A Lifelong Dream by Dylan Larson-Harsch

Dec 21 2014

A thin pinprick of light pierced the darkness. Hesitantly, it widened, forming a small circle of white. A voice came rushing into Grace’s hearing, but it was muffled, muted, as if passing through a layer of water.

The circle enlarged another inch, and the voice gained clarity, becoming a drumbeat, a pulsing repetition of some unknown word.

Grace opened her mouth to call out to the figure beyond her vision, but the moment she did, a cold liquid rushed down her throat, invading her lungs, stifling her breath. Grace fought desperately for air, arms clawing madly at the emptiness around her, but the invisible torrent continued.

Grace felt herself falling, descending into the sea of blackness, and with her last vestiges of strength, glanced up at the circle of white, steadily receding in her vision.

The circle shrank smaller and smaller, but before it could disappear completely, Grace was finally able to make out what the phantom voice was saying.

“Grace,” it called. “Grace!”


Suddenly, she awoke, tangled in her sheets, a familiar din invading her ears. She reached out to silence her alarm clock, but when doing so, found that the little black screen read 9:23, solid, unwavering, and unsympathetic.

Startled, Grace threw off her covers and dashed into the kitchen, where the stove clock confirmed her fears. Grace ran back into the bedroom, scanning around for clothes that would make her decently presentable. Something strange had happened, she concluded, and this something strange had caused her to be late for work.

Grace staggered out of her apartment, frantically fumbling with her keys to find the correct one to lock her door, dream forgotten.


When she arrived at her office building, Grace’s wristwatch read 9:48. She snuck a hurried glance at the sign stationed on the manicured lawn near the building’s entrance that read “GreenGro: Your source for Trusty Fertilizers”, hoping desperately that this small tribute would earn her remorse in the eyes of her workplace.

Grace rushed into the lobby and punched furiously at the call button of the elevator, which refused to light.

The man at the reception desk studied her quizzically, and then spoke up.

“Sorry ma’am, the elevator’s out on the weekends.”

Grace turned, confused and distraught. “Weekend? But today’s Monday.”

“No, I’m sorry,” the receptionist replied, “but today is in fact Saturday.”

Startled, Grace looked around her for some kind for confirmation of this absurdity, but found none. She opened her mouth to speak, but embarrassment forced the words back down her throat.

To dissipate the awkward stillness, Grace unnecessarily brushed a lock of hair from her face. Finding that this improved nothing, she stalked briskly out of the room, wishing never to see the receptionist again.


“Five days?” Stella’s squeal punctured through the coffee shop’s tranquility. “You slept for five days?”

“Yes, in fact I did, and somehow didn’t wake up even though my alarm was blaring away,” Grace said, and then added as an afterthought, “And quiet down. You’re ruining this place’s atmosphere.”

Stella heeded her friend’s advice. “Sorry,” she said in a subdued tone, “but I still can’t believe that. When I didn’t hear from you, I thought it was odd but…” her voice trailed off, but the flash of an idea brought her back again. “It has to be some kind of record!”

“I don’t really want people recording this,” Grace said. “I might not even have a job anymore.”

Stella swatted at her blonde curls in dismissal. “I’m sure they’ll understand. It was a freak accident! And besides,” she leaned forward and lowered her voice to an ominous timbre, “if not, you can always blame it on the chemical research and sue them for a million bucks.”

Grace matched her friend’s melodramatic posture. “And lose three million in legal fees!”

Both women retreated, laughing, and Grace sipped pensively at her drink.

“I guess I’ll have to see come Monday.”


Again taking a quick glance at the company sign, Grace strode to the GreenGro corporate offices with the confidence that it was a Monday morning and she was on time for work.

She waved hello to the receptionist, noticing thankfully that it was not the same man whom she accosted two days earlier. Grace hoped half-heartedly that this common gesture of kindness would serve as an appropriate apology for her previous behavior.

Instead of going to her desk on the seventh floor, Grace pushed the button for fourteen, the top tier of the building, where her boss presided. She waited impatiently for the elevator doors to close, wishing for solitude, but a man’s hand slipped through just before her safety was secured.

The doors reopened reluctantly, and Grace came to face Robert, one of her colleagues in Fertilizer Development.

“Grace,” he said, letting no emotion slip, “you’re back.”

Grace responded with a similarly ambiguous tone. “That I am.”

The elevator fell into silence. Grace fidgeted with her collar. Robert checked his watch.

Finally, Grace could bear the tension no longer. “Do I still have a job here?” she blurted.

Robert looked down at his feet, scanning his shoelaces for an appropriate answer. “I’m not sure,” he said. “You’ll have to ask Mr. Braxton. He was agitated by your absence, but never outright said he would fire you.”

The elevator announced its arrival at floor seven with a pleasant ding and Robert moved to exit.

“Thanks,” Grace said as Robert stepped out.

“Good luck!” he called back.


Fortunately, Mr. Braxton had no appointments scheduled for the morning, so Grace was admitted into his office with ease.

As Mr. Braxton’s secretary closed the door behind her, Grace surveyed the room of the Director of Research. There were photos on the wall of Braxton shaking hands with other, presumably important, men in front of sprawling plots of farmland. Also prominently displayed were photos of his wife and two children, which Grace suspected were Braxton’s consolations for his frequent absence from his family.

Braxton himself sat in a large leather chair that he had bought with the pessimistic knowledge that one day he would be very fat. Now, Braxton filled only a portion of the chair, which helped hide the slight protrusion of his gut and emerging jowls.

“Grace,” Braxton said, mimicking Robert’s emotionless tone. “You’re back.”

“That I am,” Grace replied feeling a slight sense of déjà vu, “but I have a very good reason for being gone.”

“I would like to hear this reason.” Braxton leaned back, exposing to Grace his thinning hairline.

“Somehow,” Grace took a deep breath. “Somehow, and I know this sounds like some far-fetched excuse, but hear me out. Somehow, I was asleep for five days.”

Braxton looked dubious.

“I know, it sounds false, but you have to believe me. Something happened when I fell asleep Sunday night, something that caused me not to wake up until Saturday morning.”

“That sounds very convenient, missing only the workweek,” Braxton said with suspicion.

Grace felt her chance at immunity sliding away. “Mr. Braxton I’m telling the truth!” she pleaded.

Braxton sighed. “You sound quite sincere, but I’m not convinced.” Grace opened her mouth to protest, but Braxton cut her off. “However, you are one of our most promising chemists, and personally you don’t seem like the kind of person to skip work. I don’t know whether you’re lying, but I don’t really care. You have your job, but this leave of absence has used up all your sick time and vacation days for this year.”

“Thank you so much!” Grace said in a burst of elation.

“Just know,” said Braxton as Grace turned to leave, “if you ever have even one minute not accounted for at this company, you’re gone.”

“I won’t let you down,” Grace said, leaving the office with a skip of joy.


Again, there was blackness. Grace turned and twisted, searching her amorphous surroundings for any traces of light, but found none.

“Grace!” a voice clear and powerful pierced through the dark and Grace noticed now that it was decidedly feminine, and vaguely familiar.

Grace began to open her mouth to respond to the call, but fear of the deluge stopped her.

“Grace!” the voice shouted again, and Grace yearned to reply, to indicate her presence and ask for answers, but memories of the past deluge held her back.

“Grace!” the voice called for a third time, and, unable to stand her silence any longer, Grace pried her lips apart, fighting resisting impulses. An icy finger slid down her throat, and Grace could only let out a small squeal before her mouth was completely filled.

Although she realized her initial plan was a mistake, Grace was still determined to find answers, and she used her arms to propel herself upwards, hoping that just by resisting she could fight this dream.

Suddenly, she saw it–a small white circle nestled in the corner of her vision. Grace changed her course, hoping, believing, that the light would give her salvation from the watery onslaught.

Grace felt her arms grow heavy and sluggish, as if she was swimming through a gelatinous slime. Her chest felt weighed down with some extra burden, and she speculated that the water had filled a significant portion of her lungs.

Again, the voice called to Grace and Grace knew she had heard it somewhere before, but the burning of her lungs snapped her attention back to her goal. Grace increased her efforts, calling on any strength she had left, feeling herself dip towards unconsciousness.

Grace refocused on her relentless swim, and the white spot was now within full view. It appeared to be a circle whose diameter was larger than Grace’s body, and as she drew closer, it illuminated her watery environs with dazzling light.

Grace felt that she was within reach of the circle, but as she lifted a leaden arm out to touch it, the circle began to recede from her reach. Panicked, Grace brought her arm in a wide arc, making a mad swipe at the glimmering light, putting the last vestiges of her strength into this final motion.

Grace’s arm stretched to an almost inhuman length, but the circle evaded her grasp, and she knew her chance was gone.

Defeated, Grace could only watch as her salvation disappeared from view, hearing her name called one final time before darkness covered her.


“The dream happened again?” Stella’s worried eyes searched Grace’s face for signs of sorrow. “Do you still have your job?”

Grace was caught off guard by this odd question, but then realized her friend’s implication. “No, luckily it was only a one-night deal this time. But it really shook me up. It was so … intense.”

Stella leaned in closer. “How so?”

“I don’t really want to go into the details,” Grace replied, looking away from her friend. “Sorry.”

“That’s perfectly alright,” Stella acquiesced, though it was clear she wanted to hear more.

“Thanks,” Grace said, staring down into her drink, still trying to avoid Stella’s gaze. Suddenly, Grace noticed with alarm that something was wrong with her fingers holding the coffee mug. They seemed to have taken on a translucency; through the fingers Grace could make out the blue swirls on the mug behind them. Puzzled, with a little worry creeping into the back of her mind, Grace held her fingers up to the light streaming from the coffee shop’s front windows, and found that the scenery behind passed right through them.

“Grace?” Stella inquired. “What are you doing?”

“My fingers,” Grace breathed. “They’re disappearing.”

Stella looked at Grace sharply. “What are you talking about? I see them just fine.”

“Oh.” Grace gave her friend a preoccupied look. “I guess it’s just me then.”


Rat-tat-tat. Rat-tat-tat. The keys of Grace’s computer clicked furiously to keep up with her hurried pace of typing. The rough draft of her report on a new polymer she had concocted was due at the end of the day, and Grace found this a suitable distraction to take her mind off her disappearing fingers.

Pausing her frenzied working, Grace looked down with concern at her hands resting on the keyboard. Below them she could see clearly all the letters and symbols her fingers were dancing over just moments ago. The translucency, verging on transparency, had made its way up to her wrists, and tendrils of clarity had begun to snake up her lower arms.

In the side of her vision, movement drew Grace’s eye. She turned from her computer, and then started back in fear. Translucency had invaded a corner of her office, and was eating its way outward into the room, creating a void that opened into the floor below.

Grace scrambled for her purse and collected her things in a cold efficiency, struggling to contain her panic. She strode briskly out of the office, paying no attention to onlookers who asked why she was leaving so early. Grace kept her lips set in a tight line, afraid that if she moved them she would scream. Something was wrong, Grace knew, and this something had invaded her dreams, and now her life. It was coming for her.


Throughout her commute home, clear spots plagued Grace’s vision. Sidewalks, buildings, lampposts, they all succumbed to the encroaching translucency. Streets revealed the dirt they had been built on; dirt vanished to show layers of rock deep in the earth.

Grace kept her hands clenched tight on the steering wheel, for now she could no longer see then at all. Her arms too, had disappeared.

Glancing furtively at her surroundings, Grace noticed that although they were disappearing as well no one else seemed to be conscious of their plight, oblivious to their impeding erasure. Grace set her eyes back on the road.

After arriving at her apartment and removing her footwear, Grace discovered that her feet had vanished as well. Stifling a scream that instead dribbled out in a small whimper, Grace decided that a drink would do her some good. When she reached her hand up to open the liquor cabinet, however, she felt nothing connect with the knob. Grace looked at the place her hand had been blankly, feeling her heart increase its pulse. Now, Grace realized, she was not just turning invisible, she was turning into nothingness, along with the rest of the world.

Grace sat down hard on the tiles of her kitchen floor, for she felt that her feet were no longer stable enough to support her. She leaned her head back against the base of a counter and finally allowed tears to stream down her cheeks. For the first time, Grace understood fully that she was going to die, and that she would have no idea why. She felt dim regrets and misgivings, but they were dwarfed by the numbness overtaking her being.

Grace closed her eyes, suddenly feeling very fatigued, and tried to muster some peace and relaxation in her last moments alive.


She was surrounded again by darkness.

“Grace!” the voice shouted again, and Grace came to the sudden realization that it belonged to Stella.

“Grace you need to focus!” Stella instructed, and Grace nodded in affirmation to her friend, feeling the rush of water around her, bringing back painful memories of her last dream.

A flash of brilliance caught the corner of Grace’s eye, and she turned to find that the white circle had appeared once more. It widened slowly, stretching out against its murky surroundings, heaving with intense effort to dissipate the blackness. Finally, it could expand no more and was forced to be content with the surrounding darkness.

“It’s up to you now!” Stella called. “You have to get out of this dream!”

Grace nodded in affirmation, wondering fleetingly if her friend could even see her gesture. She swam for the circle of white with strong decisive strokes, being careful to keep her lips tightly sealed against the threatening deluge.

After making sizeable progress, Grace noticed that her throat was beginning to burn. First it was an itch, then an irritation, now a fiery pain that scraped up and down her trachea.

As Grace drew closer, the circle grew larger and ever more brilliant in her view, and she quickened her pace, muscles crying out in protest of their oxygen-deprived states. The burning had now become a raging inferno that licked at the corners of Grace’s lips, trying to pry them open and search for air. Grace kept her eyes set on the circle, her salvation, trying to ignore the agony of her body. A pulse of red haze began to invade her vision, accompanied by a throbbing pain in her temple.

Grace maintained her course, fighting every urge in her body to open her mouth and inhale a massive lungful of water. Finally, after what seemed to Grace like hours of struggle, she reached the white circle.

Again, Grace reached out to touch the brilliant light shining before her.

Her fingers connected with the light, a cool, refreshing sensation washing over them. Grace felt herself being pulled closer and closer in, until finally she was enveloped in a brilliant embrace of white.


Grace awoke in a hospital bed to see people clustered above her clamoring to get a closer view, as if she were an exhibit in a zoo. Almost all of the strangers were wearing lab coats, and many carried clipboards. Among them, Grace spotted Stella’s face, which she latched onto it as a beacon of sanity amidst the confusion surrounding her.

“Where am I?” Grace asked meekly. “And who are these people?”

Stella responded to Grace’s inquiries by barking orders at the onlookers. “All right break it up! You can poke and prod her later, just give the girl some space.”

The throng retreated from the room and Grace smiled thankfully.

Stella turned her attention to Grace. “Sorry about them,” she said, then sighed like a parent having to explain a complex issue to a child. “Grace, you are … in the real world now.”


“Where you have been living for the past thirty-odd years, well only about six months in the real world, was in fact a dream, manufactured by this apparatus,” Stella motioned to the tangle of wires hanging over the bed where Grace now sat. “The operation was very complex; this was the longest time anyone had spent in the Dreamspace. The difficulty of the whole thing was getting you out of the dream before it expired. There’s a rule that the dream will only last until you reach your current age, then there’s nothing left to imagine and it just ends. There were complications, like our first attempt that lasted for five days instead of just one night, and the botched second attempt where we couldn’t keep the Gateway open long enough for you to cross it. You’re lucky you made it when you did, or your consciousness would have been trapped in dream purgatory.”

Grace furrowed her brow in worried consternation, mulling over the implications of what Stella had said. “So we’re not really friends? We don’t meet and have coffee?”

“We’re still friends,” Stella replied. “In fact, we designed this system together. It was our lifelong dream. I guess we get coffee sometimes. The Dreamspace is made up of your mind, so some things will hold true.”

Grace shook her head. “This just still doesn’t feel real,” she said with worry. “I still feel like I’m dreaming now. I just can’t believe that my entire life, everything I remember, was all a fabrication of my brain.”

The door of the small room opened, and a man stepped tentatively in.

“I was told I could see her now?” he asked Stella.

Grace was now even more confused. “Robert?”

“Grace!” he replied with elation and moved to embrace her, but Grace shied back.

“Her memory,” Stella began, but trailed off and let the phrase speak for itself.

“Grace,” Robert repeated with dejection. “Don’t you remember me? Your own husband?”

“Husband?” Grace echoed with abhorrence, for the possibility seemed so foreign to her, that she and Robert could ever have a relationship outside of their work life.

Another man entered the room, older and with the beginnings of obesity lining his body. “Is Grace ready for the doctors?” he asked impatiently. “They’re getting really antsy out there. Not to mention the news crews. Let’s move it along.”

Grace looked at him with wide eyes. “Mr. Braxton? You’re part of this too?”

Mr. Braxton glared at Stella and said with annoyance, “Is she not acclimated yet?”

“I’m sorry sir, but it’s been harder than we anticipated. Even the sight of Robert couldn’t bring her back.”

Robert let out a frustrated huff as he tried again to connect with his wife and was again rebuffed. Stella and Braxton paused in their conversation and looked over to Grace’s bed.

Grace had shrunk back in her hospital bed, head brushing against the cool metal wires. Her mind was slowly filling with panic at the thought of these people invading her life, her life that had been so perfect but now was ripped away. “No, no,” she mumbled frantically, shaking her head from side to side. “No, no, no, this can’t be happening!” She addressed her surroundings, “This has to be a dream! You’re all a dream! None of this is real!”

She jumped from the bed and darted past her three stunned onlookers, hospital gown swishing against her legs. “Take me back, take me back!” she screamed, fleeing into the next room, where all manner of medical professional jumped up to receive her. Grace pushed through their outstretched hands, desperate to get out of the horrid building and back to her life.

She had made it through the clot of doctors when Braxton stepped out of her room. “Stop her!” he commanded. “Don’t let her get any further!”

“Take me back, take me back,” Grace moaned as she sprinted down a hallway in a blind frenzy. At the end of the corridor, she saw a large, important-looking door that, in her head overloaded with new information, she reasoned could only lead to her old life. Grace increased her pace.

Grace had her hands wrapped around the metal handle when the bullet struck her. It ripped through her skull, carving a grizzly path straight into her brain.

Grace sank to the floor, hands limply falling from the handle of the door marked “Press Room.”

Behind her, Braxton clicked the handgun’s safety back into place and handed it back to the guard he had taken it from. “You never know when these things might come in handy,” he said.

Braxton turned to Robert and Stella, who were standing at his side, mouths hung open in mortification. “Not a word of this to anyone, right?” he said. Then, extending his voice for all the doctors to hear, “Not a word! The official story is she died before we could properly get her out of the dream. Got that? Not a word of any of this … business. Nothing.”


