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  1. Seabed below Voya Nui – Two days before the arrival of the Toa Inika. Kyrehx sat on a rock a few bio from her home, the underwater city of Mahri Nui. She and a Po-Matoran friend were tasked with observing the surrounding waters, just in case any possible danger could approach the once-great city. “Tired yet?” asked the Po-Matoran with a slight smile as he walked through the sea floor. “Yeah, tired of you, old friend.” Kyrehx replied, smiling back. A mighty earthquake shook the seabed, the Ga-Matoran was knocked off the rock and was left staring at the heavens. The Po-Matoran was barely moved by the earthquake.“What's the matter Kyrehx? It was just a bioquake.” the Po-Matoran said while laughing. Kyrehx gave the Po-Matoran a look, and extended her hand to him.“Just help me up you silly Kohlii-head,” Kyrehx said. “And let's move it before another quake hits!” Just as the Po-Matoran helped his friend up to her feet, the pair heard a massive growl coming from the darkness of the ocean. A growl that both of the Matoran couldn't recognize. “What was that?” asked Kyrehx. “Uh, I'd like to believe that that bioquake was just the tip of the statue, sister,” the Po-Matoran muttered. “We better move quick and return to the city before--”Before the Matoran could finish that sentence, out of the darkness a Giant Squid had appeared and started attacking the pair with its tentacles.“A Giant Squid so close to the city? Sister, we have to warn the council!” the Po-Matoran yelled as he ducked under a tentacle. Before Kyrehx could start running, the Giant Squid whipped one of its tentacles at the Ga-Matoran's direction. Before the tentacle could hit her, the Po-Matoran jumped and took the hit, protecting his friend.Kyrehx walked to the fallen Matoran, as he helped him to his feet, she noticed his Kanohi mask was shattered to pieces. She gasped, and ducked to evade another tentacle.“Brother, your mask... It's shattered!” the Ga-Matoran said. “I know, I know,” the Po-Matoran replied. “Ugh. But I'm still active. Let's hurry back to the city.” The two Matoran started running through the seabed back to their city. On the way, the two Matoran managed to distract the Giant Squid by going through a field of Airweed and concealing themselves from the beast. They were close to the entrance of Mahri Nui, only having five bio to run. The Po-Matoran grabbed his chest in pain, he had spent too much time without a Kanohi mask."Are you okay?" asked the Ga-Matoran. The Po-Matoran nodded and ran to the entrance. As soon as Kyrehx stepped through the entrance, the Giant Squid attacked with its tentacles and caught the Po-Matoran's leg and started pulling the Matoran back to the ocean. Kyrehx quickly tried to free the Po-Matoran, but she was too weak.“Sister... I don't think I'll make it through.” the Po-Matoran said with his last strength.“Shut up, shut up! I won't let you go, brother!” Kyrehx replied while holding the Po-Matoran's hand. The Giant Squid started growling and pulled with more strength. Kyrehx's hold on the Matoran wouldn't last much longer.“It's okay,” the Po-Matoran muttered. “Just let me go, Kyrehx. I'll be okay. You know I don't go down that easily.”Kyrehx's hand started to lose its grip on her friend's hand. Seeing his upcoming doom, the Po-Matoran muttered his last words.“I'll see you soon, sister.” As soon as the Po-Matoran finished that sentence, his chest light stopped shining and the Giant Squid whipped Kyrehx's hand, dragging her friend back to the depths of the ocean. Kyrehx couldn't help but stare how the ocean had claimed his life-long friend without any explanation why. Kyrehx returned to the seabed where his friend met his demise. There, she found the shattered Kanohi Miru that he was wearing. While sobbing, she recovered all the shards of the Kanohi and left them inside a backpack. She stared to the depths, and wished that someday, the ocean would give her another chance to be with her friend.
  2. To Soar She walked into the abandoned factory. Her companion, a thirteen year old boy named Eli, grabbed her shoulder gently, his eyes directed towards the middle of the room.Two swing sets.“How did you find this?” She asked, then suspicious, continued, “’Why’ did you find this?”“I have a lot of time on my hands,” he replied easily.She could only sigh. So, instead of actually doing something important with his time, finding a new job for example, he was off looking inside broken down factories.“Look, I want to take a break. I found this place and was happy to show you.”She rolled her eyes and moved closer to the two swings. Immediately she wondered who would set up such a thing. Why would anyone want to make a swing set in a factory? A quick glance at Eli revealed he was just as puzzled by their appearance. Of course, she knew he wouldn’t question why. He’d simply accept it.They composed of two plastic seats, with two long chains, reaching up towards the metal scaffolding connecting from one end to the other across the room.“What’s so great about them?” Catherine asked.“I remember swinging when I was younger,” he explained walking towards the swing. He held on to one of the chains, giving it a sudden sharp pull. He smiled and sat down, lifting his feet from the ground and swung his body in a smooth motion. “It helps you relax, gives you perspective.”It was ridiculous. Who cared about swinging on a swing set, out in the middle of nowhere, when there were simply more important things to do? Glancing around the factory, she noted the windows aligned across the upper floor. Some only held minor cracks in them. Some were completely shattered. The floors were dusty, both dead and alive bugs littered the floor. She was blessed for wearing shoes as the room was covered in small pieces of glass.Dirty, gray, run down, abandoned. No smart person could enjoy this place.But of course Eli, who was having the time of his life swinging, in a nostalgic state. He soared a little higher…She stuffed her hands into the coat she wore to keep warm. Glancing upward, she caught sight of what was left of the roof, a huge glass plane that had long since collapsed, raining down most of its shards a few yards away from the swing. In that pile only a minor leap away from the suspended seats, were pipes, pieces of glass and steel frames of metal. It was an accident waiting to happen.“My dad would always take me to this park when I was younger, and there was always a swing. Sometimes, that would be the only thing I would play on all day. I miss swinging.”She looked away at his comment. His father was one of the soldiers now. He had left only a month before. Eli and his mother weren’t taking it very well.He would never show it of course, not in front of Catherine. She was annoyed by his barrier and grateful for it. If he didn’t express sorrow over his father, she wouldn’t think about her sister…And they didn’t have much money. Their bills were higher now, and the cost of even simple medicine…“Let’s get out of here. I don’t like it,” she exclaimed, letting her thoughts get to her. She wasn’t afraid, but still, it was a dead factory. And she had seen too much death lately. Why think about it?“Aw lighten up,” he replied. His body began to move faster, and he began to gain more altitude.“W-wait!” she shouted, exasperated. “Stop it Eli!”Immediately he grounded to a halt, the propulsion skidding him slightly as the swing moved erratically without its master.“What’s wrong?”“You’re facing the wrong way. If you fell off, you’d land in that…” Her eyes shifted towards the mountain of trash. The tallest piece of metal jutted out only a foot. If he were to fall on top of that …She didn’t finish the idea and shook her head.Walking around, facing the other way, he sat once more and began to swing. After a few moments, he stopped once more.“Aren’t you coming?”She hesitated, frowned and shook her head.“We should be leaving. We’re supposed to see if there is some work for us to do around town.”“One day won’t matter,” he answered, looking serious. “We’ve been looking for some time now, and there just aren’t many around. We need to relax a little anyway.”She nodded slowly, but was unsure. His statement was true. Ever since the war had taken place, spreading across the country like wild fire, people’s troubles and worry had increased. Taxes became almost impossible to pay, jobs gave less, food was becoming scarce and everyone constantly lived in fear of being attacked.Her stomach growled as she thought of the bread and soup her family had feasted on the night before. There seemed to be more and more dinners like that lately.How could two swings help any of that?“We’ll play for a little while,” she decided, for Eli’s sake if anything. Speaking slowly, she finished, “But then let’s leave.”“All right. Good deal.” He waited a few moments, just staring at her.She became indignant.“What?” It was a blunt statement.“You haven’t moved.” He gave her a look that seemed so innocent, yet … suspiciously crafty, “Aren’t you going to soar? You’d be good at it.”Her mouth twitched for a moment, and almost cracked a smile. She couldn’t be sure if the remark had been a charming or an annoying one.“I … don’t have a need to.”The boy continued to study her face.“Come on. Are you scared?” he teased.She didn’t reply.“You are?” he asked, his eyes showing surprise. “Hey, it’s safe. I promise.”“No, it isn’t that.”“Well?”She rolled her eyes once more. It wasn’t … important. And she didn’t feel the need to just explain it.“I’m afraid of heights,” she replied instead. It was a half truth after all.He leaped off the swing and walked up to her, his boots crackling as he broke the fragments of glass around him. With a grin, he spoke her secret allowed.“You’ve never swung on a swing set before have you?”***“Look, I promise, it’ll be easy.”“No way.”“I’ve already got you on the swing,” he answered obviously, then shook his head.“I said I would sit! I didn’t say swing.”He frowned, “Not swing. Fly.”The snow poured in from the weather outside. She was wearing a strong winter coat, but still, she shivered as the soft ice found its way through the broken window. Sitting wasn’t the best way to keep warm.“You’re crazy.”“Look, I’ll take it one step at a time with you.”Then he began to instruct her on what do, how to move her legs outward when falling forward and pull on the chain in a hard motion.It was a stupid lesson, since she wasn’t going to swing anyway-Catherine caught her breath, sharp and cold, as she was pushed forward. At the small peak of her soaring, she felt herself remain in the air for just the simplest of moments, before swinging backward. It was a surprise that shouldn’t have been one.Eli caught her as she yelped.She dug her shoes into the ground, determined to never leave it again, and turned at her friend with look of fury.“Fun huh?” His eyes held the look of a challenge. He dared for her to try it again.She could have hit him. But it was a little fun, and she couldn’t deny it.***“Sometimes, when I’m on this swing, I feel like …” he paused, thinking. “I don’t know.”“Hmm?” she mumbled with a mouth full of cheese sandwich.Catherine and Eli had been neighbors for as long as she could remember. When they were younger their parents would invite each other over for dinner and the two of them would play. Catherine had always been the mature one. And Eli … they were just really different. Why did she spend so much time with him? Well, they had known each other a long time.Always, whenever she was given a problem there were only two choices. She could solve it, or she couldn’t.Eli acted like solving it wasn’t the point. He was only half a year younger, but youngish all the same. He made many friends, goofed off, explored outside his neighborhood –finding old factories, and always seemed to drag her along wherever he went. She didn’t mind, but sometimes the places they found, weren’t interesting or safe. Why would he just walk inside these kinds of places so easily? What attracted him to them?But now, a rare moment for the boy, he was being serious.“I love the air and I’ve always wanted to fly.” His hands tightened around the swing as he looked upward at the chains. They were both just sitting today. It had been two weeks since they had found this place.“I think these swings are a good substitute. I like them a lot.”Catherine raised an eyebrow. She couldn’t help but chuckle.She didn’t like heights. But she was able to swing a little and it was … fun. Kind of. But it wasn’t that great.“I’m serious!” he exclaimed. “When I swing, and go really high, there is a moment where you just stay there … and time stops.” He was finding it difficult to explain, she could tell … “You aren’t moving. Nothing is holding you.”It’s a good feeling to let go sometimes.”When she glanced at him again, she could see his eyes closed.Suddenly, he began to swing again, rising higher and higher until without warning, he leaped off in mid swing.She flinched as he landed near the wall, sticking the landing.“Why did you do that?” she asked somewhat surprised. Catherine had seen swings before. It’s just her parents never really bothered taking her to parks when she was little. It was naïve to think jumping off wasn’t possible … still she was a little unnerved.He shrugged, his mouth slightly frowning in disappointment. “I would be able to go further if the wall wasn’t here.” He took a glance in the other direction where that dangerous pile lay. Catherine was right, it was stupid to try and leap that thing.But that yearning to soar, she secretly knew, hadn’t gone away from the boy.***“Why don’t you ever swing higher?”“I don’t like heights.”How many times am I going to respond to that question? In the factory, she had to sigh. He knew why. They were here yet again.But things had brightened for her. The war’s impact seemed to lessen over of the course of the year. The town’s people seemed to be healthier as well, even happy. Everyone was in an optimistic mood.Eli glanced over at her. “Hey, job hunting is over for the both of us. Money is coming back in, that means all delivering errands are done and we can focus on school.”Eli studied her as they swung. She was fifteen now, her hair rained down her back, sometimes a few bangs covered her eyes. Her posture was as always, almost perfect, like an adult ready to face the world. Her eyes, they still glinted in that same way he knew so … Lush green, like a summer tree.He shook his head.It was becoming more difficult lately. They were a little older now and certain aspects of their friendship, he found uncomfortable. She didn’t seem to show any concerns though. Not all the time, but at moments Eli felt that way.“I do feel like swinging today though,” She pushed herself a little higher than usual.She moved swiftly, with her head up.“Hey …” Eli rarely wanted to discuss these things, but since he had heard good news about it.He felt the air current she created as he swooshed by her, twice before continuing.“How’s your sister doing?” He paused, continuing only when Eli could see her face brighten, “I hear she’s feeling well.”Catherine met his eyes as they moved and smiled. They gleamed once more.“She got out of bed and actually sat down at our table this morning. It’s been weeks since she’s eaten with us like that. Her headache is almost gone too.”“Meds are kicking in huh?” They would have always worked, had her family had the money to buy them. Now, it was possible.She nodded, “It’s nice, man I’ll tell you, it is.”She couldn’t help being in a good mood Eli, noticed. Her sister, her five year old, was feeling well. She looked like a person who wanted to shout it out aloud. Scream the news with joy. Then, swinging in the air discussing her sister with a friend was probably just as good.Wrapping her fingers around the chains of her swing, she dared to soar a little higher…***Catherine entered the sliding door of the factory. It screeched open as metal scraped against metal. The rust on the door was becoming worse.How long has it been now? Six months? Why would you think to come here of all places? Eli wouldn’t surely have…But she somehow, deep in her gut, knew he was here.When Catherine hadn’t seen Eli at school and later had heard Eli had left his home, having been gone for hours, she had begun to worry about him. Of all places he would go to, this was the only one she could think of.After all this time, it still amazed her, the conditions of the factory seemed to become worse each passing season, yet it remained uninhabited and untouched by the people of the world. What was this place before they had found it?Shaking her head to dismiss the thought, Catherine paused in sudden surprise. Eli sat on one of the swings. His head was down. In his right hand, he held the letter.She closed her eyes for a moment, daring herself to take that first step towards him. He would do it for her, wouldn’t he?Eli must have heard her as the glass crackled beneath his feet. He didn’t move.She sat down beside him, comfortable in her own swing.It had been a long while since the two of them had sat here. Rushing off to who knows where, didn’t settle to well with her parents, especially at their current age. Catherine was almost seventeen now, Eli was sixteen.When she came home this afternoon, and received word from her father as to what had happened to Eli’s family … It was her duty to follow him. She had to know he would be okay.Catherine missed their time spent here. She wouldn’t admit to enjoying the swing sets too much, but those few moments where they could talk about the small things and forget the big ones, were precious to her.She sat in silence. Words couldn’t be enough for this … What could she possibly say?“He doesn’t talk to me,” Eli whispered.I know, She mentally replied. The girl couldn’t speak that yet.“I can’t hear him Catherine.”She didn’t know what it was like to lose a parent. If she had lost her sister … would the world stop spinning?Only difference was her sister was fine. She had made it through, when every single person had said she wouldn’t.Everyone had said Eli’s father would survive the war.Catherine didn’t want to be here suddenly. She truly had nothing to say, only aid with a listening ear.“You know, when I was younger, my father had always took me to the swing sets.” He had told her that before, years ago… “I could be free those days. He always had a way of making me look at things differently, appreciate what was around me. And I loved space and the sky.”He paused, and finally looked up. His eyes were red.“Maybe, if I swing long enough …” He slowly lifted his feet from the ground, staring at the long end of the factory. It was blocked halfway, by that pile of debris.What are you thinking ... She frowned in wonder.“Can I fly if I tried hard enough Catherine?” he turned to stare at her.She stuttered, and couldn’t come up with a sufficient answer.“Oh ...” She looked at him, trying to find some sign of the kid she had known for so long. “Eli. You have to stop.”“Maybe I could. I can make it over that obstacle.”“No,” she said in a matter of fact voice. “You can’t.”“I’ll try it.”Now she was afraid. She immediately stood up, not willing for him to continue. What he was saying … it was, suicidal. And in the deepest part of his mind, she somehow knew that’s what he wanted. She turned towards him, blocking the view he had held. She grasped the chains and met his face.“Eli. You won’t make it across that. It won’t solve anything.” He wasn’t responding well and even seemed to ignore her. Could he hear her? She spoke a bit louder, her voice echoing throughout the factory. “Eli! Listen to me.”He finally glanced up.She sighed and continued. Her voice was slightly shaky, but also firm.“If you try to jump it, you’ll die. You won’t fly Eli. You won’t soar. It won’t bring anyone back. You’ll be impaled, and your blood will spill across the floor. Your eyes will close, and you’ll never see anything again.”He stared at her with dead eyes. And he only replied with one question, a question that shakes faith.“Are you sure?”She hesitated. How could she be sure? She took a few steps away from him and watched along the walls of this factory. Outside, that was life. That was reality. Somehow these walls had over the years protected them from the outside. But now, it was going to serve another purpose.If they allowed it.“Yes,” she replied, the doubt in her voice cleansed. “I’m sure. You don’t want this.”He nodded. But it wasn’t one full of hope. It wasn’t a nod that showed he had made up his mind. It was a nod to satisfy her. Only for her sake.***Catherine gazed up towards the swings. The chains moved silently, aroused by the weak wind flowing through the factory. It had been one week since she spoke with Eli. He wasn’t any better.She held on to one of the chains. She could almost feel the imprint he had left behind as a boy. The metal felt almost warm to her.There was no doubt in her mind. Eli was going to soar. He was going to fly over that construction. If he missed that, it would kill him.You aren’t the only one living Eli. Have you considered what it would be like for us? For me? If you left us … how could you die with that?She reminded herself bitterly that if he died, he would no longer care anyway.Catherine sat down. She began to swing slowly. She gained a little height. Determination was her movement.There is that one second. I understand what he means when he talks about it. I know that moment when you swing and come to a stop in midair before the earth takes hold of you once more. Weightless. Thoughtless. When time ceases to exist and you have a moment that lasts indefinitely. To dwell on things and ask who you are. Her movement increased. Her sight was beyond the factory. She wouldn’t look at the fallen metal. It was something she had to conquer.To soar. It’s something we can’t fully do. And yet we dream about it. Create machines to aid us and give us the effects of it. We hunger to go beyond what we are capable of. And even though we can, we always seem to fall in the end. No matter what we do, it is impossible to fly forever.With one final push, she leapt off of the swing’s propulsion. Her body flew into the air, soaring higher then she could think was possible. She wanted to make it through this. She had faith in herself and closed her eyes. Her body fell closer to the cold collection of metal and glass…But, we have to fall. It’s the only way we can truly live. We can’t remain and dream of something that no longer exists or wish for something that won’t be granted to us. If we did, then we’d be lost.And then how would we find ourselves? How can we return?For everything that flies must land.I want to land now.And the young woman did.***Eli lifted her head gently from the stone floor. Her hair was messy. Her arms were etched with small pieces of glass. But it wasn’t anything serious; just a few bruises and a little blood. She lay only two feet from the fate that would have killed her.Her eyes opened. She could barely remember what had happened. And once she recognized where she was, life returned to her.“You …” his anger was apparent, but it wasn’t towards her fully. Half of him just seemed glad that she was alive. “You never do that again. You hear me!” he shouted and his teeth clenched together.“I’m sorry,” she whispered honestly, regaining her breath. But she produced a grin as she stared back at him. Her face softened so much.“You are an cool dude! You realize that right? Why … why – Never again ok?” he said, pleadingly and confused, a light glimmer under his eyes. “I … you really scared me. I just found you here and – ”He shook his head to clear the thought. “Are you alright Catherine?”“I’ll be fine,” she paused, as she slowly sat up. “Eli. Let’s get out of here. I think we’ve had enough practice in flying...”He moved back, watching her, sitting up, before turning. He stared at the swings for a long moment. They reminded him of his father. He missed him very much.And the swings were there. It’s just, his family wasn’t.He nodded to her, and then nodded again with more reassurance. He understood why she had done what she did. If he had tried to jump alone and if he had failed; he realized now what he would have lost.Eli wouldn’t want his family to through with that. No amount of flying was worth it.The two of them stood up, he still held her arm though she didn’t need it. Just in case she fell.Taking a few steps, feeling better, Catherine joked, “You know, there are other ways to fly Eli that don’t involve swinging.”“Yeah…” He paused, he produced a smile, “Maybe someday, we’ll fly on an airplane; if you can handle those heights.”She glanced at, him and could see that young face of his, that thirteen year old face. It was only a second, but still there. It made her want to laugh and smile, warmly. But she didn’t. She just grinned, like how they used to when they were kids.“I can. I’ll pilot it. Then I’ll teach you how to.”They opened the factory door and began to return home as the sun’s rays broke through the musty clouds, illuminating the blue, afternoon sky.____I hadn't thought to revive this, but I realized since all my other CoT stories are back on the new forum in some way, might as well. First off, this isn't new, and I wrote this more than a year and half ago (maybe two years ago). I don't consider it my best work, so if some of it came off as a bit cheesy, go easy on me. lol Anyway, hope you were able to get through it all, and enjoy it!I also had a lot of inspiration for this story, a little from the movie Inception, a little from the horrifying game of Limbo, and then a little from my own love and I mean LOVE of swings. :3
  3. In Your Absence From the journal of Henry Peterson 3rd of April Do you remember the games of hide and seek that we used to play, all those years ago? Our house was nothing exceptional, just two floors and eight rooms between them. But to us this house was our world, filled with such little crevices and caves for us to tuck ourselves away into and be concealed from everything else. I remember when you hid in our washing basket and nearly gave mother a heart attack. I searched these crevices today and found nothing. Our caves were bare. Why did you not answer me when I called for you? I had spent an entire hour searching and yet found no sign of you. When I cried that was meant to be the signal for you to reveal yourself. Where were you when I needed you most? Father returned home today with a tear-stained face. He said nothing when he entered, simply opting to walk past me and hold mother tightly, as though he was scared she might fly away. I didn’t understand their behaviour. You had been late home before so what made this occasion so different? Why did the rooms suddenly feel larger and emptier? And why did the tears now streak down my face? There were once a hundred hiding places in this house and I could no longer conceal myself in any of them. 4th of April I hate this. I hate the shallow expressions that everyone wears, those downturned lips, those red puffy eyes. I hate the restlessness that’s possessed everyone under this bloody roof, how they pace the rooms and then leave without saying a word. There is always something to be done and yet we’ve done it a thousand times over. Well, I’m sick of doing something and nothing at all. I’m sick of this stupid clock that hangs on the wall and screams every tick of every hand. The embodiment of my hatred looked me in the face today and so I smashed him into a million tiny pieces. There was a moment of pause when he collapsed to the floor, and then I laughed and danced in his fragments. I crushed him into a fine dust. I ground him beneath my heels and refused to wince as he bit back at me, drawing blood. Nothing would distract me from this high. The power of destruction was mine, the power to rid the world of all that I despised. I vowed that I would gorge myself in this chaos and I would find it good. If you could not be here to tell me right from wrong then I would construct my own order in your absence. My breath fell heavily upon my breast when I finally slumped to the floor. A fine cocktail of blood and broken mirror stared back up at me. I could feel its jeers and taunts, scolding me for the absence of control. The death of that reflection had brought me no consolation, no satisfaction from my loneliness. The dustpan and brush swept away the produce of my frustration and now the house sat even emptier than before. 5th of April Was it something that I had said? Was I the one who drove you away? If this is the case then I will take it all back, every mislaid word and every stupid, inconsiderate action. You are all I desire and I will swallow every last ounce of my pride if it leads to you walking through this godforsaken door just one more time. I can’t stand to be in this household any longer but it is all I have left. I leave and return in sporadic bursts, desperately hunting for somewhere to be and then immediately lusting for the comfort of a more familiar environment. The wind outside has picked up and it tears at my coat, pushing me back to my starting point. Yet when I stand inside, the stillness eats away at me, eroding my patience. What was it that you did that kept the peace in place? How were you the wooden groyne that kept things secure and homely? Why did you give up in your task and just what will it take to bring you back? Father has tried to console my grief by promising a trip to the coast. I thanked him and he left without another word. He would take me somewhere else, to another land, another place where you are not by my side. If this was his intention, he could have just taken me anywhere. Wherever I go, I will always stand without you. 6th of April Father took us down to the beach today. I remember when we used to travel here on a more regular basis, when the sun would shine its approval and the sea would sing to us its joy. We would take our pet Alsatian, Sally and we would laugh as she chased us across the bed of sand. The colours didn’t seem quite the same today and the song of the sea sounded mournful. It was as though in your passing, you had taken the heart of the world with it. The sun couldn’t bear to face us and hid behind its veil of grey clouds. The gulls wailed over our heads and in the distance I could see the faint outline of a dog and its master. I thought of Sally and almost cried. We had taken with us a picnic, mother, father and I. Our plans had been to sit on the beach and make an occasion of our venture, to create a memory that would fill the hole you had left behind. We hadn’t been there for more than half an hour before it started to rain and we were forced to flee back to the car. After a brief debate, we simply sat there awhile and watched as the world went by. The raindrops washed over the windshield accompanied by its constant, never-ending drumming that beat a rhythm into my aching head. To block its persistent torment, I wondered if the sky would have still emptied itself even with you here by our side. Would the gulls have serenaded us with such hollow cries if your ears were here to accept their song? I didn’t know but the need for an answer burned through my mind. Why does the world carry on without you? When I die, will it carry on without me? 7th of April The funeral service was held today. I walked through a sea of black coats and suits and knelt by your gravestone. The touch of the cold granite kissed the tips of my fingers as I caressed the last physical memory of your life. I was now closer to you than I had been in days. I laid my flowers by your resting place and said my goodbyes. I told you I was sorry and that the hole you had left in my heart could never be refilled. You were my brother and you were always there for me, through all the trials and tribulations of our relationship. I sobbed and I grieved until father finally took me by the hand and led me away. Now we are home and I simply sit in a quiet silence, writing for you in this journal, writing the letters that mark your passing. Photos line our shelves that tell the story of your life and your grave is to be an aerial of your death. But these words will tell the story of the transition, a time when the world adjusted to your departure. These entries are to be testament to the void you now leave in your wake. I will write my feelings for you one last time and then I will let the world carry on, lighter and yet at the same time heavier on my shoulders than it has ever been before. Goodbye. 8th of April I miss you. Come back. Please. Come back.
