Saturday Fiction: A Little [Surreal] Mystery

I asked myself, ‘why don’t I ever write anything surreal?’ Besides being an odd question to ask yourself, it was also a bad time to ask myself. I have a lot of stuff I should be writing, so trying another project right now was a terrible idea. Still, I started a story, and here it is. Hold on to your butts.

A Little Mystery

There was a knock at the door. Arty didn’t answer. He was looking at the painting on the wall of the hospital room. It took up a sizeable piece of the far wall. Men being mauled by lions, the browns in their faces distorted and lengthened as the beasts bit down on them. It was obviously a fake, who put a real painting in a hospital room?

The door cracked, and someone popped their head in. He couldn’t tell who, not until he heard the heavy footsteps on linoleum. They had a snap to them, each bootfall had emotional weight with them. It was Clark. Arty could see him now, pulling up a chair by the hospital bed. Carl was all shoulders, hunched forward, his eyes twisted up in sadness.

Arty did this to him. He was different before. Taller, wider, brighter. Before Arty had to sit in hospital rooms, staring at paintings.

“Hey, partner,” Clark said, leaning against the bed.

“Hey, buddy,” Arty replied. He didn’t bother looking at Clark.

Clark let his words hang in the air. He sniffled, and Arty could hear him squeezing his hat in his grip. It was painful, watching Clark sink into himself, become more tears and sobs than man. Back on the force, he was larger than life. He was always the man-of-action, could push Arty into doing anything.

Now he had a leak he couldn’t plug. He was pouring over Arty’s sheets, occasional blinks stymying the flow. The old man had been stuck in the face, and he was letting it all out.

“We have a real one right now,” Clark said, “We could really use your help out there.”

Arty turned, his eyes focusing in on Clark.

“It is your kind of case. Me, I don’t know what to do with it. You know how it is, if I can’t shake someone down, I’m lost.”

Clark laughed, but it didn’t stop the tears. This was interesting, it was something to do, anything besides sitting, waiting, listening.

“Tell me everything,” Arty said.

Clark shook his head, “I don’t know. Maybe I shouldn’t be bothering you with this. I don’t want you stuck with this.”

Arty leaned against the other side of the bed, leaned over, “Tell me everything Clark, do it.”

He knew he couldn’t shake Clark.

“Hell,” Clark said, “Whatever. You aren’t here for sappy stories. Plus I thought of you as soon as I walked in on the case.”

Arty closed his eyes.

‘You should have seen this place. It was beautiful, Victorian style, everything redone. Inside it was Oak everywhere, the floors, the cabinets, the walls.’

When he opened them again, he was in the doorway. A stairwell lead off into a black wall of shadow, one turn left into the sitting room, old oak bookshelves and tables. It was the sort of house you inherit, but keep in great condition. It was a house that had history. The kitchen was even better, all new installations, with nods to the past. Pictures hung from the walls, faceless people watching looking back at Arty as he walked through.

He made the loop back to the living room.

‘There were signs of a struggle, but only inside. Blood smeared across the floor, pictures knocked from the wall. Then I saw her. She was your type Art. Her skin was as smooth as silk, curves in all the right places, that short black hair. Her make up made her look like a doll, those bright red lips, eyes bold against pale skin, shit.’

She walked into the room. She was wearing red, and had that slight smile when you meet eyes with someone for the first time. Her eyeliner pulled back to the side, like an imitation of some actresses Cleopatra.

What was she doing here, in this room? Why was she dressed so nice, was she going somewhere? In a house like this, was this her lifestyle, wake up and dress to impress? He needed to know more, he wanted to know her.

‘That bastard. Arty, he put one right between Mrs. Moon’s eyes.’

He heard the pop. Her eyes went wide, and the dark hole drilled through her forehead. She didn’t gasp, didn’t cry out. She just collapsed backwards, struck the hardwood floor like a sack of meat.

“Damnit, Clark,” Arty said, “Damn you.”

‘I can’t figure it out. He didn’t drag her out there. The blood is her husband, dead upstairs. He dragged the fool to his bed. As far as forensics understands, Mr. Moon was dead first, then the monster came back, found her, and killed her with one shot. He didn’t take a thing, the house was intact, no locks broken. He came in, and sent a message, and the only man who knows what it is got the same damn treatment!’

Arty looked away from Mrs. Moon. Clark was in the kitchen now, leaning over the bed. Arty walked over and put a hand on his shoulder. Clark put a hand out and grabbed Arty’s hand on the bed, his real hand, laid out with tubes sticking out of every hole they could find.

To Arty it was a white mess, a hole he didn’t bother filling. It was the splotch he didn’t need to fill to see the puzzle complete.

“I’m going to go,” Clark said, “I need to get back out there, catch this guy. I’ll do you proud.”

Arty looked around, “Wait, tell me the rest. I need more.”

Clark’s chair screeched against the floor, “You be strong. I know you’ll come out of it buddy. You owe me a beer, remember?”

“Clark, what else is in the file? Time of death? What did they do for a living? Neighbors?”

Clark reached out to the door to the patio, opened it, and looked back inside to Arty. He didn’t say a word, just walked into the darkness, and closed the door after him.

“Damnit.”

There were footsteps, and Arty turned around in time to see Mrs. Moon walk into the kitchen.

“So I guess that just makes me and you,” She said. The hole in her forehead was still smoking.

She leaned against the doorframe, her arms crossed across her chest. Mrs. Moon smiled at him, and then walked to the cabinets in the kitchen. She opened one, and pulled out two glasses.

“Are you thirsty?” She asked.

“Always.”

She looked over her shoulder, “That’s a shame. Sit down, I’ll get you some water.”

He pulled up a chair to his bed, and sat down. Something else was lingering on his mind, and he couldn’t lock it down. It was hard to figure out, especially when she was in the room. His eyes couldn’t help but follow her, the curve of her back, the twist of her fingers as she held both cups under the tap.

A rumble shook the house.

Arty looked around. The door Clark left through, it was dark outside the window. All the windows, they were black, he was alone here, with her.

She put a glass down in front of him, and pulled up a seat on the opposite side of the table.

“Get comfortable,” She said, then took a sip.

He put the cup to his lips, “You’re wrong.”

Her eyes popped wide, “Huh?”

There was a growl from outside the kitchen, like a tiger locked in a cage. He could feel it on the side of his face, as if it was right there. The sound of it made the house tremble, but still, he knew it wasn’t here yet.

“We’re not alone,” Arty said, “He’s here.”

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Saturday Fiction: Who Was Mike Jones?

I GM a lot of tabletop roleplaying. Well, I used to do more, but now I get into it now and again. Two years ago I ran a game of White Wolf’s Werewolf: The Forsaken. A game that is typically about scary werewolves dealing with scarier werewolves and terrifying spirits. Instead, we morphed the game to be about high school kids who had to deal with spirits while worrying about who to take to prom.

That game randomly stalled and ended in 2013. I still talk with all of the players. So when it was brought up again, I decided to do something weird. I wrote some ‘fanfiction’ of our game. It was argued that it isn’t fanfiction, because I wrote the story. Still, the primary characters are not mine, so to me, outright controlling them in a short story, is odd. Here is one of those stories now, about two years after the original plot.

Woofskulls

Who Was Mike Jones?

It was impossible to focus. There were chattering voices everywhere, new scents and sounds, but that wasn’t the worst part. It was the eyes. No matter where Mike looked, everyone was looking at them.

That’s why he avoided these little get togethers as much as he could. He was running out of choices though.

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Cam whispered to him.

Cam was at least a head and a half taller than Mike, and twice as wide. As far as Mike was concerned, he earned his nickname.

“I just want them to leave me alone,” Mike said back, pulling up his hood.

A voice boomed at the end of the Chicago dive bar. It was some biker-looking guy with a beard that needed trimming and eyes that looked bloodshot. Mike had gathered just from the time in the room that he was important, probably lead a pack of his own. A few other men in biker jackets cheered as he started to talk.

“Who is he supposed to be?” Cam whispered.

Mike put a finger up to shush him. For a brief moment he could actually feel Cam get angry. He didn’t know if that was some more strange magic stuff, or if he was just that used to Cam.

“This is it!” The man shouted, “This is the night we have waited for. This is when we take back blood for blood lost, and we show our ‘cousins’ what it means to be a hunter. No cheap tricks, no games, no distractions. This will be war, and they will cry to the heavens for a general worth the battle they have called down on them.”

The crowd erupted around them. Mike knew a little of what they were talking about, their battles with other werewolves, the ‘war in Chicago’. It kept encroaching on Naperville, it kept pushing their little ‘pack’, if it had ever been that, until everything fell apart.

Now, he was trying to finish his last year of highschool, and he couldn’t even name any of his teachers. What would Levi have called it, “Stupid werewolf drama?”

There were still a pair of eyes on him, and Mike found them at the front of the room. It was a woman he knew all too well. She was sitting in one chair of three set in a line, her legs crossed and her eyes focused down on Mike.

“She’s here,” Mike said.

“Who?” Cam responded, looking around before he saw her, “Oh… Meredith.”

There was another cheer, Mike was losing track of the speech.

“But this fight isn’t just ours, brothers,” The beard man said, “This is for all of us here in Chicago, that is what a war is. Our packs must stand together. That’s why tonight’s hunt belongs to the first to lose a Wolf-brother, Shifting-Winds.”

Some of the men and women in the crowd cheered, others grumbled just below what Mike could hear. Meredith stood, flattening the tank top of her outfit, hiking gear that looked out of place this close to the corridor.

She hugged the man as she walked past him, like a football player embracing a fellow player, and then they shared some quiet words.

“Oh good, I didn’t miss it,” Said Lt. Spatz from behind them.

Cam and Mike turned, the older man standing just behind them. He was slightly dressed down, but he still had on a ridiculous pair of shades, and looked like he hadn’t shaved that day.

“I’m glad you came,” Spatz said with a nod to Cam, “both of you. She’ll be glad you’re here, and safe.”

Somehow Mike didn’t feel like his safety was her main concern. This felt like a recruitment drive. There was food, he was being paid pointless attention. If Spatz was in an army uniform, it would be like any other army recruiter he saw at school.

“Yeah well, lets see if I stay,” Cam said, “I’m feeling a little out of place.”

Spatz laughed nervously, “If Charred-bone’s boys were here from Englewood, it wouldn’t look like a bike gang’s pit stop.”

Meredith cleared her throat, and a silence passed over the crowd. She narrowed her eyes and looked over the room. Mike had to admit, she commanded respect from her own. As far as he knew though, she also got a lot of her own killed. Long-claw, and wasn’t there another? At least Levi never lost anyone.

“I left Chicago for a reason,” Meredith started, “It was just over 10 years ago we were at each other’s throats. We didn’t care if it was Pure, or Uratha, we went for the throat. Chicago has a history, of cutting itself apart, and then crying in the pool of blood. We are both the criminal and the victim. Except that isn’t the story of the Forsaken, or the tribes of the moon.”

“Oh man,” Spatz whispered, “She is really into it tonight.”

“When Father Wolf fell, there was chaos, and there was blood. No one, not even his first born, could set this world straight. Then the Uratha answered that call, we became the soldiers in a world with no one to defend it!”

Though her voice raised, she stood stoic. Mike could feel the energy in the room rising. Whatever they felt about Meredith, the other werewolves cared about her words.

“Today we revel, and we drink, and we sing the songs of Mother Luna and Father Wolf. Because there is a poison in this city, vermin who stand with our enemies, mercenaries at the fore of a war it is about damn time we started winning.”

There was a cheer, and beer bottles clashed against each other. Mike even heard a howl, and it sounded feral enough that he expected a wolf to brush against his hand.

