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Showing posts from April, 2013

Zero


Last Day !!!!! Sorry, GIF time:


Anyway, I hate to disappoint, but I was really stuck on Z, and I found a picture online that gave me a glimmer of inspiration, but I couldn't figure out what was happening there. So just a tiny smidgen of an idea for you today.
 
[Picture: clipart: initial letter Z from beginning of the 16th Century]
I followed Zero across the field. She never looked back at me as she floated ahead, gripping her umbrella, like Mary Poppins, her red coat flapping in the wind. I wondered again if she was real, or if she was a waking dream.

She stopped at a low mound of earth, grown over with brown grass that waved in the wind. She pointed with her free hand at the mound.

“There?” I asked. Zero nodded silently, her blank doll's face expressionless. I unslung the shovel from my shoulder and started digging.

Youth


Two more posts left in the A to Z, and today I have a bad haiku for you.


The budding of youth
is like the flowering of spring:
sudden and short-lived
[Picture: Decorative initial letter ``Y'' from 16th Century]

Xavier


[Picture: clipart: initial letter X from beginning of the 16th Century]
It was supposed to be a gloomy day, with clouds filling the sky and a cold drizzle on the mourners' heads and shoulders; something to match what they should be feeling. Instead the sun was out, warming them, making them close their eyes and turn their faces to the sky, relishing the first real day of Spring.

Xavier stood behind the crowd, watching them as they bowed their heads in prayer. Then he listened as his daughter and then his son stood before the small gathering to share their eulogies. Carol was fully prepared, as always, and read her remarks from a small sheet of stark white paper. Dan did what he always did and rambled for ten minutes, saying whatever came into his head. Both of them said the kind of things he would have expected them to say at his funeral.

When the children - who were far past childhood - finished there was another prayer, and the Xavier that they all thought they knew was lowered into a hole in the ground. Then the mourners, a small collection of friends, coworkers and family (Xavier took note that his ex-wife wasn't present), filed past the hole, dropping clumps of dirt that landed with soft plops on the casket. The whole thing took forty minutes. Nobody cried.

After they left, two men with shovels came and removed the tarp covering the displaced earth and sod, and began to fill in the grave. Xavier leaned against a massive stone angel and watched them until they were finished tamping the last square of grass back into place. Then he moved closer. There was no headstone yet, only a small plastic marker with his name on it. He sighed as he stared down at his final resting place. Now what was he supposed to do?

When the realization had first hit, he had expected a bright light, a dark tunnel, a chorus of angels. Then as time went on he wondered if maybe there was a guidebook he was missing. A week after the heart attack he was still waiting for someone to show him the way. Funny, he had never really believed in the eternal soul, until now.

Winter Woods



[Picture: clipart: initial letter W from beginning of the 16th Century]The trees loomed over head, their naked branches scraping at the cloudy laden sky. Snow crunched under foot as he stumbled between the tree trunks. The cold may have been seeping through the thin shoes he wore, he didn't know. He couldn't feel his feet anymore.

He should never have come into the woods. He knew that now. The decision had been made in haste; it was the woods in perpetual winter, or the blades that had chased him across the warm, sun-kissed fields that were once his home. It had been hours since he had stepped across that stark boundary between summer and winter, and though adrenaline had kept him warm at first, he was now shivering so hard his teeth clattered against each other. If only he could get warm. A fire, a blanket. Anything.

His legs were heavy now, worn out from constantly plowing through the snow, and he paused for a moment to look for a place to sit. He knew he shouldn't stop moving, that he should keep going, keep his blood going, it was the only way to stay warm. To stay alive. After a few moments of debate, his exhausted body took over and his knees folded below him. He fell, first to his knees, then on his face. He managed to summon the strength to turn his head so that he wouldn't drown or suffocate in the snow, but after that he just lay there, dimly registering the last of the heat leaving his body.

After a while he stopped shivering, and a new kind of warmth spread through him, from his belly, up into his chest and out into his limbs. He sighed, perfectly comfortable. He knew that he was dying, but it seemed to be a much more pleasant death than being beheaded. He closed his eyes one last time, feeling the ice crystals that had built up on his eyelashes brush his cheeks.

There were sounds: crunching, heavy breathing, a muttering. He felt himself being lifted, smelled the odor of a body that hadn't been washed in a very long time. He tried to struggle, but all that came of it was a groan and a few twitches of his frozen fingers.

“Storm o'fury,” a deep, gravelly voice grumbled. “Quit yer mewlin'. We'll get you set straight soon enough.” He managed to open one eye for a second, catching a glimpse of fur and then he felt himself being hefted with a strength that even in his perfectly happy to die state impressed him.

“Get you warmed up," the stranger said. “And then we'll see what we can do with you.”

Vampire

[Picture: Decorative initial letter ``U'' from 16th Century]
"I'm so sorry, dude."

"What the hell?" Jay pressed his hand to the side of his neck. "Did you...were you trying to bite me?"

"It's just...I can't help it," Will said. He really did feel bad. Jay was his best friend and he had let the curse get the better of him. "Are you all right?"

"Just back up." Jay put his free hand up to block Will's step forward. He took his hand away from his neck and looked at it. No blood, but it hurt. "What the hell?" he cried again.

"I didn't mean to. I could hear your blood, and see it pumping through the artery in your neck, and I just - well I guess I lost myself. But look, I didn't even break the skin." He could see the distinct teeth marks on Jay's throat, and there seemed to be some bruising involved. All in all it looked more like a particularly angry hickey than a vampire bite. "I guess you're lucky that the fang thing is a myth."

Jay rubbed his neck again and grumbled. "Oh yeah? What about the stake through the heart thing?"

"That one's true. Then again, no one would survive that."

"Garlic?"

"Nope."

"What about crosses?"

"BS, apparently."

"Are you going to burn up when the sun comes up?"

"I'm a little light sensitive, but nothing a pair of shades and SPF 50 won't fix."

"This is what you get." Jay wagged a finger at him. "I told you that chick was bad."

"Yeah, yeah. Enough of the 'I told you so'." Will rubbed his hands. "What am I going to do? I'm hungry all the time, and I eat and eat. I want meat all the time, but raw meat. Like all I can think about is getting my hands on bloody chunks of meat, but like fresh meat, with blood dripping--"

"All right!" Jay cut him off. "Enough. I don't want to hear anymore. Just let me think." He turned away, placing his hands on the kitchen counter. Will tried not to notice the faint blue veins that feathered across his friend's temple. "What if we kill the one that turned you into this...whatever it is you are now."

"That only works for werewolves."

"How do you know that?"

"It's been a really long week." A long and educational week, Will thought. "I need blood, Jay. I can't survive much longer without it."

"You're not getting mine." Jay took a not very stealthy step towards the kitchen entrance.

"We'll find another way. The blood bank, or the hospital."

