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Pom Poms by Erika Lance

For Mandi, for being inspiring since the day we met.

“That is seriously the 6th time that truck as slowly rolled past. Should we ask if they need help?”

Claire looked over at Marci who had been one looking out the window and scowled. Marci couldn’t see the scowl which was most likely a good thing. Claire often thought that she, and she alone would survive a horror movie type situation.

Claire had joined the cheer squad when she first arrived at Jeffery M. Whitmore High School because they had no other activities that related to dance or gymnastics. Claire also understood stature and how to navigate the high school experience so that she came out on top.

Unfortunately, this meant she was usually surrounded by a bunch of girls who talked about lipstick and shopping and so many other things Clair had zero interest in. She chalked it up to being the negative parts of popularity.

“Seriously, should we go out there? They are parked down the block. They may need help.” Marci was persistent. Chrissie, who happened to be the captain of the team looked out the window along with Heather and Tanya. They had all decided to have a “little” slumber party this weekend to discuss Nationals.

Claire knew it would look good on college transcripts, so she was on board for helping make sure this wasn’t embarrassing.

“I don’t know if it is safe. Claire, what do you think?” Tanya asked.

Tanya asked about everything. She couldn’t make a decision herself about anything. Claire smiled; it was the fake smile that said “I care what you are saying” but really didn’t. “I don’t think you should go out there. This town is full of weirdos.” She was sure the others wouldn’t listen to her, so she felt safe in saying what she did.

Almost on cue Chrissie looked over, “I think we should. After all, they may be some slightly lost college guys or something.” She managed to sound condescending when she even said that. “Tanya, let’s go help out the stranded stranger,” and she headed for the door.

It was in this moment Claire decided that the fate of these three meant nothing to her. She could be worried. She could warn them. Hell, she could even manipulate them into staying inside. However, in this moment she realized that the cheer team would go on, even if all three of these girls were no longer breathing.

So she smiled again, “I understand. You should help them out.”

Chrissie and Tanya checked themselves in the mirror and headed out. Claire looked at her watch: 10:35pm. She then picked back up the book she was reading and waited. Marci was switching between pacing and looking out the window. She suddenly burst out, “They are gone!”

Claire looked up from her book. “What?” she asked, sure of what the answer would be.

“They are gone.” Marci was staring to freak out. “Is the van still there?” Claire asked. She thought she should make her tone more concerned to make Marci feel better and then she shrugged. She didn’t actually care.

“Maybe you should check on them?” Claire finally said. Maybe she sounded like she cared. She didn’t.

“Will you come with me?” Marci asked.

“No,” Claire said. Maybe that was a little rough. “Umm… someone should be here if they come back.” She hoped that made her sound more caring or possibly a little scared.

“Oh,” Marci started, “That makes sense,” and she headed for the door. Claire shrugged and went back to reading.

Some time had passed before she checked her watch again; it had been an hour. She moved over and looked out the window. The van was gone. Claire pursed her lips. She knew Chrissie’s parents would at least be home by morning and wondering where their daughter was. She shook her head and pulled out her cell phone.

“911. What is your emergency?” the  concerned sounding voice answered.

“My… My… My … THEY ARE GONE!!!” The drama classes were paying off, Claire thought as she “sobbed” into the phone. The operator began to ask her questions and as she answered she wondered if being cheer captain was more work than she wanted to expend.

 

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Be Careful What You Ask For … by Désirée Matlock

For Mark Reale

 “And then the alien’s claws reached around the door.”

The fire crackled as Joe’s voice hitched excitedly. Leanne chuckled; we were all enjoying the game.

I should never have joined in. It all started last week when Jimmy won an RV and a camping trip in a drawing.  He’d invited us all along. I’d agreed, but that had been before the week I’d just had. The worst week of my life. We had agreed we were going to follow all the camping tropes, hit all the high notes of camping. As city people, we’d all gotten excited at the idea of the great outdoors and some drunken carousing. Of course, now… I definitely was no longer in the mood.

A few minutes ago, the six of us had been gathered around the campfire gossiping when Penny had started it by saying, “It was a dark and stormy night, and the wind was creaking through the trees in the moonlight.” My gut had dropped, worried she was going to tell a ghost story. No. Let it be witches or monsters… I prayed silently to myself.

Then Joseph had added the next line, “The dark of night was suddenly broken as a spacecraft crash landed deep in the woods. The only thing nearby was a cabin with six friends who were camping.”