I am currently a student who loves to write. In my free time, I am an avid runner and enjoy tinkering on the keys of a piano. My favorite authors include John Steinbeck and Aldous Huxley.

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Through the eyes of another by C.J. Carter-Stephenson

Dec 14 2014

Sarah Timpson was a pretty girl of fifteen. Her friends called her Raven on account of her luxuriant black hair and melancholy dress sense. Heavy eyeliner, dark lipstick and gothic clothes were Raven’s weapons of choice in a war against fickle fashion. Yet, her appearance wasn’t the only thing that marked Raven out from other girls her age. Her parents had died in a car accident two years earlier, and as a result, she had an unhealthy fixation with death. Living now with her paternal grandparents in the Highgate area of London, she regularly sneaked into the restricted part of the famous local cemetery to sketch the majestic monuments or write poetry.

So it was that she came to be reclining against one of the cemetery’s many crumbling Celtic crosses one balmy evening in June, watching the sun set and chewing the end of her pen as she pondered the contents of her latest poem. Surrounded by trees, far from any of the main paths, she could almost have believed she was alone in the world. This would have unsettled some people, but not her. In Highgate Cemetery she could forget the harsh realities of life.

Removing her pen from her mouth, she scribbled down a few lines of verse, and then paused, allowing her eyes to wander over the nearby gravestones. It didn’t matter how often she came to the cemetery; its grandeur struck her every time. Her eyes widened in interest as they alighted on a dancing cherub fixed to the peaked roof of a nearby mausoleum. The statue, which appeared to be looking directly at her, was so realistic she could hardly believe it wasn’t a living child.

“Hasn’t anyone ever told you it’s rude to stare?” she asked with a wry smile. The statue looked back at her impassively, locked forever in its carved imitation of enjoyment. “Fine, ignore me,” Raven said softly. “Everybody else does.”

She shifted around, trying to get comfortable and went back to her poem, only to tut in irritation. For some reason, the words she was looking for seemed to elude her. They would come eventually, though. Writer’s block never lasted long for Raven, and was usually superseded by a period of extreme creativity.

As she continued to rack her brains for inspiration, a strange light-headed feeling began to creep over her. She shook her head to try and rid herself of the feeling, but to no avail.

Slumping over to the side, her gaze happened to fall once more on the stone cherub above the mausoleum. It seemed to leer at her with a new malevolence. She tried to tell herself it was just her imagination, but whatever was happening to her was making it increasingly difficult to concentrate. She could feel her head growing heavier and heavier, even as her sense of the world around her began to slip away. A moment later, her eyes slid shut and she lost consciousness.

* * *

At least, she presumed she had lost consciousness, though the dream she fell into seemed uncannily real. She was still in the confines of Highgate Cemetery, but in a completely different part – the sunken catacombs of the Circle of Lebanon. Night had fallen and the crypt doors were shrouded in darkness.

Feeling uneasy, Raven wanted suddenly to leave the cemetery. It came as something of a shock, therefore, when she found herself heading away from the nearest exit. She was given no time to ponder her body’s failure to respond to her commands, though, as at that moment, a stone came flying at her from out of nowhere, striking her squarely on the forehead. Her legs buckled under her and she collapsed to the floor. She pushed herself up onto her hands and knees, and was just struggling to her feet when she saw three male figures in dark clothing step out of the shadows a little way ahead. She forced her eyes to focus on the three as they stood looking at her. Although their faces were barely visible, she could somehow see the malice in their eyes.

Laughing and whispering to each other in a way that chilled Raven to the bone, the men walked slowly forwards. Raven let out an involuntary yelp and backed away from them. Then, she turned and fled, aware from the pounding of footsteps on the gravel behind her that they were in hot pursuit. Her breathing grew heavier and she felt her heart thumping in her chest like a drum.

Hearing them gaining on her, Raven shot a glance over her shoulder. She was still well out of their reach, but for how long? Frantically seeking some means of escape, she headed off down a narrow turning to her left. She considered whether her best chance might be to hide in one of the crypts, but quickly dismissed this idea. Her pursuers were so close they would easily spot any such ploy.

Raven didn’t want to think about what would happen to her if she was caught, but was unable to shut out the terrible possibilities. Judging by the look on the men’s faces, she would be lucky if she made it through the night alive. She was interrupted in these grim thoughts by a boot slamming into her back. Her feet slid out from under her and she found herself tumbling forwards with her arms and legs flailing madly. Hitting the ground with a thud, she felt the air rushing out of her lungs. She tried to ignore the sensation and scramble to her feet, but was prevented from doing so by a booted foot pressing down on the middle of her back, pinning her to the floor. She struggled desperately, but couldn’t wiggle free.

The men stood over her, chuckling to themselves. There were a thousand obscenities she wanted to say to them, but she found that words were beyond her and all she could manage were inarticulate howls.

The man with the foot on her back pushed down painfully. She thrashed about, trying to shake him off, but it was no use. A second man crouched down beside her. “Aren’t you just the cutest little thing,” he whispered coldly, speaking the words directly into her ear, so she could feel his hot breath. The others sniggered.

Raven craned her neck round, to get a look at the one who had spoken. With his scruffy blond hair and smooth face, he looked about her own age. She was on the verge of appealing to whatever passed for his conscience, when he curled his lips into a cruel sneer and spat in her face. The hatred in his eyes was tangible. Raven wondered what she could possibly have done to warrant such animosity. Did these men hate the entire female sex or was it something personal? Either way, there was no point pleading for mercy, as it was plain she wouldn’t get it.

She lay on the ground in abject terror, waiting to see what her attackers would do next. Her breath came in short sharp bursts and she was trembling uncontrollably. Suddenly, she felt a searing pain in her left leg. The third man, who until that moment had been watching his companions from a distance, had stepped forward and was burning her with a lit cigarette. He held it against her thigh, seeming to take great delight in the smell of singed flesh. She felt the tears streaming down her cheeks.

At last, the cigarette was removed. Raven was about to utter a sigh of relief, when she found herself being lifted bodily into the air. She flung herself desperately from side to side, but the hands that held her were like iron and she couldn’t escape. Never in her life had she felt so powerless.

She was just asking herself what her attackers planned to do next, when they sent her flying through the air towards a nearby wall. She raised her arms in an attempt to shield her head, bracing herself for the impending impact. When it came, it was infinitely harder than expected. She slid to the floor in a paroxysm of agony and awareness slipped away.

* * *

Coming around covered in sweat, Raven sat bolt upright and shook her head groggily. The things she had just witnessed had been so vivid it was hard to believe they hadn’t really happened; so hard, in fact, that she began to wonder if it was possible she had been having some kind of psychic vision. Could it be there was a terrible crime taking place elsewhere in the cemetery at that very moment? The idea made her blood run cold and her immediate instinct was to run home as fast as she could. Then, she remembered the fear she had felt at the hands of her three attackers. There was no way she was going to abandon somebody in that kind of distress.

Before Raven knew what she was doing, she had pulled out her phone and was ringing her friend Liam. Liam’s house overlooked the cemetery, so she knew it wouldn’t take him long to reach her. It might have made more sense for her to call the police, but she knew how unlikely it was that her vision would be believed and she didn’t have time to stand around trying to convince people. She bit her lip as the phone rang. Finally, she heard Liam’s voice on the other end. “Hello,” he said.

Raven could have cried out in relief. “Liam, thank God,” she said with heartfelt sincerity. “Get over to Highgate Cemetery as fast as you can. I’ll meet you at the North Gate.”

“But…” Liam began.

“There’s no time for questions,” Raven told him. “Just do it.”

“Okay,” Liam said simply, hanging up the phone.

Raven made her way quickly through the tangled undergrowth towards the North Gate, steering clear of the Circle of Lebanon. Reaching the grassy clearing in front of the gate, she concealed herself in a nearby bush to wait for her friend.

Before long, she saw him climbing awkwardly over the wrought iron railings, being careful to avoid the barbed wire at the top. As he dropped to the ground, he looked to either side of him, whispering her name. Darting out of her hiding place, she ran to meet him.

“What the hell is going on?” he asked in a worried voice.

“Thanks for coming so quickly,” said Raven, her voice trembling. “I’m afraid I don’t have much time to explain why I called you – a life may depend on us acting quickly. I was sitting writing a poem…

“It’s kind of late for you to be up here on your own,” Liam interrupted.

“Are you going to listen to me?” Raven demanded.

Liam apologized and she continued, “As I was saying, I was sitting here minding my own business, when I started to feel faint. Next thing I knew I had passing out and seemed to see myself being attacked somewhere else in the cemetery.”

“And you were so freaked out by what you’d dreamt that when you woke up, you phoned me, so I could come and get you,” said Liam.

“No, that’s not it, and it wasn’t a dream,” Raven insisted. “It was something else.”

“What?” Liam asked.

“A vision, a premonition – I don’t know,” Raven floundered.

“So you think you were seeing through someone else’s eyes,” Liam said, “and this attack may still be going on?”

Raven nodded. “Hence the need to hurry,” she said. “Come on!”

She started across the plaza in the direction of the Circle of Lebanon. To her surprise, Liam did not follow her. “I don’t know, Raven,” he objected. “It sounds kind of far-fetched.”

“That’s because you didn’t see it!” Raven exclaimed, seizing him by the arm. “It was as real as this conversation. Anyway, we’re talking about somebody’s life. If there’s even a chance I’m right, I think it’s worth investigating.”

Liam didn’t look convinced, but allowed her to lead him up the path. They moved quickly and made as much noise as possible in the hope that the sound of their approach would scare the felons into flight.

The Egyptian Avenue, which leads to the Circle of Lebanon, loomed into view ahead of them and they raced through into the sunken catacombs. “It’s this way,” Raven said in a definite tone, leading her friend off to the right. They hurried past the silent crypts, scanning the shadows for any sign of the three men or their victim.

An owl hooted somewhere and Raven convulsively clutched Liam’s arm. They passed the place where her vision had begun and spotted a dark shape sprawled against one of the walls a little way ahead. At this distance, they couldn’t tell what it was, but it looked about the right size to be a handbag. Drawing nearer, they saw something that made them stop in their tracks. On the wall above it there was a long smear of fresh blood. Raven turned her head away in disgust. “I think we should get out of here,” Liam said. Raven shook her head. She wasn’t about to turn back now. Pulling him along behind her, she edged forwards.

When they were finally close enough to investigate, Raven couldn’t decide whether to breathe a sigh of relief or burst into tears. The thing on the ground was a dead cat. Apparently the vision she’d had was a projection of the things this poor animal had gone through and not the experiences of a person as she had assumed. She should have been thankful for this, but she wasn’t. Having shared in its fear and pain, she couldn’t help pitying it just as much as she would a fellow human being. She looked down at it with tears in her eyes. Its tabby fur was streaked with blood and the look on its face was one of sheer terror. She couldn’t understand how anyone could bring themselves to harm such a defenceless creature. Turning her back on it, she was about to start retracing her steps, when she heard a faint meow somewhere in the distance.

“What was that?” Liam asked, looking nervously around.

“It sounded like a cat,” Raven replied. “I’ll bet our three killers have found another victim and are torturing it to death even as we speak. Maybe this time we can stop them in their tracks. Come on.” Beckoning for Liam to follow her, she headed off along the path in the direction the meow had come from.

Liam laid a hand on her arm and twisted her around to face him. “Would you stop and think for a minute,” he pleaded. “Even if you’re right, confronting three guys whose idea of a good time is hanging around cemeteries killing cats sounds like a seriously bad idea.”

Pulling away from him, Raven pointed at the dead cat. “Look at it, Liam!” she exclaimed. “Look at what they did to it. If you think I’m going to skulk off home while it happens again, you’ve got another thing coming.” As if on cue, a second plaintive meow sounded in the distance.

Narrowing her eyes at Liam in a look of reproach, Raven swung sharply around and continued along the footpath. Liam followed, but it was obvious from his muttered complaints that he was less than happy about it.

After a while, they reached a junction. Raven was just asking herself whether she should take the right fork out of the Circle of Lebanon or continue ahead, when a meow to the right provided the answer. With a satisfied nod, she headed towards it.

The path deteriorated rapidly as they left the circle behind, but Raven refused to slow down. If reaching her destination in time meant stubbing her toe or being stung by a nettle, then so be it.

Several further meows guided the pair onwards past an assortment of broken statues and ivy-covered headstones, until they came to a mausoleum in the style of an ancient Greek temple. Here, a particularly loud repetition of the sound told them to leave the path. Without hesitation, Raven plunged through the long grass. It was then that she spotted a light. “It’s them,” she whispered.

As they drew nearer, it became apparent the light was coming from inside a dense copse. Hardly daring to breath, they crept to the edge of the tree line and peered through. The men they had come to find were sitting around a fire, sharing a can of beer and ogling the pages of a smutty magazine. A number of neglected gravestones rose out of the ground around them, together with a statue of the Archangel Michael, standing proudly on a squat pedestal in an intricately carved suit of armour. The statue appeared to be missing a sword, but was otherwise in a reasonable state of repair.

Raven stared at the three men in front of her, seeing again their earlier cruelty in the theatre of her mind. Then, she clenched her fists and strode towards them. She was vaguely aware of Liam asking her what she was doing in a hissing undertone, but she didn’t reply. She couldn’t tell him what she was doing, because she didn’t know. This time, he didn’t follow her.

Momentarily startled by Raven’s sudden emergence from the tangle of branches, the three men leapt to their feet to confront her. “Where the hell did you come from?” demanded one of them – a gaunt individual with close-cropped hair.

“I came from over there,” replied Raven, pointing over her shoulder with her thumb.

The man scratched his chin, apparently not entirely sure what to make of her. “Is that supposed to be funny?” he asked.

Raven eyed him coldly. “Of course it’s supposed to be funny,” she told him, “though I’m guessing from your lack of laughter that you and I have a different sense of humour. It’s the way of the world, I guess. Some of us like wordplay, others are more partial to tormenting small animals.”

The man gave a nod of understanding. “So that’s what this is about,” he said. “You saw us goofing around with that cat.” Raven glared at him, unable to believe the callousness of his tone.

“What’s the matter little girl? Is the nasty man upsetting you,” said one of the others, taking a sip of beer. This one was tall with ginger hair and freckles. “Serves you right for spying on us. The world hates a snoop.”

“The world hates murderers more,” Raven retorted.

The ginger-haired man took another swig of beer. “If I were you, I’d be more concerned about myself than some dead cat,” he remarked.

“Damn right,” said the first one. “You’re all alone in the middle of a deserted cemetery. Who knows what we might do to you?”

“She’s not alone,” said Liam, finally plucking up the courage to join his friend. He folded his arms and made a valiant attempt to look threatening.

“Uh-oh guys, it’s the big bad boyfriend,” said the ginger-haired man sarcastically. “I guess we should make a run for it.” He pretended to tremble in fear, and then laughed maliciously. “On second thoughts, let’s make him watch while we screw seven shades of shit out of his bitch.” Finishing the last of the beer, he tossed the empty can at Liam, who dodged awkwardly to the side, narrowly avoiding being hit.

Liam opened his mouth to speak, his face contorted with anger, but Raven beat him to it. “We don’t want any trouble,” she said, holding up her hands. “We just want the cat.”

“Don’t want any trouble?” repeated the third man – the fresh-faced youth who she’d considered appealing to for mercy in her vision. “You should have thought of that before.”

“Besides,” the gaunt man cut in, “as we’ve already established, the cat’s dead.”

“Cat number one’s dead,” Raven agreed. “I’m talking about cat number two.”

The men looked confused. “I hate to break this to you,” said the gaunt one, “but there is no cat number two.”

Raven gulped. Something in the man’s voice told her he was speaking the truth, which meant this whole confrontation was pointless. “But we heard it meowing…” she protested weakly.

“I don’t care what you heard,” the gaunt man grunted. “There is no cat number two.”

Raven licked her lips nervously, wondering what it was she and Liam had actually heard. She’d assumed it was a living cat, but was it possible it was the ghost of the dead one? Either way, it had led them into a proverbial hornet’s nest. Suddenly appreciating the danger of her situation, she took hold of Liam’s hand and backed away.

“Leaving so soon?” asked the ginger-haired man.

“I’m afraid so,” replied Raven, amazed at how calm she sounded. “I’ve just realized it’s past my bedtime.” Continuing to edge away from the three men, she felt her back press up against something cold and hard. She turned around and found herself looking at the statue of the Archangel Michael.

Suddenly, an icy wind began to blast towards her. It was no ordinary wind, though. In its blustering she seemed to hear a cacophony of whispered voices, like the restless souls of the cemetery speaking to her from beyond the grave. Much of what was said was muffled and indistinct, but one word came across time and again – “Revenge!”

“What’s going on?” asked Liam as the three cat killers were swept off their feet and came sliding across the ground towards them.

“Damned if I know,” said Raven, “but I suggest we move.” She darted to the side, pulling Liam along with her, just in time to avoid the whirling men.

The wind died away and the fallen men clambered to their feet in front of the statue of the Archangel Michael, looking confused. Raven watched them for a moment and then glanced at the sky. It seemed to be getting darker.

As she turned her attention back to the scene in front of her, something unbelievable happened. Flexing its stone muscles, the statue of the Archangel Michael stepped down from its pedestal. A fiery sword had appeared in its upraised hand and its eyes were pulsating with preternatural energy.

Raven supposed she should have been afraid, but she wasn’t, somehow sensing that the statue meant her no harm. Liam didn’t appear to be scared either, though his jaw was hanging open in disbelief. The cat killers, on the other hand, were cowering before the statue like terrified animals caught in the headlights of an approaching car. Even when it became apparent the statue was preparing to attack them, they didn’t move. It was as if they had fallen into some kind of trance.

Raven watched in horror as the statue’s blazing sword came arcing downwards. Whilst she despised the men for what they’d done, killing them was wrong. It wouldn’t bring their feline victim back to life. It would simply cause pain and anguish to their families.

The ginger-haired man was the first to feel the blade’s sting. As it touched him, his body burst into flames. The heat was so intense that Raven found herself being driven back from it, even as the sword continued on its downward trajectory, tearing through the man’s head and torso like a knife through butter and splitting him in two.

Jerking convulsively, the two halves of his body fell away from each other and thudded to the floor in a sea of flames. His skin had already burnt away entirely and the gristle beneath was bubbling ferociously, sending clouds of acrid smoke billowing up into the air. Soon, all that remained were two burnt-out slabs of putridness, which had lost so much of their shape and consistency they were barely recognizable as human remains. Then, there was only ash.

