Rosetta Stone, Part 1

kellyiconThe Museum of Terrestrial Archaeology was an oddity among the dark glass-and-steel skyscrapers and condominiums of Nerio, the capital city of Mars. Immediately recognizable by its turquoise and gold domes and set apart from the rest of bustling metropolis by a large park, it was one of the only green, contemplative spaces in a city otherwise devoted to running the vast, interconnected economy of the solar system. It was one of Lieutenant Padma Singh’s favorite places in the city, and she often stopped by on her days off to enjoy a stroll around the museum grounds or to enjoy a book in one of the museum’s many cafes.

Today, however, the effect of peace and reflection was shattered by the wailing of police sirens. Officers in dark blue uniforms scurried across the meticulously kept grass and pristine marble floors in a hurry, searching for clues to solve what the more sensational reporters were already calling the crime of the decade, if not the century.

“And then?” Padma prompted, hoping to bring the distraught curator’s wandering attention back to the topic at hand. One of the junior officers had just left a trail of muddy footprints across what she had been assured was a 22nd-century antique from Titan, the curator’s face turning paler and paler with every mud-encrusted step.

“And then,” the curator said, turning back to face Padma, “I followed the janitor back to the display case. I could hardly believe him, after all. The Senate itself doesn’t have the kind of quality security we employ at the museum. And the Rosetta Stone is one of our most valuable pieces – there are more layers of protection around that stone than the most banks. Did I tell you that it’s an artifact native to Earth itself?”

“Yes, you did,” Padma said, silently pleading for patience. This was about the fifth time the curator had mentioned that little detail. True, it was impressive; only one or two other museums in the entire system could claim to hold something from Earth in their collections. Still, it wasn’t helping her figure out who had stolen the damn thing.

“I didn’t believe him, as I said. I thought he must be having a laugh, get one over the new boss. But it was just as he said. It was gone! Not a thing out of place, nothing broken – just one of the most precious archaeological artifacts, gone! I’m ruined!” With that, the curator plunged his face into his hands and began to sob, great, heaving cries that made Padma embarrassed to watch. She called over one of the junior officers and asked him to find the poor man a blanket and some tea.

Padma turned off her recorder and clipped it back to her belt. The curator’s statement didn’t offer her anymore insight into the case than she already possessed, but it did corroborate other statements she’d gathered earlier. The story, as far as Padma knew so far, was that the cleaning staff checked out at closing time, confirming that everything in the museum was where it should be. The footage from the security cameras confirmed that much. But when the morning shift arrived, they found the Rosetta Stone missing, as if someone had walked in during the night, sailed past eight layers of the best security on the planet, lifted the display case, took the stone, replaced the case, and walked right back out the way they came. Ten hours of security footage was missing and all of the security bots had been disabled. A classic mystery.

“Any luck on your end?”

Padma turned and saw her new sergeant and second-in-command saunter up behind her. In the ten months she had known Detective Liza Meadows, Padma had never seen the woman simply walk; she either sauntered forward in a lazy, cocky stride or charged straight ahead. Meadows was also never without a grin, as if she were permanently laughing to a joke only she knew. But the Detective’s smile wasn’t something Padma should be thinking about while on duty.

“Not a damn thing.” Padma sighed and placed a hand on her hip. “For all we know, the 10,000-year-old hunk of rock just got up and walked away.”

“A hunk of rock that practically created the field of Egyptology,” Meadows said. “Have some respect for history.”

“Never took you to be a history buff, Detective.”

Meadows laughed, high and lyrical. “Minor in anthropology.” Then she grinned, a slow, dangerous one that slid across her face like a snake, contrasting her bright teeth against dark skin. “Turns out that beneath this sexy and highly available exterior beats the heart of a true scholar.”

“Duly noted, Meadows.” Padma turned away from Meadows to hide her own smile. “Let me know if any of that schooling gives you any insight into our mystery caper.”

“Not a clue, both literally and figuratively. As for motive…well, it’s one of the last artifacts to survive the war. Some people cough up billions for anything with a connection to Earth.” She paused a moment to think. “Or it could be a stunt. A ‘look-what-I-can-do’ sort of thing. Best sort of advertisement for thieves.”

“It’s certainly impressive, if a bit showy for a professional thief.”

“Sympathizing with the enemy, are we?”

“It’s not wrong to have respect for your opponent. Disrespect breeds arrogance, and arrogance leads to mistakes.”

A beat.

“Where’d you find that little gem?”

“A book of quotes,” Padma admitted. “Still good to keep in mind.” Padma looked around the museum and the flurry of activity around them. They had been here for hours, and still nothing of real use had turned up. “Meadows, tell forensics to make one last sweep and then pack it up. We’ve found all we’re going to for now.”

“Yes, ma’am.” For all her sass, Padma had never witnessed Meadows disobey or question an order; however casually she took the rest of her life, Meadows took her job seriously.

“Lieutenant! Lieutenant, you have to see something!”

From behind, a young officer came running up to her, out of breath and red up to his earlobes.

“What is it? Take a breath.”

“N-no time, ma’am,” the officer gasped. “They need you in the back.”

Ten minutes later, Padma and Meadows had rushed through the “Employees Only” door and into the museum’s vast storage area, where hundreds of rows of artifacts rested into climate-controlled stasis. About five rows in, a group of officers formed a circle around something covered in a white sheet. Padma tasted bile the moment she saw it.

“What do we have?”

“A body, ma’am,” one of the officers said, confirming her worst fear. The officers parted to let through. In the center of their circle, a body laid awkwardly on its back. Dark stains blotched the sheet. Padma crouched, then gingerly lifted the sheet to see underneath.

“So much for it being a stunt,” Meadows said. Her good cheer had evaporated, and her usually warm face looked clammy and ashen.

Padma let go of the sheet, letting it drape itself over the head of the deceased to form a ghastly death mask, then stood up and faced Meadows. “Too bad. Now we need to figure out why anyone wanted that rock so much they were willing to kill for it.”

Holiday Fever – Part I

tjicon“I have no story to tell,” she said, unwrapping the scarf from around her head and pulling it down, around her shoulders, “just the truth, and you wouldn’t believe the truth.” Her face was like a sunset in a forest during winter.

“How about we start with your name.”

“Katherine Holiday.”

“Ah, merry Christmas, then.” She gave a wry smile. Her lips were dry. “Did you ask Santa for that coat?”

“No,” she said plainly, “I asked Santa for a snow so that I would have a reason to wear it.”

At this, I laughed. Harder, more sincere, than I intended. Her moxie was unique, a rarity. Katherine was young, twenty something as far as I could tell. She was solid, too. Most of them cracked or bent under the sheer weight of my presence, others summoned a false hardness and held it up like a shield. Katherine seemed to do neither. She simply sat.