  4. The Voyager. Not sure if anybody will read it, nor do I expect much feedback, but I enjoyed writing this and wanted to share it. To those who read it, I hope you enjoy. ---- The Ta-Matoran dove to the floor, against the howls and screams of the raging storm above. Again, the boat lurched drunkenly as the currents tossed it around like a ragdoll. As he slid this way and that on the water-soaked deck, the Ta-Matoran’s hand found a loose line of rope, which he clutched desperately with slippery, blistered palms. The lightning crackled again and with it came the ear-splitting thunder. The Matoran screamed again, though the angry storm covered his terror with its own thunderous melodies. Suddenly, he heard a horrible hissing noise and he screamed even louder. Though his heart and mind told him not to, his instincts forced him to turn to confront his attacker. What he saw was something that would haunt him until the day he died. Staring back at him was a pure monstrosity, a blend of a thousand different nightmares. The skin was scaly and alien, its body, though disproportionate, was muscular and strong, and its beak-like mouth housed thousands of sharp, jagged teeth. The moonlight made the colours of its body seem oily, as if they were melting into each other. But worst of all, within its crimson-red eyes lay hate. Pure and unrestrained hatred. This thing had a name too. It was called a Zyglak,a species so terrible and hideous that its creators had dismissed them as failures and accidents. They were the embodiment of rejection and bitterness. And they made their plight known. “Sssssssleep,” it whispered eerily as its clawed hand came in to cover the Matoran’s mouth. The sailor whimpered in fear. “Sssssleeeep,” it repeated. Suddenly, as the lightning crackled furiously once again, [[sonitous|a figure]] charged at the Zyglak, battering it aside with a [[Echo Shield|mighty shield]] that forced the monster off the sailor. The two opponents made no contact as they pushed against each other's weight. The Matoran scurried and hid behind one of the nearby cargo crates, looking on as he watched the figure and the monster circle each other menacingly. The one who had saved him was a symbol of safety and protection. Warriors like him were legends of night time myth and song, legends that were very much needed in the unending darkness of today’s world. He was a Toa. The Matoran did not know him by name; the crew had simply nicknamed him ‘''The Voyager'',’ but he remembered when he had joined him. Several days ago, the captain of this ship, a veteran Ga-Matoran, had convinced him to join her crew. They were to take a shipment of goods from their island and trade them with a small village on the eastern coastline of the Southern Continent. There had been eight crew members at the beginning of the journey. Emphasis on the ‘''had''.’ The Toa had turned up shortly before they left the island and had agreed to protect their ship in exchange for safe passage to their destination. The captain had accepted without a shadow of a doubt. She was now dead. The Toa slammed his hands together and a wall of sound, one that could not be seen but heard, went flying towards the Zyglak. If the wall was meant to have any effect on its target, it certainly wasn't visually spectacular. The Zyglak's resistance of the elements was impressive. The monster then lunged forward, screaming as it swiped it claws savagely at the Toa. He responded by raising his great shield, using it to keep the monster and his claws at bay before battering it away in one move. The Zyglak snarled again and began to back off. The Toa attempted to charge at it, but as he started moving the boat lurched violently, making him stumble to the ground. Using this to its advantage, the Zyglak pounced onto the Toa, batting his shield away and gnashing its teeth nastily as it came in closer and closer. Desperate, the Toa broke his arm free and punched the Zyglak in the face. As the fight continued, with the sea and the storm as the spectator, the Matoran tried to remember how this had all happened. From what he could recall, the Zyglak had climbed out of the water at the beginning of the storm, slithering aboard like a Doom Viper. From there, it had proceeded to hunt down each individual crew member one by one until only he was left. The Toa was swiftly alerted, though the Zyglak was too quick and had knocked him out before he could stop it. It was meant to be a killing blow. The Toa dealt another fist to the Zyglak’s face, then another then another. On the fourth hit, the voyager hissed through clenched teeth. His fists weren't used to such rough work and he was definitely no Toa of Iron. Seeing its adversary’s momentary distraction, the Zyglak scrambled forward and raked the Toa across the face, who screamed in agony. Despite the dark, the moonlight clearly illuminated three deep scratches on the Toa’s left cheek. The Zyglak didn't stop there, however. Grabbing him from both sides, the Zyglak wrestled the Toa down onto the port side of the ship and began rip into him without hesitation, slashing at him with its monstrous claws. The attack was a vicious as it was inelegant. The creature itself was an oddity for its kind; each clawed attack against the Toa or the crew on the ship had been harmless. Everyone knew the legends of the Zyglak's disease, which could eat at the tissue within their victim's bodies just through physical contact. It was very strange that this one didn't have the right touch. Perhaps he was some form of degenerate, or perhaps the Toa was just a figure so righteous and benign that the plague simply could not affect such a goodly being. The Ta-Matoran froze, as if some supernatural force had locked his body in place. He didn't know what to do. He didn't know how to help. This was a fight between a Toa and a Zyglak. How a Matoran could stand a fighting chance was anyone’s guess. He just didn't know how he could be of aid. He had no helpful skills, no combat training and he didn't exactly have a history of luck being on his side. He was utterly useless. Suddenly, something glimmered in the dark, something that inspired a small but viable amount of hope. Lying in front of him, between him and the beaten Toa, was a glistening shield. In an instant, the Matoran knew what he had to do. Though he felt too scared to do it, the Ta-Matoran forced that fear down and made a run for it, trying his best to ignore the strength of the wind and the rain. Between the pain and the slashing, the Toa looked over and saw what the Matoran was doing, and as a sign of acknowledgement, subtly outstretched his arm. His eyes were urgent. Though the sea continued to toss the ship about, the Matoran's courage remained true and he staggered over to the Toa’s shield. Placing both hands on it, the Matoran pushed the weapon towards its owner, allowing it skid across the wooden deck and into his open palm as the port side of boat swayed downwards. When his weapon of trade slipped into his hands, the Toa called upon all his remaining strength and began batter the Zyglak off of him. Once, twice, thrice... Though the aggressor was trying its best to cling on, another violent swerve of the boat dislodged it and a fourth hit from the Toa’s shield toppled the creature off completely. The Zyglak wailed as it fell overboard, crashing down into the churning waters below as the waves claimed it for good. The storm covered its screams. ---- The Matoran didn’t sleep. How could he after all he had seen last night? He had huddled himself up at the front of the boat, curling up into a ball as he tried to banish the horrible memories of the night from his mind. When he finally moved again, he had found it was the middle of the morning. The water was calm and still, the hum of Razor Whales could be heard in the distance and there was nothing but clear blue sky for as far as the eye could see. Despite the tranquility, the Matoran of Fire did not accept it. And he knew he never would ever again. Many of the sailors on this voyage had been his friends, his brothers and sisters in arms. And by morning, they were all lying dead on the deck. The Toa had recovered all their mangled bodies, and as a sign of respect, he had cast them into the ocean. But the sea had not claimed their lives. Their fates were far worse. It was the monsters that had stolen their lives, the monsters of the cold and the dark. For all eternity, his friends would lie in watery graves. They deserved better. The Matoran looked up at the Toa, who had positioned himself in the center of the ship, next to the steering instrument. Despite his injuries, he had been commandeering the vessel since the incident with the Zyglak, and though the boat had been left an absolute wreck, he had somehow managed to navigate it through the worst of the storm. The Matoran wasn’t sure what was on his mind. He had promised to defend a crew of eight and seven of them were now victims. He had given them his word and he had failed them. But there had been at least been one small victory that night. One life had been saved. The Toa himself seemed calm, collected and in control. By contrast, the Matoran survivor was already beginning to feel the guilt of being the only one left. The Toa shot him a look. It didn’t feel pitying nor did it feel unwelcoming. Rather, it was a look that conveyed a sense of understanding, an unspoken phrase that said he could comprehend what he was going through, as if all his emotions could be condensed into a single utterance. It was compassionate. The Matoran looked at the three scratches on his mask. They would fade in time, but for now, they were deep and pronounced. But if one dared to think about it, perhaps those scratches told the Zyglak’s secrets. The Ta-Matoran had heard many stories about them and had heard many grisly tales of their abilities. Zyglak prided themselves on their ability to spread a contact-based virus that could eat through a Matoran’s organic flesh. They were plague carriers, no better than overgrown vermin. But this one seemed to lack that power. Each time it had struck at the Toa with its claws, nothing had happened to him. Each time they made contact, the Toa would still be standing. Perhaps this Zyglak was an outcast, even amongst its own people. Perhaps they viewed it as an inferior for his defection and had exiled it. After all, Zyglak usually did attack in numbers. Why would only one dare to board alone? Suddenly, the boat came to a stop. Was there a leak? Were they sinking? The Matoran looked over the side to see they had hit shallow water. They must’ve reached the continent now. He slowly brought his eyes up to see what lay in front of him and almost smiled. They had docked on a beautiful golden beach, which lay in front of a dense tropical forest. He knew this area well. They were not far from the village the crew had meant to be trading with. The Ta-Matoran turned back to look at the remnants of the vessel. Less than half of the cargo had survived the journey and he wasn’t even sure if their contents were intact. Plus, this vessel was not even remotely seaworthy; it was a miracle that the ship had not sunk yet. However, he knew the villagers around here and he knew they would be willing to help him out. They’d offer him a new ship and possibly a new crew for the return trip, if he ever dared to take the risk. The Toa jumped over the starboard side of the boat and into the water, trudging his way towards the beach as he returned to his own particular journey. He had already rummaged through the boat to find anything valuable and had placed all his findings on the main deck. He had done his part and it would be better if they both parted ways. Before he arrived on the coast, he turned back one last time and looked at the Ta-Matoran. He didn’t say anything. Were words needed to summarize what had happened during the night? The answer to that question was ‘no’ it seemed, and instead, the Toa simply nodded to him. It was a respectful gesture and one that wished the Matoran good luck. Then he turned and resumed his own journey. The Ta-Matoran hadn’t asked for his name, but he supposed that didn’t really matter. He was the sort of individual who could not easily be categorized. Toa were often described as many things at once. They weren’t always the heroes who beat the bad guys at the end of the day. This Toa was a variety of things: a hitchhiker, a warrior, a savior, and a protector. And like many before him, he defied the idolized and stereotyped image of what a great Toa should be. It would shatter any Matoran’s faith to see them so vulnerable, but at least these types of Toa were honest at heart. They didn’t hide behind bluster and bravado, they didn’t rise to meet the status quo and they didn’t try to become larger-than-life figures. And in a world as dangerous as this one, perhaps that was the kind of hero that one really needed.
  5. Life Ever since we crashed on the Planet Earth, we had to adjust to human lifestyles. We assume human disguises via a special prototype camo system that was infused in us when we crashed. The process is too complicated to explain in words, but the exodus of an entire species is at stake. Human military forces seek to enslave us for experiments. No one knows what happens, for no one ever comes back alive. It is the afternoon in New York City, an industrious city where almost forty percent of the population that came aboard the Nexus 7 reside. Many of them are disguised as shop keepers or business men. Two Matoran, Matroe and Falmo, enter an alley running. They transform into their normal statue figure of Matoran. Matroe is a Matoran of ice with a noble Kanohi Komau, and Falmo is a Matoran of Earth with a Kanohi Pakari. They are on the run from militants whose only purpose is to kill them. “I think we lost them.” Said Matroe, trying to catch his breath. Then the shouts of the armed militants can be heard. Scared for their lives, they transform back to their human disguises. “I told you to stay in your human form, but no. You just had to transform back to your normal form.” Falmo says in protest. “Shut up, or we’ll get caught.” The sounds of boots and clanking metal can be heard, closer as they proceed to find their prey. Then we hear the sirens of police cars. They are in pursuit of a pair of robbers who robbed a jewelry store at this time. “Stop police!” An officer shouts at one of the crooks. The militants break away, leaving their pursuit for them. Feeling that they are still not safe, they stay in their forms. Their human forms are African-American males; Matroe’s having a bulky black winter coat and blue jeans, and Falmo’s being a blue hoodie and blue jeans. Ironically, one of the robbers is wearing the same clothes as Matroe. They crooks and officers split up, still in pursuit. Matroe and Falmo stay near a stage backdoor, hiding in the shadow of the stair case. One of the officers enters his moves to dispatch; he enters a narrow alley and takes cover behind a wall. He looks around the corner to see the offender. A shot is fired and grazes a pole next to the wall. “Shots fired! Shots fired! The chase has escalated to a 10-13!” The officer runs around the corner chasing him into the alley on the right. Unknown to Matroe and Falmo, the offender runs into them and exits through the backdoor. “What’s his problem?” Asks Falmo, looking at the door. Matroe shrugs his shoulders. “Look I’m telling you that this is nothing. We will get out of this soon.” The officer looks down the alley and sees Matroe; mistaking him for the crook he was chasing. “NYPD, put your hands in the air!” Just as Matroe hears the officers voice, he pulls out something from his jacket pocket. Just as he pulls out the object, he turns around to face the officer. A shot his fired directly at his heart. Encased in fear, Falmo stands still in complete shock. The officer comes to see Matroe’s body, seeing no gun in his hand. He then looks at Falmo in despair, and guilt. The other officer arrives. His name is detective Mack Taylor, who looks at the body, then at Falmo. Later in the week, they find the true perpetrators of the crime that was committed. Falmo, tells to the press in his Matoran form, the truth of what really happened. His sorrow of his fallen friend, is all that fills him as he walks away from the percent. “As police officers in this big complicated city we see so much bad. So many souls filled with hatred and violence, and it’s our job to look for them, chase after them and confront them. Over time it can become all that we see. As with all evil some goodwill always can come from it. It can bring us together with some of the most dedicated, honorable, kind hearted people we can ever hope to meet. It can fill hearts, with love so strong that it will endure forever, and create unbreakable friendships that will last, even in the face of life’s most difficult challenges. Sometimes the good comes when we most need it and least expect it. If we are lucky enough to notice upon it, set our eyes upon it, and appreciate it, it can almost make us forget all of the bad. Today is life the only life for sure of; make the most of today. Words of wisdom, a slice of goodness passed on by an innocent soul whose life was cut short by an arid bullet. These are words that will always stay with me, words that are about to change the course of my life forever.” -Mack Taylor
  6. ~ ENIM SAPIENTIA ~ ~~~ Down an unknown road To embrace my fate Though that road may wander It will lead me to you ( - From "Go the Distance" by David Zippel ) ~ * ~ The path ambled along through the rolling hills, stretching away farther than the eye could see. We made our progress slowly, she and I; there was nothing in the world to hurry us and everything to encourage delay."Beautiful weather," I observed."It's a beautiful view."I smiled at the silken screen of hair that cascaded down the back of her head. "It certainly is."She let out a happy sigh. "Sometimes--sometimes I just wish I could walk forever.""Free of worry, free of care. Under the golden sunlight by day and the starlight by night.""And when it rains I would dance in it. I would laugh at the thunder. And when the sun came back its grin would dry me.""It sounds wonderful.""It does. Just to walk. . . .""And who would be walking with you?"She tensed. I looked away and quickly introduced a different topic. "It's amazing the way the hills are all so alike and yet somehow different. Sort of like people.""People aren't all alike.""Oh, but they are. At the bottom of every heart there are the same thoughts, the same dreams. Every heart has the--the same love. Some people just forget that. Some never find it. Some ignore it.""Jacob--" But she broke off."Rachel, I care about you. You know that, don't you?"She hesitated. Then she said, "Some have to wait for love.""Wait to find it?""Yes, some. But others who've already found it have to wait for the right time."She bit her lip. We walked on.All too soon there came a fork in the path. A side road branched off the main. We paused and turned to face one another. "Which way are you going?" I asked. I knew the answer, but I dreaded it. Somehow I hoped feigning ignorance would buy me a few more moments.She did not respond. She couldn't say it. She only murmured in a tone thick and strained, "Goodbye, Jacob.""Rachel, please . . ." But I didn't know what I was asking. I examined my shoelaces with a shrug of my shoulders. "'Bye, I guess."She turned away, hugging her shoulders. Her gracile figure sidled away along her path as I began along mine. But before she escaped earshot I turned with sudden fervor and called out to her."Remember what I told you! I care about you. That won't change. Even when paths branch apart, they come back together. They intersect again."She looked at me. Her eyes were moist and her cheeks glistened in the sunlight. Yet for all that she beamed at me. "I know it." ~ * ~ The next evening I was traveling my lonely path when another came up alongside it, running parallel. Somehow I sensed, before I even looked across the verge, that Rachel was there.She looked happy. Was there an almost haunted quality to her eye, or did I imagine it? I couldn't be sure. I only caught the corner of its deep beauty before she turned her head in the other direction without even glancing at me. I turned, too.Neither of us spoke. It would have been too painful. So close and yet so very far.But beneath the ache in my chest there was something else. Buried far beneath my skin, constrained by the twisting of my heart, it was there: joy. Just a faint glimmer of delicious joy. And somehow through the pain that little joy made me feel as light as air.Did she feel it?Ahead the paths diverged. As soon as I caught sight of it I halted. After a few paces, she did the same. My heart pounded as I stood there, gazing at the back of her head, hoping.She turned. She smiled. My heart soared.I stepped to her side, keeping on my path but not taking my eyes off her for a moment. I ravenously devoured each passing second spent staring at her. She flushed under my gaze; but the rosy tint to her medium-dark cheeks only made her the more beautiful."I miss you."She met my gaze with eyes that glowed brighter than the first stars appearing overhead. "I miss you, too."In tacit concordance we turned and walked on until our paths separated once more.And I kept walking. ~ * ~ That's the hard part. To keep walking. To go on and never falter. To know the only way back is forth.The world passes by me with each step. But I keep going because it's empty. I fill it with what good I can when I can; but there's nothing left in it, not for me.I wonder where she is and I wonder where my path is taking me. I wonder about many things. My mind brims with the swelling ranks of unanswered questions.But what can I do but go onward? With patience and perseverence I have to fight my way forward. Along the way I strive to make myself into a man worthy of her. She is like a distant star guiding me along. It is day and I cannot see her, but I know she is there, and I follow her.Someday our paths will reconnect. Until then I'll continue wandering; but my heart will never stray. For my Rachel I'll go that extra mile. Sincerely, Nuile: Lunatic Wordsmith
  7. Shattered Past Deep within the mind of a Toa, is the fragmentation of his forgotten past. Time rewinds, visions move away and there’s the unknown part of the mind known as the Dreamscape. This Toa is called Flaredrick, and he is in the laboratory of a Great Being. He came here to find out what truly happened to him in his past. 100,000 years ago in the city of Centurion lived a good hard working citizen. Then again everyone is hard working, but this matoran was special. He was always honest in and outside of work. He was wise, humble and forgiving. That Matoran’s name is Flaredrick, a lava harvester in the Fire district. There he made his living cleaning the pools of lava coming from a nearby volcano. He made sure no volcanic rocks were in the lava, for if there were, it would clog the pipes leading to the furnaces. Dusk falls in and now he heads in to fill his shift. He goes into the locker room to get his tools, when a co-worker calls him. “Flaredrick, good to see you’re still working as a harvester.” “Good to see you too Bazlth.” Flaredrick replies. Bazlth is Flaredricks’ best friend. They both work in the same department, but off work there’re a dynamic duo in disk throwing. They have won two championships in the games, and are still going strong as the best team in Centurion. Though unlike Flaredrick Bazlth can be a bit over confidante at times. He wears the standard Metru class armor like everyone, and wears a red Kanohi Kakama. “You still wear that same old red Hau.” Bazlth says in a deep tone. “Yes I still am. I mean there’re no dents, scars, or impracticalities with it.” “Yeah, there’s nothing wrong with it, but at least clean it once in a while.” Flaredrick looks in the mirror of his locker. He laughs a bit at the sight of his dirty Hau. He then begins wiping some of the dirt off, only realizing that it just made his mask dirtier. “If you don’t wash that mask, it’s going to break. Why don’t you just go get a new one?” “I would but I don’t have enough widgets.” Flaredrick says sarcastically. “Well you better go to your post or else you’re going to get fired. See you at the games Flaredrick.” He says leaving the locker room with his bag. Just as he is about to close his locker, he looks at a picture that he kept. He holds it in his hand, looking at it as if he had never seen it. It shows him, Bazlth, and 2 Ga-Matoran known as Seria and Keri. In it, they stand behind a school which reveals beautiful water scenery. He smiles, puts it back in his locker and locks it. Its night fall and Iron Wolves are howling in night. Flaredrick works his way across the lava pool, when he sees a large piece of volcanic rock in the middle of the pool. He stares at it, wondering how he didn’t see it earlier. He pulls out an extension cord to scoop up the large rock. Though as he tries to scoop up the rock, it will not go into the net. After several tries to pick up the rock, the pool starts to rumble. Suddenly more large rocks come up to the surface, the rumbling becomes more violent. Then a giant lava eel comes rocketing up, sending molten lava to fly in air. The eel lets out a loud roar which can be heard throughout the entire city. The eel stood over 40 feet tall, with a slimy skin covered in volcanic rock. Flaredrick wasn’t able to get away in time, for when the eel erupted from the pool it sent scorching lava at him. The mask was left pieces as it hit the floor, his armor melting into his tissue. He screams in agonizing pain, as he falls to the floor. Soon the guard arrives, firing every piece of weaponry at the monster. Medics arrive at the scene to take the injured out of the area. The scene begins to blur, his eyes begin to close. The sound of medical machinery can be heard. Soon the turaga, Zalxias, can be heard speaking with the medics. “His injuries are too severe for us to fix. The armor has melted some of the tissue, and there is a slim chance for him to survive his ordeals.” “There is only one person who can fix a matoran this badly wounded, see to it that he gets there.” Zalxias commands the medics. “It shall be done sir.” The medics quickly mount him on a terrain vehicle, and send him to the beings way. As the turaga sees his transport leaves, he looks at the shattered pieces of what is left of his Kanohi in his hands.
