Homecoming – Part I

tjicon

“Sometimes, I wish I stayed,” he said whilst gazing up into the brightness blanketing the sky, smoke wafting lazily from his lips.

He always had that air about him, Aaron did: a quiet yearning for something and the melancholic resignation of never obtaining it. He was a party pooper, through and through.

Rion rolled his eyes and took a sip of his coffee. He considered letting his friend’s comment go, to ignore it and change the subject. His coffee was especially good today, he tell Aaron that. He started to, but instead ended up asking “Why would you wish a thing like that?”

Aaron let his head roll listlessly onto his shoulder, his eyes meeting the curious glare of his friend. Rion was always the type to leap at the slightest mention of anything going on somewhere he was not that had a chance of being fractionally more entertaining than what was going on where he was. There was no party like a Rion party because a Rion party did not stop.

“I don’t know,” said Aaron softly, “I just… I don’t know.” He turned his head back to the sky and took another pull on his cigarette.

Rion took another sip of his coffee. He held it tight in both hands. On a day like this, a hot cup of coffee was better than a dozen pairs of mittens. Both the sky and snow covered ground being too bright, and Aaron being too depressing, Rion looked straight ahead into bustling traffic and the carefully crafted buildings of stone and steel and glass that separated the earth from the heavens before him. “Well,” he said, “I don’t. Never did, not once.”

Aaron shifted his eyes to his friend, hoping to see something in his face that might have contradicted his words. “Not once?”

Rion snorted, a smile breaking over his face, “Nope. Not. Once.” He turned to see Aaron’s head still tilted back, his lips drooping at the corners. “Come on, Aaron, you so treasure our old hometown that you’ve forgotten where you are. What is there you could possibly miss? The endless monotony of watching over this one and answering the prayers of that one, the mind numbing drone of the praising and the worshiping, the unquestioning obedience to His every whim—you can’t honestly tell me you enjoyed that more than…” Rion spread his arms to the world around him, “than all of this? There’s always something new and different. In every country, every city, all over the planet, there is new food, new music, new art, new people. And then a century or two passes and it’s all new again. It’s like a party that never ends.”

Aaron sighed, lifting his head only to bring it back down in front of him and pinch the bridge of his nose. “I suppose you’re right, old friend.”

Rion’s hands stiffened around his cup of coffee. His head snapped around to Aaron, slack jawed and wide eyed. “I’m… right?”

Aaron sat up, his hands on his knees and his lips thin and straight , “I think you are. It’s probably just a mood I’m in. I haven’t been sleeping to well, you see—”

“The fact that you’re sleeping at all shows how little you know of Earth’s pleasures,” said Rion with a grin.

Aaron laughed while putting out his cigarette on the sole of his shoe. “I’d better leave those pleasures to the professionals like yourself, yes?”

“Yes, indeed.” Rion laughed before taking the last sip of his coffee. “Well, friend, it was lovely talking to you as always.” He stood up and tossed his cup a few feet into the nearest waste bin.

Aaron flicked his cigarette on the ground and stood up as well. “Yes, Rion, nice speaking with you too.”

Rion stepped forward and put his arms around his friend, “Until we meet again.”

Aaron returned the embrace. Rion pulled away, and with a smile and a quick wave, walked off into the park. After a few moments, Aaron sunk down back onto the bench, dropping his head into his hands.

Perhaps Rion was truly right. Maybe this world had everything that he could ever want or hope for and heaven paled in comparison. But that didn’t change the way Aaron felt. He wanted to go back home, back to Heaven. And unfortunately, there was only one way to do that.

He reached inside his coat, gripped the handle of a small dagger, and inconspicuously slipped it out of his jacket pocket and up his sleeve. With a deep breath, Aaron stood back to his feet and set off after his friend.

Respects, Part 1

raboicons

“Well, fuck me if it ain’t Sam Baxley.”

“Shut up, Belinda.”

“What, I ought not’ a be shocked, you comin’ round here like it ain’t no thing? After all them years bein’ gone?”

“It’s none of your business.” But that’s not enough. “Don’t I have a right? It’s my family too, you know.”

“Uh, huh.” I can hear the derision dripping in her voice and I remember it well, “You ain’t seem to think so for a long damn while. You just comin’ back to sniff round the corpse.”

The words are half formed in my mouth but I choke them back. There’s much truth to what she says, whether she knows it or not. I am hear to “sniff” around the corpse of my father, for whatever it’s worth. Though I doubt it’s for the reasons she’s constructed.

I’m just here to pay my respects, Linda.”

Uh, huh. Just you see what yer Ma thinks when you tell her that. Ain’t been round in ten goddamn years and here you showin’ up to go through his shit and take what ain’t yours.”

I’m not here to take anything!”

She pulls back and I can see she’s a little afraid. Suddenly I remember what my mother always said about her husband Chad. I remember the time’s when she would rush to her sister’s house late at night because he’d had too much to drink and was beating on her and I remember too, with a start, that he’s been dead two years of a worn out liver.

As mean spirited as she is I feel some remorse and I lower my voice before I go on. “I’m just here to pay my respects and see Mom. The only thing I ever wanted from Dad was respect and he couldn’t give me that so you all can keep the rest.”

Of course me toning down just gives her an excuse to stiffen her shoulders and spite me again, but I’m done with it now and I move past her through the screen door.

