Guess I’ll throw the beginning of my WIP into the ring...
The water was colder this time, the current stronger where it sucked at his feet. Tugging him further down into deeper blue water while his eyes blurred from the shock, trying to keep sight of the frantic bubbles skittering to the surface that were growing ever further away. Hair, darker than he remembered, longer, tangling in front of his eyes. He raked his fingers through it to try and clear his sight, freezing in space with hands outstretched. Shadows around him. Something big is in the water with him. Walls made of dark stone loom in the darkness, carved in the likeness of a monster with eyes of shifting gems. A halo of celestial bodies centered around the head of an owl whose neck was just a little too long.
He could still feel it, the thing in the water. The image on the wall was covered by the night sky- dark and streaked with stars. He tried to find the source of the sudden darkness, twisting in the water that felt more like thick honey now, cloying and tugging at his clothes. The night sky around him had eyes, and they were bright in the darkness, iridescent. He’d seen them before, looming like the moon through a thick fog, but this time they were different, closer.
Minho woke, frozen, covered in a cold sweat while staring at the ceiling. His fingers refused to move, and every muscle felt pulled tight like a rubber band. His breath caught in a throat still ragged from gasping during the fourth nightmare of the week, this one with even more realism than any of the others in the past. It was some sort of recurring nightmare, one that had resulted in a fear of deep blue water from a young age.
The dreams had started a long time ago, just with the feeling of water pressure on all sides, bubbles and shifting shadows. The shapes evolved over time, always resulting in sleep paralysis when he finally woke up, research and even a therapist not quite helping with understanding the strange visions. Now in his mid-twenties, Seong Minho eventually found the strength to wriggle clammy fingers and toes, slowly working the pins and needles out until he could wedge himself into the corner of his room, eyes adjusting to the light filtered through his curtains. It was getting harder to move once he woke up now, the feeling of the water pressing him down into the bed like a real, physical force. Even the strange muffled sounds of being underwater lingered, his ears prickling with the sensation of bubbles floating upward.
There was a small notebook on the crowded bedside table beside a well-used candle and an empty glass of water, a pen tucked into the last page that had been hastily scribbled on the last night they had the dream. Minho had started writing the dreams down at the age of ten, when they became more than the sensation of water and a prickling feeling of danger. Several notebooks of different sizes and materials leaned against each other on a shelf above the bed, all describing the dream as it began to continue and become more detailed. Books weren’t as common anymore, technology evolving to have tablets used in place of pages, but the fondness for writing and looking back through the pages kept Minho buying small notebooks at the store whenever pages were running low.
There was another book, bigger, beneath the one that Minho was hastily recording the dream in. He was trying to get all the details down before they could be forgotten in the minutes after waking, knowing what would happen if he didn’t get to the pages in enough time. It had happened before, leaving Minho with the crushing anxiety that something truly important had been left unsaid and lost. That, and something about scribbling the image of the beast down onto something physical, the presence of graphite on paper that was stained with age and tea giving the beast more realism than using his tablet, where anything could be conjured. Something about looking through old drawings, growing fainter and more smudged as the years went by, made the dreams feel like they were more than just dreams. The carvings on the walls were harder to recover from his memories, almost like something prevented him from having more than a foggy recollection.
A blinking light in the corner of his eye caught his attention, now that the morning routine of scribbling everything down with a single-minded purpose had been fulfilled. His little brick of an alarm clock proudly presented the time in a deep blue, the one color that Minho had found annoyed him the least in the morning. It wasn’t the emerald litany of go go go or the ominous flashing of red lights that had nearly given him a heart attack the first time he had woken up from one of his worst nightmares, watching as the ceiling of his room warped with crimson that dripped and ran down the walls. Later that afternoon, his therapist had told him that sleep paralysis could include hallucinations.
The clock had only been red for one day.
They Meet Again (Part I)
This story is based on the Reedsy.com prompt "Write about a character who finds Valentine’s Day sickly sweet."
- This two part adventure will feature the hero Hugh and the criminal Gull crossing paths for the first time since their original encounter in a short story from 1998. The original story in its original rough around the edges form can be read here: https://theprose.com/post/389825/the-pit. Gull's recent escape from imprisonment, along with an edited version of his first appearance, can be read here: https://theprose.com/post/437403/a-tale-from-long-ago-and-new-machinations.
Gull ventured through the dark hallways deep under the royal castle of Prosperity. It had been a long escape from prison, where much of it he spent in the form of a worm. He was thankful to be human again, even if he didn't know how this group was planning to use him. Since they had helped him escape from the cell he had been sentenced to life in, he knew there would be a caveat to his new found freedom.
After what felt like an eternity wandering through the labyrinth of underground tunnels, he found the door that Doctor Sic and Willy had told him to enter. He opened the golden door and walked into a sprawling cafe. Bright sunlight shone in from the windows. Various people were enjoying caffeinated beverages at tables throughout. Some folks were socializing, and some were alone, busy at work on their laptops. Towards the middle of the cafe was a table for two, where a young man in the form of a dark silhouette sat with two mugs of hot coffee.