  8. Crk-crk-crk."Captain!"His stare is one of vengeance, of both fire and frost. The shipmate pauses, hesitates, breathes sharply and forgets to breathe again. The Captain does not recall his name...had he known it to begin with? The face looks familiar, but all these men are faceless. There is the Captain, the Sea, and Them."What's your name, son?" The Captain's voice is hollow. The night shrouds its source, and in the blackness the words are almost tangible--the shipmate's fingers tingle as he feels them dance across his palm."Jer'ya, sir."The Captain smiles. The gesture is somehow haunting beneath his hood, as is every movement of the man. The shipmate stifles a shiver.The air grows ever more frigid."Son, why are we at sea?""Uh...uhm." The words sounded like a test that he was doomed to fail. He would answer obliviously and the Captain would chuckle sarcastically, endowing him with that archaic wisdom he reeked of.The tone, though...the Captain sounded lost, genuinely lost. He honestly didn't know the answer....the shipmate sensed a vulnerability there. The Captain seemed naked, bare, childish. Innocent, even.A tear fell from the shipmate's eye."Because we're looking for something."The Captain laughed, that hollow sense of knowing again. The innocence was a faded dream. "Some greater drive, like love, or fulfillment, perhaps?"The shipmate nodded numbly."Don't be such a dreamer, Jer'ya. We're looking for a thing that killed my brother. There is no fulfillment at sea, boy." The Captain's lips were as dry as his words.The shipmate grimaced in the dark. He'd screwed up again."What'd you come here for?"The shipmate blinked twice. He'd forgotten..."Oh yeah. Another dead...morale's low, sir. The men are barely eating. It's a vicious cycle out here."Thunder cracked. The sound was near.The Captain seemed to move, but the shipmate couldn't tell where in the shadows. And then he wasn't there. The shipmate reeled around. The Captain was pacing vigorously back and forth, back and forth, muttering madly."Ittookanotheritkilledhe'sdeadIwillkillititwilldiemotheryou'llbeproudmotherdon'tworryI'llkillitfatherwillbeproudanddarlingI'llbewithyouandbrotherandohheavensthiswillnotdothisisnotrightthiswillnotdo--""S-sir?"The Captain twitched violently. His eyes were aflame, and he saw the Sea in them...the Sea in its ancient calm, the Sea in its wickedness, the Sea in its unflagging isolation, in its permanence. The Sea in its depth."Let me see the body.""Uhm, sir, we found no body."The Sea in its silence.The Captain said nothing...for a moment he seemed dead but walking. The shipmate waited an eternity for the rain to finally loose upon the world, to shatter this quiet.The Captain said nothing."Captain, the body is missing."Crk-crk-crk.The Captain twitched again, and almost soundlessly his blade was at the ready. The steel flashed as swiftly as a distant light. The Moon? Lightning? No thunder was heard...still this silence reigned supreme."C-Captain? What's wrong...what's...that noise?" Sweat poured in place of the imminent storm. Heat from within and frost upon his lips, he felt dying. The world converged upon the shipmate, but the Captain was at its center.The Captain sprinted lithely--youthfully, even--to the boat's edge, and peered over with an aggression he should've been far too old for. How old was the Captain anyways?Crk-crk-crk.The night's silence tangible in the shadows, shattered only by the moon's ghostly light.That light was...wrong.The roar was supreme. Chaos broke from its chains from within the shipmate, and he felt himself immersed in a pain so ultimate he forgot himself entirely. His skin simply ceased to feel, and the numbness was so deep he slipped into his own mind. He lost himself, and when he found himself he was gazing down at his own corpse.The creature burst forth from the Sea, from the Captain's eyes, in a writhing mass incomprehensible to the mortal. The Captain's shriek of unholy vengeance was silenced by the night, and by the bellow that deafened the world. The Captain wielded his blade madly in a display of the humane foolishness that leads man to both victory and horror, and cast himself into the Sea.Even as the world unfolds, the Rising Moon watches with all-seeing eyes.
  9. The Tower At the sound of his cries I was instantly brought awake. I tried to get out of bed quietly, but it was too late; she was already awake. “I’ll take care of him,” my wife said next to me from under her covers, beginning to rise. “No, no, I’ve got him. Go back to sleep,” I insisted. She relented, knowing better than to say anything else. Most couples fight about who has to get up to take care of the baby; we “fight” about who gets to get up and take care of the baby. Even the intense wailing put a smile to my face. Most are annoyed at being awoken in the middle of their night by their newborns, but I cherished the moments as I knew they wouldn’t last forever. I loved my son, unconditionally, and every moment – even time taken away from sleep – was worth spending with him. A gift. To see his beautiful, brown eyes. His adorable smile. His pink tongue always sticking out so ridiculously. His tiny arms, hands, feet, fingers, and face. I walked into the nursery room, quickly advancing to where the crib was. I swiftly picked up my son, Liam, swinging him back and forth gently in my arms. “Shh,” I whistled to him in a soothing voice. His big chocolate-colored eyes staring back at me; his mouth still mewling. But after a few moments, the noise began to silence. I walked around the room, a bounce in my step for his enjoyment, and the crying ceased all together. His eyes were still focused on mine, and the smile on my face finally brought one on his. “You hungry, buddy?” I whispered. I moved to a dresser on the far side of the room on top of which stood a bottle. I grabbed it and carefully placed the nipple of the bottle in his mouth. But he wasn’t hungry, so I removed it and placed it back on the dresser. “Alright, come on,” I said to him, carrying him out back into our room, then hastily into the hallway so as to not disturb my wife. I took him to my study where I had various case files lying on top of a large wooden desk. On all four walls stood bookshelves and various other items. On top of one bookshelf was a small model of the Eiffel Tower. .“You see that, Liam?” I said, pointing to the object. He followed my finger, but if he actually saw what I was pointing at I wasn’t sure. Still, I continued. “That’s a tower. Probably the most famous tower in the world. An iconic landmark.” He smiled back at me as if fascinated by my tale. Of course I knew he had no idea what I was saying, but my voice was soothing to him. And that was enough for me. “Your mom and I went there for our honeymoon.” I paused for a moment before continuing, thinking back on the memories. “I still remember that day, that whole week. The most amazing week of my life. Your mother is amazing woman, Liam.” I kissed the top of his head lightly, eliciting another smile from him. “One of these days you’re likely to get married to, and you’ll find the perfect woman just as I did, just you wait.” I heard movement behind me and turned to find her in the doorway. “Hey,” I said softly. “Hey,” she answered, advancing toward me and giving me a kiss before giving four to Liam. “Not fair,” I mutter, laughing. She laughs with me, kissing me again. “Come on,” she said, “let’s put Little Liam back to sleep.” I smiled at the alliteration used in his nickname. We must've said it a thousand times, but it never got old. I nodded and smiled at my son. “Let’s go, buddy. We’ll learn more about towers some other day,” I said, following her into the hallway and back toward our room and then his. ~ :: ~ Author's note: This was written for a 15-minute write-off among 55555, Kakaru, and others. The dad in this story is the main character in a murder mystery story I am writing (Detective Calvin Duster), so this is just a story showing a part of his character and way of thinking. However, for this scene at least, that character also represents who/what I want to be when I get older; that is, a dad like this. I honestly really look forward to being a dad. But so anyway, this was just a short character exploration that I did, and is personally one of my favorite write-off stories (I've only posted ~3 on BZP, but have around 20). Anyway, enough from me. Enjoy! Comments are very much appreciated. ~ Velox
  10. EternityTwo weeks after launch — or fourteen days, or three hundred thirty-six hours — and the Eternity was already in trouble.Never. No, negative, nada, et cetera — any word signifying utter disagreement would do. If only Evelyn Moore could adopt a tone as cold as the dead universe outside the Eternity’s forward viewport. Maybe Fate would bend to her.She furrowed her brow and decided upon a simple query: “What the devil are you saying?”The cockpit was small, cramped, and very sweaty. Outwardly, that didn’t faze her partner, Nielson Crane, whose face as illumined by the flashing lights of the control board was very calm and collected. His forehead was damp, though, and not only were no drinks in their spaceship served in cups that allowed spillage, the AC unit was turned on its lowest livable setting to conserve power. They floated against their seatbelts because they couldn’t afford to activate artificial gravity.“What I’m saying,” he intoned, “is that we still don’t have enough power to do the dimension-hop. Not on schedule.”Silence.“The generator was supposed to have stored enough power to do it by now,” Nielson explained, as if Evelyn needed the explanation.“So we’re stuck with the cargo in the entirely wrong universe.”“Yes” — a reply oddly plain considering their situation.“For how long?”She regretted the words the instant they slipped past her lips. They hung in the air like memories of a bad dream; Nielson was slow to dispel them with his steady tone.“Till we can gather enough power.” He paused uncharacteristically. “If we can.”That wasn’t steady enough, Evelyn wanted to say. But she didn’t: The last thing she needed was Nielson being strained beyond his breaking point.Instead, she stared pointedly at the blank space in the viewport, blank and black as if a blanket had been drawn over all the stars to tuck them in for the night. Except, she knew the stars were all dead. Wisps of hydrogen and helium still floated through the universe, but they were too far apart to be affected by gravity.Even gravity could be rendered obsolete — a sobering thought.* * *Sixty-one Earth days — one thousand four hundred sixty-four hours: That was how long the power of the Eternity was projected to last after its launch from the last living planet in the universe, Iris.About four Earth days — ninety-seven hours: That was how long it took for the Eternity to reach a safe distance from Iris’s star, for the dimension-hop would require both time and power, things not plenteous in the vicinity of a red giant.Almost five Earth days — one hundred nineteen hours: That was how long it took for Iris’s star to blow. Fifteen billion people turned off as if by the flick of a switch. Maybe some of them had gotten off in another rescue ship; Evelyn hadn’t stuck around to find out.She dreamed about it, though. She dreamed about the universe’s last visible star tearing itself to pieces before her gaze and imagined screams renting the void like knives. Thanks to the Eternity’s slow engine, she had plenty of idle time for nightmares. A week passed as the Eternity gathered power, during which Evelyn’s fitful naps were interrupted only by spontaneous awakenings beneath dampened sheets, sporadic bursts of reading, and tepid meals under the dimmed lights of the dining area (food and drinks were cold because the power needed for cooking couldn’t be spared).She had never expected to become tired of slush drinks, but she also had never expected to carry the weight of humanity upon her shoulders.Nielson was generally in the engine room. He and Evelyn didn’t meet much; their sleep schedules were incompatible. In space, internal chronometers were useless. No day, no night. Nothing but emptiness.Doesn’t nature abhor vacuums? The question was moot, but Evelyn asked it of herself anyway. It didn’t make her feel better.* * *Nine days.Nine days since all the spaceship’s extraneous features had been turned off so its generator could gather charge. Nine days of utter abandonment, of suspense, and of biding time.Sometime during those nine twenty-four-hour sequences, Evelyn had taken her first antidepressant. When the spaceship began to sputter and the lights began to flicker, she had to fight an urge to down their entire supply.Nielson was absent when she floated out of her room, just as he had been the previous nine days. Using the rungs helpfully mounted upon the corridor walls, she navigated to the engine cavity and poked her upper body through the opening.He turned from his position by an open panel in the far wall and broke the news bluntly: “Something’s wrong with the generator.”Evelyn only stared. Nielson was bound via thin fabric straps to the wall beside the paneling so he wouldn’t float awry; his hands were just removed from the wires within, and a screen beside the panel showed a flashing red alert: Power Generator operating at 60%. Minimum acceptable proficiency is 95%. Statistics followed. Floating there in the doorway, Evelyn found she had forgotten the mathematical work that went into her degree in Computer Engineering; the numbers looked like squiggles to her.“We knew something was wrong nine days ago,” Evelyn snapped. “So do you know what’s wrong with it?”She willed Nielson to say yes. Indeed, naturally, why wouldn’t I? — anything indicating dismissal of the foreboding that had crept upon Evelyn’s shoulders.But he didn’t say anything. He only shrugged.* * *Evelyn was sick of numbers.Nielson had crunched a lot of them to estimate the generator’s total output before its fuel ran out. The results were also numbers, albeit unpleasant, irksomely low ones. The numbers insisted, in short, that Evelyn and Nielson would not be able to complete their dimension-hop — but they would die: in the cold, out of power, their lungs recycling dead air.Numbers were now the enemy.This, Evelyn supposed, was why the mission directors had been loath to include any strong drugs in the Eternity — they hadn’t wanted its crew members to get any ideas. She had taken another antidepressant before her last beauty sleep, though, and was certain she’d seen Nielson chewing on one of his own while he prepared a meal.The fuel was expected to deplete in approximately thirty-six days and eight hours — T minus eight hundred seventy-two hours, or fifty-two thousand three hundred twenty minutes, or three million one hundred thirty-nine thousand two hundred seconds. Nielson needed all that time to determine how to send the cargo on the dimension-hop by itself.It wasn’t easy. While the cargo had been designed to disengage from the rest of the ship, and it was conveniently located near the engine room, the engine didn’t detach with the cargo, and that rendered their proximity unhelpful.Nielson still slaved away, though. Evelyn helped where she could, but her demons kept her from doing much. Several butterfly cocoons must have been in her stomach since the launch, because she now constantly felt a fluttering in her stomach like a billion tiny wings in a fittingly tiny space.* * *T-minus thirty-four days and eleven hours.“I just need to disconnect the cargo and bring it down to the engine room.”Evelyn’s gaze was probably blanker than she intended. She shrugged it off, though, by fooling with her food packet so she seemed to be paying attention to her victuals. “Yeah. I mean — I’ll help if you need it.”“I do need the assistance.”“Well then.”Silence. This was the extent of their interactions nowadays: terse words, clipped gestures, blank expressions. Rarely did they speak for more than minutes at a time. The darkened lights of the Eternity were an accurate gauge for their emotions. At least for Evelyn’s; Nielson’s stolid demeanor revealed none of his thoughts. Sometimes he seemed more distant than Evelyn felt.If the only way they could deal with emotion was by alienating it, they were asking for trouble.* * *Three hours was the longest Evelyn had worked without pause since... since when, she couldn’t exactly recall. Memory had been discarded of late; memory was useless, after all, if it was scrambled by depression.The cargo was a large, metallic cylinder, approximately two meters in diameter and three and one-half meters tall. A display on its chest showed no seal failures or other damage. Detaching it had taken a preternaturally long amount of time, especially considering unscrewing bolts was much harder in zero-G.The cargo’s inertia proved detrimental at first, but nevertheless Evelyn and Nielson maneuvered it to the doorway without serious trouble.They paused there. The doorway, as Nielson had verbally feared earlier during their labor, was too small.T-minus thirty-three days and twenty-one hours.* * *Lying in bed that rest period, Evelyn dreamed of Iris torn to colorful ribbons, turning and mixing and blossoming like the colors of a kaleidoscope. But this time, there was a twist.Maybe the antidepressant she had taken before retiring to her bed was the reason behind her emotional distance from the event.Whereas before she had felt the screams of the dying planet, she now watched the planet and star in death throes as if through a television screen. Fifteen billion was a statistic; black was another color; engine failure was within the Eternity’s realm of failure; numbers were just numbers. All was right.She woke up sans cold sweat, her heart beating at a leisurely pace. She still didn’t feel better.* * *Only idly did Evelyn check the cockpit’s clock after waking. It was counting, just as it should be; why did she need to read its display?Nielson didn’t question Evelyn’s robotic motions or intonated replies; nor did he question her sudden break in the middle of disassembling the cargo hold’s doorway to calm her spiraling head, or her too-common sips from a water canteen she held. Maybe he understood. Evelyn was too lost in her idyllic reverie to care.* * *“To the right — no, other right—”Unintentionally, Evelyn giggled. Nielson’s hesitation was evident in the abrupt shudder of the cargo as it floated through the deconstructed arch of the doorway.Evelyn was nearly crushed against the far wall by the metal canister, but she turned it at the last moment. It stopped completely this time. Nielson’s worried face pored around the edge of the metal canister. Evelyn couldn’t meet his eyes.He didn’t speak till blood rushed in Evelyn’s ears.“Be careful.”She was vaguely surprised by the amount of care in his voice but passed it off as a small aberration in his normal mannerisms. She was being careful, of course. That was fact.“I’m fine,” she insisted to assuage Nielson’s doubts, and promptly realized she had failed in that task.Still they floated. Still she waited. Nielson would speak when he decided to do so. He was deliberate in his movements; as an engineer and scientist, he couldn’t afford to be less. Evelyn decided Nielson had fallen on his favorite pastime: thinking.His next words, delivered seconds before the cargo began moving again, were cavalier: “Watch it, coming your way.”* * *T-minus twenty-five days and three hours.Moving the cargo into the engine room had been but the start.The engine room was attached to the rest of the ship via a mess of cables and fuel lines. Any ruptures could mean power leakage, which could easily result in the mission rendered completely impossible. The danger was tangible, able to be tasted in the Eternity’s musty, sweaty air.Nielson had reassigned Evelyn to the cockpit after T-minus thirty-two days, stating her condition as grounds for undue risk. She had asked if he thought she was going insane. No! Impossible, not a chance, you’re completely sane — any honest denial would have sufficed.Nielson had shaken his head and returned to work.Evelyn hadn’t seen him since, but whenever she neared the passage to the engine room between rest hours, meals, and “work”, she could hear faint noises that meant he was still working.In contrast to weeks before, the cockpit was dim, only several colored lights flickering on and off in contrast to the twenty-plus previously lit. The proximity counter on the starship’s dashboard displayed a number large enough for scientific notation: 5.98 × 109 kilometers and counting. The Eternity was alone, and by extension, Evelyn and Nielson were, too.A bad time for Evelyn to remember she hadn’t taken an antidepressant for the past forty-some hours.Combating jittery nerves, she bound herself to her chair and leaned the headrest back. She couldn’t watch space fly by if she couldn’t see it. That left nothing to do but wait till a warning klaxon sounded, and she had gotten good at waiting.She stole glances at the clock several times as she descended into lethargy. The timer read T-minus twenty-five days, two hours, twenty-eight minutes, fifty-five seconds before the last time she closed her eyes that hour.* * *Spinning kaleidoscopes of fire burned behind Evelyn’s eyelids when Nielson entered the cockpit. A rap on the doorway brought Evelyn from her stupor. Unclenching her clammy hands, she checked the clock: T-minus four days, ten hours.The pilot’s seat felt suddenly cold. Inhaling deeply, Evelyn pushed a dark lock of hair out of her right eye and turned to the impassive figure floating in the doorway. “Yeah, Nielson?”“I’m done.”Evelyn paused, blinked. “What?”“I said I’m done.” He took Evelyn’s surprised pause as a query for elaboration. “After we moved the cargo to the engine room, I shut down the engine temporarily, moved the power to the Eternity’s backup storage cells, then moved the generator and main power stores to the engine room and plugged them in again before relocating most of the energy. Hard work, but I think I did it right.”Nielson looked vaguely pleased. Evelyn could sense the anticlimax. “So... that’s that? We’re ready to, uh, launch the cargo?”“Yeah. I mean yes. That is, right before the generator reaches its maximum output. We could do it before, but then we wouldn’t be certain the cargo has enough power to drive it wherever in the next universe over.”What was Evelyn supposed to say? “Oh, how wonderful, what good fortune,” wouldn’t fit; neither would, “Wow, Nielson, you just saved the mission and you’re still acting gloomy,” or even, “You know, you aren’t helping my gut any — the butterflies still want out.”She shrugged. Nielson hesitated as if on the verge of speaking further, but then he seemed to realize Evelyn’s trouble and retreated from the cockpit with an amiable nod.Now Evelyn had the sweaty air of the cockpit to herself and nothing to do but wait and twiddle her thumbs: a potentially volatile combination, especially since it left so much room for thought — and what could she think about but the end?She had never been particularly religious; she nonetheless murmured a quick prayer to the darkness outside the forward viewport.* * *T-minus thirty-two minutes, or one thousand nine hundred twenty seconds, or eight-fifteenths of an hour.The end was a frightening concept. Evelyn couldn’t remember what had happened before her birth, only after. Memory had begun with life; would it conclude in the same fashion?After the cargo launched, Nielson had earlier explained to Evelyn, there would only be enough power to sustain the Eternity for a few minutes. Then, he had sounded strong. Now Nielson’s fingers gripped a control hard enough that his knuckles turned white. He had been reduced to Evelyn’s level.Evelyn hadn’t bothered taking an antidepressant today. Why should she? — soon, she wouldn’t be able to feel depressed.She paused. Would she still feel emotion? She’d never subscribed to a particular theology; death, and by extension the afterlife, was a mystery to her, hidden behind the same black veils that covered this universe’s stars.The minutes tolled like a church bell: ponderously, significantly. Now thirty; now twenty-nine, then twenty-eight, then twenty-seven, and Evelyn tore her eyes from the monitor before the waiting drove her crazy.“The engines have bare minimum power,” said Nielson at length. A faint vibrato affected his typical sonorous tone. “T-minus... twelve minutes, fifteen seconds.”A pause. The minutes tolled, tolled...“What if it doesn’t work?”Perhaps Evelyn attained death-induced nirvana at that moment: Her doubt about the success of the mission had not triggered the tiniest prick of fear. Maybe adrenaline had choked her bloodstream so she wouldn’t feel a thing; her body, after all, wasn’t clueless about the situation. Maybe her engineering training was kicking in thanks to exhilaration. Probability was a statistic. Nothing more, nothing less. That was the only way Evelyn could keep from freaking out.Nielson shook his head like he was ridding himself of a fly. “Don’t think that. We did all we could. Now we have to trust luck.”“If the luck doesn’t come through, then...?”“Then... we’ve failed.”Nielson bowed his head and choked back tears, and Evelyn suddenly remembered Nielson wasn’t as unaffected as he had seemed during the past month. To his credit, he neither sobbed nor lost his composure; his body just hadn’t been able to hold all the emotion brewing in his chest without some form of catharsis.T-minus six minutes, and Evelyn had already lost her ability to communicate effectively.“This is the end,” Nielson continued. “I — I’m sorry I’m breaking down like this, but I did what I could. It’s out of our control now. We just have to trust our work isn’t in vain. That was why we were sent out here to do this: Whether or not we die is irrelevant — as long as we aren’t expunged completely and our spirit lives on...”He inhaled. “Sorry,” he breathed.“No,” Evelyn responded. She reached to hold Nielson’s hand where it lay over its control switch; she barely noticed the cold pit that settled in her stomach as she ceased pouring energy into her façade of apathy. “Everyone, well, feels stuff, don’t they? You’re only human.”“Take out ‘only’ and you have my opinion.”Evelyn nodded in understanding and didn’t add that she had held numerous mental debates with herself about whether or not Nielson was a robot. “T-minus four minutes, forty-eight seconds,” she instead stated, flicking a few release switches to prime the engines and placing her hand on the release and ignition key. Her breaths were short; her lungs were trying to cram a lifetime’s worth of oxygen intake into four and a half minutes. “Engines primed. Ready for release and ignition. Your orders, Nielson.”“Hold.”Four minutes left and both Evelyn and Nielson wore masks of professionalism. Three minutes left and Evelyn was regularly checking her pulse to ensure her heart didn’t stop early. Two minutes left and the energy meter was crawling upward at a snail’s pace; no more charge.“Release.”Evelyn pressed the switch.The Eternity shuddered as the engine room and engines broke away, and Evelyn triggered a rearview screen on the forward viewport. The release triggered rotational propulsion that rotated the detached starship section away from the Eternity proper and aimed it into empty space. An automated trigger activated the engines. They gained momentum, and then the inter-dimensional technology, coupled with the engines in the Eternity’s construction, activated.A burst of acceleration. A flash. The engines were gone.“Ready?”Evelyn glanced to Nielson. She was still afraid, but a faint smile nevertheless graced her lips. She had done what she could; now fate was in control.“Ready.”Nielson flicked another switch and the lights were extinguished. The Eternity was dead in space, but orange and red still flickered in Evelyn’s gaze.* * *A flash.The engine room carried no navigational systems save for sensors that had been embedded across the entirety of the Eternity; they possessed automated proximity systems that would activate propulsion whenever an object came too near. No A.I. was aboard. No humans could control its movements, either, so the task fell to chance.Carried by the tremulous hands of dumb luck, the engine room-turned-detritus floated into a billion-kilometer-wide gyre of hydrogen, helium, and slightly heavier elements. Dumb luck brought it into the gravity well of the forming star and let it adrift. Dumb luck saw to it that, years after its arrival in the arm of a galaxy later to be known as the Milky Way, what remained of the Eternity entered a collision course with a planet in its final stages of formation.It struck the atmosphere and gleamed like a shooting star. Its heat shields lasted long enough to protect the cargo during the initial entry; then the ship fractured and broke, and the cargo container was shot forth.Only seconds after its expulsion from the burning wreckage of the Eternity’s engine room, it too exploded.Except, this time, the explosion was voluntary.The automated release system’s job done, it shut down. The sections of the metal cylinder spiraling through the air now broke apart, releasing frozen chunks of liquid that transformed first into rain, then into steam in the air of the planet someday to be termed Earth. The metal fragments were lowered to the ground by wind, no more than another sporadic shower of space debris.Amino acids now floated on the wind, mingling with chemical fumes rising from the hot earth below. The cargo was delivered, the seeds sown. Humanity was not dead, after all.