“What happened to the coat’s owner,” I eventually asked.

“Former owner, you mean?”

“Well, yes.”

“He died.” I stared at her, waiting. She looked back, her eyes asking me why we had to go through the motions. “He was burning before I even showed up, the Fever, you know. He was on the ground, naked, putting snow all over himself.”

“How did you know it was the Fever?”

“Because there is no other reason for a man to sit outside naked and bathe himself in snow. If it wasn’t the Fever, then it was something just as bad.”

“So, you killed him?”
“I put him out of his misery. If I didn’t kill him, he would have just infected others.”

“And you burned his body?”

“That’s standard procedure, is it not?”

“Why didn’t you burn the coat?”

Her eyes flared, “Because I was fucking cold.” She stared at me for a moment before looking away. Perhaps she didn’t want her anger to land on me. Maybe she didn’t hate me, or blame me for her misfortunes, maybe she understood that I was just doing my job. She didn’t seem to carry the hatred most did, and though she did have the rage, it was contained, perhaps even tamed. “It was nice coat,” she said, “the one I had before wasn’t nearly this nice. This has been a long and very cold winter.”

“Witness says they say you kill him, strip him down, then set him on fire. Just so you could steal his clothes.”

“I wouldn’t have wasted time burning his body if I just wanted his coat.”

“If you really thought it was the Fever, why didn’t you tell anyone?”

“I’m just some street girl, no one would have believed me? And even if they did, you and your people would just cover it up. Everyone would panic if they knew the Fever was coming back.”

“That much is true, Ms. Holiday,” I say, slowly nodding, “everyone would panic. Everyone except you, though.”

Her eyes narrowed on me, “You think I’m making this up because I am not hysterical?” I slightly tilted my head, and continued to stare at her. There was something in her face I couldn’t read. It didn’t feel like she was hiding anything. In fact, it felt like the exact opposite. Her face was too honest. Honesty has always been the hardest veil to see past. Her face changed a bit, anger now cut with shock and surprise, “You think I have something to do with it, that I brought it back somehow?”

“If it really was the Fever, there’s a good chance that coat is contaminated.”

“If it is the Fever, there is a good chance that this whole zone is contaminated.”

There was a knock on the door. Charlie entered hurriedly, hardly waiting for an answer, “Excuse me, Lady Muriel -”

“What is it,” I say impatiently.

“Sorry. I know you don’t like to be interrupted in the middle of a, um, an interrogation…” he finally lifted his hand to reveal a cell phone. “It’s Sir Deon, says it’s important.”

I stand and snatch the phone from his hand. It’s warm on my ear. “Yes, Deon, what do need? I’m busy here.” Deon tells me his important message. I can’t help but dart my eyes over to the girl, Katherine. Her face is affirmation. Honest.

I hang up and hand the phone back to Charlie, “Rally the troops. The zone is hot.”

Charlie’s eyes widen, “It’s back? It’s really back?”

“Are you going to stand there or do your job? I gave you an order.”

He all but jumps, “Y-yes, milady.” I can hear his footsteps and shouts echo down the hall followed by panicked and worried responses.

I turn to Katherine, “Get up.”

“Where are you taking me.”

“To our doctors. We need to check you for infection.”

Updates on the Puma Space Train

raboicons

Hello!

Rabo here, with news on my part of the NaNoWriMo project, Ezekial’s Train. Those of you following may have noticed that it left off on a kind of cliff hanger with no resolution but the story is still ongoing and I’ve chosen to not clutter up the Short Story Salad blog with it as that would not be fair to the other writers. Instead I am updating it on my personal blog, listed below.

There is a chance that this will develop into a longer manuscript so I will probably leave off updating re-writes on that blog unless there is an interest. Feel free to e-mail me personally if you are interested in the story or the concept at DLR.creativewriting.gmail.com

Otherwise, find my Personal blog at:

http://rabokarabekian.blogspot.com/

You Get Used to It, Part 1

raboiconsOkay, yeah, so my name is Mortimer and I work for this place called Addams Funeral Services, Inc. I know, funny right, like Mortimer the Mortician? Yeah, I never heard that joke before, so don’t worry. You can call me Mort and if you call me Mort the Mortician I’ll call you “Future Client.”

My own little joke see. Anyway, so I’m not really a mortician, I just drive the truck to pick up the bodies. A big old, banged all to hell late 90’s Chevy van that looks like shit, but it gets the job done. We don’t pull out those fancy hearses for just anything you know. They’re expensive as hell and they look weird at a hospital anyway. The hospitals don’t like it, that’s for sure. One time I had to drive the big Caddy ’cause the Chevy had a busted radiator and man, did the people at the E.R. freaked out. They said it gives people the wrong idea.

Like all the people at the hospital aren’t gonna die one day or the other anyway.

So today was just another kind of boring day, or at least for me. People always think it’s crazy or weird to be around dead bodies all day but listen, you get used to anything after a while. Acclimatization they say, if you wanna be fancy. After four years of doing manual labor with heavy dead people I bitch more about my back than the smell, that’s for sure.

But today was a Tuesday and listen, hardly anybody dies on a Tuesday. Weird I know, right? Like you’d think people would be dying for me to pick ’em up on a Tuesday, but no dice.

See what I did there?

You end up making a lot of puns working around dead people all day. Makes the time go by and it keeps you from going crazy. Nobody wants to be that guy who goes nutty and starts eating the corpses or banging ’em or something. Never seen that happen, mind you, but I know it does. Just makes sense it would happen.

Now I’m gonna think about something else so it ain’t me it happens to.

So anyway, today was a Tuesday which was good. I like Tuesdays since I get to sit around most of the day and read. I help out with a lot of things around here, things you don’t need special degrees for at least, and sometimes ones you do, but on Tuesdays there isn’t that much to do. All the clean-up from the weekend funerals are done and like I say, nobody dies on Tuesday.

But of course today, I’m getting really into chapter 4,719 of the newest Stephen King book and the boss says we got a pick up at the airport. Some army guy. Now, airport pick-ups are nothing, just just drive out there, they help you load the box and you come back. When they’re shipping the bodies on the plains they box them in these wooden crates that look like they come off of Indiana Jones, just a body in a box and nothing fancy. The coffins are too expensive to ship by air, so they keep it simple.

First time I saw the bag guys drop the box off like it was just more luggage I was kind of shocked but like I say, you get used to anything.

The weird thing about the army guys though, is they gotta make a big deal outta taking ’em off the plane. It’s kind of cool and touching at first but well, you get the idea. Basically when I get to the freight depot at the air port there’s a army guy there to meet me, usually a low officer or something and we both get in the truck, get all searched and stuff, and we get escorted out onto the ramp, right up to the airplane.

