the men in his tribe, some of them looking for their own children. With a sigh, he turned back to the bandits, "No."

The bandit raised an eyebrow, "Excuse me?"

"Some of the Jackals still have our children," He held the boy tight in his hands, "We can't just leave them."

Jackson turned around, putting both hands on his hips and clicking his tongue, "I was afraid you was gonna say that."

Keen in the fashion of the quick draw, Jackson turned on his heels again, both revolvers in his hands. He pulled the trigger on the leader before the other natives could even react, and as gunfire echoed across the ghost town, a bloody hole made its mark on the Indian's forehead. He crumpled to the ground with a thud, his son standing there bewildered, droplets of crimson on his raggedy shirt, "P...Papa?"

He fell to his knees, sobbing loudly and shaking his father, hoping for him to wake up, "PAPA!"

The bandits all drew their guns, pointing it at the tribes men. However, a few of them held guns as well, pointing them in the direction of the five. Only a few out of the tribe held weapons, but that was enough to make the bandits hesitate. One of the men talked over the sobbing of the child, "We got guns too," His eyes were wild and alert, "Got them from your friends...and we know how to use them too."

There was a long silence as both groups pointed guns at each other, fingers hovering over the trigger. The natives without guns simply held spears and tomahawks, ready to ambush the remaining bandits that hadn't been taken down with a gunshot, "Looks like we got ourselves a problem.." Jackson's hazel eyes glared between each brown colored man, waiting for someone to make the first move, "Cuz, see...I can't let you kill me--But I also can't let ya go."

Suddenly, there was a gunshot in the distance, followed by two more. The majority of the natives turned around, looking to see the source of the shots--The bandits took that chance. The first batch of bullets rained down on the Indian men, crimson splattered everywhere as half of them crumpled to the ground in a heap of bullet wounds. As the natives began to retaliate, a few ran behind buildings; Two of them were too slow, falling victim to the hail of bullets as their screams were quickly cut short.

There was a whinny of a horse as the missing bandit of the six came charging down the dirt road, a shot ringing off as a native lost a good amount of brain matter, falling to the ground among the others. An Indian with a weapon shot it with shaky hands, the bullet digging deep into the man's leg. He howled in pain, falling off of the horse and rolling on the ground behind a building. The animal, suddenly frightened, rushed forward and trampled a poor man, along with other corpses, before running down the road.

The bandit leader cursed, peeking his head out from the side of the building and watching a few savages with tomahawks rushing toward them. He stood, grabbing the man standing beside him and ushering him into the open. He made one shot before being smacked across the face by one of the tomahawks. Jackson took his chance, unloading the rest of his chamber onto the few natives asinine enough to run out into the open.

The war cries of the Indian men became prevalent for a good thirty seconds more before they suddenly stopped cold. Jackson smirked as he heard the click from various revolvers in the distance. The Indians had ran out of their bullets. However, bandits had more bullets filling their pockets.

With little time, he glanced across the road to see another unscathed bandit loading more bullets into the chamber. He did the same, continuously looking back out in the open for any of the natives. Two of them came charging with shovels and spears, while another had turned away from the two bandits, walking behind a building. Both bandits loaded their revolvers at the same moment, turning from the building and out into the open--Both enemies were down simultaneously, a vermillian pool forming around their heads. The bandits nodded to each other before stepping out into the open, walking in the direction of the native that had slithered behind the building.

The man walked across the blood dirt, a revolver tight in his grasp. He had a large bruise on his cheek, his expression a terrible scowl. The man who had been spat on ,and nearly murdered now stood over one of the bandits, who's revolver had skittered far away from him. His thigh was bleeding profusely, a throbbing pain ringing through his body. He stared up to the native man, terror suddenly running through him as he tried to scoot away, "P...Please," He shook his head back and forth, "I got a family!"

The Indian narrowed his eyes, pointing the revolver in between the bandit's eyes. He had saved one bullet, and was going to use it on one of the bandit men, "So did I." His voice was filled with venom.

A gunshot rang and the bandit on the ground cringed and closed his eyes, expecting death. However, as he opened his eyes, he saw the crumpled mess of the native and Jackson standing in place of him, blood spattered on his face and dirtied shirt. The lone remaining bandit stood behind him.

"You alright?" He asked, letting the gun fall to his side, but neglecting to put it away like the other bandit did.

The injured man nodded, leaning up against the wall. He glanced at the man lying face down beside him, giving a glance over at the carnage on the road. Within all of the bodies, he could see the small corpse of the child, Makawee, next to his father. He gulped, staring up to his brethren "This all of us?"

The both of them nodded softly. The injured man chuckled, a faint smile crossing his face, "Good thing I got those three Indians hangin' around by the buildings"

Jackson and the other male smiled as well, Jackson gripping the revolver tightly in his hand, "I think that's all of 'em," The leader confirmed.

"Good," The man looked down at his thigh, cringing--At least the blood had stopped, "Well, let's get some bandages on this and then we can go collect our cash."

There was suddenly the sound of another gunshot. The man now had a new wound in his head, his body slumping to the ground, his eyes remaining wide and shocked. Jackson held onto the smoking revolver, his face expressionless. The last remaining bandit looked from his fallen friend to the leader, "What?!" Anger rolled through him, "What the--"

Jackson turned and the bandit was stopped short, a bullet lodging into his forehead as well. The man crumpled to the ground among the native, and it was only then that Jackson felt safe placing the revolver back in his holster. He sucked his teeth, spitting on the ground. Nobody else was going to get his cut--10,000 dollars was a lot of money, enough where he could go live lavishly on his own. He didn't need the other bandits getting in on his money.

The man turned away from the carnage within the ghost town, walking slowly back to their hideout. Even among the gunshots and bloodshed, his horse had remained. Jackson smiled, ruffling the beast's mane before hopping onto him, kicking its side. The horse began to move down the road as Jackson made his way to the horizon to collect his money.

Generation of Ares
by TheOrganization

Prologue:
The Martians were a forsaken race.

The red planet was no place for man, let alone life. The air was a thin soupy miasma of red dust and carbon dioxide so toxic that it would kill the plants before they had the chance to die of thirst. Even the memory of water was scarce, save for the frozen ocean up north near where we lived. Worse still, the Sun, the bearer of warm life on the Earth, morphed into a cold distant reaper bringing not warmth but radiation that would shred you from the inside. From our underground oasis, we could escape all these demons, except for the most insidious and inevitable of all, Gravity.

On this little hell, you weighed only a third of what you would on Earth. Fun for perhaps a week, until your bones started to crack from getting out of bed too fast. Metabolism and digestion slows to a halt, which takes the rest of your insides and pulverizes them. At best, you could look forward to weeks of fatigue broken up by diabolical versions of the common cold and explosive diarrhea. Luckily, we’ve been in space long enough to mitigate most of these effects. A daily regimen of chalky pills, tasteless food, and strenuous activity is enough to make long term survival viable and on somedays even pleasant. Unless of course, you were unfortunate enough to be born here.

That being said, only a third of all pregnancies were full term, and of those only a third of those fully formed infants took their first breath. From that few, birth defects were the norm, and those poor children rarely ever made it to adolescence alive. The handful that did awaited a short lifetime of pain and suffering. These tortured souls are the Martians, the children of a red sky.
And because of this Martians were the most important people of our era, perhaps even all of human history, simply by being alive. Mankind’s future was the stars after all, and if we could understand how they could survive, if we could keep them alive, then humanity had a chance among the stars. If they died, so did we. In the truest sense of the word, the Martians were royalty, more important than the momentary masters I choose to leave behind.

Such was the importance of Aelita, the princess of Mars. The daughter of an engineer and a doctor, and the eldest living Martian. To say she was alive was an understatement. She practically exuded life, defying the red planet’s thirst for blood. She was strong, healthy, and vibrant, a beacon of hope among the desolation. With her all of the turmoil of living on Mars blew away with the dust. In spite of the multitude of tests, exercises, and supplements she endured in addition to our daily bread, she smiled through it all. Her opal eyes, a trait unique to the Martians, sparkling though the dimly lit caverns of Paradise. An angel born from hell.

At only twenty one, she was the youngest elected to the Council, and became its head at twenty three. True be told, from what I knew of her, she preferred the cold, harsh, and bloody desert to the warmth, comfort, and safety of the council chamber. But I also knew that she loved the people of Paradise more than anything else, so she served faithfully and passionately. She even convinced me to run for council with her and to my dismay, I was elected as well.

But who was I to refuse her? I, who owed her my life and would give my own for hers without hesitation. Is it fair to say that I loved her? That I loved the way she would curl her black locks when lost in thought? Or how she would always reach out to help a fallen soul like she did for me years ago? Then again, she was always immersed in love.
Her brethren adored her, the colonists cherished her, and her murder tore it all apart.

1:
As the first human settlement of the red planet, Paradise was unique. Granted, Limbo was the first human colony in space, but like the International Satellite Stations around Earth, it was merely a pure research station where scientist would go, test their experiments and come back within months. Unlike our home, the moon was completely devoid of any kind of useful material whatsoever. Without any kind of atmosphere to catalyze into oxygen, without any sufficient building material, and without water, long term settlement was basically impossible. Not to mention, the scaly tentacles of the nations of Earth easily hugged that of Limbo.

Paradise was different.

At best, a trip between here and Earth was about six months, and that was only when the planets were close, which happened every two years. Suffice it to say, you couldn’t simply run a few tests and take the next transit home. As in my contract, many research scientists came here for a decade or so. Even more became colonists, pioneering man’s conquest of the heavens. And despite the harshness of the red planet, children were born, the Martians, who knew no other home. Being so far away from Earth, its only influence here are what the colonists brought with them. No nation controlled Paradise, no culture dominated it, and no human settlement like this had been founded before.

Like the ancient settlements of villages both birth and death were concerns of the entire community rather than a cursory remark on antiquated articles of print media. The death of the Princess was no different. An especially murky shroud of despair hung over the settlement. Outside the morgue, I sat, barred entry to say goodbye to my long friend. Unlike the colonists, the details surrounding the death of Martians was kept highly confidential. Only the council, certain medical professionals, and specific biologists were kept privy. As both a member of council and a biologist, I was typically always informed.

My relationship with her would invalidate me from a normal investigation on its own. As a murder, the regulations become much stricter, only the head and a handful of council members were kept in the know. Necessary medical personnel were only informed on a need-to-know basis. That being said, this was only a contingency…this was only ever meant to be a contingency. Murder, on a planet devoid of life was inconceivable. I knew all of this, and yet I sat there outside the morgue, fists clenched together in rage.

I felt a cold, soft hand on my shoulder pulling me from the depths of internal turmoil. I looked up to see a pale, wrinkled face wrapped in thin grey strands of wispy hair. Cold grey eyes starred back at me, affirming my circumstances and yet reminding me to keep my own emotions in check. The old lady was councilwoman Gol, Aelita’s Aunt and one of the earliest colonists. At her behest, I waited here in this dark den of death. Nothing but a miracle would bring me here otherwise. The old woman, never one to waste time, spoke to me bluntly and succinctly. It was a nice change of pace from the droll diatribes of most of the colonists, who spent the majority of the time figuring out what they were trying to say rather actually saying it. That being said, it is also much easier to detect their sincerity.

I expected her to offer a few conciliatory remarks, thank me for waiting so long for her, and regret to inform me that due to my relationship with Aelita and various other contrived reasons I would be unable to participate in the investigation how she passed. Despite her own familial relationship to Aelita, her tenure on the council made her the provisional head, leading to a strange conflict of systems. Again, it was never truly meant to be implemented. What I didn’t expect was what happened next.

In her hands was a silvery badge with crimson outlining. Engraved in the center was the title “Arch-Adjudicator” with my name “Misha Komarov” emblazoned below. These adjudicators we’re responsible for investigation and preventing rule violations. It is important to realize that on Paradise, there is no such thing as crime and no such thing as Police. The adjudicators merely make sure the system is running and if there is a failure, how did it occur. Among its various powers, include the ability to access most high level departments without credentials. Unlike normal adjudicators, arch-adjudicators have unrestricted and unregistered access to perform their investigations. Furthermore, the role could not be volunteered for as the position is temporary and rarely utilized, only designated by the Head or Interim Head.

Taking the card from her frail hands, I could now make out the tumult of emotions under the clouds of her eyes, desperation, sorrow, grief, and anger. Their weight burdened the thin plastic card I now wore beside my heart. Without a word, I left her behind and walked up the stairs to the main pavilion of Paradise. Despite my dislike of Gol, she granted me the one thing I really needed then. The ability to act. After discovering her...like that…all I could do no, all that I was allowed to do was sit and wait. But now, I could find it on my own. I could seek out the truth for myself.

2:
Truth was dangerous.

It had the ability to warp people’s minds, to hijack their feelings. Such truth rendered many unpredictable, and when you are unpredictable, you make mistakes. On Paradise, mistakes could not be afforded. Everything was held together by a fragile strand of trust and cooperation. Imagine if the circumstances of Aelita’s death were known. Almost, immediately the question of the perpetrator would arise. From here, Paradise would already be lost. Distrust and Discord would rip through the settlements, the farms, the enrichment centers, all the way to the observatories on the surface, compromising the immune system and exposing us to the elements. Even if I gave them a murderer, the anger and hate would surely boil over and scald the colony for years to come.

So we told no one. It was public knowledge that the princess had fallen, but only a handful knew she was slain in cold blood, a secret we would take to the grave.
As a biologist who dabbled in medicine himself, I was immediately aware of what Aelita’s autopsy investigation would reveal, Acute Respiratory Failure. Her lungs, despite being stronger than any other Martian and most colonists had collapsed due to low pressure unfiltered air. They would probably also find that her blood was filled with carbon dioxide and nitrogen, almost entirely devoid of oxygen. I knew all of this, because I alone watched her die.

4:
It could only be a Colonist. This I knew from the beginning. The Martians aren’t perfect though. Despite their uniqueness and their fortune, they are flesh and blood humans like us. If this was an accident, the possibility would be there…But it is impossible for this to be an accident. To say that premeditated murder is outside of their capability, is probably the most reasonable conclusion of all.

Acute Respiratory Failure is an impossibility in our modern suits, unless of course the system was sabotaged. The portable air filters within the suits are the same underlying technology that provides breathable air to the underground chambers of Paradise, so it’s safe to say they are very reliable. If these systems had an underlying fault, it could spell doom for the entirety of life on this red planet. That being said, when we examined the systems of Aelita’s suit, the damage was extensive and obvious. The lines feeding oxygen into the filtration systems were unscarred, but those collecting waste air and reconstituting it were violently slashed. No…It only appeared to be violently slashed. Only a sharp blade could make internal cuts like that, and the killer would have needed to know how to open the filter module in the first place.

Despite the high resourcefulness of the average colonist, only a member of the engineering department would have the tools and the expertise required to open a filter module at all. In truth, this fact alone basically handed us our prime suspect on a serving tray. You see, all suits undergo regular maintenance every twenty days. During maintenance any damage or defect will be discovered and rectified. It is this same underlying principle that lies at the foundation of Paradise. An automatic diagnostic is also run daily and every time the suit is activated, but it is less accurate. Had the suits we had worn been a day old rather than fresh off the cycle, disaster would have been averted.

The murder was by chance.

I had never known Aelita to be anything less than lucky, you had to be just to survive as a Martian. I, on the other hand, was hurled to near death by an unearthly dust storm within hours of arriving. Aelita even gave me the nickname “Misha-fortune”. Perhaps, I was wrong in the beginning. The target was merely chosen at random it seems. A chilling conclusion for sure. If the murderer was doing so indiscriminately, then a second victim was inevitable. A murder can be quarantined and disposed of, but a serial killer is an epidemic. An epidemic could wipeout the colony much faster than anything this warlike planet could throw at it.

That being said, the murderer was careless. Almost too careless. Every suit is tagged and logged when activated or in maintenance. The suits in a maintenance cycle are grouped into batches and each batch is numbered and tracked by the computer systems as well. Both Aelita’s and my suits where both out of batch 7, the first batch to come out for the day. Furthermore, any engineer who logged in and had access to the suit batches did so with their own tagged IDs. Chugging through the data, I chuckled at the ease at which this case proceeded. Which was why what occurred next stropped me right on the tracks. The ID belonged to Leyla Zarathustra, Aelita’s mother.

5:
Had I been naïve? In my desperation for the truth, was I too hasty? Or was I desperate for something else, vindication perhaps? No. The clues led me here for a reason, this was either the killer’s incompetence or the killer’s overconfidence. Then again, it was just as likely that this was a dead end. If the killer used Leyla’s card to frame her, or at least, disguise himself, he still needed knowledge of how the systems work, which wasn’t exactly public knowledge. The only way he would know for sure is to talk to her. Thus I spoke to Zarathustra.

Leyla and Gol were opposites.

At first glace, the twins were identical. The same held true for every subsequent glance. The similarities end their however. Unlike Gol’s grey locks, streaks of vibrant brown in her hair defied the inevitability of aging. After all, Leyla came her much later, chasing after her older sister. Not only was she warmer than Gol, but she was clearly more motherly as well. Leyla reminded me of my own Mamochka. This woman would never harm her own daughter.

This fact was proven by hospital logs verifying her guilt. All day yesterday, she was receiving treatment for MIGS, a seasonal illness brought on by the changes in the planets gravity. Every winter, a third of the atmosphere freezes out over the poles, slightly increasing the gravity. Every summer, the frozen carbon dioxide sublimates and returns to the atmosphere, decreasing the gravity. While the change is gradual and minute, those that become sensitive to it can periodically experience MIGS. While not fatal, it results in debilitating levels of fatigue and nausea. Clearly, it was impossible for Leyla to be the culprit.

I had no choice but to consider who else could have had access. Leyla’s card had to have been stolen. This much was undeniable. Her card was used to continuously register her for treatment as per protocol up until a few hours last night. The killer would have to have taken it around that time then, because the card was used only a few moments later at the engineering department. Unfortunately, visitor registration only showed Leyla as having a single visitor, her faithful daughter Aelita. It stands to reason that Aelita’s father visited Leyla as well, but records have him working well throughout the evening on multiple MIGS cases let alone his wife’s. Suffice it to say, he had no opportunity at well.

Only Aelita, the victim, had visited the room.

Perhaps someone else had entered the room and taken her card? If the killer had engineering experience then it was feasible that he could bypass the hospital security and take a Leyla’s card as well. And if he bypassed the security, then the suspect wouldn’t even show up in the visitor log. But then why not just bypass security at the department at well? Looking down at the silver red trimmed card on my chest, I shook the wild supposition from my head. System security was one of the fundamental strengths of Paradise. Good record keep systems and the counter measures that kept them secure kept the colony from self destruction. The only way to bypass both hospital and the engineering department’s security systems without registration is through the way I just did, as an Arch-Adjudicator.

Before I could continue to mull over my thoughts, I received a call from Councilwoman Gol. She wanted to see me immediately. Confused, I headed back to the hospital, my synapses firing erratically to try and make sense of all the contradictions and conflicting evidence. None of it made sense at all. Everything I had pointed to Aelita. Had this been an exercise in futility, could all of this happen by chance? How could the victim, be the murderer? These questions sparked wildly in my head, lighting my thoughts on fire, and overwhelming my mind with an inferno as I continue down the hall to the room that Gol had summoned me too. Out of habit, I swiped my regular ID at the door, but to my surprise, the handle lit a familiar blue and green, inviting me in. Eyes that caught the light and radiated it across the room in every hue shown back at me.


Five Second Eternity
by Devour

The earpiece was annoying enough without having to take orders from faceless agents. David could tell from the way they spoke and conducted business that they were cold. Detached from the real world. Their coldness belied their disregard for human life and their secrecy meant they could be up to nothing good. He hadn't even heard of I.R.E before, but apparently they were huge.

Honestly though, none of that mattered to him. What mattered was the five million dollars they paid up front for his services. That mattered a hell of a lot.
"Alright, I've got it in sight." He whispered. David was on the trail of an athletic man who held a metal suitcase in his hands. He stride was long and he walked quickly, giving David a very hard time of keeping up without blowing his cover. Fortunately, that wouldn't be a problem for long. "The guy who has the suitcase is tall... He's got a white baseball cap and a grey shirt. Know anything about him or how he managed to get that suitcase?"

"No. He is acting independantly." The voice of the agent rang loudly into his piece, making him frown. "His name is Kyle Martez and he has eluded our men multiple times. His reaction time is faster than what any human should be capable of, and he has responded to unseen threats before he having any knowledge of them. We think he is one of your kind."

"One of my kind." David curled his lip. "Whatever. I don't think he'll be a problem."

"Good. That is what we expect."

The line went dead.

Sighing, the man scanned the streets to get a map of the area in his head. Just two days ago he was living normally, safely in the cover of being just another ordinary man. Now, this company and its army of prickly telephone warriors seemed to know who he really was, and they were willing to pay truly ridiculous money for equally brainless work. He just had to get in, get out, and then a comfortable life in relative safety would be his. Just like that.

Agencies like I.R.E had sprung up like weeds after NATO collapsed and the Constitution got shredded and rewritten in the name of global security. With the fall of Democracy came the shrinkage of the Government, and in the vacuum of their presence came the rise of the next in line: bearing power and untold riches. Fifty wealthy families gobbled up fifty states in less than a year, and they dug their roots deep into their new territory, strangling it until America resembled the next generation of some Chinese dynasty.

Sometimes David thought he was living in some cheap thriller story.

"Get the suitcase and get out." He told himself one last time. Looking around, he snapped his fingers, and he vanished from his spot in an instant.

There were no sound effects. No puff of smoke, no dramatics. One moment he was walking with the stream of people who trekked through downtown Chicago, and in the next he was on the other side of the street, leaning on the outer walls of a crowded bus stop.

He paid no mind to the confused glances of people who noticed him. They had bigger things to worry about than how he got there. Instead, David's attention was fixed on Kyle as he made his way along the crosswalk of the jam-packed street, coming closer and closer with every step. David's muscles tensed involuntarily, leaning ever so slightly forward... But as Kyle stepped off the pavement and came in range, he shifted his weight. The suitcase casually switched from one hand and into the other, opposite of David. Kyle's bare hands meant that he couldn't just warp off with it without taking Kyle with him, and there was no way he'd get the leverage to yank the suitcase free from here.

Dammit, let's try a different approach, then. He thought, pushing off of the bus stop's wall. "Hey! Buddy!" David called out, quickly stepping out and into stride with the man, who eyed him suspiciously. "You got something on the bottom of your suitcase--"

"What do you want?" Kyle interrupted sharply. His voice didn't fit his muscular frame. He sounded intelligent, and his eyes seemed to stare straight through him.

"Hmm? I just--"

"No, what do you really want?" He interrupted again. David's jaws shut with an annoyed click. He hated being interrupted. If he didn't know better it almost seemed like Kyle knew that--for his scowl was briefly tinged by a suppressed grin.

"Listen, I know you want this suitcase. You can't have it." He continued, curt. "I also know that isn't going to get rid of you, but I'm going to tell you now that you won't be able to steal this from me. You just can't." David opened his mouth again to speak. "I'm not saying that as an insult," Kyle continued as if reading his mind. "It's a statement of fact. Bigger guys than you have tried.

"I think you're making a hell of a lot of assumptions." David found his tongue. "What, do you think you can tell the future or something?"

Another grin slipped from behind the mask, and suddenly David knew.

Something in Kyle's expression changed at once as he realized he'd slipped. The mask of assertive curtness fell away to something else, but David didn't think it was anything but another mask for a second. "You're different from the rest of them, aren't you?" The man grinned. "Come with me. Let's talk this out, then." Without looking, the man guided them from the crowded masses of people and into a modest clothing store. It was dim inside compared to the brightness of day, and the place smelled like overused air-freshener. They were ignored as David followed this strange man into an empty corner of the shop, where he turned to face him, and without another word he dropped the suitcase to the ground, eyebrow raised. If David didn't know better by now, he would have went for it then and there. Now he knew to play his cards close to his chest.

"Let's negotiate then." Kyle smirked as if he had remembered something funny. "What do I need to do to get you off my tail?"

"A bribe of a few million dollars would be a good place to start."

The smirk transformed to a laugh. "You're joking, right? I know you've figured what I can do, but that doesn't fix your problem. You literally cannot catch me off-guard. That's why you haven't made your move already."

David grunted, thinking. He needed something that would do just that, and he knew just how to do it. In 30 seconds, he was going to reach out and punch Kyle square in the face, mid-sentence.

Unless he reacted. And if he did, he would know exactly how far in the future this Kyle fellow could see. He would figure out his plan from there.

"How are you so sure you can't lose me if you don't know what my trick up the sleeve is?" David spoke again, stretching for time. "In all my planning, I haven't reached a point where I could use it. My trick could be literally anything. I think you're the one who's at the shorter end of the stick here."

"That won't take me long to do, David." Kyle dropped his name with a wicked grin, startling him so much that he almost lost his count. "The future isn't set in stone. Every second, every millisecond of the present can be analyzed. In one instant I, can make a decision on what to do next. My decision will change the immediate future, and this lets me see what happened if I were to do that. This in turn gives me new information..." The grin spread further. "And then the next millisecond passes and I can try a new decision once again until I have the future I want. For example, I asked your name just a moment ago." He shrugged. "You said it was David. Then I decided to say something else, which is this. Now imagine, how easily will I be able to find out what you can do?"

He hadn't reacted yet. David bumped his punch count down to ten seconds.

"Right now, I might be trying all sorts of different things to make you react the way I want you to. Sooner or later--" In that instant, Kyle's grin fell apart like shattered glass. He flinched back.

And David changed his mind. He didn't throw his punch. He changed the next five seconds of his future.

"You can only see five seconds, eh?" Now he was the one grinning. His adversary looked completely dumbstruck and the satisfaction of seeing Kyle at a loss for words was unreal. "How does it feel with the shoe on the other foot?"

"You'd be amazed by what can change in five seconds." Kyle muttered, pulling himself back together. After a moment of contemplation, he picked up the suitcase from the floor and shook his head in disbelief. The smile he wore now was genuine. "That was clever. You got me there, actually." The hand holding its treasure raised high into the air, dangling precariously between loose fingers in the space between them. "I'm beat. Go ahead and take it."

The suitcase fell.

David had no time to think, except to be shocked by what Kyle was doing. Five million dollars floated less than a few feet away from his face. There was no way that guy could stop him in time, and in an instant the decision was made. With a gasp of exertion he lunged forward--

And in his state of mind, he did not see as Kyle reared back and smashed the side of David's head with a well-aimed punch. His fingers brushed the suitcase handle by millimeters and fell away, sprawling into a rack of clothing that tumbled down with him.

"Teleportation. That's all, eh?" Kyle mocked as David struggled to remember which direction was up. The other man stepped away and back towards the city. "Catch me if you can, asshole! You know I'll see you coming!" He dashed away through the aisles and was out the door before in mere seconds, before David had even picked himself back up. By the time he was back on his feet, Kyle had disappeard among the crowds.

"Ugh." He shook his head, trying to see straight again. The dizziness was gone, but the pain was not in the slightest. Fortunately, pain meant nothing with the stakes at hand here. In a blink, he vanished and reappeared at the door before stepping outside himself, measuring how high the buildings in this block were. In the next instant he was standing upon the rooftops, staring down into the living stream of ignorant humans below, watching closely for something unnatural.

Static clawed his ears for a moment as his with I.R.E came back online. David groaned. "Do you have the suitcase?" The voice both asked and demanded.

Visions of dollar signs helped him keep his patience. "Not yet." He drawled. "You guys were right, he's a tricky one. But he's not getting away from me." As he scanned the crowds, he finally caught sight of a man who ran against the current of people, slipping between shoulders at an absolute sprint as he somehow managed to be in the perfect spot at all times. The white cap was gone now, but David knew that no one else could do what he was seeing.

"We cannot afford for you to fail." The man on the other end spoke. "Assistance is on its way."

The line went dead before David could protest. "I don't need any help." He muttered to himself. Another snap of the fingers brought him to the roof of a building on the other side of the block, already caught back up with his prey.

It only took a moment of thinking before he decided his next course of action. He knew he couldn't just teleport in front of Kyle and snatch the bag... He would see it coming well in advance and easily deck him out with another blow. He would have to try something else. Something more subtle.

Making sure he could see the distance he needed to go, David teleported along with Kyle as he ran, appearing and reappearing in the windows of different stores, wearing his favorite shit-eating grin as he displayed the futility of trying to run from someone such as him. Each pass left Kyle's features more exasperated than the last, but he didn't stop. It took until the sixth pass before he realized why. He was headed directly towards a large and abandoned skyscraper that had once belonged to some credit company before the current overlords drove them out.

They soon reached the end of the street that breached a crowded intersection, but Kyle paid no mind to the rush of traffic. Only the tiniest adjustment to his pace had him weaving safely through the chaos, easily dodging the panicked swerving of vehicles that missed him by what looked like inches. He didn't look the least bit afraid as death brushed the soles of his shoes and flew by, just a fraction of a second too late to cause him harm.

Jesus. No wonder the others hadn't been able to catch him.

David watched as Kyle slammed the corner of the suitcase into the skyscraper's window, shattering it neatly before disappearing inside. Five seconds later, he closed his eyes and opened them again to find himself in front of the window himself, this time startling a woman who had just been gaping at Kyle in shock.

He ignored her, dashing inside after Kyle's fading footsteps that echoed within the building's empty walls. He knew that Kyle had to be betting on the enclosed spaces to limit his teleportation so that he could eventually lose him in the maze of lifeless halls. It wasn't a bad plan; all he needed was for David to lose sight of Kyle long enough for him to get back outside without his knowledge. By the time David realized he was gone, Kyle would be just another man in the crowd, simply impossible to track or follow.

Sadly, this was not a fair fight. It didn't matter how good Kyle's plan was. It didn't matter if he outsmarted him once or twice. There was simply no way David could be outrun, so there was no way he would lose his trail.

He was a vengeful spectre, blinking from one end of a hallway to the next, pausing only to get his bearings before disappearing once more. David simply blazed through the bottom two floors as he followed the sound of Kyle's footsteps. It took no more than 30 seconds before he was once again hot on his tail... and then the footsteps stopped, hidden behind a closed metal door.

David swung it open carefully and saw Kyle sitting on an old wooden desk, breathing hard but otherwise looking as comfortable as ever. "Uh, what are you doing?" He asked. He could still feel the throbbing pressure of Kyle's knuckles on his cheekbone.

"I'm taking... a break." He said between breaths. "Some of us have to get around physically you know." He was still smiling widely.

"Well now I--"

"What are you gonna do now that you've caught me, though?" The smile turned mischevious as David's jaws clacked shut once again. "And don't bother telling me you hate being interrupted. If you want me to care about your feelings, it's a bit late for that. Maybe giving up would get you back on my good side." In response to something yet unheard, he raised an eyebrow in interest.

"Five million dollars is a pretty powerful motivation. I'm not giving up any time soon." David said.

Kyle whistled. "That's a lot of money. They paid you the money up front, too? Sounds like you could just walk away if you wanted to. What are they gonna do, catch you?"

"I never told you that." David protested, feeling violated in the strangest sense of the word.

"Yes, you did." Kyle's enjoyment of his proverbial gnashing of teeth was apparent. "Seriously, what's stopping you from raising a fortune and buying houses all over the world to visit whenever you want? Actually, why haven't you done that already?" He physically suppressed a reaction, granting the courtesy of waiting until David finished speaking.

"It's because it's better to keep your head down in today's world." He said.

Kyle shrugged, accepting the truth of that statement.

"Listen, we're obviously at a stalemate. Why don't you give me the suitcase, and I'll give you a million bucks from what they paid me?"

Taking a look down at the mysterious treasure in his hands, Kyle promptly shook his head. "I wouldn't give this to you for a billion."

Perplexed, David opened his mouth speak but he stopped himself as Kyle suddenly snapped to alert. "Do you hear something?" He asked.

Seconds later he heard it too. It sounded like a helicopter approaching, but it was too far away to tell for sure. "That must be the guys who sent me. I'd bet anything on it." David shrugged. "Mind you, I didn't ask for the help. But still..." He quirked an eyebrow in Kyle's direction. "Still think you're going to turn down my offer?"

The other man's eyes looked deeply worried. Not at the prospect of losing this battle of wits between he and David... but for the life of him he just couldn't figure out what it was that was so damned important.

"These people who sent you... Do you really trust them?" Kyle asked. "I mean, you don't seriously think they're going to use what's in this stupid suitcase for the greater good, do you?"

"I don't know." David griped, torn. "I don't even know what's in that thing."

"Neither do I, honestly. But when I found this suitcase... Listen for a second. It took me by surprise."

The helicopter was coming closer. "So what? What's--"

"Remember how I mentioned asking your name and then doing something different once I had that information? My decision changed the future." Kyle hurried through his words, terse. He was running out of time and did not spare precious seconds to let David finish speaking. "That's how this all works. The future only changes when someone who knows the future acts on information that no one else has. So this suitcase, it shouldn't have surprised me. I would have seen myself notice it five seconds later. Get what I mean?" David began to nod. "Good. So the reason, the only reason I would be surprised by this suitcase here, is if someone else changed the future. He or she wanted me to find this."

"How does that make it worth more than a million--"

"Of course it's a big deal. This is huge! For someone to know I was going to be in that exact spot in that exact moment... They must be able to see at least hours into the future. Maybe even days! Can you imagine how much power someone with that kind of foresight would have?"

"I don't--" David had to shout over the sound of the propellor blades now. "If he can see so far into the future, maybe he wants the suitcase to pass from me to the corp that hired me! Did you think of that?"

For the tiniest moment, Kyle looked uncomfortable. The helicopter must have been right on top of them by now. "That's what it is, huh? Well, I'm pretty sure shadow corporations with attack helicopters aren't going to do anything good with this thing!" He decided.

"Wait, attack helicopters?"

Like a killer whale from hell, a machine of black plated armor flew down from the skies, filling up the entire view from the windows with its size. Pointed directly at them were the massive barrels of two side-mounted machineguns.

These guys weren't from the I.R.E, David realized.

"PUT YOUR ARMS ON THE GROUND!" A horrifically loud voice screamed over the helicopter's speakerphone. "BY ORDER OF PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, YOU ARE TO HAND OVER YOUR BELONGINGS!" Kyle was smirking again as he flew back to his feet and sprinted from the room. The horror on David's face must have been apparent.

Right on time, it was five seconds later when the machineguns warmed up and opened fire.

David disappeared like a ghost as deafening thunder obliterated the room the duo sat in just seconds earlier. Glass shattered and bullets hailed like a chain of angry serpents, destroying all in their path. But Kyle and David were both long gone.

"Where the fuck did he go?" The speakerphone was muffled now as David huddled from deeper within the abandoned building. "Send in the troops! They can't escape!"

In one moment of clarity, David realized two things. He did not want these people to get their hands on Kyle's suitcase. He also realized, as much as he hated to admit it, that Kyle would need his help or else that was going to happen. With no time to spare he disappeared once more in a series of bursts and blinks down the narrow corridors, homing in on Kyle's location. It was all too soon when his rapid footsteps became drowned out by the shattering of glass in all directions, followed shortly by the banging of dozens of heavy boots that rocked the floors beneath their feet. "KYLE!" He was shouting now, knowing that he had to be close enough to hear him. "Kyle, we need to work together on--"

In one blink to the next, he found himself standing behind three gigantic men dressed in urban camo and body armor who had trapped Kyle in the middle of a hall with nowhere to run. David choked down a shout of surprise and brought a hand over his mouth, thankful that they hadn't noticed him. Instead, their weapons were leveled at Kyle, whose arms were raised in mock defeat. His grin, as always, was there as he looked past them and to David himself. He nodded once.

David grinned back, tapping one of the men on their shoulder. "So..." He coughed. "Ten million bucks and I'll help you guys out?"

"What?" Almost lazily, a soldier looked over his shoulder and promptly screamed at the man who appeared behind them without a sound. "SHOOT HIM!"

"I guess that's a no." As three assault rifles turned from Kyle to David, he quickly blinked behind them once more and delivered a vicious kick that shattered the kneecap of the lead soldier, sending him down in a screaming heap. The next to turn was met with a haymaker to the face. Like clockwork, David blinked back around once again and repeated the same kick as before, smashing the side of the man's leg, repositioned, and flattened the soldier's nose with the heel of his shoe once the he hit the floor.

The third man never had to worry about David. With a shout, Kyle had sprinted back towards them from the other end of the hallway, tackling his opponent to the ground, straddling him, raining down a flurry of punches that always seemed to find their mark and worm past the poor guy's desperate defence. As fascinating as it was, David turned his attention back and gripped the weapons of the two gloved men who struggled to level their rifles through the pain and their broken legs.

Then he teleported five feet back. Because of their contact with his skin, the two rifles disappeared from the soldiers' grip and clattered to the ground as they fell from David's hands.

"These things are heavier than they look." He gasped, exhilarant with the rush of adrenaline. Looking up, he saw Kyle get back up to his feet, almost casually wiping the blood from his knuckles as he turned to the other two soldiers... and he frowned. David's gaze followed.

Eight more uniformed men stood on the opposite side of the hallway. All were armed, and at least for now they all still held their fire.

"Don't look behind you." Kyle hissed at once. You'll warp away and they'll shoot me."

"What?" David looked behind him anyways, letting out a gasp as he saw another dozen men storm into the corridor, blocking off their escape. Half of their hands were pressed to their ears, receiving orders from some invisible leadership who sat safely from somewhere else. For a few seconds that stretched for an eternity, everything was silentl.

Then came their new orders. "Take them alive!" The soldiers shouted as one. They flicked the safety off of their rifles. "And you! Put your hands behind your heads!"

Instinctively, David scanned his surroundings as he complied. They stood along the outer rim of the skyscraper, only three floors up. Rows and rows of windows and bisecting metal grids spanned across the hall, giving him a great view of the city. In the blink of an eye, he could disappear onto any of those rooftops like he'd never even been there. The only thing that stopped him now was the fact that Kyle had warned him not to. That, and the mounting sense of unease that the purpose of Kyle's suitcase was much, much larger than originally thought.

And then his headset crackled. I.R.E was back on the line.

"David. Do you have the suitcase? Are you out of the area?" The voice asked.

"No." David said after a moment of stressed deliberation. Kyle quirked an eyebrow his way. "And yes, I'm still in the area. The Government has showed up to try and take the suitcase themselves. What is in that thing anyways?"

"Oh. That's a shame. We could have used your services in the future." He ignored the question. "But now it seems we were right in our decision."

"Your decision? What are you talking about? I thought you were sending help?"

"We did." The voice's change of inflection was subtle. From that of a concerned, stern father, the tiniest shift filled the man's voice with malice. "We have deployed a neutron bomb towards your location. The city's inhabitants will not survive, but we have deemed the loss suitable for what we stand to gain. Later, we'll return and collect the suitcase as only life forms will be obliterated by the blast."

"You what? You goddamned lunatics!" Turning his head wildly, David could spot it. The silent trail of a cruise missile streaked the sky--its trail indicated that it had been there for a while now, but without paying attention David had passed it off as just a passenger plane. "You'd really kill an entire city, all of Chicago, for a suitcase?"

"Goodbye, David."

The line went dead.

He nearly tore his hair from the frustration--from the futility of it all. He wanted to scream at the top of his lungs, but even now as the city stood to lose the lives of every single one of its inhabitants, he could not move for fear of Kyle being killed himself.

"Don't worry about telling me. I already asked you everything." Kyle's voice was deathly quiet; ignoring the slowly-approaching wave of weapons and armor. His eyes were fixed on the streak in the sky as well. "You should have told me it was I.R.E you were working for, buddy." Slowly, he shuffled his feet. One of his shoes came loose, and he began working his sock free of his foot as fast as he could without alarming the soldiers. "Those guys, they're like the Gestapo of Illinois. They belong to the new Oligarchy and would kill a lot more people than just this city to get what I have in my hands here." He shrugged. "The five million dollars they paid you? Nothing more than a nickel in the pocket to them."

"You! Stop moving or I'll shoot!" A soldier bellowed. They were only about ten yards away, now.

"They won't shoot. Don't do anything drastic." Kyle whispered. "You know how you took away the guard's weapons?"

"Yeah?"

"You need do that with me. Teleport us out of here." He dropped his suitcase to the ground, catching it underneath his now-bare foot before it could even clatter.
"It doesn't work like that." David protested. "If I don't know where I'm going, I could easily misjudge and reappear halfway inside the ground, or through a wall! I need to see where I need to reappear or else I'll just as likely kill us both." The cruise missile had noticably curved towards the ground, now. Impact was imminent. The soldiers were coming closer.

"That's where I come in." Despite insurmountable odds, Kyle's grin was back. "I can see the future. I can make decisions in a fraction of a microsecond and see the results of what I chose to do. All I need you to do... is listen to me, and do exactly as I say. I will make sure we get out of this alive."

"Okay..." David couldn't tear his eyes from the missile. It whistled with a deadly throb of power as it sliced through the air: it was the last thing fifty million people would ever hear. The soldiers noticed it as well.

"When I speak, you must not think." Kyle's voice was dead serious. "What I'm about to say will affect your brain's decision making, and I want you to teleport to the first place that comes to mind after my words. Do you understand?"

He couldn't believe this was happening. He wanted to call Kyle insane. "Yes." He said instead.

Dangerously low in the sky, David saw as the neutron bomb split apart with an audible bang, dividing into a terrifying cluster of nuclear charges that began to envelop the entire city. Even in his terror he had to appreciate the ingenuity of the device: There would be no safe angles from the horrific radiation that was about to be unleashed itself upon the population.

One of the soldiers spoke up, no louder than a suppressed gasp. "That's a neutron bomb." The words were laced with mixtures of grief and defeat. Four words of inescapable death.

"Here it comes. Are you ready?" Kyle was struggling to concentrate as he calculated thousands of different outcomes in the scant few moments they had left to live. He shook his head no as David opened his mouth to reply. His bare foot was firm on the suitcase, and he reached with a shaking hand towards David, who took it.

From the far side of the city, the first of the bombs detonated. A wave of invisible death and conjoining shockwaves rushed towards them at a terrifying speed.

"Warp into the horizon." Kyle's words came out like gunshots.

"What?"

"Just fucking do it! DO IT NOW!"

David closed his eyes and snapped his fingers one last time as countless souls died around him.

**************************

The air smelled different here.

David had quickly learned how drastically the smell of the atmosphere changed as he mastered his power, travelling across the whole country. All of America had its own different kinds of pollution, its own nature and wildlife. Even the people smelled differently and that affected the air as well.

Here... it smelled like air freshener.

He opened his eyes, and found himself inside the dining room of a quiet home, full of mahogany wood and well-kept plants. A television played softly in another room, but the house itself appeared to be empty. Chicago was gone, the soldiers were gone, and the cacaphony of senseless killing had all faded away into peace. It was like none of that had ever happened.

The only reminder was Kyle, whose beads of sweat rolled down his face as he quickly bent down and reclaimed his treasure. His shoe was gone, probably forever. "We did it." He gasped. He fell back into one of the table's chairs, running his hands over his face. "We did it! YEAH!" He was exultant.

"We... yeah. We're still alive." The shock of survival was hitting him hard. His home was back in Chicago. Everyone he knew, few people as that may be, was now dead. And for some reason he still lived. What was it all for? What had been so important that the I.R.E was willing to sacrifice a city to get it?

"Yeah, yeah, I'm already on it." Kyle responded to something David hadn't yet thought to say. "Would you believe I've been on the run since I found this thing? This is the first chance I've had to try and get through this lock here. Just give me a moment."

For the first time, David noticed the five-digit combination under the suitcase handle. Rather than touching it, Kyle stared, thinking heavily. A flashback of his last moments in Chicago that had saved their lives.

Two minutes passed before he jolted into action. "What a dick!" Kyle laughed, startling David as he huddled next to a wall. He still couldn't imagine how the man found the strength to smile. "He's screwing with me! 99999. The very last combination." He laughed again, clapping his hands once. "I had to go through every single number to crack this thing." He worked his fingers expertly over the numbers without mistake, shaking his head. It boggled David's mind to imagine all the subtle ways you could perfect your next five seconds with that power. At a small amount, he could dodge bullets. He would be unbeatable in a fight. He could dictate a conversation to go exactly the way he wanted it to. There were probably countless other options that he couldn't even think of yet... And that was just five seconds!

"I've got it." The man grinned. The locks of the suitcase popped open. His fingers rested apprehensively on its edges. "Let's see what's inside that Chicago had to die for." Kyle popped open the capsule.

Inside was an old note, aged enough that it had to have been sitting there for years. The writing on it was done by hand and it was crystal clear in its neatness. It read:


Hello Kyle Martez. Hello David Zultok. I have been preparing for this day for a very, very long time.
I reside in North Dakota, right on the edge of the Canadian border where it's still safe. You'll find my address on the other side.
Very Big Things are about to happen. The neutron bomb dropped on Chicago today will have its consequences, and we are about to see events that will be remembered in history for centuries to come. People now know their lives have no value under their rulers, and they will fight to the death to wrest them from power before they themselves are killed at the whim of some faceless ruler.
We have a lot of talking to do. I look forward to seeing you greatly.
Yours truly,
Cain.
June 11th, 1952


Kyle whistled. "Wow. That's more than I was expecting. Imagine what you could do to change the world with that kind of foresight." David could not fathom how that man could process and recover from information this quickly. He was still struggling to wrap his head around the implications of this letter and what it all meant. The destruction of his home gave the rest of the world a muted sense of... melancholy. He found it hard to care all that much about anything at all. "Well, David buddy," Kyle held out a hand again. "Chicago is in the past now. It seems like the only thing we really have control of is our futures." He grinned at that. "What do you say we begin a new adventure? I bet you still have that five million dollars."

"Yeah. I guess I do." David murmured. He tried his best to leave the memories of his shoddy home behind. His half-hearted friends. His meagre belongings. But it was hard as hell to do and he didn't know if he would ever find it any easier. But still, he had to try. He had to keep on living. The man reached out and clapsed his palm around Kyle's once again. "I'll follow your lead. Let's go see who this Cain guy is." Despite himself, the ghost of a smile creased his lips for a joke.

"Who knows what the future could hold?"

He snapped his fingers.

ErrorBlender
11-16-2017, 05:58 AM
Action/Adventure Part II

Turtle Run
by Tsar BombaA strident noise broke the stillness of the air, trailed by an abrupt crash that brought the car to a halt. The distant ring of sirens made a slow crescendo as a man staggered out of the passenger side. He jerked back the slide of his pistol until the click affirmed readiness to kill.

The man glanced over his shoulder, then again, running to the opposite side of the vehicle. Within a moment, he wrapped his fingers around the handle and yanked the car door open.

“C’mon, Jimmy, get the fuck out of the car!” He gripped his brother’s shoulder. Jimmy rolled his head back sluggishly, producing a guttural groan. The man shifted his grasp to his sibling’s collar, hauling him out of the driver’s seat and onto the ground. A gunshot wound marked his arm. Sirens grew louder, nearer.

“Get up!” He hadn’t released his firm hold on Jimmy’s clothing. In a desperate attempt to steady him, the man pulled his brother upward and slapped him across the face.

Jimmy wobbled to a standing position. He stared his brother in the face, slurred words seeping from his lips, “I crashed the car, man… I crashed the car…”

“Don’t worry about it, Jimmy,” heavy panting slowed the man’s speech, “We gotta go! C’mon!”

The man slung a governing arm around his brother’s shoulders; his remaining hand wielded the small firearm. The two made their way toward the end of the alley. Guiding his sibling, the man could only manage a hurried jog. His gaze continually shifted in a perpetual frenzy. The piercing tone of a nearby siren seemed to echo harshly within the inner-walls of each man’s head. It was all they could hear. The police cruiser pulled into the alleyway, only to be met with gunfire. Each bullet met its mark. The windshield splintered as it was simultaneously splattered with liquid crimson. The man stood firm, a smoking barrel at the end of his extended arm. He lowered the gun and ushered his brother as they kept moving.

The pair moved from the shaded alleyway and fled down the street. Jimmy had recovered from his daze, allowing them to move at a quicker pace. The sirens persisted from afar. The weighted steps of the two brothers came to a stop as both took concurrent notice of another car, a convertible, heading in their direction. They stood, unmoving, waiting for an opportunity. It came. The vehicle eased to a halt. The duo brandished their firearms, causing the driver to cower behind the instrument panel and jerk his hands above his head.

“Get out of the car! Get out of the fucking car!” The barrel of the man’s pistol was inches from the driver’s face. The driver did his best to keep his head down as he frantically shoved the door open and staggered out from the convertible. Jimmy had already climbed into the passenger seat, his own blood soaked his arm and side. His brother sat firmly behind the wheel. The engine roared as the man slammed his foot on the accelerator. He clicked a button, causing the roof of the car to slowly slide into place.

After a few lengthy minutes of speeding, the enduring silence finally broke. Jimmy turned his head, his eyes settling on his brother. He imitated his sibling’s voice, “ ‘How’s your arm, Jimmy?’ Oh. It hurts like a motherfucking bitch, Roy. Thanks for asking.”

Roy looked straight ahead. His fists tightly wrapped around the wheel. He exhaled.

“Did you just huff?” Jimmy’s voice was sharp.

“What?”

“Just now, you huffed. You just huffed at me.”

“I was just breathing.”

“No, you weren’t just breathing. You huffed at me. As in, ‘Shut the fuck up, Jimmy.’ As in, ‘You’re getting on my nerves, Jimmy.’ ”

Roy said nothing.

“If I annoy you, tell me I annoy you. You don’t have to huff and puff until you blow me away. Is it because I got shot? It is, isn’t it? Well, I’m sorry, Roy. I got shot! I’m sorry that I got shot driving your ass away from the cops!”

“Motherfu-- I can’t fucking breathe now?!”

Jimmy clenched his teeth, his expression changed, “Why’d you say it like that?”

“Because I have a lot on my mind right now...” Roy shrugged, looking between his brother and the road, “We gotta call Uncle Boone.”

“What? No! Why?!”

“Where the fuck are we gonna go, Jimmy?!” The man slammed his fist on the wheel, then quickly reclaimed his composure, “We can’t stay here. We have to go away, far away, and lay low for awhile.”

Jimmy didn’t produce a response. He just sunk further into his seat with a pout, his eyes wandered to the window.

The sirens were gone.


* * * *

“Lance, you like boobies?”

The boy looked up at his uncle, who matched his gaze in the reflection of the rearview mirror. The bearded man smiled, comfortably reclined in the passenger seat of the van.

“Well…?” He persisted.

The driver spoke up, “He’s too young to be into all that, Sid. His answer won’t mean anything.”

“What’s the matter, Bill? Scared your son’s into boys?”

“Let him be. He’s trying to play his game.”

As if on cue, the beeps and boops of Lance’s gameboy resumed. His eyes and attention were captured by the tiny glowing screen; they had been for the majority of the trip. The family had been driving for hours now. Grasslands had given way to desert. Lance barely noticed the transition, however, his sister did. The flat, parched land was all that was visible beyond the half-cracked window. Sarah watched it roll by, her headphones provided an unfitting accompaniment to the seemingly boundless yellows. Nothing ahead, save for blank, asphalt roads paired with the immensity of day.

Sid huffed and shifted a bit in his seat. They had been driving for awhile and he needed something to entertain himself. Unlike Lance, he didn’t have the luxury of a gameboy, he was far too old for one. He turned against his seatbelt, looking at Sarah, “Did you get anything besides clothes?”

Sarah perked up, taking off her headphones and letting them sit on her collar, “Huh?”

“From the mall, did you get anything besides clothes?” Sid repeated, nodding to the bag beside her.

The teenager nodded as she started digging through the plastic bag. It was stamped with a smiley face along with the phrase: ‘Have a nice day’. She had acquired it during her weekly mall trip. Since he was in town, Sarah invited her uncle to come along before they left to go on their mini-vacation. It was filled with outfits mostly, but she also had gotten a VHS tape of the second episode of Star Wars. She’d already seen the first and third and was always curious what happened in between. She presented it to her uncle.

“Empire Strikes Back?” Sid nodded in approval, “That’s the best one.”

Bill cut the conversation short, “We’re here.”

The car pulled into the motel parking lot. It wasn’t much to look at, especially considering it was in the middle of nowhere. ‘Turtle Run Motel’. That’s what the sign read. Bill glanced at his children, who both looked appalled. He shrugged, “We’re only staying here the one night. C’mon, let’s settle in.”

Bill got out first, then Sid. The kids exchanged glances before hopping out of the car. The plastic bag swung from Sarah’s forearm as she trotted beside her uncle. Lance tucked his gameboy away, trailing behind his father.

The room was as the family expected it to be, smallish and unkempt. Two beds, two lamps, one bathroom, one armchair, one TV. The men hurled their suitcases onto each bed, unzipping them and taking out what they needed.

Sid turned to the kids, whose eyes wandered around the space, “Why don’t you two get in your swimsuits? I could go for a dip.”

“There’s a pool?” Lance asked, a bit of surprise in his tone.

“No idea,” Sid smirked, “But if there is we’re jumping right in.”

“Shouldn’t we look for one first?” Sarah said, setting her CD player and headphones on the chair, “Like, before we get in our bathing suits?”

Sid crossed his arms, “Where’s the fun in that? C’mon, Sarah, where’s your sense of adventure? And if there’s a pool and we find it, we could hop in right away.”

“Yeah!” Lance shouted in agreement. Sarah just nodded and grabbed her shopping bag. She went to the bathroom to change into her swimsuit, she had bought a new one at the mall. The boys dug for their own in their suitcases.

* * * *

The pitter-patter of metal on metal followed as Roy shoved the quarter into the slot. He pressed each numbered button and waited. Jimmy was outside of the phonebooth, leaning against the hood of the convertible. A bandage was neatly wrapped around his limb. He fanned himself with his good arm; the heat of the desert sun seemed especially cruel today.

The recurrent ringing was finally interrupted by a click. Someone had answered. “Yeah?” A gruff voice spoke on the other end.

“Uncle Boone, it’s Roy.”

A second click was heard as the man hung up.

“Son of a bitch…” Roy dug searched his pockets until he found another quarter, he placed it in the slot and waited. The ringing lasted for significantly longer before he answered again.

“Listen, you old fuck, we need to talk,” Roy gripped the phone tightly.

Indiscernible grumbles came from the other end. Eventually, the voice returned, “What do you want, Roy?”

“Jimmy and I need help.”

Silence.

“Big help…” Roy paused, “We need you to get us out of the country.”

The old man waited about a minute before responding, “...What’d you get yourself into? What’d you do this time?”

“The usual… just didn’t go so hot this time.”

“Your brother’s with you?”

“Yeah.”

Another silence.

Roy lowered his voice, speaking in a hushed tone, “Uncle Boone, we need this.”

The line was quiet for a long moment. “I’ll send someone,” the old man said.

Roy released a silent breath.

“He’ll meet you at the Turtle Run Motel, just like we always said. Remember where it is?”

“Yeah. I do.”

“Well, get there and stay quiet until they pick you up. And don’t do any more stupid shit.”

“Yeah, yeah. You owe me a quarter, asshole,” Roy hung up, stepping out from the booth. He made his way to the car. Jimmy walked to the passenger side. He stared at his brother for a moment before entering the convertible. The car started. The initial rumble of the engine settled into a low mechanical hum.

“What’d he say?” Jimmy was looking at his brother with big, hopeful eyes.

“Doesn’t matter. He’s gonna help us out.”

“Did he ask anything about me?”

“No,” the car began to make its way along the road.

Jimmy squirmed a bit in his chair, then looked to his brother once more, “Did you tell him I love him?”

“You didn’t say to.”

“Yes, I did. I said it like five fucking times,” He retorted, defensive.

Roy kept his eyes on the road. Clearly frustrated, he raised his voice a bit, “No. You didn’t say anything. I would’ve heard you if you said something, but you didn’t. We haven’t said anything since we left the city.”

Jimmy clenched his teeth and glared toward the window. They didn’t speak for the rest of the drive.

* * * *

“Brothers Roy and James Palacio fled from the scene, leaving three officers wounded and two dead. The two suspec--”

The image switched to animal planet, then a viagra commercial. Bill grumbled, setting the TV remote down. The man stood and walked out of the room. He figured he should spend some time with the others, it was a family vacation afterall. Traveling cross-country hadn’t been such a strenuous task thus far, however, they were only halfway to their destination.

Bill squinted as he stepped into the sunlight. It was mid-day and everything was still bright. It wasn’t long before he found the pool, the playful shrieks and giggles of the kids was enough to locate it. Bill entered the fenced-in area and stood near the spot where concrete turned to water.

Sid made monster sounds, chasing a laughing Lance around the shallow end. Sarah emerged from the depths of the deeper side, grabbing onto the edge and looking up at her father, “Hey, dad.”

“Hey there,” Bill smiled, glancing down at her.

Sid put his hands on his submerged knees, panting.

Bill looked over, “Tired, Sid?”

“I would be if I were your age,” Sid chuckled and took in a deep breath, “I could do this all day.”

The monster sounds resumed and Lance swam away, ecstatic. Bill wandered over to the nearest chair and settled under the umbrella. He watched them play. The smile hadn’t left his face.

* * * *

“Do they have a pool?”

“Maybe. I don’t fucking know,” Roy brought the car to a gradual stop, not bothering to look at his brother as he responded. He stepped out of the convertible and stretched a bit.

“Do they have cable?” Jimmy asked, hopping out of the car.

“We’ll get a room and find out,” A beep was heard as Roy clicked his keys. The doors of the vehicle locked.

Jimmy gandered at the motel for a moment, “This place is a shithole.”

“Sure is,” Roy agreed dismissively, starting toward the lobby. Jimmy followed close behind, his eyes wandered around. There was nothing besides the motel, asphalt, and desert. His expression projected disgust. Roy picked up on it, turning to his brother before entering, “Why don’t you go and try to find the pool?”

“What if there isn’t one?” Jimmy tilted his head a bit.

“Hope there is,” Roy wiped sweat from his brow to emphasize his point, “It’s hot as fuck out here.”

“You’ll get the room and all?”

“Yeah, Jimmy. I’ll handle the room.”

“Okay,” he nodded, venturing off in search of the pool.

Roy entered the lobby. He stepped to the vacant front desk, resting a forearm on the countertop. The man waited a moment before ringing the service bell.

* * * *

Lance was the one that noticed him. The man was standing by the pool entrance, watching the family swim. The boy waved at the stranger, who did nothing in return. Bill looked at his son curiously before noticing him. Jimmy was just standing there, staring. He almost appeared hungry, ravenous. He watched them as a vulture would. An abrupt hush pervaded the space.

“Hey,” Sid called, an attempt to break the awkward tension.

Jimmy clenched his teeth and slowly walked away from the pool area. The family exchanged quick glances.

“Creepy guy…” Sarah muttered, treading water.

They waited a moment before carrying on with their fun. It wasn’t long before Bill stood, announcing that he was going back to the room. Lance and Sid were preoccupied with their game, however, Sarah acknowledged him with a goodbye. Bill disappeared beyond the fence, catching a glimpse of Jimmy before entering the room.

He wasn’t discreet at all, but he wasn’t trying to be. Jimmy’s eyes followed Bill until he escaped behind the numbered door. The man took a few steps backwards before turning and walking off to find Roy.

* * * *

“What the fuck’re you talking about, Jimmy?” Roy opened the door, wandering into his room.

“I swear, man,” Jimmy followed him inside, “There were-- hey, can you fucking look at me?”

Roy set the room key on the TV stand, “Just tell me.”

“How do I know you're listening if you’re not looking at me?”

Roy took a moment to recline in a chair. He stared up at his brother, the concentration was exaggerated, “Alright, Jimmy… I’m looking at you.”

“I went to find the pool, like you said. Because you said it was fucking hot out, right?”

“Yeah.”

“So, I looked around the place until I find it and there’s this family there. Didn’t even look at them. All I did was walk over, take my shoes and socks off, and put my feet in the water. But then they started looking at me all weird,” Jimmy paused, “Are you still listening?”

“Yes.”

“So, then I get up. ‘Cause at this point, I’m feeling fucking alienated. I put my shoes and stuff back on and go to walk out… then they started talking.”

Roy raised an eyebrow.

“They were talking all quiet and they didn’t think I could hear them, but I did. I heard the one guy say, ‘I’m going back to the room and calling the cops.’ ”

“You heard them say that?”

“I swear, Roy. The fucker said, ‘That’s Jimmy Palacio, his brother and him are running from the police. I’m going back to the room and calling the cops.’ ” Jimmy waited for another comment from his brother, but it didn’t come. He continued, “So, I’m thinking, I have to see where this guy goes. And I saw the room he went in.”

“And?”

“The fuck do you mean?! He recognized us! He’s gonna call the cops if we don’t go over there, Roy!”

Roy slowly stood, reducing the distance between himself and his brother. His voice was low, edged, “So you’re saying… That if we don’t go over there and take this family hostage… Cops are gonna come here and get us?”

“Take them hostage?” Jimmy’s confusion was sincere, “We should kill them. Then we won’t hav--”

Roy grabbed Jimmy by the sides of his head. He slammed his sibling against the wall, their faces inches apart. He raised his voice, “I’m not killing an entire fucking family if I don’t have to, understand, Jimmy?! They have kids! There will be kids in that fucking room and if you’re fucking lying to me…”

Jimmy whimpered, closing his eyes, “I’m not lying! I’m not a liar! I’m not!”

“Look at me,” Roy tightened his grip on his brother’s face, “Look at me when you say it.”

Jimmy’s eyes popped open, “I’m not lying!”

“About what?!”

“I’m not lying about those people recognizing us!” He pleaded.

Roy released his brother and turned away from him. Jimmy stumbled forward, rubbing the back of his head.

Jimmy’s voice was flat, “This isn’t like last time, Roy. I’m telling the truth. I swear.”

“Not like last time?”

“Not like last time.”

“What about the time before that? And the time before that? Not like those times either?”

Jimmy looked at his feet.

“I don’t kill people who I don’t have to,” Roy opened the door, “That’s not me. And that shouldn’t be you. Not anymore.”

Jimmy said nothing. He silently watched his brother leave the room before following.

* * * *

The knock was harsh. Bill lifted himself from the chair, moving toward the door. He closed one eye and pressed the other against the peephole. The slightly distorted image of a man could be seen. His face was mostly concealed by a tilted baseball cap.

“Yes?” Bill called, still looking at the man.

“Hey,” Roy spoke to the door, “I’m your neighbor from room 6. I need to ask a favor.”

Bill unlocked and opened the door, “What can I do for you?”

Roy slammed the butt of his gun into Bill’s face. Blood gushed from his broken nose as he staggered onto the floor. Roy stepped into the room along with Jimmy, who had been standing beside the doorway. He closed the door gently as Roy shoved Bill onto one of the beds.

Touching his fingertips to his nostrils, Bill stared up at the brothers with wide eyes, “What is this?”

Roy cocked his gun, keeping it carefully aimed at the man’s face, “What’s your name?”

“Bill.”

“Bill? What’s that short for? William?”

Bill nodded.

Roy took off his cap and tossed it aside. He gestured to Jimmy, who went into the bathroom. After a brief search, he exited and shook his head at Roy.

Bill’s glance darted between them, “Look… I don’t know what this is or what it’s about…”

Jimmy rummaged through the suitcases. Roy kept his attention on their hostage.

“Who are you?” Bill asked, his voice shaky.

Roy’s eyes narrowed, now gritting his teeth. His eyebrows furrowed as he tightened his grip on the firearm. Jimmy had lied.

“Listen,” Bill swallowed, “I have a family…”

Roy scoffed, “And won’t they be devastated.”

The exchange was cut short as Sid opened the door. Jimmy and Roy quickly spun, guns pointed at the man and the children at his sides. Sarah and Lance gasped. Sid raised his hands.

“Wha-What’s going on…?” Sid divided his attention between Bill and the firearms.

Roy grabbed Sid, shoving him onto the bed, beside Bill. Jimmy grabbed Lance by the arm and directed Sarah with his pistol. He ushered them to the second bed.

“It’s gonna be okay, kids,” Bill affirmed, “Everything’s gonna be alright.”

Roy closed the door, “Is this everybody…?”

“Yeah,” Jimmy nodded.

Roy paused for a moment, thinking. He kept his gun aimed at Sid and Bill while Jimmy sat in the chair and watched the kids. Roy glanced at his brother for a moment before speaking again.

"We're gonna play the quiet game. Know how to play the quiet game?”

Silence.

“See, that’s a start… but to make sure, I'm gonna tell you how I play the quiet game,” Roy gestured with his pistol, “If you make a sound, then my gun makes a sound. Understand?"

The kids nodded while Sid glared at the stranger. Bill held his bleeding nose.

Roy continued, “If I ask you a question, you answer. If I tell you to do something, you do it. If you’re thinking of running, don’t. That’s it. Simple. And hey, maybe, if you keep me in a good mood, my brother and I will leave here without killing you.”

No one said anything. Roy’s eyes settled on Bill, “What do you think, pops? You up for it?”

“Don’t call me that.”

“I can call you whatever I want. I’m holding a gun.”

Bill glanced at his family, a pained expression fell over his bloodied face. He returned his gaze to Roy, “If this is about money, I can--”

“It’s not,” Roy interrupted. He leaned against the wall, a condescending smile creased his lips.

Sarah, trying to abide by the rules of the quiet game, raised her hand. Roy looked to her, “Yes?”

“Mister…” She paused, hesitant, “Can I change out of my swimsuit...? I’m cold.”

Roy walked over to Sarah, grabbing her hair and yanking the girl to her feet. She yelped, Sid and Bill stood. Jimmy pointed his pistol at the men.

Roy put the barrel of his gun under Sarah’s chin, “Hey! Simon says: sit the fuck down!”

Sid scowled, speaking through clenched teeth, “I thought we were playing the quiet game.”

“Yeah and you’re doing a shit job at both,” Roy pressed the cold steel against Sarah’s skin, “Now, sit down.”

Sid exchanged glances with Bill, who nodded. They slowly sat back on the bed.

Roy kept his eyes on the men, but spoke to the girl, “Go into the bathroom. You get five minutes. Take any longer and I’m going to kill your entire family. Do you understand me?”

She whimpered, “Yes.”

“Do you believe me?”

“Yes.”

Roy released her. Sarah scampered to the bathroom, taking clothes from her shopping bag and frantically changing. She was out again in two minutes. Lance changed next, then Sid. No one exceeded the confines of five minutes.

“What’s in your bag…?” Jimmy asked, staring at Sarah curiously. The bag sat in her lap, she hadn’t realized that she brought it out of the bathroom.

Sarah held it out. Jimmy stood, grabbing it. He emptied the contents onto the floor and tossed the plastic aside. The man kneeled upon seeing the VHS tape. He lifted it from the ground, “Empire Strikes Back?”

“I haven’t seen it,” Sarah said, almost speaking in a whisper.

Jimmy tossed the movie back onto the pile of clothes. He returned to his chair; the gun rested on his thigh, casually aimed at the kids.

Bill picked up the bag. He started to put everything back before Roy stopped him with a shake of his head. Bill returned to his spot on the bed, balling up the plastic and putting it in his pocket.

Roy took a few steps toward Bill and Sid, “You guys carry wallets?” He hoped the situation wouldn’t be entirely fruitless.

“In my other pants,” Sid said.

Roy nodded toward the suitcases, “Then go get it. What about you, pops?”

Bill reached in his pocket and handed his captor the small fold of leather. Roy flicked it open and took the cash inside. Before closing it, he noticed a picture. It was the family in a younger form, but instead of Sid, there was a woman.

Roy held up the wallet, pointing to the woman in the image, “Who’s she?”

“My wife.”

“Yeah? Where’s the lucky lady now? She die?”

Bill nodded.

“How’d she die?”

Lance whimpered as tears rolled down his cheeks, Sarah put an arm around him. Bill didn’t move his gaze from Roy’s, “You’re upsetting my children.”

“How…” Roy gestured with his gun, “Did she die?”

Bill paused for a moment, “...Suicide.”

Sid returned to the bed, giving his wallet to Roy. Roy removed the money and tossed it back along with Bill’s.

“You said this wasn’t about money,” Sid asserted, glaring at the man.

“I also said if you make an unwarranted noise,” Roy pressed the barrel of the firearm against his captive’s forehead, “So would my gun.”

Sid narrowed his eyes.

“So what are you? To the kids, I mean.”

“I’m their uncle.”

“Oh. Alright. Well, those kids are gonna need a lot of fucking therapy if they have to see the inside of their uncle’s head, don’t you think?”

Sid swallowed.

“I asked what you thought.”

“Yes-- They would.”

“You want them to go to therapy?”

“No.”

