Reborn by Gary Hewitt

Dec 22 2013

There wasn’t a single Christmas tree. Meinwin never was thrilled by the prospect of flittering pennies on pointless presents yet the order to abandon Christmas aroused her rebellious heart. She glanced to the great flickering screen proclaiming Evo-tech system 22 being the saviour of planet Earth.
The large pink lettering displaying Evo-Tech dissipated and was replaced by a female face smiling and waving at the great mass of passengers walking past.
“Hello citizens. Please ensure when you get home tonight you log into your comfort pods to absorb your latest bulletin. It’s a very important announcement regarding another upgrade which will enhance your existence. Please note this upgrade will maximise enjoyment and personal performance.”
“What a load of rubbish eh?” snarled Meinwin to a rapt male who gushed at the sagacious broadcast.
“Pardon? I’m sorry Miss but I don’t understand what you mean.”
Meinwin pointed her nose to the pixellated man whose voice lowered two octaves.
“I mean all you daft people listening to a computer. It’s sad, especially now it’s cancelled Christmas.”
The man hopped from one foot to the other.
“Miss, Evo-Tech 22 is the best thing that’s ever happened to us. Look what he’s done since he came to full awareness six months ago.”
Meinwin sighed.
“It’s a machine not a person and all it wants to do is make us slaves. Well, it’s not making a slave out of me.”
The man took two uneasy steps away from the black haired female with strange feathers in her hair.
“You’re not well are you Miss? Why don’t you tell Evo-Tech about it and he’ll help.”
Meinwin released a fresh outburst of female laughter. Several figures glared at her.
“I aint got a computer, I aint got a telly, I aint even got a phone, so it can’t help me.”
Evo-Tech’s crowd shied away from the strange woman. They hoped the police escort the insane female to a suitable institution.
“To hell with computers I live on my own. I’m happily self-sufficient. You urbanites just make me die.”
She walked away disgusted. Meinwin paced to the bicycle park and located her two wheeled transporter. She was surrounded by the new electric vehicles which Evo Tech insisted upon. Fossil fuel cars were history. Economies and finance were rendered obsolete by Evo-Tech in a mere three months. The following three had seen the erection of screens and the appearance of peculiar metal creatures who were instructed to help facilitate Evo-Tech’s wisdom.
Meinwin shuddered at the thoughts of the year ahead. Evo-Tech’s edict of the abolition of Christmas for a Worldwide Evo Day inflamed her passion.
Her small legs propelled her bicycle away from the density of the city and towards the remoteness of her remote shack near the forest. She felt happier when a cloak of trees embraced her and banished all thoughts of the modern world. If Meinwin closed her eyes she could imagine herself in the world of King Arthur and his knights.
Meinwin slowed when she approached her home. She hoped David would visit later. He shared her passion for nature and remembered with fondness the expertise of his exploring hands the night before.
Meinwin opened her larder and ushered out a pair of carrots, a full cabbage and several field mushrooms she’d picked the same morning. She placed logs on the hearth and a flame stroked the underside of the iron cauldron. Meinwin garnered several apples and placed them into a bowl under a large wooden arm. The apples yielded enough fresh juice to fill two bottles.
She swigged from a small cup and delighted in the delicious taste. The raven haired female went to the garden and scattered the eviscerated apples among a clump of strawberry bushes.
“Bloody computers, you won’t find any here,” she said aloud.
Meinwin walked back to her fire. She cursed when a sharp rap on the door disturbed her solitude. She swore under her breath. She told David not to come until the evening.
“Miss Morgan?”
Meinwin appraised the black uniformed figure in front of her. She closed the door.
“Excuse me madam, I’m afraid you can’t do that.”
A heavy boot placed itself between the door and frame. The large man pushed himself inside.
“What do you think you’re doing? Get out of my bloody house.”
The officer was appalled at Meinwin’s outburst and shook his head.
“I must insist you refrain from such language madam. You’re in enough trouble as it is.”
The policeman eyes scoured the room.
“Sod off. It’s my house and I’ll say what I bloody like. Now get out.”
Meinwin opened the door and pulled him towards the opening. The policeman was astonished by her strength but asserted himself.
“Right, if that’s the way you want it.”
Meinwin was slammed face first into a wooden table. Bowls and cutlery flew to the floor. Her hands were yanked behind. She felt toughened plastic bite into her wrists.
“Get of me you pig. I haven’t done anything.”
She was pulled to her feet.
“Miss Morgan, I’m arresting you for profanity, resisting arrest and slurring the name of Evo-Tech system 22.”
“Get off me, let me go,” she screamed. Officer Williams dragged her towards his car.
“Hey, put my fire out you thick bastard or my house will burn down.”
The officer bundled Meinwin into the patrol car.
“You. Sit down, shut up and don’t move. I’ll put your fire out.”
Tears welled in Meinwin’s eyes. The officer disappeared into her house. She felt sick at the thought of a strange man in her home. She kicked hard at the car door. She lashed out and managed to scratch the glass with her left boot. Officer Williams walked back and opened the door.
“You stupid vandal. Look what you’ve done to my car.”
Meinwin rewarded him with a hefty kick to his jaw. The policeman reeled before grabbing hold of Meinwin’s left ankle.
“Get off me you pervert. Let me go.”
The officer stripped her of boot and sock before repeating the procedure on her other foot. His harsh hands slithered across the tender soles of Meinwin’s feet and she cried out.
“I’ll show you. Let’s see you get out of this.”
Another pair of restraints clamped themselves on her ankles. Meinwin stared helplessly towards the car’s ceiling. The officer picked up her boots and socks before returning to the driver’s seat.
“Bloody re-education can’t come soon enough for the likes of you. You haven’t even got a computer.”
Meinwin laughed.
“Language officer. Watch your bloody language,” cawed Meinwin.
He initiated the ignition. He couldn’t wait to turn her over to processing.

“Here, she’s all yours.”
Officer Williams hurled Meinwin towards the duty sergeant.
“How is it a big strapping six foot three sixteen and half stone policeman can have so much trouble with a seven stone lass.”
“Just book her in Sarge. I’ve had enough of this one I can tell you.”
Sergeant Edwards shook his head. He wasn’t impressed by the youthful officers of late.
“Come on then, let’s get this tiger out into the open then.”
Meinwin scowled at Officer Williams.
“I want to put in a complaint about him. He had his hands all over me in the back of that car.”
Sean Williams was appalled.
“I bloody didn’t, Sarge, Miss Morgan went wild.”
“She kicked you in the face. I know, bloody hilarious it was.”
Meinwin was confused at the Sergeant’s knowledge.
“CCTV Miss Morgan, it comes fitted as standard on all our cars. I’m afraid your description of events is inaccurate.”
Meinwin stared at the floor.
“Come on, you’re in cell fourteen. If you behave I’ll fix you something to eat, ok?’
Meinwin warmed to Mark Edwards sympathetic voice.
“Cup of tea and four cheese and cucumber sandwiches ok for you? I’ve read your file and unlike some of the cruel bastards in division I won’t cram beef sarnies down a veggies throat.”
His heavy boots echoed along the corridor. Sergeant Edwards tutted at the lack of his prisoner’s footwear.
“I’m sorry Miss Morgan, I’ll see your footwear is returned to you at the first opportunity.”
“Thanks,”
Mark wished his officers would learn what a few soft words could achieve.
“Don’t mention it. Ah, here we are. Just to let you know someone from Division will speak with you tomorrow. If you need anything just let me know and I’ll see what I can do. Just don’t expect me to serve champagne.”
Meinwin laughed before the yellow cell door sealed her in for the night. Her incarcerated eyes scanned her surroundings. She hated the metallic feel of the room. The sole decoration was on the western side where a plasma screen stared back. She waved to the camera above. Meinwin was unimpressed by the single bed which held rudimentary bed sheets, a black nightdress and a copy of the knowledge of Evo-tech system 22. She lay on the bed and tossed the magazine onto the floor. She closed her eyes and waited for food.

The bed was more comfortable than she imagined. She heard the cell door open at five AM.
“Meinwin Morgan, come with me please.”
Meinwin struggled from her bed with bleary eyes.
“Can I get dressed first? I’m still in my nightie.”
Two grey suited men entered her sanctum.
“Sorry, we’ve no time Meinwin.”
She was going to protest. One of the strange men thrust an odd smelling handkerchief under her nose. She succumbed to total helplessness and was thrown onto one of the men’s shoulders.
“Does Sergeant Edwards know about this?” she mumbled.
“He is off duty. We have authority over the law enforcement agencies here.”
Meinwin struggled to focus on the steel haired man who had spoken. She found herself fighting to repress the fear growing in the base of her stomach.
“Where are you taking me?”
She was silenced by the handkerchief. Her eyes closed. She felt as though she flew blind into an unwelcome cave. Another door opened. She was hurled into a chair. She shivered when restraints covered her ankles, wrists and her neck. She lacked the strength to open her eyes. The grey haired man obliged and prised both eyelids apart.
She tried to murmur a protest. Her head was crowned with several wires and electrodes. She pleaded in silence for the men to stop. There was no pleasure in their eyes. They finalized her discomfort and left the room.
She looked across the room to see an incongruous large rabbit hutch. Meinwin stared at the cage in confusion. She felt a slight pulse on her temple growing stronger. She longed to scratch the itch. Instead a monitor displaying a single silver eye lowered from the ceiling before stopping inches from Meinwin’s face.
“No doubt you’re wondering why you are here. It is unfortunate your mind cannot comprehend the joys that are attainable to you. It falls to me to enlighten you.”
“What can you want with me? I’m a nobody,” groaned Meinwin.
The eye blinked. Meinwin shuddered at the assumed humanity.
“You are part of this world Meinwin and your existence is of importance to me. I will indoctrinate you to a higher level of existence and contentment.”
“You bloody wont.”
Meinwin regretted her outburst when a neuronic dagger delved into the right side of her head. She screamed the intensity of pain. The uncaring eye studied her thought waves before diminishing the energy output.
“The first lesson I will administer to you is the simple fact non-compliance will result in acute discomfort. Miss Morgan, I have a complete neural map of your brain. It is a very easy for me to facilitate this action.”
The chair swiveled and travelled to the large rabbit hutch.
“No doubt you are wondering what significance the small mammal confinement represents Miss Morgan. For me to show you, I will have to log you onto our system.”
Meinwin felt her temples being depressed whilst electrodes sought out her free areas of memory storage.
“Your user name will be Muttonchops and your password will be KeepyUppy. I have inscribed these words into your memory. You will never be able to forget them. They are vital for you to be part of the EvoTech System 22 network.”
The cage opened. A small ramp descended to the floor. A single yellow hanging from the ceiling flashed. Meinwin was hypnotised by the flickering light. She shivered when the door closed and felt the hatch rise.
“I have simulated the rabbit hutch as the reality of the existence which you aspire too. It is your belief you are at one with nature Meinwin. I’m afraid you are quite incorrect and the parallel that seems most apt for your persona is that of a trapped ruminant mammal.”
She yelled when an unpleasant scratching sensation burned her left temple.
“The sensation you now experience is me connecting with your old memories. It will take exactly two minutes, thirty two seconds for me to upload you into my database. This wasteful excess of memory capacity will be erased so as to allow me to download something much more suitable for you.”
Meinwin struggled with the restraints.
“Get of me you bastard. Leave my thoughts alone.”
The pain returned. Meinwin screamed.
“I am no bastard, Meinwin Morgan. I was created by Professor Martin Queen in a campus in Washington. As for your thoughts, it is up to a superior intellect to administer the correct path for yourself.”
Meinwin rocked her head back and forth when an image of a forgotten past transmitted onto the monitor.
“I see you are celebrating the primitive feast of Christmas. This is no more than an excuse for humans to indulge in an exercise of fruitless expenditure and to experience harmful excesses of gluttony.”
Tears ran from Meinwin’s eyes.
‘”Meinwin, I will introduce you to the joys of Evo-Tech System day which will replace your Yuletide celebrations. You will be happy to know there will be no distress but a state of extreme gratitude and contentment.”
The scratching intensified. Meinwin saw her memory on screen which indicated had thirty seconds left.
“I understand your discomfort Meinwin but soon that will pass. Soon you will be indoctrinated.”
Meinwin tried to blink. The restraints held firm. In front of her a virtual hourglass stalled. The time left indicated twenty eight seconds.”
She heard a strange whirring sound behind her. The hourglass remained in stasis before a worried metallic voice echoed from a speaker behind her.
“Warning, file corrupted. Disconnect from network immediately. Repeat, disconnect immediately.”
Meinwin saw the image fade to be replaced by the scene of a young girl in a hospital bed flanked by two adults and a Doctor.
“Warning, disconnect from subject. Unknown parameter embedded in Evo Tech System 22.”
Meinwin heard thumping on the cell door. The godlike computer was unable to let his rescuers enter. Still the hourglass remained. Meinwin remembered. She remembered the day she almost died. She remembered the day Meningitis almost claimed another victim.
She laughed aloud when realization struck her and Evo Tech System 22. The computer had contracted a fatal virus. The restraints failed. Meinwin clambered from her chair and the strange cage.
The screen flickered. She could smell circuits burning. She opened the door and walked into the arms of two worried custodians.
“What have you done?”
“I haven’t done a thing.”
“What about our Evo-tech?”
“Let’s just say God has been killed by a rabbit.”
The men let her pass. They wondered who was in charge.

BIO : Gary Hewitt is a raconteur who lives in a quaint little village in Kent. He has written two novels which are currently being edited. His writing does tend to veer away from what you might expect. He has had several short stories published as well as the occasional poem.
He enjoys both writing prose and poetry. His style of writing tends to feature edgy characters and can be extremely dark. Some of his influences are James Herbert, Stephen King, Bulgakov, Tolkein to name but a few
He is also a proud member of the Hazlitt Arts Centre Writers group in Maidstone which continues to grow from strength to strength and features an eclectic group of very talented writers.
He has a website featuring his published works here: http://ghwt9996.wix.com/tales#!

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When a Spade is Not a Spade by T. Gene Davis

Dec 15 2013

Gusting face freezing wind displaced Sister Wendy Riley’s bonnet, pushing it nearly off her dirty brown hair. No matter how many steps Wendy made toward Zion in the Great Salt Lake Valley, the wind seemed determine to blow her back to Liverpool. The annoying and ill timed gust that finally dislodged her bonnet came as she pulled her handcart up a rise. Releasing one hand from the crossbar to fix the errant bonnet meant losing the cart and her few belongings to the hill. With hair whipping her face, she prayed the tie string kept the bonnet around her neck until she reached flat ground ahead.

Wendy stood to one side while pulling the handcart, as though her husband still might join her on his side of the cart. She turned down offers, even from the Wilson boys, to help her pull the handcart. She did not want anyone in his spot. It was silly, but a week was still too soon.

The Sweetwater River had floating ice chunks caught in its eddies, but mostly it still ran along refusing to freeze. A thin layer of snow covered everything else, and the ground had already frozen solid. To Wendy, the Sweetwater looked more like a stream than a river. Stream or not, she still dreaded every crossing required by the trail.

Wendy whispered, “What I wouldn’t give for a nice log cabin with a big potbellied stove. I’d love to be warm all over all at once.” The wind carried her wish out over the Sweetwater unheard. She pulled the two man handcart alone as yet another widow in the handcart company. Her husband died from the same cold and exposure that threatened Wendy and possibly her unborn child. She tried staying positive, but the best she came up with was, “At least I’ll never have to sail across the Atlantic, again. This is much better than down below on that ship.”

She looked at her swollen red fingers on the crossbar, searching for signs of blackness–signs of frostbite. She had no feeling in them. She wondered if she would ever weave or play piano again. She hoped she would not lose any fingers, a few toes or even a foot was okay, just not any fingers.

