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Dear Lucy, it wasn't your fault you were born

Chapter One

This is not a happy story. Fair warning dear reader, this story does not end well. If there are times in this story when you think I am changing my mind and you become hopeful for a better story, I urge you to turn on the news, or listen to a sad song. It’ll put you right back where you need to be if you’re going to continue reading.

Another thing; if you have not experienced gut wrenching pain, where you’d rather take a knife to your wrists or a noose to your neck or even bleach to your insides, this story will seem a little exaggerated in its sadness. To those readers, I say, first this is a journey you might not want to consider too fast. I’m a firm believer that everything you come into contact with affects your purity and so this may give you awful ideas where it is not intended to. In any case, I’m sorry; for those who know these kinds of stories all too well, and to those who are affected by them anyways.

It all began with Lucy’s birth. No wait, perhaps that’s a bit too far in to tell you. Maybe I’ll start like this; it all began with the attempted abortions. Alice sat crouching over the edge of her bed time and time again trying everything, from coat hanger to unnatural squeezing around her midsection to premature promises to Satan (the idea of God had long ago vanished after this one would not go away as easily as the others). Alice tried harder at this than she had anything in her life but the child persisted, and so Alice‘s lifestyle persisted. Spurning this troublesome pregnancy Alice drank all she wanted and snorted all she could get her hands on. She was wilder than usual with the lingering excuse that she was going to clean up her act once the fixated thing slid out of her.

On the day of, Alice felt the first pangs and decided that she was going to take it out before it hit the ground. Armed with a fifth of vodka she drank the pain away and waited to feel the crowning but maybe the kid learned something because Alice remained dilated at four centimetres for the better part of ten hours until it was unbearable and she had to call an ambulance and was carted off to hospital. If the state of her, sickened the doctor, he made clear not to show it and immediately informed her she would have to endure a caesarean. Drunk on vodka, misery and the enduring testament that God does love to protect little children, Alice agreed and off to surgery she was carted. A few hours later when her mother came to see her Alice insisted she was going to take care of it.

Thus began Lucy’s introduction to sadness. Contrary to her pre-birth behaviour the bravery that Lucy had displayed at defying her mother’s forceful attempts to get rid of her would never again reoccur for the duration of her life. From then on, Lucy was to spend the rest of her days overwhelmed by a crippling, sometimes unknown sometimes not, fear.

Lucy survived the first few years of her life the same way a certain man I know survived through his schooling, barely and with so much luck it almost seemed like cheating. Her first one and a half years was seen through by relatives, Jesus Christ himself and stray cats that wandered in whenever her mother went out. After Lucy could walk and talk a little, the relatives felt discharged of their duty and the cheap flat became quiet, occupied by unwilling Lucy and unwilling Alice. Every morning her mother would leave for a day of mediocre work and enthusiastic philandering. She would feed Lucy before she left and if she was still in the right frame of mind when she got back the malnourished child would get more. But children have particularly strong constitutions especially in the most adverse of circumstances. This is not to say that Lucy had the best of health but she certainly was doing much better than she should have been.

There is a theory that states that the universe is all about energy and every bit of energy radiated by people to and at each other will affect them in some way. Her mother’s promiscuity was to affect Lucy later in her life to a degree that it was nothing less than crippling. On this note perhaps, it may be prudent to say that Alice was not necessarily a terrible person; she’d just left decision making to the whims of her desires and believed so strongly in her own helplessness that she’d truly become unable to control herself. The hardships of life are unimaginable and Alice had been subjected to perhaps one of the worst; never believing she was good enough. Settling for average, she hit far below the target and spiralled fast out of control. She believed in love but the men she met equated love with sex and so she believed in sex and in a roundabout way, she’d become so great at living a terrible lifestyle that the thought of getting better made her ill on the inside. She hated herself so much for being a terrible mother that she began to hate her child for making her a mother. And thus began the beatings.

Now anyone who has ever gotten angry and lashed out at another person can tell you that it is both the most exhilarating and terrible thing to get a reaction from them. After the first few, disciplinary of course (or so Alice assured herself), Alice found that inflicting pain gave her a form of power she'd never experienced before. It was power she didn’t have to work for and it felt good to be able to lord over someone else for a change. Her cruelty became unlimited, everything from burning the child to whipping to verbal abuse. It was then, I am sorry to say, that Alice sealed her karmic fate. Everything about her up to that point had seemed pitiable, but the cruelty was malice incarnate and could no longer go unnoticed, or unpunished.

The gods sometimes choose to remain woefully ignorant of the goings on, on Earth. The dictates of free will are somewhat binding on them and quite frankly, man turned to evil like a child turned to stealing sugar when it knew it was wrong and they resorted to watching and intervening through the power they instilled in the energy of the earth which most people commonly refer to as karma. This principle meant that as the good was rewarded the bad was punished, but time passes slow in the realm of the gods, outside the reaches of knowledge and existence. Fortunately for our story and unfortunately for one of our main characters (whose life ends shortly), karma was acting like a factory expecting an inspection.

On a day much like one you have experienced today, Alice went further than she should have. After a particularly terrible round of beatings, little Lucy was left limp on the floor. Ignorant to her mother’s pleading that she wake up it seemed the child was dying and if you, like myself, has tried to hide a corpse you will know that not only is it difficult to hide it but it is also difficult to feign amnesia as regards the existence of said corpse to the outside world. And so there was no choice but to go to hospital. The doctors immediately attended to the now three year old Lucy while the authorities questioned her mother. Alice and I are both wonderful actresses and so she escaped punishment (like I escaped paying for a taxi cab through a woeful story of injured animals and the assassination of JFK). When Lucy was well enough to return home, her mother bundled her up like the caregiver she was not and set off down the street to their apartment block hand in hand. It was the fondest memory Lucy had of her mother, and unironically, the last. In attempting to cross a busy intersection, Alice’s body, moving at less than one kilometre per hour collided with a motorbike moving at eighty kilometres per hour. Lucy was thrown alongside her mother’s body but the landing was softened by Alice’s torso which was at this point, semi-detached from the head. The scene was worse than ugly. It was the stuff of Hitchcockian fantasy and Tarantinic dreams. It was awful for poor Lucy, who could never get the image out of her mind until the day she died. After all was said and established, Lucy’s relatives refused to take her in citing religious nonsense and superstitious bile. And so Lucy was placed in a car with her few worldly belongings and sent off to a place located a ways away from the town, a building of imposing stature and a grim aura with large iron wrought gates at the forefront of which was embossed the words ‘MUSQORN COUNTY ORPHANAGE.’ 

Title: Lucy Love

Genre : YA

Word Count: (current submission is 1524 words long.)

Author's name : Mitchel Ondili

Why my project is a good fit: It fills a gap in the hearts of every lonely book lover. It' a book that doesn't beg to be understood, it lays out its story and you laugh and cry and groan your sympathy and love Lucy.

Synopsis: a young girl, is born in unfortunate circumstances and spends the rest of her life trying to find the place she fits perfectly into. On the way she finds and loses hope, finds and loses friends, finds and loses herself.

Target audience : 11-26 years

My bio: I'm a 20 year old law school student living in Nairobi, Kenya and I love to write, to read and to be influenced by the ever expanding world of writers and poets around me. 

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Trident Media Group is the leading U.S. literary agency and we are looking to discover and represent the next bestsellers. Share a sample of your work. If it shows promise, we will be in touch with you.
Written by Mitchelhelena in portal Trident Media Group
Dear Lucy, it wasn't your fault you were born
Chapter One
This is not a happy story. Fair warning dear reader, this story does not end well. If there are times in this story when you think I am changing my mind and you become hopeful for a better story, I urge you to turn on the news, or listen to a sad song. It’ll put you right back where you need to be if you’re going to continue reading.
Another thing; if you have not experienced gut wrenching pain, where you’d rather take a knife to your wrists or a noose to your neck or even bleach to your insides, this story will seem a little exaggerated in its sadness. To those readers, I say, first this is a journey you might not want to consider too fast. I’m a firm believer that everything you come into contact with affects your purity and so this may give you awful ideas where it is not intended to. In any case, I’m sorry; for those who know these kinds of stories all too well, and to those who are affected by them anyways.
It all began with Lucy’s birth. No wait, perhaps that’s a bit too far in to tell you. Maybe I’ll start like this; it all began with the attempted abortions. Alice sat crouching over the edge of her bed time and time again trying everything, from coat hanger to unnatural squeezing around her midsection to premature promises to Satan (the idea of God had long ago vanished after this one would not go away as easily as the others). Alice tried harder at this than she had anything in her life but the child persisted, and so Alice‘s lifestyle persisted. Spurning this troublesome pregnancy Alice drank all she wanted and snorted all she could get her hands on. She was wilder than usual with the lingering excuse that she was going to clean up her act once the fixated thing slid out of her.
On the day of, Alice felt the first pangs and decided that she was going to take it out before it hit the ground. Armed with a fifth of vodka she drank the pain away and waited to feel the crowning but maybe the kid learned something because Alice remained dilated at four centimetres for the better part of ten hours until it was unbearable and she had to call an ambulance and was carted off to hospital. If the state of her, sickened the doctor, he made clear not to show it and immediately informed her she would have to endure a caesarean. Drunk on vodka, misery and the enduring testament that God does love to protect little children, Alice agreed and off to surgery she was carted. A few hours later when her mother came to see her Alice insisted she was going to take care of it.
Thus began Lucy’s introduction to sadness. Contrary to her pre-birth behaviour the bravery that Lucy had displayed at defying her mother’s forceful attempts to get rid of her would never again reoccur for the duration of her life. From then on, Lucy was to spend the rest of her days overwhelmed by a crippling, sometimes unknown sometimes not, fear.
Lucy survived the first few years of her life the same way a certain man I know survived through his schooling, barely and with so much luck it almost seemed like cheating. Her first one and a half years was seen through by relatives, Jesus Christ himself and stray cats that wandered in whenever her mother went out. After Lucy could walk and talk a little, the relatives felt discharged of their duty and the cheap flat became quiet, occupied by unwilling Lucy and unwilling Alice. Every morning her mother would leave for a day of mediocre work and enthusiastic philandering. She would feed Lucy before she left and if she was still in the right frame of mind when she got back the malnourished child would get more. But children have particularly strong constitutions especially in the most adverse of circumstances. This is not to say that Lucy had the best of health but she certainly was doing much better than she should have been.
There is a theory that states that the universe is all about energy and every bit of energy radiated by people to and at each other will affect them in some way. Her mother’s promiscuity was to affect Lucy later in her life to a degree that it was nothing less than crippling. On this note perhaps, it may be prudent to say that Alice was not necessarily a terrible person; she’d just left decision making to the whims of her desires and believed so strongly in her own helplessness that she’d truly become unable to control herself. The hardships of life are unimaginable and Alice had been subjected to perhaps one of the worst; never believing she was good enough. Settling for average, she hit far below the target and spiralled fast out of control. She believed in love but the men she met equated love with sex and so she believed in sex and in a roundabout way, she’d become so great at living a terrible lifestyle that the thought of getting better made her ill on the inside. She hated herself so much for being a terrible mother that she began to hate her child for making her a mother. And thus began the beatings.
Now anyone who has ever gotten angry and lashed out at another person can tell you that it is both the most exhilarating and terrible thing to get a reaction from them. After the first few, disciplinary of course (or so Alice assured herself), Alice found that inflicting pain gave her a form of power she'd never experienced before. It was power she didn’t have to work for and it felt good to be able to lord over someone else for a change. Her cruelty became unlimited, everything from burning the child to whipping to verbal abuse. It was then, I am sorry to say, that Alice sealed her karmic fate. Everything about her up to that point had seemed pitiable, but the cruelty was malice incarnate and could no longer go unnoticed, or unpunished.
The gods sometimes choose to remain woefully ignorant of the goings on, on Earth. The dictates of free will are somewhat binding on them and quite frankly, man turned to evil like a child turned to stealing sugar when it knew it was wrong and they resorted to watching and intervening through the power they instilled in the energy of the earth which most people commonly refer to as karma. This principle meant that as the good was rewarded the bad was punished, but time passes slow in the realm of the gods, outside the reaches of knowledge and existence. Fortunately for our story and unfortunately for one of our main characters (whose life ends shortly), karma was acting like a factory expecting an inspection.
On a day much like one you have experienced today, Alice went further than she should have. After a particularly terrible round of beatings, little Lucy was left limp on the floor. Ignorant to her mother’s pleading that she wake up it seemed the child was dying and if you, like myself, has tried to hide a corpse you will know that not only is it difficult to hide it but it is also difficult to feign amnesia as regards the existence of said corpse to the outside world. And so there was no choice but to go to hospital. The doctors immediately attended to the now three year old Lucy while the authorities questioned her mother. Alice and I are both wonderful actresses and so she escaped punishment (like I escaped paying for a taxi cab through a woeful story of injured animals and the assassination of JFK). When Lucy was well enough to return home, her mother bundled her up like the caregiver she was not and set off down the street to their apartment block hand in hand. It was the fondest memory Lucy had of her mother, and unironically, the last. In attempting to cross a busy intersection, Alice’s body, moving at less than one kilometre per hour collided with a motorbike moving at eighty kilometres per hour. Lucy was thrown alongside her mother’s body but the landing was softened by Alice’s torso which was at this point, semi-detached from the head. The scene was worse than ugly. It was the stuff of Hitchcockian fantasy and Tarantinic dreams. It was awful for poor Lucy, who could never get the image out of her mind until the day she died. After all was said and established, Lucy’s relatives refused to take her in citing religious nonsense and superstitious bile. And so Lucy was placed in a car with her few worldly belongings and sent off to a place located a ways away from the town, a building of imposing stature and a grim aura with large iron wrought gates at the forefront of which was embossed the words ‘MUSQORN COUNTY ORPHANAGE.’ 

Title: Lucy Love
Genre : YA
Word Count: (current submission is 1524 words long.)
Author's name : Mitchel Ondili
Why my project is a good fit: It fills a gap in the hearts of every lonely book lover. It' a book that doesn't beg to be understood, it lays out its story and you laugh and cry and groan your sympathy and love Lucy.
Synopsis: a young girl, is born in unfortunate circumstances and spends the rest of her life trying to find the place she fits perfectly into. On the way she finds and loses hope, finds and loses friends, finds and loses herself.
Target audience : 11-26 years
My bio: I'm a 20 year old law school student living in Nairobi, Kenya and I love to write, to read and to be influenced by the ever expanding world of writers and poets around me. 
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Trident Media Group is the leading U.S. literary agency and we are looking to discover and represent the next bestsellers. Share a sample of your work. If it shows promise, we will be in touch with you.
Written by FrankHarvey in portal Trident Media Group

All Rivers Run into the Sea

Life is a thief. You spend all of it chasing the things it has taken from you. But no one ever catches up to it. Life took my first five years, all the moments leading up to this, my first memory. I can’t remember why I was standing there, in the middle of the living room bleeding and naked.

There are memories and then there are the things you just know but can’t remember why you know them. I knew I was me but couldn’t remember why I was me. I felt as though I had just landed. I knew I was naked because I saw everything God gave me when I looked down to my toes. I knew I was bleeding because I watched bloody ribbons twist around my legs from the back to the front like red stripes on white mint. The warm streams trickled to my ankles like roots wrapping between my toes, turning beige naps of carpet into wine.

My blood was the second thing that life took. I imagined the Earth’s magnetic pulses seducing the liquid iron from my heart, through my veins and pores as little red rivers between pale shores, through the carpet and the wood, into the concrete and the clay beneath my feet, then back to her core. That’s where she keeps it all, our histories and moments. We all boil down to bloody magma. That is how she keeps us warm. She is relentless.

I knew that here was home because the air hinted that a meal was in the oven. I knew the woman outside the dining room window was my mother although I can’t remember birth. Bright and dim white spots in the air reflected sunlight like ghostly glass shards dancing through the room between the chandelier and the mirror.

Mom always liked the windows open, except for the living room one which was just one big pane of glass that framed our street and the neighbor’s house. The house smelled like wind, felt like wind. The eyes of the house were always open, as an invitation or an escape route. Both, perhaps. I would find out some day. Jazz was always on the record player, but only with the windows open. It was as if she was sending a signal, like a lighthouse. Music doesn’t sound the same with the windows closed.

From the center of the living room, I watched my mother in the back yard, through the white spots in the dining room and windy jazz, out through the back window. She unhooked white linens from wooden clothespins. But she didn’t just remove the sheet. She held the cloth, rocked with it, but not like a child. To her they were someone, holding her and rocking her in return. Clothespins perched on the wire clothesline observed the performance. Springing from the knees she spun around and held the sheet draped in front of her so all I could see was her fingers pinching the corners. The cool white cotton defied the sun and cupped the breeze like a sail. The air pulled a corner from one hand, twisting it gently away from her. This gave her a shy smile. She reeled it back in to her and closed her eyes when she smelled it. Mom loved to dance.

Folding that tall white flag in half against her chest her glance met mine. She stretched the sheet over the bridge of her nose, across her face so I could only see the top half of it. Her grey eyes broke my heart when they smiled at me. It was a desperate, loyal smile, one that promised to hold you while the world was cracking open under your feet.

But her eyes stopped smiling. Her brows pulled her lashes and lids open wide. Her pupils twitched scans up and down my body. Her chest inflated, shoulders dropped, heels spun, and she ran out of view with the sheet waving behind her. I forgot that I was bleeding.

The metal storm door clicked and clanged. Glass rattled when it hissed shut. I heard her feet slide and pound on the kitchen floor like the drums slapping from the record player. Her long strides split her floral print robe open like silk curtains. Through the white sun sparks in the dining room, she veered toward me, the linen sheet behind her waving to escape out the back window. Dropping to her knees in front me, both hands clung to my shoulders. We were face to face. There was nothing I could say. She looked down at the blood outlining a red moat around my feet and toes. Her eyes shot back up to mine. Quick inhaled breaths flared her nostrils. Terror clenched her jaw. She looked like she saw the world cracking beneath me. The only thing I could find to say was, “Don’t look Mommy. Don’t look.”

That just seemed to make it worse. She wrapped the white sheet around me. Her warm arms and sweaty palms pressed the cool cotton against me like kneading paws. It felt good. Somehow I didn’t feel any pain. Or maybe I did, but at this point in my life I didn’t know that pain was a bad thing. This may be the best I have ever felt, but how would I know.

The small of my back, then the middle, then the top started to pour out blood from hundreds of little slices all starting to weep one after another. I could feel them stain the cloth like red stars on a white sky. One by one they wept, becoming shooting stars. She held me and the bleeding stars in the white sky. She held everything in place. I felt like I belonged there, to whatever world on which I had just landed. She was holding her breath, and me and the white sky so tightly like she was trying to stop time. Maybe she did. The sky was turning red now. The wooden birds on the clothesline watched us. One hung upside down. They were getting a good show today.

I could feel her look at her hands behind my back. I could feel her shock, fibers stiffened in her body, she froze to stop from shaking. A forearm swept up between my legs, her palm pressed my belly, cradling me through the other arm as my mother lunged up to her feet. Bouncing down the hallway, feet first, she lassoed me at my waist, and I watched my bloody footprints in the rug drift further away until we hooked into the bathroom. The jazz only echoed a murmur in here. I got swung into the other arm then onto her hip. Mom moved quickly, but not panicked, like it was standard operating procedure. It reminded me that she was a nurse in the war. This must be how the wounded soldiers felt, being dragged away and repaired like a piece of machinery. She reached for a rusty green box with a red cross on the wall hung by a nail. Rattling the tin box from the wall and the nail with it, she shook open the clasp and dumped the contents into the sink. The nail pinged on the tile floor. The tin box entrails clanged as she reached in and dug through them: thin long limbed scissors, short pointed scissors, white paper medical tape, sheer white strips of cloth, dark glassed jars with green tin lids.

She sat on the toilet lid and unfolded me, belly first over her lap and uncovered me. The corners of the sheet fell to my sides so I could see red freckled cloth. The air from the small bathroom window felt cool on my back. I turned my neck to watch her. She pushed me back around and said, “No.” Eyes back down to the ground, I heard the faucet run, then warm drops were wrung onto my back. Pink water ran from my shoulders, down my arms, dripping off the tip of my finger onto the floor, resting in the white trenches between the ceramic tiles. The tiny bulbs of water gathered together in the grout like lanes of wet traffic. I made up stories about how I ended up here. Maybe I was a puppet, a marionette, and someone cut my strings. I landed down on this stage when the Devil ripped those strings from my back. Sure, that’s how I got here. Or maybe God is just bored. Bored enough to stick pins into this pin cushion not knowing that I am inside. Maybe He does know I’m in here. And, maybe, that’s the point. I know there is a God but I don’t remember why I know that, and now I know that the world is his pin cushion and we are stuffed inside.

The warm towel pressed against my back then slid down to my legs. The air felt cool again when it passed. Then a new, cold liquid stung every single opening. Stings like gasoline in papercuts rushed through me. It smelled like it too. Sucking air and spit through my clenched teeth I turned around. She pushed my head back down again, “Stop it.” I looked at the liquid trickling down my arm again. This time it wasn’t pink. It was clear. “That’s a good sign,” I thought.

From the living room the record hissed and crackled. I kept quiet so I could hear the neighborhood world outside. A trashcan clanged. Lawn mowing blades chirped as they reeled. Parents screamed at each other from inside the middle of other houses. A train went by on the Pennsylvania railroad; I could feel the rumble whisper through me and the bathroom. It was trying to tell me where it was going but I couldn’t understand it. The warm cloth dragged over my back once more then dabbed pressure on each cut. 

Fingertipped scoops of cold thick jelly tapped gentle dabs on my back. After this I heard a different sound. The metal scissors plucked from the sink. Snip. Snip. This sound spun a tornado in my belly. I don’t know why but it did. She rested her wrists on the small of my back, “You’re gonna feel a pinch now, a bunch of ‘em. Just like this.” She pinched my skin with her fingernails. “Then tugs.” She stretched my skin in her pinched fingers. “A buncha those. Hear Me? Don’t be scared. Okay?” I nodded my head yes and inhaled deeply.

She started singing her favorite hymn. I don’t know why but I remembered that Mom only sang this song when something bad happened or was about to. This made my belly feel like a tornado spinning full of angry moths up into my throat.

Snip.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,

Pinch.

And He tells me I am His own;

Tug.

And the joy we share as we tarry there,

Pinch.

None other has ever known.

Tug.

Snip.

Her voice was like the white linen sheet in the wind. Thousands of fine threaded vibrations dancing in the air. She always sounded the same no matter how bad things were. It softened the pinches and tugs. Now I was being laced up like a marionette. Maybe I am a puppet after all. What plays could I be in now that I am restrung? I think I’ll be an actor one day.

Every time I asked how much longer, she told me five more minutes. She wasn’t lying, technically. It was a lot of sets of five more minutes. Dusk dimmed through the bathroom window. I pretended I was a boot, a soldier’s, being laced up. She stitched the wounds from my neck all the way down to my feet. My skin felt tied tight. She sat me up on her lap and started unrolling the white gauze around my neck, under my arms, across my chest. Now I am a mummy, a mummy with black boots. These boots smell a lot like smoke. I looked up at the bathroom window. A bobbing grey cloud sneaked up to it, winding out like the ghost of a snake. Mom stopped singing. Her hands paused. She looked up too, smelled the air, and swept me away again.

Bouncing down the hall, I watched the half used gauze roll unravel behind us, tethering us to the bathroom. The smoke got thicker as we ran in between the dining and living rooms, passed the red footprints, even thicker as we got to the kitchen, the gauze umbilical cord still intact. She sat me down on the floor, a half-naked mummy, at the threshold of the kitchen. She ran in.

Sheets of smoke huffed out of the top of the oven and through the four spiraled burners on top, to the ceiling, settling in a congregation of herding puffy smoke. The bent nook of her arm covered the bottom of her face like the sheet did in the backyard. I covered my face too. Mom reached in for the oven handle and reflexed back from the heat. As she turned her head back she saw my shielded face. She ran over to me, shifting out of her robe and sliding to the floor on her knees in front of me. Sweat dotted her face. She put the robe in my hands and pressed them to my face, “Stay.” I stayed, although my tornadoed guts told me I should go help her. 

Smoke flooded out of the dining room window. The ceiling was striped black. Without her robe, Mom was stripped right down to her white bloomers. Rushing back to the kitchen, she took a dish rag from the sink, this time using it as a glove to heave open the oven door. Braided fingers of golden red flames twisted out, jagged, at her. Soot clung to the sweat on her red cheeks. She jerked back, her body reflecting the amber glow. The glowing claws hissed and cracked at her. She reached straight back, with both bloody hands, ripping the copper fire can off the wall along with the nail.

There she was. My mom, the firefighting nurse. Her legs planted wide like a baseball batter. Ash slashed across her face like warpaint. The copper can reflected the white fire glow on the front side. I saw my own distorted reflection in it. Heat smothered the house. From where I was sitting she was shaped like a five pointed star in knickers, sweat matted black hair at the top, bent right elbow stretching the handle back like a bicycle pump, left hand holding the can out like a shotgun pump, two white legs stretched out at the bottom. She pressed the handle into the can. Pressurized liquid shot from the reservoir into the oven, stinging the flames. The fire winced then clawed back out at her. She cocked and pushed again with tight white knuckles until the brass handle clicked. Fire shrieked back vengeance at her this time. She pumped the handle again. The fire hissed back. Her muscles twisted and pumped the handle back and forward. The blaze cowered. Again. She fought faster. White, yellow, and orange wisps twitched, flickers shrank back into a sopping black ball, crackling in the black pan on the center rack. Pop. Pop, along with the record player.

The can dropped, ringing empty down to the floor with the nail. Her feet back-pedalled to the wall opposite the oven, still watching the oven for signs of blaze. She slid her back down the wall to sit, then rested her arms on her knees and exhaled. I still had the silk robe over my face. Together, we stared at the solidified lava mass in the black pan. If God was bored he sure isn’t now. She chuckled to herself without smiling which also looked like she might cry.

Rolling the back of her head against the wall she turned to me. Something about the way she squeezed her brows together told me that she didn’t sign up for this. Her stillness said that she had been through worse. Her pale eyes pleaded with me, begged me to trust her. I dropped the robe from my face to show that I did. She had no idea that on that day she became my hero. I should have told her that.

Her dyed hands slapped against the floor. She pushed herself up on all fours then crawled over to me. My mom was resilient. Her face was still soft and playful under the sweat and battle dust. She dropped her shoulders and put her forehead to mine, “Catbird.” That’s what she called me, mostly when she needed to hear it more than I did. She reeled in the trail of gauze leading down the hall to the bathroom and finished wrapping me. Her red and black wet hands stained the white threaded mesh. A perfect C shaped scar arched just above the nail on her right index finger. This must be what the soldiers saw when her healing fingertips reached from under the Army uniformed sleeves.

Bandaged in gauze and wrapped in her peony printed robe she swept me up and over to the olive green velvet sofa in front of the glass window. Charred small holes speckled the cushions from glowing tobacco ash that fell from Dad’s pipe. The dark wood legs always snapped a little when we sat on it. We were chest to chest. She held me and sang.

My chin resting on her shoulder, I watched ladybug on the window, a floating red island. It was bare, blank. I made up stories about where its black spots went, probably where life keeps its collection of stolen things, at the center of the earth. It reminded me of the drops of blood on the white sheet, but a walking red droplet with big white eyes and black antennae picking up radio waves from the air. Maybe we listen to the same shows. It flew off. I wondered if it ever fell and what it would be like to fall when all along you know you can fly.

I looked across the street to where the Prokoriev’s lived. We just called them the P’s. They’re Russian. Sometimes I’d watch them glide on the planks of their porch swing (which creaked like our couch but in a different way). Their son Peter, Peter Perseus Prokoriev, and I were born exactly one day apart in the same place, Holy Spirit hospital. I liked sharing a birthday with him. He hated it, the fact that I was always right on his heels. We used to belong to the same church until we stopped going. I asked Mom why we stopped going. She always answered, “Because the holy water burned me.” She said that’s how she got the scarred C on her finger. But I think we really stopped going because of Dad.

“What happened sweetie? Can you tell Mommy what happened?”

I just ummed and twisted my lips from side to side.

“Mommy needs to know.”

I needed to know too. She was supposed to know everything. But I guess she did enough for one day.

“Don’t know.”

“Think real hard, Ford.” That’s the name she called me when things were serious, my real name. She called me Tiger when everything was peachy which wasn’t too often.

“I think --”

“You think what?” She perked up straight, took me from her shoulder and waited eagerly, attentive. She ruffled my shoulders and looked me straight in the eyes. I started a sentence I didn’t know how to finish.

“Well? You think what?” Her eyes tensed like beams pulling from me an answer. “What is it?”

I had to produce a response but I had no information to offer. I tried to remember. It was like trying to hold on too tightly to a greasy dream that keeps writhing away deeper, back into memory.

“I think. That. Um. God. Was just bored?” I arched my eyebrows, in suspense, waiting for her approval.

She closed her eyes slowly, her top lashes rested on her cheeks, inhaling with her chest and shoulders. She was disappointed. She needed an answer. I couldn’t give it to her. Her chest pumped with the start of a chuckle. Her lips bowed up slightly, puffing her cheeks, squeezing her eyes. She pointed her head down so I could only see the top of it. It was the moment before someone is about to open the flood gates of laughter or tears. You brace yourself for both.

“Don’t cry, Mom. It’s okay."

Then, short waves of laughing air came in puffs through her nose, from her throat and stomach. Her shoulders trembled up and down. The corners of her mouth turned up to meet the corners of her eyes. Her jaw heaved open like the oven door and laughter rushed out at me like the flames. The flood gates opened. Springs of water surrounded me and leaked into my own eyes and ears and nose and mouth so I started laughing too. It was like we were holding hands, without embracing, in the middle of a tsunami. We cried laughing until our souls fainted, because we weren't supposed to and because we had to. Her laugh bounced and snorted and squeezed her eyes like the sea had been dammed up since Genesis. That was the happiest I would ever see my mother.

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Written by FrankHarvey in portal Trident Media Group
All Rivers Run into the Sea
Life is a thief. You spend all of it chasing the things it has taken from you. But no one ever catches up to it. Life took my first five years, all the moments leading up to this, my first memory. I can’t remember why I was standing there, in the middle of the living room bleeding and naked.

There are memories and then there are the things you just know but can’t remember why you know them. I knew I was me but couldn’t remember why I was me. I felt as though I had just landed. I knew I was naked because I saw everything God gave me when I looked down to my toes. I knew I was bleeding because I watched bloody ribbons twist around my legs from the back to the front like red stripes on white mint. The warm streams trickled to my ankles like roots wrapping between my toes, turning beige naps of carpet into wine.

My blood was the second thing that life took. I imagined the Earth’s magnetic pulses seducing the liquid iron from my heart, through my veins and pores as little red rivers between pale shores, through the carpet and the wood, into the concrete and the clay beneath my feet, then back to her core. That’s where she keeps it all, our histories and moments. We all boil down to bloody magma. That is how she keeps us warm. She is relentless.