So what they do, is they got these long conveyor belts they move the bags from the plain on, and they drive ’em around like cars. So they put that up to the plane and the army guy gets out and everyone lines up beside this beat to hell conveyor belt and salutes the box as it rolls down. Then everyone looks away while me and a couple of the bag throwers lug the thing in the truck. Army boxes usually ain’t bad though, since half the time they’re all but empty.

So anyway, I go pick up the box and it’s a heavy one. The officer at the gate has a lot more shiny shit on his chest than they usually do but I hardly notice. Whatever, just another day. Drop the body off, sign off my shift, grab some McDonalds on the way home and eat, play some Madden and drink a beer.

Funny thing today though, I go to take the trash out ’cause I can’t fit any more beer bottles in the bin with all those pizza boxes and I can’t just set ’em next to the can ’cause I want to keep the place classy, ya know? So I take the bin out back and I walk through the gate to where the big trash can in the alley is, and I prop it open to dump the trash in.

But when I open it I look in just out of curiosity because weird shit shows up in our trash all the time. I live in a sketchy part of town and you never know what you’re gonna find. This time it’s a pair of boots. Nice ones too, they’re the ones with that little white cross in a red square, whatever brand that is, and they look pretty new so I pull one out. Looks pretty close to my size too.

So I pull off my slipper and go to try the boot on but I gotta un-tie it first. Who throws out a pair of boots all laced up? When I go to put my foot inside though, they’re something in there. Looks like a foot. So anyway, I pull it out and it’s a little sticky but sure enough, the boot fits like a charm! Just my size.

I pull the other one out and sure enough, it matches. Got a foot inside too, damn it, but that one’s not so sticky so it’s okay. I throw it in the bin and dump the trash and head back to play some more Madden. I’m pretty proud of my new foot gear, that and I still got at least a six pack of Natty Light in the fridge, so it’s a good day after all.

So like I say, you get used to things after a while. I’m half way through another beer before I realize boots don’t usually come with severed feet in them and that’s when I lose my shit.

The Great Lady, Part 1

berniconsHe was shoved to the floor for the sharpness of his tongue. The guard pushed the blade of her spear to the messenger’s throat. “Speak that way about The Lady again and I will relieve the burden of your head from your shoulders!”

A hand rose up in peace, with skin the color of chestnuts. “That is enough, Baako.” Baako glanced back at her Lady. “Our guest is not to blame. His words are not his own.”

Baako stayed tense.

“Yield, Baako.”

Baako moved as swiftly as water, bringing herself back from the messenger, her spear still tight in her grip.

The messenger coughed, mostly out of relief. “Thank you, Lady Ntombi of the Rivers Three.”

The Great Lady, Ntombi, of the Rivers Three,” hissed Baako.

“Titles are rather frivolous, don’t you think, messenger?” laughed the Lady.

The messenger eyed Baako, looking up from her heavily protected legs, following her figure to her scowling face. “I wish not to say, your Ladyship. I fear further wrath of your loyal handmaiden.”

Lady Ntombi answered first, before Baako’s rage boiled over once more. “You have nothing to fear here, sir messenger, especially of my loyal Baako. She would not think of laying another harmful hand upon you when I did not wish it,” Lady Ntombi’s dark eyes rested on the intricately braided head of her guard. “Isn’t that right, Baako?”

“Your words are a true as daylight, my Lady,” there was no hesitation in Baako’s response.

A smirk almost grew on the messenger’s face. “That being said, sir messenger, a handmaiden, she is not. For if she is, I have never yet seen a handmaiden that could wield a blade quiet as masterfully as Baako.”

“Forgive me, your Ladyship, but I thought you said titles were rather frivolous?”

“Titles come and go, they pass and thus they are frivolous- but the impact of one life onto another is much more permanent. I request that you ponder what impact Baako could have upon your life and then consider your words more carefully, sir messenger.” Lady Ntombi smiled. The gold woven into her hair glowed in the torchlight, radiating a halo about her face, the Messenger could not help but nod obediently.

“I did not come here to threaten or insult you, your Ladyship-”

“And you have not, sir messenger,” the Lady interrupted, “These words are certainly not your own, but the words of your Masters. They, however, do not seem to share in your candor.”

“My Masters do not wish war, Lady Ntombi. They would much prefer you relinquish your claim to the Rivers Three and its surrounding lands. Surely you understand that you and your people keep the Greater Kingdoms from expanding and providing for her own citizens if you continue to regulate the waterways as you have. You inhibit trade and transportation and thus you inhibit progress.”

“These are sacred Rivers, sir messenger. They are the gateway to the Realm of the Spirits and I am its Keeper, just as my mother was, and Dumisani before her and Lungile before her and Themba before her.”

“My Masters are well aware of the significance of the Rivers Three, your Ladyship. Which is why they offer you and your people citizenship once your lands have been absorbed into the Greater Kingdoms. This is an offering of friendship! Please to not toss it off in scorn!”

“Sir messenger, you will be given a place to sleep, a warm meal tonight and tomorrow morn and you will be escorted off the holy lands of the Rivers Three personally by my trusted Baako. But you will not be given what you came here for,” Lady Ntombi stood from her fine, carved wooden seat.

“Lady Ntombi, you are making a mistake! I know I am not my Masters’ first messenger and they will not send another! Please reconsider their hand of friendship!”

Lady Ntombi paused. “You are not the first, sir messenger, but you are certainly the most passionate. Each of your fellows returned home unharmed and I only wish the same for you. Go home to your people.”

“But your people will-”

“My people have been loyal to this land and the spirits of it since before the First Age of the Black Moon. We owe our lives to the spirits and we will not be so quick to turn our backs upon them. Your Masters would be wise to held my words: The Spirits live very long lives, and they do not so easily forget the transgressions of humans. Nor do they forgive those that harm their kin.” Lady Ntombi turned and walked from the messenger, toward the White Wood. “Good evening, sir messenger. I truly pray that the Spirits keep you safe on your travels home.”

Baako nodded to a guardsmen and he lead the messenger to his bed for the night. Baako, followed shortly after her lady.

A gray moon hung in the night sky above the White Wood. Baako was silent, keeping a respectable distance from her Lady.

Lady Ntombi stopped and grinned at Baako. “Perhaps tonight you will find the courage to step forward to the White with me? She does not bite.”

Baako tensed up. “Your confidence in me brings me great joy, my Lady, but I have not the confidence in myself yet to speak to Her directly.” Lady Ntombi raised an eyebrow. “P-please tell Her, that I mean no disrespect. I am just not worthy of her council.”

