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Interrealm by Nicole DragonBeck

For Felix Colley – I’m eagerly awaiting your next novel!

Three to five years: no parole

Javin stared at the sign, head tilted as he tried to make sense of it. The air smelled old and stale, and he shivered in the chill, his thin tunic not really suited to the inhospitable environment.

“Can we go now?” Nena whined, tugging at the hem of his tunic.

“Go where?” Javin asked, his eyes never leaving the poster. “We have no idea where we are.”

“I know where we are,” Nena said.

That drew Javin’s attention, and he looked down at his precocious companion, a young girl with short brown hair and bright eyes. Her dress was different than Javin, because she was from a different realm, and her thick woolen clothes were more suited to the place the pair of them found themselves now. “What?”

“We’re in one of the interrealms.”

Javin looked around. It was not exactly pleasant, and though he had traveled through frequently, it was like looking through the window of a speeding train. He wouldn’t be able to describe what the interrealm looked like, except maybe blurry.

“How do you know?” Javin searched the old, green eyes of the girl.

In answer, the girl pointed at the sky. A solid black expanse hung over them like a blanket devoid of stars.

“And what does that mean?”

“It means we’re in the interrealms.” She gave him a hard look. “Look, you brought me along for a reason. The reason is I know things. I don’t know any more how I know things than you know how you travel.”

Javin sighed. “So, how did we end up here?”

Nena gave him a reproving stare. “Do you really need me to answer that question?”

Javin sighed again. “No, I suppose not.”

“You suppose not?” Nena shot back. “Maybe if you stopped supposing so much and looking before you leap, maybe we wouldn’t end up in places like this.”

“I’ve told you: I can’t stop to think or look or consider. I just have to go, or else I don’t go at all.”

Nena pursed her lips and frowned, but her eyes weren’t angry. “So how do we get out?”

“That’s a good question,” Javin replied, putting his hands on his hips and gazing around.

The land was flat and barren, stretching out to the grey horizon in every direction. The only interesting thing in the whole place was the sign, outlined in white candles, the words glaring out at them without sympathy.

“This sign is here for a reason,” Javin said. “It’s a message for me.”

“Specifically for you?” Nena ventured.

“Yes,” Javin said, now certain. “It’s a message from him.”

“How does he know where you are?” Nena asked, and for the first time trepidation colored her tone. “I thought you were able to stay ahead of him.”

“I thought I could,” Javin said. “I’m not sure what’s happened, but he’s expecting me.”

“You mean he’s here?” Nena shrieked, then clapped her hands over her mouth. “He’s here?” she hissed.

“I…I don’t know,” Javin said, and gazed around. “I don’t think so.”

“Then why is this here?” Nena gestured at the sign.

A light dawned in Jevin’s eyes, and a twinge of something squirmed in his stomach. “Three to five years; no parole. He’s trapped us here.”

Understanding blossomed on Nena’s face, and she looked around at the the bleak landscape with new respect.

“You can get us out of here, right? He can’t actually keep you here, can he?”

Jevin considered that for a moment. Was it possible? Could the Scarlet Jack actually trap him here, for years? Others could travel the interrealms via portals, natural and man made, but so far, Javin knew of only two that could travel though the interrealms at whim – him and the Scarlet Jack.

“You can get us out of here, right?” Nena asked again.

“I don’t know,” he said at last. “I think I can.”

“You think you can?” Nena asked.

“I think I can because he’s trying to make me think that I can’t,” Javin explained, pointing at the sign. “So I just have to figure out what he doesn’t want me to know.”

 

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Wild Imaginings by Nicole DragonBeck

For Shereen Kazansky – I hope you enjoy!

These premises are monitored by CCTV.

“What is see-see-tee-vee?”

“It means they have video camera watching the shop,” Jason said, peering into the windows.

“I don’t know what that means,” Kara said, pushing her white—blonde hair back revealing small, pointed ears.

“It doesn’t matter,” Jason said. “That’s where the door is?”

“It think so,” Kara said. “It was dark when I got here. But I remember that tower.”

Jason followed her finger to the tall spire, black against the predawn sky.

“Okay. And your brother is in there?”