“Then shut your fucking mouth. Keep it shut. And stop looking at me like that,” Roy stepped back, leaning against the wall. Sid stared at the floor.

* * * *

“Look, Roy, we’re on TV,” Jimmy pointed at the screen. He was laying on the right side of the bed, Lance and Sarah shared the left.

Roy didn’t respond to his brother’s observation, but he looked at the television. A news story. It detailed the events that occurred in the morning, followed by images of Roy and James Palacio, the suspects. Roy reclined in the chair. He wore a stern expression.

“You believe in karma, Bill?” Roy kept his eyes on the television.

There was a long pause before he answered, “Yes.”

“Think you did something bad to deserve this?”

“No,” Bill said simply.

“Why not? You’ve never done a bad thing in your life?”

“I have. I just don’t think karma has anything to do with this.”

Roy huffed.

“Can I ask you a question, now?” Bill faced Roy, still sitting on the bed with Sid.

“Is it a stupid question?”

“Yes,” Bill confessed, “But I’m gonna ask it anyway.”

Roy raised an eyebrow.

“Are you gonna let me and my family go?”

Roy’s response was quick, “Aw, c’mon, Bill. You know I can’t answer that.”

Bill nodded.

Jimmy tapped the gun against his thigh. He stared blankly at the TV, a look crossed his face. Sarah recognized it, from the pool.

“I’m hungry,” Jimmy whined, he looked at the children beside him, “Are you guys hungry?”

“It takes awhile to die of hunger, Jimmy. I’m sure you’ll be fine,” Roy responded.

“Yeah, maybe. But I’m still fucking hungry, Roy. My stomach is rumbling. I haven’t eaten anything all day.”

“What do you want me to do? Stop by McDonald's?”

“We could get room service.”

“Good idea, Jimmy. Let’s invite someone to the room with the wanted criminals and their hostages.”

Jimmy clenched his teeth, then looked to Sid and Bill, “We could have one of them answer the door for us.”

Roy stared at his brother for a moment, he shrugged, “Pick up the phone and get me whatever you’re getting.”

“Do we get something to eat…?” Sid uttered.

“Sure. Do you like bullets?” Roy said, holding up his pistol.

Jimmy cradled the phone between his shoulder and neck, the menu in his hands. He ordered with a complacent smile on his features. After hanging up, he leaned next to Sarah and Lance, whispering softly, “Don’t worry. I got you guys something too.”

Eventually, there was a soft knock on the door. Roy aimed his firearm at Bill’s torso, “Get the food.”

Bill nodded. He slowly stood and made his way to the door, the barrel of Roy’s gun followed him. He cracked open the door so only he could be seen. Bill smiled at the woman. There was a small, wheeled table with a white cloth draped over it. Two plates rested on top.

“Thank you, I, uh…” Bill paused, “You can leave it out there. I’ll bring it in the room myself.”

The woman raised an eyebrow, “Alright, sir. I’ll be back later t--”

“Jimmy, NO!” Roy shouted.

The door swung open all the way. Jimmy pulled the trigger and the woman fell to the ground. Blood and fragmentary brain matter splattered onto the pavement. Bill staggered from the sharp ringing in his ear. Jimmy shoved the man to the ground and prepared to shoot his head as well. Sarah screamed, gripping a shocked Lance.

Roy grabbed his brother, holding him firmly by the collar and slamming him against the wall, “WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?!”

Jimmy tried to struggle free, “He signaled the woman!”

Bill sat up, “I didn’t… I didn’t do anything...”

“Yes he did! I saw him! When he was talking, he mouthed the words ‘help me.’ ” Jimmy shoved himself from his brother’s grasp.

“LIAR!” Bill yelled, pointing at his captor.

Jimmy shot him. Bill fell flat onto the floor as blood spurted from his torso.

Roy shoved his brother back onto the wall, using his forearm to pin Jimmy’s neck down. Before he could speak, he was distracted by the sudden appearance of Sarah in the edge of his peripheral; the girl dashed out of the room. Jimmy took off, pursuing her.

Roy bolted to the doorway, stopping as he called after his sibling, “Jim--!”

He staggered forward as he took a blow to the back. Sid slammed the door shut, locking it and tossing the broken lamp aside.

Sid pulled Bill to his feet, “C’mon, Bill. Get up…”

“Open the fucking door!” Roy’s voice was followed by frenzied knocks.

Bill held his wounded side, panting, “Sarah…”

“Go out the bathroom and find her,” Sid reached for the phone, “I’ll call for help! Go!”

Bill rushed to the bathroom, climbing out the window and into the desert sun. He called for his daughter, “SARAH!”


Sarah sprinted through the parking lot in hysterics, tears streaming down her face. The girl couldn’t control her spasmodic gasps for air. She ran past all the doors, crying for help. Jimmy walked after her, the firearm at his side.

“Go into the bathroom and get out the window…” Sid told Lance, picking up the phone. He dialed three digits and turned. Lance hadn’t moved. “Lance! Go!”

The gunshots were loud. Two expanding rings of crimson stained Sid’s shirt, he fell to his knees. The curtains parted as Roy climbed through the window.

“SARAH!” Bill called again, blood soaked his palm. He darted his head around.

Roy stepped over Sid’s body. He grabbed Lance by the hair. The boy screamed and tried to struggle, but the man was much stronger. Roy yanked him from the room, “BILL!”

Sarah sprinted into the pool area, she ran toward the opposite side. She shrieked as a sharp pain crippled her leg. The girl fell onto the concrete, her forearms taking the bulk of the fall. Jimmy approached her with a smoking barrel.

Sarah sobbed, shaking her head slowly.

Jimmy crouched beside her. He tilted his head curiously. He closed one eye and held the gun inches from her face.

“Please…” She weeped, “Please stop…”

Jimmy smirked. In the next second, it had faded as a distant noise could be heard. A familiar sound. Sirens.

The plastic seemed to tighten around his face. Jimmy couldn’t breathe. Bill ripped the man off of his daughter, tensing as he suffocated him. The gun fired a few times amongst Jimmy’s violent convulsions. It seemed like an eternity before he finally surrendered to the shopping bag. His body fell limp.

Bill stood, staring down at Jimmy’s corpse. A smiley face was now draped over his head, accompanied by the phrase: ‘Have a nice day’.

The man kneeled beside his daughter, wrapping his arms around her. She cried into him. Bill panted, “We need to go… we need to get your brother…”

“He’s right here,” Roy took a few steps forward, his gun positioned beside the Lance’s skull. The man stared at his brother’s corpse then to his killer.

“Roy…” Bill spoke lowly, “Please…”

Roy narrowed his eyes, shaking Lance slightly as he moved the pistol closer to the boy’s flesh.

“You don’t have to do this… You don’t have to kill my son.”

The shouts of police officers seemed to go unnoticed to Roy. They demanded he put down his weapon, let the boy go. The man turned toward them. He was silent, maintaining a stoic expression.

Bill held Sarah, watching Roy with wide eyes.

Roy let out a heavy sigh, then released his grip on Lance’s hair. The boy looked up at his captor, his eyes translucent with tears.

“Go on… go to your dad,” Roy spoke quietly, almost a whisper.

Lance nodded and ran into his father’s arms.

Roy shrugged his shoulders, looking at the police, “Welp… guess that leaves us.”

He extended his arm, only able to shoot twice before being swept off his feet by gunfire. The man staggered into the pool, his body riddled with fresh wounds. He was surrounded by a cloud of red, pervading the otherwise clear water.

He’d finally gotten out of the country.

Dangerous Jobs
by devi
Usually my days are pretty normal, I wake up, clean my teeth, eat some food, go to work, go home, eat, and go to sleep. Nothing surprising really happens on this station, just meeting some new races or people or things were one of the few things that kept at my station. Of course, I didn’t have much choice back then, I had to do it to support my ungrateful family who just sent me off to earn them money.

Then when some regular stuff turns into weird stuff, well, that’s what’s happened to me. I just started as a regular day of work and turned into a weird transition from being me, a station officer, to being the Alien International Diplomat Speaker of the human race; the guy in charge with diplomacy and affairs that involve aliens. It was really strange at first, but it didn’t take me long to get used to it. Day in and day out was work, and work and more work. They didn’t give me the choice of adaption they forced me to.

I guess I make it sound is worse than it is, it can have its amazing moments at times. Meeting new races and learning about them is always fun, since I have discovered quite the love of learning about new people and things. I mean, just yesterday I met a trader from a faction called the Pivotin Technocracy. The dude was a large humanoid brown mech, with a rounded hatch on the top of it. The hatch opened when he spoke, revealing two snail like unblinking green eyes. Despite looking very intimidating in his suit of armor, he was pretty neutral, he was just there for the business and nothing else.

He had proposed a business agreement between the human company “Hologramfic”, a company that sells holograms, and his company called “Glory Heads”, a company that dealt with violent video games. Of course, in more “modern” terms, its now called holo games, as most games now use the advance holograph engines. Not that that’s bad, the hologram engine makes games look amazing, and you can still make games look like they were from 2025. It’s very adaptable.

Today sadly has so far turned into a pretty relaxing day, no scheduled meetings and I have no work. This feels to convenient to be true. Oh I hope nothing is going to happen to me, but the laws of convenience as usual state something much happen. Or those nerds back on earth were just dicking with me, that’s possible too.

Welp, nothing to do about it. Might as well enjoy it while its lasts, it could be the calm before a storm for as much as I know. I put my feet up on my table and lean back on my office chair. Of course, if someone from the ancient days saw this, they wouldn’t call it that. To them the table would look like a white upside-down shit, and the chair would look like a some sort of flat TV. I wouldn’t have a comment about the upside down shit comment, as I actually agree. What I would say though, is that the chairs of the future that we have can be adjusted in so many ways its unbelievable.

God, I sound like such an advertiser right now. Its funnier considering I’m talking about people from hundreds of years ago, when we had to use remotes to turn on a TV. Times sure were different back then. Now that I think of it, I’m not actually sure, we had a lot of wars back then and many history books were destroyed, so no one is actually a hundred percent sure.

I wond-




John would have continued his train of thought, but a large explosion interrupted him right outside his room, the building around him violently shaking in tune with this loud sound. He immediately rose up from his comfortable seat and walked towards his door to investigate the sound. I walked up to his door slowly, and cautiously, tapping on a blue part of the door to open it.

The door slid silently open, not too different from John who silently sneaked through the doorway. He looked to the left, nothing there. He looked to the right, nothing there. It must have been nothing, he thought, but no sooner had he said that as a green light past right by his eyes. He could barely process it, and he fell back in surprise.

He quickly got himself up and pressed a red button on the door, which was just sticking a bit out of its socket. The door slid closed, but John would have no second of sanctuary to think. Before he could even try to understand, he heard a loud inhuman scream with the sounds of laser fire in the distance. What’s worse was the fact that it was coming from inside the building.

“Guess I couldn’t have been more right, if it’s too good, then it gon’ be bad real soon.” He whispered to himself, he whispered it so quietly that he wasn’t even sure if he spoke it, maybe he just echoed the words in his head so he imagined that he said it. John couldn’t tell.

The door slid open.

John didn’t even look to the door to see if there was someone there he simply pulled himself back behind his table. His body was filled with the awful feeling of terror, as he started to shake ferociously. He reached for the knob to one of the drawers and pulled it. He quickly reached in and took something out. It was his gun.

Since John had become to AIDs for humanity, he was always under constant threat from other people. People, who didn’t want humanity to become better than it is, people from races with a malevolent ideology most likely. The gun was the latest issue human hand blaster. It was a deep blue, patterned with bright orange lines from the tip to the back. The handle felt sturdy, and really fit with John’s hand, since he had gotten more comfortable with using a gun.

He gripped his weapon tightly with both his hands, having it ready for danger. He had to look what was behind the desk, there was no sound or anything after the door had slid open, and the silence was nerve-wracking.

He slowly pushed himself to the edge of the table, gently peeking his head over.

Purple blood covered the floor.



To say that John felt a bit queasy would be an understatement. The scene before his eyes was incredibly grotesque and horrifying. The body of a Maephelos was lying on the floor, presumably it’s own blood, completely still and unmoving, but that wasn’t the worst part of it. The body of this pink octopus like creature had a massive gaping hole in its back, showing the floor like as if it was a tunnel right through the poor bastard.

As John came closer he noticed that the dead octopus was wearing armor, must have been a security guard John thought, not one he knew though. Moving even more closer he noticed that the kill was fresh, the small embers caused by laser fire hadn’t quite extinguished themselves yet. John wanted to vomit, he really wanted to be free of the disgusting feeling in his stomach, but he stopped himself.

“I can’t let myself be caught off guard, someone in this building wants to kill me, and I shouldn’t let myself be attacked with my pants down.” He whispered to himself “or in this case my head down.”

He gently bypassed the frozen carcass, holding his gun close to his chest, his eyes darting everywhere in fear of something, anything being in his room. He felt cold stares on him somehow, penetrating him and looking at him with sadistic and malevolent eyes. He quickly turned around to confront this feeling of being watched.

The room was completely empty, letting John let out his breath. He turned back to the door, took a deep breath, and walked cautiously through. Without any thought, he turned to the right as he stepped out the doorway, holding out his gun, ready to shoot.

The room was fully lit and very peaceful, quite the contrast to the sound that was earlier. He was about to turn to the left to make sure he hadn’t screwed himself by looking at the wrong side first, if it wasn’t for an incredibly loud and sharp sound screaming right into his earlobe. He crashed to the floor in retaliation and aimed his gun at the source.

“It’s just a prank bro.” He heard, of course barely because of the loud sound that was just inflicted upon him and his poor ears. What he saw in front of him surprised him.

It was the guy who got him to who where he is.



“Hello Mrs, Rifter.” Josh says, surprisingly comedic despite the current situation. “Guess the translator has been updated since I can actually understand you now.”

“Fuck off, you dick” He replies angrily, his slimy voice complimenting his wet body.

“So what are you doing here exactly?”

“I’m here to protect you, by bringing all the people that want to kill you, to you.” He says smiling, holding up what seems to be an air horn.

“You’re fucking with me right? We are going to start running now?” John asks, staring at Rifter with large shocked eyes. Josh looks as if he’s about to explode with how mad he is, he shakes violently as he speaks.

“Nope, I would recommend us to get back in your room so we can use it as cover.” He replies as he motions me to get back in the room with his tentacle glove hand. As much as Josh hated this stupid idea, it was the only one he had, so he swiftly went back inside his room with Drifter following him. As they entered, Drifter pressed the door shut.

“So who and how many people want to kill me?” John asks, strangely calm about the situation all of the sudden, as if he’s safe in the knowledge that he’ll survive, thanks to his friend’s help.

“Originally around five, I’ve taken care of three of them. The last two have been very slippery, haven’t been able to find them. This time we have some Maephelos mercenaries after us, we had four Maephelos and one Slugger. Guessing that they’re hired by people who oppose the trade treaties between humans and the Trading Guild.” Rifter answered as he pushed out the corpse of the Maephelos guard. “This dude was one of them.”

John answered with a nod as he positioned himself by the corner of the doorway, out of sight of anyone who want to come in. Rifter does the same, but on the opposite side, he takes out a laser gun and his airhorn.

“Really dude?” John mouthed to his probably crazy friend, his friend said nothing but smirked like a child doing a prank.

“Think he might be in there?” They both hear someone say.



Both John and Rifter shut their mouths and held their breaths, both holding up their guns. In Rifter’s case both his guns. The sound of footsteps got louder and louder, as did the voices.

“That fucking sound came from around here after all.” The first voice was stern, sounding as if the one speaking it was very tough.

“Does it really hurt to hear loud noises? Are you that sensitive?” The second voice was more calm and questioning, as if it came from a small innocent child, of course innocent to the point of you would think that he’s sarcastic.

“Yes you fuck, even if it was just one hallway away it hurt. God I’m going to kill whoever did that.”

“Shame that your earpieces got destroyed, feels like someone was prepared for us coming.” John looks at Drifter as the guy says this, Drifter just lifts his eyebrows and smirks again. That’s when they hear the door slide open and into its socket. John felt his heart beat so fast that it felt like it was going to hop out of his body.

“I think someone’s in here, I hear a heartbeat.” The sterner guy whispered to his friend, as the sound of footsteps got even closer. As the sound felt right next to them, the two friends quickly came out of their spots and fired. John fired his laser gun to the right, while Drifter shot to the left while blowing his horn. The guns have little recoil, the only knowledge they have of that they shot is the sound of laser fire.

They quickly got back in their positions and slid for the table, quickly getting behind it before their foe could react to the bright laser fire.

“Ah shit!” The lighter voice sounded as laser fire was returned in full power. Luckily for John, he had reinforced his table to withstand laser fire, so they were safe behind their cover. For now.




The continuous barrage of laser fire from both sides continued for a very long time, some going just a bit short of everyone’s flesh, and some scraping off skin. The battle seemed to go nowhere, and looked like a rave of green and red laser, as both sides had excellent cover and equal training. What could our two heroes do? They were stuck in a stalemate of laser fire, no side getting any victories or losses.

That was when the laser fire slowly died down. John checked over the table, he saw the body of the enemy lying on the floor in a pool of blood, and John breathed out heavily, finally relieved.

“So are drinks on me, or do you want to pay this time?” John asked Drifter, chuckling a bit as he finished his sentence.

“I saved you two times now, you can bet your ass your paying.”

“Hey now, we made a bet. I told you that it would be the Maephelos again.”

“Doesn’t matter, I’ve still saved you twice.”

Yo ho ho and a bottle of AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
by RichardLongflop
Sgt. Peterson sat on the edge of the aircraft carrier as it sailed through the ocean, giving him a full view of the world around him. Some people commented on this, saying “you’re gonna fall off and kill yourself”, that it was “dangerous”, and that they would “report him to the captain.” To this, Peterson often replied “fuck off”, “fuck off” and “fuck right off.”

He observed the surroundings. The ship only had a few fighter jets on it, the most important thing on deck being a big submarine held aloft by two sturdy cranes. The sea around the ship was calm and flat, the only disturbance being the gentle waves skimming the sides of the ship as it sailed onwards, creating a soft white noise. The only thing bluer than the ocean around was the sky above it, a few clouds hazily spread here and there. The horizon was as flat as a very flat thing, and it relaxed Peterson knowing that there was nothing to interfere with the mission.

The mission was simple, but silly. If you asked around various drinking establishments, you’d sometimes hear of a rumour of some legendary weapon lost to the sea decades ago. Nobody actually knew what it was, so nobody gave it much thought, until some intel came up a few weeks ago that confirmed its existence.

The Sgt. spat the smouldering cigarette butt into the calmness of the ocean, stood up and gave a contented stretch. He closed his eyes and soaked in the atmosphere. The gentle rise and fall of the ship, the pleasant hiss of the water, the increasing tone in the distance, the birds twee- hold on one goddamn moment.

His eyes snapped open to witness a dot in the distance. It was tiny, barely visible, but it was benign.

“The Russians,” he spat, and made quick for the control tower.

By the time he burst through the control room’s door, everyone had already picked up on the object.

Peterson started, “Do you know what it is?” He paced about hurriedly, glancing at screens and trying to get a better window view.

The place was all command consoles and screens being attended to by a plethora of people, the Captain himself standing still amongst the commotion, eyes dead set on the sea.

“No,” replied one of the men, “We don’t know if it’s Russian yet.”

Another one pitched in, “Reading say that it’s… unusually small, but incredibly fast!”

Another, “Is it experimental tech? Small but fast? Is it a weapon?”

“It’s headed right for us!”

“Fuck!”

“Shit!” “Bollocks!” “Arse!”

“Did I mention fuck?”

“You did.”

“Oh. Uh. Then…”

“Cock?”

“Oh. Cock!” along with other expletives.

The only calm one on deck was the Captain, a hardened face adorned with age, scars and an eyepatch. The man had seen the horrors of the sea and then spat in its face. Before shooting that face repeatedly. With automatic cannons. What I’m trying to say is, he’s a hard bastard.

“Captain,” Peterson stressed, “We gotta do something.”

The captain’s chapped lips opened, speaking in a voice so gravelly that you could drive trucks over it, “Our ship is strong, Sergeant. Let them come.”

The men on deck fell silent, the only noise being the blips of radars and the ever-increasing “aaaaaa” in the distance.

One man had taken out a telescope for visual confirmation, and broke the silence with “Uh. Guys. It’s a big guy on a wooden raft… blonde hair, wearing a kilt. Got something on his back.”

“Wait, give that here” said the guy next to him. He took a look, gently shat himself, and said “It’s Ragnor.”

The captain, expression as solid as a mountain, opened his wise lips once more and let out an oddly feminine yell. He collapsed to the floor like a strip of raw bacon that had accidentally been dropped on the dirty, hairy floor. You’d probably just rinse it under the tap and cook it, though. Dirty bastard, you.

The crew erupted into horror and yells, terrified of what was to come. Peterson stumbled to the window to get a good view on the ever-closing beast, and saw it. A tiny wooden raft with a viking-like man on it, emitting a constant war cry without any need to breathe in, being followed closely by a colossal wave. Whatever this Ragnor was, he was so powerful that the ocean itself followed him like an army.

Peterson muttered his prayers and braced.

What came first of the impact was a deafening boom as the ship’s hull was penetrated effortlessly, and what came next was the wave smashing into the side of the ship. The whole vessel lurched violently to one side, half of the on-deck planes being thrown off and swallowed by the sea. The submarine swung violently but remained attached, and the Sergeant thanked his lucky stars for that.

Until Ragnor seemed to fly up through the deck and toward the tower’s windows.

“Fuck.”

And then Ragnor gracefully blasted through the windows, followed by a perfect landing. Along with someone exploding. Because they got in the way. Of his style.

The sheer presence of Ragnor boosted all the men’s testosterone production levels by 200%, and suddenly everyone had stubble. Even the women. Especially the women.

This being was a man, though it could be argued otherwise. A giant of a guy, Ragnor’s body was so powerful that each pair of abs could be mistaken for regular human pecs. His head was covered with glorious golden hair, his long beard braided down to his belly button, the hair atop his scalp flowing and golden, wafting ceaselessly in a gentle breeze, even though there wasn’t one. His mouth was in a constant scowl, and his eyes could melt holes through steel. And then maybe make that steel explode.

Attached to his back was a large rusted beast of a blade, a great-chainsword. His lower body was covered with a chainmail kilt plated with rusted sheets of metal, and he wore some damn awesome leather boots.


The viking-like intruder shot his attention toward the collapsed Captain, then to the Sgt. “RRRGH?” he asked.

“The Captain’s passed out, he’ll be alright,” replied Peterson. After a brief moment he realised that he actually understood what Ragnor meant with his primal grunt. This surprised him.

“RRRGH. RRHGHRGH?”

“Navy, sir.” Sir? Why’d he call him sir? This also surprised him. “After a legendary weapon.”

“RRRRGH RRGH!” Ragnor spun around, grunted wildly at all the manly men and manly women, and they all got to work. Ragnor may be a man of no words, but he’s certainly leader material. The Sgt’s surprise was wearing off.

“Sir!” yelled one of the men. The Sgt thought this one was wimpy, but in Ragnor’s presence, it seemed like he gained confidence. Also a beard. And 30lbs of muscle. And possibly two women. “Blip on the radar! I think it’s a russian submarine.”

“RRRGH?” Ragnor had to see it with his own eyes. He paced powerfully towards the radar, punched it apart because he doesn’t need no bitch screen telling him whatever the fuck his eyes can, and then used said eyes to spy out the last remaining window for the submarine.

His powerful gaze scanned the calm waters and saw a deep blue shadow off in the distance. He focused his view more, being able to pierce the murky depths to see the lettering on the side. This had the side effect of slightly melting the window through the sheer pressure of his vision. And then it slightly caught fire, followed by it slightly exploding.

“RRHG, RHGHRHG.” The viking-like giant stated, before grabbing a fistful of Peterson’s chest and jumping out of the window. Peterson started being surprised again.

By the time Ragnor’s feet had hit the deck, his testosterone had reached every part of the ship. All the men in the control tower were now speaking in grunts and yells rather than words. The fuel in the engines turned into 65% proof whiskey. All the crew of the ship turned swole, men and women alike. All this caused the ship to grow 200% more effective, and the calm water around it trembled and tore in its wake.

Before the Sgt. knew it, he and Ragnor were inside of the ship’s submarine. pushing buttons and grunting through radios. Even the Sgt. was grunting now.

“Rrghh?” Peterson asked, wondering what the plan was.

“RRRHGH,” replied Ragnor concisely.

The viking stomped the floor with a mighty boot and the submarine tore off its hooks. Then he punched the ceiling, and it hopped effortlessly into the water.

Then the viking turned to look Peterson straight in his eyes, slammed a pedal into the floor and uttered a one-liner that the Sgt. would remember to his grave:

”GRAAGH.”

Immense G forces thrust Peterson back as the submarine shot down into the water. He kept his eyes trained on all the terminals around him, some with engine statistics, some with speed measurements, and one with a spinning line outlining a dot just to the right of the middle.

“Rrrrgh!” Peterson warned, pointing to his right.

“Rrgh?” Ragnor cast his eyes to the radar, and responded with a slightly irritated ”AAAAAAAA”, before steering a hard right.

The radar showed the blip getting closer, but that was just Ragnor deciding to voice his disagreement in person.

The blip hit the center, and a massive crash slammed into the side of the sub. When he was sure that both submarines were flush with each other, he shot a clean punch through the walls and hooked both of them together. It was at this point that the Sgt. noticed that his viking comrade hadn’t actually stopped screaming. It’s as if air constantly streamed into his nose and out of his mouth.
With both ships hooked together, Ragnor used both of his mighty arms to tear a hole between ships, combined with his powerful gaze to weld the edges together. As the hole grew increasingly larger, more and more terrified faces could be seen.

As soon as the hole was large enough for Ragnor to fit his colossal torso through- which is, safe to say, big enough for two average men to somersault through- he flung himself into the other submarine and started asking questions.

“RRRHG?”

People replied, but in russian. Ragnor did not understand this and so sought to have these men respond in a language he could understand.

The viking unslung the mighty metal log from his back, a beast of a chainsword that bore so many teeth that it would make sharks feel pitiful and have them go to their local car dealer to buy Hummers.

He revved up the blade to a scream, and everyone was like “AAA”, “AUGAHG” and “DEEARGH”, words that Ragnor could understand.

After a few minutes of constant screaming (and a few pansy fainters) Ragnor understood all he needed to. The russians had also learned of the intel and followed the navy vessel, trying to piggyback the prize.

Knowing this, Ragnor decided to take both sides there. He positioned himself in the breech between hulls, one hand per sub controls, and started to drive the combined vessels down to the treasure. All Peterson and the russians could do was be thrown to the back of the submarines as Ragnor achieved faster and faster speeds.

This reckless power made the submarine walls creak and wail and scream, but they never tore or gave out. Perhaps this was because of excellent engineering. Or the fact that Ragnor’s hands weren’t really doing anything, he was just intimidating the fuck out of the submarines. The submarines weren’t breaking, they were screaming from fear.

Eventually they reached their destination. To be more precise, Ragnor drove the submarines through 20 feet of solid rock until he crashed into a tunnel system. There was probably an actual entrance to it somewhere, but who’s got time for that shit, there’s treasure to find.

Ragnor followed the tunnels downward, weaving in and out of cave sections and through gaps with effortless grace, until he surfaced up in a subterranean cavern.

As he booted the hatch off his submarine, stale air blasted into the submarine as the pressure got right. Eardrums popped and stomachs were turned, but all could cope.The viking beckoned the Sgt out, who complied, but when the russians tried to scramble for an exit Ragnor gave them the ‘stay’ hand signal, as if they were dogs. And like dogs, they sat down and looked a little nervous before shitting all over my fucking carpet, I took you goddamn dogs out for a walk ten minutes ago, fuck.

The Sgt. looked around the cavern. It was massive, big enough to fit in a whole ship. And, funnily enough, there was one. In one of the cavern walls, grown over with rock and moss, was a giant wooden ship. It was full of holes, cannons hung limply out.

“Rrrgh?” asked Peterson, which roughly translated to ‘Holy fucking shit there’s a ship down here.”

“RRHGHRhGH” replied Ragnor, which roughly translated to a friendly ’AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA’, which itself roughly translated to ‘That used to be my ship. It took armies to pull it down, but I wouldn’t let them have it so I sunk it down to the bottom of the ocean myself, and buried it a grave worthy of its splendor.’ Or he could have just been grunting. Who fucking knows, right?

There was a massive hole in the side of the ship which the two entered in. Treasure gleamed everywhere, shining colours of gold and silver. Though they were all beer steins, perched atop dozens of massive wooden kegs. Could this be the treasure?

But there was more. Perched on a wall across the kegs was a gargantuan hammer. It would take four normal men to lift it, though now it’d take many more to bring it to its previous glory. The iron was worn, the leather had decayed, it was-

“RRHGHR” called out the viking, and Peterson’s attention snapped to it.

Ragnor approached Peterson with a small leather-bound book in hand. It appeared to be a notebook. He handed it to the stammering Sgt.

Peterson opened the book up carefully and glanced over its innards. He flicked a few pages, and it all clicked together in his head.

This was a blueprint. A recipe. It was instructions on how to create the perfect ale. It was beautifully crafted and detailed with amazing penmanship and care (though everything was in capital letters.) The front page simply said “RAGNOR’S BEER,” and apparently it could even get the viking himself blackout drunk, and could induce hangovers that could drive any weak man to death.

“RRrhg,” noted Ragnor as he carefully took the book out of the Sgt’s hands and placed it into a kilt pocket. “Rrgh” affirmed Peterson, and they both made way outside. Curiously, the sounds of russian screaming could be heard more and more as they got closer. Then there was a boom. This would make Peterson worry, if it weren’t for the hulking bulking muscleman beside him.

When they reached to cave, they saw another submarine had burst from the tunnel depths and landed, its sole inhabitant already outside.

It was a man. Well, half man. Clearly russian. Stubble, ushanka, heavy coat, the works. Obviously carrying at least 300lbs of muscle, as well as an extra 300lbs in mechanical augmentations. The guy was implanted into some kind of mech.

“AGH, RAGNOR,” yelled the russian cyborg, “YOU HAVING THE WEAPON? GIVE.”

Wait what? Somebody saw this musclebound great-chainsword wielding fucker and thought ‘ooh, I know what I’ll do, I’ll oppress him.’ Well, this russian bastard must have balls heavy enough to create gravity shifts on the goddamn moon, but he ought to hope that they’re heavy enough to send him through the ground before Ragnor could.

The viking started that yelling again. No, not the normal one. The one where air flows into his nose, gets amplified by a catalyst of internal rage and anger and blasts out his mouth at a volume large enough to be recorded louder than an incoming jet, though if the jet knew who it was getting compared to it’d probably turn into an outgoing jet pretty goddamn fast.

With a dark grin, the russian laughed. He unslung his coat- which, to be honest, was just kinda draped over one of his massive augmented shoulders- and let it fall to the ground, revealing what everyone could already see. Nothing gonna stop you from getting fucked, robot boy.

With a few hand gestures and shouts in his native tongue, several hatches on the russian’s body opened up to reveal small missile silos.

“YOU BEST BE GIVING ME BOOK, WAVY HAIR MAN. OR I GIVING YOU COLD SHOULDER, OF PERSONALLY. BUT IN REALLY,” he chuckled again, “IT BE OF COLD WAR!”

Peterson was awestruck at this. Not at the how weaponised the russian is, but how goddamn silly he was. Though he decided it’d be best to return to the buried ship, to get out of the way.

Ragnor reacted differently. Still screaming, he unslung his great-chainsword off his back and took grip of it. The interface of the weapon was simple. There were inputs, one was a lever in the grip that revved it up, and another was a button that was linked to the fourth wall. That button also made the blade go all flamey.

With smoke and explosions, missiles flew at Ragnor. “HAVING OOPS,” yelled the russian, “FINGER OF SLIPPED.”

Ragnor screamed at the missiles and they all said ‘oh fucking of that’ in unison before flying over to the cowering crowd of russian men, falling on the ground, huddling together and starting discussions of ‘starting a union.’

“WHAT” replied, well, everyone.

“WELL,” the russian cyborg yelled, “I STILL HAVING FISTS.”

They weren’t really fists, more like clusterfucks of pistons and motors that could somehow pick things up and put them down.

“RRRRGH” replied Ragnor. It was the most motivational war speech to date.

They charged at each other. The fight was glorious. Gloriously over in a few seconds. I mean, come on. Fists against a great-chainsword?

It happened swiftly, but this is what went down: The russian swiped at Ragnor a few times, and lost a few fingers to Ragnor’s mighty pecs. He then went for a punch to Ragnor’s gut, but he then realised that his arm was missing, along with the lower half of his body. Turns out, chainswords powered by nothing but the rage of an almighty yelling viking can cut through most anything.

“DAH, SHIT” yelled the russian, landing on the ground in a heap. “WELL, MY FRIEND-”

“AAAAAAAAAAAA” interrupted Ragnor.

“- IF I CANNOT HAVE THE WEAPON,”

”AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA” interrupted Ragnor.

“NOBODY CA-”

”AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA” interrupted Ragnor.

And then the russian punched himself in the chest and exploded. In a big way.

The russian crew were hurrying to their sub when they were evaporated. The missiles were talking of union leaderships when they were forcibly imploded. Ragnor was yelling when the explosion did absolute fuck-all to him, though the cavern started to come down.

“RRHG,” yelled the viking, as he turned to re-enter his ship, Peterson inside already trying to bleed some gorgeous keg ale into an ivory stein. Ragnor assisted with a quick thump as he walked past, and the keg oozed out perfectly aged ale in the perfectly right amount.

“Rrrhg,” commanded Ragnor, and Peterson followed suit. They were headed up to the deck.

There was a gap above the ship where the two could walk, but it was ultimately sealed in rock. But Ragnor had a plan.

There was that one little button on his sword that just made everything go his way. He gave a quick glance to Peterson who was already blacked out on the floor, gave one sixty-eighth of a smirk, and then turned back into yelling. He held his thumb over the switch and tuRNED IT ON.

BY THE WAY, I MENTIONED THAT ITS LINKED TO THE FOURTH WALL. BY THAT I MEAN ITS LINKED TO MY CAPS LOCK KEY, AND ALSO MAKES ME FEEL ANGRY TOO FOR SOME FUCKING REASON, WOW. ANYWAY, THIS MOTHERFUCKER OF A BLOND-HAIRED SWOLE-AS-SHIT VIKING AIMED THAT BLADE UP TO THOSE ROCKY SKIES AND IT STARTED TO SCREAM AND BLAST FLAME LIKE NOBODY’S FUCKING BUSINESS. BECAUSE IF ANYONE THOUGHT IT WAS THEIR BUSINESS THEY’D PROBABLY HAVE EXPLODED BY NOW. I DON’T KNOW WHY, I DON’T MAKE THE GODDAMN RULES.

ANYWAY, THE FIRE AND THE TEETH ROARING AND RAGNOR’S HAIR BLASTING ABOUT AND HIS MOUTH ROARING. THE SHIP STARTED TO VIBRATE, I MEAN WHAT WOULDN’T VIBRATE WITH THAT GOD-SMITING SON OF A VOLCANO PERCHED ON IT?

RAGNOR REACHED THE FRONT OF THE SHIP AND TOUCHED THE BLADE TO THE ROCK, AND EVEN THOUGH THE SWORD WAS SMALL COMPARED TO THE SHIP AND THE ROCK AROUND IT, IT STARTED TO BREAK THROUGH LIKE A MOTHERFUCKING DRILL THE SIZE OF TEXAS- NO, WAIT, BIGGER. THE EGO OF TEXAS.

SOON ENOUGH THAT PEACHY BASTARD WAS TEARING THROUGH THE ROCKS, THE SHIP SET ABLAZE FROM THE FRICTION, UNTIL THEY BLASTED OUT INTO THE OCEAN AND UPWARDS LIKE THEY BELONGED IN A FUCKING JOHNNY DEPP PIRATE MOVIE.

THE FLAMING SHIP SET ITSELF ATOP THE OCEAN, ITS NUMEROUS HULL HOLES PLUGGED UP WITH AIR BECAUSE OF THE MOTHERFUCKING LEIDENFROST EFFECT, GODDAMN SON, AND RAGNOR DIRECTED THE BASTARD TO THE BIG-ASS AIRCRAFT CARRIER, USING NOTHING BUT THE BLADE THAT SLICED THROUGH THE AIR LIKE INSERT WITTY METAPHOR HERE. THE MOTHERFUCKING LEIDENFROST EFFECT WAS TEMPORARY THOUGH, AND AS THE SHIP COOLED IT STARTED TO SINK, THOUGH AS THEY GOT TO THE CARRIER THEY COULD JUST STEP OFF ONTO ITS DECK LIKE THEY BELONGED IN A FUCKING JOHNNY DEPP PIRATE MOVIE.

KNOWING THEY WERE FINALLY SAFE, RAGNOR DEActivated his sword, stopped his yelling enough for a content sigh, and then started yelling again. But it was a quieter, contented yelling.

Ragnor made his way back to the control tower, a drunk Peterson slung over his shoulder, though he was stopped by a herd of cheering (and coherently yelling) crewmembers.

“RRHGH” they cheered, still under the effects of Ragnor’s testosterone.

“RRRHHHGHH!” Ragnor cheered back. He slid his treasure out of his pocket and gave it to the nearest crewmember.

“Rrggh?” they asked, thinking it was the treasure.

“Rrrgh,” confirmed Ragnor.

At first people were confused by this, but they forgot about that. They had realised that they had the materials on the ship to make this ale.


It was thought that the aircraft carrier was lost after this moment. The navy sent out many search crafts to find it, but they couldn’t find anything. It just went dead. Until one day it was seen on the horizon, coming back to make port. Onlookers saw an aircraft carrier, but they heard something else. They heard a few hundred voices yelling constantly, and drunkardly.

The Invasion
by Cruel
They growled menacingly as Jane carefully twirled her hunting knife in her hand. Her short, brown hair was damp with sweat from the previous scuffle with the creatures, despite the bitter cold. They swarmed her, and circled around as they tried to wear out their potential next meal. The wolves were large and rather thin despite how powerful they were. Jane had already killed two of the beasts, but the seven left were likely to take her down. She shifted her feet in the soft snow. Next to her lay her friend, Alice. Her leg had been bitten bad, and she held it with her hands to stop the blood that had already stained the snow below her.

"How you holding up, Alice?" Jane said as she swung the knife at a wolf that had crept a little too close for comfort. It retreated with a snarl.

"The damn thing tore a chunk of my leg out, how the hell do you THINK I am?" Alice said through gritted teeth as she scooped up a handful of snow. She gently pressed it against her wound, crying out at the pain. It slowly turned red, but slowed the bleeding slightly. She had blonde hair that swirled elegantly down her head. Her bright blue eyes were shut from wincing at the pain, and her cute button nose was red from the cold.

"Sorry, dumb question." Jane said. "We'll think of something, just hang in there."

A wolf got overly aggressive and tried to bite Jane's leg as it barked and lunged forward. Jane reacted quickly, pushing the top of its head downward into the snow with her left arm. Her other arm swung and stabbed the wolf in its side. It yelped and backed off as blood dripped into the snow from its fresh wound. It immediately retreated, and began to lick it, while the rest of its pack continued to circle them. Growling and howling.

"Jane run. They can have me, and if you leave me they'll have their meal, and you'll survive. It's a win win for everyone. You have to survive Jane. You HAVE to." Alice said as tears streamed down her face.

"I'm not leaving you Alice." Jane said as her heart began to race. The wolves began to close in on them, and they could smell the blood still oozing from Alice's wound.

"Jane, I have nobody. My family is dead. They killed everyone I loved. This invasion has turned me into a hopeless shell of a woman. The only reason I keep fighting to survive is for you.” Alice winced as her leg throbbed. “Your daughter is still alive, and she needs you Jane." Alice brushed the snow from her wound. Crimson rivers gushed from it, and Alice began losing consciousness as her head swooned from the loss of blood. She shook her head to focus on the situation at hand.

"Jane, even if I survive, look at this! “She displayed her wound with her hands before placing them back on it. “I can see the white pus of an infection already! I'd probably have to amputate it even if I did make it out of this. I don't want to be a crippled widow. My life is over Jane! Leave me! Run!"

"No! We can make it out of this!" Two more wolves bound from the brush, replacing their fallen pack members that Jane had slain earlier. The rest of the pack was sure to show up soon enough. Jane was running out of stamina as another wolf attacked, this time going for Alice. Jane swung her blade and cut the wolves face before it could reach its prey. It barked and growled as it trotted away from them.

Alice knew what she had to do. Tears flowed from Alice's face as her life flashed before her eyes at the decision she had made.

----------

She had met her husband at that little run down coffee shop eight years ago. They were young, careless, and crazy college kids. Their carelessness led to their marriage when she was 22 and he was 23. They were so happy. They graduated and had a beautiful child two years later. A wonderful little boy. He worked as an honest mechanic, and she found a simple job as a secretary for a good company that treated her well. Their son was five when the invasion happened in their small hometown out by the coast of Virginia. Soldiers of a foreign nation stormed their streets, indiscriminately killing anybody who didn't wear their uniform, and particularly focusing law enforcement that opposed them.

They seemed to appear from thin air with assault vehicles and military grade assault rifles, and the town didn't stand a chance. It was a slaughter. They took things they found to be of worth, and didn't seem to spare anyone except for a few of the women occasionally. It was chaos. A nightmare. It shattered Alice's perfect world.

Alice had always been pretty. Her friends told her she should have pursued a career in modeling, but she hated the idea of being paid for something she was born with. She wanted to earn a living and live the simple life that she and her husband had acquired. The soldiers marched into her home where her son and husband also hid, smashing windows and taking whatever valuables they could find. She raised her hands, and she had managed to make a negotiation when they kicked down the door to the room her family was hidden in. The agreement was that they spare her family, and they could have their way with her. The soldiers agreed in the limited English they knew. They seemed to speak Russian, but she couldn’t be sure.

They bound her child and husband, and she kept her end of the deal. They were brutally rough, and did it in front of her husband and child, which she didn't expect at all. Despite crying the entire time, she thought she may have saved her family at the cost of her dignity. When they finished, they shot both her lover and five year old before her eyes. The soldiers laughed and exited her home, leaving her to sob in the blood of her family. She had been broken in every way imaginable.

Jane had been visiting the town to meet a friend, and she had managed to hide successfully during the invasion. After the soldiers had passed and killed everybody in the coffee shop she had been in, Jane searched nearby houses for supplies, and she planned to walk to Richmond in search of her daughter that still lived there.

She made sure to lie low and avoid the patrolling trucks that had soldiers in them as she scavenged through houses in search of food, basic clothing, and whatever else would help her survive the 100 mile walk to the Capitol. She had entered a small house that looked less damaged compared to the others. Jane found Alice there, cradling her dead child, sobbing as she stroked the motionless boys curly brown hair. After cautiously approaching the half naked, bloody, shell of a woman in front of her, Jane convinced her to come with her after she cleaned herself up. Jane and Alice laid her family in their beds, as it was too dangerous to give them a proper burial with the soldiers occasionally patrolling outside. Alice, still in utter shock after being raped and witnessing the brutality that had occurred, wanted revenge. Jane agreed to help her achieve it.

They knew the soldiers wouldn't sweep through the houses any time soon, so they sneaked down the street in between patrols and waited for a particular vehicle. They camped out in one of their neighbors houses, and they searched for weapons. They combed through the house and found common household weapons such as knives, a baseball bat, and even a set of iron golf clubs. Alice found a safe box in the home owner's bedroom, which had been left because the soldiers who had swept it didn't have the means to open it. She tore apart the drawers in the room until finally finding a key in a small box on the top shelf of the closet. She opened the safe box expecting to find currency or jewelry, but she found something so much better. She found a glock and a full magazine.

Alice had never shot a gun before in her life, but Jane had. Jane showed her how to aim, how to take the safety off, and even the basics on reloading the weapon if they ever found a second magazine lying around the house.

The leader of the man that killed her family wore a red band around his arm, and he had a gruff beard and oval face. He was easy to distinguish since he was clearly a higher rank than most of the common soldiers, and Alice would easily recognize the man that had violated her. They spotted the truck with the man standing in the back, barking orders at the other men as it passed by on a patrol one day. They stayed for 3 days total in the small house, examining when the patrols came, how often, and the best moment to strike. They came once every two hours down that street, and the one containing the murderer of her child came at exactly noon. They had a plan, and began to set it in motion. The patrol car only held 3 soldiers in it when it came at noon, one of which was the man with the red band. That meant they had about two hours before hand to set up the trap. Plenty of time.

Jane and Alice spoke briefly when they came up with the trap they had to set up, but they seldom spoke in general. Jane knew what had happened to Alice, and Alice was in no way going to talk about it. She didn't speak unless necessary, or to politely ask for something. Jane was kind to her, and Alice appreciated it. Alice wished that she had known Jane before the ordeal. She seemed like such a strong, kind woman.

Jane came up with most of the plan. She seemed to have some sort of military background with how she handled herself. She was sharp witted, and kept her cool even in the most stressful situations. They searched in a few garages and found plenty of nails they could use for their scheme, as well as an abundance of bottles to create broken glass with. They found a thin sheet of cardboard and covered it in black tape that they found to make it less obvious on the road. They poked nails through the cardboard so that the stuck through. They created a sheet of sharp nails that, hopefully, would burst the tires on the truck as it passed. Once the men exited their vehicle to examine the damage, then came the tricky part. Well, it was more of a huge risk than it was tricky.

They set up the cardboard with the nails and broken glass in the center of the street, so that it was sure to pop at least one of the tires. As if fate wanted her to exact her justice, snow began to fall and concealed the cardboard further. The patrol car with the filthy pig of a leader was heard in the distance, and Alice hid a short distance away behind an abandoned car. The trap worked perfectly. The cars two front tires blew out on impact with the nails and the car skidded into a nearby snow bank. The two soldiers and their leader exited the vehicle stepped out to investigate, as planned, and Alice emerged from her hiding spot with her hands raised.

The leader stroked his beard and instructed his men not to shoot. He walked up to Alice, and immediately recognized her before laughing at the sight. Alice remained calm and composed. All three of the men had their attention fixated on her.

Jane ambushed them from behind a nearby tree that she had used as cover, and fired two shots into the soldier’s that stood beside their leader. They slumped to the floor, and Jane yelled at the man with gruff beard and red band to drop to his knees. He did as instructed, as he left his weapon in the vehicle. Alice picked up a crowbar that she had hidden next to the car. She relentlessly beat the man at his knees with it again and again. She heard his ribs snap as she repeatedly smashed him with the heavy piece of metal, and he tried to crawl away from the woman he had defiled. She hit him across his face once when his arm failed to block it, and she felt his jaw snap out of place from the blow.

The pitiful sack of flesh in front of her begged her to stop. Jane gently touched Alice’s shoulder to get her attention, and held the glock out to offer it to Alice. Alice switched the safety off of her weapon.

“Alright asshole, I’m not going to kill you, I have a better idea.” Alice said sadistically. She held the gun to his genitals, and the grown man began to sob from his broken arm, ribs, and jaw from the previous beating.

She pulled the trigger and the man screamed in pain. Alice stood up and looked at the sky. She sighed deeply thought of her little boy.

“I changed my mind.” Alice said coldly. She fired 6 shots into the man, four in his chest and twice in his head. She would have fired more, but the glock had run out of ammunition and she clicked the empty gun in an attempt to riddle him further. He laid still, and the snow beneath him slowly turned red.

Jane cautiously approached her and took the weapon from her. They quickly gathered their belongings, and left the three men to be found by the next patrol.

They left the small town, and the soldiers didn’t set up a perimeter due to the fact that they didn’t expect resistance from the town in the first place. They trudged through the snow and avoided the main road in fear of more soldiers passing through. The went into a wooded area, and decided it would be safer to travel through the woods than to take any main road at all. There they could make shelter and hunt for food if their rations ran low.

They sat at a campfire on the second night of their journey, and they weren’t even halfway to Richmond. The fire crackled in the night as Alice broke the silence they had kept for the past few days.

“Who even are you? We’ve been traveling for too long to at least know a little bit about each other.” Jane remained expressionless.

“I’m an ex military divorcee who was visiting a friend out here.” Jane sipped water from her canteen as the fire made a popping noise. “Not much to tell to be honest. I’m originally from Richmond, and my daughter lives out there, so I have to make sure she’s ok.”

“How old is she?” Alice asked. She rubbed her hands together in an attempt to keep them warm.

“Six. She lives with her dad. I’m only allowed to see her once a week at best. He won custody over her.” Jane said. “I had a problem with alcohol when I came back from the Russian and Ukraine border. He didn’t like it, and I didn’t take his concerns seriously when he filed for divorce. The court thought I could have PTSD, but I refused to take a psych evaluation. Due to my lack of employment and tendency to drink, he won custody and I get to see her Sundays.”

“I hope Richmond isn’t as bad as it was back there.” Alice said.

“Me too.” Jane said. She stood up and scooped snow into the fire until it finally went out. They rolled into their sleeping bags near a large tree, and eventually found the rest they needed.

------

Alice sat holding her leg before finally finding the strength to do what she needed to do. A tears streamed down her face as she looked up at Jane who so bravely defended her. She wished her the best, and she also wished she had met her sooner. They would have been good friends.

“Jane, I said RUN!” Alice screamed at the pain, and stood up despite the wound that now gushed blood at the sudden movement. She hobbled over to Jane, and she shoved her as hard as she could away from her, forcing her to stumble out of the circle of wolves. They let her exit as they pounced onto Alice and began tearing her apart.

Jane watched in horror as Alice stopped struggling under the large animals. Jane fought her emotions, and grabbed the pack she had dropped. She ran as fast as she could from the scene. None of the wolves pursued.

Jane walked silently by herself through the woods after running far enough away from the howling of the wolves who had successfully gotten their meal. A single tear rolled down her face, and she silently thanked Alice for her sacrifice as she trudged on to Richmond in search of her daughter.

ErrorBlender
11-16-2017, 05:59 AM
Horror Part I

Silence of the Man
by devi


Being a top secret service scientist isn’t all fun and games, at least that’s what Jeffery thinks. Sure, most of the time his job can be interesting, examining and dissecting strange creatures of unknown origin, discovering futuristic technology possibly left behind by someone more advanced than humans, the list goes on. However, this job isn’t one of those interesting jobs.

His current job is to examine the decrease of local wildlife in Africa. Most people would assume that it was just over-hunting, but according to the reports from the local governments, there are no carcasses. Take the elephants for example, they are hunted for their tusks, and when the hunters have the tusks they just leave the elephant behind to rot away.

But there are no traces of anything, footprints from animals abruptly disappearing with no sign of any other life having done anything to affect the animal. Sure it’s weird, but nothing too fun. Right now, Jeff is stuck investigating a possibility of some sort of virus in the air, and he’s stuck in a makeshift lab until he’s done with his work.

To say the lab was makeshift would be to compliment it, they just found an abandoned shack in the area and just started to shove science equipment in it. Funnily enough, they weren’t supplied with gas masks and body suits for chances of virus.

Looking behind him, Jeff took a look at the people that were to work with him the next few, god knows how long, time units. James Cumberback, a UK scientist with a Master in biology, also the very definition of a nerd. Which is funny considering that people these days count scientists as nerds, so, I suppose you could class him as a nerdy nerd or something. Supposedly, some bully during his childhood had hit James so hard in the back of his head that his teeth started to stick out. He’s never wanted to get it fixed because he says that it’s a scar that he wants people to see to be able to understand the danger of bullying.

Next up is Sven Okerson, his last name doesn’t actually start with an O, its one of those weird letters the Scandinavians have. He’s a pretty ballsy guy, willing to try things others don’t. Apparently he has a Masters in Icetology, so I assume it’s a Nordic people thing. Willing to bet he just has vast knowledge of nature, whatever they call that these days. A lot of things have changed since Jeff started as a government scientist.

And last but probably least, Xinsen Pan. Some Chinese scientist, that likes to think that any scientist that’s not Asian is inept at his job. You can probably guess that he’s the least likeable of the three.

And then there was Jeff himself, Jeff had graduated from university at the age of 18 and was believed to be a boy genius. Of course, Jeff didn’t care, he just cared about getting the job done and done well. Much other than that is unknown, and his colleges’ were quite nervous around him.




“So Jeff, is there anything you could tell us about yourself? I mean, none of us know anything about you.” James asked Jeff, his voice sounding as wimpy as he looked, he sounded as if he was trying to make himself as small as possible, like a mouse.

“Sorry dude, not allowed to talk about that.” Jeff replied casually, put down the petri dish and faced the smaller James. Jeff was much larger than his fellow scientists, towering over the tallest (Sven) with about 50 centimeters, and also much more muscular than them with his muscles stretching out his lab coat. “I’m actually interested in what all you guys have to do with this. I have reports about you guys, but I’d rather hear what you guys have to say.”

“You get reports on people you work with? What are you, higher up than we are? We never got any reports about each other.” Sven butted in, slightly annoyed to hear that Jeff had information about him without his consent, angrily scratching his stubby brown beard. His beard had been cut much shorter than what he had originally intended, since the people who had employed them had hygiene as a first priority, understandable in their current predicament.

“Its something that is required to be able to have me on a science team of any sort, I like to know what I get into.” Jeff answered politely, seeming to be unoffended by such a rude interruption. “So can you tell me about yourself? I’d love to hear about you too, Sven.”

“Why the fuck would I say, you already know everything about me you dickwad.”The words getting slowly less understandable as more of Sven’s accent started to show itself, of course you wouldn’t need to understand him to understand that he wasn’t interested in talking about himself. He swiftly turns back to his work. “Don’t try to be funny."
“Fine then, Mr Angry head.” Jeff retorted, shooting a strange look at Sven. “So how about you James?”

“Well I suppose I can tell you.” James replied nervously, a bit nervous after seeing an exchange between two of the people he’s going to work with. “I was born in London to a pretty poor family, they barely managed to earn enough money for me to go to university when I graduated from high school. University was a welcomed change, as it wasn’t very much fun for me in my school as you probably know.”

“At university was where I learned everything I know now and helped me get a Masters in biology, and that’s how I ended up here. Anything else, I’m sure that your report says in much more detail than I can.” James finishes with a quiet ending, giving a pretty brief summary of his own life

“Well isn’t that lovely, you’re a bit of a warrior aren’t you.” Jeff says with a large welcoming smile on his face, giving a thumbs-up with his left hand, keeping his right hand hidden under his coat arm. James took no mind and smiled back with a huge stupid grin, appreciating the sentiment from Jeff. “You seem like a very nice guy James, I’m sure that we will work well together”

“Oh I’m sure we will Jeff, you seem like a very nice guy too!”

“Will both of you stop dicking around, and just get back to work” Interrupted an even grumpier Sven, angrily staring at them.

“All three of you are stupid white idiots, don’t even bother working.” Another voice butted in, this voice was much more sharper and grumpy than Sven, and the voice was none other than the not so friendly Xinsen. “I can do more work better than all of you combined. Just let the real scientists do this”

“So Mr. Xinsen has decided to grace us with his dickheadness? Oh we are truly blessed.” Sven answered sarcastically, facing the smaller and thinner Xinsen. Xinsen was of light brown hue of skin, having black glasses on with many black spots on his face, presumably something he’s had since birth.

Before Xinsen could formulate a reply, there was a heavy knock at the door, snapping all the scientists’ attention to the door and forgetting their current qualms. The door slowly creaked open, making that sharp sound that rusty hinges make when not properly oiled. Through the door came, no one actually, as if someone had just opened the door but never used it.

As the scientists were trying to process it, they all started to fall. The floor beneath them just disappeared as they plummeted down. As they fell, the way they came shut itself, and so they were surrounded in thick darkness, slowly drifting away from each other as the shouting and screaming died out, swallowed by the cold shadow.




James awoke slowly, feeling incredibly groggy and stiff in his body. How long had he fallen? He didn’t know, he had however landed on an incredibly soft material, which cushioned his long fall. In fact, it reminded him of his mothers lap. During the days when he would come home from school after he had been bullied, he would rest his head on his mothers lap to comfort himself.

He quietly got himself up from his comfortable position and looked around, he seemed to be in a barely lit room, the only light being focused on him, anything else that could be in the room was shrouded in darkness. He couldn’t even see the wall, so he wondered where he was in the room, since it seemed he wasn’t by the edges of it. Looking back at where he had sat, the soft thing he lay on was Jeff. He was also asleep, the only sound in the room was James’ and Jeff’s breaths.

James quickly got down on his knees and started to shake Jeff violently in hope of waking him up. Jeff woke up immediately and stood up in an instant, breathing fast and heavily and his eyes filled with terror, as if he just woke up from a nightmare. Jeff getting up so fast startled James and he fell down with his back on the floor.

“What happened?” Jeff asked, barely able to get his words through his heavy breathes.

“T-the floor below us opened and we fell down here. I don’t know where everyone else is.” James replied quickly, stuttering with his words as a reaction to the tense atmosphere.

“And where is here then?” Jeff asked loudly, and as if by queue, the lights snapped on, revealing the whole room. The room was filled with seemingly unending rows and columns of huge tanks, filled with strange creatures and a red colored liquid, the creatures just gently floating within their tanks. The creatures had all different shapes and forms, some looked like humans with large trunks, some looked like over-sized scorpions with a snake like head instead of a tail and arms of humans instead of pincers, all looked like the creations of some sort of vile experiments. Just the way they looked was horrifying enough, but some of them actually started to twitch and move inside their tanks as they seemingly started to stir.

Jeff and James slowly backed away from the tanks in terror, only to bump into something, they turned around, and right in front of them was just one giant unblinking eye staring at them. You could see the veins in the eyes, it was a large brown eye, staring right into their souls. They fell back to the ground in fear, grabbing each other and holding each other close. James was close to tears, grabbing tighter to Jeff who just stared in awe and fear of it all. Both of them sat there in silence as all the eyes and otherwise slowly faced towards them.

Then the silence broke with a muffled scream, both men faced the sound and got up.

“Should we go check it out?” Whispered Jeff to James, as he tried to hide his face from all the abominations staring at them. James didn’t answer, just continued to cry. Jeff patted the smaller James like a child and held onto him as they slowly walked towards the scream, with the monsters tracking them.




They walked for a while until they seemingly reached the source of the screaming, and what they saw was quite an unpleasant surprise. It was Sven, he was stuck in one of the tanks, hitting the walls of his prison and screaming. James immediately snapped out of his fear and tried to break the walls as well, to free his friend from his possible doom. Sven turned and faced James and a huge smile grew behind his oxygen mask. But before Sven could do anything to show his appreciation however he saw something that scared him. He started to shout.

“Get out of here! Run! He’s coming for you!” He shouted at the top of his lungs, hitting the walls even harder and with more ferocity than before. James was so confused, he didn’t understand what his friend was trying to say but he continued to try to open the tank. But then the screams came back.

James fell back in surprise of the scream and looked upon his friend, Sven screamed louder and louder. Then a loud crack was heard. Sven’s body started to move in violently grotesque ways as more cracking noises came, in sync with the movements.

Sven’s head started to grow and grow like a balloon, the screams only continuing its ascent in volume, the skin on him started to rip from the expansion. His head exploded, red gore and body parts covered the see-through walls, making it impossible to see through. James just continued to stare at this terrifyingly disgusting scene, tears trickling down his eyes.

After a while, the blood-curdling screams stopped, and silence resumed. Slowly, James got up from the ground and approached the tank. He slowly inspected it, trying to understand what happened, but as he got close to the glass, a face popped out of the red water and crashed into the wall, sending James to the ground again. This however looked like no face that James has ever seen, it was if someone had morphed the head of a human into a spiky worm head with a massive mouth at the tip with razor sharp teeth. The head attempted to break the glass by biting it, but couldn’t get its teeth stuck in the glass to break it. Yet it continued its futile attempts to escape its prison, scraping the walls with its honed teeth.

James just broke down, slamming his fist into the ground. It hurt so much, but he didn’t care, he just watched someone he knew barely a few minutes ago die violently in front of him. A warm hand grabbed him by the shoulder and comforted him.

“Shh, its okay. I’m here for you.” It was Jeff; James felt cold tears fall onto his head as Jeff hugged him with his arms, shushing James so he would stop sobbing. “We can’t stop here, we have to continue onwards. He is beyond our help.”

James nodded, as the worm headed monster continued its attack on the walls of its confinement. Jeff got James up slowly, comforting him the whole time, as they started to walk towards a door on the far side of the room.

As they went through the doorway, they entered a long and dark hallway, with the only light coming from behind them and in a room right on the other side of the hallways. The two decided to just continue to the other room, instead of exploring in complete darkness. They swiftly sprinted to the other side, both in fear of whatever may rest in the darkness.

They entered the light into another room, this room was painted black, the materials of the wall sticking out with the texture of some crude metal. It was a unwelcoming room to say the least, the parts that sticked out looked like the teeth of a huge beast’s mouth. Nevertheless, our two hero’s continued onwards, through the mouth of the beast so to say.

After a while of walking, they approached a large vat of a red liquid, possibly the same liquid as before.




“What is with all this red liquid? What is it used for?” James asked, drying some of his tears and calming himself, now he understood that he and Jeff has to get to the bottom of this.

“I don’t know, we’ll find it out, James. Together” Jeff answered with a stern but soothing voice. They both smiled to each other and continued. As they reached the edge of the huge vat, they noticed that there was a big platform overlooking the vat. There they also saw some sort of person, stuck to a chair? They couldn’t quite see, but both knew sub-consciously that they had to investigate. So without discussing it, they both continued onward.

It was a steep walk up to the platform, as there was a huge ramp up towards it. They continued through this obstacle and reached the platform. There they saw that the chair was right on the edge of the platform, and that there was indeed someone sitting on it. They cautiously approached with complete silence in movement and in speech. They quickly jumped in front of it and saw who it was.

It was Xinseng. He was tightly restrained to that chair, with silver tape all over his mouth. James was overjoyed to see another of them, and quickly got to getting the restraints off. Jeff immediately followed in James steps. Initially Xinseng was relieved, to see someone, but then he saw something else. He started to shake himself violently, in an attempt to get the restraints off.

However, as the two friends attempted to take off the restraints, the sound of mechanical whirring sounded as the chair started to move forward. James couldn’t let another die, and used all his strength and energy to pull Xinseng back. Jeff did the same, but it was all for naught, as the chair started to tip over the platform to the huge vat. It released the restraints, and Xinseng fell quickly down into the water, unable to let out his screams.

James started to bawl again, knowing he failed again to save a person, but again Jeff was there with his hand and started to lift James up. But this time, Jeff let go of James.




“Good night, sweet prince.” Jeff whispered as he pushed James.

Doors Collab
by Devour

I stopped being afraid of the dark a long time ago.

A younger me would have needed to turn on the lights when he went down for a glass of water, not really knowing why he feared the darkness. Now that I'm older and wiser, I comfortably do without. I did it right now, staring blankly into shadows that some small part of me still feared. It told me that there could be predators lurking out of my sight. It worried that nameless things could be around every corner, waiting to eat me.

I yawned as an image of some clawed specter filled my mind. It whispered, “what if it's right behind you?”

I'd conquered this fear by facing it. I knew there was no such thing as ghosts. No such thing as monsters. No such thing as anything that the primal part of my mind was still afraid of. When it screamed to me, dreadfully afraid that an imagined beast would tear me to pieces if I didn't leave the darkness right now... I always turned around and faced it. Nothing was ever there. Nothing ever will be there. It's just not the way the world works.

I turned around now.

But this time, there was something there. And it reached out and touched me.

I didn't strike out or scream as I saw its gnarled face. I didn't bolt for cover, and if I did it probably wouldn't have mattered anyways. This being was wrapped in a cloak, formless and solid at the same time, sinking into the darkness so purely that it may as well have been the darkness itself. How do you run from something that encompasses the entire world around you?

Instead I stood still, terrified, violated in the most dreadful sense of the word as the safety of my own home could no longer protect me. I watched as a bony arm emerged from its darkness with a key in hand, holding it with endless patience as empty eyes stared into my soul, feasting on it.

“Six trials you must overcome if you wish to be free. Each one harder than the last.” Its whisper was a tortured sound. “Six keys you must acquire, six doors you must unlock. The darkness will follow you, and the darkness is where I lurk. If you allow the darkness to consume you... So will I.” The hand shot out. Bony fingers as cold as ice clasped around my palm and forced my fingers closed around his gift.

Contact snapped me from my trance. I suddenly screamed, lurching for a light switch as if that creature was some imagined monster that I could scare away into non-existence. It flipped with a click and filled the room with blessed light. I quickly whirled back around...

And the demon was gone. But in the next room over where it was still dark, every primal part of me screamed that something was there, waiting for me. It screamed at every shadow and every pocket of where the darkness was. Where the monster was.

And in my hand its key was still there, shining blue in the light, still cold enough to hurt the skin at its touch. I knew that what had just transpired was real.

I glanced around me, breathing hard, trying to figure out what to do. My daughter Jessica was sleeping somewhere upstairs, and for the first time I thanked God and every being in the sky that she slept with a night light for comfort.

On the other end of the room, though, was my front door.

The number 1 was painted neatly on its face.

Six trials you must overcome. I remembered. But why? So that the monster wouldn't eat me? Did I need to do these trials and I'd be safe again? What was that monster? Why was this happening? Why?

The lights flickered. I realized at once that if they shorted out for any reason that the creature would be upon me before I even realized what happened. I swallowed my fear, snapping my frozen body into motion as I stuck that cold blue key into my own front door. When I turned the knob, it swung the wrong way out.

The room beyond it was not the outside world.

I stepped into a well-lit kitchen. Knives were hung along the walls. Along the racks. They sat in a heap in the kitchen sink, so full that the slightest jostle threatened to send the pile spilling out and into the foot of whoever stood nearby. There were no windows, but somehow this room felt like it was the only room in the entire universe. I could not imagine what could be outside these walls.

Opposite to me was another door, and this one had a simple orange “2” on it.

There was a drawer next to the kitchen sink which had a handle made into the shape of a “2.” I could only imagine that meant the next key was inside. Only one way to find out.

I stepped lightly, eyes fixed to the teetering pile of knives as I gently pulled the wooden drawer open, and I saw I was right. A dark red key waited for me in the same shape as the one before.

Uneasy, I shut the drawer.

Knives spilled suddenly, pouring down from the sink in a startling clatter of blades. It was a flood of banging metal that hurt my ears, raining down in an endless torrent that threatened to cover the floor with their razor-sharp edges. I yelped, watching where I put my bare feet as I scurried to the exit, jamming the key in its place and quickly disappearing behind its face as the knives continued to flood the room.

Room three was dimly-lit just one candle, and it was mostly empty. My instincts screamed at every shadow and I could feel the demon's presence within them like a physical pressure. There were windows which provided no view except a black abyss, so dark that I could not tear my eyes away from its maw.

Until I saw the monster staring right back at me. Smiling.

It was here. It was waiting. It followed. Should the candles here be snuffed out by wind or luck, I knew that it would be upon me and it was excited to the point of ecstasy to have that chance.

The key to the third room was on the ground at my feet, and I tore my eyes away from the windows to take it. The door to the next trial was simply on the other side of the room... but there was a problem. That candle that lit this room sat in the center affixed to the ground. Next to the door was a hinged pillar with a bowl at the end, and I could see that if I opened the door, no matter how little, the hinge would be bumped and fall and snuff out the candle. The room would be filled with darkness. The room would be filled with the demon's presence.

I looked down to the key in my hand and saw that I was shaking uncontrollably. This experience was horrible; unreal and entirely too real at the very same time. I wanted to believe I was dreaming, but I could feel every detail from the pounding of my heart to the grains of the wood beneath my toes. Something about the darkness scared me in a way I had never felt before and for the first time since childhood, I wanted to curl up and cry.

Instead, I made myself take a step forward. I had to be strong for more than just myself. My daughter was not going to wake up to an empty home.

Even if I held the pillar up so it wouldn't fall, I knew I couldn't fit through the door without it clamping its bowl over the flame and snuffing it out either way. My only option was to go as fast as I could. The key unlocked door number three easily. Light spilled in from the other side as I peeked through the crack, and with a surge of willpower I yanked the door back.

I was halfway through when the candle choked out, and a horrible roar core screamed back from the darkness behind. My blood froze to ice and my limbs turned to jelly as I felt something surge towards me, ravenous. I barely slipped through the opening before an unstoppable weight slammed it closed again, banging furiously against the slim wooden barrier between me and certain death. But the light was too heavy for even the demon to push back against. It was screaming and howling and it sounded like the wails of a million tortured souls.

The pounding stopped, but the screaming went on. And on. And on.

