The dumpster burst behind me, the heat wave close on my back, fiery wings wrapping around me. Chunks of flaming garbage streamed past, falling stars in the black alley.
I gripped the pistol tighter until my fingers stung with pins and needles as I ran. Out of the alleyway, back into the madness. The burning cars and store fronts, blazing cocktails rupturing and spewing glass and flame like urban phoenixes. Riot police and mob yelling, gunfire cracking from all around. Yellow, orange, and red, dancing against swaths of black and gray, angry color scorching the innocent night.
“Hey!” a masked man yelled ahead of me, gesturing with a handgun in my direction.
I didn’t hesitate, raising my own weapon and pressing the trigger twice. He dropped, screaming, pistol slipping from his grasp and clattering on the asphalt.
Handy. I snatched up the gun and sprinted on, past the box truck laying on its side in the middle of the road, cargo strewn out behind it like entrails. Fire leaped from its charred sides, reaching toward anything near it. I tucked the new weapon into my waistband as I dodged a woman grasping for me from a small group of rioters exiting through the broken window of a storefront. Black masks obscured the lower half of their faces, eyes burning with fury, drunk on the chaos and anarchy of the moment.
The mask obscuring my own face was beginning to strangle my breath. I wanted so badly to tear it off, to let myself breathe. But that would have been a terrible idea. I can’t be recognizable. You’re eye color is recognizable enough—don’t put your face out their too.
I kept on, making sure to concentrate on staying light on my feet. Just a little farther, and I’ll be out of this mess. Though suppressed at the moment, fear hid in the back of my mind, whispering that I wouldn’t make it.
I ducked into a side street, darkness hungrily swallowing up the dancing light of a thousand fires burning on the main road. A man lay propped against a brick wall on one side of the narrow road. Blood streamed down the side of his head. His eyes, yellowed and bloodshot, followed me as I dashed past. I didn’t have time to avoid puddles. Water splashed over my shoes, soaking my feet and shins.
Yellow-orange erupted in front of me as I ran from the side street, glass and heat bursting away from where the gasoline-filled jar had shattered. Bullets whizzed past my head, striking the brick wall beside me.
“Get him!” the men called, popping off more rounds in my direction.
I dove and rolled. Hard, warm, gritty ground scraped against my bare arms. Bringing my gun around as rounds cracked by, I fired. Once, twice, three times, five times. Three men dropped, yelling and clutching their wounds. The fourth, armed with a crowbar, ran the opposite direction in terror.
They’re gonna leave without you. Squeezing the thought back into my stomach, I shoved myself to my feet and hurried on. Left, right, left, right, straight for three blocks. Past shattered glass, bodies writhing on the streets and sidewalks. Past flaming vehicles with their waves of heat, roving gangs of degenerate scum, and police lines firing tear gas into mobs a hundred times their number.
There it was, a few hundred yards away. Rising above the smoking city, the burned-out cathedral’s blackened steeple stabbed into the smoky, red-orange sky. Above it hovered Aegis’ APC, blue jets aimed downward, guns firing into the streets beneath. Three drones whizzed from her angular sides as I got closer.
Blood and asphalt sprayed from the bullet’s impact, dropping the man jumping from an alley at me. The drone turned, weapon firing another round at a man, clutching a rifle, rushing down the street at me. Empty shells clattered on the pavement, dropping from the drones as they fired again and again on nearby rioters.
The personnel carrier descended slowly, bullets ricocheting off its armored hide. Her guns barked back, cannons blasting away at buildings, autocannons sweeping the streets.
I was close now, perhaps a hundred yards or so away. But the carrier was drawing an increasing amount of attention from the rioters. Staying close to the ground for much longer was too dangerous.
She dove out of nowhere, tackling me to the pavement. I saw stars when my chin hit the ground, pain shooting up into the top of my skull. My palms scraped against the road as I tried to roll over under her.
The girl couldn’t have been much older than me—maybe eighteen, at the oldest. Fury blazed in her eyes, fists raining down blow after blow at my head and neck.
Barely, I blocked her strikes, searching for a weapon—she was too close to me for the drones to risk a shot. The gun in my hand had been thrown out of reach when I fell, but my second firearm dug into the small of my back.
