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A Tiger Knows by Brandon Scott

For Hailey Marie, my favorite actress.

“She didn’t often like tigers but this one she found quite amusing.”

It had a glint in its eye, a spark of intelligence. A tigress. A female. A mother–in a cage. How fitting.

It paced, but did not paw with madness, nor hunger. It knew it had all the time it needed.

Tabitha was not as certain. She was not as calm. She wanted to scream and pry at the bars. Oh, how I wish I could. If only I could find the smallest weakness, I would be out of here and that thing would be….

But Tabitha was not strong—especially now. She stood and pressed her body against the cage walls, but could barely reach out her arms past the elbows. Her stomach pressed hard into the metal, and a kick reminded her–as if she needed reminding–that another life was also in this cage with her.

The tiger gave a soft noise, a purr from something not at all capable of a purr. A rumble, perhaps.

And Tabitha looked at it and tried to find amusement again. Curiosity instead of uncertainty. But it was hard to hold. Her eyes scanned the other cages and found no other motions. Some creatures had frozen in fear–aware of the predators, others slept from exhaustion, and still more laid in the stillest position afforded to any being: dead. Corpses. The humans all filled up the final category, and she tried for amusement yet again.

She gathered up the remains of a blanket, the structure reduced to almost nothing at all, and tossed an end out for the tigress to take. It pawed at it, playing like a house cat.

The line went taut and snapped, and Tabitha frowned. She gathered back the rest and cast it out again. The tiger repeated its action. Pulled, so it vibrated slightly, and then sliced with its teeth.

Tabitha drew it back once more, held both ends out, and pulled in opposite directions with what strength she had. And the line remained strong.

“A scissor…but not a rock,” she concluded to herself, her voice eaten by the room. Sucked away into the void of silence.

The tiger made the not-purr sound, and Tabitha gave it her full attention. The massive cat tilted its head toward the door at the end of the hallway of cages, and Tabitha followed with her gaze.

The door had a window in it, with a cloth covering to reduce any sight to only a silhouette. But this silhouette was unmistakable. Nothing else Tabitha knew looked anything like that. She wondered why it was coming here. What business does it have? Is it here to feed us again, so soon? When has it ever been kind enough for that?

Tabitha shook her head, but prepared all the same for the entrance, backing up into the corner of the cage and curling into a ball. Look feeble, she told herself. It does not like to hurt the feeble.

The door swung open with a shot of light, extinguished again like a candle’s flame. The thing lumbered into the room, a series of metal pieces jangling with each motion.

It was large, towering. Like a cyclops from the old legends on Earth, it had only one eye, set so low that its forehead made up half its face. Below the singular orb with a blue iris was a pair of curved boar’s teeth, forcing themselves out of the mouth with little regard for the race’s clarity of speech.

Up close, as it was now to her cage, Tabitha could smell the odd, strong garlic tinge that always hung on it. The ragged and stitched together covering of space suit material did not seem to have any noticeable liquids on it to produce such a scent, but did all the same.

“Woman, do you birth soon?” the thing asked, its voice a booming grumble of strained syllables.

Tabitha swallowed the saliva she found filling her throat. “No, not yet. The human birth cycle can take a while–”

“Can it be sped?” it interrupted.

“No… not if you want it alive.”

It bowed down on a knee and reached out one of its hands toward Tabitha, only not touching her by a few inches. Tabitha felt a fit of revulsion from the idea of such gnarled skin grazing her. She pushed her body as far back as she could into the bars.

“I think you are the one concerned about being alive. Can it be sped up?”

“No. Do you not understand human anatomy?”

“Your writings as a species lack…everything,” the creature said. “How you speak this…mud, is enough to confuse.”

“Then remain confused,” Tabitha spat back, cradling her stomach with one hand.

“I shall, for now. But once we know how to make more sport fast…you will breed with all males we find. And then we will have many bodies to study.”

“Breed? Not likely,” Tabitha said in a soft whisper. Her faint cockiness fell to pieces when her cage shook–with her along with it. She fell to her side and gasped at the sudden pain of impact.

“What was that you spoke?” the creature said. She could hear the tinges of humor in its voice: the same she’d heard intermingled with the screams of the man in the cage two over from her a week ago.

“Nothing,” she said in-between gulps and restrained sobs. “Nothing at all.”

“Good to listen,” it said and rose back up to walk. Not bothering to look at her, the creature trudged over to the other cage and snapped the padlock off the tigress’s container. Rather than pounce, it just looked.

The creature chuckled and reached for one of the metal leashes hanging off its body. It tugged free one and beckoned with a clawed hand to the cat.

Tabitha rose to stand, her muscles coiling, the pain pushed aside. Her mind wondered what to do with the situation. She could not stay here much longer. Not if she was going to have this child. She would not birth him or her in this place. She was sure of that. I will never let you have my baby.

Tabitha stood and looked at the rag. The strong fabric. She wondered: would it work? Was it strong enough? I can only try this once.

Tabitha walked to the closer edge of the cage and watched the proceedings. The cat refused to move, and the creature seemed to find this preferable.

“Oh, no? Not I? Well, how about with this?”

It turned toward the back wall and took three steps. A wall of tools and sharp things hung on pegs, but Tabitha was not watching that. The cat and her. The hunter and her. They made eye contact, and she tossed the cloth over to her companion.

The tigress caught it and looped it. Not biting the string. Tabitha could swear it winked at her.

And when the great cat finished, the fabric sat, practically tied—if not for lack of human hands—around the pole of the cage. Tabitha knew not if it would hold, but she knew it would make a thing stumble.

“Ready?” the creature said and turned around brandishing a stick with the end glowing electrical blue. It pressed a trigger at the bottom and the sparks flew off the tip. “Ready to go?”

The demon-like mouth turned to a frown when it saw the cat already close, beckoning out her neck for the collar.

“Oh,” it grumbled, and let the stick fall to its hip’s side, the sparks fading away. “Now you decide? Fine. Come with me. Captain wants to try something new tonight for mealtime. Human for commoners.”

Guiding the feline with one hand, it gave a glare to Tabitha–which broke to panic when it pitched forward. Both cages screamed as the metal bent and titled, but the fall was a perfect arc, its arms going out on either side and only finding the already collapsing metal.

The creature hit the floor with a thunderous slap and did not have time to rise before the tigress took her chance. And once a predator clamps on the nape of a neck, it is not deterred.

A reach forward and Tabitha found her fingers touching the dropped electrical weapon. Again, she felt amused. Hopeful too.

“Tell me puss,” she said, letting the blue power dance, the light reflecting in spilled blood, “do you think this can melt my lock?”

She was sure this time that the tigress winked at her.

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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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Halloween Story….

To our Friends, Family and Fans…

On this day of some of the most amazing stories ever told, we, the Ink Slingers, want to wish you an amazing and spooky Halloween.

Don’t forget, if you send us a spooky or scary story starter, we will make sure you have a hard time sleeping after you read it.

Boo!

The Ink Slingers Guild

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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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