“And when there is nothing left of them, when they are nothing but a pool of blood at our feet, we will see that it was tears of pain, but the cries of joy. Because we are not victims, and we are not criminals. Brothers and sisters, we are the Uratha!”

She put a hand up, and everyone in the bar howled in unison.

Pointless werewolf drama.

Spatz put a heavy hand on Mike’s shoulder, and let out a loud howl of his own.

The crowd became a party. Beers flew off the wall, cheers started spontaneously, conversations started in every corner of the room. It seemed the speeches were over, this had to be the revels.

“Lieutenant,” Cam said as he turned on Spatz, “Now that all that is over, you heard from Levi?”

Spatz blinked, and then scratched at the side of his nose, “Why would I have heard from Levi?”

Mike rolled his eyes.

“I guess whatever he is up to,” Spatz said with a shrug, “He is still up to it. I’m sure he didn’t just want to up and leave you guys.”

Cam let out a guffah, “Yeah, because he always wrestled with guilt over every little thing.”

Mike smiled, but Spatz sneered for a moment before grabbing a beer from a passing girl walking around with 4 in each hand.

“Is this them,” Said a younger guy who looked like he was one missed paycheck from being a hobo, smelled like it too.

“Spike,” Spatz said with a nod of his head.

“Eech-Dubya,” the guy responded. Another guy came behind him. They both looked like they lived a tougher life than Spatz or Meredith ever had, with clothing that belonged to South Chicago rather than the suburbs of Naperville.

“That has to be them,” The second guy said, “They were the ones who told Taft to piss off, right?”

Spatz lifted his beer as an answer.

Mike felt naked. It seemed like a bad idea to bring any weapons here, and now these two came forward like two predators sniffing around for weak prey.

“Heard they took down a group of hunters too, killed the whole pack of them. You two’ve earned your fur.”

Spike grabbed a pair of beers and passed one to Mike and the other to Cam, then looked down at Mike, “You’ll make a good Meninna.”

Meninna, he knew that was one of the ‘Tribes’. The hunters in darkness, the ghost tribe.

“Has to be better than following Big Bird,” The other said with a laugh, then he turned a side-eye to Cam, “We can teach you a little discipline, tactics.”

“You have something to say to me?” Cam said with a step forward.

Spike turned on Cam with his teeth bared, “Sit down pup, or you’ll lose that little patch of fur.”

“Or maybe I’ll show you what I learned from Big Bird.” Cam jabbed with his finger.

“Whoa,” Spatz said, “Come on, Spike, Sack, they’re kids.”

Mike put a hand on Cam’s chest, “Chill, man.”

Cam took a deep breath, then popped the bottle off the beer while staring the two men in the eyes.

“Yeah,” Came the voice of Meredith. She reached between Spike and Sack and grabbed the bottles out of Mike and Cam’s hands, “And we don’t give the kids alcohol.”

The two hobo-wolves looked at Meredith like children being chastised.

“They’re going on the hunt right?” Spike said, “Come on, don’t you think they’ve earned it?”

Spike held his own beer in front of Mike, and Mike’s hand went out for it. Meredith knocked it to the ground with a tap of her finger.

“No,” She said.

“Come on,” Cam said, “Isn’t that a party foul or something?”

Meredith didn’t smirk, smile, or even groan. She looked at Spatz, and Spatz let out a sigh before kneeling down and picking up the dropped bottle.

“Tonight is our hunt,” Meredith said, “It would be our first hunt together as a pack, if you can accept that.”

“We’re still mulling that over,” Cam said, “You and Levi didn’t exactly get along.”

“Or Tim,” Mike added.

“And where are they?” Meredith replied, letting the question hang in the air.

Tim was in the city, Mike knew that. He knew what the little spirit binder was hunting for. The question was, was he making progress? He had no way to know, he was vague on text messages, and he never answered calls.

“Whatever,” Cam said, “I’m here. If you can take care of us, we can help you.”

Mike didn’t bother adding. Cam always did work as a good backup alpha. Mike wasn’t here because he needed someone’s protection, he was here because he needed to figure this whole situation out. Ever since he became a werewolf, everything was chaos. He couldn’t become some lycan-drifter. What did they call it, a ghost wolf? With Cam here, at least he had someone to talk to.

“Hunts-With-Heart,” Meredith said.

Spatz stood, and took a sip from his beer, “Yes, ma’am.”

“What about your eyes?” She asked.

He pulled out his cell phone, woke it up, and then put it away again.

“Dispatch has spotted them near Lawndale. We should have them coralled in Garfield park by sundown.”

“Good,” Meredith said, looking at the two hobo-wolves, “Relay that to Dusk, and you go see if Charred-bone has changed his mind. I want all the major packs in on this.”

They both nodded and walked away.

Mike had to ask.

“What is it we’re even supposed to be hunting? Why so many wolves?”

Was that a smirk on her lips? What did he say that she found so amusing? There was no easy way to tell.

“Go on,” Cam said, “Spit it out.”

The smirk faded, “We’re hunting a pack of abominations. Dog-shifters that have been working in concert with the Pure.”

Mike felt his heart thump in his chest, and Cam twitched and looked down at him.

“Dogs?” Cam said, “You sure?”

“Maybe your bird friend made mistakes like that,” Meredith turned and started to walk away, “but this is a war, so we try to keep our intel straight.”

Cam growled at her, but Meredith walked back into the crowd of werewolves.

Mike was trying not to imagine Shannon, running around Garfield park, being hounded by wolves. The image was so vivid in his head, the sound of clamping teeth, the look on her face as a wolf brought her to the ground. He could practically taste it as the blow came down on her neck.

“Relax,” Spatz said, “She’s intense, but she means well.”

Mike realized his fist was squeezed so tight, a sharp pain was in the palm of his hand.

“Right,” Mike said, “I guess we’ll see.”

Saturday Fiction: Get Right With Me

A long while ago I asked myself, what would it be like if the usual formula of ‘Christian Romance’ was flipped. The story of ‘this person who isn’t right with god, suddenly meets someone who they love, but that person is too Christian to love them back until they are a proper Christian.’ I’ve shared this story somewhere before I think, but while a short scene, I still find it interesting to look back at. I could see it the other way so easily, but this way would still be foreign/strange, and on TV, Beth would be the hero if it was the normal Christian story, but in this version she would be a villain.

A chill ran up his spine before she replied.

“You don’t really believe in that whole religion thing,” Beth said, “do you?”

Beth looked at Shawn with one eyebrow up, and her whole body tilted away from. If there was ever a more blatant sign that you were supposed to lie to someone’s face, Shawn hadn’t seen it.

His hands were out, cupped upwards in that ‘I just got done spilling my guts to you’ pose, and now he was stuck there. His mouth hung open, his eyes seeking someplace to look besides her patronizing stare.

“Well no,” Shawn began, “I don’t think so.”

He did, or had. Just saying otherwise made his stomach burn, and a nervous grin spread across his face.

“I was raised that way though,” He continued, “Is what I was getting at.”

Beth chuckled, and Shawn felt something he imagined was supposed to be relief. Instead, his stomach was still in a knot, and he was afraid she was going to hit him any moment. They came outside to get away from the little party inside, and now Shawn found himself looking back to see how the party was going.

“Who isn’t raised that way?” Beth said, kicking one of her long legs at the dirt in front of them, “We were Catholic for awhile, then my dad switched for some reason. Same bullshit though.”

She smiled at him, gave him a wink, and Shawn’s only coherent thought was how beautiful blasphemy sounded coming out of her lips.

“Which were you?” She asked.

Shawn sat up, hands going to grip the brick outcropping they were sitting on, “Presbyterian, you know, normal.”

She rolled her eyes, “Nothing normal about it.”

He looked at the ground. In all the time he had known Beth, he had never seen this side of her. She always seemed like such a nice girl, wore a cross to school every day, helped on campus and even volunteered. He was excited to talk to her, and to be honest, get a chance to kiss her. Beth was his dream girl, spunky, but in control of herself, right without being self-righteous.

“You okay?” She asked, her eyes looking him over.

It sent a chill through his spine, and he swallowed hard. He could feel himself leaning closer to her, his face reaching for hers, his lips pursing.

“Mmmhmm,” He mumbled.

She leaned away from him again, a look of confusion on her face as he floundered after his failed kiss. “You didn’t think I was a little church girl, did you?”

Shawn sat up, shook his head, “No, hell no. I mean, why would I?”

Beth dug into the front of her button up blouse, and pulled out a silver cross. She bat her eyes at him.

“Who doesn’t wear a cross,” He said, feeling his face getting hot, “Like, a majority of the country claims to be Christian.”

Her face went plain, and she stared him in the eyes. His heart thumped, and he didn’t know where to look. Was that her kiss face? Was that her angry face? He didn’t know,

“You do believe, don’t you?” She said, “Admit it.”

Shawn rolled his eyes, “I don’t know what you mean, you were just saying…”

Beth put a finger to his lips, and Shawn sucked in air through his nose.

“Should a good Christian boy be lying?”

He squeezed his lips shut, closed his eyes, “Shit.”

“I can’t believe you!” She yelled, “To think I was going to kiss you.”

“You were?” Shawn gasped, “Well what does this have to do with it?”

She bobbed her head, “Besides lying to my face?”

His mouth opened, but he had no defense for that part. That didn’t stop him from saying, “You were leading me.”

He tried to laugh, to lighten the mood, but she looked genuinely hurt. Her lips flattened, and her brow furrowed.

“What’s wrong?” He asked, “What is the big deal?”

“Are you on the prowl for a wife?” Beth asked.

There were a lot of questions you usually didn’t have to answer in highschool, that was one of them. A wife was the last thing on his mind. Sure, he thought Beth was nice enough that maybe he could take her home to his family, a girlfriend he would be proud to show to everyone. That didn’t mean he wanted a wife.

“No,” Shawn said while shaking his head, “Of course not.”

“Then what do you want from me?” She shrugged, “Some first fuck and a story to tell your inevitable grandkids?”

“Why would you even say that?” He said, “Now Christians can’t date?”

“No,” She snapped, “Christian boys don’t date, they search for servants.”

While Shawn was willing to put up with a lot, there was a limit. He turned and faced off toward the yard, trying to cap the boiling sensation he felt in his gut.

“Who even says that?” He replied, “Your parents were Christians, their parents before them.”

Beth laughed, “My mother never read more of the bible than she needed to prop up her high horse.”

“You’re calling your mother a servant?” Shawn asked.

“Have you seen my mom? She can’t take two steps without looking to my dad for approval on the second,” She began, “My mom wants me to find some nice boy, so he can help me settle down, so he can bring me closer to the lord. As if I want to be close to someone who requires a man for him to love me.”

Shawn shook his head, “That is,” He stopped himself, tried to figure out how to phrase what he was saying, “That isn’t the way most people see it. My parents are devout, and they love each other.”

She shrugged, looking out over the little back yard with its playground and fence, “I know Christians can love each other. I’ve seen it. I just don’t want that kind of love.”

“They just want to be right with the lord,” Shawn said, “You get right with god, love god first, and your relationship will be stronger than any other.”

Beth looked at Shawn, “My parents divorced 2 years ago.”

He took a deep breath, held it.

“Are you going to tell me now that they weren’t right with god? That all their praying and sundays spent at church was done to the wrong beat? Maybe you’ll say it was god’s plan? Fuck your fairytale, I would rather have someone who loves me first.”

Shawn dug his feet into the dirt. He wasn’t a pro at proselytizing, he knew enough scripture for his own relationship with god. He knew that it wasn’t his job to fix her parent’s relationship, but between him and Beth, that was something different.