I punched her square in the face. She screamed and cursed, blood streaming from her nose as she fell backward. The girl returned with an even faster rain of blows, catching me a few times in my face, before I could hit her again. “Die, you golden-eyed freak!” She screamed.
A solid connection with the side of her face sent her sprawling off me, dazed for a second. Rage took over, boiling up inside my chest. These people—no, these animals—had terrorized the country for long enough. They’d burned and looted across the nation, completely disregarding the lives of those around them. These animals didn’t care for anyone but themselves and their selfish, slanted agendas.
In their eyes, we were inferior. We were the animals, carrying a stained bloodline from a race of beings they despised. They were terrified of us, terrified we’d rise up and become their oppressors. Terrified of the power people like me held. Terrified of my golden eyes.
It was them who should have been purged from the face of the earth with extreme prejudice, them who should have been hunted down and killed, them who should have had to live in constant fear. Not me. Not my family. At least most of the nation saw us as just other humans, albeit unique, who still had a life. A life with value—a priceless human life. Not some dark group of sleeper agents for foreign governments or sadistic terrorists. Or telepaths destined to become Nazis bent on extermination and world domination.
I was atop her in an instant, knees pinning her arms to the ground, fists raining down blow after blow. She cried out, dark red liquid streaming from her mouth and nose.
The legislation she and other anarchists protested would bring equality—true equality—and protection under law for telepaths and Peace Keeper descendants alike. It must have been nice for someone like her, who never had to fear being slaughtered with her family in the middle of the night by a gang hunting down telepaths with golden eyes. Must’ve been nice sleeping in peace at night, worried only about your crush not texting you back, or a test at school the next day.
I grit my teeth so hard my jaw hurt. Strike after strike blasted through her week attempts to block them with her arms. Patches of black and purple were already spreading around her eyes and cheeks. Much of her face was no longer visible beneath broken skin and streaming blood.
“Alix, let’s go—leave her!” Taz directed through a loudspeaker attached to one of the drones circling overhead. “We’re getting called back to base, the drones are almost out of ammo, and we’ve gotta pull out—there’s a lot of idiots with heavy weapons headed our way. The carrier’s a sitting duck.”
“Fine.” I stood up, the girl groaning beneath me. My vision blackened for a moment. I swayed on my feet as I tried to move, still dizzy from the hits to my head.
Shouts of “Kill him!” echoed down the narrow street, sending more rioters dashing my direction. Bullets streamed from the drones, empty shell casings dropping onto the ground.
I staggered toward the rescuing carrier, brain finally clearing. Spots still danced in my vision. Definitely have a concussion.
Chink, chink, chink. The last spent cartridge dropped from one drone, then another, and another.
"Alix, run!” Taz commanded. “Go! Come on, man, get to the carrier!”
Retrieving the gun from the small of my back, I pulled back the slide. Golden brass glinted in the flickering light. Perfect.
I turned, weapon raised. Bullets whistled past my face and torso as I returned fire, dropping the leader of the charge. The metal bat he wielded clanged against the asphalt. I fired again and again, dropping four more, all the while stepping quickly backward toward the carrier and the deafening roar of its engines and autocannons.
The last man dropped to his knees, a knife slipping from his hands, blood streaming from two bullet wounds in his chest.
The girl forced herself up onto all fours, spitting blood. A hateful gaze seared into my soul as she struggled to her feet. Crimson streams covered her face and neck, more spattered across her arms and ripped T-shirt.
I let my weapon fall, halting my retreat to the APC. Which of us is more wrong? No, no—they started this.
With a cry of rage, she sprang at me. The battered girl halved the distance between us in a second.
You people will never learn. I raised my gun and pulled the trigger.
Her face paled with shock and pain, screaming mouth agape but silent. Her steps halted. She wobbled, tears streaming down her bloodied face. Panting and coughing up blood, she struggled to reach me.
I fired another round, this time into her leg.
With a scream, she dropped to the red-spattered road. Arms flailing, she scrabbled at the pavement, still trying desperately to reach me.
She’ll live. But did you make her hatred worse? Confrontation like this always makes things worse. Chaos breeds chaos, bloodshed creates bloodshed.
I left her and ran the remaining few yards to the carrier. The APC’s iron side slid open, jets firing to lift her, as I dove inside. Glancing over my shoulder, I watched the girl reach out for me, fury replacing the pain in her cries and curses. Hatred, all the way to the last. Stupid. But are we really that different?
