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Inner Demons

The key slipped effortlessly in to the lock, that was about the only effortless thing today. He lifted up on the handle and a little to the left to turn the key far enough that the deadbolt slid into the door and he was greeted by the darkness in his place. The small studio was awash with light, the furniture was sparse how he liked it and the surfaces were strewn with projects and half planned masterpieces of every stripe. The sink was full too, it could be modern art but only the most pretentious would grasp the dishes undone. He plopped down on to his only chair, a black leather recliner that was comfortable only when you knew which bits of cracked leather to avoid on the arm rests. A glass of water from the day before sat on the cinder block end table. He downed it and grimaced at it’s flatness and pulled out his wallet. He fished in its creases for the small tin foil package. Tyler had said this was good shit. He had heard that before. What dealer sells and says it’s anything but the best, it’s just bad for business. He searched for a seem in the foil and unwrapped it carefully like those weird folks who preserve the paper when they unwrap Christmas gifts. Inside was a small tab of thick paper with lines drawn across it. He stuck his tongue out and pressed the foil to it making sure the paper was stuck to his tongue he balled up the foil and flicked it the corner.

His reclined in the cracked leather chair and stared up at the ceiling taking a deep breath. It always took forty five minutes or so to kick in. He reached for the TV remote but was interrupted by the buzz buzz of a text message coming in. He pulled out his phone and hammered the pass-code to see it’s contents. He felt strange already the lights on the phone were brighter than normal and he squinted his eyes to try and straighten out the words on the screen. An abrupt knock on his studio door made him drop the phone and he looked up at the door. People didn’t visit him uninvited and they were rarely invited. As he stood up the world tilted a bit and he smiled. Tyler really wasn’t kidding about this stuff being good. He tested a step forward on the cheap rug he bought with his Mom when he moved into the place. Success. The knock sounded again. He approached the door and peered through the peekhole to see who he had to tell to go away. Outside the door he could see the dark wooden paneling and green walls of his apartment complex hallway. Nobody. He turned towards his chair but before he made it there a knock came from his single window above the double bed that rested on the floor without box springs. Being on the fourth floor he assumed this was a trick of the substance building up steam in his pre-frontal cortex. The knock came again from the hall behind him and again at the window then from the floor. He spun in a quick circle and laughed to himself. Okay, okay this was coming on heavy, some music would help.

He hit the power button his old laptop from college and navigated to a playlist he had made for these kinds of adventures. The soothing synths and down tempo bass music was already sounding better than normal to him he grabbed the empty glass and pushed some dishes out of the way to allow enough space to tilt the glass in for water. The cool water never made it to his lips as he started to raise it the rim of the glass caught on the faucet spout and shattered in his hand and the sink. Fuck. He set the broken glass down and looked at his hand, no blood. Good. He went to reach for the dollar store dustpan and broom in the corner but the knocking resumed. This time it was a cacophony of aggressive knocks coming from all directions. The room seemed to shake with them and the window pane rattled in it’s frame. He wasn’t new to the game so he took a deep breath and tried to center himself. It didn’t work. The knocking was persistent and he found himself shouting at the empty walls for them to let him be and to bother somebody else.

The dark brown paint used by the landlord to cover the smudges and mold from the previous tenants bubbled and he watched it run down the walls to pool on the floor where it followed the grout lines towards his rug. He ran to the spot and pushed the chair aside lifting up the rug to keep it clean. He dragged it over near the kitchenette. The walls beneath the paint were made of foggy glass he walked up close to one of them leaving paint covered footprints in his wake. He put his hands over his eyes and peered throught the glass. He could see a figure behind it and before he could make out any features it knockd on the wall right where he was looking through, he jumped back with his heart racing. He ran back to his chair and all but fell into it. Deep breaths, he told himself just ride it out. You’re good. You’re good.

Pinwheels of klaidescopic color spun in the corners of his vision and the more he tried to focus on them the further the moved out of sight. The knocking came again and he could see somebody standing just beyond the wall holding a pole or some kind of staff. The figure raised one arm and brought the staff against the wall. A blade at the end of it pierced through the wall and sent cracks sprawling out in all directions. The blade retracted and came smashing down at the wall again. Refusing to accept that somebody was breaking through his wall with a pole-axe Guerillmo sat still in his chair and thought aout the music playing it’s heavy bass would normally lull him into a trance state where he could appreciate the oddities of a trip. The smashing continued until the figure on the otherside was a figure no more but a knight in plate armor holdng his side he hauled himself through the hole he made and splashed into the brown paint on the floor. ‘Fucking paint’ it said in a familiar voice.

‘Micah? Dude what the..’
‘Wait, shh, Guillermo please listen. I can’t do it man. I just can’t’
‘Wh-why are you a knight though? Aww man I’m really tripping. Are you here?’
Micah pulled his helmet off and dropped to his knees. ‘Look man they don’t give you very long to figure it out. I tried and I failed. They’re coming.’
‘Okay, wow. I’m hallucinating hard here, what the?’ Guillermo rubbed his eyes and shook his head breathing deep through his nose and out through his mouth before opening them again to see Micah still there in the paint and the smashed wall behind him. Through the hole a grey brackish sea washed up onto the sand.
‘I just.’
‘Look I fucking failed okay. Please just tell my folks that I love them. I’m as good as dead.’
‘Whoa whoa, nobody is dead. You’re not even here?’
‘Take the axe man, take the armor.’ Micah began taking the gear off and tossing it his direction.
‘I’m sorry’ he said before disappearing, vanishing from the armor as if we’re never there.
‘The armor rocked gently where he had just been standing and Guerillmo was thuorughly perplexed.

The sea beyond the hole smashed into his wall was too intriguing not to follow he grabbed the pole axe and turned it over in his hands, the wood was smooth and the tri blade at it’s end looked lethal. He pushed himself up and climbed through the hole in the wall. The smell of the sea never came only an awful, charnal stench. He gagged at the smell and took in his surroundings. Along the beach were cages sunk halfway into the sand, the bits of rusty iron stood taller than him.

He looked back at the hole from which he came and it seems to be in the air itself a breach in reality. Was he having an out of body experience? He couldn’t understand it all he didn’t even feel like he was tripping but this was all so real. He walked up to the nearest cage but stopped as he got closer the cages was filled with skulls.
‘Nope!’ he said aloud. Guillermo Ramirez you are tripping safe in your apartment all is well. He started walking back towards his place and the ground began to rumble beneath his bare feet. The grey sky above him lacked any detail, no clouds, no stars. The cage was shifting in the sand freeing itself he could see the skulls in it rattle around something was holding them all together. Before he could really assess the situation. The cage began rising up out of the sand followed by two grotesque shoulders a rib cage and arms some kind of abomination with the cage of skulls as it’s head roared out at him and began to pull itself from the sand. It’s grey skin pulled tight showing inhuman musculature the creature screamed in many voices. Each skull added a tone, pitch and language. He turned for the hole leading back to his room but it was gone.

‘What the fuck, what the fuck?’ His questions went unanswered as the abomination before him took a step forward with clawed feet and picked up a piece of driftwood nearby. It swung it like a club and sent Guillermo flying across the sand he landed awkwardly and felt something in his shoulder give. The poleaxe Micah gave him lay nearby. He grabbed it and rose to his feet. The voices of the creature screamed out incoherently within them he could here the voice of his Ex she was scolding him as the thing took massive strides in his direction. He hadn’t heard that voice in so long. He looked up at it the skulls and and asked if it was her.

The creature swung its club again but he moved out of the way as it smashed into the ground sending waves of grit and splinters of wood in arcs. He had heard enough of and he lunged out with the pole-axe. It stuck deep into the ribs of the abomination and it wailed in pain. Her voice cut through the screams telling him he was an asshole and that it was all his fault. Caught off guard the next blow from the club came down hard on his shoulder and he lost feeling in his left arm it seemed to work still because he didn’t drop the axe as he plunged it into the monstrosity again and again. The thing sagged forwards and the voices ceased as it lay lifeless before him. He was breathing heavy, the memories of his past weighed heavily but killing them like this felt oddly liberating.

The next cage a few years down the beach began rising out of the ground and he charged at it before he could figure out what it was supposed to represent, impaling it on the axe, it was his Mom’s voice asking why he didn’t come home anymore. He cried out and stabbed at the thing until it too lay still. The cage beyond started to rise up now, dirty sand spilling out of it, he spent the night charging at one cage after the other killing the monster under the sand each tinged with some awful memory of his past. His grandfather, his college, debt, one demon after the next assaulted him until he fell down in exhaustion with no cages in sight. He breathed deeply and shook from the mental revelations. He sought sleep while watching the waves,  he smiled.