“I like you,” Beth said, “I like you a lot. But if you want to get right with me, you have to get rid of your invisible boyfriend first.”

She stood up, and walked back into the party. Shawn sat in the cold, trying to figure out when high school got so complicated.

Saturday Fiction: Future Jerks

I had an idea for a story about a man being woken up to realize his colony ship didn’t make the journey, and he was in stasis for a long time. Then silly humor slipped in, and I ended up with this.

Future Jerks

Christopher came out of the bunk room, still disoriented and afraid, but in fresh clothes. He looked to the front of the vessel, and saw Aron there, typing away at different keyboards with a fury that made Christopher nervous.

Aron barely seemed older than Christopher, with a svelte form and skin that seemed tanned brown. He didn’t look Christopher’s way, instead he continued his manic typing that Christopher assumed was responsible for keeping their tiny spaceship on course.

Not that Christopher could tell, there wasn’t a single view to the outside. The ship was barely more than two chairs in front of the instruments, a chair behind that, and a bench that sat next to several compartments that looked like lockers. There was the door to the bunk, and another door that lead to an airlock and ramp. It was cramped, especially compared to anything Christopher was used to.

“Come on then, welcome to the future and all that,” Aron said without turning around, “You can sit, we still do that now.”

He almost sounded like someone from the EU, was Christopher’s thought, maybe British.

“Sorry, this is all still so strange,” Chris said as he walked up beside Aron and touched what seemed like a co-pilot chair, “This seat fine?”

“Long as you don’t touch anything.”

Christopher sat down with a huff of breath, and let his surroundings sink in. To him it was all so recent, he still remembered the long ride to the launch center, getting comfortable in his tube, and then Aron was waking him up in a chaotic wreck.

“Two thousand years,” Christopher shook his head, “That is insane. I’m surprised anyone is still speaking English.”

Aron turned to face him. He looked odd, though not inhuman. There was a strange curve to the bridge of his nose where it met his eyes. Plus his eyes almost looked muddy, as if they were a jumble of greenish-reddish colors.

“I speak six languages,” Aron replied, “I just make this look easy. Trust me, it is a knife in the palm.”

Christopher gave a nervous chuckle, but Aron didn’t smile. His eyes went back to his keyboards. Maybe controlling a ship required constant micro-adjustments now? Chris got a glimpse of the cockpit on the Hopeful Voyage, the ship he rode to the stars. It was mostly automated, with a few slick touchscreens, and massive display monitors that simulated what was visible just outside. This was a coffin at a clerk’s desk in comparison.

“Well thanks, again,” Chris said.

“Just doing my job. Wouldn’t believe how many babybusses we find unlock, yours is my oldest so far though.”

Aron was part of a colony ship recovery company, as he told Christopher while they escaped the decaying wreckage of what was supposed to be the seeding population for a colony.

“Babybus?” Christopher said, unsure if Aron’s English was as good as he thought.

Aron shrugged, “That’s what we call’em, the second wave. First were the genships, then the babybusses, and by the time you guys would have popped out your first group of grandkids you would have been greeted by the third wave of colonists.”

He clapped a single hand as he spoke, as if that meant anything to Christopher. His other hand was still typing, and his eyes were darting over displays that were flashing different charts and numbers.

“Oh,” Christopher said. He felt like an idiot. Here was someone just as old as him, and he could pilot a ship, and could rescue lost people like him. Meanwhile, Christopher was only on his ‘babybus’ as a medical tech, and barely a good one.

Then there was a silence. Aron didn’t seem disturbed by the empty void in the conversation, he kept up with readings that Christopher couldn’t even read. Would Christopher cause a problem if he started talking? Was it even dangerous? Aron would tell him right?

“So, what do you do when you’re off?” Chris said, “Watch vids? Chase girls?”

Aron didn’t flinch, “Girls have been extinct for about 400 years.”

Chris’s mouth fell open. He saw flashes of empty beaches, and bikinis with no one to wear them. Something inside of him, in the pit of his loins, shriveled up and died.

“What?” Chris stammered, “No, what?”

Aron shrugged, “Fact of life bud, enjoy the future.”

A million questions ran through Chris’s mind. He could imagine them being able to clone people if they wished, or even creating new beings with a mix of types of DNA. The technology was already on its way there when he launched, it wasn’t out of the question. It was just bizarre.

Still, Aron didn’t seem phased by the news, he grew up in this life. Christopher tried to play it cool.

He chuckled, “I always figured without women, mankind would just give up on life and fall apart.”

Aron stopped typing and gave Christopher a stern glare, “Well doesn’t someone have a poor opinion of humanity?”

Chris sat up, “Well I just mean…”

“Think we couldn’t live on without fighting over other human beings like you neanderthals did?”

“It was a joke,” Christopher said, with his hands up, “I was kidding.”

“Get out, move to back there,” Aron said waving his arms around until Christopher moved to one of the rear seats, “Know what, even further, get.”

Christopher decided to shut up and take his seat. Aron went back to all of his typing, and Christopher was forced to think about the world he was now in.

Two thousand years, he lost two thousand years. He lost everyone on the Hopeful Voyage with him. His parents weren’t healthy enough to go, but he still had friends. The ship was empty, a terrible husk of what it once was. It bustled with life and energy, and when Aron let him out all he could see were nightmares crafted by whatever had caused the ship to fail.

“A universe of debris, and I find you,” Aron grumbled as he went back to typing, “You’re lucky I’m trained to deal with archaic mindsets like yours, or I’d want to snap you on the nose.”

“Sorry,” Chris said.

Aron made a buzzing noise, which Christopher took to mean to be silent. It seemed Aron was more comfortable with the sound of mechanical keys than Christopher.

Then there was a loud click, and a voice filled the ship with a foreign tongue. A feminine voice.

Aron started to respond frantically, matching her language.

Christopher stood and looked over his shoulder. He could be wrong, but that looked like a woman, a living woman. Christopher’s chest puffed out as he vented a long breath through his nose.

“Gone seven hundred years huh?” Christopher said as he walked forward, “Neanderthal huh?”

The woman stopped talking as soon as Christopher came into view. She was paler than Aron, her hair cut in a strange bob, with wild colors streaking through it.

“Who are you?” She asked with a finger pointed, “Aron, who is that? The deal was three-ways.”

“Sort of ruining me here Enise,” Aron said, covering her picture up with his hand.

Christopher reached over and pulled Aron’s hands away, “He rescued me, from a babybus.”

“A babybus?” The woman named Enise said with her face twisted up in confusion.

Aron looked up at Chris, “Enise is going to go now. Enise, text only okay?”

“Aron,” Enise shouted as the two wrestled over the small square space displaying her image, “Why is that icicle wearing a-”

The video cut off, and Aron let out a long sigh of relief.

“Was anything you said true?” Christopher snapped, “Really? Why even lie about that?”

Aron rolled his eyes, “Come on, I was having a laugh. You figured it out quick enough.”

“Are you even part of a rescue team?” Christopher asked.

His ‘rescuer’ fought back laughter, covering his mouth, “What would anyone want with a bunch of frozen corpses?”

Christopher took a step back, and collapsed into the co-pilot seat. His vision was swirling a little, and anytime he concentrated for too long, he got mad.

“Look,” Aron said with a hand out, “You were right, I was wrong, all good right? We are going to rendezvous with the others, you can meet your first alien.”

Chris looked at Aron, “Aliens?”

Aron nodded, and started to smile, and then fought back laughter again.

“Well no, no, sorry I can’t help myself. You’re like a baby learning to read, I’m sorry.”

Chris shook his head, “Is everyone in the future an asshole?”

Aron shrugged and went back to plugging away at the keys of the little ship, “In my experience, kind of.”

Saturday Fiction: Cred

There is a long story about ‘Black Fiction’ that I could tell before sharing this scene. I got my BA in a school that didn’t exactly have a large Black population, and I knew the one other Black guy in the Creative Writing program. Considering we both wanted to review the Book of the Five Rings, and he masks a British accent, we don’t exactly live up to media representations of Black people. Still, they say you should write what you know, and I’ve spent about 28 years of my life being Black. So I’ve always wondered what kind of story that makes. My life doesn’t create the kind of amazing ‘ethnic’ fiction that people want to read, I know that, and I accept that. Still, that isn’t something you can just let go of.

There is a bit of self-censorship early on here, to save those who are easily shocked.

Cred (Short Fiction Excerpt)

Michael barely felt the impact. It was the smell that got to him first. It wasn’t terrible, just different, strong, like an exotic dining room.

A display panel was the first light that welcomed him to station 112. It thanked him for using the service, then the door to the station lander opened with a succession of mechanical clicks. Light poured in, and Michael found himself in the center of a busy landing pad.

His lander, which only had the purpose of rocketing him from orbit around station 112 into the landing bay, was now a useless hunk of metal and parts. It had enough space for two people, or a person and their luggage, as was the case with him. On most worlds or stations, the lander company’s representatives on world would pick up the pieces later, refit it, and use it again.

This lander would never see space again unless it was as debris.

“What you gonna do with that?” Asked a man as Michael stepped out with his luggage.

He had a twitch at the corner of his mouth, and Michael could see the yellow green glow of a grill behind his lips. His eyes were hidden behind visor shades, with lights pulsating in a pattern from the center to the sides.

“All yours,” Michael said.

The guy ran his hands over each other, and lifted his chin, “You sure? No reneging, you get me?”

Michael just walked past him. The guy snapped his fingers, and a few other nearby men joined in, tools at the ready, dismantling the lander.

This was a landing pad that didn’t see a lot of use. The center was clear of anything heavy or slow to move, just people talking, trading, some leaning against some boxes. Near the edge was where Michael could see deals happening, stands with goods to sell, and men not unlike his friend in the shades talking over large crates.

Michael walked through the room, following a worked path in the tile toward the exit. He could feel eyes on him. Everyone took their look, sizing him up, figuring out what they could take. He had heard enough about One-Twelve to know he had to be on guard. Still, if he kept his head up, he didn’t think he had to worry. He was an unknown quantity, which meant he could be dangerous prey.

“Look at you, cuz.”

Michael turned and saw a guy with short black braids tied at the back. He was wearing black shades, and leaning against a beat up mini-car. He was in a blue jumpsuit that looked like it had seen years of grease stains, and just as many attempts to wash it clean.

“Devon?” Michael asked, daring to put a little hope in his voice.

Devon stood up and walked over with a relaxed step, “Little Michael, look at you.”

He put a hand out, and Michael switched his bag to his left shoulder before he took hold. He was pulled in for a hug, then Devon slid his fingers from Michael’s grip and snapped dramatically.

“Wow, little Michael turned into a big man, can’t believe you came back.”

Michael looked away, looked over the street in front of them. It was set up like any of a hundred other stations, the ceiling right above, and row after row of square structures dressed up to hide the fact that any of them could have been a store, a storehouse, or an apartment building.

Except, One-Twelve was colorful. Michael had seen colorful stations before, with buildings painted beautiful designs, the ceiling painted to look like a summer day. They tried to take that edge off of living in deep space. This was a different color. It was the rust in the dull patterned ‘sky’, and the neon sign in a window next to a boarded up store.

“I had to,” Michael said, looking back down to Devon, “You know?”

“Fuuuck no,” Devon said with a smile, “Look at you, in your stuffy slacks, pressed color under there, you look like a bot.”

Michael rolled his eyes, “What?”

“Yeah, like a n****bot, programmed to file taxes and keep a triple-A credit score.”