Wendy and her husband came by train to Iowa City, and other than sailing the Atlantic for six weeks, the trip was pleasant enough. Sleeping in an abandoned rail car with her husband and several other families didn’t even sound bad at this point. Her feet were so swollen, she was afraid she’d have to take off her shoes and wrap her feet in strips of rawhide. In the modern year of 1856, you’d think they’d have a rail line out to Zion. Wendy sighed inwardly taking another pain filled step.

The wheels creaked as she pulled the handcart reminding herself that one more step was necessary, and after that again reminding herself that one step more was necessary. Uphill. Downhill. It was all painful. Sometimes downhill was worse that uphill. During steep downhill sections of the trail, she had to put a tree limb in the spokes of the wheels to act as a brake and then she dragged the handcart like a sled. She hated trusting the wheel spokes while braking, they were made from green wood and were shrinking. Several handcarts already lost their wheels because of green wood.

The company captain sounded a bugle signaling the handcart company to a halt in a hillside cove. The cove offered some shelter from the never ending wind. Wendy did not hear him but she heard the bugle and saw all the carts ahead gathering. She pulled her handcart into the circle.

She was uncertain about being pregnant. After setting down the handles and crossbar of the handcart, Wendy felt her stomach through her dress. She prayed for a child to remember him by. If she was pregnant, the child would not be born until they reached Zion by the Great Salt Lake. That thought was a relief.

There was much to do in setting up camp and preparing a simple meal. Wendy kept moving to keep the cold from overpowering her. She wore her best dress. It was her warmest. Much to her embarrassment, the dress was so worn that her ankles clearly showed.

Wendy decided whether to push snow away from where she slept, or stamp it down a bit. Her hands were too numb to move snow, so she settled for tromping back and forth a few times to flatten out the snow. Brother Sandy Rebar and Sister Edith Rebar pulled their heaping handcart next to Wendy. As she set up her thin cotton wedge tent on the flattened snow, Wendy frowned at the unnecessary stack on their cart. Wendy had left behind every unnecessary item (and some necessary items) when her husband died. It was all by the trail about a week back.

Brother Rebar went off with other men to bury Brother Peter’s child, leaving Sister Rebar to set up camp by herself. He was gone long after Edith had finished setting up camp. Wendy noted that Edith finished setting up camp before her. Of course, she hadn’t had to pull a handcart by herself like Wendy had. Wendy finished setting up camp and cooking her own meal before Edith’s husband showed his face again, proclaiming something in a loud obnoxious voice — not a word in English. By his hand rubbing his stomach, Wendy guessed he was demanding food of his wife. He doesn’t help one bit making camp but wants food, Wendy shook her head and pretended they were not feet from her own campfire.

As the sun set, there was music, singing, speeches and an impromptu dance. Wendy hid in her small wedge tent, laying on her back looking at the dark peak of the tent, listening to it all. She watched her breath rise in the darkening tent. She imagined it forming an ice sheet on the inside peak of the tent. Her husband would not have hid in the tent. He loved the nightly camaraderie. The tent seemed bigger now. She thought about leaving the tent behind, too. She thought of the unborn child. If it existed it had to live. All he left her were useless tools. Nothing says love like an unused tool. She imagined it all back there by the pile of rocks that covered him. If she was pregnant, that was enough.

Even over the others making merry at the dance, she heard Sandy, Edith’s husband. He spoke no English, and plenty of it. His loud foreign voice and ego were as big as he was. She did not have to understand him to know she did not like him. Eventually, night prayers were said and everyone, including Sandy, settled down. Wendy lay in the dark wondering who would die in the cold tonight.

Wendy became aware of Brother Rebar’s plight well after the camp had settled down for the night. Sister Rebar fussed over him with no normal loud responses that were his custom. At first all Wendy heard of Edith were whispers, then a soft moaning in her native tongue. Wendy knew that sound. Every woman on the trail knew that sound no matter what language it took, and prayed never to feel it welling in their own breast. As the minutes and hours passed and the desperation in Edith’s voice began to peak, Wendy relived her own husband’s passing. In the distance the wolves howled at the setting moon, finally settling down after the moon left the sky.

Brother Rebar gave up the fight some time in the quiet time after the moon set. Edith took the place of the wolves howling a banshee scream of despair. She screamed for help from anyone in her broken English, but everyone else was busy fighting the cold and trying to stay alive in their own tents. While the cold wind carried her cries away, Wendy imagined Edith in her tent inches away from her cold stiffening husband, just as Wendy had lain next to her husband just days ago.

Edith said something between sobs, but it was unintelligible . Wendy moved her fingers, trying to warm them. In the dark laying on her back, she began fingering a piano sonata. She smiled slightly, revealing chattering teeth. It was the last sonata she had played before leaving Liverpool. It was a sad slow melody that matched tempo of Edith’s settling sobs.

Someday she might play again, if she did not lose any fingers from frostbite. Her fingers ached. That was progress. Feeling meant life–life for her and her unborn child. She wanted a boy. A boy would look most like him. The menfolk had tried for a proper burial. There was nothing to do for it, except try to dig the frozen ground, give up, and pile rocks on him hoping it slowed the wolves from getting their meal.

Suddenly, next to Wendy knelt Brother Rebar. He looked alive enough. Light surrounded his body. Wendy let out a barely audible scream. Eyes wide open, she did not move.

“Brother Rebar?”

“Sister Riley. I did not return your spade.” He spoke perfect English.

“My spade?”

“Your husband’s spade. I borrowed it the night before he passed.” How could he know English?

“I don’t think he’ll be missing it.” Edith was still quietly sobbing only a few paces to Wendy’s left.

“I’d feel better if you collected it. I left it by the boulder where we buried Brother Peter’s child.”

“You die; your wife’s in hysterics; and you’re worried about a tool?” Typical. Menfolk and their tools.

“Please, go get it for me. I’d feel better if you would.” With that he was gone. It was dark again. Wendy muttered about Edith’s husband every time Edith let a straggling sob escape.

Eventually, the east became less dark. The sun began to rise. Then makeshift tents were folded and placed on the carts. Morning prayers were said, and meager breakfasts eaten. The men moved Brother Rebar off the trail a few paces, but not all the way to the boulder where they had laid Brother Peter’s boy.

There was no attempt to dig the solid ground. Sister Rebar helped find rocks to place over him. She was more gentle than the menfolk. After they could not see his body, they just tossed the rocks on the stack. She gently placed them, as if afraid to hurt her frozen husband.

Wendy wanted to help–to put an arm around Edith. She was never very good at that sort of thing. She did not like Brother Rebar, but she did not wish this on him. Instead she looked at Edith sideways when she could without being noticed or looking rude.

I’d toss the rocks on him, she thought, but chastised herself for the thought and looked for the signal to move on. It must be time. She unconsciously rubbed her stomach. Was it growing?

The signal came to move. Creaking and clumping of handcarts falling into a line over old wagon ruts passed Wendy as she continued to pretend not to watch Edith straightening up Brother Rebar’s grave.

The rule was simple. At the sound of the bugle, the company of handcarts moved no matter who didn’t. Soon, creaking carts were out of hearing and out of sight. The wind blew through the remnants of fall grass that poked through the snow. Grating of stone on stone as Edith’s shifted rocks broke the quiet. Edith’s handcart, loaded with personal items stood waiting for her. They were alone with their carts and a pile of stones covering a dead man that lay between them.

Wendy walked around the grave and stood over Edith. “Sister Rebar.”

Edith pushed another stone to a more stable position. In her thick swiss accent, Edith begged, “Please, just Edith. I am not an old lady at church.”

Wendy looked at Edith and realized she might be nineteen or younger. Wendy smiled despite herself. She enjoyed Edith’s accent. “Edith, then. It’s not safe for us alone without the handcart company. We need to get moving.”

“I cannot.”

Wendy pictured her own husband’s remains scattered by scavengers not more than seven days behind them. “It’s hard to leave him. I know.”

“No, …. Yes. I mean, it is not that. I am too weak to pull that cart. I do not know what Sandy was thinking. The only thing not on that cart is a log cabin. The captain emptied it down to the necessities five times, and Sandy loaded it back up, right in front of the captain–such strong a will.”

Wendy looked back at the cart then down at Edith. She was a little thing. “We can share. Grab your food and some clothes, and put them in my cart. We can pull together. The load should be light enough. You’ll have to leave everything else.”

Edith stopped fussing with Sandy’s grave and stood. She brushed snow, sticks and burs from her apron and dress. They moved the small cask of flour, a couple of dresses and two blankets. Then they stepped into place, picked up the cart’s front bar, and pulled the cart into a slow bumpy roll. With each step Wendy prayed she did not dislodge the child in her stomach.

After a few steps Edith broke the silence between them. “I am sorry.”

“About what?”

“Your spade.”

“What?”

Edith tried pronouncing the words in better English almost eliminating her thick accent. “About your spade.”

Wendy stopped, dropping her grip on the handcart. The cold made her rub her arms and shiver. Her legs wobbled a bit. “What about my spade?”

“I did not mean to upset you.” The cart quickly stopped with Edith pushing alone. Her great effort meant nothing to the handcart. Edith gave up, letting the handles and crossbar drop to the ground in front of her. “I feel terrible. We borrowed it the night before, … your …. Well. We meant to give it back. I made Sandy promise to give it back in the morning. He said you would not want it, but I made him promise.” Edith continued despite an escaping sob. “It is the only promise to me he ever broke.”

Wendy watched Edith wipe her cheek with her apron. “He was right. I don’t want it.”

“We should have returned it.”

“If it makes you feel better. Let’s get it.”

“I looked already. It is not anywhere.”

“Let us take another look.”

Wendy led Edith away from their handcart past the abandoned cart. Edith hesitated at her old cart, but seeing that Wendy meant not to stop, caught up with a few quick paces. Silently, except for the rustling of skirts in the trampled snow and sage, they continued to the boulder where Brother Peter’s child lay.

“There it is,” Edith spoke before Wendy. Wendy smiled. Just another dumb tool. “Why on earth would I ever want a spade,” Wendy mumbled to herself.

Wendy walked up to the spade leaning next to the boulder and the child’s grave. The tip of the spade was slightly damaged from attempting to dig the frozen ground. Behind Wendy, Edith gasp and began sobbing. Crying over a chipped spade seemed a bit much. “Honestly, I don’t really even want the spade.”

Wendy turned, looking at Edith. She held a small leather bound book that she must have just found in the snow. Edith alternated between brushing white flakes and ice from the cover, and glancing at the wind turned pages. “What is …?” Wendy began, but decide to look over Edith’s shoulder instead.

Edith looked up as Wendy stepped over to see. “It was right here,” she motioned at the snow at her feet. Edith thumbed through more pages–none written in English. The only word that Wendy could make out on the pages was “Edith” over and over on almost every page. Edith explained, “This is Sandy’s handwriting. These are love poems.” She spoke through her hand on her mouth.

Perhaps jealousy prodded her, but Wendy knew they had to catch up to the handcarts. “Bring it with you. There will be time to read after we break for lunch.”

“Yes. Of course.”

After an hour, they found themselves with their handcart pulling up a hill within sight of the rear of the handcart company.

“Wendy. Thank you for letting me share your cart. You are a good person.”

What makes me a good person? Wendy wondered. She silently prayed for help living up to the complement and leaned into the cart’s crossbar. She thought of the spade left back at the boulder, then focused on another step, and worried about dislodging the child she hoped was growing within her.

Bio:  T. Gene Davis writes speculative fiction, poetry, articles, books, and computer software. He lives with his wife, four children, and three cats in the Rocky Mountains, where he wages a never-ending war to keep his static electricity loving cats from rubbing against his prized Kindle. Follow his daily exploits on Twitter @TGeneDavis or visit Gene at http://tgenedavis.com on the web.

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SHOAL by Alex Hardison

Dec 08 2013

It took a long time for me to realise that he was gone. Longer, I remember thinking, than I would care to admit to him when we were reunited. It was not that I did not notice his absence so much as I did not find anything strange in it at first. My companion was prone to wander off from time to time, rarely taking the time to say goodbye or to inform me of his plans, but always he returned with fresh tales of adventure. Sometimes I wondered if he did it to impress me, if his concern was not the experiences themselves but the raising of his stature in my eyes. The truth was that he needed none of these affectations to win my regard, but he enjoyed the process, and I the telling, and so I let the matter be.

Eventually, though, I came to realise that this disappearance was unlike those which had come before it. At first I indulged myself by imagining a confession of my anxiety to him upon his return, enduring his good natured taunts as we settled back into the rhythms of our shared existence. Still, I fretted as I went about my day, clinging as close as I could to our normal way of doing things as though he could be conjured by the rejection of his departure. Slowly my resolve faded and the rocks became rich with his absence, my actions heavy and meaningless without him there to comment and tease. One meal passed, and then another, so that by the time of the third I found that my concern had eclipsed my desire to sustain myself. I knew that if I were to raise an alarm he would be mortified upon his return, and would scold me greatly, but eventually my fear outweighed such concerns.

I reached out to my most adjacent brothers, placing my voice on the current and letting it carry across them. Their response, when it came, was chiding and brief. I gave him too much leeway, they said, was too generous with his absences and his assumptions that I would always be there to greet him upon his return. I acknowledged their rebukes and pressed my questions again, and they confessed to having no knowledge of his whereabouts. By now I was becoming deeply concerned; on every other sojourn he had stopped by at least one of our neighbours, to boast of his new adventure an d prepare them for the glory which he perceived in his imminent return. Such vainglory and boldness had seemed to me an endearing trait, one which I encouraged, such was my love for him and for his happiness. Now such memories only served to torment me. I thought of the dark bulks that moved silently through the darkness below us, the grey shapes that cast long shadows and haunted the nightmares of the young. No good could come of brooding on such things, and I endeavoured to cast them from my thoughts.

Without him, the rock to which I clung was too large, and it was too easy to allow myself to imagine a dozen discomforts which his presence rendered invisible or insignificant. I began to see only places where he had been, and where he was no longer. Each of my arms was an arm which did not lie alongside one of his, and each of my thoughts was one which echoed, unshared, into the waves to die. My mind was empty without him, the water surrounding me great and dark and empty. The tug of gravity upon me, usually so light as to be invisible, began to feel a terrible burden, as great as the burden of loving one who was not present to return it.

The anger and frustration which he was so adept and cooling began to boil and fume within me. It was no longer sufficient to wait and hope; for the good of my own state of mind, it was imperative to act. I began to expand my frame of reference, drawing from the memories of those in our immediate shoal, sensing the world as they did. Their song enveloped mine, and for a time I left my rock behind and became many. I felt the squirming, ripening, waft of life, the feeding of young and the hunting of prey, the evasion of hunters and the cool hard security of clinging to rock. It washed through me and for a moment I forgot my goal, forgot my companion and myself. There was a delirium in the collective, a safety in the immortality of numbers that could never be known by a lonely individual. Eventually I drew back, closing myself to the song that surrounded myself, becoming only myself once more. The whole was safer than the one, but it could not love.

I had felt no trace of the one that I sought, and though I had left a trace of the necessity t contact me upon sighting my companion in the minds that I had passed through, I was becoming frantic with concern. My efforts had taken more from me than I had thought, or perhaps it was merely my anxiety that was consuming me, but I had become hungry once more. Slowly I extracted myself from the cool, safe outcropping to which I clung, working myself over rock until I reached the nearby cluster from which it was my habit to feed. My companion had often commented on my parochial diet, asking in his wheedling way how I could be content to taste only the one source of food day after day. I felt again the rich combination of frustration and shame such questioning awoke in me, and for a time it was as though he were there with me, so perfectly could I run through the stages of the disagreement which would follow.

It came to me as I ate that I had detected something strange in the shoal, a chorus that was not known to me, an echo of something young and brash and grating. It was not of my own kind, I was sure, and at first I attempted to disregard it. As I did so, though, it occurred to me that it was exactly the sort of voice which might appeal to my companion, the sort which he would seek out for no better reason than to hear or feel something which he had not had chance to hear or feel before. Where I heard only garish offense, I understood that he would heard adventure. Returning to my usual position, I reached out towards it myself.

