Archive for: December, 2014

Eden in the Sunken Hill by Emilio Minichiello

Dec 28 2014 Published by under The WiFiles

The man stood on the steppe, his hand holding the rope that he used to lead his mule, and he stared out at a sunken hill. It looked as if a giant had come along and stepped on this bulge. It was nothing like the man had ever seen before. He considered continuing straight past, not bearing the odd sight any mind. He looked around himself, but was underwhelmed by the plain’s emptiness. There were no rules out here, no laws or regulations. Time was as worthless to the man as the coins that rattled in his pocket. He decided to investigate.

It took him many hours to approach this hill, and night fell during that time so he had to make camp out on the grass. He took some supplies down from the bags that were tied to his mule, and hammered into the ground a large wooden stake that was attached to the rope that kept his ass from running off. Along with the stake he gathered together some flint, steel and wood to start up a meager flame. Upon this flame he roasted the remains of a rabbit. He ate of the small animal, washing its burned entrails down with bitter ale, and stripped off his thin clothing. He laid it all aside and slept bare upon the grass and under the stars. It was a ritual of sorts for the man, as it made him feel pure and clean under the eye of God. Not that he was a pure or clean man—he was quite the opposite—but even so, he still enjoyed the endeavor.

In the morning the man wiped the dew from his body with a towel cloth, redressed, and led his mule towards the hill. It took him several more hours to reach it. When he did, he came to the realization that it was not actually a hill, but a manmade structure. Steel beams held together with small plates of mortared shiny metal stood at tilted, curved angles so to appear as if they were rounded edges, rising convexly upwards as a hill does. There was no roof attached to these beams, and so it appeared sunken, or stepped on. On top of these enormous beams were crenellations as one might see at the top of a medieval castle. From these parapets the man could feel foreign eyes tracing his slow movements. Occasionally he also noticed some form of movement between the crenellations and he became certain that some force was glaring down upon him, waiting for his arrival.

That arrival came quickly, as he approached the beams of the artificial structure. He came close enough to the peculiar steel to touch it, and looked up. He could see no person atop the connected beams, and yet he knew that they were there. He ran his hand against the cold metal, and then knocked on it, as one might do to a neighbor’s door. Of course there was no answer, and the man became determined now to find some sort of entrance. He had not come all this way off of his path—whatever that could be—to find an impenetrable, mysterious mass of metal jutting out of the flat, grassy landscape like a manmade tumor.

He circled the metal hill, tracing his fingertips along its smooth exterior. As he walked, his mule kept stalling, smashing its hooves against the metal, and braying incessantly. The man tugged against the rope. He had been having troubles with this mule as of late. He was a spiteful creature, and enjoyed seeing his master angered.

“C’mon!” Shouted the man, pulling at the rope with both hands. “C’mon now! Let’s go!”

The mule was having none of it. It shook and kicked at the dirt and at the metal walls. Every time it did so, a dreadful ringing noise emanated outwards and could probably heard for miles. The man did not want this to happen. The last thing he needed was a roving band of bandits running after that sound, and taking his things. He had passed many small camps of these types on his travels, and he was very much afraid of their presence.

“Stop it. Hey, what’s gotten into you?”

The mule’s eyes grew huge and ungainly. They rolled in their sockets. The mule could not stop shaking and screeching. As if it was being bothered by some unseen spirit. The man turned around, wondering what the mule was looking at, and came face to face with a lowly, bowed creature. He yelped in shock, and let go of the rope. The mule kicked and ran off. The man watched it go, a sinking feeling of dread coming upon him. Everything he owned lay on the back of that animal.

“Oh my,” said the creature in front of the man. “I didn’t mean to scare off your mule. I’m terribly sorry.”

“Yes,” replied the man, examining the mild burns upon his hands as a result of the rope being pulled out of his grip. “Well, nothing to be done about it now. He is a wild, spiteful animal. He may return, he may not. He is not the first ass I have owned.”