After All This Time...
After all this time I spent,
Chasing shadows and smoke
Dodging the spears you threw
While I drowned in my own blood,
I came to realize
Your rotting soul, thinly coated in
Sweet and soured love,
Was only meant to fool me—
Your arms dragged me
Into a dangerous embrace
Closer to your stillborn heart
Wrapping my soul in your lies.
Deeper into the abyss
You coaxed and prodded me
Shoving when I was hesitant
Sliding daggers under my ribs
You never loved me.
I gave you everything—
You took all I could give,
Every pound of flesh and drop of blood.
So after all this time I spent,
I opened my eyes to see
The only one I hate more than me
On This Day – May 5th … Strange Holidays
Bike To School Day
National Hoagie Day
Cinco De Mayo
National Astronaut Day
National Silence The Shame Day
Okay here is a quick breakdown on a couple of these: Astronaut Day celebrates what else but astronauts. Soviet Lt. Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit Earth. Alan Shepard became the first American to fly into space. And John Glenn would become the first American to orbit the Earth --- Hoagie Day: This big sandwich is known by several names: hoagie, sub, submarine, or a hero. Hoagies are a regular on most diets in America. People eat them for lunch, dinner, and even as a late night snack. It's a quick meal or people on the go. The popularity of the Hoagie sub is due to the diversity and variety of its contents. It can be hot or cold, luncheon meat or meatballs, and will contain no cheese, or a variety of different cheeses. Then, the fun begins as you pile on any number and combinations of extras.
Now, to the task at hand.
Bike To School Day
Today is the perfect time to ride your bike to school. The sunny spring weather is perfect for a ride. Biking is relaxing. Biking is fun. And biking is a healthy exercise. The League of American Bicyclists and schools around the country work together encourage students to skip the bus ride, and bike to school for both exercise and for fun. In today's digital electronic world, most kids in America can use the exercise and time away from the I-pads and cell phones. Encouraging today's youth to ride a bike, can lead to a lifelong addiction to cycling. And that's a good addiction. It also leads to healthier adults.
The first Bike to School Day was held in 2012 with approximately 1,000 schools participating. It has quickly grown, and now thousands of schools take part in this. In addition to promoting health and exercise through biking, the promoters are also seeking to assure safe baking routes to and from schools.
Cartoons brighten up, and lighten up our lives. So it is only fitting that we have a day like today to celebrate past, present, and future cartoonists. We are all indebted to them for making or lives happier and more light-hearted.
From Sponge Bob SquarePants to Bart Simpson and Mickey Mouse, cartoons make us smile. They make us feel good. Most cartoons are intended to be funny. Others are designed for an almost endless number of reasons. Some cartoons are designed to send a message of some kind. On occasion, they can be serious, political, instructional, or promotional. Of the many types of cartoons, absent are cartoons that are sad or sorrowful. That would run counter to the reason cartoons exist.
Cartoon characters can be found in practically any and all media. They are in newspaper and magazine comic strips, or the "Funny Papers". Peanuts, Dennis the Menace, Beetle Bailey, Betty Boop and so many more cartoon characters got their start in printed media. Comic books abound with cartoon characters. Cartoon characters have been on both daytime and nighttime television since the days of the black and white TV. Cartoon characters grace the big screen, too. Disney's Mickey Mouse first appeared in the movie "Steamboat Willie" on November 18, 1928. More recent examples include Shrek, Aladdin, Nemo, and Dora the Explorer. Cartoon characters are used everywhere in advertising, too. Characters like the Trix Bunny and Captain Crunch adorn many cereal boxes. A well-recognized gecko and duck, each sells insurance on television.
The first cartoon character wasn't Steamboat Willy or Mickey Mouse. In 1895, Richard F. Outcault introduced the "Yellow Kid". He appeared in publisher Joseph Pulitzer's New York World, running from 1895 to 1898. This bald kid in a yellow nightshirt later ran in William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal.
"Don't worry about the world coming to an end today.
It's already tomorrow in Australia."—Charles M. Schulz
Cinco De Mayo
On May 5, 1862, the Mexican army defeated the French army at the Battle of Puebla. This single military battle signified defeat of a European colonial power, and a victory for the Mexican people. This single battle was the roots of Cinco de Mayo.