When he woke up the leather of the chair stuck to his back and arms from sweat. The walls were normal and the rug was in a heap against the fridge. He rubbed his eyes and felt at his pockets for his phone. It wasn’t there so he searched the place finally finding it under the chair. Twenty missed messages were waiting for him from Tyler.

Message:
‘Did you take it yet, if you haven’t don’t. Micah is having a rough time.’

Message:
‘Dude Micah OD’d or something, I don’t know,  the cops are here and he’s not moving’

Message:
‘Tyler, please message me man.’

Message:
‘I’m worried they’re going to trace it back to me..he’s gone, they took him to the hospital. I don’t know what that stuff was, my guy said it was new..’

Guerillmo had read enough. He powered off the phone and reached for a notebook and pen to write the nights events but not before firing a message off to the folks from his nightmare of trip. The regrets and bad decisions he battled that night wouldn’t be in vain.

 

 

 


 

That was a wild one indeed. Used the pic below as a prompt. Didn’t really know where it was going but a story reared it’s ugly head, or should I say cage. Thanks so much for reading if you made it through. I’ll be posting more frequently I think. It’s funny how fickle my muse really is, inspiration to write floats in and out of my grasp constantly. Perhaps that’s just how it is though?

Cheers,
Rob

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Frigid Realizations

The cool water of the lake lapped at the rubber boots he wore as he walked just on the edge. it was crystal clear and he could see eddies of pumice and plumes of pebbles in his wake. Here and there a small fish would dart towards the safety of the lake startled by his progress around it’s southern rim. The lake seemed to yawn out of the mountains on the horizon their peaks shrouded in a heavy mist that seemed perpetual to the child. But his father swore the warm air of the summer would force the clouds to higher elevation revealing the crags and peaks of the mountains at last. The rubber boots over his wool socks were thick and cumbersome but after bending forward to touch the water he welcomed their insulation and jammed his icy fingers back into the pocket of his bright red parka. The faux fur hood was pulled up tight and framed his face making him look rather lionesque in a cherubish way.

His father was fishing further down the shore and watching his son wander away ever further around the bend of the lake. He played along the same shore as a child and his father probably stood and watched just like this. The thought wasn’t lost on him and he gazed up into the mist shrouded peaks thinking of times long gone. When he was a younger and bolder albeit more careless man they were peaks and canyons that he navigated and called his home hunting goats and impressing his lovers. Now though the peaks themselves felt like cages for he knew in their mist was death. No matter how many times the locals would warn their children some were always lost to the mountains with their concealment drifting down from the heavens. Great beauty almost always had sure disaster close behind. The happiness of a fresh meal from the lake was always followed by the scraping of utensils on tin plates that meant it was over. Some folks got caught up in the now and reveled in the pleasure of a full plate but the wise, or so he thought at this age were always aware of the emptiness beneath the sustenance, the barren bowls that had driven so many from the valley beneath the mountains. The emptiness that had driven mankind in general ever onwards trudging along on the treadmill of despair.

He grimaced and bit down on the stub of a cigar in the crook of his mouth. It was too easy too fall into the depths of his mind and sit idly by contemplating the reality within which his family and friends found themselves. He reeled his empty line in and in a great swooping motion careful to mind his footing he arced the long pole forward where the sinker made a plucking noise at the surface of the lake before falling ever downward carrying with it a piece of rabbit. He tuned towards his son and could hardly see him now, he was already small but now the mists threatened to swallow him up. He yelled down the shore, cupping one hand over his mouth to direct the sound.
‘Tomas!’ He took a deep breath. ‘Tomas, that’s far enough.’

Tomas heard the muffled shouts of his father behind him and turned back cheeks red from the temperature. The wind from the lake blew the hood off his head and his uncut hair wrapped around his face. He knew what the shout meant. He had been here before. He was ten years old and he knew how to fish and play along side the lake. In a bout of fierce independence that was not uncommon in Tomas he turned back away from his father’s shouts. And continued walking along the shore of the lake thinking about how he would climb the mountains in the distance one day and look down at the lake he was walking along to see it in it’s entirety like an eagle would. He swooped his arms out and soared eagle like forward. Fishing was boring he thought, his friends told him stories of distant lands their parents had been to where cows and rabbits are raised near the home and food was aplenty. Living in the armpit of the mountains their shadows accompanied by the mist kept most daylight from reaching their small town. The rays of feeble light that did could hardly support the brown rough grass and lichen that covered everything. His father shouted once more, Tomas did not look back he reached back and pulled his hood on cinching the drawstring tighter. He walked.

‘Tomas, please!’ His father was shouting still and beginning to reel in his hook un-bitten to go after his wayward child. He left the pole against the packs they carried to the shore and the rolled up tent with it’s heavy stakes and rain fly tied around it. He removed the cigar for a moment and licked his chapped lips before picking his way across the scree and boulders. He was mad at first and he shouted more but t had been so long since he’d just walked along the lake. He had stood and worried by it as they pushed their dead out on small boats. He had fished it and he had contemplated it. it didn’t take long for him to start getting a kick out of the constant up and down of the terrain. Tomas was still a bit too short to really enjoy the bouldering. He was thinking now that he’d teach him when he caught up, the boys idyllic pace was far from speedy. Who knows what game he was playing today. Life was always different when games were to be played day in and day out the lack of responsibilities a child had was both limiting and liberating at the same time. For one cannot achieve without trading in some aspect of time or money and before children are aware of the cruelties they play and play as if the world were already theirs. It was good to be away from that damned fishing spot for a while. He cracked a rare smile and pulled himself up on the next boulder shouting for his son to come and learn to boulder with him. They could fish again tomorrow, stores were low but not dangerously so.

Tomas stared at his feet and the water as he walked and hummed absentmindedly to himself thinking of his friends and how he would be a hero and adventurer. He stopped when something bumped up against his right boot, a skull floated in the shallows, a human skull bobbed and twisted in the tide smiling up at him before making another plunge into the frigid waters. Tomas fell backwards and his hum took a sharp upturn into a scream of relative disapproval. He landed on his backside and hands, he screamed again this time as the frigid waters soaked through his pants and gloves in an instant. He pushed himself up but not before pushing the skull away. Standing on the side of the lake out of the tide now ice cold water dripped along his legs and pooled in his rubber insulated boats. Dark patches on the sleeves and back of his parka began to freeze. He shivered and looked out at the lake turning over the words he’d heard the men of the town use in times of frustration but he wouldn’t say them felt sacred or something. Explicit language was the least of his problems now as he shivered and looked back to where his father was fishing the mist had swallowed the fishing spot. He tried to hold back tears and began walking back.

A harsh cracking noise in the lake stopped Tomas in his tracks and he looked out along the frigid waters for it’s source. His jaw trembled but only because of the cold, or so he told himself. A thin patina of ice crept out from the center towards him crackling and expanding, melting and refreezing until it reached up out of the lake towards him like fingers. reaching for his rubber boots. Tomas blinked rapidly and rubbed his eyes before looking again. Seeing that the ice hadn’t been a mirage or something he let out a proper scream and started running back towards his father. The rubber boots now wet with cold lake water were heavier than normal and he lost his footing in a few strides with mushy socks sliding against the interior and cold toes he fell forward and smacked his forehead against the ground, surely breaking one arm in his desperate attempt to catch himself.

A flash of light occupied his vision before he could blink it out and push himself up a delightfully warm stream of liquid dripped down on to his lower lips and he looked up at the sky before realizing his head was bleeding. He held one glove to the gash and took it back in pain immediately. He had seen blood before and even injuries but this was his and there’s always something uniquely scary about experience that lies nowhere within books and spectating. The mist around the lake seemed to follow the ice and rush up to envelope him stealing the details of his vision he crawled on hands and knees to find the water edge and continue his trek towards his father and the warmth of the small fire they’d build the dry clothes stuck in his pack and reassuring words a child learns to expect from mentors. He found ice and chose a direction standing with knees shaking and blood freezing to his face. He saw a shadow in the distance and yelled out for his father. The shadow grew and grew until it rivaled the size of the mountains it was massive and very real. A thin stygian figure with long arms and legs looked towards him and took a step in his direction causing the ice to shatter and reform. The head of the creature had flowing black hair and eyes glowing like two small moons in the distance. He stood frozen almost literally at this point in place watching as the thing strode out over the lake and towards him with inhuman speed. Tomas was at a loss for words and heavy hot tears poured out of his eyes.

The shadow thing knelt down in front of him with it’s moon like eyes unblinking it reached out for the child. Long trails of dark cloud fell around it’s shoulders and it’s breath was a summer day.
‘Tomas!’ his father called from somewhere in the distance.
‘Wh-wh-what are you?’ Tomas stuttered.
The hand reaching towards had seven multi jointed fingers each bigger than Tomas. It had no mouth and just stared at Tomas, with one finger it pushed Tomas to the ground with a poke. and it fell to it’s knees crawling up over him and staring down turning it’s head in slight curiosity.
‘Tomas, where are you! Tomas!’

