Tag Archives: fiction

The Hopeless Student by Dalia Lance

For Jessica Kuyper Stadler – I hope you like it.

So as they parted, their hands slipped apart and…

“Is this seriously your ending?” Allie’s tone did not seem impressed.

“It is a forbidden love story,” I began to explain, but her face was still questioning. “You know, star-crossed lovers, never really able to stay with each other because fate has torn them apart.”

She put the papers down and picked up her latte, taking a long sip. “You know this was an assignment on how females are represented in modern literature versus one hundred years ago.”

I took a deep breath. “Of course I know that.” I didn’t, really. I never paid much attention to the syllabus that the teachers handed out.

The only reason I was in college was because my parents said that I “needed an education” if I was going to succeed at all in life. I disagreed.  My goal in life was to meet a wealthy doctor, or something, and write romance novels while sitting poolside with a butler.

Allie narrowed her eyes. “Then why did you write over ten thousand words of a cheesy romance story?”

“You think it is romantic?” I asked. Her exasperated sigh told me that was not the right thing to say.

She closed her laptop and slid it into her messenger bag, slung it over her shoulder, grabbed her coffee, said, “I need to find a different roommate,” and walked away.

I watched her go for a second and then gathered up the pages.

I was so excited! She thought it was romantic.



I hit the send button on the assignment.

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Inky Spells by Lisa Barry

For my dear friend, Court – May we ever be pleasantly surprised. Heart you.

“There were too many pens to choose from…”

“So, you didn’t get any? How am I supposed to write down the spell without a pen?” Dan asked.

Lorna’s shoulders shrunk lower. “A pencil?” she smiled hopefully, being about the size of his hand, it was a little hard to tell.

“Do you have a pencil?”

Pressing her lips together, Lorna shook her head. Her purple hair floated around her head like candy corn. Dan wanted to be angry, but he only had to look once at Lorna’s small, stooped figure as she stood on his worktable, a miserable expression on her face and it was basically impossible to exert any anger. Instead he went to his desk for the third time and rummaged for some utensil, any utensil to write with. As he came up empty handed as expected, he glanced at the clock.

There were only 45 minutes left. He stared out the window as his mind contorted thought in such a way that a solution was not evident.

He glanced Lorna once before and thought of a leaf.

“Of course!” he exclaimed. Lorna’s head whipped up. “I can’t believe I didn’t think of this an hour ago!” Dan grabbed something from the counter and rushed out to the back yard. He ran straight toward the black raspberry bush in the far corner.

A slam to his face and knees brought Dan hard to the ground. The containment spell had gotten smaller. Lorna twitted around his face, calling out frantically, her wings buzzing noisily. Dan waved a hand feebly. It held a small plastic bag.

“I’m ok. Fill this with the raspberries.” Lorna grabbed the bag and zipped away. Dan waited for the ache in his knees to subside before pulling himself up again. His nose throbbed, and he wondered if it was broken.

A blur near the raspberry bush, Lorna filled the bag quickly. She dragged it along the ground, it being too heavy for her to lift, and once she was through the invisible line that held Dan back, he lifted it and blew her a kiss.

“As promised, once this spell is broken, I will build you the best pixie house you have ever seen!”

A delighted squeak made Dan chuckle. If Lorna hadn’t come around that morning, Dan would have been perished in the ever-shrinking containment spell.

Back at his workshop, he hurried to make the ink need to create a banishment spell to counter his hidden prison. With just moments to spare, he finished the last flourish with the quill pen. The parchment sat, his calligraphy a beautiful deep purple. He looked at Lorna. She sat on the edge of a pot filled with daisies. Her hair had settled over her in thick waves. She must have felt his intention as her eyes glanced up, a sparkling gold. She gave him a meek smile.

A perfume of raspberry took over his senses. The ink on the parchment was smoking. Dan smiled at Lorna. “It’s working,” he whispered as though afraid of scaring the spell to sleep. Lorna buzzed into the air and silently clapped her hands.

When the last of the ink had vanished from the page, Dan felt a strange bout of dizziness. His body ached everywhere but his back seemed to be the most pained. The room twisted along with his stomach. He grabbed the counter and held on until the feeling passed. Then he went outside. He expected the force field to be gone. He expected to be able to continue life as usual, but things never seemed to work out that way.