I had relaxed; aliens were a safe subject.  Joe raised his eyebrows at each of us and pointed in a circle to really drive home his point that he was talking about us. It was ridiculous enough that I’d even grinned. I really should have walked away, but I was interested in hearing the story, and it seemed safe enough.

Marla sitting just to Joseph’s right had bounced up and down in excitement as she realized it was her turn, “Um, okay! Hmmm… They had no idea the danger they were now in, but they heard the noise and went to investigate.”

Marla then gestures to pass the torch to me, and I’d added, “The UFO appeared to have been cracked in half from the impact, but the driver’s seat appeared empty as the six friends approached.” This was getting fun, and we were still on the subject of aliens, so I was letting my guard down. Foolish.

After the week I’d had, I should have had no interest in hearing any scary stories. After all, I’d been living one. But, we had agreed that we were going to follow all the typical camping tropes, and really get the most out of our free camping trip. And of course, the campfire tales were one of said tropes.

In retrospect, I should have warned my friends. Or stayed away, or told them what the gypsy had told me.

It was finally Leanne’s turn, and she added, “They all wandered back to the cabin, disappointed that they had not found any alien visitor… And…. now they were planning to call the authorities about the UFO. However, when they returned, they found that a tree had knocked out the phone and electric. It was as dark as night inside the cabin, and their flashlights did little to brighten the gloom.”

“Nice one, Leanne,” Jimmy complimented her. The two of those were probably finally going to sleep together if left to their own on this trip. If I knew Marla, she’d be watching to divert one or the other of them. We had all agreed years ago it was a stupid idea to let them sleep together, and she’d been their unwitting chaperone ever since. So far so good, we figured.

Leanne batted her eyes at him, and then downed her third beer in one long gulp. Uh oh.

Penny watched in amazement, and then realized it was back to her now. “That’s when…” and gestured to Joseph.

“Aw that doesn’t count!” Marla stood for a second. “Needs to be longer than that!”

“Too bad!” Penny laughed and leaned back. No arguing with her. It was Joseph’s turn.

“Okay, let me see.” I got worried that Joe was going to change the topic.

“And then the alien’s claws reached around the door.”

I watched Marla as the story circle reached her. Suddenly I realized, as I watched an ethereal spooky look cross her face, that she was about to change the subject matter entirely.

“No!” I whispered, terrified my friends would learn my new secret.

But Marla’s words were coming out anyway… “And that’s when the ghost appeared.”

And it did. Oh boy did it.

I crumpled to the ground, passing out against my will. I watched, horrified and disembodied, floating above the events as my own form rose from the ground, white and semi-transparent, completely transformed into the appearance and presence of Lady Arabella Forester, the angry woman who had been living within me for the last six days. I hadn’t meant to become her host, but damned if I could completely get rid of her.

—–

As she tromped around the fire, scattering embers and screeching nonsense at my friends, I desperately tried to figure out what to do! What could I do, as a disembodied self, I wasn’t that skilled at helping. I tried getting back into my head, but Arabella is quite fiesty. She really doesn’t like to share; my body being male doesn’t seem to stop her.

It took all five of my friends to get me back into the RV and lock Arabella away. She banged around the RV quite a bit, bruising and slamming my body around, quite distressing to say the least. My friends were trying to work out what to do, and what had even happened.

“What the heck is wrong with Paul?” Marla said.

“Hell if I know,” Jimmy added. “Maybe he’s possessed?”

Joe added, “He’s lost his fucking mind is what’s wrong with him. Your story freaked him out.”

“My story?” Penny said, in disbelief. “We all did that. It’s just a ghost story, for god’s sake!”

I floated disembodied above them trying to tell them to speak the spell. I should have spoken earlier. I should have told them the gypsy’s spell. Dammit! Too late now.

I finally pushed my way into Leanne’s body. She twitched hard. Leanne fought me tooth and nail, trying to force her way back up to the surface, but I managed to get all the words out. “Fleeby Taboora Pamnacht!” I said, even though it sounded ridiculous, because I knew it would work. It sounded strange in Leanne’s drunk voice. But hey. The only way to do it.

Joe started freaking out that now it was happening to Leanne, but the banging in the RV stopped, and I turned to the others, in Leanne’s tiny little body. I whispered that it was safe to open the doors, but no one was allowed to mention ghosts again around me. They all nodded, stunned into silence.