All Michael could do was smile, he expected the hazing. That’s what you got when you left, and tried to come back. It was the only way to make up for lost decades, to pretend he didn’t come from a different world now, hadn’t gone native.

“I’mma call you Cred,” Devon said, pointing two fingers at Michael’s chest.

“Man come on,” Michael said, “What’s all that, little D?”

“Fuck you, I’m big D now,” Devon said as he opened the door of the mini-car, “Now get in the car, Cred. Lets get out here before they lock the shit down.”

He said it like it was nothing, but Michael knew the threat was real. He didn’t want to be caught in the street, especially when he was new here. He went to the opposite side, put his bag in the small space behind the seat, and squeezed into the car. With the door closed, Devon pressed a button, and an electric whir kicked up. He turned the car around almost on the spot, and then headed down the main avenue.

“We going to see her right away?” Michael asked.

“Too late tonight,” Devon said, “I’ll put you up at my spot, handle it all in the morning.”

That was fine, Michael was in no rush. “Alright. Thanks for coming for me though.”

“Like I’mma leave family sitting on the corner like that,” Devon said. They pulled up to a stop, and Devon pulled out vape, and hit it. Then he held it out for Michael.

Michael shook his head no.

“Same old little Michael under there, huh Cred?” Devon said with a smoke filled laugh.

“I guess,” Michael said, watching the street signal.

The sidewalks seemed busy for a station. They were packed with characters, more color. There were mothers taking a break from their conversation to yell at their kids, gangs of teenagers in too many layers of jumpsuits and jackets, women in animal print skirts that left nothing to the imagination.

“Just like home,” Michael whispered.

Devon coughed, and let out a plume of odor, “You can say it, its a mess. But this is how they do us, Cred. This is oppression they can’t hide.”

Michael looked at Devon, and his cousin smiled at him with more cheer than any man he had ever met before.

“Right,” Michael nodded, “I hear you.”

Saturday Fiction: False Teeth

Since this is a month of editing, I’ve put the Tri-star stories in my editing pool. In the meantime, I wrote this based on an idea while at work. Then Daredevil released, and I got distracted before finishing it.

toyteeth

Viktor looked deep into the blue of her eyes. She looked back, her lips trembling at his mere proximity. His hand at her waist made her shiver, he could feel his hold on her heart, feel the pump of her blood despite so little contact.

“I’m going to do it now, Deborah” He whispered.

She didn’t fight, she couldn’t fight. The predator within him had her cornered there, at the edge of the party. Despite the music in the background, despite the small talk all around them, she was trapped in his world. All she could do is move closer, beg for his embrace, and hope he was merciful.

Deborah turned her head, and wiped away her blonde hair to expose her neck. Her eyes were still locked on his, and Viktor nearly lost himself when he saw her swallow in anticipation.

“Be gentle,” She said.

What foolish words. She knew why she was here, and she knew what pain was in store for her. Still, she would dare ask for anything less than domination. His hand wrapped around her waist, and he pulled her in close. He could smell her now, feel her heat against his body. What before only the monster could sense, now the man could as well.

Viktor’s mouth opened. A hiss escaped his lips as he bared his fangs. He held there for a moment, drank her in as she was, her innocent beauty, her unblemished skin, the virgin personified. His fangs sank in, and Deborah whimpered and squirmed in his arms.

Then she grabbed his arm and squeezed it so tight he thought it would snap.

“Ouch, ow you fucktard, that hurts!” She screamed before Viktor let up.

She put a hand over her neck. Her face was screwed up and red with some mix of what Viktor could only guess was anger and frustration, “Did you actually draw blood? Am I bleeding? Asshole.”

Viktor opened his mouth to stammer some response, but he felt the jaws of anxiety clamp down on him. He could only open his eyes wide and gesture at her, as if a psychic conversation was going to transpire.

He looked around the room, and saw that others were looking at them now as Deborah’s screams were echoed around the room by whispers of gossip.

“Calm down,” Viktor said, trying to smile.

Deborah punched him in the arm with her free hand, then pulled the cute blue blazer on her shoulders tighter. She punched again, then moved to leave.

“Deborah wait,” Viktor gasped as he took hold of her hand, “Please, I’ll do better, I’m sorry.”

She shook him free, “Call me when you do, ‘Viktor’,” she said with venom as she walked away.

Viktor tried to play it cool, but he could feel eyes on him. He put his back against the wall, pulled the black faux-leather close to his neck, and sneered. The low light would hide the fact that he was crimson red, and soon they would find something new to talk about.

“What was that, Vic,” Said Damien.

Viktor looked over and saw his ‘friend’. Wearing a black wifebeater and makeup that even Viktor found gaudy. Around his wrists were spiked bracelets, and whenever he chewed that bright bubblegum in his mouth you could see his fangs.

“Don’t want to talk about it,” Viktor said.

Damien put his back against the wall, “I thought Deborah was in the bag. You guys have been talking for a while now right?”

Mostly online. It was easier to be Viktor there, where he could think about what he was going to say before he posted it. In person, he was always afraid Deborah was going to laugh at him. Instead, she usually laughed with him, let him goof up a little, even gave him leeway when he was trying to remember important character names.

“Just drop it,” Viktor growled, showing his teeth.

Damien, even in character, was an asshole. It wasn’t that he didn’t know when to back down, he just didn’t seem to care. He had almost been killed a few times before, mostly when he thought it would be funny to show his fangs to a prince, or pick a fight with an enforcer.

Damien hissed back at him, and by rote they found themselves standing off against each other, their teeth out and hands at their sides as if a fight were about to break out.

“Hey you two,” shouted the slightly rotund enforcer, Gregor, from across the room, “Don’t make me bust out the UV lamps.”

They both calmed down, and Viktor felt justified in turning his back on Damien. Anyone willing to nearly get him in trouble with a hall enforcer was too much trouble for one night.

“Come on,” Damien said, “I’ve been with you how long? We’ve risen up the ranks together, you’ve saved me countless times. Let Damien pay you back, that little doll is yours to have, Vic. She was just sitting on your plate, let me get her back on the fork.”

His dialog wasn’t wrong, but something about hearing Damien talk about Deborah that way made Viktor want to punch him in the mouth. He was a natural at it, that complete disregard for human life.

Viktor looked over his shoulder, and Damien popped his gum, then grinned. When Viktor didn’t acquiesce immediately, Damien wiggled his eyebrows.

Viktor sighed, “Okay.”

Damien let out a groan of delight and put an arm around Viktor’s shoulder, “Oh yeah, time to get Viktor his virgin.”

“If she’s even still here,” He said. He felt deflated, beaten down first by Deborah, and now by Damien. It was hard to keep up the hardheaded confidence he knew Viktor should have.

Damien got on his toes and looked around the party, then pointed.

“There she is, talking with Regi,” Damien said with a shrug.

Viktor’s spine went stiff, “Regi?”

As in Prince Regi?

Short Fiction Experiment: A Supernatural Fight Scene

This is more than 10 years in the making. I had an itch, and decided to write a fight I would have imagined in my childhood, when I spent most of my time ripping off ideas from cartoons and comics. The ideas here are lifted from old journals, but the writing would have looked foreign to high school me. Hold on to your butts.

Crimson vs Violet

Viktor shuffled in behind the other students, looking for the best seat left to look down into the arena. He could already feel the tension, students from across classes chattering with each other and spreading different rumors. He found who he was looking for, a small girl in glasses named Lula, and sat down next to her.

“Who is it today?” Viktor asked.

Lula bolted upright in her seat, and looked at Viktor, “You scared me.”

He smiled, but Lula adjusted her glasses and looked back toward the arena. Thick glass separated them from the fighting area, which went down at least 25 feet below the sloped viewing area. The arena was simple, a white floor with lines meeting at a point in the center. The walls were solid, and looked unblemished.

“It is Eric against a Crimson I’ve only heard stories about,” Lula said.

Viktor knew Eric, the boy was the same age as him, but was already a wave ahead of him by the time he entered the school. The guy always seemed a little silly, but he was helpful.

“So it is for their second wave?” Viktor asked.

Lula just nodded. Her eyes were locked on the arena as two sections on the floor shifted down to allow the combatants entry. This was one of the reasons Lula was so good to sit next to during duels, she made it her business to know something about everything.

Of all the Violets at his level, she was one of the most dangerous to fight.

As Eric entered the arena, the whole section around him erupted into cheers. The boy was wearing a glowing purple shirt, and his black pants had a highlight of purple down the side. As the lights in the arena picked up, Viktor could see the purple around him as well. It was in the shirt of the guy in front of him, in Lula’s robe, in his own shorts and vest. They were Violet, and Eric was one of their own.

The competition entered, a girl he thought he had seen at least once before. She was as tall as Eric, easily, with blonde hair that looked like it had never been tamed in her life. It ran down her back in wild shocks. Her outfit was simple compared to Eric’s patterned outfit. It was a close fitting sports top, with red bands on her already intimidating biceps. Her pants were full of that same loud red color, and Viktor could look across the arena to the Crimson students cheering as they had before.

“That’s her,” Lula said, “Anita.”

The Crimson flexed and let out a whooping shout that reverberated off the glass. She had tooth-filled grin on her face, and did a spin for the crowd. When Viktor looked at Eric, the Violet boy just stood there smiling.

“Can Eric win?” Viktor asked.

The two combatants were across the arena from each other, but they stood straight, and clasped their palms together. With a nod, they gave their last signs of respect before by the rules, they were locked in combat until one was defeated. With the motion, there was a small rush of heat, and two weapons appeared in the arena. For Anita, a hand axe, the head emblazoned with an orange flame. For Eric, a staff, the same weapon as Viktor.

“It depends on if Eric can see the pattern,” Lula said with confidence, “If he studied Anita at all, he should see her coming a day in advance.”

Eric grabbed his staff, and held it behind his back. Anita touched her weapon, and then let it fall to the ground with a disorganized clang.

“First,” Lula said, “Intimidation. Typical red tactic, come in hard, throw them off balance.”

Anita charged forward, screaming at the top of her lungs. With her fists in tight and front, she closed the distance with Eric before Viktor could blink. She threw the first punch, and Eric barely managed to lean out of the way, the next forced him back toward the wall, and with the third he brought up his staff to intercept.

The punch made Eric slide a few feet before he came to a stop, and Viktor could see the look of surprise on his face. Eric wasn’t so far above Viktor, Viktor planned to qualify for his own duel soon. Eric’s moves weren’t so different from his own, using his staff to deflect force, trying to keep Anita at bay. As the Crimson tried to keep close, Eric used the staff to swing from her unguarded sides after each punch.

There was a problem though, Anita’s blows had power behind them that couldn’t just be tossed aside. When her punches hit, you could feel it in the crowd, and Eric was being forced out of his collected stance. He couldn’t maneuver if he could never stand on two feet.

Eric kept backing up, throwing harmless strikes whenever he could. Then he made his first big mistake. While he was still stepping back, he tried to turn and make a wide swing with his staff. The blow was ducked, and Anita pulled the punch, instead throwing kick into Eric’s stomach that took him off his feet and into the wall.

“Not looking good so far,” Lula shook her head, “this isn’t like him, too stubborn.”

“Eric is usually a little wild,” Viktor said, “Maybe he was told to keep it cool today.”

It wasn’t uncommon, at least among Violets, for teachers to give goals during important fights. It was one thing to earn your way, it was another to earn it while holding yourself to a higher standard.

“Maybe,” Lula grumbled.

Eric came back, stick forward. Viktor could see his plan before it was executed. He had his back against the wall, he needed to get some space, and that meant using his staff almost like a spear, prodding forward until Anita gave him enough personal space to work on his offensive. It was working, sort of.