Eventually I realized that the screams were coming from behind me.

Room three was built into a rocky cliff, raised above an endless abyss. From the darkness below came the wailing cries that twisted my heart with its every echo. Down there was something horrible and beyond comprehension. It wasn't Hell, I think. That would be too easy. These were the ones who had been swallowed by the darkness. Swallowed by the monster. The demon. It was the fate that awaited me should I fail; to be trapped in oblivion for eternity as I screamed and screamed and screamed.

From the wall behind me, a door with a silver four on its face sat a meter or two to the left. To my right was a rickety bridge that swayed and creaked in the wind. Across the bridge was a display shaped like a 4, and on the display was a bowl. I guessed it was there where I'd find the key to my next trial.

The bridge and its height wasn't what scared me as I crossed it. It was looking down into the black sea below and trying to imagine what was there that rattled me. How many people had been taken by that horrible creature? Would there ever be an escape from this place? How many thousands or millions or billions of years would they have to endure this torment before death released them?

When I took the key, it almost fell from my shaking grip and into the abyss. White hot fear burned my veins before relief extinguished their fires, and I held that key to my heart as I slowly made my way back across.

It was hard not to let the screaming get to me, but I knew those people would not want me to join them down there. I knew that I needed to press on.

The screams dissipated the moment I stepped through and closed room four's entrance behind me. But even though they were silenced, I knew they were still there. Countless people still suffered, and I would never be able to forget that. Even if I survived this, the knowledge of their eternal agony would haunt my sleep for the rest of my life.

Room four was much different than the last. Before me was a long hallway lit by fluorescent lights, stretching on for about half the length of a football field. I could see a white door at the end with a barely-visible “5” in its center. Right next to me was a table, and on the table was a key with a bright green sticky-note attached. I picked it up, frowning, turning it around so that I could read the text inscribed on the note.

“Run.” It read.

What? I looked behind me to find that the door had vanished, and so had the walls. The hallway instead stretched on forever, closing in to a single point as the corners and lights shrunk to a single point in my vision somewhere in the distance.

And then with a very distinct noise, the lights began to shatter one-by-one.

I yelped, holding the key tight in my grip as I sprinted towards the door ahead, racing against the darkness that closed in from behind. With every passing the second the sounds of shattering glass intensified, coming closer faster and faster. I could feel the monster's hunger and excitement as it roared towards me.

I slammed into the fifth door, shaking so badly that I couldn't get the key into the knob as I cried and whimpered until some stroke of mercy slipped it in with a click. I didn't look behind me as the darkness screamed closer. I didn't see how close I had come to a fate worse than death when I dove through door 5 and it slammed shut behind me.

“Daddy?”

Suddenly I was in my daughter's room. My ragged breathing was hard and loud in the closed confines. My nerves were jangling so bad that I looked into Jessica's face in the dim glow of her night-light, and for a second I saw the demon staring back at me. It was enough to make me flinch back, until I realized that it was just her.

“Jessica!” I cried. “Are you alright? Are you safe?” I scrambled to my feet, holding the eight-year-old girl's concerned face to make sure she was really there, that she was really okay.

“What's going on? You look so scared.” She allowed my touch for one last second before uncomfortably pushing my hands away. I acquiesced.

“I... Nothing's going on.” I gasped after a moment of deliberation. “I just wanted to make sure you were okay. Wanted to come up and say that I loved you.”

“Well... Love you too, Dad.” My lie was pathetic and it showed, but for now that didn't matter. I would explain everything once I knew everything was okay again. I just needed to find...

I turned around, and saw that the bright-pink door of Jessica's bedroom was plastered with a wet, bloodstreaked 6.

The next door.

Looking back to Jessica, my eye caught the glint of a small piece of metal on her bedside table. It was an ornate key. My daughter followed my gaze, gasping in startled surprise as she quickly snatched the key from its spot, hiding it behind her back.

“Where did you get that key?” I demanded. I was more frightened at the prospect of the demon finding her than I was confused by her need to hide it.

“What key?” She lied.

“The key you have behind your back, Jessica. Who gave you it?”

“Nobody gave me it! I don't even have a key!” Her lie was even flimsier than mine, but something was wrong here. Jessica wasn't a liar, and even stranger was her reluctance to fess up when she knew that I knew she lying. The girl sounded genuinely terrified by me finding out about that key.

“Listen to me, Jessy...” I breathed, trying to be calm for the both of us. “Daddy is in a lot of trouble. I need your key to get through this door. If I can't make it through to the end, then a monster is going to eat me alive.”

“But I don't have a key!” She cried out once again. My explanation was forgotten.

“Why are your hands behind your back then, huh?” I tried not to raise my voice, but I was frustrated and scared. I took a step closer.

After a second of fidgeting, her hands were outstretched towards me, empty of any key. It was obviously underneath her now. “I don't have a key! See?!” My stubborn girl was not going to listen to me, but if I needed that key if I wanted to survive. I would apologize later.

Before she could react, I struck my hands out to grasp Jessica's arms and yank her from the bed and off of that key. But as soon as I gripped her, the girl let out a bloodcurdling scream so horrible that I flinched back and fell to the ground.

“Please don't take my key, Daddy.” Jessica was crying now. “Please.”

“What am I supposed to do then?!” I cried, dumbfounded. Something was definitely, horribly wrong. The glow of my daughter's night-light was darker. More sinister. Jessica's face was pale and gaunt in its glow.

“Please.” She repeated again and again. “Please, please, please, please, please.”

“Jessica...” I was disturbed. I felt like my sanity itself was being worn thin. “You're not real, are you? This is just the fifth room's trial. It has to be. If Jessica had a key... she wouldn't have made it through the fourth room.”

“What do you mean? I'm Jessica! I am!” The girl stood up onto her feet. Her eyes had become empty black pools, reflecting none of the room's meager light. I took a step closer.

Her mouth became lined with fangs and her hair became wild. Black ichor dripped from her eyes and from her ears as her cries became more and more warped and distorted. “I'm Jessica! I AM! I AM!”

This time when I grabbed her, the creature that called herself Jessica howled and began to claw at me with her nails, gouging scarlet lines into my flesh as her screams shook the room itself. I gave a mighty shove that sent her flying, wailing, and she hit the ground with a sickly crunch, landing head-first and jamming her neck at a grotesque angle behind her shoulders. Even though it wasn't truly my daughter, the sight of it was enough to make me heave. I barely avoided vomiting onto the floor.

The key to room six was still on the soft white sheets of Jessica's bed, warm from the heat of her body. I forced myself to not look back as I took it, and I stumbled out and into the maw of whatever waited for me in room six.

It looked like I was back in the second room again. Only now, the candle in the middle was a stump of its former self, flickering weakly in a puddle that dripped over the edge and splattered onto the floor. The hinged bowl by the door on the other end was gone, and in the windows...

I glanced out once and immediately wished I hadn't. The shadow demon's white face was pressed hard against the glass, straining against the weight of the dying candle's light. It wanted in so badly that I could feel its desperation. Its smile filled the entire glass frame and seared itself into my nightmares forever.

Besides the candle, room six was empty except for a knife stabbed tip-first into the wooden boards, handle up and facing directly towards me. I couldn't see a key anywhere, nor a hint of where it might be found. Dread sank deep into my stomach. That stump of a candle would not last for long at all.

Something else came from my stomach without warning; a sharp, sudden pain that stabbed without mercy. I cried out, lifting my shirt before what I saw caused me to scream with the sock of it. What I saw showed me the trial that was room six.

The letter 6 was painted onto my stomach.

The key to escape was inside my gut.

The knife, razor sharp, gleamed in the dying light.

This dilemma had an obvious answer, but it was almost impossible to accept. What I'd have to do and what I'd have to endure made my mind shy away from thinking it as if I'd touched a red-hot stove. I didn't want to do this. I couldn't.

My eyes drifted back to the demon that thirsted for me outside the windows. I remembered the pit of wailing souls where it would leave me, tossed away after tearing me to pieces like a dinner of chicken thrown into the trash.

I remembered my daughter—my real daughter, still asleep back at home, totally unaware that anything was wrong in the world. She thought she would wake up tomorrow to the smell of pancakes and bacon and eggs. I would ask her about school and she'd tell me how they played in the gym and sat beneath a wonderful rainbow cloth that somehow stayed afloat. She'd tell me about the bullies, the teachers, her dream to be a doctor. She'd tell me how she missed Mom. She thought that everything was going to be okay in the world.

My fear. My revulsion. My dread... For Jessica, I put it aside.

I picked the knife up from the ground.

I wanted to look away or at least close my eyes, but I had to make sure I was accurate as I lined the blade against my skin. Every iota of pressure placed on the knife towards my body was like lifting a mountain, going against every instinct and desire I had.

The softness of the skin gave way rather than penetrating for a long time, before a final horrible push plunged the knife deep inside my body. I wasn't expecting it, and I did not expect the sudden roiling sickness that overcame me and had me retching onto the floor. It was worse than anything I had felt before. Blood began to pool onto the ground. Even worse than the awful sensation though, was knowing that I still had to do more.

Whimpering, I shifted the knife again and lengthened the incision, worsening the pain. The image of seeing Jessica's face again was the only thing that kept me together as I cried out and gave one final yank against the knife. I accidentally pulled it too hard and cut even more than I wanted to, but it was too late for that to matter. The knife slid back out with fire behind every inch... and then came the worst part of all. I reached my hand inside of myself.

Vomiting had left my stomach empty except for the key, and I found it in the heat of my insides with merciful quickness. Grasping it formed my hand into a fist, and I had to tear the skin as I removed my hand from my body, screaming in agony, but overcome with relief and the knowledge that the worst was over. Blood was pouring from my wound as I stumbled towards the exit to room six. Towards escape from this sadistic demon's hell. The key seemed to be pushing back against me as I forced it into its slot, and with a final reluctant twist it finally opened. Blinding white light shone in through the other side, bathing me in gentle radiance. I stepped through the light and closed the door behind me before my strength finally faded, and I fell to the ground as all went dark.

___________________________________

I woke up in my bed.

My eyes flew open and adrenaline flooded my veins as some primal part of me screamed to fight and run away. My hand flew to my stomach... and felt nothing but smooth skin. My wound was gone.

I fought to calm down as my heart pounded against my ears, ice slowly thawing from my veins. I wanted to throw myself out of my bed and run to Jessica's room to make sure everything was okay. But with herculean strength, I made myself climb to my feet slowly.

The clock on my bedside table read 10 PM. If I was lucky, she might still be awake.

Every light in my path was flicked on without prejudice as I walked unsteady to my daughter's room. I knocked once on her bright-pink door and carefully stuck my head in, feeling a flood of relief that nearly made me fall to my knees as I saw her sleeping safely under the covers.

“Hey, Jess... Are you awake?” I whispered. The mound beneath the blankets moved until my little girl gazed up to me with bleary green eyes.

“Mmmm? I'm still awake...” She rubbed those eyes and sat up a bit in her bed.

“Is anything important happening at school tomorrow?”

“Not really...” A bit of life came into her voice as she wondered what I meant by that.

“Well, what if I said we should just stay home tomorrow? We could stay up late and watch TV together. How do you think of that?”

The tired girl's eyes beamed. I wanted so badly to run up and embrace her and cherish that I was still alive to see her, but I didn't want Jess to be worried by how shaken-up I still was. Instead I made myself smile as she definitively flew from the covers, and it was her who ran up and embraced me. I bent down and scooped her up, hugging as hard as I dared, hiding tears of joy and relief that I had ever lived to hold her once again.

I didn't let her go as I carried her down the stairs and into the kitchen, where we fixed a bowl of ice cream for the two of us to share while she squealed with delight, and it was only hours later after the end of the fifth episode of Jessica's favorite show that I realized she had fallen asleep against me. Rubbing the sleep my own two eyes, I brushed the hair out of my daughter's face to kiss her goodnight.

And then I stopped. Choked. The entire world around me came crashing down.

The number seven was on Jessica's forehead.

All That Goes Bump In The Night
by Tsar Bomba
I’m not scared of the dark.

It’s a trend that’s present in the minds of our youth: to fear any blackness that light fails to destroy. Though usually dismissed as childish, the inherent fear of the unknown is deeply-rooted within our psyches. In theory, it’d be useful. Caution coincides with our instinctive drive for survival. It’s our emotional response to dangerous circumstances, to things that threaten our existence. Fear can encourage a man to act with caution in situations where recklessness would result in injury, it can motivate us, and it can save our lives. The unknown has equal potential to be harmful or helpful, being wary of it can prepare you to go into “survival mode” if need be. But I’m not scared of the dark.

Fear can also immobilize you. It can take away all rational thought and leave you helpless, at the mercy of your mind and whatever it is that you’re frightened of. This is horror in its most genuine form. A fear that I’ve experienced and am relieved to say has never been equalled.

I was 9 years old when my family moved. From what I remember, it was work-related. My father had received some exciting job opportunity. Even at my young age, I realized this meant I would be relocated against my will. I locked myself in my room for a few days, asserting that my parents couldn’t “make me go”. In the back of my mind, I was well aware that I was only delaying the inevitable.

My new room wasn’t large, but provided ample room for my bed and television. A closet door and a solitary window adorned the walls. My only qualms with this new living space was that my room was on the bottom floor, and my parents’ was on the top. In my previous house, our rooms were separated only by a wall. However, I didn’t complain. I was trying very hard not to talk to them.

The first day, I had settled into my bed before the sun went down. I put on a movie and let my eyes wander around the well-lit room. It wasn’t so bad. The only blemish was what appeared to be scratch marks around the bottom of my door. I deduced that the previous family must’ve had a dog or cat.

The darkness of night finally started to pervade my room as the sun descended. I shut the door and did what I always did before falling asleep: I opened my closet and set the sleep timer on my TV to 160 minutes. Looking back, I don’t really know why I did these things. Perhaps the open closet provided assurance that no beast was hiding there. The soft noise and warm glow from the television soothed me, but the reasoning behind this comfort mystifies me. Still, the combination of these actions eased me into sleep.

When I woke up the TV was off, leaving my room in a state of dense blackness. Everything was dark, almost pitch black. This told me that at least 160 minutes had passed, but I had no guess as to how long I had actually been out. The fog of sleep had dulled my perception of the world around me, even while conscious.

But I still noticed the scratching.

As the vapors of sleep diminished, it allowed my mind to try and dismiss the noise. It was a slow, gentle scraping. Every few seconds it would cease, then start up once more. A feeling of unease washed over me, intensifying each time the scratching repeated. It was at times like these where I embraced the dark. Anytime such sounds unsettled me, the darkness would comfort me. It’d tell me that there was nothing there, that all I had heard was my imagination. All that goes bump in the night can be explained by something as simple as the wind.

In this instance, the darkness told me that the scratching was nothing more than the house playing tricks on me. The new home must’ve been a creaky one. Yes, that must have been it. Just the sounds of an old building. Perhaps a tree scraping against my wall. Perhaps it wasn’t scraping at all, just creaks I mistook for scratches. With this in mind, I closed my eyes and rolled onto my side with the hope that I could fall back asleep.

The sedate scraping grew louder. Not tremendously, but noticeably greater in volume. My eyes opened again and wandered to the source. It was my door. Something was scratching at my door. As if some intruder were attempting to enter my room.

I gripped the edge of my covers and stared into the almost impenetrable shadows. The darkness assuaged me once more. How could I possibly know it was my door? The entrance to my room wasn’t even visible in such lighting. I could hardly see the edge of my bed. I reminded myself that it was only the creaks of an old house, and closed my eyes again. I didn’t try to go back to sleep; I didn’t want to.

The scratching stopped abruptly, allowing for a long silence to pass. My eyelids parted and I looked into the blackness that hid my door. The stillness of the room was suffocating. In those moments, the darkness betrayed me. It no longer planted reassuring notions, only the kind that dread inspires. It was almost as though I wanted the scratching to resume, so the shadows would be my ally once more. But as the scraping returned, the darkness provided no consolation.

As if the intruder were suddenly frustrated with, or disgruntled by, the barrier that kept it from my room, it began to scratch violently at my door. Fear gripped me once more, no longer a simple sense of unease, but now potent and terrifying. The scrapes were erratic, frenzied as if some creature were attempting to burrow through the wood itself. I felt my heart tighten as it pounded uncontrollably against my chest.

I screamed.

Instinctively, I shouted for my mother. As my parents made their way to the top floor, the scratching ceased. They rushed into my room to console me. I cried as my mother wrapped her arms around me. Sitting there, tears soaking my face, I let out a sigh of relief. Even as she asked, I did not tell her what it was that upset me. It was as though whatever had been outside my door would be furious if I even so much as spoke of it. Was this true? I do not know. But as a child, I believed that this lurking menace remained close, listening.

My mother promised to stay in the bed with me for the remainder of the night. At my request, she turned the television back on and set the sleep timer. Lying in her presence, I finally fell back asleep. Throughout the night, I’d occasionally wake up and let my eyes scan the thick darkness.

The next day, I remember catching sight of the scratches that marked my door. They were mostly visible around the bottom edge of the wood. Though it may sound strange, I didn’t have any notable reaction to this discovery. I just stayed out of my room for the entire day. It was a Sunday, but I had no friends to play with and due to my poor night’s sleep, I had no energy to make new ones. However, I did go outside for a bit and I distinctly remember laying eyes on my window. I remember how much I didn’t want to go back inside. I suddenly hated that room.

Despite my wishes, the day slowly diminished into night. It was bedtime. For fear of sparking the ire of the intruder, I said nothing when my parents ushered me into my room. I just opened my closet door, set the TV timer, and climbed into bed. I sat there, unmoving for what seemed like an eternity. My eyes were wide open.

I had expected it. I was anticipating it. Why else would I be unable to sleep? But upon hearing the scratching, I felt the first anxious increase of my heartbeat. The scraping was slow once more, pausing every few seconds. It was torturing me, it had to be. A crushing force started to make my insides twist ferociously. The feeling forced its way onto me, inching around my being and into my heart, causing it to sink. Helplessness. It was helplessness.

I yanked the blanket over my head and contorted my body into a ball. What did it want? Surely it had intentions more sinister than terrorizing a young boy. Somewhere within my fear-induced speculation, I noticed the scratching had stopped, but had been replaced by something much more hideous. A strained, rasping breath escaped from the thing beyond my door. A sordid wheezing that I could only identify as ravenous. I pictured the beast crouched at my door, its shoulders rising and falling to the rhythm of each rasping breath. The darkness had abandoned me, this was not the product of an old building’s creaks.

A single, protracted scrape transpired. I shuddered, gripping my sheets with white knuckles. I just wanted everything to stop, I wanted everything to go away.

The next sound didn’t process. Not at first. It soon proved to be the most alarming of them all. A sharp chill ran down the length of my torso. I was motionless under the covers, my eyes filling with tears. I had heard the unmistakable creak of my door opening.

A distinguished shuffling was heard as whatever had entered my room now moved across the floor. Its movements were unrestrained, animalistic. I kept myself from screaming, I didn’t want to alert the intruder to my consciousness if it wasn’t already aware. When I say hours passed, I do not exaggerate. For hours it straggled aimlessly in the confines of my room. For hours I remained still, under the thin layer of fabric, terrified.

An abrupt silence pervaded the space. The intruder made no noise, as if while wandering it suddenly froze or disappeared from existence. No breathing. No scratching. Just quiet… but it was still there. I was sure of that. It had not left my room.

My suspicions were quickly confirmed as the rasping resumed. It was slower, deliberate. Each garbled wheeze malicious and emphatic. I wished I had screamed. I should have screamed when I had the chance to. But it was too late, as it climbed onto my bed I opened my mouth to cry, but no sound came out. Utter terror had robbed me of my voice. I was truly, genuinely paralyzed by fear. Completely immobilized.

The labored breathing was above me. I felt the creature caress the bed with what I imagined to be clawed-hands, feeling for its prey no doubt. I did everything in my power to keep it from discovering me. Even when it gripped my arm. Although blankets divided our flesh, I could feel how gaunt and twisted the hands were. I could feel its grasp strengthen and I could feel its lengthy, jagged fingernails. Talons.

It pulled at the sheets that concealed me, viciously grabbing at them, violently rasping as it tried to reveal me. With all my strength, I fought against the intruder. I writhed fiercely underneath the blanket. My eyes clouded with tears, I couldn’t make out its features, but as the creature yanked the covers from me I cried out. Coughing, wheezing, it clawed at me. I screamed through my involuntary sobs, desperately trying to pull the blanket over my head once more.

I could hear my parents running down the hall to save me, and the creature did as well. It wrapped its elongated fingers around my torso and tried to abduct me from the bed, as if desperate to have me for its own. I thrashed and kicked, but my struggles were futile. The intruder effortlessly dragged me from my bed and toward my only window. I looked back over my shoulder and drove my heel into the beast’s face. I felt it release me as my parents entered my room. Upon seeing their child covered in blood and gashes, they rushed to my aid, horrified.

I told them everything.

My memory has spared me the details of the exchange, but I imagine my parents were convinced that I had fallen victim to the paranoia that youth brings. I recall two things were decided: I’d sleep with my mother each night and my father would use my old room. He volunteered himself, claiming he didn’t mind nor did he need much space to himself. The next day I shared a bed with my mother, a few days later my father decided we should move.

I no longer sleep with the television on, and I keep my closet door firmly shut. I’ve found myself jolting awake to imaginary scrapes, or a wheeze brought on by illness. I understand that it’s because I’m frightened. I could credit my experience to conventional explanations such as hallucination or an overactive imagination. However, I am and always will be terrified of whatever attacked me all those years ago. Irrational or not, I fear that the creature might return to torment me. I’m scared that it might find me.

But I’m not scared of the dark.

Parasite
by RichardLongflop
There’s a parasite. It’s… it’s almost comical, really. I mean, a beard? But the thing is disgusting, it’s vile and putrid. Sure, it sounds odd, a big furry white thing that sticks to your mouth and turns you into a zombies, like that one kind of ant fungus, but seeing it in person is a horrible thing. God, I hate those bastards.

It started when me and the team were sent down to the British village of Hedgeford, a place full of rocky houses and farmers, markets and fields. Nature for miles to see, it’s humbling to see humanity at its roots, tending to cattle and being ankle-deep in dirt. Only a few hundred people lived in Hedgeford. Luckily it had wifi and cellphone connection, so it was up with the times in that regard.

I ought to start with our guide, a farmer by the name of Peter. He found a dead bug, but it was weird and large, said it came from a hole in his field. Too deep for him to enter, so he figured he’d call for help with it, and to see if anyone knew what the giant bug was. Turns out it was an undiscovered species, so we got called down to check it out.

When we got there- oh, right. I should say who the team was. I’m Samantha, and my teammates are Jonathan and Paul. Anyway, when we got there we went to Peter’s house first.

Humble place. He had a loving wife- forgot her name- and an aged sheepdog that lazed about. He brought us there first for a cup of tea and to, well, show us the dead bug.

The thing was pretty big. About 20 cm long, 10 wide at its head and tapering to a point at its tail. The back of it was covered in white fur, making it look like a clump of hair at first. Though, flip it to its underside and you’d see that it had eight legs and an exoskeletal underbelly. Its mouth was large- like a lamprey’s- and was pointed straight downwards. Its teeth were like hooks, and Peter managed to get some pliers to pull some weird tentacles out of its mouth, rubbery tentacles with barbed ends. The thing seemed alien, as alien as the things that lay at the deepest parts of Earth’s oceans. Of course, the surface had weird things too, but we just got used to them. Until something like this came along and made us remind how batshit weird life on this planet can get.

After that, and some discussion, we decided that we’d send the creature’s body back to base to be fully examined, and we asked Peter to bring us to where he found it. It was getting dark so we stayed for the night first. Those people were really hospitable and lovely.

Come morning, Peter woke us up and took us to the field where the pitfall was.

The pit was pretty deep. We shone a torch down there, seemed to lead into a cavern. We got our tools, set up a rappel and sent down John with a walkie talkie, though his feet didn’t even touch the floor. Told us to stop lowering him before he hit the ground. The floor was alive with the buggers. Peter couldn’t stomach it and headed home, I couldn’t blame him.

Imagine this. A muddy, dark old cavern with a furry white floor that shifted and moved like a pile of giant white maggots. I could just make it out from his light, looking down the pit, and it was surreal. The sound it made was soft, like fabric rubbing against fabric. I felt like if John fell into that pit, he'd just vanish under all that fur without a sound.

We told him to bag a live one. He lowered his arm towards them and one seemed to leap up onto him, scurrying up his arm to his face, but he managed to grab it before it could. He shoved it in a sack and told us to reel him in.

I put that thing straight into an observation tank. Like a fish tank, but sturdier and no water. God, that thing was disgusting. It scuttled around head-first into walls, hairs on its back rising and falling in a pulse down its length. Now and then it planted its mouth against the glass and smeared its tentacles all over it, with some sort of yellow ooze coming from their tips. We caught some footage of it, sent it out.

We learned pretty soon that the ooze was corrosive. We didn’t notice the glass distort as it got thinner, until it managed to headbutt and leave a few cracks in it. We scurried to try and get something else to put it in, but it managed to break out and it made a dart for Paul. It scurried up his leg and went for his face, and he wasn’t lucky enough to catch it like John.

The thing fired its… tentacles into Paul’s mouth and hooked on, yanking itself up to his face where it just bit down and chewed on. The noises paul made, you could hear the tentacles dig down his throat and rip up his voice box. You could see his adam’s apple heave and spasm, and the thing was just stuck so tight that he couldn’t yank it off, not even John or I could. The creature seemed to seal his face completely, some part of it even latching onto his nose. There was no blood, but it was clear that Paul was in agony, though he calmed down soon enough. Even the bug stopped spasming around and fell limp.

Me and John scrambled for words, though we knew Paul couldn’t respond to any of them. Eventually, Paul just stopped moving and stayed upright, his eyes turning pale.

John said I needed to document this. I thought that was a horrible thing to say, and the look of his face said that he didn’t like saying it either, but I knew I had to. So I got the video camera, and recorded it.

Paul just seemed to sway gently in place, left to right, left to right. It looked like he had a white beard. I tried to get a closer look at the beard but when I got close, he turned violent and I had to retreat.

We called the base to see what we should do, and they told us to just observe as they sent some guys over to help. So we did.

Using some rope and a fence nearby, we managed to restrain Paul. He may be violent but he didn’t hold much chance against me and John, even though we walked away with bruises, and i think a few of my ribs were broken.

Over a few hours, we saw changes in him. Paul’s hair turned to white, to match his… parasite. His skin seemed to wrinkle, like he aged to match the hair colour, though it could have just been the parasite draining him. His throat still pulsed though, tentacles going up and down, slower than before. I don’t know how he got oxygen at all, he must breathe through the damn thing somehow. I didn’t know Paul much, and I’m thankful of that. Helped me keep objective about the whole thing.

I think, eventually, the thing must have learned that it couldn’t get anywhere and detached from Paul’s face, as we discovered after a tea break. It must have made a break for it when we weren’t around, I figured it had went back to the pit. But Paul’s mouth, jesus.

It was obvious that Paul was dead. The lower half of his face was… mutilated, horribly. He had no teeth, no gums. The parasite must line his mouth with some sort of chemical to slow down the corrosion, but it’s obvious that it’s not there now. His jaw hung from one side, there wasn’t even a tongue. His throat was agape, raw and bloody, all red and black save for the white of his spine. There was a hole in his throat where some of the bloody ooze leaked, leaving streaks of burnt clothing and flesh down his chest. Both John and I threw up. I couldn’t, though. I was so awestruck that I didn’t feel the thing dart up my leg and onto my mouth.

I thank the blessing of falling out of consciousness that fast. Faster than Paul, anyhow. I think I was ready to faint anyway. And the pain, the pain. Down to my stomach, I felt my insides clawed up and burned as I fell under.


I’m awake now, though. I can’t remember what happened, but I’m at Peter’s house now. I feel far too weak, like I’m waking from a deep sleep. I can’t move my head much, I think my neck muscles are destroyed. I can’t move my jaw. My tongue… I can’t feel it. I think the tongue was the first to go. I think I’m going under again, but I feel it’s the big sleep this time. I hope I die faster than it takes for the shock to wear off.

There’s chaos around me. I think that’s… Peter’s wife? She already had greying hair, and now she has the beard to match. Heh. A bearded lady. I’m dying too much to worry about humour. Peter’s there too, in the doorway. And John. Both bearded and… I think they’re fighting the back-up guys?

It’s hard to focus now, not even the loud booms of shotguns can snap me awake. Peter’s dog seems scared. She’s come over to lick my hand. Poor thing, at least she doesn’t have a beard.

C’mere, girl. I’ll pet you, it’ll be alright- oh, I can’t seem to raise my arm.


Don’t worry, girl.


Under the Cover of Dark {explicit warning?}
by Chromium7
Dear God,
Please help me. I am cold and alone and the darkness is alive.
I feel it reach out- I feel it touch me.
I feel myself fondled in the black.
And though I sit here in silence, mouth closed, with hands threatening to fill my lungs- I am in prayer.
To you, God, who if this creature is to gloom, must surely be to light.

Please, whoever’s listening;
“Help me.”

The darkness recedes, and I am alone, until I awake. How long I was asleep I cannot know, but as my mind returns I know that my dream has not yet ended. And it is a nightmare. Immediately I reach for a light- my headlamp, which has moved from its position atop my head to a distant corner; damaged, I notice, but still usable. I turn on the headlamp, searching for the darkness. Not finding it, I take note of my surroundings.
The cage from which the darkness escaped is not the only cell in critical condition. There are others, always others- that merely lurk under the cover of dark, using that cover to hide whatever evil lies within. There is a reason these things are here, and that reason’s a part of my reasoning for trying to keep the bastards in here. The other being the paycheck, the next of which I was very much looking forward to cashing.
Until I saw the decapitated, mutilated, soil-drenched head of a former female co-worker, at which point I could feel myself beginning to puke. Feeling this, I instinctively bend over, falling to my knees, and expelling my stomach contents into the again decapitated head my former coworker.
“OH G-GLU-GUEEAAUUUGGHH!!!,” my voice echos.
And then, with a spank to the rear, I fall forward, into the mess before me.
Hands surround me once more, lifting me to my feet as I cough, lurch, and continue to vomit as the hands join to form a single, inward moving crux, once again forcing my stomach to lurch.
I can’t think. I can’t see- nor scarcely hear- but merely feel. It reminds me of the darkness once again. Though I know it gone- feel it gone within me, I tremble, I squirm, and I find myself desperate. I lash out, flailing blindly until I feel, with feet and hands, the gore soaked floor- and I attempt to run.
But a hand comes at me from behind, striking once more between my thighs, but, this time- lingering.
This monster- which I know it to be- now grabs me by the throat, and lifts me, neck to tailbone, forward.
And then, as soon as it began, I am alone, and it is dark. My mind once more begins to fade, and I can’t shake the feeling that I have been made to do something horrible- something vile- and that this somehow gave me pleasure.

When I awake, I am numb. Stiff, yes- but without feeling. In the back of my mind is the stench from earlier, but from within my cage I am able to close off my mind to the outside world. The facility at which I work has been compromised, and I have been placed in one of the cages. This problem is at its heart simple, and so the only one I feel able to set my heart to- as my heart, I would add, is feeling the strangest of all.
The cell door is closed and locked, but the lock was weak. All I need to do is jam something into the… into- into the. Into th- key into- i-into the…

Key. I have a key.

I reach for the key.
I reach for it.
The key.
It.

I open the door.
I unlock the door.
I open the door.
The door.
Is open.

Open.
Door.
Open.
Open.
opeN.
OpeN
OPEN!!!

“Jess?”
“Richard?”
“JESS!”
“Oh my god, Jess!”

Jess?
I’m Richard.

Jess is… Jess was…

“Jess?”
“Richard?”

“Why are you calling me Jess?”
“Richard. Richard, it’s okay.”

“Okay.”

“We’re going to be okay.”

Thank God.

Thank you, God. Thank you.
Thank you so much.
I love you God.
I love you Jess.
I love you Richard.
I love.
I love…

My wife.
Jen.
Jesus, Jen!

Oh Jesus.

Jen is my wife. Jess is my co-worker. Jess is my… Jess is… I love Jess. Jesus.
Jess is alive somehow. I thought she was- Jesus, I thought she was dead. I though- oh Jesus, oh Jesus- Jen! You’re okay! And the baby! The baby! The baby is… Thank Jesus, the baby.
Jen and the baby and Jess oh Jesus, oh baby Jesus thank you!
Thank you, Jesus.
Thank you.
Thank you, Jesus.
Thank you, Lord.
Thank God.

Thank you for everything.
Thank you for my life.
Thank you for Richard’s life.
Thank you for Jen, and the baby.
I love you, God. I love you for everything.

I would do anything for your child.
Anything.

Thank God.

It’s going to be okay, Richard.
You can sleep now.
The baby’s going to be okay.
Everything is going to be okay.
I love you.
Jesus loves you.

Richard was asleep.
I was happy for Richard. Him and his wife.
Jess, I think it was.
He’d been through a lot. We were going to get him out of here.



My name is Richard. And I’m getting the fuck out of here.
I know what’s happening. I wasn’t sure at first, but the trick with the door…
Jess- Jen-
My co-worker. She’s dead.
Something killed her. One of the things we put in cages. It’s supposed to be from a couple floors down. Not our problem. Kind of like the darkness. Then the lights went out. The levels- they went off one-by-one like they’re supposed to, but something must’ve…
That’s not what matters. I know what killed her. I know what fucking killed her.
It’s a creature- monster- born from the… born from the…
…union…
…of the dead and the living.

But it’s okay. I’m okay- Me, Richard- I’m going to be okay! The door’s open! I can get out of here!

And I can stay down here. Away from Richard.
Me, Jen- where it’s safe.
For the baby.

Thank God.

ErrorBlender
11-16-2017, 06:00 AM
Horror Part II

Nyctophobia
by SpacePunk
Why are people afraid of the dark? Because things live in the dark. The darkness is its own world full of evil and monsters. You must think I’m a child, but have you been in the dark recently? Have you walked down your hallway at night, having that feeling that someone’s watching you? That flicker of movement in the corner of your eye? It’s not your mind playing tricks on you. No. It’s something much worse.
***
“Yes, sweetheart, I’m on my way home, I got stuck closing out the register…I’m in the Macy's parking garage right now…Yes, I’ll bring home something for dinner…I love you too. Okay. Bye.” I hung up my cell phone and continued walking towards my car. It was about 9:30 at night here in Manhattan. Luckily, spring had just arrived, so it wasn’t too cold out. However, everything in the vicinity was closed for the night, so it was pretty desolate and quiet. For the city that never sleeps, it sure was fucking dark. I hated the dark. I never liked it, even now, as an adult. Especially in the city, where crime was high. But it wasn’t muggers or rapists that made me uncomfortable, it was the fact that I had no idea what was out there. And that was when my mind began to go into imagination mode. I’d create things in my head that would come out to get me, and make myself paranoid. I shook my head. There was nothing out there.
I reached my car and took out my keys. Since I was broke at the moment, I couldn’t afford a newer car with the keys where you just press a button and the door unlocks. Nope, I was stuck with a 2006 Chevy Cobalt. It was a good car with good mileage and it got me to and from work every day. I dug my hand in my pocket and grabbed my keys. But when I pulled my hand out, my wallet decided to come along with it. It fell to the ground and I sighed. I bent over and picked it up. However, out of the corner of my eye, something moved. I quickly straightened up and spun around, trying to catch whatever it was I saw moving. Of course there was nothing, but now I was uneasy. I turned back to my car and put the key in the door, the metal scraping against metal echoing through the silence of the night.
“Jordan…”
I spun around, trying to figure out who said my name. “Hello?” I called. “Who’s there?”
I got no response.
I let out a shaky breath and quickly got into my car. I put on my seatbelt, checking my mirrors for signs of movement. I shook my head. “Get it together, Jordan. No one’s there.” I pulled out of the parking garage and headed down 34th street.
I found a Chinese food restaurant down on 14 East. I found a parking spot a little way down the street. I sighed. Great. Out in the dark again. I got out of my car and walked down the sidewalk, the only illumination was from the streetlamps lining the streets. I shivered, though it was 60 degrees outside. It suddenly felt like 30. “It’s just your head playing tricks on you,” I told myself.
“You can’t run, Jordan…” I spun around in a circle, looking for the source of the voice. This wasn’t funny anymore. Actually, it was never funny. Fuck, I hate the dark. I looked around and noticed something weird. The shadows seemed to be moving. They were swirling around, licking and flicking the air. I blinked, and they stopped. I wiped my sweaty palms on my pants and hurried over to the restaurant.
I placed my order and since it was only me and some drunk college kids, I was out pretty quickly. As I headed to the door, I heard one of them call out to me. “Hey man,” said one of the boys, his words slurred. “There is some freaky shit going on outside, man. Some freaky. Shit.” I nodded to him and left. I headed down the sidewalk to my car, the streetlamps above me flickering. My heart started beating faster. I walked a little quicker, held my bags a little tighter.
“Jordan!” I yelped and turned around. Nothing. Whoever was out there was getting far too close for comfort. I ran to my car, not giving a shit about my seatbelt at this point. My tires screeched, disrupting the silence of the city and I sped off into the night.
“You’re okay, you’re okay, you’re okay…” I kept repeating those words to myself, hoping that if I said it enough, it’d be true. I kept glancing in my backseat, every now and then seeing a silhouette of a person. “There’s no one in your car but you, there’s no one in your car but you…” I was trembling now, my hand sliding down the steering wheel from the sweat. I swallowed hard. Only ten minutes left until I got home. Then I’d be safe with Sam, and we’d go to sleep together, safe. Safe.
I reached my apartment and dashed out of the car, slamming the door behind me. I locked the car door out of habit. Not even fear can mess up your brain’s routine.
“Jordan.”
“Jordan.”
“Jordan.”
Someone was whispering my name. I turned around for the billionth time that night and saw the shadows moving again. Only this time, they were coming towards me. I heard my name whispered over and over again. My heart skipped a beat as I ran up the stairs to my apartment door. I grabbed the doorknob and tried to turn it, but it was locked. “Shit,” I mumbled. I fumbled for my keys, looking back again and again, each time the shadows getting closer, my name getting louder.
“Jordan.”
“Jordan.”
“JORDAN.”
“JORDAN.”
“JORDAN!!!” My heart was beating a mile a minute, my hands soaked in sweat. I got the key in and turned, the beautiful click the door being unlocked was music to my ears. I yanked the door open and slammed it shut, just in time. Breathing heavy, I walked up the stairs. I unlocked the door to my apartment and stopped in my tracks.
The lights were off.
It was pitch black.
It was dark.
“Sam?” I called out. No answer. I put the food on the kitchen counter and took off my shoes. “Sam?”
“Sam’s gone, Jordan.”
“Sam left.”
“No more Sammy!” Laughter filled my ears but I couldn’t find the source. It grew louder and louder until the deafening noise was the only thing I heard.
“Stop…stop it…Leave me alone. STOP!”
“Jordan?” I looked up, tears streaming down my face. Sam was standing there, concerned. “Babe, are you alright?”
“There’s someone in the apartment. Call the cops, now.”
“What? It’s just me. There’s no one else.”
“DO IT!” Sam flinched and went to grab the phone. Once it was done, I nodded approvingly. However, the laughter hadn’t stopped. Shaking, I went to turn on the lights. Once I flicked the switch, the bulb exploded, and once again, we were blanketed in darkness.
“No, no, no, no, NO!” I ran over and grabbed Sam by the shoulders. “We have to get out of here, we need to go find some light, quickly!”
“Jordan, what the hell is wrong with you? You’re freaking me out.”
“Light, we need light!”
“Jordan…Jordan…” I stiffened at the sound of the melodic voice. The shadows. They found me. They were in my home. “We’re here, Jordan. We’re heeeeerreeeeee.”
“How did you find me!?!” I screamed. “Leave us alone!!!”
“Jordan, what the hell? Are you okay?” I turned to Sam.
“You can’t hear it? They’re calling me. They’re saying my name. They’re here.”
“Who’s here? What are you talking about?” I opened my mouth to further explain, but no noise came out. Instead, pitch black bugs came crawling out. My eyes widened and I tried to scream, but I only spit up more bugs. Sam backed away from me.
“Jordan, what the fuck!?! I’m calling an ambulance!”
“JORDAN. YOU’RE GOING TO DIE, JORDAN.” Tears streaming down my face, bugs crawling out of my mouth, I didn’t know what to do. The dark, it was the darkness doing this to me. I needed light, I NEEDED LIGHT.
I searched for a flashlight frantically, but I had trouble breathing, and my skin began to itch. I scratched it, but the sensation never went away.
“Hello? Yes, I need an ambulance, now.”
I looked down at my arm. There was something moving beneath my skin. I fell to my knees, gaging on the bugs. I scratched and scratched until my fingers were bloody. Suddenly, the skin on my arms ripped open, blood splattering everywhere, and tendrils made of shadows erupted from my flesh, swirling around. I screamed, choking on the bugs. Sam was staring at me terrified and not sure what to do.
I crawled over to Sam, shadows spewing from my arms, bugs pouring from my mouth. The last thing I remember before everything truly went black was the door bursting open, and light pouring in.
I opened my eyes. No bugs, no shadows, nothing. I looked around, confused. Where was I? White walls, and a single fluorescent light bulb. I tried to move, but my arms were restrained. I frowned and looked down. A…strait jacket? I tried to get out, struggling, but it was no use. I gave up and sighed.
Then it happened. The light began to flicker. My heart sped up and my mind began to spin. “No, please no…” Flicker, flicker, gone. The light, my only saving grace, was gone.
“Jordan…You can’t escape us Jordan…” I struggled, fighting against my restraints, screaming.
“HELP! PLEASE, SOMEONE HELP ME! THEY’VE COME BACK, THE DARKNESS IS BACK, HELP ME!!!” The shadows danced and lingered around my feet. Soon I couldn’t see my toes. Then my legs were gone. My torso was next, then my head. Next thing I knew I was shrouded in darkness once again.
***
I am alive. But every night, the darkness comes. Every night, I fight for my life, I scream for help, but no one comes. That’s the thing about the dark: you can’t see. And if you can’t see, you don’t know what’s truly happening. So let me ask you again. Why are people afraid of the dark? It’s because the dark isn’t afraid of you.



Meaning in Nothing
by Kamiroo Wolf

You can feel it, can't you? Don't lie to me and say that you don't, now. I know you do. I can see it in every shift your eyes take, every huddled breath your mouth makes, and even feel it in the clammy blood running through your veins. It's more than that, though. It isn't just your body- it's your soul, isn't it? Doesn't it just feel fantastic?

The way the frozen needles prick with precision into the goosebumps lining your skin? The way they divide and snake throughout your bloodstream; freezing the crimson struggling for warmth within? It feels amazing doesn't it? It's tingly and tempting, is what it is. I can't even begin to imagine the intense pleasure rushing through you as the thin spines prick your bones. Euphoric, is it not? It's creeping, creeping, creeping; assassinating your nerves one by one... oh how I long to feel it once again...

They have just entered the lining of your stomach, haven't they? Oh, I can see it in the widening of your delicious pupils! Yes! Yes! I love this! You love this too! You're on the verge of climax as the acid inside of you is slowly chilled and crumbled to a base?! I think I may love you. I think I may love you, indeed. It's working now towards your liver, and next your pancreas, and on to your spleen, your urinary bladder... all the way up the stalk of your spine until- finally! It pricks your precious little heart. But before that it must make a brand new cage for your lungs, for your old ones will have shattered beneath the frost, would they not?

But not yet! No! It cannot finish you yet! You need to stay as turned on as possible! Allow it to quench your sexual desire! Allow it to sate your self-destructive hunger! This is what I want to see! Your shaking now!

...How delightful...

You can't feel your toes, can you? You can't feel the spines barreling down your urethra? You cannot feel the frozen thorns protrude from your genitalia? Let me assure you that they are, child. And deep deep down you are roaring with satisfaction, moaning and grunting heavily within as the very root of your reproductive organs are taken to a whole new level. I think, I just really think, I may be in love with you.

You'll be able to let it all out soon enough, my dear. The deafening numbness, the gripping cold... it will all be over soon. You're...not...relieved, are you? Not in the slightest? Promise? On your life? No?! Merely excited?! WONDERFUL! I could not be happier! You're body is welling with anticipation as it pokes through the skin lining your neck, the blood trying to flee freezing alongside the subzero spines as more and more holes in your throat allow my stagnant breath to breach your body. You are just about ready aren't you! I love you, indeed I do! I love you, I know it is true! You love me too, right? You want to be one with me!

First, my dear... I want you to have a slight taste of heaven. It will only be... a little bit longer.

It's in your head now isn't it? Rooting along the bones in your cranium, weaving throughout the skull as hair follicles fall stiff to the ground beneath us? You are almost there! I can see it in your dulling eyes... so lustrous I may need to acquire a pair of shades the next time we make love like this! It's in your brain, now. It's enriched the fluid. It's overtaken the hypothalamus. It's in complete and total control. Are you ready, my dear. It is just about time for your to experience the greatest release your body will ever know. You can stop thanking me. You can stop fearing my divine absence. I wish to make love to you like this once more!

“And nobody will stop us. Not Ralic, not Dexter, not Clark, not even Sencarn will be able to intervene."
----------------------------------------

Jare's eyes light up and his heart skips it's third beat since he first entered the frozen cellar, and even with the flames at his back the private eye is no match for the gripping frostbite clinging to his under-protected person. He checks the revolver locked in his grip and makes sure to count the remaining 3 bullets several times over as the various meats strung to the ceiling rustle in anticipation of his next move. The door behind him invites even more cold, and the snow cascading through the cracks beckon he return to it's safety, but the blind man can not simply back out of his mission just yet. One of his trademark crimson eyes stretches out across a thin, rotted hunk of lamb, and in that split moment Jare thanks his unknown God as a lifesaving perspective grants him vision of a man wielding some kind of twisted needle. He stands straight and stiff behind a rack of butchered cattle, his massive weight and bulk fitting in perfectly as his naked body blends to the exposed bovine flesh.

“WHERE IS SHE!" Jare calls to the man's location, and before Jare knows it his crimson eye has been shut down. Several more white ones spawn in compensation as the procedure follows, only to have their vision painfully obscured by the quickly clambering frostbite. A headache creeps along the back of Jare's cranium and his P.I. trench coat vigorously shakes off gathering ice as he shifts 85 degrees to release a deafening shot into the cold darkness.

2 bullets left, he reminds himself repeatedly, mustering a shaken breath from his throat as another crimson eye spawns, this time spread across the burning wings attached to Jare's back. Behind him stands the same man, nude and stiff as before, gazing down on Jare's relatively tiny size as his large needle is brought down on the detective as a guillotine on a prisoner. He isn't fast enough, Jare, and before he can dive forward to fully escape the oversized medical syringe he can feel it's pointed tip pierce the flesh of his right calf. Pinned and low on ammunition, Jare's eyes have a brief flash regarding his life as his crimson eye picks up on the door being shut quietly by the gargantuan serial killer.

“Before I die...tell me just what it is you did with the girl." Jare's heart grows sullen and his body accepts the numbing cold as his blazing wings flicker to nothing. Each and every one of his thousand white eyes peppering the cellar going black one by one as the massive hulk stands before him, a new, microscopic syringe delicately encased in his death-like grip.

“Girl? Ain't no girl here, mistuh, just me. Just me. Me. Me and mama-uh, boss! Boss. Yeah. Boss, mistuh. Sorry, mistuh."


The Scraping Mass
by roBEAT
(Disclaimer: If something is italized it's a thought.)

The Scraping Mass

The hot cup of coffee warms my hands as I sit down at my desk and carefully place the cup next to my keyboard. I try to take a sip while I’m waiting for my PC to run up but the black elixir of every journalist like myself is still too hot and leaves my lips burning. My body however tells me he just needs the coffee so badly since I stayed up all night. I just had 2 hours of sleep in the morning and as much as I tried it, I can’t really sleep in the daytime. On the other hand staying up was necessary for my current case as an investigative journalist. A long yawn leaves my mouth and I take another sip of coffee. “Almost drinkable”

I open up the video footage of last night and see almost only black as the video starts. There has actually been a cold shimmer of moonlight sneaking through the curtains but everything was darker through the lens of my camera. Although it was dark, I know where I was. I sat in the corner of the room hidden in a pile of baskets next to an old bookshelf. “Alright this should the moment when…”

It was the moment. The speakers of the PC dispense the voices of two women in the corridor. They speak Spanish. One of them seems to be angry about something and talks really fast while the other one responds calmly and slowly, probably disagreeing. Unfortunately I don’t understand a thing. I never learned any Spanish. “Luckily Maggie will translate it tomorrow.”

The screen lightens up as one of the women presses the light switch. I remember holing up behind my wall of baskets while filming through a gap between them. My Camera focussed the women. The calm old lady is small, about 70 years old and with her wrinkles and her hair more grey than brown she looks like a typical Hispanic grandma. Although she is walking slowly she enters the room first while the other woman continues her tirade behind her. She is taller and her age must be somewhere around 60.

The women continue talking and start taking things out of drawers while the screen shows my attempts to capture the room as much as possible. The room is a normal living room with a TV, a couch, an armchair, some closets and a shelf with photos of the small old lady and her family. As the camera turns back on the old women, they are coiling the huge heavy carpet. The floor underneath it was covered with symbols drawn with chalk. Runes, stars, circles, well whatever you’d expect from witches. However no pentagrams, although some signs looked similar. Last night this was the moment I was sure, I was in the right house. They were from the group of women I was looking for, a circle of witches practising Brujeria, which is basically Spanish witchcraft.

While the women continue preparing for their nightly occult event by renewing the chalk symbols, placing candles and taking artefacts like bones, wooden figures, roses, feathers, salt and different powders out of the closets, I start losing my attention for the video and catch myself staring out of the window. It is dark already and my town almost disappears in the darkness of the young night. Only the occasional streetlamps and a few lighted windows allow for the view of some houses gardens and streets. The summer was gone for almost a month now. I try getting myself to look on my screen again, but I’m so tired and I have one of this moments again. “Who am I doing this for?”

It is more than just one question. I hate that my reports about Satanists, witches and weird sects are mainly consumed by religious people who think that they are any better than them, although they also believe in their invented supernatural being they call god. Some fear those witches, some laugh about them and some try to keep their kids away from sects by using my work but I laugh about all of them just like they laugh about the freaks I present them in my reports. “They deny their own rule about themselves and admit inferiority to something that is not proven to exist, while I’m my own lord.”

“Who am I doing this for?”

The other part of the question is the purpose behind all of it. My job is kind of fun and I get into thrilling situations that others just dream of, but I’m alone. My small apartment is only populated by me, but no wife, no girlfriend and while I do have a couple of friends none of them are that close to me, none of them feel special. My mom died years ago and my dad has always been an asshole.

“Who do I live for?”

Myself. I live for myself and I got to continue examining this damn video. My cup still has some coffee in it but it has to be cold now. I try forcing my eyes back to my screen but there is something next to my cup. It looks like some kind of disgusting white worm, wait no, a maggot, fat, ugly with a glimmering surface and a small black face-like front with two surprisingly big teeth. Or are those pincers? Any way they look really damn nasty, possibly able to rip through my skin if I’m not careful. The maggot creeps towards my fingers, leaving behind a slim trail of red blood, drying on my desk. “Maggots turn into flies and flies are insects. They shouldn’t have red blood right?”

“Well maybe it ate from something dead or even had a living host. I heard some maggots do that.”

I quickly pull my fingers away from the sharp pincers and sent my eyes searching for some weapon against the insect. The old dictionary I don’t even use anymore is just perfect. With it I push the maggot of my desk. Then I drop it straight on the disgusting thing. The heavy book falls, hits the ground with a loud pop and buries the maggot under it. I decide to clean it up tomorrow and get back to the video.

Since I am tired I skip to the most interesting part. It is at some point in the middle of their rituals that the younger of the two witches from the previous scenes either recognized me or she has too much fantasy even for a witch. Luckily she says it in English, because some of the younger women seem to not speak Spanish. They were only able to recite some of the phrases the circle of want–to–be-witches chanted or mumbled depending on their rituals. The screen shows the two old and five other women in the dark room, only lit by candles, sitting on the ground around their chalk symbols, except for the oldest woman who sits on a regular chair.

"I can feel someone is nearby and that person is watching us," says the younger of the two boss-witches.

Of course all of the younger ones look around in panic immediately. Some are baling their fists ready to go searching. I remember getting ready to fight my way through them and run away if they find me. My hands gripped tight around the camera.

But the host of this meeting has another Idea. She says "No," stands up from her chair and shuffles towards one of her closets. "We will deal with this our way."

She comes back with a little box and pours the substance from inside it into a chalk circle on the ground. Turns out it’s some kind of black powder. The old woman looks around into the faces of the others "I’m thinking about a curse."

So the women try to curse me. All of them begin to close the circle by holding hands as the two old witches begin chanting in Spanish. As they proceed the black powder begins to shimmer a little because of the flickering light of the candles. While chanting the oldest woman draws a little knife, cuts her forearm and lets a few drops of blood fall onto the black powder. Then she passes the knife and the others do the same. After everyone was done the chanting dies and I pause the video. “A curse, ridiculous. They probably just shared HIV with their knife.”

I close the video and turn off my PC knowing that this is going to be a good report, but I am surely not going to continue today. My eyelids feel heavy and looking outside my window I don’t see any other lighted windows anymore. “Time to go to bed.”

I turn around to my bed which is in the same room as my working desk, the room I’m already in and let out a yawn.

But the shock makes the yawn stick in my throat.

The wall behind my bed is sprinkled with about a hundred fat white maggots. Their soft pale bodies leave thin lines of dark red blood wherever they creep. The only thing I can do is stare as the maggots crawl on the ceiling, the floor and my bed. Whenever a maggot touches another it made a hushed scraping noise.

Is this the curse? No, curses don’t exist, just like god. There has to be a natural explanation. A fly probably laid eggs in my apartment.

“But it’s October. It should be way too cold for maggots” a quiet voice replies inside my head.

Deciding to push the voice aside it’s still obvious I couldn’t stay here this night. Luckily a friend of mine has gone on vacation and asked me to watch his house. I grab his key, my jacket and my purse with my driver’s license while making sure that I don’t touch any maggots. His house is on the other end of my town.

As I take a look back into my bedroom a white pile of maggots is moving towards me in the corridor. The maggots are crawling over each other, leaving blood red stains on the other larvae. Their movement and collisions create this disgusting raspy scraping noise again as the pile of maggots continues its way in my direction.

I forcefully slam the door shut and leave my apartment. After locking the front door I run down the stairs to my car.

On my way driving to my friend’s house I calm down a little. The maggots are disgusting but they should not be dangerous. I open up the window to breathe the fresh air of the night. Tomorrow I would call an exterminator and things would be alright. I stop at the red-light at one of the few crossroads in town that actually has nightly traffic lights and wait for it to turn green as I suddenly hear the scraping noise again. Looking out of my car window I suddenly see thin runnels of blood running down the traffic light poles followed by a swarm of huge meaty white maggots, scraping louder than ever. “Oh, no. This can’t be.”

With a short angry scream I kick the gas pedal and drive off ignoring the red-light. “The curse can’t be real. It just can’t,” I say to myself quietly.

Maybe it is some kind of plague cause by a mutation or the climate change caused the maggots to emerge once more in autumn.

“But why do they bleed red? Why do they seem to follow me?”

It has to be a plague. They probably want people as a host but it’s impossible that they are following me in particular. “Or is it?”

"Tooooooot"

"Wha…?"

I realize I’ve been driving in the middle of the street. My hands rapidly wrestle the wheel, the Car jumps to the right and with a lot of luck I manage to avoid the collision with the jeep driving in my opposing direction. It leaves me on the driver’s seat sweating and with the shock still in my bones and my heart beating like a jack-hammer. I couldn’t go on like this. What I needed was to calm down and sleep but I could not sleep yet. “Coffee’s gotta do.”

I leave the road at the next gas station. After buying a coffee from the young man at the counter I ask "Have you seen any maggots lately?"

The guy behind the counter seems surprised. "You mean fat worms, sir? No, I haven’t."

I thank him and take a look at some of the magazines in hope for distraction but in my head I still hear the scraping and the only thing I could think of are the sharp pincers.

"Click"

I turn around towards the sound expecting a giant maggot ready to bury its pincers into my body. But it turns out to be just the gas station guy playing with his lighter. As I watch him roll a cigarette I notice my heart is still beating at insane speed although I am also somehow tired. Counting on the coffee to help me think better I remove the cap from the cardboard cup without even really paying attention. I don’t like gas station coffee so I usually try to get as much as possible of it down quickly. My hands press the warm cup of coffee against my lips as I lean my head back and take a huge draught, prepared for the worst.

A painful taste of iron explodes in my mouth and the drink rushes down my throat like boiling metal accompanied by thick and sticky soft lumps causing me to retch. Holding my throat I bend down. “What is this?”

I gaze into my cup. It’s filled with swashing warm red blood. The metallic damp of it creeps into my nose. “Don’t puke. Don’t puke”

A dozen live white maggots fidget in the blood. Another one crawls up the cup greedily looking at me with his tiny brown eyes.

It’s too much. The puke shoots through my throat and I can’t hold it back. It presses my lips open and I vomit on the ground, my jeans and the comfortable sneakers. Powerless I drop to my knees right into the red puddle of puke. A half bitter half metallic taste fills my mouth.

"Sir?"

"I….I’m sorry," I mumble horrified, then I look up to the gas station guy.

He smiles at me but his right eye is completely red, apart from two white points, two maggots in the middle. The scraping noise seems to rasp directly at my eardrums. I try to warn him but my warning transforms into a high-pitched scream as hundreds of maggots suddenly emerge from under his shirt, covering him with their bodies and crawling towards me, their pincers bloody and clicking.

I push myself up and clumsily rise to my feet as the swarm approaches. Stumbling I run to the door. Behind me thousands of white and blood-soaked red maggots creep all over the gas station scraping and rasping. The young man is still standing where he was, covered in white and red and staring at me.

Suddenly I lay at the floor beside the newspaper rack I crashed into. I see the maggots coming closer, somehow get back up and stumble out of the door to my car.

About to grab my keys I notice my right hand still squeezing the cardboard cup. The maggots from the inside creep over my hand and already dig themselves into my skin. My right hand turned red and I drop the cup and my left hand manages to swipe at least some of the maggots off me as the door of the gas station opens and releases a never ending stream of white and red heading towards my car.

"Oh shit."

I ignore my hand, dig my pocket for the keys find them and unlock the car. Two meters separate me from the scraping mass of crawlers as I eventually jump in and clam the door. The engine starts with a loud roar and I drive off with squeaking wheels.

Leaving the gas station behind me, I turn on the headlamps to see something on the dark road. The buzzing in my head sounds uncannily similar to the scraping as I continue driving fast without a destination. “They are after me and they will follow. It’s the curse.”

Panic creeps through me like maggots through a corpse and I pound the gas pedal.

“I’m a goddamn corpse already. They feast on me because they know I’m dead.”

“No, I want to survive.”

I drive even faster. The scraping hasn’t stopped but I scarcely notice it. “It will probably never stop”

Ahead of me the street takes a turn. I have to slow down but my legs don’t react. As I look down they’re covered in maggots and blood. The rasping of thousands of soft bodies and small pincers adds to the sound of the roaring engine. I scream….

…and then everything spins around me.


I wake up in my bed with a pillow in my face. Feeling nothing but warmth I open my eyes.

The pillow I was laying on turns out to be an airbag. My body is a red bloody mess under a white carpet of maggots, scraping rasping and generating heat in the process. Surprisingly I can barely feel them feasting on my body until a sharp pain burns through me as they creep into my eyes.

As they blind me I scream in agony.

I scream until a handful of maggots crawls into my mouth.

Merry Christmas
by _Ai_


Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle all the way… Christmas Eve has come once again. Carols are sung, to be heard everywhere. The church, the mall, even in the public toilets for some reason. Families are gathering, lovers are getting intimate, kids are celebrating. Truly, a season of happiness all around for everyone. A family of 3 is no different.

Immersing themselves in the festivities, eating roasted turkey, singing the carol, truly a joyous occasion for them. A time of bonding for the family one that rarely comes with how everyone is catching up with the ever-evolving world. Then, came a bell ring from the door. The only child of the house was sent to fetch the door. As he swung the door open, a figure stood in front of the door. An old beggar.

The beggar cupped his hand, begging for money. In turn, the kid’s face twisted, disliking the beggar with his smelly, ragged clothes and charred face. Without delay, the kid closed the door, not even bothering to say anything to the beggar. The poor man ignored soundly, and soon hobbled away from the house pathetically.

Returning back to the family table with a chipper smile, the child took a seat. When asked who was it, the kid replied with a deadpan face, “Just a stray dog.”

The family celebration was over, and the family is all tugged in bed, snoring away, except for the youngster. His parent’s snoring was too loud, keeping him awake through the night. Without warning, a loud rustling is heard downstairs. At first fearful, but then curious, the child carefully made his way off the bed, aware to not wake up his parents.

Tiptoeing, the kid silently left the room. The darkness made him flinch but he gathers up his courage and did a little hop to activate the light’s switch. The lights flickered for a bit, but eventually stayed lighted up. With the light dispelling his fear, he confidently made his way towards the stairs.

He flinched again. The first floor was also dark, and the switch is at the other end of the hallway, near the front door. Cowering, the child starts to question his curiosity, and starts to back away when he heard another rustling noise at the chimney.

His heart raced. Is this Santa? The friendly, red coated, white haired, gift giving Santa Claus? Excitedly, he hid under behind the curtains and peeked from behind.
After some more rustling noises, a big puff of smoke erupted from the chimney. Soon, a big, smoke coated man emerged, with a humongous sack behind him. The youngster’s heart took a leap. “He’s real!” he whispered in his heart, “Santa’s real!”

Puffing the smoke out of his clothes, the red coated man looked around. It seems like the child’s hiding spot was a bad one, as Santa walks towards the curtains. But the child remained oblivious, assured that he is completely concealed, and made no effort to move. Arriving in front of him, the man with the great white beard reached his hand out, “Ho ho ho!... motherfucker.”

The kid yelped, and took a step back but it was too late. Santa’s big, sturdy hands are already grabbing onto his pajamas, grasping it tightly. Letting out a groan of pain, the youngster shivered in fear as he wondered what is happening.

The big, burly man pulled the kid’s head and raised him high in the air and then vengefully told the small kid, “You’ve been a bad boy. Bad boys are punished.” In one swift motion, he threw the child outside, crashing into the window, landing on the cold, white snow. The child’s arm is pierced by the sharp glass of the window. Bleeding profusely, the kid pressed his wound as he writhed in painful agony; and there he lay weakly down on the snow.

Hushed voices came from upstairs. The sound of glass breaking alarmed the youngster’s parents. Alarmed, they slowly descended the stairs and soon finding the scene of their son outside, with his blood painting the blood red. The mother’s face is drained of blood while the father’s face is flushed red, rage taking over.

Pointing to the perpetrator, the husband shouted at him, “Who are you?! What are you doing?!” The man in red slowly turned around, facing the father and replying “I’m educating your child, which you failed to do.” With a smirk on his face. Hearing these words, the adult’s sanity snapped, and leaped towards the smirking man.

As if predicting his actions, the man with the red attire took a step to the left. Missing his target, the raging man crashed down to a wooden table. Hurt, but not yet giving up, the man stood up, ready for another charge. His opponent, as if taunting him, stayed still as rock, glaring. With the ferocity of a raging bull, the father took another charge at him… only to get avoided again and crashed at the wall, head first.

Meanwhile, the wife almost flew towards their son. Seeing her son in a disastrous state, she barely held back her tears. She held her son in her arms, and noticing that he is in an unconscious state. Picking up his son, she turned back to ask her husband, only to see him crashing head first to a wall.

The impact from crashing his head on the wall gave him extreme headache. He tried to recompose himself but before he could regain his footing, the red coated man punched his face, with such force that his head hit the wall with a bang. Blood starts to drip from the fathers head, his gaze unsteady.

Panting, his gaze went all over the place until it met her wife’s. Seeing her pale face, as white as the snow itself, he came back to his senses. Barely squeezing the word, “Run,” out, he was hit again by the white bearded man, this time his head was grabbed and was slammed to the ground.

Hearing the last words of his man, the mother hugged her son tightly, and bolted out of the lawn. The tears were falling down non-stop, knowing that his man will never survive. At the same time, she willed to herself that she and her son will survive this bloody Christmas night.

His vision blurred with a tint of red. Seeing his family successfully escaping the house, he breathed a sigh of relief, and broke a smile. Panting out “That’s good,” with every breath getting more painful than the last, “survi-“ His eyes laid onto the perpetrator. The face of delight that he has on his face shook the dad’s core. Sinking into deep despair, his last vision was of the man’s boot. The head of a formerly father of a cute son, an ex-husband to a beautiful wife was stomped, and crushed. Blood splatters everywhere; on the wall, the sofa, the television. The boot of Santa was soaked with red, sticky blood.

Snow falls, as if no turbulence had happen, slowly descending on its own pace. A woman ran down on the lonely road with a child in her arms. Her pants vertrebated in the air, but the empty road took no notice of it. Tripping the on a stone, she fell pathetically, but still holding onto the child. Her knee scratched and bleeding, she resolved herself and unsteadily stood back up on her two legs. Limping, she continued down the road, seeking help and shelter from the merciless winter.

On and on she went on the path, until finally seeing a visage ahead. The woman calls out to the figure with a raspy voice, as the cold has robbed her of energy. The figure slowly walks towards her, until one of the lamps on the side of the road flashed over the visage, revealing it to be a man in a red coat and a white beard.

Fear and confusion crept on the mother paralyzing her. “That’s impossible,” she thought. The cruel reality of the heavy steps the red coated man is getting closer by the second, she steeled herself yet again. She twisted her body, bolting the opposite way with her scraped knee still bleeding.

Noticing that a house still has it’s lights on, she took a sharp turn, and made a beeline for the still lit up house. Upon arriving, she furiously knocked on the door, screaming help with all her heart. Her heart jumped when hearing footsteps from within, believing the long night is over. The door swung upon, and her hopeful face turned into a face of despair in a moment. Greeting her knocks was Santa, with a butcher’s knife in his grasp.

Too shocked for words, and fearing rooting her to the spot, she stood still there, almost like a pole. The next moment, blood splurged from her shoulder. On her shoulder was a butcher’s knife, deeply embedded in her shoulder. A sudden surge of vomit went up. She tried to hold it back with her only functioning hand, but in vain. She vomited large amounts of blood, most of it hit the Santa in front her, making his already red coat even redder. In response, Santa broke unto a smile of ecstasy, and his eyes glowing with excitement.

She fell lifelessly, all her energy leaving her body. The child in her grasp is released, hitting the ground with a thump. A pool of blood formed around the body, soaking her clothes with it. Although the blood was warm, she felt a cold that she never felt before. The cold of the snow, slowly falling, touching her felt nothing compared to the cold she’s experiencing.

With her consciousness fading, she set her sights on her son who lay besides her soundly. Tears rapidly fell, mixing with the pool of blood. She failed to protect her son. Her last breaths were that of regrets’.

Perhaps the shock of hitting the ground hard, the son woke up weakly. His wound has been covered in snow, and stopped bleeding. Groaning, he turned only to see his mother sobbing in a pool of her own blood. His heart starts to beat in an extreme speed. Confusion, sadness, anger, fear. These emotions swirl together rapidly. Then, the boy heard a raspy voice, “It’s time for children to sleep.” The kid lost consciousness once again.

Waking up with a jolt, the child almost fell out of bed. Or rather, sofa. It was morning, and a calm one it was. Remembering back, he was tugged into bed and slept with his parents. Bewildered, he looks around to find himself in his living room. The decorated Christmas tree stood there, brightening the atmosphere with it’s cheerfulness. Under the tree was a present box, neatly wrapped. Excited, he forgot about the questions surrounding him and leaped out of the sofa, landing right in front of the present.

His excitement increases. The boy picked up the decorated present box, finding it to be pretty heavy. He gave the box a little shake, an a rumbling sound came from within. Unable to make heads or tails from the sound, he starts to tear open the present box. At the peak of his excitement, he removed the cover of the box.

Inside were the head of his mother and the remains of his father’s head.

A shrill scream rang through the neighborhood.

Pinned on the forehead of his mother’s head was a note, saying “Merry Christmas!” from Santa Claus.

Just a Dream
by Boomerang -


It all began the moment he closed his eyes. Normally, it took him quite a while before he fell asleep, however on this night after a tiresome work day, his brain was quick to shut down the moment his head hit the soft, cold pillow. He had never expected to be met with such grotesque nightmares.