Leanne’s body passed out and I went black. A few hours later, when I woke up, I was in my own body.

Jimmy and Marla smiled at me, while Joe handed me a piece of chocolate. “S’more?”

Everyone looked shaken up, but thankfully no one mentioned anything.  I sat up and asked for graham crackers, the fire warm and comforting to watch. I really was glad we were all getting together.

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Unraveling by Nicole DragonBeck

For my mom, love, DragonBeck

 I opened the door and couldn’t believe my eyes. 

Standing on the doorstep was Glenson. He was a medium built man, half an inch taller than I, with dark hair and blue eyes. The only problem was that Glenson had died two days ago. I’d seen it with my own eyes, the blood, the death rattle, and the burning of the body. And yet…

“What are you doing here?” I asked, too stunned to stop him as he brushed passed into my house and marched through to the study.

“Not much time, not much time,” he muttered, beginning to rifle though my effects, pulling things out of drawers and off bookshelves, glancing at them briefly and tossing them aside.

Some of the things were quite valuable, and others quite old and delicate, but his jitters were getting on my nerves, and I had little attention for that. And all this about not much time…that didn’t bode well. That didn’t bode well at all.

“Glenson, tell me what’s going on,” I demanded. “You…you died!”

That made him pause. “Oh, did I?” he wondered in an absent voice. “Yes, I suppose I did.”

“So what are you doing here?” It was taking all my will-power not to scream. “This is not part of the plan! What is happening in the Underealm? Where are the others? What about the Homestones?”

For the first time, Glenson turned to look at me. His eyes were different, the eyes of a man who had seen things he would never forget, things that got stuck inside the head and changed the way one thought about things. I didn’t want to know what those things were, but with him standing in front of me, I didn’t really have a choice.

“What about the Homestones, Glenson?” I demanded.

“They weren’t there,” his voice was heavy. “Someone moved them.”

“They were stolen!” I said, my heart leaping to my throat.

“No,” Glenson was shaking his head. “Much worse. They were moved.”

I tried to wrap my mind around what he was saying. “What does that mean?”

“It means the whole world is in danger,” Glenson said. “If the Homestones have been moved to other locations…”

“Then the fabric of the universe is no longer held in place,” I whispered, the full scope of our problem becoming clear to me. “Are there…” I could barely bring myself to say it, “…unravelings?”

Glenson rolled his eyes and gestured to himself. I felt like slapping myself. Of course. People coming back from the dead would be one of the first, and indeed, milder things that would be expected to happen.

“Alright, so what do we do?” I asked. “What are you looking for?”

“I don’t rightly know,” Glenson said, turning back to my study and continuing his dismembering of it. “I think…yes, I think we might have brought it back from one of our trips.”

Now I rolled my eyes at him. We had been on a thousand excursions and brought back many artifacts, some of which were in my study. Others were in the vaults at the University, and in others’ homes, and some of the most powerful pieces were held in secret places known only to a few.

“Aha!” Glenson exclaimed, holding something aloft.

It was a small carved piece, from some ancient society that was no longer with us, a man with two faces and no features, and four arms with no hands. I speculated it was from some board game, but Glenson was looking at it as though it were much more.

“What is that?” I asked, reaching out for it.

He snatched it back, cradling it in his hands, shaking his head. The strange light in his eyes flared up again, making me cold inside. I knew then that it might look like Glenson, but it was no longer completely my friend. I withdrew my hand and waited for him to explain.

“I cannot tell you accurately what it is like to travel the deep, dark rivers between here and the Underealm. The Ferrymen are silent, and their eyes…” he shuddered. “I was on my way to the Underealm when the Ferryman disappeared. The creature that replaced him was unthinkable, unimaginable, not seen above ground. It told me that the Homestones were gone, and that if I did not put them back, then everything goes poof.” His hands came together illustrating the world collapsing in on itself.

“How did you get out?” I wondered.

“I dove into the water,” he said, as if that were something similar to going out for tea. “And swam upstream.”

He smiled a haunted smile in response to the expression on my face. He was always so dedicated, so headstrong, so certain of what he was doing. I was suddenly struck by the thought that there was a reason Glenson had been the one to die that day, some strange cosmic logic too big for mortal minds to fully understand. I shook off the feeling.

“So what do we do with that?” I nodded at the figurine.