I knew that here was home because the air hinted that a meal was in the oven. I knew the woman outside the dining room window was my mother although I can’t remember birth. Bright and dim white spots in the air reflected sunlight like ghostly glass shards dancing through the room between the chandelier and the mirror.

Mom always liked the windows open, except for the living room one which was just one big pane of glass that framed our street and the neighbor’s house. The house smelled like wind, felt like wind. The eyes of the house were always open, as an invitation or an escape route. Both, perhaps. I would find out some day. Jazz was always on the record player, but only with the windows open. It was as if she was sending a signal, like a lighthouse. Music doesn’t sound the same with the windows closed.

From the center of the living room, I watched my mother in the back yard, through the white spots in the dining room and windy jazz, out through the back window. She unhooked white linens from wooden clothespins. But she didn’t just remove the sheet. She held the cloth, rocked with it, but not like a child. To her they were someone, holding her and rocking her in return. Clothespins perched on the wire clothesline observed the performance. Springing from the knees she spun around and held the sheet draped in front of her so all I could see was her fingers pinching the corners. The cool white cotton defied the sun and cupped the breeze like a sail. The air pulled a corner from one hand, twisting it gently away from her. This gave her a shy smile. She reeled it back in to her and closed her eyes when she smelled it. Mom loved to dance.

Folding that tall white flag in half against her chest her glance met mine. She stretched the sheet over the bridge of her nose, across her face so I could only see the top half of it. Her grey eyes broke my heart when they smiled at me. It was a desperate, loyal smile, one that promised to hold you while the world was cracking open under your feet.

But her eyes stopped smiling. Her brows pulled her lashes and lids open wide. Her pupils twitched scans up and down my body. Her chest inflated, shoulders dropped, heels spun, and she ran out of view with the sheet waving behind her. I forgot that I was bleeding.
The metal storm door clicked and clanged. Glass rattled when it hissed shut. I heard her feet slide and pound on the kitchen floor like the drums slapping from the record player. Her long strides split her floral print robe open like silk curtains. Through the white sun sparks in the dining room, she veered toward me, the linen sheet behind her waving to escape out the back window. Dropping to her knees in front me, both hands clung to my shoulders. We were face to face. There was nothing I could say. She looked down at the blood outlining a red moat around my feet and toes. Her eyes shot back up to mine. Quick inhaled breaths flared her nostrils. Terror clenched her jaw. She looked like she saw the world cracking beneath me. The only thing I could find to say was, “Don’t look Mommy. Don’t look.”

That just seemed to make it worse. She wrapped the white sheet around me. Her warm arms and sweaty palms pressed the cool cotton against me like kneading paws. It felt good. Somehow I didn’t feel any pain. Or maybe I did, but at this point in my life I didn’t know that pain was a bad thing. This may be the best I have ever felt, but how would I know.

The small of my back, then the middle, then the top started to pour out blood from hundreds of little slices all starting to weep one after another. I could feel them stain the cloth like red stars on a white sky. One by one they wept, becoming shooting stars. She held me and the bleeding stars in the white sky. She held everything in place. I felt like I belonged there, to whatever world on which I had just landed. She was holding her breath, and me and the white sky so tightly like she was trying to stop time. Maybe she did. The sky was turning red now. The wooden birds on the clothesline watched us. One hung upside down. They were getting a good show today.

I could feel her look at her hands behind my back. I could feel her shock, fibers stiffened in her body, she froze to stop from shaking. A forearm swept up between my legs, her palm pressed my belly, cradling me through the other arm as my mother lunged up to her feet. Bouncing down the hallway, feet first, she lassoed me at my waist, and I watched my bloody footprints in the rug drift further away until we hooked into the bathroom. The jazz only echoed a murmur in here. I got swung into the other arm then onto her hip. Mom moved quickly, but not panicked, like it was standard operating procedure. It reminded me that she was a nurse in the war. This must be how the wounded soldiers felt, being dragged away and repaired like a piece of machinery. She reached for a rusty green box with a red cross on the wall hung by a nail. Rattling the tin box from the wall and the nail with it, she shook open the clasp and dumped the contents into the sink. The nail pinged on the tile floor. The tin box entrails clanged as she reached in and dug through them: thin long limbed scissors, short pointed scissors, white paper medical tape, sheer white strips of cloth, dark glassed jars with green tin lids.

She sat on the toilet lid and unfolded me, belly first over her lap and uncovered me. The corners of the sheet fell to my sides so I could see red freckled cloth. The air from the small bathroom window felt cool on my back. I turned my neck to watch her. She pushed me back around and said, “No.” Eyes back down to the ground, I heard the faucet run, then warm drops were wrung onto my back. Pink water ran from my shoulders, down my arms, dripping off the tip of my finger onto the floor, resting in the white trenches between the ceramic tiles. The tiny bulbs of water gathered together in the grout like lanes of wet traffic. I made up stories about how I ended up here. Maybe I was a puppet, a marionette, and someone cut my strings. I landed down on this stage when the Devil ripped those strings from my back. Sure, that’s how I got here. Or maybe God is just bored. Bored enough to stick pins into this pin cushion not knowing that I am inside. Maybe He does know I’m in here. And, maybe, that’s the point. I know there is a God but I don’t remember why I know that, and now I know that the world is his pin cushion and we are stuffed inside.

The warm towel pressed against my back then slid down to my legs. The air felt cool again when it passed. Then a new, cold liquid stung every single opening. Stings like gasoline in papercuts rushed through me. It smelled like it too. Sucking air and spit through my clenched teeth I turned around. She pushed my head back down again, “Stop it.” I looked at the liquid trickling down my arm again. This time it wasn’t pink. It was clear. “That’s a good sign,” I thought.

From the living room the record hissed and crackled. I kept quiet so I could hear the neighborhood world outside. A trashcan clanged. Lawn mowing blades chirped as they reeled. Parents screamed at each other from inside the middle of other houses. A train went by on the Pennsylvania railroad; I could feel the rumble whisper through me and the bathroom. It was trying to tell me where it was going but I couldn’t understand it. The warm cloth dragged over my back once more then dabbed pressure on each cut. 

Fingertipped scoops of cold thick jelly tapped gentle dabs on my back. After this I heard a different sound. The metal scissors plucked from the sink. Snip. Snip. This sound spun a tornado in my belly. I don’t know why but it did. She rested her wrists on the small of my back, “You’re gonna feel a pinch now, a bunch of ‘em. Just like this.” She pinched my skin with her fingernails. “Then tugs.” She stretched my skin in her pinched fingers. “A buncha those. Hear Me? Don’t be scared. Okay?” I nodded my head yes and inhaled deeply.
She started singing her favorite hymn. I don’t know why but I remembered that Mom only sang this song when something bad happened or was about to. This made my belly feel like a tornado spinning full of angry moths up into my throat.

Snip.
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
Pinch.
And He tells me I am His own;
Tug.
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
Pinch.
None other has ever known.
Tug.
Snip.

Her voice was like the white linen sheet in the wind. Thousands of fine threaded vibrations dancing in the air. She always sounded the same no matter how bad things were. It softened the pinches and tugs. Now I was being laced up like a marionette. Maybe I am a puppet after all. What plays could I be in now that I am restrung? I think I’ll be an actor one day.

Every time I asked how much longer, she told me five more minutes. She wasn’t lying, technically. It was a lot of sets of five more minutes. Dusk dimmed through the bathroom window. I pretended I was a boot, a soldier’s, being laced up. She stitched the wounds from my neck all the way down to my feet. My skin felt tied tight. She sat me up on her lap and started unrolling the white gauze around my neck, under my arms, across my chest. Now I am a mummy, a mummy with black boots. These boots smell a lot like smoke. I looked up at the bathroom window. A bobbing grey cloud sneaked up to it, winding out like the ghost of a snake. Mom stopped singing. Her hands paused. She looked up too, smelled the air, and swept me away again.

Bouncing down the hall, I watched the half used gauze roll unravel behind us, tethering us to the bathroom. The smoke got thicker as we ran in between the dining and living rooms, passed the red footprints, even thicker as we got to the kitchen, the gauze umbilical cord still intact. She sat me down on the floor, a half-naked mummy, at the threshold of the kitchen. She ran in.

Sheets of smoke huffed out of the top of the oven and through the four spiraled burners on top, to the ceiling, settling in a congregation of herding puffy smoke. The bent nook of her arm covered the bottom of her face like the sheet did in the backyard. I covered my face too. Mom reached in for the oven handle and reflexed back from the heat. As she turned her head back she saw my shielded face. She ran over to me, shifting out of her robe and sliding to the floor on her knees in front of me. Sweat dotted her face. She put the robe in my hands and pressed them to my face, “Stay.” I stayed, although my tornadoed guts told me I should go help her. 

Smoke flooded out of the dining room window. The ceiling was striped black. Without her robe, Mom was stripped right down to her white bloomers. Rushing back to the kitchen, she took a dish rag from the sink, this time using it as a glove to heave open the oven door. Braided fingers of golden red flames twisted out, jagged, at her. Soot clung to the sweat on her red cheeks. She jerked back, her body reflecting the amber glow. The glowing claws hissed and cracked at her. She reached straight back, with both bloody hands, ripping the copper fire can off the wall along with the nail.

There she was. My mom, the firefighting nurse. Her legs planted wide like a baseball batter. Ash slashed across her face like warpaint. The copper can reflected the white fire glow on the front side. I saw my own distorted reflection in it. Heat smothered the house. From where I was sitting she was shaped like a five pointed star in knickers, sweat matted black hair at the top, bent right elbow stretching the handle back like a bicycle pump, left hand holding the can out like a shotgun pump, two white legs stretched out at the bottom. She pressed the handle into the can. Pressurized liquid shot from the reservoir into the oven, stinging the flames. The fire winced then clawed back out at her. She cocked and pushed again with tight white knuckles until the brass handle clicked. Fire shrieked back vengeance at her this time. She pumped the handle again. The fire hissed back. Her muscles twisted and pumped the handle back and forward. The blaze cowered. Again. She fought faster. White, yellow, and orange wisps twitched, flickers shrank back into a sopping black ball, crackling in the black pan on the center rack. Pop. Pop, along with the record player.

The can dropped, ringing empty down to the floor with the nail. Her feet back-pedalled to the wall opposite the oven, still watching the oven for signs of blaze. She slid her back down the wall to sit, then rested her arms on her knees and exhaled. I still had the silk robe over my face. Together, we stared at the solidified lava mass in the black pan. If God was bored he sure isn’t now. She chuckled to herself without smiling which also looked like she might cry.

Rolling the back of her head against the wall she turned to me. Something about the way she squeezed her brows together told me that she didn’t sign up for this. Her stillness said that she had been through worse. Her pale eyes pleaded with me, begged me to trust her. I dropped the robe from my face to show that I did. She had no idea that on that day she became my hero. I should have told her that.

Her dyed hands slapped against the floor. She pushed herself up on all fours then crawled over to me. My mom was resilient. Her face was still soft and playful under the sweat and battle dust. She dropped her shoulders and put her forehead to mine, “Catbird.” That’s what she called me, mostly when she needed to hear it more than I did. She reeled in the trail of gauze leading down the hall to the bathroom and finished wrapping me. Her red and black wet hands stained the white threaded mesh. A perfect C shaped scar arched just above the nail on her right index finger. This must be what the soldiers saw when her healing fingertips reached from under the Army uniformed sleeves.

Bandaged in gauze and wrapped in her peony printed robe she swept me up and over to the olive green velvet sofa in front of the glass window. Charred small holes speckled the cushions from glowing tobacco ash that fell from Dad’s pipe. The dark wood legs always snapped a little when we sat on it. We were chest to chest. She held me and sang.
My chin resting on her shoulder, I watched ladybug on the window, a floating red island. It was bare, blank. I made up stories about where its black spots went, probably where life keeps its collection of stolen things, at the center of the earth. It reminded me of the drops of blood on the white sheet, but a walking red droplet with big white eyes and black antennae picking up radio waves from the air. Maybe we listen to the same shows. It flew off. I wondered if it ever fell and what it would be like to fall when all along you know you can fly.

I looked across the street to where the Prokoriev’s lived. We just called them the P’s. They’re Russian. Sometimes I’d watch them glide on the planks of their porch swing (which creaked like our couch but in a different way). Their son Peter, Peter Perseus Prokoriev, and I were born exactly one day apart in the same place, Holy Spirit hospital. I liked sharing a birthday with him. He hated it, the fact that I was always right on his heels. We used to belong to the same church until we stopped going. I asked Mom why we stopped going. She always answered, “Because the holy water burned me.” She said that’s how she got the scarred C on her finger. But I think we really stopped going because of Dad.

“What happened sweetie? Can you tell Mommy what happened?”
I just ummed and twisted my lips from side to side.
“Mommy needs to know.”
I needed to know too. She was supposed to know everything. But I guess she did enough for one day.
“Don’t know.”
“Think real hard, Ford.” That’s the name she called me when things were serious, my real name. She called me Tiger when everything was peachy which wasn’t too often.

“I think --”

“You think what?” She perked up straight, took me from her shoulder and waited eagerly, attentive. She ruffled my shoulders and looked me straight in the eyes. I started a sentence I didn’t know how to finish.

“Well? You think what?” Her eyes tensed like beams pulling from me an answer. “What is it?”

I had to produce a response but I had no information to offer. I tried to remember. It was like trying to hold on too tightly to a greasy dream that keeps writhing away deeper, back into memory.

“I think. That. Um. God. Was just bored?” I arched my eyebrows, in suspense, waiting for her approval.

She closed her eyes slowly, her top lashes rested on her cheeks, inhaling with her chest and shoulders. She was disappointed. She needed an answer. I couldn’t give it to her. Her chest pumped with the start of a chuckle. Her lips bowed up slightly, puffing her cheeks, squeezing her eyes. She pointed her head down so I could only see the top of it. It was the moment before someone is about to open the flood gates of laughter or tears. You brace yourself for both.

“Don’t cry, Mom. It’s okay."

Then, short waves of laughing air came in puffs through her nose, from her throat and stomach. Her shoulders trembled up and down. The corners of her mouth turned up to meet the corners of her eyes. Her jaw heaved open like the oven door and laughter rushed out at me like the flames. The flood gates opened. Springs of water surrounded me and leaked into my own eyes and ears and nose and mouth so I started laughing too. It was like we were holding hands, without embracing, in the middle of a tsunami. We cried laughing until our souls fainted, because we weren't supposed to and because we had to. Her laugh bounced and snorted and squeezed her eyes like the sea had been dammed up since Genesis. That was the happiest I would ever see my mother.
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Written by 11CaramelDeLyte in portal Trident Media Group

Walking the Press

CHAPTER ONE

“You know, the sooner you begin to talk, the sooner you'll begin to heal. "

Francesca had been sitting in the same spot just looking around. She wondered if it was even worth speaking to anyone about her inner thoughts. Was it worth telling someone so beautiful about how ugly she felt? She thought about getting up and walking out but since she'd already paid for the visit, she figured she may as well say something. 

Scoffing at Dr. Anthony’s previous comment, she continued to look around the dimly lit office just a little bit longer, just thinking about finally getting some healing.  She’d long ago lost count of how many times she had prayed for healing. Yet time and time again, her prayers seemed to have fallen on deaf ears. She'd tried so hard to hold on to her faith and for some reason, one she really could not explain, she really loved the Lord and could not seem to cut Him out of her life. No matter how many times it looked as if He was ignoring her, she held on to even the smallest glimmer of hope that He was listening. She had tried numerous time to just give up on believing God heard her prayers or that He would even bother to answer them. Yet, she hung around the church hoping that one day healing would just find her. Francesca hoped and prayed with her heart of hearts that one day the pain would just go away. But, there was no such luck. The pain never left. Even when her tears dried up, pain stayed in the back of her mind patiently awaiting the day to remind her of its existence. And unfortunately for Francesca, pain was too set on familiarizing her with its strength. After her fourth anxiety attack in the matter of weeks, she decided to seek professional help outside of the church. So, there she sat in Dr. Anthony’s intricately designed office just looking around and distracting herself with the beautiful autumn inspired decorations all around the room.

Dr. Anthony sensed Francesca’s hesitation and decided to lead the conversation. 

“Francesca I can’t help you if you won’t tell me what’s wrong.”

“Hmmm…” Frankie thought out loud. “Tell you what’s wrong. Well Dr. Anthony everything’s wrong. But before we get into that, do you know why I chose you to counsel me?”

Frankie’s superior attitude had been present since she walked into Dr. Anthony’s office. Zuri Anthony wasn’t one to be made to feel small. However, instead of getting defensive, Dr. Anthony decided to play cool.

“Um no Francesca. No I do not. Care to tell me.”

“Well, the answer is very simple. I saw a problem. Actually I saw many problems and I decided I need help. However, I didn’t want help from just any old counselor. No, I needed someone with faith, family, and familiarity. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but you are a Sunday school teacher. Am I right?”

Dr. Anthony was baffled by Frankie’s boldness but nonetheless, she answered her question.

“Yes, I am. But…”

“And, you’re a married mother of two. Correct?”

“Correct. But what does that have…”

“The only thing left is familiarity. And it was hard to find any similarities between the two of us. You were born with a silver spoon and I was born with plastic. You’re married with a beautiful family. I’m single, solo. You are so beautiful and well loved. I’m plain little ole me. Just little neglected and rejected me. However, if my research serves me correctly, I do believe you once saw a therapist of your own. Wasn’t it because you were just one  panic attack away from a nervous breakdown or something like that?”

Shocked and ashamed,  Dr. Anthony held her head down. It was true. She had once sought out a therapist to get rid of the constant pain and fear that were invading her mind. But it dawned on her. If Francesca called her little breakdown familiar then surely Frankie must be having panic attacks also. 

“That’s true also Francesca. I did have a mental break while I was still in college. Is that why you’re here today? Are you having your own mental breakdown?” Dr. Anthony asked with a look of concern.

Usually, it was easy for Frankie to keep up her brave face. But for some reason, hearing her greatest imperfection from the mouth of someone far more superior than she humbled her. Once again, her false bravado failed her. Frankie’s heart was breaking. If the one person she paid to not have pity on her was sitting before her with such pity, then surely everyone else in her life pitied her.

The look of sorrow in Francesca’s eyes baffled Dr. Anthony. Mere seconds before, Francesca’s nose was in the air and her eyes were cast down. How could one of such confidence be diminished to such pity so quickly?

“I practiced over and over what I would say if I was ever given the chance. Would I confess all of my weaknesses? Would I scream? Would I cry? And now that I’m here, I find myself questioning if it’s even worth talking to you. I mean is it even worth telling someone as beautiful as you how ugly I really fell inside? Is it worth explaining to you the painful art of accepting rejection? I have just one question for you Doc. Have you ever been rejected by anyone in your life?”

Although she didn’t see the importance of her history, Dr. Anthony decided to play along.

“Yeah I guess you can say I’ve been rejected before. You know Francesca, some of my exes actually broke up with me. There was one relationship that I found extremely hard to lose. But what does that have to do with how you’re feeling?”

“Honestly, I really prefer not to share my most heartbreaking thoughts with someone who doesn’t understand. Nevertheless, I just really need to tell someone how I really feel. I mean I really need to be heard and not judged. I figured I would have to get help sooner or later considering I’ve had four anxiety attacks. It may as well be sooner.”

Francesca inhaled deeply then exhaled slowly. She was ready to finally bare her soul to someone. She was tired of not being healed.

“Do me a quick favor,” she began. “Think of all of the art you know. I’m talking about every form of art. The music, the paintings, the poetry, dance, acting. Think of it all. Now, think of your favorite artist. Hopefully you have a favorite in each category. Do you ever wonder how much does she or he suffers? How much did she or he have to suffer to be as great as she or he is? Do you ever think of the sufferings of an artist? Or, are you one of those people who believe that art is easy- that anyone can just create? Honestly, have you ever thought about why music and poetry and dance and movies and even paintings have so much emotion? I’m certain that art is possessed by the soul of the artist. It’s been said that beauty knows no pain. And I believe art is one of the most painful beauties of this world.”

Frankie’s little rant confused Dr. Anthony. What did it matter how the doctor saw art? Frankie’s appointment was meant to be spent talking about her. And so far, she’d done everything but stay on topic. Fortunately, Dr. Anthony was a patient woman and knew if she wanted Francesca to open up she would have to make her feel comfortable. And if answering a few questions would make Frankie comfortable then so be it. 

“Well,” Dr. Anthony began. “I believe that beauty itself is pain.”

“Beauty itself is pain,” Frankie said interrupting Dr. Anthony. “Do tell, Doc.”

“We search the world looking for things and people that we behold to be beautiful. Each of us living up to someone else’s standards of beauty. But what really is beautiful? I believe since there is no one answer to that question, most people hurt themselves, willing to die even, just to try to be someone else's  version of beauty. Beauty is pain.”

“Someone else's version of beauty. Well Doc to be honest, I think my problem is I gave up on seeing beauty in people. And you seem to believe that’s where most look for beauty. I’m talking about the product. Not the person. What makes words beautiful? What makes pictures beautiful? What makes a building beautiful? I don’t care about what makes people beautiful!”

Francesca was so frustrated. For a second, just one split second, she thought Dr. Anthony understood. She thought Dr. Anthony could actually look at art and see the pain. She thought for one second someone could understand her. But no such luck.

“Francesca if you would just calm down and explain to me why you are really here, then maybe I can help you.”

Frankie thought about the answer to the Dr.’s question for a minute.

“I’m here because I have nothing. Nothing but this stupid voice in my head that will not go away. I hear it when I’m in a crowd, when I’m all alone, when I’m at work. It doesn’t matter where I am or what I am doing. This voice in my head just won’t leave me alone.”

Her voice cracked. She officially broke down. She sat in her seat and patiently waited for the judgement to come. Whenever she had confided in family or friends, there was always judgement. Surely it would show up at that moment.

“Francesca listen to me. I can help you. But you need to let your guard down and trust me. Throwing tantrums when I don’t respond the way you think I should will not help. You have to trust me.”

Trust her? Dr. Anthony had no idea how comical she sounded to Francesca. Francesca had a hard time trusting her own parents let alone some superficial doctor who only saw beauty in people. But she thought about it once again. She'd already paid for her current session with the doctor, so she decided she may as well entertain herself. Exhaling, she decided to let go of some of her fears and invite someone into the inner workings of her mind. 

"Ever since I could remember, " she began. "There has been this nagging voice in the back of my mind. When I was little,  my mother would tell me it was just my imagination. She tried her best to explain to me that everyone goes through a short phase were it feels like someone is speaking with them. She called it an imaginary friend. As a child, I felt I had no choice but to believe her.  She's my mother. Surely she wouldn't lie to me about something so frightening. Well, slowly I learned to embrace my imaginary friend. I even learned to on love her. I named her Tarra. We were inseparable. She was there all throughout my childhood as my best friend,  as my only friend. There was nothing or no one that could change how I felt about Tarra."

Francesca paused to clear her mind. Thinking about the once  close relationship she'd  had with the voice that's now haunting her both day and night was beginning to overwhelm her. 

Just as Dr. Anthony was about to speak, Francesca continued.

"For a few years,  I really thought I was n I real and that there was no problem in having a friend that no one else could hear but me. After all, my mother had reassured me I was okay when I was little. So why did she  change the rules when I got older?" Francesca stopped to catch the few tears that were threatening  to fall.

"I was in the second grade, only y eight years old when she told me it was time for my friendship with Tarra to come to an  end. I can still remember the day she sat me down. 'Frankie,' she said. 'There comes a time in everyone's  life when imaginary friends must be traded in for real friends.'"

"It was so hard for me to understand. At first she told me it was okay to have Tarra, a strange voice that was always there to help me create beautiful stories and poems. Then she told me it was time I outgrow Tarra,the strange voice that carried me through scary thunderstorms and awful Meatloaf Mondays. I wasn't ready to just let go.m Tarra understood me, she was there for me in Kindergarten when Kierney Thompson pushed me off the swing set, she was the one who told me if I imagined the box didn't exist then I wouldn't have to worry about trying to think outside of it. I couldn't let her go so easily. And I didn't."

"If it wasn't for that one stupid day under that one stupid tree in seventh grade , Tarra would probably still be a dear friend to me instead of a haunting voice I'm trying so desperately to get rid of. But no! Tarra decided to break the rules and dB talk to me in public. She wanted to tell me about a new story she wanted to write and I could not resist her. We got so caught up in makings of another wonderful short story that I didn't even notice the small crowd around me. Hearing everyone laughing and seeing  everyone pointing at me at me broke my heart. I knew in that very moment that I was different and it was wrong to still have an imaginary friend at thirteen. That was the day I vowed to never again acknowledge the strange voice in my head. "

Exhausted , Francesca let her head drop into her hands and she took in the silence. As a few minutes passed, she prepared herself for the judgement that always came. She waited patiently to hear the damming words come from Dr. Anthony’s lips. 

"Francesca how about we pick up here tomorrow?" Dr. Anthony needed a moment alone just as much as Francesca did. 

Francesca was so shocked.  There was no judgement.  No ignorance.  Just a chance for her to unburden herself.

"Sure,  I'd like that. "

Francesca picked up her belongings and for the first time in a while, she genuinely smiled. 

Title: Walking the Press

Genre: Suspense  

Age range: 25 plus

Word count: 2,407

Author: Tiera Franklin

Walking the Press is good fit because it's a fresh idea and offers insight into the mind of a millennial. 

Synopsis: Francesca Stevenson is hearing a voice. It's there when she's  and even when she's crowded. After suffering from several panic attacks brought on by the constant noise in her head,she seeks help from  psychologist Zuri  Anthony. Little does Francesca know, the once peaceful imaginary friend will not go away so peacefully.

Target audience: 14+ male and female

Bio: The second oldest of five, I live to write. Being published is the only thing I think of.

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Walking the Press
CHAPTER ONE
“You know, the sooner you begin to talk, the sooner you'll begin to heal. "
Francesca had been sitting in the same spot just looking around. She wondered if it was even worth speaking to anyone about her inner thoughts. Was it worth telling someone so beautiful about how ugly she felt? She thought about getting up and walking out but since she'd already paid for the visit, she figured she may as well say something. 
Scoffing at Dr. Anthony’s previous comment, she continued to look around the dimly lit office just a little bit longer, just thinking about finally getting some healing.  She’d long ago lost count of how many times she had prayed for healing. Yet time and time again, her prayers seemed to have fallen on deaf ears. She'd tried so hard to hold on to her faith and for some reason, one she really could not explain, she really loved the Lord and could not seem to cut Him out of her life. No matter how many times it looked as if He was ignoring her, she held on to even the smallest glimmer of hope that He was listening. She had tried numerous time to just give up on believing God heard her prayers or that He would even bother to answer them. Yet, she hung around the church hoping that one day healing would just find her. Francesca hoped and prayed with her heart of hearts that one day the pain would just go away. But, there was no such luck. The pain never left. Even when her tears dried up, pain stayed in the back of her mind patiently awaiting the day to remind her of its existence. And unfortunately for Francesca, pain was too set on familiarizing her with its strength. After her fourth anxiety attack in the matter of weeks, she decided to seek professional help outside of the church. So, there she sat in Dr. Anthony’s intricately designed office just looking around and distracting herself with the beautiful autumn inspired decorations all around the room.
Dr. Anthony sensed Francesca’s hesitation and decided to lead the conversation. 
“Francesca I can’t help you if you won’t tell me what’s wrong.”
“Hmmm…” Frankie thought out loud. “Tell you what’s wrong. Well Dr. Anthony everything’s wrong. But before we get into that, do you know why I chose you to counsel me?”
Frankie’s superior attitude had been present since she walked into Dr. Anthony’s office. Zuri Anthony wasn’t one to be made to feel small. However, instead of getting defensive, Dr. Anthony decided to play cool.
“Um no Francesca. No I do not. Care to tell me.”
“Well, the answer is very simple. I saw a problem. Actually I saw many problems and I decided I need help. However, I didn’t want help from just any old counselor. No, I needed someone with faith, family, and familiarity. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but you are a Sunday school teacher. Am I right?”
Dr. Anthony was baffled by Frankie’s boldness but nonetheless, she answered her question.
“Yes, I am. But…”
“And, you’re a married mother of two. Correct?”
“Correct. But what does that have…”
“The only thing left is familiarity. And it was hard to find any similarities between the two of us. You were born with a silver spoon and I was born with plastic. You’re married with a beautiful family. I’m single, solo. You are so beautiful and well loved. I’m plain little ole me. Just little neglected and rejected me. However, if my research serves me correctly, I do believe you once saw a therapist of your own. Wasn’t it because you were just one  panic attack away from a nervous breakdown or something like that?”
Shocked and ashamed,  Dr. Anthony held her head down. It was true. She had once sought out a therapist to get rid of the constant pain and fear that were invading her mind. But it dawned on her. If Francesca called her little breakdown familiar then surely Frankie must be having panic attacks also. 
“That’s true also Francesca. I did have a mental break while I was still in college. Is that why you’re here today? Are you having your own mental breakdown?” Dr. Anthony asked with a look of concern.
Usually, it was easy for Frankie to keep up her brave face. But for some reason, hearing her greatest imperfection from the mouth of someone far more superior than she humbled her. Once again, her false bravado failed her. Frankie’s heart was breaking. If the one person she paid to not have pity on her was sitting before her with such pity, then surely everyone else in her life pitied her.
The look of sorrow in Francesca’s eyes baffled Dr. Anthony. Mere seconds before, Francesca’s nose was in the air and her eyes were cast down. How could one of such confidence be diminished to such pity so quickly?
“I practiced over and over what I would say if I was ever given the chance. Would I confess all of my weaknesses? Would I scream? Would I cry? And now that I’m here, I find myself questioning if it’s even worth talking to you. I mean is it even worth telling someone as beautiful as you how ugly I really fell inside? Is it worth explaining to you the painful art of accepting rejection? I have just one question for you Doc. Have you ever been rejected by anyone in your life?”
Although she didn’t see the importance of her history, Dr. Anthony decided to play along.
“Yeah I guess you can say I’ve been rejected before. You know Francesca, some of my exes actually broke up with me. There was one relationship that I found extremely hard to lose. But what does that have to do with how you’re feeling?”
“Honestly, I really prefer not to share my most heartbreaking thoughts with someone who doesn’t understand. Nevertheless, I just really need to tell someone how I really feel. I mean I really need to be heard and not judged. I figured I would have to get help sooner or later considering I’ve had four anxiety attacks. It may as well be sooner.”
Francesca inhaled deeply then exhaled slowly. She was ready to finally bare her soul to someone. She was tired of not being healed.
“Do me a quick favor,” she began. “Think of all of the art you know. I’m talking about every form of art. The music, the paintings, the poetry, dance, acting. Think of it all. Now, think of your favorite artist. Hopefully you have a favorite in each category. Do you ever wonder how much does she or he suffers? How much did she or he have to suffer to be as great as she or he is? Do you ever think of the sufferings of an artist? Or, are you one of those people who believe that art is easy- that anyone can just create? Honestly, have you ever thought about why music and poetry and dance and movies and even paintings have so much emotion? I’m certain that art is possessed by the soul of the artist. It’s been said that beauty knows no pain. And I believe art is one of the most painful beauties of this world.”
Frankie’s little rant confused Dr. Anthony. What did it matter how the doctor saw art? Frankie’s appointment was meant to be spent talking about her. And so far, she’d done everything but stay on topic. Fortunately, Dr. Anthony was a patient woman and knew if she wanted Francesca to open up she would have to make her feel comfortable. And if answering a few questions would make Frankie comfortable then so be it. 
“Well,” Dr. Anthony began. “I believe that beauty itself is pain.”
“Beauty itself is pain,” Frankie said interrupting Dr. Anthony. “Do tell, Doc.”
“We search the world looking for things and people that we behold to be beautiful. Each of us living up to someone else’s standards of beauty. But what really is beautiful? I believe since there is no one answer to that question, most people hurt themselves, willing to die even, just to try to be someone else's  version of beauty. Beauty is pain.”
“Someone else's version of beauty. Well Doc to be honest, I think my problem is I gave up on seeing beauty in people. And you seem to believe that’s where most look for beauty. I’m talking about the product. Not the person. What makes words beautiful? What makes pictures beautiful? What makes a building beautiful? I don’t care about what makes people beautiful!”
Francesca was so frustrated. For a second, just one split second, she thought Dr. Anthony understood. She thought Dr. Anthony could actually look at art and see the pain. She thought for one second someone could understand her. But no such luck.
“Francesca if you would just calm down and explain to me why you are really here, then maybe I can help you.”
Frankie thought about the answer to the Dr.’s question for a minute.
“I’m here because I have nothing. Nothing but this stupid voice in my head that will not go away. I hear it when I’m in a crowd, when I’m all alone, when I’m at work. It doesn’t matter where I am or what I am doing. This voice in my head just won’t leave me alone.”
Her voice cracked. She officially broke down. She sat in her seat and patiently waited for the judgement to come. Whenever she had confided in family or friends, there was always judgement. Surely it would show up at that moment.
“Francesca listen to me. I can help you. But you need to let your guard down and trust me. Throwing tantrums when I don’t respond the way you think I should will not help. You have to trust me.”
Trust her? Dr. Anthony had no idea how comical she sounded to Francesca. Francesca had a hard time trusting her own parents let alone some superficial doctor who only saw beauty in people. But she thought about it once again. She'd already paid for her current session with the doctor, so she decided she may as well entertain herself. Exhaling, she decided to let go of some of her fears and invite someone into the inner workings of her mind. 
"Ever since I could remember, " she began. "There has been this nagging voice in the back of my mind. When I was little,  my mother would tell me it was just my imagination. She tried her best to explain to me that everyone goes through a short phase were it feels like someone is speaking with them. She called it an imaginary friend. As a child, I felt I had no choice but to believe her.  She's my mother. Surely she wouldn't lie to me about something so frightening. Well, slowly I learned to embrace my imaginary friend. I even learned to on love her. I named her Tarra. We were inseparable. She was there all throughout my childhood as my best friend,  as my only friend. There was nothing or no one that could change how I felt about Tarra."
Francesca paused to clear her mind. Thinking about the once  close relationship she'd  had with the voice that's now haunting her both day and night was beginning to overwhelm her. 
Just as Dr. Anthony was about to speak, Francesca continued.
"For a few years,  I really thought I was n I real and that there was no problem in having a friend that no one else could hear but me. After all, my mother had reassured me I was okay when I was little. So why did she  change the rules when I got older?" Francesca stopped to catch the few tears that were threatening  to fall.
"I was in the second grade, only y eight years old when she told me it was time for my friendship with Tarra to come to an  end. I can still remember the day she sat me down. 'Frankie,' she said. 'There comes a time in everyone's  life when imaginary friends must be traded in for real friends.'"
"It was so hard for me to understand. At first she told me it was okay to have Tarra, a strange voice that was always there to help me create beautiful stories and poems. Then she told me it was time I outgrow Tarra,the strange voice that carried me through scary thunderstorms and awful Meatloaf Mondays. I wasn't ready to just let go.m Tarra understood me, she was there for me in Kindergarten when Kierney Thompson pushed me off the swing set, she was the one who told me if I imagined the box didn't exist then I wouldn't have to worry about trying to think outside of it. I couldn't let her go so easily. And I didn't."
"If it wasn't for that one stupid day under that one stupid tree in seventh grade , Tarra would probably still be a dear friend to me instead of a haunting voice I'm trying so desperately to get rid of. But no! Tarra decided to break the rules and dB talk to me in public. She wanted to tell me about a new story she wanted to write and I could not resist her. We got so caught up in makings of another wonderful short story that I didn't even notice the small crowd around me. Hearing everyone laughing and seeing  everyone pointing at me at me broke my heart. I knew in that very moment that I was different and it was wrong to still have an imaginary friend at thirteen. That was the day I vowed to never again acknowledge the strange voice in my head. "
Exhausted , Francesca let her head drop into her hands and she took in the silence. As a few minutes passed, she prepared herself for the judgement that always came. She waited patiently to hear the damming words come from Dr. Anthony’s lips. 
"Francesca how about we pick up here tomorrow?" Dr. Anthony needed a moment alone just as much as Francesca did. 
Francesca was so shocked.  There was no judgement.  No ignorance.  Just a chance for her to unburden herself.
"Sure,  I'd like that. "
Francesca picked up her belongings and for the first time in a while, she genuinely smiled. 