Kara bit her lip. “I think so. It was bright, and then dark, and there was a lot of moving. I couldn’t see too well. But we ran, and then the mage was in front of us, yelling and waving his staff around. Something hit me, and I couldn’t move, and then something was pulling me. Troven was behind me, and I tried to grab his hand. I lost him in the tunnel.”

Tears filled her eyes through the dialogue, and when she stopped talking, they spilled down her cheek. Jason leaned over and gave her a squeeze. She was so small, she was like his kid sister. He really didn’t believe her when she said she was seventy years old. He also didn’t believe her story, but when the police chief – who also happened to be Jason’s dad – had found her on the side of the highway and taken her in while her parents were located, it became Jason’s duty to take care of her. He figured if he humored her, maybe she would be willing to cut the wild imagination and tell him where her parents really were.

“Okay, follow me.”

Jason crept forward through the garden, his eyes peeled for movement. The warehouse had been abandoned for years, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t someone there. No one stopped or shouted when he pulled open the heavy doors, the chains clinking.

The warehouse was full of the ghosts of production, huge crates and machines to move them.

“What is all this?” Kara asked.

“Stuff,” Jason said. “There’s no one here.”

“He’s here,” Kara said stubbornly. “I know it.”

“Hello!!” Jason called out, then paused. “What’s his name again?”

“Toven.”

“Toven!” Jason yelled. “Are you there?”

“He’s not going to come out if you yell like that,” Kara said, peering into the gloom. “I think I remember this. But I came up.”

“Came up?”

“There were stairs,” Kara said.

“Maybe there’s a basement,” Jason mused. “Come on.”

In the back of the warehouse, they found the open trapdoor. Jason reached out to hold Kara back, but she slipped under his arm and bolted down the black hole. Jason groaned and followed her more carefully.

His eyes took a long time to adjust, and the sparse light from above painted everything in grey shadows.

“Kara!” Jason hissed. “Kara, where did you go?”

“Kara?” another voice came from somewhere nearby making Jason jump.

Kara popped up just in front of Jason, her eyes scanning the place.

“Toven? Toven!” Kara cried, and threw her arms open.

The small boy with bright eyes just like Kara flew to her and wrapped his arms around her.

“Toven, I was so worried,” Kara said, her voice muffled because her face was buried in his hair.

“I’m fine. The Mage isn’t looking so good,” Tovan said, pulling away. “Who’s this?”

“This is Jason. He’s a friend,” Kara said. “Where’s the Mage?”

“Just here,” Toven said, taking her hand and tugging her into the shadows.

They were gone too fast for Jason to protest, and with a grimace, he followed them into the dark recesses of the basement. He held his hands out to make sure he didn’t run into anything, shuffling his feet along.

“Kara?” he called out, his voice echoing back to him. “Kara, wait up!”

Something grabbed his arm, and he screamed.

“Shhh! It’s just me!” Kara’s voice reassured him from around his elbow.

Jason bit his tongue, his hear thundering in his ribcage, then Kara’s hand found his, and she was pulling him along. It got lighter, and then they rounded a corner to behold a sight. Toven pointed, though there was no need.

In the middle of a silver pool of light an old man lay. He was dressed in weird clothes, and his hair was long and dark. His skin was pale, or maybe it was just the light, but he didn’t look to good. Beside him, and the source of the silver light, was wooden staff topped with a large blue gem, rough cut and glowing.

Jason took it all in, his mind curiously blank with no protest or thought that maybe he was crazy or hallucinating. Maybe Kara’s wild imaginings weren’t so wild after all.

 

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Happy Holidays!

From your friends at Stories:

We hope you have an amazing holiday season!

 

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True Romance by Dalia Lance

From Dave McGrath (Via Submissions Page), I hope you enjoy.

He snapped his underwear band two times, Becky knew the code, and a romantic night was ahead.

She smiled at him and said, “You know how terribly cheezy that is, right?”

He looked over at her, his blue eyes sparkling in the firelight. “First, if I snapped my fingers, it would be degrading even if it is my desire to see you get all flushed. Second, you purchased these for me and I thought you liked my appreciation of them?”

When the last word left his lips, he stood up, and she could see that he was very excited to see her get all flushed.

As she stood there biting her lip waiting for him to approach her, she couldn’t help but think how lucky she was that such a gorgeous man found her alluring.

