Category Archives: Short Stories

Castle of Crows – Part 3

The sky had darkened with the rain, but it wasn’t until the sun started to go down that the large windows that lined the ballroom no longer provided enough light for us to see by. There were no light switches anywhere that we could see, so Macey was forced to end her impromptu ball in favor of finding Aunt Pen for dinner.

As Macey and I made our way towards the kitchen the rain only seemed to grow heavier, beating on the windows with new force. In the time it took us to reach the kitchen, the noise of the storm had swelled so loud it was almost enough to drown out the voices arguing in the kitchen. I stopped upon hearing them and pulled Macey back from the open door when she didn’t. Continue reading Castle of Crows – Part 3

Florida Man Arrested for Streaking Across Football Field

After this Sunday’s game, police arrested John Morrison for streaking his way across the Hard Rock Stadium.  Morrison’s decision to streak across the field was a protest against the Miami Dolphins’ brutal loss to the Buffalo Bills. When asked to comment Morrison stated that “the Bills are the worst football team in American history, and losing to them was totally unacceptable.” The Dolphins have been having a rough season this year, and they’ve suffered quite a few losses. This one, in particular, has fans riled like never before, and Morrison wasn’t the only audience member upset with the outcome of the game. Many fans had harsh comments in the wake of this loss, some going so far as to accuse the Bills of having cheated their way to victory. Scott Jones, a lifetime Dolphins fan, said he “wouldn’t be surprised to hear about another ‘Deflate-gate’,  or a similar scandal.” The Bills have denied all such allegations, and the Dolphins declined to comment on the loss.

As upset as fans were with the team though, they were even more upset with Morrison. Helen Brannon, whose family has attended every Dolphins’ home game since 2014, had this to say: “I don’t know what the [censored] he was thinking with that stunt! For [censored] sake, there’re kids here! How am I supposed to explain to my kids that some people have such massive [censored] inferiority complexes that they just strip down and run [censored] naked across a  [censored] football field?” Many other parents in attendance seemed to agree with Brannon’s sentiment, though they did balk at her wording. Other fans have cast blame on the stadium staff for failing to catch Morrison before he was able to make his way onto the field, though the cameramen have been praised for keeping the man off of the jumbo screen. The stadium has apologized for the lack of security for the field and has made promises to ensure that it will not happen again.

The Depths-Elixir – Part 1: Wandering the Dark

“How long have I been down this path?” Lazuli thought to himself. He scratched his fingers along the wall, simply glad to have another sound over his breathing and the crunching echoes from boots on stone that reverberated through the tunnel as Lazuli walked on. A sense of time was always the first to go when travelling outside of a large city. Lazuli mentally kicked himself over his foolishness for only packing one time-piece, a rookie mistake. The ticking of cogs was often enough to stave off the maddening effects of travel into the long sections of black road between cities.

Continue reading The Depths-Elixir – Part 1: Wandering the Dark

Child of Starlight: Issue 2 – Part 1: Certainty

“Will you hurry up!” Hafwen seethed as Aliene fell behind. Hafwen had pulled her from their home after Aliene had been told to wait there.

“What’s going on?” Aliene begged but Hafwen didn’t turn around. “Hafwen!”

“Just shut up” – Hafwen had turned to her abruptly – “and come on.”

Aliene didn’t respond. She followed her mentor towards the healers’ hut catching the last rays of sunlight as it was swallowed by the clouds above. The building was lit from within, becoming more and more visible as the two approached. Something twisted in Aliene’s stomach, fear and emotions welling up from uncertainty. Hafwen led her through the door, catching the end of their guard captain questioning the stranger.

“Tell me again, how did you find us?” The guard captain was trying not to yell.

“I just did, I was wandering the southern countries for a few years until being lead here.” Jacobus was sitting on the bed gripping its edges as the guard captain inched closer and closer to him.

As Aliene entered the room a bright flash made everyone flinch until the light faded back into the satchel Jacobus had brought. The guard captain lunged to the pack, dumping its contents onto the floor, with items bouncing away until a set of rocks thumped hard into the wood.

The captain went to pick them up before Jacobus could stop him. The guard captain cried out as a loud hiss filled the air. The captain looked to his hands that were now blistered and pink; he tried to focus on pulling magic into his hands. The action made him scream louder than before, dropping the man to his knees.

“What are those?” Celestaon questioned as Hafwen wrenched Jacobus to the ground in an instant.

Jacobus looked up from the ground, fighting off Hafwen’s hold on him. “The pieces of the falling star, what gave me the revelation.”

Celestaon inhaled through her nose as if she had been holding her breath. “Child, show him the star.”

A moment passed as Aliene finally understood what she had been told and unlaced the top of her shirt revealing her stained outline of an eight-pointed star. The monk stared at Aline longer than anyone had before. “What?” was all she could say before Jacobus finally stopped and stood, Hafwen having to step back as he rose.

“If you would let me go, please.” The monk wasn’t asking, as he slipped from Hafwen’s hands, leaving her with a scowl on her face. “I am Jacobus, and with this gift, I pledge to serve you in your purpose.” The monk had gathered up the stones barehanded, presenting them to Aliene while kneeling.