"Does it have to be human blood?"

Will looked down at his feet. "Yes."

There was a long moment of silence. Then, "I'll help you, but don't try to bite me again."

"I'll try not to bite you again."

"Not 'try'. Don't"

"I can't promise that, Jay."

Undertown

[Picture: Decorative initial letter ``U'' from 16th Century]

The name on the sign was Undertown. It looked as if it had been painted in rust colored spray paint. He sincerely hoped it was spray paint.

It was a place of ramshackle huts built of scrap metal and wood, held together with rope and bolts, crammed together and often leaning on each other for support. The hovels bordered winding dirt lanes that were never any larger than two particularly broad shouldered men standing side by side. It was a dangerous place, full of starving and desperate people.

Quinn pulled his scarf over his mouth and nose and kept his head down. He wouldn't be the first stranger to wander out of the hills into this town or village or hamlet, whatever it wanted to call itself, but he had been through plenty of places just like it before to know that strangers didn't always come out on the other side of town.

A small child crouched in the doorway of a house made of rags, sheet metal and plywood. Quinn couldn't help but pause; the kids still always got to him even after all this time. The child looked up at him, and grinned, showing crooked, brown teeth, and Quinn realized that the kid wasn't that young. In fact, the person grinning at him and reaching for the knife under a fold of his ragged tunic was well into adolescence, stunted from malnutrition. He hunched his shoulders and hurried away as the sound of laughter rang out behind him. What in the hell was he doing here? He should have steered clear of this place.

The truth was he missed people, even if they were the kind of repellent, mistrustful, thieving, and possibly murderous people who populated Undertown.

Thunder Tanka

[Picture: Decorative initial letter ``T'' from 16th Century]This is another cheat. A reprint from a post I did for last year's A to Z:

Before we begin, I feel like I have to explain what a tanka is. Long story short it's like the better known haiku, except instead of a 5-7-5 count the tanka uses a 5-7-7-5-5 syllable count. Enjoy.

Thunder rumbles and
rolls through the hills as rain pounds
on the roof, gurgling in
the gutters and splashing
on worn stone walkways

Shades

I'm cheating  on this one. This isn't exactly a brand new peice of fiction. It's an excerpt from my work in progress. I'm running out of ideas here people, so just bear with me.
[Picture: Decorative initial letter ``S'' from 16th Century]
 
There were broken lines everywhere, coiling around each other into roiling balls tiny little worlds of their own. They would coalesce and linger, tie themselves into knots, then suddenly fall apart, the individual possibilities floating away from each other. Not seeing, but feeling this she was mesmerized. What is going on?
 
And then she saw them. She saw their shadowy legs making motions like they were walking, their mouths moving, lips shaping words that made no sound. They were gray and translucent; she could see the buildings and the streets behind them. There were three of them, all may have been young men, but it was hard to tell. She had a sense of what they were, but no sense of who they were.
 
Cole grabbed her upper arm, squeezing tight. Myra winced at the pain, but didn’t make a sound. She saw his face pulled tight, his eyes wide, as they followed the shades. He was terrified. Was this why he had been on such high alert? How had he known they would be here?
 
The trio of phantoms, lost souls from another world, were walking together. They knew each other. Whether they were related or not, she couldn’t tell, but their lines curled around each other, creating a little ball of reality for them. The way they moved was so strange to look at. Their bodies flowed through this world as if they were underwater, but moving at normal speed. They were aware of their surroundings, to an extent. She watched as the trio split a telephone pole, one going to the right, the others to the left, even though she was certain they could have walked straight through it, like ghosts.
 
The trio was moving towards them. Cole’s grip on her arm squeezed even harder, and this time she made a noise. He pulled at her, nearly yanking her off of her feet, flattening himself against the brick wall of an old deli. Myra saw why he was so scared then.
 
There were more shades appearing around them, balls of realities forming and curling together, allowing singletons, and duos, whole packs of wandering shades to materialize into existence. They filled the street and the sidewalk crowding each other. Realities collided in ways never meant to be, and Myra felt the reverberations through the lines. And she could hear them.
 
None of them made a sound. Not a peep, or a whisper, or a shout. But she could hear them all the same, a dry hiss in the air, that held words that she would never understand.
 
And she could feel them. Feel the sadness and fear. Some were merely perplexed. They didn’t know where they were, maybe they saw the same things she did, maybe they moved alone in their own worlds without another living soul. Some despaired. They were lost, and had no hope of finding their ways home. Some were angry, shouting at the world, at the others they could see, raging at the universe. Some held no emotions, only emptiness. They had wandered for so long.
 
All of this poured into her as she pressed against the brick wall, no longer caring about the grip on her arm that would leave a bruise in the shape of a hand print. She could hear herself breathing, quick gasps trying to suck in all the oxygen she could get before the shades could steal the air. She could hear Cole, he was crying. Not sobbing, or whimpering, only a low moan soaked in tears.
 
As quickly as they were there, the shades were gone. Their lines fell and drifted away from each other, each of the realities returning to their own worlds, or to some other line. She felt them leave, some abruptly, others faded more slowly until there was only a shadow and whisper, then nothing.

Red

[Picture: Decorative initial letter ``R'' from 16th Century]
Red.

It’s everywhere I look.

So much red.

I told her to leave me alone. I told her I wasn’t well, that I was sick. I could feel it coming on, like a fever. It starts as creeping sensation on my skin, and then it moves on to a general nervousness. I can’t stay still. I have to move. I have to do things.

She knows to leave me alone when I’m not well.

She followed me. She ambushed me. She kept asking why. “Why? Why? Why?” Her voice was so needy.

She should have listened to me, because as I stood there listening to her asking “Why? Why? Why?” everything turned red.

And when I opened my eyes again the red was still there.

Red on the white snow. Red in her short blond hair. My brown hiking boots have red spots on them. I can even feel the red on my face, drying in sticky streaks on my cheeks.

It’s her fault everything turned red. She should have listened.

Quinn

[Picture: Decorative initial letter ``Q'' from 16th Century]


There was something ahead, reflecting the unrelenting sunlight. Quinn narrowed his eyes, but couldn't see what it was. Something metallic, or maybe a piece of glass.

He looked back down at the dry and cracked earth under his feet. He started counting again. The plain was so large, that the only way he could make himself walk across it was by staring at his feet and counting his paces. Every five hundred steps he would stop and look up at the hills ahead of him. They had slowly moved closer over the long day, but he was still so far away. Throughout the day dark clouds had gathered over the hills. He knew that if he was still on the plain when the rain began, he could easily to trapped in the resulting floods, his drowned body broken, and twisted by the deluge before landing somewhere far away when the the waters finally receded.

He put head down and counted. When he hit five hundred, he stopped, looked at the hills to check his progress and adjusted the pack on his back before continuing.