He came up and wrapped his arms around her. Pulling her to him, close. She could feel his eagerness and her lips parted to meet his.

At first his lips were quite gentle, and then there was an urgency to them. His taste was intoxicating. His tongue moved with hers as her fingers played with his hair. Then suddenly he lifted her up by her bottom. A small squeak escaped her lips as he smiled at her again.

“I believe you are flushed, Ms. Jones,” he said with a small growl.

He moved her to the counter in the small kitchen of the cabin they had rented for the event. She laid back, legs still wrapped around him, letting him pull her top and bra off, slowly admiring every inch of her. She loved the way he looked at her.

Then he unwound her legs from his carefully so he could remove her shorts and panties. Using her toes, she pulled down the red boxer-briefs she had given him on Valentine’s day.

As his hands moved her into position, she felt his desire as she looked at the man who had stolen her heart.

Then just as he was about to slide in, there was a noise. Before she could figure out what it was, the door in the kitchen opened and her mother and grandmother walked in carrying a platter.

“Hey Shelly, we thought…” Her mother’s words were cut off as both of her relatives were now staring at her erotic moment.

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Error by Erika Lance

To Nicole who submitted through the website. I hope you enjoy!

Geocode was not successful for the following reasons: ERROR

Martin looked at the screen again. This couldn’t be correct.

The data within the system had taken years to gather. It was the most in-depth analysis of humans that had ever been undertaken. Every other sector’s numbers had computed perfectly.

Martin, as the humans had called him, tried again: ERROR

He pulled up the zone in question on the map. It was an affluent neighborhood in the state of California in the country called the United States.  As he scrolled though the information, he also began the diagnostic protocol.

If there was any chance of zeroing in on the error and getting off this planet which was at the farthest end of the galaxy, contained behind a rather formidable asteroid field, then he would have to find and correct this ‘ERROR’ and submit his information.

As the images rolled past, one in particular caught his eye. He scrolled back and pulled it up. At first glance, it seemed fairly mundane.  Small children played in an area of grass and sand. One of them was using some kind of plastic item that was launching soap in the shape of circles in the air. He knew what they called them… Bubbles!

He zoomed in on the bubble that had just been launched. There in the reflection he saw not a small earth child standing there, no, this was something different. This had gills.

At first, a smile crept across the human mouth he was wearing. He had found the error. Then almost as quickly as it had appeared, the smile vanished.

These were not humans.

A feeling of dread began to build within him. Was this possible? he thought to himself.

He knew that this planet had been studied before; it was a terribly good resource for certain mineral components and the inhabitants were still behind in technology that any time they saw a potential visitor it was dismissed. This is what made the idea of full planetary reaping so appealing to his high ruler. But here it was, right in front of him.

He moved to the genetic samples that had been taken from that region. Although they were ‘mostly’ human, there were other markers.  When he broadened the scan, he found them to be traces of Reedbarnt gene sequences.

They were hiding here. How?

He had to submit this right away.  This was above his pay-grade.

Pulling the arm-sleeve of flesh from his right hand, he extended his small gathering of tentacles to the screen. Although he was mandated to leave the human covering on for the length of his mission, he knew that what he had to gather and send would take hours if he had to use the small human appendages.

He gathered all the evidence and sent it to his superior. He then reattached his arm-sleeve and paced up and down the ships data storage area. This was a human habit, but he knew that he could not remove the whole flesh suit without it deteriorating.

It was many earth hours before he received a reply.

It said only one thing: Abort!

 

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The Cave by Alanna J. Rubin

For Stephan M. – a continuation…

The stillness that permeates the deep dark misleads you.

The deep voice that uttered the warning faded away as if carried off by the wind, leaving Lyra with a single question…What did he mean? She tucked her long red hair behind her ear and continued along the path even though the journey through the mountains had borne no answers, yet it was where the same voice had directed her. Lyra thought back to her village and the emptiness that greeted her upon her return from K’Daan, the kingdom of healers. She had completed her training and was eager to rejoin her family and offer her services, but when she arrived, there was no one. The village seemed to be devoid of all life. No laughter, no barking from the numerous dogs, no birds chirping, even the leaves of the trees no longer rustled. All that was left were the remnants of activity, the embers of cooking fires were warm, steam spiraled up from soup bowls, the smell of freshly cut herbs still hung in the air. It was as if everyone and everything disappeared in the blink of an eye, and an uneasy feeling crept over Lyra’s skin.