Aliene reached out to take them unconsciously, her fingers flinching slightly as they brushed the warm rough surfaces. When she pulled them back to her the pieces trembled and pulled into one another forming a clean-cut brick in her palms. “I, how did they do that?” Aliene looked to Hafwen, then Celestaon. Both women wore wide disbelieving expressions.

Celestaon swallowed hard, looking at the mass of rock from the sky, pulling her hand back from the piece in fear. “I don’t know, nothing like this has ever been recorded for our tribes, my child. You two must leave, now.” The Elder looked at Hafwen and nodded, signaling her to leave. She spoke to the guard captain as he stood: “Go out front and calm the people. They need but a moment.”

The large man grunted and left stomping as he went to the front. Celestaon motioned to the healer as she went to open the back. “Quietly now, come with me.” The old woman’s voice was soft and shaky. The three went out the back door and through the wall marking the edge of the village. The exit was more a small hole each had to squeeze through before pushing into a bush of thorny leaves.

“Aliene,” the old woman’s voice came out in an exhale before she grabbed Aliene’s arm. “I need to say this; you have something none of us do, the strength to leave.” Aliene looked wide-eyed, taking in the face of her elder as she continued to speak. “You, dear child, have been made to endure our rejection; few gave you the acceptance you rightly deserved. I asked Hafwen often how you were doing. She watched you grow, and you never wavered against a path you didn’t choose.” Celestaon gripped Aliene with a strength that betrayed her age, and Aliene had nothing to say. “I have held my tongue long enough; how, how do you not hate us?”

Aliene clenched her jaw for a moment until she tasted metal. “I did, for a long time; it made me better. I thought one day they will have to accept me.” Aliene had only said this once before to Hafwen, years ago. “One day I just couldn’t be angry anymore; I couldn’t.” Tears welled in her eyes, blurring the old woman till Aliene blinked them away. “Hafwen explained it over and over until I just stopped asking. If I ignored it maybe the hurt would fade.”

Hafwen had returned suddenly beside them, making the kneeling Jacobus flinch when he realized she was there. Hafwen handed him a pack and the bag he came with, then she looked at Aliene. “The world is large, and the monsters are sized to fit it.” Hafwen griped Aliene’s shoulder while pushing the pack into her chest. “Fair is something life is not, but you have the strength to carve your own path.” Aliene slipped the pack onto her back as Hafwen gripped her arms, fixing her stare on Aliene’s eyes. “Now my sister, child of starlight, run.”

Child of Starlight: Issue 1 – Part 4: Wanderer from Afar

Hues of pink and purple streaked the skies as Aliene walked to the center of the village. She stared up, lost in wondering what challenges the world would give her. Hunters hunted, builders built, and so on, but what could Aliene do? The center was prepared with lanterns and a dozen or so people, including the seven elders.

Continue reading Child of Starlight: Issue 1 – Part 4: Wanderer from Afar

Child of Starlight: Issue 1 – Part 3: Hunter (Reboot)

Aliene was running harder than she had ever thought possible. Sucking in the warm air and exhaling with a hiss, she bolted across the open water. The water walk technique embedded in her body over the past decade was taxing to her magic. She spun around on one of her steps and balanced as she froze more of the area. The flush of heat rising over her bare legs soothing the ache in her muscles.

Continue reading Child of Starlight: Issue 1 – Part 3: Hunter (Reboot)

Child of Starlight: Issue 1 – Part 2: Preparing for Storms (Reboot)

Hafwen paced on the deck in the midday sun, absently playing with the braid in her dark hair. She had been hunting in the forest when the messenger from Celestaon summoned her. She had never actually spoken to the eldest of the village—few did—but fewer still were summoned personally.

Continue reading Child of Starlight: Issue 1 – Part 2: Preparing for Storms (Reboot)

Child of Starlight: Issue 1 – Part 1: Wayward of Fate (Reboot)

The still night’s chill pushed a young couple into the embrace of their tribal elders. Arrayed in all corners of the large log building, the bodies of men and women were gathered. Smoke from incense and pipes spilled up and circled within the roofing. Cloaked in robes of reeds and scales, six women circled a small pedestal at the center of the group. The eldest of the village took the wrapped child from its mother and shuffled back to the circle. Then, with the silence of stars, the elder placed the bundled child on the stone marker, ready to start the Illumination.

Continue reading Child of Starlight: Issue 1 – Part 1: Wayward of Fate (Reboot)

Florida Man Found in Possession of 31 Stolen Shopping Carts

This week in Palm Bay, Florida, police responded to a domestic disturbance in the home of Jake Meyers. Several concerned neighbors called to report a possible fight between Meyers and his girlfriend, Melissa Davison. When officers arrived on scene they found the cause of the argument to be Meyers’ collection of stolen shopping carts. “The entire living room was filled with shopping carts,” said Officer Joan Martinez in her official report. “There were carts from all sorts of major department stores; there was barely room to walk.” Davison wasted no time informing Officer Martinez that Meyers had been stealing shopping carts for years, slowly filling their home with carts from across the city. “He’s a hoarder! I’ve been asking him for years to get rid of them all, but he just kept stealing more!” Davison said. “If this is the only way to make it stop then so be it!”