“Next is oppression,” Lula said, “Anita will try to humiliate him.”

Anita charged in, and threw several punches to Eric’s body. He blocked what he could, but the punches weren’t the point. The wild haired woman feinted a blow, then brought a roundhouse kick down on Eric.

It was slow, sloppy, and if it landed it would crush Eric’s ego flat. Viktor moved to the edge of his seat, the moment seeming to play out in slow motion. Eric ducked the kick, and spun around, then swatted Anita to the face with a two-armed swing.

The crack could be heard in the audience, and a cheer rang out through the Violets. Anita was thrown off her feet, sailed back, and hit the ground with a heavy thud.

Viktor joined the yelling, they chanted Eric’s name, screamed “Vi-o-let!”, and whatever else came to mind.

Anita rolled as she landed, pulled herself to her knees, and flipped back. It was an amazing recovery, and Viktor looked to his side to see that Lula was still in her seat, silent. He sat down, not sure if he should be nervous.

Eric seemed excited, he twirled his staff around, held a hand up for the crowd, and enjoyed the moment of adoration.

Anita reached down and picked up her axe. Her free hand reached to the bruise spreading across the side of her face, and wiped away the blood coming from her nose.

“She’s tough,” Viktor said.

“She wouldn’t have done it, if she couldn’t take the counter,” Lula offered.

Anita charged again, axe back and over her shoulder. Eric back into a defensive stance, and blocked the first swing. Viktor could see the force of the impact, like heat streaming from each blow. She mixed things up with fist strikes from her free hand, knees to Eric’s gut, and a shoulder when he least expected it.

That was Crimson, all about passion, power. They came in screaming, spilled their guts in the arena, acted reckless. They were the loudest, they were the strongest, they were the team that could break any line. In the grand scheme, they were shock troops, terrifying to behold and worse to face.

Anita plugged a knee into Eric’s side, and the blow knocked his staff out of position. The handle of her axe struck him across the face, then she brought her elbow back to put him on the ground.

As Eric’s back hit the arena floor, Anita let out a hoot that was echoed by her crimson compatriots. She had a wide smile across her face, and her eyes were filled with a fury Viktor couldn’t understand.

If Eric was off, this could be the end. Anita’s axe came up, and Viktor tightened up as if it was him there on the floor. A certain amount of injury was allowed by the school masters, you could spend time recovering from a duel. Death was never allowed, and teams like Crimson were trained to go for death blows to get matches called immediately.

Eric’s staff reached up and blocked it at the handle. Anita reached up and struck again, Eric’s staff wavering under the strike. Again she pulled up, and again Eric blocked her.

“Then comes exhaustion,” Lula said, “pound them until they are too weak to fight.”

He couldn’t win like this. Not just being on his back, but being pounded on over and over, he was standing still, letting the fight come to him. He was trapped, and Viktor couldn’t see any way out of it now.

The axe fell again, and it struck with a glimmer of light. Viktor’s attention went to the meeting of their weapons, that point where Anita’s flaming axe was against the plain metal of Eric’s staff. There was color there, like a shimmering purple point. The staff twirled in place, with the axe’s impact like an axis. Her blow was twirled away, thrown off to the side, and the axe struck at her legs, sweeping them clean out from beneath her. Eric rose from his back in a whirlwind of blow, his legs swinging around him until he was held up by one hand his legs splayed in the air, and Anita had fallen back.

Eric twisted and went to his feet, spinning until he was facing Anita again. The crowd began to cheer, but Viktor was stunned. There was something about that, watching a path he had never considered.

Violet was creativity. Not just thinking outside the box, but specifically the freedom to think using your own box. Every Violet was trained to strike their own path, find the walkways between the obvious, and enforce their own individuality. They were less defensive and passive than Indigo, they were less devious than the rare shadows. They were freedom.

Anita picked herself up, and hyped herself slaps to her shoulders and chest. Eric shifted in place, his staff was still, but his body moved with a slow rhythm. It wasn’t a stance or kata that Viktor knew, Eric seemed to be in a zone. Even though he put Anita down again, he wasn’t smiling, he was focused.

Anita charged with her axe tucked in. Her blows came in fast, keeping her axe hand forward for punching out as if she wasn’t carrying the weapon.

Eric stepped to the side with each blow, his staff carrying the weight when he had to, and dodging others completely. Anita brought the axe out for a strong blow, and Eric swept around it, striking her in the back of the head and sending her staggering forward. She came in again, this time trying a restrained kick to his stomach. Eric stepped back and popped her on the top of the head with the tip of his staff.

“Amazing,” Viktor heard Lula mumble.

He looked over and saw her eyes wide. Viktor didn’t know what he was seeing in the arena. Was Eric just winning, or was it something more? Sure his moves were smooth, but couldn’t any of them do the same? Viktor was ready for this, like many of the others in the stands.

Anita roared at Eric, and the glass shuddered at the sound. She brought her axe up, and an unnatural wave of heat filled the room. The axe went orange, came down, and struck the floor of the arena. A burst of flame erupted high over her head and swept forward.

Viktor leaped from his seat as Anita called on the supernatural fire. Was she really just a first wave? It was impossible, and the spread was too wide, too fast.

There flame was too intense for a moment, and Viktor covered his eyes. Then he saw something, rising up from the flames. Eric was floating up, rotating up from his staff, the rod stuck down in the flames and vaulting him into the air. He soared out of the fire, pulled his staff up above him, and tucked into a spin.

Viktor wasn’t ready for second wave.

Eric came out of his spin with his staff ready, and a wide smile on his face. Anita looked up just in time, her eyes filled with disbelief, before the staff struck from above.

The room went silent, and the flames extinguished themselves.

Eric pointed his staff at Anita, and the girl tried to reach out for her axe. Her hand was trembling, and then fell, before she collapsed on the floor.

The arena had a seered mark across it, and a large crack where Anita struck the ground. Standing there in the middle, was Eric, with his staff.

There was a blinding light, and three robed forms appeared. A large man in red kneeled next to Anita. His face was twisted up in frustration, but he tended to his disciple. A man in purple, who smiled at Eric, and put a hand on his shoulder. Finally, a woman in all white, whose long white hair and radiant appearance made her stick out even among the masters.

In another flash, Anita was gone, and the Violets began to cheer again.

Eric stood before the mistress of light, and the woman reached out to the victorious student. Before her hand even got close, his staff began to glow, an etching carving itself in the metal surface, images and characters drawing down the surface like a calligrapher’s pen. When it was through, the black staff had a design in gold and violet, unique to Eric besides twin crescents near the top.

The rest would come later, with ceremony, a new uniform, and a new rank. For now, Eric was victorious, and Viktor knew he had a lot more to learn.

Saturday Fiction: Abandonment [A Tri-Star Story]

The first part of Tri-star I created was their god, Mayen. Like most things, I went in half-cocked, and it shows. Still, it created a sort of impromptu religion that would extend to all three Stars, Tau Ceti, Sol, and Gliese. They all believe in Mayen, and by all means Mayen’s power is real. 

Still, god being real wouldn’t stop people from having different versions of scripture, especially when they have been divided by vast distances of space. So I imagined for this story, a council of Nicea for the faith of Mayen. 

Then I regretted that immediately. I tried to finish this last week, and could barely squeak out 3 pages over a week. Something wasn’t right, and it still isn’t. I still wanted to finish though, and so I fought through it this week, and here is the final product.

Nicea

“Quiet, friends,” Luka shouted, “can I please have quiet!”

He felt like his smock was trying to suffocate him. All the eyes in the room focused down on him at the podium. Even without him saying a word, he could tell they were questioning him. This whole meeting was built on disagreement, nearly fifty men and women crammed in together, many more in the libraries and study halls adjoining. The great reliquarium was busier than ever. It was Luka’s task, his duty as its administrator, to run this meeting of faiths.

“I know you are all anxious to begin,” Luka said as he squeezed one hand under the other on the podium, “I too am excited for what we may learn today.”

An unintelligible jeer came from the back of the room. The tone sounded like a Glie, those massive horned men that still disturbed Luka at night. They were too close to a man’s nightmares, powerful, boisterous, aberrations growing from their skulls. Still, when they made up a third of the room, it was best to keep his fears quiet and go where Mayen’s teachings lead him.

Others started to murmur, some in the Glie tongue he heard so often now, still others in dialects from the nations he knew well.

Luka put a hand up, “Friends, we are here because of something all our peoples recognized when we first met across the terrifying raw. It didn’t matter what what languages we spoke, it didn’t matter how different we looked, or how we lived, we all praise a god that is one and the same. You all speak for those who follow Mayen. This is no coincidence, in our faith to Mayen, we are all brothers and sisters. That’s why you answered my call today.”

At least that is what Luka hoped. As the whispers rose again, he thought about what he did know, what he was sure of. When he first got access to foreign scripture, he was afraid. It always came untranslated, and trying to pick it apart himself was time consuming and inaccurate. But one problem rose to the surface, their faiths were as different as they were similar. It posed a problem that he couldn’t solve with prayer and some research. As he spoke with others around the nations, through letters and meetings face to face, he realized the best solution was to bring them all together, Sol, Gliese, and Ceti. It was easier said than done.

“We all worship Mayen, and some aspects of him are the same across no matter who worships him. He fought against the raw nothingness, he created our worlds and us with them, but the differences are just as profound.”

Luka reached under the podium and brought out a large book of old murals. He opened it to a marked page, and turned it to the crowd.

“To the majority of Sol, Mayen is the liberator,” He said as he pointed to a painting of the Old Tyrants, “when the world was first created, kings rose to rule over us all. They took the world, from coast to coast, and they abused the beauty that Mayen gave them. He watched, and let them build their towers and castles dedicated to their own power, until he could not ignore the screams of the meek. He went to the tyrants, and he asked them to relinquish what was never theirs. When they refused, they came to blows, Mayen freeing the people of Sol man by man, until the Tyrants were all defeated.”

It was the short version of just one story, but it was the story. Every child heard of Mayen and the Old Tyrants, it is how Sol was created, how the continents were crafted, how men came to be free, and why the old Spinder had to die. Luka loved the story as a kid, it was exciting, especially the long form that detailed the battles between Mayen and the three Tyrants.

Luka could see the dissent in the eyes of those in front of him. It wasn’t just the foreigners, men from other stars, but even some of his own. The story was hard to lock down. Were there three tyrants, or four? Was Mayen one of the tyrants? He kept his rendition short, so even those with complaints would be hard pressed to bring them forward.

“This is our story, in short,” Luka said, moving aside from the podium, “But I know that among you, there are different versions of our god. Now is the time to hear it.”

The voices rose again, and for a moment Luka was afraid that no one would answer his request. There was always that chance, that they would simply retreat into their arguments, voices bouncing off the walls until they marched out of the room.

Then a man rose in the seats, and held his hand up. The others from Gliese went silent, and soon the room followed. He walked forward, and Luka could immediately see why he was the one who would speak.

He had horns like a great buck, they twisted up from his head, branching out far enough that Luka wondered how he navigated doorways. His eyes were a brilliant green that stunned Luka with a glance. His clothing was fine spun, with what looked like precious silver and gold on the fringes.

“I am Toth Goldbranch,” The man said to the crowd, “Many of you know me. Some of you in person, others through letters and word of mouth.”

Luka stepped further back from the podium and listened to Toth speak. The man clearly had a way with words, and the respect of his people. Still, it always surprised Luka the level of wealth owned by the voices of Mayen among the Glie. They had no shame in showing it either, they wore trinkets and rings, and glimmered in the light. Often they had branched horns, but Luka didn’t know if that was related.