“I don’t know,” Glenson said, turning it over and over in his hands. “I think we have to find them all, and put them together, and then something will happen.”

There was that cosmic logic, I thought, but what else did we have to go on?

“I’ll get the others,” I said, making to grab my coat and my bag.

Glenson shook his head. “No. There can only be two. You, from the Upperland, and me, from Underealm. Perfect balance.” He smiled sadly. “We are the last Homestone, holding the world together and apart.”

The responsibility hung heavily in my chest, and I didn’t like it one bit. It made me feel very alone and inexplicably doomed because of Fate’s terrible sense of irony. I imagined the ground tipping under me, sending everything into chaos and darkness.

“Let’s get this over with,” I told Glenson. “I’d like the world to go on for a little while longer.”

 

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Beacon by Alanna J. Rubin

For Kendra: Fall never ceases to be an inspiration.

As I walked down the street, I felt it for the first time this year, the air changing from the warm southern summer nights to a cool breeze… ah the magic of fall is here.

The beautiful night begged me to linger even though I was already late in meeting my friends for our scheduled guy’s night, but I didn’t care. They could wait, but the night, however, was fleeting. Overhead, a cloud moved revealing the large bright full moon whose light shone down upon me. The energy it bestowed was invigorating. It felt as if I were being charged up and I walked with an extra zing in my step. It wasn’t until a few minutes later that my left arm started to tingle. I ignored it at first, thinking nothing of it, but the sensation grew to the point where I stopped dead in my tracks and pulled up the sleeve of my brown leather jacket. My pale skin shimmered under the light of the moon. It was beautiful, mesmerizing, and frightening as I watched the shimmer spread up my arm. I quickly changed direction as home was no longer an option. Instead, I made my way to the mayor’s, who also happened to be the leader of our coven and my sister. She would know what to do.

Breathless from running, I waited impatiently on the white porch for her to open the door. When she did, it was clear that Gillian, with her short red hair and excited green eyes, wasn’t surprised to see me. “Xavier,” she said warmly, “come in.”  She led me through the halls of her spacious home. The walls were a calming shade of blue accented by white wooden trim and oak wood floors. As I followed her deeper into her house, the tingling sensation of my arm began to lessen. Clearly, her home was far from the ordinary appearance it projected. After a few minutes of walking through the various rooms and down the stairs to the basement, I found myself in the middle of our entire coven, which also happened to be about a quarter of the small town of Fairwood. The familiar faces all smiled when they saw me arrive. Gillian must have seen the confused look on my face, because she gestured to them and said, “We’ve been expecting you. It’s time.” If that was my sister’s attempt at an explanation, then I was more confused than ever.

They didn’t waste another moment and began casting, the ceiling soon disappeared revealing the night sky. My skin once more began to tingle. Gillian helped me off with my jacket, leaving me feeling vulnerable in my short sleeved white shirt and led me toward the center of the circle the coven had formed. My brain told me to resist, but my body was drawn forward. I stood alone as my sister joined the others facing outward holding hands. The light of the moon seemed intensified with the chanting and it shined directly down on me. My skin responded and the shimmering grew to encompass my entire body. The energy burst forth from my finger tips and shot up into the sky like a beacon. Then it was over as suddenly as it began. The chanting ceased and the ceiling reappeared, where the night sky was a moment before. Fatigue set into my bones and I fell to my knees. Gillian came to my aid and gently brushed a lock of brown hair that had fallen into my face back behind my ear, like our mother use to. “You did very well, Xavier,” she complemented as she led me to the couch to sit down. The rest of the coven dispersed, excited chatter filling the house. They all nodded at me in appreciation as they walked by, but left me alone to recover.

“I don’t understand,” I replied. “I’ve never heard about this or read about it in our coven’s history. What was that?”

Gillian smiled, “It’s the prophecy.”

“A prophecy about what?” I asked still confused.

“All you need to know is that they’re coming.” Gillian smiled broadly and patted my arm. “I’ll get you some warm apple cider.” She got up as if that answered everything, but when I looked down at my arm, it was still shimmering and I could feel remnants of the energy coursing through my blood. Each pulse felt like a warning, a prompt to move into action. With an inexplicable certainty, I knew that I needed to learn about this prophecy and stop it from coming to pass if it wasn’t already too late.

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A Short Ride by Brandon Scott

For Dylan Alexander, whose fire rises ever higher.

“Hold on, don’t buckle it that way.”