It took police three hours to empty the house of shopping carts, which have since been returned to their rightful owners. Marvin Greene, owner of the local Walmart, says he’d “known that the carts were being stolen, but [he’d] never imagined it was all one guy.” In the aftermath of the raid, there were 11 Walmart carts, 9 Target carts, 6 Winn Dixie carts, and 5 from various local grocers. One of Meyer’s neighbors, who wished to remain anonymous, said that Meyers “was a very nice young man. I never would have suspected him of filling his house with shopping carts. These days you just never know.” Meyers is being charged with 31 counts of petty theft and a fine of up to $25,000. Meyers declined to comment but has entered a plea of not guilty and is now awaiting trial.

BIG ISLAND (A DREAM)

 The grass on the hilltop bids me sweet goodbye as I run to you— what looks like you—, swaying back and forth like in Japanese films. My shirt billows a little behind me while you take my picture; we laugh when the wind steals your straw boater as fare. The beach shines green under my bare feet—our own little Innisfree.


For a small eternity, I stand at the ocean’s edge and think about dead writers. When it’s time to turn back to you I pick up a handful of sand and hold it to my chest; your eyes crinkle in a rare smile. Olivine, you say, and I repeat it in my head until it sticks.

******

Originally published in MoonPark Review (Spring 2018).

Castle of Crows – Part 1

Every summer for the past three years my sister Macey and I have stayed with our Aunt Penelope in Scotland. It started because Macey was having a princess phase and found out that the reason we never saw Aunt Pen was because she was restoring a castle. I hadn’t really wanted to go back then (Scotland was a long way from Virginia and I was pretty sure castles were for girls anyway), but Dad wasn’t about to send one of us and not the other, so I was overruled on the matter. So when I was ten and Macey was twelve, we flew to Glasgow and saw Aunt Pen for the first time since she’d left the US.

“Macey! Dillon! Oh, look how big you’ve gotten!”

Aunt Pen started fussing over us immediately, ruffling my hair and fawning over Macey’s princess dress. She was an eccentric lady, too. Every move she made was accompanied by the clinking of her bright gold bangles, and her dress was maroon with long dragging sleeves. Her nails were long and painted red, and her hair was pulled back by a flowered headband. Before we got to the castle we stopped in a nearby village, and she bought us each a cinnamon bun before going to the butcher and getting a bag of scraps. It smelled awful, and when Macey asked what they were there for, Aunt Pen just smiled at her, which put us both on edge.

Aunt Pen’s castle was about five miles from the village. The road curved through the woods, and the trees were so tall that we couldn’t see the castle until we were right in front of it. It was a large building made of stone, built at the bottom of a hill and overlooking a big lake. It was old, but it looked well taken care of, and I could feel Macey’s excitement finally rubbing off on me. As soon as the car was parked we jumped out, racing to the doors, Aunt Pen trailing behind.

“Just a moment, kids!” Aunt Pen called after us. “I want to show you something.”

We followed Aunt Pen around the side of the castle, towards the treeline. There was a wooden fence separating the castle grounds from the forest, which was dark and made me uneasy. Aunt Pen whistled. For a moment nothing happened, and then suddenly crows started lining up on the fence, cawing as they landed and eyeing us curiously. Aunt Pen started pulling the scrap meat out of her bag and feeding them one by one.

“This is Macey and Dillon, my niece and nephew. They’ll be spending the summer here.”

“Er, Aunt Pen? Are you talking to the crows?” Macey looked mildly terrified, and I couldn’t help but feel the same. One of the larger crows cawed at us, and Macey took a step back.

“Yes dear, crows are very clever and very loyal. One never needs to fear if they’ve befriended the crows. Would you like to feed them?”

Macey was horrified, but I was curious. The crows were a little bit creepy, but Aunt Pen seemed so at ease with them that I couldn’t help but feel more at ease too. So I nodded, and I reached into her bag of scraps.

“Hold it by the very edge, and reach out carefully,” Aunt Pen instructed,  guiding me towards the large crow. “This is Baron; he’s the largest crow in the murder.”

“Murder?” Macey asked.

“Yes, that’s what a flock of crows is called, dear,” Aunt Pen said. “Now say hello and introduce yourself. Then give him the meat.”

“Hi Baron,” I said, only feeling a little bit silly talking to a crow. “I’m Dillon. It’s nice to meet you.”

Baron cawed at me, then snatched the meat out of my hand and scarfed it down in seconds. Baron cawed some more, and I smiled at him in return.

“Well done, Dillon! I think he likes you. Would you like to try, Macey?”

“She’s too scared to try,” I said, grinning smugly. Macey glared back at me.

“I’m not scared! If you can do it, I can too!” Then Macey marched forward and grabbed a piece of meat, only looking slightly disgusted by the feeling of it.

Aunt Pen led her to a smaller crow and had her hold her hand out. “This is Nixie. Go ahead and say hello, dear.”

“Hi Nixie, I’m Macey! Your name is really pretty,” Macey said, holding out the scrap meat. Nixie cawed softly, then grabbed the meat. Macey jumped a bit when she did, and Nixie cawed at her again.