  11. Long Day It was raining, and he was wet, tired, and lost. He had tried to hitchhike a few miles back, but no one stopped. No one. After all, why would anyone in their right mind stop for a ragged-looking man on the side of the road in the middle of a storm? He was an axe-murderer for sure. For sure.He had made it back to civilization regardless. His feet hurt, and he was wet through, but he had made it. Houses rose up out of the downpour before him, lit by streetlamps that caught the rain in halos of flickering orange. Sheets of water ran off the sidewalk and leaked through his shoes as he went on. The patter of raindrops had been constant for the past four hours. Four hours? Maybe more. Regardless, it was a bad night to be wandering the streets.But what streets were these? He had no idea. There were no signs on the road, not a convenience store to be found, only dark rows of houses twisting away into the torrent. A suburb. He had to get directions from somewhere. There was nothing for it—he didn’t think he could go on much longer.The doors of the houses all looked pretty much alike. No porch-lights that he could see. A short sidewalk leading off each drive and up to the entrance. Most of the houses were two-story affairs. It was a two-story house that he found himself in front of now. He’d have to go up and try the bell. Just do it. There’s no shame. Well, that wasn’t true. Of course he was embarrassed. They probably wouldn’t answer anyways. Not in the middle of the night.He strode up the drive regardless, stood in front of the door. No doorbell, so finally he knocked. Four loud knocks on the wooden door. Nothing happened. The rain went on, running down his face and neck. Could his clothes be any more wet? Probably not. He tapped his foot, shifted his weight from side to side. Nothing. Nothing at all. No one home, or they were just sleeping too peacefully. He was wasting his time.He turned back toward the sidewalk, glancing at the upper story of the house. Why had he picked this house again? He couldn’t say. Maybe it was because it reminded him of another house. The house he had lived in as a kid, back in the days of no-worries. Back in the days when it didn’t rain. Those days were gone. He ground his teeth. This was definitely a low point for him. Very low.But he didn’t go back to the sidewalk. No, he turned around once more and went back to the door, raising his hand to knock one more time. He would do six knocks this time. Hard, loud knocks. Come on, folks. Up. At least acknowledge my existence. It would make no difference anyways. No one would answer. He knew what the outcome would be. He knocked anyways.And that was when the door clicked open, unlocked.He stood for a moment, staring dumbly into the dark beyond. The rain pounded down on his head. What...what now? Maybe no one was home? He shouldn’t be here. He was trespassing for sure. He ought to grab that door-handle and slam the thing shut and be off. Try some other door maybe, if he could get the nerve again.But then again, he could just step inside. Just for a bit. There was no car in the drive. No lights in the windows. He could dry off a little...get out of the rain, rest his eyes. Then he’d lock the door and continue on his way, right? Just for a bit...No, no, he shouldn’t. Shouldn’t! But it looked so dry inside, and he was soaked all the way to his bones...It smelled nice inside the house. He left the front-door slightly ajar, in case he needed to make a quick exit. He could hardly hear the rain now. It was blessedly quiet.He shrugged out of his sopping wet coat and his shoes, leaving them by the landing. There were no lights, no movement inside. Not a sound. The house was sparsely furnished, but nice. The blinds were all drawn downstairs. It was cold too, but that was just because his clothes were evaporating now. He shivered, hugging himself tight as he stepped into the kitchen. He blinked water from his eyes. There—a sink. He took off his woolen sweater and wrung it out as quietly as he could. Still no movement, no sound. He was definitely alone. Even so, the hair on his neck stood up. There was tension in the air.He should have stayed downstairs. Should’ve stayed right by the door, but he couldn’t resist. A stairwell led up to the second story off the landing. He’d just take a look. It wasn’t his house, and he knew he shouldn’t be so glib, but it was kind of exciting, you know? There was a hallway upstairs. A few bedrooms, empty. A bathroom...and one closed door at the very end. He put his ear against it and listened. Silence...or was it silence? A fan, maybe? Maybe he was just imagining. He was so tired. It had been a long day and a long night too.Then something shifted behind the door, and he almost jumped. Almost, but then he doubted again. It was nothing. Just air circulating. Sure. He put his hand on the doorknob, turned it, pushed. The door didn’t budge. He pushed a little harder. It creaked a little, but still resisted. Then he put his full weight against it, careful now, stay quiet. Careful!The door sprang open, and he stumbled forward, forward into the bedroom beyond. Dresser to the left, against the wall, closet to the right. A window on the far wall slanting dim bars of moonlight across the bed and the two prone figures lying there— --- Thunder cracked, and he sat up, suddenly very awake. His eyes were heavy from sleep, but his heart was pounding. He shook his head, disoriented. The room was still, the only sound was his breathing, breathing fast. Whew, what a start.“Hm,” his wife turned over beside him, rubbing her eyes, “What is it?”“Um,” he looked around the room, “Nothing. Just dreaming. Sorry.”He hated that kind of dream. Shocks you right out of bed, and then it’s gone. He sighed and settled back on one arm.Ribbons of water ran down the window-pane behind the blinds, glinting in the faint moonlight and the flicker of lightning. Everything was as it should be, except...except the bedroom door was ajar.That was okay though. It had been a long day. Must have...must have left it open. Yawn. Yeah. Go back to sleep.He laid his head back down and closed his eyes.------------Written for the Ambage Challenge #3 (Theme: Write A Dream) during one of the weekly Ambage Write-Offs.JRRT
  12. The Final Chronicle By KH A blur of motion before you. A wall of sound crashing incomprehensibly on your ears. A movie flying in front of you, running too fast to catch a single syllable. Then suddenly, it crashes and all turns black.A photo album, filled almost to bursting with family photographs, revelry and joy. You flick through page after page as they fill before you. Then suddenly, you find an incomplete page, an empty story. A teardrop falls, dappling the page.Welcome to my family.Mom and Dad had differences. I always knew that. Everyone did, it seemed. I found that out, over and over. Taunts in playground. Jibes in the cafeteria. All a lifetime away. I knew that Mom and Dad had differences....What I didn’t know was that they had so many differences that they couldn’t stand living together.It was always something small. An argument over whose duty it was to handle housework, every morning when they went to work; an argument over who had to fetch me, starting when I was three (imagine how you’d feel if it seems like your parents would rather leave you behind). I never understood why they had to fight so much. Heck, I don’t fight so much and I’m still just a kid. It seemed like I could take better care of myself than they did of me, what with their continuous fights.I just never knew it could go so far.I’m a smart kid. Everyone says that, whether as praise, taunt or flattery. Everyone in school says it, everyone in the neighbourhood says it. Everyone but my parents. All the smartness in the world couldn’t help me tape my parent’s relationship back together.Like so many colossal chasms, it started out small. A squabble over whether or not to go out for dinner. How it flared into an argument about how my father feels stifled by my mother’s tendency to stay at home, I have no idea. A half-hour that repeats itself in my mind and memory and yet still makes no sense to me.“You don’t care what I want. You never have,” she said in a shaking voice.“I’d say the boot’s on the wrong foot,” he fired back in a vitriolic tone.“Says the one who-”“Stop it! Stop it both of you! I can’t stand this!” (Exit the wounded child who then runs, runs as far away from the house as possible.)And the lights of memory fade to black.I walk down the street now, thinking over a hundred things. As I approach the schoolyard, I see so many friends and none of them mine. No, I’ve had no friends in a while. Only people who pretend to like me then backstab me. That’s what you get for being different and smart at the same time. That’s what children, the vicious creatures they are, do to someone who has problems. I’ve been the prime object of taunts ever since the news of my parents’ breakup went global. Oh, thank you, latest “friend” of mine.I think maybe the best thing for me, would be to disappear. Vanish into the night. Somehow, suicide has never appealed to me, even in the worst of times. Out into the night, with only a rucksack. India’s full of interesting places. I could go on a road trip. See if my parents miss me. Maybe they’ll miss me enough to try once again for my sake. Yeah, good luck with that.Five months laterIt had been three days since we left the base camp. As I trudged forward, my shoes sank into the soft snow. As I stepped forward, I wondered, perhaps for the twentieth time, why I had chosen to come here. What insight had I hoped to gain when I first made the decision, unable to breathe, tense, stifled as I felt I was in the sheltered suburb where I had lived all my life?I reflected on the experiences I had accumulated on this trip along with the weariness in my bones and snow dusted on my shoulders. I shuddered to think of the latest of these: being trapped in a pit fall all night.I had been walking along a mountain range when I was seized with the desire to climb higher than I had ever before. As I stepped forward, eyes on the stars, I suddenly plummeted downward, falling five feet in an instant. A flash of sound caught my ear as I slipped.“Hello?” I called. “Is anyone there? I need help.”A man appeared at the rim of my vision. “Very strange animal this, talking animal.”I stared in stark disbelief. “I’m not an animal, I’m human. I fell in.”“That’s what they all say.”“What?” The word tore itself from my mouth as I felt weak. What lunatic had I encountered, a man who imagined talking animals? (Kindly ignore the months I spent doing that as a child.)“They all say they’re human. Just a ploy.”“Friend, I AM human. How can I prove it?”“Give me some money. Animals don’t carry money.”That would be alright, I thought. Or it would be if I had more than I needed.“I don’t have any money,” I called back.“There! You see, you’re an animal.”I groaned. This was going to be a long night.It took three hours and a hundred rupees to convince that insane man that I was human.For half a dozen years, I’ve been keen on extreme sports. Living on the edge seemed to relieve the inner pain I was forced to conceal: the omnipresent pain of growing up in a broken family. I suppose in a way, that I am trying to feel that I am worth something, that there’s more to life than lost innocence. Perhaps a glimpse of the world from a new perspective is what I need, to revive some zest.Companionable loneliness surrounded me as I scrabbled up another ledge, in what seems like an endless series, just burden to carry. “Why do I even bother?” I muttered, half-expecting the wall face to reply.Its mute acceptance was sufficient, yet from somewhere an answer came, almost physically audible. I scanned the landscape again, trying to perceive more. Then I saw it, a small glimmer of light among clouds, enough to reveal a sparkling panorama, filling everything with beauty and joy. The landscape seemed to gleam, embracing my question and responding with zeal and wonder. A glistening river trickled downstream. A hawk flew north, majestically beating its strong and fierce wings as its call resounded across the land. A flash of light illuminated the new day, the herald of new hope: a sign of eternal optimism for all around. For us lonely wanderers of the night. For me.“So this is what life is!” I whispered. “Would you believe such wonder?”The rock face had no opinion but the sunlight seemed to twinkle at me.-----One day, I was idly thinking about MNOG II. I've always loved the title "The Final Chronicle" and was wondering about what it really meant. Suddenly, the idea behind this story struck me and I began penning down the first paragraph. I later combined it with a short story I had written about a young adult hiking in the mountains, in search of a raison d'etre.Note: Rupee is the currency of India. Rs. 100 is a little under 2 USD, but is enough to buy a meal here.Hope you like it.
  13. Souvenirs Here’s to the twilight / Here’s to the memoriesThese are my souvenirs / My mental pictures of everythingHere’s to the late nights / Here’s to the firelightThese are my souvenirs / My souvenirs ~::~ A whiff of sweetness from the pine tree in her living room filled her nose as she walked past the Christmas tree. She stopped for a moment, smelling the sweet, syrupy scent. The lights sparkled around her; lights from the tree; light reflecting off the ornaments; rays from the sun shining an incandescent illumination upon the room through the drawn shades; all part of the conglomeration of lights forming a radiant brilliancy throughout the room...........Music played from a stereo on the far side of the room; “Carol of the Bells.” The music and light filled her with warmth as she observed the room around her. Packages in various states of disarray, wrapping paper torn to pieces, children squealing, giggling with delight in the playroom upstairs as they made use of the goods they had received, their grandparents laughing heartily at seeing the young children at play...........And, for the briefest of moments, it brought a smile to her face. Until tears clouded her vision again; wet globules of water streaming down her unblemished cheeks. She had turned her head to the single, non-Christmas picture hanging on the wall. Her husband, in his USMC Dress Uniform, his expression stoic; so plain just as all military pictures were. Seeing his face only brought more tears, wishing he could be with her now...........But his absence wasn’t the worst part. It was not knowing if he’d ever come home alive; not knowing if he was alive now with the delayed notifications from the chaos of war. An organized chaos, but chaos all the same. She knew his body may never make it home – one wrong step and he may become millions of unidentifiable pieces. An empty coffin with only a flag...........That was what she feared, why she cried herself to sleep every night. Are you alive tonight? was her constant query. Part of her liked to think that she would know – that they were connected by some unseen force, binding them together, letting her know when he breathed and when he didn’t – but she knew that wasn’t possible. So instead she hoped, she prayed, she cried; begging God to give him just one more day. Until the next night when she repeated the same desperate plea...........She lifted her head from her hands, unconsciously having sat on the sofa as the memory of her husband controlled her thoughts. The pine still sharp in the air. The music still playing. The lights still dazzling. Her children still shrieking. Pull yourself together. It’s Christmas for God’s sake. She grabbed a tissue. Wiped her eyes and blew her nose. She sniffled and stood up...........Her children ran down the stairs, proudly displaying their recently acquired gifts. She smiled again as they tugged and pulled on her hands and clothes. She acquiesced, allowing them to drag her into the backyard, then chasing them, tickling them – all the while letting herself become more and more involved in the game, her sorrows melting away through the joyous squealing of her children. Children too young to understand the gravity of their father’s situation. ~::~ Mike Colson, USMC, sat on his cot in Afghanistan. Memories flooded his mind. Memories of his wife, his children, his life. He could see them smiling, playing on the sands of a beach the day before he shipped off. He held a picture in his hands – a small black-and-white portrait of him and his wife taken shortly after they started dating...........“Hey, Colson, c’mon,” one of his fellow soldiers called from the entranceway to the large tent. “We’re making ornaments by the fire outside. It’s Christmas Eve, you know.”..........Colson remained silent, just staring at the picture in his hands. His comrade started to leave when Colson finally spoke, his voice shaky, his eyes watering. “I can hardly even imagine her anymore; it’s been so long since I’ve seen her face.” He paused, choking back tears. “What kind of husband am I?”..........“Colson, don’t do this.”..........Colson looked up and into his friend’s eyes. “This is killing me, Fawley. What kind of man am I when I can’t even remember the color of my wife’s eyes? My children’s faces?”..........“You can’t keep beating yourself over this. We’re in war. It’s an awful mess, but it’s war. You can’t expect to remember all that with all this here. Come on, you’re the only one still in here. Come sit by the fire with us; the warmth may do you some good.”..........Colson nodded, wiped his eyes with his palms, and stood up, following Fawley outside the tent and to the campfire the rest of his squad had created...........Scraps of metal lay around them; shrapnel from explosions. They held pieces of the metal in their hand, forming crosses or other ornaments for the small tree they used as a Christmas Tree, using the fire, tongs and knives to bend the metal into shapes. Smiles adorned all their faces, and deep, hearty laughter could be heard from their lips. The laughter subsided as Colson approached. They welcomed him, motioning to sit, and one threw a piece of metal at him. Colson caught it and opened his hand, revealing a small, iron cross. He smiled inwardly at his comrades, a serene look on his face...........He pulled out the picture of his wife again, a slight smile on his face. “I love you,” he whispered, kissing the picture before putting it away and joining his fellow soldiers’ conversation. ~::~ “Colson,” a soldier called, tossing a package at Colson before making his way through the rest of the room, handing out various packages and letters from loved ones. It was December 28th and the first time anyone had been able to receive mail in a week...........Eager to see what his family had sent him, Colson quickly opened the package, finding a letter, various paper creations from his kids, and A Charlie Brown Christmas recordable storybook narrated by his six-year-old son; their Christmas presents to him. He read through all the letters before he leaned forward and opened the book...........His son’s voice filled the room as the little boy read the book. His eyes watered, tears fell down his cheeks. He closed his eyes, going back in time as more memories of his past life filled his mind; souvenirs of his life at home. When the call for his squad to move out came, he slowly put down the book, gently resting it among the other contents of the package. He picked up his gear, wiped his face and eyes, kissed the picture of his wife, and followed his comrades out the tent and into the cold...........Throughout the fighting that day, throughout all the explosions, all the gunfire, the screaming, one voice and one face stayed with him: his son’s voice and his wife’s face. The voice and face he took to the grave. ~::~ It was New Year’s Eve, and Mrs. Colson was busy cleaning up the house for the small family party they were having later that night. She was walking down the stairs when she saw the two Marines in Dress Blues approaching her house. Immediately she knew what had happened. She knew her husband had been killed...........“No…” she whispered to herself, tears filling her eyes. The Marines saluted through the large glass oval in the door. “Nonono.” She stumbled backward, falling on the foot of the stairs. The tears streamed down her cheeks. She covered her face with her hands as the two Marines stepped forward, opening the unlocked door...........“Ma’am,” one of them started slowly, before telling her what had happened. “He was a hero, ma’am; if it weren’t for him the rest of his squad would have been killed. He’s been nominated for a silver star.”..........When he finished recounting the details, the other said, “we found this clenched in his hand.” He handed her a small picture; the picture her husband had. She accepted it with trembling hands, holding the crumpled, worn image tightly when she received it. Her last souvenir. ~ :: ~ I close my eyes and go back in time / I can see you smiling, you’re so alive I close my eyes and go back in time / You were wide eyed, you were wide eyed These are my souvenirs / My souvenirs ~ :: ~ Song: "Souvenirs" by Switchfoot. I know it's a little late for a Christmas story, but the first half-ish of this I wrote Christmas day and then didn't write any more until two days ago. I've had part of this story lingering in the back of my head since Christmas of 2010 and was quite happy when I was able to fit it into this story. I originally started writing it because this is the first year my family has had a real tree for Christmas (having a fake tree every other year), and so when I woke up Christmas morning, smelling the pine, seeing the lights, et cetera I just wanted to write about it. Then listening to the song "Souvenirs" helped craft the rest of it, along with my great love and respect for the military. Hope you all enjoy; all comments/criticisms/etc. are very much appreciated.