The flames died away and the statue turned its attention to the man with the youthful face. Raven could see the terror in his eyes, but he still didn’t move; not even when the statue’s terrible sword pierced his heart and he erupted into flames. Raven shuddered. The fire was insatiable, devouring flesh and bone with breathtaking speed, leaving nothing behind but a pile of cinders.

As soon as the fire went out, the statue lifted its sword to strike out at the remaining man, but this time Raven was ready. Placing herself directly in front of it, she grabbed hold of its arm with both hands. For a moment, it seemed uncertain what to do, then it slapped her across the face with the back of its free hand, sending her flying through the air into a nearby headstone.

By the time she’d picked herself up, the man she’d been trying to save had shared the fate of his companions. She cried out in frustration, but the statue seemed not to hear. Rising to its feet, it resumed its former position in the centre of the pedestal, its flaming sword vanishing.

Looking at it then, it would have been easy to dismiss its violent attack as a product of her own imagination, had it not been for the residual ash. Those pathetic remains confirmed that this was no mere statue. It was a bona fide angel of vengeance. Not to mention a vicious killer, and she was its unwitting accomplice, having brought its victims within its reach. No doubt the emotive vision and the sound of the second cat had been a deliberate tactic to lead her to do this. Such things must surely be in an angel’s power, or if not an angel’s, then the master it served. And what of that master? What of God Almighty? She had never really believed in Him before, but she believed in Him now; believed in Him and hated Him. This travesty of justice was His doing, just as the death of her parents had been His doing.

Banging her fists against the statue’s chest, she turned her eyes to heaven and cried out at the top of her voice, “If you’re listening, God, know this – I despise you. You’re supposed to be loving and forgiving, when really you’re cruel and unkind. I only wish you were here right now, so I could spit in your face.”

Feeling Liam touch her on the shoulder, Raven turned to face him, so she didn’t see the statue’s flaming sword reappear. Nor did she see it come sweeping down towards her.

Whatever its true origins might have been, the statue believed it was a genuine angel, and it would not tolerate blasphemy.

About the Author
C.J. Carter-Stephenson was born in 1977 in the county of Essex in the United Kingdom. He is currently flirting with careers in both acting and writing, while engaging in more mundane jobs to stay afloat on the turbulent sea of life. He has recently had a children’s science fiction novel and a collection of vampire stories published by Bonito Books. Full details of the former (a Children’s Literary Classics award winning title) can be found at the following dedicated website:


Details of the latter are available on his personal website, http://www.carter-stephenson.co.uk/.
Other publication credits include stories in the following magazines: AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, Dark Horizons (the former journal of the British Fantasy Society), Murky Depths, The Willows, Hadrosaur Tales and Legend: Worlds of Possibility.

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Reload By J.M. Scott

Dec 07 2014

Reload wasn’t a typical superhero, but then again, what really defines typical in a world of satin capes and masks of infinite ruse. All he knew, or cared about, was that he was born Guthrie Goodheart and was raised by his parents in the great city of San Francisco. He and his two older sisters were foster children who lived in the Pacific Heights district. The Goodhearts were kind enough to adopt all three of them at a very young age, which meant his sisters were the only blood relatives he’d ever known.

He still thought about the foggy afternoon in Golden Gate Park when the three of them went for a stroll as they had done many times before. A disgusting man, whose morality was shaped by the stench of crystal meth, was known to terrorize the locals in the area. He caught Guthrie and his sisters off guard and held them in the shadows at gunpoint. Guthrie never knew what the man’s intentions were. He may have wanted money. He may have wanted unsolicited passion, but in the end, two bodies fell; their faces frozen with fear. Guthrie wanted to help them. He wanted to save them, but he was as powerless as a statue standing in an abandoned courtyard; its lifeless eyes seeing everything, the death, the gray, but its arms refusing to move.

Then, it was as if fate had favored the impossible. Guthrie saw the bullet that was meant for him turn inside the barrel of the gun before it launched within a shower of yellow sparks. The hot lead pierced his chest and rode alongside the apex of his beating heart. He should have been dead, but he wasn’t. As it turned out, the gun was a stolen artifact from a local collection. Its components were forged from a piece of raw metal that was struck by a thunderbolt wielded by the king of Mount Olympus, Zeus. The bullet lodged in Guthrie’s chest gave him agility, strength, and above all, the power to transform any available material into ammunition. Water, concrete, air; they all had different properties to serve his needs. Later, when Guthrie was an adult, he tracked down the firearm that had fired the life changing round. The gun did his bidding, reshaping itself into whatever Guthrie desired. If he needed a shotgun, the metal would transform upon command. If he needed a rifle, it would do the same. He had become someone different. He’d become the superhero Reload.

In short, he was a bad ass, and his powers were what led him to his fortune as a three gun tough guy on the professional circuit. There was only one problem. He lived in San Francisco. The city where he was raised would forever make him an outcast, never taking him into her loving arms. The concrete and steel gave birth to a liberal town that feared and hated firearms like a heard of sheep that couldn’t rest because the wolf just outside the gate salivated with ravenous intent. It didn’t matter how much good Reload did. It didn’t matter how many lives he saved. He was just a savage with a gun, and even though it was unlikely he would ever press palms with the mayor, he knew what he was doing was right.

Reload stood within his usual perch atop Coit Tower and watched the tourists funnel into Pier 39 with a pair of binoculars. The small windows didn’t give him the best view of the city, but he’d learned how to work around what he couldn’t see. He wasn’t wearing his trademark glasses and made sure to pay the five dollar fee to visit to the observation area as usual. He’d always felt there was no need reveal his alter ego if it wasn’t absolutely necessary. Yes…it was best if he didn’t ruffle too many feathers especially since he was about to pull out a half smoked cigar and enjoy the rest of its flavor. He looked around carefully as if to minimize the guilt he felt over possibly disturbing any other city watchers. There was no one about, so he lit the damn thing and puffed away. If he had his druthers, he’d also be enjoying a fine red wine, possibly something local, or from the Napa Valley. He thought about how silly he’d look as a superhero if he sat cross legged at a quiet table sampling cheese while swirling a glass of the fine purple liquid. One of the reasons he’d taken up cigar smoking was to assert his masculinity to the general public. To give Reload the look of being a real man. In truth, Guthrie was far milder than he led on, but he didn’t mind playing up the part on occasion. It gave him a thrill.

Small wisps of smoke from the lit cigar glided past the eyes of curved glass. The apparition temporarily blocked his vigil, but he didn’t mind. He needed a break from the monotony anyway. Spying on the balletic menagerie of city new comers on a slow night was almost as interesting as watching the Weather Channel during a report of mild to low tepidity. Their activity was mostly sedate; it was the actual denizens of the city that caused most of the trouble.

He sighed and then looked down. A loose section of newspaper shifted around the base of his foot like a child tugging at a parent’s leg in a supermarket. Reload hadn’t read a printed copy of The San Francisco Chronicle in some time. If he wanted news, he generally got it online, but tonight he entertained himself by scanning the tender pages of offset colors and skillful text.

On the front page, there was a picture of The Golden Gate Bridge. The article seemed to be about a retrofit project, or at least, that’s what he gleaned from perusing the first line of each paragraph. As he read on, this time with more intent, it seemed that back in the mid 2000’s some of the rivets had been replaced with a new metal that was an experimental hybrid made from two other solids. Apparently, the local physicist who designed the element hid the samples in the bridge touting that the metal would lead to the downfall of mankind. The material was strong, light weight and easy to manufacture. It also had an unknown biological element.

Biological, Reload thought. That’s all we need is smart metal. This doesn’t bode well for the next country we plan to invade.

But as for the downfall of mankind, “We’re already there,” Reload murmured. “We’re already there.”

He finished the article noting the way in which physicist’s hard drive had been decrypted by a family member eager to capitalize on the fortune that might come from the excavation of the new material.

It wasn’t long before Reload grew bored and sent the folds of sheen soaring into the night like a misguided bird seeking an undecided respite of hardened stone. He raised his binoculars and gave the bridge a quick scan. The fog was rolling in which always gave him a slight sense of anxiety. He had to be able to see his target if his skills were to be effective.

“San Francisco just loves me,” he jibed sardonically as he scanned the street below.

He noticed a passing police car. The block numbers on the top read B-37. It was officer Jillian Granger. She was a formidable shooter, winning multiple competitions within the USPSA circuit. He’d watched her technique from afar during Nationals. She was impressive, but what he liked most was the way her blonde ponytail bounced like a schoolgirl jumping rope. He liked the pink lenses of her eye protection; hell, when he really thought about it, he just liked her. She walked by him a few times during a competition and he remembered the soft caress of her perfume. It was a distant sensation, not something he usually took note of amongst the usual scent of gun powder and sweat.

Then, Jillian’s radio sparked with intermittent bursts of static. Reload tried to make sense of the conversation, but the wind kept the conversation distant. He thought he heard the words Emergency and Golden Gate Bridge. Jillian jumped in her cruiser and sped away. It was all the incentive he needed to make an inquiry. If Jillian was going to be there then so would he.

Reload bounded down several sets of stairs and spit out of the building’s exit like a man running from a fire. He straddled his black motorcycle and sped down Lombard street to Mason and then onto Chestnut. Soon, he’d reach Highway 1 before he was on to the bridge. He’d have to don his shooting glasses before he reached his destination. They were large with a shiny black face which kept his identity obscured as well as helping him to see in the dark. The glasses had been designed for him, when he masqueraded the competitive shooter Guthrie Goodheart, by Titan Technologies. Reload could make the shadows visible and be fed ballistic information through a micro-computer screen embedded within the thin layers of the optical device. A sensor tracked the movement of his retina, and when he gave the voice command “distance” an amber box adjusted to the object of of which he was focused. Then, a series of red numbers scrolled down the side of the display helping him to consider the overall effectiveness of the shot he was going to take. Calculations including gyroscopic drift, ambient air density and even the Coriolis effect helped him decide if he was able to make an effective hit.

The technology was great, but he was more concerned with utilizing its magnification properties to keep an eye on Jillian. He’d find her once he was closer to the bridge and make sure she stayed safe.

“Normal,” Reload snapped. The led technology within his view faded just in time for him to see the semi-truck in front of him begin to swerve. In a heartbeat, the 75,000 pound behemoth veered right and clipped the rear of a Prius one lane over. The battery operated piece of junk spun out of control. The driver’s screams, dulled by his confinement, were visible but mute.

Reload listed to his right and gently touched the asphalt with his fingertips. There was a golden shower of sparks and a vibrant light that took the shape of bullets. He reoriented the motorcycle, drew his gun from a leather shoulder holster and slapped the glowing projectiles onto the shimmering metal of the slide. The bullets disappeared indicating that Reload could take his shot. He aimed at the truck’s left rear tire and fired one round. The energy beam landed spang on target. Torn sections of rubber cascaded into the air like they had been ripped from the wheel by a grizzly bear. The truck limped to a stop; the cars behind it reduced speed until the vein of asphalt and its life giving platelets of metal and rubber came to a halt. A man in a minivan jumped from the driver side and ran to aid the truck driver. Reload noticed a series of white stick figures adorning the rear window of the man’s vehicle representing the number and unity of his family.

“People are so stupid,” he muttered. “I don’t need to know how many mistakes you’ve made.”

He reactivated his glasses. He’d lost precious time stopping the truck, and hoped he hadn’t missed any action on the bridge.

The man from the minivan opened the door to the truck’s cab and after a few moments of close examination he yelled his findings to the crowd.

“Does anybody have medical training? I thing the driver had a heart attack.”

A bystander raised his hand and made his way through the multitude.

“Good,” Reload said. “Now that that’s taken care of…”

His thoughts were interrupted by a man standing near the rear of the pack. He was wearing an expensive suit, obviously a denizen of the city who most likely worked in the financial district.

He pointed at Reload.

“It’s that gun guy. It’s that gun guy,” he yelled. “This is your fault. Guns kill people. It’s idiots like you…”

Before he could finish, Reload returned the favor of interruption. He clutched a handful of air, and just like before, glowing bullets appeared. He loaded his gun with the soft elemental rounds, aimed at the man and fired. The sudden burst knocked the loudmouth off his feet. It wasn’t the push as much as it was the report from Reload’s gun that caused him to pee his pants.

“Screw you,” Reload said and with a two finger salute, he started his motorcycle and headed toward the bridge.

Before long, he was upon his destination, notwithstanding his little detour. It was then that he heard the first shots fired. He saw a giant barge under the bridge with several flexible ropes and ladders connecting the two. Armed men were ascending into the thick fog that had rolled onto the bridge like rush hour traffic.

“Damn,” Reload said. He put his glasses in magnification mode and searched for Jillian, but the folds of billowy grey and white had consumed her. “This will help me get in, but I might only have about 25 yards of effective target indexing.”

He rode his motorcycle as close to the bridge as he could without being detected and then slipped past the police blockade using the fog as cover. He heard a few more shots fired but noticed there was no indication of an impact.

SWAT is using blanks as a warning again, he thought. They must be trying to keep the assailants on the bridge.

Reload drew his gun and searched from side to side. He ran his hand along the hard steel of the bridge and drew several steel bullets from the structure.

“Reload,” he whispered.

Then, he heard voices ahead of him. Someone was whimpering. Reload drew closer, actively hunting for a target. Two men with assault rifles breached the fog and closed the distance. Reload’s head led the way and as it snapped from side to side he pulled the trigger. One… Two…, he counted. Each man’s head jerked back as if their foreheads had met a wall of stone. They folded. They were dead.

Reload scanned the area for the next bad guy. He moved closer to the distant whimper. Then, as if a wave of water receded over her body, the fog revealed someone familiar. It was Jillian and she was being held at gunpoint, the hardened steel tip of a handgun was pressed against her temple.

“Jillian?” Reload asked as if he had to verify the nightmare.

Her cheeks were blush. She’d been crying and from the looks of her right eye, someone had struck her.

How the hell did she get out here without backup?

In his distraction, Reload didn’t notice a man in a swanky business suit enter the scene on his right.

“Guthrie,” the man called out, his greeting out of place given the circumstances. “Nice to finally meet you.”

Reload was slightly taken aback. He’d never been addressed by his real name while he was in masquerade.

The man could tell Reload was understandably vexed. He offered his understanding.

“Come on Guthrie or Reload…” He said rolling his eyes. “With today’s technology and information acquisition, do you really think a superhero can hide their identity from a man like me with the means to get what he wants?” He rubbed his thumb and forefinger together as an indication of his stature.

“Marcus Tibbs. Now I recognize you. You’re all over the city’s park benches…”

“And billboards,” Marcus inserted. He smiled the same way he did in his advertisements. “We’re a company that’s here for the environment. We’re a company that’s here for you.” He pointed to Reload. “Sound familiar?”
“It must be an interesting existence having your face so close to that many asses.”

“Nice,” Tibbs countered. “But your observation is not invasive enough to save your friend here.” He waved his hand and the man holding a gun to Jillian’s head backed away.

Reload thought his chance had come. He considered putting one round right through forehead of Marcus Tibbs. But then he said something. Something extremely disenchanting.

“Your glasses can do a lot of things, but they can’t go thermal… not yet anyway.”

Reload thought about the advantage of having thermal imaging, especially when he was shooting into the fog. The benefit would be without measure in San Francisco.

“I contacted Titan Technologies during the inception of this little event, and they were able to quell some of my concerns with a new product.”

Reload followed the cables of the Golden Gate Bridge into the recesses of the fog.

“That’s right. I have shooters up there that can take out you and officer Granger here quite easily. They can see your thermal signatures.”

“Screw him Reload. Shoot him. Shoot him,” Jillian demanded. She started to cry.

Reload hesitated. He knew there was a deal to be made. If not, he and Jillian wouldn’t still be alive.

“What do you want, Tibbs?” Reload asked.

“What do I want? What do I want?” Tibbs said pacing. “Why you of course.”

Reload didn’t understand what part he could possibly play in a terrorist attack on the bridge.

“I’ll elaborate,” Tibbs added. “I’m into oil.”

“No kidding,” Reload said.

“Do you want me to finish, or have your girlfriend shot?”

Reload bowed his head and bit his lower lip. He could take a shot at Tibbs and kill him without much effort, but he had to think about Jillian. If she got hurt, he didn’t know how he’d survive the pain.

“There is a new metal stored within the rivets of this bridge. Specifically, it’s a hybrid of sorts. At an elemental level, we still don’t know the entirety of its properties.”

“You’re an oil guy,” Reload said. “What the hell does this have to do with you?”

Tibbs pointed his index finger at his own temple. “You’re thinking. I like that.” He paced for a moment and stared up at the canopy of fog.

“Each of my rigs weighs about 40,000 tons. They are modern marvels but are bulky and damn near impossible to move. If they can be made lighter and stronger, I can put more into production faster. We’re talking about billions of dollars a year, and it’s all at my fingertips.” Tibbs ran his hand across one of the off color metal rivets.

“And that’s why I need you.”

Reload crossed his arms.

“Hands away from your gun,” Tibbs ordered.

Frustrated, Reload huffed and then raised his hands over his head.

Tibbs grinned with half his face. “You are going to extract the metal for me.”

“What? You’ve got to be kidding me.”

A shot rang out from above, the bullet’s trajectory placed it just over Jillian’s head. She winced, but didn’t run.

Tibbs waved his hand, and two of his henchmen pushed a large storage container from behind the wall of fog. The box had four clear sides.

“You have a gift, Reload. I’ve seen what you can do. We’d extract the element without you, but our initial results have been less that successful. I’ll need you to pull the metal from the bridge and put it in the container.”

“You’re stealing metal,” Reload said as if he didn’t believe he was involved in such a ludicrous activity.

“Yes, I’m stealing metal, so let’s begin.”

Reload looked at Jillian. She appeared to be defeated. Her countenance said that she didn’t want to die.

“And, I’ll need you to remove your firearm and place it on the ground,” Tibbs said.

Reload complied. It wasn’t as if he didn’t expect the demand. He removed his weapon and placed it on the ground in front of him. Begrudgingly, he made his way to the first rivet. He placed his palm over the metal. There was a bright glow, and then Reload had his first handful of the new element. He kept it soft, the temperature allowed it to be poured from his palm into the container.

Tibbs kept watch until Reload had extracted all the metal. The container was almost full, the yellow liquid swayed from side to side as the bridge flexed and bowed.

“What the hell is that smell?” Tibbs asked under his breath.

Reload remembered what he’d read in the newspaper about a biological element being a part of the new metal. It was probably producing waste of some kind.