Dan blinked as he looked around. He’d always been a decent wizard, maybe not the best but certainly not the worst. Today he was definitely on the lower rung. The trees were so high, he couldn’t see where they ended. The flowers were so big he could use them as umbrellas. A glint of white sparkled in his peripheral and he was pretty sure he had wings.

Motion pulled his attention to the right. He was rewarded with the most breathtaking face he’d ever seen. Perfect lavender skin, bright golden eyes and a glorious smile. And she was his size.

Lorna took his hand and Dan forgot about this new world, his new size and especially, Dan forgot about too many pens.

 

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Watcher and Listener by Nicole DragonBeck

For Danny, I hope you enjoy!

Piper let the branch go and the piper fell from it.

The trap sprung perfectly, and the odd little man plummeted to the ground with a scream and landed on his back. Piper was surprised, not that she had known what to expect when she laid her trap for whoever was following her through the forest, but she was certain it wasn’t this. It didn’t matter now, she had found the culprit, and now she had to figure out if he was friend – or at least friendly – or foe.

“What are you doing, spying on me?” she demanded, looking at the scrawny man at her feet with a fierce expression.

He spluttered, spitting leaves from his mouth and wiping dirt out of his eyes.

“I wasn’t spying!” he protested, holding his silver pipes out like a shield. “I was watching, only watching!”

“Watching what?” Piper said, still not sure of the little man’s intentions though she decided he didn’t look particularly threatening.

He wore a ridiculous floppy hat, and the brim fell into his eyes. He flipped it away and trained a bright gaze on Piper.

“Watching the others who’re watching you,” he replied, with a sly smile.

Piper looked around the woods, and for the first time felt a twinge of uncertainty. These trees were her home, and here she was queen. Her strange power kept those in the forest with teeth and powers of their own from bothering her, but the ancient giants held many secrets beneath their boughs and in their roots, so she could never let down her guard.

“Who?” she said.

“Don’t know,” the piper shrugged. “Just felt them staring.”

“You felt them staring?” Piper raised an eyebrow, and flipped her red braid over her shoulder. That was a new one, and her interest perked up. “What are you anyway?”

The piper huffed and stood up. He came to Piper’s knee, and muddy brown marks covered what skin she could see. He had no beard, but a thick mop of curly brown hair highlighted with green and gold stuck out from under the hat. “I’m a brownie.”

“Not much of your kind left,” Piper commented.

The brownie huffed again and muttered something rude under his breath. She chose to ignore it.

“So, why’re you helping me?” Piper said, cocking her head and studying the little man.

He in turn studied his pipes, turning them over and over in his rough hands, which looked large on his small body. “Because maybe you can help me.”

“With what?” Piper was more intrigued despite herself.

“I want to leave.”

“The forest?”

“No, the whole world. Yes, the forest.”

“Why?”

“You ask a lot of questions,” the brownie grumbled.

“I’m sorry. I don’t get to talk to a lot of people,” Piper confessed.

“Okay, I’ll ask a question. How did you know where I was hiding?”

“The music told me,” Piper said.

“I wasn’t playing.”

“You don’t have to,” Piper said. “I hear the music all the time. It tells me things, helps me.”

“And what do hear when I play?”

“More,” Piper shrugged, satisfied with the answer though it was woefully inadequate.

The brownie looked at her askance, then raised the pipes to his lips. He blew a simple tune, sets of three notes repeating over and over, tumbling over and under each other but never bumping into anything.

Piper closed her eyes and smiled. She heard water and earth. She heard the obstinate courage of the boulder that refuses to be moved by the river. But the theme which wound throughout was loneliness, a single star in a black sky, the first bird call to a new dawn, which echoed forever answered.

The notes faded, leaving a moment of respectful stillness in their wake, before the forest came to life with a song of its own again, the rustle of leaves, the chitter of small creatures, and the soft thoughts of the trees and stones all combining to create the familiar melody and constant backdrop to Piper’s life.

“So?” the little piper asked.