Quinn counted ten times before he reached the thing glittering on the hard packed dirt. He knelt down to inspect the metal and glass frame where it lay. Inside the frame was a photograph of a man and a woman embracing. They were young, the woman was laughing as the man pressed his cheek close to hers. They looked happy. They looked as if they had bathed and eaten a hot meal. They looked as if there was nothing in the world that could break them.

The couple were embracing in front of a large tree, absolutely lousy with green leaves. Quinn tried to remember when was the last time he had seen a tree like that. When he had last seen so much green. He looked around the plain. There was nothing and no one for miles. How had it gotten here?

He looked back at the picture, a moment captured in a time when things were better for everyone.

Quinn stood and looked down at the picture one more time. Whoever those people were, they were long gone, and whoever had dropped this picture here was probably just as dead as they were. He looked up at the hills again. The air above them was a dark, hazy gray. The rains had started, and he was nowhere close to safety.

Phoenix

[Picture: Decorative initial letter ``P'' from 16th Century]
“He's burning up,” Callie said as she brushed her hand across the old man's face. She retrieved the quick read thermometer from the pocket of her smock and swiped it across his forehead. The device beeped and a quick glance at the read out made her shake her head.

“What's wrong?” the new aide asked.

“Thermometer's broke.” She reset the thermometer and tried to check the old man's temperature again. The read out was more wrong this time. “Hundred and fifteen. Can't be right.” She placed her hand on her patient's forehead again. The heat that radiated from him was intense, she had never felt anything like it on a living thing. “Best get the doctor. Even if this thing is broken he's running a high fever.”

The aide hurried from the room as Callie pulled the covers down from the old man's body. His body was thin and and sickly looking. As she loosened the gown he was wearing she felt the heat intensify. It was as if there was fire being stoked inside him.

“What's going on?” The RN on duty bustled into the room, followed by an orderly and the nurse's aide. Callie fought the urge to roll her eyes. Tell the girl to get a doctor and she comes back with an orderly.

“He's spiking a fever,” Callie said. “Last temp reading was one-fifteen.”

“Impossible.” As the RN spoke, Callie noticed a smell in the air, like roasting meat.

“He's smoking!” the orderly cried.

They all stared in awe, terror, and dumfoundedness as thin curls of smoke began to rise from the old man's thin gown. Then it caught fire. Shouting words her mother would have beaten her for, Callie snatched the pitcher of water next to the bed and dumped it over the patient.

With a *whoomp* the man burst into flames.

The RN was shouting, the aide was screaming. Callie tried to push them out of the way and found their way blocked by the quick thinking orderly who had retrieved the fire extinguisher from the hall. The flames were shooting up from the bed scorching the ceiling. The frail body was completely engulfed.

As quickly as it had started, it was over. The orderly didn't even have time to press the lever on the extingusher when the flames died down and disappeared.

They all stared, slack-jawed at the tiny form lying on the bed.

The baby opened it's mouth and let out a hearty wail.

October

A slight change of pace today. Instead of a story, I have a haiku for you:

[Picture: Decorative initial letter ``O'' from 16th Century]
 

Autumn sun sets as
scarlet leaves whisper secrets
to the growing dark

Noemi


[Picture: Decorative initial letter ``N'' from 16th Century]The trees surrounded her on all sides, pressing in against her. Noemi stepped carefully around a large trunk, trying not to rustle the ferns that insisted on getting in her way. The deer, a yearling buck with short, slender horns, froze. Noemi froze along with it, holding her breath. Her arm ached from holding the bow in position.

There was a crack as a branch overhead broke. Probably a squirrel or large bird. Whatever it was, the startled buck leapt into the underbrush, gone in a flash.

Noemi groaned and lowered her bow. She rolled her shoulders and stretched. She wasn't supposed to be out here. She was supposed to be back at the tiny cabin with her children. But she was out here, hunting. If only her husband was still here.

She looked about, getting her bearings. Despite it being mid-day, she was not very far from home. She turned west and found her way to the small stream that winded it's way through the forest. There she knelt and drank cool clear water from her cupped hands. Then she splashed some of the water on her arms and face before sitting back on her haunches to watch the stream flow past.

“Noemi.”

Noemi jumped at the sound and grabbed her bow, She looked around taking in the trees and the stream and the muddy bank, but there was no one there.

“Noemi,” the voice whispered again. It was coming from the bushes to her left. There was a rustling sound as someone pushed through the bushes. When the figure fully emerged, Noemi leapt to her feet, simultaneously nocking an arrow. “No. Don't.” The figure held up it's misshapen hands. “Please, love. Don't you recognize me?”

Indeed she did recognize the horror standing before her. Tallis had left their cabin three weeks ago a tall man, handsome and strong. Now he was bent over, in obvious pain from the tree branches that sprouted from his back. His arms and legs were flexible tree trunks covered in thick, warty looking skin. His long black hair that she had always loved to comb and braid for him, had mostly fallen out so that only a few strands fell over his shoulders. Only his face was the same, and it gazed at her pleadingly.

“Please, Noemi. My love. I want to go home.”

Noemi lowered her bow, but kept the arrow in position. “What happened to you?”

“It was the Inulpa,” Tallis said. His voice was high and plaintive. “He changed me into...this thing. I wanted to go home, but I couldn't find my way.”

Noemi, blinked back the tears. All this time she had believed her husband was dead, but the reality was so much worse. She raised the bow again.

“Please, Noemi. I want to go home.”

The arrow flew the short distance between herself and her husband. It struck him in the chest with a solid thunk. In a blink of an eye, Tallis was gone and in his place stood a tree thick around the middle and about the same height as a tall man. Noemi sobbed and dropped the bow. She rushed to the tree, and through her tears she saw the whirls and grooves and knots in the bark resembling a nose, a mouth, and eyes; the face of her love.

Mirrors


[Picture: Decorative initial letter ``M'' from 16th Century]
The hallway stretched on into the distance, as far as I could see, the perspective slowly closing in on itself until it ended in a tiny pin point.

There were mirrors lining the walls on either side of the hall. I stopped at the first one on my left. There I was leaning into the mirror, hands on my cheeks, pulling the skin tight. Even though there was a mirror on the other side of the hall, there was no reflection mirroring me back. The background of this me was blank.

I turned around and looked into the mirror on the other side of the hallway. This one showed me brushing my teeth. Again the background was blank.

I moved on. There I was washing my face. Here I was smiling, then frowning, smiling again. In one I was laughing, in another I was crying. In yet another I had my back to the hall, craning my neck to look behind me. I realized that I was trying to see how my butt looked in the jeans I was wearing. On and on the mirrors went, each showing a moment of my life where I had looked into a mirror. Some were just flashes, as I took a quick glance at myself. Many others were long hard stares. All of those silly things you do when you're looking in a mirror and no one is around to see how utterly self obsessed you are. It seemed that I practiced smiling a lot in the mirror. I had never noticed that before, but there I was with a shy smile, a happy smile, a big toothy grin, a sly smile, a quirky half smile, a bemused smirk.