When he 'woke up' ,he was standing. Darkness surrounded him, wrapping around his person and stealing away his breath, along with his vision. A chill ran down the length of his spine as he tried to find some form of light--Only to be met with more pitch black.

Noises began to echo across whatever room he had been placed in. He could hear the screams of children and terrified animal cries, accompanied with an unknown dripping and the sloshing sound of flesh being ripped to pieces. He winced at the noise, however he was too paralyzed to move a muscle. He had known since he woke up that this was merely a nightmare--So why did it feel so real?

In the distance, there was a small flash of light, followed by a steady flame that originated from a match. It was nothing compared to the overpowering darkness, but the man was relieved to see a break from the blindness, no matter how small. The orange hue moved over a few feet before lifting further up the wall. Suddenly, a large torch lit up, blinding him as he shut his eyes and grunted as he let himself back into darkness for a few seconds. When he opened them, another torch had been lit, illuminating nearly everything but the center of the room.

When he glanced to the areas where the light had touched, it was like a punch to the chest. His legs shook and buckled under him as he fell to his knees and dry heaved, struggling to keep himself steady.

A child rested on the right wall, breathing heavily as blood trickled from his lips. He opened his mouth in an attempt to scream, but all that came out was a noise akin to a piece of metal in the shredder. He coughed up more of the substance, glancing across the wall. On the left side of the wall was a man. Stab wounds and claw marks ran down the length of his naked body, his face gushing with crimson as one of his ears rested in a pool of its own blood next to him. He laid down on his back, staring up at the ceiling and sobbing softly as his broken hands scratched aimlessly against the damp concrete riddled with blood, tears and urine.

Yet, the back end of the room was the most horrendous. Bodies lined the walls, some dead and some alive with raspy screams still left in them. From the ceiling, men and women alike hung aimlessly by meathooks, causing a dark red to drip from the ceiling along with the condensation of water. In the center of everything, within the shadows, was a thin figure, watching him. The smell of blood and death had finally hit the man's nostrils as he sat on his knees, trying to take it all in. He could no longer do so, falling to all fours and vomiting.

There was a laughter that echoed across the surrounding concrete, penetrating his ear drums as he sat up slowly, a small line of bile dribbling from his lip. The laughter was raspy and strained--The man watched the lithe figure as it moved closer, just outside of the circle of light. He would have stood up and bolted away, but there were two reasons why he simply couldn't--He was paralyzed with fear, and he saw no way out. The stench of death and earsplitting screeches couldn't have been a dream, he thought.

"Humanity is a funny thing," A whispery voice cut through his thoughts like butter, the man's eyes shifting to the shadowed presence. A blade dripping with crimson was tight in the being's grasp, his head tilted to the side as a widened grin crossed his face. Pitch black eyes darker than even the shadows stared into his very soul, "You cling to these fears of the dark...of the dead..."

The man said nothing, watching the being pace back and forth in front of him, slowly stepping into his vision, “It’s laughable,” His voice was sharp as the knife he was holding, venom practically seeping from his lips, “You see, that’s why humanity is so...easily manipulated.”

As the being stepped out from the shadows, he was able to take in all of his features; A pale, sunken in face, with thin lips stretched into a wide grin. His dark, glaring hues gave a hungry look at his prey. A long, jagged scar ran from just beside his eye...all the way down to his lower jaw line--His most prominent feature, “Because I am your greatest fear.”

Finally finding his voice, he helplessly scooted backward, only to support himself against the cold concrete wall, "Wuh--What are you talking about?!" He demanded with a low whimper, completely the opposite of the intimidating yell he was hoping to accomplish. The demon cornered him now, almost giggling to himself.

"You know what I'm talking about!" With a sudden flash of movement, the tip of the knife clanked against the wall just beside the man's head. He flinched, turning away from the psychopath who had only come closer to him, "I'm the villain your mom and dad told ghost stories about--I'm that nightmare you had that you made yourself forget! I'm the darkness that lingers beside you!"

A cold hand wrapped around the man's chin, lifting his head forward until he was staring into the lifeless orbs that were supposedly eyes. The psychopath's smirk seemed to somehow grow as maniacal laughter escaped his parted lips, "But the light won't find you here, boy," He pulled his hand away, standing upright suddenly with a perplexed expression on his face, "Say...What's your name?"

His mouth grew dry as he suspiciouslly stared the man down, trembling and sweating profusely while his hands gripped the wall. He wanted to scream out like the child on that wall until his vocal chords gave out too, but instead he kept surprisingly calm in his response, "D..Drew."

He smiled at Drew, "Well, Drew--I'm Sirius...Sirius Nightshade," The torches suddenly dimmed, bringing the duo into nearly complete darkness, "Remember that name--You'll be able to tell God about me."

It was in that same moment that the man heard distinct shuffling sounds from the other side of the room. The few dozen corpses he had seen lined around the back wall before suddenly stood up in unison. Fresh blood dribbled from opening wounds and their eyes were completely glazed over...They began to walk toward Drew like the shambling undead he had seen in movies. They pushed themselves forward with distorted bodies riddled with lacerations and bones poking through pale skin. One happily dragged its right leg, nearly torn to shreds.

However, they weren't quite like the undead; They happened to have clear and almost beautiful voices. Their jaws unhinged, mouths wide open and the subtle look of a grin on their faces as they began to sing slow and methodically, "He's got the whole world, in his hands," They slowly trudged through the puddles of vermillian, brushing past the terrified child and the naked man who now looked more dead than alive, "He's got the whole wide world...In his hands."

Drew lost all hope in life he had as his throat simultaneously closed up. His chest heaved in and out in a panicked attempt at breathing. He stood upright on trembling legs, staring at the surrounding horde. Sirius' maniacal laughter cut through his thoughts as his voice grew in volume, leading the orchestra of corpses that sung with beautiful voices, "He's got the whole world in his hands!"

And at that moment, Drew let out a shriek of horror and turned away from the coming horde, digging his nails into the concrete as he desperately attempted to climb the wall. Impulse told him it was a good idea, even if it only resulted in bloody, gnarled fingers. As he slid back to the ground, he looked at them in an overbearing mix of shock and fear. Some were missing eyes, ears and other limbs. Their hair had completely fallen out, their clothes were ripped to shreds and their bodies didn't look much better. They provided a gentle back drop to Sirius' voice, akin to a choir, "He's got you and me, brother, in his hands, He's got you and me brother, in his hands," Sirius walked over to him, his hands forcing Drew's palm open and dropping the bloodied knife into his hands.

Sirius leaned forward until his face was inches from Drew's, his cold breath sending a chill down the man's spine. Even with his voice now dropped to the whisper, it completely caught Drew's attention. He lost sight of the corpses that continued to sing softly. Sirius cackled lowly as Drew looked down at the knife, "I like to give my victims a fighting chance."

Before Drew could react, Sirius pulled away, grasping his prey by the shirt and yanking him from his position on the wall. With great force, he threw Drew into the horde, his body falling like a ragdoll as he struggled to process the insanity he had been faced with. The corpses stopped singing abruptly, darting their heads in his direction as he lied down on his back. They only gave him time to get to his knees before they closed in, grabbing at him. Drew struggled, slicing his knife at the opposition at any vital points he could find.

"Haha, He's got the wind and the rain, in his hands!" Sirius stood a few feet behind Drew, just outside of the horde as a corpse ripped a large chunk from his knife arm, causing him to scream and drop his weapon. He turned and tried to run, only to be tackled by the brute strength of the shamblers. He fell to the ground with a thud, screaming for help, "He's got the wind and the rain, in his hands!"

Fresh crimson splattered upward like a fountain from Drew's body as he helplessly saw the open wounds made by the claws and teeth of the inhuman beings. Some even stomped on his chest, cracking his rib cage as he coughed up a few droplets of blood. The pain was immense, so much so that it had become numb to him from adrenaline and fear. The lights had completely gone out at this point, leaving him in total darkness, just as Sirius had told him, "He's got the wind and the rain, in his hands--He's got the whole world in his..." His voice trailed off for a moment as he gave Drew's lifeless corpse an amused glance through the darkness of his own creation. He was now a man void of screams as his body became nothing more than meat on bones. His grin spread from ear to ear as he looked at Drew's face--still ripe with fear, "Hands."

****

Drew bolted into a sitting position, screeching like a wild animal as he swung his arms back and forth, instinctively trying to bat the terrors away from him. As sweat poured from his face, dripping onto the bedsheets mixed with a growing pool of tears, it took him about ten seconds to readjust to the moonlight that shined upon him through the wide open window.

He took in a deep inhale, feeling around himself for any sort of injury, but all he felt was goosebumps. He put a hand to his soaked forehead, his exhale now one of relief. With a trembling body, he placed his head in his hands in an attempt to calm his panting breaths. The pain and noises had been so real, so vivid. He had completely forgotten the possibility that it had been a dream all along.

The blankets fell off of his bare torso as he stared to the moon, taking pride in the warm embrace of the light that had finally been provided to him. It was certainly a nightmare he hoped he would forget, and prayed to never have again. He allowed a small grin to form on his face, "Just a dream..."

He looked to the blue haze of the digital clock on his bed, grimacing at the 3:34 A.M. that glared at him. He tried to reason with himself to go to sleep, however he knew there was no way he could go back to sleep after that experience. The cool winter breeze smacked against him, causing a shiver to roll down his body. He placed his feet onto the hardwood floor, preparing himself for the dizzying task of standing up after sleeping for a long period of time. However, as he stood, he stopped, raising an eyebrow, "I could have sworn I closed that.."

He shook the suspicion away--Probably just a heightened alertness. He stood upright, balancing himself for a moment before walking a few steps and yanking the window sill down where it should have been. He exhaled softly. However, before he could turn, he froze. His stomach twisted into a tightened knot as he felt that cold breath brush along his neck once more.

"Gotcha," A low whisper spoke into his ear.

A sharp pain grew in his chest. Looking down, he saw his sweaty shirt now pierced with a knife. He grunted as it was pulled out in a small splatter of red. He grabbed his chest, stumbling toward the window. He barely made it two steps before he felt another pain in his throat, and suddenly the glass was as red as his shirt. He fell to his knees, and then to the floor on his back, gurgling on his own fluids he watched the lithe shadow in the dark, staring down.

As he felt his consciousness fade, he caught a glimpse of his face. A long, jagged scar ran from just beside his eye...all the way down to his lower jaw line--His most prominent feature.

ErrorBlender
11-16-2017, 06:01 AM
Tragedy Part I

James
by RichardLongflop
James

I’m forty-five years old, and I’m sitting here at this bar, drinking because of some thoughts I’ve had, and I’m thinkin’ more and more that there could be some truth to them.

Few years back, wife had cancer. Those days I relied more on my religion than I did any day before, each day I prayed to the heavens that she’d pull through, and she did. I remember holding her hands, celebrating her last round of chemo, I remember saying “Thank God,” over and over, praising the big man up top. She disagreed. She said that “God didn’t cure me, the doctors did. God gave me the cancer in the first place. It was the doctors that fought against His hand and saved me.” That day was a victory against our creator, the one who puppets us along. But were the doctors puppets too? It gets a bit too confusing to think about, after a while. Probably the scale of it all. It’s not just me, it’s everyone around me, every leaf, every dog, every detail worth mentioning is manipulated.

The Earth is a show, and we are His puppets, though are we only dancing and singing and dying for His entertainment? No, a puppeteer may take pleasure in his work, but he can only pull at the strings and get a bird's-eye view, it’s the audience who he does it for, the audience that knows nothing of the plot he has set for the puppets, it’s them who get the real thrill. It’s those watching that give the puppeteer the real thrill.

She’s still with me, and I’m thankful for that. My life’s not burdened much, ‘cept for this bottle in my hand.

Her words have stuck with me more than they ought to. She’s a writer, you know. Always had a way with words. A puppeteer in her own right, with words for puppets and this world as her audience. Through hard work, she’s managed to publish a few books. Nothing spectacular, more locally-sold than she’d dreamed for, but people buy them, read them, give good reviews. Each good review gives her a thrill, thrill of the puppeteer.

But this is where it gets me. I remember reading a book a while ago about a writer. This stuff’s on levels. A puppeteer plays a show, but the puppeteer themselves are controlled, and it can go on and on for infinity. The thing is, you can only look down into the stage, at the puppets you control, you never get to do anything but speculate if you have any strings of your own making you dance to someone else’s tune.

So, right now that’s all I could be. Text. You reading me here? Hell, I don’t even remember much before I started drinking. Life’s been a blur… there are parts of my life that are full of events, and then there are the days where things are monotonous and forgettable. Those moments feel like the space between novels, if you get what I mean. So what if I’m being written right now? What will happen when it ends? Do I… die? No, no. My death will have to be written. But what if this book about me ends, and no more sequels are made? Do I have to keep dancing, playing along my life, just to make sure the books run their series ‘till I die? Till my children die? My grandchildren?

Eh, sorry. Thoughts ran on a bit there. I guess the point is, though I feel like I’m thinking out to space here, there’s probably someone reading my thoughts. And if someone is reading me, I’m thinkin’ that there’s someone reading you, too.

Your life’s a story, a play. Like mine. Formed to give entertainment. I hope you’re given a good genre, I think mine’s more tragedy than anything. Not in what I’ve lost, no, I’ve not lost much, but a tragedy in the way that I haven’t gained much either, and for every thing I’ve been given, it’s been, well, given to me. Earning is pointless, each good thing in my life is just a prop to make me dance harder.

But, yeah. You’re the reader. You know my life. Sure, you may not know the whole thing, depends on how many chapters or books you’ve read about me. Am I famous? Heh, funny thought. Well, I might be. But you already know me, don’t you? I didn’t even have to tell you my name, and you probably know it already.

So I’m just gonna drink here. I can’t see my own future- you can, though, you can just skip to the last page- so I think I’ll just keep living instead. Keep thinking myself a unique individual, put these thoughts out of my head. Live as if I’m the head puppeteer, no-one to dangle me on a stage. There’s no way to prove that there is anyone playing me. I mean sure, my religion is all about that, but… I’ve always thought that God gave us free will. That the idea of a ‘big plan’, a plot, was a silly idea. But those ideas are changing now. Predestination, Weird, huh.

You may have your own ideas- God, I’m really thinking like I’m talking to someone now. Hell, it could even be God himself- but yes, you may have your own ideas of religion, or you may not have one. They could just all be theories for a puppeteer, like the theory of things like the Higgs Boson particle, but they got proved eventually. What if you ever got proven to me? Well, not you. You’re a reader, you can’t do anything but consume this story. But the writer. Utter control of my life, can do powerful things with a single word. What if we proved the existence of such a person? What if we proved the existence of God? And what if that person is just as fallible, as human, as I am? Well, as I am portrayed.

Maybe that’s it. WIfe told me, a person always puts themselves into their characters, as a way to get into them better. Maybe that’s a good enough excuse for all the problems of my life, of the lives of everyone. That the person pulling the strings may truly be omnipresent, omnipotent, that they may be considered all-knowing purely because the knowledge in this world is limited to how much they know. That this person, this God, is still fallible. Can make mistakes. Maybe the world’s just gotten out of control and they’d rather focus on how people get through it, rather than go through the trouble of cleaning it up? With all that’s going on, I’m sure it would be an almighty pain for someone with just a typewriter at their disposal. They can’t just type “and everything was fixed” because it’s so much more complex than that.

I think… maybe I should leave these thoughts for another time. A time when I’m not on the verge of getting drunk. Things are getting a bit blurry right now. I’m just gonna close my eyes a little, see what I can piece together before I can grab my things and go home. I can’t even remember what the bar looks like, can you?

Yeah, I’d best go. Pretty obvious my life’s not too interesting now. Middle-aged man at a bar, having the big thoughts. I don’t have any big plot twists in my life, and I hope I don’t get any soon. I’d rather just be in peace right now, go back to my monotonous, uneventful life. So, why not leave me be, under a pile of books somewhere, or on some webpage you’ll forget soon enough. How about this, why don’t you go read a different story?

Boomerang - Our Oak Tree



The fondest memory of my brother was from when I was 10, the time he found me hiding at the top of the oak tree.

He was 17, and for a while we never really talked. We were from different generations--He made top marks in school and was the popular jock, while I was small, skinny and never really knew how to hold my own. My parents didn’t help matters at all. They weren’t around to teach me to be a man, and when they were I was smacked around and told I was nothing but dirt. John dealt with same torment on a daily basis, but he had learned the remedy to deal with emotions...something I hadn’t mastered. I looked up to him even then, but he never noticed.

It was a sunny spring day, the rough bark was warm against my bare arm. I sat at a particularly large branch and looked up to the blue skies, allowing myself to be washed in warmth. The oak tree was the height of my house and thick around the base, but I had always been an agile kid. I could make it to the top of the tree in 30 seconds flat. The tree was a few blocks from my house, and I always came up here. Partially because I loved the sun in my face, and partially because I wanted my parents to search for me. I wanted to know that they cared enough to come find me.

When I saw the figure walking toward me, I hoped that it was my mother or father. It turned out that it was John. He looked up at me, narrowing his eyes as a scowl formed on his face, “Matt?”

I said nothing and stared back down at him, and John continued with an exasperated sigh, “What are you doing up there, Matt?”

I was still too surprised to speak. I never expected John to come look for me--Much less notice I was up here. I looked down at the ground and stood up from the large tree branch, “Get down from there right now!”

As quickly as I could, I descended the tall oak tree and looked up at him. He was at least a foot and a half taller than me, and he had a larger, more muscular build. There was a furiousity in his eyes as he stared down at me. He opened his mouth to say something and I flinched; I’ve dealt with my father enough to know that after a yell comes a vicious backhand. John seemed to notice this, and instead of yelling, he let out a sigh, relaxing his shoulders and running a hand through his hair.

He placed a firm hand on my frail shoulder, “Matt, you can’t run off like that, okay? You could...you could really hurt yourself,” John shook his head, “You know mom and dad aren’t gonna come looking, and this is the first time I actually saw you leave. Next time you might fall...or get kidnapped or, I don’t know, something!”

My shock had worn off and I nodded, swallowing hard, “You came looking for me?”

John scoffed, “Of course I did, you’re my brother! I have to look after you, in fact…” His frown turned into a small smile, “Why don’t you stick with me? From now on, I mean. At least then I know you’ll be safe.”

My eyes lit up. I never thought I’d ever hear those words from him--He seemed to be such a far away mystery to me. He was always like a celebrity, someone you wanted to know but never got a chance to. I nodded feverishly, “Okay!”

John turned, putting an arm around me and guiding me down the road, “Let’s get home, I’ll make you something to eat.”

****

It was from that moment on that I came to my brother with any problems that I had. He would wipe my tears when kids made fun of me, and make me laugh after dad would smack us around or mom would call me a disgrace. I spent sleepless nights in his room, just talking about random things--Girls, school, video games, you name it.

Further down the line, John became the one who made sure I ate. He made sure I was okay, and that I had clothes on my back. When he turned 19 and graduated (He failed 7th grade), he made sure I was able to sit in the audience to watch the ceremony. By this point, mom and dad barely were around in the morning before running off to get drunk, high and party, so I was the only one in my family that watched him get his diploma. When he moved into his new home, I still came to his house every day to eat and shower considering we had no food and no hot water.

Eventually, our neighbors finally figured out about my parents. Whether it was me walking out of my house every day and not returning til the morning, their drunken tirades, or the bruises on my face, child protective services were eventually knocking on my door. At first, I did what any 12 year old abused kid would do; I lied. But, also like any other 12 year old abused kid, I told the truth pretty quickly. They told me that I wasn't allowed to be with my parents anymore, and that I was to be put in a foster home, effective immediately. Before they do any of that, however, they look for family members to take in. I had nobody, except for my big brother John.

He later told me that there was no thought into it. He immediately said yes, no matter the stress it would put on himself. He made the spare room in his apartment into my very own bedroom, and bought all types of different sheets and furniture for me--Also all the food I could eat. During the days he was in college, and during the nights he was working at McDonalds to make a decent living for us. I didn't know then how much we were truly struggling from the very beginning, he had never told me.

The house was pretty decent compared to the shack I was living in with my parents, who had decisively left the picture after my brother took me in. They didn't even try to work to get me back, they probably thought it was more freedom to them. I looked around John's house and saw cleaned floors, bright lights and comfortable carpets and furniture. It was complete contrast to the lack of hot water and hot food, mangy carpets, torn apart furniture and floors I couldn't even see. I felt like I was in a better place there.

****

The worst decision I had ever made in my life was made under that very same oak tree that John had found me in. One of the kids in my grade had begun hanging around me in Sophomore year. I didn't have many friends, and I was feeling particularly upset. My 16th birthday marked three years since my parents had ever spoken to me, and after John got out of college he began working a full time job at a business firm. He no longer had time for those sleepless nights, or the patience for my complaints. It left me with a not-so-old reminder of my parents, and how they had neglected me. Even though in the back of my mind I knew John's reasons were pure, it still hit home and left me vulnerable. I had felt irreversibly alone when that he sat with me in my class and was friendly toward me.

Turns out, he was a rich kid who was popular. I suddenly began to have more 'friends', if you could call it that. When I wasn't stuck in my house, I was in his. This became a routine thing, either I'd be at his house or he'd be in mine, which incidentally wasn't too far away from my old house. I started to wonder why John didn't give me all the things that Troy got--It never crossed my mind that Troy's parents were just in a better position than us financially. It began the slow process of me taking things for granted because I liked to look at what others had in envy.

We had been walking down the block when I came across that oak tree. It was winter, so the tree had been left completely barren. The sun had begun to set and gave the sky a bright orange-red hue. The kid eyed me closely, hands in his pockets, "Listen, Matt...I know you've been stressed, with your brother being busy and all," His eyes darted around the empty street as he exhaled, puffs of smoke emerging from his mouth as hot air met bitter cold, "I think you should just let go of that stress--Have some fun, y'know?"

I raised an eyebrow as my friend shifted back and forth, looking straight at me as he ran a hand through his greasy black hair, "What do you mean?" I asked.

He dug around in the hand still in his coat pocket. He pulled out a bottle of prescription pills, handing them to me. I stared at them in my palm for a long time--Oxycotin, something typical a spoiled rich kid could get. He spoke once again, "When my mom broke her arm they gave her these--I started taking them. They really mellow you out."

"Troy, this--" I clenched them in my hand, shaking my head, "This is a really bad idea."

"Aw, come on!" He grinned mischievously, patting me on the shoulder, "Just take two of em and see how great you feel. You won't even have to buy the pills, man, I'll just give you some of mine I get from my dealer from time to time."

I frowned, running my finger along the base of the pill bottle. I shook it in my hand, there were only a few left in the bottle. The brittle wind blew past me, causing me to shiver under my own skin. Troy continued on, "Matt, I'm telling you, man. This'll make you forget all about John and your parents."

Troy took the bottle from me and popped open the cap. He carefully tilted it over, letting two fall into his palm before closing the bottle back up. He put the bottle in one of my hands and the two pills in the other, "Just try it," He sung.

Against my better judgement, I shoved the two pills in my mouth and swallowed hard, placing the pill bottle in my pocket. I decided that I'd try it, just for my one true friend. He wouldn't let anything bad happen to me, right? Troy patted me on the shoulder and chuckled, putting an arm around me as he guided me down the street--The same way John had done what seemed like so long ago.


----

Matt was a good kid. He wasn't perfect, but he knew right from wrong. He had morals. So why he started to hang out with those spoiled brats from his school was beyond me. At first, I blamed myself. I had been working overtime for months--Any time I was home, Matt only ever saw me up to my nose in paperwork and irritable. He was feeling lonely, and it left him vulnerable to those bad influences. He started taking the things we had for granted, as if I wasn't working hard enough to put food on the table. It took me a long time to realize that it wasn't my fault...But it wasn't his either. Matt was a damn good kid.

It started small. Matt started going out with his friends once a week, then three times, then every day if he could. Most of the time, it was without my permission while I was working. He'd delete the voicemails that said he had been absent from school, and would always run to the mailbox. I never knew that he was hiding his interim reports and teacher complaints--At least until I got to the mail first one day. It showed all of his grades. He had straight A's in the first and second quarters, but now with the third quarter over he had Four D's, two F's and a C; to put it into perspective, the C was in Gym.

I waited for him to come home from his friends house, my rage growing with each passing minute on the clock. He had grown prone to staying out late, and the smell of alcohol and pot from his room told me he wasn't always at Troy's house--And if he was, he was partying. I hadn't confronted him about it yet, but I figured now would be the time to. I decided his antics had to stop.

Matt didn't walk up the driveway until a few minutes after midnight. I watched the headlights of a car come to our house, stop, and honk as it drove off. Matt waved, a huge grin on his face. He stumbled down the gravel walkway, and when he opened the door, he nearly fell to the floor, catching himself against the wall. He narrowed his eyes at me, frowning softly, "Wah....What are you doing up?" He hiccuped, covering his mouth.

My eyes must have shown him just how serious the situation was. His expression sobered up, but only slightly. I could tell by his dilated pupils that he was drunk, "I know it's late, John, but I can--"

I threw the report card down on the table, face-up and opened, showing his grades. Matt gave it a once-over and then blinked, his eyes widening as I walked a step closer to him, "What the FUCK is this, Matt?" He was silent, staring at me, "Don't just stare at me like I have two heads!"

Matt put a hand in front of him as if telling me to calm down, "Schools just been really hard after the first semester, John. I'm sorry--"

I slammed my hand on the table, causing him to flinch, "You come into this house drunk nearly every day, you skip school, and now you're failing or nearly failing all of your classes? You're making all the bad choices you can possibly make!"

Matt scowled, "Well you haven't been helping any!" He threw his hands out in exasperation, struggling a bit to balance himself before continuing, "All you ever do is work, work, work! And you know what we get in return? NOTHING. Still just getting by."

"You think I wouldn't like for us to have a giant mansion and a bunch of cars like all of your spoiled friends?" I gritted my teeth, "I make sure you have food in your stomach and a roof over your head. What more do you want?"

Matt scoffed, turning away from him and shaking his head, "You're giving me a headache."

"Maybe it's because you're drunk."

"Well I wouldn't need to get drunk if I didn't feel like I was alone all the damn time!" Matt retorted.

I exhaled, running a hand through my hair, "You know...I never thought I'd see you become a spoiled brat."

"And I never thought I'd see you become JUST LIKE MOM AND DAD."

I didn't mean what was going to happen next. I didn't even realize I was doing it. One second, he was standing in front of me, looking up at me and spitting venom. The next moment, he was on the ground, grabbing his cheek as I smacked him clean across the face. I stared at my hand for a moment, my expression going from anger to shock. My breathing grew ragged as Matt stared at me with fiery green eyes.

"Matt, I..." He stood upright. The slap had sobered him up as tears welled in his eyes. He turned around opening the door and stomping outside. I followed him to the door, still holding my hand in front of me, "Matt, I didn't mean to!"

I walked out, watching him sprint down the street, "Matt, wait! MATT!"

****

An hour passed and I must have called his phone at least fifty times. I left him a voicemail each time, apologizing emphatically, begging him to come back home. He shouldn't be out by himself at one in the morning. I felt the tears roll down my face, my heart rate increase, and my body grow numb. If anything happened to him, it would have been my fault. I should have kept my emotions in check.

As I paced the kitchen, I eventually decided that I needed to go find my little brother. I grabbed my coat and scarf and walked out of the door. I didn't bother to lock the door--I didn't even bother to take my keys. I needed to drive to work tomorrow and I only had enough gas to take me there and back--Plus, I figured that Matt had gone to Troy's, which wasn't too far.

I walked down the lonely street with no lamps and no guarantee for my safety, exhaling softly. The only light came from the full moon up above, illuminating the path in front of me. I was able to see that tall oak tree from a few blocks away, and I decided that I should check it out. The oak tree had become a sort of safe haven from Matt, ever since he was a kid; If he wasn't at Troy's, he'd definitely be there.

I kept my hands firmly in the pockets of my jacket as I walked toward the tree. I turned my head back and forth, looking for his short and skinny figure. I allowed a faint smile at the thought of this tree--It reminded me of the time when Matt was just an innocent kid.

On a whim, I took out my phone and called Matt one more time. The incessant ringing in my ear that had grown tedious over the course of an hour and a half caused me to flinch. I waited with cold breath under the base of the tree. There was a click, and then his annoyed voice. My expression was washed with relief as he scowled, "What do you want, John?"

I went to respond, but was interrupted by a deadly voice, "Give me your money, asshole."

I turned around to see a kid, probably no older than Matt, standing in front of me. His eyes were alert and his body was frail--He looked as though he was on a significant high. He shakily held a gun, pointing it at my chest. I exhaled, giving him a faint smile, "I don't have any money."

"What?" Matt's voice called over the phone.

"Then give me your phone," He retorted, flaunting his gun once again, "I'll shoot--Don't...Don't make me!"

"Listen...Just let me finish talking to my brother."

"John, what's going on?" Matt demanded.

"HANG UP AND GIVE ME THE DAMN PHONE"

The screams at me and in my ear almost drowned out the gunshot, but it didn't drown out the pain. I stumbled backward, dropping the phone and falling flat on my stomach. I could feel the warmth of blood surrounding me as I looked up to the teenager. He stared at his gun in shock, then back at me, "I--I'm sorry. I thought--I thought the safety was..."

I coughed up blood as black dots consumed my vision. I faintly heard yelling from my phone, but I couldn't make out the words. The kid dropped his gun and promptly sprinted down the street as I turned on my back, looking up at the bare oak tree.

"What a way to go," I muttered to myself with a slight smirk.

I always knew my brother Matt was a damn good kid, no matter what he did to suggest otherwise.

----

I didn't hear the police sirens--They were basically white noise, as were the officers that continued to push against me. When adrenaline is pumping through you, physical restraints are normally neglected. That was why I was able to push past men and women much stronger (and sometimes much bigger) than me until I got to the fated yellow tape that surrounded the base of the oak tree.

When John called me, I wasn't planning on telling him where I was. I didn't even want to talk to him at all, but watching my phone light up over and over again as I sat next to Troy had become an annoyance to me. I ceased my complaining for one moment to answer the phone, and ended up experiencing the worst three minutes of my entire life.

In my drug-induced daze, I didn't fully comprehend anything that was going on--That is, until I heard the gunshot over the phone.

I felt myself sober up as I started to scream into the phone, "John?! JOHN!"

"I'm sorry...I thought--I thought the safety was," The man's voice stuttered before stopping as he assumingly ran away.

Tears had begun to roll down my face as I screamed for him, "Talk to me, John--TALK TO ME!" When I was once again met with no response, I threw my phone down in frustration, standing upright and grabbing my coat from the rack, "I gotta go, Troy, I--I gotta go."

Troy was surprised to see me in this state--He had never seen me puffy eyed and sobbing, "What's going on, Matt?"

I reached down, grabbing my phone and opening the door. I didn't even look at him, "My brother just got shot," I replied quietly before walking out.

And I ran. I ran all the way from Troy's house until I saw red and blue consume the night sky. It was at that point that I knew for sure something terrible had happened. When I made it to the Caution tape, I was only meant with confirmation of what I had feared. The body had already been wrapped and was in the midst of being carried away from the crime scene among the crimson pool that had surrounded it. It took a moment for the shock to set in; But once it did, I fell to my knees, placing my hands over my mouth and stifling a scream. Eventually, it turned into loud sobbing as I fell to the pavement.

When they stepped over the caution tape and began to carry his body to the back of the ambulance, I spoke softly, "Wake up John..." It rose sharply, however, "WAKE UP JOHN! WAKE UP!"

I grew silent, hugging myself as officers once again surrounded me, urging me to stand up and walk away from the traumatizing scene, "Wake up...Wake up..."

****

They caught the murderer. I was forced to sit in court as they charged him with first degree murder--he was sentenced with 25 to life. My expression was blank in the courtroom, and it was blank at the funeral, too. I saw many of his friends, all of which gave their condolensces to me. One of them even offered me a place to stay until I graduated, however I declined. I noticed that my parents weren't at the funeral, nor did they call me at all during the grieving process. His friends had paid for the funeral, but after it was over I never really heard from them again.

Troy, wrought with pity for my sake, kept me on my feet long enough for me to juggle a job as well as school. I stopped taking drugs from him or anyone, and partying on my part had met a crashing halt. Because if I had been better, if I hadn't let myself fall into the venus fly trap known as teenage society, my brother John would still be here today. I just felt like I was in a bad dream I couldn't ever wake up from--I blamed myself for John's death, and I still do. I realized my mistakes too late, I stressed him out and I took him for granted until he had been shot dead in the middle of the street.

John always thought the best of me, and I let him down. That's a pill that will always be impossible to swallow.

And sometimes, on the days where I feel particularly lonely, I take a road trip to that old oak tree that now has chips in the bark and branches barely holding themselves up. I climb that tree, tripping and nearly falling multiple times as I had lost the athleticism of my youth. I sit down on one of the stronger branches and pray that John will come find me like he did so many years ago.

He never does.

The Greatest Risks
by Devour
Deep within the bowels of the Rheudox Estate, a faceless family had sewn their hearts shut. They were living corpses who survived only to strengthen their magic, and they slept tonight without dreaming.

But for the life of me, I could not do the same.

I writhed in the darkness of my room, consumed by my loneliness, wanting for something to want so badly that the ache of it hurt. To my father I was weak. To my mother I was pitied. All my life I was expected to live a lie with a mask over my face; to cut out my still-beating heart and proclaim upon mountains for all the world to see that I was not human.

Instead, I was a Rheudox.

The sickly burning of my soul flowed around me and through me, growing hotter and hotter until it coalesced to a single point within my heart. It exploded with its irregular pounding, striking my limbs at last as they decided they would bear the pain no longer. Not knowing how, I found myself on my feet with a lit candle in my hands, guiding me through empty hallways and down into the cold depths of the basement. Here was where the family's knowledge was stored, and protected from prying eyes.

Here is where I found the knowledge to summon her.

As a magician I was weak, but I was still a Rheudox. The summoning circle formed easily, and without hesitation I supplied my own blood, chanting the ritual with ever-increasing ecstasy as I saw the magic work, and a being began to from smoke and dust and magic to coalesce into a living thing. A companion. A friend.

A succubus.

She was a shockingly beautiful creature. A Venus flytrap that attracted its prey; the sight of her too tantalizing to even resist. Her hair was black as the night and her naked skin pale as snow. Every inch of her emanated attraction and only the bright red eyes on her face gave away that she was, above all else, a predator.

There was no hesitation. The second that she formed, her invisible hooks reached out through my weak summoning circle as if it didn't exist, and they found purchase in many parts of me: my loneliness, my frustration, my burning desire to be free from this empty prison. Before I could even speak I was caught in her web, lost in her wicked smile. I awaited her every step towards me with wild excitement. My face was flushed with desire and I lost myself in it, helpless to her power.

“You have my thanks, foolish mage.” The succubus purred. Her very voice sent tingles of sensation down my spine. “For the gift of your soul.” Hands wrapped around me with electric jolts of pleasure, and with a kiss from perfect lips the succubus drained a small piece of my very soul. I was ecstatic for every second of it.

My soul contained the very essence of my being. It was my memories, my personality, everything about me that made me different from a wild animal. My head spun, every part of me shook and only wanted her to consume me more, and bring that oh-so blessed pleasure that shattered anything I had ever felt before.

But then she pulled away.

And frowned.

“Human... I cannot do this to you.” Her perfect voice was troubled. I was not the only one who battled emotions of which they did not know the name. But what does a succubus know of conscience or guilt? All the same, I would have went to the ends of the Earth to make her happy again. “You are unlike any mage I have seen before, and... “You have passion, but not arrogance. You have a powerful gift of magic, but you do not desire that power. I didn't...” One by one, I felt her magical hooks detach from me, and sanity slowly returned. “I see you are lonely. All you want is love, and to be loved in return. To devour you here would be to destroy something precious and rare.

“Even if the reason you brought me here was to steal your soul and inflict my pleasure upon you...” Her head turned away from me, visibly fighting the predatory urge to finish what she had started. “I will not. I refuse to do it.”

“I—” My breath returned with my sanity, ragged and gasping. These alien emotions that had overwhelmed me so completely were terrifying as they were addictive. Even after that small taste of heaven, already I felt like there was something missing from me. A small piece of who I was had been consumed forever, in exchange for a moment of temporary, excruciating pleasure.

And God help me, I wanted her to consume it all until every last piece of me was gone.

“I didn't summon you for that. I don't want to die.” I finally coughed. “All I wanted was...” I searched frantically for the right word. “I just wanted a friend. Is that what they're called?”

With a smile of understanding, the demon gave the smallest of nods.

“Well, I get it.” I breathed, fighting the addiction that already burned. “I understand that you're a succubus. It's who you are to feed on people like me. I was foolish. Desperate. I felt like anything, any sort of contact with another living person would be better than... this emotionless hell.” I gestured around me. “It's only through your grace that I'm still alive. I should have known better than to summon you.”

Tears of hopeless grief welled. I turned away to save the little dignity that I had left. “You don't have to stay.” I choked.

I was too ashamed to look back. Too tired to say goodbye or even think about what to do next. I just sat, defeated, and I waited.

And then I felt her hand on my shoulder.

“It's true.” The succubus began. “In the end, I am a demon that survives off the souls of others, and pleasure is just the venom I use to lure my prey. But I'm not the only one. Mages by nature are brutal. Evil. And you, magician, are neither of those things.” For the first time, a demon smiled a real smile, and it transformed her features from beautiful to something incredibly different and heartwarming. I was blessed to see it as I turned to face her. “Maybe we aren't bound by our natures... Maybe I could be your friend after all.”

“But... What?” The transformation from utter defeat to hope was sudden. Emotional inertia tore my heart one way while the other stayed put, so afraid and so used to failure that it fought to reject this happiness, should it be taken away and hurt me where it hurt the most. I realized, at once, the safety of living a life free of emotion or conscience.

But then I realized something else. Was that kind of life truly worth living? To turn in my hope and happiness and excitement, in exchange for never feeling the opposite? To put up my walls would mean to never feel this loneliness that haunted me, and I would be free of all the horrible emotions that came with it.

Or could I really give life my damnedest efforts, to scrape and claw my way out from this wretched life I had been born into and pull from the very jaws of defeat happiness itself? This demon was a creature of lust and seduction, and I was a mage who knew nothing but power and violence.

But somehow, that only made beating the odds and finding love after all so much more appealing.

“I would be honored to have you as my friend.” I replied at last, smiling back as I made the greatest risk in my life. “You have my gratitude. You could have killed me here and now, and instead you may have saved my life. I feared that I would be cursed to a long existence bitter and alone, and instead you have filled me with a kind of happiness that I have never dared to feel before.”

The succubus stepped closer and opened her mouth. “Good. Because a hopeful soul is simply delicious.” The hand on my shoulder clamped shut with a grip of iron, nails digging hard enough to pierce the skin. “You tasted of desperation.” She whispered in my ear as her magical hooks latched back into me one by one. “Your life was empty and without purpose. That just wouldn't do.”

Pleasure overwhelmed my body once again as the demon fed on me, uncontrollable and all-encompassing. But this time it came with the foreboding sense of death. My hope was fed upon, ravenously. My life was eaten away with every passing second. I struggled against it with all I had, and I realized at once that it was futile. “Why?” I gasped, shaking hard. “Why do it like this?”

“You were right.” The succubus purred. Gone was her compassion. Her understanding. All that remained was the intonation of a predator. “It's who I am. Being friends with you would have been nice—I would have loved to learn more about the human world. But unfortunately that was impossible.” She brought her other hand below my belt, and with a single motion I collapsed to the floor in a heap as my life was drained from my body. I hated the pleasure with every fiber of my being, and I hated more how badly I liked it. All I could do was stare at the demon with eyes wide in shock as the world and my emotions became more and more empty.

“It's just my nature.” She smiled. “And you taste delicious.”

Blind Hope
by devi

Hope. One of the things humanity have had since they first came onto the world, hope has helped us all strive to greatness and beyond as we never stop believing in the future. Hope has raised cities and cultures, but sometimes hope can be misplaces. Humans have always put hope into the higher ups, but in our era, we have finally started to put hope in ourselves. We’re slowly becoming more individual.

Sometimes however, you might live in a time where you put your hope into the wrong people, the people that won’t ever help them yet the hopers continue to believe. You could make an argument that it is how atheists believe god to be, I’m not here to take sides in that. I’m here to tell a story. A story about hope.

Our story takes place in medieval Europe, during the time when Christianity dominated the continent with it’s huge fist. This wasn’t the Christianity that we see in our day, this was the strict and cruel Christianity. Any people who didn’t believe in Christ were automatically labeled as heretics and severely punished, with use of burning at the stake or hanging. Everyone was scared by the church and were forced to become strict Christians. There was no possibility for disbelief and science was held back.

Our story follows a catholic peasant named Edward, and his hard times in the short life he had. His story is one of depression, as he forced himself to be hopeful after all the horrible things that happen to him. Enough talk now; let’s hop into the story.




“How’s the baby, Mary?” Edward asked his wife, gently patting her on the stomach with his right hand. Edward was not a very big man, in fact he was pretty skinny by our standards. This was however expected by a peasant, as they didn’t earn enough money to buy a lot of food. His lack of money clearly shown in the dirty rag like clothing he wore. His cloth started with a shirt like form then descended into a long droopy shirt part, with only some rags again to cover his genitals.

“He’s very well, he’s been kicking this whole time.” Mary replied with a large smile on her face, looking down to her pregnant stomach. Compared to Edward, Mary had much better clothing than her husband. She wore fine straight clothes, reminiscent to the same figure to nun clothes but with a dirt brown color. It was the clothes she had gotten when she and Ed had gotten married, as bride gifts.

Looking around, you could see the condition in which they both lived. The house was poorly made with holes on some of the walls and stone sticking out. Their furniture was no better, with one small table to eat and only one bed for both of them. The bed was once red, but you couldn’t see it because of how dirty and unclean it was. Once the room that was their house was beautiful with many colors, but after years of degradation had wasted it.

“Maybe he’ll be as strong as me someday.” Edward commented, jokingly flexing his arms to his wife. Mary giggled, which made him smile. His wife happy was one of the few happy things he had left in his life. Especially after having to start to serve underneath an unfair knight who took a lot of money as payment to “protect” them. Unfair amount being around 50% of all the gold they earned.

Most people at this point would complain or go on a work strike to show that they aren’t happy about it. But it would fall on deaf ears, this age you had to keep working or else someone else would take your land. We have it much easier with many more choices than people back then, peasants had to be hopeful just to keep themselves have any semblance of happiness.

“Haha, I’m sure he will.” Mary replied happily, but then she paused in thought. She quickly opened her mouth again, this time with a more concerned voice. “What did the knight say about giving you some extra gold to help us with the child?”

Ed gulped loudly. He didn’t exactly like the man he worked under; the Knight Reginald was not a man that many peasants liked. He took much money, and did not always hold to his promise, not a very honorable man. However, he was one who always had a lot of gold, so peasants and merchants continued to flock to him.

“He said no.” He said silently, looking down in shame as his body tensed in anger.

“What was that?” Mary asked, genuinely confused and worried, approaching her disturbed husband.

“He said no.” He repeated, this time loudly, his anger clearly showing in his face. Edward was enraged, his choler moving through his veins as he thought of less pleasing things that should happen to the knight. Looking at his wife however, he calmed himself quickly.

“Its okay, Edward. We’ll be fine.” She hugged him, her warmth reassuring and comforted him. Her stomach pressing on him gently as her arms wrapped around him like a blanket. Ed couldn’t help but cry quietly as he rest his head on his wife’s shoulder, as he sobbed.

After a while of crying, Ed left the embrace of Mary’s arm, smiling to her with a most genuine smile.

“I promise things will be better, my love. God always rewards the patient.”

“I know, Edward. I know.”




Days turn to weeks, as Edward continues to slave on the farm day in and day out, patiently waiting for his child. Then on the dawn of a new day, a scream broke the silence. Edward woke up with a shock, immediately shooting out of his bed in surprise. The screaming came from his wife.

“What’s wrong?” Edward asked loudly, slowly starting to freak out in fear of what was happening.

“The baby!” Mary screamed louder than she ever has, as she grunted loudly in pain, violently moving around in the bed. Edward spared no time thinking, he ran out the house, sprinting to the nearby church.

As Edward approached the entrance, he started to knock violently and loudly on the hard wooden gates. He continued for a long time, his hand started to hurt while he knocked as hard as he could. The door that he wasn’t knocking on opened with a loud creak. Out came a nun, who seemed very tired and very grumpy.

“What do you want at this hour, Edward?” She asked with an annoyed voice, barely able to hold her eyes open with the weight of her eyebrows weighing down on them. The nun was very old, wrinkles being everywhere on her face as her skin drooped down a bit. She wore the general attire of the nuns, with the colors of black and white like most others.

“Mary, she’s giving birth.” He replied, barely able to let his words out of his mouth without needing to get a deep breath.

“Then we must be off at once.”

As they arrived back to Edward’s home, the nun immediately got to work on helping Mary. She told her words of comfort and told her to press it out. Edward was too afraid to watch so he waited outside in fearful anticipation, holding his hands as if he was praying.

After a very long and tedious wait, filled with the shouts and screams of his wife, they finally stopped. Erik took this as a sign to enter, and he opened the door. His wife lay there with the nun standing next to her, her hands bloody while holding something big and round in her hands.

“How is the baby?” Edward asked loudly with excitement in his voice, approaching the bed. They didn’t answer him, both simply looked down in sadness with gloomy eyes. Edward approached the nun and looked over her shoulder. It was his baby all right, but not quite the way he would have wanted.

It was dead.




Days turn into weeks and weeks turn into months, as Edward and Mary continued their lives despite what happened. Edward however was the only one that really had the energy to keep going, Mary had gotten depression from it and it was getting worse with each passing day. Edward fought hard to make her happy.

Edward woke up in his sleep to see his wife no longer under the sheets with him. Instead she stood by the window, looking out into the wheat fields, with blank eyes and a emotionless face. Quickly, he got out of bed and approached her.

“Mary, its okay. I’m here for you.” He comforted as he wrapped his arms around her. She gave no form of reply, she said nothing, she didn’t move, she didn’t even smile or anything. They both stood there in silence, until Ed grabbed her by the hand and gently pulled her back to bed.

He laid her down slowly, as her eyes closed in sleep. He sighed, a small happy smile on his face. He rubbed her forehead steadily, “Things are going to get better. God will help us.”

The next day came, the sun shining through the holes in the house, penetrating the darkness and shrouding the room with brightness instead of darkness. Groggily, Edward got up from his comfortable bed. He had slept with his clothes on so he could get to work immediately. He was in no hurry as he walked to the door. He opened the door with a loud creak.

All of the fields had been burnt down, ashes instead of wheat covered the immense field. Edward had no words, he fell down onto his knees, blankly staring at it all. He stared and he stared, as tears went down his eyes like rivers. Emotional stress would be an understatement in this situation.

He was there, staring at what he had lost, staying in complete silence. Finally, he decided to stand up from his crying, and he turned around to his house. He went back in to his house, only to see a hanging dark silhouette, dangling from side to side in an ominous fashion. He approached it slowly, only to see what it was.

Mary had hung herself. She couldn’t take it anymore.




Many depressing decades passed by, as Edward slowly lost all he had. The knight, not to mention the sickness he had received from witches, evicted him from his home. Edward was left on the streets, despised by the common folk who spit on him and wanted him dead.

Despite all this, Edward never gave up hope. He still believed in that these were just god’s challenges set forth to him, that he could not give up no matter the obstacle. Slowly, he faded away from the world, leaving no mark of his existence on the world.

Truly a weird story, a hope born from circumstances where you had to have it otherwise you would die. Edwards story was indeed short, perhaps too short for my taste but oh well. We can’t always have people’s lives to be eventful and jolly, sometimes god just loves fucking with people.

I mean, why wouldn’t he?

La Vie En Rose
by Spacepunk
She would spend every morning playing her ukulele before school. She’d sing and play not only for money, but because she enjoyed making people’s day through music. She’d perform various songs, but one always made an appearance: “La Vie En Rose”. Every day she was there. Until eventually, she wasn’t.
***
She woke up at around 5:30 in the morning. Her phone went off, and a little pre-set tune played. She groaned and rolled over in her bed, grabbing her phone. After silencing the melody, she threw off her blankets and put her feet on the cold hardwood floor. She put on her clothes—a flannel, t-shirt, and skinny jeans. She grabbed her soprano ukulele and her mailbag and headed to the kitchen for breakfast.
She went to the old and slightly rusted fridge and grabbed some milk and went to the cupboard and got a box of cereal. In the middle of eating, her mother stumbled into the kitchen, attempting to rub the sleep from her eyes. She slumped down across from her daughter and put her head on the table. Juliet ignored her.
“Hey, kid, grab me a beer.”
“It’s 5:30 in the morning.”
“I’m pretty sure I asked for a beer, not the time.” Juliet sighed and did as her mother requested. She slid the beer over to her and her mother caught it. She pulled the tab on the can, and the smell of alcohol wafted into the air.
“Where’s dad?” Juliet asked with a mouthful of cereal.
“Work. Won’t be home ‘til later.”
“Okay.”
Juliet quickly finished her food and put her dishes in the sink. She picked up her ukulele and headed for the door, grabbing a jacket on her way.
“Why the fuck did you buy that thing anyways?” her mom asked.
“Because I couldn’t afford a guitar.”
“Aren’t they the same thing except one is smaller?”
“No.” Juliet left the house and walked into the winter cold, walking down the street of her small development and made her way to main street. She stopped in front of the town library, which wasn’t open yet, and opened her ukulele case. She took out the small instrument and placed the case open on the ground. She began strumming as people walked by her, some throwing in a dollar or a fiver in her case.
“Hold me close and hold me fast, this magic spell you cast
This is la vie en rose
When you kiss me heaven sighs, and though I close my eyes
I see la vie en rose…”
As people passed they continued to give her money. She played up until her phone vibrated in her pocket, letting her know that it was 7 o’clock. She sat down on the ground and began to count her profit. She pocketed the money and zipped up the case. She brushed the snow off of her and headed towards school.
***
“Anna! It’s time for school!” A groan came from the mass of blankets and pillows. The girl underneath it all threw the blankets off of her and sighed. She sat up and looked sleepily at her mother, a text book and a notebook falling to the floor. “How late did you stay up doing homework?”
“I am running on four hours of sleep.”
“Do you want to stay home?” Anna shook her head no. “Well then get up, it’s already 6:15!” Anna sighed and dragged herself out of bed. She did her morning routine of showering, getting dressed and putting on as little make-up as possible, and headed down to the kitchen. There, her mother was making eggs and bacon, while her father was putting on his tie using the reflection of the stainless steel refrigerator. He looked up and smiled at his daughter as she walked in.
“Morning sweetie,” he greeted.
“Morning, Dad.” Anna sat down at the table and her mother walked over and served her the food.
“Oh, Anna,” he mom said, “You got a letter from NYU yesterday, but when I went to give it to you, you were locked in your room doing homework.” Anna’s entire face lit up.
“NYU? That is definitely something you can interrupt my homework for!” Her mom chuckled and handed her the letter. Anna tore into it and scanned the page, a smile breaking out on her face.
“Well?” her dad inquired.
“I got an interview!” Her parents cheered and went over to hug her.
“We’re so proud of you, kiddo!”
“Thanks, I can’t believe I got an interview!” Anna looked at the clock on the stove. “We can celebrate tonight, but for now I have to actually graduate high school first.”
“Have a good day, sweetheart,” said her mother. Anna gave both her parents a kiss on the cheek and dashed out of the house.
On her way to school, she came upon a girl—one of her classmates. She was playing her ukulele and singing. She was actually quite talented. People walking past her put money in her case, and she nodded to them in thanks, but continued performing.
Anna was entranced by the melodies and rhythms. She closed her eyes and listened intently. She didn’t realize it, but she was smiling. She was finally brought out of her reverie when the music stopped. Her eyes opened and she watched the girl pack up her things and head on down the road. Anna decided to do the same.
How could I have not noticed her before, it’s already December? Anna shook her head. Had she really been there since September or is this just a new thing she decided to do? Either way, she knew that from now on, she would definitely be listening to her set before school.
***
Juliet walked into her house, shivering from the cold. She closed the door behind her, and took off her sneakers. “Hey Julie! Get over here!” Juliet sighed. She hated it when her dad called her Julie. That wasn’t her name.
She walked into the kitchen and saw her father sitting at the table, a bottle of whiskey in his hand. “My name is Juliet.” Her dad glared at her.
“Same fucking thing. Did you get the mail?” Juliet nodded and handed him the pile of envelopes. He took them and put down the whiskey. He grumbled as he shuffled through the papers. Once he finished, he tossed them on the table. “Fucking bill after bill. Why the hell do they send us that shit if they know damn well we ain’t got the money.” Juliet stood there, watching her father, waiting for something. He looked up at her, frowning. “The fuck do you want?”
“Is there anything for me?”
“Why the hell would there be?”
“Well, uh, I applied to SUNY Fredonia last week, and they said they’d let me know in about a week or two if I got in.” He snorted which morphed into a hearty, bellowing laugh. Juliet stood there, waiting for him to finish. Once he calmed down, he wiped a tear from his eye.
“And why the hell would you do that? Tell me, how the fuck do you plan on paying for that, ‘cause me and your mother sure as hell aren’t going to!”
“I’m gonna take out a loan.”
“And what are you gonna major in?”
“Music Therapy.” This response initiated another round of hearty laughter.
“Are you fucking serious!?! What are you gonna do, play your mini guitar until people aren’t sad anymore!?!”
“It’s a ukulele and no, I’m going to help people by using music as a means of coping.”
Her dad scoffed and tossed her an envelope. She caught it and went to her room.
She closed the door behind her and sat down on her bed. Her heart was racing and her hands were trembling. She swallowed hard as she pulled the paper out of the envelope. She only needed to read the first word. She got her answer. She looked up from the paper, tears in her eyes.
She had gotten in.
A smile broke out on her face as she cried tears of joy. She was getting out of this hellhole. She was going to make a difference in someone’s life.
***
“When you press me to your heart, I'm in a world apart
A world where roses bloom
And when you speak angels sing from above
Everyday words seem to turn into love songs
Give your heart and soul to me and life will always be
la vie en rose.”

Anna walked up to the girl and handed her a five-dollar bill after listening to her last song of the morning, “La Vie En Rose”. The girl looked up from packing up her things and took the money. “Thank you.” Anna smiled.
“No problem.” Anna continued standing there as the girl finished putting her ukulele away and stood up.
“Um, is there something you need?”
“Oh, no, sorry, I was just…my name’s Anna.” She offered her hand and the girl took it, smiling.
“Juliet. You go to my school, yeah?”
“Mhm. I think we have algebra 2 and trig together.”
“Mr. Smith, 5th period?”
“Yeah. I’ve never seen someone so passionate about math before.” Juliet chuckled, and Anna smiled. “Wanna walk together?”
“Sure.” The two girls then made their way towards the school, talking the whole way. The cold nipped at the exposed skin on their necks and faces, but they didn’t mind. A friendship was blooming, and that warmed the both of them to their cores.
***
After school one day in March, when the weather had started to transition from freezing cold to slightly chilly, Anna invited Juliet over to her house. The entire time, Juliet was shocked at how nice Anna’s parents treated her. She knew that her parents were just horrible people, but still, she was genuinely shocked. When they went to her room, Anna sat down on her bed, while Juliet stood there awkwardly.
“Your room is so…big.” Anna gave her a confused look.
“How big is your room?”
“About half this size.”
“Damn…Well don’t just stand there, come lay down.” Anna patted the spot next to her and Juliet went over to her. The two girls laid in bed next to each other, staring at the ceiling in silence.
“Hey Anna?”
“Yeah?”
“Have you ever been in love?” Anna turned to look at Juliet, who continued staring at the ceiling. A small smile formed on her lips.
“Yeah, I think so.” Juliet then turned to face the other girl and smiled back at her. Without breaking eye contact, Juliet took Anna’s hand into hers, and the two girls smiled even harder.
From that day on, Juliet went to Anna’s house after school instead of home. And in the mornings, every love song she sang she thought about her. Every morning she sang her heart out to the world, but really, it was all directed towards her love, her soulmate, her Anna
***
Juliet walked in the front door of her house one night and was greeted by yelling and screaming. “Where the fuck have you been!?!” The words were slurred and almost incomprehensible.
“Where’s dad?” Juliet asked, ignoring the scolding.
“Where the fuck do you think he is? Working his ass off to support this family! Now where were you?”
“I’ve been staying out late for the past month and you’re just now noticing?” Juliet’s mother stormed over to her and struck her across the face with enough force to send her to the floor.
“Don’t talk back to me, you ungrateful bitch! Where were you!”
“I was with my girlfriend!” Tears had formed in her eyes. She hadn’t been hit in a while. She thought the two had moved on from abuse. Apparently they hadn’t.
“Oh so you’re a fucking lesbian now? Great, just great, my daughter’s a lesbian.” Her mother yanked her up by her hair, causing the girl to cry out in pain. The entire time, Juliet clutched her ukulele, as if it would keep her safe.
She shoved her towards her room. “Get the fuck outta my sight! I don’t wanna see you for the rest of the night!” Juliet stumbled and quickly hurried towards her room. She sat down on her bed and began to quietly play “La Vie En Rose”, tears falling down onto the wood of her instrument.
***
“Juliet!” Anna ran up to her girlfriend at school one day and hugged her from behind. Juliet laughed and turned around, greeting her with a kiss.
“Anna, hey.”
“My NYU interview is next week and I’m screaming inside…What happened to your cheek?” Juliet quickly turned away, hiding the giant bruise on her face.
“I uh, I fell.” Anna turned Juliet’s face towards her.
“Juliet…did someone hit you?” Juliet couldn’t keep up the façade any longer and burst into tears and cried into her girlfriend’s shoulder. She stroked the back of her head and whispered sweet nothings to her, ignoring the strange looks the other students were giving them. The bell rang and Juliet sniffled trying to compose herself.
“I-I’m sorry, I made you late for class.”
“It’s okay. Listen, if whoever did this to you does it again, you tell me and I’ll make sure they don’t hurt you anymore.” Juliet nodded and Anna kissed her forehead.
The week went by pretty quickly, Juliet still doing her morning performances in front of the library, and going over to Anna’s house after school. Finally, the day came for Anna’s interview. That Saturday morning she dressed in an elegant baby blue blouse and black dress pants, completing the look with a black blazer.
At Juliet’s house, she woke up and went to the kitchen only to find her parents glaring at a piece of paper. “An orientation? Really? How the hell are we going to pay for the tuition for this place?” her mother wondered.
“We’re not, she’s going to pay for it herself, we can’t afford it.”
“Mom, dad?” Their heads snapped towards Juliet, who stood in the entrance of the kitchen.
“Well look who it is. Little miss music therapist!” her father scowled. “You didn’t think it’d be a good idea to tell us you got accepted?”
“I…I didn’t think you cared…”
“Oh we care!” Her mother snapped. “Since we’re going to be paying for your damn books and shit!”
“God, you are nothing but a pain in our asses! All you do is keep your hand out and ask for shit we obviously can’t give you!”
“I’ve never met a bigger burden in my life! You’re 18 now, get a fucking job!”
“Or better yet, kill yourself and rid the world of a burden!”
Juliet gasped at the last statement. Tears flowed down her face. She ran back to her room and sobbed into her pillow.
“Yeah, we want to cry, too! Just thinking of how broke we’re going to be putting your ass through college brings me to tears!” Her mother yelled after her.
Back at Anna’s house, she went over her answers again and again in her bedroom mirror. Suddenly, her phone rang. She picked it up off her bed and excitedly answered it when she saw it was Juliet. However, the excitement faded when she heard crying on the other end. “Juliet? What’s wrong? Are you hurt?”
There was a sniffle. “No…I just…can I come over?”
“I uh, I have my interview today, remember? I’m sorry, but I’ll be back around three.”
“Oh, alright. I’ll see you then, yeah?” Before Anna could answer, there was a click and the call was ended. Anna pocketed her phone, putting it on vibrate.
“Are you ready, sweetheart?” Anna looked up and saw her mother in the doorway. She smiled and nodded and walked downstairs, heading for the door. But just as she was about to get in the car, her phone vibrated again. This time it was a text.
Thank you for loving me even though I am a burden. Good-bye, Anna. I love you.
Anna gasped and put her hand on her mouth. “Oh my god.”
“What’s wrong?” her mom asked.
“Something’s wrong with Juliet. I have to go over there now.”
“But your interview! If you don’t go you won’t get into NYU!”
“If I do go I’ll lose my girlfriend!”
“Anna, I’m sure her parents can handle whatever’s wrong. You shouldn’t sacrifice your future for something someone else can fix.” Anna shook her head, taking off her heels.
“No, Juliet needs me.” She took off running down the road, her bare feet slapping against the chilly pavement. She ignored her mother’s calls as she sprinted towards Juliet’s house.
Hold on, I’ll be there soon, just hold on!
Juliet braided her shoelaces together, and made a noose out of them. She stood up on her chair and tied the other end around the ceiling fan. Her chest heaved from her sobs. She thought of Anna and smiled through her tears. She’d be better off without her. Everyone would be.
Anna raced down the street, her heart pounding. She was almost there; she could see her house in the distance. She ran up to the door using the last bit of energy she had and pounded on it. It swung open and a cranky looking woman stared at her. “Who are you?”
“There’s something wrong with Juliet.” The woman frowned.
“Excuse me? Who the hell do you think—”
“What the fuck!?!” The two females turned around and looked at the source of the exclamation. They ran to the back of the house where Juliet’s room was and saw her father standing dumbfounded in the doorway. Anna pushed passed him and gasped, eyes wide in horror.
Hanging from the ceiling fan was Juliet.
She was dead.
***
The sky was a bright blue, white fluffy clouds drifted by. The sun shone down on the group of mourners. Despite the beautiful spring weather, the air was full of gloom and sadness. People—friends, family, teachers, and acquaintances all gathered at the graveyard. Tears were shed, hearts grieved, and flowers were placed on the coffin.
Anna held in her hand Juliet’s ukulele. She stood in front of the small crowd of people. She cleared her throat. “Juliet was more than my girlfriend. She was my best friend, and my soulmate. She was beautiful, both inside and out. She played to make other people happy, and now, I’m going to play to make her happy one last time.” Anna had never played the ukulele before, but weeks before the funeral she had spent hour after hour perfecting her skills for this very moment. Since she didn’t get into NYU, she had the time to do so.
She began to play. She strummed the Nylon strings slowly and began to sing.
“Hold me close and hold me fast, this magic spell you cast
This is la vie en rose
When you kiss me heaven sighs, and though I close my eyes
I see la vie en rose
When you press me to your heart, I'm in a world apart
A world where roses bloom
And when you speak angels sing from above
Everyday words seem to turn into love songs
Give your heart and soul to me and life will always be
La vie en rose.”
***
The next school day, Anna walked to school as usual. The sky was cloudy and gloomy, mimicking Anna’s mood. She reached the library and looked over. For some reason, she expected to see Juliet performing, and when she didn’t see her, her heart sank. She stared for a moment, watching the same people who walked passed here every day not even notice there was something missing from their morning routine. And that’s when she started crying. She knew what was wrong. She knew Juliet should’ve been there. But she felt like she was the only one who knew. The world was moving on without her. That’s the thing about death. Those who weren’t affected didn’t even have the slightest idea as to what was going on in peoples’ lives. They were completely oblivious, and Anna envied them. She never liked the phrase ignorance is bliss, but at this very moment, she wanted nothing more than to be completely and utterly ignorant.

ErrorBlender
11-16-2017, 06:02 AM
Tragedy Part II

Enduring
by TheOrganization -
"Listen here old man. I ain’t about to let you or any stupid monsters get in my way, ya hear! I ain’t afraid a nothing!”

“Anything,” corrected Yusef with a smile, handing the young apprentice her sword.

“Whateva!”

Rudely, the young woman snatched her sword and spun around to face the large dragon headed beast. Her fiery hair blazed down to her neck and bounced cutely as she did so, but her boiling blue eyes burned with intensity. Her armor, a light mail over a tightly wound cloth corset adorned with hinged metal plates, was simple yet practical. It had belonged to her mother and her mother’s mother before that. With her family crest emblazoned on its chest, she wore it with unyielding pride. Yusef on the other hand was dressed in a very simple white shirt with brown suspenders holding up his spotless wool slacks. He too wore the family crest on a silver necklace although he was not of the Azra bloodline. Yusef himself never spoke about his own family. Perhaps, they were slaughtered in one of the wars across the sands. She knew he had come from the deserts of the East, his dark skin and hair cut short save for his beard, told of a cruel hot sun. She had the courtesy not to pry though.

Squeezing the grip of her sword, she stood across from the beast waiting for it to approach. The beady-eyed fiend barred its fangs, two sets of razor sharp rows of teeth lined its gaping maw as its furry scales shifted across its body. It was like a large bear, but for a head it had the long snout of a crocodile. While she wasn't found of bears, she was absolutely terrified of crocodiles, so this abomination was the stuff of nightmares for her. But she couldn't let Yusef know that.

"Go on Miriam, I'll be right here," patting her shoulder confidently.

“Yah yah, I’m fine old man…” she growled, brandishing the sword widely. Shining through verdant leaves of the forest, the sun caught the tip of her blade. The powerful beam hit the monster square in the eyes and it howled in agony as it tried to cover its eyes. Dumbfounded, Miriam stared at the spectacle. She had prepared her self so much for the fight that she had no idea how to respond. Or so it seemed. With steely resolve, she exhaled and holstered the sword to her back.

“What are you doing? Now’s your chance!”

Miriam simply shook her head and walked towards another path.
“I wanna fair fight…”

The large man of dark thick hair held his breath. It had been such a long time that he had forgotten what is was like to be dumbfounded. Blazing, her crimson locks bounced as she turned back towards him.

“Well, what are yah waiting for?”

Overtaken with a feeling he could not recall, he chortled heartily. Rocking back and forth as he did so, the fronds of the palm he leaned against shook widely. Coconuts softly plopped into sand below.

“Mr. Yusef… why are you laughing?”

“Ah…sorry, Maria,” apologized the large man, bowing his head, “It was nothing…”

His crimson haired mistress lay perched upon the sand like a mother hen. Pouting, she complained even more, “Honestly, you would do well to be more careful…unless of course you we’re trying to hurt me.”

“Never, my lady.”

A smile full of sadness drew across her pale face, “Well you can’t right? Not until Maram is born of course.” Rubbing her round belly, she chuckled as well.

Like a troubled child, Yusef held his hands behind his back and glanced at the fallen coconuts beside her. Most of them where green and sandy, but one had been completely sliced in two. Sparkling blue particles of light seemed to evaporate from the edges of the fallen nut. Both halves were on either side of her.

Pouting once more, she crossed her arms and looked across the beach. The sun was shining.

“Why are you acting so sad? You’re the one who told me. Don’t you remember?”

She sighed and rubbed her belly once more as a small bright blue and black bird landed square on her head.

“You don’t hate me?”

Maria laughed in response, the small bird hopping on her bouncing locks, but refusing to leave entirely. A warm breeze blew past.

“I’ve always known you. What you are...Even before you had told me. I’ve always known so…"

His fiery mistress brooded upon the sand. Yusef could feel her intensity radiating from her. In his long time on this land, he had never met someone as furious as her. Whether it was magic or sheer passive aggression that caused the sand to ripple across the beach back into the water, but it certainly was frightening. The small blue bird on her head, remained but somehow seemed to quiver in fear.

“So?”

“So, why are you still lying to me Mr. Yusef? What were you laughing about? I won’t ask you again…”

Defeated, Yusef scratched his shaven head and sat down next to his serene mistress. Even then, he towered over her. It was strange, seeing the two of them together. The large man with huge arms and legs, skin radiating like hot sand. Maria on the other hand was small and frail. Her pale skin and flowing red hair spilled down her back. A bear protecting a doll.

“It was Miriam…”

Maria perked up at the mention of mother.”

“You loved her too didn’t you?”

Yusef nodded solemnly, his eyes tracing across the burning horizon. The setting sun lit the pastel sky a brilliant fuschia.

“How did she die?”

The large man heaved, rocking to and fro, shaking the fronds of the palm once again. Maria giggled softly and began to sneer. She always had her mother’s devious side. Although, Miriam always wore her heart on her sleeve.

“I’m joking of course Mr. Yusef don’t fret. You’re supposed to be the strong one remember?”

Closing her eyes, Maria leaned into him and grabbed onto his arm, wrapping it around herself. She always enjoyed doing this, although Yusef always suspected that she did for his sake rather than her own.