“Among my people, Mayen takes on a different face. We don’t have grand books dedicated to him, though I respect your works of art. Instead, Mayen is respected in grand tales, and just as often, song. The song of Mayen, our greatest poem, is the lifeblood of the kingdoms.”
Luka was thankful Toth avoided calling their government what it was, an empire. When talking with other Solites, Luka could feel the disgust when Glie talked about their ‘empire’ under the branched crown.

Toth cleared his throat, and then spoke again with a musical note. It wasn’t singing, just sing-song, a tone that said this was from memory, ancient and exact.

“We were yours once, Mayen. You wore our horns, and sang our song. You felt us in you, even then. You broke your horns, and bled us out. The land was your scars, mountains of scabs, and rivers of red. We rose in your image, your branch, your coil, your curve, and more. We served you once, Mayen. We bowed at your feet, built mighty towers to your crown, and relished in your praise. We were children, and took your every word as law.”

Luka nodded, he could see the similarities. If he had the text in front of him, there was even the possibility he could find the confusion between the Solite texts, and the Glie stories. But he had tried this before, and most of the tales of the Glie were kept oral, as a tradition. He took down what he could, but they insisted on keeping the tales away from pen and parchment.

“But we were foolish youths, and one of the tribes wished for godhood as well. They crowned their own king, and they took their own land. They built their own towers, and they called Mayen coward. Armies joined them, or died, and through this Mayen stayed quiet. They marched to him, blades at the ready, standing behind the Coilhorned king…”

An uproar began, and Luka was snapped back to reality. The other Glie, they were nearly at blows in the audience, holding each other at arms length and shouting in their own language.

“Whoa brothers!” Luka said as he raced to the podium, standing beside Toth, “Please, let him finish. Whatever the disagreement is, we can discuss it after.”

One of the Glie with spiraling horns forced himself toward the front, pushing others behind him, “He would spread his lies even here!” He shouted.

Luka looked to Toth, and saw that the speaker’s face was passive. Still, something was just below the surface there, a compressed aggression. Luka turned back to the crowd, and put his hands up.

“Please,” Luka shouted, “Can we just have peace? We will make it nowhere if we fight each other instead of listening. We will hear many different versions before our work is done.”

Toth stepped forward, and spoke with a voice that dwarfed Luka’s, “I take back my words, brothers. It was a slip of the tongue.”

His apology spread through the room, and everyone headed back to their seats and tables. Toth nodded to Luka, and after a moment’s hesitation, he backed away from the podium again.

“There isn’t much left to say, I’m afraid,” Toth said, “We struck Mayen, and Mayen’s blood struck back. He struck with black claws, the power of the raw. He smote our king, and shattered the land that once was. For a time, we learned a lesson only tragedy could teach.”

Toth spoke with a flourish, and then bowed. It seemed with that small addition, he was finished.

Luka could still hear the murmuring in the crowd as Toth returned to his seat, but the horned men were still not at rest. In reality, he didn’t know how to calm them because he couldn’t understand what had roused them. He could tell it was some part of the Mayen tale, but the history wasn’t his. The coilhorned king, that was what made them angry, and Luka could already imagine the different tribesman blaming the others for their downfall before time.

To Luka, the chance that their story was the literal truth ended at his own lack of horns.

Then Luka noticed a woman and man walking to the front. They both wore the simplistic brown robes of the Ceti, their skin nearly matching in texture and color. They didn’t say a word as they came to the podium, but Luka stepped away regardless.

Only three Ceti came to his gathering. Of the worlds, they were most resistant to his idea. Ceti was ‘of one mind’, on their faith to Mayen. That was the message he received again and again in reply to his letters. They didn’t want to talk to him, they saw no reason to question the lord chief.

The three who came were a surprise to him. He tried to reach out to the growing radical element within the Ceti, but not even they would attend. As far as he could tell, these Ceti were from the main tribes, which meant to Luka that they spoke for the lord chief as well.

They stood at the front podium, and the female Ceti reached into a side bag.

“We come to tell you the truth of Mayen, the deliverer,” She said, her Sol still rough, “for we have listened, and you could not be more wrong.”

Her language was a little harsh, but he could blame that on their lack of exposure to their tongue. The fact she was speaking Sol at all was impressive, with how little trade the Ceti allowed.

She pulled a statue from her bag, and the room erupted in bright light. Luka winced, and heard screams of panic from across the room. Even blocking his vision, he could barely look in the direction of the podium, and he could barely make out others hiding behind their tables.

The Ceti was yelling over the screams, “Mayen built paradise,” She shouted, “Mayen built the Ceti, and his brothers built others. But Mayen was the strongest, and when his brothers saw his great works, they poisoned the Ceti. For their folly, Mayen banished his brothers, and their creations, from paradise. But it was too late, the Ceti were now weak, and unfit for paradise. So we seek it, forever under Mayen’s eye, and hoping to find the home we deserve.”

The statue’s light had died down, and Luka could see now that it was a statue of a god, arms out and welcoming, a wreath of light around it. The statue seemed to be made of a glowing metal, he recognized the material from one of his studies when he first entered the church. They called it, Ichorite, Mayen metal, the blood of god. It was rare to see even a sliver, and here the Ceti had a small statue.

“So now you see,” The Ceti said, “You’re just another abomination, and an obstacle to our deliverance.”

The room burst into chaos. It started with shouted accusations, then a Glie threw a punch at his own, then someone charged the podium. There was nothing else to learn here, not today.

Now Luka saw the flaw in his plan. Yes, they all worshipped Mayen, and they all saw him as god. What he did not realize until it was too late was the danger of telling, no showing, a people that there was no chance they were the chosen ones.

Mayen had either made them all, or had just made one. Either all their legends were wrong, or they were now neighbors to monsters.

Luka backed away from the arguments as they grew to a peak. He had to think, and he couldn’t split his mind between breaking up the frustrations in front of him and breaking apart the puzzle in his mind.

Still, one matter was growing plain to him. After listening to the three stories, which were just small pieces of greater lore that had grown among three great peoples over generations, something was plain.

Mayen was not guiding them. If the great god was still out there, alive, and speaking to his children, how could their stories have grown so radically different? Luka knew men who had vivid dreams of speaking to Mayen, or wrote new verses in fever fits. He either had to believe this was unique to Sol, or admit that the Ceti and Glie had felt the same in kind. Mayen was silent, and they were in this fight alone.

He watched as holy men and women brawled in front of him, spitting curses he would expect from soldiers on the battlefield. No, they weren’t alone. They had each other, and Mayen’s power was still in the land, and moreso in them, his greatest creation.

Saturday Fiction: Giorgio the Juggler

In 2013 I participated in NaNoWriMo, writing a small novel in 30 days. I also worked together with my other half to write short stories to be read alongside her NaNo. All of the stories were the origins of Circus folk in a mystical circus with some unusual members. This is the story of their resident juggler, Giorgio.

Excuse the simple language, Giorgio is a simple guy.

Giorgio the Juggler
Smalltown, USA

Sometimes you don’t get to make the choices in life. Sometimes everything is out of your hands, and you just get to go along with the ride.

That’s what Giorgio thought. Life hadn’t been easy so far, but he didn’t stress about it. He wasn’t that smart, and he knew it. School had never been easy for him, when he even bothered to go. His family had come to America with a hope that things would be different, that they could have a fresh life. Instead he spent his life hearing stories about the old country.

He had a skill though, a talent. When it came to sports, Giorgio was a natural. It didn’t matter what he put his hands on, a baseball, a basketball, he could move it with such ease that it blew the minds of his family and friends.

It didn’t matter if he was out in a field juggling a ball, or wrestling in a backroom, no one was better than Giorgio.

One day, when Giorgio was still in school, he was juggling out in the yard with the other boys. He had found heavy rocks, and produced a knife from his back pocket.

“I bet you can’t do it,” One boy offered, “I bet you my lunch.”

These are the bets he loved most. A free meal, and plenty of fun. He threw the first rock, began to pace it in the air, and soon the second rock, before the knife joined in. The other boys were in awe as it spun in the air, its blade gleaming, narrowly missing his palm each time it came down.

To Giorgio, this was easy, a carefree way to spend the time.

“Another rock,” shouted one of the boys, chucking one at him. He caught it in his left hand, and soon the rock joined the rotation, floating through the air as if weightless.

“Giorgio!” Shouted a girl’s voice. It was his sister.

He caught the rocks, one by one, and let the knife fall to the ground. It landed with its point digging into the earth near his foot.

The other boys turned their face to the black haired girl approaching them, an angry look on her face.

“Mary,” Giorgio said as he dropped the rocks behind him.

“You know you should be studying, you know what mother said.”

He turned his face away. The other boys ran off, snickering as they went. He didn’t want to be yelled at, not for doing something he loved, not for being good at something.

“Come on Giorgio,” She said while grabbing him by the hand, “We have to go back, school will start again soon.”

He let her hand go, “I’ll catch up.”

She looked at him, but he grinned in a way he knew she couldn’t resist. A big brother’s grin.

“Trust your brother.”

Mary looked back at the school, nodded, and ran off.

Giorgio retrieved his knife from the ground, balanced it in his hands. It was a pocket knife, his favorite, worn through years of service. Given to him by his father, before father left.

“Have you always been that good?” Asked a voice.

Giorgio turned, and there stood a man, hidden under the shadow of a tree. Giorgio turned away from him.

“Everyone says,” Giorgio started, “Giorgio is the best there is.”

The man laughed, it was a jolly laugh. Whatever made him happy, it was none of Giorgio’s business, but he remembered thinking he had never heard anyone that glad to see a boy juggle.

“Giorgio,” Said the man, “I think I know something you could do, and do well.”

It was an offer, a job. If he wanted, and the man always left him the choice, he could join their circus. Giorgio knew it was in town, saw the signs about the big top, saw the peak of the tents on his way to school.

At first he didn’t like the idea, but the man offered him the chance to come and see, meet the people, try it out. They were leaving in a week, and by then he could make his choice.

Giorgio went after school. He wasn’t that impressed with the carnival rides, and the loud vendors. It seemed like a place for children, and in his eyes, he was almost a man. He didn’t need cotton candy, or hot dogs.

Then he saw the strong men, and the jugglers. These men showing off great might and skill, smiles on their faces as they hoisted weights or juggled blades in pairs.

The jolly man took him to the back of the tent, introduced him to the other circus folk. Some of them were no older than him, some looked ancient in comparison.

“What can he do?” Asked a man only a little older than Giorgio.

The man looked at Giorgio, then to the juggler, “Give the boy your blades.”

Giorgio had never juggled long blades before. He held three in his hands, weighed them, practiced tossing one.

“The boy’ll end himself,” Said the juggler with a heavy accent.

“Hush,” Said the man who brought him there.

Giorgio looked at all the eyes on him, bulky mustached men and skinny acrobats. He swallowed, and began. His hands slid over the hilt of the blades, and one by one he launched them, juggled them in the air, and soon they were dancing above him like anything else.

The people were watching him, and at first he thought he saw anger, frustration. Then, they burst into cheering, claps and shouting for him to go on. Giorgio smiled, and the blades went higher, twirling in the air.

When he finished, the strongman smacked him on the back, and the juggler squeezed him in a hug. They smelled of barn straw and sweat, but they looked happy, and they made him happy. He stayed with them, listened to their music, tunes he had never heard, sometimes in languages he didn’t understand. They were unreal.

When he returned home, the lights on the street already lit, he could see his sister waiting for him outside their house. Her face was red with rage, and Giorgio’s smile did nothing to slow her anger.

“Where have you been?” She cried out, “Mother is worried sick.”