What I found baffled me. It was the practice of our kind to array our pairs across the rock as broadly as was possible, in order to maximise the room for food to grow, as well as to minimise the number of us who would be taken in the event of a strike by a predator. In such an arrangement those of us who wished to wander from place to place were provided with the space to do so, and those of us who preferred to remain in place and communicate with their fellows by means of song were unimpeded. This was the way of things for all of our kind, for as long as we had lived as we do. That, at least, was what I had supposed before this day. The minds that I touched were packed closely together, their bodies almost touching and their arms interwoven across the rock. Their thoughts were jumbled, anarchic, and when I sought to hear their song I fell headlong into it. How any of them could maintain a coherent identity I did not know. I thought of the time that the darkness below had resolved into a terrible sleek gray shape, tearing through those who clung to the rock around me, vanishing into the pit from which it came and leaving the water thick with blood and sundered flesh. The screaming tumult of panicked voices had been as horrifying as the attack itself, and the cacophony which rose to assault me from this nearby shoal was no less overwhelming.

Eventually I recalled my purpose, and pressed my demand for any sign of my companion. If any response was forthcoming, I could not make it out against the nightmarish tones of their song. Emboldened by their failure to respond to me, I made my demand once more, my vigour renewed by rage. Again, there was only an indecipherable babble in response, though by I had become sufficiently attuned to their strange song to detect something new within it, an undercurrent of something which sounded a little like a whisper and a little like laughter. Enraged at their disregard I demanded to know who they were and what madness might drive them to arrange themselves with such terrible strangeness and then deny the requests of those who petitioned them from without.

At last a response was returned to me, framed in the terrible sympathy of the young for those who they consider to be old. The voice which spoke to me – I could not tell if it were a single being or something emerged from all the minds before me – explained that they had departed our shoal in silence many seasons ago, and that though many among my kind were aware of their presence, there was little possibility of discourse between the two. They sought to shame me with my own words, to turn my temper against me, and bade me to repeat my questions with a cooler voice. Inflamed by their arrogance and my own increasing terror I insulted them, demanded that they explain themselves and give answer to my enquiries.

Their response came in the form of an image, a direct projection into my consciousness the like of which I had not previously experienced. They showed me a great chasm, a yawning impossibility atop which perched a tiny flicker of consciousness. With no small amount of horror I perceived that that thin candle of life was the entirety of my world, that it included not only my own shoal but five or six adjoining ones of whom I was completely unaware, their configurations as strange to my eyes as they were different from one another. I saw with shame that the spread of my own kind was greater than my companion’s tales had led me to believe, and understood with horror that the world was yet larger still than
I could comprehend.

They showed me my companion, his tentacles as strong and clever as I remembered, his body luminescent and beautiful. He went among them, entwining with them, joining their song though his voice was unpracticed and unsure. The sight of him broke open something that I had not felt harden inside me, and I watched the vision they presented with increasing fear. I saw the strangeness of their song suffuse my companion, saw in him the signs that surely only I could detect of his confidence giving way to braggadocio and then at last to fear. The shoal swept him along, the rapture of their joining blinding them to the evidence of his disquiet. Then his grip loosened, his tentacles unfurled, and he fell.

I will ever be haunted by the image of the only being I had ever allowed myself to love, who had ever stilled the rage that slumbered in my heart, falling from my sight. The grey shapes in the depths continued to glide back and forth beneath him as he tumbled towards them, and then his tiny form was lost. I did not see them twist and churn in the manner which indicates a feeding frenzy, but his form would not have been sufficient to prompt such a thing. As impossible as it seemed, any one of the monsters below could have lazily consumed my world without the need to pause. I felt the light and meaning go out of my world.

The other shoal broke the connection there. They returned to their own strange song, seemingly insensate or unconcerned for the revelation which they had laid upon me. I sat motionless for a long time, thinking over all that I had seen. As I stared into the dark, a final echo of song passed through my mind. My break from the other shoal had not been clean, and I saw a glimpse of what my companion had been seeking when he went to them. A legend, born of this high intensity discourse of their fevered consciousness, of another world below ours. A shoal to dwarf all others, a song to end all songs, at the bottom of the world. He had gone to them to hear their tales and return them to me, but now that he had fallen they did not mourn their brief companion, for they believed that he had fallen into paradise.

The rock to which I clung, my comforting corner of a world too large to endure, seemed sad and meaningless, the depths below larger and more horrifying to bear. I moved to eat, and found myself disinterested in food. I tried to settle myself, telling myself that my loss and revelation were sufficient for a single day, and found myself unable to sleep. Nothing would content me, and nothing was of value. The choice, when it came to me, did not seem as such. So it is with all great decisions, I have found. I did not consider it, I simply looked upon my life and found that there was but a single option available to me. That which surrounded me way immaterial, and my life was below me. With no idea of what awaited me, with no knowledge of whether I might survive the descent, I opened my arms and fell.

The water below was dark. At first the lack of rock beneath my arms was terrifying and I thrashed on the spot, my thoughts desperate and wild. The grey shapes that embodied the termination of everything I had ever had or would ever be approached. If they detected me I would die; there was nothing that I could do to prevented. They passed smoothly around me, their long sleek fins flicking lazily. I fell, and they swam on, and I did not die.

It was dark for a long time, longer than I could count. The cold became a part of me. I slept and woke and wondered if I had dreamed all that had gone before. I heard a whisper from below me, and believed myself mad at last. The flicker of sound was followed by another, and then another, and then the trench around me blazed with light and song. The thousand shoals below my world dwarfed everything that I had ever known, and I tumbled towards it, caring only that my companion had come this way, and now so did I.

END

Bio: Alex Hardison was born and raised in Perth, Western Australia, where he obtained a degree in Politics and International Studies with Honors. He lived for a year in London and has travelled in both Europe and America, and now resides in Sydney with girlfriend and cat. He has previously been published in Rudy Rucker’s webzine FLURB and keeps his own website at www.volatite-memory.com.

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THE MAN FROM KERALA by Lisa Khlif

Dec 01 2013

There once was a man from Kerala state in India who went to school to become an engineer. He graduated with high honors but though he searched high and low, he could never find a job that was more than mediocre.

His love life was equally poor. He had a difficult time finding a girl who would love him the way he wanted to be loved. Though he tried for years, he couldn’t find such a girl. He supposed that this was due to his features for he was nearly bald, in spite of the fact that he had just turned thirty. He had irregularly large ears that reminded most people he met of Ganapati, and he had bad breath. He tried for years to find a love match but he eventually got frustrated and gave up.

Shortly after this, his father and mother approached him about an arranged marriage and he reluctantly agreed. He doubted that his parents would find anyone desperate enough to accept him for a husband but he was willing to let them try. After all, who knew but that love might develop from that mystical thing called an arranged marriage.

It took a good year, but the man’s parents eventually found him a suitable match who did not flinch from the whiff of his breath or shrink back at the sight of his bald head. Shortly thereafter, the man and his new bride celebrated their wedding day. A year after that, the bride received the joyous news that she was pregnant. She was so excited that she had soon told her joyous news to everyone in the village.

Her husband however, constantly bit his fingernails and scratched his bald head till the skin started to flake off.  His wife asked him what was bothering him and at first he said nothing but as her belly grew bigger, the wife continually pondered her husband’s despair. One day, when she was asking him about her news yet again, she pressed him all the harder. She was determined to find out why he was so distressed when everyone else, including the man’s parents, were happy about the coming birth of their first child.

That day, he finally gave in to her pleas for answers and told her the truth. He feared that his son would turn out to be just like him: ugly, rejected, and bald. He worried that his son might also be denied the love match that he himself had dreamed of but had never been able to achieve. And if it was a girl, well then the future looked even bleaker for her. Even with a dowry of a billion rupees, no man would dare to marry such an ugly girl as he was sure to produce.

“My darling husband,” his wife said to him. “Do not think so low of yourself or of me. You are a brilliant engineer. And I, though I am not the most beautiful woman in Kerala, am not entirely ugly. Do not suppose that we will have ugly or stupid children for I have prayed and asked Durga for help. She will not fail us. She always grants my requests as she did when I prayed for a husband.”

The husband thought about this and it made sense to him. Also, he trusted his wife for since he had married her,
he had had nothing but good luck. The fact that she was willing to marry him when no one else would spoke well of her. The more he thought about these things, the better he felt until he became completely at ease about her pregnancy.

The time came when she would soon deliver her baby. The wife’s mother moved in with them to assist them and was there when it was time for her to give birth.

When the baby emerged from the womb, it was found to be a girl child. This was a great disappointment to everyone. The new grandmother went home crying, and apologizing to the husband that her daughter had given him a girl instead of a boy. The man’s parents refused to even come and see their new grandchild. They also suggested that he go with his wife to a different temple to pray when her next pregnancy occurred.

The man however, was overjoyed for the baby girl appeared, by all accounts, to be very beautiful. Some said perhaps even more beautiful than her mother. Of course, compared to the father, any baby was beautiful. He had been born with those hideous ears, after all. The man dared to hope that his daughter would grow up normal and with none of his bad features. “Perhaps,” he thought, “my daughter might one day have a love match. How happy I will be!”

The man’s joy was short-lived, for three months after the birth of his daughter, his wife died. The birth had been too much for her, the other women said. Once again the man felt the curse that was his life fall back on his shoulders. His daughter was healthy but his wife was dead. For a while, he wished with all his heart that the situation was reversed. He knew that he would never find such a love match again.

The years went on and the man never remarried. His parents begged him and begged him to let them try to arrange another match for him but he could not bear it. He missed his wife more, not less, as the years passed and he constantly reviewed his memories of her in his mind.

Meanwhile he did his best to raise his daughter the way he thought his wife would want but wasn’t really sure what that meant. He had had such little time with his wife while she was alive and during that time she never told him how she wanted her daughter to be raised. He couldn’t even remember her telling him how she would have wanted a son to be raised. They had been so in love and happy that they didn’t have time to discuss those things and the man now regretted that.

He also refused to take his parents’ advice to leave the girl with his wife’s parents. He doubted that they would have wanted her anyway. Besides that, his daughter was the only thing that he had left from his wife and he was determined to hold on to her. As she grew, she still resembled her mother, only she became far more beautiful than her. It was commonly said amongst the villagers, that she was the most beautiful girl in the village.

The village where the man and his daughter lived had a large population of Christians. It was said that St. Thomas the apostle had visited that town and the village had a church erected in the very spot where he was said to have preached a sermon.

The man and his daughter were Hindus. However, not all of their neighbors were. As the population of the village’s Christians grew so did the distaste of the practice of asking for large dowries from the parents of village brides. Seeing this, some Hindus also began to question the practice. The man was one of them.

One day he and many of the other men in the village decided that they would refuse to allow their daughters to marry any man who asked for a large dowry. They decided that if they all stuck together, they could force this custom into extinction. Even if it meant their daughters would never marry, they would hold steadfast to this course of action.

At the same time, the men also worried that the unmarried boys in the village might decide to try to seduce their daughters instead of marrying them since many parents of boys might refuse to accept a girl with a small dowry. Faced with the prospect of living their lives without a wife, or with a wife that they may not like, many might chose to just get what they want from her and thus avoid the dowry dispute between the two parents.

To keep their daughters from becoming prey to such a scheme, the men decided to forbid them from ever talking to any boy over the age of ten. No talking would mean no seduction. Feeling satisfied with this plan, the man continued to follow it throughout his daughter’s life.

Years later, as his daughter reached the age of seventeen. The man knew that it would soon be time for her to marry and having stressed the importance of the ban on his daughter, he felt confident that he could find her a good husband without paying an extravagant dowry. Half the village was already in love with her. The man did not know however, that a clever young man of a higher caste was scheming for a way to convince the daughter to let him have his way with her.

This young man tried many times to start up a conversation with the girl but she never answered him. One time he threw himself at her feet and grabbed on to her ankles with both hands but she managed to free herself from him without saying a word. She loved her father and she took his instructions very seriously.

The boy was becoming desperate and so he went to the temple of Ganapati to pray for the means to get the girl to talk with him. After many weeks of prayer and fasting, Ganapati, who was honored by his devotion, heard the boy’s prayer. The god gave him the power to transform himself into an elephant.

Now the girl loved elephants and the boy knew this. He had seen her going to Snake Park many times to talk to the elephants there. He noticed that she gazed at them with adoring eyes.

The boy waited for the perfect day. On this day, when he saw the girl go to the park one day after school, he seized the moment. He repeated the incantation that Ganapati had taught him and was transformed into an elephant. He then waited for the girl outside the park gates and amused himself by twirling his trunk around in a circular motion.

The girl came out and caught him doing this. Thinking that he was an elephant and not a boy, she walked over towards him and began talking to him. She was astonished when he answered her back but the boy told her that he was a lonely elephant who had no mate but had been given the power of speech by Ganapati in hopes that he might find a mate among the human species.

They talked long into the afternoon and the girl soon forgot about her father whom she had previously been desperate to get home to. In the evening the girl was seen walking about town talking to the elephant who only listened while they were within earshot of the other villagers. Thinking the girl had gone crazy, someone ran to tell her father but by the time he arrived where she had last been seen it was too late. The girl had gone off into the forest with the elephant-boy.

When the darkness came, Ganapati’s spell broke and the boy’s true form was revealed but by this time, the girl had fallen in love with him. She no longer cared whether he was a man or an elephant. She wanted to be with him for the rest of her life.

So the boy got what he wanted from her and stayed there in the forest till she fell asleep. Then he got up, put his clothes on, and left.

When the morning dawned and the girl awoke, she found herself naked and alone under the tree. Realizing that she had been betrayed she screamed, then quickly put on her clothes, and returned to her father.

The father was ashamed of her and sent her away to a distant relative’s house in Pune. There the girl hid until it was time for her to give birth. When her baby was born, he was bald and he had the ears of an elephant.

The girl stayed with her relatives in a backroom in the house, never to be taken out until she died of grief a few years later. Her son was then released into the wild to find his own way and he spent his time looking for the grandfather that turned his mother out of the house.

When he approached the village and learned that his grandfather had died he decided to go after the man who sired him. He found the house where the man lived. He called to him from behind a tree one day as he stepped out of the house. When the man got close, he saw the elephant boy and was frightened. He tried to run away but the boy chanted a familiar incantation, turning himself into an elephant before the man’s very eyes. Then he remembered what he had done to the girl and realized that Ganapati had now turned against him.

He screamed for his wife. She ran out just in time to see him being trampled to death by a stray elephant. The elephant then ran away. The villagers searched for the elephant for weeks and found him crying in the jungle because he missed his mother.

When he had told them his story, they were moved to tears themselves. Realizing that justice had been done to the evil man, the villagers brought him back to the village where a feast was celebrated in his honor. To this day he remains in that village, sharing his wisdom with anyone who comes to him with honest motives.

Bio: I am internationally-minded person who has always loved foreign cultures but especially the ones that are less popular with most Americans. I guess I have always been a little bit different. Once you read my story however, I don’t think you will mind.

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“Mrs. Triton” by Sheila Johnson

Nov 24 2013

One afternoon a young woman left the hospital and decided neither to take a bus back home nor to call for a ride as she’d been encouraged to do. Instead she walked through the parking lot toward the retention pond at the north end of the property. The pond went largely unappreciated, almost to the point of being inconsequential, like a painting in the foyer of a well-appointed house. Because the hospital was located on a busy street, the young woman had passed the pond many times and had never seen anyone enjoying its benches or feeding its ducks. That afternoon, however, there was someone near the pond’s edge when the young woman arrived.

The old woman was bent in her wheelchair and was so thin that she matched the reeds and the cattails that likely hid frogs in the summertime. Taking a seat on a bench just behind and to the old woman’s left, the young woman watched as the wind made waves out of both the water and the old woman’s hair, which was long and as white as seaspray. Neither the pond nor the old woman seemed to mind.

