Master Sgt. Romeo (Intro)
Shelly veered the Toyota 4-Runner into the visitor’s lot and drove straightaway to a spot in the very back, safely away from the late model Buick’s and Lincoln’s which had successfully chaperoned their bespectacled, bomber-jacketed old soldiers here from Ohio, or Nebraska. Once parked it was only moments until stroller, child, and gear were unstowed with the practiced efficiency of a happy, capable young mother, which is precisely what Shelly was now, despite this current mission.
Once unpacked Shelly wasted no time. Guided by the memories of the previous two years’ anniveraries she whizzed past the bevy of old-timers, a different style of “soldier” she, her perfectly white tennis shoes a metronome knowing just how and where to go. The trail was narrow, but paved, affording her stroller as light and easy a bounce as the one in her step; Shelly Palmer-Smythe was a fit young woman, and it showed. Above her the cherry trees remained in-bloom despite the late season chill, while the ground around them lay softened by a late season snow-melt which plastered everything with pinkish-white petals. It seemed to her as if the trees were always blooming here, making it always lovely, though she’d forgotten just how lovely. But of course they did not “always” bloom, it was just a lucky coincidence that it always happened now, at her time to visit. After a brisk climb the asphalt trail broke through the forested tree-line and back down onto a long plain where never ending rows of white marble crosses were unveiled to her, the markers gleaming golden beneath a brassy morning sun, their rows sprouting across the rolling meadow like some enchanted, ancestral crop.
Despite her penchant for exercise Shelly was fairly winded when she finally entered the blue section where Romeo waited. Here, her pace slowed to a more natural stroll. Focus was necessary now, even though it was her third time coming. The rows upon rows of identical white markers were tricky, but not unnavigable. She remembered the way, but it still required diligence. Seven more rows over, sixteen rows back, third marker from the end.
Reading the intrinsically carved name on the marble contracted forgotten muscles, curling her lip downward and fogging her eyes. “Sgt. Romeo Palmer,” the marker read, 1992-1997. Shelly had written her own last name on the form they’d sent her when they offered the plot for him, knowing Romeo wouldn’t mind. She wanted anyone who might happen upon the spot to know that there was someone who missed Romeo, that he was loved, that he had a family.
It was not exactly as she’d left it, but what did she expect? It had been a year. The dog tags fastened to the collar she’d knotted around the cross were gone, but no worries, she’d brought another set, and this one had a thicker chain. It also had a locket with two pictures, one of Romeo himself sitting at attention, his soft, brown eyes gazing warily forward. Though you could not see whatever it was Romeo was gazing so lovingly and curiously at, Shelly knew. She had been there when the photographer snapped it, standing right behind him. As with his entire waking life, the dog had been focused directly on her.
And the other picture in the locket was of Julia, Shelly’s baby. Shelly needed for Romeo to know that his sacrifice had not been in vain, and to show him the future that he had allowed to happen. That was the whole reason she had brought Julia along today. Well, and also because Julia needed to learn it young; that unlike the untold many other days of her future life, this one day, March 5th, would never belong to Julia. No, this one day belonged to Shelly’s “other” baby. And maybe, just maybe, Romeo could somehow see her child here in this place, in his place, and understand. Romeo always had seemed to understood everything so well, hadn’t he… and not just for a dog, she meant?
The solitary tree had numerous branches but little foliage. It stood atop a sandy mound in the centre of a field of dry, yellow grass. It seemed as though the tree was supervising and controlling the surroundings. A dozen or so yards from the tree, the field was enclosed by a forest, which formed a near-perfect circle around it.
Occasionally, there was some movement near the shrubbery that marked the forest’s edge. Small or medium-sized animals would appear and swiftly dance back again into the shadows. Sometimes, one of them would venture all the way to the tree in a straight line, fast like an accurately shot arrow. After some nervous sniffing and scavenging, it would shoot back to the forest's safe shelter.
This time, the creature showing at the edge of the wood was a little bigger. It cautiously looked about and then vanished again. A few yards further on, it reappeared. Again, it looked about apprehensively, then slowly but decisively moved towards the tree.