  14. JRRT

    Ever Up

    Ever Up He opened the door wide on creaking hinges, letting the orange light of evening spill across the floor of the hut. The windows followed, shutters flapping open in the breeze that was just now rising over the empty prairies from the north. It blew gently through the hut as he busied himself with other matters, shuffling about on aching knees.First, he swept. A slow task with the thatch-broom that he always kept in the corner. Dust rose in little clouds as he worked, glinting in the sunlight before the wind snatched it up and away.When that was finished, he turned to the furniture. Not much: only a wooden table and chair. These he dusted, straightening the small collection of books on the tabletop, and put away the pewter dishes that lay scattered about. They would be useless to him on the journey. He smiled faintly, though, as he touched the books. They were dear to him. He would miss them.Next, he hobbled outside, leaning on a stick that he had used for many years. Rounding the hut, he made his way up the hillside behind. There, he looked upon the pens of sheep and goats that he had tended for so long. A hermit must keep himself busy, after all, and what else was there to do on the open prairie but tend the animals and read and think? What more indeed?He wheezed a bit as he stooped to lift the latch of the main pen. The gate swung open, and he tied it to a stake so it would not shut. Within, the livestock shuffled around but did not leave the safety of the pen. They held together, looking back at him with dark eyes. Sad eyes. He smiled at them, always grateful for their simple, silent company.The descent from the hill was harder in the twilight. The hut seemed grey now, thatched with colorless reeds, fluttering in the wind. He stopped when he reached the door again, looking out into the distance.South, he looked, and then west. The wind stung his eyes as he turned to the north, and he shielded them with one trembling arm. Soon, now. Soon he would go. The thought sent a shiver through his aged body, and suddenly he wept, for he was lonely. Here in the desolation of the prairie, with only the sheep and goats to keep company, he was lonely at last.He had chosen this solitary life for himself, but now…now he longed for something else. He longed for speech and company…warmth on a cold night.Soon he would go. Yes, very soon, and he was ready.His hand gripped the wooden stick tightly as he turned from the door, leaving it thrown open to the prairie and the fading sun. With faltering steps he moved towards the chair, wheezing as he lowered himself into it. He wore a weathered cloak, and on his feet were traveling boots.Now all was prepared. Yes, now was the time.The hermit lay back as the sunlight fell away, and night crept up from the west. His eyes closed……and abruptly he went out…out from the sheltered place into that greater night where there are no stars. A dry land, with dark hills rising to a darker sky…But above those hills, fitful and half-lost in the darkness, it seemed that a pale light flickered faintly.Now suddenly he started forward on strengthening limbs, casting aside the walking stick, for he may now climb those deathly hills without weariness…climbing…climbing ever up.Ever up, toward the light. End ------------Hi folks. Officially, this is an entry for the Flash Fiction Marathon, following the theme "Preparation." Unofficially, this is the first COT short story I've posted on BZP. Funny how that works. It's a sad kind of story, but not, I think, too dark in the end. I hope you enjoy. Leave a comment or critique if the desire moves you. All such things are appreciated.JRRT
  15. Honor, Bravery, Innocence A calm, serene beach, waves lapping against it‘s yellow-sanded shores. With a mighty roar of anger, the serenity was destroyed by a rising pillar of writhing darkness, it’s form and matter inconsistent. A hand, human, but dark blue in color, with showing purple veins, reached out of it, grasping at the air as if it was an invisible throat. With another roar of anger and madness, the rest of the creature, human in appearance, burst through the darkness, landing with one knee in the sand. At the creature’s touch, the sand exploded, landing yards away. The pillar vanished, and the beach was calm once more. Stretching, the creature growled, displaying a disturbing voice, sounding like multiple beings were speaking (or, in this case, growling) at once. It flexed its hand, it curled and then uncurled it’s fingers experimentally, and then closed them into a fist with astounding speed. Cracking it’s neck, the abomination stared into the forest ahead of it, it’s lips parting into a smile, revealing sharp, long, yellowed fangs. With the silence of a feline, it pounced into the forested area, it’s humanoid form moving in completely unhumanoid ways.***Among the villagers of Centarous, a small town on the large peninsula of Thethint, one of the three great Nations, there was a small pair of children. Many had correctly guessed them to be orphans, though no one correctly guessed how they met, or exactly why they stayed together. The small boy, barely more than a toddler, Hinath, and the girl, around seven or eight, Krisim, were orphans thanks to the Great Shadow War, in which the villagers were sent to battle the dark forces of Yonothia, the Nation of Exiled Ones, beings who, through the most despicable acts of sorcery, bonded themselves with The Other, the terrible sentient force which lays deep in The Outer Planes, seeking death and destruction to gorge itself upon. The war was terrible and costly, and many lost their lives. Hinath’s mother tragically took her own life when his father didn’t return from the war, and he was thrown upon the streets. Krisim’s parents had both been killed in one of the attacks upon a hospital ,where her wounded father, and visiting mother were. As Hinath was cast upon the streets, Krisim took him in hand, promising the child, barely a toddler, that everything was fine. Even though she herself was only a few years older then him, she acted as a mother figure. She was always the one who bought food with money they collected, always the one to decide where they were going, and how they were getting there. Today, however, neither of them felt as if they had any power over their current situation. They had been herded into a building with dozens of other villagers, all of them confused and afraid. As Hinath stared wide-eyed at all going on around him, Krisim stared at the corner of the building, not even so much as whispering a word.***The Village of Centarous had a small group of protectors, the Guardians, who defended the town, and it’s residents from whatever threats occurred. The Guardians believed that they were only as strong as their weakest link.That link happened to be Sagitar, the youngest son of the village’s most prominent merchant. Sagitar’s father had his two older sons to fawn other, with their big muscules, and cruel and crude manners. Sagitar had always been on the quieter side, speaking rarely, spending most of his time with books and the ancient scrolls of his ancestors. When he was eighteen, Sagitar was a bony, awkward lad, with arms barely thicker than his wrists. Even so, he was of age to join the Guardians, and did so with much glee and happiness. However, much to his disappointment, he quickly became the object of all the other Guardians’ scorn. He was hated, subjugated, and abused. Still, he lost none of his zealot spirit for his country, and stayed diligent in the defense of Centarous. However, today was much different than most for Sagitar. A pillar of shadow, much like the ones used by the Exiled Ones to travel wide distances, had been spotted on the west beach, only a few miles from Centarous. The others forgot his very presence as they rushed to and forth, grabbing weapons, and donning armor. Frowning at all the others’ choices of melee weapons, Sagitar grabbed a hunting bow, small, but with decent range and power, and a quiver of arrows. He also donned armor, but it looked outlandish and huge on him, with his helm falling over his eyes, and everything else almost falling off his bony frame. Taking a deep breath, he followed after the others, trying to remember all that he had read about the Exiled Ones.***Ayana was one of the few women in Centarous who were above the age of eighteen and not married, or taking part in some fashion of relationship. She, at the risk of sounding cliché, followed her dreams. That dream happened to be opening a smith.A woman blacksmith was a bit of an oddity, especially a comely one. Ayana, perhaps one of the most beautiful women in the village, detested the idea of marrying, infuriating her would-be suitors. She spent her day in front of a fire, and her night curled up with a book and her pet cat, Mamoa. Currently, she was sweating in the blistering heat of the forge, her rather short hair pulled back into a tight pigtail, keeping it away from the fire as best as she could. In one hand, she had a smithing hammer, the other, a pair of tongs, holding the metal in the flames. Drawing it out, she beat it into a recognizable shape on the anvil, and then when satisfied, cooled it in the barrel of water. She was working on a rather complex request, a pendant. It had taken her awhile, but she had convinced the man who ordered it that her interesting and workable design was better than his idea, which would have taken weeks of day-filling work. Sighing, she placed the finished piece of metal in a wooden box, wiping the sweat off her brow with her other hand. Taking a break, she walked to the back of the smith, sitting down on a large wooden chair which she had designed, and then convinced the carpenter to make for her (The carpenter didn‘t allow himself to be convinced on anything when it came to price, however). It was throne like, with a tall, pointed back, and long, regally shaped arm-rests. Before the minute was up, the door to the shop slammed open. Standing up with another sigh, Ayana spoke. “Yeah, yeah, I’ll be right there.”The response startled her. “Ma’am, this is an emergency. You’ll have to come with me.” A male, deep voice said. Undoing her smithing apron, Ayana walked faster. The speaker was a tall, stocky youth, who looked about nervously. As Ayana opened her mouth to ask what was going on, he spoke quickly. “They’ll explain at the hall, ma’am. We need to get moving.” That said, he already walking towards the door, glancing back a few times to see if she following. Ayana blinked once. The hall was the largest building in Centarous, a homage to their ancestors, filled with artifacts. It must be serious if they were to all go there. Noticing the youth was already at the door, she blinked once more, and then ran to catch up with him, still wondering what had happened, or what was happening.***The silence that followed the Guardian’s speaking was uninterrupted. Breathing silently, sweat dripped down his brow as he stared at the silent Duke of Centarous.The Duke was a tall, unkempt man, with disheveled, unctuous hair reaching past his shoulders, and only the barest hint of facial hair anywhere except for his chin, which was hidden by a monstrous goatee, equally disgusting. He was clothed in robes of black and brown fur, and silver crown sat crooked on his head. His light blue eyes were bloodshot, a result of the goblet of wine he always had in his hand. Those terrible, half-sober, unsatisfied and infuriated eyes, watched the Guardian with dissatisfaction.“Do you enjoy keeping happiness away from me?” He asked, stretching out the word ‘enjoy’ to maximum length, as if the word was not satisfactory when used on anyone except himself. “N-no, sir.” The Guardian stammered, his eyes growing wider, and the sweat drops becoming more frequent. He had heard the stories of the Duke sending unsatisfactory news-bearers to the whipping post.“Then why do you barrage me with these terrible pieces of hearsay? I am allowed no euphoria, only agony, brought on by my verbally abusing subjects.” He drawled, taking a another sip of wine in between sentences. As he finished speaking, fermented juice, resembling blood, dripped down his chin, becoming one with his goatee. “All you say is true, sire…” A new voice said, drawling much like the Duke. The voice belonged to the Duke’s soothsayer, a small, hunched man with a voice that acted in contrast to his appearance, soothing and calming. “But I think you, an intelligent and wise man, will agree that something must be done to whatever dares to invade your lands. Your beautiful, far-reaching lands, with their lush grounds, and fertile soils…” The soothsayer’s words had their desired effects. The Duke stroked his chin as he listened, wetting his fingers on his goatee. “Very well,” He said with a sigh, turning back to the Guardian before him. “You have full permission, granted by me, the Duke, to tear through whatever is in your way to kill this invader.” With a hurried bow, the Guardian gave his thanks, and then literally ran out of the Duke‘s presence, relieved beyond measure to leave the hall of his ruler. ***Sagitar stared at the thing before him. It was like nothing he had ever seen, heard of, or read about. It was humanoid, but completely made of swirling shadows, which only solidified into something tangible when it attacked.Sagitar’s group of guard was down to three now, thanks to the creature’s ferocious attacks. Suddenly, a scream pierced the air, then was abruptly silenced with a sickening crunch. Correction, two. Sagitar thought, sweat dripping down his face, stinging his eyes. Drawing an arrow, he pulled it back as quietly as possible, aiming it into the shadows ahead of him. Pausing, he reached into his pouch. He drew out a flint stone, hoping and praying that his idea would work. Drawing a his tiny knife, he laid the arrow on the ground, and scrapped the flint stone until a spark met the arrow’s wooden shaft, setting it afire. With no oil, the shaft would soon turn into ash. Drawing the arrow back, he hastily fired it in the direction from where he heard footsteps. What he saw was enough to drive a man to madness. The flickering flames briefly illuminated a hideous scene, for the creature, a unformed writhing mass of shadows, tentacled, limbed, vertebrate and invertebrate at the same time. That is, if it was made out of matter. It seemed intangible, but from the way it was ripping apart the man he had once called a comrade, it was obvious that was not the case.However, luckily for Sagitar, the creature shrieked an inhuman shriek, sounding like thousands of things, ranging from a woman crying to sea serpent roaring, at the fire, and recoiled, making more terrible noises.Sagitar took the opportunity that life had presented him, and ran. In fact, he ran like had never before, sprinting through the woods heedlessly, hearing no sounds of pursuit, but running all the same.In a few minutes, he crashed through the door to The Hall, hoping that the Guardians’ leader was there. He was not, but someone else, someone infinitely more useful (Though Sagitar didn’t know it at the time), was there. Ayana, eyes wide with curiosity, ran through the crowd.“What did you see?” She asked, intensely staring at him. “The creature’s advancing. I don’t what it is, but it’s vulnerable to fire.” He said quickly, looking past her into the crowd, hoping to see another Guardian.“Fire?” Ayana asked, pausing for a minute. “We have to get to my forge.” She finished, already pushing past him to get to the open door. “B-but, we can’t just-” Sagitar began to say, but Ayana ignored him as she pushed past. Eyes wide with terror, Sagitar followed. “What are we going to do?” He fiercely whispered as they ran to her forge.“Fight it.” Ayana said, and then paused. “Go get all the oil for fire arrows the Guardians have. Bring it to my smithy.” And with that said, she took off again. Sagitar opened his mouth to protest, but the words died in his throat. Still wondering how he could have possibly hurt that abomination with mere fire, he ran to the Guardians headquarters.***Hinath watched Ayana and Sagitar leave, amazed that someone was going to fight what ever it was that people were terrified off. Poking Krisim, he spoke. “Hey, someone’s goin’ to go fight the monster.” He said, mispronouncing words in the way only a four year old could.“What?” Krisim asked, turning her head, interest in her eyes. “Someone’s goin’ to-” Hinath began again, frustration growing evident on his face.“Yes, you said that.” Krisim said as she stood up. “But who?”“The smith-lady. And a Guardia… Guardiu…” Hinath said, trying to say Guardian without much success.“Smith-lady? Hmmm…” Krisim murmured, already making her way to the door, dragging Hinath behind her.***Sagitar watched with interest as Ayana started arranging the barrels of oil he had brought. Pausing, she looked at him. He smiled a lopsided grin.“Go get as many arrows as you can possible carry.” She said, her voice serious, and then turned back to the barrels of oil.Sagitar nodded and then took off again, heading back to the Guardian’s headquarters for what must have been the sixth time. *** Sitting on top of Ayana‘s shop, which was the tallest building in the town, thanks to the fact that Ayana built rooms above the smithy, Sagitar gazed towards the woods, a large pile of arrows at his left, a small fire (in a brazier, or course) at his right, with a large pot of oil in front of him. An arrow was already stringed, ready to be fired.Below, Ayana was ready as well, a long-sword in one hand, a unlit-torch in the other. An entire barrel of oil was next to her, and she stood confident, occasionally glancing at her brazier, which was much larger, with a larger flame flickering in it. Squinting, Sagitar noticed some trees swaying, as if a lumbering beast was moving through them. Both fortunately and unfortunately, Ayana’s smithy was the closest building to the forest. The only thing that stood between the forest and the town was a gate, used only for looks. A child with a good-sized pebble could probably inflict damage to it, if not outright destroy it. Glancing down at Ayana, he yelled a warning, receiving only a nod in response.Dipping his arrow in oil, Sagitar waited till the swaying reached the gates. A moment of silence, and then the gates crashed inwards, the wooden doors blown from their hinges. The lumbering shadows surged through, and Sagitar made no move, shocked by the monstrosity. Numerable views did not decrease the maddening pain. The only thing that could have possible jolted Sagitar into reality was the war-cry of Ayana as she charged forward, he sword and torch aflame. Sagitar set fire to his arrow, and fired it into the creature, already reaching for another before the arrow met it’s mark.When it did meet it’s mark, he stopped mid-grab. The creature, it’s maddening, eldritch form, lurching and swaying calmly, erupted in writhing convulsions, the flaming arrow stuck in it’s fathomless, shadowy, and now apparently tangible form.As Ayana approached the horror, she thrust her torch forward, infuriating the creature, causing it to writhe in fresh pain as it raked the ground around it with limbs and appendages which sprouted randomly from it’s unstable body. Ducking beneath a spiked tentacle, Ayana slashed in a crescent above her, severing the appendage. With another roar, the creature began to change shape, warping and collapsing into itself. As both Ayana and Sagitar watched in horror, the creature changed into a new form, writhing and convulsing as it did so, forced into the process by the burning flames.With a final cry of pain, the creature stood upright. As it did so, a wave of pure force flew from it, flattening everything, and everyone to the ground. Tree bent and houses strained at the release of the power. Turning it’s head, the entity, now in the form it had taken at the beach, smiled a ferocious smile at the stunned Ayana.“It’s an Exiled One…” Sagitar said, whispering out of pure shock. As he stared at the creature, he realized that it wasn’t a fully human Exiled One. It was the The Other, fully bonded with a human host, instead of just giving it extra power.Before either Ayana or Sagitar could do anything, The Other shot forward, slamming into the still stunned Ayana, smashing her into the ground, causing her weapons to go flying out of her hands. Ayana gasped in surprise. It’s touch was cold, and she could almost feel the darkness like something tangible. Fire, bright and blazing, was a direct opposite of the cold and dark creature. Raising its hand back to strike, The Other created a ball of shadow that covered its hand, energy ready to be fired for fatal damage.However, just before it brought the energy crashing down on Ayana, a rock slammed into the side of it’s head. It made a sound like slamming a stone against another, and the creature whipped around, momentarily forgetting Ayana, who crawled towards her sword. Krisim and Hinath, terrified and shaking as they tossed handfuls of stones at the creature, stood in front of the smithy, eyes wide as the abomination stared at them. Raising its hand, it began to launch the energy, and then was interrupted.Interrupted by a flaming arrow through the head, courtesy of Sagitar, who was already loading another. With a hideous, eldritch roar, the creature pointed it’s hand at the smith roof, and released the energy, causing the entire roof to explode. Sagitar was sent soaring backwards, landing on the hard stone.With a cry of anger, rage, and a good bit of pride, Ayana swung her flaming sword, beheading the creature in a single stroke. Soundlessly, the now lifeless body slumped to the ground, The Other escaping back to The Outer Planes.Dropping her sword, Ayana ran to where Sagitar had been sent flying, a shocked Krisim in tow. Hinath poked the dead body once, and then followed.Sagitar laid coughing on the stone, his shirt red with blood. The red, life giving liquid flowed from the side of his mouth as well. Seeing Ayana, he reached up with both hands, trying to grab her. “I-it…” He whispered, barely audible. “Was… an honor… to serve…” With that, he slowly collapsed, eyes glazing over, ignoring the pleas of life screamed by Ayana.***Ayana stood before the Duke, still dressed in her smithing clothes, soot and bruises covering her. A scar, still bleeding, ran down her cheek. And she still managed to look more refined than the Duke.“The creature, what it was, has been defeated.” She said solemnly, giving the Duke a report of the events. “The orphans Krisim and Hinath played a large part in our success, but Sagitar was undoubtedly the only reason we survived. He has died for his country, my lord.”After she finished speaking, she lowered her head in silence, waiting an answer. “I’ve lost another Guardian?” Asked the Duke, disbelief in his voice. “This is infuriating! We have almost no more young men in the village! Unbelievable!” He continued to rant, showing no care over the victory. “Now, Duke, you seem to be missing the point.” A third voice said, emanating from the doorway behind Ayana. As Ayana whipped around, and the Duke looked up, both of their mouths opened in shock. However, only the Duke’s chin was covered with the wine he had yet to swallow. In the doorway, dressed in simple, humble clothes, stood the Lord of Thethint, a man responsible for all important decision of the Nation. “Rest assured, miss,” He said, patting Ayana’s shoulder as he walked past her. “Sagitar will be remembered as a hero, as will you three.” Nodding, Ayana silently walked out of the room, leaving the Duke and the Lord to argue in private. Outside, happily playing with some trinket vendor’s wares that Ayana had purchased for them before she went inside, sat Hinath and Krisim. When Ayana sat down as well, Krisim looked up in surprise. “How did it go?”“Sagitar will be remembered for what he has done.” Ayana said, faking a smile. Leaning back, she looked up into the skies, where the clouds rolled and the sun shined. Even though death was commonplace in the land of Thethint, the land was a beautiful one, and there would always be men and women like Sagitar and Ayana to defend it, and what it stands for, Honor, Bravery, and Innocence.
  16. River, Oh River, Flow Gently For Me ₪҉₪ Aderia ₪҉₪ My life is not perfect. My life is not easy. My life is not good. But then again, since when has life been any of those things? If my life was perfect, if it was easy, if it was good, I would not be me. And, despite my flaws, I love being me. I love being myself, because it’s what I am best at. More than that, it is what I must do. I must love being me and I must be me because nobody can love my little sister the way I do. She is only four years old, and she needs love. She needs taken care of. I may only be ten years older than her, but I’m the one who takes care of her. Mother has been gone for almost two years now. Father is working, working, always working. I’ve come to accept that, though. We need the money, for the rent and food and to pay taxes, Father says. I’m not old enough to get a job yet, and even if I were, my little sister still needs me. My little Christina needs me. I doubt Christina even remembers Mother. Her parents, my grandparents, came over from Somalia when Mother was in her late teens. The town they moved in to, Drovensburg, had a large immigrant population, so they fit right in. But Mother never liked where we lived. There were packs of large, dangerous boys that roamed the streets from dusk ‘til dawn. And she was right to fear them, because they ended her one drunken night. “Nali?” Christina’s tiny voice rouses me from my trance. We are sitting on our old couch, watching our small television. “Nali, can we go outside? I don’t want to watch telly anymore.” I glance at the battered clock on the wall as I point the remote at the TV to switch it off. It’s lunch time, but there isn’t food to spare for lunch. We usually save it for a big dinner with Papa. “It’s too hot out, ‘Tina,” I tell her distractedly. Usually, the children’s pastor from the local church came around with food handouts in the summer. A lot of us in the low income neighborhood didn’t have enough food for three meals a day, and the church went to grocery stores and collected their extra foodstuffs and tried to make the world a better place by sharing. “Are you hungry? I can boil some rice for you,” I say, gazing at her thin frame. Too thin. If anyone needs the food, it’s her. Not me, not Papa. “Yes please,” Her adorable face with huge eyes lights up at the mention of lunch. “Thank you, Nali!” I unfold myself from the couch and pad into the kitchen with my bare feet. I hear Christina fiddling with the volume on the TV as I automatically start setting up the stove to make rice. And I catch myself singing softly, and out of habit. My mother never knew much English. But she did have one lullaby that she always sang to us. “Hush now, my baby Be still love, don't cry Sleep like you're rocked by the stream” The white, fuzzy noise of the TV from the other room clicks off. I expect Christina to come and join me in the kitchen soon, like she usually does. “Sleep and remember My lullaby And I’ll be with you when you dream” I turn away from the sink with a pot full of cold water and yelp as I almost slam into Christina. She’d been standing right behind me. “Christina!” I’m about to scold her gently, but I stop when I see her face is wet. “Did I spill water on you?” I ask, reaching for the hand-towel that needs washing.She shook her head, and I peered closer. “What’s wrong, ‘Tina? Why are you crying?” “I…I know that song, Nali,” She whispered. “I sing it to you all the time, you should know it.” I smooth her hair that’s woven into tight corn-rows that end in pig tails as I walk towards the stove. “No, Mommy sang it to us. I remember,” She told me with surety beyond her four years, following me to the stove. Drift on a river That flows through my arms Drift as I'm singing to you Christina was barely two and a half when Mother last sang that for us. “You can remember that? ”She nodded. “She was singing in my dream last night, Nali.” I see you smiling So peaceful and calm And holding you, I'm smiling, too I pour a small helping of rice from the old plastic bag into the water and fiddle with the dials on the stovetop. “Nali, does mommy still love us?” How can I answer something like that? I stand with my back to Christina, watching the rice cloud up the water, which is only just beginning to bubble. My inability to form words, to explain things like this to her, weighs heavily upon me. The silence is even heavier. I don’t know how much she remembers of our mother. I don’t know how much she understands about the forces that turn the world, like life and love and death. Here in my arms Safe from all harm Holding you, I'm smiling, too “Nali?” I can still hear the tears in her voice. I take a deep breath, and turn to face her again, my pent up frustration welling up in my eyes. I want to give my little Christina the world, I have always wanted to. But how can I, if I can’t even explain a thing as universal as love to her? I let out the breath in a ragged exhale, and sink down to the dirt-stained off-white tiled floor with my back against the cool oven door below the stove. I pat the floor next to me, taking another deep breath. My voice is too hoarse to sing the beautiful lullaby justifiably, but I sing anyways. “Hush now, my baby Be still, love, don't cry Sleep like you're rocked by the stream” Christina scoots from the floor next to me and wriggles her way onto my lap. She blinks at me, her eyes still asking the question. Does Mommy still love us? “Christina, you know what a river is?” She nods at me. “Mother loved rivers. She could compare anything to a river. And that’s why she loved the lullaby so much, the River Lullaby.” Sleep and remember this river lullaby And I'll be with you when you dream I'll be with you when you dream “She liked to think of existence as a life-long love song. Like a river, she told me once,” I said. Mother had also told me that she saw death as a waterfall. It’s inevitable, but you just continue on existing afterwards, but on a different plane. But Christina wouldn’t understand that. I fall into silence again, trying to simplify things for her again, then speak, “Christina, can you pretend we’re on a raft? A raft floating on a river that doesn’t end? You have yours, I have mine, can you see it?” “I can see it, Nali. In my head,” She smiled. “We’re right next to each other.” I return her smile, and continue, “Okay, now I want you to picture a trail of rose petals on the river ahead of us.” Rose was Mother’s name. “You can pick them up out of the water, if you want. It’s a calm river.” “What are the flower petals for?” “You see, mother got swept up in a current and was whisked ahead of us. Very far ahead of us on the river. But as she was carried along, she left a trail of promises, the petals. And her trail of petals is her promise to wait for us, wherever she is.” “So she does love us?” “What do you think?” “Yes,” Here in my arms Safe from all harm Holding you, I’m smiling too I gently heave Christina off of my lap and stood to check the rice. “Your lunch is almost ready, ‘Tina. Go sit at the table,” I tell her. The sound of the chair scraping on the floor mingles with the clinking of dishes as I fish one out for her and then grab a spoon as well. “Nali, are you eating?” “No, I’m not hungry,” I tell her, and the lie tastes sour in my mouth and churns my stomach. Sleep and remember This river lullaby And I’ll be with you when you dream I place the shallow dish of rice in front of Christina and sit down next to her at the table. But she doesn’t move to pick up her spoon yet. The expression her face is one of a perplexed four year old. “Do you need your booster seat?” I ask her. Her booster seat is last year’s telephone book, naturally. “Nali, what about for real?” She wants to know. “I’m sorry?” I do not understand what she is asking. “The river is ‘magination,” she explains. “So the petals and promises are too.” “Oh, no! No, no, that’s not how I meant it,” I insist. “The river and petals represent something very real. The river is being alive.” Mother and her endless metaphors in her beautiful and exotic native language had made that clear to me. I’m not sure how much of this Christina understands. But, she wants to know. “What do the promise petals mean for real?” “Well, they’re still promises. But instead of flower petals on a river, they’re dreams, like the one you had last night, where Mother was singing to you.” Sleep and remember this river lullaby I’ll be with you when you dream “She loves us very much, Christina. You need to understand that.” “I know,” she says to me. And then something that wrenches my heart. “I love you too, Mommy.” I’ll be with you when you dream ₪҉₪ A/N-Disclaimer: Lyrics are from the movie 'Prince of Egypt', they are not original. The story was inspired by two little girls I met IRL and had a chance to talk to.