I stopped in front of one of the mirrors. In it I was staring out, with a cold, hard look in my eyes. I felt a chill run down my spine. Had I ever truly looked like that? Then, the me in the mirror smiled. It was an evil, ravenous smile, a smile that had ever crossed my face. You couldn't practice this kind of expression. It came from a place deep down inside myself that was hidden away from the world, hidden away from me.

The bad me in the mirror tossed her head back and laughed, a rolling, high-pitched cackle that filled the hallway. I broke away and ran. The other reflections had stopped what they were doing, and were now laughing at me as I stumbled my way down the endless hall of mirrors.

Lucille

And now, the not so thrilling conclusion of the story that has wandered its way through the last two letters. (See Jeff and Koch)

[Picture: Decorative initial letter ``L'' from 16th Century]This demon was, if anything, a creature of habit. He thought he was being clever and original, but he always did the same thing over and over again.

So why was it so hard for her to catch him?

Because you're getting old, said the quavering old voice in her head. She was ninety years old this year. She should have retired and handed her jurisdiction off to someone more physically capable twenty – even thirty – years ago, but she had always enjoyed the hunt, enjoyed the physical and mental challenges it presented. Demons knew her name, and knew to stay clear of her, and the past few years had been rather quiet, until Koch came along.

He had high-tailed it to the warehouse, just as she expected, and now he was standing on the catwalk, both the man and the demon leering with absolute joy. He fully expected to win today.

“Why, Lucille,” Koch cried from his position above them. The demon's voice that forced its way through was nearly a screech that wrapped itself around the rich baritone of the man he now inhabited. “Back for more I see. Let's see if we can get you into a wheelchair this time.”

Lucille said nothing. She pushed the walker in front of her as she made her way to the metal stairway. Jeff followed her, not offering to lend a hand. Good, he was behaving. When they reached the base of the stairs, she slid her large purse off of her shoulder, propping it on the frame of the walker. She reached inside and pulled out her baselard. The ancient blade had a dull sheen to it, and the handle fit into her hand perfectly.

“Are you really going to use that?” Jeff's voice was a mixture of admiration and concern.

“Nothing else has worked.”

“But you have to get so close.”

“Shut up and take this,” Lucille pushed the walker towards him. The young man moved it aside as she placed one foot on the first step. Slowly, and not with out some pain, she pulled herself up, gripping the railing with one hand and the long knife in the other. She took the next step, and paused to catch her breath. “Are you coming?” she asked Jeff.

“Uh, yeah.” He didn't make a move. She was on the second step, there was nowhere for him to go.

She took the next step, then the next. Huffing and puffing, groaning at the pain in her hip, counting all the ways she was going to make Koch pay for pushing her down the steps of the city library. After what seemed like forever she heard and felt Jeff on the steps behind her. Halfway up she paused again, and closed her eyes against the black spots that were beginning to appear.

“Should I carry you?” Jeff asked softly.

“I wouldn't let you carry me in my coffin,” Lucille snapped as Koch laughed. She readjusted her grip on the baselard and the railing, and continued her journey. Finally she was on the catwalk, where she paused again to breathe and push the pain away. This was worse than the time she had been hit by a car while hunting. That had been a good forty-five years ago. She didn't heal like she used to.

“Are you ready?” Koch said. He was only twenty feet away. The demon was barely hiding now, pushing through his vessel in a way that made the two visages meld together in a disturbing way. “Back down the stairs or over the railing?”

“You,” Lucille said turning to Jeff. “Go on up there.”

“What then?” He asked. She knew he was eager to jump in for the kill himself, but he wasn't going to get the satisfaction.

“Shake his damn hand, I don't care! Just get on up there.”

Jeff took a few steps and stopped, giving her a look like he thought he was being tricked into something. She waved him forward, irritated. Why couldn't he just do as he was told?

He turned away and straightening his shoulders he strode towards the demon, pulling a small bronze mirror from his back pocket. Lucille rolled her eyes; of course a hunter on probation for enforcement violations would be perfectly prepared and willing to violate more rules.

“Demon!” the younger hunter cried. He sounded pompous and self important. “I command you to see your true self!” He brandished the mirror at Koch.

“It won't work,” Lucille sighed. She took a few steps forward as Jeff continued.

“Look Demon! See the foul rot. See the gates of Hell in your eyes!” He was now within striking distance. Koch was staring at the polished surface of the mirror. What demons ever saw in their reflections no one knew, but it had long been established that it would push some of them out of their vessels. Lucille crept up behind Jeff as he pressed closer to her quarry. “Look!”

“Oh, I'm lookin'” Koch sneered. Then he slapped the mirror away with a movement so quick it Lucille barely registered it. The piece of bronze flew into the air, over the railing. Before it even clattered to the floor below, the demon had Jeff's head between both hands, pulling him close, breathing in deeply.

Like a warm breathe on a cold day, the soul rose out of Jeff's open mouth.

Steeling herself, Lucille darted forward with a speed she didn't think she was capable of anymore. The baselard slipped between Jeff and Koch, then between the ribs of the vessel. Koch screamed and broke away from Jeff who dropped to the floor like a sack of potatoes.

“You bitch!” Koch screamed. The demon was livid with rage. The man he inhabited twisted in pain. “You bitch! I'll kill you!”

“I'm done playing games,” Lucille muttered, as Koch rushed towards her. The baselard darted forward again, and as he twisted to avoid the blade, the demon fell against the railing. In a split second he was off balance, tipping over the edge. The shout that followed sounded fully human.

Lucille turned away but couldn't avoid hearing the sound of meat and bone hitting concrete.

She leaned against the railing, breathing heavily. She wanted to rest, but knew there was no time for it.

“You were going to let it eat my soul,” Jeff's weak voice was incredulous.

“Shut up,” Lucille said. “Quit lying around and help me down the stairs. We still have to clean up.” Yes, she thought. Clean up, then maybe I might start thinking about retirement.

Koch

[Picture: Decorative initial letter ``K'' from 16th Century]

The human body was the reason he was being tailed.

He needed a vessel to exist here, and the vessel needed feeding. It was a massive pain in his ass having to feed this thing. It was something he had known about, but he had vastly overestimated how long humans could go without stuffing their fleshy gobs with food.

So, upon inspecting the vessel's shattered memories he found that the former inhabitant had a fond connection to Panera Bread. He drove the little blue car to the restaurant and stood in line while the vessel's stomach grumbled.

If he had known it would be so much of a hassle keeping this body going he wouldn't have bothered.