“I heard you,” Piper replied.

The simple statement struck the man dumb. His mouth hung open and he stared at her wide-eyed as a single tear rolled down his nose. It broke the spell and he swiped the wetness away, muttering something about a fly in his eye.

A feeling that Piper only remembered feeling in the dimness of the distant past washed over her, and on impulse, she knelt down and wrapped her arms around the man. For a long moment, he stood stiff and unmoving, then his arms came up to return the hug. The silver pipes clutched in his hand were warm against Piper’s back.

“So, what about leaving can I help you with?” she asked him, drawing back and looking at him earnestly.

He looked around, craning his neck to gaze up at the sky speckled with deep green leaves, and heaved a great sigh. Then his mottled face was creased with a shy smile. “Actually, I think I’d like to stick around for a bit longer. Would you care for some company?”

“Yes,” Piper smiled back, glad he had said it first. “Yes, I think I would.”

 

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The Party by Dalia Lance

To Jen, my forever side-kick. The world would be less adventurous without you in it.

“I need tassels, lots of body glitter, and pictures, or I won’t believe it,” she exclaimed.

“Are you drunk?” Sally asked her as she peered over the mound of books and magazines in front of her friend.

“What?” Amber said, flipping to a page that had three tabs stuck to it.

“Drunk. Are you drunk?” Sally repeated, taking a sip of her hot chocolate.

“No… Wait… Why?” Amber was talking faster than normal which made Sally wonder if she had way too much sugar and caffeine, which was entirely possible since they were on their third or fourth “holiday drink” that Starbucks was offering.

“Well,” Sally tried to make eye contact, “you just described what would be an amazing start to a bachelorette party or an orgy.”

Amber’s brow furrowed. “I don’t understand what you mean.”

Sally couldn’t help but think how scary this actually was. “You know we are planning a baby shower, right?”

“What?” Amber looked very confused. This was bad.

“We are planning a BABY shower for Michelle. She is having twins… So…” Sally watched a look of horror cross Amber’s face.

“Are you OK?” Sally asked .

“I… Umm… I…” Amber leaned back, looking around her. “I… what day is it?”

“Thursday,” Sally said.

“Which Thursday?” Amber asked with a little tremor in her voice.

“The ninth,” Sally put down her coffee.

“Of?” Amber’s voice was barely a whisper.

“December,” Sally paused, “of 2017 before you ask. Are you ok?”

Amber sat for a moment, closed her eyes, and took several breaths.

When she opened her eyes again, she smiled. “Do you think we should have purple balloons? They are gender neutral, right?”

Sally rubbed her lips together before responding, “Sure?” She didn’t mean for it to come out as a question; however, since she was afraid to ask ‘WTF just happened?‘ she would settle for ‘Sure?’

 

 

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Physics Bent by Brandon Scott

For Paul, one of the prolific ones.

“What do you call a convergence of singularities?” That was what he asked them.

And they, all of them, did not know how to answer the question. It was an odd way to start the convention, all things considered.

One goddess raised her hand, one hand of about five. She had golden skin and about ten eyes dotting her huge forehead, though the exact number changed often and randomly.

“Yes, SAHIFT, what is it?” he asked, leveling out one of his only two fingers. His name was Rock-Oft, and as deities looked, he was short and unassuming. His three-piece suit was adorned by a neon green bow tie that was almost disgustingly bright.

“Are we debating on the word? Are we trying to make new words?” she asked.

Kellin, goddess of language, frowned at that thought. If they were, she should be the one at the front of the podium on the stage. That was her shtick, after all.

“No, no,” Rock replied, “it was just an opening thought. When was the last time all of us were in the same place, at the same time?”

The God of History—a tired-looking dwarven man with blue skin—roused from his half-sleep and pulled out his book. All heads swiveled to him as he took out a leather tome that had infinite pages between its meager, dented covers. He flipped through until he came upon the correct passage.

“It has been eight million years, in fact,” he said.

“Thank you,” Rock said, sounding a tad exasperated.

The God of History nodded, and then dropped down back into his seat and went back to sleep. Phernmo, the god of sleep, peered over the back of the chair, clicking his jet-black pincers and swirling his eyes in bliss.