“Well done, Macey! You two are going to be very popular; I can already tell,” Aunt Pen said, turning to look at the sunset and frowning. “It’s getting a bit late, so we’ll have to head inside now. While we’re out here though, I need to tell you the most important rule of staying here with me.

“See this fence? It goes all the way around the castle grounds. It is very important that you don’t cross it without me. The woods are tricky to navigate, and as you might have noticed during the drive up, the castle isn’t visible if you get too far away. So stay out of the trees, alright?”

“Sure thing Aunt Pen!” Macey said, smiling.

“Good,” Aunt Pen said, returning her smile. “Now let’s head inside and get washed up for dinner.”

We followed after her, and I quickly forgot about crows and forests and rules. For that night, all that mattered was me and my sister and our joint effort to keep Aunt Pen from making haggis for dinner. It was the first simple night we had at the castle, and, though we didn’t know it then, the last simple night.

The Kaleidoscope

The dim yellow glow of a simple flashlight illuminates the barely-there path. Black dirt, littered with the thick roots of trees hidden by fallen leaves, gives way to unruly vines scattered with orange gourds. The old house looms above the pumpkin patch, its sloping rooftop dropping shingles every time the wind picks up. The cold breeze could cut through any coat, and my hoodie offers little warmth. As I carefully move towards the house, vines crack underfoot, and the flashlight’s beam jerks with the unexpected noise. Dark wings flutter into the night as I try in vain to get my rapid breathing under control. I finally reach the house, and hesitantly knock. There’s no reply, and the windows are so stained with grime that I cannot see inside. But the wind starts again, and the cold pushes me to try the door’s handle. The old door creaks loudly as it swings open, and I tentatively call out a greeting as I step inside. The musty air is heavy with dust when I breathe it in, and I wonder if I was wrong. The rotting floorboards moan as I tread upon them, and the intricately patterned wallpaper is stained brown and peeling off the walls. This place seems abandoned, but I was so certain I’d seen a light come this way. I hesitate in the entryway. Should I leave? I’m not certain I could find the road again so late at night, and I know the battery in my flashlight won’t last forever. My mind is made up for me when the door slams behind me with a resounding bang.

I spin around and rush to open it again, but the door is stuck fast, and it won’t budge no matter how hard I pull. I pull too hard, as it turns out, because the handle pops off and I end up falling. The floorboards creak and a cloud of dust rises all around me, tickling my nose and setting off a fit of coughing. I twirl the handle in my hand; it’s old enough to have been worn smooth, but the faded brass still shines when the light hits it. I sigh and pick myself up off the ground. It’s time to find another exit. I make my way out of the foyer and into the parlor. There is furniture in this room, but it’s old and dilapidated, and the floral couch looks like it would fall apart if I so much as brushed by it. There’s a rug, but it’s too clouded in dirt to distinguish a pattern, and every step I take on it sends up little puffs of dust. There’s another doorway to my right, and based on the rancid smell of rotting food, it leads to the kitchen. I decide to save that room for last. I cross over to the windows. The grime is just as impenetrable on this side of the glass as it was outside, and I feel along the edges of the window pane for the latch. In the end, finding it doesn’t matter, because it’s rusted shut and I nearly cut my hand trying to pry it open. I sigh once more and move back into the foyer. To my left is the front door, still shut tight; to the right there’s a staircase, and across from me is the dining room. My flashlight passes over the room quickly. There are a table and chairs that have been covered by grey cloth that may once have been white, curtains that have long since faded from pink to brown and now hang limp and rotting from iron curtain rods that look as though they’re one strong breeze away from falling, and a crystal chandelier that somehow still manages to sparkle through the dust and cobwebs that cling to it. I turn from the dining room, The kitchen is my last hope of escape, unless I want to try jumping out of a window on one of the upper floors. I do not.

I turn around and steel myself to breathe the smell of rot once more, but then I hear a thud from above me. I pause, looking at the cracked ceiling as though it holds all the answers. Then I hear something roll across the floor, and a trail of dust shakes loose above to mark its path. My heart stops for a moment, but then the noise stops too, and my heart kicks into overdrive.

“Hello?”

There is no answer, and I try to come up with an explanation for the noise. Perhaps a raccoon got into the house somehow? And it knocked something over while looking for food? That’s a plausible enough explanation to slow my heartbeat, at least until I hear the soft laughter of a child. Raccoons are crafty creatures, but they cannot mimic small children. I panic for a moment; what if some poor child is trapped in this house too? I’m moving to the stairs before I even finish the thought, rounding the corner of the landing and making my way to the second floor in record time. The floor opens up to a drawing room, but as my flashlight scans across the space, the seemingly ancient furniture isn’t what catches my eye. The room is empty of life, and it doesn’t look like anyone has been here for decades, except for the shiny metal cylinder lying on the floor by the staircase on the other side of the room. I walk towards it before I have a chance to think about it, and when I pick it up I realize that it’s a kaleidoscope. I can’t help but play with it for a bit, watching as the colors shift into each other and create new patterns. There’s no telling how long I may have stood there, but then I catch movement out of the corner of my eye, and I hear the giggle again, much closer this time. I look up, and for half a second I swear that there’s a shadow on the stairs, but it’s gone so quickly that I’m sure my eyes must just be playing tricks on me. I carefully make my way up the steps to the third floor, cringing every time they creak.