Damn straight. You prolly’ think you too good for it anyway.”

At first it feels like the house hasn’t changed a bit in the ten odd years I’ve been gone but as I look around the porch I can tell that it has. There’s even more detritus piled in front of the windows and though the inside door is the same it’s been repainted at least once, though long ago. Scratches from a dog mar the base of it and that old plastic door knocker we used to have is long gone. It’s also missing the handle, so I just push inward and step through to the living room.

The smell of cigarette smoke, dust, and dog is overwhelming but those are to be expected. There’s something lacking though and at first I think it’s the absence of my father in the house but after a few moments of letting my eyes adjust to the dim light I realize it’s the absence of the TV’s drone. It’s black and silent on the wall and that shows the lack of my father as much as anything. Glancing at the screen I can still see the little FOX News logo burned into the corner but I look away from that when I realize my mother is there.

She’s just staring at me and I can feel it as much as see it. If it wasn’t for the old wood paneling on the walls and the presence of memories I wouldn’t even know it was her, she looks so different. So different and so old. How can someone not yet sixty be so hunched, so wrinkled, so broken? My mother who was once mistaken for my sister now looks as old as God must look, her hair no longer dyed but again its natural gray and hanging limply without the frizziness it once had.

Mom?”

You look so different.” Her voice is a crackle and I realize she’s holding a cigarette which is burnt nearly to her fingers. “I wouldn’t a knowed it was you if I didn’t know it was you.”

She smiles and I try to return it but in the reflection of the blank TV I can see myself and it just pushes home how old she looks. Here I am in my mid thirties and looking as if I were ten years younger.

She’s sitting in her chair to the side of the dining room table, pushed up against the wall and she stands to hug me. Wrapping her arms around me I can smell the acrid smoke of her cheap cigarette wafting up from behind me. Smelling it, I remember when Dad had his first stroke and we agreed to quit smoking if he would. I remember how hard it was and how proud I was when me and Margaret pulled it off, only to see him fail miserably. Of course, that was long ago and Margaret is gone but for memories, just as so many things are gone.

Just as my father is now gone.

I love you.”

I love you too, mom.”

She squeezes me so hard that I can barely breathe but she lets go with a start and I realize the cigarette has finally burnt through. She drops it on the floor and steps on it with a squeak but then grabs it back up and puts it in the ash tray by my Dad’s chair. The one on the right, still as full of butts as the one on the left. There is a mason jar full of iced tea there too, the condensation on it glistening. The wood beneath it is swollen and warped with so much condensation from the years gone by.

Here.” She looks at me and she’s smiling strangely. “Don’t listen to ol’ Linda out there, she just come to snort ’cause she ain’t never liked your Daddy but listen, I got something to give ya.”

Mom. . .?”

Just sit down for a minute. Your brother’s supposed to be here soon and I want to make sure you get it and put it away ‘fore he gets here.”

Walking away from me, she has another cigarette lit before she covers the six or so feet to their bedroom door, to my old bedroom’s door, and she disappears inside, the window AC unit kicking on as she does. It’s barely moments before I hear her rustling and a crash before she appears again and there’s a shoebox in her hands. It’s old.

As old as her.

 

Full Moon Rising, Part 1

kellyiconNights like these were always dull. The moon was full, allowing Skylar to have a full view of the large, empty meadow below her, but otherwise there was no other sound than the whistle of the wind through the leaves of the tree she was sitting in. She lowered her sniper rifle for a moment to stretch her neck. These kinds of jobs always meant camping up in a tree or on a cliff somewhere until her arms felt like lead.

“Anything on your end?” she asked.

The communicator in her ear buzzed to life. “Not a damn thing,” Adrian said. He was in position in a tree a couple dozen yards to her right, keeping eye on his half of the field. Adrian was her support guy. He provided recon and the occassional backup in fights, but his main job was to clean up the messes when everything was said and done. “You think they got the right coordinates this time?”

“God, I hope so. Next time they get it wrong, I think it’s the intelligence guys who should spend three nights a month in a tree looking for monsters.”

Adrian snickered. “Yeah, but imagine all the trouble it’d be to bust out and save them when they have a werewolf or a wendigo snapping at their heels. Or even worse – imagine the paperwork if one of them got hurt?”

“Well, when you put it that way, Mr. Buzzkill.” Skylar resumed her position and looked out the scope of her rifle. Still nothing but the odd owl skimming its talons through the grass, hunting for mice. She wished it more luck than she was having. The werewolf they were hunting had killed three people so far. It was too late for them to try and intercede to save it. The order had been given to kill on sight before it could hurt or turn anyone else. It was grim work, but it had to be done.

“You could always…Wait, Sky, I think I’ve got something.”

“What?”

“Movement on my 9 o’clock.”

“Don’t engage.”

“No, really, you think?”

“Sarcasm really doesn’t become you, A.” Skylar swept the area looking for any tell that would give away the monster’s location. Werewolves were always a crapshoot; young ones tended to be smaller and less powerful, but the older ones and the killers were the kind of beasts from legend that sent children hiding under the covers at night. And young or old, any wound from a werewolf had the potential to spread its curse. She wasn’t too worried, though. Her rifle was loaded with darts, and instead of tranquilizers, the darts were filled with a solution mixed with molten silver. A single shot to center mass was a kill shot for anything allergic to silver.