“Yes, okay. So, it’s been awhile. And, now, since we are all here, I wanted to go over something a tad pressing.”

Rock moved his arms behind him, and without a person to do the task, a thick black curtain rose and swept itself off to the side of the stage. Dust moved around in little swirls, making the ground appear to have a slight motion to it.

Behind that was a massive, truly huge, blackboard with lines and an arrow on it going straight up toward the sky. The arrow did not stay within the confines of the board and went into the air with nothing holding it.

“So, here’s the problem,” Rock said and clapped his hands together. “The population has gotten out of control here. We tried the obvious trick, scatter them across the multiverse, but damn if they do not reproduce like mad.”

A pink and fuzzy creature, with no obvious eyes or mouth, but able to emit faint bubbles and produce wavelengths that could be understood as speech, nervously floated off her seat and hid in the rows as best she could. This did not stop a few eyes from glaring at her.

“Now, now, don’t just blame Amor. This is not her fault only. Dusk and Terror, you too are just as guilty of this as anyone else is.”

Fraternal twins, Dusk and Terror, both, as one, crossed their arms over their chests. As if rolled down a slight incline in the floor, they met in slow motion.

Finally, as if this was their opening argument, Terror cleared her throat. “It’s illogical.”

“To blame you?” Rock said. “Hardly. You oversee death and desecration, terror and malice, do you not?”

“Yes,” Dusk said, lifting his hand and leaking a poisonous gas from his nails and pores. He was the taller of the two, always wearing a skin-tight robe with drawn-on bones. “But we are doing our jobs just fine. Jun is the issue.”

Jun broke his hands apart from their prayer-like position and stepped down from the air. At his back, only then appearing there, was a pair of swords with dull edges and chips and cracks. “I am only doing my job, filthy things.”

Rock held up his hands, producing a faint swirl of crimson magic in the air. “Okay, okay—that’s enough. Fine, let’s not try and throw blame at anyone then. If we can’t come to a conclusion, we can’t. But, the point is this, humans are going to bring down the whole system if we do not do something about them.”

One-half, the left half, of the split-down-the-middle Qeez, rolled his eye. “You say that all the time. It’s been fine up until now.”

“No, it really hasn’t,” Rock said, gesturing back at the arrow. “I have been trying to tell you this individually for the past while. They are going to cause the heat death of the universes as it is. Which, while not dangerous to us, will be a huge hassle. Who here wants to rebuild the atomic weight system?”

No one raised their hand; a few shuddered. It had taken forever to get those atoms organized, and then someone would come up with a new idea that seemed useful, and they would have to slot it in a place that made enough sense for it to be confusing to religious and non-religious people alike.

“Exactly,” Rock said, clapping his hands again. “And that’s why I got so many of you together. I want a creative, devious solution to this.”

A disembodied arm made of vines and red spikes flew overhead and waved.

“Yes, Plantress?” Rock said. “Did you have a question or a suggestion?”

“Both,” she said, her voice a rustle. “I was wondering if you were proposing we get started on the End?”

Rock nodded once but then shook his head. “I’d considered that option, yes. It’s something I’d considered as an option down the road, but I’d like to just cull them a bit if that is more possible. Murdering all of them, right off the bat, seems like it might make things hard for us down the road.”

“Thanks,” she said. The hand zoomed down after giving a thumbs up. It then reattached to Plantress.

“Welcome,” Rock said. “So… does anyone have any ideas? How about something truly outlandish?”

Everyone was quiet for a minute. The death gods and the war gods only had a few ideas that they could really propose, and all of them revolved around the same approach. Death and obliteration, but in the most pedestrian ways.

The chaos gods and the tricksters both pondered some options, but ultimately they were not killers—just makers of mischief and anarchy. Humans might kill indirectly because of their actions, but they were not malice-driven beings.

Then, came a single clearing of the throat from the back. A rustling of the occupants of the room sounded as various people all stepped aside to allow him to pass. None of them could look him in the eye. This being had a swagger to him and starry skin. A black canvas with the occasional starburst and supernova spawning and disappearing on his flesh. His eyes alternated between a fiery comet red and a cool icy blue. His single item of clothing was a midnight blue scarf with purple frills at the end, which was wrapped around his neck.

