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Written by JeffStewart in portal Fiction

He couldn't die young

The key busted off in the lock. Twelve goddamned hours in the foundry, a written warning from the lead jackass, a flat tire on the bridge, and now a busted key. He stared at the stub sticking out of the keyhole. He could hear the television. The whole neighborhood could hear it. He banged on the door. He walked around the side of the house and saw Buddy playing a video game. He smeared a hole in the window with his sleeve. Buddy had gotten fat. The crack of his ass peeked out and the handles on his sides hung over his jeans. He watched him for a few seconds then banged on the window. Buddy tried the door but it was jammed. He looked at his father through the window. He threw his hands up at Buddy and pointed to the bedroom. Buddy sat back down in front of the television. He ran around the side of the house and broke the door in. He rubbed his shoulder and looked at Buddy on the floor. They had been close in the beginning. The boy wasn’t blood, but he’d raised him since he was three. He walked into the living room, what there really was of it, and turned off the television. Buddy sighed. He grabbed the controller from Buddy’s hand.

“Listen here, you little fuck. I bust my ass to keep you and your mother comfortable. And I ask for nothing back, not jack or shit. But I’m telling you now, you show me a little more goddamned respect. You got that, you little motherfucker?”

Tears welled in Buddy’s eyes. He looked at Buddy’s fat belly and felt horrible. He turned the television on and handed him the controller.

“Jesus. I’m sorry, Buddy. I had a hard day. You’ll find out.”

He sat next to Buddy on the floor. He grabbed the other controller. He nudged Buddy, “Alright, show me how to kick your ass, Buddy. I wanna be the yellow car.”

He began the course but ditched his car around every corner. Each time he wrecked he said, “Fucking controller,” and Buddy laughed. He tossed the controller on the floor and rubbed Buddy’s head, “Alright, Buddy. You took me down. We still pals?”

Buddy nodded at the television. He looked at the clock over the antenna, “Your mother been sleeping all day, Buddy?”

“Yes.”

“She been drinking all day?”

“Yes.”

He spun Buddy around to face him. He rubbed his eyes. Today had been worse than most of them. He stared across to Buddy, “You know I’m working hard to give you a better life than this, don’t you, Buddy?”

Buddy nodded.

“Shit, you already have more than I had at your age, Buddy. If I could find a better way to make some better money, I could spend more time with you. I really do love you.”

Buddy scratched his nose. He smiled at Buddy, “Well, don’t just sit there with your teeth in your mouth. Give your old man a hug.”

Buddy hugged him. Buddy was nine. He let go and rubbed Buddy’s head again, “Alright, that’s enough. You fag.”

Buddy laughed and watched him get up, walk into the bedroom and close the door.

***

He turned the light on. It smelled like an abandoned whorehouse. She groaned. He dimmed the light, “Son of a bitch. You been asleep all damned day.”

She rolled over. Her eyes were red. Her hair looked unwashed for weeks. He looked around, “It stinks in here.”

She sat up, “This town stinks.” She took a drink from her bottle and coughed. She’d put on some weight herself. He still loved her but not as strongly as he once did.

She lit half a smoke, “I fucking hate this place. I can’t get a job and I can’t stand television. I can’t get motivated, baby. We need to move, I want to move.”

He sat on the corner of the bed, “Where?”

“Back to Vegas.”

“Vegas.”

“This job is killing you. This town is killing you. And it’s making Buddy and me fat and boring. We moved here for your brother, but he’s dead now. I can’t do this anymore.”

He stared at the wall, “Vegas.”

She set the bottle on the night stand and put out her smoke. The smoke climbed the paneling and waited in the corner.

“How long has it been since you fucked me?”

He made a face and shrugged at the smoke, “I don’t know, a couple of weeks or so.”

“Four months and nine days.”

He thought about it. He looked at her. He was failing the only two people he had. He stroked her arm, “I’m sorry, baby. Jesus. This job is eating me alive. We’ll go to Vegas, we’ll move back.”

She got up and killed the light. Payday was in two days. She took off her nightgown and crawled into bed. He stood up and opened the door, “Buddy, you’re not going to school tomorrow. Turn that shit off and start packing your room. We’re moving back.”

Buddy turned off the television and ran to his room. He watched Buddy’s door close, and he closed theirs. He undressed in the dark and crawled into bed with his wife. He kissed her and ran his hand down her side. Outside two young blacks began to hot wire his car.

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Written by JeffStewart in portal Fiction
He couldn't die young
The key busted off in the lock. Twelve goddamned hours in the foundry, a written warning from the lead jackass, a flat tire on the bridge, and now a busted key. He stared at the stub sticking out of the keyhole. He could hear the television. The whole neighborhood could hear it. He banged on the door. He walked around the side of the house and saw Buddy playing a video game. He smeared a hole in the window with his sleeve. Buddy had gotten fat. The crack of his ass peeked out and the handles on his sides hung over his jeans. He watched him for a few seconds then banged on the window. Buddy tried the door but it was jammed. He looked at his father through the window. He threw his hands up at Buddy and pointed to the bedroom. Buddy sat back down in front of the television. He ran around the side of the house and broke the door in. He rubbed his shoulder and looked at Buddy on the floor. They had been close in the beginning. The boy wasn’t blood, but he’d raised him since he was three. He walked into the living room, what there really was of it, and turned off the television. Buddy sighed. He grabbed the controller from Buddy’s hand.
“Listen here, you little fuck. I bust my ass to keep you and your mother comfortable. And I ask for nothing back, not jack or shit. But I’m telling you now, you show me a little more goddamned respect. You got that, you little motherfucker?”
Tears welled in Buddy’s eyes. He looked at Buddy’s fat belly and felt horrible. He turned the television on and handed him the controller.
“Jesus. I’m sorry, Buddy. I had a hard day. You’ll find out.”
He sat next to Buddy on the floor. He grabbed the other controller. He nudged Buddy, “Alright, show me how to kick your ass, Buddy. I wanna be the yellow car.”
He began the course but ditched his car around every corner. Each time he wrecked he said, “Fucking controller,” and Buddy laughed. He tossed the controller on the floor and rubbed Buddy’s head, “Alright, Buddy. You took me down. We still pals?”
Buddy nodded at the television. He looked at the clock over the antenna, “Your mother been sleeping all day, Buddy?”
“Yes.”
“She been drinking all day?”
“Yes.”
He spun Buddy around to face him. He rubbed his eyes. Today had been worse than most of them. He stared across to Buddy, “You know I’m working hard to give you a better life than this, don’t you, Buddy?”
Buddy nodded.
“Shit, you already have more than I had at your age, Buddy. If I could find a better way to make some better money, I could spend more time with you. I really do love you.”
Buddy scratched his nose. He smiled at Buddy, “Well, don’t just sit there with your teeth in your mouth. Give your old man a hug.”
Buddy hugged him. Buddy was nine. He let go and rubbed Buddy’s head again, “Alright, that’s enough. You fag.”
Buddy laughed and watched him get up, walk into the bedroom and close the door.

***

He turned the light on. It smelled like an abandoned whorehouse. She groaned. He dimmed the light, “Son of a bitch. You been asleep all damned day.”
She rolled over. Her eyes were red. Her hair looked unwashed for weeks. He looked around, “It stinks in here.”
She sat up, “This town stinks.” She took a drink from her bottle and coughed. She’d put on some weight herself. He still loved her but not as strongly as he once did.
She lit half a smoke, “I fucking hate this place. I can’t get a job and I can’t stand television. I can’t get motivated, baby. We need to move, I want to move.”
He sat on the corner of the bed, “Where?”
“Back to Vegas.”
“Vegas.”
“This job is killing you. This town is killing you. And it’s making Buddy and me fat and boring. We moved here for your brother, but he’s dead now. I can’t do this anymore.”
He stared at the wall, “Vegas.”
She set the bottle on the night stand and put out her smoke. The smoke climbed the paneling and waited in the corner.
“How long has it been since you fucked me?”
He made a face and shrugged at the smoke, “I don’t know, a couple of weeks or so.”
“Four months and nine days.”
He thought about it. He looked at her. He was failing the only two people he had. He stroked her arm, “I’m sorry, baby. Jesus. This job is eating me alive. We’ll go to Vegas, we’ll move back.”
She got up and killed the light. Payday was in two days. She took off her nightgown and crawled into bed. He stood up and opened the door, “Buddy, you’re not going to school tomorrow. Turn that shit off and start packing your room. We’re moving back.”
Buddy turned off the television and ran to his room. He watched Buddy’s door close, and he closed theirs. He undressed in the dark and crawled into bed with his wife. He kissed her and ran his hand down her side. Outside two young blacks began to hot wire his car.
#fiction  #prose  #deadbirdshot  #culture 
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Simon & Schuster is one of the world’s leading publishers and we are always looking for fresh new voices. Write a story, chapter, or essay about whatever you like. The 50 best entries will be announced by Prose and read by our editorial staff for consideration.
Written by ErrBane in portal Simon & Schuster

The Black Orchid

Ch 1: A Seed is Planted

Blackened reeds bow to a gentle breeze. An emerald sky, rife with dark clouds, looms above. The stench of dried blood clings to the air—the hill is going to get another sacrifice, and it is glad.

The Dark Hill sits on the outskirts of the city of Arcana, its once vibrant veldt now a dreary shell of its former self: weeds choke the life from every tree and shrub, withering them away to nothing more than feeble stumps; blood spilled upon its once fertile soil has seeped into the ground, staining the grass black and the earth red; the melodious ditty of a hundred woodland creatures has been snuffed away and replaced by the faint shrieking of restless souls.

Along the crest of this dark, dreary hill is a very decrepit house, Mildred Manor, a thing made in the old Victorian style with broken shutters and crumbling steeples. From that home, that magnet of the macabre, comes most of the Dark Hill’s fetid food, the crimson elixir that smirches its once pristine grounds. Over the years, the house, cursed as it is, has become a nexus for grisly actions, each more gruesome and sinister than the last.

Every night, as the sun surrenders the skies to the moon, warbled screams, like some terrible lullaby, escape from the awful house. Many believe the sound to be a desperate call from the lonely manor, a dreadful bugle call only those with ill intent in their hearts can decipher.

On this terrible night, lonely and cold, as the sun’s final rays retreat into the horizon, one such soul heeds that call.

Cloaked in tatters as black as the grass upon which he walks, he carries a large bundle wrapped in dirty, yellowed sheets. This bundle, tightly wound, contours around a very human shape.

Up and up and up the hill he goes, coming to a stop in front of the mold filled door of the manor. He looks up at the broken steeples and the shattered windows. He takes a professional interest on the mark above the front door, the mark of Everything You Touch, the sign of the curse that plagues Mildred’s Manor—a decrepit, hovering hand with jagged lines radiating from it, and covering the whole exterior of the house.

With undue brutality, he kicks the front door, shattering it. Splinters fly in all directions. Upon entering, he staggers momentarily, as the cursed floor slants awkwardly to the left. Regaining his footing, he moves towards a vast, empty room on his right.

Awkward angles fill the room as the doorframe, fireplace, and windows are all slightly crooked. On the ceiling hangs a gangly, crooked mess of speckled bronze, a chandelier. Plumes of dust erupt every time the man takes a step.

Disgusted by the thing he carries, the man drops the bundle at his feet. From his pocket he removes a crystal vial, the liquid contents of which are suspended one over the other, orange and black, like water over oil. He shakes the vial until the contents fuse together. A bubbling sludge forms within the vial, and this the man pours over the top end of the bundle. Bubbles quiver and explode, others percolate through the dirty cloth. The man waits for some moments, making sure that the whole mixture soaks into the grimy sheets. When this is done, he exits the room.Ancient planks groan as he steps out of the room and throws away the vial in his hand. With a loud crash, it shatters upon a wall.

Once outside, the man reaches into his pocket and pulls out a gem in the shape of a tiny lion. With the gem in hand, he starts to swing his wrist, like a cowboy about to rope cattle. With each revolution, the gem fills with a dim, silver glow. The man raises his arm over his head and, with a snap of his hand, causes a flurry of silver flames to erupt from the crystal. The flames do not burn the mildewed wood of Mildred’s Manor—instead, the silver sparks seep into every wall, every window of the house.

The man flinches as silver flames make the crystal vibrate in his hands, breaking with an audible snap. He begins to massage his hurt hand, but he quickly forgets his pain. He takes a few steps back to survey his work.

Like a shattering clock revealing all its gears, the house creaks and cracks, its bricks, wood, and glass all suspended in the air. Each of its pieces begin to shuffle around in a blur of motion. The house seems to breathe as all the debris expands inward and outward. Suddenly, as though nothing has happened, each segment falls back into place. Every piece lays peacefully at rest for some moments. But as the man begins to walk away, the house once more splits into its component parts, caught in a never ending loop.

Inside the shifting walls of the house, the bundle begins to move. The dirty sheets peel back to reveal a naked man. Save for the fact that his eyes are missing, there is nothing to indicate that the man is dead. Indeed, the squirming in his throat, making his head move as though he were having a nightmare, gives a distinct impression of a man asleep. Only when his mouth peels back, revealing his chattering teeth, does anything appear to be amiss. With incredible force, the teeth, like tiny, white bullets, begin to shoot out one by one, as gray roots erupt from the man’s throat.

Like some great, molting insect, the man’s skin adapts a grey hue and starts to dry up and slip from his body. His veins, no longer red, look like pulsing rivers of lava, orange and hot. The veins convulse violently, their contents gush out and leak into the mildewed floor.

CRACK.

The man’s jaw breaks as a large plant slithers out of his mouth. Five stygian petals, like the limbs of a man, bob up and down. The black flower dances upon the chest of the dead man and the Dark Hill, after months of starvation, is finally satiated.

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Simon & Schuster is one of the world’s leading publishers and we are always looking for fresh new voices. Write a story, chapter, or essay about whatever you like. The 50 best entries will be announced by Prose and read by our editorial staff for consideration.
Written by ErrBane in portal Simon & Schuster
The Black Orchid
Ch 1: A Seed is Planted

Blackened reeds bow to a gentle breeze. An emerald sky, rife with dark clouds, looms above. The stench of dried blood clings to the air—the hill is going to get another sacrifice, and it is glad.

The Dark Hill sits on the outskirts of the city of Arcana, its once vibrant veldt now a dreary shell of its former self: weeds choke the life from every tree and shrub, withering them away to nothing more than feeble stumps; blood spilled upon its once fertile soil has seeped into the ground, staining the grass black and the earth red; the melodious ditty of a hundred woodland creatures has been snuffed away and replaced by the faint shrieking of restless souls.

Along the crest of this dark, dreary hill is a very decrepit house, Mildred Manor, a thing made in the old Victorian style with broken shutters and crumbling steeples. From that home, that magnet of the macabre, comes most of the Dark Hill’s fetid food, the crimson elixir that smirches its once pristine grounds. Over the years, the house, cursed as it is, has become a nexus for grisly actions, each more gruesome and sinister than the last.
Every night, as the sun surrenders the skies to the moon, warbled screams, like some terrible lullaby, escape from the awful house. Many believe the sound to be a desperate call from the lonely manor, a dreadful bugle call only those with ill intent in their hearts can decipher.