“You have him yet?”

“Just about.” She had spotted something large and moving. The beast was too big to be a normal wolf. It was keeping low and moving carefully.

“I’ve got ‘im.” She pulled the trigger, and a shot like a crack of thunder rang out. Her aim was true, hitting the beast in the neck; it let out a high pitched whine, then fell to the ground.

“Nice shot, Sky. I’ll start the bagging and tagging.”

Skylar lowered her rifle and let out the breath she’d been holding. She never liked having to put down werewolves. They were people, after all, with families and normal lives. Usually it ended up being some poor sap who simply couldn’t control what was happening to him or her. A lot of professional hunters simply couldn’t take down werewolves. Skylar never had problems sleeping at night, though. Now there would be no more torn up bodies hitting this county’s local morgue.

“You managed to nail a big one tonight, Sky. I think I’ve seen mountain lions smaller than this guy.”

“Must be an old one, then,” Skylar said as she made her way down her tree. She landed feet first into the dirt. She found Adrian about a hundred feet away, hunched over a corpse nearly twice as big as he was. A small kit of scalpels and other surgical instruments lay open at his side.

“I actually think I’m gonna call this one in before I do anything else,” he said, standing. “If it’s as old as I think it is, it’s a valuable specimen. I don’t want to risk any damage to the tissue.”

“You and your nerd buddies have fun sticking your hands into werewolf guts,” Skylar said. “I’m going home and taking a nap.”

“You say that, but I really think if you took just a little interest in the science –“

It all happened so fast. The werewolf’s claws shot out, nearly catching Adrian on his shoulder. Adrian tumbled forward and hit the ground hard. The beast rose to its feet, snarling and snapping at Skyler, but before it could take even one step forward, she had whipped the pistol from the holster at her hip and shot three silver bullets into its chest, sending the beast crashing back to the ground with a howl of pain. Then she walked up to it, placed her foot on its neck, and shot it right between the eyes.

“A, you okay?” she asked, glancing back to where Adrian was picking himself up.

“Skylar,” he said. It wasn’t an answer to her question, and worse, Adrian’s voice was strained and weak. She knew what was wrong even before she turned to face him. Adrian was looking at his blood-covered hand in shock, and blood seeped from three, parallel gashes at his shoulder.

Claw marks.

 

The House of 1000 Doors, Part 1

bernicons            Last night I dreamed she loved me. I dreamt of her rise to power, just as it had happened, the way that I had remembered it. Many people have their own stories of the rise of Evangeline but none quite as close as my own… none but I really remembered her as Eva.

I saw myself sitting on her bed in her bedroom, our score on High Speed Racer IV in deadlock. And that was when I told her I loved her. She paused the game and took it in, but she told me what I had already known; she didn’t love me back and she probably never could. But she hugged me as I held back tears, she wouldn’t tell anyone and that we could still be friends. And I was surprised when she kept her word; she met me on the corner before heading to school. She didn’t act as if nothing had happen but she didn’t treat me differently. She was just as cheerful and affectionate of a friend as she had ever been and though it hurt inside to know that she couldn’t return my feelings, she didn’t shut me out because I was different. I could still stand by her side, call her a friend. And I was grateful.

And I was grateful when she defended me, although I was terrified, as was everyone else, to witness to her power that day. I don’t know how they had figured out that I was gay, honestly I don’t know how they figured out how to tie their own shoelaces, but they saw fit to beat me into the dirt until Eva came along. There was a passion behind her eyes that I had never seen before, although at the time I thought it was just my blood leaking into my eyes, making the world red. It was not. We never figured out where her powers came from or how they were activated that day but we figured it came from her instinct to protect me. And while everyone else ran in fear, I stayed. Eva fell to her knees, weeping, frightened of herself and what she had done. But I crawled to her, shaking out of pain and fear, and I held her. I didn’t shut her out because she was different. I couldn’t.

Being raised a good Catholic, Eva tried desperately to understand were God was in all of this. Why had He given her this power? What was it that He wanted her to do with it? But as the years passed, she came to find the answer was clear: She was the only god present. Eva’s parents were found dead, heretics believed they had brought forth a demon into this world. They thought they would draw Eva out and kill her as well. This happened many times. People were killed in order to draw Eva out and destroy her, but you cannot destroy a god. But Eva was a good person. She would joke that those years of Sunday School did not go to waste and she was merciful, even when I did not believe they deserved mercy. She had worshipers too, soon even political figures from across the globe prayed to the Evangeline. She said she could hear them. Every word. When the faithful came on pilgrimage she knew their name upon seeing them and what ached in their hearts. And they would weep, and she would hold them. Still people resisted, knowing not of her grace.

And in my dream, Eva looked upon me as I wept. She came and held me and told me she loved me too. She kissed me gently, and with my whole being I loved her and she me. I was hers and she, mine.