Giorgio looked through the window, but he knew what he was looking for wasn’t there; his mother’s face. She would be inside, sleep for the next day, ready to work.

“Where were you?” Mary asked as Giorgio passed her. She grabbed him by the arm, tried to hold him in place. Giorgio would have none of it, and pulled himself free.

“I was at the tents,” He said, “For the circus.”

The explanation was simple, but it did nothing to change his sister’s expression. She looked hurt, on top of her anger. They squeezed inside the house, and Giorgio sat down in a chair to take off his boots.

“You went to the circus without me?” Mary said, “With what money? What were you doing there?”

Giorgio didn’t look at her. It was hard to ignore her, not to see something of his mother there. She was so concerned, but it never felt like concern for him. She was trying to keep him in place, make sure he became the new father of the house, with the same work, the same lack of control. She didn’t seem to understand, father was gone.

“I was invited,” Giorgio said, “For no money. The recruiter, he wanted to see my talent.”

“Your talent?” Mary said, her voice rising.

“My talent. He says I am exceptional. He says I could be great in their circus, I would bring in great crowds and be happy there.”

Giorgio didn’t see the strike coming, but he felt the sting of Mary’s palm. It felt like a hot coal across the cheek, and the pain lingered, made the room spin.

“Stupid,” She said, “Did you even think about us? Did you think about your family? You will be happy there, but what will they pay you? How will we live, Giorgio? You are being a stupid boy.”

He looked at her, and he could see her palm reach back again, a look of fury in her eyes. Giorgio caught her arm, stood up from the chair.

Even without his boots, he towered over her. Looking down she was exactly what she should have been, a child. Her wrist was small in his palm, flimsy. He had to concentrate to loosen his grip, and she pulled her arm free, held it in her opposite hand.

“Stupid,” She whispered. Then she sniffled, her breath caught in her throat.

Giorgio took a deep breath, “I want to be happy, Mary. Can’t you and mother come with me? We can travel, see the world, and all of us will be happy.”

Sports, running, juggling, these things were what his life was all about. Asking anyone, they would have told you the same. Giorgio loved to move, Giorgio had a natural talent. He thought of the other boys with talents, some were good with numbers, others were good at fixing things, these talents Giorgio could see going places. They would work, and their sisters would be happy, they wouldn’t fight in the dark.

“It doesn’t work that way,” Mary said, turning and heading to go to bed.

Giorgio sat back in the chair, looked around their house. It was tiny, full of pictures and gifts from family. It was home, but it didn’t make Giorgio feel welcome.

The next days he spent with the circus folk, dancing, singing, playing. It was beautiful. The women were extraordinary, hair flowing as they span in circles. The men were free, they played instruments when they wanted, and their work looked like play. They would draw in crowds of people, show off their skills, and Giorgio would watch.

One day, the juggler invited him over to join him. Giorgio had never juggled with someone else, but he wasn’t afraid now. He took his position, smiled to the crowd, people from his town and beyond. They surrounded them as the long knives were pulled out, they wowed the crowd as they tested the knives by cutting ropes, by digging them deep into wooden poles to show they were deadly. Then the juggler threw him his first knife, and without fail, Giorgio sent it right back to him, found the timing between them. The act created cries of awe from children.

Then another man lit small torches, and threw them to the juggler. The number of objects doubled, but they still juggled them without fail, smiles on their faces, cheers from the crowd. The torches felt hot on Giorgio’s palms, the light was blinding, but it was a rush like he had never felt.

When they it was time to stop, Giorgio caught the knives, the juggler caught the torches, and they both bowed to the audience around them. Never had Giorgio been part of anything so wonderful.

When the crowd dispersed, the recruiter man came to him.

“Juggle these,” he said, handing Giorgio two small rubber balls.

Giorgio shrugged, and did this.

“I want you for this circus,” The man said, “You don’t know what that means to me. We don’t hire just anybody, we only bring in family. If you come with us, you are one of us, and we will protect you as our own. You are something special Giorgio, and I don’t say that lightly.”

The man had a fast tongue, but his words only made him think of Mary. His sister would have hated what the man was saying, maybe she would have slapped him too.

“What about my real family?” Giorgio asked.

The man looked over his shoulder, and he nodded at the strong man. The man took a black dumbbell he was using, and without hesitation, threw it at Giorgio.

Giorgio was afraid, but then he caught it, and he juggled it. The weight seemed light, as if it was fake. Giorgio felt silly for ever fearing it in the first place.

“We can send your money home,” The man said as he watched Giorgio. He nodded to the strong man again, and another weight was thrown. This time Giorgio didn’t react, he caught it, added it to the whirling air show.

“My sister, she will not be happy,” Giorgio said.

“Your sister doesn’t know what is best for you,” The man said, “You don’t belong here. They will put you in some factory, or working on a farm. This is not your destiny, Giorgio. I’m here in this city for you.”

“I will think about this,” Giorgio said.

Giorgio stopped juggling, catching the balls in one hand, and the weights in the other. The dumbells, which seemed as light as air a moment before, regained the weight he feared they had before. At first Giorgio strained to carry them, then realized it was impossible, and dropped the weight to the ground where it crashed into the dirt.

Giorgio’s arm flared with pain, and he looked at the dumbbells, unsure what to think of them, or what just happened.

When he looked at the recruiter, the man was staring at Giorgio intently.

“See that you do think about it,” He said, “You have two more days, Giorgio.”

Giorgio returned home, and this time his sister didn’t bother to welcome him. He walked into their house, and she was in the kitchen, cleaning dishes. He sat down and took off his boots.

The main thing on his mind was those weights. No matter how much he asked, no one would explain what happened. He tested them, and found they were as heavy as he expected, as were the other weights of the strongman. Still, when they were being juggled, they felt weightless. Was this what all circuses were like? Was it just a trick they used? Some special show business?

The man, he made it seem like it was Giorgio’s fault. How could that be? All Giorgio knew was to play, to juggle, to enjoy himself. Sure, he had a talent, but it wasn’t something like that.

“You didn’t go to school again,” His sister said as she brought out a plate of food and set it on the table behind him.

“Thank you,” He said. Taking a knife, and digging into the simple plate of veggies and chicken. He could tell she was annoyed with him, but he didn’t bother to look up at her.

“Everyone was worried,” She continued, “They wanted to know where my brother had gone. I told them, he wants to be carnival folk. He doesn’t care if his sister and mother starve.”

“I do,” He said as he chewed, “I do care.”

“This isn’t how you act,” She said as she went back to the sink and scrubbed more dishes, “You’re acting like a spoiled child. You think only of your own dreams. You think I wouldn’t want to join the circus? When we were younger, I dreamed of that all the time. Then things changed, because we got older.”

“The man,” Giorgio began, “He says I can take everyone with me. We don’t have to worry about money. We can live with them, earn money, and be safe.”

“And be circus freaks?” She said, a crash of dishes accompanying her frustration, “Do you think mother wants to live like that? Can’t we be normal people, brother? Is that so difficult for you? No childish tricks, no showboating, just working and living.”

He swallowed a mouthful, and scooted his chair away from the table, “You want to live my life for me.”

Mary turned, “No, Giorgio, I just want us all to be happy. Not just you.”

“You want us all to be miserable,” Giorgio replied as he stood up, “I will do what I have to. You can go on being miserable.”

Mary’s eyes could have lit a pool of water on fire. She watched him leave the room, and head back to bed. Then Giorgio could hear her go back to washing dishes.

The next day his friends knew about his decision. They surrounded him before school, jeering and chatting between each other.

“A circus freak?” One boy said, “Giorgio is definitely unique, like a wild tigerman.”

“A real brute,” Another said, “Will they put you in a cage?”

They laughed and poked fun, but Giorgio didn’t listen. They were his friends, but at the same time they were never close. They were just the boys in his class, the same ones that were there every day, for him to play with, wrestle, juggle for. They were sometimes mean.

“I will juggle,” Giorgio said, “He says I am talented.”

“Really?” Said one smaller boy, “Talented like that bearded lady they got?”

They broke into laughter again, but now the bell rang. They had to head to class. Giorgio did what he always did, try to survive the session. He wasn’t bright, and he knew that, but he absorbed what he could. He could count, and he could write, and that suited him just fine. He knew some history, he knew some math, and that got him through tests when they asked.

When the bell let them out into the yard, Giorgio stretched, and headed down to join the other boys. He saw a commotion, a circle of boys around a man. It was the strongman.

The man saw him above the school boys, and waved. The kids were all crying out at him, shouting insults, throwing small rocks at him. He ignored them.

“Friend Giorgio,” He said, “I am here to see you.”

Giorgio charged the circle of boys, pushed his way in.

“Stay away from him,” One yelled.

“He stinks,” Said another.

“Get him.”

When he finally made it through the crowd, the strongman reached down and grabbed him. Lifting Giorgio up in his arms, he was brought a few heads higher than the crowd. From up there, Giorgio could drown out the cries, ignore the pebbles being launched at them.

“You wanted to speak to me?” Giorgio said.

“I am here to say, we leave tomorrow, just after dawn, if you wish to come.”

Giorgio looked down at the people at the strongman’s feet.

“What if they don’t want me to come?” Giorgio asked.

The strongman seemed to know the look on his face, and brought Giorgio closer. He could smell that earthy smell on the large man.

“It is tough choice,” Said the strong man, “But, I find these things solve themselves.”

The man nodded, and put Giorgio down back in the center of the circle.

A rock flew straight for the strongman’s head, and with one sweep of his arm, the strongman caught it. With a squeeze of his fist, the rock crumbled into smaller pebbles. The large man made an angry face, flaring his nostrils and twitching his mustache. The boys gasped, and all backed off.

With a wave, the strongman left the schoolyard.

The other boys gathered around Giorgio, and soon the flinging of insults was focused on him as well.

“What are you doing with that freak?” Said one boy before he pushed Giorgio.

“Do you think your circus folk can protect you?” Said another.

The circle became nasty in a way that Giorgio had never imagined before. It was almost like watching animals snapping at large food, wolves slobbering at the muzzle. Giorgio looked around him and saw exactly what he was afraid of, people with nothing to accomplish, sad people who didn’t know what to do with themselves. Were their lives so empty that they had to attack him for something as simple as wanting to juggle.

He broke out of the circle, tried to head toward home, but a few of the boys followed, staying close behind him on the paths home. He started to run, trying to create as much distance as he could between him and them.

They ran as well, and here Giorgio knew he was truly in trouble. There was no way to get away from them, not unless he was faster, could run longer. Maybe he could, but even then, what if they knew where he lived? Would they stop at his door, or would they try to come inside? What did they even want?

So right before a field, he stopped and turned on them.

At this point only 4 of the boys remained.

“What do you want?” Giorgio shouted as the boys surrounded him.

“What are you doing with those people?” Asked one of the boys, “We’ve heard you were doing your little show there, you might even go live with them?”

This was Mary’s doing. She was telling others about the circus, and it had angered his schoolyard buddies. It seemed strange she would go this far, but he didn’t need to look far for proof. The red in their eyes was something only Mary could create. She was good at moving people’s hearts with just her words. Maybe that was her talent.

“It isn’t your business,” Giorgio said, “I’ll go where I want.”

“You think so?” Another boy said, “Maybe you’ll figure it out when you can’t walk so good.”

Giorgio imagined Mary telling the boys, spreading lies about the circus, about his new friends he enjoyed so much. Why else would they be so angry at the strongman? The most dangerous thing about him was his odor, and his booming laughter. As he told her, she was trying to stop his happiness. He couldn’t take that anymore.