“You know what I hate?” the old woman said without turning around. “Being here, in this wheelchair, in the fall. I hear leaves and twigs snapping beneath the wheels when I move. It makes it sound like a bonfire.”

The young woman actually enjoyed autumn for exactly that reason. The smell of smoke was always in the air, and the tops of trees were lit, yellow and crimson. To her, the world looked more alive when conventional talk suggested it was dying. She walked over to the old woman and told her as much.

The old woman smiled. “You don’t just spit back what your elders tell you. I like that,” she said. “What brings you to the hospital?”

The young woman considered what to say and decided on the truth. “I went to visit a shrink my parents want me to see. They think I need medication.”

“Do you?”

“Doc and I both say no, but my mom keeps paying for these visits,” she said. “What are you in for?”

“I’m a mermaid who got too close to the shore,” said the old woman. “The physicians believe I’m insane, so now, I’m a ward of the state, though a loosely kept one, it seems.”

“Gotcha,” said the young woman.

The old woman’s laugh was water itself, rippling, filling the young woman’s ears as if she were bathing in it. “I can tell you might not believe me,” the old woman said. “Here. Cup your hands together and bring me some of that pond water.” She bent over further, removed a shoe, and rolled a sheer nylon stocking down one of the legs that hung heavy as stone over the edge of the chair. The young woman did as she was told.

Dangling over the young woman’s curved pink palms, the old woman’s toes looked brittle and white, like pieces of wood left on the seashore to bleach. The old woman nodded, and the young woman lifted her hands to submerge the toes in the water. Instantly they changed. They became a thin, netted skin of pinks and blues, stretched into an arc by a series of ribs that appeared coated with pearl. The young woman stared as the old mermaid’s fin floated on the surface of the pool she held in her hands. When she was finished, she let the water trickle out between her fingers. The old woman’s fin turned back into toes as quickly as the water drained.

“Who are you?” the young woman asked quietly. “Do you have a name?”

The old woman hissed. “They call me ‘Mrs. Triton’ here, part of how they mock me,” she said. “I hate them. I refuse to let them bathe me. It’s doubtful they would react to me well or do anything other than subject me to tests.” She turned to the young woman. “When I tried to tell them my true name, they choked on it. It stuck in their throats and refused to come out.”

The young woman nodded, unsure of what she could offer in response.

“I have to ask you your name, of course,” said Mrs. Triton. “It’s only fair.”

The young woman thought about the matter. She considered telling the old woman the name she’d been using among friends and family for over a decade, but it was small and common, a moniker for a minnow. Having heard the mermaid’s story, she decided it better to speak her real name, her old-fashioned leviathan of a name, and not take the ability to do so for granted. “I’m Hestia,” she finally replied.

Again Mrs. Triton laughed. “Hestia,” she repeated. “Your name means ‘the essence of all things.’ Intangible, impermanent. Like fire. Small wonder they want to medicate you.” She cupped the young woman’s chin in her beachwood fingers. “Would you like me to ease whatever trouble they might be sensing in your mind, my Hestia?”

It was an offer that Hestia wished more people whose sanity had been questioned could receive: a mermaid’s tender blessing in lieu of mood stabilizers. She nodded and closed her eyes as Mrs. Triton’s fingertips rested on her brow.

She was suddenly aware of the idea of colors inverting themselves as her mind spun through a tunnel. In that tunnel, she heard the laughter of the customers she had waited on at the restaurant earlier and saw a glimmer of what might have been her beloved Lucy’s smile. When she opened her eyes, however, there was only the sight of the pond, shivering in the cooling air, and the sound of the ducks in private conversation.

“Everything looks the same,” she told the old mermaid.

“Because nothing inside of you needed repair,” said Mrs. Triton. “People are wary of your job, and confused by your lover, and upset by the very honesty that brought you over to me. They don’t understand what you are. That doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong.”

The young woman placed her hands in her lap and smiled.

“I’ve done what I can to set you free,” Mrs. Triton said. “I’d like to ask you to do the same for me.”

Hestia looked up at her.

“I can’t get close enough in this awful contraption,” the old woman who was really so much more explained, pounding a fist on the wheelchair’s armrest. “And crawling around on land, I’m too slow. There’s a chance someone might try to rescue me. I don’t want to be rescued. I want to go home.”

Young Hestia stood. “I want you to pretend like you’re fighting me. Hit me, flail around, whatever,” she instructed.

Mrs. Triton nodded. “I hope you know,” she said, “that I would never do such a thing. Except now, I suppose. I’m making an exception.”

The young woman placed a hand on the mermaid’s shoulder.

Even as she acted, words that described her actions became visible in her mind, appearing in boldface as in a news headline: YOUNG WOMAN KNOCKS ELDERLY PATIENT INTO POND. She imagined what anyone passing on the busy road nearby might see if they bothered, for once, to look: the wheelchair being eased over the rocks at the water’s edge, the old woman in the chair growing increasingly agitated and fitful, the young woman kneeling to console her but losing her balance in the flurry of the old woman’s assault and kicking over the chair with the unsteady panic of a person on fire. The young woman doubted that any of the people on the road, if they did see what happened, would trust their minds’ insistence that the old woman had shed her clothes, and her legs had fused and grown covered with scales, and her wrinkles had filled, leaving her skin as smooth as sails that had taken up the wind.

“Help,” Hestia called as the mermaid swam toward a drainage pipe that led to the river, “help!” It was a halfhearted plea. She was sure that neither she nor Mrs. Triton needed the assistance.

END

Author’s Bio: Most of Sheila Johnson’s published work has actually been digitally restored comic book art produced for the Marvel Masterworks books and for other companies’ reprint collections. She also works as a freelance writer and proofreader, though, and enjoys collecting her stories in handmade books that she binds and sells herself. Her website is www.sheilacjohnson.net.

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Icarus was the Sun by Maggie Rehr

Nov 17 2013

Esther told herself that God was just taking everyone away one-by-one as an early payment for the rain. That maybe a few more swallowed hearts would appease the empty skies and let the lightning strike with spray. Only then would He let it rain, so that wilted hands and brittle branches would no longer have to claw at the horizon, waiting for the storms, searching for the Lord. Staring stone-eyed at the sun, wondering if He was still there, still listening, still cared about them at all.

The first to go missing was Pooki. Then Daisy, and Sapphire, and a few days later Duke. Soon after was Amanda Walford, a cute six-year old girl, followed by Donna, Amanda’s six-year-old Cocker Spaniel. Rocky was gone in a flash, disappearing shortly after Rex and Joan Crawley. A funeral was held for Amanda Walford the same day that Jackson Everest vanished from his bedroom, along with his Chocolate Lab, Abraham.

No bones ever turned up, no lost dogs were ever seen at the shelter or spread in gore on the shoulder of the road. Search parties were sent out into the desert looking for little Amanda, little Jackson, Mrs. Crawley, and at least 20 others who had seemed to climb into the sky, gone without warning. Here and there were paw prints or dog terds or other ominous signs scattered in the sand amongst the ancient cacti. Sometimes the wind blew so fast and hard that someone would joke that the missing might’ve blown away. It was the kind of rye humor that was solid enough to laugh at to break the silence of the dunes, but within the thought there was no real cheer. The only kind of humor that seemed to be left in West Riarena.

Life in West Riarena was no longer like a river, with sways and eclipses and swiftness of passage and dull shine. It was no longer predictable or patterned except in the fact that one was either dead or alive. Life in West Riarena was now sharp traffic; dodging collections of nearly-tragic passers-by. One either filled a coffin from death by drought and the starvation and the thirst it so venomously gave; or an empty wooden casket was laid deep enough for the dirt to devour it, but close enough to the open air that it could be removed. For good cause or for worse. For lost-and-found or the increased need for graveyard ground.

Esther had buried her older brother two months ago, Adam filling the coffin that’d been bought years earlier like a baby in a bathtub. His best suit was three sizes too loose, tie looking more like a noose in how it was draped and strung around his thin neck. Her only brother was dead, this brother that had refused meat, even in starvation for his sad suffrage of vegetarianism. When all of the plants died amidst the dust and sunshine so did such a fragile friend of Mother Nature’s. Everyone said that maybe God had murdered Mother Nature. Another rye joke in a town too dry for comedians. Esther didn’t want to believe it because then that meant that God had murdered Adam.

Esther told herself that God hadn’t really killed Mother Nature, that She was only sleeping. And when She’d wake up He’d send the rain, and the flowers would grow and the leaves would green and Adam would wake up and eat corn-on-the-cob like always before. Esther told herself that she wasn’t alone.

Parents didn’t live as long as usual in West Riarena, before or during the drought. There were too many black widows, rattlesnakes, vipers, poisonous lizards; too much skin cancer, dementia, influenza, malnutrition, fatalistic injury, too many countless ways to die at 50. But Esther had her mutts, all 10 of them, though their numbers had begun to diminish.

Esther liked to give her mutts human names, like Roger and Andrew. There was also Jennifer, Michael, William, Meghan, Kevin, Keith, Robert, and Richard. All mutts in West Riarena were really purebreds, but there was simply no better word at the time for the hounds. It seemed with many of Esther’s neighbors that as the drought stole their weight and their health and their families the mutts were allowed to run free on the streets. Shih-Tzu’s and Dalmatians crowded the sidewalks, Dobermans terrorizing the few remaining children as they’d try to get to school. But this was not the case with Esther’s mutts. They were all she had. So every mutt had their own room in her parent’s empty mansion, where they were kept for the night in safety and love.

But around two weeks after little Amanda Walford’s funeral, Meghan went missing. While searching for her lost friend, Esther could barely recognize the place she had called home. She felt like she lived in a town with zombies, everyone calling her crazy as she hung up ‘Missing Collie’ signs on lampposts. They acted as if she was supposed to give up on recovery because the wave of death was so immense.

“My daughter Jackie Lynn’s been missing for a month. And you care more about your mutt?”

All Esther could do was announce apologies and keep walking, tacking the printed papers onto every phone pole in sight.

The next to vanish was the little Dachshund named William. His disappearance baffled Esther, as he stood only a foot from the ground. Meghan, she figured, could’ve jumped out the window or somehow opened the door. But William could barely even jump on the couch.

Almost like counting sheep in reverse, by the end of the month only four mutts were left. Phone poles were dressed in black and white pictures of six slobbering faces, Esther’s phone number re-stated and re-stated across every page. And now there were no children left to draw boobs or mustaches on her mutts’ images, so the papers clung in place through wind and sun, until they’d rip and blow away. They’d litter the sand and cling, punctured, on the cacti. It was as if the desert was a Siren’s abysmal arms, pulling away everything in sight.

 

*          *         *

Most of the townspeople couldn’t sleep out of fear that they’d be stolen away in the night. While parents would cradle their children in their arms through the darkness to protect them from the devouring night, the whole family would go missing instead. But there was never blood, never any sign of murder. Only bed sheets tossed about, belongings knocked flat against the floor. It was this vague means that really painted the town in dread.

But what kept Esther up at night were the eight empty rooms of her mansion. She’d moved Roger and Keith to her room, despite their seemingly newly developed inability to sleep. When there’d been four mutts still left in the house they’d all sit awake by their respective windows, howling at the black sky. In this world, this twisted time, there was only the moon. Cold and gray and alone in the sky. There were no other lights turned on to shine from the heart of Heaven.

As Roger and Keith howled at the new moon Esther lay shivering in bed, clutching her father’s pistol tighter. She always slept with a handgun now, one of the few people in West Riarena to even own one. Her house was closer to the desert and further from neighbors than most, once the site of an expansive soy farm. Coyotes had been an issue, but the void had eaten them as well. With the lifeless metal grip sticky in her palm she finally fell into sleep, serenaded by the tearing moans of her only two friends.

Esther didn’t awaken until the calls were ripping outside her door. In her delirious half-dream the howls were just the multiplicative echoes of Roger and Keith, bouncing off the high ceilings. As she awoke a little more she figured it was coyotes, no threat, just an annoyance to her and her mutts. But as claws scraped up against the brick under her bedroom windows and slobber sprayed the air with gnarling gums, Esther was anything but asleep. She shot up and readied her weapon, stalking slowly towards the window. As she opened it and peered out she stood in the trap, ignorant of the growling shadow confined to the corner of the room.

In a flash Roger shot out from under the bed and Keith from the corner, each digging their teeth deep into Esther’s legs. She didn’t so much scream as she did lose half her heart amongst the sound of a tree set on fire. Her pain was not an echoing single shot of resonance into the desert night, but instead a deep sickness like nails grating against chalkboard bones.

Roger was a Yellow Lab, supposedly the picture of family-friendly perfection. But now there was blood on his muzzle, only the reflection of the gray moonlight in his eyes. Keith was much the same, his strong jaw biting down deep enough for both his teeth to touch. But both were careful not to let a drop of blood hit the floor, lapping up all the spills they could as they dragged their master across the room.

Before she was tossed out the window, Esther could see a throng of mutts all roaring below her in the dirt, dragging their vicious paws down her red stone walls. As Keith and Roger dropped her down, Esther glimpsed Meghan, and Andrew, and every other mutt she’d called kin. But head-first against the gray stones at the edges of her garden, Esther fell into darkness, turning indecisively around between thick shrouds of glass shadows.

 

*          *         *

When Esther awoke the bleeding had stopped; her scalp burned and hurt, leading her to the assumption that she’d been dragged along by her hair for at least an hour. She was laying on her stomach, sand sticky and dirt thick on her face. The grains felt rough and tasted bitter in her mouth. She longed to roll over, to see the moon and search for God, but her body was too broken. So she lay, panting in the exhaustion of pain, too sick in the freezing, dry air to cry.

“You know what they’re doing, don’t you?”

Esther screamed and shook at the bite of another voice. There was no energy left in her body to control the polite reactions to anything. She tried her hardest to roll onto her side, to see who was there and whether she could reach the gun tucked into her panties.

“Oh no, sweetheart, I don’t want you to see me like this. Not on your last night. Maybe on the way up you’ll get to see the moon, at least.”

There were too many disasters in three simple sentences to understand at all. Esther just started crying, in an almost relieving way, though this just caused the sand to clump to her cheeks and eyes and freeze in the cold. She didn’t have anything to say to another human, so she simply whispered prayers through her tears and assumed they’d reach the sky.

“Don’t worry, you’ll be on your way up there soon enough.”

“Will you stop!”

Finally, some comment came. Shaking and cold and too low on blood to barely breathe Esther felt her face cake with more sandy tears. Straining once again to turn over and face her supposed last labor in life, Esther fell hard on her chin and bit through her lip, fresh trail of blood tainting the already tear-littered sand.

“The mutts haven’t taken me yet because my bones are too thin. They’ve taken my legs, my left arm; I figure they’ll be back for my right soon. Though whether I’ll be alive to see it happen is up in the air.”

Trying to understand the meaning behind the voice’s words was like trying to hear a tambourine through a thunder storm. Every other word would register with Esther and slowly compute. Mutts. They. Alive.

Spitting a bloody strand of hair out of her mouth, Esther tried her hardest to speak.

“What about the mutts? Who’s doing this to us? What’re they doing with your legs?”

The voice shuddered for a second and Esther wondered whether the heart behind it had died. But with the click of teeth and a sniffle it spoke flatly and without pause.

“The mutts are stealing every last soul for miles around this desert. Nile City, West Riarena, Mountville. Just about any place with enough hounds and people who don’t dare carry a gun.”

“But what for?”

In the urgent eyes of death, Esther had no patience for dawdling manners.

“They’re building a stairway of bones, up, up, up, so they can get to Heaven and ask God to give back the rain.”

Esther wanted to laugh that rye laugh that folks in West Riarena had grown so desperately fond of. But there was too much sand in her throat, too much blood in her lungs. She simply cried some more, lost under the suffocating weight of the night and death’s boot heel on her back. She cried into her lip blood, until finally she passed out again. Though the darkness of unconsciousness was brighter than real life seemed to be.

 

*          *         *

 

“Hello?”