Title: Walking the Press
Genre: Suspense  
Age range: 25 plus
Word count: 2,407
Author: Tiera Franklin
Walking the Press is good fit because it's a fresh idea and offers insight into the mind of a millennial. 
Synopsis: Francesca Stevenson is hearing a voice. It's there when she's  and even when she's crowded. After suffering from several panic attacks brought on by the constant noise in her head,she seeks help from  psychologist Zuri  Anthony. Little does Francesca know, the once peaceful imaginary friend will not go away so peacefully.
Target audience: 14+ male and female
Bio: The second oldest of five, I live to write. Being published is the only thing I think of.
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Reason Number Three

The massive concrete door pushed open and Stanley stepped inside. The light fixtures flickered yellow, allowing just enough light to light up the corners of the room. Scattered across the floor and hanging on the walls were tapestries. Unevenly cut cloth embodied to depict from mountain scenes to specific people. At the far end of the room, sat the prisoner. Her hands held her newest project, her unsettlingly graceful movements poking the needle through the fabric ever few moments.

She looked up. Stanley shivered. Her dark, lifeless eyes found his and she smiled.

“You’re new.” she continued sewing.

“Yes.”

“They told you about me?”

“Yes.”

“Ah, that’s why you’re petrified.”

Stanley sat on a small wooden stool right next to the door. He watched her weave the string through the fabric, her motions deliberate and calm.

“They don’t let me use scissors. I have to bite the strings.”

When Stanley didn’t respond she stopped working and looked straight at him.

“May I have scissors?”

“I wasn't born yesterday, no, you can’t have scissors.”

She grinned, picking her needle back up. “Just testing you.”

“What are you embroidering?”

“A face.”

“Whose face?”

“Herbert Hoover.”

“What?”

“I’ve already done the first 30 presidents. He’s 31st.”

She gestured to the wall, Stanley raised his eyebrows at the images. “You remember the faces of all of the presidents well enough to embroid them?”

“Yes. You don’t?”

Steven leaned back against the cell door, surprise flooding his face. He scanned the walls and floors, finding the detailed and accurate tapestries everywhere.

“You’re very good at that.”

“Thank you.”

“How’d you convince them for the materials?”

She grinned. “It’s a life sentence. I have unique needs.”

Stanley nodded, continuing to survey the embroidery.

“You can look at it all closer, if you like. I didn’t put details in to go unnoticed.”

Stanley stood up from his stool, hesitantly making his way closer to the display. The bits of cloth were reluctantly hung with hot glue, clearly put there by an officer. Stanley’s eye caught on a depiction of a park. He moved closer to it, tracing the string with his finger. He saw where the strings disappeared and became a people sitting in lawn, where the dark blue became the night sky.

Suddenly, he felt watched. He remembered protocol—‘Don’t Stand Within Five Feet Of Prisoner’— he turned his head, expecting her to lunge. Instead, he found her staring at him, not moving, with a look of pure amusement on her face.

“Well, aren’t you bold.” For the first time, Stanley heard the chains around her wrists clink. He staggered back to the stool in a panic, thinking she’d moved to attack, but she just sat there.

“Jesus, I was just getting a new string. What did the big guys say about me? I’m rather offended.” She bit the string in half.

Stanley didn’t say anything, his heart still beating fast from his overreaction.

“I bet they told you very foggy facts about me. I bet they told you what I did, but not how I did it. That got your imagination running wild.”

Stanley stared back at her. She wasn’t smiling, or even grinning, just talking to him.

“Well, if you have any questions for me, go ahead and ask. Let me clear away some fog. Lord knows I have a lifetime to tell you.”

Stanley nibbled at his finger nails. “Why’d you do it?”

“Too vague.”

“I think you can answer why—“

“No, too vague.” Her voice echoed in the cell. Her arms now crossed, her project on the floor beside her.

“What’s your name?”

“Stanley.”

“Let me ask you something, Stanley.” She emphasized his name, mocking his apparent ignorance.

“How did you get here?”

“I took a bus.”

“No, I mean, how did you get to this point in your life?”

“Well, there’s a lot of different factors—“

“Exactly. There isn’t just one ‘why’ for anything.”

“Just hang on a second,” Stanley pointed at the prisoner on the floor in front of him. “Don’t you say that my situation is anything like yours, because it’s not.”

She glared at him for a few moments. Then she smiled. “Oh, it’s so similar, Stanley. All of the factors in your life that made you, those reasons, are the same sort of factors that made me a murderer.”

Stanley twitched.

“What, too blunt for you? You don’t want to believe that I had a life too, that I’m a person?” Her chains clanked.

“Just go back to your embroidering, I shouldn’t have asked.”

“How can I go back to that boring stuff while I’m having such an impassioned conversation with you?”

“I can get people in here within moments to take these pictures down, would you like that?”

She scowled at Stanley before picking up her cloth again, continuing to stitch. Stanley watched her, noticing the needle slip into her thumb a few times, blood dripping onto Hoover’s face. She never flinched.

After several minutes of silence, she cleared her throat. “Do you like dogs, Stanley?”

“Where did that come from?”

“Do you?”

He nodded, confused.

“Good. I would’ve had to kill you otherwise.” She burst into laughter, realizing soon after that Stanley hadn’t laughed with her.

“I won’t kill you, Stanley. I like you. I can tell you’re a good person.

“Gee, thanks.”

“Well, I had a dog. This massive Rottweiler. I must’ve been about three when my mom gave him to me. I called him Jerky.”

She stopped to bite her string.

“What happened to him?”

“My stepdad.”

She looked directly at Stanley. “Reason number one.”

Stanley rubbed at his neck.

“Twenty years later, I set a police dog on him. A Rottweiler named Beef.”

Stanley almost laughed, watching her place the embroidery on the floor and try to lay down. A flurry of clanking arose from her chains as she got comfortable, eventually fading back into the quiet of the cell.

“How many reasons are there?”

“Oh, if we sit here long enough, I can come up with millions.”

“So what’s reason number two?”

She glanced over to Stanley, surprised. “You want to know?”

“Sure.”

“OK, several years after the Jerky incident, I was raped.”

Stanley’s face lost color.

“Oh, don’t worry. I won’t say anything else. That’s usually the story that gets the guards to quit.” She shifted so she lay on her back, staring up at the ceiling.

“Must be some story.”

“Anyway, reason numero dos.” She held out two fingers. “Tell your boss that if he really wants to stop the criminals, he has to stop what drives them.”

Stanley studied the woman on the floor. Even from far away he could see the bruises that coiled her ankles and wrists, surrounded by locked iron chains.

“I would give you more ‘reasons,’ but I don’t want to.”

“OK.”

“I’ll wait to say more until tomorrow, then.”

Stanley breathed. “May I tell a reason?”

She sat up, surprised. “Sure.”

“About eight years ago, I was visiting home from college. I was an only son, and apparently while I was away my parents had a bad case of empty-nest syndrome. I came home to a baby sister.”

She chuckled. “Her name?”

“Sofia.”

“Sweet.”

“A few nights later, my dad took Sofia to a park. You bombed them.”

The two stared at each other. Her face unreadable.

“Reason number one.”

“That’s a good ‘why.’” she whispered. Then a grin rose to her face. “This is interesting. Oh, you see? We’re more alike than you think.”

“Shut up.”

“No, can’t you see? All of the things you went through to become my guard, so tedious. But why?”

She grinned wider, Stanley clenched his jaw. “You want to kill me. I don’t blame you.”

“Why them? What’s your reason for my father, your reason for my baby sister?”

“Calm down, Stanley. I did my research. I must admit, the bomb was a special touch. You see, I’m not usually an explosive kind of gal, but I needed the ‘last hurrah’ feel—“

Stanley shot out of his seat and grasped her neck in one motion. Their noses touched, their teeth bared, eyes piercing daggers into each other.

“Go on, Stanley. Squeeze and we’ll switch places. I’ll be rid of these chains and you’ll be in them.”

A rush of commotion could be heard from outside the cell. The keypad beeping as Stanley’s boss slapped in the code. Stanley dropped the girl’s neck. He turned to face the door. The cell opened to the chief officer pointing a gun.

“We’re all right, mister, I’ve got it under control.” She flashed a sweet smile.

“Stanley, to my office. Now.” Stanley followed his boss down the corridor.

“You’re fired.”

“I quit.”

“I need your badge, your holster, and the keys back, please.”

Stanley moved to remove his badge when the chief stopped him.

“Where are your keys?”

“What?”

“Keys. The keys to the chains in case she needed the restroom. Why aren’t they on your belt?”

The two of them rushed back to the cell, finding only a pile of empty chains and the embroidered park placed carefully on the stool.

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Reason Number Three


The massive concrete door pushed open and Stanley stepped inside. The light fixtures flickered yellow, allowing just enough light to light up the corners of the room. Scattered across the floor and hanging on the walls were tapestries. Unevenly cut cloth embodied to depict from mountain scenes to specific people. At the far end of the room, sat the prisoner. Her hands held her newest project, her unsettlingly graceful movements poking the needle through the fabric ever few moments.
She looked up. Stanley shivered. Her dark, lifeless eyes found his and she smiled.
“You’re new.” she continued sewing.
“Yes.”
“They told you about me?”
“Yes.”
“Ah, that’s why you’re petrified.”
Stanley sat on a small wooden stool right next to the door. He watched her weave the string through the fabric, her motions deliberate and calm.
“They don’t let me use scissors. I have to bite the strings.”
When Stanley didn’t respond she stopped working and looked straight at him.
“May I have scissors?”
“I wasn't born yesterday, no, you can’t have scissors.”
She grinned, picking her needle back up. “Just testing you.”
“What are you embroidering?”
“A face.”
“Whose face?”
“Herbert Hoover.”
“What?”
“I’ve already done the first 30 presidents. He’s 31st.”
She gestured to the wall, Stanley raised his eyebrows at the images. “You remember the faces of all of the presidents well enough to embroid them?”
“Yes. You don’t?”
Steven leaned back against the cell door, surprise flooding his face. He scanned the walls and floors, finding the detailed and accurate tapestries everywhere.
“You’re very good at that.”
“Thank you.”
“How’d you convince them for the materials?”
She grinned. “It’s a life sentence. I have unique needs.”
Stanley nodded, continuing to survey the embroidery.
“You can look at it all closer, if you like. I didn’t put details in to go unnoticed.”
Stanley stood up from his stool, hesitantly making his way closer to the display. The bits of cloth were reluctantly hung with hot glue, clearly put there by an officer. Stanley’s eye caught on a depiction of a park. He moved closer to it, tracing the string with his finger. He saw where the strings disappeared and became a people sitting in lawn, where the dark blue became the night sky.
Suddenly, he felt watched. He remembered protocol—‘Don’t Stand Within Five Feet Of Prisoner’— he turned his head, expecting her to lunge. Instead, he found her staring at him, not moving, with a look of pure amusement on her face.
“Well, aren’t you bold.” For the first time, Stanley heard the chains around her wrists clink. He staggered back to the stool in a panic, thinking she’d moved to attack, but she just sat there.
“Jesus, I was just getting a new string. What did the big guys say about me? I’m rather offended.” She bit the string in half.
Stanley didn’t say anything, his heart still beating fast from his overreaction.
“I bet they told you very foggy facts about me. I bet they told you what I did, but not how I did it. That got your imagination running wild.”
Stanley stared back at her. She wasn’t smiling, or even grinning, just talking to him.
“Well, if you have any questions for me, go ahead and ask. Let me clear away some fog. Lord knows I have a lifetime to tell you.”
Stanley nibbled at his finger nails. “Why’d you do it?”
“Too vague.”
“I think you can answer why—“
“No, too vague.” Her voice echoed in the cell. Her arms now crossed, her project on the floor beside her.
“What’s your name?”
“Stanley.”
“Let me ask you something, Stanley.” She emphasized his name, mocking his apparent ignorance.
“How did you get here?”
“I took a bus.”
“No, I mean, how did you get to this point in your life?”
“Well, there’s a lot of different factors—“
“Exactly. There isn’t just one ‘why’ for anything.”
“Just hang on a second,” Stanley pointed at the prisoner on the floor in front of him. “Don’t you say that my situation is anything like yours, because it’s not.”
She glared at him for a few moments. Then she smiled. “Oh, it’s so similar, Stanley. All of the factors in your life that made you, those reasons, are the same sort of factors that made me a murderer.”
Stanley twitched.
“What, too blunt for you? You don’t want to believe that I had a life too, that I’m a person?” Her chains clanked.
“Just go back to your embroidering, I shouldn’t have asked.”
“How can I go back to that boring stuff while I’m having such an impassioned conversation with you?”
“I can get people in here within moments to take these pictures down, would you like that?”
She scowled at Stanley before picking up her cloth again, continuing to stitch. Stanley watched her, noticing the needle slip into her thumb a few times, blood dripping onto Hoover’s face. She never flinched.
After several minutes of silence, she cleared her throat. “Do you like dogs, Stanley?”
“Where did that come from?”
“Do you?”
He nodded, confused.
“Good. I would’ve had to kill you otherwise.” She burst into laughter, realizing soon after that Stanley hadn’t laughed with her.
“I won’t kill you, Stanley. I like you. I can tell you’re a good person.
“Gee, thanks.”
“Well, I had a dog. This massive Rottweiler. I must’ve been about three when my mom gave him to me. I called him Jerky.”
She stopped to bite her string.
“What happened to him?”
“My stepdad.”
She looked directly at Stanley. “Reason number one.”
Stanley rubbed at his neck.
“Twenty years later, I set a police dog on him. A Rottweiler named Beef.”
Stanley almost laughed, watching her place the embroidery on the floor and try to lay down. A flurry of clanking arose from her chains as she got comfortable, eventually fading back into the quiet of the cell.
“How many reasons are there?”
“Oh, if we sit here long enough, I can come up with millions.”
“So what’s reason number two?”
She glanced over to Stanley, surprised. “You want to know?”
“Sure.”
“OK, several years after the Jerky incident, I was raped.”
Stanley’s face lost color.
“Oh, don’t worry. I won’t say anything else. That’s usually the story that gets the guards to quit.” She shifted so she lay on her back, staring up at the ceiling.
“Must be some story.”
“Anyway, reason numero dos.” She held out two fingers. “Tell your boss that if he really wants to stop the criminals, he has to stop what drives them.”
Stanley studied the woman on the floor. Even from far away he could see the bruises that coiled her ankles and wrists, surrounded by locked iron chains.
“I would give you more ‘reasons,’ but I don’t want to.”
“OK.”
“I’ll wait to say more until tomorrow, then.”
Stanley breathed. “May I tell a reason?”
She sat up, surprised. “Sure.”
“About eight years ago, I was visiting home from college. I was an only son, and apparently while I was away my parents had a bad case of empty-nest syndrome. I came home to a baby sister.”
She chuckled. “Her name?”
“Sofia.”
“Sweet.”
“A few nights later, my dad took Sofia to a park. You bombed them.”
The two stared at each other. Her face unreadable.
“Reason number one.”
“That’s a good ‘why.’” she whispered. Then a grin rose to her face. “This is interesting. Oh, you see? We’re more alike than you think.”
“Shut up.”
“No, can’t you see? All of the things you went through to become my guard, so tedious. But why?”
She grinned wider, Stanley clenched his jaw. “You want to kill me. I don’t blame you.”
“Why them? What’s your reason for my father, your reason for my baby sister?”
“Calm down, Stanley. I did my research. I must admit, the bomb was a special touch. You see, I’m not usually an explosive kind of gal, but I needed the ‘last hurrah’ feel—“
Stanley shot out of his seat and grasped her neck in one motion. Their noses touched, their teeth bared, eyes piercing daggers into each other.
“Go on, Stanley. Squeeze and we’ll switch places. I’ll be rid of these chains and you’ll be in them.”
A rush of commotion could be heard from outside the cell. The keypad beeping as Stanley’s boss slapped in the code. Stanley dropped the girl’s neck. He turned to face the door. The cell opened to the chief officer pointing a gun.
“We’re all right, mister, I’ve got it under control.” She flashed a sweet smile.
“Stanley, to my office. Now.” Stanley followed his boss down the corridor.
“You’re fired.”
“I quit.”
“I need your badge, your holster, and the keys back, please.”
Stanley moved to remove his badge when the chief stopped him.
“Where are your keys?”
“What?”
“Keys. The keys to the chains in case she needed the restroom. Why aren’t they on your belt?”
The two of them rushed back to the cell, finding only a pile of empty chains and the embroidered park placed carefully on the stool.

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Dissociation

Aimed at putting value on truth,                    is a study on the disturbingly transcendental qualities imaginary realities are taking on, as they hide themselves in the chalk which draws, the ever-blurring lines that we live by. The following is an excerpt from the said.

All that is required is a shift of being, which any given individual may choose.

The translation of emotions is one of the more sinister occurrences in this paradigm.Thus, before I begin to outline the will-induced prowess by which dark methodology harnesses the innocence of empathy, I must ironically give context; that this *misadventured endeavor, unknown and daunting, would gain such desperate actuation to incite the rare decisiveness of the hopeless, might be understood; Young love unrequited, out of place and misunderstood, offers a cogent example.

Now, to be mistook, an entity must be perceived, and to be perceived it must in some way or another proclaim itself. Whether this take the form of an uncharacteristic declamation or simply manifest behind frantically ardent eyes, it must be, for a moment at least, unequivocally revealed. At this point any number of things might ensue, but in all probability the result will be one of the following:

Rejection, usually frank and fast, especially if the formidable concept is mutual (as the most *convicting of spontaneous endeavors usually fall; victim to the agony of fear, and rather than acting on the robust hunger- the likes of which unseen, the temptation of security bridles the heart and thus leads them to appear *surceased); denial, safe and ubiquitous, of both the confession, and naturally, of any reciprocal feeling; or perhaps most dangerously, intense ignition, of the same soul, split apart by secret fate, united once more- put quaintly, madman’s aidenn.

In the case of rejection there is the delicate chance for feelings to respectfully *submiss to create a brilliant friendship, but this is sadly unusual. Often, discomfort will create an unnatural void which happens to take up space and require resolution where there is none to be found.

If feelings are mutual, even slightly so, there is not but one solution and it is temporary at best. For unlike every other form of addiction, to which disciplined temperance is the scourge; true love might capture the motivations of the youthful heart and the wise alike; And it when it does, it does so with persistent exuberance.

An explanation of true love’s endurance is far too weighty for me to engage but, speaking to a single window of origin, in which authenticity is a given, and growth is embraced, the universal truth that we are all created equal and that each and every one of us has aspects that may truly enamor those surrounding: that we are genuinely and incomparably beautiful, offers a node of perfection which, when applied, might explain this temporally elicit phenomena.

From the kernel and the therein sowed temerity of being, trusting in and of our beloved as we fall, and that they in turn fall for us, that all that remains is the excitement of learning about and from the parts of each other undiscovered.

*“Veritas Magna Est Et Prevailebit”

(Note—An address by Alexander Hamilton which I hope to apply and repeat as a continuity)

Truth is powerful and will prevail. With denial it is only ever a matter of time. And these feelings, having time to boil, represent an abominable thing, which staggeringly probable I will address. Three principles define the turbulence of the next; that which leads to the pertinence of this paragon.

Firstly, that where there is history of true love there is reality which from the curiosity of the beloved cannot be hidden. Secondly, that hormones and sincerity make a dastardly dashing combination. And third, dependent on the other two, that one or multiple of the aforementioned likelihoods airs.

To hear the words “I love you” from the person who is always on your mind, grants a type of bliss like no other. But emotions being as they are, may seize hold of such a prospect whilst combating reason and the rules set out by a quickly fleeting reality. As your actions have become learnedly regulated they remain subdued; as your small world is ripped asunder, your vague knowledge of existence is no match for the idiosyncrasies which you have unknowingly and perfectly memorized, now which you analyze in order embrace your new truth. And then comes the triple entendre to dash your dreams, as He or She dashes away; your deluded new reality, your dream, disappearing before your eyes. 

It is at this moment it happens, when you are at your most vulnerable, stuck between worlds: an old wound ripped open, but with the added weight of uncertain hope.

The original metamorphosis requires a catalyst from whence a similar situation may be transposed precisely; therefore equally impassioned, but altered in disposition, due to individual history and identity. Furthermore, in order to adopt the nature of a separate being, a very clear and influential medium is required. The which can take many forms, modern literature for example, in any of its limitless forms, is by far the most widely accessible.

A subsequent artifice, used to maintain this conjured state may manifest itself as meditation on paradox, substance abuse, or any of the insidiously appropriated coping mechanisms learned in the face of crisis. This is a point of great cementation: when so far gone is attachment to the self that self-destruction is appealing, and that one would go to such lengths in order to halt the dreamlike variables which stir them from their elected oblivion.

Despite momentary relief granted, perhaps temptation of deliverance, a tincture of nepenthe for the weak and inexperienced, this type of existence, like any that is borrowed, bears an unthinkable weight. For either an employer must abandon perpetually their connection to their largely subjective “soul” in this thereby meaningless existence, or, if they wake late from their sleep of submission, face the equally lasting days which without them passed.

One might hope that certain scenarios would overrule this loss of personal sovereignty, long enough to do what is right by judgement of the heart. However, the circumstances of such an occurrence or whether it would ever even occur are as indecipherable as the pain of understanding is intolerable to those who would make such a choice to begin with.

If the seeker of this powerless silence intends to escape the incessant pull of true necessity, be warned, for there are those things which leash a noose around you even through the veil.

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Trident Media Group is the leading U.S. literary agency and we are looking to discover and represent the next bestsellers. Share a sample of your work. If it shows promise, we will be in touch with you.
Written by TheFederalist in portal Trident Media Group
Dissociation
Aimed at putting value on truth,                    is a study on the disturbingly transcendental qualities imaginary realities are taking on, as they hide themselves in the chalk which draws, the ever-blurring lines that we live by. The following is an excerpt from the said.


All that is required is a shift of being, which any given individual may choose.
The translation of emotions is one of the more sinister occurrences in this paradigm.Thus, before I begin to outline the will-induced prowess by which dark methodology harnesses the innocence of empathy, I must ironically give context; that this *misadventured endeavor, unknown and daunting, would gain such desperate actuation to incite the rare decisiveness of the hopeless, might be understood; Young love unrequited, out of place and misunderstood, offers a cogent example.
Now, to be mistook, an entity must be perceived, and to be perceived it must in some way or another proclaim itself. Whether this take the form of an uncharacteristic declamation or simply manifest behind frantically ardent eyes, it must be, for a moment at least, unequivocally revealed. At this point any number of things might ensue, but in all probability the result will be one of the following:
Rejection, usually frank and fast, especially if the formidable concept is mutual (as the most *convicting of spontaneous endeavors usually fall; victim to the agony of fear, and rather than acting on the robust hunger- the likes of which unseen, the temptation of security bridles the heart and thus leads them to appear *surceased); denial, safe and ubiquitous, of both the confession, and naturally, of any reciprocal feeling; or perhaps most dangerously, intense ignition, of the same soul, split apart by secret fate, united once more- put quaintly, madman’s aidenn.
In the case of rejection there is the delicate chance for feelings to respectfully *submiss to create a brilliant friendship, but this is sadly unusual. Often, discomfort will create an unnatural void which happens to take up space and require resolution where there is none to be found.
If feelings are mutual, even slightly so, there is not but one solution and it is temporary at best. For unlike every other form of addiction, to which disciplined temperance is the scourge; true love might capture the motivations of the youthful heart and the wise alike; And it when it does, it does so with persistent exuberance.
An explanation of true love’s endurance is far too weighty for me to engage but, speaking to a single window of origin, in which authenticity is a given, and growth is embraced, the universal truth that we are all created equal and that each and every one of us has aspects that may truly enamor those surrounding: that we are genuinely and incomparably beautiful, offers a node of perfection which, when applied, might explain this temporally elicit phenomena.
From the kernel and the therein sowed temerity of being, trusting in and of our beloved as we fall, and that they in turn fall for us, that all that remains is the excitement of learning about and from the parts of each other undiscovered.


*“Veritas Magna Est Et Prevailebit”
(Note—An address by Alexander Hamilton which I hope to apply and repeat as a continuity)

Truth is powerful and will prevail. With denial it is only ever a matter of time. And these feelings, having time to boil, represent an abominable thing, which staggeringly probable I will address. Three principles define the turbulence of the next; that which leads to the pertinence of this paragon.
Firstly, that where there is history of true love there is reality which from the curiosity of the beloved cannot be hidden. Secondly, that hormones and sincerity make a dastardly dashing combination. And third, dependent on the other two, that one or multiple of the aforementioned likelihoods airs.
To hear the words “I love you” from the person who is always on your mind, grants a type of bliss like no other. But emotions being as they are, may seize hold of such a prospect whilst combating reason and the rules set out by a quickly fleeting reality. As your actions have become learnedly regulated they remain subdued; as your small world is ripped asunder, your vague knowledge of existence is no match for the idiosyncrasies which you have unknowingly and perfectly memorized, now which you analyze in order embrace your new truth. And then comes the triple entendre to dash your dreams, as He or She dashes away; your deluded new reality, your dream, disappearing before your eyes. 
It is at this moment it happens, when you are at your most vulnerable, stuck between worlds: an old wound ripped open, but with the added weight of uncertain hope.
The original metamorphosis requires a catalyst from whence a similar situation may be transposed precisely; therefore equally impassioned, but altered in disposition, due to individual history and identity. Furthermore, in order to adopt the nature of a separate being, a very clear and influential medium is required. The which can take many forms, modern literature for example, in any of its limitless forms, is by far the most widely accessible.
A subsequent artifice, used to maintain this conjured state may manifest itself as meditation on paradox, substance abuse, or any of the insidiously appropriated coping mechanisms learned in the face of crisis. This is a point of great cementation: when so far gone is attachment to the self that self-destruction is appealing, and that one would go to such lengths in order to halt the dreamlike variables which stir them from their elected oblivion.
Despite momentary relief granted, perhaps temptation of deliverance, a tincture of nepenthe for the weak and inexperienced, this type of existence, like any that is borrowed, bears an unthinkable weight. For either an employer must abandon perpetually their connection to their largely subjective “soul” in this thereby meaningless existence, or, if they wake late from their sleep of submission, face the equally lasting days which without them passed.
One might hope that certain scenarios would overrule this loss of personal sovereignty, long enough to do what is right by judgement of the heart. However, the circumstances of such an occurrence or whether it would ever even occur are as indecipherable as the pain of understanding is intolerable to those who would make such a choice to begin with.
If the seeker of this powerless silence intends to escape the incessant pull of true necessity, be warned, for there are those things which leash a noose around you even through the veil.
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Written by Yukan in portal Trident Media Group

Lucis

Prologue:

It was dark. Slowly, patches of light started to filter in, as patches of red dyed the ground crimson. It almost looked like… blood. Minutes crawled by but he didn’t know where he was, nor who he was, caught somewhere between a dream and reality.