When I reach the top of the stairs I find myself in the attic, but it’s been renovated into a nursery. There are toys scattered around the room, and the faded wallpaper looks as though it would have been colorful when it was first put up. Moonlight shines into the room from a large circular window, and I click off my flashlight as I take a few steps forward. I can’t see anyone, but I know that I heard someone laughing.

“I know you’re here.” Silence greets my declaration, and I take a few more cautious steps into the light. “Just come out, okay? I’m not going to hurt you.”

The giggle sounds again behind me, but when I turn there’s no one there. My heartbeat picks up again, but I do my best to keep my voice steady as I turn back to the empty nursery. “Please come out. This isn’t funny.”

The room is silent, and for a moment I think that I’m going to be ignored, but then the air shifts around me. I stiffen as I feel someone’s breath against my ear, and his whisper is barely more than a breath. “Boo.”

Ghost

This was never supposed to be a ghost story. My grandfather built this house with his own two hands, but I don’t think he ever meant to haunt it. He died peaceful in his sleep, the way everyone always says they want to go. Peaceful deaths aren’t supposed to make ghosts.

We all hear him in the creaking floorboards, we can feel the ridges of his fingertips in the faulty wiring. Nothing in this place is without his maker’s mark.

My grandmother has it the worst, though. She sees him lingering in every corner, but he’s gone before she can get a good look. They always slept in twin beds across the room from each other, like a TV couple from the fifties, and she keeps the bed made for him—dusting off the patchwork quilt every few days. Just in case.

Once, she tells me that she woke up to see him standing at the end of her bed. Watching over her along with the painted porcelain angels that line her bedside shelf like a row of holy soldiers.

“He looked good. Like the day we met,” She tells me. She lays her hand on mine and her skin looks like crumbled tissue paper stretched thin over her hollowed bones, “What I don’t understand is why he keeps leaving me here all alone.”

She sees other ghosts too, though none loom quite so large over my mother and I as my grandfather does. My grandmother tells me that her father came to visit one day, his legs finally healed from his accident in the coal mines. She asks my mother when her brother is going to visit again, since she keeps seeing him standing at the edge of her driveway working on a car that he had owned back in 1967. Her mind seems to run in a loop, so haunted by the phantoms that surround her that she becomes unsure of how each day bleeds into the next.

I start wondering if I too might start seeing ghosts one day, and I see the same fear sparking behind my mother’s eyes. We wonder if this haunting might be hereditary, as we watch my grandmother lose track of life and death before our eyes. Our fear is shaped like my grandfather’s silhouette, lingering in the corners of the house he built.

Line of Gemini – Part 15

His wrists shackled together, burning his skin, Eli shuffled along, prodded forward by a Leo. He winced when the man pushed him a little too hard onto the platform, forcing him to his knees. Eli had been captured by one of the Cassiopeia, and of course without Tod, he’d been helpless to fight back. And if Tod wasn’t here now, he was done for.

He saw a pair of polished knee high boots appear in front of him, spurs flaming, sparking with electric energy. He looked up to see one of the Cassiopeia with the long sword they’d used for executions since the beginning of their realm. It wasn’t often that they performed public executions; the phenomenon had started quite recently, just after the Great War. The woman, Isolde, tipped his chin up with the sword to stare into his eyes. “Hm,” she said, and there was an odd smile on her face. “What a shame.”

She handed the sword to the executioner, the Leo behind him and Eli braced himself, when they were interrupted by more footsteps. Eli glanced out of the corner of his eye to see to his surprise, Tod and Sunny. Sunny? How had she gotten here?

The executioner spoke in a gruff voice: “No one else is allowed up here.”

Tod crossed his arms over his chest. “I’m ruling with Isolde, and this is my…assistant” – he gestured to Sunny – “so I think it’s perfectly fine. I help make the rules around here, right?”

Isolde’s mouth dropped open. “Just – just get on with it!” she snapped at the executioner.

But before he could, a bolt of light arced through the air, hitting the executioner squarely in the chest. He moaned and fell to the ground. Eli met eyes with one of the Cassiopeia, hand still raised. Immediately, some of the other Cassiopeia attacked her, beating her to the ground.

“What on Dross!” Isolde cursed, scrambling for the sword.

Just as she picked it up, Eli leaped to his feet, and joining hands with Tod, felt the familiar energy pulsing through him. But there was something wrong – Tod was weaker than he’d been before. Eli pushed past it and summoned all the strength he had. Isolde raised the sword, and Eli fired a wave of white energy, what looked like shards of broken stars, in her direction. She was blasted off her feet and fell dizzily to the ground.  

She groaned in pain, and then tried to get to her feet, but she was hit again, what felt like flames attacking her face.

“No!” she screamed. The last thing she saw before she blacked out was her father’s face staring worriedly down at her, and his voice mixed with hers echoing in the distance.