The creature was a human, a woman, walking towards the tree, bent forward as if struggling against an imaginary storm.
She was hardly dressed. Her headscarf flapped loosely and she held up her skirt with her right hand to protect the small bundle that she kept pressed against her hip.
She was small and lean, with a bony face and big, hollow dark eyes.
After reaching the tree, she unwrapped the bundle from her skirt and gently placed it in the shadow of the tree. Then she sat herself down next to the bundle, leaning against the tree.
There she sat until the falling evening blurred her image and gradually made her disappear.
She was fourteen years old, yet nobody knew.
"I taught you how to pick locks and this is how you use that skill!?"
Under my breath, I seethed.
"Well, I'm sorry I'm not practical with my skills, oh wise teacher," I spat through grit teeth. "What do you want me to do? Break into the Louvre to steal the Mona Lisa?"
I was met with an eye roll.
"Still, for a candy box?"
"Hey, I'm curious! What's the point of candy if you don't share it," I point out, "Or eat it." Cynthia shrugged and watched me work.
"Still, the boss doesn't like it when we look through his things. I don't know why you haven't learned this by now. Sometimes I think you want an early grave."
"I'll just take a quick peek—or bite," I said, "and he won't even know the difference."
"I won't know the difference about what?" Cynthia and I froze in our tracks. We're completely screwed for this one.
(I've submitted this for another prompt, but love it so much that I'd like to continue the story)
My love traced the path of the sun before it set over the coast. She swept the clouds to gather them for the evening's portrait. Looking down, I saw she had them lined parallel with the Rockies, matching height with opacity. Tonight wiwould certainly be the most beautiful in the season.
Dread had been high among the gods and the creatures. Plagues of weather, political disaster, and astronomic anomaly had just then begun to lull on Earth.
My love remained bssful in relief, unable to sense untrusting tension from creatures below. Her art thrived in her naive emotions. It was cute. I knew if she looked over, she'd catch me smiling and it would inspire her efforts.
A few moments passed; she hadn't caught my gaze nor seen my smile. She fervently deliberately warmed cirrus and nurtured cumulonimbus. Only she knew which colors would appear. It would always be spectacular pink, orange, red, bright yellow hues.
In the corner of my gaze, light hit tthe clouds. Pulling her hands to her eyes, my love wept. She gasped. And then I saw it-
Purple. With murder, prestige, and terror- the clouds were purple. The screams were loud. She screamed in purple. The blast cleared my vision to white. Reaching out for my love, I grasped for her heat. Instead, the atmosphere burned and cooked my flesh dry as bone. If the blast burned the gods, then truly the creatures below would not make it. I knew that, but I hoped. I knew that if life survived it would be burned, deformed for eons, suffering in the terror. It was everywhere in wake of the blast. A sonic boom filled the air. Still, my love filled my head with screams. I thought the worst was over and the terror would cease to reach us. Her screams would halt and we would mourn in peace.
A moment passed and the remnants of a terrific bright cloud filled my vision, revealing my love outlined by a purple shadowed sky. In my ears hummed a muffled tone through which I heard my love scream, "my- I can't see! There's no white. Tthere's no dark. I can't-." Following her voice and her figure, I went to her. I wept imagining the panic she felt. Had she felt panic before? Had she experienced fear? I placed my hands on her face. There were no tears. Could she cry? I felt for her eyes and found them wet, burned hot, clammy. Were they there? Her screams turned to moans of wretched agony and turmoil. "Where are you? I don't see you. Why are you hurting me? Let me go!" I pulled my hands away from her face and she caught one as it fell. Gasping for breath, she covered her face. I reached for her other hand but it was too late. She screamed in pain. I pulled her hands together and to my chest as she moaned and collapsed to her knees. "Help me… Help me…" she wept. "We made it through the blast. We will make it. You're strong, my love. I'll help you."
"Help me… Please! Why won't you answer me!"