 
The creature moved it’s massive head down towards the child and within it’ full moon eyes Tomas saw spirals of stars and the faces of all the people he had known and those that he felt he may know. He saw distant lands and other planets all twirling in a cosmic dance never-ending. He saw death itself and screamed. The figure raised a heavy hand and finger to it’s mouth and shh’d the child with breath as warm as the sun. He touched the wound on Tomas’s head and continued his gaze. Tomas could hear footsteps now running his direction and hear his fathers voice but the world around him shivered, expanding and contracting with the dance the creature’s eyes and words that had once been familiar to the child words that were his name meant nothing. The creature picked him up in one hand and stood tall so fast that Tomas almost passed out from the quick elevation change. He stood swaying slightly and motioned for Tomas to look down. He didn’t have to move far to see out farther than he’d ever imagined at the entire lake, the town and three other towns just like it along with tundra and brown grass extending as far as he could see. The creature bent and laid him back on the ground by the lake whispering in a deep breathless voice ‘Patience’. It crawled back into the lake never looking away from Tomas until they sank beneath the surface. The ice recoiled after him and the lake was once again fluid.

Tomas rolled on his side and saw his Father running towards him.
‘Are you okay?’ My son, I’m so sorry I let you wander.’ tears were in both of their eyes and Tomas pointed out towards the lake. His father batted his hand down.
‘Death lies within the mist.’ he said before turning towards camp carrying his son close to him. Tomas watched over his Fathers’ shoulder at the center of the lake longing to experience the gaze and distortion of the creature again.

 

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Arid Arrogance

For a few minutes their silent stride across the cold desert fell in time with their hearts. The rhythm became one and he zoned out on the horizon, step after sweat inducing step. Each pace sunk down and back a bit in the sand, like climbing stairs and not getting any higher. A bead of sweat pooled in the corner of his right eye and he blinked hard to send it trailing down his cheek. He raised his arms up over his shoulders and held in a scream.

Nobody had said a word really. The stakes were known and they were shit, to be honest. But what wasn’t shit? He kicked at the next dune sending a puff of sand up into his face. Blinded by the fine particles he let out the aforementioned held-in-scream. He dropped the bulky leather satchel that hung over his back and scraped at his eyes with dirty fingers. After a minute a light hand rested on his shoulder and pulled away.

 

“I’m fine, keep walking.” He had to repeat himself before she strode ahead. He blinked into the sunlight and sniffed at the air. The sea was near. It smelled like the port he’d grown up on, he opened his mouth and started to speak but caught himself. With one hand pressed close to the pain in his ribs he bent over and hauled up his pack. The others had passed without saying a word to him. He went to jog up to the front of the group again but gasped and halted holding his side. His breath was ragged, his head light. The white clouds above him spiraled and he got warm and cold at the same time in a wave before he knees gave out. The horizon tilted wildly and spiraled into a mandala of nausea.

 

He looked up from the ground and saw the last of the crew peak the dune. He’d catch up. With a few heaving breaths he groaned and rose to his feet. He drug the pack behind him it erased his footsteps from the landscape. He couldn’t smile at the symbolism but he noted it in his delirium. Voices on the wind were that of his friends and family, he noted that. The odd dancing lights in his peripheral vision though, he tried to ignore. When you’d think he was at peak temperature, a hot rush of anxiety accompanied his acceptance of his own descent into heat stroked madness or whatever was happening. His thoughts weren’t stringing together as they should. His hands were shaking and he shivered a bit. Shit. He reached the top and his crew were nowhere to be seen. Shit. The desert was beautiful though. Swirling dust motes carried his dreams away and danced along the landscape.

He took a few steps but the pounding in his head seemed to shake the world around him and he tripped over his own feet, tumbling down the dune in a pile. His pack ripped in the slide and the parts of the atmospheric beacon went flying across the hillside. Not all of them, no luckily one piece had stayed within arm’s reach. Unfortunately impaled in his left shoulder the thin antenna would do him little to no good. It came out with some effort and a noise he could have gone his life without hearing. He watched his shaky hands prepare a bandage and wrap the wound tight. He lifted his shirt and looked at his injured side for the second time. Regretting it immediately. It had stopped bleeding, but a blue-purple-badness seemed to be spreading from the entry wound. If he reached his right arm around he thought he could feel the shell or bullet or whatever the thing had shot, a hard sphere just under the skin. It was cold to the touch. He didn’t know how to feel about that. His head hung for a few seconds. Some people get sucked out of an air lock, hell some people just go to sleep and don’t wake up. He wasn’t afraid of death but what was this?
He held off another shiver and started gathering the pieces of the beacon in vain. The thing was ruined. He grabbed the sharpest bits and trudged onward.

Kenly walked ahead of him mopping the sweat from his face with a torn piece of fabric. “You.. uh, you.. alright, where’s the beacon?” He said.
He shrugged and laughed a little before taking a swing at Kenly with the antenna. He overextended himself and fell forward. Kenly dodged out of the way but not before a jet of crimson shot from his throat.
He knelt down and closed Kenly’s eyes, he hated losing crew members. But a captain knows when his mission has failed. Before he stood up familiar voices called out on the salty air. He could hardly hear them over the roaring tide.

“Put it down!” It was her. He did put it down. Something was wrong. They bound his hands and buried Kenly as the sun fell below the horizon. He slept far from the fire. They took turns watching. In his dreams he saw a man with six eyes sitting atop a floating cloud. He sat with the figure and soared up over the desert. They flew  out of the atmosphere towards the stars where the battle continued to rage. In a dance of death the small frigates twisted around one another lining up turret blasts while the cathedral sized cruisers hung back launching torpedoes. The man next to him laughed. His mouth was too wide when he spoke, the words stuck together like syrup. “All-That-You-Have-Accomplished-Burns-Before-You-But-I-Have-Plans-For-You.” His teeth were like needles and his voice rumbled like thunder.
He tried to wake up or open his eyes but the creature was still there and his fleet fought lost and died before him. They watched it all.
“WakeNowAndPrepareForMyReturnAndYourAscendency.”


   His stomach dropped and he plummeted to the surface. His crew was nowhere to be seen, his steady hands dug at the sand beneath him. Only a foot down he found dark stone with intricate bas relief. He dug for hours at the stone object searching for a door. He spent the day uncovering a portion of the temple. He didn’t hunger but his body was spent. He slept and the many-eyed man returned to show him the fleet, his fleet losing again. In the morning the dunes had shifted covering the temple, he began to dig.

 

Minstrels and Lies

He fashioned her a coat using the skin of the Mountain Goat he killed yesterday. Since he didn’t have to sleep it was done by morning. He sat like a board as she tried it on, the warmth alone kept her from complaining. The tundra was devastating.

“Its not that bad.” His voice was raspy and sent ice down her spine.

“Yes, thanks. I guess.”

“No. I mean about your family. It’s not that bad.”

“What are we, three hundred miles from Juilt, almost a thousand from the crown. It doesn’t matter how many times you say it. It is that bad Rediro!” She turned from him and strode out of the abandoned hut they found last night. “For all I know they’ve been assassinated. I’ve been trapesing through the snow for Luera-Knows-What with a myth for so long that I’ve lost count of the days.”

He appeared in front of her tattered bandages flapping in the wind. He bowed. “You know my queen, you disrespect me. If I weren’t bound to your family I’d slaughter you in your sleep.”
“Stop materializing from thin air already! You’re going to give me a heart attack.”

“Would you prefer that I walk through the snow and make breathing noises to make you comfortable? Perhaps I could share your bed to stay warm when we sleep tonight would that please the Queen?”

“No.”

“ Do you think I chose to be the Minstrel for your family. They say it’s an honor but I’ll have you know its nothing but.” He got his bearings by looking up at the early morning stars and started walking towards the east.

“You’re a great warrior, blah blah blah. Come on Rediro, that was centuries ago.”

“Time does not heal all wounds.”

Realizing she hit a tender spot she followed in silence.

That night they stopped in the shadow of cliff and Rediro procured fire from nowhere for her to stay warm. He sat out on the edge of her camp watching. She traced her fingers in the warm dirt surrounding the fire. Drawing her family and the palace they lived in. Why didn’t the people realize that they were the good guys, her father was the good guy. The Hurens were nothing but traitors to the crown and yet everyone believed them. Images of the aforementioned palace burning to the ground stopped her introspection in its tracks. She didn’t let herself cry.

They marched on for another week. Rediro the Minstrel of House Leavien provided for its only known heir, protecting the family as he had for six centuries. But Rediro grew tired of the games of mortals, and he would have his way sooner rather than later.”