It was hard and cold. He couldn't move. Panic started to set in as his eyes desperately darted around, trying to figure out a reason for his predicament, but nothing so much as twitched.

In a distance, about ten metres away, a figure shimmered into being. Long black hair, red lips tilted in a familiar smirk and a white dress draped over her body. She looked gorgeous, ethereal, like a painting brought to life. Light was emanating from her, illuminating the room even more.

Her confident visage was suddenly contorted to one of torture, eyes wide open, pupils dilated in fear.

“Rion…” She whispered, almost begging. “Rion... S…ave… me…”

Rion…? Who was that? Was she referring to himself? Was he… Rion?

Her eyes beseeched him for help but he couldn’t move. He could only watch as she was swallowed by the darkness, her mouth agape in a silent scream. He glanced around frantically, limbs finally free from their paralysis. Where was she?

“RION, IT HURTS!” Her voice suddenly shrieked right beside his ear, causing him to flinch violently, and fall backwards, curling up in foetal position, covering his ears, his eyes tearing from the pain.

Abruptly, the scene changed. He was pressed up against a dirty alleyway; a hand fisted his shirt as he dazedly looked up at his attacker. What was happening? This all felt so familiar somehow… Where did that woman go?

He shook his head to try and get rid of the dizziness, but the feeling of déjà vu was still there. Everything was blurry and unfocused, which caused his headache to worsen. Vaguely he could feel something pierce the side of his neck, but that was forgotten by the sudden soul-searing agony that tore through his nerves. White starburst across his vision and he could feel himself starting to lose consciousness as the pain grew to overwhelming heights...

Nicodemus Griseo sat up on his bed, heart pounding from the dream he just had. A hand reached up to clutch at his heart, while his other hand crumpled the sheets below. He tried to calm his breathing, but it wasn’t working and he could still feel the phantom pains of his change settle over his bones. Every vampire had to go through death to return alive or ‘undead’, which was why the change hurt so much.

Breathe in, breathe out.

Just a few months ago he’d been human. Now he was a blood-sucking fiend; not to mention that he had gotten all the memories of a three-thousand year old vampire stuck in his head. Not all at once of course, but Mikhail did say that he would eventually, over the course of a few years, acquire all of Rion’s memories. So he had to suffer through those memories one by one as if he had lived through them. Not to mention the crazy guy after his life because he wanted Rion’s power.

How is this, his life?

It had been over a year since that fateful day where Nic got turned into a vampire, Mikhail Ulric picked him up and then dragged him half-way across the world in the name of recuperation, which was code-word for “going into hiding.”

At the moment, they were staying in a motel just south of California, a few days after their latest bounty. ‘They’ referring to Nic, Mikhail and a new addition, Raksha, who had joined them two months ago and never left. It was a year of constant lessons, drills, fighting and bounty hunting, or glorified assassinations depending on who you asked. Illegal, yes, but thrilling and a great way to make money.

Despite that, Nic had learned a lot in this past year, especially regarding vampires because that was essential knowledge considering that he was a blood-drinking fiend now. Blood was necessary for one, and holy symbols were completely useless. Sun did burn but it all depends on how strong a vampire was. There were other miscellaneous things to know as well, but a year wasn't very long and Mikhail thought that he would eventually pick things up on his own. Well, at least Nic was a fast-learner.

“So Sylvia right? Sylvia White?”

Mikhail eyed Nic from where he was standing, holding up the next bounty. In his other hand, he held a map that contained a few circles; some were crossed out, which meant they had already checked those places. However, there were still at least another dozen more places that were circled but not yet searched.

“Yeah, she’s the other Keeper. That’s why we came back to America you know, to find her.”

Nic snorted, “I think we were fine half-way across the world Mikhail. Kyros is still hunting for our butts here and coming back just makes it easier to find us.”

For just a second, a dark look crossed over Mikhail’s face, so fast Nic thought he’d just imagined it, but he’d caught it just in time to see Mikhail tuck that expression away.

“Yeah, but Rion made it clear to me before he died that you had to learn magic from White. She’s your best bet in getting a magic teacher especially since neither Raksha nor I can use it,” Mikhail said, his eyes back to roaming across the map in front of him. “Why are you so against it anyway? You gaining magic would make it harder for Kyros to kill you, which in turn, makes you safer.”

He didn’t want to say anything, but Nic was a bit reluctant to find her because he was afraid, afraid that she would take one look at him and declare him unfit to be a Keeper and refuse to teach him; would he still get to keep this then? Without the Keeper position, he would lose everything. Everything.

“Yeah, I know, but can we even trust that she won’t betray us?” Nic said a bit darkly instead, his mind still on his situation.

“We don’t.” And that effectively killed the conversation.

A few minutes passed in silence, with Mikhail examining the map and cross-referencing it with the location of the bounty while Nic was lost in his thoughts.

“What’s our next stop, boys?” A sleepy Raksha mumbled, interrupting the silence, as she stumbled out of the bedroom in only a sheer camisole that left almost nothing to the imagination. Nic immediately blushed and looked away while Mikhail did a wolf-whistle.

“Looking good, gorgeous. We’re heading to South Dakota by the way,” Mikhail said, smirking at the younger man’s reaction. “Why Nic, with that reaction, people would think you a virgin!”

“Shut up, Ulric!” Nic said, still blushing but covering his face with his hands now instead of just turning away. “Raksha, would it kill you to put some clothes on?”

“No can do, but I’ll put some on after I get some breakfast,” she replied, already rummaging through the fridge for her usual: eggs, bacon and toast.

Nic groaned. Why was he friends with them again?

“Lighten up, leader,” Raksha teased, before turning towards Mikhail, “What’s at South Dakota now?”

“Hunters. Of Sol,” The werewolf announced grimly.

“Ugh, those prejudiced bastards again? This is the fifth time in the past two months that someone's set a bounty on their group!” Raksha complained, “What is wrong with them?”

C01:

Heavy pants echoed through the woods. There was a dark silhouette among the trees. It was a man, and he was running, running as if the devil himself was on his tail. He was running so fast, he didn’t even notice the root below him until he tripped over it. Scrambling to get up, he continued sprinting forwards, even as his chest heaved and his lungs burned.

He had to or they would get him.

Eyes bloodshot and clothes hastily worn, the balding, thirty-year-old man made quite a sight, especially when he didn’t have any shoes on, which left his feet without protection from the unforgiving forest ground. Bloody footprints followed in his wake, making it easier for his pursuer to track him down.

Up ahead, he could see the edge of the forest and just five minutes away would be a town where he could hide, blend in with the people. Hope rose in his chest and he pushed himself just a bit faster.

Quickly. Hurry up before he catches up!

His footsteps continued to thunder forward and just before he reached the edge of the treeline, a huge shadow suddenly appeared in front of him, forcing him to careen to the side or collide with what was essentially a steel wall. He was about to shoot past the shadow when a pale hand shot out and grasped his shoulder, pulling him towards the black mass. Under the pale moon light, the shadow eventually revealed itself to be another man, features set in his early twenties but seemingly ageless at the same time. Inky, black hair framed his face and fell till his neck; wine-red eyes gleamed dangerously in the dark.

Almost immediately after meeting those red orbs, the older man had fallen backwards, landing on his hands and back, face growing even paler if possible as he tried to scramble back in a crab-like fashion.

“Why are you doing this? Those mutts deserved to die!”

Nic remained unmoved, silent like a ghost as he unsheathed his sword. The man realised that he wouldn't be able to get through to the young man before him and his eyes hardened. “The Hunters of Sol will never let you off if you kill me! You will regret–”

In a single motion, the younger man raised his sword up high and slashed down, separating the head from the body. A large squelch sounded before a fountain of blood started to spurt out from the neck of the victim as his body fell limp onto the forest floor, dead. The head landed about two metres away, face forever stuck in the expression of righteous fury he had last worn.

“Shut up, hunter.”

Nonchalantly, the young man swung his katana slightly, flinging the blood off the steel blade before sliding it back into its scabbard attached to the middle of his back, the handle poking out from the right side of the waist. He efficiently started to clean up the body, collecting bits of hair then dumping it all in a big pile before setting it all on fire. A silently murmured spell he recalled from one of the beginner texts he’d read and a bit of the blood from the ground assured that the smoke would disappear without a trace. Luckily there was a lot of blood around to use or he’d probably botch up the spell using his own. Nic let out a relieved breath at the perfectly working spell before he stood up to leave.

He was on his way out of the forest when a loud crackle cut through the silence of the forest. He immediately tensed.

“Nic, do you copy? Over,” A voice asked, stuck somewhere between gruff and growly.

Nicodemus sighed, all tension bleeding out of his frame at the familiar voice, before pressing a button on the transmitter in his ear and complaining, “Mikhail, would it kill you to stop with imitating people you’ve seen on TV? It’s getting old.”

A low chuckle came through before–“But you got the guy right?”

“Of course, who do you take me for? Raksha?” Nic joked back before continuing, “I sliced off his head and burned the body. How’s it going on your side?”

Mikhail gave a grunt before replying, “All down, I’m taking them to burn now. You better not let Raksha hear you say that. Have you checked on her yet?”

Nic ran a hand through his hair before breathing out slowly, “Yeah I did, ten minutes before I brought this bastard down. She was already on her way to the rendezvous point. I’m heading there now. What’s your ETA?”

“Ten minutes. I’ll see you there Nic.”

The earpiece fell silent. Nic took one last look around the forest before heading back towards the town where the man had tried to escape to. It wouldn’t do well to be late after all.

A glance at his peripheral right and he caught the moving shadow that had blended in the darkness silently. A near silent rustle of a bush sounded from about ten feet away. Nic raised his head and scented the air, his acute senses giving him some hint of a pursuer.

Smells like a female, and… sex.

Acting as if he did not notice anything, Nic quickly continued on his way to the rendezvous point. A few minutes of trekking later and Nic was out of the forest and on a wide grassy plain that separated the forest from the town ahead. The tail, Nic felt with his enhanced senses, had paused at the edge of the treeline before abruptly disappearing. A second of silence before Nic leaned backwards smoothly; just a hairsbreadth before a silver dagger flew by, hitting the tree five metres behind with a loud thunk. Looks like Mikhail’s training paid off.

“Impressive,” a feminine voice purred seductively. A woman suddenly dropped down before him as Nic straightened up. The blond hair that cascaded down her shoulder and the half-lidded green eyes along with the skin-tight black bodysuit over her generous assets would have been very attractive to normal males. But Nic was not just any male. He was a pureblood vampire as well as a Keeper. A succubus’ allure would not affect him in the slightest.

Painted red lips smirked provocatively, but gaining no response, quickly lowered a fraction.

“Oh? So you are not affected? Interesting.” A finger rested on the edge of her lips and her smirk widened once again. “This’ll make things much more… fun.”

Nic only had a moment to process what she said before she launched herself towards him at a speed that surpassed a normal human by several leagues. Leathery wings had burst out from her back, boosting her speed. In a fraction of a second, she reached his position which had been at least ten metres away. Her hand reached out to swipe at his throat, elongated fingernails serving as makeshift claws.

Fortunately, Nic had shifted back in time, bending his head just slightly backwards in order to avoid being hurt. Three red lines appeared on the pale skin at his Adam’s apple where he did not quite manage to fully avoid the blow. Her claws didn’t break the skin, but it was dangerously close to his jugular.

Heart pounding from the near miss, he retaliated quickly. In a flash, he grabbed the silver dagger from the sheath on his lower back using his right hand, slashing upwards whilst tilting backwards, from her left hip to her shoulder.

Her left leg shifted backwards so the strike didn’t fully land but a large cut appeared on the black fabric. She then struck out with her right leg, kicking upwards towards his face. Nic used his right arm to block, simultaneously jabbing out with his other hand, landing a solid on her face.

The woman staggered back, with her nails shrinking back down to normal. Her right hand came up to cup her face. After moving her jaw for a little bit, she smirked, before opening her mouth and asking nonchalantly, “That’s quite a lot of strength you got there. But still not enough if you’re hoping to beat him.”

Nic’s eyebrows twitched at that, but he tried not to let that comment get to him. “So what? Right now, I only need to beat you, and that,” he said while getting into ready position, “I can.”

Which was true, and they both knew it.

The woman in front of him snarled, her face suddenly transforming into a grotesque picture of a badly-deformed bat. Her mouth hung open and Nic could see the large elongated canines that were protruding from the top and bottom of her mouth. Her nails that had shrunk back when she got hit grew again, and a large leathery tail sprouted. With the amount of damage her shirt had sustained, it was a miracle her body was still sufficiently covered.

“Try then, you brat!”

She lunged forward, but Nic was already waiting for her. He crouched down and swept her legs from under her using his right leg before balancing on said limb and twisting his body upwards in order to execute a swift side-kick with his left leg that landing squarely on her waist.

The attack flung her a few metres away and she landed with a heavy thump, knocking the wind out of her. In a blur, Nic had gotten up, sheathed his knife and arrived at her position, pinning her arms above her head with his knees at her waist and his ankles crossed over her legs, effectively trapping her down.

He took the sword out of its sheathe from behind his back and placed the sharp end of the blade at her neck, pressing closer until a thin red line could be seen.

“Talk. Who sent you?” he questioned, expression stoic, but the aura around him had changed from the careless nonchalance of before to the dark, ruthless intent of a very powerful vampire. It wasn’t something that should be coming from a twenty-one year-old kid.

Frankly, it was one of the most terrifying visions she had seen in her life. And as a succubus working in the dark side of the world, she had seen plenty.

The red eyes looking at her now were devoid of any warmth. She knew for sure that this man could murder her and it would be no different than killing a fly. It was as if she was nothing more than a particularly annoying pest.

Crimson eyes continued boring into hers and her terror was rising by the second, but Kyros counted on her to track him. She may not have been the best fighter available, but tracking was her speciality and she needed to be alive to report back to him.

He wouldn’t mind her giving away some of his secrets for this.

“Kyros! His name’s Kyros! He hired me to track you!” She shouted with her voice getting higher and higher as she babbled on. It wasn’t hard to fake the terror in her voice considering that she was scared but her priority was escape so she intentionally took it up a few notches.

Hopefully the kid would spare her, then she could go back and report and get the money she was promised. Which, looking at the situation right now, was totally not worth the amount she was getting paid.

Goddamnit, Nic cursed in his mind, how does he keep finding me?

Kyros, Rion’s killer, the one who landed him in this mess in the first place and who was now after his life. When was he ever going to catch a break? But first, he needed to get rid of this minion below him.

Mind made up, he smiled down at her while sheathing his sword. A second later he was flashing his fangs and bit down at her jugular. Instantly, warm blood flooded his mouth and Nic was nearly lost to the taste of it. While he didn’t necessarily crave blood (which was weird but Mikhail had assured him that Rion was the same), he did like the taste of it; sweet, succulent and savoury with just a tinge of what Nic thought life would taste like. It was almost like ambrosia to him. Plus, his wounds healed faster, which Nic counted as a major boon.

The woman was whimpering below him, but she stayed absolutely still, so he didn’t do anything to hurt her, drinking deeply but not so much as to be harmful.

Once done, he slid his fangs out, licked them clean before willing them back in. Vampire fangs were hidden above the canines and would fall from the sheath above in the gums over their teeth when unleashed. This allowed vampires to be able to blend in more with the humans, which in turn would increase their survival rate.

Nic licked his lips again, swiping the muscles over the slightly protruding sacks above his gums. He still wasn’t too used to the fangs but he’d deal.

Nic then lifted his head from her neck and checked on her. The succubus had already fainted; it was time to leave. There wasn’t any harm in letting her go since they were going to leave here soon anyway. Her information would be useless. All the madman would know was that Nic had been here, not where he would go, which was enough.

Considering that they’d escaped from Kyros for a year already, disappearing from his view again wouldn’t be too hard.

Glancing at the moon that was high in the night sky, Nic realised that he was going to be late. Mikhail and Raksha would already be waiting.

C02:

“What took you so long, leader?” A sultry voice came from behind when Nic had stepped into the bar, a quaint little two-story building which doubled as a motel. Nic barely reacted; the flicker in his eyes towards her the only response she got. He didn’t even twitch a muscle.

“Don’t call me that, Raksha. We both know who the real leader is. And your shadow gave you away,” Nic answered as cool as a cucumber, inwardly crowing at the fact that he’d bested Raksha at her own game.

“How do you do that? You’ve only been training for a year!” She complained for like the millionth time this had happened, arms crossing over her ample chest like a petulant child. Fiery red hair that fell down to her waist along with striking violet eyes whilst standing at the towering height of six foot and ten inches, Raksha was a sight to behold in this dreary pub. Her voluptuous body only added to her beauty. The pointed ears that were usually concealed by an illusion spell though, told everyone there that she was not human – she was an elf. The ears, along with the runic tattoos sprawled all over the side of her neck and up to the left side of her face identified her specifically as a dark elf, a race of vicious warriors that stood at the apex of physical combat, rivaled only by the werewolves.

Mikhail, who had been trailing behind Raksha, was one such creature. He had eyes the colour of burnt gold, silver-grey hair with shaved sides, the top combed back, and beads woven intricately into little braids that hung to the top of his neck. His muscled figure as well as his rugged look was intimidating to normal bystanders, unless of course, they were in an Underworld bar. Nic knew that the ‘wolf was just a giant softie, someone who had taken care of him at his lowest points who was practically Nic’s older brother in all but blood.

The three of them stood in the centre of the first floor, garnering a lot of attention from the locals at the bar, especially with two of them being so good-looking. Nic inwardly lamented their faces for attracting so much attention when they were on the run from a madman after his life, but nothing he could really do about it.

“Nic? What happened? You got lost in your head over there,” Raksha suddenly piped up, her face the picture of concern. No matter what kind of cutesy act she put up, Nic knew that she was the most stable of the group and probably the most deadly if he were honest. Dark elves were terrifying.

“I’m okay, just the atmosphere here getting to me,” Nic replied to her question.

This place was at the end of the road in a small town in South Dakota, mainly occupied by the supernatural and humans ‘in the know’. This establishment thus catered mostly to such creatures rather than humans. The first floor was the pub with the bar at one corner and quite a few tables set up to accommodate the growing crowd. It was quite casual since most customers were regulars so new-comers like them were the attracting a lot of eyes.

Even with all the unwanted attention, Nic, Raksha and Mikhail had already scouted out the town beforehand to make this their base during their hunt for the Hunters that were terrorising the nearby werewolf pack.

While humans were far inferior in terms of physical skills, they made up for it with sheer numbers as well as clever exploitation of a werewolf's weaknesses, wolfsbane and silver. The stronger the wolf, the less they’ll be affected by silver. The wolves that had settled here were all turned wolves with the exception of two of its members who had challenged their previous alphas, lost and had then been chased out of their packs, which made them very susceptible to either of the above mentioned materials.

The pack had not done anything that broke any laws so the hunters had no right to hunt them down like animals. As such, a bounty had been issued by the pack’s leader, Tom Bayers, on the heads of all the hunters involved; he wanted them killed for their crimes.

Since the three were finally done, Nic headed straight for the counter and started to process the bounty through. Any town with a sizeable population usually had one bar that owned a verification bowl, which made them eligible to collect and disperse bounties across the country. Each bowl will be filled with a special liquid that is able to identify the name, age, and time of death of any single being as long as a sample of DNA is presented. It involved a lot of nifty magic by the creator which would always keep updating the record of every living being on the planet.

The old man at the counter, who doubled as the bartender, peered closely at the bits of hair each of them had collected from their prey before dropping them into the bowl of what looked like water placed by his side. The liquid immediately turned red and a few words floated upwards, stating the name, and time of death of the people who had been killed. Nodding in satisfaction, the old man scooped the hair out, dumped them in the bin and then handed Nic the payment for the hunt, which was a total of ten thousand dollars in check.

After filling in his bank account number and handing it back to the old man for him to bank in, Nic headed back to where Raksha and Mikhail were waiting for him at the foot of the stairs before heading to their room.

As soon as the door closed behind the last person, Mikhail immediately asked, “So, what’s next?”

Raksha let out a huge sigh and pouted in response. “Oh come on! We just netted a huge amount this time round. Can’t we just sit back and relax for a little while?” She whined, flopping onto the bed to emphasize her point.

“No can do, beautiful. Nic here’s still green, you know that,” Mikhail said, jerking a thumb towards the youngest of the three. At the age of twenty-one, Nic had only just reached the age where he could buy alcohol while Raksha at twenty-three and Mikhail at twenty-four both had a few years on him. Not to mention that they had grown up in this world, unlike himself who had been thrust into the supernatural world a year prior.

“I know, I know. Doesn’t mean I have to like it,” Raksha complained, exasperated as she continued pouting. Mikhail gave a slight chuckle at her antics while Nic stood silently in the doorway.

He never asked for this. He never wanted to join any of this, but life wasn’t fair and now he got stuck in this world that he knew nothing about because Rion thought it would be a good idea to stick him with the title of Keeper. Chosen, as if he were something special. 

At least, Nic thought with a deprecating smile, he wasn’t living in that tiny-ass apartment he called a house, barely able to scrape by.

He was grateful that the other vampire had gotten him out of that life but having his head hunted for every minute of every day was getting tiring, so uncharitable thoughts were swirling around his head.

--

Title: Lucis 

Genre: Dark Fantasy 

Age range: 14-25 

Word count: 4827 

Author name: Janice 

Why your project is a good fit: My book is of a typical modern fantasy with a unique twist that would bring a fresh look on how the supernatural world can be seen as. With compelling characters and a complex plot, my book will be a very exciting journey.

The hook: Nic is a 21-year-old human-turned-vampire forced to go on a journey through modern America in a bid for survival.

Synopsis: Thrown headfirst into a world where everything is not as it seems, Nicodemus Griseo, a human-turned-vampire has to go toe-to-toe with one of the strongest powers in the Underworld in order to survive. Armed with abilities he has yet to fully understand along with his two companions, Raksha and Mikhail, Nic doesn’t know if what he has will be enough, but he will certainly try.

Target audience: Young Adults 

Your bio: A 20-year-old fresh graduate aspiring to be a writer and publisher.

Platform: NA

Education: A levels

Experience: NA

Personality / writing style: Expository

Likes/hobbies: Reading and writing

Hometown: Singapore

Age: 20

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Lucis
Prologue:

It was dark. Slowly, patches of light started to filter in, as patches of red dyed the ground crimson. It almost looked like… blood. Minutes crawled by but he didn’t know where he was, nor who he was, caught somewhere between a dream and reality.

It was hard and cold. He couldn't move. Panic started to set in as his eyes desperately darted around, trying to figure out a reason for his predicament, but nothing so much as twitched.

In a distance, about ten metres away, a figure shimmered into being. Long black hair, red lips tilted in a familiar smirk and a white dress draped over her body. She looked gorgeous, ethereal, like a painting brought to life. Light was emanating from her, illuminating the room even more.

Her confident visage was suddenly contorted to one of torture, eyes wide open, pupils dilated in fear.

“Rion…” She whispered, almost begging. “Rion... S…ave… me…”

Rion…? Who was that? Was she referring to himself? Was he… Rion?

Her eyes beseeched him for help but he couldn’t move. He could only watch as she was swallowed by the darkness, her mouth agape in a silent scream. He glanced around frantically, limbs finally free from their paralysis. Where was she?

“RION, IT HURTS!” Her voice suddenly shrieked right beside his ear, causing him to flinch violently, and fall backwards, curling up in foetal position, covering his ears, his eyes tearing from the pain.

Abruptly, the scene changed. He was pressed up against a dirty alleyway; a hand fisted his shirt as he dazedly looked up at his attacker. What was happening? This all felt so familiar somehow… Where did that woman go?

He shook his head to try and get rid of the dizziness, but the feeling of déjà vu was still there. Everything was blurry and unfocused, which caused his headache to worsen. Vaguely he could feel something pierce the side of his neck, but that was forgotten by the sudden soul-searing agony that tore through his nerves. White starburst across his vision and he could feel himself starting to lose consciousness as the pain grew to overwhelming heights...

Nicodemus Griseo sat up on his bed, heart pounding from the dream he just had. A hand reached up to clutch at his heart, while his other hand crumpled the sheets below. He tried to calm his breathing, but it wasn’t working and he could still feel the phantom pains of his change settle over his bones. Every vampire had to go through death to return alive or ‘undead’, which was why the change hurt so much.

Breathe in, breathe out.

Just a few months ago he’d been human. Now he was a blood-sucking fiend; not to mention that he had gotten all the memories of a three-thousand year old vampire stuck in his head. Not all at once of course, but Mikhail did say that he would eventually, over the course of a few years, acquire all of Rion’s memories. So he had to suffer through those memories one by one as if he had lived through them. Not to mention the crazy guy after his life because he wanted Rion’s power.

How is this, his life?

It had been over a year since that fateful day where Nic got turned into a vampire, Mikhail Ulric picked him up and then dragged him half-way across the world in the name of recuperation, which was code-word for “going into hiding.”

At the moment, they were staying in a motel just south of California, a few days after their latest bounty. ‘They’ referring to Nic, Mikhail and a new addition, Raksha, who had joined them two months ago and never left. It was a year of constant lessons, drills, fighting and bounty hunting, or glorified assassinations depending on who you asked. Illegal, yes, but thrilling and a great way to make money.

Despite that, Nic had learned a lot in this past year, especially regarding vampires because that was essential knowledge considering that he was a blood-drinking fiend now. Blood was necessary for one, and holy symbols were completely useless. Sun did burn but it all depends on how strong a vampire was. There were other miscellaneous things to know as well, but a year wasn't very long and Mikhail thought that he would eventually pick things up on his own. Well, at least Nic was a fast-learner.

“So Sylvia right? Sylvia White?”

Mikhail eyed Nic from where he was standing, holding up the next bounty. In his other hand, he held a map that contained a few circles; some were crossed out, which meant they had already checked those places. However, there were still at least another dozen more places that were circled but not yet searched.

“Yeah, she’s the other Keeper. That’s why we came back to America you know, to find her.”
Nic snorted, “I think we were fine half-way across the world Mikhail. Kyros is still hunting for our butts here and coming back just makes it easier to find us.”
For just a second, a dark look crossed over Mikhail’s face, so fast Nic thought he’d just imagined it, but he’d caught it just in time to see Mikhail tuck that expression away.

“Yeah, but Rion made it clear to me before he died that you had to learn magic from White. She’s your best bet in getting a magic teacher especially since neither Raksha nor I can use it,” Mikhail said, his eyes back to roaming across the map in front of him. “Why are you so against it anyway? You gaining magic would make it harder for Kyros to kill you, which in turn, makes you safer.”

He didn’t want to say anything, but Nic was a bit reluctant to find her because he was afraid, afraid that she would take one look at him and declare him unfit to be a Keeper and refuse to teach him; would he still get to keep this then? Without the Keeper position, he would lose everything. Everything.

“Yeah, I know, but can we even trust that she won’t betray us?” Nic said a bit darkly instead, his mind still on his situation.

“We don’t.” And that effectively killed the conversation.

A few minutes passed in silence, with Mikhail examining the map and cross-referencing it with the location of the bounty while Nic was lost in his thoughts.

“What’s our next stop, boys?” A sleepy Raksha mumbled, interrupting the silence, as she stumbled out of the bedroom in only a sheer camisole that left almost nothing to the imagination. Nic immediately blushed and looked away while Mikhail did a wolf-whistle.

“Looking good, gorgeous. We’re heading to South Dakota by the way,” Mikhail said, smirking at the younger man’s reaction. “Why Nic, with that reaction, people would think you a virgin!”

“Shut up, Ulric!” Nic said, still blushing but covering his face with his hands now instead of just turning away. “Raksha, would it kill you to put some clothes on?”

“No can do, but I’ll put some on after I get some breakfast,” she replied, already rummaging through the fridge for her usual: eggs, bacon and toast.
Nic groaned. Why was he friends with them again?

“Lighten up, leader,” Raksha teased, before turning towards Mikhail, “What’s at South Dakota now?”

“Hunters. Of Sol,” The werewolf announced grimly.

“Ugh, those prejudiced bastards again? This is the fifth time in the past two months that someone's set a bounty on their group!” Raksha complained, “What is wrong with them?”

C01:

Heavy pants echoed through the woods. There was a dark silhouette among the trees. It was a man, and he was running, running as if the devil himself was on his tail. He was running so fast, he didn’t even notice the root below him until he tripped over it. Scrambling to get up, he continued sprinting forwards, even as his chest heaved and his lungs burned.

He had to or they would get him.

Eyes bloodshot and clothes hastily worn, the balding, thirty-year-old man made quite a sight, especially when he didn’t have any shoes on, which left his feet without protection from the unforgiving forest ground. Bloody footprints followed in his wake, making it easier for his pursuer to track him down.

Up ahead, he could see the edge of the forest and just five minutes away would be a town where he could hide, blend in with the people. Hope rose in his chest and he pushed himself just a bit faster.

Quickly. Hurry up before he catches up!

His footsteps continued to thunder forward and just before he reached the edge of the treeline, a huge shadow suddenly appeared in front of him, forcing him to careen to the side or collide with what was essentially a steel wall. He was about to shoot past the shadow when a pale hand shot out and grasped his shoulder, pulling him towards the black mass. Under the pale moon light, the shadow eventually revealed itself to be another man, features set in his early twenties but seemingly ageless at the same time. Inky, black hair framed his face and fell till his neck; wine-red eyes gleamed dangerously in the dark.

Almost immediately after meeting those red orbs, the older man had fallen backwards, landing on his hands and back, face growing even paler if possible as he tried to scramble back in a crab-like fashion.

“Why are you doing this? Those mutts deserved to die!”

Nic remained unmoved, silent like a ghost as he unsheathed his sword. The man realised that he wouldn't be able to get through to the young man before him and his eyes hardened. “The Hunters of Sol will never let you off if you kill me! You will regret–”

In a single motion, the younger man raised his sword up high and slashed down, separating the head from the body. A large squelch sounded before a fountain of blood started to spurt out from the neck of the victim as his body fell limp onto the forest floor, dead. The head landed about two metres away, face forever stuck in the expression of righteous fury he had last worn.

“Shut up, hunter.”