Line of Gemini – Part 14

When they reached the place of the execution, a wooden stage, right outside of the white and gold palace, Sunny’s mouth dropped. The palace sprawled so far Sunny had trouble seeing the end of it. Instead of gargoyles, there were golden statues of the Gemini peering over the ramparts. She looked up at the statues, then at the golden cupolas, then down at the darkened moat, a waterfall pouring into it.

The crowd was divided into the different groups, Tod told her: Gemini, Cassiopeia, Taurus, Scorpio, Sagittarius, and Leo. And they all milled about, like lions in cages, shooting people from opposite groups nasty looks. As soon as they got there, Isolde went over to the other Cassiopeia, and Tod and Sunny stayed back, away from everyone else. He told her to keep her head down, not look at anyone.

“Aren’t there more groups than this?” she asked, and Tod shook his head.

“No, not all the horoscopes that you know have Setareh forms. Remember, humans named the horoscopes after us. Not the other way around.”

People were shouting and cheering and waving signs, one of which said, “Death to Tyranny.” Sunny frowned. If that person was really for Eli getting killed, she thought it was kind of strange and ironic, but whatever. 

“Geez,” she said. “A lot of people sure hate Eli.”

“Are you surprised?” Tod scowled, looking at the crowd around them.

“I don’t know – ” She paused. “Like what happened with him? What happened with you guys? And why are people so mean?”

Tod sighed. “It’s a long story.”

“Tell it. They’re taking their sweet time,” she said. And she just needed something to get her mind off Eli and the terrifying place she’d found herself in. Maybe if she could understand, she could be more help.

When she’d asked Tod if he had a plan, he’d just shrugged, so she guessed he was still thinking. They still had time, because contrary to what Isolde had made it seem like, they’d gotten here way too early.

“Well…everyone used to be a lot nicer and friendlier. Like on Earth. Everyone’s pretty nice there.”  

“Ehh,” Sunny said, shrugging her shoulders.

“But you know, they say that on Earth, most people are nice and do their best. But it’s the exact opposite on this planet. Everyone is rude and self-serving. I’d say 95 % of people are. People don’t even know the meaning of love. And if someone does love, it’s seen as a fluke. A mistake.”

“Really?” Sunny’s eyes widened. “But – it didn’t used to be like this?”

He shook his head. “No, well, at least not as bad. Everyone used to care about Earth and other planets and want to help grant the people there wishes. But then the Setareh started to get frustrated. We have long life spans. Up to a thousand years. And…people who’d been around a while saw that humans continuously made the same mistakes. They failed again and again. They turned to war and fought and killed each other. They hated others based on their beliefs. The Cassiopeia in particular were the frontrunners of the Anti Wish movement. They basically said we should stop granting wishes because humans no longer deserved our help if they were just going to mess up again and again. But the Gemini, as the rulers, disagreed and said we should continue to help. And that’s what caused the war. It was the first war on our planet.” Tod’s eyes darkened. “I wasn’t born then. But the war destroyed so much. And…” His voice cracked. “Nothing was ever the same. These people aren’t the people of the past. They’ve turned into everything they hate. They fight. They no longer care about anyone else except themselves.” He paused. “Humans aren’t perfect but you can’t expect perfection. That’s why they need our help. But no one can help now. We have too many problems.”

“Wow.” Sunny popped her tongue. “You weren’t joking. That was a long story.”

“Yeah.”

“So…what about you and Eli? What did you fight about?”

Tod scratched his neck. “Well, we at least agreed that we wanted to grant wishes again. But he wanted to continue to fight the Cassiopeia and mow down all the opposition and…I knew that we couldn’t continue to be at war. It had already destroyed so much but he just doesn’t seem to get that. Of course my parents were on his side, but as you can see – ” He gestured to the group around him. “A lot of people hate Eli. So he actually does need me. He finally got it through his big thick head – ”

“Tod.” Sunny grabbed him by the shoulder. “It’s okay. Calm down.”

Tod took a breath. He knew that he was acting just like the others, annoyed by Eli just because he had different views, but he couldn’t stand him sometimes.

“I can’t be ruler,” Tod said. “I can’t.” He bit his lip, his voice weak.

“Well, maybe you don’t have to. Maybe after we save Eli, we can figure something out,” Sunny said.

“No.” Tod shook his head. “I have to be ruler. I already am.”

“Huh?” Sunny said, tilting her head. “What do you mean?”

He told her everything, well, with the exception of the heir.

“You fused with her?” Sunny said. “Doesn’t that mean – ”

“Doesn’t that mean what? It doesn’t mean anything,” Tod said, turning red. “Anyway, I’m stuck here with these terrible people. And I have to figure out how we’re going to fix this mess.”

“Oh.” Sunny swallowed. “I’m sorry.” She paused. “But since you’re leader, you can just tell them to not kill Eli. Simple.” She smiled, but Tod didn’t respond with one of his own.

“Yeah. See how Isolde likes that. She’s basically the leader and I’m her sidekick that she dresses up like a little puppet.”

He paused and then said, “When Eli comes out, I’m going up there.”