The creature clicked his tongue. The man looked at it. It was not actually a creature, but a very folded, elderly man. His back protruded upwards, giving him a hunched look. Little grey tufts of hair sprouted from his pate. He looked almost like a baby bird, first growing its down in puffs and flourishes. He wore a simple, grey cassock and sandals. The man wondered if he was a priest of some kind.

“I am Berkhoff,” said the old man, holding out a thin hand.

“Nice to meet you,” replied the other.

“What is your name?”

“It is of no consequence.”

“No consequence? Now that’s odd.”

The man shrugged. He did not wish to have this man call him by the same words as his dead wife and children had called him by. Nobody should have that privilege.

Berkhoff shrugged, “What has brought you this way? We haven’t had a visitor in ages. In fact, the last visitor was…Samuel. He is entering his fiftieth year soon, why he was our last new comer, back in the days before we had such high walls.”

“Why is it you have them? These high walls?”

“Bandits,” said Berkhoff, his expression grim. “A great many raids have taught us to be more wary in this open plain.”

“Where in the world did you find the materials?” said the man. “I mean, there must be thousands of tons of metalwork here. I have seen no quarries, no places to smelt so much metal.”

“We had purchased the beams individually from a faraway kingdom, long since destroyed. They thought us mad to settle out here, to build up our defenses like we have. Ah, but we were the ones who have outlasted them, and so we are the greater ones. However, it came at a great cost of supplies, and though many years have passed, we are still sending scouts out constantly. Some don’t return, and we heavily mourn their loss.”

The man nodded. He was in some ways suspicious of this Berkhoff. Where had he come from? He could see no perforation in the walls of the structure, and what was the purpose of something like this? Out in the middle of nowhere, without any natural resources or barriers.

“Would you like to come in?” asked Berkhoff, as if he was inviting him into his own home. “I see that you don’t have much supplies now to go out on your own.”

Yes, after you startled my mule I am very much without supplies, thought the man. Besides himself he smiled at the old crow. He was a bit hesitant to enter the domain of a stranger, especially with the way his animal had reacted, but he didn’t have much of a choice. If he stayed out in the open and his mule never returned to him he would simply dehydrate and die. There were no rivers or lakes for miles. Either that or he would be taken by bandits, and all he had on his person was his one knife. His two pistols and rifle were in bags on the mule. In retrospect this was probably not a good place to keep them. The man cursed his own stupidity.

“I would like that very much. But, where could we enter? There is only brazen metal here, without end.”

“There is always an entrance,” said Berkhoff. “Though they are sometimes hidden.”

He led the man around the wall a little while. The man could see his mule off in the distance, it had stopped, and was probably grazing. Suddenly the two of them stopped, and Burkhoff bent down to brush aside some grass and dirt. Under this revealed a wooden hatch. The man was astounded. How could he not have noticed something like this? Berkhoff lowered himself and lifted the hatch, revealing a ladder. He then shuffled into the hole, and stepped down the rungs with some swiftness. The man was surprised with the other’s agility. For such a crumpled and wrinkled creature, he could sure move quickly.

The man descended the ladder as well, and closed the hatch behind him as Berkhoff told him to do. With the hatch-door shut, the man felt horribly enclosed. His hands were sweaty and he felt somewhat dizzy. This anxiety lasted his whole journey down the ladder—which seemed to last many minutes—until his leather shoes touched solid ground. An oil lamp hung on the wall, illuminating a narrow corridor. Berkhoff took this lamp off of the wall and held it.

“Won’t you need that for the way back?” asked the man, breathing harshly. “I mean, what if somebody returning from their journey comes down here?”

“Ah,” said Berkhoff with a smile. “I only hold this lamp for you. The rest of us have navigated these passages so many times that we can do so without the aid of our eyes. Any scout returning would not need this lamp, even though it will be returned to this spot again later on. You must understand that we are a community of habits. We have traversed every inch of our camp thousands of times over our many years.”
The man nodded. The both of their bodies spread long shadows behind them as they walked down the corridor, which was plain and seemed to be dug through the dirt and held up by wooden support beams on either side. They arrived at a small door, which both men had to duck through to enter. Upon going through this door they arrived in another underground area where they had to walk up some stairs, where they came to another door. Entering this they finally came to ground level. They were standing in between two walls that encompassed the exterior of the structure. The outer one was the wall that the man had run his hands against. This inner wall was similar to the outer but with gaps in between, so that the two men could see the sun through them.