Ah, who was he kidding? He would have made the same decision. The opportunity to feed on uncorrupted souls, to taste the delicious innocence, to suck the purity and light straight from the source. It was an eternity better than what he got back home.

The name on the driver's license in his back pocket was Maurice Finnegan. The name he gave the woman at the counter was Koch. He preferred it to his true name: Kochibael.

The trip to Panera was uneventful until he saw a young man talking to the old woman.

Lucille.

Elderly humans as a rule are weak and easy to dispatch. They were so close to the grave it only took the slightest nudge to push them into the hole. But not that old bat. She just wouldn't die. He had to suppress a smile though, at the sight of her hunched over the metal framed walker. She hadn't needed it before she met him.

He watched as she went outside with the young man and then the plastic square buzzed and vibrated in his hand. He collected the sandwich and left the restaurant. He saw Lucille and the man-another hunter he now realized-still talking to each other. He hurried to the car and left as quickly as possible.

For several blocks he checked the rear view mirror, but there was no sign of the hunters. He began to relax. He wasn't exactly afraid. It wasn't as if they could kill him. He would just be sent back.. And Koch didn't want to go back.

Jeff

[Picture: clipart: initial letter J from beginning of the 16th Century]
Jeff first saw the demon while having lunch at Panera.

The demon, in the form of a middle aged man with thinning black hair wearing khakis and a button down shirt, was ordering a sandwich and checking his phone at the same time in that distracted self important way that people who have been promoted beyond their abilities have. Jeff knew what it was immediately. He saw the face under the mask, harsh and ugly, even as the pretty cashier handed him the little buzzing square. The man thanked her, while the demon leered and licked its lips.

Jeff looked away, not wanting to see any more. It wasn’t his job. This was not his jurisdiction. Some other hunter would take the job.

But of course he couldn’t leave it alone.

He sidled up to the demon in its man suit, standing next to it, acting as if he was getting a closer look at the menu on the wall. The demon ignored him, and continued to scroll through emails on the iPhone in its bony hand. Jeff breathed deeply through his nose. The smell of sulfur wafted into his nostrils, and he stifled a cough. He moved away again, keeping an eye on the demon, who seemed unaware of his presence. It must have been fairly young and inexperienced. Any demon worth its salt wouldn’t have let a hunter get so close.

“What are you doing?” a voice hissed in his ear.

Jeff jumped and looked to see a small old woman standing next to him. “I’m sorry?”

“Are you crazy? You know you don’t get that close unless you’re going in for the kill. And the kill can’t happen in a place like this.” The little old woman barely reached his chest. Her thin white hair hung around her shoulders in a fluffy halo. She was leaning heavily on a walker that she held in both hands with a death grip.

Realizing who he was talking to he leaned over and whispered, “Sorry, I just wanted to be sure. Is this your jurisdiction?”

“Of course it’s my jurisdiction. Has been since ‘fifty-two!” Despite the frail body, her voice was strong and indignant. “You wanted to be sure, huh? What are you, a moron?”

“I’m sorry ma’am,” Jeff said keeping his voice low, as people were starting to watch them. Not the demon, though. It continued to stare at its phone.

“Get outta here,” the old woman said with a jerk of her head.

Thus chastened, Jeff gave her a curt nod and putting aside his desire for a Frontega Chicken panini he started towards the door.

“Wait!”

Jeff stopped. “Yes ma’am?” Now the demon was watching. The man face was flat and expressionless, but the demon was interested.

The old woman shuffled towards him, scooting the walker ahead of her. It was a long and strenuous effort, but eventually she was standing beside him again.

“Let’s have a talk outside a minute,” the old woman said. Jeff held the door open for her as she shuffled through, then followed her out into the warm sun.

“What’s your jurisdiction, young man?”

“Section 85,” Jeff said.

“Long way from Connecticut,” the old woman said. Jeff was impressed that she didn’t have to ask where Section 85 was.

Jeff held up his hands. All he needed was another report for overzealous enforcement on his record. “Yes. Sorry. I didn’t mean to infringe on your jurisdiction.”

“Hrmph.” The elderly hunter adjusted her grip on the walker. Jeff guessed she had to be about a hundred years old. “Do you have a car?”

“I...What?”

“Do. You. Have. A. Car?” The question was repeated as if he was the one who looked like he had one foot in the grave.

“Yes.”

“I had to take the senior bus out here this morning. That jack ass judge took away my license. You're going to be my driver.”

“Hey. No. I can't.”

“You will unless you want me to report you.”

Jeff pursed his lips against a torrent of cursing. Of course he had walked right into this. He should have just minded his own business. He sighed and rubbed his hand across his face. “Where am I driving you?”

“You're so interested in my quarry, you can help me hunt him. Where's your car?”

“Look, Ma'am. I'm already in a lot of trouble for this kind of thing. I can't afford another mark against me.”

“And you won't get one if you do as I say.” She motioned with one wrinkled and veiny hand. “He's already left the store. Look.”

Jeff turned to see the demon walking very quickly across the parking lot. The creature didn't look at them, but Jeff knew that it was aware of them now.

“Damn it. He's going to get away.” The old woman was truly angry, and Jeff was suddenly afraid that she was going to use her walker as a weapon.

“OK. Fine. Just don't report me.” His truck was parked nearby, but the woman was so old and infirm he had to boost her into the passenger seat. Then he folded her walker and put it into the bed of the truck and got in. The demon had already left the parking lot, but Jeff had watched him, taking note of the blue Honda it drove, and the direction it had taken.

“What's your name, young man?”

“Jeff. Jeff Prather.”

“Lucille Hooper. Now drive.”

Imir of Io


[Picture: Decorative initial letter ``I'' from 16th Century]
The Imir of Io looked out over his empire. Below him spread the whole of the Io Lunar colony. The colony was not actually situated on the surface of Io, but it was an artificial satellite that slowly orbited the volatile and deadly moon. He had been here for fifty years, and had been Imir for fifteen of them. He was tired of it.

He was tired of the constant bureaucratic struggles with the Alliance of Outer Planets. He was tired of the late shipments of supplies from those scammers on Europa. He was tired of the constant intrigue in the Ioan Council. He was tired of the day to day tedium of running the colony.

He turned away from the window and ordered the apartment's computer butler to shade the glass. He sighed and rubbed his hands over his face, swollen from the fluid that collected there due to the 1/3 gravity they had. He was seventy years old, the third oldest person on the colony, and he was feeling it.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Ingrid asked. She was his personal secretary, and had been with him since he first came into the Imirship. Half his age and more handsome than pretty, she was holding a flex screen in both hands, twisting it nervously. “You don't have to do this.”

“I do, Ingrid.” The Imir held out his hand and she placed the rolled up flex screen into it.

“You don't have a successor. No plan for a hand over of power. Sir, please. Think about it a little longer.”

“I've thought on it enough,” he said as he unrolled the flex screen and scanned the text on the translucent surface. His abdication papers.