“Why are you just quiet all the time? You know minstrels are supposed to sing or play music or tell stories, something entertaining.”

“Why do you complain all the time? We are but a short journey to the stones.”

“And tell me again, these stones will allow me to scry for my families well-being?”

“No. A powerful woman dwells within them. She will help us both.”

The child Queen of Juilt was no fool. She had her suspicions. Rediro had always been reluctant to help. Stepping in only when his pact would be violated until now.

“You think I’m stupid Minstrel, why have you suddenly become so caring?

“I live to serve and protect House Leavien.” He repeated the age old oath.

“The last heir of Leavien demands that you tell her more about the woman in the stones.”

“As you wish.” He slowed his pace to match hers. The world faded as his cold hand encompassed hers. “As you know, Minstrels are slain by their masters on the battlefields of reality. After which a meditative sojourn into the void binds them to the family that took their life. Your I-don’t-even-know-how-many-greats grandfather sliced me open on the hills in front of what used to be the crown. I watched my lifeforce bleed out on the sands before being sucked into the voids embrace where I met my ancestors and the great warriors of the past.”

The peaked a tall hill and he pointed at valley ahead. “There. That’s where she lives, the void stone goddess, the walker of all realms.”

“But how are you here then?”

“After cutting me down in front of my men he wanted revenge. The shamans prepared the sojourn tea and sent him on his way to consult the goddess and bargain for my soul as his Minstrel. She granted him his wish and here I stand.”

“Yeah, but I mean, something else had to have happened. It can’t be that simple.”

“Oh, nothing ever is my Queen. Come let us summon she walks all realms.”

She cowered in the background and held her hand out to his blade when prompted. Her blood filled the grooves on the stone plinth and the sun set instantly.

“W-w-w-wait. I don’t think we should be here.”

Rediro held his arms out and stared into the sky above her, he had to yell over the wind whipping snow and debris around them. A swirling dark maw opened in the sky and the figure that came out of it was pure nightmare. It was feminine, but it hurt the young queens eyes to look at it, limbs unnaturally long with claw like appendages. It was at the same time her mother and a demon. It was her sister and best friend it was the Huren’s who burned down her palace and murdered her family. The goddess of the stones was everything.

Rediro laughed. “I’m back and I brought the Leavien spawn.”

“Killian Rediro the Hunter, you’ve been away from the void for many years.”

“I was bound. But I brought her as my tribute, let me come home. She willingly offered blood after coming here on her own accord.”
“Is this true darling?” Her claws caressed the Queens face leaving razor thin lines of blood down her cheek.

“He-he-he He Lied! He told me you would help!”

“The world is lies my love. Don’t worry deaths embrace is sweet. This not your fault but that of your grandfathers grandfathers. Time does not heal all wounds. Come to me my son.” She motioned to Rediro and he approached.

Every step brought life back into his body, he bandages fell away revealing muscles growing back the next step brought skin and then hair followed by black steel armor plates with spiked pauldrons and a grisly longbow. The goddess embraced him and he vanished.

“Now. I do hate this part. But we need to address you.”

“I don’t want to die..”

The goddess’s peal of laughter left the Queens ears ringing. “Oh you won’t be dying anytime soon.”

With a sweep of her clawed hand the queen was no more. Her essence fell through the realm into the void where her family waited. All of them they were happy to see her. They rejoiced, cried and apologized. Before she could speak the nirvana of the afterlife was torn away and she found herself standing outside the wreckage of her families palace staring at their heads on pikes. She looked down at her hands, they were bandaged. Peeling a bandage back she saw only bone and fell to her knees crying.

“Come along my Minstrel.” Potilius Huren motioned and she found herself standing. “I think you’ll find that time heals all wounds.”

“I live to protect and serve House Huren.” The words flowed from her mouth before she could close her lips.

“Well I wouldn’t call it living. We’ve work do to Minstrel please go ahead and burn this city.”

With tears in her eyes she willed the flames out of the void and watched as they licked up the walls and gates of her childhood. She followed in Potilius’s wake, head bowed and hands clasped. She vowed to kill the goddess of the stones one day.

 

The Horst Twins

The hab blocks were built close to one another, military grade, reinforced. Each one a simulated environment providing relative safety along with optimal temperature and air composition for its inhabitants. The poor bastards, have no idea what life is really like, in the creases of civilization. In the airspace between sector A1 and A3 Mikal and his brother Reinr vaulted upwards wearing heavily modified RMVs. The repair maintenance vessels were normally used to build and connect new habs, it wasn’t legal to modify them but nobody arbitrated the dead space between units. Nobody until today.
Mikal hauled himself over an exhaust venting pure CO2 out from A3. He stooped to catch his breath, while the suit did most of the work he had still just climbed damn near one hundred feet in a minute.

*Reinr, get your ass up here. Don’t mess with them*

They communicated via telepathic link. Another customization that Reinr was all too proud of, especially if he had one too many at one of the seedy trading posts. “New business is all around us” he would say.

*They’re messing with us man. I’m just making sure they understand this is our home.*

*Those are sanctioned arbitrators, they’ve probably tagged us already. We need to get these suits to Lex for scrubbing and obfuscation ASAP.*

*Don’t ‘ASAP’ me Mikal, we ain’t military you’ll always be my kid brother. Also, I sent Lex a message already. He sent a cruiser to meet us.*

*You could of started with that, asshole.*

The RMV was silent when moving if the user wanted it be. Mikal didn’t see the roundhouse kick coming until it was too late.

*Kid brother, or not. Nobody calls me an asshole.*

*Jelia, Reia, Kondi pretty sure their general consensus was, that you’re an asshole and I’m better looking. My bald spot is smaller you see, size does matter*

They grappled at the edge of A3 causing some poor tech weeks of repair requests. Crunching pipes at the rolled and denting that which ought not to be dented. The suits were close to seven hundred pounds each. Servo motors in the joints acted as ‘super-tendons’ responding to the users urges in nano seconds.

“Stop! This is your last warning, we will submit your signatures for lethal force request.” The four man squad of arbitrators was slowly ascending the walls beneath them. Forced to take the ladders and service routes rather than jump and climb it would be a few minutes before they were anything more than an annoyance.

*Mikal* Reinr said holding back the punch he was about to throw. *I think we should stop, they’re going to ‘submit lethal force requests’* His laugh caused feedback in their internal mics.

*Where is Lex meeting us?*

*Always keeping your head in the game.*

Reinr held a broken piece of the piping over the edge, tracking the criss-crossing motions of the arbitrators far below. He dropped the piece and looked over the edge.

*Aww the arbi’ saw it coming.*

*Dude, focus. Lex is meeting us. Where?*

*The corner of E6 and D6. He’s going to be a minute, we might as well have fun.*

Mikal was already vaulting over the massive O2 tanks towards D line. Yeah they were only arbitrators but they probably had resources on call to assist.

*When I was doing that sabotage job with Minx she mentioned Sanctioners raiding her camp.*

*Mikal, she doesn’t like you, stop bringing her up.*

*I’m serious, she said they called MkIV sanctioners in on them*

*I’d love to have a go at a MkIV, you know our tech is better.* Reinr was catching up, ever competitive.

*MkIV man! They fought the rebellion with those. Each has enough firepower to penetrate a hab.*

Reinr somersaulted ahead of him and spread his arms out like a sky diver plummeting down the dead space between B3 and C3.

*They’d have to catch us first.*

Mikal dived down after him. He was right. They were at home here in the deadspace, no sanctioner or arbitrator could navigate these spaces as well as they could. The downtrodden, the idealists, the criminals of the habs made their life here. No laws restricted bio-mods and everything was legal if nobody was looking. They landed hard on the surface, it was hard to believe the surface was ever alive. Covered in cabling and electrical panels several centuries before their time people lived on it some say they even had an environment regulated by the Earth itself. They ran beneath C3. No arbitrators in sight.

*See, no need to worry.* Reinr joked.

*Worry is what has kept our species alive.*

As if to punctuate Mikal’s anxieties a large service port opened in the bottom of C3 and a MkIV Sanctioner hopped out. Its gargantuan frame cracked the surface where it landed. Heavy plate armor readjusted and the mini cannon on its right arm began humming the tune of an early grave. It hunkered down beneath C3 like a dog under the table, ready to pounce if somebody dropped a scrap of food.

*Shit, shit, shit.* Reinr began ascending the deadspace between D3 and C3.

*My thoughts exactly, I’ve never even seen one.* Mikal pulled up the screen captures he took as they ran by. *looks like it could crush us in one glove.*

*The rebellion came to the deadspace because they have trouble maneuvering here. As long as we keep changing elevations we’re good.*

They reached the top of D3 and took a right turn sprinting for D6.