Sunny felt like the hot temperature was finally getting to her brain. She let out a little gasp. “Um, what? That’s your brilliant plan?”

He swallowed. “It’s all I’ve got.”

Sunny crossed her arms over her chest. “Okay, but I’m coming up there with you.”

“Sunny – ”

“We’re in this together.” She put a hand on his arm, and he looked uncomfortable, but a slight blush appeared on his face.

He didn’t answer, just nodded, and they waited, staring straight ahead.

Line of Gemini – Part 13

After Sunny wished, nothing happened. She sighed. Of course not. It wasn’t like she’d expected anything. She shielded her eyes against the sun, and then shook her head, her heart sinking to the pit of her stomach.

About a half hour passed before she felt the car lifting off the ground.

“Whoa.” She looked to her right, to see if anyone else had noticed, but everyone was focused on the road. A part of her said that the lack of sleep was causing her to hallucinate but it couldn’t be, because she saw the road growing smaller and smaller below her, before her very eyes. “What the – ” She started to panic, scanning the dashboard to see if there was some magic button she could push to get her on the ground, but there was nothing.

She’d never been on a plane before; she didn’t even like heights. Sunny shrunk against her seat, shuddering, her eyes tightly shut. “No, no, no, no,” she whispered. Another half hour passed, and then the car began to pick up speed. Letting out a breath, Sunny cracked her eyes open. The sky was dark blue and she saw a planet below, not earth, but a green and gold sphere, with black lines that looked like veins traversing it in every direction.

The car whooshed towards the planet, and Sunny gritted her teeth, trying not to scream. She failed at that.

When they hit the ground, she bit her tongue, her heart in her throat. Once her head had stopped shouting at her and her nerves were sufficiently jangled, she realized that music was still playing – banging in her ears. She ran her hands over her face, shaking. She couldn’t even focus or stop her fingers from trembling to turn it off. “Oh God, oh God.” How could she have gotten here? How could she even be alive right now? She was a human, right? Unless…

She looked at her hands and saw they were glowing. Like the sun.

She opened the car’s door and slipped out. Her feet crunched on black crunchy sand and she found herself in a small clearing. Surrounding her were tall green trees, and despite the fact that the trees were everywhere, it was still very bright.

Sunny shielded her eyes and turned around in a circle. She swallowed, and after a few moments, picked out the sound of running water. She didn’t like standing idle and so she figured she’d better follow it – at least, that was a start. She pushed through the brush and had been making good headway when she saw a small creature with green fur scurrying ahead of her. Curious, Sunny ducked under some brambles, thorns cutting her cheek and catching her hair. She yanked away, her hair tangled, and then tripped over a vine, falling on her face. “Oww,” she groaned. She realized then that the ground below her wasn’t really sand; it was more like bits of sharp black rock.

When she heard a panicked squeaking she jolted to her knees. What she saw first was a huge carnivorous plant. Its teeth dripped with an icky brown substance, and its stem, as well as its massive jaws, were mottled brown and gray. The squeaking came from the green rat like creature and Sunny could see that it was trapped underneath the plant’s thorny vines. Before the plant could dive at the ground, Sunny pulled out her pocket knife and hacked away. The plant roared at her, the brown juice spattering her face. Sunny yelled back. “Shut up, you stupid plant!”

Just a couple cuts and her hands pulled the creature out. She stumbled away from the angry plant and stared at the animal’s cute face. It kind of looked like a ferret, except it was green with a gray stripe from its forehead to its tail. “Aww! Hi there!” Sunny said, already thinking of names and bringing the creature back to Earth with her. However, the cuteness didn’t last long. The animal bared its sharp teeth and bit down hard on her thumb.

“Ouch!”

She dropped it and stuck her thumb in her mouth, the acrid taste of blood filling her mouth. “That’s how you repay me?” she spat. “Not going to save you again. Jerk.”

Wow. I’ve been here ten minutes. I’m already talking to small furry animals like I’m back home.

On Earth.

The familiar panic set in and Sunny fell to her knees, starting to hyperventilate. “Oh, God,” she murmured, and a lump gathered in her throat – she couldn’t do this. Why did she think that she could? Why did she wish to be here? She was helpless, and she’d be better off back home. The tears flowed down her cheeks and she felt her body burning up. She feared the worst: what if whatever was allowing to be here was wearing off? What if she was going to burn up and die? She screamed.

“Sunny!”

A familiar voice broke into her thoughts and she turned around to see Tod.

Her eyes narrowed. He was wearing a long green and white cape with a gray romper underneath. He was still wearing his sunglasses. And somehow, he looked less foolish than he usually did. “Tod,” she breathed in relief, getting to her feet and wiping tears from her eyes. “I – how’d you find me?”

He stepped closer, swallowing. “I can see you.” When she looked confused, he added, “It’s a Setareh thing.”

“A Setareh thing, huh.” She gestured behind her. “Are humongous carnivorous plants also a Setareh thing?”

“Yeah. Well, a Dross thing.”

“Right.” Her hands shook, and she had so many questions, but all she said was: “Um, the word dross? It means rubbish.’ Did you guys know that when you settled your planet?”