Nonchalantly, the young man swung his katana slightly, flinging the blood off the steel blade before sliding it back into its scabbard attached to the middle of his back, the handle poking out from the right side of the waist. He efficiently started to clean up the body, collecting bits of hair then dumping it all in a big pile before setting it all on fire. A silently murmured spell he recalled from one of the beginner texts he’d read and a bit of the blood from the ground assured that the smoke would disappear without a trace. Luckily there was a lot of blood around to use or he’d probably botch up the spell using his own. Nic let out a relieved breath at the perfectly working spell before he stood up to leave.

He was on his way out of the forest when a loud crackle cut through the silence of the forest. He immediately tensed.

“Nic, do you copy? Over,” A voice asked, stuck somewhere between gruff and growly.

Nicodemus sighed, all tension bleeding out of his frame at the familiar voice, before pressing a button on the transmitter in his ear and complaining, “Mikhail, would it kill you to stop with imitating people you’ve seen on TV? It’s getting old.”

A low chuckle came through before–“But you got the guy right?”

“Of course, who do you take me for? Raksha?” Nic joked back before continuing, “I sliced off his head and burned the body. How’s it going on your side?”

Mikhail gave a grunt before replying, “All down, I’m taking them to burn now. You better not let Raksha hear you say that. Have you checked on her yet?”

Nic ran a hand through his hair before breathing out slowly, “Yeah I did, ten minutes before I brought this bastard down. She was already on her way to the rendezvous point. I’m heading there now. What’s your ETA?”

“Ten minutes. I’ll see you there Nic.”

The earpiece fell silent. Nic took one last look around the forest before heading back towards the town where the man had tried to escape to. It wouldn’t do well to be late after all.

A glance at his peripheral right and he caught the moving shadow that had blended in the darkness silently. A near silent rustle of a bush sounded from about ten feet away. Nic raised his head and scented the air, his acute senses giving him some hint of a pursuer.

Smells like a female, and… sex.

Acting as if he did not notice anything, Nic quickly continued on his way to the rendezvous point. A few minutes of trekking later and Nic was out of the forest and on a wide grassy plain that separated the forest from the town ahead. The tail, Nic felt with his enhanced senses, had paused at the edge of the treeline before abruptly disappearing. A second of silence before Nic leaned backwards smoothly; just a hairsbreadth before a silver dagger flew by, hitting the tree five metres behind with a loud thunk. Looks like Mikhail’s training paid off.

“Impressive,” a feminine voice purred seductively. A woman suddenly dropped down before him as Nic straightened up. The blond hair that cascaded down her shoulder and the half-lidded green eyes along with the skin-tight black bodysuit over her generous assets would have been very attractive to normal males. But Nic was not just any male. He was a pureblood vampire as well as a Keeper. A succubus’ allure would not affect him in the slightest.

Painted red lips smirked provocatively, but gaining no response, quickly lowered a fraction.

“Oh? So you are not affected? Interesting.” A finger rested on the edge of her lips and her smirk widened once again. “This’ll make things much more… fun.”

Nic only had a moment to process what she said before she launched herself towards him at a speed that surpassed a normal human by several leagues. Leathery wings had burst out from her back, boosting her speed. In a fraction of a second, she reached his position which had been at least ten metres away. Her hand reached out to swipe at his throat, elongated fingernails serving as makeshift claws.

Fortunately, Nic had shifted back in time, bending his head just slightly backwards in order to avoid being hurt. Three red lines appeared on the pale skin at his Adam’s apple where he did not quite manage to fully avoid the blow. Her claws didn’t break the skin, but it was dangerously close to his jugular.

Heart pounding from the near miss, he retaliated quickly. In a flash, he grabbed the silver dagger from the sheath on his lower back using his right hand, slashing upwards whilst tilting backwards, from her left hip to her shoulder.

Her left leg shifted backwards so the strike didn’t fully land but a large cut appeared on the black fabric. She then struck out with her right leg, kicking upwards towards his face. Nic used his right arm to block, simultaneously jabbing out with his other hand, landing a solid on her face.

The woman staggered back, with her nails shrinking back down to normal. Her right hand came up to cup her face. After moving her jaw for a little bit, she smirked, before opening her mouth and asking nonchalantly, “That’s quite a lot of strength you got there. But still not enough if you’re hoping to beat him.”

Nic’s eyebrows twitched at that, but he tried not to let that comment get to him. “So what? Right now, I only need to beat you, and that,” he said while getting into ready position, “I can.”

Which was true, and they both knew it.

The woman in front of him snarled, her face suddenly transforming into a grotesque picture of a badly-deformed bat. Her mouth hung open and Nic could see the large elongated canines that were protruding from the top and bottom of her mouth. Her nails that had shrunk back when she got hit grew again, and a large leathery tail sprouted. With the amount of damage her shirt had sustained, it was a miracle her body was still sufficiently covered.

“Try then, you brat!”

She lunged forward, but Nic was already waiting for her. He crouched down and swept her legs from under her using his right leg before balancing on said limb and twisting his body upwards in order to execute a swift side-kick with his left leg that landing squarely on her waist.

The attack flung her a few metres away and she landed with a heavy thump, knocking the wind out of her. In a blur, Nic had gotten up, sheathed his knife and arrived at her position, pinning her arms above her head with his knees at her waist and his ankles crossed over her legs, effectively trapping her down.

He took the sword out of its sheathe from behind his back and placed the sharp end of the blade at her neck, pressing closer until a thin red line could be seen.

“Talk. Who sent you?” he questioned, expression stoic, but the aura around him had changed from the careless nonchalance of before to the dark, ruthless intent of a very powerful vampire. It wasn’t something that should be coming from a twenty-one year-old kid.

Frankly, it was one of the most terrifying visions she had seen in her life. And as a succubus working in the dark side of the world, she had seen plenty.

The red eyes looking at her now were devoid of any warmth. She knew for sure that this man could murder her and it would be no different than killing a fly. It was as if she was nothing more than a particularly annoying pest.

Crimson eyes continued boring into hers and her terror was rising by the second, but Kyros counted on her to track him. She may not have been the best fighter available, but tracking was her speciality and she needed to be alive to report back to him.

He wouldn’t mind her giving away some of his secrets for this.

“Kyros! His name’s Kyros! He hired me to track you!” She shouted with her voice getting higher and higher as she babbled on. It wasn’t hard to fake the terror in her voice considering that she was scared but her priority was escape so she intentionally took it up a few notches.

Hopefully the kid would spare her, then she could go back and report and get the money she was promised. Which, looking at the situation right now, was totally not worth the amount she was getting paid.

Goddamnit, Nic cursed in his mind, how does he keep finding me?

Kyros, Rion’s killer, the one who landed him in this mess in the first place and who was now after his life. When was he ever going to catch a break? But first, he needed to get rid of this minion below him.

Mind made up, he smiled down at her while sheathing his sword. A second later he was flashing his fangs and bit down at her jugular. Instantly, warm blood flooded his mouth and Nic was nearly lost to the taste of it. While he didn’t necessarily crave blood (which was weird but Mikhail had assured him that Rion was the same), he did like the taste of it; sweet, succulent and savoury with just a tinge of what Nic thought life would taste like. It was almost like ambrosia to him. Plus, his wounds healed faster, which Nic counted as a major boon.

The woman was whimpering below him, but she stayed absolutely still, so he didn’t do anything to hurt her, drinking deeply but not so much as to be harmful.

Once done, he slid his fangs out, licked them clean before willing them back in. Vampire fangs were hidden above the canines and would fall from the sheath above in the gums over their teeth when unleashed. This allowed vampires to be able to blend in more with the humans, which in turn would increase their survival rate.

Nic licked his lips again, swiping the muscles over the slightly protruding sacks above his gums. He still wasn’t too used to the fangs but he’d deal.

Nic then lifted his head from her neck and checked on her. The succubus had already fainted; it was time to leave. There wasn’t any harm in letting her go since they were going to leave here soon anyway. Her information would be useless. All the madman would know was that Nic had been here, not where he would go, which was enough.

Considering that they’d escaped from Kyros for a year already, disappearing from his view again wouldn’t be too hard.

Glancing at the moon that was high in the night sky, Nic realised that he was going to be late. Mikhail and Raksha would already be waiting.

C02:

“What took you so long, leader?” A sultry voice came from behind when Nic had stepped into the bar, a quaint little two-story building which doubled as a motel. Nic barely reacted; the flicker in his eyes towards her the only response she got. He didn’t even twitch a muscle.

“Don’t call me that, Raksha. We both know who the real leader is. And your shadow gave you away,” Nic answered as cool as a cucumber, inwardly crowing at the fact that he’d bested Raksha at her own game.

“How do you do that? You’ve only been training for a year!” She complained for like the millionth time this had happened, arms crossing over her ample chest like a petulant child. Fiery red hair that fell down to her waist along with striking violet eyes whilst standing at the towering height of six foot and ten inches, Raksha was a sight to behold in this dreary pub. Her voluptuous body only added to her beauty. The pointed ears that were usually concealed by an illusion spell though, told everyone there that she was not human – she was an elf. The ears, along with the runic tattoos sprawled all over the side of her neck and up to the left side of her face identified her specifically as a dark elf, a race of vicious warriors that stood at the apex of physical combat, rivaled only by the werewolves.

Mikhail, who had been trailing behind Raksha, was one such creature. He had eyes the colour of burnt gold, silver-grey hair with shaved sides, the top combed back, and beads woven intricately into little braids that hung to the top of his neck. His muscled figure as well as his rugged look was intimidating to normal bystanders, unless of course, they were in an Underworld bar. Nic knew that the ‘wolf was just a giant softie, someone who had taken care of him at his lowest points who was practically Nic’s older brother in all but blood.

The three of them stood in the centre of the first floor, garnering a lot of attention from the locals at the bar, especially with two of them being so good-looking. Nic inwardly lamented their faces for attracting so much attention when they were on the run from a madman after his life, but nothing he could really do about it.

“Nic? What happened? You got lost in your head over there,” Raksha suddenly piped up, her face the picture of concern. No matter what kind of cutesy act she put up, Nic knew that she was the most stable of the group and probably the most deadly if he were honest. Dark elves were terrifying.

“I’m okay, just the atmosphere here getting to me,” Nic replied to her question.

This place was at the end of the road in a small town in South Dakota, mainly occupied by the supernatural and humans ‘in the know’. This establishment thus catered mostly to such creatures rather than humans. The first floor was the pub with the bar at one corner and quite a few tables set up to accommodate the growing crowd. It was quite casual since most customers were regulars so new-comers like them were the attracting a lot of eyes.

Even with all the unwanted attention, Nic, Raksha and Mikhail had already scouted out the town beforehand to make this their base during their hunt for the Hunters that were terrorising the nearby werewolf pack.

While humans were far inferior in terms of physical skills, they made up for it with sheer numbers as well as clever exploitation of a werewolf's weaknesses, wolfsbane and silver. The stronger the wolf, the less they’ll be affected by silver. The wolves that had settled here were all turned wolves with the exception of two of its members who had challenged their previous alphas, lost and had then been chased out of their packs, which made them very susceptible to either of the above mentioned materials.

The pack had not done anything that broke any laws so the hunters had no right to hunt them down like animals. As such, a bounty had been issued by the pack’s leader, Tom Bayers, on the heads of all the hunters involved; he wanted them killed for their crimes.

Since the three were finally done, Nic headed straight for the counter and started to process the bounty through. Any town with a sizeable population usually had one bar that owned a verification bowl, which made them eligible to collect and disperse bounties across the country. Each bowl will be filled with a special liquid that is able to identify the name, age, and time of death of any single being as long as a sample of DNA is presented. It involved a lot of nifty magic by the creator which would always keep updating the record of every living being on the planet.

The old man at the counter, who doubled as the bartender, peered closely at the bits of hair each of them had collected from their prey before dropping them into the bowl of what looked like water placed by his side. The liquid immediately turned red and a few words floated upwards, stating the name, and time of death of the people who had been killed. Nodding in satisfaction, the old man scooped the hair out, dumped them in the bin and then handed Nic the payment for the hunt, which was a total of ten thousand dollars in check.

After filling in his bank account number and handing it back to the old man for him to bank in, Nic headed back to where Raksha and Mikhail were waiting for him at the foot of the stairs before heading to their room.

As soon as the door closed behind the last person, Mikhail immediately asked, “So, what’s next?”

Raksha let out a huge sigh and pouted in response. “Oh come on! We just netted a huge amount this time round. Can’t we just sit back and relax for a little while?” She whined, flopping onto the bed to emphasize her point.

“No can do, beautiful. Nic here’s still green, you know that,” Mikhail said, jerking a thumb towards the youngest of the three. At the age of twenty-one, Nic had only just reached the age where he could buy alcohol while Raksha at twenty-three and Mikhail at twenty-four both had a few years on him. Not to mention that they had grown up in this world, unlike himself who had been thrust into the supernatural world a year prior.

“I know, I know. Doesn’t mean I have to like it,” Raksha complained, exasperated as she continued pouting. Mikhail gave a slight chuckle at her antics while Nic stood silently in the doorway.

He never asked for this. He never wanted to join any of this, but life wasn’t fair and now he got stuck in this world that he knew nothing about because Rion thought it would be a good idea to stick him with the title of Keeper. Chosen, as if he were something special. 

At least, Nic thought with a deprecating smile, he wasn’t living in that tiny-ass apartment he called a house, barely able to scrape by.

He was grateful that the other vampire had gotten him out of that life but having his head hunted for every minute of every day was getting tiring, so uncharitable thoughts were swirling around his head.

--
Title: Lucis 
Genre: Dark Fantasy 
Age range: 14-25 
Word count: 4827 
Author name: Janice 

Why your project is a good fit: My book is of a typical modern fantasy with a unique twist that would bring a fresh look on how the supernatural world can be seen as. With compelling characters and a complex plot, my book will be a very exciting journey.

The hook: Nic is a 21-year-old human-turned-vampire forced to go on a journey through modern America in a bid for survival.

Synopsis: Thrown headfirst into a world where everything is not as it seems, Nicodemus Griseo, a human-turned-vampire has to go toe-to-toe with one of the strongest powers in the Underworld in order to survive. Armed with abilities he has yet to fully understand along with his two companions, Raksha and Mikhail, Nic doesn’t know if what he has will be enough, but he will certainly try.

Target audience: Young Adults 
Your bio: A 20-year-old fresh graduate aspiring to be a writer and publisher.
Platform: NA
Education: A levels
Experience: NA
Personality / writing style: Expository
Likes/hobbies: Reading and writing
Hometown: Singapore
Age: 20
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Hollow

Everyone was so busy, pulling out paper plates and plastic forks, the many different types of pasta salad. Bella stared at them in excitedly, hoping that they would soon be allowed to cut the cake.

The cake was her favorite part of her birthday, especially the frosting.

The sun was warm, sending soft golden rays of light across the park. Families gathered for picnics, parents watched their children play, dogs raced through the grass after rubber tennis balls.

No one could have suspected the dark events that the day promised. They couldn't have known that the quiet calm of the day would soon be shattered, leaving one family in pieces.

The young girl's mother, Miranda, had just picked up the cake from the bakery right before they'd gotten there. Bright purple frosing to match her bright purple dress. Her whole family was coming today to celebrate this momentous day.

You only turned six once.

Quickly growing bored, Bella skipped away from them looking for something fun to do. Her older brother Liam wasn't there yet, he was at his soccer game. She was disappointed that he wasn't there to keep her company but her mother promised that Liam and her daddy would be there before the party started.

She kicked off her shoes and began twirling around. She loved practicing the spins that she learned in the ballet class her mommy put her in. She was getting really good at them too; everyone said so.

"Bella, don't go too far okay?" Her mom called.

Bella nodded. "I won't mommy!"

Her mother continued taping streamers to the side of the picnic table. If she didn't get the decorating done by the time her own mother showed up, she'd never hear the end of it. Even at thirty-two years of age with two children, her mother never failed to try control her life.

She glanced up every now and then to make sure that Bella was still in sight. The young girl was jumping around in the grass with bare feet. She made a mental note to go fetch her shoes when the decorating was done. She didn't want them to get lost during the celebration.

"Miranda, I'm here. I brought my famous store-bought potato salad!" Bella's mom rolled her eyes before smiling and greeting her sister.

"Oh Sam, how I love your store-bought potato salad." Miranda answered.

Samantha set the salad down before rubbing her hands together. "Alright, let's get this table decorated before

mom gets here."

Miranda nodded in agreement, thanking her sister. It only took about ten minutes to get the table ready. They set out most of the food but would have to wait to eat until Victor, Miranda's husband, showed up and cooked the hamburgers.

She hadn't wanted Liam to go to his soccer game since it was his sister's birthday, but the sport meant so much to him, she couldn't say no. Victor had promised to be there by 12 o'clock when the party started.

It was now 11:43 and she was hoping that they wouldn't be late. That would be another reason for her mother to lecture her.

She glanced over at Bella who appeared to be trying to catch a butterfly. Miranda loved how much her daughter enjoyed nature. Unlike Liam, who was always after the next new video game, Bella never grew tired of playing outside.

"Miranda, where is Victor?" Miranda cringed slightly at the sound of her mother's voice.

She turned to face her. "Victor is on his way now with Liam."

Miranda was met with her mother, Carol's, famous look of disappointment. "I cannot believe you allowed him to go to that game on Bella's birthday."

Miranda sighed. "He's not missing the celebration, mom. Bella doesn't mind anyway."

Her mother shook her head and sighed. "Well, I'm not going to tell you how to be a mother, but-"

"Mom, you don't even need to finish that sentence." Miranda said tiredly. She opened the box holding the cake.

"Okay, I won't comment about the soccer then, but honey are you going to give the child cake before lunch?" Carol asked incredulously.

Miranda shook her head. "No, mom, I'm just putting in the candles. That way they'll be ready to light when we're ready."

Carol relaxed slightly with a nod. "Oh, well alright."

Miranda finished placing the sixth candle in before glancing out again to get a glimpse of Bella. When the red-headed girl didn't come into view she blinked and surveyed the area again.

She was nowhere.

A slight panic filled her chest and she quickly started off into the direction that Bella had been going in.

"Bella?" She called.

She tripped slightly and looked down to find Bella's purple flats laying in the grass. She picked them up and quickly moved forward again, desperate to find her child.

"Bella!" She called again.

A cold hand gripped her arm and pulled her back.

"Sweetheart, where did you last see her?" Carol asked worriedly.

Miranda's chest tightened as she tried to breathe regularly. "She was just here, by the trees! She was playing, chasing a butterfly I think."

Carol nodded. "Alright, we'll find her. Keep looking."

Miranda looked around again.

Where is she?

She ran towards the jungle gym where a few kids were playing. Her daughter's wild red hair was no where in sight. She ran to a few mothers sitting on the bench.

"Excuse me, please help me." She caught her breath. "My daughter I can't-"

A sudden pain pierced her heart and she gripped her chest. Something wasn't right, she could feel it.

One of the mothers stood up. "What is it? You can't find her?"

Miranda shook her head. "She was just here, I don't know where she could be."

She turned and looked around again, her eyes were straining. She was in complete desperation.

"What does she look like?" The other mother asked.

Miranda gulped. "She's six, she has red hair, light skin, she's wearing a purple dress."

The mothers took in her description and immediately began searching the area with their own children at their sides.

"Miranda!" She turned to see Victor jogging up to her.

"Have you found her? Carol said Bella wandered off." His eyes were wide in fear.

A sob escaped Miranda's throat as another pain shot through her chest. Something was seriously wrong, she needed to find her baby, now.

Victor pulled her into a quick hug before pulling away.

"Come on, we need to find her." He said.

Miranda nodded.

They searched the park and the streets around it for only a few minutes before the police showed up. Samantha had called them as soon as Carol told her that they couldn't find Bella.

Bella wasn't the type to wander off without supervision. She knew the rules well- don't talk to strangers, always stay where mommy and daddy can see you, ask before going somewhere. This was not like her.

Miranda's chest pains quickly grew into a panic attack as the first hour passed and there was still no sign of her daughter. The police tried questioning her once Victor had calmed her slightly but she was in hysterics.

"She's six, red hair." She told them. "Six years old today, she's only six. Today is her birthday." And she sobbed.

Samantha had taken Liam away from the scene. He was confused, everyone was too busy to explain anything. He was twelve, old enough to understand what was happening, Samantha thought, so she told him.

He immediately jumped up, determined to go search the city for his younger sister, but Samantha held him still, insisting that the police would handle it.

They were there for hours, the party guests had come but soon left in their own search teams. They were Bella's family and Miranda's closest friends. They'd all be heart broken if anything bad happened to the young girl.

The sun was setting and Miranda and Victor still hadn't heard anything about their daughter.

Miranda couldn't believe it. None of this felt real, it was all like a bad dream. Her worst nightmare come true.

It had only taken a split second, one minute she was twirling in the grass, and the next-

-she was gone.

~ ~ ~

She lay, unmoving, unspeaking as the cold overtook her body. Her bones ached as her wet clothes weighed her down. She was on her back, a metal table supporting her.

It was quiet, but she new that they were still there. They were always there, watching her. They spoke occasionally, but she'd long since been able to focus on what they were saying.

Her body shivered, shaking almost violently, but she could no longer feel it. Her body was numb, near shock, but they still wouldn't release her. Not until she released herself.

She blinked into the darkness, attempting to make out any shapes around her. She was staring at the ceiling, but she didn't know that. She didn't know where she was, which way was up or down.

She wanted to feel warmth again; she'd forgotten what it felt like. She tried to imagine it, picturing herself wrapped in a blanket, hands in front of a roaring fire. The yearning she had for heat only made her aching increase.

"How is her progress?" Someone asked.

"She is very strong. She has been resistant in letting go, much more than our other recruits, but I believe she is close." Another voice answered.

The owner of the first voice nodded. "Finish it."

The other person nodded as well and signalled the others. "Prepare for another drop."

They stood around her and one stepped closer.

"Disconnect, recruit." He said calmly. "This will all be over once you disconnect."

Her mouth opened as she tried to speak, but no words came out. She wanted something, someone, but she couldn't remember what, or who.

He reached out, gripping the lever. "Disconnect." He repeated before pulling the lever down.

Once again she was submerged in water, ice cold and unforgiving. She'd been expecting it, but her body was too exhausted to react quickly enough. Her muscles froze at the sudden cold, she couldn't move.

They pushed her, more and more each time, to the brink. The more they pushed her, the further she was from her memories. The cold would invade her mind, taking away her past, leaving her mind open for them to mold.

When they had first begun, she had struggled, trying hard to escape the water. She had cried out for her mother, thrashed around, nearly died from her refusal to cooperate.

She was almost number fourteen. The fourteenth of all recruits in the history of the Agency to have been lost in the transition stage. They had been just seconds away from losing her, a risk they were willing to take. When she awoke again, desperately holding onto life, they knew she'd be a powerful operative one day.

All they needed to do was make the final break, between her and her past.

Now, as they looked down at her in the water, she didn't move, didn't struggle, didn't breathe. The pressure built around her lungs, squeezing at them, but she didn't try to reach oxygen. She accepted the cold. Her mind became cloudy and spots invaded her vision.

They watched her, her lack of struggle, and they knew. She was there's.

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Hollow
Everyone was so busy, pulling out paper plates and plastic forks, the many different types of pasta salad. Bella stared at them in excitedly, hoping that they would soon be allowed to cut the cake.

The cake was her favorite part of her birthday, especially the frosting.

The sun was warm, sending soft golden rays of light across the park. Families gathered for picnics, parents watched their children play, dogs raced through the grass after rubber tennis balls.

No one could have suspected the dark events that the day promised. They couldn't have known that the quiet calm of the day would soon be shattered, leaving one family in pieces.

The young girl's mother, Miranda, had just picked up the cake from the bakery right before they'd gotten there. Bright purple frosing to match her bright purple dress. Her whole family was coming today to celebrate this momentous day.

You only turned six once.

Quickly growing bored, Bella skipped away from them looking for something fun to do. Her older brother Liam wasn't there yet, he was at his soccer game. She was disappointed that he wasn't there to keep her company but her mother promised that Liam and her daddy would be there before the party started.

She kicked off her shoes and began twirling around. She loved practicing the spins that she learned in the ballet class her mommy put her in. She was getting really good at them too; everyone said so.

"Bella, don't go too far okay?" Her mom called.

Bella nodded. "I won't mommy!"

Her mother continued taping streamers to the side of the picnic table. If she didn't get the decorating done by the time her own mother showed up, she'd never hear the end of it. Even at thirty-two years of age with two children, her mother never failed to try control her life.

She glanced up every now and then to make sure that Bella was still in sight. The young girl was jumping around in the grass with bare feet. She made a mental note to go fetch her shoes when the decorating was done. She didn't want them to get lost during the celebration.

"Miranda, I'm here. I brought my famous store-bought potato salad!" Bella's mom rolled her eyes before smiling and greeting her sister.

"Oh Sam, how I love your store-bought potato salad." Miranda answered.

Samantha set the salad down before rubbing her hands together. "Alright, let's get this table decorated before
mom gets here."

Miranda nodded in agreement, thanking her sister. It only took about ten minutes to get the table ready. They set out most of the food but would have to wait to eat until Victor, Miranda's husband, showed up and cooked the hamburgers.

She hadn't wanted Liam to go to his soccer game since it was his sister's birthday, but the sport meant so much to him, she couldn't say no. Victor had promised to be there by 12 o'clock when the party started.

It was now 11:43 and she was hoping that they wouldn't be late. That would be another reason for her mother to lecture her.

She glanced over at Bella who appeared to be trying to catch a butterfly. Miranda loved how much her daughter enjoyed nature. Unlike Liam, who was always after the next new video game, Bella never grew tired of playing outside.

"Miranda, where is Victor?" Miranda cringed slightly at the sound of her mother's voice.

She turned to face her. "Victor is on his way now with Liam."

Miranda was met with her mother, Carol's, famous look of disappointment. "I cannot believe you allowed him to go to that game on Bella's birthday."

Miranda sighed. "He's not missing the celebration, mom. Bella doesn't mind anyway."

Her mother shook her head and sighed. "Well, I'm not going to tell you how to be a mother, but-"

"Mom, you don't even need to finish that sentence." Miranda said tiredly. She opened the box holding the cake.

"Okay, I won't comment about the soccer then, but honey are you going to give the child cake before lunch?" Carol asked incredulously.

Miranda shook her head. "No, mom, I'm just putting in the candles. That way they'll be ready to light when we're ready."

Carol relaxed slightly with a nod. "Oh, well alright."

Miranda finished placing the sixth candle in before glancing out again to get a glimpse of Bella. When the red-headed girl didn't come into view she blinked and surveyed the area again.

She was nowhere.

A slight panic filled her chest and she quickly started off into the direction that Bella had been going in.

"Bella?" She called.

She tripped slightly and looked down to find Bella's purple flats laying in the grass. She picked them up and quickly moved forward again, desperate to find her child.

"Bella!" She called again.

A cold hand gripped her arm and pulled her back.

"Sweetheart, where did you last see her?" Carol asked worriedly.

Miranda's chest tightened as she tried to breathe regularly. "She was just here, by the trees! She was playing, chasing a butterfly I think."

Carol nodded. "Alright, we'll find her. Keep looking."

Miranda looked around again.

Where is she?

She ran towards the jungle gym where a few kids were playing. Her daughter's wild red hair was no where in sight. She ran to a few mothers sitting on the bench.

"Excuse me, please help me." She caught her breath. "My daughter I can't-"

A sudden pain pierced her heart and she gripped her chest. Something wasn't right, she could feel it.

One of the mothers stood up. "What is it? You can't find her?"

Miranda shook her head. "She was just here, I don't know where she could be."

She turned and looked around again, her eyes were straining. She was in complete desperation.

"What does she look like?" The other mother asked.

Miranda gulped. "She's six, she has red hair, light skin, she's wearing a purple dress."

The mothers took in her description and immediately began searching the area with their own children at their sides.

"Miranda!" She turned to see Victor jogging up to her.

"Have you found her? Carol said Bella wandered off." His eyes were wide in fear.

A sob escaped Miranda's throat as another pain shot through her chest. Something was seriously wrong, she needed to find her baby, now.

Victor pulled her into a quick hug before pulling away.

"Come on, we need to find her." He said.

Miranda nodded.

They searched the park and the streets around it for only a few minutes before the police showed up. Samantha had called them as soon as Carol told her that they couldn't find Bella.

Bella wasn't the type to wander off without supervision. She knew the rules well- don't talk to strangers, always stay where mommy and daddy can see you, ask before going somewhere. This was not like her.

Miranda's chest pains quickly grew into a panic attack as the first hour passed and there was still no sign of her daughter. The police tried questioning her once Victor had calmed her slightly but she was in hysterics.

"She's six, red hair." She told them. "Six years old today, she's only six. Today is her birthday." And she sobbed.

Samantha had taken Liam away from the scene. He was confused, everyone was too busy to explain anything. He was twelve, old enough to understand what was happening, Samantha thought, so she told him.

He immediately jumped up, determined to go search the city for his younger sister, but Samantha held him still, insisting that the police would handle it.

They were there for hours, the party guests had come but soon left in their own search teams. They were Bella's family and Miranda's closest friends. They'd all be heart broken if anything bad happened to the young girl.

The sun was setting and Miranda and Victor still hadn't heard anything about their daughter.

Miranda couldn't believe it. None of this felt real, it was all like a bad dream. Her worst nightmare come true.

It had only taken a split second, one minute she was twirling in the grass, and the next-

-she was gone.

~ ~ ~

She lay, unmoving, unspeaking as the cold overtook her body. Her bones ached as her wet clothes weighed her down. She was on her back, a metal table supporting her.

It was quiet, but she new that they were still there. They were always there, watching her. They spoke occasionally, but she'd long since been able to focus on what they were saying.

Her body shivered, shaking almost violently, but she could no longer feel it. Her body was numb, near shock, but they still wouldn't release her. Not until she released herself.

She blinked into the darkness, attempting to make out any shapes around her. She was staring at the ceiling, but she didn't know that. She didn't know where she was, which way was up or down.

She wanted to feel warmth again; she'd forgotten what it felt like. She tried to imagine it, picturing herself wrapped in a blanket, hands in front of a roaring fire. The yearning she had for heat only made her aching increase.

"How is her progress?" Someone asked.

"She is very strong. She has been resistant in letting go, much more than our other recruits, but I believe she is close." Another voice answered.

The owner of the first voice nodded. "Finish it."

The other person nodded as well and signalled the others. "Prepare for another drop."

They stood around her and one stepped closer.

"Disconnect, recruit." He said calmly. "This will all be over once you disconnect."

Her mouth opened as she tried to speak, but no words came out. She wanted something, someone, but she couldn't remember what, or who.

He reached out, gripping the lever. "Disconnect." He repeated before pulling the lever down.

Once again she was submerged in water, ice cold and unforgiving. She'd been expecting it, but her body was too exhausted to react quickly enough. Her muscles froze at the sudden cold, she couldn't move.

They pushed her, more and more each time, to the brink. The more they pushed her, the further she was from her memories. The cold would invade her mind, taking away her past, leaving her mind open for them to mold.

When they had first begun, she had struggled, trying hard to escape the water. She had cried out for her mother, thrashed around, nearly died from her refusal to cooperate.