“Why?” he said.

“Because it’s itchy. Do it the other way.”

“It won’t stay then. It won’t hold you in. You want to go all splat?”

Charlie Buck frowned and fidgeted again in his seat, tugging on the edge of the crisscrossing body strap. His brother, Samar Buck, tried again to push the metal buckle into the connecting piece, only to have it slide out again at the last second.

“Stop. Moving,” Samar said and grabbed Charlie’s pale, thin arms, his fingers wrapping the entire length of the wrists. “We need to go soon, and you are not helping.”

“I want mommy with us,” Charlie answered. “You don’t even know how to fly.”

“A time for everything, Small Fry,” Samar said.

“No, not a time for this. Not without mommy.”

Samar sighed. “Fine. Okay. I see your point.”

He walked a step back and looked over the entire structure, the vehicle. The pointed tips and the stubby wings. His brother sat as the lone occupant in the back end of the ship, facing away from the front. A large glass shield hinged open allowing entrance.

“I see how you could doubt me. It is spooky.”

“Yeah uh,” Charlie said. “It is spooky. And dangerous. Spooky danger.”

Samar held up his hands in a placating gesture. “But what if mommy can’t come and fly for us?”

“And why not?” Charlie whined. “Why do you want to go without her? You don’t like mommy now?”

Samar turned around and stared at the rest of the city, the towering skyscrapers touching the cloud layer. Samar’s eyes were not good enough to see all of them, but the dots swarming that same skyline filled his heart with ice.

“I love mommy,” Samar said, his voice cracking. He breathed hard for a second. “Enough to do what she needs done.”

“You sound like one of those stupid future brains on the television.”

Not so stupid actually, thought Samar, but didn’t say it. All he did was force a smile he hoped his brother would find calming.

And like all smiles of that nature, it only kind of worked. Charlie’s eyes narrowed.

“No, not like them,” Samar said. “I just know she wants us to do something.”

“Did she tell you?”

Samar resisted the urge to look back at the city, even as a nearly imperceptible vibration shook his feet. His stomach tightened.

“Yes, she did. So did dad.”

“Dad? When did you talk to dad?”

“A long time ago.”

Charlie folded his arms. “You didn’t talk to mommy. She didn’t say nothing. You just want to fly the ship.”

“I swear…” Samar said, running his hands through his hair. “Sometimes… here, fine, let me let you out.”

“Thank you,” Charlie said, loosening his arms. He leaned back in his chair and turned up his nose, waiting. I wonder what character in the vids he got that mannerism from, Samar thought to himself. I wonder how much of everyone we will hold onto in the same way.

Standing up on his tiptoes, Samar offered out an arm for Charlie to take. Charlie squirmed, undoing the buckle fully and rising out of his seat. “So, where do we go now? Is mommy at home?”

“In a way, yes,” Samar said, and in one motion he shoved down his brother with a hand, while the other wrapped the buckle into place. Charlie tried to move out of the way with a cry of alarm, but a thumping hit shot him back into the seat.

Heart hammering from both what he knew he had to do and the sudden and violent combination of motions, Samar leaped into the cockpit and sealed the air insulating glass shield.

Charlie found none of this agreeable. He howled, forgoing words for the moment, and thrashed in his seat.

“Shut up will you…sore loser,” Samar said and tried to recall an exact sequence of button presses and lever throws. The ship hovered up a few hundred feet on one side before leveling out with a frantic dial turn.

“Well, that worked.”

“You’re leaving mommy behind,” cried out Charlie, pushing against his restraints. He peered down at the shipyard and the nearby buildings.

“I’m leaving way more than that,” Samar said, and with bristling tear ducts, he shot the ship even farther into the sky.

Below, almost like a special effect, the tiny buildings puffed into fire and smoke. One of the specks, not so speck-like now–more like a grasshopper the size of an elephant–scurried in the wreckage, antennas flicking, searching.

Samar took a moment to buckle himself and let out a steadying breath.

“Bug, bug, bug!” said Charlie, each time his words growing more high-pitched, and the monitor on the dash showed an enlarging blip. Samar yanked hard on the controls, and the ship spun.

The harnesses kept them in their seats, even as their stomachs sloshed with displeasure. A huge brown blur moved past them, and the sound, similar to a wood chipper taking an entire log, vibrated their teeth.

“Charlie,” Samar said, trying to keep his voice level, “You know that video game with the shooting?”