On this terrible night, lonely and cold, as the sun’s final rays retreat into the horizon, one such soul heeds that call.

Cloaked in tatters as black as the grass upon which he walks, he carries a large bundle wrapped in dirty, yellowed sheets. This bundle, tightly wound, contours around a very human shape.

Up and up and up the hill he goes, coming to a stop in front of the mold filled door of the manor. He looks up at the broken steeples and the shattered windows. He takes a professional interest on the mark above the front door, the mark of Everything You Touch, the sign of the curse that plagues Mildred’s Manor—a decrepit, hovering hand with jagged lines radiating from it, and covering the whole exterior of the house.
With undue brutality, he kicks the front door, shattering it. Splinters fly in all directions. Upon entering, he staggers momentarily, as the cursed floor slants awkwardly to the left. Regaining his footing, he moves towards a vast, empty room on his right.
Awkward angles fill the room as the doorframe, fireplace, and windows are all slightly crooked. On the ceiling hangs a gangly, crooked mess of speckled bronze, a chandelier. Plumes of dust erupt every time the man takes a step.

Disgusted by the thing he carries, the man drops the bundle at his feet. From his pocket he removes a crystal vial, the liquid contents of which are suspended one over the other, orange and black, like water over oil. He shakes the vial until the contents fuse together. A bubbling sludge forms within the vial, and this the man pours over the top end of the bundle. Bubbles quiver and explode, others percolate through the dirty cloth. The man waits for some moments, making sure that the whole mixture soaks into the grimy sheets. When this is done, he exits the room.Ancient planks groan as he steps out of the room and throws away the vial in his hand. With a loud crash, it shatters upon a wall.

Once outside, the man reaches into his pocket and pulls out a gem in the shape of a tiny lion. With the gem in hand, he starts to swing his wrist, like a cowboy about to rope cattle. With each revolution, the gem fills with a dim, silver glow. The man raises his arm over his head and, with a snap of his hand, causes a flurry of silver flames to erupt from the crystal. The flames do not burn the mildewed wood of Mildred’s Manor—instead, the silver sparks seep into every wall, every window of the house.

The man flinches as silver flames make the crystal vibrate in his hands, breaking with an audible snap. He begins to massage his hurt hand, but he quickly forgets his pain. He takes a few steps back to survey his work.

Like a shattering clock revealing all its gears, the house creaks and cracks, its bricks, wood, and glass all suspended in the air. Each of its pieces begin to shuffle around in a blur of motion. The house seems to breathe as all the debris expands inward and outward. Suddenly, as though nothing has happened, each segment falls back into place. Every piece lays peacefully at rest for some moments. But as the man begins to walk away, the house once more splits into its component parts, caught in a never ending loop.

Inside the shifting walls of the house, the bundle begins to move. The dirty sheets peel back to reveal a naked man. Save for the fact that his eyes are missing, there is nothing to indicate that the man is dead. Indeed, the squirming in his throat, making his head move as though he were having a nightmare, gives a distinct impression of a man asleep. Only when his mouth peels back, revealing his chattering teeth, does anything appear to be amiss. With incredible force, the teeth, like tiny, white bullets, begin to shoot out one by one, as gray roots erupt from the man’s throat.

Like some great, molting insect, the man’s skin adapts a grey hue and starts to dry up and slip from his body. His veins, no longer red, look like pulsing rivers of lava, orange and hot. The veins convulse violently, their contents gush out and leak into the mildewed floor.

CRACK.

The man’s jaw breaks as a large plant slithers out of his mouth. Five stygian petals, like the limbs of a man, bob up and down. The black flower dances upon the chest of the dead man and the Dark Hill, after months of starvation, is finally satiated.
#fantasy  #fiction  #mystery 
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Written by EBJohnson in portal Simon & Schuster

The Pieces In-Between: A Novel of Anne Boleyn (Prologue)

Anne clasped the tiny silver cross tightly in her hand. She could feel the soft silver drinking in the heat of her sweating palm. She felt as if she was burning up from the inside out, though the morning was still cool and brisk in the shadow of the Tower Yard. She looked out at the sea of faces that stared back at her. For some reason, she could not seem to make out any of the features of the men and women whose affixed on her now.

For half a heartbeat, she thought she saw the smiling face of George looking back at her from one of the back rows, but it was just another blank face that she could not name. 

Her heart caught in her throat.

“Good Christian people,” Anne began, her voice wavering faintly, “I am come hither to die, according to law, for by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it.” The lump in her throat thickened. Her head began to spin. Anne felt the bile rise up within her.

“I come here only to die, and thus yield myself humbly to the will of the King, my lord.” Henry's face swam in her mind's eye.

Anne imagined the look on his face when he had held princess Elizabeth for the first time, and the time, after the first miscarriage, when he had held her in his arms. Anne saw them, young and hopeful and happy, walking along the Thames and she pictured them in all the little secret places only they had known. Anne’s knees began to shake, but she managed to hold herself upright. They would get the benefit of her death today, but they would not have her dignity from her.

In the crowd, she spotted the grizzled face of her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk. Today, he wore a mask of seeming indifference. The face of his wife beside him was a mirror of his. Standing next to one another, wrapped in their furs and velvets, they looked like a pair of beautifully draped gargoyles, frozen in stone and unhappiness. Anne broke her search and looked up to the crenelated tops of the tower. A small yellow bird lit suddenly from the top of the western wall and flew into the clouded blue sky. Anne took a deep breath.

“I pray and beseech you all, good friends, to pray for the life of the King, my sovereign lord and yours, who is one of the best princes on the face of this earth…”

It took every ounce of Anne’s strength not to retch over the words. If only they knew the true depth of Henry’s shallow, craven truth. She suspected many of them did know, and even now would not face it. Or worse yet, they were happily complacent in it. It was easier to stand quietly out of the way when the shadow of the axe was upon your enemy.

Anne searched the sky for the little yellow bird.

“If in my life I did ever offend the King’s Grace, surely with my death I do now atone for the same.” She looked out into the audience and locked eyes with the Duke of Suffolk. Why had she never seen that darkness before? It was there, she saw plainly now. Dancing, just beneath the surface.

“I blame not my judges, nor any other manner of person, nor anything save the cruel law of this land by which I die…” she was coming to end of the speech, she knew, but her heart gave a flutter, and she suddenly realised she was not ready to die. Anne was not ready to give up her soul into the keeping of the silence. She wavered, and for a moment, it seemed that she would faint. She heard the intake of breath behind her, as her ladies stepped forward anxiously wary that she should fall.

Suddenly, Anne saw the rose garden before her in her mind, and she could see him there, standing in the warm, golden light of the sun. Her fear evaporated from her. The fire roared in her belly, that great monster unfurling itself one last time in a show of the injustice that broke over her.

“And so I submit to death with good will,” she said loudly, defiantly, “humbly asking pardon of all the world.” This would be her last stand, the last thing people would say of her. As soon as the deed was finished and her blood was sprayed warm across the dusty scaffold, one of theses great lords, perhaps her uncle, would run to Henry and tell him all — down to the last gory detail.

Anne knew that, even now, Henry was off hunting in the field with Mistress Seymour and her brothers. One of the women here in the Tower with her had told her that Jane had already picked out her wedding dress. She had taken everything from Anne, and Henry along with her. They had taken her family, her power, her love. They had taken what little happiness she had. Anne would not let them have this final victory. Drawing herself up tall, her chin raised to the lords of the crowd, she finished her speech.

“If any person will meddle with my cause, I require them to judge the best. Thus I take my leave of the world, and of you, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me. Oh Lord, have mercy on me. To God I commend my soul.”

The little crucifix seemed to throb in her hand as she stepped back from the edge of the scaffold and positioned herself in the center, amid the fresh pile of sawdust. She knelt slowly, moving as if her entire body were no more than one ornate piece of porcelain. Lady Kingston stepped forward with her other ladies and, slowly, they removed Anne’s fine hood and her jewelry. For just a moment, Anne’s proud main of thick black hair cascaded down her back, and she heard an audible sigh escape the audience at the sight of it. Her ladies worked quickly to fit her head with the plain white linen cap, hastily stuffing the thick waves of her hair beneath it. Anne would have no glory in these final moments. That would be Henry's greatest wish.

Their work done, they stepped back from Anne, and resumed their places behind the stout clergyman who was attending her death. A creak from behind startled her, and Anne turned her head suddenly around, expecting to see the flash of the sword upon her. It was just the headsman, who was walking forward to kneel beside her.

“Do you forgive me?” he whispered to her, the English words rolling awkwardly off his ungainly French tongue. Anne was relieved to detect no hint of drink on his breath. Perhaps this would be painless.

“There is nothing to forgive,” Anne stated back grandly. She quickly handed him the little purse her ladies had put into her hand after removing her fine fur half-cloak. She saw no sword in his hand, as he nodded to her resolutely and slowly rose.

Anne clasped her hands in front of her chest, the tiny silver crucifix concealed inside. She closed her eyes and lowered her face. Please God, have mercy on my soul. Sweet Jesus, please have mercy on my soul. Her lips moved along with the silent mutterings of her hasty prayer. The words of the priest rolled on behind her, her brain straining and tripping suddenly over the familiar latin. Through the fog that filled her brain, she strained for the swish of the sword.

The Tower yard was quiet save for the flapping of the royal standards that flew proudly from the battlements above. Please Christ, have mercy on my soul. Anne could feel the whitening of her knuckles as the blood flowed away from her slender fingers in the desperation of their clasp. Something was wrong, it was taking too long. She opened her eyes, and looked back at the swordsman.

“I told them to keep her facing forward,” she heard the swordsman mutter to himself in French. There was still no sword in his hand. Behind her, one of her ladies started crying. 

It is a little late now for sentiment, she thought wildly. 

Anne snapped her head forward, her eyes scanning the crowd once again. Somewhere, deep inside her, a hopeless, romantic fool was looking for the face of the King in the Crowd. Even now, when she sat knelt in position for her death, she expected Henry to burst forward and rescue her. As he always had.

There was a creak behind her as the swordsman took a step forward, and Anne’s head turned to face him again. Run, another voice said suddenly inside her head. Stand up and run. What if you can make it? What if you can fight them and fly free?

Suddenly, just beyond the audience, a glint of yellow caught her eye.

There, on the top of the imposing White Tower, perched the tiny yellow bird. He was only a small yellow dash against the bright blue of the sky now. His glinting golden shape sat frozen, as if he too were watching, in horror, the unprecedented scene that unfolded within the walls of the Tower. The little bird sat still, like a spark of light in the midst of a nightmare. Anne watched him from atop her scaffold, sitting almost tranquilly along the crenellations. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes.

Dear Lord, please have mercy on my soul, her lips moved silently. A sense of calm washed over her...

                                                                                                    

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Simon & Schuster is one of the world’s leading publishers and we are always looking for fresh new voices. Write a story, chapter, or essay about whatever you like. The 50 best entries will be announced by Prose and read by our editorial staff for consideration.
Written by EBJohnson in portal Simon & Schuster
The Pieces In-Between: A Novel of Anne Boleyn (Prologue)
Anne clasped the tiny silver cross tightly in her hand. She could feel the soft silver drinking in the heat of her sweating palm. She felt as if she was burning up from the inside out, though the morning was still cool and brisk in the shadow of the Tower Yard. She looked out at the sea of faces that stared back at her. For some reason, she could not seem to make out any of the features of the men and women whose affixed on her now.
For half a heartbeat, she thought she saw the smiling face of George looking back at her from one of the back rows, but it was just another blank face that she could not name. 

Her heart caught in her throat.

“Good Christian people,” Anne began, her voice wavering faintly, “I am come hither to die, according to law, for by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it.” The lump in her throat thickened. Her head began to spin. Anne felt the bile rise up within her.

“I come here only to die, and thus yield myself humbly to the will of the King, my lord.” Henry's face swam in her mind's eye.

Anne imagined the look on his face when he had held princess Elizabeth for the first time, and the time, after the first miscarriage, when he had held her in his arms. Anne saw them, young and hopeful and happy, walking along the Thames and she pictured them in all the little secret places only they had known. Anne’s knees began to shake, but she managed to hold herself upright. They would get the benefit of her death today, but they would not have her dignity from her.

In the crowd, she spotted the grizzled face of her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk. Today, he wore a mask of seeming indifference. The face of his wife beside him was a mirror of his. Standing next to one another, wrapped in their furs and velvets, they looked like a pair of beautifully draped gargoyles, frozen in stone and unhappiness. Anne broke her search and looked up to the crenelated tops of the tower. A small yellow bird lit suddenly from the top of the western wall and flew into the clouded blue sky. Anne took a deep breath.

“I pray and beseech you all, good friends, to pray for the life of the King, my sovereign lord and yours, who is one of the best princes on the face of this earth…”

It took every ounce of Anne’s strength not to retch over the words. If only they knew the true depth of Henry’s shallow, craven truth. She suspected many of them did know, and even now would not face it. Or worse yet, they were happily complacent in it. It was easier to stand quietly out of the way when the shadow of the axe was upon your enemy.

Anne searched the sky for the little yellow bird.

“If in my life I did ever offend the King’s Grace, surely with my death I do now atone for the same.” She looked out into the audience and locked eyes with the Duke of Suffolk. Why had she never seen that darkness before? It was there, she saw plainly now. Dancing, just beneath the surface.

“I blame not my judges, nor any other manner of person, nor anything save the cruel law of this land by which I die…” she was coming to end of the speech, she knew, but her heart gave a flutter, and she suddenly realised she was not ready to die. Anne was not ready to give up her soul into the keeping of the silence. She wavered, and for a moment, it seemed that she would faint. She heard the intake of breath behind her, as her ladies stepped forward anxiously wary that she should fall.

Suddenly, Anne saw the rose garden before her in her mind, and she could see him there, standing in the warm, golden light of the sun. Her fear evaporated from her. The fire roared in her belly, that great monster unfurling itself one last time in a show of the injustice that broke over her.

“And so I submit to death with good will,” she said loudly, defiantly, “humbly asking pardon of all the world.” This would be her last stand, the last thing people would say of her. As soon as the deed was finished and her blood was sprayed warm across the dusty scaffold, one of theses great lords, perhaps her uncle, would run to Henry and tell him all — down to the last gory detail.

Anne knew that, even now, Henry was off hunting in the field with Mistress Seymour and her brothers. One of the women here in the Tower with her had told her that Jane had already picked out her wedding dress. She had taken everything from Anne, and Henry along with her. They had taken her family, her power, her love. They had taken what little happiness she had. Anne would not let them have this final victory. Drawing herself up tall, her chin raised to the lords of the crowd, she finished her speech.

“If any person will meddle with my cause, I require them to judge the best. Thus I take my leave of the world, and of you, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me. Oh Lord, have mercy on me. To God I commend my soul.”