She was almost number fourteen. The fourteenth of all recruits in the history of the Agency to have been lost in the transition stage. They had been just seconds away from losing her, a risk they were willing to take. When she awoke again, desperately holding onto life, they knew she'd be a powerful operative one day.

All they needed to do was make the final break, between her and her past.

Now, as they looked down at her in the water, she didn't move, didn't struggle, didn't breathe. The pressure built around her lungs, squeezing at them, but she didn't try to reach oxygen. She accepted the cold. Her mind became cloudy and spots invaded her vision.

They watched her, her lack of struggle, and they knew. She was there's.
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The Cherophobe

Chapter 1 - The Lily

Arthur the Purple and Amber was a dragon in a rut.

In the mornings he sat in his cave breakfasting on brown nettles. He gave no thought to his surroundings. He swept the floor with a tumbleweed broom, captured any insects that scurried away and stored them for lunch. While morning was still early he walked out along the cliff's edge, following a path that required no navigational attention. He stretched his wings as he stepped, as prescribed for sedentary dragons. This was to prevent his fins from adhering to each other. He trudged up the steep rocky steps to an ice patch where he blew short bursts of his fiery breath, melting a tiny river down to the natural basin formed by the stony landscape. Occasionally he spied other dragons, young and flying high, giddy in the mountain air and the adventure of the hunt. He had no truck with them. Flying only served to remind him how small his world was, and he had lost his taste for meat.

One day, he returned home to see something he had never seen before. A light green shoot was poking through a crack in the basin. The color was different from the range of browns and reds he knew. Perhaps it was a trick of the imagination? He considered eating it. How different it would be from the scrub brush and nettles that stuck in his teeth and pierced his tongue and cheeks. But as he looked upon the little plant with its hopeful color and utter vulnerability in the stony ground, he felt such overpowering tenderness for it he had to grit his teeth. He decided rather than eating it he would protect it from the harsh environment. He found some stones and created a shelter around it.

For the next few days, he awoke eager to check each stage of the plant’s growth. When a tiny bloom appeared he nearly set it on fire in his exclamation of excitement. This bloom became over time an exquisite lily, its petals a white so bright he could see it in the moonlight when he peeked at it from his cave at night. He was loathe to leave it for his daily work, but knew he and the lily needed water to survive.

One morning Arthur arrived to see an astonishing transformation. A delicate face was pressing out of the lily. He blew gently, and the flower face bobbed in the tropical breeze he made. She slowly opened her eyes and he felt his heart squeeze as he recognized the color of the spring shoot in her irises. The rest of her body materialized top to bottom until she was twice the height she had been as a lily and the width and shape of a maiden. Her flower petals transformed into a child-sized human head. Two leaves that had grown at the base of the long stock curled into fiddleheads and became feet. Two more fronds became long, green arms. She was no longer rooted to the stone. Her hair retained the white luminescence of the lily petals, and her skin was a cool forest green.

As she focused her bright green eyes on him, Arthur became uncomfortably aware of his body and its imperfections. He stepped back, feeling the heat rise under his arms. The scales on his back begin to itch. He reached a claw back and discretely scratched.

She opened her mouth, startling him with a wordless tune. He sat back on his haunches, mesmerized, unsure where to look.

She stepped forward on her shaky new legs. She was just tall enough to reach the top of his head while he was seated. She placed her hand on his head, gently pressing it to indicate he should lower himself onto his front claws. He did and she slid onto his back and squeezed him with her heels. He started, uncertain if this was affection, and if so, how to return the sign.

Again, she squeezed, leaning forward, and he realized she was urging him to take flight.

Together they soared off the cliff face, eyes closed in the brilliance of the sun. He swooped low, then ascended at exhilarating speed to the top of the mountain. As they approached the summit, she resumed singing her strange song. Though he still did not recognize any words, he began to sense she was communicating with him. He felt her song like a violinist drawing a bow across his heart. The crescendo rose and peaked as they topped the mountain. Before them spread the magnificent sky and valley.

She uttered stuttering, guttural sounds and he knew she was moved by their smallness in the vast space. He wanted to tell her he saw it too -- the immensity of the world and the beauty of life. He perceived the colors, deep blue sky, rich red rock, the green of the valley. It all came to him in a shock. They hovered in the air and he realized he could show her his joy. He swooped down and looped around.

She responded with a new tune that again resonated across his heart. Yes.

They flew for hours. He showed her his ice patch, riding close to the ground so their feet and legs felt the cool air while the sun shone dry and hot on their heads. She sang a twittering birdlike song that bubbled in his ears. He responded by playfully bucking and she held tightly to his neck, changing to a low, chastising note. He banked hard to the west to glide past the other dragons and display his beautiful strange lily. They stopped midair to gawk at him and he pretended to ignore them while a proud smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. She did not speak, and he was comfortable with the silence. He showed her his birthplace and the hillside where he had first practiced flying as an adolescent. The companionable squeeze of her heels in response was a balm to his heretofore singular existence. He was certain she understood his feelings and he loved her for it. She sang a soft melody. He glided, gently rocking side to side, matching her swinging rhythm.

After hours of this unaccustomed activity he could no longer flap his wings. He brought her to her basin and she descended, kissing his neck tenderly before dropping to sleep in the stony pool. He gathered some strands of her hair that had fallen and went to bed holding them like a bouquet, reliving the day and plotting out new places to show her.

The next morning he arose excited with his plans. He could fly her down to the valley where there were flowers she'd probably like to see. He wondered if she had family, maybe siblings who would like a ride on a dragon! He hummed one the songs she had sung the day before and splashed some water on his face before he dashed out to see her.

But alas, in spite of her human form she had the lifespan of a cut flower. He stared in disbelief at her wilted form in the basin, covered in the cool water he had made for her. He returned to his lair in a numb stupor, lay down on his sleeping ledge and stared blankly at the empty cave. He remained there, drained of energy, his head too heavy to lift, until he fell into a dreamless sleep.

###

Arthur rolled away from the light of the morning sun, He stared at the dark wall of the cave, dreading the idea of getting up. He didn’t want to pass the place where his beloved flower had bloomed. Even if he could, the prospect of spending the day melting ice was so horrible, he could not even touch it with his mind. It wasn’t just the loss of love he was suffering. He had now experienced joy, excitement, and a brief respite from loneliness. This left a stark contrast. He had been awakened. Even his routine was no longer his.

The sunlight crept along the floor of the cave, closer and closer to his ledge until by mid morning, a wide shaft of it was baking the spines down the middle of his back and tail. He was never there at this hour and hadn’t realized the cave received so much sunlight during the day. It was quiet. He became aware of the sound of water dripping. He tried counting the drops, to see if it would make him sleepy, but this only served to make him anxious; the drops seemed relentless.

Enough!

For the second time in two days, and in many years, he did something unexpected. He rolled off his ledge, rummaged in his cubby, and pulled out a sturdy burlap cloth. On this he laid what remained of his stock of thistles and a wineskin which he filled from his water supply. Binding up the cloth, he slung it over his back and lumbered down the path along the edge of the cliff. Behind him, his cave gaped. The great rocky wall where he had toiled for so many years with neither happiness, sorrow nor friendship, shone in the bright sunlight. He did not turn around.

His wings were sore from the long flight the day before, and he unfurled them gingerly as he plodded along. He was careful not to spread them out completely, since he wanted no reminders of yesterday’s joyful soaring. Yet the small pulses comforted him, even while they hurt his aching muscles. He welcomed the discomfort.

Around mid-day, he came to a tall thistle. He stopped to collect the seed pods, eating a few before adding them to the collection in his sack. He took out the wineskin and eased himself to the ground for a short drink of water and a break. Looking down, he saw the yellow head of a small dandelion that he had almost sat upon. Although his acquaintance with flowers was limited (he’d met just the one), he still felt this was an inferior breed. He picked the entire plant, roots and all, and gave the leaves a nibble. They were soft and bitter, but tasty. The flower head was odd, and then suddenly painful. He spat it out, along with a small bee that had only moments before been passing a pleasant afternoon within the petals of the dandelion. His eyes welled up, and he felt something he had been holding inside crack open. He let out a mighty roar. Flames and smoke billowed out of his mouth as he howled and rocked on his haunches.

2 - Morty’s pants

Morty despised walking. He’d had plenty of experience marching behind a hundred other men in the battalion and did not want to add to it now that he was alone. Unfortunately, he had a long way to go, and only one way to get there. He kept his eye on the path as it veered close to the steep drop of the cliff edge. Why anyone would make this path so close to the cliff was beyond him. Perhaps they liked the view, or a break in the monotony. He imagined small rodents racing along single file, an unlucky one tripping and flying out into space while the others stopped to watch in horror, and in guilty relief from boredom.

Deep in his thoughts as he was, the scent came to his attention slowly, subtly evoking the campfires of the campaigns. His mind unwittingly responded by drifting to reminisce about his comrades. Then the scent became more pronounced and his conscious mind gave him a poke. Hello there he said to himself, what have we here?

Down the hill ahead of him arose a waft of smoke. Warily, he stepped into the brush away from the cliff edge, circling around the unseen origin of the increasing plumes. The gorse was full of prickers that caught on his clothing, but his attention was on the fire. After about fifty paces, he’d gotten far enough down the hill to hear keening through the scrub. A long howl startled him, and he crouched down as it turned into entreaty.

“Why? Why?” it called, devolving into sobs.

Morty had a bad feeling about this. His gut, his training and his fear told him to get out of there, and fast. Another howl erupted and he crouched, prepared to bolt. But his cursed curiosity stayed his feet. Whatever was making this racket, weeping with abandon, it was large. He crept a few paces closer until through the grass and scrub he saw the amber scales of a mature dragon, shuddering with its head between its front claws. Every great cry was accompanied by flames. The brush was ablaze.

Morty was confounded. He’d seen dragons in the distance before, working at the glacier, and he’d been fascinated by their busy flight. He’d even watched, unable to look away as one of them swooped down on a young wolf on the mesa and carried it aloft to its mountainous lair. He had never considered these beings as having emotions, no more than he thought about the amorous intentions of the rocks that made up the cliff side. When he’d observed the dragons, he had entertained only one thought: Flight. What would it be like to perch high on the shoulders of one of these mammoth lizards, right at the top where the spines rounded off, and hold onto the thick neck as the beast pumped its great wings and dove into the air, blowing its fiery breath at anything it passed!

His fascination got the better of him, and he approached the dragon.

“Hey,” he began, then jumped back as the startled beast swung its head around with a blast of flames.

“Woah there, friend,” said Morty, “Dial it back, I like these pants.”

The dragon stared.

“I got these working on a cattle farm,” continued Morty. He was never at a loss for words. “They paid me in pelts. Took me forever to find a good tanner and I had to port the stinking things around with me all summer.”

The dragon choked out a sob.

“So, I was thinking, if you’re done setting the place on fire, maybe I could hitch a ride out. You know, before my pants and I start to crisp up…”

The dragon dropped his head at this. “Go away,” he said. “I want to be alone.”

“Right. That’s a great idea, and I would love to, but unfortunately I think we’re both going to be pork chops if you don’t fly us out of here,” Morty said, pointing to the rising flames.

“I don’t fly,” said the dragon.

Morty wasn’t the type to get worried, but he really did like these pants, and the flames were growing higher. The brush wasn’t too thick here, but it was dry and he could see the potential for this wildfire to spread. He considered the problem: No water and a useless, fairly skinny dragon with the exception of its hind quarters, which were really something. He supposed that it was too late to blow the flames out, and those wings would probably be more likely to feed the fire with air than kill it. His cheeks were getting hot and he felt a drip of sweat down his back. Then he realized, this dirt was fairly soft, and that dragon’s powerful-looking legs, maybe...

“Hey, Waterworks,” Morty said to the dragon, “Stop heaving, you’re going to torch the whole land. Can you dig with those hind claws?”

The dragon looked down at them dubiously. “I don’t usually,” he said.

“See if you can scoop some dirt onto these bushes here,” said Morty. “Turn your back on it and shovel whatever you can behind you.”

The dragon stood up, scraped the ground with his front claws and flung a bit of topsoil between his hind legs and onto the bush behind him.

“No, no, not like that!” said Morty, “Like this!”

He put his hands on the ground, and pawed with his right boot to kick the dirt behind him. The dragon gave it another try, and soon was kicking a wave of dirt onto the burning scrub brush.

“That’s it!” cried Morty, drumming his hands against his legs in agitation. The dragon showed some enthusiasm in spite of his heretofore lassitude, and dug deeper into the dry ground to kick even more dirt behind him. Soon the flames were gone, and the air was full of choking dust and smoke.

The dragon sat back with a heavy thump and Morty put his arm over his mouth to breathe.

“I guess the way is clear now,” said Morty, looking at the scorched path leading down the hill. The dragon heaved a sigh and nodded.

“So, shall we leg it together?” asked Morty. “I’m heading to Abergale,” he pointed to an unseen location in the valley. “Might as well keep each other company as not, if you’re heading that way,” he added. He was still holding out hope that this dragon would give him a ride, although it looked like it wasn’t used to vigorous exercise, based on the state it was in after all that kicking.

“I don’t know,” The dragon wheezed. “I’m not sure where I’m going yet. I just need to leave this place.” He took the sack from off his back, opened it, pulled out a painful looking stem of dried prickers and surprised Morty by popping them into his mouth.

He had a drink from the wineskin, then passed it to Morty, who thanked him and said, “I’m Morty. What do they call you?”

“Arthur, the Purple and Amber,” said Arthur.

“All right, Arthur,” said Morty, “come on.”

###

This has been The Cherophobe

Fiction / Fantasy age range - 10  through adult

Word count 2971 (of 11,500 in part I. Part II is in progress).

Author: Lara Bujold Clouden

Synopsis: A depressed dragon experiences joy and that opens his eyes to the wonder of the world. But all too soon the object of his love is snatched from him. He  must learn to take chances and care about life again. Fortunately, he meets a cheerful friend who can't fathom why someone who could fly would choose to walk.

Target audience: Adults who love fairy tales.

Lara Bujold Clouden 

Bio: I live and work in San Mateo, California with my husband and two children. I like pens, hiking, commuting by bike and writing letters. I have time for one of the above.

I blog under the name elbycloud at wordpress.com

I have a B.A. in Political Science.  I began writing fiction in April 2017 and have published one article with Longshot Island.

I'm from Duluth, Minnesota originally.

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The Cherophobe
Chapter 1 - The Lily

Arthur the Purple and Amber was a dragon in a rut.

In the mornings he sat in his cave breakfasting on brown nettles. He gave no thought to his surroundings. He swept the floor with a tumbleweed broom, captured any insects that scurried away and stored them for lunch. While morning was still early he walked out along the cliff's edge, following a path that required no navigational attention. He stretched his wings as he stepped, as prescribed for sedentary dragons. This was to prevent his fins from adhering to each other. He trudged up the steep rocky steps to an ice patch where he blew short bursts of his fiery breath, melting a tiny river down to the natural basin formed by the stony landscape. Occasionally he spied other dragons, young and flying high, giddy in the mountain air and the adventure of the hunt. He had no truck with them. Flying only served to remind him how small his world was, and he had lost his taste for meat.

One day, he returned home to see something he had never seen before. A light green shoot was poking through a crack in the basin. The color was different from the range of browns and reds he knew. Perhaps it was a trick of the imagination? He considered eating it. How different it would be from the scrub brush and nettles that stuck in his teeth and pierced his tongue and cheeks. But as he looked upon the little plant with its hopeful color and utter vulnerability in the stony ground, he felt such overpowering tenderness for it he had to grit his teeth. He decided rather than eating it he would protect it from the harsh environment. He found some stones and created a shelter around it.

For the next few days, he awoke eager to check each stage of the plant’s growth. When a tiny bloom appeared he nearly set it on fire in his exclamation of excitement. This bloom became over time an exquisite lily, its petals a white so bright he could see it in the moonlight when he peeked at it from his cave at night. He was loathe to leave it for his daily work, but knew he and the lily needed water to survive.

One morning Arthur arrived to see an astonishing transformation. A delicate face was pressing out of the lily. He blew gently, and the flower face bobbed in the tropical breeze he made. She slowly opened her eyes and he felt his heart squeeze as he recognized the color of the spring shoot in her irises. The rest of her body materialized top to bottom until she was twice the height she had been as a lily and the width and shape of a maiden. Her flower petals transformed into a child-sized human head. Two leaves that had grown at the base of the long stock curled into fiddleheads and became feet. Two more fronds became long, green arms. She was no longer rooted to the stone. Her hair retained the white luminescence of the lily petals, and her skin was a cool forest green.

As she focused her bright green eyes on him, Arthur became uncomfortably aware of his body and its imperfections. He stepped back, feeling the heat rise under his arms. The scales on his back begin to itch. He reached a claw back and discretely scratched.

She opened her mouth, startling him with a wordless tune. He sat back on his haunches, mesmerized, unsure where to look.

She stepped forward on her shaky new legs. She was just tall enough to reach the top of his head while he was seated. She placed her hand on his head, gently pressing it to indicate he should lower himself onto his front claws. He did and she slid onto his back and squeezed him with her heels. He started, uncertain if this was affection, and if so, how to return the sign.

Again, she squeezed, leaning forward, and he realized she was urging him to take flight.

Together they soared off the cliff face, eyes closed in the brilliance of the sun. He swooped low, then ascended at exhilarating speed to the top of the mountain. As they approached the summit, she resumed singing her strange song. Though he still did not recognize any words, he began to sense she was communicating with him. He felt her song like a violinist drawing a bow across his heart. The crescendo rose and peaked as they topped the mountain. Before them spread the magnificent sky and valley.

She uttered stuttering, guttural sounds and he knew she was moved by their smallness in the vast space. He wanted to tell her he saw it too -- the immensity of the world and the beauty of life. He perceived the colors, deep blue sky, rich red rock, the green of the valley. It all came to him in a shock. They hovered in the air and he realized he could show her his joy. He swooped down and looped around.

She responded with a new tune that again resonated across his heart. Yes.

They flew for hours. He showed her his ice patch, riding close to the ground so their feet and legs felt the cool air while the sun shone dry and hot on their heads. She sang a twittering birdlike song that bubbled in his ears. He responded by playfully bucking and she held tightly to his neck, changing to a low, chastising note. He banked hard to the west to glide past the other dragons and display his beautiful strange lily. They stopped midair to gawk at him and he pretended to ignore them while a proud smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. She did not speak, and he was comfortable with the silence. He showed her his birthplace and the hillside where he had first practiced flying as an adolescent. The companionable squeeze of her heels in response was a balm to his heretofore singular existence. He was certain she understood his feelings and he loved her for it. She sang a soft melody. He glided, gently rocking side to side, matching her swinging rhythm.

After hours of this unaccustomed activity he could no longer flap his wings. He brought her to her basin and she descended, kissing his neck tenderly before dropping to sleep in the stony pool. He gathered some strands of her hair that had fallen and went to bed holding them like a bouquet, reliving the day and plotting out new places to show her.

The next morning he arose excited with his plans. He could fly her down to the valley where there were flowers she'd probably like to see. He wondered if she had family, maybe siblings who would like a ride on a dragon! He hummed one the songs she had sung the day before and splashed some water on his face before he dashed out to see her.

But alas, in spite of her human form she had the lifespan of a cut flower. He stared in disbelief at her wilted form in the basin, covered in the cool water he had made for her. He returned to his lair in a numb stupor, lay down on his sleeping ledge and stared blankly at the empty cave. He remained there, drained of energy, his head too heavy to lift, until he fell into a dreamless sleep.

###

Arthur rolled away from the light of the morning sun, He stared at the dark wall of the cave, dreading the idea of getting up. He didn’t want to pass the place where his beloved flower had bloomed. Even if he could, the prospect of spending the day melting ice was so horrible, he could not even touch it with his mind. It wasn’t just the loss of love he was suffering. He had now experienced joy, excitement, and a brief respite from loneliness. This left a stark contrast. He had been awakened. Even his routine was no longer his.

The sunlight crept along the floor of the cave, closer and closer to his ledge until by mid morning, a wide shaft of it was baking the spines down the middle of his back and tail. He was never there at this hour and hadn’t realized the cave received so much sunlight during the day. It was quiet. He became aware of the sound of water dripping. He tried counting the drops, to see if it would make him sleepy, but this only served to make him anxious; the drops seemed relentless.

Enough!

For the second time in two days, and in many years, he did something unexpected. He rolled off his ledge, rummaged in his cubby, and pulled out a sturdy burlap cloth. On this he laid what remained of his stock of thistles and a wineskin which he filled from his water supply. Binding up the cloth, he slung it over his back and lumbered down the path along the edge of the cliff. Behind him, his cave gaped. The great rocky wall where he had toiled for so many years with neither happiness, sorrow nor friendship, shone in the bright sunlight. He did not turn around.

His wings were sore from the long flight the day before, and he unfurled them gingerly as he plodded along. He was careful not to spread them out completely, since he wanted no reminders of yesterday’s joyful soaring. Yet the small pulses comforted him, even while they hurt his aching muscles. He welcomed the discomfort.

Around mid-day, he came to a tall thistle. He stopped to collect the seed pods, eating a few before adding them to the collection in his sack. He took out the wineskin and eased himself to the ground for a short drink of water and a break. Looking down, he saw the yellow head of a small dandelion that he had almost sat upon. Although his acquaintance with flowers was limited (he’d met just the one), he still felt this was an inferior breed. He picked the entire plant, roots and all, and gave the leaves a nibble. They were soft and bitter, but tasty. The flower head was odd, and then suddenly painful. He spat it out, along with a small bee that had only moments before been passing a pleasant afternoon within the petals of the dandelion. His eyes welled up, and he felt something he had been holding inside crack open. He let out a mighty roar. Flames and smoke billowed out of his mouth as he howled and rocked on his haunches.
2 - Morty’s pants

Morty despised walking. He’d had plenty of experience marching behind a hundred other men in the battalion and did not want to add to it now that he was alone. Unfortunately, he had a long way to go, and only one way to get there. He kept his eye on the path as it veered close to the steep drop of the cliff edge. Why anyone would make this path so close to the cliff was beyond him. Perhaps they liked the view, or a break in the monotony. He imagined small rodents racing along single file, an unlucky one tripping and flying out into space while the others stopped to watch in horror, and in guilty relief from boredom.

Deep in his thoughts as he was, the scent came to his attention slowly, subtly evoking the campfires of the campaigns. His mind unwittingly responded by drifting to reminisce about his comrades. Then the scent became more pronounced and his conscious mind gave him a poke. Hello there he said to himself, what have we here?

Down the hill ahead of him arose a waft of smoke. Warily, he stepped into the brush away from the cliff edge, circling around the unseen origin of the increasing plumes. The gorse was full of prickers that caught on his clothing, but his attention was on the fire. After about fifty paces, he’d gotten far enough down the hill to hear keening through the scrub. A long howl startled him, and he crouched down as it turned into entreaty.

“Why? Why?” it called, devolving into sobs.

Morty had a bad feeling about this. His gut, his training and his fear told him to get out of there, and fast. Another howl erupted and he crouched, prepared to bolt. But his cursed curiosity stayed his feet. Whatever was making this racket, weeping with abandon, it was large. He crept a few paces closer until through the grass and scrub he saw the amber scales of a mature dragon, shuddering with its head between its front claws. Every great cry was accompanied by flames. The brush was ablaze.

Morty was confounded. He’d seen dragons in the distance before, working at the glacier, and he’d been fascinated by their busy flight. He’d even watched, unable to look away as one of them swooped down on a young wolf on the mesa and carried it aloft to its mountainous lair. He had never considered these beings as having emotions, no more than he thought about the amorous intentions of the rocks that made up the cliff side. When he’d observed the dragons, he had entertained only one thought: Flight. What would it be like to perch high on the shoulders of one of these mammoth lizards, right at the top where the spines rounded off, and hold onto the thick neck as the beast pumped its great wings and dove into the air, blowing its fiery breath at anything it passed!

His fascination got the better of him, and he approached the dragon.

“Hey,” he began, then jumped back as the startled beast swung its head around with a blast of flames.

“Woah there, friend,” said Morty, “Dial it back, I like these pants.”
The dragon stared.

“I got these working on a cattle farm,” continued Morty. He was never at a loss for words. “They paid me in pelts. Took me forever to find a good tanner and I had to port the stinking things around with me all summer.”

The dragon choked out a sob.

“So, I was thinking, if you’re done setting the place on fire, maybe I could hitch a ride out. You know, before my pants and I start to crisp up…”

The dragon dropped his head at this. “Go away,” he said. “I want to be alone.”

“Right. That’s a great idea, and I would love to, but unfortunately I think we’re both going to be pork chops if you don’t fly us out of here,” Morty said, pointing to the rising flames.

“I don’t fly,” said the dragon.

Morty wasn’t the type to get worried, but he really did like these pants, and the flames were growing higher. The brush wasn’t too thick here, but it was dry and he could see the potential for this wildfire to spread. He considered the problem: No water and a useless, fairly skinny dragon with the exception of its hind quarters, which were really something. He supposed that it was too late to blow the flames out, and those wings would probably be more likely to feed the fire with air than kill it. His cheeks were getting hot and he felt a drip of sweat down his back. Then he realized, this dirt was fairly soft, and that dragon’s powerful-looking legs, maybe...

“Hey, Waterworks,” Morty said to the dragon, “Stop heaving, you’re going to torch the whole land. Can you dig with those hind claws?”

The dragon looked down at them dubiously. “I don’t usually,” he said.

“See if you can scoop some dirt onto these bushes here,” said Morty. “Turn your back on it and shovel whatever you can behind you.”

The dragon stood up, scraped the ground with his front claws and flung a bit of topsoil between his hind legs and onto the bush behind him.

“No, no, not like that!” said Morty, “Like this!”

He put his hands on the ground, and pawed with his right boot to kick the dirt behind him. The dragon gave it another try, and soon was kicking a wave of dirt onto the burning scrub brush.

“That’s it!” cried Morty, drumming his hands against his legs in agitation. The dragon showed some enthusiasm in spite of his heretofore lassitude, and dug deeper into the dry ground to kick even more dirt behind him. Soon the flames were gone, and the air was full of choking dust and smoke.

The dragon sat back with a heavy thump and Morty put his arm over his mouth to breathe.

“I guess the way is clear now,” said Morty, looking at the scorched path leading down the hill. The dragon heaved a sigh and nodded.

“So, shall we leg it together?” asked Morty. “I’m heading to Abergale,” he pointed to an unseen location in the valley. “Might as well keep each other company as not, if you’re heading that way,” he added. He was still holding out hope that this dragon would give him a ride, although it looked like it wasn’t used to vigorous exercise, based on the state it was in after all that kicking.

“I don’t know,” The dragon wheezed. “I’m not sure where I’m going yet. I just need to leave this place.” He took the sack from off his back, opened it, pulled out a painful looking stem of dried prickers and surprised Morty by popping them into his mouth.

He had a drink from the wineskin, then passed it to Morty, who thanked him and said, “I’m Morty. What do they call you?”

“Arthur, the Purple and Amber,” said Arthur.

“All right, Arthur,” said Morty, “come on.”

###
This has been The Cherophobe
Fiction / Fantasy age range - 10  through adult
Word count 2971 (of 11,500 in part I. Part II is in progress).
Author: Lara Bujold Clouden
Synopsis: A depressed dragon experiences joy and that opens his eyes to the wonder of the world. But all too soon the object of his love is snatched from him. He  must learn to take chances and care about life again. Fortunately, he meets a cheerful friend who can't fathom why someone who could fly would choose to walk.

Target audience: Adults who love fairy tales.
Lara Bujold Clouden 
Bio: I live and work in San Mateo, California with my husband and two children. I like pens, hiking, commuting by bike and writing letters. I have time for one of the above.

I blog under the name elbycloud at wordpress.com
I have a B.A. in Political Science.  I began writing fiction in April 2017 and have published one article with Longshot Island.
I'm from Duluth, Minnesota originally.
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Upon Stilted Cities: The Winds of Change

(Full Manuscript Approx 105,000 words)

Chapter 1: The End of a Migration 

1.

The city had toppled. Bits of skyscrapers were strewn across the desert. With the city’s legs destroyed, it had collapsed from towering heights. Most of what remained upon the excavated chunk of earth on which the city had previously stood, were smoking ruins, shattered mechanized EnViro suits and sun-dried corpses. Welts from bombs, bullets and energy weapons pockmarked the perimeter, as various vapors cascaded into the late afternoon sky.

Inside the ruin, occasional echoes of weapon fire permeated the stillness in and between the few remaining buildings but, even that would fade with the day.

Far back from the fresh ruin of Langeles, Roderick sat up. He was alone in the Barrens. His body ached from laying inside his metallic suit for what was probably several hours. The air was a cool forty-eight degrees Celsius, as the sun began its final descent. Perhaps an hour of light remained before the cold night air set in.

Roderick blinked. It was a glorious sunset. Even as seen through the tinted UV protection of his suit's helmet, it was a ritual of beauty, a day that ended in victory. The power core within Langeles still remained, but the bells of the city were ringing for the last time. Langeles would never walk again. For a city with no shield and no migration, there was only death.

He pressed a small button under his chin and with his left hand pulled off his helmet. Its thick inner liner tugged at his graying hair as the helmet detached. He dropped it to the ground. It thudded against the gravel, rolling for a moment before settling in.

He closed his eyes and caressed the tattoo on his neck, the mark of his order, a tree of life with an eye in the center. He liked to feel the raised skin, the scars that had formed under the ink. Most adherents of the Children of Gaia chose a simple armband or an inscription on their EnViro suit exterior, but for Roderick, only the mix of blood and ink could mark his tribute and his loyalty.

He felt the fresh air on his face and took a deep breath, knowing full well that he wouldn’t be able to keep his helmet off for long. The methane would gradually trickle into his lungs with each breath. Fresh air, as rotten as it smelled, was a luxury. But, it had been a long day, and a little non-filtered air wouldn’t kill him.

He reached up to wipe the sweat from his brow. Already beads of moisture were gathering in the crevices of his aging face and shimmered in the dying light. His light brown eyes reflected the play of colors on the hard rocky earth and the swiftly changing sky.

Pain sprang up his right arm like a horse bucking its mount and his square features tightened as he gritted his teeth. Roderick looked down the length of his right arm and remembered. He shuttered. Truth had a funny way of reminding you where you stand. The bloody stump of where his right hand been, was now a symbol of his haste. He turned and gazed at the wreckage of his Dugger behind him. The City and the Dugger had shared the same fate.

With great pain, he poked the damaged arm out through the metallic hole of the suit where his metal glove had been. He had managed to tie the pliable, cloth-like under layer in a knot to slow any leak of his air. He used his teeth as a second hand. After several frustrating moments, the knot came loose. He unwrapped the gauze and examined the wound. It was already beginning to stink. He was fortunate that his suit had maintained his temperature and filtered air as well as it had. He would need to cauterize the wound, and quickly. If the toxins from the air entered his blood… well, he had better not let it come to that.

Silence slid into his ears. All noise evaporated and a high pitch ringing emerged in the vacancy. Fresh fire burst forth from the remains of Langeles. Even from twenty-six kilometers out, he had temporarily lost his hearing. Roderick shielded his eyes from the blinding white light that erupted from the city like a second sun. His fingers pawed a solitary rock with his left hand for balance, feeling his feet beginning to give way. His legs were so tired.