“I say we show them what they were, and how they were, and what they will become.”

“What do you mean, R?”

R leaned against something that was not there, crossing his long legs. “I mean, we let them see how they will die, how they lived—and let them hash out how many survive. It will not kill them, but it will lower the population, in huge ways. It’s either that or some apocalypse or war. Zombies are overdone, for instance. Let’s not be boring.”

The right half of Qeez pursed his lips. “You want to make them able to see time?”

“Yes,” R said, cinching his scarf tighter around his neck. “I am proposing just that. I think, once they can see how their life will turn out, they will die in mass. Some to their own hands, some to vengeance. Even if they can see the unfolding versions of reality, across all of it, some will find no hope. Some will grow angry at actions no one has actually done—it will be glorious.”

Rock bounced on his heels for a moment before producing from his pockets a pair of fog watches, each ticking at a different speed and rotating their hands in different directions. He looked over both. “I mean…yes.”

“Yes, it is a good idea?” R asked, cocky.

“Yes, fine—yes.” Rock glanced off to the side. He was hoping to avoid getting involved in the actual destruction part of the job. Hence the reason for the conference in the first place—ship it off to someone else. But, he was the god of time, after all—so it fell to him.

“Okay, I’ll let them have it. If this does not work, though, it’s on your head.”

R grinned, his teeth shining white on the darkness of his void skin. The others still did not like to look at him. Even the chaos gods did not like this guy. He was the only entropy god in the whole multiverse.

“Oh, don’t worry—it will work. Just like fucking, it’s deep in the human’s nature.”

Rock, unfortunately, could not disagree. And, in one go, he unloaded the burden of time on the humans, in every version of reality. The first riots happened in under ten minutes.

Everyone saw it coming.

 

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Obsidian Order by Alanna J. Rubin

For Stephan M., a tale of magic and danger.

There were ripples, and they spread across the surface of the water.

Jorin brushed his thick black hair out of his brown eyes as he watched the outermost ripple collide with the edge of the rocky shore. Normally, he found the sound relaxing, but these were no ordinary ripples – they were a message from the faerie realm. Jorin’s spine ridged at the noise, but he forced himself to listen. The words were muffled, as if the sender didn’t have enough time to fully form the thought before casting it out into the world. Even though the words were rushed and unintelligible, the emotion was impossible to misunderstand…fear. Whoever had sent the message was afraid and if the Fae were afraid, no realm was safe.

Jorin grabbed his brown leather satchel, carefully removed the sage and other components that were tucked within and put them into the boiling water he had prepared. Its scent was pungent – perfect for brewing the liquid necessary for a human to cross realms. Even then, only those fully trained in warlock knowledge could complete the journey safely. Unfortunately for Jorin, he was only partially trained. He knew the incantations, knew the motions, but it was unpracticed at best. However, he was now the last and with his brothers dead, he would have no one to mentor him.

The memory of that day was indelible. Being the newest member of the brotherhood, he was sent to collect herbs while the others endeavored to hone advanced skills. In the hour it took for Jorin to return, it was done. The murderers left a calling card of sorts, the ashes of his fallen comrades were used to create a symbol, an arrow, with three crows standing atop the shaft. It was the crest of the Obsidian Order. A group of warlocks who bent the laws of magic in unnatural ways to achieve immortality, they left in their wake nothing, but death. It was Jorin’s brotherhood along with the Fae that finally defeated the Order more than one century ago. It could not be coincidence that mere days after the tragedy that befell his friends, the faerie realm sent a distress call. The Obsidian Order had somehow risen, and Jorin had to find a way to defeat them. The brotherhood told stories of that time and now he found himself clinging to them – a hopeful reminder that success was possible. He couldn’t give up. Jorin owed his friends that much and the world, as all knew it, depended upon him

The concoction had finished brewing, but he let it cool before he drank, then slowly sipped. It was bitter, but other than having a bad taste in his mouth, he felt no different. Jorin finished the last drop and suddenly felt anxious as the time to cross the threshold was upon him. What if he had made the drink incorrectly? If he had miscalculated, even in the slightest, his journey to the faerie realm would be short indeed. There would be no second chances.