But when I woke, I knew this not to be true. Only dreams. Eva would look upon me and I was embarrassed for I knew that she knew what I longed for and it was a heavy burden to know she could not be mine. So she distanced myself from her. I was the Evangeline’s First and undeniably her closest friend, but she kept us apart in her palace; The House of 1000 Doors. Every door would eventually lead to her, but only when she willed it. I found myself wandering for days, growing frustrated when she would lead me to my bedroom or the dining hall because she wanted me to care for myself. I believe she knew of my shame; not that I loved her but the shame that was brought on by wishing it was not so. I wished that I would one day look upon Eva and not long for her. Find a partner in someone else and be married to my bride with her blessing.

“Lady Alma?”

“Yes?” I breathed, barely above a whisper.

One of the faithful had found me. “The Evangeline requests your counsel, m’Lady.”

I nodded and dressed myself. The faithful that lived in the House of 1000 Doors wore flowing robes; white marked with red, but I, as her First, wore red marked with white to mimic Eva’s radiance. I opened the door and there she was, standing on the balcony overlooking the frozen tundra. It was quiet, and in the distance I could see caribou grazing in on the flora dusted in the cold.

She turned to me, smiling, her wide oval face framed by her ebony curls and waves of glowing red energy. “Hello, Ally.”

I smiled. “Do you ever think we will get the faithful to call me that? ‘Ally’?”

“I suppose not. People tend to cling to formalities.” We hugged. “Are you feeling better?”

A formality. She knew how I felt and it wasn’t better. So I smirked. “Heh. My undying love remains.” I sometimes wondered if perhaps Eva simply couldn’t love anyone the way I loved her. She never told me of any of her crushes even before her ascension. There were people like that, people who loved but were never pulled to love someone as I longed to. “You needed me for something?”

“Honestly, I really just want to finally beat you at HSR four.” She glowed a soft pink. And I laughed, quite unlike I had laughed in months, ever since she put some distance between us. “I’m not joking!” She persisted. “I’ve been practicing!”

I wiped a tear from my eye. “When would you have time to practice?!”

“Since I found that I could do this.” These words came from a second Eva that stepped in threw the door.

I felt my jaw drop. “Wha- How?” I think I managed to mutter.

The other Eva didn’t look at me. Eva held back tears. “I don’t know.”

“It just happened…”The two red auras merged with each other, bring wave upon wave of crimson.

“I thought I wanted to play but I had no time and then-”

“And then I saw her.”

“But I knew she was me. We thought the same thoughts-”

“And soon…” The crimson pulled Evas together until there was just one before me. The one fell to her knees weeping. “I figured out how to make me whole but I also figured out how to split myself up into more selves… Ally…” She looked up at me. “I don’t understand. I should understand but I don’t. How can I be so many but still be one? What’s happening to me?” The crimson was so dark, it was almost black. I had never seen such a color come forth from Eva before.

And I held her, cradling her head in my arms, tucking my own behind hers. “We’ve been through this before. We’ll get through it again.” We had been through things like this before, many a time. It frightened her endlessly to know another’s thoughts without trying. But my eyes were wide with fright and I knew she knew I was not certain. Still I held her and told her, “I believe we can get through this, together.”

Brief hiatus!

Hello everyone!

Firstly, what? We have 80 followers?? You all humble us with your intrigue!! Thank you for taking the time to read our shorts! You don’t know how happy we are to have you!

Down to business! Starting April 14th Short Story Salad will be going on a brief hiatus and will resume posting our short stories on April 28th … with a vengeance!

What we will be avenging, I don’t rightly know…

Thanks for checking in and we will see you soon! Take care!

image

Freakin’ Unicorns – Part III

tjicon“Um,” Bobbi glances up for a second before turning her head away. She quickly wipes at her face and ruffles her hair. The dark smudges under her eyes aren’t that noticeable, could just be her look far as anyone else could tell. Her eyes are a bit red though. And she stands anxiously, fidgeting a bit, like she might take off at any second.

“Yeah,” says Bobbi, “English and Music Appreciation, right?”

“Yeah, right.” The guy scratches his head. He’s looking at Bobbi curiously. Regina wonders if he notices something off too. At her best, Bobbi was staunchly confident, at her worst, perhaps coarse and indifferent. Whatever this was, it isn’t Bobbi. Not the Bobbi that Regina knows, anyway.

The silence hangs for a moment too long and crosses over into the threshold of awkwardness. The boy’s eyes shift over to Regina as if he just noticed her presence.

“Hi,” she says slowly, finding a smile, “my name’s Regina.”

“Oh, hey, sorry,” he says, sticking his hand out,” I’m Louis.” Regina shakes his hand. It’s sweaty and slightly trembling. “I’ve seen you around but never really met you… uh, officially, I guess.”

“You’re not in any of my classes, are you?”

“No, no. I’ve seen you at the games.”

Regina raises a brow, “Really. You don’t seem the sports type. Unless you’re one of the guys that just comes for the cheerleaders.”

This gets her a look from Bobbi. Something along the lines of, Did you really just say that?

Regina defiantly gives her a look back, Did I say something wrong?

The boy’s cheeks flush red, “No, I’m in the marching band. I play the trumpet. So, I’ve just seen you cheer is all.”

Regina nods. He was a band geek, of course. No wonder Regina had never seen him before. Band geeks are practically invisible.

Bobbi takes Regina’s hand and tugs on it, “Well, um, Regina and I were just leaving, so –”

“Nice shirt,” says Regina, her eyes glancing down at the unicorn emblazoned on Louis’s chest.