Why I Hate Cotton Candy
"You know, most people like the county fair."
I glanced up from the map to see a clown sitting next to me. I couldn't remember how many clowns were left, but there was clearly at least one. Which was strange, because I was pretty certain I had gotten them all. But after all that had happened so far, I decided not to question it.
"It's not bad, I guess," I muttered. "We've just been here too long."
"Too long, huh?" The clown chuckled. "A few hours too long for you?"
"Tch, yeah, sure." I looked back down at the map, which had now shifted.
I wish it was a few hours. It should have been a few hours. I did expect it would be a few minutes over, considering how excited my sisters get, but not this long. My parents promised me we would only stay three hours.
It's been ten weeks.
It was all an accident, really, but Oriole still couldn’t forgive himself. Nobody blamed him—they didn’t even know. No one knew, in fact, but his new best friend Kal. Actually, even he didn’t know the whole story, though he didn’t question Oriole’s weak alibi. He was the right kind of friend: kind, easily forgiving, and loyal beyond anyone else alive. Everyone liked him because they could dump their problems on him and he would listen without asking any questions or gossiping later. That made him the special target of all the girls in school, but he handled it exceptionally well.
Oriole smiled. Kal’s a good guy, he thought. He looked up from where he was sitting, legs akimbo on the sofa, to see Kal try for the fortieth time to toast a slice of bread by blowing on it. Oh yeah, that was another thing about Kal: he could channel fire through every part of his body. Yes, every part. Except his eyes—he was still working on that.
“Aww, man!” Kal ejaculated for the fortieth time, “Burnt again. Maybe I could shoot for a more even spin….” And he tossed the newly charred square aside into a heap of previous failed attempts on the counter and reached for a new victim.
“Or,” said Oriole, trying not to laugh, “You could shoot for the toaster, and practice those fire eyes instead.”
“When you’re angry, there’s enough fire coming from your eyes for both of us.” He steadied the fluffy white piece of bread on his thumb and forefinger, eyeing it menacingly. “Besides, I like my eyes the way they are. They’ll burn up if I shoot fire out of them.”
“Have you ever tried?”
“Of course not! They’ll burn!”
“Have you ever been burned?”
“Right. Plus you shoot fire out of your hands on a minutely basis.”
“It kind of tickles.”
“Oh, so you don’t want eye tickles?”
“Eww! Okay! Now you’re creeping me out!” Kal dropped the bread and scrunched his hands over his eyes, now squeezed shut.
Oriole laughed. “There’s a reason you stay in the kitchen to help your mom cook while I stay over here. You astound her by remaining unburned no matter how many times you touch the stovetop. I would just melt clean away if I did that.” They both laughed uncontrollably.
“You know,” Kal laughed through tears, “If you ever wanted to touch a hot burner without getting burned, you could always—”
“No!” Oriole interrupted. His face instantly transformed from one of laughter to a stony one of grim firmness.
“Sorry,” Kal muttered.
Oriole brooded, his head dropping down between his shoulders again. He shivered. His shoulders trembled and his chest heaved rapidly. Those terrible memories came flooding back to him and he was once more plunged into a sea of despair.
“Look,” Kal tried again more gently, “You never told me what happened, but I know it’s not your fault.”
“I DESTROYED HER!!! ” screamed the voice inside Oriole’s head. But he only nodded. No one could ever know what he had done. Ever.
Those Sepia Photographs of Childhood
Girls and boys in a sea of white button downs and red skirts and pants were almost drones.
Almost frightening it was.
But Rei didn't mind.
Not one bit.
He grinned, raising his arms and his voice.
Small and shrill, but turning to honey.
Either the cool, detached voice of a tsundere, the lilt of a Mother, whatever the massive horde wanted to hear.
And no one could quite agree; what did Rei Mikami look like? Which class was his homeroom?
Pushing through the throng, was someone who actually looked him in the eyes rather than past.
Who saw him and was not heated and glazed.
Mikami laughed of the sorry state the boy'd found himself.