*Lex, this is Reinr. We’ve got an ETA of 1 minute. Well I do, Mikal will be a few seconds late as always.*

*Shut it! Lex, we’ve got a MkIV on our tail is that cruiser of yours armed by chance?*

*You guys brought a MkIV to me, a fucking MkIV! They fought the rebellion with those they have enough firepower to-*

*We know!* the brothers interjected together.

*Look I know it raises the risk factor.*

*Mikal, the risk factor? You know they operate in squads, you’re dead. I’m not waiting. If you guys aren’t at the extraction point when I arrive you best keep running*

*Anyone ever tell you that you’ve got a knack for motivational speaking Lex? Its like I’m running faster just to punch you in the jaw sooner rather than later. We’ll fucking be there.*

A bright beam of mini gun fire ricocheted and traced a pattern in the floor leading up to them.
“Jump!” Mikal screamed.  As they cleared the gap between D4 and D5. *We’re almost there.*

*Okay, I could take one MkIV, but two? Nah, I’m ready to be anxious and run away. If I don’t survive tell Kondi I loved her and tell Reia she’s a cu-* Reinr cried out in pain and hit the floor leaving a groove in the metal where his heavy RMV gouged up the metal.

*Reinr! Get up.* Mikal turned to help, the right side of Reinr’s RMV was a fiery mess as he crawled forward.

*Ejecting.. Don’t let me die here* The back plate of the wrecked RMV popped open and Reinr’s bald head peered around the edge. Wearing only his rebreather and the dark grey pilot’s fatigues he ran towards his brother.

Mikal picked him up like a child with the suit, careful not to squeeze the life out of him he pushed his suit to the limit.

*Lex, Reinr’s RMV ate shit. I’m on D6 where are you?*

A realease valve burst open as a third MkIV rocketed out of it guns ablaze. “You can run, but we’re onto your little enclave out here in the deadspace, it won’t be long before you’re bloodstains and wreckage just like your grandparents puny rebellion. The Sanctioners have approved lethal force Mikalin and Reinrilov Horst. We won’t rest until you feel our wrath!”

*Hey, Mikal.*

*What.*

*Want to run any faster?*

Mikal tightened his grip on his brother. Reinr gasped. *Okay.. Fu.. you’re breaking me*

Lex’s voice came over the telepathic link. *ETA 4 seconds, jump the hatch is open.*

Mikal didn’t pause for a moment and launched them out into the deadspace. A staccato blast from the MkIV’s fun followed suit.

The sleek black cruiser slowed down beneath them as Lex tried to line up with their descent. Makil’s RMV hit the metal decking of the Cruiser, it gave way leaving massive foot prints in it.

*Drinks are on you.* Reinr stammered. *Pretty sure you just crushed at least three ribs and my femur.*

The cruiser top shut tight and Lex hit all the boosters sending it careening almost too fast to control away from the MkIVs in pursuit.

*Lex.* Mikal said. *Send a warning out to everyone on the telepath network. They know we’re descendants of the rebellion and it won’t be long until they know everything else.*

Seeing Things as They Are

This story was inspired by the third image in Michael MacRae’s gallery. Enjoy.

The right hook didn’t feel great. But his face was numbed after the first few minutes. Now each blow was mostly just a burst of light and disorientation.

“Tell us what you did with her!”

The next left broke a tooth and Grays spit it out with a mouthful of blood.

“I tol’ yoo, I dinn see no’in”

“If you keep beating on him we won’t be able to understand him.” A voice from behind accompanied a tight grip on the collar of his dirty shirt.

“She’s my daughter! You wouldn’t understand Reci.”

“Well now, I don’t think you’re in a position to tell me what I do and don’t understand. Now listen to me Heath, I let you beat the piss out of him. I didn’t have to do that, I gave you a chance but it seems like ol’ Grays here has developed some resolve since we run him out of town. Or he’s been telling ya the truth. Now get out of the way and let us do our job.”

Grays looked up through swollen eyes, he hadn’t seen Pastor Reci in almost two years. His chin trembled, like that of a child about to bear it all.

“Grays, you know we don’t give two shits about ya. Heath here is about to pound you into oblivion and ain’t nobody back home going to know.”

“Dad.”

A backhand sent him to the forest floor, the dew covered leaves were cool on his face, he did his best not to cry. That always made the beatings worse.

“Sorry bud, but our family ties were cut the day you murdered Mrs. Juniper and did Cerberus-knows-what to her daughter. You know we still haven’t found her remains. I’ll give you that, at least your good at sinnin’. Now sit on up and tell us what you were about to before Heath lost his temper.”

Grays pushed himself off the floor and held one hand tight over the right side of his face. He swallowed hard. There were about fifteen of them, most of them young boys he didn’t know. But Judge Reci was there, and Lamont too. He couldn’t make out anyone else through the pain and dim light.

He stammered “I, well. I, uh. I saw her, you know. Coming up the trail from the city.  I watched her from a tree until she passed under me.”

“You bastard! Why’d you hurt my little girl!” Reci screamed, Lamont and another hooded figure reached out to restrain him, but Grays still flinched.

“I saw her, she seemed to know the woods. I followed, or tried to at least.”

“To kill her? Rape her? Eat her?, how fucking crazy are you Grays. I always told your mother not to spoil you so much.”

Grays continued. “She started weaving in and out of the trees and damn near sprinting.”

“She probably saw you chasing her, you fiend. How can you not understand that?”

“She didn’ see me, nobody sees me.”

Reci chimed in. “Then how come we found ya here weeping in the open, finally feeling guilty for what you’ve done?!”

“I didn’t do anything!” His scream was hoarse from the crying earlier. “They came again, I’m serious they came. The forest lit up like day!”

“Damnit Grays, don’t start with the whole creatures from the sky shit. I may have to take a page out of Reci’s book and beat some sense into ya like the old days. Heath cracked the knuckles on his right hand and took of his Pastoral signet ring.”

Grays used to run when he saw that happen growing up. He took the scene in and looked for an escape. They never listened and one day they would come and take everybody away. Someday they would believe him. He tensed his legs and shoulders, fingers sinking into the cool earth beneath him.

“I told you a hundred times, they took Mrs. Junipers daughter and she died trying to hold Lisa down!”

“How dare you speak her name, we don’t have time for games-“

As good a queue as any, Grays pounced forward past his Father and slammed hard into Reci sending him the ground. With a few strides, albeit painful ones, he was out of the clearing and looking for a way to get up in the canopy. The canopy was safe, he lived here, he knew.

When they banished him from the city he camped on the ground the first night. But the second one, the second one was a different story. The sun had hardly set and a groaning deep noise rolled through the forest sending flocks of birds up in the night sky and dead leaves drifting to the floor. The boom rattled his ribcage and sent him sprawling up the tree as a bright light approached. He clasped to the elm tree, and shivered, fearing what was coming.

Two silhouettes strode out of the undergrowth, bathed in light that seemed to bleed from them like fire from a phoenix. Their foot prints left scorched earth behind. The beings were radiant and beautiful, dove like wings unaffected by the blazing aura folded tightly behind them. Each wielded a halberd ten feet long like it weighed nothing. His Dad had always mention angels, but this light, that noise. The same thing happened when Mrs.Juniper died. He didn’t want to watch anymore but he felt drawn to them. Unable to shut his eyes. The one on the left looked up at where he hide. An unnaturally wide smile filled with pin-coushin teeth greeted him and Grays stared into the abyss of the beings stygian eyes for the second time in his life. He passed out and when he came to they were gone. Since then he’s stayed in the trees, away from their reach, operating on the it worked once philosophy.

He heard the noises and saw the lights several times in the last three months but he would climb as far as he could and pull his hood over his eyes to wait for day. He never wanted to see them again. They probably took Reci’s girl. The only seem interested in the women.

“Grays! You shouldn’t show your face, you Father wants you dead and we won’t hold back!” Lamont and three others were picking their way through the undergrowth.

He was about to yell back at them. But a childs voice called back in a sing song lilt. “Oh they don’t want Grays. He’s broken. But they want me. I don’t know how they feel about you though.”

“Mary? Mary! Its me, its daddy. I’m here baby come to my voice.”

“No, daddy. You come to mine.” She laughed.

“This isn’t funny, we’ve been very-“

The low boom shook the tree around them and haze of unnatural light moved towards them from the east. Mary stumbled towards the group and her Reci reached out to embrace her. His out stretched arms missed entirely as she shot into the air and hovered spinning fifteen feet above them.

Two of the men took that as their sign to run away and did so swiftly. Lamont and Reci drew their swords and were bathed in light as the two slender beings came into view.

“Leave her.” A voice so deep it trees cracked and rumbled in the vicinity.

“Show yourselves!” Reci ran towards them.”