It was the power core. An explosion that massive had to be the main power core. Dense smoke seeped into the sky. A hint of a mushroom cloud emerged but was already caught by gusting winds and dissipated across the landscape, intermingling with the colors of the setting sun.

His men had finally reached it. Where he had failed, they had succeeded.

He stared at the city with anticipation. Where was the blast wave? Detonating a nuke inside the city core should have sent a cascading wave of energy. He should need to duck behind a ridge or hunkering down inside a small cave… but nothing happened. Perhaps they didn’t use the nuke? Had his men had managed to overload the core?

It made no difference. Joy washed over him. Roderick let out of a roar of triumph. His roar caught on to the back of the lingering noise of the explosion and merged into forever.

He fell to his knees and bowed forward. Dry lips met the hardpan. His right stump barely grazed the ground and a shock of pain climbed the length of his arm. He gritted his teeth but did not move from his position of reverence.

“Praise to you Mother. Thank you for your aid in this great victory. I shall not forget the lesson you taught me this day. I shall not act in haste again. It is an honor to sacrifice in your name.”

He pushed his right leg forward and used his left hand to thrust himself upward. Roderick stared at his bloody stump, still feeling where his fingers had been. Despite the immense pain of the open wound, his fingers itched, an itch he would never be able to scratch again.

Roderick smiled, turning his attention back to the fallen city. The burning city roused his courage, his determination. There, in the smoking ruin, was the evidence that it was possible to rid the earth of its infestation. The city of Langeles and its people were no more.

But... what of his haste? What of his disregard for Mother Gaia’s words? Much had gone right, but what had gone wrong? Roderick closed his eyes and reviewed the events of the morning assault.

2.

The city had begun drilling operations. Migration was halted so that the excavation could begin. A massive drill protruded from the lower hunk of rock underneath the city and was burrowing into the earth.

“Commander, all Duggers are submerged, in position, and await your orders,” said Patrick Lions. His face appeared before Roderick on his view screen. Patrick was a short, round, balding man who barely fit inside of a standard EnViro suit.

“Excellent. What’s the status on the special delivery?” asked Roderick.

“The package has been delivered to the cities AI Commander. Rocky said the primary shield should fail shortly. One thing, though, he also said the secondary shield is definitely an isolated system. It’s unlikely the virus will deactivate it.”

“Yes, Rocky warned me earlier. But, there will be chaos, and that is all we need. What’s the status on city leg security?”

“One moment commander, I’ll check.”

Roderick squirmed in the semi-cramped quarters of the Dugger. He disliked being below ground in the Dugger transports. Duggers had been designed for numerous conditions in severe climate change during the late 21st century and were usually effective means of transport in the barrens. They had a small drill and two claw-like arms on the front of the vehicle that dug below shallow surfaces. Roderick had hated using them at first, piercing the earth had seemed like an act of great sacrilege, but Mother Gaia had given them permission to use the vehicles.

“Commander,” said Patrick, “Leg security has been deactivated. Should we send in Miss and her team?”

“No, stick to the plan. Shields fall first, then we send in the main attacking force, and then we send Miss and her teams to plant the nukes. If we deviate from the plan, it will be like Saud. You remember Saud, don’t you Patrick?”

“Yes, Commander.” Patrick’s voice was notably lower in pitch and his eyes cast downward.

“It took 70 years to rebuild the Order after Saud, Patrick. Have faith in the Great Mother. She has blessed this plan. Langeles will fall before the sun sets.”

“Has she…” Patrick hesitated over the comm line. He knew that Patrick’s faith in Gaia had wavered as of late. Many of his soldier’s faith had wavered. Inaction was a plague that could spread quickly and three years of planning was a long time.

“Has Mother spoken with you about this plan Commander? I… I only ask out of curiosity, of course.” Patrick’s voice contained a hint of a tremor.

Roderick smiled, showing his ancient yellowed teeth. “Of course Patrick. It was the Great Mother who devised this plan. She gave me a powerful vision that showed me the city of Langeles on fire. She whispered that other cities would come for salvage after the fire. And then,” excitement washed over Roderick’s anticipation, “Then, we will destroy them as well. Mother Gaia has brought us Rocky and Miss so that we could carry out the plan. Have faith, Patrick. We cannot lose this day. Today is the first of many victories.”

It was true that the plan had come to him in a vision that the mother had spoken to him. The timing of Miss and Rocky joining the cause was perfect, but even Roderick’s faith had been shaken at Saud and his own impatience was bubbling up to the surface. They needed a victory to restore the faith of his people.

“The primary shield is down Commander,” said Patrick.

“AI, confirm?” said Roderick.

“Sir, I confirm the primary shield system surrounding Langeles has fallen. Secondary shields surrounding their security buildings and storm shelters have been activated.”

“Excellent. There will be riots inside the city over access to those shelters,” said Roderick. “You see Patrick? Mother’s plan will sew chaos inside the city while we destroy the legs. Send in the primary attacking force.”

“All of them sir?”

“Yes, all of them, including your elite team. I want to keep their Runner Core busy.”

Seven hundred men were in the main attacking force and only three dozen were on leg detail. Roderick’s personal guard consisted of only twenty-three men and women. He would hold his force until the nukes detonated, shattering the great legs. Then he and his personal guard would head straight for the city’s core ending the long life of the parasitic walking cities.

“Yes, Commander. May Gaia bless your path,” said Patrick.

“And may Gaia bless yours. I'll see you on the other side. Keep the mother in your heart and we cannot fail.”

Roderick watched his screen in the Dugger. He watched as the several dozen transport vehicles began moving towards the city. Most of them surfaced and crept along on treaded tires, but a few were still moving under the sand and hard earth. The ones under the ground would travel below the combatants and flank the Langeles Runner Core from behind.

They were greatly outnumbered. From what his spy said, Langeles had 2300 Runners ready for combat. Roderick only had 1300 under his command and several hundred were women and children back at Atlantis base. The fallen shield and surprise would give them a sizable advantage. Runners would have to be dispatched inside the city to maintain order.

The EnViro shield surrounding the walking cities weren't just for defense in combat. The Shield was also used to create an enclosed ecosystem. Without the shield, most of the cities inhabitants would be slowly poisoned by the toxic air and cooked in the extraordinary heat. Secondary shields were set up around important buildings in the event that the primary shield failed, but with two million people in the city and only room for about a hundred thousand in the secondary shielding shelters, there would be chaos. Langeles’s own citizens were weaponized in the Mother’s cause; every man, woman, and child an agent of chaos, an inadvertent soldier in the army of the Children of Gaia. They were to be offered up in sacrifice to the Great Mother.

The radar on screen saw the dots consolidating about a kilometer outside the cities boundary. Over the comm came Patrick’s voice. “Duggers, mount artillery and fire. Infantry Dismount and engage. Be ready. Here they come.”

Underneath the soil, Roderick felt the ground begin to vibrate. Langeles had opened fire with its rail guns blasting huge holes in the rocky desert. But, with the shield gone, Roderick knew their ability to use the rail guns would be limited. The guns ran off the same power grid as the main shield system. Naturally, after a few shots, the guns would stop and the majority of Langeles Runner core would need to be deployed in defense. Fresh blips on the radar screen were beginning to appear. Roderick knew those must be the Langeles Runners.

“AI, status check on our cargo?”

“Sir, all three atomic weapons are stable and ready for deployment.”

“Excellent. Open a channel to Miss.”

Miss, a strikingly beautiful woman, appeared on the screen. Her deep blue eyes, olive skin, and black hair were everything that Roderick desired. His second in command stared back through the communications line awaiting instructions.

“It’s time Miss. Uncouple the cargo cars and take down the legs. The main force and the fallen shield will keep Langeles security distracted.”

“Yes, Commander. May Gaia Bless your path.”

“And yours Miss.”

Roderick felt a jolt as the cargo car he had taxied was uncoupled from his Dugger. He felt lighter, more eager than before. His plan was unfolding perfectly so far.

Time passed and Roderick grew increasingly agitated. He hated sitting back and waiting while the rest of his troops were out fighting. So much could go wrong.

Roderick watched as the 8th and 9th nukes were attached to the cities legs. A few more nukes to go and then he would pull his troops back.

Then something did go wrong.

Over the comm came Miss’s voice, the signal fragmented. “Commander… spotted us. Seven men… Confirmed that the…. 10th… Leg. Should… detonate?

“Repeat that Miss I didn’t catch all of it.”

“Signal… Under attack… Legs… Retreating.”

“No! Don’t retreat. Finish the Mission and then get out of there.”

“Ten… planted… retreating… distance. Gaia…”

The signal evaporated. “AI what’s happening out there.”

“It appears, that the Langeles Runner Core have discovered the leg team. Most of the team has been destroyed. However, based on radiation scans it looks like at least ten of the legs have a tactical nuclear weapon attached to them.”

“And Miss?”

“Her life signs are still strong. There is a high probability that she is back in her vehicle and moving away at high speed.”

“Then start the detonation clock. Let the Core team know we are moving as soon as the blast wave is clear.”

“Sir, In order to detonate I require a confirmation code.”

“Of course. V638927SI.”

“Thank you, Sir. How long would you like the countdown to run?”

“How long will it take for the main force to get a safe distance from the blast zone?”

“If they left immediately and put the Duggers at full speed, they could be clear in six minutes.”

“Alert Patrick and the main force to disengage immediately.”

“Unfortunately Sir, Patrick Lions no longer has any vital signs.”

“Fine, just alert the remainder of the main force. Set the countdown for fifteen minutes. Alert everyone at two-minute intervals. Any longer than that and we risk giving Langeles time to disarm some of the bombs.”

“Acknowledged Sir. Countdown to detonation is now at fifteen minutes.”

It was a long fifteen minutes. Roderick passed the time watching his troops departing to a safe distance from the estimated blast zone. He watched nervously as more of the Langeles Runner Core seem to be gathering around the legs. If they figured out what was happening… but Roderick knew it was too late, only six minutes remained in the countdown now and there was no way they could disarm the weapons in time. Miss had planted the nukes at the upper third the legs, only someone with her special skills could have easy access to them.

“Four minutes remaining until detonation.”

This was it. Roderick could feel a kind of giddiness pass over him. It had been a few hundred years since he felt so excited. The city would fall, their plan would work.

“Patience Roderick,” said a powerful and soothing voice.

“Mother Gaia?”

The voice was outside him but coming through him.

“Yes, Roderick. You must have patience. Do not act out of haste now or there will be a heavy price to pay.”

“Yes my Goddess, of course. Forgive me, I am unable to prostrate to you in this vehicle.”

There was no response.

“Mother Gaia?”

Still no answer.

“Two minutes remain until detonation,” said the AI.

What did Mother Gaia mean by patience? Did it mean that he would have to wait to assault the core? Did it mean that he should cancel the detonation?

“Sixty seconds remaining until detonation.”

A wave of panic washed over Roderick. He quickly reviewed the morning’s events. Had he overlooked anything? The AI began to countdown the final thirty seconds. He smashed his fist into the steering wheel and his anger burst forth at the same moment the bombs on the legs detonated.

Roderick watched over his view screen as the blast drowned out all vision with a great blinding light. He wondered if all of his men had remembered not to look directly into that light. A mighty roaring noise pressed itself against the ground and waves of sand and rock shifted above the Dugger.

In the view screen, Roderick saw the city kneeling down towards the earth, like a man kneeling beside the dying body of a brother in arms. The west end sunk first, smashing into the hard earth of the Barrens. Some skyscrapers broke in half and pieces scattered as they cascaded toward the ground. Then, finally, the rock slab of earth on which the city rested, slanted up towards the sky, amongst the sand and gravel.

Roderick’s rage and frustration were forgotten, as were the words of the mother. Roderick’s cheeks pulled upward. A smile bloomed on his face. Red cheeks, like red roses, surrounded a sharp toothy grin.

Roderick opened a comm line. “The Great Mother has brought us to the brink of victory my brothers, but we must not tarry. Main force, resume your attack, mop up what’s left of the Langeles Runners. Core team, you are with me. CHARGE!”

The vehicle vibrated violently and the sand on top of the clear glass cockpit began to move and shake. As the vehicle moved up above the surface of the ground Roderick’s view cleared. The vehicle lurched forward, its large treaded tank like tires gripped like teeth in the earth.

The Dugger gained speed and began moving more quickly towards Roderick’s final destination. He felt his heart beginning to pound. He was almost there. The outline of the city grew larger with every passing second and in only a few minutes he would be on the outskirts of fallen Langeles.

A proximity alert flashed in the vehicle view screen and the AI spoke. “Warning, incoming projectile. Five seconds until impact.”

Roderick looked down at his radar. He saw the red blip approaching the vehicle. He grabbed the steering wheel and jerked it left to avoid a direct hit, but it was too late.

The RPG struck the ground just below the Dugger’s rear left tire and sent Roderick spinning through the air, rotating like a corkscrew. The vehicle connected to the ground in a series of long hops and Roderick felt his right hand catch in the steering wheel. The sounds of tearing metal screamed through the air as the vehicle slid and came to a wrenching halt.

Silence hovered. Only the wind dared to raise its voice. Tiny dust devils formed and spun and caught some of the smoke that gradually began to rise from the Dugger. Behind, the city of Langeles had caught fire.

A cacophony of noise returned and Roderick, dazed from what was probably a concussion, pulled the emergency cockpit hatch release with his left hand. He reached up with his right hand to pull himself up and out of the cockpit, only to realize his hand wasn’t there. Confused, he looked down the length of his arm. A mangled stump of flesh, shredded muscle and bone were oozing blood down the exterior of his EnViro suit. All Roderick could do was stare. No pain came to him, only shock and surprise.

Where had his hand gone? Scanning the cockpit he saw a metallic gauntlet still gripping the steering wheel. Bone and blood dripped at the end of the gauntlet. Roderick looked at his stump, then at the steering wheel, then back to his stump again.

It was the wrong hand. It had to be. It looked so small and frail. H could it be his? He glanced around another time but, seeing nothing, he refocused his gaze on the steering wheel.

Roderick stretched out his left arm and reached for the gauntlet. In his denial, he had thought it a simple matter to plug the hand back into the arm, like a robot or a child’s toy. His left hand wrapped around the gauntlet, the first instinct simply to pull the gauntlet from the steering wheel. It would not release. Then, he tried to pry one finger at a time off the wheel. No luck. He had heard of a death grip before but… he started to chuckle to himself but the laughter caught in his throat. He almost choked on it.

Frustrated he turned his head out towards the burning city. There he saw someone standing only a stone’s throw away from him. It was a Runner, fully armed and in a combat ready EnViro suit. A high caliber pistol was aimed at Roderick’s face.

If Roderick had looked up only a single second later, it would have been the end of him. Without thinking, he threw the rest of his body out of the vehicle and rolled behind a solitary rock as the Runner opened fire. Bullets sprayed the terrain. One of the Runners bullets ricocheted off the metal of the Dugger and smacked into the Runner’s shin armor, the impact forced him to fall to one knee. Roderick, seeing his chance, jumped up and reached down for his sidearm in his suit. His bloody stump mashed against the holster and Roderick screamed in pain.

The scream further stunned the Runner. He dropped his weapon falling backward onto his ass. Roderick reached across his body with his left hand. He struggled, grasping at the butt of the revolver from the awkward angle, and finally, pulled his revolver from his holster. He aimed and fired clumsily until the clip was empty. One of the bullets struck home. A single hole opened in the runner’s face shield, behind it, blood splattered and the Runner rolled to his side dead.

Roderick sat and slumped against the rock.

“AI?”

“Yes, Sir?”

“Are there any more surprises out here for me?”

“No Sir. I do not detect any more Runners in the immediate vicinity.”

“How…” Roderick was starting to feel weak and tired. Blood dripped into his eyes from a small gash on his head. “How… are we doing… out there?”

“My apologies Sir, your inquiry must be more specific.”

“Progress of… my… troops?” His breathing was slowing down and the lids of his eyes felt heavy.

“Sir, the Core team has penetrated the perimeter and the main force appears to be overwhelming the remains of the Langeles Runner Core. I calculate that you have an 87% chance of victory at this point.”

“Good, good… How many dead?”

“Exact figures at this time are difficult to calculate because of various reports of your troops and some conflicting data from the Langeles AI that I have intercepted. However, I calculate the total death toll at 1,752,892.”

Roderick felt a pang of frustration. “No, ours. How many of ours are…”

“Ah, I see. According to my sensors, there are 289 casualties,”

Roderick struggled to make a quick tourniquet by tearing off some of the linings of the passenger seat. He pulled some gauze from the glove box and wrapped it on the end of the wound. With his teeth, he pulled the material as tight as he could. Then he pulled up the lining of his suit and tied it and wedged it in the hole where the gauntlet had been, in hopes to keep the suit sealed.

Muttering more to himself than to the AI, Roderick asked, “Why was that Runner… out here?”

The AI responded, “Standard drill deployment procedure requires that a city deploys four perimeter Runners in each of the cardinal directions. Runners are instructed to set up sensor beacons and report anything unusual.”

“Why… didn’t he see us… earlier?”

“My apologies sir, I do not know.”

“Haste… Mother... sorry for my…” Roderick coughed. The remainder of his words caught in his throat. He closed his eyes.

3.

Roderick opened his eyes back in the present. He stood and turned moving towards the wrecked Dugger. He pried open one of the cargo hatches and began to rummage through the medical supplies. He would have to review the morning events again later, but for now, he needed to tend to his arm. It took him a moment but then he found what he was looking for, an emergency flair, an antibiotic shot, some morphine and an EnViro suit sealant patch.

He dropped the sealant patch on the ground. He lifted the morphine syringe case up to his mouth and used both his teeth and his left hand to open the case. He grabbed the syringe out with his mouth and used his left hand to pull up the armored sleeve on his right arm. He grabbed the syringe and injected it a few inches above the messy stump. It hurt, but the pain was minimal in comparison to the exposed nerves.

“All right. AI?”

“Yes, Sir?”

“If I pass out I need you to wake me immediately. Don’t let me fall asleep.”

“As you wish Sir.”

The morphine acted fast. It didn’t block out the pain entirely but it was much more manageable. Roderick winced in advance. He knew what was coming next.

He pressed the trigger on the flare. The short flames sputtered and licked the sky at various heights. Sparks flew. He braced himself as he brought his left hand towards his right arm.

Roderick thrust the blue flame onto his stump and screamed. A scream that carried across the kilometers. A war cry of pain and victory. Roderick felt his body’s desire to lose consciousness, he fought it. A few more seconds and the wound would close, for now.

Those last seconds were an eternity. He could bear it no longer. He turned off the torch. He injected antibiotics directly into the wound. Grimacing again at the pain, he withdrew his stump from the open spot in his suit. He picked up the sealant patch off the ground and placed it on the edge of the tear. He watched the sealant patch come to life and spread itself over the tears in his suit where his hand had once been. The pain eased. By morning the wound would be well scabbed. Though pain would be a long companion, the danger of infection was over, or at least long enough for Roderick to find an alcove.

Roderick considered laying down in the back of the wrecked Dugger for a moment, then thought better of it. He had to be visible, had to contact his men. It was either that, or he had to find shelter before daybreak.

Roderick reviewed the day again and again, through the mirage of morphine. He knew it was unfortunate that Rocky’s virus required the cities security codes to work properly. The Langeles codes had not been easy to obtain. Eleven cities remained and Roderick could think of only one path to absolute victory, especially with a fifth of his force destroyed. Runner 17 was the key. If he wanted to destroy the rest of the cities, he would have to find him. 

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Written by straygos in portal Trident Media Group
Upon Stilted Cities: The Winds of Change
(Full Manuscript Approx 105,000 words)




Chapter 1: The End of a Migration 




1.

The city had toppled. Bits of skyscrapers were strewn across the desert. With the city’s legs destroyed, it had collapsed from towering heights. Most of what remained upon the excavated chunk of earth on which the city had previously stood, were smoking ruins, shattered mechanized EnViro suits and sun-dried corpses. Welts from bombs, bullets and energy weapons pockmarked the perimeter, as various vapors cascaded into the late afternoon sky.
Inside the ruin, occasional echoes of weapon fire permeated the stillness in and between the few remaining buildings but, even that would fade with the day.
Far back from the fresh ruin of Langeles, Roderick sat up. He was alone in the Barrens. His body ached from laying inside his metallic suit for what was probably several hours. The air was a cool forty-eight degrees Celsius, as the sun began its final descent. Perhaps an hour of light remained before the cold night air set in.
Roderick blinked. It was a glorious sunset. Even as seen through the tinted UV protection of his suit's helmet, it was a ritual of beauty, a day that ended in victory. The power core within Langeles still remained, but the bells of the city were ringing for the last time. Langeles would never walk again. For a city with no shield and no migration, there was only death.
He pressed a small button under his chin and with his left hand pulled off his helmet. Its thick inner liner tugged at his graying hair as the helmet detached. He dropped it to the ground. It thudded against the gravel, rolling for a moment before settling in.
He closed his eyes and caressed the tattoo on his neck, the mark of his order, a tree of life with an eye in the center. He liked to feel the raised skin, the scars that had formed under the ink. Most adherents of the Children of Gaia chose a simple armband or an inscription on their EnViro suit exterior, but for Roderick, only the mix of blood and ink could mark his tribute and his loyalty.
He felt the fresh air on his face and took a deep breath, knowing full well that he wouldn’t be able to keep his helmet off for long. The methane would gradually trickle into his lungs with each breath. Fresh air, as rotten as it smelled, was a luxury. But, it had been a long day, and a little non-filtered air wouldn’t kill him.
He reached up to wipe the sweat from his brow. Already beads of moisture were gathering in the crevices of his aging face and shimmered in the dying light. His light brown eyes reflected the play of colors on the hard rocky earth and the swiftly changing sky.
Pain sprang up his right arm like a horse bucking its mount and his square features tightened as he gritted his teeth. Roderick looked down the length of his right arm and remembered. He shuttered. Truth had a funny way of reminding you where you stand. The bloody stump of where his right hand been, was now a symbol of his haste. He turned and gazed at the wreckage of his Dugger behind him. The City and the Dugger had shared the same fate.
With great pain, he poked the damaged arm out through the metallic hole of the suit where his metal glove had been. He had managed to tie the pliable, cloth-like under layer in a knot to slow any leak of his air. He used his teeth as a second hand. After several frustrating moments, the knot came loose. He unwrapped the gauze and examined the wound. It was already beginning to stink. He was fortunate that his suit had maintained his temperature and filtered air as well as it had. He would need to cauterize the wound, and quickly. If the toxins from the air entered his blood… well, he had better not let it come to that.
Silence slid into his ears. All noise evaporated and a high pitch ringing emerged in the vacancy. Fresh fire burst forth from the remains of Langeles. Even from twenty-six kilometers out, he had temporarily lost his hearing. Roderick shielded his eyes from the blinding white light that erupted from the city like a second sun. His fingers pawed a solitary rock with his left hand for balance, feeling his feet beginning to give way. His legs were so tired.
It was the power core. An explosion that massive had to be the main power core. Dense smoke seeped into the sky. A hint of a mushroom cloud emerged but was already caught by gusting winds and dissipated across the landscape, intermingling with the colors of the setting sun.
His men had finally reached it. Where he had failed, they had succeeded.
He stared at the city with anticipation. Where was the blast wave? Detonating a nuke inside the city core should have sent a cascading wave of energy. He should need to duck behind a ridge or hunkering down inside a small cave… but nothing happened. Perhaps they didn’t use the nuke? Had his men had managed to overload the core?
It made no difference. Joy washed over him. Roderick let out of a roar of triumph. His roar caught on to the back of the lingering noise of the explosion and merged into forever.
He fell to his knees and bowed forward. Dry lips met the hardpan. His right stump barely grazed the ground and a shock of pain climbed the length of his arm. He gritted his teeth but did not move from his position of reverence.
“Praise to you Mother. Thank you for your aid in this great victory. I shall not forget the lesson you taught me this day. I shall not act in haste again. It is an honor to sacrifice in your name.”
He pushed his right leg forward and used his left hand to thrust himself upward. Roderick stared at his bloody stump, still feeling where his fingers had been. Despite the immense pain of the open wound, his fingers itched, an itch he would never be able to scratch again.
Roderick smiled, turning his attention back to the fallen city. The burning city roused his courage, his determination. There, in the smoking ruin, was the evidence that it was possible to rid the earth of its infestation. The city of Langeles and its people were no more.
But... what of his haste? What of his disregard for Mother Gaia’s words? Much had gone right, but what had gone wrong? Roderick closed his eyes and reviewed the events of the morning assault.