Throwing dirt on the fire, Jorin watched as the flames sputtered and died out, picked up the grimoire, and walked to the water where the message had emanated. He recited an incantation from the book which revealed a reflection of the faerie realm – the doorway, in the surface of the water. He let out a nervous exhale, then waded into the cold lake.

If all was well, he’d come out the other side without much ado. The water had encircled his waist by the time he had reached the center of the reflection. Nothing. Jorin groaned, upset that he must have missed something when a weight wrapped around his ankles, dragging him under. Panic began to rise in his throat to form a scream, but it never came as the water covered his mouth, robbing him of his ability to make a sound.

Jorin’s eyes opened suddenly, and he began to cough, expelling the water he swallowed onto the leaf strewn ground. After catching his breath, he could now focus on his ethereal surroundings. It reminded him of being inside an impressionist painting, beautiful but not quite real. The colors were too vibrant, the smells too sweet, and the sounds too melodic. He could understand why visitors never wanted to leave. Jorin’s thoughts were soon interrupted by someone clearing their throat. Sitting in front of him, on a boulder, was the slender form of his tutor, Ellyrion. “It’s not possible,” Jorin uttered in astonishment. “You’re dead.”

Ellyrion chuckled, causing his floppy silver hair to bounce and the outer corners of his green eyes to crinkle. “Quite right. Quite right,” he said, pleased by the observation. “You were always my favorite student. When the Obsidian Order attacked, I took my last moments to cast a message in a bottle, of sorts. I knew you’d end up in the faerie realm and here I’ve waited for you.” Ellyrion’s jolly demeanor changed without warning to one of earnestness. “You have to finish what was started.” His eyes then fixed upon Jorin’s, forcing images into his mind’s eye. Jorin was whisked to The Forest of Allar, then to the Diamond Peaks of Omradda, and finally, the Valley of Tulesc –  all places designed by the fae to test the worthiness of a newcomer and, it appeared, he’d have to survive them all. Sweat beaded atop his brow and he grimaced as the images were seared into his memory, leaving him breathless. Jorin looked to Ellyrion for an explanation, but all he gave was an encouraging smile before fading away – leaving Jorin with a fresh pang of loss, but he could not dwell on it. Jorin picked up his water-logged leather satchel and grimoire then headed east toward the forest. Jorin heard Ellyrion’s voice pushing him onward and knew, in his soul, he would find a way to defeat the Obsidian Order and restore peace.

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Never and Nowhere by Nicole DragonBeck

For Felix, who is one of my favorite people in the universe, and not only because he gives me marvelous story starters.

“P.S. I love you all” read the typeset note in her hand. Hopefully it would be enough of a clue to find out who she was – and how she died.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Katie said aloud, and turned it over to see if there was anything written on the back. “And I know who I am, thank you very much.”

The paper was blank, only the faint tracery of the letters “lla uoy evol I .S.P” showing through from the other side.

Katie sighed and sat down on the vast white ground under her, which stretched away forever, or perhaps it became walls which went up and up to a ceiling far over head, but it all looked white to her.

“Why would I bring this with me?” she wondered. “Wouldn’t a knife or a rope or a fire starter be more useful?”

She sat there for quite a while puzzling over this, until she became frustrated, and then bored. For no other reason than it was something to do instead of sitting there, she got up and started walking.

Katie walked and walked through the whiteness, and several times she thought about changing direction, that there was nothing in front of her, but she pushed on. Just as she was about to give in to the desire to turn and head off in a tangent, a black speck appeared in the distance.

Katie shielded her eyes and peered forward, but it remained no more than a black dot. She broke into a jog, and the dot grew, and grew, until she could tell it was a person, and then resolved some more until she came upon a very familiar face, although this one was scowling fiercely.

“Hi,” Katie said, looking down at Katie.

Katie looked up, and her scowl deepened. “What are you doing here?”

“I don’t know,” Katie admitted.

“This is going to get very confusing very quickly if we’re both Katie,” Katie snapped. “I’m Katie. You can be Katherine.”