The little crucifix seemed to throb in her hand as she stepped back from the edge of the scaffold and positioned herself in the center, amid the fresh pile of sawdust. She knelt slowly, moving as if her entire body were no more than one ornate piece of porcelain. Lady Kingston stepped forward with her other ladies and, slowly, they removed Anne’s fine hood and her jewelry. For just a moment, Anne’s proud main of thick black hair cascaded down her back, and she heard an audible sigh escape the audience at the sight of it. Her ladies worked quickly to fit her head with the plain white linen cap, hastily stuffing the thick waves of her hair beneath it. Anne would have no glory in these final moments. That would be Henry's greatest wish.

Their work done, they stepped back from Anne, and resumed their places behind the stout clergyman who was attending her death. A creak from behind startled her, and Anne turned her head suddenly around, expecting to see the flash of the sword upon her. It was just the headsman, who was walking forward to kneel beside her.

“Do you forgive me?” he whispered to her, the English words rolling awkwardly off his ungainly French tongue. Anne was relieved to detect no hint of drink on his breath. Perhaps this would be painless.

“There is nothing to forgive,” Anne stated back grandly. She quickly handed him the little purse her ladies had put into her hand after removing her fine fur half-cloak. She saw no sword in his hand, as he nodded to her resolutely and slowly rose.

Anne clasped her hands in front of her chest, the tiny silver crucifix concealed inside. She closed her eyes and lowered her face. Please God, have mercy on my soul. Sweet Jesus, please have mercy on my soul. Her lips moved along with the silent mutterings of her hasty prayer. The words of the priest rolled on behind her, her brain straining and tripping suddenly over the familiar latin. Through the fog that filled her brain, she strained for the swish of the sword.

The Tower yard was quiet save for the flapping of the royal standards that flew proudly from the battlements above. Please Christ, have mercy on my soul. Anne could feel the whitening of her knuckles as the blood flowed away from her slender fingers in the desperation of their clasp. Something was wrong, it was taking too long. She opened her eyes, and looked back at the swordsman.

“I told them to keep her facing forward,” she heard the swordsman mutter to himself in French. There was still no sword in his hand. Behind her, one of her ladies started crying. 

It is a little late now for sentiment, she thought wildly. 

Anne snapped her head forward, her eyes scanning the crowd once again. Somewhere, deep inside her, a hopeless, romantic fool was looking for the face of the King in the Crowd. Even now, when she sat knelt in position for her death, she expected Henry to burst forward and rescue her. As he always had.

There was a creak behind her as the swordsman took a step forward, and Anne’s head turned to face him again. Run, another voice said suddenly inside her head. Stand up and run. What if you can make it? What if you can fight them and fly free?

Suddenly, just beyond the audience, a glint of yellow caught her eye.

There, on the top of the imposing White Tower, perched the tiny yellow bird. He was only a small yellow dash against the bright blue of the sky now. His glinting golden shape sat frozen, as if he too were watching, in horror, the unprecedented scene that unfolded within the walls of the Tower. The little bird sat still, like a spark of light in the midst of a nightmare. Anne watched him from atop her scaffold, sitting almost tranquilly along the crenellations. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes.

Dear Lord, please have mercy on my soul, her lips moved silently. A sense of calm washed over her...

                                                                                                    

#fiction  #history  #AnneBoleyn  #Tudor 
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Written by wordybee in portal Simon & Schuster

Floral Eden

I could tell by the way he’d accepted my offer for tea that he didn’t really want it. He’d said, Yes, fine, to me and followed me into the kitchen – not his first act of boorishness, but perhaps the clearest sign that he had been raised without regard to the proper handling of things. Decency states that the guest remains seated while the hostess prepares tea. Here I thought everyone knew that bumbling into a kitchen after a woman of quality as she attempted to perform entertaining duties was known to be rude. Evidently, I was wrong.

Do you take sugar in your tea? I asked, as was polite, and tried my best not to look put off by his presence in my kitchen. He held up a hand with five dingy fingers splayed outward – five lumps of sugar, really? I decided to brew the cheap stuff. If he wasn’t going to drink tea pure, I wasn’t going to provide good tea. I set the sugar bowl on my tea tray with, I thought, a remarkable degree of good-mannered acceptance.

He did not suit my house. His calloused, soiled hands did not look right as they pulled my fine china teacups from the cabinet. I could see the dirt beneath is fingernails, ten brown crescents that made my skin crawl, their filthiness contrasting with the vivid beauty of the tea set’s painted flowers and gold accents. He fiddled with them, fiddled with the sugar, fiddled with everything in the kitchen until I couldn’t stand it anymore, imagining the grungy fingerprints he was leaving behind on every surface. I told him twice to wash his hands, as tactfully as possible, but he ignored me.

No use now, he said, with his filthy hands clutched around the handles of my best tea tray. No use, indeed.

Please have a seat in the salon, I told him. Manners were, after all, the most obvious sign of civility.

That is where we are sitting now as I stir my tea and he stirs his. I added one chunk of high-quality, raw sugar to my tea – a reasonable amount, I believe – because the cheap tea is no good without, no matter how perfectly I brew it.

With his ill-fitting jacket and poor posture, he looks no better in the salon than he did in the kitchen. He’s slouched against my floral sofa, probably smudging grime into the fabric, and I must remember to inform the maid to pay special attention to the sofa when she cleans in the morning. There is a scar that slits across his left eyebrow and his face is ruddy with too much sun, or too much drink, or too much time in disreputable establishments. His hands, I notice now, have the tell-tale signs of a recent fight on the knuckles – a day or so ago, perhaps. There is an absolute brute, a barely-tamed animal, drinking tea in my salon, and the look of him against the beauty of my home is striking. I want to make him disappear.

“Would you like anything to eat?” I ask him, swallowing a mouthful of tea and congratulating myself on adhering to the laws of polite society, unlike the slouching monstrosity across from me.

He doesn’t bother with politeness. He just laughs through his nose and keeps stirring his tea. He’s been stirring since he sat down and the clink, clink, clink of the spoon against the china has my nerves on end. I can feel a warm, simmering feeling of irritation rising in my chest and heating my face. I breathe deeply, sipping my tea in an effort to keep my emotions at bay.

“Is there anything else you would like, then?” Why are you here, is what I’m asking, and what do I need to give you to get you to leave?

There’s a smirk on his face and he sets his teacup and saucer down on the low coffee table before him. I see that he has sloshed tea into the saucer, and can barely draw breath past my irritation.

“I understand you knew him,” he says.

The question catches me off guard and I practically cough, “I’m sorry?”

I’m not faking ignorance. I truly don’t understand what he means.

“It was easier than I thought to kill a man,” he says, as casually as one would remark on the possibility of rain or a recent trip to the grocery store for half-priced tomatoes. But those words on his chapped lips, in his coarse voice, are the only things he’s said which have suited him, in all the time he’s been here.

I do not say anything in response. I take another, nervous sip of my tea. He stares into the middle distance before him, stares back in time to when he—

“—wrapped a scarf around his throat and just pulled. It was done in moments, but I kept pulling – to make sure, you see. He deserved it, of course – terrible man. But you knew that, didn’t you? Yes, yes, that’s all old news to you. And how did you manage to get to know him?”

His voice is pointed, more here than it had been before, when he’d been answering nothing questions about tea. His eyes are still focused on the past as he gazes beyond me, and through my own stark realization – the flushing heat that crawls up my limbs in itching, burning trails – I recognize something like resolution in his faraway gaze. It’s the look of a man who understands his actions and would never feel the need to apologize for them.

I cannot speak. I am not sure what I would say if I could.

“Of course, it didn’t take long for me to figure it out,” he is saying. His voice echoes inside my skull, wraps itself around my head, fills my salon and my house and the whole of my world. It dances through the air and flirts with the wafting lace of my fine, white curtains, and I can see beams of gloriously gold afternoon light striking my honey-colored hardwood floors in the most luscious way. Everything is so much brighter, isn’t it?

My tongue is swelling.

“A moron like that?” He is still talking. I wish I could shut my eyes, because the brightness of the room around me has become too much to bear and I can feel them watering. And because his eyes have begun to focus on the present again. They lock on me – piercing blue, and so terrible. “I knew he had to be working for someone. Someone to give him orders, to tell him who to kill… How to kill them… How best to taunt the surviving family…”

I’ve dropped my teacup. I hope that it won’t stain.

“So, yes – easier than I thought, killing a man.”

I do not see where my cup has fallen. My vision has tunneled so that he is all I can see, a vignette of wrath and vengeance feigning calmness framed by the striped pattern of my antique rose wallpaper. He truly does not belong.

He smiles, and it’s a cruel smile. “I do think killing a woman has been even easier, though.”

He rises from the sofa as I fall back in my chair. My hands vainly clutch at my throat, as if I could draw the poison from myself with a light massage.

“She was mine,” says a voice, the voice of a brutish and ill-mannered man I can no longer see. The entire world is black splotched with bright white, and then there is his voice – his calm fury adds color. I can feel, in the most nebulous sense, a hand on my shoulder, a feigned mimicry of a comforting gesture. “You had no right to take her from me.”

There is a part of me that respects him for this. Poisoning me in my own house, with my own tea! Truly, no other human being would have the nerve.

I know he leaves, but I do not hear him.

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Written by wordybee in portal Simon & Schuster
Floral Eden
I could tell by the way he’d accepted my offer for tea that he didn’t really want it. He’d said, Yes, fine, to me and followed me into the kitchen – not his first act of boorishness, but perhaps the clearest sign that he had been raised without regard to the proper handling of things. Decency states that the guest remains seated while the hostess prepares tea. Here I thought everyone knew that bumbling into a kitchen after a woman of quality as she attempted to perform entertaining duties was known to be rude. Evidently, I was wrong.

Do you take sugar in your tea? I asked, as was polite, and tried my best not to look put off by his presence in my kitchen. He held up a hand with five dingy fingers splayed outward – five lumps of sugar, really? I decided to brew the cheap stuff. If he wasn’t going to drink tea pure, I wasn’t going to provide good tea. I set the sugar bowl on my tea tray with, I thought, a remarkable degree of good-mannered acceptance.

He did not suit my house. His calloused, soiled hands did not look right as they pulled my fine china teacups from the cabinet. I could see the dirt beneath is fingernails, ten brown crescents that made my skin crawl, their filthiness contrasting with the vivid beauty of the tea set’s painted flowers and gold accents. He fiddled with them, fiddled with the sugar, fiddled with everything in the kitchen until I couldn’t stand it anymore, imagining the grungy fingerprints he was leaving behind on every surface. I told him twice to wash his hands, as tactfully as possible, but he ignored me.

No use now, he said, with his filthy hands clutched around the handles of my best tea tray. No use, indeed.

Please have a seat in the salon, I told him. Manners were, after all, the most obvious sign of civility.

That is where we are sitting now as I stir my tea and he stirs his. I added one chunk of high-quality, raw sugar to my tea – a reasonable amount, I believe – because the cheap tea is no good without, no matter how perfectly I brew it.

With his ill-fitting jacket and poor posture, he looks no better in the salon than he did in the kitchen. He’s slouched against my floral sofa, probably smudging grime into the fabric, and I must remember to inform the maid to pay special attention to the sofa when she cleans in the morning. There is a scar that slits across his left eyebrow and his face is ruddy with too much sun, or too much drink, or too much time in disreputable establishments. His hands, I notice now, have the tell-tale signs of a recent fight on the knuckles – a day or so ago, perhaps. There is an absolute brute, a barely-tamed animal, drinking tea in my salon, and the look of him against the beauty of my home is striking. I want to make him disappear.

“Would you like anything to eat?” I ask him, swallowing a mouthful of tea and congratulating myself on adhering to the laws of polite society, unlike the slouching monstrosity across from me.

He doesn’t bother with politeness. He just laughs through his nose and keeps stirring his tea. He’s been stirring since he sat down and the clink, clink, clink of the spoon against the china has my nerves on end. I can feel a warm, simmering feeling of irritation rising in my chest and heating my face. I breathe deeply, sipping my tea in an effort to keep my emotions at bay.

“Is there anything else you would like, then?” Why are you here, is what I’m asking, and what do I need to give you to get you to leave?

There’s a smirk on his face and he sets his teacup and saucer down on the low coffee table before him. I see that he has sloshed tea into the saucer, and can barely draw breath past my irritation.

“I understand you knew him,” he says.

The question catches me off guard and I practically cough, “I’m sorry?”

I’m not faking ignorance. I truly don’t understand what he means.

“It was easier than I thought to kill a man,” he says, as casually as one would remark on the possibility of rain or a recent trip to the grocery store for half-priced tomatoes. But those words on his chapped lips, in his coarse voice, are the only things he’s said which have suited him, in all the time he’s been here.

I do not say anything in response. I take another, nervous sip of my tea. He stares into the middle distance before him, stares back in time to when he—

“—wrapped a scarf around his throat and just pulled. It was done in moments, but I kept pulling – to make sure, you see. He deserved it, of course – terrible man. But you knew that, didn’t you? Yes, yes, that’s all old news to you. And how did you manage to get to know him?”

His voice is pointed, more here than it had been before, when he’d been answering nothing questions about tea. His eyes are still focused on the past as he gazes beyond me, and through my own stark realization – the flushing heat that crawls up my limbs in itching, burning trails – I recognize something like resolution in his faraway gaze. It’s the look of a man who understands his actions and would never feel the need to apologize for them.

I cannot speak. I am not sure what I would say if I could.

“Of course, it didn’t take long for me to figure it out,” he is saying. His voice echoes inside my skull, wraps itself around my head, fills my salon and my house and the whole of my world. It dances through the air and flirts with the wafting lace of my fine, white curtains, and I can see beams of gloriously gold afternoon light striking my honey-colored hardwood floors in the most luscious way. Everything is so much brighter, isn’t it?

My tongue is swelling.

“A moron like that?” He is still talking. I wish I could shut my eyes, because the brightness of the room around me has become too much to bear and I can feel them watering. And because his eyes have begun to focus on the present again. They lock on me – piercing blue, and so terrible. “I knew he had to be working for someone. Someone to give him orders, to tell him who to kill… How to kill them… How best to taunt the surviving family…”

I’ve dropped my teacup. I hope that it won’t stain.

“So, yes – easier than I thought, killing a man.”

I do not see where my cup has fallen. My vision has tunneled so that he is all I can see, a vignette of wrath and vengeance feigning calmness framed by the striped pattern of my antique rose wallpaper. He truly does not belong.

He smiles, and it’s a cruel smile. “I do think killing a woman has been even easier, though.”

He rises from the sofa as I fall back in my chair. My hands vainly clutch at my throat, as if I could draw the poison from myself with a light massage.

“She was mine,” says a voice, the voice of a brutish and ill-mannered man I can no longer see. The entire world is black splotched with bright white, and then there is his voice – his calm fury adds color. I can feel, in the most nebulous sense, a hand on my shoulder, a feigned mimicry of a comforting gesture. “You had no right to take her from me.”