2.
The city had begun drilling operations. Migration was halted so that the excavation could begin. A massive drill protruded from the lower hunk of rock underneath the city and was burrowing into the earth.
“Commander, all Duggers are submerged, in position, and await your orders,” said Patrick Lions. His face appeared before Roderick on his view screen. Patrick was a short, round, balding man who barely fit inside of a standard EnViro suit.
“Excellent. What’s the status on the special delivery?” asked Roderick.
“The package has been delivered to the cities AI Commander. Rocky said the primary shield should fail shortly. One thing, though, he also said the secondary shield is definitely an isolated system. It’s unlikely the virus will deactivate it.”
“Yes, Rocky warned me earlier. But, there will be chaos, and that is all we need. What’s the status on city leg security?”
“One moment commander, I’ll check.”
Roderick squirmed in the semi-cramped quarters of the Dugger. He disliked being below ground in the Dugger transports. Duggers had been designed for numerous conditions in severe climate change during the late 21st century and were usually effective means of transport in the barrens. They had a small drill and two claw-like arms on the front of the vehicle that dug below shallow surfaces. Roderick had hated using them at first, piercing the earth had seemed like an act of great sacrilege, but Mother Gaia had given them permission to use the vehicles.
“Commander,” said Patrick, “Leg security has been deactivated. Should we send in Miss and her team?”
“No, stick to the plan. Shields fall first, then we send in the main attacking force, and then we send Miss and her teams to plant the nukes. If we deviate from the plan, it will be like Saud. You remember Saud, don’t you Patrick?”
“Yes, Commander.” Patrick’s voice was notably lower in pitch and his eyes cast downward.
“It took 70 years to rebuild the Order after Saud, Patrick. Have faith in the Great Mother. She has blessed this plan. Langeles will fall before the sun sets.”
“Has she…” Patrick hesitated over the comm line. He knew that Patrick’s faith in Gaia had wavered as of late. Many of his soldier’s faith had wavered. Inaction was a plague that could spread quickly and three years of planning was a long time.
“Has Mother spoken with you about this plan Commander? I… I only ask out of curiosity, of course.” Patrick’s voice contained a hint of a tremor.
Roderick smiled, showing his ancient yellowed teeth. “Of course Patrick. It was the Great Mother who devised this plan. She gave me a powerful vision that showed me the city of Langeles on fire. She whispered that other cities would come for salvage after the fire. And then,” excitement washed over Roderick’s anticipation, “Then, we will destroy them as well. Mother Gaia has brought us Rocky and Miss so that we could carry out the plan. Have faith, Patrick. We cannot lose this day. Today is the first of many victories.”
It was true that the plan had come to him in a vision that the mother had spoken to him. The timing of Miss and Rocky joining the cause was perfect, but even Roderick’s faith had been shaken at Saud and his own impatience was bubbling up to the surface. They needed a victory to restore the faith of his people.
“The primary shield is down Commander,” said Patrick.
“AI, confirm?” said Roderick.
“Sir, I confirm the primary shield system surrounding Langeles has fallen. Secondary shields surrounding their security buildings and storm shelters have been activated.”
“Excellent. There will be riots inside the city over access to those shelters,” said Roderick. “You see Patrick? Mother’s plan will sew chaos inside the city while we destroy the legs. Send in the primary attacking force.”
“All of them sir?”
“Yes, all of them, including your elite team. I want to keep their Runner Core busy.”
Seven hundred men were in the main attacking force and only three dozen were on leg detail. Roderick’s personal guard consisted of only twenty-three men and women. He would hold his force until the nukes detonated, shattering the great legs. Then he and his personal guard would head straight for the city’s core ending the long life of the parasitic walking cities.
“Yes, Commander. May Gaia bless your path,” said Patrick.
“And may Gaia bless yours. I'll see you on the other side. Keep the mother in your heart and we cannot fail.”
Roderick watched his screen in the Dugger. He watched as the several dozen transport vehicles began moving towards the city. Most of them surfaced and crept along on treaded tires, but a few were still moving under the sand and hard earth. The ones under the ground would travel below the combatants and flank the Langeles Runner Core from behind.
They were greatly outnumbered. From what his spy said, Langeles had 2300 Runners ready for combat. Roderick only had 1300 under his command and several hundred were women and children back at Atlantis base. The fallen shield and surprise would give them a sizable advantage. Runners would have to be dispatched inside the city to maintain order.
The EnViro shield surrounding the walking cities weren't just for defense in combat. The Shield was also used to create an enclosed ecosystem. Without the shield, most of the cities inhabitants would be slowly poisoned by the toxic air and cooked in the extraordinary heat. Secondary shields were set up around important buildings in the event that the primary shield failed, but with two million people in the city and only room for about a hundred thousand in the secondary shielding shelters, there would be chaos. Langeles’s own citizens were weaponized in the Mother’s cause; every man, woman, and child an agent of chaos, an inadvertent soldier in the army of the Children of Gaia. They were to be offered up in sacrifice to the Great Mother.
The radar on screen saw the dots consolidating about a kilometer outside the cities boundary. Over the comm came Patrick’s voice. “Duggers, mount artillery and fire. Infantry Dismount and engage. Be ready. Here they come.”
Underneath the soil, Roderick felt the ground begin to vibrate. Langeles had opened fire with its rail guns blasting huge holes in the rocky desert. But, with the shield gone, Roderick knew their ability to use the rail guns would be limited. The guns ran off the same power grid as the main shield system. Naturally, after a few shots, the guns would stop and the majority of Langeles Runner core would need to be deployed in defense. Fresh blips on the radar screen were beginning to appear. Roderick knew those must be the Langeles Runners.
“AI, status check on our cargo?”
“Sir, all three atomic weapons are stable and ready for deployment.”
“Excellent. Open a channel to Miss.”
Miss, a strikingly beautiful woman, appeared on the screen. Her deep blue eyes, olive skin, and black hair were everything that Roderick desired. His second in command stared back through the communications line awaiting instructions.
“It’s time Miss. Uncouple the cargo cars and take down the legs. The main force and the fallen shield will keep Langeles security distracted.”
“Yes, Commander. May Gaia Bless your path.”
“And yours Miss.”
Roderick felt a jolt as the cargo car he had taxied was uncoupled from his Dugger. He felt lighter, more eager than before. His plan was unfolding perfectly so far.
Time passed and Roderick grew increasingly agitated. He hated sitting back and waiting while the rest of his troops were out fighting. So much could go wrong.
Roderick watched as the 8th and 9th nukes were attached to the cities legs. A few more nukes to go and then he would pull his troops back.
Then something did go wrong.
Over the comm came Miss’s voice, the signal fragmented. “Commander… spotted us. Seven men… Confirmed that the…. 10th… Leg. Should… detonate?
“Repeat that Miss I didn’t catch all of it.”
“Signal… Under attack… Legs… Retreating.”
“No! Don’t retreat. Finish the Mission and then get out of there.”
“Ten… planted… retreating… distance. Gaia…”
The signal evaporated. “AI what’s happening out there.”
“It appears, that the Langeles Runner Core have discovered the leg team. Most of the team has been destroyed. However, based on radiation scans it looks like at least ten of the legs have a tactical nuclear weapon attached to them.”
“And Miss?”
“Her life signs are still strong. There is a high probability that she is back in her vehicle and moving away at high speed.”
“Then start the detonation clock. Let the Core team know we are moving as soon as the blast wave is clear.”
“Sir, In order to detonate I require a confirmation code.”
“Of course. V638927SI.”
“Thank you, Sir. How long would you like the countdown to run?”
“How long will it take for the main force to get a safe distance from the blast zone?”
“If they left immediately and put the Duggers at full speed, they could be clear in six minutes.”
“Alert Patrick and the main force to disengage immediately.”
“Unfortunately Sir, Patrick Lions no longer has any vital signs.”
“Fine, just alert the remainder of the main force. Set the countdown for fifteen minutes. Alert everyone at two-minute intervals. Any longer than that and we risk giving Langeles time to disarm some of the bombs.”
“Acknowledged Sir. Countdown to detonation is now at fifteen minutes.”
It was a long fifteen minutes. Roderick passed the time watching his troops departing to a safe distance from the estimated blast zone. He watched nervously as more of the Langeles Runner Core seem to be gathering around the legs. If they figured out what was happening… but Roderick knew it was too late, only six minutes remained in the countdown now and there was no way they could disarm the weapons in time. Miss had planted the nukes at the upper third the legs, only someone with her special skills could have easy access to them.
“Four minutes remaining until detonation.”
This was it. Roderick could feel a kind of giddiness pass over him. It had been a few hundred years since he felt so excited. The city would fall, their plan would work.
“Patience Roderick,” said a powerful and soothing voice.
“Mother Gaia?”
The voice was outside him but coming through him.
“Yes, Roderick. You must have patience. Do not act out of haste now or there will be a heavy price to pay.”
“Yes my Goddess, of course. Forgive me, I am unable to prostrate to you in this vehicle.”
There was no response.
“Mother Gaia?”
Still no answer.
“Two minutes remain until detonation,” said the AI.
What did Mother Gaia mean by patience? Did it mean that he would have to wait to assault the core? Did it mean that he should cancel the detonation?
“Sixty seconds remaining until detonation.”
A wave of panic washed over Roderick. He quickly reviewed the morning’s events. Had he overlooked anything? The AI began to countdown the final thirty seconds. He smashed his fist into the steering wheel and his anger burst forth at the same moment the bombs on the legs detonated.
Roderick watched over his view screen as the blast drowned out all vision with a great blinding light. He wondered if all of his men had remembered not to look directly into that light. A mighty roaring noise pressed itself against the ground and waves of sand and rock shifted above the Dugger.
In the view screen, Roderick saw the city kneeling down towards the earth, like a man kneeling beside the dying body of a brother in arms. The west end sunk first, smashing into the hard earth of the Barrens. Some skyscrapers broke in half and pieces scattered as they cascaded toward the ground. Then, finally, the rock slab of earth on which the city rested, slanted up towards the sky, amongst the sand and gravel.
Roderick’s rage and frustration were forgotten, as were the words of the mother. Roderick’s cheeks pulled upward. A smile bloomed on his face. Red cheeks, like red roses, surrounded a sharp toothy grin.
Roderick opened a comm line. “The Great Mother has brought us to the brink of victory my brothers, but we must not tarry. Main force, resume your attack, mop up what’s left of the Langeles Runners. Core team, you are with me. CHARGE!”
The vehicle vibrated violently and the sand on top of the clear glass cockpit began to move and shake. As the vehicle moved up above the surface of the ground Roderick’s view cleared. The vehicle lurched forward, its large treaded tank like tires gripped like teeth in the earth.
The Dugger gained speed and began moving more quickly towards Roderick’s final destination. He felt his heart beginning to pound. He was almost there. The outline of the city grew larger with every passing second and in only a few minutes he would be on the outskirts of fallen Langeles.
A proximity alert flashed in the vehicle view screen and the AI spoke. “Warning, incoming projectile. Five seconds until impact.”
Roderick looked down at his radar. He saw the red blip approaching the vehicle. He grabbed the steering wheel and jerked it left to avoid a direct hit, but it was too late.
The RPG struck the ground just below the Dugger’s rear left tire and sent Roderick spinning through the air, rotating like a corkscrew. The vehicle connected to the ground in a series of long hops and Roderick felt his right hand catch in the steering wheel. The sounds of tearing metal screamed through the air as the vehicle slid and came to a wrenching halt.
Silence hovered. Only the wind dared to raise its voice. Tiny dust devils formed and spun and caught some of the smoke that gradually began to rise from the Dugger. Behind, the city of Langeles had caught fire.
A cacophony of noise returned and Roderick, dazed from what was probably a concussion, pulled the emergency cockpit hatch release with his left hand. He reached up with his right hand to pull himself up and out of the cockpit, only to realize his hand wasn’t there. Confused, he looked down the length of his arm. A mangled stump of flesh, shredded muscle and bone were oozing blood down the exterior of his EnViro suit. All Roderick could do was stare. No pain came to him, only shock and surprise.
Where had his hand gone? Scanning the cockpit he saw a metallic gauntlet still gripping the steering wheel. Bone and blood dripped at the end of the gauntlet. Roderick looked at his stump, then at the steering wheel, then back to his stump again.
It was the wrong hand. It had to be. It looked so small and frail. H could it be his? He glanced around another time but, seeing nothing, he refocused his gaze on the steering wheel.
Roderick stretched out his left arm and reached for the gauntlet. In his denial, he had thought it a simple matter to plug the hand back into the arm, like a robot or a child’s toy. His left hand wrapped around the gauntlet, the first instinct simply to pull the gauntlet from the steering wheel. It would not release. Then, he tried to pry one finger at a time off the wheel. No luck. He had heard of a death grip before but… he started to chuckle to himself but the laughter caught in his throat. He almost choked on it.
Frustrated he turned his head out towards the burning city. There he saw someone standing only a stone’s throw away from him. It was a Runner, fully armed and in a combat ready EnViro suit. A high caliber pistol was aimed at Roderick’s face.
If Roderick had looked up only a single second later, it would have been the end of him. Without thinking, he threw the rest of his body out of the vehicle and rolled behind a solitary rock as the Runner opened fire. Bullets sprayed the terrain. One of the Runners bullets ricocheted off the metal of the Dugger and smacked into the Runner’s shin armor, the impact forced him to fall to one knee. Roderick, seeing his chance, jumped up and reached down for his sidearm in his suit. His bloody stump mashed against the holster and Roderick screamed in pain.
The scream further stunned the Runner. He dropped his weapon falling backward onto his ass. Roderick reached across his body with his left hand. He struggled, grasping at the butt of the revolver from the awkward angle, and finally, pulled his revolver from his holster. He aimed and fired clumsily until the clip was empty. One of the bullets struck home. A single hole opened in the runner’s face shield, behind it, blood splattered and the Runner rolled to his side dead.
Roderick sat and slumped against the rock.
“AI?”
“Yes, Sir?”
“Are there any more surprises out here for me?”
“No Sir. I do not detect any more Runners in the immediate vicinity.”
“How…” Roderick was starting to feel weak and tired. Blood dripped into his eyes from a small gash on his head. “How… are we doing… out there?”
“My apologies Sir, your inquiry must be more specific.”
“Progress of… my… troops?” His breathing was slowing down and the lids of his eyes felt heavy.
“Sir, the Core team has penetrated the perimeter and the main force appears to be overwhelming the remains of the Langeles Runner Core. I calculate that you have an 87% chance of victory at this point.”
“Good, good… How many dead?”
“Exact figures at this time are difficult to calculate because of various reports of your troops and some conflicting data from the Langeles AI that I have intercepted. However, I calculate the total death toll at 1,752,892.”
Roderick felt a pang of frustration. “No, ours. How many of ours are…”
“Ah, I see. According to my sensors, there are 289 casualties,”
Roderick struggled to make a quick tourniquet by tearing off some of the linings of the passenger seat. He pulled some gauze from the glove box and wrapped it on the end of the wound. With his teeth, he pulled the material as tight as he could. Then he pulled up the lining of his suit and tied it and wedged it in the hole where the gauntlet had been, in hopes to keep the suit sealed.
Muttering more to himself than to the AI, Roderick asked, “Why was that Runner… out here?”
The AI responded, “Standard drill deployment procedure requires that a city deploys four perimeter Runners in each of the cardinal directions. Runners are instructed to set up sensor beacons and report anything unusual.”
“Why… didn’t he see us… earlier?”
“My apologies sir, I do not know.”
“Haste… Mother... sorry for my…” Roderick coughed. The remainder of his words caught in his throat. He closed his eyes.

3.
Roderick opened his eyes back in the present. He stood and turned moving towards the wrecked Dugger. He pried open one of the cargo hatches and began to rummage through the medical supplies. He would have to review the morning events again later, but for now, he needed to tend to his arm. It took him a moment but then he found what he was looking for, an emergency flair, an antibiotic shot, some morphine and an EnViro suit sealant patch.
He dropped the sealant patch on the ground. He lifted the morphine syringe case up to his mouth and used both his teeth and his left hand to open the case. He grabbed the syringe out with his mouth and used his left hand to pull up the armored sleeve on his right arm. He grabbed the syringe and injected it a few inches above the messy stump. It hurt, but the pain was minimal in comparison to the exposed nerves.
“All right. AI?”
“Yes, Sir?”
“If I pass out I need you to wake me immediately. Don’t let me fall asleep.”
“As you wish Sir.”
The morphine acted fast. It didn’t block out the pain entirely but it was much more manageable. Roderick winced in advance. He knew what was coming next.
He pressed the trigger on the flare. The short flames sputtered and licked the sky at various heights. Sparks flew. He braced himself as he brought his left hand towards his right arm.
Roderick thrust the blue flame onto his stump and screamed. A scream that carried across the kilometers. A war cry of pain and victory. Roderick felt his body’s desire to lose consciousness, he fought it. A few more seconds and the wound would close, for now.
Those last seconds were an eternity. He could bear it no longer. He turned off the torch. He injected antibiotics directly into the wound. Grimacing again at the pain, he withdrew his stump from the open spot in his suit. He picked up the sealant patch off the ground and placed it on the edge of the tear. He watched the sealant patch come to life and spread itself over the tears in his suit where his hand had once been. The pain eased. By morning the wound would be well scabbed. Though pain would be a long companion, the danger of infection was over, or at least long enough for Roderick to find an alcove.
Roderick considered laying down in the back of the wrecked Dugger for a moment, then thought better of it. He had to be visible, had to contact his men. It was either that, or he had to find shelter before daybreak.
Roderick reviewed the day again and again, through the mirage of morphine. He knew it was unfortunate that Rocky’s virus required the cities security codes to work properly. The Langeles codes had not been easy to obtain. Eleven cities remained and Roderick could think of only one path to absolute victory, especially with a fifth of his force destroyed. Runner 17 was the key. If he wanted to destroy the rest of the cities, he would have to find him. 







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The Death Wrap

“I’m bored,” answered Daniel.

She replied, “So come with us, you won’t be bored anymore,” trying to dissuade him from caving on a Friday night.

“Ana, please, let me do what makes me comfortable,” he insisted.

“But, Da…”

“Please, Ana, please,” interrupted Daniel in frustration.

She sighed heavily then conceded, “Whatever, do as you like, bye”.

Daniel conveys the impression of being a typical guy. Merely a single digit added to the population. A 25-year old pharmacist, recently deceased parents, no siblings, no girlfriend. He lives by himself in a tiny studio easttown. Being fairly introverted, rarely anyone gets an invitation to his sanctuary. Despite his capacity to a more luxurious residence, he’d rather distant himself from his companions to avert any unwelcomed guests. His lonely rituals have to be pursued with minimal disruptions. What rituals you shall wonder; well, this is not trivial to depict. First, after the morning wash-up, they start with a ten-to-fifteen minutes session of maintaining a mirrored eye contact with himself, during which he admires the dark void glowing off his pupils. Then, he goes through his morning existential crisis which is often less intense than the one at midnight. Afterwards, his day is interrupted by the job– the boredom trinity; patients, colleagues, and the pharmacy’s computer system. After that, he finally gets to spend some quality time with himself. He stays there doing absolutely nothing. Hours pass by and he lies there, bored at himself. “Go have fun, Daniel, get up and enjoy your youth,” you might be yelling. Well, it is not a choice. Boredom is far from being a self preference, it’s rather a destiny. By midnight, the heavy artillery turns up, and whilst already exhausted by the boredom, Daniel has to earn his sleep through combat; peace never being catered.

“Okay bye,” he murmured while hanging up.

He then threw his phone on his single chair in frustration while catching his breath. Then out of nowhere, he grabbed a book and launched it furiously at the middle of the wall. His long scream “AaaaaaH!” covered the astonishing noise of the clock that fell and whose glass got scattered all over the apartment’s floor. He then hit his head several times with his palms trying to calm himself down, stared at the clutter he just made for several moments, and started to clean it up. The book’s cover had bent. He felt worse about the clock though, he liked it to some extent.

Next, he went to take a shower. He noticed he was still shaking, so he shut off the water, and stood facing the mirror, naked and wet. By act of habit, he gazed right at his own eyes. With a contracted forehead, the water droplets were falling quickly off his face as if they were escaping his rage, both of his eyeballs were flaming, and his breath was loud and slow. No one could explain his anger, not even himself. Was he losing it? He kept staring at the void inside himself, looking for answers, but they were not there. He was furious, or was he? I think he was just bored; it is the damned boredom. He was too bored, to the level that made him annoyed at himself being bored, which led to his unexplained rage. He preserved the eye contact with himself. He could see that he got sick of life altogether. What is this boredom? What’s that? It was out of his grasp that such a boredom density could exist. He got sick of himself– his face, his hair, his body, his urges to drink, eat, and excrete. He got sick of his breathing and its monotonicity, his heart beats and their succession. Sick of his job; it’s aimless. Sick of resting; it’s stagnant. Sick of sleeping and its necessity. Sick of sex and its authority. Sick of success and its allure. Sick of intelligence, conscious, and knowledge. Sick of himself and sick of other people. Sick of the earth, the sun, and the universe. Sick of space, time, and existence. He started to sense the time slowing down, his heart tempo was getting more cruel, every second was bombarding his head, his blood was boiling inside his veins. The moment was besieging him, his feelings were more intense than ever, he was being overwhelmed. If he surrendered to the boredom cage, his rage would have had its way with him, all the way to the end. He had to escape this moment. To run for his life. And as any evolving being on this earth, whose genes would fight for survival, whose genes would rather a bloody survival above a sea of dead children souls over its own abolition, he ran out of his apartment, it was the only way to escape his disturbed mind.

                                                      ~~~ ~~ ~ ~~ ~~~

           ♪ The club isn't the best place to find a lover, so the bar is where I go ♪

Sitting at the bar counter, Daniel almost crushed his glass with his grip. That song is overplayed everywhere.

“Don’t people have another song, eh?” he conversed to the bartender who ignored him with a one-sixteenth of a fake smile.

He then gazed at his drink to swallow the rejection.

“I’m bored,” She announced to Daniel. He glimpsed towards his right and she was there, staring at him with wonder.

“Excoi .. excuse me,” he stuttered owing to her exposed cleavage.

“I said I’m bored,” She was glaring at him from the adjacent chair, a mid-thirties pretty lady who was too elegantly dressed to initiate a conversation with someone average like him. Her wavy black hair was falling over her brown cute face. Her dress was short, he could see her beautiful legs serpentined by a remarkably long silver and shiny leather terminated with a thin and long heels.

It took him a second to figure it out. He then opened his mouth in order to declare his disinterest when it suddenly stroke him. His eyes brightly glowed and his ears were aroused by the adrenaline rush. Daniel got an idea; an evil one.

“Well, me too,” he said with a suggestive smile while hiding the excitement.

She hence got herself closer to him, and whispered skillfully, “Do you have something on mind?” while licking her lower lips in a controlled motion with her eyes fixed at Daniel’s.

“My apartment is one block away.” He declared while pulling his wallet out.

                                                     ~~~ ~~ ~ ~~ ~~~

Naturally, he was leading the way, opened the apartment door, and announced dramatically, “Welcome to my castle!”

She was looking around in a concealed disgust. She then glanced at him trying to infer how could he afford her. She was not surprised, she has seen it before; the wealthy guy who’s staying in a slum, and the insecure guy who’s living in a temporary luxury, which probably would lead him to homelessness. She wouldn’t care, her concern was always restrained to that single night price. In addition to a few appearance preferences, and some hygienic ones.

She then excused Daniel to use the restroom to freshen up. He replied, “sure,” with a wide smile. His voice was cheerful, his eyes were shining, and his whole face was glowing. She felt alarmed, although it is not her first time with a weirdo. She felt something odd nevertheless, she dismissed it and went on with the usual. I pity her, she should have trusted her guts, humans have developed a peculiar sense of danger– a sort of a non-empirical sixth sense. Though it led them straight to God’s trap, it prevented many premature deaths.

Walking out in her pink lingerie, a bit of annoyance was glimmering over her pretty face because she forgot to wear the garments which matched her shiny silver heels. That annoyance rapidly faded out when she didn’t find the client around, and her eyebrows slightly contracted in wonder. As soon as she opened her mouth to call Daniel’s name, she felt him bouncing from behind, his arms across her neck. Then with a sudden movement, with a roll of plastic wrap in his hands, he started to wrap it around her whole head over and over again. The wrap was squeezing her lips painfully while her open mouth was gasping for air. After the shock faded away, she tried to pluck the plastic off her face, but its sheer force was uncanny. She then attempted to cut through it with her long carmine fingernails; while Daniel was wrapping repetitively and hysterically until her hands got stuck as well in the many-layered plastic. She kicked him with the back of her pointy heels. Oh those sexy thighs were hiding such strong hamstrings, her kicks were damaging. Daniel’s calves were accumulating bruises that would become painful for weeks, however, the adrenaline rush was overwhelmingly– this was the first non-boring feeling he had for a long while– full of enjoyment; his face was red, his hair was bouncing drenched in sweat, his fingers were bloody, his calves were being crushed by the strong kicks that caught more enthusiasm as she felt him backing one step. Nevertheless, the kicks began to slow down and shrivel signaling the vicinity of her inevitable death.

                                                      ~~~ ~~ ~ ~~ ~~~

“What is your greatest experience? It is the hour of the great contempt. The hour in which even your happiness becomes repulsive to you.” –Thus Spoke Zarathustra, by Friedrich Nietzsche

                                                      ~~~ ~~ ~ ~~ ~~~

With unprecedented heart rate, Daniel threw himself on the single chair. However, something was not right; the chair was across the TV, but the main spectacle was not on the screen. He rotated the chair, and was facing the corpse. The pleasure was still incomplete, her face was covered in plastic. He got up, unwrapped the plastic, and returned to his seat. Then, though the lingerie material was pretty transparent, he noticed that he had not seen her ample bosom yet, so he went down and unhooked her bra. The scene was not perfect; she was in a terrifying shape; the lips were swelling, the whole face was bluish, and her eyes were dreadful. He got up again and flipped her over. This continued for a while until he became satisfied. He brushed her hair, placed her arms straight at her sides, took off her thong, put his preferred playlist on his home theatre speakers, poured himself a scotch on the rocks in a real glass this time, not the disposable crap he often uses, and lit a cigarette up.

Daniel had his legs crossed, calmly smoking his second cigarette, scrutinizing her soulless black body, when he heard a buzzing. A fly just glided past his ears and started floating above the body. It first landed on the arms, a fair strong forearm did this woman have, she must have been labour working since a young age, he thought. It then flew to her tight waist, she was preserving a quite hourglass shape. “Well, a job needs its skills”, he acclaimed satirically. After that, the fly landed on her left buttcheek. Her butt was so perfect, how didn’t he notice that before; it was well round shaped and tightly maintained. The fly began its work, lifted up its front legs and its crazy sucking dance was initiated.

*Trrrn Trrn Trn .. Trrrrn Trrn Trn*

The phone started to ring disrupting the meditation and showing Ana’s picture. Daniel took the cigarette out of his mouth, sighed heavily, squashed its flame in the old plate he’s been using for that, and answered with a brief and choked: “Hey”.

“Hey,” she replied with an enthusiasm that had just been T-boned by his dull attitude.

“What’s up?” he continued in an awkward and disinterested voice.

“Uhhh .. We’re having so much fun here .. Uhhh .. *cough* .. I wish you were here”, she said in an emotional but prudent tone. I am sure she was blushing.

“Uhhh,” he was still figuring out how to respond.

“Anyway, how’s your caving going?”, she asked to dissolve the heat.

He then answered nonchalantly, “I’m bored.”

                                                   ~~~ ~~ The End ~~ ~~~

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Trident Media Group is the leading U.S. literary agency and we are looking to discover and represent the next bestsellers. Share a sample of your work. If it shows promise, we will be in touch with you.
Written by rtadros in portal Trident Media Group
The Death Wrap
“I’m bored,” answered Daniel.
She replied, “So come with us, you won’t be bored anymore,” trying to dissuade him from caving on a Friday night.
“Ana, please, let me do what makes me comfortable,” he insisted.
“But, Da…”
“Please, Ana, please,” interrupted Daniel in frustration.
She sighed heavily then conceded, “Whatever, do as you like, bye”.

Daniel conveys the impression of being a typical guy. Merely a single digit added to the population. A 25-year old pharmacist, recently deceased parents, no siblings, no girlfriend. He lives by himself in a tiny studio easttown. Being fairly introverted, rarely anyone gets an invitation to his sanctuary. Despite his capacity to a more luxurious residence, he’d rather distant himself from his companions to avert any unwelcomed guests. His lonely rituals have to be pursued with minimal disruptions. What rituals you shall wonder; well, this is not trivial to depict. First, after the morning wash-up, they start with a ten-to-fifteen minutes session of maintaining a mirrored eye contact with himself, during which he admires the dark void glowing off his pupils. Then, he goes through his morning existential crisis which is often less intense than the one at midnight. Afterwards, his day is interrupted by the job– the boredom trinity; patients, colleagues, and the pharmacy’s computer system. After that, he finally gets to spend some quality time with himself. He stays there doing absolutely nothing. Hours pass by and he lies there, bored at himself. “Go have fun, Daniel, get up and enjoy your youth,” you might be yelling. Well, it is not a choice. Boredom is far from being a self preference, it’s rather a destiny. By midnight, the heavy artillery turns up, and whilst already exhausted by the boredom, Daniel has to earn his sleep through combat; peace never being catered.

“Okay bye,” he murmured while hanging up.

He then threw his phone on his single chair in frustration while catching his breath. Then out of nowhere, he grabbed a book and launched it furiously at the middle of the wall. His long scream “AaaaaaH!” covered the astonishing noise of the clock that fell and whose glass got scattered all over the apartment’s floor. He then hit his head several times with his palms trying to calm himself down, stared at the clutter he just made for several moments, and started to clean it up. The book’s cover had bent. He felt worse about the clock though, he liked it to some extent.

Next, he went to take a shower. He noticed he was still shaking, so he shut off the water, and stood facing the mirror, naked and wet. By act of habit, he gazed right at his own eyes. With a contracted forehead, the water droplets were falling quickly off his face as if they were escaping his rage, both of his eyeballs were flaming, and his breath was loud and slow. No one could explain his anger, not even himself. Was he losing it? He kept staring at the void inside himself, looking for answers, but they were not there. He was furious, or was he? I think he was just bored; it is the damned boredom. He was too bored, to the level that made him annoyed at himself being bored, which led to his unexplained rage. He preserved the eye contact with himself. He could see that he got sick of life altogether. What is this boredom? What’s that? It was out of his grasp that such a boredom density could exist. He got sick of himself– his face, his hair, his body, his urges to drink, eat, and excrete. He got sick of his breathing and its monotonicity, his heart beats and their succession. Sick of his job; it’s aimless. Sick of resting; it’s stagnant. Sick of sleeping and its necessity. Sick of sex and its authority. Sick of success and its allure. Sick of intelligence, conscious, and knowledge. Sick of himself and sick of other people. Sick of the earth, the sun, and the universe. Sick of space, time, and existence. He started to sense the time slowing down, his heart tempo was getting more cruel, every second was bombarding his head, his blood was boiling inside his veins. The moment was besieging him, his feelings were more intense than ever, he was being overwhelmed. If he surrendered to the boredom cage, his rage would have had its way with him, all the way to the end. He had to escape this moment. To run for his life. And as any evolving being on this earth, whose genes would fight for survival, whose genes would rather a bloody survival above a sea of dead children souls over its own abolition, he ran out of his apartment, it was the only way to escape his disturbed mind.
                                                      ~~~ ~~ ~ ~~ ~~~

           ♪ The club isn't the best place to find a lover, so the bar is where I go ♪
Sitting at the bar counter, Daniel almost crushed his glass with his grip. That song is overplayed everywhere.
“Don’t people have another song, eh?” he conversed to the bartender who ignored him with a one-sixteenth of a fake smile.
He then gazed at his drink to swallow the rejection.

“I’m bored,” She announced to Daniel. He glimpsed towards his right and she was there, staring at him with wonder.
“Excoi .. excuse me,” he stuttered owing to her exposed cleavage.
“I said I’m bored,” She was glaring at him from the adjacent chair, a mid-thirties pretty lady who was too elegantly dressed to initiate a conversation with someone average like him. Her wavy black hair was falling over her brown cute face. Her dress was short, he could see her beautiful legs serpentined by a remarkably long silver and shiny leather terminated with a thin and long heels.

It took him a second to figure it out. He then opened his mouth in order to declare his disinterest when it suddenly stroke him. His eyes brightly glowed and his ears were aroused by the adrenaline rush. Daniel got an idea; an evil one.
“Well, me too,” he said with a suggestive smile while hiding the excitement.
She hence got herself closer to him, and whispered skillfully, “Do you have something on mind?” while licking her lower lips in a controlled motion with her eyes fixed at Daniel’s.
“My apartment is one block away.” He declared while pulling his wallet out.
                                                     ~~~ ~~ ~ ~~ ~~~

Naturally, he was leading the way, opened the apartment door, and announced dramatically, “Welcome to my castle!”

She was looking around in a concealed disgust. She then glanced at him trying to infer how could he afford her. She was not surprised, she has seen it before; the wealthy guy who’s staying in a slum, and the insecure guy who’s living in a temporary luxury, which probably would lead him to homelessness. She wouldn’t care, her concern was always restrained to that single night price. In addition to a few appearance preferences, and some hygienic ones.

She then excused Daniel to use the restroom to freshen up. He replied, “sure,” with a wide smile. His voice was cheerful, his eyes were shining, and his whole face was glowing. She felt alarmed, although it is not her first time with a weirdo. She felt something odd nevertheless, she dismissed it and went on with the usual. I pity her, she should have trusted her guts, humans have developed a peculiar sense of danger– a sort of a non-empirical sixth sense. Though it led them straight to God’s trap, it prevented many premature deaths.

Walking out in her pink lingerie, a bit of annoyance was glimmering over her pretty face because she forgot to wear the garments which matched her shiny silver heels. That annoyance rapidly faded out when she didn’t find the client around, and her eyebrows slightly contracted in wonder. As soon as she opened her mouth to call Daniel’s name, she felt him bouncing from behind, his arms across her neck. Then with a sudden movement, with a roll of plastic wrap in his hands, he started to wrap it around her whole head over and over again. The wrap was squeezing her lips painfully while her open mouth was gasping for air. After the shock faded away, she tried to pluck the plastic off her face, but its sheer force was uncanny. She then attempted to cut through it with her long carmine fingernails; while Daniel was wrapping repetitively and hysterically until her hands got stuck as well in the many-layered plastic. She kicked him with the back of her pointy heels. Oh those sexy thighs were hiding such strong hamstrings, her kicks were damaging. Daniel’s calves were accumulating bruises that would become painful for weeks, however, the adrenaline rush was overwhelmingly– this was the first non-boring feeling he had for a long while– full of enjoyment; his face was red, his hair was bouncing drenched in sweat, his fingers were bloody, his calves were being crushed by the strong kicks that caught more enthusiasm as she felt him backing one step. Nevertheless, the kicks began to slow down and shrivel signaling the vicinity of her inevitable death.
                                                      ~~~ ~~ ~ ~~ ~~~
“What is your greatest experience? It is the hour of the great contempt. The hour in which even your happiness becomes repulsive to you.” –Thus Spoke Zarathustra, by Friedrich Nietzsche
                                                      ~~~ ~~ ~ ~~ ~~~

With unprecedented heart rate, Daniel threw himself on the single chair. However, something was not right; the chair was across the TV, but the main spectacle was not on the screen. He rotated the chair, and was facing the corpse. The pleasure was still incomplete, her face was covered in plastic. He got up, unwrapped the plastic, and returned to his seat. Then, though the lingerie material was pretty transparent, he noticed that he had not seen her ample bosom yet, so he went down and unhooked her bra. The scene was not perfect; she was in a terrifying shape; the lips were swelling, the whole face was bluish, and her eyes were dreadful. He got up again and flipped her over. This continued for a while until he became satisfied. He brushed her hair, placed her arms straight at her sides, took off her thong, put his preferred playlist on his home theatre speakers, poured himself a scotch on the rocks in a real glass this time, not the disposable crap he often uses, and lit a cigarette up.

Daniel had his legs crossed, calmly smoking his second cigarette, scrutinizing her soulless black body, when he heard a buzzing. A fly just glided past his ears and started floating above the body. It first landed on the arms, a fair strong forearm did this woman have, she must have been labour working since a young age, he thought. It then flew to her tight waist, she was preserving a quite hourglass shape. “Well, a job needs its skills”, he acclaimed satirically. After that, the fly landed on her left buttcheek. Her butt was so perfect, how didn’t he notice that before; it was well round shaped and tightly maintained. The fly began its work, lifted up its front legs and its crazy sucking dance was initiated.

*Trrrn Trrn Trn .. Trrrrn Trrn Trn*
The phone started to ring disrupting the meditation and showing Ana’s picture. Daniel took the cigarette out of his mouth, sighed heavily, squashed its flame in the old plate he’s been using for that, and answered with a brief and choked: “Hey”.
“Hey,” she replied with an enthusiasm that had just been T-boned by his dull attitude.
“What’s up?” he continued in an awkward and disinterested voice.
“Uhhh .. We’re having so much fun here .. Uhhh .. *cough* .. I wish you were here”, she said in an emotional but prudent tone. I am sure she was blushing.
“Uhhh,” he was still figuring out how to respond.
“Anyway, how’s your caving going?”, she asked to dissolve the heat.
He then answered nonchalantly, “I’m bored.”

                                                   ~~~ ~~ The End ~~ ~~~
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Juice
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