“Which one?” came the panicked reply.

“The one with the gray aliens?”

“Yes!”

“Good,” Samar said and slammed a button. Behind him, and in front of Charlie’s view, came a red targeting symbol, and a joystick popped out for use.

Samar did not bother to explain any more of what he needed and sent the ship going straight up toward the clouds. He heard the eventual sound of plasma bolts streaming out of their canons.

He hoped his little brother was hitting something. But all he focused on was getting the ship to climb higher.

“Whoa oh whoa,” his brother said, and the wood chipper sound stopped. The monitor showed eighteen farther away blips though, and Samar punched it harder to go up past the atmosphere.

A red heat hung around the ship’s hull as friction increased. The air was thinning though, and the spontaneous fires died out almost as quick as they appeared.

I hope they can’t come up into space without a ship, Samar thought.

When the monitor showed the blips receding, Samar placed his hand over his heart and tilted his head forward, his body feeling heavy.

“What about mommy?” Charlie said.

“This still?” Samar said, and then he heard the sniffling. Samar’s mouth became a hard, thin line until he finally spoke. “Mommy told me to go somewhere, Small Fry. She told me to take you. Because she could not come with.”

“Why can’t she come?”

“The ship only holds two.”

“What about another ship?”

“Yeah,” Samar said. “That was a lie. You are too clever, huh?”

“Where is mommy!? Why are you lying?”

“Look…” Samar said, trailing off. He kept his back to his brother, the openness of space instead being his view. A few stars and planets rotating out in the distance. “Look, she told me to take you to this other planet. Told me because of the icky, nasty bugs, for us to go while the adults clean it all up.”

By any means, he added in his head. If there are even means left.

“Will she meet us once we’re done?”

“Yeah. Of course she will.” Samar let out a humorless chuckle that made him hurt inside. “She will meet us eventually. Heaven willing.”

“Okay…okay. You’re not lying this time?”

“No,” Samar said. “No, of course I’m not lying. We will see her again.”

“Pinkie promise?”

Samar tensed his shoulders. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the extended digit, ready for his to interlock with it.

He turned his shoulder, and behind the seat cushion, out of Charlie’s view, his forearm shook. But he stiffened it and held out an extended finger. Charlie’s pinkie wrapped around his, and they shook their hands.

“Okay,” Charlie said. “Okay,” he repeated.

“Okay,” Samar agreed.

“So… where is this planet?” Charlie said, leaning forward out toward the glass. He tapped on it and pointed out one of the larger celestial masses. Its twin hurricanes were even visible from where they sat. “Is it that one?”

Samar looked back around to his dashboard and called up a virtual keyboard. He tapped on the air, and after a few tries found the correct spelling of the planet his mother mentioned. An estimated travel time displayed next to a diagram of the planet, and Samar read it twice to confirm he was not seeing things.

He placed a hand over his mouth and slid it down past his chin.

“Three days without water?” he whispered to himself. “Two weeks without food?”

“What was that?”

“Nothing,” Samar said. “Nothing at all. It’s a short trip. A short trip to a new place.”

“And then we’ll see mommy?”

“Yeah, I think we just might.”

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Eye Contact by Erika Lance

To Kenny “The Jedi” Mull, this is long overdue!

After finishing off the last of the Jack, he looked down the long road…sighed… and thought “here we go.”

Staying in one place was no longer an option. The body count he was leaving eliminated the idea of social interaction.

Whatever it was that was following him didn’t care; it didn’t seem to have any feelings. It just did.

He sighed again, dropping the bottle and pulling his jacket tighter around himself. It was cold out, but traveling at night was safer. There was less chance of being seen and less chance of making contact.

There was an answer, he knew there had to be, but he needed time, something he seemed to be losing each day.

As he continued to walk, he went over the last three days in his head; he thought he had been safe.  He kept seeing the faces even though he didn’t know their names. He rubbed his hands in some sort of motion to remove the blood that was no longer there but felt stained into him.

They had been so young. He shook his head; he couldn’t think to much about it. He couldn’t change it now. He had to find a way to stop it. That was the only answer.

He saw the lights coming behind him. The road was dark and most cars didn’t even see him. Most people don’t register those who try to blend, try to become part of the landscape. He was one of those people now.

He kept walking until the lights changed from white to red and blue. He closed his eyes and stopped walking. He took a deep breath when he heard a car door open and the officer say, “Hey buddy… What are you up to out here?”