There is a part of me that respects him for this. Poisoning me in my own house, with my own tea! Truly, no other human being would have the nerve.

I know he leaves, but I do not hear him.
#fiction 
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Written by desmondwrite in portal Simon & Schuster

The Opening Pages of "Iron Abbie"

A bird landed on the sill and cheeped. It was a pretty thing, mostly brown with a few blue and yellow feathers like scales on a fish. Abigail sat very still and peered over, not wanting to startle it, and noticed that the poor bird had a padlock stuck on its head—the metal hook, like a curled finger, wrapped around its neck. The padlock was small and silver and it gave the bird a noble look, but it was obvious the bird was suffering. Perhaps it had come to her for help?

"Don't move," said Abigail, and she ran about the house, finally returning with a coterie of keys. The bird stood patiently while she applied the metals, but none fit. Not the one to mother's jewelry-box, not the one that looked like a skeletal finger, not the golden one for the shelf beneath the peering glass, not the one to father's desk. Finally, Abigail went down into the foyer and with some hesitation pulled the key to the front door from her father's spare coat. It was shaped like an F and it fit into the padlock. Liberated, the bird flew out the window, soaring over bowler hats and stone heads to the park across the road. From a branch it looked back, then was gone.

Any euphoria Abigail might have felt quickly dwindled as she realized she was alone again. She scooped up the keys and returned them to their places. Her excitement returned when she thought about telling mother, but then what if father found out? She could imagine him now: plopped on the dining chair, black rings under his eyes, his traveling cloak unfurled over the furniture and his necktie hanging like a beaten snake. And that voice, hissing: “What if the bird had flown off with the key, tossing our spare to strangers?” Then he’d look to mother: “She gets this from you, you know.”

Abigail kicked the closet door hiding Dolly, and went back to her sill—

—to find the bird had returned. Then it was gone, zipping to a lamp post, before it came back and cheeped. Abigial was well acquainted with fairy tales and this seemed a particularly obvious invitation. But should she follow? The parents would be home in a few hours and Dolly might tell. Besides, Abigail would have preferred deserts and duels, dust devils and dragons, although one cannot be picky about childhood adventures.

Down below, a golem – painted yellow to indicate a schoolteacher – led a retinue of children along the fence. Each child was licking a lump of candy-fire crackling in their hands, getting sugary ash around their mouths. They must have visited the carnival. Abigail sighed. She was forbidden to go into the yard. By extension, she was forbidden the street and the park across it. Unless she did something, this was going to be another day spent in her bedroom.

“Well,” said Abigail, clenching a fist around the padlock. “It was the key to the front door.”

* * *

It’s not that Abigail Rollins did not like watching golems. They were an interesting lot to spy on from the security of a high window. Regular people walked hunched over with cloaks and coats thrown over them. Hiding identities, purposes. They looked like passing shadows. But amidst their turbulent wake were golems, animated boulders carved into the likeness of men, expressionless but alive. They came in all shapes and sizes, some painted, some intricately carved. While man confined himself to dark materials, his creations abounded.

She had her own golem, a doll with real hair. It was also her sitter. While her parents worked, Dolly kept house. But she wasn’t good with children. Whenever Abigail wanted to play cowboys and warlocks, Dolly would hide in the closet. Dolly didn’t like Abigail that much.

Neither did father. He didn’t care for a daughter who wanted to be a cowboy. For now, she needed tutorship and manners and fashionable clothes like those worn by ladies in the Arcade. Father’s intentions were never hidden. Politics crept even into bedtime stories, where brave princesses raised their families' statuses by marrying corpulent princes. Abigail would catch his eye when she was old enough to be used in the Court. She would be involved.

But for now, Abigail enjoyed some independence in the house. Too old for nurseries, too young for university or betrothal, she would sit and ponder passerby, or if she was really bored, the trees in the park across the road. Or she’d read the pennybacks mother would give her. They were westerns with titles like Lightfroth Mountain Trail and A Fistful of Soulgems. Stories about princesses turned into swans bored her—she preferred daring escapes from lynch mobs and prairie children kidnapped by shapeshifting natives. Father considered these novels so beneath him to the point of not considering them, but maybe he should have, for they were influencing her ambitions. Already she'd decided she'd someday be Iron Abbie, exploring the Unmade Plains with a six-shooter named Rusty and a horse named Steve.

Until then, she watched, sitting up whenever she saw someone in leathers or grime-brown wools, or wearing a zandy hat with a pinched front, to wonder if they were visitors from the West. Once she saw a golem in a white duster, carrying four pistols with pearl grips. He rode a horse ponderously, looking back and forth at the houses. Mostly the streets were a swish of dark coats, silk dresses, parasols, and golems with plates as colorful as stained glass. The West only peered into the city. Like her, it did not belong.

But today, she would explore.

Abigail made her fists into guns. “Show yourself!” she called from the stairs. “I know you’re down there, Dangerous Doll McGrew.”

“Abigail, I’m busy,” a voice replied, followed by quick steps and the shutting of a door.

Abigail listened to the silence, then went down into the foyer.

* * *

From her window, there was order to the street currents, but down here the wrapped gentry and carriages whisked and rattled and tromped, delivering a panache of smells – garbage, factory smoke, fungus, mint, and salt. A moment’s hesitation, a lost footing, and she’d be shipped to the docks or clattered against cobblestones.

The bird flew across the road. Abigail wondered – no, reckoned, that was a better word for a cowboy – if it was leading her to the park.

“Out of my way!” she shouted, barreling into the crowd. She slipped ahead of pewter cherubs carrying chalices lined with red stones, and in front of chatting and laughing women, their eyes sliding over her quickly. A driver shouted at her when he had to pull his stone spider to an abrupt halt, the cart almost shattering against spinnerets, and distracted, Abigail smacked into a golem.

“Sorry, Jack!” she said, getting up. The golem glanced up and down the street, then picked her up gently and put her down by the park.

“Thank you, Jack,” she said, but it was gone.

The park fence was comprised of iron-blue bars choked by twisting yellow vines. Trees tall as smokestacks and just as dirty loomed overhead. Not seeing a gate, Abigail slipped through the fence and tread down a footpath. She'd been here many times with mother and wasn't afraid of being lost, but she did not want to lose sight of the bird, even if she had some doubts about whether it was truly summoning her. Perhaps all of this adventure was the fault of her imagination – that faculty her father called a ruinous power.

The trees ended and she entered a field of dead grass. The bird hopped onto a bough nearby and looked about, as if unsure of where to go. Ahead, on a small hill, was a sleeping giant – a plainstone golem sitting against a blue boulder.

"Is this where you meant to bring me?" asked Abigail. The bird looked at her. She was sure that if birds could shrug, this one's wings would pop off. "Well, I'm investigating anyway."

Iron Abbie approached the golem, finger pistols drawn. The golem had its head down as if it were sleeping, a bright yellow star painted on its chest. Nearby, a sack’s stomach had exploded, spilling a collection of empty liquor bottles.

A light flickered in the golem’s eye for a moment, before going out.

“Hands to the sky!” Abbie shouted when she was near enough. The golem sat up, sputtering.

“Huh? What?”

“What were you doing?” said Abbie, sticking Rusty right into its painted chest.

“Taking a nap,” said the golem. Its two eyes, lit like candles, pointed directly toward her. The golem slowly put its hands up in mock surrender.

“But golems can’t sleep.”

“Well, I didn’t know that.”

Abbie put Rusty down. “Seriously, what’s your deal, Jack?”

“The name’s not Jack.”

“But every golem’s name is Jack. There's cityjacks, housejacks, warjacks... Or are you a doll?"

“The name’s Loon,” it said.

“That’s a stupid name,” Abigail thought aloud.

“I agree,” said the golem. “It’s loony.”

“Oh, you’re like a person!" said Abigail. She was liking the personality of this one far more than her timid housekeeper or the faceless guards that protected father. It was clever, and funny, like how she imagined an older brother would be. "Can I keep you?”

The golem rubbed the back of its neck, suddenly uncomfortable. “I wouldn’t make a very good pet,” he said delicately.

“Why not?” asked Abigail.

“I’m not house trained.”

Abigail laughed again. "You are well-named, Jack." Then she had had an idea. “Play oracles and outlaws with me! Or summoners and scoundrels.”

“Gunslingers and goblins?” suggested the golem.

“I dub thee Deputy Starchest,” said Abbie. “I’m a Marshall, see? Been hunting a dragon rider who’s been breathing trains from here to Lincoln, New Mexico.”

“Deputy Starchest,” said Loon. “The slowest gun in the west.” He sluggishly held up his hand, fingers pointing like a gun, and after a long, dramatic pause, said, “Pew.”

“Whoa, partner,” said Abbie. “Easy with that pistol."

"Good thing my bullets take an hour to leave their barrel.”

And that’s how they played while the sun rolled gently down the sky. Just as it was blurring into pinks and oranges, a woman stood on top of the boulder – a woman with fizzy brown hair like a bottle opened too quickly, and brown skin, and black eyes, and black rings under those eyes. She had – Abigail noticed excitedly – a blue bandanna and a trim frock coat.

The golem stopped, his hands dropping to his sides. “What is it?”

“What do you think?” said the woman. “I need booze. Something aged in a barrel. My head feels like it’s been punched through by artillery.”

“You ever think a little less alcohol might help with that?”

She gave him a look. “You know why I need it.” She nodded at Abigail and leaped off the rock, disappearing from view.

“Who was that?” asked Abigail excitedly. “Was that a warlock?”

“You should go home,” said the golem. He stared in the direction where his companion had gone, then turned back to Abigail. “You should not come back.”

“Will you be here tomorrow?” asked Abigail.

“Y-yes,” the golem admitted.

“Then I’ll be back.”

“At least do one thing for me.” The golem’s tone was serious, and Abigail quieted down. “Cael and I are not exactly on good terms with the people in this city. Keep us a secret, and you and I can play... for now. But tell anybody, even your parents, and we won’t be around anymore.” The golem’s glowing eyes peered into hers, and she nodded, affecting as mature a face as she could muster.

“I swear by the lonesome gods,” she said. “Your secret is safe.” Abigail didn't feel that was enough, that it sounded too much like the characters they'd been playing, so she added: "I promise."

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Written by desmondwrite in portal Simon & Schuster
The Opening Pages of "Iron Abbie"
A bird landed on the sill and cheeped. It was a pretty thing, mostly brown with a few blue and yellow feathers like scales on a fish. Abigail sat very still and peered over, not wanting to startle it, and noticed that the poor bird had a padlock stuck on its head—the metal hook, like a curled finger, wrapped around its neck. The padlock was small and silver and it gave the bird a noble look, but it was obvious the bird was suffering. Perhaps it had come to her for help?

"Don't move," said Abigail, and she ran about the house, finally returning with a coterie of keys. The bird stood patiently while she applied the metals, but none fit. Not the one to mother's jewelry-box, not the one that looked like a skeletal finger, not the golden one for the shelf beneath the peering glass, not the one to father's desk. Finally, Abigail went down into the foyer and with some hesitation pulled the key to the front door from her father's spare coat. It was shaped like an F and it fit into the padlock. Liberated, the bird flew out the window, soaring over bowler hats and stone heads to the park across the road. From a branch it looked back, then was gone.

Any euphoria Abigail might have felt quickly dwindled as she realized she was alone again. She scooped up the keys and returned them to their places. Her excitement returned when she thought about telling mother, but then what if father found out? She could imagine him now: plopped on the dining chair, black rings under his eyes, his traveling cloak unfurled over the furniture and his necktie hanging like a beaten snake. And that voice, hissing: “What if the bird had flown off with the key, tossing our spare to strangers?” Then he’d look to mother: “She gets this from you, you know.”

Abigail kicked the closet door hiding Dolly, and went back to her sill—

—to find the bird had returned. Then it was gone, zipping to a lamp post, before it came back and cheeped. Abigial was well acquainted with fairy tales and this seemed a particularly obvious invitation. But should she follow? The parents would be home in a few hours and Dolly might tell. Besides, Abigail would have preferred deserts and duels, dust devils and dragons, although one cannot be picky about childhood adventures.

Down below, a golem – painted yellow to indicate a schoolteacher – led a retinue of children along the fence. Each child was licking a lump of candy-fire crackling in their hands, getting sugary ash around their mouths. They must have visited the carnival. Abigail sighed. She was forbidden to go into the yard. By extension, she was forbidden the street and the park across it. Unless she did something, this was going to be another day spent in her bedroom.

“Well,” said Abigail, clenching a fist around the padlock. “It was the key to the front door.”

* * *

It’s not that Abigail Rollins did not like watching golems. They were an interesting lot to spy on from the security of a high window. Regular people walked hunched over with cloaks and coats thrown over them. Hiding identities, purposes. They looked like passing shadows. But amidst their turbulent wake were golems, animated boulders carved into the likeness of men, expressionless but alive. They came in all shapes and sizes, some painted, some intricately carved. While man confined himself to dark materials, his creations abounded.

She had her own golem, a doll with real hair. It was also her sitter. While her parents worked, Dolly kept house. But she wasn’t good with children. Whenever Abigail wanted to play cowboys and warlocks, Dolly would hide in the closet. Dolly didn’t like Abigail that much.

Neither did father. He didn’t care for a daughter who wanted to be a cowboy. For now, she needed tutorship and manners and fashionable clothes like those worn by ladies in the Arcade. Father’s intentions were never hidden. Politics crept even into bedtime stories, where brave princesses raised their families' statuses by marrying corpulent princes. Abigail would catch his eye when she was old enough to be used in the Court. She would be involved.

But for now, Abigail enjoyed some independence in the house. Too old for nurseries, too young for university or betrothal, she would sit and ponder passerby, or if she was really bored, the trees in the park across the road. Or she’d read the pennybacks mother would give her. They were westerns with titles like Lightfroth Mountain Trail and A Fistful of Soulgems. Stories about princesses turned into swans bored her—she preferred daring escapes from lynch mobs and prairie children kidnapped by shapeshifting natives. Father considered these novels so beneath him to the point of not considering them, but maybe he should have, for they were influencing her ambitions. Already she'd decided she'd someday be Iron Abbie, exploring the Unmade Plains with a six-shooter named Rusty and a horse named Steve.

Until then, she watched, sitting up whenever she saw someone in leathers or grime-brown wools, or wearing a zandy hat with a pinched front, to wonder if they were visitors from the West. Once she saw a golem in a white duster, carrying four pistols with pearl grips. He rode a horse ponderously, looking back and forth at the houses. Mostly the streets were a swish of dark coats, silk dresses, parasols, and golems with plates as colorful as stained glass. The West only peered into the city. Like her, it did not belong.

But today, she would explore.

Abigail made her fists into guns. “Show yourself!” she called from the stairs. “I know you’re down there, Dangerous Doll McGrew.”

“Abigail, I’m busy,” a voice replied, followed by quick steps and the shutting of a door.

Abigail listened to the silence, then went down into the foyer.