Cinco de Mayo is not the celebration of Mexican Independence which is celebrated on September 16th.
What Cinco de Mayo has come to be, is much more than one battle in the colonial history of Mexico. Rather, it has come to signify Hispanic and Mexican pride and a time to celebrate the rich culture.
Today, this holiday is celebrated by Mexicans, and especially the Hispanic community in the U.S. It is a time of song, dance, partying, and in general a time to be proud to be of Hispanic descent.
"Never let fear of striking out get in your way."—Babe Ruth
National Silence The Shame Day
Today brings an opportunity to continue the conversation about mental health and wellness and erase the stigma associated with mental illness.
Mental illness, like any other health concern, is diagnosed at different stages. It may have fewer symptoms from time to time and/or impact on our daily functioning. It is also important to know that mental illness is treatable, and recovery is possible.
Unlike other areas of our health care, many people don’t have an affordable or accessible routine plan of care for mental health challenges. Individuals who may have access often suffer in silence due to the stigma of being diagnosed.
More Strange Holidays Coming!
Welcome to yet another edition of Roundtable Wednesday.
Keep in mind that somewhere down the road I may call on
one of you to take part in this, so if you see me
knocking on your door, you'll know what to expect.
This month the focus is on a young girl from Australia.
Friendly, open, and a treat to know.
After you read this, you will see what I mean.
Please give a warm welcome to:
Can you shed some light about yourself that other people here can get a feel for who you are?
I’m a fifteen year old author and musician from Australia looking to spread some cheer in this somewhat depressed modern world. I’ve been writing since I was six and, while it is currently just a hobby, I hope to publish a novel someday.
Writer’s write, it’s what we do, but what do you see as your strong point, or motivation to write?
I want to impact other lives with my words. I want to make them smile or cry or laugh. I want to change the way they look at life. I think it’s incredible how convincing even just one carefully crafted sentence can be, and that someone as young and boring as myself has the potential to change lives simply through a lot of black lines on white paper.
The very first thing you ever wrote, if you remember it, how did it come about?
I think it was a short fairytale written in a small pink covered notebook when I was about six years old. At that time I was obsessed with reading Enid Blyton’s stories and my style was heavily based on hers. I think fairytales were a good foundation for me and taught me how enjoyable writing can be. I still have that notebook and it has since been filled with more embarrassing short stories (and an awful lot of spelling errors too :=).
Who are your favorite authors and please; give us a few names?
I am very fond of Henryk Sienkiewicz, Robert Hugh Benson, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Kate Seredy, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Charles Dickens, Baroness Orczy, and Corrie Ten Boom. I’m sure there are half a million others I could add to the list, though.
Any favorite songs/artists you listen to that set a tone for you when writing?
I love anything by Jim Croce, particularly Time in a Bottle, and I Got a Name, and I enjoy some Billy Joel songs such as Honesty, Piano Man, and She’s Always a Woman. Lately I’ve been listening to Mozart’s Lacrimosa on theremin (which has got to be the most amazing instrument created). Some other random songs I love are old ones like Toselli’s Serenata, Swedish Rhapsody, and Estrellita.
Do you have any literary work on tap for publication, or have you been published?
I’ve had my poem “Rainbow” published in a small online magazine, but that’s all thus far.
Is there any one particular book you have read you would recommend others to read?
A book that I found very interesting was The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn … though it’s rather heavy, it’s worth the read. I will cheat, though, by adding another - The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom.
When you aren’t writing, what do you do that pays the bills?
Being only fifteen, I thankfully have no bills to pay; but before Covid, I would go out on the street to busk (playing music on the street for people). I loved seeing people’s reactions to the music and I earned enough to buy myself a nice shiny banjo.
Why did you join Prose and how long have you been a Proser?
I joined five months ago (I can’t believe how fast that time flew by) because I was desperate to share my writing and get valuable feedback. I thought it wouldn’t hurt to give it a trial. I’m not turning back!
When you hear the term “less is more” … what is the first thing that comes to mind?
Well… sometimes the less you say, the more impactful your words are. I could spend hours writing a persuasive essay to try and convince you of something, or I could simply say what’s necessary in one sentence without sounding preachy. That’s how I interpret it, anyhow.