“No,” Tod said, shaking his head. “But I guess it makes sense because the Setareh – they made a garbage planet into something…better.” He paused. “You’ll see.”

“Where’s Eli?” Sunny said suddenly. “Did he get here?”

“Oh – ” Tod was about to reply when a woman crashed through the undergrowth and came to a stop in front of Tod. “I cannot believe you!” she yelled at him, smacking him hard.

“Ow.” Tod rubbed his jaw.

“Uhm – ” Sunny said. “Who are you?”

“Don’t talk to me,” the woman said, pointing a finger at Sunny. Then she turned back to Tod and said to him: “You get down on your knees and beg for forgiveness.”

“No.” Tod shifted his weight, knowing that Isolde was definitely serious with the getting down on his knees thing but also knowing that Isolde had a pretty short attention span. “Take us back.”

“Okay, guys, what is going on?” Sunny said.

Isolde turned to her. “Your little friend here tricked us,” she snapped. “He said he just wanted to protect you. Not bring you to our planet. Then he forced me to take him to find you.” She gritted her teeth. “Since he doesn’t have Eli, he barely has any of his power. Disgusting.” She spat on the ground.

“Eli?” Sunny felt faint. “Where’s Eli?”

“He’s going to be executed. And we’re going to be late to the party if we don’t hurry up,” she said, and for the first time, a spark of joy entered her eyes. “So let’s go.”

Tod shook his head. And this is the woman I’m having a kid with.

He wasn’t telling Sunny that anytime soon.

***

Sunny had had two panic attacks already, and she wasn’t ready for a third. But she was freaking out about Eli. What if they didn’t get there in time? While Isolde got ready, which meant fiddling with all her accoutrements, including her whip, her gloves, and her stupid forehead band, Sunny stared at Tod.

“I don’t like heights,” she admitted.

“Don’t worry,” Tod said, squeezing her shoulder. “I’ll be right next to you. Just shut your eyes and we’ll be there in no time at all.” He looked at Isolde. “And Izzy, you’re fine with carrying both of us?”

What did you call me?” She put her hands on her hips.

Tod swallowed. “It’s just a nickname – ”

She grabbed him by the arm, jerking him hard, and gave Sunny the same treatment. “Ow,” she whined.

Isolde took a breath, then they shot off into the sky. Sunny shut her eyes tightly, then a horrid thought came to her. What if Isolde dropped her? She’d be dashed to pieces on the ground below. She really hoped this person was nicer than that.

What if I just dropped this stupid human girl? Isolde thought to herself. She’d be lying to herself if she said she wasn’t thinking about it. But the truth was, she wouldn’t do it. And she knew what was holding back, what would always hold her back. Nobody, at least barely anybody, on Dross were in relationships for love. Love didn’t survive on their planet. They weren’t wired for it. And people who fell in love usually ended up depressed or dead. Her mom had been Cassiopeia and her dad had been a Taurus. It hadn’t gone well when the war happened. But she’d been born out of their love. Sometimes she still felt it. But she pushed it down. Until it came to a choice like the one she was carrying right now.

And she thought of her parents and she couldn’t help but do the right thing out of guilt. If it even was the right thing.

Well, she told herself, it didn’t matter. It was at least what her mother would have wanted, and that was right enough, at any rate.

Graveyard Shift – Part 2

The ancient looking hand opens, slowly, and drops a bag of Peanut M&M’s onto the counter.

“Oh,” Mickey says, “Okay. That’ll be $2.25”

There’s a loud thump behind her as, presumably, Sid faints and hits the linoleum. Just as slowly, the front-most hooded figure pulls a five-dollar bill from somewhere on their person and retrieves the M&Ms. The hissing sound gets louder, and as they float back out the door Mickey takes it to mean, “Keep the change.”

Mickey turns to check on Sid, who has since come to. He rises slowly his feet, staring intently at her for a long moment before he gathers up the courage to actually speak.

“H-how long have you worked here, again?” Sid asks.

“About 15 years,” Mickey tells him.

“Right. Great. Please please please tell me that was the weirdest shit you’ve ever seen in here.”

“Oh, not even close,” Mickey leans back against the counter, “Welcome to the graveyard shift, kid.”

 

Line of Gemini – Part 12

Exhausted the next day, Sunny chugged a cup of coffee and hit the road. When she’d opened her eyes that morning, she’d managed to convince herself for a few minutes that she was in Nashville with her normal family. However, that didn’t last long when she saw that she was entirely alone. She called her parents and said that everything was fine. Both of her parents were on their way to work so they didn’t talk long. Somewhat relieved, but still feeling like garbage, she stared out at the road ahead of her. “Great, here’s hoping I don’t get attacked,” she muttered to herself.

Even though she turned on her music, she couldn’t get Tod and Eli out of her head. She was angry at them, angry at Tod for keeping it a secret for so long, angry at them for arguing. But more than that, she missed them and she wanted to help them. She remembered Eli had said something about granting wishes. Maybe she could wish for something and they’d hear her. She cleared her throat, even though she wasn’t even going to say her wish out loud, and thought hard.

*** Continue reading Line of Gemini – Part 12