* * *

From her window, there was order to the street currents, but down here the wrapped gentry and carriages whisked and rattled and tromped, delivering a panache of smells – garbage, factory smoke, fungus, mint, and salt. A moment’s hesitation, a lost footing, and she’d be shipped to the docks or clattered against cobblestones.

The bird flew across the road. Abigail wondered – no, reckoned, that was a better word for a cowboy – if it was leading her to the park.

“Out of my way!” she shouted, barreling into the crowd. She slipped ahead of pewter cherubs carrying chalices lined with red stones, and in front of chatting and laughing women, their eyes sliding over her quickly. A driver shouted at her when he had to pull his stone spider to an abrupt halt, the cart almost shattering against spinnerets, and distracted, Abigail smacked into a golem.

“Sorry, Jack!” she said, getting up. The golem glanced up and down the street, then picked her up gently and put her down by the park.

“Thank you, Jack,” she said, but it was gone.

The park fence was comprised of iron-blue bars choked by twisting yellow vines. Trees tall as smokestacks and just as dirty loomed overhead. Not seeing a gate, Abigail slipped through the fence and tread down a footpath. She'd been here many times with mother and wasn't afraid of being lost, but she did not want to lose sight of the bird, even if she had some doubts about whether it was truly summoning her. Perhaps all of this adventure was the fault of her imagination – that faculty her father called a ruinous power.

The trees ended and she entered a field of dead grass. The bird hopped onto a bough nearby and looked about, as if unsure of where to go. Ahead, on a small hill, was a sleeping giant – a plainstone golem sitting against a blue boulder.

"Is this where you meant to bring me?" asked Abigail. The bird looked at her. She was sure that if birds could shrug, this one's wings would pop off. "Well, I'm investigating anyway."

Iron Abbie approached the golem, finger pistols drawn. The golem had its head down as if it were sleeping, a bright yellow star painted on its chest. Nearby, a sack’s stomach had exploded, spilling a collection of empty liquor bottles.

A light flickered in the golem’s eye for a moment, before going out.

“Hands to the sky!” Abbie shouted when she was near enough. The golem sat up, sputtering.

“Huh? What?”

“What were you doing?” said Abbie, sticking Rusty right into its painted chest.

“Taking a nap,” said the golem. Its two eyes, lit like candles, pointed directly toward her. The golem slowly put its hands up in mock surrender.

“But golems can’t sleep.”

“Well, I didn’t know that.”

Abbie put Rusty down. “Seriously, what’s your deal, Jack?”

“The name’s not Jack.”

“But every golem’s name is Jack. There's cityjacks, housejacks, warjacks... Or are you a doll?"

“The name’s Loon,” it said.

“That’s a stupid name,” Abigail thought aloud.

“I agree,” said the golem. “It’s loony.”

“Oh, you’re like a person!" said Abigail. She was liking the personality of this one far more than her timid housekeeper or the faceless guards that protected father. It was clever, and funny, like how she imagined an older brother would be. "Can I keep you?”

The golem rubbed the back of its neck, suddenly uncomfortable. “I wouldn’t make a very good pet,” he said delicately.

“Why not?” asked Abigail.

“I’m not house trained.”

Abigail laughed again. "You are well-named, Jack." Then she had had an idea. “Play oracles and outlaws with me! Or summoners and scoundrels.”

“Gunslingers and goblins?” suggested the golem.

“I dub thee Deputy Starchest,” said Abbie. “I’m a Marshall, see? Been hunting a dragon rider who’s been breathing trains from here to Lincoln, New Mexico.”

“Deputy Starchest,” said Loon. “The slowest gun in the west.” He sluggishly held up his hand, fingers pointing like a gun, and after a long, dramatic pause, said, “Pew.”

“Whoa, partner,” said Abbie. “Easy with that pistol."

"Good thing my bullets take an hour to leave their barrel.”

And that’s how they played while the sun rolled gently down the sky. Just as it was blurring into pinks and oranges, a woman stood on top of the boulder – a woman with fizzy brown hair like a bottle opened too quickly, and brown skin, and black eyes, and black rings under those eyes. She had – Abigail noticed excitedly – a blue bandanna and a trim frock coat.

The golem stopped, his hands dropping to his sides. “What is it?”

“What do you think?” said the woman. “I need booze. Something aged in a barrel. My head feels like it’s been punched through by artillery.”

“You ever think a little less alcohol might help with that?”

She gave him a look. “You know why I need it.” She nodded at Abigail and leaped off the rock, disappearing from view.

“Who was that?” asked Abigail excitedly. “Was that a warlock?”

“You should go home,” said the golem. He stared in the direction where his companion had gone, then turned back to Abigail. “You should not come back.”

“Will you be here tomorrow?” asked Abigail.

“Y-yes,” the golem admitted.

“Then I’ll be back.”

“At least do one thing for me.” The golem’s tone was serious, and Abigail quieted down. “Cael and I are not exactly on good terms with the people in this city. Keep us a secret, and you and I can play... for now. But tell anybody, even your parents, and we won’t be around anymore.” The golem’s glowing eyes peered into hers, and she nodded, affecting as mature a face as she could muster.

“I swear by the lonesome gods,” she said. “Your secret is safe.” Abigail didn't feel that was enough, that it sounded too much like the characters they'd been playing, so she added: "I promise."


#fantasy  #fiction  #adventure  #childrens  #western 
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Written by nikiforovasp in portal Simon & Schuster

hiraeth (n.) homesickness.

  The wide expanse of the open sea was everything but calming; raging waters and shouting sailors and a precarious drop below her feet had quite opposite the classic effect.

  She sat with her legs dangled over the cliff, peering down at the docks below. Ropes were tossed and sails were blown open and boats were pushed out slowly to make their way into profitable sea.

  This was normal. This was an early morning’s view.

  But perhaps, with a plan in place, something would go a little differently.

  On cue, from one of the smaller boats, a sailor shouted something unmistakably louder, his face scrunched up in anger, though she was too far away to hear what he said next. He waved a piece of rope above his head.

  Another sailor, who Ilya knew to be his shipmate, cried out in response. Several men rushed to the man holding the rope, barreling their way towards him.

  And then the boat began to sink.

  The sailors shrieked, pointing and fumbling, until one evidently reached the smart conclusion that he should jump right off. The rest followed, launching themselves into what must have been frigid water, but the whole lot of them reached the docks soaking wet and otherwise fine.

  The boat was nowhere in sight.

  They peered over the dock, and grappled in the water, seemingly puzzled beyond explanation.

  Ilya stood, proud with a job well done, and dusted off her leggings where little pieces of grass and dirt had stuck. She plucked her pouch from where it lay at her feet and fastened it around her waist, turning her back on the confused sailors, putting one bare foot in front of the other to head back down the winding path.

  That part, however, did not go as planned.

  The flash of a knife gave Ilya just enough warning to stiffen before a blade was at her throat, close enough only to feel the sting of it on her neck, and another pressed into the fabric just below her ribs. Her attacker stood against her back, the black fabric of an overlarge hood shielding their face.

  Ilya held her breath.

  “I know what you do, and if you try to open your mouth, I’ll make sure you never speak again.”

  Fear constricted any words that might have come out anyway. She focused her efforts on remaining still, because the first thing she’d ever learned was that silence was the easiest way to look for a way out.

  There were blades at her throat and at her stomach, and the arms holding her in did not feel like they were about to budge.

  “I suggest that you do as I ask, because then I won’t have to track you down again.” Her attacker rasped a cough out. “Tomorrow, at noon. Be at the market square.”

Ilya took short, labored breaths, her neck stretched and stiff at the same time with effort not to make contact with the blade being held at it. “What do you want?” She managed.

  “Noon. Market square. I’ll have a payment ready, if you require it up front.”

  Ilya did not see much of a choice in her situation. She would have nodded, but then that might have resulted in a decapitation, so she chose to make a strangled noise of agreement instead. “Okay.”

  As suddenly as they appeared, the knives were gone, and she was released from the iron grip. Her hand flew to her throat, and she spun around to catch a glimpse of the attacker, but all that remained was a faint indent on her skin where the knife had nudged her, and not even footsteps on the dirt around her.

  She gripped the pouch at her waist. The weight of the coins in it had remained the same, so it hadn’t simply been thievery. The frightening stranger wanted an audience tomorrow.

  It seemed like she would have to entertain them.

--

  The market square was as busy as any other day, but there were odd flashes of red uniforms at every corner of every block that seemed unfamiliar to Ilya.

  She didn’t know exactly why she had chosen, that morning, to do perhaps the stupidest thing she’d ever done, and show up exactly where the stranger with the knives had asked her to be, but there she was, and the sun was inching closer and closer to its apex. The market square was a big place, anyhow; there was a good chance that her assailant would never even find her. It would be their fault for suggesting such a difficult place to arrange a rendezvous.

  A little boy with a snaggletooth and a ragged voice shoved a rolled-up newspaper into the crook of her arm. “News from the castle city, miss, about the war.” He said, and held out a hand expectantly, and blinked.

  Ilya hesitated for a moment, but then remembered the job she’d finished the day before, and the resulting extra coins resting in the pouch at her waist. Might as well spend it on something useful. She pressed two thin coins into the boy’s palm, and he flashed a crooked smile before disappearing into the streets.

  Ilya turned back to the apple cart, running a finger over the green fruit. She had a few apples on the counter back home; she didn’t need any more, but she really didn’t know where else to stand and wait.

  She didn’t have to wait long.

  A gloved hand wrapped around her elbow, and Ilya found herself suddenly staring into a pair of striking grey eyes. The hand tugged, and the person behind the eyes began to back away, and so Ilya followed, blind surprise overwhelming the alarms in her brain that screeched for her to stop and consider her reckless actions.

  She did not stop, nor did she consider her reckless actions.

  In fact, she followed the stranger to a small pawn shop a block away, then into the street beside it, narrow and empty, and only then did Ilya come to her senses. Promptly she took a few startled steps away, but the stranger seemed satisfied with their position and didn’t pursue her, opting only to lower the faded black hood, and watch Ilya expectantly.

Ilya blurted the first thing that came to her lips: “Who are you?”

  “A client.” The rasp of the stranger’s voice grated at Ilya’s ears in a sound that felt familiar, though she couldn’t place it. The woman, or so Ilya assumed from the feminine curves and angles to their eyes and lips, spoke with an accent that rounded her syllables in a way Ilya hadn’t heard in years. “And as promised, I have a commission for you. Thirty percent payment up front, and seventy after, does that sound fair?”

  Ilya blinked at the stranger.

  Painfully, a second of the charged silence between them passed, until the recognition flashed in Ilya’s eyes, until her jaw went slack in the same motion.

  “You! With the knives!”

  An amused smile tugged at the corner of the woman’s lips. “Yes.” She shifted slightly, and one of her gloved hands pushed the fabric of her coat away from her hip, revealing a sleek knife sheath. “That’s me.”

  A stream of questions ran through Ilya’s head, unvoiced, mostly because if she had tried to say them out loud, the words would have tripped over each other and come out a jumbled mess.

  Out loud, she managed to say, “What do you want?”

  The woman clicked her tongue, and let her coat fall back into place. “Straight to business, then. Perfect. I’m going to tell you right now that what I need from you will require you to leave town for a few weeks.”

  “A few weeks? That’s an awfully long time. This isn’t my main source of income, you know, I do have other work to keep up with.”

  “Finances are no issue. I can compensate handsomely. How much would you charge?”

  “You’re so sure you can meet it?” Ilya felt some defense of hers rise, a little voice chanting no one should be able to promise that kind of thing, but she tried so hard to force it away. Money was money, wasn’t it? And Ilya would need whatever she could get her hands on.

  “I think I can assure that. Would you prefer I expand on the few weeks I’ll need from you?”

  “Go right ahead, please.”

  “Get me across the border.”

  Ilya froze. She really hoped, really hoped, that she had heard wrong. “Excuse me?”

  “The border. To Minatt. I know you know how, because you open that mouth of yours and things happen, don’t they?”

  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

  “Oh, yes, you definitely do.” The woman paused, and lifted her chin a tad higher; calculating, appraising. “Siren.”

  Ilya’s fists clenched, an involuntary reflex, and she felt the newspaper crumpling in her hand. “Don’t you say that again.”

  “I’m right, and you know I’m right.” A serpentine smile flicked onto her lips. “Do you accept? My request?”

  “That depends,” Ilya bit back the suspicion in her words, “on if that’s a threat.”

  “Oh, no, never. I’m only just a client, asking for your services. I would not coerce you into it.” Something about the knives sheathed on her belt, the dark hooded cloak she had draped around her shoulders, and that destructive smile lent itself to the conclusion that she was, in fact, spouting lies. That this was, in fact, wholly a threat.

  Ilya’s breath was cut off at her throat. Her heart began to strain against her ribcage with fear, her mind running through options and panicking when she realized there were so little available. She did not have an exit plan.

  “Do I get twenty-four hours to consider?”

  “You can have twenty-four minutes. Don’t bother trying to escape.”

  Ilya stepped back. The woman did not react. Ilya pushed her luck. “What do I call you?” Because she couldn’t ask for a name; she definitely wouldn’t get the truth.

  A charged pause. Then, as if it were something simple to give, she said, “Aleine.”

  Something rang true, practiced, in the two reluctant syllables.

  Ilya turned, choosing to let the admission hang in the air rather than give it a stuttered response. Twenty-four minutes, she apparently had, but she wasn’t sure how much of a choice it was.

  She needed a way out.

  She did not have a way out.

  Ilya had spent plenty of late nights staring up at her bedroom’s low ceiling in the dark, contemplating all the ways her side job could get her killed. A vengeful client, a job gone awry, something, anything. But by some luck, or maybe just the small scale of her operation, none of her worst-case scenarios had ever come to fruition. She had never had to fight her way out of it.

  This situation was shaping up to be the one she had never seen coming. Quite possibly, Ilya thought, as she turned to sneak another glance at the woman in the alley to make sure she was still there, the one that would end in Ilya’s demise.

  If not death at the sparkling knives on her belt, if not death at trying to sneak this woman across a war-torn border, then definitely death at everything that would catch up with her afterwards, no doubt to include soldiers and their rifles, political delegates and their hit lists.

  Ilya used less than six of her twenty-four minutes. She turned, braced herself on the wall, and smoothed out the now-crumpled newspaper against the bricks. The bolded words on the page began to melt into each other. Damn the war.

  “Tell me exactly what you need.”

