Demon deals are perfectly ordinary. Sure they’re a terrible idea, but an ordinary one. And despite the fact that they’re illegal, and despite the fact that demons aren’t trustworthy, and despite the fact that making a deal will guarantee you a spot in hell, people are constantly making them. And, in the especially stupid cases, breaking them. People think they can get away with it by moving away, either to a Haven or a big city, as if hiding behind a barrier or getting lost in a crowd could actually stop a demon. Slow them down a bit maybe, but never stop them, not when they had humans to act as debt collectors.
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
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.
“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.
The trouble started when Aunt Pen set us loose while she worked on the library. We were too young to be helpful, and she didn’t have anyone to watch us, so we were given instructions not to bother her and to be in the kitchen at noon and at six for lunch and dinner. Macey took this as a sign to play princess, and I took this as a sign that I was on my own when it came to getting out of it.
So while Macey ran off to get dressed, I decided to explore the castle grounds. The lake was huge, or at least it seemed so to me, and there was a short pier with a little wooden boat tied to it. It would have been perfect for swimming, but the water was freezing. It was like trying to wade through ice water, and I couldn’t seem to adjust to the temperature, even after standing in the lake for five minutes.
The lake was a bust, but it was also the most interesting thing within the fence. Aunt Pen’s one rule was still stuck in my head, but I figured that I could still investigate it, so I left the lake and walked to the edge of the forest. When I reached the fence, a crow landed on the fence next to me. It was large and familiar, so I smiled at him.
“Hi Baron! I don’t have any meat for you right now, I’m sorry.”
Baron cawed softly at me, and I took it as a sign that he forgave me.
“I was going to walk the perimeter though; do you want to come with me?”
Baron cawed again, hopping along the fence and then turning to look back at me. I grinned back and started walking, with Baron following along on the fence.
“I’m glad I’ve got you to keep me company this summer; it seems like it might get kind of lonely here. Aunt Pen is cool, but she’s really busy, and Macey and me don’t get along very well.”
Baron cawed sympathetically.
“Do you have a sister, Baron?”
Baron cawed again, and then he was joined on the fence by a smaller crow, who cawed a greeting at me.
“Hello! Are you Baron’s sister? Wait, Aunt Pen introduced us yesterday, didn’t she? Your name is Nixie, right?”
Nixie cawed, hopping around and bobbing her head, almost like she was nodding.
“It’s nice to officially meet you, Nixie. I’m Dillon.”
Nixie cawed again, and the three of us walked on together. We followed the fence around the castle, until I could no longer see the lake. The forest trees were different from the trees inside the fence. The treeline was surprisingly orderly, for a forest. Nothing grew past the shade of the trees, and the trees didn’t grow within a foot of the fence. There were no tree branches hanging over the fence either, and I wondered if Aunt Pen trimmed everything back. It seemed like a silly thing to spend time on, and I didn’t think she could have found the time anyhow, but someone must be doing it.
As I studied the treeline, I noticed something glimmering a few feet passed the fence. It was bright and gold and beautiful, but I couldn’t quite tell what it was, no matter how much I stared at it. Nixie and Baron were cawing again, frantically this time, but the noise seemed far away and unimportant. All that mattered was the glimmer. It wasn’t very far in, and if I hopped over the fence I knew I could get it. It wouldn’t be hard. It wasn’t a big fence; it was more of a border than a barrier. I could be over and back in seconds. I just needed to get the glimmer.
“Dillon!” Suddenly there were arms around me, and Aunt Pen was hauling me back from the fence, and I felt like a veil had been lifted. Nixie and Baron were still cawing, loud and panicked, and they’d been joined by several other crows too. I didn’t understand how I could have ignored them.
Aunt Pen breathed a sigh of relief. “Dillon, you scared me. What did I say about going over the fence?”
“I’m sorry, Aunt Pen. I was just trying to get the…” I turned back to point out the glimmer, but it was gone. It was like it had never been there at all.