“This is our community,” said Berkhoff. “We will walk a little ways around, and come up and over the top of our enclosure. That is what we call our walls, the enclosure, and that is where we, the Keepers of Stories, live.”

The man was silent, and simply regarded the elder with a nod. They walked around, coming upon more stairs that took them to the top of the enclosure. High up here, the man could feel a fierce wind that was nonexistent down on the grassy steppe. He put a hand above his brow and could see his mule, still grazing in the distance.

The top of the enclosure had a thick walkway, upon which many men of different ages and sizes were mounted. They gazed out at the everlasting green or talked amongst themselves. Berkhoff nodded at a fellow dark-skinned man who was chewing on a piece of meat.

“Shall I give you the full tour sir? Do you think you would consider staying here?”

“There isn’t much else to consider, to be perfectly honest.”

“I know what you mean,” said Berkhoff, leading the man down the walkway. The others up there did not pay him any mind. “With the collapse of civilization comes few options to the man who stays by his own self.”

“Collapse of civilization? I wouldn’t go that far.”

“What else would you call it then? A coincidence? All the kingdoms of the known world have fallen in the span of fifty years and you think it too far gone to say it is a collapse? What would you label it then?”

“I don’t know,” said the man. They walked on in silence for a while. Berkhoff spoke briefly to another old man, dressed similarly.

“I will take you down, into our commune. You must relinquish your weapons though. There are women, children, sickly peoples. We cannot risk it.”

The man understood and handed over his knife. If he was in any real danger he probably would have been dead by now. He had seen so many horrors in his travels that to die now seemed unlikely. Berkhoff took his knife and handed it to the other man.

“If you choose not to stay with us your weapon shall be returned.”

The two men walked on, and Berkhoff lead him down a flight of swirled stairs until they reached the sunken part of the hill. Upon reaching the base of the stairs, they came upon what appeared to the man to be a village. There were huts and large buildings set up.

“This is where we live…most of us. The Keepers of the Stories at least. We live here and have a good community. There live the elders, such as I. We live in the Library. There are about a hundred of us. We keep the Stories in check, make sure they are kept in good status, and organize the knowledge of the past. Where are you from?”

The man did not answer, that was not a question he wished to acknowledge. What did it matter where he came from? He was here now, that was all that mattered. Maybe he would be here forever. He wasn’t sure yet. They walked on.

“Here we grow crops, and over there we store the animals. We have pigs, goats, cows, etc. The younger Keepers tend to these trivialities. The women are in charge of cooking, cleaning, and organizing. If they do well at these tasks they have the opportunity to become a Keeper of the Stories. That is rare however, and hasn’t happened in a long, long time.”

“Why are you all so obsessed with these stories?” asked the man as they passed by a small farm, where two young men were hoeing a field, sweat trickling down their unclothed backs. Berkhoff chuckled.

“What else do we have anymore?”

“Life,” said the man. “A community. Things to do. What do stories matter?”

“Stories are the only things that matter anymore. Come, I shall show you what I mean.”

The man and Berkhoff walked on, past the farms, deeper into the circle of the community. They ended up by a large fence and a gate.

“Before we tread further,” said Berkhoff. “I must ask you. Do you believe in God?”

“No.”

“Good.”

Berkhoff took a key from the pocket of his cassock and unlocked the gate. They walked through and he locked it behind them. The sound of laughing and cheerful, childish shouting rang outwards, and the man became interested. What was going on that these people should be so happy? As they walked on, they began to decline down a slope, and came to another gate. There a boy was smoking a cigarette, and offered one to the man, who gently declined.

“You takin’ him in there?” asked the boy.

“Yes,” said Berkhoff. “Let us through.”