“Just tell me about her…ok?”

"She was a quiet yet passionate soul...Even as a child, she had an astounding level of vision...Just like you. But she...she would see through you, your faults and your failures. Your ambitions and your dreams. Even before I told her, she knew that I loved her and the only way I was able to release her was to tell her the truth. Believe you me, I was astounded when she reacted. It was though she knew from the very beginning...That's why I've told you know...Miram."

The crimson haired knight smiled and sighed in relief, though her bow did not drop at all.

"Yosef...Thank you..."


New Lungs
by Tsar Bomba
He had been smoking for 35 years.

Marv Altimari was incarcerated on January 5th, 2006. He pleaded guilty to 43 RICO predicates for a reduced sentence of 15 years and a fine of $3.8 million — effectively ending his position as boss of the Altimari Crime Family. It was all over the news. It seemed as though hundreds of American people breathed a collective sigh of relief. Only a few months afterward, it seemed as though no one gave a shit.

The doctor wore one of those button down shirts, the kind that belonged under a blazer, but he wasn’t wearing a jacket. Just the shirt and a tie. “Mr. Altimari, good to see you.”

“Bullshit.” A nasal cannula was coiled around Marv’s features, running down the front of his torso and into a portable oxygen generator. The chemotherapy had not been kind to him. Of his symptoms, the weight loss was most noticeable. He wasn’t a bodybuilder or anything, but he used to be a big guy, heavyset. During treatment, he lost over 20 pounds. It made him feel so frail, vulnerable even. It was like if he tripped and fell he might break into a million little pieces.

“How are you feeling today?”

Marv reclined in his chair, his arms snugly crossed, “You’re supposed to tell me that.”

“Well, I wish I had better news…” the doctor rested both hands on his desk, folding them, “The cancer has continued to metastasize from the lungs. The latest photos now show masses in both kidneys, the mediastinal lymph nodes, and the brain.”

The ex-mobster’s body was unmoving, wearing a stoic expression. He let his eyes wander to the photograph that hung on the office wall.

The oncologist continued, “We’re looking at stage IV small-cell lung cancer.”

The picture detailed the doctor and his family. Him, a wife, and two kids, all dressed up. The man even wore a blazer that day, it looked nice over his button down.

“Mr. Altimari?”

Marv blinked, his cold stare settling on the man across from him.

“Do you understand what I’ve just told you?”

A few silent moments passed. Marv let out a heavy sigh, “How long?”

“...I’d estimate about three months, give or take, but it’s difficult to say. I’ve seen some cases where--”

Marv stood, nodding to the doctor, “Thank you.” Two Marshals, who had accompanied him to the appointment, escorted the convict out of the office and into the parking lot. They all had a long drive ahead of them.


* * *

Everything was so flat. The walls were adorned with a dismal grey. The tables, chairs, and people that littered the visiting room did nothing to dull the suffocating emptiness that pervaded the space. Not even the windows. They may have been the worst part. He could see the sun, but he couldn’t feel its warmth on his face. He could imagine fresh air, but he couldn’t taste it, not with the window there. A glass barrier separating him from the reminder of everything he’d lost.

Marv was seated at one of the tables, his eyes watching the window.

“Uncle Marv!” A young voice called. A young body followed, its mother in attendance.

The man glanced over to his nephew. Now standing, he wrapped a tired arm around the boy, and turned toward his mother.

“Hey, Marv,” the woman approached, smiling delicately. She appeared to be in her late 40s, a bit younger than Marv himself. With age, her hair had become grizzled and her had body lost its shape. “You look like shit.”

Marv kissed his sister on the cheek, taking her hand, “Always with the compliments… Sit down, Diane, if your ass can fit in the chair.”

Each of them took a seat at the table. Diane set her purse in her lap, her boy settled beside his uncle. The woman’s smile faded as she looked to her brother, “What did Dr. Gordi say?”

Marv patted his nephew on the shoulder, grinning, “You got big. How’re you doing, Leon?”

“I’m good!” The child asserted, then frowned, “I miss you…”

The man’s expression softened, “That’s nice. I miss you, too. But that’s why you’re here to visit me, right? So we won’t miss each other so bad?”

Diane cleared her throat, getting the man’s attention, “Marv.”

He turned his head.

“What did Dr. Gordi say?” She repeated.

Marv’s smile faltered as he shook his head, “He, uh… he said...” The man took in a quick breath and glanced at his nephew for a moment. His eyes met Diane’s once more, his words were tight, strained, “I… I don’t know, Diane… I’m really sick.”

“Oh my god…” The woman slowly brought a hand to her mouth.

Marv shrugged, trying to console his sibling as she began to whimper, tears swelling in her eyes. “C’mon. C’mon now, don’t cry,” he wrapped his arms around Diane, “Don’t worry about anything...” The man closed his eyes as his sister cried into him. They gripped each other tightly, no consolation.

“No physical contact, please,” the guard called. He had been standing beside the window.


* * *

Even during the day, any light that crept into the room seemed almost hesitant.

“So, why are you here?” The older man asked, another inmate who had wandered into the room minutes before. His hair was entirely grey. An unkempt beard marked his jawline. He stood beside the stranger’s hospital bed, minding the medical equipment.

“I was accused of being associated with a certain Italian-American subculture,” replied Marv, who stared up at the ceiling. Half of his torso was concealed by white, featureless sheets.

“I know that. It was just all over the news awhile back. Marv Altimari. Pleaded guilty, right?”

“I had to.” He snarled.

“How’s that?”

Marv turned his head, an edge to his voice, “I was facing a massive asset seizure. Know what that means? It would have left me and my family fucking destitute.”

“Family? You mean a wife and kids…?”

“No.” Marv grumbled, “My sister and her son live with me.”

The man nodded, “I meant why are you here. What’s wrong with you?”

“...Cancer.”

“Mind if I look at your chart?”

“I don’t give a fuck…” Marv sighed.

The bearded man plucked the documents from the edge of the bed, quickly flipping through them, “Dr. Gordi…?”

“He was recommended.”

“What was his prognosis?”

Marv shifted a bit, “Three months.”

The man’s face contorted to show confusion.

“...What?”

“It’s just that,” the man flipped through the pages again, “With the treatment you’ve had, you should have a window of one to three years.”

Marv blinked, shaking his head, “But what about the masses? My kidneys, my head, it’s all fucked up. The metastasis--”

“You went through all of this, right?” The man presented the page to Marv, detailing his treatment history.

Marv glanced over the information and nodded.

“You think all that did nothing? Buddy, any cancer inside you has slowed way down.”

“But I talked to the oncologist, face-to-face. Said three months.”

The man smiled, “Doctor tells the patient three months, then he lives a year… Makes the oncologist look like he can walk on water. I’ve seen tons of people come in and out of here, cancer patients, living longer than their doctors told ‘em.”

Marv’s brow settled into a furrow, he slowly nodded. A sense of ease washed over him.

“Take care, Marv.” The man turned to leave.

“Wait,” the ex-mobster looked over, “What’s your name?”

“Shit, sorry, this fucking brain, huh? You forget things like manners when you get old.” The man held out a hand, “Tommy Colombo.”

After Tommy left the room, Marv returned his gaze to the ceiling. It looked different now.


* * *

“Marv?! What the hell are you doing?!” Diane called, entering the visiting room.

Marv was seated at one of the tables, a cigarette between two fingers. He sluggishly repositioned himself to face his sister. “What?”

“You’re smoking.” She scolded.

“So?”

Leon’s small head peeked from behind his mother’s side, “Uncle Marv, you said you were going to quit.”

“You’re on oxygen.” Diane reminded, still glaring at her brother.

The ex-mobster glanced between the two of them. He dropped the cigarette on the tile flooring, crushing it under his shoe, “Hey, Leon.”

Leon waved.

Diane put her hands on her hips, “Diagnosed with lung cancer and you still take time to light up? What the hell are you thinking?!”

“It doesn’t make a difference, I already have the cancer. I have to be irritable when I die, now?” Marv grumbled. His eyes settled on his nephew, who had started crying. “Hey… Hey, now, don’t be upset,” He reached out an arm, offering a hug to comfort the boy.

Leon stayed put, staring at the floor as he weeped, “I don’t want you to die...”

Marv struggled to get up from the chair, “Come on, Leon. Give me a hug. I’m okay. I’m right here.”

The boy ran up to his uncle, wrapping his small arms around his shoulders.

“My friend, he sees sick people like me in here all the time, and guess what?” Marv backed away from the hug, “Says I’m probably gonna live for a longer time than we thought.”

“Really…?” Leon blinked, his voice weak.

Marv glanced to Diane for a moment, taking notice of her frustrated expression. The woman and her son didn’t stay for much longer. On her way out, Diane smelled the unmistakable smoke of a cigarette. She didn’t turn around.


* * *

Hours and days seemed to blend together, but Marv knew weeks had passed. He hadn’t counted days nor paid attention to the calendars, but he could feel it. He had gotten more acquainted with some of the other sick inmates. The ex-mobster had a lot of stories to tell. He was fairly confident that he would never run out. Eventually, Marv started spending most of his time in his room.

“So, what were you doing there? In the room, I mean. When we met. Couldn’t have been just to give me good news.” Marv was motionless in the bed, save for the rising and falling of his protruding stomach.

Tommy frowned, letting out a shrug, “Had a friend. Good guy, met him way back when I first got here. Brain cancer. Stayed in the bed next to yours, actually… passed away a few days before you arrived, though… heh, it’s funny. I don’t really know why I kept going back after he died. Figured since I can’t visit his grave… might as well pay my respects that way. Just felt right, y’know?”

“It’s a little late, but… Sorry for… your loss,” Marv blinked, producing a lengthy inhale. Breathing was suddenly much more difficult. Tommy looked at his friend with a somber expression.

The ex-mobster wheezed, “I’m… dying… aren’t I?”

Tommy said nothing.

Marv managed a strained chuckle. His friend raised an eyebrow, visibly confused.

“Sorry… it’s just that… All my life... I thought… I thought I’d get killed by a bullet.” He explained, barely controlling his gasping breaths, “Not… like this.”

“I’m gonna get help,” Tommy ran out of the room to get the doctors. Marv remained in the bed. Alone. He wasn’t going anywhere.


* * *

“Leon, baby,” Diane whimpered, “I don’t think he can hear you.”




Marv Altimari died in prison, two months after being diagnosed with stage IV small-cell lung cancer.

He had been smoking for 35 years.

Cruel Fate
by _Ai_

Sitting on the edge of a cliff, a girl in a white one piece with red laces quietly hums a tune without a care in the world. The gentle mountain winds rubs
her short, ruby hair, making it flutter freely in the air. Her scarlet pupil, ripe with energy, glows as she savors the view provided by the cliff; the peaceful town of Arludeia, with green fields as far as the eye can see, with the river’s crystal clear water flowing down the water. The view takes one breath away. As in a trance, the girl continues to hum her song whilst taking in the sight.

Breaking her daze was a call, not too far away. Carefully but surely, the girl stands up, and broke into a jog towards the source of the call. As she gets closer to the origin, the visage of the one calling her becomes visible. The one who called for her was a woman with similar features with the girl; ruby red pupil, scarlet hair, as if on fire. Though, she keeps it long, contrary to the girl. The lady styles long, red, slightly pleated skirt tied with a bow, a white jacket and braided hair, accompanied with black ribbons.

Next to the lady in white is a man sitting cross-legged. His height towers over the lady next to him, with a somewhat muscular build. His attire consists of a blue greatcoat, black trousers and a hat lies on top of his head. The back of his palm features an insignia; A shield on two sides and a pair of swords crossing the other. A broad smile crept on his face as the figure of the little child came into view. The couple of male and female sits together under the shade of the tree.

Energetically running over, sometimes skipping and hopping around, the little girl eager to join the pair of man and woman. But right before arriving, the girl tripped over and fell. Alarmed, the woman hurled over to the child while the man broke into a laugh.

“She takes over you, that clumsiness.” The slightly muscled man said, chuckling.
“No, that obviously came from you.” The concerned mother picks up her daughter, “Are you alright Kari?”

Her eyes starts to glass, but trying to look tough, the girl hold back her tears and nods fervently. Unbeknownst to her, her snot is leaking out of her tiny nose. On her head was a red mark, clumsily closed with her small palms.

Letting out a small laugh, the mom holds her hand and helps her get up, and the pair of mother and child sits next to the father…. Well, the lady did. The daughter sat on the man’s thigh, as it is her one and only special spot.

“It sure is peaceful here.” Breaking the silence was the mother, gazing at the blue sky.
“It’s a great break from the constant fighting.” The man replies, sipping a bottle of water. “It’s almost like the calm before the storm.”
Hearing this, the woman balled her hand and dunked the fist on the head of the dad. “No raising flags!”
“What was that for?!” the man responds as he massages his head. Not that it hurt him.
“Hahaha, Mum is bullying Dad!” Kari laughs as she rolls on the ground playfully.

The family of three continued the rest of their day joyfully playing around. Face of bliss apparent on each of their faces, fully enjoying the moment of peace. But peace is brittle.

As dusk approaches, the family was visited by a knight in full armor, on top of his horse. The next moment, the warrior announces;

“Your presence is needed on the battlefield, Prince Teito.”

------

No longer dressed casually, Teito in a suit of armor commented. His signature blue greatcoat still hangs on his shoulder. Contrary to the soldiers around him, he isn’t fully in a dress of armor--- he only has a cuirass, a pair of greaves and gauntlets. The rest are fully exposed; his hardened skin there for all to see. Hanging on his neck is a pendant, with a picture of his wife and daughter.

“Things are looking grim… huh.” Teito commentates as the overviews the battlefield.

The battlefield in front of him was… messy. Every step you take, you see a new corpse. Guts of the fallen everywhere. Some was beheaded, lost all of his limbs and bled to death. One passed away sitting--- with arrows on every inch of his body. The ground was soft from absorbing too much blood; the mud of the earth and blood was uncanny. Fire can be seen raging at the camps ahead, infiltrated by the enemy. Truly a sight of a battlefield.

“The enemy flanked us from the side and caught us completely by surprise.” The knight next to him reports.
“Seems like we still can turn the tides; you inform our allies. I’ll flank them in return.”
“Alone?” The knight asks in shock.
“Yes. Any problems?”
“No…no sir.”
“Alright. Get going then.”

The knight turns and gallops away upon receiving the prince’s demands. Teito meanwhile unsheathes his sword, held it upright, and brought it close to his chest. Closing his eyes, he muttered, “Mika. Kari. Give me strength.”
Abruptly opening his eyes, Teito roared a fearsome war cry, echoing throughout the battlefield, and breaking into a charge towards the enemy lines.

-----

“Hey mom, where’s dad?” Kari asks in curiosity.
“Dad’s… on an adventure.” Mika hesitatingly answers. Technically she isn’t lying, but Kari’s pure eyes makes it difficult not to lie.
Innocently believing her mother, Kari went “oh~” and going silent for a few seconds. Later, she asks again, “When will he be back?”

The question freezes her in place. Mika dazes outside the window, the veil of night covering the skies, decorated with bright little stars. In all honesty, she always worries on her husband, despite knowing his occupation and his social standing. Their marriage wasn’t really blessed by the King either; which is the reason why they’re living in a cottage, not in the palace. Despite that, they were happy together, settling in a relatively calm area.

“Mom?” Kari’s calls snap Mika back to reality.
“Soon, dear.” Mika answers, as she hopes her answer would be the truth. “Nevermind that, how about some cake?”
“Woah, cake! Yay!” Excited for cake, Kari bounces all over the cottage.
Mika serves it on the table, as Kari’s saliva overflows, eyes fixed on the cake. Suddenly, as if remembering something, Kari raises her head (with great difficulty) to tell her mother “Save some for Dad!”
A smile crept to the mother of one’s face, answering, “Will do.”

----

The battlefield is a noisy place. Swords clashing, dying screams, war cries, arrows flying. All of these sounds mixed to produce one thing; chaos. In the midst of it all, is a man, fighting between life and death. Constantly dodging, blocking, countering, with one sole purpose in mind; win, and survive. Scratch that--- survive. For the sake of reuniting with his loved ones: Kari, Mika. He swears that he won’t fall here.

Surrounded with enemies on all side, Teito brandishes his trusty sword, the other broke a long time ago. The air was tense… none dares to make a move. The fact apparent to everyone; the first strike is vital. But with fatigue weighing him down, Teito instinctively knew that he can’t win in a battle of attrition. While he still has energy, he should beat them down. So to break the stalemate, the hero pretends to slip.

Hook, line, sinker. One of the opposing soldiers lunges, aiming for a stab. With his opportunity open, Teito twists his body around and delivering a clean cleave on the neck of the soldier. As his head rolls, other adversaries charge, one after another, on all sides.

Diving under the first to charge, Teito delivers a stab under the enemy’s helmet, straight through his head. Without a wasting a moment, the warrior lifts the corpse and charge towards the other soldiers, knocking anyone down in his path. Unable to lift the corpse anymore, the hero stumbles but quickly recovers with a roll, his beloved sword in hand.

Two soldiers rush at him as he recovers from his fall, their swords falling on him. In the nick of time, he blocks both swords. While his enemies try to force him down, Teito lets their swords slide down his own; giving him freedom to kick one of the soldiers back. The other one fell next to Teito due to the momentum; the warrior spared no moment executing him.

Intimidated, the remaining adversaries stayed back. Despite his exhaustion, the hero taunts them, gesturing them to come. Seeing this, the soldiers broke into a run--- retreating.

The chaos of the battlefield has come to a halt, and instead becoming eerily quiet. As if on cue, the stars in the sky started falling one after another--- a meteor shower. As if to congratulate his survival… Teito has survived.

----

The silence of the village was broken by sudden roars, screams and cries. Smoke rises as houses catches fire. Without rhyme nor reason, the village is being sieged.

The noise outside wakes up Mika with a start. At first dazed and confused, but upon the sight of wreck outside her cottage, her brain goes into full alert. The first thing that popped into her head was Kari. Instantly, she broke into a run, hurtling her way to her room. Relief washed over her face as her eyes lay on the figure of Kari, peacefully sleeping in her bed, the ruckus outside unable to wake the child.

With a little shake, Kari’s small eyelids open. Drowsy, she tilts her head as to why her mother wakes her up in the dead of the night… until she hears the ruckus outside, and with her mother’s anxious face. Her mother puts a finger on her lips signaling her to keep quiet, and the child nods. Led by her mother, she follows her outside her house where the see the origin of the ruckus.

The chaos is at it’s apex. Men in green are plundering everything and everyone; killing without remorse, destroying property, looting valuables. Without rhythm, without reason. Screams, roars, cries resounds in the air, whilst the smell of blood, steel and smoke is thick in the air, choking anyone who breathes them in. By common bandits… or so it would seem. Unknown to the pair of mother and daughter, the bandits are there for a reason--- for them.

One of the purple bandits caught the family from behind sneakily, gave a kick right onto Mika’s back making her fall flat to the ground. Immediately, Kari kneels and worriedly holds her mother. Writhing in pain, she lies on the ground as she tries to catch the face of her assaulter. His appearance leaves her holding her breath.

Her assaulter has impressive stature, towering over the mother and child. His presence covers the other bandits--- this one was the leader. Clothed in purple robes that seemingly glistens with the presence of the moon, with brown skin… sight of him makes one quiver in one’s boots. A greater shock and despair washes over the woman as she spots an insignia on his shoulder; the Royal Hi-Knights.

The man breaks out a malicious grin.

-----

The sounds of a horse trampling the ground can be heard from a distance. Gradually, the sound gets closer and closer. Teito takes a stance in alarm, despite his exhaustion. Despite how the battlefield raged and roared, no wounds is visible on his body--- except scratches here and there. However, seeing the warrior on the horse, Teito lowers his swords as he relaxes his body; it was his friend, Renau.

Renau fought at the other end of the battlefield, and was almost routed before Teito appeared behind the enemy lines as he wrought chaos. Taking advantage of the confusion, Renau rallies his allies as they fought once more. This time, to victory. Once it was over, Renau went over to Teito with haste. A sigh of relief escapes his mouth as he saw the figure of his friend standing still on the battlefield.

As the two friends unite, a messenger, his pale white face giving them a bad premonition. As soon as the news has been passed, the duo’s face also undergoes a change; one of fear, one of anxiousness. As if knowing what each other was thinking, the two faced each other, and nods. Almost jumping, Teito rides the saddle and the two rode off--- to Arludeia.

Under siege.

------

Horror creeps it’s way to Kari’s face, looking at the man who attacked her mom. Fear rooted her in place, unable to move a muscle--- only able to whisper “Mom…”

Besides her is Mika, reeling in pain after being kicked. Her brain is blanking out, the man’s emblem being the only thing in her head. The Royal Hi-Knights are known as the most elite of the elite but also the highly sensitive secret; the King’s guard. They are known to be monsters in the battlefield; them on one means victory for they side on. Her knowledge on them stems on the fact that her husband too is part of them.

Questions rang in her mind; why? Why would the secret, elite soldiers of the King attack the village? Attack them? It didn’t make any sense…

Her daughter’s call managed to pull Mika back from her thoughts. There was no time to ponder on the little things. What was important that Kari is safe. The intimidating man stood there grinning, as if mocking her. Gathering her strength and courage, she lifts and throws herself to the man, trying to constraint his movements. At the top of her lungs, she yells “Run, Kari!”

Startled, Kari kneels in the same spot, frozen. But another of her mom’s screams sends a shock through her body, which she lifts her body up and runs away, looking back at her mother as she does. As a result, not too far from where she was, she knocked into something… rather someone. Another bandit in purple.
The bandit looks down as she raises her head to see what she bumped into. The moment the two locked sights, a chill went through her spines, every cell in her body warning her. But again, dread took over heart, immobilizing her.

“Don’t block me.” The bandit, coldly said, kicking the child away into a wall. Impact from being kicked knocked her out cold as blood flowed from her head, her body going limp with the sound of bones breaking resounding inside her.

The scene unfolded in front of her too quickly--- Mika couldn’t react to it. She could only helplessly watch in despair. The next moment, she found herself on the ground, a foot on top of her. The next moment,

A sword through her chest.

-----

The horse speeds through the mountainous terrain, at its maximum speed, kicking up an impressive amount of dust in the air in the process. Yet, it’s two rider wants it to even faster, in order to reach the sieged village as soon as possible. The view of the village soon comes into view--- bringing panic and fear into their hearts.

Smoke rises high into the night air. At this time of the hour, it should be serenely quiet and peacefully dark but instead it was hectic and bright. Crimson flames licks the villages building, screams of panic fills the air as civilian scampers everywhere, only caring about saving themselves.
Renau got himself off the horse first, intending to help the villagers escape as they are being pursued by purple bandits. He then entrusts his horse to his friend and tells him to find his wife. At first, Teito hesitates to leave his friend alone against the bandits but upon seeing his resolve, he speeds of towards his home.

Upon arriving, he was greeted with the sight of Kari being stabbed.

-----

“MIKAAAAAAA!” A scream rang out through the night, shaking the earth, blocking all other sounds.

Forgetting his fatigue, adrenaline rushing through his body, Teito jumped off the horse, rushing to his wife’s side. The bandit who stabbed her stood in his way, blocking him… not for long. In a flash, Teito unsheaths his sword, dicing his opponent before his adversary could blink.

“Mika?” whispers Teito, carefully lifting her up. Blood was flowing out of her wound like a river as he to patch it up. Her warmth was nowhere to be found.
“Tei…to?” Mika weakly answers, energy escaping her body. “You’re back…”
“Yes, I’m here.” He replies, laying her on his lap, his fingers overlapping with hers as he closely holds her hand.
“Welcome… back.” Smiling, she puts her bloodied palm on her husband’s face, leaving it’s mark.
“I love you.” Is the last thing she said before her hands slumps into the ground, her body going limp.
“Mika…?” His voice breaking as he shook the lifeless Mika. Seeing her limp body, reality hits him like a metal pipe; his wife is no more. As he tightly embraces her cold body, with tears flowing, he let out a cry that echoes through the night.

------

Dawn arrives, accompanied with rain. It is as if the earth was weeping Mika’s death. Teito sat still, with his wife still on his arms, letting the rain drench him. His greatcoat stained with blood, turning the great blue into a dark purple. Renau who had finished evacuating the villagers could do nothing to console his friend; it was a heartrending view.
After a while, the rain stopped. As if waiting for the rain to stop, Teito calls out to his friend.
“Can you… take care of Kari for me?” he asks, looking at his daughter. “She’s just unconscious. Give her this pendant.” As he holds out his pendant, giving it to him.
“But why? Don’t you want to take care of her?” Bewildered, Renau answers with a question of his own.
“Please,” the Prince begs, “I now have something to do.”
“What is it?
“Revenge.” His eyes glows darkly. “To the King.”
“The King…? But why---“ Renau cuts himself of as he saw the insignia of the man Teito slew. Hi-Knights doesn’t obey anyone else other than the King.
“I’m leaving her to you, my friend. Don’t tell her about me.” Slowly, he lifts himself and his wife up. Staggering, he walks towards the mountainous terrain.

-----

The news of the attack spread like wildfire. Citizens of other towns and villages quake in their boots hearing the name of their former Hero. He, who single-handedly massacred a village, killing anyone who obstructs him, going on a rampage without rhyme or reason. Wanted posters filled the billboard of each and every village, no matter big or small. The infamous traitor, Teito.

-----

Years has passed. At first having trouble adapting to new parents, getting over the trauma she got on the fated night. Kari has now grown into a splendid adult, inheriting her mother’s beauty and his father’s charisma. After a few years, she lives happily with her stepparents.

She also shares his father’s talent with the sword. At first fearing this talent, she was forbidden from practicing it but relents later on when she voices her thoughts on finding her mother’s murderer. And under Renau, her stepfather, she perfected her art of the sword.

Memories of the night were unclear. All she remembered was that her mother defended her and she got kicked. The next thing she remembers is waking up in a bed of his foster parents. The only thing that she has as a memento of her parents was the pendant of herself and her mother.

After her stepparents died of sickness, she was approached by a band of knights in purple, with a promise that she will find out her mother’s killer if she joins them. Without hesitation, she joins them.

Now, her first assignment is at hand.

“Will you slay the Traitor?” A voice vertebrates through the castle halls.
“Yes, your Majesty.” She answers.

Her neck bearing the insignia of the Royal Hi-Knights.

New Girl in Class
by RoBEAT

New Girl in Class

Anna scuffled through the crowded corridor. Her beloved worn and dirty black trainers, trod on the ground. They had been a present for Anna’s thirteenth birthday and she remembered how she had hugged her mum and dad and later she had gone for a run to try them out. Her feet had hurt a little afterwards, but that was just normal with a new pair of shoes. They soon became her favourite footwear.

Now, two years later Anna still wore them every day, but she didn’t run anymore. There was just no point in arriving a little faster. It just wouldn’t change anything. Nothing did. Besides she had no need to hurry to where she was going. It wasn’t as if she wanted to go to this new school.

Around her the world was alive with chatter and laughter. “Where have you been for holiday?”, a smaller boy, likely a sixth grader asked his classmate right next to Anna as she fought her way through the wall of smiles on the faces of the boys and girls around her. The answer was swallowed by the noise as Anna began staring at the ground again and trudged on.

Leaving the laughing children behind, Anna failed to remember any moment in the last three months she actually smiled. The last time she did was on that morning as she sat in her old classroom with her old classmates. She had always loved jokes but it had Andrew who made her smile. Anna has been sitting a few seats to his left, watching him talk with some of the other boys. One of them must have said something funny, because Andrew began to chuckle and a cute smile appeared on his sharp but handsome face while his light blue eyes flashed with joy. Anna remembered her heart beating fast in that moment as she smiled until she looked over to her friend Linda next to her, who gave her a disapproving glance. Feeling guilty she had then turned back to Mrs. Walterson her biology teacher who has been talking about the cells of plant life and their components, but Anna could not help but feel warmth in the middle of her body as she continued to think about Andrew.

Now, however her body was a block of ice and the smile she tried to force on her lips didn’t appear. She got to open her mouth a little bit but that’s all she could do. Afterwards her face felt like her feet would feel if they were asleep. It just added to the numbness that had taken over every fibre of her body and spirit, the thousands of needles pricking into her skin every day whereas the darkness left her restless.

But the real torture were the nightmares who haunted her rare hours of sleep every time she closed her eyes. This night she had been running towards Andrew through a dark hall full of chairs. The ground of the hall was covered with dead bodies and a knee deep sea of shimmering red blood. Anna had been tripping over chairs and falling in the blood but always stood up to struggle to get towards Andrew, knowing she had to hurry. Covered in sweat and blood she finally almost made it towards Andrew. She was so close, she could almost touch him, her hand outstretched to grab his arm slackly hanging down at his side. Anna just had to stretch a little bit more. But then the cracking sound of a gunshot roared through the hall and Anna woke up heavily breathing and covered in sweat. She wasn’t able to sleep again after that and just lay in the darkness until the morning.

Soon Anna found her new class waiting outside of their classroom. She silently approached the groups of boys and girls but she did not find the courage to join them so she just stood there next to the wall and looked for her old friend Linda with who she changed school together. Eventually Anna spotted Linda in a group of girls by her blonde ponytail, but she stayed where she was unsure if she should go over to Linda. They didn’t really talk anymore since the day that changed everything so all Anna did was watching her new class and occasionally glancing over to Linda. Standing there silently, Anna got hardly recognized by the other students and no one bothered to talk to her. Anna saw the more or less interested looks by some of the boys and the evaluating ones from the girls. They were usual teenagers but she could not stand to look back and often found herself looking at her shoes again.

Searching for Linda again Anna recognized Linda finally seeing her, but instead of smiling as Anna hoped to see Linda stared at Anna with her mouth clinched together and her eyes glaring. Shocked, Anna turned away rapidly. Had she made Linda angry? Was she alright? Anna still thought about her friend as her new teacher arrived and everyone around grabbed one’s things to enter the classroom. Anna followed last, but then hesitated standing in the doorframe.

The room was a typical classroom. It had the usual large green blackboard at the front of the room and some maps and presentation posters hanging on the yellow walls, which almost had the same colour like the ones in her old classroom. The slightly different tables and chairs were placed in four rows just like in her old classroom. Looking at the third row Anna found the seat Andrew has been seated as well as her own old place. On her place sat an unknown brunette girl tilting her head and staring at Anna who still stood in the doorframe unable to enter the classroom as if there was an invisible barrier. Terrified, Anna knew it would happen again. The classroom was a death trap.

“May I…?” she stuttered to the teacher searching for help as the whole class stared at her.

“It’s ok,” he replied. “I can understand, if you need a moment. Take your time and come in when you feel confident about it.”

Thankful Anna left the room. The girl on her place still stared at her, similar to how she must have stared three months back as this angry strange boy entered her old classroom carrying a gun.
Anna closed the door behind her and sat down on a bench as the gruesome scenes from the school shooting 3 months back haunted her yet again, how the boy with the black hair and teenager beard wrestled the door open and glanced at them in confused hesitation until his eyes flashed in anger and he lifted his gun.

Anna had stared at him before realizing what happened as the gun cracked and Anna’s classmates fell to the ground taking cover or being hit by the death that was amongst them. Taking cover she had heard Mrs Walterson screaming first in fear then in pain but at that point everyone was screaming. Anna heard Andrew’s angry roar as he ran towards the gun his fists raised, the loud banging crack and the soft thud of a body hitting the floor.

Andrew.

Tears falling on her lap and the bench Anna took out her phone. The photo of him was still her screensaver. With her shaking hand she stroked his lovely face just as she did after crawling over the blood-sprinkled floor as the shooter was gone. Rivers of blood streamed out of Andrew’s neck as she held his head on her lap while she stroked his face. Powerless Anna had been unable to do anything but whisper “I love you” over and over until Andrew died. Later the men in uniforms had to rip her off him to get her out with the other shocked survivors such as Linda who followed them in apathy, completely unable to comprehend what just happened.

“He was not your boyfriend.”

Anna’s face wet with tears she found herself still stroking the virtual Andrew when she heard the voice close behind her crack like a gunshot. Turning around she faced Linda whose eyes were ablaze with anger. “Even in his death you try to steal him from me, you bitch” Linda hissed sharp as a knife.

Powerless Anna sunk down on the bench. Her former friend walked back into the classroom from where Anna heard a girl laughing.

ErrorBlender
11-16-2017, 06:03 AM
Mystery Part I

Sam Alec
by SpacePunk
Sunday evening. That’s when I got the first call. I was attempting to help my daughter Sam with her trigonometry homework. I hadn’t done that shit in years, so I wasn’t much help. In the middle of my trying to figure out what fuck a parabola was, my phone went off. When I hung up, I hurried and grabbed my jacket.
“Is there a murder?” she asked.
“I’m assuming so. Could be a kidnapping, could be drugs, who knows?”
“Murder is the easiest out of those options.” I chuckled and shook my head, grabbing my detective badge off the table. “Alright, get your jacket. It may be March, but it’s still chilly outside.”
“Wait, I’m going?”
“Yeah, I can’t leave you home by yourself, Mom’s away on business, remember?” Sam grinned and scrambled up off the floor. Once she had her jacket we were out on the road, speeding down the street.
We arrived at the scene in ten minutes. Police lights lit up the night and police tape was wrapped around whatever was the problem. At this point I figured out it was in fact murder. Sam and I walked up to one of the police officers and she turned to face us.
“Hey Sam, what’s up?” she greeted.
“Nothing, just doing some trig.”
“I hate math. Its why I became a cop. No trig involved.” I chuckled at the statement, grabbing her attention.
“Alright, Stacey, what’s going on here?”
Stacey started towards the body and I followed, Sam at my heels. “Her name’s Sarah Jones, 26, and worked as a barista for a small coffeehouse about a block from here. Stab wound through the heart, bled out and died.”
I put on a pair of latex gloves and handed a pair to Sam. We walked over to the body and I squatted down next to her. It was a damn shame she died so young. But when you’ve been a police officer for four years, and a detective for another two, you get desensitized to these things. As for Sam, well, she loved this shit. Sam was a weird kid, and I say that with love. She loved dissecting things and puzzles and so she decided that she was going to be a forensic scientist. So I took her to crime scenes whenever I could, even though I could get into a hell of a lot of trouble for it.
I looked at the body, taking in all the details: the disheveled brown hair, the wide brown eyes, and the dried blood coming from her nose. “Well she put up a fight.”
I wandered a little way from the crime scene and found a bloody knife. I scoffed. “Okay, that was easy.” I picked it up and walked back to the scene. I walked back over to Stacey and Sam brandishing the sullied knife.
“That can’t be the murder weapon,” she said. “That’s such a rookie move!”
“Well, let’s bring it back and find out. And get this body down to the morgue.” The clean-up crew (that’s what Sam and I called them) came and took the body while I talked to some witnesses. I glanced back and noticed Sam was just standing there. I finished up with the person I was talking to, who only discovered the body, and walked over to her.
“Sammy? You okay?”
“What—? Yeah, it’s just…didn’t she look familiar?” I thought about it for a moment. She did remind me of someone. I just couldn’t put my finger on it.
“Yeah…C’mon, kid, I gotta go file a report.”
***
“Yo, Dad, I have some gossip for you.” I looked up from the kitchen table and waited for Sam to appear around the corner.
“Gimme the deets, kid,” I replied when she arrived to my spot.
“Okay, so there’s this sophomore called Andrew who has a crush on me and he came up to me today and asked me out on a date.”
I leaned back in my chair and crossed my arms. Dad-mode activated. “Oh really? And what’d you say?”
“Well, I said yes, he’s kinda cute.”
“Hmph. Well, let’s see if he meets my standards.”
Sam rolled her eyes and sat down across from me. “So did you catch the murderer?”
I let out a sigh, going back into detective mode. “Yeah, some guy named Allen Clark.
“Sounds like a murderer.”
“Heh, yeah. You hungry? Or are you gonna wait for your date?”
“Dad, it’s not until Friday.” I chucked.
“I’m just teasing.”
Thursday night. That’s when I got the second call. Sam was picking out outfits for her date the next day and showing them to me. She was wearing a nice blouse and skinny jeans when my phone rang. After I hung up I grabbed my badge and headed for the door.
“Get your coat, Sammy.” She smiled and hurried after me. We arrived at the scene in about five minutes, since it was right down the road. When we got out of the car and walked over to Stacey, Sam gasped and put her hands over her mouth. “Oh my god.”
“What?” I asked.
“Andrew, that’s Andrew’s body!”
I turned and walked over to it, grabbing a pair of gloves on my way. I put them on and observed the body. His throat was slashed and he was soaked in blood. And the murder weapon was right next to him. I frowned and picked it up. “Something’s wrong here…” I put the knife in an evidence bag and interviewed the kid’s parents. They didn’t really have any useful information, since they didn’t see anything but a black figure outside the house. I sighed. I thanked them and went over to Sam.
“Sammy, you okay?”
She was just staring at the body getting put in a blue body bag, entranced.
“Sam.” She snapped out of her daze and looked at me.
“Sorry, he was just a kid. He didn’t deserve to die.”
I pulled her into a hug. “I know kiddo. And I’m gonna catch the bastard who killed him.”
***
The week after the second murder, the killer was a guy named Luke Penn, I went to buy Sam a new cell phone. I got her a Samsung Galaxy, because iPhones are shit. We walked out of the Verizon store, Sam in a much better mood.
“Now remember to call me if anything happens, okay?”
“What if I just need like, food or something?”
“Then text me. With these murders happening, I want to be sure you’re safe, got it?”
“Yeah, I got it.” I ruffled her hair.
“Good.”
Tuesday afternoon was when I got the last call. Sam was in school, so she couldn’t be there. However, while I was observing the body, a man by the name of Mark Smith, I got a text from Sam. I took out my phone and read it. “That first victim that looked so familiar? That was the barista that works at the café I get my coffee from before school. It just came to me in the middle of class. Also, I need flash cards.” I replied to her with, “Really? I knew she looked familiar. And I’ll stop at Staple’s on my way home.” I pocketed my phone again and put the knife in an evidence bag. I sighed. These murders were connected. How, I didn’t know, but they were.
The next day, I decided to interrogate the last killer. He sat across from me, cuffed to the table in a steel box with a giant window panel on the wall. We sat there for a moment, staring at each other, sizing one another up. He smirked at me, and I glared back at him. The mental battle going on was of epic proportions.
“Alright, Eric, enough of the mind games. I’m gonna ask you questions, and you damn well better answer them.”
“So, I guess you’re the bad cop then?” I rolled my eyes. The whole “good cop, bad cop” thing was just some movie bullshit.
“I’m the cop that’s gonna throw your ass in prison for life if you don’t answer my questions.”
The man shrugged his shoulders, still smirking.
“Allen Clark. Do you know him?”
“Sounds familiar. Is he a country singer? You look like the kind of guy who likes country.”
“I actually hate country.”
“Too bad. I love it. My favorite is Sam Fox. Great girl. Too bad Sam’s dead.” I frowned a little.
“I bet…Murder out in broad daylight, though. That’s pretty stupid.”
The man leaned forward as best he could and folded his hands. “Look, you know why I’m here? Because I want to be here. You know why you’re here? Because we all wanted you here. Allen, Luke, me, and Chris. We all wanted you here.” My frown deepened.
“Chris?” He leaned back, his smirk returning.
“I’ve said too much.”
I tried asking him more questions, but he stayed silent the whole time. After a while, I gave up and sent him back in his cell to rot.
I left the station, taking out my cell phone. I dialed Sam’s number and prayed she picked up. After three rings, my heart started to race. “C’mon, pick up…”
“Hello?”
A sigh of relief escaped my lips. “Oh thank god, you’re okay.”
“Yeah, why wouldn’t I be? You know who’s not okay? Mrs. Smith. Her husband got murdered. You probably looked at the body. She wasn’t in school today.”
“I did look at the body. But your home, right? Doors locked?”
“Yeah...Dad, is something wrong?”
“No,” I lied. I didn’t want her to worry. “I’m gonna grab something for dinner. You want Pizza or Chinese?”
“C’mon Dad, I’m Sam Alec, what do you think?”
I chuckled, feeling a little better. “Pizza then. I’ll see you when I get home.” I hung up and headed for a pizza parlor.
While I waited for the pizza, I wrote down the names of the victims on a napkin, in the order I found them, their ages next to the names. Sarah, age 26, Andrew, age 16, Mark, age 38. I stared at the napkin. I rearranged the letters, trying to form sentences, but nothing worked. I was about to give up when I got a text from Sam.
“We need soda.” It read. Suddenly, something in my brain clicked. The pieces were finally put together, and I had my eureka moment. I lined up the names from top to bottom and circled the first letters. S. A. M. My eyes widened. Sam knew every single victim in some shape or form. I lined up the murders’ names, just to be sure. A. L. E. C. I sat back in my chair, running a hand through my hair.
“Holy shit…” I paused for a moment before I realized Sam was home. Alone. Without warning I jumped out of my chair, knocking it over. I ignored the strange looks the other customers gave me and ran out of the door, completely forgetting about the pizza.
I sped down the street, my sirens blaring. I raced towards home, my heart pounding faster than the speed of my car. Once I reached the house, I slammed on the brakes, lurching forward. The only thing keeping me from flying through the windshield was my seatbelt. I jumped out of the vehicle and ran to the door, gun at the ready. I noticed the door was slightly ajar and the lights were off. I swallowed hard and softly nudged it open with my foot. I walked in and went up the stairs quietly. As I ascended, I heard a muffled scream. Abandoning subtly, I dashed up the stairs and pointed my gun. “FREEZE!”
A man looked up at me, a knife in his hand. He loomed over Sam who was tied to a chair, duct tape over her mouth. Her eye was starting to swell and her nose was bleeding. He smirked at me and rammed the knife into Sam’s chest. She screamed and I opened fire. The booming noise filled the air. Chris’s body fell to the ground like a sack of potatoes. A loud thud could be heard.
Tears streaming down my face, I ran over to my daughter, praying to every god in existence that she was going to be okay. I took off the tape and undid the knot. I picked her up bridal style and hurried to the door.
“Dad…”
“Don’t worry Sammy, everything’s gonna be fine. We’re gonna get you to the hospital in no time.” Sam smiled weakly.
“Okie dokie…”
***
The monotonous beeping of the heart monitor rang in my ears. I stared at Sam as she laid in the hospital bed. After the trauma doctors had taken care of her, Sam turned out to be okay. It was a miracle she didn’t die. They said the knife only scrapped her heart, so it wasn’t punctured.
As I sat there and watched her chest rise and fall in her sleep, I sighed. That was a close one.
“Hey Dad?”
I looked up, tears in my eyes. I smiled as she stared back at me, her eyes heavy.
“Yeah kid?”
“How are we gonna explain this to Mom?”
I chuckled, a tear of joy rolling down my face.
“I’ll think of something.”

Storm Of The Decade
by Tsar Bomba
“Shut up.”

The windshield wipers jerked frantically from side to side, shoving aside the relentless showers, backed by blistering winds. A hurricane. It had been a while since the town last saw one. Now, the sky’s stretch of silence could be attributed to the theory that it was preoccupied brewing the storm of the decade.

“What if we crash, you die, and I don’t? Do I get off?”

“Shut. Up.” Russ kept his eyes on the road, trying to maintain complete awareness of his surroundings.

Miles Hackman, who sat in the back of the police cruiser, raised his cuffed hands, “What about these? If there’s an accident, handcuffs could keep me from getting to safety.”

“There won’t be any accident if you shut up.” The officer demanded once more.

Miles reclined in his seat, huffed, and looked out the window. The outside was distorted by streams of rainwater rushing down the glass. It wasn’t the first time he’d been arrested, but it was looking to be his last.

“I get it. I have to go to jail and all,” Miles returned his attention to Russ, “I just don’t get why you have to be so quick about it.”

The officer ignored him. A semi-silence passed. The only kind of silence that the world would allow: the rough pitter-patter of rain accompanied by sharp winds.

A pair of lights shined amongst the foggy curtain of precipitation. Russ narrowed his eyes and slowed down. It was another car, parked on the side of the road. As the police cruiser approached, a series of frantic honks emanated from the other vehicle. Russ pulled up beside it and brought his own car to a gradual halt.

“Why’d you stop?” Miles asked, his voice dull.

Russ nodded toward the outside, “There’s someone in that car.”

“So?”

“So, they probably didn’t get stuck out in a hurricane on purpose. Might need help.”

“You’re just gonna pick up some stranger off the side of the road? Fuck that, man.”

“Shut up.”

A woman dashed from the stationary vehicle, sprinting to the passenger side of the police cruiser. Russ unlocked the door, allowing her to enter. The woman slammed the door shut as she hopped into the front seat, drenched.

“Thank you! Thank you so much!” She had a thick accent, however, neither one of the men could distinguish it. A grotesque scar ran across her otherwise delicate features. “My car stopped working and I got stuck on the side of the road,” she spoke through chattering teeth.

“Guess you’re lucky we came by then. I’m Officer Russ Callow,” he held out a hand.

She shook it, “Nadia Eckhardt.”

“Nice to meet you, Nadia. Back there is Miles Hackman,” Russ jerked a thumb over his shoulder, “I’m taking him down to the police station.”

Nadia turned in her seat, glancing at the man in the back, who winked.

The woman looked back to Russ curiously, “And why are you doing that, Mr. Callow?”

“He beat his girlfriend to death.”

“Allegedly.” Miles added.

“Shut the fuck up! I don’t hear anyone talking to you!” The officer snarled.

“Well, Mr. Callow,” Nadia started, “I don’t think you should drive to the police station.”

“Why’s that?”

“The roads ahead are closed, and if you cannot take them, you will have to take a much more dangerous path.”

“Dangerous how?”

“The back roads are winding and have a lot of trees. It would be very easy to get into an accident.”

Russ shrugged, “Well, there’s not much else I can do...”

“There is a bar not too far from here. When the rain started, I was driving somewhere else, but I would have had to take the back roads, you see. So, to get off the roads quickly, I was going to stay there until the rain stopped.”

“You mean Happy Jack’s?”

Nadia nodded, “Open 24 hours.”

“What do you think, Miles?” Russ called over his shoulder, “Bet you could use drink.”

Miles looked up, “Fuck yourself.”

“Alright then,” Russ’ foot eased onto the accelerator. The car was in motion once more; the three were on their way to Happy Jack’s.


* * *

Russ yanked the door open, his other hand gripping Miles’ arm. He shoved the prisoner inside before entering with Nadia and slamming the door on the storm.

“Christ, am I running a fucking motel over here or what?!” A gravelly voice called. An old man, the bartender, stood behind the counter. He glared at the three new faces, who tracked water along the wooden flooring.

The lights all glowed a dim yellow. The interior was simple, rustic. It was as if the structure was almost entirely made out of wood. It wasn’t particularly large, but big enough that without a full house it felt empty... And there wasn’t a full house.

Aside from Russ, Miles, Nadia, and the bartender, only a few others were scattered around the inside. Two men were seated at a rectangular table in the center of the room. A woman sat at the counter, a drink in hand and a bottle beside her. In the back corner, a man was hunched over in a booth, writing. All of the strangers turned their attention to the trio who had just entered.

Russ looked to the old man, “Who’re you?”

“I’m Happy Jack,” he grumbled; the old man’s expression was fixed into a deep scowl, “Who the fuck’re you?”

“I’m Officer Russ Callow,” he spoke loud enough for everyone to hear, “This is Miles Hackman. I arrested him about an hour ago for killing his girlfriend.”

Nadia introduced herself shortly after the policeman, whose eyes scanned the room. He grabbed Miles’ arm, sitting him down in a booth toward the corner of the room, “Stay put.”

“Yessir,” Miles said, a sardonic mumble.

Russ faced the rest of the room, making another announcement, “Well, we’re all gonna be here awhile. Might as well get to know each other.”

A silence passed.

Russ huffed, approaching the woman who sat at the counter. She sipped from her glass of scotch and glanced to the police officer.

“What’s your name, miss?”

“Emily Rhodes,” she took another sip from her glass, “And I’m not in the mood for conversation, sorry.”

Russ nodded, dismissed. He moved on to the two men seated at the table. Upon closer examination, he noticed a series of contusions marking the one man’s features, “Shit, what happened to you?”

The bruised man stared into the officer’s eyes, “Pool game. Called out the wrong guy on cheating.”

“Got a name?” Russ asked, hesitant.

“David Granger.”

The cop looked to the other man, who sat beside David Granger. He wore a stern expression, a confrontational one, as if he were daring the officer to ask his name.

“You look familiar.” Russ remarked, “What’s your name, friend?”

“Charlie Lane.” He raised a gloved hand, “And I’m not your friend.”

Russ walked away from the table and to the booth in the back corner, where the last stranger sat. The man was scribbling onto a notepad, not bothering to look up as Russ approached him.

“It’s Nic Palmer.”

Russ blinked. “Okay then, Nic Palmer… What’re you writing?” The policeman stood beside the booth.

The stranger glanced up, “Ideas.”

“Ideas for what?”

“I write stories.”

“Stories?” Russ glanced down at his writings, “What kind of stories?”

“All kinds,” he closed the notepad and tucked the pen away, “Anything else?”

Russ shook his head, “No… guess not.” He made his way to the opposite corner of the room, where Miles and Nadia remained. The policeman took some comfort in at least knowing the names of each stranger he was trapped with. Some. He took a seat beside the woman, across from Miles. An awkward silence transpired, which Russ broke with: “How about a drink?”

Nadia nodded, “That would be nice. Thank you, Mr. Callow.”

“Don’t mention it.” Russ stood again and wandered over to the counter. Happy Jack, who was wiping down the counter, looked up to the officer as he approached.

Russ slapped some money on the countertop, “Can I have a drink?”

“I don’t give a shit…” The old bastard grumbled.

Russ ordered a bottle. Happy Jack took the money and plucked the alcohol from the shelf behind him. He handed it to the policeman.

Out of the corner of his eyes, Russ saw Nadia storm to the bathroom. He returned to the booth, taking his seat across from Miles. “What’d you do?”

“I just asked her a question.” He replied.

“What kind of question?”

“Well… I asked her what the fuck happened to her face.”

Russ narrowed his eyes, “You little chickenshit. You got some fucking nerve.”

“What?” Miles held up his cuffed hands, “I was curious. I thought someone with a big ass scar across her face would get asked those types of things a lot.”

“You oughta mind your own business and your fucking manners.”

Miles leaned forward, “Or what…? You gonna arrest me?”

Russ responded with a silent glare.

“...Why’d you become a cop, Russ? You get off on giving people parking tickets? Telling teenagers their parties are too loud?”

“I signed up because I get to catch people like you.”

“That doesn’t make much sense to me.”

“How’s that?”

“Well, collectively, the police force has done much worse things than me. Forcing people into sucking them off, killing niggers for being niggers… taking the power that was bestowed upon them and abusing it. That’s kinda fucked up.” Miles tapped his fingertips on the tabletop, “So, people like me, don’t look so bad in comparison.”

“But not all cops are dirty.”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t matter. Some are, and they still count as cops. Bad apple shit. If a corrupt cop plants weed in some sorry fuck’s car, and arrests him for no reason… Some people see it as: one bad cop did that. Most people see it as: the police did that.”

“And you think that’s right for people to think?”

“I don’t give a shit what people think.”

Russ shook his head, “Now, you might think you have a point, but I’ll just let it go.”

“Why?”

“I’m tired. Really tired. Too tired for bullshit.”

A heavy silence passed before Miles stood, “I have to take a piss.”

Russ got up as well.

“What’re you doing?”

“I’m coming with you.”

“What? You wanna hold my dick for me?”

Russ grabbed his arm and shoved him forward, “You’re not leaving my sight.”

“For the record,” Miles started toward the bathroom, “This is fucking weird.”

“The record doesn’t give a shit.”

The two walked across the room, toward the bathroom. As they reached the counter, Miles yanked Emily Rhodes’ bottle from the counter and smashed it across Russ’ head. The officer fell onto the floor, allowing for Miles to snatch the cop’s firearm from his hip. He pressed the barrel against Russ’ head.

He cocked the pistol, “I piss alone.”

The strong, unmistakable sound of a shotgun’s forend clicking interrupted the exchange. Miles glanced up, the barrel of a rifle met his gaze. Happy Jack stood behind the bar, wielding a firearm, “Step away from the officer.”

Miles scowled, “Let me shoot him and I’ll just walk out.”

“I don’t stutter.”

“C’mon, old man… you’re really fucking me right now.”

Happy Jack said nothing. Miles slowly put the gun down and stepped away from Russ. The police officer grabbed his gun, slowly stood, and slammed it across his prisoner’s face.

Miles was now on the ground, blood gushing from his broken nose, “Fuck!”

Russ’ eyes wandered around the room, and six pairs stared back at him. All captivated by the scene. Miles had his bloodied face in his hands, cursing. Russ turned his attention to Nadia, who had returned from the bathroom, eye-makeup smeared.

The officer nodded to her, “You okay?”

“Are you?” She gestured to his head.

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

“Let me see it,” Emily Rhodes’ voice came from behind him.

Russ looked to the woman, “You a doctor?”

“Nurse,” she clarified.

“Alright… Yeah… I’ll be right there…” Russ grabbed Miles and dragged him to the side of the bar, cuffing his hand to the foot rail.

After having Emily look at his head, the policeman wandered over to his booth (which was now a reasonable distance away). Nadia had already retaken her seat and made it to her second glass of liquor. Russ chuckled.

“What?” Nadia smiled up at him.

“Nothing…” he took a seat, “You just must’ve been thirsty is all.”

“Do not worry. I will leave some for you, Mr. Callow.”

“I’m fine for now. Thanks, Nadia.”

“Of course.” She finished her second glass, then poured another.

“How long were you stuck out there? In the rain, I mean.”

“Only for like an hour,” she shrugged, “I was very afraid.”

“I bet.” Russ nodded, glancing over to Miles.

Nadia held her head, blinking, “Oh…”

The officer raised an eyebrow, “What’s wrong?”

“My head… I am… dizzy.”

“Well, that makes sense. Maybe slow down a little, yeah?”

“No… my hands too… they are… shaking…”

Russ stood, calling over to Emily, “Hey, she’s not feeling well. She might need--”

Nadia hacked violently, grasping at her throat. The woman frantically took rasping heaves before falling onto the floor, convulsing, trying desperately to breathe.

“Nadia!” The policeman kneeled beside her, watching her with wide eyes. Emily rushed over. Russ looked up at the nurse, “What’s wrong with her?!”

“I-I don’t know.” Emily stared at the woman.

“Do something!”

Emily kneeled down, doing anything she could to try and discern what was wrong with the woman… and how to solve it. Her attempts were futile. Within minutes, Nadia died on the floor.

Every eye on the bar was fixed on the corpse. A tortuous silence lingered for what appeared to be an eternity.

Russ broke it, “You killed her.”

Nothing.

He turned to Miles, “You killed her.”

“The fuck do you mean?!” Miles’ eyes widened.

“You’re too much of a smartass to play stupid,” Russ marched over to his prisoner, looking down at him, “You put something in the drink! You killed her!”

“Hey, hey! We don’t even know if she was poisoned, man! She could’ve had some weird fucking health condition! You saw how fast she was downing that shit!”

“If I were you... I'd think of something more convincing than health conditions.”

“Maybe you should chill the fuck out, Russ. You aren’t even making sense.”

“It makes sense,” David Granger, the bruise-faced man, spoke up, “You seemed pretty quick to try and kill Russ earlier. You could’ve poisoned the drink and then the girl ended up drinking it by mistake.”

“If I poisoned the drink, I wouldn’t of tried to get away.” Miles retorted, “And, by the way, I wasn’t going to actually kill the bastard. I just needed his keys to get out of here.”

“Bullshit.” Russ snarled.

“Bullshit?! How’s this for bullshit: I wasn’t even near the bottle when it was open. When I was near it, Russ was watching me like a faggy hawk.”

Everyone looked to the policeman for confirmation.

Russ’ expression contorted into a scowl, he let out a heavy sigh, “He’s right. He’s a sonuvabitch, but he’s right. Miles couldn't have done it. I left the bottle unattended once... and the fuck was busy attacking me.”

“What about Happy Jack?” Miles suggested, “He hasn’t been too nice to Russ either.”

The old man grunted, “You must not have a memory worth shit, ‘cause I was pointing a shotgun at you while you two were wrestling on the ground over yonder.”

“You could’ve put something in the drink when you gave it to Russ.”

At that point, Russ removed the pistol from his hip and took a few steps backwards. He held it toward the others, “Figuring that someone did mean to poison me… and it’s one of you… Everyone get on that wall.”

“Who says you didn’t poison the girl yourself?” Charlie Lane remarked.

“I say it,” the officer retorted, “The one with the gun. So, shut up and get over on the wall.”

Charlie Lane, David Granger, Nic Palmer, Emily Rhodes, and Happy Jack made their way to the wall opposite of Russ. Miles remained chained to the foot rail of the counter.

“Emily…” Russ addressed her, “Get that shotgun from behind the bar and stand up here with me.”

“That’s my shotgun.” Happy Jack protested.

David watched as Emily retrieved the firearm, “Why’s she so trustworthy?”

Emily took her place beside the policeman, the rifle in her hands.

“Miles hit me with her bottle,” Russ replied, “She wasn’t more than a few feet away from me when Nadia’s drink was poisoned.”

“Happy Jack could’ve poisoned it before I kicked your ass,” Miles added, “Why’re you so sure it happened while we were fighting?”

Russ didn’t take his eyes off the group as he addressed Miles, “Either way, she’s the only one I can trust.”

Miles tapped his fingers on the floorboards, “You can trust me.”

“Shut up.”

“Well… What happens now? We just gonna stare at each other?” David said, “There’s no other evidence to follow.”

Russ narrowed his eyes, “You know I tell when people are lying for a living, right?”

“What do you mean...?” A puzzled expression washed over David’s face.

“How’d you get those bruises, David?”

“I told you already. Pool game.”

“You fucking liar.”

David scoffed, “What? Can you read minds all of a sudden?”

“No. Nothing like that. I’m reading your eyes,” Russ explained, “I’m a cop, David. We study liars.”

Everyone exchanged confused glances.

“It’s like this: if I ask you a question about something visual, and your eyes go up and to the left, neurophysiology tells us your eyes go there because you're accessing the visual cortex. So you're telling the truth.” Russ elaborated, “If your eyes go up and right, you're accessing the brain's creative centers and we know you're full of shit. When I asked you how you got your bruises… Guess what your eyes did both times.”

Miles laughed, “He got you, motherfucker!”

Flustered, David responded, “If you’re so good at telling when someone’s lying, then why didn’t you just ask everyone if they poisoned the drink or not?”

“Because good liars aren’t as easy.” Russ took a step forward, “What happened to your face, David?”

David’s eyes darted to Charlie for the briefest of seconds, but that was long enough for Russ to notice.

“Oh, looks like Charlie Lane knows why.”

Charlie’s stoic expression was unwavering, “Bruises don’t have shit to do with that dead body over there. You’re getting off-task, Officer Callow.”

“Yeah? Maybe.” Russ pointed the gun at him, “Or maybe not. Why don’t you take those gloves off, Charlie.”

The man raised an eyebrow. Reluctantly, he removed the gloves, revealing the heavy bruising on his knuckles.

“You play pool a lot?” Russ prodded.

Charlie said nothing.

“Why’d you beat up on David, then?”

No response.

“Why’d you two wanna hide it so bad?”

Charlie crossed his arms, scoffing. “You want to read my eyes? Go ahead. Keep wasting time. We’re still not closer to figuring out who poisoned that drink.”

“He’s holding me hostage!” David cried.

Russ glanced between Charlie and David.

“I swear, look at my eyes, do your neurophysiology shit, you have to believe me!” He pleaded.

Charlie spoke out, “He’s lying.”

“That’s a pretty elaborate lie.” Emily remarked, aiming the shotgun at Charlie.

“Still a lie.” Charlie replied.

Miles laughed, “Oh, that’s such bullshit!”

“Shut up!” Russ boomed, “Everyone! ...Shut up.”

All of them were silent. Russ walked up to David, “Tell me everything.”

“He picked me up a day or two ago, that’s when I got the bruises… held me captive until today…” He glanced to Charlie, “That’s when he brought me here and the hurricane trapped us. Said to keep my mouth shut or he’d kill me-- You have to believe me, man. He’ll kill me… I don’t even know him and he said that he’d... I’m telling the truth, I swear!”

Russ turned toward Charlie, “Any input?”

The man let out a lengthy exhale, “The guy next to David Granger has half a million dollars in cash on him. He was gonna pay me for David, alive. Put the gun down, take the money, and we can all just sit here like nothing happened… How’s that for input?”

Nic Palmer, who stood beside David, said nothing.

“Figure you can tell me who killed Nadia?” Russ narrowed his eyes.

“I did,” Charlie slipped his gloves back on.

Russ pointed the gun at him, “Why?!”

“You recognized me. Figured if you waited long enough it’d click… poisoned your drink when everyone was watching the fight.”

“Guessing you’re name isn’t Charlie Lane, then.”

“No.” He said, “It isn’t.”

No one said anything for a few lengthy moments. A semi-silence passed. The only kind of silence that the world would allow: the rough pitter-patter of rain accompanied by sharp winds.

“So…” Charlie looked over, “What do you say? Half a million dollars is a lot of money.”

All eyes were on Russ, who stared to Nic Palmer, “Show me the cash so I know this isn’t all bullshit.”

Nic nodded to the booth in the corner, where he had been sitting, “It’s under the table.”

“Show me,” Russ gestured with his gun. He walked with Nic over to the booth and watched as the man slid a briefcase from underneath the table.

Emily looked over, curious. A earsplitting bang followed. The officer turned around to see Charlie Lane wielding a pistol and Emily’s body on the floor. Before he was able to react, Nic jammed his pen into the side of Russ’ neck. The cop fell to the floor, managing to shoot his attacker in the torso a few times, killing him.

Miles took advantage of the situation, yanking at the rail that he was attached to. The metal rod loosened a bit as he tugged.

Russ gripped his new wound. He fired his pistol from the floor, aiming at Charlie. Happy Jack hid under the nearest table. David attempted to do the same, however, he was quickly caught by Charlie Lane. David’s body shielded his captor from Russ’ bullets until eventually he was shoved onto the floor, dead.

Miles started kicking the foot rail, trying to further loosen the structure. The shotgun was just barely out of reach.

Russ crawled under the nearest table and shoved it over. It would provide adequate cover as Charlie fired at him, “If you just kept to yourself, this wouldn't have happened! And you wouldn’t have a pen in your fucking neck for the rest of your short ass life, which, by the way, is gonna end in a couple seconds!”

Russ rolled out from behind cover and returned fire, a bullet made its way into Charlie’s arm. The man dashed behind a wooden beam, avoiding further injury. More gunshots.

A distinct clicking was heard. Upon noticing it, each man realized that Russ had run out of ammunition.

Now under fire, Russ retreated back behind the table. He frantically attempted to reload, but Charlie was too quick. As he came into view, Russ threw the gun toward his head. The hunk of metal slammed into the man’s chin, causing him to stumble. The officer took the opportunity to tackle Charlie to the ground and attempt to grab his weapon. The two struggled as Miles freed himself; the foot rail had detached from the bar.

As Miles crawled toward the shotgun, Russ yanked the pen from his neck and stabbed it into Charlie’s eye. The man shrieked in agony, the pain hindering his ability to fight back as the policeman grabbed his firearm.

Miles turned, shotgun in hand, and was met with a series of bullets to the chest. Russ used the last of his ammunition to shoot Charlie in the head. The two men were motionless, lying in expanding pools of crimson.

“Fuck… that hurt…” Miles groaned.

Russ gargled blood.

“Hey… Russ… can you talk... still…?”

No response.

“Well…” Miles wheezed, “When I said that… I wasn’t going to… to kill you during that fight… I wasn’t lying…”

Silence.

“I just… wanted you… to know that.”

Space Mafia
by Devour

“This is Captain Sorverg speaking.” The ship-wide intercom was not used often, so everyone on the TGS Explorer snapped to attention. “We’ve reached the home stretch. Once we clear this asteroid field, we’ll be warping back to Earth. Clean up your stations and be ready within an hour.” He hung up without another word.

Daniel sighed. The Captain was always a cold one, but he cared about his ship and his crew more than anyone. Still, it was painful to just stop working when there was so much left to do.

He remembered the alien planet they encountered last week: Odd and purple and so surreal that stepping foot on its soil felt like he had entered another dimension. He even managed to take some samples, and…

The biologist brought a small container of rocks to view from behind the carefully-sealed glass he worked through. This soil told tales of a civilization thousands of years old that once lived on that planet. Yet somehow, they were nowhere to be found…

From the glass, a reflection caught Daniel’s eye. It was the only warning he got.

An enormous asteroid was flying towards the Explorer with terrifying speed.

The ship’s thrusters fired at once. Daniel was thrown to the ground with his skin crushing into his body as they tried to avoid imminent death. For a second it looked like they would avoid danger, but they were not fast enough. The asteroid grazed them with a spiked projection of rock that cut out from its side, raking into the Explorer with a shower of sparks and flying shrapnel, sending it tumbling off course and out of control.

The lights in the ship went out, but Daniel could hear the thrusters still firing. Even spiraling madly, Captain Sorverg was able to avoid smashing into three more enormous rocks that flew into their path. Death grazed the skin of his teeth again and again and each time was closer than the last.

But then they were clear. The Explorer floated freely in empty space. Sorverg was able to pull the ship out of its spiral. Deep red emergency lights flashed on and illuminated everything with a dark red glow as the ship’s AI sealed the rooms that were connected to the giant hole, raked out of the ship as if by a giant claw. They were all still alive.

The ship’s intercom flickered back on, but the voice was not the Captain’s.

“What the fuck was that?” That was Scott Jackson, the ship’s Engineer. “Is everyone still alive?”

“Still breathing.” Sergeant Harkins was unfazed as always.

“Shut up and wait for the Captain’s orders.” Lando Sorverg was the Captain’s brother. Fear turned him terse and impatient.

“Yeah, I can see you all from here. Everyone’s okay.” Tom Lorentz spoke up anyways, nervous as hell. It was good to know his cameras still worked, though.

“I’m alive…” The shy Dr. Irene Misvrill said. “If anyone’s hurt, please make your way to—”

“Listen up, everyone.” The Captain interrupted. His voice was grim. “The Explorer charted a safe course through that asteroid field. What just happened, should not have happened.”

“What do you mean it shouldn’t have happened? It just did!” Scott shot back.

“Yes. It did. But asteroids don’t move themselves.” Sorverg was deathly serious. “There’s only one reason three of them would suddenly come at us like that. I think we are under attack.”

Another collision that rocked the ship as if on cue, knocking the crew off their feet a second time. The open comms became a mess of screaming and shouting, hurting Daniel’s ears as he himself struggled to figure out what was going on.

Then at last, everything was quiet. The biologist slowly crawled to his feet, deathly afraid of what might come next.

“Warning. I have detected a hostile alien life-form on board.” It was the voice of the ship’s AI. “Please proceed to the panic room now.”

“Everyone, stay the fuck where you are!” The Captain ordered. “AI. Give me their location.”

“I cannot detect them. All I know is that it’s here.” It replied.

Scott exploded on the comms again. “AI, what the hell do you mean by that? You just said you detected—”

“Damn it! It’s like I thought.” The Captain said. “AI, you can still detect that it’s on board, yes?”

“Affirmative. This is only possible by measuring the mass of everything on-board the Explorer. I cannot discern its location.”

“Sorverg, you know something that we don’t.” The Biologist finally spoke up. “You need to tell us what’s going on.”

But the Captain ignored him. “AI. Search the ship for corpses.”

“There is a body in waste disposal.” It replied at once. “I cannot identify it, except that it is human.”

For once, the comms were deathly quiet. No one knew what to say or what to make of the Captain’s orders. They should be running to safety before any more people died! They were just sitting in their rooms, waiting to be killed next.

“AI, please close every door in the ship and lock it tight.” Sorverg said.

“What?!” There were mixed cries of protest as everyone’s stations became prisons. In one moment to the next, their doors slammed shut and held in place by the AI, only opening once the alert was lifted.

“I need you all to listen carefully. This is a matter of life or death” Sorverg said. All comms had been shut off except for his. There was something in his voice that Daniel had never heard before. “We have a dead shipmate. Tom can confirm that their corpse is sealed in Disposals. The reason I need you all to stay locked within your stations, is because one of you is the alien who killed them.”

Daniel’s mouth hung open in astonishment. None of what the Captain was saying made sense to him. But as much as he wanted to shout and plead for answers, all he could do was listen and hope that Sorverg said more.