“Tibbs has no idea what this stuff is or what can do,” Reload mumbled as he continued to work.

Before long the job was done. There wasn’t enough metal extracted from the superstructure to cause much damage, so Reload was confident the landmark would remain intact. He watched as Tibbs and his men prepared to seal the container when he noticed something odd about Jillian. She was being held against her will, yet her demeanor had ceased to take on any concern. She leaned against the frame of dark orange steel and stared out at the bay. Her hair danced with the rhythm of the breeze and when she cradled her torso due to the cold, Tibbs offered her his jacket.
“Son of a…,” reload said under his breath. “She got me. She’s in on it.”

He couldn’t believe how naive he’d been. He realized it was the reason she was the only cop on the bridge. The reason she’d been captured and the reason a SWAT team hadn’t tried to rescue her from the terrorist attack. She must be splitting whatever she’s getting with other members of the department, he thought. Even if Tibbs wasn’t going to shoot Jillian he could still put a bullet through my brain.

Reload stared at the holes where he’d extracted the rivets. There was one left. He made his way to the fastener and laid his palm on top of the metal. He knew the newly formed bullets wouldn’t penetrate the container, but that wasn’t his plan. The rounds formed, glowing vibrantly. Reload pressed both palms together forming one large projectile.

“What are you doing?” Tibbs yelled. He looked into the fog. “Shoot him.”

Reload leapt for his gun. He rolled as hot lead bounced off the ground next to him. Finally, he reached his weapon. He pressed the giant bullet onto the frame.

“Reload,” he said.

Tibbs was standing next to the container full of molten metal. Reload fired his weapon. The large projectile hit the side of the container, the force from the round toppled the clear box and spilled its contents. The glowing element opened like a parachute after the cord had been pulled. Jillian reached for Tibbs, but he was covered in liquid metal before she could do anything to help. He screamed and ran to the edge of bridge.

“No,” Jillian called out. She was careful not to touch his burning body.

Tibbs turned, and whether he meant to or not, grabbed the side of Jillian’s shirt. He tried to let go but couldn’t. The weight from the hot element pulled him over the side of the bridge with Jillian in tow. They hit the safety net but burned through the nylon barrier with ease.

Reload was able to make it to the side of the bridge before their bodies hit the water. He saw a huge splash and a lot of steam rising from the myriad of white caps.
Whether it was from the lack of leadership or they had been caught by honest cops, the men with Tibbs seemed to digress. There were no more shots fired.

“I’d better get the hell out of here while I have the chance,” Reload said. He slipped into the fog and away from the scene. While on his ride home, he thought about Jillian. It was too bad that she’d turned out to be a bad guy. Maybe his next crush would be a little more balanced. Reload lost himself within the streets of the city, too far away to see something stirring on the dark sand of the peninsula. It was in the shape of a man but resembled monster, melted to the point of freakish measure. There was also a smell. Tibbs couldn’t believe he was alive. He couldn’t believe the metal was moving. As he ambled across the sand, his thoughts turned to Reload. He would find the masked shooter and make him suffer for what he’d done to him and Jillian. The pungent smell of the cold metal permeated his olfactory system. He took it in.

“I’ll see you again Reload, but next time, you won’t be facing Tibbs. You’ll be facing Brimstone.” And with that, he took to the city and planned his revenge.

J.M. Scott a full time high school English teacher from Fremont, California and has recently published short stories with Horrified Press, Penumbra Magazine, Miskatonic Press, Third Flatiron Publishing LLC, and Grinning Skull Press. His short story The Spirit is featured on Tangent Online as a recommended read for 2013. He Has a bachelor’s degree in film from San Francisco State University and a master’s in Education.

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David Forever By Matthew Denvir

Nov 30 2014

—He says he’s very busy, Mr. Stilbur.

—Yes, well, of course, we all are.  Tell him this is an urgent matter.


— …

— …

—Mr. Stilbur?

—Yes Nancy.

—Mr. Greggs is here.

—Send him in please.

—Hello Mr. Stilbur, I…

—Yes, Greggs, yes yes, come in.

—I’m sorry, it’s just that we are so busy out there with this…

—Yes, yes, tragic stuff.  Really, really… yes, well, please have a seat.  This is nothing official, no Nancy in here to…

—Yes, Mr. Stilbur?


—I heard my name, sir.

—Oh this damned.  Not now, Nancy.  This damned… how do you turn this box off?

—I believe that button on the bottom right.

—I see…. There we go.  Now.  Where were we?  Yes.  As you can see, my secretary is not present here with us in this room, which means this meeting is a level 2a.  I am now, and this is all protocol, David, a formality type thing, you know, I’m now on record, via OfficeInsure™, that I have informed you, David Greggs, of this meeting’s, eh, the uh, type of meeting we are having, and therefore I will turn off OfficeInsure™’s audio recording devi… how… how does one even do that anyhow?

—I believe it’s that red button, sir.  Second row, yep, that one.

—There we are.  Christ.  This thing.  All protocol, you know.  Still not used to it.  Point is, David, we are no longer being recorded.  This is a level 2a meeting, okay?  Nothing too serious.

—Okay good, I am busy and…

—Yes, yes, of course.  This won’t be long. I just wanted to… well, hey, how is your wife doing, by the way?  Margaret?

—She’s doing fine.

—Hey, that’s great to hear!  Some good news, ay?

—Well, the treatments are still…

—Are they working?

—Well we hope so, her spirits I mean…

—Knew a guy, Robert Salder, didn’t feel any improvement until the last day or so of the treatments.  It’s a real miracle, these things.

—Yes, well we hope they are working.  She’s being a real trooper through it all and I can only, well, I’m just being supportive and she gives me strength and we all hope it just works, uh, works out for the best.

—Yes, David, of course.  I just got off the phone with Bagley and he…

—Jeff Bagley?

—Yes.  The big guy.  And I was telling him about your dedication through all of this, you know.

—You said that?  To the CEO?

—Yes and he was very impressed with your dedication, I told him you didn’t even miss a single day of work he was very impressed.  He said something along the lines of, “Well that is the spirit of this company.  Everyone at InfiniBook™ should aspire to his level of respect for our calling and for the depth of his humanity.”  You know, something like that.

—I’m, I mean…

—My boy, you don’t need to say anything.  It’s a high compliment, yes, to be spoken of so highly by the national CEO of InfiniBook™.  Very big deal, as they say.  I’ll mention it in our branch’s weekly memo text.

—I’m very flattered…. I…

—Maybe just a quick, I don’t know, “go DG” or something at the end.  It’s hard to keep those memos under 80 characters as it is.

—Mr. Stilbur?

—Yes David.

—Is this what you called me here to talk about?  The, uh “depth of my humanity?”

—Partly, yes, but.  Oh Dave.  You are quick.  You see, this is why we hired you, your ability to see, I suppose, past people in a way.  See past their outward shell and into their true selves.  A, um, an exemplary InfiniBook™ employee indeed.

—So what is it you wanted to talk to me about?

—Yes, of course, sorry, well.  I’m afraid that, oh.  This is my least favorite part.  It involves a small transgression, David, I’m afraid, a bit of impropriety on your part as Facilitator.  Oh I dislike this, especially with such a, as you know, dedicated and talented employee as yourself.

—What?  What did I do?

—“Depth of humanity” and all that.

—Mr. Stilbur.

—Yes, David, I’m getting to that.  Just girding myself, as they say.  Really my least favorite part of this job.  But these orders come from above.  Protocol, as you know, and I have to follow these things to the letter.

—I understand.  But isn’t this a level 2a meeting?

—All by the books, it’s very… what?

—A level 2a meeting.  Therefore, can’t we just cut to the chase?  You don’t have to…

—I’m afraid I do, David.  When you leave here, Nancy will have you fill out and sign a Form-1281B in which you detail the discussion we had here in my office.  Meanwhile, a 1281A pops right into my Computact™’s inbox waiting to filled out with my E.I.D. code, which form’s completion will upload the thing right to H.Q. automatically.  You following?

—Yes but I…

—And they have this thing down to a science, really.  Our psych profiles for cross reference, a discretion expert on hand, a full-time job actually, I met him and his wife once in D.C., very nice lady, cat trainer or some damned thing.  Point is, they’d catch us if we lied and, well, neither of us wants to be in that position.  This meeting is level 2a remember, not 3a.

—I see.  I’m sorry I didn’t mean to.

—It’s quite alright, David.  It’s quite alright.  Now.  Where were we.  Ah, yes.  The impropriety.  I have the files right here in my Computact™, so don’t be weirded out if I look like I’m just staring into space.  It’s just how I look when I read files.  The deceased in question is #846, a man who went by the name Jacob Fischer.  He died in 2043 at the age of 24.  Too young, too young…… Anyway, the complaintee is his sister, in our system as 846-008a.  Her complaint, filed on May 20th, 2046 involves an interaction with us on the day previous, the 19th.  The complaint number is 846-001c and the interaction number is 846-012b.  Low numbers, as you can see.  I mean, three years and this last communication was only his twelfth.  Not that well liked, I guess.

—And I take it I was the facilitator for that interaction.  Number, uh….

—846-012b, yes David, you facilitated that communication between 846 and 846-008a.

—Between Jacob and his sister.

—Precisely, Jacob and his sister.  There’s your humanity again.  Very good.  Very good.

—So the interaction was…

—Not yet, David, I’m sorry.  This is the protocol part.  We’ll get into specifics later.  Right at this moment, all you need to know is that you facilitated a communication on May 19th, 2046 that resulted in a complaint from an Indirect Subscriber.  Not a direct Costumer, mind you, which is why this meeting’s not being recorded.


—Now, protocol requires I engage in a short discussion about InfiniBook’s mission statement and your role in it, you know, etc. etc.  The classic type stuff, stick with me on this.


—So you may know a good deal of this information, David, but bear with me.


—Good.  Good.  All moving along swimmingly.  Very good.  Now David.  In your own words, can you please reiterate to me what InfiniBook™’s mission statement is?

—Okay.  Well.  It is to provide loved ones some kind of, I don’t know, nostalgia, some sense of, uh, a family member’s essence still being tangible, or able to be engaged.

—Okay.  Okay.  I think you fuddled a bit there, but I’m sure you get the gist.  Here is the mission statement as written in our Computact™ ad: “InfiniBook™ strives to maintain a tangible connection to the past without compromising the closure that is so important for the grieving process.”


—So you had the word “tangible” there.  Good job.  And it’s a very good ad, I think.  The marketing guys didn’t want that last part, especially the word “grieving,” but Jeff Bagley believed, rightly, that our customers would appreciate honesty during such a sensitive time.

—No one wants to feel sold to at their lowest point.

—Exactly.  That’s why Bagley is such a genius.  Anyway, our mission statement is about giving our customers, and of course our Indirect Subscribers as well, a connection with loved ones by allowing them continual contact with avatars of the deceased.  Now, David, what sets us, would you say, apart from our competitors?

—Well, I would imagine it’s the InfiniSelf System™, designed by Mr….

—No no, well yes, but no.  Don’t get me wrong, the InfiniSelf System™ is terrific, but it’s great in that Bagley understood its limitations and was able, therefore, to focus more on what the program could do than…well… I’m close to giving it away.  I’ll rephrase my question.  Why do you think our customers, 72 % of the market-share remember, are willing to pay more for InfiniBook™’s services than, say, those of Cloud Status™?

—Uhh.  Are you talking about the human element?

—Precisely.  Like I said before, the InfiniSelf System™ is a marvel of mathematics and programming, but Bagley’s genius was in his understanding of its limitations.  Our competitors may have understood this too, but alleviating said flaws costs money.  Our solution?  Allow InfiniSelf™ to work with the data and compile a believable online avatar for the deceased, but hire actual people, rather than some unfeeling A.I. with no gift for langauge, to facilitate communication with next of kin.

—I understand.

—You see?  Real people behind the keyboard; the InfiniSelf System™ behind the wheel.  That’s the brilliance of this whole thing.  And there’s something inspiring about it, too.  Computers can never replace people.  They can perform incredible functions with miraculous speed and precision, but Jeff Bagley understood that in this business, the human element is just as important, if not more so, than the smartest chips in the room.  Do you see where I am headed with all this?

—You’re saying this company runs most smoothly when all parties know their respective roles.

—Well bravo, David.  Really.  I couldn’t have said it better.  That’s perfect.  You see, this is why we hired you, “when all parties know their roles.”

—Computers do the valuable data work, facilitators make sure it comes across as real.

—Excellent.  When InfiniBook™ receives a request for avatar creation, we compile the total available online life-data of the deceased.  Social media, publications, blogs, texts, etc.  We’re even now working on a way to utilize Computact™ video recording, for those who can afford Computact™s of course, but don’t tell anybody, Top Secret, kinda thing.  Anyway, we take all this info, we put it into the InfiniSelf System™, which then creates an online identity for the deceased.

—And facilitators communicate, via social media, with Customers and Indirect Subscribers as the deceased loved one.

—Yes, but you’ve skipped an important step.  As you know, every communication must be run through the InfiniSelf System™.  You get a query, say some weepy girlfriend who just watched some romantic type BlipTube™ video, she writes to a deceased ex lover.  Before responding, we always, always, run the query through the InfiniSelf System™ before responding.  That way, we can be sure we are responding in a mode apropos to the deceased.  I know you know this, it’s all just protocol that I remind you.

—I understand.

—After all, we don’t want to sound like other people.  I.e. you don’t want to sound like David Greggs; you want to sound like Jacob Fischer, or whatever poor bastard.


—The InfiniSelf System™ ensures we accurately ape the language, tone, and content of the deceased on their social media profiles.

—I understand.

—Thus is it wholly important, crucial one could say, to never stray from the script provided by the InfiniSelf System™’s diagnostics.

—Yes, I understand completely.

—Good.  Good.  All moving along here.  All swimmingly.  You’re doing swell, David.  Now that brings us to complaint 846-001c.  I have the report here in my Computact™.  Again, excuse the blank staring.  On May 19th of this year, IS-846-008a opened a communication with D-846 in which she wrote, and I quote with grammatical errors found in the communication, “Jake, I miss listening to you play guitar on our porch during those sweltering summer nights.”  Now this was…

—Where were the grammatical errors?

—Huh?  What?

—Where were there errors?  That sounded like a perfectly correct sentence.

—Well, yes, I guess it is.  They just have us say that every time, you know.  Most of ‘em, well you know how it is; you’re in the trenches as they say.  Anyway, that was the query from IS-846-008a.  Our records show you did run this through the system, and you were recommended, by the system, to facilitate a communication that included a cultural reference.  Does this case ring a bell, David?

—Yes, I remember it.  The girl had contacted him a few times before and…

—Yes, well, let’s not get into that.  Anyway, the InfiniSelf System™ recommended a cultural reference with a personal touch, and if you went back to 846’s profile, you would see the number of acceptable cultural reference points from which to choose.  Rock bands, mostly as I’m looking at it now, but some BlipTube™ channels in there as well.

—Yes I looked through all of those but nothing seemed…

—And our records show you even received specific suggestions from the system, like which lyrics to cite and whatnot, but these were all apparently ignored.

—Yes, they, well, yes, they all just seemed inadequate is all.

—Well the InfiniSelf System™ isn’t perfect.  But it safeguards us, in a way.

—So anyway I looked into Margaret’s…

—So you ignored 846’s profile and the InfiniSelf System™ and the system’s recommendations and went off the beaten path, as they say.  Is that accurate?

—Well, yes, I…

—For the record, since we have now established that you went off script, so to speak, and did not follow protocol, can you tell me what you did write in response to interaction 846-012b?

—I, um, what?

—When Jacob’s sister contacted him on his profile, what did you write in response, David?  These words in response being, of course, not protocol.

—I uh, well, I, I wrote some lines from a poem.

—A poem.

—Yes a, um, a Walt Whitman poem.

—I have the records here.  Again, excuse the blank staring.  This is what you wrote: “Still with you, Sis!  Remember Walt W.’s jam, ‘After the dazzle of day is gone / Only the dark night shows to my eyes the stars; / After the clangor of organ majestic or chorus or perfect band / Silent athwart my soul moves the symphony true.’”  Now, David, why would you go and write something like that?

—Well Walt Whitman wrote it, I just…

—David, please.

—Sorry, I, um, well I couldn’t find anything in the recommendations from the system that I thought worked, and nothing from his profile seemed to…

—But that doesn’t mean you should just pull shit out of your ass, David.

—No, no, no not at all.  I looked into her profile, you see.  The sister’s.  She was an English major in college, specialized in American Poetry, you see.  She definitely would have…

—David.  David, David.  You can’t do that, she…

—I would have thought she’d have gotten the reference, I mean, it’s about…

—David that’s not the point!  It was you whom she felt she was talking to is the point.  It was David Greggs, pretentious poet; not Jacob Fischer, wannabe rock star and her beloved but sadly departed brother!  She wanted a communication with the latter, not you.

—I wasn’t trying to subvert… I mean, I think I wrote it like he would have.

—Oh goodness, David.  That whole “Walt W.’s jam” business?  It came off… I mean, Jesus I’m sorry about this because, you know, “depth of humanity” and your wife and your kid in that accident two years ago and all that, but I mean, Christ, David, it came off as totally pathetic and weird.


—The strings behind it… so obvious.  It’s sickening, really.  It’s gross.  You could see why, oh the fuck’s her name, 846-00…whatever is so upset over this.  And Liz is in trouble for this too.  Apparently off God-knows-where with that new young intern kid when she should have been in your sector approving these communications!

—I see.  It wasn’t her…

—I mean do you see how this makes me look?  It’s like I have no control over this whole branch.  Such a breakdown like that.

—I’m sorry, sir.  I really am.  Is there anything I can…

—No no, Christ.  I’m getting too worked up over this as it is.  It’s still pretty minor, just don’t pull this kind of shit again, okay?  A simple switcheroo is all.  Reggie is going to handle the Fischer case from here on out, and you’ll take over one of his, a #254, some wacko who offed himself by pretending to skydive.  Who does that?  Backpack had no parachute at all, just bricks and a note.

—That’s fine, Mr. Stilbur, a totally reasonable fix.

—Well it’s not my decision, it’s protocol.  Everything’s protocol, Greggs.  Sometimes I don’t know why a computer doesn’t just do my job.

—Not at all.  You’re very needed, sir.  The human touch and all.

—Well thank you, David.  I’m all worked up, here you are trying to end things on a positive note.  Like I said, why we hired you.  Anyway, I don’t want to take up too much more of your time, I’m sure Nancy is just itching to get that 1281B into your hands.