With impossible speed the one that spoke vanished and appeared holding Reci by the throat. His feet dangled helplessly and his hands clasped at the effeminate arm holding him aloft.

“Look now, look at your daughter she’s ours.” Reci’s neck snapped and he was flung to the side. Lamont froze and fell to his knees bowing before the two. They rose in the air, wings unfurled they embraced Mary and circled faster and faster before rocketing upwards leaving Lamont and Grays deafened and disoriented.

Together they staggered into town, shaken and pale. The people surrounded them, noticing Grays was there they called for the Pastor. He would surely die for this.

Lamont held out his hand and spoke in a timid voice. “They came. They did, Grays was telling the truth! We aren’t safe here, the forest isn’t safe. The angels Pastor Heath tells about they’re real but they, but they..”

“They don’t come to fools, like you.” Heath finished the sentence. “Gag them and tie them to the stake. We’ll burn them after worship tomorrow. This what blasphemy does, these are the faces of traitors and murders!”

“Nooo, wait. I swear they came I saw them, they killed Reci and took Mary!”

“I told you.” Grays said. “I told you nobody is ready to listen, deception lies over them like a blanket.”

With his childhood friend Grays was tied to the stake. They would be dead by sunrise. He looked at his people, his family, his persecutors. Some of their smiles slightly too wide, their eyes were they all black? He couldn’t get a second look as the blindfold slid over his eyes.

Facade of Hope

Another strange story from yours truly. Using the second image in a series created by the talented Michael MacRae.

Check out his Deviant Art page here and/or his tumblr here.

It hadn’t even been a week. Only four days ago she traveled the tunnels with everybody else. She’d been on her own for damn near one hundred hours. Were they all dead now? She wasn’t, dead that is. No, Mya was very much alive, verging on hypothermic and starving, but alive nonetheless. Her dry lips cracked as she smiled and vaulted over a pile of debris that used to be a transport vehicle. Despite her physical state, she reveled in being out of the tunnels for the first time in her life. She did her best to not think about all the folks that stayed behind to help. Focusing on her breathing and the hunger pangs she pushed onward. The air was salty, if she strained her ears she could hear the waves crashing against the distant cliffs. Any minute now, she’d descend down onto the beach and they would be there waiting for the yearly donation. Were there others? Other colonies that survived the initial onslaught by hiding under their cities, by turning the sewers and subways into civilization. Humanity wasn’t meant to be subterranean nor aquatic for that matter. If there were others they had suffered like her.

The sun was fiery orange, it blazed on even as the horizon rose up to swallow it. She had missed the sun, but it was a love hate relationship, like most. For three years she dreamed about what it would be like, she longed to feel the heat and to see for miles. The surface was freezing, the rays of yesteryears sun couldn’t penetrate the smog. They had open spaces of course, natural and manmade caverns where they set up their homes and pretended that things would be ok. But it was nothing like this, even war torn and infested the surface was beautiful. Things were never okay, except for those who submerged. One visited them almost a month ago, with globes of water refills on her back and an uncomfortable looking harness that allowed her to survive. The plenipotentiary of the ‘subs’ as her people dubbed them.

Her name was Linour and she was gorgeous, dark brown hair and naturally tanned skin, the people eyed her with envy. Her playful brown eyes had a vivacity to them that had long since been absent from the tunnelers, her figure the fantasy of all. An embodiment of what they could never have. Only the youngest of the tunnelers was sacrificed to the ‘subs’, they said the implants were more successful for youth. But everyone knew it was because they were not as contaminated by the environment. Tunnelers grew frail and hunched from the who-knows-what that was released on the planet, over time their bones would weaken and they would be bound to a chair for life. Mya, was only 16, she could tell already that her health was declining. But the ‘subs’, they would fix her.

They knew a breach had been made in the tunnels, one patrol never came back. Then a second and third disappeared. Supplies were backed has they had been so many times before. Demolitions were set and the weakest were left with the triggers in the wake of the survivors to die as they brought the roof down on their hunters. They (the survivors) would go deeper or farther and set up a new façade of a civilization. Determined to push on, but running out of places to go. Mya was part of the forward scouts, which comprised the younger folks that could still run. They looked for safety in the network of tunnels and cave ins. Sinkholes swallowed parts of the surface leading to mostly intact buildings and rotten forests in the caverns. These were always regarded as bad luck, the tunnelers never lingered. Her group had found a collapsed apartment building in one of the cave ins, its many windows crumpled out of shape and lifeless. They decided to stay for a cycle. There was no night and day underground, the tunnelers adapted and went ten hours before resting. Shrouded in robes and shawls of coarse dark material they slept with swords and makeshift spears at hand, torches and lanterns extinguished. They slept in their grave.

Her friend Jaz woke her up with a shake, “Mya, be quiet, they’re here. We need to go now.”

Before she could respond the face of her childhood friend lit up in a flash and disintegrated. The heat from the alien weapon left a sunburn of sorts on Mya’s right cheek. A mechanical voice called out in the darkness.

“Do not run. Processing is mandatory! Stay where you are.”

They ran. Beams of bright light struck out at them and pain punctuated the darkness. If they were here already it means they had already passed the rest of the group lagging behind. All was lost. Mya grabbed her spear and sprinted for her life towards a random tunnel. The stench of loss was cloying. If everyone was dead, nothing mattered. That means the seven chosen would be too. She stopped only to set a trip wire and a small charge to alarm her if she was being chased. She found a smaller tunnel jutting upwards and scrambled up it towards the surface. She had to crouch the ceiling was so low, hopefully too low for them to care. Her alarm went off and she cried out, but there was dim light ahead she clawed for it and squeezed through a fissure. On the surface of Earth she wept.

The implant facility rocked in the waves, its engines sent stabilizing jets of air out in all directions to keep it one place. It took most of the brunt of the sea away, but Linour watched the amber spirits in her glass sway from side to side. They always allowed her one drink when she came back. The Krav weren’t necessarily cruel to her but they would end her life at the slightest hint of transgression. They were always in control, they followed earths elite to the bottom of the ocean, to the oasis built there by hyper anxious politicians and royalty. Fearing a loss in pressure, no fight was put up. The Krav society meshed with the submerged folks. Altering them with mutations to survive the deep sea, some even got the ‘gills’ one of the most invasive treatments, and one that indentured them to the Krav offensive. Those like Linour were sent out to the last known colonies to tell lies of a better world. To convince them to sacrifice their young and healthy, thinking they would have a better life beneath the sea. She shivered at the memories of the last sacrifice, splayed open and test tubed for the ever curious Krav to see how their virus affected that generation.

She had no idea what they were searching for, maybe they did this for fun? The Krav were humanoid, but had large elaborate helms hiding their features, with glowing blue visors that they may or may not see out of. Language projectors in their helm allowed them to communicate with the humans, but they spoke with one another by some other means. There was a theory that it was actually through manipulating the magnetic field and yet another that they were all the same. Linour would be summoned when the tunnelers contingent made it to the beach, she would walk out and impress them. The smiles on their faces stained her memory. Like a pied piper of doom she would lead them to the cutting rooms. She would make her exit and the Krav would get to work.

Mya made her way down the winding path of the cliffs towards the dark ocean. She could see a vessel bobbing out in the harbor. She waved out at it and shook in anticipation. She made it, she survived and would continue to do so. Like a siren of myth Linour appeared walking up out of the tide.
“Where are the children?”

“Dead. Its only me. The Krav found us.”

“You shouldn’t have came here.”

“What else could I do?”

“You could have died and it would have been better.”

“What?!”

“The Krav control everything. You’re, we’re nothing but their experiment. Their play things. If you’d like, I’ll kill you here.” Linour drew a small dagger from her belt.

Mya crouched low and feral with her spear. “You lie!” She lounged out with lethal grace. The sharpened spear hit home. Linour dropped her dagger and fell to her knees holding the haft of the spear jutting from her in both hands.

“Stupid, girl. They’ll be here any second now, they won’t let you do th-”

As if on que three Krav, landed on the beach. One of them crushing Linour before she could finish her warning. “You will come with us.” A magnetic force ripped the spear from her hand and the restrained her. With short bursts of energy from the packs on their back they landed back on the ship in the harbor. Mya cried.

They striped her and pushed her into a room with piping across the ceilings. “Bathe, you’ve killed our mouthpiece. Perhaps, you’ll do her job better.” The door shut behind them with finality. Warm water began to cascade from the ceiling, rivulets of dirt, grime and tears pooled around her feet. She bathed, she would survive.

Malovian Resistence

Grammar be damned. I hate editing my work in fact I never do. To fix this I’m forcing myself through an online grammar course for the next 5 weeks. Somehow I ghosted through the public school system and college with a rudimentary grasp on grammar, yet I still write and read more than anyone I know? Until that tedious task is taken care of I’ll continue to shower you with unedited rough drafts. Also if you can’t tell I’m struggling at formatting the text on wordpress, every time I paste my writing in all of the paragraph breaks and indents disappear. Its a mystery that I don’t care to solve today. hopefully the next post will be ‘more legible’.