Lady Ntombi took Baako’s hand in her own. The hands of both women were hands of warriors, though, warriors of different kinds. “I will tell her of your regrets, Baako. Perhaps you would prefer to send your husband in your stead? He must know of your concerns about your preg-”

“No- my Lady. I have not yet told Sefu of… my condition.”

“I see,” Lady Ntombi glanced at Baako’s torso. “You will have to tell him soon though, I should think. As fit as you are, there are some things a woman cannot hide.”

Baako almost laughed. “Yes, my Lady. I will.”

“Good. I will return in a moment then.”

“Yes, my Lady.” Baako gripped her spear and waited.

Lady Ntombi approached a tall, board tree of white bark. Not a single leaf hung from its arms, only small, glowing lights lingered about its branches. Lady Ntombi closed her eyes and bowed her head.

A breeze shifted the branched of the White Wood. A voice very much so like a hiss whispered, “Greetingsss, Ntombi.”

Lady Ntombi opened her eyes. A pale blue snake stared back at her. “And greetings to you, Ethelinda, upon this night.”

Ethelinda peered over Ntombi’s shoulder. “Your captain hasss not yet told her husssband she isss with child.”

“She hasn’t.”

“Why not?”

“I am sure she has her reasons.”

“Humans always have reasonsss. Very few of them ever stand the tessst of time.” Ethelinda the snake held her own glow about her that shined brightest when she moved. Her scales would part ever so slightly as to let the light escape her. “You seem troubled, Ntombi. Tell me of your burdensss.”

“It would not be right to first let fall of my concerns onto you first, Ethelinda.”

“I’ve had centuriesss of right, Ntombi, the occasional wrong is not a travesssty.”

Ntombi laughed. “Perhaps.”

Out of the Past, Chapter 13

kellyiconDawn was breaking over the horizon by the time Stephanie and Jimmy were given permission to leave the grounds of the Christopher House. The sheriff, who had spent most of the night speaking to the group of CSI people, forensic specialists, officials from the trust that maintained the house, and one unlucky grad student representing the archeology department of one of the local universities that had accumulated over the night since Stephanie first made the call to the police station, now came walking toward them as the sky behind her changed its hue from deep purple to a light, faded blue.

“Well, everything seems to check out,” the sheriff told them. She seemed to be out of her depth when it came to a hundred-and-fifty-year-old murders, and when she wasn’t taking statements from one of the experts who even now swarmed around the shallow grave she had been grilling Stephanie and Jimmy, looking for any inconsistencies in their story as to why they were out on state property in the middle of the night digging up bodies. Stephanie had let Jimmy do most of the talking, not only because he was incredibly charming when he wanted to be, but because whatever she expected to happen after finding Marie’s body hadn’t happened. Renee wasn’t back. And if this didn’t work and she was still stuck in the past, how was she supposed to talk to Renee now? The mirror that had been their life-line lay in shattered pieces on the floor of the master bedroom. For the thousandth time that night, Stephanie forced down a rising wave of panic concerning the welfare of her best friend.

“Does that mean we can go?” Jimmy asked, springing from his slouching position against the side of his car.

“Yes, it does,” the sheriff said in a sort of voice implying she knew something fishy was going on even if she couldn’t see it just yet. “Stay off state property from now on, you hear?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Jimmy said, relieved. In the brightening morning light, Stephanie noticed the deep circles that had formed under his eyes. She wondered when he had slept last, and realized he’d probably been awake since she called him.

The sheriff docked her hat in a particularly old-country sort of way and turned to leave, but Stephanie stopped her.

“Ma’am?” The sheriff stopped and turned back, and unspoken “what?” scrawled across her face. “Do you have an idea who we found? Or how they died?”

“Not yet. Forensics and the kid from university says she might be over a hundred years old,” the sheriff said. “No grave, out in the middle of this god-forsaken place…it looks like you two may have stumbled across a right, old-fashioned mystery. Hey, maybe you’ve come across a clue to what happened at this old place.” She jerked a thumb at the house behind them.

“What happened?” Stephanie asked, though she dreaded the answer.

“Something of a local scandal,” the sheriff continued, and the way she told the story suggested to Stephanie that the sheriff had retold this story many times before. “The Christophers were a rich, slave-owning couple who spent their spare time as kidnappers and slave catchers. Well, one day they were lords of the land, just about the wealthiest two people you’d find in southern Illinois at the time. Then one day, everyone realized no one’s heard from them in a couple of weeks. A couple of police go down to the house to make sure everything’s alright, and you wouldn’t believe what they found.” The sheriff paused for effect, no doubt used to having her listeners on the edge of their seats by this point. Stephanie wanted to scream at her to hurry up, to tell her what she wanted to know, but her own common sense and Jimmy’s comforting hand on her shoulder kept her quiet.

“The whole place was deserted. Mr. and Mrs. Christopher were gone, and so were all of their slaves,” the sheriff finally continued. “Every single one of them had packed up in the night and run off some weeks before. They eventually found the Christophers – in a pair of graves somewhere out in the middle of the very field we’re standing on. No one was able to figure out what happened, though the revelation of some of the Christophers’s activities gave way to plenty of rumors.”

“Like what?” Stephanie asked.

“Oh, a whole bunch of things. Some say it was a slave uprising, that the slaves just got tired of being slaves and figured they were so close to the free states they could make it before anyone caught ’em. Makes sense to me. But you’ve always got people claiming it was something supernatural, that the ghosts of the Christophers’s victims came back from the beyond to get their revenge. It’s all just local superstition, though.”

“I see,” Stephanie said, not even trying to keep the disappointment out of her voice. But what was she expecting? That the local sheriff would be able to answer her questions about Renee?

“Did you need something else?” the sheriff asked.

“No, no,” Jimmy said, putting his arm around Stephanie and directing her to the car. “It’s just been a long night.”

“You tell me,” the sheriff said. “You have a good night. Drive careful.”

“You, too,” Jimmy said to the sheriff’s retreating back. Once in the car, her placed his hand on Stephanie’s and gave it a squeeze. “Renee’ll be alright, Steph. Don’t give up on her yet, okay?”

“I know,” Stephanie said, and she managed a weak smile for him. “Can we just go home?”

“As you wish,” he said, and Stephanie couldn’t help smiling for real at the reference to their favorite movie. Satisfied, Jimmy started the car and began easing the car down the dirt path that passed for a road. As they entered the town’s main road, Stephanie studied her reflection in the window. The light from the passing street lamps cast deep shadows on her face and etched the worry lines deeper into her face. Where was her friend?

As if to answer her question, Jimmy spoke up just as they turned the corner onto the small road that led to their hostel. “Who’s that?”