Both Bobbi and Louis give her a curious glare, wandering if she was being sincere or sarcastic. The latter would be more in character.

“That’s Twilight, right? My little brother loves MLP, his favorite is Pinkie Pie.” She squeezes Bobbi’s hand lightly, “We were just talking about unicorns, weren’t we Bobbi? And how rare they are.” Regina not so subtly motions her head towards Louis. It takes a moment for Bobbi to realize what the hell her friend is talking about and when she does, a wave of anger and annoyance washes over her.

“We’re leaving,” whispers Bobbi through gritted teeth, already pulling Regina away. “See you at school, Louis.”

“Um, yeah, see you,” says Louis dejectedly.

“Nice to meet you, Louis,” Regina shouts back, “don’t ever change.”

Once they make it outside, Bobbi tosses Regina’s hand away. “What the hell was that back there?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Don’t play stupid, Regina, you’re too good at it.”

“What the fuck?” asks Regina, her voice raising in pitch as her concern and confusion starts to turn into annoyance. “That guy was totally into you.”

“So?”

“So you totally gave him the cold shoulder.”

“What’s your point?”

“He was nice. He helped you up like a gentleman. And his shirt. Guys with values and shit. He’s one of ’em, he’s a freakin’ unicorn. And he’s into you.”

Regina took a few more steps before realizing Bobbi stopped in place. Her palms open and raised in the air, her face scrunched up and staring at Regina. Her head shook slightly, “A guy’s into me. That’s what you think I need? That’s supposed to cheer me up?”

Regina throws her hands up now, “I don’t know, Bobbi! You won’t tell me what’s wrong, how the fuck should I know what’s supposed to cheer you up?”

“You want to know what’s wrong, Regina? Everything you talk about goes back to boys. Will boys think I look good in these pants? Will being a cheerleader make boys wanna go out with me? Will boys still like me if cut my hair short? And it’s not just you. It’s everything. TV shows and movies and music and your freakin’ girly magazines. Everything, everywhere, all the time keeps telling me that my existence is only validated by how much guys want to fuck me and I’m fucking sick of it. I want it to stop.” Bobbi’s shoulders slumped down. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Make it stop. That would cheer me up.”

Bobbi opens her eyes a few seconds later to see Regina rubbing her own. Bobbi starts to speak, maybe to apologize for her outburst just now and her awkwardness with Louis and her earlier outburst in the dressing room, but then Regina looks back up at her, and she knows she doesn’t need to apologize for anything.

Regina reaches in her purse and rummages around, eventually pulling out a tube of lipstick. She opens it then smears it all across her face. Bobbi can’t hold back a laugh; Regina looks like the Joker. Regina walks over to Bobbi and smears the lipstick across her face as well. Bobbi’s certain some of it gets on her teeth because she’s still laughing. Regina puts the lipstick back in her purse and then hugs her friend. Bobbi reaches behind Regina and messes up the girl’s hair.

They drive back home without the radio on and take back roads to avoid the billboards that line the highway.

 

Names, Part 3

raboicons

The hand on the hatch’s handle is not a hand, though I feel it at the end of my arm. There is fur there, and it is matted and greasy, hanging limply over the claws which shine in the harsh light of the LEDs. The shape, so much like a hand, is still mine and as I flex the claws I feel blood rushing from my heart and a pulsing in my mind. A hunger.

“Sophie? What are you doing in there? Just calm down, okay.”

I move my lips to speak, to calm her so that she will be easy prey, but there is only a grunt which come out in spurts. Like the laughing of a wolf ill accustomed to the way’s of speech, it can’t help but have the opposite effect.

“Sophie. . . are you sick in there?” She’s breathing heavily and I sense it for the first time. I can smell her fear, even though the sealed hatch. I can smell her more than I ever could before and suddenly I remember those scents in the bunk, of fear and of frustration. “Those noises. . .”

She’s whimpering a little now, though she doesn’t realize it, and something makes me look in the mirror on the wall above the toilet. There’s the creature again with it’s blood red eyes, looking out at me and smiling. Grinning from pointed ear to pointed ear, it’s fangs hanging and dripping. It mouth’s a word at me and though its lips were not designed for such, I know what it’s saying. It says, “Go.”

And I do.

* * *

The warmth from the rocks soothes me and I look away from the stars. They judge me for what happened amongst them, but the earth knows what is right and what is wrong. The earth accepts her children and understands their hungers and their needs. She created us so long ago and she always calls us back to her, no matter how far we may stray.

But the stars, they will not stop staring down at me. They know I took their child, but it was not my fault. Not my fault that the earth sent one of its own to them.

The courts called it self defense, though they didn’t attempt to explain the claw marks and the deep red blood sprayed against the ship’s windows. They didn’t wonder why the girl might have attacked me and why I would need to trap her in the air lock. They did wonder at the flayed skin of my arms and postulated how she might’ve done it. I didn’t tell them of course.

When I made it back, after bringing the ship in those last few weeks, they found her there still in the airlock and they said she must’ve had some weapon she’d hidden aboard. Some weapon which had been sucked out into space, for nothing on board could have left marks like that. Her body was still lying there covered in my blood when they found her, though by then the hunger was creeping up on me as well.

It didn’t hurt that the courts were in Russia and the girl an American. Of course I was suspended without leave, but I’d stopped caring at that point. It let me go home, to the forests.