“This will throw the whole Council into chaos.”

“Let them fight it out.” The Lunar Council was a nest of venomous snakes he would be glad to be rid of.

“They'll never let you leave until it's sorted out.” Ingrid said. She was getting desperate. She had been with him for so long, her whole career was built around being his assistant. He suspected her whole identity depended upon her status as his closest confidante. He ignored her protests and picked up the light pen and signed the papers. He placed his DNAIdent in the lower right corner beside his scrawled signature, and rolled the flex screen into a tube before handing it back to the secretary.

“See that this is delivered to the Council in the morning.”

“But sir...”

“This is the last thing I will ever ask of you, Ingrid,” he sighed. “First thing in the morning. I will meet with the Council.”

She pressed her lips together, making a hard thin line across the lower part of her face and nodded. He dismissed her, and turned back to the window and instructed the butler to raise the screen again.

Ishmael Irving, no longer the Imir of Io gazed out over his former empire, taking in the metal and composite buildings festooned with milt-colored lights, and silently made calculations. He wouldn't be meeting with the Council in the morning. In an hour he would be taking a transport to a ship in orbit around Thebe. That ship would take him back the inner planets, to Mars where he had set up his retirement. The money he had siphoned from the colony accounts for the last twenty years in compensation for all the frustrations, petty back biting, intrigues and constant threats to his life would be more than enough to keep him comfortable in his last years.

Halloween

[Picture: Decorative initial letter ``H'' from 16th Century]
Sweat ran from his temple down into the razor cut on his cheek causing him to wince from the sting. He tried to walk slowly, take shorter strides, but little Alice was still nearly running alongside him, swishing and clomping in her frilly blue princess dress and cowboy boots. The gray plastic grocery bag rustled less than it used to, now that it was nearly half full of candy. He remembered Trick or Treating as a child and was sure that the candy flowed much more freely then than it did now.

His eyes darted around the street, taking in the straggling children with bored looking parents in tow, and the teenagers who roamed in packs of three or four, too old for costumes, but still going house to house and awkwardly asking for candy. He glanced down at his watch and saw it was a quarter after eight. The street was already dark, and he was tired of walking, his back hurt and he was hungry. Alice had eaten dinner, but he was rushed out the door as soon as he got home. He thought of the pot of chili simmering on the stove, and his stomach grumbled.

“One more house, honey.”

“Awwwww,” Alice whined. “Two more.”

“One. It's getting late and you still need to take a bath. You smell like a monkey.”

“I'm a princess. Princesses don't smell.”

“You smell like a monkey princess.” Alice giggled and skipped to catch up. He forced himself to slow down again.

“Do you want to stop there?” He pointed to the house on the corner. Alice reached up and took his hand. He squeezed her tiny fingers in his meaty paw and let her guide him to the porch.

A Jack o' Lantern greeted them with a fiery grin as the approached, and muslin ghosts covered in cobwebs tilted in the wind. A witch with green skin and a truly epic wart on her nose sat on the porch swing. She wore a long black dress with ragged sleeves and a pointed black hat sat on top of the frizzy black wig on her head.

“Look at you!” the witch cackled. “What a beautiful princess!”

Alice held out her bag. “Trick or Treat!”

“I've got a treat for you, your highness.” The witch reached into the cauldron spewing clouds of smoke beside her. Something dropped into the plastic bag and clacked against the other candies inside.

Jawbreaker, he thought. He could just see Sam's face. She was going to confiscate all the hard candies when the got home. Even at seven years old, his wife didn't trust Alice to not choke on anything larger than a dime.

“Thank you!” Alice grabbed his hand and led him away from the witches house. He gave the Jack o' Lantern another look as the passed. Were the teeth always that pointy?

“I liked her costume,” Alice chirped.

“Very spooky,” he agreed.

“Can I have a candy?”

He frowned. Sam wouldn't like it, but it was Halloween. What was the point of it if kids couldn't make themselves sick gorging on sweets. Alice had been very good this evening, and this was the first time she had even asked.

“Sure.” His stomach grumbled again. “Are there any Snickers in there?”

They stopped underneath a street light and she lifted the bag to her face, staring into its depths. “Look, Daddy!”

“What?” He looked down into the offered bag.

On top of the mound of candy, gum, and packets of trail mix sat a smooth egg-shaped object. It was black with streaks of gold and red weaving across the shell. He picked it out of the bag; it was heavier than it looked felt warm as if it had just been held. He rolled it across his palm and felt a shift, as if it something was re-balancing inside.

“What is it?” Alice stood on tip toe to see into his hand.

“Don't know,” he muttered. Whatever it was it wasn't candy. He looked back at the witch's house. The swing was empty and the porch light was off. Even the Jack o' Lantern had been extinguished. It looked as if the witch had turned in for the night.

Gray Shrouds

[Picture: Decorative initial letter ``G'' from 16th Century]

They were hanging motionless over our heads, upside down, and shrouded in dark gray wrappings. Our torches revealed row upon row of figures, each moving ever so slightly as the things inside respired, or twitched, or rolled over in their sleep. At least we had been assured that they were sleeping.

Our guide motioned for us to remain quiet with a finger to his pursed lips. Then with a wave of his hand he moved forward, stepping carefully between the pews that littered the vast cathedral.

I squeezed my torch tightly and focused on the floor. I didn't want to look up at those things again. The way the shrouds moved was unsettling. The creatures inside were man-sized, but I doubted that they looked anything like men. We made our way forward towards the alter, and behind that the door to safety. It was only a hundred feet away now. If we could just make it through that door, a small wooden slab with a little plaque on it reading “Sacristy, we would be safe.

Behind me I heard a thump and the sound of wood scraping on stone, followed by a hissed curse. Our guide whipped around, his light illuminating the young man with red hair who was bringing up the rear. He was leaning on the pew he had bumped into with a pained and terrified look on his face.

I held my breath. I'm sure everyone else was doing the same. There was dead silence. Then, over my head, I sensed movement. I didn't look.

“Shit,” the guide said, breaking the silence. “Just run!”

I was running before his command could echo back to us from the back of the building. Under the pounding of feet and the labored breathing, I could hear the soft slithering sound of shrouds slipping away, and the low rattling of the creatures stirring. The door was right there in front of me. The guide was pushing it open. Behind me I heard a shout, then a scream. I didn't look.

I was the second one through the door. I heard more screams. The last of our group pushed through the entry into the cool dark place, but we were one short. The guide was shouting now, and I heard his rifle shot. I finally looked.

He was tousling with something that looked like a large naked rat standing on two legs. It had pale skin, and red eyes that were too large. There were too many sharp little teeth squeezed into a wide mouth that opened on an unhinged jaw. The guide screamed as another of the creatures dropped onto him from above.