The boy shrugged and opened the gate. Ahead of them lay a garden, surrounded by thick trees and lush bushes. Flowers of all hues and design sprawled about the ground. Insects buzzed about, and the man recognized a fallen apple. The sound of laughing grew louder.

“What is this?” asked the man.

“Eden,” said Berkhoff. “At least, that is what these people believe it to be.”

As he said this, four beings came into view. They were enormously obese, pale, with limbs the size of boulders and faces squished and indistinguishable. They spoke no language and instead grunted or laughed. They crawled rather than walked along the flowery ground. Other Keepers were in sight, watering plants or trimming bushes.

The man watched in horror as two of these corpulent beings enmeshed themselves in each other. He could not tell what genders they were. They clung to each other and smiled. A few more of them joined this small group, and they all hooted at each other like monkeys.

“W-what is this? What in the w-world?” said the man.

“This is utopia.”

“What are they?”

“The happiest human beings who ever lived.”

Indeed they seemed to be. They were all naked, enormous, and quite clean beside their exposure to nature. The man watched as one of the beings extended a neck, and using only his mouth, grabbed at a flower. It chewed at this flower and ingested it. A smile of purest pleasure spread across its face.

The man turned and approached the gate. He felt sick to his stomach.

“Explain this!” shouted the man. “What horror is this?”

“No horror at all,” said Berkhoff. “Don’t you understand? These creatures are humans, and they are happy. We have engineered these plants that they eat to be the tastiest most delectable of foods possible. They are washed constantly and kept free of medical problems. They eat as much as they like, and are free to sin in any way. Violence occurs, and is encouraged, as our medicine heals them as though the violence had never occurred. Sex is free, and unlimited. They reproduce freely. They raise themselves and have been for many years. These are the freest of all beings who ever graced this land.”

“Free?” said the man. “These animals are not free! They cannot even stand on two legs. How can they be free when you are keeping them here, like pets?”

“They do as they please, that is the definition of freedom. They have no desire to stand on two legs. They are fully mobile on four and are more comfortable for it.”

“How many of them are there?”

“1,038 at the moment. Many of the mothers are pregnant now, and will deliver soon enough. We hope to reach 1,500 by next year.”

“Why? What is the point of this?”

Berkhoff drew closer to the man, and held him by the arms, “Don’t you understand? Don’t you see it? For centuries man has fought each other to the death for freedom, for eternal joy and ignorance! They have clung to religion, to politics, to drugs and alcohol. They fear the truth that they are brought into. I asked you before if you believed in God, and you answered negatively. So to you the truth is revealed, and you are worse for it. You may feel better about it, but in reality you are hindered. You can never truly enjoy this world. You can never be happy knowing that you will come to an end and will exist no more! This will haunt you forever.

“Now consider these creatures. The Adams and Eves of the future. They believe that they will never die. They have no names, no identities, no futures. They live only in the present. When one of them dies—which happens only in the case of natural causes or unpreventable genetic diseases—it is not noticed by the others. They think the creature asleep. They have no concept of death, despair, horror, anything of the sort. To them, this is it, beauty eternal.

“Now do you understand why we keep the stories? For us, the Keepers, we understand the truth. That on this earth everything is liquid, fluid, un-static. Everything is always in flow, always changing and dying and disappearing. But in the stories, the lore created by these people, there is never change. Everything stays the same. Dante always loves Beatrice and Odysseus always defeats Penelope’s suitors. In this world there is only the moment, the present moment where one can rejoice. So we have provided that moment for the lifetime of these people. These people who know nothing of human culture or destiny or life, and yet they are happier than us.”

The man shook his head, “No! It is inhuman! It is evil.”

“It is evil to be happy? Truly, eternally happy?”

“They are not even human. They are pigs. Happy pigs!”

“I’m sorry we can’t see eye to eye on this matter. Let me take you through the operation, so that you can better understand.”

Berkhoff led the man through the forest into a large building. Keepers were filling plates with foods of all kinds.