The moss under my skin is so intricate; to think I even could’ve been trapped aboard a ship up there with nothing but the judging stars. The weave of the lichen is like the circuits I treasured there and the wirey strands of moss like the insides of a computer. How much better here though, the circuitry which heals itself.

The reflection in the water of the stream beneath my perch is clear and in the moonlight I can see myself. The fangs, dripping and glistening in the dim light of the uncaring moon, the fur matted and white on my shoulders. The creature stares back at me and I am it. No wonder the other one felt she was going mad on that ship. This creature need’s her mother earth to live. If only I had known then I might not have killed her before she passed on her gift.

But tonight I understand and my prey is before me, walking back to her house under the cover of the moss coated oaks. She cannot see me but I can smell her, can smell the hint of freshness which always comes with the young. Can smell that she is unaware and will be an easy kill.

I do wonder what her name is though. She reminds me a little of Sophie.

Of Blood and Patriots, Part 3

kellyiconAirmen Dabney showed Macy and Barrett out of the air base, and the way he slammed the door suggested he couldn’t be happier to see the back of them.

“Well, that was odd.” Barrett ruffled his hair with his hand. He was always doing something like that – waving his hands if he was upset, picking things up and twirling them around his fingers when he was anxious, or running his hands back and forth through his hair when he was frustrated. Macy always wondered why he couldn’t just keep still. “All these missing officers. What could this mean?”

Macy let her smile fade, but she pretended to be as puzzled as Barrett. She learned long ago that surviving as a traitor’s child living in the Empire meant hiding one’s true feelings under a mask and saying whatever the Imperials expected or wanted to hear. And Barrett, no matter how sweet he could be, was an Imperial. Any expression of sympathy for rebels meant a one-way trip back to the camps.

“Well, there’s clearly something going on,” she agreed. She flipped through the papers in her hand until she found the original inquiry report. She scanned the document quickly, looking for any clue as to why a sergeant in the Imperial Fleet would have the symbol of the Barjoshi resistance on one of her papers, but there was nothing. Just a request for an investigation into the recent death of a pilot.

“No kidding. A dead pilot, and now two missing officers? The higher-ups aren’t going to like this one bit. C’mon, Macy, let’s get back and get it over with. And maybe drinks afterward?” Barrett’s face was so lit with hope, Macy almost felt bad about turning him down.

“You’re a hard nut to crack, Mace,” Barrett sighed. “One of these days, I’ll figure out what’s going on in that head of yours.”

“Maybe,” she said. They began walking toward their car, Barrett all the while talking about how the higher-ups would respond to the results of their investigation. Macy nodded and spoke when appropriate, but her mind was on the crumpled piece of paper in her pocket. She would get to the bottom of this, no matter what.

* * *

Three weeks of digging through records had given Macy a clearer sense of who these people were, but no closer to figuring out what had happened to them. The dead pilot was one Anna Tannerman, a girl from one of those poor little islands at the border between the empire proper and its conquer territories. She – and her brother, no doubt –  probably joined the fleet to escape. Macy didn’t blame them. Lynne Lyson was a city girl from the capitol who seemed to be at the start of a promising career in the military. And as Macy suspected, Jasmeet Singh was a transplant from Barjoshi. Taken from her family and her home as a teen, Singh had been through one of the empire’s re-education schools for young people from conquered territories. Singh was one of the empire’s success stories: an excellent and thoroughly assimilated student, she also excelled at her duties as an officer. As a non-imperial, though, sergeant was about as far as she was ever likely to rise in the ranks.

Macy leaned back in her chair, tapping her pencil against her desk as she tried to fit the pieces together. Lyson requested an inquiry into the death of Tannerman while under Singh’s command, and then both Lyson and Singh disappeared. And now there were reports that Tannerman had been seen on her home island right before a shooting incident that no one had apparently witnessed.

Macy rubbed her temples with the palms of her hands. There were too many moving parts, too many possible loyalties, and too many holes in the story for her to piece it all together. And if she did, then what? Run off to join the rebellion? Fight the imperials in another hopeless and bloody war? Her mother had tried that. Her mother was also probably dead in a ditch somewhere.

“Macy!” Macy sat up to see Barrett trotting out of his office toward her.

“Yes, sir?”

“I, uh, wanted to say I was sorry.” He was avoiding her eyes, looking at his shoes instead.

“What for?”

“If I’ve bothered you, or made you uncomfortable, or, uh, you know.” He picked up her pencil and began fiddling with it, still not looking at her. “When I was asking you out,” he clarified after Macy waited for him to explain.

“Oh. Don’t worry about it. You’re quite the gentleman.”

“Really?” You think so?” He finally looked up. He was blushing and trying not smile at the same time.

“Definitely. I’m sorry, it’s just…” It was Macy’s turn to look away. She didn’t have the time or the words to explain all the reasons it wouldn’t work.

“Ah. I see,” Barrett said in a way that said he didn’t see at all. “Well, I just wanted to tell you before I shipped off.”

“Where to?”

“A little island out in the boondocks. It’s where this Tannerman kid was last seen.”

Macy shot up so fast Barrett took a step back.

“You’re still working the Tannerman case?”