—Okay, sir, I’ll get out of your…

—Just heed this last bit of advice:  You’re a facilitator, got it?  You’re not a writer.  Your job is not to make the customer feel better; it is to accurately create the illusion that their loved one, or some part, some ripple of their loved one, still lives.  Do you understand?

—Sir, I understand completely.  And let me just say before I leave that this company’s compromise on that health plan thing is really helping us out, I mean my wife…

—Yes, well, it’s fine, all by the books but that reminds me.


—Your wife.  I know this is delicate, but with your wife ill I figured.  Well.  I noticed that she does not have Pre-Mortem Contract of Intent with InfiniBook™.


—Are you aware it’s free for employees?  I mean, you could be her Direct Subscriber at no cost and….. oh dear, I am being improper I’m afraid, not the right time, just look at your face.

—No it’s just that…

—I merely hoped that someone in this office has kept you informed of our policy, you deserve that much.

—It’s just, um, well.  We talked and…. It’s her choice, sir.  You know how it is.

—Yes, yes.  Of course of course.  I understand.

—Thank you sir.


—Oh blasted.  Yes Nancy?

—Your daughter is on line one?

—Well fine, just a minute.  Afraid I have to take this one, Greggs my boy.  Send love to the family and keep up the good work, “depth of humanity” and all that.

—Yes sir.  And her name’s Margaret, by the way.

—Well of course it is, I know Margaret.  I’ve met your wife many times, lovely woman.

—Yes, but I meant the sister.  Her name is also Margaret. Maggie Fischer.

—The si…. oh, yes well, very good.

—Mr. Stilbur?  Your daughter.

—Yes Nancy, Christ.  Au revoir, David, don’t forget the form.  Hello?  Penny?  What do you mean the cat……. The neighbors?  Stop yelling….. I just want…..  no stop yelling I can’t….. I can’t…… I can’t……




Matthew Denvir hails from Kingston, New York.  His fiction has been published in journals such as The Conium Review, Paper Nautilus, and Thunderclap!  He received a NY Press Association “Better Newspaper” award for his Le Moyne College column “Cheers and Jeers,” a satirical treatise on college life.  He graduated with an M.A. from Bard College in 2011.

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A Mother’s Love and Other Intoxicants by Russell J. Banzett

Nov 23 2014

Marta knew she was a junkie, had known it long before her veins had collapsed into black ruins. Her friends in college could have a few drinks, but she would always keep going until she woke up in the ER with a plastic tube snaking down her throat, pumping out the toxic contents of her stomach. She sat on a cracked curb as she waited for Desmond to finish with a client, her head resting on bony knees as she curled and uncurled a strand of her dull black hair around her finger, the humid night air thick with the smells of sweat and her own anticipation. She stared into the scratched face of her phone at a picture, and couldn’t help but think about when everything had started to fall apart.

Marta remembered that the library had been deserted except for her and an ancient librarian with rheumy eyes like saucers of spoilt milk, everyone else that had been there earlier in the day had long since gone. She remembered she’d just needed a B to keep her loans and her head had been buried in a dusty textbook. She’d tried studying on her tablet, but she found herself getting too distracted by friends messaging her. She’d hoped the physical book would get fewer messages, and maybe the odd papercut would keep her awake. She’d yelped when a hand like dry autumn leaves brushed her shoulder.

“Shhhhh,” whispered the librarian reflexively. “Closing time.”

Marta looked down at her textbook that was still on chapter 3, and had to swallow hard to keep from crying. “Please, just a bit more time. I could lock up if you want to go.”

The librarian’s face cracked into a thin smile. “If you don’t know it yet, you’re not going to sweetie,” she’d said, and shuffled away to turn out the lights.

Fat tears tumbled down Marta’s face and she ran out, almost smashing into Sam in the hallway. Sam grabbed her shoulder as she tried to go past, his hand like a vice. “I saw you in the library,” he said simply, not seeming to notice her struggling. He held up a baggie with two small white pills and added, “Study aid?”

It was stupid, and Marta had known it was stupid, known she couldn’t trust herself to take anything harder than Aspirin. Even so, she’d taken the pills, only asking what they were after she’d downed both. Sam had given her a Cheshire Cat grin, and told her they were called Cynosure, just an all-natural brain booster that contained a few herbs that the Chinese or Japanese (Sam didn’t seem clear on the distinction) had known about forever. Oh and maybe just a touch of engineered proteins that could, temporarily, cause her brain to sprout new dendritic spines like dessert flowers after a rain storm. Sam had assured Marta that this would mean she’d remember everything she learned in the last few days perfectly, and anything related to that. Whatever junk the Cynosure really had in it, it worked, her IQ was bumped up, right along with her concentration and memory and she ended up with an A on the test.

She remembered her professor pulling her aside to congratulate her on her grade after the test marks were posted, remembered how everyone started to look at her for the first time, how they wanted her to be in their study groups when before they wouldn’t even talk to her. The praise and respect filled her up for a little while, made her feel like the successful person everyone wants to be. Marta built a whole life on Cynosure– how could she go back to the sluggish dullard she’d been? Richard, her boyfriend at the time she’d met Sam, became her husband and she took a job at a securities dealer as an analyst. The job and the marriage were both hard, and she didn’t dare stopping taking the Cynosure for fear of not being able to meet the harsh expectations of one or the other.

Richard had known about the Cynosure but didn’t care as long as she was keeping it together. Marta remembered being so careful at first, but after her daughter Elsie was born she’d started taking more exotic things, and Richard eventually left with their daughter after he’d found Marta pricing out a pharma-printer online. Things spiraled out of control for Marta then as they always did, and she’d ended up busted for trying to buy Cognizance, a relaxant and temporary amnesia inducer, from a greasy street dealer covered in open sores that turned out to be a snitch.

I could use some forgetting now Marta thought to herself as she sat on the street corner and watched the sun dip below the boarded up buildings of the city’s core. Marta saw that Desmond was finally done, and she walked over to the bent and broken streetlight where he did his business. He took the crumpled bills from her hand and pocketed them with a flick of his wrist. Desmond’s speed, especially considering his bulk, always surprised Marta. She waited, but Desmond just stared and stared at her over gold-rimmed glasses and his narrow black eyes seemed to peel back her skin like they were scalpels cutting into a dissection rat. Marta’s bloodshot eyes danced nervously, the seconds piling on top of each other like a slow motion car accident.

“Please, Desmond,” Marta whined when she couldn’t take the waiting anymore, broken glass crunching underfoot as she shifted. “Just give me the stuff I paid for.”

“It doesn’t even cover what I gave you last time,” he said slowly, as if to a child. “Unless you got more, piss the fuck off,” he added, and began to turn away.

Marta grabbed at his shoulder. Before she could blink, her head was smashed into the pavement, blood already pouring from her lip where Desmond’s meaty hand had struck.

“You don’t ever fucking touch me,” he spat, disgust and pity warring across his face. He reached a hand inside his suit and Marta cringed like a kicked dog. He drew out a filthy baggie with two patches of Founder inside, tossed it at her, and walked away.

Her hands trembled so bad she could barely get the first patch out. She slapped it hard against her neck. Liquid electricity surged through her, lighting up black veins like a rising sun inside her chest. Wasted muscle turned from rags to steel cords under her skin and she balled up her hands, and flung a fist at the brick wall at the end of the alley, hard as she could. The bricks exploded as if they’d been hit with a mortar.

The strength didn’t last. The stuff was just a taster — she’d be in freefall soon. Her hand was beginning to throb, splintered brick imbedded in it like broken bones bursting through papery skin. It was stupid, but Marta’s veins even seemed to ache with a gnawing hunger. Marta fingered the baggy in her pocket with its one remaining hit, but left it where it was – she’d need to make it last and then she’d need more, something stronger. She almost turned around and went back to Desmond, but stopped herself. If she went back without any money, he’d kill her for sure. She needed cash, and that meant Mr. Papadopulos.

It was late, but when she got there the antique electric sign was blinking “Papadopulos Pawn”, and emitted a buzz like an angry beehive was trapped in its neon tubes. She went in and the fat Greek behind the counter gave her a wide grin.

“Marietta, my little flower,” he exclaimed.

Marta smiled, and drew her battered phone from her pocket. “I need to sell this Pappy.”

He took the phone from her gingerly and turned it over, his hands making it look like a child’s toy, and inspected it from every angle. “It real antique,” he said.  “Most kids today get their brains wired direct. Some olds like us looking for retro models though. This beat up, but I sold worse.”  He tapped the screen to activate it. A lock-screen with a little girl with sad eyes and curly black hair sprang to life. He squinted at the phone and then at Marta, seeming to notice for the first time her sickly condition and the patch stuck to her neck. “You’re sure you want to sell?”

She stared at her feet, trying to decide. The phone was the last thing she had from when she and Richard were still together, and had the only photos of her daughter Elsie that remained to her. “I’m not…I need…” she began when the phone chirruped with a text message. She quickly grabbed it back and read the screen, “im scard mom wen com home?” It was from Richard’s phone, but must be from Elsie.

Mr. Papadopulos saw it too and clasped both of his massive hands around Marta’s skeletal fingers and the phone. “Marietta, please,” he said, his voice quavering. “You stay here, we call police. I help you.”

Marta stared at him, shocked. Mr. Papadopulos had always been kind to her, but had never once offered any help her before. Was she really that bad looking?  Marta shook herself, refocused on her daughter’s message. He just thinks I’m too week to protect her, she thought, and tore her hand out of his grasp. Maybe he’s right, but I know how to be strong. Marta turned from him and headed for the door, stopping just long enough in the entrance to slap the second patch on her neck.

She burst out of the pawn shop, the door flying off its hinges into the night, her heart beating hard, pushing adrenaline and Founder into legs that became a blur of motion. She’d let her daughter down once, but wouldn’t waste this chance to make it right, to show them that she was strong, that she didn’t need anyone’s pity. Streetlights strobed past as she ran, and the potholes and slums of the rotten city core melted into the greenery of the suburbs. She stopped only when she was standing in the shadows across from her Richard’s bungalow, its dark windows covered with insulating plastic, and its yard full of bright plastic toys. She gaped at the rows of delicate tulips in the flowerbeds—they weren’t there the last time she was outside looking in. Richard was colour blind and had never cared about flowers before, had actively disliked them in fact and considered them to be jokes played on him specifically by a cruel universe. It had been only six months since the last time she’d crept outside his house – could so much have changed?

Marta wrenched her attention away from the strange flowers and began to stalk from the shadows to the house, ready to tear it apart if she needed to. She’d barely taken a step toward the house when a car with headlights like magnesium flares cut through the gloom, came down the street towards her then pulled into Richard’s driveway. Marta crouched back into the shadows and watched as a tall blonde woman in a rumpled nurse’s outfit with a fresh flower pinned to the jacket stepped out of the car, stretched, and walked into the house, stopping only to pick up a plastic unicorn from the lawn. The house burst into life almost as soon as the flower lady entered, warm lights came on inside that made Marta squint.

With Founder-heightened senses, Marta heard the patter of tiny feet on creaky hardwoods inside the house, and then heard Elsie squeal, “Mom!”

Marta collapsed to her knees, all the strength gone from her as she sobbed into the cold pavement. She hadn’t known how badly she craved that one word from her daughter, that one glorious word that would mean everything was all right. But the text hadn’t been for her, it had been from Elsie to her real mother, the flower lady. She let the phone drop from her hand, suddenly too weak to hold it, heard its screen shatter on the pavement a long way away, and turned her back on the lights and the girl that had once been her daughter. Elsie needed someone strong, and Marta realized that was someone else, realized that she’d never been strong, not even on Founder. Desmond and Mr. Papadopulos had known, had seen right through her and been right to pity her.

She limped down the street toward the city’s core as shards of light from the rising sun stabbed through breaks in the houses. It felt like knives were twisting in her knees and ankles with each step. She hoped that Mr. Papadopulos would still have his shop open, would still be willing to help her. Maybe it wasn’t too late to be strong. And maybe if she could be strong she could become mom to her daughter again.


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Protagonist, Conclusion by Nicholas M. Bugden

Nov 16 2014

Something doesn’t feel right for Sid.
It wasn’t the morning. Nothing went wrong then. Sid slept perfectly well. His wife even woke up around the same time and the two made passionate love, more passionately than ever before. It was as if their bodies were listening to each other and responding accordingly. So that was awesome… was it work? Sid did arrive late but since he was usually on time his boss completely understood. She even complimented his work from the previous day and talked about giving him a raise.
It must have been his co-workers then. He hated a few of them and he was sure there were a few that hated him back. One of them must have said something, done something to piss him off. But no. Each one was nice, hospitable, and even pleasant. And on the way home – sugar on top – people actually let him into their lane without flipping him the finger.
But something doesn’t feel right.
Was it his night class? It had to be. One of the professor’s readings must have concluded in a caustic debate that Sid was included in. Today the professor was reading a couple of short stories. After the first story was read, this student – a real moron – raised his hand. This guy always managed to piss people off. That was the thing that he did. He had to be the catalyst.
“Well I feel the story is kind of bad.”
Sid licked his lips. This was it. Give it to him professor.
“Sorry to hear that… is there any particular reason?”
“Well to me it doesn’t work,” the student challenged.
The professor looked back at the student. “I think it does. I think the use of language, punctuation and metaphor choices are nothing short of brilliant.”
“I… I guess… I think I just needed more description to get a better picture of what was going on and I think the author did a poor job with the ending… I am sorry for disagreeing professor.”
Now the professor finally looked a little angry. “Please do not apologize. Great ideas come from open discussion and intellectual back-and-forth. Thank you for sharing your opinion; maybe you will like one of his other stories better.”
And that was the end of the discussion: a respectful exchange of words. No complaints. Compliments? So then what went wrong? Was it one of the other stories the professor read that gave Sid this feeling? Nope. No one fought. There was only a free exchange of opinions. Nothing went wrong. Sid’s day was coming to a close, or concluding if you want to make the point crystal clear.
But something still doesn’t feel right for Sid. It was as if he awoke in a parallel world. On the way home he racked and wracked his brain. What is wrong then? What is wrong, wrong, wrong… that’s it! Suddenly Sid realized the problem. It’s this story he was in, nothing went wrong. You cannot have a story without conflict. When Sid realized this he knew what he had to do. He parked his car in the middle of the street, got out and shoved a stranger. Conflict must occur. The stranger did nothing. Sid shoved him again and called him a “fucker”. People don’t like being called “fuckers”.
The stranger looked at Sid concerned. “Are you alright sir?” Sid looked at the kind eyes of the stranger; he could not push him anymore.
“Yeah I’m fine, thanks for asking.”
“Are you sure? I will listen if you need someone to talk to?”
“No thanks.”
The stranger gave Sid a kind hug and continued down the street. What a bastard, Sid thought, I will have conflict. He went home to his wife. They have had vehement arguments in the past. It was simple: insult, argue, make-up, end of story. And he might even get the bonus of make-up sex.
“You’re a stupid slut,” Sid said to his wife as he walked through the door.
“Is this a sex game?” his wife asked unabashed, “I’m a naughty whore; you want to handcuff and punish me?”
That could be fun, Sid thought… no conflict. We need conflict.
“You’re supposed to fight with me.”
“Oh… you’re the naughty boy… do you want me to punish you.”
…no. …conflict.
“I’m insulting you.”
His wife looked at him with a blank stare. “Why?”
Sid did not have an answer. “I don’t know.”
“Oh… do you want to talk it through.”
“No,” Sid sulked.
“Do you want to have sex?”
Sid was getting angry. “What is wrong with you?” He gave his wife a disapproving shake of the head and stormed out of the house.
Conflict, conflict, conflict. That was it! These previous attempts were small, petty, he needed to go big. Very big. Gunfire down the street was big, fire a few in the air, wake up the neighbours, the cops come, spend the night in jail… maybe even get assaulted by a larger inmate. Now that is conflict.
Sid remembered there was gun shop up the street that was open late, with wallet in hand, he jogged to the spot where the shop was, but it wasn’t. There was a flower shop where Sid was sure the gun shop once stood.
“Fucking hippies!” he yelled at the top of his lungs.
We must have conflict! There has to be another gun shop in the area.
“Where do I buy a gun?” Sid asked a random woman walking by the street.
“A what?” the woman asked, with a look that suggested deep confusion.
“You’re kidding me right?”
“Why would I do that sir?” responded the woman as she blinked her innocence to Sid.
Sid was lost for words. Everyone has gone crazy. How can you live without conflict? Something has to be wrong. Has to be! He pushed passed the kind woman who only apologized for being in his way. There was not a gun shop anywhere. There had to be one. But his searching was futile. He would not find a gun anywhere in this city, or bullets, or even blanks. However a lack of fire power has never stopped humanity from hurting each other in the past: Sid would make a weapon. Make something sharp, break into a random house, rob, cops, jail, end.
Sid looked for somewhere that sells knives, bats, brass knuckles, cleats, something that would bludgeon. But no stores were open. Everyone was home, spending precious time with their families. What has this world come to?
Sid shambled home, defeated. This story was never going to end. He was doomed to make wild, judgement-free, mutual-pleasing love with his happy confident wife, listen to respectful debates and put up with the kindness of strangers. Fuck.
“There you are honey, I missed you,” his wife said as she wrapped her arms around him.
“Of course you did… you probably want to have sex now?”
“If you don’t mind… I can go without you if you’d like.”
“No…,” Sid said dejected. He might as well get this over with. Sid looked at his wife, whose pants did not make it up the stairs with her. Then he followed behind her, his head slumped: he failed at obtaining conflict. But then it hit him. This was the conflict! His inability to obtain conflict. Hero wants conflict, fights for conflict, fails. Classic tale. Something feels wrong so now everything feels right. And unfortunately, this story concludes with an unhappy ending. Then the two made long passionate love, each having multiple orgasms.

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Forked Tongues by Jill Corddry

Nov 09 2014

Something compelled her, that’s what she would tell the world later, when she was interviewed mere days before it all went to hell. But that was months later. And this is today. An ordinary, though stormy day.

AnnaMaria stepped out from under the protection of the stone archway, not really noticing the warm drops of rain that freckled her blouse. Thunder crackled faintly, far enough away it sounded more like someone crinkling wrapping paper. Within seconds her dark hair was streaming wet and sticking to her face and neck, but she couldn’t bring herself to seek shelter.

I’m so glad I came out. This is so beautiful, she thought, admiring the dark cotton puffs of the storm. A CRAAAAA-AAAACK made her flinch. And getting closer.

Brilliant white sparked directly above her.