Are there places as far as social media accounts, perhaps your own website you would like Proser’s to be aware of where you can be found?
Not currently. I don’t even know how Instagram works ;)
Ooh, I love playing my guitar and violin, singing, fishing, eating (not sure if that’s a hobby, but I do consider myself to be something of a food enthusiast) and keeping a journal.
What is the single most thing you like?
The sea. I love staying in little seaside towns, fishing off jetties, sitting on the beach, searching for creatures in rock pools, and writing about it all. Can’t say much for my swimming skills, sadly, though I do love being in the water.
What one thing do you really dislike?
Modern pop music. One day I shall have to write an essay on this subject. I can’t stand the lyrics and autotune. Perhaps I’m just old fashioned.
With Covid surrounding us, what advice would you want to share with people?
Quit binge-watching YouTube and Netflix. Do something worthwhile like learning a new language or working on a passion project so that by the time lockdowns are just a past nightmare, you’ll have results and peace of mind knowing you didn’t waste valuable time.
If you could offer up one piece of advice for other writer’s, what would it be?
You have a story to tell so tell it; don’t stifle it just because you don’t believe it’s good enough. Take your time, be honest with yourself, and write because you enjoy writing.
Lastly, your favorite quote?
“There is joy in self-forgetfulness.
So I try to make the light in others' eyes my sun,
the music in others' ears my symphony,
the smile on others' lips my happiness.”—Helen Keller
Thank ye kindly for being a part of Roundtable Wednesday,
HelenaTherese. This was a treat!
Now, as with past Proser’s, she has no idea which of her
writings will be featured here.
So please enjoy and check out some things she has written!
Violet is a humble flower, hidden in the shade.
Indigo is ripened grapes, coloured with their age.
Orange is a candle flame, flickering in the breeze.
Red is a little poppy, pretty as you please.
Blue is the ocean, spraying cold and wet.
Yellow is the sun, as it rises, as it sets.
Green is the grass as it sways in the field.
Rainbow is the symbol of a promise fully sealed.
daydreams and living nightmares
the shore of the pond is sandy, blandly melting into the matted grey clouds above.
i try to draw a heart, my finger shaking as it traces through bits of rock. impulse takes over at the last moment, slashing the curved form in half with a jagged line.
the heart is broken. just like mine.
a rock finds its way into my hand, and i toss it into the shadowy water, watching it sink. down, down, down.
there's no one else around. i don't know why i would expect anything else, but there was a spark of hope. it's gone now, hushed into only a whisper of smoke.
i flatten myself against the shore, looking up at the sky.
one day, it will be different. i'll want to do, see, and be everything.
but for now, nothing will be okay.
Inside a Pyrex
The concrete man
lets us into
a concrete room
And isn't it comical
—like a Windex commercial—
when my small
into the display window
My father will tell me
how it caused him so much pain
to see me learn
the first time
I couldn't have been more than 2 years old when I felt my first touch of anxiety. I vividly remember walking into a huge grocery store. Now, I was pretty small, but I'll still swear that this store was bigger than any I've ever seen. Looming above my head was this monster. A giant spider 60 feet in the air! I'd never seen anything like it. Its sinister smile faced me and its sharp teeth glared in the yellow light. I panicked. I didn't know what to do. Could I make a run for it? I tugged at my mom's pant leg and in my smallest voice I said "Mommy, that spider is making me nervous."
Two bad memories and a similie...
i think i was about 5. maybe younger.
my uncle was proud beyond words. he got his first car.
i don’t know which make or model, but i think this is my earliest bad memory.
he took me with him, cruising along the coast. he was so cool he even let me sit in the front seat-a thing that was of the forbidden realm .
what interested me, was not the open road, or the things that we could see, or even ocassionally curious passing cars.
what interested me more than anything, was the roll up button.
you see, back then, windows were most often crancked up and down down. which was just boring.
me and my uncle shared a fascination with jet fighters. sitting there, i felt my hand on the door handle , thumb on the button, the car speeding, pushong the throttle, ready to engage the Migs...
so i open and close, open and close. my uncle tells me to stop, and i take it as a suggestion-only.
i open and close, open and close.
my uncle askes me again...
open and close..
we drove to an ice cream parlor, and i never rode shotgun with my uncle again.