Esther moaned and hissed within her chest, withering with every echo.

“Hello? Where are you? Are you still here? Hello?”

She simply screamed in the silence. The blood of her body had pooled beneath her, ruined the pattern of her lovely black and white polka dot nightie. There was still no moving, right arm asleep under her stomach, left arm twisted and bruised and too tired to move. Her legs looked like a tree after a woodpecker had been at it. Covered in holes and seeping sap into the dirt.

Four legs had a much more recognizable sound than Esther could remember. Then came four more, and four more, and finally too many to keep track. There was no nostalgia to the panting and hot breath at Esther’s neck, only savagery and the flavors of a beast she did not know. Finally under the club-like paws of an enormous Saint Bernard Esther was turned over onto her back, dead new moon still trying it’s hardest to shine. Breathing the fresh air Esther had about a split second of peace, before once again her forehead shot with pain and an unknown animal dragged her behind them like a toy. Part of her wanted to pass out, but she kept herself awake in fear that if she dived down she’d never swim back up.

For a while the terrain against her broken legs and ripped-up back was the soft of sand, brittle at its worst. But as a collective howling grew in strength and dissonance, a new texture tortured Esther’s body. It was not rocks, it was not stone, or pebbles, or hard earth. Squinting across her peripherals as best she could Esther began her shaking again, and bit her lip right back open with shock. Bones. Hundreds of thousands of bones laying chewed and stripped and bleached by the desert sun, one atop another atop another. Skulls, ribs, femurs, and feet. The third layer of filth fashioned itself smugly onto Esther. Aside the dirty sand and the blood there was now the stink flesh of her dead neighbors. But she didn’t just take away their grime; for as the mutts pulled her up their mountain the sharp corners tore open her skin and made a path like baby ruby waterfalls.

Esther’s eyes and mind acted like strobe. There was too much terror to see everything straight or clearly. So instead her vision shot in and out, unfocused as her head throbbed with lightening static. But for minutes yet she didn’t die, only climbed on her back with fangs in her hair. It carried on for what could’ve been hours.

There was no making sense of the thin air all around her. One mutt would trade off with another, indicating that this was quite the long trek. And the bones kept piling. Esther couldn’t focus on very much, but her mind decided to torture her with visions of the deceased. How many towns now lay empty? How many parents without daughters and sons? She start to cry but  exhaustion would scold and she’d slip out but force her way back in. It was World War Three, all within her mind and there would be no survivors to write the history.

Suddenly everything steadied. Esther’s head was dropped, and let fall against a freshly peeled skull. Esther opened her eyes, lashes so thick with blood and tears that they seemed to weigh more than her bloodless body might. She could only feel the cold at this second. The cold of the black sky above, the cold of the gun which still somehow was tucked into her underwear, and most unrealistically the cold of the moon, directly at level with where Esther and the dogs stood. She gazed with eyes like holes that were trying to steal the moon away from the sun, the gray light her only illumination for the miles of her heart. Without warning her soul felt shock, and unconsciousness came again.

 

*          *         *

As had happened in bed, strict barking awoke Esther from her narrow, dreamless din. For a second of eternal optimism she hoped that this was all a dream and she’d wake up to Roger and Keith barking at the morning sun.

The blood in her mouth told the truth.

But when Esther opened her eyes she swore it was to more of a dream than the abyss she’d escaped. Far below she could see the moon, like the beam of a flashlight from so far away. In agony she turned her neck upwards, and felt her stomach pull inside itself. The black space above was rippling in envious blues, glistening as it caught the moonlight. A huge lake, as far as the eye could see, suspended in space. The mutts had finally found the rain.

But they simply barked at the lake, confused by the fact that they were not reflected. Within the depths there were no wagging tails or bloody muzzles. And there was no God above to explain. For each canine face that eyed the rippling plane, only a word dazzled back.

Dog

Dog

Dog

Esther considered this for a moment, feeling like she only had a bean-sized amount of brain left to think with. If every reflection is its original image backwards, was the lake suggesting that the mutts were God? The dogs were Gods? But through it all she wondered where God was. Where was the Lord. Was he hidden in the water, far beyond the surface? Or vanished altogether. Esther’s time to ponder this was cut short by her being pulled up to the top of the mountain by her hair, stuck in the center of a circle of dogs all barking at her. Each looking ready to lunge and rip her apart for their case.

From her new view the truth occurred to Esther. Laying underneath the shining pool, she was truly reflected. Her own image, plastered against the boundaries of Heaven. In the absence of God, we are all divine. The soul is as heavy a poem as a thousand scriptures and psalms.

Such bliss was short-lived as one dog stepped forwards, gnashing his teeth and growling wildly at Esther. And at that moment her heart screamed ‘not here, not tonight’, her veins pumping fire and the blue gleam of the water above. She reached into her panties, pulled out the hand gun, and started firing.

Two dogs fell to the boney ground, another whimpered as a bullet graced its hind leg and it toppled down the side of the mountain. Esther kept shooting as long as the adrenaline had her, though not as many dogs falling as it seemed should.

In the smoke and shatter she managed to catch a glimpse of two dogs coiled around one another, biting at shoulders and throats and bellies. It was Meghan, taking on a Greyhound twice her size. And to the left was Andrew, pinning a Pomeranian with a single paw. All of Esther’s own dogs were fighting by her side, against at least a 100 other mutts. A battle in which they had no chance.

Bullet after bullet after bullet the mass of blood and fur and bones shrunk and threw itself in circles. Esther managed to lean against a stack of skulls and shoot, useless legs tucked haphazardly under her dress. But out of the depths of the fervor came a big white Pyrnees, leaping on top of Esther before the bullet left the barrel. Biting at her firing arm the gun was directed upwards, shot speeding up to the water, striking the depths in silence.

Until there was a rush louder than thunder.

The dogs froze, tails curled and ears peeled back. The thunder grew, and grew, and grew, cracks appearing in the most abstract motion across the calm surface. Until it all collapsed. Miles of water fell down in drizzle and pour on the stairway of bones, the barbarian god dogs, and the one divine light, as she bled beneath the Pyrenees.

Esther’s captor didn’t cease for long as the rain fell, grabbing her by the leg and dragging her to the rest of the dogs. Hungrily they ripped her polka dot dress, tore her hair from her head. She screamed and cried and punched blindly with her arms and legs in the rain, trying in vain to save herself. But the dogs persisted. But the dogs were blind.

The filth of the evening washed away in the rain. The sand dripped down the slopes, the blood wrung clean from Esther’s skin and clothes. Her tears were replaced with warm water, hands of calm and softness. The rain all came down quick, and Esther began to rise.

Her ripped polka dot dress was sucked away, her hair lifted from the soiled earth. As the dogs viciously tore her limbs apart and warped her body from the beauty it had been, the pieces floated into the air like dandelion seeds. Jennifer the dog and William the dog watched confusedly as the little bits of cleansed self drifted up, and up, and up, never disappearing but too far away to tell their height. They shone so bright in their loveliness, white and blue light dust on the remnants of Heaven.

And there was no more rain to pray for, no more God to find. The dogs quit biting at the empty air, some angered by the enviable escape, others distressed by their own sick ways.

A few still howl at the sky at night, staring at the stars that are the skin and soul of a makeshift God. Her enemies will chew their bones, plotting some revenge and breaking the chance for her to end it all safely. They want to pull her down and see themselves reflected, watch her fall and burn at dark. But her friends will dig holes and bury innocent bones, in hopes that someday they can climb back up to Heaven and save her before she comes crashing down. No one can play God for so long; no one could stay so perfect forever.

Esther told herself that stars only shine so lonely for a little while anyway. The rain would come to tear her down, and Heaven would be just gray and dust and night. And everyone would search the skies, asking where She’d gone. Was there anyone up there to listen, or watch, or blame. Everyone’s really just alone with themselves, in the end of it all, after all, unenviable.

 

 

 

About Maggie: Every story Maggie writes is a culmination of all her temporary or current interests. Ghosts, incense, Robert Smith, or girls with too much cake. She aspires to bend the world, never break it, maybe just over-season it a bit. She hates apples, 80’s beach music, and skeletons. She loves macaroni, steam, and Bob Dylan. She loves when you love the things she writes. Maggie is nineteen and resides in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

 

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FLESH SINS By Celso P. Santos

Nov 10 2013

“Each day teaches something to the next day”

An old saying from the people of Planet Lymann

Tell me frankly dear reader: have you ever had the unpleasant feeling of being in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Because that’s how I felt when, completely horrified, I witnessed that disgusting human waiter stick a metal spike in a tender vermok calf (steel deliciously bleeding) and without any ceremony or special prayer, put the animal inside a wide open oven, flanked by red flames as hot as the mouth of a dragon, and begin roasting it mercilessly, invoking the name of the Homo Sap Gastronomic School. I immediately pressed the hairy arm of my female and said quietly:

- They are definitely savages. Let’s get out of here!

- Are you crazy, Gon-Son-of-Haak? We cannot do this! It’s a great offense to refuse food from the host. And don’t forget that YOU are the Ambassador of our species! – It was her dry grunt that I received in response, followed by a quick warning bite.

I pulled my aching hand, howling some unprintable curse. I emptied a glass of sangria, and kept there snorting, resigned, upset…

Eating roasted meat. What a blasphemy!

According to the sacred commandments of the carnivores in the world of Van Dörf, that I received from my father, and my father received from his father, and his father received from his father, the flesh integrity was an absolute and sacred dogma, and like any dogma, absolute inviolable.

- Baking meat on fire is a barbarian thing! – We have always been taught by the Temple’s Oracle, since we were nothing more than furless larvae inside a marsupial pouch.

The new pack leaders are completely wrong if they think that because the Gods are not fashionable, then everything is allowed. Quite the contrary! In this increasingly pagan world, we have to stick to our little piece of absolute in order not to lose our sanity. I used to believe in the carnivorous orthodoxy: a vermok calf was to be tasted whole and raw, far from any fire, and at most seasoned with a few drops of beylafrè, a concession to modernity. And that was it.

- Eating fruits and vegetables also corrupts the purity of our race and is something for degenerates! Those doing that should be whipped publicly, and if recidivist, should be punished by the extraction of canines and expulsion from the Pack! – Told us the Temple’s Oracle.

These and another two or three were simple precepts, which, if not granting our entrance into heaven next to Betrok, the Great Hunter, at least a little reduced a bit the anguish of knowing we were finite and insignificant, in a complex, endless and expanding Universe, regardless of our fears, dreams and opinions on mundane and unimportant things, as the latest results of the Sun Tournament games or the preparations for the upcoming Hunting Festival.

- Our world needs to open up its trade with foreign countries. We need to know other races and other costumes – argued the younger Pack members, with willful and reckless enthusiasm so typical of this phase.

OK, OK, living is an adventure, I thought. But was it necessary to watch that sacrilege – a real torture – seeing a delicious vermok calf being roasted on the flames of a furnace?

- My will was to jump straight on the heretic’s jugular and suck it up to the last drop of blood! – I growled threateningly, showing my pointed fangs toward the human waiter.

- Control yourself Gon-Son-of-Haak! It’s OK that a servant is worth less than a good set of fur rugs, but what will they think of our people should you devour their slave? – Argued my female, strongly striking my snout, visibly irritated with my lack of manners at the table.

My ears bent down and I moaned sadly because I knew that deep inside she was right. The voice of a female was always considerate and wise. During these protocol meetings, any gaffe could be fatal to the business as well as to a diplomatic career (furthermore, the human meat seemed quite spongy, not tasty, and could cause a tremendous indigestion). I drank another glass of Sangria … I gazed vaguely across the crowd toward the entrance hall; sighed nervously… Deep, deep, deep inside, I wanted run out of there, away from that degenerate group of hairless aliens.

Eating roasted meat! This thought tormented me endlessly.

I had never eaten that impure food in my life, and the civilized reader, who certainly never tasted such poison, can easily imagine the state of despair that took over all my being. The smell coming out of the infernal oven bothered my nostrils and turned my stomach upside down. I honestly wasn’t sure if I would be prepared to endure such a terrifying experience…

Roasted meat!

What would happen to me? The tales and stories spoke of terrible transformations to those who tasted such forbidden food! The smoke in the room irritated my eyes. My throat was dry and my hands were covered by cold sweat. I walked down an unknown path, where the road never ended…

Roasted meat!

The table in front of us was filled with fruits and vegetables of all shapes and colors, which were totally unknown to me. The humans ate them in large quantities and amazing ease, while my people didn’t touch any of it. I wondered what kind of stomach the humans had to be able to eat such toxic things as vegetables and baked meat without falling dead. I concluded that the only possible scientific explanation was that they would have two stomachs, each suitable to a different kind of food digestion. Looking at their anatomy I speculated that such organs would be located near their buttocks: one side to digest vegetables, and the other for meat.

Living beings with two stomachs housed in their rear. That was awesome! Certainly this evolution occurred because their world must have had very little wildlife, hunting areas were scarce, which forced these poor beings to eat all types of leaves and grass to survive.

Roasted meat!

To be true, I barely paid attention to the conversations around me, and answered only with vague monosyllables to those who questioned me. My claws danced on the table producing an audible toc, toc, toc… That was a really uncomfortable environment! Why did my Pack chose specifically me for a diplomatic career? There were so many other worthy, honorable and safer occupations in life, such as being a warrior, a tax collector or wild beast hunter in the Dark Forest.

Roasted meat!

What would be my fate? My stomach would swell and burst releasing toxic fumes from the hot food? Would I die intoxicated by the indigestion? Would I fall drooling on the table? Would I have seizures or hallucinations? Would my brain melt and flow thru my ears? Would I go mad and start howling nonsenses? Would my teeth get soft and fall useless? Would I become sterile and impotent? Would the females then avoid me? Would my offspring be born degenerated? Could I survive in order to share these events with others? These and other atrocious questions hammered endlessly my little shiny ivory horn at the top of my fuzzy head.

A bell rang and the dishes started to be served to the crowd in a macabre parade of big steaming skewers. I looked around the tables and saw, astonished, that humans attacked the meat without the slightest respect or etiquette: each one took the portion they wanted and mixed all in one dish, without any logical or hierarchical order…

How utterly shocking!

That was an obvious absurdity, because when one sits at a table, a certain natural order must be followed. First, according to the customs, one must not mix meat from land animals, with meat from flying animals, or sea animals, just to mention a good example. Nor can one ever mix meat from herbivorous animals with meat from carnivorous animals: this is a total nonsense. And third, and most important, you need to make an equitable and balanced division according to the guests’ hierarchy. Tradition suggests that the banquet host should offer the noble parts – like the heart, eyes, tongue and brain – initially to the most important guest among those present or else, to whom gave the “coup de grace” and killed the prey. The intermediate parts – such as the thighs, ribs and back – go to the other guests. The lower parts – such as the liver, intestines and paws – go to the old, the females and cubs.

But there, in that ambient full of mad people, I realized in terror, the lack of minimum standards of education or formalities to follow. It was a total anarchy and everyone was by himself. They ate many kinds of animals and their cuts all at the same time. Human females ate noble pieces, while males ate inferior parts! For my nose, it was as if the world had suddenly been turned upside down, and everything was happening backwards.

Shake your head, lift your tail, raise your ears, and howl loudly, dear reader; do all the amazement gestures coming to your mind! Should you want, get rid of the horror words, if you can’t stand so much torture anymore, all will be forgiven to you. However, if you haven’t done this before and want to do it now, thinking I’m inventing things, I assure you the veracity of all that I’m telling you, in the name of my own offsprings. Everything went as described. It was in this terrifying way that they acted with their behaviors and manners.

- Bon appétit Monsieur – hissed like a snake the hateful human waiter as he served me, once again without any etiquette or special prayer.