“There’s nothing in the woods but trees, Dillon. Now come inside. It’s going to rain soon.”
Aunt Pen led me back inside, and while it hadn’t looked like rain to me, it started coming down shortly after we got back inside.
“Well, I’d say that’ll be the end of playing outside today. Why don’t you go find your sister? She was looking for you earlier. I think she’s in the ballroom.”
The rest of the afternoon was spent in the ballroom, getting yelled at by Macey for stepping on her feet.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Everything is gold.
The trees above my head are bright as the sunlight,
Which filters down through the gaps in the leaves.
The ground under my feet is completely covered by the fallen,
And with every step a crisp rustle-crunch rings out.
The winter birds are calling,
The branches whisper-creak in the breeze,
And the music of autumn flows throughout nature.
It’s a soft song,
Whispers and creaks and rustles.
Nature’s very own lullaby.
It’s time for sleep,
For hibernating and migrating and settling in to wait.
For curling up somewhere warm
And letting nature sing you to sleep.
Whisper rustle creak.
It’s cold beneath the tree tops,
But so beautiful.
The wind blows again and loose leaves fall.
Fluttering to the ground as golden rain.
Drifting and spinning and falling down to the earth.
Over the winter they’ll turn to dirt,
And come spring those leaves will fuel the world’s rebirth.
But for now they sit, bright and gold and crisp,
Sitting quiet for now, until someone like me comes along;
Then it’s rustle-crunch, rustle-crunch,
Marking my path with Autumn’s music.
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.
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.
All the grass around me dies,
For two miles as the crow flies.
And you should never think to doubt
That the seeds I plant will die as they sprout.
It’s been years since I saw a flower bloom;
When they meet me they meet their doom.
And you will not see a living tree
Within fifteen miles of me.
I don’t know why, just that I can’t
Prevent the death of any plant.
In fact, I kill them with greater ease
Than any insect, animal, vine, or disease.
At first, I thought it might be something in the dirt,
But I now know it’s me who causes their hurt.
I once hoped bad water might be the cause,
But truthfully the fault lies in my own flaws.
I cannot keep a plant alive,
No matter what amenities I contrive.
A good life I cannot provide,
For a potted plant kept inside.
And outside there is only death,
For any plant the feels my breath.
Not even a cactus will manage to thrive,
Not so long as I survive.
I may never see a flower bud,
For every seed I plant becomes a dud.
I’ve now given up on growing a garden,
And soon I think the ground will harden.
I know now that I’d have to be dumb,
Not to realize that I have a brown thumb.
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 dawn creeps up from beyond the trees,
Cutting sharp silhouettes out of indistinct shadows.
The horizon is a blur of pink and gold, which fades into pale blue
And then into a still dark purple.
There’s beauty in the sunrise, but magic in the clouds.
They cast dark shapes above the horizon,
Painting pictures in the early morning light.
A killer whale breaches waves of water vapor,
While a pirate ship bursts forth from fog.
A manta ray is flying across the horizon,
And a swordfish leaps into the air to strike a pose.
There’s a pelican sitting above the treeline,
And the ship’s captain is calling for a toast.
An ocean outlined by the dawn won’t last forever,
Or even for an hour,
But it will always be remembered.
The air is crisp and fresh after rain
It’s chilly outside but not yet cold
And while the sky is filled with dark grey clouds
The trees are turning yellow and orange and red
And when the leaves drift off on the breeze
The ground gains the colors of fall too.
The clouds tell of storms to come
But they don’t yet cover the sky entirely
And the gaps they leave are bright blue
And when the sun peeks out you can feel it
Bright and warm against your skin
A reminder of the summer that’s now passed.
It won’t last forever.
The sun will pass again behind the clouds
The trees will be left barren
And their fallen leaves swept away
And the wind will grow harsh and biting
As the temperature drops below zero
And the ground begins to freeze.
Fall is a transitory season
But there’s beauty in its liminality
Because nothing will last
Everything is precious
Pictures won’t do it justice
So instead we must remember