i guess i had the bad luck to be born in december. the kindie planned the budget for birthday presents less rationally than you expect. so by my birthday, most of it is gone, swallowed up in parties, and holidays and presents for everyone that cones in that budget years.
so the other guys got widup cars, and robots and stuff. i got a small metal car.
but it does not matter, because i eas in love.
there was a girl in my class called cindy or rachael (versions differ..) and i was trying deseperately to impress her. but she was not an easy person to get on with. she had terrible tantrums, and no patiance at all. and so, that birthday was my big chance!!
so we are sitting in a circle, singing. it is then that i decided to make the greatest, most romantic gesture in my life. i got up, took the little metal car in hand and walked all the way around , to where cindy was sitting. i handed her the car, to the shock and amazement of everyone. i could not say much, and don’t remember if i said anything at all. after saying (or not) what was the reason for my giving my present , i went back to my place, and we started singing again.
which is when the car hit me, with great velocity in the forehead. cindy was a great shot. apparently she saw through me, and didn’t like neither me or the toy. it was tiny but dense enough, to make a hard impact. there was blood, and stitches. and even today, there is a tiny scar. it used to be mostly hidden by my ’fro. but those days are gone. the bay is wide and deep enough for supertankers lay anchor.. only they need to steer clear of the tiny , pesky shoal, that is cindy’s birthday present.
i'd like to write something worth remembering.
Pearl Before Swine ch 22: Pirate
I pull back as a chilled tightness seeps through my body. I am a pool of shame glazed over by the ice of regret. I did this to Sal. His exhausted glare lacks sharpness like an ember lacks flame. Ashes form his skin, the faintest celadon lurking about his lips, while his eyes reflect the gold of the grass. Beauty hides in that glitter, yet instinct knows they would not do that if he were not in great pain.
Only villains find art in pain.
The barest excuse slips away with my voice. “I only meant to take a little.”
“You didn’t ask at all.”
More excuses line up to spill. “I had nothing left.”
“Jun would have healed on his own.” His gaze returns to his book, but his whisper is twice as fierce. “Remember that next time.”
My nails sink into the soil. Land. If only I were a Creature of the Land, none of this would have happened. Mare would not want me, and I would be a golem—Terra has nothing more complex. I would live in blissful ignorance.
My voice is softer than the tear of grass beneath my fingers. “I could not stand to see Jun in pain. I want him to like me.”
Sal’s eyes leap back to me, narrowed and pale like the white peaks of rough seas. “Because of your bet with Mare?”
Yet, the words to describe why I want Jun to like me will not come, as do any that would define my feelings toward Sal. With him, it is like looking at a circle, then realizing it is a square with all the corners in shadow. The longer I stare, the more I notice, every shape contained within the first in some trick of the light. He does not find me worthy, and I want him to. I want Sal to raise his brows and smile at me accomplishing the impossible. I want him to tell me I have done well.
Instead, he looks at me like I possess a Swine’s tusks and threaten to devour him.
I lower my face to the ground. “My regret is as fierce as fire from the sun, and I apologize. I should have waited for you to realize what I needed and allowed you to give it.”
He sighs. “It’s fine.”
But it is not. As I lift my head, a bruise stands out on the underside of his jaw, a dark, grayish-greenish stain against his tan skin. Halcyon said Sal refused to share his energy with me. Did he fight my hold, and did I force him to stay?
“I said it’s fine.” He rubs a gloved hand down his face.
“Then why are you still angry?”
“You’re not the only one I’m mad at.”
“Sal!” Professor Baker calls. “Your turn.”
A tree grows faster than he gets to his feet, every movement evicting a wince. His step wobbles, and I catch him. He flinches away with a hiss.
“Hurry it up, Slowpoke! If you’re still moping because Jun kicked your butt in the warmup spar, you’ve got to be more resilient than that.”
Pike arrives at the ring just in time to hear the professor’s shout. He crosses his arms and scowls. “There are actual monsters around here, and you’re hurting each other?”
Wiping his brow with a towel, Jun sits on the log closest to Pike. “I’d rather learn at the end of a friend’s blade than have an enemy skewer me before I figured out what to do.”