“There were only seven of us on-board. Me, Lando, Scott, Irene, Daniel, Harkins, and Tom.” He listed the names off easily; this crew had worked together for years. “AI, confirm this for me. How many bodies do you detect on board, in mass?”

“Eight, Captain.”

Another moment of stunned silence. Sorverg allowed this to sink in for everyone.

“One of you is a hostile.” His voice became angry, powerful, like a slowly-approaching storm. “I don’t know who you are, but I assume you’re using some kind of shape-shifting ability to disguise yourself as my former shipmate. But how well can you act as them? How long will you be able to keep up the charade? Because as soon as we find out who you are, you will die. Mark my fucking words.”

The comms turned back on.

No one said anything.

“This is why I have locked you all in your rooms. No one here can be trusted. Not even me. The only way we can find this being is through talking here on comms.” Sorverg said. “Eventually, they will slip up. We will then hold a vote between all seven of us, and if the majority of us are sure that someone isn’t who they say they are, the AI will remove the air from their room and suffocate them to death. Even if it’s me that you’re voting for. Do I make myself clear?”

Silence went on. And on. No one knew how to process what was going on or how they would even begin to find out who was real and who was not.

Finally, it was Irene’s quiet voice that broke the silence. It was plain that she was fighting back tears. “I understand, Captain.” She whispered.

______________________________________________

An hour came and went with little progress. Somehow, everyone recalled their previous missions together perfectly. The alien’s disguise was flawless. They learned that the damage had impaired the Explorer’s power, and in every hour and a half the AI would need to power down and restore its energy for ten minutes at a time. This left the doors unlocked, and the crew in danger.

Unless they found the alien, someone would die with each hour and a half that passed.

It reminded Daniel of an old game he had played back on Earth.

Every member of the ship still had access to their equipment, so to show what they could do to help they gathered the materials they could, presenting them via Tom’s system of cameras. It was here that they spoke now, able to look each other in the proverbial eye.

As a biologist, Daniel was able to use his sample from the alien planet to create a special serum. It could only be used once, but he would be able to use it to confirm a single person’s identity as human. “I’ll use it on myself.” He offered, speaking to his camera. “Then I can prove that I’m really human.”

“But then you’ll be useless.” Scott grumbled over comms. “You should confirm the identity of someone like Sorverg so that he can help us better.”

“You know Sorverg can’t be an alien after he set this whole thing up.” Lando interjected. “I think you want Daniel to waste that thing—”

“Maybe. We’ll figure it out later.” The Captain interrupted, standing diligently before his screen. "I can do my part too. These computers can project a small part of the ship’s shielding systems, and keep someone locked in their room via a force field. If he’s an alien, he won’t be killing anyone. Harkins, what can you do for us?”

“Uh, me?” Sergeant Harkins gestured lamely before his camera, searching around his barren room for something to use. He ended up pulling out his gun. It was a specially-modified blaster cannon he used to take down heavy targets. “I’ve got this baby with me. I won’t be able to recharge it, but you can bet your ass if the alien comes for me, they’re fucking dead.”

“More useful than you might think.” Scott Jackson grinned. He was holding a welding torch in hand, with his screen facing a large array of electronics. “When we power down, I think I’ll be able to disable the systems in someone’s room. Obviously I can only do one of ya at a time without overloading the ship, but maybe I’ll save a life or two.”

“Um,” Dr. Irene stood in the Medic Bay, surrounded by first-aid supplies. “If someone gets hurt I might be able to run out and save them… if I make there in time, at least. And if I can guess who he chooses to attack…”

“You better guess right, then.” Lando snarled. “If someone dies and you could have saved them, consider their blood on your hands.”

“Enough.” Sorverg barked as Irene looked away from the camera, saying nothing. “We can argue later. What can you do for us, Lando?”

“Well—” He bit down the scathing remark he wanted to answer with. “I’ve got the teleporters in here. I’ll use them to switch two people’s locations so that if the aliens want someone important dead, they’ll find someone else instead.”

“What do you mean by that?” Daniel was horrified. “Are you saying some of us aren’t as important as the others?”

“You’re goddamn right, I am.” He snarled. “Tom, that leaves you. You got your cameras, but what can you do without power?”

The security guard spoke up, obviously out of his element. “With a little bit of work, I think I can keep one screen up while we recharge. I’ll watch someone’s room. See if I can catch the bastards in the act.”

“That’s everyone, then.” Sorverg was terse. Time was running out. “Before the AI runs out of power, tell me your suspicions. Tell me if we should vote someone out while we still can.”

It was then that the reality truly hit. One way or another, someone was about to die. Everyone seemed to be at a loss for words.

“We hardly know anything yet.” Daniel said shakily. “We can’t just kill someone with such little information. We’ll just kill an innocent.”

“That’s where you’re wrong.” Scott was grinning, but his voice was hard as iron. “We know nothing. That’s exactly why we need to vote.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” He thought the engineer had gone mad, but Captain Sorverg was listening carefully.

“The alien bastard knows who he is. They want us to vote for the wrong person. If we point a finger at someone innocent, they’re gonna try and make sure it sticks. They’ll slip up when pressure is on them. We need to watch carefully and use this to get information for later. Even if we do end up killing one of our own, we’ll learn enough to catch him later.”

“But Scott,” Tom spoke up. “If we vote the wrong person, another innocent will die when the ship powers down. That would leave us with just 4 humans left. If we don’t find him after that, we can’t make any more mistakes or else we’ll all die. I'd rather have more time to talk.”

“It’s too big of a risk.” Daniel agreed. Lando was nodding on camera, but he said nothing.

“No vote, then? What does everyone think?” Captain Sorverg was a wall of neutrality.

“Scott is right.” Dr. Irene said carefully. “I think we should vote…”

“I can’t believe you’d say that.” Daniel frowned. “Coming from you, I mean. You’d really let someone die because of your choice?”

Irene’s mouth closed shut, staring back guiltily but saying nothing.

“I think she’s the only one who’s not a fucking idiot.” Scott growled. “We need to vote or else we’re in serious trouble. There’s so much information we can get with this.”

“No.” Lando finally said. “We’ll have much more time talk if we don’t vote. More time to figure things out. We’ll find the aliens that way without risking everything like this.”

Sergeant Harkins shrugged, offering his own words. “Scott’s idea is smart. But I ain’t smart. Chances are I’ll miss who votes for who and who defends what. All I know is that I want that alien bugger to try and kill me. Just try, you son of a bitch. I’ll be right here. No vote.”

“That settles it, then. No vote.” Captain Sorverg said. He looked to the AI module next to him, seeing that its power was nearly depleted. “Everyone, do what you can. It’s almost lights out.” He saluted to the camera. “I hope to see you again in ten minutes.”

The lights went dark shortly after, and for ten horrible minutes the crew was left in pitch-black silence, floating in endless space while an alien creature slunk closer to kill them.

The only thing they could do now was hope.

______________________________________________

The lights flicked back on with blessed relief. Daniel was glad to find himself still alive. Turning his comms back on, he hurried to his spot by the camera to see what had happened.

“It killed Scott Jackson.” Tom choked.

The engineer’s room was a bloody mess. His body had been stabbed dozens of times, each impact powerful enough to paint the walls red behind them. The gruesome sight lingered for one last moment before Tom removed it from the feed.

“Damn it. That guy knew what he was doing.” Lando cursed. “Tell me. Who did you protect, Irene? And why the fuck is Jackson dead?”

“I thought it would go after the Captain!” The doctor’s voice was coarse with guilt, trying to stay professional. “Both of us can save lives, so I thought—I thought the alien would want to get rid of Sorverg so his force field couldn’t stop him. He’s our leader too and—”

“That’s not good enough!” The man slammed his fist on the table. Irene flinched back. “Scott is dead!”

“It’s not Irene’s fault, damn it!” Sorverg exploded. “The alien killed him! Not her. You need to calm yourself.”

Shocked by the uncharacteristic show emotion, Lando said nothing and simply glared at the camera.

“Anyways. I used my field on myself. Did you see anything, Tom?” The Captain asked.

There was a brief hesitation. The man was intimidated by the usually-quiet Sorverg’s anger. “No, I was watching Daniel, sir.” He stammered. “Thought the alien would want him dead before he used his serum.”

“Oh yeah, about that. We should use it.” Harkins offered helpfully. He was the only one unfazed by Sorverg’s outburst. “If I were an alien, I’d want to kill Dan before we could do that.”

“That is true.” Sorverg had already composed himself. “But who do we use it on? It’s probably clear to everyone that you don’t need to use it on me.”

“Daniel’s serum should be used on someone we suspect.” Tom pointed out. “That way we can kill them today if they’re the alien and no one else needs to die.”

The agreements were unanimous, but silence followed soon after. Most people realized that they didn’t really know what to think.

“I’m just going to say it. Irene let Scott die.” Lando spoke up at last. Sorverg’s features hardened, threatening, but the technician continued. “Plus she’s been so fucking timid. It drives me nuts. Look at that pathetic show she’s making, being quiet and shy all the time.” He produced a menacing grin. “As if we’re supposed to believe that. I think she’s the alien.”

Keeping his emotions in check, Sorverg turned to the intercom. “Irene?”

“Well… I-” The girl stammered. Her mouth moved but no words came out. She looked hurt and embarrassed.

“She’s the one who agreed with Scott that we needed to vote someone.” Harkins spoke up. “And Scott was right; even if I ain’t smart enough to use his strategy. I can still analyze this war of ours like a fucking champ, and I see that voting someone puts the odds in our favor. So why did she want us to do it?”

Lando’s tone turned challenging. “I think you should let the lady speak, Sergeant. She’s—”

“I think you should choke on a dick.” Harkins interrupted, adding a “Sir” after a pause. Lando could only stare back in stunned silence, so the soldier continued happily. “Not voting was a move in favor of the alien. Everyone who didn’t vote should be a suspect.”

No one replied. Each shipmate aboard the Explorer stared at their viewscreens awkwardly, until at last Irene opened her mouth to speak. “Thank you, Harkins.” She said quietly.

“Yeah. So who didn’t vote?” He gave no more than a nod to acknowledge her gratitude. “Me, Tom, Lando and Daniel. I don’t know shit about Dan, but we want to confirm somebody who can help after this is over, right?”

“Tom is our biggest source of information. I want to trust what he says.” Captain Sorverg spoke up again. “My vote is to inject him.”

“Hey, that sounds good to me.” The security guard said in approval. “I know I’m human.”

Irene spoke again. “You know, Tom doesn’t sound worried about the serum at all… maybe we can assume he’s human for now and offer to inject someone else. Maybe their reactions will teach us something. We'll learn a lot from that.”

“Not exactly.” Daniel pointed out. “If Tom said he didn’t want to be injected, we would all know he was an alien right away. He has to agree, or else.”

“Daniel’s right. So it’s better to inject Tom just so that we know he’s with us for sure.” Sorverg concluded.

“Well… fine. Okay then.” The doctor huffed. She didn’t agree in the slightest, but could not find the words to voice her points.

Getting Daniel’s serum to Tom was done by chuting it through a pressurized tube. Then, slightly anxious about the needle, Tom injected the serum into himself in full view of the camera. The biologist said it would take maybe five minutes to see a reaction, and those were the most intense five minutes of the security guard’s life. A part of him worried that something would go wrong and that he would look like a confirmed alien despite his true allegiance.

But those five minutes came and went. Tom was in the clear.

“Great.” Harkins clapped his hands once, turning from his view on Tom to the rest of the ship. “Now the fun part. We’re voting this time, right?”

“Yes.” Lando seemed to have recovered from his moment of silence. “And I think Irene needs to go.” Rolling his eyes at the three voices of annoyed protest, the technician pressed on. “Listen, I don’t give a fuck about logic right now. She has you all wrapped around her finger, playing like some weak and sympathetic girl that needs your protection. It’s idiotic and I can see right through it.”

“Yeah, well consider this. Logic fucking matters.” Harkins crossed his arms. “Everything she’s said has been smart. I’m also pretty fucking sure you remember Irene being shy ever since she got here.” He added. “She’s not pretending to be anything. I think you’re exploiting her to make her look suspicious when she’s too intimidated to defend herself.”

“That’s ridiculous, Harkins.” He shot back.

“You know, now that you mention it… Irene sounds like she’s trying to help with every thing she says.” Daniel said carefully. “But what about you, Lando? You’ve been after Irene since Scott died.” As he spoke, he realized what he was saying. His voice was laced with accusation. “Your goal isn’t finding the alien. You’re just trying to kill Irene. Only the alien would want to use a strategy like that.”

“That’s fucking it.” Harkins was angry now. “Daniel’s right. Lando’s the alien.” He punched a button on his computer, locking in his vote.

“One vote for Lando Sorverg.” The AI spoke neutrally.

"Oh shit, they're brothers." Daniel accidentally let out. He always forgot that about them.

“What the fuck, Harkins? Wait!” Lando choked. “Wait a second!”

“Two votes for Lando Sorverg. Two more for majority.” The computer stated. Daniel had placed his vote. Tom’s followed soon after, leaving Captain Sorverg and Irene as the last ones to decide his fate.

“You guys are bandwagonning. We need to talk this out--” Irene protested, before realizing no one was listening to her over Lando’s cries. She crossed her arms, annoyed.

“Jesus christ, just wait!” The technician roared. “Damn it, can’t you see what I was doing? I’ve been trying to help us from the start!”

“Explain.” Captain Sorverg commanded the being that only might have been his brother.

“I really am suspicious of Irene. But voting her on a hunch was never my plan.” Lando argued. “I wanted her to feel threatened by me. I was trying to intimidate her. Damn it, I was ready to sacrifice my life to make sure you all could live, and now it’s for nothing!”

“What on Earth do you mean?” The Captain asked. But Irene suddenly realized the truth, staring back at Lando with shocked revelation.

“If she were an alien, Irene would want me dead as soon as possible because I kept painting a target on her back.” He explained impatiently. “If I kept accusing her and I suddenly wound up dead, you would know it was her. It would have given away that she was the alien without a shadow of doubt! But now that I’ve revealed this… it’s all for nothing. Damn you all.” Lando cursed, scrunching his eyes shut as frustration exploded inside him. “DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!”

“He’s innocent.” Irene gasped. There was no longer any doubt in her mind. “I’m sorry Lando, I didn’t understand. My vote is no.”

“This doesn’t change anything, Doctor.” His voice was cold as steel.

“Captain?” Tom looked conflicted now. “It’s all on you.”

The Captain of the Explorer held his hand over his screen. It was yes or no, and the decision would decide the very life of his brother… but frankly, aside from Lando, he truly didn’t know what to do next. He still had aching suspicions that were unresolved; being so willing to die was a horrible thing, both as a human and for them as a team. What if…

In a flash, Sorverg suddenly saw the flaw in Lando’s logic.

“Your plan was admirable, but it was also very, very foolish.” Sorverg was now filled with resolve. “Imagine if you were wrong. This alien would know we’d suspect her for killing you. In fact, it would kill you specifically to make us think she was the alien. It’s counter-productive.

“If we let you live now, the alien will kill you tonight. This, I guarantee.” He continued. “Then when the time comes to vote again, we will inevitably suspect Irene, and then we'll probably kill her next… And if she is innocent, that leaves the alien free to kill once again. This leaves us with only three survivors.” His eyes hardened. “Your 'plan' is catastrophic to our cause, and my brother is smarter than this. He would never create such a self-destructive scheme. I can only conclude that your plan is a lie, you alien son of a bitch. You die now.”

And then Sorverg pressed the button to kill his brother.

Out of respect, he did not look away as the oxygen was removed from Lando’s room. He had made the decision, and only a coward would not own up to its consequences.

With no air to scream, the technician let out one short gasp, before running and slamming into the door, struggling to be free. Sorverg watched as those struggles turned slower and slower, until he ceased to move entirely.

Lando’s body did not change when he died. He had been innocent all along.

It was then that Sorverg broke. He shut off the video and audio immediately, leaving the camera’s field of view.

The man escaped into his chair and began to sob violently.

______________________________________

The lights in the ship were deep red and ominous as Harkins cleaned his gun. Lando was innocent. The alien was out there somewhere, and he knew more than anyone else that he wasn’t smart enough to logic his way through the politics of this twisted game they were playing.

What he did know, was violence. Violence was the only knowledge given to him since he was a child.

Harkins was ready for that alien son of a bitch. He itched for it to try and get him. Even if he couldn’t beat it, the soldier much preferred going down fighting, rather than asphyxiating to death in his own room like Lando did. True to the bone, the man was a soldier. He would fight lay down his life for the Captain.

In the ship’s silence, Harkins heard the faintest of noises outside his room. He grinned, climbing to his feet and removing the safety from his gun.

The noise happened again, this time a little closer.

“Looks like you wanted to tangle after all, eh?” Harkins said quietly. He was grinning as he brought the blaster to his shoulder, standing at the ready with perfect posture. “Good. Now our lives are in our own hands. Let’s see what you got.”

The noise repeated once more. It was right outside the Sergeant’s room. And it stayed there.

Harkins took his chance to talk. “You know what? I was hoping it would come to this, beastie.” He spoke loud enough to be heard from the other side of the door. “I can’t figure out who you might be, and you could never vote me dead. So you need to take me out yourself.” He chuckled at the thought of that, switching on the power to his gun. “I think it’s about time we end this.”

As his weapon hummed and glowed in the darkness…

The thing on the other side continued to do nothing.

Adrenaline flowed through Harkins’ veins, his body so ready to kill or be killed that it ached. One of them would be dead in mere seconds from now and it was driving him insane.

“The ball’s in your court!” He shouted out, irritated. “Go ahead. Make your move!”

Even now, silence stretched on. Harkins’ weapon throbbed with incredible killing power, growing hot in his hands. He began to breathe heavily, anticipation and equal amounts of fear and excitement pulsating within him as the creature stood still.

Sergeant Harkins’ voice came out as fire and iron. “Come on, you son of a bitch!” He roared. “What are you waiting for? I’m right here! MAKE YOUR MOVE!”

The door exploded open. A dark creature laced with terrible spikes and flashing claws struck out with unimaginable speed. Harkins only had an instant to react before it was upon him.

His weapon fired once.

________________________________

Tom Lorentz was staring at his screens in shock once the power came on, sweating from stress. The moment the crew signed in, he brought the screens all together.

“Harkins is dead.” He said, numb. The soldier had not gone down without a fight. Signs of a struggle were apparent all throughout the room. It looked like his weapon had fired once and missed, and then he had engaged the alien in hand-to-hand combat before eventually losing. Blood was spattered throughout the room as the fight carried out along the walls and across the floor.

But not all of it belonged to Harkins.

"I’m sorry…” Irene was subdued. “I protected Tom last night. I just thought it would want him dead since we all know he’s human.” She would not meet eyes with the camera. “I’ve let two people die now.”

“It’s not your fault. Lando was an asshole.” Daniel tried to sound comforting. “What’s important is that you tried. There’s only four of us now, so…” He choked on his breath, realizing how small of a number that was. This could be the last chance they had. He cleared his throat, uncomfortable. “What did everyone else do while the power was out?”

“I kept a video feed on the Captain.” Tom said slowly. “And this is troubling… he was gone for the entire time.”

“Oh…” Daniel’s blood turned to ice. “Captain? What were you doing?”

Moving slowly, Captain Sorverg entered the screen and fell into his chair, slumping heavily. His face was a wreck, with eyes bloodshot and his confident composure completely gone. His posture was that of a defeated man; his hair was wild and his clothes were a mess.

“Captain!” Irene cried. “Are you okay?”

“I’m… okay.” Sorverg croaked. He didn’t look at the screen. “Now we need to find the alien. Let’s… do that.”

“Captain?” Tom was deeply uncomfortable with what he was seeing. “Did you not hear? What were you doing when the power was out?”

“Nothing.” He looked away.

“Who did you use your force field on?”

“I didn’t use it on anyone. I was just…” For a second, something threatened to burst from Sorverg’s mask that trembled precariously with every second. “Do we have a plan? I don’t know what to do anymore.”

“God.” Irene looked sick. “Lance, you can’t blame yourself for this. I know I’m not one to talk, but—”

“DON’T CALL ME LANCE!” Sorverg shouted, his eyes wild as he panted heavily. It took a second to realize his actions. He saw Irene flinch back, hurt, and a new kind of guilt overcame the beaten man. “I’m sorry, Irene.” The Captain was suddenly sobbing. “You were right about everything. You’ve been right every time. I never listened to you. I didn’t listen to you when you said Lando was innocent. Or that we should vote, or— I don’t know. Maybe if I’d listened… IF ONLY I HAD LISTENED." He wailed. "Maybe my brother would still be alive.”

“Captain…” Tom repeated a third time. His voice was a careful one, not used since he’d been a cop back on Earth. Irene was stunned into silence. “Where were you when Harkins died?” He asked.

“It’s no use.” Sorverg lamented. “I don’t know who it is. I don’t know what to do.”

“The alien’s blood is in Harkins’ room too.” Daniel spoke up. “Could the Captain stand up and show us if he has any wounds?”

At that, Sorverg froze. “You guys think it was me, don’t you.” He said, finally realizing.

“Yes.” Tom was glad he was finally listening. Maybe they could get somewhere now. “I was watching you last night. You were gone from your room. Harkins is dead, he fought back and hurt the alien a bit, and now you come back looking like… like this.” He had no better words for what Sorverg had become.

“Oh. I just didn’t want to be seen. Wanted to save some of my dignity, maybe. But it looks like that didn’t help either way.” He gave a small laugh.

“Listen. Could you please stand up and show us if you’re hurt?” Tom pressed.

“What’s the point.” Sorverg uttered. “There’s no reason why wounds would stay on me if I was changing forms. If you want to kill me… heh, I wouldn’t mind that. Better than being killed by that alien thing.” He coughed a bit. “If you want to kill me, nothing I do will change that. I look pretty suspicious, don’t I.”

“Wait.” Irene was not looking at the screen before her. “Before we push Sorverg too hard… Who else could the alien be?”

“What are you talking about? Sorverg has to be the alien. Just look at him.” Daniel spoke up, confused.

“Well, I mean it has to be either you or Daniel then. But honestly...” Tom shrugged.

“Please, just listen to me for once. Harkins used to say—” Irene stuttered as remembered his death. “Harkins said I know what I’m doing here. But it’s not because I’m smart or anything. There’s just an old game I used to play when I was younger that was called Prohibition.” She thought back back to those days, back before she had even become a doctor. “The game starts when a group of friends get together, and some of them are chosen to be the mafia… do you guys remember this?”

“I do. Barely.” Said Daniel. Tom was perplexed.

“There were days and nights. In the day, we all talked to each other to vote and ‘lynch’ someone, because that was how you killed the Mafia. At night, the Mafia killed someone of their choosing. It’s… exactly like this, actually.”

Despite himself, Daniel let out a chortle of laughter that sounded nothing like happiness. “Yeah, I remember. It would almost be funny if I wasn’t so afraid right now. But what’s your point?”

“Well…” She hesitated. “I used to be really good at being the Mafia. I knew how the game worked, too. But the only reason that I was good at it was because I knew—” The woman looked uncomfortable with the words she was about to say. “All I needed to do was say as little as possible. Everyone else would forget about me and they would just… tear each other apart. They were looking so hard for something to attack that they only suspected the talkative ones. The ones who talked drew attention to themselves, and they accidentally made themselves look suspicious.”

Tom raised an eyebrow. “So what are you saying?”

“Well—” She looked at the camera again, back at Daniel, clenching her fists and forcing the words out from her mouth. “I’m sorry. I’m so bad at this. What I used to do to win Prohibition is exactly what Daniel’s doing now. I haven’t even thought about if he might be the alien this whole time. I know he hasn’t been silent, but…”

Tom’s gaze turned to Daniel as well. “But he hasn’t put himself out there, either. I see what you mean. He might be hoping we don't notice him until it's too late. What do you think about this, Dan?”

“Me?” The biologist fumbled for a bit. He’d been safe from accusation this whole time—he thought he might have been able to avoid it forever. “I don’t really know what to say. I’ve only been quiet because—”

“One vote for Daniel Rettin” The Ship’s AI stated.

On Captain Sorverg’s screen he was leaning on his elbows, laughing. “Ha, that’s so funny. I thought you were going to kill me, Irene.” He hiccuped. “Daniel you bastard… if you killed Lando, then this is for you. You’ll get what’s coming!” The Captain started laughing again, his face taking up his whole screen.

“God.” Irene whispered. “Sorverg is mad. He can’t be the alien.”

“What do you want me to say for myself, then?” Daniel demanded. “Yeah, I haven’t been able to say much. I don’t even remember how to play Prohibition or anything. I was just trying to survive! I just don’t know how to convince you guys I’m human.”

“If you’re the alien…” Irene looked one last time to the shell of a man Sorverg had become. There was longing in her gaze.

Then she turned to Daniel, glaring hard. Her doubts and insecurities seemed to have vanished.

“This is why only bad players stay quiet when they’re Mafia.” She explained almost casually, despite the anger in her voice. “Good players who actually know what they’re doing will pick up your silence and vote for you, and you’ll lose every time. Why’s that?” She asked. “It’s because you didn’t do anything all game long. You have nothing to prove your allegiance with. It’s because if you were on our side, you would have thought to help however you could.” Her hand hovered over her buttons. “Maybe if you were from Earth you’d have known this.”

Shocked, Daniel could do nothing but stare at Irene, hoping that she wouldn’t vote him dead. Words failed the man.

“Tom.” She said. “What do you think? Should we do it?”

“I—” Strangely enough, Tom was almost intimidated by this girl. She’d only ever been shy in the years that he’d known her. But something about her and the Captain; the way they looked and talked to each other, it always had him wondering. Maybe seeing what this whole situation did to him changed her somehow. “Shit, I don’t even know what Prohibition is about.” The security guard breathed. “But you’ve been on the right track since the start. You know what you’re doing.”

“Then…” The girl took one heavy, shaky breath, slowly returning to her usual self. “This is for Lance.” Irene closed her eyes.

Both shipmates placed their votes.

Daniel felt the air around him vanish, sucked straight from his lungs.

He tried to scream, and found that he could not.

___________________________________________

The lights in the ship were out again, aside from a faint red bulb that burned from above. Captain Sorverg was lying on his side, waiting, but not really sure what he was waiting for.

He didn’t care about things anymore. He didn’t care if Daniel was the alien or not. If he was, then Irene would tell him. There would be that to be happy about, at least.

Mostly, he just wanted the part where Irene came to see him. That would be nice.

As if someone had answered his prayers, there was a light knocking on the door to his room. They were unlocked now with the power recharging, but whoever it was had the decency to ask first. “Can I come in?” Someone asked.

The voice belonged to Irene.

“Yeah. Come on in.” Sorverg smiled. “God, this has been so hard on me. It’s good to see you in person for once.”

The door slid open. Irene was shorter than most people would expect, always dressed in doctor’s scrubs. Always pushing her scruffy black hair out of her eyes. Always so full of life—or at least they were once you got to know her. But even her shyness was part of the reason Sorverg liked her. He found it endearing.

“I came to see if you were okay.” Irene said quietly. “You look like a wreck.”

“Yeah…” The Captain idly tried to straighten out his hair. “Yeah. I feel like one too. So was Daniel the alien, then?”

The doctor gave the saddest of smiles. “Yeah. After seeing what he did to you, I realized that there was only one person it could be. I couldn’t let Daniel get you lynched.”

“Lynched?” After a second, Sorverg grinned again. “Oh yeah, the Prohibition game. I used to play it too, you know. It’s a good system. That’s why I set this whole thing up like that, actually.”

“Oh, really?” Irene grinned, slowly leaning closer. She looked up at the Captain. “Listen… there’s another reason I came here, Lance. I was sort of thinking…”

Waiting for a bit, Sorverg looked back at the doctor, and he saw that she was blushing. “Go on.” He prodded, smiling.

“I thought… that we could make up for how bad this whole thing was. It was really hard on both of us.” Her voice was quiet, but she had a sparkle in her eye. “I was wondering if you wanted to kind of, you know…” She looked away. The girl’s shyness was still there after all.

There was something in Sorverg that resurfaced then. Some part of him that, long ago, he accepted he would live without. The Captain managed to rise to his knees, and he noticed how very close Irene was to him. There was hunger in her gaze. "I think I know what you mean. And I would love to, but I… never knew you felt that way about me.” He stuttered, tripping over his tongue, trying to find the right words to say. “All this time I thought we were just—”

Irene shushed him, bringing a finger to his lips. “Trust me, silly billy.”

Right in front of his face, the girl’s hand became blackened. Razor-sharp spikes lashed out from her skin like horrible thorns.

“There are a lot of things about me you didn’t know.”

_________________________________

Tom Lorentz yawned as the power flickered back on the Explorer. He was exhausted, and still incredibly worried. Daniel’s camera did not cover the entire room, so he never knew for sure if he was the alien or not.

“Tom? Tom, please. Are you there?” Irene asked over the intercom. She sounded nervous as hell.

“Yeah, I’m still here. What’s up?” He flicked on his cameras.

And he saw that he and Irene were the only ones left alive.

“Oh.” He gawked. “Oh, shit. You’re the last one left. That means—”

“Something’s wrong.” Irene was on the camera now. For the first time, she was really crying. “Someone killed Lance even though we got Daniel.” She was staring at his screen in shock, though the sight of his dead body hurt her heart. “But how? What could have done this?”

“What are you talking about?” The security guard choked. “You’re the last one left! You’re the bloody alien! Why are you doing this?”

“No, I’m not… Can’t you see how hard I tried to help us?” Irene’s composure was faltering. “How can you say that after all that I’ve done? It hurt my heart so badly to see everyone die because they ignored my advice. Because every time I was just… not good enough. Not worth listening to. And now Lance is dead.”

“Yeah, well there’s still only—”

“Tom, please!” She begged. “Please listen to me! Can’t you see what this means?”

Completely dumbstruck, the man just stared back.

“The AI said the alien was undetectable. It said that it couldn’t identify the first body. But… when did it ever say that it could shapeshift and pretend to be one of us? What if it was just invisible this whole time?”

Tom’s blood froze to ice in his veins. “Oh, my god.” He gasped as he realized. Dread threatened to overwhelm his being. “Are you saying… all along we’ve been voting each other dead, and we were all human this whole time?”

Irene nodded once. Her composure faltered one last time.

And then she began to cackle madly.

“You are so stupid!” She laughed, continuing her cackling. The girl began to change in front of him, blackening and becoming horrifying in every sense of the word. The small girl named Irene Isvrill transformed until she became a beast, more killing machine than creature. Her laughing became distorted and wrong. “You should have listened to Lando at the start!” She taunted. “He was right. I picked that girl because I could see how you all fawned at how cute and shy she was. You were all wrapped around my finger and it was delicious! I enjoyed every second of this charade and you never stood a chance!”

Tom was at a loss for words. His jaw hung wide open. Out of reflex, he slammed his palm into the button to vote Irene, hoping to suffocate her to death while he still could.

“One vote for Irene Misvrill.” The AI said neutrally. "One more for majority."


“You fool. You can't escape this.” The creature once called Irene laughed again, before looking Tom’s camera straight in the eye. “You have an hour and a half to live. Once that passes, I am going to come into your room and kill you. But until then…” The alien began to turn back, slowly becoming a human once more. “I’m going to return to my form of Irene, and I’m going to appear to have no idea what’s going on. I’m going to ask you for help and your human mind will not be able to tell that every word of it is just a farce.

“For all intents and purposes, Irene Isvrill is going to beg for you to save her life.”

With the transformation to human complete, a small and worried girl now stared at Tom through her camera. She was covering herself with her hands, standing over a pile of shredded clothes. “Tom?” She asked, sounding genuinely terrified. "What just happened to me?"

Tom screamed and shut off the cameras.

ErrorBlender
11-16-2017, 06:05 AM
Mystery Part II

Mask Thy Sins, Speak Thy Lies
by Boomerang


It was the middle of a blisteringly cold night when the man woke abruptly from a loud bang. He sat upright, rubbing his eyes and yawning loudly. The moonlight shimmered onto him as he looked from side to side. On his left, he noticed the digital clock that read 2:35 AM; On the right he looked to see if anyone was occupying the other side of the bed. Realizing his wife wasn't in bed, he threw the blankets away from him and stood. The feeling of bare feet against cold wood stung as he wobbled to his feet, "Honey?" When his call went unanswered, he repeated himself, "Honey? You okay?"

He figured that the bang was the sound of the front door, seeing that she had been out late for the third time this week. He continued the treacherous walk along the cold floor, opening the door and looking out into the hall. It's true that she had been out late before, but never before had she been out this late. Silently wondering what kept her out into the middle of the night, he turned on the lights to the hall, closing his eyes to the burning sensation that came out of the brightness. Using the wall to support his night time daze, he ventured down toward the kitchen, "Mandy? You just coming in?"

He stepped into the kitchen, forgetting about the lights as the moon and hallway illuminated the room enough for him. He walked toward the counter, opening his mouth again, "Mand--"

His words caught in his throat, the rest of it becoming a sharp inhale.

The woman's blonde hair covered most of her face, although her mouth was opened wide in utter surprise. Her hands were lathered with blood, her clothes suffering the same fate as multiple stab wounds made a variety of small puddles of crimson. She was sprawled on the kitchen floor as if she had been thrown on the ground in a hurry. He bent over, shaking her, "Come on, wake up WAKE UP!" He yelled, and after a few shakes he eventually gave up, sitting on his knees and breathing heavily.

He looked over, gripping the phone on the counter and dialing 911. Turning to his left, the light drenched onto a previously unnoticed man that carefully walk through the living room. In all of his shock, the man still found his voice, "Hey! S-Stop!"

The slender figure stopped at one of the windows. They turned abruptly to the man, a mask on their face. It was all white with the exception of its mouth and eyes. The mouth portion was drawn to look like lips painted in black, while the eyes had black stars surrounding them. The man stood still in shock, but it was replaced by an undying rage as he ran after the figure, who proceeded to jump out of the window in a blaze of shattering glass. By the time the man ran to the broken window and looked outside, the figure had already sprinted down the street, sticking to the shadows.

He exhaled as if he had been holding his breath for a long time, the breath turning into a sharp cough as he sat down on the couch. He put the phone to his ear, "Sir--Hello? Are you alright?"

There was a long silence. As he sat there and stared at his deceased lover in the moonlight, he allowed himself the chance to cry, "my wife--she's dead."

****

The man, Walter Robinson, didn't sleep that night. All he was able to think about was his beautiful wife, reduced to nothing but a mess. The thought of that figure stabbing her, violating her--it gave him a chill.

They had met in high school, freshman year in biology. A budding friendship transformed into a blooming love, eventually leading to a young marriage just after they had both finished college. Ever since then, their love seemed to never run out. Then, a few months ago, Mandy had grown increasingly distant; staying out until ungodly hours, denying his touch, and going as far as avoiding him even when she was in the house. Walter had written it off as a rough patch--but maybe she was worried, paranoid about that figure.

Now, at the age of 25, Walter was a widower.

"Mr. Robinson?"

Walter blinked, turning to the detective that sat at the opposite end of the kitchen table. One of his calloused hands were flexed on the surface, the other wrapped around a pencil as he scribbled notes onto a piece of paper. Walt visibly shook off his daze, "Yes?"

The detective slapped the end of his pencil against the table, "You talked about a figure with a mask with star shapes around the eyes--was he holding anything?"

Walt thought for a moment, shaking his head in response.

"Did he attack you?"

Walter shook his head once more with a sigh.

The detective cleared his throat, reaching into the pocket of his winter coat, "Well, we took a look through your wife's phone as you asked. For the most part, we found nothing. All we saw was a text message from an unknown number."

Sliding the phone over, Walter looked the message over as his stomach dropped. It was within the bright green bubble, written in thin black font, "On my way". He slid the phone back over, resting his head into one of his open palms.

The man adjusted his coat, shifting in his seat. The distraught expression on Walter's face told the story. He placed his head in both hands. Losing his wife was something that had been haunting him, but the knowledge that he had metaphorically lost her a long time ago would haunt him for much longer.

The detective leaned forward, placing a hand on Walter's shoulder and softly prodding him, "Are you sure that there's nobody you know who could do this?" After a moment of silence, he continued, "No possible leads whatsoever?"

Walter slowly lifted his head up, looking the man in his chocolate eyes. The bags under his eyes and wrinkles on his face told the story of a detective with a harsh life, someone who just wanted to go home. "No." He replied, his voice hoarse and filled with venom.

They locked eyes for a moment, and the detective stood, sliding the phone back into the coat pocket while simultaneously laying a card down at the center of the table, "We'll be in touch, Mr. Robinson. I'll try to trace the number and see if we can get any DNA from your wife's body..." He cleared his throat, "I'm...sorry for your loss."

Walter simply nodded as the detective walked out, and it was only then that he realized that he didn't even remember the detective's name. Grabbing the card, he checked the name--Detective Hank Rodriguez, "Hm."

****

It wasn't long before he watched a familiar person walk in. The woman's sea green eyes met Walter's as she ran over to him, hugging him and giving him a kiss on the cheek. She sat down next to him, "Hi, Walt."

He smiled faintly, "Hey, Alyssa. I'm happy that you came over."

She frowned, "I wanted to check on you. I heard about Mandy..." She placed a hand on her mouth, "God, I'm so sorry."

Walter ran his fingers through his hair, "I'm...I'm getting through it," He looked over her shoulder, raising an eyebrow, "Where's Rob? He's usually with you."

Her expression hardened. She leaned back against the chair, "I haven't seen him since last night!" She scoffed, "He said he'd be home tonight, though. I mean, you'd think he would have come to check on his best friend, y'know?"

He waved a hand in dismissal, "It's okay...really."

"No, it's not!" She exclaimed, "He should be here with you! You know, he's been doing this a lot lately. Staying out late, distancing himself from friends and even me...He even got a different phone for God's sake! 'For work' my ass."

She wiped a tear away with her finger, "I think he's cheating, Walt, I really do."

As she began to cry, Walter had trouble remembering whether she was trying to help him or vice versa. With a defeated expression, he gripped her shoulder and squeezed softly, "Now, Alyssa..." She scoffed, however he prodded still, "You don't know that for sure!"

"Heh.." she glanced at him, her shoulders relaxing as she granted him a faint smile, "I just don't know, Rob's been acting really weird lately. I hope I'm just overreacting."

Alyssa looked at the clock on the wall and jumped a bit, standing up, "I have to go!" She reached over, hugging Walter again, "I'll see you soon, Walt. Feel better okay?" Walter nodded, smiling as she walked out the door. Once she closed it, the smile faded and he went back to what he was doing before--staring at the wall. Only this time, the things Alyssa had said about Rob began to creep into his head.

****

For the rest of the afternoon, Walter walked around the house with the sudden, palpable feeling of grief in his heart. His wife had been killed for seemingly no reason at all, and the only lead he had was a vague text message that said 'on my way'. She had been going to meet someone all those times she was out late, but who would have had a reason to kill his wife? Was it out of hatred for her, or out of spite for Walter himself?

He thought about the former mailman. Walter had filed numerous complaints about him once their checks had begun to go missing, however he always noted that Mandy seemed to look at him fondly--she seemed to think he could do no wrong. The complaints had led to his termination, and the possibility existed that he could have started talking to Mandy in an orchestrated plot to get back at Walter.

No, it was too far fetched. Mandy felt sympathy for any workers, even the most malicious of them. Not to mention, the mailman could have just gotten a different job. He turned to their neighbors, the Torcheks. They had never been the best of friends, and yet Mandy continued to invite them to family barbeques and parties. Mr. Torchek seemed to have a glancing eye, and it was directed toward Mandy. There was always the possibility that Mr. Torchek wanted Mandy, and when she refused he murdered her.

Another very outrageous thought, considering the Torcheks were happily married with two toddlers. Walter shook his head, sitting up in his bed. It felt empty without her next to him, but his mind was filled with thoughts and impossibilities. He scoffed, gripping the bed sheets in an attempt to stabilize himself.

He jumped at the sound of his cell phone from just beside his pillow. Turning around, he answered by the start of the second ring, "Hello?"

A deep and smooth voice came from the other side, "Hey, Walt!" His shoulders relaxed, recognizing the voice of Rob, "Listen, bud...I'm sorry I couldn't make it earlier today, had some business to attend to. But, since I'm home now, why don't you come over for dinner? We'd love to have you, and Alyssa's making her famous chicken alfredo."

Walter sighed, "I don't know, Rob..."

"Aw come on!" His words were slightly slurred--it was clear that he had already grown tipsy from a few beers, "You need to get out of the house for a bit, man. The game's on tonight, we can eat and just talk."

Rubbing his forehead with his free hand, Walter finally conceded, "Alright, man, you're right."

"Awesome, okay!" There was a bit of incoherent conversation on the other line before Rob came back to the phone, "Alright, I gotta help Alyssa with dinner. I'll see you in a few hours?"

Walter nodded, "Yeah."

"Cool, I'll see ya then bud."

Walter hung up, placing the phone in his pocket. He moved to his open closet, and began the daunting task of finding clothes that weren't trashy.

****

Rob was right; Alyssa's chicken alfredo was famous among the community, and he was always reminded why when he came to dinner at their house. Luckily for Walter, he had found a semi-formal collared shirt and pants--just enough so he didn't seem like a slob in grief over his late wife. He took another forkful, enjoying the explosion of tastes in his mouth. The home made sauce, chicken and noodles all came together to make an amazing combination. After finishing his second bowl, he pushed it more toward the center and sat back against his rickety chair, "Mmm," After letting out a sound of satisfaction, he nodded to Alyssa, "This might be your best batch yet."

Alyssa grinned, "Well thank you, Walt, only the best for my guests."

Rob swallowed a mouthful, jabbing his fork toward her, "I swear, man, she's the reason I gained five pounds."

Alyssa pushed on his shoulder playfully, the both of them chuckling. Walter felt a sudden pang of grief return to him. He gave the both of them a faint smile as he stood up, "I'll be right back, gotta go to the bathroom."

Alyssa and Rob both pushed their chairs in, Alyssa putting some of the dishes together, "I'll get everything cleaned up, then."

Rob grabbed his beer can, clenching it for dear life, "I'll be in the living room, come on in when you're ready, the game's on."

Walter nodded, walking down the long hallway quickly. They weren't quite wealthy, but the two of them were definitely upper middle class. The house was gigantic, nearly mansion size, and the three bathrooms among three different floors only gave emphasis to the fact. However, Walter only went to the bathroom to calm himself. He stared at the mirror, wiping away a few tears. Grief has a funny way of making its way into a person's system at the most inopportune times. He exhaled shakily, turning the faucet on as he washed his hands. However, in a search for soap, he began to look through the drawers below the sink. The middle drawer yielded both a filled soap dispenser and something else--a phone.

Curiosity got the best of him as he quickly finished washing and drying his hands and grabbed the phone, pressing on the top-most button. The phone was not only on, but it had no password, either. Sliding to unlock the phone, what he found opened was something he didn't even process at first. It was a text message, aimed toward the number 845-645-8320.

Mandy's number... He thought to himself, and with only one message that had been received. He dropped the phone on the counter, staring at it in complete shock.

'On my way'.

****

It was only a few minutes later that Rob sat on the couch next to Walter. A beer can was clasped in his hand as his eyes were glued to the TV that had become white noise to Walter. He stared at the floor, sitting at the other end of the couch away from Rob. The phone he had found in the bathroom seemed to burn a hole in his pocket.

Rob gulped, breathing a satisfied exhale before placing the can down on the table, "That's some good shit," He looked over to Walter and silently cursed himself, "Listen--buddy...I'm sorry I couldn't make it with Alyssa before. You know how it is."

Walter nodded, and he felt a heavy grip on his shoulder. He grit his teeth--too many times lately had he been subjected to the hand on the shoulder, a sign of pity and sympathy. Looking up, he stared at Rob's chiseled face. He noticed that he was clean shaven. "Walt, I'm sorry about Mandy," His voice sounded sincere, depressed, "She was a helluva woman...When I heard about what happened, I didn't know what to think."

Walter sucked his teeth, however allowed himself a faint, forced smile, "Yup...sure is a tragedy," He looked away toward the television, staring at the football game; the Colts were up on the Giants, 20-14, and the Giants were marching down the field for a last-minute touchdown. He heard Rob turn and cheer for a moment as a deep pass sent them to the 10 yard line. Walter cleared his throat, sitting up straighter, "We've been friends a long time, huh?"

Rob looked at him again, raising an eyebrow as he took another sip of his beer. He placed it back on the table, "Yeah man...of course!" He was a bit taken aback by Walt's random question, "Heh, we were at each other's weddings!"

A knowing smile crossed Walter's lips. He didn't look at Rob, still staring at the television. 3rd and Goal at the 1 yard line, "I still remember the way you looked at my wife..."

The ball is dropped at that same 1 yard line as a defender grabs it, and the Colts run off of the field, celebrating a hard fought win. Rob frowned, shifting a bit in his seat. Walt took that as an oppurtunity to strike first, turning to him, "I never thought of all those looks you gave her--I always thought they were innocent."

Rob cleared his throat, "Walt..." He scoffed, "Come on, man."

Reaching into his pocket, he unlocked the phone and threw it at the center of the couch, dropping it screen up. Rob stared at it, a small moment of shock crossing his face before it turned into a hard glare. He jabbed his finger at it, "The fuck is this supposed to do with me?"

"I found it when I was looking for soap," Walter avoided his gaze now, a mild feeling of shame coming to him at the thought that he had gone through their stuff. It was shortly replaced by more rage, "Alyssa mentioned that you had a new phone you've been hiding around. I didn't know you were using it to talk to my wife."

Rob grabbed it with a scoff, staring at the message. He placed the phone down and ran a hand through his hair, shaking his head for a moment before shutting his eyes tightly as he spoke quietly as to not alert his wife, "Even a good man has their downfalls, Walt," He opened his eyes again after a few moments, pushing the phone back toward him, "But even if I cheated on Alyssa, that isn't your wife's. That's just...ridiculous, man."

"Oh, please, Rob!" He stood firm, staring down at him, "All the times you 'checked up' on her when I was at work, the times you two snuck off at the barbecues for at least a half hour--It's all crystal FUCKING clear to me now!"

Rob stood up as well, his hulking figure suddenly becoming more noticeable as the accusing finger that had pointed at the phone now pointed in his face, "You think you just know everything, don't you?!"

"And now I see my wife's number on your phone--with the same text message that was on her phone, with the time stamp only a few minutes before she left my house the night she died--And you still lie right to my FACE!" Walt drew closer, brushing away the pointing finger.

Rob threw his arms up in exasperation, snarling, "Fine, Walt, you're right! I fucked your wife!" He had given up on being quiet, even with Alyssa a few rooms away, "I fucked her on that table, I fucked her on your couch--hell, I fucked her in your own bed a couple of times!!"

Walt clenched his fists and grit his teeth, staring at the man that he had called his best friend for so long. Rob continued, chuckling, "And you know what?" He brought his voice to a whisper, "She told me she liked my dick a whole lot better than yours."

Just like that, Rob had been floored, landing on his back as a heavy hand met his jaw with a sickening crack, followed by many more punches. As he grabbed his head, Walter was above him, stomping onto his chest as Rob let out a yell. Walt pointed at him, speaking surprisingly calmly, "Mandy was going to tell, and you didn't like that idea," He smirked, "So you killed her. You killed her so she wouldn't say anything."

Rob's eyes suddenly widened, blood trickling from his mouth as he spoke, "Walt--what?"

"And you wore that mask to make sure you didn't get caught!"

"No, it wasn't like that!"

Alyssa ran in, letting out a scream and grabbing Walter by the shoulders. She began to pull him back, "Get off him, GET OFF HIM!" He eventually relented, stepping back and pushing Alyssa away. He grabbed his coat and walked out of the door, slamming it. Rob slowly stood, spitting a tooth into his palm as he ran past Alyssa, "Walt, wait!"

Walter walked out of the home and in his car, starting it. He watched from his peripheral vision as Rob ran to the passenger door and started to slam on the window, "Walt! I'm sorry!" His response was revving the engine, speeding off down the street.

Many thoughts ran through his head, feelings of anger, regret, sadness and terror. Above all, however, he felt the dire need to put the asshole he had once called a friend in prison for murdering his wife. He took out two things--the card that he had kept with him, and his cell phone. He dialed the number to the detective's office--there came an answer after two rings, "I'd like to speak to detective Hank Rodriguez, it's urgent."

****

When the police came back a few days later with a search warrant, they scoured the home for any incriminating evidence regarding Rob's affiliation with Mandy's murder. Eventually, looking through one of his drawers that had been kept locked even from Alyssa, they found a knife dirtied with old blood. Although they didn't find the mask, there was still enough evidence to arrest him.

Walter Robinson was still, watching him be cuffed and hauled away into a police car as he continued to scream about how he had done nothing to her, how he had an alibi. Walter took it all as white noise, turning away from him as he stared at him, begging Walter to tell them it was all a mistake. He wrapped his arms around Alyssa, comforting her as the vehicle drove away, sirens blaring through the streets.

Rob was still promptly jailed as investigators continued to look through the evidence they had, however rumors went around about a conviction of 1st degree murder. Walt was by no means rid of his demons, but having closure was something that he could live with until he was able to grieve properly. He called Alyssa regularly, offering her comfort if she needed it--a way of also apologizing for beating her husband bloody. It wasn't until a few weeks after her husband was arrested that she asked for him to come see her.

He had found it odd considering he had been offering it for weeks and now she specifically asked for it, however Walter still decided that getting out of the house would be good for him. He knocked on the door twice, and Alyssa opened it with the same grin she always wore when she saw him. She was dressed up rather nice, a long orange dress flowing just below her ankles, her hair straightened and reaching her lower back. When they hugged, Walter noted the sweet smell of perfume that came from her, "Hi, Walt," She backed away, inviting him in. As she stepped into the living room, she turned over her shoulder to him, "I hope I didn't bother you too much by asking you to come over for such short notice."

Walter smiled, "It's no problem, I wasn't doing anything tonight anyway."

Alyssa sat on the couch with a long sigh, putting her feet on top of the coffee table. She looked over to him, "I know I said we'd have dinner, but I hope you're okay with just having a sandwich," Her voice became hoarse, "I just haven't had the motivation to since...since everything happened."

He sat down next to her, wrapping an arm around his friend's shoulder and offering a literal shoulder to cry on. He rubbed her back, "Hey, now...it's going to be okay. You'll get through this, I know you will."

Alyssa caressed his cheek, and it was only then that Walter realized just how close they were; The smell of her perfume had become almost nauseating, but not as much as the smell of alcohol on her breath. She placed a hand on his thigh, "You're so sweet, Walt," She was silent for a moment, pondering her words, "And handsome, too..."

In a slight panic, Walter took his arm off of her and moved off of the couch, looking away from her as he chuckled nervously, "Hey, why don't I go make us some sandwiches, okay?" Alyssa and Walter locked eyes, and she nodded with an innocent smile. He turned, resisting the urge to run instead of walk to the kitchen a few rooms over.

He wrote off his friend's flirtatious mannerisms as a way of grieving combined with having too much to drink--it was only natural to become desperate for love when your significant other was probably going to be placed in jail for a long time. He went in the cabinet, grabbing a loaf of bread as he searched for mayo and cold cuts. He took a slice of salami, placing it in his mouth and grinning at the lovely taste. He was about to make the sandwiches, ham for Alyssa and salami for him, when he suddenly remembered an important piece. "Ah, plates," He muttered to himself.

He turned behind him, opening a cabinet and grabbing one of the plates. Then, he put it back; He figured that paper plates would be a better alternative, a way to give Alyssa a break with the dishes. He had remembered where they put them, and opened one of the cabinets at the very top, just above the stove. The moment he opened them, he stumbled into the counter behind him. He turned away, gripping the granite until his knuckles became white.

There certainly weren't any paper plates in the cabinet, but he did see a white mask with black lips and black stars surrounding the eyes. He turned again and walked toward the cabinet, grabbing the mask and staring at it. His breathing became rapid and jagged, "H-How..."

It all started to click. The figure that he had seen was nothing like Rob's hulking body shape...it was tall and slender. The mask hadn't been found, which meant that if they searched the whole house that it had been hidden rather well. The probability that police would think to look in the kitchen, in the top cabinet they could barely reach...it was the perfect hiding spot.

The slender figure. The hiding. Revenge.

Alyssa.

Click.

Cold metal was pressed against the back of his head. He didn't bother to look over his shoulder, standing paralyzed. The woman scoffed, "It's a shame," the innocent facade had faded away, replaced by a voice like a hard smack in the face, "I was hoping to sleep with you at least once before I killed you."

Her free hand stroked his shoulder before gripping it tightly, digging her nails into the skin, "You were a handsome little thing."

His paralysis was replaced by a jolt of adrenaline. He turned, jabbing her in the stomach with his elbow, causing her to hunch over in surprise. He turned, running out of the kitchen and down the hallway. He heard a yell of frustration as she turned around, sprinting after him. He rounded the corner just as three gunshots sounded, a bullet grazing his left arm. He grunted, pressing himself against the wall and gripping the mask tightly.

With his free hand he took out his cell phone, dialing the first two numbers before hearing fast moving footsteps in his direction. He navigated through the dimly lit halls, following the moonlight from the windows as well as the lights from the distant kitchen and living room. Watching his feet and in front of him, he dialed the last number and held the phone to his ear. A staticy voice came on the other line, "911, what's your emergency?"

Looking over his shoulder, he saw Alyssa's slender figure at the end of the hallway, "Shit!" He ducked down as she raised her gun, just barely missing a coming bullet before resuming his sprint, moving into another hallway.

The operator prodded, "Sir?" Her voice grew more urgent, "Sir, are you alright?"

His voice was supposed to be a whisper, but it turned into a high pitched shout, "No, no I'm not alright! I found the real murderer of Mandy Robinson, and she's chasing me through the house with a gun."

"Sir, I'm going to need you to find a place to hide, the police are on their way," The operator urged, "Stay on the phone with me, okay?"

Walter nodded, panting, "Yeah...Yeah, okay," He looked around him, and realized that he had somehow ended up in the dining room. The house was like a maze, and Alyssa had the map. There was no way he could hide anywhere for too long. Looking to the table, he found a particularly heavy vase that held miscellaneous things rather than actual water. He quickly grabbed it, pouring the contents out and placing the mask on the table. He cradled the vase in one hand while the other held the phone to his ear.

Then, he heard it again. The footsteps. No matter how soft they were, she was still flat-footed. He quickly walked to the wall next to the hallway she would come out of. He scowled as he heard her voice, "Ohhhh Walter," She cooed, "Where did you run off to, hm?"

Her voice grew closer, "You know, it was really sweet of you to come check on me, Walt. If you hadn't found out, I was considering letting you live. It's too bad you had to find out," She chuckled, "And to think this all could have been prevented if Rob kept his dick in his pants, and your wife kept her legs closed."

Walter held the vase close to him, waiting for her. The operator spoke to him again, "Sir, are you there?"

Walter's voice was nothing more than a whisper as he placed the phone down, holding the weapon with both hands, staying silent as he waited for her to emerge. The footsteps grew closer and closer until they were just next to him. As he heard the click of a gun, Alyssa peeked her head out into the dining room.

She only took one step out before Walter swung the vase like it was a baseball bat, smashing against the back of her head with a loud CLUNK before breaking into pieces. She stumbled for a moment before falling face first on the floor among the glass, unconscious. Walter stared down at her, picking the phone back up as he scoffed, "Bitch."

****

Alyssa Henderson was found unconscious in her dining room with an empty hand--according to Walter, the gun had been lost in the fray. Walter Robinson was next to her, surrounded by shards of broken glass and his phone sitting next to him. Upon finding the mask and listening to Walter's testimony, Alyssa was arrested. Forensics came back a few days later with evidence that the knife was in fact held by Alyssa, not her husband. She confessed to everything after vigorous interrogation, and pleaded guilty to 1st degree murder, along with evidence tampering and a variety of other charges.

Rob was released from jail, however even after calling Walter numerous times, he still refuses to speak to him. Eventually, Rob gave up trying, and went on about his own life. Walter's grief was a hard thing to get through, but he tried his best with the closure knowing that he had found the true killer.

Walter had begged to keep the mask, and was eventually granted the desire after the trial. He kept it in his room, using it as a reminder of just how terrible people can be. Occasionally, he sat on the bed and held it in his hands, staring at the cold, empty eyes that were within the black stars. To him, it represented everything wrong with the world--the terrors of mankind, and the way the villains hid behind the veil of plastic. The mask represented his and everyone else's sins.

Rob had told him what seemed like forever ago now that every good man has their downfall. As Walter stared at the mask for what seemed like the millionth time, he began to wonder when his downfall would come.

Or maybe, it had already began.

"You thought one was bad enough?"
by Arch-Angel


The screams of a woman could be heard echoing throughout the flat fields of grain as she careened down a dirt road that separated the field from a forest. Her pursuer was a taller man with long dark hair, armor comprised of leather, and a tail. The man was much faster than the woman, and eventually caught her. Wrapping his hands around her waist, he plucked the squirming woman off of the ground. Her dirty blonde hair covered her assailants face as she broke out in laughter. “Okay, Zayne, you win! You got me!”

Zayne released the short woman and caught his breath. The woman was his angelic guardian and only friend in the foreign land that he found himself in. Annabeth Chase is her name, but Zayne insists on calling her Anna. Her hair was neatly kept by a silver circlet, and was a long dirty blonde color. She wore a royal blue sun dress as well as several silver bracelets to match her silver eyes. After catching his breath, Zayne joked with Anna, “If you get any faster I won’t be able to play Tag with you anymore!” The duo continued their journey down the dirt road at a more leisurely pace, unaware that they were being followed.

Annabeth and Zayne walked for roughly fifteen minutes, unaware of the person following them. The two set up a blanket underneath a tree on the side of the road to eat lunch. Their pursuer watched from a distance as both of them finished their lunches and laid down to rest.

The sound of something rummaging through their belongings woke Zayne with a start. He jumped up to find a small girl going through their belongings with grabby hands. She was no more than nine years old, wore a black dress to compliment her long black hair, and had two tiny horns growing from her head. She looked at Zayne with a widening smile, “Yer awake! You coulda waited for me so I din’t have to eat alone.”
Annabeth was sitting cross legged while Zayne stared at the little girl trying to figure her out. He got straight to the point with her, “Look here, squirt, you can’t just sneak up on people and eat their food!” Zayne’s hands did most of the talking as they emphasized everything that he said.

The little girl held out a map that she had obviously drawn with crayons. “I need yer help, Zayne! I’m trying to get here!” She pointed from a spot that said “You’re here,” and was marked with three red ticks, to the opposite side of the map where a castle sat on top of dead bodies. “I don’t r’membah how to read maps…” The little girl grew impatient as she tugged on Zayne’s sleeve and bounced in place.

Zayne’s annoyance with the little girl grew immensely as he couldn’t even understand anything on the map. When she started tugging on his sleeve, he caved. “Okay! Sheeeeeeessshhh! Just. Stop. Bouncing,” his arms flailed around. He continued after sighing deeply, “Me n’ Anna will help you, but you gotta’ tell me how you know who I am, since I dind’t even know two days ago!”

The small girl nodded in agreement to Zayne’s terms. “Well, since you dunno who you are, you can call me Estrella! I’ll tell you who ya are, but you hav’ta help me first.”

Anna nudged Zayne with her elbow, urging him to take the deal. Zayne confirmed, “Okay, I’ll help you first, but I just want you to know that your name is stupid. I’m calling you Esti.” After their belongings were packed away, Zayne and Anna lead Esti down the road, hopefully heading in the right direction. Zayne tried looking confident with the map in his hands, but he honestly had no clue where the hell he was taking them.

The trio arrived at the first landmark on the map, a massive oak tree devoid of life. The tree was alone in a barren field; three vertical lines were drawn in blood on the trunk. The symbol looked like the Roman numeral for three. As the group got closer, Estrella ran up to a skeleton sitting alone underneath the tree. The skeleton wore a fisherman’s hat and vest, but held a small chalice rather than a fishing pole. Anna looked at the skeleton with curiosity while Zayne held his mouth and stomach, trying not to barf. Esti pulled out a small pouch from her backpack and filled the chalice with a liquid, “Oh no, Fred! What are you doing all alone way out here?” The skeleton did not respond.

Zayne turned away from Fred to consult the map once more. He would look at the tree and back to the map several times before making a correlation between Fred and a crudely drawn fish on the map. After observing the map to deduce the next landmark, Zayne turned back to see Estrella introducing Anna to Fred. “Oh my God, Anna, why are you shaking that things’ hand!?” After the entire group was well acquainted with Fred, Zayne led them back on their adventure to the next landmark. Maybe.

The group continued down the road for thirty minutes before coming over a hill to see a very decrepit barn hardly standing in a field of dead crops. Estrella cheered and ran to the barn. Zayne dragged his hands down his face and spoke without words as if to say, “why me?”, to the sky. Anna smiled at Zayne as she walked by, pulling on his hand to follow Estrella. The two arrived at the barn minutes after Estralla, who was nowhere to be seen. The barn door was locked shut with heavy chains, but there was a hole large enough for a person to crawl through on the wall.

Anna pointed at the whole and gently pushed Zayne’s shoulder, “Hey, I think she crawled in through there, big guy. You should probably go in there and check it out!” Her chipper smile met a face full of regret ad disdain.
“You know, Anna, we could just leave her in there and go back to what we were doing.” Anna laughed, which made Zayne feel worse because he wasn’t joking. She pushed him again and waved her hands towards the hole. Zayne got down on his hands and knees and gave Anna one last look of misery before he crawled through the hole. His tail was forced to follow as Zayne crawled through hay and dirt until he emerged to the empty barn.

The inside was illuminated from spots on the roof that had withered and rotted away enough to let light in. The most intact feature of the barn was a steel beam that ran a few feet under the roof. Four ropes hung from the steel beam, and formed a noose at the hanging end. Only one of the ropes was still occupied, and from the looks of it the skeleton swaying in the air was that of a child. Zayne stared in horror as Estrella stood on a small step stool, tying something around the skeleton. When the small girl got down, it was clear that she tied the skeleton’s arm back on, with a chalice in hand. He approached, questioning the little girl in disgust, “Okay, what the hell are you doing messing around with all of these dead bodies?”

Estrella shot up and stomped her foot on the ground before harshly pointing at the fancy shoes now on the skeleton’s feet. “But Zaynie, Sam’s toes gon’ get cold if I don’t give him his shoes back.” Her eyes were puffy as she looked to Zayne, silently begging him to accept her reasoning. He did not.

“Look here, Esti! I’m not taking you around to play with all of your friends. I’m trying to take you to what I assume is your house so you can tell me who the hell I am!”

Estrella glared at Zayne, “It’s not my fault yer too stupid to remembuh who you are!”

Zayne was losing it as he grabbed Esti and pulled her over to the hole where they had crawled in from. “If you don’t start behaving like a good little girl, I’m going to have to tell your parents how bad you’ve been!”

Esti struggled against Zayne, but could not break his grasp. The thought of him telling her parents that she was being bad frightened the little girl so much that she hit the ground and practically ran through the hole in the wall. When Zayne made it back outside of the barn, he was met with an angry glare from Annabeth who was holding a crying Estrella. Zayne threw his hands up next to his head in disbelief, his tail feeling completely betrayed. “Oh, so you’re on her side now?”

Anna was quiet, and Zayne quickly conceded. “Okaaaaaaaaay, you’re right, jeez. I’m sorry. I might have possibly overreacted because I was just jealous of Sam’s shoes.”

Estrella sniffed and wiped her tears. Still refusing to face Zayne, she replied, “Yer shoes are pretty dumb.” The small girl tightened her arms around Anna’s neck before whispering to Zayne’s angelic guardian, “I like you more than that other girl. Your hair smells pretty.”

Annabeth quickly hushed Estrella, “Please, Lady Estrella, don’t tell him about her! There are some things he’s better off not knowing.” Her gaze fell upon Zayne, who was storming off down the road, map in hand. The angel followed him down the path sheepishly.

The group silently walked down the trail for two hours, relying solely on Zayne’s navigational capabilities. They soon came to a tall mountainous ridge around them. The now scarce trees were dead and decaying, fog blanketed everything in a ghastly shade. Annabeth tapped Zayne’s shoulder and motioned to Estrella, who had recently awoken from her nap in Anna’s arms. “Zayne, she’s scared.”

Zayne huffed, flipping the map over, “What is she afraid of? This is where she wanted to go.” His tail pointed to the map where the crayon drawing of a castle on top of dead bodies was crudely drawn. Zayne smirked at Annabeth, “You know, maybe you’re right. There’s probably a big scary monster that lives in these mountains that’s just waiting to eat the little girl.”

Anna looked at Zayne, dumbfounded by what might possess the man to say such a thing to a frightened eight year old. Estrella spoke up before Anna could, “Don’ be stupid. There’s two of ‘em.” The small child wiggled out of Anna’s grip and onto the ground. She grabbed the bottom of Zayne’s shirt and pleaded to him, “Now that we’re close, you have to protect me from them!”

Zayne leaned back and spoke wildly with a grin, “Oh I don’t know about all that, Esti. We had an official agreement. A business agreement. If you want to change the deal then I’m going to have to charge you more.”
“How much more,” Estrella demanded.

Zayne combed his long hair back with his hand, “You’ve gotta’ tell me everything, starting now.”

Esti caved quickly. “Okay okay okay don’t be crazy. You were, uhh… kidnapped… and, uhh… hit ovuh’ de’ head with a… stick? Ye, a stick! You us’ta be a king-!”

A loud grumbling noise from deep within the fog interrupted the small child’s story-telling. Estrella was overcome with fear, and took off running until she disappeared completely in the fog. Her screams were quickly silenced with a loud slam, but the grumbling intensified shortly after. Zayne was far too busy fantasizing about being a king to even consider what became of the small child. Annabeth brought him out of his false reality with a tug on his tail, “Shouldn’t we go make sure Estrella is okay?”

Zayne snatched his tail from Anna and hugged it against his chest. “Nope, I fulfilled my part of the bargain. I’ve got king stuff to think about.”

Annabeth crossed her arms and reminded Zayne, “You agreed to protect her from whatever it is that’s scaring her out here. Don’t you think we should at least look into it?” Zayne couldn’t argue with Anna, even if he was a king.
The duo stumbled upon a large gate in an area where the fog had cleared up quite a bit. The gate had a medieval architecture, and had a seal on the center of it that had the same symbol on it as the map in Zayne’s hand. There was no doubt that this was the area where the strange little girl was going. The gate protected a large stone keep whose towers were decorated with spikes and gargoyles. The keep was just as decrepit as the land that surrounded it. Zayne and Annabeth ventured through the gate and up to the keep. The front entrance was guarded by armored skeletons who sat lifelessly on the front patio. Dead flowers hung from the ceiling of the weathered awning, a massive ornate door kept intruders out. The glass was busted on the rotten door right above a blood stained mark of three. Zayne felt uneasy as he opened the massive door. He never considered that little Esti could have been the one to kill all of the people that she visited. He swallowed hard before opening the door, “Hey Anna, do you think Esti killed all of those people?”

The angel shook her head, “Of course not, Zayne. She’s just a little girl. Trust me, little girls only really think about playing with dolls, tea parties, and talking about boys.” Annabeth smiled innocently at Zayne, but he wasn’t picking up what she was putting down.

The inside of the keep was extremely unwelcoming. Dust was layered over mostly everything, and cobwebs could be found in every corner. Zayne was beyond freaked out at some of the things in the house, and held Anna’s hand for the extra security. Anna was overly curious and astounded by everything, and they were only in the living room. Knives with fresh blood caked onto them were scattered across the coffee table. Annabeth let go of Zayne’s hand as she sat on the sofa and plucked two voodoo dolls off of the table in front of her. The dolls resembled a man with a tail, and a woman with a fish tail rather than legs. “Look, Zayne! Aren’t these cute?”

Zayne was not impressed whatsoever by the dolls. “They didn’t even get my hair right, and you aren’t a fish!” He left Anna to play with the dolls while he investigated more of the room. A not so dusty bookshelf caught his eye. The bottom shelf had two unorganized stacks of papers. The first paper that he observed was a warning sign with the bloody mark of three drawn on it with words that followed: Beware the mark of the demon priestess. Travel in groups and avoid travel at night. Kill on sight. The second stack of papers were bounty posters with a well-drawn picture of Estrella on them. She looked so mean in the pictures compared to her normal happy attitude. Zayne turned around to rub it in Anna’s face, but the angel wasn’t in the room. He called out for her only to be met with silence.