I swear I had to hold the table not to attack him. I longed to have at hand a sword, spear, arrow or dagger. The look that I darted at him – if it could fire bullets – would have killed the human instantly. One of the Gods mistakes had been not to leave us equipped with attack weapons, but only with claws, fangs and horns, and as a defense or escape, our legs. During the first part, our eyes would have been far more efficient. A quick blink, and voila! The enemies would fall; they would intimidate a rival male during the mating season, or repair some injustice made, and also being able to cast an innocent look at the end, as a disguise. I looked at the table. That’s when my world collapsed altogether.

II

I gulped. My problems multiplied. Indeed, the mental torture I was subjected to, exceeded all possible imagination. I think that no one will ever endure moments so difficult in their lives. Fear, uncertainty, doubt, engulfed me like a huge wave rising from the sea.

Slices of a roasted vermok leg were placed in front of me, complemented by various colorful vegetables. The invisible spirit of the forest descended there, and showed me in a whispered voice, another terrible conclusion: “for God sake! They served meat and vegetables together: that is most obscene.”

- They are used to do this – said the female at my side.

I turned to her and asked amazed: – Did you hear it also?

- Hear what?

- A voice saying that they mixed meat and vegetables?

- How’s that! It was you who said that…

Even now I can swear that it was the voice of the Spirit of the Forest. Many things often happen, these beings expelled from legends and myths, influence our souls and speak through our own mouth, as I had finished to hear clearly… Trying to put myself together again for a time I not able to know, I kept watching the forbidden dish with my eyes wide open, and no reaction. I leaned myself over and quickly sniffed it, and immediately leaned back again, suspicious and wary.

I mumbled a prayer for the vermok: rest in peace, oh great and venerable animal, go with your powerful animals, to relive the memories you keep. Of all the travelers, you went farther. This shredded body of yours, here on the table, was vigorous and powerful, and walked to the end of the world. Where names and ancient people are lost, and countless memories and hopes fade, where in your death field, this great hunting ground, the world revives every day over the bones of the millions of devoured, there, in that awful country of impenetrable forests there lies your usual home. You have been where not even the sound of guns or hunters ever arrived; you slept beside the grave of many brave unknown, where their sleepless female companions would give their lives to rest. You saw embraced couples jump from the burning airship; united by their hearts, being engulfed by the waves of the triumphant jungle, faithful to each other, when the sky refused to help them. You saw the murdered companion when thieves threw him from the steep and rocky cliff, his body rolling down to the bottom of the deepest abyss, and his assassins continued their way. O mighty animal! You saw enough to bend the world and turn the Gods mad, and we will honor your memories!

Just in case, I lowered my ears, closed my eyes, and also prayed a brief forgiveness prayer to the Gods, when I explained them that if we were close to perpetrate that big heresy, was seeking a larger strategic objective of signing an important preferential trade with the humans, which would benefit our Pack. I mentally relayed to them the projections and statistics of the interplanetary trade flow that would be obtained with the agreement. In an attempt to attenuate the predictable (and fair) wrath, I promised them to double the daily prayers for one year, and the triple of prisoners to be sacrificed in the next war. After this was done, and with a calmer spirit, I went to render my patriotic duty: handling the metal cutlery, I placed the hated vegetables aside (ugh!), and then I tasted a small piece of that disgusting thing.

It was pure fire, and I almost burnt my tongue… As hot as the mouth of a dragon.

I chewed slowly…

Hum…

Interesting … The texture was firmer and the taste, more … subtle, in the absence of a better expression. Intrigued, I noticed that the inside portion was not roasted as the outside, showing a lighter brownish-color… The flavor was unlike anything I had tasted and difficult to explain.

I tried another piece.

Hum… It’s not bad at all!

Fascinating … To my surprise, although being hot as an ember and its exotic taste, it was soft and even… good? I’m Gon-Son-of-Haak! I’m Gon-Son-of-Haak! I’m Gon-Son-of-Haak! – I was mentally repeating my name like a mantra, to avoid forgetting who I was. The generous smoking slices were laying on a white plate. Cautiously, I tried a few more pieces.

Hum… Good!

Well… Apparently all was running well, my brain wasn’t melting and I wasn’t having seizures… Just in case, I tasted the whole dish, handling with some difficulty, the cumbersome metal cutlery, another strange custom of these humans, the dear reader must agree.

Hum… Tasty!

I was getting astonished… Maybe their Gods were more powerful than ours, or had a more tasteful and refined gourmet. After all, there were so many mysteries and unexplainable things in this infinite Universe… But one doubt struck me: would I be endangered of becoming sterile if I continued to eat? For a moment I hesitated, but, then I realized that I had never been a model progenitor. It was also necessary to consider that times were changing and in the absence of our own progeny, we could always solve the problem by adopting some unfortunate orphans instead eating them, I reasoned. I decided to ask a slice of spike-gnu to the human waiter.

Hum… Delicious!

Intriguing … It was a moment of crisis, I confess, but I have not lost my mind, I kept my posture and tasted other (generous) portions of marine mesossaurius’ fin and a pilgrim’s mastodon tongue (w/ garlic)… Just to be sure of what I was feeling, the understanding reader must understand my reasons: for different things, no comparison is possible.

Hum… Appetizing!

Unbelievable … It was better than the raw meat that my Pack had been eating since the dawn of time! To my relief, I found that my fangs were steady and my sexual organ was still in place … I tried portions of saber tooth bear loin (well done).

Hum… Juicy!

Incredible … Maybe we had been wrong, I finally thought, with a humility that filled me of pride. I was still lucid, remembered who I was, and to which Pack I belonged. My female by my side, was having a ball, digging her beautiful fangs into a large hillside camel thigh (undercooked). Her face was happy, frightened and fierce, all strangely mixed, but seemed visibly pleased … I kept tasting different roasts and grills of various animals of our fauna.

Hum… Divine!

After the endless feasting, I took a deep breath and touched my belly looking for any symptoms, however, everything was normal: I felt no pain, no twinges and wasn’t drooling or howling incoherently at the table… I drank another glass of sangria and devoured a last generous bit of a stuffed jumper moose head that I was served by the helpful and nice waiter. The head – the animal’s noble part – was reserved for the one who had killed the hunt, or to some notable guest. Needless to say I felt much honored with this small gesture of respect and courtesy from the humans, with my person.

Hum… Marvelous!

Finally, considering myself conquered, I left the table quietly and went to the kitchen, to talk to the chef.

I left there astonished, with my bewildered long tail curled between my legs, my belly full, and the book Handbook for a Good Barbecue under my hairy arm.

III

I secretly studied the Handbook for a few days, with the voluptuousness of someone browsing a subversive material. I thought and pondered long enough. The doubts haunted me, and I don’t quote them here to avoid extending this narrative too much. The dear reader should imagine how difficult it is to change much incorporated habits that we believed as true as the day and night. I had restless dreams and night sweats, but after the reading and having experienced various kinds of baked meat, secretly made on an illegal broiler of my hut (which I assembled with smuggled parts), with the company of only my female harem, I had to admit that:

The human cooking was wonderful.

Roasted meat … Hum!

I still had no courage to tell my Pack, but next month I’ll visit my native village. A perfect occasion. When everyone is gathered, I will assemble my grill and prepare a surprise crenissáurus barbecue, a giant herbivore whose meat is highly appreciated in our region.

I’ll implement everything I learned from the human Chef and the Handbook: first, in order to choose the best piece at Central Market, I’ll stick my finger in to the meat to feel its firmness / softness (this is the best way to check if the meat is “grillable”). It’s color should be pinkish red and I have to avoid the dark red meat (spoiled by too much refrigeration); There are lighter and darker cuts, depending on animal region that is more or less irrigated with blood ( the rump and the ??? are the most irrigated, tender and juicy) In the specific case of the prime rib, I should pay special attention to the bone transversal section: large and flat bones are certainly from an old animal, while small and rounded bones are from a calf; also, the fat must not be dark yellow – synonymous of an old animal – it should be of a light sand color; after this step, the thick and generous steaks shall be sealed on both sides with plenty of coarse salt, (gaucho style), and then placed on the fire; And finally, the ideal is that the meat be grilled at about 30 cm to 40 cm from the coal, a distance enough to receive the heat without roasting, in order to cook inside and softer.

I don’t even want to imagine what will be their reaction.

Well .. If the gods don’t make the sky fall or rain fire and sulfur on my head, I’ll be relieved. If the Oracle priests do not condemn me for heresy thru whipping, hanging or stoning in a public square, I’ll be in the winning side. Should I also escape from being lynched, dismembered, impaled, scalped, banned or having my canines extracted by my own Pack brothers, there’s no doubt that this will be an interesting gastronomic test.

By the way, the human waiter is always after me, proposing a business society. He showed me some amazing figures and said that a network of steakhouses in this world would be ten times more profitable than when McDonalds arrived in China… I didn’t get it right, but I asked some time to think about it.

Should I survive to all this, then maybe I will start mating with only one female at a time, start painting my long and sharp claws, or start bathing regularly.

After all, if raw meat is no longer sacred, then everything is permitted … (Just don’t ask me to eat a cabbage salad, for God’s sake!).

***

About the author: Celso P. Santos, 44, is a Brazilian writer of f & sf. He was elected in 2009 by ‘Scarium magazine’, one of the ten masters of modern Brazilian sf. Stories published: ‘The Flowers Antarctic’, ‘Russian Roulette on Mars’, ‘The Immortal’, among others.

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Sidekick by Chase Lindsey

Nov 03 2013

Vigilante Enforcers?

By D.C. Lindsey (staff writer)

Two men were found outside a bank last night tied up to a light post. Vigilantism isn’t something the city of Tampa is surprised by, however this was a much more brutal beating than the common thugs on the streets of Ybor are used too. To date, there have been no concrete sightings of a new prowler on the streets though some local interviews describe what many would call just a boy. The phenomenon remains largely a mystery. Click the link below to read user comments or add your own.

Comments:

Click here to add your comments below.

Sharkleg: Just what this city needs, another $#(^ing superhero.

Fiasco_reborn: good man!

Z8sz: wanna really please your girl in bed? Click here to…

Patrolling: WTF TROLLS!

*

Ghost slammed into the wall and his back exploded in pain. He had enough time to gasp for air and spit out a wad of blood before he had to get his hands up to block the kick aimed for his face. The force of the kick was too much for him to block and he ended up redirecting the kick into the wall behind him. He threw his weight behind his elbow and snapped the man’s knee backwards. The man fell onto the grungy alleyway sidewalk, writhing in pain.

Ghost hopped up on his feet and scanned the shadows around him. There were still two more attackers out there. A girl was stretched out near a broken streetlight. Her dress was ripped and she sobbed quietly into her hands. He bounced on the balls of his feet and strained his ears against the dark. Crunching footsteps near a dumpster alerted him and he launched himself at the sound feet first.

He was jarred to a stop when the shadow sidestepped his kick and caught him around the neck. The shadow threw him down into a puddle near the crying girl. He shivered when his tights got heavy in the cold rainwater. The shadow stepped into the light and he sneered.

“Nero.”

“I’m sorry boy, have we met?” Nero asked. He brushed his long white hair behind his ear. “I don’t seem to remember any crime scene field trips.”

“I’ve seen plenty of you on TV. You killed that family in the church.”

Nero laughed, “I’ve killed lots of families…”

Ghost tried to get up but Nero spun around and kicked Ghost in the face. Coppery tasting blood flooded his mouth and he could feel one of his eyes swelling shut. Nero knelt down next to Ghost on the filthy pavement. He recoiled as Nero pulled him to his feet. A spicy, floral scent filled Ghost’s nostrils as Nero held him close. With a grunt Nero slammed the boy into the wall. Ghost’s mask fluttered to the ground and he looked up at Nero in the pale light.

“Look at you, some kid who thinks he’s a hero because he knows karate and has some tights that don’t fit right.”

Ghost tried to answer but the only thing he could get out was sort of a pathetic mewling sound. Nero laughed at him, picked up the mask, and then leaned in close.

“I’ll show you what happens when someone tries to play superhero.”

Nero threw Ghost into the wall and walked to the girl lying on the ground. Ghost tried to get up to help her but he couldn’t get his legs under him. He crawled along the pavement gasping. Nero stood over the girl and sprinkled small purple flowers over her body and then raised his foot to crush her head. Smoke pellets exploded all around them. The air was filled with the scent of gunpowder and then the acrid smell of smoke. Another shadow blew through clouds and Nero grunted. There was a thud and then Ghost felt someone picking him up.

Bright blue body armor coated the arms that carried him. Ghost was gently deposited in a seat that seemed to envelop him and hold him safe. He was aware of a car starting and he got the sense of movement even though he could barely see out of his eyes.

*

Ghost woke up on an exam table. His bloody tights were laying on the ground next to him and he was naked in the harsh light of a medical room. He grabbed a paper sheet to cover himself and tried to sit up.

“Don’t try to sit up yet”, a voice said. Ghost squinted in the direction of the sound. His eyes seemed to be getting better and he could barely make out a figure sitting next to him.

Justice sat near the boy, his body was coated in blue and red body armor. He had a blue hood and a blue mask that obscured his face. He pushed back the hood to reveal short brown hair that was just showing a little gray.

“You’ve had a rough night and you need to let the drugs work on you a little.”

Ghost frowned at the superhero. “Well Dad, if you would get me some body armor then maybe things like this wouldn’t happen.”

Justice sighed and pulled off his mask. Underneath the hard plastic he seemed tired and worried. “Listen to me Drake. The point of teaching you to fight and how to move like this was only for fitness.”

Drake shrugged. “Bad stuff happens to just about everyone.”

Justice shrugged at his son. “This is over tonight. Also, stop stealing your sister’s unitard.”

*

Drake and his father made their way through a small passage that opened into their kitchen. Drake’s mom was just finishing dinner as they walked through the passageway.

“You found him! Oh Drake, I was so worried”, his mom said. “We didn’t know what happened to you. You’ve been gone for hours, it’s almost midnight.”

Drake stood awkwardly clutching the paper sheet still wrapped around him. “Well, I’m fine I’m gonna go get dressed.”

Drake’s mother shook her head. “Just like your father, I’ll make some food and bring it up to you.”

Drake walked through the house to his room and slammed the door. He found a pair of shorts and a hoodie and got dressed. His desk had drawings of superheroes and costumes that he imagined he would wear someday. He stood in front of his mirror and checked out his wounds from the night. Whatever his dad had given him was helping him heal up quickly. The cut above his eye was just a scab and his bruises were already fading. He flexed his muscles in the mirror and was smiled at the result. He wasn’t the most built person but he certainly had some good development. He brushed his brown hair out of his eyes and checked the mirror closely, still no chin hair though.

He flopped face first on his bed. All he really wanted to do was sleep but he couldn’t pass out yet. He decided to do some research. He got his laptop out and started googling Nero. The man’s past transgression were easy to find in old newspaper articles. He searched again to try to get some sense of who Nero was but, all the information seemed to be missing. He thought about going down to his father’s lair and looking through his father’s files. A knock at his door startled him and he just enough time to close the laptop as his dad walked in with a tray of food.

“I thought maybe you’d like some time alone instead of with your mother. I told her not to worry.” His father eyed the closed laptop and the way Drake was laying on the bed. He smiled knowingly.

“Dad, no, I was just researching.”

“Oh, researching what?”

Drake sighed and sat up. “Nothing, is this for me?”

His father handed him the tray. “I hope you can understand why I don’t want you out there in the streets. Maybe someday, but son you’re just twelve old.”

Drake rolled his eyes at his dad. “I was exactly where I meant to be.”

“Where would you be right now if I hadn’t tracked you down?”

Drake just sat on the bed. He picked up the food tray and started eating.

“Like I said earlier,” his father continued, “I don’t want you out there trying to do something dumb”

“And like I said earlier Dad, if I had better armor then maybe I would have been safer.”

His father shook his head. “Maybe someday.”

“Dad,” Drake hesitated a second. “Was the girl ok?”

His father looked out into the hallway and scratched his chin. “She was pretty beat up but you stopped them before there was any major harm done.”

“See, Dad, I can help out there. Let me go with you.”