Giorgio clenched his fist, and the boys came at him. Four on one wasn’t fair, no matter how much Giorgio liked to fight. It didn’t matter how many punches he threw, or how many he wrestled to the ground, if they had the numbers to surround him.

When they left him he was bruised and covered in dirt. His eyes felt like they were swelling, and he didn’t even know if he could sit up.

They stood around him, and one of them spat on him. Then they left. Giorgio rested his eyes.

When he got home, Mary was already sleep. He set his alarm clock, and laid down to go to sleep. His bruises kept him awake, each twist and turn sending a shooting pain through his ribs. Still, if he woke up early enough, he could pack up his things, and he could go to the circus. No matter how many people his sister sent, she couldn’t stop him from being happy.

When Giorgio’s eyes opened, it wasn’t to his alarm clock. It was to Mary’s smiling face, hanging above him.

“Wake up, sleepy,” She said.

He saw that sunlight was coming through the window, and sat up.

“My alarm,” He said as he got out of bed, “What happened to my alarm?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Mary said, “I decided it would be better if you slept.”

He turned to his sister, and she looked at him with an expressionless glance. It was cold, sinister.

“No,” He said, “Where is the clock, what time is it?”

“What time did they tell you?” Mary said as she walked toward the kitchen, “They should already be on their way out of town.”

Giorgio rushed to his cabinet, pulled out a pair of pants and threw them on. He tried to pull a shirt over his head as he got into the living room, but Mary was standing in front of the door.

“Where do you think you’re going?” She said, “Don’t you get it. Its over. Go relax, brother. There will be no more circus.”

Giorgio grabbed her at the shoulder, and pushed her aside, pulling the door open to the bright morning sun. She was right that he was late, the circus would have packed up through the night, they were likely on their way already. He had to make it there before it was all gone, see if he could talk to someone.

He ran from the house, and Mary followed, “Come back Giorgio,” she said, “You can’t.”

It didn’t matter what she thought. He had no other choice. If he stayed here now, Mary had made sure he had enemies at school, that his former playmates hated him, and his life would be miserable.

Mary kept pace as he ran the trail. The road was ahead, right before the clearing where the tent had set up. He couldn’t see the tents. It made his eyes sting with tears, his feet felt heavy. He wanted to see some sign, any sign that they were still there. He could feel himself slowing though, giving up. Maybe she was right, there was no hope. He would have to live the life defined for him, some time in a factory, an eternity of misery, day by day.

He could hear her coming up behind him. He stopped before the road, cars passing each way.

“Giorgio!” She shouted, and he turned to face her, “Stop!”

She ran into him, full run, and knocked him back. He heard the cry of a horn, and heard the screech of wheels. Then something heavy hit him in the chest.

When his eyes opened, Giorgio could hear voices all around him, could see the colors of the circus.

He tried to sit up, but a hand held him down.

“Stay down, friend,” Said the strong man.

The colors he was seeing, it was clowns, their painted faces looking down at him in a red, blue, and yellow dotted pattern. The crowd cleared long enough for Giorgio to see around him.

A truck was over-ended in the road, a wheel turned way off its axis.

People were crowded around the edge of the road. It seemed his town had come to see what the commotion was.

Across the street, he could see Mary, crying so hard that her face was red. She was being hugged, by his mother. When Giorgio looked, his mother turned her eyes to look at him. They were tired eyes, a dead stare that he only saw occasionally on weekends. It was a face that fed two kids, wearing an apron and a layer of dirt.

Mary’s eyes turned on him as well.

The recruiter touched him on the shoulder, “I know you’re shaken,” The man said, “But we have a schedule to keep.”

Giorgio looked at his sister, waved for her to join him. Mary shook her head no, hugged closer to their mother.

It felt like he was sore all over, and his stomach was on fire, and he didn’t know what was causing which. Giorgio bowed his head.

“I’ll come,” He said.

There was a cheer among the circus folk, and the strongman pulled Giorgio up into the air. Though they were just somber, they were already full of happiness and song. The movement of their dancing caused a jolting pain through his chest, and Giorgio pulled up his shirt to see what the cause was.

A handprint was across his chest, so large that he knew only one pair of hands that could make it. He looked to the wrecked truck in the road, and the saddened faces of the people he used to know. He never had a choice, he was born with a talent, and he was going to be happy.

Saturday Fiction: Runner [A Tri-star story]

For this Saturday, I had to work past some reservations I had about writing anymore. So I broke some rules. There aren’t a lot of hard rules when writing,  everything is about the moment, but some rules I would never break at my age. Then I decided to do it anyway, for today.

the-crystal-cave-287

They’re coming. The footsteps are there, right out of earshot.

It doesn’t matter how many hills, how many valleys, they are always right there. The wind carries them, a feeling more than a sound, the absolute knowledge of being followed.

He could feel it in his soul, even as his legs burned from running. There was no chance to stop. They would be upon him, seize him, end him.

He fell against a tree, his whole body shaking with the effort to stand. Each breath came as a long gasp, his legs were shivering, refusing to stay locked upright. He pulled the cloth from his cloak and wiped the sweat from his forehead. His fingers clung to the material, not by choice but through exhaustion and desperation.

This was going to kill him, he was sure of it. This was the end of his journey. It didn’t matter where he thought he could make it to, his body gave up, he couldn’t get there. In retrospect, he should have stayed behind, with the others. Maybe he could have done something. They were so afraid, it was going to be terrible.

His heart was beating faster by the second, he could feel it building up inside him. It told him to move, even as his whole body screamed in protest. It told him they were coming, they were right behind him, a thousand footsteps, all coming to trample him into the dirt.

It wasn’t that he didn’t know pain. He had bruises up his sides that said otherwise. He could take the pain. He looked at the back of his hand. Scars ran across his skin, one for each mistake, each time he let himself be caught. Never again, that was the choice he shared with the others.

They just didn’t want to listen. They waited too long, thought they could make a difference. Now they were going to pay with skin out of their hides, and blood on the ground. There was no doubt about it, he had to move, even if his body collapsed to dust.

So he ran, between trees and brush, over roots and holes. He heaved with each breath, and tears came to his eyes, but he ran. With each passing moment it became surviving. Legs pumped their last, his lungs squeezed what they could find. He could faintly hear the wheezing, but he wasn’t hearing much of anything.

The forest started to head downhill. It was briefly a boon, to go so fast with so little effort. Then he realized that stopping was as hard as going, and his body was too far gone for either. His foot caught in a root, and he fell forward into the oncoming darkness of the thick brush. He rolled, his vision swimming, his mind a daze.

It hurt. But he was so tired, of running, and of pain, that that didn’t matter. It could hurt all it wanted. He closed his eyes, and let the hill take him. It was dirty, cold, knobbled. Then, it seemed smooth, and colder, and unbelievably quiet. Then it was nothing, as his mind faded to black.

When he opened his eyes, he was surrounded by a glow like a thousand candles. He tried to sit up, but his body protested, and he fell couldn’t do more than roll to his back. The whole room was alive, light bouncing from every surface. It was like the sun living behind a cavern wall, peeking through to say hello.

A cavern? He didn’t remember going to a cavern. He had to have rolled there. The fall knocked him out, he had to have slept, but he didn’t feel the squeeze on his heart of them getting closer. Somehow he felt, safe.

He let out a sigh, and the light in the room danced as if he blew on the flame directly. His eyes opened wide, and he looked all around, but he couldn’t find the candle itself. When he got up, if he got up, he would have to take a look around.

His eyes closed, and he fell back into a sleep.

Next time his eyes opened, the glow was there, accompanied by the warmth of midday. He tried to move, and his limbs responded with tentative success. Each movement was painful, but at least he could do it. He rolled onto his stomach, moved to his knees, and looked around. Each direction lead to more cave, and despite the light, it was impossible to see far. The paths from where he was curled off, the walls of crystallized light blending with each other as they curved. He was in the middle of nowhere, and in the back of his mind, he knew that didn’t make sense.

He struggled to his feet, and touched the wall for support. It wasn’t warm. With how warm the cave was, why wasn’t the wall warm? It chilled him, an unnerving whiplash of senses. Still, he needed to move. He couldn’t just sit in the cave forever, he had to find a way out.

He struck out one direction. There was a limp in his step, and he had to collect himself every few steps, but it was something. He came to crossroads in the cave, paths that veered off in opposite directions, and chose thought about each choice. If he let himself get turned left, he would circle back in time if he was following the left wall. Following the right path would cover straight ground, and eventually lead to a path out. At least that was what his desperate mind told him. He needed out, he had to be anywhere but here.

More cave, more turns, and soon the paths began to look familiar. The same V-shaped fork, the same 4 way, the same right turn with a nook. He took the opposite choices as before, tried to find some place new. The same paths came again. He looked at his feet. There was a ditch run there, as if he had taken those steps a thousand times. It was impossible, and at once, he could feel it in his bones.

What was this place?
He pushed to the next intersection of paths. Hadn’t he taken every path now? Why did his ditch only take one? Why was the other path untouched? That feeling was creeping back, the sensation of being pursued, the oncoming feet. He wiped his brow, let out a sigh.

Maybe this was it. Maybe he was already caught, and this time there was no mercy. He was trapped here, with no chance of escape. It was an endless maze of his own stupid choices. He shivered, and realized the heat of the cave had faded.

There was no point in running.

The thought crept into his mind. If he was dead, if this was what he suspected, he didn’t need to flee. What would come, would come. He could stay there, at the corner, forever.

Still, he held himself up on the wall. He could let go, fall to his knees, wait for the warmth to return. Would it return?

He took a step, closed his eyes, and took another. He walked, not pushing himself too hard, but walked regardless. It all felt like the cave, his fingers on the chilled walls, the uneven ground, the smell of light soil and some distant moisture. He knew where he was, and could go until he was anywhere else.

Then the path warmed up again, and he opened his eyes. He was in a dead end. The lights were brighter than ever, collected into large stones that almost pulsed. He wanted to be closer, needed to be closer. He pushed himself, grunting with each step.

Something was in here. It was the same something that brought him this far into the cave, that much he knew right away. It was like a voice, but it hadn’t said a word to him. Maybe a power, a god even. It pulled him across that place, brought him here for what, to see glowing rocks?

He was close enough now. The wall was mostly one large crystal, bigger than any of the shards that lit his way there. He looked into the surface. He needed to know what wanted him here so badly, what power was strong enough to drag a man across a forest, away from his own kind, through a maze, and to this very spot. What could it even want?

He searched the flawless surface, tried to look beyond the shimmering light. All he could see was a reflection, his own reflection.

He used his cloak to wipe the surface, desperately trying to make it clearer. He looked again, and his own face looked back at him.

Did he always look like that? So dark, the scars, eyes wet and ready for tears. His hair was coming back, his but his face was bruised and knocked here and there. That was him, the same him and yet not.

What was his name again?

In the moment, it didn’t matter. That him from before, it couldn’t go back, not to his life from before. His hand was on the crystal, and he looked around the room.

How did he get here anyway? Who was he running from? That feeling, like someone was right behind him, it felt so distant now, as if it was lifetimes ago.

He looked over his shoulder, and saw a wall of dancing colors, a portal to someplace else. What do they call them? Mirrors?

It felt silly now, to get so lost in his own thoughts, to let himself get so caught up in the past. He had to go back, let the others know what he knew now, what was possible. They didn’t have to be afraid, they didn’t have to hurt.

Still, somehow, he knew they would feel pain. If it was him, there would only be pain. Which meant he didn’t have a choice.

He took his hand off the wall and stood tall. There were going to be changes, starting with him, his life, his heart, his name. He stepped through the mirror.