With his tail sticking to his back, Zayne ignored his instincts and explored the large keep in search of Annabeth. His first destination was at the top of weathered staircase just outside of the living room. The upstairs to the keep was one long hallway with three large bedrooms on each side of the hall. The hallway opened up at each end to reveal spiral staircases that ascended to the top of their respective towers, but there was one much larger spiral staircase at the opposite end of the hall from Zayne. Each of the bedroom doors were shut, making it hard to tell where to check first. The first room on the left at the top of the staircase seemed like as good a place as any, especially since the door had a letter “V” carved into it beautifully.

The door squeaked open slowly as Zayne poked his head inside to investigate. The sun from outside was hardly able to illuminate the room through the closed curtains. This room had the least amount of dust in it by far, and almost looked like someone lived in it with the way everything was tidy. Zayne’s heart almost skipped a beat when he saw the large bed with the hanging curtain around it. It wasn’t the fact that it was obviously a girl’s bed that set him off, but rather the discovery that there was someone sleeping in the bed. Zayne slowly shut the door, hoping that the person in the bed did not wake up.

The next room that Zayne decided to check was not as interesting as the first. It didn’t even have a letter on the door. Everything in the room was covered in dirt and dust. There was one item among everything that stood out because it did not have a speck of dust or debris on it, a picture frame on the night stand. Zayne picked up the picture in complete disbelief. The picture was of an incredibly young Zayne sitting in the lap of a slightly older girl with silver hair and crystal blue eyes. Judging by Zayne’s size in the picture, he was probably much too young to have any memory of when the picture was made. He stared at the picture for minutes until a crashing sound broke him out of the trance he was in.

Zayne rushed back into the main corridor to listen for any more noises that might give him an indication of where to find Annabeth or Estrella. He heard the sound of a little girl giggling, and determined that it was coming from the top of the staircase at the far end of the corridor. Zayne made is way to the spiral staircase and quickly ascended it. There was an ornate door at the top of the staircase. It had the mark of three emblazoned on it while it swung slightly ajar. The sound of maniacal laughter filled the room while another voice grumbled in defeat. It had to be Annabeth. Zayne burst through the door, prepared to fight whatever was inside.

The room was rectangular in shape and had a low hanging ceiling due to the roof cutting off the corners of the walls. A massive table stood in the center of what used to be a storage attic. Two ornate chairs sat at the heads of the table while two average chairs sat on each side of the table. The four average chairs each had a skeleton sitting in them, each skeleton had a bright green visor on their head and a golden chalice in their hand. Estrella hopped out of the chair furthest from Zayne when she saw him, “Aha! I just defeated yer little pet, and now I will destroy you too!”

Annabeth turned to face Zayne with a look he had never seen on the angel’s face before. Defeat. She looked helpless as she called out his name, “Zayne, don’t. She’s too good.”

Zayne was approaching the table, unaware of what to make of the situation. Estrella had hurt his only friend in this world, and she was going to pay. He shouted back at Estrella, “Oh you’ve done it now. I’m about to bring the hurt!”
Estrella had a wide grin on her face as she calmly took her seat and sipped on the drink in her decorated cup. “Anna! The cards!” Annabeth slid a stack of cards across the table to Estrella who quickly began shuffling them as well as an eight year old could. Cards randomly fell out of the deck in her hands as it was obvious that they were too large for her. “Wait are you waitin’ on, Zayne? Come sit next’a me.” The small child patted the cushion of an empty chair to her right.
Overcome in confusion, Zayne decided to give in yet again. Perseverance was not proving to be his strong point. He sat in the chair and scooted up to the table. Estrella sat the deck of cards down and poured Zayne a drink. She then proceeded to deal each of the cards out evenly between herself, Zayne, and Anna. Zayne picked up the cards and studied them, making sure not to let his opponent see what he held in his hand. Estrella chimed in before Zayne had time to ask, “Welcome to Esti’s magna’ficent tea party! The game is Uno. The goal is fo’ me to get rid of my cards, and you two to get a bunch!”

Annabeth looked up from her cards with an expression of renewed determination, “Don’t be fooled, Zayne. The goal is to be the first one to put all of your cards down, not just Esti.” The young angel continued to explain the rules of Uno, even though it appeared that most of it was going over Zayne’s head.

The game started out well, and Anna quickly took the lead with her clever strategy. After a few rounds into the game it seemed like every time Zayne put down a card it was a draw four wild card at Annabeth’s expense. Zayne would always change the color to blue, even when he didn’t have any blue cards in his hand. As Zayne’s hand dwindled, he began to place cards down out of place. He would put a yellow six on top of a blue eight, and Anna would call him out every time he tried making an illegal move. Estrella was doing the same thing, so she came to Zayne’s defense every time Anna called him out. As the game was nearing its’ end, Zayne decided to make a risky play by placing two cards down at the same time. His claim was that the red and blue cards turned into a purple card that acted as a wild card for any color or number. Estrella was completely blown away by the new trick that Zayne just taught her, and praised his cunning intellect for mustering such a thing. Annabeth on the other hand placed her hands over her face and hunched down onto the table.

It turns out that Annabeth was right, little girls only wanted to play with dolls, have tea parties, and talk about boys. Estrella and Annabeth kept talking about some cute guy who also just so happened to have a tail, except his name was Shane. Zayne got jealous of this new mystery character and demanded to know where to find him. Estrella and Annabeth laughed hysterically.

The sun was beginning to set and so were the fun times. Anna reminded Estrella of her agreement to tell Zayne who he actually was. Zayne was upset to find out that he wasn’t a real king, only the king of loser-town, wherever that was. The little girl confessed that she never hurt anyone in this world and that the knives were not hers. As for Zayne’s memory, Estrella began by telling Zayne that he was her older brother and that the large keep that they were in was a summer house for their family. She went on to tell Zayne that the girl holding him in the picture he saw was their older sister, Valkyrie, but she ran away before Esti was born. Even though their older sister was never home, their parents would always clean her room up and make a spot at the table for her in case she was hungry or needed somewhere to sleep. Esti told Zayne that the person he was sleeping in the bed was probably Valkyrie, because she sometimes came to this world to rest. Esti said Valkyrie hardly ever comes out of her room when she visits, but she often leaves gifts in everyone’s rooms when she can. Zayne had a younger brother, Erik, who was older than Esti, but he hasn’t stumbled upon this world yet. The little girl told Zayne about how their mother was in jail but was able to come spend some time with the family from time to time when they got older. According to Esti, Zayne was on a mission to save the world, but something scary happened to him in a library and he vanished. Estrella was only eight years old so she couldn’t explain how exactly she would end up in this world, only that she sometimes came to this world when she’d fall asleep. Unlike Zayne, the others would retain all of their memories when they came to this world. Most important of all, some things from Zayne’s normal time and place in the universe would transfer over to this realm. Esti explained that Zayne could in fact encounter people that he used to know here, or even go to towns in this world that exist in their home world.

After their conversation, Zayne insisted that he and Annabeth needed to go out and find anywhere or anyone that could help him figure out how to get back home. Estrella argued with Zayne about how he promised he wouldn’t leave her before, and demanded that he stayed until she had to leave this world. Zayne eventually convinced his little sister that it was more important for him to find out how to get back to his actual life so they could spend more time with each other.

On their way out of the keep, Zayne noticed that Valkyrie’s door was open, but no one was inside. Once outside, Zayne gave his sister a hug before departing with Annabeth. The two of them were a few paces down the road when Esti shouted, “And if you see mom, tell her I said ‘hello’!” Zayne turned back to Estrella, but she was gone. It just crossed his mind that he never asked Esti about their parents, and now he couldn’t keep himself from wondering why their mother wouldn’t stay at the house with Esti.

Zayne and Annabeth made their way out of the foggy mountain ridge and back towards the main road. Esti’s final words still clouded Zayne’s mind until the shouts of two men interrupted his train of thought. Two men in raggedy suits laid on the main road, crying out to Zayne and Anna. It turned out that they had fallen into a hole in the mountain ridge and had been calling for help for the last two days. They spoke of a beautiful woman with silver hair who helped them out, but left without saying a word or offering them any further assistance. Apparently a little girl had seen them fall in the hole, but mumbled something about them being tax collectors before she wandered off. Anna gave the two men some of their water in exchange for directions to the nearest town.

Both of the men were easily in their thirties. One of them was at least a foot taller than the other and had a clean shaven face. He bowed graciously to Zayne and Anna, “Thank you both very much for your generosity. My name is Bartleby, and this is my partner, Loki. We were on our way back to the village if you two wouldn’t mind escorting us. The roads can be awfully dangerous at night with the burglars and wolves hiding in the woods.”

Zayne nodded in agreement to the tall man, “I don’t see any trouble in that, especially if we’re all going to the same place!” Annabeth bowed in agreement with Zayne.

Loki smiled at the two, almost in disbelief, “Wow, It’s hard to believe that we’ve been saved by two of Lissette’s children today.”

Zayne jerked his head to face Loki, “You know my mom?”



The New Age of Pirates
by EquinoxFox

Pirates. That’s what they call us at least. What a silly term for the work I do, considering what pirates of the net some 50 years back used to do. Pirates back then, well, the term of phrase is still a bit fuzzy to most; They stole information essentially, threw paid programs on the net so others wouldn’t have to pay. I guess it makes sense, but why not just call them thieves? That’s what I would prefer to be labeled. Pirates now, are mo so hijackers then anything else. We blow apart the systems defense, and take over our targets body. Bit harder since the cooperation started putting default AI to watch over a person's body, but we have our ways.

My names Dave, I guess you can say I’ve been a pirate since I clocked into the system. You ever see those vintage cartoons? Those movies where people log into the internet through an avatar, one you control and in turn, lose control of your actual body? A few years back, that was made into a reality. Phil, a brilliant developer, transferred his conscious into a system, and came back with barely a scratch. He had a bit of a headache, but he made it to where people could log into, and walk around a virtual form of the internet. The man was a genius, but at the cost of security.

Ironically enough, this may be why we are called pirates today. The first pirate was a man named John, a very odd fellow. Last name was Sparrow, you can see the connection of why there might be a label. Either way, he was the first to break through the virtual veil of the new connection, and track down where a person connected, their hub. He took over their body and transferred funds to his own body and returned. You can imagine the uproar when a man in China transferred his entire bank account to a man in Oregon. He couldn’t even defend that he was held hostage, cameras all saw him come in and make the transfer, he didn’t look as if he were in stress either. The only hiccup was that he was still logged into the net when he transferred the money.

The world went wild, demanding his head, but there was no proof. It didn’t take long for a major update to go out, and AI’s to start defending the ‘hub’ of a persons body. It took even less time, for John to make his own against other potential pirates. He wasn’t a fool though, he knew there were smarter people than him out there. He worked with groups, they made themselves a call card on their defense. Mine has it too, it’s just a slightly different worded question than the AI’s have for defense. They say “Halt, come no further”, ours “Halt, come no closer”. It’s something that most anyone would over look, aside from those who know of it.

I snickered to myself over the recollection of events to this day, walking around a mall square of the ever expanding net. People had all sorts of different variations of their avatar, and hell, if you didn’t know programing you could buy a new look instead. I hear that hats are the biggest commodity right now, but I shove that thought from my mind. I took a quick look around, curious for a new target and it didn’t take me long to find one.

He wasn’t following the usual trend of hats, or other stupid things that people wore now adays. He wore a nice suit, normal in stature, and a pair of shades. It was the shades that tipped me off, they had actual reflections. I could see the people around them in it. Those were programmed by himself, nothing you could buy on the market were up to those standards. I kept a close watch on him, waiting for him to clock out so I could find that hub.

A good half hour of wandering the streets until he finally sank into the ground, logging out for the night. I ran my programs for the sink, and terminated the finality of logging out. I wasn’t logged into the system, but I wasn’t in my body. It was the key sequence for doing what I did. I followed the informational trail, and kept a log of it’s location mentally. Next time he logged in, I’d have it. Now I just had to wait.

A few hours passed, nothing interesting was happening beneath the surface, so I went back up and enjoyed the small town for the time I had. It wasn’t really anything special, A bar to meet up with people; you couldn’t exactly drink virutally; a few shops and a police station. I strayed far from there, cracking into one of those to get their info was just something I had neither the access to do, nor the care to try. A wanted poster however was blaring above the office, an illuminated square. Mario, or something. I didn’t pay attention, didn’t honestly care. I was sure I was up there once or twice.

A sensor went off on my console, and I took into action. He was back in. In a matter of minutes, I was where I needed to be and removing the headgear from a physical body. His body. What caught me by surprise however, wasn’t the lush, lavish place I hoped to see, but instead just a run down apartment. Hell, even the equipment look that fancy, it looked old, outdated. I frowned at the lost cause and rummaged around for anything worth while in the shabby room.

There wasn’t anything, not a thing that was worth of value. A chair, some ramen, not even a table to eat at. I let out a sigh and rubbed temples that didn’t belong to me, slouching into the chair, it was a lost cause. I looked over at the equipment and started to suit back up, activating all the protocols and lay down, waiting to sink back into the virtual world.

But it never happened. I gave it a minute or two more and got out, looking at the console. It was fine, everything was fine. I tinkered with it a bit before it locked me out, the screen went dark. Panic set in, I was trapped in a person's body, in a run down apartment, with no way back to the net. I ran to the door and burst out into the hallway, startling another tenant. I couldn’t bother to care, I just had to find out where I was.

I didn’t make it far, not 20 meters of running, I was tackled, thrown in hand cuffs, and dragged to jail. My mind raced, I’ve heard of this happening before, but never something like this. It was like those cops were watching me, waiting for me to bolt. I took the time to think over who might have tried to set me up like this.

Last week another pirate had tried to break into my own body, and I shut him down fast. His coding was pathetic on the defense in comparison to my attack, and all I did was mess with his settings. Screwed up probably months of work, but at least I didn’t flush his account. I mean, it may have been embaressing, but something to throw another pirate into jail for? That was just ludicrious.

Time passed in that cell, more thoughts of the people I had taken money from in the past, or simply screwed with. Dozens of names came to mind, but none that would have the knowledge, or the skills to pull off something like this. So I sat, lost to my own thoughts for hours on end.

I must have drifted off to sleep at some point, I woke up tied to a chair, arms bound behind my back. I didn’t let panic sit in, no reason to get myself worked up, at least until I noticed somebody was in there with me. He started laying down files, throwing words at me faster than I could comprehend. Rape, murder, arson. He was filing charges.

I tried to explain my side, that I wasn’t who I looked like, I was another person, but it fell on deaf ears. The case was stacked and the witnesses sound. The detective turned to the wall after he was done railing me and flipped a few switches. The cameras went dark, and I assumed the recording devices were killed as well.

He shook his head and plopped in the chair in front of me, removing his hat and glasses and tossing them on the table. He was familiar, the way he held himself, his voice even sounded familiar.

“You know, I didn’t think it would work. I’ve been chasing you awhile Cortez, only a pirate would notice small details. Tell me, was it the lack of namebrand, or something else that tipped you off?”

He raised an eyebrow, waiting for an answer. He knew my handle, he knew I wasn’t the person he was convicting, but I could never prove it, I could merely stare.

“Does it help, if I said the name Emily? She was my daughter you know…”

That hit a note. Emily was one of my victims, a paid one too. The person who hired me only wanted to embarrass her, make her look bad. Swapped some of her makeup with some other sort of flour, saw on the news over the next few days. The replacement was poison, she never had a chance once I left her body.

“At the very least, you’ve given us the option, chance, and proven test to take down your kind of scum.”

He let out a chuckle again and shook his head

“And even better, the actual person is stuck in the net, forever to wander until they lose a grasp on reality.”

He smiled and stood up from his chair, re donning his cap and glasses and left me with my thoughts, my guilt, and the electric chair down the hall.


Baum
by TheOrganization
“Tell me what happened Charlotte…”
Casefile in one hand and granola bar in the other, Briggs squatted in front of the white tape outline, questioning the dried blood fused into the hardwood. The cold apartment had been left as is, a disheveled and seemingly random cacophony of torn upholstery garnished with fragments of furniture. Even the heat was left off, as turning it back on would only disturb it more. Briggs hated the cold.

The only thing they took from the scene was Ms. Beaumont’s body of course. It was being processed to the lab and then shipped back to her family in Louisiana. Surely, her parents plead with her not move away, definitely not to a city as dangerous as the burglary capital of the States. She must’ve promised them that she would’ve been fine, that this would be a new opportunity for her, that everything would be ok. And now, he’s got to clean up the fallout. Briggs even watched them scrape her off the floor, the blood had soaked her clothes and bound her to the it. She was just a kid, she didn’t know any better.

Briggs shook those idle thoughts from his head. He was a veteran on Homicide after all; he had seen much worse than this. Perhaps, it was because his own daughter was moving out soon for College. Was it normal to worry about a kid moving out this much? Even Megan was freaking out and she had known all the answers since Delilah was born. Briggs knew he couldn’t tell Megan about this. That was one of the few things he knew for sure.

“Of course you’re still here…”

Briggs turned back to see his annoyed partner with a stack of papers in her hands and furrowed eyebrows above her shades.

“Ah…the autopsy report?”

The detective’s pixie hair appeared to stand up, becoming even paler as they caught the sunlight, as her annoyance began to evolve into full blown anger.

“I’ve been trying to reach you all day Briggs!”

Hearing his name, Briggs shot up from his feet, stumbling a bit as he had crouched for far too long. His face a mix of sad dog who and lazy dad, he brushed off her tirade as he did his hair.

“Why not call?”

In his partner’s other hand was a white iPhone already ringing. After only one, it went straight to voicemail.

"Hey, its Cecil Briggs...and uh...you know what to do..."

"Ah."

Briggs pulled out his cellphone, the screen cool and dark. Within a moment of holding the power button, the phone vibrated to life. Satisfied, Briggs placed the phone back in his pocket and looked back on the tape outline.

"Well then?"

Sighing, the frustrated detective walked up to Briggs side and handed him the report. She knew arguing with him was a pointless endeavor.

"You're hopeless, Briggs."

Briggs chuckled to himself. All the women in his life have said the same.

"So how's it look Baum?"

“She died two days ago, on Monday at 3:25 AM. The knife we found was definitely the murder weapon. There are slight signs of a struggle. A bit of blood on the nails, scratches on her arm and face-“

“There was no sign of forced entry,” interrupted Briggs.

He could feel the icy cold glare behind Baum’s sunglasses, but Briggs didn’t really care.

“Yeah, so she must’ve knew the guy, but no prints on the weapon so he must be a professional-“

“Or really cautious…”

Baum folded her arms, her gaze avoiding the bloodstains.

“You’d have to be in a murder like this…the few prints on the handle are inconclusive, the few unwiped partials are muddled and old. Oh and get this. Most of the blood on our victim, in her sweater and on her gloves, they aren’t her’s. Two distinct types even on the knife.”

“So she managed to knick the perp…”

Baum nodded, raising her sunglasses to reveal her cold sky blue eyes. They seemed to burn with intensity as he began to enter her element. Briggs’s tired brown eyes envied that enthusiasm, but they also knew that she was on the wrong track.

“The guy is wounded and he definitely knew the victim. Two days is more than enough time to get out of the state and hold up somewhere, but at least she-“

“Hold up their Baum...” he interrupted again, although he began to trail off into his thoughts once more. With a fierce look shooting daggers at him, Briggs noticed that Baum was unconsciously playing with her watch. A habit she developed to deal with things when she was getting frustrated and her anger was getting out of control. It was good that she was finally listening to her counselor. Baum smirked a bit, only to be reminded that the chief had already reprimanded him once this week for antagonizing her. As her senior, he should set a “better example”. Another phrase, Megan liked to remind him off.

“If she got the perp, where’s the blood?”

“I told you Briggs, the guy’s a professional. Why the hell wouldn’t he wipe up the blood before he left?”

“But the perp didn’t though…”

“Then where is it?”

“Pay attention, Baum. You’re the one that found the body remember? The bloody knife, Charlotte’s blood pooled around her body? You want to tell me that the killer wiped their blood up off the floor but left it on the murder weapon?”

Baum bit her lip and took a step back, another one of her bad habits.

“Stuff is missing though, he’d have to find some way to leave.”

“Maybe…” trailed off Briggs once again, as he began to walk away from the blood stains and follow a trail of blood droplets that led to the hall. Engrossed in the case, Baum’s anger subsided for curiosity and she followed close behind him. With his elbow, he pushed open the door to one of the bedrooms to find more labeled blood stains.

“They weren’t supposed to close this door,” complained Baum.

“It probably closed itself, the wind maybe…”

The blood cascaded from the wall to the floor, but there was only one real true line of it. Briggs didn’t cover it in school like Baum did, but he had been on the force long enough to know what it meant. The splatter definitely confirmed that the blade had to have been removed after she was stabbed, flinging off blood as it swung back into the air.

"But their was no blood in the hallway...If the blade had been removed, she would've bled a lot more here...why wait till out in the front to take the blade out?"

Baum scratched his head and looked toward the young detective.

Her eyes were locked upon the closed closet to the side of the door, her intense focus reminded Briggs of his younger self.

"There are two bedrooms in this apartment Briggs, the more I think about it, the less it makes any sense to me...I don't think forensics checked this place as well as they thought, there's way too many holes..."

"Seems like it...mind filling me in on your hunch?" requested Briggs as he seemed to stare off into space, his hands in his pocket.

"Yeah, ever since we came in here I've been smelling something foul...its faint but-"

"I can't smell anything."

"Just look Ok," complained Baum as she walked past him and threw open the cupboard. A wall of foul mainly metallic odor slammed into Baum nearly knocking her off her off her feet. Her face turned green as she turned away from the closet. In contrast, Briggs came in closer, getting a better look.

"Looks like you've found the roommate."


Simple Assumptions
by devi
Will slowly woke up from his gentle slumber, feeling the soft fabric of the sheets and the relaxing feeling of laying his head on the pillow. It was a tempting thought to not exit his comfortable position was an incredibly pleasuring thought, but he knew there was no choice but to get up. Drowsily, he opened his eyes to his room. A strong beam of light from the close-curtained window, revealing its decorations and furniture, pierced the room’s usual darkness.

Will was a simple man of simple tastes; he never really liked the idea of having extremely extravagant furniture just to make him look rich or something. He liked what he had. He liked his sofa, the feeling of its soft bounce still intact after many years of having it. He liked his table, it’s sturdiness made sure it would hold out for a very long time and it held his paperwork and equipment quite well. There wasn’t anything in his room he didn’t like. Well, beside the screechy door that he hadn’t gotten around to oil.

Slowly he got himself up, his eyelids weighing heavily on his eyes, his whole body yearning to lay down again. Lifting up his arms in the air, he yawned out-loud as his body cracked loudly. He reached for the edge of his blanket and pulled it off his body, its comfortable feeling leaving his body wanting it back. Turning his body, he put his feet onto the cold wooden floor and stood up from his bed.

He stood there for a few seconds stuck in thought of the day, the wind from the window gently brushing his pajamas and face. After a minute or so of waiting he sighed and scratched his head. His hair felt much more ruffled and all over the place than it usually was, brushing his hair would be more than a pain.

“I mean, I might as well get breakfast first.” He murmured to himself as he looked to his door. He approached it and grabbed the golden knob, turning it gently as he pulled open his door. The screech of the hinges was close to unbearably loud, it felt like it was the sound of some sort of banshee on her period after a violent episode of breaking up with her boyfriend. Or something like that.

Opening the door revealed the main hub for rooms in the building, Will’s door being in a hallway that went on for a few meters for another four rooms for other people. Right now however, they were empty as no one had moved in just yet. It was a new apartment, with fresh paint on the walls and the wooden floor like a good carpet. With much less tentacle things, whatever those things are called, but still just as smooth one.

He continued down the hallway to a brightly lit room, with sounds of clashing metal emanating from it. It was the kitchen most likely, but what was someone doing this earlier in the morning? Will looked in and saw Grace.

“Did you forget that people other than you lived here?” She asked politely

“Oh how could I forget about the lady that can read my mind at all times?” Will answered, face palming in answer to his own apparent memory loss.




Grace was a mutant who lived in the same apartment, a gentle girl who always seemed to be so innocent and kind to everyone around her. Even if people were being rude or disrespectful, she would keep her calm at all times. Hell, she even looked pretty hot at the same time, especially since she looked remarkably human. As mentioned however, she isn’t.

The only ways to see that she wasn’t human was the completely blank eyes and two thin antennas protruding from the top of her head that had yellow balls at the tip of them. Of course, she looks better than a lot of mutants in this ghetto, that’s for sure. Some of the girls look like something straight out of a horror movie.

“So how’s sleepy head this morning then?” She asked, this time with a bit of a tease in her voice while a small smile grew on her face. Will didn’t actually know much about her, she being not very talkative when it comes to who she is. Understandable, mutants here don’t trust humans much, since they’re “oppressed” and what not.

“Tired as hell. Work has been kicking my ass around like it’s a football.” He answered, rubbing his eyes to get rid of some dust in them. It wasn’t until he opened his eyes again that he realized that Grace had no idea what he was talking about. “Oh sorry, I mean figuratively. It’s like a thing we humans say to complain about how much stress and crap we are dealing with.”

“I understand, it must be pretty stressful to be a detective in this area of town. People here tend not to like you guys at all.” She replied, giggling a bit as Will explained himself. Mutants and Humans were so separated back in the day that even some sayings within the two species had molded to different things.

Before Will could say anything at all, the phone right on the counter next to him rang with a loud annoying sound. To avoid being tortured by it, he quickly picked it up and spoke into it. “Ant lady and detective residence here. Who is it that’s calling?”

“Get your ass in gear, you idiot! You’re an hour fucking late!” The voice was tough, loud and easily discerned to be very very mad. The voice also sounded very rocky, if that makes sense, so it could only be one man. Will’s boss. He must have slept longer than he imagined

“Oh fuck. I’ll get there as soon as I can!” He replied quickly, surprised and intimidated by the shouting of his boss.

“Not as soon as you can, your get in here now!” Will didn’t answer, he immediately ran into his room, grabbed his stuff and ran like a maniac out of the apartment. Before he ran through the door, he looked at Grace and gave her a gentle smile. He quickly ran out, leaving behind a terrified Grace, who look liked she just saw a ghost pass by her very eyes.




“Care to explain why you are late, weak-blood?” Will’s boss was a mutant, specifically a rock-man. His voice always seemed to be incredibly raspy, as his voice box was literally just rocks moving around. Rock-men are these huge and wide people quite literally made out of rocks. All of them have varying colors for their eyes, and regular people have difficulty seeing difference between people. Which is why its encouraged for rock-men, to have nametags or always have something on that tells other people who they are. They said they were being oppressed.

Will stood there for a few seconds thinking of an excuse to tell his boss. He thought he woke up at the regular time he always does, apparently today was an exception for his sleep schedule. As if it wasn’t embarrassing enough to be late on the first day of work, after spending around a week getting accustomed to the area, how he got here was no better. He quite literally changed as he ran full speed to work. As he ran, he took of his pajamas and put on his regular attire, a black suit and pants decorated with a red tie and dapper shoes.

To say that people stared at him as he ran was an understatement. Some even looked at him in fear, wonder why.

“I don’t want to hear it.” Boss continued, as he pulled out a drawer within his desk. The station seemed to be pretty busy today, as mutants and humans (primarily mutants) walked around doing their job or whatever they do. The station always felt so depressing, not many windows to let the light in, with the primary sources of light being the lamps on the desks. The desks were very old fashioned, like something you’d see during the 21st century, much more blocky than regular desks and made out of wood. “We’ve got a case for you right off the bat.”

“Alright, what have I got?” Will asked, hiding the excitement in his voice under a tone of seriousness. He had to get back into his regular mood of being serious all the time with his work, as no one likes someone who jokes around these days. It was annoying that a person couldn’t do his work and at the same time be who he is. Human police stations were no god damn better, it just reeks of adults being so serious.

“We’ve got threats of murder on Riva.”

“Oh, who is that? Never heard of her.”

“No wonder, you weak-bloods have terrible music tastes.” God, there is that word again, “weak-bloods”. Mutants just love the feeling of telling humans that they are the supposed weaker species. Prejudice between the two species have been getting worse each and every day to the point that its just getting ridiculous. It’s nearly adorable.

“Anyway some guy wants her to stop singing at all times, his or her messages have used very colorful words to say the least. However, they haven’t just been sending threats. Riva’s own family has been attacked and some of the people that have openly said that they like her music have been brutally murdered.” Boss’ face, or what could have been described as a face, seemed to turn much gloomier as he spoke, clearly shaken up by the whole situation.

“Talk about taking hating an artist to the next level. How long has this been going on?”

“It’s been going for about a week now and about three people have been killed so far.”

The whole situation felt so abnormal, is this really how mutants would act to show of their hatred? Or could it be humans? Whichever species, who thought it was a smart idea to start killing fans of a artist they hate. “Any similarities between the victims?”

“They were all weak-bloods, and they were killed with guns.”

Oh boy, I wonder who could have done this.




So from what he could gather, Will’s job was to find a bunch of serial killers who are specifically targeting humans, the killers apparently having a major distaste of a musician called Riva. They have been using guns, which are used by humans. So the killers are most likely humans who hunt other humans who like mutant music, because its not real music or some other stupid fanatical reason. Will’s boss agreed with this sentiment, as it made the most sense.

“Those fucking weak-bloods will pay with their lives.”

Luckily for him, they already had a lead; in fact they had two leads already. One was situated in an outer part of the ghetto where most humans lived, and one was more into it. He decided to go to the outer reaches. Walking out of the police station, he looked around the city for a few minutes to find the metro. The city was in a direct contrast to modern human cities, as human cities still retained its older styles of buildings with massive glass skyscrapers. The architecture of the mutants were very different in their designs. Some are very sleek and white, some have spikes on them and look rusty. There was a huge variety of buildings, each one being unique to the next.

He would have stayed and admired longer, but he was in a bit of a hurry to get where he needed. The metro felt surprisingly empty, guess it wasn’t a very busy time right now. The metro was colored a deep dark blue, shaped like a cave going down under the earth. It looked like a massive mole had made a hole and painted its new creation.

Even the trains were empty, not a soul to be found. This was very strange, why in the blue blazes isn’t there anyone here? The train was a bright silver color, shaped like a regular human train. The seats were relatively soft, but nothing too luxurious, which is to be expected of any train of any country to be completely honest.

After about of 20 minutes of patient waiting, doing nothing at all, he finally arrived to his destination. It really was a shit place, graffiti covering cement buildings with small and few windows. The humans perfectly reflected the buildings, terrible clothing and poor hygiene would be the best words to describe the people that lived here. Humans weren’t given much choice with their lives here, Will thought to himself. No wonder they would turn to violence and hating mutants

He wanted to stop and ask them about how they ended up this way, it broke his heart seeing his brothers and sisters like this. No man or woman deserves to live in such a shitty place. As he continued to the building he was told to go, he heard the whispers of some of the people as he passed them by. He couldn’t quite make out what they were saying, but he did hear some things quite clearly.

“Filth-blood slave”




Will continued his way into a dark alley, the darkness shrouding him like a thick black fog. The lights were out for some strange reason, as Will continued through the dark. Then, a voice penetrated the silence. The voice was light and gentle with how it spoke, but it had this aura of coldness to it that would send shivers down any persons spine. Will only smiled.

“You are amazing at hiding who you are, Marek. I always wonder how you do it, I’m kinda jealous.” Will spun around and faced the voice. Through the darkness, a face appeared. The face would seem like a normal human, a stern and robust face with long straight purple hair that dangled like curtains, if you didn’t see the spikes that covered it. The spikes were a brownish color and seemed to be manually sharpened for some reason.

“People are so easy to fool these days. You just need to look human to fool people.” Will answered, a big grin on his face growing. “People here will always blame the humans.”

ErrorBlender
11-16-2017, 06:06 AM
Romance Part I

This Romance is hot
by Arch-Angel

A fury of steel sliced clean through the torso of a demon, leaving it in three separate pieces on the ground before disintegrating in a black ash. Annabeth stood on the opposite edge of the sword that had slain the demon, and she eagerly scouted for more opponents.

“They’re all dead, Anna,” a familiar voice called out from behind the angelic woman.

Anna turned to face her comrade in arms, Loki. He stood a foot taller than Anna and gazed at her through brown eyes that matched his short brown hair. Annabeth was the type of fighter who would prefer the front lines, but Loki preferred a much stealthier approach to battle. Her blade quickly found its’ scabbard as she spoke with a soft yet enthusiastic voice, “Then let us make haste back to Marcus.” Loki bowed in acknowledgement as the two set off to return to their leader.
The two angels arrived outside the gate of a large mansion that was surprisingly well maintained given its size. The house had a medieval style of architecture and was surrounded by lush gardens that seemed fitting for a king. Annabeth noticed the small white haired girl on the front porch playing with her even smaller white haired brother before an extremely tall man welcomed them at the gate. “Annabeth, Loki, I hope your return here is a sign that the task I assigned you has been completed.”

The two angels nodded and bowed to the tall casually dressed man, speaking in unison, “Your will, our hands.”

The tall man smiled before opening the gate behind the two angels and inviting them to his home. “Please, come with me inside. It’s been a while since the two of you have graced me with your presence aside from the tedious tasks that I have been assigning you.” Annabeth and Loki followed behind their leader sheepishly.

As the trio went to enter the house, Annabeth was stopped by a harsh tugging on her leg. Upon looking down, she was surprised by the young boy jumping up at her with both hands extended in the air. He rawred and growled at female angel, who giggled playfully. She bent over and booped the young child on the nose with her finger playfully, “You scared me, Zayne!” The small boy responded to the nose boop by swatting at Anna’s finger. Anna’s grin widened before she waved goodbye to the small child and entered the mansion behind Loki.

The two angels entered the living room right behind their leader who graciously offered them a seat. Loki respectfully declined and chose to stand while Anna sat across from their leader with her legs crossed. Loki was eager to get right down to business and broke the short silence, “so, m’lord, what is it that you would have us do?”

The tall man relaxed as he lifted one of his daughter’s dolls from the living room table, “Please, the two of you can refer to me as Marcus. We aren’t in the heavens any longer. There is no need for formalities.”

Annabeth tilted her head at Marcus and looked at him with pondering eyes. “So… Marcus.. Loki is correct. You do require something else of us?

Marcus closed his eyes and sighed, “Always down to business with you two. Fair enough. My son has received a rather unfortunate fate. He is only three years old, so his destiny is still a mystery to even me. With his mother locked away and my duty to safeguarding this world, I would like invite the two of you to assist me on a mission much closer to home. This does not involve the fate of the heavens or mankind, so you two obviously have the right to decline this task if you so wish.”

Loki raised a finger to Marcus and opened his mouth to speak before being cut off by Annabeth, “We accept!”

Loki smiled and shook his head at Anna’s enthusiasm, “I’ve always wanted to get a taste of life down here. What exactly do we need to do?”

Marcus was eager to further discuss their roles, “Loki, given your unique abilities, I would like you to keep an eye on my son and act on my behalf when I am not present as well as patrolling for any possible threats to not only Zayne but the rest of my family. As for you, Annabeth, I would like you to be his guardian angel. Keep a distant eye on my son and ensure that his fate is not altered from its intended path. It is important that you do not directly influence his decisions no matter how much trouble he may find himself in.”

Loki unusually quick to give his response, “sounds easy enough, Marcus. I appreciate the opportunity.”

Annabeth responded with a frown, “So I can’t ever play with the little guy? You can’t deny me his adorableness.”

Marcus chuckled at Anna’s question. “I have a feeling that you are going to play a much greater role in Zayne’s life than any of us know. You can certainly be a part of his life, but you must remain impartial to his destiny. Even if his life is in danger, you cannot save him. That is the fate of a guardian angel.”

Annabeth’s frown turned into a smile as she accepted Marcus’ offer. “I’ll be the best godmother ever, I promise! “





Several months had passed with Zayne under the watch of Annabeth and Loki, but somehow his older sister, Valkyrie, had managed to disappear completely. Marcus redirected Annabeth and Loki’s attention to that of finding his daughter, and so the two angels set off to scour neighboring towns. They followed any leads they came across until the duo arrived at a neighboring capitol city high atop the mountains that overlooked the sea city below.

While Anna was determined to follow through on her oath to their leader, Loki had indulged himself too much in the vices of the mortal world. “C’mon, Anna, it’s been a long day and we haven’t made hardly any progress in the last couple of days. Why don’t we take a break and treat ourselves to a well-deserved meal?” His voice was sincere.

Annabeth gazed up to Loki, obviously not buying into his slick words. “Need I remind you the severity of this expedition? Gentle Loki, I fear your nights of drinking in this world have altered your perception. I cannot allow such a thing to befall the both of us.” Her tone was stern.

“Oh come on, Anna,” Loki practically shouted, “Can’t you see that you’re invested too much in this? Even Marcus said that if it doesn’t directly involve the fate of the heavens that we had every right to refuse this task! If there’s anything I’ve learned from being amongst mortals, it’s that angels are the true slaves to creation. C’mon, Anna, you push yourself too hard in affairs that don’t concern you.”

The female angel kept silent as she turned and walked down the dark city street, away from her comrade. The thought of Loki’s twisted perception worried Anna to the point where she wasn’t even focused on tracking down Valkyrie any longer. Anna found herself sitting on a bench by a fountain, watching couples as they journeyed from restaurants or into inns. She remembered how much fun she would have with Zayne, and even longed to have a family of her own. Despite these mortal ambitions, Annabeth did her best to stay true to her godly nature. Divine creatures were not meant to live amongst the mortal world, and she knew this.

On the other side of town, Loki was busy drinking away his rejection with strangers while they gave women money in exchange for explicit favors. Regardless of how many women he took to bed with him, Loki still longed to be with Annabeth. Unlike his partner, Loki only desired the greatest trophies that the human world had to offer, and viewed Annabeth as such.

The night was long for Anna, but she managed to entertain herself by playing with some of the children who were out much later than their mothers would have cared for. Loki’s words from earlier still plagued her thoughts, and she found herself contemplating the thought of a family even more. That was until she turned a corner to see Loki holding hands with another woman. A powerful urge to approach the two built up in the angelic woman’s heart, but she refused to jump into action in such a way. Instead, Anna simply returned to the inn where they were staying and collapsed on her bed.

Hours went by when Loki stumbled into the room, reeking of alcohol. His legs were trying to move him in two different directions. Anna was awoken by the sounds of him bumping into furniture and tripping over himself. She sat up and stared at the stumbling man with a blank stare, as if she was waiting for something to happen. Loki tried crawling onto his bed, but stumbled off the edge and onto the floor, dragging the sheets with him. Anna sighed, “Well, you almost made it to the bed this time.”

Loki woke up to the blinding light of the afternoon sun shining brightly in their room. Silver eyes and a wide grin greeted the fallen angel. Anna had gotten on the floor with Loki to comfort him in his drunken state. This position wasn’t new to Loki, and he admired how the woman always had a smile on her face in the morning regardless of whatever he had done the night before. “Y’know, you should’ve come out last night. I wouldn’t have had as much to drink if you had been there.”

“Oh, really?” Anna chuckled at Loki’s attempts to persuade her. “How would it look if the both of us stumbled into the room in the middle of the night and passed out on the floor?”

Loki smirked at his partner’s statement, “Well to be honest, I would prefer such a position!”

The thought of Loki with the mystery woman came to Anna’s mind, “Oh, you mean the same position you were in with that woman from last night?” She sneered at the thought, “If only your sword were as sharp as your tongue.”

“You saw her? She was just some whore from the bar trying to bed with me for coin. C’mon, Anna, there’s only one lady for me and it certainly isn’t some bar maiden.”

Anna felt more at ease hearing Loki’s assuring words, but was still jealous that someone else had managed to catch his eye. “Is that so? Tell me, when do I get to meet this splendid woman and offer the two of you my blessing?”

Loki stood up from the floor and stared out the window while he talked, “She’s meeting me at a restaurant tonight if you would like to tag along and offer your judgement. Your company would be greatly appreciated.”

The female angel stood up behind Loki and gently shoved his shoulder, “Then it’s settled. I’ll go search around town for a few hours while you get ready for your date tonight. We can meet here in a few hours.” Loki had a mischievous smirk on his face as Anna quietly left the room to search for the missing child.





Annabeth’s search was fruitless. It was as if the trail they were following had just suddenly ended inside of this massive mountain town. The long day of scouring the misty city and questioning random citizens made the angelic woman hungry. She hurried back to the inn to find Loki dressed in a businessman’s suit outside, waiting for her to arrive. She approached her partner and complimented his change of uniform. After a short discussion, Loki escorted Annabeth to one of the fanciest restaurants in town, The Jade Dragon.

The greeter at the door acknowledged Loki’s reservation for two and proceeded to escort the couple to a fancy table set for two in the upper class section of the restaurant. Anna looked at Loki curiously, “Where is this mystery woman? Why are there only two chairs?”

Loki grinned and admitted to his partner, “Because you are the ‘mystery woman’”.

Annabeth’s cheeks were a rosy red, “You tricked me! Why would you do such a thing?”

The devious man sat back in his chair, “C’mon, Anna. You’ve been at your wit’s end lately over this kid. You deserve to be treated to the finer things that this world has to offer. What do you say, will you finally admit to being my date tonight?”

Anna whined innocently at Loki before admitting to defeat and nodding in agreement to Loki. “You get this one chance.”





Dinner was excellent. The shows that Loki took Annabeth to afterwards were even more spectacular. The naïve angel never even considered how Loki came across the money to foot all of the tabs that he was racking up. She was having far too much fun to consider that her closest comrade might be playing her.

After an exciting evening, Annabeth and Loki found themselves sitting on the same bench where Anna watched couples only a day ago. Their hands together, fingers interlaced. Anna had a heavy feeling in her tummy as she nuzzled herself closer to Loki. She was lost in thought about what life might be like on earth with Loki, much like Marcus and his wife. Before she knew it, Loki had his lips pressed against Anna’s neck and his hand wrapped around her thigh. She found herself conceding to his advances until his hand moved too far up her skirt. She gripped his hand tightly to stop him. Her voice purred as Loki kissed her neck, “We shouldn’t be doing such indecent things, Loki.”

The mischievous angel grinned, tickling Anna’s neck with his lips, “C’mon Anna. You deserve this.” Loki forced his hand to where he wanted it to go, not where Anna would allow it to go.

Annabeth dug her thumb into the tendon in Loki’s wrist until his grip weakened and released. She stood up quick, but Loki stood up just as quick. He gripped her chest before pressing his lips against hers. Anna stepped back and materialized a celestial saber in hand. With incredible speed she sliced with perfect accuracy at Loki. Her blade sliced through the tendons in the arm that Loki used to grope Anna. Loki roared in pain as golden ichor painted the ground beneath him.

Anna’s voice was severe and harsh, “You are not my ally you treacherous beast! I will tell Marcus what transpired here and let him decide your fate! You can’t hide from him!”

Loki stepped away from Anna in fear and listened to her threats before running off. As he ran he noticed that she wasn’t following him. His frightful expression turned into a mischievous smirk as he disappeared in the dark alleyways.





Two hours passed while Anna struggled to come to terms with what happened. She fought with herself trying to think about how someone that she had trusted for hundreds of years could just turn into a completely different person in just a few weeks. She decided to search their room for anything that he might have left that could give her the slightest indication of his sudden change of heart.

Loki had changed into a suit before their date, but left his other clothes on the floor of their small inn room. Anna searched through the pockets on his pants and discovered a note containing an address. She could tell that it was written by a woman, which infuriated her even more. Without thinking about the consequences, Annabeth stormed out of the building in search of the location on the paper.

Several caravans were being packed in a shady alleyway when Annabeth arrived. She made certain not to be seen as she spied on the things being loaded on the wagons. It was obvious that these people were planning on traveling a great distance. One container caught Annabeth’s eye as four men struggled to chain it to a cart. There was a crude painting of a horse on the container, but Anna could swear that she was listening to the cries of… a little girl.

Anna charged out from her hiding spot, armor dawned and sword drawn. The humans loading the carts stopped and hid behind their carts at the sight of an angelic warrior. Annabeth demanded, “Open that cage-“

A hand covered the woman’s mouth and a familiar voice spoke to hear ear, “Victoria sends her regards.” The cold steel of a knife pierced Anna’s armor and skin, ripping her insides apart.

The woman fell to the ground in a pool of her golden ichor, staring up at her treacherous partner, Loki. He shouted to the workers, “Don’t mind this bitch. Finish loading the cargo so we can go!” Loki kicked Anna onto her back and knelt down next to her. “Don’t worry about the kid. I sold her to someone that wants to make her a real Champion. “

A woman made her way into the cleared out alley and called for Loki to come to her side. He skin was pitch black and covered in white tattoos. Her hair was as white as the tattoos covering her flesh. The tall woman was dressed in a gown of feathers from all types of creatures, including angels. After exchanging words and saliva with Loki, she approached Annabeth, who tried squirming away from the woman out of fear.
Anna’s eyes were huge, “W-When Marcus finds out-“

The tall demonic woman stepped on Anna’s stomach where her insides were exposed. She knelt down and placed a hand on Annabeth’s forehead and chanted a few demonic phrases. Anna was quiet afterwards and watched blankly as Loki, the demon priestess, and the caravan departed the alleyway.


Spartan Ants
by RichardLongflop

There was a young man who kept to himself. An introvert. He worked hard as a child and, later on, found himself in a rather well-paying job. He has a house, now, a small one. It’s got a garden with a sizable shed, where he spent a lot of his time. He lived out his hobby in there.

See, on the side, he was a writer. It was a hobby. But, he had another hobby that he creatively intertwined with it. He played with ants. Not living ones, no. In his shed he had a wall, covered with brown plasticine, with pathways here and there, giving it the appearance of an ant farm. Instead of live ants, he had populated it with fake ones. It had all the types: A single Queen ant, sterile worker female ants, and a lot of winged male and female ants. He had created each ant by hand, under lense and tweezer, putting realistic detail into one.

Whenever he wrote a story, he planned out the events by using the ants as puppets, like a child would use dolls to act out a scene. He’d voice out their lines, move them delicately and formulate stories.

Today he was thinking deep about a story set in Sparta, where the winged ants played warriors, the Queen the Queen, and the workers the city folk and children.

The protagonists of the story would be the Queen ant, named Neptunia, named after the god of the sea, and two gladiator ants, known as Myles and Orestes, two men born of different mothers, but in battle became brothers.

Myles was courting Neptunia in private moments, however scarce they were. He’d be her thrills. Myles knew that the Queen could not move from her place, due to her size. She was constantly tired out by laying eggs, it was horrible work, but he sought to distract her. One day as he was moving through the tunnels he noticed her alone and struggling. He went over to comfort her, and it all started from there.

He would talk to her about the world outside, saying things like “The sun was beautiful today, my Queen. It glistened on the dew drops so, I could barely bring myself to harvesting the leaves that they had decorated,” and “I and Orestes dove into battle again today. A beetle, fierce and heavy, though we took it down.” She always paid quiet attention, losing any exhaustion in her eyes, it being replaced with wonder and admiration.

“My dear Myles,” she would say, lovingly, “It is a shame I cannot fly with you. But your moments here make my suffering seem far less so, though I regret that our moments are scarce.”

The Queen’s guards often give Myles fierce looks as they return from wherever, swearing to keep closer watch over the Queen, but being lured out again the next day. That was thanks to Orestes, Myles’ blood brother. He would conjure up schemes to lure them out of the colony, so that Neptunia could gain the comfort of Myles’ presence once more.

One perilous day, news approached from another colony. It had fallen some days ago, and the surviving warriors had just managed to reach Neptunia’s colony. They were exhausted. They used their wings tirelessly, and when they could not any more, they ran. And when their legs gave way, they returned to their wings.

After a night’s worth of much-needed rest, they came to their senses again. One of them called for counsel with the Queen immediately.

He warned her, “They are coming, Neptunia. The army of Agis approaches. Fire ants. They bring with them torturous pain with their bites, and they’ve even made allies with some groups of… of bullet ants. Bullet ants. I thought they were mere legends, said to scare children to sleep at night, but I saw them in the battlefield. They are the Man Killers of legend. They… They are true.”

And, within an hour, all the warriors were assembled. The Queen commanded as she could from her position, and gave the rest of the command to selected generals. Soon enough, all the warriors ants were outside, save for one saying his goodbyes.

Neptunia quivered with despair, “I am sorry, my love. You can get no special treatment from me. My lovers are meant to die upon the first coupling, I was never meant to have a real one. Forgive me, Myles, I-” He rested his forehead against her own, and whispered, “I love you, Neptunia. And I will return.”

She collected herself, “I… I know. And I love you too, Myles. But remember our Law. You must return successful or… or not at all.”

“I respect that law, Neptunia. That is the law of our colony. I accepted it when I was but a larvae. I will go, and I will return victorious. Now I must go, Ares awaits me.” As he left her chambers, she started to weep once more.

Myles met Orestes on the battlefield formation. They but gave each other solemn nods, and awaited for their call into conflict.


They met their adversaries on the battlefield. Their enemies were fire ants, skin as red as clotted blood, the sounds of horror and torture shrieking through the air. The fire ants never killed their enemies outright, they bit them and left them writhing in agony until they either died of the venom, or by their own hand. But they didn’t expect the will of the Spartan ants.

The spartan ants launched into attack, a fierce sea of black clashing into a confident red current. The first fire ant to deal a bite was surprised, the Spartan it had bitten did not whimper or collapse, instead it turned this pain into a berserk rage and struck down its enemy. It managed to snatch the lives of three unders under its mandibles, before the poison finally brought it down. At this point it felt like the battle was one-sided, until the Man Killers showed up.

They towered over all ants, their slender black bodies and legs looming over the swarms of fire ants. These ants did not bite, they stung. Each time their stingers were lowered into the battle, the death of a spartan rose up. The tide turned once more, and even fear started to grip the hearts of the spartans, though that quickly became a fervent desire for battle. To die in fighting for their Queen and colony, to lay their lives down in battle was the highest honour. And that they did.

Myles and Orestes were lost in the swarm, but together. Myles had an idea.

“Orestes, allow me to climb you. You will charge me into a face of a Man Killer.”

Orestes was confused at first, but figured that it was a good way to defeat the height advantage. “Aye,” Orestes agreed, “They have a mighty sting, but our mandibles outmatch theirs. Climb on, brother!”

“I have a little more planned than that, Orestes,” chortled Myles with a smirk. “Get me closer.”

It was tough for Orestes to fight through the current of war. Myles gave him no issue, as he had carried items fifty times heavier. The trouble here was seeing, until Myles started barking down directions. And soon enough, Orestes saw antennae looming above them, and Myles was face-to-face with a bullet ant.

“Man Killer,” challenged Myles, “You and your men work in solitude, you fight by yourselves. But I have my brothers here. And because of that, you will fall!”

The bullet ant tried to lunge for Myles’ face, but Myles leapt atop the Man Killer’s large, slender body. He gave a powerful bite at the bullet ant’s neck, killing instantly. Then he turned around, chewed off the stinger, and held it in his mandibles. The poison oozed out around his mouth, pain starting to rack his body, but the rage was strong. He would not die yet. And, with sword at the ready, he fought.


The Spartan ants had learned from Myles’ antics, and had learned that the most the bullet ants had over them was fear, height and their sting. Once they had conquered the first two, they could steal the third and become Man Killers themselves. But at a price.

“Orestes…” Miles weakly uttered, flat on his belly. His mouth was covered in poison. It had seeped into him, killing him slowly, in immense torture. “Come here… brother,” he wheezed, weakly.

Orestes had gained a few battle wounds, but had survived with his health and limbs. He came bounding over to Myles’ side, “Yes, brother?”

“Heed my dying wish, Orestes. Please, it will be the last thing I ask of you.” The glisten was slowly draining from Myles’ eyes, reflecting Orestes’ weary, concerned look.

“Of course, Myles. Anything.”

“Take my place. For the Queen. You… you have never seen her. Oh, what a sight. But she had never seen you, either. Say… say you died in the battle, brother. Become me for… for her sake.”

“...you would give up the honour of your death? Would she not be happy-”

“Orestes, please. She is locked down there. She has forgotten the scent of grass, the blueness of the skies, all she knows is dirt and pain. I gave her escape, but you…”

And like that, Myles was dead. His last thoughts was worry for his lover, and Orestes understood completely.

“Yes, Myles.” Orestes cried in silence, the remaining Spartan ants around him already heading home.


When Orestes entered Neptunia’s chambers for the first time, he was greeted with a sight of beauty. Her skin was smooth and glistened like the morning dew. Her eyes were as lively as the sun. “W-who are you?” She questioned the intruder.

Orestes cleared his throat, “Uh, it is I, my Queen. Myles. I… had suffered in battle, you may not have realised it was me at first.

“M-Myles!” She was ecstatic, little leg scraping on the floor, but her bloated body could not move. “You’re alive!”

“I am, my Qu-... My love.”


The writer stood back and admired his handiwork. The story was set, and all he had to do was write it. It was perfect for a short story for an online competition. The subject was romance, and the very first thought the man had was:

“Romance? Heh. More like, Rome Ants.”


Betting on Lucy
by SpacePunk

The sun was low on the horizon, turning the clouds a cotton candy pink, and casting an orange glow over the world. The lake twinkled in the sunlight, and the grass danced in the slight breeze. Everything was serene and perfect.
Tyler looked over at his companion and smiled. She smiled back. “The sunset is so beautiful,” she said, looking back out over the lake.
“This sunset’s got nothing on you.” The girl blushed and looked down. Tyler smirked and lifted her chin, locking eyes with her. Slowly he leaned in and closed the space between them. The girl leaned into the kiss, and Tyler pressed his body close to her. He slowly began to move his hand down her back, but she stopped him, breaking away.
“I-I don’t think I’m ready for that,” she said.
“Come on, I’ve got protection. And I’m a very gentle guy. You’re safe with me.”
“I don’t know…”
“Let’s try it, and if you want me to stop, I will.” He resumed kissing her and soon the two got lost in the moment. At one point, Tyler was on top of her, and after a heated moment of passion, they rolled off of each other and sighed, the sun almost gone now.
The girl’s chest rose and fell with each heavy breath. “Wow.” Tyler smirked. That’s what they all say.
***
The gravel crunched underneath the tires of the old Chevy Cobalt. Tyler pulled into his driveway, and turned off the car. He went inside his house, quietly closing the door behind him. He walked to the kitchen, his stomach growling.
He flicked the lights on and was greeted by the sight of his sister sitting at the table, eating a bowl of cereal. He sighed in relief. “Shit, I thought you were mom.”
“Nah, mom’s asleep.”
“Already?”
“She had a long day.”
Tyler shrugged and grabbed a bowl, joining his sister at the table. He poured himself some cereal and began to eat.
“So what was her name?”
“Whose?”
“The girl you fucked.”
Tyler frowned. He had met her a week ago, but he couldn’t for the life of him remember her name. “I honestly don’t remember.”
His sister rolled her eyes. “You are a literal piece of shit.”
Tyler pretended to be hurt, putting a hand on his heart. “That hurt, Grace. That really hurt.” This produced another eye roll from Grace. “Nah, but you’re just as bad as me! How many girls have you fucked?”
“Three. Over the course of two years. Because I actually know how to be in a committed relationship.”
“Committed relationships are lame. You don’t need to be in love to have sex.”
“I can’t believe we’re twins.”
***
Tyler walked into the noisy cafeteria, which was packed to capacity. He sat down at a round table with a group of four other boys. “’Sup Ty?” one of them greeted.
“Nothing much, nothing much.”
“So how was the girl yesterday?”
Tyler held up his fingers, making the “okay” symbol, smirking. “Fucking solid, bro.”
“Dude, I’m surprised you don’t have an STD by now,” said another boy, and the others laughed.
“I use protection, it’s all good.”
Another boy at the table snapped his fingers, his eyes widening in excitement. “Bro, you think you can get any girl, right?”
“I don’t think, I know.”
“Wanna test that theory?”
Tyler raised an eyebrow, intrigued. “How?”
“You gotta date the school’s most undateable girl—Lucy Diaz.”
“Why is she so undataeble?” The boy shrugged.
“No one knows. She’s never had a boyfriend since middle school. All she does is read.”
“What do I get if I win?”
“I just got paid, so if you date her and take her to prom, I will give you a thousand bucks.”
“Dude, isn’t that like, your whole paycheck?”
“Yeah, but here’s the thing: you can’t have sex with her the entire time. None, no blowjobs, no handjobs, nothing.”
Tyler thought about it. It was the end of March, so that would be three months of no sex. Normally he wouldn’t even consider no sex for three months, but it would be the easiest money he ever made. He couldn’t pass up such a glorious opportunity. Besides, he knew a few girls who wouldn’t mind being his side hoe. “Alright, I’ll do it.”
“And if you back out, or can’t get her, I’ll tell your mom you’re not a virgin.” Tyler’s heart skipped a beat. If his mom ever found out, she’d cut his dick off and take him to church. She was a stickler for waiting until marriage, it’s what the Bible said. And in her mind, going against the Bible was worse than murder. He shuddered at the thought. But he held his hand out anyways.
“Alright, it’s a bet.” The two boys shook on it, making it official. Tyler then got up from his seat and walked over to the girl.
“Hey, you’re Lucy Diaz, right?”
“Yeah.”
“I’m Tyler. What are you reading?”
“Why are you talking to me?” Tyler faltered for a second. That was the first time a girl didn’t welcome his presence. It confused him.
“Well, I’ve never really seen you around before, and someone as beautiful as you shouldn’t be all by herself.” Lucy scoffed.
“I’m a lesbian.”
Tyler blinked. He didn’t see that coming. “I’m sorry?”
“I. Am. A. Lesbian. As in, I like pussy.”
Tyler nodded. He walked over to his seat at the table, stunned into silence.
“What happened?” the boy asked.
“She’s a lesbian.”
The entire table erupted into laughter.
***
And so for the next week, Tyler would use every trick in the book to try and woo this girl. He bought her flowers, recited poetry, sang songs to her, but it was no use. Lucy Diaz wanted nothing to do with him. Finally, out of desperation, he decided to tell her the truth.
He ran up to her in the school parking lot one day, however she completely ignored him. Instead, she just stared at her car. “What’s wrong?” When she didn’t answer, he followed her gaze to the front tire. It had a giant gash in it and was completely void of air. It looked quite sad really, all deflated and whatnot. Tyler let out a low whistle. “Damn, that sucks.”
“Unless you can help me, I suggest you leave me alone.”
Tyler’s lips curled into a devious grin. He just thought of the perfect plan. “As a matter of fact, I can help you.”
Lucy eyed him suspiciously. “And just how do you plan on doing that?”
“Well, I have a proposition for you. You see, I too am in need of assistance. And you can help me out. I scratch your back, you scratch mine.”
“I’m gonna scratch your face if you don’t tell me what the fuck you’re talking about.”
“Relax, I’m gonna tell you. My friends made a bet with me. I have to date you up until prom—mind you, I’m not allowed to have sex with you—for a thousand dollars.”
“Well that explains a lot.”
“Listen, listen, listen, if you help me out, I’ll let you have half the prize money, and you can fix your tire problem.”
“You can’t be serious. Why would anyone in their right mind agree to that?”
“Because you need a new tire, or else you’ll be using the school bus. Think of all the annoying middle schoolers reciting outdated memes, the potheads smoking weed in the back seats, the rednecks blasting country music…it’d be Hell on Earth. But all that could be avoided if you pretend to date me. I’d give you rides to school for free until your car got fixed, buy you books, and you don’t even have to have sex with me.”
Lucy thought about it. She actually thought about it. Of all the people that could be involved in her life, it just had to be this fuckboy. She sighed, shaking her head. “Alright, fine, I’ll do it. But the moment you try and get in my pants I’m out.”
“Oh my god, thank you so much!” In his excitement, Tyler pulled her into a kiss. Both of their eyes widened in shock. Lucy because she wasn’t expecting it. Tyler because he felt something. His heart fluttered and fireworks went off in his head.
Lucy pushed him away, appalled. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing!?!”
“Holy shit…”
“Please warn me when you plan on kissing me.”
“Can I drive you home?”
“Well how else am I gonna get there?”
***
That night, Tyler Googled what he had felt when he kissed Lucy. Unfortunately, his search got him nowhere. He sighed and leaned against the back of his chair. Suddenly, there was a knock on his door. “Come in!” he called. The door opened and Grace poked her head in.
“Dude, you okay? Mom made chicken alfredo and you didn’t even leave your room. She’s refusing to let me eat until we all pray together, and I’m starving.”
“Is there something wrong with me?”
“What?”
“I kissed someone today—”
“Shocker.”
“Shut up. I kissed someone today and I felt something weird. Like, my heart sped up and my hands got clammy. WebMD said I was having a stroke.” Grace laughed. She leaned on the door frame for support as she held on to her stomach. Once she finally calmed down, she wiped away a tear and looked him dead in the eyes.
“You’re in love.”
“No, nope, no way, not possible. Tyler Johnson does not fall in love.”
“Look up the science of love. Symptoms of the first stage of love: sweaty palms, increased heart rate, both due to raised levels of serotonin in your brain. Suddenly she’s all you can think about, every love song you hear you think of her. Face it, broski, you’re more in love than Ron and Hermione are.”
Tyler put his head in his hands and groaned. This was literally the worst thing that could ever happen to him. Grace walked over to him and patted his back. “Lemme give you some advice. If someone makes fireworks go off in your head when you kiss, that’s a person you need to keep in your life.”
“You’re probably right. But how do I make her fall in love with me?”
“Well, there’s the usual things: flowers, chocolates, promises you don’t intend to keep—”
“No, no she’s special.”
“Well, what does she like?”
“Um…She likes books. She’s always reading.”
Grace thought for a moment before snapping her fingers. “I got it. Get her a personalized bookmark. That way she doesn’t have to bend the pages and ruin the book.”
Tyler thought about it, nodding his head. “Yeah…Yeah, that’s good. And I know just how to give it to her.”
***
Monday morning, Lucy got up and got ready for school. She showered, did her hair, put on her make-up, and kissed her parents good-bye. It was a normal start to her day. Of course, she wasn’t at all expecting the surprise that waited for her outside her door.
She stood on her front steps, jaw dropped, eyes wide. “Oh my god.”
Waiting for her on her front lawn was none other than Tyler Johnson, wearing nothing but briefs with a rose in his mouth. In his hand was a small box with a little bow on it. However, she was more focused on Tyler’s solid six pack and huge biceps. Not to mention the fact that there was also a bulge in his briefs. Either he’s got a boner, or his dick is fucking huge.
“Good morning, my love,” he greeted, winking at her. If his body couldn’t turn her straight, then nothing could.
“Tyler what the fuck are you doing?”
“I bring you a gift. Unfortunately, the gift is not my rockin’ body, however after prom, that can always be an option.”
“Get off my lawn! And where are your clothes!?!”
“In the car. Just, come here, I have a gift for you!” Lucy rolled her eyes and walked over to him. He stood up and handed her the box. “Open it.”
“No, I’m just gonna stare at it.” They stood there for a solid five minutes while Lucy just stared at the gift.
“Lucy, seriously, just open it!”
“Fine.” She tore into the box and gasped when she opened it up. She took out a bookmark with her name written in heavy black ink done in Calligraphy. Around her name were vibrantly colored flowers, and hanging off the bookmark was a blue tassel. “Oh my god, this is beautiful! Where did you get this?”
“I uh, got it off this site called Etsy. They like, make personalized gifts and stuff, and I know you like to read and stuff, so I thought you’d like it. It was like, 15 bucks, but it’s no big deal.”
Lucy was absolutely baffled. This fuckboy bought her a 15-dollar bookmark for no damn reason. Although his presentation could use a little work, the gift was perfect. Maybe he wasn’t so bad after all…
“Do you like it?”
Lucy smiled a genuine smile. “Yeah, I do. Thank you.”
“Oi! ¡Blanco! ¡Fuera de mi propiedad o llamaré a la policía, mierda!” The two looked behind Lucy and saw her father standing there with a shotgun.
“What’d he say? Why does he have a gun?” Tyler asked, panic in his voice.
“’Get the fuck off my lawn or I’ll call the cops’ pretty much.”
Her dad cocked the shotgun and took aim. “¡Vaminos, muchacho!”
Tyler put his hands in the air and quickly scurried off to his car. Lucy sighed in relief and shook her head.
***
Over the weekend, Lucy decided to go to the bookstore, since she had just finished her last book. She walked inside, the cold air conditioning making her shiver a little. The place was pretty spacious with a cozy vibe to it. She walked over to the YA section and perused the selection. Eventually, she picked up a book called Misquitoland by David Arnold. The cover depicted a girl riding on top of a bus writing in a journal.
“Dude, that book is fucking amazing.” Startled by the random voice, she flinched and dropped the book. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.” They both bent down to retrieve the book, and their hands overlapped. Lucy looked up and met the beautiful brown eyes of a girl. Butterflies filled her stomach and she just stared for a bit, the other girl smiling.
After a moment, they both slowly stood up, not breaking eye contact. Finally, Lucy regained the ability to speak. “Uh, really? What’s it about?”
“This girl hears some really bad news about her mom, so she goes on this cross country road trip to go and see her. But like, it’s got lots of cool characters and the main character, Mim, writes letters to one of her family members explaining her reasons and like, she’s really weird and surprisingly human. It’s the best road trip book I’ve ever read. And don’t worry, it’s nothing like John Green.”
“Sounds pretty cool.”
“Yeah, it is. And it’s pretty new too, so like, it isn’t cheesy. You should totally get it.”
“Well, thanks to your persuasion skills, I think I will.”
The girl smiled. “Awesome. It’s my favorite book, so tell me how you like it, okay? Here, lemme put my number in your phone.” Once they finished exchanging contact information, the girl bid Lucy goodbye and left the store. Looking down at her phone, she read the name belonging to the number. “Grace, huh? What a pretty name.”
***
Tyler waited outside Lucy’s house, Grace sitting in the back seat. She had missed the bus due to over sleeping, and therefore, was in need of a ride. While they were waiting, Grace was telling him about the girl she met at the bookstore. “She was beautiful, dude! Like, Galadriel from The Lord of the Rings beautiful! And she had a really good taste in books too. I told her to buy this book and she was like, “yeah I think I might” and so I told her to tell me what she thinks when she reads it.”
Tyler chuckled at his sister’s excitement. “Oh yeah? What’d she look like?”
“Uh…Like that.” Tyler frowned and looked at the direction Grace was pointing. To his disbelief, she was pointing directly at Lucy. Tyler shook his head.
“No, no way, that can’t be her. What book did you tell her to buy?”
“Misquitoland by David Arnold.”
Lucy got in the passenger’s seat and smiled at Tyler. However, the smile faded when she saw the look of panic on his face. “Hey, what’s wrong?”
“Is this book Misquitoland?”
“Uh, yeah, why?” Tyler dropped his head on the steering wheel, the horn blaring. Lucy frowned, confused. However, when she turned around, she was able to comprehend the problem. “Grace? What are you doing here?”
“I’m Tyler’s twin sister.”
They were interrupted by Lucy’s father as he started angrily towards the car. He had his shotgun in hand, cursing at them in Spanish. Tyler lifted his head and quickly slammed on the gas, speeding off down the road. Once they were pretty far from the house, he slowed down.
“Okay, we have a problem,” Tyler announced.
“Clearly,” Lucy replied.
“No, we don’t,” Graced chimed in. “There is no problem. You’re dating my brother, therefore, you’re off limits to me.”
Lucy’s heart sunk to the pit of her stomach. She really liked Grace. From the moment they met, she felt an instant connection. She knew Grace felt it too, she could see the longing in her eyes. She wanted with all her heart to tell her that she and Tyler weren’t really dating, but she needed the money. She turned away from Grace and looked out of the window.
***
Over the next month, Tyler and Lucy continued their charade, Lucy and Tyler growing closer as friends, which Lucy didn’t see coming. Beyond the layers upon layers of fuckboy, was a pretty cool guy. Grace also hung out with Lucy, the two bonding over their love for books.
One day, Grace invited Lucy over while Tyler was out with his friends. The doorbell rang and Grace excitedly ran to answer it. “Hey Lucy!” She hugged the other girl in greeting.
“Hey. Can I come in?”
“Yeah of course! I got popcorn in the microwave, and Star Wars: Episode IV in the DVD player. I hope you’re ready to marathon all of them, because that’s exactly what’s happening.”
Lucy chuckled. “It’s so weird that you and Tyler are twins. You’re like polar opposites.”
The microwave beeped and Grace went to go grab the popcorn. In the kitchen, as she was filling up a large bowl, she began talking to herself. “Grace, get your shit together. She’s dating your brother, and that’s a big no-no.” She then scoffed at herself. “Well, that’s never stopped you before.” She vigorously shook her head. “Grace, don’t be a homewrecker, this girl’s different. Tyler loves her, and that’s never going to happen again. So don’t be a hoe. Don’t be a hoe, don’t be a hoe…” As she went back to the living room, she kept repeating the phrase in her head.
“So, which do you like better, Star Wars or Star Trek?” Lucy asked upon Grace’s return.
“Oh, uh, Star Trek. It’s got that sense of adventure and exploring the unknown. It’s like, pure, y’know? Just a bunch of friends exploring space. But with Star Wars it’s got space battles and so many layers. I love them both, really, but I’d go Star Trek any day. Which you like?”
“I uh, I’ve never really seen either.” Grace gasped.
“Well, we’re just going to have to fix that!” She pressed play on the remote and the movie began.
“So wait, if this is Episode IV, then why are we starting with it and not Episode I?”
“Because the first one was literally the worst movie, and there’s an order in which you have to watch the movies. It’s weird.” Lucy nodded.
They spent the entire day watching Star Wars, taking bathroom breaks, and breaks to restock on food, each time, the girls got more and more flirtatious. Grace completely forgot about her little mantra, and was in fact, being a hoe.
They sat together on the couch, having finished all the movies. They turned on Netflix, though they weren’t really watching it. Grace kept giving sideways glances to Lucy, and when she caught her, she quickly looked away, blushing.
“Hey, Lucy?”
“Yeah?”
“How’s my brother been? Y’know, to you.”
“Oh, uh, he’s been really nice to me. He bought me a bookmark, and he takes me on dates to fancy restaurants. He’s really great.” Lucy meant what she said, however, she only saw him as a friend, and nothing more. She was, after all, a lesbian.
Grace nodded. “So uh, have you guys…frick fracked?”
“Have we what?”
“Y’know, doodily oodily, scoodily-pooped, done the do, the sideways tango—”
“Grace, you are a senior in high school and you can’t say the word ‘sex’?”
Grace rubbed the back of her neck nervously. “Well, have you?”
“Nope. We kiss, we hug, we hold hands, we cuddle. That’s it. Why? Are you okay?”
A tear ran down Grace’s face. He was really in love with her. There was no way she could take Lucy away from him. But, she was in love with her too. Don’t be a hoe.
“Grace…” Lucy lifted her chin and they looked into each other’s eyes. Timidly, they both leaned in, closing the gap between them. When their lips made contact, they both felt a wave of joy. The world melted away and it was just Grace and Lucy. Everything seemed right in the universe now, and neither girl wanted to break apart.
“Grace,” Lucy said when they finally separated. “I have to talk to Tyler.”
***
“You what!?!” Tyler cried. Lucy shushed him, looking around to see if anyone heard them. “You kissed my sister?!?”
“Wow, you really don’t know how to be quiet.”
The two were by the bathrooms at school, since they had both told their teachers that’s where they were going. It wasn’t exactly the most private spot, but this was the only time that worked for them.
“How can I be quiet when you kissed my goddamn sister!?!”
“I told you I’m gay!”
“But we’re in a relationship!”
“A fake one!”
Now it was Tyler’s turn to shush her. Lucy rolled her eyes.
“Lucy, I love you, I thought we had something.” She crossed her arms and sighed.
“Tyler, I like girls. Specifically, your sister. It was never going to happen between us. I like you as a friend.”
Tyler could feel his heart shatter into a million pieces. A look of pure anguish formed on his face. He knew it wouldn’t happen, but a part of him had hoped and prayed.
Inside the bathroom, Grace was washing her hands at the sink when she heard Lucy’s voice. A smile broke out on her face and she hurried to the door. But when she heard Tyler’s voice, she stopped short. Curious, she pressed her ear to the door and listened.
“Look, the bet’s off, Tyler. I’m not going to lie to Grace anymore.”
“Come on! Don’t you need the money?”
“Yeah, but I can get it some other way. I’m not gonna keep lying and end up hurting your sister!”
“Look, if you don’t do this, I’m in deep shit.”
“What’s so bad about your mom finding out about your lost virginity?”
“Clearly you don’t live with a born-again Christian.”
“Look, I’m not doing it. I’m not playing her.”
“We just have one more month until prom, then once it’s over, you can do whatever you want, just stick with it a little longer.”
In a burst of fury, Grace threw open the door and confronted the two. “So that’s what this was? A bet?” Hot angry tears ran down her face, staining her cheeks. “You’re nothing but a bunch of fucking liars!”
“Grace,” Tyler said, “Calm down—”
“Shut the fuck up, Tyler! We’re family! Family doesn’t pull this kind of bullshit! You both played with my emotions for some goddamn money! I loved you, Lucy!”
Lucy didn’t realize it, but she was crying too. “Grace, please, let me explain!”
In a voice laced with venom and hatred, Grace said, “You’ve said enough. I don’t ever want to see you again.” And with that, she pushed past the fake couple and stormed off.
“I knew this was a bad idea,” Lucy sniffled, pacing back and forward. “This was a horrible idea, and now I lost the girl I love.”
“You love her?” Tyler asked. Lucy snapped her head at Tyler, shooting daggers at him with her eyes.
“Yes, you piece of shit! I was head over heels in love and I fucked it up! I’m done with you, Tyler Johnson. I hope you have a nice life.” Lucy ran in Grace’s direction, leaving Tyler by himself.
In a fit of rage, he punched the wall over and over until his knuckles bled. He ignored the throbbing pain in his hand. He’d rather feel physical pain than the emotional pain he was feeling at the moment. He regretted everything, but it was too late.
***
The night of prom came, and even though he didn’t have a date, Tyler had bought a tuxedo and planned on going. He tied his bowtie and put on his most expensive cologne. He opened his sock drawer and shoved a condom in his pocket. There was no way he was leaving prom without banging someone.
Grace was in her room, putting on her dress. She too was going, even though she didn’t have a date. She put her hair up and put on lip gloss and eyeliner. She wasn’t one for make-up, but since this was a fancy event, she decided a little was necessary.
The twins walked out of their room and down to the door. After an endless photoshoot from their mother, she finally let them go. The tension in the car was suffocating. Neither spoke. Grace glared out the window, not even acknowledging her brother’s existence. After the most uncomfortable ride in history, they finally pulled into the venue parking lot.
“We’re here.”
“I have eyes.”
“Grace, can we talk?”
“No.”
“Grace, come on, if you just let me explain—”
“I don’t want to hear it. You lied to me, she lied to me. I don’t like liars.”
“Let me ask you this, then: If I was in love with her, why would I want to let anyone else have her?”
“Because you’re a fuckboy.”
“Grace, be logical. WWST, remember?”
“What would Spock think…”
Tyler nodded and got out of the car, Grace following in his footsteps. They both entered the venue where the lights were dim, the music was loud, and the place was crowded. Hormonal teenagers danced erotically to the thumping music, while the teacher chaperones watched with visible disgust.
“Yo, Tyler!” He looked up and saw his friends approaching him. He put on a fake smile and greeted his friends. “Dude, where’s your date?”
“We uh, we didn’t make it.”
“Really? Well I guess that means you lost the bet!” Grace frowned. She shoved Tyler out of the way.
“Um, excuse me, what bet?”
“The bet I made with your brother. He had to date Lucy Diaz up until prom, no sex, no nothing.”
Grace’s eyes widened in realization. It all made sense to her now. “I have to find Lucy.” Grace took off into the swarm of sweaty teenagers.
“Dude,” said the boy. “Why do you look like you just got your heart broken?”
“I loved her, bro. I straight up loved her. Hell, I still love her.”
“Man, I’m sorry. Look, if it helps, I won’t tell your mom. I didn’t think you’d fall in love.”
“Neither did I.”
***
Grace found Lucy sitting at a table reading a book that just so happened to be Misqitoland. Grace walked up to her, smiling. “What part are you at?”
Lucy looked up, surprised to see Grace standing over her. “Um, Mim, Beck, and Walter went to the Cubs game.”
“Oh, you are in for some serious shit, my friend.” Lucy smiled and gestured to the open seat next to her. Grace sat down and pulled Lucy into a kiss. When they broke apart, they touched foreheads, smiling at each other.
“I’m sorry I lied to you,” Lucy said.
“You don’t have to apologize, I misunderstood everything. I jumped to conclusions and I’m sorry.”
Lucy pecked Grace on the lips. “Will you dance with me?”
“Hell yeah, I will.”
***
Tyler sat by himself at a table, watching all the couples dance. The music had slowed down, and the people were swaying back and forth. Tyler’s eyes landed on Grace and Lucy, and he smiled a sad smile. He was happy that Lucy found someone, and he was glad it was Grace. She’d treat her well. He let out a sigh and slumped back in his chair.
“Um, Tyler?” He looked up and saw a girl who looked vaguely familiar.
“Yeah?”
“It’s me, Abby. Remember, you took me to the lake?” Tyler nodded slowly. So that was her name. He smiled at her. “Is it okay if I sit here?”
“Yeah of course. You look beautiful, by the way.” She blushed, though it was hard to tell in the dark.
“You don’t look too bad yourself.”
“Well thank you. Would you like to dance?”
“That would be wonderful.” Tyler offered her a hand, which she took, and he led her to the dance floor. As he passed by a trash can, his discreetly tossed his condom in it. He had no intentions of having sex with anyone tonight.