With a huff, Pike plops alongside Jun, and a spark sprints along my spine. My attention slides to Sal, expecting him to say something about the Swine sitting so close to the islander, but he steps onto the sand in silence. A hardness captures his eyes, a distance, like an island blurred through a haze, as if he sees nothing beyond the weapons the teacher hands him.
I should insinuate myself between Jun and Pike just as I should have been between Jun and Halcyon. Instead, I am caught in Sal’s riptide. As he takes a ready stance, the blade of his throwing knife flashes with his trembles.
“The monsters probably come because of your violence out here anyway.” Pike unpockets his flute.
“Do not play that,” Jun growls.
Pike sticks out his tongue.
The first target flies—a disc striped black and red—and Sal’s breaths pause. His gaze jumps from blade to disc, then back. His arm coils, readying the throw, then pitches forward, but the knife stays as if glued in his grip. His hand shakes even more visibly now, his wide eyes reflecting the pines and sky, almost as aqua-emerald as Pike’s.
“What’s wrong?” Professor Baker barks as she releases more targets.
Sal swallows hard and lowers his stance. As his eyes count the new discs, he reaches for a second knife sheathed at his belt. He drops it.
I wrap my arms around him from behind. After a jolt, his tremors still, and he looks over his shoulder at me, one brow curled.
“When I was afraid, you held me. This seems fair,” I explain.
“Except, you had reason to be afraid.” He faces forward, colors climbing his cheeks.
Barely loosening my grip, I slide around him and look up beseechingly. “Teach me to move like Jun?”
Every line of his face flattens. “Maybe you should ask him.”
I shake my head. “I have seen you move when you had to, and I want to see you do this now. Maybe you are better than him.”
Murmurs race between the spectating students, but I do not bother to catch any of them. Sal commands my full attention, leaning down to whisper in my ear. “Did you see him? Like a shower of shooting stars? That quickness was because of you, because of the energy you gave him. Without that, I am better than him.” In the same exhale, he turns to the professor. “She wants me to teach her?”
“As long as it gets you to throw something.”
Sal spins me around, and everywhere the heat of his fingers seeps through my clothes, my skin tingles.
“They’re flying targets,” he says, breath fanning across the side of my neck. “They can move in any direction, so watch their shape, how it cuts the air, how it directs their course.”
I nod, chewing the inside of my lip as the knife drops from his hand to mine. It is warm, even warmer than him, with a sizzle of its own like a frantic heartbeat.
It distracts me, and I pull it closer for inspection. Gears spin within the skeletal handle, mirroring the row of dials where it meets the blade. “This is not simply metal.”
“Pay attention.” Sal takes my wrists and straightens my arm as the first target launches.
We flow together. I obey his whispers, hands curling or releasing as he instructs while limbs bend at his silent orders. With the sound of shattering clay, a disc explodes into dust, then the next. Another, then three at once. A laugh bubbles through my throat, a smile in its wake. We dance like light and shadow, wind and trees, sky and sea. Our footsteps make no sound, nor do the straightening of knees and elbows or our gazes as they capture the next target, yet they all form a pulse, unheard but just as real as the patter of rain.
Between the beats, a high, clear tone strings the moments together, leading one to its successor. Several measures pass before I realize it exists beyond my own mind.
“Pike, I told you not to play that thing,” Jun snaps.
As the flute lowers from Pike’s lips and the music stops, so do we. So does everything.
“Sal and Pearl did much better once I started playing,” Pike excuses.
“I’m used to music—to dance—in the mountains.” Open wonder scrawls in every angle of Sal’s expression. He has met Mare, but has he ever heard a song performed by a Creature of the Sea? Does it hook into his heart like it does mine? “Jun is right, though. Don’t play that song.”
“I’ll play whatever I want.”
Sal’s gaze flicks to Jun, and he abandons the ring, eyes a shadow beneath his lowered brows. As I follow, Professor Baker calls for the next student.
“I told you what that song is.” Toe to toe with the sitting Pike, Sal towers over him. Targets shatter as a backdrop to his words. “I wouldn’t want you to accidently summon anybody.”
“It’s just a lullaby my mother used to sing to me.” The flute returns to Pike’s lips.
Jun pushes it down. “Music belongs to Mare, and if you take what belongs to her, she’ll make you pay for it.”
Behind Sal, I swallow. I belong to Mare, she thinks, but not for long. If Sal or Jun knew they could help me break free, would they?