Stephanie drew her eyes away from the view outside her window and looked out the front, where a lone figure stood in front of the door of their hostel. The figure was thin, with long hair done up in a loose braid or pony tail that lay across her – and Stephanie was sure it was a her – shoulder, and dressed in a combination of skirts and petticoats that was too old even to be considered vintage. All doubts vanished when Jimmy pulled up to the curb and the headlights threw Renee’s face into relief, despite her raising a hand to shield her eyes from the light.

“Renee!” Stephanie was stumbling out of the car before it had stopped, tripping over her feet as she tried to steady herself and run forward at the same time. Just as she was about to fall flat on her face, a hand caught her at her shoulder. She looked up and found herself staring into Renee’s big brown eyes, which were shining with the effort of holding back tears. Stephanie reached forward, found Renee’s shoulders, and pulled her friend into the strongest, back-breaking hug she could muster.

“I’m back,” Renee said, returning the hug. “I’m back.”

Ezekial’s Train, Chapter Thirteen

raboicons“I’m sorry, Ezekial, but you do not have a choice.”

And the world falls away.

Break

The sun is rising as Daniel and Mordechai are floating over a city, or the coast of a city. It crests the horizon behind them as they look down on the docks and Daniel knows that it is on the Eastern coast of the U.S. Somehow he can sense that this is a changed Miami and that he and Mordechai are floating near the same spot where he rendezvoused with Elijah and Ester all those years ago. The city has changed, yes but as the buildings are taller he still recognizes that it looks like it did for a moment when he could see it across the centuries in any direction, flying over the ocean that night.

Mordechai speaks to Daniel but it is not through a box this time, it is in his head. “This is the wrong year. The Watchers are still not as skilled as the Host. Give us time.” The words echo in Daniel’s head as if from deep within, not in the stiff crackling voice of the box Mordechai carries but in a scratchy, animistic one, the words barely coherent as English.

Break

The coastline is the same but the lighting is different and he can sense that it is late afternoon. The sky before was cloudless but now it is overcast and Daniel can see the condensation floating around him as if he and Mordechai sit on the outskirts of a cloud high above the rippling ocean waters. Below them, from directly underneath where they float freely, the beginnings of a long pier stretches toward the shore, still under construction. Even in the foundation pylons he can see there is a strangeness to this work. There is an inhuman aspect innate to the structure as if it were organic rather than architectural. Wispy metal framework extends toward and grows larger near the shore , laying across the water like the web of demented spider forming a long tunnel shaped by wind. It is the beginnings of an artwork perhaps, but on a massive scale.

“I have seen this.” As Daniel speaks he realizes that there is no sound but he senses that Mordechai hears him. They are here in spirit alone, or whatever may be closest to a spirit. This is a different kind of vision.

“When I was flying at the whim of the Angels, this was what I saw and the future besides the past, all at once. It was too much to take in then.”

“Eze–” Mordechai hesitates before going on, “Daniel. They were using you then as a tool to measure things you could not, cannot comprehend. Though I suspect you could more than others of your race.”

Daniel pauses and there is a soft surprise in his voice as he speaks to the shape of the bear. “And why is that?”

“You are more receptive to the parts of comprehension and . . . you would say science that your race cannot normally measure. More than any other man alive now or then, more than any they had found since your ancient times we think.”

Staring at the strange metalwork below Daniel finally embraces a realization that he has kept from the edges of his mind for more than a generation. “You mean, as you all call me Ezekial?”

“It seems, from what we have stolen of their records, yes. But that is over now.” Mordechai sighs. “There is more.”

Break

Again it is late afternoon but now they are close over a structure lit brightly with spotlights, the same structure they’d seen before, but complete. A long, sinuous tube, it snakes out from the shoreline and far into ocean, more sculpture than pier. Undulating curves and waves of thick aluminum sheet and polished steel seem to pulsate out from the shore, such is the fluidity of the structure spearing into the Atlantic.

“How?” Daniel sees the thing is man made, that much is sure, but the tensile strength required for some of the structure goes beyond any methods or technologies he knows and the effect of the insane structure is more shocking because of it. “And if building is possible, why at such expense?”

“Many things have changed in a very few years. Come.”

As Mordechai speaks Daniel feels a pull and they move down over the structure as the sun begins to set and the spotlights appear to glow brighter in a clean white light on the shining metal. Swooping down he can see that the structure is huge and hollow, filled with ornate latices and intricate supports that he can see are mostly ornamental. The interior is well lit and populated by many people, all finely dressed and aimlessly wandering the floors.

Hovering closer and looking in through the open slats of the exterior, through holes that Daniel hesitates to call windows, he realizes that this must be an opening ceremony. Some sort of gala opening for the pier, put on at great expense. He has been to enough building openings in his time as an architect in high demand in New York to know the look of the event even if the cut of the clothing is as different as the food served.

“The Host has been busy by this point, before you ask. They have guided individuals just enough to help this . . . artwork these humans are calling it be built. The Metatron. . . There is a new architect in this time but even he could not do this without what you provided at that pivotal time. He is not as aware as you were then and in all time, there is always more than one architect.”

For the first time Daniel begins to wonder, not at the motives of the alien beside him, but at the soul. Who is this creature that says he fights for humanity? “You were an architect, weren’t you Mordechai?”

The bear looks at him with eyes that once again exude a sadness, even in this state. “Yes. All of The Watchers were.”

A silence stretches between them as the pair comes to rest on the floor of the structure and Mordechai guides them toward a crowded area near the farthest edge of the pier, farthest into the ocean. It suddenly occurs to Daniel, “But, will they see us?”

“We are not here. Time works differently for us. You humans are a simple race in many ways. It is too much to explain, but this is the future as it is now, as it will happen. This is a difficult thing to show you. Look.”

Pointing toward the focus of all the well clad party goers, his is not the only hand gesturing upward. Projected in high definition on the wall of the structure is an incredibly detailed set of blueprints, page after page worth and each dozens of feet across. They show the intricate pylons and framework of the pier and the artistry within.

Daniel’s feet stop moving and he stares up at the diagrams, mouth agape. What he sees there is like nothing he can imagine, even with it right before his eyes. “But, this. . . This doe not make sense. This is not possible.”

Suddenly he is pulled back and into the air, sucked out of the wide open space at the end of the pier with Mordechai calling all the while, “Come! Quickly, I have misjudged.”

As they pull away from the pier’s edge, whatever it is that Daniel occupies in this space, whatever body or spirit in this time, it can feel the vibrations of the structure and sense the distress of those within it. The shocked shouts and screams from the people inside drift up to him as they pull away and Daniel realizes that it is not the shaking of the pier or the structure at all he feels or senses, it is the shaking of the world.