He knew he hadn’t done anything to draw attention to himself. It was possible, however, that he was being looked for. There would be a description. He would match it. “Nothing. Just heading home,” he replied without turning around.

He could hear the officer approaching. If this happened quickly enough, then nothing would go wrong.

“So, where do you live?” the officer asked.

“Close,” he replied. He knew the officer was less than five feet from him now. He could hear the officer’s breathing and heartbeat. That was bad. It was close.

“Sir, could you please turn around?” the officer asked.

He wanted to say no. He wanted to run away. This would just get him tazed or shot at best.

He slowly turned, keeping his eyes averted.

“Sir… Sir… Could you look at me?” the officer asked. He wanted to scream NO!

Then he knew it was over. It was over for this officer who was doing his job, who had friends… Family… a life and it was about to end.

He looked up slowly and saw the wings unfurl behind the officer.

 

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Mystery Man by Nicole DragonBeck

Searching the corners of her mind, she could not shake the feeling that she knew this mysterious stranger.

Or perhaps Clara’s mind was playing tricks on her, trying to come up with a way to entertain her so she made it through this agony of boredom with some of her sanity intact.

Her father, Lord of Westin, was an important figure in the court, and as such, his family was obligated to attend such functions as this ball. With lavish decoration and scrumptious food, it could have been Clara Westin was simply a jaded, over-privileged young woman who had never known anything but her ostentatious life.

But if one could look past the disdainful eyes into the thoughts behind them, one might see a keen sense of balance of right and wrong, and an astute shrewdness that belied the smooth skin and rosy cheeks of youth.

Clara tried to figure out what it was about the man without staring outright at him. It took some study, but she finally decided it was something in the pleasing yet serious lines of his face, and the way his eyes watched the whole room, somehow seeing more than what was simply there. I do know this man, perhaps from somewhere long ago, but I know him.

It was disconcerting, knowing and not knowing at once. It bothered her, which irritated her. She was the daughter of a Lord, and she was above standing here being tormented by it.

As Clara made her way across the crowded foyer of the wealthy patronage of some artist who had their latest masterpiece on show, the man turned and disappeared. Clara walked through the rooms of the ostentatious home, trying to find him, but he was well and truly gone.

He may have been gone, but his face would not leave her mind. It turned up in her dreams. She thought she saw him in other men, but when she looked again, it had changed to less appealing countenances. She doodled his face on pieces of parchment and in the fog on the mirror after a hot bath.

And then he reappeared in the most unexpected way. Clara was browsing through the library and found a tome so old the pages were made of brown cotton instead of parchment, and the binding was frayed. Intrigued by the ancient runes of the title, which she could not quite make out, but thought they looked familiar, Clara pulled it out and went to sit by the window. The pages were heavy and resisted her wish that they turn. In thick ink made in the days when days things were made to last for ages, family names, details, and portraits filled the pages.

Clara was lost in the history of the realms of Westin and Hortford and Bellmast and Slatemore on the Sea, her eyes moving over the events written in the dry wordage of bookish historians and the precisely depicted faces in the pictures, until she had gone back through a ten of thousands of years and reached the Time of Flame and Frost, the earliest of the known histories, and then he was there.

She blinked and forgot how to breathe. Peering closer, she looked twice and then again, to ascertain she was seeing what she thought she was seeing. The same intense eyes, the same chiseled face, looked back at her from the ancient page. It was him.

Clara read the facts of this picture, still holding her breath, and somehow not noticing that the ancient semantics and inflection that made the language almost unrecognizable in the present did not hinder her in the least. His family name was Ir’Morgon. They owned estates up in the flatlands beneath the Hedran Mountains before they were carved up into the lands of Hortford and Bellmast. After assimilating all the dry information which told Clara precisely nothing, she turned her eyes back to what must be a family portrait.

An older man with a beard and the same eyes as the mystery man and a woman with grey curls and crows feet at her eyes sat in the middle. Two younger women with features like the older woman stood to the left, and each had a man beside them, hands clasped between them, obviously husbands.

On the right was the mystery man. Clara spent many long moments memorizing every line before she noticed there was one more in the picture.

Standing slightly behind the man, with her chin on his shoulder and her arms around him was a woman with wide eyes and dimple in her chin from her mysterious smile.

Clara stared at the woman who had her face and let out the breath she was holding.

 

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