"Gull!" The silhouette called out happily, as if reuniting with a friend he hadn't seen in years. "Come on over, I've been expecting you!"
Gull walked to the table and sat on the opposite side of the silhouette.
"Leftover, I presume?" Gull asked.
"Precisely." The silhouette known as Leftover replied in a tone that oozed of nobility, with a sinister undertone. "I took the liberty of getting a coffee for you. It is black like mine, but I can get some cream, sugar, or milk if you'd like."
"This is fine, and this is an amazing place by the way!" Gull gushed, struggling to remember the last time he had been in a cafe of any kind in the galaxy. "I thought we were underground though, how can I see sunlight from those windows?"
"We are indeed deep underground, this place is merely a simulation." Leftover replied as he sipped on his coffee. He motioned to a small chip on the side of the table before explaining. "My employee Tam is brilliant with technology, and per my request gave me this device that could turn a room into any kind of place I would like. A cafe was my first choice, as I liked to sneak away to them when my father's demands to follow my princely duties became overbearing."
"From what I've been told, you are the king of this country now. Since you're in charge, why don't you go to a real cafe instead of hiding in a fake one?"
"Unfortunately, I can't appear in public without disgusing my appearance." Leftover replied sadly. "Should my father or subjects know that I am still stuck in this silhouette form, they wouldn't accept me. So I have to settle for this pretend cafe, drinking this delicious, yet fake coffee that the caffeine will wear off of as soon as I exit this room."
Gull took a sip from his coffee mug. It was the best coffee he had ever had, the taste being a treat after the terrible coffee he had drank for years in prison.
"Well it can't be that bad, can it?" Gull asked reassuringly. "From what I was told by your associates that brought me here, you didn't have facial features before. You very much have eyes to see me, a nose to smell the scents of this place with, and a mouth for drinking that fantastic coffee from that mug."
"Well yes, the idiot that writes these stories didn't realize silhouettes still have facial features. He must have looked at a misleading image when he was picking my appearance. Well, he knows better now at least, and in this story I now have facial features. I guess that's something anyway."
"And this is quite a nice place, even if it isn't real. This Tam guy is obviously very talented - you are very lucky to have him."
"Perhaps. But I can't shake the feeling that this device also has a trap within it that will kill me someday. I did orchestrate the plot to murder Tam's brother, and I took his life with my own hand, literally. The only reason he hasn't taken his revenge on me yet is because he wants to use me to get vengeance on Hugh first."
Gull saw red and made a fist with the mention of Hugh's name, before getting a handle on his emotions and asking Leftover his next question.
"So you killed Tam's brother, yet he works for you and wants to kill Hugh? I am guessing this Tam worked for Hugh before?"
"Yes, after I killed Tam's brother Mirk, he had asked Hugh for permission to assault my base of operations. Hugh denied the request, and Tam quit the heroics and came here alone to get his revenge. I easily bested him in combat, and convinced him to get stronger by joining my cause. I promised him the chance to even the score with me once Hugh is out of the picture, and he is very up front about doing so when the time comes."
"Sounds like you have it rough." Gull said sympathetically. "Your flunkies bragged you up as being their charismatic leader with a master plan, but you seem to be more vulnerable than you let on."
"You surprise me too Mr. Gull." Leftover replied with a smile. "Once one of the most wanted criminals in the galaxy for murder and theft, defeated and imprisoned by Hugh back when he was a teenager. 23 years you had been imprisoned, and now you sit before me here. I expected a more brash, bitter, violent presence from you. But you are quite the good listener, and your patience is astounding. While I appreciate you hearing me out, I hope you haven't lost your edge after all those years behind bars. To be blunt, you are a vital piece to my plot for Hugh's downfall."
"And now we get to the reason why you went through all the trouble to bring me here." Gull smirked. "So what do you want from me?"
"Basically, I plan to create the ultimate hero network." Leftover began explaining. "I want to build an organization that truly protects the innocent. Hugh and his associates failed me in my time of need, leaving me stuck as a silhouette. He and his worldwide network need to be eliminated, and once they are, we will be the ones that truly protect and help others. I had initially wanted to end Hugh's life myself, but then I thought about how poetic it would be if the man he imprisoned when he first began his career on Earth was the one who did the job."
Gull smiled in an effort to feign interest, but he actually wanted to laugh at the perspective of this villain that really thought he could be a hero, despite already admitting to murder, not to mention busting a notorious criminal like himself loose. All the same, this could potentially give him his chance of encountering Hugh again, which is what he wanted. So Gull resolved to play along with Leftover's schemes.
"I have been wanting to see him again since he put me away. So what is your plan Leftover?"
"My associate CCC will be altering your appearance. You will pose as a young recruit who is being recommended by our very own double agent, John Harshal. You will meet with Hugh personally at one of his network locations. You may dispose of Hugh however you wish, but there is one more very important role you must fulfill."
"And that is?"
Leftover placed a small heart shaped box of chocolates on the table in front of Gull, along with a small remote.