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Written by nikiforovasp in portal Simon & Schuster
hiraeth (n.) homesickness.
  The wide expanse of the open sea was everything but calming; raging waters and shouting sailors and a precarious drop below her feet had quite opposite the classic effect.
  She sat with her legs dangled over the cliff, peering down at the docks below. Ropes were tossed and sails were blown open and boats were pushed out slowly to make their way into profitable sea.
  This was normal. This was an early morning’s view.
  But perhaps, with a plan in place, something would go a little differently.
  On cue, from one of the smaller boats, a sailor shouted something unmistakably louder, his face scrunched up in anger, though she was too far away to hear what he said next. He waved a piece of rope above his head.
  Another sailor, who Ilya knew to be his shipmate, cried out in response. Several men rushed to the man holding the rope, barreling their way towards him.
  And then the boat began to sink.
  The sailors shrieked, pointing and fumbling, until one evidently reached the smart conclusion that he should jump right off. The rest followed, launching themselves into what must have been frigid water, but the whole lot of them reached the docks soaking wet and otherwise fine.
  The boat was nowhere in sight.
  They peered over the dock, and grappled in the water, seemingly puzzled beyond explanation.
  Ilya stood, proud with a job well done, and dusted off her leggings where little pieces of grass and dirt had stuck. She plucked her pouch from where it lay at her feet and fastened it around her waist, turning her back on the confused sailors, putting one bare foot in front of the other to head back down the winding path.
  That part, however, did not go as planned.
  The flash of a knife gave Ilya just enough warning to stiffen before a blade was at her throat, close enough only to feel the sting of it on her neck, and another pressed into the fabric just below her ribs. Her attacker stood against her back, the black fabric of an overlarge hood shielding their face.
  Ilya held her breath.
  “I know what you do, and if you try to open your mouth, I’ll make sure you never speak again.”
  Fear constricted any words that might have come out anyway. She focused her efforts on remaining still, because the first thing she’d ever learned was that silence was the easiest way to look for a way out.
  There were blades at her throat and at her stomach, and the arms holding her in did not feel like they were about to budge.
  “I suggest that you do as I ask, because then I won’t have to track you down again.” Her attacker rasped a cough out. “Tomorrow, at noon. Be at the market square.”
Ilya took short, labored breaths, her neck stretched and stiff at the same time with effort not to make contact with the blade being held at it. “What do you want?” She managed.
  “Noon. Market square. I’ll have a payment ready, if you require it up front.”
  Ilya did not see much of a choice in her situation. She would have nodded, but then that might have resulted in a decapitation, so she chose to make a strangled noise of agreement instead. “Okay.”
  As suddenly as they appeared, the knives were gone, and she was released from the iron grip. Her hand flew to her throat, and she spun around to catch a glimpse of the attacker, but all that remained was a faint indent on her skin where the knife had nudged her, and not even footsteps on the dirt around her.
  She gripped the pouch at her waist. The weight of the coins in it had remained the same, so it hadn’t simply been thievery. The frightening stranger wanted an audience tomorrow.
  It seemed like she would have to entertain them.
--
  The market square was as busy as any other day, but there were odd flashes of red uniforms at every corner of every block that seemed unfamiliar to Ilya.
  She didn’t know exactly why she had chosen, that morning, to do perhaps the stupidest thing she’d ever done, and show up exactly where the stranger with the knives had asked her to be, but there she was, and the sun was inching closer and closer to its apex. The market square was a big place, anyhow; there was a good chance that her assailant would never even find her. It would be their fault for suggesting such a difficult place to arrange a rendezvous.
  A little boy with a snaggletooth and a ragged voice shoved a rolled-up newspaper into the crook of her arm. “News from the castle city, miss, about the war.” He said, and held out a hand expectantly, and blinked.
  Ilya hesitated for a moment, but then remembered the job she’d finished the day before, and the resulting extra coins resting in the pouch at her waist. Might as well spend it on something useful. She pressed two thin coins into the boy’s palm, and he flashed a crooked smile before disappearing into the streets.
  Ilya turned back to the apple cart, running a finger over the green fruit. She had a few apples on the counter back home; she didn’t need any more, but she really didn’t know where else to stand and wait.
  She didn’t have to wait long.
  A gloved hand wrapped around her elbow, and Ilya found herself suddenly staring into a pair of striking grey eyes. The hand tugged, and the person behind the eyes began to back away, and so Ilya followed, blind surprise overwhelming the alarms in her brain that screeched for her to stop and consider her reckless actions.
  She did not stop, nor did she consider her reckless actions.
  In fact, she followed the stranger to a small pawn shop a block away, then into the street beside it, narrow and empty, and only then did Ilya come to her senses. Promptly she took a few startled steps away, but the stranger seemed satisfied with their position and didn’t pursue her, opting only to lower the faded black hood, and watch Ilya expectantly.
Ilya blurted the first thing that came to her lips: “Who are you?”
  “A client.” The rasp of the stranger’s voice grated at Ilya’s ears in a sound that felt familiar, though she couldn’t place it. The woman, or so Ilya assumed from the feminine curves and angles to their eyes and lips, spoke with an accent that rounded her syllables in a way Ilya hadn’t heard in years. “And as promised, I have a commission for you. Thirty percent payment up front, and seventy after, does that sound fair?”
  Ilya blinked at the stranger.
  Painfully, a second of the charged silence between them passed, until the recognition flashed in Ilya’s eyes, until her jaw went slack in the same motion.
  “You! With the knives!”
  An amused smile tugged at the corner of the woman’s lips. “Yes.” She shifted slightly, and one of her gloved hands pushed the fabric of her coat away from her hip, revealing a sleek knife sheath. “That’s me.”
  A stream of questions ran through Ilya’s head, unvoiced, mostly because if she had tried to say them out loud, the words would have tripped over each other and come out a jumbled mess.
  Out loud, she managed to say, “What do you want?”
  The woman clicked her tongue, and let her coat fall back into place. “Straight to business, then. Perfect. I’m going to tell you right now that what I need from you will require you to leave town for a few weeks.”
  “A few weeks? That’s an awfully long time. This isn’t my main source of income, you know, I do have other work to keep up with.”
  “Finances are no issue. I can compensate handsomely. How much would you charge?”
  “You’re so sure you can meet it?” Ilya felt some defense of hers rise, a little voice chanting no one should be able to promise that kind of thing, but she tried so hard to force it away. Money was money, wasn’t it? And Ilya would need whatever she could get her hands on.
  “I think I can assure that. Would you prefer I expand on the few weeks I’ll need from you?”
  “Go right ahead, please.”
  “Get me across the border.”
  Ilya froze. She really hoped, really hoped, that she had heard wrong. “Excuse me?”
  “The border. To Minatt. I know you know how, because you open that mouth of yours and things happen, don’t they?”
  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
  “Oh, yes, you definitely do.” The woman paused, and lifted her chin a tad higher; calculating, appraising. “Siren.”
  Ilya’s fists clenched, an involuntary reflex, and she felt the newspaper crumpling in her hand. “Don’t you say that again.”
  “I’m right, and you know I’m right.” A serpentine smile flicked onto her lips. “Do you accept? My request?”
  “That depends,” Ilya bit back the suspicion in her words, “on if that’s a threat.”
  “Oh, no, never. I’m only just a client, asking for your services. I would not coerce you into it.” Something about the knives sheathed on her belt, the dark hooded cloak she had draped around her shoulders, and that destructive smile lent itself to the conclusion that she was, in fact, spouting lies. That this was, in fact, wholly a threat.
  Ilya’s breath was cut off at her throat. Her heart began to strain against her ribcage with fear, her mind running through options and panicking when she realized there were so little available. She did not have an exit plan.
  “Do I get twenty-four hours to consider?”
  “You can have twenty-four minutes. Don’t bother trying to escape.”
  Ilya stepped back. The woman did not react. Ilya pushed her luck. “What do I call you?” Because she couldn’t ask for a name; she definitely wouldn’t get the truth.
  A charged pause. Then, as if it were something simple to give, she said, “Aleine.”
  Something rang true, practiced, in the two reluctant syllables.
  Ilya turned, choosing to let the admission hang in the air rather than give it a stuttered response. Twenty-four minutes, she apparently had, but she wasn’t sure how much of a choice it was.
  She needed a way out.
  She did not have a way out.
  Ilya had spent plenty of late nights staring up at her bedroom’s low ceiling in the dark, contemplating all the ways her side job could get her killed. A vengeful client, a job gone awry, something, anything. But by some luck, or maybe just the small scale of her operation, none of her worst-case scenarios had ever come to fruition. She had never had to fight her way out of it.
  This situation was shaping up to be the one she had never seen coming. Quite possibly, Ilya thought, as she turned to sneak another glance at the woman in the alley to make sure she was still there, the one that would end in Ilya’s demise.
  If not death at the sparkling knives on her belt, if not death at trying to sneak this woman across a war-torn border, then definitely death at everything that would catch up with her afterwards, no doubt to include soldiers and their rifles, political delegates and their hit lists.
  Ilya used less than six of her twenty-four minutes. She turned, braced herself on the wall, and smoothed out the now-crumpled newspaper against the bricks. The bolded words on the page began to melt into each other. Damn the war.
  “Tell me exactly what you need.”
#fantasy  #fiction 
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We lost a lot with the passing of Chris Cornell. To many, he was a mentor, a brilliant writer; an inimitable voice. Until June 30th, this challenge is for the friends and fans to write their stories, poems, tributes: anything about him. We will be putting together a book for the Cornell family, of the posts entered, as well as making copies available for purchase, donating all proceeds to suicide prevention. In partnership with Seattle Refined, the most shared post will be read on air, and posted on seattlerefined.com.
Written by Yppab-Demha in portal Seattle Refined

Higher Above Death

"I saw the heaven

when it makes

a gloomy sense in the blues sky

I felt the heaven

when I wander

silent in your sleep

Moon in the outside

reading your dream

And I'm searching

the piece of poetry

that supposed to be

the higher sense of the heaven

In my head,

I'm watching the clouds

rolling over in my sight

In my vein,

I'm pushing the torment

feeding the hungry blood

I can't be the spurious mind

I would be a ramble silence

Moon in the outside

Reading your dream

And I’m looking for free highway

that supposed to be

Freedom footing above the heaven"

Written on: 24 May 2017

Tribute to Chris Cornell 

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We lost a lot with the passing of Chris Cornell. To many, he was a mentor, a brilliant writer; an inimitable voice. Until June 30th, this challenge is for the friends and fans to write their stories, poems, tributes: anything about him. We will be putting together a book for the Cornell family, of the posts entered, as well as making copies available for purchase, donating all proceeds to suicide prevention. In partnership with Seattle Refined, the most shared post will be read on air, and posted on seattlerefined.com.
Written by Yppab-Demha in portal Seattle Refined
Higher Above Death
"I saw the heaven
when it makes
a gloomy sense in the blues sky
I felt the heaven
when I wander
silent in your sleep

Moon in the outside
reading your dream
And I'm searching
the piece of poetry
that supposed to be
the higher sense of the heaven

In my head,
I'm watching the clouds
rolling over in my sight
In my vein,
I'm pushing the torment
feeding the hungry blood

I can't be the spurious mind
I would be a ramble silence
Moon in the outside
Reading your dream
And I’m looking for free highway
that supposed to be
Freedom footing above the heaven"

Written on: 24 May 2017
Tribute to Chris Cornell 
#fiction  #poetry  #spirituality  #lyrics  #ChrisCornell 
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Simon & Schuster is one of the world’s leading publishers and we are always looking for fresh new voices. Write a story, chapter, or essay about whatever you like. The 50 best entries will be announced by Prose and read by our editorial staff for consideration.
Written by Selahkx in portal Simon & Schuster

Not White

_____________________________________________________________________

Epilogue

I am called lucky.

My skin is the color of the burnt sugar Grann stirs with her old wooden spoon as it bubbles and then cools to make sweeties. They tell me I was born the color of new butter, but Grann raised me up to worship the sun, and until my first blood, she placed totems blessed by loas under my bed on every new moon. This, she said, is what sweetened my blood, pulling up the yellows, oranges, and reds to color my skin’s surface.

My hair is the color of sunlight filtering through a wood’s dying leaves in the Fall. I witnessed a true Fall once, as a Philadelphia child. One Fall jumping in dead leaves I can remember before we were chased back to New Orleans to escape the shame of a baby like me coming out of a mother like mine.

My eyes are green as the grass grows on the first true day of true Summer. Granpapa says green is lucky, like money, like the alligator in the marshlands that once saved his life, like the lushness of the jungles from where the First People first sprang.

Yet, I am not called lucky because my hair, my skin, my eyes worship the Great Mother, Erzulie, and all Her glorious Creation.

My mama named me Chanse, meaning lucky in my family’s old tongue of Creole, despite these things.

I am lucky my family’s name protects me, a half caste baby conceived by a Black woman and White man. There are many who wish someone like me dead, who still want people like me to be disposed of as abominations. That a Black woman like my mother would lay down with a man of the inferior race and conceive a female child is inconceivable. Everyone knows that females of every tribe carry the power and the name. What my mother did was an affront to her power and her name, and to the blood that was spilled to cast the White man back across the sea.

I used to wonder, but I now understand why I am lucky. I now know. In a country where the worst thing you can be is a White man, and the second worst thing you can be is a White woman, I am lucky that the White blood of my long ago ancestors and the White blood of my father did not fully manifest itself in me.

I am lucky, that despite all of the bright colors running through me, I was born Not White.

_____________________________________________________________________

I. 

It is my 12th year in school and my 18th year within this body on this earth.

We have never celebrated Euro history before, but this year my school must observe it. With the integration of our school system to include Whites, instructors encourage us to learn with them and understand their history.

We have been taught that before the Great Cause, all White people did was kill, rape, pillage, and steal. They did nothing worth celebrating. All achievements were reached off of the backs of the civilizations they conquered and stole from.

All Not Whites across the world know these truths, yet here I am, listening to Instructor Lee talk about White people’s contributions to our society.

I roll my eyes and look around me to see if my classmates are as bored as I am. Most roll their eyes or make faces back in agreement.

Yet, many of them do not.

Since integration, some of my friends look at me like they are seeing my true colors, the ones I have been told to demure my entire life; the glint of emerald in my eyes, the pearly undertone of my skin, the fire shade of my hair that does not kink no matter how much wax I use or how small I make my braids every night. These colors remind my friends that I have more Europe than Africa running through my veins.

As I find myself often lately doing, I rejoice inwardly, thankful that my family’s name is in the Great Book.

I am great. I am important. I am protected.

A White girl named Tansy, always asking foolish questions, raises her hand and says, “We Euros aint all bad people. Abraham Lincoln was'n the last White Pres'dent of Old America. Abolishuns ended slavery fore the First People revolted. Why all the White people still paying for what our dead great grands did?”

She nods her head toward me and points, “Look at Chanse’s skin and lookin at me. She looks like that; she so bad then?”

I feel the red in me rise, prepared to call her the name we are forbidden to call them. But then, I remember the plans of my grandparents for me, and the expectations of the Elders, and the sad eyes of my mama.

I remain silent.

My best friend, Kaima, throws her pen at Tansy and tells her, “You smell like a dog when you’re wet and you burn in the sun. You lived in caves, ate each other, and had sex with animals. You are stupid and evil.”

She gestures to the Not White people in the room, even Instructor Lee. “Meanwhile, all of our people were kings and queens. We built pyramids, created modern mathematics, and recorded the foundations of language. That’s why, slaver.”

The Not Whites in the class laugh. Kaima never lies.