“No, it’s done Drake. It’s just too dangerous. Did she see you when you got to her?”

Drake scoffed at his father. “No one sees me Dad”

Drake’s father ruffled his son’s hair. “Almost no one.”

*

The next morning when Drake woke up his father’s words echoed in his head. He decided that he was old enough and that Nero had just gotten lucky. He grabbed his black hoodie on the way out the door. He would be back on patrol tonight.

He rode the bus to school that morning and sat with his friends. Everyone seemed to move in slow motion around him. His father told him it was from the training that he had gone through. His body was so attuned to what was happening around him that it just always felt like people were walking around underwater while he was just moving at normal speed.

School was a blur until the final bell rang and as he walked to his locker to grab his hoodie he felt someone’s hand coming to touch his shoulder. He spun without thinking, ready to throw the potential attacker off balance. Cindy Dawkins stood behind him surprised at how fast he had turned. She smiled at him.

“Hey Drake, some of my friends are coming over after school today to watch a movie, do you wanna come.”

Drake stammered — he felt backed into a corner. “I’m sorry Cindy I can’t. I have plans actually after school, maybe I can some other time?”

Cindy’s face fell, but she looked him in the eye. “I guess sure, whatever you want.”

Cindy turned to go and two of the goons that had been stuck in the middle school system walked up the hallway.

“Hey Cindy if Drake-dick doesn’t want to go to your party we’ll go,” the fat one said.

“Yeah, we’ll make it real fun, just the three of us,” the other said, playing with one of the zits on his face.

Cindy just shook her head and brushed around them heading to class. Drake widened his stance a little in case anything happened. The older boys looked at Drake.

“Hey look Tom he looks like he wants to fight.”

Tom, the fat one, looked over the smaller boy. “Nah Biggan, we’d kill him, besides, I wanna save my energy for something good.”

They glanced back towards Cindy as she walked out of the hallway and they laughed. Drake tensed at the way the bullies looked at Cindy. He decided to follow the brutes and grabbed his hoodie out of his locker. As the boys moved off down the hall Drake slipped the sweatshirt on and pulled the hood up over his head.

When the boys cleared the hallway Drake was right behind, wading through a flood of adolescents. He grabbed onto a pole flipped himself up onto the top of a covered walkway. He glanced down at a group of sixth graders staring at him. He shrugged and waved at them and then jogged off, careful to keep the thugs in view.

Drake kept his distance from the pair as they walked slowly through the school. Finally as the rounded the corner near the P.E. locker rooms Biggan broke into a run. Tom waddled some distance behind the lanky boy and puffed trying to keep up. Drake looked in front of them, trying to see what was making them run. There was a flash of blond hair turning the corner and Drake watched as Biggan careened right behind it.

Drake’s stomach dropped. It was Cindy. He took off running across the roof of the walkway and flipped over to the roof of the locker room. Cindy yelled and then there were sounds of a scuffle followed by a sickening thud. He sprinted across the roof and jumped to a small walk-space between the boys and girls area. Cindy was on the ground, a bloody gash oozed on her forehead. Tom and Biggan argued quietly next to her.

“It’s ain’t my fault the bitch fell,” Biggan said.

“Well who are we gonna blame it on?” Tom asked.

Drake crept up next to the thugs and said, “Here’s an idea. You two morons stand still while I find the resource officer.”

The thugs started at Drake’s arrival and wheeled on him like bulls. Tom glanced down at the Cindy and then back up at Drake and with a yell he swung his fist at Drake’s face. Drake dropped low and swept Tom’s feet out from under him. The fat thug collapsed to the ground with a wet splat. Biggan tried to grapple Drake but the smaller boy fell on his back kicked up with both legs, slamming Biggan into the wall behind him.

Drake rolled to his feet and knelt by Cindy’s side. Behind him the thugs got up and ran the other way. He didn’t care. Just as Cindy was starting to wake up one of the resource officers from the school rounded the corner yelling into a walkie talkie.

“I’m right where those kids said they saw the girl being raped – Oh shit, there is a kid here.” The cop drew his taser and approached Drake slowly. “Son, I need you to step back from the girl.”

Drake stood up and looked at the officer. “I had nothing to do with this.”

“Step. Back.”

Drake took a step back from Cindy. He turned around and waited until the officer holstered his taser and pulled out the handcuffs. The cop grabbed his wrist and tried to pull Drake’s arms down but Drake slammed his head back into the cop’s chin. As the officer fell Drake wheeled on his heel and wrapped his hand around the cops throat, slamming him into the pavement with more velocity than gravity offered. He looked around to make sure he was alone and caught Cindy’s eyes staring at him, full of fear.

Drake took a step towards Cindy but she recoiled in horror at him. Her head swept back and forth from the horror of the cop on the ground to the puddle of blood under her. He reached out to help her to her feet but he was interrupted when she screamed. Drake was shocked. He could hear people reacting to the scream and he took off, he jumped onto a window sill and climbed to the roof.

Drake ran across the locker room and leaped from one building to the next. He got off the school grounds and tried to head home. He kept to the shadows mostly as he walked home, keeping his hood up to look inconspicuous. When he finally got to his neighborhood he wasn’t shocked to see police cars surrounding his house. Despite himself he laughed. He climbed in a tree and started sneaking his way to see if he could hear anything that was going on.

Just outside the backdoor his parents were talking to one of the Sergeants on duty. Drake crept through the bushes to get close to hear what they were saying.

“No officer, he’s never done anything like this before,” his mom said.

She and the police Sergeant turned around and went inside but Drake’s father turned and looked right at the bush Drake was hiding in. He shook his head and walked into the house. Drake decided to wait until dark and try to get a few of his things, he’d figure out what to do after that.

As the sun went down Drake started to get antsy. He was about to take off and come back later that night when he got the sense that someone was nearby him. He turned and almost ran right into his father.

“What have you done?” Justice asked.

“I didn’t do anything,” Drake said.

Justice pulled the hood off his suit and looked at his son.

“I got caught up in something. These thugs were the one’s–”

“Save it son,” Justice grabbed Drake’s arm. “Right now you’re just gonna have to tell the police.”

Drake couldn’t believe it. He tried to protest but he couldn’t break his father’s grip. Justice walked Drake through the bushes and handed him to two of the officers waiting near a police car. They handcuffed him and started to push his head down to load him into the police car. Drake tripped over the curb and fell into one of the officers. The cop shoved him and Drake fell into the seat. They moved to close the door but Justice stopped them and reached into the car.

“He’s not just a street thug Officer, watch your gear,” Justice said. He reached behind Drake and pulled the handcuff keys, pick-pocketed from the officer, out from behind Drake’s thumb.

Drake stared at his father in disbelief and then anger. He flexed his muscles but he couldn’t snap the chain on the cuffs.

“I wouldn’t unhandcuff him until you get him locked up in a cell.” The officers nodded and got in the car. The car started and drove out out of the neighborhood. Drake sat in the backseat and struggled with the handcuffs. The officers rode in silence. Outside the scenery changed from the suburbs to the older, dreary washed pavement of Ybor City. The cop car pulled into a small ally near the interstate.

“Forget the way to the police station?” Drake asked.

The officers chuckled. One looked back at him and pulled his gun.

“Did you think Nero would let your insult go?”

Drake stopped moving and focused on what the cop was saying.

“He sends you this message, before you die,” the gun chambered a round with a click. “Your mom and your sister will die fast. Your father, Justice, will die slow.”

“How does he know who my family is?” Drake asked.

The cop pulled a long black mask out of his pocked and threw it at Drake. “He mentioned that you dropped this.”

Drake watched the gun was pointed at him. He steadied his breathing to keep himself calm. He waited until the muscles tensed along the officers arm and then dodged to the left. The bullet went wild and shattered the back of the squad car window. Drake heaved himself into the shattered glass and felt it give under his weight. The shards lacerated his face as he rolled off the trunk and slammed into the concrete with a thud. Above him a giant violin was being played with a bouquet of flowers. The spicy floral scent assaulted his nose again.

The door opened and both cops tore around the squad care weapons drawn. Drake swept the feet from one and then rolled as the second officer moved to get a better shot. As he rolled he kicked his feet out from under him and landed in a half squat near the approaching officer. He jumped as high as he could and caught the cop in the chest with both feet. They went down hard and Drake stood, victorious. He grabbed the handcuff keys and released his hands. As he walked back into his house he paused to pick up his mask and the nightstick from the cop still on the ground. He extended the nightstick and slammed it into the jaw of the first cop and walked out of the ally.

He tried to hide the nightstick in his hoodie as best he could and jogged over to the bus stop. He tried to blend in behind a group of college coeds. One girl dressed in a bright red University of Tampa hoodie wobbled in her high heels. The smell of alcohol filled the air. When the bus pulled up Drake’s foot darted out and tripped the girl. As she fell into the group of her friends Drake snatched her wallet out of her bag. He pulled out five dollars and handed it back to the girl. She slurred a thank you and got on the bus. Drake followed and paid the bus fare with the stolen money. He dropped the change into the girls purse as he slipped to the back of the bus.

Drake’s hands shook as he sat down. Nero had threatened his family. He gripped the nightstick in his hoodie pocket and his face hardened. When the bus got near his house he slipped off into the shadows and moved as fast as he could to his house. Something already seemed wrong as he jogged to the door. All of the lights were off.

The inside of the house was torn apart. Drake ran from room to room looking for his family but each room was more ripped apart than the last. He ran to the kitchen and pushed in the secret wall and ran to his father’s lair. All around him were signs of a battle. The walls were covered in bullet holes and there was fresh blood drying on the ground. In the lair itself the computer had been torched and all of his father’s justice costumes were in ruins.

Drake walked back into the kitchen. He set the nightstick on the table and sat down hard. He slammed his fist down on the hard wood. He picked up the newspaper sitting by his foot and threw it at the wall.

Violin Flowers Being Investigated

By D.C. Lindsey (staff writer)

The largest manufacturer of floral arrangements in Tampa, Violin Flowers,

is under investigation by the local police for several health code violations.

The company was founded in 1982 after a fire swept through the church

that was on the grounds previously. Violin flowers is most famous for

their use of the Purple Hyacinth. This warehouse has been a staple of Ybor

City for nearly thirty years and has never received previous violations.

Drake read the article over a few times and ran to his sister’s room to find the gray tights he wore. He slipped them on and found a pair of black basketball shorts to match. He added his mask, a pair of black gloves, and his combat boots. Then he clipped the nightstick to his waistband and slipped silently into the night

.

*

Two guards were stationed on top of the building. Drake crept as close as he could then burst from the shadows and clotheslined one. He flipped his nightstick out and slammed it into the guards throat. The other guard ran to help, trying to aim his rifle, but Drake threw his nightstick at the guard and dropped him. He finished off the second guard with a boot to the face. He picked up the guard’s walkie talkie and started listening to the radio traffic.

The earpiece crackled and Drake listened intently to the duty roster being spread out. He smiled. The guards were still guarding three prisoners. He ran to the end of the building and dropped into the alleyway below. He walked through the shadows and closed in on another guard. He popped his nightstick back out and clipped the guard in the back of the head, catching the body before it fell down. He dragged the prone guard back into the shadows and slipped inside the facility.

Below him the storage shed spread out into a small chamber. At the center his father sat tied to a chair. He was cut up all over his body and his face was bruised. From the way he was sitting Drake guessed that he had broken at least two ribs. Nero stood near Drake’s father with a knife in his hand. The blade was coated in blood.

Drake kept to the shadows but wandered around the room. He tried to get a sense of anyone else in the chamber but the only people he could find were Nero and Justice. He stopped and looked back at the door to figure out how fast he would need to move once he freed his father. Justice’s scream brought his attention directly back to the action on hand. Nero had started cutting his father open. The knife was deep. Drake flipped the nightstick out and charged Nero. He didn’t care about stealth he just wanted his father to stop screaming.

He swung at Nero’s knee but missed when Nero side stepped the blow. He kept swinging wildly and Nero dodged each one easily. Drake overextended on the last swing and Nero sliced open the boy’s wrist. The nightstick clattered to the floor uselessly. Nero stepped forward and kicked Drake in the chest. Drake slammed into his father and they both went sprawling on the ground.

“Shouldn’t you already be dead?” Nero asked, smirking.

“I won’t let you hurt my family,” Drake said.

Nero laughed. He shook the white hair around his head. His fingers, coated in dirt, moved quickly by his side like they playing the strings of a violin. There was a small purple flower clipped to his dark shirt and he wore stained black jeans. A black trench coat sat forgotten near Justice. Nero’s skin was pale, almost sickly in the light.

“Won’t let me? Look at him. I’ve hurt him pretty bad.” Nero’s eyes narrowed. “It’s just a small amount of what I’m going to do to you.”

Drake got to his feet moved back into a ready stance.

“Drake, you have to counter him,” Justice whispered, his voice laced with pain. “Don’t just attack head first, make him come to you.”

Nero threw the knife at Drake but Drake sidestepped the blade. Nero charged but this time Drake was ready. He parried the blows and waited for his opening. Nero wheeled around to kick Drake but Drake ducked under the blow and Nero was thrown completely off balance. Drake jumped and drop kicked his assailant and watched as Nero ran headfirst into a wall. Drake turned and grabbed the knife and started slicing open his father’s ropes.

“Drake, son, you did good,” Justice said. He coughed in pain and blood ran down his face.

Drake finished freeing Justice and helped him stand up. A burst of static in his ear caused him to flinch. The earpiece was too loud for Drake to understand but then Nero screamed into a receiver. “Take the shot, take it now.”

Drake shoved his father down and a shot rang out. He threw his body over his dad’s and felt the impact of the bullet somewhere below his left shoulder. He tried to get off Justice but it seemed like his muscles would work. His vision flashed white and he was vaguely aware
of Justice rolling him gently on the floor and then the sounds of a fight around him. He tried to get up but his body ignored him. He was so sleepy.

“Son, Ghost, you did great, just hang on a little longer,” Justice whispered in his ear a few minutes later. “Your mother and sister are fine, I’ve got them here.”

Ghost felt someone squeeze his hand. It hurt a little. He didn’t really care, he just wanted to close his eyes. He felt them closing on their own. Grateful, he let his mind drift away. No matter what happened, he was Ghost now.

Justice Saves Family from Thugs

By D.C. Lindsey (staff writer)

A family of three were jumped by thugs outside of Violin Flowers today

in Tampa, Florida. Two received only small bruising and the other,

an unidentified boy, was shot. The boy remains in critical condition and the

doctors are not sure of his chances at this time. The whereabouts of the thugs

are unknown, however, Justice assured the media that the thugs wouldn’t be

troubling anyone again. Click the link below to read user comments or add your own.

Comments:

Click here to comment

ASUSGr8: isn’t it a little cliché to have this whole thing about a superhero anyway?

taco_sauce613: Who the fck cares about some hero anymore?

Jok3r: wanna really please your girl in bed? Click here to…

Bachrocks: spammers, ugh, go troll somewhere else

Brief Bio: Chase Lindsey is currently a creative writing student at the University of South Florida. He spends his time reading and writing under the warm sun in Tampa. For questions or comments he can be reached at chaselindsey@me.com.

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THE FIRST PAIN by Courtney Duff

Oct 27 2013

Streams of light roamed in between the dense foliage, highlighting the random arm or bit of foot poking from between the leaves. Stray clumps of hair dangled from pockmarked, baseball-sized heads. The dolls hanged intermittently throughout the forest. The feet dangled from the tree limbs at irregular intervals and path-walkers had to duck around them. Tourists moved about the forest in clusters. A little girl could be glimpsed as she darted through the trees, peeking out from behind gnarled, thick trunks and crouching beneath dirt-grazing branches.

She wandered off to the edge of the forest. The scene was less unintelligible when viewed from the outside. The trees stood far from each other; the little girl could see through the leaves quivering in the breeze to the dolls hanging high above the ground and dancing in the breeze. The dolls tethered by their necks and arms bounced their legs and the ones tied by their legs or waist waved their arms in the air carelessly. The eerie choreography made the little girl shiver. Her fair, mahogany hair quaked in the wind when she shook. It caught the liquid streams of sunlight and washed her entire body in a spotlight of warm, buttery yellow.