Not an earthquake but the shaking of all matter around them. The dock, the metals, the concrete, the people inside, screaming and clutching their skulls, the hors d’œuvres and the spotlights, the ocean and all that’s in it shake violently. The air and the time surrounding the area quiver and pulse and even through the muffle that their being in another time provides Daniel feels as if he is being pulled apart from inside.

Looking to the other figure beside him as they slow and come to rest high above the structure and hundreds of yards out to sea he sees that Mordechai’s already ephemeral shape is quivering and flickering as it points down and yells for Daniel’s attention once again.

Light begins to pour from within the pier and Daniel is not sure if it is his sight or some other sense that tells him that the interior has been sterilized of all that is not necessary for the support of the tunnel. All the people inside, all their accoutrements gone in an instant while the light pours from within. It is a white light that is uniform from land to ocean is whiter and clearer than any light he’s ever seen and he begins to think again of what Mordechai said of sciences, senses, sheer parts of space and time that humans cannot comprehend. This must be one of those parts.

Then, with a sound that is more than a sound and less than a feeling, with a vibration that begins on an atomic level and boils outward, pulling the water apart around the pier at a molecular level and sending streams of plasma away and into the ocean, boiling the seawater as it goes, Daniel sees the tunnel is no longer empty.

The Puma Space Train has arrived.

December Hiatus

Hello everyone!

As you might have noticed, the month of November was really cool but also contained several late posts. That’s because November on our end was pretty stressing and it doesn’t look like December is going to be much better.

We’re a little disappointed to inform you guys that we will be taking a December hiatus. We’ve looked ahead and figured out that we can’t promise to post a short story regularly for the next two weeks and then it’s Christmas week but we were planning to take that week off anyway.

So we at Short Story Salad have decided to take a break for the next few weeks. We will resume writing December 30th, just in time for the new year!!

Thank you all so much! We all hope you have a happy holiday season and can’t wait to get back on the horse soon! Thank you all so much!

ussig

Gersemi and the Trolls, Chapter 13

bernicons         Gersemi woke in the crook of a large oak with branches spread wide like a waiting embrace welcoming her home. She sat up and rubbed the fae dusk from her eyes. She had always known that the faefolk possessed great power and she was almost disappointed that she had missed it all when the little fae put her to sleep-

The smell of a warm, mossy boulder filled her nose and Gersemi gasped. She scrambled to the limb, tears filling her big blue eyes. She couldn’t fight the smile that found itself on her face and she didn’t want to. Gersemi leapt from the tree and onto a head of wild brown hair.

“Wha?!” shouted Viggo upon impact.

Gersemi laughed as she dug herself out of the mess of hair. “Good morning!”

Boulder sized tears erupted from Viggo’s beady eyes. “GERSEMI!!” Viggo snatched Gersemi up and held her close to his chest as he rolled onto his back. “GERSEMI I THOUGHT I’D NEVER SEE YOU AGAIN!”

Gersemi couldn’t see for the tears in her eyes. “I thought I’d never see you again! Please don’t leave me again!”

“Never!”

Viggo looked down at his little sister. “Did you follow my tracks? Is that how you found us?”

“I was! But then I ran into the smelly woman and I had to make fake tracks to throw her off the trail!”

“Trail?”

Viggo and Gersemi seized up and looked to the direction of the voice. “S-Stian,” said Viggo, trying to hide Gersemi from the troll, “You see- I was only trying to- don’t send Gersemi away again!”

“I’ve already seen her, Viggo,” said Stian, “Come forward, Gersemi.”

Viggo wouldn’t let Gersemi from his grasp, but she slipped out of his hands anyway. Gersemi took several brave step to her uncle, her head held high. She had done nothing wrong and she knew her uncle would never hurt her. This didn’t keep her heart from fluttering like a hummingbird in her chest standing before his mighty presence. “Uncle, I-”

Stian dropped to his knees and bent over to embrace Gersemi in his gentle arms. Stian’s right tusk rubbed up against her arm. “Gersemi, I’m sorry I let this happen. I shouldn’t have agreed to it. I’m sorry.” Gersemi’s right arm was soaked in troll tears and soon her own tears had soaked her own cheeks as she held Stian’s hand with the whole of her arms.

She nodded. “It’s okay! It’s okay! I’m home now. I’m never leaving you all again!”

“Gersemi?”

Gersemi’s heart jumped into her throat and she had to gulp to keep it from leaping out. Stian and Gersemi looked up to Moa. A pile of herbs fell to Moa’s feet from her hands and Moa’s face fell as well. “Gersemi-” said Moa, “W-what are you… h-how did you…”

“Mother!” Stian released his grasp on Gersemi and the little girl fled to her mother’s embrace. Happiness grew in Moa’s chest, despite the disappointment and sense of responsibility that she had fenced up around her heart and she went down on one knee to meet Gersemi and lift her up in her arms.

“Gersemi!” Moa brought her daughter close to her and nothing had ever felt quite as right. “I made a mistake! I’m sorry!” Moa looked to Gersemi, bundled up in her arms and hair. “Welcome home, little one. Can you forgive me?”

Gersemi gulped again, lest her heart leap for joy and nodded. “I do- but… why did you leave me with those people?”

Those words hurt Moa like thrones digging into her flesh, but they deserved an answer. “I was worried- worried of what would become of you, little one, if you stayed with us. But I was mistaken. The worst thing that could happen is for you to be parted from us a moment longer.”

“How touching.”

The hair on the back of Gersemi’s neck stood on end. Everyone looked up to the trees where the voice had come from. The foul smell of liquor lingered on the leaves.

“Stupid girl,” said the hunter, “You should have stayed where you better off.”

Moa let Gersemi down and hid her behind her leg. Stian moved to over Moa’s back and Viggo took point to form a triangle about Gersemi. Gersemi, however, had hid once from Helsa and refused to hide anymore- she took her place beside her family.

“Be gone, hunter!” shouted Moa. “You are not welcome here.”

“Gersemi!” cried the hunter, “I mean no harm to you- but you must leave these trolls. I cannot guarantee your safety with you so near!”

“I cannot guarantee yours either!” shouted Gersemi, “Just leave my family alone!”

Helsa’s head poked out from the foliage of the trees. “Don’t you realize that they probably killed you’re real family, child?!”

“WE ARE HER FAMILY!” cried Viggo as he ran toward the tree and rammed into its trunk.

Helsa was knocked from her branch onto Viggo’s back. Viggo’s arms were too short to reach the spider on his back so he thrashed his back into the tree. Helsa scrambled up his hair and jabbed him in the neck. The pressure point threw Viggo off balance and he tripped over the roots of the tree- the contents of Viggo’s pack flooded the ground.

Helsa withdrew her longest blade and lunged for Viggo’s neck.