She is my best friend. She says what I cannot. Her skin is as dark as the night sky during the new moon. Her hair is as soft and billowy as cotton. She wears beauty and strength as her colors. I sometimes envy her freedom. I always love her.

Instructor Lee just shakes her head and tries to finish her lesson. I’m sure she doesn’t want Tansy and her kind here either. Whites are not as smart as the rest of us, and they are always causing trouble. Bussing them in from their neighborhoods to mix with us two years ago caused a storm all over the country-from our nation’s capital in New Orleans trickling down to instructors’ lodges in the 32 states. Quite a few teachers left the profession in protest.

There are rumors that Ms. Lee is also half-caste, but it is not as much of a shame on her as it is for me. Whites in Old America didn’t quite enslave her people. Asiatics came here willingly, and got paid for their labor. Still, during the Great Cause, they, along with the Aztecas and Natives joined the First People-free Blacks like my ancestors and revolted slaves-in battle for the Great Cause.

Today, Not Whites comprise the four Great Tribes of our country. My family sits at the table of Elders in New Orleans along with the other great families. Our names are in the Great Book for helping to end the scourge of slavery and freeing this nation from the evils of the White race.

The First People killed the slave masters and sent those they pardoned back to Europe. The Euros that stayed were placed in servitude to build a new nation. Their debts were eventually paid, but their sins will never be forgotten.

The way I look is a daily reminder of these sins. The sins of my mother for laying with a White man and the sins of my father’s people for existing as a virus on this earth.

I leave History class with my skin feeling hot, and feel the brightness of my colors stifling me.

Kaima and my other friends call my name, but I run down the hall to escape into the sun.

_____________________________________________________________________

Brandon Branch and his friends stand in front of the exit door at the end of the hall. They are wearing shirts with old flags of their ancestors’ native countries on them. Ireland, France, England, Germany, even the old flag of this country before the Great Cause set us all free.

White Pride they call this, wearing old flags, talking about the White tribe as inventors, thinkers, and emperors from a time long ago.

They know these stories they believe are all lies, but they do it anyway. They should let it go. They lost. We won.

We won because we are the First People from where all life sprang. We absorb the sun’s power while all they ever do is feed on our light. We won because we had the might of the Natives, Aztecas, and Asiatics on our side. We won because the drums we brought with us from our homelands in Africa were steadily building to a crescendo of war while they sat fat and lazy in their big houses out of the sun. They beat, maimed, raped, and stripped us of our identities. Yet, we raised their children and cooked their food and built their country with our blood, sweat, and sacrifice.

The songs we sung while in the fields were filled with promises of freedom and vengeance. We used the drums and their silly religion to mask our plots and schemes. We danced at night to rejoice about how we would time soon come fertilize our lands with their blood.

The ancestors looked to Haiti as an example, a nation shining as a beacon of hope that the masters could be defeated. Toussaint Louverture’s victory inspired them to first throw off their mental chains of bondage. They waited one generation, prepping their children to slowly poison and make complacent the White masters. 

When the war drums sounded, the melanin tribes of Old America rose up. We killed the first borns, the fathers, and the mothers. Most of those left were the babies who knew more of the slaves than they did of their own dead families.

The slavers who lived, they either fled across the ocean in defeat or stayed and became servants to us. We rebuilt this country in our images. Their numbers will never again swell. The Elders ensure this.

They can never be trusted again, and they never will be.

To know I come from that blood disgusts me.

For that, I sometimes hate my mother.

For that, I will never acknowledge Brandon Branch or any man like him.

He winks at me, blowing a kiss as I push past him and his friends to find the sun. He foolishly flirts. He must not know that I could tell my Granpapa and by dawn he would be hanging from a tree in the bayou, his penis stuffed into his mouth as both a warning and a curse.

I wonder that I won’t.

I look down at the ring on my right hand. Its colors glint in the sun. Mama gave it to me the night I first danced with Oshun in the swamp like all the women in my family have before me, even before we were free.

The sun I was raised to worship comforts me as does the ring winking and twinkling on my hand. Its gems are the colors of the flag; blue, green, red, black. Blue for the ocean we crossed. Green for the land. Red for the blood. Black to honor the ancestors.

Colors comfort me like sweeties or prayers or a song.

For some reason, I think of my daddy. He saw me once a year in secret until I learned my name’s true meaning. That is when I asked Mama to stop taking me to see him. Then I asked him to stop calling. Then to even stop writing. 

Then he died.

The last time I saw him he told me it was good my skin had darkened from the sun. He said it was good that my hair curled, even under water. He told me to press my thumb down hard on my nose every day to make it rounder, flatter, less like his.

I laughed at him, but even then, I could see in his eyes that he hoped it would work.

It didn’t.

_____________________________________________________________________

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Simon & Schuster is one of the world’s leading publishers and we are always looking for fresh new voices. Write a story, chapter, or essay about whatever you like. The 50 best entries will be announced by Prose and read by our editorial staff for consideration.
Written by Selahkx in portal Simon & Schuster
Not White
_____________________________________________________________________
Epilogue

I am called lucky.

My skin is the color of the burnt sugar Grann stirs with her old wooden spoon as it bubbles and then cools to make sweeties. They tell me I was born the color of new butter, but Grann raised me up to worship the sun, and until my first blood, she placed totems blessed by loas under my bed on every new moon. This, she said, is what sweetened my blood, pulling up the yellows, oranges, and reds to color my skin’s surface.

My hair is the color of sunlight filtering through a wood’s dying leaves in the Fall. I witnessed a true Fall once, as a Philadelphia child. One Fall jumping in dead leaves I can remember before we were chased back to New Orleans to escape the shame of a baby like me coming out of a mother like mine.

My eyes are green as the grass grows on the first true day of true Summer. Granpapa says green is lucky, like money, like the alligator in the marshlands that once saved his life, like the lushness of the jungles from where the First People first sprang.

Yet, I am not called lucky because my hair, my skin, my eyes worship the Great Mother, Erzulie, and all Her glorious Creation.

My mama named me Chanse, meaning lucky in my family’s old tongue of Creole, despite these things.

I am lucky my family’s name protects me, a half caste baby conceived by a Black woman and White man. There are many who wish someone like me dead, who still want people like me to be disposed of as abominations. That a Black woman like my mother would lay down with a man of the inferior race and conceive a female child is inconceivable. Everyone knows that females of every tribe carry the power and the name. What my mother did was an affront to her power and her name, and to the blood that was spilled to cast the White man back across the sea.

I used to wonder, but I now understand why I am lucky. I now know. In a country where the worst thing you can be is a White man, and the second worst thing you can be is a White woman, I am lucky that the White blood of my long ago ancestors and the White blood of my father did not fully manifest itself in me.

I am lucky, that despite all of the bright colors running through me, I was born Not White.
_____________________________________________________________________
I. 

It is my 12th year in school and my 18th year within this body on this earth.

We have never celebrated Euro history before, but this year my school must observe it. With the integration of our school system to include Whites, instructors encourage us to learn with them and understand their history.

We have been taught that before the Great Cause, all White people did was kill, rape, pillage, and steal. They did nothing worth celebrating. All achievements were reached off of the backs of the civilizations they conquered and stole from.

All Not Whites across the world know these truths, yet here I am, listening to Instructor Lee talk about White people’s contributions to our society.

I roll my eyes and look around me to see if my classmates are as bored as I am. Most roll their eyes or make faces back in agreement.

Yet, many of them do not.

Since integration, some of my friends look at me like they are seeing my true colors, the ones I have been told to demure my entire life; the glint of emerald in my eyes, the pearly undertone of my skin, the fire shade of my hair that does not kink no matter how much wax I use or how small I make my braids every night. These colors remind my friends that I have more Europe than Africa running through my veins.

As I find myself often lately doing, I rejoice inwardly, thankful that my family’s name is in the Great Book.

I am great. I am important. I am protected.

A White girl named Tansy, always asking foolish questions, raises her hand and says, “We Euros aint all bad people. Abraham Lincoln was'n the last White Pres'dent of Old America. Abolishuns ended slavery fore the First People revolted. Why all the White people still paying for what our dead great grands did?”

She nods her head toward me and points, “Look at Chanse’s skin and lookin at me. She looks like that; she so bad then?”

I feel the red in me rise, prepared to call her the name we are forbidden to call them. But then, I remember the plans of my grandparents for me, and the expectations of the Elders, and the sad eyes of my mama.

I remain silent.

My best friend, Kaima, throws her pen at Tansy and tells her, “You smell like a dog when you’re wet and you burn in the sun. You lived in caves, ate each other, and had sex with animals. You are stupid and evil.”

She gestures to the Not White people in the room, even Instructor Lee. “Meanwhile, all of our people were kings and queens. We built pyramids, created modern mathematics, and recorded the foundations of language. That’s why, slaver.”

The Not Whites in the class laugh. Kaima never lies.

She is my best friend. She says what I cannot. Her skin is as dark as the night sky during the new moon. Her hair is as soft and billowy as cotton. She wears beauty and strength as her colors. I sometimes envy her freedom. I always love her.

Instructor Lee just shakes her head and tries to finish her lesson. I’m sure she doesn’t want Tansy and her kind here either. Whites are not as smart as the rest of us, and they are always causing trouble. Bussing them in from their neighborhoods to mix with us two years ago caused a storm all over the country-from our nation’s capital in New Orleans trickling down to instructors’ lodges in the 32 states. Quite a few teachers left the profession in protest.

There are rumors that Ms. Lee is also half-caste, but it is not as much of a shame on her as it is for me. Whites in Old America didn’t quite enslave her people. Asiatics came here willingly, and got paid for their labor. Still, during the Great Cause, they, along with the Aztecas and Natives joined the First People-free Blacks like my ancestors and revolted slaves-in battle for the Great Cause.

Today, Not Whites comprise the four Great Tribes of our country. My family sits at the table of Elders in New Orleans along with the other great families. Our names are in the Great Book for helping to end the scourge of slavery and freeing this nation from the evils of the White race.

The First People killed the slave masters and sent those they pardoned back to Europe. The Euros that stayed were placed in servitude to build a new nation. Their debts were eventually paid, but their sins will never be forgotten.

The way I look is a daily reminder of these sins. The sins of my mother for laying with a White man and the sins of my father’s people for existing as a virus on this earth.

I leave History class with my skin feeling hot, and feel the brightness of my colors stifling me.

Kaima and my other friends call my name, but I run down the hall to escape into the sun.
_____________________________________________________________________

Brandon Branch and his friends stand in front of the exit door at the end of the hall. They are wearing shirts with old flags of their ancestors’ native countries on them. Ireland, France, England, Germany, even the old flag of this country before the Great Cause set us all free.

White Pride they call this, wearing old flags, talking about the White tribe as inventors, thinkers, and emperors from a time long ago.

They know these stories they believe are all lies, but they do it anyway. They should let it go. They lost. We won.

We won because we are the First People from where all life sprang. We absorb the sun’s power while all they ever do is feed on our light. We won because we had the might of the Natives, Aztecas, and Asiatics on our side. We won because the drums we brought with us from our homelands in Africa were steadily building to a crescendo of war while they sat fat and lazy in their big houses out of the sun. They beat, maimed, raped, and stripped us of our identities. Yet, we raised their children and cooked their food and built their country with our blood, sweat, and sacrifice.

The songs we sung while in the fields were filled with promises of freedom and vengeance. We used the drums and their silly religion to mask our plots and schemes. We danced at night to rejoice about how we would time soon come fertilize our lands with their blood.

The ancestors looked to Haiti as an example, a nation shining as a beacon of hope that the masters could be defeated. Toussaint Louverture’s victory inspired them to first throw off their mental chains of bondage. They waited one generation, prepping their children to slowly poison and make complacent the White masters. 

When the war drums sounded, the melanin tribes of Old America rose up. We killed the first borns, the fathers, and the mothers. Most of those left were the babies who knew more of the slaves than they did of their own dead families.

The slavers who lived, they either fled across the ocean in defeat or stayed and became servants to us. We rebuilt this country in our images. Their numbers will never again swell. The Elders ensure this.

They can never be trusted again, and they never will be.

To know I come from that blood disgusts me.

For that, I sometimes hate my mother.

For that, I will never acknowledge Brandon Branch or any man like him.

He winks at me, blowing a kiss as I push past him and his friends to find the sun. He foolishly flirts. He must not know that I could tell my Granpapa and by dawn he would be hanging from a tree in the bayou, his penis stuffed into his mouth as both a warning and a curse.

I wonder that I won’t.

I look down at the ring on my right hand. Its colors glint in the sun. Mama gave it to me the night I first danced with Oshun in the swamp like all the women in my family have before me, even before we were free.

The sun I was raised to worship comforts me as does the ring winking and twinkling on my hand. Its gems are the colors of the flag; blue, green, red, black. Blue for the ocean we crossed. Green for the land. Red for the blood. Black to honor the ancestors.

Colors comfort me like sweeties or prayers or a song.

For some reason, I think of my daddy. He saw me once a year in secret until I learned my name’s true meaning. That is when I asked Mama to stop taking me to see him. Then I asked him to stop calling. Then to even stop writing. 

Then he died.

The last time I saw him he told me it was good my skin had darkened from the sun. He said it was good that my hair curled, even under water. He told me to press my thumb down hard on my nose every day to make it rounder, flatter, less like his.

I laughed at him, but even then, I could see in his eyes that he hoped it would work.

It didn’t.
_____________________________________________________________________
#fiction  #history  #race  #slavery  #simonandschusterchallenge 
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Written by JeffStewart in portal Fiction

Shadows of Waste

All the death and sunshine of death, the rains that bring down the fires, the low slip into the shadows of waste. Born to run the hills, born to walk the city looking for something that will turn a boy into a man, a follower into a leader, a punk into a pimp. The city is yours, boy. The city is yours like your shadow is yours. I walk to the van and check the time on the ticket again. I know it reads 6:48, I know what time it reads but I am killing time. I feel like a creep waiting on a woman while homeless men hit me up for change: Been years. Been years since I’ve been with a woman who looks like her. I reach in my pocket and shake my change. My fingers feel her skin and my nose moves across her neck, over her shoulder. I feel her legs around me. I pull my phone from my pocket and read the time. She’s late, she’s late because she’s figured out you are nothing, she’s late because she’s stalling you. You who travel the roads to nowhere, you who barely escaped prison because of the truth, you who disdain your race and the hands of time. But time is watching, boy. Forty years of breath and blood, all the moments mean now, all the moments find you here, waiting on her. Waiting on the mercy of her skin, the touch of her lips, the smell of her perfume. Waiting on her to descend the rotted staircase, where lesser men have walked to see the trash of sex on the third floor. Waiting for your Luciana, waiting for her boots to appear and walk you to the end of your year.