“That’s a good idea,” Katherine said, and pushed blond hair behind her. “Do you know what this means?”

She held out the note to her counterpart on the floor.

“Why would I know that?” Katie said in a nasty tone. “You’re the one who’s got it.”

Katherine was going to answer, but a sound drew both their gazes.

“Did you hear that?”

“Of course I heard it. I’m not deaf.”

Katie scrambled up and started in the direction of the sound, and Katherine followed. They came upon a third person, who looked like the first.

“We’ll call her Kate, just to keep things simple,” Katie informed them.

“Are you always this bossy?” Katherine wondered.

“Who are you calling bossy, stupid?” Katie said.

Katherine pretended not to hear the insult, and looked at the person with their arms wrapped around their knees, making small frightened sounds as they rocked back and forth, eyes darting about.

“What’s wrong?” Katherine asked, putting a hand on the girl’s – Kate’s – shoulder.

Kate jumped and gave a startled shriek, looking at Katie and Katherine like they might eat her.

“It’s okay,” Katherine said in a soothing voice.

“Yeah, sure it is,” Katie butted in. “She looks real okay.”

Katherine was saved by a loud wail, and the three finally identified the sound they’d heard.

“That’s someone crying,” Katherine said.

“Oh, well done,” Katie clapped. “Where are you going?”

Katerine made her way farther into the whiteness and found a girl crying pitifully on the floor.

“Everyone, meet Kathy,” Katie waved her hand. “Aren’t we a great little group? Just missing the leper.”

The girl they’d dubbed Kathy was crying more now, loudly and messily, snot dripping down her chin.

“What’s the matter?” Katherine asked, and Katie snorted.

“Who cares? What are you going to do about it anyway?”

Kathy’s sobs increased in volume and frequency, and Katherine became alarmed that she might choke and asphyxiate herself. She knelt beside the crying girl and patted her shoulder.

“There, there,” Katherine said awkwardly, but her words only made Kathy cry harder. “It’s going to be okay…no, no, shh, now. Okay. Let’s just go this way and maybe there’s a way out.”

Katherine helped Kathy stand, and found a tissue in her pocket, which the other girl went through in two seconds and kept crying. They walked some more, Katherine mulling over her note, and keeping her eyes peeled for anyone else. She was rewarded a short time later when they happened across another one of themselves, standing there and staring down at her hands with an unblinking gaze, seeing nothing.

Kate wouldn’t look at the new girl and tried to hide behind Kathy, and Katie looked unimpressed. “Now you can ask what’s wrong, because there’s something definitely wrong with her. Her name is Mary, by the way.”

“Hi there,” Katherine said, ignoring Katie, and feeling a strange completeness now. “Do you know what this place is?”

“This is Never and Nowhere,” the fifth mumbled, her gaze not moving from her hands.

“How do we get out?” Katherine asked, pleased with the progress.

“You can’t,” the fifth said. “It’s no use. You’re trapped here forever.”

“This is ridiculous,” Katie grumbled. “I can’t take this anymore.”

Kathy started hiccuping along with her now silent sobs, eyes red and puffy.

This can’t be the way out. There’s no way the five of us are getting out of here like this, Katherine thought. It’s too complicated. It has to be simple. Katherine looked down at the note – P.S. I love you all – and then up at the group of people clustered here. Simple enough to write in in five words.

“P.S. I love you all.”

“What?” Katie snapped, as tears started pouring down Kathy’s face. Mary just stood there as if she hadn’t heard.

“I love you all,” Katherine repeated and knew how to get out of this Never and Nowhere. “I love you all.”

“No you don’t,” Mary mustered the energy to say. “Love isn’t real.”

“I love you all.”

“You’re lying!” Katie shouted, her face going red as a vein pulsed in her temple.

“I love you all,” Katherine said simply and knew it was true.

The white began to crumble around her with great crashes and shakes.

“Now look what you’ve done,” Kate said, her eyes darting about. “What’s going to happen to us?”

“I love you all,” Katherine said to herself and let the note fall from her grip.

Somewhere else, in a place that was Sometime, a real place with color and motion and good things, Katie opened her eyes.

 

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