Stian knocked the hunter off his nephew and onto the ground. “Why not pick on someone your own size?” he growled. Stian’s face was twisted and dark.

Helsa smirked. “Gladly.” She leapt to Stian’s heart but his massive arm threw her yards away.

“Moa! Get the children away from here!” shouted Stian as he pursued the hunter.

Moa rushed to her son with Gersemi hot on her heels. Viggo stirred- “What happened?”

“Hush, Viggo. We need to get out of here.” With one arm over her shoulder, Moa lifted her son to his feet.

“But we can’t leave Stian!!” protested Gersemi.

Moa looked to her daughter with the deepest of regret. “I’m sorry Gersemi. The life of a troll… is not an easy one.”

“But we’re a family! We can’t just leave him behind!” Her eyes were watery but had never been so filled with fire.

Moa tried to steady Viggo on her. “It’s because we’re family that Stian’s doing this-”

In the distance, Stian’s voice cried out in pain. Gersemi shook her head. “This is wrong!” Gersemi turned and tripped over a cylinder with ‘Gursemie’ written along the side. She picked it up, even this was large in her small hands. “What?”

Viggo wasn’t quite all together yet. He smiled and pointed at the cylinder. “That’s my rocket. It’s your Foundday present, Gersemi. I finally finished it.”

Gersemi studied the cylinder, fiddling with the fuse in her hand. “It’s one of those lights?”

Viggo nodded. A goofy smiled lingers on his lips.

Gersemi kissed Viggo’s hand and ran for Stian.

“GERSEMI GET BACK HERE!” shouted Moa.

Gersemi took a deep breath and kept running. Up ahead, she could see them fighting. Stian’s face was not his own, but one of warped stone. Helsa’s face strangely mirrored that. Stian bled from multiple wounds on his arms and on his chest. Helsa’s lip was bleeding and a stream of red poured down her left arm.

“Stop it!!” shouted Gersemi running to Stian’s side. But then Stian did something Gersemi didn’t think possible. The mighty troll threw his hand out to thrash her away, his eyes were white hot. Gersemi didn’t have time to blink.

She found herself in Helsa’s arms, a few feet from her uncle. “Stay away!” hissed Helsa before she leapt away and stabbed Stian again in her wrist. “Come and get me, you dumb animal!”

Gersemi’s body trembled and tears trickled down her face. “B-b-but…” Gersemi could hardly keep up with the fight, she could hardly believe it.

Moa caught up with Gersemi and gasped at the sight of the battle. With a heavy heart she pulled Gersemi to her. “We have to go now, Gersemi. There’s no way we can help Stian now.”

Gersemi turned to her mother. “Help him! Stian’s lost! He doesn’t know where he is!”

Moa nodded. “Your right, Gersemi. Stian’s lost in his own anger now. But I can’t help him. If I did I might get lost too.” Moa tilted Gersemi’s chin up to her. “And I have to make sure you and Viggo are safe. Stian wouldn’t want you and Viggo to go it alone. We have to go.” Moa’s eyes were red with tears.

Gersemi shook her head. “No! I’m not leaving him!”

There was a sudden, loud thud behind her and Gersemi’s heart stopped. Moa went to grab her daughter to lift her to her shoulder, but Gersemi was too fast and ran to her fallen uncle.

Stian’s eyes were wide open and his white hot eyes were fading. Blood pooled up around his legs and dripped from Helsa’s chin and blade. Helsa slowly lifted her blade above her head for the final blow.

Gersemi stood in front of her uncle, arms spread wide, cylinder in hand. “NO!”

Helsa paused. “Move, child.”

Gersemi stood her ground.

The hunter’s eyes narrowed. “Now.”

“Leave my family alone!”

“You are no troll, girl! Move before you make me angry!”

You should move before you get me angry!” Gersemi’s eyes narrowed. “You know what happens when a troll gets angry.”

Helsa laughed. “Stop being so stupid girl! Before I have to hurt you!”

Gersemi was breathing hard and her lip quivered. “I-I don’t want to hurt you…”

The hunter frowned. “I don’t take threats lightly, girl.”

Gersemi knelt down and placed her cylinder in front of her. With her other hand she reached in her back pocket for a stone and the small blade she took from the hunter.

“Move Gersemi! You’ve already caused me enough of a hassle with that fake trail of yours. Took me twice as long to find these trolls.”

Gersemi slowly pulled out the blade and rock.

“I was trying to spare you from seeing this, Gersemi! I didn’t want you to be involved with these monsters! You should be thanking me!”

“P-please leave, Helsa! I-I don’t want you to get hurt-”

“Silence!” Helsa threw her blade up. “Move now or I’ll make you.”

“Gersemi!” shouted Moa, running for her daughter.

Gersemi whipped out the blade and rock and scratched out a few sparks that lit the fuse. The fire caught and crawled up the line. This took a moment.

Helsa raised an eyebrow. “What is that…”

Gersemi pointed the cylinder at Helsa. She knew exactly what was about to happen and it tore her chest in two. She could barely form the words. “I’m sorry.”

***

            Even after a day of searching, the family couldn’t find all the remains of the hunter. Just her tusk necklace, which Gersemi buried under a tree.

Stian took up the rear of the group, leaning on a crutch for support. Gersemi walked along side him, her hands bandaged up.

“Do the burns hurt, today?”

Gersemi shook her head. “Not much.”

Stian nodded. “You can ride on my shoulder if you’d like, Gersemi.”

Gersemi smiled, “Thanks but I don’t want to keep you down.”

Stian paused and smiled at Gersemi. “You could never keep me down, Gersemi.”

“Gersemi!” shouted Viggo, coming to the back. “Look! Look! I can see it!” Without asking, Viggo placed his sister on his shoulder. “Can you see it!”

Not far in the distance, there was the facade of a perfectly round peek and a beautiful canopy of a single, massive tree watching over it. Gersemi’s face lit up.

“We’re almost there,” said Moa, turning to her family. “Aren’t you excited, Gersemi? We’re almost home.”

Gersemi’s family looked to their little treasure. Gersemi smiled as the sun shined on her face. “I was always home, with you.”

The End.

The Sound of Silence – Chapter XIII

tjiconI look around. There is a person within each of the smaller circles at each of the star’s points. Trusha just stares up at me sadly, she has given up trying to speak. In another , there’s a man, maybe in his sixties, who just sits in the circle cross-legged, his eyes staring directly in front of him, at me, but I can tell he sees nothing. There is a woman curled up with her head on her knees, rocking back and forth, in another circle. The other two were the unconscious man I noticed before and a little boy, no older than nine. He has on large headphones, nodding his head rhythmically. He holds the end of his headphones’ wire in his hand. They aren’t plugged into anything.