Somebody slammed the door shut. Somewhere during the mad dash to the sacristy everyone had lost their torches. Everyone except me. In the light of the flickering flame I saw terrified faces surrounding me. Without the guide we were lost.




Fireflies


[Picture: Decorative initial letter ``F'' from 16th Century]
The fireflies came out at dusk, their tiny lights blinking on and off in the deepening gloom.

The children chased them running around the old trees in the yard, shouting with delight as the tiny insects drifted away just out of their reach. The oldest moved slowly, watching a tiny black speck that floated barely visible against the shadows of the evening. Slowly she raised her hands, and cupped them around the bug, trapping it.

She lowered her hands and called to the others. They huddled around her as she slowly opened her hands, revealing the firefly. It marched across the palm of her hand as if it had important things to do, and stopped on the tip of her index finger. The tiny bulb on it's behind flashed green, went dark, then flashed again. Then it spread its wings and flew away, quickly disappearing into the evening.

The youngest child, a little girl with chocolate ice cream still smeared around her mouth began to wail. The oldest shushed her and caught another firefly, showing it to her little sister who clapped her hands and giggled.

The adults were on the patio, drinking beer and tea, talking about adult things. The oldest child knew that things in the adult world weren't good. She knew that her mom was working extra shifts at the store. She knew that every day her dad went to work worried that it would be his last day. She knew that maybe someday soon they would have to leave this house with the big yard and trees where the fireflies danced and the cicadas sang in the summer evenings.

She pushed the thoughts away. They wouldn't have to leave. They would never leave. If she believed it enough it would be true. But she was old enough to know that the world didn't work that way.

She went back to the patio and sat on the concrete next to her mother's chair. She laid her head on her mothers lap, feeling the warmth of the woman's bare legs on her cheek, and watched her siblings playing. Her mother stroked her hair and absentmindedly pulled apart a few tangles, as the girl tried to pretend that she was still young enough to believe.

Echos


I was taking my daily jog this morning, and turning the corner on D5 I ran into Sandeep.

Well, I didn't actually run into him. He surprised me. I wasn't expecting him, and though I've kind of gotten used to people popping up at random times in random places, the echos can still take me by surprise.

I pulled up short, and pain shot through my knee and up to my hip in the process. Stupid knee. Paul keeps saying it's healed, but to be honest I think he's getting a bit wonky out here.

I watched Sandeep as I gasped for breath and against the pain in my knee. He was working on a relay panel, bopping his head to some unheard music. I never knew him that well. He was a tech while I was just a lowly cook, but he had played poker with my old roommate a couple of times. Back then he had seemed like a decent enough guy.

He stuck around longer than usual. Usually the echos only last for about 30 seconds, 45 tops, but as I watched him scan the relay panel, check his readings and reach for the screw driver on his tool belt, I realized that the seconds had stretched into a full minute.

And then he turned his head and looked straight at me.

My breath caught in my throat. They never look at me. They look in my direction sometimes, but never at me.

Sandeep frowned, then shook his head. He went back to his work.

“Paul?”

“Yes, Wei?” Paul's voice boomed from the hidden speakers in the ceiling.

“Can he see me?”

“Can who see you?”

I shake my head. Of course Paul doesn't know who I'm talking about. He knows about the echos, but he has no way of detecting them himself. “Sandeep. Can he see me?”

“Chaterjee, Sandeep,” the voice of the ship intoned. “Died twenty-four August, twenty-three nineteen.”

“Yes, I know that,” I said as Sandeep began to slip away. He faded until he was transparent, and then he was gone. “But did he see me?”

“No, Wei. He did not see you.”

I nodded, knowing Paul would see the movement on one of his hundreds, maybe thousands, of cameras placed around the ship. I nodded, but I wondered. That look on Sandeep's face. A look that said he had seen something strange. A flicker in the corner of his eye that turned into nothing when he turned to look. The kind of thing that I used to see.

I tested my knee, swinging my leg back and forth, bouncing slightly. Not a twinge. I started jogging again, slowly. And not for the first time I wondered if maybe they weren't the echoes. Maybe I was the ghost on this ship.

Dark Railroad

[Picture: Decorative initial letter ``D'' from 16th Century]
I was sure I was hallucinating when I first heard the train whistle. It was about time I started hearing things.

I had been following the railroad tracks for days. Maybe it was just hours. No, it must have been days, because that pale smokey disc that passed for a sun here had come up and gone down more than once. It's really hard to tell that it's there, unless you're looking at it. It doesn't actually do anything to illuminate this place.

I was on the tracks, stepping from cracked and rotted tie to cracked and rotted tie. It was awkward going, but if I walked beside the tracks it would be too easy to get lost. It almost happened once, when I first arrived here. I was walking beside the metal rails that gleamed darkly in the murky light. I looked away from them for only a second, and when I looked back they were gone. There was nothing but blackness and dust everywhere I turned. After several long minutes of panic I found the tracks again, and I haven't left them since. I even slept for a few hours stretched out across the tracks, like one of those damsels in distress in the old black and white movies, tied up by the dastardly villain waiting for the hero to rescue me.

There aren't any heroes here. There isn't anyone here except me.

At least that's what I thought until I heard the whistle.

Like I said, I thought I was hallucinating. I hadn't heard anything other than my own breathing and the sound of my footsteps for a long time, so that low wail in the distance couldn't have been anything but my imagination. But then it came again, drifting across the endless plain. I stopped and stared into the distance, cocking my head to try to catch the sound, and before long I saw a faint light - light that was actually light, and not like the flat light-less sun – far, far away down the tracks. I couldn't take my eyes off of it as it came nearer and nearer, impossibly fast. At first it was miles away then, only a mile away, and then it was right on me. I leapt off of the tracks at the last minute as the whistle blew, blasting into the silence, and the brakes squealed. Then it was just there, in front of me.

It was on old fashioned steam locomotive. I could hear the chuffing sound of the the steam rising from the engine. The cars were wooden and engraved with strange glyphs and images. The door to the car in front of me slid open, and silently stairs flipped out and landed on ground beside the tracks in a puff of dust. In the doorway stood a tall thin man with pale skin and even paler hair. We stood staring at each other for a long time, before he lifted one hand and motioned me forward with a flick of his long fingers.

I didn't say anything. Perhaps I should have asked what was going on, where I was. Maybe I should have just said Hi. But I didn't say anything, and neither did he. I climbed the stairs into the train car. The tall, pale man pulled the stairs in behind me and slid the door closed as I found a seat amongst the rows of empty benches on either side of the aisle.

When the whistle blew again, it sounded distant, even though I was now inside the train. The sound of the steam engine was also quieter as it revved up and the train lurched forward. I looked out of the window beside me. The railroad tracks were out of sight below the train, and all I could see was darkness.