Words, whispered in a thunder tender growl, touched her ears. She crumpled to the ground, graceful as a dry fall leaf, a smile frozen on her face, one that would have been beatific but was instead made grotesque by the blood dripping over her lips to the sidewalk.


Colors danced, stunning her with pink arabesques and yellow grand jetés. AnnaMaria reached out, wanting nothing more than to join the rainbow jubilee. She extended an arm, intending to grab hold of the next pulse before it could disappear. Instead of connecting with the brilliant blue, her fingers slammed into something unyielding and cold. Her mind jolted awake, and she became aware of a steady beeping. Then an alarm. Muffled, hurried footsteps that grew louder. A door swinging open. The footsteps stopping beside her.

She sensed someone hovering nearby, checking … something. A monitor, her brain told her, as it put all the sounds together. You’re in a hospital.

AnnaMaria blinked, trying to bring the someone – probably a doctor or nurse – into focus.

Yet the joyful colors remained.

She raised a hand, touching her face, expecting soft skin, but encountering gauze. She blinked more furiously, frantically, until tears ran down her cheeks. The beeps became more rapid, as did her breath, until she couldn’t catch up with it.

“Slow breaths,” the someone ordered. He her mind filled in, automatically creating a face to go with the kind voice. “That’s it, easy does it. Now, Ms. Sanchez, do you know where you are?”

AnnaMaria tried to speak, but her voice caught and rasped, until she finally choked out, “The hospital?”

A smile touched his voice. She heard a faint scrabbling sound. Pen on paper? “That’s correct. I’m Dr. Holloway. Now, I know this is cliché, but what’s the last thing you remember?”

She paused, the dancing colors slowing as she pieced together the last moments on her feet. “The storm? There was thunder and …”

“You are very lucky,” Dr. Holloway said, after scratching a few more notes. “Not many people survive a lightning strike.”

“Lightning? I didn’t see any …” AnnaMaria squeezed her eyes, only inciting the colors into a merry jig. “I can’t see,” she whispered. She raised a hand, touching her face, hoping for a thick swath of cloth, but her fingers found only skin. “I can’t see. I can’t see. I can’t see!” Her voice grew shrill as a hungry baby bird.

A warm hand gripped her shoulder, interrupting her frantic cries. “It may be temporary,” Dr. Holloway said. “We need to do more tests …”

But the truth clogged her ears to the rest of his reassurances. For somehow she knew it wasn’t temporary, and that no test would show anything. No reason for her sightlessness. No hope for curing it.

The chill of reality stripped her of all warmth and she shivered, pulling the thin hospital blanket to her breast. As far as she was concerned, it was a death sentence. How could she make a living reporting on the latest fuck-ups and fashion faux-pas of the wealthy and the famous if she couldn’t see them? And it wasn’t like she’d made any friends along the way; her stilettos had left a punctured trail of betrayal and lies as she’d clawed her way to the top. Now the vultures would all get their turns at her flesh and bones.

She rolled away from the doctor, not caring whether he stayed or left, the sting of tears along her cheeks the only company she wanted. When she finally drifted into an uneasy sleep, it was to the murmur of thunder rolling in the distance.


Weeks of counseling, both for her in-the-crapper mental health and to teach her how to cope with her new “situation,” did nothing to improve either. She couldn’t stop stewing and chewing over the shithole of her life. Not only was she … she couldn’t even think the word … Her boss had called the day after her accident to offer his well wishes, and for her to take all the time she needed to heal and adjust. And then, just before he hung up, he off-handedly mentioned that Marla Fucking Newton would be taking over her column for the foreseeable future.

AnnaMaria cringed. See. With only the company of the now-dead phone line, she realized she’d all-but been fired. Fired! Her. Something that fucker had been wanting to do since he squeezed his Twinkie-loving lardass into the manager’s chair last year. She could see – flinch – the corners of his greying pornstache fold into the pockmarked skin of his cheeks as he delivered the news, hanging up before she could react. And to double D Marla no less. The ass-kisser had been after her job for months. All those simpering compliments hadn’t fooled her. She’d accepted the busty bottle-blonde into her circle though; better to keep the competition as close as her black silk panties.

It had been all over the news, of course, with her show at the forefront. Marla had taken the lead to “break the big news to all you stunned viewers out there.” Stunned by her too-tight blouse, maybe. Though she couldn’t actually see it, AnnaMaria had experienced enough of the bitch’s wardrobe to know exactly what she’d worn to tell the world the good news.

Tears stung her eyes again. Dark pools of poison men around the country had claimed to drown in, to plunge into, to see eternity … the analogies were as endless and clichéd as the men giving them.

Once the gauze came off, Dr. Holloway promised her eyes were perfectly normal, at least on the outside. As for the insides … he ran test after test until she was numb from the crushing waves of hope he kept offering and told him to stick it.

Yet she was still blind. The word coated her tongue with lemon-rind bitterness. But at least she could say it now.

Out of habit, she reached for the lamp beside her bed to turn the light off. She caught herself this time. Last night she’d knocked a fucking pile of magazines to the floor; they were still there. Not that it made a difference, but she closed her eyes and took several long, slow breaths. Thunder rumbled, sending her heart into a wild tango.

She gripped the blankets until her knuckles hurt, hating the fear. Even as a child, she’d never feared the huge storms of her Floridan home, counting the seconds between lightning and thunder well into adulthood. Will I ever not be afraid?

Though she couldn’t see the flashes, her ears told her the storm was drawing closer as the sound of thunder became the roar of a dragon.


But the thunder wasn’t traveling alone. A soft sigh broke through the chaos, caressing her ears with velvet, wrapping her in the warmth of something she could only identify as love. It ran tendrils of honey-sweet words along her skin until she moaned in climax.

Blinking through the haze of intoxicating pleasure and belonging and unity, she bolted upright in bed. “Whoa! What the fuck?!” she whispered, clinging to the wispy fragments of the unexpected erotic dream.

She wasn’t expecting an answer. Let alone a full-on conversation.


“Something’s different,” Dr. Holloway muttered, tipping her chin from side to side as he performed the usually routine part of their weekly appointments. “How odd …”

AnnaMaria shrugged. “If you say so. Not like I can tell.” A total line of bullshit, but he didn’t need to know that.

The light he shone in her eyes flared through the veil of blindness. Yet it wasn’t the first hint of sight she’d experienced since the accident. It started after the – visit? Encounter? Molestation? – three nights ago from, well, from something, someone, she’d never thought possible.

His sigh was not subtle. “I can’t help you if you don’t tell me.”

She shrugged again. “Not like you’d believe me anyway.” Especially since she didn’t believe it herself. To come to her, an ice queen, a happy-to-backstab bitch who took advantage of other people’s most embarrassing moments. Went looking for them. Created a few incidents, even. Just to get the “scoop.” So for – it? – to come to her was ludicrous. To claim that she, AnnaMaria Corvalis, was special? Chosen? Maybe she should check herself into the Psych ward while she was here.

Her mind sprung into a life of its own, creating sparks of thought faster than sand in an hourglass. She squeezed her eyes shut and dug fingernails into her scalp, desperate to gain control. Dr. Holloway was at her side as she slumped over, his cologne warm and comforting. Focusing on that, breathing it in as if it was more precious than oxygen, AnnaMaria opened her eyes and screamed.

He glowed. Ribbons of blue, green, and silver bathed the doctor in soft light. “Please let me help you.”

Trust him …

The thought was effortless, a drop of water sliding from a leaf. So she did. Without hesitation. She took his arm and let him guide her out of the small room to a table in the cafeteria. She let him bring her a cup of weak coffee. And when he hesitated taking the seat next to her, she smiled, but not the false smile she’d used to get a story or trick some fluff-brained celeb into sharing too much. No, this smile was genuine, demure, and for the first time in more than ten years AnnaMaria felt comfortable in her own skin.

With coffee-warmed fingers, she took one of his hands in hers. “Everything is different,” she said, seeing, sensing, his surprise; understanding it was at her sudden change in attitude, at her frankness. “A few nights ago, something … no, someone. Someone came to me. At night. It was personal. Close. Erotic …” She paused and raised an eyebrow. The colors dancing around him pulsed faster now, and were ever so slightly tinged with reds and oranges. Partly from concern, but mostly, and she couldn’t help the suggestive lick along her teeth. The reds flared briefly. Definitely aroused.

Ego-boosted, she straightened in her chair. Much as she was now curious to pursue this, him, thanks in no small part to the memory of that visit, there would be time for that later.

She sensed his curiosity, saw the blues darken as he waited for her to go on. “God came to me,” she said.


“Yes. And don’t look at me that way. Trust me, I’m no religious fanatic. The only time I ever believed was during a damn good orgasm. But yes, it was God.”

Dr. Holloway toyed with his coffee. She could hear the paper cup shifting on the cheap plastic table, saw the colors – his aura? – shifting with his movements.

“But how?”

“How do I know?” she interrupted. “I just do. And no, I wasn’t drunk, or on anything else. I wasn’t hallucinating. I wasn’t dreaming.”

“Ms. Corvalis …”

“AnnaMaria. Or Anna. Please.”

“Fine. Anna, it’s just … damn if I don’t believe you. Your eyes. They’re different.” He paused, and took her hand. “They’re iridescent now. Not much, but they almost shimmer …”

Her hand reached for her eyes. “And they weren’t like that before?”

The strong blues and greens around his head shimmied subtly. “No, and I had plenty of time to study them. Your eyes, I mean.” His coffee cup shifted around again. But AnnaMaria didn’t say anything, giving him time. She almost chuckled out loud. How unlike her, giving someone time to think. The old her would’ve stuck a microphone in his face and all-but beaten him with it until he gave her something worth taking to air.

“Did he say anything?”

This time she did laugh, not cruelly, but she couldn’t help it. “She had plenty say, but only one thing that’s for everyone.”


“Don’t even get me started. The woman bitch-sessioned for two fucking hours about how Her mate had ended up with all the credit. Not that She really minds, since they got it all wrong anyway. Men …” AnnaMaria couldn’t keep the smile from her face as the swirls around him shifted colors, the blues and greens deepening, threads of curious yellow changed into deep violets of understanding. And acceptance. Before he could ask, she said, “The message, one She wants everyone to know is that, well, They’re coming back.”


“Yes, They. God. Well, all gods. They left awhile ago. For reasons the human mind is not capable of understanding. Trust me, I tried.”

His colors changed suddenly, sharply, with worry. “All of them?”

AnnaMaria grabbed both of his hands. “Yes, but … She says it will be glorious.”


The message spread, slowly at first, for most chose not to believe. At first. Until They arrived. Then everyone believed. It was hard not to when every god ever prayed to returned. They didn’t appear all at once; it started as more of a slow trickle. One here, three there. The slow trickle quickly became a deluge, with major and minor deities popping up every few hours.

It was as if no time had passed, at least not to Them. Except They were no longer content to keep to their old territories. Apollo and Artemis were seen hunting in Canada. Anubis and Thor were spotted sunbathing on the beaches of Los Angeles. Loki, Puck, and Sun Wukong traipsed about the world creating blizzards in the jungles and hurricanes in the deserts. Zeus seduced his way around the world and back again.

Something had compelled her to go outside, she claimed, in an interview mere days before the world went to hell. More precisely, before it returned to the gods. Some mortals cowered in their basements, in denial of the war waging on their front lawns. Some joined in, swilling wine at bacchanals; orgies reigned supreme in newly erected shrines; the war gods took great delight in “games” involving nuclear warheads.

The humans, though kindly tolerated by some of Them, were really not needed in this brave new world. After years of being largely ignored and unloved until the humans needed something, the gods had decided to take back the earth. Bombs exploded overhead, accompanied by storms the like of which hadn’t ever been seen by human eyes. Towering mountain ranges erupted in the middle of New York City, Rio de Janeiro, and Paris, while a large lakes occupied the Sahara and Gobi deserts. The gods reorganized the world’s geological features on whims as fleeting as whispers, often in competition or argument.

AnnaMaria’s last thought, as the thunder gods tossed lightening bolts over them, was that she wished she’d asked thought to ask who it would be glorious for.

The End

Jill Corddry started telling stories at an early age, and her parents get credit as the first to recognize her writing ability (and encouraged her accordingly). She even managed to use her BA in English for many years as a content writer for a few dot coms in Seattle. These days Jill finds a few spare minutes to write in between taking care of twin toddlers and soaking up the California sunshine. She has stories published in Lakeside Circus, Bewildering Stories, in the Demonic Possession anthology by James Ward Kirk Fiction, and an upcoming anthology by World Weaver Press. She is a member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and the California Writers Club.

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Dragon Girl Star Zenith by Judi Calhoun