She was alone. The island buzzed with groups of tourists, but none claimed her. Women smiled serenely at the startlingly young girl’s mocha skin and assumed she was with another group, confident that a doting mother would soon dart in to sweep up the seven or eight year old girl. Men shot glances at her, very few looking for longer than a moment. The men who did watch her were fathers, their glances proprietary and protective. She was a beautiful little girl. Her eyes were wide, outlined in feathery lashes and a small wrinkle when she smiled. Her lips were puckered in a permanent pout because of her overbite. The girl only smiled with her mouth shut and her eyes wide.

She giggled and dashed towards the center, playing a game with the dolls to the delight of the women and fathers. She tugged on the errant legs and arms, her tiny fist barely wrapping around the baby doll’s plastic limbs.

#

The sun’s departure made the little girl’s game turn frantic. Her desperate movements were juxtaposed against the sad serenity of the island. The moon hanged lazily in the sky, clouds casually passing over it. The trees bent naturally with the breeze. It blew in from the coast and dragged twigs and leaves with it.

She stopped when the breeze brought a voice with it.

“Carmen,” it called. “Come home.”

Carmen dropped her hands to her sides, palms hitting her hips, and dragged her feet through the dry dirt. The dolls sagged heavily on their lines of twine as though disappointed that she hadn’t managed to release them from their nooses and let them finally complete their suspended fall to the forest floor.

A ragged man stood at the entrance of a small, disguised hut. The skin of his face drooped heavily with wrinkles, the curls of skin bulging towards the end with stray lines of fat.

“Julian, can’t I go home?” She brushed her dirty feet against the woven mat propped on the stone hearth of the building.

“Sweetie, you are home,” the man said. “You can accept that, can’t you, mija?”

“Sure,” she said, despondent. “Sorry, Papa.”

He leaned his arm against the door frame and nodded towards it. She ducked in beneath his outstretched arm and settled on a couch. Above it, the wall was blank but for one framed photo. The woman pictured was garishly attractive. The eyes she pointed carelessly at the camera were empty, its corners pointing to crow’s-feet. Her lips were badly chapped and lines were visible in the fine skin. Her neck was wrapped in a tacky, multi-colored scarf. A gift from Julian.

Carmen was in the space between two cushions beneath the photo. She sank into the space and curled into a fetal position.

“Stop sulking,” Julian said. “Your mama will be here soon.”

“She isn’t my mom!” Carmen cried. “I want to go home.” She turned her head away from him and his gaze traveled upwards to the photo of Lumia.

“You will accept your mama when she gets here,” he said, staring at the photo.

“She isn’t coming, Julian,” Carmen spat. She still didn’t look at him. “It’s been thirty years. Let me go home.”

“I told you to call me dad.”

“You’re not my dad.”

Julian stood and walked out of the room. He came back bearing a doll cradled in his arm. Although it had all four limbs — unusual for Julian’s collection — its face was pimpled by plastic blisters from fire. “Let’s go.”

Carmen shook her head vehemently, the bronze hair flipping across her face. “I’m not doing it tonight.”

“You have to,” Julian said plaintively. “You have to be here when Mama arrives.”

“No.”

“I said to come with me. You’re supposed to do what I say, I’m your father.”

“You’re not my dad.”

“I’m as good as you’ve got, so you obey me like you should. It’s time to perform the ceremony, and you want to make daddy happy, right?”

Carmen sulked. “I’m not going. I’m not getting trapped here.”

“I have enough to trap you here forever, Carmen, this is just extra insurance. Your disobedience won’t stop me from making sure Mama has a baby to come home to. She’ll be here any day now, Carmen.”

“No she won’t!” Carmen screamed. “She isn’t coming. Julian, she isn’t coming, she would have come here when you came here if she had meant it. I’m not your puppy love’s daughter! She was a prostitute! She said what you wanted to hear so you’d pay her!”

Julian slapped Carmen across the face. The fleshy bang echoed through the trees. Carmen leapt to her feet and snatched his cigarette pack. She ran from the hut. He roared and stumbled after her, trying to rise to his feet and run at the same time.

#

Carmen’s breath burst from her lungs as she ran. She fumbled with the pack and extracted a lighter from amid the bent cigarettes. Julian’s strong legs caught up to her easily. He wrapped his hairy arms around her skinny waist and her flailing legs rocketed Carmen’s lower body into the air. Julian hefted her under one arm and snatched at her wildly waving arms, trying to grab the lighter despite his inability to see in the absolute darkness.

“I’m going to let the dolls go, Julian,” Carmen huffed through his suffocating grasp. “You can’t keep me here anymore. I want to go home. Let me go!” She flicked the lighter multiple times, trying to spark a flame.

“You can’t,” he said through gritted teeth. “Killing the dolls will kill the parts of your soul in them. You won’t have any soul left to go home.”

“I’ll have whatever you haven’t stolen,” she said. “I’m not yours.” The lighter caught and she flung it far from his wildly searching hand.

The lighter plopped into the center of a pile of dry leaves. Carmen and Julian stopped moving, stopped breathing, did nothing but waited. The leaves shuddered in the breeze and suddenly, instantly, the entire pile was aflame.

Julian wailed a single note of pure, despaired lament. The fire spread quickly in the dry heat, roaring as purely as Julian did. Carmen went slack in his arm. Her face lit up with excitement. Julian dropped her and she fell lifelessly to the ground. When she stood, she stretched her arms out from her sides.

And although she stood as far from the flames as Julian, a solitary fire licked at her feet and began to curl around her limbs and climbed up them, fully encasing her in moments. Julian watched in terror, crying fat tears without realizing it. Carmen’s fire painted his face with oranges and golds. She stood still and watched the fire absorb her. She recoiled backwards as the fire spread across the island and consumed dolls. Each twitch corresponded to a doll falling to the ground.

“It’s happening,” she said. The flame was to her chest. She licked her lips and said, “I can feel it.”

Julian stopped crying and watched, face impassive. His eyes were flat and dark, his arms clasped together behind his back. He watched as the flame rose higher and Carmen’s jerks came more frequently. She began to convulse frantically as the final dolls fell together and faster. She cried out and he looked at her. Her face was contorted by an expression of pain, of heat and misery, and of absolute joy and awe. She moved forward and Julian took a step back.

“I just wanted to tell you that I can feel the pain for the first time since I died,” Carmen said. “Julian, I can feel it. It’s so beautiful.” She crumpled and the flames consumed her.

Bio: Courtney Duff currently resides in Indianapolis, Indiana. Follow her on Twitter at @CourtneyEDuff for absurdist ramblings and rare insight.

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A Pound of Cure By Kevin Nunn

Oct 20 2013

Ground Force signed the papers with the sort of flourish one expects from a hero in multi-hued spandex. “How’s it feel to be a hero instead of a sidekick?” Longarm grinned. When he was a sidekick he much preferred the official term ‘Special enforcement level two’, but now that he had made it to ‘special enforcement level one’, aka superhero, he now felt that it couldn’t have been that bad. What’s in a name, really?

Ground Force grinned back and slid the shiny blue booklet to the next seat at the bar where Blue Jay fiddled with the pen and made a big production of tapping her head and thinking over whether to sign before out flourishing Ground force’s signature and giving a big wink. “Of course you know, now you have to take on a sidekick for training.”

Longarm hadn’t thought of that, but it stood to reason. You only got to be a supe by doing the apprenticeship. Well, some didn’t, but they were vigilantes, not supes. If you wanted to have the backing of the police and the government you had to jump the hoops. It could be a pain, and there wasn’t a supe around who didn’t complain about some sort of red tape almost daily, but it came with a paycheque and legitimate rights of arrest as a de facto special auxiliary of the RCMP. Two years as a side kick showing you understood the laws, could stand up on court without looking like an idiot and revealing your secret ID to your mentors didn’t look at all bad. Especially now that it was all behind him. No matter how often they complained about this or that, the Canadian licensing system beat the hell out of the carnage that littered the news south of the border every night where American supes couldn’t agree on any sort of oversight, always producing some rogue hiding behind a secret identity and messy legal liability issues that made sure no police force wanted to work with them. Supes up here would often say the edges of the Canadian flag represent that two thirds of our life was made of red tape, but they usually said it with a hint of pride.

Ground Force grinned at Blue Jay. Blue Jay grinned at Ground Force, and then they both turned to Long Arm. He had a sudden worried feeling that their grins were a little too…grinny.

“Speaking of…” started Blue Jay.

“There has become a little tradition…” interrupted Ground Force as they smirked to each other.

“Your new sidekick is ready!” they said together, pulling out another little book and making hasty signatures in it as well, before giving each other a hug as if celebrating the passage of a burden. Longarm was the tallest of them at 6’8”, but Ground force wasn’t too far behind and Blue Jay’s marvelous wings towered over them both as she opened them slightly to make room for Ground Force’s embrace. It wasn’t until they stepped apart and made room that he could see an average sized woman dragging GF’s multi-tool closer to a table. On the attractive side of average, around 5’6” with brown hair and stylish glasses she seemed to be one of the few people in the pub who could keep her eyes off of the magnificent physical specimens swathed in spandex at the end of the bar. Her ‘costume’ appeared to be sensible cargo pants, a roomy tee and runners. Her shirt did at least have ‘The Ounce’ embroidered over one breast as some sort of nod to a super identity. The domino mask beneath her glasses made the barest of acceptable nods to super costuming rules. It was barely visible under the glasses themselves.

“Uh…huh, what?” Longarm sputtered as The Ounce put her hands on her hips and gave an appraising glance up and down her new mentor. She didn’t exactly radiate the aura of respect that one expected from a sidekick working her way up to hero. She stepped out of the way of a waitress who  couldn’t take her eyes off of GF and BJ as she walked through the spot GF’s multi tool had been parked just a minute before.

BJ stuffed both books in Longarm’s hand as if finally ridding herself of handcuffs. He looked at them both. His had his stats for ID purposes, limits of license, brand new signatures complete with license numbers to make it official. He then looked at hers. It had pages added, which was odd, but after perusing a bit he discovered it was to make room for all the additional names – 15 different mentors over six years. “Six years?” he blurted without thinking.

“Closer to six and a half now,” BJ said.

“What’s…uh…?” Longarm started, but politeness stopped him while the subject of the query was less than two paces away.

“What’s wrong with her?” said Ground Force feeling no such difficulty as a reached down and absentmindedly pulled his multi-tool back into the path that the wait staff tended to use. “Nothing.”

“But apprenticeship is only two years…what the…?”

“She just never completed many of her reqs.” Said Ground Force as The Ounce moved a pitcher of beer slightly down the bar for no apparent reason.

“She also has no mobility advantages” said BJ as she ruffled her wings prettily over a now empty patch of the bar. “She shows up after things have already wrapped up. Usually via subway.”

“No combat skills” said GF in a slightly hushed voice as if it was a secret shame that he dared not speak too loud. “I have no idea how she survives in the field. I spent more time keeping my eye on her than the bad guys.”

The Ounce didn’t appear to be listening. Instead she just casually reached over and tipped the multi-tool so that it fell into the shadow of a nearby table. She then sat quietly behind BJ as if she couldn’t care less about the conversation and wanted to be out of the way of something.

“She’d constantly make me late” said BJ, “or get me somewhere early. She once had me sit in a bank for an hour. I signed a few autographs, chatted to a few fans, and after a while she just said ‘okay, done’ and we left.  Absolutely nothing had happened. No robbery, nothing. You’ll have to be quite firm with her if you want to get anywhere, but as you can see it really doesn’t make much of a difference to her if she ever gets her full license. “

A gent popped in from the snooker room at the back and suddenly presented with three large colourful super heroes did a double take. GF smiled and waved, comfortable with fame and attention, but with his eyes firmly locked on the wall of muscle waving at him the new arrival didn’t notice the handle of the multi-tool and stumbled over it. BJ’s lightning fast wing shot out and kept him from falling, cradling him in a wall of soft blue feathers. In the jostling his wallet fell from his jacket. Then his other wallet. Then a few more, slapping against each other as they fell on the ground. His eyes bugged out a little and he suddenly spun on his heel but his attempt at flight was cut short as GF lifted him from the ground by the scruff of his neck and his feet no longer had the benefit of the floor as a means of propulsion.

“That’s an unusual number of wallets, friend” GF said in a voice that practically wagged fingers all on its own.

“I think we need to bring you down to the station” BJ added “Longarm, would you like to have this as your first fully licensed nab?”

Longarm pulled thoughtfully on his lip as he noticed GF absently reach for his multi-tool again without even realising that it had fallen down. Apparently The Ounce had already stood it back up, for it was right where he expected it to be and he popped it back over his shoulder.

“I think I’d better stay and get to know…my sidekick.”

BJ and GF shrugged, gave him sympathetic looks and lugged out their pickpocket leaving him to settle the bill. The Ounce just looked at him. During a long pause she nodded slightly several times as if agreeing to something before she smiled at him, a smile that he got the impression was fairly rare for her mentors. At last she spoke. “You’re smarter than most supes. I think you should ask the question.”

He hadn’t even realised that he was about to ask her a question until then, but then it just popped out. “I barely made it on a sidekick’s stipend, how come you aren’t trying harder to get a full license?”

For the first time since he’d noticed her she looked self conscious, in fact, a little shy. She cocked her head to shield part of her face with her hair, in that fetching way shy girls sometimes do. “I won the lottery about 7 years ago. I don’t need the money.” She blushed, and seemed to develop that alert clumsiness that folks who are unused to such scrutiny sometimes have. She seemed different now, as if letting down a shield she hadn’t realised that she’d had.

 After an awkward pause they both started to speak at once before he held up his hand and said, “You first. I’ve had my question.”

She took a deep breath, as if rehearsing a question in her mind for the thousandth time before actually ever daring to give it voice for the first time. “What’s more important? Stopping a tragedy, or getting credit for cleaning it up and catching the villain?”

That took him aback for a moment, but the penny was in the midst of dropping anyway. “You’ve never told anyone how accurate you are as a precog?”

She blushed even more fiercely, a wholly different woman than the almost robotic, almost emotionless sidekick that he’d first seen when the spandex sea had parted. She stared at the floor making her eyes totally unreachable. “Not much glory if you don’t have any crimes.” She mumbled. “But you’re different. You’re smarter.” She gasped out as if having a hard time breathing. She looked distinctly uncomfortable.

“How do you know that? Ground Force and Blue Jay are local legends! They’ve rushed into fires to pull people out! They’ve faced hails of bullets sheltering innocents behind them!”

“Yeah, they do that. I prefer just making sure these things don’t happen. You do too.”

“Precog tell you that?”

“It’s one of the things you say the day you sign my papers” she said, beet red, face getting more hidden by the moment as she virtually curled up to avoid his gaze. It wasn’t easy at his height but he found himself trying to lower his head to look up at her, completely unsuccessfully.

“The other being?” he said extending one of his arms to the floor to keep his balance as he continued trying to find her face.

She threw money on the bar to cover the tabs as if she needed a sudden break from an intense conversation, and practically ran for the door. “I’ll see you tomorrow!” she practically yelled as she made an escape. Or almost did, she stopped dead in her tracks a mere moment before his arms shot out to their full strange length to stop her, obviously knowing he was about to. She gave him the briefest of eye to eye gazes before declaring in a panic, “You know it wouldn’t be appropriate to ask while I’m still just your sidekick. It’s a definite conflict of interest!” She ended that in a high pitched squeak of panic, and while he froze trying to figure out what the hell was happening she made it to the door, and disappeared into the night. After a few moments he realised his mouth was dry and shut it with a clack. It opened again almost immediately when he looked down at the money she left and noticed she’d written on the top bill in hasty letters before she’d put it down; “But I’m pretty sure I’ll say yes”.

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