Partners in Crime
by Boomerang


There was a distinct smell of burnt rubber as the sports car raced down the street with a vengeance like no other. People ran to the sidewalks and cars veered out of the way as the hood splattered in crimson sparkled against the late afternoon sun. The harsh sound of a sharp turn was followed by a myriad of blaring sirens as blue and white vehicles came charging behind. With the chaos that had been left behind, however, they were forced to go much slower.

His pale red eyes glared in front of him as he pushed his foot harder to his right, his white tanktop now stained with pink and dirt. His left hand gripped the steering wheel, his right reached around in the passenger seat. His palm brushed across his assault rifle before grasping his phone. He granted himself only a moment of reprieve from the road to type in a number before placing it at his ear, looking forward once again. He wiped some sweat from his brow as the shrill ring in his ear droned on for a few moments.

Standing in front of a lonely Bank of America was a woman. She held the tommy gun close to her chest, her lithe figure swaying back and forth while clicking her tongue in rhythm. Around her were multiple corpses, blood pooling around their torsos and heads. Her hair reached to the middle of her back; half of it was cotton candy pink, the other a sky blue. Her face was painted with thick vertical lines, each representing a color of the rainbow with black lipstick to match. Her giddy ocean blues opened wide as she felt a vibration in her pocket.

She put the phone to her ear, just barely remembering to answer it, "Hello?" she gasped, as if she had just ran a lap around the building.

The man's low, smooth voice came through on the other line, "I'm gonna be coming down the street in a second," There was a moment of silence as the screech of tires came in the distance, "Where are you?"

The girl grinned at the sound of his voice, shifting a bit, "Just waiting on you, sugarpop," She watched the car slow down and suddenly halt just in front of the bank. She kept the phone to her ear, walking over to the car as her grin widened, "Oh no! A handsome stranger is kidnapping me!"

The muscular man unlocked the door and she stepped in, brushing his assault rifle away as she sat down. He smiled as well--he had played this game before, "That's weird, what's he look like?"

She giggled like a high school girl, leaning closer to him. She ran a hand down his bare arm, "He looks pretty fine; feels fine, too."

She leaned completely over the center console, pressing one hand against the dashboard for balance as she pressed her lips against him, holding the soft embrace for a few seconds as her free hand ran through his shaggy black hair. When she pulled away, there was a trace of black on his own lips. She giggled again as a mischievous smirk crossed her face, "And he tastes delicious."

He opened his mouth, however quickly closed it as the noise of the sirens broke across the horizon; they were getting close. Looking behind him, he frowned as his precious moments of reprieve had run out. Both hands gripped the wheel before he pressed his foot harshly against the gas, "Hold on, baby girl," He exclaimed over the sound of the engine.

She sat back in her seat again, pressing her body against it and screaming like she was on a rollercoaster ride as the couple went flying down the street. Butterflies floated in her stomach--there wasn't anybody she wanted to be in a cross-country police chase with more than Carmine.

****

Nick sat back in his chair, placing his arms behind his head and exhaling. He sat around a full group of police officers; rookies, veterans, and everything in between. All of them were bustling around having idle conversation as Nick remained silent, eyeing his partner as he walked to the front. He smacked a hand against the desk in front of him, "Hey, hey, listen up!" He called. The room fell silent rather quickly.

Carlson shifted, grabbing a laser pointer from one of the drawers, "Now--Unless you've never watched the news a day in your life, I'm pretty sure you know why I've called you all here."

Flicking the laser on, he pointed it to a picture pinned to a whiteboard. A man with pale red eyes and messy black hair stared at the camera, sporting a grin. Carlson looked over at Nick for a moment, "Carmine Alec!" He looked forward again, "Alias: The Desert Wolf."

Moving the pointer to the picture next to him was one of a woman with blue and pink hair. A toothy, wild grin enveloped most of her face, "Marrissa, last name unknown--Alias: Sugar High."

Flicking the laser pointer off, he threw it back onto the desk. He didn't need it anymore; he just really had been wanting to use it for something. "Otherwise known as this millennium's Bonnie and Clyde"

Carlson's eyes locked with Nick's once again, and it was clear that his exterior movements were holding a growing anxiety. Nick shifted, looking down as Carlson continued his speech, "Robberies, collateral damage and a whole lot of murder! Now they're making a run for our neighbors down south, otherwise known as Mexico" Carlson noticeably pronounced Mexico as 'Meheeco'.

Nick scoffed, "Typical criminals," He spoke in an attempt to regain his composure, and the laughs that he drew gave him comfort, "And I'm assuming good old Arizona State Police is gonna put a stop to it?"

Carlson clapped his hands together, "Damn right we are!" The room began to cheer, however Carlson quickly shushed them, "I've already had a little talk with a few guys down in Highway Patrol--the lovely couple is gonna have to go down the back roads to get to where they wanna go."

Carlson clapped Nick on the shoulder, "You know what that means, bud."

Nick exhaled, looking up at Carlson, "A stakeout?"

"A stakeout!" Carlson quickly looked back up to his coworkers, "We're gonna send a couple of groups to any back road on this map that leads to the border, and when we find those suckers, you'll be damn sure they won't get very far--right?"

A collective cheer ran through the room again, "I can't hear you!" The cheers grew in volume and Carlson nodded with a chuckle, "Alright--let's get this party started!"

Nick stood up and followed Carlson as he stepped outside. His tune suddenly changed as he turned to his partner and friend. He made sure that nobody was in the hallway before he spoke, "Listen, Nick," He was soft, sincere, "I know that you and Carmine are close--or, were close."

Nick nodded, raising an eyebrow as his expression attempted to brush off his emotions, "Yeah?"

Carlson sighed, shaking his head, "Just--if you don't wanna do this, I get it, alright? I can lead this thing on my own if you don't think you can handle how this might end."

"What do you-"

"Come on, man..." Carlson looked over his shoulder again before his voice was brought down to a nearly unintelligible whisper, "You really think they'll come quietly?"

Nick looked away from Carlson, away from his problems. He stared at a tile on the floor--he knew Carmine well enough to know he wouldn't come quietly, which meant his girl wouldn't come quietly either. It made the possibilities of what could happen virtually endless, and all of them were negative. He shut his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, taking in a sharp breath, "No," He opened his eyes, "I have to be the one if it comes to that. Besides...I might be able to talk to him."

The look in Carlson's eyes told Nick that there wouldn't be a possibility to talk, but he pretended not to see it. Carlson nodded, putting an arm over Nick's shoulder, "Well then, I guess we gotta get ready too, huh? We got a long trip ahead of us."

****

Her lips tasted sweet like a lollipop, her body was soft like cotton candy; and yet her touch was electrifying.

Carmine's arms were wrapped around Marrissa, holding her close as their lips clashed violently. One hand rested on her hip, the other ran through her hair. Their clothes rested in a terrible stack in the hotel room, bodies hiding underneath the complimentary white towels as steam from the shower billowed toward them. Marrissa's face paint had been washed away, revealing a beautiful babyface.

Carmine pushed forward, sending her back first onto the bed with him on top of her. Their lips never broke apart--it was as if their souls were intertwined, bodies becoming one. She rolled on top of him, cupping his chin with her delicate hand. She pulled away slowly, opening her eyes fast enough to see him puckering his lips like a fish. Marrissa giggled, locks of pink and blue surrounded her face.

As he opened his eyes, he smiled too. Marrissa watched him carefully for a few moments, resting comfortably on his body, before a frown crossed her features, "Carmine..." Her words were nearly breathless, "What if they find us?"

Carmine thought about this for a moment. He remembered walking into the hotel with Marrissa at his arm, and the way the man at the counter stared at them when he requested a room somewhere in between the first and top floor. When he opened his mouth to say something as a look of remembrance came across his features, Carmine had thrown forward a messy stack of hundreds and asked for the honeymoon suite instead. He was able to bribe that man, but they couldn't get away like that forever when they were all over the news. That's why they had to get to Mexico by tomorrow. They were close, so very close.

He reached a hand upward, caressing his lover's cheek. Her frown dissolved into a faint smile as she nuzzled his palm, "We'll be in Mexico living the life by this time tomorrow," He brushed a strand of pink away from her eyes, "They'll never take us alive, baby."

This was enough to make Marrissa grin fully. She leaned in once more, pressing her lips against his own as her hands reached over, untying the towel at his waist. Carmine reached a hand over to the only light source in the room, shutting off the lamp. As the lights went out and they were put in pitch black, the white towels were the only sight to see as they hit the floor. Their eyes met, his pale reds colliding with her ocean blues, and on that night they became a purple sky.

****

Carmine's dreamless slumber was put to a screeching halt at the sound of a shrill voice in the back of his mind.

His eyes shot open, quickly alert as his hand reached over to the nightstand beside him. He held a vice grip on his revolver, looking back and forth in the hotel room for a few moments as the light of early morning shined through the large window that lead to the fire escape. It took Carmine a few moments to escape the daze of sleep enough to realize that the shrill voice was not an intruder.

Gingerly taking his hand off of the weapon, he instead moved it forward to the vibrating phone. With his body completely in the blanket, the only thing visible was his large arm reaching over and then reclining. He glanced at the number; for some reason, it seemed very familiar.

Looking over at Marrissa for a moment, taking her in as she slept peacefully, curled up at his side. He pressed down on the phone, placing it to his ear while he sat up softly, "Hello?" His voice was quiet for the sake of his sleeping lover, but still held a firmness to it.

"Carmine?" The voice on the other line paused, "Carmine--listen to me, you need to turn yourself in."

His eyes widened as the last of his haze was swept away. He frowned, his voice now a snarl, "What? Who the hell is this?" There was another silence, but this time it was much longer. Carmine pressed further, his voice growing louder, "I know you heard me!"

The voice was now strained, "It's--It's Nick." The words made Carmine's blood turn to ice. Now he was the one who was speechless. The voice and number were both familiar, but he never thought that Nick would talk to him again.

Nick seemingly understood the surprise over the other line, and took his chance to pounce on the palpable emotions, "Just turn yourself in, man," He prodded, exhaling, "Things can't escalate anymore. There's too much bloodshed already."

Carmine grit his teeth, his expression darkening as Marrissa moved around next to him. Her eyes softly opened as she let out a long yawn. She turned to look at him with a sleepy smile, however upon seeing his face she frowned and grew alert, "Carmine?"

Nick continued on the other line, "Carmine...please. I don't wanna see you die."

At that moment, there was a harsh knock. Carmine turned to the door, suddenly enraged once again. He grabbed the phone, hurling it into the wall with all of his might as the device shattered into hundreds of small pieces. Marrissa jumped a bit, rolling out of bed as her naked body was illuminated by the fresh sunlight.

Another knock, "Carmine and Marrissa, we know you're in there! Open the door!"

Carmine grimaced, "Hang on man, I gotta get dressed!" He practically jumped out of bed, slipping on his boxers and rapidly putting on his other clothes. Marrissa stopped for a moment, eyes glued to her lover's back. She bit her lip, suddenly entranced by her child-like ability to divert her attention away from important matters.

When Carmine was fully dressed, he turned and Marrissa blinked. He looked at her and exhaled; she had only managed to put on her bra and panties before getting entranced by her man, "God damn it," He muttered under his breath. He turned again, watching the door knob jingle--it wouldn't be long before they picked the lock.

Grabbing her other clothes in one hand and clasping her hand with the other, he placed the gun in his pocket and pulled her toward the large window, "Come on, we gotta go!" he whispered, opening the window as the both of them simultaneously slipped on their shoes. Carmine ran down the metal steps with his hair every which way from the night before--meanwhile Marrissa was in her underwear.

As the dynamic duo made it to the ladder, Carmine could see from up above the men clad in blue glaring down at them. One of them pointed, and the others began to rush down the steps. Already halfway down, Carmine jumped from the ladder, landing gracefully on the concrete. Marrissa did as well, but Carmine caught her even though she could have made the jump.

Still pulling on her by her hand, Carmine lead his lover to the car only a few yards away, quickly opening the door and slipping into it. Quick to put in the keys and start the engine, Carmine now threw Marrissa's clothes to the back and placed his revolver on the center console. Looking behind him, he saw the assault rifle and tommy gun resting neatly in the back seat as well.

As he closed his door, Marrissa entered from the passenger side. He didn't have to tell her to hang on this time--she already knew damn well what was going to happen. With the screech of tire against asphalt and the smell of burning rubber, the duo drove onto the streets and sped away just as the policemen made it to the ground.

****

With the highway patrol all over, Carmine had no choice but to take the back roads--much to his dismay. He felt the sports car bounce against the rocks both large and small, plumes of dirt flying up behind them. Instead of the pleasure of woods and tunnels like in the other states, the two of them had to go down a long dirt road surrounded completely by desert. However, at the end of this road was an intersection--one lead to a small village, and the other lead to a nearly unknown entrance through the Mexican border. Carmine had the passport and the bribe money--Marrissa just couldn't be seen. His eyes were focused on the road ahead, however they would quickly turn to the rear view mirror every few seconds.

Meanwhile, Marrissa was fully clothed once again. Her feet were against the back of the seat as her head hung from the bottom. She hummed while kicking her feet, her hair spread all over her face. There was a content grin on her face as she turned to her lover, waiting for him to notice her.

As soon as he did, Carmine let out an exhale, gripping the wheel a bit tighter, "Can you please put your seatbelt on?" He asked softly.

Giggling, she grabbed the seat belt, placing it on herself and clicking it in without moving her body at all. He looked at her again, a faint frown forming on his face. He turned forward, "And sit the right way, for Christ sake! I don't want you getting hurt," He didn't look at her as he continued, "C'mon, Marrissa, I'm trying to get us away from all the cops and you've been taking your attention away from what's important and just messing around! You're gonna get you and me both killed!"

It wasn't much, and Carmine didn't even mean half of it, but hurt still crossed her eyes. Slowly, she took off her seatbelt and sat upright, placing it back on herself. She crossed her arms, pouting her lip and staring at the dirt in front of them. She was hurt and angry at him, but under all of that she was ashamed of herself for making her Carmine upset.

There were a few minutes of choking silence as the glance that had been moving toward the rear view mirror now went to Marrissa. Every time he looked over, her expression and position hadn't changed. Eventually he exhaled, "Babe, I'm sorry."

"No, no, it's fine," She said dismissively, sniffling for good measure.

"No, I mean it. I just wanna give you the life in the clouds you deserve. I love you, my little goofball," He turned to her, his smile returning as she fought to keep a straight face. She looked away from him as her face flushed with red. He held out his hand, placing it on hers, "Please forgive me?"

A few moments of silence later, and Marrissa turned suddenly, embracing him tightly as Carmine kept one eye on the road so they wouldn't crash, "Okaaaaaay I forgive you sugar pop!" She was giddy again, sitting back in her seat, "I promise I'll be good"

As Carmine's attention was half to Marrissa and half to the road, he didn't pay much attention to the lonely vehicle that sat down a secluded trail shadowed by large rocks a few meters down. The vehicle came in behind him, and sirens went off as Carmine went to say something else. He nearly put his face on the steering wheel, "I'm getting sick of that noise," He commented, accelerating as larger plumes of dirt followed in their tracks. They were too close to give up the whole thing now.

****

Carlson leaned back in the front seat, looking outside the open window into the blistering desert as a glowering cigarette hung idly from his mouth. His expression was hard and his eyes were halfway open as he exhaled smoke. He turned to Nick, holding out a pack with his other hand, "Sure you don't want any?"

Nick looked from the pack to his partner and shook his head, "I told you I quit smoking months ago, man."

Carlson shrugged, dropping the pack of cigarettes back into one of the empty cup holders as he blew another puff of smoke into the scorching air, "They should be here soon," Carlson broke the silence reluctantly.

Nick nodded, resting his chin against his fist as he stared at the endless road, waiting anxiously for the appearance of a vehicle. Carlson continued, flicking the cigarette against the window as a burnt piece fell to the asphalt, "I told you they wouldn't go quietly, man."

"He's too stubborn," Nick replied monotonously, "He always has been, since we were kids."

Nick didn't want to continue, but the words seemed to come out, "Carmine was a good kid, y'know--he just ended up in the wrong crowd. I pursued my career, and he pursued a quick thrill," Carlson was surprised--Nick had never opened up this much about The Desert Wolf before, "I just brushed it off until he started the big time crime. I couldn't be surrounded by that anymore so I..."

"I cut him off--and I thought I never would have to see him again--but y'know, here we are."

Carlson placed the cigarette back in his mouth, waiting a while before breathing a long exhale. He coughed slightly looking to Nick for a few moments before continuing, "You sure you wanna do this?"

On Nick's lap was an assault rifle, fully loaded with the safety off. He tapped it fervently with his hand. Slowly, he turned to Carlson and shook his head with a faint smile, "No...I'm not."

The roar of an engine tore their attention away from one another. Much further down the road was a beat up sports car with a police car not far behind. Nick grabbed his assault rifle and stepped out of the car nearly in sync with the rest of the police officers. Carlson opened the front door, throwing the cigarette to the ground as he grabbed his megaphone. As he stood, he crushed the cigarette under his heel. He held a 12-gauge with his free hand as he turned the megaphone on.

"STOP RIGHT THERE!" Carlson's booming voice echoed forth as the vehicle screeched to a halt.

****

"Damn it!" Carmine slammed his calloused hand against the steering wheel before running it through his slick hair, sighing heavily as he quickly pressed on the brakes. Marrissa nearly smashed her face against the dashboard before catching herself as she looked from him to the group of police cruisers blocking the road. His grip on his weapon was firm as he stared through the windshield, suddenly surrounded.

"Carmine...?" Marrissa's concern was palpable as she tried her best to reach out to him. His reply was a loud scream aimed at nobody in particular as she winced in response. She placed a hand on his shoulder, holding tight, "Sugarpop, stop!"

"We were so close!" He now literally put his head on the steering wheel, suddenly getting quiet, "So close."

The megaphone startled them; "Mr. Desert Wolf and Ms. Sugar High!" Carmine lifted his glance to the older man holding the megaphone in one hand and the shotgun in the other, "Step out of the vehicle before we make you get out!"

Carmine watched as another man walked toward the older one, speaking with him for a moment before taking the megaphone as well, "Carmine!" He stopped, grimacing at the voice he had heard on the phone a few hours before.

"This is your last chance," He continued, a surprising calmness in his voice "Step out of the car"

Now it was Marrissa who was beginning to get anxious, her hands visibly shaking as she gripped Carmine for dear life, "W-What do we do? Baby, I'm getting scared."

Carmine looked down at the weapon in his grasp. The idea of launching an offensive against the police was near suicide, and the fact that Nick was one of the men in the crowd did nothing to ease that thought. He didn't want to hurt him--not again.

He looked over at his lover who shook, awaiting his leadership. He couldn't handle the idea of going to jail and being separated from her for the rest of his life--even if it meant that he would have to give his own up. If they were together in the afterlife, wouldn't that be just like the life in the clouds she wanted anyway?

His words were as soft as his blackened heart, "I told you they'd never take us alive, right?"

It took a few moments for the words to process, and then Marrissa smiled. She leaned forward as Carmine did the same, their lips meeting for one last embrace. She never wanted to leave his strong arms again, and she hoped that soon she wouldn't have to.

Pulling away reluctantly, Carmine opened the front door, gripping his gun with one hand and holding Marrissa's with the other. She followed through the other door, holding her tommy gun. They pushed the door shut and stood in front of it. Marrissa lifted the hand holding the tommy gun in the air; Carmine lifted his hand holding his own gun, however the hands connecting them as one never broke apart.

Nick was reluctant with his next words, "Put your weapons down," When there was no movement, he snarled, "I SAID PUT YOUR WEAPONS DOWN!"

Their weapons didn't come down but forward, pointing at the group of officers as the both of them shared a loving look before pulling the trigger. Smoke billowed in the sky as gunshots rang across the barren desert land. Vermillion pools formed around the police cruisers as Carlson and Nick both took one in the shoulder. Some of them tried to move behind their cover, but only a small amount succeeded as blood splattered against the blue and white vehicles.

The surprise attack had done nothing to stop the inevitable, however, as the officers quickly regained their bearings, "FIRE!" Carlson yelled from the ground as Carmine and Marrissa stood together. The blistering bullets cut into the two, filling them with lead as they fell back against the hood of the car. Within seconds, they had met the fate they chose.

It was shorter than they had envisioned; within 15 seconds half of the police force on the scene and two criminals were dead. Their guns lay empty on the ground as the rest of them got their bearings.

Nick checked the bodies of his fellow comrades, shaking his head in shame. “They didn’t have to die,” He muttered to himself.

He moved slowly to the two corpses aside from the rest, clutching his shoulder that was spilling with crimson blood. The car, now dented and stained, was totalled after multiple bullets pierced the hood and the engine. He looked down at this man, one that he used to consider a brother, now reduced to a mess of holes. A lone tear ran down the length of his face, coalescing at his cheek and colliding with the asphalt below. The sunny sky had become a cloudy day, marking the mood.

Carlson trotted up behind him solemnly, placing a hand on his shoulder and squeezing, “I’m sorry, bud,” He said, “We did what we had to do.”

Nick nodded, turning over his shoulder to his longtime partner and friend, “I know, man,” He exhaled shakily, “I know.”

There was a monumental silence before Nick looked back to the two bodies. Carlson broke it with a scoff, crossing his arms, “Hmph...see that?”

Nick blinked, “What?”

“They’re still holding hands.”

ErrorBlender
11-16-2017, 06:07 AM
Romance Part II

Von and Andrea
by Smile

Why did she have to be a Jehovah’s Witness? The question that Von routinely thought to himself every Sunday came to his mind right on schedule.

Exactly six months have elapsed since she first knocked on his door. When he was asked from the other side if he could spare five minutes to hear about the one and true Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, he was already trying to remember the line from the movie Kingsman: Secret Service in the church scene about hailing Satan. This was going to be his first time having to deal with a door-to-door “missionary”, so he couldn’t hold back his grin. He didn’t even get the chance to say that he’s a Catholic whore when he saw the vividly hazel eyes of the woman standing on his porch.

The only thing he remembered about her introduction was that her name is Andrea. Her head reached only the height of his shoulders, but even with her small stature, her voice still sounded slightly deep and smooth. The silky sound of every word she uttered felt almost tangible as if it enveloped his whole body in cashmere, her striking gaze served as the thread and needle, and her entire presence gave him a feeling of wearing a sweater made of pure warmth and love.

Then out of the stream of indistinct sounds that poured out of the woman’s mouth, the woman he let into his home and sit on his couch and drink his tea, was a phrase he couldn’t ignore. It would be a shame if your soul perishes in the Armageddon…

Like a scissor, the woman cut apart Von’s fantasy. It didn’t take long for him to interrupt the lecture and profess his lack of belief. He knew then, as he still knew six months later, he didn’t want the foolishness that is religion polluting his life, and nobody can change that.

-------------------------------------


“Okay so I’ve done more research and I can now properly answer you as to why God is different from your Flying Spaghetti Monster.”

Von couldn’t reply with anything but a subtle chuckle. It’s been like this every time. Conversations that begin with how the last one ended. Conclusions that were arrived at from something completely different. To be fair, she was more well-informed than what he imagined, but it wasn’t really that extraordinary of an achievement. Had this session been from the first couple of months, Von would have had his arms crossed, had his shoe tapping on the floor, and had his eyebrows furrowed. He didn’t realize how, somewhere in the middle, he started looking forward to the 3PM of every Sunday and talk about a topic that he so passionately despises. After all, who wouldn’t hate that which has caused multiple conflicts and war? He guessed it was more fun to mess with a zealot than he anticipated, especially someone this attractive.

“But that’s my point! How can your God even claim to have given free will when everyone’s required to use it in a certain way? That’s completely missing the point of giving free will in the first place.” Von said, the conversation having entirely moved on from Pastafarianism.

“We’re not required to use it in a certain way. He just has a plan for us that will make us happy, and as a form of appreciation for his benevolence, we celebrate him. Don’t you thank a person and give her deserved praise when she helps you generously in a time of need?” Andrea wasn’t going to back down from Von’s tone, akin from one that a chess player says when he says “checkmate.”

“So basically, fate?” Von leaned back on the backrest of his couch, raising an eyebrow as he replied.

“So you don’t believe that fate exists too? What do you believe?” Andrea spoke out of genuine incredulity and curiosity.

“I believe only in logic,” Von said with pride.

“I can’t imagine being happy believing only in logic”, Andrea supposed, a sound of pity now coated the woman’s words.

Von didn’t know what to say; he was stunned at the statement. It was an incredibly stupid sentiment, he thought, and yet he felt like it had some truth to it. What he thought and what he felt usually coincided, but this time, they didn’t, and with a lack of words he just sat there and looked at her. The silence that occurred seemed to have stopped the passage of time in the room. During perhaps this couple of seconds of nothing happening but him looking at her, and her looking at him, were a couple of seconds too much until Von fell into the world of what-ifs. What would she have looked like had she not been raised in a family of what he assumes to be a bunch of ignorant radicals? Would she still sport hairbands that expose her face more? Would her long, black hair still end on her thighs and would she still have it go over her right shoulder and on her lap every time she sat? Would she still look in the eye the person who loathes a big majority of everything she believes in and, whenever she can, still flash him the hearty smile that Von hates to love?

Andrea, on the other hand, seemed to have spent this pause thinking about what she said, since with a tone of immediate regret, she broke the silence by saying, “Oh no I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to sound patronizing. I’m sure you’re able to be happy. I just mean like… I think it’s just not for me.”

“No, no, it’s fine. I can’t believe you’d think I’d be offended by that, after all the things we disagree on,” Von snickered as he spoke. “Why do you think you won’t be happy when you’re completely logical?”

“Well I mean obviously, the fact that many things that I believe in, things that make me feel a certain empowerment, aren’t exactly observable through the scientific process means that I don’t really have an option to be completely logical. It’s good to be logical in a lot of things, but for me to claim that I’m completely logical would be hypocritical of me.”

“That’s the smartest thing you’ve ever said.” Von was fascinated that, unlike many other religious people, she realized how those two things, logic and faith, would be consistent with each other.

“Hey! I know you think I’m just some bible thumper that functions only as someone to spread what you call ‘poison to the mind’…”

“Haha! Yes I do, actually.” Von interrupted with a laugh.

“But I do other things, things where I have to apply logic. I wouldn’t have made it to my last year in my university if I argued the existence of the soul to my Biology instructor.”

There haven’t been any other Jehovah’s Witness that he’s ever talked to except Andrea, so Von didn’t know if she was actually a more liberal kind, or they’re just not as brain dead as he thought. He didn’t even know she went to a university.

“I think this isn’t something that I should say, but I don’t dedicate all of myself to being religious because I think that personally it wouldn’t make me as happy as I am now. So I guess it just kind of surprises me that someone else dedicates himself fully to being logical.” Andrea continued, sound much less than what she used to.

“Well to be completely honest, I think you’re right.” Von responded, surprising Andrea. It was the first time he told her she was right. He bowed his head and looked at the floor, contemplating past experiences. “I mean, I’m not saying I’m actually a really sad person, but I don’t think I’m as happy as I could be because of my faithfulness to logic. A lot of things don’t really function completely logically, and the best example is people. I’ve had many relationships ruined by how I expect others to see the world as I do, and I guess I admit that this made me kind of alone.”

For the first time, Andrea saw something more from the man whose she had been visiting more than some of her closest friends. The man who donned an impenetrable armor of complete reason, has now shown her his vulnerability. She got off her seat and walked across to where Von was, and she sat next to him.

“I can’t pretend that I know how you’re feeling; I don’t. But I do know that you’re a person capable of finding companionship. I mean, I’m pretty sure you hate me but you’re been nothing but hospitable to me. Sure you’re a little snarky and some people might not like that, but really all you need to do is put yourself out there and I’m sure you’ll find someone that would be willing to know you better despite whatever faults you might have.” Andrea consoled the worldly man with words that stemmed from something deeper than her faith, but from her affection for the man.

Von didn’t think he needed a pep-talk, but he smiled when he realized that he did indeed felt more cheerful.

He caught a glimpse of the watch he’s wearing, and realized that the hour is almost over.

“Why do you keep coming here? You’re never going to convince me”, Von blurted; whether to keep her from leaving too soon, or he’s legitimately curious, or for another matter, he didn’t exactly know. “Well because God wouldn’t want me to give up on you”, Andrea replied after a moment of thought, punctuating her sentence with a shy smile.

They were now both looking at each other, the distance between them being smaller than ever before; not only in physical distance but also in their feelings for each other. There sparked a connection, much like a magnet to metal, as the gaze of the former wouldn’t pull away from the gaze of the latter. The mutual attraction between the two people from two far sides of the spectrum seemed to have an effect on their senses as everything else seemed to vanish and they could see only the person they’re facing. The ticking of the clock faded away and was replaced by the sound of the single beat of the two hearts in the room that found each other and understood. Gravity began to fail as they both floated in the mostly unknown, but begged to be understood universe inside each other’s eyes. Their lips began to signal the other, and moved in a synchronized manner.

“I should go.”

“You should go.”

The sentences began and ended at the same time, a coincidence that surprised neither Von nor Andrea. The former, trying to salvage the situation, said, “It’s almost four and I wouldn’t want you to be late for…” Von didn’t know if she actually had to do anything, much less late for it.

“Yes of course. I have to go do the… umm… go back to church.” Andrea, trying to disguise her emotions with hurry, a disguise that wouldn’t have fooled an old blind man, stood up and took her handbag and an envelope she had with her.

The clock struck 4:05 when Andrea was on Von’s doorstep, saying her goodbye and thanking him for taking the time to listen. Von’s hour-long weekly entertainment was done for today.

He looked at her as she walked away from his porch. Before that Sunday, they followed a routine. Andrea would come, they would disagree, Von would walk her to the door, and then she would leave. Often times, Von would then stare at her back, watching the scrunchie that joined the ends of her hair strands together dangle from left to right across the width of her buttocks. He would then tell himself the same half-joke half-fear that she was actually a psychologist, and he was in a constant state of hypnosis induced by the swinging of her hair.

Sometimes, there was no scrunchie, sometimes she showed herself out, but it was mostly a consistent routine. Von knew, however, that after the afternoon, it would no longer be the case. Yet, knowing that, he still finished the routine by feeling a pang of loneliness when he got back inside his house and closed the door. It was the most constant part, and also the most recent addition to the sequence. For a brief moment, he looked around and imagined everything surrounding him moved further away to gossip about him, as if they’ve gained consciousness and are completely aware of everything he’s thinking and feeling.

-------------------------------------

A few meters away from Von’s residence walked a woman possessing a refined gait that gives an air of nobility. This grace she had with her movement, however, was betrayed by the expression on her face, one which clearly tells of an inner turmoil. In her eyes is a storm of confusion; pointing straight but focusing on nothing.

Andrea was in a whirlwind. She had committed an unholy trinity. The first of which is that she, again, felt like Von had pulled her closer to his world. For six months, she was slowly losing the threads that bound her to her faith. Researching deeper into the religion to address Von’s concerns has given her a new level of comprehension, not only with faith but also the religion itself and its history. And the more profound her understanding became, the more her beliefs began to slowly turn abstract. The arguments against her beliefs that she once easily dismissed as the confusion caused by the venom of the devilish serpent gradually garnered foundations in her mind and in her heart, enough that she simply can no longer turn a blind eye to it. Her faith that bridged her to God has started to shake; its steel beams now show spots of rust and the whole structure began swaying with the wind.

The second of the trinity is how she cannot bring herself to hate the one who shook up her belief. The one who she was trying to convince, who has been mostly pleasant company, is doing something that she would normally attribute to the work of the devil – and yet, try as she might, she wouldn’t feel any contempt or even a slight irritation. Nothing Von uttered were deliberately offensive, he never resorted to insults nor use condescending tone, and was very patient in listening.

Half a year was a long time, and the span of time was long enough for Von to inflict some damage to the religious side of Andrea. So as Andrea paced further away from the house that she once called a church for the damned, she again felt a heavy throb in her heart. The conflict of what she should feel, to what she is feeling, made her almost want to never return. In fact, she thought she shouldn’t have returned after many of her visits.

It was what completed the unholy trinity, however, that kept her coming back. Before, she wouldn’t admit it, but what happened in that session confirmed it – she wanted to be closer to him. Being friends with a non-believer is not something she should be doing if she doesn’t want to be excommunicated, but she took it further and even had an almost romantic moment. What stopped her, however, is that while she was looking at him, she could read what Von was thinking. She knew that Von didn’t feel the same way, and she only said she had to go because she had to save herself the embarrassment of even going further. The fact that she was willing to kiss him was enough for her to cover her face with her hands as if to hide from whatever it was that made her feel shame. Shame, however, is an internal enemy that cannot be escaped from.

But she was right when she said that God wouldn’t want her to give up on him. All she had to do was stop thinking about it, research more arguments that would convince Von that God wouldn’t let him feel alone, and that would be that. So it can only be imagined how she felt when, one week later, she knocked on the door and saw someone else open it. She got extra prepared for this meeting, only to hear that the house has been bought for a few months now but it was just last Monday that this stranger and his family moved in.


-------------------------------------


It has been exactly five years since then. Even with the length of time, his time with Andrea was still someone that Von fondly recalled, and a lot more frequently now, in his current state. He now lived in a 25 square meter apartment that had little in it apart from the basic appliances that would sustain the living of a man: in the middle was a table with a personal computer sitting on it, a bed next to the only window of the room, a couch facing a small TV, and in a corner were a fridge and a stove. The room had no compartments, so it was lit only by the sunlight by day, and by a single fluorescent bulb by night.

It was 2:30 PM, and he was lying still on his bed. He was staring at the ceiling, like usually does this time of Sundays, listening to the music he’s playing on his computer through a speaker. His favorite song was playing: “Sunday Candy” by Chance the Rapper and other people that Von couldn’t care for. He has a cold, and his nose is clogged with mucous, but he refused to blow it until after the song finished. Listening to a great song then having the experience muddled is something that irritates him.

The song finished and was followed by two more songs by The Social Experiment before his door opened and a woman’s head peeked through.

“How are you feeling?” The woman said, her light wrinkles and strands of white hair showing her age.

“Still sick, Aunt Catalina. Also, are you sure you don’t want me to pay rent for this room? I’m not broke.” Von said, his inability to exhale through his nose soiled his voice.

“No, no. Keep it. You can stay here for as long as you like. It’s the least I could do.” Aunt Catalina said in a melancholic tone, briefly reminiscing a sad memory. “By the way,” she continued, “you didn’t want to go to the hospital so I got you a personal nurse!”

“Wait what? Are you serious?” Von said, in the way of lethargic surprise that is characteristic to a sick person. “It’s just a common cold!”

“Yes, but even so, you still need to be taken care of. You don’t eat right and you don’t talk to anyone anymore. I really want to be the one to take care of you, but I can’t really manage my hotels if I’m always in this one.” Aunt Catalina answered, truly apologetic. “Come in, young lady.”

Aunt Catalina opened the door fully and gestured for someone hidden from view to enter. Von’s shock at seeing Andrea dressed up as a nurse successfully got him to sit up, and the song “Familiar” from The Social Experiment’s album on playing on shuffle started. Von found the last minute to be the most eerie of his whole life.

“I found a pretty one for you.” Aunt Catalina followed with a wink, misunderstanding the surprise that Von clearly felt. “Anyways, I’ll have to go now, so you kids get to know each other yourselves.

Aunt Catalina closed the door as she went to wherever she had to be, leaving Von and Andrea alone in a small room.

“I’ll say it: I liked your old house better.” Andrea spoke first. The lack of surprise in her tone, and the smile she had on her face had Von think that she clearly intended for this to happen.

“Yeah well I sold it.”

“I know.”

“So you came after that Sunday?”

“I did.”

“I’m sorry for that. I imagine you must be mad. Please understand that I had to do it.”

“Well I was angry.” Andrea walked to the computer chair and sat, facing Von.

“You’re not angry now?”

“Well I cried on the doorstep when I went back, so they took me in the house and they told me what happened.”

“The Faultners told you?”

“That you had to sell your house because your grandmother’s sickness was worsening and you had to pay for a lot of hospital bills so you sold the house? Yeah they did.”

“Well, there’s more to the story.” Von wanted to come clean, as this is what he decided he should do if he ever met her again. “She was a Catholic. Both my parents were gone when I was still a kid, so she was the one who raised me. She’s a very kind person. She told me she became a Catholic because she thought she could help more people by being one. Grandma actually helped Aunt Catalina back then when she needed money, which is why she’s letting me stay here now because she felt indebted to my grandma and knows that I was the one who took care of her.

“Grandma raised me as Catholic too. At first it was fine, but she started to become too devoted. Of course, I didn’t think there was such a thing as “too devoted,” so I just let it happen. Apparently, she had liver cirrhosis, but didn’t want to get to a doctor and instead chose to pray it away. The day I knew is the day I became the person you talked to for six months.” Von, even with his mucous-riddled voice, told his story.

“I guessed as much. I asked around about her, and everything you said is consistent with what they told me about her.”

“Wow then I guess you know everything now.”

“I actually still don’t know why you didn’t tell me.”

Von hesitated, thinking about the right words to say. “I guess I was just unsure about how I felt back then. I didn’t know what we were. Were we friends, colleagues, I didn’t know if I had the obligation to tell you. And I guess I’m just bad at saying goodbye.”

“Okay. Well here I am now. I wanted to be here at 3PM but if that didn’t happen then we wouldn’t be talking now while ‘Familiar’ is playing.”

“Yeah, the song’s surprisingly in context.”

“You do know that the song is about how a lot of girls look typical?”

“No I didn’t mean it like that. I didn’t know you even knew the song. I just thought you heard the hook. Wait, you’re allowed to listen to rap music with curse words?”

“Let’s just say I got my ass fucking excommunicated.” Andrea replied, unfolding another surprise for Von.

“What? How did that happen?”

“Well I started to be as annoying as you about everything and then I told them that I didn’t want to be a J. W. anymore. Of course my family shunned me and I haven’t spoken to my friends and family for like two years now.”

“Wait are you okay? You’re an atheist now?”

“Yeah I’m doing fine. I have work and I have new friends, so it’s cool. Also, I still kind of believe in God, just that I don’t think if I say bad words that insults nobody or if I listen to rap songs, God would condemn me.”

“Wow. Well that’s good.”

“I still believe in fate, too.”

“Well you would convince me that what’s happening here is fate if you acted a bit more surprised when you saw me. I think you had all of this arranged.”

“Well John was the one who told me that your aunt was looking for a personal nurse, so I guess it is kind of arranged. I wasn’t sure if it was you that needed it though, so there’s still a bit of chance that happened in there.”

“John? You mean Mister John Faultner? You’re friends with them?”

“Yeah. I can’t believe you don’t talk to them, they’re really nice people.”

“It’s not that I don’t talk to them. I just don’t talk to anyone anymore.”

“Well I’m here for you to talk to, although I don’t think being your personal nurse is going to stay a valid reason to come here for long.”

Von realized that this was true. Hell, tomorrow he might be fine already, and she wouldn’t have to come and talk to him. He had to do something, to make a choice, much like what he made when he and Andrea were almost going to kiss. Back then he chose to stay away from her. But now, with everything that’s happened, he had in his mind a single thing.

“Well you can drink some coffee with me sometime.” Von asked.

“I’d like that.” Andrea replied.

The Princess
by Tsar Bomba
She is a princess.

Our unclothed bodies lay still under the same silk cover. A thin hand resting on my chest, she sleeps. I stare at her; I cannot stop. Even during slumber, her beauty is unmatched. Such a delicate state, such lovely golden hair. I love her.

Bare, I slide from the bed. Careful. I don’t want to wake her. She looks so precious when she sleeps. Not even the sun dares to wake her, the morning glow creeps into the bedroom with hesitance. How dare it disturb such a magnificent scene? It won’t. No one would. It can’t. She will never wake up.

The ring rests too. On the bedside table, the silver glistens. A blue stone, lapis lazuli he said, embedded in the center. Oh, how I despise that ring–despised it. It doesn’t matter anymore. It means nothing now. I pluck it from the nightstand and walk to the balcony.

I drop it.

No, not drop. Throw. I throw it as hard as my arm will allow. I watch it travel from the top of the castle walls to the very bottom. I cannot see it anymore. I hope it shattered against the cobblestone. I wish it to be in pieces, the smallest possible.

A breeze chills me, it is icy and cruel. Winter has arrived. How tragic.

The bedroom door creaks open, and I know that I am finished. For I am a servant, and she, a princess.


* * *

“On the streets?” She looks at me, a sincere curiosity lies within her thoughtful eyes.

I nod, letting my gaze fall to the ground, “Yes, m’lady. Before your father came along, the kingdom was quite cruel to me.”

We walk through the courtyard. It is vast and colorful. The leaves of the trees have turned to warm oranges and vibrant yellows. I have always loved the fall season. My only qualm with autumn is that it leads to the winter. I loathe the cold.

“How did you get food? Where did you stay?” Her voice is gentle, soft.

“I’d rather not say, m’lady.”

“Why’s that?”

“I’m frightened that you might have me imprisoned.”

She laughs. An enchanting sound. “Why would I do such a thing?”

“Well,” I pause, like a fool would, “My methods weren’t… within the law.”

“You stole food, then? Trespassed?”

I say nothing.

“You needn’t be so cautious around me,” she stops walking and rests a hand on my shoulder, “You, of all people, should know that I can keep a secret…”

I kiss her, but she quickly pulls away. I frown. I don’t want to frown in the presence of my love, but I cannot help it. I stare at her, confused, frustrated. No, not frustrated. I could never be upset at my princess. I was afraid. Had she stopped loving me?

“Someone could see…” She explains.

I understand, relieved. I had done something foolish; I apologize.

She pardons my idiocy, smiling, “Tell me more about your life, before you were a servant.”

I tell her everything.


* * *

My admiration for the dining hall is momentarily dulled by the scraping of silverware. The sound overshadowed the expensive furniture. The decorations, lovely as they are, were hardly noticeable–but only for a moment. The king was cutting his steak and the knife slid across the plate. It wasn’t his fault, but the sound still upset me. I am disgruntled.

A simple glance at the princess assuages me. Our gazes meet for the briefest of seconds, then she looks away. I contain my excitement within the confines of a polite smile.

Silence.

I stand behind the king along with a few other servants. It is quiet until his highness speaks, “Another suitor will be joining us tomorrow.”

The princess looks up from her meal.

“I know, I know…” He waves his hand in dismissal, an appalling gesture.

She speaks through clenched teeth, “If you knew what I wanted, then you wouldn’t put me in such a position.”

The king slams his fist on the tabletop. His sudden anger unsettles the others, and I feel my insides twist. “Put you in such a position?!” He exhales, “Child, these are how things are. You are of age to marry. Would you rather I reverse time?”

“If it would be rid of the suitors, then yes! I’d rather have you turn back time! I’d rather die than marry a man I hardly know!”

“I HAVE NO SON!” The king screams again, trembling, “No queen… All I have is you, and my kingdom… And having you marry is the only way that I may keep both.”

The princess stands and storms out of the dining hall. This conversation almost always plays out the same way. The other servants say nothing, neither does his majesty. I feel like I am the only one who understands. I retreat into the kitchen before chasing after my love. She marches toward her bedroom door; I catch her in the hallway.

The princess wraps her arms around me and we stand, motionless. Her forehead rests on my chest. Slipping a finger under her chin, I lift her head. Streams of tears clutter her features. With a gentle hand, I brush them away. I want to console her, but I can’t offer any words of comfort. Her beauty has left me speechless once more.

We kiss.

I am unable to discern whether she kissed me, or I kissed her. It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters except for her. Walking backwards, she guides me into her bedroom.


* * *

He arrives in an elaborate carriage.

I greet him, and hold the door open as he enters.

“What a delightful castle…” he remarks.

I say nothing and close the door.

Frowning, the princess holds the arm of her father. The pair stands at the top of the stairs, looking down at the man who just entered. The king leads his daughter down the stairs to meet her suitor. Quickly, the prince takes her hand, planting a kiss on the back of it. I can’t stop myself from shaking.

“I must say, m’lady,” the prince’s expression contorts into a grin, “You are lovelier than I could’ve possibly imagined.”

“You must not be very imaginative, then.” She retorts, pulling her hand away.

The prince’s smile falters and he reaches into his pocket, “I bring a gift.” He produces a shimmering ring. Silver, with a blue stone embedded in the precious metal. “Lapis lazuli,” he explains, holding it out for my love.

After a subtle nudge from her father, the princess takes the ring. Sliding it onto her finger. She glances at it, “It’s beautiful. Thank you.”

“Well now!” The king slings his arms around the both of them, “How about something to eat?”

He marches them up the stairs. I try to catch a glance from my love, but she doesn’t look back at me.

I am alone.


* * *

Ever since that prince arrived, the topic of marriage no longer comes up at dinner. For so long, I prayed that the king had stopped pressuring his daughter to marry… but that would be foolish. It was she that stopped protesting. I know it. She wears that ring on her lovely hand, parading around the castle with it coiled around her finger. I bet she does it on purpose, to mock me, to show that a lowly servant could never provide her with such a wonderful piece of jewelry.

My love wasn’t enough, I suppose.

No, no, no! How could I think such a thing? She loves me–or, at least, she wants to–it is the king that’s forcing her to marry that man. That arrogant man, thinking he can waltz into a castle and take whatever he pleases. All the rings in the world will never win her heart. Her heart belongs to me, and mine to her.

I know exactly what I’ll do.


* * *

I walk the prince into the dining hall. I can hardly contain my excitement. He had been to dinner many times, but this would be his last.

The princess and the king sit at the table already, greeting the prince as he takes a seat beside my love. I try to meet her gaze, but her eyes don’t find mine.

They make idle conversation as I walk out of the dining hall and into the kitchen. I tuck my hand into my jacket, caressing the vial it holds. Poison. This would be the prince’s last dinner, indeed.

The cooks are hard at work, putting the finishing touches on tonight's meal. I receive a few curious glances, however, most are too busy to notice me. I have no interest in the food. I watch the drinks.

Three chalices, a bottle of wine, and water for the princess, all sit on a tray. That’s why it is such a brilliant plan: the princess doesn’t have a taste for wine. I’ve watched her eat a thousand times and she always prefers water with her meals. Always. Oh, what a brilliant plan. Soon she’ll have me again. My love, my sweet. Nothing will keep us apart, not my class and certainly not some arrogant prince with a ring.

I make sure no one sees, and empty the vial into the bottle. Quickly, I slide the empty container into my pocket again. I lift the tray and walk back out into the dining hall. How could I keep from smiling?

I set the tray down, placing the chalices before the drinkers. Wine for the prince. Wine for the king. I feel sorry for his majesty, he doesn’t need to die. But in the end, his death will be his own fault. There wouldn’t be a prince to be rid of in the first place if it weren’t for the old man’s obsession with arranged marriage! Oh, but my poor love. She’ll be heartbroken over her father’s death–too late now. I will mend her heart myself. In the end everything will be fine. Everything will be perfect.

Water for the princess.

One final time, I try to look into the eyes of my love, but she avoids my gaze.

I take my place behind the king, beside the other servants, and wait. I watch as his majesty raises his chalice, a toast. They all drink. The prince, the king, and the princess. I am elated.

Dinner carries on as usual. Idle chatter. The wine bottle is almost empty. The king and prince are buoyant. At least their final moments will be cheerful.

The prince turns, “Princess, wanna help us finish the bottle?”

I allow a smile to crease my lips. The fool doesn’t even know that she dislikes the taste of wine.

“I’m not much of a drinker,” the princess explains, gracefully. She tries to maintain her politeness while clearly disgusted by the drunken imbecile.

The king chimed in, “My dear, it’s a special occasion! You’re to be married soon!”

I feel my expression contort, then soften again. What perfect timing I have. If I had waited, or hesitated at all… my love might’ve been stolen away to some other kingdom. The thought of it makes me sick. I want to see the men die now. Nothing would bring me greater pleasure than-

“I suppose you’re right…” the princess shrugged, “One drink never hurt anybody.”

I feel my heart pound in my chest. I am frozen. The prince pours the rest of the wine into my love’s empty chalice. I open my mouth to protest, but terror has robbed me of my speech. I reach out a hand… but go unnoticed.

This princess sips from her drink, then looks at me. Confused at my expression, she raises an eyebrow, “Is everything alright?”

The king turns in his chair, the prince stares at me. All eyes watch me as I adjust my coat. I feel a burning in my throat, in my eyes. I should confess. I must confess and beg for forgiveness. A knot-like sensation manifests in my stomach, creeping around my body and soaking into my skin, causing it to tighten. I can’t move. I must confess.

“Yes, m’lady.” I say, “Everything is fine.”


* * *

When I entered her room at night, I was well aware that my love would be sleeping.

Motionless, bare beneath the silk covers she slept. I disrobed and joined her in the bed. Gently, I took her hand. It was cold, I felt the icy touch as I placed it on my chest.

Beside us, the ring sits on the bedside table, glistening in the moonlight. It doesn’t matter anymore. It means nothing now. I don’t bother looking at it… what a waste it would be to not give my full attention to the beauty laying beside me. I stare at her; I cannot stop. Even during slumber, her beauty is unmatched. Such a delicate state, such lovely golden hair. I love her.

I watch her until exhaustion takes me, hoping that when I wake she’ll still be beside me. In my broken heart, I know that she will be.

She will never wake up.

Brand New World
by _Ai_
I open my eyelids slowly. Though at first my vision is blurry, it cleared up in no time, and view of a clear, blue sky enters my eyes. The grass gently rubs against my skin, giving me a sense of serenity. A question popped into my mind as I lifted my body up; where am I?
I press my temples, trying hard to remember what I did before I got here… but to no avail. Giving up, I scan my surroundings to try and find out where I am. A luscious, green forest was the host to my sleep and a lake with the clearest water I’ve seen lay nearby. Seeing the lake rouses my throat; I want to take a sip of it.
As I make my way to the lake, I am greeted with a sight of a girl near the edge of the lake. Long golden hair that reflects the hair’s shine… it is a mesmerizing sight. It wasn’t long until I noticed that she is actually naked, and is taking a bath.
At that moment, our eyes met.

How long have I wandered around…? I don’t know where I am, and there’s not a single soul to be seen here. Sure the scenery’s great, but being stuck in the middle of nowhere alone is discomforting. My feet’s hurting, and my throat’s parched… my body’s all sweaty too. How I wish there was a--- ah! A lake. Lucky~
The lake is very pretty; its water is crystal clear. The cool water heals my throat as I scoop them up with my hands. Stripping my clothes off, I slowly sink into the water. Ah… this is nice. I let my hair loose, letting them soak the water. I close my eyes as I let the water’s chilly sensation take over me.
After a while, I open my eyes… and is greeted by a figure of a teenage boy, staring right through me. Our eyes met. I froze.


“So uh… hi.” I said as an icebreaker. I wish I’m better at socializing.
This situation is bad, isn’t it? It’s real awkward. I rapidly apologized while she dashed towards a tree, grabbing her set of cloths while she does. A few minutes later, a stuttered “I-It’s o-okay now…” which was barely audible.
After we both properly met each other, we sat down near the lake… not much conversation to be had, though it seems like she’s itching to say a few words to me, though she’s not saying it for reason.
My conversation starter isn’t exactly the best either. She replied with raising her hand and waving and that’s it. Alright, let’s try that agai-
“Do you know where we are right now?” She asks, her voice trembling. Her face as she said it was fearful, yet determined.
I was taken aback for a bit but I caught myself and replied with a “No… I have no idea.”
She sullenly says “I see…” and hangs her head. The atmosphere reverted into its’ former solemnness. I muster up my courage at a last attempt on a conversation.
“Hey, have you seen anyone? Well, besides me.” I inquired.
She shakes her head. “No… not a soul. I’ve no idea why I am here or how I got here. “
“Same goes with me.” I wish I could say more than such a reply.
“I figured.” She unveils a smirk, though only for a split second. She appears a lot less stiff now, which relieves me. “Stranded in the middle of nowhere with no one around, it’s… really disheartening.”
“How about we adventure together?” Standing up, I hold my hand out to her. “Who knows? Maybe we’ll find someone else, or get to know wherever we are? Nothing will happen if we only sit around in one place.”
“Yes.” She accepts my hand.
***
“Hey, by the way…” Her eyes darting around, trying to look at me only to avert her gaze the moment after, “P-please forget what happened just now…” her face red with embarrassment.
Oh no. That’s gonna be hard to forget… though I didn’t actually get to see anything, the very sight of her back then was mesmerizing enough. “I’ll…. try.”
“Please do your hardest.”
***
As we ventured the unknown land, we introduced ourselves. The boy’s name is Adam, whilst mine’s Eve. We came across many exciting and exotic things, such as a pretty flower… that detonates when a butterfly comes into contact with it. I shrieked, but when I see Adam going “oooohh” and “aaaahh”, trying to cover his fear, I laughed. It was very amusing to see him react as such.
We came across a pack of sort-of monkeys. They were different from the norm, having an extra pair of hands and a tail with a mouth at the end of it. At first we are wary of them, but with them dancing around us harmlessly we came to like them. They (obviously) couldn’t talk instead they lead us out of the forest and to a very vast plain. We waved them goodbye as they went back into the forest, their home.

Night came, and we set up camp near a river. There was a unique rainbow which has different set of colors instead of the normal one, and is constantly changing. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve laid my eyes on. I sneaked a glance on him only to find out he’s doing the same. Our eyes met, and for a moment we stared into each other’s eyes, only for us to tear our gazes away at the same time. I can feel my heart beating rapidly… I wonder why.
As dawn arrives, hunger caught up to us. It’s to be expected, really, since we haven’t ate anything since yesterday. We continue to trek the field, but our stamina was slowly being drained away by hunger. We were at our limits when we saw an absurdly high beanstalk, reaching out to the skies. On its’ branches was beans. We ate them without hesitation, uncaring whether it’s actually edible or not. We were too hungry to care.
***
How many days have we been walking? Or is it weeks? Months? I don’t know. There was never a way for us to know the date other than using the sun and the moon. Supposedly there’s a way using the stars to know the date, but hell if I know.
On our journey we have encountered new things that I never thought existed or can exist. It’s like a world right out of a fantasy world. We have yet to see anyone or make any sense out of this place, though we did came across ancient ruins. There was nothing to be found inside of it other than sheeps at the size of cats. Eve persisted that we take one with us, and so we did. We called the small sheep, Aeon and so far it has been good company.
It feels like we’ve already explored the entire world, with the exception of one; the hill in front of us. Beyond it may be the end of our journey; we may be able to know where we are, or if there’s anyone living in this world besides to two of us. Or maybe there’s nothing beyond it. The thought of any of the two options scare me; I want this moment to last.
***
“Hey, Adam.” She calls out to me.
I answer, “Yeah?” my gaze fixed on the hill before me.
“Let’s go beyond that hill.” Her voice full of hope, “To see what’s in hold for us. Together.”
“Indeed, Eve.” Intersecting out hand, I shifted my eyes to her as she met mine. “Together. I’ll be beside you, in happiness, in sorrow, in health, in pain, in death.”
“Yes.” She smiles.
We’ll be together…. Forever.


Moonlight
by TheOrganization
I own her and yet, I can’t have her.

Her body submits, her spirit submits, and yet still her heart resists.

Could I have erred somewhere?

The pale radiance that lit the room as she sat amongst the window still scattered from her delicate sun-kissed skin. Battle-hardened and yet flawless, every scar, a tome of discovery, dedication, and delightfulness.

Yet this creature of beauty and elegance was filled with nothing but fury and hatred. Her eyes, cold steel, had become deceptive, devious, burning with an invisible heat. Betrayed by her family and friends, her country and king, is it any wonder why she curses them in her sleep? And yet she shackles herself here with me, in spite of everything, despite her hatred of me, despite the removal of her shackles. Instead, she binds herself, donning the chains of oath, of obligation, as though she were still their sacrifice. Does she still believe that? Or is she punishing herself?

She didn’t scream, not at first anyway, but she never fought back. Perhaps, she hates herself most of all. She begged me to continue, even when I brought her to the brink, and yet I always thought it cowardly. She could have taken her own life, she certainly could have taken my own, and I’ve given her every opportunity.

I remember when, in a haze of rage, cold steel upon my throat, she had defeated me. Had one asked me then or even now, I would have sworn she’d have my head. Straddling me without hesitation, the pressure was ceaseless and enduring, I could barely breathe. Her hands were unflinching, calm like the soldier she used to be, like the veteran she was. But for what seemed like hours, we remained together in an embrace of death, locked in eternal conflict. The blade was dull however, nothing more than a decorative trinket, much like how her superiors treated her fealty.

When I awoke, she was perched upon the windowsill once more, basking in the stars. I asked her why she had spared me; I was sure that once free she would slay me in the same manner I had done her brethren. Pale, plump lips spoke softly, “My hate, that’s all I have. You can’t…take that away from me, not anymore.”

I’ve always desired those lips, I’ve watched them from afar, I’ve taken them by force, but never has she given them to me of her own accord. Truly, the only prize I’ve ever striven for. To taste their sweetness without the salt of tears or the sting of blood, for that I’ve toppled empires. Her hair, dark and unkempt, tangled roots like the forest outside, just like when she was a child. She had cut it short for the war, to belie her jovial nature, to transform her free spirit and playfulness into courage and creativity. It had grown back fierce, wild, defiant, but built of the shards of her spirit, soft thorns that entangled her. They pricked me as I approached, the last bastion of her heart made impregnable, but like the moth to a flame it only drew me in further.

Perhaps I enjoy the chase. Even when she…when we we’re mere children I could say I lusted for her. The attraction then was more innocent, more innocuous, like the common cold. Overtime, it mutated, a fever who chilled my bones. I became sick without her, clawing at the walls like a desperate beast trying to reach the sunlight. Even then she knew as well, she knew my urgings, my fears, but she was afraid of them, afraid of her own heart. Strained, a glacier lurched in front of us. In its shadow, her light became nothing more than a figment.

But I still remembered. I longed for it, pleaded for it, and bleeded for it. I rose through the ranks of service in defense of my king and country. The showered me with baubles and trinkets: glory, women, gold, despite my humble origins I wanted for nothing. Oh how I despised them for it, but the fury in my heart was a simple flame, while the heat from her now scorches the sun.

Yet, I hungered for her.

I only joined to see her, as she had joined as well. But she was different, sweet, ripened. Perhaps, she had dismissed it as our childhood fancies. The closer we became, the father her heart was. She became proud of me, jealous of me, lustful of me, and adored me. Is it any wonder I was unfulfilled? Is it wrong to follow one’s heart, one’s feelings? Would you have done differently? Why I was so willing, and why it was so easy?

I destroyed it in an instant.

I cast aside honor, loyalty, King and Country, all meaningless, worthless notions that did nothing but strangle my passions. Suppressing my convictions to simply take what I want, damn the consequences. And I only wanted one thing.

It’s amazing how quickly human figment evaporate when he unbind our true natures. Community, selflessness, morality, all less real to me than the smell of blood and iron of the dirt of wars long since past. Even now, I can feel her chains burning away, her hate simply scorches civilization away, leaving nothing but the bare earth of humanity. Bare dead earth, cooked by flames so hot that it is indistinguishable from ash, grey as the remnants of corpses around my castle.

I have not changed her.

I’ve merely uncovered her true form. The calm warm façade decayed away into cold radiance, shining amongst me, the darkness. Her heart may never be mine, perhaps it never could be. Perhaps, it was its distance, ceaseless as I roamed the earth hands outstretched to the stars, that I adored the most. A gleaming white gem of purity adorning the sky.

I glanced at her once more, a solemn nightingale, her head raised to the infinite blackness, speckled with figments of light. Slowly, her gaze descended and dropped onto me.

Her eyes lit the night.

Damiana
03-20-2019, 06:35 AM
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