Nov 02 2014

Leather wings beating the air, a cyclone of wind gusts moving over me stretching through the veil. The heels of my leather stilettos sunk into this soft sandy oasis, as my wings folded into my body. Interdimensional travel in the coldness of the void was punishment to my body and wings. Flying through the veil with moon phases, gravity, anti-gravity pressure rushing fluids into my face and head all at once, as if a sinus infection, was a bitch. The only comfort was knowing it would pass within seconds of landing. I was outside the centum quadrant on a small sandy wasteland in the third heaven. I stood in front of a seedy tavern neon sign flashing, Centum Eustacia, but the place could’ve been any dive in any city on earth. I waited for my symbiosis dragon, to send out feelers. A few drifters and some Sand Gunners parked near tall red palm-trees, dancing with fairy light. I wondered why my ex-body-guard, Fallen-archangel boyfriend, Denbe hadn’t met us outside, as he’d promised. Denbe had been my bodyguard when the Underworld was at war, and certain factions declared me their queen with dark aspirations for my assent to throne. All because my doctor, Richard Darnell had implanted dragon DNA in my mother’s fetus. I was born the only one-of-my-kind part human, part white Swan-Dragon. I don’t like this, said Odette. Looks like a good place for an ambush. You’re right. Let’s see if Denbe’s inside. I could hear the music even before I stepped through the door. It was your typical sand-drifter bar patronizing Fallen, Seraphs and halos. Barn-board floors, red walls, mirrors, and sign’s advertising weird drinks, candles melting into blue Formica tabletops, and one giant set of black feathered wings proudly displayed behind the bar. There were three rogues seated at the bar, two Fallen-archangel big guys at a table playing some game and a small third-class-Fallen imp, but no Denbe. I must have caught their attention because suddenly everything got quiet, and even the music died down. The only sound was my spiked-heeled boots clomping heavily across the barn-board. Bartender wore a scowl that said without words that he hated the sight of me. He started to speak, but one of the others seated at the bar spoke first. “Never thought I’d ever see the Dragon Queen in my lifetime.” I hated being called that name. I didn’t ask for that label, nor had I wanted that supernatural tattoo on my ass in the form of a Nautical Star Compass. Apparently, this was my calling card, felt not seen. The Underworld branded me Queen of the Damned, and a certain demonic faction still considers me their queen. “I’m looking for a Fallen-archangel named Denbe, have you seen him?” “That depends,” said the bartender, voice gravely. “What do you want with him?” I ignored his question, trying not to lose my patience. “Have you seen him or not?” “We don’t want any trouble here,” he said, then mumbled something under his breath about Hell and nodded his head toward the short, third class Fallen seated in the corner. “Ask Seth.” I dragged my claws along the wooden bar, stopping at Seth’s table staring down at the imp, who kept ducking his eyes. I crossed my arms over my chest and tapped my heel. “I don’t know anything,” he said voice whinny. Beads of sweat broke out along his forehead. “Leave me alone.” He’s lying, said Odette. I can smell the Fallen all over him. He knows something. I spread my clawed fingers out leaning on his table, “I think we need to have a little talk, Seth.” “Leave me alone!” My back was hot with anger. The thick red war-veins that ran under my skin down my shoulders to my wings glowed flaming red whenever I got angry. I grabbed him by the top of his flannel shirt, pulled him to his feet, hearing his chair crash to the floor as I dragged him toward the door. I paused sensing someone behind me. I dropped Seth. My four-inch claws came around swinging slashing the chest of the Fallen-archangel, towering over my five-foot, six-inch frame. He stepped back, staring down at his torn shirt and bloody claw marks raking through the skull tattoo peeking out of the torn material. “Bitch!” he said. “This is the third heaven, we don’t want your kind around here, go back to the Underworld.” “No worries I’m leaving, but I’ll take out the trash first.” I leaned down and pulled Seth to his feet. “You’re not taking him!” he said. “Back off,” I said. “I don’t want to kill an Angel, but I will if I have to.” I started again for the door hearing the sound of steel sliding from a metal harness. I let my wings fully extend, grunting loudly I jumped flying over his head, using all my strength hoisting Seth to the ceiling. I swiftly draw out knives from my pant leg, and stab the material pinning him by his shirt and pants, all the while hearing him whine like a baby, and scream to let him down. I hissed hearing the Angel flipping his shield from his shoulder and drawing his sword back. The coward was waiting for me to make the first move. My red-spine curved, jaw snapped, mouth opened, and vision shifted red. I flew down from the ceiling fire blasting him. His shield blocked the flames but none of the heat. I turned off my fire and turned on the smoke. The sweat poured from his face as he swung that sword like a pro, my claws caught the edge, parrying, sparks flying. In the haze of smoke, he drew back, his entire body swaying, moving with his weapon, grunting, swinging. I ducked. The blade struck the bar cutting a deep, wide gash in the wood. Smoke was blinding. He took a deep breath then bent choking. I grunted low swinging wide my claws whistling in an ark hitting his shield, cutting grooves into the metal. He tried again, but this time I caught his weapon in my hand and jerked it free, tossing it seeing it disappear under the bar. I kicked him in the chest propelling him backwards. He fell on his ass, skidding and crashing into the wall. I was on him before he could get up, my stiletto pinning him to the barn-board. “I should kill you,” I said panting, leaning heavy on my heel. I let the anger subside, and I turned away. I flew up yanking my blades from Seth’s clothes. I let him crumble to the floor, grunting and screaming. I jumped down and dragged him outside and slammed him up against the dark shadows of the building. “Odette doesn’t like boys that tell lies. She wants to turn you into tiny roasted marsh-mellows.” “Red Sasha,” he stammered. “The Succubus. She took him less than thirty minutes ago.” “You said took, does that mean he didn’t go willingly?” “Nobody goes willingly with Red Sasha. Hello, she’s a life-eating Succubus, from your world.” “Where did they go, Seth?” I asked, losing my patience, gritting my teeth. The sweat ran down his round face. “I don’t know.” “Really? You’re going to play that game?” He closed his eyes and blurted out. “Tempus Calyx.” “And you can teleport us, right?” “I’m not going there,” he said. “That place reeks. It should be easy for you to enter the city, it’s closer to your home.” “Earth,” I asked. “No, the Labyrinth,” he said, and his eyes opened wider. “You’re going to kill me once we get there aren’t you?” “I should kill you right now, after what Odette just told me. So, how about you teleporting us to Tempus Calyx, and I won’t tell Hamlet or Denbe how you spun lies about them to the throne of angels, because you were jealous of my sisters relationship. Odette is a little hungry. Just so you know; we’ve eaten plenty of demons. One small Fallen angel is just a cupcake dessert.” “I…I didn’t mean to cause your sister any trouble. I’m just a lonely guy. I’m not allowed on earth, how am I supposed to find a girl? The only creatures around here are flesh eaters.” I fought to hide the smile that twitched at my lips, because I needed to radiate that hard edge instead of going softhearted on the imp. “The way I see it, since you’ve nearly destroyed my sister’s happiness, you owe me one gigantic favor.” “Fine. I’ll teleport you,” he said. “But, I’m not staying there. After I get you to Calyx, you’re on your own.” # Even before we arrived I could smell that horrid sulfur, you’d think I’d be used to it by now, having been to the Underworld more times, but you never get used to that nauseating rotting flesh stench. We were in the heart of Calyx. Tall, dark buildings loomed around us on the outskirts of Hades catacombs and from the dark gray evening sky; flakes were falling, in spite of the nearly seventy-degree temperature. It wasn’t snow. It was ash. There was always something dead and burning in Tempus Calyx. A low humming from some mechanical device played with my nerves. If this were earth, I’d think air-conditions. Here, it was anyone’s guess. That didn’t bother me as much as the windows with devil-light flickering low, causing a slight twitch on my cheek. I wondered how many eyes were watching. “They say Red Sasha lives in the shadows,” said Seth. “But I know her place is right at the end of this road.” He was pointing down a narrow street. “Her house sits next to a ruby lake, her own little lake of fire. Most can’t see it because it’s hidden from human eyes, not that your human, so you should have no problem. Just promise me you won’t tell her I sent you. I’d like to say it’s been a pleasure, but really it hasn’t.” The little Wessel was gone, that fast. I kept my claws ready, passing sketchy ally-ways with thick rot-iron gates. A mechanical eye moved from the shadows, security bot taking my photograph no doubt. I’d seen more than one in this neighborhood, can’t say as I blame them. A few stray cats, some human, most questionable moved from the darkness of doorways. I stopped near the last house beside a small lake. “What do you think?” I asked my dragon. “Are we looking at it?” Let me try, said Odette. My eyes shifted red as they normally do when she takes over. A large English Tutor, wrapped in black thorny vines shimmered solid. There’s only one heartbeat on the third floor, said Odette. But I don’t think he’s alone. My wings fully fanned outward, crouching low and jumping, acquiring lift, catching air, pumping hard, moving high over the roof, circling and lowering myself, hovering in front of the locked window. I started kicking it until the thick metal frame bent; the latch popped free while the window creaked outward. I stepped onto the frame, drew in my wings and dropped inside. My stilettos made a loud thump landing on the floor. Someone was cuffed and chained to the headboard. I whispered Denbe’s name. The bedcovers moved, and he raised his head. “Dragon Girl,” he said smiling. “How did you find me?” “A little third-class Fallen Angel with way too many secrets.” “Seth,” he said. “You should go, get out of here before she hears you.” “Why’d she take you?” He shrugged, “She won me in a poker game. I’m sort of her sex slave for a week. It was a long time ago. I was hoping she’d forget about our little deal, but I can’t be that lucky can I doll?” “Of all the stupid things you could do,” I said. I let my claws extend. “Duck you head.” Sparks flew as my claws cut through his chains. Suddenly the bedroom lights came on. A woman with long red hair down to her ass, paper white face stepped into the room. Her body radiated sensual heat, erotic pleasure, and dark forces from the cradle of hell. “Dragon Queen,” she said, her voice as silky as her black negligee. “Well, this is a… surprise.” “I’m taking Denbe,” I said. “Oh, I don’t think so,” she said crossing her arms. “He’s mine for another four days.” I ignored her and stared at Denbe. “You sent me a message. You said you needed help. Is this what you wanted?” “No,” he said. “Not this.” “Look,” said Sasha. “I’d love to let you kids chat and catch-up, but the truth is honey, you broke into my house. You were going to steal something that belonged to me. Now I can’t allow you to leave.” “Oh, I’m leaving,” I said. “And I’m taking my boyfriend with me.” She smiled perhaps sensing a worth adversary. “Why don’t you put those sharp claws away, beautiful dragon,” she said purring like a cat, floating toward me. “After all, you are one of us. You feel it don’t you, our connection with darkness.” Her fingers reached out sensuously caressing the leather on my arm. Heat, pleasure power an unholy veneration, rippled through my senses. “Give into me,” she whispered, red lips close to my ear. “Let me have you.” Her dangerous red glossy lips brushed against my mouth until our lips parted into a kiss. She tasted of death and like the ash that rained down on Tempus Calyx. Are we having fun?” Odette asked impatiently. If you’re not going to have sex with her Hannah then kill the Succubus. You want to kill her. I feel your emotion, you angry because she slept with your boyfriend. A shudder ripped through me, feeling that life-sucking vacuum of her mouth stealing my chi. I let my steel demon-eating teeth slide down, and I took a bite of her ruby lips, cutting, tasting blood. She screamed against my mouth, and tried to pull away. Odette was right I wanted to kill her. Reluctantly, I let her go, shoving her, my claws cutting into her pearly white skin. She tumbled across the bed, gasping, blood running from her arms and mouth. “I underestimated you,” she said sitting up. “You’re not easy.” I wiped her blood from my mouth and glanced at Denbe. “Can we go now?” He took my hand and shrugged his shoulders at Sasha, right before we teleported out of her bedroom. Inside the whirlwind of static and white noise, I felt his arms go around me, holding me. We landed on a foggy mountain bluff directly above the wild ocean surf inside the Star Zenith nebula. His arms were still around me, his eyes burning with hungry desire, his lips so close to mine and suddenly we were kissing. I could have easily lost my head at this moment, except I was annoyed. I shoved him away. “Where the hell are we?” I asked. “No place special,” he said. “I just spent the past few hours, fighting a Fallen, grilling a third-class imp and biting the mouth of an over-sexed succubus who was sleeping with my boyfriend! I am not in any mood to be trifled with.” He let his fingers trail down my arm as he reluctantly stepped away. “Thanks for rescuing me.” My left eyebrow automatically rose with suspicion, “Really? It sure didn’t look like you wanted to be rescued Denbe. Sometimes you really piss me off.” “Come on, give me a break, doll. I didn’t want to be with her? It’s you I want. You know that.” He reached out brushing tangled strands of hair from my face. “If you kidnapped me, I’d never want to leave your bed.” I rolled my eyes. “Besides sex, what do you want from me?” “Yea, kind of hard to concentrate with that image inside my head,” he said closing his eyes for a moment. “It’s simple really. I need you to fly me to the Baculum Colony.” “Baculum! Are you crazy? You want me to fly you to a badass prison colony and the reason you want to go there is?” “I’m going to break in, so I can break someone out.” “Oh, no,” I said walking away from him. “No way! I’m not getting in trouble with some Angelic Intergalactic police because of you.” “You don’t even know what I’m asking,” he said. “It’s easy. You fly me over the island, land on the roof, and you leave. I do the rest.” “How are you going to get out?” I asked. “Teleport underwater,” he said. “There are no barriers beneath the sea. I know this because I tried it, and it worked.” “What if you get caught? I’m not breaking in to get you out.” “Trust me Dragon Girl, I have mad skills,” he reached out, taking my hand a serious expression on his face. “She’s innocent. They locked her away because of an accident. It wasn’t her fault. She was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s not like earth; there are no fair trials. Someone points a finger, and you’re locked away until your bones rot.” I drew closer to him. “Baculum blocks everything Denbe, teleportation, power drainers, shifting and even wings.” “”Leaf wings, bone wings, feathered wings yes, but leather-dragon wings no,” said Denbe. “They’ll be virtually undetected by their radar.” “Is it really worth the risk?” “She didn’t break the law. She deserves to be free,” he said. “She’s my sister, Liz.” “What?” I asked. “You are a created seraph, you never had a family.” “I found her on the streets of New York City, she’d been attacked by a demon and left to die. I brought her back to life. Her family took me in. They’re my family now. When this thing happened, my parents begged me to help her. I’m keeping that promise. I’m going to get her out.” “I just know I’m going to live to regret this, when are we going?” I asked, sitting down on the soft grass. “Nightfall,” he said. “They won’t see us or feel us.” I glanced at the sky. How long Odette? Approximately two hours before darkness, She said. Are you sure you want to risk this Hannah? What do you think? I asked. I trust the Fallen, she said. It sounds easy enough. # The moment the dull grey sky slipped behind the mountain range leaving us in total darkness, we wrapped into each other’s arms and stepped off from the cliff. Denbe hooked his legs around mine it was actually comfortable. The only distraction was the closeness to him that caused all kinds of sensual thoughts. I fought to stay focused as we flew northeast heading straight for Star Zenith. Within a few minutes the megalith rocky cliff, like a tall mammoth ship, rose straight up from the middle of the sea. “I feel your heart racing,” said Denbe. “Don’t be afraid.” My hands were turning clammy; I squeezed Denbe tighter, fearing I might drop him. I couldn’t even imagine anyone ever escaping this horrid penitentiary, let alone breaking into it. I flew directly over the wall that surrounded the complex, ocean waves crashing into the high-brick parapets. Denbe let go of one arm to point to the tallest building. We touched down on the roof, my arms shaking when I let go of Denbe and collapsed rolling over feeling an electrical hum vibrating from the building through my body. Completely winded lying flat out on my wings feeling hard pebbles beneath me staring up at Star Zenith in the night sky. “That was hard,” I said breathlessly. “God I miss my wings,” he said. “You did great.” “This place looks terrifying,” I said reaching out for his arm. “Maybe I should just wait here for you.” “No,” he frowned. “You think carrying me was hard, try doing that with two people. “How are you going to get over that wall?” “I’m going underneath,” he said. “There’s a tunnel that empties out into the ocean. Go back to the hilltop. If I’m not back in three hours, come find me, deal?” “Deal,” I said reluctantly. # The hilltop felt lonely without him. I lay back on the grass staring up at Star Zenith, bright in the sky above the restless sea. It was so peaceful that I drifted off to sleep. A voice urgently called my name. I woke with a start sitting straight up. Something was wrong. Disoriented I glanced at my cell phone; it had been almost four hours. My head hurt struggling to my feet, off kilter, off balance, that sinus thing returning. Denbe’s in trouble, said Odette. My wings already extended, head still dizzy, I stumbled over the edge of the cliff, airborne and heading for Star Zenith, puzzled now, not seeing the shining light. It had been right there in the sky a moment ago. This world was crazy inside this nebula, sky changing every hour. Over the ocean I searched and searched for Denbe, soon the walls of the prison black and menacing were right in front of me. The spray from the whitecaps soaked my wings as I circled the dark, intimidating walls. Odette, can you locate his heartbeat? Yes, She said. There are two faint hearts, barely beating on the ocean floor. I can swim underwater for hours, but you cannot, you will die, we will die. I hope you forgive me Odette, but I have to try. Understood, she said. I painfully filled my lungs with air, and dove beneath the surface, allowing Odette to take the lead. The water was cold and oily black. The momentum from my wings sped me deeper, faster than any human could swim. Already my lungs were burning; my brain screaming it needed to inhale air soon. How close are we? Try to hang on, she said. I willed myself to hold the air in my lungs. The deeper we went, the more tremendous the pressure, and the more I thought of turning back. In spite of the fact that the oil in the water was hard on my eyes, I could make out something shiny. A silver metal prison bars covering the tunnel entrance. Denbe’s hand reached out, and I touched his fingers for a moment, hoping I might somehow convey a message. Hannah, they don’t have much time. Can we use your fire, Odette? You’ll take in a lot of water once you open your mouth. It might kill you. My body was growing numb, my skin turning blue and my lungs screaming for air. I could hardly feel my fingers when my claws stretched out, long and sharp. Odette started to strike the metal bars repeatedly without damage. Shit! Odette, I said. Bring the fire. I felt my jaw stretch and pop. When my mouth opened wide, water bubbled inside…my lungs filled up. I fought to control the panic screaming inside my head…unable to breath…air. I need air. I needed it now. The fire flickered water tried to extinguish, yet the oil caused it to burn in hot spots around us. We were caught in our own flames, liquid fire. The metal was glowing hot, melting as if molten lava, disintegrating that strong quantifiable steel. I struggled to get my thoughts back from that dark sea, as hot metal pieces of the silver bars floated past me out to sea. I was drowning. Drifting in blackness, hearing music somewhere, a melody a few high-notes, piano cords in my murky watery grave. My vision wavered. I mentally reached out hoping to touch Odette, my warm, familiar dragon. Someone was grunting as they swung hammers into my chest, pounding my heart. Urgent, distant voices were calling my name. Lips closed over my open mouth blowing warm, sweet air. I needed that air inside my painful, water-filled lungs. Suddenly, gasping violently, shuddering sucking air into my lungs, and water trying to come out at the same time. I was choking, spitting out oily seawater, a lot of it…long gasps in between hard pants desperate for more air, vehement gasps, trying to remember how to breathe. My head dropped back down into a puddle on the hard floor, wheezing staring up into Denbe’s worried face. He closed his eyes looking as if he might be fighting back tears of relief. I glanced around, seeing a pink bedspread in a girl’s bedroom. A human teenage girl with brunette hair and large green eyes sat on her bed staring down at me as if I were a superhero. “Where are we?” I asked my voice thick and hoarse. It hurt. Oh god, did it hurt to speak. I realized my arm was stuck to my leather wing. I hadn’t tucked them correctly. They were still wet and half open lying underneath me. I shifted up on my elbows and flexing my shoulder muscles to fold them into the slits of my leather T-shirt. “We’re in Liz’s bedroom,” said Denbe, crouching closer a look of relief on his face. “I was so scared. I thought you were dead. How is Odette?” “She’s okay, but we both feel like shit.” My fingers touched my throat it ached with every word I spoke. Denbe placed his hand on my neck releasing his healing aura until the pain subsided. “We teleported to earth, to bring her home,” He said standing up. I grabbed Denbe’s wrist, and he haul me to my feet. “Dragon girl,” said Liz. “You are amazing.” “Hannah,” I said smiling. “My friends call me Hannah. Nice to meet you too.” She didn’t look at all like a hardened criminal. She seemed pink sweet and innocent. Immediately I liked her. My eyes were on Denbe. “You couldn’t teleport from the tunnel because it was technically still inside Baculum.” “I swear those bars weren’t there a few days ago.” His expression became intense, and painfully grim. “I nearly killed you,” He said. “I swear I don’t know what I would’ve done if you’d died.” My entire body ached, but I stretched up on my toes to kiss his forehead. “You know you can’t get rid of me that easily?” He ran his thumb gently over my jaw line. “Liz is right you are amazing.” I glanced at Liz, typing away on her iPad. “I wonder if they know she’s gone?” “They know,” he said. “That’s why I have to move my family someplace safe. Hopefully, they have no clue who destroyed the tunnel prison bars.” “What if they find out?” I asked. “And they come looking for us?” “Then we deal with it,” he said. I was too tired to worry about anything. I leaned my head into his chest, his arms circled my back, and his lips found mine. I closed my eyes, feeling myself drifting away from earth’s gravity, into the third heaven, beneath the canopy of stars in the night sky. I felt inexplicably safe and happy, home in the arms of the man I loved. Judi Calhoun is the author of the novels of Sword of Yesher and Ancient Fire. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies such as the popular pulp fiction, Love Free or Die in the Granite State, Horror anthology Canopic Jars: Tales of Mummies and Mummification, Live Free or Ride in the Granite State, Bugs, Tales that Slither, Creep and Crawl and Black Cat Anthology, as well as others. She is currently working on a new YA novel, Dragon Girl.

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Shadows of Faith By Luiz H. Coelho

Oct 26 2014

Lorwin Leatherworker grew uneasy as the warm winds of the wastelands rustled his dark, flowing hair. It had been little over a day since their improvised caravan had left the ravaged village, the only home he had ever known. He was accompanied by a handful of fellow nervous villagers, the Elder Guard and their leader.

Most of them were silent, still in shock after the horrors they had witnessed the previous night. The guards marched them along on horseback with somber faces, likely thanking whatever gods they bowed to for delivering them from the task ahead.

None of the chosen had any useful training or actual experience in the art of battle. They were just simple peasants driven by their faith in the prophets of old and blind rage over their recent losses. Their baggy, worn clothes and rusty makeshift weapons were hardly ideal for traversing the deserted wastes, not to mention actual combat.

The shrieks of the giant scavenger birds above reminded Len of the horrible night; he and Wenda had been fast asleep in each other’s arms when the raid began.  It was only a matter of minutes before the airborne demons had all but completely razed the once-quaint town, their black leathery wings fanning the flames that engulfed the villager’s defenseless homes of brittle straw and wood. Lorwen had come face to face with one of the horned aberrations when the roof over the bedroom collapsed on him and his beloved wife. The red-eyed creature had gazed at him curiously for a moment as it hovered over the burning house, and then flew off to continue with its siblings’ rampage on the dark, moonless night.

Lorwen had managed to drag his unconscious wife away from the flaming wreckage before joining the other desperate villagers in their futile attempts to put out the inferno and ward off the incoming attackers. It wasn’t long before all that remained were ashes and corpses as the flying beasts returned north before the night reached its end, leaving the devastated settlement behind.

It was only after sunrise that the sobbing had ceased, and the survivors began reclaiming their possessions from the smoking ruins. It had been ages since they had suffered an attack of this scale. As the peasants calmed down, the village Elder elegantly emerged from the smoke in tattered robes and began his speech, attributing the sudden attack to prophecies of old. He told the tale of the Great Beast, which had now awoken and had sent his heralds to announce his terrible return. Lorwen paid little attention to the faithful rambling, being more preoccupied with his wife’s failure to wake up.

In his fragile state of mind, he still harbored disdain for the talk of prophecies and monsters, but the townspeople cheered as the Elder offered them a solution to their woes. The prophets had long foretold that on the advent of such a tragedy, a small group of warriors would unite against the forces of the Great Beast and drive it back into oblivion from whence it came.

In the commotion, Lorwen hadn’t noticed the Elder approach his wife’s sleeping body. As he carefully touched her silky brownish hair with a wrinkly hand sporting various golden rings, he claimed that there was only one way to bring her back; appeasing the gods and fulfilling the prophecy.