I stumbled across an inspiring photo gallery. Over the next few weeks I’d like to use each image as a writing prompt. Here’s the first one. It took sort of a weird\dark turn but I’m satisfied. You never really know what will spew out of my mind when I gaze at a photo for too long.

– cheers and what not.

 

Like jets in the distance the thunder continued to roll. Punctuated by artillery claps of lightening the storm lingered over Malovia as if the land itself wept. The capital had fallen, with it the moral of the Malovians drained towards the Barllian Sea. It hadn’t merely fallen; in fact it had been obliterated. The Gausten blockade leaders must have grown weary of their attrition game, nobody could know now. The towering spire of New Juseil had cast a warm shadow over Malovia since its construction some centuries before.  Like the hand of a clock or a giant sundial New Juseil’s shadow claimed what was hers.
 
However, the man in the shadows was far from finished. At the first sign of incoming ordinance New Jusiel’s defensive shields sprang to life bathing the twenty two mile tower in a green shimmer. The gilding of energy reflected the first few blasts, sending their payloads careening of course to light up the hillsides. The man in the shadows shut it off as told. The proud spire city of New Juseil collapsed on itself leaving a plume of sorrow and hopelessness that rained debris on Malovia. The man in the shadows died a thousand deaths as the tower crashed down in/around/on him. Each time his nanomolecular cells blasted apart and found each other again. They could do nothing to stop the pain. The man in the shadows rested. His liquefied true form filled a crater left by who knows what.
 
The Guasten blockade was crushed by the wreckage, he could hear survivors. Their cries were drowned out by the storm, nobody would save them.
Justine was with them, posing as a tactician. She had embedded herself into the Gausten forces over the last ten years, as she was told. The man in the shadows received new orders. The signal came from where it always had; his unknown masters pulled all the strings from high in orbit.
 
“Cancel current objective, New Juseil has been compromised. Malovia is a lost cause. Find Justine and await coordinates for evac.” There was a pause as the speaker moved closer to the transponder. “Rickard” he whispered. “It wasn’t your fault; you know we can’t stop them all. None of our tellers saw that coming. Find Justine, her distress beacon has been pinging us for the last hour. We’ll have several months of rest, Hithero is the next stop.”
 
The man in the shadows winced as command used his given name. ‘Compromised’ is right this would set Malovia back centuries the people may never recover. It was his fault, but he didn’t grieve. He was tired of preventing wars. He rose out of the puddle standing nearly seven feet tall. The nanomolecules rippled allowing each rain drop to pass through his Stygian form. He tuned into to Justine’s frequency and headed east towards the distress ping. The ever present downpour of rain overflowed the Gyres River, new tributaries cut into the farm land and wound their way around gargantuan pieces of wreckage. Rickard let himself slip into one and flow with the water.

 

He found her. She was dead. He removed the CPU nodule from her throat and vowed to find her a new body on Hithero.
“Command, Justine did not survive the wreckage. Her nodule was destroyed as well.” He lied.

“Sending coordinates for extraction, you’re coming home.”

The man in the shadows had no home not sense command has whisked him away and turned him into their stealthy pacification pawn. The man in the shadows had had enough. The sleek shuttle settled down into the mud. Its curved side yawned open for him to enter, and he did. He sat waiting for the docking klaxon to sound before de materializing into the air of the shuttle. As the shuttle depressurized he allowed himself to be taken away by the command ships air filtration system.
“The shuttle has returned. Where are you?”

 

They would triangulate his position soon. He rode the air ducts towards the bridge. He had never been on the bridge but the Tellers were there. The security was tight but his molecules could fit through one at a time. He gradually materialized next to a vent in an ancillary chamber that must have been used when humans piloted the ship. The Tellers didn’t need anything to survive other than the life force of the universe, if life thrived so did they. If wars occurred and civilizations snuffed themselves out the Tellers suffered. The man in the shadows knew of four command ships like the one he was on, it wouldn’t be a quick process to end their egotistic pacification crusade. Civilization had not survived for so long by keeping the peace. War progressed humanity. With each world shattering battle thousands of innovations were made that allowed society to grow and learn from its mistakes. Since the Tellers began their façade of assistance humanity remained stagnant.
 
“Rickard, we know you’re here. Please be warned that you have disobeyed them. They Tellers want to blank you, the onl–“ The gurgling noise followed by static could only be the captains last breath.

 

The man in the shadows was angry. His sprint made no noise; each stride touched the ground with a scientific grace, projecting sound waves to cancel the would-be-ringing footsteps. He approached the bridge and saw pieces of Captain Gherilt slumped over the console, blood dripped from the remains.
 

“Where are you!” he screamed. Gherilt was the only man he knew for the last two decades.
 
“Show yourselves, I will not stand for this any longer!”
 
As you wishhhhhh.”  The pressure in the room dropped and a silver portal opened in the far wall. The gelatinous Teller shambled into view. The man in the shadows retched. The Teller was an amalgamated disaster of a beast. A plethora of appendages and tentacles separated by gaping maws, some fanged and screaming others lax and drooling. The anguish of seeing and hearing the Teller sent The man in the shadows to his knees. He could hardly maintain his structure. Each piercing howl from the teller was accompanied by an EMP like wave that would slowly blank him. The cycle ends today. He would avenge the unknown number of men that had been blanked before him. If he didn’t they would wipe the nanomolecules and uplift another poor soul. The mantle of the Pacification Pawn was one that he would bear forever. Humanity would once again roll forward through bloody conflict like it always had. He stood on shaky feet and took three steps towards the Teller.

 
You’re a foollllll, of all the asinine attempts your ‘people’ have made yours has to be the most ill-conceived. What will you do to meeee? There are hundreds more roaming your universeeeee doing the same thing. You and I, Rickard Riechalie son of Romus Riechalie and rightfulllllll heir to the planet of Kilex are but a smudgeeeee on the cosmic painting. This is your people’s fateeeee!’
Blanked nanomolecules rained down from him as he strode closer and closer towards the Teller. They plinked and bounced across the bridge floor by the hundreds.

 
“Inaction is not action. Pacification is not an answer; Humanity begins its stand against the Tellers today. You’re right; we are nothing in the grand scheme of things.  You are nothing.” The man in the shadows was blanked. Rickard Riechalie son of Romus Riechalie was no more.

 

Far beneath them Justine was waking up. She could feel blood; no it was rain a steady patter of rain against her skin. Her visual systems were coming online too. She blinked and rolled over her hands sunk deep into the muddy bank of a river and she rose to her feet. The face of a female android stared back at her in the river. At least she was a woman this time. But what happened? She took in the landscape around her Malovia was devastated. A notification chime sounded and recording began to play.

 

“Justine. I am no more. Malovia is no more. The Tellers have no doubt blanked me by now. What we’re doing is not saving anybody. Humanity was meant to rise and fall in spikes of innovation like an eternal wave. Hard times forge us and force us to be creative. Peace is a cancer that will get us nowhere. I’ve told the Tellers you were dead and disabled this androids locaters. You have a chance Justine, a chance to fight them. There are others aware of the Tellers, find them. Find them and organize a resistance. I don’t know how to stop them but there must be a way. Humanity needs war, humanity is war. Bring the war to the Tellers and help us break free from their reins. There must be thousands of pacification pawns like us capable of who knows what, they’ll be necessary in the centuries to come. Enjoy your freedom, our freedom.”

She stood and looked up at the clouds above her in mourning. The man in the shadows did not die in vain.

 

Without a Sound

As if they were never there. Not as if they had died, which technically they had. It was different, this was as if they were, well, never there. She could recall them, yes. He was tall and their daughter, she was blonde. That ought to make a person sad. She glanced in the mirror. Normal. Nothing hurt. The closet door remained open. She shrugged and closed it. The cheap mirror on the back of the door rattled as the latch clicked. Once the mirror was straight again she found her way to the kitchen. The Bacon sizzled as she shredded sweet potatoes. Can’t go wrong with Sweet potato hash and bacon. That’s what her husband used to say. It troubled her through breakfast. She tried to remember other things about them. Focusing on her thoughts she furrowed her brow and closed her eyes. Think. Think. What were their names even? A sharp frantic knock-knock-knock-knock! shook her from her reverie. She jumped and knocked the half full glass of milk off the table. It shattered in a super nova of dairy soaked shrapnel on the tile. There was blood. She walk-hopped to the door holding a rag to her shin. The knock sounded again, four times in rapid succession.

Fuck.