With nowhere else to go, Lyra remained in the village, in her family’s home. Her room was how she had left it, a small bed tucked in the corner under the window, her mortar and pestle sitting on the shelves on the far wall, and her brother’s framed landscape stood on the window sill. The only difference was the soothing flames that burned brightly in the fire place…her family had prepared for her arrival. The thoughtfulness created a feeling of warmth, which was quickly overtaken by one of worry and confusion at their disappearance. Lyra had passed an uneasy night and had woken to the same disembodied voice urging her to venture west to the mountains, and it had promised answers.

It must have been another mile before she found herself at the mouth of a cave. Ravens flew above, which only accentuated the darkness that seemed to spill out its entrance. Every logical thought urged her to turn around, but all her other senses told her this was the way forward. Lyra approached the cave with caution and examined the rocks and shrubs that guarded it. Among the shrubs, she found a substantial branch that she could use to fashion a torch. She pulled strips of cloth for bandages, from the satchel that rested against her side, wrapped them around it, then set them alight. Lyra took one last look around. All seemed normal, except for the disconcerting cawing of the black birds above.

There was no way around it though, so with a deep breath to steel her for whatever she might encounter within, she stepped inside. The fear and trepidation that were her companions moments before disappeared and a sense of calm took their place. Lyra felt a peace take root, one that begged her to remain engulfed in the soothing blackness of the cave. She felt a strong urge to lay down and sleep. A far-off voice seemed to be singing a soothing lullaby, each note making her limbs feel heavier. As she found herself succumbing, she heard a familiar voice warn, “The stillness that permeates the deep dark misleads you.” It snapped her to attention and the far-off voice that, moments ago, seemed to be singing a lullaby, turned into blood curdling screams. The burst of adrenaline broke the spell of the cave and Lyra found herself running forward. “Hang on,” she yelled out into the blackness. Her voice reverberating against the walls.

“Help me!” the man’s voice called back frantically.

A few feet more and Lyra found herself at the edge of a pool of water and a man tied to the wall, the water level just below his mouth. She scrambled to the man, her feet slipping on the damp rock. She pulled a knife from her satchel and cut him loose from his bonds that were made of vines and helped pull him up to safety. “Thank you,” he coughed, water having passed his lips right before she had finished cutting him loose. By the light of the torch, she could see his soulful brown eyes and a lock of his thick black hair fell into his face. “You saved my life,” he continued still regaining his breath, then asked, “What’s your name?”

“I’m Lyra,” she answered.

“Jorin,” he replied.

 

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Zephyr by Nicole DragonBeck

For Gabby – miss you!

Take me to the ocean; let me lie there awhile.

The voice echoed through the ether, gentle and soothing, but to Kalima, it rang through her head, torturing her like nails on a chalkboard. The disembodied voice had started following her about a week ago and steadily worsened over the following days.

She rubbed at her temple, gritting her teeth.

Under the bridge, the troll awaits. Go to him not, for your heart he will eat.

Kalima groaned. Nothing it said made any sense, and any time she tried to think about it only made her head hurt worse. Perhaps it was time to see the Healer. It took several more nonsensical chants throughout that day to convince her, and it was by the light of the night-torches that she made her way to the Healer’s premises, her head bowed to avoid being recognized.

She knocked at the simple wooden door and waited impatiently, looking around for any witnesses. When the door swung open, she stepped inside and almost bowled the young Healer over in her haste.

“Kalima!” he exclaimed as he regained his balance and closed the door behind her. “It’s a…it’s a pleasure, as always.”

Kalima rolled her eyes, though her back was to him, so he couldn’t see. She was recalcitrant and uncooperative and rarely followed through with his prescribed remedies.

“What troubles you at this hour?” he said. “Are you having trouble sleeping?”

“Yes, and no,” Kalima said, rubbing her temples. The water takes you where you’ll go, the golden eye where the west-wind blows.

“Ah. A headache, then.”

“Yes, and no.”

His silence prompted her to look up at him. He was looking at her with an extremely patient expression which made her feel like she was being scolded for taking up too much of his time.