I walk to the edge of Chinatown and stare at the lions. It occurs to me I’ve never touched one of them. I rest my hand upon a gold snout and look back across Burnside to the Paris. It’s been turned into a pornography theater. When I was young I’d walked its halls looking to rent a room. I didn’t rent the room because the hallway looked and smelled like piss, and the room was diseased from years of alcoholic junkies doing what they do. I knew what they did. I’d seen it from my father, then from others as I lived across the country. I watch my old city, a woman I no longer care for, she holds the beauty with her buildings and bridges and light, but she has been failed by people who no longer make art from their brains and blood. I hold my palm to the snout and watch the boring damage. I think about Luciana, a trapped pearl, a fast beating heart running for empty, her fires and wants relegated to opaque, throw-away encounters. The beauty of her is lost on the bad seeds, the weakness, the boys she devours who will never become men because they’ve turned the city into a mother who spoils them, and distorts her daughters with the lowest of hopes. And I used to run these streets drunk and mad with love. I used to see graffiti with high art and hard messages, artists proud of their city, the freedom that sweat brought after a day of breaking rocks, bleeding into nights of creation in tiny living rooms across the districts, and my heart aches for that again. It aches for the calling back of good things, for the rebirth of real love. All of this planted in my mind, I have to smile because I know Luciana rebuilt the city for me with one phone call the day before I was about to leave. It doesn’t make me wrong about anything, I’ve been able to remember my city, to feel it once again. One more burst of color, one more pulse that blows the dust from the keys.

My phone chimes. I read the face of the message. I cross Burnside and walk the sidewalk up past 4th. I don’t get to see her boots descending the staircase, but I see her walking toward me and smiling, her bag over her shoulder, her hair moving just so in the cold wind, her body layered with a black shirt and black overcoat.

I drive her back to her neighborhood. My blood is on fire. She sits and looks around the city. She doesn’t drive, never has. I watch for a parking spot, get one, and we’re up the stairs and in her apartment, most of which I can’t remember except the number, because we’re walking the stairs to the basement while she dumps her garbage and we walk out onto the street, order coffee and walk the blocks while she smokes and we talk about the past, about each other. Her hand in the crease of my elbow, the steam from the coffee and the smell of her cigarette, all of it in perfect beat with the smell of her hair, the smell of her skin. Her body clean like snow. I watch the sidewalks and the vignettes, the people in the windows drinking wine. The air is crisp but not cold, and the streets are still warm with the last trace of early fall. The leaves have all dropped, and they’re crushed beneath her heels while I watch the city in line with her profile, her shoulders.

Back in her apartment, I see a shrine on her book shelf. The place smells like her, like her skin and clothes, like the taste of someone’s blood, sweet and without contrast with another. I lay her on her bed and lean her back. I raise her skirt and see her perfect little pussy. I pull her panties aside and run my tongue up and down. She tastes like sunlight, like moonlight, her sex swells against my tongue. I suck her and swallow her, and my lips are wet. I feel a drop run down my chin and between my collar bones. Her open legs, her breaths fast, her hands dig into the back of my hair. I run my tongue around her below and I am iron again. I want to take my time with her, with her lingerie, with her skin. Her eyes are rolling like I’d imagined them to, and I feel the range of her, which is endless. Outside the streets of Portland are cold and braced for winter, for the wall of rain pinned with small weeks of snowfall. The wicks of three candles are jumping and sending long distorted shapes of glasses and small statues against the wall above her television. The incense spirals smoke out toward the shadows. I’m on top of her moving like a machine. Her stomach is tense with me inside her. I grab her sides and pull her to her hands and knees, arch her back and grip her hair. Her back is lean and hard, and my hands wrap around it with my thumbs against her spine. There are screams and aches of sex, her mouth is open while my hips move her hair around her chin. We’re listening to Ella Fitzgerald fill the room. She’s moving onto me and making me go harder, faster, until I can’t take the time with her anymore. I grip her sides and shoot into her, and we freeze there. A drop of sweat runs down my nose and onto her spine. She quivers and breathes out and we collapse to the bed.

Across from her in a café. The bright grey sky bends through in the window and watches her face, and her eyes are watching me from across the table. I’m staring at her lips, her hands around her mug, while her eyes suck the poison from my blood. I talk about writing, and about everything I have kept to myself. She moves her hand over my knuckles. Her fingers are warm on the veins of my hand. She tells me about her house in her home country, about her family and a body she smelled burning as a child. I listen to her speak and my stomach jumps like a mad fool. I have one more week with her, one week left before I leave for Los Angeles. It’s been a long four days back in the town, but right now it’s every town, every city, every place I would want to be. I drink the coffee and memorize her flesh.

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Written by JeffStewart in portal Fiction
Shadows of Waste
All the death and sunshine of death, the rains that bring down the fires, the low slip into the shadows of waste. Born to run the hills, born to walk the city looking for something that will turn a boy into a man, a follower into a leader, a punk into a pimp. The city is yours, boy. The city is yours like your shadow is yours. I walk to the van and check the time on the ticket again. I know it reads 6:48, I know what time it reads but I am killing time. I feel like a creep waiting on a woman while homeless men hit me up for change: Been years. Been years since I’ve been with a woman who looks like her. I reach in my pocket and shake my change. My fingers feel her skin and my nose moves across her neck, over her shoulder. I feel her legs around me. I pull my phone from my pocket and read the time. She’s late, she’s late because she’s figured out you are nothing, she’s late because she’s stalling you. You who travel the roads to nowhere, you who barely escaped prison because of the truth, you who disdain your race and the hands of time. But time is watching, boy. Forty years of breath and blood, all the moments mean now, all the moments find you here, waiting on her. Waiting on the mercy of her skin, the touch of her lips, the smell of her perfume. Waiting on her to descend the rotted staircase, where lesser men have walked to see the trash of sex on the third floor. Waiting for your Luciana, waiting for her boots to appear and walk you to the end of your year.

I walk to the edge of Chinatown and stare at the lions. It occurs to me I’ve never touched one of them. I rest my hand upon a gold snout and look back across Burnside to the Paris. It’s been turned into a pornography theater. When I was young I’d walked its halls looking to rent a room. I didn’t rent the room because the hallway looked and smelled like piss, and the room was diseased from years of alcoholic junkies doing what they do. I knew what they did. I’d seen it from my father, then from others as I lived across the country. I watch my old city, a woman I no longer care for, she holds the beauty with her buildings and bridges and light, but she has been failed by people who no longer make art from their brains and blood. I hold my palm to the snout and watch the boring damage. I think about Luciana, a trapped pearl, a fast beating heart running for empty, her fires and wants relegated to opaque, throw-away encounters. The beauty of her is lost on the bad seeds, the weakness, the boys she devours who will never become men because they’ve turned the city into a mother who spoils them, and distorts her daughters with the lowest of hopes. And I used to run these streets drunk and mad with love. I used to see graffiti with high art and hard messages, artists proud of their city, the freedom that sweat brought after a day of breaking rocks, bleeding into nights of creation in tiny living rooms across the districts, and my heart aches for that again. It aches for the calling back of good things, for the rebirth of real love. All of this planted in my mind, I have to smile because I know Luciana rebuilt the city for me with one phone call the day before I was about to leave. It doesn’t make me wrong about anything, I’ve been able to remember my city, to feel it once again. One more burst of color, one more pulse that blows the dust from the keys.

My phone chimes. I read the face of the message. I cross Burnside and walk the sidewalk up past 4th. I don’t get to see her boots descending the staircase, but I see her walking toward me and smiling, her bag over her shoulder, her hair moving just so in the cold wind, her body layered with a black shirt and black overcoat.

I drive her back to her neighborhood. My blood is on fire. She sits and looks around the city. She doesn’t drive, never has. I watch for a parking spot, get one, and we’re up the stairs and in her apartment, most of which I can’t remember except the number, because we’re walking the stairs to the basement while she dumps her garbage and we walk out onto the street, order coffee and walk the blocks while she smokes and we talk about the past, about each other. Her hand in the crease of my elbow, the steam from the coffee and the smell of her cigarette, all of it in perfect beat with the smell of her hair, the smell of her skin. Her body clean like snow. I watch the sidewalks and the vignettes, the people in the windows drinking wine. The air is crisp but not cold, and the streets are still warm with the last trace of early fall. The leaves have all dropped, and they’re crushed beneath her heels while I watch the city in line with her profile, her shoulders.

Back in her apartment, I see a shrine on her book shelf. The place smells like her, like her skin and clothes, like the taste of someone’s blood, sweet and without contrast with another. I lay her on her bed and lean her back. I raise her skirt and see her perfect little pussy. I pull her panties aside and run my tongue up and down. She tastes like sunlight, like moonlight, her sex swells against my tongue. I suck her and swallow her, and my lips are wet. I feel a drop run down my chin and between my collar bones. Her open legs, her breaths fast, her hands dig into the back of my hair. I run my tongue around her below and I am iron again. I want to take my time with her, with her lingerie, with her skin. Her eyes are rolling like I’d imagined them to, and I feel the range of her, which is endless. Outside the streets of Portland are cold and braced for winter, for the wall of rain pinned with small weeks of snowfall. The wicks of three candles are jumping and sending long distorted shapes of glasses and small statues against the wall above her television. The incense spirals smoke out toward the shadows. I’m on top of her moving like a machine. Her stomach is tense with me inside her. I grab her sides and pull her to her hands and knees, arch her back and grip her hair. Her back is lean and hard, and my hands wrap around it with my thumbs against her spine. There are screams and aches of sex, her mouth is open while my hips move her hair around her chin. We’re listening to Ella Fitzgerald fill the room. She’s moving onto me and making me go harder, faster, until I can’t take the time with her anymore. I grip her sides and shoot into her, and we freeze there. A drop of sweat runs down my nose and onto her spine. She quivers and breathes out and we collapse to the bed.

Across from her in a café. The bright grey sky bends through in the window and watches her face, and her eyes are watching me from across the table. I’m staring at her lips, her hands around her mug, while her eyes suck the poison from my blood. I talk about writing, and about everything I have kept to myself. She moves her hand over my knuckles. Her fingers are warm on the veins of my hand. She tells me about her house in her home country, about her family and a body she smelled burning as a child. I listen to her speak and my stomach jumps like a mad fool. I have one more week with her, one week left before I leave for Los Angeles. It’s been a long four days back in the town, but right now it’s every town, every city, every place I would want to be. I drink the coffee and memorize her flesh.
#fiction  #prose  #story  #breathuponaburn  #streamofconsciousness  #lustforlife  #culture  #sex  #shadowsofwaste 
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CotW #65: Write a story about infidelity. The most eloquent, elegant, entertaining entry, ascertained by Prose, earns $100 and stays atop the Spotlight shelf for six straight days. Feel free to invite friends, distant family, even strange acquaintances to play this challenge with you anonymously. Please use #ProseChallenge #itslit for sharing online.
Written by sandflea68

Cyber Sex

She was not being unfaithful, she told herself over and over. She loved her husband and he satisfied her every sexual need except….well, she needed more reassurance, more self-esteem and yes, more foreplay. She felt like he almost took her for granted. She wanted to be told she was the most beautiful woman in the world and that he couldn’t do without her. It was always the same, he rolled over twice a week, and pulled her to him and planted kisses as he reached between her legs and drew her to him. It was almost like he had a sex manual in front of him, following it by rote until she climaxed. Sometimes she faked it when the awkward pawing became too much.

She started experimenting by going online, writing sexy little stories guaranteed to titillate and provoke her audiences. She quickly lost her shyness as she noticed other women doing the same thing on the writing site. Soon, she felt she almost knew the others on the site but felt she needed to go elsewhere. Certainly, she realized that people could be anything they wanted to be on the internet and that their attributes were probably exaggerated.

It was amazingly easy to find another site where interested parties flirted with one another without any intent to carry it any further. Before she knew it, she was fully involved in a cyber affair. At first, they were innocents, just getting to know one another but soon, their conversation became more explicit. They had agreed to just show one another from the neck up but began to discuss all types of foreplay in the most descriptive terms. She could feel the wetness begin as soon as he said “hello” in his husky voice. By the look on his face, he was fully involved as well. Soon, they were moaning and groaning as they touched themselves, using facial expressions and passionate narratives of their activities. After a while, they removed their clothing and lowered the camera.

Without realizing the intensification of their affair, they began to describe the things they wanted to do to one another in graphic detail. When she had built up to a point where she was almost climaxing, she purred her good night, clicked off the computer and crawled into bed with her husband and began the very things that she and her cyber lover had been talking about. Her husband became putty in her hands as he murmured, “Where have you been all my life?”

Realizing that she had the best of both worlds, she stayed with her husband in wild sexual romps but also kept her cyber lover as a spare and as an instigator for her arousing and exciting new sensuality. She wondered to herself offhandedly whether she ought to take another lover but right now, her hands were full. But there would always be another day!

32
11
20
Juice
386 reads
Donate coins to sandflea68.
Juice
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CotW #65: Write a story about infidelity. The most eloquent, elegant, entertaining entry, ascertained by Prose, earns $100 and stays atop the Spotlight shelf for six straight days. Feel free to invite friends, distant family, even strange acquaintances to play this challenge with you anonymously. Please use #ProseChallenge #itslit for sharing online.
Written by sandflea68
Cyber Sex
She was not being unfaithful, she told herself over and over. She loved her husband and he satisfied her every sexual need except….well, she needed more reassurance, more self-esteem and yes, more foreplay. She felt like he almost took her for granted. She wanted to be told she was the most beautiful woman in the world and that he couldn’t do without her. It was always the same, he rolled over twice a week, and pulled her to him and planted kisses as he reached between her legs and drew her to him. It was almost like he had a sex manual in front of him, following it by rote until she climaxed. Sometimes she faked it when the awkward pawing became too much.

She started experimenting by going online, writing sexy little stories guaranteed to titillate and provoke her audiences. She quickly lost her shyness as she noticed other women doing the same thing on the writing site. Soon, she felt she almost knew the others on the site but felt she needed to go elsewhere. Certainly, she realized that people could be anything they wanted to be on the internet and that their attributes were probably exaggerated.

It was amazingly easy to find another site where interested parties flirted with one another without any intent to carry it any further. Before she knew it, she was fully involved in a cyber affair. At first, they were innocents, just getting to know one another but soon, their conversation became more explicit. They had agreed to just show one another from the neck up but began to discuss all types of foreplay in the most descriptive terms. She could feel the wetness begin as soon as he said “hello” in his husky voice. By the look on his face, he was fully involved as well. Soon, they were moaning and groaning as they touched themselves, using facial expressions and passionate narratives of their activities. After a while, they removed their clothing and lowered the camera.

Without realizing the intensification of their affair, they began to describe the things they wanted to do to one another in graphic detail. When she had built up to a point where she was almost climaxing, she purred her good night, clicked off the computer and crawled into bed with her husband and began the very things that she and her cyber lover had been talking about. Her husband became putty in her hands as he murmured, “Where have you been all my life?”

Realizing that she had the best of both worlds, she stayed with her husband in wild sexual romps but also kept her cyber lover as a spare and as an instigator for her arousing and exciting new sensuality. She wondered to herself offhandedly whether she ought to take another lover but right now, her hands were full. But there would always be another day!

#fiction  #challenge  #infidelity 
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Juice
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