She stopped in her tracks and stared at the unlocked door. Without stepping forward she reached for the door chain. Another round of knocking. She looked for the stereotypical cane/umbrella case next to the door that could be doubled as an armory. Why were those only in movies? She locked the door and ran to the kitchen for a knife or something.This time the knocks came deliberately.

Knock. Knock. Knock.

KNOCK!

She grabbed a knife and a grill skewer and crouched out of sight. She waited. Silence. Five minutes passed while she hid in ambush. Must have been the kids down the street. She told Elanor that they were trespassing last week, of course she pulled the “Don’t parent my kids card”. She walked to the table and finished the half empty glass of milk. With a shaky hand she turned the glass over. Not a crack? The last dregs trickled out onto her leg and mingled with the blood from the scrape. With a shaky hand she set the glass down and walked to the bathroom to dress her wound.

Bandaged and bathed she decided it was time to check out the closet. The old stairs creaked under her feet. She straightened the mirror on the closet door before wrenching it open. Slowly. She waved her hand in the darkness to find the string for the light. Rasputin! She called for her cat. She never really liked to be alone in the dark. She found the light string and pulled. Rasputin lay on the top shelf blinking at the light from the outside. Aww, you were locked in here bud? Come on. She reached up to grab him but recoiled at the hiss of distaste.

Asshole.

He was never nice to her. Always her daughters cat. She moved the clothes aside and stared at the wall. They were just there last night, the both of them. Huddled up and giggling. They were hiding from her. She found them and crouched in to join their closet antics. He squeezed her hand and they made eye contact. That’s all she could remember. She sunk against the wall and rubbed her eyes. When she opened them Rasputin was sitting in front of her. His tail beat the ground next to him patiently.

“Why are there no cats in the bible?” He said.

Fuck.

She ran out of the closet and down the stairs but not before grabbing the small brown box off her dresser. She went to step outside as they had been trying to abstain from smoking indoors. But recent things had her on edge. She locked herself in the bathroom. She smoked two huge bowls before putting the pipe and grinder back into the box. With the bathroom fan on to clear the air she stared into the mirror. She looked, afraid. She called her sister.

“Hey, are you guys going to be here early Saturday?”

“Sarah. I..”

“Because if you are I totally want to make breakfast. Your sweet potato hash is to die for!”

“Yeah. Um, Yeah. We’ll be there Saturday.”

“You sound weird, what’s up?”

“I’m just confused or something, do you know if there are any mental illnesses in our family?”

“I mean Mom was Mom.”

Suppressing a smile. “No, seriously Sarah.”

“No. I mean one of Mom’s uncles had Alzheimer’s or something like that. That’s all that I remember? Tell me whats up, you’re making me anxious now.”

“I, well its nothing. I’m just stoned in the bathroom.”
“You would call me from the toilet!”

“See you Saturday, she flushed the toilet and held the phone out before hanging up.”

She went out and found her laptop before settling on the couch to google cats and bibles. That was just in her head after all. She may or may not have googled ‘cats talking to me’. The search wasn’t very successful. There were some forum posts about  the folks that wrote the bible hating Egyptians, by some property their hatred was turned towards cats. That seemed sort of reasonable. Considering the intelligence of the people back then. She got distracted as people on the internet do and ended up falling asleep on the couch.

She walked through the desert in her dream along a path outline by pink granite. The moon hung low in the sky scantily clad in strings of clouds. The sand was warm beneath her feet enveloping her toes with every step. There were people in the distance.  A group of huddled figures moving in rhythm. She ran towards them. As she grew closer she could hear them chanting in a low drone. They stood in ring with bowed heads and rotated every few seconds. The closer she got the louder the chant got. It rattled her rib cage as she peaked over the shoulder of one of the cloaked figures. A little girl with the head of a cat wearing her daughters necklace sat meditating in the circle before them holding a snake. The Cat-girls eyes opened abruptly before she bit the head off the snake and spoke.
“Apep is coming. The boat is sinking. Ra is dead and all there ever was. Nobody is safe.”

The knocking from the front door woke her up quick. She didn’t need to be told twice, it was time to go. She prepared a bag of food and water, took her dads old Knife from his days in the military and the little pistol they hid under the bed along with the box of ammo and drugs. The knocking came sporadically and motivated her to leave quickly. She bounded out the back and to the garage before reversing out of the alley faster than she ever had before. She didn’t know where she would go but it felt right to get as far away from her house, their house as possible as if she were never there.

Complimentary Coffee

A steady patter of blood dripped from the guy sitting next to him. It splattered the white tiles making a pool that  reflected the bright neon lighting. They called a name on the loudspeaker and he shifted in his sit. He lifted his jaw back to his face and nodded at Justin. “It was great to meet you Justin. I hope to see you in the next phase.” They guy had gotten in a pretty bad car accident or something, it was hard to tell what the cause of death was really.

Holding his own hands out he examined them, he didn’t really feel dead his hands looked as they always have. His face felt the same, he stood and walked over to the receptionist. A long queue of folks stood at the desk staring at the waiting room with wide naive eyes.
“Excuse me, hi. I’ve been here for almost eight days just sitting over there. Can you provide an explanation or an ETA?”
“One of our care providers will be with you shortly. Please help yourself to some coffee and have a seat.”
“I’ve been helping myself to the coffee. I’ve been having my seat. Now I want some answers. What the hell is this?”

“Sir.” please lower your voice, you’ll only prolong your wait.”

His shoulders slumped forward and he hung his head before finding a new seat by the windows. They seemed like windows but outside was nothing but light. He saw no cars nor any sign of life. The woman next to him smiled and looked like she wanted to talk.
“Hey. How long have you been waiting in this DMV-esque hell?”

She motioned for him to wait a minute and fiercely began scribbling on her coffee napkin.

Smiling she held it out to him.
“I’ve been here for three months. I can’t talk because I’m embarrassed of how I died. But I watch and I listen. I don’t think there is a way out of here or a method to the madness. My name is Leah tell me about your life, why are you here so young?”

Ever the conversationalist he asked “What do you mean, you can’t talk?”

“Well.” she said in a inarticulate pneumatic voice. “I went out on the business end of a shotgun.”

When her mouth opened he could see the person behind her. She turned and confirmed by showing him the gaping exit wound on the back of her skull.

“We’re all dead apparently, there’s no sense in being self conscious. People are carrying around their limbs for christ’s sake, look at that guy completely nude. This is straight out of a Beetlejuice movie.”

“Fine.” She said.
“There’s no pouting in purgatory Leah, cheer up. We’ve got complimentary coffee after all.” She flipped him off and smiled.

“Is this purgatory though, I’m no catholic. Are you, do others even believe in this? What are we even waiting for, you know?”

“Too many questions, tell me how you died.”

“I don’t know.” He said. “I must have been sleeping or not seen it coming, I really can’t remember. I seem to be intact. its odd though, I always thought I’d be bummed out about leaving the realm of the living. But now I’m anxious to find out what’s going on here, I haven’t even thought about my old life much.”

A name was called and a corpse began shambling towards the open door, it closed behind him and another took his seat.
“Does anyone know what we’re waiting for!!” he screamed.

“Quiet down!” The receptionist snapped back a little too loudly over the speaker causing it to squeal.
“Waiting is hell Leah. Come with me.” They walked closer to the windows. “The next time that door opens I’m going to rush in. What can they even do to me, I’m dead right?”

“You should just bide your time and wait. This is the punishment we earned in life.”

“Why do you talk like that? We don’t live to earn or avoid suffering, we just live. I know I didn’t spend 33 years doing my thing just to wait in this place.”

“You know what I mean?” She was back in her chair. “I guess not.”

Purgatory, heaven, hell, reincarnation, nothingness he didn’t care, but the waiting. This process was excruciating. The door began sliding open and he ran for it. It closed quickly behind him. He was in another damn line. Everyone was still there, Leah sat near the windows a tear ran down her cheek. He went to her. “Did you know this would happen.”

She nodded.

“What happens now?”

“Two more weeks on top of whatever you had. I’m sorry, I wanted to tell you but I get so lonely here. We could be friends? I’m sorry.”

He sat down next to her with his head in his hands.

“What else do you know?”

“I, well..”
His name was called. They called his name! He ran for the door.

A diminutive man sat in a leather recliner with his legs crossed he sipped complimentary coffee. Four others were in the room wearing dark robes.
“There seems to have been a mistake, Mr. um Harris.”

“A mistake? I’ve been here over a week!”

“Yep.” The man smiled revealing a few missing teeth.
“You’re not dead Justin. Go Home.”

“But what’s all this, what’s happening here?”

“You’ll find out another time Mr.Harris. Have a good evening”

“No, wait!” He was lying on his back in a sterile white room.

“Justin, honey”

“Mm-mom.”

“Oh, I thought I’d never hear your voice again!”