Pike rips the pipe loose, but before he can lift it again, Sal grabs it.
“He told you not to. Respect that.”
Pike’s glare is a tempest coiling his every muscle. Art, or at least the promise of it, lurks there, too, just as it did in the glitter of Sal’s pain. Music—sound—is the chosen art of the Sea, yet curiosity slithers between the stories told to me. Do Creatures of the Sea dance? What beautiful masterpiece would result if the Land, Sea, and Sky combined their arts?
With the eyes of my fancy, I picture Pike playing his flute. Sal whistles, and Issoria twirls alongside him. Jun claps along, adding his laughter to the melody.
Movement yanks me back from the imagined scene. Pike retreats, flute set at his mouth. It produces a single note before Sal again jerks it away. As if tied to it with invisible string, Pike follows and leaps on him. Sal throws an arm as a shield, but Pike is a stream flowing around all obstacles. They fall, exchanging swift blows. They still, and Sal lies flat, chest against the ground, both arms wrenched behind him and Pike’s knee on his spine.
“I don’t approve of violence, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know how to fight.” Pike releases Sal’s arms, pulls the flute from his crushing grip, and stands.
Sal’s eyes are wide yet hard at the edges, his mouth ajar, corners downturned.
I go to him.
“He’s not hurt,” Pike assures me.
Sal turns away, limbs too rigid as he rolls and sits facing the trees.
Professor Baker slinks up behind us. “Nice moves, Science Blue. You want to take Sal’s place in my class?”
“He resents me enough already.” After a facetious bow, Pike places a hand on my arm. “Pearl, please, let’s go inside.”
Though the warmth on my skin is comforting and persuasive, I do not move. The sun still hangs high, but the shadows of the trees stretch toward us like jagged teeth. Sal sits on that line, pale hair ruffling in the cold breeze. Leaves swirl around him, dotting the gray ground with droplets of crimson and gold like human and Essence blood.
“I will stay.”
“Pearl, please, this place is—”
Jun pushes him back. “Go inside yourself, Pike.”
“And leave her here with you crazies? What kind of gentleman do you think I am? Pearl, let’s go to the café. My less weird roommate is the manager there, and I’ll play any song you want.”
Slowly, Sal turns and pins Pike with a stare of steel gray. His frown sinks deeper than a stone dropped into the sea. “Where exactly are you from, Pike?”
“Where is a bit of a misnomer. I’m a sea nomad.”
“A pirate?” Stepping back, Jun looks at his hands as if invisible dirt now coats them.
Pike rubs the back of his head. “We prefer to think of it as charging for safe passage through our territory.”
As Jun continues to retreat, he flips a throwing knife from his belt and holds it, blade down and out, in front of his chest.
“Oh, seriously, Jun? You know I’m a passivist. I’ve never killed anyone.”
Jun shakes his head. A lock of hair has escaped its tie and hangs in his face.
I jump between them, the Swine and my islander, a lump in my throat too large to speak around. Pike grabs me, and Jun lunges, but Sal is faster. While not taller than Jun, he may be stronger, and seeing him pull Jun down, I believe what he whispered in the ring. He holds my blue-eyed human in a headlock, blade buried in the dirt, both their faces snarled.
Jun shakes his head, sightline locked on Pike with his arms around me. “I have four more knives.”
“And you’ll leave them sheathed.” Sal’s expression relaxes, and his voice softens. “Jun, please. I don’t want—”
If he finishes the sentence, I cannot hear it over Professor Baker’s shouts as she and the class surround us.
Jun tears free and darts into the shadows between the trees.
Calling after him, I twist away from Pike, but Sal catches me around the middle. My feet cannot reach the ground, and my kicks have no effect.
“Let me go, Sal! Let me follow him, please. Not like last night.”
“I know.” Perhaps he does feel my blows. Tears spill over his lashes, but his hold does not loosen.
“Pike,” I appeal, but the Swine will not look at me. Of course not, but at least he does not follow Jun either.
As always, it is Sal who explains, a whisper meant only for me. “Some consider the pirates brave to live on the sea, but the understanding they have with Mare was bought with Koa blood.” His voice snags, but it is my heart that rips. “The sea nomads have killed more of Jun’s family than anyone.”
Continued in chapter 23
Thank you for reading!