"I'm giving Hugh a valentine? I thought you hated him?"
"Of course I do, and I hate the disgusting lovey dovey sweetness that is Valentine's Day as well!" Leftover cackled. "Which makes this weapon all the more sweet, if you don't mind my pun. This is a real box of chocolates, but Tam has also planted a bomb within. Leave this box anywhere within the facility, and detonate it with this remote once you, John and CCC are on your way. The bomb will level the building, and the loss of a major HQ and the network's fearless leader will cripple them, leaving their remnants easy pickings before we take their place. You get to destroy your nemesis and his life's work, and you get to walk out a free man. Not a bad deal, eh?"
"Sounds like fun Leftover!" Gull laughed. "Just tell me when we start."
Gull sat in the massive airborne jet Leftover had provided, the auto pilot function transporting him and his allies near Hugh's facility. Sitting beside him was CCC (Custom Character Creator), who was a man with a mohawk, purple eyes behind party glasses, mismatched clothes, and a toothy smile. Also next to him was the young man that would grant him access to Hugh, the mole known as John Harshal.
"So you work for Hugh, but you actually don't?" Gull asked. "What changed your mind about which network of heroes you decided to align with?"
"Hugh is a tool." John replied condescendingly. "This data entry loser that worked at the same company as me gained shape shifter powers, and he decided to hurt me with them, all because the dork couldn't take some friendly teasing from me. Hugh's people spared his life instead of putting the jerk down, and I lost all respect for Hugh then (this story can be read here: https://theprose.com/post/450794/not-so-slick-diary-of-a-shapeshifter). I aced an interview to join his network as a hero, and he has no idea that I'm actually in on the plot to get rid of him. What an idiot, I can't wait till he's toast!"
Gull smiled and laughed, but actually thought about how much he already hated John, even though he had just met him. He thought about how easy it probably was for Leftover to recruit him, and how he probably looked at John as nothing more than a simple minded pawn to further his plans.
"We will be arriving soon Gull, so I will need to change your appearance now." CCC said, preparing a laptop. "Your disguise will only last an hour, so you won't want to take up too much time. Come see the cool designs I can give the new, temporary you!"
"Thanks CCC, but I'm not picky." Gull said with a half hearted smile. "Just make me look about 28 years younger, and that should do."
"Awwww, you're no fun!" CCC pouted. "But the client is always right, so very well!"
To be continued....
Chapter for the book
"What about peanut butter?" The knight asked as he leaned against a bale of hay. He sucked on a blueberry candy cane and waited for a response. His tired eyelids slowly fell over his blue eyes and his head nodded until it smacked into the his helmet which sat upon his chest.
"Why...would I..." The man rubbed his temples with his left pointer and thumb and pushed his lips together. "name my horse....Peanut Butter?" He asked regrettingly.
The knight smiled and looked at his friend, whose head was in his hands now.
"Well." He began. "Peanut butter, sticks to things as well as makes a mess. Now your horse, he always finds his head stuck in a bucket. When he isn't doing that, he destroys anything he is around. Dean is still in the hospital with a broken leg, your horse is the reason! Also, peanut butter either tastes good or it doesn't. Your horse, nice ride, until it get's a cat attitude and hates the world!"
"This is the worst conversation we have had yet Phil!"
"Think of me like Dr. Phil, this is an intervention. Let's talk about it! What happened in your childhood, that made you hate peanut butter?" Phil laughed so hard he almost choked on the candy cane.
"I will hurt you." Eric threw a red towel at his friend as he walked away. He pushed through the stable doors and stared at the last stall on the left. The window was popped out and he saw a brown face staring at him. A snort resonated from the stall and the face disappeared. Eric grunted back and walked through another set of doors to the locker room. He pulled his knight outfit off and sat in his compression shorts soaking his feet.
A thud brought Eric to a upright sitting position. He grabbed a T-shirt and moseyed his way toward the sound of the thudding. He poked his head out of the locker door and looked around.
"Phil!" He yelled. Eric saw his horse, out of his stall kicking a locker door. The horse looked up at the call of Phil's name. The horse snorted and turned toward Eric.
"Fireball." Eric said in a trembling voice. The tall, black animal took a step forward with one of his white stockings legs. He threw his head in the air and shook his white hair side to side. "Fireball, back in your stall." Eric stated more forcefully. They both stared at each other until a bucket flew from behind them. Both of them looked to the bucket then from where it came from. Eric smiled. His horse, the idiot brown haired horse was nodding its' head up and down smiling. Eric took the distraction to run into Fireball's stall. The horse followed suit, snorting and jumping. Eric slid out and closed the stall door, locking it as well. He ran to the locker door and opened it.
Phil stood paralyzed against the metal locker door backing. His eyes twitched and his nostrils flared.
"I just needed to feed him." He stated dryly. Eric grabbed his friend's shoulder and smiled.
"You just got saved by Peanut Butter!" He laughed. Phil's face broke into a smile.
"We have the craziest horses, buddy!"