“Yeah,” he said. “They just want me to ask some questions, see if there’s anything to Tannerman still being alive.”

“Is anyone going with you?” Macy knew she was tipping her hand, knew she shouldn’t make it obvious how much she wanted to be a part of the case. She still had no idea what she’d do if she found Singh or Tannerman and had all her questions answered, but she knew that just sitting here and letting it go wasn’t an option.

“Well, not yet,” Barrett said. “I hadn’t – why, do you want to go?”

“Yes,” Macy said. She smoothed out her skirt and smiled. “It’s a mystery, you know? I just…I don’t want to pass up a chance to get to the bottom of it.” It was amazing how good she had become at lying through her teeth. “Unless you think it’d be weird?”

“No! Not at all!” Barrett was smiling again. “I’ll go get the paperwork in order. We leave tomorrow at eight.”

“Right,” Macy said as he walked away with a distinct spring in his step.

Well, Mace, you got what you wanted. Let’s just hope you don’t regret what you find out.

Susurrus, Part 3

bernicons           “Hurry, my boy!” shouted D’Artagnan, his fear replaced by urgency.

Tiamat tore his eyes away from the shrieking dagger man and yanked his blade down, tearing into the black bark of the tree. The wooden flesh ripped open like the flesh of a wild animal and a foul odor wafted up from the hole. Tiamat covered his nose with the bend of his arm.

The man-like creature with teeth as sharp as daggers wobbled to his feet, like a baby figuring out its legs for the first time. Tiamat forsook his olfactory senses and dove his arm into the wound of the tree. The opening was not large enough for anything more than his arm, and he grasped blindly at the darkness within.

The dagger man took a step forward.

Tap! Tap! Tap! Tap!

D’Artagnan dashed in front of the dagger man, tripping him in his stride. “Is it there?!”

“I don’t even know what I’m looking for!” shouted Tiamat. The woman had given him no instruction on what it was he was coming to retrieve. Just to open the tree with this particular blade and to take what was inside back to her.

Tiamat’s fingers brushed against the cool, curved surface of something metal and a rush of static filled his being. He took hold and out of the tree he pulled a small, brass oil lamp. Tiamat’s eyes narrowed; for the briefest of moments he saw that etched onto the brass surface lay an intricate design of symbols interlocking with each other before disappearing in the glare of daylight.

The lamp all but slipped through Tiamat’s fingers as he rushed his hands to his ears. The tiny red eyes on the dagger man’s face flared up with a smokeless fire as a piercing cry erupted from his gapping mouth. He stepped over D’Artagnan and with the grace of a performer charged for lamp in Tiamat’s hands.

“That’s quite enough, I’d say!” The warm glow of a fire appeared at the base of D’Artagnan’s rib cage. The skeleton leapt to his feet and roared. The flames flowed from his belly to his mouth and blasted out, grasping hold of the dagger man’s legs. The dagger man’s cry shifted from anger to pain as he fell to his knees.  Tiamat’s mouth hung open. “There’s no time to be impressed! Run, my boy! RUN!”

Tiamat nodded, sheathed his blade and dashed for the door, as fast as his limp leg could carry him.

The dagger man shook and contorted within the flames and rolled to put them out. His tiny red eye caught a glimpse of Tiamat shuffling his way to the doorway, all pain fell from his body and he threw out his arms. The floors of the masjid trembled and the walls shuddered. Tiamat fell to his knees and cursed when his bad leg struck the ground. He could hear D’Artagnan urging him forward and so he crawled.

The dagger man, engulfed in flames staggered forward, inching his way toward Tiamat. With each of his steps, the room collapsed. The windows fell onto themselves. The beautiful painted designs of the archways crumbled into dust. The pillars shook and gave way to the weight of the ceiling. Still the dagger man pursued.

Tiamat was an arms’ length from the threshold of the entryway but the dagger man was an arm’s length if not closer to Tiamat. He grasped the cornerstone of the wall and threw all his weight into rolling out of the masjid and crashing down the stone staircase onto the ground of the meadow.

Tap! Tap! Ta-!

Tiamat’s eyes were screwed tightly shut, his arms cradling his head and in his hands, he held the lamp. He could only hear the cry of the dagger man shout louder than ever before being muffled in the debris.

His eyes still shut, his being shaken to its core, Tiamat only heard the pounding of his own heart. Then the rhythm of his breathe flooding in and out of his lungs. But the murmuring prayers of the dagger man were no more.

The lamp was snatched from his hands and Tiamat scrambled to his side. A young woman with deep auburn eyes set into a narrow face with long black hair stood over him, with the lamp in her hands. She almost grinned. “Ah. Thank you, Tiamat. That will be all.” She turned to leave.

“W-wait!” She did. Tiamat struggled to his feet. He looked around. D’Artagnan was no were to be seen.

“I haven’t forgotten your payment,” the auburn eyed woman walked up to Tiamat and caressed her hand along the inside of his leg, “If that’s what you’re concerned about.”

Tiamat pulled away. “Wait-”

“Have you changed your mind? Do you not want to be paid for your services?”

“No…” Tiamat listened closely. The field was silent; no wind or birds chirping. Certainly no tapping of bone to stone.

“No as in yes?” she asked.

“I… I want D’Artagnan.”

“D’Artagnan? Is that what you call him?”