Because in his curiosity the boy in his year(the only thing he knew) had his shirt more brown than white, stamps of the shoes running in successive harmony across his back, hair well over his eyes, and still, elbows mashing into already swollen cheeks.
And yet still, eyes so filled with intent, looked at him, to Mikami to do something or another.
He wasn't sure.
So he'd given him a dandelion. One he had found and quite liked, still yellow with healthy leaf, and completely solid so as not to blow away. And the nubs were fluffy to the touch!
Girls shrieked in jealousy, moaning broken fictions of their scatter-brained, cootie dreams. Was Rei Mikami gay? Who was the interloper who would dare--?
Rei Mikami was dark haired, had big round eyes, and an angular face that always made him look sort of cold, sort of annoyed at everything and everyone. His smile was sarcastic.
Rei Mikami tried to hide it but he was well aware he was adored.
It turned Seo's stomach.
The legs on his desk screeched, the noise sending chills up his spine at rocket pace-- shoot.
He could not be seen as the weird kid and much, much less as the weird kid next to Mikami-san.
He was so in the wrong seat.
Seo, caught the smile and two-fingered salute and fought not to completely cringe.
Mikami kept his eyes just a little longer.
Seo knew it was a wholly new experience for Mikami.
He also knew in reality, slathering ten-year-olds turning vicious for just a chance to breathe his same air wasn't his fault either. What Sei knew that Mikami didn't is that he smelled.
He smelled of whatever scent was in flowers. So appropriate that he liked to give flowers as tokens.
Seo had appreciated the sprig of dandelion. Still yellow with healthy leaf, solid petals that wouldn't blow all away with the caress of a finger. With a touch still fluffy!
Air rushed in his ears, class chatter faded away, eyes slowly closing while resting his face on the desk.
Giant, giant paper tearing.
He briefly thought of manga.
A belligerent, sparkly and doe eyes schoolgirl.
Crack and cracks. Cracks everywhere.
Until the classroom was a barren, grey soil void. And still the cracks ebbed across, piecing the land...
And Seo was falling.
March 20, 4023
All efforts to sprout some creative seedlings at the farm resulted in naught six arc-years ago Under the Stairs... And the additional papeterie, At the Crossroads, sent us a board a train of thoughts that has lead us exactly to this spot.
Again, let me set the scene for you. Times have changed. The year is 4023. For our part we have remained mostly the same in form and content. B-- trust that I am fighting hard for us to not be obliterated by AI. It is inevitably, a facet of our being though not the totality. But no, no longer are we the earthy beings tending the soil in the Sun. Everything is now in shadow, and above all in Psychological drama. There are dark circles under my eyes and my fingertips are cracking under pressure, but I am ephemeral as ever. You are right. It is our undoing... a creative disintegration that I know will be for the best. There is work to be done, and there you know I am committed :)
So now I am a cold professional, uniformed and punctual; With supervisors and assistants who mean well but weigh on the shoulders as much as the Task itself.
What is the Task? It is amorphous. It has to do with Elevating the Future, a thing so obscure that your elevator metaphor recently rung me to the core. I am governess of a panel of its sixteen selected representatives. Our meetings are intended to occur M-F in regular convention, but are in fact on such an arbitrary schedule that little or nothing gets done. In sum, the Future is a very slow learner... learner by learner.
We convene in a stunning Cathedral in the heart of downtown; there are additionally two or three operatives, including myself who are set to meeting certain "benchmarks."
All this is to help you better understand the title of our new journal. I am sure you are boggled by the number. It is a big panel, a real one, boistering, more than bolstering. Animalistic, yet all to human. These are in fact tiny bodies entrapping very big peoples. Our Future. They are filling these Sixteen Seats at the Cathedral...
My time is shortened, like condensed milk. Anyway there is plenty to digest for tonight. And my work load insists that any journal entries be brief.
I bid you a good morning B-- as let's not fool ourselves any longer, that's what it is at 3am standard time. I hope I didn't make too many typos... please forgive...
To a bestest tomorrow, happy Spring <3:) The Warp