“We grow our food for New Adams and Eves, not for ourselves. We eat only the leftovers. We clean them every day, morning and night. We inject them with a special medicine that keeps away many diseases. Of course we can’t always keep them safe. Some disease always passes through somehow and lightens the herd. That is why the numbers are still so small.”

“You don’t teach them?”

“No, now what would be the point? Knowledge only leads to curiosity, and that leads only to unhappiness. We teach them nothing. They have everything cared for, everything that they need. In this way they need nothing more. They are void of all desires and curiosities.”

“I cannot stand for this!” said the man, “Surely one or two of them have some intellect. Some ability to speak or imagine?”

“No,” said Berkhoff with a smile. “You’d be surprised how complacent we humans become in the face of all earthly pleasures. Nothing soothes us more than knowing that we are truly free.”

The man beamed with rage. He plucked up a smaller, easy to hide, knife. He had not handed over this weapon, concealing it in his shoe. He took this weapon and held it in the air.

“This is horrible and inhumane!”

“They are happy sir!” shouted Berkhoff. “Are you happy? You with your mysterious past and surely destroyed home. Do you have a family? Do you have friends? Your life is nothing but ruin and the whole world is following your lead.”

“I refuse to believe it. Mankind is better than this!”

He held the knife out, as if he were to stab Berkhoff. The Keeper of Stories held his hands up, and the other Keepers in the building were now staring at them. Some of them spoke quietly to each other, and kept glancing over nervously. The man wondered if they might be calling some kind of guards or police. He lowered his weapon and ran out of the building.

In the forest he ran into one of the creatures. It barked at him and rolled around. He jumped at it and slit its throat. Blood slicked onto the ground and onto his hands. It made choking, gargling noises as it died. The other creatures made alarmed noises, and moved in uncertain ways. The man shouted, stabbed as many of them as he could, and ran. He could now see Keepers chasing after him. He flew through this forest, stamping on flowers and bountiful nature. He came finally to a small pond, where dozens of the New Adams and Eves were laying on top of each other and drinking from its waters. A gunshot rang out, and another. Behind him, the man was being chased by Berkhoff and the other Keepers.

He dodged to the left and saw one of the creature’s heads blown off by a stray bullet. Immediately the lazy pack of creatures screeched and rolled around. They had never seen such an act. They roared and cackled and screamed. They made such noises that the man had never heard before.

He arrived at the edge of the forest, where the fence lay. He hurriedly climbed it, losing his knife in the process. Two women were drying clothes nearby, and they screamed as they watched the man go. He ignored them and flew through the village. Several men tried to tackle him, but he was too quick for them. He dodged their attempts and reached the beginnings of the enclosure. He looked everywhere for an entry point, but found none. The sounds of running steps echoed behind him. He clamored and clawed, looking for someplace to hide.

Blood squirted from his shoulder, and a mountain of pain slammed against his body. A bullet pierced his chest, and then another. He fell crumpled onto the ground. He turned to look at his murderers, and sure enough it was Berkhoff holding the gun.

“Why do you want to end their happiness,” the old Keeper said. “Are you jealous of them?”

And in some ways he was. In some ways he wished he were one of those stinking beings, rolling and frolicking without a care. But he was not. He was a lowly man in a world that had crumbled to the ground. He was not happy, and he had not been in a long, long time. Here lay the key to everything that he had not had since childhood. Innocence and pure joy.

“In the world to come, there will only be two things: happiness, and death.”

A final shot rang out, and the man was dead. Berkhoff lowered his pistol, and held it at his side. He motioned to another Keeper, “Feed him to the creatures. They won’t know the difference.”
***

Emilio Minichiello is an emerging literary writer and novelist. His work has been published in Bewildering Stories, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, and was an honorable mention in the Dupont Essay Competition. A native New Yorker, he is attending Macaulay Honors College at Queens College as an English major.

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A Lifelong Dream by Dylan Larson-Harsch

Dec 21 2014 Published by under The WiFiles

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.”

“What?”

“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.”

END

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 Published by under The WiFiles

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:
http://www.crystalship.info/.
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 Published by under The WiFiles

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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