“That skeleton of a cat that has been following me. Bring him back.”

The auburn eyed woman’s eyes went wide and soon her mouth followed suit, laughing a deep, sharp laugh.

“What’s so funny?!” demanded Tiamat. “You can do that can’t you?! You brought him back once!”

“That was not her doing, my boy.”

Tiamat whirled around. Never in his life had he been so glad to see an animal skeleton sitting there before him. Tiamat lowered himself to one knee. “But.. how did you escape? You were still inside.”

D’Artagnan sighed. “It’s hard to explain…”

Still the auburn eyed woman laughed. “It seems like D’Artagnan hasn’t been telling you the whole truth.”

D’Artagnan glared and stepped forward. “You are hardly one to talk, Jiniri.”

She gasped and stepped away. As she stepped, her human form melted away and in her stead stood a tall, charred, hollow corpse with a smokeless flame resting in her belly. Jiniri frowned. “Fine, I care not.” In her wiry claws she crashed the little brass lamp. The metal seemed to cry out in agony for a moment before burning away into dust. “We’re done here.”

“Stop, Jiniri,” called D’Artagnan, “What of Tiamat?”

Tiamat shied away as one of Jiniri’s long, pointed fingers traced along the inner side of his leg. With every inch, Tiamat felt a surge of relief radiating out. Jiniri stepped back. “Go on then. Stand.”

Tiamat braced himself for the pain he had grown accustomed to as he made his way to his feet, but there was none. He stretched out and bent his limb, and it was as easy as he had remembered. “I can’t believe it…” he breathed.

“Yes well, well done,” she turned from them.

“Jiniri, Tiamat retrieved your former prison and destroyed your guardian when you could not even enter such a place. You owe him a little more than his leg!” demanded the skeleton cat.

“Too bad he never asked for it.” The hollowed corpse winked and vanished from the meadow, leaving behind a boy, his skeleton cat and a destroyed house of worship.

Freakin’ Unicorns, Part 2

raboicons

 

Regina jerks back into the dressing room and slams the door behind her, scrambling at the tops and shorts in a heap around the room and struggling to remember which one she wore this morning and is actually hers. Finally she finds a shirt with a low cut vee neck to show off the tits she doesn’t have and throws it on with her cheeks still red hot from walking out without a shirt on.

Bursting out of the stall then, she looks around for Bobbi and notices that every other girl in the place looks away and giggles. There she is, just making it out the door and back into the mall.

Bobbi, wait!”

But she’s out the door and Regina is running between the clothing racks and dodging them like the football players she likes so much dodge the other team. When she runs back onto the court she can see Bobbi’s back making its way into the nearest bathrooms, her hair spraying out over the black T-Shirt she’s wearing.

Jeez, it’s like I said something terrible. . .”

The door to the bathroom opens with a click and Bobbi is leaning against the sink, looking down. Regina can’t see her face because of all the hair in the way but she can hear a gentle sobbing from her friend. She locks the door behind her but doesn’t quite know what to do. Bobbi is always so aloof and sure of herself, even in her oddness and beauty that she doesn’t know what to do or say now, seeing her upset.

Bobbi? Are you okay?”

No!”

Bobbi looks up and for the first time Regina notices that the other girl does wear a little make up after all, or at least some eye-shadow. She knows because it’s running in light streaks from her eyes.

What . . . What happened?”

Just go away, okay. I’m fine, I just got upset.” She’s looking down at the sink again and Regina has the feeling like she should go and put her arms around her friend but she’s not sure. She’s a little afraid.

About what?”

Nothing, okay. Nothing.”

Was it about Andre Gordon?”

Just shut up, okay? I told you, you shouldn’t go after guys like him.”

Regina does finally walk over to Bobbi and puts her hands on her shoulders, holding her gently and noticing that her shoulders are shaking ever so slightly. Her shoulders are so small now that she’s touching them and Bobbi seems so much smaller now than the presence she usually has.

Choosing her words carefully, one at a time, Regina speaks to her. “Bobbi, is that why you don’t want to look good? Did something happen with Andre?”

The tears have stopped now and Bobbi looks up to Regina, her eyes a steely blue now, fixed in a look that makes Regina a little nervous again.

Yeah, okay? Maybe. I don’t know, I just don’t want to talk about it.” She pulls away then, and toward the door, putting her hand on the handle with enough force to make a slapping sound before she turns back to Regina. “Can we just not bring up Andre Gordon ever again?”

Okay.”

Bobbi steps through the door then and closes it behind her and before Regina can even fathom it she’s following her down the corridor that leads back to the mall’s courts, only a few feet behind her and staring at her squared shoulders with a look of shock. Until she’s not.

Walking back onto the mall court, Bobbi’s bumped into someone and she’s on the ground, scowling. Regina reaches down to help her up, still scared of speaking, but someone else has beaten her to it. He’s kind of cute too and as he helps a begrudging Bobbi to her feet she can see he has blue eyes too. Bobbi always gets the cute ones. . .

I’m so sorry, I wasn’t paying attention.”

It’s okay, I was moving too fast. I’m sorry.”

Aren’t you Bobbi Edwards? I think I’m in some of your classes.”

Cute but kind of nerdy. He must be at least, since he’s wearing a black My Little Pony shirt with a unicorn on it.