  17. The Good Judgment of Madame the Virgin Mary (scene: The palace of Justice, Paris, 1482)Gringoire: Oh my, the crowd is getting restless!Actor 1: What are we going to do? We’re supposed to wait for the Cardinal.Gringoire: Yes, but if we offend him by starting early, we’ll be hanged.Actor 2: So we wait, then.Gringoire: [pacing] Yes, but then we’d be hanged by the people.Actor 1: Well make up your mind then! We’ve got to do something. I can hear some of them building makeshift nooses already.Gringoire: Alright! Alright! Just give me a moment to think of something.Actor 2: When you say “alright”, are you saying it like “all right”, as in with two L’s and a space, or like alright, as in one L and no space? The second is more grammatically correct.Gringoire: That’s not helping.Actor 1: Yes, you’re not helping. Besides, we’re talking in French.Actor 2: Oh are we? But the script is in English.Actor 1: Well it’s hypothetically in French. As in, the dialogue is in English for the sake of the audience but it’s actually in French.Actor 2: Now how does that work?Actor 1: Actor 2, use your brain! We are fictional characters in a translated work! It just works that way. If it really bothers you, just speak in a ridiculous French accent and for all intents and purposes you’re speaking French.Gringoire: Are you quite done breaking the fourth wall yet? I find that type of humor so unsophisticated.Actor 1&2: Yes sir.Gringoire: Now back to my pacing. Think think. Think think. Think think. Alright, I have it. [steps forward, pulling up Actor 1 and hiding behind him] Sirs and Madams, you know that I love the people of Paris! As a matter of fact, I love you so much that I would hate to keep you waiting for the sake of one person, so we’ll start the play. [steps back]Actor 1: What was that for?Gringoire: When the Cardinal arrives, I don’t want him to know that I’m the one who decided to start the play early. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to pretend I have nothing to do with this production. Now get this done, Actor 1. You too, Actor 2.[Exit Gringoire. Enter four more actors labeled Clergy, Nobility, Trade, and Labor]Actor 2: See you later, PierreActor 1: Messieurs the Bourgeois and mademoiselles the bourseoises, we shall have the honor of declaring and representing before his eminence, monsieur the cardinal, a very beautiful morality which has the title The Good Judgment of Madam the Virgin Mary. I am to play Jupiter. His eminence is, at this moment, escorting the very honorable embassy of the Duke of Austria; which is detained, at present, listening to the harangue of monsieur the rector of the university, at the gate Baudets. As soon as his illustrious eminence, the cardinal, arrives, we will begin…or rather not.Actor 2: That’s right, we’re here for you.Actor 1: And so let us bring upon the stage our three principle forces…blah blah blah blah blah blah.Actor 2: Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.Actor 1: Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.Actor 1&2: Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.[enter Victor Hugo]Hugo: Hello, I’m just dropping in from the nineteenth century looking for ideas for a book. What have we got here?Actor 1&2: Blah blah blah...[ad infinitum].Hugo: I see [writes down notes]. If you don’t mind, I find this extremely boring. This will probably be skipped over in my book. How long is this prologue going to take?Actor 1: Blah blah blah blah blah – Clergy – blah blah blah blah – Nobility – blah blah blah – Trade – blah blah – Labor – blah.Hugo: Alright, I got the part about Clergy, Nobility, Trade, and Labor. After that monologue, even the dimmest of audience members could guess who each character was supposed to represent. The labels on your shirts aren’t helping with the subtlety. I’m not sure if I agree with your brand of art.Actor 1: No wait, by “alright” do you mean “all right” with two L’s and a space or “alright” with one L and no space?Hugo: [facepalms] Forget it, I’m getting out of here.END- For most who read Hunchback of Notre Dame, this is surely the most memorable moment. That's probably because it's in the first chapter (book) and it gets extremely difficult to read after the second chapter. So when I had to write something based off of the latest book I supposedly read, this is the subject matter I came up with.Embedded in the work is an inside joke that isn't readily apparent to those outside of the original intended audience. The most prominent of these is the reference to the commonly misspelled phrase "all right", which we were discussing in class the other day.Your Honor,Emperor Kraggh
  18. A ruined Protodermis Statue stood watch over the area. This Protodermis Goliath, slowly crumbling to the earth. Its visage unrecognizable, it's solemn watch deteriorating. Viewing this desolation and ruin was my purpose I made my way to the Vahki hive. The few Visorak ignored me, I am not their to them. Their spindly legs moving easily through the rubble of the old Vahki hive. The Vahki's decayed mechanical bodies lied limp, having been shut off on patrol. The Visorak's webs covered their bodies, allowing little room for truly recognizable parts. A single cold eye stares up at me, the Vahki's other eye completely shattered. It's silence seems consuming, rather than decaying. A group of three Visorak meander their way through the rubble and ruin. They are among the last left, the last of a migrating species, recently relieved of their rulers. A chance that should never have happened, but as they pass, they jostle a control panel. There is a slow creaking as old systems, unused in years, come back to life. There is a screech as a gear sticks, and it momentarily comes to a halt. A clunk, and the turning truly starts, the webs being pulled apart, the gears turning anew. There is clicking, and the pods around me begin to open. It takes a moment, a moment that feels longer than it is, but the eyes slowly begin to glow. A much dimmer glow than it once was, and broken by cracks and chips. A Vahki pulls itself out of its pod, its left arm falling off as it does so. All around me, the once silent guardians begin to rise. As they all slowly stand, not only here, but across the entire city, the old programs take a while to become active. The Vahki stand motionless for what seems to be many minutes, as their programs begin to activate. As they activate, their eyes lock onto the Visorak, instantly recognizing a threat, moving out in battalions to combat the perceived threat. There is clanking, and the Vahki begin their march, unable to run anymore. Missing limbs are seen anywhere. Most Vahki are limping, a few are completely unable to walk, attempting to pull themselves across the ground towards the threat that has presented itself. Some tumble over and shut off, the last of their meager existence spent. The noises begin to alert the Visorak, and suddenly, the Vahki begin to truly come to life, moving faster, rushing at the somewhat perplexed Visorak. The Visorak screech, running towards the force of Vahki, pincers clanking together. It is a slaughter. A mad slaughter. The Visorak stood no chance against a force so overwhelming. Many Vahki are also slaughtered, but they number so greatly that the numbers are almost unnoticed. I breeze through the streets, watching the carnage unfold. There were two or three misshapen, broken Vahki to every Visorak they fought. I watched a certain fight, between a Vohtarak Visorak and three Kheerahk. The Visorak threw them off, attempting to get away, but was quickly attacked by a Kranua that had shifted its body to sand underneath the Visorak. It was smashed back to the ground by the Kranua, and tackled by the three Kheerahk Vahki. This was the sort of carnage happening across the entire city. It didn't take long, only a few hours, but the Vahki had taken back the city. They stood up straight, if they could, and marched as units to their respective metrus, most limped, some made their way without their back legs, slowly following with only their forelegs. I breezed along, watching as they resumed their patrols, resuming their slow march around Metru Nui... I found my way back to my body, and ended my walk outside. But I didn't forget what I had seen, and one day, I went back. I went back, and at first, the city seemed silent, but slowly, slowly, I heard a noise. Krisssshhh. Clank. Krisssshhh. Clank. Krisssshhh. Clank. Slowly a Vahki came into view. It was dragging its leg, causing the sound I had hear. The patrol had resumed their march, and continued the job they had once had, in spite of the Matoran that they no longer had. A quiet, eternal patrol, in a ruined dream of a city.
  19. Christmas Time on Hope VISyrena gathered the children in the atrium facing the planet. Their space station, Hope VI, was orbiting on the sunny side, and the planet below was brightly lit up. As she sat down next to the children, she asked, “Who wants to hear the story of Santa again?”Many of the younger children chimed in excitedly. It was nearing the holiday of Christmas, and they always enjoyed hearing the story. Syrena smiled at their enthusiasm, and began her tale.“Now we know that once every Earth-year, on Christmas Eve, Santa comes to visit all good little boys and girls in the galaxy. He spends most of the year in his workshop on the planet Northern Polaris, making new toys with his little helpers. On Christmas Eve, he loads up all the toys onto his bright red rocket ship. He then visits all the space stations in the galaxy, and leaves a pile of presents in the loading bay for all the good boys and girls.”“But what if you’re not good?” one of the younger girls asked, giggling.“Santa doesn’t give bad children any gifts,” Syrena explained. “And he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so there’s no way to fool him into giving you presents you don’t deserve. So you’ve got to be good all year for him to bring you something.”Some of the children gasped at this, but others who remembered the tale from previous years giggled at the idea. Syrena continued, much to the enjoyment of the children. “You can always tell that Santa has been here because he’ll stop to eat some of the cookies we leave out for him. But he can’t stay long, because he has other presents to deliver.”Syrena’s story was interrupted by a loud, sarcastic, “Ha.” It came from a kid sitting in the back. His name was Greg, and he was one of the oldest children in the group, being roughly seven Earth-years old.“We all know there’s no such thing as Santa,” he said.This caused all the other children to gasp in horror at the very idea. Syrena gave Greg a hard look. “Now why would you say that, Greg?”“It just doesn’t make sense,” Greg continued. “Nobody could fly across the galaxy and deliver presents to every space station in just one night.”“But then who delivers the presents every year?” one little girl asked.“And who eats the cookies?” a younger boy asked.Greg was about to answer, but Syrena quickly interrupted him. “Of course it’s Santa,” she said. “Who else would it be?”“Then how can he do all this impossible stuff?” Greg questioned. “And how does he even know if we’re being good or bad? Nobody can keep track of that for everybody.”Syrena already had the answer for that. “It’s Christmas magic.”“There’s no such thing as magic,” Greg countered, but he sounded less sure of himself.“It’s a special kind of Christmas magic, and we all have it,” Syrena explained. “It’s all about the spirit of the holiday. We have to be nice to each other and show goodwill to all men and women. It’s the one time of year where we put aside our disagreements and come together as a community. We all contribute to this magic, and it’s what powers Santa.”This excited the other children, who started chatting enthusiastically about Christmas. Even Greg seemed slightly cheerier. Syrena knew that Greg wasn’t the most optimistic of kids; he was an orphan, and he was often a loner on the space station. Although he was much older than the rest of the children, Syrena thought it would be good for him to hang around with them.Deciding that story time was over, Syrena got to her feet. It was then that she noticed Bryce at the entryway, where he had been listening in on the whole discussion. She left the kids to play together and walked over to speak with Bryce.“That’s some story you told,” Bryce said.“Well, it keeps them happy,” Syrena answered.“Is it really a good idea to keep telling them this fable?” Bryce asked. “When they get older, they’ll learn that it’s all just a lie anyway. Greg is already catching on to that, it seems.”“It’s a tradition, and one I think we should keep,” Syrena said. “Not all of us want to spend the holidays moping around like you.”“I don’t mope,” Bryce countered. “Besides, if Nick doesn’t make it back soon, we won’t even be able to provide them with the pile of presents.”“I’m sure we’ll manage to keep the holiday spirit alive.”Bryce grinned slyly. “You do know that Christmas was originally about some religious thing back on Earth That Was.”“Yes, I know the history of Christmas,” Syrena shot back. “And while it has lost the original religious meanings to it, the basic premise has stayed the same. It’s about being kind to one another, even if just for one day.”“Well, back on the main planets, it’s just about commercialization,” Bryce pointed out. “I’m glad we managed to get away from that out here.”Both Syrena and Bryce were part of the community that lived upon the space station Hope VI. They were part of a settlement initiative promoted by the United Government of Earth, or the UGE, which was the largest of three space age human nations in the galaxy. Back in the beginning, humans had spread from Earth and began to settle upon other habitable worlds across the galaxy. However, as the populations grew, it became harder to find habitable planets. There were hundreds of planets within the habitable zones of many stars, but few of them had water and oxygen levels that could support human life. Thus the UGE started the process of terraforming these worlds to provide space for future settlements.Yet the process of terraforming was not simple. Various mechanical devices, placed across the planet, had to spend many years chemically developing water and a breathable atmosphere. The process could take up to a decade to complete, and humans had to be on hand to analyze the transformation and make tweaks as time went on. That was what the Hope VI was for. Many of the crew members were responsible for the terraforming process on the planet below them. But the UGE wanted to create vibrant communities that could easily settle upon the planets when they became habitable. Thus, Hope VI was also home to the worker’s families, as well as other members who could support the community.Syrena was in the latter group. She had studied many histories of the various human societies of the past, and was an expert in sociology. She had volunteered to work on Hope VI as a community organizer, and one of her tasks was to help take care of the children when their families were at work. It wasn’t the most glamorous of positions, but Syrena enjoyed it.Bryce was a technician. He specialized in working on equipment planet-side. If something was broke or needed to be manually tweaked, he would fly down and don a space suit and get to work. Bryce was quite a strong man, partially due to his work, and also due to the fact that he had formerly been in the military.Syrena decided to switch topics, and asked, “So has there been any word from Nick? He’s been gone for a long time, and it’s never taken him this long to get supplies before.”Nick was one of the expert pilots from Hope VI, and had trained alongside Bryce in the military. He was currently flying to one of the colonized planets to gather supplies that the space station couldn’t produce on its own. Since Hope VI was orbiting around a distant star, a voyage to the nearest UGE planet could take days. But even then, Nick had been gone for far too long.Bryce shrugged off the question. “He’s is probably having to deal with more bureaucratic nonsense in getting our supplies. Let’s just hope he remembers to get the toys, or else the kids here will be very upset come Christmas morning.”Their conversation was quickly interrupted by the appearance of Jess, the station’s main technician. Jess was a shorter than average woman, but what she lacked in height she made up for in energy and intelligence. She rushed up to both Syrena and Bryce and grabbed their arms. “Come quickly. Anya wants to speak with you.”“Anya?” Syrena repeated. Anya was the overseer on Hope VI, and was a well respected leader. She didn’t summon people unless there was some sort of emergency.“She thinks you two should see this,” Jess said, pulling them along. “Now come!”Syrena and Bryce followed Jess to the control room of Hope VI. There were usually a few people working the computers here at all times, but as they entered, Syrena spied technicians in every chair. As Jess settled down next to a computer, Syrena and Bryce walked up to Anya, who was an older woman.“About time you two got here,” Anya said. “We have a situation.”She pointed out the main window. In the distance, they could make out another spacecraft orbiting the planet at the same level as their space station. Syrena felt her blood chill. The spacecraft was not human, and there had been incidents where alien races had attacked human settlers.“We’ve done an analysis, and we’ve determined that they’re Erpetos,” Anya explained. “They showed up roughly an hour ago, and they’ve maintained their position since then.”Syrena and Bryce both reacted differently to the mention of Erpetos. “We’re lucky,” Syrena said. “Erpetos are peaceful.”Bryce growled and shook his head. “No way. There have been reports about Erpeto attacks all across this system. I’ve had to fight them before, and they’re tough stuff.”Syrena and Anya gave Bryce a look, and he quickly explained, “Okay, so it was during military training exercises, but they’re still hard to beat.”“But our two species are close enough that they train together,” Syrena pointed out. “That means we shouldn’t have to worry too much.”“Maybe, maybe not,” Anya said. “You are both right; there have been instances where the Erpetos have cooperated with humans and instances where they’ve provoked hostilities. The unexpected appearance of their ship does not invite warm feelings in me, so we might be dealing with Erpetos of the latter category.”“Wait, Boss, I’m getting something,” Jess said suddenly. “It’s a message from their ship. Here, take a listen.”Jess played the recording, and a garbled series of grunts sounded over the speakers. Bryce frowned. “That sounds like the native tongue of the Erpetos, but I don’t know what it means.”“It’s actually a regional dialect common in the eastern quadrant of their territories,” Syrena explained. As she got the weird looks this time, she explained, “I studied their language when I was in school, and I can somewhat speak it. I believe they were asking to meet with a representative, to come over to their ship.”“So they’re willing to open communications,” Anya mused. “Alright, Syrena, we’ll send you over, and you can see what they want.”“Wait, me?” Syrena asked, surprised. “But I am not trained to handle cross-species negotiations.”“Well, you understand them better than we do, so that’s a start,” Anya said. “Plus, you have all sorts of sociology training, so I think you’ll do fine.”“You can’t send her in alone,” Bryce protested. “What if their intentions are unfriendly?”“Then you go with her,” Anya said. “But keep your mouth shut. You have a tendency to bring out the hostility in people.”“Just because it says that in my file doesn’t mean that it’s true,” Bryce started.Anya interrupted him. “Now get to our shuttle and fly over. The sooner we get this settled, the better.”Bryce nodded. “Yes, ma’am.” He grabbed Syrena, and the two of them left for the space station’s hanger, which was located next to the loading bay. As they reached it, Bryce selected one of two small shuttles docked in the hanger. Syrena entered in after him. The interior of the shuttle was small; it was even smaller than Syrena’s sleeping quarters, and she began to feel claustrophobic.“Let’s get a move on,” Bryce said. He rolled the shuttle out into the airlock, and a minute later they were out in empty space. Bryce fired the pulse engines, and they headed towards the Erpeto ship.Bryce fidgeted as they approached the alien craft, and then grabbed something from the shuttle’s storage unit and clipped it to his belt. Syrena gasped as she saw what it was. “You’re bringing a laser gun!”“It’s not technically a laser gun,” Bryce explained. “It fires a plasma beam instead of an actual laser ray, which delivers an effective blast while only using a fraction of the energy…”“It’s a weapon!” Syrena said. “It’s surely going to provoke hostilities!”“It’s a precaution,” Bryce said. “I’m sure if they’re peaceful, they’ll understand. Besides, it’ll be clearly visible, so there will be no surprises. Anyway, I’ve worked with Erpetos before; they understand military deterrence, same as we do.”Syrena decided not to comment further, as they had reached the Erpeto ship. Bryce maneuvered the shuttle to a docking bay, where a connection tube extended out and latched on to the shuttle’s door. Hesitantly, Bryce opened the door, and they were greeted by three Erpetos.The Erpetos were reptilian in nature. Their human name was actually diverged from the Greek word for reptile. They had segmented bodies with six legs, and they could raise the front portion of their body up and use their fore legs as arms. They had very lizard-like heads, with a third eye in their foreheads and toothless mouths.However, the most interesting feature of the Erpetos was their green skin. This was not their natural color; instead, they had a bacteria growing on them. Their species had formed a unique symbiosis with the bacteria; it was photosynthetic, and provided them with energy, whereas they provided the bacteria with basic nutrients that were absorbed through their skin. As such, the Erpetos rarely had to eat, and instead relied on the bacteria’s photosynthesis for energy. For this reason, the bulk of their spacecraft was transparent, which allowed them to absorb sunlight even in the dead of space.The three Erpetos hissed a greeting, and Syrena replied in their language. They gave her instructions, and turned to leave. “They want us to follow them to the bridge,” Syrena explained to Bryce.“Sure they do,” Bryce murmured, but he followed Syrena all the same. He found it quite unnerving to walk through a transparent hallway; it was almost like he was out in space on his own. Additionally, it made it difficult to navigate through the maze of hallways, since it was sometimes hard to make out the doors from the walls.Eventually, they were led to the bridge, which was a half domed area at the top of the ship. Many Erpetos were working away at the computer consuls, but they stopped to glare at the two humans in their midst. Syrena and Bryce were led to a single Erpeto, and he was introduced as the ship’s captain. Syrena greeted him in his language, and attempted to ask him what he wanted. It was much to her surprise when he responded in English.“Your accent is very thick,” he said in a raspy voice. “Yet I am surprised to hear it from a human.”“I have studied many alien cultures, including the Erpetos,” Syrena responded. “I am glad that my language skills could be put to use.”“Good, so you speak English,” Bryce said. “Now we can understand each other.”Syrena nudged Bryce with her elbow, in an effort to silence him, and then asked, “We would like to know why you asked for this meeting.”“I wanted you to understand first,” the Erpeto said. “My name, translated into your tongue, would be Star Gazer. I was an astronomer on one of our settlements in the Orion system. In time, I have taken upon this leadership position to help me people after the incident.”“What incident?” Syrena asked.Star Gazer looked hard at Syrena, and she could’ve sworn she saw flames blazing in his three eyes. “Our settlement was a peaceful one, used for scientific advancements,” he explained. “But then we were visited by humans. They attacked without warning, and destroyed our settlement and our way of life. I lost many friends that day, killed mercilessly in the surprise attack.”Syrena’s eyes went wide. “But that was horrible of them.”Star Gazer nodded. “We were forced to flee, and yet the humans still followed us. But we were not to be toyed with; we led them into a trap and destroyed them all.”Bryce tensed up, and even Syrena had to fight back a sudden panic. “But what has this got to do with us?” she asked.“Ever since that faithful day, we have desired revenge,” Star Gazer said. “We destroyed the initial aggressors, but honor drives us to avenge the deaths of our comrades. More human blood must be spilt.”“But we were never part of any attack!” Syrena protested.“Yeah, we’re not the ones you want,” Bryce said. “You’re after the Human Elite Federation. They’re a separate nation of humans who believe they are superior to all. Our nation is technically at war with them, and we aren’t responsible for their horrific actions!”“Nonsense!” Star Gazer said, his voice rising. “All humans are the same. They’re violent prone; always trying to conquer rather than compromise. Even you are no different, as your tone provokes hostility.”“We’re not like the humans who attacked you,” Syrena said, trying to preserve the peace. She was becoming aware of how more of the Erpetos were surrounding them. “Not all humans are the same. Just like not all Erpetos are the same. Your kind knows about war too. But your kind has also allied with us before. Why can we not reach some sort of agreement?”“That would be to dishonor the lives were lost,” Star Gazer said. “But we could not kill you in ignorance. We wanted some of you to know why you had to die, so you could make peace with it. Now this we have done.” He backed up, and started speaking rapidly in his own language. Syrena went pale as the Erpetos around her raised their own plasma guns.“Duck!” Bryce yelled. He grabbed Syrena and brought her to the ground as plasma blasts scorched the air above them. Seconds later, he leapt to his feet, with his own gun in hand, and fired back. The Erpetos quickly dispersed; they were not military trained, and their natural instinct was to duck for cover. This gave Bryce the time he needed. He pulled Syrena up and then started running for the exit.Syrena sprinted after him, even as the Erpetos behind them began to get organized. Luckily, Erpetos weren’t quite as fast as humans, and Syrena and Bryce were able to gain on them.“Why did you have to fire at them?” Syrena asked as she ran. “You’re just justifying their perception of humans by doing that.”“Hey, they fired first,” Bryce said. “Besides, there’s a difference between provoking hostilities and defending oneself. Now, how do we get out of here?”Unfortunately, the style of the very ship started to turn against them. Bryce glanced around, trying to make sense of the transparent hallways. “I can see our shuttle down there, but how do we get to it?” he wondered.