God or no gods, Lorwen accepted the offer to become one of the Chosen Few. Whether for love or hate, he had embarked on the journey not for his people or his fallen brothers, but for Wenda Rivercrosser. However, he was certainly not alone in this endeavor, for three others had been chosen as well.

Leaving Wenda behind was not an easy task, but at least Lorwen had guaranteed she would be taken care of by accepting the Elder’s offer. A hero’s wife could not simply be left for dead, no matter her condition, he had thought. The best healers would certainly try their hand at aiding her recovery.

Lorwen and the other chosen warriors left the village as the priests had commanded; with only their present clothing and whatever crude weapons they already owned, as it was prophesized. And so the guarded caravan, led by the village Elder, parted soon after the break of dawn from the peaceful village towards an uncertain fate.

Though at first the group was accompanied by the greenery and wildlife of the southern Livelands, the heat and despair of the rocky north was soon upon them. The famished birds overhead were the only reminder of the natural world, now. Legends claimed that the north was once thriving with life, long before the dark magic of the Ancient Wars, though it was now hard to believe.

Lorwen adjusted his hand-made quiver and hunting bow, looking around at his fellow village folk. Having lived his entire life there, he knew most of them personally. Bal’nur Smithand was shambling to his right, as if in imaginary chains of grief. A large hammer, probably crafted by his own hands, was slung over his broad, unarmored shoulders. His eyes, however, contrasting with his imposing figure, were that of a frail, broken man. He had lost someone in the raid.

Up ahead trekked Farel Lakeson, who was borrowing a canteen from one of the guards. He had no living family in the village, so Lorwen wondered what would drive a homely merchant to enter such a perilous quest. Probably the potential rewards, he concluded.

The last of Lorwen’s companions travelled closely to the Elder’s horse. Marlon, son of Markon. He used to be in the city guard before falling into disgrace after wounding his fighting arm during a duel with a fellow guard, back when Len was a young lad. Still, the old one could be their savior. Despite his crippling injury and apparent uselessness as a guard, he still carried a proper blade.

As the ill-fated caravan drew nearer to a cluster of rocky hills, they saw the cracked metal entrance grow larger in the distance, rising up from the dry earth as an ebony tombstone. It was, for all intents and purposes, a gateway to the underworld. On the dusty soil they could find faint specs of blood; perhaps the city guard had not been entirely incompetent and had wounded some of the devils. It was more likely that the creatures had brought some reward back with them. Ahead of the massive entrance, the Elder signaled for them to stop. The guards on horseback formed a corridor leading up to their master. The four warriors approached him as they were summoned by name. Lorwen was the first to be called upon.

“Lorwen Leatherworker, step forth.”

Lorwen did as he was told. This was no time for hesitation or regrets. Even so, the old man’s condemning eyes were heavy with a condescending gaze. They told Lorwen his odds of returning with life were slim. The Elder continued:

“We leave you, the chosen, as you were on the crimson night, in the manner that the gods have commanded. May they watch over you.”

A red cross was painted on Lorwen’s chest with a foul smelling substance. He waited for the Elder to finish the ritual with the others, who were just as perplexed as he was. When they were ready for entry, a pair of guards dismounted their steeds and began to operate a complex system of gears and pulleys connected to the iron gate. The ancient tomb was slowly being unsealed, and Lorwen wondered how the Great Beast’s servants had escaped it in the first place.

When the grinding of ancient machinery ceased, a large wooden platform was revealed, suspended in the air by colossal chains of iron, leading downwards into the cavernous abyss. The chosen warriors reluctantly stepped onto the contraption and heard haunting echoes of their footsteps in the vastness below. A disturbing rumbling sound answered their entrance into the monstrous crypt.

The Elder solemnly waited for the ominous sounds to subside before lighting a torch and handing it to a startled Lorwen. He then quietly whispered into the warrior’s ear:

“Wenda Rivercrosser is in good hands.”

As Lorwen quietly nodded, the Elder stepped back, and the guards began turning the cogs once more, lowering the chosen few into their pitch-black fate. Bal’nur clutched at his hammer as if he intended to strangle it, breathing heavily. The others were in better control of their emotions, but equally frightened. Marlon stepped closer to the torch, with the flames exaggerating his already stern features. Farel, remarkably calm for a merchant, had one hand in his pocket as he stared at the blackness below.

Lorwen studied his surroundings, attempting to use the light from the torch to gauge the size of the chamber, but it was of no use. Nothingness surrounded them on all sides, and the light from the entrance was now no brighter than a lone star in the sky. The merchant then broke his concentration:

“Do any of you gentlemen happen to have a plan?”

These were the first words any of them had spoken to each other since their ordeal began, though Lakeson’s query was a useless one. After a few moments, Bal’nur replied:

“We go down, we kill what we find.”

The comment managed to silence them for a little while longer, at least until they heard fluttering and bizarre chirping in the distance. Lorwen was about to draw his bow when Marlon interrupted, placing his good hand on the younger man’s trembling shoulder.

“Don’t bother, Leatherworker. If they were going to attack us, they would have by now. Save the arrows.”

Lorwen nodded in agreement; perhaps the geezer wasn’t as useless as he’d previously thought. Whatever waited for them in the shadow of this unholy dungeon would be far worse than the winged vermin. Still, the group instinctively huddled together near the torch. Together, they would be difficult prey to pursue. The flying demons would occasionally be glimpsed circling the lift, but always far enough that their exact number and position could not accurately be determined. Eventually, the animalistic chattering and flapping of wings stopped altogether. In the corner of his eye, Lorwen glimpsed the stony walls of their destination.

As the warriors drew nearer, it was apparent that this forsaken place was not of their time. The little that they could see of the dungeon’s exterior was unlike anything they had ever witnessed in the surface world. Stone blocks interlocked seamlessly in this buried tower, as if the entire structure were one solid monolith from a bygone age, carved by beings of unimaginable power.

The lift came slowly to a halt, barely touching the sides of the Great Beast’s peculiar home. The doomed party cautiously stepped into the underground entrance. The structure’s interior was comprised of an interlocking maze of damp corridors and smaller chambers. Boots steadily sank in the wet, spongy floor of the concealed labyrinth, and the stench was inhuman. Farel Lakeson appeared to be feeling queasy, and the other warriors promptly stepped away from him.

“I suggest none of us stray too far from the light. If one of us were to get lost in these corridors, I doubt we’d meet again,” stated a concerned Marlon.

The sick merchant quickly concluded his retching and resumed his place amongst the others. Wiping a rust-colored liquid from his mouth, he questioned Marlon:

“That’s a fine idea, old man, too bad none of us know which way to go.”

Lorwen paid no heed to the ensuing argument as he silently surveyed the dungeon floor. His years of tracking exotic-skinned game to be used in his inherited leather business had provided him with a hunter’s intuition, although the Beast they currently pursued was definitely no prey. To his right was a pile of human-sized bones, with several more littering the wet floor further down the corridor. Lorwen shone the light towards the bone trail and pointed. The others understood immediately.

The group was silent during their wandering in the damned ossuary, contemplating how many men had died there. Scraps of rotten clothing still clung onto scattered remains of their former owners. This was not the work of one of the lesser devils. No, this brutality was caused by something far more insidious. They could tell that the gods offered no protection there.

Finally, they reached the end of the corridor, with the trail leading into a tight metallic stairway and into deeper levels of the dungeon. Some of the lower floors were flooded, whilst others contained bizarre artifacts from a younger, more innocent world.

The merchant stuffed his pockets with useless metallic boxes which he found scattered across the lost chambers of the massive crypt. Perhaps they would be worth something to the outside world if they ever managed to return from their quest. None of it mattered to Lorwen, however, whose thoughts still dwelled on his beloved Rivercrosser.

Eventually, the estranged party reached a collapsed portion of floor, with a dangerous drop leading into an even larger chamber. Above the caved-in ruins was ancient message, scrawled crudely onto the walls in reddish brown:

“They lied.”

As the group took a risk and dropped down to the other floor, the stench of death and rot became much worse. After recovering their senses, they found the author of the foreboding message lying against a large pile of rubble. The skeleton was almost entirely preserved, and still wore his village guard’s distinctive armor. Lorwen pondered over the hows and whys of the unfortunate man’s death in these forgotten catacombs. Had he really made it this far on his own? And if so, what business had h-

Marlon suddenly pulled Lorwen by his collar and pointed to his own ears, indicating there was something of importance to be heard. The confused Leatherworker lowered his torch, careful not to put the fire out, and drew his bow silently. The extension of the darkness ahead of him was immeasurable; this was by far the largest chamber they had encountered. Enormous pillars were spread amongst the looming shadows, serving as a foundation for the accursed buried palace. Metal husks of ancient box-shaped carriages were abandoned in the darkness, worn away by the forces of time. It took a moment, but Lorwen heard what the son of Markon was referring to. He signaled the others to stay put and focused.

It was the sound of blowing wind. Oh his grimy skin, Lorwen felt a humid, warm breeze. Where in the nine hells was it coming from? Unable to bare the shear blackness any longer, he took an arrow and held it up to the torch, turning to Marlon for his consent. The old man nodded, and Lorwen shot out an arrow with flaming quills. It did not need to travel far before it revealed the object of their supposedly holy quest in its brief, shimmering light.

The Great Beast was already staring at the unsettled party with numerous shining red eyes, breathing heavily. It had been expecting them, waiting. The entire structure trembled as the gargantuan Beast lunged towards them like a tremendous mad reptile, dragging itself along the damp, stony floor. The extremities of its titanic limbs were freakishly large but also disturbingly man-like. The grand demon sported several serpentine necks culminating in eerily expressive faces, which looked to be crying out in agony with terrible fangs and forked tongues. Luckily for the chosen warriors, the crude lighting and the direness of their situation prevented any further description of the dark creature, whose complete appearance would have certainly driven even the sanest of men to madness.

There was no way any of them could feasibly defeat the beast in combat, even with legions of well-armed soldiers. But before the others could properly react, Bal’nur Smithand charged with the fury of one who had lost all he had once held dear in life. Alas, even as he bellowed the sacred names of gods and ancestors to aid him in battle, an oozing black tendril emerged from the roaring beast and impaled the foolish warrior to the ground, leaving behind a lifeless doll of flesh.

Learning from Bal’nur’s foolish example, the remaining few attempted to retreat. Lorwen gripped the torch as if it held his eternal soul in the flames, and led the way atop the giant pile of rubble which had led them to this final chamber. He, the merchant and the old man were no longer warriors of fate, only desperate mortal men on the run.

None of them dared to look back during their tiresome climb out of the treacherous dungeon, but the chase soon took its toll. Fortunately, the Beast found it difficult to pursue them through some of the more compact stairwells and corridors, which slowed it down. Their bodies were weak, but before long the frightened men were sprinting though the upper levels, dodging bones and following the light of the torch. Damn the gods, thought an enraged and worn out Lorwen, damn the Elder and his prophets too! But before he was finished cursing, Farel let out an excruciating cry of pain.

A black tendril had pierced the merchant’s ankle and had begun dragging the writhing man down the corridor as he tried to no avail to stab the accursed thing with a shining gold dagger previously concealed in his pocket. The two survivors picked up their pace as they heard screams and the sounds of the metal trinkets the merchant had attempted to loot being flung about.

They were almost free, approaching the wretched lift that had first brought them to the decaying labyrinth. For a moment, a dreaded thought plagued Lorwen’s panicked mind; who would stay behind to operate the lift? The only observable controls were at the entrances, so only one of them could embark.

The two men reached their only known means of escape with a few moments to spare, and it seemed Marlon already held the answer to Lorwen’s burning question. As they stopped running, the old man approached Lorwen and handed him his rusty sword.

“You have a long life ahead of you, lad, and I’ve many a deed to atone for.”

Lorwen was speechless, but he saw the weight in the once-disgraced guard’s gaze. He had accepted his long-overdue fate. Lorwen put the sword away and Marlon was soon operating the ancient controls. The Beast was approaching fast, but the lift would be on its way, powered by dark magic from another age.

The beast did eventually reach the son of Markon, but Lorwen was already too far to see or hear most of the ungodly carnage below. Even the lesser demons were quiet now. The old man’s sword was all that remained of the brave party, but before melancholy could set in, Lorwen sensed something had gone awry. Curious sounds and vibrations indicated the contraption was stopping, not far from the exit.

As the chains rattled and walls trembled, light from above blinded the lone warrior. The gate was opened, and as his eyes adjusted, Lorwen saw the Elder, looking disappointed. His mind raced, but before anything intelligible could be uttered, the man spoke in a thundering voice:

“It’s a shame you had to find out this way. Most perish feeling honor in their hearts. Yet now you see the truth, unlucky one. We always pay what is owed.”

Lorwen’s heart was almost escaping his chest. There was nothing he could do at this distance, but he did not wish to hear the Elder’s story.

“Be assured you are not the first, or the last, and we pray that you shall be rewarded accordingly in the next life. It was never intended for you to slay the Beast, foolish boy, but to feed it.”

There was no time to ponder the consequences of his words. The contraption was now moving again, only downwards. The gate was closed once more, to be opened again only for the next generation’s sacrifice. Very little passed through Lorwen Leatherworker’s mind as he descended towards the gaping maws of the Great Beast, which anxiously anticipated their next meal.

He held out his sword firmly, as if it were one with his arm. He could smell the decay which emanated from the demon. It would not end like this. Lorwen dropped his torch into the fathomless depths below. He hesitated for a moment, and then he jumped, his last thought being the memory of Wenda Rivercrosser’s loving embrace.

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Sep 21 2014

Leanne searched around in the back of the van, looking for her new soil knife. She moved aside kneepads and seed packets, a box of condoms and several paperbacks from the Goosebumps series, ridiculously overdue. She could swear she had tossed the knife back here when she loaded up the van for carpool, but it had been a hairier morning than most; Mondays always were.

The old soil knife would work. The field basked in March morning light, cool and silent except for the hum of dragonflies darting among her crops. The Red Russian kale called to her. The rows stood like green soldiers, their spines purple, darker than her usual strains of kale, and arcing toward the sky. The kale was experimental, something requested by two of her clients. Chef Anton wanted a hybrid for a spring salad, and the new Thai restaurant was going to pan fry it with garlic.

As she harvested, the soil sang to her nose, tangy and rich. She never listened to music while she worked. There was too much noise in the rest of her day: children shouting in the morning, NPR as she drove, leaf blowers and the neighbor’s broken pool cleaner whining in the back yard.

Hours later, the van brimmed with freshly washed greens. She made her stops at the restaurants and then drove to her mother’s house. She smiled as she pulled into the driveway, appreciating the tidy front yard and the wicker rocking chairs idling on the porch. Her mother’s house always looked ready for company, like the covers of Southern Living she displayed on the coffee table.

“Hi, darling,” her mother said as Leanne came in with her basket of greens. “What have you brought me this time?”

“A hybrid kale. It’s fresh out of the ground this morning.”

“Lovely. Would you like some tea?” Her mother was still wearing her housecoat but her hair was coiffed and she had on her pearl earrings.


Her mother filled their glasses with iced tea while Leanne perched on a barstool in the kitchen.

“Let me taste this kale.” Her mother leaned on the counter and pulled a leaf out of the basket. “It’s washed?”


Her mother chewed and then smiled.

“Wonderful. So what else do you have going on today?”

“I’m on my way to get a trim.”

“You should stop trying to hide those grays, the blonde highlights do nothing for you.”



“I thought you liked my hair this way?”

Her mother wrinkled her nose. “I don’t care for it, no.”

“But you’ve always said I looked younger this way.”

Her mother tilted her head. “Have I?

Leanne started to speak but stopped herself, sliding off the barstool with a frown and a sigh. “Never mind. I need to get going or I’ll be late.”

“Okay, darling. Thanks for the greens, they’re just delicious.”

“You’re welcome.” Leanne gave her mother a peck on the cheek.

After the hair appointment and picking up the kids, she toted the basket she’d brought home for the family into the kitchen. The kids wouldn’t touch the kale, of course, but after they cleared their plates of lasagna and went outside to practice kick flips and soccer, she made a nice side salad for her and for Chris, drizzled with the homemade balsamic vinaigrette he liked.

He took a bite and grinned.


“Yeah,” he said. “It’s great.”

He loaded up his fork with more greens and had another taste.

“Really good,” he said.

“Great,” Leanne said, pleased, taking a taste herself. He was right, the kale was crisp and sweet. A breeze wafted through the open window and past their plates at the same moment that a calmness came over her.

He set down his fork, and wiped his mouth with a cloth napkin.

“So I got an e-mail today,” he said. “The twentieth reunion is coming up.”

“Really? Already?”

“Yep. May 2nd.”

Leanne widened her eyes. “That’s only six weeks from now. Crap, I bet that stupid Jennifer Mulgrew will be there, and I’ve gained so much weight since the last time I saw her. Do you think I look okay, or should I go on a crash diet?”

“If you think you can lose it, it’s probably best that you do.”

Leanne stared at him. Chris continued eating.

“Really? You think I should lose weight?”

Chris held his fork in midair and assessed her.

“I’d probably be more attracted to you if you did. Maybe just fifteen pounds.”

“Chris!” Leanne put down her napkin and glared at him. He frowned at her while a piece of kale slowly made its way into his mouth.

“What’s wrong?”

“How can you keep eating while saying things like that to me?”

He put down his fork. “What did I say?”

“Seriously?” Her eyes started to smart but she was too angry to cry.

“Leanne, I am completely at a loss here.” His green eyes looked sincere and for a moment Leanne wanted to believe him.

Leanne gazed at the green leaves on her plate and their purplish spines. She speared a bite with her fork and put it her mouth. The flesh was sweet and earthy, all the flavors of the soil and springtime circling her tongue at once before she swallowed. She had a strange sensation, as if her brain had just been washed in sunlight.

“Ask me something,” she said to Chris. “Ask me something you’ve been afraid to ask me.”

“What on earth?”

“Please. Just do it.”

Chris reflected. “All right. Why didn’t you answer the phone when I called Saturday night? Was your phone really dead?”

“I was having sex.”

Chris’s face drained of blood.

Leanne dropped her head into her hands. “Ten baskets to each restaurant – what am I going to do?”

“You were having sex with someone Saturday night and you’re more worried about your clients than about our marriage?”

Leanne’s gaze was sober, her response unvarnished. “Yes.”

Mandy Foster lives and writes in New Orleans. When not writing, she bakes cakes and chauffeurs her two young sons.

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