Daniela walks slowly over to the circle, stopping just shy of its edge. She reaches out her hand but it stops, as if touching a wall. She looks at me, a sadness and seriousness in her eyes. A look I’ve caught glimpses of, but it has always disappeared nearly instantaneously. There are other emotions there too, but the one that I catch, the one that has been running away from me, hiding behind her strength and determination, is doubt. Sitting on her face like it is now, still and heavy, it looks completely out of place.

“Emunah,” I say, meaning to say her name.

Her face changes. Doubt turns to surprise. Surprise into hope. Hope into faith. “Echad,” she says smiling.

“If you believe I can beat this, will I?”

She laughs a bit, “No.”

I laugh too, “Well, do you believe I can beat this?”

“I believe you can beat anything.” She takes a step back. I can feel the thing brush against reality again, but this time, it’s less of a brush and more of a slam. It’s swimming around me like a shark circling its prey. I take a deep breath and clasps my hand together. I look out at Daniela. She smiles at me and nods. With a nod, I unclasp my hands, put them to the sides of my head, and  close my eyes.

*             *             *

I think I open them, but I can’t tell. I can’t see anything. Or there’s nothing to see. There’s a noise far off in the distance that isn’t really a noise. I can’t hear it, not with my ears anyway, but it’s there all the same. It sounds like darkness, emptiness, like the universe whispering sweet nothings in my ear. I listen closer and the noises begin to feel like words.

Hello, brother.

“Silence,” I say. Maybe I say it aloud. I can’t be sure.

I knew you would come. None of the others ever listened to me. Most didn’t even hear me. But you, brother, if I called out enough, you would always answer.

“I know what,” I start, something in my head spilling out. I fleeting memory perhaps. It slipps from my mind. “What… you wanted me?”

Of course I did, I called to you. Isn’t that why you’re here?

The nothingness moves around me like a person pacing to and fro. “I… I’m here because you killed four children.”

Silence pouts. You only heard the four? What a pity. I sent you so many messages before, so, so very many.

“You killed them? Just to bring me here?”

Come now brother, am I responsible for human frailty? I meant no malice, but I needed to speak to you.

“Well… here I am.”

Silence smiles, Yes, here you are. With the help of some loyal servants, I’ve been able to gather all of my pieces. You would have been able to help me do that millennia ago, but let’s not fret the past. You’re here now. And you can help put me back together.

“I can do what…” Then it hits me. What Daniela told me. I’ve always had a knack for bringing things together. The pieces of Silence. They were calling out to me. For help. But I couldn’t hear, I had forgotten how. But others heard, sometimes. Others, like the children in the woods. Like Trusha. Those who heard, who listened and survived, the pieces clung to them. It took hold of them and used them so that Silence could put itself back together. But it couldn’t. Not alone. Not without me.

I’ve been broken too long, brother. Put me back together so that I can quiet all of this noise.

I look into the nothing, the abyss. I look Silence straight in the eye. “No.”

His eyes widen in surprise. No?

”This noise of yours, it’s called humanity. If you kill the noise, you kill them.”

Silence sighs, So be it. What purpose do they serve anyway? They show up here with all of their matter and lights and their sounds. Their feelings, their feelings are so loud, brother. And with all of the energy they possess in those souls of theirs, what do they do with it? They die! They scream so loud but not one listens to the other, so they scream even louder. They wage wars and destroy themselves and they never stop to listen. They distract themselves with noise, meaningless, worthless noise, just to avoid confronting the silence all around them, the silence in themselves. They can’t bear it, it’s too uncomfortable, so they scream and shout until they can’t anymore and they die!

He stands still around me, tired and angry and sad. He is nothing, an abyss, a void, a hole in the fabric of existence. Yet, in my eyes, I see him. And he looks so very human. “Brother,” I say, “how are we any different from them? How is our war any different from theirs? ”

It’s not, he says with a frightening sense of finality. That’s why I will end it. When I am whole, I will put an end to the noise. Their souls, their energy, It will all be mine, and then I will be able to make the others listen. I will tell them to stop fighting and they will have to listen to me.

And when he says this, I remember something much like it he said before. Whatever his reason, whatever his motive, he had wanted to use humanity just like the others. To them, humans were nothing more than batteries. He fought to so that he could stop the fighting. He wanted the right thing, just in the wrong way.

“I can’t let you do that,” I say, surprisingly solemn. “I must protect humanity.”

You still haven’t changed, brother. Still so foolishly devoted to these mortals. Why do you see the best in them?

“I don’t just see the best in them. I see everything else, too.”

Silence frowns. He starts to move again, swirling around me, faster and faster like a tornado. Don’t make me do this. I can force you, I can force you to put me back together!

“You can try.”

He closes in on me. Like tightening a fist. Knives of nothing stabbing into me. Oblivion’s teeth tearing into me. It felt like my brain was in a blender with razor blades and shards of glass. The more I tried to think of what to do, the more I came up empty. Like my thoughts were being hushed. Silenced.

I had surely been prepared when I had provoked him. Why else would I say something so brazen and bold. I don’t say things like that. I must’ve had a plan. But it was gone. Torn away. Cut to pieces. Pieces. Something about pieces. Then I felt them. Through the silent cyclone, I heard them calling out to me. Trusha and the others. Silence had took them over, imbedded its pieces into their minds but that didn’t shut them up. No, humans never shut up. They reached out to me with their minds, their beings. And I reached back. I was part of them, they were part of me, and silence lied broken within us. Apart, they were weak, vulnerable. But I lend them my energy and they lend me theirs and our thoughts scream so loud that silence can’t quiet us. I feel the pieces crack, and break, and shatter until the silence is in so many pieces it is like sand beneath our feet. And with a final surge, we push Silence out of our minds and scatter all the pieces, like dust in the wind.

*             *             *

I open my eyes. I look around at the people in the circles. They began to stir, some standing slowly, some scrambling out of the confines of their circles. I move to help and nearly fall to my knees. Daniela is somehow there in an instant and she catches me and lifts me back to my feet. She gives me a look. “Shattered,” I mutter, “crumbled. Ground into dust.”

“He’ll probably be back, eventually,” she says with a smile.

“Yeah,” I say, “and we’ll be here.” I feel something wrap around my stomach. Arms I think. I turn my head a bit, but the person is behind me and I can’t see. “Um, hey,” I say to the person hugging me.

She lets me go and takes a step back. “Thank you,” says Trusha. Her sound and tone are slightly off, but her voice is sweet.

“Uh, sure,” I mumble, “don’t mention it.”

“Yeah,” says Daniela, helping the formerly unconscious man to his feet, “it’s what he does.”

I look over at her, “It’s what we do.”