“I think we came from this way,” Syrena offered.“No good,” Bryce said. He pointed through a couple of transparent walls, where he could already see a patrol of Erpetos gathering. “Come on, let’s go this way instead.”The two of them rushed through the maze of nearly invisible hallways. Bryce kept them moving as a fast pace, and make quick turns whenever they sighted opposition up ahead. Finally, they had a clear shot to their shuttle, but a small group of Erpetos was currently blocking their way.“We’re going to have to fight them,” Bryce said, ignoring Syrena’s protests. “Just leave this to me; I know what I’m doing.”They turned around a corner, and the Erpetos now had a clear shot at them. However, Bryce was already taking aim, and fired first. The Erpetos dodged around his blast and returned fire. Luckily, their aim was off, and Bryce rushed forward. He charged the first Erpeto and leapt into a jump, and kicked it in the chest. The Erpeto fell over, and the other two charged forward to apprehend Bryce. Bryce ducked beneath their outstretched armed and swung his fists, punching a second Erpeto in the snout. However, as the first two fell back, the third Erpeto managed to get behind Bryce and pushed him to the floor. Bryce tried to get back up, but the Erpeto used its six legs to keep him pinned down.Syrena uttered a loud cry, and charged forward herself. She didn’t know exactly how to fight back, so she just tackled the Erpeto with all she had. She knocked it down, but the collision stunned her. As her vision cleared, she saw the Erpeto rise up, ready to attack her now. Only before it could, Bryce leapt up and jabbed it in the back. The Erpeto unexpectedly fell over, motionless.“Did you just…” Syrena stuttered.“Stunned him, yes,” Bryce replied. “The Erpetos I trained with taught me how they could be taken down. Don’t worry; they also learned the best ways to subdue humans, so it was a fair trade.” He pulled Syrena up and quickly dragged her back to the shuttle. As Bryce leapt in and started on the controls, Syrena looked out through the window. She could see other ships moving around the main Erpeto ship. They were Erpeto sails; small ships that had massive sails which caught solar radiation and used it for power and movement. It was much like the sail boat designs Syrena had seen on ocean worlds, only these sails utilized solar radiation instead of wind. Plus, the Erpeto sails were far more agile. And to her horror, she also realized that they were armed with plasma weapons too.“Brace yourself,” Bryce said, as he accelerated the shuttle. Despite the warning, Syrena was thrown to the back of the ship. Yet even as Bryce tried to make a break for the space station, the Erpeto sails intercepted him, and fired. Bryce was forced to alter his course.“We’ve not going to be able to get past them!” Syrena exclaimed.“Maybe not, but I have an idea,” Bryce said. He spun the shuttle around and headed directly towards the Erpeto sails.“What are you doing?” Syrena asked. “We don’t have weapons on this ship, and they do!”“Yes, but I happen to know about these Erpeto sails,” Bryce said. “They’re great for maneuvering in space and coming in for surprise attacks. But they can be sent spiraling with even the slightest disturbance.”“What kind of disturbance?”“Like a blast from a pulse engine.”The Erpeto sails fired at them, but Bryce dodged the plasma blasts. As they were about to collide with the sails, he turned sharply, swinging the shuttle’s engine around. The radiation from the pulse engine caught the two Erpeto sails, causing them to spin out of control. Before they could right themselves and continue the attack, Bryce turned back towards the Hope VI.Syrena, meanwhile, activated the communications equipment. After a few moments, she got Anya on speakers. “What are you two doing over there?” she demanded. “We’re seeing plasma blasts from over here.”“The Erpetos have proven to be… hostile,” Syrena reported.“What did Bryce do over there?”“Hey, they fired first,” Bryce put in.“They’re intending to destroy us because they had a bad encounter with humans before,” Syrena quickly explained. “We need to set up our defenses.” Hope VI, like all space stations, had an advanced force field. Hostile alien attacks were not uncommon, and the UGE did not sent the space station out on its own without providing it with a way to defend itself.However, there was a complication. “We need to be within range before they activate the force field, or else we’ll be trapped out here,” Bryce explained.“Hurry back,” Anya said. “We’ll turn it on once you’re safely inside.”Suddenly, there was a bright streak through the sky, and Syrena saw a plasma blast shoot past them and strike the space station. She heard cries and curses over the speaker, and then heard Anya as she said, “Those creatures just fired on us!”“And they’re going to fire again before we’re within range,” Bryce said. “If we keep moving at this speed.”“What do you mean…” Syrena started.“Hold on to something,” Bryce said. He turned the pulse engines to full power, and their speed increased exponentially. He shut down the engine seconds later, but they had already reached a high velocity. Even as Syrena was thrown back, she knew that Bryce had doomed them. At this speed, they wouldn’t be able to slow down in time, and they would surely crash into Hope VI.However, Bryce had a trick up his sleeve. At the last minute, he spun the shuttle around one hundred and eighty degrees. Then he increased the engines to full power again. This countered their forward velocity much faster than the breaking thrusters, and soon they were within range of their space station.But the Erpetos weren’t done with them yet. Bryce watched as another plasma blast was fired right for them from the main Erpeto ship. However, it suddenly dispersed, and the energy was radiated outwards. The force field had been activated, and it could block the plasma blasts.“Oh yeah!” Bryce said. “Now that’s what I call flying!”He glanced over at Syrena, who was crumpled on the floor. She had been tossed around during the whole ordeal, and could feel bruises all across her body. However, she was still alive, so she couldn’t complain too much.Bryce quickly brought the shuttle into the airlock, and then into the hanger. He and Syrena quickly exited, and could instantly tell something was wrong. The floor was covered in debris, and alarms were ringing. The two of them ducked into the hallway, and nearly ran into Jess, who was running through the station with a toolkit in hand.“Jess, what’s happening?” Bryce asked.“We took damage when we were hit,” Jess explained. “The air processing unit was down this hallway, and I’m going to try and fix whatever I can.”“We’ll help,” Bryce said. The three of them raced down the hallway, towards the air processing unit. However, as they arrived, they found the contraption in shambles. Jess instantly started assessing the damage, and Bryce and Syrena helped where they could.Syrena’s heart fell as she saw all the damage. This was all essential equipment, and without it the space station couldn’t remain operable. But if anybody could fix it, it would be Jess.A slight hissing reached her ears, and Syrena glanced around. “Do you hear that?”Bryce looked up, worried. “That sounds like air… escaping.” A fearful look crossed his face. “We need to get out of here!”Understanding dawned on Syrena, and she raced for the hallway. Bryce had to grab Jess away from the damaged equipment, and dragged her into the hallway. But he was only part way through when there was a loud snap. A crack in the station’s hull had burst, and now the air was being sucked out.The three of them struggled to resist the pull of the suction. Jess managed to grasp a control panel on the wall, and a blast door snapped down, cutting off the leak. However, the look on her face was not a good one.Jess activated her communicator and called to Anya. “We’ve got a leak over here. We need to start sealing off sections of the station.”“There are two other leaks we’re also aware of,” Anya replied. “We’re working on sealing them all off.”“Its worst than that,” Jess said. “The air processing unit is inoperable. We’re breathing stale air now, and we’ve only got a few hours before we run out.”There was silence on the line, as the fact sunk in. “I understand,” Anya said. “We’ll gather people into smaller areas, where we can filter in the last of the breathable air. In the meantime, can you fix the processor?”“No,” Jess replied. “There were some parts in there that were already deteriorating, and we don’t have replacements for them. Nick was supposed to bring them back, but he’s not here yet.”“Very well,” Anya said. “Return to the control room. We can review our options here.”Somberly, Syrena and Bryce followed Jess back to the control room. As they passed through the empty hallways, more blast doors were lowered, in an attempt to conserve the last of the air. The control room was even fuller than last time, as other civilians had been brought inside. Jess immediately went to her seat, and shooed out the other technician who currently resided in it. Then she started typing furiously on the computer, as she worked out a system for filtering the last of the air into the few rooms that were still occupied.Meanwhile, Syrena told Anya about their little adventure with the Erpetos. Anya shook her head solemnly as she heard this. “This is very bad.”“So what options do we have?” Bryce asked. “Can we fight back?”“None of our shuttles are equipped with weapons,” Anya pointed out. “Only Nick’s ship could have fought back, but he’s not here. I don’t even know if our force field can hold against their barrage of plasma blasts for long.”“Then can we evacuate?” Syrena asked.“We only have the two shuttles,” Anya said. “Even if we could pack everybody into them, we wouldn’t be able to carry enough supplies for us to reach the closest UGE outpost.”“So we just sit here until we suffocate or get blown to pieces?” Bryce asked.“Whichever comes first,” Anya said sadly. “I need to contact the other rooms where people have gathered. They deserve to know how and why we’re going to die. We’ll try to last as long as possible, but we can’t keep this up indefinitely.”As Anya activated the intercom and started delivering the bad news, Syrena looked around. All she saw was solemn faces. She spotted Greg standing on his own off to the side. She walked over to him and put a comforting hand on his shoulder.“You okay?” she asked the child kindly.“I don’t know,” Greg replied. “Are we going to make it?”Syrena wanted to give a positive answer, but couldn’t find one. Greg correctly interpreted her silence, and sighed. “It’s too bad this had to happen at Christmas time.”“Yes, it is too bad,” Syrena agreed.Suddenly, Jess yelped out. “I’m getting new readings! There’s a ship heading in our direction!”“More Erpetos?” Bryce asked.“I don’t know,” Jess said. “It’s coming from behind the planet, so I didn’t notice its approach until now. It’ll be coming up behind the Erpetos ship soon, and its traveling fast.”Syrena turned her gaze out into the window, where she could see the Erpetos ship still firing at them. But then a new ship appeared behind it. It was sleek and red, and it opened fire on the Erpetos.There was a rustle throughout the room as people moved to get a better look out the window.“Who’s ship is that?” Bryce asked. “Is it from the UGE?” Others were asking similar questions.Greg pushed his way forward towards the window and sighted the ship. “Don’t you realize who that is?” he asked excitedly.“Who?” Syrena asked.“It’s Santa!” Greg shouted, his voice carrying even over those of the adults in the room. “Santa’s coming to our rescue!”The red ship flew around the Erpeto ship, firing upon it. However, the Erpetos managed to activate their own force fields, and many of the blasts did no damage. The two small Erpeto sails moved in to intercept the ship. However, the ship caught sight of them and fired, burning holes in the sensitive sails. The Erpeto sails were not destroyed, but they were rendered helpless.The main Erpeto ship turned its plasma weapons on the red ship, but this forced them to drop their force fields. The red ship took advantage of this; it expertly ducked beneath the plasma shots and fired directly at the Erpeto’s engines.“Wait a second,” Bryce whispered. “That’s not Santa. That’s Nick!”“What?” Syrena asked.“I didn’t recognize it at first, because of the color, but that’s Nick’s ship,” Bryce said. “And I recognize his maneuvers. Nick’s taking down the Erpetos for us!”Greg, however, didn’t hear Bryce’s comments. “Yay, go Santa!” he exclaimed.Nick finally struck a weak point. There was a blast as one of the Erpeto engines exploded. The Erpeto ship’s orbit suddenly shifted, as their ship was now off center.“He crippled it,” Jess exclaimed, scanning the computer readings. “I’m reading high levels of gases escaping from their engines, so he must’ve ruptured the ship’s hull.”With the Erpetos now distracted by their disabled engines, it was easy for Nick to fly in and destroy the last of their weapons. Once the whole Erpeto ship was helpless, Nick shifted course and headed towards the Hope VI.Jess quickly opened communications, and Nick’s voice rang out over the speakers. “I can’t leave you guys alone for a minute, can I?” he said.“It’s good to see you, Nick,” Anya said, greatly relieved. “Thank you.”“You got the parts I told you to pick up, right?” Jess demanded.“Of course I did,” Nick said. “When have I ever let you down, Jess?”“Good,” Jess said. “Now get back here immediately. Our air processing unit is down, and I need the replacement parts you picked up to fix it.”“Sure thing,” Nick said. “I’m on my way in now.”Everybody breathed a sigh of relief. Not only were their enemies vanquished, but they would soon be able to recycle their air again.“I guess things are going to be okay after all,” Syrena said, placing a hand on Greg’s shoulder.Greg, however, was staring at the crippled Erpeto ship. “But what about the aliens?” he asked.“They’re going to suffer the fate they tried to inflict on us,” Bryce said darkly.“But why can’t we help them?” Greg protested.“I’m not sure if that would be a wise thing to do,” Anya said.“But it’s Christmas time,” Greg said. “We’re supposed to be nice and helpful to each other this time of year. Shouldn’t that include the aliens?”Syrena shared a glance with her companions. “He does have a point,” she said.“What could we do?” Bryce asked.Syrena smiled. “I think I might have a plan.”They quickly went down to the hanger, where Nick had just pulled in. Jess immediately started pulling out supplies to fix the air processor, and Bryce clasped hands with Nick. “You’re late,” he said. “You nearly missed all the action. What took you so long?”“I was forced to work some kinks out of the contract,” Nick said. “It turns out that the parts Jess wanted aren’t exactly covered under our plan, but I managed to talk them into providing them. Good thing I did so.”“Why is your ship red?” Syrena asked.“It’s from lots of red dust from the planet’s atmosphere,” Nick explained. “It really stained the ship’s skin. It can be washed off, but I was in a hurry to get back, so I didn’t bother.”“Well, don’t wash it off yet,” Syrena said. “Once we get everything unloaded, we need you to make one more trip.”A half hour later, Nick docked his ship with the Erpetos ship. As the doors opened, they faced a group of Erpetos, all with weapons raised. However, Bryce and Nick already had their guns leveled. Only Syrena, who stood between the two of them, was unarmed.One Erpeto stepped forward. It was Star Gazer. “Why do you come back to dishonor us?” he asked in English.“To offer you a deal,” Syrena said. “Your ship is too damaged for you to survive on it. You will not last for another day until you run out of air. We know; our technicians were able to gather enough readings to tell that you’re in peril.”“So you come to gloat?”“No, to offer sanctuary,” Syrena said. “Our space station is also damaged, but we have the means to fix it. We will offer you refuge with us until you can fix your own ship. All that we ask is that we put our hostilities aside.”Star Gazer was silent for a moment as he took in her words. Then his three eyes focused up on Syrena’s face. “Why would you humans offer to help us?”“Because not all humans are the same,” Syrena said. “We want peace, and we are willing to extend a helpful hand when needed.” Ignoring the various plasma guns pointed at her, Syrena held her hand out towards Star Gazer. He hesitated for a moment, and then extended his own hand as per her custom. The truce was arranged.The following days were hectic aboard the Hope VI. The Erpeto crew was relatively small, but it was still difficult to find enough space for all of them on the station. Jess and Nick quickly managed to fix up the air processing unit, and then they began to assist the Erpetos in repairing the damage to their ship. Meanwhile, the humans and Erpetos shared stories of their experiences. Over time, Syrena and Star Gazer became good friends. Syrena learned more about the Erpetos from listening to Star Gazer’s tales than she had from any human textbook.On Christmas Day, all the children rushed into the loading bay to find their presents waiting for them. Greg had told all the others about how Santa had saved them, and now the children all believed in him. The Erpetos stood beside the human adults as the children opened their presents, slightly confused by this tradition.“It is one of our more important holidays,” Syrena explained to Star Gazer.“You simply give away possessions?” Star Gazer asked.“No, they are gifts. And they allow us to show compassion to one another.”Greg walked over to Star Gazer, and held up a small toy puzzle. “Here, this is for you. It’s one of my older toys. You see, it’s a puzzle, and you try to solve the patterns here.”Star Gazer hesitated, but then accepted the gift. “Thank you,” he said.“Merry Christmas to you too,” Greg said happily, and then he returned to join the other children as they played with their own gifts.The End
  20. ~Warm By: Marcel At this moment, I’m wrapped up in some blankets with my head slightly leaned upward. I’m fighting the urge to go into this coughing fit once more. I have a cool cloth on my head, but my temperature is still much too high I’m sure. My head hurts, but I’m trying to ignore that while I watch some old sitcom marathon on TV.My sprawled and long hair, well, a little past my shoulders and curly, has been placed up over the couch, so that my neck will cool down. Despite the heated and flushed feeling I have, my hands are very cold.I left the office a good four hours ago, much earlier than usual. As I’m sure you realize, I’m sick.Not in the life and death kind of sick, but sick none the less. It struck me like lightning. I was feeling fine this morning. Really good when I woke up, got out of bed, left my snoring husband there and made myself some breakfast. I had gotten up early, I had felt fresh and was even considering going out for a walk.Unfortunately by the time I ate breakfast and my spouse woke up, time kind of got ahead of me. To the store, get gas, wash our clothes, see him off to work and then get ready myself.It’s my daily routine and I get that that’s the marriage life. But still, it’s a Saturday. Aren’t we supposed to do something fun on days like these? Build those lasting memories the really old people talk about that took place back when they were young people?He and I get off around the same time on Saturdays, and we are young people. So why is it, that almost like every weekend, something gets in the way? Family visits, house troubles, car payments, working an extra shift and now sickness.The remote is in my left hand and without glancing at the button I turn the channel to the weather, tired of sitcoms. I fail to see the humor right now.Like I said, I became sick instantly. I don’t know how it happened. I was fine this morning, answering some calls and typing away some insurance information into the computer – which by the way, I’m one of the greatest employees there and I can type faster than anyone I know – when I suddenly was hit with a sharp ache in my head. I thought it’d go away and pass soon.I ended up requesting the rest of the day off. Fortunately I don’t take many sick days.My throat is killing me, like it's on fire. I know the pool of sweat that’s building up on the couch is making me smell fantastic. To top it all off this terrible headache hasn’t gone away yet and it’s been hours. I’ve been waiting for the aspirin to kick in.Sighing, I have to wonder how long this is going to be a trouble for me.I hear the front door unlock. In my quiet, dark room my eyes have grown adjusted to the darkness. But now with him hom-A light from the kitchen turns on and I wince as the pain in my head increases.“Hey,” he says quietly, walking into our small living room.“Hey,” I reply without turning to look at him.“Feeling any better?”“No. I’ve just been sitting here. Got a headache and a sore throat.” I turn down the TV, but I don’t mute it.“Did you take some Advil? That works fast.”“Yeah. It’s still killing me.”“Alright,” he says nonchalantly and removes his light jacket. It’s stiff looking and I can see from his shaky hands that it’s freezing outside. He walks back into the kitchen.It’s been a few months since we’ve gone out and that we did something together, really together where we could go out for lunch, or take a stroll down at the park, like we used to. But I just don’t get what’s been going on. Boredom maybe or just we’ve run out of things to do. Maybe we have too much time together or not enough time. Sometimes I long to be with him, but other times, like now, I wish he’d just go away.Especially now. He’s moving pots and pans in the kitchen. Every clang and clink sends a ricocheting bullet to the brain. I place my hand to my head and squint.“Dear!” I shout a little too loudly for our small apartment. A pause of the noise, and I pause myself. Calm voice first. “What are you doing in there? If it’s the dishes I’ll do them tomorrow, alright?”“Is there anything to eat in the fridge?” he replies, which somehow completely dodges my silent plea for silence. He doesn’t eat at work, so it’s understandable he’s hungry when he gets home.“Ah, no I don’t think there’s much in there to eat.” Because I couldn’t cook anything, I’m sick.“Hmm.”And that’s all I get from him. Thankfully it goes quiet in the kitchen and though the light is still on in there, I’ve gotten used to it.It’s only a few minutes later that I hear the sizzling of something being cooked, though I can’t smell anything like bacon or ham. My head is pounding once more, and I close my eyes trying to ignoring the Weather Announcement, something about a forty percent chance of snow tomorrow.It’s not like I don’t love him. I love him. More than I feel like I do sometimes, I’ll admit. But I think that’s kinda the humor of it all. The thing about the ups and downs of being with someone for the rest of your life is that there are downs. And for today - and all of last week I’m just going to add because I feel horrible right now - it’s been downs.I notice the digital clock on our DVR Player, and it says nine. I realize he was late coming home.It’s about a few more minutes before he comes back into the living room. I’m not sure what he wants, but if it’s to watch TV, I swear I’m getting up and heading to bed. I should have gone to bed hours ago, but I decided to stay up.And oddly I think it was for him, subconsciously waiting for him to get home. I almost laugh aloud at the thought. I’m too good to him sometimes.It’s only when I feel a pressure on the armrest of the couch that I turn to see what he’s doing.Knees on the carpet, the man is leaning over the armrest, holding out a coffee cup in his hands.He was boiling water, I realize. I don’t say anything, but I look in the cup to find a murky and light brown liquid steaming inside. Casually he moves it closer to me, prompting me to take it. I lift my head to look up at him as the damp hand towel falls off and on to the blankets. He’s staring at me with those big eyes of his, a small smile on his face that has a simple “here, please take this” look to it.Wrapping my cool fingers around the cup, I strangely, like I’ve only now just met him and not lived with him for the past six years, feel shy and avoid his stare. I know he continues to watch me.The cup feels warm in my cold hands.I take a sip, and taste the hint of lemon and honey in this green tea. I’m sure we didn’t have any lemon in the fridge, and I know we have no honey. He must have picked some up on the way home. It tastes good and it’s the way I like it; the best way he can make it.I turn to look at him now, and I have a small smile on my face too. Yes. I am very grateful.He’s still leaned forward, eyes shifting from the cup to my face, trying to see if it helped me at all, and I love how he doesn’t know it has, in its own way.I lean forward myself, moving out from the blankets and slowly place my lips to his forehead. We remain like that, still for a moment.“Thanks,” I tell him in a softer voice.His eyes are closed, but he doesn’t simply stay there for long and slowly rises, reopening them. Now I kind of wish he would stay.“Yeah, of course,” he replies, with that edge of concern that I can hear in his voice. It was there before, maybe I wasn’t listening. “If you need anything, let me know. I’ll be right back.”It's not too eventful, nor too important. But I'll remember this moment. It's a memory I think I want to keep.Simply, I nod and he walks back into the kitchen, not too far way. I take another sip of my hot tea before slipping deeper into the couch and blankets, suddenly a little tired and feeling a little better.____Alright don't ask me why I decided to write this. It's a one shot, and yeah it's spring time. I'm feeling a little lovey.In all seriousness I've never written a "love story" before, if that's what this is even called. The story for me, is about trusting in someone even when they become a little too familiar to you; that they are still your friend. I also listened to Billy Joel's Just The Way You Are a few times.And while I feel like a more romantic relationship isn't fit for Bionicle, I've wondered how I'd do toward a personal in real life story where personal relationships are much more meaningful and necessary. So yeah. lol Anyway, if you've gotten this far, why not leave a comment? Much appreciated. ^^