“I have a headache, and I’ve been having trouble sleeping for the past few nights, but that isn’t what I’ve come to see you about.”

“Right,” he said. “I’ll make some tea, and we can sit and you can tell me what is really ailing you.”

Kalima sat on the low cushioned bench in front of the hearth. The fireplace was empty at this time of year, and in a few short weeks, the palm fronds in the corner would be needed to stir the oppressive heat to something bearable.

“Thank you, Healer,” Kalima said, taking the cup of tea he handed her.

“Please, call me Doland,” he said.

Kalima frowned. “The Healer always preferred to be spoken to with the deference befitting his station.”

“Yes, but you may notice that I am not he. His hair was quite a bit whiter, I recall, and liver spots claimed most of his skin, while mine is still unmarked by age,” the young man said, his voice even.

“Of course,” Kalima said, shifting uncomfortably at the slight rebuke, and scalded her tongue on the gulp of tea she took to hide her discomfort. “I’m sorry. You must feel his loss quite sharply.”

“I manage,” Doland said, the corners of his eyes crinkling as he smiled at her. “Now, tell me of the purpose for your visit.”

“It’s very strange,” Kalima began, stalling for time. “I’m afraid you’ll think I’m going mad.”

“Why don’t you tell me what it is, and I can judge whether or not your sanity is in question?” he suggested.

Kalima took a deep breath. “I’m hearing voices. Well, actually, just one voice.”

“I see. What does it say?”

“Everything. And nothing at all. It makes up childish rhymes. Or chilling statements that have nothing to do with anything going on around me. Sometimes it gives me riddles with no answer,” Kalima told him, the floodgates now open. “Mostly it gives me orders that I have no idea how to follow, such as the water takes you where you’ll go, the golden eye where the west-wind blows or under the bridge, the troll awaits. Go to him not, for your heart he will eat.” She shuddered. “There haven’t been trolls here for a hundred years.”

“Yes, but perhaps it doesn’t know that,” Doland said. “What does it sound like? A woman? A man?”

“A woman,” Kalima said without hesitation. “A young woman, almost a girl.”

“And do you always understand the words?”

Kalmia nodded. “It is always in a language I understand, yes.”

Doland stared into his cup with a pensive expression, then glanced up at her. “One moment.”

He left the room, and was gone for some moments, which Kalima spent in agony thinking of the horrible diagnosis he would come up with, and the worse remedy. I’m probably going to die, she thought, and blinked back tears that sprung up at the notion. I’m too young to die.

She was brought from her morbid imaginings of flesh rotting off as her mind slowly and painfully disintegration by the Healer reentering the room. He had a large, forbidding tome in his hands, with blood-red pages, and a moth-eaten ribbon to mark the place.

“From what you’ve described, and what I can decipher from this book, what you have is called the Zephyr,” Doland said, frowning.

Kalima didn’t like his words or his expression. “What is that?”

“It’s like a third eye or a sixth sense,” Doland explained, his frown deepening. “But you shouldn’t have it.”

“And why not?” Kalmia asked.

“It disappeared with the witches. Around the same time as the trolls,” he added.

“So you’re saying I’m a witch?” Kalima blinked. “I’m not going to die?”

“Well, you might, if you were tied to a stake and set alight, but short of that, I think it’s safe to say you’ll live to see the morning at least,” Doland said.

“This is not a joking matter,” Kalima said, with great effort to keep her voice below a shriek.

“I wasn’t joking,” Doland told her and closed the book with a snap. “You’ll have to go to the Maribondi.”

“The what?” Kalima said.

“The Wise Women of the Sea,” he said. “They may be able to help you.”

“You can’t give me anything? Or recommend something?” Kalima asked, flutterings of panic in her chest. Leaving was almost as bad as dying in her estimation.

“I just recommended something: going to see the Maribondi,” he said.

“I meant like a tea or a bedtime prayer,” she said.

“I can give you something to help calm your nerves,” Doland said. “But I doubt it will do anything for the voice in your head.”

The sachet he handed her at the door was fragrant with orange and chamomile, but it did little to soothe her nerves. Kalima left the Healer’s with the Zephyr reverberating in her head. Down the river, swift and true, beware the one with three faces, and the words of two.

 

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