Cai

[Picture: Decorative initial letter ``C'' from 16th Century]

Gerald ducked between what was left of two pilars that once stood 30 feet tall, but now only reached just above his head. He wended his way through the maze of rubble that rapidly descended into the warren of caverns that served as the staging grounds for the rebellion.

Cai was waiting for him at the entrance to the caverns. When Gerald saw her his heart skipped a beat, a feeling he had only believed existed as a literary device, until he first saw her. Now every time he caught sight of her springy black hair wrapped in twists that stuck up from her head like spikes, or her smooth ebony skin that seemed to shine from the inside out, he felt it. That little hiccup in his chest.

Cai was the most beatutiful woman he had ever known, but to her he was just a kid from Upside who was in over his head.

“You're late,” she said, as he huffed his way down the last few meters of tunnel. He had to turn sideways, his shoulders were too broad too fit through the steadily narrowing passage. Even sideways his belly scraped the wall of broken brick and concrete on that last meter. Cai never had any such trouble. She was skinny, half-starved even. Her life was hard, but the hardness was a sacrifice she willingly made. It made her even more beautiful.

“Sorry,” Gerald said. “I'm sorry.”

“Stop apologizing,” Cai snapped.

“Sorry. I mean... sorry.” The words fell out of his mouth. He could never stop them. He was always apologizing for something. He knew the others only tolerated him because of his mother. He knew that once he outlived his usefulness, they would toss him aside, and leave him to face the charges of treason alone. But it was worth it to be near Cai.

“Let's go.” She motioned back towards the tunnel that led into the rebel outpost. It was dark, and Cai led the way with the beam from her flashlight. Gerald could make it through the maze all right, but he would be hopelessly lost in the caverns below the city without a guide.

He had met her in a club downtown, in one of those places people with reputations to protect never stepped foot in. Unless those people were bored college kids with rich and powerful parents who could buy their way out of trouble, if trouble ever knocked. Gerald had gone there with his roommate and some of his roommate's friends. He had few friends of his own. There he was standing in a dark corner, trying to look like he wasn't the son of the most powerful woman on the Council, and that he didn't have anything worth stealing, when up slinks a woman with the darkest skin and whitest teeth he had ever seen. She asked him why he was there, and teased him about being the straightest looking Downsider she had ever seen. He knew even then she was looking for a way in. She knew who he was, but those flashing black eyes, and glowing white teeth had him. Within a week of meeting Cai he was ready to tear down his mother's empire.

Birth

He hears chirping and squawking. He knows they are birds without knowing.

He opens his eyes. The light is diffused, shining down in beams through the canopy. He stares up into those tree tops, watching the leaves flutter, hearing them rustle, whispering to each other.

He sits up, feeling the chill on his bare skin. All of him is bare. He raises his hands to his face, wiggles the little appendages at the ends. Fingers. He puts those fingers to his face, feels the bumps and hollows there. Nose, eyes, mouth, cheeks. He moves his mouth, but no sound comes out.

Slowly, carefully, he rolls over, drawing his knees up beneath himself. Then he pushes with his hands and leans back onto the balls of his feet, slowly rising as the muscles in his legs push him upwards. Then he is standing, wobbling for a moment before finding his balance. In just a few seconds he is taking a few steps. He grins in triumph, but then the smile fades as he wonders what he is grinning about.

He takes a few more steps, then pauses to look at himself again, and realizes that bare skin means “naked”. Suddenly he is fully concious of himself and his surroundings. He looks around, fully taking in his surroundings for the first time. Trees, bushes, sunlight, the scent of earth and rotting leaves. A squirrel dashes up a tree, it's path taking it round and round the trunk. Where is he?

Who is he?

The question fills his mind, echoing and repeating: “Who am I?” He shakes his head, and now a sound, a low moan, escapes his lips. He shakes his head again as if the movement will dislodge the bothersome inquiry.

He knows he is in a forest, alone, and naked. He knows that it shouldn't be this way, but how does he know? He tries to remember, but there is nothing but blue light and warmth, and a feeling of absolute safety. Here there is no safety.

He takes a few more steps and soon he is walking through the trees, through the forest, listening to the bird calls and the rustling of tiny animals hiding in the underbrush. His bare feet move over soft earth, slippery rotting vegetation, and hard stones. He walks for a long time, and the thirst that started as an annoyance begins to turn urgent, painful. He licks his lips, barely moistening them with his tongue, but he keeps moving. He will find water, and then he will find out who he is.

A is for Arlee Bird


This tribute to Arlee was supposed to go out this morning, but apparently I forgot to schedule it.

(If you're looking for my official A to Z post you can find it here.)

As per the personal (I prefer to believe that he knows me personally) email request for the Ninja Captain himself Alex Cavanaugh this one is dedicated to Arlee Bird, the originator of the A to Z Challenge.

Arlee started the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge in 2010. That first year there were about 100 blogs signed up, an impressive number by any measure. As of 8pm Sunday March 31st there were 1716 blogs entered in the challenge! This is my second year doing the Challenge. Without his marvelous idea I wouldn't have started writing again, and I certainly wouldn't be talking to you people today.

So, thank you Arlee Bird for creating something that gave this lost and clueless blogger a doorway to the big wide world of blogging.


Aura


[Picture: Decorative initial letter ``A'' from 16th Century]Aura was on the hill again, with Aeoulus. He was standing behind her, pressed close, raising her arms with his. She felt the wind rushing around her.

“There,” he murmured into her ear in a way that made her blush. “Do you feel that?”

She nodded. “Yes.”

“Feel how the wind is blowing over your skin. Feel it on your face and in your hair.”

Aura could feel the wind flapping her gingham dress around her body, whipping strands of dark hair that had escaped their braided prison across her face. She could also feel Aeoulus' warm breath on the back of her neck.

“Take the wind,” he said, and he stepped back, releasing her. Her arms stayed raised and she stood there like Jesus on the cross, her eyes closed. She let the wind buffet her, let it surround her, and slowly she began to reign it in. Soon, she was surrounded by a tiny maelstrom barely larger than herself. The wind hooted and howled in her ears.

“Now,” Aeolus raised his voice to be heard over the wind. “let it go.”

She opened her eyes, took a deep breath that tasted like leaves, and dirt, and rain, and exhaled. Her breath carried the wind with it, and it whirled down into the valley, twisting around itself until it was a spinning tornado wreaking havoc on the little people below. She could see trees and and buildings flying through the air, and though she was too far away to see it, she was sure that there were people caught up in the windstorm. She watched it all dispassionately, as if she had nothing to do with the destruction below.

“Good,” Aeolus muttered. He wrapped his arms around her again. “They must learn to fear you. If they don't fear the winds, they become arrogant. They begin to think they are better than us.”

Aura leaned back into his embrace luxuriating in the power she had. She was a god now. Nothing and no one would ever hurt her again.