  21. Only the rumble of the waves and the growl of the thunder transcended the wind's strident screams. Cliffs towered over my dinghy on either side, now high above me, now nearly level as the billows tossed me about like a child's toy, threatening to dash my vessel against their walls any moment--and me with it. Amidst the pitch darkness and the pelting rain, I would not have been able to see if not for the fulguration of the lightning; a convoluted blessing.It was all I could do to keep my boat to a course as straight as a bat's and pray. I had been warned of the storm and advised not to brave it. At about this time, I was wishing I had listened.But I had had no choice. I had heard that she was on the next island. In the past, a night's hesitation had proven pernicious to my pursuit. My only chance to succeed had been to take the risk. And now, it seemed, it would be taking my life.Every muscle in my body strained at the oars, fighting with all my strength the waters that would surely consume me if I yielded. Meanwhile, another part of me prepared to meet my Maker.I don't know why I looked up at that moment. Perhaps it was mere happenstance. Perhaps I sensed the arc of brine looming above me. Whatever the reason, I looked up, and I saw it--and it is a sight I will never forget.It was as if, for a moment, time froze. The wave was the gaping mouth of a massive sea monster poised to devour me and my dinghy whole. Water dripped from its tip, glistening in the lightning like fangs.And then it lunged. Before I had even time to react I was submerged in water, the salt stinging my nose and nostrils, already my lungs beginning to burn for air. I had no idea which way was up, no idea what I was seeing, if, indeed, anything. I could see nothing but the bubbles surging before my face, I could feel nothing but the water simultaneously attempting to pull me apart and constrict me. My mind began to fade. Spots appeared before my vision. But they were not spots--there were but two. They were eyes. They were here eyes. In my ears I heard her laughter. The throbbing in my chest was just the my ardently beating heart.I saw a ray of light. With my quickly ebbing energy, I swam toward it. I was ready. And the last thing I felt was her hand in mine. . . .And then, the impossible happened. I opened my eyes. A ceiling fan with palm-shaped blades circled lazily above me. The whole bamboo-furnished room was cast in a greenish glow, due the sunlight filtering in through the viridescent curtains.Suddenly the curtains slid apart, and there stood framed in the window a figure. As my eyes adjusted to the sudden brightness, I discerned the back of a screen of ebon hair. I knew immediately who it was."You're awake now. I'm glad. I--I was worried that you might be----""I'm not," I interrupted. "Because--you saved me--right?"The head bobbed. "What were you doing out there?" In a rush, she went on, "What were you thinking? Why aren't you in America? How are you here?""I should think that was obvious.""Were--were you really looking for me?""Of course I was. You didn't think I would give up on you that easily, did you?""I'm a criminal. After what I did--how can you----?""Because I trust you. I don't know why you did what you did. But I know you had a reason.""How can you believe in me so easily?""Because I love you. And I know you.""How long? How long have you been following me?""Since you left."Her voice wavered for half a tone, then steadied. Her command over emotion had always been absolute. "You followed me all the way around the world?""I'd follow you around it a hundred times."She was silent. I went on, "I believe in you, you know. I always have. That's why I didn't give up, and why I wouldn't let you get away. That's why I've followed you, all the way here to Yahoolala or whatever this forlorn place is called." She still didn't give an answer. Normally she would have corrected me, but the circumstances were far from normal."I'm only disappointed that you couldn't trust me."She still didn't move. Breathlessly she whispered, "You know I trust you. But I loved you too much to let you suffer for what I did.""You're my wife. I don't care what in blazes you do, because I know who you are and what she will do! What you did--I don't understand it. But I know, and that's all there is to it."I swung my legs out of the bed and rose unsteadily to my feet. But the battle with the storm had been too much. My legs were weak with fatigue. I stumbled; and then she was there, her arm around my torso, her shoulder under mine, her other hand on my face.She said only two words, and nothing more. "I'm--sorry."Then I felt a prick in my thigh, and I collapsed on the bed. Her convulsive sobs shook the bed. All I wanted, as I slipped into unconsciousness, was to kiss away the tears that now ran freely down her face. . . .I was awakened by cold water in my face. When I looked up I saw an aged woman standing over me in the traditional vesture of the islanders."You hurry," she urged, trying to pull me to my feet. "You go dock! You still catch her!"I didn't lose a moment. With no more than a "thank you" to the woman I ran from the room. I made all haste to the dock, where many wooden vessels were being prepared for launch. Then I caught a flash of sleek black hair amidst the tangled, upswept locks of the native women, climbing aboard a catamaran. Her eyes widened when I appeared by her side."I know why you don't want me to come with you. And I appreciate your concern. But isn't that my choice to make?" I searched her gaze, but she turned her face away. "Can you really leave me behind?""My heart's torn. I want to be with you--but I don't want to force you into all this." She flung her arms in a sweeping indication of her surroundings.I seized her in an embrace. "You're not forcing me into anything. All I want is to be with you, wherever we are, wherever it takes us." I turned to the expanse of blue that stretched to the horizon. "If you have to flee, then you'll flee, but not alone. We will run--together."She was at a loss for words. She threw her arms around my neck and let actions speak louder than words. We kissed. With all the passion of months of separation, with all the apology she could express, with all the faith I could give. The catamaran cast off and set sail toward the rising sun, and still neither of us released the other. This time we would not let go. ~ THE END ~ From the desk of Nuile: Lunatic Wordsmith
  22. Moonlight cascades down towering buildings, shadows soaking up everything else its soft blue hands couldn't touch. The glittering stars are chased away by bright, colourful city lights. The purr of traffic can be heard from any dark corner in the city as well as the chatter and occasional laughter of people. Pretty people, with their pretty faces and pretty lives; all shattered in a moment.A twisted grin spreads across my face, my pearly white teeth glowing in the dark. I slide my fingers along a shiny, long blade."You get to make a friend tonight," I whisper to my knife.I always preferred a blade. The way it slid into the body. The way you got so close to your victim, see the fear and pain in their eyes before they crumbled to the cold urban floor, dead.I also found enjoyment in hearing their pathetic pleads. Sometimes I would even lead them on--making them think all I wanted from them were trivial things like money--before slitting their delicate necks. =[]= A bang had sounded from the gun, making my ears throb. Tears sprung to my eyes as my mother crumpled to the ground."Mom!" I screamed, throwing myself at her twitching body. In a matter of seconds her movement stilled completely. I glared at the figure above me, unable to speak as hot tears streamed down my face. =[]= I sit in the dirty darkness, shining my blade and waiting for the perfect victim to come along. I was no careless murderer, butchering whoever crossed my path next--no, picking out my prey took just as much execution and thought as killing them did.I perk up as I see her walk by. That's the one. A sweet little thing, not much older than twenty. Though people crowd the streets, she looks afraid to be walking by herself. I can't blame her."We should accompany the poor thing, don't you think?" My voice as evil as the fiery abyss I came from. =[]= I saw a vague smile creep onto his face before he turned around and began walking away.I screamed at him to stop."Aren't you going to kill me, too?" I asked, my voice hoarse. He didn't even slow his tread as he replied. "What makes you so special?" =[]= I slither back into the roar of the city as easily as I left it, blending in immediately and keeping a secure eye on my little auburn target.I follow her at a moderate distance, waiting for her to make a turn onto a quieter section of town--a turn that will end her existence.Now honey, you should know that dark things happen in dark places like that, I say to myself as she finally veers off.I quicken my pace, reflexively sliding past people to catch up with her.When I'm certain no one else is around, I approach her, silently and expertly. She doesn't even have time to react before she's in my possession with a knife to her throat. =[]= His words stopped me in my tracks, leaving me speechless.Right before he was out of earshot, I replied with a shaky voice. "You think killing people is doing them a favour?"He actually turned around that time, and I saw a sickly grin spread across his face. "That's exactly what I think." =[]= Her hand shakes intensely as she lets her purse slip from her grasp."Take it. Just, please, don't--""Don't kill you?"She nods restrainedly."Don't spoil my fun, baby. That's exactly what I wanted to do," I purr into her ear.I can feel her whole body shake more violently. A whimper escapes her lips."Now, now, let's have fun with this, shall we?""Fun?" Her voice squeaks. "You monster."I laugh. A bit too madly, perhaps."What could possibly drive you to do this?" I can hear tears in her voice."I've had a bitter past. Someone took something very dear to me, and one day I woke up and thought to myself, 'why should I have to suffer this alone?' So, thank you, dear, for carrying part of my burden; you certainly aren't the first, nor will you be the last."She gasped for air before speaking again. "Do you have nothing good from your past to cling to? Is your motive only driven by hate?"I had to wrack my brain to answer her question. I suppose she was right. My life wasn't always this twisted. The memory right before my mother was killed, that was my last truly blissful moment... =[]= Her eyes twinkled in the warm, glowing light as she lit the blue-striped candle upon my cupcake."Happy birthday, sweetheart," my mom said, placing a kiss on my head.I gave her a slightly annoyed look.She laughed. "A boy--even if he just turned thirteen--is never too old for a kiss from mom," she said, squeezing me in a hug.I couldn't help but smile.The glow and the laughter of the evening rushed by too quickly, and before we knew it, we were on our way home, laughing and talking, unaware of what was lurking behind the next shadow, ready to steal something very valuable from us. =[]= "You're right. Maybe I could do something good for myself," I say slowly.She nods enthusiastically before I drive my knife into her gut. I give the blade a good, firm twist before letting her corpse tumble to the welcoming ground."To think that I would actually let you go." I stoop, crouching down beside her body and stroked her pretty russet hair. I move so my mouth is next to her dead ear, whispering with a cold breath. "What makes you so special?"I muse to myself as I walk away from my gory art, my footsteps echoing off the desolate street."Though a cupcake does sound nice."
  23. Balloons I OPENED THE DOOR to my basement and stepped down the wooden stairs that led into the expansive room where I did my work. My wife didn’t like me working on my cases in the house – the pictures of dead bodies and the gruesome things that the killers I hunted did to them didn’t sit well with her. She was gone now, but it had become a habit, I guess. I flicked the switch up, and immediately the room was filled with a yellowish light, complimenting the wooden shelves and cupboards around the room nicely. I came here every day after I got home from the office. To sit, to think, to work. It was my place; a room where I could go, escaping the loudness of the world, escaping almost life itself. Just me, my work, and my bourbon. It was easy to think down here. I unconsciously looked to a far side of the room where I had scribbled a name: Julia. The name of my daughter. I didn’t want to think about her, but I knew there was no stopping it now that I had looked. The memories would flood my mind. Sometimes I hated that I had put her name there in a moment of depression and sadness. But I knew I would hate myself even more if I hadn’t. I needed to be reminded. Reminded of how my life used to be. How I had made it how it was. How my job had ruined her life and mine. The job I still had – the job I still did. I walked over to a metal stool in the corner of two large tables and dropped a few manila files on the desktops. I poured myself a glass of bourbon and just sat down, thinking. Thinking of her. She used to be my everything, my all – my reason for living and waking up each day. Until she was taken from me all those years ago. I shook my head desperately, hoping to shake the thoughts, but there was no use. I took a large gulp of the warming liquid before setting the glass down on the table. I buried my head in my hands and let the tears fall as they always did. And the memories came back, the memories of my life with her. I could see her face again… “Daddy, daddy!” Julia called happily. “Look, balloons!” I took her by the hand, leading her to the balloon-seller. I smiled at her, truly happy. Nothing made me happier than to see her happy – even if it was because of something so simple as a balloon. I tugged on my hair, angry now. Frustrated. I hit the table with my fist and screamed. “It’s not fair!” I shouted to no one before more tears slid down my cheeks again. I couldn’t take it. Day after day, night after night. I wasn’t willing to let myself forget but I couldn’t live with remembering either. I was torn. “That one!” she exclaimed excitedly, pointing to a pink balloon hidden among the dozen others. Her pig-tales bounced as she showed her excitement, pulling my arm with her other hand. “No, no, no!” I shouted again. I stood up quickly, slamming both fists against a cupboard door. I begged my mind to think of something – anything – else, but all I could see was her face. Her beautiful, perfect face. “Look, daddy! Isn’t it pretty?” She proudly displayed her balloon to everyone after I had bought it for her. She skipping gleefully through the carnival crowds and when she pulled my arm I skipped with her. “Stop, stop!” But it wouldn’t. It never did. The gunshot sounded in my head. I instinctively took cover from the unknown source of the gunshot while people screamed around us. I was about to grab my daughter before I realized what had happened: the crimson stain on her stomach. “No, no…baby!” Her precious, tiny body dropped to the ground, life escaping from her grasp. “No, no, no…somebody help! Anyone!” I shouted as loud as I could, reaching down to her side, picking up her body in my arms, pressing her against my chest. “No, no, please!” The tears were uncontrollable. “Somebody help, please!” I pleaded. I could see many people on their phones, but I knew it was too late. She was gone and there was no bringing her back. I looked up toward the sky, crying out in pain. The pink balloon floating away above me. And my last of her memories sailed off into the sky along with it as I remembered for the umpteenth time: she was gone. My wife had begged me to give up my job. I was never home, gone for days at a time catching serial killers. But that wasn’t the worst part. She hated what I brought home with me every night. Not just the pictures, but the mood. The killing took a mental toll on me, but I couldn’t leave it alone – no matter how much she pleaded. I knew something like this would happen. I knew, but I let it happen anyway because I couldn’t give my job up. Julia’s death had been the last straw. My wife blamed me and left that day. I had only seen her once more, at the funeral. She was right. It was my fault. I screamed again. I hated myself for letting it happen. I knew the people I hunted as an FBI agent would come after my family – I had just ignored it. Ignored it until it was too late. I held her body in my arms as the blood continued to flow out of her – and her life with it. The paramedics came and tried to pull me away, but I wouldn’t budge. I stood up and threw my glass at the wall and it shattered into hundreds of pieces. I breathed heavily for a few moments, resting my palms on the tabletop, before getting my emotions under control. I shook my head, trying to shake the memories even though it never worked. I went back to one of the wooden counters and poured myself another glass of bourbon. I sat back down and opened the case files. My daughter had died because of my job, and my wife had left me because of it. So I allowed the torture of their memory plague me every time I came down here. I had to make their loss mean something, so I made sure to put as many monsters behind bars as I could – monsters like the man who had murdered my daughter. But I knew it would never be enough. ~ :: ~ Library :: Blog
  24. Tormenting Chimera I SLAMMED THE GLASS down on the wooden table before me. I flicked my wrist at the waitress that was walking by, saying simply, “Another,” in a loud voice of contempt. She nodded and quickly hurried off toward the bar, her flaxen hair flowing gracefully behind her. The other barflies around me stared, but I continued to look ahead, a snarl on my face and a fire in my eyes. The glowing firelight from the various oil lamps throughout the room lighted my face like the sunset. The flames flickered ominously in the shadows throughout the room. The dim lighting was plentiful enough to be able to see, but dark enough to not bestow any cheer. It was perfect. I took another puff from my cigar, the tiny embers on the end glowing a burnt orange, before slowly releasing the wispy smoke. The new glass came, and I slid the old one to join the others; a cluster of glasses that I had already drunken from. The glass clanked with a satisfactory sound as it hit the group. I took a sip from the new drink and immediately warmth flowed through my being. It was the only sort of jubilation I would have this evening: the intoxicating, inebriating liquid providing it. It was another of those nights. A night where the nightmares emerged and the visions screamed. Forcing more guilt upon me. Relentlessly grabbing ahold of my very soul and never letting go, consuming my being. Haunting me. Devouring the life from me. And so I drank, drank until the sorrows floated away. But they never did. As I took another sip from the glass, immediately my mind was thrown into the past; a vision of a previous time, an earlier life. A life where I had failed – where I had left another to die. Then the horrific screams came. There was nothing I could do, nothing at all to rid the shrieking from my mind. I covered my ears with my hands, thrashing wildly, but the cries continued, merciless, wrapping themselves around my mind as though they were physical objects; tentacles of some sort of eldritch abomination consuming my being. The other barflies were staring again, thinking me mad. But they had no idea. No clue as to what I was going through, what I went through almost every night. The vision began. First only spurts of blood, flying off from a midpoint in every direction. Then the picture began to clear, focusing in my mind. I saw a man clearly, kneeling by a post, his back turned to me. Then the whips. Whips ripping into his skin again and again: the source of all the blood. The image rotated, and suddenly I saw his face. In all its clarity, in all its explicitness. The face of my best friend. He looked up at me, his eyes burning with rage and pain. They screamed at me, and without him saying a word I knew what he was thinking: “You did this to me.” And I had. A chain hung from his neck, bearing two dogtags; one displaying his name and information, the other a sign of our brotherhood, a sign of the organization we belonged to. And I had betrayed him. I ran a finger across my back, feeling the scars. They had tortured me for weeks, but finally I broke as most men eventually do. But it didn’t matter if most did. It only mattered that I had. That I hadn’t been strong enough. His eyes pierced my heart, and I knew I had failed him. Failed to uphold my honor. I had talked. It didn’t matter that The Black Fist – a ruthless mercenary organization – had the most ruthless interrogators. I failed to protect him and my unit. I had told my torturers the location of our camp. I had betrayed the honor I had sworn my life to. And his face clearly showed his disgust at me. He screamed at me, and I shouted back how I was sorry. It wasn’t enough, and I knew it never would be. It was the worst torture I had encountered. They forced me to watch as they ripped away at his body and mind. I yelled at them to stop, but they wouldn’t. I knew that, but still I yelled, pleading. Finally, the images released their grip on my mind and I was thrown back into the bar, screaming. The other patrons looked at me worriedly before returning to their merry laughter when I stopped, just another night out in town for them. A luxury I could never have again, not as long as these visions plagued me. I set my glass back down on the table. The worst part of it was that I never made things right. I never avenged my friend, never got back at them for what they did. I only turned to the bottle and allowed the chimera of my past haunt me night after night. And I knew it could never be different. ~ :: ~ Library :: Blog
  25. DES MOINES, IOWA – The state cross-country meet was raging for the Class 2A Boys. In the lead was senior Rob Macker, but his team wasn’t cheering him on. The other seniors were, sure, but of particular interest for this match among all the underclassmen was Rob’s younger brother, Matt, the rising star for the Warriors. He was a mere freshman, and he was in second place. The history to their competition was interesting. Rob had come in first place for the 5k every year since his freshman year. He had let himself shine, and this senior year he wanted to solidify his perfect streak and his legacy. It was cool that his brother was making it tough for him, though. Perhaps if Matt won, Rob could enjoy cheering on his brother’s chance at a perfect streak. Yet, since they were both in high school at the same time, only one of them could have it. And Rob wanted it so bad. It felt like they were on their last half-kilometer. Rob kicked in his final burst. Meanwhile, Matt trailed ten yard behind him. He wanted it, too, and he wanted that perfect streak. It was something worth fighting for, and he wasn’t going to let his brother have it. Want. Desire. Matt wasn’t going to settle for second. He sprinted like crazy. For a moment, he passed up Rob, but Rob ran even harder. They were both dying as they suffered the fruits of their own determination. Then the finish line came in sight, and they sprinted even harder, as if they were running down a 100m dash. By two footsteps, Matt won. “Thirteen minutes!” shouted a friend. “Could have cheered more,” said Rob. His friend Sam handed Rob his hat. Coach Leer wasn’t happy for them. Matt didn’t quite understand it. He went over with Rob to make sure that their times were indeed at thirteen minutes. He showed them the time grimly, and though confused, Matt and Rob cheered and rejoiced. Then Coach Leer interrupted the powwow with a hand on Rob’s shoulder, and he said just loud enough that only Rob, Matt, and their best friends could hear, “Rob, your brother Craig is dead.” Craig was killed by a drunk driver while biking to the library. He was a junior and always a bit of a loner. People didn’t appreciate him much, but Matt always figured his day would come. He didn’t count on…these things. The next day, everyone knew, and was wearing black. Attention. Oh boy. From people who were mean to him and people who didn’t even know him. Then there was a girl who wore a dress that broke school policy. Matt felt an irrational hatred toward her. How disrespectful. He resigned from these people. He couldn’t live in their presence. Matt went to his classes, but didn’t talk to anyone. Rob came to school just to pick up homework, and left. The worst part about being sad was knowing just how sad others were, so he had to be sad for his brother’s sadness. Then he knew that Rob might be feeling the same way. Circles. The day after that, Friday, Matt decided to do what Rob did, and came only to pick up assignments before heading home. He did his work, and Rob did… Mother was home. Father was with the funeral director. When they had lunch together, Craig’s usual chair was empty, and nobody talked. When both brothers were done with their homework, almost instantly, Rob locked himself up in his room and never came out for the rest of the day. Matt wanted to do the same, but he ended up sitting down with his back against Rob’s door while he ticked away at the time, wondering how long it would take before things would ever be normal, or if he would be like Batman and just be troubled for the rest of his life. After a month, Rob put his hat back on again. It was really strange, though. Rob had always been the cool kid. People had looked up to him with respect but not…respect. It was different with Matt’s friends. His were relatively new, made just in high school. He hadn’t gone through four years of them yet. It felt like they knew him for his tragedy first and not for the brother and friend he had been beforehand, so he began spending time with Rob’s friends. They had once made fun of Craig, but at least they knew him. Then one day Rob did not sit with his friends. Matt looked around and found Rob eating outside, looking through brochures. “Aren’t you going to get in trouble?” asked Matt. Dumb question. Rob never got in trouble for anything and could break any school rule he wanted. “No,” said Rob. He left his bench and reentered the school, placing his flyers in a side-pocket in Matt’s backpack as he passed. Matt looked at them himself and saw that they had information on the marines. During their family supper, Rob wasn’t shy in bringing it up. “Dad, I’m joining the marines.” Perhaps it was supposed to be one of those special father-to-son moments, but it played out with the whole family. Without much questioning, Father supported the idea. Mother was against it, and Matt… He was curious. “Why?” “Because I’m not going to settle for tragedy anymore,” said Rob. “I’m not going to settle for loss. I want that so bad, but I haven’t given it my all, yet. I was meant for more than running 5ks in thirteen minutes.” There was more arguing, and with half a heart Matt pleaded Rob not to, but he was forced into understanding his brother. After the year and the graduation ceremony were over, Rob’s friends, all knowing his intentions, patted him on the back. When everyone left his grad party, Rob took off his hat and handed it to Matt. “Remember to settle for nothing less than your best life.” =[]= Curse the, thy foul word limit! Nevermore shall I endure your toxic burden! No, I take that back. I'm really being far too angsty and dramatic. Maybe I should just accept that this would have been better as a much longer story, because I can see how this could easily carry out to 5k if I had carried it out to its natural length. As it happens, this is very much contensed. Meanwhile, this has absolutely nothing to do with my story We Are Young, even though I use the same characters. There will be nothing quite so sad over there. 24601
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